Feb 222021
 

Rumaniacs Review #124 | 0803

There were several varieties of the standard white Havana Club mixer: strengths varied from 37.5% to 40%, the labels changed from saying “El Ron de Cuba” to “Mix Freely” and in the early 2000s this old workhorse of the bartending scene, which had been in existence at least since the 1970s and produced all over the world, was finally retired, to be replaced by the Anejo Blanco. 

From the label design I’m hazarding a guess mine came from the early 1990s (it lacks the pictures of the 1996 and 1997 medals it won that were added later) but as it was part of a collection from much earlier and the design changes were stable for long periods, it may be from the late eighties as well (the HC sun began to be coloured red in the early 1980s which sets an earliest possible dating for the bottle). As far as I know it was a column still product aged for no more than 18 months, filtered to white and made in Cuba.

Colour – White

Strength – 40%

Nose – Very light, fragrant and delicate. Sugar water, coconut shavings (and actual coconut water), watery pears.  A touch of light vanilla, watermelon and cucumbers, and an almost industrial sort of aroma to it that is supposed to double for “alcohol,” I guess, but feels too much like raw spirit to me. Without practice this could come off as a serious no-nose kind of rum.

Palate – Meh. Unadventurous.  Watery alcohol.  Pears, cucumbers in light brine, vanilla and sugar water depending how often one returns to the glass.  Completely inoffensive and easy, which in this case means no effort required, since there’s almost nothing to taste and no effort is needed. Even the final touch of lemon zest doesn’t really save it.

Finish – Short, faint and undistinguished, complete non-starter. By the time you think to ask “Where’s the finish?” it’s already all over.

Thoughts – By today’s standards, this venerable white is unimpressive.  Current Havana Club variants like the 3YO Anejo Blanco or the Verde are slightly more taste-driven on their own account, and have a life over and beyond the cocktail circuit since they possess a smidgen of individual character. This is too much of a backgrounder, too anonymous, to appeal.  

Note however, that it is completely consistent with its purpose which was to liven up a mojito or a daiquiri, not to appear on one of my lists of white rums (here and here) that stand tall alone.  At the time, this was what such blancos were made for and what made them sell. That this one fails by today’s more exacting standards for white rums, is hardly its fault. We changed, not it.

(74/100)


A picture of some of the silver dry series over the decades, from the FB site HC Sammlung Hamburg

Jan 262021
 

In an ever more competitive market – and that includes French island agricoles – every chance is used to create a niche that can be exploited with first-mover advantages.  Some of the agricole makers, I’ve been told, chafe under the strict limitations of the AOC which they privately complain limits their innovation, but I chose to doubt this: not only  there some amazing rhums coming out the French West Indies within the appellation, but they are completely free to move outside it (as Saint James did with their pot still white) – they just can’t put that “AOC” stamp of conformance on their bottle, and making one rum outside the system does not invalidate all the others they can and do make within it.

This particular rhum illustrates the point nicely. It’s an AOC rhum made from a very specific variety of cane coloured gray-purple (don’t ask me how that got translated to ‘blue’) which is apparently due to an abundance of wax on the stem. It’s been used by Habitation Clément since 1977 and supposedly has great aromatics and is richer than usual in sugar, and is completely AOC-approved.

Clément has been releasing the canne bleue varietal rhums in various annual editions since about 2000. Its signature bottle has gone through several iterations and the ice blue design has become, while not precisely iconic, at least recognizable – you see it and you know it’s a Clément rhum of that kind you’re getting.  Curiously, for all that fancy look, the rum retails for relative peanuts – €40 or less.  Maybe because it’s not aged, or the makers feared it wouldn’t sell at a higher price point. Maybe they’re still not completely sold on the whole unaged white rhum thing, even if the clairins are doing great business, and unaged blancs have gotten a respect of late (especially in the bar and cocktail circuit), which they never enjoyed before

What other types of cane Habitation Clément uses is unknown to me.  They have focused on this one type to build a small sub-brand around and it’s hard to fault them for the choice, because starting just with the nose, it’s a lovely white rum, clocking in at a robust 50% ABV. What I particularly liked about it is its freshness and clarity: it reminds me a lot of of Neisson’s 2004 Single Cask (which costs several times as much), just a little lighter. Salty wax notes meld nicely with brine and tart Turkish olives to start.  Then the crisp peppiness of green apples and yoghurt, sugar water, soursop and vinegar-soaked cucumber with a wiri-wiri pepper chopped into it. The mix of salt and sour and sweet and hot is really not bad.

It’s sharp on the initial tasting – that levels down quickly.  It remains spicy-warm from there on in, and is mostly redolent of fresh, sweet and watery fruit: so, pears, ripe green apples, white guavas.  There are notes of papaya, florals, loads of swank, avocados, some salt, all infused with lemon grass, ginger and white pepper.  The clarity and crispness of the nose is tempered somewhat as the tasting goes on, allowing softer and less aggressive flavours to emerge, though they do stay on the edges and add background rather than hogging the whole stage. The finish is delicate and precise; short, which is somewhat surprising, yet flavourful – slight lemon notes, apricots, cinnamon and a touch of unsweetened yoghurt.

So, what to make of this econo-budget white rhum? Well, I think it’s really quite good. The Neisson I refer to above was carefully aged, more exclusive, cost more…and yet scored the same — though it was for different aspects of its profile, and admittedly its purpose for being is also not the same as this one. I like this unaged blanc because of its sparkling vivacity, its perkiness, its rough and uncompromising nature which masks an unsuspected complexity and quality. There are just so many interesting tastes here, jostling around what is ostensibly a starter product (based on price if nothing else) — this thing can spruce up a mixed drink with no problem, a ti-punch for starters, and maybe a daiquiri for kicks. 

I don’t know what aspects of its profile derive from that bleue cane specifically because so far in my sojourn through The Land of Blanc I’ve experienced so many fantastic rhums and each has its own peculiar distinctiveness. All I can say is that the low pricing here suggests a rhum that lives and dies at the bottom of the scale…but you know, it really shouldn’t be seen that way.  It’s far too good for that.

(#796)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Production is limited to between 10,000 and 20,000 bottles a year, depending on the harvest. Not precisely a limited edition but for sure something unique to each year.
  • Thanks to Etienne Sortais, who provided me with the sample, insisting I try the thing. He was certainly right about that.
Jan 182021
 

We’ve been here before. We’ve tried a rum with this name, researched its background, been baffled by its opaqueness, made our displeasure known, then yawned and shook our heads and moved on. And still the issues that that one raised, remain. The Malecon Reserva Imperial 25 year old suffers from many of the same defects of its 1979 cousin, most of which have to do with disclosure and some of which have to do with its nature. It astounds me that in this day and age we still have to put up with this kind of crap.

The little we know from wikirum (this is slightly more than four years ago when I wrote about the Malecon 1979) is that the Don Jose distillery in Panama is the producer – this is the same Varela Hermanos gents who make the popular and well known Abuelo brand. Malecon’s actual ownership as a company or a brand is as hard to track down as before – all the website contact information points to distributors, not owners and their own press information section stops in 2016 and they apparently never participated in any events past 2017, which, coincidentally, is when I first tried their stuff. Their FB page (there’s only one, for the German market) is a bit more active but mostly represents marketing blah, not one of engagement with customers and fans. I read somewhere that the owner is an Italian who likes Cuban style rum and worked with Don Pancho to come up with this range of rums, which is as good or as useless as any other story without corroboration.  (Honestly, with Panama rums these days, I hardly care any more – it’s gotten that bad).

Anyway, profile-wise, there is really very little to shout about with respect to how it tastes.  I can save you some trouble – unadventurous, simple, easy are the adjectives which come to mind.  The nose is quiet and soft: chocolate milk, anise, caramel, some creaminess of ice cream, vanilla, nougat.  There is very little fruitiness to balance this off with some tart flavours – a whiff of citrus peel maybe, a grape or two, not much more and maybe a touch of black tea.

The palate is similarly soft and similarly straightforward. It’s got more chocolate milk and and perhaps a touch of coffee grounds. A smidgen, barely a smidgen of oak and citrus, a sly taste of tangerines; it’s not very sweet (which is a plus) and sports some brine and Turkish olives and a touch of slight bitterness, which I’m going be generous and say is an oak influence that saves it from being just blah.  Finish is okay I guess. Gone too quickly of course, no surprise at 40% ABV and leaving at best the sense of some black tea with too much condensed milk in it, that doesn’t entirely hide the fact that it’s too bitter.

Many will like a rum like this. Tipplers of soft favourites like the Abuelo 7, RN Panama 18 YO, El Dorado 12 YO, the Santa Teresa 1796 or the Diplomatico line would have no issues here at all. Overall, though, from my perspective, aside from bigger Panamanian brands with some actual muscle behind their products (think Abuelo or Origenes), there’s little coming out of the country that either surprises or interests me and this is just another one of them. They’re straightforward rums of little pizzazz (this may be by intent), and while the Malecon 25 is a decent Panamanian, there’s little to distinguish it from a distillate a decade younger.

But, for a rum for which a premium is set because of the supposed ageing of 25 years, that’s not a thing people should be saying about it, because it creates negative expectations for both the brand and the whole country and makes real rum lovers look elsewhere. Let’s hope that in the years to come, this small nation’s rums and their industrial-sized producers can up the ante, make better and more transparent juice and so address the changing tastes of the global audiences better.  Then they could reclaim some of their reputation, which rums and companies like this one have treated with such cavalier disdain, and so carelessly.

(#795)(77/100)


Other notes

  • Lest you think I’m being unfair, others were similarly dismissive: WhiskyFun’s Serge said “isn’t much happening here” though he liked it better than other Malecons, and scored it 78; while his partner in rum, Angus (another rum lover who just doesn’t know he is), didn’t think it was good from a technical side either, and rated it 64. Brian over on /r/reddit gave it a harshly middling score of 53/100, which is just about how I rank it as well (on my own scale). Alex over at Master Quill, the source of the sample I was trying, rated it 82 and also commented on the resemblance to an Abuelo. The best info relating to the brand is probably RumShopBoy’s review of the range from mid 2020, and I recommend it highly (his points score for the 25YO was 55/100).
  • There are two enclosures, one with a wooden box, one with a cardboard one.  The rum is the same in both cases as far as I am aware. I was sent a sample from the wooden-box bottle, which was released first, back in 2016 or so before they switched to cheaper cardboard a few years later.
  • Treat the age statement with caution, as it is unverifiable. Any company this hard to track down doesn’t make provision of the benefit of the doubt an easy task.
Jan 112021
 

The rum starts slowly.  I don’t get much at the inception. Bananas, ripe; pineapples, oversweet; papayas, dark cherries, nice….and a touch of beetroot, odd. Not my thing, this rather thin series of tastes — it develops too lethargically, is too dim, lacks punch. I wait ten minutes more to make sure I’m not overreacting…perhaps there’s more? Well, yes and no. These aromas fade somewhat, to be replaced by something sprightly and sparkling – fanta, sprite, red grapefruit, lemon zest – but overall the integration is poor, and doesn’t meld well and remains too lazily easygoing, like some kind of clever class wiseass who couldn’t be bothered.

Palate is good, I like that, though perhaps a few extra points of strength would have been in order (my opinion – your own mileage will vary).  Still, it’s tasty – vanilla, green peas, pears, cucumbers, watermelon, sapodilla and kiwi fruits, grapes.  Low key, almost delicate, but well assembled, tasting nice and clean, a sipper’s delight for those who like reasonably complex faux-agricoles that are light and crisp and not dour, heavy brontosaurii of flavour that batten the glottis flat. The finish wraps things up with a flourish, and if short, it at least displays a lightly sweet and fruity melange that describes the overall profile well. 

The distillery of origin of this Moon Imports’ 1998 Guadeloupe rum (from their “Moon Collection”) is something of a mystery, since the “GMP” in the title does not fit any descriptor with which I am familiar. It could possibly be Gardel, which Renegade quoted as a source with their 11 YO 1998 rum, also released at 46%…but Gardel supposedly shut down in 1992, and afterwards Damoiseau / Bellevue was said to have used the name for some limited 1998 releases.  But it remains unclear and unproven, and so for the moment we have to leave that as an unresolved issue, which I’ll update when better info comes in.

(Photo taken from eBay; note that many Bellevue releases from Moon Import have almost exactly the same design)

Slightly more is known about Moon Import, the Italian company from Genoa that released it. Its origins dating back to 1980 when an entrepreneur named Pepi Mongiardino founded the company: he had worked for Pernod, Ballantine’s and Milton Duff in the 1970s, tasting and testing high end single malts. When that business took a downturn, he took some opportune advice from Sylvano Samaroli on how to set up a business of his own, and used a reference book to check which whiskies were not yet imported to Italy.  He cold-called those, leading to his landing the contract to import Bruichladdich. Initial focus was (unsurprisingly) whiskies — however it soon branched out from there into many other spirits, including rum, which came on the scene around 1990, and it followed the tried and true path of the independent bottler, sourcing barrels from brokers (like Scheer) and ageing them in Scotland. Label design was often done by Pepi himself, popularizing the concept of consistent individual designs for “ranges” that others subsequently latched on to, and from the beginning he eschewed 40% ABV in favour of something higher, though he avoided the full proof cask strength rum-strength model Velier later made widespread.

That all out of the way, the core statistics of this rum are that it was column distilled in 1998 (but not in or by Gardel); probably from molasses as the word agricole is nowhere mentioned and Guadeloupe does use that source material in the off-season; aged in Scotland for twelve years and released in 2010, at a comfortable strength of 46% ABV. Like Samaroli and Mark Reynier at the old Renegade outfit, Mongiardino feels this strength preserves the suppleness of the spirit and the development of a middling age profile, while balancing it off against excessive fierceness when drunk.

By the standards of its time and his philosophy, I’d say he was spot on.  That does not, however, make it a complete success in this time, or acceptable for all current palates, which seem to prefer something more aggressive, stronger, something more distinct, in order to garner huge accolades and higher scores. It’s a rum that opens slowly, easily — even lazily — and gives the impression of being “nothing in particular” at the inception.  It develops well, but never really coalesces into a complete package where everything works.  That makes it a rum I can enjoy sipping (up to a point), and is a good mid-range indie I just can’t endorse completely.

(#793)(84/100)


Other notes

  • Thanks again to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample. The guy always has a few tucked in his bag for me to try when we get together at some rumfest or other. Remind me to bug him for a picture of the bottle.
  • 360 bottle outturn
Jan 072021
 

The Masters of Malt blurb for the Grenada-distilled Clarke’s Court No. 37 rum contains two sentences that make one both smile and ask more questions. A “blended Caribbean rum” which is “the thirteenth limited release rum from Clarke’s Court.” And as if trying to top that, they go on to say “The rum was designed to be supplied to exclusive social events” and both just reek of some marketing intern making ad copy in his sleep, evidently unable to come up with anything more interesting about this equally lackadaisical rum.

Why not a “Grenadian” rum, one wonders. And, if this is the 13th edition, why is it called No. 37? Is it related to the possible year of establishment of Grenada Distillers Ltd? Unlikely, because the 1998 book  Grenada: Island of Conflict by George Brizan notes that as being 1936, though admittedly the Clarke’s own website notes the factory as becoming operational in 1937. An anniversary of independence? But that was 1974 so 37 years later would be 2011. Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery probably nailed it when he said it was issued to commemorate independence, and the 300th year of establishment of St. George’s (not strictly right – it was started much earlier – but the star-shaped Fort Royale, later St George’s, was indeed completed in 1710).

Where are the other 12 editions, then? Or No. 1 through No. 36? No records exist. Further research reveals that it’s a blend, released in 2010 and was aged for 8 years in oak barrels, and with current editions of the No. 37 blend also being released at 12 years of age. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it was married and then rebarreled with more fruit flavour infused (oh oh…) but this is backed up nowhere else except in hydrometer tests, which also point to additives. Lastly, while the Fat Rum Pirate noted his assumption as being a pot and column still blend, His High Wonkiness says there’s only a two-column still at Grenada Distillers, with which they occasionally make some heavier rum from plates lower down in the column and mix that into the lighter stuff from plates higher up.

Picture copyright Charlene Gooding, from Pinterest

It’s a good thing I did this research after I did the tasting, because all these questions and backstories that filled in the sadly lacking label and website info, came later, and didn’t influence my initial opinion. Alas, that opinion wasn’t all that terrific either. Which is odd in itself, because the experience started out quite solid – the nose, for example, was warm, a little spicy, and smelled initially of molasses bubble gum and soda pop.  Quite sweet smelling, and got deeper than the above might imply or the strength would suggest. Nice tropical fruit basket too – guavas (the red ones), bananas, mangoes, watermelon, gherkins, plus toblerone white, almonds.  Nicely creamy.  Some soft salty notes, like dates and figs.  Creme brulee and caramel.  Irish coffee. So…nice.

It’s on the palate that it sinks, and some of the falsity shines through.  Weak and wispy to a fault. Bubble gum and fanta.  Light citrus, pears, more mangoes and guavas, but oddly muted, as if they aren’t sure they’re supposed to be here (this is usually a good indicator of tampering). White chocolate, crushed almonds, a hint of nutmeg, nuts, vanilla, some salt caramel ice cream. There’s even some light fresh (and I swear I’m not making this up) laundry detergent kinda taste. Overall, just unimpressive, with a finish that has to knock twice to make sure it’s heard, let alone noticed, and gives little beyond some miscellaneous fruits and a bit of tart yoghurt to let us know it was ever even there.

It’s a peculiarity of the rum that it said it was limited, but never actually how limited – the label has a bottle number, but not a “…out of xxx bottles” statement. So it’s hard to say what’s special or limited about the whole thing, especially as it continues to be made to this day and the year of distillation of the bottle one has is not mentioned.  Moreover I can almost guarantee that few reading this know anything about it unless they went on a cruise down to the island themselves, or — like me, Chip, Dave and Ed — date back from those days a decade or more back, when the standards for both rums and labels were very much less exacting than they are now and we accepted what we got with gratitude at getting anything at all.

However that was then, and those same easy standards and low strength fail the rum in this day and age.  It’s nice enough for the unadventurous and indifferent but in no way is it as premium as it makes out it is.  It’s weak, it’s not well assembled, the years it slept actually seem like less, and it’s been added to. Therefore, to me, it’s an average rum of no distinction or special individuality — and so I think I’ll close this already-overlong review by just giving it an average sort of score. 

(#792)(77/100)

Jan 042021
 

The Dzama 6 year old rum from the island of Madagascar sits between the modest 3 and 5 year old rums, rubs shoulders with an 8 YO, and looks up to the more exclusive 10 YO and 15 YO expressions; the company has been busy expanding the range since I first tried their 3 year old back in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the local market share of the company’s spirits is a massive 60% or so – they make a bit of everything alcoholic and are a very diversified drinks conglomerate – their prime market remains Madagascar itself with exports to Europe, some states of the USA and Canada. That said, it has never quite caught on with the rum drinking crowd the way the rhums of the French Caribbean islands, or Mauritius or Reunion have. 

That might result from the appearance of vanilla and other spices in the flavour profile, though the makers deny any additives on any but the clearly marked spiced variations of the line (like the Vanilla). Company founding legends state that the original genesis of the cane was in the small northwestern island of Nosy-be where supposedly the oils and perfumes of the various botanicals to be found there (vanilla, cloves, pepper are often cited) leach from their roots into the soil and are intermixed with the cane plants’ own root systems, into their stems, and thence to the ultimate distillate. I’m no chemist or botanist, but one could just as easily wonder why similar processes aren’t observed on the spice island (Grenada) for example.

That spiced profile was evident on the 3 year old and I marked it down for that (as did the Fat Rum Pirate when he looked at it some time later), thinking it too dominant.  It’s much less evident here, and in fact, this was almost a completely different rum.  It smelled of rubber, varnish and acetones, and was quite light at 45% ABV.  It had aromas of rotten bananas, fleshy fruits, and going-off apricots, mangoes and pears. That admittedly sounds rather off-putting (I assure you it really isn’t), and what quite a few people hate about such rums, we reviewers like to call it “pleasant” and “character-filled.” In fairness, I remember thinking it reminded me of a low rent Jamaican, but lacking their complete unconcern for the funk you were getting – it was, perhaps, more well-behaved.

The palate was thick, rich and sweet, even in comparison the the 3YO which showed no modesty with such aspects itself but while stronger, had also been paradoxically easier.  Here we were regaled with bananas, cherries in syrup, brown sugar, and a sort of smorgasbord of fruitiness – some tart, some just soft and mushy – and creaminess of greek yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon and cloves. Disappointingly, the finish did nothing much except lock the door and walk off, throwing a few notes of cloves, sugar, cherries, peaches and syrup behind.  Not a stellar finish after the intriguing beginning.

Whether Lucien Fohine — who founded the Vidzar, the owning company in 1980 — was right about the way local plants’ aromas came into the final distillate, or whether they catered to local palates by goosing the juice a tad, the fact is that the rum is a bit too sweet and a bit too overdone, like a nouveaux riche showing off new furs and new bling. It’s not precisely overkill, more like a loud drunk regaling a joint with loud and boring sports stories you’re not interested in – it’s distracting, even off-putting and makes the enjoyment less.

That said, it’s not precisely a bad rum either. It’s a bit like a Bacardi Gold mixing it up with a Diplo Res Ex, or some other such tasty workhorse that can be used for a number of different purposes, even a neat sip – the relatively low strength and the aforementioned tastes help there.  But for someone who knows his rums it’s a bit of a let down, and while it’s certainly pleasant as it is — cocktail gurus and professional mixologists could probably find good things to do with it —  I think I’d rather spring for the upscale aged versions that have more character and less of those distracting flavours.

(#791)(82/100)


Other Notes

Dec 282020
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) has always had a peculiar turn when it comes to labels and tasting notes. The original bottlings didn’t always have permission to use the distillery names on the bottlings — at the time, blends were big, and distilleries did not always want their names to be associated with some off-the-wall, left-field bottle from a strange outfit, when this might shed a poor light on what they were more famed for…the consistency of their blends. This led the SMWS to the use of numerical identifiers for their outturns, and a whimsically titled name that had no relation to reality, really (almost every reviewer makes some reference to how they ignore those names, or don’t understand them).

What that does, though, is force the buyer / drinker / reviewer to actually pay attention to the product and discard preconceived notions at the door. Most will deny this to the heavens, but I firmly believe that few can divorce their expectations of a rum based on the label it sports, from the experience they expect to have, and then actually have. Which makes sense: if you see “Port Mourant” on a label, you expect to drink one, not some weird agricole or a Spanish style ron and your mind will bend that way. SMWS takes away this crutch – not completely, because by now everyone knows what the numbers mean – but enough so that the rums stands or falls upon your relatively clean experience.

So we walk into this rum, knowing only it’s from Panama. We don’t know if its from PILSA / Las Cabras or Don Jose / Varela Hermanos, the two main distilleries (my research suggests the latter); it has a 62% strength and 12 years of ageing in refill ex-bourbon barrels that resulted in 243 bottles. And that’s it.

But what these bare-bones notes don’t tell you is how impressive the dram actually is.  You’d think an industrial column still mass-produced swill can’t aspire to something greater than its origins, yet here it tries hard, it really does. The initial column-still blandness it starts out with is rescued by good barrel activity and some serious cask strength. Notes of coconut, caramel, some boot polish, licorice waft up from the glass, some blancmange, bon bons, chocolate mints and there’s even the hint of an old, well-loved and much-abused leather sofa.  After resting, it opens up to some nice truffles and chocolate notes, vanilla and florals, pineapples, oranges.  Pretty good for a region that has much fallen from favour in the last years as the New Jamaicans, Bajans and other distilling regions forge ahead.

In spite of the high ABV, which lends a fair amount of initial sharpness and heat to the tongue until it burns away and settles down, it’s actually not that fierce. It becomes almost delicate, and there’s a nice vein of fruity sweetness running through, which enhances the flavours of apples, cider, green grapes, citrus, coconut, vanilla, and candied oranges. There’s also some of that polish and acetone remaining, neatly dampened by caramel and brown sugar, all balancing off well against each other. It retains that delicacy to the finish line and stays well behaved: a touch sweet throughout, with caramel (a bit much), vanilla, fruits, grapes, raisins, citrus, blancmange…not bad at all.

I’ve been indifferent to Panamanian rums of late.  My initial enjoyment of their rums from the first years of this site’s reviews — of the Rum Nation 18 and 21 year old rums, the Abuelos (especially the Centuria) and the Panamonte XXV, none of which I would now score as high as I did back then — have given way to a more critical and rather impatient judgement as I see them treading no new ground, not issuing anything particularly interesting and staying with the same old song. These days I don’t buy many and the way Las Cabras has become a distiller-for-hire for small time brands who don’t themselves produce anything ground-shaking or innovative has done little to change that opinion.

Yet somehow the SMWS seems to have bucked the trend of milquetoast anonymous blends produced by the tankerload by equally anonymous brands and third parties. This 12 year old rum strikes me as a midpoint between the soft voluptuous sweetness of the Abuelo Centuria and the rather sterner and more focused AD Rattray, and is really a fine rum for anyone to try. Unless the great Panamanian distilleries up their game and go in different directions it’s unlikely they will every recover my unbridled affection from the early years – but this one gives me hope that the potential for good rums remains.  Even if it’s only in the occasional single barrel, ferreted out by some enterprising indie in Europe. We can hope, I guess.

(#789)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun didn’t dislike it, but wasn’t entirely blown away either and awarded it 78 points. Simon, over at TheRumShopBoy was more enthusiastic, to the tune of 88.
  • As usual, the name is a challenge.  Paddington is a bear beloved of British childrens’ books dating back from the 1950s, but his origin was clearly stated to be Peru, not Panama (though neither, as far as I know, have bears of any kind). So how the SMWS got from that to this is anyone’s guess…perhaps it’s his love of marmalade sandwiches, as Simon slyly pointed out.
Dec 232020
 

Here’s my personally imaginative take on how the (fictitious) Board of Blenders from Consorcio Licorero Nacional (CLN) presented their results to the good folks at Rum of Panama Corp (registered in Panama in 2016) about the rum they intended to make for them at Las Cabras in Herrera.

“We will make a true Panamanian Rum to represent the year the Canal was opened in 1914!” they say, high fiving and chest bumping themselves in congratulation at this perspicacious stroke of marketing genius.

“But CLN is originally from Venezuela, isn’t it?” comes the confused question.”Shouldn’t you perhaps pay homage to something from there?”

“The company is now registered in Panama, in San Miguelito, so, no.” The answer is confident. “The rum will be made at a Panamanian distillery. We will make it appeal to the masses by making it a column still light rum, but also appeal to the connoisseur crowd and beef it up to a higher strength.”

Ersatz Venezuelan patriotism is forgotten. This smells like sales. “Great!  How much?”

“41.3%” they reply, with the quietly confident air of “it’s settled” that Joe Pesci showed when he told Mel Gibson that a banker’s fee of 2% was standard, in Lethal Weapon II.

Brows knit. “Shouldn’t that be stronger?”

A twitch of moustaches, a shake of heads. This heresy must be swiftly extirpated. “That might scare away the masses, and they’re the ones we want buying the rum, as they’re the ones who move cases.”

“Ah.”

“And look, we will age it, a lot!” say the blenders brightly

Heads perk up. “Oh wonderful.  We like ageing.  How long, how old?”

“15 to 22 years.”

“That’s not bad. Except, of course, we’ve only been in business for four years, so…”

“Oh no worries.  Nobody will check. There’s that one reviewing doofus in the Middle East who might, but nobody really reads his blog, so you’re safe. And, on our website, we’ll say it’s a rum aged “up to 22 years”, so that will give you no end of credibility. People love rums aged more than twenty years”

“Isn’t that called…well…lying?”

“Not at all. It’s a blend of rums, we’ll have aged rums between those years in the blend, we’ll never say how much of each, so it’s completely legit. Better than saying 15 years old, don’t you think?”

“Well…if you say so.”

Paternal confidence is displayed. “You can’t lose: the rum is light, it’s old, the age is unverifiable but completely true, it has a cool name and date as part of the title, it’s sweet, and the production is so complex nobody will figure out who really is behind it, so nobody gets blamed…” More bright smiles all around, followed by toasts, handshakes, and the go-ahead is given.


Or so the story-teller in me supposes. Because all jokes and anecdotes aside, what this is, is a rum made to order. Ron 1914 touts itself as being a 15-22 YO blended rum,“Distilled in the province of Herrera and bottled at the facilities of CLN in Panama City.” CLN was formed in 1970 by five Venezuelan businessmen and deals with manufactured alcoholic products, though nowhere I’ve searched is there a reference to a distillery of their own. In this case it’s clear their using Las Cabras, proud possessor of a multi-column industrial still that churns out mucho product on demand. 

Now, that distillery has its own brand of rum, the Cana Brava, but also makes rum for clients: therefore brands like Zafra, Nativo, Grander note themselves as being from there – in that, then, the distillery operates like Florida Distillers who makes the completely forgettable Ron Carlos series of rums I’ve written about before.

And, unfortunately, made a rum equally unlikely to be remembered, because nosing it, your first thought is likely to be the same as mine: lights on, nobody home. There’s just so little going on here, and that’s not a function of the standard strength. There is basically some faint molasses, vanilla, a few unidentifiable fruits – not overripe, not tart, just fleshy and sweet – and an odd aroma of icing sugar. And a whiff of caramel and molasses, though don’t quote me on that – you might miss it.

The taste is also completely uninspiring. It’s so soft and easy you could fall asleep in it, and again, there’s too much vanilla, ice cream, sugar water and anonymous fruit here to lend any kind of spirit or style to the experience. Yes, there’s some caramel and molasses at the back end, but what good does that do when all it represents is a sort of “good ‘nuff” standard profile we’ve had a jillion times before in our journey? And the finish is just like that, short, breathy, a touch of mint, caramel, vanilla, anad again, just a snoozefest. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Ron 1914 was a low end spiced rum, and, for those of you who may be in doubt, that’s not a compliment.

The purpose of a rum like this escapes me.  No, honestly.  What’s it for?  In this day and age, why make something so soft and anonymous?  It doesn’t work well as a mixer (a Bacardi white or gold could just as easily do the job for less, if a cost-effective alcoholic jolt was all you were after) and as a sipper, well, come on, there’s way better value out there.

It’s always been a thing of mine that a good Spanish-style ron doesn’t have to enthuse the cask strength crowd with a wooden still in its DNA, or by squirting dunder and funk from every pore – because knowledgeable drinkers of its own style will like it just fine.  They’re used to standard strength and get that subtlety of tastes imparted almost solely by barrel management and smart ageing. But I submit that even they would take one taste of this thing, put down the glass, and walk away, the way I wanted to on the day I tried it in a VIP tasting. I couldn’t do that then, but you can, now. See you.

(#788)(70/100)

Dec 212020
 

The Cuban-made Vacilón brand was launched in 2016 (as a relaunch of an apparently very popular brand from the 1950s) and has been making the rounds of the various rum festivals off and on.  It’s part of the brand’s “luxury range” of 15 / 18 / 25 year old rums, which is fine, except that  as usual, there’s very little to actually go on about the production details – which remains one of the more annoying things about latin rons in general, hardly unique to Cuba. 

Suffice to say, it is made by Destilería Heriberto Duquesne attached to the local sugar mill located in Remedios in the north-central coast of Cuba under the overlordship of Cuba’s government entity Tecoazúcar. Founded in 1844 and previously known as Santa Fe, this is a distillery that produces pure alcohol as well as export rum, and makes the Vigia and the Mulata rum brands — so consolidating the information we have from those (here and here) we can say with some assurance that it’s a column still light rum, aged in ex-bourbon barrels…and that barrel strategy, coupled with skilful blending by the roneros, is behind its taste profile, not any kind of terroire or pre-distillation techniques or pot still component. 

How does that all come together when it’s time for the theory to take a backseat? Judge for yourself. Personally, I found the strength to be anemic at 40%.  It allowed aromas of caramel, nuts, flowers, coffee and cocoa to come through, just not with any kind of punch or assertiveness. Some light fruits — watermelon, papaya, guava, nothing too bold — shyly tiptoed on to the stage but at the first sigh of appreciation they panicked and ran back off again.

Tasting it made it clear this is a soft, warm sipping rum to be had by itself, and savoured that way – even ice might destroy its fragile and delicate construction.  That’s both its appeal and (for me) it’s downfall – I tasted caramel, butterscotch, bon bons, a bit of hazelnut, lemon zest, cumin and dill, a touch of ripe pear and that was it. The finish…well, it trailed off like an unfinished sentence, trending towards silence without ever having drawn attention to itself.  Which is, I must concede, about what I had expected (though not what I had hoped for) and which defined the rum as a whole.

Let me be clear – the Vacilón is a perfectly “nice” rum. On the surface, based on the label, it hits all the high points. It’s from Cuba, home of a long and proud tradition of rum making stretching back centuries. It is fifteen “true” years old.  And if it’s only 40% well, cask strength isn’t the rumiverse and standard strength rums should not be looked down upon just because they lack the spirituous equivalent of Ahnold’s biceps in his prime. 

Except that that was not the way the experience unfolded. I can live with the faint, quiet, wispy proof, I just needed to focus more, and harder, to tease out the tasting notes.  But it was simply unexciting, lacking appeal, not making any kind of serious statement for its own uniqueness and quality. It could have been five years younger and not been appreciably different. Why in this day and age they didn’t at least try to jolly it up to maybe 43% or 46% remains one of those unanswered questions to which rons have yet to respond.  Maybe it’s because they sell quite enough of what they do already and see no reason to change.

That of course is their privilege – rums like this do have their fans and markets. But as long as rons’ makers only keep trotting along the same old track at the same old pace, they’re only ever going to end up getting dismissive reviews like this one, and placing themselves in the “also-ran” finishing spot. Or even further back in the listings, which is something of a shame for an otherwise decent product on which maestros roneros expend so much time and effort. I think they can do better for today’s audiences, and they should at least give it a try, instead of recreating blends that were popular the 1950s but which are no longer as much in fashion now as they were back then.

(#787)(76/100)

Dec 032020
 

Any independent bottler who’s been around for a few years always has rums at various tiers of quality, or premiumness.  Most of this has to do with increasingly elaborate packaging, marketing campaigns, price (of course) or just the hype surrounding the bottle. Though of course once we see a price tag in the hundreds (or thousands), and an age in the third decade or more, we tend to perk up and pay attention anyway without any prodding, right?

Rum Nation, a fomerly Italian-based IB has always been on board with this practice. Even back in 2011 when I bought their entire 2010 range at once, I could see they had their “starter rums” in tall barroom bottles which cost around $30-$60, and the rather more upscale Demeraras and Jamaicans which were more than two decades old, had cool wooden boxes and ran into three figures. You could tell those were special (and they remain so). Years later they changed the bottle shape to the more squat versions still in use today, but came out with a new series of cask strength small batch series they called the “Rare Rums” which had smaller outturns and were more expensive, and the seriously aged Demeraras and Jamaicans were retired.  

But even then Rum Nation went one step higher, with what one might term the Ultra Rares, of which so far, there have only been a few: a 1999 Port Mourant, a 30 Year Old blended Jamaican Long Pond from 1986, and a small number of lovely Caroni rums from the 1990s. This one, in a handsome box and flat presentation style 50cl bottle, was one from the noted year of 1997 (there a lot of Caroni rums from various IBs sporting that year of make, including one of the first I ever tried, the AD Rattray version). Bottled at 59.2% it had an Islay finish which had the virtue of at least making me curious, even if I had my doubts. And it did look really cool. 

What was it like? Short version, very Caroni-like.  Smelling it instantly brings back all the memories of the closed distillery – fresh tar being laid on a hot day, petrol, fusel oil, wax and plasticine boil out of the glass right from the start.  These aromas give way to brine and olives, iodine, acetones and nail polish, a sort of complex and medicinal amalgam that is then softened by caramel, unsweetened chocolate, almonds, cinnamon and hot, very strong black tea. I’m no peathead anorak like some of my friends, but I really could not fault that nose for the Islay touch it had.

The palate is as stern and uncompromising as an overcast day promising cold rain, and follows well from that nose. A shade bitter, it tastes of chocolate (again), tar, caramel, bags of dark fruits – dates, blackberries, prunes, raisins – with a background of vanilla, leather, smoke and sooty kerosene camping stoves farting black smoke.  It develops well from one flavour to the next and it’s well balanced but I think this may be a bit too much Caroni for some, like it was dialled to “11” in a fit of absentmindedness. Sometimes with rums like this it fails on the backstretch, choking and falling off just as it should be revving – in this case, the finish is no slouch…long and dry, dusty and sharp, tasting of aromatic cigar smoke, petrol, nuts, vanilla and a touch of cinnamon.  I really quite liked it, and feel it’s a good entry to the canon.

Rum Nation has had a solid bottling history under Fabio Rossi, was one of the first indies I ever tried, and was sold to a Danish concern back in late 2018.  The explosion of so many other indies over the last decade has dimmed its lustre, and in no way can any Trini rum in this day and age, by any bottler, compete with the Caroni juggernaut that is Velier, whether or not they’re better.  But I still believe this is an enormously tasty rum and that peaty Islay finish complemented the fusel oil and kero notes for which the closed distillery is so famed, making for an intriguing and darkly delicious drink that can’t be discounted.  

It is, at end, just a really good bottling, represents the shuttered Trinidadian distillery with force and elan; and with all the fuss and bother and sometimes-insane prices of favoured Caroni bottles from Luca’s immense hoard, it might not be out to lunch to suggest that even with the price tag this one has, it’s worth it. Try it first, if you can, or if you have reservations – because if you’re on a Caroni field exploration trip, and want a good ‘un, you could do a lot worse than Rum Nation’s entry to the pantheon.

(#782)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn is unknown, unfortunately
  • Ageing is assumed to be in Europe

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