First posted 29 October, 2010 on Liquorature.
A discovery you will think all your own and which you’ll be glad you made; smooth, flavourful and velvety as the best kiss of your life, with a finish that doesn’t disappoint.
The Antigua Distillery has embraced both developing trends in the rum market: it has aggressively worked to address the emergence of premium sipping rums by creating the masterful English Harbour series of rum (I think the 5 yr old is one of the great mixers around, and the 1981 25-yr old, is one of the top five commercial aged 40% rums in the world), and also trended towards the resurgence in cocktails by marketing a more flavourful series of rums dedicated for the mixing circuit. Both the younger English Harbours and the Cavalier brands genuflect to the latter trend.
While Rum has been distilled in Antigua since 1493, the Antigua Distillery itself was not incorporated until 1932 when, during the downturn of rum and sugar production, some enterprising local businessmen consolidated their production; in 1934 the company purchased nine estates and a small sugar factory. While individual estates were wont to to make their own hooch in crude and small pot stills, usually for internal consumption, the acquisition of the factory permitted the company to create its own molasses, and made both aged and un-aged rums under the Caballero brand name. From these small beginnings the distillery has grown in fame and popularity.
Doing the research for the rum I casually tasted in John’s house in Toronto stunned me at the quality of what he might have, all unknowing, managed to snag for himself on one of his trips down to The Islands. You have to understand that aside from the El Dorado 25 year old, the other rums on his table that evening were a mixed bag: overproofs, bush, five year olds and so on…and this one, which didn’t remark itself as special in any way (and none of them had price labels affixed). So while we all know enough about the English Harbour suite to know what we want, few of us in Cowtown have ever seen anything else from the Land of 365 Beaches. The Cavalier Rums are the Gold, the Light (a white rum), the white Puncheon, the 151 overproof, the 5 year old and the extra Old. And the 1981 Vintage I had that night…it was quite something.
The 1981 Vintage derived from copper stills is matured – the company website declines to say how long, but I hazard it is not less than ten years – in 22 litre oak casks which once held bourbon, and the resultant blended in 5000 litre oak vats dating back from the formation of the company, which suggests the vats may be quite a bit older than that. What comes out the other end as an aged premium rum put into a wax-sealed bottle stopped with a tight-fitting cork, and is well worth your consideration.
The striking thing about the Cavalier extra Old is its simplicity. It has a straightforward smooth nose of caramel, molasses and vanilla, with light floral hints. It has a medium brown colour and a kind of rich body in the glass. It’s the bite on the snoot that’s not there, or is so faint you barely notice it….just those rich waves of brown sugar and vanilla, and those very slight tannins that assert the prescence of some other flavour just outside your ability to nail down precisely. It’s just as velvety smooth in the mouth: like a caramel sweet, it stays and offers its taste to you and maybe the reason I didn’t expect that is because there was no reason for me to…I hadn’t, in point of fact, really expected much of anything, which may be reverse snobbery of the worst kind. Be that as it may, the taste stays in the mouth and the finish is long, smooth and sweet, like maybe one of the best kisses of your adolescence from the girl you loved to pieces and still remember fondly after all this time.
I have no idea how much it costs – John mentioned he had picked the bottle up at the VC Bird Airport in Antigua back in 2000 and barely tasted it since then (how do you even begin to talk to a man about such a wonderful undiscovered treasure when he treats the liquid gold with such insouciance, I ask myself helplessly, seething with envy). I only had the one taste and then a second one to confirm, and I have not seen the bottle here in Calgary, and so must rely on my tatty tasting notes that somehow survived the trip back here intact. Like that long ago girl, the taste of this rum now fades gradually from my mind while remaining in my memories and will be missed and even mourned a little for its unavailability.
All I can tell the reader of this review is that if you ever go to Antigua, then, aside from ensuring you buy the English Harbour 1981, pick up this Cavalier 1981 Vintage rum. I won’t say your tastes equate to mine or that you will have the same enjoyment I did…but I think you’ll agree that this rum is worth a little extra, and will retain an honoured spot on your shelf. The way, one day, it will hopefully have on mine.