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.

 

Jul 152014
 

D3S_8380

 

Rich sipping rum of remarkable complexity and flavour, one of the best I’ve ever had out of Jamaica.

(#182. 90/100)

Rum Nation’s Supreme Lord VI (the Jamaican 26 year old 2012 edition by any other name) is as good as its 2010 brother, if not actually surpassing it. It shows what can be done with an aged rum if time and care and patience – and some artistry – is brought to bear.  I loved the Supreme Lord V, which I reviewed a while back – and I must say, the VI does dial it up a few notches.  (Full disclosure – Fabio Rossi, the man behind Rum Nation, was having so many troubles working out the complications of me buying a single bottle from him, that he finally just lost patience, sent me the one, and said it was on the house.  So this one was a freebie, which happens rarely enough these days).

Like its predecessor, this rum was dark red-amber in hue, and gave evidence of good viscocity, what with its chubby legs slowly draining back into the glass.  It was also richly pungent to a fault: when I opened that bottle and decanted into my glass the aromas were all over the room in no time: a fragrant nuttiness with a faint tawny, perhaps herbal tinge, and cloves and nutmeg, a little pepper, vanilla, cherries.  I noted in my review of the 2011 edition that there was that slight turpentine, plastic tinge to it – none of that was in evidence here.  This rum has esters flexing their biceps all over the place.

The feel and taste on the palate was similarly excellent.  There was a sense of fruit teetering on the edge of over-ripeness, without actually falling over.  Leather, and the dry mustiness of a closed stable full of tack.  Aromatic tobaccos mixed it up with (I kid you not) a freshly opened packet of loose black tea. Even at 45%, it was smooth and easy, with a peaches and cream texture on the tongue that quite subdued the normally sharp citrus tinge Jamaican rums have.  And after adding a smidgen of water and waiting a while, there was even a tease of unsweetened dark chocolate and molasses winding its way through there – I just loved this rum, honestly.

And like the nose and the arrival, the exit was warm, a little aggressive, not too long, not too sharp and quite satisfying – one might even say it was chirpily easy-going, sauntering out the door with the casual insouciance of a person who knows he doesn’t have to tout his ability.  That last twitch of molasses, orange zest and nutmeg was just heavenly.  The Supreme Lord VI was quite a step up the evolutionary ladder from the last one I tried, I think (though I still love that one as well, don’t get me wrong – it had an aggro I found pleasing, in its own way).  All in all, this may have been one of the best Jamaican rums I’ve ever tried, and speaks volumes about why I’m a fanboy of Rum Nation.

When asked, Fabio noted to me that he produced 760 bottles of this nectar.  It was distilled in a pot still out of Longpond (home of the rampaging rhino that is the SMWS 81.3%) back in 1986, aged in ex-Bourbon american oak barrels, but also finished for another eight years in Oloroso sherry butts – that would be where the amazing panoply of flavours got a helping hand, I’d say.  Rums like this one explain something of why I am prepared pay the extra coin for small batch creations – it’s a bit hit and miss, I concede…but not here.

Occasionally I go on a real multi-hour bender (usually out of boredom) – these days somewhat more rarely, of course. Still, with most rums I polished off a standard bottle in a few hours…this one is so smooth, so tasty, so complex — so good — that the experience (were I ever to perpetrate such a discourtesy with such a gem) would take half the night, yet feel like it’s over in five minutes.  There are some words I always hesitate to use in a review because it sounds so much like mindless genuflection or commercial shilling, but here I have to be honest and say, from the heart, that I think this rum is exquisite.

**

Mar 302013
 

D7K_0123

A proverbial harridan of rums, thin, dry, harsh and critical of everything you do with and to it. I call mine “Jimbo.”

(#146. 75/100)

***

Coruba. That brings back memories. Remember that original shuddering bastard of a mixer I reviewed some years back? It was made in Jamaica but mostly sold in New Zealand, with a trickle going in other directions (like Alberta, or Europe, where a friend picked it up for me for about fifty Euros). It was rough and tough and a powerful inducement to give up spirits altogether. I wrote rather humourously in my original Coruba review, that one should trot it out – generously – for favoured enemies when they come visiting, which I thought may have been a bit harsh. Until I ran into its twelve year old brother, that is.

To paraphrase Josh Miller from the Inu a Kena blog: “I’m mixing a twelve year old Jamaican rum! WTF?”. But it’s true.

The source of this rum is probably a young Appleton (reasonable, since it’s made by the Appleton boys at J. Wray for the Swiss based concern “the Rum Company” which may be as far away from Fassbind’s Secret Treasures line as you can get). In 1967 the Coruba rum was first imported to Europe: its name comes from the name Companies Rum Basel (or Compagnie Rhumière de Bâle) – which is the name of the company in Jamaica which was among the most famous of the islands’ 128 distilleries at the time when the original company was established in 1889. In 1929, the Rum Company Kingston was founded under the management of Rudolf Waeckerlin-Fiechter in order to complete production process of the rum in Jamaica. Since 1962, the marque has been produced by J. Wray & Nephew, and the blending and the bottling for the whole of Europe still takes place in the Rum Company in Basel, which has become a part of the Haecky Group in the meantime.

D7K_0118

It was aged in small (no further description available) casks that once held (of course) bourbon and beyond that my research hit a dead end, and I was able to glean no more info on its constituents. But my feeling based on taste and profile suggested a column still product, not one from a pot still.

All this is window dressing through. Bluntly, this is one of the few aged rums I really don’t care for neat. Most are made with care and attention, and a view to rising up the scale to even older versions to come (take the St Nicholas Abbey 12, Cockspur 12, El Dorado 12, and the Appleton 12 as examples). And Coruba does have an 18 and 25 year old knocking about which I’d like to get and see if they up the ante a shade. But that pussyfoots around the central issue of this rum, and that is that it doesn’t work for me.

Take away the labelling on this bottle and what you’re actually left with is the English Harbour 10 year old bottle plus a wooden-cork combo stopper. Not anything to complain about, and actually, quite nice, even if the label was a bit busy to the eye (I’m a fan of beauty in simplicity). It spoke to its manufacture by the Rum Company out of Kingston, the ISW gold medal it won in 2008 and its ageing in “old oak casks” as well as its “handcrafted” nature, which just had me moving on with the same impatience I always feel in the grocery shop when I see idyllic rural farms and hard-working midwestern families pictured on a box of some industrial-level-manufactured product.

 

D7K_0129

The Coruba 12 year old was one of the lightest-hued aged rums I’ve had in a while, being somewhere between amber and honey-coloured (but not blonde). Both the Cockspur 12 and the El Dorado 12 with which I tried it, were darker. The aroma on opening was quite biting, and more than a little astringent – for a 40% aged rum I found this disappointing to say the least, because the other two competitors had noses that were so much richer and deeper – the best I could say about the Coruba was that I liked the subtle scents of flowers, fresh-cut grasses and faint lemon zest, even if it lacked some more complex fruity notes I would have liked. And let me tell you, like the serpent in the garden of Eden, there was an unwelcome note of excess nail polish coiling behind it all that was utterly discombobulating. Again…wtf?

Palate…meh. Thin bodied and both spicy and briny at the same time, a shade harsh on the tongue, like some Dickensian headmaster of old, rod held upright to whip my misbehaving, misbegotten behind. I am not kidding when I tell you that I tasted dry, musty, tobacco and leather first off (almost morphing into cardboard that’s been in the basement too long), with vague caramel, unsweetened dark chocolate, vanilla and burnt sugar notes following on as the rum opened up, followed by a flirt of ripe cherries. But all subtler, sweeter flavours were rapidly overrun by that salty, dry, tobacco background, which, now that I think about it, is probably why they named this one “Cigar”…not because the rum is good to have with one, but because it tastes like one. A dry one at that. As for the finish, sorry, no happy ending there…short, acerbic, unremarkable, and it sure didn’t like me much. Too dry, too peppery, and gave back not enough.

D7K_0131

Perhaps it’s a good thing that I merely sample rums to review, and am not a really regular or serial drinker. Because a rum like this, for the price it cost and the profile it presented, would make a normal person swear off rum for good and maybe switch to whiskies (and indeed, I think there are a lot of elements to this rum that an anorak might appreciate more than I would or did). Others with a samaritan-like bent might just use it to address battlefield trauma. Me, I’m just disappointed. Perhaps it’s a depressing rum for me because I had had higher hopes for it.

Long story short, this is a rum that if it were a film noir, I suspect it would have been that film at the point where it’s raining. Hard. Without the neon lights. Just as someone gets offed by his lady love, for whom he cared more than she deserved.

 

Mar 302013
 

***

Hardcore to the max. This thing eats bats out of hell for lunch. What a great, majestic rum.

(#130. 91/100)

 *

“The past is never dead” wrote William Faulkner. “It’s not even past.” Perhaps no rum I’ve ever tried proves that point more than this one. Gordon & MacPhail’s 58 yr old Longpond 1941 is an insane, extravagant orgy of self-indulgence, a freewheeling base-jump from the preponderance of hollow rums that sell by the truckload and whose names everyone knows, to the uncharted realms of uber-expensive spirits which serve no sane purpose. Surely this thousand dollar hooch is one of the wildest products a distillery has ever spoiled itself with – for, who would buy such a thing? And having bought it, who would dare drink it? But I tell you this: G&M have made a rum you might want to try (if you can) just because it exists – until Appleton issues its 75 year old in 2037 (or the 100 in 2062), I seriously doubt that there will ever be another like it.

Consider: in 1941 the world was at war; television was still a technogeek pastime for people with post-doctoral degrees, and radio was king; in spite of the decline of the British Empire, the sun still didn’t set on it; the transistor had not yet been invented and computing power 1/100th the magnitude of today’s iphone fit into several big rooms. Suburbs, discount stores, desegregation, the pill, franchise fast foods – all these had not yet touched the populace. While this barrel slumbered (the rum was taken to the UK in 1946 and then to Elgin where G&M is headquartered, to further age in 1967), the world around it changed – you can truly say, when you sip this, that you are going back in time.

Nosing this golden Rip van Winkle of a rum was, I admit, a fairly kinetic event. At 50% ABV, would you expect anything else? Strong, deep aromas threw me to the ground and assaulted my senses with rich scents of rubber and wood, some kind of Indian spice (samosas? cumin? maybe some turmeric?) and light citrus, minty, grassy notes (I like to believe this is the sugar cane itself, except I know it don’t smell like dat) and a last bash of cedar. All in balance, all strong and absolutely smashing. This was a surprisingly decent nose for something I had feared would be nothing but oak, and when I tried it I was reminded once again of why stronger expressions are fast becoming my preference.

As for the taste, well, it was not the dark and heavy billy-club to the face I was expecting either: a massive arrival, strong and intense, spicy and nicely heated without being obnoxious about it, those cedar notes became more pronounced and acted as the core around which swirled a grassy-like hay flavour, burnt sugar, dried fruits, bananas, prunes and raisins. It exited at last with a long-lasting, dry, smoky-leather flourish, retaining herbal notes of crushed sugar cane juice, and leaving behind a memory of glistening green lawns and wet earth after a warm summer rain. Taste flowed smoothly into fade in a way one cannot help but be impressed by, honestly.

These words are the bare bones – the rum is exceptionally good for its age, and while of course paying four figures for it is kinda insane by itself, I can’t say that it wasn’t a deep, flavourful product, a beefcake of heat and hi-test which could wake up a dead stick. It’s just not made like most other rums, y’know, with colouring, deep brown sugar notes and a “rum” profile (no additives in this baby). In fine, this is a product made without compromise, without affectation, without any attempt to please. It stands proud and defiant, secure in its Olympian awesomeness as perhaps the oldest commercially produced rum, ever. It sneers at El Dorado’s 25, eats Rum Nation’s superb-but-gentle offerings for lunch, smiles pityingly at the Courcelle 37 year old, and casts a merely disdainful eye at the Appleton 50.

Longpond as a distillery still exists in Jamaica, after many changes in ownership; they make the 20 and 25 year old rums to this day (alas, unfound and therefore untried by me), and have shipped much stock to the UK over the decades, hence the independent bottlers’ consistent issuing of new variations with their name. The SMWS 9 year old 81.3%, is a good example of the cheerful manner in which startlingly original variations of its products are made, and all I can say is thank you, because it shows the levels to which rums can seriously aspire, at any age.

Still, at end, there is absolutely no reason for the rum to exist. It is certainly not worth the price I paid for it – if one were to judge on nose and taste alone (although for its geriatricity, it’s right at the cliff edge). But what a rum I did get: a huge, snarling, elderly, cask strength monster from out of the past, with a taste profile that shames today’s timid and vacillating producers whose only criteria is how many cases they can move in a year, how best they can smoothen out bite, calm down unadventurous boozers and soothe unpracticed palates.

“Buy me, buy me…I won’t hurt you,” they cajole and coo to the masses, but G&M ignored ‘em all and went their own way…took a cask aged beyond all reason, waved their magic wands, blessed the barrel with the tears of virgins and the incantations of druids… and issued this one of a kind bottling. In doing so, they reminded us all that we can still produce something utterly off the scale if we just have some courage and are willing to act, after dreaming mad dreams of greatness.

 

Mar 302013
 

Pretty good all rounder, marred somewhat by an excessive spiciness that lends itself well to a cocktail without enhancing the rum as a sipping spirit.

(#129 . 77/100)

***

 Appleton’s Reserve rum from J. Wray & Nephew (in business since 1825) out of Jamaica — recently in the news for its 50 year old rum as well as a controlling stake of the main Trinidadian conglomerate being acquired by Campari — is a product that is an order of magnitude better than the entry-level V/X, assuming you use it for what I think it’s meant for: a mixer. The V/X, which is from the low end of the scale of Appleton’s products, is not meant to be a sipping spirit (though of course you can) and the Reserve is a step up from there (still has a cheap tinfoil cap, mind). Yet it still hasn’t broken into the category of rums you can pleasurably have neat – that, in my opinion, begins with the quite excellent 12 year old (although the cap remains the same).

The Reserve is a blend of twenty different Appleton pot-still and column-still rums aged for an unspecified period (I’ve heard eight years) in Jack Daniels barrels. Given that Appleton does not have a five year old rum – an odd omission in its lineup, I think – I find the eight years possible, but surprising that it is not mentioned as such right up front, since rums between five and ten years of age are often referred to as hitting the sweet spot before the blender’s art kicks in to start masking and smoothening out the inevitable oak prescence of ageing beyond that point

Initial arrival of this amber rum was quite sharp, and the characteristic Appleton signatures of orange zest and citrus were evident right away. Once it settled, one could perceive some winey notes commingled with bananas, cloves, caramel and burnt sugar…and an oakiness I really didn’t care much for.

That oak (something I’ve whinged about as far up the food chain as the 21 and 30 year old) made the taste of the medium bodied Reserve somewhat less than it could have been, because really, it was a shade sharp and raw. Uncouth and unlettered, one might say. There was a smoky background that started to come out, enhanced by vanilla, butterscotch and maybe nutmeg and cinnamon to go along with the citrus notes, yet those tannins imparted a sharpness to the whole which I did not find appealing – in fairness, I must simply concede that the V/X was sharper and thinner still, so this one certainly won out by being incrementally better.

As for the finish, it was as short and biting as a pissed off Shetland and to my mind, nothing really earthshaking – it’s about what I would expected taking into account the foregoing, although with some ice to tame it down a shade, it became a lot better, with a sly butterscotch and cinnamon close (I don’t really recommend this, by the way, but that’s a personal thing).

Summing up, then, I think that for all my complaining about the spiciness of the whole, the Reserve is a step up from the V/X. It has the characteristic Appleton taste profile for those who like it, slightly dialled down. It’s edging gently (but not quite all the way) into the territory of rums one can reasonably drink by themselves…is just a shade too heated and biting for true enjoyment in this manner. The problem this creates for the Reserve is that it makes it neither fish nor fowl – I can get a cheaper, decent mixing agent in the V/X, and a better sipping rum at a reasonable price in the twelve year old…which leaves the Reserve sitting — like a forlorn second child not knowing whether to play with its older sibling’s friends or younger one’s dolls — rather uncomfortably in the middle.

 

Mar 302013
 

Though not as in your face as its older brother, it’s still too oaky for me.  It’ll be the bees knees for anyone who prefers a rum with a drier mouthfeel, less sugar and more tannins in their rums than I do. This one’s all about opinion.

(#123. 83/100)

***

The Appleton Estate 21 year old rum has been around long enough for most reviewers to have had a chance to check it out…in my case, I simply never got around to it, having been less than enthused about the Master Blender’s Legacy, the blend of which it said the 21 forms the backbone.  Plus, there are so many other good 21 year old rums out there at a lesser cost (the El Dorado 21 and the Juan Santos 21 to name just two) that I haven’t felt the need to shell out the C$130 for it.

Be that as it may, the 21 is the one of the first of the company’s premium rums (the Legacy, 30 and 50 year old are the others, and others will argue the 12 year old should be on the list as well), and deserves notice.  Presentation wise it’s nothing special – tin can enclosure, and the same bottle and the same pressed on tin cap as the entry level V/X (a good mixing rum if there ever was one), which always struck me as odd given its supposed cachet as a top flight spirit.

The initial not-too-spicy nose of this 43% dark copper-coloured rum were deep and winey, with rich scents of dried fruits that almost, but did not quite descend to the depths of a wine-based spirit. Faint vegetal and herbal notes, with almost none of the signature citrus that are supposedly the hallmark of many of Appleton’s rums.  After settling down a bit, the pleasurable aromas of burnt sugar (not caramel) and light flowers made themselves shily known.

On the palate, as I have noticed in the past (and here), there was a certain driness in the medium bodied rum, something astringent, mitigated just enough by a heated smoothness that was far from unpleasant, yet transformed the 21 into something more akin to a cognac, also a characteristic of the El Dorado 15, as some have observed (mi padre being one of them). After a while, the sweet began to emerge from hiding in tandem with faint lemon rind and nutty notes (pecan? walnut?), and upon further opening, the 21 became a bit smoky, the sweet was overpowered, though a subtle whiff of vanilla could be noted coiling around the other tastes. I’d judge it bit better than the Legacy on that score, and the relatively long fade, which was a neat sandwich of orange peel, cinnamon and oak, cemented my opinion.

That said, I’m not entirely enamoured of the prevalence of the sharper oak tannins, which held, to me, a somewhat unhealthy dominance over the other, subtler flavours that never quite got their chance in the sun: I sensed they were there, but the defense was too strong.  The copper-still-made rum is a blend of molasses-based rums aged a minimum of 21 years in used Jack Daniels barrels, and so are others of similar age, yet with no other comparable product is the drinker fended away from more complex flavours (and bashed over the head quite as insouciantly) as here. Similar concerns over time have led me to downgrade my initially high opinion of the 30 year old.  The 21 costs enough and is premium enough, limited enough, for us as drinkers who fork over our cash to expect something more.

The thing is, I have a high opinion of Appleton and their products, the company’s longevity and even their rare and pricier bottlings (the 50 is a case in point, though I’ll never buy it) – what is happening more and more often is that I prefer to stick with their lower-tier products and use those as mixing agents for a pleasant late-in-the-week sundowner, rather than incur my wife’s not inconsiderable wrath and buy an overpriced hooch which after the dust has settled, simply does not deliver on its promise.

Now that’s just depressing.

 

Mar 272013
 
The press release photo…

A truly wonderful rum which is simply too expensive for regular drinkers, in spite of its quality. It’s just too out of reach for us proles, alas.

(#120 / 90.5/100)

*

“I have left instructions in my will,” growled Kanflyer on the Ministry of Rum, echoing the sentiments of many, “For my grieving (?) widow to take the insurance settlement, find a bottle of this and toast my memory with my friends…both of them. There is no way I could spend $5k on a bottle of rum while I’m still kicking around.” In two humourously pithy sentences Kanflyer (may his glass never be empty) encapsulated the rank and file’s opinion on Appleton’s most heavily hyped and most expensive production rum ever, the Independence Reserve.

Appleton’s 50 year old Jamaican Independence Reserve rum is so audacious that when I call it a vanity project, all you can really do is admire a company crazy enough to make it. Even with its vanishingly small production run of eight hundred bottles, you have to concede that here’s a product that really has no reason to exist at the price point of US$5000, which puts the 58-year-old Longpond at one fifth the price to shame.

The cost of this one bottle is high enough to make me a small one-man special interest group with some hefty clout in the capital.  For the price, I could fund the Whisky Pilgrim on ATW for a decade, buy enough Bacardi to keep me drunk until the Rapture, all the Renegades that will ever be made and just about all the El Dorado and Rum Nation rums currently in production (maybe twice). Quite frankly, there’s nothing that I know about to which I can seriously compare it unless it’s the 37 year old Courcelle from Guadeloupe, or the 58 year old Longpond from G&M (and frankly, I really wish people would stop saying that the 50 the oldest rum available in the world, because even if the Longpond isn’t the only other one, the fact that it’s there at all put a lie to Appleton’s press statement).

So it’s perhaps almost anticlimactic to discuss the characteristics of the rum (I was given a sample to try by Andrew of the KWM and had it again – twice – at a tasting event), but let’s forge on regardless.  The nose of the dark copper fifty year old began with notes of hay and grasses, and dark brown sugar melting in the tropical heat.  Freshly cut tobacco leaves, raisins, a hint of cherries.  My seven year old, who wanted to know what Daddy was doing, sniffed, opined “vanilla” and walked away.  But what coiled out and took over the balance was a kind of luxuriously heavy honey scent that really was quite heavenly. It blew away the thirty year old like yesterday’s news.

Distilled from molasses and aged in the standard used oak barrels, the rum is a blend of twenty rums whose minimum age is fifty years.  Distilling it to 45% was the right decision, I think – had it not been a little overproofed, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much (I was tasting it with the Appleton Reserve, the 21 year old and the 30 all together).  It had a medium body, and arrived with a luscious taste of fresh honey and nuts (no, not Cheerios), and had a deep and dark mouthfeel like velvet, no sting or bite, just a warm, slow heat that gradually revealed notes of cinnamon and lemon zest.  Yes there were oaky notes on this baby, just not as evident and unwelcome as the thirty turned out to have, and just the right amount of sugar in the rum gave it an excellent and harmonious balance.  The fade was long and lasting, redolent of leather and smoke and a faint nuttiness.  An excellent – no, a phenomenal – product all around, and while it may not be worth every penny of five grand, if you can get a taste, don’t pass it up.

Here’s the thing.  It’s a good rum, a great rum…perhaps even brilliant one.  Appleton have somehow managed to weed out the overbearing oakiness that to some (I have gradually become one of them) marred the 30 year old. It may lack the stern, uncompromising beefiness of cask strength offerings I’ve been sampling recently, yet the 45% strength is good for what it attempts, which is to be intense, flavourful and a damned good drink. I liked it a lot. It handily shows any 46% Renegade Rum the door.

But I honestly don’t know who is supposed to drink this rum, because at close to $200 per shot, I know I couldn’t, and actually, I’m not even convinced it is meant to be anything other than a collector’s piece for oligarchs, politicians, ambassadors, industry CEOs and the rich and powerful (and crass). Even Joy Spence remarked “This will emphasise the ‘premium-ness’ of Appleton. It’s a halo for the other brands of the estate to bring them up.” So it’s an advertisement rather than something for wide distribution, the way the Nikon F6 film camera is…great stuff, far too pricey and ultimately, kinda useless. This is a luxury rum on steroids, a sort of flagship marquee that bellows “Here I am!” to the world, like a pig-ignorant over-decorated geriatric driving a Lambo, ostentatiously tooting the horn at a traffic light.  It’ll provide the company, marketers, bloggers, reviewers and its fortunate owners with exactly what they desire, yes: but whether it’s exactly what they deserve…well, that’s quite another matter.

***

Other notes:

Tasted together with Appleton Reserve, 21 yr old 43%, 30 yr old 43%, El Dorado 25 43%

This rum review was long enough that I didn’t bother describing the presentation – I justified this breach of reviewing etiquette by telling myself that every press release and news article has already mentioned it, so I didn’t have to.  I may change that in a while after my backlog is taken care of.

Wait a while…I read in a Jamaican paper that Appleton is going to produce a 100 year old rum in 2062.  Pardon me if I don’t start saving for that.

 

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