Oct 012018
 

Rumaniacs Review #84 | 0554

This blast from the past which the eponymous founder of the Samaroli once named as his favourite, is one of the rums at the very tip of the spear when it comes to ageing, and shows once again that rums aged past the third decade are extremely unlikely to ever come from the tropics, in spite of vaunted halo rums like the Appleton 50 Year Old or the current trend to dismiss continental ageing out of hand.  As a protest against the relics of colonial economics I can accept the promotion of tropical, but in terms of quality coming out the other end, the argument is harder to make, though this rum is not necessarily the best example to trot out when discussing the matter on either side.

Oddly, for all its fame and historical cachet, not much is known about the West Indies 1948 rum, and what we have comes primarily from two sources. The first is Cyril of DuRhum, who in turn got it from Pietro Caputo (a rum lover from Italy), and he received the info directly from Sylvio Samaroli in late 2016 when they were sharing some glasses.  The few facts we get from this (and the bottle) is that it’s a blend of rums from Martinique and Jamaica. The second is Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun, who commented that “it was said” and “other sources” mentioned, that it was Jamaican Longpond mixed together with some Bajan Blackrock. All other sources agree that 800 bottles were issued, 49% ABV, aged in Scotland.  I’ll stick with 43 years of age instead of 42.

Colour – Dark Amber / Mahogany

Strength – 49%

Nose – Dusty, salty, like a disused barn redolent of hay, sawdust and old leather harnesses. Licorice, cardboard, some light apple cider, dry sherry and very ripe grapes. Amazingly thick, almost chewy nose.  There are also some sugary and additional fruity notes, but the overall impression is one of a spice pantry with loads of masala and cumin and one too many mothballs. It’s very different from most rums I’ve tried and reminds me somewhat (but not entirely) of the Saint James 1885, and also of a Jamaican-Guyanese blend.  

Palate – Very much more positive than the nose, yet I cannot rid myself of that musty smell of old cupboards in an abandoned house. Salt and sweet and musk all in balance here, like a very good sweetened soya in vegetable soup. Brine, olives, fresh fruit, cereals, more cardboard, more licorice (restrained, not overwhelming), and a faint medicinal or menthol-ly snap at the back end. Leaving it for an hour or so reveals more – leather, aromatic tobacco, prunes, blackberry jam, masala and paprika and tumeric.  It’s not thick or strong enough to be called massive, but very interesting nevertheless, and absolutely an original.

Finish – Nice and long, dusty, dry, aromatic.  Leather, port-infused cigarillos, olives, sweet red bell peppers, paprika.  More vegetable soup, olives.

Thoughts – Original, but not overwhelming, and that dustiness…dunno, didn’t work for me. The people who would buy this rum (or pinch it from their rich uncle’s cellar) won’t be swayed by my tasting notes or my score, of course. It pains me to say it but that remark demonstrates that what we look for in ultra-aged spirits — and often buy — is not the epitome of quality but the largest number, in a sort of testosterone-enhanced misconception that allows one to say “Mine’s bigger” (I’m as guilty of this as anyone).  Leap-before-you-look purchasing like that allows soleras and blended rums with a couple of impressive digits to continue selling briskly day in and day out, and, in this case, for a rum that was made seventy years ago to become a desperately sought must-have.

All that aside, while I like it, I don’t think it’s superlative.  It was tried utterly and absolutely blind, not even knowing what it was, and I came away not wholly enthused — so this really is as honest an opinion as you can get.  The commingling of the components is nicely done, the balance spot-on, but the dustiness and driness and spices don’t entirely click, and some of the tastes seem to clash instead of running together in harmony with each other. And so, for my money, I don’t think cracks 90.  Too bad.

(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Here are some other reviewers’ notes on the same rum:
  • This was not a regular sponsor-supplied sample. Mine came from John Go in the Phillipines, unlabelled, unidentified, mixed in with another bunch of curiosities he knew interested me, none of which he identified until after I tried them.
Sep 262017
 

Rumaniacs Review #057 | 0457

Behind the please-don’t-hurt-me facade of this sadly underproofed excuse for a rum (or ron) lie some fascinating snippets of company and rum history which is a bit long for a Rumaniacs review, so I’ll add it at the bottom.  Short version, this is a German made rum from the past, distributed from Flensburg, which was a major rum emporium in north Germany that refined sugar from the Danish West Indies until 1864 when they switched to Jamaican  rum. But as for this brand, little is known, not even from which country the distillate originates (assuming it is based on imported rum stock and is not a derivative made locally from non-cane sources).

Colour – White

Strength – 37.5%

Nose – Unappealing is the kindest word I can use.  Smells of paint stripper, like a low-rent unaged clairin but without any of the attitude or the uniqueness.  Acetone, furniture polish and plasticine.  Some sugar water, pears and faint vegetable aromas (a poor man’s soup, maybe), too faint to make any kind of statement and too un-rummy to appeal to any but the historians and rum fanatics who want to try ’em all.

Palate – It tastes like flavoured sugar water with some of those ersatz pot still notes floating around to give it pretensions to street cred.  Maybe some light fruit and watermelon, but overall, it’s as thin as a lawyer’s moral strength. Quite one of the most distasteful rums (if it actually is that) I’e ever tried, and the underproofed strength helps not at all.

Finish – Don’t make me laugh.  Well, okay, it’s a bit biting and has some spice in there somewhere, except that there’s nothing pleasant to taste or smell to wrap up the show, and therefore it’s a good thing the whole experience is so short.

Thoughts – Overall, it’s a mildly alcoholic white liquid of nothing in particular.  About all it’s good for in this day and age of snarling, snapping white aggro-monsters, is to show how far we’ve come, and to make them look even better in comparison.  Even if it’s in your flea-bag hotel’s minibar (and I can’t think of where else aside from some old shop’s dusty shelf you might find it), my advice is to leave it alone. The history of the companies behind this rum is more interesting than the product itself, honestly.

(65/100)


Herm. G. Dethleffsen, a German company, was established almost at the dawn of rum production itself, back in 1760 and had old and now (probably) long-forgotten brand names like Asmussen, Schmidt, Nissen, Andersen and Sonnberg in its portfolio, though what these actually were is problematic without much more research.  What little I was able to unearth said Dethleffsen acquired other small companies in the region (some older than itself) and together made or distributed Admiral Vernon 54%, Jamaica Rum Verschnitt 40%, Nissen Rum-Verschnitt 38%, Old Schmidt 37.5%, this Ron White Cat 37.5% and a Ron White Cat Dark Rum Black Label, also at 37.5% – good luck finding any of these today, and even the dates of manufacture prove surprisingly elusive.

Ahh, but that’s not all.  In 1998 Dethleffsen was acquired by Berentzen Brennereien. That company dated back to I.B Berentzen, itself founded in 1758 in Lower Saxony in northwest Germany, and was based on a grain distillery.  It had great success with grain spirits, trademarked its Kornbrand in 1898, ascquired the Pepsi concession in 1960 (and lost it in 2014), created a madly successful wheat corn and apple juice drink called apple grain, and in 1988 as they merged with Pabst&Richarz wine distilleries. The new company went public in 1994 and went on an acquisition spree for a few years, which is when they picked up Dethleffsen. However, waning fortunes resulted in their own takeover in 2008 by an external investor Aurelius AG.

This is an informed conjecture — I believe the Black Cat brand is no longer being made.  Neither the Berentzen 2015 annual report nor their website makes mention of it, and it never had any kind of name recognition outside of Germany, even though the rum itself suggested Spanish connections by its use of the word “ron.”  So its origins (and fate) remain something of a mystery.

Apr 062017
 

#354

Amrut, that Bangalore company which makes the Old Port rum I tried many years ago, as well as whiskies many swoon over, is no stranger to making rums, but their marketing effort is primarily aimed at the subcontinent itself, and perhaps other parts of Asia (maybe they’re chasing Old Monk, which is supposedly the #1 rum in India).  There’s not much of a range (five rums in all), and I rarely saw any of them in Canada – this one was bought in Europe.  Given that this particular rum is a blend of – get this! – Jamaican, Bajan, Guyanese and Indian pot-still rum, one can perhaps be forgiven for asking whether they’re going in the direction of Ocean’s Atlantic Rum; and as far as I was concerned that one suffered from overreach.  But at least we know where the “Two Indies” moniker derives, if nothing else.

It’s also worth commenting on one thing: the Indian component of the rum is supposedly a pot still originating distillate based on jaggery, which is a natural sweetener made from sugar cane…whose by-product is molasses so one wonders why not just go there and have done, but never mind.  The issues (not problems) we have are two fold: firstly, jaggery is actually made from either sugar cane or the date palm, so I’m unsure of which variation is in use here (since sugar cane jaggery is cheaper, I’m putting my money there); secondly, assuming the jaggery is from cane, it is in effect a reduced version of sugar cane juice – a syrup – what we in the West Indies and parts of South America sometimes refer to as “honey”. So in effect there’s nothing particularly special about the matter except that its source product is made in Asia and widely known there.  And, of course, the marketing, since it suggests a divergence and distinction from more familiar terms.

Anyway, all this preamble leads inevitably to the question of whether that basic ingredient lends a difference to the profile, the way for example a “maple syrup rum” would (and yes, there is such an abomination). I don’t really think so – the difference in taste and smell I noted seemed to be more a product of the entire geographical environment, the way a Bundie is linked to Australia, and Dzama is Madagascar and Ryoma is Japanese.  I’m not saying I could necessarily taste it blind and know it was either from India in general or Amrut in particular – but there were differences from more traditional Caribbean or Latin American rums with which we have greater experience

Consider first how it smelled.  The nose began by presenting a sort of lush fruitiness that spilled over into over-ripe, almost spoiled mangoes, persimmons and sweet tropical fruit and kiwi, something also akin to those cloying yellow-orange cashews the snacking nuts are made from (not those with the stones inside).  In the background there lurked caramel and vanilla, some cloying sweet and also breakfast spices (cloves and maybe nutmeg mostly, though very light) just as the Old Monk had; and overall, the aromas were heavy and (paradoxically enough) not all that easy to pick out – perhaps that was because of the inoffensive 42.8% ABV it was bottled at.

I liked the taste a lot better, though that queer heaviness persisted through what ended up as a much clearer rum than I had expected.  So, bananas, more of the mangoes and cashews, honey, papayas, and the spices.  Adding some water released some chocolate and coffee, nutmeg, more vanilla and caramel, maybe some light molasses, some licorice, a nice twist of citrus rind, which I liked – it provided an edge that was sorely needed.  Finish was soft and quick, reasonably clean and warm, but was mostly the spices and caramel than anything else.

Reading around doing the usual research (and there is really not very much to go on so I have an outstanding email and a FB message sent out to them) suggests there are no artificial flavours included: but I dunno, that profile is quite different, and the breakfast spices are evident, so I gotta wonder about that; and the overall mouthfeel does suggest some sugar added (no proof on my side, though).  This doesn’t sink the drink, but it does make for an unusual  experience.  You’re not getting any Jamaican funk, Guyanese wooden stills or easier Bajans, nor any of that off-the-wall madness of an unaged white popskull.  It is simply what it is, in its own unique way.

On balance, a decent enough drink. I liked it just fine, though without any kind of rabid enthusiasm – it was from somewhere new, that’s all. You could drink it neat, no issues. Personally I thought the flavours were a mite too heavy (it stopped just short of being cloying) and meshed rather clumsily in a way that edged towards a muddle rather than something clearer and more distinct that would have succeeded better.  Much like the Tanduay, Mekhong, Tuzemak, Bundie or even the Don Papa rums, I suspect it is made based on a local conception of rum, and is for local palates.  Add to that the terroire concept and you can see why it tastes so off-base to one weaned on Caribbean tipple.  There’s a subtle difference from any of the British West Indian rums I’ve tried over the years, and though the Two Indies is a combo of several nations’ rums, I can’t separate the constituents and tell you with assurance, “Oh yeah, this comes from Foursquare” or “That’s Hampden” or even “PM!”  (and no, I don’t know whether these were the constituents).

So, they have used jaggery rather than molasses to make it, blended their way around a mishmash of profiles, and while I liked it and was intrigued, I didn’t believe all that was really needed and may even have made it less than its potential.  In Guyanese creole, when we see that kind of thing showing itself off as an artistic blending choice we usually smile, grunt “jiggery-pokery” and then shrug and fill another tumbler.  That pretty much sums things up for me, so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a compliment or not.

(82/100)

Other notes

The rum makes no mention of its age, and nothing I’ve unearthed speaks to it.  That was also part of my email to Amrut, so this post will likely be updated once I get a response.

Oct 222015
 

Black tot 1

Bottled history.  Nothing more, nothing less.

(#237. 87/100)

***

“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” remarked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I remembered that bit of wisdom before embarking on our tryst with this rum.  And to ensure that my long anticipation for the Tot wasn’t bending my feeble mind (I bought the bottle 2014, and tasted it for the first time almost a full year later) I tempered my judgement by trying it three times, with the Skeldon 1973 32 year old, BBR 1977 36 year old, a Velier Caroni and the Samaroli Barbados 1986.  Just to be sure I wasn’t getting too enthusiastic you understand. I had to be sure. I do these things so you don’t have to.

As much as the G&M Longpond 1941, St James 1885 or the J. Bally 1929, to name a few, the near-legendary Black Tot Last Consignment is one of the unicorns of the rum world.  I’m not entirely convinced it should be so – many craft makers issue releases in lots of less than a thousand bottles, while some 7,000 bottles of this are in existence (or were).  Nor is it truly on par with some of the other exceptional rums I’ve tried…the reason people are really willing to shell out a thousand bucks, is that whiff of unique naval pedigree, the semi-mystical aura of true historical heritage.  A rum that was stored for forty years (not aged, stored) in stone flagons, and then married and bottled and sold, with a marketing programme that would have turned the rum into one of the absolute must-haves of our little world…if only it wasn’t quite so damned expensive.

I don’t make these points to be snarky. After all, when you taste it, what you are getting is a 1960s rum and that by itself is pretty nifty.  But there’s an odd dearth of hard information about the Tot that would help an average drinking Joe to evaluate it (assuming said Joe had the coin). About all you know going in is that it come from British Royal Navy stocks left over after the final rum ration was issued to the Jolly Jack Tars on Black Tot Day (31st July, 1970 for the few among you who don’t weep into your glasses every year on that date), and that it was released in 2010 on the same day. No notes on the rum’s true ageing or its precise components are readily available.  According to lore, it supposedly contains rums from Barbados, Guyana (of course), Trinidad, and a little Jamaica, combining the dark, licorice notes of Mudland, the vanillas and tars of the Trinis and that dunderesque whiffy funk of the Jamaicans.  And, the writer in me wants to add, the fierce calypso revelry of them all. Complete with mauby, cookup, doubles, rice and peas, pepperpot and jerk chicken.

Black Tot 1

All that aside, the rum’s presentation is exceptional. A wooden box of dark wood (walnut? oak?). A booklet written by Dave Broom on the background to the rum. A copper plated tot container. A tot ration card facsimile. And a bottle whose cork was covered with a hard, brittle wax sealant that Gregers, Cornelius and Henrik laughed themselves silly watching me try to cut off. The bottle itself was a stubby barroom style bottle with a good cork.  No fault to find on the appearance, at all.  Believe me, we were all raring to try this one.

The aromas first: at 54.3%, I expected more sharpness than the Tot exhibited, and enjoyed the deep and warm nose. Initially, anise and slightly chocolate-infused fumes billowed out of our glasses in well controlled balance.  Cardboard, musty hay, caramel and some tar and tobacco juice (maybe that was the Trinis speaking up?) followed swiftly.  The official literature suggests that the Jamaican part of the blend was minimal, because sailors didn’t care for it, but what little there was exerted quite a pull: dunder and a vaguely bitter, grassy kind of funk was extremely noticeable.  Here was a rum, however, that rewarded patience, so it was good that our conversation was long and lively and far-reaching.  Minutes later, further scents of brine and olives emerged, taking their turn on the stage before being replaced in their turn by prunes, black ripe cherries, leavened with sharper oak tannins, and then molasses, some caramel, smoke, and then (oddly enough), some ginger and dried smoked sausages snuck in there. It was very good…very strong with what we could term traditional flavours.  Still, not much new ground was broken here. It was the overall experience that was good, not the originality.

Good thing the palate exceeded the nose.  Here the strength came into its own – the Tot was a borderline heavy rum, almost mahogany-dark, quite heated on the tongue, with wave after wave of rich dark unsweetened chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, oak deftly kept in check.  Thick meaty flavours (yeah, there were those smoked deli meats again). It was a bit dry, nothing to spoil its lusciousness.  We put down our glasses, talked rum some more, and when we tried it again, we noted some salty, creamy stuff (an aggressive brie mixing it up with red peppers stuffed with cheese in olive oil, was the image that persisted in my mind).  Nuts, rye bread, some coffee. And underlying it all was the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore straight out of a gothic novel.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the finish failed a little – it was dry, quite long, so no complaints on that score – it just added little more to the party than the guests we had already seen. Smoke, tannins, aromatic tobacco, some molasses again, a little vegetal stuff, that was about it.  Leaving aside what I knew about it (or discovered later), had I tasted it blind I would have felt it was a rather young rum (sub-ten-year-old), with some aged components thrown in as part of the blend (but very well done, mind).

Which may not be too far from the truth. Originally the rum handed out in the 18th and 19th centuries was a Barbados- or Jamaican-based product.  But as time went on, various other more complex and blended rums were created and sold to the navy by companies such as Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, C&J Dingwall, George Morton and others. Marks were created from estates like Worthy Park, Monymusk, Long Pond, Blue Castle (all in Jamaica); from Mount Gilboa in Barbados; from Albion and Port Mourant in Guyana; and quite a few others. Gradually this fixed the profile of a navy rum as being one that combined the characteristics of all of these (Jamaica being the tiniest due to its fierce pungency), and being blended to produce a rum which long experience had shown was preferred by the sailors. E.D.&F. Man was the largest supplier of rums to the navy, and it took the lead in blending its own preferred style, which was actually a solera – this produced a blend where the majority of the rum was less than a decade old, but with aspects of rums much older than that contained within it.

The problem was that the depot (and all records about the vats and their constituent rums) was damaged, if not outright destroyed during the 1941 Blitz.  In effect this means that what we were looking at here was a rum, blended, and aged solera style, that was in all likelihood re-established in the 1940s only, and that means that the majority of the blend would be from the sixties, with aged components within it that reasonably date back to twenty years earlier. And that might account for the taste profile I sensed.

So now what?  We’ve tasted a sorta-kinda 1960s rum, we’ve accepted that this was “the way rums were made” with some serious, jowl-shaking, sage nods of approval. We’ve established it has a fierce, thick, dark taste, as if a double-sized magnum of Sunset Very Strong ravished the Supreme Lord VI and had a gently autistic child. It had a serious nose, excellent taste, and finished reasonably strong, if perhaps without flourish or grandeur.  The question is, is it worth the price?

Now Pusser’s bought the recipe years ago and in theory at least, they’re continuing the tradition.  Try their Original Admiralty Blend (Blue Label), the Gunpowder Strength or the fifteen year old, and for a lot less money you’re going to get the same rum (more or less) as the Jolly Jack Tars once drank. Why drop that kinda cash on the Tot, when there’s something that’s still being made that supposedly shares the same DNA?  Isn’t the Pusser’s just as good, or better? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s better, no (not least because of the reported 29 g/l sugar added). But at over nine hundred dollars cheaper, I have to wonder whether it isn’t a better bargain, rather than drinking a bottle like the Tot, with all its ephemeral transience. (Not that it’s going to stop anyone, of course, least of all those guys who buy not one but three Appleton 50s at once).

So this is where your wallet and your heart and your brain have to come to a compromise, as mine did. See, on the basis of quality of nose and palate and finish – in other words, if we were to evaluate the rum blind without knowing what it was – I’d say the Black Tot last Consignment is a very well blended product with excellent complexity and texture.  It has a lot of elements I appreciate in my rums, and if it fails a bit on the back stretch, well, them’s the breaks. I’ll give what I think is a fair score that excludes all factors except how it smells, tastes and makes me feel. Because I have to be honest – it’s a lovely rum, a historical blast from the past, and I don’t regret getting it for a second.

At the end, though, what really made it stand out in my mind, was the pleasure I had in sharing such a piece of rum heritage with my friends.  I have cheaper rums that can do the trick just as easily.  But they just wouldn’t have quite the same cachet. The same sense of gravitas. The overall quality. And that’s what the money is for, too.

Other notes:

I’m aware this review is a bit long. I tend to be that way, get really enthusiastic, when a rum is very old, very pricey or very very good. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one applies here.

Nov 202014
 

D3S_8850

 

A rum potentially seventeen years old, undone by trying to be all things to all drinkers.

(#188 / 81.5/100)

***

Ocean’s Rum Atlantic Limited Edition 1997 is made (or at least aged) in the Canary Islands, not the first place you’d think about when considering a rum of any kind.  Probably thinking that less was not more, and more might be good enough, the makers came up with this rather startling combo of components hailing from seven (yes, seven) different rum-making locations, and trotted out the 43% result as the “Atlantic” Limited Edition (the meaning of the 1997 is unclear).  I imagine that this must have read really well on paper when it was being sold to the roneros in the front line.

The bottom-heavy, tapering bottle had a label with an astrolabe printed on it, harking back to the old maritime days of yore.  The rum itself was a blend of already-aged rums that were between 15-21 years old, and hailing from Bodegas Pedro Oliver (Domincan Republic – it’s not mentioned on the label in error), Foursquare (Barbados), DDL (Guyana), Trinidad Distillers (T&T), Worthy Park Distillers (Jamaica), Distilerie de Gallion (Martinique), and Travellers (Belize).  Quite an assortment, I thought.  The rums were blended and then aged for a further two years in barrels that held red wine from Spain (Somontano), blended some more, allowed to rest for a further year and then run off into 5,432 numbered bottles in June of 2013.  I’d like to point out that this is not a one-off either – Ocean’s has a similar limited edition “Pacific” rum (including stock from Fiji), and an “Indian” rum (with some rum from Swaziland added too), which suggests a company ethos of having at least one rum from out of left field included in their blends.

Now, having come at rums from a perspective of clearly defined styles as well as specific countries, I confess to being somewhat doubtful (if intrigued) about the philosophy of mixing the darker Guyanese rums with funkier Jamaican ones, the softer style of Barbados and Belize, mixing in a Dominican, throwing in Trinidad’s odd tang, and finally adding an agricole into the mix as well – it just flies in the face of experience, is all.  Intriguing, yes…but successful? I guess that depends on the drinker.

Take for example, the nose on this 43%, mahogany-red coloured rum. Caramel, peaches, brown sugar, rye bread and butter – a shade briny, pleasant. Further notes of faint honey, coffee and coconut presented after a while. All in all, while decent, it was not out-of-the-canefield special for a €75 purchase (I expected more) and frankly, I thought the aroma was undernourished, perhaps a shade thin, like Steve Rogers before he buffed up.

Which is not to say the whole experience was unpleasant; the palate was quite generous in this regard: caramel, peaches, brown sugar presented first, with more of that faintly briny undertone.  It’s smooth enough and sweet enough (perhaps too much so).  Here I could detect some of the components as well – licorice and raisins, more coconut and honey, a flirt of cinnamon, softer honey notes, a very tiny backend of citrus and oak.  At 43% some of the intensity of flavour was lost; and I should remark on the overall lightness and cleanliness of the taste.  The finish was reasonable, exiting with closing notes of cinnamon and caramel, and a bit of citrus peel. Yet somehow I was left feeling dissatisfied.  The softer flavours did not mesh well with the sharper ones of oak and citrus, and the coconut was a less than perfect match-up with the licorice.

D3S_8857

Ocean’s is a new outfit based in Zaragoza, Spain, beginning its life in 2012. As is common with relative newcomers, their website is long on products and marketing, and short on history (something I personally enjoy, others probably not so much).  Essentially they are an independent bottler, but with ambition: they have ageing warehouses the Ayala Valley (Basque Country, Spain) and La Palma Island  in the Canaries. They have various seven year old rums, the limited editions, and some craft stocks from Jamaica, Trinidad and other places.  So you can tell these boys mean business and want to be around for the long haul (I wrote a bio of the company here).

Anyway, my opinion: overall, on taste and nosing elements and on the finish, the rum will please a lot of people and it’s a decent all round drink that need not be mixed if you don’t want to. It works…to a point. As I noted above, the balance of the various components doesn’t really gel for me;  all the dancers were on the stage, yes…they just weren’t all doing the same ragtime, so to speak.

There’s no denying that Ocean’s, afire with enthusiasm and brimming with confidence, threw away the safety gear, took a deep breath, and ran full speed and headfirst into the wall.  You can’t help but admire that.  But admiration aside, a cold and unemotional taste of this premium-touted Atlantic edition leaves me wishing they had exhibited just a bit more restraint, been more ruthlessly selective. And not quite so heedlessly assembled such a smorgasbord of rums, which ended up being somewhat (and unfortunately) less than the sum of its parts.

*

Mar 262013
 

A solidly impressive aged product from Pusser’s. You might compare it to a barbarian using a fork, or male ballet dancer – you’ll snicker, but appreciate the strength and the quality all the same.

First posted 16 August 2011 on Liquorature

(#082)(Unscored)

West Indians probably snigger into their shot glasses in every beer garden, corner store or rumshop whenever the name of this Navy-style rum comes up.  In fact, I’m pretty sure of it, and if you don’t get that, find a guy fresh off the boat or the plane and get him to explain it to you.  Like many Caribbean bon mots, it’s about as subtle as a charging rhino.  Yet, there’s no denying either the pedigree or the impact of the rum itself. It’s a powerful strong concoction not overly mucked about with. Rums like this have names like Maxwell, Clarence…or Brutus.

That ambivalent phrasing pretty much sums up my attitude towards Pussers, towards which I have an on-again, off-again relationship (much like I do with Clemente’s).  At one moment I appreciate its marketing, its unapologetically and brutally minimalist presentation and its take-no-prisoners if-you-can’t-hack-it-you’re-a-wuss flavor.  At others I simply blow it away as something not subtle enough, not refined enough.  I’m inconsistent that way sometimes. My friend Keenan, who hails from the Maritimes, quite liked it, by the way, and so do a few others I know.

Pusser is a corruption of the word Purser, a name given to that worthy gent on each ship in the Royal Navy whose job it was to hand out the rum ration in the days before Black Friday in July 1970, when rum was officially banished from aboard all vessels of war. The company that makes it, Pusser’s, bought the recipe and stills from the Royal Navy and launched themselves into business, and may reasonably be said to make the rum closest to what navy rums really were back in the old days. Characteristics include overproofing, not very sweet, dark and heavy body and minimal – if any – additives.  In that way, it’s very much like the Cadenhead Green Label or Demerara rums I’ve tried.  Lamb’s Old Navy, Sailor Jerry, London Dock and Wood’s all have claims (some say pretensions) to the title of Navy Rums, but my feeling is that Pusser’s got it.

The rum is aged for 15 years in ex-bourbon barrels, and various sources have suggested that the blend that is aged comprises four rums: portions of Jamaican, Bajan, a bit of Trini, and a hefty dose of a Guyanese rum, which immediately implies (to me), DDL – because they are the only ones left making rum from wooden stills which is a Pusser rum claim to fame as well. Some have said five rums, but I’ve been unable to confirm this: Pusser’s doesn’t give out too much in the way of details.

All this history is fine, you say, but do you mind? Get to the rum itself, willya.

Well, there’s the bottle above.  Squat, unadorned, in your face (a bit like the much more refined English Harbour 10 year old).  The label is somewhat at odds with its proletarian cachet, what with all those bright red and blue colours, and again you think of that dancer (just sayin’…).

The liquid within was dark, as befits a Navy rum, and poured out like a young El Dorado on steroids. The thing had medium legs, and a pungent nose that almost invited further exploration.  You’d think that something so aimed at the drinking classes would have a straightforward bouquet that didn’t frig around and advertised its forthcoming palate simply and directly, with a minimum of fuss and bother.  But that wasn’t so at all.  I took a sniff, wasn’t too impressed, and was about to make snotty notes and grumbling remarks, when the flavours started coming through the air and I realized that this fifteen year old Jolly Jack Tar had quite a lot under its leotards. A full, rich and earthy scent – quite spicy, let me note right off – redolent of cocoa and a hint of vanilla, and dark brown sugar marinated just enough in oak to get that slight bite.  Maybe some cinnanmon played around in the background there, but whatever it was, it made for a more complex nose than I had started off with.

The arrival on the palate is neither smooth nor harsh: powerful, though, quite impressive for a 40% rum.  You get the sense of strength barely held in check from being rotgut moonshine by the blender’s art. I was tasting dark caramel and chocolate, cinnamon (there it was) and baked apples.  Some citrus and maybe sherry. And, alas, the woodiness and spiciness of ageing not entirely mitigated by skilful blending.  This was not enough for me to seriously mark it down, but it was noticeable, and if your preferences are for more flavourings rather than minimalism, more sweet rather than less, then this may not be the rum for you.  I’m no expert on the obscure Scottish drink (okay Maltmonster you can stop your laughing there, fella), but I thought that here was a rum that actually had more characteristics of an aged whisky or a cognac, though it probably is too sweet for the purists and cognoscenti.

The finish was perhaps the least impressive thing about it – however, given how high a position it started from that’s not to be read as an indictment of what is really quite a unique drink – it was medium long and a little too harsh for me, especially after what I had considered a very good beginning, but of greater than usual richness and warmth. The viscosity of the rum was enough to make the finish last – I just didn’t care too much for what it was that lasted.  But at end, this is a matter of the spiciness rather than any intrinsic quality, and by most standards, I’d say Pusser’s 15 year old rum is a solidly top-of-the-middle-shelf product, to be had either neat or in a cocktail, and enjoyed either way. It’s rich, it’s complex, and only my personal preferences make it slightly less than a winner.  Most reviews I’ve read drool over the product.

Over the years I must concede to being somewhat won over by rums stronger than the standard and near-ubiquitous 40% (this is not one of them, being bottled at the standard forty).  The flavours are stronger, more powerful: even a small shot attacks your palate like a tiny hammer of Thor, and as cocktail mixers they are beyond compare for the same reasons.  Pusser’s great virtue is its complexity of flavour and strength of taste you get for a standard strength rum – you’ll go far to find something quite like this, overproof or not, and again, I can only mention the Cadenheads or the Renegades as comparators. Any time I feel like being smacked around by a spicy, muscled beefcake of a rum which proudly struts its stuff, Pusser’s isn’t far from my mind.

So if pressed – yes, I like it.  Yeah, wrap it up for me – I’ll take it.  And I think I’ll call mine Brutus.

 

Mar 222013
 

First posted January 19th, 2010 on Liquorature.

(#003)(Unscored)

It looks like a rum and occasionally smells like one, but it sure doesn’t always feel like one; Cadenhead’s policy of making the Classic without any additives or subsequent filtering gives it a thinner body than the average and an overall whisky character that only a psychologist could unravel. Decent drink for those who like a little danger and strange stuff, though.

***

This is as strange a rum as I’ve ever had, and was a selection of the November 2009 gathering, where nothing but rums were served, and it went head to head with two other rums: the Zaya 12 year old (and the winner by a nose, ha ha), and the Appleton Estate Master Blender’s Legacy (which was the most expensive and opined as the least value for the money).  The Cadenhead Green, for all its ~$75 price tag, was considered middle of the road.

It’s a strange one, this. For one thing, I have no idea how old it is. Nor am I entirely certain where it comes from, although I believe it is a Demerara rum that was then further refined in Scotland and watered down a tad to bring it down from cask strength. The website states it remains untreated and no additives brought in for either colour or taste, and its bold taste makes that likely to be true.

Cadenhead Distilleries is a scotch maker, not a rum maker (actually it’s now owned by the Campbeltown distiller J.&A. Mitchell and Co., which runs the  Springbanks distillery in Argyll), but perhaps they took a gander at what good products came out of Bruichladdich’s Renegade line and followed suit. For whatever obscure reason, Cadenhead has chosen not to reveal the provenance of this rum (the “Demerara” appellation refers to the dark colour and body, not the source), but a few people on the internet have speculated it’s Jamaican, or possibly even Cuban – that would be illegal to market in America, so if anyone bought one of these in the US, I’d be interested to hear about it. It’s listed at 50% ABV, making it an fullproof Rum (I use the word “overproof” to denote rums that are insane for all practical applications…you know, like 70% and up).

The nose is candied, with hints of cinnamon, charcoal, and marshmallow. Dark gold in color, clear. It settles out with chocolate notes, caramel, and burnt pineapple, lightly tingling at the back of the tongue. Strong finish and some bite on the way down. I’d recommend this one with a drop or ten of water plus some ice, unless you’re a peasant like me and just say to hell with it and destroy it with a coke (just kidding). Not really a good sipping rum — it’s not subtle or smooth enough for that – but I’ll say this: the thing had character, and kicked back like a spavined mule after the first few glasses. I’m hoping to get another bottle to see if the first was just me. You’d think that our whiskey drinkers would have been in transports of ecstasy with the Green, given its resemblance to a decent scotch, but in fact the opposite was true, and it came in, as I mention above, in the middle. Given our evolution since then, it’s possible that this opinion might change on a second go-around. (2014 Update: it did, and for the better)

Did I like it?  Tough question. I’ve made no secret of my dislike for distillers who refuse to put provenance or age on their labels – it’s too much like a cheat, giving the buyer no chance to make a first-pass determination of quality, or rate it against other, similarly-aged products –  and that goes double for the higher priced babies, where a buyer needs to know what he’d forking out his dough for. Whisky – Scotch whisky – has its rules about what kind of hooch can bear the highland name, but the plebian and slightly disreputable origins of rum seem to mitigate against rum distillers doing the same.  I admired the strength and character that the Green had, and its body was excellent. The strength stiffened the starch in its spine quite well and the complexity was admirable.

So I’ll split it down the middle: I’d recommend it unhesitatingly for true rum aficionados who dislike adulterations, and dedicated whiskey drinkers (these are the guys who have their snoot glasses in one coat pocket, who sniff and sip and gargle and then rinse with distilled water).  For more middle of the road folks I’d say “Give it a shot, for here is something remarkably different you won’t soon forget.”  And for those who just want a decent mixer, I’d suggest getting something cheaper and sweeter to put into your cocktail.

Fairer than that I just can’t be.