Sep 062017
 

#386

Let’s be honest – 2017 is the year of FourSquare.  No other company since Velier’s post-2012 explosion on the popular rum scene, has had remotely like this kind of impact, and if you doubt that, just swim around the sea of social media and see how many references there are to Triptych and Criterion in the last six months.  Which is admittedly an odd way to begin a review of a competing product, but I wanted to mention that for all the (deservedly) amazing press surrounding the latest hot juice in the rumiverse, there remain equally solid names as well, who may not be as glitzy but have great products nevertheless, reliably issued year in and year out.

One of these is Rum Nation, which remains — after all the years since I first came across them in 2011 — among my favourites of all the independents. Their entry level rums, which usually sell for under a hundred dollars, are relatively standard proofed and are pretty good rums for those now getting into something different from mass-produced “country-brands” (even though they suffer from the dosage opprobrium that also on occasion sullies Plantation’s street cred). And because they are made from several barrels, usually have outturn in the thousands of bottles so there’s always some left to buy.  But the real gems of the Rum Nation line are — and always have been — the Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the aged Demeraras, all over twenty years old, and all bottled at an approachable strength of under 50% (dosing remains a fierce bone of contention here and is somewhat inconsistent across the line).  At least, they were at that strength, because Rum Nation, never being content to rest on their laurels, decided to go a step further.

In 2016, bowing to the emerging trend for cask strength, Rum Nation introduced the small batch “Rare Rums”.  These are much more limited editions of rums north of 50% and so far hail from Jamaica (Hampden), Reunion (Savannna) and Guyana (Enmore, Diamond and Port Mourant) – they are much closer to the ethos of Samaroli, Silver Seal, Ekte, Compagnie des Indes Danish and Cask Strength series, and, of course, the Veliers.

This also makes them somewhat more pricey, but I argue that they are worth it, and if you doubt that, just follow me through the tasting of the 57.4% 2016 Batch #2 Port Mourant, which started off with a nose of uncommonly civilized behavior (for a PM) – in a word, arresting.  With a spicy initial attack, it developed fleshy fruit, anise, licorice, spicy to a fault, adding prunes, plums, yellow mangoes, deep deep caramel and molasses, more licorice…frankly, it didn’t seem to want to stop, and throughout the exercise.I could only nod appreciatively and almost, but not quite, hurried on to taste the thing.

I am pleased to report that there were no shortcomings here either. It was warm, breathy and rich.  It may have come up in past scribblings that I’m somewhat of an unredeemed coffee-swilling chocaholic, and this satisfied my cravings as might a well-appointed Haagen-Dasz store: dark unsweetened chocolate, a strong latte, caramel, anise and burnt sugar, which was followed – after a touch of water – by dark fruit, raisins, figs and a touch of salt and bite and harshness, just enough to add character.  I was curious and wondered if it had been tarted up a mite, but honestly, whether yes or no, I didn’t care – the rum was still excellent. Rum Nation took two casks and wrung 816 bottles out of them, and I can assure you that not a drop was wasted, and even the finish – long, warm, breathy, piling on more chocolate and creme brulee to a few additional dark fruits – was something to savour.

This rum (and the Small Batch Rare Collection 1995 21 year old I tried alongside it)  exemplifies what I like about RN.  Honestly, I don’t know how Fabio Rossi does it.  Back to back, he issued two rums which were years apart in age, and their quality was so distinct, they were so well done, that I scored them both almost the same even though they were, on closer and subsequent inspection, appreciably different sprigs from the same rum branch.  No, it’s not the best PM ever (or even from RN itself), and is eclipsed by its own brother issued in the same year…but it’s a variant in quality not many other makers could have put out the door.  It’s a rum that is quite an experience to drink, and if I like the 21 better, well, it’s only a quarter-second, half a nose and a single point behind…and that’s no failure in my book.  Not by a long shot.

(89/100)

Dec 222016
 

 

***

A grand old PM. Best of the three Small Batch selections from 2016.

#329

It’s reasonable to wonder whether there isn’t some self-cannibalization going on here.  Since their inception back in 1999, Rum Nation’s flagship products were always the old-enough-to-vote Jamaicans and Demeraras, all issued at around 43-45%.  The old wooden box and jute packing gave way to sleeker, modernist boxes, but the ethos remained the same, and happily for the aficionados, there were always several thousand of these floating around, as Fabio Rossi never bottled just one cask, but several. (As an aside, something of the evolution of our world can be found in how long it took for anyone to even notice the original selections from the 1970s, which took years to sell…a situation which simply cannot occur today).

Fast forward to 2016, and the company sprang this surprise on us – in the same year that DDL pushed out its Rare Collection, RN raided its slumbering cask stash to produce three limited edition Demerara rums of their own, called the “Small Batch Rare Rums” (and I hear — in the muttered corners of the smoking area out back where the rum-hoodlums hang around — that others from Reunion and Hampden may be in the works).  Yet, because of their more limited outturn, these rums may be cutting into the sales of, or appreciation for, the top end rums that have won so much acclaim over the past decade or two, since what is made into a Small Batch cask-strength rum won’t be made into a twenty-something year old in the Supreme Lord or Demerara series.

Well, whatever.  We’re lucky to get these rums at all, I sometimes think.  And this one is right up there with the 45% Demeraras of made with such care in Rum Nation’s youth, perhaps even a smidgen better because of the extra oomph that was generously ladled out for us.

As usual, let’s get the known facts out of the way: Port Mourant distillate from the double wooden pot still in Guyana; the single cask was bought via a broker, and aged in Europe, first in the Bristol Spirits warehouse and in Italy after 2007.  The ageing was done from 1995 to 2005 in ex-bourbon barrels and transferred into a second-fill sherry cask in 2005 until final release in 2016 (Fabio told me he didn’t know whether it was first or second fill, but my own feeling after the tasting was that the sherry had an effect on the final product that was not strong enough after so many years to justify the first fill possibility, but that’s just my opinion).  The outturn was 170 bottles, bottled at that so-very-lekker strength of 57.7%, and I have bottle #002, which is almost as cool as having bottle #001.

Was it any good?  Oh yes.  Just opening it up and smelling straight out of the bottle hinted at olfactory impressions to come – some rubber, wax and floor polish, which swiftly dissipated, followed by licorice, bags of raisins and dried fruit, prunes, dates, cedar wood shavings, and a lovely aromatic tobacco and lemon peel smell behind all of those.  There were some well integrated caramel and vanilla notes, a sniff or two of red wine, but in the main, as was to be expected, it was the trio of anise, raisins and wood that were the core of the nose. It showcased all the markers of traditional excellence that I have always enjoyed about the Port Mourant distillate, all in balance and as harmonious as a zen garden.  

57.7% was also an almost perfect strength for it to be issued: over 60% it might have been too raw, under 50% and maybe too easy.  Not that it really mattered, because between the ageing and the sherry influence, the rum demonstrated a powerful but restrained mouthfeel which gave you the heat and the strength without ripping any part of your corpus to shreds. Sharp it was not…forceful might be a better appellation. And then the flavours came through, big and bold: licorice, oak, more of those aromatic cedar and cigarillos acting as the central core, upon which were hung the lesser tastes like apricots, more lemon peel, grapes, brown sugar, red wine and strong black tea, leading up to a masterful finish that lays it all out on the table so your senses get one last whiff before it all gradually dissipated.

The balance of the rum is exceptional – many of the elements are so flawlessly constructed and built into the profile that you want them simply continue, yet they create a sort of emotional, labial vortex drawing you into another sip, another glass…maybe that’s why half my bottle is already gone. What it really is, is a delivery system for ensuring you get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out of a barrel. I felt that way about Rum Nation’s Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the 57% white, and yes, about the Demeraras.  To make a series like that, of such consistent quality is something of a minor miracle.  To crank up the volts and issue a small batch version of the PM alone and have it be this good is surely another.

So, if you like Guyanese rums as a whole, cask strength rums generally and Port Mourant rums in particular, well, you really can’t go wrong here.  It’s ambitious, luscious, and delicious, providing a rum profile where drinker engagement and enjoyment is 100%.  As for the quotient of appreciation?  My friends, that may actually be off the chart.

(90/100)

Note:

This rum is the first release.  The 2nd Release, also from 2016, is a 17 year old bottled at 57.4% from two casks resulting in 816 bottles.  I tried that one at the 2016 Berlin Rumfest and can confirm it’s also quite good (though I liked this one more).

Dec 202016
 

rn-enmore-rare-1

***

#328

It really is amazing how many different ways there are to express the outturn from a single Guyanese still, Enmore or Port Mourant or any of the others  We might have to approach them like James Bond movies (or Sherlock Holmes short stories)…enjoying the similarities while searching for points of variation, which gives us the rare rum equivalents of  masterpieces like Skyfall versus occasionally indifferent efforts like A View to a Kill.

Rum Nation’s first serious foray into multiple-edition small-batch cask strength rums probably deserve to be tried as a trio, the way, for example, DDL’s three amigos from 2007 are.  Each of the three is unique in its own way, each has points that the others don’t, and if one is weak, it’s made up for with strengths of another and they work best taken together.  Of course, that’ll cost you a bit, since rums made at full proof are not cheap, but to have rums like this at 40% is to do a disservice to those famous stills from which Demerara rums are wrung with such effort and sweat.  Even DDL finally came around to accepting that when they issued their own Rare Casks collection earlier in 2016.

Of the three Rum Nation rums I tried (in tandem with several others), there was no question in my mind that this one sat square in the middle, not just in the trio, but in the entire Enmore canon.  Personally I always find Enmores somewhat of hit or miss proposition – sometimes they exceed expectations and produce amazing profiles, and sometimes they disappoint, or at least fall short of expectations (like the Renegade Enmore 1990 16 year old did)….another property they share with Bond movies  However, it must also be said that they are very rarely boring. That wooden still profile gives them all a character that is worth trying…several times.  

rn-enmore-rare-2

Take this one for example, an interesting medium-aged fourteen-year-old, almost lemon-yellow rum, with an outturn of 442 bottles from six casks (77-82).  It was distilled in 2002 and bottled this year, the first batch of Rum Nation’s cask strength series, with a mouth watering 56.8% ABV…now there’s a strength almost guaranteed to make an emphatic statement on your schnozz and your glottis.  And before those of you who prefer no adulteration ask — no, as far as I’m aware, it wasn’t messed with.

The nose demonstrated that the colour was no accident; it was sprightly, almost playful with clean notes of hay, planed-off wood shavings, lemony notes.  Not for this rum the pungent, almost dour Port Mourant depth – here it was crisper, cleaner. Gradually other aspects of the profile emerged – old, very ripe cherries, apples, cider, vanilla.  As if bored, it puffed out some mouldy cardboard and cherries that have gone off, before relenting and providing the final subtle anise note, but clearer, lighter, and nothing like the PM, more like a cavatino lightly wending its way through the main melody.

Certainly the nose was excellent – but the palate was something of a let down from the high bar that it set.  It was, to begin with, quite dry, feeling on the tongue like I was beating a carpet indoors.  It was less than full bodied, quite sharp and hot, with initial flavours of polish, sawdust and raisins, a flirt of honey; it was only with some water that other flavours were coaxed out — wax and turpentine, orange chocolates, dates, vanilla and Indian spices (in that sense it reminded me of the Bristol Spirits 1988 Enmore), and some eucalyptus, barely noticeable. It was the sawdust that I remember, though (not the citrus)…it reminded me of motes hanging motionless in a dark barn, speared by seams of light from the rising sun outside.  The finish was pleasant, reasonably long, repeating the main themes of the palate, without introducing anything new.

Overall, this is a rum that, while professionally executed and pleasant to drink (with a really good nose), breaks little new ground – it doesn’t take the Enmore profile to heights previously unscaled.  Yet I enjoyed it slightly more than the RN Diamond 2005 I looked at before.  Partly this is about the character of the whole experience, the way the various elements fused into a cohesive whole.  My friend Henrik, who also tried these three Small Batch Rare Rums together, was much more disapproving – he felt the Enmore was the weakest of the three, with light woods and citrus being all there was. My own opinion was that there was indeed less going on here than in other editions I’ve tried, but part of what I enjoyed was the way that what there was melded together in a way where little failed and much succeeded.  And if it did not come up to the level of other Enmores like the Compagnie des Indes 1988 27 year old (91 points), or the Velier 1988 19 year old (89 points), well, I felt it was still better than others I’ve tried, and by my yardstick, a damned good entry into the genre. Something like, oh, Thunderball or Goldeneye – not the very best, but far, far from the worst.

(87/100)

Other notes

To provide some balance for those who are curious,see the links to two other sets of reviews:

As with all expressions where this are differences in opinion, trying before buying is the way to go, especially if your personal tastes

I’m waiting on Fabio to tell me where the ageing took place – I have a feeling a good portion was in Europe.

 

 

 

Dec 182016
 

rn-sbrr-diamond-2005-1

#327

What a change just a few years have wrought. Back in 2009-2010, cask strength rums were hardly on the horizon, “full proof” drinks were primarily Renegade at 46% with a few dust-gatherers from independent bottlers like Secret Treasures, Cadenhead, Berry Bros., or Samaroli making exactly zero waves in North America, and Velier’s superlative rums issued almost a decade earlier known to few outside Italy.  Rum Nation took two years to sell a pair of 1974 and a 1975 25 year old Jamaican rums bottled at 45%….and they were around since 1999!

As 2016 comes to a close, observe the continental drift of the landscape: Velier is the mastodon of the full proofs, DDL released its Rares in February, FourSquare and Mount Gay are both issuing powerful and new versions of their old stalwarts, the Jamaicans are undergoing a rennaissance of old marques, and previously unremarked and unknown independent bottlers (some new, some not so new) are all clamouring for your attention.  Companies like Compagnie des Indes, Ekte, L’Espirit, Kill Devil and others are the vanguard, and more are coming.  Even the regular, tried-and-true makers whose names we grew up with, are amping up their rums to 42-43% more often.

rn-sbrr-diamond-2005-2In between all of these companies is Rum Nation, that Italian outfit run by Fabio Rossi, whose products I’ve been watching and writing about since 2011, when I bought almost their entire 2010 release line at once.  They’ve been making rums since the 1990s (like the two Jamaicans noted above), and over the past three years have attracted equal parts admiration and derision, depending on who’s doing the talking – it’s almost always the matter of additives to their rums; it should be observed that at the top end, it’s not usually the case, like with the 23-26 year old Jamaicans and Demeraras which remain among the best rums of their kind available.

The Small Batch Rare Rums Collection is Fabio’s last old stocks of Demerara rum, and has been on the drawing boards, so to speak, for quite some time – as DDL and Velier showed us with their own Rares, the decision to issue a rum can be made more than a year in advance of the actual first sales, what with all the bureaucratic hoops and logistics a bottler has to go through to bring the vision  to market. Anyway – the Diamond I’m writing about today, the youngest of the three, was from the 1st Batch and is RN’s own foray into the cask-strength market, issued at a rough and ready 58.6%, distilled in 2005 from the double column metal coffey still, and bottled in 2016…the outturn was/is 473 bottles, the presentation of which are the same RN style, but with cardboard tube enclosures, simpler and perhaps more informative labels to go along with them – and which, as always, have the postage stamp motif which has become almost a hallmark of Fabio’s (he used to be a collector in his youth, as I was). And no, no additives as far as I’m aware.

If you’ve been bored to tears by all this set-the-stage introductory material, your immediate and impatient question at the top was most likely, well, how good was the thing? .

All in all, it wasn’t bad – what set it lower on the podium than some others is probably the ageing, which I suspect was not fully tropical (Fabio still has to get back to me on that one but bearing in mind past products, it’s a good bet) and therefore not all the rougher edges had time to be fully integrated with and mellowed by the oak barrels in which it had been aged. It smelled light, with initial easy-to-spot caramel, white toblerone, vanilla and toffee, leavened with some watery fruit (green pears and watermelons), cloves, cumin, marzipan, before settling down to emit some odd background notes of black pepper, sawdust, grapes, raisins, fleshier stoned fruits, bubble gum and a soda pop…maybe pepsi, or 7-up.  Not entirely my thing – it was a bit sharp and raw, needed some snap and firmness to make the point more distinct, and the synthesis could have been better.

Diamond rums, of course, have been among my favourites for a while (comparisons with Velier are unavoidable) and what they lack in the fierce pungent originality of the rums from the wooden stills they regain in blending and ageing skill.  Some of that was evident when tasting the amber coloured rum – it started off hot, lunging out of the gate with first tastes of cocoa and light coffee, vanilla, some brine, some sweet (good balance there, not too much of either), and a muted explosion of fruits.  It was quite a bit lighter in mouthfeel than the PM and Enmore tasted right alongside, which some might mark down because it presents as thin, but to me there’s a world of difference between the two terms – the Doorley’s or an underproof 37.5% rum is thin; well made agricoles are light. So here I think that lightness has to be taken together with the crisp intensity of the tastes that come through, because no scrawny, spavined, rice-eating street cur of a rum could provide this much.  There were peaches, apricots, blackberries, cherries, bonbons and caramel sweets, and with water, all that plus some licorice under tight control, and a light woodsy backdrop melding somewhat uneasily with the whole…and a long, slow finish that provided closing notes of licorice, sweets, more fruits (nothing too citrusy or tart here) and, surprisingly enough, a coffee cake with loads of whipped cream.

All this taken into account, was the youngest rum the best of the three or not?

Well…no.  I found it somewhat austere, to be honest, a few clear notes coming together with the quiet, restrained sadness of a precise Chopin nocturne or a flute sonata by Debussy, and less of the passionate emotional fire of Beethoven, Verdi, Puccini or Berlioz that almost epitomizes the Guyanese rums when made at the peak of their potential.  It requires some more taming, I think, even dialling down — compared with its siblings and a bunch of other Demeraras I tried alongside it, it feels unfinished, like it needed some more ageing to come into its full glory.  Whatever.  It’s still a very tasty tot, and as long as you take what I said about lightness versus thinness alongside the strength and price and tasting notes together, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed if you do end up spring for it.

(86/100)

Nov 032016
 

rn-jamaica-1990

We should be grateful that some makers still have sufficient stocks to permit the issuance of rums old enough to vote – we sure won’t see many of them much longer.  This one does fans of the Jamaican rums no dishonour – it’s great.

#313

With the recent 2016 release of the 1991 Jamaica SL VIII, which really is just about as good as they say and maybe even better than this one, I rummaged around my bag of tasting notes and remembered I had a bottle from that island from a year or two back knocking about and gathering dust (would you believe I actually forgot about it?) … so I brought it upstairs, re-tasted, updated the notes, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue. ‘Cause those Supreme Lords man, they’re pretty amazing, and we don’t see many rums this old from the indie bottlers all that often.

By now, after recommending them for many years, there is nothing new I can really add to Rum Nation’s company bio that isn’t already there. They’re not innovative – or “limited edition” – in the same sense that CDI or Velier or even EKTE is, but they are very consistent in their own way and according to their own philosophy, and I’ve liked them enormously since 2011 when I first ran across their products and bought just about the entire 2010 release line at once.  Almost always good, always adding a little bit here and a little bit there to tweak things a bit (like the Panama being changed to an 18 year solera, the new bottle design from 2014), and incrementally improving every year (moving slowly to higher proof points, the Jamaican 57% white and those amazing twenty-plus-year-old Demerara and Jamaica rums). They catch a lot of heat for their practise of adding sugar (sometimes it’s actually caramel but never mind) to their lower- and mid-level rums (the Millonario XO in particular comes in for serious hate mail).  However this Jamaican SL VII has no such inclusions and is pretty much unmessed with, so rest easy ye puritans, and on we go.

Some details: this is a pot still rum, from Hampden estate, which is rapidly turning into one of my favourite Jamaican estates, like PM is for the Demeraras.  It was distilled in 1990 and poured into 822 bottles in 2013 at a not-quite-so-spectacular 45%, after slumbering for almost twelve years in Jamaica (in ex-bourbon American oak barrels), before finishing the ageing regime in the UK.

rn-j-1990-2It’s always a toss-up for me whether I’m in a Jamaican or Guyana mood, and this orangey-amber rum showed why – deep rich licorice and honey started the nose off, billowing strongly out of the glass; the funk took its place, oak joined in, to which was added easier notes of mead, grasses (grasses? I wondered, but yeah, there it was), and some orange zest. Deeper, muskier and earthier tones took their turn, before fading off into fruity hints (unripe peaches and a half ripe mango or two). I was impressed as all get out to note a hint of fresh honeycomb (complete with waxy notes) with a clear, light floral undercurrent that all combined really well.

There was no divergence on the taste, as I’ve sometimes noted with Jamaicans, and the palate followed smoothly on from what was smelled. Smooth and warm – yes, 45% could be improved on, but I can find little fault with what has been accomplished here.  Quite fruity, acetone-like and estery, but also competing briny notes were in the mix.  Citrus, sherry, the glue of an UHU stick, then cherries and very ripe apples on the verge of going bad.  It tasted remarkably clear and crisp, with the funk being held at bay while never entirely disappearing.  That might actually be to its detriment, because we look for a Jamaican profile, and it’s there, just not as in-your-face as we are led to expect by other independent bottlers who have no time for subtlety and smack you in the head with it. Finish is warm, remarkably long for that strength, with closing aromas of glue, sweet soya, a sort of mash-up of fleshy fruits, all leavened with a sly, crisp citrusy note that brings it all to a lovely close.  Overall, it’s a lovely and approachable rum that many, beginners and aficionados alike, will savour, I think.

Rum Nation’s marketing is quite canny.  Unlike the smaller independent bottlers, they don’t just do a single barrel – for them that’s too limiting.  They do two and three and four or more at a time, which permits correspondingly greater volumes (usually in the low thousands of bottles, sometimes more, sometimes less).  And they issue their high-end rums — of which this is assuredly one — at an ABV that’s more than the 40% which is practically a North American standard, but less than some raging full proof number that alienates (scares off?) all but the hard core.  What that leaves us with is a relatively affordable, very accessible 23 year old rum of just under a thousand bottles, issued at a decent strength, and quality not to be sneezed at. For ensuring that sales and availability and appreciation go hand in hand, that four-way combo is a tough one to beat. This is a rum worth getting, and the great thing is, you still can..

88.5/100

Other notes

Bottle provided by Fabio Rossi – every time we meet we argue over the cheque, whether it’s for a dinner we share or a bottle he’s provided. Sometimes I win, sometimes he does. I still owe him for this one, which I’ve had since early 2015.

The wooden box with its jute sacking which I so loved has been discontinued, but postage stamp pictures blessedly remain as part of the overall presentation.

Mar 222016
 

D3S_3652

*

The yin to Velier’s yang approaches its own pit stop on the road to the end of the Age of Demeraras, with a worthy entry to the genre.

(#262. 89/100)

***

Because I have a thing for Demerara rums (and not just because I used to live in the neighborhood), I’m always interested in finding new ones…or old ones issued anew, take your pick.  The RN 1990 is a sad sort of milestone for the company, because it is one of the last of the deeply aged Demeraras the company will issue for some time, nearly depleting its stock of PM distillate which hail from 1990 and before.  I tried this in the 2015 Berlin Rumfest, and liked it so much that I indulged myself in multiple glasses at Rum Nation’s booth every time there was a lull in the action, earning me some rather frosty glares from the booth attendants (I picked up a bottle some time later).

As with other old top end rums Rum Nation issued in the past, these are at the summit of their food chain, and while I sort of miss the older wooden boxes and burlap packing that were used in the Jamaican and Demerara >20 YO series, I liked the new box design too.  Cool black cardboard enclosure, silver lettering, very elegant.  The old style bottle was retained (not the tubby one introduced in 2014) and it looked like what it was, a pricey old boy made by Italian stylists

D3S_3654

Let’s move right into the facts.  The rum was mahogany shot through with flashes of gold, 25 years old and bottled at a reasonable 45%, as most Rum Nation top enders have been. It originated from five casks bought in 2003 in the UK, transferred to oloroso sherry wood barrels in May 2004, and bottled in early 2014 (as a 23 year old which seems to be missing from my master list) and the remainder ended up in this run of 2015, of 850 bottles

Tasting notes….well, that PM profile is so very distinctive, that I must confess to some bias here just because, y’know, I like it. Licorice, ripe black cherries and chopped fruits led the way. The smell was deep and bordering on rich (the 45% held it back), and after settling down exhibited wood, vanilla, leather and some of the weird smell of light rain falling on coals, mineral and smoky and musky all at once – not unpleasantly so, more like a counterpoint to the main theme.

Somewhat spicy to the initial taste; that took a few minutes to settle down to a pleasing warmth. The solid notes of the familiar licorice and anise crept out, dominating, the slightly lighter acidity of green grapes and citrus peel which swirled around yet more hints of black olives, tannins and some brine.  There were some aromas of fleshier fruit – peaches, ripe apricots – faintly hanging around, not enough to nudge my opinion one way or the other, really, just nice to notice. The rum exhibited a driness and woody character that was more prevalent than I recalled from others sharing this kind of taste (like Rum Nation’s own 1985 or 1989 editions, the Cadenhead 1975, or the Norse Cask 1975, let alone Velier’s 1974 PM, the last three of which are admittedly something of a cheat, being so much older). Still, I enjoyed it a lot – the rum was warm, heavy, not too jagged, and even provided additional black cake and molasses to the taste buds, once some water was added. At 45% there was very little aggressiveness which needed to be tamed here, leading to a fade that was medium long, not too shabby (certainly not sharp) – dry, pungent, aromatic, displaying mostly cloves, licorice, molasses, vanilla, smoke, dill and maybe some black tea, freshly made.

I’m not entirely sure it needed the additional filip of sherrywood finishing, but that did provide an additional complexity to the more traditional profile of the PM which made up the rum, and it took its place as a worthwhile companion to all the Demeraras that had preceded it from that company. It’s a well made, professionally assembled, delectable sipping spirit, if the profile and strength are in line with what you demand from a Demerara rum aged for a quarter century.  Buyers will have little desire to quibble over how and what it delivers.  And that’s quite a bit..

 

Mar 162016
 

D3S_3649

More tamed Peruvian sunshine.

(#261. 84.5/100)

***

It’s been quite a few months since I picked up a Rum Nation product to write about.  This is not to say that they have either lapsed in sleep or are resting on the laurels of past achievements, since just the other day they put out some promo materials for two new Guadeloupe rums I’m going to keep an eye out for.  However, today I wanted to look at one of their other countries’ offerings, the Peruano 8 year old.

Aficionados are no strangers to rums from that country: both the Millonario XO and Millonario 15 soleras hail from there, Bristol Spirits pushed out an 8 year old Peruvian I quite liked, and Cartavio continues to issue lovely rums such as their own XO Solera — all of which adhere to the medium-to-light, easygoing sweet profile that excites admiration and despite in equal measure depending on who’s talking.  This one matches most closely with the Bristol Spirits version, and that was no slouch…it made me reconsider my decades long love affair with pungent Jamaican and Demerara rums (just kidding).

D3S_3650Anyway, the Peruano 8: an dark gold-copper coloured rum, clocking in at 42% ABV, and deriving from the Trujillo gents who also make the Cartavio XO. Fabio told me once that some years back he was seeking a very light, delicate rum to take on Zacapa, and thought he found it in Peru, in the Pomalca distillery which also produces the Cartavio on what looks like a muticolumn still.  The initial rums he got from there formed the Millonario 15 and XO rums, and these were successful enough for him to issue a Peruvian in its own right, aged for eight years in bourbon casks. No more mucking about with soleras here.

I certainly approved.  Rums like this are easy going and don’t want to smack you over the head with the casual insouciance of a bouncer in a bar at the dodgy end of town, and sometimes it’s a good thing to take a breather from more feral and concussive full proof rums.  This one provided all the nasal enjoyment of a warm chesterfield with a couple of broken springs: lightly pungent and aromatic, with a jaggedly crisp edge or two. Cherries, apricots, cloves, nutmeg, some vegetals, chocolate, a slice of pineapple, and sugar water and cucumbers.  Kinda weird, but I liked it – the smells harmonized quite well.

The palate was pleasant to experience, and brought back to memory all other Peruvians that came before.  The light clarity — almost delicacy — was maintained and demonstrated that it is possible to sometimes identify different rums made from the same source…here it was almost self-evident.  Tannins, vanillas, fruits, brown sugar (too much of this, I thought), some caramel, all melding into each other; peaches in unsweetened cream, some easy chocolate and pineapple flavours and a tart cherry and citrus blast or two allowing a discordancy to draw attention to the softness and lightness of the others. What so distinguished this rum and the others from Peru (including Bristol Spirits’ own Peruvian 8) is the way the various components balanced off so no single one of them really dominated…it was like they had all learned to live together and share the space in harmony.  Finish was perfectly fine (if short): sweet, warm, and very much like a can of mixed fruits in syrup just after you open it and drain off the liquid.

I’ve unwillingly come to the conclusion that many Spanish style rums — and particularly these from Peru which I’ve tried to date — almost have to be issued at par proof points.  There’s something about their overall delicacy which mitigates against turbocharging them too much. The Millonario XO went in another direction by the inclusion of sugar (for which many have excoriated it), but one senses that were it and its cousins be too strong, it would destroy the structural fragility of the assembly that is their characteristic, and they would simply become  starving alley cats of glittering savagery and sharp claws, and that does no-one any favours

The downside of that approach is that it limits the use such a rum can be put to.  Rums this light don’t always make good cocktails, are more for easy sipping (that’s my own personal opinion…you may disagree), and to some extent this drives away those guys who prefer the dark massiveness of a 60% full proof.  Still, I’ve made the comment before, that I drink different rums depending on how I’m feeling, and for a pleasant sundowner on the beach when it’s time to relax and unwind (and I’m not unduly pissed off at the universe), this one ticks all the boxes and is a pleasant reminder that not all rums have to beat you over the glottis to get your attention.

Other notes:

It could just be me, but I think there’s something else lurking in the background of this rum.  It’s slightly deeper and smoother in profile, and definitely sweeter, than the Bristol Spirit’s rum which is the same age. Some subtle dosage, perhaps? No idea.  If so, it really wasn’t needed…it actually detracts from the profile.

Fabio considers this another one of his entry-level rums, and whenever he says that, I always laugh, since his products are usually a cut above the ordinary no matter what they are.

Aug 062015
 

D3S_8965

 

The last of the flight of seven Caronis I tried in depth back in 2014, and one of the better ones.

(#225. 88/100)

***

There are two extremes to the Caronis: the limited release bottling from independent bottlers which are usually less than a thousand bottles, and Velier with its huge stockpile and multiple issues…so much so that one always has difficulty figuring out where to start with ‘em (the 12 year old 50% may be the best place).  I have a feeling that Rum Nation’s take on the late great plantation’s rum is likely to be one of the more accessible ones available to the average consumer, because the rums are (relatively) easily found, well advertised, and come on, let’s face it – Rum Nation do rums well.

In this case Rum Nation double-aged the heavy rum (from column distillate) for nine years in Trinidad itself, before shipping them off to Europe for further seven years of maturation in some barrels that were ex-bourbon, and others that once held the Peruanao 8 year old (a rather light, sprightly and delicate rum with a character similar to Bristol Spirits’s version, and also akin to the Millonario Solera 15).  The effect of the ageing regime in differing barrels and countries certainly added to its complexity and also its overall voluptuousness, I think…although I should note that some other writers refer to it as an intro to Caroni, rather than the real McCoy — Caroni “Lite,” one might say.

Nosing a beefcake of 55% usually provides an intense intro, like one of those idiots who shakes your hand with a painfully overstrong grip to show he’s a badass…the Caroni 1998 wasn’t quite like that, but it was certainly powerful.  Pungent — if not quite in the league of the Jamaican Pot Still White which edged over into ferocious – and vibrant with initial scent of honeycomb wax and rubber and straw, like a frogman strutting around in a dusty hayloft. There was a lot more going on here all at the same time, mind you — after letting the glass sit for a few minutes, additional scents of freshly sawn cedar, tar, oak, vanilla and moist molasses-soaked brown sugar were joined by softer, muskier scents of coffee, nutmeg and licorice. It was one of those rums that proved why pushing past the too-oft self-imposed 40% limitation is absolutely recommended.  It was a phenomenal rum to simply enjoy smelling.

And no slouch to taste either. Licorice and tar led off, lots of it.  The rubber, happily, started to take a back seat (I like it, but often there’s too much of a good thing and it’s nice to see it a bit subdued).  Caramel and toffee and coffee continued to make themselves felt as primaries, with background hints of green tea, white pepper coiling around behind it all.  The balance between the softer, muskier elements, and sharper, more herbal tastes was really quite something.  Even the faint bitterness of tree sap and fresh sawdust was kept in check (I was reminded of the quinine derivatives I used to have to drink in my bush years, but that was memory, not necessarily a taste I clearly sensed, and what the hell, I’ll mention it anyway). A touch of water smoothened things out quite nicely, but no additional flavours came forward that I could add to this already excellent smorgasbord.  I would like to point out that the rather brutally ascetic character I sense in many full proof Caronis (like the Veliers, for example) has been tamed here somewhat, and I attribute that to the 5g/L of sugar that Rum nation have added to the profile.  I’m not really a fan of such inclusions, yet must concede it works here.

The finish? Very long, heated and dry, really good – it released last sensations of molasses and caramel and angostura bitters (really!), with some of the  licorice and pepper notes coming over from the taste profile.  All in all, this is an enormously pleasant rum to play with and savour if you are into the Trinidadian profile, definitely one to share around.

Rum-Nation-Caroni-1998-2014

2014 was certainly an interesting year for Rum Nation.  In that single year they issued a new bottle shape (the squat one); they released their first white pot still rum (the Jamaica 57%); and for the first time they went over 50% in not one but two rums, the aforementioned Jamaica, and the amber-red medium-to-full-bodied Caroni 1998, the first batch of which I’m looking at here, and 3120 bottles of which were issued at cask strength 55% (or full proof, take your pick). They seem to positioning themselves in that relatively untravelled country between the craft makers with their few hundred bottles of exclusive full proof expressions, and the much more commercially orientated big distilleries who issue many thousands of bottles of aged rums at a lower proof point

I mentioned accessibility earlier. “Approachability” is just as good a word.  What I mean by this is how easy it is to get, how expensive it is, and how an average Tom, Dick or Harrilall would like it. With several thousand bottles of the Caroni on sale (and more batches to come), I’d say if you wanted this rum, you could find it; it’s mid-priced — not student-cheap, but reasonably affordable; and the taste has been smoothened out and somewhat domesticated by that 5g/L of added sugar. For purists, this last may be a disqualifier, but I argue that for people who buy rums only occasionally and have less lofty standards (or who don’t know or care), it would make a decent choice and introduction to higher proofed rums (to his credit, Mr. Rossi has never hidden the inclusions, but like many others, I wish a statement to that effect would be on the bottle front and centre).

In any event, a slightly softer, yet still intense taste profile, ready availability and a price your spouse won’t scream at you for, makes this Caroni a tempting proposition when the time comes to buy one for yourself, or recommend a Trini rum for a friend. My love is give to the immense stable of Velier Caronis, of course, but that’s no reason to pass Rum Nation’s top-notch edition by. It’s a damned fine exemplar of rum from a distillery whose stocks are shrinking every year.

 

Other notes

Steve James of the RumDiaries reviewed a RN Caroni 1998 bottle from the 2nd Batch, with some additional details on the distillery and methods of production.

Independent tests by various other reviewers and writers suggest the sugar content is closer to 12 g/L

I’ve looked at eight Caronis, most sourced in 2014. They are:

Jun 032015
 

D3S_9106

***

Sweet enough to appeal, smooth enough to enjoy, complex enough to admire. Solid, succulent Bajan rum from 2003, a cut above the ordinary, just like its 2001 brother.

(#217. 86/100)

***

Why Fabio Rossi, the gentleman behind Rum Nation, keeps referring to his Bajan offerings as “entry level” is beyond me.  ‘Cause like Mr. Gump, I may not be a smart man, but I know what entry level is. This is a few notches higher, and that it can do what it does with what for me is a relative anemic 40% strength, is no mean achievement in a pantheon dominated by R.L. Seale, Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey.

That said, it does lack some of that distinctive complexity of character that would make me rank it higher. Consider first the nose of the orange-brown rum: like many of Rum Nation’s products there is that olfactory sense of sinking into the soft ease of a plush chesterfield, with which which any consumer of Barbados rums would be quite happy. Bananas, brown sugar and taffy, some crushed hazelnuts, almonds, and an odd spray of cough drops stealing through the back end (cough drops?…I tried again, and yes, that’s what it nosed like).

To taste, that depth of lushness continued, though the rum presented as a somewhat lighter, even “Spanish” style of mouthfeel.  It moved away from the brown sugar and caramel, and provided initial flavours of smoke and vanillas that the oak had imparted; yet also more sweetness and smoothness here, like running our spoon through a ripe papaya.  Some kick of not-quite-ripe apricots, a bit of green grape, kiwi fruit, aromatic pipe tobacco, a bit of dry must…overall, a very unaggressive, quite friendly rum, extremely accessible.  The finish was not too shabby for a standard strength rum: shorter than I might have wished for, but still impressively redolent of caramel, burnt sugar and smoky notes.

You could mix the rum, I suppose, though with something this easy-going, I question why. It has few of the jagged edges that a cocktail might seek to smoothen out, or enhance. I think it’s fine to have neat – its strength (or lack thereof) makes that no chore at all. In any case, Rum Nation has never really hewed to the elemental brutality of full proof rums issued by the Scots, or Velier, or Samaroli.  They strike me as closer in philosophy to Plantation, with their finishing strategy and slightly more voluptuous profiles. In that sense, to me, it is better than the rum many use as their Bajan baseline, the Mount Gay XO, and for sure I enjoyed it more than the Cockspur 12. It actually has more in common with some of FourSquare’s rums, but that’s just me.

According to Mr. Rossi, the rum is derived from Barbados molasses distilled in a column still, aged in American oak barrels in the Caribbean — no mention where, I suppose we can assume also in Barbados — before being shipped off to be finished for 18-24 months in Italy, in ex-Spanish brandy casks before bottling.  As a point of interest, unlike the 2001 RN Barbados 10 year old, this rum did not come from the West Indies Refinery, though you’d be hard pressed to put the two side by side, taste them blind, and know which was which.

Like Plantation, Rum Nation has been catching some flak recently for adding sugar to their rums. I guess people are having some difficulty marrying the generally positive reviews out there (mine among them) with the mere suggestion of saccharine inclusion. Now I acknowledge the influence that sugar has in making this rum what it is (and that’s not a negative opinion), but am also aware this is a deliberate choice to create the final product, not to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or deliberately tart up and obscure an inferior piece of crap – I’ve spent too much money on, and sampled too many of, RN’s rums, old and young, to believe that for a moment.

In any event, I can tell you that here Rum Nation has produced an affordable, pleasant and drinkable spirit, one I enjoyed thoroughly and would happily buy again.  I may ultimately prefer my high-end aged agricoles and full proof twenty-plus year old taste-bombs, but that is no reason not to give this softer, younger Bajan a whirl.  Even if you believe, as its maker does, that it’s “just an entry level rum.”

Because that it isn’t, not really.

 

***

Other notes

  • New bottle design introduced in the 2014 season
  • 8118 bottles outturn

 

Dec 012014
 

D3S_8969

 

If strength and atavism are your things, the Jamaica Pot Still 57% won’t disappoint; a shot or two of this, and you’ll feel your nostrils dilate as you search around for a stone to bash a rhino with, before eating a freshly-caught, still-twitching deer. It’s that intense.

(#190. 86/100)

The 57% pot still Jamaican rum from Rum Nation represents a departure for the company in a number of ways (not including the bottle shape, introduced for the 2014 season).  It is the first rum the company has produced that is over 100 proof, it’s the first rum they’ve not aged at all, and it is the first white rum they’ve ever made.  Long accepting that the Supreme Lord series from Jamaica is one of their best made rums, I was intrigued to see where this one was coming from, and what it was like. Though if experience has taught me anything, it’s that any white full- or over-proof rum should be approached with some caution…no matter who makes it.

Presentation was fine: cork, plastic tipped, solid, all good. I liked RN’s new fat squat bottle with broad shoulders, and appreciated the simple label design (always loved those British Empire stamps – I used to collect them in my boyhood, much as Fabio did).  And in the bottle, that clear liquid so reminiscent of DDL’s Superior High Wine, J. Wray’s white overproof, or any local white lightning made for the backdam workers, innocent looking, inviting…and appropriately well-endowed. I can just see the boys in Trenchtown (or my father’s friends in Lombard Street) sipping this neat in cheap plastic tumblers, calling for a bowl ‘ice, the dominos and taking the rest of the week off.

This rum was absolutely in a class of its own, for good and ill. It snarled. It growled on the nose, as if it had been stuffed with diced sleeping leopards; it packed a solid punch, even on the initial sniff. Yes I’d been on a full proof bender for some time, but this rum’s nasal profile was something way out to lunch. It was so…full. Full of grass, lemon peel, fresh sap bleeding from a mango tree.  It didn’t stop there, but opened into tar, licorice, cinnamon…and then did a radical left turn and dived into the smells of aniseed oil, fresh furniture polish…even glue, like an UHU stick. I mean…wtf?

At 57% you could expect it to be strong, spicy, peppery…and it was.  Sweet, too (I wasn’t expecting that). The mouthfeel was remarkable, not entirely smooth, yet not a blast of sandpaper either – in fact, rather pleasant in its own way, if you factor out the proofage, and heavier bodied than you’d have any right to expect. Cinnamon, crushed leaves, that wood polish again, followed by a briny note akin to black olives, and the scent of a capadulla vine bleeding watery sap. As for the fade: excellent, long lasting, flavourful – it was the gift that kept on giving, with closing notes of green tea and glue and unripe bananas. This is a rum that you absolutely should try on its own just to see how nutso a pot still rum can be when a maker lets the esters go off the reservation.  I mean, I drank it at the RumFest and bottles trembled on their shelves and drinkers’ sphincters clenched involuntarily. The rum is badass to a fault.

D3S_8971

The thing is, for all its eccentricity, the thing is damned well made. I liked it a lot.  I always got the impression that in the main, white rums – the really strong ones, the 151s, not the tame Bacardi mixers and their ilk – are really lesser efforts, indifferently tossed off by their makers in between more serious work, and often not widely or aggressively marketed internationally, known more to barkeeps than barflies.  Rum Nation in contrast, and judging by this one, took the same time to develop this rum as they have in many of their other products, and with the same seriousness.  That’s what makes the difference, I believe, and why I score it rather well.  For that and the sheer uniqueness, the chutzpah, the daring of it.

So, summing up, then: a shudderingly original piece of work from La Casa di Rossi.  A set of strong, clear tastes and scents. It’s a white, clear, savage, full proof which is redolent of new furniture and fresh chopped cane, and which can be drunk on its own without inflicting permanent damage.  I think we should appreciate this one. Because the Jamaica Pot Still is an absolute riot of a drink — a rum to have when you want something that marries the sumptuousness of Italian art to the braddar fun-loving insouciance of a West Indian at a really good, and very loud, bottom-house party.

 

Other notes:

  1. Capadulla is an arm-thick jungle vine, which, if you chop it, spouts an enormous amount of watery sap, and is used by bushmen in Guyana as a source of water. Of course, it has its reputation as an aphrodisiac too.
  2. The rum originates from the parish of St Catherine in south eastern Jamaica, which likely means the Worthy Park Estate.  No ageing at all. The profile suggests where the core distillate of the 26 Year Old Supreme Lord originates.
  3. Rum Nation intends to issue future iterations of the rum that will be progressively aged.
  4. Fabio Rossi’s intent here was to make a high ester spirit that was specifically not a grappa.

 

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