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)

Apr 282016
 

D3S_3879

A rum from Ago.  Perhaps only a Guyanese or a retired British Navy man could truly love it.

(#269. 77/100)

***

For the most part, over the last months I’ve concentrated on fairly well known rums, made by bottlers with whom we’re all reasonably familiar. Today, I’m going to reach into the past a bit, to the Guyana Distillers El Dorado Bonded Reserve. Sorry, what? I can hear you say, You mean DDL don’t you, Mr. Caner? Yeah…and no.  This rum was made in the early 1980s before DDL changed its name, and in it was one of those hooches like the King of Diamonds, now long gone and out of production…in it, we can see what local rum was like before El Dorado was launched to the overseas market in 1992.  

Sampling this rum pulled back a curtain of the mind. As a young man, I had had it years ago, before DDL became what it now is, before craft rums and independent bottlers were up to their current stature, and way before the El Dorado line had established itself as one of the baselines of the rum world. You’re not going into the extreme past like with the G&M Longpond 1941, St Andrea 1939 or even the St James 1885, no…but the Bonded Reserve does demonstrate how fast the rum world has in fact evolved since those days – because I cannot remember trying anything quite like it in recent memory.

It was an old bottle.  The label was faded and old fashioned, the tinfoil cap spoke to different days.  Even the bottle glass looked worn and tired. Within it was a 40% rum that decanted a golden rum into the glass.  It smelled thin and dusty, with not much going on at the inception – some smoke and leather and vanilla, a touch of caramel and grapes, raisins, with some cumin and molasses to round things out, all quite subdued and tepid.

D3S_3880Tasting the Bonded Reserve raised all sorts of questions, and for anyone into Mudland rums, the first one had to be the one you’re all thinking of: from which still did it come?  I didn’t think it was any of the wooden ones – there was none of that licorice or fruity intensity here that so distinguishes them. It was medium to light bodied in texture, very feebly sweet, and presented initially as dry – I’d suggest it was a column still product. Prunes, coffee, some burnt sugar, nougat and caramel, more of that faint leather and smoke background, all rounded out with the distant, almost imperceptible murmuring of citrus and crushed walnuts, nothing special. The finish just continued on these muted notes of light raisins and molasses and toffee, but too little of everything or anything to excite interest beyond the historical.

To be honest, the rum was so divergent from the firm, crisp, well-known profiles of todays’ Demeraras that it suggested an almost entirely different product altogether.  It could just as easily have been a Trini or Bajan rum, or even (with some imagination) a softer spanish-style product.  Given that it won a double gold medal in Leipzig in 1982, one can only hazard that the competition that year was feeble, and the rum rennaissance through which we fortunate beings are currently living through had yet to gather a head of steam.

In fine, then, it’s almost, but not quite, an historical artifact.  It’s no longer for sale, isn’t being made, and it was by mere happenstance that I saw this on the Whisky Exchange in 2014 and had some spare cash left over . Rating it might do it an injustice, because you’ll look long and hard to ever find its twin…I might have bought the last one.  

So, how do I put this? Well, let’s see – it’s a rum, contains alcohol, and that’s nice; it’s not entirely bad, or undrinkable.  It will do good things to your cocktail, and there’s my recommendation for it, I guess, because at the end, assuming you ever see a bottle, you probably won’t ever enjoy it any other way.  

Other notes

Peter’s Rum Labels in Czech Republic have this exact label on file, but noted as being made by DDL. DDL was formed in 1983 when Diamond Liquors (Sandbach-Parker’s company) and Guyana Distillers (Booker McConnell’s) were merged.  So this rum had to be made between the time of the medal it won in 1982 and the creation of DDL in 1983.  That would explain how I was able to still find it to drink in 1985 in many shops in Georgetown and the countryside.

Guyana Distillers was based out of Uitvlugt, which goes a long way to clarifying the lack of a characteristic or familiar profile, since their still was a four column French Savalle still, producing several different kinds of rum. Based on my tasting, I’d suggest the rum is less than five years old…maybe three or so.

Oct 182015
 

3 x El Dorados

(#236)

The three single barrel expressions issued by DDL are a curious bunch.  Ignoring the head of steam gathered by independent bottlers in the last ten years or so, DDL has never given either prominence or real attention to what could be Demerara rum’s killer app – single barrel, cask strength expressions that are still-specific.  When one observes the raves Velier, Cadenhead, RN, Silver Seal and others have gotten for their tightly focussed expressions hewing to precisely those coordinates, one can only wonder what DDL’s malfunction is.

And yet, here they are, these three, originating from the Port Mourant wooden double pot still, Enmore’s wooden column still and Uitvlugt’s French savalle still. So certainly some vision is at work in the hallowed halls of Diamond, however imperfect to us fanboys.

That said, there are problems with the rums reviewed here. They are non-age-specific; they are issued at what deep core rumboys consider an insulting 40% (at a time where 43-46% is practically a new norm for single barrel rums); and they seem to be issued as an afterthought instead of as core products in DDL’s range. I get the distinct impression that eight years ago when they first appeared (to commemorate the 2007 cricket world cup partly held in Guyana) they barely sold enough to keep making them.  Nowadays they’ve become sought after items, and still DDL is doing very little to promote them, re-issue newer variants, expand the range, or to make them stronger. Ah well.

Some basic facts, then: “living room” strength (to quote my Danish friend Henrik’s immortal phrase), still-specific, and confirmed by the El Dorado FB team that they are a minimum of twelve years old (Carl Kanto told me 13-16 years old, for all of them), aged in ex-bourbon barrels. No year of make is available (we can assume around 1995 or thereabouts). The bottles are tall, squarish and tapering — supposedly resembling a cricket bat, an homage to their issue — so watch  your step when having them in your home bar…they tip over easy. That’s more or less enough to be going on with.

3 x El Dorados ICBUICBU – Ex Savalle still, Uitvlugt

(83/100)

Colour: amber-orange

Nose: Quite delicate and a little thin, sharpish and fading fast, perhaps demonstrating why Velier’s decision to crank up the amperes was the right one.  Vanilla, tannins led the charge, with green grapes, the tartness of soursop (not much), plus red cherries and red currants. After opening up, additional scents of caramel, toffee and lighter floral notes.

Palate: Medium bodied, a shade astringent and dry.  Still very pleasant to sip.  Medium sweet rum, again that delicacy of flavour demands some attention and concentration.  Caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, more light flowers, blackish bananas, and even a mischievous flirt of air freshener, y’know, like pine-sol, or even varnish. The fruitness is dialled way back, and there’s some oak and leather floating around, more evident with some water.

Finish: Short, dry, thin.  Vanilla ice cream with some caramel drizzle, and white toblerone

Thoughts: shows the potential of what can be done if DDL oomphed it up a mite.

*

3 x El Dorados EHPEHP – Wooden Coffey Still, Enmore

(84.5/100)

Colour: dark copper

Nose: Some of the wooden stuff so characteristic of Enmore emerges right away. Red licorice, tannins, molasses, caramel.  A much greater depth of flavour than the ICBU.  Vanilla, almonds, dark chocolate, with faint coffee, coconut, nutmeg and maybe saffron. Very nice indeed. Quite balanced – no real sharpness or spice here, just warm waves of olfactory happiness.

Palate: Medium bodied, warm and very pleasant…just unadventurous (that 40% again?). Caramel, vanilla and licorice, lemon peel, black grapes, underlaid with faint wax-rubber notes, far from unappealing.  With water, it expands into butter and cream cheese on rye bread, almonds, nougat, oak, smoke, leather and freshly crushed tobacco leaves and vegetal stuff I couldn’t identify.

Finish: Short, aromatic and warm.  More vanilla, faint white chocolate and some flowers, deeper, subtler memories of licorice and olives. Some last oaky notes, held in check.

Thoughts: The 40% is decent enough – you’re getting quite a bit here, and it’s better than the ICBU, though not scoring hugely more. Try a more potent cask strength offering and you’ll see what I mean.

*
3 x El Dorados PMPM – Double Wooden Pot Still, Port Mourant

(85.5/100)

Colour: dark amber

Nose: Nosing this shows immediately how extraordinarily unique the PM distillate is – it’s almost unmistakeable.  It’s no accident that PM distillate is a popular constituent of many Navy-style rums. Pungent, heated and deep (slightest bit sharp), with licorice-citrus amalgam. Shoe polish on old leather shoes (and old socks in those shoes). Musty, leathery, smoky, with some molasses, anise, overripe cherries and green olives alongside a really good feta cheese. Can’t get enough of this.

Palate: This is where the rum fails to meet expectations, for all the sumptuousness of the lovely, phenolic, astringent nose. Too little of these aromas carries over to the taste, though to be fair, some does. It’s just too faint, and one is led to believe it would be deeper. Medium full body; coffee, butter dark chocolate, almonds, some tangerine zest.  More of that musty driness recalling an unused hay-loft.  Some gherkins in salt vinegar.  Leather and smoke and well-balanced oak.  A dash of sweet molasses-soaked brown sugar laces the whole package.

Finish: Dry, sweet, medium long. Dusty dried grass, aromatic tobacco, and, of course, more licorice. Impressive for a 40% rum.  

Thoughts: the nose is great, the finish, lovely.  It’s on the palate that more could be done. Perhaps unfairly, I used the Samaroli Demerara 1994 45%, Norse Cask 1975 57% and Cadenhead Green Label Demerara 1975 40.6% as controls…and those rums were incredibly rich (even if two were twice as old) in a way that this was not (though it recouped points in other areas).

***

A few random thoughts occurred to me as I tried these rums.  One, DDL should make more, and more often, and move right past 40%.  No, the various new cask finishes on the 15 year old don’t make up for the potential that is wasted here. Velier and other makers have proven that the stills themselves are the selling point, with some skilful and aggressive marketing.

I suspect that output from the wooden stills in particular is being saved for dependable cash cows like the various El Dorado aged expressions, and issuing stronger cask strength stuff the way independent bottlers have been doing, would lessen stocks available for the old stalwarts.  So think of it this way: the 40% 21 year old rum is fantastic for around a hundred bucks, yes…but just think of what mad people like me would pay for a unicorn like a 21 year old LBI-estate rum bottled at 50%. Just sayin’.

Anyway, that DDL chooses not to expand its own base of excellent rums by issuing more like these is to their own detriment, and my personal opinion is that if you like Guyanese rums a little different from more well-known, standard (blended) profiles , then these three are definitely worth the little extra money it takes to snap them up. They may be issued at “only” 40%, but they’re still cheaper and less powerful than Veliers for those who shy away from 60% monsters; and they serve as a great intro into the characteristics of DDL’s famous stills without breaking either the bank or your tonsils. Go get ‘em if you can.

Other notes

From the El Dorado FB team: “The annotations PM, EHP and ICBU refer to the estate of origin of the respective still that the rums are still produced on; PM being  the Port Mourant estate in the Berbice county, EHP being the Enmore estate on the East Coast of Demerara that was owned by Edward Henry Potter at the time of acquisition of the Wooden Coffey Still, and ICBU being the estate then owned by Ignatius Christian Bonner at Uitvlugt (ICB/U) on the West Coast of Demerara.”

The age of the stills recalls the old philosophical problem of Theseus’s ship: over the years all the wood of the ship was gradually replaced.  After a time, none of the wood was original, so was it still Theseus’s ship? Something similar happens with the wooden stills. Certainly there’s little of any of them that is hundreds of years old, what with constant replacement of a plank here and a plank there.

Compliments, kudos and thanks to Josh Miller of Inuakena, who not only bought these on credit for me six months or more ago, but when he discovered that he missed the PM and sent me two EHPs by mistake, couriered the missing bottle to me pronto, so I could do the review of all three before I left Berlin. Big hat-tip, mate. Mis rones son sus rones.

My original 2010 review of the ICBU shows something of how my taste, writing style and opinion have changed over the years. I didn’t refer to it when I wrote this one.

As this review was being written, so many things occurred to me that rather than obscure the tasting notes, I provide a precis of the various high points, and split off the more in-depth remarks into a separate essay about the wasted potential of the stills.

Update January 2016

The word spread like wildfire in the blogosphere and on FB in the second week of January, that DDL would issue three cask-strength aged still-specific expressions after all. A PM, a Versailles and an Enmore.

Aug 092013
 

D7K_2785

 

The DDL Superior High Wine is not superior and not a wine, but will get you high without breaking a sweat.

(#177. 79/100)

***

One of the first rums I ever had as a young man was this one, and the last time I drank was it nearly thirty years ago, when I was thinking of dropping out of University, depressed about my future, and downing a whole raft of shooters in a small beer garden one still, hot afternoon, with a bowl ’ice and my one-armed friend from UG. A few weeks later my life changed and put me on the path that led to where I am now. Between then and now, not much has changed: it’s still very much a low-level, overproofed white lightning meant for local consumption not export, and it’s unlikely it’ll ever be seen much outside the West Indies. And, oddly, as I prepare to move my family abroad for a few years on another life-changing experience next week, this is among the last rums I’ll review for a while.

You’d think that this makes it a mere bathtub-distilled mess for the masses, with nothing to really recommend it (the Grenadian Clarke’s Court “Bush” variation I tried some years ago is another example), but you’d be wrong. That may be because even though it is filtered and beaten and bleached to within a whisker of resembling water, it’s actually made in one of the coffey stills at Diamond (I was told #3, which I think is one of the metal ones from the estate itself). And that lends the initial nose a surprising heft, quite aside from its 69% proofage.

The nose is, as a consequence, quite spicy, and herbal…grassy almost, like a steaming, sunlit meadow after a tropical rain. Chopped light/white fruits, citrus peel (lime) and a rather startling vein of brown sugar was actually in evidence as well. Oh, I won’t kid you, this thing is a rather savage animal and won’t play *that* nice with your schnozz – but even so, there’s quite a bit more action going on there than you’d imagine from something so easy to dismiss out of hand as a local tipple

D7K_2787

This schizophrenic character between texture and taste continued on the palate, which even for 69% is a bit…uncompromising (okay, it’s raw, sandpaper for the unprepared, so watch out – but it does even out after a minute). Spicy as all get-out, medium bodied (although I confess to thinking it pulled a neat shell game on me, and seemed fuller than it was, somehow), astringent and ego-withering as my Aunt Sheila in full flow, and remarkably dry (very much like Flor de Caña’s white dry rum). There’s a subtle agricole style to the whole experience, something about the cleanliness and herbal nature of the taste. Plus, I shouldn’t forget to mention additional flavours of vanilla, cinnamon bark, burnt sugar notes and a faint hint of caramel. And let me not kid you…sure the rum is strong, and I remarked it was sharp at the beginning, but once you start getting into it (or getting high), it smoothens out quite well, and becomes, on subsequent sips, a chain mail glove grasping your glottis, not a sushi knife. The finish is, of course, quite long, quite dry, and leaves a last flirt of almonds and vanilla to remember it by.

Like I said…a somewhat schizoid rum.

High Wine is what real men and porknockers drink in the Guyanese bush and whole swathes of society down by the pint in beer gardens up and down the coast. The men mix it rarely, and get paralyzingly drunk on it in labba time before going off to find a shady lady or a girlie magazine. Not for these guys the indifferent XM 5 year old, or even the King of Diamonds 5, let alone the nobler DDL rums we all know and appreciate. They want this one — cheap, clear and bludgeoningly powerful.

As it was then, so it is now. This is a romping, stomping, cheerful soldier’s and bushman’s rum, a blue collar love note to the working classes, and will never see the tables of the rich. It’s not one you’ll ever be comfortable putting on the top shelf:  your friends will probably laugh at you were you to trot it out like your firstborn for review. All the islands and all the rum producers have rums like this one, their almost unappreciated red-haired stepchildren, not entirely legit, not made for the upper crust, just for those who need to take the edge off once in a while without mucking around with “oak”, “vanillas”, “spicy tumeric background” or “a perky little nose”. It’s too raw and uncompromising for me to really recommend it neat, but you know, if you ever went down to Mudland, you really should try a shot, just the one time — perhaps with coconut water — just so you can say you have. It’s absolutely worth it for that.

 

Other notes

The Rum Howler, who gave me the bottle in late 2012, remarked that this iteration made from the Coffey still #3 will be discontinued sometime and production moved to the new multi-column still, but we’re both in the dark as to exactly when that was or will be.

 

Mar 262013
 

As long as you like a darker, heavier profile of fruity and dark sugar notes, this is a rum that gets better and better as you compare more and more rums to it.

First posted Feb 4, 2011 on Liquorature

(#098. 83/100)

*

The median of the el Dorado range exhibits a schizophrenic character, in line with its uncertain position as neither the entrance level rum (that honour belongs to the five year old), or its other bastard brother the single barrel, or any of its two superior sipping cousins, the 15 or 21.  It’s kinda left alone to sink or swim on its own merits.

Those merits aren’t half bad, I should note.  Readers might as well be warned, however: I have a weakness for dark rums of slight sweetness and age, and therefore I regard El Dorado’s as particularly good specimens of the type, never mind that they come from a country I spent many years in and of which I still retain fond memories…and where I was able to pass through many of the sugar plantations – Port Mourant, Diamond and others – where DDL gets its raw materials and stills.

I had the 12 year the same night I meant to sample all the other rums in the range, but as noted in the 15 year old review, I was tired, irritated and feeling crabby after a particularly loathsome day at the office, and therefore limited myself to retrying the 12, and then moving upscale.

The thing is, as a rum in its own right, the 12 isn’t half bad. Made from molasses in the Enmore and Diamond coffey stills and blended with a lead spirit from the Port Mourant double pot still (the only wooden one still in existence, and which also makes the Single Barrel, and several European specialist makers)  and then matured in used bourbon barrels, the 12 is not quite the equal of the 15; however, DDL have taken steps in 2006 to rejig the blend, so that now it seems to be right there on the ladder leading up to the premium sippers above it.

The nose is a bit sharp, but you can see where the progression is leading: molasses, fruit, some toffee, caramel and burnt sugar assail your nose in waves of olfactory harmony. The blend is rich and mellow and it comes out in the smell, in spite of the sharper tannins from the oak barrels making themselves felt early on.

The rum is a dark tawny colour (not as dark as the subsequent older iterations, but getting there), and of a medium heavy body; it hugs the sides of your glass as if reluctant to seep back down, when swirled. On the palate, it reminds me somewhat of an untamed horse: not entirely sure where it’s going, it bucks and kicks you some, scrapes across your tongue, but you sort of forgive that, because the overall blend of flavour and texture is so good.  There is a deep flavour of dark sugar and spice, mixed in with the tang of citrus, softness of toffee, all mixed around with a lush caramel (and I’m a sucker for that, as my purchases of ice cream will attest).

The 12 fails on the backstretch, I judge – it’s a bit too harsh for a good twelve year old rum, and one expects better (the 15 more than makes up for that, I should note).  This does not invalidate is as a sipper, just makes you want to run out and buy the next one up the line, or add ice, maybe a splash of chaser.  But on it’s own terms, with the balance of sweet and spice and burn, with a mellow finish that lasts a pleasantly long time and oils the back of your throat for longer than you have a right to expect…well, what can I say? It’s a success for its age.

Having written all the above, what would I recommend? Truth to tell, I’d use this as a high end mixer for sure, and if looking for a premium sipper, just go up to the 15, or blow a hundred for the 21.  But as a general all rounder for a lower price, this one is hard to beat – it deserves a place on your shelf for all those visitors to your rooms or houses or apartments who want to try something a bit richer than Bacardi, Appleton V/X, Lamb’s or Mount Gay (those standard staples of the young), but don’t want to bust the bank doing it.

 

 

Mar 242013
 

First posted 10 September 2010 on Liquorature #036

The 15 year old is a different animal from it’s older and younger sublings, and resides on the top of the sippers lists of many a rum aficionado.

***

The 15 year old is the bridge.  It is the last bottle in DDL’s premium line that will not set you back three figures, and still has the cheery character of a younger rum, the cheeky palate that dances and laughs across your tongue and then happily bitch slaps you for your trouble with all the insouciance of the first girl who ever refused you a dance. In it you see the developing hints of the mastery first seen in the 12 year old that culminates the 21 year old.

I was all set to do a vertical tasting of all the El Dorados: the 5 yr, single barrel, 12, 15 and 21 year old, but truth was, the day I had set aside for this I was just to damned tired, and having had the 21 year old not too long before, I contented myself with sipping the 12 year old to refresh my memory, and then cracked the 15 year old I had managed to snag the week before; and that, by the way, was a stroke of luck, because it was the last bottle Willow Park had on the shelf – they may have had more, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Demerara Distillers Limited is one of the largest and quite possibly the most professionally run international enterprise headquartered in Guyana.  It’s main competitor in the liquor trade, Banks DIH, is a blender of the XM rum line, and producer of other spirits, beers and soft drinks (and of the marvellously named bottled water “Tropical Mist”), but for my money, when it comes to premium hooch, it’s DDL, and that enterprise stands alone.

The El Dorado series is DDL’s premium export line (as opposed to the decidedly mediocre local crap, the King of Diamonds or Russian Bear which people my age cut their teeth on, which even locals avoid(ed) if they can get the XM-5), and readers of my reviews, knowing my preferences, should not be surprised at how much affection I hold for El Dorados.   Part of that comes from the complexity of the blend, coming as it does from fifteen to twenty five year old rums originating in the Enmore and Diamond Coffey stills, the Port Mourant double wooden pot still, and the Versailles single wooden pot still, all blended and aged in old bourbon oak casks. The quality shows.

The fifteen is a rich, dark blend characteristic of Guyanese rums, almost opaque (though not as dark as the inkiness of the Kraken, or, for that matter, its older sibling the 21 year old); it’s redolent of molasses and dark brown Demerara sugar in a freshly opened packet. There’s a sort of charcoal note wrapped around the nose somewhere, something smoky, and not at all unpleasant. Toffee and fruit jam. Like the 21 year, but not quite as much, the medium heavy dark body slowly slides back down the sides of the glass in lazy, fat legs of a Bourda market fishwife.

On the tongue, the rum is a sort of intense marriage of deep flavours. Dark chocolate (unsweetened, dried fruit, licorice, a flirt of anise start you off. You can taste the oak imparted by the barrels the components of the blend were aged in, but amazingly, they never overtake the whole blend.  Note also that DDL, almost alone among premium rum makers, follows the whisky rule of stating the age of the rum as the age of the youngest part of the blend. You can separate out well balanced hints of caramel, molasses, burnt sugar, wound around with the faintest hint of cinnamon and vanilla, and the barest trace of orange peel.  There is just enough sweet for me to appreciate depth and body, and just little enough to pronounce its age.  In fairness, it’s a phenomenally well-balanced drink over all – it can go well neat, on ice or even as a mixer (I do not recommend it as a cocktail, mind you, since it requires no adornment or enhancing).

The finish is an excellent deep burn, not really painful per se, more like a heated liquid – tea! – slowly carving its way down, and it’s excellently long.  Yes it does have a bit of sting to it (like the playful smack I mentioned above), but it’s not malicious in a way I often have complained about in the Appletons or the French agricoles…more like a friendly backslap to say “Later dude,” from a friend who doesn’t know his strength.

I don’t give numerical ratings as a general rule, because I want my explanation to speak for my experience, and maybe that’s a mistake, seeing how much stock readers seem to place in The Last Hippie’s Whisky ratings and the numbers he assigns to nose, palate, finish and intangibles. But in the case of this strikingly original fifteen year old, I think I might make this concession:  while sticking to my guns regarding a numerical score, I will be honest to admit that on a five star scale, El Dorado 15 year old easily demonstrates that it warrants no less than four, and if it wasn’t for its even more stellar older brother, I’d give it a 4.5 star rating right away.

El Dorado 15 is on par with the Zaya 12 year, and handily eclipses the Captain Morgan Private Stock, and gives the Bruichladdich Renegade line and the upper level Flor de Cañas a run for their money at a lesser price. I actually think it’s better than most of these. If you’re looking for an intro to the world of good sippers, or a gift of liquor that is at the top of the midrange, look no further.  You’ve found it.

Update December 2016

After years of selling this top class 15 year old rum, El Dorado has come in for serious opprobium in the rum community for not disclosing the addition of sugar across the line (30-38 g/L for the 15 year old depending on who’s doing the measuring, and when).  I still like the rum a lot, and don’t always have a problem with additions, but I’m a bear on disclosure, and really annoyed by the fact that it was never acknowledged by DDL, to this day.

Mar 242013
 

First posted Oct 26, 2010 on Liquorature. #035

Note: I have written a companion piece to this review for RumConnection here: it’s more tightly researched, a bit longer, and takes a more structured approach.  But both this review and that one are of a piece, and I hope you enjoy them

***

Of all the rums reviewed here, I believe that the only reasonably complete “age set” of a single distillery’s products I’ve managed to buy is the el Dorado line. Somehow, Calgary seemed to have gotten most of the el Dorado aged rums over time, though some of the estate editions are missing – and I’ve snagged everything I ever saw up for sale…except for the ne plus ultra, their fabled 25.

Now the El Dorado 21 costs ~$100, the English Harbour 25 goes for $200, Mount Gay 1703 $110 and Clemente XO $126 (with the Appleton 30 at a whopping $300+ in Calgary, and $550 in Toronto)…the El Dorado 25 supposedly retails for a cool $350, but only when you can find it, and that’s about as likely as finding seriousness in a Rajinikanth movie.  So it’s a little like a Grail of sorts for me, and when an old friend in Toronto mentioned he had a bottle of the Millenium Edition  (bottled for the year 2000), and was prepared to let me have a sip under carefully controlled circumstances (lock, key, watchful guards and closed circuit cameras not excluded), well, what can a man do but accede and hustle his behind over there.

The various reviews I’ve done of the El Dorado line give more than enough history of the producing company without me adding substantially to it, but in brief, more than any one company in the world, DDL ushered in the age of premium sipping rums way back in 1992 when the El Dorado aged vintages emerged, led by the flagship 15 year old Special Reserve (which my father told me quite frankly is his favourite of them all). To a great extent this was aided by the tremendous variety of original and modern distilling equipment DDL had (and has), including original wooden stills dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries; these permit a variety of dark matured rums that form the backbone of the range.

The ED-25 shares, with a few others, the humourous cachet of being old enough to have intimate relations with itself, and to call the bottle it comes in merely “a bottle” is to do it a disservice.  Like the Angostura 1919 and the Appleton 30, it comes in a container best referred to as a decanter, or maybe a flagon (minus the handle).  It may lack the zen-like Spartan simplicity of the EH10, but it’s arresting for all that and the glass-topped cork makes its own statement of quality (I particularly liked the voluptuous popping sound when eased out). You feel, when opening this baby, that you should be on a plantation house somewhere, watching the sun go down over emerald green canefields moving and rustling in the trade winds.

Right away you are enveloped by warm breathy fumes of your favourite bedtime partner gently blowing brown sugar at you. The nose is not sharp enough to sting, but asserts its prescence in a sort of mild burn that is far from unpleasant and hints of caramel, brown sugar, faint orange peel, spices and perhaps (and I’m reaching here) cinnamon. Slow, fat legs swirl in your glass as it drains in an oily film down the sides.  I had observed before that I loved the viscousness of the 21 year old…this one looks to do it one better.

And it does.  “Oiliness” is a mark of how well the rum coats your tongue and allows the tastes to remain there.  The ED25 is a step ahead of the 21 year old I so admired, perhaps a shade more viscous, a bit thicker in the mouth.  It gives the liquid a richness and feel that I find amazing.  It’s still a spirit of 40% ABV, but dense enough for you to almost feel you’re getting a liqueur. The taste that comes through is of smoke and oak, sweetness (a shade more than the 21) and caramel, molasses, nuts, fresh coconut shavings still damp from the blade, bananas, cherries and a slight hint of liquorice; and the sense, never quite solidified, of wet warm ground softly steaming after a tropical drizzle. And there was that wine-like taste of cigarillos soaked in port which I used to love in my smoking days.

The dark brown rum is smoother than any rum has a right to be, and to taint it with any kind of mixer would be sacrilege.  I had it neat and then with ice, but my take would be to just have it neat and sip it one small mouthful at a time.  The finish is long and lasting, and like a playful tabby, it bats you with half-sheathed claws right at the end just to let you know you can’t take it for granted…what a wonderful rum this was, indeed.

I suggested in my review of another uber-rum (the Appleton 30) that I can titivate around with opinions on the low and midrange rums without losing any kind of credibility, but just because a man pays a lot for a bottle of the good stuff does not immediately guarantee  a positive, let alone a sterling, review.  That I paid not a red cent except fuel costs to get to John’s house does not invalidate this sentiment.  Was it as good as I had been led to believe?

In answering this question, I want to stay away from making any kind of unequivocal statement as “this is the best” or, “it’s the epitome of rum” or any such superlative, because at end, what you are getting here is an opinion. Mine, to be exact, and as readers of my writing will have discerned by now, I like smooth sippers of some sweetness, complex flavours and subtle underpinnings, with a good mouthfeel and long finishes.  On that level, the El Dorado 25 is one of the best commercially available 40% rums ever made: in my opinion it’s a top five pick for sure (and note how carefully I phrased that). Where it fails slightly, is in the sweetness component.  It’s just a bit too much, the burnt sugar and caramel flavours being a bit too aggressive: they just edge out the subtler tastes coiling beneath, and while the upside is that this smoothens things out a bit on the finish, masks the smoky oak tannins enough for it not to be a whisky (a problem I had with Appletons), it prevents that coming together of all elements — flavor profile, texture and finish — that would give it the premium many will feel a rum like this deserves, and justify the price tag.

That this is the top end of rums is not in question, and so, at the end, whether you buy it or not depends a lot on how you see rums yourself. Are you prepared to shell out over three hundred dollars for a world class sipper, or are you at that stage where you would prefer to go a rung lower and buy two or three also-premium, almost-as-good rums for that same price and triple your enjoyment? In my youth, I knew exactly where I stood on that sentiment; at my current age, with a little bit of cash socked away to indulge myself (and an understanding spouse who pretends not to notice), I’d have to concede that I’d walk – nay, run — to Willow Park to buy this, if they ever stocked it.

…but only once.

***

 Update February 2017 – I had the good fortune to re-taste this as part of the Rumanicas lineup, and  the intervening years made one hell of a difference: it was staggering how my own tastes had changed.  Not only was 40% way too weak (the rum retails at 43% in Europe), but the sweet was now something that could only be described as an epic fail.  I believe that for its time (~2005-2011) it was right and commanded the heights; few other makers could produce a 25 year old rum in any real quantity to compete with this.  But as full proofs became the preferred strength, and lack of adulteration was the signature of top end rum; and as other, sometimes older rums came on the market, DDL never really changed with the times.  To be sure there will always be those to whom this rum appeals.  These days, I’m no longer one of them, until DDL dials down the sugar and issues the rum at a higher proof.

Mar 242013
 

First posted 30 July 2010 on Liquorature.

(#031. 78/100)

***

We’ve tasted the El Dorado 21 year old (a superb example of the distiller’s art) and I have a 12 year old kicking around somewhere that I’m awaiting the return of the Bear to crack, but since the low end of the scale was available, it formed the third part of the three-rum selection for the July 2010 gathering.  I’d like to point out that what Demerara Distillers markets abroad as 5-year, is vastly different from what is foisted on the local market in Guyana, and that’s a shame, since it says that leavings are given to the locals, while high-revenue earners are shipped abroad.

DDL is headed by a marketing genius: Yesu Persaud, the Chairman of the company, saw the emergence of premium sipping rums coming and lay down stocks from the 1980s and even before that; so in 1992, when DDL issued the El Dorado 15 year old Special Reserve, it showed that rum, like whisky, could compete for the sipping market on level terms.  Too – and for this I have to give full credit and many attaboys – DDL has used the whisky principle of stating that when something is a 12 year old or 15 year old, then that is the component of the drink that is the youngest part of the blend.

As the picture shows, this is a brown-gold rum, not terribly heavy in density. Baby legs scamper in scrawny rills back down the glass in labba-time, and those nose is simple, without complexity – the usual caramel and burnt sugar offering, though somewhat lighter than usual, and with some cinnamon and perhaps coconut thrown in for good measure.  There’s that spirity sting on the schnozz to watch out for, of course.  About what one would expect from a five year old.  I’m beginning to come to the belated conclusion that the only real difference between a five and a fifty year old is the care taken to smoothen out and balance the various tastes and burns…younger babies are simply bastard offsprings of more noble sires and have not yet grown into their stature, so to speak.

Tastewise, I have the advantage – or suffer under the burden – of having tasted DDLs crap ware in the old country, so my expectations of their single digit rums are always low (I concede that the exported tipple is miles ahead of the local market hooch). But I must admit that the five caught me off guard: I had been expecting the slightly dark sweetness of DDLs older offerings, but got instead something drier, smokier and more distinctive.  The flavour of coconut, anise and caramel blends into something akin to a very strong, unsweetened tea carving its way down your throat, with a bite of heat rather than that of acid (I hope I’m making the distinction clear).  Sure there is burn at the back end, but less than I would have imagined – actually, the rum reminds me of a young cognac more than anything else.

Which is not to say I was entirely enamoured of DDL’s rum here. You know me and my love for sweets, so on that level, plus the rather low effort put into muting the burn, it’s sort of a “par for the course” kinda deal;  a very nice little mixer, however.  Cola fills out the sweetness and body the rum itself is missing. I’m prone to playing favourites, and I really like the 21 year old, so if I was in a good mood (which I was) I’d certainly give this one a pass on the strength of my appreciation for its sibs and its quality as a mixing base.  As a sipper, however, much as I’d like to state otherwise, I’d rather stay away from it.

Still, for a five year, that’s still polling ahead of the margin, I’d have to say.

Update: I ran four five year old rums including this one against each other a couple of years later, here, if you’re interested.

 

Mar 232013
 

El Dorado Single Barrel Demerara Rum EHP label unavailable

First posted 24 May 2010 on Liquorature. #020

***

I always admire some level of originality, whether it is in food, drink, a book, movies or simply the way something looks. In an era of mass production and conformity, too much of what we buy or see is an exact copy of the same thing we bought or saw somewhere else. On that basis, I was quite happy to see Demerara Distillers’ square, tall bottle of the El Dorado Single Barrel ICBU when it was presented at the April 2010 session of the club, and since it was not only a rum,  but from Guyana, I knew I was in for something interesting.  Maybe the review would not be positive, but at least I would not have been bored during the sampling.

The El Dorado rum is made with the only wooden pot still remaining in the world, from Plantation Uitvlught (hence the ICBU in the name), where a sugar factory has been functioning since 1753. It appears to be a blend as opposed to something specific and aged on its own, which is why once again there is no official age on the bottle – regular readers of my rum commentary will know this to be a personal bugbear of mine, though admittedly DDL is better than most in identifying senior blends with the age of the youngest component. Still, as it is somewhat lighter than the Special Reserve 15 year old – this may come from the fact that it does originate from a single barrel –  I venture a guess that the main component of the blend is a ten or twelve year old (it is a curious matter that the DDL site makes no mention of this rum at all).

The rum is a deep bronze redolent of burnt Demerara sugar, with nice legs hinting at a full, dark body. A certain woodiness attends the nose along with the faint toffee and sugar…it’s like a faint smell of new rain on sun-warmed wood chips, and nicely enhanced by the attendant caramel. In a way it reminded me of the aftersmell of burning canefields at harvest time on the East Bank of the Demerara, where I once lived.

Neat it was a pleasant sipper; to my mind the smoothness of the taste was defeated by the somewhat harsher tannins and woodsy tastes the nose had hinted at. In recent years, the only DDL offering I have had was the stellar 21 year old (also reviewed on this site), and there the sharp tang of wood (I’m not yet so refined as to tell you what kind) was quite muted and blended well into the overall flavour profile.  Here, less effort had been put in and the taste was therefore more pronounced.  Not really in a bad way, but it did put off the sweetness of the rum quite a bit, and made it somewhat drier. Nutmeg and cinnamon came through clearly on the palate, along with coconut and vanilla, all somewhat overwhelmed by the pungency of the wood bite.  I liked it better on ice, all things considered, and yes, as a mixer it’s excellent.  The finish is long, and the burn lingers and that is not necessarily pleasant for all: it was not for me.

I hesitate to pronounce any kind of definitive judgement on this rum. As a reviewer who looks for certain things to describe, I must concede its taste and body. It’s intriguing, flavourful and while not as unique as the Bundy, quite forceful in its own way: and as I said at the beginning of this rum review, I am always appreciative of efforts at originality – it hints at a blender who is willing to go outside the box. As a man who has friends over, it would not be the first thing I trot out for my guests, however, since it goes a bit over the trench and off the plantation, so to speak.  Oh, it’s a rum all right, and quite a good one: just a shade different…enough so that most people might take a glass or two out of curiosity, but then shrug and move on to more convival and comfortingly familiar fare.

Mar 232013
 

D3S_6898

First posted Feb 19, 2010 on Liquorature.

(#015. 88/100)

Deep, smooth, elegant, complex, affordable. Brilliant rum catering to all my tastes.

***

It seems to be a cruel irony that I always find the rums I desperately want to buy and take a taste of when (a) my frugal better half is casting baleful glares in my direction,  (b) my friend The Bear is unavailable to assist in the sampling and (c) cash is short…or at least, pay day is nowhere in sight, which amounts to the same thing.  All three were in evidence this Friday, when, for reasons we shall not get into here, I was in the Calgary Airport liquor store.  Now why they would have a store in a place that does not allow you to bring the good stuff aboard except in checked luggage (at which every West Indian I ever met would blanch, shudder and mutter that “dem peepl nah gat sens…is where else me go drink it?”) escapes me, but I ended up snagging one of the three bottles I was after: the Demerara Distilleries El Dorado Special Reserve 21 Year Old.

For those unfortunate souls not from the West Indies, or the even sadder ones who know nothing about Guyana, let it be said that two mighty local distilleries vie for control of the local and export market: Banks DIH and Demerara Distilleries.  There isn’t a Guyanese alive, of this I am convinced, who does not recall the sniff of fermenting sugar as he passes Diamond Estates to or from the airport.  This is where DDL has its base of operations, and this is where they blend the elite little package that I prepared to sample some thousands of miles away.

For a rum costing close to a hundred, the packaging is surprisingly cheap printed thin cardboard, but okay.  It’s what was within that I was after.  DDL matures this baby in used oak whisky and bourbon barrels, and the aroma of the cork bears this out.  The aroma was a pungent mix of burnt sugar, spices, soft and thick, chopped fruit in a black cake, butterscotch and caramel, molasses and smoke and I dunno…perhaps some oak, all blended very smoothly and almost inseparably in there.  A first taste neat and then another on the rocks made it clear that DDL put some effort into making this a somewhat dry rum (more so than the 15 year old), but it developed on the palate very nicely, and I think The Bear would agree that it was enhaced by the whiskey notes, the same way he really appreciated the Renegade 1991.  The sheer amount of tastes coming through was astounding: chocolate, coffee, mocha, truffles, raisins, dates,  black currants and blackberries, anise, licorice, molasses…each flavour chased its way genteelly up one side of my palate and down the other.

Very very smooth, hardly any bite on the way down. And a long finish, where those sweet highlights come out and almost, but not quite, overpower all the other spices.

Good stuff this. At 40% it is like caramel velvet going down, and it’s one of those like the English Harbour 25, that I would not tamper with, it’s that good…no coke for this baby.  It can’t class with the English Harbour all the way (at half the price, that would have been practically a miracle), but I’ll tell you this…it gives similar price point rums like the Appleton Master Blender’s Legacy a run for its money. It may disappoint on a second tasting, but thus far, for me, it’s one of the better neat rums I’ve ever tasted, and it wasn’t wasted money.  Too bad the Club was not meeting this week…I would have loved to bring it along for an introduction.

Update: The Bear and I sampled this together for my second go-around on the bottle.  While his tongue had already been desensitized by the English Harbour Five we’d been sipping for the previous half hour (he agrees this is one of the great SDRs around), he was clean-bowled by the sheer quality of this 21-year. Unlike me he took no umbrage at the cheap packing, since, in his view, it does not add to the price and what you get is what you pay for. An interesting point.  But after he wiped his misty eyes dry, he said that this was such a smooth, well-balanced rum that it might even be better than the EH-25. Looks like I’m not the only one to think this way.

 

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