Jan 072021
 

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

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

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

Picture copyright Charlene Gooding, from Pinterest

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

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

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

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

(#792)(77/100)

Mar 262013
 

First posted 12 March 2011 on Liquorature

One of the acclaimed limited edition bottlings from Bruichladdich, it will remind you of a dry rye, and is a rum worth your buck; deep, tasty with complex flavour and taste.  It’s long lasting on the palate, but not in the company of your friends.

(#068. 84.5/100)

***

A few days ago I was on the Ministry of Rum, and a guy there proudly announced that he had just bought all twenty bottles of the current Renegade line.  All twenty!!? I’ve only ever seen four in this whole country.  You can imagine with what envy I regarded that little announcement.  I mean, I have relatives in Deutschland and I suppose I can get a few that way, but it just strikes me as wrong somehow that I can’t get a larger selection of these intriguing rums in the only unregulated province in Canada.

Ever since I saw the first sand-blasted bottle of the Renegade line with its metal dog tag, I’ve admired the product line.  Not always appreciated it as much as I should have (chalk that down to lack of experience).  But definitely admired the concept: a whisky maker with a great reputation making rums. And pretty interesting rums at that – rums that strike a newbie rum lover raised on the Bacardis and Appletons as dry and not as sweet as he’s used to, perhaps…but rums that grow on you after a bit, like this one and all its brothers, sisters and cousins did.

The maturation in bourbon casks is only part of the equation, because the Grenada 1996 is then finished in Haute Brion casks, and it shows. The nose was just heavenly: toffee, pineapple, caramel, come first, with – what was that? cheddar? – citrus and burnt sugar emerging later to mix gently with a marshmallow softness that tamped down the spirit burn of a 46% spirit.  I’ve never been convinced that a spirit should be 46% or greater, though I’ve had my share of cask strength rums, and the occasional whisky: still, I might want to make exceptions here or there. The extra strength imparted a deeper and more complex flavour to the aroma than I had expected, and you’d probably like it as long as you’re prepared to tolerate a little more heat and spice than normal at the inception. I seem to recall I made a similar observation about overproofs once or twice.

Spice or not, heat or not, I simply could not complain about the flavour and feel on the tongue. The thing felt like a rye, though a bit drier, just enough sweet, and it leaves a coating on the tongue that is oily and long lasting (this is probably a direct result of the policy of un-chill filtering which leaves the taste-enhancing oils intact in the spirit) . There’s leather, a hint of cedar wood and always, that slightly floral and cherry hint descending from the Haut Brion casks (I may be reaching here).  And I got breakfast spice, cinnamon, caramel and chocolate; yes it’s spicy and burning on the fade and even before, but in a good way.  Curt and I had a long discussion on what heat, spice or burn actually mean in the context of a review, how it should be rated and to what degree it impacts on one’s enjoyment. In this case, I’ll just say that it was mellow and deep and not remotely reminiscent of my wife giving me a hard time after an all night bender when I pour myself through the door and can’t remember the names of the kids. Seriously.

Cask finishing seems to be an upcoming thing right now.  Of course, whiskies have always had variations which were matured in (for example) sherry casks, and rums have a few courageous souls here and there who do a double ageing, once in oak and once in something else (Ron Zacapa 23 is a good example of this idea). But Murray MacDavid of Bruichladdich may have taken the concept a few notches further up the scale by buying up very specific estates’ rums and then enhancing them in some pretty awesome wine casks. This Grenada variant was completed in Haute Brion casks; it comes from the Westerhall distillery, active since 1766, and which these days makes only 3 barrels a day from a copper pot still. The stock was bought and then the casks shipped to Islay for ageing and final completion (and I’m still kinda pissed that the Hippie, when he was there, utterly ignored this aspect of Bruichladdich’s production and brought back no info on their philosophy regarding it). It’s pretty damned good, is a one line summary.

I think a sweet-toothed rum lover such as I has to grow into the Renegade rums. A year or two back, I reviewed two other variations, sniffed rather snootily and said the rums were too much like whiskies.  What a difference experience and the passing of time makes. The Renegade Grenada edition has shown me something of how different a rum can be from my own preconceptions, and yet still be enjoyable.  At ~$60-80 Canadian, it isn’t really for beginners wanting their first intro (my opinion).  But it – and its nineteen relatives in the line – may be the bridge for the truly interested person to broaden his palate to more interesting and offbeat variations…to the point where whiskies actually start to look really appealing and worth an occasional try.

Oh crap…Maltmonster and the Hippie are going to hang me with that.


Other Notes

In 2017 I wrote a biography of Renegade Rums which is useful background to this review

Mar 242013
 

First posted 2nd November 2010 on Liquorature. For an update, naming this rum one of the Key Rums of the World, see this 2018 review here.

(#046) (Unscored)

***

My trip to Toronto last October permitted me to taste rums that never would have made it to Calgary (one or two would never have made it anywhere), and since my circle of friends is admittedly small, and few of those travel to rum producing states, it’s not as if I would have gotten any of the last five subjects of my reviews from them either.  So kudos and thanks one last time to John, who opened his cabinet to my inquiring snoot, and let’s get to the review of the last rum in this decidedly odd series.

Rivers Royale is from the Spice Island, as is the Clarke’s Court, though River Antoine Estate Distillery is in Saint Andrew’s Parish on the Northeast coast of Grenada, while Clarke’s is from the south…apparently there is healthy competition for bragging rights on the island as to which is stronger (both are white overproofs), or simply better. Because I had the “bush” variation of the Clarke’s (which was, by the way, quite good), and because Antoine’s white lightning has a surpisingly robust flavor profile for an overproof, I’m not going to get in the middle of that particular dispute except to make this observation: Rivers is made the same way as it was way back in 1785 when the place was founded.

On the smaller islands like Grenada, commercial cane production is a thing of the past (partly this is a space issue, partly it’s the economics of world sugar trade), and most distilleries import molasses or raw rum stock from other places with more space available for economical cane cultivation (like Guyana)…except for River Antoine. These local lads don’t muck about.  They cultivate their own cane, reap it, process it and make the rum like they always made it, crushing the cane with a press whose motive power is drawn from an old waterwheel, concentrating the juice in open vats (John, who’s been there, noted rather sourly that it’s not impossible for bat guano to be a part of the mix, but I digress) then boiling it down in cast iron pots over an open fire fed by the cane remnants.

After fermentation, the resultant is distilled in an ancient copper pot still (copper supposedly imparts better (and subtler) flavours to the distillate than stainless steel)…the entire process takes abut ten days from cane to finished product.

It’s perhaps the only remaining distillery in the Caribbean that can make the boast of using such old fashioned technology, and it’s quite a tourist draw. What you get if you go to the estate-cum-distillery in person (and at factory prices, apparently) is the local version, bottled straight out of the still, at about 75-80% alcohol (stories vary), which is to say 150-160 degrees proof. I won’t swear to it, but I think John had the real McCoy, not the watered down version sold to western homeys so they can get through customs, and I say that because it was an overproof for sure, complete with the deep burn and raw sting of real moonshine…though I gotta tell you, surprisingly robust flavours came through.

The clear liquor I tasted that night had a medium body, with middling legs in my glass. The claws struck at my nose without hesitation, but after my eyes stopped watering and I rolled my medium rare tongue back off the floor, what I got was a rather welcome waft of…well, schnapps. A slightly floral hint.  Salt, brine, olives. As I’ve noted before, I don’t spend too much time trying to taste test an overproof, neat or otherwise, because the spirit burns out anything I might think I’m tasting (or which my imagination conjures up for me as my stomach ties itself up in complex knots and I try to turn myself inside out): on the other hand, I have to say that I don’t know what they did down there in Granada, but if you stick with Rivers Royale, you will taste cherries, fruit, maybe some orange peel.  Quite amazing.  And as for the finish, well, come on…who’re you kidding?  On an overproof?  It’s a potent likker with real power behind dem claws, and it sears deeply, and farts acid, but not in a way that makes you scream: it sure ain’ smooth like a more commercial rum, and that’s the best I can do for you.

There’s something about the overall interaction of all elements of this overproof that works for me, though. I liked the hand drawn, unpretentious label.  I liked the title itself, that air of old time creole French, and the old-fashioned way it was made. I liked the rum. It’s potent likker, and will singe your throat (and eyebrows if you’re not careful). It’s absolutely an island product and I don’t care what anyone says, for me it’s not really a true commercial export product that will one day show up in Calgary (import, strength and quality regulations probably won’t allow it) – I consider it one of those backwoods bashwars you’ll find as you tour the Caribbean, locally made and locally consumed, unpretentious and not giving a damn, rude and cheerful and unsophisticated, and quite simply, one of the best rums you’ve ever tried…one those rums you’ll be happy you’ve had once you’ve had it and will remember with a smile forever.

Mar 242013
 

 

Clarke's Court Pure White Rum, Clarke's Court

First posted 21 October, 2010.

(#041)(Unscored)

A strong white overproof, of which not much can be said, since I had an adulterated version: but that “bush” is one of the most evocative, crazy experiences I’ve ever had, and if you brave the Spice Island to get some, more power to you.

***

I have never had a rum like this one, and I know that 99.99% of the people reading this (even if you’re from the Caribbean) haven’t either.  No, really.  When was the last time you a had a 138 proof rum with what looks suspiciously like a worm floating in it?  I know for damn sure I’ve never even seen one like it (and maybe never will again).

Now let’s be clear about one thing.  The real Clarke’s is a legitimate overproof white lightning made in Grenada by the Grenada Sugar Factory since 1937, and is apparently the most popular rum on the Spice Island, best had with some Angostura bitters (the 43% darker rums made here are supposedly for the ladies, who “prefer gentler rums”).  Local wags claim it’ll add hair to your chest, strip the paint off anything, and can run your car if you don’t have any petrol. Older ladies use it as a rub. The commercial rums of this distillery have actually won several awards for excellence. However, what *I* had was – how do I put it – a refined variant of the standard recipe.  In a word, I had the “bush” (and that’s why I’m also not scoring it). How it got into the kitchen of one of my oldest long-distance friends is a question best left unaddressed.

Note the additives…

 

Bush of course has a long and honoured tradition in the West Indies.  We called it “bashwar” in the jungle camps I used to work in, always had a 45-gallon drum fermenting somepace, and as I noted in the Newfoundland Screech review, backyard variations are a fixture in the remoter areas of The Rock. You take your life in our hands when you drink some of this stuff, I told John, as he poured me a generous shot of a clear purple-brown rum. He grinned and turned the bottle, which no longer had a white rum in it, but a coloured liquid in which floated additional ingredients: leaves, bark, twigs, berries, and, yes, that plump worm.  I said a heartfelt prayer that the thing was dead, and knew right away that there was exactly zero point in attempting to review the rum the way I dealt with more commercial wares that actually pass a certification process of some kind.

The tasting of some new, as-yet-untasted rum of the cheaper type, no matter how it started life or ended up in my glass, is more an exercise in zen than anything else (hush, ye snickerers). It’s about feeling, about memory, about what it brings into your mind when you taste it (even if you immediately throw up afterwards). It’s about who you are and what  brought you to this place.

By that criteria, Clarke’s delivered in spades. After waving away the spirit fumes which evidently wanted my wife to collect on the insurance, I got a powerful scent of chemicals, and was transported to my boyhood in a flash.  It was the exact scent of the orange lye soap I grew up bathing with at a small stand pipe in the overgrown backyard of a small house we moved to in Georgetown’s Charles Street when I was nine. It was my aunt Sheila cutting up a tableful of fiery hot peppers at four in the morning to make into hot sauce. It was “It’s A Fact” at 645 in the morning on Radio Demerara, black pudd’n’ with plenty sour,  a hot curry with roti, a cookup with nuff nuff chili ‘pon  it.

And the taste, wow: sweet, brandy-like, fiery as all hell, and yet dusty too…old, aged, like a sleepy pre-Independence Georgetown dreaming in the sun under the Union Jack.  It was the memory of the dingy beer gardens my brother and I haunted on Broad Street, with bob-pieces given to us by our uncle Ronald to play pool with.  It was the smell of too many old pool tables with dead rails and old balls that barely bounced.  It was the smell of rum and stale beer and cigarette smoke and guys with no clear occupation playing cards or dominos in these places at ten in the morning while Roger and I shot a rack.  It was the deep smell of the old drugstore right down the street, now long gone, with chico sweets in rows of huge glass jars, plastic revolvers with rolls of caps from China, all mixed up with the odours of Limacol, drugs and prescriptions and memories of childhood when life looked sunny and summer holidays went on forever.

At 69%, you aren’t getting subtlety on the finish and I won’t pretend you will, or that Clarke’s bush variant even approximates that. But you know, all those herbs and crap in the bottle seem to have smoothened it out somewhat, taken the edge off, because the burn is deep and warm — and still with that elder dusty air wafting around in the back of your throat, like the times of our youth in a small town that you now no longer remember clearly, except in your dreams and fading memories.

I sort of likened the Bacardi 151 to a race car and wrote a good humoured review in that vein.  Clarke Court’s Pure White Rum (the bush variation) is not like that at all.  It’s strong and crazy and unique, and I didn’t think of speed or racing thunder at all when I tasted it — instead, the cars I got were the old taxis of Georgetown: Hillmans, Austins, and Morris Oxfords, with cracked vinyl upholstery and purring engines, and my brother and I jouncing around on a Saturday morning going with our mother to Bourda market to shop for fresh stuff. The rum may be raw, smelly, one-of-a-kind home-adapted hooch , and commercially unavailable in this iteration.  But the memories it evokes in this long departed Mudlander are priceless.

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