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. 72/100)

The 57% post 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, 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.

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.

LC Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating = 72/100.  Conversion to “standard” scoring = 86 points)

 Posted by on December 1, 2014 at 3:19 am
Jul 152014
 

D3S_8380

 

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

(#182. 80/100)

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.

A:8/10 N:20/25 T:21/25 F:18/25 I:13/15 TOT: 80/100

 

LC Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating = 80/100.  Conversion to “standard” scoring = 90 points)

 

 Posted by on July 15, 2014 at 8:29 am
Mar 302013
 

D7K_0123

A proverbial harridan of rums, thin, dry, harsh and critical of everything you do with and to it.

(#146. 50/100)

***

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.

A:5/10 N:13/25 T:10/25 F:14/25 I:8/15 TOT: 50/100

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:46 am
Mar 302013
 

***

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

(#130. 77/100)

 *

“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 a mad folly, an extravagant orgy of self-indulgence, a free fall from the reality 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) for no other reason than it exists – I seriously doubt that there will ever be another like it.

Consider this: 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 Bam-Bam 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.

A: 7/10; N: 20/25; P: 21/25; F: 19/25; I: 10/15 TOT: 77/100

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 8:30 am
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 . 51/100)

***

 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.

A:5/10 N:10/25 T:13/25 F:15/25 I:8/15 TOT: 51/100

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 8:24 am
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. 62/100)

***

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.

A:7/10 N:15/25 P:17/25 F:13/25 I:10/15 TOT:62/100

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 8:04 am
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. 81/100)

*

“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 the 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), 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 product all around, and miserly as I may be, I’m scoring it high (for me).

Here’s the thing.  It’s a decent rum, a good rum…perhaps a really good rum, even a great 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 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 Lamborghini Countach tooting its 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.

 

 Posted by on March 27, 2013 at 8:14 pm
Mar 272013
 

The most searingly powerful rum you are ever likely to try. Do not simultaneously bloviate and drink this, or spontaneous combustion may occur.

(#119. 62/100)

Don’t be frightened. A rum like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s R5.1 Longpond 9 year old, bottled at a grinningly ferocious cask-strength 81.3%, isn’t really out there to kill you: it just feels that way.  I used to laugh at the way Bacardi 151 and Appleton 151 made wussie forty percenters run a hot chocolate delivery into their pants…well, here’s one that takes it a step further and indulges itself in a level of industrial overkill and outright belligerence one can only admire. It’s a Longpond, it’s cask strength, its over 160 proof of tail-whuppin’ badass.  Tread warily, because it smells your fear.

For rummies out there who, like me on occasion, are not so much into whisky lore and tend to flip an insouciant bird at the maltsters (for my whisky loving friends reading this, it’s the other guys, not you), it should be noted that the SMWS has a stated philosophy of taking what is in the barrel out of the barrel, and bottling it as is.  Bam.  Take that. No muckin’ about, no weak-kneed nonsense like “drinking strength” or “dilution with distilled water” – what you had been ageing is what you get (you can just see the boys at the Society politley ignoring the rums of Cadenhead and Renegade).  As for the R5.1, much as you might think this is an amped-up Audi supercar on steroids, it just means it derives from the first barrel of rum bought, and the 5th distillery from which they have bought it, in this case, Longpond out of Jamaica.

The corked green bottle was marked with the SMWS logo, details of origin, and tasting notes (clicking on the photo above will enlarge it so you can read, if you wish), but since I don’t read others’ tasting notes until I”ve made my own, I just went straight ahead and decanted a hay-blonde spirit into the glass.  And here I must warn you that while it smelled fantastically original, you simply could not ignore 162.6 proof – that’s not far away from pure alcohol and the aroma is therefore, a shade nuts.  Medicine, grass and freshly turned sod, with strong briny and iodine overtones, yet not so much as to make me suggest peat, more like a weird plasticine some crazy kid wants to play with (note to my friends – I refer to others’ children, not yours).

The arrival was strongly heated, as if Satan’s brimstone-flavoured pitchfork was smoothly stroking my palate.  Yet there was a trace of honey and chocolate mints there also, among the medicine and the grass, and while the turpentine evident in the taste suggested a failed artist had breathed on this baby, I have to acknowledge its overall complexity, even if it wasn’t really to my taste – I’ve continually whinged about rum moving above 40%, but 81.3% is simply too much. Maybe regular cask-strength whisky drinkers would drool over this powerful drink more than I would.  It does make a cocktail that is simply incredible, mind you.

And I must say this — the finish is, quite simply, awesome: it goes on and on and on like a pornstar on a performance bonus…I’ve never had anything remotely like it.  Five minutes after my first swallow, the fumes were still meandering up my throat in what may be the longest finish I’ve ever had, even if it does remind me somewhat of iodine flavoured camphor balls. And then, just when other rums (Lemon Hart 151Stroh 80 or Bacardi 151) run out of steam, the R5.1 accelerates…burns hotter, pushes harder, gives more. This experience quickly exhausted my curses in six languages and I was reduced to weakly muttered childish wows and holy cows. Trust me, after several glasses of this unbelievable monster, your eyes wobble, your sphincter seizes up, and still the rum keeps on coming, like a rampaging rhino on crack.

So: the taste is biblical, the arrival is extraordinary, and the finish so strong that if it was more it would be practically nuclear and be banned by all free nations: it’s a tonsil tearing, all-out assault on your sanity. This rum should be issued with not only health advisories, but camo-green (oh wait…).  It may not be the best rum you’ve ever had (though it’s probably the strongest you’ll ever try), but you can believe me when I tell you it’s absolutely among the most original.

“If in your travels you see God,” says a modest Hattori Hanzo, the ultimate sword-maker in “Kill Bill,” when the Bride was selecting a katana, “God will be cut.”  I like this kind of becoming humility in a craftsman.  It’s a kind of reverse arrogance, acknowledging a self-evident mastery so overwhelming, so off the scale, so beyond mere hyperboles like “fantastic” or “zoweee” that there’s actually no need  to mention it at all — the product speaks for itself.

The makers of R5.1 Longpond 9 year old fall into this group of such self-deprecating uber-senseis.  It’s not that they have made a rum excellent enough that God will smile, help himself to a second roti and curry goat and pour you both another shot, no (although this is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility) – it’s more like they created a concoction so incredibly powerful, so fearsomely, mind-numbingly strong (and good, let’s not forget) that if, in your travels, you did meet God in a beer garden down by de backdam, then trust me…God would get drunk.

 

 

 Posted by on March 27, 2013 at 8:13 pm
Mar 272013
 

 

An Italian outfit takes on the big boys from Scotland in grand style with a 25 year old of stunning originality and quality.

(#103. 76/100)

***

The Rum Nation Specially Selected Jamaica 1985 25 year old is a limited bottling rum that is a big vaffanculo to the commercial establishment and hoi polloi of drinkers. No Model T of rums, not meant for the masses of drinkers and cocktail mixers, it’s a rapier, not a club. This rum was meant for people who really like ‘em, and especially appreciate rums that are rare, unique and as different from the standards as, oh, 2011’s “The Artist” is from 1927’s “Wings”. When Rum Nation said this is a single domain rum, they were serious, and they didn’t give a damn if the rest of the West didn’t get it (not surprisingly, they’re almost unknown here).

Everything about the presentation of this $165 rum had that old fashioned genteel-ness about it. It was packed in a stenciled wooden box with a sliding panel; the box itself was lined with jute sacking. The bottle was cork tipped and unpretentious, and sported a Jamaican stamp from empire days on the label (the Demerara 23 has a similar motif). If you’re sniffing and asking “so what?” well, consider that the St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old is half the age, and a quarter again the price, and while absolutely excellent itself, is nowhere near as unique (though the etching is admittedly prettier).

You think I jest when I say “unique”? Consider the nose. Tire rubber as thick as a black strip laid down at the Boulevard in Georgetown by a rich kid’s Mercedes braking too fast assaulted me right away. Plasticine coiled right behind it. What the hell? And yet that faded, replaced by the damp smells of wet autumn leaves. Rich earth and a nip to it that recalled memories of my younger professional days when I rested up in Europe and went for long walks on cobbled, windswept streets in old cities. And then that was replaced by fleshy fruits and heavier floral hints (apples and green grapes), all mixed up with a hint of tobacco.

On the palate, things got a lot better…. caramel and lighter fruits (apples and green grapes), merging with rich, aromatic pipe tobacco and more leather than you’d find on a well-outfitted Bentley. Not overpoweringly sweet. No citrus notes of the sort Appleton has taught us to expect in Jamaican products, though perhaps a little oaky (not enough to dissuade me from having more, mind you). And smooth, very smooth – that inauspicious start merged into a really lovely sipping rum – top class all the way, no matter how odd it sometimes became. And the fade was smooth and long lasting, with a background of burnt sugar, nuts and cherries and even here, a bite of that crazy rubbery note that seemed to want to stay there just to piss me off a little. My personal take was that whisky drinkers are gonna love it.

A comprehensive take on Rum Nation will wait until I have both more details and all the reviews of their products up on the site. In brief, this Italian outfit has brought out a stable of current releases that I found so intriguing that not only did I buy the entire line in one go, but in my estimation they should be thought of in the same breath as the better known Cadenhead, Gordon & MacPhail, AD Rattray and Bruichladdich. They take stocks from various Caribbean island nations (this pot/column still rum was sourced fifteen years ago) and then mature them for however long they feel like in ex-bourbon casks, with a finishing in ex-sherry casks, and then they bottle it without adding anything further…well, no wonder they taste so distinctive.

Now, I’m not going to tell you flat out that you’ll like this rum. It certainly will have rubbery notes and feinty tastes to it which many will despise with all the hot-eyed zealotry (and lust) of a Roman eyeing a vestal virgin. I was hoping I’d never have to write these words, but for sure this is an acquired taste for you as an individual – I don’t think I myself could have given it a fair shake as recently as a year ago. All I can say as a reviewer is that I thought it as crazy and offbeat as a modern-day Jeff Spicoli; smooth and strong and well put together, and maybe a little stoned — and if Rum Nation has not, perhaps, made a Model T like the Bacardi Black, or a Ferrari like the English Harbour 25, then believe me when I tell you that they have made a beautifully jazzed-up Aston Martin DB9 with as much leather as Judas Priest and more rubber than Janet Jameson’s boudoir…and maybe just forgot to fumigate a little.

A:8/10 N:20/25 T:19/25 F:17/25 I:12/15 TOT: 76/100

 

 

 

 Posted by on March 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm
Mar 262013
 

 

***

Big, stompin’ rum maybe meant to be a mixed-drinks base but really good neat. Definitely helpful for getting loaded when dollars are tight; interesting when mixed in any number of cocktails. Feeling lonesome in some cold winter clime and miss the Ole Country? This will cure what ails you.

First posted 29 January 2012 on Liquorature. 

(#92. 61/100)

***

I don’t always get top end rums like Barbancourt’s Estate Reserve 15 year old to try, and often, I don’t even want to try them. Sometimes, like most people who’ve had a hard week, I just kick back with a glass of hooch that makes no pretensions to grandeur, pour it, mix it and glug it, and like the fact that it’s just there to make me feel better. Myer’s Planter’s Punch Dark Rum falls squarely into that category, and joins – maybe exceeds – fellow palate-deadeners like Young’s Old SamBacardi BlackCoruba or Potter’s at the tavern bar. These are single digit rums or blends, meant for mixing (cowards cut them with whisky) and for my money, they’re all sweaty rums for the proles, displaying a remarkable lack of couth and subtlety – I appreciate them for precisely that reason.

Pour a shot of the stuff and you’ll see where I’m coming from: Myer’s is a dark brown-red, oily rum quite distinct from Appleton’s lighter coloured offerings, and the scents of molasses, liquorice, nutmeg and dried fruit don’t merely waft out onto your nose – they gobsmack your face off. Once you stop crying like a little kid at the neighborhood bully or staring at your glass in wonder, I imagine you might try to recover your dignity, and observe how you can detect caramel, vanilla, perhaps a bit of nutmeg, coconut, citrus. Quite encouraging for something so cheap (less than $25).

The tromping arrival of unleavened flavour square-dancing across your tongue is perhaps the main selling point of a rum like Myer’s. What is lost in subtlety is made up for by stampeding mastodons of a few distinct profiles that actually mesh quite well: caramel, coconut shavings, molasses, fruit, burnt sugar with maybe some orange peel and baking spices thrown in. There’s a weird butteriness in the taste somewhere… maybe from the ageing? Overall, I wish I knew for sure whether they augmented the profile – as I think they have – with any additives: a rum this cheap is unlikely to be this interesting merely on the skill of a blender (if it was, it wouldn’t be so cheap). And there’s a fade here, boys and girls, but it’s strong – more like the exit of a gentleman bank robber discretely blasting away with his gat than the soft silken swish of something more polished. And it’s long, very pleasant – this is a rum which could easily be stronger and still be good.

Mix Myer’s Dark Rum in a Planter’s Punch, in a dark-rum cocktail (feel free to consult Tiare’s excellent site a mountain of crushed ice or any tiki site for ideas) or just mess with the old stand-bys, and the few weak points of the drink as a neat drink are smoothened out and it becomes an excellent base for whatever you feel like making. I’m reviewing it as a sipper, as I must, but this should not discourage you from trying other variations.

Canadian rum…is there such a thing?

Myer’s Dark Rum is hardly an unknown, of course, having been a staple of the cocktail makers’ bars the world over for decades: It was indeed made specifically to address the popularity of Planter’s Punch (which could be equally said to originate in a recipe dated 1908, or in a Charlestonian doggerel from 1878 depending on who you ask). The company founded by Fred Myer in 1879 is now owned by Diageo, and they continue to blend nine rums out of Jamaica at the southern distillery of Monymusk (the plantations of origin are more secret than Colonel Sanders’s recipe) into the drink that we know today. Monymusk, as you may recall, also makes the middling Royal Jamaican Gold rum, which isn’t anywhere near as fun as Myer’s. Aside from calling it the “Planter’s Punch” variation, it is supposedly the same as that first produced in 1879, made from Jamaican molasses, and a combination of distillates of both pot and column stills, then aged for four years in white oak barrels. I’ll also note that my bottle clearly states Myer’s is a blend of Jamaican and Canadian rums, at which I immediately sneer and say…well, “Bulls..t”, not the least because after years of crisscrossing the country in my beater, I still haven’t found a single sugar plantation and therefore I somehow doubt Canada has a rum of its own.

I have to be careful in assigning a rating to Myer’s. It’s not quite a sipper (damned close, though), but some of my review must address the sheer enjoyment I get out of it both as such, and in a proper mix – and even if it *is* added to. Like Young’s Old Sam, it exists in a somewhat less hallowed underworld of rums embraced by bartenders and not so much by connoisseurs, and which some believe must be braved only with fireproofed throat and iron-lined stomach for the crazies who drink it neat. It’s strong, powerful tasting, heavy on a few clear flavours – and doesn’t so much whisper its antecedents as bellow out the sea shanties. It may not be the coolest rum you’ve ever had, or the smoothest, but by God, when you’ve tasted this thing you know you’ve just had a *rum*.

 

A:6/10 N:18/25 T:16/25 F:12/25 I:9/15 TOT: 61/100

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm