Jan 262016
 

cdi-logo

***

For a company in existence for such a short time, it’s quite impressive what a wide range of rums Compagnie des Indes (which translates as the East India Company, hereinafter referred to as CDI) has managed to put out the door.  As of the 2015 release season, fourteen separate countries are represented (2 from east of Greenwich).  Unlike the trend in the USA and Canada, where creating one’s own new distillery and brand  is more common, in Europe it’s always been more about being an independent bottler (or re-bottler, I suppose).  Such enterprises don’t want to reinvent the wheel or invest in technology – though this does in fact happen as well, of course (e.g. Severin Simon in Germany).  Their strategy is to exhaustively seek out barrels from either source or broker, maybe age them a little more somewhere, and then issue them under their own label, usually in limited quantities of less than a thousand bottles per release.

While it could be argued that this hardly makes them cradles of innovation, it’s tough to fault the results when we can so rarely find the source distillers daring to go in the full-proof direction.  Until very recently, when was the last time you saw St. Lucia Distillers, FourSquare, Appleton, Mount Gay, Angostura, Travellers, Abuelo, Bacardi, Flor de Cana or other major brands, go the cask strength route in anything but their overproof 151s?  So smaller companies, whose founders often emerge from a whisky background, tend to be more into the full proof concept which has only recently started to gain great recognition in the rum world.

Such a person is Florent Beuchet, who pursued international business studies with a specialization as an International Trade Master of wine and spirits in Dijon, France.  After working part time for his father, who himself was a winemaker and ran a small distillery making absinthe and aniseed, Florent became the brand manager for Banks in New York in 2011 (his family owned shares in the company, and Florent’s father acted as a consultant for it).  This lasted for close on to two years, after which he bought a small spirits trading company he named “Diva Spirits” in 2013. This outfit dealt with the import and export of wines and spirits between Europe and the USA, and built on a network his father had created over the previous thirty five years.

cdi logo 2

Photo (c) L’homme a la poussette

While his studies had focused primarily on wines, Florent realized after working with Banks that rum interested him rather more: partly this was its versatility (read: absence of rules) but also because he saw that the concepts of terroire, distillation, ageing and blending were readily applicable to rum just as they were to wine.  More, he sensed that while the Europeans had a rather more sophisticated view of rums than Americans did, many still labored under the impression that it was a disreputable sort of drink, cheaply made, good only for a mix, and very sweet. The potential of exactingly made rums from single casks issued at full proof was still gathering steam (online reviews of rums made to precisely those specs were just beginning to appear at this time, if you discount Serge Valentin, who’d been issuing notes on them since 2010, and modesty be damned, some of them were mine).  So he saw an opening in the field that to this point had been dominated by Samaroli, Rum Nation, Velier, Moon Imports and others, few of which had the visibility and cachet they acquired in the subsequent years.

Seeking to put his ideas into practice, he formed CDI in March of 2014, in France. He sourced the rums he wanted via brokers in Holland and the UK, chose only unadulterated rums, and eschewed Rum Nation and Velier’s practice of going directly to the original distilleries in person to root around the warehouses seeking the perfect barrel (as of 2016, he has only been to Cuba, oddly enough).  The label design, with its old fashioned seal and fancy stylistic touches at the top was a calculated decision on his part – he wanted to provide something of the atmosphere and heritage of old times, sailing ships and galleons and parchment (one wonders how the famous aphorism of rum, buggery and the lash figured in his thinking, but never mind). It’s noteworthy that he had taken a sense of the room, and understood the need for providing clarity and information – and so each label also had a Velier-style section at the bottom on age, source, strength and barrel.

He also doesn’t hide that he is a disciple of honesty in rum making. He has little patience for the solera style of rum making, which he sees as dishonest way to market what is actually a blend with a misleading age statement; and he disdains rectified column-still spirit that is added to with flavourings and sugars and fancy backstories to disguise the fact that it is a commercial low end “rum”…and is then sold to an unsuspecting public as a real rum, when its artificiality is self-evident.  In that he is a follower of Richard Seale and Luca Gargano (among others), who have long championed pure rums and label disclosure.

cdi rums

Photo (c) Whiskyleaks.fr

His initial offerings from that year into the market were modest: first a Caribbean blend, then two Belize rums (same source, different strengths), a Cuban, a Guadeloupe and an 18 year old Caroni.  From the outset he knew he was going after unadulterated, pure rums, but felt that to make any kind of initial splash he perhaps had to compromise the principle, and so has added 15g/L of organic liquid cane sugar to the Caraibes blended rum and the 2015 release of the Latino, as well as 10g/L to the “Calbar” Jamaican (but to none of the others). To his credit, this information is disclosed and he makes no secret of it. (And given the RumDiaries take on the Caraibes, Florent may have been right, though Josh of Inakena disagrees, finding the dosing too obvious; current releases of Caraibes no longer have any sugar). Age is also exactly what it purports to be — meaning the true age of the rum in barrels; and even in the blends, it is never the oldest, but always the youngest portion of the blend which is noted.

Issued to the European market, sales were positive and encouraging.  In April 2015 I tried the Cuban 15 YO in Paris, and was mightily impressed, scoring it at 88 points, and remarking that “…If this is anything to go by, CDI is going to take its place among the craft makers whose rums I want to buy. All of them.” My purse and my time are limited so I have not been able to try as many as I would have liked, but certainly the customer response was gratifying enough for CDI to expand into a larger selection in 2015, when they added rums from Martinique, Barbados, Fiji, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, St. Lucia and Indonesia to the mix.

The Haitian rhum was intriguing, what with the recent upsurge in interest in clairins issued by Velier; Fiji has some tongues wagging…but the Indonesia rum in particular excited quite a lot of interest because it was so unusual (and because the distillery was not disclosed) – Florent wanted to recreate something of the flavor of Batavia Arrack, one of the progenitors of rum, and whether or not he succeeded, I don’t know – I just know I liked it quite a bit. Jamaica was also a good issue, because most lovers of the funky style are more familiar with Appleton’s work, not Hampden or Worthy Park, or New Yarmouth which was issued in 2017.  So certainly CDI is putting some interesting footprints into the sand of the rum world, and showing that while the trailblazers like Renegade, Samaroli, Rum Nation and Velier provided and continue to make many amazing rums for the consuming public, there remains space for new companies with a slightly different ethos to make their mark and provide greater variety of rums for us all to try.

A peculiar divergence from the norm is the rums issued only in the Danish market.  These are some of the rums certain to pique the interest of the cdigreater rum loving public – especially the aged Guyanese rums and the cask strength 60% Panamanian, which is surely quite an unusual product (I honestly can’t remember when was the last time I saw a full proof Panama rum).  Henrik of RumCorner, as helpful as always, and who had spotted me the CDI Guadeloupe from there which I have to write about soon, informed me that “…those releases were done in collaboration with the Danish distributor. Denmark is one of the fastest growing markets for premium and ultra premium rums, so they asked CDI for some limited cask strength products and voila. In my opinion the Barbados FourSquare 60% rum [for example] really shows what is possible at high strength in comparison with the standard issue 40% horde.”  Florent confirmed that, remarking “Once I started selling single cask to Denmark, my importer and his team told me that they’d like to know if I could bottle rums at cask strength. I told them that I could but due to duties, the prices in France would be too expensive and they wouldn’t sell so that they would have to buy the whole cask. [They did.] That’s why I decided to mention on the label that it was only bottled for Denmark…[Denmark] has quite an educated brown spirit clientele that are willing to pay a lot for pretty exclusive bottles. That’s mostly the story.” 

So where to now? Promotion and marketing will be a big focus.  Florent thinks traditional magazine space is too expensive, and prefers to engage with the public at festivals (which is where I met him and bored him to tears – twice), as well as using social media to interact with his customers.  That’s usually where he can be found lurking.  He will continue to have all his packaging, corking, labelling etc, done in France.  Ageing of his selected barrels is primarily in Europe, though some tropical ageing does take place.  In that he departs from Velier, who championed in-situ tropical ageing because of the accelerated maturation and richer flavour profiles they so preferred; Florent believes that wood takes on an dominance under such conditions, which replaces subtler, fruitier notes which he likes better. (Steve James’s review of the Barbados 16 YO made mention of this difference which he attributed to the ageing regime.)

CDI Florent

Florent in Berlin RumFest, 2015.

The year 2016 suggested that the Danish market full proof editions were no mere flash in the pan.  Whether more were issued for them, or the clamour to have a wider distribution of rums bottled at >50% was acted on, the fact is that the 2016 releases sported no fewer than twelve rums bottled at cask strength (most at around 60%).  Maybe some kind of “twinning” is being worked on, where a standard table strength rum is issued with its mate offered to the cognoscenti at a higher proof point – this makes for higher prices since the volume issued would be less, but it seems as though Florent has sensed a market opportunity here and is working on maximizing it.  Blends which tread the path of the Caraibes will also continue, with rhums like the Tricorne and Boulet de Cannon being issued at intervals. And there’s also a flavoured/spiced rhum called Darklice (licorice and other additions, and the name is evocative if nothing else) added to the stable, which is his first foray in that direction.

The current stable of countries will be expanded upon in the future (2018 and 2019 saw additional rums from Venezuela and Australia join the lineup, for example), though of course there will continue to be releases from each of the existing rum producing islands in the Caribbean.  And just to say “Martinique” is an oversimplification, since one rhum from there that CDI issued was from Dillon and another from Simon, and that is a small percentage of the distilleries over there.  So while they are more expensive than rums from the English and Spanish Caribbean, they can’t be ruled out for more releases, and of course there will always be rums from Barbados, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Guyana and Jamaica to beef up the portfolio.

My own hope is that he won’t be seduced by the sales of the spiced and blended variations of his line, but will sleuth out little known islands and distilleries and geographical regions and do what Luca has done – bottle and promote rums we haven’t seen in a while, or ever, which we’d like to try and which exemplify the global reach of the spirit.  They may not all be the best available (Fiji did not find much favour with me, sorry), but you have to give points to the new kid on the block, who’s really doing something interesting for rum.  That’s worth ten truckloads of Don Papa right there.

***

References:

  1.       Personal conversations and emails and messages with Florent Beuchet
  2.       Interview with FB by whiskyandco.net
  3.       ReferenceRhum.com
  4.       Posts on CDI Facebook page
  5.       Tiare’s post on A Mountain of Crushed Ice
  6.       Rumporter
  7.       Rumconer.dk
  8.       4FineSpirits.de interview with FB
  9.       Online posted interview with FB by Joerg Meyer (2016)
  10.       Rumporter October 2016 article
  11.       Company site

A list of rhums issued by CDI as of May 2019 is below.  As always, if you know something has been missed, send me a correction with the specs.

  • Australia 11 YO 2007-2019 43% #ASS53 (Secret Distillery)
  • Barbados 12 YO 2003-2015 45% #BD91 (FourSquare)(323 bottles)
  • Barbados 12 YO 2003-2015 45% #BD92 (FourSquare)(302 bottles)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD24 (FourSquare)(354 bottles)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD36 (FourSquare)(363 bottles)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD47 (FourSquare)(351 bottles)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #MRS236 (FourSquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 60% #MRS235 (FourSquare)(Denmark only)
  • Barbados 20 YO 1998-2016 45% #BYR5 (Multiple distilleries)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1999-2016 62% #FS8 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1999-2016 62% #FS9 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1999-2016 62% #FS20 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 9 YO 2006-2016 62.1% #MB45 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 9 YO 2006-2016 62.1% #MB46 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 9 YO 2006-2016 62.1% #MB47 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 10 YO 2007-2018 62.9% #BFD019 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 10 YO 2007-2018 43% #BFD014 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 10 YO 2007-2018 62.1% #BFD015 (Foursquare)
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 44% #B86 (Travellers) (400 bottles)
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 44% #SF17 (Travellers) (415 bottles)
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 64% #SF48 (Travellers) (277 bottles)
  • Belize 11 YO 2005-2016 66.2% BL11 (Travellers)(Cask Strength)
  • Belize 10 YO 2006-2016 TBA% #TBA (Travellers)
  • Belize 10 YO 2006-2016 TBA% #TBA (Travellers) (Cask Strength)
  • Brazil 16 YO 2000-2016 43% #BR10 (Epris)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 1 2015 46% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 2 2016 50% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 3 2016 50% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 4 2017 46% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 5 2017 46% (blend Florida rums)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 6 2018 46% (blend Nicaragua/Panama)
  • Cuba 15 YO 1998-2014 45% #C67 (Sancti Spiritus) (280 bottles)
  • Cuba 16 YO 1998-2014 45% #CM5 (Sancti Spiritus) (232 bottles)
  • Cuba 16 YO 1998-2014 45% #CM8 (Sancti Spiritus) (280 bottles)
  • Cuba 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #CM34 (Sancti Spiritus)
  • Cuba 18 YO 1999-2017 45% #CSS11 (Sancti Spiritus)
  • Cuba 18 YO 1999-2017 59% #CSS7 (Sancti Spiritus) (Denmark only)
  • Darklice Blend 2016 46% (Guy/Bar/T&T) + licoriced water
  • Dominidad No. 1 15 YO 2000-2016 43% #SB1 (Small Batch)(33% 15YO DR / 67% 16YO T&T)
  • Dominidad No. 2 15 YO 2000-2016 43% #SB2 (Small Batch)(33% 15YO DR / 67% 16YO T&T)
  • Dominidad No. 3 16 YO 2002-2017 43% #SB3 (Small Batch)(33% 15YO DR / 67% 16YO T&T)
  • Dominican Republic 15 YO 2000-2016 64.9% #RDV 3 (Various)
  • Dominican Republic 13 YO 2003-2017 46% #RDM 1 (Various)
  • Dominican Republic 16 YO 2001-2017 62% #RDV 2 (Various)(Denmark only)
  • Dominican Republic 8 YO 2010-2019 43% #DRA3 (AFD. (Acoholes Finos Dominicanos))
  • Dominican Republic 8 YO 2010-2019 62.1% #DRA6 (AFD. (Acoholes Finos Dominicanos))
  • El Salvador 9 YO 2007-2018 43% #A46 (Cihuatan)
  • Florida 13 YO 2004-2018 45% #FMSC1 (Distillery Unknown)(finish Moscatel Cask)
  • Florida 14 YO 2004-2018 44% #FMM21 (Distillery Unknown)(finish French Whisky Casks)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2014 43% #GM 21 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)(355 bottles)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2014 43% #GM 32 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)(355 bottles)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2014 43% #G 51 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)(300 bottles)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2015 43% #CG 91 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2015 43% #CG 1704 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 17 YO 1998-2015 43% #CG 14 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 18 YO 1998-2016 55.1% #GMB57 (Damoiseau/Bellevue, Denmark Only)
  • Guadeloupe 20 YO 1998-2018 43.1% #PLG79 (Pere Labat)
  • Guatemala 9 YO 2007-2016 43% #GOS16 (DARSA)
  • Guatemala 8 YO 2009-2017 58.5% #GDS12 (DARSA) (Denmark only)
  • Guatemala 8 YO 2009-2017 59.1% #??? (DARSA) (Denmark only)
  • Guyana 10 YO 2005-2015 58% #WPM 75 (PM Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 13 YO 2002-2015 59% #WPM 36 (PM Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 13 YO 2002-2015 58% #MPM 35 (PM Still)
  • Guyana 13 YO 2002-2015 43% #MPM 63 (PM Still)
  • Guyana 21 YO 1993-2015 56% #GU 4 (Uitvlugt Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 24 YO 1990-2015 58.1% #MEY 04 (EHP Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 12 YO 2003-2016 45% #MSG6 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 12 YO 2003-2016 45% #MSG15 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 12 YO 2003-2016 45% #MSG16 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 12 YO 2003-2016 45% #MSG17 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 10 YO 2005-2016 57.5% #MPM18 (Port Mourant, Romhatten only)
  • Guyana 18 YO 1997-2016 45% #MGA4 (Uitvlugt)
  • Guyana 18 YO 1997-2016 57.9% #MGA5 (Uitvlugt, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 27 YO 1988-2016 52.7% #MEC7 (Enmore, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 14 YO 2003-2017 43% #GDD40 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 9 YO 2008-2017 59% #GYD71 (Diamond, Mahlers Vinhandel DK only)
  • Guyana 11 YO 2007-2018 60% #Gxxxx (Armagnac finish)
  • Guyana 10 YO 2010-2018 43% #GPM51 (Port Mourant)
  • Guyana 29 YO 1988-2018 48% #GEN2 (Enmore)
  • Latino 5 YO 2010-2015 40% (15 g/L sugar)
  • Latino 6 YO 2010-2017 46% (finish Vosne-Romanee red wine cask)
  • Martinique 13 YO 2002-2015 44% #MA 67 (Dillon)
  • Martinique 13 YO 2002-2015 44% #MA 56 (Dillon)
  • Martinique 11 YO 2008-2019 42% #MAR10 (Simon)
  • Nicaragua 11 YO 2004-2016 69.1% #SN18 (Distillery unknown)
  • Nicaragua 17 YO 1997-2015 64.9% #NCR30 (Distillery unknown)
  • Nicaragua 12 YO 2005-2017 66% #NS10 (Distillery unknown)(Denmark only)
  • Oktoberum 5 YO (2016)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 60% #MRS 255 (Distillery unknown)(Denmark only)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 44% #MRS 263 (Distillery unknown)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 44% #MRS 322 (Distillery unknown)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2016 61.5% #PMD 43 (Distillery unknown)
  • Panama 9 YO 2008-2017 43% #PSC 8 (Distillery Unknown)
  • Panama 9 YO 2008-2017 43% #PSC 77 (Distillery Unknown
  • Panama 13 YO 2004-2017 56.9% #PS 99 (Distillery Unknown)
  • St. Lucia 13 YO 2002-2015 43% #SLD 84 (St. Lucia Distillers)
  • St. Lucia 13 YO 2002-2015 56.3% #SLD 46 (St. Lucia Distillers)(Denmark only)
  • Trinidad 16 YO 2003-2019 63.5% #TLBF15 (TDL)
  • Trinidad 13 YO 2005-2018 45% #TT035 (TDL)
  • Trinidad 15 YO 2003-2018 44% #TTW9 (TDL)
  • Trinidad 20 YO 1998-2018 59.8% #TTCR14 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 23 YO 1993-2017 53.1% #TCC3 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 25* YO 1991-2016 56.2% #TP8 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 22 YO 1993-2016 48% #TC4 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 16 YO 2000-2016 63.6% #TT 96 (TDL)
  • Trinidad 24 YO 1991-2015 56.3% #SC 2 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 21 YO 1994-2015 57.8% #SC 707 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 19 YO 1996-2015 53.2% #SC 1 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2015 61% #SCT 9 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2014 43% #SC 3 (Caroni) (456 bottles)
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2014 43% #SC 2 (Caroni) (456 bottles)
  • Tricorne Unaged White Rum 2016 43% (Blend cane juice/molasses/arrack)
  • Venezuela 12 YO 2006-2018 43% VCA 1 (Corporation Alcoolés del Caribe (CADC))
  • Venezuela 12 YO 2006-2018 58% VCA 5 (Corporation Alcoolés del Caribe (CADC))
  • Venezuela 16 YO 2003-2019 63.5% VNT 61(Corporation Alcoolés del Caribe (CADC))
  • Veneragua 13 YO 2005-2018 45% (blend, 3 barrels Venezuela + 2 NIcaragua)
  • West Indies Blended 8 YO 2010-2018 40% (blend of Bdos, DR, Pan, Guy)

*Miscalculated as 26 YO on label

Jul 022015
 

Oceans 0

Ocean’s is a relatively new rum making outfit based in Zaragoza, Spain, beginning its life in 2012. Essentially they are an independent bottler, but with ambition: they have ageing warehouses the Ayala Valley (Basque Country, Spain) and La Palma Island  in the Canaries. They have various seven year old rums, the limited editions, and some craft stocks from Jamaica, Trinidad and other places.  So you can tell these boys mean business and want to be around for the long haul.

Small rum companies – from independent bottlers who take favoured casks and put them out the door to actual producers who go the whole hogshead from cane to carafe – tend to have one dedicated, enthusiastic entrepreneur at the helm, in the early years.  All three of the companies I have written about so far conform to that idea: Velier, Rum Nation and Nine Leaves.  Even the larger operations like DDL, Bacardi, Appleton, Flor de Cana etc, can be traced back to a single dedicated rumster whose drive, determination and dedication created and defined the future organization.

So it is with Ocean’s, a rum making concern still making its baby steps, an independent bottler beginning its official life in 2012 when Santiago Bronchales founded the company.

Oceans 4

The company is run by four business partners, three being investors, and Mr. Bronchales making the operational decisions:  he is 36 years old (as of 2015), and a native of Zaragoza (in Aragon, Spain), splitting his time between Villajoyosa (Alicante, Spain, where he lives) and working in La Palma Island in the Canaries.   Something like the sharp dog-leg left turn taken by the maestro ronero for Cuba’s Havana Club brand Don Jose Navarro in the 1970s, Mr. Bronchales studied Computer Science initially, but for reasons known only to himself, decided to change to study Oenology, which had become a passion of his. After having been working for some years as a winemaker, he began doing some experiments on the different process of distillation and inevitably, as he put it to me, got closer and closer to the world of rum.

Mr. Bronchales has been involved with the rum world since 2007. In that year, while working as a spirits consultant (and before that as a winemaker and brewmaster), he was approached and offered a position to lead a new project: to create a brand of rum meant to compete with the mastodon in the room, Zacapa. He didn’t think they were serious at first but they were. So he went to work in the Dominican Republic with the rum producer Oliver & Oliver, and after two year of market research decided to develop a range of rums with the aim of offering different rum ages and tastes. In this way he was able to have a hand in creating the Opthimus line (the 15, 18, 21 and 25 años solera rums), and remained there until April of 2012.

Like with most people who have a personal vision, he decided to branch out and follow his own path.  He had been buying fresh sugar cane distillates since 2009, with the sole intention of experimenting with his own maturation philosophy and process, and to see whether it was possible to make a 100% natural rum, with no additives or preservatives or anything else.  “Just playing with rum, wood and time,” he remarked to me. And thus was born the Ocean’s Rum of the “Singular Blend” concept, in pursuance of which he set up his own company.

Oceans 3

The basic idea was simple: rather than single-island or single-estate rums such as most craft bottlers were making and selling, he drew on his expertise in blending, and sourced different sugar cane distillates from many different producers from all over the world, trying to create taste in a natural way.  If you recall, I had some reservations about the concept – the Atlantic edition had seven different rums in it, and I didn’t think it quite clicked, but Mr. Bronchales explained it to me this way:

“Why so many different origins? Easy! If you want to cook a very good, tasty and pleasant meal, you need to use many different ingredients and make a selection of the highest quality among them, right? It is the same for me. If I want to create taste, I have to use different ingredients of the highest quality. In this way, we have our three rums of seven years old (fully cask matured), into only new barrels. All of them, blends from Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Spain, in diverse percentages. Thus, creating three different tastes of rum: Mellow, Tasty and Deep.”

Oceans 1

This kind of blending approach to making rum is also behind the three aged top-of-his-line rums named after three great oceans: “In the case of the Oceans (Atlantic, Pacific and Indian), what I make is a selection of special barrels, with some peculiarities that make me feel strange and new sensations. Unique impressions that make me feel alive. Atlantic 1997 (the 1997 is the date of distillation of the youngest rum in that blend) is a blend of 16 selected barrels from Barbados, Guyana, Belize, Trinidad, Jamaica and Martinique, and even some drops of Dominican Republic. Each is a matured rum from one producer (and usually a solera) and selected, matured a second time by Ocean’s, blended and then finished by myself.” In the case of the Atlantic, he used barrels of red wine from D.O. Somontano in the north of Spain, to do the finishing for a couple of years.

Rums are sourced without prejudice and can consist of either molasses or cane-juice distillates, from pot still or column still … the man plays no favourites. No additives or preservatives or colour agents are included, and it’s all natural. Mr. Bronchales has his own personal technique to give some natural kind of sweetness to the rums he makes: it consists on putting about 25 litres of pure unfermented sugar cane juice into a barrel, letting it sit for a short time, then emptying it and lighting a fire inside just to warm the wood and caramelize what remains soaked in the barrel, but not enough to char the staves themselves.

There’s no question that the technique of blending and barreling is somewhat different from that practiced by other craft bottlers, most of who are much more interested in rums reflecting specific styles or countries.  But Ocean’s is committed to the path it has set for itself: to continue focusing its efforts on the development and the detailed study of alternative maturation techniques that allow them to improve the traditional methods for the rum-ageing process. They are really aware of the effects that climate, wood and time generate in rum, and this in turn leads to them deeply studying cooperage and woods, in an effort to understand the connection that occurs between wood and rum.

Future plans are to continue issuing the seven year old rums (Mellow, Tasty and Deep), release the Pacific and Indian limited editions, and to keep an eye on some single cask, country specific rums which were considered quite special, but with no planned issue date.

You can tell Mr. Bronchales, very much like Mr. Takeuchi of Nine Leaves, is one of these guys who goes beyond merely ageing and tasting and then bottling a rum.  He likes to examine the history and philosophy of his favoured libation. He wants to reinvigorate the rum making traditions of the Canary Islands with his own  style, and he wants to take craft rums in a direction not many others have, blending research about the intricate minutiae of ageing with rock solid rum-making fundamentals, all while adding just a pinch of crazy to the mix.

And I mean that in a good way, because I’m agog with admiration for anyone who can dare mix a bunch of rums from as far afield as the Java, Swaziland and Fiji, and hope to make that work. It may not come together, and it may all crash and burn, but not for the want of trying.  You really have to respect that kind of commitment in a rum maker, from any country, at any time. And maybe raise a glass to their success.

 

***

A list of rum which Ocean have produced is below

  • Mellow & Singular 7 Year Old Rum
  • Tasty & Singular 7 Year Old Rum
  • Deep & Singular 7 Year Old Rum
  • Triple S Special Edition – Barbados (single cask – December 2016)
  • Triple S Special Edition – Trinidad (single cask – December 2016)
  • Triple S Special Edition – Jamaica (single cask – December 2016)
  • Triple S Special Edition – Dominica (single cask – December 2016)
Jan 202015
 

Photograph Copyright © Niko Neefs

 

There’s a aspect of Japanese culture which appeals to me a lot – the concept of kaizen, or slow, patient, incremental improvement of a thing or a task, by constant repetition and miniscule refinement, that over time can lead to spectacular results and quality.  Consider Toyota’s manufacturing processes as an example. Or the master chef Jiro Ono, who has been making sushi for decades, constantly making his work simpler, more elegant…and better, much better, Michelin-3-star better.  Or the filmmaker Ozu, who always seemed to make exactly the same film, until his repeated, specific observations on Japanese life became universal generalities (look no further than 1955’s “Tokyo Story” if you are interested).

Given the length of time Japanese stay in their professions, or the years lavished by them on their artistic endeavours before even pretending to any kind of expertise, it may be too early to include Nine Leaves distillery in this august company – yet there’s something in the stated long term philosophy of its founder and sole employee (for now), who began the operation in 2013, which reminded me of this idea and how it is a part of Japanese thinking. And I enjoyed all three of the micro-distillery’s products when I tried them in October 2014, and wanted to know more about the company.

There have, of course, been other Japanese rum producers and brands: Ryoma (Kikusui), Yokosuka, Ogasawara, Midorinishima, Cor-cor come to mind, and most of these are in the south, or in Okinawa, where climate favours the production of sugar.  However, none of them have ever made a real splash on the world scene. And all are relatively modest affairs, much like Nine Leaves is, though one could argue Nine Leaves markets itself somewhat better.

Nine Leaves Distillery is located in the Shiga Prefecture on Honshu island, at the south end along the river Seta.  It sits at the foot of a privately owned, nameless mountain, which is mined for anorthite (feldspar), the glaze used in high-end porcelain. When the bottom fell out of the market as a result of cheaper glaze from China, the owners started bottling the water from a spring under the ground level, which was unusually soft, and it was the prescence of this water which convinced the man behind Nine Leaves to ground his new operation there.

Photograph Copyright © Niko Neefs

Much like all startups, the short history of this outfit cannot be separated from that of its owner: Mr. Yoshiharu Takeuchi.  As I remarked in my review of the French Oak Cask Angel’s Half, nothing in his background or that of his family would suggest that this was a passion of his. The family business was one of those small sub-contracting firms that manufactured precision car parts for the big car companies, and located in Nagoya;  it was started by Mr. Takeuchi’s grandfather. Mr. Takeuchi himself was dissatisfied with the life, and casting around for some creative endeavour of his own — something he could make and control from start to finish, which showcased a long tradition of Japanese craftsmanship – and was drawn to the possibilities of distilling whiskey.  However he was soon diverted more towards rum, because unlike the highly regulated Scottish drink, rum was (and remains) remarkably free of any kind of global standards…which he saw as an opportunity to put his own stamp on the process and end-product. And also unlike the craft makers — like Cadenhead, G&M, Velier, Rum Nation, etc —  Nine Leaves never intended to rebottle from pre-purchased casks sourced in the West Indies or wherever, but is a one stop shop from almost-beginning to end.

There was not a whole lot of rum distilling expertise in Japan, yet Mr. Takeuchi did manage to spend a whole three days (!!) soaking up the advice of another small distillery owner, Mr. Ichiro Akuto of Chichibu (he was the grandson of the founder of the now-defunct Hanyu Distillery), which had been operating since 2008, and used small copper stills from Forsythe’s to make a range of whiskies. On the advice of Mr. Akuto, he ordered a wash and spirit still from Forsythe’s as well, and when they arrived in Japan, assembled them himself; he dispensed with wooden washbacks and went with stainless steel instead, figuring that if it was good enough for Glenfarclas, it was good enough for him. Having found his water supply, established his site close by, and having assembled his equipment (personally), he next sourced his brown sugar from Tarama-jima (a small island in the Okinawa archipelago) …one can only wonder what would have happened had he found the perfect water next to a sugar plantation in the south of Japan.  Most likely he would have gotten into cane cultivation, and made his own sugar as well.

Photograph Copyright © Niko Neefs

All preparations complete, Mr. Takeuchi was ready to commence operations in 2013, two years after having made his initial decision, without hiring any staff…and without quitting his day job.

The source of the fermented wash is neither molasses nor cane juice, but brown sugar (muscavado) and water, which may explain something of the rums’ interesting profiles, seeming to be somewhat of a hybrid of both agricoles and molasses-based rum, without exactly being either. Mr. Takeuchi has noted on his website that this was a deliberate choice: “[I aimed]… to discard the variable of bitterness or off-flavor from sugar cane juice and molasses, and to enhance the clear, refined sweetness and… [lingering tastes] that I had in mind.” After the first distillation of the wash – fermentation takes about four days — Mr. Takeuchi’s process for making rum relies heavily on the second distillation, where careful monitoring of the spirit quality and the cut phases to reduce the amount of undesirable feints (he sometimes tastes every few minutes).  Usually in the three standard cuts (‘heads’, ‘hearts’ and ‘tails’), it’s the ‘heart’ you want to keep – the skill comes in knowing when to start taking out the distillate from that middle phase, before which you throw away the ‘head’ and after which you dispense with the ‘tails’ (unless in the latter case you’re after some interesting effects, or wish to use them both to redistill later).  It would appear that Mr. Takeuchi has a flair for making his cuts just right, which he rather drily attributes to an appreciation for his wife and other’s home cooking in developing his sense of taste and smell. However, one can also assume that something more personal is at work here, as evinced in a remark Mr. Takeuchi made, oddly similar to one Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation also expounded: it comes down to “trusting your nose and your instinct…we all know what’s good and what isn’t.”

Photograph Copyright © Niko Neefs

Because bottle shape in Japan is highly standardized – depending on the bottle one can tell immediately whether it contains local tipples like nihonshu (sake) or shochu – Nine Leaves sourced its glassware from France, and bottles the non-chill-filtered by hand, as well as manually affixing the labels (sometimes the family chips in to help).  At the time when the company began in 2013, it issued an unaged ‘Clear’ rum, bottled at 50% (it’s the same as a ‘white’ – the name was chosen to reference the glaze mined in the mountain).  In that same year Mr. Takeuchi, thinking beyond making just a localized white lightning, sourced 225 liter virgin oak casks, of American and French oak, one of each.  His intention was to set aside perhaps 60% of his production, create two gold variations aged for perhaps six months, and move on to ageing 20% more into a dark set of rums aged for more than two years (the remainder will be white rum). And there are already plans to use ex-sherry, ex-bourbon and ex-wine barrels (this last from California) as well, so certainly we can expect to see the range of Nine Leaves expand in the years to come.

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Photograph © Nine Leaves

The question is how much, and how soon.  Nine Leaves lacks warehousing space, though plans are afoot to build some.  In speaking to Mr. Takeuchi last year he told me he’ll keep his output minimal for a while, enough to retain his distilling license from the Japanese Government, and to allow him to progressively age his rums, tweak with the taste profiles, perhaps even build some inventory.  A regular release of the six-month-aged gold rums would occur – another batch was set to be bottled around the same time we met (of course, since he was talking to me, he couldn’t be bottling anything…). A lot would depend on the reaction of the rum drinkers in the world to the products he had already issued in early 2014 – the French and American oak Gold “Angel’s Half” rums and the “Clear”, and he was certainly doing his best to attend the various rum and whisky expos in order to build awareness and find potential distributors.

Mr. Takeuchi also sees that the process of building a brand name is one that will take years, if not decades, and intends to make this a family operation spanning the generations. It’s not something to be hurried, and since ageing of spirits is intimately involved, having a timeline of years is perhaps not so unusual.

You kind of have to admire that kind of persistence and determination in a man who not too long ago was making machine parts for cars.

***

So here’s an opinion (as opposed to the more straightforward facts above).

I thought his rums were atypical.  They were clearly young, but quite well made for all that. There was a certain clarity and cleanliness to the taste reminiscent of the agricoles, yet some of the slightly darker notes coming from the residual molasses notes in the brown sugar. I considered the French Oak rum slightly better than the American oak version, and the Clear reminded me somewhat of Rum Nation’s 57% White Pot Still rum…not quite as good, but not too far behind it either (they are both recognizably pot still products, for example).  My opinion aside, it bears mention that the “Clear” won an award for “Innovation de l’année” in Paris in 2014 for the silver category and the American Oak won “Best Newcomer” at the 2014 Berlin Rumfest. The difference in Nine Leaves’ products to this point seems to be that western/Caribbean rums, aside from being aged longer, have many things going on all at the same time, often in a kind of zen harmony, while  Nine Leaves’s philosophy is more to accentuate individual notes, a sort of central core dominant, supported by lighter, subtler tastes that don’t detract or distract from the central note of character.  Of course as these rums age for longer periods, I fully expect to see the profile evolve: but there was no denying that at the time I was quite impressed with the first batch (and said so, in my review of the French Oak, even if I had my qualifiers).

Also…

The Nine Leaves logo (also source of the company title) is a modified samurai crest (“kamon”) of the Takeuchi family…nine bamboo leaves.  It is no coincidence that “Take” in Japanese means ‘bamboo’. As a student of history, I’d love to know how that all came about. In an interview with AboutDrinks website in 2014, Mr. Takeuchi noted his family was once involved in the timber/wood industry.  If this was bamboo, the question is answered.

And…

I am indebted to Stefan van Eycken of nonjatta.com, whose five part series on Nine Leaves I drew on for many of the points regarding distillation technique.  Hat tip and acknowledgement to Niko Neefs for permission to use some of his photographs.

Arigato to Mr. Takeuchi himself, who patiently endured my pestering questions for half an hour straight even as my wife was trying to drag me away.  And then responded to more questions by email.

Below is a current list of products issued by Nine Leaves.

 

 

Sources:

Nov 122014
 

ima_rum nation logo

Anybody who has read my work will know something of my admiration for Rum Nation, a company that came to my attention back in 2011 and which I’ve followed ever since. As Yesu Persaud springs to mind when thinking of DDL, or Luca Gargano is indelibly associated with Velier, Fabio Rossi, the CEO of Rossi & Rossi, is the man whose name is synonymous with Rum Nation.

The Venetian family of Rossi has been in the business of spirits and general trading for a long time, even though Rum Nation has only been in existence since 1999. Its sister company Wilson & Morgan predated RN’s formation by nine years (it’s into whisky — I like to joke that Fabio only realized his mistake after many years and formed Rum Nation to apologize) and the family involvement in spirits dates back to the pre-war years, when the Rossis dealt in wine. The original patriarch of the family, Guiseppe Rossi, was a wine and oil merchant with a small and thriving business, and after the turmoil of the second world war, his son Mario took over the company and expanded it. Rising success and profits in the 1960s persuaded Mario Rossi to begin importing whisky from Scotland, mostly blends – at the time whisky didn’t have quite the same exclusive cachet it later acquired; as time passed and craft and premium blends took center stage, such higher quality spirits were imported directly from the source distilleries in Scotland.

Fabio Rossi at the German Rum Festival, 2014

In the 1980s this portion of the business became so successful that the Rossis – both of Mario’s sons, Walter and Fabio, had by then joined the company – introduced craft spirits to their portfolio. These were single malt whiskies, independently bottled by the company, and, as time went on, stocks that made up these bottling were selected by Fabio Rossi. Fabio had trained as an oenologist in Conegliano, and, like many successful independents, married both education and experience into a personal philosophy summarized by the statement: “Trust your palate and your instinct.” The creation of the “King of Whiskies” brand encapsulated that idea – Fabio went personally to Scotland in 1990 to source his selections, went into partnership with W. M. Cadenhead and created the line of “Barrel Selection” whiskies with a new company, which he called Wilson & Morgan.

Wilson & Morgan exists to this day, and rode the wave of independent craft bottling of aged single malts. But as it happened, in his search for whiskies, Fabio often noticed that next to ageing barrels of such single malts, were other barrels: rums, old ones, brought over from the Caribbean to mature more gradually. Often they were blended into the more popular navy rums of the day, rather than being issued in their own right. He conceded that at the time he had no clue about rums, really…he tasted them and moved on. Yet he never forgot; and after the explosion of El Dorado on the scene in 1992, he saw the opportunities. After all, if the expertise garnered in the whisky business should be readily transferrable, then distilleries previously making average grog could produce aged and off-the-scale quality rums with some judicious ageing and blending. Too, the world in the 1990s was already moving towards exclusivity in spirits like vodkas, tequilas, whiskies…why not rum?

He discussed the idea with another Italian, a business colleague of the family, Silvano Samaroli (a whisky broker and bottler since 1968, and who also made and makes craft rums), and that gentleman gave him the necessary background education in the various rum styles, as well as pointers regarding marketing and business strategy. (As an aside, Mr. Samaroli may be one of the first to take craft bottling of rum seriously, but that’s another essay entirely.)

Armed with this information, and being unwilling to blend the recognized W&M brand with an upstart drink which could crash and burn (okay, that’s the storyteller in me reaching a bit), Fabio formed Rum Nation in 1999; many of the characteristics of W&M were copied wholesale for this new company – the rigourous sourcing of stock from obscure and not-so-obscure distilleries, partial maturation in Europe, the finishing in other casks (port, rum or marsala casks, for example). As before in his Scottish adventure, Fabio Rossi went island hopping around the Caribbean, sourcing what he could, buying what he liked, sometimes leaving the barrels in situ, sometimes shipping them to Europe. The ethos of both companies, unsurprisingly, remains very much the same: source barrels from favoured distilleries based on personal investigation, age and blend further as appropriate, and issue. Expand the line into other niche markets and other distilleries and countries and styles, as the business grows.

D7K_9376

Unlike the recognized and recognizable distillery-profiles of Scotland – after all, which dedicated Maltster can possibly confuse an Ardbeg with a Glenfarclas? – rum profiles are more generally associated with islands, or even whole regions, not often specific distilleries (though this does, of course, occur). This led to the decision to produce and market rums by such regions – Demerara (for Guyana), Jamaica, Barbados, and so on – though many really rarefied snooters can tell, or at least hazard a guess, whether the Enmore, Longpond or Rockley still produced a given rum for these.

The first rums RN issued were Demeraras and Jamaicans, in 1999 and 2000. I’d dearly like to know what kind of impact they had on the marketplace, but one thing is certain – in 2014 they can only be classed as collector’s items, and are as rare as hen’s teeth. I imagine that the reception of these rums was extremely positive, because Rum Nation expanded the line to include rums from several other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America, in the subsequent years: expressions hailing from Martinique, Trinidad, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala were added in short order. Fabio may have eschewed distillery-specific marketing, but he certainly did his best to raise the rum-profile of whole countries, over and beyond national brands previously and solely identified with them (and which were distillery- or estate-specific), like DDL, Mount Gay, Flor de Cana, or Longpond, to name a few. I don’t doubt that he used stock from those places, he just refused to identify them as such, and made his own specific blend from what he found there.

Two rum marques that deserve mention are the Millonario and the Reimonenq line, because both resulted in rums (and in the former case, a company) that were ostensibly apart from Rum Nation, yet beefed up its profile.

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The success of Zacapa in Italy in 2001 made Fabio resolve to find something that could take it on, if not actually exceed it: in Peru in 2004, he discovered a small distillery (he never named it, and while I think I know which one it is, I’m still not 100% certain) that made a delicate and sweet rum in the solera style. With skills garnered from Lorena Vasquez of Zacapa – she, like Mr. Samaroli years before, provided Fabio with the core information on setting up a solera system, how to mix barrels (different sizes and woods) in order to blend distillates with different aromatic profiles and ages to obtain a balanced final vatting. The resulting rum was a phenomenally smooth product – the Millonario Solera 15 and the XO, the latter of which is, in my opinion, a smidgen better (but also more pricey). I leave it to you to decide whether they are either or both better than the new (or old) Zacapa that is a perennial favourite among rum drinkers of the world. The XO in particular has received rave reviews from across the board (mine among them), is a constant favourite of my wife, and the 15 may be one of the best value-for-money rums of its kind ever made.  However, it must also be noted that these rums in particular – as well as several others in the lineup – have received scathing criticism over the years for the practice of “dosing”, or the adding of caramel / sugar / additives. Some writers and connoisseurs refuse to drink them at all and discussions on the online fora both condemn the practice as well as take Rum Nation to task for not providing better disclosure.

Assigning the Reimonenq rums to Rum Nation is somewhat problematical. In this instance the Reimoinenq name of these agricoles maker was left intact, and the rums Fabio found on Guadeloupe distillery (still family owned) were bottled under that name as a special edition exclusive to Rossi&Rossi – so are they Rossi products or not? I’d suggest they are, because he selected them and was instrumental in their issue. When asked about why he chose this path to market the rums – i.e., separating them from the Rum Nation line, which already had a very good Martinique rum or two and a Guadeloupe – he remarked that the extreme character of the rum might have come as shock to the palates of his core constituency, who were more used to the softer rums RN had issued to that point. (I have never tasted any, so cannot comment on the reputed tastes of wood, licorice, coffee, oil and Tobermory and Ledaig single malts which comprise the profile). You might note that this kind of caution has been eroded somewhat with the unaged, feisty and pungent Jamaican pot-still full-proof white rum which Rum Nation issued in 2014. Clearly Rum Nation now has enough hard-won street-cred not to worry overmuch about the potential of one poorly received edition among many.

D3S_3949-001

 

The technique of acquiring the knowledge and expertise of others in the field did not stop there. A particular point of pride for Fabio was the creation of the two Panama rums (the 18 and 21 year old, released in 2004 and 2010 respectively), which came about after a meeting with Don Francisco Fernández, a Cuban Master Blender well known for his work with the Panamonte line, possibly the Abuelo rums (my supposition – I’m not sure, but the tastes hint at the possibility) and (I sigh to say it) Ron de Jeremy. Don “Pancho” was instrumental in creating the blend of “mezcla” for the luxury 21 year old, about which I was extremely enthused, and which I think is a remarkable rum for its price (Can$100 or so).

The philosophy of the company remains stable, and firmly married to that of Wilson & Morgan. Rum will continue to have a primary ageing cycle in the tropics, and secondary ageing and finishing in Europe. To quote Fabio – “The first [ageing] is more intense, it helps the distillate to lose the ‘young’ notes and to take up sweetness and fruitiness (also thanks to a large percentage of ex-bourbon barrels). The problem is that after some years under the Caribbean sun, alcohol levels fall too low and the wood starts to dominate. Here the second phase comes to our aid, letting the subtler aromas come out slowly and allowing us better control of the flavour profile by means of different barrel sizes, smaller or larger according to how much we want to have oak influence on the rum or simply let it rest and soften up, leaving time to work its magic on the distillate rounding it up with the elegance that only a long wait can give. In this second phase we can play freely, like tailors, to shape our bottlings according to our taste, and it’s as important as the choice of distillate coming out of the stills.” Depending on the desired finish, barrels from the Spanish bodegas are often used – sherry, Pedro Ximenez, or even barrels which once held Spanish brandy.

The years 2014 to 2016 saw Rum Nation moving into progressively different areas, all of them interesting.  The bottle shape was redesigned (the stamps remain on the labels); the Jamaican pot still rum is to be released in progressively older variants, a Panama 18 solera was issued in 2015 and the old Demeraras and Jamaicas got another iteration. And at last, in 2016, Rum Nation went all in and began to sell their Rare Rums, initially made up of three older Demeraras, and additional Jamaican and Reunion rums issued in 2017.  The rationale here was to appeal to the “most jaded” connoisseurs who demanded not only unfiltered, unadulterated country-specific rums, but still-specific, cask-strength products (the Supreme Lord and aged Demeraras were never consistently from the same estates/stills).

I imagine it will be just a question of time before many other countries’ rums get this treatment as well. As far as Fabio is concerned, the search for new products to expand his catalogue is neverending. Like all companies that have found a growing niche market with dedicated consumers wanting to extend their horizons beyond the obvious, you can tell RN is positioning itself to expand even further into rum bottlings as esoteric and eccentric as my questions. So while it was never stated outright, I imagine we’ll be seeing aged and stronger variations of the old favourites, some more agricoles, and maybe rums from even further afield…India, maybe, or even Fiji, Thailand, or Australia. It’ll be a fun experience, watching it all unfold in the years to come, and one thing is for sure, we’ll be enjoying them. I know I will.

***

Some opinions and notes of my own, over and beyond the facts as reported above:

I wanted to remark on the difference between the maturation philosophies of the two companies, Rum Nation and Velier, or, as I like to joke, Athens and Sparta.  Velier, as I noted in their company profile, does not muck about. Cask strength, bam, always fully matured in tropics, so here, take that – there’s something awe inspiring about their commitment to brute simplicity, austerity and quality.  And then there’s Rum Nation – softer and perhaps more elegant stylists, who age their barrels in situ and then in Europe.  They issue rums at middling strengths (generally 40-45%), almost nothing in power like the massive blows of a full-proof (this began to change in 2014, and in 2016 really took off with the Small Batch collection). There’s a soft kind of serene voluptuousness about their rums, yet also a real heft and thickness that transcends mere taste and encompasses texture, mouthfeel, how it fades – it’s really lovely stuff, and even the rums Fabio tosses off as “entry-level spirits” were, to me, a cut above the ordinary. One company adheres to a minimalist, strong-is-better philosophy, and I can just imagine them throwing out the weak or the unfit; the other takes some time, babies its offspring a bit, takes them on journeys, changes their barrels and seems a bit more playful.  Both take their s**t really seriously.  And both deserve enormous respect because of it, different as their products might be.

***

A list of Rums RN have produced is below (updated as best as I can), linked to any review I might have done.  Also included is the Millonarios and Reimonenqs, since these are brands Fabio manages as part of his overall spirits business.  Please note that because of the same rum being issued with the same name in multiple years, it is almost inevitable that I would have missed something.  As always, drop me a line for what I’ve overlooked.

Note that Barrel-Aged-Mind, that great German rum resource, also has a similar page on RN.

  • Barbados 12 YO 1995-2008 43% (2008 release)
  • Barbados 10 YO 2001-2011, 40%
  • Barbados 8 YO 2002 -2010 43%
  • Barbados 8 YO 2000-2008 43%
  • Barbados 10 YO 2004-2014 43%
  • Barbados 10 YO 2005-2015 40%
  • Barbados 12 YO Anniversary (2014 release) 40% (RL Seale)
  • Barbados Anniversary Decanter 2016 40%
  • Demerara 27 YO 1973-2000 45%
  • Demerara 26 YO 1974-2000 45%
  • Demerara 24 YO 1975-1999 45%
  • Demerara 25 YO 1975-2000 45%
  • Demerara 31 YO 1975-2007 43%
  • Demerara 21 YO 1980-2001 45%
  • Demerara 18 YO 1981-2000 45%
  • Demerara 18 YO 1982-2000 45%
  • Demerara 23 YO 1985-2008 43%
  • Demerara 16 YO 1989-2005 45% (private client)
  • Demerara 23 YO 1989-2012 45%
  • Demerara 25 YO 1990-2015 45% (sherrywood finish)
  • Demerara 15 YO 1989-2004 43%
  • Demerara “1989” 12 YO (2001) 45%
  • Demerara “1990” 12 YO (2002) 45%
  • Demerara “1991” 12 YO (2003) 45%
  • Demerara 15 YO 1990-2005 43%
  • Demerara 23 YO 1990-2014 45%
  • Demerara 25 YO 1990-2015 45%
  • Demerara 15 YO 1991-2006 43%
  • Demerara 12 YO 1992-2004 43%
  • Demerara 15 YO 1992-2007 43%
  • Demerara 12 YO 1993-2005 43%
  • Demerara 12 YO 1994-2006 43%
  • Demerara Solera No. 14 Realease 2008 40%
  • Demerara Solera No. 14 Release 2010 40%
  • Demerara Solera No. 14 Release 2012 40%
  • Demerara Solera No. 14 Release 2017 40%
  • Guadeloupe Blanc (Unaged) Release 2015 50%
  • Guadeloupe Blanc (Unaged) Release 2016 50%
  • Guadeloupe Vieux Release 2016 40%
  • Guatemala 23 YO 1982-2005 Release 2005 40%
  • Guatemala 23 YO 1984-2007 Release 2007 40%
  • Guatemala Gran Reserva  2018 40%
  • Panama 10 YO Release 2016 40%
  • Panama 18 YO (3 pre-2004 releases, years unknown, per RN/FR)
  • Panama 18 YO Release 2004 40%
  • Panama 18 YO Release 2005 40%
  • Panama 18 YO Release 2007 40%
  • Panama 18 YO Release 1991-2009 40%
  • Panama 18 YO Release 1994-2012 40%
  • Panama 18 YO Release 2010 40%
  • Panama 18 YO Release 2014 40%
  • Panama 18 YO Release 1997-2015 40%
  • Panama 18 Year Solera 2015 40%
  • Panama 18 Year Solera 2016 40%
  • Panama 21 YO Release 1989-2010 40%
  • Panama 21 YO Release 1993-2014 40%
  • Panama 21 YO Release 1995-2015 40%
  • Peruano 8 YO 2008-2016 46.5% *for Denmark #1)
  • Peruano 8 YO 2006-2014 42%
  • Peruano 8 YO 2007-2015 42%
  • Peruano 8 YO 2000-2008 42%
  • Peruano 8 YO 1999-2007 42%
  • Peruano 8 YO 1998-2006 42%
  • Reunion Agricole 2009-2016 7YO 45%
  • Reunion Traditionelle Cask Strength 7 YO 60.5%
  • Reunion Agricole 7 YO 2009-2016 45%
  • Rhum Reimonenq Rhum Vieux 5 YO 2009-2014  40%
  • Rhum Reimonenq Rhum Vieux 10 YO 2004-2014 40%
  • Rhum Reimonenq Rhum Vieux 2003 40%
  • Rhum Reimonenq Rhum Vieux 1998 40%
  • Rhum Reimonenq 5 YO 2006-2011 40%
  • Rhum Reimonenq 9 YO 1999-2008 40%
  • Trinidad 5 YO 2012-2017 (ABV TBA)
  • Trinidad Caroni 18 YO 1998-2016 55%
  • Trinidad Caroni 16 YO 1999-2015 55%
  • Trinidad Caroni 16 YO 1998-2014 (Batch 1) 55%
  • Trinidad Caroni 16 YO 1998-2014 55% (2014 Release)
  • Venezuela 10 YO 1992-2003 43%

Sources

 

Oct 202014
 

velier logo 2

It’s no surprise that I start the “Makers” section of this website with Velier.  Perhaps no other company since Rum Nation has so captured my attention the way this one has, and with both it’s about their focus. The scotch makers like G&M, Cadenhead, A.D. Rattray and Bruichladdich also produce year-specific, limited editions of rums, but their product lines are somewhat diluted by not concentrating solely on rums but on the whiskies which are their primary products (at least in my opinion).  Velier in contrast has made its name primarily by doing something quite different  – they issue all of their products at full proof, and they issue only rums, mostly from Guyana, Trinidad and the French West Indies (see below for other lines of business).

Luca Gargano, the man most closely identified with the company, is a character all by himself. He is an inveterate traveller, photographer, writer and rum lover (to call him an aficionado would be to understate the matter).  His stories, delivered with a twinkle in his eye, are the stuff of either bulls**t or legend, and I prefer to believe the latter, just because, y’know, they’re so interesting – for example, there’s the one about how, in service to one of his “five principles,” he doesn’t associate with politicians, and so one time he feigned sickness in Cuba so he wouldn’t have to speak to Fidel Castro.  And the other five principles, which he calls privileges? — No watch, no cell phone, no driving and no reading newspapers.  So yeah, something of an eccentric, but man, the stories he tells, the way he tells then (he’s truly something of a born raconteur).  And he always finishes off by reaching somewhere, fishing out a bottle and a glass and saying “Taste this.”

Luca Gargano began with Velier by buying into the tiny Genoese concern in the early nineteen eighties while he was only 27 – at the time he was the Director of Marketing Spirit SpA, the largest import company in Italy.  Even then, his experience as the brand ambassador for St James (from Martinique) during the 1970s infused him with a love for rums.  Velier, a small family firm, had been founded by Casimir Chaix back in 1947, and between 1953 and 1983, it became known for importing of wines and spirits to Italy, mostly the north (products included champagne, brandy, even tea and cocoa). Luca began to change the tilt of the company by encouraging the import of spirits particularly targeted at top restaurants and wine bars and developed the image and the distribution of Champagne Billecart-Salmon, which at the time was completely unknown.

Gargano

In 1991 Velier developed a line of Latin American White Spirits (cachaca, mezcal, pisco) made to cater to the trendy and ethnic spirits wave which was just gathering steam at the time.  The company began its move to craft spirits in 1992 (which I think is the year that the El Dorado 15 year old first appeared), by beginning its selection of barrels of old single malts and rum for its brand.  This led, in 1995, to the issuance of several Caribbean rums, riding the wave of the current trend in releasing craft bottling in limited quantities.

Arguably Luca’s earliest coup was to buy almost the entire Damoiseau 1980 output that had been deemed unsell-able because of a proportion of molasses in the rum.  He released Velier’s Damoiseau 1980 in 2002 (Damoiseau themselves stole a march on him and issued their own version – they had kept back some of the stock, and as I can attest, that rum is excellent) and he remarked that it was this rum that crystallized his “full-proof” concept, that of issuing rums at natural strength with no dilution whatsoever, and having them fully aged in the tropics.

Gargano 2

In 2003, after having befriended Yesu Persaud, the chairman of the Guyanese spirits conglomerate Demerara Distillers Ltd, he was given access to very old stocks mouldering away in their warehouses in Diamond – it is my contention that the issuance of these rums has solidified Velier’s name as a company whose bottlings are one of a kind, a company to watch, and whose rare and aged products are really spectacular.  Most independent bottlers have the Enmores and Port Mourants as part of the canon, and DDL themselves blend many estate- or still-specific rums into their excellent El Dorado line – but Velier took it one step further, and issued the estate specific rums as rums in their own right: LBI, Blairmont, Versailles, Albion, Skeldon, Port Mourant, Enmore…and all at natural strength.  They have, as I remarked in my Skeldon 1973 review, become occasional subjects of cult worship simply due to their rarity (and excellence – I have yet to find a dog in Velier’s line up, and have consistently scored their rums very high). In 2004, Velier bought a tiny stake in DDL, which granted them access to future (and past) rum stocks.

Another series of rums of note which enhanced Velier’s street-cred among rum aficionados was the Caroni line.  Caroni was a plantation and distillery in Trinidad, which was shuttered in 2002 (some darkly mutter that it was for crass political reasons), and has a place in rum-lovers’ pantheons which whisky aficionados reserve for Port Ellen.  The last stocks of this distillery were supposedly sold at auction in 2003, but in 2004, Velier seems to have snapped up an enormous amount of casks from the 70s, 80s and 90s which they have used to issue several iterations (all full-proof, of course).

Between 2008 and 2014, as Velier’s reputation grew (and maybe as finances and enthusiasm permitted) the company began branching out to other islands and experimenting with distillation and ageing techniques. According to Luca, he had the impulse to produce a rhum agricole with a double distillation, and convinced Mr Vittorio Gianni Capovilla, himself a master distiller (www.capovilladistillati.it) and the Bielle distillery on Marie Galante, to create a new distillery.  This was to be located beside Bielle but completely independent, apart from the sugar juice supplied by Bielle. The Liberation line (issued under the label RhumRhum) essayed to make agricoles by fermenting the juice without adding water and then double distilling it in copper pot stills.  Then there is the Clairin line of Haitian rums, launched in 2012, and more recently there are experimental blends like the 2014 release of PM/ENM, and the Ron Papalin, as well as the 2015 “Still” line from Guyana and Barbados and Jamaica.  There are plans to deal in soleras at some point.

Velier shop

In 2014 Velier opened two shops in Paris, one dedicated to Velier Rhum (the other to Triple A wines).  That same year, Luca’s first book “Atlas du Rhum” was published by Flammarion. Velier continues to do more than rums, of course.  They are both bottler and importer, yet I argue that it is for their rums they are now primarily known and upon which their fame rests.  They might import absinthe, gin and whisky and whatever else – but they make rums. Damned good ones.

Unfortunately, in 2015, it appeared that Velier’s relationship with DDL came to an end, and in spite of being a minority (very minority) shareholder in the company, their unique ability to choose barrels from DDL’s warehouses has ceased.  Some call this the end of “The Age of Velier’s Demeraras.” For those who appreciated the Demerara full proofs Velier issued from the famous stills, this was nothing less than a catasstrophic disappointment.  Luca branched out, of course – as noted, he has looked into the distribution and promotion of clairins from Haiti, hinting at deepening involvement in non-traditional sources of rum; and in 2015 he issued single estate pot still rums from Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados, as well as investigating the possibilities of Hampden estate in Jamaica for the 2016 release season.

2017 was a great year for Velier, because it was the 70th anniversary of the company, and to commemorate the occasion, Luca pushed a number of new releases out the door – from Barbados, from Jamaica, Mauritius, Japan, Haiti et al (see list below).  These became highly sought after rums in their own right, and many othwers issued in 2016-2017 were issued at young ages, as whites, or to showcase particular distillation apparatuses; many more were done in collaboration with famous houses like Nine Leaves, Chamarel, Hampden and Worthy Park. And no story of such collaborations could be complete without noting the work done with Richard Seale of FourSquare, including the now famous 2006 ten year old and the Triptych rums which were so amazingly popular that they were sold out before actually going on sale online, and required special personalized distribution to hard core fans

As if all this was not enough, in late 2017 Velier announced plans to open an office in New York, to be run by Daniele Biondi (whose name is on several labels of the old Demeraras).  Velier is already well known to American rum aficionados, and Daniele’s mission was to raise awareness and build the brand in a country where milquetoast 40% rums of no particular distinction have often relegated cask strength premium rums to the back shelf.  The opening of the Velier office in Brooklyn – a partnership between themselves and La Maison du Whiskey – was covered widely on FB, and many of the North American rum “Names” flew in for the occasion.  Unsurprisingly, the rums being promoted right off the bat were the Haitian clairins I had such a violent love affair with, and the pot still Habitation Velier collection.

This expansion of Velier’s distribution network was followed in 2018 by the announcement in May that East Coast Liquor in Sydney (Australia) gained the exclusive distribution rights to Habitation Velier rums, in conjunction with promotion by one of the older rum sites in existence, that of Refined Vices (opened in 2007) run by Tatu Kaarlas, a Finn who emigrated down under a decade before. Clearly Velier’s rums were not just a phenomenon of Europe or North America, but were sought after and desired much further field than the traditonal outlets.  And as if that was not enough, Velier’s 2018 release slate contained not just a new series of clairins and Caronis, but a series of Jamaican Longpond rums at 60% that tried to showcase the “Wedderburn” and “Continental” styles of rum make from years past. It’s an interesting and welcome departure from better known rum series for Velier, and promises a fascinating new set of rums from that island.

Given the reputation Velier has elsewhere in the world, there is no doubt that the future of their bottlings remains both a dynamic and hopeful one. Because Luca does like to push the boundaries, and his passion has been remarked on by many who have met the man.  I don’t imagine I’ll ever get them all – Luca is issuing them too fast, and my wallet can’t keep pace (a complete set of every Velier Caroni ever issued was advertised for sale by an Italian gent for over two thousand Euros, a single bottle of the Skeldon 1978 sold on Ebay for €1,200 in early 2015, and a twin set of the 1973 and 1978 was going in 2016 for €8,000, which gives you an indication of what acquiring the entire canon would entail). Yet I’ll keep trying, as many others will, because Luca’s one of the few in the rum making world who keeps raising the bar for aged, powerful and unique rums that will not be seen again.

And if his name is now known more widely than before 2012 when I and others first began writing about his rums, perhaps it was inevitable that the concussive blast of his earlier work has now been replaced by smaller explosions of high quality, original rums, whose releases are eagerly awaited by those who love his work.

***

Below is a list of all Velier products of which I am aware, ordered by date of distillation (not issue).  I don’t think it’s exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point.  Links relate to reviews I’ve written…and yeah, they look as lonely as a few camels in the Sahara, but them’s the breaks.

Note: Rumaniacs reviews are coloured green; where an essay and Rumaniacs short-form review both exist, two records will be shown

 

Guyana

 

Trinidad – Caroni

  • Caroni 1974 Heavy 34 YO (1974 – 2008), 66.1%
  • Caroni 1982 Light 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 59.2%
  • Caroni 1982 Light 24 YO (1982 – 2006), 55.2%
  • Caroni 1982 Light 24 YO (1982 – 2006), 56.4%
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 24 YO (1982 – 2006), 58.3%
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 62%
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 77.3%
  • Caroni 1983 Extra Strong 110° Proof 17 YO, 55%
  • Caroni 1983 Heavy 22 YO (1983 – 2005), 55%
  • Caroni 1983 High Proof Heavy 22 YO (1983 – 2005), 52%
  • Caroni 1984 Heavy 22 YO (1984 – 2006), 54.6%
  • Caroni 1984 Heavy 24 YO (1984 – 2008), 59.3%
  • Caroni 1985 Old Legend 15 YO (1985 – 2006), 43.4%
  • Caroni 1985 Blended 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 49.5%
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 21 YO (1985 – 2006), 58,8% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 62% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 75.5%
  • Caroni 1988 Blended 20 YO (1988 – 2008) 43%
  • Caroni 1989 Heavy 16YO (1989 – 2005), 62%
  • Caroni 1989 Light 17YO (1989- 2006), 64.2%
  • Caroni 1991, 66%
  • Caroni 1991 Blended 19YO (1991 – 2010), 55%
  • Caroni 1991 Blended 15 YO (1991 – 2006) 43.4%
  • Caroni 1992 Heavy 20 YO (1992 – 2012) , 60.2%
  • Caroni 1992 Heavy 20 YO (1992 – 2012), 55%
  • Caroni 1993 Blended 17 YO (1993 – 2010), 44.4%
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 18YO (1994 – 2012), 55%
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 18YO (1994 – 2012), 62.6%
  • Caroni 1994 High Proof 17 YO (1994 – 2011), 52%
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 23 YO (1994-2017) “Guyana Stock” 61%
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 23 YO (1994-2017) “Guyana Stock” 59%
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 23 YO (1994-2017) “Guyana Stock” 59.8%
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 23 YO (1994-2017) “Guyana Stock” 57.18%
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 17 YO (1996 – 2013) 55%
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 17 YO (1996 – 2013) 63%
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 20 YO (1996 – 2016) 70.8% “Fire” (Cask R3721)
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 20 YO (1996 – 2016) 62.4% (Cask 5623)
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 20 YO (1996 – 2016) 70.1% “Trespassers will be Prosecuted”
  • Caroni 1996 Blended 21 YO (1996 – 2017) 61.3%
  • Caroni 1996 Blended 21 YO (1996 – 2017) 65.1%
  • Caroni 1996 Blended 21 YO (1996 – 2017) 59.8%
  • Caroni 1996 Blended 21 YO (1996 – 2017) 64.3%
  • Caroni 1996 “Trilogy” Heavy (1996 – 2016) 70.28%
  • Caroni 1997 20YO (1997 – 2017) 61.9%
  • Caroni 1998 Extra Strong 104° Proof 15 YO (1998 – 2013), 52%
  • Caroni 2000 100% 12 YO (2000 – 2012), 50%
  • Caroni 2000 “Millenium” Extra Strong 120° Proof, 60%
  • Caroni 2000 High Proof (2000-2017) 55%
  • Caroni 2000 Heavy (2000-2017) 68.4% “Caroni Lit/Alc 2000” (Cask R4002)
  • Caroni 2000 15YO Heavy Single Cask (2000 – 2015) 70.9% “Licensed to Sell Spirit…” (Cask 4681)
  • Caroni 21 YO Extra Strong 100% Imperial Proof (Blended) 57.18%
  • Caroni 2017 70th Anniv Edition Blended 21 YO  (1996 – 2017) 65.1%
  • Caroni 2017 70th Anniv Edition Heavy 21 YO (1996 – 2017) 64.3%
  • Caroni 2017 70th Anniv Edition Heavy 23 YO (1994 – 2017) 59.8%
  • Caroni “Employees” Special Edition Dennis “X” Gopaul 20 YO (1998-2018) 69.5%
  • Caroni “Employees” Special Edition John “D” Eversley 22 YO (1996-2018) 66.5%

Marie Galante

Guadeloupe

Jamaica

Longpond

Other

Other

Habitation Velier

Velier 70th Anniversary Editions Collaborations issued in 2017 and 2018

  • Karukera 2008 Single Cask 9 YO (2008-2017) 53.4%
  • Nine Leaves “Encrypted” Single Cask 4 YO (2013-2017) 65%
  • Nine Leaves “Encrypted” Single Cask #3 3 YO (2014-2017) 64.8%
  • Mount Gilboa Pure Single Rum 9 YO (2008-2017) 6x.x %
  • Neisson Rhum Vieux Agricole 12 YO (2005-2017) 51.3%
  • Neisson Rhum Vieux Agricole 10 YO (2007-2017) 58.1%
  • Hampden <H> 7 YO (2010-2017) 62%
  • Velier Royal Navy Very Old Rum 57%
  • Chamarel Pure Single Rhum Agricole (2011-2017) 55.5%
  • Chamarel Vatted Single Rum (2010-2014) 56.5%
  • St Lucia Pure Single Rum (2010-2017) 58.6%
  • Caroni 2017 70th Anniv Edition Blended 21 YO  (1996 – 2017) 65.1%
  • Caroni 2017 70th Anniv Edition Heavy 21 YO (1996 – 2017) 64.3%
  • Caroni 2017 70th Anniv Edition Heavy 23 YO (1994 – 2017) 59.8%
  • Antigua Distillery 6 YO (2012-2018) 66%

 

Sources