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.

May 152017
 

Rumaniacs Review #040

As with the 12 year old ceramic jug, I don’t think that Appleton is exaggerating in the slightest when they call this a “Rare Old Jamaican Rum,” – at the time it was issued in the 1960s or 1970s they might have been hyping the product a tad, but now?  Not likely. Still, you can actually find it if you’re prepared to pay Masters of Malt, who name this a 1970s era rum, the £700 it costs.  And that’s more than the Longpond 1941 fetches these days.  I must confess that for an aged artifact bottled (or “jugged”) at a mouth-watering twenty years old, I’m tempted.  Consider too – at that age, it means at the very latest it had to have been distilled in 1959, and very likely earlier than that, and what lover of historical rums wouldn’t want to try that?

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Pure tamed Jamaican, with elements of the profile being showcased, but not strong or violent enough to put one off…a Trenchtown Rasta in a Savile Row suit, if you will. Rolling waves of salt and sweet, bananas, pineapple, chocolate and coffee, with caramel and toffee hastening to catch up from the rear.  Some tobacco and smoke, a touch of vanilla, honey, anise, and very strong black tea.  There’s a persistent — if faint — background odour of vegetable soup in here, both the veg and the soya.  Really.

Palate – More of that dialled down bad boy attitude, nicely integrated into a profile that starts with “dirt”.  By which I mean a sort of loamy, earthy, vegetable taste (far from unpleasant, I hasten to add), rye bread, cumin, garam massala, molasses, and oh, a lovely clear line of florals and citrus.  Did I mention the vegetable soup? All wrapped up in a bow with the usual dessert menu of salted caramel and vanilla ice cream. And as an aside, it’s quite rich and intense…It may be jugged at 43% but it sure feels more powerful than that.

Finish – Falls down here after the high point of tasting it.  It just fades too damn quick, and for some inexplicable reason, the wood starts to take on an unhealthy dominance.  Salted caramel, brine, olives,, breakfast and cooking spices, and a twist of licorice.  All very faint and too watered down.

Thoughts – It’s actually very different from the younger Appletons, the 12 year old jug, or the older 21 year old. Points of greatness are unfortunately ameliorated by weakness and an increasing lack of balance over the hours spent comparing it to all the others.  In short, somewhat of a Shakespearean tragedy — potential and hubris being brought low by inherent flaws. Though even with all that, it leaves me somewhere closer to praising the rum than coming to bury it.

(86/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews of this rum can be found on the website, here.  Note that Serge was enthralled with it, while Marco was much more disapproving.

May 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #039

A rum like this makes me want to rend my robes and gnash my teeth with frustration because there’s no information available about it aside from what’s on the label, and that’s hardly very much.  Still, it’s Jamaican, it’s a J. Wray (Appleton) and it’s from the 1970s and that alone makes it interesting.  Imported by another one of those enterprising Italian concerns, age unknown.  From the colour I can only hope it was a real oldie.

Colour – Dark red-brown

Strength – 43%

Nose – “Dirty” might be the est way to describe the nose.  I’ve mentioned “rotting bananas and veggies” before in a review once or twice, and here it’s real.  Quite intense for a standard proof drink – wine, bitter chocolate and black rye bread.  Then molasses and bananas and a lot of compost (wet leaves in a pile) and a lot of fruit way past their sell-by date.  Oh, and anise, strong black tea and some smoky, leathery aromas backing things up.  Fantastic nose, really.

Palate – Smoothens out and is less aggressively crazy as the nose, though still quite assertive, luscious and rich.  Molasses, caramel and dark fruits (prunes, plums, stewed apples, raisins) with the off notes held much more in check.  Then chocolate, black tea and some citrus oil, a flirt of sugar cane juice and the bitterness of some oak.  Some spices noticeable here or there, but nothing as definitive as the nose had suggested.

Finish – Short and easy, mostly caramel, wood chips, more tea, plums, a little brine and a last hint of veggies in teriyaki, odd as that might sound.

Thoughts – I really liked this rum, which didn’t present itself as an Appleton, but more like a unique Jamaican carving out its own flavour map.  I seriously doubt it’ll ever be available outside a collector’s shelves, or perhaps on an auction site somewhere, but if it can be found I think it’s worth picking up, both for its history and its taste.

(85/100)

May 112017
 

Rumaniacs Review #038

A “Rare Old Jamaican Rum” the ceramic jug says, and I believe it.  In all my travels around the world, I’ve never seen this kind of thing for sale (and buying beer in a glass jar at a kiosk in the Russian Far East don’t count). We’re living through an enormous upswell of interest in rums, with new indies and new bottlers popping up every time we turn around…but stuff like this shows us that even back in the day, there was some amazingly well-presented juice floating around.  Here, cool factor is off the chart.

As for the rum?  Very nice indeed. Aged in the tropics (of course – where else would Appleton be ageing its stock?) and better than both the other 12 year old we looked a the other day, and the modern one.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Initial attack is as dusty and dry as a mortician’s voice (and he’s wearing well polished old leather shoes, that’s there too).  Oily, vaguely like cigarette tar (not my favourite smell).  Coffee and chocolate, citrus rind, and then a nice procession of tart ripe fruits…mangoes and red guavas.  Some saltiness and dates and grapes, not much funk action as far as I could tell.

Palate – Some bitterness of unsweetened black choclate starts things off, hot salt caramel over a coffee cake (same kind of dessert taste I got on the last 12 year old).Wood shavings, some more leather, more cigarette smoke, and then the fruits timidly emerge – citrus mostly, also bananas (barely), and a dash of breakfast spices, nothing overbearing.

Finish – Weak point of the experience, after the above-average smell and taste.  Dry, sawdust (the mortician is back, shoes squeaking), leather, light chocolate, caramel, and the barest hint of the fruits retreating.  Not impressed here, sorry.

Thoughts – It’s better than many other, more recent Appletons of various names (like “Extra”, “Reserve”, “Legacy”, “Private stock” and so on) and those of younger ages, beats out the other twelves that have been tried…but not by leaps and bounds.  It’s not a furious game-changer. It sort of edges past them as if ashamed to be seen at all.  A good rum, and I liked it, but it does leave me puzzled too – because I thought it could have been better and didn’t understand why it wasn’t.

(84/100)

Some interesting and divergent perspectives on this one, from other members of the Rumaniacs.  You can check out their opinions in the usual spot.

May 092017
 

Rumaniacs Review #037

Tasting all these Appletons together and side by side is an instructive exercise.  The profile remains remarkably stable at its core, while presenting some interesting diversions from the main theme, like a James Bond movie or a Sherlock Holmes short story. We smile at and are comfortable with the similarities, know the form, and sniff around for variations.

This 12 year old is from the 1980s, still retains the tinfoil screw-on cap, and its provenance can be gauged from the barroom style bottle and black label, instead of the current consistent presentation and callypigian shape (I told you this was a word worth knowing already).  Beyond that, it’s now simply a piece of rum history.

Colour – Amber-orange

Strength – 43%

Nose – Darker, brooding, more intense and more expressive than the old V/X.  Starts off with dark chocolate and orange peel, ripe bananas, also a touch of cereal, of creaminess.  Later burnt sugar and bitter caramel start to emerge, melding with black tea, and maybe some anise.  The nose is weak, not very robust…it’s even a bit thin, surprising for 43%.

Palate – Oh well, much better, quite crisp, almost sprightly.  Unsweetened chocolate, coffee, bananas, cereal, burnt sugar, candied orange, all the hits which the nose promised.  With water the anise creeps out, some herbal notes, some vanillas, but it’s all just a bit too bitter; the slight saltiness helps control this somewhat.

Finish – Dry, herbal, and with caramel, black tea, some ashy (“minerally,” quite faint) and leather notes.  A good finish by any standard, wraps up everything in a bow.

Thoughts – Better than the V/X.  It’s assembled better, the balance is better, and the edges I whinged about have been sanded off some.  There’s still something not quite there though, some subtle filip of the blender’s art, but perhaps it’s just because there was better in the lineup I tried that day. In 2010 I wrote about a newer version of the 12 year old “A very good mid-tier rum” and that still expresses my opinion here.

(81/100)

The boys over in ‘ManiacLand have taken a gander at this also, and their reviews can be found on the website.

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