Feb 252014
 

D3S_8412

 

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

(#179. 81/100)

 ***

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

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

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

D3S_8421

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

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

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

A:8/10 N:21/25 T:22/25 F:18/25 I:12/15 TOT: 81/100

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

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.
 Posted by on February 25, 2014 at 9:39 am
Aug 092013
 

D7K_2785

 

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

(#177. 58/100)

***

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

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

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

D7K_2787

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

Like I said…a somewhat schizoid rum.

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

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

 

Other notes

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

 

A:3/10 N:16/25 T:16/25 F:14/25 I:9/15 TOT: 58/100

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on August 9, 2013 at 5:03 am
Aug 052013
 

D7K_2782

 

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

(#176. 60/100)

***

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

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

D7K_2783

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

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

There are many rums like Wood’s on my shelf, which says a lot for my affections when it comes to sweaty, prole-centric, cane-cutter rums I don’t necessarily sip. Cabot Tower 100, Favell, Young’s Old Sam are the first that spring to mind, but also Robert Watson, some of the old Enmores (better made, older and smoother but not quite as cheerily nutso as this ‘un), Pusser’s or Lamb’s. I’d place this one about on par with the Cabot’s (which scored 56).

D7K_2784

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

A:3/10 N:16/25 T:16/25 F:15/25 I:10/15 TOT: 60/100

 

Other notes

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

 

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by on August 5, 2013 at 4:11 am
Jul 142013
 

D3S_7047

 

This feels and tastes mean, largely because it is. Remember how the St Nick’s 12 purred love and red roses down your gullet? Not this baby. This one wants your tonsils for lunch. And yet, that doesn’t quite invalidate it as a decent product. I mean, just because it treats you like life on Keith Richards’s face isn’t an automatic disqualification…I just call it inspired insanity, and have (much to my own surprise) given it the highest rating I’ve ever awarded to a 75% overproof.

(#174. 76/100)

***

“Makes you strong like a lion”, the label remarks, in one of those tongue-in cheek references with which the SMWS likes to charm its buyers. After being battered into near insensibility (on more than one occasion) by the raging yak that was the SMWS R5.1 Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, you’ll forgive me for approaching the almost-as-torqued up 75.3% R3.4 rum with something akin to serious apprehension. I mean, I love strong and flavourful rums of real intensity, but it’s my personal belief that the folks at SMWS are snickering into their sporrans when they issue these massive overproofs, hoping that the lesser bred such as I will get a hurt real bad, be put under the table for the count, and swear off rums altogether. You kind of have to admire their persistence in the matter.

What we had here was a 75.3% rum issued this year (2013), with the usual obscure moniker “R3.4” which my research suggests makes the rum from the Rockley Still from the West Indian Refinery in Black Rock, Barbados. About which, I hasten to add, I know little, not having tasted their products (Bristol Spirits has a couple from there, which I hope to get my grubby little paws on one of these happy days).

D3S_7036

Dressed up in that delightfully tall, menacing camo-green bottle that is their standard, the R3.4 decanted a pungent, blonde-amber rum into the glass, quite innocently. Here, come try me, it seemed to invite, and you just knew it was suckering me in…fortunately, I had previously sampled its sibling, so I was prepared, having learnt my lesson by now: I let it stand, and then nosed it very, very carefully.

Bam! it went, right away, even after a few minutes. My God, but this was strong. Shudderringly odd, this was a rum in psychopath mode, a snorting, rearing mustang of pent up aggression. Creamy, buttery, slightly salty, almonds and peanuts stomped my schnozz right out of the gate. As sharp as a sushi master’s knife, yes, but Lordie, there was a lot going on here. As it opened up it presented even more: bananas, some mustiness and smoke, the faintest odour of Benedictine. I was impressed in spite of myself, and marked it high for sheer originality, because all other 75% rums (the 151s, if you will), were so straightforwardly simple and relatively uncomplex, that finding this plethora of nasal riches was a welcome surprise, no matter how strong they were.

As for the palate, well now, be warned and be enthused: ‘cause I’ll tell you, holding on to this rum and then sipping it, was something like knowing you are grasping a live grenade. You’ll want to coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, because once you do, it suddenly grows fangs, the liquid attacks your face like a gatling gun went off, and life gets a whole lot more precious. The same creamy chewiness from the nose carried over well upon arrival – butter melting in an iron skillet, fried bananas, all wrapped up in a herbal background I couldn’t quite separate out. Intense, very intense. Wood, grassiness, rosemary, sorrel, with a snarky element of smoky peat in there someplace making mischief. It honestly felt like it was powered with fire and brimstone, this one, yet nowhere near as barefacedly badass as any of the other 151 rums I’ve tried in the past…there’s some real couth here, honestly. But of course it is damned strong, and so warning of sobriety transmuted to drunkneness in 2.5 shots is not me being overly metaphorical..

The fade, as befitted an overproof rum, was quite long and very solid, heat and warmth without real spice, somewhat fruity, nutty, salty, and giving up last hints of oats and bran. I s**t you not, this rum was quite something, and Stuart, who was drinking it with me (he had been clouted about the ears with the Longpond as well, and was therefore understandably cautious with this one), liked it so much he immediately started calling around asking where he could get hisself some too.

 D3S_7038

All right, so let’s sum up. Short version, if you want a good time, no stress or aggro, buy something softer…like the Centenario Legado, for example. If you want to be astonished out of your socks by a rum explosion of startling, muscle-twitching originality, this is the one to get (if you can). You don’t need to be a rum snob, collector or even a rum lover to appreciate a bit of badass blending skill on your table (or your office desktop after hours). Were you to rock this baby during a World of Warcraft or Call of Duty marathon, you can just imagine fellow Geek Squad boyos, thumb warriors and cubicle drones quaking in fear.  That alone might make the purchase price worth it.

It’s been a long running gag on Liquorature that I resolutely refuse to admit that whiskies have pride of place in the spirits world, and the crown should rightfully go to the rums. Here’s one I wish we could get more of, ‘cause it kinda proves my point (it’s made by whisky lovers, much to my annoyance). Drinking this intense liquid javelin, recovering my voice and my sanity a while later, I happily compare it to the multiplexed joy of a conjugal encounter in a high-speed elevator, skydiving, base jumping, and of pulling my window blinds to find a winning lottery ticket attached to it. I don’t know. It’s crazy. This rum is crystalline, pharmaceutical-grade acceleration, an amour-fou of bliss and power. Suddenly, all of existence is reduced to simple clarity: C2H6O.

 

A:7/10 N:19/25 T:20/25 F:17/25 I:13/15 TOT: 76/100

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion. In this case, for sure.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on July 14, 2013 at 8:15 pm
Apr 042013
 

D3S_5204

With this brutally elemental full-proof, DDL has tamed the beast but retained the beastliness.

(#152. 82/100)

***

The makers of the Diamond Estate 1996 Full Proof must have received no end of emails and letters and online posts about how the Albion 1994 60.4% was a sissy pink cupcake of a rum meant for the weak, and how they demanded something with a tad more torque in its trousers. And so came the Diamond Estate 1996 15 year old from Velier or, as it is better known, the “please move over, delicate person.” I guess it was supposed to have a nice, genteel 40% kinda strength, but obviously somebody at DDL or Velier paid attention to the cry of the masses, and thought, “No. That’s too wussy. It’s too klein.” And therefore ratcheted it up to a rip-snorting 64.6%, which I’m sure you’ll admit, for a standard table rum, is kind of amazing. This baby would shoulder aside the Albion, batter a Flavell into insensibility, tromp all over the Stroh 54…and all for a reasonable price that would have Gordon & MacPhail or Cadenhead scratch their sporrans wondering how to translate wtf into gaelic.

Truth to tell, the Albion is the only other rum I have aside from the raging mastodons of the 151s to which I can reasonably compare this bad boy. It had a different, less stark presentation than the black-and-white of that particular full proof (yellow orange label and packing ain’t my favourite, but whatever) and it seemed a little less intimidating at first blush. Rest assured that this was merely a trap for the unwary, to lure you in prior to rampaging over your palate.

D3S_5213

The rum was a light mahogany in colour, with an initial scent that was amazingly unaggressive – heated, yes, just less than one would expect from a rum bottled at more than 64%. There was enough rubber on the initial nose to recall a Trojan manufacturing facility running full out, but this disappeared fast, and then waves of sumptuous aromas billowed out of the glass: deep, dark unsweetened chocolate, with hints of orange rind; jasmine blossoms, nougat, caramel, molasses, licorice, with a last nuance of camphor and medicinal undertones.

All these flavours from the nose came to more sharper and more clearly defined relief as I tasted it. You simply could not ignore a point-and-squirt, muscle-bound, nose-bashing throat-ravishing strength of 64.6%, of course – I’d be lying if I told you that, ‘cause in truth, the rum vibrated with enough power to shake the shag from my pipe. It’s remarkably well made in spite of that, though. At first, once the heat and spiciness became more tolerable, I tasted the aforementioned caramel, nougat and dark chocolate notes. Once it opened up, other flavours came forward: licorice, molasses, anise; leather and oak (less than you’d expect for a fifteen year old).And just as I thought I had the nuances nailed down, it coughed up blood and guts to show it was not quite dead, and presented a last note of marzipan and faint red wine. It didn’t have the deep fruitiness of the Albion, nor was it as sweet – and that’s a good thing, because it allowed the Diamond a uniqueness that went well with its brawny sibling.

D3S_5220

Finish: long; lasting; on and on, without hate or snarkiness, strong and heated and almost without end, closing things off with oak and well-oiled leather, chocolate and exiting at last with a last caramel flounce, like a Shatner who hates to leave the stage. Aggressive, yeah: I think the Diamond 1996 may be among the meanest, hairiest two ounces in the universe. It’s like the makers had a military fetish and wanted guns strapped to this baby…something that fires napalm, heat seeking missiles, and blows s**t up real good. Nothing else can explain why they so dialled up the volts when they issued this ragingly feral expression (unless they were aiming at the crown held by the SMWS Longpond 81.3%).

Rums this strong are like tools built to military specifications: they’re are almost guaranteed to be friggin’ insane and survive a nuclear detonation. But the Diamond Estate 1996 Full Proof is more than just a rubber-gripped pair of diamond-forged pliers that would crush the jewels of your daughter’s boyfriend with the miniscule pressure of a Keebler elf. It’s also an explosive addition to our celebration of overproof badassery. Can you tastefully blow something up with your boutique Panamonte XXV costing more than twice as much? Didn’t think so.

And therein may lie some people’s despite for it. They may not say it’s “too klein,” just that it packs too much punch. But come now: if you complain about the fierce nature of the Diamond you’re missing the point. Yep, of *course* this rum is just like reggae played at earth-moving volumes from speakers like young fridge: if you cringe away and say it’s too strong, well, sorry dude, but you’re too old. And you should switch back to tamer, less inspired, less imaginative forty percenters, good and smooth as they may be. Or, perhaps, to scotch.

D3S_5206-001

*

Other notes

There’s a weird absence of information on the DDL website about this series of estate rums, and later I found out that Velier has dibs on old barrels in their warehouses, and then creates the final product in Europe — I’m wondering where the ageing is done, though Luca Gargano suggests it is aged in situ.

Other expressions in the line are the Skeldon, Versailles, LBI, Port Mourant (there may be yet others)…l’m trying to track them all down.

Originated in coffey still and aged in oak from 1996-2011. After my suspicions on the Albion, I make no statements about the veracity of the origin still, but do confirm that it’s a damned good rum.

A:8/10 N:20/25 T:21/25 F:20/25 I:13/15 TOT: 82/100

Rating system (mine)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.
 Posted by on April 4, 2013 at 5:05 pm
Mar 302013
 

 

A victory of Nurture versus Nature. 

(#143. 63/100)

***

The Panama Red (named for some lady of possible legend in a story too long to go into here but which you can certainly google) is perhaps better categorized as a full proof rum, something between about 47-70%. I make the distinction in order to separate such rums from the standard strength of 38-46% and those we tend to think of as real overproofs, the 71-85% range. However, since it is termed an overproof in most reviews, I’ll just make the observation and move on.

Of all the stronger variations of rum I’ve tried - Cabot Tower, the various 151s, the awesome DDL Albion 1994 60.4% and the raging monster of Longpond 9 – this one may be among the most beguiling (not necessarily the best), largely because it upended many of my expectations. It is so well made that one might, on a first try, feel he was drinking a standard strength rum and only know the difference after attempting to rise a few glasses later and toppling in an unceremonious heap (but hopefully saving the bottle).

The first thing I noticed when comparing the rich red-brown Panama Red against other Panamanians on my shelf (the Rum Nation 18 and 21 year old, Cadenhead 8, Panamonte XXV and the Abuelo 12) is how almost perfumed the nose was. The others were solid rums in their way, with interesting profiles – especially the Rum Nation 21 and the Cadenhead – yet once the searing alcohol fumes blew away from this one, it evinced a remarkably different scent of jasmine, nutmeg, honey, nougat, cinnamon and nuts to go along with the slight caramel and burnt sugar under-notes. Of course, as one might expect from a more intensely proofed product, it was a bit sharp, just not unpleasantly so….another surprise.

And the palate was also very different, quite strong: there was something really light and springy, almost cheerful about it. I find that many high-test rums tend to be somewhat navy in character – more taste is added at the deep end to mask the fangs of alcohol. Not here. Spicy citrus and orange marmalade, sweet honey, white chocolate, figs and sharp yellow fruit – more like almost-ripe firm yellow mangos than bananas – and a sort of candied orange chocolate mixing it up with a very slight smokiness of leather and tobacco and oak. A little ginger, cinnamon and baking spices, really nice, and unusually smooth for such a strong rum — not on the level of, oh, the Panamonte XXV – that would be lying – but smooth enough for a 54% drink. I should point out that all these varied flavours are much more pronounced if you do a comparative tasting, as I did. And the finish was lovely, long and heated: oak tannins, tobacco and a last sly hint of orange peel slinking away into your memory and taking residence there.

According to what research I’ve cobbled together, the Panama Red is produced from sugar cane grown in Las Cabras de Pese in Panama (the distillery for Panamonte is also located there). The rum, made from molasses, is a blend of stocks aged in the usual ex-Bourbon casks for up to five years — oddly, the official website makes no mention of the real ageing: Jim Wasson, the CEO of Panamonte, was kind enough to provide the detail. Anyway, it’s all well and good. Yet to me – and I may be totally wrong about this, so feel free to make up your own mind or point me in the definitive direction of a refutation) – this kind of ageing does not normally impart a taste quite this rich, such a cornucopia of chirpy, limbo-dancing flavours to what is essentially a rather young rum. Now, because the interaction of oak and wood and climate, to say nothing of subsequent blending, is such a complex one, I hesitate to suggest that it’s been spiced and simply not mentioned…but I feel it is. Not that I mind – I’d just like to know for sure one way or the other. After all, given the wild popularity of spiced rums these days, there should be no issue with labelling it as such (which was the argument given by my Edmontonian rum chum, who suggested that this was why it wasn’t noted – because it isn’t).

The Panama Red is made by the same crew who make the brilliant Panamonte XXV, were involved with the Ron de Jeremy (tailor made for giggles and crude mandingo jokes), and perhaps even the same original stock as the RN Panama 18 and 21 (I’m on the fence about the Abuelos). There’s something in the subtle alchemy of all these rums – many of which have had the hand of Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez of Zafra fame touch them at some point in their development – that suggests a common ancestor coiling lazily beneath them all. Which just goes to show how masterful blending and ageing can begin from a similar base and then make something spectacular out of it. The nurture here may really be more important than the nature.

Perhaps what I really appreciate about the Panama Red is its overall smoothness, unusual in an oomphed-up rum, and its lovely palate and mouthfeel. Almost everyone I’ve met who has sampled it, expressed some level of astonishment at these characteristics, and all rated it higher than usual. And while I’m no lemming, and cast a more-than-unusually jaundiced eye on spiced rums as a whole (even assuming this is one) I must concede its quality, and give it a recommendation myself. Whether you want to mix it with something to create a subtle, taste-drenched tropical cocktail, or simply take it by itself so you and it can tango in tandem as I did, there is no question that if you like Panamanians, want something stronger, and are on a bit of a tight budget, the Panama Red is a pretty good buy.

***

 

A:4/10 N:16/25 T:17/25 F:16/25 I:10/15 TOT: 63/100

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:36 am
Mar 302013
 

Corentyne Thunder.

(#142. 80/100)

***

Full proof rums – I like that term. There’s a desert of rum strengths between 46% and 75%, the latter of which is what is often referred to as an overproof (for my money, anything over 50% qualifies). So to use “full-proof” seems right to distinguish rums in that arid wasteland of strength. They are the closest that rums will ever get, in my opinion, to the expressions of whiskies my sadly misguided Liquorite squaddies swoon over. I hang around those scotch swilling maltsters enough to understand the hushed and trembling voices, the bared and bowed heads and the misty eyes they get when speaking about “Glen Muddy 1993 Edition 57%”, or “Port Peathead Cask Strength Release 49 of 1975 60%” – here’s one of the few rums I’ve seen that matches such products strength for strength, style for style. Writing this, I fondly imagine the Maltmonster shuddering and shaking his head, muttering insalubrious deprecations under his breath at such insolence….and I smile.

The Albion 1994 rum is seventeen years old, and bottled at a beefy man-strength 60.4%, which made the tasting I conducted an equally nervous and exhilerating business. Even the dark, brooding bottle (somewhat relieved by a thick white cardboard enclosure), loomed menacingly over my seemingly defenceless glass – I don’t believe I’ve ever had so intimidating an experience since the Longpond 9. What came out of the monolith was a dark amber, almost mahogany rum, and the first delighted thought as I poured it out was, “”S**t, this is grog!”

The Albion wanted to prove to me that its ominous appearance was no accident. A thick-yet-sharp, fruity scent lunged right out of the glass, ready to fight, with sulphury notes of burning rubber and sun-warmed asphalt (remniscent of the older Rum Nation Jamaican 25) making themselves known right away. Then they exited the scene in a hurry, making way for deep odours of olives, raisins, black (definitely not red) grapes, heated without sharpness, which in their turn receded as the glass opened up, to reveal subtler hints of wine and sharp tropical fruits – mango leavened with freshly-cut, barely ripe papaya. White pepper and molasses fought for the last bit of nose that was left. A solid, fascinating and chewy nose, amazingly warm – for the aficionado, this might eclipse the el Dorado 25 year old 43% or the 21 year old, let alone Rum Nation’s new 1989 Demerara 23 45%.

 

The palate was as stunning as the nose had been. Full bodied and deep, oily and heated and without any hint of malice in its Mordor-inspired dark burn. The taste in the mouth was shamelessly aggressive, packing so many steroids that it wouldn’t surprise me if one day it would decide to grow out of the bottle. Slightly salty and dry, it thundered along like a mack truck of flavour – cranberries, orange peel, lemon zest, sea salt (yes, really), molasses, oak, smoke, softer red guavas (not white), a faint background of sherry and licorice, just enough to tease without asserting any kind of biceps. Yes it was strong, yes it was a beefcake (come on, 60.4%? of course it was) – and yet at no point did I feel my senses were being pillaged, raped or plundered. Frankly, it was one of the best, meanest, hairiest shots of my experience, handily eclipsing the SMWS Longpond 9 year old – it evinced the phantasmorgical labial clout of an acid trip. And as befit such a powerful drink, the finish was epic – long and lasting and just held back from bursting into flame, presenting a lingering aftertaste of licorice, lemon peel and oak. I served this up to two dedicated maltsters, and you should have seen them abandon their vintage Springbanks to try a few extra shots of my baby, wistfully asking where in Calgary I’d found it.

Albion is a sugar plantation (and village) in the Berbice county in the east of Guyana, once owned by Bookers McConnell, and perhaps more renowned for its cricket ground where famous international and regional matches have been played over many decades. From my perspective it’s more renowned for the unique rums of its sugar, but I confess to a small bias that way. Albion had a French Savalle still which I’m supposing made this product – but you see, although the box and bottle refer to a wooden continuous still, that can’t be right since there’s no wooden still in Guyana except those that hail from Enmore, Port Morant or Versailles (with only PM being continuous), so there may be some clarification required here.  Yet I have my lingering suspicions even withut that…the taste is too rich, too redolent of a PM rum, to be taken at face value based on nothing but labelling.  This rum was taken from several barrels originating at Albion prior to the consolidation. However, it was made not by DDL, but by an Italian/Swiss outfit called Velier (certainly one to watch) run by Luca Gargano. Before I knew this, I actually contacted my father and told him to talk to DDL’s higher ups about it, so impressive was the Albion, and it occurs to me now that perhaps an apology is in order.

I like Demerara-style rums best, with Panamanians a close second. Yet even within the Guyanese context there are rums and then there are rums. DDL’s El Dorados in particular are superlative: dark, heavy, full-bodied bastards, deep flavoured and aromatic to a fault. Yet in attempting to gain market share and widespread acceptance – as they have – they too timidly shy away from issuing rums of real power. Velier’s full proof line seeks to rectify this shortfall, and does it ever succeed. The Albion 1994 17 year old bashes the throat, buckles the knees, and brings tears to the eyes as it trumpets its beefcake badassery to the world. It may lack some creature comforts and doesn’t condescend to Pavlovian palates conditioned to softer 40% rums…but for those seeking a raw, powerful experience with a taste that reaffirms their cojones, this uncompromising, snarling medicine is just what the doctor ordered.

A:8/10 N:20/25 T:19/25 F:20/25 I:13/15 TOT: 80/100

***

Addendum. Fellow Mudlanders will know that Albion is closer to the Berbice River than to the Corentyne, and therefore my two word summary above is somewhat misleading with strict reference to geography. The Corentyne coast more reasonably includes Port Morant than Albion, which is actually East Berbice-Corentyne…in this instance I ask the reader to understand my reference to Mittelholzer, and therefore why I would use the term in such a context.

 

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:34 am
Mar 302013
 

 

A spiced Rumzilla. Interesting taste, lacking the cheer and laughter of the 151 proofers, and has nothing of the insane charm of the SMWS Longpond 81.2%

(#135. 60/100)

***

Few rums scare me like the Stroh 80 does. It’s like a Tuzemak on steroids, with much of the same obscurely vegetal and spiced choice of flavour profile, boosted by the resident blast bunny with some ethanol C4 to a massive 160 proof that’s as comfortable on the nose and tongue as a prostate exam given by Captain Hook. Stroh’s drone-delivered plastique of an overproof has always has been, to me, as self-aggrandizing as the suicide wings served with waivers I have to sign at my local bar. It is an absurdly large proof driving a rum that is to sophisticated tippling as a sledgehammer is to stone-carving — a tool way too crude to do anything more than destroy everything in its path.

It fails as a sipping rum of course, entirely because of its strength (even though that’s is how I had to try it). Mixing this rum is not only recommended, but encouraged, because if you have it by itself, it’s a bit like choosing a triple espresso instead of a single latte. It makes your drink just a shade … savage.

The Stroh 80 is a spiced, unaged spirit and not a spiced, aged rum – therein lies something of my disdain for it as a rum. One could reasonably ask what’s the difference, my response being that a rum is not made from sugar beets (as Stroh is reputed to be), is aged (even if only for a year), and Stroh’s lacks anything of the character all rums possess. I mean, observe the nose – after the initial blast of characteristic overproof plastique and plasticine and rubberized fumes dissipate and you recover some of your sanity (and find your nose again), what you’ll get is not caramel or burnt sugar or anything remotely resembling what you may be used to – but cinnamon, root beer, ginger and christmas cake spices, wrapped up in a hellacious burn.

And on the palate, it’s so strong it’s like getting a tattoo done on your tongue with a rusty set of needles by a guy who’s already high on this stuff. Your tongue will numb and turn into pterodactyl hide on the spot and your throat will feel it’s been savaged by a velociraptor. Sure you’ll get strong, amazingly intense sensations of black tea, ginger snaps, Tanti Merle’s christmas spices, some dried fruit (raisins and cherries for the most part), and a blast of cinnamon off the scale. It’s also oddly buttery, creamy, which is kind of interesting, and unusual. You may enjoy this. But at end, the titanic overproof nature of the drink just overwhelms: as I also noted in the SMWS Longpond 9 year old, 160 proof is simply excessive and serves no sane purpose beyond bragging rights. The finish is about all I find truly epic, because, like with all overproofs, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, and is surprisingly pain free (perhaps because I had already completed my writhing pain dance and had nothing left to scream about) – it’s heated and so long that one sip did me for ages. I kept thinking I’d been pilfering Santa’s cookies an hour later.

Stroh is an Austrian spirit, made by the Klagenfurt company since 1832, and available in variations ranging from 38% through to 80%. It was probably made from sugar beets deriving from an ethanol base to which spices were added because Austria-Hungary had no tropical colonies of its own to provide the raw stock. I’ve read that currently they use sugar-cane derived ethanol, yet when I was doing the Stroh 54 review some time back, I was advised by a reader that it’s still sugar beet based, so there may be some clarification required here. In any event, the rum is sold as such and meant primarily as a cocktail ingredient to make Flaming B-52s, jagertee, traditional Austrian pastries, and other strong punches where some oomph is required.

The great thing about rums is that there is a real lack of standards and classifications, and so just about anyone can make something from molasses or sugar cane or what have you, call it a rum, and who is to say different? The really bad thing about rums is that there is a real lack of standards and classifications, and so just about anyone can make something from molasses, sugar cane and what have you, call it a rum, and who is to say different? That’s part of the problem with the 80, which is so far off the scale that all the unprepared can do is shudder, retch yesterday’s breakfast onto the dog, and reach for the Doorly’s. Stroh’s – probably feeling they wanted to take the crown of the overproofs – distilled a drink for the Junkers class as a test for their manhood, meant to render any besoffner comatose on the spot.

What do I think on balance? Well, I sure wouldn’t drink this sucker neat for anything except to write this review: it could be weaponized with too little additional effort. On the other hand, I do like that creamy, spiced up profile for its uniqueness, yes; and the finish is biblical. And to be fair, Stroh’s is quite clear that they don’t make this as a sipping rum. But if you’re feeling like you need to impress the fraulein over in the ecke, and try drinking it that way, be warned: Stroh 80 really does dislike you, does not want to be taken solo, and it will hurt you. My recommendation is simply to leave it in the punch bowl for which it was made, and not risk damage to your liver by guzzling it on its own.

A:5½/10 N:16/25 T:15½/25 F:17/25 I:6/15 TOT: 60/100

 

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:11 am
Mar 302013
 

 

A serious rum contender for an middleweight-overproof title, but loses out due to a lack of polish and a glass jaw. The Cabot Town got this one by a TKO.

(#125; 53/100)

***

Much as I appreciate really good top tier, expensive and very old rums, I equally enjoy taking up what some might term lower ranked offerings: single digit rums, blends and hormonally unbalanced raging overproofs of any kind. In fact, as I’ve said on more than one occasion, I wish we could see more established distillers move away from 40% spirits, and exercise their muscles a bit with higher strength products. So when I stared at the shelves of Willow Park the other day, resolving to get myself something less pricey, my eye fell on the Mount Gay Eclipse Black 100 proof, which called to mind fond memories of the Cabot Tower 100 proof: and while the Mount Gay was nowhere as dark, 50% is 50% and I snapped it up.

As I’ve also remarked, presentation matters to me . And while I’m all for tradition, I admit to being quite attached to Mount Gay’s new sleek bottle design: flatter, taller, simpler. Very zen. You get a really good look at the colour of the rum inside: which in this case was bright amber…almost bronze. Too bad it had a cheap-ass tinfoil cap on top. Grrr. Maybe I was expecting too much for a $33 hooch.

Mount Gay and other Bajan rums are noted for their banana hints on the nose; this one was no different. Faint bananas, toffee, vanilla, brown sugar and a hint of cinnamon were preceded by a strong and majestic oaken sharpness that took its own sweet time dissipating. About on par for a strongly proofed rum. Sharp, for sure. I tried it in conjunction with the Cabot Tower, and that one was well muted: the two compared like a slow fire (Cabot) to a quick burning match on the fingers (MG).

The body was surprisingly light for such a strong product, like a diminutive American football player after all the equipment is taken off. The arrival was deep and almost cognac-like, and here the body bulked up a bit after pumping some iron and settled out as a solid middleweight contender, spicy and oaken, with a good heat to it. Peaches and apples and cherries with faint nutty undertones all wrestled in a surprisingly gentlemanly fashion for control of the palate, fading (again, in its own sweet time…this rum was in absolutely no hurry to depart your senses) in a gradually reducing heat, with a last cheerily overhard slap of bananas, fleshy fruits and burnt sugar, as if to say goodbye. Very firmly.

Mount Gay is known as the oldest rum distillery in the world – while the company was formally created in 1703 (hence the date on the “1703” rum and each and every bottle), rum production has been recorded there at least fifty years prior to that. Owners of Mount Gay over the centuries also had association with the St Nicholas Abbey estate, whose products I have raved about before. The refinery makes use of both column and pot stills in its rums, giving the products a bolder taste, and in this case there is somewhat of a higher percentage of pot still distillate in the final blend, which is a combination of single and double distilled rums aged between two to seven years.

Overall, I’d have to say it’s a little too spicy: both the Favell’s and the Cabot Tower (the only other 100 proof rums currently in residence on my shelf) have that power, yet neither tried to stab me quite as brazenly: their makers muted the initial sting and subsequent harshness by some subtle alchemy the Mount Gay lacked or never bothered to try working on. Maybe it was because it was an overproof; even among rums there has always been a sort of sweaty, Brando-esque ‘bad-boy’ glamour surrounding the stronger rums, so who cares if they toss you against the wall a few times? Isn’t that what they’re all about?

I doubt many will seriously try the Eclipse Black as a sipping rum…most will use it as a mixing agent, and here perhaps the venerable coke or ginger beer are solid options before heading into subtler and more complex cocktails. If I had to make a comparison with other rums, I’d say the deeper flavours of the Cabot Tower appeal to me more, and the Favell’s is also quite excellent in comparison, as is the Panama Red (tasted but not yet written about), largely as a result of a slightly smoother finish and darker, more complex profiles. Yet the Mount Gay Eclipse Black 100 proof is a solid accomplishment by any standard, and proves that before Mudlanders complain too much about the Bajans, the flagships of Demerara Distillers and Banks DIH could perhaps seek to make a few high-standard overproofs* as well. That might not shut anyone up, but at least then they would have equal bragging rights.

A: 5/10; N: 16/25; P: 12/25; F: 14/25; I: 6/15; TOT: 53/100

(*Guyanese High Wine does not count since it is primarily for local consumption and cannot seriously be termed “high standard”).

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 8:11 am
Mar 242013
 

Raw white overproof, fun to drink mix or celebrate with…as the Jamaicans have long since known.

First posted 01 November, 2010. #045

***

To be honest, I’m not entirely clear why people – aside from binge drinkers, students and serial alcoholics, whose motives are clearer — bother to drink white overproofs straight on a regular basis.  The taste is simply too raw for real appreciation, in my opinion (though I have had several “full proof” rums which avoid this sharp stiletto to the palate, so it’s by no means a hard and fast rule).  But I suppose they’re like those long distance runners who believe that twenty six miles is for sissies, and run ultra marathons instead. Tail end of the bell curve, or something like that. Or maybe they got used to in their youth in an old-country beer garden, or some trading post-cum-rumshop in the backdam; or believe it makes them more macho; gets them high faster; mixes better.  Who the hell knows? If it’s one thing I’ve discovered in writing these reviews, is that there is as wide a variety of tastes as there are rums, and what is derided by one may be equally praised (fulsomely so) by another.

Whatever the case, there is actually a pretty good market for overproof rums among drinkers: overproofs are supposedly for cocktail bases and cooking purposes, but that never stopped anyone I ever met, male or female: one of my most enduring memories of working (and boozing) in the bush is a young Amerindian girl, passed out dead drunk on the Baramita airstrip, a bottle of Brazilian 99% alcool clutched tight in her left hand, and I know men who simply pace themselves better with strong spirits than with weak ones.  That said, as I was researching and reading online readers’ fora about Stroh 54 (and 80), Bacardi’s 151 and the Clarke’s Court Pure White, knowing what I knew about Guyanese “High Wine” and now writing about the J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof, it seems to me that some people simply prefer it. And that’s perfectly proper.

The white I discuss here is bottled at a relatively mild 63%, which would make scotch drinkers quite happy, I suppose.  It is, as any rum aficionado can immediately tell you, manufactured by the Jamaican boys who make Appleton Estate rums: and while the Appletons are easily purchased the world over, I get the impression that this white lightning is not easily or commercially available outside the Caribbean – which is indeed where my Torontonian squaddie John had picked it up on one of his sojourns to the Islands.  It may be the single most popular rum in Jamaica, and mostly drunk mixed.

Therein lies the rub.  Drinking an overproof of any kind is not a matter of sipping it neat, or even on ice.  The J. Wray variant in this review is pretty strong, searing stuff without question: a massive, raw, ethanol delivery system that could knock a platoon out by breakfast time with one quick inhale.  At the inception the white has almost no taste: it’s pretty flavourless beyond some kind of smoky, oil-fire kero tang coiling behind the nasty burn, which means that it’ll take on the flavours of whatever you chose to mix into it. Sure you might get some hints of orange peel, licorice and a peppery kind of spiciness at the back end (nose?  what nose?), but truly, the only way to get any enjoyment at all out of something like this is to mix it, because all tastes are burned to a crisp by the spirit fire fairly fast (and in the distance I can hear the sneers of the Maltmonster as he delicately noses his favourite Ardbeg, neat).

Do that and this transparent medium body rum fares rather well, I thought (not without a little surprise). It makes a mean bastard of a Cuba Libre, a deep and strong Mai Tai that kicks the crap out of you in labba time, and I can almost guarantee that there isn’t a household of Jamaicans – expatriate or homeboys – who don’t have a bottle of this stuff kicking around.  Like Guyanese with their XM five, it has all sorts of social connotations: crack a bottle and immediately you pour a capful on the ground to return some to those who aren’t with you; have a housewarming, and grace the floor with a drop or two; touch of the rheumatiz? – rub dem joints with a shot; mek a pickney…put a dab ‘pon he forehead if he sick; got a cold…tek a shot and rub a shot.  And so on.  Of course, it must be noted that all the usual safety advisories are in order as well, given the flammability of something this close to pure ethanol.

I have gained a sort of sneaking appreciation for overproofs, including this one, because while it lacks the subtlety of a more refined 40% variation (subtlety? don’t make me laugh…the thing is like a charging brontosaurus on steroids at rutting time), it makes an intense, strong, powerfully tasting mix with whatever you decide to chase it. Try adding cola to a 40% low-ender and then to the White Overproof and try and tell me this one doesn’t have more character, more taste, more…well, cojones. It absolutely is not afraid to charge the gates and get the hell off the reservation.  When you drink J. Wray’s clear hooch, reader, there’s no ifs, ands or buts — you know Elvis has left the building; and didn’t just exit, he took off with rocket-powered, turbo-charged steel-toed boots. And a jet pack.

So if you believe that major rum producers have pussied out and are producing too many high end, over-sugared, liqueur-tasting sweet drinks (like spiced rums, underproofs or Pyrat’s) for the masses of the unwashed and the hordes of the rabble (like myself); and if you think your chest lacks sufficient cylindrical, keratinous filaments; and that you are swinging a pair of weighty ones that should be addressed by a man’s drink — well, then it’s entirely possible that you are just waiting to buy a gallon or three of this popskull, made by one company that remembers its roots and continues to distil a real rum.

Always assuming, of course, that you do not already own some.

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 7:41 pm
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