Aug 242017
 

#384

The rhums of Chantal Comte have been of consistently high quality throughout my relatively brief acquaintanceship with her brand.  Mme Comte, you may recall, is an independent bottler with the twin advantages of having a long association with spirits (she is the owner of a wine making chateau in France) as well as a boatload of familial connections and wasta in Martinique.  The La Tour L’Or HSE, the 1980 Trois Rivieres and the 1977 Trois Rivieres rhums were all products that impressed, and I had thought so even when my experience with agricoles was more limited.  There was something about the richness and subtlety of the final products she issued that simply could not be ignored and many of them were under ten years old, which was and remains its own endorsement.

After the positive experience of the 1977 Trois Rivieres and the purring incandescence of its cousin the 1980, one wonders whether such a run of great agricole bottlings can be sustained, time and again, each new generation topping the previous one.  In short, not really – these are variable rhums, pricey rhums, not always easy to get: and the 2001 Reserve Speciale, while no slouch by any means, didn’t quite ascend to the heights as some others did.  

That’s not to say this is a bad rhum, or even a merely-average one.  Oh no. It’s quite a delectable drink. Consider first the nose which started off relatively easy, as befitting its 45.5% strength, providing aromas of faint rubber and acetone, green apples and pears and florals.  It didn’t stop there either, with a sort of creamy, nutty cheese, plums and apricots, a flirt of oak and vanilla and nougat adding to the panoply.  It occurred to me that this was hardly a standard profile for an agricole at all, what with the lack of clear, herbal, grassy, sugarcane sap smells – but you weren’t going to hear me complaining too loudly, because what slowly billowed from the glass was quiet and pleasant in its own way.

The palate of the golden coloured juice from La Favorite sort of broke up the melange by pivoting to tastes that were more precise and distinct.  It was warm, medium bodied, and quite firm. One could sense peaches, more plums and fresh-cut apples, cider, plus sea salt and white pepper and ginger cookies.  After resting and with just a smidgen of water, there was more: lemon zest, florals, vanilla for the most part, and I have to admit, I liked it a lot — it presented as warm and musky and earthy and clean, all at once, in a sort of quietly enjoyable amalgam of flavours, not too many, but well and carefully assembled, so they don’t elbow each other all over the place.  The finish was kinda short, and dry, but in this case that was okay, since it closed up the experience in a calm and easy fashion, without any spicy aggression that threatened to skewer nose or tonsils.  It was, compared to a very good beginning, somewhat weak, and nothing new came to my attention aside from the earthy tones and light fruits and florals.

This rhum was distilled in 2001 and bottled in 2008, making it seven years old and had an entirely respectable 3100 bottle outturn.  It makes mention of being a ”Appellation Martinique Controlée” product but since this is not an AOC designation one can only wonder what that was all about or whether it was a misprint. I merely mention it because it seemed so odd.

So, in fine, it was enticing, tasty, well rounded, without harsh notes of any kind, I liked it a lot and consider it a worthwhile addition to anyone’s agricole shelf. The title is also something I appreciated, even though it had nothing to do with the product itself. It translates into “Traveller’s Tree” and is a symbol of hospitality on Martinique — it provokes images of dusty travelers in lands far away, stopping to relax under its shade so as to rest weary feet and aching body, and partake of the water caught in the gently swaying fronds.  And maybe have a shot of this rum. The romantic and storyteller in me likes the concept, because after a tough day at any endeavour, I could just see myself pouring a shot or two of this quietly delectable seven year old and shedding all cares.  Maybe even under a tree.

(86/100)

 


Other Notes:

Rum Corner reviewed this rhum, much less positively. We both sampled the thing at the same time, at the famous 2016 ‘Caner Afterparty in Berlin, so this must come down to a difference in palate and final opinion.  Cyril of DuRhum also tried and wrote about it…way back in 2013.  Always ahead of the curve, that man.

Aug 162017
 

#383

When one tastes a raft all kinds of rums from around the world and across the ages over an extended period, there is a normal tendency to look for stuff that’s a little different while still conforming to commonly-held notions of what a rum is.  After all, how many times can one try a basic rum redolent of molasses, caramel, sugar, banana and maybe raisins and citrus without getting a little bored?  Well, for sure there’s no shortage of new and interesting popskull coming on the market in the last few years, and I’m not just talking about the new agricoles, or the geriatric rarities released by the independents, but actual distillers and bottlers like Hampden, Worthy Park, Savanna…and that interesting outfit called Moscoso out of Haiti.  Drink some of their klerens, and believe me, if you’re afflicted with ennui, this’ll cure what ails ya…if it don’t put you under the table first.

Also called Barik (a creole word for “barrel”), Moscoso interested me enough to write a full profile of the company a few months back, and since that time they are aggressively seeking outlets and distribution in Europe, to say nothing of issuing all kinds of aged or unaged permutations of their booze. And my goodness, when you taste these things, the inescapable conclusion is they’re aren’t just rarin’ to take Barbancourt out back, kick the snot out of it and give ‘em a run for their money, but also casting narrowed snake’s eyes at the Velier-issued Vaval, Casimir and Sajous as if to say “Mwen nan bouda, nou zanmi”.

Perhaps they have good reason. Their 55% Traditionnel 22 was a rum that stunned and smacked the unwary with all the force of a Louisville slugger to the face, and yet I felt it had been reasonably well made, with much of that elemental joyousness that so marked out the other, better known clairins like the Sajous that have so impressed me over the last few years.  

Which is not to say you wouldn’t be a little startled by the initial smells given off by this 55% white rhino. I mean, I nosed it and drew back with widened eyes, wondering if there wasn’t some excess Jamaican dunder or balsamo-infused cachaca in there — because aside from the brine and wax and glue and shoe polish, I was also getting a barrel of rotting bananas and funk, mixed up with musky, damp wood and wet dark earth (which I’m sure you’ll concede is not normal for a rum).  It started out raw and fierce, and perhaps it needed some resting time, because after some minutes of letting it stand there (glowering sullenly around the room the whole time) additional aromas of freshly ground black pepper, cumin, masala, lemon peel and herbs became more prominent. “Meaty” is not a term used often in these pages, but here it was exactly right to describe what I was experiencing.

What elevated the rhum to something better than the nose suggested was the way it tasted. As seemed to be the case with all such Haitian whites I’ve tried, the nose was “da bomb” and the palate calmed itself down quite measurably, and a drop or two of water helped as well.  Here the sugar water and watermelon came through much less aggressively, as well as brine and olives, fresh cane sap, nougat (!!), some nuttiness and citrus (not much of that, a pinch not a handful), coming to an end with a long, somewhat dry finish which reminded me of sharp, damp sawdust of some freshly-sawn unnamed lumber in a sawmill (yeah, I worked in one once), as well as fresh grass, and sugar cane juice.

So…quite an experience.  Strong, distinct, flavourful, uncouth, odd, just on this side of bats**t crazy, and overall a pretty amazing drink – it would light up a cocktail with fireworks, I’m thinking.  On balance the nose of the original Nasyonal earned my favour, but here the taste profile carried it ahead – it was a shade more complex, tastes better integrated. Whether you buy into that premise or not depends a lot, I feel, on where in the spectrum of rum appreciation  you fall. I wouldn’t recommend it to a person now starting to branch out into white full proofs; and for those who prefer the softer, sweeter profiles of Diplomatico, Zacapa, Panamanians or dosed rums like El Dorado or Plantation, stay away.  For everyone else?  Oh yeah. Give it a try, if nothing else. And take a gander at what Mike Moscoso is making — because as he noted so elegantly up above, he’s coming for all of us.

(84/100)


Other Notes

  • This rhum is not a true agricole, the label is an accidental misprint which (at the time) Mr. Moscoso was too poor to fix and reprint. It is made from raw brown sugar liquified to 12-14% brix with 7-12 days of fermentation (using baker’s yeast). Distilled on a 12-plate creole columnar still, final distillate coming out at 65-70% ABV and reduced to 55%. It is unaged and blended from the various returns of the distillation run.
  • Points should be given to the company for issuing 200cl bottles for sale, aside from the standard full-size.  For someone on a budget who wants a taste but isn’t sure, those things are a godsend.
  • The significance of the “22” lies in the proof point.  Under the Cartier scale this translates into 55% ABV, while the more common Gay-Lussac scale equating to 55% / 110 proof is used everywhere else in the world
  • All clairins and klerens in my possession (six) were tried together, blind.
Aug 102017
 

#382

Renegade rums continue to hold a peculiar sort of fascination for me, because they were the first rums made by any outfit other than the big island producers or major corporations with which I came into contact.  They made it into Canada just as I was starting my rum scribbles, and were the only ones I saw for many years. Given our current familiarity with unadulterated rums made by independents, and adding to that something of a nostalgia factor, perhaps this Port Mourant succeeds better than it should, but I guess by the end of this review you can decide for yourself.

The bio of the company that got posted earlier this week provides most of the details of Renegade itself, so I won’t rehash them here.  This rum adheres to all the usual markers of the range: distilled in 2003, bottled in 2009 at the standard 46%, sourced from casks of juice from DDL’s Port Mourant wooden still (which raises certain expectations, naturally enough), and there’s that finish in Temperanillo casks for a few months (for the curious, Temperanillo is a rather full bodied red wine made from blue-black grapes in Spain). Also, and this is important, what we have here is not a single cask bottling, but many casks married together as part of Renegade’s production philosophy, and that’s is why the outturn is 6,650 bottles, and why, just maybe, you might still be able to get one with some judicious rumhounding.

And I think that would be a good thing, because this was a rum that channeled the spirit of the Port Mourant profile without entirely bowing to it, and provided an interesting twist on a well-known rum marque. That’s no idle fancy of mine either: when I nosed it for the first time I was looking for some of those deep woody, fruity and anise notes – none appeared. In fact the first aromas were of glue, rubber, brine, lemon-pepper…and beef stock (no, really).  Then came the olives, gherkins in vinegar and more brine, leather and smoke, coffee grounds, some vague caramels, pencil shavings, vanilla, oak…but where was the fruity stuff? I mean, it was good, it was intriguing, it had character, but it did depart from the norm, too, and not everyone will like that.

    Photo (c) Master Quill

The taste of the pale-yellow rum was also quite engaging: it was clear and clean, quite dry, and seemed stronger than it actually was (perhaps because it was so relatively young, or because it presented as ‘light’ – again, not what one would normally associate with a PM). Initial tastes were of fruit – white guavas, green apples, anjou pears and papaya, plus a tiny twist of lemon – before other background flavours emerged, mostly leather, smoke, pencil shavings, musty hay, cardboard and vanilla.  With water some more fruit crept out, nothing specific (maybe a grape or two), and the impression I was left with was more brandy than rum.  Frankly, this did not resemble a Port Mourant at all.  A note should also be made of a sort of minerally, ashy thing going on throughout, faint but noticeable and thankfully it was too feeble to derail the overall experience. The finish, though oddly short, was excellent – warm, easy, with citrus and raisins, some very weak molasses, and (finally!!) a flirt of licorice.

The profile as described above is exactly why I’ve always scratched my head about Renegade. I believed then (and now) that their finishing philosophy was hit-or-miss and sometimes detracted from what I felt would be an exceptional rum if left to its own devices. I imagine Mr. Reynier would disagree since this departure from the norm was exactly what he was after, and indeed, there were aspects of the overall experience here that proved his point – this rum may have originated from a set of PM barrels as modified by Temperanillo finishing, but what went into the bottles at the other end was a fascinating synthesis that might be difficult to define or even identify as a PM rum.  Which is both a rum geek’s attraction and a newbie’s despite.

On balance, I liked it a lot for its originality and daring, perhaps not so much for the final assembly and integration — a little more ageing might have done well, maybe a little less tinkering.  Still, the wine finish, however polarizing, was worn with panache and verve, and if the rum ran headlong into the wall in its desire to show off new ways to present old workhorses, well, y’know, I can respect that – especially since the rum as tasted wasn’t half bad to me. It may have lacked the dark brooding Port Mourant cask-strength menace to which Velier accustomed us, it may be a rum made by and for whisky makers…but I honestly believe that it was too well made to ignore entirely. Then and now.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

Alex over at Master Quill, who hails from somewhat more of a whisky background than I do, knowing my liking for the brand, very kindly sent me the sample, which in turn he did not like as much as I did. His review is definitely worth a look.

 

Aug 022017
 

#381

Novo Fogo is the first cachaça I’ve ever tried that went off the reservation and hammered me in the face even at a relatively staid 40%.  It was so different from the regular run of sugar-water-plus-local-wood flavours to which I had become accustomed in my (as yet) brief acquaintanceship with the Brazilian national spirit, that I literally pulled my face back from the glass, muttered a disbelieving “wtf?” and spent another five minutes closely perusing the label to make sure I had not been taken for a ride.  But no, it had been an unopened bottle, it had some tasting notes on the label not a million miles removed from what I was sensing, and it all seemed quite legit…except that it was about as subtle as a bitchslap from Ser Gregor Clegane on a bad hair day. And I mean that in a good way.

The producer of this interesting cachaça is a company called Agroecologia Marumbi SA, from Morretes PR (Parana) which is located in the south of Brazil, not Minas Gerais where supposedly the best and most traditional cachacas are made.  Novo Fogo (“New Fire” in Portuguese) is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of pride and quality, according to the distillery founder Fulgencio Viruel who started the operation in 2004. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still (another point of departure, since most of the well known cachacas are done on column stills), and then rested – not aged – for one year in a stainless steel vat before being bottled without any filtration or additions.  So there. Aged variations exist, but I didn’t get a chance to try any.  Given the impact this one had on me, I should really try some more.

I say impact not so much because of great beauty of construction or masterful subtlety of assembly, but because the thing is startlingly good for a standard strength Brazilian table tipple, if perhaps somewhat at right angles to others I had tried before – it’s something like a concussive Delicana’s Jequitiba, or an amped-up Thoquino.  Nothing demonstrated this more clearly than the initial nose (the very first note in my battered notebook was “Damn – this thing is serious!”) where I immediately sensed an intense vegetal aroma of rotting fruits, bananas, overripe red wiri-wiri peppers in vinegar (but without the heat). It was followed up by strong, distinct brine and olives, salt, wax, sugar cane sap and lemon zest, and frankly, what it reminded me more than anything else was a Clairin Sajous, if perhaps not as powerful.

Thankfully it did not sample as sharp as the aroma suggested and that might make it somewhat more approachable than those who took flight from the Sajous and its cousins (assuming one’s tastes bend that way, mind you – and that’s not a given).  It was quite heated, firm and crisp, rather rich and solid, with a more characteristic sugar water taste coming forward now, not entirely displacing the wax and salt and olives which persisted quite strongly (along with the peppers).  More lemon zest was here, some black pepper, apples, vegetals and some fleshy fruit like overripe pineapples.  The balance was a bit off – the brine and olives never really let go, which made the fruitiness recede somewhat and reduced my enjoyment, but overall it was an pretty good cachaça — if one keeps in mind my predilection for clairins, which this one closely resembled.  Finally, it closed off, rapidly, leaving behind nothing much more than the memories of swank, fresh mown grass and that lemon-pepper salt which my wife complains I overuse in what little cooking I can be persuaded to do.

Now, I’ve read online notes that talk about the easy entry, how it is smooth and soft, and then wax rhapsodic about its various competing flavours (the last of which I believe), but I stand here telling you that it’s not really as easy as all that: this thing is a dirty, off-kilter little dragon that seems to be just waiting for an opportunity to jump down your throat and toast your chest to medium-rare – but it’ll do it with finesse, with some style. It’s quite a fire-breathing, smoke-exhaling cachaça, and is in my limited experience the most original and interesting spirit of that kind I have tried to date. Admittedly I have an obnoxious love for obscure and powerful tastes that borders on the masochistic, so I liked the fact that here there was a rum — charged-up, drinkable, original and in its own way, quite remarkable — made in that same vein. It’s worth trying it, I believe, just to see where the whole experience goes, to spend a lot of time figuring out…and, perhaps, just perhaps, to savour.

(83/100)


Other notes

This review is quite late to the party since Novo Fogo has been available in the States for years (the first review I found dates back to 2011). And, as ever one step ahead of me, Josh Miller at Inuakena had run it through his 14-sample Cachaça Challenge back in early 2015 and rated it….wait for it…as his #1.

Jul 262017
 

#380

The independent bottler Secret Treasures is no longer the same company it started out as, and this particular and delectable Guadeloupe rum was selected by the Swiss concern Fassbind before they sold off the brand to Haromex in 2005.  So although Haromex is now making a new line of rums under the ST label (like the St Lucia Vendome and John Dore still rums I’ve looked at before), this rhum predates them and is part of the original line up.  Guadeloupe is, of course, somewhat general a term so let me expand on that by saying the rhum originates from the Gardel Distillerie located in the north-east of Grand Terre in the commune of Le Moule.  Gardel, owned by Générale Sucrière, a major player in the global sugar refining industry, is one of two distilleries in Le Moule (the other is Damoiseau) and earns some of its distinction by being the sole refinery on the main island.  I don’t think Gardel makes any rhums of its own but sell rum stock to brokers and others – however, there is maddeningly little information available and I’ve got some queries out there which may make me amend this portion of the post in future.

Some basic facts on the rhum then, just to set the scene: it was from the Gardel distillery, distilled 1992 and bottled August 2003 from three casks which provided 1,401 bottles (this was #327).  It was issued at a relatively unadventurous 42% which would have been fairly standard at that time, and one can only wonder what it has been doing for the last fourteen years and why nobody ever bought the thing.  Since I had and retain a sneaking appreciation for Secret Treasures ever since I had their excellent Enmore 1989, there were no battles with my conscience to buy a few more from their range.  Note that it is labelled as a “rum” (not rhum) and I have no absolute confirmation whether it was truly cane-juice derived, or where exactly it was aged (even Reference-rhum, that online French-language encyclopedia of rum brands, says “molasses” with a question mark under its entry).

In any event, whatever its ultimate source or point of ageing, I thought it was a zippy and sprightly rhum of initially crisp clarity and cleanliness.  Coloured orange-amber, it nosed in surprisingly bright and clear fashion, immediately giving up aromas of honey, flowers and 7-Up (seriously!); over a period of minutes a more solid briny background emerged, accompanied by perfectly ripe fleshy fruits – peaches, apricots, sultanas and raspberries.  Not particularly fierce or savage – it was too laid back and standard strength for that – but a very enjoyable nosing experience, the sort of easy going yet sufficiently assertive profile to have one curiously going deeper into it just to see where the rabbit hole led.

Aside from a certain lightness to the profile, the palate provided a soft series of tastes, which were fruity, floral, musky and delicate all at the same time.  It was hard to know what to make of it – initially there were flowers, fudge, salty caramel, coconut, and vanilla, counterpointed with lemon zest, green apples, grapes and peaches.  After a while additional flavours evolved: maple syrup, aromatic tobacco and vague coffee.  Some of the crispness of the nose faded into the background here, and overall it did not present the sort of complexity that would advance it to the top shelf, but it was distinct enough to grab the attention, and at the very least it was intriguing, and for sure quite pleasant to drink.  Perhaps the finish was the weakest part, being short and easy and light, mostly reminding one of caramel, light fruits, and raisins, which goes some way to making me wondering whether it was a true cane juice distillate (it lacked the distinctive herbal grassiness of such a product), or from molasses.  One thing was clear though – it was nicely made, and wore its middle age well, without any kind of raw edge or jagged sharpness that distinguishes extremely young bottom-tier rums.

So: trying this clean and playful Guadeloupe rhum in tandem with the L’Esprit Bellevue 58% 8-year-old and the Longueteau 6-year-old VSOP, I felt the last two rhums were remarkably similar, though I liked the soft honey and maple-syrup notes of the Secret Treasures just a little more, and the L’Esprit better than both, which just goes to show that ageing isn’t everything, especially in the world of agricoles (remember the spectacular Chantal Comte 1980?).  Be that as it may, there’s nothing at all bad about the ST Gardel 1992 rhum, and in fact it makes me really interested to try the 1989 variation, just to see how it stacks up. These days Fassbind is long gone from the scene and Haromex is making changes to the labels and the line up – but for those of you who come across some of the original bottler’s expressions dating back from the eighties and nineties, you could do a lot worse than pick one of them up, if for no reason than the pure and simple enjoyment of a well-aged rhum, well made, almost forgotten, and tasting just fine.

(84.5/100)


Other notes:

The Gardel plant, also known as Sainte-Marie, is the only sugar plant which still operating in Guadeloupe. It was founded in 1870 and its first owner was Benjamin François Benony Saint-Alarey, who chose to pay homage to his paternal grandmother in his naming of the factory. In 1994, the sugar sector in Guadeloupe underwent major restructuring, leading to the closure of all sugar factories on the island except Gardel which is currently composed of an agricultural part with a 1000 hectares and an industrial area. It produces nearly 100,000 tons of sugar per year. Information about the distillery is much more scant, unfortunately, though there’s a curious note by Ed Hamilton on the original Ministry of Rum forum, that it was closed by 1994…and the label for Renegade Guadeloupe 1998 mentions both a column still, and 1992 as the last date of any distillation.

Jul 232017
 

#379

Much as I had with the Longueteau Grand Réserve, a ten year old agricole from Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe), I felt the 42% strength on the six year old VSOP was perhaps too timid and too wispy for a rhum which could have been more had it been made stronger.  Longueteau, a distillery which has been in operation since 1895 and produces the Karukera and Longueteau lines of rhums, seems to eschew fierce and powerful expressions and is quite content to keep on issuing standard strength work, but since their quality is nothing to sneeze at and is readily approachable by the larger body of rum aficionados, perhaps they have hit on a preferred strength and just stick with it.

In any case, the orange amber coloured rhum presented very nicely indeed on the nose, beginning with a light sort of fruit basket left in the sun too long but just missing being overripe.  There was vanilla ice cream and the vague saltiness of rye bread and that spread known as kraüter-quark in Germany, with dill and parsley adding some interesting herbal notes.  Like most agricoles it was delicate and crisp at the same time, and while there was certainly some sugar cane sap and grassiness it, this stayed very much in the background.  After opening up over several minutes more, one could discern olives in nutmeg, brine, watermelon and peaches, light and clear, firm and delicate all at once.

The nose was certainly very pleasant – however much one had to work at it – but on the palate the 42% became somewhat more problematic since it really was too light and easy….though one could say “playful” as well, and still be on the mark.  Oddly, a drop of water (and another ten minutes of opening up) solved that problem nicely, allowing clear, if faint, acetone and fried banana flavours to emerge.  These merged well with some smoke and oaken tannins, more vanilla and a smorgasbord of fruits to come forward – papaya, watermelon, sugar water, pears and white guavas – to which, over time, were added herbs, and some pickled gherkins, leading up to a short, dry finish mostly redolent of soya, brine, dark bread and (again) vanilla and a grape or two. 

Overall the rhum was a very pleasant one, if perhaps just too gentle.  Many will enjoy it for precisely those attributes, since it doesn’t assault the senses but prefers to stroke them with a silken wire of flavour, and draws back from any kind of serious challenge or analysis. A cocktail geek can probably make an interesting concoction with it, but for my money this is a tasty, twittering little rumlet, which, with a few extra proof points, might be even better, and in its current iteration, can be had by itself without any additional embellishment.  It’s both complex enough within its limitations, and unassertive enough for the peaceniks, to give perfect satisfaction on that level,  and in any case, yes, I did like it: whatever my reservations, I also consider it a soundly enjoyable sundowner that adds to the sum total of the delicious variations which agricoles provide.

(84/100)

Other notes

  • Some distillery notes are provided in the review of the Grand Réserve.
  • The company website says aged in oak casks that once held brandy; other sources say ex-cognac barrels.
Jul 192017
 

#378

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

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

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

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

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

(84/100)

Jul 162017
 

#377

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

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

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

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

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

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

(90/100)


Other notes

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

Jun 282017
 

#376

With the advent of the Hampden and Worthy Park rums which pride themselves on high ester counts, it seems that one of the emerging trends in the rumworld may well be such tasty, clear, bags-of-fruit rums with not just a single sapling populating the salad bowl, but an entire damned orchard. Yet on the other side of the world, Savanna has been doing this for some years now with their “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” lines, of which the reigning porn queen might well be the HERR 10 year old that so impressed me.  That rum was startling and original, seemingly cut from wholly new cloth, bottled at a massive 63.8% and aged in cognac casks and my drool dripped into the glass almost continuously as I tried it (well…I exaggerate for effect….but not by much).  And yet, Savanna made one even better than that one – it’s this rum, a Grand Arôme, a rock solid full-proof 64.2% rumzilla that encapsulated all the amazing potential Reunion had to offer, and came in ahead of its own siblings by a country mile.  I’ve now tried about ten rums from Savanna, and it’s my firm belief that this is the best of them all (until I find the next one).

Speaking of Savanna and the stats.  I’ve written a small bio of the company, so won’t bore you with that again, so let’s just reel off the usual details so you know what you’re drinking if you ever try it. It was distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2016, with a strength as noted above, just north of 64%.  It was made on Savanna’s traditional column still (not the discontinuous one of the HERR), and Cyril, in his own excellent 2016 review, writes that it is made from the fermentation of vinasse and molasses, and for a longer period than usual – 5-10 days.  As before it was fully aged in ex-cognac casks.  

Photo stealthily purloined from DuRhum.com

Pause for a second and just look at all those production notes: they make no mention of additives, but for my money they didn’t add anything, and come on, why would they need to? It’s like they pulled out all the stops to make this thing a flavour bomb of epic proportions. Fermentation, distillation, ageing, the works, all that was missing was some pineapples dunked directly into the vat.  And when I tried it, the results spoke for themselves.

The hot, fragrant nose began with dusty cardboard, the nostalgic feel of old boxes in an attic, of a second hand bookshop crammed to the rafters with dry books of ages past nobody now reads.  Ahh, but then it changed – acetone and nail polish mixed with lots of honey and rich (but not tart) flavours of bubble gum peaches, prunes, vanilla, cinnamon and a light trace of brine and avocados drizzled with lemon juice.  Cocoa and some coffee, reminds me some of the Varangue Grand Arôme 40% white, but better behaved and much better constructed. My God this was rich — I spent perhaps half an hour just nosing the thing, and even called over my mother (who was annoyed I wouldn’t let her near my samples that day and was sitting in a huff in the kitchen) to give it a sniff.  Her reaction was so positive I feared for her health and the safety of my table, but never mind – the important thing to note is that even a rum novice loved it, even at that strength.

The real treasures came on the palate, which was firm, strong and intense, as befitted a rum brewed to a ripsnorting 64.2%.  Here the fruits – those amazing, full bodied fruits – blasted out front and center.  The intensity and variety were amazing, yet they lacked something of the single minded purity of the HERR, and somehow manage to create a melange without a mess, each note melding perfectly, combining the ongoing cereals and dusty book aromas with the sweet richness of the orchard without losing the best parts of either.  Some rubber and sweet caramel and honey, warm papaya, and then the fruits themselves – ripe mangoes, peaches in syrup, cherries, cinnamon, cloves, almonds and that yummy Pakistani rice pudding called kheer. There was aromatic tobacco, a faint citrus tang (candied oranges perhaps) and it all led up to a clean, biting finish, gradually winding down to close with green grapes, hard yellow mangoes, lemongrass, caramel and breakfast spices.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves something amazing here.

When The Wonk and I were discussing this rum, he remarked (rather disbelievingly) that it had to be quite a product to compare with the 89 points I gave to Velier’s 32 year old PM 1975 a few days ago.   It certainly is that, but really, the two aren’t strictly comparable, as they are quite different branches of the great tree of rum.  The Lontan lacks the dark heaviness of Demeraras generally and the Port Mourant specifically, doesn’t have that wooden still licorice background or its overall depth.  In point of fact The Lontan 12 has more in common with the Jamaicans and perhaps even agricoles, while being distinct from either one. In that observation lies the key to why it’s special.

I noted the other day that one of the unsung heroes of the subculture is likely the below-the-radar rums of St Lucia.  Here’s another company not many have heard of that’s making some pretty big footprints we should be tracking.  Because in summing up Savanna’s remarkable rum it’s clear that it’s a shimmering smorgasbord of extravagant and energetic and well-controlled tastes, melding a nose that won’t quit with a body that could make a metaphorical nuncio review his vows of celibacy.  It mixes a glittering clarity with excellent balance, strength with softness, is crisp and complex to a fault and what we’re left with after the fact is the memory of an enormous achievement. To say the rum is “not bad” is to undersell it.  To say it’s good doesn’t cut it. What we need to do is to admit it’s just about great, and oddly, part of that admission is also that it’s made by a relative unknown, without any of that emotional baggage we would bring to, say, a Velier or a Samaroli, a Rum Nation or a product from the Compagnie. I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I think it’s wonderful. It’s a gift to true rum lovers who want to try something they haven’t experienced before, in their ongoing (often lonely, sometimes thankless) search for the next new rum to treasure.

(90/100)

Other notes

  • Samples provided by two generous and great rum people, Nico Rumlover and Etienne S. who asked for nothing in exchange, but got something anyway.  Thanks guys. Wouldn’t have found this rum without you.
Jun 262017
 

#375

Velier rums have now become so famous that new editions and collaborations disappear from the shelves fifteen minutes before they go on sale, and the “classic” editions from the Age of the Demeraras are all but impossible to find at all.  Still, keeping one’s twitchy ears and long nose alert does in fact get you somewhere in the end, which is why, after a long drought of the company’s rums in my battered notebook (if you discount the legendary Caputo 1973), I managed to pick up this little gem and am pleased to report that it conforms to all the standards that made Velier the poster child for independent bottlers.  It’s one of the better Port Mourant variations out there (although not the best – that honour, for me, still belongs to the Velier PM 1974, the Norse Cask 1975, with the Batch 1 Rum Nation 1995 Rare PM running a close third), and drinking it makes me wistful, even nostalgic, about all those magical rums which are getting rarer by the day and which speak to times of excellence now gone by.

And how could I not be? I mean, just look at the bare statistics. Guyanese rum, check. Full proof, check – it’s 56.7%. Massively old, double-check…the thing is 32 years old, distilled in May 1975 (a very good year) and bottled in March 2008 (my eyes are already misting over), from three barrels which gave out a measly 518 bottles. The only curious thing about it is the maturation which was done both in Guyana and Great Britain, but with no details on how long in each.  And a mahogany hue which, knowing how Luca does things, I’m going to say was a result of all that king-sized ageing.  All this comes together in a microclimate of old-school badass that may just be a characteristic of these geriatric products.

How did it smell?  Pretty damned good.  Heavy and spiced. A vein of caramel salty-sweetness ran hotly through the fierce dark of the standard PM profile, lending a blade of distinction to the whole.  The first aromas were of anise and wood chips, tannins, leather, orange marmalade.  The wood may have been a bit much, and obscured what came later – herbs and molasses, raisins, raw untreated honey from the comb, with a bit of brooding tar behind the whole thing.  Lightness and clarity were not part of the program here, tannins and licorice were, perhaps too much, yet there’s nothing here I would tell you failed in any way, and certainly nothing I would advise you to steer clear of.

On the taste, the anise confidently rammed itself to the fore, plus a bunch of oak tannins that were fortunately kept in check (a smidgen more would have not been to the PM’s advantage, I thought).  There were warm, heavy tastes of brown sugar vanilla, caramel, bananas, and then a majestic procession of fruitiness stomped along by – raisins, prunes, blackberries, dark cherries, accompanied by nougat, avocado and salt, orange peel and white chocolate. All the tastes I like in my Demerara rums were on display, and with a warmth and power conveyed by the 56.7% that no 40% PM could ever hope to match, undone only – and ever so slightly – by the oaken tannins, which even carried over to the finish.  Fortunately, the anise and warmer raisins and salt caramel came along for their curtain call as well, so overall, all I can say is this is a hell of a rum, long lasting, tasty and no slouch at all. Frankly, I believe that this was the rum DDL should have been aiming for with its 1980 and 1986 25 year old rums.

So, how does it rate in the pantheon of the great Demeraras from the Age?  Well, I think the oak and licorice, though restrained, may be somewhat too aggressive (though not entirely dominant), and they edge out subtler, deeper flavours which can be tasted but not fully appreciated to their maximum potential – the balance is a bit off.  This is not a disqualification in any sense of the word, the rum is too well made for that; and in any case, such flavours are somewhat of a defining characteristic of the still, so anyone buying a PM would already know of it – but for those who like a more coherent assembly, it’s best to be aware of the matter.  

Just consider the swirling maelstrom of cool, of near-awe, that surrounds this product, not just for its provenance, or its age, but for lustre it brings to the entire Age’s amazing reputation.  It’s a rum to bring tears to the eyes, because we will not see its like again, in these times of increasing participation by the indies, and the <30 year aged output.  Who would, or could, buy such a rum anyway, at the price it fetches nowadays (I saw one on retail for €2000 last week)?

At this stage in the state of the rumworld, I think we should just accept that we can no longer expect to be able to source those original monsters with which the giants of the subculture made their bones.  Anyone who has one of these is holding on to it for resale or for judicious sharing among the hard core rum chums who have pictures of every Velier bottle ever made hanging on walls where the Lamborghini Countach or Pamela Anderson was once posted.  You can sort of understand why.  They are all a cut above the ordinary and this one is no exception. In its own way, it’s great. And even if it does not ascend to the stratosphere the way I felt the 1974 did, then by God you will say its name when you taste it, and all your squaddies will doff their hats and bow twice.  It’s simply that kind of experience.

(89/100)

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