May 252013
 

D7K_1864

Offbeat Panamanian rum which makes a virtue out being different. People will like it or hate it for the same reasons. I come down on the side of the former.

(#164. 85/100)

***

There’s something about Panamanian rums I really like. They are not as heavy and dark and growly as Demerara rums, nor as occasionally oaky and citrus-laden as the Jamaicans, or for that matter as soft and plummy and banana-like as I’ve often noted in the Bajans. You would never imagine a Panama rum being vulgar, overbearing or obnoxious, like a cinema-goer behind you who chucks your seat, won’t shut up and then ostentatiously uses his cellphone the whole friggin’ time — just well put-together, complex and riding the fine line between too much and not enough. I think of them as the little bear in Goldilocks…whatever they come out as, it’s pretty much always just right.

A.D. Rattray, those zen like purveyors of simplicity, naturally don’t pay much attention to that, perhaps taking their lead from Cadenhead and their Spartan distillation and ageing ethos. They took rum from the Don Jose distillery in Panama (largest in the country, and home of the Varela Hermanos boys who made the Abuelos), aged it for twelve years, and then didn’t muck about with chill filtration or adding anything, just gave you whatever came out the other end.

This methodology had some disconcerting effects on the dark gold, 46% ABV finished product I was tasting here (bottle #344 from Cask #1). For one thing, the nose was quite dissimilar to most other Panamanians I’ve had thus far, up to and including the fantastic Rum Nation Panama 21 – much lighter, almost like an agricole for starters. I really had to work at this one to dissect it: bananas, strawberries, orange peel and bananas, with some sting and bite at the tail end, which I pretty much expected from a 46% rum, so no harm there. Yet there were also some dissonant notes – a faint whiff of petrol, turpentine, light perfume (I’m not making this up, seriously!). Almost no caramel or molasses scents at all. Mary, who was sampling this baby with me, opined that it reminded her of a wet baseball glove, which I concede may have been reaching just a bit. But there’s no denying that this was quite an original nose for a rum – if it had been heavier, perhaps more pungent, I think I would have liked it even more.

Things opened up some on the taste, however, mitigating some of my concerns. Medium bodied, medium sweet, medium spicy (can’t get away from that 46%, after all) — it presented a certain creaminess on the tongue, just enough. It opened into a licorice background, through which meandered delicate woody notes, white chocolate and butter (some brininess there — again, not enough to turn me off just sufficient to be noticeable). Gradually the rum blossomed out with hesitant caramel, vanilla and molasses tastes, so shy that I remarked to Mary that perhaps this was a rum aged in much-used, almost-dead oaken casks with not much piss and vinegar left in them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the taste – it was better than the nose – but it really upended most of my expectations, perhaps because it had aspects much more commonly suggested by agricoles instead of Panamanians. Fade was as dry and heated as a middle eastern desert, and lacking any kind of distinctive closing scents of its own, beyond some chocolate, light smokiness and leather.

D3S_5945

Did I like it? Yup, quite a bit. Not as much as I was expecting, but I must confess to appreciating its sheer rawness, its unusual-ness. The ADR Panama rum was unlike the cheerful youth and sprightliness evinced by the Abuelo 7, and couldn’t hold a candle against the Rum Nation Panama 21, though it scored better than the Panama 18, also made by Rum Nation. I think this kind of underblending (is there such a word?) must be deliberate, because surely budgetary concerns were not an issue at ADR, who appear to have a dour agnosticism regarding profit margins in some of their rums, and just go ahead and make what they feel like on any given day, so long as it tastes real good.

Is the rum for young men and college students looking for a fast bender? Is it for us older farts approaching our sell-by dates? New entrants to the rum-appreciation game? Not at all. It’s for anyone who still has a sense of wonder and a feeling for blending style. This rum contains elements that have been thought out (or ignored) and has surprises right to the finish. In its own crazy way, it’s actually quite exhilarating (yeah, and strange). Sipping it for the fourth time, trying to make up my mind, I realized the I needed this sharp left turn to make me understand the differing directions a product could go – the ADR Panamanian Rum from Don Jose has been created and imagined as a new sensory location for us to inhabit. It’s a hell of a rum. It adds lustre to our notions of what can be made, by a guy who knows his stuff, from nothing but the harvested stalks of an oversized grass.

 

 

 

Mar 302013
 

D3S_4314

(#149. 83.5/100)

***

To date, the only A.D. Rattray rum I’ve tried was the excellent Caroni 1997, which was quite impressive, if no longer readily available. To this is now added their Barbados 9 year old, also bottled at 46%, non chill filtered, with exactly zero additives, very much in line with the puritan, zen-like production ethic that so characterizes, oh, Cadenhead. This one was taken from a single barrel for the likker establishment “Wine & Beyond” in Edmonton (they have a few others as well, but my slender purse ran out and my wife was watching).

I must say that after decanting this honey-hay-blonde rum into the glass, my first thought on nosing it was a rather startled “This smells like Thai food.” No, really. Sweet, and salty, with faint fruity and vegetal notes, and quite dry at first blush. I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it, but then it kinda won me over, because the aromas morphed into a herbal, burnt lemon-grass smell, which then stopped being pissy, and comfortably settled into cherries, fleshy apricots just on the edge of too ripe, and a subtle light honey. It was like breaking in a new armchair that was too stiff at the outset, but then conformed to my buttprint after I had reposed in it for a while.

This medium bodied rum was initially spicy, sharp – following on from the nose, and probably due to the 46% ABV bottling strength – as well as dry. It rewarded some time for it to have those alcohol fumes to burn off, and then the rather stern, starch-stiff lead-in flowed into a warm and fuzzy embrace, as if a nun stooped to hug me and it became a teddy bear. Really, it followed on from the nose like Mary’s little lamb (if not so gentle) – those sweet/salt notes were there again, followed by a smoky background, and then a softer, creamier taste, quite pleasing, of soft white guavas and bananas. The palate then took me by the hand and sat me down with a flourish of burnt sugar – the grassy hints from the nose were as gone as yesterday’s news. And it all segued into a long and warm and dry finish, with final hints of leather, smoke and caramel.

D3S_4321

Note the difference with the Coruba 12 year old “Cigar” I looked at not too long ago. In that product, the lightness, the smokiness, the overall mouthfeel and exit were simply not that pleasant for a rum so aged – A.D.Rattray have managed to take a younger rum and keep the character while losing the bitchiness. Granted the source stock was from two separate islands with different distillation methodologies and starting points, yet to my mind the ADR Barbados 9 year old succeeded in combining its core elements in a way that the Jamaican product did not.

FourSquare distillery is one of three or four rum producers left in Barbados – the others are Mount Gay (of course), Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey. The former is something of the big guy on the block, the last several orders smaller…FourSquare, part of R.L.Seale & Co and owned and managed by Sir David Seale, sits somewhere in the middle (a good link on the MoR which describes it, is here). They also make the Doorley’s line, with which I have always been unimpressed, but fair is fair: I have not seen enough of their products to make any kind of generalized statements about them.

D3S_4317

Summing up: this rum is a spirit meant for those who know what they like, and have slept around a bit in the caramel boudoirs of the rum tasting world. Please don’t take offense if I remark that it should not be the first rum you ever try. I consider it to be a rum very much in the Renegade vein – limited, distinct, with a character and a profile very much its own, that makes no attempt to hew to any kind of generalized “let’s see how many people we can please” philosophy. It’s too early for me to say if the other ADR products I saw that day are as good as the Caroni, or how the overall line will pan out: as far as this one goes, it’s quite a good dram, which should simply be treated with a little respect and a little care, otherwise you might find yourself dismissing it too quickly, to your own detriment.

***

Other notes: Cask #15, 363 bottles. Distilled 2003, bottled 2012.

 

 

 

Mar 262013
 

(#059)

I wrote the full review for Michael Streeter of the RumConnection website in December 2010, and here is the summary :

The price is reasonable, the colour, body and nose are lovely, and the taste is unique, if a bit harsh: if the rum fails at all, it’s in the decision not to mess with it – this has led to the prescence of oak maintaining an influence not all will appreciate.  Are other similarly aged rums better, tastier, smoother and more complex? Yes, absolutely. But I also think that the Caroni is one of a kind, a rum lover’s secret discovery – a sort of prime number of a rum, which is indivisible by anything other than you and itself.

The website link to Rum Connections is here and here is the full text:

***

Why the bottle of A.D. Rattray Cask Collection 13 year old Caroni rum (bottle 128 of 290) states it is “made exclusively for Co-Op” (a grocery chain) on the label is a mystery to me. This is especially the case since I have been able to find it on sale in at least two other countries, and the labels on neither have any such mention. I can only conclude that this is a distribution issue, not a matter of commissioning or purchasing some kind of exclusive bottling (which both other merchants in Calgary — the Kensington Wine Market and Willow Park – indulge in).

The selling point of a rum like this one is never just the rum itself, but exclusivity and rarity. Like the Appleton 30 (1440 bottles) and the English Harbour 1981 (5774), this is an extremely limited edition of 290 bottles, emerging from a single cask. As if this were not enough, it’s 13 years old and un-chill filtered, as well as having no additives at all – just like the two Cadenhead offerings I’ve tried – and these last two points are the Caroni’s great strength and also (to some) a weakness. Fortunately, and curiously, the price of the rum when I bought it was in the forty dollar range, which seems low ….either it isn’t that exclusive, not that good, or someone is testing the water to see if the price point can be supported for premium limited-edition rums as they are by whiskies.

The name of the rum comes from the Caroni (1975) Ltd sugar company of Trinidad and Tobago, which was established in 1887 and taken over by the government of T&T when it acquired Tate & Lyle’s shareholdings in 1970 (51%) and 1975 (49%) – it went under because it consistently lost money and no buyers could be found, in 2004. This may well be some of their last stock still available commercially as a bottled product so even if the rum is not to your liking, it’s possible that as an investment…well, it’s up to you.

The rum itself was attractively packaged in a black cardboard tin, in which a slim bottle of light amber fitted tightly. Tin foil wrapped around a well-seated cork. It’s a thing of mine that I enjoy the voluptuous sound of a cork popping gently out, so points there. At 46% ABV, I’m was not expecting a gentle nose that tenderly massaged my snoot and beckoned invitingly with soft, caramel-scented breath, and I didn’t get one – but it was not as sharp and medicinal as I feared either. In point of fact, it was, in spite of its lack of “post processing”, rather good. Distinct, and clear, separating early into notes of vanilla, nuts and burnt sugar, with the muskier molasses scent underlying everything. And yes, a claw or two to remind you of its slightly higher alcohol content.

I don’t know how many people reading this have ever seen a sugar cane field burn in the tropics at harvest time, and can speak of the experience (I’m one of them): there’s a kind of deep smell of burning brown sugar that permeates the whole area, and lingers in your nose for days. I’ve always liked it when handled well within a rum’s bouquet, perhaps because of the memories it evokes of my boyhood. After leaving the Caroni to open for a few minutes, that lovely aroma stole around and about the other scents, which gradually became identifiable as faint hints of citrus fruit and notes of cherries, not so ripe as to be cloying…just young enough to impart some sting. I could have gone on smelling that for a lot longer than I did.

The body of the Caroni turned out to be sharper than I personally preferred, and lighter, clearer: definitely a medium bodied rum, hot and spicy on the palate, and a bit dry. This mostly likely comes from the additional spirit of the 46% I was sampling, as well as tannins from the thirteen years of ageing in the oak barrels, which was not mitigated. The lack of additives also played its part: that lack is a point of pride of the distiller, but I’m just not convinced it really works for rums, no matter how much it succeeds for whiskies (rummies like their libations sweeter, as a rule). On the other hand, by eschewing the chill filtering process, all the original oils, fatty acids, sugars, esters and phenols remain in the body, and this was what probably accounted for its somewhat richer taste. Certainly, after the peppery spiciness faded, the sweetness (less than usual but still noticeable) came through more clearly, as well as banana, smoke, leather and – alas! – just a shade too much oak.

The fade is excellent, bar the same issue – the burn is deep and long, and that burnt sugar and caramel taste lingered, and spirit fumes wafted up the back of my throat and just…stayed there. The bitterness of the barrel was unfortunately part of what lingered also, so on that level the Caroni failed for me, but I’m perfectly prepared to accept that others will enjoy that aspect more than I did. As an aged rum, as a sipper, therefore, I must concede I like it above the more expensive offerings from Cadenhead; and as a mixer the Caroni is unique and superb (and the lower price makes it suitable for a better than average cocktail). Where I think it falls down is in the thinner body and lack of any attempts to mute the oaken taste, which fortunately is not so prevalent as to overpower everything else, just prevalent enough to make a good rum fall to the middling rank, instead of inhabiting a loftier plane in my esteem (although this may change).

A.D.Rattray, a company established in 1868 by Andrew Dewar and William Rattray, was originally an importer of olive oil and European spirits, which branched out into blending and storage of malt and grain whiskies. Now owned and operated by Mr. Tim Morrison (formerly of Islay’s Morrison-Bowmore distillery, and a descendant of Mr. Dewar), its core mission is to make unusual, exclusive, limited edition whiskies from stock obtained from all the unique whisky producing regions of Scotland. The company would appear to be going with a trend now gathering steam – that of premium scotch makers branching out into other spirits, like rums. I’m all for innovation – I found the Renagade line of the Bruichladdich distillery intriguing essays in the craft, and for all my dislikes of the Cadenheads, I must concede they have tried to take rums in a different direction than the heretofore dominating “sweet and brown” philosophy – and I look forward to seeing what else comes out in the future from such out-of-the-box thinkers.

In summary, the price is reasonable, the colour, body and nose are lovely, and the taste is unique, if a bit harsh: if the rum fails at all, it’s in the decision not to mess with it – this has led to the prescence of oak maintaining an influence not all will appreciate. Are other similarly aged rums better, tastier, smoother and more complex? Yes, absolutely. But I also think that the Caroni is one of a kind, a rum lover’s secret discovery – a sort of prime number of a rum, which is indivisible by anything other than you and itself.

Quite aside from its coming rarity and decent pricing, that’s enough of a reason to give it a shot.

Addendum (August 2015)

This included, I’ve looked at eight Caronis, most sourced in 2014. They are:

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