Apr 172015
 
rum-caroni-1994-18-anni

Photo courtesy of Velier

 

This Caroni isn’t the strongest one in the rumosphere but it conforms to most of the expectations taste-wise – a shade more dark and it could probably be used to surface a road somewhere. A good to great exemplar from the closed distillery.

(#211. 87/100)

***

This is one of five or six rums I bought in an effort to raise the profile of the now-defunct Caroni Distillery from Trinidad. That it was made by Velier didn’t hurt either, of course, because almost alone among the rums makers out there, Luca Gargano has the distinction of making just about all of his rums at cask strength, and everything he’s made thus far I’ve liked.  And at 55% ABV, it may just be accessible to a wider audience, assuming it can ever be found in the jungle of Caronis Velier makes (I bought mine from Italy for a lire or two under €80).

Because Caroni has now been closed for over a decade, its products are getting harder to find as stocks run down — when we start seeing expressions dated from the year 2000 and greater, the end is near, and purely on that basis they may be good investment choices for those inclined that way.  Bristol Spirits and Rum Nation and some other craft makers have issued rums from here before, but Velier probably has the largest selection of this type in existence (sometimes varying strengths from the same year), and I know I’ll never get them all…so let’s stick with this one, and waste no further time.

D3S_8897

Presentation is slightly different than the stark zen minimalism of the Guyanese rums; here it came with a black and white box, nice graphics, and all the usual useful information: distilled in 1994, aged 18 years (fourteen in Trinidad, thereafter in Guyana), bottled 2012, 6943 bottles from 23 barrels.  Plastic tipped cork (these are coming into their own these days, and are hardly worthy of comment any longer except by their absence), black bottle, decent label, and, I have to mention, when I poured it out, it was quite the darkest Caroni I’d tried thus far, which had me rubbing my hands together in glee.

I appreciate higher proofed spirits topping 60%, yet I couldn’t fault what had been accomplished in this instance with something a few points lower: the rich aromas of this dark blonde rum led off immediately with licorice and candied apples, strong and full fruity scents mixing with sharper tannins of oak; there was some burnt rubber and plastic hiding in there someplace, like a well insulated rubber truncheon to the face.  It was pleasant and full and rich, pervaded by a both deep and heated lusciousness.  The longer I let it stand, the more I got out of it, and recall with pleasure additional notes of burnt sugar, rosy, floral scents, cedar and pine…and, as if to tip me a roué’s leering wink, a last laugh of mint flavoured bubble gum (no, really – I went back to the glass four times over two days to make sure I wasn’t being messed with).

As if to make up for its mischievousness, the Caroni 1994, aged for eighteen years in oak barrels in Trinidad and Guyana, turned serious with a hint of mean on the palate.  Sharp, salty, briny tastes led right off. It was a spirituous assault on the tongue, so bright and fierce that initially it made me feel like I’d just swallowed an angry blender.  Fortunately, that smoothened out over time, and became gentler (if a term like that could be applied to such a concussive drink) – a buttery, creamy profile emerged from the maelstrom, merging seamlessly with oaken tannins, licorice, vanillas, aromatic pipe tobacco, some fresh tar; and more caramel and burnt sugar  tastes, that were stopped just shy of bitterness by some magic of the maker’s art.  And the long and lasting finish was similarly bold and complex, bringing last memories of nuts, tannins and hot black tea to leaven the caramel and anise I detected.

D3S_8896

As we drink this powerful shot, we come to grips with a certain essential toughness of the maker, an unsubtle reminder of a man who makes no small rums, but feral, mean, blasting caps that glance with indifference at the more soothing exemplars which pepper all the festivals and tasting events. It’s big, blunt, intimidating and seemingly impervious to dilution (I can only imagine what the stronger version is like). This Caroni is not subtle but then, Velier doesn’t really do milquetoast, preferring bold in-your-face statements to understated points of please-don’t-hurt-me diffidence.  So I’d suggest that it’s not a rum for everyone…but in its elemental power of proof lies its appeal: to those who are willing to brave it, and to those who enjoy an occasional walk on the wild side with a rum as fascinating and excellent as this one.

Other notes

Look again at the outturn for that year and that strength: just shy of 7,000 bottles from 23 casks.  And that’s only 1994. When you consider the sheer range of the Caronis Velier has already put out the door, and the sadly slim pickings (thus far) from other craft makers, you begin to get an inkling of exactly how much stock Velier has managed to pick up.

D3S_8898

Apr 082015
 

D3S_8890

Another, slightly lesser brother from the same mother. It stands in the shadow of the company’s magnificent 34 Year Old.

(#210 / 85/100)

***

It’s possible that Bristol Spirits decided to play it safe (again) with the 43% expression from the closed Caroni Distillery of Trinidad…y’know, give it a wider audience than the drop-down-dead-of-old-age 34 year old 1974 variation which would dig a deep hole in both your wallet and your marriage. Or maybe that’s how the barrel played out when it came time to bottle the liquor (notice that 2008 was the same year they produced the 1974, so both were issued simultaneously). It’s good, but in my own opinion, could have been a shade better — their contention that they’re happy with the strength at which they issue their rums always struck me as taking the road more commonly travelled instead of breaking out to chart their own path.

Which is not to say that anyone buying the 19 year old will be disappointed. Even the appearance is quietly dramatic and eye catching, and adheres to Bristol’s standards: a psychedelic orange label on a barroom bottle with a plastic tipped cork, all housed in a cool black torpedo tube lettered in silver. I love Velier’s minimalism, but must concede I have a soft spot for Bristol as well.

Anyway, the rum itself: column-still produced, it was a dark golden brown liquid in the glass, displaying slow, chubby legs draining away down the sides. At 43% it was mellow to smell, dense and almost heavy with dark cherries, hibiscus blooms, licorice and a touch of brown sugar and molasses.  Yet at the same time it was also quite clean on the nose, warm, without any overweening alcohol sharpness that would have debased the rather luscious aroma.

To taste, the Caroni 1989 would not be described as “heavy,” as opposed to a full-proofed Demerara hailing from a wooden still, or a massively aged Jamaica rum flinging dunder and funk in all directions, both of which really could be. It was, in point of fact, a curious and delicious melange of textures that accurately navigated to being a medium bodied rum without actually being a pussyfooted one-hit-wonder. A column still distillate produced this?  Wow. Rich — but not overwhelming — notes of anise, fleshy fruit on the edge of ripeness, brown sugar, licorice, some molasses started things going, and after opening up you could tell the shared DNA of the 1974 (which I was tasting side by side): it was a less aggressive, easier version of that growling geriatric Trini. There were faint tastes of black olives, smoke, tannins and smoke, mixed in with road tar (this actually sounds worse than it is, trust me). I could not detect any of that salt and nuttiness that I remarked on the 1974 and it was a very pleasant drinking experience all ‘round…until the end.

D3S_8894

I’m going to spare a word about what to me was a disappointing finish for something so aged.  It was lacklustre in a way that was surprising after the quality of what had come before, and which diminished the positive impact of the preceding nose and palate.  This is where the 43% works against the rum and lessens the overall experience I’m afraid (some may disagree).  Sure it was clean and warm, even a shade dry, on the exit, with caramel and vanilla and smoky notes to finish things off…but it displayed a too-short attitude of good-enough “git-’er-dun” that offended me in a vague way. So yeah, the 43% does make a difference (just as 35% or 55% would).

I’m sort of conflicted on this Caroni.  I certainly liked it enough: it’s a rambunctious, delicious rum with a great profile and sleek, supple tastes to it — but which chokes a little on the back end.  The question is – as it must be – whether it’s as good as the 34 year old expression, or just different.  It’s probably leaning more to the latter. At the end, while it’s not quite as remarkable as its sibling, if you’re on a budget and want a Caroni, this one is an absolutely decent buy (I paid €130 for it), and you won’t feel short-changed if you spring for the thing, my whinging on the finish aside. Because it’s a Caroni and because I wanted to give the distillery some exposure, I bought it (and four or five others from various makers)…yet personally, I’d prefer to wait and save for something a bit more mature, something…well, beefier.  Like the 1974. Even at 46%, that one at least had some of the courage of its convictions.

 

Feb 122015
 

D3S_9555

A Spartan rum, sporting a massive codpiece, ripped eight-pack, and real attitude.  Not for the lovers of softer or sweeter fare.

(#201. 85/100)

***

You just gotta shake your head with appreciation when you regard Cadenhead and their commitment to muscle-bound zen machismo in rums.  They’ve always had a certain retro charm and a daring to go off the reservation that I grudgingly admired, and they have continued along that path here with this monster full proof.

Leaving aside the squat, glowering psycho-orange-and-yellow bottle with its cork stopper which is almost a Cadenhead signature, it should simply be noted that Cadenhead hewed to their minimalist ethos and added nothing in, and filtered nothing out.  In some previous iterations they tremulously diluted to drinking strength (whatever that might mean), but not here – perhaps they wanted the TMAH to take Velier out back and beat the snot out of it. It’s bottled at 66.9% – a hilariously strong drink, a growlingly full-proofed rum that wants to land on your glottis like a blacksmith’s solid iron anvil.

D3S_9555-001

I had been softened by several forty percenters, sampled prior to cracking this one, and was consequently somewhat unprepared for the force with which the TMAH assaulted my beak (it was sharp and deep, and should absolutely be left to stand for a while before nosing). I could barely discern any molasses background at all, in between furiously swirling notes of rye bread, salt biscuits and salt butter.  Not much caramel here.  But patience, patience – it did get better.  After opening up, it smoothened out a good bit and simply became an intense drink rather than a skewering one – and one could gradually tease out thin threads of honey and nougat, and sweeter notes of vanilla, cherries…and a little spicy note of marzipan.

That didn’t soften the arrival, of course. It was a little less than medium bodied, this rum – even thin, which I didn’t care for – and it detonated with a hurricane force level of taste, scattering shrapnel of sweet and salt in all directions. Dates and figs came to mind, more crackers, a sharp aged cheddar (but not as creamy).  Adding water helped here: almonds, nutmeg and slivers of dried fruit emerged, but slowly, thinly, as if terrified of being bludgeoned to death by the alcohol.  “Chewy” would not describe the experience exactly, but it comes close. Appropriately enough for such a full proof glass of high-test, the finish was enormously long, a sarissa of lingering flavours of nutmeg and vanilla and light sharp red fruit (pomegranates?). Cask strength, overproof, full proof or whatever – it was certainly a rum that demanded attention.

D3S_9556

Trinidad Distillers was established by Angostura back in the 1940s – even then Angostura had been into rum production for decades, though more famous for their eponymous bitters – and began producing alsohol in bulk.  At first this was primarily for rum production: as time went on, bulk exports formed a large part of its portfolio. Note however that most of the molasses they work with originates outside of Trinidad – in Guyana, Panama and the Dominican Republic.  In any event, Angostura as a company has little to do with it.  Cadenhead out of Campbelltown in Scotland have simply followed the craft-bottler route, bought a few barrels distilled in 1991, and then issued the rum at cask strength after it came of age in 2013, without any further mucking about

A rum like Cadenhead’s 21 year old is a curious beast.  Dissecting its profile and coming up with tasting notes is not like having the elements line up and present themselves one after another, like some kind of surreal audition or a debutante’s ball. They arrive when and as they will, and as we sip and try and think, we understand it’s not important to catch every nuance, every last flavour; sometimes all that matters is the overall tone, the commingled experience.  I may not be able to give you a complete set of tasting notes here: but the encounter as a whole is quite something.

And, it must be conceded, occasionally painful

***

Other notes:

  • Aged in ex-bourbon casks. No information on where, but I think it was in Scotland. If you compare similar full-proofed, similarly aged rums from Velier to the TMAH, you’ll see the difference tropical aging makes.
  • Bottled April 2013.
  • I really have no clue what TMAH stands for: Angostura never responded to me, and Cadenhead’s reps said they didn’t know. An anonymous online wit on FB –thanks, Cecil — said it stood for “Too Much Alcohol Here.” May his glass never be empty.

 

 

Dec 282014
 

D3S_9458

A surprising, dry, sharp and flavourful rum, yet somewhat missing of the high bar set by the Caronis made by other Italians. It’s got too many conflicting components, good in themselves, failing to cohere.

(#194. 86/100)

***

Readily available, cheaper and often excellent “everyone has one in his bar” rums dot the North American reviewing landscape, and every blogger usually begins his or her writing with such standards (European bloggers like Cyril, Marco and Henrik do not, for other reasons). Just like all film lovers eventually come to Ozu, sooner or later all us web scriveners move towards the craft bottlers, and with good reason. These makers take a select set of barrels from a particular country, a favoured distillery — even a specific still — and then lovingly tend the result without the problems of mass producing massive amounts of rum for an export market. These are almost always – and probably always will be – somewhat niche products, created for the rabid, not the mainstream, and alas, they tend to be pricey, if available at all. I think it’s a crime that more of this craft stuff doesn’t come over the water…even Renegade Rums are a vanishing breed over the pond. Add to that that this is a Caroni, and that says all that needs to be said as to why I bought it (for €80).

Depending on how you order the words on the label, this rum is called “Silver Seal Fine Caroni Heavy Rum 1997” with an additional moniker “Wildlife series No. 2” which relates to the label illustration of “Red, Blue and Yellow Macaws” by Harro Maas (several other Silver Seal rums have such designs). Given that it was marked as being bottled in 2011 on the label, then it is a 14 year old rum, even if it is not stated outright as being such; and like many other independent bottlers, they diluted the rum with distilled water down to 46%.  Black tipped cork on a standard barroom bottle, which held a golden-brown rum inside.

As I noted before with the Bristol Spirits and Barangai Caronis, there were certain things I expected from the rum, and here I found some of them returning like well-regarded, familiar friends on holiday, others not.  The nose started off somewhat lightly, with cherries and white flowers, but after just a few minutes the heavier flavours began to marshall their attack: tar, leather and smoke began, with estery wax and rubber notes of squishing wellies charging in later.  It was hot and spicy throughout – somewhat surprising for a rum of such relatively modest proofage.  And yet, as I stuck with it (and re-tasted later), the sweet flowers returned, accompanied by aromatic soap, citrus and – get this! – bubble gum.  A bit light, overall, and very rich in complexity and flavour.

No milquetoast rum this, it displayed real heft and weight to the taste.  Salty, briny and spicy, with tar, jute rice bags and heavy burnt sugar notes present, without the rum ever actually becoming sweet. Oak and smoke abounded, plus black dripping engine oil from a leak under your car, cooking on the asphalt on a really hot day.  Alas, these notes on the palate did not reach the high standard set by the initial scent. Adding some water didn’t quite rescue it, but did allow other flavours of vanilla and green olives to emerge.  The rather lacklustre finish of salted peanuts, butter and caramelized sugar was more of a question mark than an exclamation point on a unique rum which didn’t come together properly – I think too many interesting and complex flavours were at work (and querulously interfering with each other) for me to really love it. The nose was great, the palate pretty good and the finish just…meh. In a way it was a kinda crazy amalgam of taste impressions, not all of it succeeding as it should.

D3S_9459

Silver Seal is a bottler much in the vein of Velier, Rum Nation and others, if perhaps older (they were formed in 1979 and named “Sestante” before being renamed in 2001 after a ten year operational hiatus): like them, it bottles casks sourced and aged with attention to detail, from all over the world; like them, it is based in Italy; unlike Velier it does dampen down the natural exuberance of the cask, perhaps to appeal to a broader audience.  Its website gives equal, if not more prominence, to whisky (drat!), which I have to admit may not be all bad – love of the product does not blind me to the fact that flogging rums in the shops of the world can be an uphill slog, so if their whisky sales allow them to continue producing rums, well, that’s all good.

Summing up, I enjoyed the rum, just not as much as other Caronis I went through in series that day. This one is a shade too dry and salty – and maybe harsh – in comparison to those.  Oh, it’s a country mile ahead of cheaper and more available Trini rums, and there’s no denying its complexity (and the taste which single malt Islay lovers will really drool over) — so points for its technique there.

But you see, when people want to know about a particular rum, they’re after something quite specific. They never ask questions like, “Is the bouquet transcendent?” Or “is the palate sublime?” Or “is this a rum to share with friends, to show my personal sophistication?”

What they do want to know is, “Is it any good?” That’s what they always ask. And what they really mean by that, is “Is it good for the price?”

So for what I paid, I can’t tell you with a straight face that the Silver Seal Caroni 1997 is extraordinarily remarkable, an undiscovered masterpiece, a da Vinci among rums.  But I can make the case that for the money you spend, you’ll have a fascinating and intriguing time…as long as you accept that the overall profile is less that of a well balanced rum than that of a smorgasbord of great individual bits and pieces, that somehow fail to communicate with the mothership.

***

Dec 092014
 

D3S_8858

This is the second in a series of about six Caroni rums which I bought in mid-2014. It’s a solidly impressive rum, and quite a sophisticated, tasty bruiser.

(#192. 86.5/100)

Barangài?  What the hell is this? I asked myself, when scouring the online shoppes to come up with another Caroni perhaps worthy of purchase.  I found out that the word is not a title or the maker’s name (as I had initially surmised) but refers to an old descriptor used by the islanders for ships of medium capacity: I suppose a caravel, or a carrack, or a ballinger would be as good a title.  But never mind: it had a nice ring to it, a whiff of salt and seaspray and yohohos, and for that I gave in and bought it. On such small matters do the purchase of rums sometimes hang.

Caroni’s older, pre-1990s stocks are the stuff of legend and tall tales: I often joke that you’re more likely to find a unicorn than one of those.  However, in the past years, I noted that a number of bottlers are now issuing 1990s-era rums, so we may be entering into something of a golden age for this mothballed estate, where availability and price aren’t too far divergent (though they are still pricey, I hasten to add, since just about all are made by independent bottlers).

Pellegrini SA, a craft bottler out of Italy about which I have heard nothing much before now (mea culpa, not theirs), sourced this 52% full proof from 1997 stocks – which, given the big fat “16” on the label, meant that it was bottled in 2013.  They made a point of noting it had no additives, no filtration, and less than seven hundred bottles exist.  Now, they also mentioned that it was aged  and imported by them, but I was unable to find out how much of the ageing was done in situ, and how much in Europe – though I suspect at the very least, the final sherrywood cask finish was done in Italy.

D3S_8866

Sixteen years of ageing in two kinds of barrels certainly had its influence: the rum poured out in a dark-brown, almost-but-not-quite mahogany, and displayed the thick, slow legs of a sweaty steel band player banging away up Laventille Hill. The initial aromas were excellent, complex to a fault: cedar, oak, flowers, some fruitiness, orange peel, baking spices were right in the forefront, intense but not a liquid sword to the nose. In fact, for a 52% rum, I felt it to be impressively soft after the initial alcohol sting faded away – that sherry cask influence muting and smoothening things out, perhaps. I should also note that here was a rum rewarding some patience – it got better as it rested and opened up, showing off further musty and tarry scents, some smoke and leather, and I kept thinking of old-time sealing wax burning on paper.  In its own special way it reminded me somewhat of the Bristol Spirits 1974 Caroni, though not quite at that level of quality.

On the palate – heaven. Here’s a rum (one of many) displaying what I’ve liked about Caronis from the get go: it was medium bodied, both lightly sweet and briny, like crackers covered in honey, or toast and cream cheese: a liquid breakfast, if you will.  Again, fruity sherry notes, citrus zest, flowers, hyacinth, licorice and hot black tar.  And dry.  It is actually (and surprisingly) more intense in the mouth than the nose would lead you to expect, a bit more spicy than those accustomed to rums bottled at standard strength might prefer – but by no means unpleasant, just something to watch out for.  The fade was as good as the beginning, pleasantly long, a bit dry, with honey, corn flakes and some burnt notes of both tar and brown sugar. The “Barangài” moniker may have little to do with the rum, and may have been named for a medium sized ship, but I’ll tell you, title aside, the rum had the mad grace of a clipper with a full spread of sails, doing the transatlantic run in record time.  I really enjoyed it.

A few notes on the maker: the Italian company Pellegrini S.A. has been around since the very early 1900s (if not even before that), located close to Milan, and has been primarily known for wines, both as a distributor and a producer.  However, as well as being a general spirits distributor, they do indulge in their own rum bottling, and their private stock has several of the Barangai Caronis, as well as Demerara, Jamaican and Bajan rums.  In this sense they act much as Samaroli, Silver Seal, Fassbind, Velier and Rum Nation do – as independent bottlers who are so commonly found in Europe, but hardly so in North America (to that regions’s detriment).

I’ve remarked before on how good the Caroni distillate is.  If a slightly heavier, clear and tart mixing rum is your thing, this one might in fact work better for you than the somewhat more elemental Veliers, or even Bristol Spirits.  Perhaps it’s something to do with the Italian sunshine, or its age.  Still, with this particular Caroni rum and its sherry finish, I believe I can say with some justification, that it’s an excellent purchase, and won’t disappoint for the seventy five Euros or its equivalent that you would shell out to snag it.

 

Oct 292014
 

D3S_8870

This is the first review in a set of about six which deals with Caroni rums.  I’m unabashedly starting with the oldest, which is a top-notch rum with few disappointments and flashes of greatness underpinning a rock solid performance. 

(#186 / 90/100)

***

Even before heading to Europe in October 2014, I resolved to sample what I could from the now-defunct Caroni distillery in Trinidad which regrettably closed in 2002.  Part of this is simply curiosity, mixed with a collector’s avarice…but also the high opinion I formed years ago when I tried the A.D. Rattray 1997 edition, and was an instant convert.  Alas, in these hard times, the only place one can get a Caroni is from boutique bottlers, most of whom are in Europe…and that’ll cost you.  I can’t actually remember a single example of the line I ever saw in Calgary, aside from the aforementioned ADR.

Bristol Spirits is one of the craft makers whose products are usually worth a try — remember the awesome PM 1980 that even the Maltmonster liked, much to his everlasting embarrassment? They have a series spanning many islands and lands, and so who can blame me for buying not only an impressively aged rum, but one from a distillery whose auctioned-off stocks diminish with each passing year.

It must be said I enjoy – no other words suffices – the labelling of Bristol Spirits’ beefy barroom bottles. That cheerfully psychedelic colour scheme they use is just too funky for words (as an example, note the fire engine red of the PM 1980). This rum may be one of the oldest Caronis remaining in the world still available for sale, joining Velier’s similarly aged full proof version from the same year.  And as with that company’s products, Bristol maintains that it was entirely aged in the tropics. It was a mahogany rum, shot with hints of red, quite attractive in a glass.

D3S_8873

In crude terms of overall profile, Bajans can be said to have their bananas, Guyanese licorice and dried fruit, Jamaicans citrus peel;  and Caronis too are noted for a subtly defining characteristic in their rums: tar.  This was apparent right upon opening the bottle (plastic tipped cork on a two hundred euro purchase…oh well) – it wasn’t just some unripe guavas, tobacco and softer floral aromas, but an accompanying undertone of said tar that was a (fortunately unobtrusive) mixture of brown cigarette residue and the way a road smells in really hot weather after having been freshly done with hot top by the road crew.  After opening up for several minutes, while this core remained (and it was far from unpleasant, really), it was replaced by an overarching toffee and nougat background.  A very pleasant nose, with not enough wood influence to mar it.

On the plate, superb.  Smooth and pleasant, some spiciness there, mostly warm and inviting – it didn’t try to ignite your tonsils. BS issued this at a we’re-more-reasonable-than-Velier strength of 46% which seems to be a happy medium for the Scots when making rum – but strong enough, and quite a bit darker and more intense than the Bristol Spirits 1989 version I had on hand. Salty, tarry, licorice and burnt sugar. Black olives. More tar – yeah, a lot more like hottop, but not intrusive at all. About as thick as some of the Port Mourants and Enmores I’ve tried recently.  As with other Caroni rums I sampled in tandem that day, while a lot more seemed to happen on the nose, it was actually the overall taste and mouthfeel that carried the show. After the initial tastes moved on, I added some water and made notes on caramel and crackers, dried raisins, and a little nuttiness I’d have liked more of. Perhaps a little unexceptional exit, after the good stuff that preceded it: it took its time, giving back more of that caramel and nutty aftertaste I enjoyed. Honestly, overall? – a lovely sipping experience.

Every now and then, I run across a rum that for its maker, its age, its provenance, and my feeling (or hope) for its quality, I just gotta have, sometimes beyond all reason.  The first was the English Harbour 1981 25 year old. The near legendary Skeldon 1973 comes to mind, and the G&M Longpond 58 year old was another. This one, from 1974 and with only 1500 bottles made, from a distillery I remembered with appreciation?  Oh yeah.  (“I’m just off to the online store, honey…”) And I’m glad I shut my eyes and dived right in…because even costing what it does, even rare as it is, this rum has the kind of profile that makes a man want to be a better person, just so he can deserve to drink it.

Mar 262013
 

First posted 12 March 2011 on Liquorature

Simple, rough, surprisingly tasty….good value, I think. You are going to get hit with a molasses club at the inception, and if you stick with it, it’ll reward your patience.  I’d say mix it, but a brave soul may take it as is.

(#070. 77/100)

***

Like most average folks I grew up watching bartenders mix drinks with Angostura Bitters; and one of the endurng memories of my first years in Georgetown was pouring a couple of drops into a cream soda to make a “rockshandy”.  It was years before I realized that the Angostura company also made a whole lotta pretty good rums, one of which, the Premium 5 year old, I’m taking a look at here.  I selected it as one of the three official rums for Liquorature’s February 2011  Gathering, but it was eclipsed in most people’s minds by the Favell’s London Dock, and the Renegade Grenada 1996.  Oh well.

Appearance wise, I’d have to say what I liked most about it was the bottle itself, and the colour: a deep copper bronze. It suggested that here was a rum done more in the demerara style than anything else. Against that, there was the cheap tinfoil cap which did less than enthuse me, as such things usually do, but these days I sort of sigh and move on…it’s ot as if my sniffy opinions are going to change a large company’s capping policy.

I noted above that this was a rum which seemed to have its origins in the Demerara style: this suggests right off the mark that what we would expect is a dark, heavy bodied rum of some sweetness, crammed with molasses and dark sugar flavour.  The initial nose upon breaking the seal confirmed the idea. Soft. Rich.  Molasses like “fuss time,” front and center. It reminded me of nothing so much as Old Sam’s Demerara rum, just not quite so overpoweringly single minded: I mean, the Premium 5 actually had a few extra notes to it, once it deigned to open up…slightly overripe bananas, and the hint of some fleshy kind of soft fruit – peaches or apricots, perhaps. Was there some sweet behind all that, like a grape?  Not sure.  But yummy nevertheless.  And to confirm this was not some old fuddy-duddy overaged grandfather of rum with hoarfrost in its scraggly whiskers, you could definitely sense its boisterous youth – a sharp, slightly uncouth bite to the shnozz.

Do we ever even remember what it was like to be fifteen?  When the world was young and ripe and came every day with an apple in its mouth?  When we burst with energy and felt everything with a zeal and passion that made all experiences black or white with no subtleties or variations?  When we wore shades all the time because we were so cool that the sun shone twenty four hours a day?  When our bodies ran so smoothly, so well, that we could eat all day long and still come out lean and mean, and we could digest a golf bag with no problems and nary the loss of a single bowel movement?  We paid for that fierce level of energy and blazing radiance of youth by not having much intellectual power, just about zero points of experience, and by pissing people off by making brash and brutal statements without even thinking about it.  This rum was something like that.

That edge of youth, that exuberance and cheerful spring, carried over to the taste and feel on the palate.  And while the legs of the rum on the sides of my glass were the slow, fat and voluptuous gams of a “Biggest Loser” contestant, the arrival of the spirit on the tongue came with a blaring tantarra of molasses trumpets, and a dark and medium-heavy body rescued from liqueur-ishness by having a lack of sugar that was just enough to compensate.  A spicy, heated.entrance betrayed its lack of years (or could be argued to emerge from the oak barrels in which it is matured); it was all mixed in with vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, bananas, and a faint citrus fork that neatly skewered the sweeter, muskier tastes (while staying firmly in the background).

The fade was a little less…well, shall we say exuberant.  Here the lack of years of the Premium Five was the most apparent, because to be honest, it was a rather crabby finish, a bit rough and ungentle, like the words we said to the first girl we so cruelly dumped in our teenage years. The burn was sharp and scratchy, yet I still gained some burnt sugar flavour in the final exhalation of fumes at that back end, which rescued it from being just a malicious product, out to do you harm and cause you pain.

In summary, I think of the Angostura Premium Dark Five year Old as a canecutter’s rum: it’s hot and hairy, strong charactered and not overly blessed with a plethora of sophistication…yet, it’s a rum you’d be glad to have around after a physical day’s work when all you want to do is kick back, have a curry gilbacker with dhal and rice and something to go with it.  Something like this rum, which you can uncork, mix it or not, drink, feel its warm burn, and never have to worry about how to spell “plethora”.

 

Mar 262013
 

(#059)

I wrote the full review for Michael Streeter of the RumConnection website in December 2010, and here is the summary :

The price is reasonable, the colour, body and nose are lovely, and the taste is unique, if a bit harsh: if the rum fails at all, it’s in the decision not to mess with it – this has led to the prescence of oak maintaining an influence not all will appreciate.  Are other similarly aged rums better, tastier, smoother and more complex? Yes, absolutely. But I also think that the Caroni is one of a kind, a rum lover’s secret discovery – a sort of prime number of a rum, which is indivisible by anything other than you and itself.

The website link to Rum Connections is here and here is the full text:

***

Why the bottle of A.D. Rattray Cask Collection 13 year old Caroni rum (bottle 128 of 290) states it is “made exclusively for Co-Op” (a grocery chain) on the label is a mystery to me. This is especially the case since I have been able to find it on sale in at least two other countries, and the labels on neither have any such mention. I can only conclude that this is a distribution issue, not a matter of commissioning or purchasing some kind of exclusive bottling (which both other merchants in Calgary — the Kensington Wine Market and Willow Park – indulge in).

The selling point of a rum like this one is never just the rum itself, but exclusivity and rarity. Like the Appleton 30 (1440 bottles) and the English Harbour 1981 (5774), this is an extremely limited edition of 290 bottles, emerging from a single cask. As if this were not enough, it’s 13 years old and un-chill filtered, as well as having no additives at all – just like the two Cadenhead offerings I’ve tried – and these last two points are the Caroni’s great strength and also (to some) a weakness. Fortunately, and curiously, the price of the rum when I bought it was in the forty dollar range, which seems low ….either it isn’t that exclusive, not that good, or someone is testing the water to see if the price point can be supported for premium limited-edition rums as they are by whiskies.

The name of the rum comes from the Caroni (1975) Ltd sugar company of Trinidad and Tobago, which was established in 1887 and taken over by the government of T&T when it acquired Tate & Lyle’s shareholdings in 1970 (51%) and 1975 (49%) – it went under because it consistently lost money and no buyers could be found, in 2004. This may well be some of their last stock still available commercially as a bottled product so even if the rum is not to your liking, it’s possible that as an investment…well, it’s up to you.

The rum itself was attractively packaged in a black cardboard tin, in which a slim bottle of light amber fitted tightly. Tin foil wrapped around a well-seated cork. It’s a thing of mine that I enjoy the voluptuous sound of a cork popping gently out, so points there. At 46% ABV, I’m was not expecting a gentle nose that tenderly massaged my snoot and beckoned invitingly with soft, caramel-scented breath, and I didn’t get one – but it was not as sharp and medicinal as I feared either. In point of fact, it was, in spite of its lack of “post processing”, rather good. Distinct, and clear, separating early into notes of vanilla, nuts and burnt sugar, with the muskier molasses scent underlying everything. And yes, a claw or two to remind you of its slightly higher alcohol content.

I don’t know how many people reading this have ever seen a sugar cane field burn in the tropics at harvest time, and can speak of the experience (I’m one of them): there’s a kind of deep smell of burning brown sugar that permeates the whole area, and lingers in your nose for days. I’ve always liked it when handled well within a rum’s bouquet, perhaps because of the memories it evokes of my boyhood. After leaving the Caroni to open for a few minutes, that lovely aroma stole around and about the other scents, which gradually became identifiable as faint hints of citrus fruit and notes of cherries, not so ripe as to be cloying…just young enough to impart some sting. I could have gone on smelling that for a lot longer than I did.

The body of the Caroni turned out to be sharper than I personally preferred, and lighter, clearer: definitely a medium bodied rum, hot and spicy on the palate, and a bit dry. This mostly likely comes from the additional spirit of the 46% I was sampling, as well as tannins from the thirteen years of ageing in the oak barrels, which was not mitigated. The lack of additives also played its part: that lack is a point of pride of the distiller, but I’m just not convinced it really works for rums, no matter how much it succeeds for whiskies (rummies like their libations sweeter, as a rule). On the other hand, by eschewing the chill filtering process, all the original oils, fatty acids, sugars, esters and phenols remain in the body, and this was what probably accounted for its somewhat richer taste. Certainly, after the peppery spiciness faded, the sweetness (less than usual but still noticeable) came through more clearly, as well as banana, smoke, leather and – alas! – just a shade too much oak.

The fade is excellent, bar the same issue – the burn is deep and long, and that burnt sugar and caramel taste lingered, and spirit fumes wafted up the back of my throat and just…stayed there. The bitterness of the barrel was unfortunately part of what lingered also, so on that level the Caroni failed for me, but I’m perfectly prepared to accept that others will enjoy that aspect more than I did. As an aged rum, as a sipper, therefore, I must concede I like it above the more expensive offerings from Cadenhead; and as a mixer the Caroni is unique and superb (and the lower price makes it suitable for a better than average cocktail). Where I think it falls down is in the thinner body and lack of any attempts to mute the oaken taste, which fortunately is not so prevalent as to overpower everything else, just prevalent enough to make a good rum fall to the middling rank, instead of inhabiting a loftier plane in my esteem (although this may change).

A.D.Rattray, a company established in 1868 by Andrew Dewar and William Rattray, was originally an importer of olive oil and European spirits, which branched out into blending and storage of malt and grain whiskies. Now owned and operated by Mr. Tim Morrison (formerly of Islay’s Morrison-Bowmore distillery, and a descendant of Mr. Dewar), its core mission is to make unusual, exclusive, limited edition whiskies from stock obtained from all the unique whisky producing regions of Scotland. The company would appear to be going with a trend now gathering steam – that of premium scotch makers branching out into other spirits, like rums. I’m all for innovation – I found the Renagade line of the Bruichladdich distillery intriguing essays in the craft, and for all my dislikes of the Cadenheads, I must concede they have tried to take rums in a different direction than the heretofore dominating “sweet and brown” philosophy – and I look forward to seeing what else comes out in the future from such out-of-the-box thinkers.

In summary, the price is reasonable, the colour, body and nose are lovely, and the taste is unique, if a bit harsh: if the rum fails at all, it’s in the decision not to mess with it – this has led to the prescence of oak maintaining an influence not all will appreciate. Are other similarly aged rums better, tastier, smoother and more complex? Yes, absolutely. But I also think that the Caroni is one of a kind, a rum lover’s secret discovery – a sort of prime number of a rum, which is indivisible by anything other than you and itself.

Quite aside from its coming rarity and decent pricing, that’s enough of a reason to give it a shot.

Mar 242013
 

 

First posted 27 October, 2010 on Liquorature. #043 (Unscored)

Excellent presentation; a rich, complex and smooth experience that reminds you why premium rums exist at all and makes for a good gift for aficionados

***

Somewhere in the midst of an alcoholic haze left by the last gathering of the Gentlemen of Liquorature, I had this vague memory of drinking quite a superlative little sipper.  Pat had, of course, been quite miffed when I wrote the review of the Bacardi 8, since he had wanted to surprise me with something I hadn’t had before  – but he got me on the rebound with this one. Fortunately, my tasting notes survive the bender, and once I sobered up and remembered my name, I dug them out for this review.

Angostura is that Trini distillery that now makes the excellent Zaya (Diageo, via its shareholding in Moet Hennessy, now owns the Zaya brand, but I’m unclear whether they own the distillery as well, though the Angostura holding company seems to have interests in quite a few). They have been making blended rums since the early part of the 20th century (1947, according to them).  At that time Bacardi owned some 45% of the stock, which it held until 1997 when CL Financial – the largest T&T conglomerate with fingers in dozens of pies – bought the shares.

I don’t as a general rule make a comment on the bottle, but in this case I’m happy to make an exception: Angostura, home of the bitters and the Royal Oak, have poured the 1919 variation into a short, squat, square bottle with rounded shoulder and a massive, voluptuous cork.  Its excellence is more in the simplicity than anything overt…I had the same feeling about the English Harbour 10 year old.

The 1919 is a blend of rums aged a minimum of 8 years – both bottle and the company website makes this claim – in charred oak barrels which were previously used to age bourbon whiskey.  It’s a golden brown liquid, quite clear, somewhat reminiscent of the Havana Club Barrel Proof and has that same brilliant hue when the sunlight hits it.

On the nose, there is surprisingly little spirit burn.  There’s a mellow billowing scent when the bottle is opened, in which the smooth odours of caramel, vanilla and flowers balance well and softly together. There is a richness to the nose that is quite unexpected, and it promises an excellent drink.  Sipping it is a uniformly pleasant experience: I don’t usually expect too much from younger Single Digit Rums, though those greater than seven years are usually pretty decent mixers (the Flor de Cana 7 yr old is a perfect example): this one, it must be said, is an exception.  As a ground level sipper, it’s bloody good, perhaps a slightly less sweet version of the Captain Morgan Private Stock at about the same price, but equally smooth, equally tasty.

The feel in the mouth is warm and silky rather than harsh, and after letting it breath you get flavours of buttery caramel, vanilla and molasses, but not too much of any one: in fact, the 1919 is remarkably restrained and well balanced among these primaries.  Coiling subtly around this backbone are some fruity and softer floral hints that I can’t quite identify but that enhance the central notes excellently. The texture is slightly viscous and smooth as all get-out.  And the finish is long, warm and spicy, with the faintest hint of sharpness that seems to be there just to remind you this is not the best Angostura wants to give (that might be the 1824 rum).

All in all, for a rum that costs in the forty dollar range, I’m impressed. For all its relatively youth, it scores highly in all the right areas: presentation, nose, flavour profile, mouthfeel and finish.  It is equally good as a mixer or as a sipper, again very much like the Captain Morgan Private Stock. And what it lacks in the complexity and sheer brilliance of the older premium rums (like the English Harbour 25, Appleton 30 or the El Dorado 25 and 21), it makes up for by being, quite simply, one of the best low cost rums out there, one which the average Tom, Dick or Harrilall can afford, and enjoy.

****

By the way, if anyone can apprise me of the meaning of the 1919 in the rum’s title, I’d appreciate it

Mar 232013
 

label image

Original Post Date 01 December 2010 on Liquorature. #013

Workable blend that makes for a perfectly solid mixer without shining in any other way, except to maybe pip the low-end Appletons. Best save for the 1919 version.

***

Royal Oak Select Rum is another one of those annoying rums that tell you nothing about how old it is, which instantly informs you it’s a blend.  I don’t care much for whisky, as my humourous posts have made clear (I think the Peat Heads are misguided, but innocently so, and may be dint of effort and tender ministrations be brought to understand the error of their ways), but I do appreciate the fact that every bottle has its age on it. As a rule of thumb, I assume that when this is not the case on rum bottles, then it is less than five years old. Cadenhead Green Label is an exception, of course.

A golden rum, Angostura is young (3-6 years, nothing more definitive), made in Trinidad by the same folks who are now producing the superlative Zaya 12 year old, but not a classic on par with that lovely lass. Like with all single-digit rums (SDRs, as I call them), it lacks the polish and finish of older siblings (yes, yes, with the exception of the fabled EH-5), and I think it is not distilled for the export market, really.  Therefore it may be best used as a mixer.

Still, even for young rum, this baby has its admirers, and I’m one of them.  I wouldn’t drink it straight, since it’s a bit too harsh on the tongue and throat for that – the younger parts of the blend certainly assert their prescence early on.  But the nose has an interesting hint of citrus, and intriguing caramel overtones develop more seriously on further tasting, together with coconut and a certain mellow spiciness.  The body is quite good, with a sort of oiliness that leads to a long lasting flavour.  The finish is medium short, quite a bit of burn, but the caramel sweetness remains, mixed with a faint nuttiness. It’s a bit richer in flavour than I had expected, and while I don’t expect that much from an SDR, its strength (43%) and dominating sugar-caramel aftertaste belie the light colour and make it a good choice to go head to head 1:1 with coke.

In summary, a decent mixer about on par with an Appleton V/X but with a stronger taste and slightly smoother finish, so not as low-tier as the Bundaberg (which I have gone on record as not appreciating).  Anyone who buys this is not scraping the bottom of the barrel by any means.

Note: I must go on record to express my appreciation to Keenan who raided his pantry to provide me with this bottle to sample. He finds it highly amusing to watch while I try to stay sober and drink four of his rums at the same time.

 

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