May 072017
 

Think of the great and noble Demerara rum marques and a few initials come to mind. PM.  EHP. VSG. ICBU.  PDW.

PDwhat?

I spent days trolling around trying to find out what those initials meant and came up dry. I was left thinking that if Cadenhead doesn’t get its act together, it’s going to be a running joke that they’re clueless as to how to name their rums, and maybe I’ll solicit lottery entries for best guess what these initials represent.

But that’s just me and somewhat irrelevant, so let’s just rewind to the beginning. Caribbean Distillers Limited was and is not a distillery of any kind, merely a now-dormant subsidiary of DDL (Yesu Persaud and Komal Samaroo were/are its officers), incorporated in the UK in 1986 with £100 share capital.  It seems reasonable to assume it was the distribution arm for DDL in Europe, or a vehicle for financial transactions which would have been difficult to carry out from Guyana, where extremely stringent exchange controls existed at that time.  So by the time Cadenhead bought their barrel(s) it was from this company which in turn had access to all of DDL’s exported aged rums.

The most common geriatrics one can still find (and, perhaps, afford) are those from the 1970s made in limited runs by the whisky makers – we’re not all like Uncle Serge, who just reviewed the Samaroli 1948 Longpond the other day.  And, yes, of course even older ones do exist — the Saint James 1885 proves that — but they’re usually far too pricey and in many cases just made in some far away time, and are not normally thirty or forty years old.  So it was with some appreciation that I sprung some of my hard earned cash to buy a sample of this hoary 29 year old Cadenhead, dating back from 1972, and bottled at a whopping 60.9%.  You gotta love those Scots – as far back as 2002, way before us writers were even out of rum-diapers and we all and only loved living room strength, they were out there pushing fullproof mastodons.

Is it worth it, if one can find it?  I suggest yes, and for those of you who are shrugging (“Ahh, it’s just another strong rum”), well, I’ll just dive straight into the tasting notes and maybe that’ll hold your waning attention.  Certainly nothing else would express my appreciation quite as well.  Starting with the nose, it was aggressive and spicy but without any serious damage-inducing sharpness redolent of massive pot still crazy – in fact, it presented almost creamily, with coconut shavings, vanilla, exotic baked fruit in a cream pie (think a steroid infused lemon meringue), and the vague delicacy of flowers rounding out the backend.  With water it opened up spectacularly: it went all citrusy, tartly creamy, very fruity, tacking on some licorice – I was left looking wonderingly at the amber liquid in the glass, wondering what on earth this really was: a Port Mourant? Emore? John Dore?  For my money it’s the single wooden pot still (VSG marque), because it lacks some of the depth of the PM and I had enough Enmores to believe it wasn’t that. But that’s only a guess really, since nobody knows what the PDW stands for.

Anyway, I was equally pleased (enthused might be a better word) with the taste, which was, quite frankly, an edged weapon of dark rum magic.  Everything I liked in a Demerara rum was here, and in great balance without excess anywhere. First there were prunes and other dark fruits – raisins, blackberries, blackcurrants.  To this was added licorice, slightly bitter-and-salty burnt sugar and caramel.  Oakiness was kept way back – it was a breath, not a shout.  These core flavours were circled by sharper citrus notes, as well as some of that lemon meringue again; faint green grapes, some apples, and a pear or two, nothing serious, just enough unobtrusive small flavours tucked away in the corner to garner appreciation for the rum as a whole.  And while forceful, the 60.9% was really well handled, leading to a heated finish redolent of much of the above (and nothing markedly different, or new) that went on for so long I nearly feel asleep waiting for it to stop.  In short, this was a magnificently aged rum.  Maybe I should be genuflecting. 

So far, just about all rums from the disco decade I’ve tried have been very old ones (not necessarily very good ones in all cases), aged two decades or more, bottled at the beginning of the rum renaissance in the 2000s.  There’s Velier’s PM 1974 and Skeldon 1973, Norse Cask 1975, Cadenhead’s own Green Label 1975 Demerara, and a few others here or there….and now this one.  The PDW is a big, growly, deep, tasty rum, and if you’re tired of Veliers, go see if you can find it.  It’s a triumph of the maker’s imagination and the difficulties of ageing that long.  It couldn’t have been easy to make, or decide when to stop, but Cadenhead seems to have kept at it and at it, and waited to bottle the thing only when they were sure, really sure, they had it absolutely right. And they did.

(91/100)

 

May 022017
 

#361

The Sancti Spiritus distillery in Central Cuba, also known as Paraiso, has been making rums since 1946, and other than its history (see “other notes” below) there is remarkably little hard information about its operations, its size, volume or exports on hand. Aside from what must be substantial local production which we don’t see, they may be better known for the relatively new Ron Paraiso brand, as well as from the labels of independent bottlers like Compagnie des Indes, Kill Divil, Bristol Spirits, the Whisky Agency, and, here, W.M.Cadenhead.  Based on what one sees for sale online, barrels seem to have begun hitting Europe somewhere around the mid 1990s, with the one I’m looking at today coming off the (columnar) still in 1998 and bottled at a firm 59.2% in 2013.  Cadenhead, as usual, have amused themselves with putting the abbreviation “ADC” on the label, which could mean variously “Aroma de Cuba,“ or “Acerca de caña” or, in my patois, “All Done Cook” – any of these could be used, since Cadenhead never discloses – or doesn’t know itself – what the initials denote, and I’m tired of asking and getting “Ahhhh…duuuuh….Cuba?” in response.

A number of people who like the heavier, thrumming British West Indian rums (from Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados for example) have sniffed disparagingly to me about Spanish rons recently, especially the column still ones, which are most of them.  I suspect this has to do with their despite for Bacardi and the light Panamanian stuff that’s been slipping in the ratings of late.   Nothing wrong with that, but my own feeling is that they’re casting too wide a net, and if one throws out an entire region’s worth of bathwater based on a few sampled rums, then one misses the baby that washed out the door as well.  Maybe it’s the occasional lack of verifiable ageing, maybe it’s the lightness, maybe it’s the palate of the drinker. Don’t know. But this Cuban ron does deserve a closer look.

Consider first the nose on the pale yellow ron: it was a sparkling, light dose of crisp, clean aromas, starting off with rubbery, sweet acetones all at once.  In its own way it was also quite tart, reminding me of gooseberries, pickled gherkins, cucumbers and lots of sugar water, stopping just short of presenting an agricole profile.  I don’t think I could have sipped it blind and known immediately it was from Cuba.  At a whisker shy of 60% it attacked strongly, but was too well made to be sharply malicious, and was simply and forcefully intense, which was to its credit and made the experience of smelling it a very good one, especially once some soursop, citrus and baking spices were coaxed out of hiding a few minutes later.

The taste fell down somewhat – there was dry wood, a lot of strange and almost-bitter tannins at the start; which was fortunately not a disqualification, because these tastes balanced off what might otherwise have been an overabundance of light sweetness represented by watermelon and papaya and Anjou pears.  Gradually it unfolded like a flower at dawn, producing additional faint notes of orange zest, almost-ripe yellow mangoes and apricots, balanced by iodine, menthol (!!), tumeric and some strong black tea, all of which led to a conclusion that was suitably long, clear and spicy, closing off the show with nutmeg, more of that tartness, and a flirt of orange zest.

Briefly, Cadenhead’s ADC stacked up well against a raft of agricoles, Spanish and Surinamese rums that were on the table that day. It did make me think, though: reading around others experiences with Cuban rums generally, one thing that strikes me as consistent is that the demonstrably older a Cuban rum is, the more commonly it is scored high.  Now pot still rums made with some skill can be good right out of the gate, and creole column-still juice out of the French islands prove all the time that higher age does not necessarily confer higher praise (or scores).  But with column still rums made in the Cuban/Spanish style, the usual easy 40% young stuff or blended rons of some age just don’t have that sizzle which Cadenhead somehow extracted out of their barrel here. In other words, for such traditionally light rums, additional ageing is a better deal, it would seem.

So, in fine, I believe that this rum is better than the Havana Club Barrel Proof (and the Seleccion de Maestros that succeeded it), better than the Renegade 11 year old (but maybe I should retaste since I tried that one ages ago); it edges out the Santiago de Cuba 12 year old, though is perhaps not quite as good as the CDI Sancti Spiritus (also from 1998).  Those dour Scots took the sunshine of the tropics, doused it with some cold salt sea-spray and foam-lashed rocks, and produced an amalgam of both that’s better than either, and just falls short of remarkable – it’s worth a try by anyone, if it can still be found.

(86.5/100)

Other notes

A few words on the distillery history: called variously the Paraiso or Sancti Spiritus distillery, the founding family, the Riondas, began their sugar business in 1891 with a company called the Tuinucú Sugar Company in the province of Sancti Spiritus (which was also near to the original Bacardi distillery). In 1946 the Paraiso Distillery was created and in 1951, the Tuinucú Sugar Company was consolidated into both plantation and distillery operations. Since the revolution, the Government took over the entire operation not long after and has run the show ever since.

Apr 172017
 

Picture (c) Steve James of the Rum Diaries Blog

#357

The blurbs about the rum refer to this as being made from “very pure” cane molasses (as opposed to, I’m guessing, very impure or merely pure molasses).  Said molasses are fermented for two weeks using two different yeast strains, triple distilled in copper pot stills; from which the rum is taken at 80% ABV, diluted down to 60% and then laid to rest for a minimum of six months to a year in charred oak barrels before being filtered to within an inch of its life to produce this 40% clear mixing agent.  It’s a relatively new rum on to the scene, coming to market around 2011 or so; and made by a Dutch concern called Zuidam Distillers, established in 1975 by Fred Van Zuidam…his sons currently run the show.  Originally there was  only a small copper pot still and a single production line, but growing business in the 1990s and 2000s allowed them to expand to their current facilities using four copper pot stills and four production lines.  That enabled the company, like so many others, to expand the lineup, which now includes whiskies, genever (Dutch gin), liqueurs and of course, a rum or two, none of which have crossed my path before.

Thinking about the rum itself, I suppose it is meant to deal a bitchslap at the more common white Bacardis of this world by bridging the gap between the milquetoast made by the ex-Cuban company and more feral white unaged pot still products like the ones issued by Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti and Jamaica, and thereby snatch back some European market share for such rums.  Certainly it’s one of a very few European distilleries that make a rum at all, and any white rum from a pot still (even if bleached to nothing), may be something to look out for — though why they would name it after a nautical harbinger of doom remains an unanswered, unanswerable question; and why bother filtering the thing is just a plain mystery (I’ve heard that they may eliminate that step in the near future ).

Since the important thing is not these academic notes but whether it all comes together or not in a real tasting, let’s move on. The nose is dry and just a bit sweet, not so much spicy as gently warm. Alas, the notes resemble a surfeit of excessively sugared swank (in that it seems to be channeling an agricole) plus vanilla, something akin to vodka sipped past a sugar cube, though it was reasonably crisp and clear. After some time there were florals, salt, dates, and some estery fumes straining to get out — but never quite succeeding, which is where the decision to filter it shows its weakness since much of the distinctive aromas get wiped out in such a process.

On the palate, bluntly speaking, it fails.  It’s too thin, too watery.  More sugar, mint, some marzipan (are we sure this is a rum, or a gin wannabe?).  There’s nothing standard about this at all, and it’s at right angles to any other white rum I’ve ever tried.  Whipped cream, ripe breadfruit, nail polish, cucumbers in vinegar with perhaps a pimento and some dill thrown in for some kick and to wake up reviewers who’re put to sleep by it.  After adding some water (more out of curiosity than necessity) vanilla, coconut shavings and white chocolate were noticeable, and the best thing about it was the silkiness of the whole thing (in spite of its anemic body) which makes it an almost-sipping-quality white, without ever demonstrating a firmness of taste that might ameliorate the lack of complexity.  As for the finish…meh. Soft, warm and fast, gone so quick that all you can get from it is some warm vanilla…and more of that sugar water, so this aspect was certainly the weakest part of the whole experience.

So no, it’s better to mix, not to have by itself.  I didn’t care much for it, and in short, the rum still needs more work. Above, I noted that it may have wanted to try and straddle the divide between soft white rum pillows and more uncompromising unaged pot still panthers, but what emerges at the other end is really just an alcohol infused vanilla-and-sugar water drink with a few odd notes.  I think there’s some potential here, but for the Flying Dutchman to score higher and win wider acceptance in this day and age, perhaps it might have been a better idea to not only issue it unfiltered, but also bump up the strength a notch.  Then they might really have something to crow about, and excite more of the public’s interest than this version inspired.

 (74/100)

Other notes

  • The company makes a 3 year old gold rum as well. The source is the same.
Apr 132017
 

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission 

“Super Premium”? Not at all…but still quite a tasty dram. Surprised they didn’t call it a “Navy”.

#356

Bottled at an assertive but not excessive 50%, the Svenska Eldvattan Weiron is a blended rum out of Sweden made by the same happy bunch of guys who are behind the Rum Swedes lineup, which I’ve never tried but about which I’ve heard many good things.  That said, they don’t limit themselves to rum, and are primarily into bottling various whiskies, with a gin and a tequila or two for good measure.  This one is rather daringly called the “Super Premium Aged Caribbean Rum” which I’m sure has more than one rum junkie itching to see if it actually lives up to what few independent bottlers would dare to claim, not least because (a) nobody can actually define the term precisely and (b) there’s tons of rums out there which probably deserve the appellation more.

Getting the basics out of the way, the rum was issued in early 2015; part of the blend is Jamaican, part is Bajan, and there is more that remains unidentified.  However, to please the above-mentioned junkie, there are no additives, no chill filtering, and the individual components were all matured at the distilleries of origin, which unfortunately remain unknown to this day.  As an aside the Weiron seems to be turning into its own little lineup, as various other editions are being issued (like some Caroni and Nicaragua single cask, fullproof expressions).  Beyond that, there’s not much to tell you, not even the outturn, or the age of the bits and pieces; and there’s something about the bottle’s stark presentational ethos that suggests the Swedes felt that Velier obviously had far too much flower-child frippery and ridiculous ostentation in their overlabelled and overdecorated bottles.  Either that or they’re channelling Ikea, who knows?

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission

When smelled, one can instantly sense some pot still action going on here, as evidenced by the swiftly fading paint thinner and shoe polish aromas, although it didn’t hang around long enough to be a core component of the nose.  Still, there was cardboard, cream cheese, molasses and crispy crackers, both sweet and salt at the same time in a very nice balance.  It was manageably spicy, and took its own sweet time getting to the point, and after some minutes, darker fruit began to emerge, caramel, raisins, together with some nuttiness and leather, and perhaps a touch of toffee and vanilla, all bound together by an undercurrent of lemon peel and faint funkiness that pointed to the Jamaican more than any kind of Bajan influence.

It was on the palate that it came into its own and made more of a statement.  Warm and smooth, with a firm little burn for a 50% rum, and amazingly well assembled.  Cherries, olives, cumin, cardamom, brown sugar were the initial flavours, tied up in a bow with some very faint citrus and licorice.  With water the citrus disappeared, replaced by a good aged cheddar and black bread, more raisins, bananas, plus some herbal background of fennel and rosemary, and closing off with a lovely medium-long finish of fruit, more anise and sharper oaky tannins.  Overall, I had to admit, this wasn’t bad at all, and just wish I knew more about it – Steve James, who loved the rum and sent me the sample, felt it set a new benchmark for multi-island blended hooch, and though I was not quite as enraptured as he was, even I have to admit there was a lot of really good stuff going on here, and at its price point it’s well worth it.

Mostly these days I’m at that stage in my rum journey where blends don’t do much for me as they once did, and I want and prefer the product of a single distillery, bottled as is.  For example, I think the 2007 single-still expressions from DDL are better than their aged blends, and efforts to marry off disparate profiles like Oceans Distillery did with their Atlantic edition, or Amrut with their Two Indies didn’t entirely work for me (perhaps the Black Tot is the exception that proves the rule).  For a profile as distinct as Jamaica to be mixed up with a Bajan (and whatever the additional piece(s) was/were) the resultant has to be damned good to get my vote and my score.  Still, all that aside, in this particular case the lack of information works for the rum rather than against it, because it forces one to walk in blind without preconceptions and simply try what’s on offer.  On that basis alone, then, I’d say the Swedes have done a pretty good job at creating a fascinating synthesis of various countries’ rums, and produced something of their own whose moniker of “Super Premium” may be more hope than reality and which may not be greater than the sum of its parts…but is not necessarily less than those either.

(85/100)

Mar 282017
 

One of Velier’s initial expressions, and somewhat of an exception to their rule of excellence.

#351

The amber-coloured Velier La Bonne Intention (LBI) Old Demerara Rum 1985 15 year old rum is not for everyone, and is rather more an artifact than a must-have. For aficionados who are used to the fullproof bruisers with which Luca made his bones, it is more a historical relic than truly representative of his ideas, very much as the Enmore 1987 was (perhaps that’s because both rums were bottled by Breitenstein* in Holland in 2000 and imported by Velier, so it’s possible that Luca had somewhat less input into the final product than he subsequently did once he took over his own bottlings). For the curious rum drinkers moving up the scale of rums and seeking an introduction to a softer Velier product (“what’s all the damned fuss about this company, anyway?” is the usual irritated question), it might be worth a try, though with its rarity these days it’s unlikely anyone will ever find it outside of eBay.  And for those who despise adulteration in any form, it’s definitely a pass, unless one likes to take down the Big Guy by gleefully pointing out a rare misstep.

I make these points not to diss Velier – they’ve more than moved past this kind of milquetoast — merely to provide the background for what the rum is – an earlier essay in the craft, before the pure fullproof philosophy had matured into its current form.  The stats tell the tale: for one, the rum is bottled at a mild 40%, and for another it has been graded at around 12g/L of additives (presumed to be sugar).  So in that sense it’s much more like a regular, pre-renaissance indie bottling from Ago than any of the comets that lit up the skies of the rumiverse in the years that followed.

Even tasting it blind (which I did, with other Veliers as controls), you could sort of sense there was something off about it, something less than what we have become accustomed to.  For example, it was so light and clear on the nose to make me wonder if my sample had gotten mislabeled and there was an agricole in the glass. That thought was dispelled when light fruits, grapes, caramel, nougat and not-very-tart yoghurt scents emerged, which slowly deepened into a crème brulee and white toblerone over time, with perhaps some coffee. Overall, nothing particularly over-the-top, and although the underlying quality was there, idling gently, it never engaged with any kind of force or impact.

Still, the taste wasn’t bad for a rum this dialed down – it simply took time (and effort) to nail down the specifics.  For the most part it was warm and light, with gentle, watery fruits – kiwi, papaya, ripe apples without any sharp, tart edges, some whipped cream, quite nice.  With water not much that was new came out – some vanilla and oak, coffee, and that was pretty much it, propelling the entire affair languidly towards a short, light finish with some weak cider, a latte, and an additional flirt or two of the fruitiness.  I didn’t feel the added sugar was particularly noticeable in its impact, unless it was to smoothen things out. Frankly, the only thing to get excited about here was that it was one of the first ones from the company, so anyone who gets a bottle certainly has some bragging rights on that score.

LBI – La Bonne Intention – is a sugar plantation on the East Coast of the Demerara river, a short drive from Georgetown, and I have many fond memories of Sunday mornings spent swimming in the GUYSUCO Sports Club pool there with my brother in the early 1980s.  The old coffey still at LBI was long gone by that time (Marco in his seminal essay on the plantations of British Guiana notes it as being decommissioned around 1960 as part of Booker’s rationalization strategy), and as far as we can speculate, this rum likely derived from a Savalle column still, possibly the one from Uitvlugt. However, the resemblances between various Uitvlugt expressions and this rum are almost nonexistent as far as I’m concerned, and it should be considered on its own.

Nearly two decades after this came to market, to malign Velier is deemed by some to be apostasy of near burn-at-the-stake proportions, but come on, even Luca had to start somewhere, muck around a little, fall over his own feet once or twice (which is why these days, it’s said – always with a smile — he uses only taxis). One long-ago-made, less-than-stellar rum in an oevre with so many masterpieces is hardly enough to either define the brand or sink those accomplishments that were achieved in subsequent years.  So, as I said, it’s merely a lesser effort, an earlier issue, probably not something to sell the left kidney for. And if the additives and relative mildness of the rum turn you off of Velier as a whole and make you sneer at the encomiums they got from all points of the compass since 2012, well, there’s tons of other releases by the company that show the lesson had been learnt.  Dip your toes in anywhere – I’m sure you’ll find one.

(80/100)

Other Notes

Big hat-tip to Cyril of DuRhum, who spotted me the sample of this oldie from the same source as his own review, as well as the 1998 version which I’ll probably look at soon.  Note that he really didn’t like this one much, and for many of the same reasons.

*Breitenstein is a Holland-based trading company 100% owned by DDL, not a separate third party as I had initially thought.

Mar 012017
 

#346

One of the older independent bottlers is Silver Seal out of Italy, which has been around for longer than many other such companies; it was formed in 1979 and named “Sestante” before being renamed in 2001 after a ten year operational hiatus. It adheres to the modern ethos of regular issues, and bottles casks sourced and aged with attention to detail, from all over the world; it takes an approach more akin to Rum Nation or L’Esprit than Velier, diluting the natural strength of the cask to appeal to a broader audience….though as this Enmore demonstrates, they have no objection to issuing cask strength rums either. Like Samaroli they do primarily whiskies, with rums as a smaller percentage of their sales, but I argue that it is for rums they really should be known, since everyone and his chihuahua makes whiskies, but it takes a real man to make a good rum worthy of being called one.

Like this one.

The Enmore we’re looking at today presses all the right buttons for a Guyanese rum from the famed still, about which by now I should not need to spill any further ink.  Distilled in 1986, bottled in 2007 at 55%, no filtration or dilution, and that’s enough to get most aficionados drooling right away.  Price is a bit much — I paid north of €300 for this bad boy, largely because getting any rums from the 1970s and 1980s these days is no easy task and when one is found it’s pricey.  Colour was copper-amber and after having waited eight months to crack the thing, well, you’ll forgive me for being somewhat enthusiastic to get started.

Fortunately it did not disappoint.  Indeed, it impressed the hell out of me by presenting a nose with three separate and distinct olfactory components, which somehow worked together instead of opposing each other.  It opened up with a trumpet blast of tart red apples (almost cider-like), acetone and polish and burning rubber, and frankly, I  wish I knew how they made that happen without messing it all up, so points for succeeding there.  The second component was the more familiar licorice and dried fruit and black cake, lots and lots of each, which gradually melded into the first set.  And then, more subtly, came the third movement of softer, easier, quieter notes of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, smoke and leather that lent authority and elegance to the more powerful statements that had come before. In fine, a great nose.  I went on smelling it happily for half an hour (and on three separate occasions).

And the taste…”warm and powerfully elegant” is not a bad four-word summary.  Again I was reminded how 50-60% seems to me to be just about right for rums to showcase strength and taste without either overkill or understatement.  It takes real effort and skill to make a 65% elephant perform like a dancing cheetah (Velier is among the best in this regard, with the Compagnie and L’Esprit snapping lustily at its heels) but for something a bit less antagonistic like 55%, the task is commensurately easier.  That worked fine here.  It took the flavours of the nose and built on them.

First there were salty marshmallows and teriyaki, not as obscure or crazy as it sounds (more a way to describe a salt and sweet amalgam properly). It had the slightly bitter taste of unsweetened coffee and dark chocolate, but was also remarkably deep and creamy, though I felt here the wood had a bit too much influence and this jarred somewhat with the following notes of caramel and butterscotch. But with a bit of water the dark fruits came out and smoothened out the experience, gradually morphing into a sweeter, more relaxed profile, salty, briny, musky and with a flirt of cereals and raisins. Overall it was a lot like the Compagnie’s Enmore 1988 27 year old, so much so that the differences were minor (for the record I liked that one more…it had somewhat better depth, complexity and balance).  Things were wrapped up nicely with a finish of heated warmth, reasonably smooth and long, which summed up what had come before and was primarily licorice, raisins, vanilla, brine and burnt sugar.  All in all, an impressive achievement.

Independent bottlers aren’t producers in the accepted sense of the word, since they don’t actually produce anything.  What they do is chose the base product, and then transform it.  Some, after careful consideration and exacting decision-making, buy the finished rum by the individual barrel from a broker and put a label on, while others take the time to age their own barrels of raw rum stock bought young.  I’m not entirely sure which camp Silver Seal falls into, but I can tell you this – whatever they did to put this rum out the door is absolutely worth it.  It’s one of the better Enmores I’ve tried and if you do empty your wallet to buy one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed either.

(89.5/100)

Other notes

Allow me a digression to snark for a moment: the company both elicits my admiration for their bottlings and my annoyance for the crap labelling of their Demeraras in about equal measure.  It’s all about that ridiculous British Guyana moniker they keep slapping on, which is about as irritating as reading “Guyanan” rum on a Cadenhead bottle. All right, so that’s petty of me, but please, just get it right folks, is all I’m asking. Guyana has been independent since 1966 and by now everyone should know it’s no longer “British” anything, and when it comes from there, it’s a “Guyanese” rum.

Feb 262017
 

#345

All grog-blog hoodlums and Danes know the story, and somewhere out there you can just bet the Danes are smirking.  Back when Compagnie des Indes was a new independent bottler just starting out, selling their initial 46%-or-so editions around Europe, the rum lovers from Denmark shook their heads and said they wanted cask strength rums.  Y’know, the real stuff, the ones dosed with huge quantities of whup-ass, coming with battleaxes taped to the bottle, not frilly pink cupcakes for the weak-kneed. Florent shuddered a little at the thought of a bunch of intoxicated rum-loving vikings turning up in France demanding their hooch in person, and hurriedly advised them that if they wanted that, they’d have to buy the entire barrel; after some haggling it was agreed and a whole bunch of cask strength rums were shipped north.  These proved to be so popular (and not only with the lucky folks for whom it was made) that they sold out in next to no time, left the rest of the world grumbling about how come they didn’t get any, and were the impetus behind the subsequent release of the Cask Strength editions by the Compagnie, beginning in 2016.

Having said all the above, the Uitvlugt outturn from Guyana is somewhat less well known than its brawnier cousins from the wooden stills which have formed a part of every navy rum ever made for literally centuries.  The Uitvlugt marque derives from the four-column French Savalle still, which was originally two two-column stills joined into one since their migration to Diamond, and according to DDL, can produce nine different types of rum (light to heavy).  Still, if you believe for one moment that a column still rum in general, or one from Uitvlugt in particular, is in some way less, then you have not tried the best of them all — the UF30E — or many of the other craft bottlings issued over the years.  And you can believe me when I tell you, this eighteen year old full proof rum that the Compagnie put out the door is no slouch either, and is just a few drams short of exceptional.

So, brief stats for the number crunchers: an eighteen year old rum, 1997-2016, 387 bottle outturn from cask #MGA5.  This is not the cask strength variation of the 45% 18 YO finished in Armagnac casks as far as I am aware, but a straightforward 57.9%.  And all the usual assurances of no additives, dilutants and other creepy crawly weird stuff that results in abominations like the Don Papa.  Also, it is pale yellow, which is a resounding response to all those who believe darker is somehow older.

None of the musky anise and dark fruits such as accompany the PM and Enmore marques were on display here, of course, but attention was drawn immediately to acetone and pencil erasers, underlaid with the strong smell of rubber laid down by a hot rod on a fresh made highway under a scorching summer sky.  Once this burned off – and it never really did, not entirely – the rum displayed a plethora of additional interesting aromas: mint leaves, wet cardboard and cereal, the tartness of fresh ginnips, and a deep floral sweet scent that was far from unpleasant, though here and there I felt the integration was somewhat lacking.

The palate, now here was a profile that demanded we sit up and take heed. Petrol and fusel oils screamed straight onto the tongue.  It was immensely dry, redolent of glue and fusel oils and bags of dried fruit, feeling at times almost Jamaican, if that isn’t stretching credulity too much.  For all that the rum had a real depth to the mouthfeel, and as it opened up (and with some water), lovely distinct  fruity flavours emerged (cherries, peaches, apricots, mangoes), mixing it up really well with lemon rind, brine and olives.  Even after ten minutes or so it was pouring out rich, chewy tastes, leading to a smooth, hot finish that was quite exceptional, being crisp and clean, giving up last notes of olives in brine, tart apples, teriyaki sauce, and a nice mix of sweet and sour and fruits, something like a Hawaiian pizza gone crazy. It wasn’t entirely successful everywhere – there were some jagged notes here and there, and perhaps the body would have been a little less sharp (even for something south of 60%)…but overall, a really well done piece of the rumiverse.

Bringing all this to a conclusion, the Uitvlugt is a powerful achievement, a delicious, strong, well balanced rum of uncommon quality that succeeds in almost every aspect of its assembly, falling down in only minor points.  It goes to show that while the Port Mourants and the Enmores of Guyana get most of the headlines and are far better known (and distinctive, don’t ever forget that), Uitvlugt may just be the little engine that could, chuggin gamely ahead, year in and year out, producing capable little world beaters every time.  If the UF30E or the 1997 Velier or the other rums from that still made by CDI didn’t convince you already that great stuff could come from this place, well, here’s another to add some lustre to the company, the still and the estate.

(87/100)

Feb 092017
 

Wow…

#341

The surprisingly heavy and dark Bellevue rhum made by L’Esprit purred salt and sweet caramel ice cream into my nose as I smelled it, revealing itself in so incremental a fashion, with such an odd (if excellent) profile that it almost had to be experienced to be properly appreciated, and it left me wondering whether this was a molasses rum, not one from cane juice.  It was bottled at the perfect strength for what it displayed, melding power and smoothness and warmth in a nose of uncommon quality.  Yet there was lightness and joyousness here too, a sort of playful melange of all the things we like in a rhum, skimping not at all on the secondary notes of prunes, plums, peaches, and pineapples.  It was plump, oily and aromatic to a fault, and demonstrated quite forcefully that the Epris Brazilian rum that had been my first introduction to the company had not been a one-off, one hit wonder.

Even to taste it, the experience did not falter or withdraw from its exuberance. The Bellevue seemed to operate on two levels of quality simultaneously – first there were the faint oily, rubbery notes, leavened with nougat, pink grapefruit and light citrus.  And behind that, almost at the same time, there was the real deal: honey, vanillas, olives and briny notes in perfect balance, chopped light fruits and flowers, plus a thin thread of licorice coiling through the whole thing.  There was just so much going on here that it rewarded a rather languorous approach to the tasting – usually I do all my tastings at the table with all the comparators within easy reach, but here, after ten minutes, I simply said “to hell with it” and went out onto the balcony, sat down to watch the sun go down, and idly observed the passers by below who didn’t share my good fortune at having a lovely rum like this one growling softly in my glass.  Even the finish kept on developing (not always the case with rhums or rums) – it was crisp and smooth and hot, long lasting, a real delight – it seemed to be a little more oaky than before, here, but the lasting memories it left behind were of a lot of hot, strong black tea, and burnt sugar resting easily on a bed of softer vanilla, tobacco and citrus notes.  It was, and remains, a solid, smooth, tasty, drinking experience, not quite as good as the Damoiseau 1989 20 year old…but close, damned close.

If you’re one of the fortunate owners of this nectar, let me run down the bare bones so that you know what you’re drinking: column still product, cask strength 58%, matured in a bourbon barrel for slightly more than twelve years.  This is not from the Habitation Bellevue distillery on Marie Galante, but from the Bellevue estate which is part of Damoiseau on Guadeloupe (the main island), founded in 1914 and bought by Louis Damoiseau in 1942 – commercial bottling began around 1953.  Like just about all commercial spirits operations in the West Indies, they ship bulk rum to Europe, which is, as far as I know, where this one was bought, so ageing was not tropical, but European.  Which, fortunately for us, didn’t diminish its achievement in the slightest.

My association with L’Esprit, that little French company from Brittany I wrote about earlier this week, came as a consequence of that Brazilian rum referred to above — that thing really impressed me.  And so I kept a weather eye out, and bought the first bottle made by L’Esprit that I saw, which just so happened to be this one…I have a few others from the company to go through so it won’t be the last either.  While thus far L’Esprit hasn’t made a whole lot of rums – twenty five or so the last time I looked – the worth of their wares is consistently high.  This one is no exception, an enormously satisfying rhum with exclamation points of quality from start to finish.

The minimal outturn should come in for mention: I’m used to seeing a “set” of a few hundred bottles from the various indies, a few thousand from Rum Nation, so there’s a fair chance some reader of this little blog will pick one up…but to see one of merely sixty bottles from a single cask, well, I may just be spitting into the wind (it was beaten, for the trivia nuts among you, by the Old Man Spirits Uitvlugt, a measly twenty eight bottles, and by the reigning world champion, the Caputo 1973 which had just one). The reason why the outturn is so relatively small, is because L’Esprit is bowing to the market – they know it’s mostly connoisseurs who love cask strength rums, but they’re few and far between, and it’s the general public who drive sales and buy the 46% versions.  What Tristan does, therefore, is issue a small batch of cask strength rums from the barrel (60-100 bottles) and the remainder gets tamped down to 46% and issued in 200-300 bottles.

After going head to head with as many agricole rhums as I can lay paws on for the last few years, there’s nothing but good I can say about the tribe as a whole.  I enjoy the fierce purity of the AOC Martinique rhums, their almost austere clarity and grassy cleanliness – yet somehow I find myself gravitating towards Guadeloupe a bit more often, perhaps because they have a slightly more experimental, almost playful way of producing their hooch (they never bothered with the AOC certification themselves, which may be part of it).  This gives the rhums from the island(s) a certain unstudied richness and depth that seems to have created a bridge between traditional molasses rums and agricoles (my personal opinion).  If you can accept that, then this Bellevue rhum demonstrates – in its fruity, oily, creamy, complex, balanced and warm way –  the potential and quality of the best of both those worlds.

87/100

Other notes:

  • Outturn 60 bottles
  • Distilled March 1998, bottled November 2010

_________________________________

A last pic: Yeah, it’s out of focus and photobombed by The Little Caner…but we could all use some cheer and smiles once in a while, and I liked this one a lot anyway.

Jan 252017
 

Unique in its own way, but not precisely exceptional.

#338

It’s been quite some time since I’ve tried a Nicaraguan rum. That’s partly because I was unenthusiastic (even indifferent) to the more recent Flor de Caña range of rums where the age statement, through a miraculous stroke of legerdemain, suddenly disappeared; and having gone through a goodly part of their lineup once, I had other interests (and rums) with which to occupy my reviewing time.  Still, just as the islanders have their variations taken to new extremes by independent bottlers, so does Nicaragua, and when I got the chance to acquire not only this rum but two aged full proof versions from the Compagnie, I jumped back into the fray.  Maybe it was time to see how the country’s hooch had developed since the last time.

Blackadder is a Scottish indie, known more for whiskies than rums – like G&M and others from that neck of the woods (if less well known than the other bigger guns out there), rum is a sideline for them, an obiter dictum, if you will. They indulge themselves — as with whiskies — in single cask bottlings without additives or filtration of any kind, which they have trademarked as a “Raw Cask” in order to demonstrate how even sediment from the barrel gets transferred to the bottle so as to impart the maximum amount of barrel flavour.  Yeah, well, ok. This particular bottling came through the still in August 2002 and was bottled in April 2015, so a smidgen over 12 years old…and issued at a massive 62.6%, and that’s damned appealing, if only to get us past the milquetoast of the standard strength Flors that are much better known.

Nicaraguan rums are very similar to what you might get if you casually flung together a Guyanese and Jamaican without worrying too much about the provenance or age of either, but over and beyond that they have a certain profile of their own, however much they are usually dampened down.  They lack the distinctiveness of either of those aforementioned rums types, for example, both of which you’d likely know blind….not necessarily the case with the Nic I’m looking at here).

Anyway, what of the rum?   Well, it certainly came hurtling out of the bottle in a nose of raw aggression, so I let it rest for a while to avoid serious injury.  Once it calmed down, the initial scents were of vanilla and faint aromatic tobacco, quite well balanced for that strength, and remarkable for a lack of burn usually attendant from such a high proofage.  The vanilla gave way to honey and marshmallows, some flowers, toffee, sugar water and faint nutmeg, yet overall I came away expecting more…there was a sort of one-note directness here that I didn’t care for, and the vanilla held the high ground too assertively (and for too long) to allow for the full development of subtler flavours I was expecting.

Palate wise, this odd simplicity continued.  It was quite creamy and assertive under the heated taste, of course (“chewy” is not a word I use often, but is perfectly applicable here).  What fruit flavours there continued to keep their distance – one could sense them without actually coming to grips with what they were.  With water, brine, olives, caramel and ice cream were evident, with vanilla again taking something of a front seat (but less than the nose), and the honey was retained, providing that bed of softness upon which lighter florals were laid. On the whole, it was pleasant enough, just somewhat…dour,  guess.  Hardbitten. A bit rough.  It never really developed into something exceptional, and even the finish – sharper, longer and lighter than a Mombacho, or the CDI full proofs – did little to enhance that, simply presenting honey, light florals for a while, before dissipating into a fade that in no way broke new ground.

Overall, there’s something stern and dark and uncompromising about the rum, and for one of the few times drinking cask strength products, I believe that here the thing should have been brought down to a lesser proof (that’s just my opinion, though). With some less starkly elemental rums from Central America there is a softness to them, something redolent of the tropics, a sort of warm voluptuousness which this one does not have. The imagery is more of dark, hard, storm swept cliffs drenched in cold seaspray, than lush tropical vegetation.  I may be wrong but I get the impression it was aged in Europe, not Nicaragua, and that gives it a kind of roughness and power which not everyone will appreciate – it’s made, one thinks, by and for whisky aficionados.  That’s not enough to make it a bad rum by any stretch, but it does imply that one should be careful to understand one’s preferences, before going out to buy it simply because it’s a cask strength rum from a country where easy going profiles are more the norm.  That it’s pure and unmessed with and a true expression of its country is not in question – whether that all works and comes together harmoniously for a drinker, however, is another matter altogether.  In this case it might be all about what other spirits one likes.

(84/100)

Other notes:

Distillery unknown though I suspect it’s a Flor cask.  It has points of similarity to the 18 year old I tried some years ago, and to some extent the “21” 15 year old from that company.

Blackadder has released other rums (from St Lucia and FourSquare among others), the review for which have been generally positive.

 

Dec 222016
 

 

***

A grand old PM. Best of the three Small Batch selections from 2016.

#329

It’s reasonable to wonder whether there isn’t some self-cannibalization going on here.  Since their inception back in 1999, Rum Nation’s flagship products were always the old-enough-to-vote Jamaicans and Demeraras, all issued at around 43-45%.  The old wooden box and jute packing gave way to sleeker, modernist boxes, but the ethos remained the same, and happily for the aficionados, there were always several thousand of these floating around, as Fabio Rossi never bottled just one cask, but several. (As an aside, something of the evolution of our world can be found in how long it took for anyone to even notice the original selections from the 1970s, which took years to sell…a situation which simply cannot occur today).

Fast forward to 2016, and the company sprang this surprise on us – in the same year that DDL pushed out its Rare Collection, RN raided its slumbering cask stash to produce three limited edition Demerara rums of their own, called the “Small Batch Rare Rums” (and I hear — in the muttered corners of the smoking area out back where the rum-hoodlums hang around — that others from Reunion and Hampden may be in the works).  Yet, because of their more limited outturn, these rums may be cutting into the sales of, or appreciation for, the top end rums that have won so much acclaim over the past decade or two, since what is made into a Small Batch cask-strength rum won’t be made into a twenty-something year old in the Supreme Lord or Demerara series.

Well, whatever.  We’re lucky to get these rums at all, I sometimes think.  And this one is right up there with the 45% Demeraras of made with such care in Rum Nation’s youth, perhaps even a smidgen better because of the extra oomph that was generously ladled out for us.

As usual, let’s get the known facts out of the way: Port Mourant distillate from the double wooden pot still in Guyana; the single cask was bought via a broker, and aged in Europe, first in the Bristol Spirits warehouse and in Italy after 2007.  The ageing was done from 1995 to 2005 in ex-bourbon barrels and transferred into a second-fill sherry cask in 2005 until final release in 2016 (Fabio told me he didn’t know whether it was first or second fill, but my own feeling after the tasting was that the sherry had an effect on the final product that was not strong enough after so many years to justify the first fill possibility, but that’s just my opinion).  The outturn was 170 bottles, bottled at that so-very-lekker strength of 57.7%, and I have bottle #002, which is almost as cool as having bottle #001.

Was it any good?  Oh yes.  Just opening it up and smelling straight out of the bottle hinted at olfactory impressions to come – some rubber, wax and floor polish, which swiftly dissipated, followed by licorice, bags of raisins and dried fruit, prunes, dates, cedar wood shavings, and a lovely aromatic tobacco and lemon peel smell behind all of those.  There were some well integrated caramel and vanilla notes, a sniff or two of red wine, but in the main, as was to be expected, it was the trio of anise, raisins and wood that were the core of the nose. It showcased all the markers of traditional excellence that I have always enjoyed about the Port Mourant distillate, all in balance and as harmonious as a zen garden.  

57.7% was also an almost perfect strength for it to be issued: over 60% it might have been too raw, under 50% and maybe too easy.  Not that it really mattered, because between the ageing and the sherry influence, the rum demonstrated a powerful but restrained mouthfeel which gave you the heat and the strength without ripping any part of your corpus to shreds. Sharp it was not…forceful might be a better appellation. And then the flavours came through, big and bold: licorice, oak, more of those aromatic cedar and cigarillos acting as the central core, upon which were hung the lesser tastes like apricots, more lemon peel, grapes, brown sugar, red wine and strong black tea, leading up to a masterful finish that lays it all out on the table so your senses get one last whiff before it all gradually dissipated.

The balance of the rum is exceptional – many of the elements are so flawlessly constructed and built into the profile that you want them simply continue, yet they create a sort of emotional, labial vortex drawing you into another sip, another glass…maybe that’s why half my bottle is already gone. What it really is, is a delivery system for ensuring you get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out of a barrel. I felt that way about Rum Nation’s Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the 57% white, and yes, about the Demeraras.  To make a series like that, of such consistent quality is something of a minor miracle.  To crank up the volts and issue a small batch version of the PM alone and have it be this good is surely another.

So, if you like Guyanese rums as a whole, cask strength rums generally and Port Mourant rums in particular, well, you really can’t go wrong here.  It’s ambitious, luscious, and delicious, providing a rum profile where drinker engagement and enjoyment is 100%.  As for the quotient of appreciation?  My friends, that may actually be off the chart.

(90/100)

Note:

This rum is the first release.  The 2nd Release, also from 2016, is a 17 year old bottled at 57.4% from two casks resulting in 816 bottles.  I tried that one at the 2016 Berlin Rumfest and can confirm it’s also quite good (though I liked this one more).

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