Sep 132016
 

cdi-jamaica

Among the most fiercely aromatic and tasty five year olds around.

#301

***

Although at the writing of this review, I had no idea which four Jamaican rums comprise the blend of this 57% island beefcake which was distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2015, I was neither good enough nor arrogant enough to guess on the strength of the taste.  So after sending the question to Florent Beuchet, he responded a few weeks later by stating it was Hampden, Monymusk, Worthy Park and one more which, with the same penchant for secrecy that informed his Indonesian rum, he declined to name.  Note that this rum is the same as the “regular” Compagnie des Indes’s Jamaican 43% five year old….just stronger.

People who have been following my work for a while will know of my preference for full proof drinks, and while my favour is usually given to Demerara rums from the famous stills, there’s loads of room for Jamaicans as well (and Trinis, and Bajans, and rhums from Guadeloupe and Martinique…).  The funky taste can occasionally take some getting used to, but once you’ve got the taste, mon, you really appreciate its difference.

The 57% strength hearkens back to the “100 proof” of the old days, back when a proof spirit was defined as one which was just of sufficient alcohol content to be able to support combustion when a sample of gunpowder was soaked in it.  That was a rough and ready rule of thumb subject to all sorts of inaccuracies, long since supplanted by more technical ways of gauging the alcohol content of a rum.  Yet it has proved to be a curiously long lived term in the rumiverse, and there are a few other other rums that still use the moniker when describing their products (like Rum Nation’s 57% white, for example).  Let’s just consider it a full proof rum and move on, then.

cdi-jamaica-2There was no question that this was a Jamaican, once the dark gold liquid was in the glass: the musky herbal funk, the pot still background, the esters, were all there, in spades. Furniture polish, acetone and the pungent turpentine reek of a failed artist’s cleaning rag led out of the gate immediately.  Plus, it was quite heated – sharp, even – as befitted its strength, so no surprises here. It developed nicely into a smorgasbord of licorice, bananas, flowers and fruit which balanced off the fierce and raw initial scents quite well.

The taste was where the rum came into its own.  Man, this was nice: citrus peel, grasses, purple olives (not very salty), gherkins in vinegar were the first sensations developing on the palate.  With some water, the sweet and salt and vaguely sour of a good soya came through, plus a few tart and fleshy fruits just ready to go off onto the bad side, more licorice, and some kind of cough medicine my wife spoons into me (elderberry?).  It was an interesting combo, not at all like the tamed versions Appleton sells with much more success, so here I’d have to suggest it’s made at something of a tangent to more familiar Jamaican rums – I have little to base this on, but I thought “Hampden” for the most part (and thereby being related to CDI’s own Jamaica 2000 14 YO which I liked better, partly because of its focus; or the Renegade 2000 8 YO, also from Hampden).  It was pretty good, with a finish that was reasonably long, hot, pungent and tasty, giving last hints of lime zest, dialled down nail polish, some oak and vanillas, but the final memory that remains is the Jamaican funk, which is as it should be. A very traditional, tasty and well-made rum from that island, I thought.

Aged for five years in oak barrels (I suspect in Europe, not Jamaica…another outstanding question), there is a straightforward simplicity to the assembly I liked. So many entries in this genre — occasionally even those by independent bottlers – fail at the close because the makers feel compelled to overcomplicate matters with fancy blending and extraneous finishes; they mistake cacophony for complexity, or quality.  There is a place for keeping things simple, for navigating a course between too much and too little.  This rum, I felt, managed to chart its way seamlessly between those extremes and is as Jamaican as rice and peas…and as delicious.

(84/100)

Aug 302016
 

La Confrerie HSE 1

A lovely, supple rhum from the French island.

(#299 / 87/100)

***

La Confrérie du Rhum’s Martinique Extra Vieux (as labelled), a 2007 millésime rhum bottled at a forceful 52.2% had darker notes reminding me of the Damoiseau 1989, until it went off on its own path and in its own way, which makes perfect sense since it’s actually from Habitation St Etienne. And while I have not had enough of those to make any kind of statement, after trying this one I bought a few more just to see whether the quality kept pace…because La Confrérie’s rhum was quite a lovely piece of work.

The Habitation Saint-Étienne is located almost dead centre in the middle of Martinique.  Although in existence since the early 1800s, its modern history properly began when it was purchased in 1882 by Amédée Aubéry, an energetic man who combined the sugar factory with a small distillery, and set up a rail line to transport cane more efficiently (even though oxen and people that pulled the railcars, not locomotives). In 1909, the property came into the possession of the Simonnet family who kept it until its decline at the end of the 1980s. The estate was then taken over in 1994 by Yves and José Hayot — owners, it will be recalled, of the Simon distillery, as well as Clement —  who relaunched the Saint-Étienne brand using Simon’s creole stills, adding snazzy marketing and expanding markets.

The Brotherhood itself is an odd sort of organization, since it exists primarily on Facebook.  Running the show are Benoît Bail, a sort of cheerfully roving rum junkie without an actual title but with an awesome set of tats and love of rum who currently resides in Germany, and Jerry Gitany who moonlights at Christian de Montaguère’s shop in Paris; among various other rum promotional activities, they dabble in importation of spirits, and starting in 2015 they were first approached to be part of a co-branding exercise (they are not independent bottlers). What this means in practice is that they work with a distillery to chose the rum (a cask or two), put La Confrérie’s logo on the label, and designate which shops get to sell it to the final consumers, and work to promote it afterwards. So far they’ve co-branded four expressions: Les Ti’Arrangé de Céd (March 2015), Longueteau (June 2015), La Favorite (December 2015) and this one.

La Confrerie HSE 2The story of this particular rhum started during one of Jerry’s regular visits to HSE, when Cyrille Lawson, the commercial director, remarked, “Jerry, we want to do a cuvée with La Confrérie.” “Sure,” Jerry said “But you have to do something that you’ve never done before.”  And Cyrille, probably relieved not to be asked to go base-jumping in a pink suit, agreed to come up with something good. One year later, Benoît and Jerry were at HSE picking and chosing among six different samples, the final result being this first full proof 52.2% beefcake. It was distilled in a creole column still, then aged in an American oak barrel between July 2007 and February 2016, had no additives, fully AOC compliant, and turned out at a very nice 800 bottles. It turned up for sale just in time for three hundred to be snapped up at the 2016 Paris rumfest, and for me to walk into the establishment two months later, see it and want to check it out. 

The aromas of the gold-amber rhum were excellent: the initial attack was all about anise, fruits, raisins, coffee and some red wine (I’m not good enough to tell you which) – this was the part that reminded me of the Damoiseaus. But then it went its own way, adding orange zest, more coffee, and some molasses (what was that doing here?), with just the slightest bit of vegetals, lemongrass and sugar cane juice. They were crisp notes that scattered like bright jewels on a field of black velvet, somehow vanishing the moment I came to grips with them, like raindrops in moonlight.

The taste, on the other hand, did not begin auspiciously – I actually thought it somewhat uncouth and uncoordinated, being sharp and spicy and seemingly harsh, but then it laughed, apologized and developed into an amazingly beautiful profile: honey, dill, candied oranges and coffee, bound tightly together by the clear hot firmness of very strong black tea.  And that was just the beginning: as it relaxed and opened up (and with some water), sugar cane juice and herbals and grasses came up from behind to become more assertive (though not dominating).  Again there as that odd caramel and molasses backtaste, and then came one I’m at a loss to explain except to say trust me, it was there: the scent of salt beef in a tub, hold the beef (I am not making this up, honest). It all finishing up with a lovely fade, long and warm, dry, not overly tannic, with some smoke and light dusty haylofts mixed in with chocolate, juice, zest and grass. I mean, guys, I had this thing in my glass for almost two hours while I went back and forth in that shop, and what I’m describing was real – the rhum has a phenomenal palate…less sharp than might be expected for 52.2%, and yet quite distinct and strong, a veritable smorgasbord of cooperating tastes.La Confrerie HSE 3

Years ago when studying the games of go-masters, I remember reading that one of them lost not when he played the most promising or “proper” moves, but when following lines of play which resulted in an elegance and purity of his game which overwhelmed his desire to win.  It was all about the pleasing  arrangement of stones on the board, you see: the beauty. The ending was, in its own way, superfluous. Irrelevant.  The pattern was everything.

I have a feeling HSE’s master blender might know this game. He started with nothing – an empty board, so to speak – and stone by stone, element by element, year by year, built a mosaic, a poem in liquid, that resulted in this fascinating rhum.  He has not won, no — there are indeed weak points in the final result.  But I contend that what has been made here is a thing of rare skill, of elegance, and yes, even of beauty. That alone, to me, makes it worth buying

***

Other notes

A sample straight from the bottle, one of several that Jerry Gitany let me try in Christian’s shop in Paris in early 2016. You could argue that I was positively influenced by it being a freebie, but since I picked it and he didn’t, and since a fair bit of my coin had just vanished into his till, I chose to believe otherwise.

The dates on the label make it clear this is an eight year old. Benoît confirms it is a true millésime.

As an aside, so Jerry informs me, HSE was so happy with this rhum that they asked La Confrérie to collaborate on a second batch, supposedly to be even better. It will be delivered by the end of 2016 (November or December).

Jul 282016
 

La Favorite Cuvee 1995 - 2

A delectable rhum, of an age we don’t see very often these days.

(#291 / 89/100)

***

Anyone who thinks agricoles are an afterthought in the rum world and should only be taken when one runs out of the more common brown-based stuff, would do well to sample what La Confrérie Du Rhum and La Favorite issued last year.

La Confrérie is actually not a company — translating into “The Brotherhood of Rum”, it is the largest Facebook rum group currently in existence —  its French language antecedents don’t stop it numbering nearly sixteen thousand members when last I looked (for comparison, Ed Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum FB page has around seven thousand, and the Global Rum Club is right behind it at six thousand or so). A few years back, one of its founders, Benoît Bail, decided to make some bottlings of well known companies and issue them to the market, some solo, some in collaboration.  The WIRD and Damoiseau editions were bought via the broker EH Sheer, while Les Ti’Arrangés de Céd, Longueteau and La Favorite were taken from the source plantations themselves; five more are in the pipeline over the next two years. This one came out in November 2015, and for my money, it was worth the wait.

Some brief facts – it is a column still product made on Martinique by La Favorite (who also made the very excellent Cuvée Privilège 30 Year Old), aged in white oak and issued at 45.3%. I was informed that just about the entire process is manual, down to the little old lady at La Favorite who glued the labels to the bottles one by one (I begged for her name and some background, but Jerry didn’t know, alas). Four casks were selected — numbers 25, 26, 27 and 42 — and exactly one thousand bottles were issued.

La Favorite Cuvee 1995 - 1Was it any good?  Oh yes. I mean, I could almost smell the age on the dark orange-amber rhum.  Well, maybe not, but the scents of dusty, rich berries and dark plums reminded me somewhat of the Cuvée Privilège, whose haunting quality has resonated in my tasting memory to this day. Blackberries and blackcurrants, very ripe cherries, juicy and thick, billowed out of the glass, followed, after many minutes, by cedar woodchips, aromatic tobacco, before morphing sweetly into a creamy smell of Danish cookies and maybe a butter-daubed croissant or three. It was soft, easy going, distinct, with each olfactory note clear as a bell yet harmonizing like a well-oiled choir.

With some rhums, like the Boys from Brazil I looked at recently, there was a radical difference between nose and palate.  Not here.  The Cuvée Spéciale 1995 segued smoothly and easily from one to the other without a pause, enhancing what had come before.  It was soft, earthy, even slightly salty, just avoiding maggi-cube brininess by a whisker.  It presented separate hints of caramel and vanilla, very faint molasses, a good brie, black olives, with just enough sweet to make it ravishing.  Once a little water was added, things proceeded in stately order, with yet additional flavours of raspberries, sawdust and freshly brewed coffee emerging.  Nothing particularly distinctive or new came out of the finish, which was thick and breathy and longish, but it seemed churlish of me to mark it down severely for something that had done such a great job at all the preceding elements.  

The craftsmanship of the the Cuvée Spéciale was not in how much was going on under the hood of its taste profile, but how what did purr away there, came together so well.  There was not a single element of the taste that didn’t deserve to be there, nothing rubbed wrong against anything else, and nothing seemed added to simply grab our attention, or to shock us.  Every component was refined to a sort of zen minimalism, and was there for a reason, lasting just long enough to notice it, enjoy it, and then smoothly move to the next one.

As is more common among independent bottlers, La Confrérie and La Favorite have little interest in pulling our chain, yanking our shorts or introducing anything radically new, and simply wish to inspire our appreciation with a product properly executed and exactingly chosen.  They have succeeded. This is a lovely rum, and my appreciation is inspired.

Other notes

Full disclosure: Jerry Gitany, a co-founder of La Confrerie, asked me to try this one when I was in Paris earlier in 2016, so it was a free sample.  I had already bought seventeen rums from him by that time, and much as I liked it, didn’t want to add to what was already a hefty bill. Maybe I should reconsider.

La Favorite 1995

Jul 252016
 

Delicana

#290

In 2014 I looked at three very different aged cachaças from Delicana, the German maker of Brazilian rums; I had met the owner, Bert Ostermann, who has had a love affair with the country lasting many years at the Berlin Rumfest and we had a long and pleasant conversation.  The central theme of his work was to age his rums in local woods, which gave them a piquant, off-base profile that at the time I didn’t care for – indeed, I scored the youngest of these rums the best, because I felt that the peculiar tastes of the wood had not had time to totally dominate the rum.

A year later I made it a point to stop by his booth again, and retasted all three which were back on display, and comparing my written notes, I find very little difference, either in the tastes, or my own opinions – the wood is just too different, and perhaps I’m not in tune enough to appreciate them the way a Brazilian might.

The current crop of cachaças, on the other hand, was something else again and I enjoyed these somewhat more – they’re still not world beaters (to me), but much more like a drink you can sip than the previous go-around.  Rather than take the time to write individual essays around each one, I’ll repeat the exercise from before and provide the notes all at once. Here they are:

Delicana CastanhaCastanha Artesanal Pot Still 2 Year old – pot still, aged in Castanha wood

Strength 40%, colour pale orange

Nose: Very agricole like, starting off with salt and wax before becoming vegetal and grassy, dusted lightly with cinnamon and something spicier, like (no kidding) quinine.

Palate: Clean, clear, light, watery, vegetal and grassy, with some sweet corn water in there. It’s like tasting a colour, the light, sun-dappled, tropical green filtering through a jungle canopy. Hints of cinnamon, mint leaves  and a slightly bitter back end, not unpleasant at all

Finish: short and sweet, more mint and vegetals, warm and unaggressive

Thoughts: If it wasn’t for the vague but distinctive wood and cinammon, I’d say this was an agricole. But of course it isn’t…it’s way too individual for that. A pretty good drink

80/100
Delicana IpeIpé Roxo (“rose coloured”) Artesanal pot still, aged 8 months in Ipé casks

Strength 40%, colour orange-gold

Nose: lovely intro, lemon zest, red olives, very vegetal and grassy, quite smooth

Palate: Smooth and easy, lots more red olives and tomatoes, cucumbers freshly sliced, mown grass, a few unripe white guavas….and a bit of dill.  Tart on the mouth, quite nice.

Finish: Short and a little uneven, but warm and gentle for all that. More olives and brine, some soya and sweet pickles

Thoughts: Slightly better than the older Castanha (Bert is going to shake his head at me, again); I attribute that mostly to better balance in the flavours, and the lemon was really well integrated with both wood and herbals.

81/100

Delicana SilberSilver Pot Still Unaged

Strength 38%, white

Nose: Pow!  Exploding phenols and wax and brine, petrol and hot asphalt.  Was this really just 38%?  Amazingly potent stuff, this, erratic and untamed, almost wild….it reminded me of the Haitian clairins, actually, and I mean that in a good way

Palate: Like the Jamel, it did a one-eighty degree turn. Thin and watery cucumbers in brine, vague vanillins, white sugar dissolved in extremely diluted lemon juice, a tad oily in mouthfeel, some sweet baking spices in there, cinnamon and nutmeg, too light to really be noticeable, but all serve to tame the nose.

Finish: Gone in a flash, hardly anything except crushed grass and a faint banana whiff

Thoughts: Should be stronger to make the point the nose advertised

77/100

Final comments

None of these rums is new, and two have won prizes, so it’s not as if Bert spent the last year refining his output, tweaking his ageing regimen and changing his barrels in any way.  But these are all younger than the ones I tried back in 2014 and I liked them more – they were lighter and cleaner in some way, integrated their tastes better, and the influence of the woods was held in check in a way that allowed more diffident flavours to come through. I wonder if that will turn out to be a characteristic of the type, that the ones under five years old will be the better ones. The journey continues.

 

Jun 302016
 

CDI Jamaica 2000 14yo 2

 

A rum that’s frisk to a fault.

(#282 / 86.5/100)

***

Ever notice how many new Jamaicans are on the market these days?  At one point you’d be lucky to see a few Appleton V/Xs chatting boredly on the shelf with an occasional dusty Coruba, and if your shop was a good one, maybe an indie or two.  For over a decade, few knew better.  Now, it’s not just J. Wray stuff that one can find with some diligent trawling: one can’t go online without banging into rums from Hampden, Monymusk, Worthy Park, Clarendon, Longpond…which is all great. The rum resurgence is a long-established fact (disregard the ill-informed journos constantly harping on the way it is “happening now” every year), but methinks that Jamaica is just building up a major head of steam and there’s lots more and much better to come.  

Velier left the island alone, which is somewhat of a shame, really – can you imagine what might have happened if Luca had discovered a Caroni-style warehouse of some of these old distilleries? Few independents outside of Murray McDavid or G&M did much with Jamaican rums – perhaps the style was too different for popular consumption (sailors apparently didn’t care for the Jamaican component of their grog so its percentage in the navy blend kept dropping). One gent who bucked the trend and has been bottling superlative Jamaican rums for ages is Fabio Rossi (his first 1974 Supreme Lord 0 was bottled as far back as 1999 and we all know of the fiery white 57% baby from last year).  And now Mr. Florent Beuchet of the Compagnie des Indes aims to capture some of the glory with this cask strength bad boy, sold exclusively on the Danish market, ‘cause they asked for it, and nobody else in Europe would pay the taxes on something so feral.  The Danes smiled, shrugged, said “Okay da, så tager vi den,”¹ and walked off laughing with the entire output of the barrel for their market, and the rest of us proles have been trying to get some ever since.

CDI Jamaica 2000 14yo 3Good for them all.  I love those big bad bold Demeraras (who doesn’t?) yet I have true  affection for the bruisers from Trenchtown as well – in a somewhat more tasteful and restrained way, it’s like they’re channelling the soul of Marley via a dunder pit and a decomposing guitar.  I mean, just smell this 58% amber-gold full proof: esters, funkiness, herbaceous matter and a smorgasbord of rich ripe (almost too ripe) cherries, mangoes, apricots, sapodilla and tart white guavas.  It’s not really that heavy: it presents with a sort of sweet, laid-back clarity and cleanliness that reminded me more of a Spanish style rum having a dust up in the yards with something fiercer and more elemental. But things didn’t stop there: minutes later molasses, vanilla and sugar bedrock emerged upon which rested yet other hints of squished strawberries (I know of no other way to express that), dead grass and some slightly off wine.  Come on, you gotta admire something like this, 58% or no.

In a way that was both disappointment and relief, the twisty flavour bomb settled down after the initial attack of the nose.  It was a medium bodied, clean, almost crisp rum, which is where I suggest Florent’s personal thing about continental ageing usually ends up (similar remarks are jotted down in almost all my notes).  That was both this rum’s strength and its weakness, I thought, because the 58% coupled with that almost-but-not-quite lightness of the labial profile felt perhaps a bit too sharp.  Still, get past it and suck it up, as the Danes would say, and indeed, once I did, the rotting vegetals of dunderous funk (or should I say the funky dunder?) surfaced once more, dialled down, clashing good-naturedly with some winey notes, green olives, rye, leather and a bit of caramel and molasses here and there.  There was no way to confuse this with any Demerara rum ever made, or even an Appleton, and even on the finish there were points of difference from profiles we are more used to: marshmallows, molasses, apricots and brown sugar dominated, but that sly vegetal background still lurked in the background like a thief waiting for another chance to pick the pockets of your tonsils. Whew.  Quite an experience, this. It handily showed any 40% Jamaican the door.

What else do we have? Well, the rum was Hampden stock, the outturn was 254 bottles, and as noted it was made exclusively for Denmark, bottled and released in 2015.  No additives or adulterations of any kind, and for my money it’s a joyous riot of a drink, too badly-behaved to be anything but a whole lot of fun as you either quaff it with your friends or mix it into some kind of killer cocktail that calls for lots and lots of Jamaica sunshine, a spliff or two, and maybe some reggae tunes belting away to help it go down more easy. Not a great rum, but one that’s worth the coin any day.

I don’t know what the Danes are up to, honestly.  Not too long ago they weren’t on anyone’s map of the rum appreciating nations of the world (was anyone, outside of France and the UK and the Caribbean itself?), yet these days they have one of the most active and vibrant communities of rum anywhere, and prices to match.  Daniel’s new company Ekte just started making some waves last year (as if his rum bar didn’t already do that), my rum chums Henrik (of RumCorner reknown) and Gregers call it home, there’s an expanding rum fest, they all tell me it’s pedal to the metal all the way…and now the establishment  commissions a rum like this? Hell, maybe I should move, just so I can get some more.

***

Other notes:

¹ “Sure, we’ll take it.”

The events behind why there is a special edition of CDI rums for Denmark is covered in the company bio.  It’s a bit more prosaic than I recount above, but I can’t resist embellishments in a neat story.

Those same two sterling Danish gents, Gregers and Henrik, were kind enough to provide not just a sample of this rum for me to try in 2015, but the entire bottle. We’ll argue over who got the best of the exchange when we meet again this year as we demolish another set.

Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘n’ badass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

(#281 / 86/100)

***

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself.  The SMWS on the other hand, does this stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom.  They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won.  You may feel exhilerated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing  74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on me – because, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it?  It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungent – the very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes.  That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip.  And with good reason – it was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese.  Christ this was hot – it was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaming…he’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!”.  Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmite…it was just difficult to find anything through that heat.  Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.  

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more.  But that’s not to invalidate how good this one is – about the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall?  Not bad at all – in fact it grew one me.  There was a lot more going on over time — so quietly it kinda sneaks up on you — than the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained.  The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Well…this one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay.  It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

Jun 152016
 

Enmore 1988-1

A slightly discombobulated Enmore from the year Feynman died and Rihanna was born.  I wonder if that says anything about it?

(#279 / 86/100)

***

Bristol Spirits is a UK independent bottler formed in 1995, and so can no longer be considered a new kid on the block. Its label design has gone through several  iterations before settling on the current wildly coloured labels that so kidnap your eyes when you spot them on the shelf, and unlike some other indie bottlers, they pretty much issue all their rums at what they consider the appropriate strength, usually between 43%-55% with outliers at 40% in existence.  Like, say, Compagnie des Indes, they mostly bottle rums from all the usual and comforting locations – Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Cuba, Trinidad — while occasionally indulging themselves with diversions to less common places like Mauritius, Nicaragua, Peru, Haiti, Grenada and Guadeloupe.

Enmore 1988-2Some basic details on provenance: the Enmore continuous wooden coffey still is the only one of its kind extant, and while it is not a hundred-plus years old (the greenheart wood has been gradually replaced over the decades) it is well-used and still in operation to this day. The company notes on the rum speaks about being made from the pot still made by John Dore in 1880, but I suspect this may be in error, since these are actually two separate stills, the John Dore pot still is not made of wood (or from Enmore as far as I know), and the Enmore still is not a pot still. So let’s just assume this came from the wooden Enmore coffey still and move on before everyone falls asleep or breaks out the Rambo knife to settle the issue.

Right, with all that out of the way, what have we got here? A dark hay blonde 43% spirit bottled by an always-interesting company, from a country and a still for which I have a fond regard. And, I must admit, some very strange tastes, that seriously made me check my glencairns to see if they had been washed right: because I was asking myself, did it get stored in the pantry to near the spices?  The initial nose was light and warm and provided comforting smells of vanilla, raisins, licorice (the red kind) and a trace of sealing wax and turpentine…but there was also an undercurrent of garam masala, tumeric and drier indian spices coiling around in there that was as bizarre as Jessica Rabbit’s decolletage. I wasn’t complaining, mind…it just seemed out of place, and at least it didn’t derail the entire experience, being too vague to dominate the profile.  Anyway once the rum settled into its paces, more familiar notes of caramel, toffee, nougat and crushed walnuts emerged, with a dry kind of sawdust mustiness pervading the thing.  I can’t say it overwhelmed me, though it was pleasant enough.

Palate was better, much better: more light bodied than the  initial impressions above would suggest, as awkward as Tom Hanks in his new “Big” grown up body.  Initially presenting an almost-hot, briny foretaste, it developed really well with muted individual detonations of raisins, vanilla, dried fruit, apples just starting to go, some more licorice, some molasses, a flirt of citrus peel and again, those odd spices creeping around like John McClane serving up a little chaos in the mix – and these aren’t complementary sweet breakfast spices but sere, aromatic, powdery, crisp-smelling piles of spices on an open table (saffron, paprika, masala, more tumeric, cardamon, cumin)…it felt like walking through an open-air spice souk in the Middle East (oh wait…).  The finish was actually quite good: I hadn’t expected something so assertive from a 43% rum, but it delivered – a little sharp, more of that driness, caramel cream, brine, vanilla ice cream, cherries, licorice and some last hints, very faint, of nutmeg.

Okay, so in the sense that the rum was an oddball, it diverged from a more standard and familiar profiles, and showed more potential than delivery (much like Windows 2.1 did), while retaining the power to interest and enthuse.  It was not a depressing experience, nor a dour one (I was watching “Grave of the Fireflies” off and on as I made my notes, hence the comment). It was more a reminder of how a single still can produce several different variations on a theme, the way it was suggested that Old Enzo kept making the same car, just sleeker and better and faster each time.  Consider: the Velier Enmore 1988 (issued at 51.9% and one year younger) was more brutal, more intense, but better behaved, with flashes of brilliance; the Renegade Enmore 1990 hewed more to a standard profile (and wasn’t an Enmore anyway, but a Versailles), Secret Treasures Enmore 1989 was firmer and darker, while the El Dorado EHP wasn’t as complex. Nobody who’s had that many varieties of a single still’s rum can ever say they were running on empty…there’s something for everyone here and you won’t feel short changed if you manage to find Bristol Spirit’s version on some dusty shelf in a back-alley shop someplace, forgotten and ignored, and you snap it up.

***

Other notes:

Outturn unknown

Enmore 1988-3

May 252016
 

D3S_3878

A blue-water rum for the Navy men of yore.

(#275 / 86/100)

***

This may be one of the best out-of-production independent bottlings from Ago that I’ve had.  It’s heavy but no too much, tasty without excess, and flavourful without too many offbeat notes.  That’s quite an achievement for a rum made in the 1970s, even more so when you understand that it’s actually a blend of Guyanese and Bajan rums, a marriage not always made in heaven.

I’ve trawled around the various blogs and fora and articles looking for references to it, but about all I can find is that (a) Jolly Jack Tars swear by it the way they do Woods or Watson’s and (b) it’s supposedly slang for undiluted Pusser’s navy rum.  “Neaters” were the undiluted rum served to the petty officers onboard ship; ratings (or regular sailors if you will), were served with a measure of rum famously known as the tot, which was a quantity of diluted rum called grog, and if you don’t know the terms, well, brush up on your reading of rums.

The rum is bottled at 95.5º proof, and one has to be careful what that means – it’s not actually half that (47.75%) according to modern measures, but 54.5%. And that’s because originally 100 proof rum was actually 57% and so….well, you can do the math, and read a previous essay on the matter to get the gist of it. Beyond that, unfortunately, there’s very little information available on the rum itself — proportion of each country’s component, and which estate’s rums, for example — so we’re left with rather more questions than answers.  But never mind. Because all that aside, the rum is great.

D3S_3876

I have to admit, I enjoyed smelling the mahogany coloured rum. It’s warmth and richness were all the more surprising because I had expected little from a late ’60s / early ’70s product ensconced in a faded bottle with a cheap tinfoil cap, made by a defunct company. It started off with prunes, pepsi-cola (seriously!), molasses, brown sugar and black tea, and developed into cherries and purple-black grapes – complexity was not its forte, solidity was.  The primary flavours, which stayed there throughout the tasting, were exclamation points of a singular, individualistic quality, with no attempt at subtlety or untoward development into uncharted realms. In the very simplicity and focus of its construction lay its strength. In short, it smelled damned good.

The heavy proofage showed its power when tasted neat.  Neaters was a little thin (I guess the nose lied somewhat in its promise) but powerful, just this side of hot.  No PM or Enmore still rum here, I thought, more likely Versailles, and I couldn’t begin to hazard where the Bajan component originated.  Still, what an impressive panoply of tastes – flowers, cherries again, some brown sugar and molasses, coffee grounds, watermelon.  The softness of the Bajan component ameliorated the fiercer Guyanese portions of the blend, in a way that I hadn’t seen before, and boy, did that ever work. It was smooth and rattling at the same time, like a mink-overlaid machine gun. With some water added, a background of fried banana bread emerged, plus more brown sugar and caramel, salt butter, maple syrup and prunes, all tied up in a neat bow by a finish that was just long  enough and stayed with the notes described above without trying to break any new ground. So all in all, I thought it was a cool blast from the past.

D3S_3877A well made full proof rum should be intense but not savage.  The point of the elevated strength is not to hurt you, damage your insides, or give you an opportunity to prove how you rock it in the ‘Hood — but to provide crisper, clearer and stronger tastes that are more distinct (and delicious).  When done right, such rums are excellent as both sippers or cocktail ingredients and therein lies much of their attraction for people across the drinking spectrum.  Perhaps in the years to come, there’s the potential for rum makers to reach into the past and recreate such a remarkable profile once again.  I can hope, I guess.

Company bio

Charles Kinloch & Son were wine and spirits merchants who were in existence for almost a hundred years when they joined the Courage Brewery group in 1957.  That company had been around since 1757 and after many mergers and acquisitions was itself taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group in 1972, eventually passing to the Foster’s Group in 1990.  In 1995 Scottish & Newcastle bought Courage from Foster’s and it changed hands again in 2007 when Wells & Young’s Brewing company bought all the brands under that umbrella.  By then Navy Neaters had long been out of production, Kinloch was all but forgotten, and the current holding company now is more involved in pubs and beers in the UK than in rums of any kind.

Other notes

The rum had to have been made post-1966, given the spelling of “Guyana” on the label. Prior to that it would have been British Guiana.

The age is unknown.  I think it’s more than five years old, maybe as much as ten.

May 082016
 

D3S_3801

A lovely, light rum , as elegant as a Viennese waltz: it’s missing something at the back end, but nothing that would make me consider telling anyone to steer clear. 

(#271 / 85/100)

***

Compagnie des Indes so intrigued me when I first came across their Cuban rum back in early 2015, that I’ve already looked at two of their more offbeat products (from Fiji and Indonesia), and have detailed notes on five more commercially minded ones, which I’ll try to deal with in the next weeks and months (in between every other rum I want to write about).  This one hails from Guadeloupe and is a solid entry to the genre without breaking too much new ground or attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Bellevue is actually a subset of Damoiseau, and is separated from its better known big brother in order to distinguish its molasses rums from the cane juice products Damoiseau more commonly produces.  It’s located NE of Grand Terre (not Marie Galante…the other Bellevue which provided several iterations from Duncan Taylor and Cadenhead is there) . In 2015 CDI got in on the act when the issued this sixteen year old rum (it’s a whisker short of seventeen), but have made no effort to distinguish the two Bellevues (except to me, because I asked to clear up my confusion…thanks Florent.)

D3S_3802

It’s always useful to know ahead of time where an aged rum was in fact aged, because as many writers before me have pointed out, tropical maturation is faster than Continental ageing, and the resultant qualities of the final product diverge: Velier, for example, has always favoured the tropics and ages there, which goes somewhat to explaining the intensity of its rums; while CDI prefers more subtle variations in its rums deriving from a prolonged rest in Europe. Knowing that helped me understand the staid elegance of a rum like this one. The nose, easy and warm at 43%, presented soft and fruity without hurry, with some driness, cardboard, and pickles (yeah, I know, I know…). Pears, ripe apples and white guavas, with a hint of zest, something like tangerine peel mixed up with some bubble-gum, plus an undercurrent of burnt sugar lending a very pleasing counterpoint.

At 43% the texture of this golden rum was medium bodied trending to light, and pleasant for all that. It was unusually dry and a bit too oaky, I felt – the tannins provided a dominance that somewhat derailed the other parts of the profile. It started out a little soft — bananas, kiwi fruit and white flowers — before nectarines and fresh cucumber slices on rye bread emerged, which in turn gave way to ginnip and unripe apples and mangos. It took time to get all this and the integration of all these elements was not perfect: still, overall it was a perfectly serviceable rum, with a short, crisp, clear finish redolent of caramel, sugar cane juice, vanilla and more fruitiness that was light and sweet without ever getting so complex as to defy description.

There’s a certain clear delicacy of profile that has run through the Compagnie’s rums I’ve tried thus far. They do not practice dosing, which is part of the explanation – the European ageing is another – but even so, they are uniquely distinct from other independent bottlers who also follow such practices.  This and the relatively low strength makes their rums possess an unhurried, easygoing nature that is not to everyone’s taste (least of all full proof rummies or cask strength whisky lovers).  This one in particular lacks overall development, but makes up for it with interesting tastes you have to work at to discern, and at end it was a rum you would not be unhappy to have shelled out for. At under sixty euros (if you can still find it) it’s pretty good value for money, and gives a really good introduction to the profile of a Guadeloupe outfit with which not everyone will be familiar and whose rums are nothing to sneeze at.

 

Other notes

  • Distilled March 1998, bottled February 2015
  • 281 bottle outturn
  • The label information is as comprehensive as always
  • No additives, filtering or adulteration.
  • Masters of Malt remarks this is made from molasses, not cane juice. Florent, when contacted, said: “Yes indeed it s a molasses rum. There are two Bellevue distilleries in Guadeloupe. One on Marie Galante producing cane juice rums. Another one at Le Moule producing molasses sometimes.”
Apr 222016
 

Enmore

It is a rum of enormous taste and great breadth of profile…and if it had been a little less serious, a little more forceful, I would have called mine Falstaff.

(#267. 89/100)

***

In spite of its light blonde colour, there has always been something dark and dour, almost Heathcliff-ish, about the Enmore rums, including this 1988 variation (maybe it’s the bottle design of black-on-dark-red). It’s a brilliantly done piece of work, a drone-quality delivery system for ensuring your taste buds get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out.  And that, let me tell you, is quite a bit.

So many people have written about Velier and its products (myself among them), in particular the Demeraras which made the company’s reputation, that I won’t rehash the background, as there are sufficient reference materials out there for anyone to get the details. With respect to this rum, however, some additional information is necessary.  According to the label, it was continental aged, not the more heavily hyped tropical ageing that Velier espouses these days.  Also, since it was distilled in November 1988 and bottled in March of 2008 it’s actually a nineteen year old rum, not twenty (which is why I’ve titled the review that way).  And lastly, it  was not one of those rums Velier selected in situ in Guyana and then bottled, but originally shipped to Europe in bulk and then chosen for bottling there.  So in these respects it is somewhat at a tangent to more famous rums from the Italian company.

Does this matter to me?  Not really.  I like the wooden stills’ outputs as a whole, and have tried several Enmores, including the too-weak EHP issued by DDL itself in 2007.  Overall, rare as they are, they are all worth (mostly) the coin, and if my love is more given to Port Mourant rums, this one does the brand no dishonour.  In fact, it’s a very good product, adhering to many of the pointers we look for in rums from Guyana in general, and Velier in particular.

EHP_2

Getting right into it, I loved the nose…it was just short of spectacular, opening with coffee, toffee, and anise.  Rich thick petrol and wax and shoe polish aromas developed rapidly, but they were well dialled down and in no way intrusive. Newcomer to rum who read this may shake their heads and ask “How can anyone taste crap like that and like it?” but trust me on this, the melding of these smells with the emergent molasses and fruity background, is really quite delicious, and I spent better than fifteen minutes coming back to it, over and over again,

Hay blonde (or light gold) in colour, one might think this meant a wussie little muffin of a rum. Nope. It was bottled at a mouth watering 51.9%, tasting it was a restrained kinetic experience – not on the level of the >60% beefcakes Velier occasionally amuses itself with (you know, the kind of rums where you can hear the minigun shells plinking on the ground as you drink) but sporting a taste vibrant enough to shake the shop I was in, if not so fiery as to require tongs to lift and pour. Medium-to-full bodied, the initial attack was straw, cedar, hay, dust and very little sweet of any kind.  The wax and petrol, and smoky flavours were all there, yet not at all dominant, more a lighter counterpoint to others, which, after a few minutes, began a slow and stately barrage across the palate: dried dates, raisins, tart ripe mangoes, cloves, papaya, flowers, dark chocolate and a slight briny sense underlying it all. It was, I must stress, quite a powerful overall drink, in spite of it not being as strong as others I’ve tried over the years. “Firmly intense” might describe it best.

The finish was one to savour as well. It was of medium length, a little dry, and gave up no particularly new notes to titillate, merely developed from the richness the preceded it.  Some additional sweet came forward here, a vague molasses and caramel, more chocolate – the best thing about it was a lovely creaminess at the back end, which did not detract in the slightest from dark fruits, more freshly sawn wood, a little smoke, brine and chocolate.

Velier was bottling rums since around 2000, and for my money their golden years occurred when they issued the best of the Demeraras, around 2005-2010 – that’s when the 1970s editions rolled out (like the Skeldon and PM, for example). And if, good as it is, the Enmore 1988 doesn’t ascend quite to the heights of many others, no lover of Demerara rums can fail to appreciate what Luca did when he issued it. The Enmore falls right into that band of remarkable Velier offerings, and the romantic in me supposes that it was made at a time when Luca was mature enough in his choices to pick well, but still young enough to remember the reasons why he loved rums in the first place.  All the reasons he loved them. This rum is one of the showcases of the still, the country, and the man.

Other notes

419 bottle outturn from two barrels.

Personal thanks and a big hat tip go to Pietro Caputo of Italy, who sent me the sample gratis.

Top and bottom pictures come from Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged-Mind, who also reviewed this rum.

Enmore 1988 1

 

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