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.
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.
*Breitenstein is a Holland-based trading company 100% owned by DDL, not a separate third party as I had initially thought.