Aug 032018
 

This is the sixth and last short form review of the six “finished” variations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums.  Because they’re all based on the standard 15 year old which is very well known, I’ll be briefer than usual in my descriptions, rather than provide an essay in each case.  Tomorrow I’ll wrap them all up with a summary and such observations as seem relevant.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline.  All point scores relate to that rum.


As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is done…strictly speaking that makes it (and all the others) at least a 16 year old rum, which is nice. In this case, the finish is done in casks that once held (were “seasoned with”) Sauternes wine, a sweet white from the Sauternais region in Bourdeaux characterized by concentrated and distinctive flavours. And like with the Sweet and Dry Madeira-finished rums, the source estate of the casks is not named, for whatever obscure reason.

Colour – Amber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 42%

Nose – In a subtle way this is different from the others. It opens with aromatic tobacco, white almond-stuffed chocolate and nail polish before remembering what it’s supposed to be and retreating to the standard profile of salty caramel, molasses, vanilla, cherries, raisins, lemon peel and oak, quite a bit of oak, all rather sere.

Palate – The tobacco remains but the familiar El Dorado profile is more robust: vanilla, chocolate, coffee, molasses and quite a bit more dried dark fruit notes of raisins, plums, dates, and a quick hint of anise. The oak is quite noticeable for all the rum’s softness, somewhat mitigated by salt caramel and toffee. It is also quite dry, and much of the near-cloying sweetness of the regular El Dorado 15 YO is absent.

Finish – Nope, no joy here, soft, wispy, short and over way too quick. Raisins and unsweetened chocolate, some almonds, and just a hint of orange zest.

Thoughts – Well, it’s intriguing to say the least, and when you have a number  of rums all of generally similar profiles, it’s always interesting to have one that’s a bit bent. I liked it, but not enough to dethrone either the Standard 15 YO or my own pet favourite of the series, the Sweet Madeira.

(#534)(78/100)


Links to other rums in the “additional finish” series:

Aug 022018
 

This is the fifth short form review of the six “finished” variations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums.  Because they’re all based on the standard 15 year old which is very well known, I’ll be briefer than usual in my descriptions, rather than provide an essay in each case; and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline.  All point scores relate to that rum.


As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is done. In this case, the finish is accomplished in French oak casks which once held a sweet madeira wine from an unnamed estate on the Portuguese island of Madeira, so it may be the same estate as the “Dry” I looked at yesterday.  I’m unclear why the estate is a point of secrecy, and, as with all others in the series, the rum is noted as a limited edition without ever actually coming out and stating the true outturn (I’ve read it’s around 3,000 bottles) – so how limited it truly is remains an open question.

Colour – Orange-Amber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 40.7%

Nose – Leaving aside a slight sweetish note (which I suppose is to be expected, though still not entirely welcome), it noses relatively darker and richer and fruitier than just about all the others except the “Dry”…within the limits of its strength and mild adulteration.  Peaches, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, caramel, peanut butter, cherries in syrup and candied oranges, even a little bitter chocolate. It’s all rather delicate, but quite pleasant.

Palate – Also pretty nice, if somewhat mild, but that’s an issue I have with all of them so let’s move on. Soft is a good word to describe it, there’s almost no sharp edge at all, though it is somewhat dry – more so (and more pleasingly so) than the Dry version. The oak is more forward here (while still restrained), plus raisins, cloves and cinnamon carrying on from the nose, and the fruitiness of peaches in syrup, cherries, plus toffee, salt caramel

Finish – Dry, rather longish (always nice), final aromas of almond chocolate, raisins, cloves.

Thoughts – It is supposedly finished in Sweet Madeira casks, but it’s actually less sweet than the Dry Madeira, and more dry. That makes it pretty good in my book, and I felt it was the best of the six.

(#533)(81/100)


Links to other rums in the “additional finish” series:

Aug 012018
 

This is the fourth short form review of the six “finished” variations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums.  The 15 year old is the core of it all, and so I’ll be briefer than usual in my descriptions, rather than provide an essay in each case; and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline.  All point scores relate to that rum.


As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is done, which is edging close to a double maturation territory rather than just a finish, but I’m not a total pedant in this matter, so it’s just noted for completeness. In this case, the finish is accomplished in French oak casks which once held (or were “previously seasoned with”) a dry madeira wine from an unnamed estate on the Portuguese island of Madeira – which, as an aside, is getting its own quiet rep for some interesting rums these days.

Colour – Amber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 40.5%

Nose – By far the best nose of the six, really liked this one a lot: sawdust and biting dark fruit undertones of plums, juicy pears, raisins, black grapes. Leavened with ripe orange peel, peaches and olives before muskier aromas of toffee and chocolate take over (as they do in all of these rums, eventually).

Palate – Very smooth, but some of the sharp citrus-y element of the nose disappears. Salted butter and caramel drizzled over vanilla ice cream.  Softer fruits here, not sharper ones – bananas, kiwi fruit, oranges gone off.  Oh, and some spices – cinnamon and cloves.  Nice, but weak (which is something all these rums seem to have in common).

Finish – Peanut butter and soya linger alongside toffee and chocolate orange fumes, quite short.

Thoughts – Certainly the best nose, and very nice depth and complexity, though writing this, I wonder where the tartness supposedly characteristic of a dry Madeira went and hid itself (such wines are not quite the same as the red wine, ruby port or white port – they tend to be somewhat sweet, quite dry and have a somewhat tart, or acidic, profile). I also felt that even the taste, for all its complexity, let it down somewhat by — again — being just too delicate. In a mix of any kind, the subtleties of those flavours would all disappear almost completely, and I personally prefer something more distinct or forceful when sipped neat (as this one absolutely can be).  Nevertheless, a good rum by any standard for its strength.

(#532)(80/100)


Links to other rums in the “additional finish” series:

Jul 312018
 

This is the third short form review of the six “finished” variations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums.  Because the basic information is similar in general – the original 15 year old is the core of it all, of course – I’ll be briefer than usual in my descriptions, rather than provide an essay in each case; and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline.  All point scores relate to that rum.


As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is done, which is edging close to a double maturation territory rather than just a finish. In this case, that finish is accomplished in French oak casks which once held (or were “previously seasoned with”, whatever that means) White Port from the Douro valley in north-west Portugal.

Colour – Amber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 40.6%

Nose – At first there didn’t seem to be much of anything there, it was so mild as to be lightly flavoured alcohol.  But after some minutes it got into gear and revved up some, with a solid core of light brown sugar, molasses, salt caramel, some sweet soya.  Not much deep fruitiness here, just light grapefruit, bananas and nuttiness, and sweet white chocolate.

Palate – I came back to this one rum over and over again, thinking it was me, that this weak-kneed profile was palate fatigue or something, but no, there really wasn’t much to talk about both at the beginning of the tasting session, or at the end. There was citrus, toffee, chocolate, caramel, brine, bananas – all the hits from the nose – some vanilla and breakfast spices, and if there was more, I certainly couldn’t get it (which may be my problem, not yours). More subtlety than force here.

Finish – Better: nice and dry, a combination of sweet and tart and salt all at once.  Restrained oakiness, vanilla, nutmeg, citrus peel, and the nuttiness remains consistently noticeable and in the background throughout.

Thoughts – Well, it’s subtle all right – so much so that it actually felt watered down. Weakest of the bunch for me.  If ever there was a case to be made for moving to higher proofs in some rums, this one is a good example of why. I have to point you to Simon’s review here, because he was much more enthusiastic than I was, so for balance, read his notes.

(#531)(76/100)


Links to other rums in the “additional finish” series:

Jul 302018
 

This is the second quick look of the six “finished” variations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums.  Because the basic information is similar in general – the original 15 year old is the core of it all, of course – I’ll use the short form to describe them rather than an essay in each case, and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline.  All point scores relate to that rum.


This rum is also finished in a French oak cask, one which held Ruby Port (a fortified red wine from the Douro valley), which is characterized by being bottled young and maintaining a rich fruity flavour.  As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is done, which is edging close to a double maturation territory so effectively colonized by Foursquare in recent years.

Colour – Amber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 40.5%

Nose – This has a light, sweet, almost delicate series of smells.  There are acetones, flowers and some faint medicinal, varnish and glue aromas floating around (I liked those – they added something different), and initially the rum noses as surprisingly dry (another point I enjoyed). These then morph gradually into a more fruity melange – tinned cherries in syrup, ripe pears, pineapples, watermelons – while remaining quite crisp. It also hinted at salted caramel, crunchy peanut butter, breakfast spices and a little brine, and the balance among all these seemingly competing elements is handled really well.

Palate – Not sure what happened between nose and palate, but it comes across on the tongue as rather watery and mild. The fruits exist, pears, watermelons and so on, as well as the caramel, anise and toffee, but the overwhelming mental image that I get is of rum-and-syrup-soaked pears, and those chocolates with a soft cognac filling.  All very quiet and restrained, with little else.

Finish – Wispy and faint, short, weakest point of the exercise. Plums and cherries, with some vanilla and okay undertones.

Thoughts – Some Ruby Port wines are dry and some quite sweet, but after the nose, little of the former and more of the latter were in evidence with this rum.  Strength remains an issue for me here, I think 43% is simply insufficient to properly showcase the effects of the finish.  It’s there, just not enough of it and it rather chokes on the taste, where the mildness becomes a factor in trying to separate out the various components.  Still, this one is pretty good, and the nose is outstanding, well balanced and a joy to sniff for a long time.

(#530)(80/100)


Links to other rums in the “additional finish” series:

Jul 282018
 

This entire week I’ll look at the six “finished” variations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums, one per day.  Because the basic information is similar in general – the 15 year old is the core of it all, of course – I’ll use the short form to describe them rather than an essay in each case, and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline.  All point scores relate to that rum.


The El Dorado 15 Year Old needs no long winded recap – it’s one of the best known rums in the world, and I’ve looked at it twice now, once many years ago, and again as a Key Rum of the World. In 2016 El Dorado decided to add to the lineup by releasing six rums with varying barrel finishes.  Whether these succeeded in capturing a serious slice of the market is unknown, but certainly they must have liked it because in 2018 they released another six based on the 12 Year Old. In each case, aside from the standard fifteen years of ageing, an additional 18-24 months of secondary finish was applied, in lightly toasted (charred) red wine barrels from Portugal (no further detail) in this case.

Colour – Amber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 41%

Nose – Somewhat dry and redolent of sawdust, accompanied by delicate flowers an acetones. Quite solid and lightly sweet, and deserves to be left to stand for a while, because after some minutes the molasses, caramel and light licorice notes characteristic of the line begin to make themselves felt, and are then in their turn dethroned by a deep fruitiness of ripe cherries, blackcurrants, plums, raisins and black grapes almost ready to spoil. In the background there’s some leather and citrus, neither strong enough to make any kind of serious impression.

Palate – Much of the fruitiness carries over from the nose: the cherries, the ripe grapes, the plums, blackcurrants and so on.  Not much new is added, maybe some watermelons and pears.  It all remained very much in the background as slight hint and never dominated the entire experience: that was handled by the core flavours which reversed their previous reticence on the nose and dominated this stage of the rum.  So what we get is a large taste of brown sugar, salt caramel, molasses, bitter chocolate, vanilla, sweet breakfast spices, oak and anise…but they eclipse the subtleties of the red wine too much, I think.

Finish – It’s okay, medium long, not really spectacular…at 43% it’s not to be expected, really. Sweet and somewhat indeterminate for fruits (almost impossible to pick out individually here), and with an intriguing peanut butter and caramel core leavened by some light flowers.

Thoughts – Not too bad, an interesting variation on the theme.  Too weak at 43%, though it’s logical that cask strength lovers are not the target audience for it. I think it could safely go to 46% without alienating anyone. Too, the basic ED profile remains too overwhelming, and while the influence of the Red Wine is noticeable, it’s not clear enough or distinct enough. It can be sensed rather than directly experienced.  Still, not entirely something I’d throw away with yesterday’s fish.

(#529)(78/100)


Links to other rums in the “additional finish” series:

Jun 252018
 

Part 1 – Influences & Developments to 2005

Introduction

Take a look at the rum world in 2018, and several aspects jump out immediately.  The top-end rums getting most of the press and user approbation are almost all rums issued at cask strength; many, if not most, are made by an ever-increasing stable of independent bottlers, with Foursquare being one of the few primary producers making such strong rums as part of their core lineup, and others hastening to catch up.  Rums are often being made “pure,” which is to say without additives, labels are much more informative than ever before, and unaged whites are becoming more and more popular (and appreciated). The major large-company rum brands of ten years ago – many of which were and are aged blends – remain enormously popular but have almost all been relegated to second-tier status in the eyes of knowledgeable aficionados. And the dissemination of information regarding rums – whether via news stories, magazine click-bait, blogs, review sites, Reddit forums or Facebook rum clubs – has enabled the trend in this direction exponentially.

When one considers the state of the rum world prior to 2005, this ninety-degree turn in the drinking habits of the tippling class seems well nigh unprecedented.  It is my considered opinion that the Demerara (and to a lesser extent the Caroni) rums issued by Velier in the years 2005 to 2014 were instrumental in altering the rum landscape in a way few rums before ever had, or ever will again. To this day, many consider them among the best rums from Guyana ever issued, and that includes the independents (of which Velier was surely one in spite of being primarily an importer). Many of the concepts we take for granted when choosing top-shelf rums from Guyana – indeed, from anywhere – were encapsulated and brought to a wider audience by the Demerara series.  We live in the world they helped make, and it is our loss that they ceased being issued almost before we even properly acknowledged their existence.

In this first portion of a rather long three-part essay I’m going to look at the trends, influences and developments that I believe laid the foundations for what is unofficially called the Age of Velier’s Demeraras. I argue that these were the release of the El Dorado 15 year old in 1992, the rise of the internet, three books, a website, proliferating independent bottlers in Europe — all of which led to a more informed and rum-educated drinking cadre, some of whom went on to form the first websites devoted to rums and reviews. Also, oh yes….there was a small Italian importer….

As it was then…

The rum world in the 1980s was a rather staid one, moving along very much as it had for years before.  Major rum companies from around the Caribbean were issuing more or less the same rums they had been for decades – then as now, 40% ABV was practically a standard, age almost uniformly under ten years (if mentioned at all), and the market was full of familiar brands, similar recipes, incremental development, and with column still blends being the majority of sales.

As with all such general conditions, there were exceptions at the margins. Many small companies “made” rum for sale around the world – but they were really rebottlers and independents, not primary producers with sugar estates and/or distilleries of their own. Too, 40% was a common sort of strength (especially in the United States), but not an absolute.  The French Caribbean islands made more than their fair share of rums around 50% ABV and rums made for export to European countries often boosted the strength to 43-48%

When it came to market domination, Bacardi was the undisputed leader, and lighter Spanish-style rums seemed to be everywhere – I even found them and not much else in Central Asian bazaars in the early 1990s.  Most rums in production at the time were considered mixing drinks at best, which was a state of mind deriving from the misconception that it was a pirate’s booze, a sailor’s hooch, a drink to have fun with…not something to be taken seriously. Not to be had by itself, or to be savoured on its own. Unlike, for instance, whisky.

Although some independent bottlers issued more seriously aged rums in limited quantities, they didn’t expand production or really take it further – the market was a small one, and such bottlings were mostly bought by whisky aficionados and some hard core rum enthusiasts-cum-collectors, who were intrigued by the variations –people like Steve Remsberg, profiled here and here or Luca Gargano, or Martin Cate or the Burrs.  Rum culture in the general public — both in perception and consumption — was primarily about cocktails, the mythmaking of Hemmingway-esque muscularity…today’s social-media-enabled rum clubs, where reviews of the latest bottling of a favoured company go up in days, hours or even minutes after formal release, where minute variations of favourite styles or individual rums are endlessly bickered over, and where discussions about additives erupt every other post, were not even a cloud on the horizon.

This is not to say a wide variety of rums was not being made – quite the opposite. South and Central America had a long and proud history of rum production.  Companies like Varelas Hermanos, Vollmer, Zacapa, Zaya, Dictador, Travellers, Flor de Cana, Juan Santos, and Cartavio were issuing softly blended and solera-style rums since the early 1900s and some even predated the turn of the century. Cachacas had been made for hundreds of years in Brazil. In the East there were almost unknown rums from India and Thailand and Indonesia. Cuba had its national production arm sending rums to Scheer and began working hand in hand with Pernod Ricard to produce the Havana Club line in the 1990s; and while booted out of Cuba itself, Bacardi was selling rums by the tankerload globally (largely due to subsidies provided by the US government).  The French islands, with their plethora of small and fiercely individualistic distilleries sold primarily to the European market (France in particular), and even with the slow demise of sugar and rum production, distilleries in Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Guyana, Antigua and Barbados (to list but some) struggled gamely on. 

Aged rums from the pre-1990s eras were on the market, sure, and there was no shortage of them….but one had to look carefully for the specific trees in the forest (nowadays even more so when most exist in private collections or in memory alone).  Fernandes Distillery in Trinidad made the Ferdi 10 Year Old from as far back as the 1930s and was still making it in the 1960s and 1970s; Appleton produced a 12 year old and a 20 year old from way back in the 1960s, issued a limited 25 year old in 1987,  and old gaffers will remember the Dagger 8 Year Old and Three Dagger Jamaican 10 Year Old from J. Wray, also hailing to the 1930s; and going back even further in time, Jamaica at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, 1886 by Sir Augustus J. Adderley lists 10, 15, 25 and 31 year old rums from merchant bottlers like D. Finzi & Co. and Wray and Nephew (before they acquired Appleton). I know there was an 18 year old “Old New England Rum” from the USA in 1934; Beenleigh in Australia made a five year old rum (and supposedly supplied the Royal Navy); Banks DIH in Guyana made a five year old as far back as the 1950s (though I don’t know when the 10 year old first appeared). La Favorite on Martinique had a ten year old back in the 1950s and 1960s, but like most agricole makers, were much more into millesime rhums, and while I’m sure the agricoles had more than my research uncovered, their naming convention of vieux, tres vieux and XO makes it difficult to see what is aged beyond, say, six to ten years. Most aged rums around the world seemed to be ten years old or less.  A twenty year old was unheard of, thirty the stuff of dreams. (We had to wait until 1999 for the G&M 58 year old, another ten years for the Courcelles 37 year old).

Anyway, much of the primary producers’ rum production went to Europe in bulk (a lot went to E&A Scheer, which was and remains one of the largest brokers buying rum stock in the world) and was then blended into European producers’ rums, of which there were many, none of which achieved any sort of lasting fame (unless it was the navy style of rum made by UK companies like Watsons for the local market).  And so the West Indian distilleries consolidated, shuttered, closed, changed focus, modernized, diversified, found new markets…and somehow the rum continued to flow.

But underneath this relatively placid existence of blends and unquestioning rum-is-fun-no-questions-need-be-asked, several seemingly unrelated events occurred which were to lay the foundations of whole new directions for the rum world.

1992 and the El Dorado 15 Year Old

In 1992, what proved to be an enormously influential rum came on the scene – the El Dorado 15 Year Old and its brothers up and down the line, the 5, 12 and 21 and (later) the 25s. It may not seem so now, when so many aged brands are sold around the world, and where every distillery has a few in its portfolio.  But it sure was then.

Bearing in mind the (very) abridged list of older rums mentioned above, it doesn’t entirely surprise me that whatever the age, few or none seemed to ever make a huge worldwide splash. The market wasn’t there, the connoisseurship was lacking, and information interchange was by magazines and snail mail, not the internet (see below). People just didn’t know enough and had few avenues open to self-education that characterizes today’s fanboys. Remember also, most of the aged rums were issued by small rebottlers in Europe or their agents in the producing countries/islands on behalf of the originating distilleries, and that kept outturn relatively small.  Independents like Samaroli and Veronelli had been making such rums since the 1970s, and Scottish whisky makers and re-bottlers certainly issued their fair share, though they were rare in the pre-1992 era.

And a downside to the independents was that they didn’t always made it clear where they originated – bought directly from the distillery of origin, or through a European broker like Scheer. Only occasionally was it unambiguously stated where the ageing had taken place. They varied from expression to expression, and long term consistency was rare. They were not always specific, and commonly labelled as “aged” or “country” rums – Superior Rum, Extra Old Rum, Barbados Aged Rum, Guyanese Rum, Jamaican Rum, and so on. The concept of making the estate the selling point was almost ignored. Many were, in fact, blends of uncertain age, mixing several estates’ marques into a single product. The consumer was certainly not helped to make an informed choice in the matter because exclusivity was the key selling point – you took what you got, trusted the skill of the producing company, and were grateful.

What made the El Dorado 15 (and its brothers) so seminal is that for the first time and over an extended period, a rum was made the same way every time, with an outturn not of a few hundred bottles, but in the tens and hundreds of thousands, year in and year out.  Consumers were getting a true fifteen year old rum of distinctive taste and consistent profile, not some supposedly exclusive and high-priced limited edition of a “Manager’s Reserve” or “Private Family Stock” or “My Dog Bowser’s Anniversary Blend.” Now anyone could buy this rum, which was a cut above the ordinary, had really cool antecedents, and was an absolute riot to drink neat.  Best of all, the El Dorado 15 was approachable – it retailed at an affordable price, had a taste the average consumer would like (toffee, caramel, licorice, citrus and raisins remain in the core profile), could be mixed, swilled or sipped, had great marketing and was issued an unthreatening 40%. The greater rum drinking audience went ape for it.

Within a few years, just about every primary rum producer with a well known brand caught the wave, and the 1990s and 2000s saw an explosion of older rums.  Companies all over the western hemisphere rushed to bring out aged expressions, and such rums soon became staples of many companies’ lines (and Appleton finally got the respect for its 12 YO it deserved, as well as beginning the regular issuing of older variations). The South and Central American and Spanish Caribbean islands’ rum makers took their time with it: they were blenders for the most part, a few solera-style makers, and they saw no reason to go full bore in this direction (many still don’t).  The French islands with their millesime approach and their own ideas on what constituted a good aged rum dabbled their toes, but with a few exceptions (I saw a 12 YO dating back to the 1970s once, so they certainly existed) they rarely ventured over ten years old – and bearing in mind the quality of what they achieved and the recognition their brands already had and have always maintained in their primary markets, it was and remains hard to fault them for this choice.

So the aged rum market almost by default landed, and has remained, with some exceptions, in the British West Indies, led by Appleton and also DDL, the company whose work would produce the next great wave of rums ten years down the road….but not under its own banner.

Books

One development that also raised the profile of rum was the publishing of three books — two in the early 1990s, the other nearly ten years later. To some extent they have been overtaken by events, yet they remain quiet classics of the genre, and carried with them not only the promise of other books written in the decades that followed, but a resurgence of interest in rums as a whole. They remain cornerstones of the literature, not least because they were among the first to try and provide a deeper background to the variety of rums represented without overwhelming the readers in technical minutiae of the rum-making process most neither wanted nor understood.

Released in 1995, Ed Hamilton’s book “Rums of the Eastern Caribbean” was a rich and varied survey of as many distilleries and rums as Mr. Hamilton found the time to visit and try over many years of sailing around the Caribbean.  Because of its limited focus, it lacked a global perspective, but it was a treasure trove of information of the rum producing world in the eastern Caribbean at that time, it was based on solid first hand experience, and many rum junkies who make distillery trips part of their overall rum education are treading in his footsteps. If nothing else, it elevated the knowledge of the curious and made it clear that there was an enormous breadth in rums, so much so that historical info aside, anyone could find something to please themselves. (It was followedup in 1997 by another book called “The Complete Guide to Rum”).

 

Dave Broom’s 2003 book “Rum” was a coffee-table sized book that combined narrative and photographs, and included a survey of the rum producing nations and islands and regions to that time.  It was weak on soleras, missed independents altogether and almost ignored Asia, but had one key new ingredient – the introduction and codification of rum into styles.  Then as now, the debate over how to classify rum was a problem.  Colour was still used as a main marker and gradation of type (the additives and coloration debate had yet to reach wide attention, and was all but unknown to the drinking public), stills were not considered a way to distinguish rums.  Mr. Broom’s contribution to the field was to at least attempt to stratify rums: in his case, regions that had broad similarities of production and profile: Jamaican, Guyanese, Bajan, Spanish and French island (agricole) styles. Cachacas were not brought into the classification and there was no real way to incorporate multi-regional blends or rums from outside the system (like, oh, Australia) – but it was an remains enormously influential, though by now somewhat dated and overtaken by events (he issued a follow-up “Rum: The Manual” in 2016, the same year as “Rum Curious” by Fred Minnick came out).

What these books did was make rum interesting and more appreciated in the eyes of the larger public, in a pre-internet world where whisky prices were just starting to climb.  They showcased something of the variety that rum provided, and educated many neophyte rum lovers into the foundations of their favourite drink. It showed them the varieties and differences and production methods that allowed a more sophisticated understanding of the spirit.  Rum was clearly not just some blended bathtub moonshine for the sweet-toothed who didn’t appreciate a single malt, or a bland and boring mixing agent — but a spirit with a long and technically rigorous, geographically broad-based history that deserved mention, if not respect.

The Internet

To some extent the remarks here are a subset of larger cultural shifts around the world which were enabled by the internet and the world wide web itself.  Access was available in 1995, but nowhere near as ubiquitous as it became over the subsequent decades. The internet enabled web pages, those pages enabled blogs, blogs became review sites and fora for interaction — and all of it created a communications revolution for rum lovers.  What this allowed and promoted was a new understanding of the spirit, a grasp of its enormous stylistic range and geographical dispersion, as well as quick dissemination of information on rums, brands, companies, personalities, reviews, and opinions. It’s no accident that the sugar imbroglio (see a brief discussion in Part 2) arose after the internet permitted such exponential interaction and news-exchange among drinkers; or that the first rum festivals began springing up just as the first review sites did, in the mid 2000s.  The importance and impact of the web on rum appreciation simply cannot be overstated.

It took more time for the first write ups of Velier to come out the door on such websites, but before that happened there came one website that proved to be enormously influential, which all bloggers from that era remember.

Ed Hamilton and the Ministry of Rum

It took years after its launching in 1995 for the Ministry of Rum to acquire the central status it held for the next decade, and in its heyday it was one of the key places for aficionados to meet and share information (Capn Jimbo’s site was the other), and likely the most popular.  While it possessed a fair amount of articles and searchable information on distilleries, brands and countries – a first at that time, and a godsend to the researchers – the real basis for its influence and popularity was the forum and discussion area, and, to a lesser extent, the Connoisseur’s Cabinet where occasional reviews would be posted. At its peak, there would be new discussion threads and posts springing up daily, sharing information, raising issues, offering advice and opinions.  Even now in 2018 there’s a steady trickle of people on that site, posting “Hi I’m a new rum lover from ____”.

In these days of Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs, aggregators, instant messaging and full-time online presences, it’s difficult to remember how groundbreaking this trend actually was. Now rum lovers did not have to create websites (a difficult and often confusing task in the early 2000s) and then hope that they would be found – they could simply post on the Ministry.  Many of the older names in the rum writing game started their careers by commenting – extensively – here. This one original website did more than most other avenues to help disseminate information and news about rum, and introduced the vocal, dedicated fans to one another, a process that has accelerated with the advent of social media.

Independent Bottlers / Private Labels

If you put aside the 151 overproofs that Bacardi, Lemon Hart, Cruzan, Don Q, Goslings, Matusalem and a handful of others were releasing, the limited edition “cask strength” market was all but nonexistent until a decade ago, and these 75.5% mastodons were all you got.  All were considered cocktail bases, not rums in their own right: they were certainly not premiums. Such cask-strength rums as were considered a cut above the ordinary were mostly issued by independents, not by major producers (who limited themselves to powerful cocktail mixers like the 151s), and the independents weren’t looking to make overproofs but echoed whisky maker’s full-proof ethos.

Almost alone in the world, then, the Europeans issued a few high-proof bottlings, released by re-bottlers and spirits companies such as Cadenhead, Gordon & MacPhail, A.D. Rattray, Berry Brothers & Rudd among others; as well as smaller concerns like EH Keeling, Nicholson, Watson’s, Vaughan, Sangster, Baird-Taylor, Gilbey & Matheson, Henry & White, Lemon Hart, A.A. Baker (among others). The Germans had their own such companies such as those around Flensburg (Rendsburger, Dethleffson and Berentzen Brennereien for example, who made long forgotten rums under brand names like Asmussen, Schmidt, Nissen, Anderson and Sonnberg). And there was a scattering here and there, like Walter Reid in Australia, la Martiniquaise and Bardinet in France, a smattering of Americans…and quite a few small outfits in Italy.

It was a lonely occupation for these rebottlers and small operations, because the rums they created – whether aged, blended, high-proofed or all these at once – never really sold very well even at standard strength.  Fabio Rossi, who started Rum Nation in 1999, told me it took more than two years to sell the first Supreme Lord and Demerara series of rums he started off with; and as recently as 2012, one could get the entire Velier Caroni outturn to that point for a couple thousand euros (on ebay’s Italian site), a situation which could certainly not happen today.  It was the hard-to-shake perception of rum as not being “premium” that was at the bottom of it, a situation it took another ten years to rectify, and it was the small, nimble companies who we now refer to as “independents” who led the way.

A word should be spared for the work of the Martinique and Guadeloupe rum producers which don’t conform to the title of independents, but which also laid some of the groundwork for the renaissance of strong and singular rums that was about to take off.  These small estate distilleries sold their rums primarily on the local market and exported to France through their own distribution arms there. Among all their lightly aged rums and blends and whites, they also and occasionally produced millesimes which were specific years’s limited productions, bottled when such outturns were considered a cut above the ordinary. And while these were never very consistent (each one was different from the last), never really aged beyond all reason, only occasionally issued beyond 50% – they did showcase that a particular year’s output of rum might be considered a connoisseur’s drink and could be said to be grand-uncles of the single barrel releases by others.  And that is why the Clement 1952 and 1976, the Damoiseau 1953, Bally 1939 and 1960 and 1970, Montebello 1948 remain hugely expensive, yet still-sought-after exemplars of craft rum making by the producers of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

However, it’s the Italian companies which were to some extent key to the emergent Age, because although many were simply importers and distributors, some also dabbled in blending and reissuing of rums under their own labels.  They created the culture of Italian independents that dated back to the 1960s when sweetened “rhum fantasias” were in vogue in Italy, produced by companies like Pagliarini, Toccini and Seveso; they were accompanied by importers and rebottlers (Veronelli, Soffiantino, Martinazzi, Pedroni, and Guiducci are just a few examples) which led to their more successful inheritors, Samaroli, Moon Imports, Silver Seal and Velier, just about all who started with single barrel whiskies before turning their attention to rums.

Which leads us to that little importing company from Genoa, and its owner – Luca Gargano.

Luca Gargano and Velier

In the 1980s, Velier was a small family-owned Genoese spirits distributor with perhaps a quarter million dollars a year turnover and a staff of less than ten.  It had been formed in 1947 by Casimir Chaix and concerned itself primarily with importing and distributing wines, spirits, brandy, tea and cocoa. Luca Gargano changed all that by buying it in 1986, when he was still only in his twenties.  He had been a very young brand ambassador for St. James (from Martinique) and the experience had left him with a deep appreciation for rums, especially artisanal ones. When the time came for him to start a company of his own, he used Velier as a vehicle for his deeply held beliefs and the outpouring of his ideas.

Luca, who came from a family that was both close to the land and well connected in Italian commercial and political society, had spent years traversing the Caribbean in his time with St. James.  His filial connection with traditional farming and agriculture, his observation of the way technology was changing the world (not necessarily for the better), his feelings about politicians and the slanted biases of the news, led him to create his now-famous Five Principles: nothing happens in specific chunks of time; newspapers and the media are there for sales and not truth; politicians are in it for themselves; telephones tie you to themselves but offer little except conversations that were better and more enjoyably conducted in person; and why stress out about driving a car when one can use taxis?  And as a consequence he stopped watching TV, didn’t waste his time with newspapers or personal vehicles, chucked away his watch and never bothered with a cell phone of his own.

But there was a sixth principle, not often stated, yet deeply held.  And that was that food and drink should be as natural as possible, organic, free from the interferences of technology, fresh from the land.  When one applies that to food it’s one thing, but few before him sought to apply the concept to rums (except perhaps out of necessity). He felt that rum should be bottled as it either came off the stills or out of the ageing barrel without further messing around.  He may have known more than we did in those more innocent times, because although it is now common knowledge that many old favourites which came to the market in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s were dosed with additives, back in the day there was a lot more trust going around between consumers and producers.

Whatever the case, Luca wanted to put his name on pure rums that were as close to the still as possible, and if aged, fresh out of the barrel.  He started by finding some old Guyanese rums, continentally aged, and put them out the door in 1996, with a further set of three in 2000. Neither entirely satisfied him, because the first set was diluted down to 40% and the second to 46%.  A third series was released in 2002, also at 46% by which time he was in a better position to negotiate barrels with DDL.

And he needed to go further with his ideas on rums, because these early Demerara rums, to put it bluntly, made no mark, no splash, and fell flat.  They sold, but not well (I’ve been able to pick a few up as late as 2017), and in any event were not exactly what he wanted. The continental ageing and dilution in particular dissatisfied him — he felt something of the intrinsic character of the underlying distillate that showcased the stills and their uniqueness, had been lost.  He pulled in his horns, gave it some thought and was much more personal and involved in his future selections. He wanted to issue a rum that was at the full proof of the barrel, not some milquetoast please-the-most rum which he himself did not appreciate.

He was still wrestling with whether this was a workable commercial concept when he found a stored 18 year old rum at Damoiseau in Guadeloupe which was so spectacular, that he released it at 60.3% ABV in 2002, crossing his fingers as he did so.  The success of the Damoiseau 1980 made it clear that among people who knew their stuff, such rums would sell and find their own audience and he not limit himself in the future, as he had with the past three releases.

He issued no new rums for the next three years, and then emerged with the next outturn in 2005.  Four rums, one of them almost a legend. The Age can be said to have begun here.

In Part 2 I’ll look at the rums of the Age, and in Part 3 make some points about the aftermath of their issue and revisit some of these “historical” figures to see where they’re at in 2018.


Notes

Much of this is written based on my own writing and thinking and life experiences, though I have dipped into other bloggers’ published work here and there (like Matt Pietrek’s essay on Scheer and Marco Freyr’s background essays on Barrel Aged Mind). The research done in writing my own rum reviews and company biographies for nearly ten years has provided much of the remainder.

It’s hard to find people whose memories stretch back that far, to recapture the flavour of what the pre-1990s rum world was like – so some artistic license has been used to describe those times, though the facts are as accurate as I could make them.

The section on older aged rums and independents is by no means exhaustive.  It’s surprising how difficult it is to find exactly when a particular ten- or twelve- or fifteen-year-old rum first emerged on the scene, and to find discontinued variations becomes an exercise in real Holmesian diligence. I used my own photographs from Velier’s 4000+ rum warehouse for some of the examples in this section, and I would be remiss if I did not mention Peter’s Rum Labels in Czechoslovakia, which is an amazing resource, the best one of its kind in the world. I hope that people with large rum collections built up over many decades will one day allow people like me access to their stocks – to photograph and catalogue them (and maybe even to try a few) and for sure to write about them, as I do for the Rumaniacs. Too much history is being lost just because we don’t know enough, forgot too much, and never thought to record things properly.

Needless to say, if any mistakes or errors (especially of omission) are noted, please let me know and I’ll make amendments where required.

Jun 032018
 

Rating a rum against comparators is an invaluable tool for any reviewer because it allows differences and similarities, strengths and weaknesses to not only snap into focus more clearly, but to buttress one’s memory of other rums tried in times gone by. And although Guyanese rums are losing some of their lustre these days as the Age of Velier’s Demeraras fades to black and Foursquare is the name du jour, DDL’s killer app is still going strong, and the various permutations of the stills’ output may be the most recognizable, distinctive rum style around (bar perhaps the current Jamaicans or Reunion islanders’ work).  So when a halo rum comes around, it needs to really be run through the wringer to ensure a proper placement on the leaderboard.

For those who felt I was being unfair to DDL and their 50th Anniversary rum, or overly critical of the El Dorado 25 Year Old from 1988, let me show you what it was up against that day and give you a rum flight of as-yet-mostly-unwritten-about Demeraras which will be posted in the months to come. I don’t do enough of these and always enjoy doing a lineup for the curious; and here I think it might be a useful piece of background reading for the 25 and 50. And indeed, the more I wrote about the results, the more occurred to me…I hope you find my remarks below the thumbnails informative and not overly lengthy.

So here we are.  Note these are just tasting notes, with few opinions, and no scores – those can be found on the full reviews.  The purpose here is to rank them against each other and provide some conclusions for examination and discussion.


El Dorado Rare Collection PM <SVW> + Diamond Velier 70th Anniversary 16 YO

54.3%, tropical ageing

N – Perfumed rum.  No, really. Hot pencil shavings, rubber, sawdust and the flowery notes of esters looking for Jamaica.  It noses sweet and fruity, in a really intense way. Develops into a musky, fruity and deep series of aromas, including strawberries in cream, vanilla and a little licorice.

P – Strong spices: nutmeg and cinnamon. Also caramel, coffee, creme brulee, molasses and anise. Goes deeper and fruitier as it opens up – raisins, ripe apples, peaches.  Also woody, sweet sawdust (I know that sounds weird) and lighter flowers.

F – Lovely, long, lingering, lasting.  Molasses and coffee are dominant, with subtler flowers and fruity backgrounds, and a bit of candied oranges and mint.

El Dorado Rare Collection 2nd Batch Port Mourant 1997 20 YO

57.9%, tropical ageing

Nose – A more elemental version of the Velier 70 PM <SVW>, perhaps a smidgen better because it is more focused. Represents the PM profile in fine style, a little dialled down and not as furious as some others I’ve had. Bags of dark fruit – raisins, dark grapes, dates – anise, vanilla, flowers, also peaches and prunes and plums, very deep, very rich.

Palate – Coffee, sawdust and pencil shavings are instantly and initially dominant, but fade over time, replaced with more of those dark fruit notes of blackberries, plums and prunes, all very ripe. Background flavours of coconut and chocolate ameliorate these, taming it a little without obscuring the sharper flavours. Easy to sip, warm rather than sharp.

Finish – Spices emerge here, mostly cinnamon.  Also oakiness (not too much), coffee grounds. Bitter chocoolate, anise and vanilla, some lighter fruits.  

El Dorado Rare Collection 2nd Batch Enmore 1996 20 YO

57.2%, tropical ageing

Nose – For a rum at cask strength, this Enmore is almost gentle.  Rich, pungent aromas of freshly sawn lumber, damp sawdust. The smells of coffee, chocolate and vanilla are offset somewhat by a nice sweet acetone background.  Softer blancmange and creme brulee provide a soft contrast and it’s almost like a gentle PM.

Palate – Soft and generally quite approchable, without losing any of the qualities imparted by the robust proof.  Fruits are forward this time – cherries, raisins, grapes, fried sweet bananas, and that haunting memory of hot dry earth being hit by summer raindrops.  More caramel and molasses, quite genteel in its own way. Can’t help but wonder about dosage, but lacked the equipment to test for it, and frankly, I have to admit that this works really really well in spite of such questions.

Finish – Long and langurous, giving back some musty, musky flavours that are mostly raisins, anise and vanilla.

El Dorado 1988 25 YO

43%, tropical ageing

Nose – Warm, well rounded, with opening notes of coconuts, bananas, molasses, caramel and some anise. Some fruits emerge almost reluctantly – raisins, prunes, fleshy apricots.  Too much sweetness, it smells thick in a way that is just short of cloying

Palate – Sweet and thick. Vanilla, molasses, caramel, some licorice.  White chocolate, flowers, indeterminate fruits, a little citrus. It’s all very tamped down and muffled, and the adulteration is clear and evident, lending a liqueur-like aspect to the entire experience.

Finish – Unclear, melded and something of a nonexistent affair. Some caramel and toffee, a bit of citrus. Short and very sweet.

El Dorado 50th Anniversary 33 YO

43%, tropical ageing (33 YO)

Nose – Rich, well balanced.  Deep aromas of molasses and licorice and raisins.  Coffee grounds, cherries, vanilla, leather, some smokiness, followed after opening up with salt caramel and ripe fleshy fruits.

Palate – More of that salt caramel, pencil shavings, apples, guavas, more licorice, chocolate and coffee, plus a little citrus for bite and some vanilla.  The sweetness starts to become more noticeable here, and the promise of what it started out as, is lost.

Finish – Short, rather easy (possibly a function of the relatively low strength).  Molasses, toffee, white chocolate and anise for the most part

Velier Uitvlugt 1996 “Modified GS” 18 YO

57.2%, tropical ageing

Nose – Refined, gentle and easy, and that’s not something I say about Velier’s or cask strength bruisers very often. Very distinct: molasses, brown sugar, caramel and vanilla t start.  Adds licorice and a lot of dark fruits (mostly prunes and plums, I would say). Some light citrus peel and brine.

Palate – Somehow the nose is easy while the taste is sharp, not sure how that happened. Salt caramel, brine, olives, brown sugar, combining with tart fruits: red currants, apples, raspberries, prunes, as well as smoke and well-worn and oft-polished leather.

Finish – Crisp, distinct and clear. Orange peel, vanilla, molasses and some of the fruits noted from the plate returning for a last bow.

Habitation Velier PM White Unaged

59% (unaged)

N – Sharp and fierce, almost jagged.  Rubber, sugar water, watermelon, pears, nuts and fruits. No caramel or toffee flavours here.

P – Vegetable soup and salt beef with brine and olives. Also licorice, leather, flowers, floor polish.  Some green apples, lime zest and an odd vanilla twist. Complex, crisp, clear, seriously intense. Not for everyone, but for those who like it – oh yeah.

F – Long and dry.  Soy sauce, more veggie soup, sugar water.

Velier Port Mourant 1972 36 YO

47.8%, tropical and continental agein

Nose – Heavenly.  Sweet deep raisins and licorice, soya, coffee, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke.  There’s just so much going on here it’s amazing. White pepper, dates, light briny notes, aromatic tobacco, overripe cherries.

Palate – Licorice right up front in fine style, blended in with vanilla, some light caramel and white pears.  Flowers, sawdust, ripe mangoes, raisins, black grapes, oak…the nose wasn’t lying, I could go at this for another couple of hours.

Finish – All of the above.  Plus some mint.


Having given you a precis of each of these rums, let’s just sum up the ranking (scoring will be in the full reviews, since that’s not the purpose of this flight):

  • 1st  – Velier PM 1972 36 YO
  • 2nd – El Dorado Rare 2nd Batch Enmore 1996 20 YO
  • 3rd – Habitation Velier PM White Unaged
  • 4th – El Dorado PM+Diamond Velier 70th Anniv 16 YO
  • 5th – El Dorado Rare 2nd Batch PM 1997 20 YO tied with Velier Uitvlugt 1996 18 YO
  • 7th – El Dorado 50th Anniversary 33 YO
  • 8th – El Dorado 1988 25 YO

What can we glean from such a lineup, small as it may be?  

Well, first of all, this is a flight that could be done blind and the lower proofed El Dorados (the 33 YO and 25 YO) would have stood out immediately, with the 1988 falling down dead last because of its additives and less complex profile when compared to the 50th Anniversary, which itself was given away by both strength and dosage.  Also, the PM White would have been self explanatory; and the Uitvlugt 1996 because of its “non-PM/EHP” taste profile could easily be identified. The depth and colour and rich taste of the Velier 1972 would distinguish it in any company, so the only real difficulty would be to separate out the Enmore from the other El Dorado Rares, and then figure out which was the PM+Diamond and which the pure PM – in point of fact, I did indeed do this tasting blind, though I knew the 8 rums which were in the mashup.

To me it’s clear that DDL has exactly zero need to adulterate its aged rums. The Enmore was really quite a lovely piece of work and the unaged PM white makes the point even more clearly.  In this day and age, given the quality of the Rares and the track record of Velier in issuing ultra-aged rums from DDL (and remember, Luca never got to choose freely, just from what DDL themselves allowed him to see, implying that they knew of old stashes squirrelled away elsewhere which they thought of using themselves one day), there is simply no need for adulteration.  Taming cask strength blends with distilled water would, I think, be quite enough. Yet DDL keeps on churning out the dosed Old Dependables — the 12, 15, 21 and the really-quite-oversugared 25 year olds from 1980, 1986 and 1988 — perhaps because they really are such dependable sellers and if it ain’t broke why fix it, so why mess with a good cash cow? But I honestly hope they will one day reduce or eliminate the practice entirely – it’s an exercise in pandering to the audience, and the days for that are behind us (my opinion).

Of particular note is the PM unaged white, which is admittedly a rather fearsome drink to have on its own. Habitation Velier created this entire “unaged white” series for one purpose – to showcase familiar rums from various countries (or estates), but with the twist that this was the original state of the juice as it came dripping off the still, and how excellent (in their opinion) they were, even in that nascent unaged condition.  Having had oodles of PM rums over the last ten years, I can absolutely assure you that it may be hot and fierce, but many of the markers we look for in that profile are there, right from the get-go – in the various aged expressions in this lineup we see the many branches of the tree that this elemental seed grows into.

The Uitvlugt 1996 also comes in for some mention – it’s easier and quieter and lighter than the others (which is why it can be picked out with relative ease), and it may be one of the better all-round sipping rums which is specifically not from a wooden still.  Myself, I really enjoy the licorice and woody notes of the PM, VSG and EHP, but that should not blind anyone to the quality of what the other stills can do.

The stories I heard about the second batch of the El Dorado Rare Collection being better than the first are really true – they are. Not by leaps and bounds, no, but incrementally and demonstrably so nevertheless (I wish I could have tested them for dosage, even so).  If the third batch (it’s now in prep, three marques, all interesting) keeps at this level of quality, then all those who rent their robes and gnashed their teeth about the booting out of Velier in 2015 can at least be comforted that there is some kind of replacement on the horizon, even if, with their usual odd marketing, DDL never lets on what the outturn is (or was). There remains one caveat…I’m still seeing them on store shelves and online rum emporia too often, and that to me suggests they are not selling well…so I think some price adjustment had better be made and a more targeted marketing strategy laid out — because if they see poor sales then no distributor or store will want them and then DDL might just give up the whole idea…which is not exactly what any of us want to see.

Lastly, note the preponderance of topical ageing here; and in particular, the bifurcated ageing of the PM 1972 which was the top rum of the day. Luca is a fierce believer and proselytizer of laying barrels to rest in the tropics – and always has been – and scorns continental ageing that so many independents go for when plumbing the works of Scheer for their European indie bottlings.  The 1972 shows that other approaches are possible and work in spectacular fashion. Me, I’m somewhat on the fence about this and lack his dynamic laser-like focus on tropical only (though of course, we approach the matter from differing perspectives). Brutally quick tropical maturation gives quick returns and amazingly rich and robust profiles, but I’ve had enough really interesting continentals of similar equivalent age (1 yr tropical can be said to be 5-6 yrs continental, give or take) to appreciate the quieter subtleties they impart as well. And as I remarked humorously to him some time ago, there’s no way we could have ever gotten a Longpond 58 year old rum in the tropics (an Appleton 75 due in 2037 and an El Dorado 75 in 2041 will let us see if this is true).

Anyway, the rankings I’ve done show how the preceding paragraphs impact the placement and hint at the eventual scoring, to be added in here when the real reviews are written.  Age and the still and strength are less indicators of quality on their own than complexity and originality of taste and the way these come together in a cohesive whole. No one element dictates quality, they all do. The PM white is unaged but beat both the 43% offerings; it is stronger than all the rest, but slipped in relation to the Rares, and the 1972 was standard proof (almost) but came out on top.  Just about every rum tried (aside from the sweetened abominations of the 25 and 33) scored in the high eighties and snapped at the heels of the exceptional Velier 1972.  Now that’s a wonderful rum, and it’s not that it fails, but that others succeeded and are getting better all the time…and that probably shows the full proof concept and aged rum ideas Velier gave us, have been learned by DDL (now if they could only forego that damned dosage…).  

If nothing else, this brief look at eight rums from Guyana demonstrates to us all that the future remains a bright and vibrant and experimental and interesting one for Demerara rums, and they won’t be relegated to second class status any time soon. And that should give us all reason to hope for more in the years to come…even if they’re not the Veliers we remember so fondly.

May 132018
 

#511

The El Dorado 12 Year Old is something of an econo-budget kind of rum, lacking both the price tag and the relative quality of its upscale brothers the 15 and 21 year old. It’s a rum often overlooked in people’s enjoyment of the those two, and with good reason – it lacks much of what makes the 15 worth drinking, and is only a minor step up from the 8 year old, or even the very nice 3 year old white, both of which are cheaper. Nowadays, I usually pass it by, but the thing is referred to so often by the young, the curious, and the newcomers, that I wanted to check it out again.

What makes it less of a drink than any of the other rums noted above yet better value for money than even DDL’s 25 Year Olds is its relative simplicity.  It derives partly from the Enmore wooden coffey still, and the dominant part is the SVW marque which implies the metal two column coffey still at Diamond, nothing too special there.  And while it’s been aged, it just doesn’t have any of the true complexity which we see lurking behind the dosage in the 15 or 21 — that adulteration does serious damage to the profile by muffling the flavours that do exist like a wet blanket. Add to that a drowsy sort of 40% strength and you’re not really left with much that a person who likes clean and distinct tastes would truly enjoy and recommend in these days of stern 60% behemoths.

Consider the way it begins, on the nose: it has aromas redolent of butterscotch, caramel, prunes and raisins, with very little edge or bite or sharpness.  It’s warm to inhale, and after opening up, it gets a little more heated and a little licorice and darker fruity notes emerge…or try to. It feels really muffled, somehow, and the thing is, while quite pleasant, it lacks real complexity and is almost simple; even here, at this preliminary stage, it doesn’t take much experience with “clean” rums to suspect that something has been added to make it this way.

Such thoughts continue on the palate, where the feeling becomes the obvious. So, it’s sweet, warm, yet oddly thin too (that’s the 40% talking, I suppose). Caramel, some weak molasses and butterscotch remain the core flavours, and the fruits (prunes, peaches, pineapple) are making a fast exit – what is left is mostly crisper spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, plus oak and some leather and a last despairing gasp of anise.  The pervasiveness of caramel becomes a heavy blanket silencing all but the sharpest notes, and while this is precisely what makes it such an appreciated intro-rum to those on a shoestring and with an interest, for anyone who’s had more than ten decent rums, it falls down. The finish remains the weakest point of the rum, hardly worth remarking on – thin, quick, and you really have to concentrate to make out anything beyond caramel and damp brown sugar.  Perhaps a last shake from the spice jar, if you try hard.

Seen at a remove of nearly ten years, I still remember why I liked it and why new entrants to rum recommend it so often (there’s a recent review post on reddit that rates it 87).  But what it showcases is rather more potential and maybe even wishful thinking than reality. It teases without coming through, it bluffs with a lone pair and is upstaged by its brothers up and down the line.

I noted above that it may be better value for money than the 25 YO and 50th Anniversary halo rums.  Leaving aside the pure price differential it’s primarily a matter of those rums being incremental quality increases per geometrically more bucks spent. For sure you can taste the underlying structural assembly of the 25s (any one, 1980, 1986 or 1988) in a way the 12 can’t hope to match, but the adulteration blunts the impact of all equally, and what’s left after that’s factored in is simply that the 12 is a better buy for the coin you shell out if you don’t have much of it.

Although I bought the 12 thinking of it as a candidate for the Key Rums series, now I don’t believe it belongs on that list – it does not stand as an honest blend on its own merits and too much back-end crap has been added to it. The rum rests on its laurels as a great rum of Yesteryear in the memories of its older adherents, rather than being a poster boy for innovation and quality in the Now.

However, let’s be honest — my disparaging notes here are made from the perspective of a person who has tried several hundreds of rums from across the spectrum, not as a guy who’s just starting out and has four or five little rumlets in the drinks cupboard.  On the basis of using the 12 as an introductory spirit, I’m equally – if paradoxically – comfortable asserting that for anyone who wants a cheap starter rum to get familiar with the Guyanese stills, which may one day ripen into a full blown love affair with PM, EHP, ICBU or VSG marques on their own (and at cask strength), then the 12 may just be a good place to start…and then move away from at top speed.

(72/100)


Other notes

Various measurements confirm 35-39 g/L of additives, probably caramel.

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.