Jun 192017
 

#373

In recent years, St Lucia and its eponymous distillery has been inching towards its own understated cult status: pot still rums, no additives, a finish-variation here or there, good barrel strategy, all round good stuff, and somehow (don’t ask me why) still lacks the cachet of the big four (Trini Caronis, Guyana’s DDL, Bajan FourSquare and, of course, dem Jamaicans).  Many of my rum chums swear by their rums, however, whether made by independents or issued on the island, and I can tell you, they deserve the plaudits, because they’re good.

Assuming you’ve already gone through various batches of the Admiral Rodney, Chariman’s Reserve, Forgotten Casks, and any of the 1931 series made by St. Lucia Distillers — or have given Ed Hamilton’s 9 year old 2004 cask strength a whirl — and are still hankering after something with equal or greater impact, I’d strongly recommend you go to the full proof offerings in general, and this one in particular.  Why?  Because independent bottlers are not blenders and only satisfy themselves with a single barrel (usually) that conforms to their standards.  They’re not trying to move huge quantities of rum and stock the shelves of supermarkets for purchase by the lowest common denominator, they’re trying to sell small outturns of exactingly chosen rums.  And when you smell and taste something like this, you can see why they’re so good and why they command both cachet and price.

If you doubt me, please sample Secret Treasures’ take on a golden nine year old 53% beefcake from St. Lucia Distiller’s Vendome pot still.  The opening aromas are heavenly – old leather shoes, lovingly polished (and without any sweaty socks inside), combined with acetone, glue and nail polish remover that were present but not overbearing and gracefully retreated over time, giving over the stage to fruitier parts of the nose.  These consisted of delicate florals, vanilla, raisins, prunes and a little anise and oak.  Nine years was a good age, I thought, and kept the tannins present and accounted for, but not dominant – that part of the nose simply melded well and at no point was it ever excessive.

As for the palate, well now, that was relatively thick, smooth, warm, a little sweet, and all-over pleasant to try.  What made it succeed is the balance of the various components, no single one of which dominated — though that in turn was at the expense of some crispness and a feeling that things were dampened down, perhaps too much. Here, citrus and apple cider were the opening notes (unlike the John Dore 9 year old variation by the same maker, where other flavours were at the forefront).  These were followed by green peas and avocados (seriously!), some brine, vanilla, nutmeg, pineapples and cherries, with some smoke and oaken flavours which remained where they should, in the background.  It deserves some patience and careful sipping to bring out the full panoply of what was available, so don’t rush.  The finish was surprisingly short for a rum bottled at this strength, and here the tart notes take a step back and the softer stuff is more noticeable – aromatic tobacco, wine, grapes, cinnamon, and just a bare whiff of tannins and lemon peel.  

Overall, it was a really well made product and I liked it enough to try it several times over a period of two days just to nail down the finer points, but eventually I just put away my notebook, and enjoyed it on the balcony by itself with no other motive beyond having a pleasant, tasty, neat shot of rum.

Secret Treasures, a brand originally from an indie out of Switzerland called Fassbind, has been on my radar since 2012 when I tried their amazing Enmore 1989 rum and initially thought it was “okay”, before it grew on me so much over a period of days that I polished the entire thing off on my own (while fending off my mother’s grasping hands, ‘cause she liked it too damned much herself). Fassbind was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, yet curiously neither old nor new company website makes mention of the rum line at all – and the label on this bottle speaks of a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off.

Whatever the case, the changes in ownership and always small outturn even in Europe meant that the Secret Treasures line are something like Renegade or Murray McDavid rums, and exist in the shadows cast by the Scots, Bristol Spirits, Rum Nation, Velier, Samaroli, the Compagnie, etc (and the new bloods like Ekte and so on).  But it seems that no matter who the owner is, they continue to bottle small batches of single barrel rums, and let me tell you, they’re worth having. This rum and its twin, all by themselves, have made me enthusiastic about cask strength St. Lucian rums all over again.

(86/100)


Other notes

According to Maco Freyr, who reviewed this rum in his customary and exacting depth of detail back in early 2016, date of distillation is 2005.

A somewhat irrelevant aside:

Aide from diversifying one’s collection, there are very good reasons why passing around one’s acquisitions generously, without reservation and irrespective of the rarity, is a good thing – it builds goodwill, it shares the good stuff around among true aficionados, it cuts down on costs for others not so fortunate, and most of all, the reciprocity of people who are on the receiving end of your geriatric jolly juice can often be off the scale.  I’ve shared most of my Skeldon 1973, PM 1974, Chantal Comte 1980, Trois Rivieres 1975, and actually given away a full bottle of a Velier Basseterre 1995 and a Longpond 1941 (with the admonition that the happy recipients in their turn should pay it forwards, as they have).

It’s precisely because of such an attitude that I got sent two of the most interesting bottles in months, if not years: two Secret Treasures St. Lucia rums, both nine years old: this one, and the other (which I’ll look on in the next review) from a John Dore pot still, both at cask strength. To Eddie K., who sent them without warning, advertising, fanfare or expectations, a huge hat tip. You da man, amigo.

Jun 142017
 

#372

It’s always a pleasure to circle back to the now-established independent bottlers, especially those with which one has more than a glancing familiarity; they are the outfits who have carved themselves a niche in the rumiverse which for us consumers is composed of one part recognition, one part curiosity and eight parts cool rum.  The Compagnie des Indes is one of these for me, and while everyone is now aware they have started to issue the cask strength series of rums alongside lesser proofed ones (much like L’Esprit does), there will always remain a soft and envious green spot in my heart for the now-famous, Denmark-only, cask-strength editions.

This particular Danish expression is a Bellevue rum from Guadeloupe, and here I have to pause for a moment, stand back, and happily observe that in this day and age of rising prices, lowering ages and instantly sold out Bajan rums (did someone say Triptych? … sure you did), we can still get a rum aged for eighteen years.  I am aware that a simple calculus of years does not always confer quality – look no further than the Chantal Comte 1980 for an emphatic refutation of that idea – but when made properly, they often do.  And bar some hiccups here and there, this one is exceedingly well done.

As always, let’s start with the details before getting into the tasting notes. It’s a French West Indian rhum which does not adhere to the AOC designation, bottled at a crisp 55.1%, gold in colour, and with a 265-bottle outturn.  It was distilled in March 1998 and bottled in April 2016, aged in American oak barrels, in Europe – this is, as most will recall, a personal standard of the Compagnie, which does not favour tropical ageing (or cannot spare the time and expense to source them direct from Guadeloupe, take your pick).

Wherever it was aged, there was no fault to find with how it smelled: the nose was creamy caramel and cream cheese with only the very faintest hint of wax and rubber, and in any event, such traces vanished fast, giving way to dark fruits, not particularly sweet, like almost-ripe plums and cashews. At this stage such tannins and wooden hints as came later were discreet, even shy, and there were some light, playful notes of flowers, peaches, apricots, grasses and cinnamon.

Tasting it delivered a crisp, firm mouthfeel that was hot and salty caramel, plus a touch of vanilla.  Here the tannins and pencil shavings became much more assertive, suggesting an oaken spine as whippy and sharp as the cane my house-master used to bend across my backside in high school with such unfortunate frequency. In spite of the attendant orange peel,vanilla, cashews, raisins and lemongrass that could be sensed, it was also somewhat sharp, even bitter, and not quite as tamed as I might personally have wished (with perhaps some more aging it would have been? Who knows).  Behind all that, the additional flavours had their work cut out for them, not entirely successfully, and so I had to concede after a while that  it was well done…but could have been better.  The finish, however, was quite exceptional, showing more clearly the difference between an AOC-determined profile versus a more laid back Guadeloupe “let’s see what we can do here” kind of insouciance – it’s remarkably clear, offering for our final inspection caramel, nuttiness, toffee, with avocado, cumin and a hint of ginger.

So, in fine, a Guadeloupe rhum with lovely notes dancing around a great nose and fade, and quite a decent palate within its oaky limitations (which did admittedly cause it to slide down the rankings).  Fortunately that in no way sank the rhum, which, on balance, remained a lovely drink to savour neat….it just needed a softer comma of oak, so to speak, not the exclamation point we got.  I concede, however, that this was a minor blemish overall.

Although at the top end we are seeing a move towards pot still rums done up in interesting finishes, complete with fully tropical maturation, I believe there is still a place for longer European ageing without any finish at all.  Florent Beuchet, the maitre of CDI, has always championed this quiet, more patient route for his rums, which is perhaps why much of his aged hooch works so well – there’s a subtle, delicate richness to the experience that is not so much as odds with, as a counterpoint to, the badass in-yer-face brutality of those rums which slept for a shorter but more intense period in the Caribbean.  Both such types of rums have their place in our world – the issue does, after all, depend entirely on our preferences – and when a Guadeloupe rum presses so many of the right buttons as this one does, one cannot help but simply appreciate the quality of what makes it into the bottle at the other end.  This is a rum like that — it’s vibrant Caribbean sunshine issued for a colder clime, and I’m damned glad I managed to pilfer some from my snickering Danish friends from up north before they finished it all themselves.

(86/100)


Other notes

Jun 112017
 

#371

While SAB, the only real commercial rum producer in Suriname, makes competent blends and some very nice aged work (like the 8 year old from last week), it suffers, if the word can be used, from the following: a competitor to up the ante and push them harder within their own country; higher proof offerings as part of a connoisseur’s cabinet; a range of true single cask rums that highlights a particular point of interest in an overall oevre; and most of all, as I noted way back in the Extra Gold, that particular note of terroire that would mark it out and set it apart from, and over, more common table tipple.

Which is not to say they’re bad – far from it.  The Borgoe 8 year old was a nice step up from the earlier, younger editions, and now the 40% 15 year old takes it to its own new level, even adding a filip of individuality, because it is stated to be a single barrel aged rum — although unfortunately I’m unable to ascertain what the outturn was,or even if it is issued on a semi-regular basis.  The fact that no year is mentioned on the label – single barrel rums by their nature tend to extol a year of make and a volume of bottles issued as a bare minimum – suggests that the moniker may either be totally incorrect or it’s poor  advertising / quality control…because you can be sure that no independent bottler would ever make such an error.

Anyway, beyond those issues, let’s take things at face value and simply accept it as a column still blend based on non-Surinamese molasses, blended from various barrels of fifteen year old reserves, issued at a milquetoast 40%, and if you’ll forgive my rampant and  unconfirmed speculation, with some pot still juice mixed in there for a little edge and torque.  The question is, was it any good?

Yes, and it’s very much the best of the lot, even edging out the Banks DIH Supreme 15 year old, with which it shared several points of similarity.  Even at 40% the difference between the various standard rums I was trying was quite impressive – creamy cereals and milk, oranges and caramel, all emerged to waft around the nose, at once.  There were the scents of walnuts, coconut, tobacco, and the fruitiness of cherries and peaches in cream, with a few flower petals and nougat thrown in for good measure.  And behind it all, barely noticeable, a queer clean sheen of something clear and bright and metallic, almost agricole-like….that’s the edge I was talking about, the point of distinction I liked.

Tasting it was also a pleasant experience, warm and smooth and with a fine texture – it actually presented with somewhat more heft than one would expect.  It was fruity, flowery and musky, all at the same time, redolent of aromatic cigarillos (those port-infused ones I used to like at one point in my life).  Leading off were ripe cherries and tart yellow mangos, apricots, plums and vanilla, with enough of the sharper oak influence to give it some kick.  It was vaguely (but in no way overbearingly) sweet, and with a drop or two of water provided some additional sage and nutmeg, burnt brown sugar, molasses and caramel, plus that faint but clear metallic brightness. Full proof it might not have been, but I had few complaints about what they had managed to achieve.  Only the finish was somewhat of a let-down, being rather short and quick, if easy and warm and without anything new being added to the experience…sort of like an ex-girlfriend’s cheerful goodbye kiss – she knows you well enough to give you a good one, but doesn’t care enough to give you the full treatment, know what I mean?

So all in all, a reasonably complex, well balanced rum which is nice to sip, a decent and very competent product by any standard. I want to make clear that as the top of the line, the Borgoe 15 year old is not a common bathtub hooch which plays it safe and doesn’t go anywhere spanking new – it’s too well made for that. But in the end, it remains a column still blend, it retains that unadventurous strength (not 46% or even 43% both of which can almost be seen as the evolving standards), and has only some of the force and uniqueness and intensity about it that would immediately mark it out as something special. Something special like a rum specifically Surinamese. Something special like a rum we must have.  And that’s a shame, because with some effort and courage — some more oomph, so to speak —  I would surely have marked it even higher, and liked it even more, than I actually ended up doing.

(85/100)


Other notes

  • I deliberately included the word “blended” in the title even though it’s not on the label, in order to not give the misleading impression that it is a true Single Barrel rum (as defined by common useage).
Jun 082017
 

 

#370

SAB is a Surinamese conglomerate that is very much like Banks DIH and DDL in Guyana – they have several different kinds of businesses in the portfolio, including various spirits, mostly sold on the local market.  Rums are among the few of its offerings which are exported, primarily to Holland, which comes as no surprise given their historical affiliation with the Netherlands.  At the time when I bought these bottles I was unaware of their availablity in Europe (which says rather more about my miserable googling skills than their advertising) and bought the entire line straight out of Suriname: to this day I’m still wondering how the Marienburg 90% made it past customs in Germany when the rather more tame ~55% Nasyonal from Mascoso nearly caused them a conniption fit.

Anyway, after the uncomplicated and placid experience that was the Borgoe Extra and 5 Year Old, I am happy to report that the 8 year old is an emphatic step up the quality ladder.  This is a rum aged a mere three years more than the five, but tastes and smells like a totally different product. Even at 40%, which readers are probably tired of hearing me whinge about, the Grand Reserve manages to produce a complex little tap dance that had me hastening back to all the other glasses to see if it was just me.  To say that about a standard proof product these days is making a rather interesting statement about what it delivers.

Take first the nose, which alleviated many of my issues with the previous rums from the company.  It started off warm and spicy, offering salty caramel ice cream, molasses, raisins, and bananas just starting to go off.  It didn’t burst out of the bottle to overwhelm and cudgel you in the face – it wasn’t that kind of drink; it more like tip-toed out, to slyly coil its way around the nose, gentle and easy, but each note initially distinct, before melting into a pleasant mélange.  It also developed well, because after some minutes, one could sense a thin line of citrus-like tartness, like gooseberries, unripe mangos leavened with some nuts, perhaps some vanilla, and smoke and leather.

This all took some time and concentration, to be sure, because its very mildness required some effort.  The palate was somewhat more assertive and less difficult to analyze.  First there were waves of caramel and candied oranges, more pronounced molasses, plus a musky background of cumin and masala spices which were not overwhelming but simply stayed in the background with an occasional wave to show they were still there.  With water (not really required, but it’s part of the system, so I tried it anyway), cherries, dark chocolate, some cloves and orange peel were noticeable, and after maybe half an hour the molasses was very much a part of the profile.  It also finished well, being remarkably dry, warm, with mostly citrus, leather and caramel winding up the show.

Trying to come to grips with the 8 year old was hindered by the very gentleness and kinks that made it interesting.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a massively sophisticated sub-ten-year-old (I believe that that particular crown belongs for the most part to agricoles), and it certainly did not have the rough-hewn elemental brutality of a cask strength bruiser, but it was a nice, easy drink, soft enough to please, with just enough edge on it to provide a slightly askew drinking experience.  Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery (who tried it at least three times), remarked in his review that it had a “soft polite touch”, and I think he pretty much called it as it was — so rather than indulge my windy vocabulary, I think I’ll let this write-up rest with that pithy and appropriate conclusion.

(83/100)

Other notes

  • Column still blend, aged in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels.  I remarked in the review of the 5 year old that there’s a pot still floating around SAB’s premises, and I can’t rid myself of the feeling that there’s some of that in this rum.  It’s just an opinion, though.
  • Adheres to the Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) standard, so we can assume no colouring, additives or sugar.
  • I’ll wrap things up for Borgoe line with the 15 year old next week.

 

Jun 052017
 

#369

Agricoles and pot still rums aside, one does not usually expect too much from a three year old blended rum such as is the Borgoe Extra Gold we looked at earlier– although they retain their capacity to surprise — and so I had higher hopes for the five, since such lightly aged rums are often the solid pillars upon which many rum makers support the edifice of all their older (and sometimes even younger) rums.  When well made, they may even edge into sipping territory, serve as the first firm introduction to the ethos of the company and can sometimes be a nice bridge between a cocktail agent and something to have by itself (with or without ice). Agricoles and pot still rums are particularly noted for such quality

To some extent this is the case with the Borgoe “Vintage” 5 Year old from Suriname, made by the same bunch of guys who did the “Extra”.  There is, alas, very little hard information to go on here, over and beyond what I’ve already mentioned in the Extra review: it’s a primarily column-still rum issued at 40%, the molasses are sourced from Trinidad (Angostura), there may be some pot still distillate meandering in the blend somewhere, and the whole thing is aged in American oak.  Beyond that standard information, both my contacts and the official webpage are silent. Still, in a way that’s an advantage since it forces us to simply address what’s on show without any extraneous material unconsciously cluttering up our minds.  And overall, there’s little that’s bad about the Vintage expression. If I had to use a single word to summarize this five year old, it would be “inoffensive”, or with two, “happily uncomplicated.”

That might be damning it with faint praise, but not really.  The nose gives an indication of what’s in store: it meanders out calmly and easily, warm and without bite, a little creamy at first; it presents as somewhat sweet, though not overly so – and after settling down, if one takes one’s time with it, there are additional and faint background notes of breakfast spices (nutmeg and cinnamon, perhaps a clove or two), plus cereals, nuts, a little vanilla and some flowers.  It’s certainly not reaching for the stars and seems content to stay with simplicity for effect.

The palate demonstrates more of that placid nature: again it was warm and not altogether spicy or sharp, and although it did seem somewhat thinner than one accustomed to more powerful drinks might appreciate, it was also reasonably smooth, and a rung or two up the ladder from the Extra. Crème brulee, caramel and molasses were the dominant notes at the inception, with vanilla and some oaken tannins bringing up the rear.  Setting it aside for some minutes is probably a good idea for those who want more: after a while, subtler flavours crop up, citrus, flowers, guavas, a few watery pears and a sharper slice of green apple in the mix there someplace.  I particularly enjoyed the languid French toast and honey that shyly danced in the background, and again the breakfast spices were there, not as distinct as the nose suggested they might be.  The finish, short and faint as it was, was at least aromatic, with the fruits fading fast now, and mostly showing off some sweet tangerines and caramel.

All right then, let’s sum up. For one used to aggressive young agricoles and fullproofs of any age, this is probably a rum to avoid, since everything is very much dialed down with a feather blanket, and it might work best in a delicate mix that others know more about than I do. It’s pleasant and inoffensive, as noted above, and I find it too bland to appeal to me personally.  Perhaps its real issue –  one that would not lead to parades of rabid aficionados cluttering up whole Facebook pages with songs of praise – is the fact that is still somewhat generic, and seems have no problem in being an agreeable but indeterminate rum, one that simply exists. Rather than anything particularly Surinamese,  it reminds me of a Botran 15 Solera, a Cacique 500, or a Tres Hombres rum.  It’s light, easy and uncomplicated enough to take by itself, but this comes at the expense of some originality and were I to come back to it sight unseen a month from now, I’m not entirely sure I’d remember it clearly. 

(80/100)

Other notes

For the kind of quality I was looking for, I had to go up to the 8 and 15 year old expressions, which we’ll look at next time.

Jun 012017
 

#368

There is no shortage of agricoles, independent bottlers and flavour-of-the-month rums in my notebooks — but in late 2016, and again in early 2017, I tried the Borgoe line from Suriname – all 40% rums – back to front, front to back and side by side, twice, and it’s time to see what they’re all about.  After all, we all know of the big guns in the rum world but the lesser-known operators deserve their moment in the sun as well.

So let’s start at the bottom and work our way up to the top, young to old, beginning with the  Borgoe Extra, an “Aged Golden rum”: this is the light, low-end mainstay of the brand’s offerings, the way the V/X is for Appleton, or various 3-year olds or “gold rums” are for other makers.  It’s  a successor to the Borgoe ’82 rum first introduced in 1982, and I believe it to be around three years old (other products are the 5, 8 and 15 year old rums), a blend aged in American oak barrels and issued at the usual 40% after being filtered twice.

Smelling it revealed no real markers of distinction such as would make one wonder into what magical terroire of the mind one had just stumbled all unaware.  It was redolent of fleshy fruits, some cherries, caramel and some nougat, nothing terribly complex or ambitious.  After resting for some time and coming back to it I could detect orange peel, a flash of something sharp and bitter, cinnamon and some herbs, so pretty standard, all in all.

I liked the palate more than the nose (usually the opposite is the case with really young rums, at least for me).  It presented as somewhat sharp; then came a swift procession of salty caramel, more nougat, white toblerone, and nuts. An amalgam of a few fruits, — peaches, unripe green apples and ginip, all muddled together — plus the slight citric sting of orange peel again There were faint notes of olives and brine (very faint) and oaken tannins and the bitterness of raw wood chips still bleeding sap, and the whole thing, while quite light, was thin and sharp too, with a short, spicy and rather unremarkable finish mostly providing a closing sense of caramel, apples and sugar water.  

Overall, rather uncomplex and unexciting: there was something going on here, just not too much of it (certainly not enough) and it’s insufficient to get excited about at this stage.  A word should be spared for the notation that it is not really sweet and quite thin (“scrawny” was the word I scribbled down), which leads me to surmise that dosing is not part of the assembly.  

Thinking further through the tasting experience, I believe that thinness aside, what it really lacks is  distinctiveness (and, perhaps, punch). The filtration is part of the problem, as is the anemic 40%, and also the column still makeup of the blend leans heavily towards a lighter, more Spanish style.  It could just as easily be any young rum from the Dominican Republic, Panama or Belize, and I think the company is much like Banks DIH in that it sticks to the low-strength blends without doing enough to create a particular and clearly Surinamese profile which could potentially showcase the land of origin.  It therefore cannot and should not be used on its own; and given its generic nature, I’m not sure whether there’s any particular cocktail that would be made with it to demonstrate and capitalize such attributes it does possess.

I mean, when you taste a Jamaican, a Guyanese rum from DDL, a St. Lucian or a Bajan FourSquare, you can, with a little experience, use them as markers for the entire country. That’s one reason why they’re so popular – it’s their unique and country-specific profile that makes people go after them and actively source really old expressions.  I think SAB might be sitting on some untapped potential just on the strength of this little rumlet — if they were to go with local cane, utilize that pot still more often, and produce some limited editions of greater power. But perhaps we have to go up the ladder to see what the brand has on offer, and if that half-sensed potential I mention can be seen in older variations…or not.

(77/100)


Other Notes

  • Rather than go into a long history of the company, I’ll direct you to the Marienburg 90% review with its thumbnail recap for those who are interested.
  • The production process is based on molasses sourced from Angostura in Trinidad and not from Guyana right next door, surprisingly enough, and after fermentation, the wash is passed through a columnar still, the resultant being used to make the rums which are aged in American oak barrels.  The website of the company notes that a second still is used to make high ABV neutral spirits for the pharmaceutical industry, and they have a third copper still (they call it a “hand still”) for heavier rums – I am assuming this is the pot still some have mentioned to me, though exactly which rums this makes is still unclear at this time.  Since the entire line of Borgoe aged rums is blended, no doubt some portion of the pot still finds its way into the various expressions, much in the same way DDL does it with their various stills and the standard El Dorado line.
May 252017
 

#367

In my own limited experience, Neisson has been one of the most distinctive Martinique agricole makers I’ve come across.  There’s something salty, oily, tequila-ish and musky in those of their rums I’ve tried, and while this might not always be to my liking, the quality of their work could never be denied.  To date, I’ve stuck with their aged rums, but back in 2016 L’homme à la Poussette (I’m thinking his poussette should be retired soon as his kids grow up but I hope he never changes the name of his site) passed along this ferocious white rhino, perhaps to gleefully observe my glottis landing in Albania.  

Now, this rum is something of a special edition, initially released in 2002 for the 70th Anniversary of the distillery, and annually without change thereafter – it is rested for six months in steel tanks after being taken off their Savalle still, but it is not aged in any way.  Although the resolutely family-owned distillery is now 85 years old, the rum retains the original title, perhaps because of its popularity among the rabid cognoscenti, who enjoy its 70⁰ ABV and the 70cl square bottle  Maybe some enterprising mathematician could work out how the sums of the corners and angles on the thing added up to or produced 70 — for my money, I’m more interested in whether the company releases more than 70 bottles a year or not, because for anyone who likes white lightning – whether for a cocktail or to brave by itself – this unaged rum is definitely up there with the best (or craziest).

You could tell that was the case just by smelling it: clearly Neisson felt that the subtle, light milquetoasts of the independent full proofs or the clairins (who bottle at a “mere” 60% or so) needed a kick in the pants to get them to up their game and join the Big Boys. The sheer intensity of the nose left me gasping – salt, wax, paraffin and floor polish billowed out hotly without any warning, accompanied by the sly note of well-worn, well-polished leather shoes (oxfords, not brogues, of course).  Nothing shy here at all, and the best thing about it – once I got past the heat – was what followed: coconut cream, almonds, olives, fruits (cherries, apricots, papaya, tart mangoes), all bedded down in a bath of sugar water and watermelon, and presenting themselves with attitude. If I was telling a story, I’d wax lyrical by saying the ground moved, trees shook, and an electric guitar solo was screaming in the background…but you kinda get the point already, right?

Oh, and that’s not all – the tasting was still to come. And so, be warned – 70 degrees of badass carves a glittering blade of heat down your throat, as surgically precise and sharp as a Swiss army knife.  A hot, spicy, and amazingly smooth sweet sugar water — spiked with stewed prunes, lemon zest, wet grass and gherkins in brine — roared across the palate.  With its brought-forward notes of polish and wax and grassiness, I felt like it was channelling the gleeful over-the-top machismo of a clairin, yet for all that enormous conflation of clear and crisp tastes, it still felt (and I know this is difficult to believe) smoother, creamier and more tamed than lesser-proofed whites like the Rum Nation 57%, Charley’s J.B. Jamaican white, the Clairin Sajous or the Klérin Nasyonal….which says a lot for how well the L’Esprit is actually made.  And the finish was no slouch either, long and very warm, salt butter and cereals mixing it up with some citrus, red grapefruit, more grass and even a hint of the smooth salty oiliness of a well-made tequila.

“How the hell did they stuff so much taste into the bottle?” I asked myself in wonder. Perhaps the unwritten, unspoken codicil is “…and not muck it all up into an unfocussed mess?”  Well, they did provide the profile, they didn’t muck it up, I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it was only later that I realized that in a world where Ringling Brothers can fit fifteen fat clowns into a Mini, I should not have been so surprised, when it’s obvious that in the rumiverse just about anything is possible.  Certainly Neisson proved it here.

You know how we hear the old joke about “Rum is the coming thing….and always will be”? This kind of statement is regularly and tiresomely trumpeted by all the know-nothing online drinks magazines who have their lazy hacks attempt to pen a few words or make up a click-bait list about a subject on which they are woefully ill-equipped to speak.  Still…take that statement a bit further.  I honestly believe that as the stocks of old and majestic 20+ or 30+ rums run out or are priced out of existence, it will soon become the turn of unaged, unfiltered white rums to take center stage and become De Nex’ Big Ting.  I accept that for the most part these will be cocktail bases — but for the enterprising, for the slightly addled, for the adventurous among us, for those who are willing to step off the path and enter Mirkwood directly, the real next undiscovered country lies with these white mastodons which showcase much of the amazing talent that remains in our world, needing only the bugling of an enthusiastic drinker or an enthusiastic writer, to bring them to a wider audience.  

(86/100)


Other notes

I should mention that Josh Miller of Inu A Kena ran the Neisson 70 through a 12-rum agricole challenge a while back.  If you’re not into neat drinks so much but love a cocktail, that article is worth a re-visit.

May 232017
 

#366

Nine Leaves, for whose intriguing rums I have always retained a real fondness, remains a one man operation in Japan, and while I have not written much about them of late, they continue their regular six month release regimen without pause, and have become must-stop booths at the various festivals they exhibit at on the Circuit.  Every now and then they issue an expression somewhat at right angles to their regular “six-month-aged” line, such as the Velier 70th Anniversary edition from 2017, the two-year-old “Encrypted” from 2016 and this one-year-old from 2015, which was the commercial 48% variation of special 58% 60-bottle run for a Japanese hotel, aged in Cabernet Sauvignon wine casks instead of the regular American or French oak.

So, this is a pot still rum, aged for one year, bottled at 48%, and aged in red wine casks.  How active or soaked these casks were, or how much residual wine there was, remains an unanswered question.  The real question for me was, did it work?  Nine Leaves, after all, have made some rather above-average rums by bucking the trend and staying within some very short time-frames for their ageing, but now this one seemed to be inching towards the line that the Encrypted stepped over the following year.  How was it?

Well, nose first.  It moved on quite a bit from the 2015 Clear (which I enjoyed for other reasons). Though it began with some rather startling waxy paraffin aggressiveness, it was not as pungent as the Clear was, and seemed somewhat more tamed, more soothing.  In fact, it presented very much like a young agricole with a few extra aromas thrown in.  The winey notes were there, kept well in the background – more of an accent at this stage, than a bold and underlined statement – and the smell exhibited a sort of clear, sprightly friskiness, of fanta, grapes, cinnamon, ginger and light florals.

That clarity of aromas was very evident on the palate as well.  Even at the slightly beefed up strength it remained light and clear and crisp.  Flavours of light flowers, vanilla, green grapes, lemon zest and olives in brine mixed it up with salt butter and cream cheese. The wine background came forward here, and if it wasn’t bottled at such a proof and had so many other interesting rummy sensations, it might even be considered a port of some kind.  It was quite intriguing and quite interesting, though the finish was a bit of a let down, being very spicy, quite dry, doing something of a turn towards harshness, and didn’t give much up beyond some green grapes and grass, and a few breakfast spices.

Although it was a decent rum, I think it may be a bit too ambitious, and could best be considered an experimental attempt by the playful for the curious (and the knowledgeable), to make something at odds with better known profiles.  The real success stories of such rums seem to be more with finishes than the entire ageing cycle. To some extent it lacked focus, and the wine background, while making its own claim to uniqueness, also confuses — and although I kinda liked it, the amalgam of rum and wine doesn’t gel entirely. If you recall, Legendario and Downslope Distilling went down this road before, much more unsuccessfully – it’s a tough balancing act to get right, so kudos to Nine Leaves for doing as well as they have.  

Anyway, to wrap up, then– points for the effort, a few approving nods for originality, but ultimately also something of a headshake for not succeeding entirely.  Given that there has never been another major attempt to issue a wine-aged young rum from the company, it’s possible that was and remains an experiment which was left alone after the initial release, which is a shame, really, because I would have enjoyed seeing where Yoshi-san took it after a few more tries.

(84/100)

May 182017
 

Photo (c) Quazi4moto from his Reddit post. This is the exact bottle the sample was taken from

#365

Just about everyone in the rum world knows the name of Ed Hamilton. He was the first person to set up a website devoted to rum (way back in 1995), and many of us writers who began our own blogs in the 2000s or early ‘teens — Tiare, Tatu, Chip, myself and others — started our online lives writing in and debating on the forums of the Ministry of Rum. He has written books about rum, ran tasting sessions for years, and is now a distributor for several brands around the USA.  A few years ago, he decided to get into the bottling game as well…and earned quite a fan base in North America, because almost alone among the producers in the US, he went the independent bottler route, issuing his juice at cask strength, thereby helping to popularize the concept to a crowd that had to that point just been mooning over the indie output from Europe without regularly (or ever) being able to get their hands on any.

This rum was distilled in 2004 on a Vendome pot still by St. Lucia Distillers, who also make the Admiral Rodney, 1931, Forgotten Casks and Chairman’s Reserve, if you recall. They have both a Vendome pot still and a John Dore  pot still (as well as a smaller one, and the rums mentioned above are made by blending output from all in varying proportions) – Mr. Hamilton deliberately chose the Vendome distillate for its complexity and lack of harshness, and its source was from Guyanese molasses fermented for five days.

With my usual impeccable timing, I moved away from Canada at that exact time, and never managed (or seriously attempted) to pick up any of the Ministry of Rum Collection, since my attention was immediately taken up with agricoles and the European independents. However, one correspondent of mine, tongue in cheek as always, sent me an unidentified sample (“St. Lucia” was all the bottle said), and after tasting it blind, being quite impressed and writing up my notes, I asked him what it was. Obviously it was this one, a nine year old bottled at a rip-snorting 61.3%.  And it really was something.

On the nose, the high ABV was hot but extremely well behaved, presenting wave after wave of the good stuff.  It started off with rubber and pencil shavings, old cardboard in a dry cellar, some ashy kind of minerally smell, coffee, cumin and bitter chocolate…and then settling down and letting the rather shy fruits tiptoe forwards – raisins, some orange peel, peaches and prunes, all in balance and well integrated.  No fault to find here – I was unsure whether a standard proof drink would have been quite as good (in fact, probably not).  Throughout the whole exercise – I had the glass on the table with some others for a couple of hours – there was some light smoke and burnt wood, which fortunately stayed in the background and didn’t derail the experience.

As for the palate, wow – if gold could be a taste, that was what it was.  Honey and burnt sugar, salty caramel all mixed up with flowers, more chocolate and the citrus peel.  The tannins from the barrel began to be somewhat more assertive here, but never overbearing.  In fact, the balance between these components was really well handled.  With water, deep thrumming notes of molasses and anise shook the glass, leading to grapes, pineapple, acetone (just a little), aromatic tobacco and olives in brine; and throughout, the rum maintained a firm, rich profile that was quite excellent.  Somewhere over the horizon, thunder was rolling.  And as for the finish, here it stumbled a little on the line – long as it was, the tannics became too sharp; and while other closing hints remained firm (mostly molasses, caramel and brine plus maybe a prune or two) overall some of the tempering of one taste with another was lost.  

But I must note that the rum is a damned good one.  I think it’s a useful intro rum for those making a timorous foray into cask strength, and for those who wanted more from the Admiral Rodney or the 1931 series, this might be everything they were looking for from the island.

Some years ago I ran several of the standard proof St Lucia Distillers rums against each other, observing that while they were quite good, they also seemed to be missing a subtle something that might elevate their profile and quality, and allow them take their place with the better known Bajans, Jamaicans and Guyanese.  As the rum world moved on, it is clear that in small, patient, incremental steps — perhaps they were channeling Nine Leaves — St. Lucia Distillers, the source of this rum, were upping the tempo, and it took a few European indies and one old salt from the US, to show what the potential of the island was, and is. St. Lucia may have been flying somewhat under the radar, but I’m here telling you that this is a lovely piece of work by any standard, admirable, affordable and — I certainly hope — still available.

(86/100)

Other notes

  • Vendome is a company, not a type of still, and dates back to the first decade of the 1900s, building on experience (and customers) dating back as far as the 1870s when Hoffman, Ahlers & Co. were doing brisk business in Louisville (Kentucky).
  • Aside from the eight St. Lucian rums in the portfolio, The “Hamilton Collection” includes Jamaican and Guyanese  rums.  The Hamilton 151 is specifically intended to be better than (not to supplant) the Lemon Hart 151 which was out of production at the time.
  • Kudos, thanks and a huge hat-tip to Quazi4moto, who sent the sample.  He was, you might remember, the gent who sent me the Charley’s J.B. white rum I enjoyed a few months ago.
May 142017
 

#364

Until the release of the XM Golden Jubilee 20 year old rum in May 2016 for the occasion of Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence, the jewel in the crown of Banks DIH’s XM line was the fifteen year old.  Over the last five years or so it suffered, in my rearview-mirror opinion, by simply following the party line, being bottled without regard for the emerging trend of stronger rums in the minds of the tasting public, and also perhaps from being a indeterminate, mostly column-still blend without a really good barrel strategy.  This relegated it to being an outlier in an increasingly crowded and competitive field; and by eschewing any one point of uniqueness that would make it stand apart (finishing, single barrel, cask strength, a singular taste…that kind of thing), it has slumbered in a sort of quiet corner reserved for also-rans – Guyanese worldwide know of it, but few others do and it sure doesn’t make any waves internationally, in spite of its age.

Which is something of a shame, because setting aside personal preferences, it’s quite a good rum that could use a good dose of aggressive marketing and festival-circuit promotion.  The very first note I wrote down in my tasting book as I was nosing the Supreme, was “Impressive”. It began with aromas of acetone and glue and furniture polish before giving way to very soft notes of dark dried fruit (raisins and plums), before segueing over into the territory of vanilla, caramel and nougat.  What little tartness of the fruit that existed, was kept way back, vaguely sensed but not directly experienced, which to my way of thinking is a very good reason to bump up the ABV not just one notch, but several.  Still, it was impressive, and for a 40% rum to exhibit such discernible richness was a pleasant surprise.

The palate, warm and eminently sippable, led off with the fruit basket: cherries, raisins, apricots and very ripe peaches.  There were a few hint of bananas and white guavas, though without exhibiting any kind of overbearing sweetness, and the overall fruity tastes blended well with the restrained influence of burnt sugar, toffee, caramel, vanilla…all the usual attendant hits.  There was a sort of jammy profile here, quite pleasing, and some very faint molasses hanging around unobtrusively in the background.  It all led to a short and pleasant finish, mostly dates, caramel, vanilla, a bit briny in nature and not at all a tropical smorgasbord

So.  The XM 15 is still somewhat generic in nature, but a level up from the 12 year old, and definitely better than the 10 year old.  It’s more subtle, a little richer, yet still had much of that laid back profile that simply did not (or could not) strain too much or escape the clutches of its standard ABV.  Still, leaving these two points aside, the one major — and perhaps surprising — drawback of the Supreme 15 year old is simply that, good as it is, it remains too similar to the Special 12 year old.  I tried all the Banks rums together with a bunch of other forty percenters, and it really was difficult to tell these two apart.  So for an average drinking man who’s looking for an aged living room powered rum that won’t incur the wife’s ire, the step up in quality from the 12 to the 15 is slight enough to not make the 15 a better investment outside of bragging rights.  It’s a good rum to buy if you have the coin, but don’t look for a quantum leap to the stratosphere if you already have the ten or twelve year olds in stock.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

  • Banks DIH informed me that not only was the North American market being more aggressively targeted in 2017, but cask strength and even single-barrel rums would be issued as part of the range in the future.  The majority of the range would continue to be blends, and the sourcing of raw rum stock from Trinidad and Barbados would continue (see the 12 year old review for some notes on the matter)
  • The Jubilee 20 year old (my age statement, not theirs) has components of the blend that are up to 50 years old.
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