Mar 112015
 

D3S_9323-001

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

(#206. 91/100)

***

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

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

D3S_9329

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

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

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

D3S_9324-001

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

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

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

***

Other notes

  • Velier has also issued a Diamond+PM 1995 blend in 2014, for which I have detailed notes but not yet written the review.
  • This was the third of four samples Luca Gargano sent to me personally in September of 2014 when he heard I would be in Europe in October of that year. He has agreed that I pay for them either in cash, or with a really good, high priced dinner in Paris.
Jan 032015
 

D3S_9377

Velier has created a heated, tasty, toasty Demerara rum that in my opinion takes its place alongside the UF30E and the Skeldon 1973 as one of the best rums they have ever made.

***

(#195. 92.5/100)

More than “42”, here’s the answer some of the great and grand questions of the universe.  When asked by the inquiring, “What makes anything you say worth hearing?” or “Why should I sleep with you?” or “Why’s the front door smashed in?”, all you need to do is smile, shrug, and point to this rum.

Velier’s rums sometimes seem similar when described (look how many Caroni rums they’ve put out the door, for example): but their lines are unique, each one depending on its own specific characteristics, closely observed, exactingly made, powerfully executed. Any serious sojourn into the world of rum sooner or later arrives here. And this Diamond estate rum from Guyana is no exception.

As before, Velier adhered to their starkly minimalist presentation, and continued their admirable practice of providing a fair bit of information on the stiff cardboard box: fifteen years ageing in situ, metal-coffey-still distillate set to age in 1999 and bottled in 2014, with an outturn of 1137 bottles from four barrels, and a 72% angel’s share loss.  Note that the barrels in this case where charred new oak, which might be an effort to impart more and intense flavours to the distillate, in a shorter time period.

D3S_9379

If that was their intention, they sure as hell succeeded.  I thought the UF30E and the Skeldon had deep and intense aromas, but they had been aged for a century in rum years, were bottled at greater than sixty percent, and it was to be expected.  Here we had a 53.1% ABV rum aged for half as long, and yet the scents just poured and billowed out of the bottle even before I had a chance to tip some in my glass. The dark, smooth and heavy nose (which mirrored the dark, smooth and rather heavy liquid) was immediately redolent of plums and apricots, vanilla and nutmeg.  No notes of citrus here, but pineapple, and cloves, then backed up by raisins and some very faint licorice, coffee and a whiff of mocha. It had the rich, plush nasal glissades akin to the soft crumpling of your disposable income, and was the kind of nose one just wanted to continue savouring.

As for the taste, oh man, this dark red-mahogany rum jiggled the jowls and rattled the rump like a revel dancer tramping down Vlissengen Road on Mash day. It was smooth with some spice and heat (both proof and oak showed their biceps here), thick, oily, tarry, full bodied.  Licorice, smoke, vanilla (not much), raisins, black grapes, rounded out with lighter floral notes started off, darkly sweet and all-round excellent, displaying a kind of exquisite zen-like brutality I couldn’t help but appreciate. And it didn’t stop there either, but continued providing flavours of dark chocolate, coffee, hibiscus and poinsettias in full bloom, as if you were at some kind of tropical Starbuck’s. I think Velier’s tamping down the volts on this rum was the right decision – I don’t believe that a higher proofage would make this as good a dram as the current strength does…more intense, yes, but not necessarily as memorable. And closing things off, the finish was fittingly long, warm, providing that last fillip of leather and oak, smoke, red wine, licorice and anise.

D3S_9382

Honestly folks, I was impressed as hell. Just to be sure, I ran the Diamond 1999 past four other Veliers in my stash, and still it stood up damned well. It was somewhat like the Diamond 1996 (but better), and, as with the Blairmont 1991, it developed over subsequent sampling.  It rewards re-tasting and comparisons, astounds and amazes, and like my wife, grows better with time and experience.  It growls and gurgles and purrs hard love down your throat, never crosses over to malignant sharpness and bite, shows the heights to which rums can aspire when made with verve and flair and daring, and is simply one of the most phenomenal rums I’ve tried in the last two years. If after two minutes of sampling this thing you aren’t jumping around the room rocking your air guitar like my nine-year-old son and looking for online big-hair wigs, carefully peruse the mail from your insurance carrier. It might have “Deceased” stamped on it.

***

Other notes

Velier has dropped the “Full Proof Old Demerara Rum” from the labelling for some reason.

The <S> on the label relating to the marks on the barrel is obscure. Marco’s phenomenal essay on the Guyanese distilleries speculated it might be related to the diamond logo <> surrounding the single initial of the plantation’s previous 18th century owner, Samuel Welch. Or maybe that of M. Steele, another 19th century proprietor. The question remains open.

This was the second of four samples Luca Gargano sent to me personally in September of 2014 when he heard I would be in Europe in October of that year. Next time I’m out in the real world I’ll pick up a couple of bottles of my own, I think. Maybe even three or four.

***

 

Oct 242014
 

 

D3S_9559

 

You’ll want to coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, because once you start, the Uitvlugt 16 year old grows fangs and attacks your face like a junked-out xenomorph.

(#185. 82/100)

***

Curiosity.  That’s what got me here: simple curiosity.  I’ve never tried anything by Old Man Spirits, but man, I thought, how can you even begin to argue with that cool distillery, and the strapping libido of 62.9%, which is powerful enough to make Cadenhead and A.D.Rattray take a respectful step backwards and cross their knees. And I loved the Spartan, zen-like simplicity of the bottle, which resembled nothing so much as a production prototype before some marketing genius started tartin’ her up.  So yeah, when I was contemplating my purchasing decision, I took a flyer.  What the hell, right? It’s not like you get a chance to check out tasting notes on a relative newcomer every time to see if there’s value for money here.

Old Man Spirits is a craft maker based in the north of Germany, around Schleswig, and is a new entrant to the field, I think.  They have a Panama rum, a Guyanese rum (this one), one from Belize, a Caribbean blend (including a spiced version), and a gin. There will be others. Their website is still very much a work in progress because while it has good notes on the products’ profiles (plus some plugs for how good they are), none at all on the sourcing or making of these products, or the company’s stated philosophy.

Getting back to the review: as noted, extremely simple presentation; wood tipped cork, nice; hay-honey coloured spirit, bottled at cask strength.  All good.  It was medium bodied, even light in the glass, and I loved that yellow colour.

The aromas on the nose were intense, of course – couldn’t get away from that, not at 62.9%. Bread and butter, salt crackers whiffed over with white pepper and a very spicy burn started things off. The rum was quite raw, even searing – as unexpectedly severe as my schoolmaster’s ruler (“Pay attention Mr. Caner!” whap!).  I’ve had my share of cask-strength monsters that had been in oak barrels for many many years, but this one definitely left a few shavings from the bark in there. Some softer notes tremulously crept out after ten minutes or so: faint white flowers, powdered sugar, unsweetened dark chocolate, not enough to make a real difference.

On the rather dry palate, a little sweetness began to be noticeable, and little of the salt cracker aroma carried forward, thank heaven; yet the burning lack of couth persisted – vanillas, tannins, florals, all the stuff I’d expect from an Uitvlugt distillate, were so muted as to be virtually absent.  Even adding some distilled water didn’t save it. And man, was it ever fierce. Holding on to this rum was like grasping a live grenade. The finish, long as it was, exhausted me.  It was all heat and spice burn and little in the way of closing scents (very faint chocolate and vanilla). By the time I was done sampling, I was left feeling dissatisfied, a shade undernourished and perhaps even underwhelmed: I’d been on a so-so ride with something, just not one that added up to much of anything.

D3S_9558

While it may have been unfair to compare this to Velier’s Uitvlugt 17 year old from last week, I did have them both at the same time and the comparison was inevitable…to the detriment of OMS, I’m afraid.  OMS was strong and from a source distillery I like a lot – hell, from a country whose spirits I like a lot.  Yet, for a product this expensive (€90 via Rum&Co) that wasn’t enough…I wanted and expected more.  It therefore only gets points for intensity and some interesting moments on the palate, and in my earlier days, gotta be honest folks, it would not have cracked 70.

Producing a quality, aged, cask-strength feral feline requires more than merely a draw-off from an old barrel somewhere – in order to make the product create vibes, generate word of mouth and really sell, attention has to be paid in ensuring that the thing tastes like more than just fuel for an Abrams tank, and this is something Old Man Spirits could perhaps take note of. After drinking this full-proof rum, I felt like the lady from Riga.  Old Man Spirits Special Cask No. 3 62.9% has done its best to tame the raging tiger trapped in the bottle, but somewhere along the line, it faltered, and now I know what it feels like when the tiger gets loose and bites back.

Other remarks (you can ignore this section)

A point of note was this particular bottle was an out-turn from one barrel, and it yielded 28 (yes, 28) bottles – it was this, among other things, that led me to drop them an as-yet-unanswered email for additional information. Because when you think about it, it’s unclear how a splash can be made in the market with something this limited – it would have to walk on water in an extraordinarily competitive sea to accomplish that, and that’s without considering the marketing outlay and samples that have to go all over the map to rustle up some excitement.  My take – until they get around to responding to me – is they’re doing this on an exceedingly small and limited scale…sort of a single spy to sound out the market, if you will. Expect profit to be elusive.

Also: why are two Uitvlugt rums which are so close in age, and so similar in proof, so different?  Why is one demonstrably better, smoother, tastier?  I can only hazard that — if we assume a similar distillate and a similar fermentation process — that it comes down to the barrels. Somehow, possibly, OMS got dinged with, or utilized, older, already much-used, almost-dead casks which had little but moral support  to impart to a rum which needed a much firmer dose of authority. It’s also possible that the single barrel from which the 28 bottles were made was not aged in the tropics, as Velier is adamant theirs are. Or it could be that the agent/taster/buyer for OMS actually liked it this way, preferred something more savage, and it was issued as it was because of that personal opinion (which is reasonable – can’t expect everyone to like what I do). Velier is equally clear it doesn’t add anything to its products, and while OMS makes no such statement, I don’t think the profile suggests additives (rather, the reverse).

All of this aside, it will be intriguing to see how other and future products of OMS shape up, because one product does not sink a brand (or define it), and for sure I’m not done buying their stuff just yet, if they continue to make it. Unfortunately, the next pass is a year down the road so it’ll be a while before I’m back to the company’s wares. I’d really like to see what they did with the Panama.

There’s a tamed 46% variation on sale as well, but I didn’t buy it.  From the write up, it appears to be a diluted version of this rum, not anything especially different.  A castrated tiger, perhaps.

Distilled January 1998, bottled April 2014.

***

 

Oct 162014
 

D3S_9388

An exceedingly well-made, clean, relatively light rum with remarkable depth of flavour and beautiful mouthfeel.

(#184; 89/100)

***

Velier, as its barrels mature in Guyana, issues annual releases when they feel they are ready, much as Rum Nation and other craft rum makers do.  This presents a particular and peculiar problem to rummies, because there is no consistency to any of them: in other words, while a DDL El Dorado 21 Year Old will be more or less the same no matter when you buy it, a Velier PM 2013 release will not be the same as a Velier PM 2014 release, even if they are both fifteen years old. This, to my mind, highlights a great strength and great weakness of craft bottlers, because while it allows for amazing creativity and variety, it also limits the issuance of a particular bottling to a few thousand bottles at best, and it forces consumers to shell out a lot more money for favoured companies’ products – as I have.

That aside, let’s start at the beginning with some core facts about the subject under review here. Velier issued this new (2014 year) release in July, with 1404 bottles deriving from five barrels; it was distilled on a Savalle still, it’s an experimental version – a lighter distillate from a still which can produce both light and dark variations, hence the “ULR”, which stands for Uitvlugt Light Rum (thanks, Cyril).  The labelling on bottle and cardboard case is excellent, by the way: no fancy frippery or outlandish graphics, just pertinent facts about the rum (including evaporation losses of 77%), as brief and stark as a haiku.  Just about everything you might want to know is there.

D3S_9390

Nose?  Wow.  Just lovely.  The ULR 1997 was a darkish-honey colour in the glass, and emitted heated vapours of soft clarity that was reminiscent (if not quite as spectacular) as the that McLaren that was the UF30E. Vanilla, herbal tea and white flowers right off the bat, not fierce on the attack, just clean and strong, and persistent to a fault.  Vague caramel and salt biscuits followed on, and easy notes of fruit jam and sweet, ripe black grapes closed off the nose – it was so succulent that I felt I had just roped in Monica Bellucci in a teddy.

You can tell a masterful rum when, as you sip the thing down, 59.7% doesn’t really feel like it.  It was as exciting and well made as a Gibson guitar, with notes that hummed and vibrated in harmony…I honestly don’t know how this is accomplished so well.  The white chocolate, cafe-au-lait, pastries, and creamy buttery notes slid smoothly past my taste buds and there were some oak tones winding their way around the palate, though not enough to spoil the drink. Nougat and hazelnuts shimmered around the edges, moving to a lingering, warm finish with final fumes of raspberries in cream.

Uitvlugt was a West Coast Demerara sugar plantation which Bookers McConnell mothballed decades ago: it means “outflow” in Old Dutch (yes, like New York, Guyana was once a Dutch colony), and it usually has marques of ICB/U, ICB/C and ICB associated with it (most notably by DDL itself), possibly by reference to the original owner of the plantation, Iohann Christoffer Boode; it’s unclear when this new moniker of ULR began. Its rums, made from a metal Savalle still, are usually characterized by a distillate which is not so heavy as the dark brooding machismo of, oh, Port Mourant.  This one may be even more so.

D3S_9389

Summing up, the Uitvlugt 1997 is immensely enjoyable…I went through three tasting glasses of it in next to no time, it was so pleasant.  It’s cleaner and lighter than other Veliers (like the Albion 1994), has perhaps more in common with the Blairmont 1991, and stands singularly apart from the remarkable Diamond 1999 (2014 edition); it’s a UF30E in waiting, maybe. It might not be the most charismatic or powerful exhibit in this sub-universe of the equine-endowed full-proofs, but it isn’t a shrinking violet in the greenhouse either, and compares exceedingly well with all its other siblings.

***

NB: This was one of four samples provided by Luca Gargano to me personally when he heard I would be in Europe in October 2014.  I stand by my sterling review because it really is that good (see the review for Old Man Spirits’s Uitvlugt 16 year old next week for an interesting counterpoint).  I have outstanding query from my email to him…I’ll get into that when I deal with the Old Man.  See you next time.

D3S_9392

 

 

May 102014
 
Photo Courtesy Ministry of Rum

Photo Courtesy Ministry of Rum

 

It’s official.  Velier has raised the bar for super premium rums, with an extraordinary 32-year old blast from the past that will excavate a punt-wide trench in your wallet if you ever find one.

(#181. 93.5/100)

The 544-bottle run of the Skeldon 1973 Old Demerara Rum has, since being released in 2005, become something of an object of cult worship.  In 2012 a single bottle went for sale on eBay for close to  €500. I searched for three years before I found a gent in France willing to part with his (and at a cost I’m glad my wife never found out about).  It isn’t very well known, except among rabid collectors, and the only reviews I’ve ever seen were in Italian and French.  It is without doubt a rum from further back in time than anything else Velier has ever made, or perhaps will ever make.  And it is worth every penny. Yes, I love Rum Nation, yes I have soft spots for Cadenhead, Berry Brothers, Secret Treasure, Plantation, El Dorado, Pussers, Young’s Old Sam and a score of others. But this thing is a cut above the crowd, and part of that is the way Velier mastered and balanced the subtleties trapped within the enormous tastes of a 32-year-old beefcake.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside Guyana who knows about Skeldon, or where it is. It’s a plantation on the far east of the country, right close by the Corentyne River — I visited the area many times in my youth — and not, as some have mentioned, on the Demerara (all Guyanese rums are often noted as being Demeraras, but the pedant in me disputes the moniker).  The original distillate was made in Skeldon before the still was shut down, and I’ve heard that the barrels were transferred to Uitvlugt before finding their final home in Diamond Estate, where Luca Gargano found the last four barrels from that year ageing quietly away in DDL’s warehouses, perhaps even forgotten by them: he snapped them up, and from that stock, made an old, bold bastard of a rum, eschewing the softness of a standard strength and allowing it to be issued at a mouth ravaging 60.5%.

The Skeldon 1973 was remarkably dark, molasses brown, deeper in hue than the PM 1974 I looked at not too long ago. Such was the skill of the makers that almost no time needed to be spent waiting for the spirit to open up in my glass: almost as soon as I poured it out, rich, powerful fumes of coffee, burnt cocoa, and smouldering sugar cane fields billowed out. Mellow aromas of peaches, nuts and licorice provided exclamation points of distinction, and these were followed by notes of honey, pecans and toast. And it wasn’t over yet: after half an hour, when I went back to it, I detected yet other traces of cherries, blackberries, and even a sly waxy taste that was far from unpleasant.  And each component was clear and distinct, crisp and vital as tropical morning sunshine.

If the nose was extraordinary, so was the palate:  intense without sharpness, heated without pain, and not so much full bodied as voluptuous.  Cumin, tannins and a certain muskiness attended the initial tasting, with a briny undertone, all in balance. As these receded, other flavours came to the fore: coffee again, unsweetened cocoa, walnuts, some caramel, burnt sugar cane (as from the nose), almonds, hazelnuts and at the very bottom a wink of eucalyptus oil. Many rums I have tried often seem to come from the recycle bin: reblends, a new finishing regime, a little tweak here or there, but with the venerable core formula always intact. The Skeldon 1973 does a difficult thing: it feels original, cut from new cloth and yet structured around  blending basics so seamlessly that it samples phenomenally well.  It’s got a certain sumptuousness to it, a sense of extravagance and out of sight quality, as rich as the silk in the lining of a Savile Row suit.

As for the finish, well, its persistence may be as unique as, oh, the Albion 1994, or the SMWS Longpond 9. Fumes and final flavours continued to make their prescence felt for minutes after a taste, as if unwilling to let go. Coffee was prevalent, toasted hazelnuts, some caramel, all melded together into a fade that was a function of 60.5%, and lasted a very very long time, none of it wasted.  So good was the overall experience that I must have had four or five tasting glasses of the stuff, just so that I could savour and sample and extract the very last nuance, and even then I’m sure I missed something.

Everything works in this rum.  Nose, palate, mouthfeel, exit, the whole thing. Usually I’m ambivalent about one point or another in a review – good points in one area are marred by small disappointments in others and this is why the “intangible” part of my scoring goes down and not up like all the others – but here there is such a uniformity of excellence that it made me feel re-energized about the whole business of reviewing rums (and, as an aside, that I may have underrated even the phenomenal UF30E which is about on par, and which I used as a control for this review).

What an amazing, fulfilling rum Velier has produced, indeed.  Yes it’s extraordinarily hard to find, and yes its damned pricey.  Good luck finding one in the States or Canada (or even in Europe, these days).  I’m remarkably fortunate in that I was able to source an unopened bottle given its rarity.  Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, has a track record with his bottlings that many can only envy, and is used to dealing lightning with both hands; and for no other reason this is why sourcing his products, old or new, is recommended. If you want to see what the industry can accomplish if they really try, spring some pieces of eight for what Velier is making, if even just the once.

Or try getting a taste of mine, if you’re ever in my neighborhood.  I’m almost sure I’d share it with you.

***

Other notes

Distilled in Coffey still in August 1973 and bottled in April 2005

There is a slightly younger version of Skeldon distillate, the 1978 edition – also bottled by Velier – which I have not managed to source as yet. It is selling on Ebay as of September 2014, for €800.

Velier, in 2004, bought a stake in DDL (per their website) – Luca notes in his interview with Cyril of DuRhum that it was in 2003.

 

 

Apr 172014
 

 

A worthy addition to the Port Mourant canon. A magnificent, excellently rich and fruity full-proof rum. 

(#180. 90.5/100)

***

Allowances should be made for my personal palate: I do believe that rum deriving from the Port Mourant still in Guyana may be among the very best available, largely because the distillate runs through the only wooden still in the world. This provides the rum with a depth of flavour and richness that I have consistently scored high in all its iterations: Berry Brothers & Rudd 1975, the El Dorado 21 and 25 (PM forms part of the blend), Bristol Spirits PM 1980 and Rum Nation’s Demerara 1989 are examples (and I think Wood’s Navy rum has some PM lurking in there, as well as some Enmore, but never mind).

Velier, much like other European rum bottlers, hews to a rather starkly minimalist ethos in presentation, similar across the range (though nowhere near the aggressive consistency of SMWS’s offerings in their camo green). An opaque, black bottle with variations across the line only coming from the label design. “Menacing”, I wrote in my Albion 1994 review, and I haven’t seen much since then to change my mind about that…these things look like they want to assault you with a nail studded club.

By now, anyone who has read my or others’ reviews of Velier products will know that they don’t muck around with standard strength 40% offerings, but give you a massive pelvic thrust of proofage that has sheep in Scotland running for cover: this one is no different, if milder, being bottled at 54.5%, which is almost weak by Velier’s standards. That strength impacts the deep and heavy nose in stunningly searing fashion: there were immediate notes of licorice and dark chopped fruits (lots of raisins there) ready for a West Indian black cake, cherries and ripening mangoes, intermingled with lighter floral notes, all held together with honey and crushed walnuts. Strength and subtlety in the same sniff.

The ruby-brown (or amber-red, take your pick) rum was dark and thick in the glass, like a boiled down soup of brown sugar. It was full bodied, spicy, syrupy, even a shade salty, hinting somewhat of maple syrup. Backing that up came wave upon wave of molasses, apples, citrus rind, prunes, sultana grapes. The rum turned a shade dry in the mouth, and continued to pump out notes of caramel, toffee, and the faint resinous aftertaste of black cardamon. Man this was quite something – it showcased what rums were back in the day. I thought that the BBR PM 1975 might be the oldest and perhaps best rum of this particular still I’d ever see, but this baby, in my opinion, is as good or better, which I attribute mostly to its increased strength. The finish was lovely as well, though a tad on the spicy side: lingering notes of sweet molasses, citrus, and even here some of that heaviness persisted into a long finish that made the entire experience one to savour.

A recent comment on this site made the rather startling statement that “Rum in general is not meant to be sipped neat, like a Whisky or a Scotch.” Naturally, I rebutted that, and, in writing this review, offer the Velier PM 1974 as proof positive that here is a rum which it makes no sense to drink any other way. Take it neat or don’t take it at all. You can of course mix it, but I – and I’ll go out on a limb and speak for the makers – simply don’t get the point. This is a rum to luxuriate in, to treasure…and to mourn once it’s gone.

***

Other notes not strictly pertinent to the review:

364 bottles made from two barrels, aged between September 1974 and March 2008. I’m going to be conservative and call it a 33 year old.

I tried the PM 1974 blind in conjunction with several other rums so as not to permit my natural enthusiasm for the vintage to cloud my scoring judgement. I’m still as miserly with my scoring as before, of course, and tried to put the brakes on scoring high just because it was what it was. But guys, gals…this thing is enormously impressive, it’s a brilliant rum, and deserves what from me is a very high rating.

***

 

Feb 252014
 

D3S_8412

 

A paradox of rum, marrying a lighter than expected profile with a stunningly intense full proof taste, compliments of the House of Luca

(#179. 90.5/100)

 ***

When I first poured a shot of the Velier Blairmont 1991 15 year old rum into my glass (after having waited over a year and a half for the privilege), I immediately remarked its colour: a straw coloured light amber rum. After sampling five other Veliers in the past year, all of which were dark, brawny, bearded beefcakes, this came as something of a surprise.

According to the literature on the bottle, seven barrels of the rum were distilled in Blairmont on a French Savalle still in 1991, and 1,913 bottles resulted in March 2006. Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, seems to have unprecedented access to old and mouldering barrels of rums from DDL’s warehouses, judging from the variations he keeps putting out, and one thing is clear – the man knows how to put a rum together. This is no slight against that other Italian whose products I enjoy enormously (Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation), but the two men are not really comparable except in so far as they both issue superlative rums, since they follow differing philosophies in how they make them.

This difference is most clearly discerned in the strengths of Velier’s rums – all of them are bottled at a proof greater than 50% (the Blairmont was 56%). And this was immediately evident as I nosed it: yes it had strength, but in no way was it either sharp or nasty or an assault on the senses. The initial scent was one of freshness and zest, of honey, deep, softer to nose than the strength would suggest. This was followed by orange peel and some sharper fruits…half ripe mangoes, green grapes, apples, with a flirt of softer peach in there somewhere, mixed up with a faint nuttiness. Nice. It was more herbal than one would imagine a rum from Demerara to be (although Blairmont Estate is actually on the immediate west bank of the Berbice River).

D3S_8421

The palate was similarly excellent, being medium bodied, golden and having a clarity of taste that reminded me of a good green tea. Crisp and snappy, a bit sweet, something like a Riesling on steroids; orange and cinnamon notes crept out to have their moment in the sun, followed by more green tea and some lighter honey notes. The depth and intensity of flavours was well handled, and even at 56%, I felt that here was rum I would sip neat with no issues at all. And as could be expected, the finish took its time, was clear and well balanced, leaving me with the memories of flowers, caramel (just a bit), fresh grass and newly sawn wood.

Velier is a company formed by the Italian Luca Gargano, and he’s made nothing I haven’t liked so far. He began life as a brand rep for St James in Martinique, but eventually formed his own company to market odd variations of the agricoles he found in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Once he discovered Guyanese rums he bottled as many as he could find (it’s possible that his greatest find has been the Skeldon 1973 32 year old), and while this may be anecdotal, I think they have all attained cult status among die-hard aficionados. He’s been fortunate to have an excellent relationship with Yesu Persaud, the (now retired) chairman of DDL, who provided him with unprecedented access to their warehouses.

It’s become sort of a personal crusade for me to find these odd and rare rums that are issued (or not) on a regular basis, not least because finding something like the Blairmont, buying it and tasting it and writing about it, adds to the store of reviews available in the world. I think it’s a spectacular rum, noses well, tastes phenomenal and is, at end, both terrific and leaves me wanting more. I don’t often issue hagiographies, but in this case, my advice is to try anything you can find by this company, because Luca sure knows what he’s doing, and he isn’t bottling a whole lot.

****

Mon ami Cyril of DuRhum.com, has done a two part interview with Luca which I promised to help translate, and have not yet done. However, both French parts and a decent English version exist in the links below

 

 

Aug 092013
 

D7K_2785

 

The DDL Superior High Wine is not superior and not a wine, but will get you high without breaking a sweat.

(#177. 79/100)

***

One of the first rums I ever had as a young man was this one, and the last time I drank was it nearly thirty years ago, when I was thinking of dropping out of University, depressed about my future, and downing a whole raft of shooters in a small beer garden one still, hot afternoon, with a bowl ’ice and my one-armed friend from UG. A few weeks later my life changed and put me on the path that led to where I am now. Between then and now, not much has changed: it’s still very much a low-level, overproofed white lightning meant for local consumption not export, and it’s unlikely it’ll ever be seen much outside the West Indies. And, oddly, as I prepare to move my family abroad for a few years on another life-changing experience next week, this is among the last rums I’ll review for a while.

You’d think that this makes it a mere bathtub-distilled mess for the masses, with nothing to really recommend it (the Grenadian Clarke’s Court “Bush” variation I tried some years ago is another example), but you’d be wrong. That may be because even though it is filtered and beaten and bleached to within a whisker of resembling water, it’s actually made in one of the coffey stills at Diamond (I was told #3, which I think is one of the metal ones from the estate itself). And that lends the initial nose a surprising heft, quite aside from its 69% proofage.

The nose is, as a consequence, quite spicy, and herbal…grassy almost, like a steaming, sunlit meadow after a tropical rain. Chopped light/white fruits, citrus peel (lime) and a rather startling vein of brown sugar was actually in evidence as well. Oh, I won’t kid you, this thing is a rather savage animal and won’t play *that* nice with your schnozz – but even so, there’s quite a bit more action going on there than you’d imagine from something so easy to dismiss out of hand as a local tipple

D7K_2787

This schizophrenic character between texture and taste continued on the palate, which even for 69% is a bit…uncompromising (okay, it’s raw, sandpaper for the unprepared, so watch out – but it does even out after a minute). Spicy as all get-out, medium bodied (although I confess to thinking it pulled a neat shell game on me, and seemed fuller than it was, somehow), astringent and ego-withering as my Aunt Sheila in full flow, and remarkably dry (very much like Flor de Caña’s white dry rum). There’s a subtle agricole style to the whole experience, something about the cleanliness and herbal nature of the taste. Plus, I shouldn’t forget to mention additional flavours of vanilla, cinnamon bark, burnt sugar notes and a faint hint of caramel. And let me not kid you…sure the rum is strong, and I remarked it was sharp at the beginning, but once you start getting into it (or getting high), it smoothens out quite well, and becomes, on subsequent sips, a chain mail glove grasping your glottis, not a sushi knife. The finish is, of course, quite long, quite dry, and leaves a last flirt of almonds and vanilla to remember it by.

Like I said…a somewhat schizoid rum.

High Wine is what real men and porknockers drink in the Guyanese bush and whole swathes of society down by the pint in beer gardens up and down the coast. The men mix it rarely, and get paralyzingly drunk on it in labba time before going off to find a shady lady or a girlie magazine. Not for these guys the indifferent XM 5 year old, or even the King of Diamonds 5, let alone the nobler DDL rums we all know and appreciate. They want this one — cheap, clear and bludgeoningly powerful.

As it was then, so it is now. This is a romping, stomping, cheerful soldier’s and bushman’s rum, a blue collar love note to the working classes, and will never see the tables of the rich. It’s not one you’ll ever be comfortable putting on the top shelf:  your friends will probably laugh at you were you to trot it out like your firstborn for review. All the islands and all the rum producers have rums like this one, their almost unappreciated red-haired stepchildren, not entirely legit, not made for the upper crust, just for those who need to take the edge off once in a while without mucking around with “oak”, “vanillas”, “spicy tumeric background” or “a perky little nose”. It’s too raw and uncompromising for me to really recommend it neat, but you know, if you ever went down to Mudland, you really should try a shot, just the one time — perhaps with coconut water — just so you can say you have. It’s absolutely worth it for that.

 

Other notes

The Rum Howler, who gave me the bottle in late 2012, remarked that this iteration made from the Coffey still #3 will be discontinued sometime and production moved to the new multi-column still, but we’re both in the dark as to exactly when that was or will be.

 

Aug 052013
 

D7K_2782

 

Rich, simply flavoured, overproofed Navy-style rum that has a skinnier corpus than expected

(#176. 80/100)

***

There’s nothing much I can tell you about Wood’s Rum Distillery itself because there’s not much online about it (and my books barely speak to the big names so what hope is there for the small ones?), but the brand did exist for over a century before being acquired by William Grant in 2002 – these are the boys who also own Sailor Jerry and the OVD rum brands and supposedly dabble in minor whiskies like Glenfiddich and Balvenie (or so rumour has it). I wish, on the strength of what I tasted here, that I knew more about the company’s origins and how it got into the Navy rum market in days of yore. It’s perhaps kind of appropriate that I bought it at Heathrow, Britain’s largest modern equivalent to the old ports.

The first noticeable, unmistakeable aromas that billowed forth as I cracked the cheap tinfoil cap, were huge, in-your-face biffs of molasses, licorice and coffee. They were deep and dark and rich and had it not been for the rather raw profile overall, I could be forgiven for thinking the rum was an old Demerara from Enmore, or even a Dictador 20 on steroids. Which is not too surprising, because Woods made a rum here which took the characteristic dark pot still distillates from DDL in Guyana (one source suggests some column distillate is used as well, about which I have my doubts, but okay), aged them in oak for up to three years and then bottled the result without gelding the poor thing to 40%…but remained at a chest-hair-curling 57%. Drink this neat and you’ll feel like a hobbit drinking with Treebeard. So good for them, methinks. The intensity remained, the darkness persisted, in any kind of cocktail the tastes stayed true, and frankly, Navy rums should be a tad more oomphed up than the norm, otherwise they wouldn’t (to my mind anyway) be Navy rums.

D7K_2783

What about the taste? Well, pretty much what you would expect, all in all (come on, were you really expecting a swan to emerge from an eighteen-quid duckling?). Woods 100 was a dark red, almost black rum — which had been part of the initial attraction for me — poured inkily into the glass, and when sipped conformed as closely to the anticipated profile as one James Bond movie does to another: spicy, rich, dark melange of flavours promised by the nose. And these were the same molasses, burnt sugar, coffee and licorice overtones, which buried the subtler elements as completely as an alpine avalanche. Sure, I found sly and supple hints of chopped fruits, cinnamon, vanilla, ripe cherries and cashews, but not enough to really stand out…the balance was all towards the dominant notes. The finish was, as befitted an overproof, long and lasting, giving more of the molasses and burnt sugar, quite heated and a shade dry. But, of course, with claws.

It should be pointed out that I felt the rum teetered on the edge of being medium bodied, because it was harsher on the tongue and one the fade than I had anticipated, thinner (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by El Dorados)…there’s an element of rawness to it, a lack of refinement and couth which points to the short maturation. Still, it’s young, it’s brawny, it’s cheap, it’s not like I should expect a miracle: like any young stud, strength is the selling point, not staying power or finnesse.

There are many rums like Wood’s on my shelf, which says a lot for my affections when it comes to sweaty, prole-centric, cane-cutter rums I don’t necessarily sip. Cabot Tower 100, Favell, Young’s Old Sam are the first that spring to mind, but also Robert Watson, some of the old Enmores (better made, older and smoother but not quite as cheerily nutso as this ‘un), Pusser’s or Lamb’s. I’d place this one about on par with the Cabot’s (which scored 78).

D7K_2784

But y’know, Demerara rum seem to be good no matter what, and that is particularly true of the wooden pot still products. Whether they are made to sip and savour (like BBR’s Port Morant 1975 or Bristol Spirits PM 1980) or to get one hammered (all the others named above), they all have that deep, rich fruity molasses note within their variations, and this one stands forward to take its place loudly and proudly (even obnoxiously) among all the others. The fact that many online shop-commentaries resound with the plaudits of ex Royal Navy men who esteem Woods above just about any other Navy rum says all, I think, that needs to be said about this cheerful, powerful, unpretentious cask-strength rum.

 

Other notes

In passing, why name it “100” when it’s actually 114 proof? Well, here I’d refer you to my essay on poofage, but in fine, in the old maritime days, 100 proof was a measure of the least (most diluted) ratio of alcohol to water which would still support the combustion of gunpowder. And that equated to about 57% ABV.

 

 

 

Jul 052013
 

D3S_7000

A Demerara rum that may not be a true solera in spite of its name. Lovely, affordable, interesting rum.

(#172. 84.5/100)

 ***

With this review, I have finally, after nearly two years of getting around to it, come to the end of the Rum Nation 2010 line of rums I bought all in one fell swoop, after being introduced to the series at Kensington Wine Market’s Raucous Rums tasting back in 2011. Since that time I have become an unabashed fanboy of Fabio Rossi’s products, and wish I could get more of his yearly releases: largely because I have not tasted a single one that was anything less than impressive (if occasionally different), and this one is no exception.

Bottled at a standard 40%, housed in a barroom bottle and surmounted by a plastic capped cork, the first impression as I nosed it was actually that it reminded me a lot of the El Dorado 21 year old: smoke, rich dried dark fruit (dates, raisins, prunes and black grapes), some oak sap and some burnt sugar and cinnamon, all warm and pleasantly put together. As soon as I noticed the similarity, I hustled downstairs to retrieve my 21 year old. That one proved to be subtly richer, deeper and more complex, as well as a shade drier, but the similarities were quite striking.

The congruence of the two rums’ profiles continued on a tasting. I could taste the relative youth of the No. 14 rum – it lacked something of the supple depth and mastery of the 21 which derived from its ageing. And while it was a solid medium-bodied dark rum of warmth and not fire, it evinced its own character quite handsomely too – the aforementioned flavours of toffee, butterscotch and caramel, prunes and grapes, intertwined with a faint citrus, licorice and baking spices, some woodiness…and an odd, light dancing note threading through the back end, some kind of cashew fruit (not the nut) and (you may not take this seriously) the fire of vinegar soaked red peppers, barely perceptible. In point of fact, it reminded me a lot of more traditional navy rums, like Pusser’s, or even a much improved-upon Lamb’s. The finish was medium long, just a shade dry, and quite clean on the exit, with soft heated velvet caramel and licorice notes to end things off.

So, an ED21 it’s not, though quite good in its own way; it expresses its own differences well, being both original and tasty, a rum which will not piss you off by going wholeheartedly off into its own domain, just sideways enough for you to appreciate it on its own merits. Think of it as a good accompaniment to the El Dorados (12, 15 or 21) without actually being one…each one enhances the others.

If I had an issue at all with the rum it was in the labelling. Rum Nation bought a few barrels of blended bulk Demerara rum from DDL, which contained Port Morant (PM) and Versailles (SV) rums aged around four to six years. The barrels were taken to Italy and transferred into sherry (PX and Oloroso) butts for just over a year of further ageing, after which a few litres of 1997 Enmore rum was added (that comes from the famed Enmore wooden continuous Coffey still now housed at Diamond estate). That final blend was what I was sampling, and therefore for a true age statement based on the youngest portion of the rum, I guess it’s best regarded as a five year old. The question is whether that process of blending constitutes a solera system…in this case I’d suggest not. This doesn’t make the rum any less than what it is, but for those who really prefer a solera and want that sweeter, slightly thicker profile, the implication of the label may cause concern.

Rum Nation regards this rum as something of an entry level product, much as they did the Barbados 2001 10 year old. Based on the price, that is all well and good, I suppose. But you know, I enjoyed the rum, think it is a good blend of the Guyanese rums that constitute its core DNA, and for what it cost, it’s a pleasant, impressive sipping-quality rum that I drank quite a lot of and would highly recommend for those on a budget who like darker fare. It may be 40%, it may not be a true solera, and it may just be $50, but if you like navy rums in general and Demerara rums in particular, you wouldn’t be out to lunch by springing for this lovely dark product.

 

Other Notes

The No 14 moniker in the name is meant to state that the oldest rum in the blend is 14 years old.

The “Solera” title on the label will be omitted from future iterations

 

 

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