Jul 192017
 

#378

No matter how many other estates or companies make and market Jamaican rum, it’s a fair bet that when it comes to recognition, Appleton has cornered the market in their own land, much like DDL has in Guyana, or how FourSquare is currently dominating Barbados.  Recently I ran a few Appletons past each other (it’s one of the few decent rums one can get in the rum wasteland that is Toronto), and while the 21 year old, Master Blender’s Legacy and 30 year old are not on sale there, the rebranded “Rare Blend” 12 year old was.

Re-tasting the rum after a gap of some eight years was eye-opening.  My first encounter with it as a reviewer was back in 2009 and the short, unscored essay #5 came out in January 2010.  Things have changed in the intervening years – my palate developed, tasting became more nuanced, preferences underwent alterations…and from the other side, the rum and the bottle were worked over.  It was not the same rum I tried back then, nor like older versions from the 1980s and 1970s.  But what was not so evident to me then and which is clear to me now, is that the Appleton 12 year old rum in all its iterations over the years, is one of the core rums of the island and the style, a sort of permanent marker that almost defines “Jamaica rum”.  If one ever asks me in the future, what rum from there should one get first, or which rum should serve as a cornerstone of the Jamaican shelf, I’m going to point at it and say, “That one.”

This is because of its overall solidity of its assembly.  Consider how the nose presented, warm, just short of sharp, well constructed and pleasantly complex – it started with molasses, bananas, cream cheese, brine and dates, some citrus, cinnamon and apples just starting to go.  It provided a little oak (not much), and some tar, anise, vanilla and brown sugar, all very tightly and distinctly constructed – an excellent representation of everything Appleton stumbles a little on with their younger iterations, and which they amp up — not always as successfully — in the older ones.

The real key to capturing the rum’s essence is is the taste. How it feels in the mouth, how it develops over time. The palate is not particularly different from what one sensed on the nose, and I don’t think that was the intention – what it did was consolidate the gains made earlier, and build gently upon them, to provide a sipping experience that is a great lead-in to new drinkers wanting something upscale, without disappointing the hard core whose taste buds are more exacting.  It was smooth and velvety, the characteristic Jamaican funk present and accounted for (without actually becoming overbearing).  Salty caramel ice cream, stewed apples, citrus, cinnamon, gherkins in brine, vanilla and tannins for a little edge (perhaps a shade too much, but I wasn’t complaining).  After some time one could sense the background of rotting bananas, some herbals and perhaps a whiff of dill. The finish, while short, was warm and mellow, and gave up a last whiff of dates, caramel, more brine, and overall I’d say the rum was not overly complex, but the balance between the various components simply could not be faulted.  That’s what makes it a good all-round mid-tier rum.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the 12 is a fantastic 95-pointer on par with or better other exceptional Jamaicans which I have scored high in the past.  It’s not.  It lacks their individuality, their uniqueness, their one-barrel dynamism and exacting natures, so no, it’s not that.  What makes it special and by itself almost be able to serve as a stand-in for a whole country’s rums, is that it encapsulates just about everything one likes about the island at once without shining at any one thing in particular or pissing anyone off in general.  It’s a rum for Goldilocks’s little bear – it’s not too hot and not too passive; not too massively funky, yet not too dialled-down either; no one aroma or taste dominates, yet the final product is of a remarkably high standard overall, self-evidently, almost emphatically, Jamaican.  Best of all, it’s affordable for what it provides, and I consider it one of the best price-to-quality rums currently extant.  In short, while it may not be the best rum ever made in Jamaica, it remains a quiet classic on its own terms, and one of the key rums in any rum lover’s cabinet.

(84/100)

Jul 162017
 

#377

Bottled in 2004 at a lukewarm 43%, Bristol Spirits have somehow transcended the living room strength of this classic 30 year old rum and produced one of the best Jamaicans of its kind.  Even under some time pressure, I still had that glass on the go for two full hours, smelling it over and over, tasting it in the tiniest of sips again and again, comparing, retasting, rechecking, making more and more notes, and in the fullproof company of Guyanese and Jamaicans I was trying alongside it, it was a standout of no mean proportions.  We simply do not see rums of this kind any longer – we can with some effort get 15-20 year olds, we may be able to source a few rums in their twenties, but when was the last time you were fortunate enough to try a thirty year old rum?

Bristol Spirits are no stranger to old stocks, of course.  There was the masterful Port Mourant 1980 and that sublime Caroni 1974, to name but two.  These days, they’ve sort of settled into a groove with more sober-minded middle-aged rums, and while I would never say that what they produce now is not up to scratch — what they put out the door is both imaginative and interesting — none of them have that aura of gravitas mixed up with a ballsy “looky here!” middle-finger-to-the-establishment braggadocio…or yes, the restrained majesty, which three decades of ageing confers on this rum.

Because it was clear that every aspect of that age was wrung out and lovingly extracted from the single originating barrel.  No attempt was made to hold a thing back, and this was evident right away on the aroma, which dumbfounded me by being much more complex and even pungent for what – let’s face it – is not the world’s most badass rum strength.  It was just so deep. It started out with the richness of burnt leaves and charred canefields after the ritual firing, smouldering in a tropical twilight; caramel, toffee, nutty nougat, almonds, burnt brown sugar, tied together with oak and slightly bitter tannins that did not detract but enhanced. What fruits there were — raisins, prunes, plums for the most part — kept a cool kind of distance which supported the aromas noted above without supplanting them, and around them all was a weird amalgam of melons, squash and citrus zest that I was at a loss to pin down at first…but trust me, it worked. Anyone who loves rums (and not just Jamaicans) would go ape for this thing.

The taste was similarly top-notch, and while I would be hard-pressed to tell you the profile screamed “funk” or “dunder” or “Jamaican”, I must also tell you that what was presented had so much to offer that the rum skated past such concerns. It started out with traditional dark caramel, a little glue and warm dark fruit – raisins, black cake, tamarind – and then went for broke.  Over two hours it developed tastes of honey, cherries, flowers, charred wood, ashes and hot damp earth after a rain, underlain with a sort of laid back but crisp flavours of green apples, lemon zest and nuts, and finished off with a surprisingly long fade redolent of raspberries and ripe cherries and vanilla.  Quite frankly, one of the reasons I kept at it for so long was simply that I found myself more and more impressed with it as time went on: to the very end it never stopped developing.

As with many really good rums – and yes, I call this one of them – there’s more to it than simple tasting notes.  The mark of a rum / rhum / ron which transcends its provenance and age and goes for something special, is one that either makes one ponder the rumiverse while drinking it, or one that brings up clear associated memories in the mind of the reviewer – to some extent both were the case here. It was not clearly and distinctively a Jamaican rum, and I wondered how the distinctive profile of the island was so muted here….was it the long ageing in Europe, the original barrel, a peculiarity of the distillate, or the still itself? And as time went on I stopped worrying about it, and was drawn back into my memories of my youth in the Caribbean, the scent of burning canefields, fresh pressed cane juice on shaved ice sold by a snow-cone vendor outside Bourda, and the first taste of a local hooch in a beergarden down the coast served neat with a bowl of ice.  Such things are in themselves irrelevant, but also part and parcel of what makes this rum, to me, quite special, the more so since it happens so rarely.

So, yeah, I’m a drooling fanboy (was it that obvious?).  But how could I not be? You have to experience the emphatic boom trapped within the otherwise standard proof to understand my enthusiasm.  Muted yes; quiet yes; not as intense – of course.  One cannot outrun one’s shadow and get out from under 43%.  But just smell the thing, taste the thing, savour the thing — like some of the Compagnie’s rums, it makes a great case for Continental ageing. You could almost imagine some half-crazed, giggling bottler, half-in and half-out the barrel with a tiny teaspoon and clean white cloth, trying to get the very last drop out just to make sure that nothing was wasted.  Given what was achieved here, assuredly none of it was. It’s just half a shot shy of great.

(90/100)


Other notes

There is no data on the originating estate.  I’m guessing here, but believe it’s either a Longpond or a Monymusk, just on the taste.  If anyone has more info, feel free to correct me on this one.

Mar 152017
 

#349

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost suggest this was a clairin.  It was so potent and pungent, so powerful in taste and profile, that I had to double up the amount of controls I was tasting it with, just to make sure it really was a Jamaican rum and not some uncured white lightning out of Haiti.  If you ever thought that Jamaicans were getting too easy, or you were getting bored with the regular run of Appletons, allow me to recommend (cautiously) this amazing white popskull from Hampden estate, which was gifted to me by Gregers and Henrik in the 2015 ‘Caner Afterparty, just so they could see my eyes water and my palate disappear while they laughed themselves silly.

Can’t say I blame them.  Now, you would imagine that when a bunch of us grog-blog boyos get together, it’s a genteel sort of affair in a discreet private club, brogues and black tie in evidence as we dignifiedly pass glasses around, and reverently open bottles like the Longpond 1941 or a Trois Rivieres 1975 while making sober and snooty judgements in hushed tones about nose and palate and so on.  Yeah…but no.  What actually goes on is that a pack of noisy, rowdy, scruffy reviewers from all points of the compass descends on a dingy apartment, each loudly and aggressively shoving their newest acquisitions onto the table, demanding they be opened and tried (twice!), and a sort of cheerful one-upmanship is the name of the game.  Quality doesn’t come into it, shock value does, and boy oh boy, did they ever succeed in taking the crown on this one.

I mean, just sniff this rum.  Go on, I dare ya. It was a 63% ABV salt-and-petrol concussive blast right away.  Forget about letting it breathe, it didn’t need that: it exploded out of the starting blocks like my wife spotting a 90%-off sale, and the immediate pungency of fusel oils, brine, beeswax, rotten fruit, wet cardboard, and sausages frying on a stinky gas fire took my schnozz by storm and never let go. Merde, but this was one hot piece of work.  Frankly, it reminded me of the JB Trelawny rum and Appleton’s own Overproof, also bottled at 63%, and oddly, of the Sajous. I immediately added a few clairins to the Jamaican controls on the table, and yes, there were discernible differences, though both shared some emergent flavours of sugar water and pickled gherkins and maybe some sweeter red olives – and the tartness of green apples and a bit of lemon.  But as for any kind of “standard” profile?  Not really.  It was having too much fun going its own way and punching me in the face, and represented Hampden in fine style.

Oh and this was not limited to the nose.  Tasting it was as exhilarating as skydiving with a parachute your ex-girlfriend just packed.  Again, the first impression was one of sharp heat (warning – trying this with your cigar going in the other side of your mouth is not recommended), and then there was a curious left turn into what was almost agricole territory – watermelon, flowers, sugar water, as hot and crisp and creamy as a freshly baked Danish cookie.  It was only after adding some water that a more ‘Jamaican’ set of notes came out to grab the brass ring – more olives, salted avocados and overripe fruit, wax, some very faint floor polish, tied together with the tiniest hint of citrus, vanilla and leather, before it all dissipated into a lovely, long, warm finish that coughed up some closing notes of sweet soya and teriyaki before finally, finally, passing into the great beyond of boring tasting notes in a notebook.

Whew!  This was a hell of a rum. I apologize in advance for sounding elitist, but really, the regular run of rum drinkers should approach this rum with some caution, or water it down or push it into a mix, lest it colour one’s perception of unaged white hooch forever.  I have a feeling it was made to appeal to those who want vibrant, pot-still full-proofs with real edge and a ginormous series of hot-snot flavour notes that take a smart right turn from reality.  Yes, of course it’ll make a cocktail that would stop just short of self-combustion (and there might lie its mainstream appeal rather than for masochistic nutcases who proudly drink it neat), but I submit that for the adventurous among you, taking it by itself is quite some experience, one that should not be missed.  It’s hot, it’s massive, it’s tasty, and for sure the makers weren’t kidding when they put the word “fire” in the title.  If the amount of amazed and joyful expletives (in seven languages) during a tasting is a measure of a rum’s appeal, then this one has to be one of the funnest, craziest rums I’ve sampled in quite some time, and I recall it with great fondness even after all this time.

(82/100)

Other notes

  • Made by and at Hampden estate, whose history is covered on their webpage
  • Triple distilled heavy pot still rum.  There’s no notation on age, but for my money, it has not been aged at all, another similarity it shares with the clairins
  • Not sure what the difference is between the straight “Rum Fire” and the “Rum Fire Velvet” – maybe it’s just the label, maybe it’s the triple distillation.

 

Jan 192017
 

Photo (c) shopsampars.com

#337

Just about every rum junkie has heard of the J. Wray & Nephew 63% Overproof, Appleton’s flagship white lightning and that’s likely the variation that most people know about and have tried.  But since the 1990s, there’s been a local hooch, the Charley’s J.B. White Overproof (made by the Trelawny Rum Company which Appleton controls), primarily marketed in the backcountry…at that time it was aimed at rural farmers and considered a sort of 2nd tier tipple.  In 2015 the company decided to issue it to the urban market perhaps because people in the cities were getting annoyed at those wussy little forty percenters they had to suffer though, wondering why “dem lucky bredren in de backdam gettin’ all dat good bashwar”, and wanted to get something from near by Cockpit Country that would pack more animal in its jock.  And aside from actually stating that the Charley’s JB is a “Trelawny blend,” I’m not sure there’s much difference between it and the JW&N 63%.  Most people who’ve tried it just love the thing for its fiery, fruity and powerful taste.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Pietrek, the Cocktail Wonk

Like DDL’s High Wine, or the Rum Nation Pot still white 57% — and of course the Haitian clairins —  it channels a sort of barely contained ferocity. No easy lead up here: the rum puts you in the middle of the action immediately, with the very first sniff of the cap when cracked, so it’s probably a good idea to go easy for the first few minutes and let the alcohol burn off a mite.  Do that and you sense salty, fusel oil fumes, with sharp rubber, acetone, musty cardboard and leather vying to see which can skewer your schnozz the fastest. It stays sharp, and is like breathing the inside of a vulcanizing shop in hot weather, but it does develop well (if grudgingly), and aside from a weird glue aroma, a watery fruity punch of bananas, citrus, unripe green apples is also there, tied up neatly with the rich scent of new leather shoes still in the wrapping paper.

Tasting it more or less continues the experience and I am here to assure you that yes, to some extent, it really does smoothen out…just a little (well, it is 63% ABV, so you can’t expect too much).  Sweet watery pears, white guavas, watermelon, cucumbers, some dill and rosemary, squash segue their way across the tongue.  The crisp tartness of the nose mellows into something more akin to plums and blackcurrants with a flirt of gooseberries thrown in, if you can believe it, but just add a little water (coconut water might be better), and the feral beast goes quiescent in labba time.  The finish? Nothing shabby – nice, long, fruity, estery, sugar water and soursop ice cream, plus the faintest bit of rubber and smoke. Overall, it’s a crude iron axe, not a sword made from Damascus steel, and that’s apparent all the way through….but “little axe does chop down big tree” as my great aunty Sheila always used to tell me so sanctimoniously.

Frankly, I’m amazed that Quazi4Moto, my correspondent on reddit, agreed to spot me a sample (many, many thanks to the man for sending it along).  This isn’t the best white ever made by a long shot, and it shows its cheerful working class origins clearly…but it sure is a unique one, a taste bomb of savage, raw quality, and if it belonged to me and I knew I wasn’t going back for rice and peas any time soon, I’m not entirely convinced if I’d have shared it myself.

See, I’m aware it’s powerful and uncouth and needs some dialling down, and them crazies who quaff it neat are clearly purveyors of over-the-cliff machismo who are afraid of absolutely nothing; and to be sure, it proudly struts a massive codpiece of taste that falls this side short of a mess, and which will curl your toes without busting a sweat. But you know, in its own way it’s a really freakin’ cool white rum. So what if it’s untamed and maybe too sharp?  So what if it growls down our throats as if mixed with undiluted tiger blood? It’s in no way a bad hooch, and those who make it past their initial despite might find themselves – like me — breathing hard, grinning stupidly, and nodding that yeah, they’ll take another shot.  Maybe two.

(82/100)

Other Notes

According to the Cocktail Wonk’s informative post, in the good old days, such rural backwoods rums were undesirably-congener-rich heads and tails cuts pilfered from the distillery process, which gave rise to the humorous grumble that it tasted “like a John Crow batty” (in Jamaican creole it refers to a vulture’s ass…quite poetic, yes?).  I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the initials CJB of the rum are the same, if out of order.  I can’t find much data on who Charley was, or what J.B actually stands for.  Maybe I’ll have to go to Jamaica to find out.

Nov 062016
 

cdi-jamaica-wp-7-yo-53-1

A stunning fullproof Jamaican

#314

When a bunch of us were dissecting the 2016 Berlin RumFest, we all noted something interesting – the rums which seemed to be making the biggest splash and gaining some of the best accolades were the Jamaicans, as if they were charging out of the gate and making up for lost time. Certainly the visibility of the island has been increasing in the last year or two what with the issuance of new rums from previously marginal distilleries (Clarendon, Hampden, Innswood, Longpond, Worthy Park), and the appearance of new variations at various festivals.  And many of these rums are amazingly good – perhaps more than anything else they showed what we’ve been missing all this time. I can almost feel a twinge of sympathy for Appleton in the years to come.

If you doubt the rise of the New Jamaicans, look no further than the Worthy Park rum issued by Compagnie des Indes. The Hampden 58% was great and I scored it highly – this one is better still.  I haven’t seen anyone take it apart yet, and it hasn’t made much of a splash, but this thing is superlative, if limited (to 271 bottles). The rest of the Jamaican loving rumworld would go ape for this rum if it was more available, and I swear, if Velier issued the thing, we’d see a mass stampede that would make the online issue of the FourSquare 2006 look like a teutonic model of orderly and restrained sales efficiency.

cdi-jamaica-wp-7-yo-53-3Bottled at a stern and uncompromising 53%, which is still quite reasonable even for those too timorous to buy real brute-force sledgehammers like the >65% rums, the bare details are simple: a seven year old rum from a single cask, bottled in July 2015, aged in American oak, entirely in Europe.  And yes, from Worthy Park: if you are interested in such things, the Cocktail Wonk took the time and trouble to visit and wrote a detailed article on the subject which is worth checking out, since it would be an insult to abridge into a few sentences here.

At first blush it seems odd to say that honey, cream cheese and crackers were the initial aromas; and was that cucumbers, smoked salmon and parsley on rough peasant bread?…surely not…but yes it was, plus dill – it was all very faint and more hint than bludgeon, but very much there. I literally stared, bemused, at my glass, for a few minutes, before attending to business again.  After the amazingly off-base beginning, much more traditional smells started to assert their dominance – citrus peel, nuts, bananas, soft white guavas, some vanilla and cinnamon, nothing really tart or acidic…the rum was not so much soft and easy as firm and quite crisp, almost prissily precise.

It was on the palate that its quality moved out of yummy into awesome.  There were cherries in syrup on a cheesecake, quite delicate; ripe but still tart slices of Indian mangoes.  Yes it was hot, maybe even sharp, yet it was as clear and precise as a Chopin nocturne, and the palate delivered on what the nose had promised, adding caramel, brininess, an olive or three, banana skins, overripe apples, and cider.  It was, in its way, like a really good Riesling, with a sparkling red grapefruit background striking a delicate balance between sleaze and titillation, between sweet and salt, dunder and “rumminess” – it’s an amazing achievement, a wonderful rum, one of Florent’s best, and it finishes with some emphatic final notes of vanilla, cinnamon, very light sweetness of those cherries, salted caramel, and a last twist of lemon. I tried it three times over six hours, and still thought it was great the final time.

Every few years, our world seems to be dominated by rums of a different style.  For a while it was the Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Venezuelans and Guyanese, then Velier exploded on the scene with its full proof Demeraras, followed by the Trini Caronis. The Bajans have come on strong of late (mostly FourSquare and St. Nick’s), and  there are the agricoles, as ever, quietly and determinedly chugging beneath them all. Now it may be the turn of the Jamaicans to produce the most exciting work for a while. If just on a random sampling, something this good and this young appears out of nowhere, we may all be in for a cornucopia of wonderful rums from the island, of which this is just one.  

(90/100)

Nov 032016
 

rn-jamaica-1990

We should be grateful that some makers still have sufficient stocks to permit the issuance of rums old enough to vote – we sure won’t see many of them much longer.  This one does fans of the Jamaican rums no dishonour – it’s great.

#313

With the recent 2016 release of the 1991 Jamaica SL VIII, which really is just about as good as they say and maybe even better than this one, I rummaged around my bag of tasting notes and remembered I had a bottle from that island from a year or two back knocking about and gathering dust (would you believe I actually forgot about it?) … so I brought it upstairs, re-tasted, updated the notes, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue. ‘Cause those Supreme Lords man, they’re pretty amazing, and we don’t see many rums this old from the indie bottlers all that often.

By now, after recommending them for many years, there is nothing new I can really add to Rum Nation’s company bio that isn’t already there. They’re not innovative – or “limited edition” – in the same sense that CDI or Velier or even EKTE is, but they are very consistent in their own way and according to their own philosophy, and I’ve liked them enormously since 2011 when I first ran across their products and bought just about the entire 2010 release line at once.  Almost always good, always adding a little bit here and a little bit there to tweak things a bit (like the Panama being changed to an 18 year solera, the new bottle design from 2014), and incrementally improving every year (moving slowly to higher proof points, the Jamaican 57% white and those amazing twenty-plus-year-old Demerara and Jamaica rums). They catch a lot of heat for their practise of adding sugar (sometimes it’s actually caramel but never mind) to their lower- and mid-level rums (the Millonario XO in particular comes in for serious hate mail).  However this Jamaican SL VII has no such inclusions and is pretty much unmessed with, so rest easy ye puritans, and on we go.

Some details: this is a pot still rum, from Hampden estate, which is rapidly turning into one of my favourite Jamaican estates, like PM is for the Demeraras.  It was distilled in 1990 and poured into 822 bottles in 2013 at a not-quite-so-spectacular 45%, after slumbering for almost twelve years in Jamaica (in ex-bourbon American oak barrels), before finishing the ageing regime in the UK.

rn-j-1990-2It’s always a toss-up for me whether I’m in a Jamaican or Guyana mood, and this orangey-amber rum showed why – deep rich licorice and honey started the nose off, billowing strongly out of the glass; the funk took its place, oak joined in, to which was added easier notes of mead, grasses (grasses? I wondered, but yeah, there it was), and some orange zest. Deeper, muskier and earthier tones took their turn, before fading off into fruity hints (unripe peaches and a half ripe mango or two). I was impressed as all get out to note a hint of fresh honeycomb (complete with waxy notes) with a clear, light floral undercurrent that all combined really well.

There was no divergence on the taste, as I’ve sometimes noted with Jamaicans, and the palate followed smoothly on from what was smelled. Smooth and warm – yes, 45% could be improved on, but I can find little fault with what has been accomplished here.  Quite fruity, acetone-like and estery, but also competing briny notes were in the mix.  Citrus, sherry, the glue of an UHU stick, then cherries and very ripe apples on the verge of going bad.  It tasted remarkably clear and crisp, with the funk being held at bay while never entirely disappearing.  That might actually be to its detriment, because we look for a Jamaican profile, and it’s there, just not as in-your-face as we are led to expect by other independent bottlers who have no time for subtlety and smack you in the head with it. Finish is warm, remarkably long for that strength, with closing aromas of glue, sweet soya, a sort of mash-up of fleshy fruits, all leavened with a sly, crisp citrusy note that brings it all to a lovely close.  Overall, it’s a lovely and approachable rum that many, beginners and aficionados alike, will savour, I think.

Rum Nation’s marketing is quite canny.  Unlike the smaller independent bottlers, they don’t just do a single barrel – for them that’s too limiting.  They do two and three and four or more at a time, which permits correspondingly greater volumes (usually in the low thousands of bottles, sometimes more, sometimes less).  And they issue their high-end rums — of which this is assuredly one — at an ABV that’s more than the 40% which is practically a North American standard, but less than some raging full proof number that alienates (scares off?) all but the hard core.  What that leaves us with is a relatively affordable, very accessible 23 year old rum of just under a thousand bottles, issued at a decent strength, and quality not to be sneezed at. For ensuring that sales and availability and appreciation go hand in hand, that four-way combo is a tough one to beat. This is a rum worth getting, and the great thing is, you still can..

88.5/100

Other notes

Bottle provided by Fabio Rossi – every time we meet we argue over the cheque, whether it’s for a dinner we share or a bottle he’s provided. Sometimes I win, sometimes he does. I still owe him for this one, which I’ve had since early 2015.

The wooden box with its jute sacking which I so loved has been discontinued, but postage stamp pictures blessedly remain as part of the overall presentation.

Sep 132016
 

cdi-jamaica

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

#301

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

(84/100)

Jun 302016
 

CDI Jamaica 2000 14yo 2

 

A rum that’s frisk to a fault.

(#282 / 86.5/100)

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Other notes:

¹ “Sure, we’ll take it.”

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

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

Dec 162015
 

BBR 1977 Sepia

BBR have made a rum that has all the fidelity and quality of the rums from times gone by, without compromise….a 60% velociraptor that really does get you and chomp you down.

(#245. 90/100)

***

It’s Christmas, so let’s get another one of the pricier, rarer bottlings out of the way just in case someone sees it and wants one for his grandfather. In all honestly, with just 220 bottles of the Jamaica 1977 in circulation, and at the price point it retails for, one could be forgiven for wondering why I am reviewing a rum that very few people will ever try or buy.  And that’s a fair question.  Blame it on the fire that The Sage lit under my tail in April 2015 when we founded the Rumaniacs – the opportunity to try (and share) very old, very rare, and yes, rather expensive rums, whose like we shall not see again.

Berry Brothers & Rudd requires no introduction except insofar as to mention that this 36 year old rum is part of their “Exceptional Cask” series which I first heard about last year.  Jamaican rums of that age being as rare as hen’s teeth, and having a few quid squirrelled away, I rushed online to buy myself a bottle, prayed it wouldn’t be an expensive misfire, and then waited a year to open the thing.  BBR as usual are very tight lipped about the rum and from which plantation it originates, which strikes me as maddeningly and pointlessly obscure.  But anyway.

I enjoyed the presentation a lot.  A stiff black cardboard box, enclosing the stubby bottle you see in the picture, and a label that takes simplicity to a whole different level…the only extraneous thing about it is the tasting notes.  They should have put in the provenance, and left the notes out — because fans and connoisseurs won’t need those, and well-heeled Wall Street derivative traders who buy three or four of these, won’t care.

Let’s begin with how it poured.  Rich, dark orange, thick and almost oily in the glass.  Scents acted like they were in a hurry to reach the open, and billowed out immediately.  I had to be a little cautious with 60.3% so I let it open and then sighed happily: strong, pungent and estery notes led out immediately. It was hot to handle initially until it settled down, yet I detected very little real sharpness – it was powerfully firm to nose. As it developed, vanilla, coconut,  some light bananas, aromatic tobacco and a whole lot less oak than I was expecting all came out to join the party, without displacing the sharper citrus and fruity notes that had started things rolling.

BBR 1977 Label

And the taste, well…wow! Amazingly deep and pungent.  It didn’t start out with a bang or a tantaraa of trumpets, wasn’t over-oaked, and indeed I thought that the nose was all there was.  But observe – it developed from simple initial starting points: spices, esters, light tannins and some vanilla, some dusty cardboard; and these pleasant but almost standard flavours hung around like those shy gawky boys on the dance floor who want to ask the girls to “tek a wine” but can’t…and then, slowly, other richer components evolved. Cumin, hay, tobacco leaves, some tar, caramels, sharper mangos and citrus peel leavened by softer coconut and bananas.  It was barely sweet, a little briny and spicy and deep on the tongue, yet it displayed a very rich profile that made it a pleasure to savour and come back to over a very long time. More to the point, these complexities were well balanced and not competing with each other.

And thankfully, the finish carried things away with a flourish too, and the rum didn’t choke at the back end: it was a long, finish, leaving memories of cedar, dust, a heretofore-unnocticed bit of pot-still wax and salt, some more light caramel and cinnamon, and frankly I thought that between the heat and the length, that fade was just short of epic.

I felt that the Jamaica 1977 was extraordinarily well constructed – it shed the extraneous frippery and maintained only the vital…and it pulled off an interesting bait-and-switch by seeming to be a lot less than it actually was.  It started out by seeming to be one of the simplest, most straightforward rums out there – full out Jamaican, if you will – and developed into one of the more complex profiles I’ve had from the stables of the island.  I think Berry Bros. & Rudd have made an astonishingly brave and great rum here. Trying to come up with precise rationales, I am unable to make my reasons clear without resorting to meaningless generalizations that you’ve read a hundred times before, so let’s see if I can put it another way.

One thing I really admired about my father (without ever telling him so — heaven forbid, an actual compliment between us?) was that trick he had, to shed his cloak of intellectual ability and professional achievement, put on a pair of ratty jeans and sockless flats, and go playing dominos with a cheapass rum and a bowl ‘ice down by the GT ghetto with old squaddies; where he would cuss up and get on and mek plenty plenty noise, his modulated tones giving way to “nuff suck teet” and the objurgatory roughness of loutish street creole.  This rum reminded me somewhat of him: tough and uncompromising and not easy to get along with, a paradoxically cultured product that managed to hearken back to brawny working class boys who “get some educatement” without shame or apology; which blended artistry, crudity and power into a cohesive, complex, drinkable whole.  When you think about it, that’s actually a rather remarkable feat for anyone or anything to pull off.  And if you can follow that line of reasoning, that’s why I thought this rum was a pretty damned good, near-brilliant, piece of work.

Other notes

No, I don’t think I’ll recommend you drop this much money on a rum, any rum, even this one, unless you really can spare it. Get a taste if you can. If Jamaicans are your thing, you’ll love it.

Bottle #44 of 220

BBR 1977 Colour

 

Dec 012014
 

D3S_8969

 

If strength and atavism are your things, the Jamaica Pot Still 57% won’t disappoint; a shot or two of this, and you’ll feel your nostrils dilate as you search around for a stone to bash a rhino with, before eating a freshly-caught, still-twitching deer. It’s that intense.

(#190. 86/100)

The 57% pot still Jamaican rum from Rum Nation represents a departure for the company in a number of ways (not including the bottle shape, introduced for the 2014 season).  It is the first rum the company has produced that is over 100 proof, it’s the first rum they’ve not aged at all, and it is the first white rum they’ve ever made.  Long accepting that the Supreme Lord series from Jamaica is one of their best made rums, I was intrigued to see where this one was coming from, and what it was like. Though if experience has taught me anything, it’s that any white full- or over-proof rum should be approached with some caution…no matter who makes it.

Presentation was fine: cork, plastic tipped, solid, all good. I liked RN’s new fat squat bottle with broad shoulders, and appreciated the simple label design (always loved those British Empire stamps – I used to collect them in my boyhood, much as Fabio did).  And in the bottle, that clear liquid so reminiscent of DDL’s Superior High Wine, J. Wray’s white overproof, or any local white lightning made for the backdam workers, innocent looking, inviting…and appropriately well-endowed. I can just see the boys in Trenchtown (or my father’s friends in Lombard Street) sipping this neat in cheap plastic tumblers, calling for a bowl ‘ice, the dominos and taking the rest of the week off.

This rum was absolutely in a class of its own, for good and ill. It snarled. It growled on the nose, as if it had been stuffed with diced sleeping leopards; it packed a solid punch, even on the initial sniff. Yes I’d been on a full proof bender for some time, but this rum’s nasal profile was something way out to lunch. It was so…full. Full of grass, lemon peel, fresh sap bleeding from a mango tree.  It didn’t stop there, but opened into tar, licorice, cinnamon…and then did a radical left turn and dived into the smells of aniseed oil, fresh furniture polish…even glue, like an UHU stick. I mean…wtf?

At 57% you could expect it to be strong, spicy, peppery…and it was.  Sweet, too (I wasn’t expecting that). The mouthfeel was remarkable, not entirely smooth, yet not a blast of sandpaper either – in fact, rather pleasant in its own way, if you factor out the proofage, and heavier bodied than you’d have any right to expect. Cinnamon, crushed leaves, that wood polish again, followed by a briny note akin to black olives, and the scent of a capadulla vine bleeding watery sap. As for the fade: excellent, long lasting, flavourful – it was the gift that kept on giving, with closing notes of green tea and glue and unripe bananas. This is a rum that you absolutely should try on its own just to see how nutso a pot still rum can be when a maker lets the esters go off the reservation.  I mean, I drank it at the RumFest and bottles trembled on their shelves and drinkers’ sphincters clenched involuntarily. The rum is badass to a fault.

D3S_8971

The thing is, for all its eccentricity, the thing is damned well made. I liked it a lot.  I always got the impression that in the main, white rums – the really strong ones, the 151s, not the tame Bacardi mixers and their ilk – are really lesser efforts, indifferently tossed off by their makers in between more serious work, and often not widely or aggressively marketed internationally, known more to barkeeps than barflies.  Rum Nation in contrast, and judging by this one, took the same time to develop this rum as they have in many of their other products, and with the same seriousness.  That’s what makes the difference, I believe, and why I score it rather well.  For that and the sheer uniqueness, the chutzpah, the daring of it.

So, summing up, then: a shudderingly original piece of work from La Casa di Rossi.  A set of strong, clear tastes and scents. It’s a white, clear, savage, full proof which is redolent of new furniture and fresh chopped cane, and which can be drunk on its own without inflicting permanent damage.  I think we should appreciate this one. Because the Jamaica Pot Still is an absolute riot of a drink — a rum to have when you want something that marries the sumptuousness of Italian art to the braddar fun-loving insouciance of a West Indian at a really good, and very loud, bottom-house party.

 

Other notes:

  1. Capadulla is an arm-thick jungle vine, which, if you chop it, spouts an enormous amount of watery sap, and is used by bushmen in Guyana as a source of water. Of course, it has its reputation as an aphrodisiac too.
  2. The rum originates from the parish of St Catherine in south eastern Jamaica, which likely means the Worthy Park Estate.  No ageing at all. The profile suggests where the core distillate of the 26 Year Old Supreme Lord originates.
  3. Rum Nation intends to issue future iterations of the rum that will be progressively aged.
  4. Fabio Rossi’s intent here was to make a high ester spirit that was specifically not a grappa.

 

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