Jun 042013
 

D7K_2039

Among the best of the five year olds, and may actually be the best 5 I’ve had to date.

(#166. 84.5/100)

***

One of the surprising things about the Plantation Barbados 5 year old is the fact that it is bottled at what, for Plantation, is a relatively mild 40%. Still, for all my whining about wanting rums to be stronger, I can’t deny the overall quality of what many would dismiss as a mixer’s rum, because it’s a quietly impressive product that is the equal of the El Dorado 5 year old in every way, and exceeds it in others.

Cognac Ferrand is noted for taking rums from various plantations around the West Indies and Central America, ageing them in situ and then bringing them over to France where the finish it in cognac casks for a few months. This double ageing gives their rums a certain richness and depth that is really quite something, and while they simply classify the rums by the date of distillation (one is left to guess how old a given rum therefore is), in this case they have stated front and centre that it is a five year old rum, which makes comparing it against others a much less theoretical proposition.

A while back, I ran four fives against each other and commented on their various characteristics and how they stacked up – based on that, I felt (at the time), that the El Dorado five was the best of the (limited) lot. Well, here Plantation does it one better, and steals the crown. I got this impression right from the get-go, when opening it up and taking a good strong sniff. Most five year olds I’ve tried tend towards the slightly raw – there is usually a sense of better to come, with a spiciness and burn deriving from some ageing, perhaps not so complete. Here, precisely the opposite was true: the rum was quite soft, quite smooth (a bit of a nip, yes…just less than you might expect), quite pleasant on the nose. Vanilla, plums, dark berries (blackcurrants and blackberries with ripe cherries), and a dusting of coconut shavings were all in evidence, leavened as it opened up with some pineapple and cinnamon, butterscotch and toffee.

D7K_2035

As for the taste, well now, colour me impressed: amazingly robust on the palate, deep and intense, oily and quite smooth, warm and easy to sip. Just sweet enough to please, with simpler, forceful notes of vanilla and cinnamon segueing gently into molasses, burnt sugar, caramel, the aforementioned coconut shavings and a dark chopped-fruit melange. The feel of this rum as I drank it was of a warm freshly laundered pillow, something quite soft enough to hug, definitely more polished and nuanced than the ED5. Finish was sweet, honeylike, relaxed, and gave you no attitude whatsoever.  In it, you could see the Plantation Barbados 20th Anniversary take shape. It’s that decent.

On its own you’re not necessarily going to get all this: but trying it in tandem with a few other similarly aged offerings gives you a gist of the quality I describe here. It really is quite an experience, to be able to sip – not even adding water – a rum this young and this cheap. I thought Josh Miller at Inu a Kena was kidding when he muttered disbelievingly “I’m sipping a sixteen dollar rum! Neat!” But he was doing no more than telling the absolute truth.

The Plantation Barbados 5 year old may be relatively uncomplex compared to older rums, not too much oomph in the trousers alcohol-wise, but you simply cannot argue with its put-togetherness. Okay, so maybe it’s not a top ender, but in my mind, it perhaps should be – it takes its place among the best young rums out there. On smoothness, taste, texture, mouthfeel and finish, all for that one low low price, it is a rum that will be difficult to beat even by products many times its age.

 

Other notes

I am aware that I scored the El Dorado 5 a measly 78 points back in 2010. For that time, it was right. Now, three years down the road, I would probably rank it quite a bit more generously (and may yet do that, if I pick up another bottle). I’ll just note the discrepancy, and remark to my fellow bloggers who are kind enough to read this review, that this is why one should never taste a rum for scoring purposes in isolation but always as part of a series of some kind.

Also, it may cost twenty bucks or less in the US, but in Canada it’s closer to forty.

Plantation has been known for (and has admitted to) the practice of “dosing” which is the adding of sugar to round out and smoothen their rums.  In this case the various sugar lists maintained by the fatrumpirate and others work out to about 22 g/L for this rum.  Different people have different attitudes towards this practice, so I mention the matter for completeness.

 

May 072013
 

D3S_5509

Crackers and butter

(#160. 84.5/100)

***

Given how much I care for Guyanese style Demerara rums (even if some of them actually originate from plantations closer to Berbice), and knowing something of the various profiles hailing from these plantations, I must confess to being quite surprised at the sharp left turn this 45% ABV Plantation rum made.

No really. As soon as I opened the bottle to pour the gold-amber rum into my glass, the very first scent that reached me was salt biscuits and creamy, unsalted butter.  This, to me was quite unmistakable, because in my youth I was once caught on a tramp steamer in the Atlantic for three days, and all we had to eat was salt biscuits, crackers and peanut butter (and some jam) – and the Guyana 1999 rum mirrored those scents so faithfully it was, quite frankly, like being back on board.  Okay, it did mellow out, I can’t kid about that – into smoke and wet, rain drenched wood, tannins from oak, only slowly deepening into almonds, faint citrus, hibiscus flowers and softer caramel and burnt sugar (for which I was thankful – I’ve never appreciated salt biscuits since that time).

The Guyana 1999 suggested a certain clarity and hardness rather than softer, more voluptuous tastes.  Very little soothing gentleness here, yet also no real bite and sting on the palate.  Indeed, the somewhat briny, tannic nose transmogrified into a creamier, very pleasantly oily feel on the tongue, and the previously restrained ponies of sugar, vanilla and caramel were allowed freer rein, though they never went so far as to dominate the overall flavour profile. Indeed, were it not for that clear, dominant “I am here” taste of butterscotch and burnt sugar, this rum would have been a lot more delicate and flowery to taste.  And there were few, if any fleshy fruit or citrus notes here at all, nor where there any on the finish.  It’s a very strange rum to try, yet also a pretty good one – this is one case where the palate exceeds the nose (I often find the opposite to be the case). The fade is medium to long, with a rather hard denouement of blackberries and almond nuttiness that goes on for quite some time.

D3S_5507

Plantation is one of the famed rums made in series and in quantity by what is termed an independent bottler – Cognac Ferrand from France, in this case.  There are many others – Rum Nation, Renegade, Fassbind, Berry Brothers & Rudd and Velier are just a few examples – but most of these tend towards a few thousand bottles per run, originating in a few casks, while I get the impression that CF does quite a bit more than that for each of its editions. The claim to fame of the Plantation line, and what gives them such a great street rep, is their finishing for a final few months in cognac casks, which imparts an intriguing flavour to each and every one of their rums I’ve been fortunate enough to try thus far, providing an intriguing counterpoint to the Renegade line, which to my mind attempts the same thing a little less successfully.

Also, I think that the slight saltiness and background cracker taste on the fade makes the rum drop a bit more than usual for me – oh, I liked it, but I enjoyed other Plantations more (the Nicaragua 2001, for example, and the Barbados 20th Anniversary for sure).  For a Mudlander, even one in exile as long as I have been, that’s nothing short of embarrassing.  Still, I have to make this observation – I tried it side by side with the Renegade Barbados 2003 6 year old (coming soon to the review site near you), and doing the tasting in tandem revealed something of the character and richness of the Plantation rum which Renegade lacked…so it’s certainly better than a solo-only tasting or my ambivalent wording here might imply.

There aren’t many rums I try that evoke such strong, definitive memories.  I may not have enjoyed eating stale crackers and jam for three straight days on the Atlantic Ocean, no…what I took away from that experience was more of the black, moonless nights, blazing with stars, phosphorescent green water lapping against the hull, desultory conversations with the mate at three in the morning (while sharing some unspeakable hooch), being young, immortal and seventeen, and considering myself part of a grand adventure.  This rum, with a middling nose and finish and a very pleasant palate, brought back that experience in a way that was nothing short of amazing.

Don’t know about you, but for me that’s priceless.

 

 

Apr 112013
 

D7K_1222

A very good double-aged Nicaraguan rum, from France.  If this is what a random selection of Plantation rums is like, then I have high hopes for all the others.

(#154. 85.5/100)

***

Finally, I have managed to start acquiring some of the Plantation rums (long regarded by me as a major hole in the reviews of rum “series”), and if the Law of Mediocrity holds true, then this is a set of bottlings that would remedy all my bitching about the inconsistencies of the Renegade line. If it is true that the characteristic of the parts is a function of the whole, then we’ll be in for a treat as we work our way through them.

The Plantation line of rums is made by Cognac Ferrand of France, based on stocks bought from around the Caribbean and Central and South America, and some of their uniqueness rests in the fact that they are finished in cognac casks prior to final bottling (so they can be regarded as double aged). This gives the rums in the line a certain heft and complexity that many comment on quite favourably, to say nothing of the line stepping away from 40% as a matter of habit – this one from Nicaragua was bottled at a pleasant 42%. Note also that Plantation indulges the practice of dosing – the addition of small amounts of sugar to create the overall assembly.

D7K_1227

The bottle itself conformed to the Plantation standard of presentational ethics: a straw-netting enclosed barroom bottle, with the label identifying the year the rum was laid down (2001 in this case), and a map of the source country. I guess they saved the really fancy presentation for stuff like the Barbados 20th Anniversary edition, which was nothing near to this kind of standard (it was better), yet I have no fault to find here, since aside from the lack of an age statement, it provided most of what I needed.

It’s been a while since I tasted the Flor de Cana series of rums (my stocks are long since drained and not renewed), but I remembered the solidity of those, the depth of flavour, whether simple or complex, and they remained among my favourites until supplanted by other Panamanian and Guyanese expressions. This rum brought back all my memories of why I liked Nicaraguan products so much

The nose was deep and rich, redolent of vanilla, oak (not excessive, very well balanced), caramel, citrus (orange peel, even lime zest) and peaches (minus the cream). There were herbal notes flitting around the initial delectable aromas, and I reveled in the lemon grass scents which reminded me somewhat of crushed lime leaves in spicy Thai cuisine. There was no offensive astringency or bite here, just solid, complex notes I spent an inordinate amount of time admiring.

The palate was lovely. 42% ABV sent a pleasantly heated, medium bodied spirit to announce its prescence with a smoothly powerful fanfare. Honey and caramel flavours led the charge, with subtler tastes of pineapple, a ripe-but-firm mango and vanilla rounding things out. The Nicaragua 2001 was not overly sweet (so what dosing they did do was judiciously restrained, at least), slightly dry without being either cloyingly sugary, or acerbically briny. The rum was all well-balanced flavour and profile, speaking well for more expensive and older rums up the chain of the Plantation line. And I had little fault to find with the finish, which was longish, slightly dry and gave me some oak and vanilla that was not exceptional, just well put together

 D7K_1228

What’s not to admire about a rum like this? Much like the Dictador 20 written about some weeks back, it displayed a solid mastery of rum-making fundamentals. It’s probably the finishing in cognac casks that gave it that extra note of complexity and balance I so enjoyed here, with the body being somewhat enhanced by the sugar (estimated at 14 g/L). In part, I see the production of these limited edition bottlings by European makers as an act of homage for the traditions of the old rum makers and their lost arts. W.G. Sebald, whose works often concerned the loss of memory, once wrote about journeys made through the half-abandoned remainders of the past, through signs that men had once been here and are now forgotten. When you try the Nicaragua 2001, you see what rum can be, once was…and maybe what it will aspire to in years to come.

 

***

 Other notes

The Law of Mediocrity isn’t quite what it sounds like: it basically takes the position that if one takes a random sample from a set and that sample is good, then it suggests that others in the set will also be.

There is no literature I can find that says precisely how old the rum is. Of course, since it was casked in 2001, it has to be less than fifteen years old. One German site stated it was six years old, but I dunno…..

There is some confusion in the online literature as to whether this is pot still or column still distillate. However, the Cognac-Ferrand site notes it as coming from a columnar still.

People have differeing opinions on the matter of additional sugar.  Some like it, some don’t, some are indifferent. The 14g/L number is taken from The Fat Rum Pirate’s list.

 

 

 

 

Mar 302013
 

 

This lovely product will always be one of the top sipping rums of my 2012 experience. The awards it has garnered since 2007 state boldly that many others think so too.

(#138. 88.5/100)

***

Stirred by the Rum Howler’s listing of the Plantation Barbados XO in his intriguing top 30 rum list, and having brought back a bottle from the amazing Rum Depot store in Berlin back in August (yes, it was gathering dust for several months, them’s the breaks when you have a day job and a family and other interests), I resolved to check it out after finishing off the St Lucia series. It was run up against three enormously different rums which could not possibly be mistaken for each other: the Renegade Cuba 1998Downslope Distillery’s wonky 6-month wine-barrel aged rum from Colorado about which I can’t say enough bad things, and the amazing 2012 Rum Nation Demerara 1989-2012 23 year old about which I can’t say enough good things.

The Plantation series of aged rums from Cognac-Ferrand are the major remaining hole in my review lineup (as of the beginning of 2013) of widely available commercial rums, if you don’t count other rather more exclusive European boutique makers like Bruichladdich, Cadenhead, Berry & Rudd, Bristol Spirits or Fassbind (among others) which rarely touch the Great White North. Knowing what I know now regarding how to begin a review site of popular spirits, I really should start with the younger Plantation variations and move up the scale, but when you have twenty to chose from and can only pick one, you might also do as I did, and start at the top…assuming your wallet holds out.

And I’m glad I did. Barbados rums tend to be on the soft side, but this one was like a feather pillow for the nose, truly…it handily eclipsed the Mount Gay 1703 with scents of white chocolate, buttery toffee, the nutmeg of a good eggnog, vanilla and caramel, and a lovely background of ground coconut shavings in a melange that was utterly terrific. It was a rich sensory love-in of a nose, solidly constructed, soft and breezy and if you ever wanted to have a Christmas rum to sip by a roaring fire, you would never have to go further than this one. I thought of it like a liquid, warm Hagen-Dasz, with all the sweetness that implies.

The palate was similarly excellent: sweet and a shade briny (not too much), soft as a mother’s hug before school on a cold day. It had hints of bananas and orange peel on the medium-heavy body, salty caramel, white chocolate vanilla. My lord this was good, rich and pungent and smooth as a cat’s tummy fur, with just a shade of heat to lend character, a touch of oaky spice and burnt coconut…if this rum was equated to a painting, it would be a lush impressionist Monet or Degas, colourful, vibrant and above all, real. And for once the finish completed the overall picture without failing, warm, medium long and rich, with traces of almonds, citrus and oak on the slightly astringent close.

The XO is a rum that is a blend of Plantations’s “oldest reserves” (not sure how old these reserves were, since no further details are available). The blends are first aged in Barbados in ex-bourbon casks, then taken to France where they undergo secondary ageing in smaller French Oak casks for a further year to eighteen months. I must concede that this process of double ageing (somewhat akin to the Dos Maderas 5+3 or 5+5) is much to my taste…it provides the resultant spirit with a depth and creaminess that is quite becoming and is absolutely meant for leisurely exploration when time is not a factor and a buzz is not on the menu.

As I noted above, this is a solidly built, well presented, utterly traditional all-round excellent premium rum. At €45 I think it might be one of the better value for money rums available for a 40% product. That sentence should be parsed carefully, because what this means is that it is superlative at genuflecting to all the expected traditional rum expectations…but without rising above or vaulting beyond (or violating) them…it lacks the passive agressive adventurousness of Fabio Rossi’s Rum Nation Demerara 1989 23 year old (45%) or the stunning-if-sweet Millonario XO (40%). This is not to diss the Plantation product, mind you, just to give you a sense of both its quality and what else it could have been had someone taped a pair of balles to it.

I wish I could tell you which rums in the Plantation lineup this one compares well to, but I can’t (Plantation Rums are not widely available in Canada). Suffice to say, the Anniversary XO is phenomenal taken merely by itself. It has a complex softness and style recalling the St. Nicholas Abbey 10 or 12 year old, or most of the top Panamanian rums, and a finish that is close to conjugal harmonies. If it has a weakness at all, it’s in hewing too closely to the profile of rums, and not daring to step a little outside the demarcations: I think that had it done so, beefed itself up, perhaps aged it a little differently, they may have been one of the top premiums in the world which all others had to beat. As it is, it’s a great sipping rum that any aficionado should have on his shelf, and share generously with people who simply don’t get how good a premium rum can be when made by people who are fully invested – and who care about – the resultant ambrosias they create.

***

 

 

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