Nov 092016
 

matugga-1

A less than impressive Jamaican wannabe rum that’s actually from Africa

#315

In one of those coincidences that occasionally crop up, one of my Gallic colleagues texted me as I was putting together the write up for the Matugga, and asked me what I thought of it. “Mediocre,” was the terse response, given the comparators I had on hand that day against which I was rating it, and the almost finished review – but in retrospect that was perhaps too dismissive, since it’s not entirely a bad rum, and both the good and the bad should be acknowledged, in spite of the hyped marketing message.

In this case the selling and marketing point is the rum’s origin – East Africa, Uganda to be exact, and that sure works, because it’s entirely on that basis that I bought it (Zulu Impi is another).  This is a rum like, oh, Lost Spirits or Seven Fathoms – made by a small outfit led by one person with some drive and gumption. Considered objectively and dispassionately it’s a company that, like those other two, takes an unusual, original detail about the rum’s production, and tries to develop that into an entire marketing plan, without really finishing the job of making it a really good one, even a really good young one.

Anyway, the molasses is sourced from a small town in Uganda called Matugga – forget the blurb on the company website about the quality of cane or soil – and fermented in the UK for seven days (rather a long time) before being distilled in a copper pot still and then aged in English oak, though nowhere is it stated exactly how long.  For the record I suspect around 2-3 years max.

matugga-2That age is probably about right.  The nose of the 42% Matugga certainly gave no indication that decades of careful maturation were behind it.  In fact, my first reaction was a grimace and a “yeccch”.  Rank notes of rubber, cardboard, rotting vegetable were first, followed by others of musky and damp old houses with too many cats in it.  But fortunately these sensations were fleeting, and nose changed after opening up, moving to more dominant smells honey and acetone, richer fruits, banana and treacle, maybe half a crème brûlée.  Quite an about face, and after walking around with it, I thought it was like a young, untamed and rather rambunctious Jamaican rum, more than anything else — not nearly as well made, but not to be dismissed out of hand either.  

On the palate, the orange-gold  was not that stellar, though certainly interesting: thick and oily, almost cloying…and then a sharp skewer of black pepper and pimentos without the heat kicked in.  Again, just as with the nose, it did a ninety degree turn and became another rum altogether, more traditional.  The main players emerged on stage – caramel, vanilla, some sugar water (this and the vanilla became particularly pronounced after a while), papayas, pears and white guavas.  Underneath it all was a weird kind of bitterness of raw cocoa beans that accentuated what was already a rather jagged and inconsistent profile, one moment sweet, fruity and almost cloying, the next sharp, bitchy, peppery and out to get me.  And it finished quickly and without fanfare, giving up final hints of nuts, molasses, caramel and vanilla, standard stuff, no points here.

So no, some interesting notes and originality acknowledged, the rum doesn’t really gel.  It has potential, sure, but so far the profile is concerned, it’s somewhat incoherent, more than a little unbalanced, not well integrated and perhaps not even sure what it wants to be — a Jamaican funk bomb, or an easier, soothing  rum made for mass consumption and to bolster sales before the really good aged stuff comes out the door. Plus those additives, whatever they are, are an annoying and pointless distraction. Why didn’t they just have the guts to take the subtle notes of an East African terroire, run with it and make a case for its uniqueness, for a rum having a profile of neither arrack or molasses or agricole but a new and untried melange of them all?  Their lack of courage in standing by the inherent qualities of their own product is a depressing commentary on both what the rum is, and what it might have been.

(79/100)

Other notes

When I started doing my research, I was unsurprised to discover 37g/L sugar on the hydrometer tests. In this case, I believe that less sugar and more ageing would do wonders for the rum. Evidently, the makers thought the opposite.

Aug 232016
 

D3S_3843

The finishing regime of this rum may not work for all comers, but does at least create a decent aged product from a well-known still.

(#296 / 84/100)

***

This is quite an international rum – made in Guyana, shipped to the UK by an Italian importer and bottled by a Dutch company. Boote Star is a Dutch bottler (actually called the Associated Distillers Group), about which there is maddeningly little hard information, aside from the fact that (a) they also have a ten year old, and (b) they appear to have sourced the rum from an Italian distributor and distiller called Distilleria Dellavalla situated to the northwest of Genoa. That little outfit seems more interested in making grappa than rum, so it’s anyone’s guess how they came upon a barrel of PM distillate, unless it was to age one of their grappas, and then they had to the problem of what to do with the rum that came in barrels (my conjecture). Much like the various low end expressions of Navy or Demerara rums issued in Canada, Boote Star – no matter how they got the rum — essentially issued its own version of a PM rum, perhaps hoping to take some shine off of more established and better known companies.

D3S_3844Its main claim to fame is the age, a very impressive twenty years old (five years in Guyana and the remainder in Scotland): at a time when rum makers are trending more towards low teens, to see something this old is quite an achievement in itself, though I feel that the rum was undone by the makers doing the finish in port and sherry casks, which had a powerful influence over the finished product that it didn’t really need. Naturally, in keeping with the rather bizarre lack of information surrounding the thing, there’s no indication of the ageing regimen in detail, or how much time it spent finishing, and in which casks, so let’s just accept this with a shake of the head at the lack of anything resembling a marketing effort, and move on.

The nose immediately suggested the licorice woody fruitiness of the Port Mourant; it lacked the beefcake power of full proof Veliers (no surprise), and the single minded purity of both those and the ~45% Rum Nation products.  Still, it presented well, almost sweetish, with ripe bananas, honey, licorice and oak tannins leading the charge.  It didn’t stop there either, and as it developed, added cherries, orange zest, some vanilla and molasses, which in turn morphed easily into the tartness of apples and almost-ripe pears – yet none of these scents, were in any way heavy or thick, but relatively light – maybe it was the lack of strength?  Possibly.  Overall, the nose was delicious, if a little jagged.

The taste showed up some of the rums shortcomings, and I’ll go on record as suggesting it may have been doctored over and beyond the sherry/port cask finishing – it was a lot heavier than the nose had suggested, and somewhat sweeter than expected: dark pipe shag, black tea, dollops of molasses-laden brown sugar, and the characteristic  anise and licorice of the wooden stills.  Whatever raw pot-still aggro a higher proof might have showcased more effectively, was tamed by the 43% at which it had been issued.  It suggested more funky complexity than it displayed, I thought, as it threw black grapes and lightly salted red olives in brine to the mix…yet the overarching impression was one of potentially more: better tastes just outside the reach of the senses to detect. They were there, shy, reticent. faint…just not arrogantly so, and the tannic and tart notes of other components only partly came to the fore to round things out.  Basically, the rum had been dampened down too much by a lack of strength and the fruitiness of the port and sherry finishing, hiding what could have been a great stage for displaying the PM profile (which I really enjoy); and it led to a short finish that reinforced the molasses and anise tastes, without being allowed to add anything more subtle or enticing to the mix as it wrapped up – and that’s a shame for a rum that started out so decently.

So, this is one of the more off-the-beaten-track PM variations to cross my path, and there are few other products from the still to which I can reasonably compare it (Rum Nation’s Demeraras may come closest, though I think those are better).  Having been conditioned to more elemental, stronger, more intense profiles, that made me like it somewhat less, yet I could not entirely tell you it’s a bad buy – this is a rum where the finishing created a mélange that lesser makers would have tried with sugar and additives, none of which I sensed on this one.

D3S_3844-001

So, I’m scoring it as I do to express both my appreciation for its decent heft and body and some good introductory tastes, and the potential of a profile which unfortunately never gelled.  My personal feeling is that it could have been much more if the makers had stopped messing around with the fancy finishing altogether, and just gone with the profile that the stills could have given on their own. For that kind of age, and with what they’ve managed to do even here, it could conceivably have ranked quite a bit higher.

Other Notes:

I really wish people would do their research: Guyana is the post independence spelling of the country’s name; before May 1966 it was called British Guiana.  There has never been a British Guyana.

Bottle courtesy of Henrik of RumCorner, who also provided the biographical details. For what it’s worth, he liked it a lot less than I did.

Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘n’ badass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

(#281 / 86/100)

***

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself.  The SMWS on the other hand, does this stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom.  They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won.  You may feel exhilerated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing  74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on me – because, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it?  It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungent – the very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes.  That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip.  And with good reason – it was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese.  Christ this was hot – it was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaming…he’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!”.  Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmite…it was just difficult to find anything through that heat.  Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.  

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more.  But that’s not to invalidate how good this one is – about the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall?  Not bad at all – in fact it grew one me.  There was a lot more going on over time — so quietly it kinda sneaks up on you — than the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained.  The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Well…this one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay.  It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

May 312016
 
ampleforth

Picture (c) Ocado.com

Too much spice, too much sugar, too little interest.

(#276 / 78/100)

***

The name is almost Dickensian in its imagery.  Professor Cornelius Ampleforth could be straight out of the Pickwick Papers…you know, some chubby, benevolent older fellow in half-specs and a faded waistcoat, with rather limited mental capacity, down on his heels, but possessing a good heart. Whatever – the name evokes a certain good humour and indulgence from us, and at the very least is evocative.  That, unfortunately, doesn’t make the Professor’s Rumbullion a rum worth drinking, unless you are into spiced rums and like to have that in your drink (which I’m not and I don’t, so be aware of my personal preferences in this review).

Whether there really is a Professor Cornelius Ampleforth is subject to intense and spirited debate by all the same people who can tell you the middle name of the runner up of the 1959 Tiddlywinks Championship in Patagonia.  The UK company which releases the Rumbullion is called Atom Supplies and under its umbrella of e-commerce and business consultancy, also runs the online shop Master of Malt, and the brand is their independent bottling operation. They certainly have a sense of humour, as evinced not only by the Professor’s name, but the “Bathtub Gin” they also sell.

Bottled at 42.6% and darkly coloured within an inch of the Kraken, what we had here was a rum that assaulted the nose immediately with enormous and instant nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon notes, caramel and toffee and chocolate, all of which rushed and jostled and ran heedlessly together like a mob entering a Black Friday sale where everything is  90% off. It was also rather thick and almost chewy, and while back in 2010 I appreciated the Captain Morgan Private Stock for precisely those reasons (no longer, mind you), here it was simply excessive, and there was no order to any of it, no gradual progression from one series of well-blended, coherent smells to another…and that made the whole experience something of a disorganized mess.

And by the time I got around to tasting it, those spices really became too much, which led to flagging interest, waning ardour and a lot of grumbling and head shaking.  So there was cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sweet dark chocolate – these were somewhat better behaved now – to which, with some water, were added scents of cloves, marzipan (I liked that) and candied oranges, at which point the party was over and I was blatted into near catatonia by just wave upon wave of cloying sweetness (quick Prof, pass the insulin!). So yeah, there were additional elements of taste that weren’t bad, just so strong and so much that it was like having seven incidences of coitus in one night – one wakes up the next morning with an utterly blank brain and no desire to do anything meaningful. Even the warm, short fade exhibited this oversweet sense of warm syrup, without adding any new notes – there was the incessant hammer of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, and to me it was just overkill.

To its credit, as I don’t hide my preferences, the makers don’t hide anything either: it is a spiced rum, it’s trumpeted as such, and they’re proud of it. But as always, it’s mostly marketing that one gets when one checks: a secret recipe (hate those), fancy wrapping and no information on components or ageing, if any. I guess for less than thirty quid we shouldn’t be asking for more.  This rum is squarely aimed at the casual imbibers who just want a tasty, tarted up, adulterated drink with a little bit of oomph and no hassle, and so although I acknowledge that spiced rums sell briskly for precisely those reasons, they really aren’t my tot of grog.

 

Other notes

For the record, I disapprove of an online shop not disclosing in its listings that it is itself the maker of a rum whose tasting notes (by its own staff) are rabidly enthusiastic.

Oct 222015
 

Black tot 1

Bottled history.  Nothing more, nothing less.

(#237. 87/100)

***

“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” remarked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I remembered that bit of wisdom before embarking on our tryst with this rum.  And to ensure that my long anticipation for the Tot wasn’t bending my feeble mind (I bought the bottle 2014, and tasted it for the first time almost a full year later) I tempered my judgement by trying it three times, with the Skeldon 1973 32 year old, BBR 1977 36 year old, a Velier Caroni and the Samaroli Barbados 1986.  Just to be sure I wasn’t getting too enthusiastic you understand. I had to be sure. I do these things so you don’t have to.

As much as the G&M Longpond 1941, St James 1885 or the J. Bally 1929, to name a few, the near-legendary Black Tot Last Consignment is one of the unicorns of the rum world.  I’m not entirely convinced it should be so – many craft makers issue releases in lots of less than a thousand bottles, while some 7,000 bottles of this are in existence (or were).  Nor is it truly on par with some of the other exceptional rums I’ve tried…the reason people are really willing to shell out a thousand bucks, is that whiff of unique naval pedigree, the semi-mystical aura of true historical heritage.  A rum that was stored for forty years (not aged, stored) in stone flagons, and then married and bottled and sold, with a marketing programme that would have turned the rum into one of the absolute must-haves of our little world…if only it wasn’t quite so damned expensive.

I don’t make these points to be snarky. After all, when you taste it, what you are getting is a 1960s rum and that by itself is pretty nifty.  But there’s an odd dearth of hard information about the Tot that would help an average drinking Joe to evaluate it (assuming said Joe had the coin). About all you know going in is that it come from British Royal Navy stocks left over after the final rum ration was issued to the Jolly Jack Tars on Black Tot Day (31st July, 1970 for the few among you who don’t weep into your glasses every year on that date), and that it was released in 2010 on the same day. No notes on the rum’s true ageing or its precise components are readily available.  According to lore, it supposedly contains rums from Barbados, Guyana (of course), Trinidad, and a little Jamaica, combining the dark, licorice notes of Mudland, the vanillas and tars of the Trinis and that dunderesque whiffy funk of the Jamaicans.  And, the writer in me wants to add, the fierce calypso revelry of them all. Complete with mauby, cookup, doubles, rice and peas, pepperpot and jerk chicken.

Black Tot 1

All that aside, the rum’s presentation is exceptional. A wooden box of dark wood (walnut? oak?). A booklet written by Dave Broom on the background to the rum. A copper plated tot container. A tot ration card facsimile. And a bottle whose cork was covered with a hard, brittle wax sealant that Gregers, Cornelius and Henrik laughed themselves silly watching me try to cut off. The bottle itself was a stubby barroom style bottle with a good cork.  No fault to find on the appearance, at all.  Believe me, we were all raring to try this one.

The aromas first: at 54.3%, I expected more sharpness than the Tot exhibited, and enjoyed the deep and warm nose. Initially, anise and slightly chocolate-infused fumes billowed out of our glasses in well controlled balance.  Cardboard, musty hay, caramel and some tar and tobacco juice (maybe that was the Trinis speaking up?) followed swiftly.  The official literature suggests that the Jamaican part of the blend was minimal, because sailors didn’t care for it, but what little there was exerted quite a pull: dunder and a vaguely bitter, grassy kind of funk was extremely noticeable.  Here was a rum, however, that rewarded patience, so it was good that our conversation was long and lively and far-reaching.  Minutes later, further scents of brine and olives emerged, taking their turn on the stage before being replaced in their turn by prunes, black ripe cherries, leavened with sharper oak tannins, and then molasses, some caramel, smoke, and then (oddly enough), some ginger and dried smoked sausages snuck in there. It was very good…very strong with what we could term traditional flavours.  Still, not much new ground was broken here. It was the overall experience that was good, not the originality.

Good thing the palate exceeded the nose.  Here the strength came into its own – the Tot was a borderline heavy rum, almost mahogany-dark, quite heated on the tongue, with wave after wave of rich dark unsweetened chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, oak deftly kept in check.  Thick meaty flavours (yeah, there were those smoked deli meats again). It was a bit dry, nothing to spoil its lusciousness.  We put down our glasses, talked rum some more, and when we tried it again, we noted some salty, creamy stuff (an aggressive brie mixing it up with red peppers stuffed with cheese in olive oil, was the image that persisted in my mind).  Nuts, rye bread, some coffee. And underlying it all was the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore straight out of a gothic novel.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the finish failed a little – it was dry, quite long, so no complaints on that score – it just added little more to the party than the guests we had already seen. Smoke, tannins, aromatic tobacco, some molasses again, a little vegetal stuff, that was about it.  Leaving aside what I knew about it (or discovered later), had I tasted it blind I would have felt it was a rather young rum (sub-ten-year-old), with some aged components thrown in as part of the blend (but very well done, mind).

Which may not be too far from the truth. Originally the rum handed out in the 18th and 19th centuries was a Barbados- or Jamaican-based product.  But as time went on, various other more complex and blended rums were created and sold to the navy by companies such as Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, C&J Dingwall, George Morton and others. Marks were created from estates like Worthy Park, Monymusk, Long Pond, Blue Castle (all in Jamaica); from Mount Gilboa in Barbados; from Albion and Port Mourant in Guyana; and quite a few others. Gradually this fixed the profile of a navy rum as being one that combined the characteristics of all of these (Jamaica being the tiniest due to its fierce pungency), and being blended to produce a rum which long experience had shown was preferred by the sailors. E.D.&F. Man was the largest supplier of rums to the navy, and it took the lead in blending its own preferred style, which was actually a solera – this produced a blend where the majority of the rum was less than a decade old, but with aspects of rums much older than that contained within it.

The problem was that the depot (and all records about the vats and their constituent rums) was damaged, if not outright destroyed during the 1941 Blitz.  In effect this means that what we were looking at here was a rum, blended, and aged solera style, that was in all likelihood re-established in the 1940s only, and that means that the majority of the blend would be from the sixties, with aged components within it that reasonably date back to twenty years earlier. And that might account for the taste profile I sensed.

So now what?  We’ve tasted a sorta-kinda 1960s rum, we’ve accepted that this was “the way rums were made” with some serious, jowl-shaking, sage nods of approval. We’ve established it has a fierce, thick, dark taste, as if a double-sized magnum of Sunset Very Strong ravished the Supreme Lord VI and had a gently autistic child. It had a serious nose, excellent taste, and finished reasonably strong, if perhaps without flourish or grandeur.  The question is, is it worth the price?

Now Pusser’s bought the recipe years ago and in theory at least, they’re continuing the tradition.  Try their Original Admiralty Blend (Blue Label), the Gunpowder Strength or the fifteen year old, and for a lot less money you’re going to get the same rum (more or less) as the Jolly Jack Tars once drank. Why drop that kinda cash on the Tot, when there’s something that’s still being made that supposedly shares the same DNA?  Isn’t the Pusser’s just as good, or better? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s better, no (not least because of the reported 29 g/l sugar added). But at over nine hundred dollars cheaper, I have to wonder whether it isn’t a better bargain, rather than drinking a bottle like the Tot, with all its ephemeral transience. (Not that it’s going to stop anyone, of course, least of all those guys who buy not one but three Appleton 50s at once).

So this is where your wallet and your heart and your brain have to come to a compromise, as mine did. See, on the basis of quality of nose and palate and finish – in other words, if we were to evaluate the rum blind without knowing what it was – I’d say the Black Tot last Consignment is a very well blended product with excellent complexity and texture.  It has a lot of elements I appreciate in my rums, and if it fails a bit on the back stretch, well, them’s the breaks. I’ll give what I think is a fair score that excludes all factors except how it smells, tastes and makes me feel. Because I have to be honest – it’s a lovely rum, a historical blast from the past, and I don’t regret getting it for a second.

At the end, though, what really made it stand out in my mind, was the pleasure I had in sharing such a piece of rum heritage with my friends.  I have cheaper rums that can do the trick just as easily.  But they just wouldn’t have quite the same cachet. The same sense of gravitas. The overall quality. And that’s what the money is for, too.

Other notes:

I’m aware this review is a bit long. I tend to be that way, get really enthusiastic, when a rum is very old, very pricey or very very good. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one applies here.

Mar 312015
 

D3S_9014

A clean, warm and smooth rum from Peru, which is extremely accessible to anyone who doesn’t like cask strength rums.

(#209. 86/100)

***

Into the shadowed world of dronish and often-boring label design, the screaming green of the Peruano stands out like a neon tarantula on a wedding cake.  It’s an assault on the visual cortex that can’t help but make you catch your breath, mutter an amused “wtf?” and move in for a closer look. Not that this has anything to do with the quality of the rum inside, of course.  I merely bring up the point to remark on the fact that originality in any form is a vanishing breed in the rum world and we should be grateful for such small winks from the craft makers even if it’s only a marketing plug.

Bristol Spirits is an independent bottler out of the UK which started life in 1993, and is therefore something of a recent entrant to the field (Cadenhead, by contrast, has been around for over a hundred and fifty years).  Their barrel selection from the various countries around the Caribbean has created an enviable track record of limited bottlings; I’ll always have good memories of the Port Mourant 1980, and the 1970s era editions remain on my must-have list. They don’t seem to hew to any particular ageing philosophy – some of their older bottlings were aged in the UK, while others, like this one, were kept in situ.

Anyway, the obligatory opening remarks out of the way, what have we got here? An eight year old, molasses-based, column-still rum from Peru, made from the blend of eight barrels (distillery not mentioned) which were then aged at altitude in used bourbon casks before being shipped to Europe. And bottled at what for an independent bottler, seems a rather low-strength 40% (with some exceptions, they make most of their rums at 43-46%)…however, they noted in an email to me that they were quite happy with that proof.

Nosing the blonde spirit gave some clues as to why the decision may have been made in this instance: it was soft, clean…almost delicate. No pot still could have created something this light and unaggressive (my opinion). Initial smooth scents of hay and vegetal flavours gave way to more luscious soft fruit – peaches, ripe dark cherries, even a touch of mocha, but all very restrained, even shy.  It was a rum that if you really wanted to dissect it, you really had to put some effort in.

As I poured it out and sampled it for the first time, I wondered what Bristol was trying to do here – make a competitor to Rum Nation’s Millonario 15, maybe?  It shared many of the characteristics of that product: light to medium body, slightly sweet, immediately redolent of white guavas, flowers and a smooth cream cheese.  But then it went its own way, and I noted a slight sharp whiff of bitterness emerging, bright and clear like the inlay on a ginsu knife.  It was at odds with the easy-going nature of what had come before, while not entirely detracting from it – it provided, in fact, a kind of pleasing counterpoint, because the balance of the competing elements was pretty good.  Adding water opened up more fruits, vanilla, some oak influence and a whiff of dry tobacco. For a standard strength rum it also exited well, though this was short, shy, bright, a little sharp, as if a can of peaches in syrup had been sprinkled with some cinnamon and lemon juice.

D3S_9017

Independent bottlers tend to be more associated with cask strength behemoths than such laid-back fare, so I was not entirely sure what Bristol’s intentions were, with this Peruvian eight year old. Their recent foray into spiced rum territory makes me worry that perhaps they are abandoning their craft-bottler, limited-edition ethic that produced such incandescent gems as the PM 1980, and now they are swinging for easier sales by diluting down to 40% (they didn’t specifically address that point in they communique to me, and I had not asked).  On the other hand, the rum is gentle, even elegant (I had similar feelings about the Juan Santos 21 year old), and so perhaps this was something that had to be done lest additional proofage obliterate the subtler harmonies of what I detected.

Be that as it may, for anyone who likes standard strength rums without too much intensity or in-yer-face attitude, this is a good one.  I’d be surprised if more editions from Peru don’t follow this one out the door, in the years to come. Because even with its limited outturn, I think a lot of people will enjoy it, and it leaves us all with another colourful tile in the worldwide mosaic of rum…if the label didn’t already provide that, of course.

***

Other notes

Based solely on the profile, I suspect this hails from the same distillery as the Millonario 15 and XO (Rum Nation never identified it); which implies it was from the Cartavio boys in Trujillo. On the other hand those rums are soleras and this one is not, and Trujillo is at sea level on the coast while Bristol noted the ageing took place at altitude: so the question remains open.  For the record, Bristol declined to provide the distillery name or the number of bottles issued, but Fabio Rossi via Henrik from Denmark (see comments below) did acknowledge the source.

Marco on Barrel Aged Thoughts has a company profile and product listing for Bristol Spirits (in German), for those who are interested in other aspects of the company.

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 pushes a man to be better than he was born being, just so he can deserve to drink it.

Addendum (August 2015)

This included, I’ve looked at eight Caronis, most sourced in 2014. They are:

 

Aug 052013
 

D7K_2782

 

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

(#176. 80/100)

***

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 78).

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

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. 85/100)

***

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.

 

Jul 142013
 

D3S_7047

 

This feels and tastes mean, largely because it is. But 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. 88/100)

***

“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.

As for the palate, coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, in case your rum-drinking life flickers before your eyes. Once the fire subsided, 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 overproof blending skill on your table (or your office desktop after hours).

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, trying to describe it in words, I am faced with bafflement. I don’t know. It’s crazy. This rum is liquid, industrial-strength factory effluent that tastes three times as good as it should.

 

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