May 292018
 

#517

Writing about the Milroy Jamaican 26 year old, I rather sourly remarked that there was absolutely nothing to go on regarding the provenance of the rum.  No such issue afflicts the 1988 edition of the El Dorado 25 year old rum, which is one of the most recognized premiums ever made. Even increased competition from  other Caribbean (or independent) makers has done little to dull its lustre….except among the cognoscenti, who wouldn’t rinse their glencairns with it.

Which, for the uninitiated, seems somewhat extreme.  After all, just look at the stats: bottled at 43%, and it’s a true 25 year old rum – nobody has ever put a dent in DDL’s age statements – made by one of the most famous brands in the rumiverse, using the near legendary stills in a masterful assembly: various sources note that the marques of EHP (wooden coffey), PM (double wooden pot still), AN (French Savalle Still) are all part of the blend, and while there is some variation from batch to batch, overall the rum remains remarkably consistent.

So what’s the issue? Well, by now, anyone who has read about DDL’s El Dorado rums is – or should be – aware that they practice dosing.  That is, the addition of caramel syrup or sugar or whatever, in order to smoothen it out and make it more sippable, more elegant, more rounded. This is of course never acknowledged or noted on the label, and it took private hydrometer tests to ascertain that the El Dorado 25 YO 1980 version had around 50g/L of adulterants, and the El Dorado 25 YO 1986 around 39 g/L (I don’t have specs on the 1988).  These additions certainly do their duty admirably – the rum is smooth, quiet, an awesome after-dinner sip. But there’s no free lunch in this world, and the price that is paid for that sippability is a muted profile – a muffled, muddled, addled, over-sweetened mess that obscures the high points of a rum that old.

Nosing it makes it clear right off the bat.  It’s slightly heated, fat and rounded – almost thickly aromatic. The dusky notes of anise and caramel, molasses, coconut and bananas are evident, but just barely. With some effort and concentration, raisins, apricots and prunes can be sensed…almost.  It feels toned down, and that’s not just a function of the relatively low strength, but also the suppressive nature of the dosage. And even on the nose the sweetness is self-evident.

This leads to a palate that is, at best, indeterminate – at worst it’s a travesty of what a rum aged for twenty five years should be. I spent half an hour sipping this rum in an attempt to take it apart, provide better tasting notes…and at the end, all I came up with was vanilla, toffee, molasses and licorice. There were some white chocolate and coffee notes.  Vague flowers. Fleshy fruits, very ripe oranges, faint faint faint. And over it all was the sweetness and liqueur-like nature of the whole tasting experience which was simply too much. What this also did was to make the finish practically nonexistent. It was blattened flat by a sort of cloying syrupy-ness, and no subtle tastes really emerged to make the close an enjoyable one.  

If you think that this review of the ED-25 is relatively moderate and temperate – or even bland – you’re quite right, so let me provide some extra personal details: the day I tasted this thing I was hopping mad with it inside of five minutes, and the very first notes in my book started out “Oh for f**k’s sake!!”  I wanted to write an R-rated review.  I wanted to eviscerate it with foul language that would make a Mudland porknocker cringe. And eventually, I had to write this review four times from scratch lest my disappointed fury bleed too much into the narrative.

And I’ll tell you why I was so pissed off – because I know there’s better under the hood of this deliberately triple-locked supercar. Because you can sense the quality, the brilliance of what could have been, lurking underneath the dreck — but are kept away from it by a freakin’ wall of additives neither asked for nor wanted, but which it was felt necessary to inflict. Because I’ve eaten labba and drunk creek water and want more out of the country.  Because I know DDL can do, and has done, better. It’s like the Little Caner dumping on a school test because he was too lazy to study even though he knew the material inside out. And like his results when he pulls this crap, were they to be given, the ED-25 (1988) doesn’t deserve to be rated. I’m that incensed.

So I’m not going to score this rum.  What’s the point? Those who want a five hundred dollar hooch with a cool presentation and excellent age won’t care enough to read this; those who despise dosage and adulteration in any form will never spring the coin, and the more knowledgeable folks in the middle know there’s better out there for less – sometimes even from El Dorado – and will be neither surprised nor appreciative. I’m going to suggest that if you want a smooth, sweet, well-aged rum and can get it for free as part of a tasting or a sample set, then by all means, go for it. Want to impress people who know nothing about rum, here’s one to wow their socks off. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

(Unscored)


Other notes

In the days after this post got shared on FB, it got a remarkable amount of traction in the comment section, especially in Rum Club Canada and The Ministry of Rum.  Most agreed, and others were, I imagine, amused by the idea of the Caner losing his temper.

Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live.  Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013, was one of these.  It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XO – which can be found practically everywhere and is known around the world – but it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%).  Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds rum – a better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely.  For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptional – though admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way.  It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?”

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste.  It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known.  Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.  

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembled – but originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me.  The whole experience was also not so much light as underperfoming … more than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely right – the rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados.  What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both.  Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)

Jan 032018
 

#475

“A few years ago, these rums [Zacapa and Diplo Res Ex] were seen as the baseline for all other rums to be judged.  No longer.”  Thus wrote Wes Burgin over at the Fat Rum Pirate in an excellent July 2017 post suggesting that with social media and education, enthusiasts were becoming more knowledgeable and less apt to accept adulterated rums than ever before.

Yet in spite of that ideal, in spite of the ever-expanding knowledge-base of rums the world over, the Diplo remains enormously popular. It’s unlikely that there’s any rum drinker out there – junkie or not – who didn’t at some point have a fling with this plump Venezuelan señora.  Just about all rum writers have done a thing on it. Like the Bacardis, El Dorados and Zacapas, it’s one of those rums one can find just about anywhere, and for the new people coming to rum cold, it remains a staple, if not always a favourite.  

That is, of course, due to both its very affordable price, and because of is sweet placidity.  You don’t want expensive indie aggro? A light, easy-going drink? Something to relax with? Complex enough for Government work? No thinking required? Here’s your solution. That’s also the reason why it drops off the radar of those people who grow to take their rums seriously (if it doesn’t drive them into transports of righteous rage).  Diplomatico – marketed as Botucal in Germany, named after one of the farms from which the cane comes, though it’s exactly the same product – never bothered to punch it up, never worried about cask strength, never deigned to lose the dosing or adulteration, and sells briskly day in and day out.  The deep-diving rum chums just shake their heads and head for the exits to buy the latest indie casker, and discussions on Facebook about the matter are more likely than any other to end up in verbal fisticuffs.

Yet consider for a moment the page of this rum in the populist-driven, crowd-sourced “review” site RumRatings.  A top-end, well-known, mid-priced unadulterated rum issued at full proof like, say, the Foursquare Criterion has 13 ratings on that site. The Triptych has 11. The 2006 10 Year Old has 4, and the most popular Foursquare rum is the 9 year old 2005 Port Cask Finish with 71.  The Diplomatico in contrast has over 1,200, with most rating it between 8 and 9 out of 10 points. 

Surely neither longevity, nor rank please-as-many-as-possible populism are solely responsible for such a disparity. There’s got to be more to it than just that, a reason why it regularly appears on people’s answers to the constant question “What to start with?” — and I’m sorry but not everyone drinks a few hundred rums a year like us writers and festival junkies, and it isn’t enough to simply shrug, sniff condescendingly and say “some people just don’t know good rums.” If it is – as I suggest – a rum worth revisiting, then such popularity and esteem requires a cold, beady-eyed re-consideration.  We have to understand whether it has something more in its trousers, something subtle, that excites that kind of appreciation. It was in an effort to understand what lay behind the popularity of the Diplo that I deliberately sourced a bottle in Berlin in late 2017, and while my controls were a few stronger, purer rums from the Latin side, to my surprise the Diplo didn’t entirely choke even when ranked against them (I shall now pause for the incredulous expressions of indignation to pass), though for sure it never came close to exceeding any and raced to the bottom in fine style.

Part of all this is its relative simplicity compared to fierce and pungent rums now taking centre stage. The nose was a straightforward sweet toblerone, toffee, vanilla, butterscotch and caramel, very light and easy and butter-smooth, with what complexity there was being imparted by spices aimed at the sweet side – rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg – and a little nuttiness, and a hint of light fruit, all of which took real effort to separate out.  Hardly the most complex or intriguing smell ever to waft out of a rum bottle, and the vanilla and caramel were really too dominant to provide the sort of excellence the maker trumpets for itself.

Similar issues affect the palate.  Smooth – yes, warm – yes, comfortable – undoubtedly.  There was a little oak mixing things up here, but mostly the taste was muscovado sugar and caramel, vanilla, light fruits of indeterminate nature, and those same spices from the nose (cinnamon being at the forefront) with nothing particularly new or adventurous leading one into undiscovered territory.  Overall, even on the finish, and then judged overall, it had little beyond a pleasant, warm sort of sweet unaggressive nature only marginally redeemed by a light tart fruity note here or there, and the edge imparted by a little oak. Beyond that, it was way too sweet for my palate as it stands right now, and in conjunction with the controls it actually sinks even further because the dampening effect of the additions becomes self evident.

So, that adulteration. It’s been measured at 30-40 g/L of whatever-it-is, which puts it in the same league as The El Dorado 12 and 15, Rum Nation Millonario and the Cartavio XO, all of which, back in the day, I enjoyed, and all of which have subsequently slipped in my estimation in the years between then and now, and been relegated to what I refer to as “dessert rums.” But what exactly are they adding to their rum?  Back in 2010 when I wrote my original unscored review, the Distilleries Unidas website made tangential mention of flavouring additives (“Only…rich aromas and flavours are used to manufacture rums…” — this comment no longer appears); and Rob Burr remarked on the 2012 Inuakena review that a Venezuelan rum liqueur called Haciendo Saruro is added to the blend, but without corroboration (it was assumed he was speaking from insider knowledge).  So I think we can take it as a given that it’s been tarted up, and it’s up to each person who tries this rum to make up their own minds as to what that means to them. Personally, I no longer care much for the Diplomatico and its ilk.  It presents no real challenge.  It simply isn’t interesting enough and is too sweet and easy. That, however, obscures the key point that people like it precisely for those reasons. It sells well not in spite of these deficiencies (as they are, to me), but because of them…because the majority of drinkers consider these very same drawbacks as points of distinction, and if you doubt that and the unkillability of sweet, check out the hundreds of comments in response to “Don’t treat people like snobs because they like sweet rums” post on FB in December 2017. Since I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my tastes and my palate matter more, or should take precedence over others, I can simply suggest that people try more rums to get a feel for more profiles before praising it to the high heavens as some kind of ur-rum of the Spanish style.

Let us also concede that a rum like this has its place. On the negative side are all the issues raised above.  On the plus side of the ledger, for those who like these things, there is sweetness, smoothness and a stab at complexity.  It works fabulously as a standalone sipping drink when concentration and thought is not desired or required.  It’s not entirely an over-sugared mess like, oh, the A.H. Riise Navy rum. It makes a decent introduction to neat rums for those raised on over-spiced, over-flavoured rums or who came up through the ranks trying rums like Kraken, Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry or Don Papa.  As one of the first steps in the world of rum, this ron remains a tough one to beat, and that’s why it should be on the list of anyone who is assembling the first home bar, and should be considered, for good or ill, one of the Key Rums of the World…even if, sooner or later, all true rum fans will inevitably move beyond it.

(74/100)

Apr 092016
 

D3S_3629

Bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts will get more out of this than I ever will. It redefines the word “understated.”

(#265. 74/100)

***

Knowing how I have never been entirely satisfied with rums from Barbados, I decided to buy a few about which many have waxed rhapsodic, followed that up with trying as many as I could at the 2015 Berlin rumfest, and continued on the theme by begging my friends in Europe for samples of their personal stocks of independent bottlers’ Bajans.  Let’s see if I can’t get to the bottom of why — with just a few exceptions — they don’t titillate my tonsils the way so many others have and do.

Such as this white three year old from the “Real McCoy” company, which is using stocks from Foursquare. Others have written about Bill McCoy, a Prohibition era rumrunner who never adulterated his stocks (some of which came from, er, Foursquare, according to a documentary made by Bailey Pryor).  Apparently Mr. Pryor was so enthused by what Bill McCoy had done that he approached Richard Seale with a view to creating a modern equivalent: and after some time, the 3 year old white, a 5 year old and a 12 year old were out the door in 2014.  This one is a blend of copper pot and column still distillate, 40% ABV, aged in American ex-bourbon oak, and an offering to bartenders and barflies and mixologists everywhere.

D3S_3629-001

Part of my dissatisfaction with filtered white rums meant for mixing was demonstrated right away by the aromas winding up through my glass: I had to to wait around too long for anything to happen. The nose was warm and faintly rubbery, with some faint tannins in there, sugar water, light cream,and a green olive hanging around with maybe three marshmallows.  A flirt of vanilla loitered around in the back there someplace but in fine, I just couldn’t see that much was going on. “Subtle” the marketing plugs call it. “Pusillanimous” was what I was thinking.

To be fair, a lot more started jumping out of the glass when the tasting started.  It was crisper and clearer and firmer than the nose, a little peppery, more vanilla, cucumbers, dill, ripe pears, sugar cane sap.  It’s not big, it’s not rounded, and the range of potential tastes was too skimpy to appeal to me.  Skimpy might work for a bikini, but in a rum it’s a “Dear John” letter, and is about as enthusiastically received.  The finish?  Longish – surprisingly so, for something at 40%, though still too light. More sugar and dill, guavas and pears, and that odd olive made a small comeback. I’m sorry, guys, but this isn’t my thing at all. I want more.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to kick off the Barbados tour with a filtered white 3 year old.  It was thin, watery, too weak, and the tastes struggled to get out and make themselves felt.  Maybe it’s the charcoal filtration that takes out some of what I like in my rums.  The profile is there, you can sense it, just not come to grips with it…it’s tantalizingly just out of reach, and like the Doorley’s XO, it lacks punch and is simply too delicate for my personal palate.  For its price point and purpose it may be a tough rum to beat, mind you, but my personal preferences don’t go there. And having had white rums from quite a few makers who revel in producing fierce, joyous, in-your-face palate shredders, perhaps you can understand why something this easy going just makes me shrug and reach for the next one up the line.

 

Oct 262015
 

St. Nick's 15 3

An expensive, luxurious, silky, almost-heavy, near-masterpiece of assembly. This dethrones the $400 Panamonte XXV as maybe the best 40% rum I’ve ever tried. For half the price.

(#238. 88/100)

***

It’s been just over four years since I reviewed the St. Nicholas Abbey’s 8, 10 and 12 year olds, and I liked them all, a lot. They were soft, warm, well-made Bajan rums (initial distillate provided by R. L. Seale of Four Square), redolent of much history and heritage — the plantation itself is as much of interest as the rum they make. Ever since then I’ve been trying to get my hands on the other products I knew were coming: alas, the additional products the Warrens told me about never arrived in Calgary, and they came too late to other markets for me to obtain them before I moved away.

Never mind. That’s what RumFests are for. After being poured a glass or three, I spent a most convival half hour in Berlin in 2015 irritating an enormously helpful Mr. Simon Warren with endless questions and remarks about his rums, and finally gave the poor chap some peace by first calibrating on the five year old, trying some ten, and then launching into the golden-hued fifteen for which I had waited so long.

These rums were a sequence of very similar products, each a little bit different and perhaps better than its predecessor, and each certainly more complex than the one that preceded it. That’s not entirely a surprise, since the remains of the 8 and 10 were what comprised the 12, and the 12 was aged even further into the 15 (the five year old can’t be brought into this discussion since it was made completely in-house). The 10 was very much like I remembered. Soft, warm,some interesting stuff going on under the hood, and if I wished they were stronger (as I usually do these days), there was very little fault to find with what was presented.

St. Nick's 15 1

The 15 ratcheted things up a notch. At 40% ABV, I wasn’t expecting any kind of hurricane-force F5 taste bomb, and I didn’t get one. What I did get was a nose of uncommon warmth and softness, where lush, deep flavours gently swirled around and released themselves over the half hour I spent letting it breathe. Soft molasses and bananas started things off, as dense as an El Dorado that decided to take the day off. A little spiciness, not enough to matter, followed up by some nuttiness of almonds in chocolate, raisins, ripe black grapes and raisins, some orange peel…and was that coconut, a flirt of cinnamon at the back end? Yes it was.

The taste continued on very pleasantly from the nose. Here some more heat was evident, well toned down (well, it is only 40%), a velvet blanket drawn across the taste buds. Bananas and molasses and raisins started the party, followed by smokier, drier hints of aromatic pipe tobacco and an old leather satchel, more almonds, vanilla, caramel, nougat. A bit of coffee and a last bit of citrus became detectable after a while. It was, in fine, a rum that encouraged leisurely appreciation, a languorous conversation, fond memories. And the finish was very much in line with all that – as well as the softer caramel, vanilla and toffee (again, there was that vague spiciness of orange peel), it honestly felt like I was having a weird mocha-infused eclair. Sweet? Yes – but all held very carefully in balance, not overwhelming, and certainly not taking over the show. It was a rum I enjoyed thoroughly, and thought it a worthy addition to the pantheon.

The bottle adhered to the same ethos as produced previous younger editions, being the marvellously etched, squarish flagon surmounted by a mahogany enclosed cork. Apparently you can get custom etching and a cut rate price on refills, if you take your own bottle to the Abbey, up in St. Peter’s parish of Barbados. The rum is completely aged on the premises in used bourbon barrels – research shows it is initially aged for eight years at a high proof strength (65%), and then the barrels are batched and rebarrelled for an additional seven years to make the fifteen. The bottles themselves are individually filled from each barrel – it’s not like the entire output is married and then used to fill the bottles all at once…so some variation is likely to occur here.

St. Nick's 15 2

Tastes aside, the St. Nicholas Abbey 15 year old is not a raw, brawny, uncouth monster that jumps out to assault you with a roaring plethora of screaming-sharp, precise and intense flavours from the moment you uncork the bottle. It is, rather, a gentle, warm drink to have with a cigar, the evening papers and in the warm afterglow of a kiss from the wife. Its genius arises from the way the tastes that do exist meld together into an firm melange of uncommon complexity, with just enough heat to remind you it’s a rum, accompanied by a texture and mouthfeel that was silk and velvet and spice all at once.

I remember thinking that day, finalizing my detailed notes and giving the harried-looking (but still polite) Mr. Warren a chance to escape, that I really wish I knew what the eight year old 65% tasted like prior to rebarrelling for the next seven years – I have a feeling it would be exceptional. But given that few rum makers could make a 40% rum this good at all, I concluded, perhaps comfort could be found by merely having another substantial dram poured into my glass, walking off to the corner, and enjoying it in an overstuffed armchair as restful as the rum while watching other aficionados walk past.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Other Notes

The history of the Abbey is covered in my initial essays on the younger rums, and can also be found on their excellent website.

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.

Apr 182013
 

D7K_1275

*

The Barbados 2001 from Rum Nation is a solid plate of eddoes and plantains, black pudding and cookup on a refectory table…the spirituous equivalent of comfort food. It’s a warm bosom against which one can relievedly lean after a tough day…and call it Mommy. A good, warm-hearted, undemanding rum of unexpected depth.

(#156. 85/100)

 ***

Rummaging idly through my shelves the other day (“Jeez, what am I going to look at this week?”) I came across one of the last two unreviewed Rum Nation products I had bought back in 2011 after having been impressed as all get out by the Raucous Rums session where the Wannabe-RumGuy had introduced them. Rum Nation is that Italian outfit which opened its doors up in 1999, and has produced some of my favourite rums – the 1985 and 1989 Demerara 23 year olds, and the Jamaican 1985 “Supreme Lord” 25 year old among others. This Barbados variant was laid down in 2001 and bottled in 2011, and it’s a very decent product in all the aspects that matter, though not of a level that exceeds the pinnacles of achievement represented by the rums I refer to above.

So it’s not a top end rum, but it’s not a lowbrow piece of entertainment either, much as the cheap, plastic-windowed cardboard box reminiscent of an unwelcome bill envelope might intimate otherwise. The nose for example, is very pleasantly warm and almost thick, with initial flavours of bananas, vanilla and crushed walnuts mingling pleasantly with an earthy scent of ripe fleshy fruit, more cashews than peaches. It had an odd kind of richness about it, very near to cloying (though not quite there), that gradually transmuted into a floral hint with a last snap of smoke. Estery, I guess you could call it. Not entirely successful, to my mind, the aromas didn’t quite marry properly into a cohesive whole, but overall, it’s not bad at all.

The palate? All is forgiven, come home please. Oh, this was just fine. Smooth, warm, creamy, like banana ice cream liberally drizzled with caramel, toffee, a little licorice and nougat, all sprinkled with white chocolate and a shade of mint: put a cuckoo clock on top of it and you could almost pretend it was swiss. Rich and pleasantly deep for a 40% rum, and unlike some drinks where the nose was spectacular but the taste less so, here it was the other way around. The denouement was also quite good, pleasantly long and fragrant, exiting to the tune of cinnamon and vanilla and a last bash of the banana.

D7K_1276

According to Fabio Rossi, the owner of RN, this is considered an entry level rum (retailing for about €30…Can$50 in my location), and is Barbados-sourced pot and column still blended rum from the West Indies Refinery, matured in American oak casks and then finished for about twelve to eighteen months in Spanish casks that once held brandy. I was unenthused about Downslope Distilling’s wine aged rum some months ago – this is the rum that it should have been, could have been, had they been more patient and aged it properly.

Is it better than the other Bajans in my collection? Yes and no. It’s not as good as the Mount Gay 1703, but exceeds the XO by quite a bit, I would say, and edges out the A.D. Rattray 9 year old from R.L. Seale I looked at not too long ago. Its relative softness and smoothness is the key here (see other notes, below): it pulls an interesting trick, by seeming to be more full bodied than it is, and therefore coating the mouth with a sumptuous set of tastes that, had that slight cloying over-estery note not been present, would have scored higher with me than it did.

Still, if you’re after a good, solid sipping rum, the Barbados 2001 won’t disappoint. It’s soft, warm and easy on the palate, forgiving on the finish. It may be a rum to have when you’re feeling at peace with the world (or unwinding from it), don’t feel like concentrating too hard, and don’t need to protect your tonsils. On that level, it’s excellent at all it sets out do, and if it doesn’t ascend or aspire to the levels of some of its pricier, older cousins, at least it’s an excellent buy for the money you do shell out.


Other Notes

February 2018 – By now it is common knowledge that Rum Nation, like Plantation, practices dosing.  This rum measures out at ~10g/L of adulteration which actually quite minimal: enough to smoothen out some rough edges, but not enough to make it a mess. Potential buyers and drinkers will have to take that into account when deciding on a purchase here.

 

Mar 302013
 
D3S_5065

(c) TheLoneCaner.com

***

A Millonario by another name, and as lovely.

(#150. 88/100)

*

Soleras as a rule tend toward the smooth and sweet side, and have a rather full body redolent of all sorts of interesting fruity flavours. My maltster friends regard this type of drink the way they would a sherry bomb (or a disrobed virgin, if one desperate enough could be found), with a mixture of hidden liking and puritan disdain. Still, after having had two fairly dry products in as many weeks, perhaps it was time to relax in a perfumed boudoir instead of the sere desert air. And because the Ron Cartavio XO was from Peru and a solera, I tried it together with the Ron Millonario Solera 15 and the Millonario XO which also hail from there, to see how it stacked up.

The Cartavio XO is pretty much the top of the line made by the company and is priced to match . It arrived in a black tin can and had a wooden tipped cork fixed into place by the twisted wire one might look for in a champagne…nice touch. Liked the bottle too…tapering, blocky, rounded shoulders, absolutely minimal design esthetic, and etched in gold (the tin can had most of the info, which was as it should be.

D3S_5039

(c) TheLoneCaner.com

Smelling this was an exercise in repressed romanticism. Luscious is not a word that would be out of place to describe it. Creamy, almost like a mild citrus ice-cream, quite smooth and gentle on the nose. Apricots, cherries, vanilla, with just enough background of oaken tannins to provide some character. These scents mellowed gently into flower blossoms – in spite of its depth, the nose had a certain soft, clean brightness to it, like the skin of a sleepy baby after being freshly washed and powdered. It was without a doubt better than the Solera 15, but interestingly enough, it lacked some of the complex pungency that so elevated the Millonario XO.

The feel on the tongue was similarly rich and pleasant, though perhaps a shade more acerbic than the Millonario, but beyond that, quiet and heavy and quite aromatic. Here again is a rum that takes its time, being in no hustling rush to get the sipping experience over with. At 40%, there wasn’t going to be any aggro, no yobbish pummelling on the palate, and indeed, from that perspective, I wasn’t expecting any. The rum sang of vanilla and fruit (peaches and dried apricots), dark chocolate, sherry, nuts and a very faint vegetal note, all of which solidified into a rich and serene taste close to the fullness of honey (if not quite so thick).

The one thing it is not quite good at is the exit. Medium long, hints of nuts, caramel, a sweet-salt tang, with a closing flirt of nutmeg. Faintly dry, but not unpleasantly so – the fragrant, almost humid rush of closing scents married well with that profile, yet try it against the Millonario and see if it doesn’t quite come up to that standard. Sure it’s solid and has a pleasant finish (some would sigh beatifically and say “awesome”), yet perhaps it is a shade too quiet and polished and does not demonstrate any kind of singular, individualistic character all its own, that said it was a walk-on-water rum – it reminded me more of a liqueur (a very good one, mind), and here I thought there were similarities to other well-made drinks of some age and real quality, like the St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old, or the El Dorado 25, which were so well put together (and, unfortunately, so sweet) that they lost that sense of individuality exemplified by their own younger siblings. An issue worth remarking on.

D3S_5067

(c) TheLoneCaner.com

Another point I’d like to make is this: the taste profile of the two XOs is extraordinarily similar. In fact, the two are so close together that I wondered whether Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation didn’t source his rum from Cartavio (for the record, he hedged when asked). It would take real effort to taste them side by side and know right off which was which. I’d say that the Millonario has the upper hand based on a slightly better nose, but in all other respects, these two excellent soleras are on par.

The Cartavio brand of rums was originally made in the coastal town of that name, just north of Lima: sugar cane grows in the area and has been since 1891, though the company was founded in 1929 – this XO is an 80th anniversary edition, quite limited in production. The parent company is Distilerias Unidas SAC, and they use molasses as the raw ingredient combined with a continuous fermentation process, utilizing a John Dore pot still and a continuous still.

Let’s sum up, then. Soft, pungent, all-round lovely, and the taste and palate being the best thing about it. I imagine you can make a cocktail with this rum. What I can’t imagine is why. The Cartavio XO may be among the best examples of passive aggression ever seen in the rum world, because clearly the distillers don’t want you to mix it (and my own take – you shouldn’t).. By the time you hit to the bottom of this baby, you’ll still be scratching your brow, wondering what the hell that last tiny hint of savour actually was. It really is that good.

In fine, this is a rum that is quiet, gentle, and flows without fuss or turmoil to a serene conclusion. It is a rural country stream, chuckling dreamily over rocks and burbling to its destination with no agenda – all it wants is to please, and it succeeds. It lacks the testosterone fury of a full- or overproof rum, and avoids the blandness of more commercial rums that sell by the tanker load: drinking this rum and revelling in its unaggressive and unassuming sophistication is something like loving another repressed person like yourself, dearly…and waiting for the kiss that never quite comes when you want it, but is going to happen, eventually, nevertheless — and be worth the wait when it does.


Other Notes

  1. On the tin enclosure and on the website, Cartavio note that the rum is an 18 year old made in the solera method, aged in white oak barrels (some from Slovenia, how cool is that?) but caution must be exercised in what the age statement really means: is it a blend of rums originating from a solera whose average age is eighteen (unlikely, since the math wouldn’t support that); is it a blend of rums averaging eighteen years which then went into a solera process; is it a solera rum that has been in the process for 18 years (my choice for most likely); or is it a solera blend of rums that was then aged for another eighteen years? I simply can’t get resolution on the matter: and it illustrates the issue with pinpointing the true age of a solera rum. For my money, the oldest part of this blend is eighteen, not the youngest. However, note that Josh Miller in early 2016, remarked in his review of the lineup that there is “no rum younger than 18 years in the blend.” And Matt Pietrek, in a piece on Cartavio, wrote in December 2015 that it was also a true 18 year old.
  2. According to wikipedia, Cartavio rums are now made in Aruba. I’m unclear whether “made” means “aged”, “bottled” or both. My bottle makes no such mention, by the way.
Mar 302013
 

 

Good sipper for the money: if you’re on a budget, get the Admiral Rodney Extra Old, if not, this one is a shade better for not too much extra.

(#13484/100)

***

(This is the last entry in my four-rum review series of St Lucia Distiller’s rums, which I tasted together a few weeks ago).

Rum makers occasionally issue an expression which commemorates an event or a date that has particular meaning for them and then turn that into a marketing tool (like the Angostura 1919 or the Flor de Cana “21”) – it’s always touted as being a cut above the ordinary, although I have my private feelings about the veracity of such statements. In this instance, St Lucia Distillers have issued a rum called “1931” which refers to the year when the Barnard family Mabouya Distillery was founded near Dennery (it merged with the Geest family distillery in 1972 to create St Lucia Distillers).

The sources for this excellent rum were the distillates from three copper pot stills and one columnar (Coffey) still ranging from 1999 to 2004 (which, given that it was made in 2011 makes it a 7 year old): the rums were aged (according to the company site) in white oak casks including Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Buffalo Trace and a couple of Port casks, then blended and left to marry for three more months before bottling at 43% abv.

Influences from all that bourbon and whisky, as well as the oak, were immediately evident on the nose, which was fuller, deeper – even darker – than its predecessors. Not quite on the level of the El Dorados, but very nice for all that, and got even better as it opened up. Traces of raisins and dried fruits mingled happily with pomegranates, figs, and apples just on the ragged edge of going too ripe, enveloped in a robust smoky background.

The rum itself had a medium to heavy body (I have a personal predilection for that), more dark red fruits, dried raisins, honey, a subtle grapey hint, and again that smoky background which made me suspect that one of the barrels may have been charred to lend some more pizzazz to the profile. Oddly, I noted few soft or fleshy kind of notes (as might have come from bananas), but a hint of orange peel, all tied up in a neat bow by burnt sugar and toffee. And on the finish it was really quite pleasant, soft and unaggressive, yet warm and long as well, with none of the savage elan of, oh, the Appletons, exiting with a hint of old tobacco and dried, well cured leather. El Kapitan once mentioned that with some experience one could discern a pot stilled product from one that was predominantly column stilled: if he was right, I’d hazard a guess that the richness of what I was sampling derived primarily from the pot still portion of the blend.

The 1931 was unchill filtered, and evinced an overall taste that was quite a bit gentler than we might be expecting to find in a slightly stronger rum (43%, remember) – I remarked in the Admiral Rodney review that this was closer in style to the Barbadians as opposed to the Cubans or the Jamaicans who are a bit more aggressive in their rum profiles and have more perceptible, spicy and citrus notes, and here again, I came to the same conclusion.

Now, on balance, I don’t believe the 1931 is quite as joyous or as interesting or as over-the-cliff a bungee jumper as the Renegade St Lucia 1999, which I liked precisely for those attributes. That one took a chance, went off the reservation, and revelled in its difference: the 1931 played it mostly safe, though it did so exceedingly well. I also don’t rate it as a super premium rum, good as it is — I have some rums in my shelf which really are super premiums, so I have a good basis for comparison and can stand by that remark. Still, for eighty dollars in my location, the 1931 is definitely a great buy.

When you really get down to it, the St Lucia Distillers 1931 expression is quite similar to the St. Nicholas Abbey 8 year old, the Dos Maderas PX 5+5 (perhaps not as heavy), or, more so, the Admiral Rodney made by the same company (though a tad stronger, with that pot and column still blend, 7-12 years old) – similar enough to its sibling, in fact, that you could try the two side by side and not immediately know which was which unless you were paying attention. That’s not entirely a problem though – it’s a subtle, soft, supple, well blended, well-aged, rum of depth and complexity and excellent all round quality. I’d not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who wants a good sipping rum.

D7K_7920

***

Epilogue: a summing up of the four St. Lucians

Apologies to the eponymous Islanders, but there’s something subtle missing in these St Lucia rums…an element of, oh…aggressive decisiveness, of oomph and yobishness and in your face “I’m a rum” gobsmack. None of the rums are bad by any stretch, and all can be had by themselves and enjoyed quite nicely, thank you very much….but perhaps they’re taking something away from the laid back nature of St Lucia itself, which has never really had or sought much visibility or power in Caricom. Just as in real life, the Guyanese, Bajans, Trinis and Jamaicans are walking away with all the rum headlines, while little St. Lucia is happy to putter along quietly behind, making its lovely little rums, but not combative or bellicose enough to take on all comers with fire and brimstone and make them world beaters. We rum lovers will know of and appreciate their quality…sadly, not everyone else will.

 

 

Mar 302013
 

 

Soft, smooth, tasty. I’d rank it as a mid range sipping-quality rum. You won’t regret the purchase if what you’re after is something that lacks the relative spiciness of a Cuban or Jamaican product and trends more to the softer Bajan style.

(#132. 83/100)

***

St Lucia Distillers is the only remaining distiller remaining in St Lucia after the closures of many other companies on the island in the last hundred years, and a consolidation of the last two — Barnard and Geest — in 1972. It is now owned by CLICO’s parent company CL Financial out of Trinidad, which has had its share of financial problems in the last years, and also owns a majority stake in Appleton Estates, the Jamaican rum maker, as well as Angostura in Trinidad itself. In the spirits world I guess you could say they are a bit like a small Diageo of the Caribbean.

St Lucia Distillers source molasses out of Guyana to make their excellent series of top-end rums, primarily this one and the 1931 – I choose not to accept that the decent (but not superlative) Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks is a true premium rum. The Admiral Rodney rum is named after the British Naval officer who was victorious in the Battle of the Saintes in 1782, which ended the French threat to Jamaica and asserted British predominance in the Caribbean thereafter. (Given that he was “vain, selfish and unscrupulous” and was often accused of nepotism and having an obsession with prize money, this might strike some as surprising, but never mind – I guess it’s the battle that’s important).

Made from a blend of rums aged eight to twelve years, somewhat navy in character (though not as much as some other darker and more in-your-face rums that tout the fact front and center), Admiral Rodney rum is aged in oak casks once used for bourbon, and unchill filtered (always a good thing). The Admiral presented himself in a round shouldered square bottle with a cool wooden-tipped cork as big as W.C Fields’s nose (though not as red). What distinguished the dark amber rum inside was its overall softness. A gentle, warm and light-smoky nose redolent of light flowers, orange peel and vanilla wafted up from the glass, and I was pleased to be able to pick up cinnamon, coriander and mild caramel notes, without any of them actually dominating the other. Usually in lesser offerings, the burnt sugar and butterscotch-caramel flavours dominate and let you know in no uncertain terms that here is a man’s rum (or so they believe)…this one was serenely confident in its own rum-ness, and disdained such crass embellishment.

I liked the taste and mouthfeel as well. It was a little heavier than medium, and a shade more spicy than the 1931 bottled at 43% and about the same as the 46% Renegade St Lucia 1999. Which I must admit, is odd for a forty percenter. Still, once it settled down it evinced notes of honey and mild tropical fruit – papaya, guavas, ripe mangos – and gradually turned a shade dry. It was on balance sweeter and richer than the Forgotten Casks, and quite smooth, with the taste of burnt brown sugar and caramel being quite muted. It was, when I thought about it, remarkably unaggressive, and seemed to aim for some of the let’s-please-everyone nature of a Honda Civic (which is both a good and a bad thing). The medium long finish reminded me of a decent wine, something like a pinot grigot, or a chenin blanc, with closing tastes of those same soft fruits, and white flowers on the exit. All in all, a very pleasant sipping rum with very little attitude or aggro.

What’s this rum good for? Well, as a sipping spirit in its own right, I think it’s not shabby at all. Great bouquet, good palate and finish, excellent on many levels. As the Forgotten Casks rum was, it’s a better than decent introduction to sipping rums for those on a budget (I paid around sixty bucks for it), and its overall softness makes the intro a gentle one instead of something more elemental that rapes your gullet. It may not convince a whisky drinker to take the plunge into the dark side, but a wine dabbler? Oh yes.

***