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 282017
 

One of Velier’s initial expressions, and somewhat of an exception to their rule of excellence.

#351

The amber-coloured Velier La Bonne Intention (LBI) Old Demerara Rum 1985 15 year old rum is not for everyone, and is rather more an artifact than a must-have. For aficionados who are used to the fullproof bruisers with which Luca made his bones, it is more a historical relic than truly representative of his ideas, very much as the Enmore 1987 was (perhaps that’s because both rums were bottled by Breitenstein in Holland in 2000 and imported by Velier, so it’s possible that Luca had somewhat less input into the final product than he subsequently did once he took over his own bottlings). For the curious rum drinkers moving up the scale of rums and seeking an introduction to a softer Velier product (“what’s all the damned fuss about this company, anyway?” is the usual irritated question), it might be worth a try, though with its rarity these days it’s unlikely anyone will ever find it outside of eBay.  And for those who despise adulteration in any form, it’s definitely a pass, unless one likes to take down the Big Guy by gleefully pointing out a rare misstep.

I make these points not to diss Velier – they’ve more than moved past this kind of milquetoast — merely to provide the background for what the rum is – an earlier essay in the craft, before the pure fullproof philosophy had matured into its current form.  The stats tell the tale: for one, the rum is bottled at a mild 40%, and for another it has been graded at around 12g/L of additives (presumed to be sugar).  So in that sense it’s much more like a regular, pre-renaissance indie bottling from Ago than any of the comets that lit up the skies of the rumiverse in the years that followed.

Even tasting it blind (which I did, with other Veliers as controls), you could sort of sense there was something off about it, something less than what we have become accustomed to.  For example, it was so light and clear on the nose to make me wonder if my sample had gotten mislabeled and there was an agricole in the glass. That thought was dispelled when light fruits, grapes, caramel, nougat and not-very-tart yoghurt scents emerged, which slowly deepened into a crème brulee and white toblerone over time, with perhaps some coffee. Overall, nothing particularly over-the-top, and although the underlying quality was there, idling gently, it never engaged with any kind of force or impact.

Still, the taste wasn’t bad for a rum this dialed down – it simply took time (and effort) to nail down the specifics.  For the most part it was warm and light, with gentle, watery fruits – kiwi, papaya, ripe apples without any sharp, tart edges, some whipped cream, quite nice.  With water not much that was new came out – some vanilla and oak, coffee, and that was pretty much it, propelling the entire affair languidly towards a short, light finish with some weak cider, a latte, and an additional flirt or two of the fruitiness.  I didn’t feel the added sugar was particularly noticeable in its impact, unless it was to smoothen things out. Frankly, the only thing to get excited about here was that it was one of the first ones from the company, so anyone who gets a bottle certainly has some bragging rights on that score.

LBI – La Bonne Intention – is a sugar plantation on the East Coast of the Demerara river, a short drive from Georgetown, and I have many fond memories of Sunday mornings spent swimming in the GUYSUCO Sports Club pool there with my brother in the early 1980s.  The old coffey still at LBI was long gone by that time (Marco in his seminal essay on the plantations of British Guiana notes it as being decommissioned around 1960 as part of Booker’s rationalization strategy), and as far as we can speculate, this rum likely derived from a Savalle column still, possibly the one from Uitvlugt. However, the resemblances between various Uitvlugt expressions and this rum are almost nonexistent as far as I’m concerned, and it should be considered on its own.

Nearly two decades after this came to market, to malign Velier is deemed by some to be apostasy of near burn-at-the-stake proportions, but come on, even Luca had to start somewhere, muck around a little, fall over his own feet once or twice (which is why these days, it’s said – always with a smile — he uses only taxis). One long-ago-made, less-than-stellar rum in an oevre with so many masterpieces is hardly enough to either define the brand or sink those accomplishments that were achieved in subsequent years.  So, as I said, it’s merely a lesser effort, an earlier issue, probably not something to sell the left kidney for. And if the additives and relative mildness of the rum turn you off of Velier as a whole and make you sneer at the encomiums they got from all points of the compass since 2012, well, there’s tons of other releases by the company that show the lesson had been learnt.  Dip your toes in anywhere – I’m sure you’ll find one.

(80/100)

Other Notes

Big hat-tip to Cyril of DuRhum, who spotted me the sample of this oldie from the same source as his own review, as well as the 1998 version which I’ll probably look at soon.  Note that he really didn’t like this one much, and for many of the same reasons.

Jan 292017
 

Two year old fire in a bottle

#339

You’d think that after running through a set of FourSquare products over the last few months (here, here, here and here), that I’ve more or less covered what I wanted to and moved on.  Yeah…but no such luck. Still got a few more to come, starting with a representative of one of the most hotly anticipated rum “series” in recent memory: the Habitation Velier outturns of very young rums, you remember the ones, those with the cool pics of the stills of origin on the labels. They are primarily from the Big Three – Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana — and while they are aimed at the general market, my own feeling is that it’s hardcore aficionados who are more likely to enjoy them, not those who are beginning their own personal journey of rum discovery.  You’ll see why in a minute.

This series of rums has several reasons for existing.  To begin with, as Velier’s reputation grew over the last five years Luca Gargano wanted to move along from the issuance of full proof, single still, aged-beyond-all-reason rums whose prices were climbing geometrically, and to collaborate more with other distilleries so as to get newer and more affordable juice out the door.  Second he wanted to prove that young rums could be every bit as exciting as the hoary old grandfathers (in rum years) with which he had originally established Velier’s street cred.  Third, he wanted a showcase for his proposed new rum classifications, the so-called Seale-Gargano system developed with himself and Richard Seale (or should it be the Gargano-Seale system?) which is gradually picking up some traction (though not outright acceptance…yet).  An lastly, of course, just to laugh out loud, shake things up a tad, and make some hot-snot new rums that one could get excited about, which existed in their own universe not overshadowed by the oldsters from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

So, the details of this Bajan popskull from FourSquare: it’s a pale yellow two-year-old (actually two years eleven months according to 4S), issued at a rip-snorting frisson of sixty four degrees of unapologetically badass proofage, pot-still derived, and aged in 370-liter cognac barrels, which may be the single element that raised its profile above that of a standard young overproof and into the realms of some kind of inspired insanity.  And I use the term carefully, because anyone thinking that somehow Velier and 4S waved a magic wand and wove a masterpiece of smooth Bajan silk that took nearly three years to make, would have been in for something of a rude awakening if they tried it with that preconception in mind.  It wasn’t anything of the sort.  Sniffing it for the first time was like inhaling an incandescent blaze of sheet lightning.

“Wtf is this?!” I remember asking myself in dumbfounded amazement as I jotted down my notes. It was hot vanilla and caramel shot through with flashes of brine and olives, all on top of a pot-still impregnated glue-gun. Swirling notes of black pepper, licorice and crushed nuts stabbed through here and there, with an amalgam of cooking spices bringing up the rear – salt and lemon pepper, a little paprika thrown in for good measure, a smorgasbord of sweet and salt and tartness.  It wasn’t entirely harmonious (are you kidding?) but a very distinct nose, suggesting that maybe FourSquare should experiment more with solo pot still rums instead of blending pot and column in their standard lineup.

Moving cautiously into the taste, I tried it neat first, then with water, and similarly intense flavours rose up and smote me righteously both times. Something of salty-oily tequila tastes were first off,  like a Maggi cube (or Knorr, if you’re in Europe) in veggie soup; nuts, dates and peaches followed, interspersed with background hints of rubber and wax, all very very intense and very firm, individual and discrete.  Water did help to tame this beast (to be honest, I took some masochistic pleasure in the sheer force of this thing and added it more out of curiosity) – that allowed some of the sweetness to finally emerge at the backend, though that was more like a thin vein of licorice, burnt sugar and cream than a caramel-toffee mother lode.  I must concede that for a rum this young, it had quite a flavour set – even the finish, which was surprisingly short (and dry) didn’t repeat the experience, but added a few extra hints of kero, fruit, black bread and kräuterquark (ask the Germans), plus a final flirt of honey.  I was left feeling enthused (and quite a bit breathless) at the end of it all, and tried it again a few more times over the next few days, just to see whether the experience mellowed at all with time (it didn’t).

Whew!  This is a hell of a rum. I’m going to go on record as stating it might be better approached not only with some care, but also without illusions and absolutely not as your first foray into rums of any kind. It is a bold, burning, singular rum of real strength and a really crisp profile which would not necessarily appeal to lovers of the kinds of hooch that FourSquare and St Nick’s and Mount Gay have been putting out for decades, because it’s not soft, and it’s not tolerant and it’s not easy.  What it actually is, is a young product that hits both your expectations and your palate like a well swung sledgehammer and upends both.  Perhaps I’ve had so many rums in my time that I’m somewhat jaded and am on the lookout for stuff that goes off in different directions, but you know, that’s not what we have here, because it’s unmistakably the real deal.  It’s quite simply, unique: and in tasting it, I got a forceful reminder of all the amazing directions a rum could go, when made by masters who could actually dream, and dare, of making it.

(87/100)

Other notes

The bottle (a sample thereof) came my way courtesy of Henrik of RumCorner at the follow-up to the Berlin RumFest in 2016, sometimes called “The ‘Caner Afterparty”. As he lovingly extracted it from his haversack that afternoon (being careful to snatch it back if our pours got to heavy, which meant a lot of snatching was going on), Henrik told me that he had been hanging around the agricole stand when Richard Seale passed by; immediately a small crowd gathered and a discussion group started (and knowing the two of them, at least, it could not have been anything other than intense).  When the group dispersed, Richard casually took the bottle, which he had had in his hands the whole time, and handed it over to Henrik without any intro or comment whatsoever. Gotta love them rum folks, honestly.

Dec 302016
 

A spectacular rum from FourSquare (and Velier), perhaps the best Bajan they’ve ever made.

#332

***

This is a rum that screaming aficionados were waiting for like fans at a Justin Bieber or Beyonce concert (or the Rolling Stones, maybe), and no write-up of the thing could be complete without mentioning the unbelievable sales pattern it displayed…in my entire rum-purchasing experience, I’ve never seen anything like it. The Velier/FourSquare collaboration was making the rounds of various masterclasses in festivals around the world for almost a year before actually going on sale, and then, when it became available in August 2016 (primarily in Europe), it sold out in fifteen minutes.  All this without a single formal review being issued, just word of mouth.

The only comparator in recent memory that I can think of might be the Panamonte XXV, which also flew off the shelves, and which also illustrates how far along the rum world has come in less than five years.  When I got that one, it was considered one of the best rums of its kind, receiving raves across the board – and indeed, for its age (25 years), strength (40%) and price ($400) it was well positioned at the top of the food chain…back then.  But even in 2012 many of us aficionados had moved on past the self imposed 40% limitation, and while the Panamonte was certainly a good product, it was also, perhaps, a high water mark for standard proof rums – people who know enough and have enough to want to drop that kind of coin, have by now migrated past that anemic proofage and demand cask strength, definitively pure rums which are made by trusted sources.  This is why Arome’s five hundred bottle outturn of their new Panamanian 28 year old, about which not much is known aside from the marketing campaign and some FB dustups, is likely to be met with indifference from those who actually know their rums (though not from those with money), while 2400 bottles of FourSquare’s ten year old have become unavailable faster than you can say “wtf” in Bajan.

And once the bottle gets cracked, you can understand why.  Because it’s an amazing rum, sold at a (low) price that would be an insult if it wasn’t so good, for something that ticks all the boxes: cask strength, check; no additives, check; issued in collaboration with one of the most famous names in the pure-rumworld, check; by a distillery long known for championing a lack of additives, check; by being trotted out at exclusive masterclasses where word of mouth made it a must-have, check.  This thing is like an exquisite small foreign film that gains accolades in the filmfest circuit  before heading off to the oscars and cleaning up there and at the box office.

Can any rum really live up to such expectations?  I don’t know about you, but it sure upended mine, because my first reaction when I opened it and sniffed was a disbelieving “what the f…?” (in Bajan).  It banged out the door with the kinetic energy of a supercar popping the clutch at 5000 rpm, blowing fierce fumes of briny olives and caramel and oak straight down my nose and throat, before someone slammed on the brakes and eased off.  What I’m trying to put over in words is something of the power of the experience, because it blasted off fast and furious and then settled down for a controlled, insane smorgasbord of nasal porn – nougat, white toblerone, peaches, citrus peel, chocolate, coffee grounds, cinnamon, enough to drive a Swiss confectioner into hysterics.  The creaminess of the nose was simply astounding – it was almost impossible to accept this was a 62% rum, yet it purred smoothly along without bite or bitchiness, scattering heady aromas of fruity badass in all directions – prunes, plums, blackcurrants and dark olives.  

And meanwhile, the taste of the rum, its glissading force across the palate, simply had to be experienced to be believed.  Not because it was all sound and fury and stabbing tridents of Poseidon, no (although it was powerful, one could not simply ignore 62% ABV), but because it was such a controlled strength.  And what emerged from within the maelstrom of proof was amazingly tasty – apricots, plums, raisins, blueberries, cinnamon, rye bread with butter and honey, all creamy and chewy to a fault (and that was just the first five minutes).  With water even more came boiling to the surface: dark grapes and an enormous array of fruity and citrusy notes, tied up in a bow with more caramel, coffee grounds, black unsweetened chocolate paprika…man, it was like it didn’t want to stop.  Even the finish upended expectations, being neither short and fleeting, nor overstaying its welcome, but almost perfect, with some floral hints, an interesting driness, and some nuttiness to accompany all that had come before, pruned down to a fierce minimalism emphasizing both heft and subtlety at the same time.

It would be arrogant in the extreme for me to say this is the best rum ever made in Barbados, since I haven’t tried every rum ever made in Barbados.  But I can and must say this – the rum points the way to the future of top-class Bajan popskull just as surely as the Velier Demeraras did for the Guyanese, and is, without a doubt, the very best Barbados rum I’ve ever tried. It’s a magnificent rum that leaves all its forebears, even those from the same distillery, limp and exhausted. This rum’s titanic flavour profile satisfies because it gets right what its previous (and lesser) earlier versions from FourSquare failed to come to grips with. It is impossibly Brobdignagian, a subtlety-challenged brown bomber, and to fully savor the current rum’s character, we as drinkers must first connect with its predecessor’s lesser-proofed antecedents.  That’s why I went through other rums from the company before cracking the 2006.  Somehow, after years of 40% milquetoast from  Barbados, here, finally, two giants of the rum world came together and got this one absolutely right.  It deserves every accolade that rum drinkers and rum writers have given it.

(91/100)

Other notes

  • To tell the complete story of its disappearance from the online and physical shelves, some subsequent observations: the 4S 2006 began turning up on ebay shortly thereafter, and aside from the bitterness of pure rum aficionados who could not get any without liquidating their retirement fund, I’ve heard it bruited about that the its disappearance was because speculators bought every bottle for resale on the secondary market…and even more pernicious rumours about how general public wasn’t even the target market – bars and bulk buyers were.  Whatever the real story is, it would be a useful case study in how to move new product in a hurry.
  • Distilled 2006 in copper double retort pot still, aged three years in bourbon barrels and seven years in cognac casks and bottled in 2016. 62% ABV, 2400 bottle outturn. The “single blended rum” appellation is derived from the proposed Gargano classification system where the origin still is given prominence over the material or country/region of origin. Here it is a single still’s blended  product (based on double maturation).
  • Whose rum is this, Velier or FourSquare?  Velier’s Demeraras, I felt, were always Veliers, because DDL gave Luca some barrels to chose from and he bottled what he felt was right without much further input from them.  Here, my impression is that Richard Seale and Luca Gargano worked closely together to make the rum, and so I attribute it to both.
Nov 222016
 

velier-enmore-1987-0

Among the first Velier Demerara rums, eclipsed by its better-made brothers in the years that followed

#319

It’s become almost a game to ferret out the initial issuings of rums made by companies whose names are made famous by the passing of time. Back in 2000, who had ever heard of Velier outside of Italy?  Yet even then, the company was forging into the future by issuing rums defiantly called full proof, although there could have been few who were entirely sure what the term meant. 40% ruled the roost, “cask strength” was for whiskies, and only the occasional Demerara rum from an independent bottler was to be seen anywhere, usually tucked away on a liquor shop’s dusty back shelves, almost with an air of embarrassment.

velier-enmore-1987-2The Velier-imported, Breitenstein-bottled Enmore 1987 full proof rum may have the distinction of being one of the very first of the Demerara rums Velier ever slapped its label on – certainly my master list in the company biography has few from Guyana issued prior to that.  That might account for how at odds this rum tastes from other more familiar Enmores, and how strange it feels in comparison.

Consider: the nose opened with some brief petrol smells, which dissipated rapidly.  Then came pears and green apples, and creamed green peas, again gone in a flash. It was light and sweet in comparison to the other Enmores from Silver Seal and CDI I was sampling alongside it, and I dunno, it didn’t really work for me.  Later aromas of cake batter dusted with icing sugar, caramel and toffee, cinnamon and some faint bitter chocolate were about all I could take away from the experience, and I really had to reach for those.

The palate was also something of a let-down.  Sharp, salty, and somewhat thin, a surprise for the 56.6%, with such acidic tastes as existed being primarily lemon rind and camomile. With water some cinnamon buns grudgingly said hello. The rum as a whole was surprisingly demure and unassertive, with somewhat less than the nose promised coming through, even after an hour or so – vanilla and caramel of course, brown sugar, some light citrus peel, a melange of vague fruitiness that wasn’t cooperating, and that was pretty much it.  Even the finish was hardly a masterpiece of flair and originality, just a slow fade, with some more allspice and toffee and vanilla coming together in a sort of tired way. It was certainly not the lush, rich and firm tropical profile that Luca’s subsequent rums prepared us for.  I suspect that the rum was aged in Europe, not Guyana — the bottler, an old Dutch spirits-trading firm from the 1860s that morphed into DDL Europe in the later 2000s, was unlikely to have done more than provided Luca with a selection to chose from, aged in Holland. That might account for it, but I’m still chasing that one down since it’s my conjecture, not a stated fact.

Anyway, that’s what makes this something of a disappointment – one can’t help but compare it to the high bar set by rums that came later, because those are far more available and well-known…and better.  In this Enmore we saw the as-yet-unharnessed and unpolished potential that matured in rums like the Port Mourant series (1972, 1974, 1975), the legendary Skeldon 1973 and UF30E, and the 1980s and 1990-series Enmores, Diamonds, Uitvlugts and Blairmonts.  In 2000 Luca Gargano had a pedigree with wines and other occasional rums (like the Damoiseau 1980), and now in 2016 he is rightfully acknowledged as a master in his field.  But I feel that when this rum was bottled, he was still a cheerful, young, long-haired, piss-and-vinegar Apprentice mucking about with his rum-assembly kit in the basement, knowing he loved rums, not being afraid of failure, but not yet having the complete skillset he needed to wow the world.  How fortunate for us all that he stuck with it.

(82/100)

Other Notes

Thanks to Eddie K. who pointed out that there were in fact older Veliers issued in the 1990s by Thompson & Co. – so I changed the review (and the Makers rum listing) to reflect that this one is not the first.

velier-enmore-1987-1

Nov 172016
 

rrl-2015

Not quite as good as the 2012…but damned close

#317

One of the genuine pleasures to be had in the field of rum reviews is the unstinting, generous assistance given by members of the subculture.  After I wrote about the Rhum Rhum Liberation 2010, Liberation 2012 and the amazing 2012 Integrale, a reader from Holland contacted me and offered to send along a sample of the 2015 Integrale, for no other reason than because he wanted to see how it stacked up against the others…and to my great good fortune, it arrived while I was still in Germany, and I was able to run all four past each other for a good comparative session.  So big hat tip and many thanks to Eddie K., and may his rum shelf never be empty of the good stuff.

Just to recap the basics for those who don’t want to wade through the other three reviews: all these Libération rhums stem from Bielle on Marie-Galante (Guadeloupe), and are part of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla and Luca Gargano; cane juice derived, double distilled in small copper stills designed by Mr. Capovilla (built by Muller out of Germany), aged around six years in Sauternes white oak casks.  Need I say that there were no additives or filtrations of any kind here?  Probably not.

rhum-rhum-liberation-integrale-2015Tasting such a delectable rhum in tandem with its brothers really allows the profile to be taken apart in a way a more casual tasting probably wouldn’t.  Certainly it reaffirmed my initially high opinion of the 2012 Integrale, but you know, this 2015 version bottled at 58.4% ABV wasn’t half bad either.  Consider first the nose, which playfully started the party with light grassy notes and some rubber, as quickly gone as a strumpet’s smile. Then tree sap, some sweet-and-sour teriyaki sauce, a bit of brine, and then the caramel, burnt sugar, cheesecake, bananas and cherries were given their moment to shine, in a smell that was clear and clean and very crisp, nicely leavened by a creaminess which provided a rounded nose I quite liked.

And I savoured the taste of this thing – it was good and solid, hot and punchy, in a good way, with gradually unfolding flavours of flowers and vanillas plus honey (what is it with the Guadeloupe agricoles and that light honey taste?  It’s great). After opening up and with some water, I tasted chocolate, coffee, spices like cinnamon and cardamon, maybe nutmeg.  There was some vague bitterness of oak to be sensed, a slight imbalance, fortunately brief and soon supplanted by the tartness of apples and cider and brine.  Overall, very well rounded and remarkably drinkable, which is one reason that sample is now gone.  As for the fade, it was long, crisp, briny — no vagueness of tastes, none of that inconclusive mashed-up-porridge of a lesser rhum, but bright and clear, with black tea, more honey, fudge and a sprig of mint and a lovely tart fruitiness that resisted my attempts to pin it down.

It was close to the 2012 Libération for sure, maybe even a bit better…and if, as noted above, it wasn’t quite up to the level of the 2012 Integrale, I didn’t feel cheated or let down, since I have a feeling that such remarkable rhums are occasional visitors to our planet rather than regular inhabitants.  And in any case, the 2015 Integrale is a damned fine rhum by any standard, with many strong points and a very few weak ones, which any lover of agricoles would be glad to have. It’s good to see that in an era of commercial sameness by far too many old houses, it’s still possible to find some that don’t let anything like restraint or commonsense stand in their way, and just go ahead and push all their skill and art into making something that’s really very, very good.  When they were done with this one, I can almost imagine them standing around holding their tasting glasses, and all of them with silly grins of appreciation on their faces.  Much like mine, now that I think about it.

(87/100)

Oct 022016
 

rr-liberation-2010

Not quite on the level of either of the 2012 editions

#308

***

When trying many rums of similar antecedents – year, maker, style – what we are doing is examining all the ways they are similar, or not. The underlying structure is always the same, and we search for points of difference, positive or negative, much in the way we review wines, or James Bond movies.  Velier’s own Caronis and Demeraras are examples of this, as is this collaboration with Gianni Capovilla from Bielle on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe). Some reviewers take this to the extremes of delving into the minutiae of single-barrel rums issued in the same year by different independent bottlers, assessing the various barrels from, say, 1988, but I lack this kind of laser-focus, and it’s good enough for me to pick up a few bottles from a given outfit, and see if any general conclusions can be drawn from them.

rrl-2010-2The basic facts are clear enough for the Liberation: one of the first (if not the first) double-distilled rhum to roll off the line of the new distillery next to Bielle which began its operation around mid 2007, aged a smidgen under three years, bottled at a robust 45% (note that the 2012 editions were 45% for the standard 2012 and 59.8% for the Integrale), coloured a dark orange-gold.  The labelling continues – or originates – the practice of showing the picture of an animal utterly unrelated to rum, which I have been informed is a suggested meal pairing if one was to have the two together (but about which, here, I have my doubts).

The nose was quite nice, with all the subtle complexity and depth I had been led to expect from the Rhum Rhum line. Dusty, dry, some citrus peel (orange), watermelon, even some grass.  It smelled clear and smooth and clean, with just a hint of pot still lurking grumblingly in the background but staying firmly there.  Like with the others, waiting for it to open up rewards the patient, eventually giving up further notes of some light caramel, coconut shavings and brine, all integrating quite well.

The palate evinced a discombobulated richness that indicates the evolution these rhums continue to go through, and which suggests a product profile still not firmly fixed in the maker’s mind.  It was like a cross between a crisp white agricole and a finished whisky (perhaps a Glendronach, what with their sherry finishes), to the benefit of neither.  There were perfumed aromas and tastes of frangipani and hibiscus, which barely missed being cloying; coconut shavings, some brine and olives (though the rhum was not tequila-ish in the slightest), more vegetals and wet grasses, but little of that delicate sugar water sweetness which I sensed in the nose (or vanilla, or caramel).  To say that I was nonplussed might be understating the matter – I’m no stranger to divergent noses and palates, but usually the latter is more demonstrative, more emphatic than the former….here the reverse was the case.  Still, it finished well, being nice and long and aromatic – the florals dialled themselves down, there was a lesser briny note here, and the vanilla and faint caramel were delicately evident once again, accompanied by a very nice touch of honey.  So it was a very nice sipping-quality rum, just outdone by its peers from later years.

Earlier I mentioned points of difference.  I thought this rhum had a better opening nose than the 2012, but was a little thinner on the palate, was slightly less rich, less enjoyably complex.  Honestly, there’s little major difference between the two (though the Integrale exceeds them both)…yet if I were to chose I think the 2012 has my vote, not this one.  Here Signores Capovilla and Gargano were still in the experimental phase, maybe, still testing the variations and developing the overall philosophy of the line.  I’ve heard the 2015 is not on the level of the 2012, and the 2010 isn’t quite there.  So far, then, the 2012 editions seem to be the markers of the brand, and Integrale is still the one to buy.

(84/100)

rrl-2010-3

Aug 172016
 

Liberation 2012

Maybe not quite a second banana to the Integrale from the same year, but not the whole one either.

(#295 / 86/100)

***

In theory, the only real difference between the Libération Integrale and the one I’m looking at here is the strength (and, if you’re picky about such things, the title).  The Integrale was a quiet stunner of a rhum, one of the best agricoles for its price and age, yet it seems odd to say that its lower strength sibling falls so much shorter of the mark.  Can that really be just about proof?  I tasted them side by side, as well as with the 2010), and to me it was clear that one was markedly better, tastier, yummier…and, in spite of the interesting profile, this one faded from nearly-exceptional into merely above-average.

The whole Rhum-Rhum series is a result of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla who runs the eponymous outfit on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe), and Luca Gargano, who needs no introduction. They built a new distillery next to Bielle, which is the origin of the sugar cane that makes the rhum, . They ferment the undiluted juice longer than usual – ten days – and run it through small Muller-built copper pot stills, before letting the resultant distillate age.  It’s important to know that unlike many other makers, the year on the bottle is not the year it came out of the distillery and into the cask to begin ageing…but the year it was taken out (or liberated, get it?)…so if my dates are right, they started churning out the stuff around 2007.

Liberation 2012 - 1Other miscellaneous details: bottled at 45%; aged for five years in barrels that once held French wine (Sauternes Chateay d’Yquem); the age was not noted on the bottle, but it’s been confirmed as five years old as for the Integrale, and I idly wondered whether there wasn’t some NAS scheme at work here, a marketing effort meant to remove age as a determinant of price.  Probably not, neither man is the type to play such stupid marketing games. Still — the rationale for the lobster and other creepies which confused me a few months ago has now been cleared up, because although their relationship to rhum is tenuous at best, in this case it is supposed to represent proper food pairings to have with it.  So, okay then…let’s move along, stop waffling and start tasting.

Nose wise, this dark orange-gold rum presented well, with an admirable complexity hinting at greater qualities to come. Some rubber, citrus peel (nothing too excessive), and sweet lemon grass, freshly cut.  It was, like many agricoles, quite crisp, and while somewhat deeper than the 2010, presented many of the same notes.  It settled down after some time and smoothened out into a lovely rounded profile of coconut, caramel, brie…and a sly little hint of pencil erasers, followed some time later by the rest of the pencil.  I wonder if that was Signore Capovilla’s sense of humour at work.

As noted before, I have a certain liking for Guadeloupe rhums which aren’t as tightly wedded to – some say restricted by – the AOC designation. Unlike the Integrale, there was a faint-but-noticeable element of molasses here, combined with and melding into, something vegetal and flowery…deeper than your regulation agricole.  And with water a few other elements came to the fore – sugar water, flowers, more of that coconut and lemongrass. It was in its own somewhat thinner way, somewhat similar to the 2010 and Integrale, but drier than either, and not quite as sweet.  Overall,  I felt the lack of body (caused by the lower proof point) was an effort to make it appeal to a wider audience, rather than indulge the maker’s true ideas on where it should, or could, go.  So while the finish closed things off nicely – longish, heated, dry, sweet, some oak with some last grassy-molasses-caramel hybrid notes, mingling with brine – I didn’t think it succeeded as well as its stronger sibling.

What we have here, at the end, is a variation on a theme.  The relationship of this rhum to the Integrale – and, less so, to the Libération 2010 – is there, and no-one could doubt their ancestry. People who prefer standard proof drinks would likely like this rhum quite a bit, and I recommend it.  We are, after all, discussing relatively minor differences between one rhum and another, which most won’t care about.  Still, those variations, to true aficionados who dissect a single year’s production from a single distillery with the care and artistry only the obsessed can muster, are enough to make me think this is a lesser product, good as it is.  It’s not a failure – it’s too well made for that – just not something I’d buy if I knew the Integrale was next to it on the shelf (this is my personal thing which you can ignore, because they’re both very good).

Everyone is always so chuffed about Luca’s Demeraras and Caronis.  So much so, that his quieter, less histrionically admired efforts sometimes go overlooked (except, perhaps, by the French). Yet Velier has done something quite remarkable here, perhaps even more important than those other two famous bodies of work: in this association with Capovilla, he didn’t select a bunch of barrels, didn’t pick and chose from stuff already made.  They literally built a distillery around the idea of making a top end agricole which showcased Gianni Capovilla’s talent and Luca Gargano’s dream.  And brought out a bunch of rhums that showed the potential of agricoles to a wider audience. That’s quite an achievement, by any standard.

Liberation 2012 - 2

Apr 222016
 

Enmore

It is a rum of enormous taste and great breadth of profile…and if it had been a little less serious, a little more forceful, I would have called mine Falstaff.

(#267. 89/100)

***

In spite of its light blonde colour, there has always been something dark and dour, almost Heathcliff-ish, about the Enmore rums, including this 1988 variation (maybe it’s the bottle design of black-on-dark-red). It’s a brilliantly done piece of work, a drone-quality delivery system for ensuring your taste buds get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out.  And that, let me tell you, is quite a bit.

So many people have written about Velier and its products (myself among them), in particular the Demeraras which made the company’s reputation, that I won’t rehash the background, as there are sufficient reference materials out there for anyone to get the details. With respect to this rum, however, some additional information is necessary.  According to the label, it was continental aged, not the more heavily hyped tropical ageing that Velier espouses these days.  Also, since it was distilled in November 1988 and bottled in March of 2008 it’s actually a nineteen year old rum, not twenty (which is why I’ve titled the review that way).  And lastly, it  was not one of those rums Velier selected in situ in Guyana and then bottled, but originally shipped to Europe in bulk and then chosen for bottling there.  So in these respects it is somewhat at a tangent to more famous rums from the Italian company.

Does this matter to me?  Not really.  I like the wooden stills’ outputs as a whole, and have tried several Enmores, including the too-weak EHP issued by DDL itself in 2007.  Overall, rare as they are, they are all worth (mostly) the coin, and if my love is more given to Port Mourant rums, this one does the brand no dishonour.  In fact, it’s a very good product, adhering to many of the pointers we look for in rums from Guyana in general, and Velier in particular.

EHP_2

Getting right into it, I loved the nose…it was just short of spectacular, opening with coffee, toffee, and anise.  Rich thick petrol and wax and shoe polish aromas developed rapidly, but they were well dialled down and in no way intrusive. Newcomer to rum who read this may shake their heads and ask “How can anyone taste crap like that and like it?” but trust me on this, the melding of these smells with the emergent molasses and fruity background, is really quite delicious, and I spent better than fifteen minutes coming back to it, over and over again,

Hay blonde (or light gold) in colour, one might think this meant a wussie little muffin of a rum. Nope. It was bottled at a mouth watering 51.9%, tasting it was a restrained kinetic experience – not on the level of the >60% beefcakes Velier occasionally amuses itself with (you know, the kind of rums where you can hear the minigun shells plinking on the ground as you drink) but sporting a taste vibrant enough to shake the shop I was in, if not so fiery as to require tongs to lift and pour. Medium-to-full bodied, the initial attack was straw, cedar, hay, dust and very little sweet of any kind.  The wax and petrol, and smoky flavours were all there, yet not at all dominant, more a lighter counterpoint to others, which, after a few minutes, began a slow and stately barrage across the palate: dried dates, raisins, tart ripe mangoes, cloves, papaya, flowers, dark chocolate and a slight briny sense underlying it all. It was, I must stress, quite a powerful overall drink, in spite of it not being as strong as others I’ve tried over the years. “Firmly intense” might describe it best.

The finish was one to savour as well. It was of medium length, a little dry, and gave up no particularly new notes to titillate, merely developed from the richness the preceded it.  Some additional sweet came forward here, a vague molasses and caramel, more chocolate – the best thing about it was a lovely creaminess at the back end, which did not detract in the slightest from dark fruits, more freshly sawn wood, a little smoke, brine and chocolate.

Velier was bottling rums since around 2000, and for my money their golden years occurred when they issued the best of the Demeraras, around 2005-2010 – that’s when the 1970s editions rolled out (like the Skeldon and PM, for example). And if, good as it is, the Enmore 1988 doesn’t ascend quite to the heights of many others, no lover of Demerara rums can fail to appreciate what Luca did when he issued it. The Enmore falls right into that band of remarkable Velier offerings, and the romantic in me supposes that it was made at a time when Luca was mature enough in his choices to pick well, but still young enough to remember the reasons why he loved rums in the first place.  All the reasons he loved them. This rum is one of the showcases of the still, the country, and the man.

Other notes

419 bottle outturn from two barrels.

Personal thanks and a big hat tip go to Pietro Caputo of Italy, who sent me the sample gratis.

Top and bottom pictures come from Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged-Mind, who also reviewed this rum.

Enmore 1988 1

 

Mar 302016
 

D3S_3715

One of the best five year old rhums ever made, and a showcase for the wonderful directions the profile of a rhum can take.

(#264 / 89/100)

***

If I was underwhelmed by the “standard” 45% 2012 Liberation, and shrugged at the 2010 version (both rated around low eighties scores), let me assure you that the 2012 “Integrale”, bottled at a mouth watering 59.8%, is a beast of an entirely different colour. If your sojourn into agricoles ever takes you to Guadeloupe rhums, you could do a lot worse than stop a while at Marie Galante, where Gianni Capovilla makes his home. Because this five year old blasts even its own siblings right out of the water.

The bottle and its cardboard enclosure – which boast the picture of a lobster and other creepy crawlies in a reference I’m sure I’m not  clever enough to understand, but which is supposed to speak to appropriate food pairings with the rum – make no notes on the age statement, but running around the internet assures me it’s a five year old (as if the title didn’t already suggest it), aged in white oak barrels that once held sauternes white wine…Chateau d’Yquem from the domaine of Leflaive for those of you who are interested in such things.  The rhum derived from undiluted cane juice fermented for around ten days, which is quite a long time, relatively speaking – most distillers don’t ferment for more than five days, and many for less.  Double distillation took place in Bielle as part of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla and Luca Gargano (a new distillery was built right next to Bielle with sugar coming from there), using small copper pot stills designed by Mr. Capovilla and built by the German firm Muller, before being set to age. And of course, it was utterly unmessed with – no sugar, no dilution, no additives of any kind.

Because Guadeloupe has never sought the AOC certification, they seem to feel a childlike enthusiasm for going in any direction they feel inclined to on any particular day.  Here that succeeded swimmingly.  The nose presented an amazingly strong, fruity and clean profile right off the bat…plums and rich elderberries (of the kind Mrs. Caner doses me with every time I get a cold), crisp apples and pears, very little citrus of any kind, grassy and vegetal and almost perfumed.  Very mildly heavy, well balanced to the senses. To say I was impressed might be understating matters: it was something like  a slinky black cocktail dress mixed up with a Viennese ball gown, leavened with a helicopter gunship in full combat mode: three parts sensuality, two parts aggro and one of prurient decorum. Right out of the gate, this rhum was simply ludicrous: nothing this young should be this good.  And while it was younger than the Compagnie des Indes Guadeloupe, it was rounder, fruitier and more complex…in point of fact, it reminded me more of the J.M. 1995 which was three times older.

D3S_3718This amazing mix of class and sleaze and style continued without missing a beat when I tasted it.  Sure, 59.8% was something of a hammer to the glottis but man, it was so well assembled that it actually felt softer than it really was: I tried the Liberation on and off over four days, and every time I added more stuff to my tasting notes, becoming more impressed each time. The dark gold rhum started the party rolling with plums, peaches and unripe apricots, which provided a firm bedrock that flawlessly supported sharper tangerines and passion fruit and pomegranates.  As it opened up (and with water), further notes of vanilla and mild salted caramel came to the fore, held together by breakfast spices and a very good heat that was almost, but not quite, sharp – one could barely tell how strong the drink truly was, because it ran across the tongue so well.  

The fade was similarly impressive, lasting as long as the wait of an errant child for a father’s inevitable punishment: here the soft, firm roundness of the taste gave way to something drier and more assertive, yet this was not unpleasant by any stretch, and gave me final gifts of lemongrass, light brine, teriyaki, and more of those prunes, well dialled back.  In fine, a wonderful rhum all ‘round, and for its price, I think it’s a steal, five years old or not.  It adheres to all the style markers of the French West Indies, and then goes just a little bit further.

It’s just about impossible to get away from Velier and Mr. Gargano these days.  This is not to take anything away from Gianni Capovilla, by the way, because he’s the architect who understood and built on the dream that Luca espoused with this remarkable agricole rhum and so real credit is due to him also. But think about it: a decade ago just about nobody outside Italy ever heard of Velier or Luca, and yet today you can’t get into a discussion of pure rhums without his name popping up. 

That may be the key to why he has become so synonymous with pure rhums.  It’s not that he makes anything, produces anything, or distils anything.  What he does is choose.  He chooses the best of what’s out there in service to his personal values and and ideals, collaborates with the roneros and producers to share that vision…and then he brings the results to the attention of the world.  More, he articulates what is possible for everyone else.  Not all of his work succeeds, of course, but much of it does.  

And as we followed the man’s outturn through the years, we all saw the signposts: markers on the road of rhum discovery,  making our own sojourn that much more exciting, that much more interesting.  Offhand, I think of the dead serious Skeldon 1973 and PM 1974, the dour Caronis, the fine depth of the Damoiseau 1980, joined by the ribald insouciance of the Clairins…and now, by this lovely exemplar of Capovilla’s art.  I think I’ll linger here for a while, if you don’t mind, just to savour it some more.

Other notes

  • Outturn 1420 bottles
  • The “Liberation’ in the name refers to the liberation of the spirit from the barrels, and according to Cyril of DuRhum, the “Integrale” means “fullproof”.
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