Jun 182017
 

Rumaniacs Review #050

St. James has taken its place as the source of the most ancient rhum I’ve tried in my life (the 1885), and to this day they continue to make some very good agricoles.  But you’ll forgive me for yearning for their old, out-of-production rhums, made in times that predate my own grandfather; and I like trying them not just because they’re so old and so appeal to the collector in me, but because I find it fascinating how different they are to what’s made nowadays with the appurtenances of modern technology and skill.  Such dinosaurs don’t always appeal to the modern palate, true, yet they remain intriguing and beguiling signposts on the road that describes how we got to be where we are now.

Colour – Red-amber

Strength – 47%

Nose – Wow – talk about a rum going off at right angles to expectations. Starts off with old, damp, musty cellars and rotting newspapers paper granny stored there with her preserves; bananas and light oranges, plus the vegetal saltiness of a bouillon into which she dumped one too many maggi cubes.  Also pickled gherkins in vinegar, molasses and peaches in syrup straight from the can.

Palate – Smooth and easy, quite warm.  Opens with a vein of thin honey, to which additional flavours of caramel and bonbons are added; leaving it to open up then provides anise, prunes, more molasses and peachess (less syrup this time), and burnt sugar.

Finish – Short and warm, very pleasant, mostly cocoa, raisins, nuts and again that thin vein of honey.

Thoughts – Well, this is quite some rhum.  Though I like it, I’m also not too sure what to make of it – surely this is not a contemporary agricole, let alone a standard, present-day St. James.  Lekker, one might say…yet much of what conforms to modern sensibilities and ideas of what an agricole is (the grassy, clean profile) is missing. It’s also rather thick – fortunately without being cloying – and that makes one wonder whether it was doctored, messed with or dosed (it’s likely because they boiled the cane juice in the old way as a sort of quasi-pasteurization process).  In any event, when anyone tries a rum made this long ago, it’s a window into a different time and a different rum-making mentality.  It might be worth sampling for that reason alone.

(84/100)

Jun 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #049

Even now, years after I acquired one of the 220 bottles of this phenomenal 36 year old rum, it retains its power to amaze and, yes, even awe. It still retails in the UK for over six hundred quid, reviews are rare as sugar in a Velier rum, and to this day it is unclear whether it is a blend — or if not, from which estate or distillery it hails.  Whatever the case, it is a great bit of Jamaican rum history and should be tried by any who get the opportunity.

Colour – Amber-orange

Strength – 60.3%

Nose – Pungent, bags of fruits resting on a firm and almost sharp initial aromas.  Vanilla, coconut, aromatic tobacco, and – at least at the beginning – very little in the way of true ‘Jamaican-ness’.  Where’s the funk?  Oak is well handled for something this old – so likely it was aged in the UK.  After some minutes coffee, raisins, bitter chocolate, parsley (!!) bananas, cherries, and faint dunder starts to creep out, before developing into something much more aggressive.  Definitely a rum that gives more the longer it stays open so don’t rush into this one.  There’s also a musty, damp-cellar background to it all that combines well with the wood, and somewhat displaces the fruitiness the esters are trying to provide.

Palate – Whew, hot hot hot.  Started slow, worked up a head of steam and then just barreled down the straight looking neither left nor right. Dusty cardboard and cereals, more of that earthy mustiness, plus some brine, avocados, cumin and maybe ginger.  Adding water is the key here, and once this is done, ther is caramel and cinnamon, more cumin, hay, tobacco and chocolate, veggies, and yes, rotting bananas and fleshy fruit gone off – so apparently it may not start out Jamaican, but sure finishes like one.

Finish – Long and warm and very very aromatic.  Wood shavings, some more citrus (lemons, not oranges), ginger, cumin, those ‘off’ fruits and even (what was this?) some cigarette tar.

Thoughts – Still an excellent, amazing rum.  Honestly, I’m helpless to justify 60.3% and 36 years old and near to a four figure price tag.  How can anyone?  For the average rum drinker, you can’t.  You wouldn’t share it with your card-playing buddies, your kids had better not go near it, you wouldn’t give it away as a gift, and there are so few of these bottles around that it might even never be opened because the event to do so would never be special enough.  But all that aside, we need s**t like this.  Without such rums we would be a lesser people (and cede pride of place to the maltsters). And that’s why it’s a rum to cherish, if you can ever get it.

(90/100)

Jun 032017
 

Rumaniacs Review #048

For this writer, the Longpond 1941 remains, after maybe ten separate tastings (including a Rumaniacs sample), three purchased bottles and numerous sharings, one the most spectacular Jamaican rums ever made and not simply because of the titanic age — 58 years old (beat that if you can, Appleton).  It takes the passage of years, and many other Jamaican rums to be tried alongside, for the rum to snap properly into focus and be seen for its true quality.  And unlike the earlier Velier rums which sometimes sell for €4000-5000 a bottle, if they can even be found, the 1941 remains puzzlingly available and relatively affordable at around the thousand Euro mark.  You might have to search around a bit, but it can be found.  It’s a monument to G&M and Jamaica, the old ways and the old days, when making aged rum was not glamorous, but the same careful, patient quality was used to make them, because they deserved it.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 50%

Nose – Strong, deep, warm and not over-oaked.  All my tasting notes on this thing refer to the sweet aromas freshly-sawn cedar planks, and to that is added rubber, phenols, some Indian spices (tumeric, cumin and massala for the most part)…and that was just the beginning.  After ten minutes or so, mint, grass, some caramel, nail polish, olives, bananas, and plums and dates.  The sweet and salt elements are amazingly well balanced and overall, just a great nose.

Palate – The 50% is perfect.  Less and it would have dissolved into a cupcake, more and some of the subtleties might have been lost.  It’s warm and solid, quite velvety on the tongue. Cedar again, burnt sugar, hay and the dusty notes of a dry barn.   Burnt sugar, prunes, raisins, and also some greener, fresher components, of apples, more bananas (starting to spoil), pears, and some citrus all coming together in a superlative assembly.

Finish – Grapes, cedar, cumin, and some citrus zest wrestle for dominance in a very bright, long finish that does not disappoint. A fitting finish to a lovely rum.

Thoughts – Young and old, sweet and salt, sugar and spice, all delicately balanced against each other…you know it’s Jamaican, just not what kind. I don’t think any rum could possibly be aged that long in the Caribbean and survive. Velier remains wedded to the principle of tropical ageing, and is at one end of the spectrum; Compagnie des Indes is at the other end, specifically going in for slower maturation of the cooler climes of Europe – they believe the slower, more gradual interaction of wood and spirit allows subtler flavours to develop than that given by the brutally fast tropical regimen.  G&M may be the ultimate practitioner of the European ageing route (alongside Silver Seal, which also put out a 1941 rum, and from the same batch) and issued this rum as perhaps the definitive statement in support of that ideal.  Given its quality – dare I say magnificence? – I can’t say they’re wrong.  To paraphrase my original review, G&M did something stunning here – they went right ahead, aged a Jamaican from the war years beyond all reason…and issued this amazing rum, a rum right off the scale, after dreaming mad dreams of greatness.

(92/100)

Other reviews of the rum are available on the Rumaniacs page, here.

May 302017
 

Rumaniacs Review #047

Unless I start springing a few grand for ancient rums from the 1920s and 1930s, this is likely to be the oldest Bally rum I’ll ever see, or try.  I suppose I could take a stab a guessing how truly old it is – who knows, maybe it’s in the fifteen year range too? – but for the moment I think I’ll just revel in the fact that it was made almost sixty years ago, way before I was born, by Jacques Bally’s boys before the estate shut down in the late 1970s and the production shifted to St. James. And who among us doesn’t enjoy revisiting rums made in ages past?  A piece of the living history of our parents is what it really is.  Too bad they weren’t into rums as much as we are.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – The modern agricole profile is something of an afterthought on the nose. It smells salty and Haagen-Dasz carmel creamy; not really grassy or vegetal, more olive-y and brine and some paint stripper (the good kind).  Some of the mineral (or ashy) background of the 1975 is also on show here, plus some weird green peas, overripe bananas and off-colour fruits sitting in an over-sterilized hospital.  It’s crazy odd, emphatically different and shouldn’t really work….yet somehow it does.

Palate – The tastes which remind me of more recent vintages coil restlessly beneath the surface of this rhum, occasionally emerging for air to showcase grass, green grapes, sugar cane sap and soursop.  Heavier, muskier flavours tie all of them together: prunes, peaches, pineapple, cinnamon, apples and the interesting thing is, it’s hardly sweet at all.  Plus, the ashy, minerally taste remains (let’s call it “dirt” or “earth” or “sod”), which is not entirely to my liking, although it does succeed in balancing off the other components of the profile. Let’s call it intriguing at least, and hauntingly good at most.

Finish – Medium long, much of the palate comes back to take another bow before exiting stage left. Tropical fruits, some earth again, a flirt of breakfast spices, licorice and tannins.  Pretty good, actually.

Thoughts – Parts of the rhum work swimmingly.  The balance is a bit off, and overall, I felt it had many points of similarity with the 1975, with a few marked deviations too.  What this says to me is that no matter which era (or where) Bally rhums were made in, there is an awesome dedication to consistency over the decades. The Bally 1960 would not be out of place on today’s shelves, and it would surely be better than many.

(88/100)

Yes, the other Rumaniacs have also written about this rhum, and for the record, they all scored it at 90+.

May 292017
 

Rumaniacs Review #046

We’re going back down memory lane now, to a point where the AOC designation is a dream on the horizon, and for once we have an age: this rum is sixteen years old (based on the bottom of the bottle where it says “Bottled February 1991” in French).  This of course leads us to puzzle our way through all the others we’ve looked at already, because if here they can call a 16YO a “rhum vieux” then the other Bally rhums are in all likelihood similarly aged – we just have no proof of the matter.

In any event, age or no age, rums and rons and rhums are evaluated based on what they are, not what they are stated to be. So let’s put aside all the whinging about information provision (which is a never ending grouse of mine) and simply taste a rhum made when I was still living in Africa and had never heard of Martinique (or much about Guyana, for that matter).

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – So far nothing has beaten the Bally 1982, but this one is on par…perhaps better.  The nose is amazing – deep purple grapes and vanilla, with the traditionals of sugar cane sap, wet green lemon grass, with a mischievous hint of wet cardboard and cereals.  Threading through these smells are additional notes of Turkish coffee (no sugar), cocoa and some black chocolate, but curiously there’s less fruitiness to sniff in this one than in the later editions, and it’s backgrounded by something vaguely metallic…like licking a small battery, y’know?  Some cinnamon, well-polished leather and honey fill in the spaces.

Palate – It’s creamy, spicy, sweet and salty all at once (plus lemon).  In a way it reminds me of a very well made Thai green curry in coconut milk.  The fruits are here at last – green apples, pears, white guavas, but also pastries and cheese, to which are added very light hints of creme brulee and caramel, milk chocolate, some honey and licorice.  Would be interesting to know the barrel strategy on this one.  Whatever.  It’s a fine fine rhum to try, that’s for sure.

Finish – Medium long, vegetal, grassy and breakfast spices for the most part, some more of the white fruit, and the woody notes are here to stay.  Not the best fade, but pretty good anyway.

Thoughts – It had great balance and the tastes were excellent.  Something like this is best had in conjunction with something newer from Bally because then you gain a sense of its achievement, and how rhum has developed over the years.  People swear by the AOC (and in an era of marketing nonsense dosed with outright lies, quite rightfully so), but sometimes you wonder whether something hasn’t been lost as well.  The Bally 1975 emphatically demonstrates the quality of what was being done, at a time way before regulations changed the industry.

(86/100)

The boys of the Rumaniacs liked this rhum even more than I did.

 

May 282017
 

Rumaniacs Review #045

By now two things are clear about these older Bally rhums – aside from some educated guesswork, we don’t know how old they are, and by this time, 1979, the AOC noted on the label is somewhat of a puzzler, unless the thing is seventeen years old, in which case it would hardly be labelled a mere “rhum vieux” but an “XO”.  So maybe after the initial ageing they stored it in tanks or flagons and only bottled it after 1996…or, more likely, it came under a previous version of the official 1996 AOC designation.  At this point, it’s somewhat academic, though — given it was made nearly forty years ago, it presents as a rhum that shows something of the evolution of the agricole world over time.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – Pungent, grassy, clear and quite light, quite dry.  There were olives in brine, grapes, black tea, some citrus peel and aromatic tobacco, but also something softer, milder: strawberries and bananas, I’d  say, forming a nice counterpoint.  It takes its time opening up, once this happens, it gets somewhat fruitier, while never entirely letting go of the grassy, herbal aromas.

Palate – Creamy and salty, black bread and cheese. It’s also somewhat sharper and more more tannic than the earlier Ballys from 1992 and 1993, with wood taking center stage, and a taste of something green, like grass, fresh sap, Japanese tea.  So also somewhat bitter, and the clean purity of agricoles with which we are more familiar has receded – fortunately I could still taste tart apples, lemon zest and raisins, plus whiffs of dark chocolate and some unripe fruit.

Finish – Pleasant close out – dry, edgy, warm.  White guavas and pears, plus the tartness of soursop, pencil shavings and perhaps too much oak.  Not entirely a success here, perhaps a shade too peppery and not as well balanced as the nose or palate.

Thoughts – Here we have moved away from the almost standard profile of the ’80s and ’90s demonstrated so clearly by the newer Bally rums, and returned to agricole rums’ roots…but also something of a tangent from those profiles we are now used to. A solid rhum, but not one that ascends to the heights.

(83/100)

Other members of the Collective have written about the rhum as well, on the official website.

May 242017
 

Rumaniacs Review #044

We’re slowly moving past the more recent vintages of the Bally rums and into something not necessarily older, but bottled from longer ago.  Hopefully they’ll throw some light into the development of the profile over the years.  The quality of the older expressions is not necessarily or always better just because it was made thirty five years ago…but yeah, perhaps in this case it is. The 1982 is certainly one fine piece of work, made at the original Bally site before the distillery closed in 1989 and production was shifted over to Simon.

Colour – Dark Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – Oh, so nice. A smorgasbord of fruity notes right away – raisins, blackberry jam, candied oranges, plus coffee, anise, caramel bonbons and some breakfast spices (and cumin, oddly enough).  It presents as sweeter than the 1992 and 1993 variations, and also somewhat more musky, salty, with those wet earth aromas  being quite distinct, though fortunately not aggressive…more like an underlying bed upon which the other smells were dancing.

Palate – Warm, delicious, sweet and salty, like a Thai vegetable soup with sweet soya. After opening up some, the fruits take over – berries, cherries, jammy notes, nougat, light florals.  Loads of complexity here, well balanced against each other.  There’s the earth tones again, some black tea, bananas, light citrus.  None of the flavours are dominant, all rub against each other in a cool kind of zen harmony.  One odd thing here is that the grassy and sugar-cane sap part of the profile is very much in the background and nowhere near as clearly discernible as modern agricoles lead us to expect.

Finish – Long and faintly sweet.  There was actually some anise and coffee here (and was that molasses? …naah).  Long on spices like cinnamon, cloves and cumin, and the warm wet earth component, which I’ll say is Jamaican even though it isn’t, made one last bow on the stage.

Thoughts – I dearly wish I knew how old the rums truly was.  It’s labelled as an AOC, but that classification only came into force in 1996, so is it possible that the 1982 is at least 14 years old?  I simply don’t know.  Perhaps it’s just as well.  Like it or not, we sometimes unconsciously feel a rum aged for longer is somehow better – that’s a good rule of thumb, just not universally applicable, and here, whether it is that old or not, there’s no denying that for its price (still available at around three hundred dollars, same as the 1992) it’s a remarkable rum, made within the living memory of us rum collectors and Rumaniacs, and leading us by the hand into the misty times predating the iron rule of the AOC.

(86/100)

The other boys in the Bally-house have also looked at the 1982, and you can find their comments in the usual spot on the Rumaniacs website.

May 232017
 

Rumaniacs Review #043

Leaving aside the independent bottlers, the agricolistas from Guadeloupe and Martinique seem to like producing a specific year’s output with much more enthusiasm than most molasses based rum producers, who (until recently) preferred to release specific “recipe-style” blends that changed little from year to year.  There’s something to say for both ideas – consistency of taste over time, versus the individualism of specific date points – which just supports my thesis that even in writing about a social spirit, larger philosophical issues about our world can be discussed using them as an example.

In this case, we’re not moving too far away from the Bally 1993 written about in R-042, but the price has definitely gone up (to over three hundred bucks) – and that’s even without knowing precisely how old the rums is, though I maintain that it, like its brother, is around 3-5 years old.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – It’s initially more hesitant in its profile than the 1993 (and the others), or perhaps just more focused.  Both a strength and weakness, methinks. Salty molasses and caramel notes, green grapes, segueing over time into something darker, deeper: chocolate, cereal, wet cardboard.  Some herbal, grassy notes, just not very clear. There’s also a musky  tinge here, something like rain falling on very hot earth, and at the last, flowers, honey, biscuits. Actually reminded me of a miso soup.

Palate – Crisper, saltier, cleaner.  Something of a right turn from the way it smelled.  Olives, guacamole, brakfast spices, and vegetables more so than the fruits (which came later).  The cardboard and attic-level stuffiness and wet earth make a return bow.  Some jams and citrus notes follow on but don’t claim the high ground from the vegetals.  Not sure this entirely works for me.  It may just be a matter of taste.

Finish – Green grapes, cinnamon, brine, olives, avocados – it took time for the caramel and fleshy fruit to close things off.  A bit too much wood here, I thought, though anise – sensed more than experienced – was a good background.

Thoughts – More individual than the 1993, more oak, more vegetables, less fruits…somewhat less “rummy.”  Bit of a schizo rum and didn’t have that little something extra that I would have preferred – still, that’s a personal opinion, and overall, it’s still a good dram for something so young.

(83/100)

Some of the boys from the Rumaniacs have also taken a crack at this rum, and their reviews can be found in the usual spot.

May 212017
 

Rumaniacs Review #042

The first of six Bally rums (no relation to me), which we’ll also post faster than usual, since they are, again, part of a series.  Let’s start with the most recent.

For those who are interested in agricoles (which these assuredly are), J. Bally from Martinique has been around since 1917 or so (land prices after the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelee were low), but the sugar estate of Lajus goes back even further, to the mid-1600s.  Alas, Bally has been closed since 1989, but their stills continue.  The Simon distillery now owns them, and supposedly the original recipe for Bally’s rums, and sugar from the original plantation,  is used to ensure the brand does not die.  And of course, the AOC certification is alive and well with these rums.

True age is always a problem with these millésimes (meaning a specific year of production), because the date of distillation is noted….but not always the date of bottling.  Since a “rhum vieux” is supposed to have a minimum of three years ageing, I’m going to say 3-5 years old, then.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – Quite solid, very smooth and, of course, crisp as fresh picked lettuce.  Amazingly fruity profile here, prunes and raspberries to start, nicely rich and quite aromatic, adding bananas, honey, hard yellow mangoes (from India or Thailand), and coiling around the background of herbs and grasses…some spearmint chewing gum.  And a touch of oak, cinnamon and caramel.  Seems almost like a Guadeloupe rum, what with the way the herbal and grassy aromas take a back seat and fruits are this rich.

Palate – Mmm, nice.  Fresh and crisp. Sugar cane and saline and gherkins, plus bales of freshly mown grass now taking their place in the front.  Caramel, raisins, a flirt of molasses and olives.  It’s all quite well assembled, and not overly weak, not obnoxiously strong.  Continues with vague honey notes and richer fruits, some more of that spearmint.  There’s some anise floating around there someplace, but not enough to make a statement of any kind

Finish – Vanillas, burnt sugar, honey, sugar cane, grass, and a bit of that olives in brine thing I enjoyed.  Somewhat hotter and sharper than what had come before, oddly enough.

Thoughts –  A young rum, and very enjoyable.  Agricoles do have that trick of making stuff in the single digits take on molasses rums twice as old and leaving them in the dust. I still think overall it resembles a Guadeloupe rhum more than a true agricole (even though it is AOC certified), but whatever the case, I’m not complaining.

(84/100)

Others in the group have written about this rhum on the Rumaniacs website…

May 162017
 

Rumaniacs Review #041

Everyone knows about the 50 year old rum Appleton pushed out the door a few years ago.  Not only because of the age, which they touted as “the oldest rum ever” even though that was patently untrue, but because of the stratospheric price, which even now hovers around the US$4500 mark (give or take).  I’m not sure if they still make it — it was specifically commissioned for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence in 1962, so I suspect it was an 800-bottle one-off halo-issue —  but that price alone would make many take a really jaundiced view of the thing.  To their detriment, I believe, because having tasted it five times now, I can say with some assurance that it is still one of the very best rums Appleton ever made.

Colour – Mahogany with red tints

Strength – 45%

Nose – The smell opens the vault of my memories, of Jamaica, of the stately progression of other Appletons rums over the years, of the times I tried it before. Initial notes of glue, fading fast; then honey (I always remember the honey), eucalyptus oil, toffee, caramel, rich milk chocolate with rye bread and cream cheese, developing slowly into luscious candied oranges, molasses and burnt sugar.  Some of that vegetable soup I noted from the 20 year old ceramic jug is here as well, much subdued.  What woodiness that exists is amazingly well controlled for something this old (a problem the 30 year old had).

Palate – The dark richness purrs down the throat in a sort of warm, pleasant heat.  Burnt brown sugar and wek molasses, caramel, toffee, nougat and nutty toblerone chocolate, a flirt of coffee.  More fruits emerge than the nose had hinted at, and provide a pleasing contrast to the more creamy, musky flavours: grapes, bananas, apricots, pineapples.  Then cinnamon, more honey, some cheese.  Oakiness again well handled, and a sort of leather and smoke brings up the rear. I sometimes wonder how this would taste at 55%, but even at 45%, the rum is so very very good.

Finish – Medium long, a fitting close to the proceedings.  Mostly bananas, molasses, a little pineapple, plus a last dollop of caramel.  And honey.

Thoughts – Still a wonderful rum to sip and savour.  Sadly, too expensive for most.  Those who can afford a whole bottle are unlikely to be into the rum world as much as we are, but whoever has it, I hope they’re sharing…generously.

(89/100)

The other Rumaniacs have also written about the rum, and their reviews are in the usual spot.

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