Mar 302013
 

D3S_4328

Come on now, be honest, why did you really buy this product?

(#148. 60/100)

 ***

How can one ignore the advertising and marketing behind something as evocatively (or crassly) named as Ron de Jeremy, distributed by One-Eyed Spirits? There is almost nothing I can write that would not in some way be seen by the average reader as a mandingo-esque, pornographic allusion. I think the best — nay, perhaps the only — way I can approach this review is to do a full one-eighty course change, sink deep into the netherworlds of geekdom and nerd nirvana, and reference a great epos of wishful manhood. This is, of course, Star Trek.

Think of this rum as an off-kilter riff on that ultimate TV bromance. This is you and your best buddy playing with phasers and electrocuting Horta in your spare time, because, when you get down to it, Ron de Jeremy is not for drinking by yourself — so who else to try it with than some friend whose sense of humour mirrors your own and who won’t laugh at your new ears and deadpan Sheldonisms? This is a rum born to be shared and snickered over, which is why the younger and more rebellious crowd of rum drinkers probably laughed themselves into a collective sneezing fit and bought it like tribbles were on sale that day.

Ensconced in a bottle remniscent of the English Harbour 10 year old, numbered (mine is bottle number 23124…but of how many?) it’s fairly simply designed (I always like that), and for those used to seeing Ron Jeremy as a fatter, ageing prescence on a TV show or on photographs, the younger hand drawn visage will be a bit startling. We can all agree, I’m sure, that his face is not the selling point, though. Maybe it’s his ears.

Ron de Jeremy presented such a queerly discombobulated dissonance between nose and palate that it almost seemed like two people, one of whom is in the throes of pon-farr. This started as early as when it was opened and I got an immediate hit of stale Gorn sweat – for me, with my memories of life in the tropics, it presented like the bitter whiff of anti-malarials in a bush hospital. A vaguely bitter, herbal, grassy lead-in remniscent of dried-out sugar-cane stalks (and quinine) was the first thing out the door. And however much it then mellowed out – and it did – however much it transmorgified into caramel, burnt sugar, toffee and butterscotch, it had already mind-melded with me and that made my opinion less than it might have been.

So, negative on the nose, Keptin. Was the palate any better? I thought it was. Quite decent, actually. Medium bodied, a little aggro right up front. Briny, not-so-sweet and heated to start, a shade harsh – an 18 year old Panamanian it was not – then once it hit what passed for warp in its own universe, it evinced a rather pleasant vanilla sweetness, commingled with oak, leather and walnuts (hush, ye snickerers). Medium long fade with a last jarring sweet bath-soap note warping in from nowhere. It may have pretended not to be of a piece with the initial aromas, but clearly, they went together like Spock and the other guy. Essentially, the rum started one way and finished another…maybe I should call it Seven of Nine.

D3S_4332

Ron de Jeremy “Adult” Rum is a Panamanian, distilled by the boys at Varela Hermanos who make the Abuelos (or so I’ve been told), hewing to the line of several other Panamanians in my possession, if not quite as good as many. It is near in profile if not in scent to the Abuelo 7. Don Pancho Fernandez of Zafra Rserve fame has been involved in the production of this rum…and here again I make mention of the palate-level similarity all these Panamanians seem to possess (in my own opinion), which perhaps illustrates the drawbacks of having one person, no matter how experienced and well known and qualified, driving the taste profile of so many rums. I like Panamanians a lot, but the ones available to me are similar enough — bar minor variations — that I am in danger of shrugging and moving on out of sheer boredom.

You’d be surprised, though: overall, in spite of its cost of about $40 here in Canada, I’m thinking it’s worth the extra credits. Because for all its failure at the start, it’s a decent, workmanlike rum, better than quite a few others I’ve had over the years. An intriguing, if not necessarily good nose, a decent palate and a fade not to be sneezed at.

I may not believe a company vulgar enough to call itself “One-Eyed Spirits” can bring something this decent to the table right out of the gate. But I can’t always write about what I wanted in a rum, but must address what I actually got — and on that level my opinion is a positive one. Set aside the nonsense of a porn star shilling for a rum just because of his name, put away any preconceptions you have of the marketing message, ignore its opening salvo, strip away all that — and what you’re left with is a Panama rum, one that’s not too shabby, whose quality, like that of the Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks, barely succeeds in spite of its advertising, but not because of it.

 

***

 (Detailed scoring to come)

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:50 am
Mar 302013
 

Fair warning: the wine is strong on this one.

(#137. 44/100)

***

I would like to wax rhapsodic on this 40% rum; spout literate encomiums to its puissance and scintillating quality, write heady metaphors with words like “ambrosia,””zoweee!” and “wtf”. I’d like to share with you, reader, the happiness of Unicaworld (“would place this alongside my good Martinique rums on my top shelf”) or the Whatsnewinbooze blog (“…a great product from a new distillery…” and “This is an absolute must try…”) or the remarks of the Big Kahuna, when he referred to this rum as one of two shining standouts he tried from Downslope Distilling.

Unfortunately I can’t. And the short version is that in my opinion the rum, sorry to say, doesn`t work. At all.

Have you any idea how frustrating that is? Here I am, tasting rums in their tens and hundreds on mostly my own dime, month in and month out, fighting the long defeat in a desperate championing of rums in a resolutely whisky drinking country (and as part of a primarily whisky drinking book club), plaintively trumpeting the case for distilleries to go beyond, seek new horizons, rise above 40%, push the envelope, experiment…and now this rum comes along from an enthusiastic bunch of guys in Colorado who’re trying to do everything I ask for, and it…just….fails. Aaargh. It’s enough to drive a man to drink, honestly.

Downslope Distilling is an outfit set up in Colorado in 2008 partly because of some peculiar laws regarding making and distributing spirits in that state, and partly as a consequence of the rabid interest of its founders in producing what one might term craft spirits: reading around I get the impression their real interest is whiskey and vodkas, perhaps gins, with rums almost an afterthought, but maybe that’s just me. At end, I see it as a logical evolution of micro-breweries which took off in popularity some years back. Hey, we can make a decent beer…let’s try something different.

Now, with respect to its rums, DD uses unprocessed Maui cane sugar as the base from which to distil its blend, running it through a pot still twice, and then, without any filtration, chucks it right into a barrel that once held wine – each barrel used (or set of barrels) held a different wine so output is not only limited to several hundred bottles per individual run, but widely divergent from batch to batch depending on the wine it once held. I suspect that the bottle I got was aged in Merlot casks from the Napa valley (other bottlings are aged in Tokaji casks which is a sweet dessert wine from Hungary, or in California Chardonnay casks).

When I poured this light blonde spirit into my glass, what I smelled from three paces was a cloying reek of enormously beefed up Muscatel grapes, as if the Legendario from Cuba had enhanced itself by snorting enough coke to keel over a Himalayan yak. I mean, it was so pervasive that I could barely make out anything else – not even the usual burnt sugar and caramel notes that so characterize most rums. That’s not surprising, since they use sugar, not molasses to begin with, so to some extent what we’re getting here is an agricole. It was raw and harsh and burning, grudgingly gave up a hint of nutmeg and grassy notes, before morphing into a wine on the edge of turning to vinegar, or overripe oranges just starting to go. Sharp and unappealing to me.

I was not reassured by the palate either: yes the wine aged rum was sweet, but also briny, and as sharp and grasping on the tongue as a vindictive ex-wife’s lawyer. It was dry as a bone and even after several minutes, all one could ascertain taste-wise was more grapes and more table plonk — way, way too much — that flooded the taste buds with their own omniscience so intensely that eventually I just had to give up, because nothing was gonna make it through those three hundred Spartans of wine. About the only thing that even marginally redeemed what I was tasting was the attendant finish, quite long, with banana, cinnamon and bitter wine notes. Not enough to save it. If they had not labelled the rum as such, I wouldn’t have known it had it been placed before me blind.

Part of the issue here is the ageing. Rums are aged in oak for years – at least one, preferably three to five, and good ones for many more – and then finished in wine casks for a few months. To try and combine the two processes for six months in barrels that impart such enormous influence is too little of one and too much of the other, and it sinks this drink utterly. No, really – it’s too raw to have neat, and I could not find a mix that even remotely ameliorated the overarching wine bedrock. This is a product in need of severe oak support for at perhaps another five years. It was a mistake to issue it so early, since what it accomplished was to give startup rum makers a bad name and makes buyers avoid rum-creating micro-distillers on principle (to the detriment of all of us boozers). Compare this hastily issued rum to the years of preparation Rum Nation did prior to issuing their first products in 1999, or St Nicholas Abbey in the late 2000s, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

In fine, Downslope Distilling’s wine aged rum is too sharp, too young and too far out to lunch for me to even admire its adventurousness much as I usually applaud such efforts. What this padawan needs is a Yoda to guide it to adolescence, and a little less enthusiasm from online writers or distillery visitors who should be more stinting with their praise and more comparative in their approach (come on, are you seriously trying to tell me this rum compares magnificently to a top Martinique agricole? gimme a break). In years to come, Downslope Distilling may grow into something, and I really hope they do, because at least they’re trying, and have the advantage of enthusiasm, obsession, perhaps even love for what they do (so more power to them for that); however, right now, they’d do better to be more self-critical about the hooch they’re passing off as quality. They may have thought they were putting some James Brown into their spirit: what they got was his sweat instead of his style.

A:5/10 N:8 /25 T:13/25 F:13/25 I:5/15 TOT: 44 /100

***

Because this is a small distillery not really that well known, and because I’m quoting directly, I’m including my references here:

http://unicaworld.com/foodwinekitchen/foods-and-wines/wines-and-spirits/5917/wine-weirdos-and-downslope-distilling-barrel-aged-rum/  “…would place this alongside my good Martinique rums on my top shelf.” As well, the “James Brown” comment.

http://whatsnewinbooze.blogspot.com/2010/05/downslope-distilling-wine-barrel-aged.html “…This is a great product from a new distillery…” and “This is an absolute must try…”

http://www.bigkahunabrew.com/2012/02/downslope-distilling-centennial-colo.html The Big Kahuna commented that this was “…wonderful with two shining standouts…” referring to both this one and a vanilla flavoured variant.

 

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 9:16 am
Mar 302013
 

 

Light gold rumlet, lightweight in what counts, with an oddly discombobulated flavour.

(#128. 50/100)

***

Some time ago I reviewed an intriguing product out of Hawaii, the Kōloa Gold Rum, which impressed me by having some interesting (if thinner than average) flavours emerging out of an utterly unaged rum. The Old Lahaina “Original Formula” Premium Gold Rum is another in this vein, with a similar taste profile, yet somehow it failed to come up to snuff, where the Kōloa succeeded (both companies produced their first rums in 2009).

Maui Distillers began construction of their distillery in 2003 around Maui’s plantation town of Paia, where the HC&S plantation leased them an old building on the site of the Old Paia Sugar Mill. According to their website, rum is distilled on two steam-fired 500-gallon pot stills originally built for the Boston New England Rum Company in 1946, one of which has a multi tray fractionating column added to it (I suspect to increase the output, and decrease variation in that output…the bugbear of pot stills’ batch production methodology).

Anyway, housed in a thick bar-room style bottle, the Old Lahaina opened its presentation with a herbal, grassy nose that was a shade heated and yet oddly unaggressive at the same time. Delicate is a term I’d use. As it opened up I smelled citrus peel and freshly peeled tangerines mixed with white flower petals….and some faint honey whiffs. My son took a sniff, compared it to the Kōloa and said “Same, Daddy…Lahaina is a bit stronger.” (All he did was sniff, before you ask).

Ummm…okay. Moving along, the coppery brown and amber coloured Lahaina was surprisingly astringent on the palate, dry, sere, a shade briny, and not as sweet as most rums. I wondered whether it had been aged or not (I doubted it). Initially it was hard to pick anything out from under the briny backnote, but gradually vague tastes of vanilla and honey made themselves known, until they were overpowered by – get this – rye bread and creamy butter (I am not making this up!). I tried it again and again over three days, but no, there it was. It’s a first for me, I assure you.

The finish was heated, and a little too raw, the exit too sharp, and much too short – you could barely make out more than a faint cinnamon spice at the back end. It wasn’t bitchy, you understand, and didn’t hate me or claw at me on the fade, it was just…indifferent. It shares a lot with the Koloa, which also had a fade utterly lacking in melodrama.

Really, this was just uninspiring. I liked that the scents and flavours were a shade stronger than the Kōloa, just not what the tastes actually were. Maui Distillers claim that each batch is hand blended and each variety (Dark, Gold or Silver) made from an in-house developed formula. Meh. What I have noticed is that these two rums, which I tasted side by side to effect a decent comparison, have certain characteristics in common: a mouthfeel more delicate than usual, some harshness, and an overall lightness that may either come from a lack of ageing, or the specific characteristics of the Hawaiian sugar and molasses used – or both. I make the comment because I’ve noticed that other rums from other lands outside the Caribbean or Central America (like Old Port DeluxeBundaberg or Tanduay) also have marked differences in taste that I sometimes attribute to the variation in base ingredients and cultivation…a sort of terroire-specific thing.

As a mixer the Old Lahaina Gold is pretty good and can do well in whatever bar serves mai-tais and tiki drinks (its relative lack of sweetness makes it particularly suited that way). Me, my evolution goes towards rums I can sip by themselves and enjoy alone without enhancement. So while I can make a very good cocktail with this so-called premium rum, were I to come upon it neat in a glass I’d probably scurry for the pantry hunting for the chaser right away, no matter what the website tells me about it being equally a mixer and a sipper. Because that one I really don’t believe.

A:5/10 N:9/25 T:13/25 F:15/25 I:8/15 TOT: 50/100

 

 Posted by on March 30, 2013 at 8:21 am
Mar 262013
 

***

Impressive sipping-quality light rum from a region you’d almost expect to have many more darker variations. If your tastes run into the stronger and more distinct profiles, this may be a bit too subtle, being more more shy in its release than most. But it is well worth it.

First posted 29 January 2012 on Liquorature

(#091. 64/100)

***

Most of us drink rum originating from the West Indies that are aged in oak barrels, and so we make certain assumptions about our taste profiles: this is why, when we come across a rum from India (Old Port deluxe), Australia (Bundaberg), the Phillipines (Tanduay) or elsewhere, we can immediately sense, without putting it in so many words, that there’s something different about it. There’s a subtlety of otherness in the mouthfeel, the aroma, the taste (especially the Bundie, but never mind) which immediately perks up our beaks. My own theory is that this relates to the different climates and soils in which the source sugar cane is grown or maybe even different barrels. Who knows?

The rums of a relative newcomer to the rum world stage, Kōloa, seem to possess some of this characteristic. Made on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i by the Kōloa Rum Company, they utilise crystallized sugar derived from cane grown in the west of the island in the shadow of Kauai’s Mt. Wai`ale`ale, in what may be the wettest place on earth (for the rumgeeks among us, the yeast strain used in fermentation supposedly hails from Guadeloupe). The distillation itself takes place in a 1210-gallon, 1947-made copper still (much better for imparting subtle tastes to the end product than a modern stainless steel variation) which was trained, trucked and shipped all the way from Pennsylvania – it is composed of a pot still combined with a seven-plate column still and condenser, and the company makes small batch, twice distilled rums using it.

All these elements come together in a very impressive product which, while not being quite as crazy as a the Ozzy Osbourne inspired bat-shredding Bundaberg, is easily discernible from the regular Caribbean or Central American products I see more regularly.

Bought on a whim (I buy a lot on whims, largely because Calgary being what it is, if I don’t get it now, I may not get it tomorrow), I was more than pleased with the result. The rum itself was pale gold – nearly straw-coloured – with a light-medium body, and initially I almost confused it with an agricole (trust me – an agricole this was definitely not). The bottle was topped by a plastic screw-top, was fully transparent, and the label was plain white and relatively simple, though not minimalist.

The scent immediately hinted at a rum determinedly taking its own course in life: soft, a shade delicate, subtle. I swear that at the beginning I had zero clue what the thing actually was, there was so little normal nose on the liquid. Gradually, on opening up, certain elements began to make their prescence felt: white flowers, cherries, a vague herbal and grassy background mixed up with creamy caramel. But very little darkness from molasses, oddly enough.

It’s the palate that made this rum an excellent buy. There was some spice to it, and a bit of medicinal background; thankfully these were minor detours from an overall extraordinary arrival: a creamy soft butteriness on the tongue, merging into vanilla, nuts, honey and delicate caramel, chocolate and perhaps bananas. The thing seemed to have no real “rum taste” to it at all, by which I mean the usual burnt sugar / caramel / molasses combo – and it worked wonderfully. Smooth and easy and different. Wow. I liked this taste so much I didn’t even bother to try mixing it, just took one glass, another, then asked myself why the bottle was half empty. The fade was, admittedly, somewhat more anticlimatic – it was medium long, with an exit of faint citrus and fleshy pineapple notes, some honey and rained-on new-mown hay drying in the sun. Gentle and easy all round. Not excellent, but pretty damned good.

What makes Kōloa Hawaiian rum so special is that the rum I describe above was not aged at all. This meant that the flavour profile had no elements deriving from oak barrels (maybe that was why I got no “rum taste”?), and relied wholly and solely on its own ingredients, its own strengths and the skills of Kōloa’s blenders. That skill must be quite something given what I tasted.

Kōloa is one of those distilleries about which I have more information than I know what to do with – the opposite is usually true. Let me wrap it up this way: given the Hawaiian islands’ long involvement with sugar and the sea, it’s no surprise that rum has been part of the maritime culture for a very long time.  What is surprising is that this brand of rums is the first legally distilled popskull ever made on Kaua’i. The company was incorporated in 2001 and it took years for them to jump through all required bureaucratic hoops to get up and running in 2009. In their very first year of operations they won a Gold Medal at the 2010 Rum Renaissance in Miami for their Dark Rum (and again in 2011), and then another medal for this one in the 2010 Polished Palate Rum Festival awards. The word started filtering out that there was a new distillery to watch for, out of Hawaii. On the basis of this one, I’d say that word is entirely justified.

A:9/10 N:13/25 T:20/25 F:15/25 I:7/15 TOT: 64/100

 

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 12:04 pm
Mar 262013
 

Whaler’s Rare Dark Reserve Rum is all characteristics and no character: smell without nose, burn without body and aggressiveness bordering on the obnoxious without actually delivering on any of the promises it makes.  Don’t let the tempting scent fool you.  That’s most of what you’re gonna be getting.

(First posted 11th December 2010)

(#058. 42/100)

***

Whaler’s Rare Reserve Dark rum is not, as its advertising might imply, made in Hawaii.  Its website certainly suggests the connection by touting the traditional recipe used by whalers in the old days, copied from native islanders’ own rum production on Maui and perhaps infused with vanilla beans once used to rattle around in bottles, meant to entice whales to come closer. An amusing tale which may even be true. Be that as it may, the rum takes its name from the hardy sailors who once plied the Pacific searching for the whales to decimate and made rum on the side when stopping for R&R in the islands.

For a bottle costing less than $25, you can’t expect too much, and indeed, it doesn’t deliver too much.  In that sense, it is not, like the Tanduay, an undiscovered steal: it’s just a low level rum.  What makes it stand out from the crowd is a nose of real power.  Open this bottle and just let it stand there: it’s like somebody let off a butterscotch bomb in the room (and lest you think I’m exaggerating, I tasted this with a group of Scotiabank employees, and one of them smelled it twenty feet away in less than threee seconds…before I poured a single glass). I have gradually been corrupted into using a glencairn glass, but truth is, you don’t need something snooty for Whaler’s – what you really need is a gas mask to filter the thing out.

The darkness of Whaler’s is, I concede, appealing, and it sports a medium body (I expected something heavier and richer from that colour, but no…).  In the glass it sports thin legs, and that is where this kind of test proves its worth.  Consider: a strong, overpowering nose of butterscotch and vanilla through which you can dimly and imperfectly sense caramel and some sugar and pretty much nothing else.  A body that stings and burns and delivers that taste…and nothing else.  A finish that is short and thin and stings (not much, but that’s me damning it with faint praise)…and nothing else.  I’ve heard and read of rum lovers discussing “hollow” rums, which have all promise and no delivery – this is the first one I’ve ever tried.

What Whalers really is, when all is said and done and drunk, is a flavoured, spiced rum.  Not even fancy herbal stuff like, oh, the Tuzemak, or even Captain Morgan – those two have the balls to put their money where their advertisements are and don’t have airy pretensions to more than that – but just a bucketload of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch flavouring poured into some 40% rum. As a low level mixer this will be okay, I guess.  As a sipper it fails, utterly, unless you’re after a harsh liqueur of some kind, or a cocktail base.  I know I’m not, but if you are, I’d suggest a coke zero or some other non-sweet mixer: this thing is too sugary by half already and doesn’t need any further embellishment.

A:5/10 N:15/25 T:8/25 F:8/25 I:6/10 TOT: 42/100

An editorial note:

Heaven Hill distillery from Bardstown, Kentucky may be the harbinger of an accelerating trend: that of larger distillers diversifying their entire portfolios and producing more than just the spirits that once made their name.  Bacardi has stuck with rums (and has one at every price point except the stratosphere) as has J. Wray & Nephew, but research I’ve done on Tanduay, Banks DIH, DDL and of course Diageo shows that these big guns (among others) are producing vodkas, tequilas, gins, whiskies, liqueurs and just about everything else north of 30% ABV.  Even Bruichladdich and Cadenhead are now experimenting with rums as opposed to straight whisky production. And here is the Whaler’s Distilling Company, a subsidiary of Heaven Hill, producing rums in Bourbon country.

In fairness, that’s the way companies survive, by innovation and adaptation to a marketplace where drinking preferences are all over the map and changing in a heartbeat at the dictates of fashion; quality control is better and modern technologies are consistently employed for a taste that is the same bottle to bottle: none of that hit and miss approach that characterizes tiny operations making rum for local consumption on small islands. But I still kind of regret the passage from the uniqueness of such tightly focused distilleries to something more impersonal.

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 8:29 am
Mar 262013
 

First posted December 3rd, 2010 on Liquorature

Bacardi Black is a deep, dark rich mixer’s drink just the right side of sweet enough, but lacks the cojones to be a decent sipper on its own merits. 

(#054. 54/100)

***

The mainstays of Bacardi’s massive sales are, to my mind, the low-enders: those rums not good enough to stand on their own, but which have a bold taste, a decent body and – somewhat like Johnny Walker – sufficient overall quality to be a cut above the average.  The normal Joe who walks into a liquor store isn’t after all, looking for a life-changing experience: he’s looking for a decent drink at a good price that won’t make him void his bowels, lose his sight and tie his alimentary canal up into a complex knot.

Such a rum is the Bacardi Black, which I will tell you right out, is not a sipping rum by any stretch of the imagination (unless you like low enders to sip and cause you pain) but will liven up any drink you make with it. It’s a cocktail base, pure and simple, and should be treated as such and I must be equally honest and tell you it’s one of the best out there at its price point (less than $30 for 750ml). I should also point out, however that the Black is no longer available as the Black since it has now been replaced as the Bacardi Select rum. Dunno what difference there is between the two.

You can almost always tell tipple for the masses: with a very few exceptions, almost no care is taken tartin’ ‘er up, and this is no exception.  Tin foil cap.  Cheap label with bare minimum of facts.  A reekingly pungent nose that only reluctantly releases its claws and puffs a grudging fart of caramel into your face like a baby’s bum at the exact wrong time. A thin little toot, you understand…the Black is not a heavy dark rum.  But to some extent you are compensated by a transformation of the initial caramel whiff into light cinnamon, some bonbons, and a weakly burnt-wood belch.

The body is, as I say, not for sipping.  A tad on the thin side, tasting of oak and carmel, some vanilla and maybe nuts.  But oddly, for a rum this dark, there is a lack of boldness and assertiveness, a lack of sweet, that’s somewhat at odds with its aggressive styling and bold dark looks: it’s as if Will Smith turned into a wuss, or something.  And that finish: ugh. Lousy. Hobbesian, truth be told – nasty, brutish and short.

I know I’m making a case that this is just another piece of dreck.  But it’s not, really – it’s just not meant to be had neat (and my apologies to all of you who have tried it that way and liked it – but you need to trade up). As a mixer in cocktails it’s actually really good….its weaknesses are compensated for by whatever we chose to add to it.

Bacardi’s 20 million cases of annual sales are more than just a question of a stable of brands or a favourable tariff regime with the US.  They have simply, and for generations, made a damn fine series of rums.  What they lack in uber-quality and premium labelling (they have nothing to even breathe upon the Appleton 30 or DDL’s aged offerings), they make up for in volume of decently distilled spirits that appeal widely because of both their overall quality (sold cheaply) and their ubiquity. I’ve found Bacardis the world over and always affordable, almost always better than the local hooch.

By eschewing top-end and exclusive premium rums and concentrating on making a series of excellent mid- and low-tier products – like the Black and the Gold – Bacardi have essentially created what every manufacturer dreams of making just once and then selling a jillion.  Simply put, with the Black and its like, Bacardi have made the Model T of rums.

A:5/10 N:15/25 T:16/25 F:10/25 I:8/15 TOT: 54/100

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 7:30 am
Mar 262013
 

First posted 17 September 2010 on Liquorature (#053)

A tentative foray, a single spy, sent into the camp of the premium rums, perhaps to scout out the territory for further invasions to come (we can hope).  Capture one and be surprised by its low price and overall quality. If Bacardi can make this one, I don’t know why they don’t come charging into the high-end market in force.

***

Maybe it’s just me, but I sometimes find stronger notes and more positive tastes at the middle and lower end of the price and snoot scale;  more premium rated rums can get their cachet from age statements, distillery snobbery and the supposed excellence and uniqueness of their maturation process…but don’t consistently please (or awe) the drinker any more than a regular rum could (sometimes even less). A lesson that does not seem to have been lost on the subject of this review: the 8 year old Bacardi.

Observe this brand.  It’s the best selling rum in the world.  It smartly moved its operations to Puerto Rico and then to Mexico in the pre-WW2 years to take advantage of favourable tariff regimes with the US, and created a marketing campaign which made it the pre-eminent tropical drink of its time.  A series of extremely capable family members (some of them in-laws) kept the voting shares and quality control up to scratch into the modern era.  And yet, it is considered fashionable today to bash the brand for its commonality and staid middle-of-the-roadishness.

Part of that is its utility.  The damned thing can be used for anything.  You can cook with it, drink it, mix it, use it as a base, an ingredient or a mixer. It has no real character except its lack of one.  It’s bland.  It’s like the a ’40s jeep or ’50s Land Rover or ’70s Toyota.  It’s the faceless English banker, the anonymous Japanese salaryman  of rums.  It is, succintly put, often seen as boring. But my lord, does it ever sell. The gold, the black, the white…they can be found everywhere

The 8-year old is something else again. Bacardi blends for the most part, but they’ve taken the time to put together this tawny golden blend of rums aged eight to sixteen years old and aged in used white oak barrels that once held sherry.  This might account for a softer and more candied nose than one might expect from what could be seen as just another young rum. It’s a tad sharp, yet not so medicinal as others I’ve had.  I’ve always meant to try it for that alone.

Tasting is a surprising delight: the slight sting to the nose disappears entirely, and a body of some substance makes sipping this without ice a definite must-try. It’s not as sweet as other rums, and the arrival on the throat is more like a dry, rich brandy, or the Bruichladdich Renegade rums.  It’s got a solid flavour profile, with traces of vanilla, nutmeg and light fruity undertones, perhaps peaches.  More to the point, it has real body, not some kind of anorexic thinness reminiscent of its cheaper cousins further down the scale.  And the finish is excellent, with a slow deep burn, not a sting: this rum is more like a decent whisky, I judge, with just enough sugar in it to keep me liking it.  A lot. I’d sip it straight with no problems, on ice without doubt, and as a mixer in any situation.

Bacardi 8 does not try for superiority (although the packaging is quite decent for its price and age…I particularly liked the cork stopper). It really is a good mid ranger, and in its own way, defines what a good rum could be if it doesn’t hanker after any kind of pretentiousness.  A superstar it’ll never be: as an all rounder, it may be one of those undiscovered steals that those who patronize the low-end rums feel is a find all their own, and they’d be right to think so. You wouldn’t be wasting your thirty-plus bucks if you dropped them on this quietly impressive product.

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 7:21 am
Mar 242013
 

First Posted 27 Nov 2010 on Liquorature

(#049. 47/100)

A pleasant mixer but not worth it as a sipper…like a date you want to kiss but really aren’t sure you want to bring home just yet.

***

I’m at a loss to say what Bacardi 1873 is, based on what I’m reading.  Research is maddeningly inconclusive: Is it a solera, as some bottles advertise themselves to be, or a standard blend of some kind?  Some sources suggest that it’s an aged blend that has now been replaced by the eight year old.  I hesitate to commit myself to any of these positions, because while I can tell my bottle is definitely not a solera (that is usually clearly identified as such on the bottle, and the one I sampled makes no mention of it), I can’t ascertain anything else.

It would also appear that the few rum reviews out there are at odds on whether it is discontinued or not, and if so, replaced by what.  Bacardi’s own (woefully inadequate) website is hardly a fount of information on the matter and thus far they have ignored my inquiries. On the other hand, Chip Dykstra of the RumHowler Blog was as helpful as ever, and responded that while the 1873 started life as a Solera made in Puerto Rico, production was subsequently moved to Mexico and the specialized solera method was discontinued.

Faced with this dilemna, a reviewer does what he can: he directs an inquiry at the distiller, does as careful a tasting as he is able, and puts a picture of the bottle up to ensure that readers know precisely what they’re reading a review of.  And this is what I’ve attempted to do.

Price wise, nothing to say. About $35.  Bottle, not the rounded shape of the standard Bacardi’s like Black, Gold or White, but more squared off.  Cap – >>sigh << – cheap crap tinfoil press-on.  I won’t go so far as to say these initial indications denote low-end, but it does seem to be trending that way.  On the other hand, I like the rich and deep amber-gold colour of the rum as the light strikes it (something I’ve attempted to show in the picture I took).

Working on the assumption that this is a blend, the trick is to see if a decent tasting can suggest, with a fair degree of assurance, whether it’s an old or young one running up the spine.

On those nose, there is a surprising lack of any kind of spirit burn on the initial sniff, just soft vanilla notes wrapped around a caramel and burnt sugar core. There is a hint of oaken tannins on the back end which suggest some level of ageing, but it’s impossible to say how much: the relatively simple nose doesn’t lend itself much to dissection.  I need to mention, though, that after I left my glass to stand for a bit, a sly citrus hint came sliding out of the softer background of vanilla.

The palate confirmed the overall lack of complexity the nose had suggested.  The body of the 1873 was lighter than I expected for something of this copper-brown/amber coloured hue; and slightly sweet without overpowering you with sugar, and a shade dry (not as much as the Bermudez, however). The rum is spicy, packing a light stinging burn on the tongue, yet perseverance elicits the taste of dried fruits as well, the nonsweet kind, like dates, perhaps; this last is very faint and is no more than a light impression. As for the finish, it’s short and sharp, and the medicinal fumes which thus far escaped you are back to claw their way up your throat and spoil what so far had been an unremarkable, but also not particularly bad, rum.

I’m really not impressed with the 1873 on its own – this one seems to be tailor made for a cocktail base of some kind, and indeed, as a mixer with the usual suspects, I really enjoyed it. I believe it to be a blend of rums aged no more than five years. As a sort of general product, it doesn’t try to be any one thing, but too many, and there we may have hit on the reason for its lack of success with me.  The makers never got around to hanging their hat on any kind of flavour profile, while trying to please everyone: that marks it out as a low-ender, to my mind.

I sometimes wonder how much rum-lovers’ tastes the world over are formed from early exposure to the best selling rum in the world.  When  you think about it, drinkers who start with scotch appreciate the drier, not so sweet variations that hark back to whisky and cognac, while also liking the sweeter, more full-bodied stuff; but drinkers who began with Bacardi and never strayed from the true faith tend to like the former somewhat less, and concentrate their love on the latter. This private theory of mine is anecdotal at best, but who knows.

Be that as it may, Bacardi 1873 is a pleasant blend of no great sophistication, and sports its youthful physique and unpretentious nature like any teenager that ever lived but fails on the finish line. It’s main selling point might be that it’s a cut above the black and gold variations, and works exceedingly well as a mixer. For some, it might work as a low-end, none too stellar sipper (something like the El Dorado 5 yr or English Harbour 5 yr)…not for me, though.

A:5/10 N:10/25 T:15/25 F:10/25 I:2/10 TOT: 47/100

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 7:57 pm
Mar 242013
 

First posted 13 October, 2010. #039

The  best selling and most commonly quoted spiced rum in the world.  It’s the standard by which all other spiced rums are measured not because of its excellence, precisely, but because of its overall “okay-ness”. It’s okay everywhere while being truly outstanding at little. It’s sweetness and spice are part of the appeal.

***

The fact that this is a low end mixer should not dissuade you from giving it a shot (no pun intended) if you’re in the mood for a reasonably low-priced little something. It’s about on the same level as the cheaper Bacardis (Gold, and Black), but it is spiced and therefore somewhat sweeter than normal, and also not meant to be taken seriously as a sipper.  Yet many aficionados with a less exclusive turn of taste are quite ardent supporters of The Captain’s spiced variant.

As I’ve noted in my review of Captain Morgan’s Private Stock, Seagram used to make the rum, but sold the rights to Diageo in the mid-eighties, and currently it is the world’s best selling spiced rum. The name is nothing more than a marketing ploy, since it enhances the connection to swashbuckling, seafaring pirate days of yore, but beyond that, there isn’t anything else (note that the TV advertising campaign I have seen in Calgary also plays on the whole bit about being like a pirate in breaking the rules and thinking outside the box to achieve success…an interesting bit of moral relativism given Morgan’s history and actions).

Captain Morgan is a tawny gold colour, and displays a medium light body in the glass. The nose is heavy with rum and vanilla, and a bit of caramel thrown in.  I can’t say I detected anything beyond that, because the scent is so overwhelming.  Yet the youth of the rum is evident in the sharpness at the back of the throat (it’s been matured for two years or less in charred white oak barrels), so there’s not much point in trying the rum to sip (unless you’re a slight nutcase like me and want to try it that way nevertheless). The finish is pretty good, though, a tad sharp, though not nearly as much as the nose suggested it would have. Last flavours of vanilla and nutmeg.

For my money, I suppose it’s okay.  It’s a versatile ingredient in mixed drinks, but just too sweet to really appeal to me — and for all those who have read my reviews about liking sugar in my rums, this must sound strange, but there is something as too much and this is a case in point.  Perhaps adding just a smidgen of coke to mitigate the burn is the way to approach it.

However, like Bacardi, the Captain is available just about everywhere, and as a result, if you drop thirty bucks on a bottle when getting something in a hurry, well, you’ll certainly get what you pay for plus maybe a bit extra. Your friends and guests sure as hell aren’t going to refuse it, and, if offered at a party, neither would I.

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm
Mar 242013
 

First published 01 October 2010. #037

This deep-throated bellowing maniac of a rum does almost nothing well – but one thing so grandly it borders on Van Gogh-level insanity: it hits you in the face.  A lot.  It doesn’t stop, ever. Welcome to the lost week of your life.

***

Even in the world of lesser rums, there is such a thing as subtlety..a whiff of class, or style, be it ever so humble. Bacardi, with this 151 proof beefcake, sneered long and loudly and stated flat out that they wanted no truck with that kind of pansy nonsense.  They stayed as far away from the notion of class as they could, and made a popskull that reminds you of nothing so much as the liquid equivalent of a Tarantino movie, or a permanently pissed off woman packing an Uzi in either hand. The rum acts like Bacardi decided to build some kind of high test which jet engines can run on and set altitude records. It’s as if they let some mad scientist out of their chemistry lab and he went ape while unsupervised.

Bacardi 151 is absolutely not a for the weak. If you’re merely average, then make your will, alert your relatives that the possible cost of long term health care will be theirs, and ensure the insurance is paid up.  Kiss your significant other tenderly one last time. If you’re still single, well, you may be in luck, ‘cause after a shot or ten of this massive ethanol delivery system, you will think just about any girl and maybe even the neighbor’s dog is fair game. And I have to state up front: with a rum this powerful, clear health advisories are in order.  Do not drink while smoking, or when camping out and stoking the fire.  The 151 is as flammable as hell: giving vent to a loud fart or indulging your propensity to bloviate may leave you as a rapidly decomposing burnt amoebic mess on the floor.

Because Bacardi 151 is quite simply, nuts.  It blows out your sniffing nose at 500 hp and 8000 rpm, and when you’ve recovered breath, rediscovered your voice and stopped crying like a little girl, it thunders down your throat with a tonsil-ripping 600 ft-lbs of torque.  Zero to drunk arrives in 2.5 shots – yeah, go ahead, try it – and that figure is only marginally exaggerated.  Generations of insects will expire on your exhale, and professional flamethrowers will avoid you like the plague.  Other drunks at the bar will only vaguely remember seeing a flash of alcohol fumes as your sobriety disappears over the horizon in a cloud of vaporized rum.

In between the waves of spirit and ethanol burns waft tantalizing hints of something warm and caramel like. Hey, if you don’t mind some suffering and try a second sniff or a real taste, you can probably pick out the molasses and the burnt sugar, plus – and I’m reaching here – vanilla (I was comforting my throat with EH25 and weeping into my wife’s shoulder a the time so my memories are a little hazy).  But these are like bunny rabbits in a cane field of jaguars and have about as much chance: the 151 swiftly, efficiently and mercilessly hunts them down, eviscerates them with sharp ethanol claws and has them for lunch. You only think you noticed such warm and comforting scents and tastes before reality invades your fantasy and you are ravaged yet again.

Bacardi’s makers took a rum aged a minimum of one year, snickered into their mustaches, and distilled it to a whopping 75.5%. At that strength, it’s kind of irrelevant what kind of barrels they age it in…they could age it in my son’s potty with a diaper floating in it, and the next morning both diaper and potty would be gone. That also makes it one of a select few overproofs in the world today: their own 151 Dark, or the Stroh 80, Sunset Very Strong, the SMWS Longpond 9 year old 81.2% or poorer bastard cousins like the Wray & Nephew White Overproof (a mild 63%) or the Stroh 54 (at which you can just see Bacardi laughing hysterically whenever they name it).  The company can, of course, indulge itself in such cheerfully infantile pursuits – selling more rum than just about every nation on the planet allows it to pretty much create anything they feel like.

Making this one, they may not have attempted to create a superrum. But for my money, they sure as hell gave birth to a rum like few others. Which probably means that, as with other overporoofs like the Stroh 80, you’re more likely to run out of bar patrons than a bottle of this stuff – or cojones, or whatever other words the Puerto Ricans use for “courageously stupid.”  It’s not quite my thing and I’m not masochistic enough to try 151 on a consistent basis, however grudging an affection I may have for it: but that this rum exists at all is reason enough to admire it.

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 7:14 pm