Mar 302013
 

 

Good sipper for the money: if you’re on a budget, get the Admiral Rodney Extra Old, if not, this one is a shade better for not too much extra.

(#13467½ /100)

***

(This is the last entry in my four-rum review series of St Lucia Distiller’s rums, which I tasted together a few weeks ago).

Rum makers occasionally issue an expression which commemorates an event or a date that has particular meaning for them and then turn that into a marketing tool (like the Angostura 1919 or the Flor de Cana “21”) – it’s always touted as being a cut above the ordinary, although I have my private feelings about the veracity of such statements. In this instance, St Lucia Distillers have issued a rum called “1931” which refers to the year when the Barnard family Mabouya Distillery was founded near Dennery (it merged with the Geest family distillery in 1972 to create St Lucia Distillers).

The sources for this excellent rum were the distillates from three copper pot stills and one columnar (Coffey) still ranging from 1999 to 2004: the rums were aged (according to the company site) in white oak casks including Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Buffalo Trace and a couple of Port casks, then blended and left to marry for three more months before bottling at 43% abv.

Influences from all that bourbon and whisky, as well as the oak, were immediately evident on the nose, which was fuller, deeper – even darker – than its predecessors. Not quite on the level of the El Dorados, but very nice for all that, and got even better as it opened up. Traces of raisins and dried fruits mingled happily with pomegranates, figs, and apples just on the ragged edge of going too ripe, enveloped in a robust smoky background.

The rum itself had a medium to heavy body (I have a personal predilection for that), more dark red fruits, dried raisins, honey, a subtle grapey hint, and again that smoky background which made me suspect that one of the barrels may have been charred to lend some more pizzazz to the profile. Oddly, I noted few soft or fleshy kind of notes (as might have come from bananas), but a hint of orange peel, all tied up in a neat bow by burnt sugar and toffee. And on the finish it was really quite pleasant, soft and unaggressive, yet warm and long as well, with none of the savage elan of, oh, the Appletons, exiting with a hint of old tobacco and dried, well cured leather. El Kapitan once mentioned that with some experience one could discern a pot stilled product from one that was predominantly column stilled: if he was right, I’d hazard a guess that the richness of what I was sampling derived primarily from the pot still portion of the blend.

The 1931 was unchill filtered, and evinced an overall taste that was quite a bit gentler than we might be expecting to find in a slightly stronger rum (43%, remember) – I remarked in the Admiral Rodney review that this was closer in style to the Barbadians as opposed to the Cubans or the Jamaicans who are a bit more aggressive in their rum profiles and have more perceptible, spicy and citrus notes, and here again, I came to the same conclusion.

Now, on balance, I don’t believe the 1931 is quite as joyous or as interesting or as over-the-cliff a bungee jumper as the Renegade St Lucia 1999, which I liked precisely for those attributes. That one took a chance, went off the reservation, and revelled in its difference: the 1931 played it mostly safe, though it did so exceedingly well. I also don’t rate it as a super premium rum, good as it is — I have some rums in my shelf which really are super premiums, so I have a good basis for comparison and can stand by that remark. Still, for eighty dollars in my location, the 1931 is definitely a great buy.

When you really get down to it, the St Lucia Distillers 1931 expression is quite similar to the St. Nicholas Abbey 8 year old, the Dos Maderas PX 5+5 (perhaps not as heavy), or, more so, the Admiral Rodney made by the same company (though a tad stronger, with that pot and column still blend, 7-12 years old) – similar enough to its sibling, in fact, that you could try the two side by side and not immediately know which was which unless you were paying attention. That’s not entirely a problem though – it’s a subtle, soft, supple, well blended, well-aged, rum of depth and complexity and excellent all round quality. I’d not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who wants a good sipping rum.

***

Epilogue: a summing up of the four St. Lucians

Apologies to the eponymous Islanders, but there’s something subtle missing in these St Lucia rums…an element of, oh…aggressive decisiveness, of oomph and yobishness and in your face “I’m a rum” gobsmack. None of the rums are bad by any stretch, and all can be had by themselves and enjoyed quite nicely, thank you very much….but perhaps they’re taking something away from the laid back nature of St Lucia itself, which has never really had or sought much visibility or power in Caricom. Just as in real life, the Guyanese, Bajans, Trinis and Jamaicans are walking away with all the rum headlines, while little St. Lucia is happy to putter along quietly behind, making its lovely little rums, but not combative or bellicose enough to take on all comers with fire and brimstone and make them world beaters. We rum lovers will know of and appreciate their quality…sadly, not everyone else will.

 

A:6/10 N:17½ /25 T:18/25 F:15/25 I:11/15 TOT: 67½ /100

 

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:09 am
Mar 302013
 

 

In my opinion, the best of the St. Lucia rums hailing from the eponymous distillery

(#133. 67/100)

***

We choose friends for many reasons: in my case it’s a question of what quality they add to my overall existence and what I can contribute to theirs. I may not like everything about them, or they about me (admittedly, I occasionally piss people off, sometimes just by being in the same room breathing the air they’d rather be smoking) – yet all my friends are interesting, all have quirks and characters that are appreciated and savoured. I feel the same way about rums – they may not be the best at what they try to be, but if they go for the fences with cheerful abandon, well…how can I not appreciate that?

Renegade Rums are a subset of what I term “series rums” (like the Rum Nation, Secret Treasures, Bristol and Plantation series, for example) with which I have had a love-hate relationship since I first began trying them four years ago. Some were too much like whisky, others were not aged enough, in some cases the finish just didn’t work (for me – others may differ in their assessments), and in yet others it seemed like they weren’t loved enough by the maker. In other cases they succeeded swimmingly

The Renegade St. Lucia 1999 10 year old was firmly in that last camp. Bottled at a pleasant, tongue-titillating 46% and presented in that frosted, etched bottle I’ve always sighed over, it was aged for ten years in used Bourbon casks and then finished (for three months, I think) in Chateau LaFleur casks, which provided something of a fruity Bordeaux hint to the final profile. It was probably this which made me appreciate it more: quirky it might have been, but I couldn’t argue with the originality.

The amber, medium bodied rum was the lightest-coloured of the rums hailing from St Lucia which I tried (Forgotten CasksAdmiral Rodney and the 1931), and right away after decanting it leaped up and stabbed me in the nose with the now familiar pitchfork of Renegade’s slight overproofishness (is that a word?). Plasticine, rubber and play-dough were evinced right out of the gate – not aromas I particularly cared for, but bear with me, reader: stay with it. I had a similar experience with the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 and 1985 Demerara 23, and you gotta let that sucker breathe a bit. Do that and the next wave comes over the beachhead…smokiness, cherries, sweet breakfast spices, nougat, well-polished leather and aromatic pipe tobacco in an antique tobacconists shop found in an old European capital, along a well hidden cobbled street on a blustery day in autumn.

The taste followed right along, heated, yes, just not overbearing and mean. It wasn’t the smoothest of sipping quality rums, no – strength and youth showed in a slight bite for which I marked it down, and it had a dry tang and brininess that at first startled me – but the rum was decently aged, there was a woody backdrop to which was gradually added salt water taffy, candy, caramelized apples…plus cherries and apricots, all held in balance and harmony by scorched pine wood. Coiling around all of these sumptuous tastes were notes of Russian or black china tea…lapsang-suchong. I mean, this was just heavenly, especially since the relative youth of the rum made it spry and agile and almost mischievous, without the deep, mellow ponderousness of grandfathers (in rum years) like, oh, the Panamonte XXV or the El Dorado 25. The long finish was similarly good, exiting in the leisurely, sauntering fashion of a prima donna who knows she’s good, leaving behind the memory of salty biscuits and marzipan.

All three of St. Lucia Distillers rums scored within a few points of each other, weaknesses and low scores in one area recouped by strengths in another. Tough to choose between them all, yet, at end, I absolutely preferred the Renegade version of St Lucia’s rums to any of the others, good as they were. What it came down to was a question of character. The Admiral Rodney and 1931 were solid well-made rums: they merely hewed so closely to the line that some of the characteristics of playful experimentation were lost. For sheer originality, for sheer joy and exuberance and verve, for complexity and interesting profile, the Renegade had it.

A:7/10 N:17/25 T:16/25 F:16/25 I:11/15 TOT 67/100

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:06 am
Mar 302013
 

 

Soft, smooth, tasty. I’d rank it as a mid range sipping-quality rum. You won’t regret the purchase if what you’re after is something that lacks the relative spiciness of a Cuban or Jamaican product and trends more to the softer Bajan style.

(#132. 66/100)

***

St Lucia Distillers is the only remaining distiller remaining in St Lucia after the closures of many other companies on the island in the last hundred years, and a consolidation of the last two — Barnard and Geest — in 1972. It is now owned by CLICO’s parent company CL Financial out of Trinidad, which has had its share of financial problems in the last years, and also owns a majority stake in Appleton Estates, the Jamaican rum maker, as well as Angostura in Trinidad itself. In the spirits world I guess you could say they are a bit like the Diageo of the Caribbean.

St Lucia Distillers source molasses out of Guyana to make their excellent series of top-end rums, primarily this one and the 1931 – I choose not to accept that the decent (but not superlative) Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks is a true premium rum. The Admiral Rodney rum is named after the British Naval officer who was victorious in the Battle of the Saintes in 1782, which ended the French threat to Jamaica and asserted British predominance in the Caribbean thereafter. (Given that he was “vain, selfish and unscrupulous” and was often accused of nepotism and having an obsession with prize money, this might strike some as surprising, but never mind – I guess it’s the battle that’s important).

Made from a blend of rums aged eight to twelve years, somewhat navy in character (though not as much as some other darker and more in-your-face rums that tout the fact front and center), Admiral Rodney rum is aged in oak casks once used for bourbon, and unchill filtered (always a good thing). The Admiral presented himself in a round shouldered square bottle with a cool wooden-tipped cork as big as W.C Fields’s nose (though not as red). What distinguished the dark amber rum inside was its overall softness. A gentle, warm and light-smoky nose redolent of light flowers, orange peel and vanilla wafted up from the glass, and I was pleased to be able to pick up cinnamon, coriander and mild caramel notes, without any of them actually dominating the other. Usually in lesser offerings, the burnt sugar and butterscotch-caramel flavours dominate and let you know in no uncertain terms that here is a man’s rum (or so they believe)…this one was serenely confident in its own rum-ness, and disdained such crass embellishment.

I liked the taste and mouthfeel as well. It was a little heavier than medium, and a shade more spicy than the 1931 bottled at 43% and about the same as the 46% Renegade St Lucia 1999. Which I must admit, is odd for a forty percenter. Still, once it settled down it evinced notes of honey and mild tropical fruit – papaya, guavas, ripe mangos – and gradually turned a shade dry. It was on balance sweeter and richer than the Forgotten Casks, and quite smooth, with the taste of burnt brown sugar and caramel being quite muted. It was, when I thought about it, remarkably unaggressive, and seemed to aim for some of the let’s-please-everyone nature of a Honda Civic (which is both a good and a bad thing). The medium long finish reminded me of a decent wine, something like a pinot grigot, or a chenin blanc, with closing tastes of those same soft fruits, and white flowers on the exit. All in all, a very pleasant sipping rum with very little attitude or aggro.

What’s this rum good for? Well, as a sipping spirit in its own right, I think it’s not shabby at all. Great bouquet, good palate and finish, excellent on many levels. As the Forgotten Casks rum was, it’s a better than decent introduction to sipping rums for those on a budget (I paid around sixty bucks for it), and its overall softness makes the intro a gentle one instead of something more elemental that rapes your gullet. It may not convince a whisky drinker to take the plunge into the dark side, but a wine dabbler? Oh yes.

A:6/10 N:17/25 T:17/25 F:15/25 I:11/15 TOT: 66/100

 

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:03 am
Mar 302013
 

 

Good rum, but overshadowed by the marketing message

(#131. 60.5/100)

***

The ad copy reads like a dream: casks squirrelled away in 2007 when a fire ravaged St Lucia Distillers warehouses, were misplaced and then found, and when tried, evinced a more complex flavour profile than that of the standard Chairman’s Reserve (which, alas, I have yet to sample). Is it, as it is marketed, something special?

I have a reason for leading in this way: the other day while Mark the Mad Rock God was receiving instruction from his guitar Yoda, Yoda’s wife and I ran four separate St Lucia distillers products through the wringer (the Forgotten Casks, the Admiral Rodney, the Renegade St Lucia, and the 1931). All were good, all were tasty. Yet somehow, if even by a nose, the Forgotten Casks variant finished in the rear in spite of its overall quality. In other words, there were three other products by the same distillery that beat it.

Speaking of the maker: St Lucia Distillers was formally born in 1972 when the two remaining distilleries on the island — the Barnard Family Estate in Dennery, which was for the most part producing strong white rums, and the Geest family distillery at Roseau — merged to form a joint venture. Today, St. Lucia Distillers Limited is located on the site of the old Geest Distillery, once a part of the Sugar Manufacturers mill in Roseau, on the west coast of St. Lucia. In 2005 the Barnard family, sold to CLICO, with third generation rum-maker Laurie Barnard staying on as Managing Director.The aged plant from the two original distilleries which formed the company was replaced in the second half of the 1990s with a new two-column still, which permitted a rapid diversification of product lines: vodka, gin, brandy, many other rums. However, as a result of St Lucia’s move away from land intensive sugar cane cultivation to bananas, they no longer grow their own sugar, but import molasses from (where else?) Guyana. Both the new stills and a secure source of supply ensured that the company was able to expand and it has created a good export market to Europe and Africa.

 

Perhaps the first inkling that the St. Lucia Distillers may not themselves consider the Forgotten Casks rum among their best offerings is the cheap tinfoil cap. Not a nail in the coffin, precisely…more like a polite nose tap. Squat bottle, decent label, ensconced in a cheap cardboard box giving the history of the forgotten casks themselves. The aroma was nothing to sneeze at, mind: soft scents of citrus (more lime than orange), marzipan and a sort of warm smokiness attended my pouring this dark amber rum. As it opened up, dried dark fruits (raisins?), chocolate and burnt brown sugar began to make themselves subtly felt. It was not a heavy rum to nose, but a very pleasant unobtrusive one, with a subtlety that was quite attractive, and distinct enough to better both the Doorly’s XO and the Juan Santos Five Year old, which were too timid to let us know what they were all about

The arrival of the medium bodied rum was a shade heated, though not so much as to be unpleasant — at 40% I would have been surprised if it had been. The light smoky background persisted under a soft kind of light crispness: Mary, who was kind enough to sample this with me, suggested a wine lover – particularly one who appreciated a Sauvignon-Blanc – would probably really enjoy this baby. As we sampled back and forth we noted tastes of a buttery creaminess, English biscuits, and then caramel and toffee. And a driness that led to a medium long finish redolent of that same creamy caramel. I’d hesitate to add this rum to a mix…it’s borderline, still a bit rough around the edges and needing some couth, yet good enough for the curious to try on their own.

Is it better than the original Chairman’s Reserve which was never misplaced? I can’t tell, since I never had any. However, my online research of St Lucia Distiller’s website suggests that while the original is a blend of rums individually aged for 4½ years and then aged a further six months after blending, this variant is a blend of coffey and pot-still rums seven to twelve years old, first separately aged (by still output) in white oak barrels and then married for a further five years (maybe while lost?)…so probably since 2007. Therefore I’d hazard a wild-ass-guess that yeah, it’s probably better just ‘cause it really is older — and for those who are fortunate enough to try them both side by side, feel free to comment and let me know. (As an aside, note that the Admiral Rodney rum made by the same company is aged eight to twelve years so perhaps this one is either a high-end Chairman’s Reserve or a low end Admiral Rodney.)

 

So: the Forgotten Casks are officially a limited edition of misplaced casks now found and bottled. It’s considered by the makers to be a premium rum. Tastes pretty good, in my opinion. You want to intro someone to rums (especially a wine drinker)…good place to start may be here. All this is good. But it’s not as if, like the original Angostura 1919, the barrels were superlatively enhanced by the fire, or lost for literally decades. These barrels were misplaced for about four or five years, and all that means to me is that they were aged a bit more. The rum is simply not an undiscovered steal or some unbelievably good rum that somehow slipped past us.

It’s a good rum, a tasty rum and a nice rum. That it isn’t an utterly premium undervalued rum has more to do with its marketing promo campaign than the fact that it’s a decent product, perhaps matured differently and tasting well for its age. I honestly don’t think they needed to state that the barrels were lost and found, because the Forgotten Casks rum stands up quite nicely on its own without further embellishment – all they really needed to say it was an eight or ten years old or something. And the problem for St. Lucia’s Distillers this created, in my opinion, is that by naming the rum as they did, they created an expectation it did not meet, and a cachet I don’t think it quite deserved.

A: 4.5/10; N: 16/25; P: 15/25; F: 14/25; I: 11/15 TOT: 60.5/100

***

Just as a closing note: the order of the four rums in my tasting (the reviews for which are not yet complete) is from bottom to top: Forgotten Casks, Admiral Rodney, Renegade and 1931. Less than ten points separate the first from the last, and all exceed 60, which qualifies as good for me and says a lot for the overall quality of the line.

 

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 8:59 am
Mar 262013
 

First posted 18 August 2010 on Liquorature. (#055)

***

I’d seen this trapezoidal bottle once in a while on the occasional shelf in Calgary, but  I’d never been interested enough, or seen it in sufficient quantity – let alone heard anything about it – to decide whether it was worth a buy or not.  It was an interesting surprise when a very helpful gent from Co-op named Dan Ellis (may the ice in his glass never melt) sourced the thing out.  Now granted, I had been making sneery remarks at the paucity of his rum selection (as opposed to the Scottish drink) so the honour of his stores certainly came into play here.  But I’m happy he bothered.

A Single Digit Rum does not usually inspire me to treat with any degree of reverence and a blend even less so, but in this case, the styling of the bottle and its comparative rarity (and, it must be stated, price – I’m as much of a snob as anyone at times, sorry), made me take more than usual care in checking it out. I was…intrigued.  And in retrospect, I’m glad I took the time.  The nose seemed fairly straightforward on the getgo – a clear, intense light gold rum, very delicate (Oh God, was this another friggin’ Doorly’s? was the first thought through my mind), but with a slight hint of peaches and citrus, and definitely apple – it reminded me of my favourite (and very expensive) Riesling. My wife, who loved that New Age bottle to pieces, rudely snatched the glass from my hands and watching her little button nose try to extract scent from the glass that swallowed it whole was almost as entertaining as her attempts to translate her thinking into English.  We both tasted the oak, but she noted that there was a hint of dried forest leaves dampened by a summer rain too.  And after we stood it for a bit and it opened up, there was the molasses and burnt sugar revealing itself around the skirts of the first aromas like a shy girl hiding behind her mommy. A girl with some spirit because there’s no getting away from the slight medicinal tang to the nose which spoils what is otherwise a really good nose.

On the tongue and in the mouth, the Elements 8 Gold changed its character again: it grew up, took off its braces and flirted without shame, flicking up its skirt and laughing.  Not assured enough to be mature, still young enough to have some rawness to it, but no longer in its girlhood, it bucked in coltish adolecence across my taste buds, coating the palate with soft oiliness.  The thing is, there is no caramel or toffee taste in this thing at all – a first for me.  It’s not sweet and has a deep, rich burn going down, like a well aged cognac.  And the body is excellent, medium heavy, and maintaining that odd …cleanness which I really liked. But the finish is fast — our tomboy hasn’t learned to make a kiss last yet, so while she is fine as peaches and cream, she needs a little polish to make her into a world beater that men will stampede over each other to taste.

Elements 8 is a premium rum made in the St Lucia Distillery, but care has to be taken in distinguishing it from the actual products of that distillery (for example, the Admiral Rodney, or the Chairman’s Reserve brands) – the [e]8 organization works closely with the distillery while not either owning it or being owned by them.  The Elements 8 Rum Company is a UK enterprise run by two gentlemen, one of whom, like me, is a Caribbean infused German (don’t ask).  The founders of Elements 8 saw that rum, like whiskies, vodkas, gins and tequilas, could reach upscale quality and prices by dint of differentiation, innovative distillation and blending, product design, clever marketing and word of mouth.

Elements 8 is an instructive study in how to raise expectations with glowing advertising. Unlike the Kraken, which simply had fanboys going ape over it (unnecessarily so, in my opinion), this one had quality written all over its commercial messaging. Supposedly eight elements of production are married in a holistic manner to produce a rum modestly referred to as being of surpassing quality: environmental (St Lucia boasts a unique micro-climate which imparts its own character to the rum but then, so does every other island), cane from Guyana – I was told it was molasses not the actual sugar cane (one of the ads, which touted the cane  as being “hand selected” had me doubled over in laughter), water from protected rainforest habitats, three differeing yeasts, distillation, tropical ageing, blending and filtration, all in harmony. The rum is distilled in three different stills: a John Dore double retort copper pot still for the heavy, flavourful components, depth and finish; a Vendome Kentucky Bourbon copper pot still which gives the rather unique flavour profile; and a steel columnar still for the lighter components.  Since each still is charged with three different washes (from the three yeasts), we have nine blend components (actually, ten) which are blended and aged for a minimum of six years in oaken barrels that once held Buffalo Trace bourbon.  Not bad.

All right, so I tasted, I researched, I drank, then added an ice cube, and after it all, tried it as a mixer.  My conclusions?

Well, forget the mixing part. You get an interesting ginger taste with coke, but it isn’t really worth it: the [e]8 Gold is dense and viscous enough not to need the enhancement.  The nose, as I said is clean and complex, rewards time and care, and is very attractive except for that last bitchy smackdown of medicine (some care in the distillation or ageing, perhaps an additive or two might mitigate that).  The taste is something else again. I’m not sure rum lovers who like their caramel and sweetness will appreciate the slightly salty tang of a rum that is more like a cognac. If you can get past that, the smoothness of the finish and the overall richness of the blend make this quite a unique drink, one that, like Bundie or the Pyrat’s XO, can be identified blind with no doubts whatsoever.  Just not entirely a rum the way I expect one to be (this may be a limitation of mine, not the rum…get a bottle and make your own determination).

So it’s not quite my thing – maybe I’m not yuppie enough, or just like my sweet rum taste more than something made and designed for the bars of the upper class – but in way I feel a little sad, too.  The nose had real promise, really set you up for something special, and at the end I felt like the geek who got to kiss the head of the cheerleading squad, only to find she couldn’t kiss as well as my expectations had been led to believe she could. I’m left with all excitement and no true satisfaction.

I’m hoping that in the years to come, Elements 8 will find a way to marry the traditions of the older rum distillers with the new wave innovations of this century, to come up with something truly spectacular: the fact that they are attempting to produce a premium white rum speaks at a fair amount of determination to think out of the box.  I’ll  not hesitate to buy anything from their line I see going forward.

Note: I’m indebted to one of the founders of [e]8, Andreas Redlefsen, who was kind enough to answer all my questions on his organization, its history, outlook and methods, without reservation. Prosit, kumpel.

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 7:35 am