Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer.  They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier.  It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever made – it’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the start – deep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts well – salty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke.  All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being sounded…but underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old.  It left me…uneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested it…and the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle).  But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows about…so why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend?  Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives).  It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy.  Others will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-down – too well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.”  Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decent…but only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicorn – which probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
Mar 192018
 

#498

By the time we get to the third Rare Collection rum issued by DDL to the market in early 2016, we have to move on from our preconceived notions of how these rums were issued: okay, so they booted Luca out and us rum junkies were pissed, but from a purely business perspective, perhaps we should have seen it coming.  And anyway, the world didn’t come to an end, did it? Life continued, taxes got paid, rums got drunk, and civilization endured. Time to move on. It was surely nothing personal, just business, caro amico.  Lo capisci, vero?

Which brings us to the Port Mourant 1999, which some say is a fifteen year old and I say is sixteen (just because of the years), bottled at ferocious 61.4% ABV, and deriving from the double wooden pot still which produces (along with the Enmore wooden Coffey still) what I think are the best Guyanese rums available. You’ll forgive me for mentioning that my hopes were high here. Especially since I never entirely got over my feeling that it cost too much, so for that price, I wanted it to be damned good.

For a sixteen year old (or fifteen, if others write-ups are to be taken) made from one of my favourite stills, I felt it was remarkably light and clear for a Port Mourant, and even this early in the assessment, dominated by the sharpness of tannins that had been left to go nuts by themselves for far too long. It was dry and leathery on the nose and, as for both the Enmore 1993 and particularly the Versailles 2002, my personal feeling was and remains that the oak had too much of an influence here – the rum equivalent of sucking on a lemon.  Fortunately, this calmed down after a while and allowed other aromas to be sensed: lemon peel, raisins, pears, black cherries, an olive or three, cloves, freshly sawn lumber, a little brine, and lastly those dense, solid anise and licorice notes that basically danced with the oak and took over the show from there on forwards.

The copper coloured rum was surprisingly citrus-forward when tasted, a little sweet and quite dry on the first sip.  Also musky, with leather and smoke and wooden tannins, very assertive, lots of oomph – it really needed some water to bring it back down to earth.  With that added, the fruitiness came to the fore – tart green apples, cherries, pears, red guavas, raisins, plus of course the solid notes of licorice.  It really was a bit too much though – too sharp and too tannic, and here I truly felt that it could have been toned down a shade and provided a better result.  The finish, though – long, warm, dry, redolent of licorice, hot black unsweetened tea and lighter fruity nuances – was quite good, for all of the concussive nature of what went before.

Looking at The PM 1999 in conjunction with the other two, I’d suggest this was not one of my all-time favourite expressions from the still…the ever-present oakiness was something of a downer, and the lack of real depth, that aridity and bite, kind of derailed the experience, in spite of the redeeming fruitiness and intense heat that normally would earn my favour.  I can’t entirely dismiss it as a lesser effort, or even a failure, because it isn’t, not really – too much still went right (the intensity gave as much as it took away). It’s just that if DDL wanted to own the Demeraras, they dropped the ball with this one.  Partly that’s because the Port Mourant and Enmore profiles are so well known and endlessly revisited by all and sundry, so deficiencies are more clearly (and more quickly) noted and argued over; and the real stars shine right from the get-go, and are known.  But for me it’s also partly because there’s better out there and in fine, I guess I just have to wait until the next releases come my way, because for its price, this is not one of the better PMs in the rumiverse. I wish it were otherwise, but it just isn’t.

(83/100)


Summing up the First Release of the Rare Collection

Overall, I think that DDL — in this First Release — captured the spirit of the Velier Demeraras quite well without entirely ascending to their quality.  Yet for all that qualification, against the indie competition they hold up well, and if they are batting against a behemoth, well, I call that teething pains.

Keep in mind that not all the Velier’s were stratospheric scorers like the UF30E, the Skeldon 1973 or the PM 1972 and PM 1974: there were variations in quality and assessment even for this company.  But perhaps more than any other currently fashionable independent bottler, or the ones that preceded it, Velier placed full proof Demeraras squarely on the map by issuing as many as they did, with many of them being singular deep dives into tiny Guyanese marques nobody else ever bothered with, like Blairmont, LBI, Albion. Which is not a niche I see DDL wanting to explore yet, to our detriment.

What this situation created for DDL was a conceptual competitor for their own single barrel or full proof rum lines like the Rares, which perhaps nobody could have lived up to right off the bat. Yet I submit that Serge’s glowing review of the VSG (90 points) and the FatRumPirate’s satisfaction with the Enmore (5 stars out of 5), as well as my own reviews of the three, gave DDL all the street cred it needed as an inheritor of the Demerara full proof lines. Say what you will, they’re good rums.  DDL has shown they can do it. Perhaps they’re lacking only the global mindshare to sell better, perhaps a more stringent quality review…and maybe for the halcyon memories of the Demeraras Velier made before to fade a little in people’s fond remembrances.

Reading around, it’s instructive to see how popular the El Dorado series is, with what genuine anticipation the Rares were awaited, even when prematurely announced.  People might have been miffed at DDL’s strategy and the relatively high prices, but they were willing to cut DDL a huge break…and for evidence of that, think about this: when was the last time you saw so many reviewers review all three of a new rums’ issue, all within months of them coming out? Aside from the current Foursquare and Velier releases, that was well-nigh unprecedented.

And if, as has been bruited about, the second release is better than the first, then while we may no longer be living in a Golden Age of full proof Demeraras, well, perhaps we’re living in a highly burnished Silver one which may with luck become aurus in its own good time. We can certainly hope that this will turn out to be the case.  In which case both DDL and the buying public will be well served.


Lastly, for some perspectives on the PM 1999 from the other writers out there: all the big guns have written about it by now so….

  • WhiskyFun scored it 82, remarking on its oak-forward nature
  • RumCorner felt it was only worth 79
  • Barrel Aged Mind rated it at 82, and called it “burned”, suggesting the use of charred casks may have been partly responsible.
  • The Fat Rum Pirate called it “a big flavourful menace” and gave it 3.5 stars out of 5
  • The RumShopBoy gave it 54/100, which could roughly equate to around 80-82 points on a Parker scale, and thought it could have been issued at a lower ABV.  He really didn’t like the price.
  • Cyril of DuRhum also weighed in with a dismissive 83 points, thinking that something was missing and it was bitter, with less balance.
Mar 162018
 

#0497

“A cheap shot,” muttered Henrik, referring to DDL stopping Velier’s access to their rums in 2015, and surely channelling the feelings of many. And it was therefore perhaps unavoidable that the initial DDL Rare Collection rums issued in early 2016 were instantly compared to the Age of Demerara Veliers upon whose success they wished to capitalize and whose street cred they sought to supplant.  That’s hard cheese and perhaps unfair to the rums, but it was and remains DDL’s cross to bear and they must have known that going in. The question was whether they maintained the standard and kept the bar as high as Velier left it.

Luca, in a long and rambling conversation with me early the following year, totally felt they had, but I had a somewhat less exalted opinion after taking apart the the 2002 VSG, where the tannins retained a dominance that made a merely positive experience out of a potentially great one.  However, I’m a sucker for Enmore and Port Mourant rums too and dived into this one with somewhat more enthusiasm, ignoring the dictum that madness is described as doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. One never knows what the result is going to be with these bottlings, after all.

Let’s dive right in without further fanfare. The nose was lovely, perhaps a bit light after the 63% of the VSG.  In most Enmores, the licorice is up front and in your face as a hockey goalie’s mask, but here it took a back seat for some time, and a righteously enormous fruity nose presented first: pineapple chunks, peaches, apricot, candied oranges, lemon zest, to which was added caramel, oak (too much wood, I thought), a little brine and a detectable but submissive line of licorice in the background that never quite came forward. There’s a sort of lightness to the overall smell that reminded me of an agricole to some extent, which is quite a feat for a Guyanese rum.  Anyway, it was a pleasure to savour in a snifter or a glencairn and my opinion is that if you’re trying it, take your time, especially if you dropped a couple of hundred bucks on the drink to begin with.

Tasting the Enmore showed that DDL, when they want to put their shoulder to the wheel and stop farting around with dosage and 40%, can produce something quite good (as if we did not already know that from the Three Amigos issued a decade ago). The lightness of the nose disappeared like it was never there: thick and dark and quite warm, even smooth, compared to the other fullproof Guyanese rums I had on the table as controls.  It presented fleshy fruits as before (peaches, apricots, pineapple), as well as lemon peel, anise, and a peculiar sort of mouth-puckering dryness that made me think of gooseberries and five-finger. Fortunately there were some balancing tastes of caramel, nougat, a little vanilla, white toblerone and coffee to keep things in bounds, and even more fortunately the oak which I had feared would be over dominant (like with the VSG), was kept under much tighter control and didn’t derail the drink as a whole…although it came close. I’d have to say the finish was interesting – ginger, black tea, aromatic tobacco, caramel and coffee grounds, and a bit of fruitiness and citrus closing up the shop. Overall?  Pretty good. The oak may have been a tad much: the rum may be sporting wood but while that’s a good thing for a Buxton badass, it is somewhat less popular in a rum of this kind.

The famed stills have gotten so much press over the years that I hardly need to go into detail: suffice to say while the Versailles is a wooden pot still, the Enmore is a wooden continuous Coffey (column) still, looking, in Dave Broom’ wry opinion, like a huge filing cabinet.  The rums coming off the still have always been among my favourites, and for this Tiger Bay street hood, 22 years old and bottled at 56.5%, no adulteration and old enough to vote, it upheld the rep of the marque extremely well – it does the Enmore “brand” no disrepute or dishonour at all.  It stacks up well against the Duncan Taylor Enmore 1985, Silver Seal 1986 and the Velier 1988, does not exceed the Compagnie’s 1988 (that one was masterful and a near impossible act to beat) and I’ve heard DDL’s second release is even better. Based on the result of DDL’s attempt here, I can only say that I’ve steered my purchasing decisions for 2018 in that direction, because this I really have to see. If DDL can make the Enmores that take on and defeat the independents, I think we need have no fear for the marque or the brand dipping in quality any time soon.

(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Just to keep the perspective:  Rumcorner scored this 82, remarking with some disappointment that “it still had a few steps to take before it is on par.” And Serge over at WhiskyFun, of course, felt the VSG just killed it and this one could not come up to snuff, scoring it at 81.  The FatRumPirate on the other hand, noting that it was “equally as good as some of the Velier Demeraras” gave it the full monty – five stars, as did RumShopBoy, who scored it around 94 (Parker scale converted).  And never forget Cyril of DuRhum, who liked it enough to give it 87 solids.
  • The age seems to be a bit confusing: my bottle says distilled in 1993, bottled in 2015 so a 22 year old, but a number of my compatriots say it’s a 21 year old, possibly to line up with the standard bottlings of 12-15-21.  DDL as usual did not bother to comment. Honestly, their reticence is really getting annoying.
  • No adulteration noticed or recorded.

 

Mar 142018
 

#496

It’s been two years since the furore created by the inadvertently premature publication of the Velier catalogue entries for the El Dorado Rare Collection ignited in the minds of the Velier lovers, and I’ve been sitting on the three bottles almost since that time, waiting to get around to them. One of the reasons the reviews were not written immediately was simply that I felt the dust needed to settle down a bit, so that they could be approached with something resembling objectivity.  Two years might have been just about enough for me to forget the original reviews that came out that year…and then The Little Caner was glancing through the Big Black Notebook #2 and pointing out that here were notes I took – twice! – and still not written about, so what’s your malfunction, Pops? Move along already.

Yes well.  Leaving aside the young man’s disrespect for his geriatric sire, let’s review the stats on this rum, the Versailles, made from the near legendary wooden single pot still, marque VSG.  First of all, no information on the outturn was ever made available, so I’m forced to go with Luca’s comment to me of “about 3000 bottles,” which DDL never felt it necessary to nail down for us. Distilled 2002, bottled in 2015, so a 13 year old rum. Strength was a beefy 63% and for that you could expect some seriously intense flavour when coupled with full tropical ageing. There are some other facts which I’ll go into in more depth below the tasting notes, but let me address these first, so you get the same impressions I had without anything else clouding your mind.

A bright orange brown in hue, the nose that billowed out as soon as the bottle was cracked, was deep and lush, and I liked it right off.  Coffee and candied oranges, nougat and caramel, quite soft for a 63% beefcake, and quite rich, to which were added, over time, additional notes of furniture polish, muscavado, anise, florals and some light paint thinner.  Having had a few El Dorados quite recently, I remember thinking this actually presented quite close to the 12 Year Old “standard” rum (at 40%), which, while stupefied to the point of near imbecility in terms of both strength and adulteration, also had Versailles pot still rum as a major portion of the blend.

That wooden pot still taste profile really comes into its own on the palate (much as the 12 year old did), and this was no exception.  The whole taste was anise, pencil shavings and oak forward, and this became the bedrock upon which other, warmer and subtler flavours rested – fruits like apricots, pears, plums, raisins and ripe apples for the most part – but the tannins were perhaps a bit too dominant and shoved the caramel, molasses, herbs (like rosemary and mint) and lighter fruity elements into the background.  I added water to see what would happen and the fruits displayed better, but it also allowed a certain sweet syrup (the kind canned fruits come with) to become noticeable, not entirely to the rum’s benefit. It tasted well, was intense and powerful beyond question: I just felt the balance between the elements was weighted too heavily in favour of the woods and bitter chocolate notes…at the expense of a more tempered rum that I would appreciate more.  As for the finish, it really was too tannic for my liking, once again pushing soft fruits into the background and not allowing much except caramel, lemon zest, raisins and acetones to close off the show.

Overall, the rum displayed rather less of the hallmarks of careful and judicious balancing of the tastes to which Velier’s aged mastodons had accustomed us, and while it was not a shabby rum by any means, it also had components that subtly clashed with each other, in such a way that the showcasing of a wooden still’s profile was downgraded (though not entirely lost, thank goodness). More to the point, it feels…well, dumbed down. Straightforward. Edging close to simple.

Now, according to Henrik over on the Rumcorner, who reviewed this very same rum before passing it over to me, it was tampered with – some 14g/L of adulteration was present, and the Fat Rum Pirate noted 8 g/L himself.  That’s not enough to disqualify it from the running – you have to go way over 20 g/L to start seriously degrading the taste of a rum this powerful – but the question is and will always remain, why bother? At the price point and relative rarity, for the purpose of the issue – to take over from Velier and make a mark on the full proof rarities of the world – only die-hards would buy it and they’re the ones who knew best, and know now, what they’re buying, so why piss them off (and worse yet, omit the disclosure)? Tradition? Gimme a break.  (On the other hand, it is possible DDL merely mismeasured the true ABV and it’s actually not 63% and thereby fooled the hydrometers and calculations…but I chose to doubt that).

That said, this is one of those times when I think that if there was dosage and not an ABV misreading (which some still maintain and DDL as usual says nothing about either way), then the addition served a purpose, and DDL were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.  The sugar (or caramel or whatever the additive was – remember, a hydrometer measures changes in density, it does not identify the source – we just assume it’s sugar) allowed the sharper bite of tannins to be tamed somewhat and made the rum a powerful, brutal drink with the jagged edges toned down…but this came at a price: it also masked the subtleties that the hardcore look for and enjoy.

Serge of WhiskyFun scored this 90 points, Cyril of DuRhum gave 86, and Henrik gave it 83 and RumShopBoy about 84, and they all made it clear what they experienced — me,  I sort of fall in the middle of the Serge’s enthusiasm and Henrik’s despite, and can call it a good rum without embarrassment – but alas, it’s not a game-changer, not a must-have, not a scene-stealer. It comes off as being just another limited edition bottling from a new independent bottler, featuring a marque that still has some lustre and shine, but not one which this rum burnishes to a high gloss.

(84.5/100)


 

 

 

Mar 102017
 

Photo copyright whisky.dk

Rumaniacs Review #029 | 0429

Issued around 2011, the El Dorado 25 YO received an update from the original 1980 version, with the blend tweaked a little.  The enclosure and bottle remained the same, however, and unfortunately for the modern rumporn brigade of the millenial teens, not enough was done to upgrade the rum to what a current (2017) connoisseur would consider par for the course – unadulterated and cask strength.  Instead, sticking with the tried and true formula which sold so well in the past, it remained 43%, and perhaps we should consider it a favour that the reported 51 g/L sugar of the 1980 version was reduced to 39 g/L here.  I suppose that’s why this one scored incrementally better.  But still, a 25 year old rum made from some of the most famous stills in the world should be a world beater.  And it isn’t. Not even close.

Colour – dark red-amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Marginally better than the 1980 (I tried both side by side).  While still too anemic, it was vaguely crispier and fruitier, nuttier and brinier. Bags of anise and dark dried raisins, jam, molasses and caramel, given some edge with notes of tobacco and oak and some minerally ashy background.  A very good nose.

Palate – Takes the promise and trashes it…worst part of the experience.  This is a €400+ rum, aged 25 years (with all the attendant expectations such stats engender), and a depressingly liqueured might-have-been. If one strains the nose almost out of its original shape, one can sense (rather than actually taste) black cake and honey, vanilla and oak, philly cheese on toast, plus traditional fruits, raisins, anise, prunes, backed up by a nice creme brulee.  And to that extent I liked it. But the sugar…it was just too overbearing – it was like you could never quite come to grips with what was on offer, not because of a low ABV (though this did absolutely nothing to enhance the experience) but because the sweet dampened everything.  It made for a thick, muddy sort of mangrove swamp, instead of the crisp, complex, fast-flowing river that would have been better.

Finish – Too short, to pale, too sweet.  Nothing much going on here.

Thoughts – What the rum provides is still ahead of spiced nonsense like the Kraken or Don Papa, but that’s damning it with faint praise.  Those cost 1/10th of this and have fewer pretensions, raise fewer expectations. Seven years ago I enjoyed the 25 YO El Dorados I tried because I knew less and was more satisfied with 40-43% rums.  That time has now passed and I can see more failure than achievement here. One of my idols proved to have feet of clay, alas.

(81/100)

Other Rumaniacs liked this rum even less than I did.  You can see their evaluations on the official website.

Jan 312017
 

Photo copyright (c) Masters of Malt

Rumaniacs Review #028 | 0428

In the beginning DDL made the El Dorado 1980 25 year old and it was good. The rum pundits looked upon it with favour, tasted and smiled and pronounced it great. For it was greatly aged and unique and well presented and the people were pleased and parted willingly with their hard-earned coin. But then, lo, the world around it moved and changed, and darkness moved upon the face of the cognoscenti, for as the stars turned overhead, other rums were made, better rums, stronger rums, purer rums — and the El Dorado 25 was loath to change with the times.  Verily, it was seen to be a mere mask of greatness without actually being great, having been corrupted and adulterated by the sly serpent of sugar.  And those very persons who heretofore had sung its praises and made sweet sacrifice of good yellow gold at the altar of DDL, now turned their faces from its twisted taste and denounced its falsity.  But many disciples stayed faithful to the heavy  sweetness of the rum, hearkened on to its seductive call, and continued to make obeisance to its false promises.

And it came to pass that the Lone Caner, slinking furtively behind his better-known fellow acolytes of the Order of the Rumaniacs, finally dared also to walk through the abyss, to investigate reports and rumours of this fabled beast.  Armed with only his trusty pen as weapon and notebook for shield, clad in not-quite-righteousness and supposed knowledge gleaned from years of study in matters of The Cane, he went quite into the lair of the legendary rum, to there do battle and come away with the flame of true knowledge.  Was indeed the El Dorado the mythical sugar demon denounced from many an evangelical pulpit?  Or did evil rumour and the jealous despite of the followers of the New Faith unfairly malign a misunderstood denizen of the rumiverse?

And upon reaching the very centre of the bottle’s domain, admired the Caner the golden etching of the flagon. Poured into the glass the Caner did his hard earned sample for which he had sacrificed so much.  Smelled it with overlong snoot, inhaled into much abused lungs, as he drew into himself the olfactory essence of the dram, fearing not, for the Rum Spirit was within him, his alcoholic belches were the stuff of legends unto themselves, and he was far too witless for fear.

Richness there was, immediate, for the scent of the rum spoke to the fair stills whose puissance had been taken by the Makers and through magic and incantations and the tears of virgins, been rendered down into the brown elixir worshipped in times past by the people as a Great Spirit.  Enmore spake commandingly, and Vesailles alongside, and perhaps a whisper of the fabled and elusive Uitvlugt too, all breathing life into the rich nose.  Burnt sugar there was, and nougat, coffee, burning cane fields, and anise, and the sweet aromas of fruit and licorice to make the hearts of children glad.  But lo, what was this?  Even as the richness was sensed, it congealed and became thick and cloying and the dread spectre of sugar surged forth from the darkness to do battle with the rum and the Caner.  Too strong was it for resistance, and yea, the sugar vanquished all that came before it and the nose faltered and died upon the floor.

Struggled did the Caner, to raise his glass and taste the dark brown lass, but alas, bitter disappointment was his only reward.  For by dint of sweet promises and the lure of earthly delights known to only a select few, the fair maiden of the El Dorado proved herself to be a faithless siren luring him to his doom.  Drowned he was in the overwhelming blanket of sugar.  Struggled he did to sense the dim light of vanillas and kiwi fruit and deep molasses, the soft caramels and inviting toffees and coffees and aromatic notes of tobacco.  But nay, the Dark Spirits were merciless, and he failed in his quest utterly; and even the faint glimmers of anise and caramel and burnt sugar turned their faces from him and vanished sadly into the underworld, never to be seen again…leaving him only with remaining teeth decaying and tongue coated with sticky syrup, rending his robes and gnashing his teeth in the anguish of what he had been denied.

Then wroth was the Caner, for he had earlier loved this fair spirit, which had so misled him in his innocence and newbie-ness with shades of illusion now proven false. Raised he then his acerbic pen, readied he his trusty notebook.  Furiously was the pen wielded and the ink stained the page as if he had spilled the rum running through his own veins. And he recorded for posterity his despite.  For in his disappointment and his frustration, these were the weapons he meant to use to record the legend of this mythical rum and to speak truth to those who would continue to sing songs of praise to its purported magnificence.

Therefore, then, gentle reader, take thee heed of the glorious failure of one led to ruin by his misplaced admiration for a false idol, and go not into the abyss thyself. Let his misadventure serve as both warning and instruction, that great age and great price and a fair and sweet appearance are sometimes masks to deceive the unwary.  Tread not lightly into congress with such strumpets lest ye be destroyed in thy turn.

(80/100)

Dec 152015
 

Single_Barrels

Introduction

In 2015 it became widely known that DDL was severing its relationship with Velier, and Luca Gargano would no longer have access to their warehouses. With that simple statement, the Age of Velier’s Demerara Rums appeared to have come to an end. In October of that same year, I reviewed the three single barrel expressions DDL issued back in 2007, and the notes in that write up were so voluminous that I split them apart to form the basis of this essay.

My thinking went like this: when you think of all the advantages DDL enjoys in the international marketplace – brand visibility and recognition, market penetration, and the great stills like PM and EHP, to name just three – you begin to realize just how curious those three rums actually are. And how much they say about the ethos and thrust of the company’s rum strategy (or lack thereof).

Velier showed that there was a real market for such full proof, limited edition rums.  You’d think that with the Scots and the Italians’ decades-long love affair with issuing PMs and Enmores and what have you, that this largely untapped market would be aggressively exploited by the company supplying the actual rum, but no, DDL has let Moon Imports, Samaroli, Velier, Rum Nation, Secret Treasures, Silver Seal, Duncan Taylor, and many others, garner the accolades and the money while they concentrate on the core El Dorado range.

Background

The ICBU, EHP and PM expressions remain the only still-specific rums DDL have ever created since the el Dorado line burst on the scene in 1992. DDL, as you would recall, have a number of pot and columnar stills – some of wood, some very old, all producing interesting variations of taste; the El Dorado line blends various proportions of output from these stills.  Craft bottlers who have bought barrels made from the stills have long issued limited expressions like PM, EHP, ICBU,  LBI, Blairmont, Versailles, Skeldon (Velier remains the acknowledged champion in this regard), and the speed at which they sell and the high prices they command on the secondary market demonstrates the enormous cachet they have.  

Yet DDL has, as of this writing (December 2015), refused to go further with developing this gaping omission in its lineup. They told me a few months ago that I should wait for great things coming out later in 2015, and then issued the “new” 15 year old rums with various finishes.  An evolutionary stopgap, I thought (then and now) — not a radical departure, not a revolution, not great, and not particularly new.  They still don’t have millesimes or annual releases or special stills’ rums of any consequence. The three amigos referenced above are also not marketed worth a damn to exhibit their singular nature, or to take advantage of their remarkable provenance or their accessible proof point. They are priced quite high for rums that don’t have an age statement – together, they cost me north of US$300, and not many people are going to buy such relatively pricey rums unless they are really into the subculture.  So here are some initial problems DDL created for themselves: the age, the year, the outturn, none of this is on the label. Why is the year of distillation and age and bottle count not shouted from the rooftops?  Age confers cachet in any spirit; single stills’, single years’ output even more so.  What’s the holdup with DDL providing such elementary information? Actually, what’s the holdup in creating an entire line of such remarkable rums?

Independent bottlers are the leaders in this field, and there’s enormous interest for these expressions. That single post of mine about the three rums clocked a reach of 400 on FB, and 20 likes on the site, in less than an hour (trust me, that’s fast and furious going for a niche audience such as we writers have).  So knowing that limited release rums sell fast to the cognoscenti, knowing the power of social media, and using my experience as a sort of quasi baseline, I ask again…what’s stopping DDL?

Problems

The very specificity of these rums may be their undoing in the wider rum world, because it is connoisseurs and avid fans and rabid collectors who are most likely to buy them, appreciate them, and understand the divergent/unusual taste profiles, which are quite different from the more commonly available (and best-selling) El Dorados like the 5, 8, 12, 15, 21 and 25 year old. To illustrate further, how many casual rum drinkers even know there are multiple stills at Diamond, and can can name more than the PM or EHP?  One could taste the three single barrel rums, and immediately realize that they certainly aren’t standard sippers or the usual cocktail fodder — which is something of  double edged sword for rum makers, who like to be different….but not too different.

Too, it’s possible that seeing the niche interest these expressions developed over the years which Velier then expanded into a worldwide phenomenon, that the boys on the Top Floor were scared dickless and shut that sucker down fast, lest it bite into profits of more dependable rums….rather than seeing it as an opportunity. I have a feeling relative margins of various products were and are involved here.

Then there’s hard consumer cash: such DDL-made single barrel expressions are by their very nature more expensive and get more so as we climb the age ladder, but there’s another reason they cost so much – DDL never made more, or issued them in great quantity (it’s unknown what the year of the batch is, and I’m not even sure how many were made, let alone whether DDL ever issued more beyond that 2007 year, or ever will again).  

Another reason to scratch my head wondering what they’re thinking.  Are they ignoring the signs of rums’ expanding popularity and the increasing sophistication of the drinking classes, so evident all around them? Or are they simply oblivious? 

General economic musings

Now I know something about how products in a manufacturing environment are priced.  There’s all the input costs of raw materials, plus labour charges, storage costs, prep costs and marketing and distribution and shipping (using various bases of allocation for overheads), to come up with a unit production cost (i.e., what it cost to make each individual bottle).  Depending on the sophistication of the accounting / costing system and the methodology employed, the profit margin is fixed and the rum is released to the market. The brokers, intermediaries, governments, bulk buyers and stores will add fees and markups and taxes to the base selling price, and the result is the €80 to €100 (give or take) which the consumer pays for a middle aged, single barrel expression with 1000 bottles or so issued by an independent bottler. So perhaps this is a lot easier for an independent operation which buys rums from brokers, than it is for a vertically integrated multinational like DDL which has canefields, sugar factories, distillation apparatus, a huge labour force and a supply chain network that is large and far-flung.   

Now, that means the entire revenue stream from such a specific, limited rum is likely to be €100,000 or less…does anyone believe that it “only” costs that amount to shepherd a rum for ten years through all its stages for a company that is as vertically integrated from cane to cork, as DDL?  Not a chance.  Smaller bottlers have it easier since they buy one small set of already-aged barrels at a time, low infrastructure costs, and have a skeleton staff; and this is both their advantage and disadvantage because they lose economies of scale while having a limited output in a barrel that may not succeed after ageing (and lose a lot to the angels in the process), while at the same time being able to pick exactly the barrels they want.

But DDL doesn’t have this issue – they have the infrastructure to age much more than just a few barrels at a time, and there are opportunities for a millesime approach, yearly issues, and yes, single-still aged output from multiple barrels, totalling many thousands of bottles.  The economics favour DDL’s daring to go in this direction, I think, especially at higher levels of output of which they are clearly capable. (Even some limited test marketing would make sense, I think…to the USA, I would suggest, because you wouldn’t believe the volume of wistful emails I get from that country, asking me where I got mine and how can they get some?)

Still, more subjective matters do start to come into play.  For new products without a purchasing history behind them and issued in limited quantities, it’s a risk, a big one, to invest a decade or more in ageing, take the hit from the angels and losses on barrels that don’t work after all that…then bottle perhaps 15% of the original volume, price high and hope sales will follow. Distributors and shops will also not want to give shelf space or prominence to stuff they are unsure will move in volume. Also, new products can cut into the sales of the old dependables upon which all cash flow is based (and which may subsidize loss leaders like the single barrels, which can be uneconomical at first).

But it is my contention that DDL doesn’t need to do this: the path has already been blazed by the independent bottlers; and DDL / El Dorado (and the famed stills) is one of the more recognized, widely sold brands in the rum universe.  Velier has shown the model can succeed. We know for a fact that a ten year old Demerara rum from a single still (at any strength between 45-65%) can reasonably sell for €100 / US$120 and maybe even more.  And the prices escalate with both age and exclusivity, using existing distribution channels and marketing strategies already in place. DDL has spent decades building up its brand and distribution, so these are sunk costs that work to the advantage of selling more, rather than less, of the single-still expressions, even if issued 40% and not cask strength. 

el_dorado_bottlerange

Photo copyright lovedrinks.com

What’s on DDL’s strategic mind?

What this leaves us with is a number (depressing) conjectures about DDL’s short and medium term strategy.

  1. The cash cows of the aged rums which blend the stills’ outputs will continue
  2. Experiments with different cask finishes will gather some steam, concentrating, in my opinion, on the El Dorados 12, 15 and 21 years old (I doubt the 25 year old will be tampered with unless it is to make it stronger).
  3. Yes, spiced rums will continue, maybe even be expanded.  They sell briskly, much to the annoyance of many purists.
  4. The single barrel, still-specific rums may be re-started, but most of the wooden-still outputs will continue to be favoured for producing the 8, 12, 15, 21 and 25 year old blends, and not for anything more specialized.
  5. DDL will make no sudden moves into new (rum) product lines.  The company simply does not seem to be structured to allow experimental development.  That’s why agile little companies like Compagnie des Indies can survive and even make money….using DDL’s rums.

In other words, we can expect the status quo to continue for quite some time. They shut Velier out, but gave us nothing to replace it.

Of course, this is all me being pissy.  I know some of the guys over there, spent many years in Guyana, love the place, like their rums.  It annoys me no end that they almost never respond to emails, provide little beyond marketing materials when they do, have on their website a man gone to the rumshop in the sky many moons ago, and just continue doing the same old thing year after year: as I said, the new finishes on the 15 year old do not really impress me, though I do want to try them (I’m a reviewer after all). 

I think this indifference to smaller market segments is a mistake, however. Because three major trends are gathering a serious head of steam in our world:

  1. Aged scotch is rising in price faster than people can keep up; and as the industry frantically tries to sell NAS whisky to make up for the shortfall of suitably aged reserves, malt-lovers will move more and more to craft rums, especially where profiles are similar. Increasing sales of craft rums and the emergence of more and more small rum-producing companies suggests this trend is well underway, so where is DDL’s response? (Observe the farsightedness of Richard Seale partnering up with Velier in the 2015 release season, a position DDL could have had for the asking given their past association with Luca Gargano)
  2. In about five years, as rum penetrates a critical mass of drinkers who demand unadulterated, cask strength, limited edition, well made products, DDL will likely have revisit the decision to divert its stock to more craft-based offerings and reduce the blends (either that or increase output across the board, and with sugar’s woes in Guyana, that might be problematic…or another opportunity) .  Whether they have sufficient aged rums available at that point to both satisfy the blended-aged market, and something more exclusive, only they can know.  But sooner or later, they will have to start.
  3. The USA cannot keep on subsidizing Bacardi and their ilk forever.  Too many US citizens are already squawking all over social media about how the best rums are never to be found in their location and when they are, the price differential is too great between those and the subsidized rums.  Once they start agitating for reform of subsidies and tax breaks, other countries take the matter to the WTO, and fairer tax regimens and tariffs are passed – and sooner or later this will happen – then craft rums will become more competitive, and the US market will explode.  DDL had better be ready to increase its market share there when this happens. If all they have is the same old menu and live off past glories, then they will fall behind other, nimbler, smarter companies with a more diversified (or focussed) portfolio.

Summing up.

The three single barrel expressions of DDL’s impressive stable point to more serious structural deficiencies of their medium term planning with respect to rums.  They are too weak, too few, and marketed too poorly in a time of an increasingly educated, knowledgeable drinking class. I’m not saying independent bottlers’ craft expressions are the wave of the future – but I do contend that they will get a larger and larger slice of the market in the years to come, and it seems that DDL is poorly positioned to take advantage of this.  If I was on their team, the first thing I’d do is stop selling bulk rum from the wooden stills to anyone, hoard it all, and start issuing high proof, low volume, carefully selected, suitably aged rums in very limited, exclusive markets. 

But nothing I’ve read and heard and seen suggests this is on DDL’s planning horizon. There is a subtle sense of complacency involved here, along the lines of “We have the stills, we have the sugar cane, we have the storage space, and tons of old rums.  We can adapt whenever we chose.”

Maybe.  It will probably be neither so easy or quite so quick.  A small outfit dealing in a few barrels at a time, sure.  A monolith like DDL?  One can only wonder.  And, in the case of me and my rum-chum friends, hope a little.

Update January 2016

This article was overtaken by events, of course.  In January 2016, DDL announced that they would indeed issue three cask-strength expressions, an Enmore, a PM and a Versailles.  No word on issue volumes.  The youngest would be about ten years old and for the moment sold only in Europe.  So the timing of my essay, as well as my conclusions, really sucked…too bad.  Still, I’d rather be wrong and get some good rums to buy, rather and be right and get none. I hope this is a forerunner of many aged rums to come from DDL, and that they live up to the high standard Luca set.

Jun 062015
 

IMG_6970_2Rumaniacs Review 004 | 0404

First rum I drank back in the day.  Was working in the interior of Guyana for gold exploration companies at the time; every Saturday evening, a couple of bottles of this stuff were trotted out for us to get hammered on. We drank it swiftly, continuously, copiously and without a care for quality. This one is supposedly fruit cured…not that I noticed much of that.

Nose: Thin, sharp. Coconut shavings, swiftly disappearing.  Faint caramel and vanilla. Nuts. Anise, but not much. Raisins, red guavas and grapes waved at me, but kept way back.

Palate: Light bodied, hay coloured 40%, almost not a Demerara at all.  Thin and sharp. White flowers, more coconut, a few fruity notes, peaches and cream with a dusting of cinnamon.  Some mangos, raisins and black currants at the backend. A bit sweet, hardly noticeable.  There’s not enough going on here to care, really. It’s all very underwhelming

Finish: Short, sharp and dismissive. Almost nothing to discern here at all beyond scraping heat and dark sugar and licorice.

Thoughts: A throwaway rum, for mixing, I suppose.  I remember it being a lot more raw and pestilential.  No notes on ageing provided, but methinks it’s a really young ‘un…at best a five year old. In between grumbling that nobody ever thought to keep any of these rums for heritage purposes (people were to busy drinking the stuff) Carl Kanto remarked to me that there were aged variations of the King of Diamonds, and they evolved into the El Dorado line in the 1990s.  For my money (speaking metaphorically), this wasn’t one of them…if one could ever be found, I suppose you could buy it for historical value.

(75/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid