Jun 172018
 

#521

Somehow, after a big splash in 2015-2016, Indonesian rums came and left the scene with equally and almost startling suddenness.  Although Haus Alpenz has been making a Batavia Arrack Van Oosten for many years (even decades, perhaps), it is a niche spirit, really, and not many know of it, and no, I haven’t tried it. My first encounter with the arracks came when I bought the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia rum in 2015 (and quite liked it), and within the year By The Dutch put this fascinating product out the door and then occasional photos began making the rounds on FB of Naga and Nusa Cana rums.  Shortly thereafter Matt Pietrek wrote one of his deep dives into the By the Dutch rum, and yet after all that, somehow they have almost vanished from the popular consciousness.

Perhaps it’s the renaissance of Bajan and Jamaican rums in those same years that stole the show, I don’t know – certainly over the last years the various social media are fuller of Bajan and Jamaican rum pictures and commentaries than just about anything else. Maybe it’s physical distribution, festival absences, word of mouth, Facebook posts (or lack thereof).  Whatever the case for its lack of mindshare, I suggest you give it a try, if only to see where rum can go…or where it has already been.

Part of what makes arrack interesting is the way it is fermented. Here some fermented red rice is mixed into the yeast prior to addition to the molasses and water (up to 5%), which undoubtedly impacts the final taste.  I was told by a By the Dutch rep that this particular spirit derives from sugar cane juice and fermented red rice cake, and is then twice distilled: once in a pot still, producing a distillate of about 30% ABV, and then again in another pot still to around 60-65%.  At that point it is laid to rest in barrels made of teak (!!) in Indonesia for a number of years and then shipped to Amsterdam (Matt implies it’s to Scheer) where it is transferred to 1000L oak vats. The final arrack is a blend of spirits aged 8 months, 3, 5 and 8 years, with the majority of the spirit being 3 and 5 years of age and bottled at 48% ABV.

A production process with so many divergent steps is sure to bring some interesting tastes to the table. It’s intriguing to say the least.  The nose, even at 48%, is remarkably soft and light, with some of that pot still action being quite evident in the initial notes: rotting banana skins, apples gone off and some funky Jamaican notes, if perhaps not as intense as a Hampden or worthy Park offering.  This then slowly — almost delicately — released light citrus, watery fruit and caramel hints, chamomile, cinnamon, green tea and bitter chocolate and a sort of easy sweetness very pleasing to smell.

It got better when I tasted it, because the strength came out more clearly – not aggressive, just very solid and crisp at the same time, sweet and clear, almost like an agricole with some oak thrown in for good measure.  The pot still origins were distinct, and taste of sweet fruits gone over to the dark side were handled well: apples, citrus, pears, gherkins, the very lightest hint of olives, more tea, green grapes, with cooking spices dancing around everything, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon.  Even the finish was quite aromatic, lots of esters, bananas, apples, cider and a sort of grassiness that was more hinted at than forcefully explored.

As an alternative to more commonly available rums, this one is good to try at least once. It doesn’t smack you in the face or try to damage your glottis – it’s too easy or that – and works well as both a sipping drink (if your tastes go that way), or something to chuck into a mai-tai or a negroni variation. One of the reasons why it should be tried and appreciated is because while it has tastes that suggest a Jamaican-Bajan hybrid, there is just enough variation here to make it a fascinating drink on its own merits, and shows again how rum is simply the most versatile, varied spirit available.   Plus, it’s quite a nifty rum by itself, sweet enough for those who like that, edgy enough for those who want more.

Now, with respect to the rum news all being about the western hemisphere’s juice: I don’t begrudge the French, Spanish or English Caribbean rum makers their glory — that would be deeply unpatriotic of me, even if one discounted the great stuff the islanders are making, neither of which is an option. There’s a reason they get just about 75% of the press, with the independents and Americans (north and south) getting the remainder.  But I just want to sound a note of caution about the blinkers such focus is imposing on our rumsight, because by concentrating on nothing but these, we’re losing sight of great stuff being made elsewhere – on the French islands, St Lucia, Grenada, Mexico, Japan…and Indonesia. From companies like By the Dutch. A stern and forbiddingly solid cask-strength rum this is not – but it’s original within its limits, eminently sippable for its strength, it’s an old, even ancient drink made new, and even if one does not immediately succumb to its languorous charms, I do believe it’s worth taking out for a try.

(84/100)


Other notes

The bottle clearly says “aged up to 8 years”.  Understand what this means before you think you’re buying an 8 Year Old rum.

Apr 292018
 

Rumaniacs Review #076 | 0506

Ron Zacapa from Guatemala, now owned by Diageo, has been a poster boy for adulteration, over-sweetness and confusing (misleading?) labels for the entire time I’ve been reviewing rums.  The current late-2010s edition of the Centenario 23 (first introduced in 1976 and now dropping the “Años”) is still a crowd favourite…but here we have an older vintage, back when the wrapped bottle was still in vogue (Rum Nation copied it for the Millonario 15 when Zacapa discontinued it some years ago)…and if scuttlebutt is to be believed, this thing really is 23 years old, before they started solera-izing it in the current iterations. But about that I have my doubts – I respectfully submit it was always a solera, and it’s just that as everyone found out about it the label had to be changed.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 40%

Nose – Quite thick and rich, redolent of brown sugar, chocolate, molasses and coffee. Not overly complex, little in the way of additional flavours, except for some toblerone, vanilla, cinnamon and honey.  Some sherry and vague fruity notes.

Palate – Soft, very easy, almost no bite at all – I’d call it unadventurous. Walnuts and raisins mixing it up with chocolate and toffee with a little alcohol.  A faint bitterness of black tea, some honey, vanilla, a few raisins, brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon….overall, not so much tamed as simply easy, no effort required. However, note that it’s not as sweet as the current versions available on the market, just sweet enough to be noticeable.

Finish – Short warm and smooth, mostly caramel, a little (very little) fruit, coffee and liqueur. Gone in a heartbeat, leaving not even a smile behind.

Thoughts – I can see why it remains a crowd pleaser, but the decision to stop with this blend and go with the “modern” Zacapas now on sale was (in my opinion) a mistake. This slightly older version of the rum is marginally better, has at least some character and isn’t destroyed by additives or sweet quite as badly.  Even so, it remains a rum to appeal to the many rather than the few, and all it remains for the dedicated is a pleasant after-dinner digestif as opposed to something to place on the top shelf.

(75/100)

 

Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live.  Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013, was one of these.  It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XO – which can be found practically everywhere and is known around the world – but it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%).  Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds rum – a better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely.  For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptional – though admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way.  It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?”

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste.  It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known.  Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.  

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembled – but originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me.  The whole experience was also not so much light as underperfoming … more than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely right – the rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados.  What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both.  Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)

Feb 262018
 

#0491

Don’t get so caught up in the Velier’s 70th Anniversary bottlings, their dwindling Demeraras or the now flavour-of-the-month Caronis, that you forget the one-offs, the small stuff, the ones that don’t make waves any longer (if they ever did).  Just because the Damoiseau 1980, Courcelles 1972, Basseterre and Rhum Rhum lines don’t make headlines while the aforementioned series do, is actually a good reason to try and find them, for they remain undiscovered treasures in the history of Velier and are often undervalued, or even (gasp!) underpriced.

One of these delightful short form works by La Casa di Gargano is the Basseterre 1997, a companion to the Basseterre 1995, which I thought had been an excellent agricole (scored 87), if, as I mentioned in the review, somewhat overshadowed by other aspects of Luca’s oevre.  I had sourced them both, but for some reason got sent two of the 1995 and none of the 1997, and was so pissed off that it took me another two years to grudgingly spring the cash for another 1997 (if you’re interested, I gave a Danish friend the extra 1995, unopened).

The two Basseterre rhums have an interesting backstory.  Back in the mid 2000s, Velier had its relationship with Damoiseau in place and Luca, as was (and is) his wont, struck up a friendship with Sylvain Guzzo, the commercial director of Karukera, and asked him to sniff around for some good casks elsewhere in Guadeloupe. In these cynical and pessimistic times we cast the jaundiced eyes of aged streetwalkers at remarks like “he did it for me entirely out of friendship, not money” but knowing Luca I believe it to be the unvarnished truth, because he’s, y’know, just that kind of guy. In any event, some barrels from Montebello were sourced, samples were sent and a deal struck to issue them under Velier’s imprimatur.  Luca is by his own admission a lousy painter, and therefore worked with a young architectural student from a university in Slovenia to design the labels with their abstract artwork and was going to use the Montebello name on them…before that company saw the Velier catalogue, had a lawyer issue a cease and desist order, and that plan had to change on the spot.  So after considering and rejecting the name “Renegade” (maybe that would also have created problems) the label was quickly amended to “Basseterre” and so it was issued.

Anecdotes aside, what have we got here? A Guadeloupe column-distilled 49.2% ABV rhum from the Carrere distillerie more commonly called Montebello, located just a little south of Petit Bourg and in operation since 1930.  Curiously, it’s a blend: of rhum agricole (distilled from cane juice) and rhum traditionnel (distilled from molasses).  Aged…well, what is the age?  It was put in oak in 1997 then taken out of the barrels in 2006 (again, just like the 1997 edition) and placed in an inert vat until 2008 for the two divergent strains to marry.  So I’m calling it a nine year old, though one could argue it sat for 11 years even if it was just twiddling its thumbs for two. And as noted above, there’s a reason why Sylvain’s name is on the back label, so now you know pretty much the same story as me.

Even now I remember being enthused about the 1995, though it had issues with how it opened.  That level of uncouth seemed to be under greater control here – it was somewhat sharp, sweet and salty at the same time, just not in a messy way.  The lighter sweet started to become more noticeable after it began to morph into honey and floral notes, plus anise, a little cumin, and softer, riper fruits such as bananas.  Under that was a nice counterpoint of well-behaved (if the term could be applied without smiling) acetone and rubber and an odd ashy kind of smell which was quite intriguing.  In fine, the nose was a really nice and complex to a fault, quite impressive.

I also had no fault to find with the palate which reminded me right off of creamy Danish cookies and a nice Guinness.  A little malty in its own way. It was very clear and crisp to taste, with brine, aromatic herbs (dill, parsley, coriander), spices (cumin leavened with a dusting of nutmeg), honey, unsweetened yoghurt, and a light vein of citrus, out of which emerged, at the end, some coffee grounds and fleshy, ripe fruits, all of which was summed up in a really good fade, dry and well balanced, that went on for a surprisingly long time, giving up gradually diminishing notes of anise, coffee, fruits and a little citrus.

The rum really was quite a good one, better than the 1995, I’d suggest, because somehow the complexity was better handled and it was faintly richer. It’s great that they are not well known, which keeps them available and reasonably priced to this day, but it’s too bad there were only two of these made, because unlike the Demeraras or Caronis there is not a great level of comparability to go on with.  Be that as it may, the fact remains that these smaller editions of more limited bottlings — which don’t have the hype or the glory of the great series for which Velier is justly famed — are like Stephen King’s short stories tossed off between better known doorstopper novels like “It”, “Duma Key”, “The Stand” or The Gunslinger Cycle. Yet can we truly say that “Quitters Inc” “The Ledge” or “Crouch End” are somehow less?  Of course not. This thing is a sweet, intense song on the “B” side of a best selling 45 – perhaps not as good as the bestseller which fronts it, but one which all aficionados of the band can justly appreciate. And speaking for myself, I have no problem with that at all.

(88/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn is unknown
  • Background history of the company can be found at the bottom of the 1995 review
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)

Nov 272017
 

#462

For almost two decades, Rum Nation issued very special 20+ year old Jamaican Rums in the Supreme Lord series, always at a relatively quaffable 40-45% and with that oh-so-cool retro wooden box and jute packing that has now been discontinued; then a year or two back they decided to go with a new line, the “Small Batch Rare Rums” – this was to differentiate the cask strength line of more limited bottlings from the blended products with larger outturns, which Fabio sometimes refers to as “entry level” and which I always thought were quite good (ever since I bought the entire 2010 line at once).

One of the best of these is this appealing, approachable and near-sublime Jamaican rum, blended from three special years of Longpond’s stocks: 1985, 1986 and 1977. This is a rum issued in a limited outturn of 800 bottles, and has a presentation that places it at the top of the already fairly exclusive Rares: because while many of those are in the 10-20 year age range (there is a massive bronto of the 1992-2016 Hampden 61.6% that clocks in at 24, which I need to get real bad), this one beats them all and is at least 30 years old…and given a special presentation to match with a stylish flagon and clear printing direct on the bottle, and a neat box in which to show it off to less fortunate rum chums.

The constituent rums were aged in second fill bourbon barrels before being blended and then aged for a further six years in Oloroso casks pre-used for (an unnamed) whisky, and everything about the profile shows the best parts of all that ageing.  The nose was quite simply delicious – it dialled back the rubber and wax and furniture polish (though there was some of that) and amped up the characteristic Jamaican funk, mixing it up with bags of dark fruit – raisins, prunes, black olives for the most part.  Letting it stand gave more, much more: leather, tobacco, a smidgen of vanilla, honey, licorice, sherry, brown sugar and more raisins in a smooth smorgasbord of great olfactory construction. I walked around with that glass for over an hour and it was as rich at the end as it was in the beginning, and yes, that’s an unqualified recommendation.

Although I might have preferred a stronger, more forceful attack which 48.7% ABV did not entirely provide, there’s little I could find fault with once I actually tasted the thing.  Actually, it was as good as the nose promised and didn’t disappoint in the slightest: it began with a little unsweetened chocolate, caramel, molasses and funk,then  added olives and brine to the pot, before flooring the accelerator and revving it up to the redline.  Tumeric and paprika, light grasses and herbs, flambeed bananas, lemon peel, more raisins and prunes, both smooth and a little savage at the same time – surely something to savour over a good cigar. And the finish was excellent, just long enough, a shade dry, presenting closing notes of oak, vanilla, leather, smoke, molasses and caramel, chocolate and the vaguest hint of fruitiness and citrus to end things off with aplomb and a flourish.

The Jamaica 30 is priced to match at around four hundred dollars and therefore I can’t in fairness suggest you put yourself in hock to go get it unless you have such coin burning a hole in your portfolio.  It lands emphatically in the Fifth Avenue segment of the market, which makes it, unfortunately, mostly affordable by those who are more into showing off, rather than rum-geeks who would put it to bed next to the wife and make sure it (and not the wife) is tucked in properly.

But if you can get it, it may even be worth the outlay: this was a really nice rum. In my more imaginative moments I like to think that some years ago Rum Nation took a look at their wares and concluded that perhaps they were, with long association and decades long sales, getting, well…maybe…a shade boring?  I can just see Fabio Rossi in his warehouse morosely sucking rum out of a barrel, wondering where to go next, then raising his fist to high heaven and swearing like Scarlett, that “Mah rums will nevah be boring again!”  It’s taken years for that metaphorical flight of fancy of mine to be fulfilled, and has he ever succeeded with the Small Batch series in general, and this one in particular.  This rum is as exciting as any new rum now being made; and if that doesn’t get your juices flowing, I honestly don’t know what will. Except maybe a second bottle.

(90/100)


Other notes

I am unaware of any added sugar or dosing on the rum. Fabio Rossi has told me in the past that the Rares are unmessed-with, but I have not managed to ask about this one in particular yet.  A query to him is pending. Marcus Stock, a friend of mine from Germany, took a small sample of his own and it measured at equivalent ABV of 45.18% which he calculated back to 12 g/L additives.  He promised to do the test on a larger sample as a double check.

Oct 052017
 

#392

As the years roll by, I have come to the conclusion that the last decade will be regarded as the Golden Age of Rum – not just because of Velier, Silver Seal, Moon Imports, Rum Nation, Ekte, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Secret Treasures (and all their cousins), but also because of the amazing writers who have emerged to chronicle their adventures with rum.  Somehow, social media and blogging software have formed a nexus with rum makers that allowed previously niche brands to simply explode onto the stage, raising awareness and knowledge to unprecedented heights.

However, an unanticipated side effect of this increase in knowledge and experience (even if only vicarious) is that buyers are more than ever leaving the what I term “national” brands like Mount Gay, El Dorado, Flor de Cana and Appleton to go venturing into the new, the esoteric or the independent. Few of the established brands have managed to meet this challenge – Foursquare with its cask strength releases and Velier collaboration is one, Grenada has had one or two overproofs floating around, and DDL certainly tried (timidly to be sure) with the Rare Collection.  Mount Gay is getting in on the action, and no doubt the Jamaicans are just building up a head of steam, and you can see Diplomatico, St. Lucia Distilleries and many others jumping aboard.

This leaves an old standby premium blended rum, the El Dorado 21, in something of a limbo.  It’s too old to ignore, too cheap to pass by, but lacks something of the true premium cachet…an affliction shared by, oh, the Flor de Cana 18.  That cachet can be conferred, for example, by purity: but it sure isn’t that – it’s not from any one of the famed stills, and various measurements suggest between 16-33 g/L of additives presumed to be caramel or sugar.  Alternatively, it could ascend in the estimation based on limited availability, and that isn’t the case either, since it is nowhere near as rare as the 25 YO editions, and isn’t marketed that way either. Nor does it go for broke and get released at a stronger proof point. Yet, for all that cheap premium reputation it has, I submit we should not throw it out just yet and pretend it’s some kind of bastard stepchild not worthy of our time.  Revisiting it after a gap of many years made me more aware of its failings…but also of its quality for those who aren’t too worried about either its strength or adulteration. One simply has to approach it on its own terms and either ignore it or take it as it is.

Re-sampling the rum in mid-2017 – some seven and a half years after my first encounter with it – showed how both I and the world had changed.  Many of the elements I so loved back in the day remained – the nose was earthy and musky, like dry ground after a long rain, and the licorice and oaky notes came through strong, attended faithfully by molasses, butterscotch, caramel, burnt sugar, very strong chocolate.  I let it stand for a little and came back and there were bags of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves – and slowly developing dark fruits and raisins coming through.  And yes, there was an emergent sweetness to it as well which made it easy easy easy to sniff (I was trying the 40% version, not the 43% one from Europe).

The nose showed much of what made and makes it such a popular premium rum for those whose tastes bend that way – at this point the profile was warm, enjoyable and luscious.  Problems began with the tasting.  Because while it was smooth, deep and warm, it was also thick, and by some miracle teetered on the brink of, without ever stepping over into, sweet cloyishness.  That it did not do so is some kind of minor miracle, and that as many flavours came through as they did is another.  Prunes, vanilla, creme brulee, more licorice, and salty caramel ice cream were first and remained the backbone of it, upon which were displayed hints of grapes, dates, cloves, christmas black cake, and even a smidgen of citrus sneaked slyly through from time to time.  It was great, but just too thick for me now, a shade too sweet, and the finish, well, at 40% ABV you’re not getting much, being way too short and simply repeating what had come before – frankly, I think that any rum this old had no business being released at such a paltry proof point.

Back in 2010 I scored it 88, saying what a brilliant rum it was, catering to all my tastes.  To some extent that’s still true – it’s simply that after many years of trying rums from around the world, I’m more aware of such adulteration and can spot the masking, dampening effect on the profile more easily.  I assure you, it’s by no means enough to crash and burn the experience – it’s just something I no longer care for very much, and when combined with a less than stellar strength, well…..

These days I regard the ED21 and the like with some sadness.  Not because of its sweetness and adulteration, really (that’s a given, grudgingly accepted with bad grace) — but because it reminds me of a time when I knew less, was pleased with more, regarded each new rum in the queue with excitement and interest and curiosity and yes, even joy.  It brings to mind a 1950 Frank O’Hara poem, where he wrote

“Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water.”

That’s how I felt then, and occasionally, I still burn that fiercely now.  But with experience (and perhaps a little wisdom), I had to trade away some of the excited exuberance of the beginner and accept that time – and my tastes, and indeed I myself – moved on.

Because, you see, this rum is not made for me any longer.  It is not made for Josh, Matt, Gregers, Laurent, Cyril, Steve, Johnny, Paul, Richard, Henrik, Wes, Simon, Ivar and others who have been at this for so long.  Once, in our rum-youth, we may have regarded a 21 year old like it was some kind of Everest. But we have passed beyond it in our journey, and see it now as no more than a foothill, a small peak among Himalayans.  It is made for those that follow us, for those who are now embarking on their own saga, or for the unadventurous who, like Victorian readers, prefer for now to read of the exploits of the trailblazers and pathforgers, but shy away from taking on the force and fury of a cask strength forty year old.  It is for such new drinkers that the rum is for, and one day, in their turn, they will also tread beyond it.

In the meantime, though, the El Dorado 21 is one of the key aged rums of our world, no matter how distant in our memories it lies, and no matter how much its tarted up profile has become something to decry.  We just remember that we liked it once, we enjoyed it once, and must allow those who appreciate rums for precisely those reasons, to discover it in their turn today as they walk down the path of their own rum discovery, seeking their own individual, personal, perfect El Dorado in the world of rum.

(84/100)


Other notes

Made from a blend of distillates from the Enmore wooden Coffey still, the Versailles single wooden pot still, and the French 4-column Savalle column still – for my money the Versailles is dominant.

 

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