Dec 022017
 

#464

Seen over a span of decades, it is more clear than ever that the El Dorado 15 year old is a seminal rum of our time. “It is a bridge” I wrote back in 2010 in my unscored review, remarking that it straddles the territory between the lower end twelve year old and the 21 year old, and represents a sort of intermediary in value and price and age. The best of all worlds for El Dorado, you might say, and indeed it remains, even twenty five years after its introduction in 1992, one of the most popular rums in the world for those who enjoy the Demerara style.  Any time a blog or website has a series of comments on favourite affordable rums, you can be sure it’ll find its way in there somewhere.  It cannot be easily ignored, even now in the time of independents and cask strength Guyanese monsters aged beyond all reason.

That it succeeds at so effectively colonizing our mental map of good rums bottled at living room strength is a testament to its marketing, but also its overall quality.  DDL themselves tacitly accept this by not only keeping the rum in production for over a quarter century, but chosing specifically that one to issue with a number of fancy finishes (and for a very good rundown of those, look no further than RumShopBoy’s complete analysis, and his separate conclusions, as well as the Quebec Rum’s (French) reviews the only ones available right now). My irascible father, no rum slouch himself, scorns all other rums in the El Dorado range in favour of this one. Many Guyanese exiles wouldn’t have their home bars without it.  What the actual quality is, is open to much more debate, since all rumhounds and rumchums and rabid aficionados are well aware – and never tire of saying – that there is 31-35 g/L of additives in there (either caramel or sugaring, it’s never been definitively established), and by that standard alone it should, like the 21, be consigned to an also-ran.

But it isn’t.  Somehow this rum, a blend of the PM, EHP and VSG stills – which is to say, all the wooden stills, with the PM dominant – keeps on trucking like the energizer bunny, and, love it or hate it, it sells well year in and year out, and has fans from across the spectrum.

Tasting it in tandem with the 12 year old (I’ll do a revisit of this as well soon, though not as part of the Key Rums series) and the 21, it’s clear that it possesses a bit more oomph than it’s younger sibling, in all aspects.  Not only in strength (43% ABV) and age (three years more than the 12), but also in overall quality. It noses quite well – licorice, anise, creamy caramel, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke.  Orange rind.  Some mustiness and vague salt – basically all the things that the cask strength indies demonstrate, with good complexity and balance thrown in…but somewhat more dampened down too, not as fierce, not as elemental, as what might have been the case.

The various hydrometer lists around the place have shown there’s adulteration going on in the rum, and there is no doubt that when you drink the 15 in tandem with clear, untouched rums, the softening effect of the add-ons are noticeable. What is astounding that even those levels don’t entirely sink the experience. Consider: it’s smooth and possesses depth and heat.  It starts with licorice, and adds oak, some smoke, then slowly the dark fruits come into play – prunes, raisins, black olives, overripe cherries.  There’s some honey and the faint molasses background of coarse brown sugar.  In every way it’s a better rum than the 12 year old, yet one can sense the way the flavours lack snap and crispness, and are dumbed down, softened, flattened out – the sharp peaks and valleys of an independently issued rum are noticeably planed away, and this extends all the way to the finish, which is short and sleepy and kind of sluggish, even boring: sure there’s caramel, molasses, oak, licorice, nuts and raisins again, but didn’t we just have that?  Sure we did. Nothing truly interesting here.

All that aside, I’d have to say that for all its faults, there’s a lot to appreciate about this particular rum.  Much like the 21 it rises above its adulteration and provides the new and not-so-demanding rum drinker with something few rums do – a particular, specific series of tastes that almost, but not quite, edge outside the mainstream.  It gives enough sweet to appeal to those who bend that way, and just enough of a distinctive woody-smoky-leathery profile to attract (and satisfy) those who want something heavier and more musky.  

Now, let me be clear – a superlative demonstration of the blender’s art this is not. It is not one of the fiercely pungent Jamaicans, not a lighter, clearer, crisper agricole, nor is it an easy going Cuban or Panamanian, or a well-assembled Bajan.  I think it’s eclipsed even by the single-still offerings of DDL What it really succeeds at being, is well-nigh unique on its own particular patch.  Its success rests on great appeal to the masses of rum drinkers who aren’t drinking a hundred different rums a year, and who don’t take part in the Great Sugar Debate, who just want something tasty, reasonably well made and reasonably sweet, reasonably complex, that can be either sipped or swilled or mixed up without breaking the bank.  It’s on that level that the El Dorado 15 year old succeeds, remarkably well, even now, and is a tough, well-rounded standard for any other rum of its age and proof and point of origin to beat. Or at least, in the opinions of its adherents.

(82/100)

Oct 092017
 

#393

By now just about everyone knows that the Gordon and MacPhail Longpond 1941 58 year old walks and talks de Jamaican like a boss.  That thing gave super-aged rums a massive boost in visibility, showing that the patient, off-the-scale ageing of rums can be done with some care in Europe and come out at the other end with a profile that zooms to the top of the charts.  I seriously doubt a tropical aged rum could survive that long without being reduced to a thimbleful, and rarely with such quality.  Alas, the feat has almost never been replicated (except by Appleton with their 50 year old, the runner up).

Still, G&M have done something pretty interesting with Demeraras as well, and as proof positive of the statement, I offer the much younger Demerara Vintage Rum, which was brought into the world in that excellent decade of the 1970s…1974 in this case (the years 1972-1975 were really stellar ones for rum production by the indies).  This rum is bottled at 50%, is 25 years old, and is a triumph of continental ageing of any stripe, and of Demeraras in particular, even though we actually have no information as to which specific still(s) it came from.

Never mind that, though.  If you are one of the fortunate few who can pick up a glass of this ambrosia, take a deep smell, which you can because it is deep and dark and rich and troubles the snoot not at all.  Was it a PM? An Enmore? The savalle? I thought the former somewhat more likely, because although it was rather soft in the attack (much less so than a Port Mourant might have been when it arrives with all guns blazing), it conforms to much of the profile I’ve come to associate with that still. Anise, dark fruitcake, coconut shavings, prunes, peaches, bags and bags of fruits soaked in (what else?) more rum, and my lord, is this thing ever deep and full-bodied, inviting one ever deeper into the glass (for the record, I probably spent two hours on it).

And as for the palate, well, short version is, it’s pretty great, I enjoyed it thoroughly, mostly because of the way that flavours of brown sugar, molasses, charred oak, marshmallows, vanilla (I call it “caramelized oomph” for short) produced an almost sublime sipping experience.  Over the course of the session, there were more dark fruit, ripe cherries, apples, coconut, even more raisins and licorice, with some tart flavours of ripe mangoes and a squeeze of lime coiling underneath it all. The finish, nice and long-lasting, was dominated by a sort of charred wood and burnt sugar thing which could have been tamed some, but truly, there was nothing to whinge about here – it was simply solid, if without brilliance or off-the-scale excellence

If I had anything cautionary (or negative) to say about the rum, it’s that (a) it needed to be stronger (b) it was not overly complex in spite of the flavours described above and (c) no matter how hard I tried, I could not rid myself of the suspicion that it had been tarted up some, perhaps with caramel, perhaps with sugar — it just wasn’t all….there. And having had several clean and pure rums from that era, I think it’s possible, though proof is lacking in this matter – it’s just my thinking based on the profile and the comparators on the table back then (note that G&M’s 1971 version of a similar rum has been tested with 19 g/L of additives, so the suspicion is not as out to lunch as it might appear).

At the end of it all, even where it falters, the Demerara 1974 does not really fail.  It really is a very good product and might even cause DDL a few sleepness nights here or there, because it shows up the massively oversugared messes of their own 25 year olds (1980 and 1986 editions both), without ever needing to go over the top in that direction. I haven’t got  clue which still made the rum, or whether it was adulterated, but frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, because it’s somehow, in spite of all that, still a rum to savour on a cold night anywhere, and if I had more coin in my pocket the day I met it and exchanged kisses, you could be sure I would never have been satisfied with the little I managed to get.

(89/100)


Other notes

This is not the same 1974 rum which Henrik of RumCorner reviewed…that one was left to age a bit longer, until 2003, though interestingly, many of his notes parallel mine

Oct 052017
 

#392

As the years roll by, I have come to the conclusion that the last decade will be regarded as the Golden Age of Rum – not just because of Velier, Silver Seal, Moon Imports, Rum Nation, Ekte, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Secret Treasures (and all their cousins), but also because of the amazing writers who have emerged to chronicle their adventures with rum.  Somehow, social media and blogging software have formed a nexus with rum makers that allowed previously niche brands to simply explode onto the stage, raising awareness and knowledge to unprecedented heights.

However, an unanticipated side effect of this increase in knowledge and experience (even if only vicarious) is that buyers are more than ever leaving the what I term “national” brands like Mount Gay, El Dorado, Flor de Cana and Appleton to go venturing into the new, the esoteric or the independent. Few of the established brands have managed to meet this challenge – Foursquare with its cask strength releases and Velier collaboration is one, Grenada has had one or two overproofs floating around, and DDL certainly tried (timidly to be sure) with the Rare Collection.  Mount Gay is getting in on the action, and no doubt the Jamaicans are just building up a head of steam, and you can see Diplomatico, St. Lucia Distilleries and many others jumping aboard.

This leaves an old standby premium blended rum, the El Dorado 21, in something of a limbo.  It’s too old to ignore, too cheap to pass by, but lacks something of the true premium cachet…an affliction shared by, oh, the Flor de Cana 18.  That cachet can be conferred, for example, by purity: but it sure isn’t that – it’s not from any one of the famed stills, and various measurements suggest between 16-33 g/L of additives presumed to be caramel or sugar.  Alternatively, it could ascend in the estimation based on limited availability, and that isn’t the case either, since it is nowhere near as rare as the 25 YO editions, and isn’t marketed that way either. Nor does it go for broke and get released at a stronger proof point. Yet, for all that cheap premium reputation it has, I submit we should not throw it out just yet and pretend it’s some kind of bastard stepchild not worthy of our time.  Revisiting it after a gap of many years made me more aware of its failings…but also of its quality for those who aren’t too worried about either its strength or adulteration. One simply has to approach it on its own terms and either ignore it or take it as it is.

Re-sampling the rum in mid-2017 – some seven and a half years after my first encounter with it – showed how both I and the world had changed.  Many of the elements I so loved back in the day remained – the nose was earthy and musky, like dry ground after a long rain, and the licorice and oaky notes came through strong, attended faithfully by molasses, butterscotch, caramel, burnt sugar, very strong chocolate.  I let it stand for a little and came back and there were bags of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves – and slowly developing dark fruits and raisins coming through.  And yes, there was an emergent sweetness to it as well which made it easy easy easy to sniff (I was trying the 40% version, not the 43% one from Europe).

The nose showed much of what made and makes it such a popular premium rum for those whose tastes bend that way – at this point the profile was warm, enjoyable and luscious.  Problems began with the tasting.  Because while it was smooth, deep and warm, it was also thick, and by some miracle teetered on the brink of, without ever stepping over into, sweet cloyishness.  That it did not do so is some kind of minor miracle, and that as many flavours came through as they did is another.  Prunes, vanilla, creme brulee, more licorice, and salty caramel ice cream were first and remained the backbone of it, upon which were displayed hints of grapes, dates, cloves, christmas black cake, and even a smidgen of citrus sneaked slyly through from time to time.  It was great, but just too thick for me now, a shade too sweet, and the finish, well, at 40% ABV you’re not getting much, being way too short and simply repeating what had come before – frankly, I think that any rum this old had no business being released at such a paltry proof point.

Back in 2010 I scored it 88, saying what a brilliant rum it was, catering to all my tastes.  To some extent that’s still true – it’s simply that after many years of trying rums from around the world, I’m more aware of such adulteration and can spot the masking, dampening effect on the profile more easily.  I assure you, it’s by no means enough to crash and burn the experience – it’s just something I no longer care for very much, and when combined with a less than stellar strength, well…..

These days I regard the ED21 and the like with some sadness.  Not because of its sweetness and adulteration, really (that’s a given, grudgingly accepted with bad grace) — but because it reminds me of a time when I knew less, was pleased with more, regarded each new rum in the queue with excitement and interest and curiosity and yes, even joy.  It brings to mind a 1950 Frank O’Hara poem, where he wrote

“Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water.”

That’s how I felt then, and occasionally, I still burn that fiercely now.  But with experience (and perhaps a little wisdom), I had to trade away some of the excited exuberance of the beginner and accept that time – and my tastes, and indeed I myself – moved on.

Because, you see, this rum is not made for me any longer.  It is not made for Josh, Matt, Gregers, Laurent, Cyril, Steve, Johnny, Paul, Richard, Henrik, Wes, Simon, Ivar and others who have been at this for so long.  Once, in our rum-youth, we may have regarded a 21 year old like it was some kind of Everest. But we have passed beyond it in our journey, and see it now as no more than a foothill, a small peak among Himalayans.  It is made for those that follow us, for those who are now embarking on their own saga, or for the unadventurous who, like Victorian readers, prefer for now to read of the exploits of the trailblazers and pathforgers, but shy away from taking on the force and fury of a cask strength forty year old.  It is for such new drinkers that the rum is for, and one day, in their turn, they will also tread beyond it.

In the meantime, though, the El Dorado 21 is one of the key aged rums of our world, no matter how distant in our memories it lies, and no matter how much its tarted up profile has become something to decry.  We just remember that we liked it once, we enjoyed it once, and must allow those who appreciate rums for precisely those reasons, to discover it in their turn today as they walk down the path of their own rum discovery, seeking their own individual, personal, perfect El Dorado in the world of rum.

(84/100)


Other notes

Made from a blend of distillates from the Enmore wooden Coffey still, the Versailles single wooden pot still, and the French 4-column Savalle column still – for my money the Versailles is dominant.

 

Sep 062017
 

#386

Let’s be honest – 2017 is the year of FourSquare.  No other company since Velier’s post-2012 explosion on the popular rum scene, has had remotely like this kind of impact, and if you doubt that, just swim around the sea of social media and see how many references there are to Triptych and Criterion in the last six months.  Which is admittedly an odd way to begin a review of a competing product, but I wanted to mention that for all the (deservedly) amazing press surrounding the latest hot juice in the rumiverse, there remain equally solid names as well, who may not be as glitzy but have great products nevertheless, reliably issued year in and year out.

One of these is Rum Nation, which remains — after all the years since I first came across them in 2011 — among my favourites of all the independents. Their entry level rums, which usually sell for under a hundred dollars, are relatively standard proofed and are pretty good rums for those now getting into something different from mass-produced “country-brands” (even though they suffer from the dosage opprobrium that also on occasion sullies Plantation’s street cred). And because they are made from several barrels, usually have outturn in the thousands of bottles so there’s always some left to buy.  But the real gems of the Rum Nation line are — and always have been — the Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the aged Demeraras, all over twenty years old, and all bottled at an approachable strength of under 50% (dosing remains a fierce bone of contention here and is somewhat inconsistent across the line).  At least, they were at that strength, because Rum Nation, never being content to rest on their laurels, decided to go a step further.

In 2016, bowing to the emerging trend for cask strength, Rum Nation introduced the small batch “Rare Rums”.  These are much more limited editions of rums north of 50% and so far hail from Jamaica (Hampden), Reunion (Savannna) and Guyana (Enmore, Diamond and Port Mourant) – they are much closer to the ethos of Samaroli, Silver Seal, Ekte, Compagnie des Indes Danish and Cask Strength series, and, of course, the Veliers.

This also makes them somewhat more pricey, but I argue that they are worth it, and if you doubt that, just follow me through the tasting of the 57.4% 2016 Batch #2 Port Mourant, which started off with a nose of uncommonly civilized behavior (for a PM) – in a word, arresting.  With a spicy initial attack, it developed fleshy fruit, anise, licorice, spicy to a fault, adding prunes, plums, yellow mangoes, deep deep caramel and molasses, more licorice…frankly, it didn’t seem to want to stop, and throughout the exercise.I could only nod appreciatively and almost, but not quite, hurried on to taste the thing.

I am pleased to report that there were no shortcomings here either. It was warm, breathy and rich.  It may have come up in past scribblings that I’m somewhat of an unredeemed coffee-swilling chocaholic, and this satisfied my cravings as might a well-appointed Haagen-Dasz store: dark unsweetened chocolate, a strong latte, caramel, anise and burnt sugar, which was followed – after a touch of water – by dark fruit, raisins, figs and a touch of salt and bite and harshness, just enough to add character.  I was curious and wondered if it had been tarted up a mite, but honestly, whether yes or no, I didn’t care – the rum was still excellent. Rum Nation took two casks and wrung 816 bottles out of them, and I can assure you that not a drop was wasted, and even the finish – long, warm, breathy, piling on more chocolate and creme brulee to a few additional dark fruits – was something to savour.

This rum (and the Small Batch Rare Collection 1995 21 year old I tried alongside it)  exemplifies what I like about RN.  Honestly, I don’t know how Fabio Rossi does it.  Back to back, he issued two rums which were years apart in age, and their quality was so distinct, they were so well done, that I scored them both almost the same even though they were, on closer and subsequent inspection, appreciably different sprigs from the same rum branch.  No, it’s not the best PM ever (or even from RN itself), and is eclipsed by its own brother issued in the same year…but it’s a variant in quality not many other makers could have put out the door.  It’s a rum that is quite an experience to drink, and if I like the 21 better, well, it’s only a quarter-second, half a nose and a single point behind…and that’s no failure in my book.  Not by a long shot.

(89/100)

Aug 102017
 

#382

Renegade rums continue to hold a peculiar sort of fascination for me, because they were the first rums made by any outfit other than the big island producers or major corporations with which I came into contact.  They made it into Canada just as I was starting my rum scribbles, and were the only ones I saw for many years. Given our current familiarity with unadulterated rums made by independents, and adding to that something of a nostalgia factor, perhaps this Port Mourant succeeds better than it should, but I guess by the end of this review you can decide for yourself.

The bio of the company that got posted earlier this week provides most of the details of Renegade itself, so I won’t rehash them here.  This rum adheres to all the usual markers of the range: distilled in 2003, bottled in 2009 at the standard 46%, sourced from casks of juice from DDL’s Port Mourant wooden still (which raises certain expectations, naturally enough), and there’s that finish in Temperanillo casks for a few months (for the curious, Temperanillo is a rather full bodied red wine made from blue-black grapes in Spain). Also, and this is important, what we have here is not a single cask bottling, but many casks married together as part of Renegade’s production philosophy, and that’s is why the outturn is 6,650 bottles, and why, just maybe, you might still be able to get one with some judicious rumhounding.

And I think that would be a good thing, because this was a rum that channeled the spirit of the Port Mourant profile without entirely bowing to it, and provided an interesting twist on a well-known rum marque. That’s no idle fancy of mine either: when I nosed it for the first time I was looking for some of those deep woody, fruity and anise notes – none appeared. In fact the first aromas were of glue, rubber, brine, lemon-pepper…and beef stock (no, really).  Then came the olives, gherkins in vinegar and more brine, leather and smoke, coffee grounds, some vague caramels, pencil shavings, vanilla, oak…but where was the fruity stuff? I mean, it was good, it was intriguing, it had character, but it did depart from the norm, too, and not everyone will like that.

    Photo (c) Master Quill

The taste of the pale-yellow rum was also quite engaging: it was clear and clean, quite dry, and seemed stronger than it actually was (perhaps because it was so relatively young, or because it presented as ‘light’ – again, not what one would normally associate with a PM). Initial tastes were of fruit – white guavas, green apples, anjou pears and papaya, plus a tiny twist of lemon – before other background flavours emerged, mostly leather, smoke, pencil shavings, musty hay, cardboard and vanilla.  With water some more fruit crept out, nothing specific (maybe a grape or two), and the impression I was left with was more brandy than rum.  Frankly, this did not resemble a Port Mourant at all.  A note should also be made of a sort of minerally, ashy thing going on throughout, faint but noticeable and thankfully it was too feeble to derail the overall experience. The finish, though oddly short, was excellent – warm, easy, with citrus and raisins, some very weak molasses, and (finally!!) a flirt of licorice.

The profile as described above is exactly why I’ve always scratched my head about Renegade. I believed then (and now) that their finishing philosophy was hit-or-miss and sometimes detracted from what I felt would be an exceptional rum if left to its own devices. I imagine Mr. Reynier would disagree since this departure from the norm was exactly what he was after, and indeed, there were aspects of the overall experience here that proved his point – this rum may have originated from a set of PM barrels as modified by Temperanillo finishing, but what went into the bottles at the other end was a fascinating synthesis that might be difficult to define or even identify as a PM rum.  Which is both a rum geek’s attraction and a newbie’s despite.

On balance, I liked it a lot for its originality and daring, perhaps not so much for the final assembly and integration — a little more ageing might have done well, maybe a little less tinkering.  Still, the wine finish, however polarizing, was worn with panache and verve, and if the rum ran headlong into the wall in its desire to show off new ways to present old workhorses, well, y’know, I can respect that – especially since the rum as tasted wasn’t half bad to me. It may have lacked the dark brooding Port Mourant cask-strength menace to which Velier accustomed us, it may be a rum made by and for whisky makers…but I honestly believe that it was too well made to ignore entirely. Then and now.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

Alex over at Master Quill, who hails from somewhat more of a whisky background than I do, knowing my liking for the brand, very kindly sent me the sample, which in turn he did not like as much as I did. His review is definitely worth a look.

 

Jun 262017
 

#375

Velier rums have now become so famous that new editions and collaborations disappear from the shelves fifteen minutes before they go on sale, and the “classic” editions from the Age of the Demeraras are all but impossible to find at all.  Still, keeping one’s twitchy ears and long nose alert does in fact get you somewhere in the end, which is why, after a long drought of the company’s rums in my battered notebook (if you discount the legendary Caputo 1973), I managed to pick up this little gem and am pleased to report that it conforms to all the standards that made Velier the poster child for independent bottlers.  It’s one of the better Port Mourant variations out there (although not the best – that honour, for me, still belongs to the Velier PM 1974, the Norse Cask 1975, with the Batch 1 Rum Nation 1995 Rare PM running a close third), and drinking it makes me wistful, even nostalgic, about all those magical rums which are getting rarer by the day and which speak to times of excellence now gone by.

And how could I not be? I mean, just look at the bare statistics. Guyanese rum, check. Full proof, check – it’s 56.7%. Massively old, double-check…the thing is 32 years old, distilled in May 1975 (a very good year) and bottled in March 2008 (my eyes are already misting over), from three barrels which gave out a measly 518 bottles. The only curious thing about it is the maturation which was done both in Guyana and Great Britain, but with no details on how long in each.  And a mahogany hue which, knowing how Luca does things, I’m going to say was a result of all that king-sized ageing.  All this comes together in a microclimate of old-school badass that may just be a characteristic of these geriatric products.

How did it smell?  Pretty damned good.  Heavy and spiced. A vein of caramel salty-sweetness ran hotly through the fierce dark of the standard PM profile, lending a blade of distinction to the whole.  The first aromas were of anise and wood chips, tannins, leather, orange marmalade.  The wood may have been a bit much, and obscured what came later – herbs and molasses, raisins, raw untreated honey from the comb, with a bit of brooding tar behind the whole thing.  Lightness and clarity were not part of the program here, tannins and licorice were, perhaps too much, yet there’s nothing here I would tell you failed in any way, and certainly nothing I would advise you to steer clear of.

On the taste, the anise confidently rammed itself to the fore, plus a bunch of oak tannins that were fortunately kept in check (a smidgen more would have not been to the PM’s advantage, I thought).  There were warm, heavy tastes of brown sugar vanilla, caramel, bananas, and then a majestic procession of fruitiness stomped along by – raisins, prunes, blackberries, dark cherries, accompanied by nougat, avocado and salt, orange peel and white chocolate. All the tastes I like in my Demerara rums were on display, and with a warmth and power conveyed by the 56.7% that no 40% PM could ever hope to match, undone only – and ever so slightly – by the oaken tannins, which even carried over to the finish.  Fortunately, the anise and warmer raisins and salt caramel came along for their curtain call as well, so overall, all I can say is this is a hell of a rum, long lasting, tasty and no slouch at all. Frankly, I believe that this was the rum DDL should have been aiming for with its 1980 and 1986 25 year old rums.

So, how does it rate in the pantheon of the great Demeraras from the Age?  Well, I think the oak and licorice, though restrained, may be somewhat too aggressive (though not entirely dominant), and they edge out subtler, deeper flavours which can be tasted but not fully appreciated to their maximum potential – the balance is a bit off.  This is not a disqualification in any sense of the word, the rum is too well made for that; and in any case, such flavours are somewhat of a defining characteristic of the still, so anyone buying a PM would already know of it – but for those who like a more coherent assembly, it’s best to be aware of the matter.  

Just consider the swirling maelstrom of cool, of near-awe, that surrounds this product, not just for its provenance, or its age, but for lustre it brings to the entire Age’s amazing reputation.  It’s a rum to bring tears to the eyes, because we will not see its like again, in these times of increasing participation by the indies, and the <30 year aged output.  Who would, or could, buy such a rum anyway, at the price it fetches nowadays (I saw one on retail for €2000 last week)?

At this stage in the state of the rumworld, I think we should just accept that we can no longer expect to be able to source those original monsters with which the giants of the subculture made their bones.  Anyone who has one of these is holding on to it for resale or for judicious sharing among the hard core rum chums who have pictures of every Velier bottle ever made hanging on walls where the Lamborghini Countach or Pamela Anderson was once posted.  You can sort of understand why.  They are all a cut above the ordinary and this one is no exception. In its own way, it’s great. And even if it does not ascend to the stratosphere the way I felt the 1974 did, then by God you will say its name when you taste it, and all your squaddies will doff their hats and bow twice.  It’s simply that kind of experience.

(89/100)

May 142017
 

#364

Until the release of the XM Golden Jubilee 20 year old rum in May 2016 for the occasion of Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence, the jewel in the crown of Banks DIH’s XM line was the fifteen year old.  Over the last five years or so it suffered, in my rearview-mirror opinion, by simply following the party line, being bottled without regard for the emerging trend of stronger rums in the minds of the tasting public, and also perhaps from being a indeterminate, mostly column-still blend without a really good barrel strategy.  This relegated it to being an outlier in an increasingly crowded and competitive field; and by eschewing any one point of uniqueness that would make it stand apart (finishing, single barrel, cask strength, a singular taste…that kind of thing), it has slumbered in a sort of quiet corner reserved for also-rans – Guyanese worldwide know of it, but few others do and it sure doesn’t make any waves internationally, in spite of its age.

Which is something of a shame, because setting aside personal preferences, it’s quite a good rum that could use a good dose of aggressive marketing and festival-circuit promotion.  The very first note I wrote down in my tasting book as I was nosing the Supreme, was “Impressive”. It began with aromas of acetone and glue and furniture polish before giving way to very soft notes of dark dried fruit (raisins and plums), before segueing over into the territory of vanilla, caramel and nougat.  What little tartness of the fruit that existed, was kept way back, vaguely sensed but not directly experienced, which to my way of thinking is a very good reason to bump up the ABV not just one notch, but several.  Still, it was impressive, and for a 40% rum to exhibit such discernible richness was a pleasant surprise.

The palate, warm and eminently sippable, led off with the fruit basket: cherries, raisins, apricots and very ripe peaches.  There were a few hint of bananas and white guavas, though without exhibiting any kind of overbearing sweetness, and the overall fruity tastes blended well with the restrained influence of burnt sugar, toffee, caramel, vanilla…all the usual attendant hits.  There was a sort of jammy profile here, quite pleasing, and some very faint molasses hanging around unobtrusively in the background.  It all led to a short and pleasant finish, mostly dates, caramel, vanilla, a bit briny in nature and not at all a tropical smorgasbord

So.  The XM 15 is still somewhat generic in nature, but a level up from the 12 year old, and definitely better than the 10 year old.  It’s more subtle, a little richer, yet still had much of that laid back profile that simply did not (or could not) strain too much or escape the clutches of its standard ABV.  Still, leaving these two points aside, the one major — and perhaps surprising — drawback of the Supreme 15 year old is simply that, good as it is, it remains too similar to the Special 12 year old.  I tried all the Banks rums together with a bunch of other forty percenters, and it really was difficult to tell these two apart.  So for an average drinking man who’s looking for an aged living room powered rum that won’t incur the wife’s ire, the step up in quality from the 12 to the 15 is slight enough to not make the 15 a better investment outside of bragging rights.  It’s a good rum to buy if you have the coin, but don’t look for a quantum leap to the stratosphere if you already have the ten or twelve year olds in stock.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

  • Banks DIH informed me that not only was the North American market being more aggressively targeted in 2017, but cask strength and even single-barrel rums would be issued as part of the range in the future.  The majority of the range would continue to be blends, and the sourcing of raw rum stock from Trinidad and Barbados would continue (see the 12 year old review for some notes on the matter)
  • The Jubilee 20 year old (my age statement, not theirs) has components of the blend that are up to 50 years old.
May 102017
 

Quite a good rum, which unfortunately fails to carve out a distinctive Guyanese profile of its own.

#363

When one thinks of Demerara rums, Guyana and DDL immediately spring to mind.  That company has so dominated the global rum scene for such rums in the past two decades that it may come as a surprise to many that it is not the sole maker of such products, nor the only inheritor to the Guyana rum moniker, and in fact, is somewhat of a late arrival.  Before it was consolidated from the distilleries that were once the property of Bookers McConnell, Banks DIH was already there, making the good stuff since the 1930s, with XM being noted as the #1 rum in British Guiana as far back as 1959.  

The problem for Banks (where rums are concerned) was and remains twofold: rum is actually a small part of its overall business (partly because they have no still of their own) and it also does not possess the right to use the “Demerara” appellation for its XM line – DDL fought and won a bitterly contested court case for that prize – and therefore not only is XM rum less well known, but it’s also less well marketed, and to add insult to injury, is often confused with Banks 5-island and 7-island rums from the UK.  Not the best way to get your hooch to grab the brass ring now, is it?

Banks has always been a blender, never a distiller.  Until the late 1990s they bought raw rum stock from the various estates around the Guyana and blended that into their signature XM line; but once DDL consolidated all the stills in the country into their headquarters at Diamond estate, they ceased providing any.  Banks therefore has, for the last twenty years or so, sourced their rum stock from Barbados (FourSquare)and Trinidad (Angostura) and continued to blend them and age them in Guyana, which goes a long way to explaining why the XM I grew up with is no longer the same rum as what is on sale now.  So it’s not as if Banks doesn’t want to make Guyanese rums – it’s that they can’t, and that also goes some way to explaining the smaller footprint they have, both in the company’s overall operations, and the world at large. 

Digressions aside, the rum, now. The 12 year old — bought and tasted alongside the 10 YO and 15 YO last year — adhered to the company philosophy of making blended rum, and for better or worse, this made it present something of a generic profile…and for the reasons explained above, nothing here screamed “Guyana” in the way the El Dorado line does, which says a lot of how DDL’s (and all the other independent bottlers’) products have colonized our mental tasting map of the entire country, for good or ill.  

To illustrate the point: nosing the amber 40% spirit gave up warm smells were of white toblerone, chocolate, toffee and some lemon rind.  The whole aroma reminded me of a very nice dessert my son The Little Caner can’t get enough of: caramel drizzled over The Great Wall of Chocolate (don’t ask, I may lapse into diabetes on the spot).  There was a faint brininess lurking behind the primary aromas, and also something musky and dark, like overripe bananas, and mangoes just about ready to turn.

Moving on to taste, I felt the palate to be quite a bit better than expected, and certainly more than the nose.  Normally 40% doesn’t do much for me, and here, yes that feeling of an scrawny, delicate spirit was here too…it was as thin and precise as my primary school teacher’s sharp excoriating tones (“Pay attention Mr. Caner!”) followed by the sharp snap of her two-foot long wooden ruler on my knuckles (“I warned you, Mr. Caner”). The whole initial profile was like that, very meticulously assembled, each note clear and separable from the next: bitter chocolate, salted caramel, toffee, burnt sugar; raisins, some orange peel.  Then the ruler came, though not as painful – black cake, tart fruits, more raisins, molasses, blanketed by caramel and some breakfast spices. For 40% to give that much is quite something, and the finish is no slouch either – briny and dry, light all over with faint notes of cinnamon, olives, some crumbs of toblerone, with a final flirt of molasses and candied oranges.

So overall, not a bad rum at all, just not one that marks its territory with verve and authority of any kind.  Like I said, if you were tasting it blind you wouldn’t be sure of its origin. No anise or rich fruity notes, no pot still action, nothing that would remind you of the raw thrumming power of a PM or EHP rum at all – in fact, the XM presents as rather restrained, overall.  And this is both the advantage of such a blend, and to some extent its downfall because, sorry, but the comparison is inevitable. Beyond that, if you’re not a connoisseur of specific country’s styles and just want a good drink to pour into your glass at sundown, then none of that is your concern, and this excellent mid-tier sipper will fill the bill very nicely indeed.

(83/100)


Other notes

  • No information on additives (sugar or otherwise) is available.  For my money it has not been tampered with. 
  • The ageing regimen is unknown aside from it being done in situ in charred oak barrels which we can assume to be ex-bourbon.
  • My thanks to Dave of the RumGallery for pointing me in certain directions regarding background; and to Carlton for providing some details on history and operations
May 072017
 

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

PDwhat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

(91/100)

 

Apr 272017
 

#360

The LBI 1998 starts out with a nose that is on the good side of remarkable, but not quite edging into wow! territory.  That’s not at all a criticism, just an observation that it lacks the sort of rabid uniqueness that characterizes many of Velier’s legendary rums, and therefore this one may be among the most accessible “regular rum” profiles ever made by the company (if one discounts the earlier 40% offerings like the LBI 1985 or the Enmore 1987 that were bottled by Breitenstock and can’t really be considered part of the oeuvre).  It starts with deep acetones, nail polish and some faint rubbery notes, which dissipate like wafts in a breeze, without fanfare, giving over to dark fleshy fruits, bags of raisins and some anise. For some rums this would be the end of the affair – not here. Waiting a few minutes brought other aromas to the table (without every losing the edge the previous ones had displayed) – crème brulee and orange chocolate, prunes, dates, plums and something like overripe bananas, all in excellent balance, no single note stealing the show, yet all being distinct and noticeable by themselves.

Photo (c) reference-rhum.com

The rum remained true to everything the nose had promised, and was really good on the palate, with the strength being, in my opinion, just about right.  It was dryish and warm, with heft and forceful profile without every becoming too aggressive. The core of the whole thing was some vanilla and salty caramel, very faint molasses, and then the procession of subtler flavours began — again raisins, plums and prunes, some dates, even some blackcurrants and grapes.  With water there were additional hints of leather and smoke, with perhaps a bit too much of the bitterness of oak at the tail end, but fortunately not overbearingly dominant and did not seriously detract from the overall profile.  All of this lasted for quite some time – it was quite oily on the tongue, which was pleasant – concluding with steady, mellow notes of mostly caramel, raisins and black cake plus a few extras. I should remark that the finish was nicely creamy, being offset with just enough sharpness and florals to give it a bit of an edge that made the conclusion quite a good one…sort of an exclamation point to the proceedings one might say.

Now we’re talking. The La Bonne Intention (LBI) 1998 is so different from the 1985 I looked at before (I tried them side by side), that to all intents and purposes it’s a different rum altogether, not the least because this really was bottled by Velier (not Breitenstock).  The famous black bottle and standard label were part of the deal, plus, and how could you not love this, it was bottled at a firm 55.6% and tropically aged…so all Velier’s bunting was on show flying in the breeze, in this pretty nifty nine year old rum.

For the box tickers among you readers, here are the basic details.  The rum’s derives from a plantation named La Bonne Intention on the East Coast of the Demerara river not too far from Georgetown but the rum was not actually distilled there but in Uitvlugt and probably in a Coffey column still (the label remarks on being made on a continuous column still).  This bottle came from a single barrel, issued in 2007 at 55.6% and 274 bottles were issued. With that small an outturn being issued ten years ago, the chances of anyone outside a collector ever finding one is probably (and disappointingly) very small…or very expensive.

Does the name of LBI actually mean anything in the context of this label?  Beyond some interesting history, I’d suggest not, because we have no mental map of its coordinates in the tasting rumiverse.  For rums like the Port Mourants and Enmores, yes, the name means a lot when distinguishing a particular profile.  FourSquare in Barbados, sometimes. Hampden or Worthy Park in Jamaica, sure. Savanna in Reunion, oh yes, and Caroni over in Trinidad, without a doubt.  These are rums made with such distinctiveness and such unmistakeable profiles that even amateurs like me can tell them apart from the regular run of Caribbean rums (or Caribbean rum wannabes).  Still, whatever the name, and however it lacks the instant taste-recognition of those rums noted above, there’s nothing wrong with the LBI at all.  It’s a solid, impressive rum from La Casa de Luca, with many strong points and very few weak ones, and perhaps the only thing stopping rum junkies like us from praising it to the heavens are the better ones issued by the same house.  So, no – it’s not in the pantheon of the Skeldon 1973, PM 1974 or UF30E 1985 (or the Caputo 1973, ha ha) … but it’s still a very good rum, and just goes to show that with an outfit that knows what it’s doing, even their second tier rums are way above the juice that far too many producers are touting as top-end super-premiums.

(86/100)

Other notes

Sample very kindly provided by Cyril of DuRhum and was from the same bottle as his own review.

 

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