Oct 042012

As has now become a pleasant routine every six months or so, I attended the second Kensington Wine Market Raucous Rums tasting of 2012 on Thursday 4th October, and as has also become my habit, I brought along a guest. Previously, before my rum-loving friend The Bear bailed for the Maritimes (for his health and a better job he claims, but I think he was just tired of Calgary weather), he and I made it a point to always go together. What has happened since his departure is that I always buy two tickets, and ask someone to come along with me. On this occasion it was Gordon “Pogo-san” Pogue, whom I had converted to the dark side about a year or so ago at a now-legendary rum-soaked jerk-chicken cookoff, when he (to his own everlasting astonishment I’m sure) realized that top end rums were…well, utterly fantastic.

There’s a sort of comforting routine to these tastings, which vary little from occasion to occasion. The ill-named host “ScotchGuy” (yup, I have to comment on this every time I write about KWM’s Raucous Rums) always has the glasses all poured (not Glencairns, alas), welcomes everyone, has his powerpoint dissertation on the history of rum ready to go (complete with the odd photo from Liquorature), and as always, there are new faces, different faces, all interested and curious and enthusiastic. Last time there was a cheerful crowd of Chileans that caught my eye; on this occasion a group of four beautiful ladies off to the front, a well dressed couple in the middle, and what I later came to know as a father-son tag-team together with Pogo-san and me in the rear. Snacks were low key and tasty and as you can imagine, I nibbled the evening through.

These days, I take a perverse kind of sneaky delight in trying to anticipate what Andrew would present on any given evening. I must confess to being a little ahead of most attendees, since I have been involved in these tastings for three years now (not really as impressive as it sounds given there are two a year versus maybe fifteen or so for whiskies) and since I knew he had some new variations in, I had a sense of what would be on offer. Can’t always bet on that, though: sometimes we get new stocks not yet available, like the Rum Nation series back in 2011; on other occasions it’s older wares that aren’t moving off the shelves and about which we are reminded, like the Santa Teresa Bicentenario. And sometimes Andrew just happily mixes it all up and simply puts out a series he thinks would be interesting (I occasionally get asked for a suggestion). I think he takes delight in pulling a fast one on me.

As before, the six rums were blind. Andrew had us nose and try the first rum right away before launching into the presentation. Gordon sniffed and wrinkled his nose. The light toffee-coloured rum stung the schnozz a little, and had a slight smokiness to it, toffee craminess and some vanilla, perhaps bananas, trending towards the floral. “Caramel and burnt sugar,” he opined “Maybe flowers, some fruitiness.” “Bananas?” I asked, hoping to get a confirmation. He sniffed, tasted and nodded. The two gentleman at our table tried it but didn’t offer an opinion, and with five more to go, I couldn’t blame them. I suspected this was a Bajan rum because of its soft nose and them bananas, but it was also a little more spicy than I recalled from Barbados products…I thought it might be the Mount Gay 1703 (the XO is a shade harsher than this one).

Moving on, Andrew answered a few questions from a more-than-usually vocal audience (I always like that since I’m a firm believer in audience participation), remarked that he would have liked to do a country-specific tasting one of these days (not on this occasion, but maybe soon…) and launched into the presentation, and then we tried the second rum, which was darker, gold, with a shade of red. “Nice,” I said, and it was. “How do you think it compares?” “Oh better than the first for sure,” replied Gordon. “Spices, nuts, fruits on the nose. Chocolate on the taste.” That lined up with what I thought, and mentally added roses and some winey notes, marzipan and molasses as well.

The older gentleman at our table, Michael by name, looked over at us. “You’re obviously an aficionado,” he said. “Me, I couldn’t tell the difference between one rum and the next like that. Love rums, just don’t dabble very much on the farm.” I smiled and said “Yeah, but you could probably tell one cow from the next just by asking its name and checking the pats, right?” We all laughed. “Yup,” he confirmed. “Smell the poop and know its state of health right away.” I liked him on the spot.

“Well, I’m going to suggest this is a Rum Nation product, maybe the Jamaica 25 or the Demerara 23, more than likely the former,” I hazarded, little knowing the hole I just dug for myself. But I did like the rum a lot. It was heated, yes, spicy without doubt, yet also earthy and softly flavoured, with a long finish I enjoyed.

Moving on to rum number three, a dark mahogany coloured lass. Oh this was just fine, I thought, nearly having an attack of the vapours myself. This one was awesome: breakfast toast and chocolate on the nose, a creamy, soft arrival with a balanced taste of fruits, molasses, pecan, apples. Oily finish, deep and long lasting and did this rum ever love me. “Comments?” asked Gordon, wanting to know which one I thought this was. “I honestly don’t know for sure,” I had to admit. “The only rum I know that’s this good at 40% is the St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old.” But would Andrew trot this $200 baby out, having already done so in a previous tasting? Maybe. “I guess I’ll hang my hat there,” I concluded, however doubtfully.

If I thought #3 was good, #4 ratcheted the ante up a shade. Rusty, dark rum, almost El Dorado-like. A nose of licorice, plums, dark dried fruit, and a lovely winey background on arrival. Smooth, heated, warm, with an arrival redolent of freshly sawn lumber, biscuits and a shade of cinnamon. “You know,” I whispered to Michael and Gordon and the other younger gentleman with a magnificent King George beard I secretly envied (his name was Colin and he turned out to be Michael’s son), “I honestly think this is the 25 year old Jamaican Rum Nation, but that cedar hint makes me wonder whether it isn’t the Longpond 58 year old.” “How can you tell?” asked Michael. “It’s those cedar notes that are the problem…that’s what I get from the Longpond, but if this is the J25, then Rum #2 has to be something else,” I grumbled in confusion – the others were enjoying my discomfiture.

The deep gold of Rum #5 concealed a nose of real power. Man, this sucker stood up and biffed me on the hooter with rubber, plasticine and wood, big time, devolving into floral notes as it settled, and a slight minty background. The arrival was strong and powerful: brown sugar, caramel, toffee, soggy biscuits, fruity notes…and a strong woodsy scent of cedar. “Okay,” I said, sure at last. “This one is the Longpond 58 year old. The cedar is too clear and the rum is too strong to be anything else.” “You sure? So what does that make #2 and #4?” asked Colin. “Still on the fence about #2,” I was forced to admit, “But #4 should be the Jamaican 25.” “Why are you so sure of this one?” asked Pogo-san. “Well, Andrew advertised it would be one of the selections, and I know he has it because I lent him my bottle.” I laughed. “Damn but this is strong. It’s like a porn star on a performance bonus…the finish just won’t stop.” (I was quoting one of my own reviews, to be honest). Colin and Michael could barely contain their laughter, and so did the rest of the crowd when Andrew repeated it.

Andrew had some nice things to say about the Liquorature site – I imagine our table’s relatively talkative crowd was drawing some attention and he wanted to explain why my name occasionally popped up in the presentation – and then we moved on to the last rum of the evening

Well, if I thought #5 had cojones, I was utterly unprepared for Rum #6, which was the lightest rum of the tasting. Holy crap but this was stratospheric. Glue, PVC, plastic, spicy as all hell. And then the flavours started coming: grapes, fruits, wine, mint, acetone. And a finish that simply would not stop. “Porn star?” I gasped, reaching for the water, “This thing is like a rampaging rhino on crack,” and that just dissolved the table. We were certainly having a great time over in our corner. This was like school days, where I constantly “ketch lash” for talking in the back while “Sir” or “Miss” was lecturing. “This, without doubt, is the SMWS Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, guys. Tread lightly or you’ll really get hammered.” And of course I took another sip.

As usual, we were asked to rank our #1 and #2 rum of the evening and the big reveal was as follows:

#1 was the Renegade Rums Barbados 2003 6 year old, bottled at 46%. Nobody picked this as either their #1 or #2. Hey, I got the country right, didn’t I?

#2 was (to my extreme embarassment), the Renegade Rums St Lucia (I forget the year). I excuse my inexcusable gaffe here by noting that although I have it, haven’t gotten around to doing the review on it. Yeah, sure. 2 people picked this one

#3 was picked by 13 persons, and it was the Panamonte XXV. Another rousing failure by your not-so-humble reviewer to discern the difference between a superlative Bajan product, and one from Panama. This was my own #3 pick of the evening.

#4 Yeah baby: I thought it might have been the 58 year old but then settled on the J25, and so it was. My #2 pick of the evening

#5 On a roll, I correctly assessed the 1941 Longpond 58 year old for what it was. When I can get around to saying which cask it was (#76 in this case) and what year it was bottled (1995), then I can call myself a true expert, but until then, I’ll take the kudos I can for merely identifying it. My #1 choice of the evening, but only one other person concurred

#6 And yes, this was indeed the behemoth of all rums, the 81.3% Longpond 9. No way I could mistake that. Would you believe that three people were mesmerized enough (or battered into insensibility by its mere prescence) to choose it as their first or second fave? Good for them. “They probably drink cask strength whiskies on the side,” I muttered. “I like whiskies a lot,” noted Colin, breathing a little hard. “But I’ve never had one like this.” Gordon concurred after exhaling gently. I imagine he was searching for his tonsils in Albania.

Not the most artistic photo of a lineup I ever took…blame it on the Longpond 9

And that was that. I am going to award myself 3½ points out of six – three correct guesses and one half mark for at least figuring the country right, as if this somehow means something.

But you know, it’s all a guessing game, and what of it if I get it wrong? — these things are fun. I always meet interesting people, I always have a good time, always find something new. The evening was given an even better fillip by having such a great vocal, questioning set of participants (not least of which were the four pretty ladies in the front and the well-dressed couple a table over). And I met Michael Monner and his son Colin, who graciously allowed me to use their names in this review, and hailed from a small town called Milo, just SE of Calgary (“Mike Monner from Milo” I said, rolling that around “…that sounds too cool to be true.”). Not surprisingly, given Mike’s appreciation for rums, I think I’m going to have him over or pass by Milo to see him one of these days, and bring some of my own stocks for him to try. I’d like to think my good squaddie Pogo-san enjoyed himself, will come once more if I ask him, and once again, I’ll be waiting for the next one to see what good stuff our host has to surprise us with on that occasion.

Having written this, I have a feeling I may go back to give that Longpond 9 another try: I’m having trouble falling asleep you see…

See you next time.


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