Sep 132016
 

cdi-jamaica

Among the most fiercely aromatic and tasty five year olds around.

#301

***

Although at the writing of this review, I had no idea which four Jamaican rums comprise the blend of this 57% island beefcake which was distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2015, I was neither good enough nor arrogant enough to guess on the strength of the taste.  So after sending the question to Florent Beuchet, he responded a few weeks later by stating it was Hampden, Monymusk, Worthy Park and one more which, with the same penchant for secrecy that informed his Indonesian rum, he declined to name.  Note that this rum is the same as the “regular” Compagnie des Indes’s Jamaican 43% five year old….just stronger.

People who have been following my work for a while will know of my preference for full proof drinks, and while my favour is usually given to Demerara rums from the famous stills, there’s loads of room for Jamaicans as well (and Trinis, and Bajans, and rhums from Guadeloupe and Martinique…).  The funky taste can occasionally take some getting used to, but once you’ve got the taste, mon, you really appreciate its difference.

The 57% strength hearkens back to the “100 proof” of the old days, back when a proof spirit was defined as one which was just of sufficient alcohol content to be able to support combustion when a sample of gunpowder was soaked in it.  That was a rough and ready rule of thumb subject to all sorts of inaccuracies, long since supplanted by more technical ways of gauging the alcohol content of a rum.  Yet it has proved to be a curiously long lived term in the rumiverse, and there are a few other other rums that still use the moniker when describing their products (like Rum Nation’s 57% white, for example).  Let’s just consider it a full proof rum and move on, then.

cdi-jamaica-2There was no question that this was a Jamaican, once the dark gold liquid was in the glass: the musky herbal funk, the pot still background, the esters, were all there, in spades. Furniture polish, acetone and the pungent turpentine reek of a failed artist’s cleaning rag led out of the gate immediately.  Plus, it was quite heated – sharp, even – as befitted its strength, so no surprises here. It developed nicely into a smorgasbord of licorice, bananas, flowers and fruit which balanced off the fierce and raw initial scents quite well.

The taste was where the rum came into its own.  Man, this was nice: citrus peel, grasses, purple olives (not very salty), gherkins in vinegar were the first sensations developing on the palate.  With some water, the sweet and salt and vaguely sour of a good soya came through, plus a few tart and fleshy fruits just ready to go off onto the bad side, more licorice, and some kind of cough medicine my wife spoons into me (elderberry?).  It was an interesting combo, not at all like the tamed versions Appleton sells with much more success, so here I’d have to suggest it’s made at something of a tangent to more familiar Jamaican rums – I have little to base this on, but I thought “Hampden” for the most part (and thereby being related to CDI’s own Jamaica 2000 14 YO which I liked better, partly because of its focus; or the Renegade 2000 8 YO, also from Hampden).  It was pretty good, with a finish that was reasonably long, hot, pungent and tasty, giving last hints of lime zest, dialled down nail polish, some oak and vanillas, but the final memory that remains is the Jamaican funk, which is as it should be. A very traditional, tasty and well-made rum from that island, I thought.

Aged for five years in oak barrels (I suspect in Europe, not Jamaica…another outstanding question), there is a straightforward simplicity to the assembly I liked. So many entries in this genre — occasionally even those by independent bottlers – fail at the close because the makers feel compelled to overcomplicate matters with fancy blending and extraneous finishes; they mistake cacophony for complexity, or quality.  There is a place for keeping things simple, for navigating a course between too much and too little.  This rum, I felt, managed to chart its way seamlessly between those extremes and is as Jamaican as rice and peas…and as delicious.

(84/100)

Nov 252015
 
LP_Navy

Photo Courtesy of duRhum.com

Leave aside the hype and controversy, and try this without preconceptions. You may be surprised, intrigued and even pleased with the result.  I was, I was and I wasn’t, not entirely…but you might be.

(#242. 83/100)

***

If by now you are not aware that Lost Spirits out of California has developed a “molecular reactor” that supposedly mimics the ageing of a twenty year rum in six days, then you have not been paying attention (or aren’t that deep into rum geekdom).  The idea is not itself altogether new, and detractors have sniffed that snake oil sellers have been talking forever about using magical means, family recipes and all kinds of fancy methods to speed up ageing and the profile of old spirits, in products that aren’t actually aged.  Still, with the continual advances in modern tech, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that some smart guy in a garage somewhere can perhaps do such a thing. Certainly Lost Spirits makes that claim.  They have intense enthusiasm, hand built stills, and a good knowledge of chemistry and biology to assist in replicating more traditional methods of production without actually using many of them. The output is more important than the process, you might say.

The Navy Style rum they have made is a booming near-overproof rum that smartly elevates the North American drinking public’s perception of rum by issuing it at 68%, and which comes in a tall slim bottle that has an old fashioned label channelling the aesthetic design philosophy of both technology and 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery (that’s what Josh Miller called “steampunk” in his own recent review of the rum). Just to get the background out of the way, this thing is unadulterated, without additives of any kind, including colouring.  It is made from baking grade molasses and evaporated sugar cane juice (I suppose we could call that “honey”).

The nose was intriguing: an interesting fusion of very hot aromas, both familiar and strange.  Initially it presented with vanilla, prunes, black grapes, some molasses, a faint hint of anise, some oak, and a bit of clean citrus.  But sharper ethanol and less appealing mineral notes of wet charcoal and saltpetr emerged at the back end, and here I was left wondering where the meld of Jamaican dunder and fruitiness of the Demeraras and Bajans was hiding itself.

Similar thoughts came to mind as I tasted it. Yes it was bold and very heated – we could hardly expect less from a rum this strong – I just thought it was all a bit discombobulated.  There were salty, green-olive notes, some soy and grappa and red wine, all mixed up with an undercurrent of molasses.  It was quite rough, and stampeded across the palate without the finesse that other rums of that strength have shown is possible.  Adding water ameliorated that somewhat, and brought other flavours out of hiding – brown sugar, vegetals, dried grass, more undefined citrus zest, and a tang of more red grapes, caramel and molasses, all tied up with sharper oak tannins and ginger root.  The finish, as befits such a strong drink, was long and dry, with little that was new arriving onstage – oak, some wet coffee grounds, more of that strange mineral background, and a twitch of herbs.

Lost Spirits have made a rum that they want to show off as a poster boy for their technology: whether they succeeded in creating a Navy rum is questionable. There are quite a few variations of the type – Lamb’s, Pusser’s, Wood’s 100, Potter’s, the Black Tot to name but a few – so much so that true or not, right or wrong, those are the profiles that the consuming public sees and expects to be represented by the sobriquet “Navy”.  On that level, the Lost Spirit rum doesn’t come up to snuff.  And while other reviewers have remarked on the esters they sensed (which is part of the selling point of the rum, that genuflection to old-style dunder pits), I didn’t find there were that many complex spicy, fruity and floral notes that would give any of the more traditional rum makers cause to choke into their tasting glasses.

Recently mon ami Cyril of DuRhum took apart three Lost Spirits rums, and flat out declared that in his estimation they could not possibly class with the very rums they were seeking to supplant.  Both Josh at Inu-a-kena and Tiare over by A Mountain of Crushed Ice were much more positive in their evaluations, as was Serge at Whiskyfun. I am neither as displeased by Lost Spirits as Cyril was, nor as enthusiastic as my other friends – to my mind the company and its tech still have quite some way to go if they intend to take on really aged big guns made by master blenders with many generations of experience backing them up. Western nations are great proponents of the notion that technology can conquer everything, and maybe they’re right…but only sometimes.

However, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and give Lost Spirits credit for what they have achieved. I liked the strength and intensity, for example – LS has had the balls to take American rums past the 40% that dominates their market.  The taste was intriguing, original, not entirely bad, and there were many aspects of the profile I enjoyed. Where it fails is in its resultant product, which wanders too far afield while failing to cohere.  And therefore it falls short on its promise: the promise that they could produce a profile of any aged rum without actually ageing it. That simply didn’t happen here.  

I’m a firm believer in technology and its potential – but as with many brand new ideas and their execution, the hype so far is greater than the reality. The subtleties of a great aged rum are so multi-faceted, so enormously complex, and so chaotically intertwined with age and barrel and distillate and fermentation and even terroire, that while one day I have no doubt a combination of physics, chemistry and biology (and chutzpah) will fool a taster into believing he’s got an undiscovered masterpiece on his hands, this rum, for today, isn’t quite it.

Other notes:

Control rums this time around were a few old Demeraras, the BBR Jamaica 1977, Woods 100 and of course the Black Tot. It’s in the comparison that the LS Navy 68% snaps more clearly into focus and you see where it both succeeds and falls short.

Note that Navy rums, according to Mr. Broome’s informative booklet on the ‘Tot, only had a small percentage of the blend come from Jamaica (sailors didn’t like it).  Yet most of the online literature on Lost Spirits places great emphasis on how they are recreating the resultant profile of dunder pits and high ester counts (more or less associated with Jamaica), when in fact this was not the major part of the navy style of rum.

Also… just because I don’t (thus far) endorse or highly praise this line of rums, doesn’t mean others don’t.  North Americans are quite positive in their assessments, while European writers thus far remain silent (perhaps due to availability). So some references for your research, should you be curious:

Oct 222015
 

Black tot 1

Bottled history.  Nothing more, nothing less.

(#237. 87/100)

***

“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” remarked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I remembered that bit of wisdom before embarking on our tryst with this rum.  And to ensure that my long anticipation for the Tot wasn’t bending my feeble mind (I bought the bottle 2014, and tasted it for the first time almost a full year later) I tempered my judgement by trying it three times, with the Skeldon 1973 32 year old, BBR 1977 36 year old, a Velier Caroni and the Samaroli Barbados 1986.  Just to be sure I wasn’t getting too enthusiastic you understand. I had to be sure. I do these things so you don’t have to.

As much as the G&M Longpond 1941, St James 1885 or the J. Bally 1929, to name a few, the near-legendary Black Tot Last Consignment is one of the unicorns of the rum world.  I’m not entirely convinced it should be so – many craft makers issue releases in lots of less than a thousand bottles, while some 7,000 bottles of this are in existence (or were).  Nor is it truly on par with some of the other exceptional rums I’ve tried…the reason people are really willing to shell out a thousand bucks, is that whiff of unique naval pedigree, the semi-mystical aura of true historical heritage.  A rum that was stored for forty years (not aged, stored) in stone flagons, and then married and bottled and sold, with a marketing programme that would have turned the rum into one of the absolute must-haves of our little world…if only it wasn’t quite so damned expensive.

I don’t make these points to be snarky. After all, when you taste it, what you are getting is a 1960s rum and that by itself is pretty nifty.  But there’s an odd dearth of hard information about the Tot that would help an average drinking Joe to evaluate it (assuming said Joe had the coin). About all you know going in is that it come from British Royal Navy stocks left over after the final rum ration was issued to the Jolly Jack Tars on Black Tot Day (31st July, 1970 for the few among you who don’t weep into your glasses every year on that date), and that it was released in 2010 on the same day. No notes on the rum’s true ageing or its precise components are readily available.  According to lore, it supposedly contains rums from Barbados, Guyana (of course), Trinidad, and a little Jamaica, combining the dark, licorice notes of Mudland, the vanillas and tars of the Trinis and that dunderesque whiffy funk of the Jamaicans.  And, the writer in me wants to add, the fierce calypso revelry of them all. Complete with mauby, cookup, doubles, rice and peas, pepperpot and jerk chicken.

Black Tot 1

All that aside, the rum’s presentation is exceptional. A wooden box of dark wood (walnut? oak?). A booklet written by Dave Broom on the background to the rum. A copper plated tot container. A tot ration card facsimile. And a bottle whose cork was covered with a hard, brittle wax sealant that Gregers, Cornelius and Henrik laughed themselves silly watching me try to cut off. The bottle itself was a stubby barroom style bottle with a good cork.  No fault to find on the appearance, at all.  Believe me, we were all raring to try this one.

The aromas first: at 54.3%, I expected more sharpness than the Tot exhibited, and enjoyed the deep and warm nose. Initially, anise and slightly chocolate-infused fumes billowed out of our glasses in well controlled balance.  Cardboard, musty hay, caramel and some tar and tobacco juice (maybe that was the Trinis speaking up?) followed swiftly.  The official literature suggests that the Jamaican part of the blend was minimal, because sailors didn’t care for it, but what little there was exerted quite a pull: dunder and a vaguely bitter, grassy kind of funk was extremely noticeable.  Here was a rum, however, that rewarded patience, so it was good that our conversation was long and lively and far-reaching.  Minutes later, further scents of brine and olives emerged, taking their turn on the stage before being replaced in their turn by prunes, black ripe cherries, leavened with sharper oak tannins, and then molasses, some caramel, smoke, and then (oddly enough), some ginger and dried smoked sausages snuck in there. It was very good…very strong with what we could term traditional flavours.  Still, not much new ground was broken here. It was the overall experience that was good, not the originality.

Good thing the palate exceeded the nose.  Here the strength came into its own – the Tot was a borderline heavy rum, almost mahogany-dark, quite heated on the tongue, with wave after wave of rich dark unsweetened chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, oak deftly kept in check.  Thick meaty flavours (yeah, there were those smoked deli meats again). It was a bit dry, nothing to spoil its lusciousness.  We put down our glasses, talked rum some more, and when we tried it again, we noted some salty, creamy stuff (an aggressive brie mixing it up with red peppers stuffed with cheese in olive oil, was the image that persisted in my mind).  Nuts, rye bread, some coffee. And underlying it all was the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore straight out of a gothic novel.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the finish failed a little – it was dry, quite long, so no complaints on that score – it just added little more to the party than the guests we had already seen. Smoke, tannins, aromatic tobacco, some molasses again, a little vegetal stuff, that was about it.  Leaving aside what I knew about it (or discovered later), had I tasted it blind I would have felt it was a rather young rum (sub-ten-year-old), with some aged components thrown in as part of the blend (but very well done, mind).

Which may not be too far from the truth. Originally the rum handed out in the 18th and 19th centuries was a Barbados- or Jamaican-based product.  But as time went on, various other more complex and blended rums were created and sold to the navy by companies such as Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, C&J Dingwall, George Morton and others. Marks were created from estates like Worthy Park, Monymusk, Long Pond, Blue Castle (all in Jamaica); from Mount Gilboa in Barbados; from Albion and Port Mourant in Guyana; and quite a few others. Gradually this fixed the profile of a navy rum as being one that combined the characteristics of all of these (Jamaica being the tiniest due to its fierce pungency), and being blended to produce a rum which long experience had shown was preferred by the sailors. E.D.&F. Man was the largest supplier of rums to the navy, and it took the lead in blending its own preferred style, which was actually a solera – this produced a blend where the majority of the rum was less than a decade old, but with aspects of rums much older than that contained within it.

The problem was that the depot (and all records about the vats and their constituent rums) was damaged, if not outright destroyed during the 1941 Blitz.  In effect this means that what we were looking at here was a rum, blended, and aged solera style, that was in all likelihood re-established in the 1940s only, and that means that the majority of the blend would be from the sixties, with aged components within it that reasonably date back to twenty years earlier. And that might account for the taste profile I sensed.

So now what?  We’ve tasted a sorta-kinda 1960s rum, we’ve accepted that this was “the way rums were made” with some serious, jowl-shaking, sage nods of approval. We’ve established it has a fierce, thick, dark taste, as if a double-sized magnum of Sunset Very Strong ravished the Supreme Lord VI and had a gently autistic child. It had a serious nose, excellent taste, and finished reasonably strong, if perhaps without flourish or grandeur.  The question is, is it worth the price?

Now Pusser’s bought the recipe years ago and in theory at least, they’re continuing the tradition.  Try their Original Admiralty Blend (Blue Label), the Gunpowder Strength or the fifteen year old, and for a lot less money you’re going to get the same rum (more or less) as the Jolly Jack Tars once drank. Why drop that kinda cash on the Tot, when there’s something that’s still being made that supposedly shares the same DNA?  Isn’t the Pusser’s just as good, or better? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s better, no (not least because of the reported 29 g/l sugar added). But at over nine hundred dollars cheaper, I have to wonder whether it isn’t a better bargain, rather than drinking a bottle like the Tot, with all its ephemeral transience. (Not that it’s going to stop anyone, of course, least of all those guys who buy not one but three Appleton 50s at once).

So this is where your wallet and your heart and your brain have to come to a compromise, as mine did. See, on the basis of quality of nose and palate and finish – in other words, if we were to evaluate the rum blind without knowing what it was – I’d say the Black Tot last Consignment is a very well blended product with excellent complexity and texture.  It has a lot of elements I appreciate in my rums, and if it fails a bit on the back stretch, well, them’s the breaks. I’ll give what I think is a fair score that excludes all factors except how it smells, tastes and makes me feel. Because I have to be honest – it’s a lovely rum, a historical blast from the past, and I don’t regret getting it for a second.

At the end, though, what really made it stand out in my mind, was the pleasure I had in sharing such a piece of rum heritage with my friends.  I have cheaper rums that can do the trick just as easily.  But they just wouldn’t have quite the same cachet. The same sense of gravitas. The overall quality. And that’s what the money is for, too.

Other notes:

I’m aware this review is a bit long. I tend to be that way, get really enthusiastic, when a rum is very old, very pricey or very very good. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one applies here.

Aug 052013
 

D7K_2782

 

Rich, simply flavoured, overproofed Navy-style rum that has a skinnier corpus than expected

(#176. 80/100)

***

There’s nothing much I can tell you about Wood’s Rum Distillery itself because there’s not much online about it (and my books barely speak to the big names so what hope is there for the small ones?), but the brand did exist for over a century before being acquired by William Grant in 2002 – these are the boys who also own Sailor Jerry and the OVD rum brands and supposedly dabble in minor whiskies like Glenfiddich and Balvenie (or so rumour has it). I wish, on the strength of what I tasted here, that I knew more about the company’s origins and how it got into the Navy rum market in days of yore. It’s perhaps kind of appropriate that I bought it at Heathrow, Britain’s largest modern equivalent to the old ports.

The first noticeable, unmistakeable aromas that billowed forth as I cracked the cheap tinfoil cap, were huge, in-your-face biffs of molasses, licorice and coffee. They were deep and dark and rich and had it not been for the rather raw profile overall, I could be forgiven for thinking the rum was an old Demerara from Enmore, or even a Dictador 20 on steroids. Which is not too surprising, because Woods made a rum here which took the characteristic dark pot still distillates from DDL in Guyana (one source suggests some column distillate is used as well, about which I have my doubts, but okay), aged them in oak for up to three years and then bottled the result without gelding the poor thing to 40%…but remained at a chest-hair-curling 57%. Drink this neat and you’ll feel like a hobbit drinking with Treebeard. So good for them, methinks. The intensity remained, the darkness persisted, in any kind of cocktail the tastes stayed true, and frankly, Navy rums should be a tad more oomphed up than the norm, otherwise they wouldn’t (to my mind anyway) be Navy rums.

D7K_2783

What about the taste? Well, pretty much what you would expect, all in all (come on, were you really expecting a swan to emerge from an eighteen-quid duckling?). Woods 100 was a dark red, almost black rum — which had been part of the initial attraction for me — poured inkily into the glass, and when sipped conformed as closely to the anticipated profile as one James Bond movie does to another: spicy, rich, dark melange of flavours promised by the nose. And these were the same molasses, burnt sugar, coffee and licorice overtones, which buried the subtler elements as completely as an alpine avalanche. Sure, I found sly and supple hints of chopped fruits, cinnamon, vanilla, ripe cherries and cashews, but not enough to really stand out…the balance was all towards the dominant notes. The finish was, as befitted an overproof, long and lasting, giving more of the molasses and burnt sugar, quite heated and a shade dry. But, of course, with claws.

It should be pointed out that I felt the rum teetered on the edge of being medium bodied, because it was harsher on the tongue and one the fade than I had anticipated, thinner (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by El Dorados)…there’s an element of rawness to it, a lack of refinement and couth which points to the short maturation. Still, it’s young, it’s brawny, it’s cheap, it’s not like I should expect a miracle: like any young stud, strength is the selling point, not staying power or finnesse.

There are many rums like Wood’s on my shelf, which says a lot for my affections when it comes to sweaty, prole-centric, cane-cutter rums I don’t necessarily sip. Cabot Tower 100, Favell, Young’s Old Sam are the first that spring to mind, but also Robert Watson, some of the old Enmores (better made, older and smoother but not quite as cheerily nutso as this ‘un), Pusser’s or Lamb’s. I’d place this one about on par with the Cabot’s (which scored 78).

D7K_2784

But y’know, Demerara rum seem to be good no matter what, and that is particularly true of the wooden pot still products. Whether they are made to sip and savour (like BBR’s Port Morant 1975 or Bristol Spirits PM 1980) or to get one hammered (all the others named above), they all have that deep, rich fruity molasses note within their variations, and this one stands forward to take its place loudly and proudly (even obnoxiously) among all the others. The fact that many online shop-commentaries resound with the plaudits of ex Royal Navy men who esteem Woods above just about any other Navy rum says all, I think, that needs to be said about this cheerful, powerful, unpretentious cask-strength rum.

 

Other notes

In passing, why name it “100” when it’s actually 114 proof? Well, here I’d refer you to my essay on poofage, but in fine, in the old maritime days, 100 proof was a measure of the least (most diluted) ratio of alcohol to water which would still support the combustion of gunpowder. And that equated to about 57% ABV.

 

 

 

Mar 272013
 

This review was posted first on RumConnection in two parts in May 2012.  Thanks to Mike Streeter who lends his site to such occasional contributions that exceed his normal article length.

***

My own, slightly edited (and scored) review which corrected some minor issues and changed the wording a bit, is below.  Suffice to say, this is one of those overproofs I really enjoyed.  I tried it by itself to write the review, but it’s as a mixer and base that this strong, dark Demerara rum really shines.

(#107. 79.5/100)

*

It’s big, it’s bad, and it’s tougher than a Brickdam jailbird’s meat ration. It’s 75.5% of tonsil-tearing muscle, a dark brown rum hurricane, and among the meanest, strongest rums available anywhere. Lemon Hart 151 stomps up to you (and maybe over you), casts you a mean, cold-eyed glare, and mutters into your traumatized corpus, “Fear me. Respect me. Honour my eye-watering awesomeness.” In the annals of badassery, this rum will always be one of Sweet Sweetback’s baddest songs.

Overproof rums are a rather astonishing display of rum-on-human violence, and the only drinks I can come up with where participants run the risk of traumatic injury every time they try some — to my knowledge, only industrial ethanol, Brazilian alcool, the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3%, St. Vincent’s Sunset Very Strong (84.5%), Marienburg 90 or Stroh 80 can claim higher alcohol levels. Yet they have their adherents (I am one of them). Yes, you can get drunk faster on ‘em, and yes, they make great cocktails, and yes, for those in penury how can they be beat? – but then they exist on a level beyond that, at a point in space and time where you find ultra-marathoners, HALO parachute jumpers and all those nutso A-types who actually enjoy taking a badass risk every time they try whatever it is they try. This rum is absolutely made for such people. Like any massively overproof rum, it is for the taster an equal mixture of pleasure and pain. Few are the surviving drinkers who do not bend a trembling knee after the fact in a showy, post-trauma, did-I-actually-drink-this? thank-you-Jesus-for-letting-me-live piety. Yet, is it bad for all that? I suggest not.

Coming at me, it sat on my table, dark, squat, ugly with brooding menace and the promise of violence in its dark brown-red stare. In trying it, I didn’t waste my time making nice or taking a sniff immediately, because overproofs usually have enough raw alcohol to stun an ox into catatonia; instead, I let the vapours burn off and the concentrated flavours settle. What I got for my trouble was the spirituous equivalent of a weaponized flatus on steroids – it certainly punched like it. Damn but this was strong. A shade muskier than I would have expected. Chopped fruit…oh, prunes, maybe Christmas black cake. My Aunt Sheila used to make cake that smelled like that, back in Guyana.

In the spirit of reviewing rums, I must confess to a certain masochistic pride at being able to drink any rum, no matter how foul or how strong (I can just see one of my whisky loving bête noires snickering “Isn’t that all of them?“). In this case, I’m glad I did, because the taste of the Lemon Hart isn’t half bad at all for such a hellishly potent overproof. Oh sure, it’s as raw as sandpaper on the palate, and I’d never tell you it was a sipper’s onanistic must-have…but there’s more taste there than you might expect, stronger, more intense. That’s what makes it work: I got a spicy molasses darkness mixed up with burnt brown sugar, bananas, licorice (again), baking spices, and just a sly hint of cinnamon. That last is reaching, though. Lemon Hart 151 is plain-simple, powerfully constructed and straightforward dy-no-mite, and I should not pretend it’s some kind of top end table tipple.

As for the finish, well, I run out of ways to describe it in flowery language, so, to be blunt: raw and harsh and had fumes like a porknocker’s searing effluent…made my eyes water, my throat cringe and my sphincter oscillate. To be fair, even through all that there were weak hints of brown sugar and cloves that cried to their mommies (the cask strength whiskies), as they attempted to emerge through the carving heat of the alcohol, so all was not lost. It’s a mixer for sure, yet surprises are in store for the persistent and slightly deranged who stick with it.

The base liquor for Lemon Hart 151 is made in Guyana (which immediately means DDL) and bottled by Canada’s Newfoundland Liquor Corporation, which also makes the Young’s Old Sam and the Cabot Tower 100 proof Demerara, both heavy, dark molasses-snorting rums that pride themselves in not catering to a connoisseur’s sophistication, and for both of which I have a sneaking affection. Previously Pernod-Ricard had owned the marque before selling it on to a privately held concern, Mosaiq, in 2010, and Lemon Hart does indeed have quite a pedigree….it was itself first marketed in 1804 by Mr. Lehmynn Hart as the rum of choice for Royal Navy when he created the Lemon Hart company in that year, having moved the business he started in the late 1700s from Cornwall to London. Whether they market it as such or not, in the darkness and strength of the current product, you can still see the whispers of that old maritime tradition. (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Pusser’s, Lamb’s, Favell’s, or Lemon Hart has the right to the crown of “Navy Rum”.)

I remarked once that overproof rums are getting to the stage that they can seriously be considered drinks in their own right as opposed to seeing them as only Tanti Merle’s black cake ingredients or mixologists’ wet dreams. Unfortunately, like single digit rums or popular blends, they labour under a cloud of perceptive disapproval, often thought of as no more than poor student’s tipples or backdam stand-bys for the bushmen I used to drink with in my youth. I mean, can you honestly see a guy who waxes rhapsodic over the English Harbour 25 year old buy one of these bad boys? Lemon Hart 151 for sure has little couth, zero class, laughs at complexity, and does not give a good goddamn about any of that (or your tonsils, so be warned). What it cares about is giving you a concentrated burst of simple, powerful flavours wrapped up in a sheet of such stunning white lightning that, when your DNA settles back from being devolved and you can speak coherently again, you actually can consider the rum as being…well…kinda good.

Addendum: this is the reissued Lemon Hart 151 which only started to hit shelves in the last year or so and lacks the 1.5% Canadian rum the previous iteration had…it’s not the original rum people may be more familiar with, which did have that inclusion.

 

Mar 262013
 

A dark navy rum that starts slow and nasty and evolves into a most amazingly flavourful product, and which can even be tolerated by the masochistic as a drink to sip on its own.

First posted 23rd November 2011 on Liquorature

(#087. 76/100)

***

Honesty forces me to confess that the only reason I bought this rum was because Keenan and I had had it in local pub on a wing night and we couldn’t believe what a powerful deep-tasting mixer it made. Seeing it the other day in a shop, I snapped it up, and I have to tell you, for less than $30, you could do worse than try this pretender to the Navy rum throne. Too bad The Bear had bailed for booze-regulated eastern climes by then. I comfort myself by snidely noting his pickings are now as slim as a frog hair split four ways and sanded smooth.

There is something uniquely and even amusingly provincial – nay, Canadian – about Potter’s. The label, which tongue in cheek informs you that if you are reading it, you probably aren’t on a tropical beach (try finding that on a product made in the US); the bottle; the unassuming nature of it all. Okay, enough snickering (yeah yeah, I can see you there in the front row, fella) – I know it has a chintzy kind of faux-70’s bottle design – much like the Alberta Premium – but how can one not help but smile at the sheer chutzpah of makers who can so insouciantly flip us all the bird?

In the glass, Potter’s is copper bronze, almost red (pretty cool, that), with middling thin legs hesitantly draining down the sides. Wafts of molasses and brown sugar were immediately in evidence even before I put my beak into it, and at that point I have to tell you flat out – the initial nose may be the single worst reek since the Bundie (or, for the generous among you, the most distinctive). Plastic, plasticine, playdo and sickly sweet grape esters leapt out at me and sought to crush my sense of smell with a mass attack – I felt like my nose just harpooned a steam locomotive. Molasses, burnt sugar and some vanilla tried vainly to get out from under that crushing stench, but were mercilessly clubbed to the ground.

So pretty bad, right?

Not at all. That’s the crazy thing. Potter’s opened up like a shy bodybuilder, and after the initial bludgeon relaxed, it was actually quite good – one kind of was able to pick out the individual scents (not without effort, admittedly), and while it’ll never be on my list of alltime favourites, it wasn’t all bad. Liquorice, molasses and burning canefields all coiled around the core smells of burnt sugar, and Potter’s made no attempt to be coy or complex – what you nosed was exactly what you got, and nothing more (contrast that against the Pusser’s 15, which had hidden treasures under them tights).

And tastewise, oh man – what the hell did Potters do here? The rum is stupid good – no cheapass rum should have such a strong delivery, be this bold, or this distinctive. Dark, smoky, heavy, like the best Navy rums, or el Dorado 5 yr old, better than Lamb’s Navy, or  Coruba by a sea mile, and as good or better than Young’s Old Sam’s.  I tasted liquorice, tobacco and molasses, heavy and smoky on the tongue, with leather, pipe tobacco and perhaps a touch of dried grapes (my six year old son The Little Caner took a sniff and disdainfully remarked “blue cheese” before walking off with his pocketmoney, but he has a point – there is some kind of well aged rindy cheese in there too). Dry and uncompromisingly sere, not too sweet (but not too much in the opposite direction either), and quite smooth for such a seemingly unaged product. And the fade is also good – dry, deep burn down your throat, not bitchy, just slow and powerful – it lacks the sophistication of the Pusser’s 15 yr old, but guys, it ain’t far off, and it costs less. In short, this rum is, in my opinion, an unheralded mid-ranger punching well above its seemingly low-class antecedents – it’s like an accountant who strips off his tie and becomes, oh, I dunno, Superman’s poor doofus cousin. About the only thing I wish I knew was whether they had added anything to enhance the flavour profile.

So who is Potters made by? By the same outfit that makes the utterly forgettable Momento rum I so dissed not too long ago – Highwood Distillers out of Alberta. I didn’t think that the Momento cut it, and said so, but thankfully I didn’t just dismiss the whole distillery out of hand. After tasting this rum, about which not much is said on their website (actually, they just reprinted the blurb on the label), I am happy to report that if they were to branch out into aged rums, perhaps, they might really have something going here. Certainly as navy rums go, I have some fault and much praise to find in the product, because it appeals to all my basic desires in a rum – I don’t have to filet the thing, dissect it into ten different components – it is a straightforward, strong and unapologetic product made for simpler times, and simpler people than we have become.

Now, all things considered, I think Potter’s has a shade too much sulphur and is a bit too feinty to be classed as a good sipper (don’t let that stop you if you’re of a mind – it ain’t half bad that way); something about that background muskiness and cloying nature of it puts me off. And even the label suggests it isn’t one, and I may be one of the few who can stomach it as such given the initial reek (it’ll batter most others into catatonia). As a mixer, though…wow. Rounds out a coke or ginger ale just fine. I could drink it with a cola or as a cocktail base all night long, and all I could think of as I tasted it that night, was that I wish my friend had been with me, and that he hadn’t left to take up a job elsewhere. This rum was made for a guy like him, and in fact, it was a rum like him – outwardly simple, deceptively unpretentious, effective, unforgettable, humourous, powerful and the best essence of all that is north of forty nine.

 

 

 

 

Mar 262013
 

A solidly impressive aged product from Pusser’s. You might compare it to a barbarian using a fork, or male ballet dancer – you’ll snicker, but appreciate the strength and the quality all the same.

First posted 16 August 2011 on Liquorature

(#082)(Unscored)

West Indians probably snigger into their shot glasses in every beer garden, corner store or rumshop whenever the name of this Navy-style rum comes up.  In fact, I’m pretty sure of it, and if you don’t get that, find a guy fresh off the boat or the plane and get him to explain it to you.  Like many Caribbean bon mots, it’s about as subtle as a charging rhino.  Yet, there’s no denying either the pedigree or the impact of the rum itself. It’s a powerful strong concoction not overly mucked about with. Rums like this have names like Maxwell, Clarence…or Brutus.

That ambivalent phrasing pretty much sums up my attitude towards Pussers, towards which I have an on-again, off-again relationship (much like I do with Clemente’s).  At one moment I appreciate its marketing, its unapologetically and brutally minimalist presentation and its take-no-prisoners if-you-can’t-hack-it-you’re-a-wuss flavor.  At others I simply blow it away as something not subtle enough, not refined enough.  I’m inconsistent that way sometimes. My friend Keenan, who hails from the Maritimes, quite liked it, by the way, and so do a few others I know.

Pusser is a corruption of the word Purser, a name given to that worthy gent on each ship in the Royal Navy whose job it was to hand out the rum ration in the days before Black Friday in July 1970, when rum was officially banished from aboard all vessels of war. The company that makes it, Pusser’s, bought the recipe and stills from the Royal Navy and launched themselves into business, and may reasonably be said to make the rum closest to what navy rums really were back in the old days. Characteristics include overproofing, not very sweet, dark and heavy body and minimal – if any – additives.  In that way, it’s very much like the Cadenhead Green Label or Demerara rums I’ve tried.  Lamb’s Old Navy, Sailor Jerry, London Dock and Wood’s all have claims (some say pretensions) to the title of Navy Rums, but my feeling is that Pusser’s got it.

The rum is aged for 15 years in ex-bourbon barrels, and various sources have suggested that the blend that is aged comprises four rums: portions of Jamaican, Bajan, a bit of Trini, and a hefty dose of a Guyanese rum, which immediately implies (to me), DDL – because they are the only ones left making rum from wooden stills which is a Pusser rum claim to fame as well. Some have said five rums, but I’ve been unable to confirm this: Pusser’s doesn’t give out too much in the way of details.

All this history is fine, you say, but do you mind? Get to the rum itself, willya.

Well, there’s the bottle above.  Squat, unadorned, in your face (a bit like the much more refined English Harbour 10 year old).  The label is somewhat at odds with its proletarian cachet, what with all those bright red and blue colours, and again you think of that dancer (just sayin’…).

The liquid within was dark, as befits a Navy rum, and poured out like a young El Dorado on steroids. The thing had medium legs, and a pungent nose that almost invited further exploration.  You’d think that something so aimed at the drinking classes would have a straightforward bouquet that didn’t frig around and advertised its forthcoming palate simply and directly, with a minimum of fuss and bother.  But that wasn’t so at all.  I took a sniff, wasn’t too impressed, and was about to make snotty notes and grumbling remarks, when the flavours started coming through the air and I realized that this fifteen year old Jolly Jack Tar had quite a lot under its leotards. A full, rich and earthy scent – quite spicy, let me note right off – redolent of cocoa and a hint of vanilla, and dark brown sugar marinated just enough in oak to get that slight bite.  Maybe some cinnanmon played around in the background there, but whatever it was, it made for a more complex nose than I had started off with.

The arrival on the palate is neither smooth nor harsh: powerful, though, quite impressive for a 40% rum.  You get the sense of strength barely held in check from being rotgut moonshine by the blender’s art. I was tasting dark caramel and chocolate, cinnamon (there it was) and baked apples.  Some citrus and maybe sherry. And, alas, the woodiness and spiciness of ageing not entirely mitigated by skilful blending.  This was not enough for me to seriously mark it down, but it was noticeable, and if your preferences are for more flavourings rather than minimalism, more sweet rather than less, then this may not be the rum for you.  I’m no expert on the obscure Scottish drink (okay Maltmonster you can stop your laughing there, fella), but I thought that here was a rum that actually had more characteristics of an aged whisky or a cognac, though it probably is too sweet for the purists and cognoscenti.

The finish was perhaps the least impressive thing about it – however, given how high a position it started from that’s not to be read as an indictment of what is really quite a unique drink – it was medium long and a little too harsh for me, especially after what I had considered a very good beginning, but of greater than usual richness and warmth. The viscosity of the rum was enough to make the finish last – I just didn’t care too much for what it was that lasted.  But at end, this is a matter of the spiciness rather than any intrinsic quality, and by most standards, I’d say Pusser’s 15 year old rum is a solidly top-of-the-middle-shelf product, to be had either neat or in a cocktail, and enjoyed either way. It’s rich, it’s complex, and only my personal preferences make it slightly less than a winner.  Most reviews I’ve read drool over the product.

Over the years I must concede to being somewhat won over by rums stronger than the standard and near-ubiquitous 40% (this is not one of them, being bottled at the standard forty).  The flavours are stronger, more powerful: even a small shot attacks your palate like a tiny hammer of Thor, and as cocktail mixers they are beyond compare for the same reasons.  Pusser’s great virtue is its complexity of flavour and strength of taste you get for a standard strength rum – you’ll go far to find something quite like this, overproof or not, and again, I can only mention the Cadenheads or the Renegades as comparators. Any time I feel like being smacked around by a spicy, muscled beefcake of a rum which proudly struts its stuff, Pusser’s isn’t far from my mind.

So if pressed – yes, I like it.  Yeah, wrap it up for me – I’ll take it.  And I think I’ll call mine Brutus.

 

Mar 262013
 

First posted 28 January 2011 on Liquorature

An overproof harking back to maritime days of the Empire, Favell’s lacks enough ageing or serious taste to compete with more carefully made and better aged examples of the craft, and will appeal more to whisky drinkers who like cask strength offerings, than those who like lesser strength rums to sip neat. 

(#065. 79.5/100)

***

Favell’s London Dock Demerara rum plays on the maritime heritage of the British empire’s trading  days: sailing ships, foggy stone wharves, the slow slap of the waves against the wooden hulls of old windjammers and clippers anchored alongside, and West Indian Trade in rum and molasses. Even the labelling reflects a slightly old-fashioned, nautical slant, what with its picture and the interesting notation that it is 100 proof rum…or 57.1% (for a discussion on why 100 proof in Britain is – or used to be – 57.1% alcohol by volume, see my article on proofs here).

Favell’s is, like other rums made in northerly climes, a blend of stock imported from the West Indies (Guyana, in this case) and again, this is stated front and center in the label: Demerara rum, product of Guyana.  In the 19th century the British empire had its largest trading hub in London, and in 1802 an entire new section of the Port of London, the West India Docks, was built to process the vast amounts of sugar and rum arriving from British colonies in the Caribbean. The Rum Dock section gave birth to Lamb’s London Dock and other rums of that period, but whose names have long vanished.  These days, only the term remains, redolent with history.

At 57% ABV, Favell’s is a overproof: we might term it cask strength.  There are frustratingly few notations on the distillation methodology available.  About all I can tell you is that the bulk rums come from Guyana, and the blend is made in Canada under license to White Favell, Vintner’s of London, who probably act like Gordon and MacPhail or Bruichladdich, but without the fame. The nice thing is that, like Screech and Old Sam’s, it’s made in Newfoundland, and that probably had something to do with the long maritime tradition of The Rock (or so the romantic in me supposes).

The nose was, as one might expect, not gentle or forgiving.  London Dock rums as a general rule adhere to Navy blending traditions, which is to say they are rough and dark and strong and have tastes are at best unsophisticated.  This one was no exception, and at 57.1%, I wasn’t surprised. It smacked the nose and was redolent of harsh spirit, caramel and some vanilla.  A bit sharper than I personally preferred.  After opening up, however, the alcohol vapours started to recede and a lighter, thinner floral scent stole about the overpowering depth of dark sugar, and I have to acknowledge that if you’re prepared to wait a bit, that almost makes it worthwhile.

However, to my disappointment, the taste failed when compared with either Pusser’s, or the A.D. Rattray’s rather surprisingly excellent 13 year old Caroni rum, which are the only overproofs I’ve sampled that came close to Favell’s. The sharp taste is not medicinal, precisely (I would have marked it down for that), but it does bite like hell, and not the dark deep burn of a good, mellowed-down, well-aged overproof, but something harsher, less refined: something that required a bit more time in the barrel, I’d say. The rum was decently full-bodied as befits a Demerara rum – the problem was that the taste was not distinct, not particularly complex, or well-defined.  Oh you get the caramel, some faint burnt sugar notes, together with a trace of molasses. That’s all, though.  And the finish , well, it does linger, powerfully so…but one feels that those are mostly the alcohol fumes with some faint hints of the aforementioned standards, and so not particularly distinguished.

That this rum has absolutely nothing to do with the glory days of the British Navy and all its associated traditions is not in dispute.  It’s a pretender to a throne to which Lamb’s Navy rum and Pusser’s stand rather closer in the line of succession and merit. But I wouldn’t exactly mark it down for that either.  These days, I assume marketing swamis and smart people who study people’s tastes and how to sell things to people are usually behind the branding of any rum I review (and if any doubt my statement, feel free to weigh in on the discussion on the Ron de Jeremy slated to be produced this year): and so I don’t really hold it against them.

Favell’s is, to my mind, a success from the perspective of imagination.  I can surely, without effort, think of having a flagon of this at my side as I watch the last of the cargo being loaded onto my old sailing ship bound for Port Georgetown, the hawsers creaking as the tide comes in, the fog swirling around the dimly lamp-lit quay and muting the low conversations of the  sailors as they batten the hatches and make ready to cast off all lines.

Too bad that the taste and overall quality of Favell’s doesn’t quite live up to that promise. Close, but not quite.

 

Mar 262013
 

First posted 15th January 2011 on Liquorature

(#063)(Unscored)

I’ve never hidden my affection for the Young’s Old Sam Demerara rum: for its rich dark character, thick nose and excellent mixing qualities.  Here’s a variation which simply blows it out of the water, because, unlike that simple mixer, Watson’s is in better balance overall, and is equally good as a sipper or a cocktail base.

***

People, I think are entirely too disbelieving of coincidences: when you consider that there are six billion plus people on the planet, I am actually amazed that there aren’t more coincidences.  One of the best in recent memory was the appearance of a rum named after one of our members: the Robert Watson Demerara dark rum, “a product of Guyana.”

Initial maturation is indeed done in Guyana, but final blending and bottling is done in Scotland by the company that owns the brand, Ian MacLeod distillers.  Established in 1933 by Ian MacLeod, the company was acquired in 1963 by the Russell family, who were primarily whisky brokers. In 2000, the company acquired the Watson’s Demerara and Trawler rum brands, but I cannot yet ascertain from whom, or where the marques originated.

Fine. After we finished grinning and congratulating Bob (Mr. “A-is-A”) on his product and his suitable modesty in naming it after himself, we took stock.  Straightforward bottle, red metal cap. My picture, much affected by the five shots of various Ardbegs I had already consumed (my arms were twisted, honest) doesn’t really do it justice, but it glinted a deep red-brown colour, like burnished copper.

Watson’s is distilled to 40% in pot stills, and aged in oak casks for an unknown period – I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest at least five years, and possibly, just possibly, as long as ten (I hate not knowing this stuff). It filmed the side of the glass and had plump but barely discernible legs as the rum sheeted slowly down, which boded well for the body.

The nose was the first pleasure of the day.  Almost no bite or sting or medicinal burn, though some faint alcohol fumes were there for sure…just well masked and toned down.  And almost instantly I got sweet, rich fumes of molasses. Deep fumes.  Actually, Watson’s, like Old Sam’s, positively reeked of the dark sticky stuff and brown sugar from a freshly opened bag.  After we let it sit for a while, liquorice, nutmeg and something spicy curled around these strong and assertive scents. An excellent, uncomplicated snoot, in my opinion: no fancy additives or little thises or thatses, just the bare bones, well blended.

On the palate, it was full bodied and rich – a real Demerara rum.  It was smooth and deep, tasting faintly of chocolate, but I’d be lying to you if I pretended it had some sort of more complex flavour profile which it didn’t possess…because it doesn’t, and that’s okay, really. The molasses and sugar, with a bit of caramel and maybe vanilla, were the dominant flavours and you won’t get more than that (though the rum does exhibit a pleasing slight driness after a few minutes in the glass).  And the fade is lovely, enveloping and smooth, a dark slow burn that to me marks excellent rums.  The crazy thing I liked so much about Watson’is that I barely caught any real snarl and claw and bite of alcohol throughout – it really is surpisingly smooth. If in taste and nose this thing exceeded the Young’s Old Sam, then in the finish it simply blasted way beyond it.

It’s a pleasure to find a rum bearing the name of one of our members: you might say that’s quite enough by itself.  But to have it married to a deep and rich taste, a great balance and finish…well now, that’s an unforeseen delight, like my wife giving me a Christmas present in July. I do not believe others will share my genuine liking for this straightforward, cutlass-waving, boot-stomping Demerara rum (though I have made no secret over the years of my predilections in this direction). And while I’ve had my issues with Scottish distillers taking rum stock from the West Indies and making their own rum variations – not always successfully – with Watson’s I have so such problems. The thing is great.

Robert Watson’s rum is a phenomenal, strong tasting rum with no time for friggin’ around on the subtleties, equally good alone or in company – and if I ever see it in any store I visit, I’m pouncing on it like a hungry vulture spotting his first lame impala of the day. Count on it.

Mar 242013
 

First posted 01 October 2010 on Liquorature.

(#038)(Unscored)

***

Lemon Hart is an instructive case study in how one can chose a rum without knowing a damned thing about it. As I’ve noted on more than one occasion, if you go into a store without a blessed clue, you are down to three bases for your decision and only three: the price; the look; and knowledge you have when you enter the joint. Anything different is somebody else choosing for you.

So here, what did I have? Well, the price for a flattie, which was less than twenty bucks; the look, which was simple and unadorned and referred to Demerara – perusers of my writing will know I have a soft spot for the old sod; and my knowledge.  Admittedly, I do have a bit of a larger base of knowledge than some, and so I had certain advantages there.

Knowing the history of the brand though, doesn’t mean anything.  It’s how good the rum in this brand is, in this bottle, that counts.  And I had never had any of Lemon Hart’s variations before, so I couldn’t tell whether any of its cousins were any good and extrapolate up or down, and therefore…well, in the end, I guessed.  How disappointing is that?

Lemon Hart owes its making to the Navy Rums of yore.  I’ve covered this in more depth in my review on the Pusser’s, but to recap, the British Royal Navy, as far back as 1655 until they abolished the practice in 1970, regularly issued a tot of rum to all hands in order to ward off scurvy (they added lime juice to the mix which is why I mentioned before that rum has been mixed since the beginning of its existence, and why Jack Tars are called limeys even today).  Navy rum by tradition is not heavily sugared or added to, which is also part of its distinctive cachet: Lemon Hart, Pusser’s and Lamb’s all pretend to this inheritance (for my money, the Pusser’s makes the strongest case, but that’s just me). Lemon Hart was one of the original suppliers of rum to the Navy, beginning in 1804; Alfred Lamb came a few decades later with his London Dock rum.  Both used raw rum stock that came from the Caribbean, mostly the dark, full bodied rums of Guyana.  Indeed, Lemon Hart states this quite specifically on the bottle I have: Demerara rum product of Guyana. But it is bottled in either Ontario or England.

Lemon Hart is a dark rum, brown with reddish tints, and has the characteristic thickness and full body of Demerara rums.  When you swirl the liquid in the glass, it has slow fat legs sliding languorously back in. The nose, what there is of it, hints at straightforward rum without embellishment. You can tell it’s young from the harsh burning and medicinal reek, but this is swiftly gone, to be replaced with a powerful molasses overlay. Behind that is a slightly salty tang, just a hint of bitterness as if from some sort of citrus rind. On the tongue it demonstrates its youth with the rawness of the taste.  Yes it’s a bit oily and coats the mouth very nicely, but behind the molasses taste (which is quite overwhelming) and brown sugar, caramel and some fruit, there’s not much here: on the other hand, if simplicity is your thing, LH will definitely shine for you.  The finish is medium long and not very smooth, but since I wasn’t expecting much, it wasn’t too disappointed.

In summary then: a mixer’s rum for sure. Lemon Hart is dense and viscous enough to need only a reasonable addition of cola or ale or Christmas drinks or whatever else your poison is, but it does need it.  Once that is done, you have a decent drink you can enjoy at length without worrying too much about the overall price tag.  And if you have guests, you may even get some brownie points for taking the time to hunt out what appears, in other parts of the world, to be a drink somewhat harder to obtain there than it is here.

Note: There is also a Lemon Hart Jamaican rum somewhat more commonly sold and distributed down there, but I have been unable to ascertain whether it is the same maker of the Demerara variety or not.  It seems not to be, but if anyone reading this review can shed light on the matter, please feel free to comment below.

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