Nov 232020
 

Sooner or later in these reviews, I always end up circling back to Velier, and for preference, it’s usually the rums from the Age of the Demeraras.  It’s not that I have anything against the Caronis in their near-infinite variations, the Habitation’s pot still range, or the series of the New Hampdens, Villa Paradisetto or 70th anniversary. And I have a soft spot for even the smaller and more exactingly selected outturns of one-offs like the Courcelles or the Basseterre rums. It’s just that the Demeraras speak to me more, and remind me of the impact a then-relatively-unknown indie bottler had when it rearranged the rum landscape and worldviews of many rum aficionados back in the day. 

By the time this rum was released in 2014, things were already slowing down for Velier in its ability to select original, unusual and amazing rums from DDLs warehouses, and of course it’s common knowledge now that 2014 was in fact the last year they did so.  The previous chairman, Yesu Persaud, had retired that year and the arrangement with Velier was discontinued as DDL’s new Rare Collection was issued (in early 2016) to supplant them.

While this rum was hyped as being “Very Rare” and something special, I am more of the impression it was an experiment on the order of the four “coloured” edition rums DDL put out in 2019, something they had had on the go in their skunkworks, that Luca Gargano spotted and asked to be allowed to bottle.  It was one of four he released that year, and perhaps illustrates that the rabbit was getting progressively harder to pull out of the hat.

Still, the stats on the as-usual nicely informative label were pretty good: two barrels of serious distillates – the Versailles single wooden pot still and the Diamond metal coffey still (proportions unknown, alas) — yielding 570 bottles. A hefty strength of 57.9%; 18 years of tropical ageing while the two profiles married and learned how to live together without a divorce, and an angel’s share of about 78%.

How then, did such an unusual amalgam of a coffey still and a wooden pot still come out smelling and tasting like after so long? Like a Demerara rum is the short answer. A powerful one. This was a Demerara wooden still profile to out-Demerara all other wooden-still Demeraras (well…at least it tried to be). There was the characteristic licorice of the wooden stills, of course.  Aromatic tobacco, coffee grounds, strong and unsweetened black tea; and after a while a parade of dark fruits – raisins, prunes, black dates – set off by a thin citrus line pf lemon zest, and cumin.  Ah but that was not all, for this was followed some time later when I returned to the glass, by sawdust, rotting leaves after a rain, acetones, furniture polish and some pencil shavings, cinnamon and vanilla…quit a lot to unpack. It was fortunate I was trying it at home and not somewhere were time was at a premium, and could take my time with the tasting.

The nose had been so stuffed with stuff (so to speak) that the palate had a hard time keeping up.  The strength was excellent for what it was, powerful without sharpness, firm without bite. But the whole presented as somewhat more bitter than expected, with the taste of oak chips, of cinchona bark, or the antimalarial pills I had dosed on for my working years in the bush.  Thankfully this receded, and gave ground to cumin, coffee, dark chocolate, coca cola, bags of licorice (of course), prunes and burnt sugar (and I mean “burnt”). It felt thick and heavy and had a nice touch of creme brulee and whupped cream bringing up the rear, all of which segued into a lovely long finish of coffee grounds, minty chocolate and oranges, licorice again, and a few more overripe fruits.

Overall, not lacking or particularly shabby. Completely solid rum. The tastes were strong and it went well by itself as a solo drink. That said, although it was supposed to be a blend, the lighter column still tastes never really managed to take over from the powerful Versailles profile – but what it did do was change it, because my initial thinking was that if I had not known what it was, I would have said Port Mourant for sure. In some of the crisper, lighter fruity notes the column distillate could be sensed, and it stayed in the background all the way, when perhaps a bit more aggression there would have balanced the whole drink a bit more. 

Nowadays (at the close of 2020), the rum fetches around £500 / US$800 or so at auction or on specialty spirits sites, which is in line with other non-specific Velier rums from the Late Age clocking in at under two decades’ ageing. Does that make it undervalued, something to pounce on?  I don’t think so.  It lacks a certain clear definition of what it is and may be too stern and uncompromising for many who prefer a more clear-cut Port Mourant or Enmore rum, than one of these experimentals. If after all this time its reputation has not made it a must-have, then we must accept that it is not one of the Legendary Bottles that will one day exceed five grand – simply an interesting variation of a well known series of rums, a complete decent sipping rum, yet not really a top-tier product of the time, or the line.

(#779)(85/100)


Other notes

  • The four 2014 Velier “blended-in-the-barrel” experimentals were:
    • Port Mourant / Enmore Experimental 1998 16YO (1998 – 2014), 62.2%
    • Port Mourant / Diamond Experimental 1995 19YO (1995 – 2014), 62.1%
    • Port Mourant / Diamond Experimental 1999 15 YO (1999 – 2014), 52.3.%
    • Diamond / Versailles Experimental 1996 18 YO (1996 – 2014), 57.9%
  • DDL’s own four rums of the 2019 “coloured” series referred to above were 
    • PM/Uitvlugt/Diamond 2010 9YO at 49.6% (violet),
    • Port Mourant/Uitvlugt 2010 9YO at 51% (orange),
    • Uitvlugt/Enmore 2008 11YO 47.4% (blue)
    • Diamond/Port Mourant 2010 9YO at 49.1% (teal).

The jury is still out on how good (or not) the DDL versions are. So far I have not seen many raves about them and they seem to have dropped out of sight rather rapidly.

Oct 192020
 

If one rates popularity or the reach of a brand by how many joyful fanboys post pictures of their latest acquisition on social media and chirp how lucky they are to have gotten it, surely Velier’s oeuvre leads the pack, followed by Foursquare, and after them come trotting Kraken and Bumbu and maybe an agricole or two from Martinique.  Nowhere in this pantheon (I use the term loosely) is Bristol Spirits to be found – yet, in the late 1990s right up to the mid 2010s, Bristol was releasing some very good juice indeed, including the near legendary 30 year old Port Mourant 1980 and some rums from the 1970s that were just joys to sample.

In fact, so popular were they, that the company even ventured out into blends and spiced rums, like the Caribbean Collection (Trinidad), Mauritius cane juice rhum, Bristol Black and so on. They released rums from Haiti, Mauritius, Peru, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Cuba, Barbados (Rockley 1986, lovely stuff) and raised the profile of the islands’ rums just as the wave of the rum renaissance was breaking. Not for them the single barrel approach – most of the time they followed Rum Nation’s ethos of mixing several barrels into one release.

Since then, Bristol has fallen somewhat out of favour —  I think Mr. John Barratt may be retiring, if not already withdrawn from the rum scene — and it’s rare to see their bottles for sale outside of an auction, where their prices vary directly with age, from £1800 for a 1974 Demerara to as little as £45 for a 2003 Cuban. This 1985 Versailles was bottled in 1998 at a time when nobody knew a damned thing about the stills, and back then probably sank without a trace – nowadays, it’ll cost you five hundred quid, easy.

The Versailles wooden single pot still is one of the three wooden heritage stills (the Savalle is a fourth but not of wood) now housed at Diamond estate where DDL has its headquarters.  It’s distillate is usually blended with others to produce blends with distinctive profiles, yet for years many bottlers have tried to issue them on their own, with varying results – and it is my contention that it takes real skill to bring the raw untrammelled ferocity of a cask strength wooden pot still hooch to some level of elegance sufficient to create a disturbance in the Force.

Bristol, I think, came pretty close with this relatively soft 46% Demerara.  The easier strength may have been the right decision because it calmed down what would otherwise have been quite a seriously sharp and even bitter nose.  That nose opened with rubber and plasticine and a hot glue gun smoking away on the freshly sanded wooden workbench.  There were pencil shavings, a trace of oaky bitterness, caramel, toffee, vanilla and slowly a firm series of crisp fruity notes came to the fore: green apples, raisins, grapes, apples, pears, and then a surprisingly delicate herbal touch of thyme, mint, and basil. Marius of Single Cask, who wrote a good evaluation of a number of Versailles 1985 vintages, commented on a marzipan hint, but I didn’t get that at all.

The taste, though, was where I think it really came into its own. It was just lovely: lots of fruit right off – pears, apples, peaches, guavas, kiwi, both ripe and unripe, crisp and fleshy and a contrast in opposites. The herbs remained, though somewhat muted now, and a delicately clear and sharp line of citrus ran in and out of the profile, like a really good dry Riesling punctuated by tart green grapes; and a drop or two of rather unnecessary water revealed a background touch of unsweetened yogurt to balance everything off. Really nice to taste, moving sedately to a finish no less impressive, but acting more or less as a summation of the entire experience, adding just a dry burnt sugar note that was very pleasing.

Overall its a very good Versailles, one of the better ones I’ve tried. Unlike Marius I thought the strength was not a negative but a positive (he felt it was excessively diluted), because otherwise other sharper and less savoury aspects might have taken precedence and upset the fragile balance upon which my personal appreciation of the rum rested.  Nowadays we consider the “low” ABV somewhat wussy, but remember, at that time in the nineties, to release a rum at 46% was  considered recklessly daring – even ten years later, people were still telling Foursquare not to release the ECS Mark I 1998 at more than standard strength. 

ABV aside, what I did feel was the barrel didn’t have enough of an effect, overall, and it could have rested for a few more years without harm, and indeed, been even better afterwards. Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind who wrote about the rum himself in 2014 and was the source of the sample, thought that much of the youthful freshness of the original distillate was maintained and could have been aged longer without harm.  But clearly, both he and Marius really liked the thing, as did I. It’s a wonderful expression from the year, and even if there are older Versailles rums out there (like Bristol’s own 1985 22 Year Old which I’d dearly love to sample one day), to try this one from the dawn of rum’s ascent to the heights, when the wooden stills were just rising to prominence and attention, is an experience not to be foregone.

(#770)(87/100)

Oct 052020
 

Although just about every conversation about the Hamilton 151 remarks on its purpose to replicate the Lemon Hart 151 as a basic high proof bar-room mixer, this is a common misconception – in point of fact its stated objective was to be better than Lemon Hart. And if its reputation has been solidly entrenched as a staple of that aspect of the drinking world, then it is because it really is one of the few 151s to satisfy both rum drinkers and cocktail shakers with its quality in a way the LH did not always. 

Back in the late 2000s / early 2010s Lemon Hart — for whatever reason — was having real trouble releasing its signature 151, and it sporadically went on and off the market, popping back on the scene with a redesigned label in 2012 before going AWOL again a couple of years later. Aside from Bacardi’s own 151, it had long been a fixture of the bar scene, even preceding the tiki craze of the mid 1930s (some of this backstory is covered in the History of the 151s).  Into this breach came Ed Hamilton, the founder of the Ministry of Rum website and its associated discussion forum, author of Rums of the Eastern Caribbean and an acknowledged early rum guru from the dawn of the rum renaissance.  As he recounts in a 2018 interview (from around timestamp 00:41:50), he decided to create his own line of Demerara rums, both 86 and 151 proof and while barred from using the word “Demerara” for trademark reasons, he did manage to issue the new rums in 2015 and they have been on the market ever since. 

Whether Hamilton 151 has replaced or superseded the Lemon Hart is an open question best left to an individual’s personal experience, but to compare them directly is actually apples and oranges to some extent, because the LH version blends Guyanese, Jamaican and Barbados rums while Hamilton’s is Guyanese only – though likely a blend of more than one still.  But certainly there’s at least some significant element of the wooden stills in there, because the profile is unmistakable.

It is, in short, a powerful wooden fruit bomb, one which initially sits and broods in the glass, dark and menacing, and needs to sit and breathe for a while.  Fumes of prunes, plums, blackcurrants and raspberries rise as if from a grumbling and stuttering half-dormant volcano, moderated by tarter, sharper flavours of damp, sweet, wine-infused tobacco, bitter chocolate, ginger and anise. The aromas are so deep it’s hard to believe it’s so young — the distillate is aged around five years or less in Guyana as far as I know, then shipped in bulk to the USA for bottling. But aromatic it is, to a fault.

It’s also hard to see the Hamilton 151 as “only” a bar-based cocktail mixer when one tries it like I did, neat. The taste is very strong, very powerful — given the 75.5% ABV, caution is of course in order —  yet not sharp so much as firm, a flavoured cricket bat stroking the tongue, tasting thirty proof points lower. There’s the piquance of ginger, red wine, raisins, dark fruits, followed by vanilla, caramel, cloves, licorice, pencil shavings, and cedar planks, melding an initially simple-seeming rum profile with something more complex and providing a texture that can be both coked up or had by itself.  Me, I could as easily sip it as dunk it into a double espresso, and then pour that over a vanilla ice cream.  Even the long lasting finish gives up a few extra points, and it closes the experience with dark red cherries, plums and prunes again, as well as coriander, cumin, cloves and toffee. Pretty good in comparison to a lot of other 151s I’ve tried over the years.

Frankly, I found the rum revelatory, even kind of quietly amazing.  Sure, it hit on all the expected notes, and the quality didn’t ascend to completely new heights (though it scaled several rises of its own).  But neither did it collapse and fall like a rock. In its own way, the rum redefined a good 151, moving it away from being a back-alley palate-mugger, to more of a semi-civilized, tux-clad thug. It might not be as good as a high-proofed ultra-aged Velier from the Age….but it wasn’t entirely removed from that level either. Drinking it, standing on the foothill of its taste, you can see the mountaintop to which it could aspire.

(#767)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • You’ll note the careful use of the word “Demerara” on the label. This was to get around the trademark issue which prevented the use of the term “Demerara Rum.” The rum is trademarked…the river is not.
  • Thanks and a tip of the trilby to Cecil, old-school ex-QC squaddie, for sending me a more-than-generous sample.

 

Sep 302020
 

In spite of rums from various 1970s years having been issued throughout that period (many are still around and about and surfacing every now and then at wallet-excavating prices), it is my contention that 1974-1975 were the real years that disco came to town.  No other years from the last century except perhaps 1986 resonate more with rumistas; no other years have as many Demeraras of such profound age, of such amazing quality, issued by as many different houses.  I’d like to say I’ve lost count of the amount of off-the-scale ‘75s I’ve tasted, but that would be a damned lie, because I remember them all, right back to the first one I tried, the Berry Brothers & Rudd PM 1975. I still recall the rich yet delicate solidity of the Norse Cask, the inky beauty of the Cadenhead Green label 40.6%, the black licorice and sweet tobacco of the Rendsburger, Velier’s own 1975...and now, here is another one, dredged up by another Italian outfit we never heard of before and which, sadly, maybe we never will again. Unlike Norse Cask, it has not vanished, just never bothered to have a digital footprint; in so doing it has left us only this equally overlooked and forgotten bottle of spiritous gold, and some more recent bottlings known only to ur-geeks and deep-divers.

For the kitch, I’m afraid there is not much. Thanks to my impeccably fluent lack of Italian, I can tell you it’s a 1975 Port Mourant that was bottled in 2007, and it appears to be one of those single barrel releases often indulged in by importers – this time an Italian outfit called High Spirits, which doesn’t exist beyond its odd one-page website that leads nowhere and says nothing – see below for some notes on this.  The rum is 56.1%, dark red brown….

…and smells absolutely magnificent. The aromas are, in a word, loaded. The distinctiveness of the PM still comes through in a wave of aromatic wine-infused cigarillos’ tobacco, coffee, bitter chocolate and, yes, licorice. You pause, enjoy this, sniff appreciatively, dive in for Round 2 and brace for the second wave.  This emerges after a few minutes: and is more musky, darker in tone shot through with jagged flashes of tarter sharper notes: muscovado sugar, molasses, plums, blackberries, ripe black cherries, bananas, all the best part of, oh, the Norse Cask, of which this is undoubtedly the equal.  And then there’s a bit extra for the fans, before the taste: cinamon, vanilla, herbs, and (I kid you not) even a touch of pine resin.

And the profile, thank God, doesn’t let us down (think of what a waste that would have been, after all this time). People like me use the nose a lot to tease out flavour-notes but the majority of drinkers consider only the taste, and here, they’ll have nothing to complain about, because it continues and underlines everything the smells had promised. Again, thick and pungent with bark and herbs and fruit: plums, dark ripe cherries, ripe mangoes, bags of licorice, and an interesting combo of mauby and sorrel. Caramel and toffee and chocolate and cafe-au-lait dosed with a generous helping of brown sugar and whipped cream, each flavour clear and distinct and outright delicious – the balance of the various soft, sharp, tart and other components is outstanding.  Even the finish does the rum honour – it’s long, fragrant and lasting and if it could be a colour, it would be dark brown-red – the hues of licorice, nuts, raisins, dates, stewed apples and caramel.

There’s just so much here.  It’s so rich, smooth, warm, complex, inviting, tasty, sensual and outright delicious. Just as you put down the glass and finish scribbling what you optimistically think is the final tasting note, you burp and think of yet another aspect you’ve overlooked. Yes, High Spirits probably bought the barrel from a broker or an indifferent Scottish whisky maker who passed it by, but whoever selected it knew what they were doing, because they found and teased out the muscular poetry of the core distillate that in other hands could (and in its knock-offs sometimes does) turn into a schlocky muddled mess.

At end, over and beyond how it tasted, I find myself coming back to that age. Thirty two years. Such rums are getting rarer all the time. Silver Seal and Moon imports and Cadenhead and G&M occasionally upchuck one or two in the twenties, and yes, occasionally a house in Europe will issue a rum in the thirties (like CDI did with its 33YO Hong Kong Hampden, or those 1984 Monymusks that are popping up), but the big new houses are mostly remaining in the teens, and tropical ageing is the new thing which further suggests a diminution of the majority of aged bottlings. To see one like this, with the barrel slowly seeping its influence into the rum over three decades from a time most rum lovers were unborn and the rumworld we live in undreamt, is an experience not to be missed if one ever has the chance.

(#766)(91/100)


Other Notes

  • My thanks to Gregers, Pietro and Johnny for their help on this one, the pictures and background, and, of course, for the sample itself.
  • If I read the label right, it’s possible that as few as 60 bottles were issued.
  • For a recap of several 1975 Port Mourant rums, see Marius’s awesome flight notes on Single Cask.
  • High Spirits is a small Italian importer of whiskies and rums and moonlights as an occasional bottler. It is run by a gentleman by the name of Fernando Nadi Fior in Rimini (NE Italy), and he is an associate and friend of Andrea Ferrari and Stefano Cremaschi of Hidden Spirit and Wild Parrot respectively. High Spirits has quietly and primarily been dealing in whiskies and very occasional limited bottlings of rum since the formation of the company after the dissolution of the previous enterprise, Intertrade Import in the 1970s, but is still mostly unknown outside Italy.
  • I’ve often wondered about the prevalence of 1974 and 1975 Guyanese rums, so many of which were Port Mourant, We don’t see 1970s PM rums that often to begin with (Velier has a 1972, 1973 and other years as well, but they’re an exception), yet for some reason these two years seems to be unusually well represented across the various companies’ lines, and I doubt that’s a coincidence.  Somehow, for some reason, a lot of barrels from Guyana went to Europe back then and yet for few other years from that decade. Hopefully one day we’ll find out why.

Sep 072020
 

Cadenhead just refuses to depart the rum scene, which is probably a good thing for us.  We see rums too rarely from Berry Bros & Rudd, Gordon & MacPhail or AD Rattray, who were among the first introductions many of us ever had to fullproof single cask rums (even if they were sadly misguided whisky bottlers who didn’t know where or what the good stuff truly was). And there’s Cadenhead, persistently truckin’ away, releasing a bit here and a bit there, a blend or a single cask, and their juice goes up slowly but steadily in value (e.g. the fabled 1964 Uitvlugt which sold on RumAuctioneer a few months back for a cool three grand).

Cadenhead has always marched to its own tune and idiosyncratic, offbeat bent.  They never really created a consistent feel for their rums, and had a number of different rum lines, however small, however similar (or peculiar). There’s the blended one-off of the Classic Green Label rum, there is the whole “standard” Green Label range with their cheap-looking, puke yellow/green labelling design and occasional playful experimentation; there’s the green box and more professional  ethos of the 1975 Green Label Demerara, and then there’s the stubby yellow- label “dated distillation” bottlings of the single casks, which carries three- or four-letter marques on them, about which I have always joked they themselves never knew the meanings.

Usually I go after the single casks, which seem to be made with more serious intent.  But the lower-end Green Labels have some interesting ones too, like that Laphroaig finished Demerara 12 YO, or the Barbados 10 YO (no it’s not a Foursquare).  Even the Panama 8 YO had its points for me, back when I was still getting a handle on things. So to see a 25 year old “Guyanan” rum (that term irritates me no end) is quite enough to get my attention, especially since this is the top end of a small range-within-a-range that also has an 8 and a 15 year old. Alas, age aside, there are few details to be going on with – no still, no year of distillation or bottling, no outturn.  It is 46% and non filtered, not added to, and I think we can take it for granted that it’s continentally aged.

As with all Guyanese rums where the provenance is murky, part of the fun is trying to take it apart and guessing what’s inside when it’s not mentioned.  The nose gives a few clues: it’s warm and fruity, with ripe prunes and peaches right up front.  Some nuttiness and sweet caramel and molasses the slightest bhoite of oak.  But none of the distinctive wooden-still glue, pencil shavings, sawdust and anise are in evidence here. Actually I find the smell to be rather underwhelming – hardly the sort of power and complexity I would expect from a quarter century in a barrel, anywhere.

Perhaps redemption is to be found when tasting it, I mutter to myself, and move on actually drinking what’s in the glass. Mmmm….yeah…but no. Again, not quite spicy – initial tastes are some toffee, toblerone and gummi bears, dark fruits (prunes, plums and raisins for the most part, plus a slice of pineapple, maybe an apple or two).  Molasses, smoke, leather, a touch of licorice, brine, olives.  With a drop of water, it gets drier and a tad woody, but never entirely loses the thinness of the core profile, and this carries over into the finish, which is sharp and scrawny, leaving behind the memory of some fruits, some marshmallows, some softer white chocolate notes, and that’s about it.

Leaving aside the paucity of the labelling, I’d say this was not from any of the wooden stills, and very likely an Uitvlugt French Savalle still rum.  There seems to be quite a bit of this washing around Cadenhead in the late 1990s, so I’ll date it from there as a sort of educated guesstimate. 

But with respect to an opinion, I find the rum something of a disappointment.  The deeper notes one would expect from a Guyanese rum are tamped down and flattened out, their majestic peaks and valleys smoothened into a quaffable rum, yes, but not one that does much except exist.  Part of the problem for me is I honestly don’t think I could tell, blind, that this thing was 25 years old, and therefore the whole point of ageing something that long (no matter where) is lost of the drinker can’t sense and enjoy the voluptuous experience and rich complexity brought about by chucking something into a barrel until it’s old enough to vote. With this 25 year old, Cadenhead implicitly promises something that the rum just doesn’t deliver,  and so it is, while drinkable, not really one of their stellar must-haves.

(#758)(82/100)


Other notes

It’s surprising how there is almost no reference to this rum online at all.  It suggests a rarity that might make it worth getting, if the taste was not a factor.

Aug 052020
 

The Cadenhead 1964 Port Mourant is one of the great unicorns of our time, a rum whose 36 years of ageing sail majestically across the senses, impervious and indifferent to the up-and-coming claimants for the crown of “oldest” and “strongest’ and “bestest” and “mostest”.  Not since the Age of Velier have we seen anything like this and in some ways it supersedes even those behemoths we had all ignored back in the day, because they were “too expensive.”

And expensive this is: in June 2020 a variant bottle of this thing (bottled in 2000, 70% ABV) was bid up past all reason on Rum Auctioneer until it went under the hammer for a cool £3,000, which makes it pricier than rums from the 1930s and 1940s sporting amazing pedigrees of their own (though still less than a Velier Skeldon 1978). There’s another one now available in the August auction (the one I’m writing about here, bottled in 2001). Such prices dissuade all but the most foolhardy, the deep-pocketed or those who “clan-up” — and rightfully so, for surely no rum is worth that kind of coin, and who in this day and age has it anyway? 

And those stats, whew! 36 years old, pre-independence 1964 distillation (this, when finding anything from as recently the 1980s is already a problem fraught with the potential susurration of rapidly emptying wallets), Port Mourant distillate at a time when it was still at Uitvlugt, 69.3% of turbo-charged thrust – these things suggest an extraordinary rum, which usually fills me with dread as a reviewer: for, how could any rum live up to that kind of hype? Yet somehow, against my fears,  Cadenhead has indeed released something exceptional.  

Consider the nose: I loved it. It smelled like it was reared in an ultramodern Swiss lab and fed a diet of woodchips from DDLs stills and given only liquid molasses runoff to drink to dilute the raw caramel. It was a smoothly powerful rush of wood, well-polished old leather, smoke, licorice peas, stewed apples, prunes, and oak tannins. No rubber, no acetone, no paint stripper, just controlled thick ferocity. Some salted caramel, and molasses, flowers and as I stayed with it the subtler aromas of fennel, rosemary, masala and cumin and a twist of lemon zest all emerged. 

Clearly unsatisfied with just that, it toughened up something serious when tasted.  It showcased less a sense of shuddering sharpness aiming only to inflict careless pain, than the surefooted solidity of a Mack truck piloted high high speed by a really good stuntman.  It’s creamy, hot, redolent of caramel, sweet bon bons and molasses.  Anise.  Whipped cream in a fruit salad of raisins, prunes and caramelized apples.  Just a flirt of salt, and also some pine-sol mixing it up with soft flowers, coffee grounds and macadamia chocolate cookies. None of the ageing was wasted, and it did exactly what it meant to, no more, no less, with grace and power and the sense of complete control at all times. Even the finish demonstrated this: it was enormously long lasting, coming together at the last with a sort of burly, brutal rhythm of toffee, toblerone, almonds, coffee and citrus that shouldn’t work, but somehow manages to salvage real elegance from all that rough stuff and full, firm tastes.  It’s a great conclusion to a seriously well aged rum.

The Cadenhead Uitvlugt 1964 followed all the traditional ways an indie has of producing a rum, except then it proceeded to dial it up to 11, added steroids, horse tranqs and industrial strength factory cleanser, and released it to just about zero acclaim (I mean, have you ever herd of it?).  It’s excellence lay in how it came together over time, I think – it started at a low idle, then gained force as it moved along. The early tasting notes and impressions could come from any one of a dozen rums, but as it developed we see a great original product coming into focus, something we have perhaps tried before, and which remains buried in the recesses of our tasting memories, but which we rarely recall being done this well.

So, circling back to the original point, is it worth the money?  If you have it, yes, of course.  If you don’t, maybe you can dream, as I did, of scoring a sample. “To me this is the Holy Grail” remarked Gregers Nielsen when we were discussing the bottle, and now, having tried it, I can completely understand his unrequited love (or should that be lust?) for it.  Maybe, if I could, I’d pawn the family silver to get it as well — but in the meantime, for now, I was simply happy to have received the generosity of Alex Van Der Veer, and toasted him happily as I drank this really quite superlative piece of rum history.

(#750)(91/100)


Other notes

It goes without saying this is continentally aged,  The outturn is unknown.

Aug 032020
 

The three wooden stills now all gathered at DDL’s Diamond facility are called Heritage stills, their wooden greenheart components regularly serviced and replaced, and the questions they pose about the matter of Theseus’s ship are usually ignored. That’s not really important, though, because they may be the three most famous stills in existence, and the taste profiles of the rums they create are known by all dedicated rumistas, who enjoy nothing more than relentlessly analyzing them for the minutest variations and then bickering about it in a never-ending cheerful squabble.

My own preference has always been for the stern elegance of the Port Mourant, and the Enmore coffey still produces rums that are complex, graceful and sophisticated when done right.  But the Versailles still is something of an ugly stepchild – you’ll go far and look long to find an unqualified positive review of any rum it spits out.  I’ve always felt that it takes rare skill to bring the rough and raw VSG pot still profile to its full potential…none of the familiar indies has had more than occasional success with it, and even Velier never really bothered to produce much Versailles rum at the height of the Age.

This brings us to the Danish company 1423: it makes many mass-market rums for the broader supermarket shelves in Europe, but is perhaps better known worldwide for its boutique rum arm the Single Barrel Selection, which specializes in single cask, limited bottlings. These aim squarely at the connoisseurs’ palates and wallets, and have gained a quiet reputation (and a following) for their quality rums and geographical range.  The Diamond 2003 is a case in point – it’s 12 years old (bottled in 2015), has a finish in marsala casks, comes off the Versailles single wooden pot still and is bottled at a completely solid 62.8% with an outturn of 264 bottles. And it’s quite a hoot to drink, let me tell you

“Something is rotten in the State of Diamond,” I wrote cheerfully after a good deep sniff, “…and just enough to make it interesting.” Which was quite true – it smelled of fruits and vegetables starting to go off, and added some deep oak tannins which thankfully did not get overbearing but receded rapidly.  To this was added almonds, peaches, prunes, anise, strawberries, some light vanilla and raisins, all tied together in a neat bow by a briny note and some zesty citrus.  

The palate was also quite good, irrespective of how much (or how little) additional taste the finish provided.  It had the creaminess of salted caramel ice cream, the dark fruitiness of raisins and prunes and black cake and overall struck me as a deceptively simple, very solidly-constructed rum. The good stuff came from around the edges – you could sense some fennel and licorice and vanilla, and perhaps some nuttiness, red wine, indian spices and cloves, all dancing around that central pillar without taking center stage themselves. The finish didn’t try for anything new or exotic, but was content to sum up all that had gone before, and gave last notes of toffee, cumin, masala spice, caramel, dark fruits and brine, a nice sweet-salt amalgam, without any sharpness or bite on the exit at all.  Nice.

There has been occasional confusion among the stills in the past: e.g. the SBS Enmore 1988 which I am still convinced is a Versailles; but this is (in my opinion) neither a PM nor an Enmore and if there’s any further confusion it may derive from the marsala cask whose influence is faint, but enough to skew one’s mind away from a pure VSG kind of aroma.

And it’s good, very good indeed. Even Duncan Taylor with their 27 YO 1985 couldn’t better it, DDL’s own Rare Release wasn’t significantly better (I’ve heard the Mezan and Samaroli variations are excellent but have not tried them). But it seems to me that the VSG marque is really not meant to be a standalone except for purists and deep divers – it works much better as part of a blend, which is indeed what DDL uses it for in its aged releases, rarely issuing it on its own.  

Summing up then, with all those difficulties in trapping the best profile out of a notoriously temperamental still, it’s completely to its credit that 1423 managed to wring as much flavour and class out of a relatively young Versailles distillate aged in Europe as they did.  Perhaps their 1988 Enmore was in fact from that still also, but this one is no slouch on its own terms, has less ambiguities about its origins to boot and is an all ’round fine drink to have on the shelf.

(#749)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • The length of finish in marsala casks is unknown, if SBS responds to the query I sent, I’ll update.
  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample.
Jun 282020
 

On the first day and at the opening hour of the 2019 Berlin Rumfest, a motley collection of scruffy rum folks met at the back of the hall. Alex Sandu (the young Oxford-based Romanian barman who’s now making a name for himself on the Rum Barrel site) was talking with me about what it takes to manage and maintain a rum site. Indy and Jazz Singh of Rumcask and Skylark Spirits drifted by and sat down, and we all sighed rapturously with the memory of a rum session we had had at Lebensstern rum bar the evening before. Nicolai Wachmann, anonymous rum ninja from Denmark, having left us earlier to go look for junk food outside, rejoined us while still furiously chomping at the semi-masticated remains of his fifth burger, and we all amused ourselves shouting cheerful and childish insults at Gregers Nielsen, who was running the 1423 stand a few feet away. This is the way we soberly conscientious rum chums keep the flag of Rumdom flying high. People must know we take our duties seriously.

Things calmed down when Johnny Drejer approached, though, because in his fist he carried a bottle a lot of us hadn’t seen yet – the second in Romdeluxe’s “Wild Series” of rums, the Guyanese Enmore, with a black and white photo of a Jaguar glaring fiercely out. This was a 61.5% rum, 17 years old (2002 vintage, I believe), from one of the wooden stills (guess which?) — it had not formally gone on sale yet, and he had been presented with it for his 65th birthday a few days before (yeah, he looks awesome for his age).  Since we already knew of the elephantine proportions of the Wild Tiger Release 1, we all immediately tried to elbow each other out of the way in our hurry to thrust our glasses at him, and demanded our rightful shares. And to his credit, Johnny, gentleman to the last, shared generously without hesitation or charge before hastily retreating to more civilized areas of the ‘Fest where rabid aficionados would not assault his immaculate person or pinch his birthday prize, and might remember he was actually only 50.

Now, 61.5% might seem like a lot, and indeed — if you’re not ready for it —  it will try its best to take your face off. But nosing it with no more than the usual care suggests that it really is quite civilized…creamy, even.  Certainly one can inhale rich aromas of pencil shavings, butterscotch, sawdust and licorice, all standard for Enmore distillate. I can’t say I sensed much in the way of florals or citrus except as a brief background hint; most of the secondary wave consists of black bread, dark fruits, brie, cereals, almonds, anise and crushed walnuts. Maybe a whiff of mocha if you strain. 

All this is fairly common, even boilerplate. It’s on the palate that it rises to the occasion and shows some more chops.  Now the label notes it was primarily continentally aged so some tropical ageing can be inferred; it’s just shy of hot on the tongue, extremely robust, and very tasty indeed…yet also not rough or sharp.  You can taste unsweetened chocolate, anise, blancmange, salted caramel and coffee grounds to start with, and as it relaxes and opens up and you get used to its bold profile, musky, dark fruits like raisins, prunes, not very sweet but with a lot of body.  I like the damp sawdust and licorice, the way I always do in an Enmore-still rum, and the long, fragrant finish was pleasant to a fault.  Johnny, who had measured the strength of the rum and was mentioned on the label, had gotten himself a pretty nice dram.

Romdeluxe in Denmark is – or started out as – more a commercial rum club that makes private label bottlings and runs promotions, than a true independent bottler — but since they have issued several releases, I’ll call them an indie and move right on from there.  Their “Wild Series” of rums has evinced a lot of attention, not just because of its variety but because of the beauty of the stark black and white photography of the large cats with which they adorn their products.  

So far there is a tiger (R1 Hampden, Jamaica), jaguar (R2 Enmore, Guyana), puma (R3 Panama), black panther (R4 Belize), lion (R5, Bellevue, Guadeloupe) and leopard (R6 Caroni, Trinidad). I don’t know whether the photos are commissioned or from a stock library – what I do know is they are very striking, and you won’t be passing these on a shelf any time you see one.  The stats on some of these rums are also quite impressive – take, for example, the strength of the Wild Tiger (85.2% ABV), or the age of the Wild Lion (25 years).  These guys clearly aren’t messing around and understand you have to stand out from an ever more crowd gathering of indies these days, if you want to make a sale.

Still, perhaps because I’ve had so many of rums from the Enmore still, my impression is that this one doesn’t ascend to the heights. It’s a completely decent rum and at that strength you’re getting flavour and a reasonably complex profile. However, it isn’t really unique, and won’t wow your socks off – originality is not its forte, and it seems, rather, to be a restatement of much that has gone before. So it’s easy to like and appreciate, but conversely, leaves no lasting imprint on the mind.  A month from now, like just about everyone who was there that afternoon sampling this thing, you won’t recall many memorable characteristics of the rum itself, or much that made it stand out…except perhaps for the fact that it was nice. Oh yeah, and that boss design. If that’s what makes you buy it, then I guess its work is done. Me, I’m saving for some of the others.

(#740)(83/100)

Jun 032020
 

It will come as some surprise to anyone reading this review, when I say that there is a certain pointlessness now, to reviewing a Velier rum from The Age.  After all, this is a very young rum, not considered one of the Legends like the Skeldon or Port Mourant series, it’s practically unfindable, quite expensive when you can, and nowadays you’re more likely to find an ounce of Unobtainium than one of these unicorns.  Also, 2007 was not noted for the richness of its releases — only the LBI 1998 and the Versailles 1998 were offered that year, both also nine years old, and neither of which ever gained cult status.

Yet for all that, to ignore it would be a mistake. There’s the irresistible pull of the Old Guyana Demeraras, of that legendary Enmore wooden Coffey still (also known as the “filing cabinet” by wags who’ve seen it), the allure of  Velier and their earlier releases which back in the day sold for a hundred or so and now pull down thousands easy (in any currency).  How can one resist that? Good or bad, it’s just one of those things one has to try when possible, and for the record, even at that young age, it’s very good indeed.

By now Velier is such a household name that we can be brief since the story, the history, the man and the bottlings are so well known. This is a true Enmore still rum (the label is clear about that and it was independently verified by Luca later); it was distilled in 1998 at Uitvlugt which was where the still was back then, bottled in 2007 at 64.9%, and came from a single barrel which provided 265 bottles.

Let’s get started then, with the nose, which was clear about its origins right away – pencil shavings, the sawdust of a busy lumber yard, rich spices (very Enmore-ish, one might say), starting sharp and furious as befits the strength, and then calming down to become remarkably docile, but still very firm. That’s when the good stuff starts to emerge: florals, caramel, toblerone, vanilla, coconut tobacco, prunes and a melange of fruits.  What’s nice about it is that for all its relative strength, it presents as almost elegant and can be smelled for ages.

Palate was just as good., but care has to be taken to get the most out of it, otherwise it feels like it’s just hammering your tongue and you lose something of the subtlety.  But it’s all there: a salty briny vegetable soup into which has been dumped (paradoxically enough) brown sugar, sweet soya, tobacco, olive oil, cloves and a few bars of white coconut chocolate. Dark fruits, a whiff of cloves and anise, cherries in sweet syrup. I mean, wtf? That’s a crazy sort of taste mashup, and it shouldn’t work, but somehow manages to salvage some elegance from all that rough stuff and the tastes meld well, shine through, and end up elevating the whole thing. Even the finish displays how disparate flavours you would not normally think could gel, can sometimes complement each other –  it’s sweet, long, dry, fruity, crisp and even provides a few new notes of molasses. Caramel, coconut, ripe fruits, smoke and spices.  

In many other rums, that kind of jumbled craziness would lead to an unfocussed mess of aggression without purpose or conclusion.  Here the individuality and quality are there, and in my notes I ask the puzzled question of how on earth this was achieved. But maybe I don’t need to know, just accept that I really like the thing.

It’s easy for me to be blase, even indifferent, about Velier’s rums, after having tried so many.  Surely the shine has to come off the rose sometime, right? But that would be doing them – and this rum – a disservice, neither earned nor merited. This is a quietly amazing rum for something so young. It may never gain the mythical renown of the PM 1972 or the Skeldons, or the UF30E, but consider how very good indeed it is, for what it is.  At less than a third or even a quarter of their ages, it presses all the right buttons, noses well, tastes lovely and finishes with a controlled bang that can barely be faulted. So although I don’t say this kind of thing often (if at all), here I think the statement is warranted, even deserved – the Enmore 1998 may be the best sub-ten year old Demerara I’ve ever tasted.

(#733)(87/100)

Apr 162020
 

Photo (c) Henrik Kristoffersen, RunCorner.dk

1974 was clearly a good year for barrel selection by the Scottish whisky maker Gordon & MacPhail.  So good in fact that they were able to release several exceptional rums from that year – one was in 1999, the near spectacular 25 year old, which my Danish friends kicked themselves for missing when it came up for a tasting one year in Berlin. They got their own back at me by locating this slightly older version that was laid to sleep in the same year, emerged 29 years later (in 2003), and which is also a quietly amazing aged Demerara rum — every bit as good as its predecessor. 

It’s too bad we don’t know enough about it.  Oh, there’s all the usual labelling information that would have been satisfactory a short time back: 50% ABV, distilled in 1974, bottled in 2003 from two casks (#102 and #103), and that’s certainly better than what I grew up having to be satisfied with back in the day.  But we’re greedy wretches, us rum writers, and now I want to know where it slumbered and which still it came from, what the total bottle-outturn was, and how much time it spent ageing where. That I don’t have such info is something of a minor irritant, but we forge ahead with what we have.

Where the still is concerned, we can certainly guess from the profile.  I mean, just nose the thing – heaven. Deep, fruity, wooden-still action all the way. Anise, blackberries, oak, ripe tart apples and overripe cherries, apricots and prunes.  This is followed by molasses, dust, hay, well-polished leather upholstery, aromatic tobacco…and coffee grounds, lots of ‘em. An excellent nose, very rich, very pungent, very dark. 

It tastes as good as the nose leads one to expect, and may even exceed the nose.  The rum is a very dark brown, bottled at 50% ABV, just about the perfect strength for something so old and thick: enough to bring the flavours out with authority and some kick, not so strong as to burn you in the process. Here, the dark fruit panoply continues: blackcurrants, cherries, overripe mangoes. That’s joined by coffee, unsweetened chocolate, licorice, molasses, nougat, nuts and caramel. And then there’s a subtle third layer, very delicate, hinting of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and a freshly baked load of rye bread. The balance of the thing among these three components is really quite something, and if I had a whinge, it’s that the dry and warm finish, flavourful as it is – tobacco, leather, caramel, coffee, anise and breakfast spices – feels somewhat…less. It sums up everything that came before quite well, but brings nothing new to the party for a rousing encore, and is a. A minor point, really.

My first guess would be that the rum is from the double wooden PM pot still, because it lacks the rough wildness of the Versailles, or the slightly more elegant nature of the Enmore (which also tends to have a bit more lumber — at least a few pencils — in the jock, so to speak).  But really, at this age, at this remove, does it really matter except for us who want every single detail? I call it a Demerara, as G&M do, and am happy to have been given the opportunity to try it.

Henrik Kristofferson, who runs that somnolent and suspirant site Rum Corner (and the source of the sample) remarked in his own review that with rums this old, from that far back and for this rarity, price-to-value calculations are meaningless, and he’s right.  This is a rum that’s available now probably only through sample networks, which makes it unlikely that anyone will ever get a complete bottle (let alone a complete set of all the 1974s G&M have released) unless it pops up for auction again. But I must admit, it’s good. In fact, it’s as good as the other one I tried, nearly on par with some of the Velier Demeraras from the Age, or Cadenhead’s 33 YO or Norse Cask’s amazing 32 YO (both from 1975). I wouldn’t go so far as to tell anyone who sees a bottle for many hundreds of pounds, Euros, dollars or whatever, to go drain the back account immediately and buy the thing…but if you can get a taste, get it.  Get it now, and get fast, because rums like this are a dying, vanishing breed, and it’s an experience worth savouring, to see how the rums of today compare against hoary geriatric whitebeards of yesteryear, like this one. We may not see their like again any time soon.

(#719)(89/100)


Other notes

There was a third G&M 1974 bottled released in 2004 that went for auction at around £600 in 2017 which gives you some idea how these three-decade-old vintages are appreciating, and yet another one released in 2005.

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