Sep 292018
 

Having dispensed with the age-shattering, wallet-busting Heritage Rums of the Tasting of the Century, let’s go to something a little less aged, a little less up-market, a little less well-known, and not at the same level of age or quality — something from, oh, the US.  The resurgence of rum and concomitant explosion of small micro-distilleries there suggests that sooner or later we’ll find something from over the pond and south of 49 that’ll wow our socks off.

Certainly this rum suggests that it can and implies that it does — when you peruse the website for the Noxx & Dunn 2-4-5, it leaves you with the distinct impression that it’s lovingly handmade by a team of unsung experts working to redefine the category as we know it.There are glitzy photos, weather for various parts of Florida, notes that it is unadded-to and unadulterated, made from Florida molasses, aged in Florida in American oak barrels, and it’s all very positive.  “A team of craftsmen with almost a century of knowledge believe that a blend of 2, 4 and 5 years produces the most consistent and drinkable of spirits” they remark, evidently not believing either the names of these craftsmen or consistently good older rums from anywhere else are worth mentioning.

Well, never mind my snark, let’s just dive right in and taste the thing. Like many lightly-aged blends it was gold in colour and edged timidly above the standard strength with 43% ABV.  The initial nose presented crisply and with a light fruitiness (pears, apples and apricots). It didn’t develop much beyond that, though after half an hour I could sense some vanilla, nuts, brown sugar, flowers and raspberries – and it got sharper, edgier, over time, not less, which is usually the hallmark of a very young rum, or very active barrels (they use once-used ex-bourbon barrels for ageing).

Taste-wise, not bad.  It felt something like a cross between a light Spanish style anejo and a weak Demerara without distinctly adhering to the profile of either.  Dry and crisp, it was not entirely easy on the palate — that’s the uncouth youth coming through — tasting mostly of light white fruits (guavas, pears, that kind of thing), pecans, coffee, oak and leather, and gradually developed those fruity notes the nose had hinted at – raspberries and very ripe cherries, all overlain with tannins, breakfast spices and light molasses.  The finish, quite short and sharp, was more sweet-ish, with some bitter chocolate oranges, vanilla, brown sugar and quite a bit of oak bite.

My take is that the pot still part doesn’t provide a good balance to the lighter column still portion, the age is still too young, and I felt that the oak was really overactive, exacerbating the driness and slight bitterness beyond the point of being totally approachable – though I say this as an evaluator taking it neat (as I must), not a mixing guru, for whom such a profile would probably shine more. Not a rum to sip really, more one to mix up into a cocktail of some kind.  According to Robin Wynne, that sterling barman running Miss Thing’s in Toronto who spotted me the bottle in the first place, “…I [would make] an Old Fashioned with it, or swapping out bourbon in a Vieux Carre with it. Also makes a great rum negroni…” So there are some suggestions for those inclined in that direction.

When I started sniffing around, the reps in Toronto were very helpful in providing additional information which is not on the webpage, and the story behind the brand is  somewhat more prosaic (and to my mind, rather more interesting) than what’s on public display. Noxx & Dunn is a relatively new rum on the American scene, created a few years ago by a group of individuals who used to be part of Appleton’s salesforce and were let go when Campari acquired it.  They formed their own little outfit called The Tall Tale Spirit company, and this is their only product (so far). It’s meant, as far as I’m able to determine, as a barroom mixer. The rum is primarily (but not totally) column still distillate, the blend of which is a trade secret but kept reasonably constant in order to make for a consistent taste profile.  Note that TTS don’t actually own or operate a distillery, or grow sugar cane or anything – the distillation is done by Florida Caribbean Distillers and the source is molasses from the cane grown in that state (see “other notes” below). What we have at the other end of the process, then, is a blended two-year-old rum with added components of rums four and five years old, made under contract to TTS’s specifications. Also on the plus side, there are no additives, it’s 43% and it’s fully aged in Florida in the usual American ex-bourbon oak barrels.

Overall, this is the sort of rum that is fine in a bar – which is where I found it – but not for greedily savoured home-consumption or sharing with the rum chums to show off one’s incredible perspicacity in sleuthing out undiscovered steals. Not to diss the makers, who evidently are pouring some real passion into their work, but I think it’s like many other such rums from the USA that aren’t entirely multi-column-still flavoured ethanols: too afraid to go where the flavours might actually lead, too timid to amp it up a few volts and really provide a mixer with balls or a sipper with style. It’s just shy of being a true original and that’s a shame for something that’s otherwise quite intriguing.

(#553)(78/100)


Other notes

  • As noted, the Noxx & Dunn is a contract “private label” operation, not a cane-to-cork producer. The distillery of origin is Florida Caribbean Distillers, located halfway between Orlando and Tampa: they control the Club Caribe Distillery in Puerto Rico, as well as distilleries in Lake Alfred and Auburndale (both in Florida), and provide distillation, storage, ageing and bottling facilities as part of their service.
  • Only one other review of this exists, by the Rum Howler, here.  He liked it a lot more than I did, so his opinion is worth noting, given my own more middling score.
May 182017
 

Photo (c) Quazi4moto from his Reddit post. This is the exact bottle the sample was taken from

#365

Just about everyone in the rum world knows the name of Ed Hamilton. He was the first person to set up a website devoted to rum (way back in 1995), and many of us writers who began our own blogs in the 2000s or early ‘teens — Tiare, Tatu, Chip, myself and others — started our online lives writing in and debating on the forums of the Ministry of Rum. He has written books about rum, ran tasting sessions for years, and is now a distributor for several brands around the USA.  A few years ago, he decided to get into the bottling game as well…and earned quite a fan base in North America, because almost alone among the producers in the US, he went the independent bottler route, issuing his juice at cask strength, thereby helping to popularize the concept to a crowd that had to that point just been mooning over the indie output from Europe without regularly (or ever) being able to get their hands on any.

This rum was distilled in 2004 on a Vendome pot still by St. Lucia Distillers, who also make the Admiral Rodney, 1931, Forgotten Casks and Chairman’s Reserve, if you recall. They have both a Vendome pot still and a John Dore  pot still (as well as a smaller one, and the rums mentioned above are made by blending output from all in varying proportions) – Mr. Hamilton deliberately chose the Vendome distillate for its complexity and lack of harshness, and its source was from Guyanese molasses fermented for five days.

With my usual impeccable timing, I moved away from Canada at that exact time, and never managed (or seriously attempted) to pick up any of the Ministry of Rum Collection, since my attention was immediately taken up with agricoles and the European independents. However, one correspondent of mine, tongue in cheek as always, sent me an unidentified sample (“St. Lucia” was all the bottle said), and after tasting it blind, being quite impressed and writing up my notes, I asked him what it was. Obviously it was this one, a nine year old bottled at a rip-snorting 61.3%.  And it really was something.

On the nose, the high ABV was hot but extremely well behaved, presenting wave after wave of the good stuff.  It started off with rubber and pencil shavings, old cardboard in a dry cellar, some ashy kind of minerally smell, coffee, cumin and bitter chocolate…and then settling down and letting the rather shy fruits tiptoe forwards – raisins, some orange peel, peaches and prunes, all in balance and well integrated.  No fault to find here – I was unsure whether a standard proof drink would have been quite as good (in fact, probably not).  Throughout the whole exercise – I had the glass on the table with some others for a couple of hours – there was some light smoke and burnt wood, which fortunately stayed in the background and didn’t derail the experience.

As for the palate, wow – if gold could be a taste, that was what it was.  Honey and burnt sugar, salty caramel all mixed up with flowers, more chocolate and the citrus peel.  The tannins from the barrel began to be somewhat more assertive here, but never overbearing.  In fact, the balance between these components was really well handled.  With water, deep thrumming notes of molasses and anise shook the glass, leading to grapes, pineapple, acetone (just a little), aromatic tobacco and olives in brine; and throughout, the rum maintained a firm, rich profile that was quite excellent.  Somewhere over the horizon, thunder was rolling.  And as for the finish, here it stumbled a little on the line – long as it was, the tannics became too sharp; and while other closing hints remained firm (mostly molasses, caramel and brine plus maybe a prune or two) overall some of the tempering of one taste with another was lost.  

But I must note that the rum is a damned good one.  I think it’s a useful intro rum for those making a timorous foray into cask strength, and for those who wanted more from the Admiral Rodney or the 1931 series, this might be everything they were looking for from the island.

Some years ago I ran several of the standard proof St Lucia Distillers rums against each other, observing that while they were quite good, they also seemed to be missing a subtle something that might elevate their profile and quality, and allow them take their place with the better known Bajans, Jamaicans and Guyanese.  As the rum world moved on, it is clear that in small, patient, incremental steps — perhaps they were channeling Nine Leaves — St. Lucia Distillers, the source of this rum, were upping the tempo, and it took a few European indies and one old salt from the US, to show what the potential of the island was, and is. St. Lucia may have been flying somewhat under the radar, but I’m here telling you that this is a lovely piece of work by any standard, admirable, affordable and — I certainly hope — still available.

(86/100)

Other notes

  • Vendome is a company, not a type of still, and dates back to the first decade of the 1900s, building on experience (and customers) dating back as far as the 1870s when Hoffman, Ahlers & Co. were doing brisk business in Louisville (Kentucky).
  • Aside from the eight St. Lucian rums in the portfolio, The “Hamilton Collection” includes Jamaican and Guyanese  rums.  The Hamilton 151 is specifically intended to be better than (not to supplant) the Lemon Hart 151 which was out of production at the time.
  • Kudos, thanks and a huge hat-tip to Quazi4moto, who sent the sample.  He was, you might remember, the gent who sent me the Charley’s J.B. white rum I enjoyed a few months ago.
Jul 172016
 

Lost spirits Polynesian 1

Nope, this one doesn’t quite click either.  Too many clashing tastes, none enhancing any other, and overall, too untamed. Still not entirely a bad product though.

(#286 / 81/100)

***

Let’s just wrap up the third on in the initial rums made by Lost Spirits, the Polynesian-inspired.  For those who really are not into rums, have not been paying attention, or are wondering why this small company is gathering so much press, be it known that Bryan Davis out of California makes the claim that with his proprietary technology (a ‘molecular reactor’) he can not only emulate many years’ ageing in just a few days, but any country or region’s style. It’s as if by processing the baking grade molasses and yeast that form the basis of their distillate, they can – one day – use that to produce a Velier-style Enmore, or a Foursquare Port Cask, a Havana Club or Longpond Jamaican….all within a week.

Such claims are unlikely to impress many, least of all the grand old distillers and master blenders and guys who have spent decades learning the craft of blending and ageing in the old way, and who disdain unverifiable self-proclaimed magical methods of artificial ageing (concepts which are almost as old as aged spirits themselves and are seen to be in good company with snake-oil sellers hawking their wares outside a travelling  circus).  Still, I’m fairly certain there’s a sphincter or two that’s puckering out there, since technological progression is geometrical, and while the first batch of Mr. Davis’s rums didn’t and don’t come up to scratch or deliver on the promises that they were a Navy rum, or close to a Cuban, they weren’t quite as poorly made as some have made out – they still beat many multi-column-still industrial mass-produced hooch that people buy so blindly, in such quantities, and there’s potential in the process, if it can ever be made to work right, and consistently.

This rum is something like the Cuban-inspired in that it seeks to recreate the profile of the rums from another geographical region.  I’m not sure of the point of this – it’s not like the sample set from over there is large enough to have a decent baseline to begin with, and outside of Hawaii, how many Americans have ever or even tasted a Polynesian rum? Background reading points out the fact that it is made to fit the profile of a high-ester pot still product, and indeed it is made on a copper pot still, though of course no age statement is as yet, or can be, applied to it.  It’s in all respects an unaged rum, which leads me to wonder if they didn’t mess with it by adding anything, was it the reactor that created the colour?

Lost spirits Polynesian 2Anyway, the whole pot still origin at least conformed to the profile of the smells that hit me once I opened the 66%, dark amber rum.  The action got going right away, with solid, sharp notes of wax and turpentine and acetone and shoe polish, here one second, gone the next, morphing swiftly into rotten apples, peaches left in the sun too long, and a lingering background of salty-sweet tequila oiliness that had no business being there.  This is supposedly part of the process the reactor promotes, which produces a surfeit of long chained esters — these are the source of turpentine/paint thinner flavours in high concentrations, and fruity ones when dialled down, so as far as I’m concerned this one had the dial stuck too high, and I didn’t care for it.

To taste it was a sharp sarissa of intense heat, just like any full proof rum.  That part didn’t disturb me, I just put it to one side to open up a bit and came back a few minutes later.  Well now: this was like another rum entirely, remarkably different from what the nose had advertised – quite a bit more balance here, with the waxy turpentine kept way back; overripe peaches (no real citrus tartness evident), brine, black olives, that oily tequila sweet-salt note again, dates, figs and other non-sweet ‘fruits’.  The absence of more traditionally expected tastes was somewhat surprising, and it gave the rum a distinctiveness that may become its maker’s identifying, defining signature, but the problem was that this uniqueness did not particularly translate into a quality rum that I cared for, where a central core of one flavour carried lighter and medium intensity elements of others that blended well together; the Polynesian cannot truly be termed ‘traditional’ by any stretch.  Even the finish – long and dry, redolent of (get this) olive oil soaked bell peppers as well as more dates and soya – didn’t really work well together. I like crazy for the most part, I enjoy originality and reaching for the brass ring, but there has to be a bedrock of underlying quality, of texture and taste and aromas that gels somehow: Mr. Davis is still working on that part.

So.  Good things are strength and heft and an original taste.  Bad things are those very same tastes and the way they do not come together to form a cohesive, enjoyable whole, plus a nose of too many uncontained, uncontrolled esters which allow the wrong ones to dominate. It’s also more than a little jagged to try, and little real smoothness in the mouthfeel.  It’s a mixer for sure, for the moment, and that’s how most will try it and drink it.

Matt Pietrek, commenting in the post on the Lost Spirits Cuban inspired rum, advised me that all three of the rums I’ve written about were from the initial reactor outputs, which have since been tweaked to various settings and routines in a specified order, which we can call Version  2.0. (my bottle with was bought back in early 2015, just when the process was gathering some steam). So there are new products – even whiskies, now — coming out from Lost Spirits, and the technology is beginning to spread to other companies who see either potential to bypass the Caribbean nations, or to make a fast buck, or really produce some cool rums of their own (or all at once).  Based on these three rums, it’ll still be many years before any of the old rum houses, or the European cognoscenti, need to worry that their favourite tipple will be replaced by technology that promises much, but so far, has not delivered.


Other notes

Just because I don’t (thus far) endorse or highly praise this line of rums, doesn’t mean others don’t.  North Americans are quite positive in their assessments, while European writers remain silent for now (perhaps due to availability). So some references for your research, should you be curious:

 

 

Jul 132016
 

 

Richland 1*

By itself with nothing else around, it’ll do just fine as a light and casual sipper. It chips along easy, dances pretty around your palate, and has delicate notes that are quite enjoyable. In conjunction with others, it kinda chokes.

(#282 / 75/100)

***

This review has been sitting, waiting, gathering dust, for many months now, and the bullet, so to speak, had to be bitten. If I had never tasted a raft of rums from around the world the day the Richland crossed my path, I might have liked it a lot more. But what did happen is that my friends and I did a deep field sample of maybe fifteen rums in a six hour session, and this one suffered in comparison. Not so much because it failed in and of itself, but because during that extended sampling exercise, it was compared with and contrasted to many other rums…and that really allowed us to get into it in a way that more casual imbibers probably wouldn’t. And sank it to the bottom of my pile.

Richland 2It’s a US entry into the agricole world, distilled from locally grown sugar cane rendered down into “honey” in a copper pot still, aged around four years or so in charred American oak barrels, bottled at 43%, and on that basis it certainly has all the proper boxes ticked. Fascinatingly enough, future plans are to have each bottle  numbered so the exact barrel from which it came is traceable.  I refer you to Dave Russell’s in-depth essay on the rum (which he liked much more than I did), which saves me the trouble of regurgitating it all here. One surprise – are there really no other rum producers in the USA who use a pot still and sugar cane honey in a single pass?  Surprising, but interesting all the same.  Kudos.

Now, nose and taste wise, the rum, a gold one, was pretty good: easy-going, delicate, light and very sweet. Behind a rather surprising rubber opening smell, lurked the florals, a lot of them. It was like being in an airconditioned flower shop just after a delivery came in, redolent of lavender and perfumed soap and shampoo (I guarantee, no other reviewer will mention that), 7-up and bubble gum.  It tiptoed around the nose, and other, equally light notes of sugar water and lemon grass and a little vanilla, coconut, came through.

Sipping it resolved some issues, created others and circled back to the original. The nose did provide the promise of some complexity but the palate didn’t deliver quite as much: it was warm and more basic, and the hint of agricole-profile that might have been expected was not distinctively there.  What indeed it tasted like was an uneasy mixture of bananas, sugar water and air-freshener, mixed with potpourri and cooking herbs (dill and rosemary) and even a stick of licorice. After some time the sweet took a back seat, some tartness of apples and oak took over, caramel and vanilla and smoke became more readily discernible, to dominate the rest of the extended tasting.  And underlying it all, throughout the session from start to finish, that travelling-bag scent refused to go away — although honesty compels me to admit I was the only one who seemed to notice it. Thank God it was faint.  Finish was perfectly serviceable, warm and not too spicy, more rubber, more air freshner, more flowers, more vanilla, more oak…and if that doesn’t sound pleasing, well, it was, quite light and airy and melded reasonably well.

Cutting to the chase, my opinion is that it’s decent, without being particularly spectacular.  The taste is an uneasy marriage of competing individual notes that hearken back to almost different profiles altogether, like a sharp agricole trying to be a Bajan.  Doesn’t really work.  Plus, over a long time, going back to it every half hour or so, the metamorphosis from light and tasty sipping rum into some weird sweet air-freshener-like liquid also sank it for me.  It may be a batch thing, since this is a pot still, small batch artisinal rum, and some variations of quality are to be expected.

Comparison might be the key here. Taste it alone, you’re fine.  You’ll like it, as long as light-bodied, unaggressive tamped-down 40% agricoles are your thing. Try it as part of an extended range of good rums, let the thing stand and aerate for a while, put aside any preconceived notions and you’d be surprised how much changes in both the rum, and your estimation of it.  In my case, that wasn’t for the better. 

 

Jul 032016
 

Lost Spirits Cuban 1

Not quite there.  Yet.

(#283 / 83/100)

***

Lost Spirits, if you recall, is the company that produced a set of rums of varying strengths last year – polynesian, navy, colonial, and this one – which are processed by their proprietary “reactor” to emulate the taste profile of rums aged for many years, while only being days old.  This is one of the three I bought, the “Cuban Inspired” version, bottled at a growlingly powerful 75.5% and properly labelled “151”.  151s are generally mixers (unlike, say, the SMWS beefcakes), which strikes me as an odd choice to produce – because if one is trying to showcase the ageing potential of the reactor, why make a rum that people have never seen as an aged product? Perhaps it is to try and recreate the taste markers of the style as well – if that’s what was attempted, I stand here before you telling you that the system still needs more work.

That said, let’s just get the stats and background out of the way: the Cuban Inspired is made from baking grade molasses — much like, I guess, Pritchards’ — water and yeast, some interesting tricks with nitrogen deprivation, no additives or colouring, some ageing in charred and toasted American oak barrels, and filtration through a coconut husk filter. So as 151s go, something of a diversion.  I was therefore quite curious whether a Cuban-style profile could be made via technology instead of actually in Cuba.

The light bronze rum nosed quite kinetically, of course, which at that strength was to be expected. Sharp, hot scents of brine, figs, olive oil and tequila led things off with some of the waxy, glue and petrol notes of some serious pot still action.  I set it aside to let the spicy alcohol fumes evaporate, and when I went back to it ten minutes later, things settled down a bit and the scents were much more interesting: huge molasses and burnt sugar, cocoa and vanilla notes were the backbone, upon which rested a sharper, less intense secondary aromas of coarse dry breakfast cereal and stale orange peel that’s been sitting in the sun for too long. Interesting and quite intriguing, for sure, though there’s something lacking here, a sort of middle section to bridge the gap between the sharp higher notes and the deeper and more solid underpinnings.

Putting aside the sheer oomph of this thing – for sure, given its intensity at that strength, I sipped very carefully – I was surprised how much there was on the palate: molasses soaked brown sugar, butterscotch (way too much of these three elements), salt butter, fresh baked dark russian bread (I used to buy one daily for a year straight back in my working days in the ‘Stans).  Too hot and untamed to sip really well, it was damned rough on the tongue.  With water, matters settled down, and additional flavours of overripe plums and peaches, more tequila and olives in brine emerged, weirdly mixed with hot black tea and yes, that stale orange peel made a comeback, all finishing off with a very long exit as befits an overproof, and last hints of wood and sawdust and an old, lovingly polished leather bag.

Lost Spirits Cuban 2So there’s the tasting notes.  Opinion? Well, it has quite a lot of action, that’s for sure.They sort of whirl around in a melee of unfocussed aggression, like a war-movie battle scene where the director is too much in love with his shaky-cam, making nonsense of any attempt to come to grips with an underlying structure.  Tastes just exist, and they do not come together in any kind of layering or synthesis, and where each one should be informing, supporting and melding with others, here what we have is a bunch of rabid individualists who do not know the meaning of teamwork. And honestly, there’s over-dominance by molasses and vanilla and butterscotch – it’s deep and it’s nice and it’s pervasive…perhaps too much so.

Plus – where’s the Cuban by which it was supposedly inspired? I’ve had a few from the island in my time, and the Spanish style, which so many in Central and South American rum-makers have copied over the centuries, was not particularly self-evident in this rum.  Usually, rectified column still spirit further amended by careful barrel ageing is a defining marker; but I didn’t get any of that clean, dry, light, flowery profile with coy hints of molasses and citrus dancing their own little tango, bound together by easy fruitiness – quite the contrary, this was a rapier turned into a fruit-smeared butterscotch bludgeon, not all of which worked. 

Whether we like it or not, when a rum is labelled as something, we expect from our past experiences of similar rums for the promise implicitly made on that promo to be honoured.  As with the Navy 68% I tried before I didn’t feel that really occurred (I sampled alongside the Navy and the Polynesian, and the Cuban resembled the former quite a bit) .  There’s little of the Santiago de Cuba or Havana Club here, to me. I’m giving it the score I do because of originality, some very interesting tastes, and then taking away some points for lack of coherence (but not for not being a Cuban – that one is an irrelevancy and I mention the matter only because the label does).  I like what Bryan Davis is doing, admire his dedication and passion and love of  technology which he is bringing to bear on a very old process, but still feel the process needs work.  From that perspective, it was real smart to call this a “Cuban Inspired” rum.

***

Other notes

I know this review will be somewhat divisive (it’s not meant to be dismissive), so here are some references to give you more positive points of view, if you’re interested:

Jun 192016
 

K&S 12 YO 1

Not a bah-humbug rum…more like something of a “meh”.

(#280 / 81/100)

***

I have an opinion on larger issues raised by this rum and others like it, but for the moment let’s just concentrate on the review before further bloviating occurs. Kirk and Sweeney is a Dominican Republic originating rum distilled and aged in the DR by Bermudez (one of the three Big Bs of Barcelo, Bermudez and Brugal) before being shipped off to California for bottling by 35 Maple Street, the spirits division of The Other Guy (a wine company).  And what a bottle it is – an onion bulb design, short and chubby and very distinctive, with the batch and bottle number on the label.  That alone makes it stand out on any shelf dominated by the standard bottle shapes. It is named after a Prohibition-era schooner which was captured by the Coast Guard in 1924 and subsequently turned into a training vessel (and renamed), which is just another marketing plug meant to anchor the rum to its supposed piratical and disreputable antecedents.

Dark orange in colour, bottled at 40%, the K&S is aged for 12 years in the usual American oak casks.  Where all that ageing went is unclear to me, because frankly, it didn’t have a nose worth a damn.  Oak?  What oak? Smelling it revealed more light vanilla and butterscotch than anything else, with attendant toffee and ice cream.  It was gentle to a fault, and so uncomplex as to be just about boring…there was nothing new here at all. “Dull” one commentator remarked. Even the Barcelo Imperial exhibited more courage, wussy as it was.

K&S 12 YO 2To taste it was marginally better, if similarly unadventurous. Medium bodied, with an unaggressive profile, anchored by a backbone of vanilla and honey.  There was a bit of the oak tannins here, fiercely controlled as to be almost absent; not much else of real complexity. Some floral notes, cinnamon, plums and richer fruits could be discerned, but they were never allowed to develop properly, or given their moment in the sun – the primary vanilla and butterscotch was simply too dominating (and for a rum that was as easy going as this one, that’s saying a lot).  The Brugal 1888 exhibited a similar structure, but balanced things off  a whole lot better. Maybe it was just me – I simply didn’t see where all the ageing went, and there was little satisfaction at the back end which was short, soft as a feather pillow, and primarily (you guessed it) toffee and cocoa and more vanilla. 

So the rum lacks the power and jazz and ever-evolving taste profile that I mark more highly, and overall it’s just not my speed.  Note, however, that residents in the DR prefer lighter, softer rums (which can be bottled at 37.5%) and its therefore not beyond the pale for K&S rum to reflect their preference since (according to one respected correspondent of mine) the objective here is to make an authentic, genuine DR rum.  And that, it is argued, they have achieved, and I have to admit – whatever my opinion of it is, it’s also a very affordable, very drinkable rum that many will appreciate because of that same laid back, chill-out nature to which I’m so indifferent.  Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t going to like it. Not everyone has to like full proof rums, and not everyone will ever be able to afford indie outturns of a few hundred bottles, if they can even get them; and frankly not everyone wants a vibrating seacan of oomph landing on their palate.  For such people, then, this rum is just peachy. For me, it just isn’t, perhaps because I’m not looking for rums that try to please everyone, are too easy and light, and don’t provide any challenge or true points of interest.

Opinion: you can disregard this section

Years of drinking rums from across the spectrum leads me to believe that there’s something more than merely cultural that stratifies the various vocal tribes of rummies. It is a divide between rum Mixers and rum Drinkers, between bourbon fanciers moving into rums versus hebridean maltsters doing the same (with new rum evangelists jumping on top of both), all mixed up with a disagreement among three additional groups: lovers of those rums made by micro-distillers in the New World, aficionados of country-wide major brands, and fans of the independent “craft” bottlers. Add to that the fact that people not unnaturally drink only what they can find in their local likker establishment, and what that translates into is a different ethos of what each defines as a quality rum, and is also evident in the different strengths that each regards as standard, and so the concomitant rums they seemingly prefer.

That, in my opinion goes a far way to explaining why a rum like the K&S is praised by many in the New World fora as a superb rum…while some of the Old World boyos who are much more into cask strength monsters made by independent bottlers, smile, shrug and move on, idly wondering what the fuss is all about.  Because on one level the K&S is a perfectly acceptable rum, while on another it really isn’t…which side of the divide you’re on will likely dictate what your opinion of it and others like it, is.

Other notes

  • I actually think it’s closer to a solera in taste profile – the Opthimus 18 was what I thought about – but all online literature says it is really aged for twelve years.
  • Bottle purchased in 2013…I dug it out of storage while on a holiday back in Canada in 2016
  • K&S also produces an 18 and 23 year old version.

 

Nov 252015
 
LP_Navy

Photo Courtesy of duRhum.com

Leave aside the hype and controversy, and try this without preconceptions. You may be surprised, intrigued and even pleased with the result.  I was, I was and I wasn’t, not entirely…but you might be.

(#242. 83/100)

***

If by now you are not aware that Lost Spirits out of California has developed a “molecular reactor” that supposedly mimics the ageing of a twenty year rum in six days, then you have not been paying attention (or aren’t that deep into rum geekdom).  The idea is not itself altogether new, and detractors have sniffed that snake oil sellers have been talking forever about using magical means, family recipes and all kinds of fancy methods to speed up ageing and the profile of old spirits, in products that aren’t actually aged.  Still, with the continual advances in modern tech, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that some smart guy in a garage somewhere can perhaps do such a thing. Certainly Lost Spirits makes that claim.  They have intense enthusiasm, hand built stills, and a good knowledge of chemistry and biology to assist in replicating more traditional methods of production without actually using many of them. The output is more important than the process, you might say.

The Navy Style rum they have made is a booming near-overproof rum that smartly elevates the North American drinking public’s perception of rum by issuing it at 68%, and which comes in a tall slim bottle that has an old fashioned label channelling the aesthetic design philosophy of both technology and 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery (that’s what Josh Miller called “steampunk” in his own recent review of the rum). Just to get the background out of the way, this thing is unadulterated, without additives of any kind, including colouring.  It is made from baking grade molasses and evaporated sugar cane juice (I suppose we could call that “honey”).

The nose was intriguing: an interesting fusion of very hot aromas, both familiar and strange.  Initially it presented with vanilla, prunes, black grapes, some molasses, a faint hint of anise, some oak, and a bit of clean citrus.  But sharper ethanol and less appealing mineral notes of wet charcoal and saltpetr emerged at the back end, and here I was left wondering where the meld of Jamaican dunder and fruitiness of the Demeraras and Bajans was hiding itself.

Similar thoughts came to mind as I tasted it. Yes it was bold and very heated – we could hardly expect less from a rum this strong – I just thought it was all a bit discombobulated.  There were salty, green-olive notes, some soy and grappa and red wine, all mixed up with an undercurrent of molasses.  It was quite rough, and stampeded across the palate without the finesse that other rums of that strength have shown is possible.  Adding water ameliorated that somewhat, and brought other flavours out of hiding – brown sugar, vegetals, dried grass, more undefined citrus zest, and a tang of more red grapes, caramel and molasses, all tied up with sharper oak tannins and ginger root.  The finish, as befits such a strong drink, was long and dry, with little that was new arriving onstage – oak, some wet coffee grounds, more of that strange mineral background, and a twitch of herbs.

Lost Spirits have made a rum that they want to show off as a poster boy for their technology: whether they succeeded in creating a Navy rum is questionable. There are quite a few variations of the type – Lamb’s, Pusser’s, Wood’s 100, Potter’s, the Black Tot to name but a few – so much so that true or not, right or wrong, those are the profiles that the consuming public sees and expects to be represented by the sobriquet “Navy”.  On that level, the Lost Spirit rum doesn’t come up to snuff.  And while other reviewers have remarked on the esters they sensed (which is part of the selling point of the rum, that genuflection to old-style dunder pits), I didn’t find there were that many complex spicy, fruity and floral notes that would give any of the more traditional rum makers cause to choke into their tasting glasses.

Recently mon ami Cyril of DuRhum took apart three Lost Spirits rums, and flat out declared that in his estimation they could not possibly class with the very rums they were seeking to supplant.  Both Josh at Inu-a-kena and Tiare over by A Mountain of Crushed Ice were much more positive in their evaluations, as was Serge at Whiskyfun. I am neither as displeased by Lost Spirits as Cyril was, nor as enthusiastic as my other friends – to my mind the company and its tech still have quite some way to go if they intend to take on really aged big guns made by master blenders with many generations of experience backing them up. Western nations are great proponents of the notion that technology can conquer everything, and maybe they’re right…but only sometimes.

However, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and give Lost Spirits credit for what they have achieved. I liked the strength and intensity, for example – LS has had the balls to take American rums past the 40% that dominates their market.  The taste was intriguing, original, not entirely bad, and there were many aspects of the profile I enjoyed. Where it fails is in its resultant product, which wanders too far afield while failing to cohere.  And therefore it falls short on its promise: the promise that they could produce a profile of any aged rum without actually ageing it. That simply didn’t happen here.  

I’m a firm believer in technology and its potential – but as with many brand new ideas and their execution, the hype so far is greater than the reality. The subtleties of a great aged rum are so multi-faceted, so enormously complex, and so chaotically intertwined with age and barrel and distillate and fermentation and even terroire, that while one day I have no doubt a combination of physics, chemistry and biology (and chutzpah) will fool a taster into believing he’s got an undiscovered masterpiece on his hands, this rum, for today, isn’t quite it.

Other notes:

Control rums this time around were a few old Demeraras, the BBR Jamaica 1977, Woods 100 and of course the Black Tot. It’s in the comparison that the LS Navy 68% snaps more clearly into focus and you see where it both succeeds and falls short.

Note that Navy rums, according to Mr. Broome’s informative booklet on the ‘Tot, only had a small percentage of the blend come from Jamaica (sailors didn’t like it).  Yet most of the online literature on Lost Spirits places great emphasis on how they are recreating the resultant profile of dunder pits and high ester counts (more or less associated with Jamaica), when in fact this was not the major part of the navy style of rum.

Also… just because I don’t (thus far) endorse or highly praise this line of rums, doesn’t mean others don’t.  North Americans are quite positive in their assessments, while European writers thus far remain silent (perhaps due to availability). So some references for your research, should you be curious:

Jul 082015
 
Photo copyright Prichards Distillery

Photo copyright Prichards Distillery

I’ve given Prichards somewhat of a bruising with my indifferent reviews of the Fine and the Crystal, but let me assure you that the Private Stock is quite a leap forward: because while the others were essays in the craft, this one got it absolutely right.

(#221. 86/100)

***

Prichard’s company website entry for their own supposed top-of-the-line rum is massively unforthcoming, if not outright unhelpful.  I mean, here’s a rum I want to write about with enthusiasm and knowledge so as to inform the readers, share my wonder, and yet a key data point is missing – how old is the thing?

Perhaps I should be grateful that we do have the following: pot still rum, made from the same Louisiana Grade A Fancy molasses as the other Prichard rums, in an effort to recreate the colonial style of rums as they were made back in the day; aged in charred 15-gallon new white oak barrels; and ⅔ lossses to the angels were sustained.  Based purely on these facts and the way it tasted, I’m going out on a limb until Prichards responds to me, and suggest the rum is a ten-to-fifteen year old.  Oh, and it has a nifty bottle quite different from the other rums in the lineup, again to separate it from the crowd.

And separated out it should be, because while none of the lingering suspicions I have about them loving bourbon more than rum have been allayed, I put all such notions aside: things started swimmingly from the moment I poured the amber rum into a glass and took a snoot.

It had a billowing, solid, fruity nose.  Again that cheese and crackers scent I seemed to find in all three Prichards tried so far (and that’s a brie, by the way, not a cheddar); warm and easy-going, with the 45% strength well tamed.  The molasses were held in check and presented as a burnt sugar and light anise smell, not anything raw and unrefined; sugary notes emerged, vanillas (again, quite restrained), with some unidentified fleshy ripe fruits lurking, unidentified, in the background. Raisins, maybe, and some dark ripe cherries.

I liked the taste as well. It was warm but not hot, powerful as the contents of a Transformer’s trousers, smooth and very well balanced.  Here the fruits that the nose suggested were allowed to shine – blackcurrants, blackberries dusted with sugar and doused with the slightest bit of zest; and also plums, dates, figs, cinnamon, rosemary…with smoke, and leather and oak flexing their biceps at the back end, without trying to take over the joint.  Complexity and balance which the Fine (and the Silver) had failed to do, were achieved with grace here.  And the finish did not disappoint – the 45% was really the right choice for the Private Stock, and while there was nothing new to introduce in terms of taste and scent and last lingering notes, the aforementioned harmonies did not tear themselves to shreds and go off the reservation, but died with a sort of slow voluptuous sigh that left you with great memories and the desire for another sip.

The curious thing about the Private Stock is that it is being released in really limited quantities and not at all in retail or online stores – if you want this thing, you have to go to the distillery to get it, and therefore I envy people like Jared (he shared a comment or two on FB with me about Prichards, thanks mate), who lives down the road from the joint and can go get some whenever he feels the need. I don’t know what’s behind that strategy, but if they were to release this on the open market, they might have to put up a sign saying “Only one per customer, please.”

Over the years, I have not had that many rums from US producers that enthralled me, and to some extent that has made me somewhat cynical about what is being made over there (not least the stubborn fixation with 40%). We are so accustomed to industrial American rums that exist only as middling-quality liquid conduits for social diversion, that it comes as something of a shock – a pleasant one to be sure – to find one in which the simplicity of its construction, the balance of its components and the tastiness of its content, makes a statement for itself.  That’s no small feat, and is the reason why I think it’s a really excellent product, deserving an unqualified recommendation. This rum will give other craft makers a real run for their money. It’s that good.

***

Afterword: As I was editing this review for final posting, I lost patience with emails, picked up the phone and called Prichards directly, probably waking somebody up in the process: the very pleasant lady who answered told me without any waffling around that the Private Stock is a blend of rums aged 12-14 years.

Jul 012015
 

D3S_8946

Neither attempt — to make an ersatz agricole (from molasses) or a white mixing agent to take on the more established brands — really works.

(#220. 78/100)

***

Prichard’s is that outfit from Tennessee which has been quietly and busily putting out rums for nearly twenty years, ever since Phil Prichard decided to make rum in whiskey country.  And while it is now common for new entrants to the market to sell white unaged rum from their stills to cover startup costs and provide cash flow while they wait for more favoured stocks to mature, Mr. Prichard didn’t do anything of the sort, and so his white rum – called Crystal – came later to his company’s portfolio (the first review I’ve seen is dated around 2007).

White rums (or “clear” or “silver”, or “blanc”, pick your moniker) come in several varieties, to my mind: agricoles (of which clairins are a subset), cachacas and white mixers, with a new field of unaged pot still whites beginning to gather a head of steam. The question to me was which target the Crystal was taking aim at, and if it succeeded at any. The evocatively named rum is apparently distilled five times using the same sweet Louisiana molasses as the Fine Rum, which is a major selling and marketing point for the company; it is unaged and comes straight from the barrel (though I’m curious – if it was utterly unaged, what was it doing in a barrel in the first place, but never mind).

Anyway, one thing I remarked on right away after pouring it out, was a certain clear crispness to the nose.  No real complexity here: green apples and vanilla for the most part, and remarkably sweet to smell: the origin molasses were detectable in spite of the filtration. The vanilla was really quite overpowering, though, even if  some cream and saltiness emerged at the back end…overall, nothing too difficult to tease out.

Even at 40% it kinda grated on the palate: it was sharp, too raw – that was the lack of ageing making itself felt.  It wasn’t precisely light either, and the initial clarity of the nose dissipated early, to become a slightly heavier, oilier drink.  When it opened up, other, less appealing tastes stepped up to show themselves off – still a lot of sugar and vanillas, yes, but also harsher iodine and metallic notes, with some crackers and brie teasing the senses without ever taking centre stage. And it was oddly dry as things wrapped up, with those vanillas and fresh-cut green apples returning to take a last look around before disappearing in a short finish.

D3S_8946-001

I review all spirits as if they were meant to be had neat – right or wrong, that’s my cross to bear in an attempt to use the exact same methodology to evaluate every rum I try.  To have different techniques in evaluating different rums based on any idea of what a rum should be used for (sipping drink, cocktail ingredient) is to introduce a bias, if not outright confusion.

So by the standard of whether it works as a neat rum, then, the Crystal doesn’t succeed (and even Prichard’s website doesn’t imply otherwise and plugs it as a mixer).  The very slight acidity of the fruit I tasted, mixed up with the lingering molasses, the vanilla, the jarring metallic notes, creates a discordant taste profile which destroys the sipping experience.  As a cocktail ingredient, then? Probably much better.  Not with a coke though – something sharper is needed to take the vanillas off, so I’d suggest ginger beer, lime, Angostura bitters, something in that direction. Prichard’s own website gives some examples.

Since I’m not into tiki or cocktail culture, such white, bland, filtered rums don’t do much for me, and that’s why in over five years I’ve reviewed almost none (I’ve gotten hammered on them quite often, mind you).  This one’s okay, I guess: it’s just a sweet-molasses-based silver, lacking sufficient complexity or blending artistry to make it as a solo drink. My low score should not be seen as a blanket indictment, then, since its failure as a neat sample does not invalidate it as a cocktail ingredient where it may shine more. I’ll leave it to experts in that field to argue the case for the Crystal, which unfortunately I myself could not and cannot make.

 

Jun 282015
 

D3S_8944

A paradox of the mid range: a pot still rum that fails at very little…except perhaps excitement.

(#219. 81/100)

***

I’ve been writing and rewriting this review for almost three months: each time I came to grips with it, I thought of something else to add (or delete), or some new and interesting product eclipsed the Prichard’s and made me want to publish that first. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, maybe.

Prichard’s has been in business since 1996 when they became the first new distillery in Tennessee since the 1940s and have quite a stable of output, including some interesting rum products to their name – they produce three real rums, one spiced rum, three flavoured rums….plus six whiskies and five liqueurs.  So, as with many such outfits in the ‘States, I occasionally wonder if their love isn’t primarily given elsewhere and they make true rums only in order to branch out a little.  However, the website and interviews suggest the opposite, so maybe I’ve got it wrong. And I don’t mind that…I’m just curious about it.

Small companies making rum in the USA sometimes try to recreate the American rums of yore by varying their input or production methods.  In this case, Prichard’s use not blackstrap molasses (the black sticky residue after most of the sugar has been extracted), but sweet Louisiana Grade A molasses, of the sort that could be put on your pancakes the morning after.  The rum is then aged for four years in fifteen-gallon barrels of new oak (another point of departure from more traditional techniques) Whether that works or not is up to the individual.  I don’t think it’s all bad, just not something I’d remember enthusiastically a week from now either. It somehow results in a symphony of ho-hum in spite of some off-kilter moments.

Perhaps starting with the aromas might make the point clearer: initially the amber liquid as decanted from the squat long-necked bottle presented clearly, with chocolate and toffee leading the fray.  A little patience, a drop of water, and spices began to come forward – cardamon, fennel, apples, a cherry or two, and sly twitch of lemongrass for zest – before being blattened into the ground by a ridiculous amount of emerging iodine, leather, caramel, burnt brown sugar that dominated the nose from there on in.

The rum was medium bodied, neither fierce nor fawn.  It slid smoothly on the palate, just a little bit of burn from the standard proofage. I dunno, it seemed diffident, good ‘nuff, like a Three Bears of a rum, neither too much or too little.  Again mocha and dark chocolate, coffee, toffee.  And after it opened up, black grapes, overripe apples, more iodine, and a thin kind of vanilla thread through the whole business, with anise, molasses and caramel really taking ownership at this point and carrying the whole experience through to a lacklustre finish with just more of the same — unexceptionally so, in my opinion.

That grayness of my opinion has to do with the fact that while the Prichard’s Fine Rum  is a workmanlike product by any standard — competently made and reasonably executed — it doesn’t have that extra edge of oomph that excites.  It lacks any single shining point of distinction or originality upon which I can hang my hat and say “this part is freakin’ great,” hence my continual suspicion, however unjustified, that bourbon is what they really want to be making, and rum is an indifferent afterthought. Still…that it’s a drinkable, even sippable rum, with perhaps a shade too much Grade A hanging around in there, but worth the outlay — that’s all beyond dispute; it’s the question of whether it’s a must-have that’s is a bit more open to doubt.

See, some rums trumpet their badassery to the world, while others tick over quietly like swiss watches, the undercurrents of their quality self-evident to those who look and enjoy.  Here’s a rum that neither leaves you turning cartwheels in transports of drunken exuberance, nor shaking your head sadly as you mumble about a piece of junk you wasted time trying – but walking away from the experience, remarking to your friend, “That, mon ami, is a plain old rum.”