Jan 282018
 

#483

The History Collection 1715 “Isle de France” Cuvée Spéciale, in spite of being made from cane juice, reminded me rather more of an El Dorado rum than a true agricole, and with the History Collection’s 1814 “Mauritius” Cuvée Grande Reserve we’re looking at today, similar thoughts occurred to me…albeit about a different country. Perhaps that’s the marker of a rum that lingers in the mind and titillates the senses – it reminds you of something, but pinning it down proves elusive…and then it turns out to be quite a distinct product in its own right, as this one is.

So, that said, and similarities aside, it’s instructive to assess the achievement of St. Aubin in producing a rhum that — even at 40%  — was no slouch to sample: it had the same rich and fruity aromas of the Isle de France, brown sugar, cherries in syrup, pineapple, peaches, apricots, vanilla, and to distinguish it from its sibling (perhaps), also a series of coffee and musty, sawdust-y, cereal-y back-end notes.  Sprinkled with raspberries.  What with a hint of chocolate in there someplace, I was actually moving away from comparing the nose to an El Dorado, and relocating myself to Colombia, know what I mean?  This thing was like a crisper Dictador 20 with just enough of the agricole background shimmering through to provide a clue as to its origins.

The nose told a tale that would be repeated right down the line, and what I smelled was pretty much what I tasted, with a few variations here and there.  It was light and clean, yet displaying darker, muskier spicier notes as well: vanilla, coffee, licorice and some sharp tannins, with the musty long-disused-attic tastes remaining.  Some fruits – peaches and cherries for the most part – stayed in the background.  The core was anise and sawdust and unsweetened chocolate, and overall it presented as somewhat dry.  Quite nice — if it fell down at all it was in the finish, which was more licorice and chocolate, thin tart fruits (gooseberries perhaps) and after a few hours, it took on a metallic tang of old ashes doused with water that I can’t say I entirely cared for.

Some background. The date on the bottle (1814) relates to the the Treaty of Paris signed at the end of the Napoleonic Wars by the warring nations of Europe, and it was this treaty which gave Guadeloupe back to France (it had been ceded to Sweden (!!) for a while), but which also formally confirmed Mauritius to be a colony of Great Britain (who had held it since 1810). I was informed that the rhum is cane juice based, 30% pot still 10 year old from 2004, and 70% column still (stored for six years in an inert inox tank), — which therefore does not makes the rum a 10 year old in spite of the bottling in 2014, and so I have had to retitle and amend this post, after checking with St. Aubin directly. Oh and there are 5218 bottles in the outturn, so probably enough for anyone who wants one to get one.

As noted on the Ile de France, by the way, you should expect some dosing here (caramel and “natural flavours”, not sugar, I was informed), and that’s evident after some switching back and forth between a true agricole and this one…not enough to mess it up, but noticeable enough after a while.  On the plus side it gentles the whole experience down a mite, makes it smoother and quieter and more sippable for those who like softer profiles to their rums (plus of course, sweeter ones); on the negative side it dampens and mutes a profile which doesn’t really need that kind of tampering – it’s good enough as it stands.  Underneath the muffling effect of the caramel addition, you can sense what it was and what was there, but it’s like listening to music underwater…the full impact and effect of the symphony is lost. And that’s a shame because I’d be much more interested to see what it was like when pure – based on the quality of what I was sampling, that was probably quite something.

(84/100)


Other notes

As stated above, current versions of the rum are only partly 10 years old, although the components remain the same as older ones – the 10 YO pot still component replaces the 7 YO portion. The label on the bottle I was sold was an older one which is now being changed to eliminate the age statement.  So even if your label says 7, you’re not precisely getting that.

Jan 212018
 

#481

The current focus on the Caribbean’s rums to some extent obscures interesting developments taking place elsewhere – for example the new Madeira rum from Rum Nation, French Guiana’s Toucan…and rums from St. Aubin in Mauritius, which are not particularly new, but certainly lack wider appreciation, perhaps because they don’t make it to the festival circuit as much as others do.  Anyway, this rum, the Isle de France 1715-2015 is part of their “History Collection”, bottled at 40% for a wider commercial market, and commemorates the year of establishment of French rule over Isle de France for the French East India Company — prior to that it was named L’Ile Maurice, and was a haven for pirates, smugglers and the all-round lawless (in which it parallels the Caribbean, maybe) from whom all of us low-rent rum reviewers claim descent when in our cups.

According to my email exchanges with the company, the rhum was produced from the harvest of 2005, and is a blend of two rhums – pot still (30%) aged ten years aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and column still (70%) stored in inert inox tanks; both distillates deriving from cane juice .  As a further note, although sugar was explicitly communicated to me as not being added, caramel and “natural aromas” were – so some variation from the pure is to be expected and I don’t doubt that hydrometer tests will show the dosage.

Certainly the caramel component was noticeable, and not just in the colour, which was quite dark – almost mahogany. The nose presented with sweet toffee notes almost immediately, and what was remarkable about it was also the surprising richness of it all – fruity to a fault, licorice, brown sugar, pineapple and peaches, balanced off (not entirely successfully) with oak and bitter chocolate.  The rhum smelled sweet, like overripe oranges and bubble gum and that to some extent was intriguing…just somewhat overpowering after a while.

Fortunately it smelled more saccharine than it tasted.  The palate was quite good, rather dry, and much more robust than I had been expecting from a standard strength product – sweetish, yes, also containing coconut shavings, pineapple, more peaches, light citrus, caramel and chocolate, coffee grounds, nougat, and – this is where I felt it faltered – also too much vanilla.  The oak took a backseat here, the bitterness of the nose not so much in evidence and the finish was warm, short with bubble gum, licorice and dry, woody notes that were pleasant, just disappeared too swiftly.

Overall, this is quite a pleasant rhum, and strangely enough, given its cane-juice antecedents, it reminded me a lot of the El Dorado rums, particularly the 12 year old, where the dosage was also quite obvious; and it’s somewhat of a kissing cousin to the El Dorado 15 year old with respect to its panoply of flavours, specifically the licorice and chocolate.  I think that attempts may have been made to emulate some of the high ester profile of the Savanna rums without blatantly ripping them off, and the dosage smoothened things out and provided some balance.  At end, it’s a perfectly respectable mid-tier rum which is likely to find great favour in North America, perhaps less so in Europe.

History always fascinates me, so a few details here: the Domaine de St. Aubin, named after the first sugar cane mill established by Pierre de St. Aubin in 1819 or thereabouts, is located in the extreme south of Mauritius in the Rivière des Anguilles, and has been cultivating cane since that year – however the date of first distillation of spirits is harder to pin down – it’s likely within a few decades of the original opening of the sugar factory (there are records of the Harel family starting a distillery which is now New Grove in the 1850s; they also make the Lazy Dodo brand which I waxed lyrical about last year). In the late 1960s the Franco-Mauritian Guimbeau family – who made their fortune in the tea trade for which Mauritius is also renowned – acquired the estate and retained the name, and gradually developed a stable of rums produced both by a pot still (which produces what they term their “artisanal” rums) and a relatively recent columnar still for larger volume agricoles.

It’s a personal opinion of mine that alongside St. Lucia and Reunion, Mauritius is another one of those undiscovered countries we should be watching. Every day we read about the Jamaicans, Guyanese and Bajans; we regularly get another release from the famous rhum makers out of Martinique and Guadeloupe; and we kinda wish we could get more from St. Vincent and Grenada and other smaller Caribbean islands to round out the area, sure. However, let that not blind you to treasures made on the other side of Africa, on this small, rather-off-the-beaten-track island.  Chamarel, New Grove, Penny Blue and Lazy Dodo rums are all good products, enlarging the scope of what rums are — but my advice is, don’t ignore the St Aubin rums either, because however middling my notes are, they have some pretty interesting wares, and deserve a good hard look by those who want something different and tasty, yet also not too far removed from the profiles of better known rums. It’s just close enough to more familiar products to evince a nod of appreciation and vague recall, while being a memory that remains tantalizingly elusive  “Tastes oddly familiar,” I wrote after sampling the Cuvée Spéciale, “But damned if I remember precisely which one.”  And that’s exactly as it should be.

(83/100)

Jan 032018
 

#475

“A few years ago, these rums [Zacapa and Diplo Res Ex] were seen as the baseline for all other rums to be judged.  No longer.”  Thus wrote Wes Burgin over at the Fat Rum Pirate in an excellent July 2017 post suggesting that with social media and education, enthusiasts were becoming more knowledgeable and less apt to accept adulterated rums than ever before.

Yet in spite of that ideal, in spite of the ever-expanding knowledge-base of rums the world over, the Diplo remains enormously popular. It’s unlikely that there’s any rum drinker out there – junkie or not – who didn’t at some point have a fling with this plump Venezuelan señora.  Just about all rum writers have done a thing on it. Like the Bacardis, El Dorados and Zacapas, it’s one of those rums one can find just about anywhere, and for the new people coming to rum cold, it remains a staple, if not always a favourite.  

That is, of course, due to both its very affordable price, and because of is sweet placidity.  You don’t want expensive indie aggro? A light, easy-going drink? Something to relax with? Complex enough for Government work? No thinking required? Here’s your solution. That’s also the reason why it drops off the radar of those people who grow to take their rums seriously (if it doesn’t drive them into transports of righteous rage).  Diplomatico – marketed as Botucal in Germany, named after one of the farms from which the cane comes, though it’s exactly the same product – never bothered to punch it up, never worried about cask strength, never deigned to lose the dosing or adulteration, and sells briskly day in and day out.  The deep-diving rum chums just shake their heads and head for the exits to buy the latest indie casker, and discussions on Facebook about the matter are more likely than any other to end up in verbal fisticuffs.

Yet consider for a moment the page of this rum in the populist-driven, crowd-sourced “review” site RumRatings.  A top-end, well-known, mid-priced unadulterated rum issued at full proof like, say, the Foursquare Criterion has 13 ratings on that site. The Triptych has 11. The 2006 10 Year Old has 4, and the most popular Foursquare rum is the 9 year old 2005 Port Cask Finish with 71.  The Diplomatico in contrast has over 1,200, with most rating it between 8 and 9 out of 10 points. 

Surely neither longevity, nor rank please-as-many-as-possible populism are solely responsible for such a disparity. There’s got to be more to it than just that, a reason why it regularly appears on people’s answers to the constant question “What to start with?” — and I’m sorry but not everyone drinks a few hundred rums a year like us writers and festival junkies, and it isn’t enough to simply shrug, sniff condescendingly and say “some people just don’t know good rums.” If it is – as I suggest – a rum worth revisiting, then such popularity and esteem requires a cold, beady-eyed re-consideration.  We have to understand whether it has something more in its trousers, something subtle, that excites that kind of appreciation. It was in an effort to understand what lay behind the popularity of the Diplo that I deliberately sourced a bottle in Berlin in late 2017, and while my controls were a few stronger, purer rums from the Latin side, to my surprise the Diplo didn’t entirely choke even when ranked against them (I shall now pause for the incredulous expressions of indignation to pass), though for sure it never came close to exceeding any and raced to the bottom in fine style.

Part of all this is its relative simplicity compared to fierce and pungent rums now taking centre stage. The nose was a straightforward sweet toblerone, toffee, vanilla, butterscotch and caramel, very light and easy and butter-smooth, with what complexity there was being imparted by spices aimed at the sweet side – rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg – and a little nuttiness, and a hint of light fruit, all of which took real effort to separate out.  Hardly the most complex or intriguing smell ever to waft out of a rum bottle, and the vanilla and caramel were really too dominant to provide the sort of excellence the maker trumpets for itself.

Similar issues affect the palate.  Smooth – yes, warm – yes, comfortable – undoubtedly.  There was a little oak mixing things up here, but mostly the taste was muscovado sugar and caramel, vanilla, light fruits of indeterminate nature, and those same spices from the nose (cinnamon being at the forefront) with nothing particularly new or adventurous leading one into undiscovered territory.  Overall, even on the finish, and then judged overall, it had little beyond a pleasant, warm sort of sweet unaggressive nature only marginally redeemed by a light tart fruity note here or there, and the edge imparted by a little oak. Beyond that, it was way too sweet for my palate as it stands right now, and in conjunction with the controls it actually sinks even further because the dampening effect of the additions becomes self evident.

So, that adulteration. It’s been measured at 30-40 g/L of whatever-it-is, which puts it in the same league as The El Dorado 12 and 15, Rum Nation Millonario and the Cartavio XO, all of which, back in the day, I enjoyed, and all of which have subsequently slipped in my estimation in the years between then and now, and been relegated to what I refer to as “dessert rums.” But what exactly are they adding to their rum?  Back in 2010 when I wrote my original unscored review, the Distilleries Unidas website made tangential mention of flavouring additives (“Only…rich aromas and flavours are used to manufacture rums…” — this comment no longer appears); and Rob Burr remarked on the 2012 Inuakena review that a Venezuelan rum liqueur called Haciendo Saruro is added to the blend, but without corroboration (it was assumed he was speaking from insider knowledge).  So I think we can take it as a given that it’s been tarted up, and it’s up to each person who tries this rum to make up their own minds as to what that means to them. Personally, I no longer care much for the Diplomatico and its ilk.  It presents no real challenge.  It simply isn’t interesting enough and is too sweet and easy. That, however, obscures the key point that people like it precisely for those reasons. It sells well not in spite of these deficiencies (as they are, to me), but because of them…because the majority of drinkers consider these very same drawbacks as points of distinction, and if you doubt that and the unkillability of sweet, check out the hundreds of comments in response to “Don’t treat people like snobs because they like sweet rums” post on FB in December 2017. Since I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my tastes and my palate matter more, or should take precedence over others, I can simply suggest that people try more rums to get a feel for more profiles before praising it to the high heavens as some kind of ur-rum of the Spanish style.

Let us also concede that a rum like this has its place. On the negative side are all the issues raised above.  On the plus side of the ledger, for those who like these things, there is sweetness, smoothness and a stab at complexity.  It works fabulously as a standalone sipping drink when concentration and thought is not desired or required.  It’s not entirely an over-sugared mess like, oh, the A.H. Riise Navy rum. It makes a decent introduction to neat rums for those raised on over-spiced, over-flavoured rums or who came up through the ranks trying rums like Kraken, Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry or Don Papa.  As one of the first steps in the world of rum, this ron remains a tough one to beat, and that’s why it should be on the list of anyone who is assembling the first home bar, and should be considered, for good or ill, one of the Key Rums of the World…even if, sooner or later, all true rum fans will inevitably move beyond it.

(74/100)

Sep 102017
 

***

Rumaniacs Review #055 | 0455

About the only place this rhum falls down is that for all the information we have on it, it leaves us begging for more.  It is a heritage (or “halo”) edition rhum, a bland of six millésimes, those years considered to be of exceptional quality – the legendary 1885 (R-010, remember that?), 1934, 1952, 1976, 1998 and 2000, and yeah, what else could we possibly want? Well, how much of each was in the blend, for one, and how old each of those components was, and further, how much (if at all) the final blend was itself aged.

But I’m not whinging too loudly.  This is an impressive dram, and only 800 bottles were issued for the 250th anniversary of the plantation (I think this was 2015).  One wonders if it was a coincidence that each bottle supposedly retails for €800, and yes, it’s still available, the secondary market has thankfully not gotten into the action here as yet.

Colour – bronze

Strength – 43%

Nose – Luscious, voluptuous. Caramel and dark fruits, hinting at (get this) a column still Demerara, except that it’s much lighter.  Florals and sweet ripe fruit are exhaled with joyous abandon – marula fruit, cashews, light pineapple, and the sweet and over-ripe scent of mangoes that fall under gargantuan tropical trees in such profusion they rot right there on the ground.  Also oaky, somewhat sharp, some freshly sawn lumber, pineapple, tobacco and grated ginger.  Whew…quite a smorgasbord, and well assembled, I assure you.

Palate – After the stronger Neissons, this seems almost tame.  Much of the nose has been retained – ripe fruits, cherries, the crispness of gooseberries, herbs and grass and cream (“krauterquark” as the Germans would say).  Much of the heavier components of the blend lose some definition here, the younger ones take over and contribute a light, frisky, sparkling profile. Pleasant, just not earth shaking.  Light strawberries, vanilla, oak (perhaps a bit much), breakfast spices, cumin, and a vein of citrus and salt caramel through the whole thing.

Finish – A shade brief, with the aforementioned fruit, cumin, citrus, salt caramel and raisins, lots of raisins.

Thoughts – I’d hazard a guess that the more recent vintages, say from 1976 on, contribute some sprightliness and vigour, some of that sharpness and tart fruitiness to the blend, while the older ones give depth and solidity upon which these rest.  For my money I’d prefer somewhat less of the former, more of the latter, or some better balance between the two, and perhaps a greater strength – all the elements of a great rum are in evidence, but it’s too light.  That’s not to say it’s bad – not at all! – but it does make for ease and comfort; I’d personally prefer something more aggressive and complex which would elevate such a great collection of vintages a few points more.

(86.5/100)

Some of the boyos have taken a look at this rhum also…see the Rumaniacs page

Jun 112017
 

#371

While SAB, the only real commercial rum producer in Suriname, makes competent blends and some very nice aged work (like the 8 year old from last week), it suffers, if the word can be used, from the following: a competitor to up the ante and push them harder within their own country; higher proof offerings as part of a connoisseur’s cabinet; a range of true single cask rums that highlights a particular point of interest in an overall oevre; and most of all, as I noted way back in the Extra Gold, that particular note of terroire that would mark it out and set it apart from, and over, more common table tipple.

Which is not to say they’re bad – far from it.  The Borgoe 8 year old was a nice step up from the earlier, younger editions, and now the 40% 15 year old takes it to its own new level, even adding a filip of individuality, because it is stated to be a single barrel aged rum — although unfortunately I’m unable to ascertain what the outturn was,or even if it is issued on a semi-regular basis.  The fact that no year is mentioned on the label – single barrel rums by their nature tend to extol a year of make and a volume of bottles issued as a bare minimum – suggests that the moniker may either be totally incorrect or it’s poor  advertising / quality control…because you can be sure that no independent bottler would ever make such an error.

Anyway, beyond those issues, let’s take things at face value and simply accept it as a column still blend based on non-Surinamese molasses, blended from various barrels of fifteen year old reserves, issued at a milquetoast 40%, and if you’ll forgive my rampant and  unconfirmed speculation, with some pot still juice mixed in there for a little edge and torque.  The question is, was it any good?

Yes, and it’s very much the best of the lot, even edging out the Banks DIH Supreme 15 year old, with which it shared several points of similarity.  Even at 40% the difference between the various standard rums I was trying was quite impressive – creamy cereals and milk, oranges and caramel, all emerged to waft around the nose, at once.  There were the scents of walnuts, coconut, tobacco, and the fruitiness of cherries and peaches in cream, with a few flower petals and nougat thrown in for good measure.  And behind it all, barely noticeable, a queer clean sheen of something clear and bright and metallic, almost agricole-like….that’s the edge I was talking about, the point of distinction I liked.

Tasting it was also a pleasant experience, warm and smooth and with a fine texture – it actually presented with somewhat more heft than one would expect.  It was fruity, flowery and musky, all at the same time, redolent of aromatic cigarillos (those port-infused ones I used to like at one point in my life).  Leading off were ripe cherries and tart yellow mangos, apricots, plums and vanilla, with enough of the sharper oak influence to give it some kick.  It was vaguely (but in no way overbearingly) sweet, and with a drop or two of water provided some additional sage and nutmeg, burnt brown sugar, molasses and caramel, plus that faint but clear metallic brightness. Full proof it might not have been, but I had few complaints about what they had managed to achieve.  Only the finish was somewhat of a let-down, being rather short and quick, if easy and warm and without anything new being added to the experience…sort of like an ex-girlfriend’s cheerful goodbye kiss – she knows you well enough to give you a good one, but doesn’t care enough to give you the full treatment, know what I mean?

So all in all, a reasonably complex, well balanced rum which is nice to sip, a decent and very competent product by any standard. I want to make clear that as the top of the line, the Borgoe 15 year old is not a common bathtub hooch which plays it safe and doesn’t go anywhere spanking new – it’s too well made for that. But in the end, it remains a column still blend, it retains that unadventurous strength (not 46% or even 43% both of which can almost be seen as the evolving standards), and has only some of the force and uniqueness and intensity about it that would immediately mark it out as something special. Something special like a rum specifically Surinamese. Something special like a rum we must have.  And that’s a shame, because with some effort and courage — some more oomph, so to speak —  I would surely have marked it even higher, and liked it even more, than I actually ended up doing.

(85/100)


Other notes

  • I deliberately included the word “blended” in the title even though it’s not on the label, in order to not give the misleading impression that it is a true Single Barrel rum (as defined by common useage).
Jun 082017
 

 

#370

SAB is a Surinamese conglomerate that is very much like Banks DIH and DDL in Guyana – they have several different kinds of businesses in the portfolio, including various spirits, mostly sold on the local market.  Rums are among the few of its offerings which are exported, primarily to Holland, which comes as no surprise given their historical affiliation with the Netherlands.  At the time when I bought these bottles I was unaware of their availablity in Europe (which says rather more about my miserable googling skills than their advertising) and bought the entire line straight out of Suriname: to this day I’m still wondering how the Marienburg 90% made it past customs in Germany when the rather more tame ~55% Nasyonal from Mascoso nearly caused them a conniption fit.

Anyway, after the uncomplicated and placid experience that was the Borgoe Extra and 5 Year Old, I am happy to report that the 8 year old is an emphatic step up the quality ladder.  This is a rum aged a mere three years more than the five, but tastes and smells like a totally different product. Even at 40%, which readers are probably tired of hearing me whinge about, the Grand Reserve manages to produce a complex little tap dance that had me hastening back to all the other glasses to see if it was just me.  To say that about a standard proof product these days is making a rather interesting statement about what it delivers.

Take first the nose, which alleviated many of my issues with the previous rums from the company.  It started off warm and spicy, offering salty caramel ice cream, molasses, raisins, and bananas just starting to go off.  It didn’t burst out of the bottle to overwhelm and cudgel you in the face – it wasn’t that kind of drink; it more like tip-toed out, to slyly coil its way around the nose, gentle and easy, but each note initially distinct, before melting into a pleasant mélange.  It also developed well, because after some minutes, one could sense a thin line of citrus-like tartness, like gooseberries, unripe mangos leavened with some nuts, perhaps some vanilla, and smoke and leather.

This all took some time and concentration, to be sure, because its very mildness required some effort.  The palate was somewhat more assertive and less difficult to analyze.  First there were waves of caramel and candied oranges, more pronounced molasses, plus a musky background of cumin and masala spices which were not overwhelming but simply stayed in the background with an occasional wave to show they were still there.  With water (not really required, but it’s part of the system, so I tried it anyway), cherries, dark chocolate, some cloves and orange peel were noticeable, and after maybe half an hour the molasses was very much a part of the profile.  It also finished well, being remarkably dry, warm, with mostly citrus, leather and caramel winding up the show.

Trying to come to grips with the 8 year old was hindered by the very gentleness and kinks that made it interesting.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a massively sophisticated sub-ten-year-old (I believe that that particular crown belongs for the most part to agricoles), and it certainly did not have the rough-hewn elemental brutality of a cask strength bruiser, but it was a nice, easy drink, soft enough to please, with just enough edge on it to provide a slightly askew drinking experience.  Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery (who tried it at least three times), remarked in his review that it had a “soft polite touch”, and I think he pretty much called it as it was — so rather than indulge my windy vocabulary, I think I’ll let this write-up rest with that pithy and appropriate conclusion.

(83/100)

Other notes

  • Column still blend, aged in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels.  I remarked in the review of the 5 year old that there’s a pot still floating around SAB’s premises, and I can’t rid myself of the feeling that there’s some of that in this rum.  It’s just an opinion, though.
  • Adheres to the Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) standard, so we can assume no colouring, additives or sugar.
  • I’ll wrap things up for Borgoe line with the 15 year old next week.

 

Jun 052017
 

#369

Agricoles and pot still rums aside, one does not usually expect too much from a three year old blended rum such as is the Borgoe Extra Gold we looked at earlier– although they retain their capacity to surprise — and so I had higher hopes for the five, since such lightly aged rums are often the solid pillars upon which many rum makers support the edifice of all their older (and sometimes even younger) rums.  When well made, they may even edge into sipping territory, serve as the first firm introduction to the ethos of the company and can sometimes be a nice bridge between a cocktail agent and something to have by itself (with or without ice). Agricoles and pot still rums are particularly noted for such quality

To some extent this is the case with the Borgoe “Vintage” 5 Year old from Suriname, made by the same bunch of guys who did the “Extra”.  There is, alas, very little hard information to go on here, over and beyond what I’ve already mentioned in the Extra review: it’s a primarily column-still rum issued at 40%, the molasses are sourced from Trinidad (Angostura), there may be some pot still distillate meandering in the blend somewhere, and the whole thing is aged in American oak.  Beyond that standard information, both my contacts and the official webpage are silent. Still, in a way that’s an advantage since it forces us to simply address what’s on show without any extraneous material unconsciously cluttering up our minds.  And overall, there’s little that’s bad about the Vintage expression. If I had to use a single word to summarize this five year old, it would be “inoffensive”, or with two, “happily uncomplicated.”

That might be damning it with faint praise, but not really.  The nose gives an indication of what’s in store: it meanders out calmly and easily, warm and without bite, a little creamy at first; it presents as somewhat sweet, though not overly so – and after settling down, if one takes one’s time with it, there are additional and faint background notes of breakfast spices (nutmeg and cinnamon, perhaps a clove or two), plus cereals, nuts, a little vanilla and some flowers.  It’s certainly not reaching for the stars and seems content to stay with simplicity for effect.

The palate demonstrates more of that placid nature: again it was warm and not altogether spicy or sharp, and although it did seem somewhat thinner than one accustomed to more powerful drinks might appreciate, it was also reasonably smooth, and a rung or two up the ladder from the Extra. Crème brulee, caramel and molasses were the dominant notes at the inception, with vanilla and some oaken tannins bringing up the rear.  Setting it aside for some minutes is probably a good idea for those who want more: after a while, subtler flavours crop up, citrus, flowers, guavas, a few watery pears and a sharper slice of green apple in the mix there someplace.  I particularly enjoyed the languid French toast and honey that shyly danced in the background, and again the breakfast spices were there, not as distinct as the nose suggested they might be.  The finish, short and faint as it was, was at least aromatic, with the fruits fading fast now, and mostly showing off some sweet tangerines and caramel.

All right then, let’s sum up. For one used to aggressive young agricoles and fullproofs of any age, this is probably a rum to avoid, since everything is very much dialed down with a feather blanket, and it might work best in a delicate mix that others know more about than I do. It’s pleasant and inoffensive, as noted above, and I find it too bland to appeal to me personally.  Perhaps its real issue –  one that would not lead to parades of rabid aficionados cluttering up whole Facebook pages with songs of praise – is the fact that is still somewhat generic, and seems have no problem in being an agreeable but indeterminate rum, one that simply exists. Rather than anything particularly Surinamese,  it reminds me of a Botran 15 Solera, a Cacique 500, or a Tres Hombres rum.  It’s light, easy and uncomplicated enough to take by itself, but this comes at the expense of some originality and were I to come back to it sight unseen a month from now, I’m not entirely sure I’d remember it clearly. 

(80/100)

Other notes

For the kind of quality I was looking for, I had to go up to the 8 and 15 year old expressions, which we’ll look at next time.

Jun 012017
 

#368

There is no shortage of agricoles, independent bottlers and flavour-of-the-month rums in my notebooks — but in late 2016, and again in early 2017, I tried the Borgoe line from Suriname – all 40% rums – back to front, front to back and side by side, twice, and it’s time to see what they’re all about.  After all, we all know of the big guns in the rum world but the lesser-known operators deserve their moment in the sun as well.

So let’s start at the bottom and work our way up to the top, young to old, beginning with the  Borgoe Extra, an “Aged Golden rum”: this is the light, low-end mainstay of the brand’s offerings, the way the V/X is for Appleton, or various 3-year olds or “gold rums” are for other makers.  It’s  a successor to the Borgoe ’82 rum first introduced in 1982, and I believe it to be around three years old (other products are the 5, 8 and 15 year old rums), a blend aged in American oak barrels and issued at the usual 40% after being filtered twice.

Smelling it revealed no real markers of distinction such as would make one wonder into what magical terroire of the mind one had just stumbled all unaware.  It was redolent of fleshy fruits, some cherries, caramel and some nougat, nothing terribly complex or ambitious.  After resting for some time and coming back to it I could detect orange peel, a flash of something sharp and bitter, cinnamon and some herbs, so pretty standard, all in all.

I liked the palate more than the nose (usually the opposite is the case with really young rums, at least for me).  It presented as somewhat sharp; then came a swift procession of salty caramel, more nougat, white toblerone, and nuts. An amalgam of a few fruits, — peaches, unripe green apples and ginip, all muddled together — plus the slight citric sting of orange peel again There were faint notes of olives and brine (very faint) and oaken tannins and the bitterness of raw wood chips still bleeding sap, and the whole thing, while quite light, was thin and sharp too, with a short, spicy and rather unremarkable finish mostly providing a closing sense of caramel, apples and sugar water.  

Overall, rather uncomplex and unexciting: there was something going on here, just not too much of it (certainly not enough) and it’s insufficient to get excited about at this stage.  A word should be spared for the notation that it is not really sweet and quite thin (“scrawny” was the word I scribbled down), which leads me to surmise that dosing is not part of the assembly.  

Thinking further through the tasting experience, I believe that thinness aside, what it really lacks is  distinctiveness (and, perhaps, punch). The filtration is part of the problem, as is the anemic 40%, and also the column still makeup of the blend leans heavily towards a lighter, more Spanish style.  It could just as easily be any young rum from the Dominican Republic, Panama or Belize, and I think the company is much like Banks DIH in that it sticks to the low-strength blends without doing enough to create a particular and clearly Surinamese profile which could potentially showcase the land of origin.  It therefore cannot and should not be used on its own; and given its generic nature, I’m not sure whether there’s any particular cocktail that would be made with it to demonstrate and capitalize such attributes it does possess.

I mean, when you taste a Jamaican, a Guyanese rum from DDL, a St. Lucian or a Bajan FourSquare, you can, with a little experience, use them as markers for the entire country. That’s one reason why they’re so popular – it’s their unique and country-specific profile that makes people go after them and actively source really old expressions.  I think SAB might be sitting on some untapped potential just on the strength of this little rumlet — if they were to go with local cane, utilize that pot still more often, and produce some limited editions of greater power. But perhaps we have to go up the ladder to see what the brand has on offer, and if that half-sensed potential I mention can be seen in older variations…or not.

(77/100)


Other Notes

  • Rather than go into a long history of the company, I’ll direct you to the Marienburg 90% review with its thumbnail recap for those who are interested.
  • The production process is based on molasses sourced from Angostura in Trinidad and not from Guyana right next door, surprisingly enough, and after fermentation, the wash is passed through a columnar still, the resultant being used to make the rums which are aged in American oak barrels.  The website of the company notes that a second still is used to make high ABV neutral spirits for the pharmaceutical industry, and they have a third copper still (they call it a “hand still”) for heavier rums – I am assuming this is the pot still some have mentioned to me, though exactly which rums this makes is still unclear at this time.  Since the entire line of Borgoe aged rums is blended, no doubt some portion of the pot still finds its way into the various expressions, much in the same way DDL does it with their various stills and the standard El Dorado line.
May 142017
 

#364

Until the release of the XM Golden Jubilee 20 year old rum in May 2016 for the occasion of Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence, the jewel in the crown of Banks DIH’s XM line was the fifteen year old.  Over the last five years or so it suffered, in my rearview-mirror opinion, by simply following the party line, being bottled without regard for the emerging trend of stronger rums in the minds of the tasting public, and also perhaps from being a indeterminate, mostly column-still blend without a really good barrel strategy.  This relegated it to being an outlier in an increasingly crowded and competitive field; and by eschewing any one point of uniqueness that would make it stand apart (finishing, single barrel, cask strength, a singular taste…that kind of thing), it has slumbered in a sort of quiet corner reserved for also-rans – Guyanese worldwide know of it, but few others do and it sure doesn’t make any waves internationally, in spite of its age.

Which is something of a shame, because setting aside personal preferences, it’s quite a good rum that could use a good dose of aggressive marketing and festival-circuit promotion.  The very first note I wrote down in my tasting book as I was nosing the Supreme, was “Impressive”. It began with aromas of acetone and glue and furniture polish before giving way to very soft notes of dark dried fruit (raisins and plums), before segueing over into the territory of vanilla, caramel and nougat.  What little tartness of the fruit that existed, was kept way back, vaguely sensed but not directly experienced, which to my way of thinking is a very good reason to bump up the ABV not just one notch, but several.  Still, it was impressive, and for a 40% rum to exhibit such discernible richness was a pleasant surprise.

The palate, warm and eminently sippable, led off with the fruit basket: cherries, raisins, apricots and very ripe peaches.  There were a few hint of bananas and white guavas, though without exhibiting any kind of overbearing sweetness, and the overall fruity tastes blended well with the restrained influence of burnt sugar, toffee, caramel, vanilla…all the usual attendant hits.  There was a sort of jammy profile here, quite pleasing, and some very faint molasses hanging around unobtrusively in the background.  It all led to a short and pleasant finish, mostly dates, caramel, vanilla, a bit briny in nature and not at all a tropical smorgasbord

So.  The XM 15 is still somewhat generic in nature, but a level up from the 12 year old, and definitely better than the 10 year old.  It’s more subtle, a little richer, yet still had much of that laid back profile that simply did not (or could not) strain too much or escape the clutches of its standard ABV.  Still, leaving these two points aside, the one major — and perhaps surprising — drawback of the Supreme 15 year old is simply that, good as it is, it remains too similar to the Special 12 year old.  I tried all the Banks rums together with a bunch of other forty percenters, and it really was difficult to tell these two apart.  So for an average drinking man who’s looking for an aged living room powered rum that won’t incur the wife’s ire, the step up in quality from the 12 to the 15 is slight enough to not make the 15 a better investment outside of bragging rights.  It’s a good rum to buy if you have the coin, but don’t look for a quantum leap to the stratosphere if you already have the ten or twelve year olds in stock.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

  • Banks DIH informed me that not only was the North American market being more aggressively targeted in 2017, but cask strength and even single-barrel rums would be issued as part of the range in the future.  The majority of the range would continue to be blends, and the sourcing of raw rum stock from Trinidad and Barbados would continue (see the 12 year old review for some notes on the matter)
  • The Jubilee 20 year old (my age statement, not theirs) has components of the blend that are up to 50 years old.
May 102017
 

Quite a good rum, which unfortunately fails to carve out a distinctive Guyanese profile of its own.

#363

When one thinks of Demerara rums, Guyana and DDL immediately spring to mind.  That company has so dominated the global rum scene for such rums in the past two decades that it may come as a surprise to many that it is not the sole maker of such products, nor the only inheritor to the Guyana rum moniker, and in fact, is somewhat of a late arrival.  Before it was consolidated from the distilleries that were once the property of Bookers McConnell and Sandbach Parker, Banks DIH was already there, making the good stuff since the 1930s, with XM being noted as the #1 rum in British Guiana as far back as 1959.  

The problem for Banks (where rums are concerned) was and remains twofold: rum is actually a small part of its overall business (partly because they have no still of their own) and it also does not possess the right to use the “Demerara” appellation for its XM line – DDL fought and won a bitterly contested court case for that prize – and therefore not only is XM rum less well known, but it’s also less well marketed, and to add insult to injury, is often confused with Banks 5-island and 7-island rums from the UK.  Not the best way to get your hooch to grab the brass ring now, is it?

Banks has always been a blender, never a distiller.  Until the late 1990s they bought raw rum stock from the various estates around the Guyana and blended that into their signature XM line; but once DDL consolidated all the stills in the country into their headquarters at Diamond estate, they ceased providing any.  Banks therefore has, for the last twenty years or so, sourced their rum stock from Barbados (FourSquare)and Trinidad (Angostura) and continued to blend them and age them in Guyana, which goes a long way to explaining why the XM I grew up with is no longer the same rum as what is on sale now.  So it’s not as if Banks doesn’t want to make Guyanese rums – it’s that they can’t, and that also goes some way to explaining the smaller footprint they have, both in the company’s overall operations, and the world at large. (For a more in-depth look at Banks, see the company bio, written in February 2018)

Digressions aside, the rum, now. The 12 year old — bought and tasted alongside the 10 YO and 15 YO last year — adhered to the company philosophy of making blended rum, and for better or worse, this made it present something of a generic profile…and for the reasons explained above, nothing here screamed “Guyana” in the way the El Dorado line does, which says a lot of how DDL’s (and all the other independent bottlers’) products have colonized our mental tasting map of the entire country, for good or ill.  

To illustrate the point: nosing the amber 40% spirit gave up warm smells were of white toblerone, chocolate, toffee and some lemon rind.  The whole aroma reminded me of a very nice dessert my son The Little Caner can’t get enough of: caramel drizzled over The Great Wall of Chocolate (don’t ask, I may lapse into diabetes on the spot).  There was a faint brininess lurking behind the primary aromas, and also something musky and dark, like overripe bananas, and mangoes just about ready to turn.

Moving on to taste, I felt the palate to be quite a bit better than expected, and certainly more than the nose.  Normally 40% doesn’t do much for me, and here, yes that feeling of an scrawny, delicate spirit was here too…it was as thin and precise as my primary school teacher’s sharp excoriating tones (“Pay attention Mr. Caner!”) followed by the sharp snap of her two-foot long wooden ruler on my knuckles (“I warned you, Mr. Caner”). The whole initial profile was like that, very meticulously assembled, each note clear and separable from the next: bitter chocolate, salted caramel, toffee, burnt sugar; raisins, some orange peel.  Then the ruler came, though not as painful – black cake, tart fruits, more raisins, molasses, blanketed by caramel and some breakfast spices. For 40% to give that much is quite something, and the finish is no slouch either – briny and dry, light all over with faint notes of cinnamon, olives, some crumbs of toblerone, with a final flirt of molasses and candied oranges.

So overall, not a bad rum at all, just not one that marks its territory with verve and authority of any kind.  Like I said, if you were tasting it blind you wouldn’t be sure of its origin. No anise or rich fruity notes, no pot still action, nothing that would remind you of the raw thrumming power of a PM or EHP rum at all – in fact, the XM presents as rather restrained, overall.  And this is both the advantage of such a blend, and to some extent its downfall because, sorry, but the comparison is inevitable. Beyond that, if you’re not a connoisseur of specific country’s styles and just want a good drink to pour into your glass at sundown, then none of that is your concern, and this excellent mid-tier sipper will fill the bill very nicely indeed.

(83/100)


Other notes

  • No information on additives (sugar or otherwise) is available.  For my money it has not been tampered with. 
  • The ageing regimen is unknown aside from it being done in situ in charred oak barrels which we can assume to be ex-bourbon.
  • My thanks to Dave of the RumGallery for pointing me in certain directions regarding background; and to Carlton for providing some details on history and operations
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