Jun 092015
 

D3S_9003

I just imbibed an angry blender set to “pulse”.

(#218. 79/100)

***

Even now, the words of the Roman poet Horace, resound: “Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.”  Every time I try one of the barking mad overproof 151 rums, these words come to me, because all I can think is that some mischievous guy in a lab somewhere is happily whipping up these rums like Professor Snape in his dungeon.  Surely there is little reason for rums this powerful to exist, but exist they do, and just like all those crazies who eat suicide wings by the cartload, I’m drawn to them like a rice-eating mongrel to the outhouse – gotta see what’s in there, why people constantly troop in and out, even if there’s a risk I might fall in.

Cavalier 151 is one of the select entries into the pantheon of 75.5% overproofs made by companies as diverse as J. Wray, Tilambic, Bermudez, Bacardi and Lemon Hart…and a few other rums even stronger than that*.  Honestly, there’s not really much point to reviewing one of these from the perspective of advising a drinker whether to have it neat or not, and what its mouthfeel compares to.  These porn-inspired liquid codpieces are made for local markets, or for cocktails which channel a Transformer on crack – not for more casual imbibers.

The Cavalier is from the same outfit that produced the English Harbour series of rums as well as the long-out-of-production Cavalier 1981 . It’s a straw coloured rum distilled from fermented molasses, and aged at least 2 years in used American bourbon barrels.

Some of that ageing shows in the initial profile (I let the glass sit down for about half an hour before approaching it). Yes it had some of the fierce, stabbing medicine-like reek of almost pure alcohol; it also had an appealing kind of creaminess to it, with a vague background of fruits and berries (blackberries, soft blackcurrants and the sharper spiciness of red ones), some faint vanilla…it was more than I was expecting, to be honest.  If tamed, I could almost sense the aged English Harbour expressions coiling behind.

151 Label

As we might expect, on the palate, the thing turned feral.  I know the label says it’s a “refined and mellow rum” but if you believe that, then I have some low tide real estate you really should look at. It was deep and hot and spicy to a fault, and care had to be taken not to take too large a sip lest my my gums fell out.  The heat and power of this overproof were, as with most others, its undoing as a neat spirit.  First neat and then with water, I sensed muted flavours of vanilla, leather, some smoke, caramel, butter cookies, all wound around with coconut shavings, followed by more black-currants and blackberries – they were just all so faint, and the heat so intense, that it made picking things out something of a lost cause, as it more felt like I had just swallowed the freshly stropped shaving razors of the Almighty. No issues with the finish – long, long, long, hot and spicy, with a last sharp puff of coconut and biscuits left behind to mingle with some vanilla.

So, yeah, of course it’s a little unrefined.  With that much alcohol in the liquid, there ain’t a whole lot of space left over for the finer things.  Yet flavours were indeed there, however mild and overawed by the raw booze…and they were very nice when I spotted them.  It supports my contention that overproofs as a whole are meant for deep and massive mixed drinks, barflies and bartenders and lovers of the Tiki, and not so much for any kind of snooty tasting. They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts, but in that very unsophistication lies their attraction (that, and some bitchin’ cocktails).

I would suggest that’s more than enough foolishness to get us all through a season of silliness or two. And it’ll put a ridiculous smile on our faces for sure. That alone might make such a bottle worth buying.

Other notes

As far as I know, rums stronger than the more common 151s are:

Feb 192015
 

Photo courtesy barfish.de

A relatively light and sweet potent white lightning that sits square between a white agricole and full-proofed island hooch, with a charm and power all its own.

(#203. 80.5/100)

***

The very first review ever written for Liquorature (and here) was the Antigua Distillers’ masterful English Harbour 25 year old 1981.  In later years, I had my suspicions about it – from the similarity of profiles, I thought it was a rebranded, perhaps re-blended version of the Cavalier 1981, which was an understated and excellent rum in its own right, and the sales of which must have caught everyone off guard. So when in 2014 I met a brand rep for Antigua Distillers, I asked him straight out whether one made up the bones of the other, and he answered in the affirmative.

I relate this trivia only to provide some background, because it was three years before I ran into any other rums made by that company, and was lucky enough to try two of them – the ferocious blow-your-hair-back 151, and the very interesting subject of this review, the white 65% Cavalier Puncheon.  You wouldn’t think it’s all that hot – I have this untested theory that in the main, white high-test like DDL Superior High Wine or J. Wray & Nephew white, tend to be for indigenous consumption, not really for the export market – but I’ll tell you, the Puncheon ain’t half bad.

It was a rum supposedly aged for a couple of years in bourbon barrels, before being charcoal filtered to colourlessness. This is one reason I tend to give white rums a miss when looking for something to buy – the filtration wipes out some of the flavours that (in my opinion) would enhance the drink, making most white rums somewhat bland and unadventurous, good mostly for mixing something else.

Here though, something surprising happened – there was still some torque left in the trousers as I smelled it, it wasn’t all boring dronish white vanilla cotton wool whatever-it-was milquetoast.  The rum was hot and spicy yes (by way of comparison, let me remark that it was not raw and sharp), and presented almost delicately, if this can believed in such a strong rum; with initial scents of sweet, light fruity aromas.  There were vanilla notes and white flowers as background, as well as a very faint grassy whiff, not at all unpleasant or jarring.

This unusual lightness, and sweetness, carried over to the palate as well.  Here, rather more was going on – honey, nuts – I kept thinking of cheerios, honestly – some cocoa, ripe yellow mangoes, vanilla and the barest hint of caramel.  The Puncheon was a young rum, of course, but that two years of ageing had its influence, for which I was grateful — it muted what would otherwise have been a furious amalgam of liquid electrical shocks to the tongue. Even the finish was pretty okay, being long and heated (no surprises there), closing off with fresh hay, vanilla, flowers again, and bark stripped fresh from an oak tree somewhere.

I won’t go so far as to say it’s a sipper’s rum – it’s a little too strong and uncultured for that – but it’s got more complexity than a white Bacardi, for example (and Bacardi seem determined to not piss anyone off, and so remove all traces of individuality from such white rums).  In fact, as I concentrated on it and took a few more sips, it occurred to me that maybe I could see the background to the English Harbour 10 year old take shape in the not-quite-docile taste profile. And maybe even some of the black-currant elements I remembered fondly from the 1981.

Recently, I’ve been on a bit of tear, trawling through an enormous volume of fairly expensive, top end rums.  Would it surprise you to know I don’t always want to?  Sometimes, all I want, all I need, is something straightforward to settle down with, a rum with some fierceness and heft, a solid exemplar of the distillers art and the maker’s machismo.  It doesn’t have to be a dark, funky rum oozing molasses and dunder from every pore, squirting its malevolent power in all directions. All it needs to be is a decent rum, a little strong, possessing a reasonably original flavour profile, that I can mix into a potent drink I can drown my sorrows in as I glumly watch my son the Caner Tot beating the crap out of me at StarCraft 2 or whatever other game he chooses to excel at this week.

It needs to be a rum, in fact, very much like this one.

 

 

Other notes

  • A puncheon was originally a high-proof, heavy-type rum first produced in Trinidad, at Caroni, in 1627
  • The Antigua Distillers web page makes no mention of this rum at all. It does not seem to have been updated since 2003.
  • I personally call this a full-proof, not an overproof.
  • Some notes on the history of the company are to be found in the Cavalier 1981 review

 

Mar 242013
 

 

First posted 29 October, 2010 on Liquorature. #044

A discovery you will think all your own and which you’ll be glad you made; smooth, flavourful and velvety as the best kiss of your life, with a finish that doesn’t disappoint.

***

The Antigua Distillery has embraced both developing trends in the rum market: it has aggressively worked to address the emergence of premium sipping rums by creating the masterful English Harbour series of rum (I think the 5 yr old is one of the great mixers around, and the 1981 25-yr old, is one of the top five commercial aged 40% rums in the world), and also trended towards the resurgence in cocktails by marketing a more flavourful series of rums dedicated for the mixing circuit. Both the younger English Harbours and the Cavalier brands genuflect to the latter trend.

While Rum has been distilled in Antigua since 1493, the Antigua Distillery itself was not incorporated until 1932 when, during the downturn of rum and sugar production, some enterprising local businessmen consolidated their production; in 1934 the company purchased nine estates and a small sugar factory. While individual estates were wont to to make their own hooch in crude and small pot stills, usually for internal consumption, the acquisition of the factory permitted the company to create its own molasses, and made both aged and un-aged rums under the Caballero brand name. From these small beginnings the distillery has grown in fame and popularity.

Doing the research for the rum I casually tasted in John’s house in Toronto stunned me at the quality of what he might have, all unknowing, managed to snag for himself on one of his trips down to The Islands.  You have to understand that aside from the El Dorado 25 year old, the other rums on his table that evening were a mixed bag: overproofs, bush, five year olds and so on…and this one, which didn’t remark itself as special in any way (and none of them had price labels affixed). So while we all know enough about the English Harbour suite to know what we want, few of us in Cowtown have ever seen anything else from the Land of 365 Beaches.  The Cavalier Rums are the Gold, the Light (a white rum), the 151 overproof, the 5 year old and the extra Old.  And the 1981 Vintage I had that night…it was quite something.

The 1981 Vintage derived from copper stills is matured – the company website declines to say how long, but I hazard it is not less than ten years – in 22 litre oak casks which once held bourbon, and the resultant blended in 5000 litre oak vats dating back from the formation of the company, which suggests the vats may be quite a bit older than that. What comes out the other end as an aged premium rum put into a wax-sealed bottle stopped with a tight-fitting cork, and is well worth your consideration.

The striking thing about the Cavalier extra Old is its simplicity. It has a straightforward smooth nose of caramel, molasses and vanilla, with light floral hints. It has a medium brown colour and a kind of rich body in the glass. It’s the bite on the snoot that’s not there, or is so faint you barely notice it….just those rich waves of brown sugar and vanilla, and those very slight tannins that assert the prescence of some other flavour just outside your ability to nail down precisely. It’s just as velvety smooth in the mouth: like a caramel sweet, it stays and offers its taste to you and maybe the reason I didn’t expect that is because there was no reason for me to…I hadn’t, in point of fact, really expected much of anything, which may be reverse snobbery of the worst kind. Be that as it may, the taste stays in the mouth and the finish is long, smooth and sweet, like maybe one of the best kisses of your adolescence from the girl you loved to pieces and still remember fondly after all this time.

I have no idea how much it costs – John mentioned he had picked the bottle up at the VC Bird Airport in Antigua back in 2000 and barely tasted it since then (how do you even begin to talk to a man about such a wonderful undiscovered treasure when he treats the liquid gold with such insouciance, I ask myself helplessly, seething with envy). I only had the one taste and then a second one to confirm, and I have not seen the bottle here in Calgary, and so must rely on my tatty tasting notes that somehow survived the trip back here intact.  Like that long ago girl, the taste of this rum now fades gradually from my mind while remaining in my memories and will be missed and even mourned a little for its unavailability.

All I can tell the reader of this review is that if you ever go to Antigua, then, aside from ensuring you buy the English Harbour 1981, pick up this Cavalier 1981 Vintage rum. I won’t say your tastes equate to mine or that you will have the same enjoyment I did…but I think you’ll agree that this rum is worth a little extra, and will retain an honoured spot on your shelf.  The way, one day, it will hopefully have on mine.

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