May 142017
 

#364

Until the release of the XM Golden Jubilee 20 year old rum in May 2016 for the occasion of Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence, the jewel in the crown of Banks DIH’s XM line was the fifteen year old.  Over the last five years or so it suffered, in my rearview-mirror opinion, by simply following the party line, being bottled without regard for the emerging trend of stronger rums in the minds of the tasting public, and also perhaps from being a indeterminate, mostly column-still blend without a really good barrel strategy.  This relegated it to being an outlier in an increasingly crowded and competitive field; and by eschewing any one point of uniqueness that would make it stand apart (finishing, single barrel, cask strength, a singular taste…that kind of thing), it has slumbered in a sort of quiet corner reserved for also-rans – Guyanese worldwide know of it, but few others do and it sure doesn’t make any waves internationally, in spite of its age.

Which is something of a shame, because setting aside personal preferences, it’s quite a good rum that could use a good dose of aggressive marketing and festival-circuit promotion.  The very first note I wrote down in my tasting book as I was nosing the Supreme, was “Impressive”. It began with aromas of acetone and glue and furniture polish before giving way to very soft notes of dark dried fruit (raisins and plums), before segueing over into the territory of vanilla, caramel and nougat.  What little tartness of the fruit that existed, was kept way back, vaguely sensed but not directly experienced, which to my way of thinking is a very good reason to bump up the ABV not just one notch, but several.  Still, it was impressive, and for a 40% rum to exhibit such discernible richness was a pleasant surprise.

The palate, warm and eminently sippable, led off with the fruit basket: cherries, raisins, apricots and very ripe peaches.  There were a few hint of bananas and white guavas, though without exhibiting any kind of overbearing sweetness, and the overall fruity tastes blended well with the restrained influence of burnt sugar, toffee, caramel, vanilla…all the usual attendant hits.  There was a sort of jammy profile here, quite pleasing, and some very faint molasses hanging around unobtrusively in the background.  It all led to a short and pleasant finish, mostly dates, caramel, vanilla, a bit briny in nature and not at all a tropical smorgasbord

So.  The XM 15 is still somewhat generic in nature, but a level up from the 12 year old, and definitely better than the 10 year old.  It’s more subtle, a little richer, yet still had much of that laid back profile that simply did not (or could not) strain too much or escape the clutches of its standard ABV.  Still, leaving these two points aside, the one major — and perhaps surprising — drawback of the Supreme 15 year old is simply that, good as it is, it remains too similar to the Special 12 year old.  I tried all the Banks rums together with a bunch of other forty percenters, and it really was difficult to tell these two apart.  So for an average drinking man who’s looking for an aged living room powered rum that won’t incur the wife’s ire, the step up in quality from the 12 to the 15 is slight enough to not make the 15 a better investment outside of bragging rights.  It’s a good rum to buy if you have the coin, but don’t look for a quantum leap to the stratosphere if you already have the ten or twelve year olds in stock.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

  • Banks DIH informed me that not only was the North American market being more aggressively targeted in 2017, but cask strength and even single-barrel rums would be issued as part of the range in the future.  The majority of the range would continue to be blends, and the sourcing of raw rum stock from Trinidad and Barbados would continue (see the 12 year old review for some notes on the matter)
  • The Jubilee 20 year old (my age statement, not theirs) has components of the blend that are up to 50 years old.
May 102017
 

Quite a good rum, which unfortunately fails to carve out a distinctive Guyanese profile of its own.

#363

When one thinks of Demerara rums, Guyana and DDL immediately spring to mind.  That company has so dominated the global rum scene for such rums in the past two decades that it may come as a surprise to many that it is not the sole maker of such products, nor the only inheritor to the Guyana rum moniker, and in fact, is somewhat of a late arrival.  Before it was consolidated from the distilleries that were once the property of Bookers McConnell, Banks DIH was already there, making the good stuff since the 1930s, with XM being noted as the #1 rum in British Guiana as far back as 1959.  

The problem for Banks (where rums are concerned) was and remains twofold: rum is actually a small part of its overall business (partly because they have no still of their own) and it also does not possess the right to use the “Demerara” appellation for its XM line – DDL fought and won a bitterly contested court case for that prize – and therefore not only is XM rum less well known, but it’s also less well marketed, and to add insult to injury, is often confused with Banks 5-island and 7-island rums from the UK.  Not the best way to get your hooch to grab the brass ring now, is it?

Banks has always been a blender, never a distiller.  Until the late 1990s they bought raw rum stock from the various estates around the Guyana and blended that into their signature XM line; but once DDL consolidated all the stills in the country into their headquarters at Diamond estate, they ceased providing any.  Banks therefore has, for the last twenty years or so, sourced their rum stock from Barbados (FourSquare)and Trinidad (Angostura) and continued to blend them and age them in Guyana, which goes a long way to explaining why the XM I grew up with is no longer the same rum as what is on sale now.  So it’s not as if Banks doesn’t want to make Guyanese rums – it’s that they can’t, and that also goes some way to explaining the smaller footprint they have, both in the company’s overall operations, and the world at large. 

Digressions aside, the rum, now. The 12 year old — bought and tasted alongside the 10 YO and 15 YO last year — adhered to the company philosophy of making blended rum, and for better or worse, this made it present something of a generic profile…and for the reasons explained above, nothing here screamed “Guyana” in the way the El Dorado line does, which says a lot of how DDL’s (and all the other independent bottlers’) products have colonized our mental tasting map of the entire country, for good or ill.  

To illustrate the point: nosing the amber 40% spirit gave up warm smells were of white toblerone, chocolate, toffee and some lemon rind.  The whole aroma reminded me of a very nice dessert my son The Little Caner can’t get enough of: caramel drizzled over The Great Wall of Chocolate (don’t ask, I may lapse into diabetes on the spot).  There was a faint brininess lurking behind the primary aromas, and also something musky and dark, like overripe bananas, and mangoes just about ready to turn.

Moving on to taste, I felt the palate to be quite a bit better than expected, and certainly more than the nose.  Normally 40% doesn’t do much for me, and here, yes that feeling of an scrawny, delicate spirit was here too…it was as thin and precise as my primary school teacher’s sharp excoriating tones (“Pay attention Mr. Caner!”) followed by the sharp snap of her two-foot long wooden ruler on my knuckles (“I warned you, Mr. Caner”). The whole initial profile was like that, very meticulously assembled, each note clear and separable from the next: bitter chocolate, salted caramel, toffee, burnt sugar; raisins, some orange peel.  Then the ruler came, though not as painful – black cake, tart fruits, more raisins, molasses, blanketed by caramel and some breakfast spices. For 40% to give that much is quite something, and the finish is no slouch either – briny and dry, light all over with faint notes of cinnamon, olives, some crumbs of toblerone, with a final flirt of molasses and candied oranges.

So overall, not a bad rum at all, just not one that marks its territory with verve and authority of any kind.  Like I said, if you were tasting it blind you wouldn’t be sure of its origin. No anise or rich fruity notes, no pot still action, nothing that would remind you of the raw thrumming power of a PM or EHP rum at all – in fact, the XM presents as rather restrained, overall.  And this is both the advantage of such a blend, and to some extent its downfall because, sorry, but the comparison is inevitable. Beyond that, if you’re not a connoisseur of specific country’s styles and just want a good drink to pour into your glass at sundown, then none of that is your concern, and this excellent mid-tier sipper will fill the bill very nicely indeed.

(83/100)


Other notes

  • No information on additives (sugar or otherwise) is available.  For my money it has not been tampered with. 
  • The ageing regimen is unknown aside from it being done in situ in charred oak barrels which we can assume to be ex-bourbon.
  • My thanks to Dave of the RumGallery for pointing me in certain directions regarding background; and to Carlton for providing some details on history and operations
Apr 252016
 

D3S_5678

For me this is a rum that evokes real nostalgia, even though I’ve mostly moved past it.

(#268 / 82/100)

***

I enjoy storytelling, but if rambling background notes and local anecdotes are not your thing, skip three paragraphs.

It was a fact of life in Guyana in the 1980s and 1990s that as one moved up the income scale from poor to less poor, one upgraded from Lighthouse matches to bic lighters to zippos; from leaky, loosely packed Bristol cigarettes to Benson & Hedges (gold pack, preferably made in the UK, not Barbados), and stopped swilling the pestilential King of Diamonds (which nowadays has gained stature only by being long out of production), younger XMs and High Wine rums, in favour of the somewhat more upscale Banks DIH 10 year old.

Alas, as a young man just growing out of training wheels and nappies, my slender purse (and near nonexistent income) relegated me to matches, Bristols and XM five, which my best friend John and I smoked and swilled in quantities that makes me shudder these days.  We’d sit in the convival open-air tropical atmosphere of Palm Court, smoke up a storm (killing those butch Mudland-sized mosquitoes in their thousands), and call happily to our favourite waiter who knew us on sight “Double five, coke an’ a bowl a ‘ice, Prince!” followed by  “Keep ‘em comin’ bai! Me nah wan’ see de bottom o’ de glass.” I somehow suspect that were we to get together one of these years, John and I, this routine would not change appreciably, as long as Prince is still around.

D3S_5672Starting as “Demerara Ice House” (there really was an ice factory in Water Street, and yes, it’s still there) and now called D’Aguiar’s Industries and Holdings (hence the DIH) at the beginning of the 20th century, the D’Aguiar family built up a huge food and drinks conglomerate, of which rums remain a relatively small part – they were and remain one of the first and largest bottlers in the Caribbean. They have a huge facility right outside Georgetown in the fragrantly named “Thirst Park”, they make beer, soft drinks, distilled water (among many other consumer nibbles) and with respect to rums, act as blenders, not makers like DDL. Their best known rums back then were the 5, 10 and 15 year old, the Premium Blend, and to this has currently been added a VXO, 12 year old, a White and XM “Classic”. Legend has it they have a rum or two squirrelled away that’s 20 or 25 years old, but I never saw it myself.

All right, so much for the reminiscing.  What we had here was a tubby bottle quite different from the slim one I recall, containing a dark orange-gold rum bottled at 40%.  The XM in the title stands for “eXtra Mature” and has always been a sort of informal title for the rums, since nobody ever refers to them as “Banks” – that moniker refers to the company’s beer. It was aged for close on to ten years in bourbon barrels, and then finished for another six months or so in cognac barrels, which allows the company to wax rhapsodic in its marketing materials about this being “a cognac of rums”.

Smelling the XM 10 made me wonder whether there wasn’t some Enmore or Port Mourant distillate coiling around inside, even if it’s true they don’t buy anything from DDL.  It was warm and not too sweet, pungent with wet cardboard, cereal, vanilla, licorice, dried fruits and some faint rubbery, waxy undertones stopping just short of medicinal.  It lacked heft, which was not too surprising given the standard strength, though most casual drinkers would have little to find fault with here – it was perfectly serviceable, if ultimately not earth-shaking in any way.

To taste it was quite good, and demonstrated some agreeable heft for a 40% rum (it reminded me somewhat of the Pusser’s 15 in that regard).  Medium bodied, soft and quite warm, there was also a queer kind of thin-ness to the overall profile, which fortunately did not transmute into any kind of unpleasant sharpness.  It entered with a sort of dusty driness, started with tart flavours of mango and anise and ginger cookies, then softened to flavours of red olives, vanilla, caramel, some light toffee, overripe cherries and bananas – overall, after some minutes the lasting impression it left on my mind was one of light sweetness and licorice, and the finish followed gently along from there, being warm and pleasantly lasting. It did not provide anything new or original over and beyond the taste, simply placed a firm exclamation point on the easy going profile that preceded it.  

D3S_5677My own opinion was that it lacked body and needed a firmer texture…the XM 10, while not exactly anorexic, gave the impression of having rather more potential than actuality, and the flavours, decent and tasty enough by themselves, suffered somewhat from dumbing things down to standard strength (this may be my personal preferences talking — I’ve gone on record many times in stating that 40% is just not good enough for me anymore — so take that bias into account).  On the other hand, maybe it’s like the DDL 12 year old, a bridge to the better rums in the XM universe like the 12 and the 15…and since I obtained those the other day, once I review them I can tell you whether this paucity of character is a characteristic of this rum only, or some sort of preference of the master blender that permeates the line. Honestly, I hope it’s the former.

Other notes:

I find the cheap tinfoil cap to be somewhat surprising for a ten year old rum.

Nowadays Banks DIH no longer buy their bulk stock from Diamond and have no sugar cane fields, distillation apparatus or processing facilities of their own.  They remain blenders, and buy raw rum from around the Caribbean (Trinidad and Barbados), which is one reason their juice is not and can not be called “Demerara” rum, the other being that DDL won a court case to have that distinction.  Since this bottle notes the word “Demerara” on the back label, I suspect it was an older one dating back from before the court case, made from original stocks which were sourced in Guyana.

I was treated with extreme courtesy by Jerry Gitany and Christian de Montaguère at the latter’s eponymous shop in Paris last week: after selecting a raft of rums – about seventeen altogether –  I plundered ten of their opened stocks, of which this was one.  The Little Caner might have been bored out of his mind for the three hours it took me to work my way through those ten samples (it was meant to be only six…Jerry kept opening new bottles for me to try and my resistance was weak),  but I had a wonderful time.  Merci beaucoup, mes amis.

Mar 242013
 

 

First posted 26th October, 2010 on Liquorature. #042

***

Something that puzzles, annoys and confuses me about Toronto is the paucity of rum selections in the LCBO.  I thought this was just a Calgary thing, but it seems that there are more varieties of rums available in cowtown than in a metropolitan area that has several hundred thousand West Indians in the population.  Can you blame me for the head scratching and being grateful for deregulation in Alberta?

Fortunately my old schoolfriend Pratima, who also hails from Guyana, had two rums in her cabinet gathering dust (and I mean that literally); I had been after these for a long time as they are tough to get in my area, and she very happily trotted them out for me to sample, probably so that she could giggle at how I swirled, sniffed and tasted.  I laughed too, but drank ‘em anyway…it’s fun doing this in the company of an old friend.

D’Aguiar’s Xtra Mature rum – Pratima had this one in a plastic bottle with a tinfoil cap, which was surprising (and did less than enthuse me abut Banks’s product line here) – is definitely a Demerara rum. It’s darker than the norm, but still lighter than DDL’s el Dorado offerings: a clear dark gold. In the glass it displays a good viscocity and thick sheen sliding slowly down the sides of the glass. On the nose it is pleasantly deep and rich, and redolent of molasses – much more so than the 10 year old which I’ll address in a separate review – but with a bit of spirit smackdown as well…not too much, though. The caramel, vanilla and toffee hints come through quite clearly; the rum overall is slightly dry, and just sweet enough…and coiling around the backend, you get a faint whiff of fruit – citrus, a little banana. The finish is not very smooth, and medium long on the first go – as you get used to it, it subsides somewhat and evens out.

The Xtra Mature is blended from Demerara rum supplied to Banks DIH by Demerara Distillers up at Diamond Estate, and I gotta tell you, the more I find out about DDLs operations – the supplying of rums to other companies, their international scope, their excellent premium rums which they can almost be said to have pioneered – the more impressed I am. This XM product is a challenge to review because so little has been written about what constitutes it.  That it is a rum, and a decent one, is without question: but how long the blends are aged and whether any post-finishing touches (again, like the 10 yr old) are added is not something I can ascertain from either Banks’s website or any other writers. My personal take is that this Xtra Mature is a step above the 5 yr old but not as good or complex as the 10 year.

I’d also have to say that it is not a sipper: it has just a bit too much bite in it for me. I don’t think Banks actually markets it as a sipping premium rum either, since that moniker appears to apply to the Royal Gold Extra Mature, the 10 yr old or the VXO 7 yr old. But both Pratima and I agreed (when she ceased her laughing) it was good, nay, excellent, as a mixer.  Since I’ve never seen it for sale in Canada, and it lacks the international cachet of the El Dorados, I can’t speak to the public awareness, or the price: but whoever gets a Mudlander to bring this or the ten year up from the Old Country for them, is in for a treat without question.

Mar 232013
 

Full disclosure: this review is based on rum made (and drunk) 1995 and earlier and retasted in the 2000s in a social setting. First posted 25 January 2010 on Liquorature.

(#006 / Unscored)

***

When I was living in the Old Country, this baby was the rum I drank every Friday for five years straight (or more) without fail, and on quite a few days in between. My evenings tended towards heading straight for the Palm Court (behind which I lived) with my friend John, finding a seat, calling Prince (our favourite waiter, because he knew us on sight) and ordering “Double five an’ pepsi, glass, bowl’ice and a Bajan pack a’ B&H.” Translated, this means a double shot of the XM rum in a glass, ice on the side, and a Barbadian-manufactured golden pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes (the English made ones were more expensive, so one had to specify). This squarely pegged my social status, since folk of lesser means ordered the cheaper, locally made Bristol smokes and Demerara Distillers King of Diamonds five year old, while the rich upper crust went for XM Ten Year Old and the English B&H.

Not surprisingly, my baseline was therefore the XM five year. Now granted, John and I, who always drank together, practically murdered the drink in a bath of pepsi (coke was less available), so one can reasonably ask how the hell I ever got enough notes together for a review, but on occasion we did in fact have it on ice only. Rarely. In fact, vanishingly rarely. All right, almost never. Usually when the pepsi ran out at his place or mine. But there are other good reasons why.

The problem is that this rum was really not for the export market (every Caribbean nation has tipple like this for the masses), and so although one can find it in shops abroad, the quality is not top tier. The rum is light golden brown, and has a sharp, pungent nose, and quite frankly, I think the Whiskey Exchange’s review, describing the nose as “Candied orange peel, brown sugar, buttery oak. Crystallised ginger, creamy, toasty vanilla and sugared almonds. Quite fruity, with baked banana, raisins and hints of blackcurrant jelly developing,” may be just a bit much.   The alcohol fumes overpower everything too fast. It’s definitely a mixer rum for this puppy. And a bunch of expats I drank with regularly had exactly the same opinion.

The body is light — thin and sharp — and lacks real character, though one can detect vanilla, caramel, burnt sugar and some light hints of fruit, perhaps citrus; but the rum is not particularly smooth, and it jars going down (lest any think I’m assassinating a former favourite in a bid to disown my past, trust me when I say the 10-year is far better, and though I’ve heard of a mythical 50-year old which is reputedly is in a class of its own, I’ve never seen or tasted it; and the comparative King of Diamonds 5-year is paint remover in comparison – in those days, anyway). Some years later after I had been on a Bacardi kick for a bit, I received a gift of this bottle from John, and I was surprised how thin it seemed, mixed or straight.

To me, this is the first baseline rum I ever had in my life…like a loved one, I played with others but always returned to her. It will always be on my personal pantheon of favourites, not because it’s a stellar example of the craft (it’s competent work and a decent drink, but a star it is not), but because of the memories it brings up of a time in my life that was unique. I know without thinking that when next I taste this rum, I’ll be transported back to the tropics, under warm starlit skies, the breeze will be blowing though Palm Court (where some hopeful young bint with a terribly nasal voice will be wailing to the accompaniment of a karaoke machine), I’ll be young again, and John and I will be hailing Prince, calling for a double-five and B&H, and talking for the next five hours about how we would fix the world, and how Batman could absolutely kick the s**t out of Spiderman, and why there had to be a third Terminator movie.

I’m almost certain there isn’t a man reading this review who doesn’t have at least one drink like that.

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