Sep 302020
 

In spite of rums from various 1970s years having been issued throughout that period (many are still around and about and surfacing every now and then at wallet-excavating prices), it is my contention that 1974-1975 were the real years that disco came to town.  No other years from the last century except perhaps 1986 resonate more with rumistas; no other years have as many Demeraras of such profound age, of such amazing quality, issued by as many different houses.  I’d like to say I’ve lost count of the amount of off-the-scale ‘75s I’ve tasted, but that would be a damned lie, because I remember them all, right back to the first one I tried, the Berry Brothers & Rudd PM 1975. I still recall the rich yet delicate solidity of the Norse Cask, the inky beauty of the Cadenhead Green label 40.6%, the black licorice and sweet tobacco of the Rendsburger, Velier’s own 1975...and now, here is another one, dredged up by another Italian outfit we never heard of before and which, sadly, maybe we never will again. Unlike Norse Cask, it has not vanished, just never bothered to have a digital footprint; in so doing it has left us only this equally overlooked and forgotten bottle of spiritous gold, and some more recent bottlings known only to ur-geeks and deep-divers.

For the kitch, I’m afraid there is not much. Thanks to my impeccably fluent lack of Italian, I can tell you it’s a 1975 Port Mourant that was bottled in 2007, and it appears to be one of those single barrel releases often indulged in by importers – this time an Italian outfit called High Spirits, which doesn’t exist beyond its odd one-page website that leads nowhere and says nothing – see below for some notes on this.  The rum is 56.1%, dark red brown….

…and smells absolutely magnificent. The aromas are, in a word, loaded. The distinctiveness of the PM still comes through in a wave of aromatic wine-infused cigarillos’ tobacco, coffee, bitter chocolate and, yes, licorice. You pause, enjoy this, sniff appreciatively, dive in for Round 2 and brace for the second wave.  This emerges after a few minutes: and is more musky, darker in tone shot through with jagged flashes of tarter sharper notes: muscovado sugar, molasses, plums, blackberries, ripe black cherries, bananas, all the best part of, oh, the Norse Cask, of which this is undoubtedly the equal.  And then there’s a bit extra for the fans, before the taste: cinamon, vanilla, herbs, and (I kid you not) even a touch of pine resin.

And the profile, thank God, doesn’t let us down (think of what a waste that would have been, after all this time). People like me use the nose a lot to tease out flavour-notes but the majority of drinkers consider only the taste, and here, they’ll have nothing to complain about, because it continues and underlines everything the smells had promised. Again, thick and pungent with bark and herbs and fruit: plums, dark ripe cherries, ripe mangoes, bags of licorice, and an interesting combo of mauby and sorrel. Caramel and toffee and chocolate and cafe-au-lait dosed with a generous helping of brown sugar and whipped cream, each flavour clear and distinct and outright delicious – the balance of the various soft, sharp, tart and other components is outstanding.  Even the finish does the rum honour – it’s long, fragrant and lasting and if it could be a colour, it would be dark brown-red – the hues of licorice, nuts, raisins, dates, stewed apples and caramel.

There’s just so much here.  It’s so rich, smooth, warm, complex, inviting, tasty, sensual and outright delicious. Just as you put down the glass and finish scribbling what you optimistically think is the final tasting note, you burp and think of yet another aspect you’ve overlooked. Yes, High Spirits probably bought the barrel from a broker or an indifferent Scottish whisky maker who passed it by, but whoever selected it knew what they were doing, because they found and teased out the muscular poetry of the core distillate that in other hands could (and in its knock-offs sometimes does) turn into a schlocky muddled mess.

At end, over and beyond how it tasted, I find myself coming back to that age. Thirty two years. Such rums are getting rarer all the time. Silver Seal and Moon imports and Cadenhead and G&M occasionally upchuck one or two in the twenties, and yes, occasionally a house in Europe will issue a rum in the thirties (like CDI did with its 33YO Hong Kong Hampden, or those 1984 Monymusks that are popping up), but the big new houses are mostly remaining in the teens, and tropical ageing is the new thing which further suggests a diminution of the majority of aged bottlings. To see one like this, with the barrel slowly seeping its influence into the rum over three decades from a time most rum lovers were unborn and the rumworld we live in undreamt, is an experience not to be missed if one ever has the chance.

(#766)(91/100)


Other Notes

  • My thanks to Gregers, Pietro and Johnny for their help on this one, the pictures and background, and, of course, for the sample itself.
  • If I read the label right, it’s possible that as few as 60 bottles were issued.
  • For a recap of several 1975 Port Mourant rums, see Marius’s awesome flight notes on Single Cask.
  • High Spirits is a small Italian importer of whiskies and rums and moonlights as an occasional bottler. It is run by a gentleman by the name of Fernando Nadi Fior in Rimini (NE Italy), and he is an associate and friend of Andrea Ferrari and Stefano Cremaschi of Hidden Spirit and Wild Parrot respectively. High Spirits has quietly and primarily been dealing in whiskies and very occasional limited bottlings of rum since the formation of the company after the dissolution of the previous enterprise, Intertrade Import in the 1970s, but is still mostly unknown outside Italy.
  • I’ve often wondered about the prevalence of 1974 and 1975 Guyanese rums, so many of which were Port Mourant, We don’t see 1970s PM rums that often to begin with (Velier has a 1972, 1973 and other years as well, but they’re an exception), yet for some reason these two years seems to be unusually well represented across the various companies’ lines, and I doubt that’s a coincidence.  Somehow, for some reason, a lot of barrels from Guyana went to Europe back then and yet for few other years from that decade. Hopefully one day we’ll find out why.

Mar 132016
 

D3S_3845

It’s instructive to drink the Norse Cask and the Cadenhead in tandem.  The two are so similar except in one key respect, that depending on where one’s preferences lie, either one could be a favourite Demerara for life.

(#260. 87.5/100)

***

The online commentary on last week’s Norse Cask 1975 32 year old rum showed that there was and remains enormous interest for very old Guyanese rums, with some enthusiasts avidly collecting similar vintages and comparing them for super-detailed analyses on the tiniest variations (or so the story-teller in me supposes).  For the benefit of those laser-focused ladies and gentlemen, therefore, consider this similar Cadenhead 33 year old, also distilled in 1975 (a year before I arrived in Guyana), which could have ascended to greatness had it been stronger, and which, for those who like standard strength rums of great age, may be the most accessible old Demerara ever made, even at the price I paid.

D3S_3848The dark mahogany-red Cadenhead rum was actually quite similar to the Norse Cask.  Some rubber and medicinals and turpentine started the nose party going, swiftly gone.  Then the licorice and tobacco — of what I’m going to say was a blend with a majority of Port Mourant distillate — thundered onto the stage, followed by a muted backup chorus of wood, oak, hay, raisins, caramel, brown sugar. I sensed apricots in syrup (or were those peach slices?).  It’s the lack of oomph on the strength that made trying the rum an exercise in frustrated patience for me.  I knew the fair ladies were in there…they just didn’t want to come out and dance (and paradoxically, that made me pay closer attention).  It took a while to tease out the notes, but as I’ve said many times before, the PM profile is pretty unmistakeable and can’t be missed…and that was damned fine, let me reassure you, no matter what else was blended into the mix.

The palate demonstrated what the Boote Star 20 Year Old rum (coming soon to the review site near you) could have been with some additional ageing and less sugar, and what the Norse Cask could have settled for.  The taste was great, don’t get me wrong: soft and warm and redolent with rich cascades of flavour, taking no effort at all to appreciate (that’s what 40.6% does for you). It was a gentle waterfall of dark grapes, anise, raisins, grapes and oak. I took my time and thoroughly enjoyed it, sensing even more fruit after some minutes – bananas and pears and white guavas, and then a slightly sharper cider note.  The controlled-yet-dominant licorice/anise combo remained the core of it all though, never entirely releasing its position on top of all the others.  And as for the finish, well, I wasn’t expecting miracles from a standard proof rum. Most of the profile I noted came back for their final bow in the stage: chocolate muffins drizzled with caramel, more anise, some slight zest…it was nothing earth-shattering, and maybe they were just kinda going through the motions though, and departed far too quickly.  That’s also what standard strength will do, unfortunately.

That this is a really good rum is not in question.  I tried it four or five times over the course of a week and over time I adjusted to its calm, easy-going voluptuousness. It’s soft, easygoing, complex to a fault and showcases all the famous components of profile that make the Guyanese stills famous.  If one is into Demerara rums in a big way, this will not disappoint, except perhaps with respect to the strength.  Some of the power and aggro of a stronger drink is lost by bottling at less than 41% and that makes it, for purists, a display of what it could have been, instead of what it is. I suggest you accept, lean back and just enjoy it.  Neat, of course. Ice would destroy something of its structural fragility, and mixing it might actually be a punishable offense in some countries.

D3S_3846The word “accessible” I used above does not mean available, but relatable. The majority of the rum drinking world does not in fact prefer cask strength rums, however much bloggers and aficionados flog the stronger stuff as better (in the main, it is, but never mind).  Anyway, most people are quite comfortable drinking a 40-43% rum and indeed there are sterling representatives at that strength to be found all over the place.  El Dorado’s 21 year old remains a perennial global favourite, for example – and that’s because it really is a nifty rum at an affordable price with an age not to be sneered at (it succeeds in spite of its adulteration, not because of it). But most of the really old rums for sale punch quite a bit higher, so for those who want to know what a fantastically good ancient Demerara is like without getting smacked in the face by a 60% Velier, here’s one to get. It’s a love poem to Guyanese rums, reminding us of the potential they all have.

***

Other notes

Distilled 1975, bottled October 2008. Outturn is unknown.  

The actual components and ratios of the blend is also not disclosed anywhere.

The rum arrived in a cool green box with a brass clasp. And a cheap plastic window. Ah well…

Cadenhead has several versions of the 1975:

  • Green Label Demerara 30 YO (1975 – 2005), 40,5% vol.
  • Green Label Demerara 32 YO (1975 – 2007), 40,3% vol.
  • Green Label Demerara 33 YO (1975 – 2008), 40,6% vol.
  • Green Label Demerara 36 YO (1975 – 2012), 38,5% vol.
  • Green Label Demerara 35 YO (1975 – 2010), 40.0% vol.

 

Mar 082016
 

D3S_3787

Sometimes amazing rums come into being, made by people you’ve never heard of, blindsiding you with creative genius. Here’s one from Denmark.

(#259. 91/100)

***

Often, writing about a rum that is good with flashes of great leaves me with the vague feeling of dissatisfaction, because it seems that with a little more effort and imagination and maybe even chutzpah, it could have scored higher, been more, wowed my socks off.  How often have I written “excellent work, but…”?  The Danish made Norsk Cask, which I bought together with Henrik of Rumcorner, was a rum that neatly sidestepped those concerns and has proved to be one of the best Demeraras I’ve ever had.  It shows that Velier and Silver Seal and Moon Imports aren’t the only ones who can create rums with full-proof iron-man jockstraps.

A few words about Norse Cask, once headed by a gentleman called David Larsson. Apparently he was behind a company called Qualityworld, which imported several brand name spirits as well as doing some independent bottling. Unfortunately, during the economic crisis in 2008 the bank pulled the plug on his company and it went belly-up – to our detriment, I suggest, because this guy, just on the basis of this one rum, sure looks like he knew how to pick ‘em.

Think I exaggerate?  Not in the slightest.  What we had here was a rum with a strength on the exciting side of 50%, a 57% dark red-brown rum aged an amazing 32 years (no information as to where) that exhibited a nose strong and fragrant enough to make Velier take a step back and mutter a disbelieving “Che cazzo?” (and then rush to buy one). The nose started out a little sharp, not too much, fading rapidly to heat, and exuding initial aromas of bananas, licorice and a little rubber tap on the schnozz. Man this rum was deep – I had almost forgotten what an aged-beyond-all-reason Demerara could smell like.  Black pepper, dark chocolate, coffee, cedar, lemon zest, anise and burnt sugar marched in stately progression across my nose.  And then this rich smorgasbord was followed by licorice, more brown sugar, red currants and elderberries, with some musty hay notes.  Wow.  Just…wow.

D3S_3788

The palate didn’t drop the ball, and continued to elicit my admiration: it was really well put together, rich to a fault, and I felt that not one year of the 32 was wasted.  I scorned the A.H. Riise Navy rum as an abominable sugar grenade – this restored my faith. Raisins, dried black fruits.  Esters lurked coyly in the background.  Flowers, apricots, lemon rind.  Some woodiness and tar was present, well held in check, more cedar, olives in brine and (get this!) a weird faint taste of marmite on jelly on a slice of rye bread. It somehow married the sort of supple sleekness that would give a mink nightmares with the heavy, massive stomp-’em solidity of a Clydesdale.  And the finish?  Medium long, yet very memorable – rich with black olives, sawdust, wood and some smoke, port, raisins and giving with all the love of a repentant ex-girlfriend.  I tried it in conjunction with (among others) a similarly aged Cadenhead from 1975 bottled at 40.6% and it eclipsed them all without busting a sweat.

So for once there are no qualifiers.  No buts, howevers or althoughs. There are just wistful wishes: I wish I knew more about the components; I wish there were more like it; I wish the bottle were bigger.  It’s so good I’m going to hoard this one and jealously guard it like a knight of old with his daughter’s chastity. A lesser rum would be about trying to summon maybe one or three clear (maybe even contrasting) tastes, and balance them uneasily, sometimes not well. This rum, which breathes, which challenges, which is excitingly alive and complex to a fault, wants to see each note as part of something better, a greater whole, a synthesis…a whole symphony.  And melds them in a way which is quite remarkable.

It’s a great Demerara rum. No, scratch that, I lied.  It’s a spectacular Demerara rum.

Other notes:

  • Distilled 1975, bottled July 2008.
  • No colouring, additives or chill filtering
  • 178 bottle outturn
  • No notes on the still, but for my money it’s the PM
  • Many thanks to Henrik for the history of Norse Cask.

D3S_3789

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