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).

 

Jul 222015
 

Severin Simon

(#223)

Germany has a number of home-grown rum makers out there.  Oh, they’re not world beaters by any means, but in a country that never really had any tropical colonies, no real culture of rum, no background in sugar cane production, it’s surprising to find any at all. And I’m always curious about these relatively small companies – after all, some small ones become big ones through sheer blending skill and mastery of craft bottlings and great word of mouth, right? Maybe this will be one of them, who knows, let’s take a look, I always tell myself. And let’s never pretend that a background in making other spirits does not have its positive side.

I’ve looked at two other German companies’ rums before (Old Man Spirits and Alt-Enderle), and today I’ll turn my attention to Severin Simon, a small distillery out of Bavaria, which has been, in one form or another, open for business since 1879. Severin Simon made and make gin, schnapps, brandy and whisky, and are now turning their attention to rum, which kicked off into high gear when they installed new distillery apparatus in 2012.  As with the other two companies mentioned above, their primary market remains Germany.

An interesting point of their production methodology is that they use fair trade organic molasses deriving from the Dominican Republic: Tres Hombres ship it to Germany in their sailing ship, and I appreciate that Severin Simon doesn’t use industrial grade alcohol and tart it up to make a throwaway paint-stripper.  Ageing is done in oak barrels made of local Spessart oak, some of which have been charred, some not. Two of the three rums I tried were aged eighteen months, and the current 2015 crop of rums is edging to just over two years, with single-cask and longer aged, higher-proofed rums on the horizon.

Valkyrie

Valkyrie (“Nordic”)

Notes – Pale gold. Pot still. Aged for 18 months in new barrels whose staves and floor were hand toasted.  Non-chill-filtered.  No additives or inclusions.40% for 0.5 L, costing ~€53

Nose – Sharp, even thin. Too much oak here.  Leather, smoke, caramel, some vague dried fruits and rosemary.

Palate – Light to medium bodied.  Unappealingly raw.  This thing should be aged more, I think.  Maybe it’s that local oak used in the barrels. Some raisins, dried prunes, plums, burnt sugar.  Water doesn’t help. It’s that smokiness, the sharper tannins of the oak, asserting too much influence.

Finish – Short and dry. Musty leather, charcoal-fire smoke, raisins and some toffee and caramel, all over rather quickly.

Thoughts – Should be aged for another few years, which I believe is the intention anyway. Given the price tag, do they consider it their premium rum? It’s complex enough, and a decent rum, just too much smoke and ash, not enough of the other stuff I enjoy. Plus, the sharpness needs some toning down, I think.

(79/100)

Kalypso

Bavarian Sweetened Rum (“Kalypso”)

Notes – Colour: amber. Pot still, flavoured rum.  Aged about two years. Darkest rum of the three.  40%, costs ~€48. Simon Severin noted the rum has 50g/L sugar.  Points to them for not dissembling on the matter.

Nose – Why is this thing so spicy at 40%? Oh, okay, it dies down after a few minutes.  Massive and simple taste bomb, this one, mostly vanilla and mocha, with prunes and some raisins at the back end.

Palate – Medium bodied. Spiciness of the nose gives way to thicker warmth. Sweet and redolent of more vanilla, raisins, coconut shavings, molasses, brown sugar, and red cherries in syrup. If you know what you’re looking for (or have good comparators) you can tell this is a young rum, still too uncouth in spite of the inclusions, which help mask – but not eliminate – a lack of well-cut underlying base distillate.

Finish – None too long, nothing special. Mostly more vanilla and some caramel here. Some lemon zest, if you strain a bit.

Thoughts – I’ll stick with unflavoured rums.

(74/100)

Konig

Royal Bavarian Navy Rum (“Königlisch”)

Notes – Colour: light amber. Two-tier solera system rum, molasses based, oldest component aged eighteen months.  Initial distillate from pot still. Dark straw coloured, 40%. Around €35.

Nose – Rather whisky-like, salty, oaky and herbal.  Smoothest of the three, which may be damning it with faint praise.

Palate – Medium bodied. Citrus emerges from out of the musky background; smoke and woody notes, not altogether masking some burnt sugar, salty caramel and black olives.  Rather spicy, turns arid after a while.

Finish – Short and dry.  Fennel and toasted walnuts, some non-too-sweet toffee.

Thoughts – To my mind this one is – by a narrow margin – the best of the three, and the cheapest.  The absence of clearly identifiable sugar inclusions, and the eschewing of charred barrels somehow allows a shade more complexity to sneak in there. It’s a toss-up between this one and the Valkyrie for those who like their smoky background more.

(80/100)

Summing up

Like Old Man Spirits and their interesting – if ultimately not quite successful – Uitvlugt 16 year old, what we have here is a company still finding its legs in the rum world. Pot still and molasses source notwithstanding, a few more years and tweaking their cuts, ageing profile and barrel selection, and they’ll really have something here.  I’d like to see if they ever come out with a white rum made from cane juice…have a feeling the Spessart oak they use would work some interesting effects there.

Let me just close by repeating something I’ve said before – you have to give points to people who actually make a product and jump through all the hoops to get a company off the ground in a field like rum, in a highly regulated region like the EU; and who provide employment and pay taxes and contribute to the larger rum world. I always and sincerely wish these outfits well, no matter what my rating of their products might be.

Jul 152015
 

C_des_Indes 2

Seems appropriate that I tried and fell in lust with this rum in Paris; it reminded me what the word concupiscent meant.

(#222. 88/100)

***

For every small craft maker that opens its doors and tries to make its mark on the rum world, yet fails to rise to the levels of its own self-proclaimed quality, there’s another that does. I’m going to go out on a limb, and remark that if this one sterling 15 year old Cuban rum (with a 280-bottle-outturn) is anything to go by, Compagnie des Indes is going to take its place among the craft makers whose rums I want to buy.  All of them.

Let’s get the history and background out of the way. The founder of this French company, Mr. Florent Beuchet, drew on his background in the rum and spirits business (his father owns a winery and absinthe distillery, and Mr. Beuchet himself was a brand ambassador in the USA for Banks Rum for a couple of years) to open up a craft shop in 2014.  If Mr. Beuchet was trying to evoke the atmosphere of the long-ago pirate days, he certainly started the right way by naming his company as  he did. I grew up reading the histories of the violent, corrupt, exploitative, semi-colonial powers of the great trading concerns of Europe in the Age of Empires – the British East and West India Companies, the Dutch East India Company, and many others.  So right away we have a whiff of deep blue water, wooden sailing ships with snapping sails and creaking hawsers, and all their noble and happy traditions of rum, buggery and the lash…and we haven’t even cracked the bottle yet.

All the usual suspects are represented in the company’s limited edition bottlings – Guadeloupe, Belize, Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica are some examples – but he has also bottled blends like the Latino and the Caraibes (reviewed by my buddy Steve on Rumdiaries, here), plus stuff I can’t wait to get my mitts on, from Fiji and Indonesia.  And then there’s this one, from Sancti Spiritus in Cuba, bottled at 45%.

C_des_Indes 1

The first whiff of nose that greeted me after decanting the straw-brown rum was the raw musky scent of honey still in a beehive.  It was warm, light, aromatic, a pleasure to inhale.  Wax, cinnamon and cloves joined the party, and then it became unexpectedly and slightly dry as it opened up.  After letting it stand for a few minutes, I tried it again, remarked on its clean and clear aroma, and then to my astonishment noticed not only cedar, sawdust straw and smoke…but also mauby, a local (non-alcoholic) drink made from tree bark in the West Indies.

Well now, this I had to get more of, so I went straight into the tasting, and found no disappointment there.  The driness persisted – not unpleasantly – and the rum presented light and clear as the nose had suggested.  It coated the tongue nicely – it was…well, clingy, I suppose (and I mean that in a good way).  There again was that slight bitterness of unsweetened mauby, but also a delicate and slightly sweet floral note. The heavier honey scents were not totally absent, merely hinted at, allowing other flavours to come forward. White guavas, coconut, lavender, some sage even, all tied together by faint mint and tea leaves crushed between the fingers. The finish was excellent – not long, fruity and floral at once, smooth and heated, leaving me not only without any complaints, but hastening back to the bottle to try some more.

Although I have a thing for darker Demerara rums, a specimen like this one makes me think of throwing that preference right out of the window. I can happily report that the Cuba 15 year old is quietly amazing, one of the best from that island I’ve ever had.  If Descartes was correct about the separable existences of body and soul (supported by Plato, whose Phaedrus was a winding literary excursion arguing for the soul’s immortality) then we might want to apply the concept to this rum.  We’ll drink the thing down and enjoy every sip, and then it’ll be gone, but forget it we never will.  Rums aren’t humans, of course, and have a shelf life usually measured in months, not decades….perhaps their continuance in our memories and affections is the only real immortality to which such a transient substance can aspire. In this case, rightfully so.

Other notes

Mr. Beuchet remarks that with certain clearly stated exceptions, he adds noting to his rums, nor does he buy stock that has been adulterated in any way.  Where such additions take place, he notes it up front. Like with Velier, his labels are quite informative (if not quite as stark).

The rum is two months shy of sixteen years old (distilled July 1998, bottled May 2014).

 

Jun 032015
 

D3S_9106

***

Sweet enough to appeal, smooth enough to enjoy, complex enough to admire. Solid, succulent Bajan rum from 2003, a cut above the ordinary, just like its 2001 brother.

(#217. 86/100)

***

Why Fabio Rossi, the gentleman behind Rum Nation, keeps referring to his Bajan offerings as “entry level” is beyond me.  ‘Cause like Mr. Gump, I may not be a smart man, but I know what entry level is. This is a few notches higher, and that it can do what it does with what for me is a relative anemic 40% strength, is no mean achievement in a pantheon dominated by R.L. Seale, Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey.

That said, it does lack some of that distinctive complexity of character that would make me rank it higher. Consider first the nose of the orange-brown rum: like many of Rum Nation’s products there is that olfactory sense of sinking into the soft ease of a plush chesterfield, with which which any consumer of Barbados rums would be quite happy. Bananas, brown sugar and taffy, some crushed hazelnuts, almonds, and an odd spray of cough drops stealing through the back end (cough drops?…I tried again, and yes, that’s what it nosed like).

To taste, that depth of lushness continued, though the rum presented as a somewhat lighter, even “Spanish” style of mouthfeel.  It moved away from the brown sugar and caramel, and provided initial flavours of smoke and vanillas that the oak had imparted; yet also more sweetness and smoothness here, like running our spoon through a ripe papaya.  Some kick of not-quite-ripe apricots, a bit of green grape, kiwi fruit, aromatic pipe tobacco, a bit of dry must…overall, a very unaggressive, quite friendly rum, extremely accessible.  The finish was not too shabby for a standard strength rum: shorter than I might have wished for, but still impressively redolent of caramel, burnt sugar and smoky notes.

You could mix the rum, I suppose, though with something this easy-going, I question why. It has few of the jagged edges that a cocktail might seek to smoothen out, or enhance. I think it’s fine to have neat – its strength (or lack thereof) makes that no chore at all. In any case, Rum Nation has never really hewed to the elemental brutality of full proof rums issued by the Scots, or Velier, or Samaroli.  They strike me as closer in philosophy to Plantation, with their finishing strategy and slightly more voluptuous profiles. In that sense, to me, it is better than the rum many use as their Bajan baseline, the Mount Gay XO, and for sure I enjoyed it more than the Cockspur 12. It actually has more in common with some of FourSquare’s rums, but that’s just me.

According to Mr. Rossi, the rum is derived from Barbados molasses distilled in a column still, aged in American oak barrels in the Caribbean — no mention where, I suppose we can assume also in Barbados — before being shipped off to be finished for 18-24 months in Italy, in ex-Spanish brandy casks before bottling.  As a point of interest, unlike the 2001 RN Barbados 10 year old, this rum did not come from the West Indies Refinery, though you’d be hard pressed to put the two side by side, taste them blind, and know which was which.

Like Plantation, Rum Nation has been catching some flak recently for adding sugar to their rums. I guess people are having some difficulty marrying the generally positive reviews out there (mine among them) with the mere suggestion of saccharine inclusion. Now I acknowledge the influence that sugar has in making this rum what it is (and that’s not a negative opinion), but am also aware this is a deliberate choice to create the final product, not to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or deliberately tart up and obscure an inferior piece of crap – I’ve spent too much money on, and sampled too many of, RN’s rums, old and young, to believe that for a moment.

In any event, I can tell you that here Rum Nation has produced an affordable, pleasant and drinkable spirit, one I enjoyed thoroughly and would happily buy again.  I may ultimately prefer my high-end aged agricoles and full proof twenty-plus year old taste-bombs, but that is no reason not to give this softer, younger Bajan a whirl.  Even if you believe, as its maker does, that it’s “just an entry level rum.”

Because that it isn’t, not really.

 

***

Other notes

  • New bottle design introduced in the 2014 season
  • 8118 bottles outturn

 

May 212015
 

D3S_1673

When you drink full proof and overproof rums for a long time, many forty percenters can seem, well…a shade pusillanimous.  No such issue afflicts the 62.7% full proof of Albion 1989, ‘cause that thing looks and  feels and samples like it’s about to father a nation.

(#215 / 91/100)

***

 

The Albion 1994 was power and passion and style all wedded together in a remarkable fusion, and my only regret has always been that I couldn’t get more. It was preceded by a version from 1983, 1986, and this one from 1989. These days, the only place you’ll find either is from a collector or on the secondary market.  And that wasn’t helped by the paucity of output for the 1989 either.

I’m always whining about craft makers bottling too few rums in their single barrel or cask strength issues, yet this one is bordering on the ridiculous – Velier only issued 108 bottles of the Albion 1989. Still, points must go to Luca Gargano, who resisted the temptation to blend this miniscule output with something else, and simply took what he could from the single barrel in 2008, added nothing, took away nothing, diluted nothing, tampered with nothing.  And there you are.

When I poured the dark amber rum into my glass in Paris a while back (I was shamelessly pilfering tasting notes on anything in grabbing range, nearly knocking over poor Serge Valentin in my haste to get my grubby paws on this one), it was like coming home. Nosing it, I was struck anew how amazing it was that a rum can be made at that kind of strength and yet still maintain a smoothness of profile that doesn’t do a rabid dog imitation on your senses. The rum’s nose was immense – it smelled thick, creamy, like a melting licorice waterfall; black grapes, anise, caramel, burnt sugar billowed up, being chased by the sweet fresh honey from a cracked comb.  I thought I’d get some wax or rubber notes, but nope, none here.

The taste of the 1989 was wired up, juiced up, and electrified like the Tokyo downtown, and you got into it immediately. I remember just shaking my head with admiration, even awe, after the first sip. The palate was full bodied, without equivocation.  Thick and creamy, surprisingly sweet, and not dry or briny – but there was tobacco and rubber floating around in the background, some furniture polish and tar (actually quite similar to a Caroni).  Dried fruits emerged, mango and papaya, some salt in the back taste.  I added some water and it continued providing new, strong notes of vanilla, nuts, aromatic pipe tobacco and smoke, leading to a long, long finish, with rubber, melting tar, more smoke, more caramel, more vanilla.  I kept a glass charged with this stuff for literally an hour, always coming back to it, always finding something else and still probably missed something.

Albion 1989

I’ve always enjoyed experiments in the craft like this, where the makers change just a single coordinate in the standard equation of the rum universe just to, I dunno, mess with it and see what’ll happen. Here, that’s a hell of a lot.  Even with the overall excellent stable of rums Velier makes (and that’s plenty), there are rums and then there are rums. This, in my opinion, is one of the latter.

See, a rum like, oh, a Bacardi for instance, sells so much that it creates its own weather system in the spirits world.  The Albion 1989 is nowhere near that league – at best it’s an intense, localized twister with a shard of lightning thrown in.  Can you see yourself rushing out to experience that?  Not likely.  But if you’re a person looking at the world through slightly askew lenses, the phenomenal power and quality of something this spectacular cannot be overstated and after you’ve experienced it, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever worry too much, in rum terms, about another cloudy day, threatening rain.

 

Other notes:

Like the 1994, it is remarked as being from a wooden continuous still, about which I have my doubts.

Distilled 1989, bottled 2008, 108 bottles.

May 132015
 

D3S_9068

 

(#214)

***

Although a huge market for cachaça exists in Brazil where it is the national tipple they sometimes call pinga, very little of it makes it to other countries in comparison to agricoles (let alone more popular molasses based rums). For rummies, it’s something like an undiscovered country. A cane-juice-based spirit, it has certain basic similarities to agricoles and has been referred to as a type of brandy, of the aguardente family.  Cachaças are often unaged and like clairins in Haiti, run the gamut from underproof to overproof drinks, and are often bottled clear. I should mention, however, that many aged varieties of cachaça do in fact exist – the three I look at below are examples – but it seems like they stay in-country for the most part. I should also point out that Brazilians don’t worry overmuch about sourcing oak barrels for their aged versions, and just as easily use local woods – and that gives them profiles that are unusual to say the least.

With the increasing interest in cane juice rhums, and a simultaneous uptick in all-natural spirits, cachaça may be due to have its exposure grow. Certainly Bert Ostermann, the man behind Delicana out of Germany, feels that way.  He has been producing cachaças for many years now, always with small sales primarily in Europe.  When I met him in 2014, he was exhibiting his 5 and 10-year old products, and I tried all three he had, which were so new that he didn’t even have labels for them yet (he got some by the time the Fest ended, and those are the ones in the pics below). Unfortunately, ebbing time and the many more rums to sample did not permit me to get into the history of his company, or his production techniques — so aside from noting their source in sugar cane juice distilled in a pot still and production in the state of Minais Gerais Brazil (just north of Rio), I can’t tell you much more until he responds to the email I sent a few weeks ago, or the message I left for him on FB.

With that paucity of information, I decided to just run them together as a single essay on the tasting notes, the results of which are below.

Delicana 10 Year Old Balsamo – 40% blonde spirit, aged in Balsamo wood.

  • Nose: Light and clear.  Vegetal. Fresh stripped cane stalks.  Peaches. Sugar water, cinnamon, faint whiff of white flowers and sap from a cut banana plant.
  • Palate: First guia was untamed and raw.  Anise, licorice, lemongrass and fresh lime zest. Opens up into some more unripe firm green fruit like mangos.  New-mown grass.  Very little sign of the ageing I’m used to…hard to believe this is a 10 year old.
  • Finish: Short. Grassy notes mixed up with banana peel
  • Thoughts: Not unbalanced, per se…just untamed. Ten years of ageing seem to have done little to smoothen this one out, and it could easily be mistaken for a much younger product. But not an entirely bad one.

(79/100)

Delicana 5 Year Old Jequitibá – 40% clear spirit, aged in Jequitibá.

  • Nose: Holy <bleep>. Enormous for a 40% rum. Salt and pepper…a lot. Unripe green apples. Spicy, coming in just short of sharp.  Like licking an iron bar.
  • Palate: Hot, yet once you get over that, it mellows well. Clear metallic tastes predominate at the inception; saltpetr, firecrackers and gunpowder explode in the mouth and then disappear; some salt butter, black olives, more pepper. I can honestly say I’ve never tried anything like this. Tried it three more times, with and without water, same result.
  • Finish: Medium long, more salt, and pimento-stuffed olives in brine
  • Thoughts: points for originality and texture, but that initial taste really threw me.  Maybe not a drink to have pura.

(74/100)

Delicana 5 Year Old Umburana (artesinal premium) – 40% blonde spirit, aged in Umburana (or Amburuna)

  • Nose: Nice, remarkably gentle after the first two. Vegetal, apples, some grass in there, all pungent and deep. Some musty cardboard (seriously!)
  • Palate: Soft, easy-going, warm to try. Cinnamon, marzipan, then emerging tastes of olives and green grass, lemon juice and some creamy salt butter; sugar water and a whiff of plasticine and rubber. Brine kept in check here.
  • Finish: long and sweet, a little bite at the back end from a vagrant citrus peel; better than the Balsamo.
  • Thoughts: Best of the three (for my palate, anyway).  Bert and I tried all three together a second time, and as far as he was concerned, I had it bass ackwards, and the Balsamo was definitely better.

(82/100)

***

As I also remarked in the Clairin Sajous write-up, these are rums not for everyone.  They are very different from most, partly because of the aforementioned ageing in Brazilian woods that imparted such distinct and unusual tastes to each one. That alone might make lovers of traditional rums (whether mixers or sippers) cast a dubious eye on these, or relegate them to cocktails like the famous caipirinha.

I liked them for their originality, but overall, as a person who generally drinks rums neat, I can’t pretend I cared for these to the point where they become must-haves on my shelf…Brazilians with differently adjusted palates would probably vocally and violently disagree.  So if you’re curious, you should try them yourself, especially since they are all quite affordable. Also, having tried many caipirinhas over the years, I can enthusiastically recommend them that way, at least. After all, Quanto pior a cachaça, melhor a caipirinha, right?

Sooner or later I’m going online and ordering a bunch of the Boys from Brazil, that’s a given; I’m on a bit of an agricole kick right now, though, so it’ll have to wait. For the moment, these three micro-reviews give some inkling of what’s in store for those of us who venture into Brazilian waters to see what white kill-divil lies in wait to ravish our palates and liquify our kidneys.

Other notes

I was about halfway into writing this essay when Josh Miller of Inuakena pipped me with his excellent little series where he briefly compared not three or five or even ten, but fourteen separate cachaças, all from different companies (from the perspective of whether they made good caipirinhas).  So hats off to the man, and if your interest in Brazilian cachaças has been piqued, go right over to his short and informative comparisons.

 

Apr 172015
 
rum-caroni-1994-18-anni

Photo courtesy of Velier

 

This Caroni isn’t the strongest one in the rumosphere but it conforms to most of the expectations taste-wise – a shade more dark and it could probably be used to surface a road somewhere. A good to great exemplar from the closed distillery.

(#211. 87/100)

***

This is one of five or six rums I bought in an effort to raise the profile of the now-defunct Caroni Distillery from Trinidad. That it was made by Velier didn’t hurt either, of course, because almost alone among the rums makers out there, Luca Gargano has the distinction of making just about all of his rums at cask strength, and everything he’s made thus far I’ve liked.  And at 55% ABV, it may just be accessible to a wider audience, assuming it can ever be found in the jungle of Caronis Velier makes (I bought mine from Italy for a lire or two under €80).

Because Caroni has now been closed for over a decade, its products are getting harder to find as stocks run down — when we start seeing expressions dated from the year 2000 and greater, the end is near, and purely on that basis they may be good investment choices for those inclined that way.  Bristol Spirits and Rum Nation and some other craft makers have issued rums from here before, but Velier probably has the largest selection of this type in existence (sometimes varying strengths from the same year), and I know I’ll never get them all…so let’s stick with this one, and waste no further time.

D3S_8897

Presentation is slightly different than the stark zen minimalism of the Guyanese rums; here it came with a black and white box, nice graphics, and all the usual useful information: distilled in 1994, aged 18 years (fourteen in Trinidad, thereafter in Guyana), bottled 2012, 6943 bottles from 23 barrels.  Plastic tipped cork (these are coming into their own these days, and are hardly worthy of comment any longer except by their absence), black bottle, decent label, and, I have to mention, when I poured it out, it was quite the darkest Caroni I’d tried thus far, which had me rubbing my hands together in glee.

I appreciate higher proofed spirits topping 60%, yet I couldn’t fault what had been accomplished in this instance with something a few points lower: the rich aromas of this dark blonde rum led off immediately with licorice and candied apples, strong and full fruity scents mixing with sharper tannins of oak; there was some burnt rubber and plastic hiding in there someplace, like a well insulated rubber truncheon to the face.  It was pleasant and full and rich, pervaded by a both deep and heated lusciousness.  The longer I let it stand, the more I got out of it, and recall with pleasure additional notes of burnt sugar, rosy, floral scents, cedar and pine…and, as if to tip me a roué’s leering wink, a last laugh of mint flavoured bubble gum (no, really – I went back to the glass four times over two days to make sure I wasn’t being messed with).

As if to make up for its mischievousness, the Caroni 1994, aged for eighteen years in oak barrels in Trinidad and Guyana, turned serious with a hint of mean on the palate.  Sharp, salty, briny tastes led right off. It was a spirituous assault on the tongue, so bright and fierce that initially it made me feel like I’d just swallowed an angry blender.  Fortunately, that smoothened out over time, and became gentler (if a term like that could be applied to such a concussive drink) – a buttery, creamy profile emerged from the maelstrom, merging seamlessly with oaken tannins, licorice, vanillas, aromatic pipe tobacco, some fresh tar; and more caramel and burnt sugar  tastes, that were stopped just shy of bitterness by some magic of the maker’s art.  And the long and lasting finish was similarly bold and complex, bringing last memories of nuts, tannins and hot black tea to leaven the caramel and anise I detected.

D3S_8896

As we drink this powerful shot, we come to grips with a certain essential toughness of the maker, an unsubtle reminder of a man who makes no small rums, but feral, mean, blasting caps that glance with indifference at the more soothing exemplars which pepper all the festivals and tasting events. It’s big, blunt, intimidating and seemingly impervious to dilution (I can only imagine what the stronger version is like). This Caroni is not subtle but then, Velier doesn’t really do milquetoast, preferring bold in-your-face statements to understated points of please-don’t-hurt-me diffidence.  So I’d suggest that it’s not a rum for everyone…but in its elemental power of proof lies its appeal: to those who are willing to brave it, and to those who enjoy an occasional walk on the wild side with a rum as fascinating and excellent as this one.

Other notes

Look again at the outturn for that year and that strength: just shy of 7,000 bottles from 23 casks.  And that’s only 1994. When you consider the sheer range of the Caronis Velier has already put out the door, and the sadly slim pickings (thus far) from other craft makers, you begin to get an inkling of exactly how much stock Velier has managed to pick up.

D3S_8898

Apr 082015
 

D3S_8890

Another, slightly lesser brother from the same mother. It stands in the shadow of the company’s magnificent 34 Year Old.

(#210 / 85/100)

***

It’s possible that Bristol Spirits decided to play it safe (again) with the 43% expression from the closed Caroni Distillery of Trinidad…y’know, give it a wider audience than the drop-down-dead-of-old-age 34 year old 1974 variation which would dig a deep hole in both your wallet and your marriage. Or maybe that’s how the barrel played out when it came time to bottle the liquor (notice that 2008 was the same year they produced the 1974, so both were issued simultaneously). It’s good, but in my own opinion, could have been a shade better — their contention that they’re happy with the strength at which they issue their rums always struck me as taking the road more commonly travelled instead of breaking out to chart their own path.

Which is not to say that anyone buying the 19 year old will be disappointed. Even the appearance is quietly dramatic and eye catching, and adheres to Bristol’s standards: a psychedelic orange label on a barroom bottle with a plastic tipped cork, all housed in a cool black torpedo tube lettered in silver. I love Velier’s minimalism, but must concede I have a soft spot for Bristol as well.

Anyway, the rum itself: column-still produced, it was a dark golden brown liquid in the glass, displaying slow, chubby legs draining away down the sides. At 43% it was mellow to smell, dense and almost heavy with dark cherries, hibiscus blooms, licorice and a touch of brown sugar and molasses.  Yet at the same time it was also quite clean on the nose, warm, without any overweening alcohol sharpness that would have debased the rather luscious aroma.

To taste, the Caroni 1989 would not be described as “heavy,” as opposed to a full-proofed Demerara hailing from a wooden still, or a massively aged Jamaica rum flinging dunder and funk in all directions, both of which really could be. It was, in point of fact, a curious and delicious melange of textures that accurately navigated to being a medium bodied rum without actually being a pussyfooted one-hit-wonder. A column still distillate produced this?  Wow. Rich — but not overwhelming — notes of anise, fleshy fruit on the edge of ripeness, brown sugar, licorice, some molasses started things going, and after opening up you could tell the shared DNA of the 1974 (which I was tasting side by side): it was a less aggressive, easier version of that growling geriatric Trini. There were faint tastes of black olives, smoke, tannins and smoke, mixed in with road tar (this actually sounds worse than it is, trust me). I could not detect any of that salt and nuttiness that I remarked on the 1974 and it was a very pleasant drinking experience all ‘round…until the end.

D3S_8894

I’m going to spare a word about what to me was a disappointing finish for something so aged.  It was lacklustre in a way that was surprising after the quality of what had come before, and which diminished the positive impact of the preceding nose and palate.  This is where the 43% works against the rum and lessens the overall experience I’m afraid (some may disagree).  Sure it was clean and warm, even a shade dry, on the exit, with caramel and vanilla and smoky notes to finish things off…but it displayed a too-short attitude of good-enough “git-’er-dun” that offended me in a vague way. So yeah, the 43% does make a difference (just as 35% or 55% would).

I’m sort of conflicted on this Caroni.  I certainly liked it enough: it’s a rambunctious, delicious rum with a great profile and sleek, supple tastes to it — but which chokes a little on the back end.  The question is – as it must be – whether it’s as good as the 34 year old expression, or just different.  It’s probably leaning more to the latter. At the end, while it’s not quite as remarkable as its sibling, if you’re on a budget and want a Caroni, this one is an absolutely decent buy (I paid €130 for it), and you won’t feel short-changed if you spring for the thing, my whinging on the finish aside. Because it’s a Caroni and because I wanted to give the distillery some exposure, I bought it (and four or five others from various makers)…yet personally, I’d prefer to wait and save for something a bit more mature, something…well, beefier.  Like the 1974. Even at 46%, that one at least had some of the courage of its convictions.

 

Mar 112015
 

D3S_9323-001

An assembly of two rums that are great on their own, made even better by being blended before ageing.

(#206. 91/100)

***

Permit me a brief box-ticking here: Velier issues cask strength monsters akin to top end whiskies (but which cost less); they hearken to individual distilleries, sometimes to individual stills within that distillery; and Luca Gargano, the maitre, has stocks of Guyanese rums and the Trini Caronis that beggar the imagination; and while occasionally there are rums that don’t quite ascend to the brilliance of others, the overall oevre is one of enormous collective quality. Here, Velier has taken something of a left turn – this rum is what Luca calls an “experimental”.  Which is to say, he’s playing around a bit.  The price of €150 is high enough to cause a defense contractor to smile, and reflects the rums rarity – only 848 bottles are in existence (as an aside, compare this price to the 7000 bottles or so of the thousand-dollar Black Tot).

Blending of rums to produce the final product which makes it to our shelves usually takes place after they have slept a while in their wooden beds.  Ever-willing to buck the trend and go its own way, Velier blended the core distillates (from the Port Mourant double-pot still, and the Enmore wooden Coffey still) right up front, and then aged the mix for sixteen years (it’s a 2014 release).  The theory was that the disparate components had a chance to meld from the beginning, and to harmonize and age as one, fully integrating their different profiles.  It’s a bit of a gamble, but then, so is marriage, and I can’t think of a more appropriate turn of phrase to describe what has been accomplished here

D3S_9329

Appearance wise, box is decent; bottle and label were utterly standard, as always seems to be the case with Velier – they have little time for fancy designs and graphics, and stick with stark minimalism.  Black bottle, white label, lots of info, plastic tipped cork, surrounding a dark amber rum inside. When that rum poured, I took a prudent yet hopeful step backwards: prudent because I didn’t feel like being coshed over the head with that massive proof, hopeful because in remembering the PM 1974 and the Skeldon 1973, I was hoping that the aromas would suffuse the atmosphere like the police were quelling a good riot nearby.

I wasn’t disappointed on either score. That nose spread out through the room so fast and so pungently that my mother and wife ran to me in panic from the kitchen, wondering if I had been indulging in some kind of childish chem experiment with my rums. It was not as heavy as the Damoiseau 1980 which I had had just a few hours before (I was using it and the Bristol Caroni 1974 as controls), but deep enough – hot, heavy to smell and joyously fresh and crisp.  Tar, licorice and dried fruits were the lead singers here, smoothly segueing into backup vocals of black bread and butter, green olives, and a riff of coffee and smoke in the background. It had an amazing kind of softness to it after ten minutes or so, and really, I just teased myself with it for an inordinately long time.

Subtlety is not this rum’s forte, of course – it arrived on the palate with all the charming nuance of a sledgehammer to the head, and at 62.2% ABV, I was not expecting anything else. So it wasn’t a drink for the timid by any stretch, more like a hyperactive and overly-muscular kid: you had to pay close attention to what it was doing at all times.  It was sharp and heavy with molasses and anise at the same time, displayed heat and firmness and distinct, separable elements, all at once: more molasses, licorice, chopped fruit, orange peel (just a bit), raisins, all the characteristic West Indian black cake ingredients.  Adding some water brought out cinnamon, black grapes, ginger, flowers, tannins and leather, with some aromatic smoke rounding out an amazingly rich profile.

D3S_9324-001

Man this thing was an immense drink. I said I expected three profiles, but it was practically impossible to separate them out, so well were they assembled. There was just no way I could say how much came from PM, and how much from Enmore (Velier provided no information on the ratios of one to the other, merely remarking that the Enmore is dominant). It was the sort of rum that when you fully drop the hammer on it — which is to say, drink a gorilla-sized two ounce shot, hold it down for a few seconds, before slugging it down and asking for a refill — its flavours bang away at your throat like the Almighty is at the door (and pissed at you). Even the finish displayed something of that brooding Brando-esque machismo – long lasting, heated, with closing notes of strong black slightly-bitter tea, raisins and anise. It is a brilliant bit of rum-making, and answers all questions people have when they wonder if 40% is the universe. When I see my friends and commentators and reviewers and ambassadors wax rhapsodic over spiced rums and the standard proof offerings from the great and old houses, all I want to do is smile, hand them one of these, and watch their reaction.

Sooner or later, no matter how many rums I try, I always circle back to Velier. I think of the company’s products almost like James Bond films, following familiar territory time after time, differing only in the details.  It’s always fun to try a new expression of an estate specific Guyanese rum, if only to see what madness La Casa Luca has come up with this time. And here, I think we may just have the brilliance of a film like Skyfall, with its originality and uniqueness intact, hearkening back to all that has come before, recalling not only all the old glories of times past, but the remarkable synthesis of those same elements, combined into something startlingly and wonderfully new.

That was a film to treasure…and for the same reasons, so is this rum.

***

Other notes

  • Velier has also issued a Diamond+PM 1995 blend in 2014, for which I have detailed notes but not yet written the review.
  • This was the third of four samples Luca Gargano sent to me personally in September of 2014 when he heard I would be in Europe in October of that year. He has agreed that I pay for them either in cash, or with a really good, high priced dinner in Paris.
Feb 232015
 

D3S_8915

An entry level rum with some unusual and remarkably pleasant flavours that one has to work too hard to find in the raw scrape of underaged alcohol.

(#204. 81/100)

***

One of the things I noted when nosing this dark mahogany-red rum from the German outfit Alt-Enderle, was the baking spices that presented themselves almost immediately. At 43% strength there was no real savagery here, and I didn’t bother letting it rest before trying it (when you practice on cask-strength muscle-twitching bodybuilders, anything under 50% seems easy), and all I remarked on at the inception was how many different, mild, spiced up elements there were. Cinnamon, vanilla and smoke were in evidence from the get go, but also nutmeg, and some cloves. It was quite an interesting experience, to be honest.

I won’t pretend that all was sunshine and roses, of course.  The rum had been aged for only a year, and some of that youth was evident on the mouthfeel, where sharp and raw alcohol notes almost obliterated what could have been a much more interesting sipping experience.  It also dampened the flavours, though I detected vanilla, more cinnamon and nutmeg (as from the nose), followed by some cloves, orange peel, some raisins and a plummy note, wound about with a faint tannic taste, all blending reasonably into the whole. No joy on the finish, I’m afraid, and this was the weakest part of the entire drink – short and sharp, giving little back aside from some more vanilla and caramel hints.

D3S_8916

The molasses from this intriguing rum hailed from India, which may account for that oomphed-up mommy’s-kitchen profile, unusual in island specific rums.  I remember noting something similar in the profiles of Amrut Old Port and the Old Monk Very Old Vatted, though I never wrote about the latter, being a little too loaded at the time to recall my own name, let alone tasting specifics…it may be another example of something noticeably distinct, like Bundaberg is, or the other Indian rums.  To make sure, however, I emailed the company asking whether anything was added to the rum to enhance the flavour profile (still waiting…).

Like Old Man Spirits, Alt-Enderle is a German company which makes rums among other spirits.  Established in 1991, they are located about a hundred kilometers south-east of Frankfurt, and it seems to be a fairly small operation.  They do however make rums from molasses imported from other countries – Thailand and Paraguay are two current examples.  I’m not sure what their philosophy really is regarding rum – like most micro distilleries, they appear to toss them off almost as afterthoughts in their quest to make other liquors like (in this case), whiskies, absinthe, herbal liqueurs and brandies. They distill the molasses themselves — a photo on their website suggests they have a copper still — and set the resultant to age in barrels sourced from the Caribbean.

D3S_8919

Putting all impressions together, I’m scoring this rum at 81, and naming it an entry level spirit. But be advised, it’s not entirely a bad product, and should not be casually written off like yesterday’s fish. The “India” had some real originality in the tastes and aromas– they were distinct, if faint, and points have to be given for that. I have a feeling that the barrels are part of the reason it was not better than it could have been. When told that the rum was aged in Caribbean barrels, some of which were thirty years old, this is not to be considered a point of pride, as I remarked to the booth agent, but of concern, as it suggested dead wood with not much more to impart than maybe some good advice.

Was it a cost cutting measure?  Hard to say.  My own advice here would be to age the rum a little more (and take the hit on maturation and warehousing costs), in barrels with a little more zest left in them.  This rum is a decent starter drink, good for a mix somewhere (especially since it’s not added-to with those spices) …but it could also have been better.

 

Other notes

  • €45 for a 500ml bottle.
  • Aside from the marketing blurb on the back label, there’s a quote: “It’s not enough to be different…one must also be better.”  I like that thought.

 

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