Jun 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #049 | 0449

Even now, years after I acquired one of the 220 bottles of this phenomenal 36 year old rum, it retains its power to amaze and, yes, even awe. It still retails in the UK for over six hundred quid, reviews are rare as sugar in a Velier rum, and to this day it is unclear whether it is a blend — or if not, from which estate or distillery it hails.  Whatever the case, it is a great bit of Jamaican rum history and should be tried by any who get the opportunity.

Colour – Amber-orange

Strength – 60.3%

Nose – Pungent, bags of fruits resting on a firm and almost sharp initial aromas.  Vanilla, coconut, aromatic tobacco, and – at least at the beginning – very little in the way of true ‘Jamaican-ness’.  Where’s the funk?  Oak is well handled for something this old – so likely it was aged in the UK.  After some minutes coffee, raisins, bitter chocolate, parsley (!!) bananas, cherries, and faint dunder starts to creep out, before developing into something much more aggressive.  Definitely a rum that gives more the longer it stays open so don’t rush into this one.  There’s also a musty, damp-cellar background to it all that combines well with the wood, and somewhat displaces the fruitiness the esters are trying to provide.

Palate – Whew, hot hot hot.  Started slow, worked up a head of steam and then just barreled down the straight looking neither left nor right. Dusty cardboard and cereals, more of that earthy mustiness, plus some brine, avocados, cumin and maybe ginger.  Adding water is the key here, and once this is done, ther is caramel and cinnamon, more cumin, hay, tobacco and chocolate, veggies, and yes, rotting bananas and fleshy fruit gone off – so apparently it may not start out Jamaican, but sure finishes like one.

Finish – Long and warm and very very aromatic.  Wood shavings, some more citrus (lemons, not oranges), ginger, cumin, those ‘off’ fruits and even (what was this?) some cigarette tar.

Thoughts – Still an excellent, amazing rum.  Honestly, I’m helpless to justify 60.3% and 36 years old and near to a four figure price tag.  How can anyone?  For the average rum drinker, you can’t.  You wouldn’t share it with your card-playing buddies, your kids had better not go near it, you wouldn’t give it away as a gift, and there are so few of these bottles around that it might even never be opened because the event to do so would never be special enough.  But all that aside, we need s**t like this.  Without such rums we would be a lesser people (and cede pride of place to the maltsters). And that’s why it’s a rum to cherish, if you can ever get it.

(90/100)

Nov 272016
 

 

Rumaniacs Review 026 | 0426

While the 1975 30-year old rum issued by Berry Bros isn’t actually one of their “Exceptional Cask” series, it remains one in all but name and is one of the best of the Demeraras coming out of the 1970s, taking its place in my estimation somewhere in between the Norse Cask 1975 and the Cadenhead 1975, maybe a shade behind the Velier PM 1974 and the Bristol Spirits PM 1980.  It could have been even better, I think, if it had been a tad stronger, but that in no way makes it a lesser rum, because for its proof (46%) and its profile (Port Mourant), it’s quite a wonderful rum.

Colour – dark amber-red

Strength – 46%

Nose – Smooth, heavenly notes of licorice and wax, some well polished wooden furniture, molasses and burnt brown sugar. It gets deeper as it rests, more pungent and well rounded, adding some oak, leather, sawdust and deep dark fruitiness.  These then give way to cinnamon, nutmeg, cherries and coffee grounds in a lovely, well-integrated series of smell that makes re-sniffing almost mandatory.

Palate – 46% is not problem and makes it very approachable by anyone who doesn’t like cask strength rums (which may have been the point). Strong and heated attack, slightly sweet, more licorice, vanilla, breakfast spices, molasses-soaked brown sugar, tied together with sharper citrus and fruity notes…half-ripe mangoes or guavas, just tart enough to influence the taste without overwhelming it.  With water there’s some ripe sultanas and butterscotch to round things off.

Finish – reasonably long and spicy; those grapes are back, some white guavas, licorice and toffee, brown sugar, a flirt of vanilla.  Not the most complex endgame, just a very good one.

Thoughts – It’s a firm and very tasty rum of excellent balance and complexity – it doesn’t try for overkill.  What it does do is present a great series of flavours in serene majesty, one after the other, showcasing all the well-known elements of one of the most famous stills in the world.  Any maker would have been proud to put this out the door.

(89.5/100)

NB – other Rumaniacs’ reviews of this rum can be found here. Here’s my original review from 2013, for those who’re interested.

Dec 162015
 

BBR 1977 Sepia

BBR have made a rum that has all the fidelity and quality of the rums from times gone by, without compromise….a 60% velociraptor that really does get you and chomp you down.

(#245. 90/100)

***

It’s Christmas, so let’s get another one of the pricier, rarer bottlings out of the way just in case someone sees it and wants one for his grandfather. In all honestly, with just 220 bottles of the Jamaica 1977 in circulation, and at the price point it retails for, one could be forgiven for wondering why I am reviewing a rum that very few people will ever try or buy.  And that’s a fair question.  Blame it on the fire that The Sage lit under my tail in April 2015 when we founded the Rumaniacs – the opportunity to try (and share) very old, very rare, and yes, rather expensive rums, whose like we shall not see again.

Berry Brothers & Rudd requires no introduction except insofar as to mention that this 36 year old rum is part of their “Exceptional Cask” series which I first heard about last year.  Jamaican rums of that age being as rare as hen’s teeth, and having a few quid squirrelled away, I rushed online to buy myself a bottle, prayed it wouldn’t be an expensive misfire, and then waited a year to open the thing.  BBR as usual are very tight lipped about the rum and from which plantation it originates, which strikes me as maddeningly and pointlessly obscure.  But anyway.

I enjoyed the presentation a lot.  A stiff black cardboard box, enclosing the stubby bottle you see in the picture, and a label that takes simplicity to a whole different level…the only extraneous thing about it is the tasting notes.  They should have put in the provenance, and left the notes out — because fans and connoisseurs won’t need those, and well-heeled Wall Street derivative traders who buy three or four of these, won’t care.

Let’s begin with how it poured.  Rich, dark orange, thick and almost oily in the glass.  Scents acted like they were in a hurry to reach the open, and billowed out immediately.  I had to be a little cautious with 60.3% so I let it open and then sighed happily: strong, pungent and estery notes led out immediately. It was hot to handle initially until it settled down, yet I detected very little real sharpness – it was powerfully firm to nose. As it developed, vanilla, coconut,  some light bananas, aromatic tobacco and a whole lot less oak than I was expecting all came out to join the party, without displacing the sharper citrus and fruity notes that had started things rolling.

BBR 1977 Label

And the taste, well…wow! Amazingly deep and pungent.  It didn’t start out with a bang or a tantaraa of trumpets, wasn’t over-oaked, and indeed I thought that the nose was all there was.  But observe – it developed from simple initial starting points: spices, esters, light tannins and some vanilla, some dusty cardboard; and these pleasant but almost standard flavours hung around like those shy gawky boys on the dance floor who want to ask the girls to “tek a wine” but can’t…and then, slowly, other richer components evolved. Cumin, hay, tobacco leaves, some tar, caramels, sharper mangos and citrus peel leavened by softer coconut and bananas.  It was barely sweet, a little briny and spicy and deep on the tongue, yet it displayed a very rich profile that made it a pleasure to savour and come back to over a very long time. More to the point, these complexities were well balanced and not competing with each other.

And thankfully, the finish carried things away with a flourish too, and the rum didn’t choke at the back end: it was a long, finish, leaving memories of cedar, dust, a heretofore-unnocticed bit of pot-still wax and salt, some more light caramel and cinnamon, and frankly I thought that between the heat and the length, that fade was just short of epic.

I felt that the Jamaica 1977 was extraordinarily well constructed – it shed the extraneous frippery and maintained only the vital…and it pulled off an interesting bait-and-switch by seeming to be a lot less than it actually was.  It started out by seeming to be one of the simplest, most straightforward rums out there – full out Jamaican, if you will – and developed into one of the more complex profiles I’ve had from the stables of the island.  I think Berry Bros. & Rudd have made an astonishingly brave and great rum here. Trying to come up with precise rationales, I am unable to make my reasons clear without resorting to meaningless generalizations that you’ve read a hundred times before, so let’s see if I can put it another way.

One thing I really admired about my father (without ever telling him so — heaven forbid, an actual compliment between us?) was that trick he had, to shed his cloak of intellectual ability and professional achievement, put on a pair of ratty jeans and sockless flats, and go playing dominos with a cheapass rum and a bowl ‘ice down by the GT ghetto with old squaddies; where he would cuss up and get on and mek plenty plenty noise, his modulated tones giving way to “nuff suck teet” and the objurgatory roughness of loutish street creole.  This rum reminded me somewhat of him: tough and uncompromising and not easy to get along with, a paradoxically cultured product that managed to hearken back to brawny working class boys who “get some educatement” without shame or apology; which blended artistry, crudity and power into a cohesive, complex, drinkable whole.  When you think about it, that’s actually a rather remarkable feat for anyone or anything to pull off.  And if you can follow that line of reasoning, that’s why I thought this rum was a pretty damned good, near-brilliant, piece of work.

Other notes

No, I don’t think I’ll recommend you drop this much money on a rum, any rum, even this one, unless you really can spare it. Get a taste if you can. If Jamaicans are your thing, you’ll love it.

Bottle #44 of 220

BBR 1977 Colour

 

Jul 292013
 

D3S_7028

Good all round Bajan rum from Berry Brothers & Rudd, that’s worth its price and is a good note on which to close your day.

(#175. 85/100)

***

What a relief it was to try this well-aged rum, and to find that its Fijian 8 year old cousin which I had tried some weeks back was indeed something of an iconoclastic aberration. There’s not much I could say about a line of rums of which I have only ever sampled three, and it would have been wrong to extrapolate based on such a small sample size. So it’s a happy matter that I can confirm the Bajan 13 year old is an excellent buy all round.

One of the pleasant things about independent bottlers who make a “series” is the consistency of presentation – think Renegade and their frosted glass bottles, or Plantation and the straw netting. It saves the reviewer a whole bunch of time not to have to assess a presentational score (I know the principle has its detractors, no need to mention it). So, tall bottle, well fitting plastic cork, simplistic labelling utterly consistent with the other BBR rums I’ve written about (the Fiji and the Port Morant 1975).

The lead in on the nose was caramel and molasses, muted and light, yet with some heat as well (the rum is 46% after all). Vanilla undertones had their place before segueing into subtler aromas of pineapple and nicely ripened yellow gooseberries. A flirt of citrus (ripe orange peel) coiled around all of this, well balanced with preceding elements, and then the whole was wrapped up in emerging perfumes of delicate white flowers and a barely perceptible wine background. Quite intriguing, all in all.

I must comment on the excellent mouthfeel of this thirteen year old, honey-coloured rum: it’s medium bodied yet quite smooth for all that, with some heat imparted by the strength, but not so much as to become peppery or overly spicy. There’s a luxurious creaminess in the way this runs across the tongue, a certain chewiness that was very appealing. The rum was neither too sweet nor too salty (while possessing elements of both), and what I came away with was vanilla, honey, white chocolate, light coconut shavings and bananas, all held together by a softer citrus hint than the nose had promised. And at the tail end the odd sweetness of a strawberry lollipop, fading into a long clean finish redolent of chopped fruits and some saltiness. Really quite a decent product – I enjoyed it a lot.

D3S_7032

Where does the distillate originate? I wish I knew for sure. I almost want to say it comes from Mount Gay, but somewhere in that profile I’m more leaning towards R. L. Seale’s FourSquare (and indeed, the Masters of Malt website says that’s its home), and also, from its richness, that it’s a pot still distillate. The ageing in white oak barrels was well handled, in my opinion, because the resultant is in very good balance overall, and it’s a sipper’s drink rather than one to mix.

Writing this review as my life changes yet again, I am assailed by a sense of melancholy. This review will be one of the last for a while (the country I’m moving to is dry in all senses of the word). Perhaps it is fitting that one of the final rums I’ve tried and written up tasting notes for, is also one of the more pleasing ones. Not the best, of course (is there any such thing?) but certainly a rum to have and to enjoy at any point on the arc of your existence. Even if, or perhaps especially, as with me, you won’t be trying any more for a while.

 

Jun 212013
 

D3S_6841

 

Quasimodo in a shrink-wrapped muscle-car with overlarge tyres

(#169. 80.5/100)

***

 Rums have gotten, over the decades and centuries, rather civilized. Sweaty muscular beefcakes like the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3% and the Bacardi 151 always exist, of course, accompanied by more uncouth and less cultured rums even than that, made less for export than for local consumption…but for the most part, what we get is soft, soothing, decent, well padded.

This 46% rum, however, made by those genteel fellows in England, Berry Brothers and Rudd, was none of these things…which, when you recall the near-brilliant 1975 Port Morant they also made, is kind of odd. Civilized? Nope. Smooth? Not really. Calming, easy on the nose? Don’t make me laugh. Berry Brothers have done something rather amazingly insane, or stupefyingly stupid depending on your viewpoint, with this Fijian product. They’ve made it a raw, nasty, brutish, ugly, foul tasting kill divil that I dunno, should be used to scour the paint job off your souped up Ford F150. Or maybe fuel it.

You think I’m kidding, right? Yeah…but no.

Some time ago I reviewed the SMWS Longpond 9, and the Rum Nation Demerara 23 and the Jamaica 25 year old. All three of these had rubbery, almost medicinal notes to them that were initially somewhat disconcerting, but eventually melded into a unique whole I could not help but appreciate. The off-notes I didn’t care for were relatively subdued and well integrated into a fascinating synthesis. No such feeling swept over me as my brother and I nosed the Berry Brothers & Rudd Fijian 8 year old. Because in this case, raw plasticine and rubber notes were so powerful, that I felt a Bugatti had just peeled out of the shop, leaving a black strip on the pavement a mile wide. Medicinal, turpentine, paint thinner was what you got on that nose. Iodine, seaweed, brine, salt biscuits. And then more burnt rubber. They held a commanding stance from the outset, and never let go. Yes there were also timid, trembling scents of grassy and herbal aromas that crept in as if afraid to be noticed; yes, if you paid attention you would get apple cider and perhaps a flirt of not quite ripe pineapple. But it was small consolation. You had to try too hard. They were shouldered aside and squashed flat.

To taste, it was heated and spicy, as befitted a stronger product, and it was reasonably smooth, not raw and clawing, so no issues there. Hay-blonde, quite light, somewhat thin and clear and clean on the tongue. I was kind of suckered in by some lazy background notes of freshly-sawn white wood of some kind, bananas, softer pineapple and an even fainter grassy-green floral note that developed over time, but then the uncompromising rubber returned. Merde, but this was unpleasant. Iodine, seaweed, some peat (I kid you not) mixed it up in the schoolyard with an overweight bully of peeling rubber, turpentine and styrofoam. It’s like I was trying to sample a neoprene suit left behind on the set of “Debbie Does Dallas.” I can concede without hesitation that the texture was pretty good, it felt physically pleasant in the mouth, and the finish was medium long and heated (and may have been the best thing about it, perhaps because we could now see an end to the experience). But I simply don’t appreciate a rum that is redolent of the freshly torn plastic coming off new, over-polished wooden furniture.

D3S_6846

So, with all due apologies to BBR (who have made other rums I really enjoyed), this is not a rum I cared for. I asked a dedicated maltster whether, given the profile I described, he would buy it (for $75, which is what I paid), and he said probably, so it may work better for Islay-lovers than it did for me. The thing is, underneath the taste is the texture, and in that texture and mouthfeel you can sense the rum this could have been had it been toned down a bit, perhaps been a bit sweeter (and this is why I scored it as I have). I always thought the Renegades were inconsistent and made by — and perhaps for — whisky lovers, and here we have another in that vein, something of a harnessed lunatic, loud and uncouth and unrefined as a fading rock star’s leopard-skin trousers.

It probably won’t sell much, but you know, I do have a kind of sneaking admiration for the concept, much as I shudder at the taste. It takes a certain kind of guts to make a rum that tastes so crazily off base as to appeal to not just the 1%, but the 1% of that 1% who would welcome the adventure, appreciate the uniqueness and throw caution to the winds when drinking it. Because, for sure, there are very few rums in my whole experience which are anything like this Fijian popskull.

Just be warned – It’s an absolute animal of a drink to have if you’re not prepared.

 

Other Notes

As is usual with craft bottlings such as this one, I could not find much information on the source. However, since there really is only one distillery on Fiji (the South Pacific Distillery, which makes the seemingly well-regarded Bounty brand), it seems reasonable to suppose that the raw stock comes from there. In what barrels it was aged and in which country, is something I’m currently still researching.

Given the light and clean profile, I will hazard that the distillate comes from sugar cane juice (like an agricole) and not from molasses, and is probably a column still product. Still, these are merely my conjectures, so if a reader has more info, please post a remark.

I notice that there are nine and ten year old Fijian rums made by BBR as well.

 

 

Mar 302013
 

D7K_0148

Tropic Thunder

(#147. 90.5/100)

***

Building a boutique, aged superrum at the top end of the scale – whether that scale is price or power or both – is at best an uncertain business. Too expensive, nobody will buy it, too oomphed-up and too many won’t try it. Both together and you’ll scare away all but the wealthy who casually buy not one but several of the Appleton 50s. I think that this 46% rum hits all the high notes and finds a harmonious balance between age, price and proofage. It may be among the best rums I’ve tried so far, in my lonely sojourn of the rum islands in a resolutely whisky filled ocean.

Berry Brothers and Rudd has the rather unique distinction of being one of the oldest spirits houses in the world; they have occupied the same premises in London since 1695 when Ms. Bourne founded her shop opposite St James Palace. It may be relatively unknown to rummies – yet when I remarked to the Scotchguy of KWM that I had picked up this vintage 1975 30 year old rum, he immediately knew the company and gave me quite a rundown on its antecedents.

Compared to the vaguely rococo label of the Coruba 12 label I looked at last week, or the monolithic spartan menace of the Albion 1994 I liked so much, there’s something resolutely old fashioned here: a standard barroom bottle (perhaps a little slim), with a thick paper label that is subtly genteel, even Edwardian, surmounted by a plastic tipped cork. Just a step above middle-of-the-road, I think – it gives all the information needed in a straightforward, aesthetically pleasing way. Inside, there’s a dark, almost red liquid that had me sighing with anticipation, truly (well, I blew €160 on it so I think I’m entitled).

D7K_0136

Port Mourant rum is made on the famed double wooden pot still that actually used to hang out in the estate distillery of the same name on the Corentyne Coast, and is now housed at Diamond Estate where DDL has its base of operations on the East Bank of the Demerara. Since I have at least several rums from that one still — Bristol PM 1980 and 1988, the Rum Nation 1989 23 year old, this one (and I harbour lingering suspicions about the Albion 1994 given its profile) — there are certain elements I expect from any rum bearing the appellation. And the 1975 for sure had them all. In spades.

The nose on this dark red-brown rum may be among the richest, deepest, most pungent I’ve ever experienced to this point. None of the raw alcoholic screaming hellburn of an overcoked rock god torturing his guitar like Bacardi 151, the Stroh 80 or the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3%. Just wave after wave of molasses, licorice and dark chocolate to start, mixed in with a strain of plasticine, wax and rubber (similar to what I noted on the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 or the Demerara 23, if you recall), which then dialled themselves down and walked to the corner to give other flavours their moment to hog the stage. Cherries, cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee, caramel…man, this thing just kept on giving – it was one of the most luscious noses of any rum in recent memory.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really was a rum that rewarded patience. The longer I let it stand and open up, the more it gave back to me, and this was not merely relegated to the aromas. The taste was similarly rich: rough and heated, yet without that sharpness that bespoke untamed and rebellious (and maybe stupid) youth, more like the firm hug bestowed upon you by your father when you were young. Slightly sweet, licorice and anise, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, and the darkest burnt sugar and caramel notes you’ll ever have, bound together with molasses and red guavas. It married tempestuous performance to a weirdly calm and deceptive disposition, a quality of deep spirituous serenity that was almost but not quite zen…until the last smidgen of butterscotch and toffee settled on the palate and stayed there. The exit was long and spicy, and finally faded with a last fanfare of molasses and dark brown sugar, and a faint note of sea salt.

D7K_0157

What a lovely rum indeed. It’s a fabulous, fascinating synthesis of strength and style and taste. It’s better than the hypothetical offspring of Sheldon and Penny, and without any of the nuttiness. It offers buyers (all five of them) just about everything: lose-your-shorts nose; strong and purring arrival and a stupendous finish…an overall mien of strapping, extreme flavour, yet also of charmingly cultured physicality. It’s a 1930s hood dressed in Dockers and a button down shirt.

Is it worth it? Hell yes, if you can ever find a rum so relatively obscure. Me, I covet something this unique like it was Uriah’s wife. Of course, at some point in their drinking lives, rum lovers will accept there is more to life than full proofed, deep-tasting rums; and reviewers and aficionados will see that pricey, aged and rare rums are overrated and…oh, who am I trying to con here? There will always be rums like this old, fascinating Bugatti around. And we will always love them.

Other notes

Not sure if this is 30 years old or not. Research suggests it is, but as usual, there is maddeningly little hard information the BBR website.

 

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