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 / 78/100)

***

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.

***

LC Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating = 78/100.  Conversion to “standard” scoring = 89 points)

 Posted by on October 29, 2014 at 9:24 pm
Aug 052013
 

D7K_2782

 

Rich, simply flavoured, overproofed Navy-style rum that has a skinnier corpus than expected

(#176. 60/100)

***

There’s nothing much I can tell you about Wood’s Rum Distillery itself because there’s not much online about it (and my books barely speak to the big names so what hope is there for the small ones?), but the brand did exist for over a century before being acquired by William Grant in 2002 – these are the boys who also own Sailor Jerry and the OVD rum brands and supposedly dabble in minor whiskies like Glenfiddich and Balvenie (or so rumour has it). I wish, on the strength of what I tasted here, that I knew more about the company’s origins and how it got into the Navy rum market in days of yore. It’s perhaps kind of appropriate that I bought it at Heathrow, Britain’s largest modern equivalent to the old ports.

The first noticeable, unmistakeable aromas that billowed forth as I cracked the cheap tinfoil cap, were huge, in-your-face biffs of molasses, licorice and coffee. They were deep and dark and rich and had it not been for the rather raw profile overall, I could be forgiven for thinking the rum was an old Demerara from Enmore, or even a Dictador 20 on steroids. Which is not too surprising, because Woods made a rum here which took the characteristic dark pot still distillates from DDL in Guyana (one source suggests some column distillate is used as well, about which I have my doubts, but okay), aged them in oak for up to three years and then bottled the result without gelding the poor thing to 40%…but remained at a chest-hair-curling 57%. Drink this neat and you’ll feel like a hobbit drinking with Treebeard. So good for them, methinks. The intensity remained, the darkness persisted, in any kind of cocktail the tastes stayed true, and frankly, Navy rums should be a tad more oomphed up than the norm, otherwise they wouldn’t (to my mind anyway) be Navy rums.

D7K_2783

What about the taste? Well, pretty much what you would expect, all in all (come on, were you really expecting a swan to emerge from an eighteen-quid duckling?). Woods 100 was a dark red, almost black rum — which had been part of the initial attraction for me — poured inkily into the glass, and when sipped conformed as closely to the anticipated profile as one James Bond movie does to another: spicy, rich, dark melange of flavours promised by the nose. And these were the same molasses, burnt sugar, coffee and licorice overtones, which buried the subtler elements as completely as an alpine avalanche. Sure, I found sly and supple hints of chopped fruits, cinnamon, vanilla, ripe cherries and cashews, but not enough to really stand out…the balance was all towards the dominant notes. The finish was, as befitted an overproof, long and lasting, giving more of the molasses and burnt sugar, quite heated and a shade dry. But, of course, with claws.

It should be pointed out that I felt the rum teetered on the edge of being medium bodied, because it was harsher on the tongue and one the fade than I had anticipated, thinner (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by El Dorados)…there’s an element of rawness to it, a lack of refinement and couth which points to the short maturation. Still, it’s young, it’s brawny, it’s cheap, it’s not like I should expect a miracle: like any young stud, strength is the selling point, not staying power or finnesse.

There are many rums like Wood’s on my shelf, which says a lot for my affections when it comes to sweaty, prole-centric, cane-cutter rums I don’t necessarily sip. Cabot Tower 100, Favell, Young’s Old Sam are the first that spring to mind, but also Robert Watson, some of the old Enmores (better made, older and smoother but not quite as cheerily nutso as this ‘un), Pusser’s or Lamb’s. I’d place this one about on par with the Cabot’s (which scored 56).

D7K_2784

But y’know, Demerara rum seem to be good no matter what, and that is particularly true of the wooden pot still products. Whether they are made to sip and savour (like BBR’s Port Morant 1975 or Bristol Spirits PM 1980) or to get one hammered (all the others named above), they all have that deep, rich fruity molasses note within their variations, and this one stands forward to take its place loudly and proudly (even obnoxiously) among all the others. The fact that many online shop-commentaries resound with the plaudits of ex Royal Navy men who esteem Woods above just about any other Navy rum says all, I think, that needs to be said about this cheerful, powerful, unpretentious cask-strength rum.

A:3/10 N:16/25 T:16/25 F:15/25 I:10/15 TOT: 60/100

 

Other notes

In passing, why name it “100” when it’s actually 114 proof? Well, here I’d refer you to my essay on poofage, but in fine, in the old maritime days, 100 proof was a measure of the least (most diluted) ratio of alcohol to water which would still support the combustion of gunpowder. And that equated to about 57% ABV.

 

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by on August 5, 2013 at 4:11 am
Jul 292013
 

D3S_7028

Good all round Bajan rum from Berry Brothers & Rudd, that’s worth its price and is a good note on which to close your day.

(#175. 70/100)

***

What a relief it was to try this well-aged rum, and to find that its Fijian 8 year old cousin which I had tried some weeks back was indeed something of an iconoclastic aberration. There’s not much I could say about a line of rums of which I have only ever sampled three, and it would have been wrong to extrapolate based on such a small sample size. So it’s a happy matter that I can confirm the Bajan 13 year old is an excellent buy all round.

One of the pleasant things about independent bottlers who make a “series” is the consistency of presentation – think Renegade and their frosted glass bottles, or Plantation and the straw netting. It saves the reviewer a whole bunch of time not to have to assess a presentational score (I know the principle has its detractors, no need to mention it). So, tall bottle, well fitting plastic cork, simplistic labelling utterly consistent with the other BBR rums I’ve written about (the Fiji and the Port Morant 1975).

The lead in on the nose was caramel and molasses, muted and light, yet with some heat as well (the rum is 46% after all). Vanilla undertones had their place before segueing into subtler aromas of pineapple and nicely ripened yellow gooseberries. A flirt of citrus (ripe orange peel) coiled around all of this, well balanced with preceding elements, and then the whole was wrapped up in emerging perfumes of delicate white flowers and a barely perceptible wine background. Quite intriguing, all in all.

I must comment on the excellent mouthfeel of this thirteen year old, honey-coloured rum: it’s medium bodied yet quite smooth for all that, with some heat imparted by the strength, but not so much as to become peppery or overly spicy. There’s a luxurious creaminess in the way this runs across the tongue, a certain chewiness that was very appealing. The rum was neither too sweet nor too salty (while possessing elements of both), and what I came away with was vanilla, honey, white chocolate, light coconut shavings and bananas, all held together by a softer citrus hint than the nose had promised. And at the tail end the odd sweetness of a strawberry lollipop, fading into a long clean finish redolent of chopped fruits and some saltiness. Really quite a decent product – I enjoyed it a lot.

D3S_7032

Where does the distillate originate? I wish I knew for sure. I almost want to say it comes from Mount Gay, but somewhere in that profile I’m more leaning towards R. L. Seale’s FourSquare (and indeed, the Masters of Malt website says that’s its home), and also, from its richness, that it’s a pot still distillate. The ageing in white oak barrels was well handled, in my opinion, because the resultant is in very good balance overall, and it’s a sipper’s drink rather than one to mix.

Writing this review as my life changes yet again, I am assailed by a sense of melancholy. This review will be one of the last for a while (the country I’m moving to is dry in all senses of the word). Perhaps it is fitting that one of the final rums I’ve tried and written up tasting notes for, is also one of the more pleasing ones. Not the best, of course (is there any such thing?) but certainly a rum to have and to enjoy at any point on the arc of your existence. Even if, or perhaps especially, as with me, you won’t be trying any more for a while.

 

A:5/10 N:18/25 T:19/25 F:18/25 I:10/15 TOT: 70/100

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion. In this case, for sure.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 

 

 Posted by on July 29, 2013 at 3:37 am
Jul 142013
 

D3S_7047

 

This feels and tastes mean, largely because it is. Remember how the St Nick’s 12 purred love and red roses down your gullet? Not this baby. This one wants your tonsils for lunch. And yet, that doesn’t quite invalidate it as a decent product. I mean, just because it treats you like life on Keith Richards’s face isn’t an automatic disqualification…I just call it inspired insanity, and have (much to my own surprise) given it the highest rating I’ve ever awarded to a 75% overproof.

(#174. 76/100)

***

“Makes you strong like a lion”, the label remarks, in one of those tongue-in cheek references with which the SMWS likes to charm its buyers. After being battered into near insensibility (on more than one occasion) by the raging yak that was the SMWS R5.1 Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, you’ll forgive me for approaching the almost-as-torqued up 75.3% R3.4 rum with something akin to serious apprehension. I mean, I love strong and flavourful rums of real intensity, but it’s my personal belief that the folks at SMWS are snickering into their sporrans when they issue these massive overproofs, hoping that the lesser bred such as I will get a hurt real bad, be put under the table for the count, and swear off rums altogether. You kind of have to admire their persistence in the matter.

What we had here was a 75.3% rum issued this year (2013), with the usual obscure moniker “R3.4” which my research suggests makes the rum from the Rockley Still from the West Indian Refinery in Black Rock, Barbados. About which, I hasten to add, I know little, not having tasted their products (Bristol Spirits has a couple from there, which I hope to get my grubby little paws on one of these happy days).

D3S_7036

Dressed up in that delightfully tall, menacing camo-green bottle that is their standard, the R3.4 decanted a pungent, blonde-amber rum into the glass, quite innocently. Here, come try me, it seemed to invite, and you just knew it was suckering me in…fortunately, I had previously sampled its sibling, so I was prepared, having learnt my lesson by now: I let it stand, and then nosed it very, very carefully.

Bam! it went, right away, even after a few minutes. My God, but this was strong. Shudderringly odd, this was a rum in psychopath mode, a snorting, rearing mustang of pent up aggression. Creamy, buttery, slightly salty, almonds and peanuts stomped my schnozz right out of the gate. As sharp as a sushi master’s knife, yes, but Lordie, there was a lot going on here. As it opened up it presented even more: bananas, some mustiness and smoke, the faintest odour of Benedictine. I was impressed in spite of myself, and marked it high for sheer originality, because all other 75% rums (the 151s, if you will), were so straightforwardly simple and relatively uncomplex, that finding this plethora of nasal riches was a welcome surprise, no matter how strong they were.

As for the palate, well now, be warned and be enthused: ‘cause I’ll tell you, holding on to this rum and then sipping it, was something like knowing you are near to a well packed barrel of C4 all ready to go. You’ll want to coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, because once you do, it suddenly rears up, the katana-wielding ninja escapes, and your rum-drinking life may flicker before your eyes.. The same creamy chewiness from the nose carried over well upon arrival – butter melting in an iron skillet, fried bananas, all wrapped up in a herbal background I couldn’t quite separate out. Intense, very intense. Wood, grassiness, rosemary, sorrel, with a snarky element of smoky peat in there someplace making mischief. It honestly felt like it was powered with fire and brimstone, this one, yet nowhere near as barefacedly badass as any of the other 151 rums I’ve tried in the past…there’s some real couth here, honestly. But of course it is damned strong, and so warning of sobriety transmuted to drunkneness in 2.5 shots is not me being overly metaphorical..

The fade, as befitted an overproof rum, was quite long and very solid, heat and warmth without real spice, somewhat fruity, nutty, salty, and giving up last hints of oats and bran. I s**t you not, this rum was quite something, and Stuart, who was drinking it with me (he had been clouted about the ears with the Longpond as well, and was therefore understandably cautious with this one), liked it so much he immediately started calling around asking where he could get hisself some too.

 D3S_7038

All right, so let’s sum up. Short version, if you want a good time, no stress or aggro, buy something softer…like the Centenario Legado, for example. If you want to be astonished out of your socks by a rum explosion of startling, glute-flexing originality, this is the one to get (if you can). You don’t need to be a rum snob, collector or even a rum lover to appreciate a bit of badass blending skill on your table (or your office desktop after hours). Were you to rock this baby during a World of Warcraft or Call of Duty marathon, you can just imagine fellow Geek Squad drones drones quaking in fear in their cubicles.  That alone might make the purchase price worth it.

It’s been a long running gag on Liquorature that I resolutely refuse to admit that whiskies have pride of place in the spirits world, and the crown should rightfully go to the rums. Here’s one I wish we could get more of, ‘cause it kinda proves my point (it’s made by whisky lovers, much to my annoyance). Drinking this intense liquid javelin, recovering my voice and my sanity a while later, I happily compare it to the multiplexed joy of a conjugal encounter while sky-diving. I don’t know. It’s crazy. This rum is crystalline, pharmaceutical-grade acceleration, a ground up mix of exaltation and power. Suddenly, all of existence is reduced to simple clarity: C2H6O.

 

A:7/10 N:19/25 T:20/25 F:17/25 I:13/15 TOT: 76/100

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion. In this case, for sure.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on July 14, 2013 at 8:15 pm
Jul 092013
 

D3S_7067

 

Butch mixed in with a bit of Ziggy Stardust.

(#173. 63/100)

***

Whisky fans will know all about Murray McDavid, which is part of Bruichladdich, those fine folks who make the many inconsistent (if always interesting) Renegade Rums. It’s actually possible that this rum was a precursor to the whole Renegade line, being made somewhat earlier (mid-2000s) and adhering as it does to many of the principles of those rums: casks sourced from the Caribbean,aged in Scotland and finished in a wine of some kind.

Nicaragua is of course the home of a very decent range of rums, the Flor de Caña line, which I reviewed some years ago (have I really been doing this since 2009?). That series is made by Compañia Licorera de Nicaragua, which was established in 1937 to produce and market the Flor. In 1996 they did a complete factory upgrade which allowed them to attain the coveted ISO 9002 certification, and nowadays they use a 3 column continuous still to produce both the Flor variations, and the bulk rum sold to bottlers and blenders in Europe. Evidently they have done this for a while, since MM bought the distillate back in 1995 prior to the upgrade, and mellowed them in casks selected by Jim McEwan hisself, finally finished in wine casks previously used for Quarts de Chaume Blanc.

D3S_7072

That finishing might have accounted for some of the androgynous flavours that presented themselves on the initial nose, because really, this rum had very few of what one might term “standard” rum notes of molasses and caramel or brown sugar – those were there, but they were extremely somnolent, almost reticent, as if afraid to come forward and take their accustomed position on the podium. Instead what I got was a rather light rum nose, musty, even dry-ish, more reminiscent of honey, ripe pears, cashews and pineapple, wound about with some smokiness and a vague and unsettling plastic bubble wrap fillip I can’t say I cared for.

The taste began with some heat deriving from the 46% bottling strength and then settled down into a rather less than aggressive series of flavours – orange peel, pineapple, fresh mangoes, honey, with a dash of salt. It’s a really subtle kind of rum with very little really positive, clear notes one could easily pick out. In fact, I’d have to say that it’s success rests more on the overall texture on the tongue than it does on taste, because there’s something a little bland about the whole experience, and which made my overall opinion much more middling than it might have been with a more striking, clear-cut profile (but then, that’s my preference in these matters). The MM10 departed the scene with a reasonably long goodbye, a little dry, and here again, while I could sense the underlying textural complexity, the final tastes were so vague as to be absent almost entirely, and on that basis I’d say the finish is the weakest part of the whole.

D3S_7064

Having made these observations on nose, taste and finish, where does that leave me standing with respect to a final summation? Much like the rum itself, I’m afraid…somewhere in the middle. Aspects of it I liked were the nose and the mouthfeel, and some of the tastes. Aspects I was less enthused by were the paucity and lightness of those same tastes and the lack of a decent finish (which, in a 46% rum, is somewhat of a surprise, really). As with the Berry Brothers & Rudd Fijian 8 year old I looked at not too long ago, I could sense quality moving murkily underneath the pieces that didn’t work for me, and I can relate most of them to that placid “I’m good enough” palate that didn’t really get the attention it should have, that would have raised the bar a bit.

The rum therefore doesn’t quite gel for me as a consequence. I guess they could have injected some oomph into it, made the taste somewhat more assertive. That might have not pleased people with sharper, more consequential and perceptive snoots than mine.  But in my review here, at least that would have bumped it up from promising without delivery, to flawed masterpiece.

 

 

A:8/10 N:16/25 T:16/25 F:14/25 I:9/15 TOT: 63/100

 

Other Notes

Bottle provided courtesy of Chip at the Rum Howler so I don’t know how much it costs

1500 bottles were issued in 2006

 

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail. In this case the rum is soft enough to be taken by itself, as it would probably be shredeed by any kind of single mixing agent.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat. In this case, I think you could, but it’s marginal
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail. I’d prefer to sip it myself.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by on July 9, 2013 at 5:09 pm
Jun 212013
 

D3S_6841

 

Quasimodo in a shrink-wrapped muscle-car with overlarge tyres

(#169. 61/100)

***

 Rums have gotten, over the decades and centuries, rather civilized. Sweaty muscular beefcakes like the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3% and the Bacardi 151 always exist, of course, accompanied by more uncouth and less cultured rums even than that, made less for export than for local consumption…but for the most part, what we get is soft, soothing, decent, well padded.

This 46% rum, however, made by those genteel fellows in England, Berry Brothers and Rudd, was none of these things…which, when you recall the near-brilliant 1975 Port Morant they also made, is kind of odd. Civilized? Nope. Smooth? Not really. Calming, easy on the nose? Don’t make me laugh. Berry Brothers have done something rather amazingly insane, or stupefyingly stupid depending on your viewpoint, with this Fijian product. They’ve made it a raw, nasty, brutish, ugly, foul tasting kill divil that I dunno, should be used to scour the paint job off your souped up Ford F150. Or maybe fuel it.

You think I’m kidding, right? Yeah…but no.

Some time ago I reviewed the SMWS Longpond 9, and the Rum Nation Demerara 23 and the Jamaica 25 year old. All three of these had rubbery, almost medicinal notes to them that were initially somewhat disconcerting, but eventually melded into a unique whole I could not help but appreciate. The off-notes I didn’t care for were relatively subdued and well integrated into a fascinating synthesis. No such feeling swept over me as my brother and I nosed the Berry Brothers & Rudd Fijian 8 year old. Because in this case, raw plasticine and rubber notes were so powerful, that I felt a Bugatti had just peeled out of the shop, leaving a black strip on the pavement a mile wide. Medicinal, turpentine, paint thinner was what you got on that nose. Iodine, seaweed, brine, salt biscuits. And then more burnt rubber. They held a commanding stance from the outset, and never let go. Yes there were also timid, trembling scents of grassy and herbal aromas that crept in as if afraid to be noticed; yes, if you paid attention you would get apple cider and perhaps a flirt of not quite ripe pineapple. But it was small consolation. You had to try too hard. They were shouldered aside and squashed flat.

To taste, it was heated and spicy, as befitted a stronger product, and it was reasonably smooth, not raw and clawing, so no issues there. Hay-blonde, quite light, somewhat thin and clear and clean on the tongue. I was kind of suckered in by some lazy background notes of freshly-sawn white wood of some kind, bananas, softer pineapple and an even fainter grassy-green floral note that developed over time, but then the uncompromising rubber returned. Merde, but this was unpleasant. Iodine, seaweed, some peat (I kid you not) mixed it up in the schoolyard with an overweight bully of peeling rubber, turpentine and styrofoam. It’s like I was trying to sample a neoprene suit left behind on the set of “Debbie Does Dallas.” I can concede without hesitation that the texture was pretty good, it felt physically pleasant in the mouth, and the finish was medium long and heated (and may have been the best thing about it, perhaps because we could now see an end to the experience). But I simply don’t appreciate a rum that is redolent of the freshly torn plastic coming off new, over-polished wooden furniture.

D3S_6846

So, with all due apologies to BBR (who have made other rums I really enjoyed), this is not a rum I cared for. I asked a dedicated maltster whether, given the profile I described, he would buy it (for $75, which is what I paid), and he said probably, so it may work better for Islay-lovers than it did for me. The thing is, underneath the taste is the texture, and in that texture and mouthfeel you can sense the rum this could have been had it been toned down a bit, perhaps been a bit sweeter (and this is why I scored it as I have). I always thought the Renegades were inconsistent and made by — and perhaps for — whisky lovers, and here we have another in that vein, something of a harnessed lunatic, loud and uncouth and unrefined as a fading rock star’s leopard-skin trousers.

It probably won’t sell much, but you know, I do have a kind of sneaking admiration for the concept, much as I shudder at the taste. It takes a certain kind of guts to make a rum that tastes so crazily off base as to appeal to not just the 1%, but the 1% of that 1% who would welcome the adventure, appreciate the uniqueness and throw caution to the winds when drinking it. Because, for sure, there are very few rums in my whole experience which are anything like this Fijian popskull.

Just be warned – It’s an absolute animal of a drink to have if you’re not prepared.

 

A:5/10 N:15/25 T:16/25 F:17/25 I:8/15 TOT: 61/100

 

Other Notes

As is usual with craft bottlings such as this one, I could not find much information on the source. However, since there really is only one distillery on Fiji (the South Pacific Distillery, which makes the seemingly well-regarded Bounty brand), it seems reasonable to suppose that the raw stock comes from there. In what barrels it was aged and in which country, is something I’m currently still researching.

Given the light and clean profile, I will hazard that the distillate comes from sugar cane juice (like an agricole) and not from molasses, and is probably a column still product. Still, these are merely my conjectures, so if a reader has more info, please post a remark.

I notice that there are nine and ten year old Fijian rums made by BBR as well.

 

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat. In this case, you absolutely should if the neat taste doesn’t work for you.
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail. I’d prefer to sip it myself.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on June 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm
May 252013
 

D7K_1864

Offbeat Panamanian rum which makes a virtue out being different. People will like it or hate it for the same reasons. I come down on the side of the former.

(#164. 70/100)

***

There’s something about Panamanian rums I really like. They are not as heavy and dark and growly as Demerara rums, nor as occasionally oaky and citrus-laden as the Jamaicans, or for that matter as soft and plummy and banana-like as I’ve often noted in the Bajans. You would never imagine a Panama rum being vulgar, overbearing or obnoxious, like a cinema-goer behind you who chucks your seat, won’t shut up and then ostentatiously uses his cellphone the whole friggin’ time — just well put-together, complex and riding the fine line between too much and not enough. I think of them as the little bear in Goldilocks…whatever they come out as, it’s pretty much always just right.

A.D. Rattray, those zen like purveyors of simplicity, naturally don’t pay much attention to that, perhaps taking their lead from Cadenhead and their Spartan distillation and ageing ethos. They took rum from the Don Jose distillery in Panama (largest in the country, and home of the Varela Hermanos boys who made the Abuelos), aged it for twelve years, and then didn’t muck about with chill filtration or adding anything, just gave you whatever came out the other end.

This methodology had some disconcerting effects on the dark gold, 46% ABV finished product I was tasting here (bottle #344 from Cask #1). For one thing, the nose was quite dissimilar to most other Panamanians I’ve had thus far, up to and including the fantastic Rum Nation Panama 21 – much lighter, almost like an agricole for starters. I really had to work at this one to dissect it: bananas, strawberries, orange peel and bananas, with some sting and bite at the tail end, which I pretty much expected from a 46% rum, so no harm there. Yet there were also some dissonant notes – a faint whiff of petrol, turpentine, light perfume (I’m not making this up, seriously!). Almost no caramel or molasses scents at all. Mary, who was sampling this baby with me, opined that it reminded her of a wet baseball glove, which I concede may have been reaching just a bit. But there’s no denying that this was quite an original nose for a rum – if it had been heavier, perhaps more pungent, I think I would have liked it even more.

Things opened up some on the taste, however, mitigating some of my concerns. Medium bodied, medium sweet, medium spicy (can’t get away from that 46%, after all) — it presented a certain creaminess on the tongue, just enough. It opened into a licorice background, through which meandered delicate woody notes, white chocolate and butter (some brininess there — again, not enough to turn me off just sufficient to be noticeable). Gradually the rum blossomed out with hesitant caramel, vanilla and molasses tastes, so shy that I remarked to Mary that perhaps this was a rum aged in much-used, almost-dead oaken casks with not much piss and vinegar left in them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the taste – it was better than the nose – but it really upended most of my expectations, perhaps because it had aspects much more commonly suggested by agricoles instead of Panamanians. Fade was as dry and heated as a middle eastern desert, and lacking any kind of distinctive closing scents of its own, beyond some chocolate, light smokiness and leather.

D3S_5945

Did I like it? Yup, quite a bit. Not as much as I was expecting, but I must confess to appreciating its sheer rawness, its unusual-ness. The ADR Panama rum was unlike the cheerful youth and sprightliness evinced by the Abuelo 7, and couldn’t hold a candle against the Rum Nation Panama 21, though it scored better than the Panama 18, also made by Rum Nation. I think this kind of underblending (is there such a word?) must be deliberate, because surely budgetary concerns were not an issue at ADR, who appear to have a dour agnosticism regarding profit margins in some of their rums, and just go ahead and make what they feel like on any given day, so long as it tastes real good.

Is the rum for young men and college students looking for a fast bender? Is it for us older farts approaching our sell-by dates? New entrants to the rum-appreciation game? Not at all. It’s for anyone who still has a sense of wonder and a feeling for blending style. This rum contains elements that have been thought out (or ignored) and has surprises right to the finish. In its own crazy way, it’s actually quite exhilarating (yeah, and strange). Sipping it for the fourth time, trying to make up my mind, I realized the I needed this sharp left turn to make me understand the differing directions a product could go – the ADR Panamanian Rum from Don Jose has been created and imagined as a new sensory location for us to inhabit. It’s a hell of a rum. It adds lustre to our notions of what can be made, by a guy who knows his stuff, from nothing but the harvested stalks of an oversized grass.

 

A:7/10 N:18/25 T:19/25 F:16/25 I:10/15 TOT: 70/100

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat.
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail. I’d prefer to sip it myself.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 

 Posted by on May 25, 2013 at 7:43 pm
May 162013
 

 

D3S_5549

The PM 30 year old by Bristol Spirits is to El Dorados as fish wasabi is to a green salad. Both are nutritious, both are tasty, both are good to have…but only one is a work of art. This one.

(#162. 80/100)

***

This is what happens when a rum maker throws caution to the winds, takes a standard table tipple, ages it to within a whisker of falling down dead of old age, and then torques it up to a grin-inducing, tonsil-tickling 51%. You get a rum that’s redolent of bat-bleep-hydrophobia. If this was a photo of a sports car, you’d better believe it would be on every rum drinker’s wall in a framed place of honour. About the only other rum like it I’ve tried in recent memory is the Berry Bros & Rudd Reserve Demerara 1975, which may also be thirty years old, and is also from the same still.

Bristol Spirits, producers of craft spirits from single barrels aged beyond all reason, have done something quite wonderful here. Somehow, they have muted the seemingly inevitable bite and bitterness of oaken tannins usually imparted by such a long slumber in the barrels, and produced a thirty year old ambrosia that takes its place among the very best of full-proofed rums ever made. And given that even the Maltmonster gave it his grudging seal of approval (he may have been making nice to me because he drank it at my house, though I prefer to think otherwise), you can understand something of the rum’s quality.

Port Morant is a plantation in Guyana that has been around since 1732 and is actually closer to the Berbice River than to the Demerara (the “Demerara” moniker is more a designation of rum-style than geography). Theirs was a double wooden pot still, which is now housed at Diamond, and which imparts remarkable depth of flavour to the rums originating from it.

Doubt me? Pour a glass and observe: when I did so, 51% of alcoholic fumes enveloped me in an extraordinary luscious and deep nose. When you read the following words you’ll wonder if I wasn’t slightly off my gourd, and you may disagree, but I absolutely adored the scents of wax crayons, honey, red cherries, freshly sawn lumber (cedar) and anise (that was the awesome part)…though only after the overproof scents of smoke and plasticine and petrol dissipated (that’s the crazy part). Perhaps it was the sheer depth and originality of it, the thickness and strength of it that so appealed to me.

D3S_5553

And the taste, the body…wow. This was like kissing the cheerleader in the noontime of your youth when all things were possible and nothing was beyond you. Unbelievably smooth for a 51% drink, heated and spicy, intense and dark, and richly aromatic to a fault. Fleshy fruit notes of apricots, pineapples and firm yellow mangos, and if I had a single beef about it is that the central pillars of molasses and licorice and anise took a commanding stance throughout that often obscured the subtler tastes that might have made this score even higher. I accept that massively aged full-proofs tend to have that paint, candle wax and turpentine (even kero) aspects to their palates, and I don’t always care for that: here at least such notes didn’t spring at me like a starving cheetah on steroids, but they were there, and it would be remiss of me not to point it out. I was okay with it…you may not be. Let me just suggest that if you don’t mind going off the standard taste-train a bit and are akin to Islay maltsters who sing Gaelic paeans at midnight to the pleasures of Octomore’s massive peatiness, you’ll understand where I’m going with this.

The finish of this all-round impressive rum was long and deep, stayed with me for a long while. It left me with fond reminiscences of smoke, well-oiled soft leather, linseed oil (of the sort you cure your cricket bat with), anise and molasses, and took its own sweet time saying adieu. Here was a rum just made for sipping on a cold night in winter. It warmed it tantalized, it gave back, and in all respects reminded me of what it was I look for in high end, full-proof, aged rums. Strength, depth, intensity, complexity, originality. The PM 1980 had them all.

I believe we are born with our minds open to wonderful experiences, and only slowly learn or are forced into limiting ourselves to narrower and more circumscribed tastes. Our natural curiosity is deadened by incessantly streaming informercials and mass-marketing, which attempt to convince us that sales equates to quality, and which discourage exploration of unique and off-the-rails products that exist solely in their own universe (I could say the same things about either books or movies, by the way – the issue is not relegated to merely spirits). And so, products as great as the PM 1980, are often unknown, little spoken about, and have vanishingly small sales.

D3S_5546

Mind you, this wonderful thirty year old not the best rum in the world. Of course not. No rum ever will be, irrespective of its Jovian altitude, not least because of variations in individual taste. But, y’know it’s close. And it’s as close as we might ever get, now that consolidation of rum production is the name of the game, now that bland and easy-going appeal-to-the-masses is the way to get sales and overtake Bacardi. We may be at the end of a kind of Golden Age of rum production, where distilleries made mad concoctions just ’cause they could; and these days, it’s unlikely that a major company will have the huevos to green-light the investment in time and money, to wait this long, to develop something this exclusive, ever again (Appleton’s fifty year old may be the exception that proves the rule). Maybe that’s all the justification I really need, to shell out this much cash for something this transient….and this good.

*

A:6/10 N:22/25 T:22/25 F:21/25 I:9/15 TOT: 80/100

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat.
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail. I’d prefer to sip it myself.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by on May 16, 2013 at 5:39 pm
May 122013
 

D3S_5540

Schizoid, androgynous, curious rum. Too well made to ignore, but not appealing enough to collect.

(#161. 64/100)

***

Right during the tasting, before I had done a single bit of research or perused the label beyond the obvious, I looked at my glass, smacked my not quite toothless gums and opined loudly and dogmatically (if not quite coherently) to an empty house that this was a rum from the FourSquare distillery in Barbados.

You might well ask whether my snoot is that good (it’s not), my memory that clear (it’s not) or I knew it for sure (I didn’t). It was more a process of elimination from the Bajan rum canon – it was too clear taste-wise — and not soft enough — to be a St Nicholas Abbey, lacked the discombobulated, raw nature of the Cockspur and sure wasn’t a Mount Gay.  That didn’t leave much, no matter how or with what cask Renegade decided to finish it.

Take the opening: soft, flowery, dark sugars, bananas and unsweetened dark chocolate.  A bit sharp (it was bottled at 46%, so, okay). Red grapes just starting to go off, bananas, orange peel (not anything sharper like grapefruit or lemon), and a final flirt of cherries, yet overall, the scents married uneasily, resulting in something vaguely androgynous, neither strong or puissant enough to be a bellowing buccanneer (it waved the cutlass to genteelly for that) nor weak enough to be an underproof…it was an uneasy mix of delicacy and clarity without strength of real character (did someone say “Prince Myshkyn”?).

D3S_5543

No relief on the palate, however original it turned out to be. The medium bodied amber spirit was drier than I expected, and even a bit briny, and pulled an interesting rabbit out of the bottle…it tasted good enough, full enough, to seem more robust than it actually was. Bananas and white chocolate, a certain creaminess (like unsalted butter, really), white guavas and pecans.  I know this sounds odd, but it almost seemed a shade…crunchy. It’s the craziest thing, a sort of dichotomy between the taste and the nose that had heat and citrus-plus-grapes to sniff, yet more settled and softer to sip, finishing off with a sweet, dry exit, segueing into final notes of bananas, apricots and salt biscuits.

I have some mixed feelings on the Renegade here, admiring its professional make and the clarity of the various notes, without actually enjoying the overall experience due to a discordance in the overall marriage of constituent elements.  It’s not a bad rum at all, just not one I really felt like raving about to any who would listen.  Yet I cannot help but admire how Renegade doesn’t really care – they tried for something off the reservation, and they succeeded. It’s original, that’s for sure.

Unlike most of the Renegades I’ve tried thus far, the label gave me little to work with on the details (I like knowing as much about a rum as possible when doing the write-up). Nothing about the finishing which Bruichladdich usually likes to trumpet front and center, for example…I don’t know why, so here’s what my research (and the bottle) did bring up.  Pot still origin. Finished in Ribero del Duero casks – this is a fruity red wine from north central Spain, which explained something of the profile.  Yes, the Foursquare distillery supplied the rum, so I called it on that one…though it wasn’t until I took a hard look at the label that I saw it self-evidently mentioned.  I should get my glasses changed, or perhaps research before I drink, not after.

D3S_5538

But it’s not that any of this matters, really.  I’ve said before that Renegades are something of an acquired taste, should never be one’s first try at a rum, and are all quite fascinatingly different — this may be, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, because they are made by whisky makers for whisky drinkers with rummies perhaps as an afterthought.  They fail to craft a consistent rum from one bottle to the next (the variations in the line are occasionally awe-inspiring) but they know that the best way to approach making any of them is with a bold and unapologetic take-that attitude that finds ‘em swinging — hard — for the fences, every time, with a sort of giddy, joyous abandon one simply has to admire.  So, the end product may not always be what we expect…but man, it’s like watching a Sobers, Worrell, Lloyd or Lara on a weird day.  It’s never, ever boring.

 

A:7/10 N:16/25 T:16/25 F:16/25 I:9/15 TOT: 64/100

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat. Quite a few cask strength rums can easily fall into this scoring range, so try first and see if you agree, before mixing.
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.  I’d prefer to sip it myself.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 Posted by on May 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm
Mar 302013
 

D3S_4314

(#149. 67/100)

***

To date, the only A.D. Rattray rum I’ve tried was the excellent Caroni 1997, which was quite impressive, if no longer readily available. To this is now added their Barbados 9 year old, also bottled at 46%, non chill filtered, with exactly zero additives, very much in line with the puritan, zen-like production ethic that so characterizes, oh, Cadenhead. This one was taken from a single barrel for the likker establishment “Wine & Beyond” in Edmonton (they have a few others as well, but my slender purse ran out and my wife was watching).

I must say that after decanting this honey-hay-blonde rum into the glass, my first thought on nosing it was a rather startled “This smells like Thai food.” No, really. Sweet, and salty, with faint fruity and vegetal notes, and quite dry at first blush. I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it, but then it kinda won me over, because the aromas morphed into a herbal, burnt lemon-grass smell, which then stopped being pissy, and comfortably settled into cherries, fleshy apricots just on the edge of too ripe, and a subtle light honey. It was like breaking in a new armchair that was too stiff at the outset, but then conformed to my buttprint after I had reposed in it for a while.

This medium bodied rum was initially spicy, sharp – following on from the nose, and probably due to the 46% ABV bottling strength – as well as dry. It rewarded some time for it to have those alcohol fumes to burn off, and then the rather stern, starch-stiff lead-in flowed into a warm and fuzzy embrace, as if a nun stooped to hug me and it became a teddy bear. Really, it followed on from the nose like Mary’s little lamb (if not so gentle) – those sweet/salt notes were there again, followed by a smoky background, and then a softer, creamier taste, quite pleasing, of soft white guavas and bananas. The palate then took me by the hand and sat me down with a flourish of burnt sugar – the grassy hints from the nose were as gone as yesterday’s news. And it all segued into a long and warm and dry finish, with final hints of leather, smoke and caramel.

D3S_4321

Note the difference with the Coruba 12 year old “Cigar” I looked at not too long ago. In that product, the lightness, the smokiness, the overall mouthfeel and exit were simply not that pleasant for a rum so aged – A.D.Rattray have managed to take a younger rum and keep the character while losing the bitchiness. Granted the source stock was from two separate islands with different distillation methodologies and starting points, yet to my mind the ADR Barbados 9 year old succeeded in combining its core elements in a way that the Jamaican product did not.

FourSquare distillery is one of three or four rum producers left in Barbados – the others are Mount Gay (of course), Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey. The former is something of the big guy on the block, the last several orders smaller…FourSquare, part of R.L.Seale & Co and owned and managed by Sir David Seale, sits somewhere in the middle (a good link on the MoR which describes it, is here). They also make the Doorley’s line, with which I have always been unimpressed, but fair is fair: I have not seen enough of their products to make any kind of generalized statements about them.

D3S_4317

Summing up: this rum is a spirit meant for those who know what they like, and have slept around a bit in the caramel boudoirs of the rum tasting world. Please don’t take offense if I remark that it should not be the first rum you ever try. I consider it to be a rum very much in the Renegade vein – limited, distinct, with a character and a profile very much its own, that makes no attempt to hew to any kind of generalized “let’s see how many people we can please” philosophy. It’s too early for me to say if the other ADR products I saw that day are as good as the Caroni, or how the overall line will pan out: as far as this one goes, it’s quite a good dram, which should simply be treated with a little respect and a little care, otherwise you might find yourself dismissing it too quickly, to your own detriment.

***

Other notes: Cask #15, 363 bottles. Distilled 2003, bottled 2012.

Detailed scoring to come

 

 

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:52 am
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