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.

 

Apr 132017
 

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission 

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

#356

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

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

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission

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

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

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

(85/100)

Apr 012017
 

#352

After the near riot caused by the emergence of the Caputo 1973 last year, when (my distant relative) Ruminsky van Drunkenberg was mobbed in Berlin by the horde of reviewers demanding their samples (local police nearly had to declare a state of emergency), they lapsed into silence, and none of them published any review after the fact.  It was only after sampling it myself that I understood the reason for their malfunction: they weren’t being reticent, they weren’t holding off out of some semblance of courtesy — they were recovering from the near catatonic shock of actually having tried it; and spending much of the subsequent months on bended knees in a sort of come-to-Jesus state of thankfulness at surviving.  Henrik of RumCorner, after uncoiling his knotted intestines, literally had to take a sabbatical from rum reviewing, so traumatic was his encounter; my buddy the RumHowler poured his down the sink and local geologists thought a new oil sands block had been found; Sir Scrotimus was still weakly sneering that the Mount Gay XO was miles ahead of this thing as he was being wheeled into the local ER; Cyril snorted that his Port Fagnant 1972 was far better, threw his sample away, and delved hurriedly into some aged Appletons to cleanse his palate, Master Quill fled back to reviewing malt whiskies with almost indecent haste, and the Cocktail Wonk immediately booked himself on a recovery cruise (while pretending to be in Spain). Now I know why.

Parsing the above, it was clear that their opinions of the Caputo 1973 Old Demerara Rum were all negative. And after trying it myself, I can only agree: it is the vilest, nastiest, filthiest oak-infused liquid crap anyone had ever had the courage (or madness) to bottle.  It makes the Kraken and the Don Papa appear to be brilliant models of premium-rum assembly in comparison. I thought Ruminsky was kidding when he related legends I took to be apocryphal – such as the barrels having Bata slippers, decomposing rats, half an old suit and a transistor radio as part of the blend – but now I honestly believe that not only was this the unvarnished truth, but he was actually understating the matter.  No wonder Cadenhead and Lamb’s and Gordon & MacPhail (“We need to give our rums some character – oh, this looks interesting…WTF???”) never acknowledged any of this swill in their own blends.

Readers might think I’m kidding, no? “Oh yeah buddy, if that’s the case how come you’re still churning out overlong crap reviews week in and week out?” I can hear you say. Fair question. Maybe it’s a matter of having an immune system armed with heavy weaponry developed by years of swimming in muddy rivers and trenches only marginally purer than this rum, in the backdams of three continents.  Or the sheer raft of unspeakable hooch I sample and drink, the reviews for which never make it into print.  That’s toughened me up some, sure. Truly, however, nothing prepared me for the shudderingly awful mess that was this rum.

Inky and dark as the inside of a black cat in a coal mine at midnight, bottled at a massive 69%, the rum was made around 1973 and therefore had an age higher than my IQ.  In a sense of utterly misguided optimism, I poured it into my glass and sniffed it without any precautions, lost all sense of time and woke up the following week in Bangkok.  It landed on my defenseless nose like an oversized artillery shell, producing a hurricane-force gale of stink, all of it horrible beyond description. My first thought upon recovering my diminished mental capacity was that it smelled like vomit from a wet mutt that had just eaten rancid curry goat and rotten mangos thrown up by another wet mutt. I suppose I could tell you there was some vanilla and molasses, but I’d be lying, since all of it was overlaid with the feral stench of a stale chamberpot emptied into a dunder pit, with perhaps some pine-scented dishwashing liquid dripped in to make it palatable. And a ripe flatus.

Last eight years or so, it’s been a point of pride for me to taste every rum that crosses my path so you don’t have to, but after that nose, here’s one time when that principle took a beating.  Somehow I found the strength to keep going.  Big mistake.  Huge.  It was molasses transmogrified into gunk, and looked like a gremlin — what’s left of it – after being exposed to sunlight too long. It was thick, mean, strong, and tasted of medicine and mud with a sprinkling of molasses and spoiled gray oranges.  I involuntarily farted and the apartment block had to be evacuated and the HAZMAT team called in (this interrupted my tasting for another week). Frankly, it’s barely a rum at all, because it seemed to be doing triple duty as a massive ethanol (??) delivery system of unparalleled badness, as well as an all-purpose rust remover and emergency fuel for the Humvee parked outside, channeling the powerful and blunderingly pointlessness of a stoned elephant. I would have made more notes, was just too busy trying to untangle my insides from my backbone, and therefore never got around to writing about the finish, sorry. At the end, once the sample was done, I removed tongue and glottis from my head and cleaned them in the kitchen sink with some Marienburg 90%, because nothing else on hand short of industrial-strength factory cleanser could remove that foul taste from either.

F**k – this is a ghastly rum.  There are insufficient negatives even in my vocabulary to describe the inky swill that nobody ever thought could ever be made. If you could find it you could not afford it, and if you could afford it, the seller would never tell you where it was, and if you could find it and afford it, you’d be begging the next guy in line to take it off your hands after the first sniff.  Perhaps it was no accident that it came from a single barrel, long forgotten.

Oh yes, the background: for those unwilling to wade through a epic history of the distillery of origin, the Heisenberg estate is an abandoned Guyanese sugar plantation that went belly-up in the early 1970s and has long since returned to the jungle – it used to be located west of Enmore and east of Port Mourant, and owned by one Count Drinkel van Rumski zum Smirnoff hailing from what was once Prussia. The miniscule estate, founded in the 1800s, was so small that at best it produced a few tons of sugar cane a year, and remained so insignificant that all histories of Guyana routinely ignore it to this day — even Marco of Barrel Aged Mind missed it in his magisterial survey of all the country’s plantations.  An old tome my mother found many years ago called “Schomburck’s Travels in Guiana” dismissed it contemptuously with one sentence: “The Heisenberg estate in Guiana provides no distillate worthy of the name – what they make is vile and tastes of horse manure and we do not deign to speak further of it.”

One report about the Caputo source barrel said that once it was in DDL’s warehouse being used as a table for cleaning rags, another say it was hidden in plain sight, disguised as a toilet Luca carved for himself and sat on whenever he went to Genoa, after it had made its way there.  However, all sources agree that one of the Italian relatives of D.B.Cooper (the Italian corruption of the name became Caputo) purloined the massively aged cask, which, by the time it decanted, yielded just the one bottle.  He in turn sold it (gratefully, I’m sure), to young Ruminsky, who pleaded with me to take it away. Please don’t ask me why I bothered.

Looking back, then, this overlong review can be summarized (for all those who never tried any but wanted to), by simply saying it’s bottom-of-the-barrel crap.  Actually, it’s so far beneath the barrel that maybe it’s unfair to use the words “crap” and “barrel” in the same sentence since it has evidently gone under the barrel, hit rock bottom and started to dig.  I’ll never share it, and would dispose of the thing if I wasn’t so afraid it might breed some kind of supercroc in the sewers where it belongs.  But I’ll tell you one use for it, and am willing to donate what’s left to that purpose.  You want to make some lowlife criminals or enemies of democracy talk, roll over on their compadres, spill their guts?  Feed them a sample of this.  Just a smidgen. Five minutes later, I guarantee you they’ll be singing like sopranos at Carnegie Hall…which is pretty much what all us reviewers have been doing since last October.

(-50/100)

Mar 282017
 

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

#351

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

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

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

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

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

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

(80/100)

Other Notes

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

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

Mar 012017
 

#346

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

Like this one.

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

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

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

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

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

(89.5/100)

Other notes

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

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