Dec 022017
 

#464

Seen over a span of decades, it is more clear than ever that the El Dorado 15 year old is a seminal rum of our time. “It is a bridge” I wrote back in 2010 in my unscored review, remarking that it straddles the territory between the lower end twelve year old and the 21 year old, and represents a sort of intermediary in value and price and age. The best of all worlds for El Dorado, you might say, and indeed it remains, even twenty five years after its introduction in 1992, one of the most popular rums in the world for those who enjoy the Demerara style.  Any time a blog or website has a series of comments on favourite affordable rums, you can be sure it’ll find its way in there somewhere.  It cannot be easily ignored, even now in the time of independents and cask strength Guyanese monsters aged beyond all reason.

That it succeeds at so effectively colonizing our mental map of good rums bottled at living room strength is a testament to its marketing, but also its overall quality.  DDL themselves tacitly accept this by not only keeping the rum in production for over a quarter century, but chosing specifically that one to issue with a number of fancy finishes (and for a very good rundown of those, look no further than RumShopBoy’s complete analysis, and his separate conclusions, as well as the Quebec Rum’s (French) reviews the only ones available right now). My irascible father, no rum slouch himself, scorns all other rums in the El Dorado range in favour of this one. Many Guyanese exiles wouldn’t have their home bars without it.  What the actual quality is, is open to much more debate, since all rumhounds and rumchums and rabid aficionados are well aware – and never tire of saying – that there is 31-35 g/L of additives in there (either caramel or sugaring, it’s never been definitively established), and by that standard alone it should, like the 21, be consigned to an also-ran.

But it isn’t.  Somehow this rum, a blend of the PM, EHP and VSG stills – which is to say, all the wooden stills, with the PM dominant – keeps on trucking like the energizer bunny, and, love it or hate it, it sells well year in and year out, and has fans from across the spectrum.

Tasting it in tandem with the 12 year old (I’ll do a revisit of this as well soon, though not as part of the Key Rums series) and the 21, it’s clear that it possesses a bit more oomph than it’s younger sibling, in all aspects.  Not only in strength (43% ABV) and age (three years more than the 12), but also in overall quality. It noses quite well – licorice, anise, creamy caramel, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke.  Orange rind.  Some mustiness and vague salt – basically all the things that the cask strength indies demonstrate, with good complexity and balance thrown in…but somewhat more dampened down too, not as fierce, not as elemental, as what might have been the case.

The various hydrometer lists around the place have shown there’s adulteration going on in the rum, and there is no doubt that when you drink the 15 in tandem with clear, untouched rums, the softening effect of the add-ons are noticeable. What is astounding that even those levels don’t entirely sink the experience. Consider: it’s smooth and possesses depth and heat.  It starts with licorice, and adds oak, some smoke, then slowly the dark fruits come into play – prunes, raisins, black olives, overripe cherries.  There’s some honey and the faint molasses background of coarse brown sugar.  In every way it’s a better rum than the 12 year old, yet one can sense the way the flavours lack snap and crispness, and are dumbed down, softened, flattened out – the sharp peaks and valleys of an independently issued rum are noticeably planed away, and this extends all the way to the finish, which is short and sleepy and kind of sluggish, even boring: sure there’s caramel, molasses, oak, licorice, nuts and raisins again, but didn’t we just have that?  Sure we did. Nothing truly interesting here.

All that aside, I’d have to say that for all its faults, there’s a lot to appreciate about this particular rum.  Much like the 21 it rises above its adulteration and provides the new and not-so-demanding rum drinker with something few rums do – a particular, specific series of tastes that almost, but not quite, edge outside the mainstream.  It gives enough sweet to appeal to those who bend that way, and just enough of a distinctive woody-smoky-leathery profile to attract (and satisfy) those who want something heavier and more musky.  

Now, let me be clear – a superlative demonstration of the blender’s art this is not. It is not one of the fiercely pungent Jamaicans, not a lighter, clearer, crisper agricole, nor is it an easy going Cuban or Panamanian, or a well-assembled Bajan.  I think it’s eclipsed even by the single-still offerings of DDL What it really succeeds at being, is well-nigh unique on its own particular patch.  Its success rests on great appeal to the masses of rum drinkers who aren’t drinking a hundred different rums a year, and who don’t take part in the Great Sugar Debate, who just want something tasty, reasonably well made and reasonably sweet, reasonably complex, that can be either sipped or swilled or mixed up without breaking the bank.  It’s on that level that the El Dorado 15 year old succeeds, remarkably well, even now, and is a tough, well-rounded standard for any other rum of its age and proof and point of origin to beat. Or at least, in the opinions of its adherents.

(82/100)

Oct 052017
 

#392

As the years roll by, I have come to the conclusion that the last decade will be regarded as the Golden Age of Rum – not just because of Velier, Silver Seal, Moon Imports, Rum Nation, Ekte, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Secret Treasures (and all their cousins), but also because of the amazing writers who have emerged to chronicle their adventures with rum.  Somehow, social media and blogging software have formed a nexus with rum makers that allowed previously niche brands to simply explode onto the stage, raising awareness and knowledge to unprecedented heights.

However, an unanticipated side effect of this increase in knowledge and experience (even if only vicarious) is that buyers are more than ever leaving the what I term “national” brands like Mount Gay, El Dorado, Flor de Cana and Appleton to go venturing into the new, the esoteric or the independent. Few of the established brands have managed to meet this challenge – Foursquare with its cask strength releases and Velier collaboration is one, Grenada has had one or two overproofs floating around, and DDL certainly tried (timidly to be sure) with the Rare Collection.  Mount Gay is getting in on the action, and no doubt the Jamaicans are just building up a head of steam, and you can see Diplomatico, St. Lucia Distilleries and many others jumping aboard.

This leaves an old standby premium blended rum, the El Dorado 21, in something of a limbo.  It’s too old to ignore, too cheap to pass by, but lacks something of the true premium cachet…an affliction shared by, oh, the Flor de Cana 18.  That cachet can be conferred, for example, by purity: but it sure isn’t that – it’s not from any one of the famed stills, and various measurements suggest between 16-33 g/L of additives presumed to be caramel or sugar.  Alternatively, it could ascend in the estimation based on limited availability, and that isn’t the case either, since it is nowhere near as rare as the 25 YO editions, and isn’t marketed that way either. Nor does it go for broke and get released at a stronger proof point. Yet, for all that cheap premium reputation it has, I submit we should not throw it out just yet and pretend it’s some kind of bastard stepchild not worthy of our time.  Revisiting it after a gap of many years made me more aware of its failings…but also of its quality for those who aren’t too worried about either its strength or adulteration. One simply has to approach it on its own terms and either ignore it or take it as it is.

Re-sampling the rum in mid-2017 – some seven and a half years after my first encounter with it – showed how both I and the world had changed.  Many of the elements I so loved back in the day remained – the nose was earthy and musky, like dry ground after a long rain, and the licorice and oaky notes came through strong, attended faithfully by molasses, butterscotch, caramel, burnt sugar, very strong chocolate.  I let it stand for a little and came back and there were bags of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves – and slowly developing dark fruits and raisins coming through.  And yes, there was an emergent sweetness to it as well which made it easy easy easy to sniff (I was trying the 40% version, not the 43% one from Europe).

The nose showed much of what made and makes it such a popular premium rum for those whose tastes bend that way – at this point the profile was warm, enjoyable and luscious.  Problems began with the tasting.  Because while it was smooth, deep and warm, it was also thick, and by some miracle teetered on the brink of, without ever stepping over into, sweet cloyishness.  That it did not do so is some kind of minor miracle, and that as many flavours came through as they did is another.  Prunes, vanilla, creme brulee, more licorice, and salty caramel ice cream were first and remained the backbone of it, upon which were displayed hints of grapes, dates, cloves, christmas black cake, and even a smidgen of citrus sneaked slyly through from time to time.  It was great, but just too thick for me now, a shade too sweet, and the finish, well, at 40% ABV you’re not getting much, being way too short and simply repeating what had come before – frankly, I think that any rum this old had no business being released at such a paltry proof point.

Back in 2010 I scored it 88, saying what a brilliant rum it was, catering to all my tastes.  To some extent that’s still true – it’s simply that after many years of trying rums from around the world, I’m more aware of such adulteration and can spot the masking, dampening effect on the profile more easily.  I assure you, it’s by no means enough to crash and burn the experience – it’s just something I no longer care for very much, and when combined with a less than stellar strength, well…..

These days I regard the ED21 and the like with some sadness.  Not because of its sweetness and adulteration, really (that’s a given, grudgingly accepted with bad grace) — but because it reminds me of a time when I knew less, was pleased with more, regarded each new rum in the queue with excitement and interest and curiosity and yes, even joy.  It brings to mind a 1950 Frank O’Hara poem, where he wrote

“Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water.”

That’s how I felt then, and occasionally, I still burn that fiercely now.  But with experience (and perhaps a little wisdom), I had to trade away some of the excited exuberance of the beginner and accept that time – and my tastes, and indeed I myself – moved on.

Because, you see, this rum is not made for me any longer.  It is not made for Josh, Matt, Gregers, Laurent, Cyril, Steve, Johnny, Paul, Richard, Henrik, Wes, Simon, Ivar and others who have been at this for so long.  Once, in our rum-youth, we may have regarded a 21 year old like it was some kind of Everest. But we have passed beyond it in our journey, and see it now as no more than a foothill, a small peak among Himalayans.  It is made for those that follow us, for those who are now embarking on their own saga, or for the unadventurous who, like Victorian readers, prefer for now to read of the exploits of the trailblazers and pathforgers, but shy away from taking on the force and fury of a cask strength forty year old.  It is for such new drinkers that the rum is for, and one day, in their turn, they will also tread beyond it.

In the meantime, though, the El Dorado 21 is one of the key aged rums of our world, no matter how distant in our memories it lies, and no matter how much its tarted up profile has become something to decry.  We just remember that we liked it once, we enjoyed it once, and must allow those who appreciate rums for precisely those reasons, to discover it in their turn today as they walk down the path of their own rum discovery, seeking their own individual, personal, perfect El Dorado in the world of rum.

(84/100)


Other notes

Made from a blend of distillates from the Enmore wooden Coffey still, the Versailles single wooden pot still, and the French 4-column Savalle column still – for my money the Versailles is dominant.

 

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)

Mar 102017
 

Photo copyright whisky.dk

Rumaniacs Review #029 | 0429

Issued around 2011, the El Dorado 25 YO received an update from the original 1980 version, with the blend tweaked a little.  The enclosure and bottle remained the same, however, and unfortunately for the modern rumporn brigade of the millenial teens, not enough was done to upgrade the rum to what a current (2017) connoisseur would consider par for the course – unadulterated and cask strength.  Instead, sticking with the tried and true formula which sold so well in the past, it remained 43%, and perhaps we should consider it a favour that the reported 51 g/L sugar of the 1980 version was reduced to 39 g/L here.  I suppose that’s why this one scored incrementally better.  But still, a 25 year old rum made from some of the most famous stills in the world should be a world beater.  And it isn’t. Not even close.

Colour – dark red-amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Marginally better than the 1980 (I tried both side by side).  While still too anemic, it was vaguely crispier and fruitier, nuttier and brinier. Bags of anise and dark dried raisins, jam, molasses and caramel, given some edge with notes of tobacco and oak and some minerally ashy background.  A very good nose.

Palate – Takes the promise and trashes it…worst part of the experience.  This is a €400+ rum, aged 25 years (with all the attendant expectations such stats engender), and a depressingly liqueured might-have-been. If one strains the nose almost out of its original shape, one can sense (rather than actually taste) black cake and honey, vanilla and oak, philly cheese on toast, plus traditional fruits, raisins, anise, prunes, backed up by a nice creme brulee.  And to that extent I liked it. But the sugar…it was just too overbearing – it was like you could never quite come to grips with what was on offer, not because of a low ABV (though this did absolutely nothing to enhance the experience) but because the sweet dampened everything.  It made for a thick, muddy sort of mangrove swamp, instead of the crisp, complex, fast-flowing river that would have been better.

Finish – Too short, to pale, too sweet.  Nothing much going on here.

Thoughts – What the rum provides is still ahead of spiced nonsense like the Kraken or Don Papa, but that’s damning it with faint praise.  Those cost 1/10th of this and have fewer pretensions, raise fewer expectations. Seven years ago I enjoyed the 25 YO El Dorados I tried because I knew less and was more satisfied with 40-43% rums.  That time has now passed and I can see more failure than achievement here. One of my idols proved to have feet of clay, alas.

(81/100)

Other Rumaniacs liked this rum even less than I did.  You can see their evaluations on the official website.

Jan 312017
 

Photo copyright (c) Masters of Malt

Rumaniacs Review #028 | 0428

In the beginning DDL made the El Dorado 1980 25 year old and it was good. The rum pundits looked upon it with favour, tasted and smiled and pronounced it great. For it was greatly aged and unique and well presented and the people were pleased and parted willingly with their hard-earned coin. But then, lo, the world around it moved and changed, and darkness moved upon the face of the cognoscenti, for as the stars turned overhead, other rums were made, better rums, stronger rums, purer rums — and the El Dorado 25 was loath to change with the times.  Verily, it was seen to be a mere mask of greatness without actually being great, having been corrupted and adulterated by the sly serpent of sugar.  And those very persons who heretofore had sung its praises and made sweet sacrifice of good yellow gold at the altar of DDL, now turned their faces from its twisted taste and denounced its falsity.  But many disciples stayed faithful to the heavy  sweetness of the rum, hearkened on to its seductive call, and continued to make obeisance to its false promises.

And it came to pass that the Lone Caner, slinking furtively behind his better-known fellow acolytes of the Order of the Rumaniacs, finally dared also to walk through the abyss, to investigate reports and rumours of this fabled beast.  Armed with only his trusty pen as weapon and notebook for shield, clad in not-quite-righteousness and supposed knowledge gleaned from years of study in matters of The Cane, he went quite into the lair of the legendary rum, to there do battle and come away with the flame of true knowledge.  Was indeed the El Dorado the mythical sugar demon denounced from many an evangelical pulpit?  Or did evil rumour and the jealous despite of the followers of the New Faith unfairly malign a misunderstood denizen of the rumiverse?

And upon reaching the very centre of the bottle’s domain, admired the Caner the golden etching of the flagon. Poured into the glass the Caner did his hard earned sample for which he had sacrificed so much.  Smelled it with overlong snoot, inhaled into much abused lungs, as he drew into himself the olfactory essence of the dram, fearing not, for the Rum Spirit was within him, his alcoholic belches were the stuff of legends unto themselves, and he was far too witless for fear.

Richness there was, immediate, for the scent of the rum spoke to the fair stills whose puissance had been taken by the Makers and through magic and incantations and the tears of virgins, been rendered down into the brown elixir worshipped in times past by the people as a Great Spirit.  Enmore spake commandingly, and Vesailles alongside, and perhaps a whisper of the fabled and elusive Uitvlugt too, all breathing life into the rich nose.  Burnt sugar there was, and nougat, coffee, burning cane fields, and anise, and the sweet aromas of fruit and licorice to make the hearts of children glad.  But lo, what was this?  Even as the richness was sensed, it congealed and became thick and cloying and the dread spectre of sugar surged forth from the darkness to do battle with the rum and the Caner.  Too strong was it for resistance, and yea, the sugar vanquished all that came before it and the nose faltered and died upon the floor.

Struggled did the Caner, to raise his glass and taste the dark brown lass, but alas, bitter disappointment was his only reward.  For by dint of sweet promises and the lure of earthly delights known to only a select few, the fair maiden of the El Dorado proved herself to be a faithless siren luring him to his doom.  Drowned he was in the overwhelming blanket of sugar.  Struggled he did to sense the dim light of vanillas and kiwi fruit and deep molasses, the soft caramels and inviting toffees and coffees and aromatic notes of tobacco.  But nay, the Dark Spirits were merciless, and he failed in his quest utterly; and even the faint glimmers of anise and caramel and burnt sugar turned their faces from him and vanished sadly into the underworld, never to be seen again…leaving him only with remaining teeth decaying and tongue coated with sticky syrup, rending his robes and gnashing his teeth in the anguish of what he had been denied.

Then wroth was the Caner, for he had earlier loved this fair spirit, which had so misled him in his innocence and newbie-ness with shades of illusion now proven false. Raised he then his acerbic pen, readied he his trusty notebook.  Furiously was the pen wielded and the ink stained the page as if he had spilled the rum running through his own veins. And he recorded for posterity his despite.  For in his disappointment and his frustration, these were the weapons he meant to use to record the legend of this mythical rum and to speak truth to those who would continue to sing songs of praise to its purported magnificence.

Therefore, then, gentle reader, take thee heed of the glorious failure of one led to ruin by his misplaced admiration for a false idol, and go not into the abyss thyself. Let his misadventure serve as both warning and instruction, that great age and great price and a fair and sweet appearance are sometimes masks to deceive the unwary.  Tread not lightly into congress with such strumpets lest ye be destroyed in thy turn.

(80/100)

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.

Jun 062015
 

IMG_6970_2Rumaniacs Review 004 | 0404

First rum I drank back in the day.  Was working in the interior of Guyana for gold exploration companies at the time; every Saturday evening, a couple of bottles of this stuff were trotted out for us to get hammered on. We drank it swiftly, continuously, copiously and without a care for quality. This one is supposedly fruit cured…not that I noticed much of that.

Nose: Thin, sharp. Coconut shavings, swiftly disappearing.  Faint caramel and vanilla. Nuts. Anise, but not much. Raisins, red guavas and grapes waved at me, but kept way back.

Palate: Light bodied, hay coloured 40%, almost not a Demerara at all.  Thin and sharp. White flowers, more coconut, a few fruity notes, peaches and cream with a dusting of cinnamon.  Some mangos, raisins and black currants at the backend. A bit sweet, hardly noticeable.  There’s not enough going on here to care, really. It’s all very underwhelming

Finish: Short, sharp and dismissive. Almost nothing to discern here at all beyond scraping heat and dark sugar and licorice.

Thoughts: A throwaway rum, for mixing, I suppose.  I remember it being a lot more raw and pestilential.  No notes on ageing provided, but methinks it’s a really young ‘un…at best a five year old. In between grumbling that nobody ever thought to keep any of these rums for heritage purposes (people were to busy drinking the stuff) Carl Kanto remarked to me that there were aged variations of the King of Diamonds, and they evolved into the El Dorado line in the 1990s.  For my money (speaking metaphorically), this wasn’t one of them…if one could ever be found, I suppose you could buy it for historical value.

(75/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid
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.

 

 

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