Apr 242017
 

#359

“Aguacana” is as good a term for this cachaça as any other, denoting as it does “water of the cane”  There are few titles more appropriate, because at 37.5% you’re really not getting very much out of the Brazilian drink, and even in a mix I sort of wonder what the point is and how well something this frail would fare in a caipirinha.  I’m aware that it’s somewhat snobby, but seriously, 37.5% is edging out of spirits territory altogether and into some kind of never-never land of “please don’t hurt me” for the timid, and my preferences don’t run that way.  Note the label by the way – it says “The Original for a Caipirinha,” which I think every such drink under the sun claims to be

Background information is as skimpy as the taste profile.  The rum is made under the auspices of Bardinet, a French spirits company founded back in the 1850s by Paul Bardinet who worked on blending and taming sugar cane alcohol that was shipped to France. These days the name Bardinet (with respect to rums) is probably better associated with the Negrita and Old Nick brands, but since 1993 they have been the La Martiniquaise-Bardinet Group and control Dillon, Depaz and Sainte-Marie on Martinique, as well as Distillerie de Marie Galante and SIS in Guadeloupe.  So certainly their lineup has real heft in it.  As for the Aguacana, it’s one of the many brands within the group and that’s about all I could dig up – I don’t even know where specifically in Brazil it’s made. From the paucity of the information and lack of any kind of serious marketing, I get the impression it’s an afterthought meant to round out the portfolio rather than a serious attempt to make a commercial statement or break the Brazilian market.

Let’s get right into the tasting. The nose is sharper and clearer than the Thoquino that was tried alongside it, herbal and grassy, demonstrating more salt and less sugar, some vague florals and unripe green grapes so in that sense it was different. The problem was (and remains) that that was pretty much the whole shooting match: if there were more undiscovered aromas, they were far too faint and watery for me to pick them out.

Slight improvement on the palate.  It presented a clean and spicy-sharp alcohol taste, quite dry, and was weak and near ghost-like at everything else – one senses there’s something there, but never entirely comes to grips with anything.  So I let it rest, came back to it over a period of hours and noted tastes of iodine, watermelon, cucumbers in vinegar, flowers, and the ever-present sweet sugar water that so far has been a characteristic of every cachaça I’ve ever tried.  Overall it was watery in the extreme, and even though sometimes ageing in oddly-named Brazilian woods imparts some off-base flavours to the profile, here there was none of that at all.  “Slightly flavoured water” is what I remember grumbling to myself, before also noting that the finish was “inconsequential, with no aspects of profile worth mentioning that haven’t already been sunk by the mildness” (yes, my notes really do read like that).

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a drink that is not meant to be anything but a cocktail ingredient as a neat sipping spirit, and you’d be within your rights to make the criticism.  Still, you have to know what it’s like on its own before you go making a mix, right?  How else are you going to know what to add? In fine, the Aguacana is a meek and inoffensive and ineffective cachaça, which does the job of making a shy caipirinha easy enough since just about anything added to the glass would alter the profile to what is desired (which may be the point).  The relaxation and the buzz will arrive eventually, but if you really want a sense of what the rum is like by itself, you’ll spend a long time waiting for any kind of flavour to chug into the station.  And as for me, I’ve got better rums to try, so I’ll pass on this in the future unless Mrs. Caner feels generous enough to whip up a drink for me.  

(70/100)

Apr 202017
 

“Dale paso al placer” reads the bottle label, which translates into “Give way to pleasure.”  Obeying that would encourage me to give away the bottle.

#358

If the Panamanians (and other rums made in the light Spanish style), don’t up their act soon, I have a feeling they’ll be left behind in an era where tougher, more muscular, and more original rums — many of which are pot still based — are being made both by independent bottlers and more farsighted big distillers in other parts of the Caribbean.  There’ll always be a market for standard strength rums – low price and easy sort-of quality ensures that every hormonal teenager and up-and-coming rum junkie usually cuts their teeth on one of them – yet I believe that the emphasis is slowly shifting from buttercup to beefcake: they are the new premiums, and margins will shift to favour them…and those who don’t get with the program may very well find their rums relegated to third tier supermarket tipple.

These were the thoughts running through my mind as I sampled the Canalero Añejo, which was a 40% Panamanian rum bearing Don Pancho Fernandez’s fingerprints.  That’s no surprise, since he is the master blender for SER Alcoholes, the company that makes it.  SER Alcoholes, whose name is nowhere noted on the label of the rum, is a group of companies now owned by the Grupo Pellas (SER stands for Sugar, Energy, Ethanol, Rum so an “E” is missing there someplace) and operates out of Las Cabras de Pese in Herrera Province in south central Panama where their plant is located. As far as my research goes, it’s a column-still rum based on molasses, and there’s little information online about it beyond that, not even age (I was told it was three years old).

In the smell and taste of this rum, there were aspects of many other Panamanians coiling beneath, somewhat dampening down any originality it may have possessed at the inception. Take the nose: simple and straightforward, spicy and clear, with little beyond some molasses, light citrus and a few fruity hints (mostly raisins and ripe cherries).  The palate was also similar in this way, with more sweet molasses, again some fruitiness of cherries and raisins, perhaps a flirt of vanilla, and even less citrus than the nose.  It was extremely light in texture, hardly worth remarking on, had no real complexity or distinctiveness – it was tough to come to grips with because there was so little going on.  Five minutes after I tasted it I would have been hard pressed to pick it out of a lineup.  Even the finish was like that: short, easy, indistinct and very forgettable.  In other words, a young pup, the runt of the litter, which enthused me not at all, not because it was bad, but because it just didn’t have much of anything.

To me, this is a commercial supermarket rum for those who just want to go on a bender without major effort or expenditure.  It’s soft, it’s light, it’s a rum and beyond that, quite unremarkable. The Ron Maja, Ron de Jeremy, and the Malecon 1979, for all their similarity, were better, the Abuelos were a step up, and the independent’s wares are a class apart entirely.

There are a lot of Panamanians which I’ve enjoyed over the years, many of which are decent markers of the style, reasonably well made, soft and easy to drink. Don Pancho is more or less the poster boy for the entire country because of his extensive consulting work and advice provided to various makers from there.  But perhaps no one person, no matter how esteemed, should have such an outsized influence on an entire region’s production because what it results in is a quiet weakening of true innovation (such as is exemplified by the various distilleries of Jamaica and the French islands, who seem to enjoy making whatever crazy hooch they feel like on any given day while squabbling for bragging rights amongst themselves); and that makes many Panama rums subtly like all the others, with variations being almost too minor to matter – you taste one, you’ve tasted most. Hardly a recipe for maximizing sales or energizing the tippling class to buy every one they can lay hands on.  With respect to the Canalero Añejo, trying it once was quite enough for me since this is a rum where nothing much really happened.  Twice.

(72/100)

Apr 172017
 

Picture (c) Steve James of the Rum Diaries Blog

#357

The blurbs about the rum refer to this as being made from “very pure” cane molasses (as opposed to, I’m guessing, very impure or merely pure molasses).  Said molasses are fermented for two weeks using two different yeast strains, triple distilled in copper pot stills; from which the rum is taken at 80% ABV, diluted down to 60% and then laid to rest for a minimum of six months to a year in charred oak barrels before being filtered to within an inch of its life to produce this 40% clear mixing agent.  It’s a relatively new rum on to the scene, coming to market around 2011 or so; and made by a Dutch concern called Zuidam Distillers, established in 1975 by Fred Van Zuidam…his sons currently run the show.  Originally there was  only a small copper pot still and a single production line, but growing business in the 1990s and 2000s allowed them to expand to their current facilities using four copper pot stills and four production lines.  That enabled the company, like so many others, to expand the lineup, which now includes whiskies, genever (Dutch gin), liqueurs and of course, a rum or two, none of which have crossed my path before.

Thinking about the rum itself, I suppose it is meant to deal a bitchslap at the more common white Bacardis of this world by bridging the gap between the milquetoast made by the ex-Cuban company and more feral white unaged pot still products like the ones issued by Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti and Jamaica, and thereby snatch back some European market share for such rums.  Certainly it’s one of a very few European distilleries that make a rum at all, and any white rum from a pot still (even if bleached to nothing), may be something to look out for — though why they would name it after a nautical harbinger of doom remains an unanswered, unanswerable question; and why bother filtering the thing is just a plain mystery (I’ve heard that they may eliminate that step in the near future ).

Since the important thing is not these academic notes but whether it all comes together or not in a real tasting, let’s move on. The nose is dry and just a bit sweet, not so much spicy as gently warm. Alas, the notes resemble a surfeit of excessively sugared swank (in that it seems to be channeling an agricole) plus vanilla, something akin to vodka sipped past a sugar cube, though it was reasonably crisp and clear. After some time there were florals, salt, dates, and some estery fumes straining to get out — but never quite succeeding, which is where the decision to filter it shows its weakness since much of the distinctive aromas get wiped out in such a process.

On the palate, bluntly speaking, it fails.  It’s too thin, too watery.  More sugar, mint, some marzipan (are we sure this is a rum, or a gin wannabe?).  There’s nothing standard about this at all, and it’s at right angles to any other white rum I’ve ever tried.  Whipped cream, ripe breadfruit, nail polish, cucumbers in vinegar with perhaps a pimento and some dill thrown in for some kick and to wake up reviewers who’re put to sleep by it.  After adding some water (more out of curiosity than necessity) vanilla, coconut shavings and white chocolate were noticeable, and the best thing about it was the silkiness of the whole thing (in spite of its anemic body) which makes it an almost-sipping-quality white, without ever demonstrating a firmness of taste that might ameliorate the lack of complexity.  As for the finish…meh. Soft, warm and fast, gone so quick that all you can get from it is some warm vanilla…and more of that sugar water, so this aspect was certainly the weakest part of the whole experience.

So no, it’s better to mix, not to have by itself.  I didn’t care much for it, and in short, the rum still needs more work. Above, I noted that it may have wanted to try and straddle the divide between soft white rum pillows and more uncompromising unaged pot still panthers, but what emerges at the other end is really just an alcohol infused vanilla-and-sugar water drink with a few odd notes.  I think there’s some potential here, but for the Flying Dutchman to score higher and win wider acceptance in this day and age, perhaps it might have been a better idea to not only issue it unfiltered, but also bump up the strength a notch.  Then they might really have something to crow about, and excite more of the public’s interest than this version inspired.

 (74/100)

Other notes

  • The company makes a 3 year old gold rum as well. The source is the same.
Apr 132017
 

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission 

“Super Premium”? Not at all…but still quite a tasty dram. Surprised they didn’t call it a “Navy”.

#356

Bottled at an assertive but not excessive 50%, the Svenska Eldvattan Weiron is a blended rum out of Sweden made by the same happy bunch of guys who are behind the Rum Swedes lineup, which I’ve never tried but about which I’ve heard many good things.  That said, they don’t limit themselves to rum, and are primarily into bottling various whiskies, with a gin and a tequila or two for good measure.  This one is rather daringly called the “Super Premium Aged Caribbean Rum” which I’m sure has more than one rum junkie itching to see if it actually lives up to what few independent bottlers would dare to claim, not least because (a) nobody can actually define the term precisely and (b) there’s tons of rums out there which probably deserve the appellation more.

Getting the basics out of the way, the rum was issued in early 2015; part of the blend is Jamaican, part is Bajan, and there is more that remains unidentified.  However, to please the above-mentioned junkie, there are no additives, no chill filtering, and the individual components were all matured at the distilleries of origin, which unfortunately remain unknown to this day.  As an aside the Weiron seems to be turning into its own little lineup, as various other editions are being issued (like some Caroni and Nicaragua single cask, fullproof expressions).  Beyond that, there’s not much to tell you, not even the outturn, or the age of the bits and pieces; and there’s something about the bottle’s stark presentational ethos that suggests the Swedes felt that Velier obviously had far too much flower-child frippery and ridiculous ostentation in their overlabelled and overdecorated bottles.  Either that or they’re channelling Ikea, who knows?

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission

When smelled, one can instantly sense some pot still action going on here, as evidenced by the swiftly fading paint thinner and shoe polish aromas, although it didn’t hang around long enough to be a core component of the nose.  Still, there was cardboard, cream cheese, molasses and crispy crackers, both sweet and salt at the same time in a very nice balance.  It was manageably spicy, and took its own sweet time getting to the point, and after some minutes, darker fruit began to emerge, caramel, raisins, together with some nuttiness and leather, and perhaps a touch of toffee and vanilla, all bound together by an undercurrent of lemon peel and faint funkiness that pointed to the Jamaican more than any kind of Bajan influence.

It was on the palate that it came into its own and made more of a statement.  Warm and smooth, with a firm little burn for a 50% rum, and amazingly well assembled.  Cherries, olives, cumin, cardamom, brown sugar were the initial flavours, tied up in a bow with some very faint citrus and licorice.  With water the citrus disappeared, replaced by a good aged cheddar and black bread, more raisins, bananas, plus some herbal background of fennel and rosemary, and closing off with a lovely medium-long finish of fruit, more anise and sharper oaky tannins.  Overall, I had to admit, this wasn’t bad at all, and just wish I knew more about it – Steve James, who loved the rum and sent me the sample, felt it set a new benchmark for multi-island blended hooch, and though I was not quite as enraptured as he was, even I have to admit there was a lot of really good stuff going on here, and at its price point it’s well worth it.

Mostly these days I’m at that stage in my rum journey where blends don’t do much for me as they once did, and I want and prefer the product of a single distillery, bottled as is.  For example, I think the 2007 single-still expressions from DDL are better than their aged blends, and efforts to marry off disparate profiles like Oceans Distillery did with their Atlantic edition, or Amrut with their Two Indies didn’t entirely work for me (perhaps the Black Tot is the exception that proves the rule).  For a profile as distinct as Jamaica to be mixed up with a Bajan (and whatever the additional piece(s) was/were) the resultant has to be damned good to get my vote and my score.  Still, all that aside, in this particular case the lack of information works for the rum rather than against it, because it forces one to walk in blind without preconceptions and simply try what’s on offer.  On that basis alone, then, I’d say the Swedes have done a pretty good job at creating a fascinating synthesis of various countries’ rums, and produced something of their own whose moniker of “Super Premium” may be more hope than reality and which may not be greater than the sum of its parts…but is not necessarily less than those either.

(85/100)

Apr 102017
 

#355

Back in 2015 I wrote about the Ron Maja 12 year old rum which purported to be from El Salvador based on the place of origin of the family behind it, but really wasn’t when one considered the location of the production process.  Here’s another one from that country, which earns its geographical appellation somewhat more, though overall, there isn’t much more to it than its cousin.

The dark gold Cihuatán is a molasses-based 40% Salvadorean rum aged in white oak ex-bourbon barrels, with the base distillate going into the 5-layer solera system in 2004 for eight years – that does not make it an eight year old rum, of course, just a rum with components up to eight years old inside it.  It is made by Licorera Cihuatan, itself a subsidiary of Ingenio La Cabaña, one of the larger sugar concerns in the country (it was established in around 1920).  It is a diversified company located north of San Salvador, and its main business is based on a sugar cane plantation, a sugar mill and a modern alcohol plant (built in 1999) with a multi-column still that produces various alcohols and liqueurs for both the leisure and industrial market.  Sometime in the early 2000s the company wanted to ride the wave of rum’s resurgence as a premium drink and initiated their own brand, consulting with Luis Ayala (publisher of Got Rum? magazine) in the process.  What came out the other end and hit the shelves in 2015 — mostly locally and in Europe — was this rum, which adheres to all the markers of a mid-tier solera without trying to reinvent the wheel.

I’m not making a case for there to be something fantastically original about any new rum to hit the market, of course, and one cannot expect that from a solera in any case.  Yet even by those standards, this was a remarkably quiet rum. There were no out-of-left-field smells emanating from the glass after the initial pour.  No arrogant or aggressive fumes of pungency and power.  No cask-strength olfactory bruising, simply a warm nose redolent of cherries, plums, some light florals, a touch of leather and somewhat of an excess of vanilla; plus, after some minutes, some oaken tannins. Nothing to write home about – rather simple, actually.

That impression continued with the taste, mild and pleasant though it was – initially it was simply too sweet, and the vanilla was too much in the forefront.  Some cocoa powder, coffee grounds stayed in the background, leaving the vanilla to duke it out with cherries and more plums, sugar cane sap and a touch of citrus, however indistinct it might have been.  As I’ve remarked on several soleras before now, they tend to be more sweet than the norm, and much lighter, though with a good one there’s always some edge to the experience, with sharper citrus and fruity notes that ameliorate the saccharine.  Here this was not the case, and even with water not much more could be picked it out, and so it all led to a soft and warm exit, with some floral notes rejoining the vanilla party.

All right, so I appreciate that it’s a solera (with all that this implies) and it may have some eight year old in it, and it may be part of the revival of rum production in the country (a laudable effort, as I remarked in a comment on the Maja).  But for me it needs some more work. Vanilla too much, sweet could be toned down, the overall gentleness could maybe be tarted up a touch.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine and easy rum with a decent, if uncomplicated palate – it reminds me of the Travellers rums, or Panamanians in general, or of a low rent Panamonte. Which might be why it didn’t make any kind of worldwide splash outside the festival and awards circuit.

In the first three years or so of reviewing rums, I started out with the commonly available, easygoing forty percent rums, which included quite a few soleras, and back then I liked them quite a bit.  Nowadays I think they’re good for lovers of easier fare (or of Spanish style rons) who either can’t get or simply don’t like rums of cask strength aggressiveness.  On that basis, this one works fine…if without flair. If you want a relaxing drink to have around a campfire somewhere, or to unwind after a bad day at the office, a soft, relatively uncomplex rum like this would be just right.  That may be why – much like with the Maja — I’ll take one if offered, but would prefer to save my dinero for its slightly older cousin, the 12 year solera when it comes out.

(80/100)

Other notes

  • The title Cihuatán comes from the name of an ancient Mayan settlement – it’s an archaeological site now — that once existed very close to where the distillery is currently located.  It translates into “next to the woman”, referring to a mountain nearby which looks like a sleeping woman in silhouette
  • The glyph on the label represents Tlaloc, the Mayan god of water
  • The 12 year solera variation, if also made from the 2004 distillate, should be widely available from 2017. My fellow rum chum Paul Senft of RumJourney told me that is is currently available in the USA and the company later confirmed that it is for sale in Europe and El Salvador as well.
  • After I sent some inquiries their way, Cihuatán responded with the following notes: small quantities of brown sugar from their mill are added to the batches in order to maintain consistency on an as-required basis (not as part of a deliberate sweetening strategy); multi-column still, not single as I had originally written (post updated for this fact); and they are working on limited single-barrel editions to be issued in the future.
Apr 062017
 

#354

Amrut, that Bangalore company which makes the Old Port rum I tried many years ago, as well as whiskies many swoon over, is no stranger to making rums, but their marketing effort is primarily aimed at the subcontinent itself, and perhaps other parts of Asia (maybe they’re chasing Old Monk, which is supposedly the #1 rum in India).  There’s not much of a range (five rums in all), and I rarely saw any of them in Canada – this one was bought in Europe.  Given that this particular rum is a blend of – get this! – Jamaican, Bajan, Guyanese and Indian pot-still rum, one can perhaps be forgiven for asking whether they’re going in the direction of Ocean’s Atlantic Rum; and as far as I was concerned that one suffered from overreach.  But at least we know where the “Two Indies” moniker derives, if nothing else.

It’s also worth commenting on one thing: the Indian component of the rum is supposedly a pot still originating distillate based on jaggery, which is a natural sweetener made from sugar cane…whose by-product is molasses so one wonders why not just go there and have done, but never mind.  The issues (not problems) we have are two fold: firstly, jaggery is actually made from either sugar cane or the date palm, so I’m unsure of which variation is in use here (since sugar cane jaggery is cheaper, I’m putting my money there); secondly, assuming the jaggery is from cane, it is in effect a reduced version of sugar cane juice – a syrup – what we in the West Indies and parts of South America sometimes refer to as “honey”. So in effect there’s nothing particularly special about the matter except that its source product is made in Asia and widely known there.  And, of course, the marketing, since it suggests a divergence and distinction from more familiar terms.

Anyway, all this preamble leads inevitably to the question of whether that basic ingredient lends a difference to the profile, the way for example a “maple syrup rum” would (and yes, there is such an abomination). I don’t really think so – the difference in taste and smell I noted seemed to be more a product of the entire geographical environment, the way a Bundie is linked to Australia, and Dzama is Madagascar and Ryoma is Japanese.  I’m not saying I could necessarily taste it blind and know it was either from India in general or Amrut in particular – but there were differences from more traditional Caribbean or Latin American rums with which we have greater experience

Consider first how it smelled.  The nose began by presenting a sort of lush fruitiness that spilled over into over-ripe, almost spoiled mangoes, persimmons and sweet tropical fruit and kiwi, something also akin to those cloying yellow-orange cashews the snacking nuts are made from (not those with the stones inside).  In the background there lurked caramel and vanilla, some cloying sweet and also breakfast spices (cloves and maybe nutmeg mostly, though very light) just as the Old Monk had; and overall, the aromas were heavy and (paradoxically enough) not all that easy to pick out – perhaps that was because of the inoffensive 42.8% ABV it was bottled at.

I liked the taste a lot better, though that queer heaviness persisted through what ended up as a much clearer rum than I had expected.  So, bananas, more of the mangoes and cashews, honey, papayas, and the spices.  Adding some water released some chocolate and coffee, nutmeg, more vanilla and caramel, maybe some light molasses, some licorice, a nice twist of citrus rind, which I liked – it provided an edge that was sorely needed.  Finish was soft and quick, reasonably clean and warm, but was mostly the spices and caramel than anything else.

Reading around doing the usual research (and there is really not very much to go on so I have an outstanding email and a FB message sent out to them) suggests there are no artificial flavours included: but I dunno, that profile is quite different, and the breakfast spices are evident, so I gotta wonder about that; and the overall mouthfeel does suggest some sugar added (no proof on my side, though).  This doesn’t sink the drink, but it does make for an unusual  experience.  You’re not getting any Jamaican funk, Guyanese wooden stills or easier Bajans, nor any of that off-the-wall madness of an unaged white popskull.  It is simply what it is, in its own unique way.

On balance, a decent enough drink. I liked it just fine, though without any kind of rabid enthusiasm – it was just from somewhere new, that’s all. You could drink it neat, no issues. Personally I thought the flavours were a mite too heavy (it stopped just short of being cloying) and meshed rather clumsily in a way that edged towards a muddle rather than something clearer and more distinct that would have succeeded better.  Much like the Tanduay, Mekhong, Tuzemak, Bundie or even the Don Papa rums, I suspect it is made based on a local conception of rum, and is for local palates.  Add to that the terroire concept and you can see why it tastes so off-base to one weaned on Caribbean tipple.  There’s a subtle difference from any of the British West Indian rums I’ve tried over the years, and though the Two Indies is a combo of several nations’ rums, I can’t separate the constituents and tell you with assurance, “Oh yeah, this comes from Foursquare” or “That’s Hampden” or even “PM!”  (and no, I don’t know whether these were the constituents).

So, they have used jaggery rather than molasses to make it, blended their way around a mishmash of profiles, and while I liked it and was intrigued, I didn’t believe all that was really needed and may even have made it less than its potential.  In Guyanese creole, when we see that kind of thing showing itself off as an artistic blending choice we usually smile, grunt “jiggery-pokery” and then shrug and fill another tumbler.  That pretty much sums things up for me, so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a compliment or not.

(82/100)

Other notes

The rum makes no mention of its age, and nothing I’ve unearthed speaks to it.  That was also part of my email to Amrut, so this post will likely be updated once I get a response.

Apr 042017
 

#353

Particular attention should be paid to the “small cask” moniker in the title here, because what it means is that this sterling and near-outstanding little rum was matured in small French Limousin oak casks called “octaves” that hold fifty-five liters, not a couple hundred or more as in the “standard” (and it not a single cask, by the way).  Combine both the tropical maturation and the smaller cask size, and what we can expect with such a product, then, is a rum of some intensity of flavour.  Which it is, and it delivers, in spades.  In the blind tasting with a bunch of other Martinique and Guadeloupe agricoles — Dillon 12 YO 45%, Bielle 2007 7 YO 57.3%, Rhum Rhum Liberation 2015 Integrale and another six (or was that seven?) – this one edged them all out by just a smidgen and that’s quite an achievement when you consider what it was being rated against.

If you feel these remarks are unjustifiably over-enthusiastic, feel free to dive right in and just smell this luscious 46% copper-amber coloured agricole.  It was light and flowery, much more so than any of the others; acetones and nail polish mingled happily with the sweet vanilla and chocolaty-coffee aromas of a busy day at the confectioner’s, and there were creamy scents of milk chocolate, truffles, cocoa, before these bowed and took their place at the rear, allowing gently tart fruity notes to edge forward – red currants, red guavas, freshly cut apples, sugar cane sap and pears for the most part.  These all emerged gradually and in no way interfered with each other, combining to produce a very aromatic, if gentle, nose — warmly supportive rather than bitingly sarcastic, so to speak.

It was also quite excellent to taste.  It had a lovely mélange of gapes, nutmeg and cinnamon to start off with and then presented bananas and coconut, vanilla ice cream and some caramel; gradually a robust background of salty cheddar, ginger, orange peel became more noticeable.  Here the oak became quite distinct, though thankfully not entirely overwhelming – it was enough to make itself known with emphasis, that’s all, and perhaps even that might be a whiff too much.  With water florals and ripe apples and pears and grapes again, and edging around it all was a nice burnt sugar taste that reminded me of sugar cane fields set to flame in the cutting season (something like the Clement Tres Vieux XO).  The finish was all right, somewhat short, but warm and comfortable, with light cider, chocolate and creamy notes and a touch of brine.

All in all, a really good dram – I really enjoyed this one.  The balance of tastes matched the available strength pretty well and neither overcompensated for flaws in the other.  I’m not much of a whisky drinker (to the annoyance of many), but there was something quite bourbon-y about the HSE Small Cask – maybe I should try a few more of those just to see how the comparison holds up.  Probably not – there are far too many rums and rhums out there I haven’t tried yet, and products like this one are a good reason to keep up the voyage of discovery.  So why pay extra coin for whisky when rums are so much cheaper and often just as good (I always say better) in quality, right?

For those who are into the details, the rum is an AOC-certified Martinique rhum made from cane juice, distilled on a creole still in October 2004, bottled November 2013 (I bought mine in early 2016), and nine years old. Unfortunately there is no detail regarding the outturn, though my bottle was numbered #2578, so feel free to guess away.  With numbers like that, it would appear that there are still many more bottles available – this is not one of those sixty-bottle runs that you can’t get ten days after it hits the market: and that’s all to the good, because even at its price and for a scrawny 500ml, it’s a great-tasting rhum, and though it’s “only” 46%, you’re getting quite a little pocket-Hercules of taste in your glass when you try it and does the brand no dishonour whatsoever.

(87.5/100)

Other notes

Some background notes on Habitation St. Etienne  can be found on the review for the HSE 2007 Millesime issued with/by la Confrerie du Rhum – that one was also very good.

Apr 012017
 

#352

After the near riot caused by the emergence of the Caputo 1973 last year, when (my distant relative) Ruminsky van Drunkenberg was mobbed in Berlin by the horde of reviewers demanding their samples (local police nearly had to declare a state of emergency), they lapsed into silence, and none of them published any review after the fact.  It was only after sampling it myself that I understood the reason for their malfunction: they weren’t being reticent, they weren’t holding off out of some semblance of courtesy — they were recovering from the near catatonic shock of actually having tried it; and spending much of the subsequent months on bended knees in a sort of come-to-Jesus state of thankfulness at surviving.  Henrik of RumCorner, after uncoiling his knotted intestines, literally had to take a sabbatical from rum reviewing, so traumatic was his encounter; my buddy the RumHowler poured his down the sink and local geologists thought a new oil sands block had been found; Sir Scrotimus was still weakly sneering that the Mount Gay XO was miles ahead of this thing as he was being wheeled into the local ER; Cyril snorted that his Port Fagnant 1972 was far better, threw his sample away, and delved hurriedly into some aged Appletons to cleanse his palate, Master Quill fled back to reviewing malt whiskies with almost indecent haste, and the Cocktail Wonk immediately booked himself on a recovery cruise (while pretending to be in Spain). Now I know why.

Parsing the above, it was clear that their opinions of the Caputo 1973 Old Demerara Rum were all negative. And after trying it myself, I can only agree: it is the vilest, nastiest, filthiest oak-infused liquid crap anyone had ever had the courage (or madness) to bottle.  It makes the Kraken and the Don Papa appear to be brilliant models of premium-rum assembly in comparison. I thought Ruminsky was kidding when he related legends I took to be apocryphal – such as the barrels having Bata slippers, decomposing rats, half an old suit and a transistor radio as part of the blend – but now I honestly believe that not only was this the unvarnished truth, but he was actually understating the matter.  No wonder Cadenhead and Lamb’s and Gordon & MacPhail (“We need to give our rums some character – oh, this looks interesting…WTF???”) never acknowledged any of this swill in their own blends.

Readers might think I’m kidding, no? “Oh yeah buddy, if that’s the case how come you’re still churning out overlong crap reviews week in and week out?” I can hear you say. Fair question. Maybe it’s a matter of having an immune system armed with heavy weaponry developed by years of swimming in muddy rivers and trenches only marginally purer than this rum, in the backdams of three continents.  Or the sheer raft of unspeakable hooch I sample and drink, the reviews for which never make it into print.  That’s toughened me up some, sure. Truly, however, nothing prepared me for the shudderingly awful mess that was this rum.

Inky and dark as the inside of a black cat in a coal mine at midnight, bottled at a massive 69%, the rum was made around 1973 and therefore had an age higher than my IQ.  In a sense of utterly misguided optimism, I poured it into my glass and sniffed it without any precautions, lost all sense of time and woke up the following week in Bangkok.  It landed on my defenseless nose like an oversized artillery shell, producing a hurricane-force gale of stink, all of it horrible beyond description. My first thought upon recovering my diminished mental capacity was that it smelled like vomit from a wet mutt that had just eaten rancid curry goat and rotten mangos thrown up by another wet mutt. I suppose I could tell you there was some vanilla and molasses, but I’d be lying, since all of it was overlaid with the feral stench of a stale chamberpot emptied into a dunder pit, with perhaps some pine-scented dishwashing liquid dripped in to make it palatable. And a ripe flatus.

Last eight years or so, it’s been a point of pride for me to taste every rum that crosses my path so you don’t have to, but after that nose, here’s one time when that principle took a beating.  Somehow I found the strength to keep going.  Big mistake.  Huge.  It was molasses transmogrified into gunk, and looked like a gremlin — what’s left of it – after being exposed to sunlight too long. It was thick, mean, strong, and tasted of medicine and mud with a sprinkling of molasses and spoiled gray oranges.  I involuntarily farted and the apartment block had to be evacuated and the HAZMAT team called in (this interrupted my tasting for another week). Frankly, it’s barely a rum at all, because it seemed to be doing triple duty as a massive ethanol (??) delivery system of unparalleled badness, as well as an all-purpose rust remover and emergency fuel for the Humvee parked outside, channeling the powerful and blunderingly pointlessness of a stoned elephant. I would have made more notes, was just too busy trying to untangle my insides from my backbone, and therefore never got around to writing about the finish, sorry. At the end, once the sample was done, I removed tongue and glottis from my head and cleaned them in the kitchen sink with some Marienburg 90%, because nothing else on hand short of industrial-strength factory cleanser could remove that foul taste from either.

F**k – this is a ghastly rum.  There are insufficient negatives even in my vocabulary to describe the inky swill that nobody ever thought could ever be made. If you could find it you could not afford it, and if you could afford it, the seller would never tell you where it was, and if you could find it and afford it, you’d be begging the next guy in line to take it off your hands after the first sniff.  Perhaps it was no accident that it came from a single barrel, long forgotten.

Oh yes, the background: for those unwilling to wade through a epic history of the distillery of origin, the Heisenberg estate is an abandoned Guyanese sugar plantation that went belly-up in the early 1970s and has long since returned to the jungle – it used to be located west of Enmore and east of Port Mourant, and owned by one Count Drinkel van Rumski zum Smirnoff hailing from what was once Prussia. The miniscule estate, founded in the 1800s, was so small that at best it produced a few tons of sugar cane a year, and remained so insignificant that all histories of Guyana routinely ignore it to this day — even Marco of Barrel Aged Mind missed it in his magisterial survey of all the country’s plantations.  An old tome my mother found many years ago called “Schomburck’s Travels in Guiana” dismissed it contemptuously with one sentence: “The Heisenberg estate in Guiana provides no distillate worthy of the name – what they make is vile and tastes of horse manure and we do not deign to speak further of it.”

One report about the Caputo source barrel said that once it was in DDL’s warehouse being used as a table for cleaning rags, another say it was hidden in plain sight, disguised as a toilet Luca carved for himself and sat on whenever he went to Genoa, after it had made its way there.  However, all sources agree that one of the Italian relatives of D.B.Cooper (the Italian corruption of the name became Caputo) purloined the massively aged cask, which, by the time it decanted, yielded just the one bottle.  He in turn sold it (gratefully, I’m sure), to young Ruminsky, who pleaded with me to take it away. Please don’t ask me why I bothered.

Looking back, then, this overlong review can be summarized (for all those who never tried any but wanted to), by simply saying it’s bottom-of-the-barrel crap.  Actually, it’s so far beneath the barrel that maybe it’s unfair to use the words “crap” and “barrel” in the same sentence since it has evidently gone under the barrel, hit rock bottom and started to dig.  I’ll never share it, and would dispose of the thing if I wasn’t so afraid it might breed some kind of supercroc in the sewers where it belongs.  But I’ll tell you one use for it, and am willing to donate what’s left to that purpose.  You want to make some lowlife criminals or enemies of democracy talk, roll over on their compadres, spill their guts?  Feed them a sample of this.  Just a smidgen. Five minutes later, I guarantee you they’ll be singing like sopranos at Carnegie Hall…which is pretty much what all us reviewers have been doing since last October.

(-50/100)

Mar 282017
 

One of Velier’s initial expressions, and somewhat of an exception to their rule of excellence.

#351

The amber-coloured Velier La Bonne Intention (LBI) Old Demerara Rum 1985 15 year old rum is not for everyone, and is rather more an artifact than a must-have. For aficionados who are used to the fullproof bruisers with which Luca made his bones, it is more a historical relic than truly representative of his ideas, very much as the Enmore 1987 was (perhaps that’s because both rums were bottled by Breitenstein in Holland in 2000 and imported by Velier, so it’s possible that Luca had somewhat less input into the final product than he subsequently did once he took over his own bottlings). For the curious rum drinkers moving up the scale of rums and seeking an introduction to a softer Velier product (“what’s all the damned fuss about this company, anyway?” is the usual irritated question), it might be worth a try, though with its rarity these days it’s unlikely anyone will ever find it outside of eBay.  And for those who despise adulteration in any form, it’s definitely a pass, unless one likes to take down the Big Guy by gleefully pointing out a rare misstep.

I make these points not to diss Velier – they’ve more than moved past this kind of milquetoast — merely to provide the background for what the rum is – an earlier essay in the craft, before the pure fullproof philosophy had matured into its current form.  The stats tell the tale: for one, the rum is bottled at a mild 40%, and for another it has been graded at around 12g/L of additives (presumed to be sugar).  So in that sense it’s much more like a regular, pre-renaissance indie bottling from Ago than any of the comets that lit up the skies of the rumiverse in the years that followed.

Even tasting it blind (which I did, with other Veliers as controls), you could sort of sense there was something off about it, something less than what we have become accustomed to.  For example, it was so light and clear on the nose to make me wonder if my sample had gotten mislabeled and there was an agricole in the glass. That thought was dispelled when light fruits, grapes, caramel, nougat and not-very-tart yoghurt scents emerged, which slowly deepened into a crème brulee and white toblerone over time, with perhaps some coffee. Overall, nothing particularly over-the-top, and although the underlying quality was there, idling gently, it never engaged with any kind of force or impact.

Still, the taste wasn’t bad for a rum this dialed down – it simply took time (and effort) to nail down the specifics.  For the most part it was warm and light, with gentle, watery fruits – kiwi, papaya, ripe apples without any sharp, tart edges, some whipped cream, quite nice.  With water not much that was new came out – some vanilla and oak, coffee, and that was pretty much it, propelling the entire affair languidly towards a short, light finish with some weak cider, a latte, and an additional flirt or two of the fruitiness.  I didn’t feel the added sugar was particularly noticeable in its impact, unless it was to smoothen things out. Frankly, the only thing to get excited about here was that it was one of the first ones from the company, so anyone who gets a bottle certainly has some bragging rights on that score.

LBI – La Bonne Intention – is a sugar plantation on the East Coast of the Demerara river, a short drive from Georgetown, and I have many fond memories of Sunday mornings spent swimming in the GUYSUCO Sports Club pool there with my brother in the early 1980s.  The old coffey still at LBI was long gone by that time (Marco in his seminal essay on the plantations of British Guiana notes it as being decommissioned around 1960 as part of Booker’s rationalization strategy), and as far as we can speculate, this rum likely derived from a Savalle column still, possibly the one from Uitvlugt. However, the resemblances between various Uitvlugt expressions and this rum are almost nonexistent as far as I’m concerned, and it should be considered on its own.

Nearly two decades after this came to market, to malign Velier is deemed by some to be apostasy of near burn-at-the-stake proportions, but come on, even Luca had to start somewhere, muck around a little, fall over his own feet once or twice (which is why these days, it’s said – always with a smile — he uses only taxis). One long-ago-made, less-than-stellar rum in an oevre with so many masterpieces is hardly enough to either define the brand or sink those accomplishments that were achieved in subsequent years.  So, as I said, it’s merely a lesser effort, an earlier issue, probably not something to sell the left kidney for. And if the additives and relative mildness of the rum turn you off of Velier as a whole and make you sneer at the encomiums they got from all points of the compass since 2012, well, there’s tons of other releases by the company that show the lesson had been learnt.  Dip your toes in anywhere – I’m sure you’ll find one.

(80/100)

Other Notes

Big hat-tip to Cyril of DuRhum, who spotted me the sample of this oldie from the same source as his own review, as well as the 1998 version which I’ll probably look at soon.  Note that he really didn’t like this one much, and for many of the same reasons.

Mar 262017
 

#350

The Savanna Millésime 2006 High Ester Rum from Réunion (or HERR, as it is labelled) is a steroid-infused Guadeloupe rum mixing it up with a Caroni and a Bajan. It may the closest one will ever come to one of Worthy Park or Hampden’s Jamaican taste bombs without buying one, betters them in sheer olfactory badassery and is possibly one of the best of its kind currently in production, or the craziest.  It’s very likely that once you try it you’ll wonder where it was hiding all this time. It emphatically puts Réunion on the map of must-have rum producing nations with not just flair, but with the resounding thump of a falling seacan.

Just to set the background.  I had bought the Savanna Rhum Traditonnel Vieux 2000 “Intense” 7 year old back in April 2016 in Paris, and when I finally wrote about it, remarked on the way it was interesting and tasty and seemed to channel a good Guadeloupe rum in that it walked a fine line between molasses based product and an agricole.  Purely on the strength of that positive experience, I sprung for the HERR, and made some notes to get some of the other “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” Lontan series from Savanna as well (see “other notes”, below).  The molasses-based HERR was distilled in 2006, aged for ten years in ex-cognac casks, bottled at a hefty 63.8% in 2016, bottle #101 of 686, and released for the 60th Anniversary of the Parisian liquor emporium La Maison du Whisky.

Anyway, after that initial enjoyable dustup with the “Intense”, I was quite enthusiastic, and wasn’t disappointed. Immediately upon pouring the golden-amber liquid into my glass, the aromas billowed out, and what aromas they were, proceeding with heedless, almost hectic pungency – caramel, leather, some tar, smoke and molasses to start off with, followed with sharper notes of vanilla, dark dried fruit, raisins and prunes and dates.  It had an abundance, a reckless, riotous profusion of flavours, so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking that not only did Savanna throw in the kitchen sink in making it, but for good measure they included the rest of the kitchen, half the pantry and some of the plumbing as well.  Even the back end of the nose, with some overripe bananas and vegetables starting to go off, and a very surprising vein of sweet bubble-gum, did nothing to seriously detract from the experience; and if I were to say anything negative about it, it was that perhaps at 63.8% the rum may just have been a shade over-spicy.

Still, whatever reservations I may have had did not extend much further than that, and when I tasted it, I was nearly bowled over.  My God but this thing was rich…fruity and tasty to a fault. Almost 64% of proof, and yet it was warm, not hot, easy and solid on the tongue, and once again — like its cousin — weaving between agricole and molasses rums in fine style.  There was molasses, a trace of anise, a little coffee, vanilla and some leather to open the party; and this was followed by green apples, grapes, hard yellow mangoes, olives, more raisins, prunes, peaches and yes, that strawberry bubble-gum as well.  I mean, it was almost like a one-stop shop of all the hits that make rum my favourite drink; and it lasted for a long long time, closing with a suitably epic, somewhat dry finish of commendable duration which perhaps added little that was new, but which summed up all the preceding notes of nose and palate with warmth and heat and good memories.  There was simply so much going on here that several subsequent tastings were almost mandated, and I regret none of them (and neither did Grandma Caner, who was persuaded to try some).  It presented as enormously crisp and distinct and it’s unlikely to be confused with any other rum I’ve ever tasted.

Just as an (irrelevant) aside, I was so struck with the kaleidoscopic flavours bursting out of the thing that I let the sample remain in my glass for a full four days (which is likely four days more than anyone else ever will) and observed it ascending to the heights before plunging into a chaotic maelstrom I’m somewhat at odds to explain.  But one thing is clear – if the sharp fruitiness of unrestrained rutting esters is your thing, then you may just agree with me that the rum is worth a try, not just once, but several times and may only be bettered by the Lontan 2004 12 year old 64.2% made by the same company.

I said in the opening remarks that it might be the best of its kind currently in production, or one of the craziest.  I believe that anyone who tries it will marvel at the explosive panoply of flavours while perhaps recognizing those off-putting notes which jar somewhat with what one expects a rum to possess.  Having read of my experience, I leave it to you to decide which side of the divide you fall on.  The HERR is not so much polarizing as unique, and it demands that you accept it as it is, warts and everything, on its own terms or not at all.  If you do, I somehow doubt you’ll be disappointed, and may just spend a few days playing around with it, wondering what that last smidgen of flavour actually was. Sort of like I did.

(88/100)

Other notes

Personal encomiums and opinions apart, I should inject a note of caution.  When tried in conjunction to the muskier, deeper Demeraras, HERR’s relative thinness becomes more apparent.  Too, after some hours, that vein of bubble-gum sweet also takes on a dominance that can be off-putting to those preferring darker tastes in their rums, though such a whinge would not disqualify it from any rum lover’s shelf.  But the chaos I noted earlier comes after you let it sit for the aforementioned few days.  By the fourth day the rum becomes sharp, biting, and almost vinegary, and while one can still get the smorgasbord of fruitiness which is the source of its exceptionalism, it is no longer feels like the same rum one started with.  Pouring a fresh sample right next to it on that day showed me the metamorphosis, and I believe that oxidation is something to beware of for any opened but long-untouched bottle.

As it turned out, an amazingly generous aficionado by the name of Nico Rumlover (long may his glass remain full) sent me not one or two additional Savanna samples, but eight more, just so that I could give them a shot…so look for those write-ups in the months to come.  Along with several other rums and rhums, I used all of them (and the Intense) as comparators for this review.

Historical distillery notes can be found in the Makers section for those whose interests run that way.

Rum Nation looks to be releasing a Savanna 12 YO at 59.5% sometime this year.

 

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