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.

Apr 282016
 

D3S_3879

A rum from Ago.  Perhaps only a Guyanese or a retired British Navy man could truly love it.

(#269. 77/100)

***

For the most part, over the last months I’ve concentrated on fairly well known rums, made by bottlers with whom we’re all reasonably familiar. Today, I’m going to reach into the past a bit, to the Guyana Distillers El Dorado Bonded Reserve. Sorry, what? I can hear you say, You mean DDL don’t you, Mr. Caner? Yeah…and no.  This rum was made in the early 1980s before DDL changed its name, and in it was one of those hooches like the King of Diamonds, now long gone and out of production…in it, we can see what local rum was like before El Dorado was launched to the overseas market in 1992.  

Sampling this rum pulled back a curtain of the mind. As a young man, I had had it years ago, before DDL became what it now is, before craft rums and independent bottlers were up to their current stature, and way before the El Dorado line had established itself as one of the baselines of the rum world. You’re not going into the extreme past like with the G&M Longpond 1941, St Andrea 1939 or even the St James 1885, no…but the Bonded Reserve does demonstrate how fast the rum world has in fact evolved since those days – because I cannot remember trying anything quite like it in recent memory.

It was an old bottle.  The label was faded and old fashioned, the tinfoil cap spoke to different days.  Even the bottle glass looked worn and tired. Within it was a 40% rum that decanted a golden rum into the glass.  It smelled thin and dusty, with not much going on at the inception – some smoke and leather and vanilla, a touch of caramel and grapes, raisins, with some cumin and molasses to round things out, all quite subdued and tepid.

D3S_3880Tasting the Bonded Reserve raised all sorts of questions, and for anyone into Mudland rums, the first one had to be the one you’re all thinking of: from which still did it come?  I didn’t think it was any of the wooden ones – there was none of that licorice or fruity intensity here that so distinguishes them. It was medium to light bodied in texture, very feebly sweet, and presented initially as dry – I’d suggest it was a column still product. Prunes, coffee, some burnt sugar, nougat and caramel, more of that faint leather and smoke background, all rounded out with the distant, almost imperceptible murmuring of citrus and crushed walnuts, nothing special. The finish just continued on these muted notes of light raisins and molasses and toffee, but too little of everything or anything to excite interest beyond the historical.

To be honest, the rum was so divergent from the firm, crisp, well-known profiles of todays’ Demeraras that it suggested an almost entirely different product altogether.  It could just as easily have been a Trini or Bajan rum, or even (with some imagination) a softer spanish-style product.  Given that it won a double gold medal in Leipzig in 1982, one can only hazard that the competition that year was feeble, and the rum rennaissance through which we fortunate beings are currently living through had yet to gather a head of steam.

In fine, then, it’s almost, but not quite, an historical artifact.  It’s no longer for sale, isn’t being made, and it was by mere happenstance that I saw this on the Whisky Exchange in 2014 and had some spare cash left over . Rating it might do it an injustice, because you’ll look long and hard to ever find its twin…I might have bought the last one.  

So, how do I put this? Well, let’s see – it’s a rum, contains alcohol, and that’s nice; it’s not entirely bad, or undrinkable.  It will do good things to your cocktail, and there’s my recommendation for it, I guess, because at the end, assuming you ever see a bottle, you probably won’t ever enjoy it any other way.  

Other notes

Peter’s Rum Labels in Czech Republic have this exact label on file, but noted as being made by DDL. DDL was formed in 1983 when Diamond Liquors (Sandbach-Parker’s company) and Guyana Distillers (Booker McConnell’s) were merged.  So this rum had to be made between the time of the medal it won in 1982 and the creation of DDL in 1983.  That would explain how I was able to still find it to drink in 1985 in many shops in Georgetown and the countryside.

Guyana Distillers was based out of Uitvlugt, which goes a long way to clarifying the lack of a characteristic or familiar profile, since their still was a four column French Savalle still, producing several different kinds of rum. Based on my tasting, I’d suggest the rum is less than five years old…maybe three or so.

Apr 252016
 

D3S_5678

For me this is a rum that evokes real nostalgia, even though I’ve mostly moved past it.

(#268 / 82/100)

***

I enjoy storytelling, but if rambling background notes and local anecdotes are not your thing, skip three paragraphs.

It was a fact of life in Guyana in the 1980s and 1990s that as one moved up the income scale from poor to less poor, one upgraded from Lighthouse matches to bic lighters to zippos; from leaky, loosely packed Bristol cigarettes to Benson & Hedges (gold pack, preferably made in the UK, not Barbados), and stopped swilling the pestilential King of Diamonds (which nowadays has gained stature only by being long out of production), younger XMs and High Wine rums, in favour of the somewhat more upscale Banks DIH 10 year old.

Alas, as a young man just growing out of training wheels and nappies, my slender purse (and near nonexistent income) relegated me to matches, Bristols and XM five, which my best friend John and I smoked and swilled in quantities that makes me shudder these days.  We’d sit in the convival open-air tropical atmosphere of Palm Court, smoke up a storm (killing those butch Mudland-sized mosquitoes in their thousands), and call happily to our favourite waiter who knew us on sight “Double five, coke an’ a bowl a ‘ice, Prince!” followed by  “Keep ‘em comin’ bai! Me nah wan’ see de bottom o’ de glass.” I somehow suspect that were we to get together one of these years, John and I, this routine would not change appreciably, as long as Prince is still around.

D3S_5672Starting as “Demerara Ice House” (there really was an ice factory in Water Street, and yes, it’s still there) and now called D’Aguiar’s Industries and Holdings (hence the DIH) at the beginning of the 20th century, the D’Aguiar family built up a huge food and drinks conglomerate, of which rums remain a relatively small part – they were and remain one of the first and largest bottlers in the Caribbean. They have a huge facility right outside Georgetown in the fragrantly named “Thirst Park”, they make beer, soft drinks, distilled water (among many other consumer nibbles) and with respect to rums, act as blenders, not makers like DDL. Their best known rums back then were the 5, 10 and 15 year old, the Premium Blend, and to this has currently been added a VXO, 12 year old, a White and XM “Classic”. Legend has it they have a rum or two squirrelled away that’s 20 or 25 years old, but I never saw it myself.

All right, so much for the reminiscing.  What we had here was a tubby bottle quite different from the slim one I recall, containing a dark orange-gold rum bottled at 40%.  The XM in the title stands for “eXtra Mature” and has always been a sort of informal title for the rums, since nobody ever refers to them as “Banks” – that moniker refers to the company’s beer. It was aged for close on to ten years in bourbon barrels, and then finished for another six months or so in cognac barrels, which allows the company to wax rhapsodic in its marketing materials about this being “a cognac of rums”.

Smelling the XM 10 made me wonder whether there wasn’t some Enmore or Port Mourant distillate coiling around inside, even if it’s true they don’t buy anything from DDL.  It was warm and not too sweet, pungent with wet cardboard, cereal, vanilla, licorice, dried fruits and some faint rubbery, waxy undertones stopping just short of medicinal.  It lacked heft, which was not too surprising given the standard strength, though most casual drinkers would have little to find fault with here – it was perfectly serviceable, if ultimately not earth-shaking in any way.

To taste it was quite good, and demonstrated some agreeable heft for a 40% rum (it reminded me somewhat of the Pusser’s 15 in that regard).  Medium bodied, soft and quite warm, there was also a queer kind of thin-ness to the overall profile, which fortunately did not transmute into any kind of unpleasant sharpness.  It entered with a sort of dusty driness, started with tart flavours of mango and anise and ginger cookies, then softened to flavours of red olives, vanilla, caramel, some light toffee, overripe cherries and bananas – overall, after some minutes the lasting impression it left on my mind was one of light sweetness and licorice, and the finish followed gently along from there, being warm and pleasantly lasting. It did not provide anything new or original over and beyond the taste, simply placed a firm exclamation point on the easy going profile that preceded it.  

D3S_5677My own opinion was that it lacked body and needed a firmer texture…the XM 10, while not exactly anorexic, gave the impression of having rather more potential than actuality, and the flavours, decent and tasty enough by themselves, suffered somewhat from dumbing things down to standard strength (this may be my personal preferences talking — I’ve gone on record many times in stating that 40% is just not good enough for me anymore — so take that bias into account).  On the other hand, maybe it’s like the DDL 12 year old, a bridge to the better rums in the XM universe like the 12 and the 15…and since I obtained those the other day, once I review them I can tell you whether this paucity of character is a characteristic of this rum only, or some sort of preference of the master blender that permeates the line. Honestly, I hope it’s the former.

Other notes:

I find the cheap tinfoil cap to be somewhat surprising for a ten year old rum.

As far as I know, Banks DIH no longer buy their bulk stock from Diamond and have no sugar cane fields or processing facilities of their own, which leads to rather more questions than answers, but one thing is clear – if they don’t use Guyanese sugar, molasses or rum stock, it can’t rightly be called a Demerara rum (and in fact, they don’t).  But let’s see if they answer an email I shot their way to settle the question.

I was treated with extreme courtesy by Jerry Gitany and Christian de Montaguère at the latter’s eponymous shop in Paris last week: after selecting a raft of rums – about seventeen altogether –  I plundered ten of their opened stocks, of which this was one.  The Little Caner might have been bored out of his mind for the three hours it took me to work my way through those ten samples (it was meant to be only six…Jerry kept opening new bottles for me to try and my resistance was weak),  but I had a wonderful time.  Merci beaucoup, mes amis.

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

 

Mar 222016
 

D3S_3652

*

The yin to Velier’s yang approaches its own pit stop on the road to the end of the Age of Demeraras, with a worthy entry to the genre.

(#262. 89/100)

***

Because I have a thing for Demerara rums (and not just because I used to live in the neighborhood), I’m always interested in finding new ones…or old ones issued anew, take your pick.  The RN 1990 is a sad sort of milestone for the company, because it is one of the last of the deeply aged Demeraras the company will issue for some time, nearly depleting its stock of PM distillate which hail from 1990 and before.  I tried this in the 2015 Berlin Rumfest, and liked it so much that I indulged myself in multiple glasses at Rum Nation’s booth every time there was a lull in the action, earning me some rather frosty glares from the booth attendants (I picked up a bottle some time later).

As with other old top end rums Rum Nation issued in the past, these are at the summit of their food chain, and while I sort of miss the older wooden boxes and burlap packing that were used in the Jamaican and Demerara >20 YO series, I liked the new box design too.  Cool black cardboard enclosure, silver lettering, very elegant.  The old style bottle was retained (not the tubby one introduced in 2014) and it looked like what it was, a pricey old boy made by Italian stylists

D3S_3654

Let’s move right into the facts.  The rum was mahogany shot through with flashes of gold, 25 years old and bottled at a reasonable 45%, as most Rum Nation top enders have been. It originated from five casks bought in 2003 in the UK, transferred to oloroso sherry wood barrels in May 2004, and bottled in early 2014 (as a 23 year old which seems to be missing from my master list) and the remainder ended up in this run of 2015, of 850 bottles

Tasting notes….well, that PM profile is so very distinctive, that I must confess to some bias here just because, y’know, I like it. Licorice, ripe black cherries and chopped fruits led the way. The smell was deep and bordering on rich (the 45% held it back), and after settling down exhibited wood, vanilla, leather and some of the weird smell of light rain falling on coals, mineral and smoky and musky all at once – not unpleasantly so, more like a counterpoint to the main theme.

Somewhat spicy to the initial taste; that took a few minutes to settle down to a pleasing warmth. The solid notes of the familiar licorice and anise crept out, dominating, the slightly lighter acidity of green grapes and citrus peel which swirled around yet more hints of black olives, tannins and some brine.  There were some aromas of fleshier fruit – peaches, ripe apricots – faintly hanging around, not enough to nudge my opinion one way or the other, really, just nice to notice. The rum exhibited a driness and woody character that was more prevalent than I recalled from others sharing this kind of taste (like Rum Nation’s own 1985 or 1989 editions, the Cadenhead 1975, or the Norse Cask 1975, let alone Velier’s 1974 PM, the last three of which are admittedly something of a cheat, being so much older). Still, I enjoyed it a lot – the rum was warm, heavy, not too jagged, and even provided additional black cake and molasses to the taste buds, once some water was added. At 45% there was very little aggressiveness which needed to be tamed here, leading to a fade that was medium long, not too shabby (certainly not sharp) – dry, pungent, aromatic, displaying mostly cloves, licorice, molasses, vanilla, smoke, dill and maybe some black tea, freshly made.

I’m not entirely sure it needed the additional filip of sherrywood finishing, but that did provide an additional complexity to the more traditional profile of the PM which made up the rum, and it took its place as a worthwhile companion to all the Demeraras that had preceded it from that company. It’s a well made, professionally assembled, delectable sipping spirit, if the profile and strength are in line with what you demand from a Demerara rum aged for a quarter century.  Buyers will have little desire to quibble over how and what it delivers.  And that’s quite a bit..

 

Mar 132016
 

D3S_3845

It’s instructive to drink the Norse Cask and the Cadenhead in tandem.  The two are so similar except in one key respect, that depending on where one’s preferences lie, either one could be a favourite Demerara for life.

(#260. 87.5/100)

***

The online commentary on last week’s Norse Cask 1975 32 year old rum showed that there was and remains enormous interest for very old Guyanese rums, with some enthusiasts avidly collecting similar vintages and comparing them for super-detailed analyses on the tiniest variations (or so the story-teller in me supposes).  For the benefit of those laser-focused ladies and gentlemen, therefore, consider this similar Cadenhead 33 year old, also distilled in 1975 (a year before I arrived in Guyana), which could have ascended to greatness had it been stronger, and which, for those who like standard strength rums of great age, may be the most accessible old Demerara ever made, even at the price I paid.

D3S_3848The dark mahogany-red Cadenhead rum was actually quite similar to the Norse Cask.  Some rubber and medicinals and turpentine started the nose party going, swiftly gone.  Then the licorice and tobacco — of what I’m going to say was a blend with a majority of Port Mourant distillate — thundered onto the stage, followed by a muted backup chorus of wood, oak, hay, raisins, caramel, brown sugar. I sensed apricots in syrup (or were those peach slices?).  It’s the lack of oomph on the strength that made trying the rum an exercise in frustrated patience for me.  I knew the fair ladies were in there…they just didn’t want to come out and dance (and paradoxically, that made me pay closer attention).  It took a while to tease out the notes, but as I’ve said many times before, the PM profile is pretty unmistakeable and can’t be missed…and that was damned fine, let me reassure you, no matter what else was blended into the mix.

The palate demonstrated what the Boote Star 20 Year Old rum (coming soon to the review site near you) could have been with some additional ageing and less sugar, and what the Norse Cask could have settled for.  The taste was great, don’t get me wrong: soft and warm and redolent with rich cascades of flavour, taking no effort at all to appreciate (that’s what 40.6% does for you). It was a gentle waterfall of dark grapes, anise, raisins, grapes and oak. I took my time and thoroughly enjoyed it, sensing even more fruit after some minutes – bananas and pears and white guavas, and then a slightly sharper cider note.  The controlled-yet-dominant licorice/anise combo remained the core of it all though, never entirely releasing its position on top of all the others.  And as for the finish, well, I wasn’t expecting miracles from a standard proof rum. Most of the profile I noted came back for their final bow in the stage: chocolate muffins drizzled with caramel, more anise, some slight zest…it was nothing earth-shattering, and maybe they were just kinda going through the motions though, and departed far too quickly.  That’s also what standard strength will do, unfortunately.

That this is a really good rum is not in question.  I tried it four or five times over the course of a week and over time I adjusted to its calm, easy-going voluptuousness. It’s soft, easygoing, complex to a fault and showcases all the famous components of profile that make the Guyanese stills famous.  If one is into Demerara rums in a big way, this will not disappoint, except perhaps with respect to the strength.  Some of the power and aggro of a stronger drink is lost by bottling at less than 41% and that makes it, for purists, a display of what it could have been, instead of what it is. I suggest you accept, lean back and just enjoy it.  Neat, of course. Ice would destroy something of its structural fragility, and mixing it might actually be a punishable offense in some countries.

D3S_3846The word “accessible” I used above does not mean available, but relatable. The majority of the rum drinking world does not in fact prefer cask strength rums, however much bloggers and aficionados flog the stronger stuff as better (in the main, it is, but never mind).  Anyway, most people are quite comfortable drinking a 40-43% rum and indeed there are sterling representatives at that strength to be found all over the place.  El Dorado’s 21 year old remains a perennial global favourite, for example – and that’s because it really is a nifty rum at an affordable price with an age not to be sneered at (it succeeds in spite of its adulteration, not because of it). But most of the really old rums for sale punch quite a bit higher, so for those who want to know what a fantastically good ancient Demerara is like without getting smacked in the face by a 60% Velier, here’s one to get. It’s a love poem to Guyanese rums, reminding us of the potential they all have.

***

Other notes

Distilled 1975, bottled October 2008. Outturn is unknown.  

The actual components and ratios of the blend is also not disclosed anywhere.

The rum arrived in a cool green box with a brass clasp. And a cheap plastic window. Ah well…

 

Mar 082016
 

D3S_3787

Sometimes amazing rums come into being, made by people you’ve never heard of, blindsiding you with creative genius. Here’s one from Denmark.

(#259. 91/100)

***

Often, writing about a rum that is good with flashes of great leaves me with the vague feeling of dissatisfaction, because it seems that with a little more effort and imagination and maybe even chutzpah, it could have scored higher, been more, wowed my socks off.  How often have I written “excellent work, but…”?  The Danish made Norsk Cask, which I bought together with Henrik of Rumcorner, was a rum that neatly sidestepped those concerns and has proved to be one of the best Demeraras I’ve ever had.  It shows that Velier and Silver Seal and Moon Imports aren’t the only ones who can create rums with full-proof iron-man jockstraps.

A few words about Norse Cask, once headed by a gentleman called David Larsson. Apparently he was behind a company called Qualityworld, which imported several brand name spirits as well as doing some independent bottling. Unfortunately, during the economic crisis in 2008 the bank pulled the plug on his company and it went belly-up – to our detriment, I suggest, because this guy, just on the basis of this one rum, sure looks like he knew how to pick ‘em.

Think I exaggerate?  Not in the slightest.  What we had here was a rum with a strength on the exciting side of 50%, a 57% dark red-brown rum aged an amazing 32 years (no information as to where) that exhibited a nose strong and fragrant enough to make Velier take a step back and mutter a disbelieving “Che cazzo?” (and then rush to buy one). The nose started out a little sharp, not too much, fading rapidly to heat, and exuding initial aromas of bananas, licorice and a little rubber tap on the schnozz. Man this rum was deep – I had almost forgotten what an aged-beyond-all-reason Demerara could smell like.  Black pepper, dark chocolate, coffee, cedar, lemon zest, anise and burnt sugar marched in stately progression across my nose.  And then this rich smorgasbord was followed by licorice, more brown sugar, red currants and elderberries, with some musty hay notes.  Wow.  Just…wow.

D3S_3788

The palate didn’t drop the ball, and continued to elicit my admiration: it was really well put together, rich to a fault, and I felt that not one year of the 32 was wasted.  I scorned the A.H. Riise Navy rum as an abominable sugar grenade – this restored my faith. Raisins, dried black fruits.  Esters lurked coyly in the background.  Flowers, apricots, lemon rind.  Some woodiness and tar was present, well held in check, more cedar, olives in brine and (get this!) a weird faint taste of marmite on jelly on a slice of rye bread. It somehow married the sort of supple sleekness that would give a mink nightmares with the heavy, massive stomp-’em solidity of a Clydesdale.  And the finish?  Medium long, yet very memorable – rich with black olives, sawdust, wood and some smoke, port, raisins and giving with all the love of a repentant ex-girlfriend.  I tried it in conjunction with (among others) a similarly aged Cadenhead from 1975 bottled at 40.6% and it eclipsed them all without busting a sweat.

So for once there are no qualifiers.  No buts, howevers or althoughs. There are just wistful wishes: I wish I knew more about the components; I wish there were more like it; I wish the bottle were bigger.  It’s so good I’m going to hoard this one and jealously guard it like a knight of old with his daughter’s chastity. A lesser rum would be about trying to summon maybe one or three clear (maybe even contrasting) tastes, and balance them uneasily, sometimes not well. This rum, which breathes, which challenges, which is excitingly alive and complex to a fault, wants to see each note as part of something better, a greater whole, a synthesis…a whole symphony.  And melds them in a way which is quite remarkable.

It’s a great Demerara rum. No, scratch that, I lied.  It’s a spectacular Demerara rum.

Other notes:

  • Distilled 1975, bottled July 2008.
  • No colouring, additives or chill filtering
  • 178 bottle outturn
  • No notes on the still, but for my money it’s the PM
  • Many thanks to Henrik for the history of Norse Cask.

D3S_3789

Feb 262016
 


Samaroli Dem 1994 1A very well blended, original melange of traditional Demerara flavours that comes up to the bar without effort, but doesn’t jump over.

(#257. 86.5/100)

***

It is a curious matter that although Samaroli may well be the first independent bottler to dabble in the issuing of year-specific, country-specific craft rums (they began with whiskies back in 1968), somehow they never seem to quite get the respect or street cred that its inheritors like Velier, RN, CDI and others do.  Few of their rums grace the review pages of the blogosphere, and yet, those that show up have all gotten pretty positive words said about them.  So why the lack of recognition and raves of the sort that others receive so often?

Part of it is the expense of course; another may be inconsistency in the range (I’ve tried too few to make that claim with assurance – I liked their Nicaragua 1995 and am intrigued by this one, but that’s hardly a huge sample set); still another is perhaps that the company is simply relegated to the status of “another one of the boys” because of their limited outturn.  Not for them the thousands of Caronis or Demeraras like Velier, or the more widely disseminated people-pleasers from Rum Nation and Plantation. Samaroli inhabits the undefined space between Luca’s pure cask strength bruisers and the occasionally dosed but usually very pleasant lower-proofed offerings from Rossi and Gabriel.  In fact, if you think about it, of all the independent bottlers currently in vogue, it is CDI which more closely adheres to Samaroli’s limited edition geographical spread.Samaroli Dem 1994 2

Be that as it may, that makes them neither more, or less than any of the others, simply themselves. So let’s look at one or two and see how they stack up: in this review, I tried a twelve year old from Guyana, the 1994 edition “dark” rum. It was distilled in 1994, matured in Scotland (why there, I wonder?) and bottled in 2006 at a modest 45% with an outturn of 346 bottles. No information is provided as to the still or blend of stills which comprise the rum (but we can guess right away).

Now, based on the above, I think it was reasonable to assume it was a blend, but for my money the Port Mourant still comprises the dominant portion thereof – just nosing it made that clear. It started off dark, with instant fumes of licorice, molasses and burnt sugar, and the spicy and musky background which denotes that particular still.  Almost all sharper and more acidic citrus scents were notable by their absence here, but paying some more attention teased out additional notes of tamarind, brine, clean vegetals and anise…a really nicely done traditional opening.Samaroli Dem 1994 3

I enjoyed the taste of the mahogany coloured twelve year old as well. It presented as warm and soft to the first taste, with well controlled bite: prunes, licorice (of course), and a musky dry taste like dark earth freshly ploughed, after a hard rain.  The spicier fruity notes came into their own after a few minutes, with lemon zest leading the charge, together with other vanilla and oaky elements that had missed their turn when I had smelled it the first time – it was a well put together assembly of tastes, occasionally sharp, nothing to complain about, and perhaps could have been somewhat stronger to really make those flavours sing. Closing things off, I liked the finish quite a bit as well: medium long, very solid, adroitly weaving between driness and softness, providing last hints of anise, burnt sugar, vanilla, cherries and some cinnamon.

The Samaroli 12 year old Demerara was very solid, professionally made, competently executed rum, if perhaps lacking that last filip of complexity and power to make it score higher.  No matter…what there was, emerged well and was assembled without major blemish.  If I score it the way I have, well, it was because I had a surfeit of PMs to use as comparators, and I assure you that the ones in contention were just as excellent.

So: Samaroli’s Demerara dark rum is a good-if-perhaps-not-great rum.  It adhered to all the main pointers of the style, was not adulterated in any way, and for its strength provided an excellent sipping rum that took on El Dorado’s own twelve year old and ran it into the ground.  DDL has gotten some bad press recently from around the fora of the cognoscenti, for the core El Dorado line which hydrometer tests suggested had been dosed with sugar.  Samaroli, as others have done, showed  the potential which such Demerara rums have, at any strength, and demonstrated that you don’t need to mess with a winning formula if you don’t want to, can issue as much or as little as you like, and still end up making a damned classy product that the public would enjoy.

Oct 182015
 

3 x El Dorados

(#236)

The three single barrel expressions issued by DDL are a curious bunch.  Ignoring the head of steam gathered by independent bottlers in the last ten years or so, DDL has never given either prominence or real attention to what could be Demerara rum’s killer app – single barrel, cask strength expressions that are still-specific.  When one observes the raves Velier, Cadenhead, RN, Silver Seal and others have gotten for their tightly focussed expressions hewing to precisely those coordinates, one can only wonder what DDL’s malfunction is.

And yet, here they are, these three, originating from the Port Mourant wooden double pot still, Enmore’s wooden column still and Uitvlugt’s French savalle still. So certainly some vision is at work in the hallowed halls of Diamond, however imperfect to us fanboys.

That said, there are problems with the rums reviewed here. They are non-age-specific; they are issued at what deep core rumboys consider an insulting 40% (at a time where 43-46% is practically a new norm for single barrel rums); and they seem to be issued as an afterthought instead of as core products in DDL’s range. I get the distinct impression that eight years ago when they first appeared (to commemorate the 2007 cricket world cup partly held in Guyana) they barely sold enough to keep making them.  Nowadays they’ve become sought after items, and still DDL is doing very little to promote them, re-issue newer variants, expand the range, or to make them stronger. Ah well.

Some basic facts, then: “living room” strength (to quote my Danish friend Henrik’s immortal phrase), still-specific, and confirmed by the El Dorado FB team that they are a minimum of twelve years old (Carl Kanto told me 13-16 years old, for all of them), aged in ex-bourbon barrels. No year of make is available (we can assume around 1995 or thereabouts). The bottles are tall, squarish and tapering — supposedly resembling a cricket bat, an homage to their issue — so watch  your step when having them in your home bar…they tip over easy. That’s more or less enough to be going on with.

3 x El Dorados ICBUICBU – Ex Savalle still, Uitvlugt

(83/100)

Colour: amber-orange

Nose: Quite delicate and a little thin, sharpish and fading fast, perhaps demonstrating why Velier’s decision to crank up the amperes was the right one.  Vanilla, tannins led the charge, with green grapes, the tartness of soursop (not much), plus red cherries and red currants. After opening up, additional scents of caramel, toffee and lighter floral notes.

Palate: Medium bodied, a shade astringent and dry.  Still very pleasant to sip.  Medium sweet rum, again that delicacy of flavour demands some attention and concentration.  Caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, more light flowers, blackish bananas, and even a mischievous flirt of air freshener, y’know, like pine-sol, or even varnish. The fruitness is dialled way back, and there’s some oak and leather floating around, more evident with some water.

Finish: Short, dry, thin.  Vanilla ice cream with some caramel drizzle, and white toblerone

Thoughts: shows the potential of what can be done if DDL oomphed it up a mite.

*

3 x El Dorados EHPEHP – Wooden Coffey Still, Enmore

(84.5/100)

Colour: dark copper

Nose: Some of the wooden stuff so characteristic of Enmore emerges right away. Red licorice, tannins, molasses, caramel.  A much greater depth of flavour than the ICBU.  Vanilla, almonds, dark chocolate, with faint coffee, coconut, nutmeg and maybe saffron. Very nice indeed. Quite balanced – no real sharpness or spice here, just warm waves of olfactory happiness.

Palate: Medium bodied, warm and very pleasant…just unadventurous (that 40% again?). Caramel, vanilla and licorice, lemon peel, black grapes, underlaid with faint wax-rubber notes, far from unappealing.  With water, it expands into butter and cream cheese on rye bread, almonds, nougat, oak, smoke, leather and freshly crushed tobacco leaves and vegetal stuff I couldn’t identify.

Finish: Short, aromatic and warm.  More vanilla, faint white chocolate and some flowers, deeper, subtler memories of licorice and olives. Some last oaky notes, held in check.

Thoughts: The 40% is decent enough – you’re getting quite a bit here, and it’s better than the ICBU, though not scoring hugely more. Try a more potent cask strength offering and you’ll see what I mean.

*
3 x El Dorados PMPM – Double Wooden Pot Still, Port Mourant

(85.5/100)

Colour: dark amber

Nose: Nosing this shows immediately how extraordinarily unique the PM distillate is – it’s almost unmistakeable.  It’s no accident that PM distillate is a popular constituent of many Navy-style rums. Pungent, heated and deep (slightest bit sharp), with licorice-citrus amalgam. Shoe polish on old leather shoes (and old socks in those shoes). Musty, leathery, smoky, with some molasses, anise, overripe cherries and green olives alongside a really good feta cheese. Can’t get enough of this.

Palate: This is where the rum fails to meet expectations, for all the sumptuousness of the lovely, phenolic, astringent nose. Too little of these aromas carries over to the taste, though to be fair, some does. It’s just too faint, and one is led to believe it would be deeper. Medium full body; coffee, butter dark chocolate, almonds, some tangerine zest.  More of that musty driness recalling an unused hay-loft.  Some gherkins in salt vinegar.  Leather and smoke and well-balanced oak.  A dash of sweet molasses-soaked brown sugar laces the whole package.

Finish: Dry, sweet, medium long. Dusty dried grass, aromatic tobacco, and, of course, more licorice. Impressive for a 40% rum.  

Thoughts: the nose is great, the finish, lovely.  It’s on the palate that more could be done. Perhaps unfairly, I used the Samaroli Demerara 1994 45%, Norse Cask 1975 57% and Cadenhead Green Label Demerara 1975 40.6% as controls…and those rums were incredibly rich (even if two were twice as old) in a way that this was not (though it recouped points in other areas).

***

A few random thoughts occurred to me as I tried these rums.  One, DDL should make more, and more often, and move right past 40%.  No, the various new cask finishes on the 15 year old don’t make up for the potential that is wasted here. Velier and other makers have proven that the stills themselves are the selling point, with some skilful and aggressive marketing.

I suspect that output from the wooden stills in particular is being saved for dependable cash cows like the various El Dorado aged expressions, and issuing stronger cask strength stuff the way independent bottlers have been doing, would lessen stocks available for the old stalwarts.  So think of it this way: the 40% 21 year old rum is fantastic for around a hundred bucks, yes…but just think of what mad people like me would pay for a unicorn like a 21 year old LBI-estate rum bottled at 50%. Just sayin’.

Anyway, that DDL chooses not to expand its own base of excellent rums by issuing more like these is to their own detriment, and my personal opinion is that if you like Guyanese rums a little different from more well-known, standard (blended) profiles , then these three are definitely worth the little extra money it takes to snap them up. They may be issued at “only” 40%, but they’re still cheaper and less powerful than Veliers for those who shy away from 60% monsters; and they serve as a great intro into the characteristics of DDL’s famous stills without breaking either the bank or your tonsils. Go get ‘em if you can.

Other notes

From the El Dorado FB team: “The annotations PM, EHP and ICBU refer to the estate of origin of the respective still that the rums are still produced on; PM being  the Port Mourant estate in the Berbice county, EHP being the Enmore estate on the East Coast of Demerara that was owned by Edward Henry Potter at the time of acquisition of the Wooden Coffey Still, and ICBU being the estate then owned by Ignatius Christian Bonner at Uitvlugt (ICB/U) on the West Coast of Demerara.”

The age of the stills recalls the old philosophical problem of Theseus’s ship: over the years all the wood of the ship was gradually replaced.  After a time, none of the wood was original, so was it still Theseus’s ship? Something similar happens with the wooden stills. Certainly there’s little of any of them that is hundreds of years old, what with constant replacement of a plank here and a plank there.

Compliments, kudos and thanks to Josh Miller of Inuakena, who not only bought these on credit for me six months or more ago, but when he discovered that he missed the PM and sent me two EHPs by mistake, couriered the missing bottle to me pronto, so I could do the review of all three before I left Berlin. Big hat-tip, mate. Mis rones son sus rones.

My original 2010 review of the ICBU shows something of how my taste, writing style and opinion have changed over the years. I didn’t refer to it when I wrote this one.

As this review was being written, so many things occurred to me that rather than obscure the tasting notes, I provide a precis of the various high points, and split off the more in-depth remarks into a separate essay about the wasted potential of the stills.

Update January 2016

The word spread like wildfire in the blogosphere and on FB in the second week of January, that DDL would issue three cask-strength aged still-specific expressions after all. A PM, a Versailles and an Enmore.

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