Feb 042016
 

IMG_6349

Nope, all apologies to the islanders, but Fiji still doesn’t ascend to the heights of a country whose rums we must have. Yet.

(#253. 81/100)

***

Let’s just dispense with two more Fijian products that crossed my path, provided by my friend Cornelius of Barrelproof, who, it should be noted upfront, liked them both a lot more than I did. We don’t see many products from that country anywhere – “Eastern” rums don’t make it west of the iron curtain very often, so it’s mostly in online emporia that we find find rums from Fiji, Australia, Indonesia or even Japan; these are sold primarily in Europe, not in North America. Bundie, Don Papa and Nine Leaves look to buck that trend but they are small potatoes, really, and you’re still gonna look hard to locate a Tanduay, or even the stuff out of India.

Anyway, independent bottlers Duncan Taylor, the Rum Cask, Compagnie des Indes, Berry Brothers and some others do take the single barrel route, and so perhaps we should be grateful that we do get the chance to try these unusual profiles whenever we can. The rum came from the same distillery as the BBR 8 year old and the Compagnie’s 10 year old: the Fijian South Pacific Distillery now owned by Fosters from Australia, and located in the northwest of the small island.

DT Fiji Label

I said “unusual” a moment ago…it was not a word I chose lightly.

I poured the 54.8% hay-blonde, pot-still spirit into my glass, and flinched as if I had found a roach in my soup (oh waiter…!)  Sharp, snarling smells of kerosene, sealing wax, floor polish emerged fast, like a pissed of genie out of his lamp, ungentle and clashing with each other in a most unbecoming fashion. I went back to the shelf and checked out the Clairin Sajous to see if it was me…nope, that was still better. Ten minutes rest period didn’t help much – turpentine, acetone, wet paint decided to come out now, joined by candle wax, green grape skins…and I was left thinking, if this was pot-still, unfiltered, and issued “as-was” from the barrel, maybe the barrel needed to be changed; and to be honest, if ever I tried a rum that made a strong case for either more ageing or some dosage, this was it.  The smell was simply too raw and unrefined. Most of what it displayed was liquid sandpaper only marginally improved  by some ageing.

To my relief, there was some compensation once I tasted the thing. Better, much better.  Heated and very spicy, medium bodied in texture, and all this was a welcome change from the initial attack.  It tasted of red olives in brine, with a sort of meaty background, like a plastic tub of salt beef just starting to go.  Then at last more familiar notes asserted themselves and stopped mucking about, and I sensed some green grapes just starting to go, vanilla and smoke (not much), a very herbal, grassy element, more brine, sweet soya, some citrus, ginger and a good Thai veggie soup.  Cornelius felt it displayed something the funky charm of the Jamaican style, so if you ever get around to trying it yourself, there would be something to watch out for. The finish, unsurprisingly for such strength, was long enough, and I couldn’t say it was either good or bad – it existed, it lasted, I got notes of lemongrass, vanilla, citrus and soya and brine again, but very little of a more comforting back end. Colour me unimpressed, sorry.

Although the aromas and tastes suggest a cane juice base distillate, the Ministry of Rum and Fiji Rum Co. pages both say molasses.  Which makes the profile I describe even odder, because it was so much like the clairins, but lacking their fierce commingling of the same tastes into a synthesis that worked.  The nose was too jagged and too raw, the palate worked (up to a point) and the finish was nothing to write home about. In my opinion, this rum should have been left to sleep some more. The outturn was 284 bottles from a single cask, and it was aged in an oak cask for ten years, yet honestly, you might think it was no more than a three year old (or even younger) from the way it fended off any efforts to come to grips with it.

IMG_6350

I’ve now tried four or five Fijian rums, and admittedly, that’s hardly a huge sample set; still they do all exhibit a kind of right turn from reality that takes some getting used to, for those of us more accustomed to Caribbean traditionals or agricoles (which is most of us).  They may be proof positive that terroire is no mere subtly abstract concept which is insouciantly bandied about but lacking real meaning, and I believe that rums from other parts of the world do indeed provide their own unique tastes and smells and sensations.  The flip side of that, is that I have yet to acquire a real taste for some of them.  I’m not going to write Fijians off like yesterday’s fish…but thus far I haven’t met any (out of the few I’ve tried) that blow my socks off either. Certainly this rum doesn’t.

Other notes

Aged April 2003 to September 2013

Yes, if I see more Fijians, I’ll buy.  Still really curious about them.

Marco Freyr has put together a short bio of the company (in German)

The tasting notes above are my own.  I didn’t see the back label until Cornelius kindly sent me some pictures of the bottle. 

Jan 252016
 

C de I Fiji 1

A well assembled rum made by someone who knows his business, yet, as with the BBR I tried some years ago, not entirely to my taste.

(#252 / 84/100)

***

Florent Beuchet, the man behind the independent bottler Compagnie des Indes, really likes to go off the beaten track in his search for proper casks of rum to release: either that or he has access to some broker or other with some cool geographically dispersed stocks.  Think about the rums he has in his young portfolio so far – from Guyana, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Panama, Jamaica, Trinidad, Belize and Barbados, all the old stalwarts.  But show me another maker who in a single two year period can also claim to have added St. Lucia, Haiti, Fiji and Indonesia to the mix. St. Lucia alone should draw nods of approval.  But Haiti? Fiji? Indonesia?  

Therefore, yes, I’m a little impressed, more than a bit intrigued, and follow his issues closely, though thus far I don’t have that many…yet.  I was fortunate enough to try several samples of the Fijian 10 year old bottled at 44% in my ongoing effort to draw attention to obscure corners of the world where rums are made (but receive too little attention), and where unsung treasures may be found to the aspiring, perspiring rum collector.

So, this one: it was one of two 2015 Fijian releases CdeI made (each from a separate barrel), and it’s from the South Pacific Distilleries distillery – Florent didn’t tell me, but come on, it’s right there on the label…and anyway, even if it wasn’t, how many other distilling ops are there on the small island? This in turn is controlled by the Carlton Brewery (Fiji) Ltd, and that itself has the parent company of the Australian group Foster’s.  They make the popular Bounty rums (not the same as St. Lucia’s) and so far as I can tell, only BBR, Duncan Taylor and Cadenhead have released any bottlings from there. And full disclosure, I didn’t care much for the BBR Fiji 8 year old.

Still, things started out okay: the yellow rum was spicy and dry to sniff, with sugar water and delicate floral scents.  Watery is a good term for the sort of smells it exhibited – and by that I mean watermelon, juicy white pears, diluted syrup from a can of mixed fruit, grass after a rain.  This was all to the good.  What happened after a while was that waxy notes crept in, black/red olives in too-sour brine, and that C de I Fiji 2palled my enjoyment somewhat.

The taste of this light bodied, column-still-made rum was the best thing about it. Hot, freshly brewed green tea, no sugar, was my initial thought.  Brine again, more white flowers, guavas, sugar cane sap oozing out after you chop a stalk down.  Overall the lightness was somewhat illusory, because the rum displayed a good warmth and firm delicacy (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms), and demonstrated why there remains no “perfect” rum strength – a higher proof would have shredded this Fijian, while 44% was exactly right. In fact, it showed off a lot of characteristics of an agricole, more than a rum coming from molasses (it was confirmed that it did indeed derive from molasses, not cane juice).  The finish was short, smooth,heated and elegant, but nothing really extra was added to the party over and beyond what I noted above…perhaps some faint vanilla, gherkins in weak vinegar, swank, not much else.

 

I thought it was a decent rum, made by a company which knew what they was doing when they selected it, and you could sense the assembly was done well – the mouthfeel, for example, was excellent.  Where it fell down for me was in the snarly disagreement between the individual sweet versus sour/salt components – they didn’t mesh well, and the wax and turpentine notes kept interrupting like annoyingly plastered gate-crashers at your daughter’s wedding. This is quite a bit better than the BBR 8 Year old I reviewed back in 2013, which had similar issues, just more of them, and there I attributed it less to terroire and more to  insufficient ageing.  

Now, I’m not so sure – the clear and somewhat jagged profile may be characteristic of the area, and if so, we who love rums should try a few more before rushing to condemn and criticize – it’s not like there’s a historically huge sample set out there to compare with.  Suffice to say, for the moment, this isn’t quite my cup of tea. It’s a technically well made rum whose individual components, delicious on their own, aren’t quite cohering the way they should to make the experience a sublime one. Or even a better one.

Other notes

Florent advised me the barrel was bought through a broker, and no sugar was added.

 

Jan 212016
 
Photo courtesy of velier.it

Photo courtesy of velier.it

Slow, not entirely promising beginning, with a strong development and finish.

(#251 / 87/100)

***

In between its major releases from Trinidad, Guyana and Damoiseau where it made its bones, Velier occasionally took time off to travel the more traditional route of the indie bottler, and issue one-offs like this one (and the 1997).  I consider it a curious addition to the oevre, and not entirely a rum so good that it rates admittance to the pantheon, though nevertheless deserving of praise.

I call it “curious”: it was distilled in October 1995 and bottled in January 2008…but in between those dates, it was, like Velier’s own Damoiseau 1980, stored in dead vats to cease the ageing, from 2006 on.  So it’s up to us to decide whether the resting vat had any residual influence which would make it 12½ years old…or whether it didn’t and it’s just around ten.

(That’s something that seems to be coming up more often in relation to older agricoles I’ve tried – a millesime (the year of distillation) is trumpeted to the heavens, but in some cases the makers aren’t nearly as forthcoming about the date of bottling, and one has to have the sleuthing nose of a Poirot to ferret out these little nuggets.  Fortunately, Velier has always been pretty good about providing the info we need on its labels, and now you know what I do, so let’s move on.)

Presentation was the usual bottle, enclosed in a dour blue box with bright abstract art on it. What I liked about it was that it didn’t just say “Guadeloupe,” as most independents would do on their labels, but “Basseterre”, and further along, a notation of Distillerie Carrère in Petit-Bourge – that allowed me to delve more deeply into the history, which is further down for those who are interested in the provenance and background.

Right, tasting notes. The opening aromas were crisp and sharp, even a little uncouth, a little undisciplined – lovers of smooth and easygoing fare are likely to be disappointed here. Both salty with red olives, and sweet at the same time, yet also lightly perfumed with the scent of delicate florals (not much), mixed in with a nice white wine…a good Riesling, perhaps. As the minutes wore on it developed into a light and clear smell, the sharpness wore off and gave over to tree sap, green leaves, wet grass, some vanilla and faint smoke.  It was all pleasantly tied off into a bow with additional cherries and hard yellow mangoes.

D3S_3751

The Basseterre was an amber coloured rum, medium bodied, and bottled at 58.2%, and it hesitated not at all before skewering the tongue.  I was a little surprised at its unrestrained aggressiveness, to be honest (I was tasting it in conjunction with the Velier Damoiseau 1980, Chantal Comte 1977 and two Neissons, all of which were slightly smoother), and while I immediately tasted honey, walnuts and almonds, I put it away for a while to let it open up some more. This was the right approach, because it gentled out more after five minutes, and the shy flavours of flowers, tree sap and aromatic tobacco emerged, behind which coiled sharper notes of tannins, fresh-sliced unripe peaches, citrus and ginger.  In fact, the pendulum swung just a shade too much in the other direction as time wore on, and canned fruit syrup, yoghurt and whipped cream (I kid you not) started to take away from the initial freshness I liked.

The fade was long and spicy and complemented the palate very well.  Not much new going on except for some cereal and milk, more honey and nuts (cheerios?), and that lovely aromatic pipe tobacco finished things off with perhaps some ginger and citrus hanging in there.  

Looking back and considering the experience dispassionately, I must concede that this might actually be one of the few Veliers that didn’t ascend to the peaks of their other (more popular, better known and higher-scored) rums…y’know, like the UF30E. It feels younger than ten years old, somehow. Still, the Basseterre got better as it glared around and opened up: it is a solid, strong, agricole, which started off a little poorly but came up to the finish line with good credentials.  Luca still hasn’t replied to me with what the outturn was, and I paid €190 for mine – for the quality I got, I’d suggest it’s a borderline purchase. If you’re not into agricoles, it’s unlikely this one will turn you into an aficionado…however, if you are, it surely won’t disappoint.

History

Guadeloupe is comprised of three main areas: the butterfly shaped conjoined landmasses of Grand Terre and Basseterre making up Guadeloupe proper, with the small island of Marie Galante to the south east. Petit Bourge is on the eastern side of Basseterre, and serves the Montebello distillery — when it was founded by the Dolomite family in 1930 it was called Carrere (named after an even smaller village nearby) but in 1968, after many years of declining revenues it was sold to a Jean Marsolle (whose brother owned the Séverin distillery a little to the north west). He in turn sold it to his sons Alain and Emamanuel in 1974 – they renamed it Montebello in 1975. It remains in the family to this day, and produces 500,000 liters of rum annually. They have the curious practice of not only casking their rums in oak, but then dunking the filled barrels into heated steel containers to accelerate the maturation.  Whether that works to enhance the resultant rhum I can’t say, since I never bought or managed to try any.

Other notes

This is not an AOC certified rhum.

Basseterre 1

 

Dec 102015
 

AH Riise 1My mission, should I chose to accept it, is to get hammered on this crap. I drank it so you don’t have to.

(#244. 68/100)

***

I can’t imagine what was going through AH Riise’s corporate minds when they made this ersatz faux-Navy-Rum wannabe, but I should point out that the few rum guys I know from Denmark think it’s something of an insult to the spirit.  It’s a sweet sugary Nicolas Sparks-level saccharine mess, with a grudging nod given to navy standards by beefing it up some.  Unless you’re masochistically into multiple insulin shots, my advice is to smell it and immediately put it back in its box…and then hand it over to all those guys to whom you already presented the Coruba, Whaler’s, the Pyrat and the Kraken. It’s in good company there.

The Royal Danish Navy rum, bottled at 55% is supposedly made according to the same recipe as old AH (see below) developed over a hundred years ago, and then sold to Naval vessels who passed by. It is not a really aged rum – rums “up to” 20 years old comprise the blend, always a warning sign — and which in turn derive from molasses, and distilled in a pot still.  According to the product notes on the website, it is neither chill-filtered or coloured (but still we wonders, precious, we wonders….).  And that’s about all I can find online and in my scanty library, aside from the company bio, which is below.

Royal Danish Navy 2

The nose started out badly for me, and went downhill from there.  The rum presented well, mind you — nice and dark, looked cool in the glass…but that nose. Ugh. Darkly sweet, redolent of peaches, dark sugar, prunes, more dark sugar, some chopped fruits, even more dark sugar. It was, in a nutshell, cloying. Even a few background notes of soggy, rotting wood and cooking sherry, black berries and jam couldn’t elevate the smell of this thing.  To be fair, I note that some soy sauce and green olives made an appearance after a bit (a long bit), with perhaps a flowery note coming through…but what good did that do? And, 55%?  Where was the power and intensity this should have brought to the table?

Redemption was not to be found when tasting it, alas, even though I often found in the past that nose and palate can be strikingly different…but not here. The rum was hot, thick, creamy, full bodied, syrupy, oversweet, cloying, bubble-gum-like, sticky, vanilla-laden.  It was a dentist’s wet dream, a full out cavity attack, with all the strength and all potential flavours beaten into dull defeat and abject submission. What other flavours? Vanilla, more peaches, some molasses, a shade of caramel…and some grudging citrus that comes out when water is added.  A short, lacklustre finish, warm, tasting of treacle and blackberry jam, paradoxically thick and weak at the same time.

There’s all sorts of things wrong with the rum.  Perhaps it was made for innocent tourists hopping off a cruise ship rather than to attain a high standard in its own right. It is almost drowned in excess sugar, from which the 55% can’t save it, it displays little evidence of the complexity that ageing should have imparted, and I am convinced that some guy in the blending department kinda-sorta accidentally-on-purpose dropped his Mama’s fruit basket into the vat.  The “rum bio” on the site is shoddy, and the reality of what it is versus how it’s hawked throws the entire rum into question. I am not going to say outright that the marketing plug on their website is out and out false – but it is misleading to say the least, especially given that Johnny Drejer has already estimated 96 g/L of sugar in it (additives? what additives?).

So, in fine, the AH Riise Navy 55% is not a rum to buy. It wastes your money and your time, unless you are into liqueurs or want to cook with it, and I can’t even imagine what kind of cocktail you could use it in. I’m a lover of Navy rums and vibrant Jamaican/Guyanese profiles – hell, I enjoy strong mixers like Pusser’s, the 151s, Young’s Old Sam, Woods 100, Cabot Tower 100 and many others. So I’ve had and enjoyed cheap and not-so-cheap navy rums that had size, staying power, massiveness and strength…but this iteration? It has a nose of no attraction, and struggles with a flaccid palate reminiscent of a coked out John Holmes in his last days.  It is, to be brutally frank, a limp dick.

AH Riise 2

Background

We haven’t seen this company before, so let me delve into the usual history..

First of all, it should be noted that Denmark did indeed have Caribbean colonies back in the day – St. John, St. Croix and St. Thomas, which are now the US Virgin Islands.  The good ole US of A bought them for $25 million in gold back in 1917.  Part of the reason for the sale was the high cost of sugar production after slavery was abolished following the 1848 Danish Revolution — certainly mismanagement of the local economy didn’t help. The Skeoch family over in St. Croix and their Diamond Rum Company was doing okay (they would go on to create the Cruzan brand after the repeal of the Volstead Act), but St. Thomas and St. John were in dire straits.

Albert Heinrich Riise, a Danish pharmacist who got a Royal Decree allowing him to open a pharmacy on Charlotte Amallie on St. Thomas in 1838, had a thing for botany and pharmaceuticals (not the recreational kind), and early on created the Riise’s Bay Rum, which was not a rum at all, but a cologne, or after-shave, with enough alcohol content to be used as a substitute by those so inclined.  This proved to be so popular that by the 1880s (when Riise’s son-in-law had taken over) rums were part of the stable of the company – one even won a medal in 1893. In 1913, the Riise holdings were sold to Olaf Poulsen, a Copenhagen pharmacist, and in 1928 to the Paiewonsky-Cassinelli family, who own the company today. They are  retailers and distributors more than rum makers and their website makes no mention of this sideline of their company at all (it’s on a separate website dedicated to just the rums). That alone might explain something.

Several other A.H. Riise rums exist.  Maybe one day I’ll try them all to see how much they differ from this one. Hopefully a lot.

 

Sep 072015
 
Samaroli Nicaragua 1995

Photo (c) LionsWhisky.com

This is a rum that reaffirms my faith in the Nicaraguan rums.  Nothing need be added to it, nothing can be taken away. There’s a purity and minimalism of construction here that is almost zen.

(#231. 88/100)

***

The sheer range  of flavours emanating from the glass that held the Samaroli Nicaragua 1995 tickled my nose and astonished my mind.  Few light coloured rums I’ve tried in the last six years were ever this rich right out of the gate.  For a person whose background in Nicaraguan rum trends more to the Flor de Caña range (of which the 21 remains my favourite), this was not only intriguing, but an outright pleasure.

Samaroli is one of the first modern independent bottlers who’s still around (though Veronelli may be older), having opened its doors in 1968.  As with many other Italian outfits, they initially specialized in whiskies, but in our subculture, it’s their rum bottlings for which they are more highly esteemed. There’s a certain cachet to Samaroli rums, perhaps because there were among the first to begin issuing limited edition craft bottlings for rum which were more than just by-the-way-we-think-you-might-like-this efforts done by scotch makers.  Companies like Secret Treasure, Velier, Rum Nation, Compagnie des Indies are its intellectual heirs.  These newer companies seem to grab reviewers’ attention, headlines and market share much more than the old guy on the block, and  yet there is Samaroli, still quietly putting out the hits.  Maybe it’s Samaroli’s absence from the Facebook or festival circuit. Maybe it’s their comparative rarity – this ten year old 45% rum, for example, only has 378 bottles in existence.  Maybe it’s their overall quality – I have not heard a bad thing said about the decades-long rum lines. Still, it ain’t exactly cheap at €160, and that will make a lot of people pause.

All of this crossed my mind as I nosed a more-than-generous sample sent to me by that estimable gentleman from France, Cyril of DuRhum, so a big hat tip to the man.

Usually a light gold rum almost presumes a certain light sparkly diffidence…not here.  Smooth thick and slightly heated aromas rose from the glass, firmly providing the initial dusting of citrus and ripe oranges, cinnamon and pepper, around which danced scintillating notes of overripe green grapes.  It had a slightly nautical tang to it, of seaspray and brine, black olives…really well put together, not too heated to be unpleasant, not too faint to be unnoticeable.  It did take a while to open up, but that wait was worth it – additional scents of caramel and sugar notes sulkily emerged at the tail end, as if doing me a favour.  Never mind, still liked it.

Ahh, the taste of this thing….just lovely.  It was medium to full bodied in texture, and the various tastes were distinct and separable and came across as sweetly as a series of precise piano notes dropping gently into a pool of silence…something by Mendellsohn, I think, or one of Chopin’s quiet nocturnes.  There was absolutely no bombast or fire here, just one pure thing after another…green grapes to begin with, fleshy apricots, followed by a frisson of plums and the zest of tangerines.  A little water brought out toblerone, honey and nuts…and oddly, very little brown sugar or caramel.  On the other hand, well controlled oak, aromatic tobacco and vanilla rounded things out quite nicely, so no complaints there.  The exit was medium long, warm but not sharp, presenting the final tastes of peaches and citrus oil and leather, and you’d better believe I wasted no time in having another sample.

The Nicaragua 1995 is an completely delicious, professionally made rum.  Mr. Samaroli has always felt that as flavours increase with age the texture and body fall off, and there’s a sweet spot where age, texture and strength intersect.  In this case, ten year ageing and 45% may be just about right for providing a remarkable tasting experience without overreaching.  There are some who have no particular liking for Nicaraguan rums (as represented by Flor de Caña, which has gotten some flak in recent years due to its age-statement  and labeling philosophy) – to such naysayers, I’d simply say that for depth of flavour and overall profile, for an enjoyable spirit that succeeds on practically every level and can be used for whatever you want, you wouldn’t shortchange yourself by trying this rum if it ever crosses your path.

Other notes

No additions or inclusions or chill-filtration

Distilled in Nicaragua in 1995, bottled 2005 in Scotland, where it was also aged.

Sep 032015
 

D3S_8920

It’s all a little bit, well, funky.  There’s an element of crazy about, it, perhaps deliberately created, perhaps not, which is almost in defiant contrast to more traditional PMs.  All things considered, this rum raises my ire and hurts my heart, both at the same time.  In it I see all that craft makers aspire to, while somehow failing to realize both its and their own potential.

(#230 / 84/100)

***

Last time around I looked at the quietly impressive PM 1990, which I tasted in conjunction with the PM 1999.  You’d think that with core distillate being the same, and with the same port finishing, the results would differ only in the details.  Yeah.  No.  The 1999, too well made to ignore, turned out so different from its sibling that I spent ages with it just to make sure I wasn’t being taken for a ride. It’s an illustration of how similar origins, combined with some chaos theory, leads to a remarkably divergent outcome

As before, the Port Mourant wooden double pot still supplied the core distillate; it was aged until 2013 in oak, and like the 1999-2010, and the 1990-2007, it was left to rest in port pipes for an extra finish, at that same unadventurous 46% that just makes me shrug my shoulders.  When I inquired about the Peru 8 Year Old strength, they responded, “40% suits the rum well, in our opinion,” and I think they have the same opinion here. To their own detriment, maybe.  One or two rums at less than cask-strength I can accept, but when the entire range never varies between 40-46%, I have to question the logic (beyond trying to sell as many as possible to more conventional purchasers). If other independent bottlers can take their barrels out for a spin and crank them up a shade just to see where they can take their audience, I see no reason why an outfit that made the magnificent PM 1980 can’t occasionally break out of their own self-imposed corsets.

Anyway, so, we had a reddish bronze rum here, nicely aged, affordably priced.  On the pour some of the expected notes came out immediately: what made me retreat a metaphorical step was its unexpected aggressiveness.  The thing lunged out of the glass with an attitude, was sharp and unlike its other brothers (and other PMs I’ve been fortunate enough to try)…it did not display heavy, brooding notes of enchanted forests, but instead the harsh spearing glares of desert sunlight.  Initial notes of dusty hay, chopped fruits, some mangoes and papayas were there, gone very fast, a little smoke, some tannins from the oak.  Leaving the rum to open some more brought out secondary scents of anise, smoke, leather, some dark chocolate, green grapes, and it was all nowhere near as deeply luscious as the 1990…no idea why.  There was a shimmering clarity to the rum which was intriguing, yet not entirely appealing. The mix of light and heavy components wasn’t working for me.

The taste moved on from there…not nearly as full bodied as the other PMs in my experience, at all.  More of that light sharpness, a rapier compared to the more elemental battleaxes of even the 1990 variation.  Some of the richness of the others (even made by Bristol themselves) was missing here, and I really was not that impressed with the result.  Tastes were decent, can’t complain too much about that – there were raisins, black grapes, prunes, figs and some dark chocolate to contend with, all interlaced with some sharp bitterness of oak which thankfully was not predominant.  With water, the chocolate started to assert some biceps, as did a slightly drier element, plus fresh brewed black tea and vanilla, and even a flirt of feintiness and some other more winey notes from the port finish.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that a smidgen of sugar had been added to this rum, but I didn’t really sense any – if true, it couldn’t have been much.  On the fade it was dry and spicy, with some crushed walnuts, anise, more fruit and a sly background of molasses and brown sugar: that and the nose were the two best parts of the rum, for me.

My dissatisfaction with this rum stems from what appears to be two differing characteristics marrying uneasily – the dour, anise-led, brown-sugar profile of a PM, and something lighter and sharper, younger, friskier.  It’s like an old fart in his Bentley trying to make nice with a coed driving a 370Z. So, is it, or will it be, a successful commercial rum?  I think so.  It suggests an ironic future for Bristol – they bring a well known, well-loved distillate to the stage, age it decently, make it reasonably, price it well, issue it at an agreeable strength, and I’m sure if it hasn’t already flown off the shelves, it will – and yet, this very success might prevent them from making any more of those genuinely fantastic PM-1980-style rums of which I am convinced they are capable.  What a shame.

 

Other notes

For a much more positive review of the 1999, read Marco’s take, with all his usual and remarkable historical detail, here.

There is another 1999 bottled in 2010 and yet another bottled in 2014 (the latter without the port finish).

Aug 272015
 

D3S_8927

A love note from Bristol to lovers of Guyanese PM-still rums

(#229. 88/100)

Bristol Spirits is that independent bottler out of the UK which started life in 1993. Their barrel selection from the various countries around the Caribbean has created an enviable track record of limited bottlings; I’ll always have good memories of the PM 1980, and the subsequent editions of the 1990 and 1999 were rums I’ve been keeping an eye out for on the basis of that positive experience.

All of these were made, of course, using the Port Mourant distillate – in this particular instance they didn’t just age it between 1990 and 2007, but allowed it rest for the final two years in matured port pipes for an extra fillip of flavor.  It sort of succeeded, it’s a great rum by any standard, and of course, they did continue their happy tradition of a funky, screaming fire-engine-red label slapped on to a standard barroom bottle. I just can’t pass these things by, honestly.

The PM 1990, a dark amber rum with ruby hints to it, derived from the famed wooden PM double pot still now held in DDL’s facilities at Diamond. It poured, sulky and heavy into the glass, and while it was tamed to a very accessible 46% (which is sort of de rigeur for many of the UK craft makers who seem determined not to lose a single sale by I dunno, issuing good rum at cask strength), the initial scents were impressive from the get-go. Wood, sweat, sap, brine, oak and smoke permeated the nose at once in thick waves.  These are not always my favourite smells, but I used to say the same thing about plasticine and turpentine, so what do I know? It’s the way they come together and enhance the experience, that matters, anyway. And indeed, things mellowed out after some minutes, and the good stuff came dancing forward – raisins, Christmas cake, soy sauce, molasses, licorice and burnt sugar, all wrapped  up in salty caramel and toffee, citrus rind (very faint) and chamomile (even fainter). Just a phenomenally rich nose, generous with promise.

It delivered on that promise very nicely, thank you very much.  Warm and strong, some sweetness came forward here, with initial tastes of salt caramel, dulce de leche ice cream, and dark tea leaves.  Quite full bodied to taste, no issues there for me at all – this thing was giving the PM 1980 some serious competition at a lesser price. The more familiar tastes of licorice, molasses-soaked brown sugar and musty leather came through, and after adding some water (didn’t really need to, but what the hell) the full cornucopia of everything that came before mushroomed on the tongue.  Flowers, orange rind, licorice, smoke and some tannins, together with old polished leather and linseed oil, all full and delicious and not at all over-spicy and sharp.  It’s fine rum, very fine indeed.  The fade was shortish, not dry, quote smooth and added no new notes of consequences, but simply summarized all the preceding, exiting warmly and easily with caramel and toffee, anise, and then it was all gone and I was hastening to refill my glass.

Here I usually end with a philosophical statement, observations that come to mind, anything that can wrap things up in a neat bow.  But truth to tell, in this case I don’t think I need to.  Bristol Spirits have simply made a very good rum for the price (about a hundred bucks) and age (seventeen years).  As such, it will be more accessible, more available and probably more appreciated than fiercely elemental, higher-proofed offerings costing much more.  So in terms of value for money, this is one of those rums that I would recommend to anyone who wants to dip his or her toe into the realm of stronger, more complex, and also more focused high-end spirits.  As long as your tastes run into dark and flavorful Guyanese rums, this one won’t disappoint.

 

Aug 242015
 

D3S_9397

While I loved the single-minded, furious purity of the PM and Diamond rums individually, I could not find fault with what was accomplished by marrying them off.

(#228 / 89.5/100)

***

In a time where conglomerates rule the roost, where even old distilleries with respected antecedents produce supposedly high-end rums that aren’t always, the wonderment is that rums like Veliers can still be made.  The craft makers are the sharp end of the spear – many are artists who cater only to those who want the pure rum experience…they live in their own corner of the rumworld, have small sales of pricey rums, and we must be prepared to enter there, hoping that their ethos seeps into the wider world. This rum is a good place to start. Because, you see, working through and assimilating the oeuvre of all Velier’s expressions can be a lifelong occupation for us rum lovers; and while there is no one of their rums that must be drunk in order to qualify as a well-rounded geek of the dark spirit, I submit that if you are not eventually familiar with the brand, you’re really not a rum lover at all.

Luca Gargano’s reputation has been made in three major steps – the Damoiseau 1980, the Demerara rums and the Caronis (with maybe Haitian clairins waiting in the wings for the next big thing).  The man addresses the commercial lack of adventurousness in far too many makers by emphatically banging the table with products like this one — un-chill-filtered, unadulterated, cask-strength.  And, as with the EHP-PM blend that was also issued in 2014, here the output of the Diamond still and the Port Mourant still was married (by DDL) prior to letting them age for nineteen years.  He calls it an experimental.  I call it exceptional.

D3S_9396

Even as I let it stand there, opening up, the dark amber rum introduced itself with a decisive nose that struck to the heart, and established its quality and originality at once.  After tasting hundreds of rums over many years I didn’t think I was capable of surprise any longer…this thing proved me absolutely wrong.  Immediate wine and feinty notes wafted out of the glass, accompanied by a cheering section of plums, blackberries and vanilla.  I thought, okay, this was great, but it continued – caramel, smoke, some oakiness, licorice and dark toblerone notes added themselves to the overall mélange, combining into a luscious amalgam that represented an obscure and crazy kind of brilliant madness in a bottle.  This was a rum I just could not stop nosing for another fifteen minutes, so enthralling was the experience.

That 62.1% really made itself felt on the palate, even after sitting around waiting to burn off for a while.  It was certainly quite spicy, sharp even.  Good body and awesomely intense mouthfeel, but this was one of the few Veliers where I thought it might be a shade too torqued up.  But never mind that – just luxuriate in the panoply of tastes it provided in exchange. Licorice and marzipan led straight off, followed by burnt sugar, some tar (not as much as with the Caronis), mitigated by more unsweetened dark chocolate and coffee grounds.  Port infused cigarillos, mixed in with smoke and wood, black cherries, more plums and more prunes, and some vague phenols rounding things out. Here water is absolutely recommended, and lo and behold, even more stuff came out – some stale coffee grounds (not as bad as it sounds), freshly sawn wood, musty old cigars and more smoke, honey and cream cheese. It was the gift that kept on giving.  I went through three glasses of the stuff, while warding off the depredations of my better half, who was wondering what the gurgles of delight were all about. As for the finish well, pretty damned good, long of course, hot and spicy without the sandpaper rasping across the back of the throat, and final notes of dark chopped fruits, cake, more licorice, dried raisins and (weirdest of all) some fried bananas.

D3S_9399

Think of it as you would an El Dorado on crack, beefed up and dialed to “11” and yet, and yet…it didn’t have the direct in-yer-face machismo of Velier’s single-still editions with their singular power and focus. In fact, the tastes were not so much fierce and attacking as well-behaved, coming across the taste buds in a strong and orderly fashion.  For a rum this strong, that’s nothing short of amazing. Drinking and savouring and enjoying a rum like the Diamond-PM is to be reminded that rum can ascend to heights more makers need to seek.  Luca rarely, if ever, just throws rum out the door, never dumbs his sh*t down, never dilutes it to crap or adds the worm.  He always seems to try going for broke, and to experience this rum is to watch a man risking his talent and his company’s reputation, not merely taking them out for a stroll.  I don’t know about you, but for me that deserves respect.

Other notes
2 barrels, 564 bottles

Distilled 1995, bottled July 2014.  The sources are the metal coffey still of Diamond and the wooden double pot still of Port Mourant, with Diamond supposedly dominant.

The marks on the barrels were <SV> and PM.  PM needs no elaboration.  The SV is more problematic, because Diamond had marks <S>, S<W> and SVW at various times.  Marco in his seminal essay of the various Guyanese estates thought it might be from one of the original owners, a Mr. M. Steele, or maybe Mr. Samuel Welsh.  But in truth, with Diamond absorbing so many different estates in the last hundred years, it’s anyone’s guess. Shouldn’t stop you from reading his essay, though

D3S_9400

 

Aug 062015
 

D3S_8965

 

The last of the flight of seven Caronis I tried in depth back in 2014, and one of the better ones.

(#225. 88/100)

***

There are two extremes to the Caronis: the limited release bottling from independent bottlers which are usually less than a thousand bottles, and Velier with its huge stockpile and multiple issues…so much so that one always has difficulty figuring out where to start with ‘em (the 12 year old 50% may be the best place).  I have a feeling that Rum Nation’s take on the late great plantation’s rum is likely to be one of the more accessible ones available to the average consumer, because the rums are (relatively) easily found, well advertised, and come on, let’s face it – Rum Nation do rums well.

In this case Rum Nation double-aged the heavy rum (from column distillate) for nine years in Trinidad itself, before shipping them off to Europe for further seven years of maturation in some barrels that were ex-bourbon, and others that once held the Peruanao 8 year old (a rather light, sprightly and delicate rum with a character similar to Bristol Spirits’s version, and also akin to the Millonario Solera 15).  The effect of the ageing regime in differing barrels and countries certainly added to its complexity and also its overall voluptuousness, I think…although I should note that some other writers refer to it as an intro to Caroni, rather than the real McCoy — Caroni “Lite,” one might say.

Nosing a beefcake of 55% usually provides an intense intro, like one of those idiots who shakes your hand with a painfully overstrong grip to show he’s a badass…the Caroni 1998 wasn’t quite like that, but it was certainly powerful.  Pungent — if not quite in the league of the Jamaican Pot Still White which edged over into ferocious – and vibrant with initial scent of honeycomb wax and rubber and straw, like a frogman strutting around in a dusty hayloft. There was a lot more going on here all at the same time, mind you — after letting the glass sit for a few minutes, additional scents of freshly sawn cedar, tar, oak, vanilla and moist molasses-soaked brown sugar were joined by softer, muskier scents of coffee, nutmeg and licorice. It was one of those rums that proved why pushing past the too-oft self-imposed 40% limitation is absolutely recommended.  It was a phenomenal rum to simply enjoy smelling.

And no slouch to taste either. Licorice and tar led off, lots of it.  The rubber, happily, started to take a back seat (I like it, but often there’s too much of a good thing and it’s nice to see it a bit subdued).  Caramel and toffee and coffee continued to make themselves felt as primaries, with background hints of green tea, white pepper coiling around behind it all.  The balance between the softer, muskier elements, and sharper, more herbal tastes was really quite something.  Even the faint bitterness of tree sap and fresh sawdust was kept in check (I was reminded of the quinine derivatives I used to have to drink in my bush years, but that was memory, not necessarily a taste I clearly sensed, and what the hell, I’ll mention it anyway). A touch of water smoothened things out quite nicely, but no additional flavours came forward that I could add to this already excellent smorgasbord.  I would like to point out that the rather brutally ascetic character I sense in many full proof Caronis (like the Veliers, for example) has been tamed here somewhat, and I attribute that to the 5g/L of sugar that Rum nation have added to the profile.  I’m not really a fan of such inclusions, yet must concede it works here.

The finish? Very long, heated and dry, really good – it released last sensations of molasses and caramel and angostura bitters (really!), with some of the  licorice and pepper notes coming over from the taste profile.  All in all, this is an enormously pleasant rum to play with and savour if you are into the Trinidadian profile, definitely one to share around.

Rum-Nation-Caroni-1998-2014

2014 was certainly an interesting year for Rum Nation.  In that single year they issued a new bottle shape (the squat one); they released their first white pot still rum (the Jamaica 57%); and for the first time they went over 50% in not one but two rums, the aforementioned Jamaica, and the amber-red medium-to-full-bodied Caroni 1998, the first batch of which I’m looking at here, and 3120 bottles of which were issued at cask strength 55% (or full proof, take your pick). They seem to positioning themselves in that relatively untravelled country between the craft makers with their few hundred bottles of exclusive full proof expressions, and the much more commercially orientated big distilleries who issue many thousands of bottles of aged rums at a lower proof point

I mentioned accessibility earlier. “Approachability” is just as good a word.  What I mean by this is how easy it is to get, how expensive it is, and how an average Tom, Dick or Harrilall would like it. With several thousand bottles of the Caroni on sale (and more batches to come), I’d say if you wanted this rum, you could find it; it’s mid-priced — not student-cheap, but reasonably affordable; and the taste has been smoothened out and somewhat domesticated by that 5g/L of added sugar. For purists, this last may be a disqualifier, but I argue that for people who buy rums only occasionally and have less lofty standards (or who don’t know or care), it would make a decent choice and introduction to higher proofed rums (to his credit, Mr. Rossi has never hidden the inclusions, but like many others, I wish a statement to that effect would be on the bottle front and centre).

In any event, a slightly softer, yet still intense taste profile, ready availability and a price your spouse won’t scream at you for, makes this Caroni a tempting proposition when the time comes to buy one for yourself, or recommend a Trini rum for a friend. My love is give to the immense stable of Velier Caronis, of course, but that’s no reason to pass Rum Nation’s top-notch edition by. It’s a damned fine exemplar of rum from a distillery whose stocks are shrinking every year.

 

Other notes

Steve James of the RumDiaries reviewed a RN Caroni 1998 bottle from the 2nd Batch, with some additional details on the distillery and methods of production.

Independent tests by various other reviewers and writers suggest the sugar content is closer to 12 g/L

I’ve looked at eight Caronis, most sourced in 2014. They are:

Jul 292015
 

D3S_8976

A brooding, dark exemplary Caroni with a slightly jagged ending..

(#224. 86/100)

***

We who chronicle our rum journeys make all the expected genuflections and obeisances to the great standards and stations of the cross…Appleton, Mount Gay, DDL, Four Square, Caroni, Trois Rivieres, Havana Club (the real one), J. Bally, Neisson, Flor, Diplomatico, and so on and so forth. Then we move to the independent bottlers as we broaden our ranges…and somewhere along the way, it’s almost a given that we stop at La Casa di Luca for a bite.  I’ve done twelve so far, and believe me, there’s no end in sight.

This rum from Velier is from 1996, 3000 bottles and 55% strength, and an 80% angel’s share. Sometimes Luca confuses me with his expressions because he would issue the same rum at two different strengths just ‘cause, you know, he’s got ‘em, he can, and he wants to (this heavy 1996 has been issued at 63% as well – Henrik from Rumcorner waxed rhapsodic about it here quite recently).  Frankly, I worry this may be the sad case of there being too much of a good thing. They are all very good, you understand, but finding a favourite among so many expressions that are actually quite similar is a job for someone with deeper pockets and a more discerning schnozz than mine.

The bottle and its enclosure conform to all the expected values Velier has espoused for so long: stark and two-colour presentation, the box showing a photograph of Luca’s taken at the distillery (he’s actually a very good photographer as well), and all the usual useful information you could want. About the only thing you’re not getting was any notation on additives, but you can take it from me that Luca is a Spartan minimalist who cheerfully channels Josef Albers and Mondrian, is a proponent of pure rums in all senses, and is insistent that what comes out of the cask is what goes into the bottle. So rest assured, all ye puritans.

D3S_8898a

Photo courtesy of Velier

A darkish amber-orange coloured rum, it was, as expected, quite pungent and rich to smell, after burning off the more intense alcohol: immediate, dark scents of caramel and molasses duelled it out with musky tar, smoke, oak, leather, rubber and my son’s plasticine collection.  As it opened up, these muscular smells were lightened somewhat by lighter, sharper, floral hints, and the oils you smell on your fingers after manually peeling an orange, and some additional citrus (not much)…and then the petrol and aniseed blasted back to show they weren’t taking second place any time soon.  Heavy, thick and pungent, much like the 1994 edition.

The rum was a nocturnal, glowering Heathcliff to taste too (the nose wasn’t lying). Scarily big and bold bruiser when I tried it first (neat): more oak, molasses, tar, I couldn’t escape that signature profile, leavened somewhat with eucalyptus oil, dark chopped dried fruits, and raisins.  The harsher petrol and rubber disappeared almost entirely, and with a little water the thing became downright drinkable – certainly it was hot yet smooth all the way through, and the balance was quite extraordinary. Henrik loved the 63% edition: still, I could argue that the 55% is no slouch either, and may be more accessible than that other, stronger rum.  Just sayin’…

As for the finish, well, it was long, so no fault there: there was, I felt just a bit too much oak, and it was shade too bitter (nobody was more surprised than I).  I could make out the softer, fruitier notes that worked so well when I tasted it but here they were overwhelmed somewhat, and were only briefly discernible in the background before disappearing entirely.  So in that sense, not one of the very best of the Veliers for me, though none of this was enough to sink what really was a very good rum indeed.

Given that the sense of bitterness and oak was quite subtle, don’t take my word for it. We should be wary of dismissing a rum this engaging just because it doesn’t get up there on the soapbox and dance with the best of the best. It still stands pretty damn tall as it is, and I don’t see that much competition on the horizon. It’s a phenomenally well-made full-proof, big, thick and heavy, and it fulfills the latent desire of just about any A-type who thinks a rum should match his junk.

 

***

Other notes:

The series of reviews on Caroni rums is one I should have completed ages ago. In late 2014 I bought a whole raft of them at once, ran them past each other, tasted them individually and in depth, and yet almost a year later I’m still not done the scribbling.  So next week I’ll wrap up the last one (Rum Nation, for those who like sneak peeks).

The rums reviewed are:

 

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