Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘n’ badass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

(#281 / 86/100)

***

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself.  The SMWS on the other hand, does this stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom.  They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won.  You may feel exhilerated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing  74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on me – because, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it?  It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungent – the very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes.  That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip.  And with good reason – it was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese.  Christ this was hot – it was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaming…he’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!”.  Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmite…it was just difficult to find anything through that heat.  Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.  

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more.  But that’s not to invalidate how good this one is – about the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall?  Not bad at all – in fact it grew one me.  There was a lot more going on over time — so quietly it kinda sneaks up on you — than the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained.  The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Well…this one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay.  It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

Oct 152015
 

Sunset 1Hulk no like puny rum.  Hulk smash. The last and strongest of the overproof howitzers batters my glass.

(#235. 84/100)

***

It’s a giant of a drink, the most powerful commercial rum ever made, a gurgling frisson of hot-snot turbo-charged proofage.  0.5% additional points of proof and the black clothes squad with silenced helicopters and full SWAT gear would be rapelling down to my apartment searching for weaponized rum. It skirts jail-time illegality by a whisker, and I can truly say the only reason I bought it was anal-retentive machismo and the desire to say I had. Like every 151 ever made (but more so), it was a drink to be feared the way Superman crosses himself when he sees Kryptonite

The Sunset Very Strong Rum is equal parts amazing and puzzling. For one thing, it’s not entirely clear why St. Vincent makes such a juggernaut.  Bragging rights, maybe? Even with their proof-point, 151s are vastly more popular, and more common, so what’s the point of this one?  About all it could reasonably be used for, after all is (a) a killer cocktail or mixer like the Vincentian “steel bottom” (a man-sized chug from the local Hairoun beer, then top the bottle back up with the rum, pleasant on a hot day, but only one or two or your day would be done) (b) the fastest drunk ever (c) an economical boozer for those without deep pockets, since one gets two 40% bottles for every one of these, and (d) an excuse to use lots and lots of colourful metaphors.

The Sunset Very Strong is made by St Vincent Distillers, formed from Mt. Bentnick Estate which had its genesis at the turn of the 20th century; in 1963 it was sold to the government and renamed the St. Vincent Distillery. This company was itself resold to a private concern in 1996 but the name was retained and they remain in operation to this day.  The SVS originates from a two column stainless steel still – I am unclear whether the molasses comes from Guyana or new cane crops planted on the island, and nowhere is it mentioned whether any ageing takes place at all. (I’ve heard that it’s unaged, though I believe it is, just a bit).

I can tell this is boring to non-history buffs. Seriously, you want tasting notes on this thing?  To be honest, I don’t quite know where to start, since drinking the rum neat is an exercise in futility (no-one else ever will).  But whatever….

Sunset 2The (cautiously assessed) nose was extremely sharp, a glimmering silver blade of pure heat.  For all that, once the bad stuff burned off, I was amazed by how much was going on under the hood.  Initially, there was an explosion of an abandoned Trojan factory installed in the Batcave, fresh cut onions, sweat and oil, crazy crazy intense. Stick with it, though, is my advice – because it did cool off (a little).  And then there were vanilla aromas, some cane sap, coconut shavings and red ripe cherries, a subtle hint of butter lurking in the background. I looked at the glass in some astonishment, quite pleased with the scents that emerged where I had expected nothing but rotgut, and then moved on to taste.

Before you sip, a word of warning.  Move your cigar to the side. Make sure no sparks are nearby. Literally, take a tiny drop at a time. A teensy tiny one.  84.5% is so incredibly ferocious that even that small drop coated the entire tongue with a massive heated oiliness. And it was even a bit creamy.  Wow.  White chocolate, butter biscuits, philadelphia cream cheese on wonder bread, vanilla ice cream, nuts, nougat, toblerone, all dialled up to “11” (make that “12”).  To call this rum sharp or chewy might understate the matter. It had so much maxillary oomph that it might well cause the shark in Jaws to go see his therapist, yet it was remarkable how much I enjoyed it. As for the fade, well, come on, what were you expecting? Long and dry as speeches my father makes at other people’s weddings.  Ongoing notes of vanilla, butter, white chocolate (nothing new here).  But those few, clear tastes went on for ages – I think my automatic watch might run down before the closing notes of the SVS dissipate. And before you ask – yes, I really liked this thing.

At 84.5% ABV, the SVS is brutal, amazing, interesting, tasty, and will always be the most powerful rum of its kind…in shadowed corners of near-abandoned bars I’ve heard it whispered that it once tore an Encyclopedia Brittanica collection in half with its bare hands while simultaneously curing the common cold and giving birth to Def Leppard and AC/DC (at the same time). In the overproof rum pantheon, the Sunset Very Strong sits at the extreme top, next to that crazy bastard next door who claims to have brewed something stronger in his grandmother’s bathtub.

But as psychotic as it is, I can’t help but think this is what we’ve been looking for from the world of badass white full-proofs. It’s wholly ridiculous, impractical to a fault and so completely preposterous that it revels in its own depravity. Frankly, that’s just what a powerful Hulk-sized rum should do. And depending on your level of crazy, it’s either a blessing or a curse that the Sunset Very Strong Rum will rarely be seen beyond the walls of a local watering hole’s private stocks, amused fanboys’ homebars…or, perhaps, mine.

Other notes:

  • I must stress that originality is not the SVS’s forte.  The Clairins out of Haiti, for example are quite a bit more off the beaten track (if not as strong).  The SVS is actually a very traditional white rum, akin to Grenada’s Clarke’s Court or Guyanese High Wine, and serves primarily a local market (exports are relatively minimal outside the Caribbean).  Unlike those two, it’s merely torqued up to the maximum legal point and that provided the flavours it did contain with such intensity that it became a sort of masochistic reflex just to try it that way. But it was meant as a mixer, not a sipper, and should be tried that way, I think.
  • This rum is the most popular spirit on the island, and is often seen as the kill-divil of overproof choice in many other small Caribbean islands catering to the tourist trade. It is almost always mixed. Word has it that it’s so popular in St Vincent, that when stocks ran out after a shipment of Guyanese molasses was held up at the port, riots nearly ensued.
  • A year or so after I tried this rum, I scored one even more powerful – the Surinamese Marienburg 90%.  That one was stronger, but I liked this one better.
  • Thanks to Robert Bradley for the note on the SVG “steel bottom” variation.

 

Jun 092015
 

D3S_9003

I just imbibed an angry blender set to “pulse”.

(#218. 79/100)

***

Even now, the words of the Roman poet Horace, resound: “Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.”  Every time I try one of the barking mad overproof 151 rums, these words come to me, because all I can think is that some mischievous guy in a lab somewhere is happily whipping up these rums like Professor Snape in his dungeon.  Surely there is little reason for rums this powerful to exist, but exist they do, and just like all those crazies who eat suicide wings by the cartload, I’m drawn to them like a rice-eating mongrel to the outhouse – gotta see what’s in there, why people constantly troop in and out, even if there’s a risk I might fall in.

Cavalier 151 is one of the select entries into the pantheon of 75.5% overproofs made by companies as diverse as J. Wray, Tilambic, Bermudez, Bacardi and Lemon Hart…and a few other rums even stronger than that*.  Honestly, there’s not really much point to reviewing one of these from the perspective of advising a drinker whether to have it neat or not, and what its mouthfeel compares to.  These porn-inspired liquid codpieces are made for local markets, or for cocktails which channel a Transformer on crack – not for more casual imbibers.

The Cavalier is from the same outfit that produced the English Harbour series of rums as well as the long-out-of-production Cavalier 1981 . It’s a straw coloured rum distilled from fermented molasses, and aged at least 2 years in used American bourbon barrels.

Some of that ageing shows in the initial profile (I let the glass sit down for about half an hour before approaching it). Yes it had some of the fierce, stabbing medicine-like reek of almost pure alcohol; it also had an appealing kind of creaminess to it, with a vague background of fruits and berries (blackberries, soft blackcurrants and the sharper spiciness of red ones), some faint vanilla…it was more than I was expecting, to be honest.  If tamed, I could almost sense the aged English Harbour expressions coiling behind.

151 Label

As we might expect, on the palate, the thing turned feral.  I know the label says it’s a “refined and mellow rum” but if you believe that, then I have some low tide real estate you really should look at. It was deep and hot and spicy to a fault, and care had to be taken not to take too large a sip lest my my gums fell out.  The heat and power of this overproof were, as with most others, its undoing as a neat spirit.  First neat and then with water, I sensed muted flavours of vanilla, leather, some smoke, caramel, butter cookies, all wound around with coconut shavings, followed by more black-currants and blackberries – they were just all so faint, and the heat so intense, that it made picking things out something of a lost cause, as it more felt like I had just swallowed the freshly stropped shaving razors of the Almighty. No issues with the finish – long, long, long, hot and spicy, with a last sharp puff of coconut and biscuits left behind to mingle with some vanilla.

So, yeah, of course it’s a little unrefined.  With that much alcohol in the liquid, there ain’t a whole lot of space left over for the finer things.  Yet flavours were indeed there, however mild and overawed by the raw booze…and they were very nice when I spotted them.  It supports my contention that overproofs as a whole are meant for deep and massive mixed drinks, barflies and bartenders and lovers of the Tiki, and not so much for any kind of snooty tasting. They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts, but in that very unsophistication lies their attraction (that, and some bitchin’ cocktails).

I would suggest that’s more than enough foolishness to get us all through a season of silliness or two. And it’ll put a ridiculous smile on our faces for sure. That alone might make such a bottle worth buying.

Other notes

As far as I know, rums stronger than the more common 151s are:

Feb 192015
 

Photo courtesy barfish.de

A relatively light and sweet potent white lightning that sits square between a white agricole and full-proofed island hooch, with a charm and power all its own.

(#203. 80.5/100)

***

The very first review ever written for Liquorature (and here) was the Antigua Distillers’ masterful English Harbour 25 year old 1981.  In later years, I had my suspicions about it – from the similarity of profiles, I thought it was a rebranded, perhaps re-blended version of the Cavalier 1981, which was an understated and excellent rum in its own right, and the sales of which must have caught everyone off guard. So when in 2014 I met a brand rep for Antigua Distillers, I asked him straight out whether one made up the bones of the other, and he answered in the affirmative.

I relate this trivia only to provide some background, because it was three years before I ran into any other rums made by that company, and was lucky enough to try two of them – the ferocious blow-your-hair-back 151, and the very interesting subject of this review, the white 65% Cavalier Puncheon.  You wouldn’t think it’s all that hot – I have this untested theory that in the main, white high-test like DDL Superior High Wine or J. Wray & Nephew white, tend to be for indigenous consumption, not really for the export market – but I’ll tell you, the Puncheon ain’t half bad.

It was a rum supposedly aged for a couple of years in bourbon barrels, before being charcoal filtered to colourlessness. This is one reason I tend to give white rums a miss when looking for something to buy – the filtration wipes out some of the flavours that (in my opinion) would enhance the drink, making most white rums somewhat bland and unadventurous, good mostly for mixing something else.

Here though, something surprising happened – there was still some torque left in the trousers as I smelled it, it wasn’t all boring dronish white vanilla cotton wool whatever-it-was milquetoast.  The rum was hot and spicy yes (by way of comparison, let me remark that it was not raw and sharp), and presented almost delicately, if this can believed in such a strong rum; with initial scents of sweet, light fruity aromas.  There were vanilla notes and white flowers as background, as well as a very faint grassy whiff, not at all unpleasant or jarring.

This unusual lightness, and sweetness, carried over to the palate as well.  Here, rather more was going on – honey, nuts – I kept thinking of cheerios, honestly – some cocoa, ripe yellow mangoes, vanilla and the barest hint of caramel.  The Puncheon was a young rum, of course, but that two years of ageing had its influence, for which I was grateful — it muted what would otherwise have been a furious amalgam of liquid electrical shocks to the tongue. Even the finish was pretty okay, being long and heated (no surprises there), closing off with fresh hay, vanilla, flowers again, and bark stripped fresh from an oak tree somewhere.

I won’t go so far as to say it’s a sipper’s rum – it’s a little too strong and uncultured for that – but it’s got more complexity than a white Bacardi, for example (and Bacardi seem determined to not piss anyone off, and so remove all traces of individuality from such white rums).  In fact, as I concentrated on it and took a few more sips, it occurred to me that maybe I could see the background to the English Harbour 10 year old take shape in the not-quite-docile taste profile. And maybe even some of the black-currant elements I remembered fondly from the 1981.

Recently, I’ve been on a bit of tear, trawling through an enormous volume of fairly expensive, top end rums.  Would it surprise you to know I don’t always want to?  Sometimes, all I want, all I need, is something straightforward to settle down with, a rum with some fierceness and heft, a solid exemplar of the distillers art and the maker’s machismo.  It doesn’t have to be a dark, funky rum oozing molasses and dunder from every pore, squirting its malevolent power in all directions. All it needs to be is a decent rum, a little strong, possessing a reasonably original flavour profile, that I can mix into a potent drink I can drown my sorrows in as I glumly watch my son the Caner Tot beating the crap out of me at StarCraft 2 or whatever other game he chooses to excel at this week.

It needs to be a rum, in fact, very much like this one.


Other notes

  • A puncheon was originally a high-proof, heavy-type rum first produced in Trinidad, at Caroni, in 1627
  • The Antigua Distillers web page makes no mention of this rum at all. It does not seem to have been updated since 2003.
  • I personally call this a full-proof, not an overproof.
  • Some notes on the history of the company are to be found in the Cavalier 1981 review

 

Jul 142013
 

D3S_7047

 

This feels and tastes mean, largely because it is. But 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. 88/100)

***

“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.

As for the palate, coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, in case your rum-drinking life flickers before your eyes. Once the fire subsided, 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, glute-flexing 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 overproof blending skill on your table (or your office desktop after hours).

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, trying to describe it in words, I am faced with bafflement. I don’t know. It’s crazy. This rum is liquid, industrial-strength factory effluent that tastes three times as good as it should.

 

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. 75/100)

***

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 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). In fact, some argue it fails as a rum period, because it’s not made directly from sugar cane juice or molasses. 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 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 (though the Sunset Very Strong 84.5% seemed to have found a way to work around that). 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, Stroh 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. And of course, it’s great for chest puffing exercises by all Austrians.

The great thing about rums is that there is a real lack of agreed-upon international standards and classifications (and enforcement of those standard that do exist), 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 agreed-upon international standards and classifications (and enforcement of those standard that do exist), 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, er, 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.

**

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. 81/100)

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, 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 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 monster, your eyes wobble and your sphincter seizes up, and still the rum keeps on coming.


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.


Other notes

Yes, there are rums stronger than this one: the 84.5% Sunset Very Strong out of St. Vincent for one. I tasted that one in late 2015 and it’s not half bad…as long as one exercises all the usual cautions. Oh and there’s the Marienburg 90% from Suriname, which is stronger in proof but weaker in quality than both.

Mar 272013
 

This review was posted first on RumConnection in two parts in May 2012.  Thanks to Mike Streeter who lends his site to such occasional contributions that exceed his normal article length.

***

My own, slightly edited (and scored) review which corrected some minor issues and changed the wording a bit, is below.  Suffice to say, this is one of those overproofs I really enjoyed.  I tried it by itself to write the review, but it’s as a mixer and base that this strong, dark Demerara rum really shines.

(#107. 79.5/100)

*

It’s big, it’s bad, and it’s tougher than a Brickdam jailbird’s meat ration. It’s 75.5% of tonsil-tearing muscle, a dark brown rum hurricane, and among the meanest, strongest rums available anywhere. Lemon Hart 151 stomps up to you (and maybe over you), casts you a mean, cold-eyed glare, and mutters into your traumatized corpus, “Fear me. Respect me. Honour my eye-watering awesomeness.” In the annals of badassery, this rum will always be one of Sweet Sweetback’s baddest songs.

Overproof rums are a rather astonishing display of rum-on-human violence, and the only drinks I can come up with where participants run the risk of traumatic injury every time they try some — to my knowledge, only industrial ethanol, Brazilian alcool, the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3%, St. Vincent’s Sunset Very Strong (84.5%), Marienburg 90 or Stroh 80 can claim higher alcohol levels. Yet they have their adherents (I am one of them). Yes, you can get drunk faster on ‘em, and yes, they make great cocktails, and yes, for those in penury how can they be beat? – but then they exist on a level beyond that, at a point in space and time where you find ultra-marathoners, HALO parachute jumpers and all those nutso A-types who actually enjoy taking a badass risk every time they try whatever it is they try. This rum is absolutely made for such people. Like any massively overproof rum, it is for the taster an equal mixture of pleasure and pain. Few are the surviving drinkers who do not bend a trembling knee after the fact in a showy, post-trauma, did-I-actually-drink-this? thank-you-Jesus-for-letting-me-live piety. Yet, is it bad for all that? I suggest not.

Coming at me, it sat on my table, dark, squat, ugly with brooding menace and the promise of violence in its dark brown-red stare. In trying it, I didn’t waste my time making nice or taking a sniff immediately, because overproofs usually have enough raw alcohol to stun an ox into catatonia; instead, I let the vapours burn off and the concentrated flavours settle. What I got for my trouble was the spirituous equivalent of a weaponized flatus on steroids – it certainly punched like it. Damn but this was strong. A shade muskier than I would have expected. Chopped fruit…oh, prunes, maybe Christmas black cake. My Aunt Sheila used to make cake that smelled like that, back in Guyana.

In the spirit of reviewing rums, I must confess to a certain masochistic pride at being able to drink any rum, no matter how foul or how strong (I can just see one of my whisky loving bête noires snickering “Isn’t that all of them?“). In this case, I’m glad I did, because the taste of the Lemon Hart isn’t half bad at all for such a hellishly potent overproof. Oh sure, it’s as raw as sandpaper on the palate, and I’d never tell you it was a sipper’s onanistic must-have…but there’s more taste there than you might expect, stronger, more intense. That’s what makes it work: I got a spicy molasses darkness mixed up with burnt brown sugar, bananas, licorice (again), baking spices, and just a sly hint of cinnamon. That last is reaching, though. Lemon Hart 151 is plain-simple, powerfully constructed and straightforward dy-no-mite, and I should not pretend it’s some kind of top end table tipple.

As for the finish, well, I run out of ways to describe it in flowery language, so, to be blunt: raw and harsh and had fumes like a porknocker’s searing effluent…made my eyes water, my throat cringe and my sphincter oscillate. To be fair, even through all that there were weak hints of brown sugar and cloves that cried to their mommies (the cask strength whiskies), as they attempted to emerge through the carving heat of the alcohol, so all was not lost. It’s a mixer for sure, yet surprises are in store for the persistent and slightly deranged who stick with it.

The base liquor for Lemon Hart 151 is made in Guyana (which immediately means DDL) and bottled by Canada’s Newfoundland Liquor Corporation, which also makes the Young’s Old Sam and the Cabot Tower 100 proof Demerara, both heavy, dark molasses-snorting rums that pride themselves in not catering to a connoisseur’s sophistication, and for both of which I have a sneaking affection. Previously Pernod-Ricard had owned the marque before selling it on to a privately held concern, Mosaiq, in 2010, and Lemon Hart does indeed have quite a pedigree….it was itself first marketed in 1804 by Mr. Lehmynn Hart as the rum of choice for Royal Navy when he created the Lemon Hart company in that year, having moved the business he started in the late 1700s from Cornwall to London. Whether they market it as such or not, in the darkness and strength of the current product, you can still see the whispers of that old maritime tradition. (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Pusser’s, Lamb’s, Favell’s, or Lemon Hart has the right to the crown of “Navy Rum”.)

I remarked once that overproof rums are getting to the stage that they can seriously be considered drinks in their own right as opposed to seeing them as only Tanti Merle’s black cake ingredients or mixologists’ wet dreams. Unfortunately, like single digit rums or popular blends, they labour under a cloud of perceptive disapproval, often thought of as no more than poor student’s tipples or backdam stand-bys for the bushmen I used to drink with in my youth. I mean, can you honestly see a guy who waxes rhapsodic over the English Harbour 25 year old buy one of these bad boys? Lemon Hart 151 for sure has little couth, zero class, laughs at complexity, and does not give a good goddamn about any of that (or your tonsils, so be warned). What it cares about is giving you a concentrated burst of simple, powerful flavours wrapped up in a sheet of such stunning white lightning that, when your DNA settles back from being devolved and you can speak coherently again, you actually can consider the rum as being…well…kinda good.

Addendum: this is the reissued Lemon Hart 151 which only started to hit shelves in the last year or so and lacks the 1.5% Canadian rum the previous iteration had…it’s not the original rum people may be more familiar with, which did have that inclusion.

 

Mar 262013
 

Originally Posted 25 December 2010.  Photo courtesy of Chip Dykstra’s Rum Howler Blog

(#061)(Unscored)

***

Let’s assume that there is a place where goodness reigns, the evil get punished, all kittens get rescued from trees and lotteries are won by the deserving. Trust me when I tell you that the Appleton 151 does not hail from here. This raging brown liquid is the Rum of Sauron. No, it’s Sauron’s dark effluent after he drinks the Rum of Sauron. Wussie whiskies such as the cask strength 60-percenters run crying to their mommies when the 151 approaches.

Appleton 151 is a dark, sinful, bottled morals charge, a mischievous indecent wink against our perceptions of rum. It takes no prisoners, expresses itself in four letter words, and is unashamedly, unapologetically vulgar. It’s a barbarian trying to eat with a knife and fork. You show this fella in public, you’ll either be arrested on sight or be accosted on every street corner being furtively, wistfully or eagerly asked “Where the hell can I get me some of that?”

The 151 series from any maker may be the ne plus ultra of overpoofs. Rums like this will never really be made fresh or new again. While I may be exaggerating just a smidgen, it is my considered opinion that distilling and blending techniques have now gotten sophisticated enough for overproofs to be taken seriously as drinks in their own right, and not just bases and mixers and cooking ingredients. You see, although generations of gleeful blenders and traumatized drinkers think otherwise, the purpose of an overproof is not really to cause you pain or get you drunk: it’s to deliver a concentrated flavor unobtainable anywhere else, at any other strength. And maybe to make a real bitchin’ cocktail.

As an example, take the Appleton’s nose. I wouldn’t recommend this, but this is what I did and you’re welcome to try: take a hearty sniff of this sour Klingon sweat. A massively alcoholic man-eating lion will leap fiercely at your defenseless snoot. You will fall back, feet excavating spade sized trenches from the ground, pounding frantically on your chest, not the least because your breastbone feels like it’s now somewhere behind your spine. Once the fire goes out and the spirit fumes have finished raping your beak, in between bouts of delirium you will remember that there was a deep caramel taste, a cinnamon shot, and a scratch of vanilla. Really. Personally, I think you’d be lucky to find your sinuses again (ever), but you see what I mean? The nose is a Godzilla of flavor if you stick with it and move through the pain.

Knowing it was my duty to take one for the team and complete the review in an appropriately stiff-upper-lip fashion, I sipped it when I managed to draw a thimble of oxygen into my seared chest and the uranium spill in my lungs reached its natural half life. This roughly equates to rapidly following up stupidity with an act of irredeemable idiocy. You’d think by now I’d learn to mix this stuff, but no…I had to take the taste neat, and a good sized one at that. Never let it be said, guys, that I wasn’t there for you when it counted.

Big friggin’ mistake. A lake of fire exploded. The sobriety I had fondly embraced became the sobriety I had just left behind. There was a concussive cchuuuff of vanilla, caramel and light citrus that scaped across my tongue just before I lost track of ten minutes of my life in one searing amnesiac flash. My tongue writhed like a serpent doing a rain dance, my tonsils vapourized, and my head spun as rapidly as if I had just been hooked up to the high-speed paint shaker at Home Depot. I lost twenty IQ points, and I swear the Appleton 151 caused my DNA to devolve on the spot. Ugh mug kook aagh.

I don’t know about you, but me, I gave up. Forget nose, forget taste, forget finish. Like all highly overproofed rums out there, there’s simply no point to it. It’s got a ferocious taste, sure, but let’s be honest: the 151 is not meant to be a garden party sipper or socializing enabler. Tasting notes are pointless here.

Because, guys, come on: all of you who are reading this and snickering, none of you ever tried this stuff for its bouquet, or aroma or its elegant fade, redolent of whatever-the-hell-they-added. You didn’t drink it because your Tanti Merle made a great Black Cake from it, and her eggnog was to die for. You drank it because you were young, because you were high on life, and because you wanted to get loaded as fast as possible. Because it was your passport to manhood among The Boys, because Grampi always had it, because la petite femme over there on the floor of the bottom-house Old Years party was giving you the eye and might kiss you later if she thought you had some balles. You drank it then because it was your rite of passage to all other rums that came after, and you drink it now because you want to remember the bright sharp days of your youth when the world was an apple in your mouth. So forget this review. Just put it away, pour a shot and enjoy the rum as a high test mixer.

***

Addendum:

In my more imaginative (some may call this drunken) moments, I like to spare a thought to that doyenne of master blenders, the Nefertiti of the Noble Spirit, and the queen we rumsters all worship: Joy Spence, the creative force at Appleton. Love the lady. Never met her. Drink all her hooch. I like to imagine her in the bowels of the Appleton estate, in a dark, dank, Lovecraftian cavern, a huge pyrex beaker the size of my first apartment bubbling and burping and farting over a superannuated Bunsen burner as she cackles and stirs the evil concoction within. A last flick of her wrist and the wing of bat and eye of newt joins the wart of toad and egg of..well, whatever. A raven screams shrilly somewhere, the cavern rumbles, lightning flashes, and the liquid within the beaker burns fierce green, then bright red, then fades to clear brown. Joy purrs happily, smirks, stirs one more time and draws off the resultant golden bile which is the ambrosia for her legions of the demented.

And calls it Appleton 151.

Yeah. That’s pretty much the way it’s gotta be made.

Mar 242013
 

First posted 2nd November 2010 on Liquorature. For an update, naming this rum one of the Key Rums of the World, see this 2018 review here.

(#046) (Unscored)

***

My trip to Toronto last October permitted me to taste rums that never would have made it to Calgary (one or two would never have made it anywhere), and since my circle of friends is admittedly small, and few of those travel to rum producing states, it’s not as if I would have gotten any of the last five subjects of my reviews from them either.  So kudos and thanks one last time to John, who opened his cabinet to my inquiring snoot, and let’s get to the review of the last rum in this decidedly odd series.

Rivers Royale is from the Spice Island, as is the Clarke’s Court, though River Antoine Estate Distillery is in Saint Andrew’s Parish on the Northeast coast of Grenada, while Clarke’s is from the south…apparently there is healthy competition for bragging rights on the island as to which is stronger (both are white overproofs), or simply better. Because I had the “bush” variation of the Clarke’s (which was, by the way, quite good), and because Antoine’s white lightning has a surpisingly robust flavor profile for an overproof, I’m not going to get in the middle of that particular dispute except to make this observation: Rivers is made the same way as it was way back in 1785 when the place was founded.

On the smaller islands like Grenada, commercial cane production is a thing of the past (partly this is a space issue, partly it’s the economics of world sugar trade), and most distilleries import molasses or raw rum stock from other places with more space available for economical cane cultivation (like Guyana)…except for River Antoine. These local lads don’t muck about.  They cultivate their own cane, reap it, process it and make the rum like they always made it, crushing the cane with a press whose motive power is drawn from an old waterwheel, concentrating the juice in open vats (John, who’s been there, noted rather sourly that it’s not impossible for bat guano to be a part of the mix, but I digress) then boiling it down in cast iron pots over an open fire fed by the cane remnants.

After fermentation, the resultant is distilled in an ancient copper pot still (copper supposedly imparts better (and subtler) flavours to the distillate than stainless steel)…the entire process takes abut ten days from cane to finished product.

It’s perhaps the only remaining distillery in the Caribbean that can make the boast of using such old fashioned technology, and it’s quite a tourist draw. What you get if you go to the estate-cum-distillery in person (and at factory prices, apparently) is the local version, bottled straight out of the still, at about 75-80% alcohol (stories vary), which is to say 150-160 degrees proof. I won’t swear to it, but I think John had the real McCoy, not the watered down version sold to western homeys so they can get through customs, and I say that because it was an overproof for sure, complete with the deep burn and raw sting of real moonshine…though I gotta tell you, surprisingly robust flavours came through.

The clear liquor I tasted that night had a medium body, with middling legs in my glass. The claws struck at my nose without hesitation, but after my eyes stopped watering and I rolled my medium rare tongue back off the floor, what I got was a rather welcome waft of…well, schnapps. A slightly floral hint.  Salt, brine, olives. As I’ve noted before, I don’t spend too much time trying to taste test an overproof, neat or otherwise, because the spirit burns out anything I might think I’m tasting (or which my imagination conjures up for me as my stomach ties itself up in complex knots and I try to turn myself inside out): on the other hand, I have to say that I don’t know what they did down there in Granada, but if you stick with Rivers Royale, you will taste cherries, fruit, maybe some orange peel.  Quite amazing.  And as for the finish, well, come on…who’re you kidding?  On an overproof?  It’s a potent likker with real power behind dem claws, and it sears deeply, and farts acid, but not in a way that makes you scream: it sure ain’ smooth like a more commercial rum, and that’s the best I can do for you.

There’s something about the overall interaction of all elements of this overproof that works for me, though. I liked the hand drawn, unpretentious label.  I liked the title itself, that air of old time creole French, and the old-fashioned way it was made. I liked the rum. It’s potent likker, and will singe your throat (and eyebrows if you’re not careful). It’s absolutely an island product and I don’t care what anyone says, for me it’s not really a true commercial export product that will one day show up in Calgary (import, strength and quality regulations probably won’t allow it) – I consider it one of those backwoods bashwars you’ll find as you tour the Caribbean, locally made and locally consumed, unpretentious and not giving a damn, rude and cheerful and unsophisticated, and quite simply, one of the best rums you’ve ever tried…one those rums you’ll be happy you’ve had once you’ve had it and will remember with a smile forever.