Mar 212018
 

 

#499

Velier’s 1997 Port Mourant expression announces its presence with the sort of growling distant rumble of an approaching storm system, igniting emotions of awe and amazement (and maybe fear) in the unwary.  It’s 65.7% of fast-moving badass, blasting into a tasting session with F5 force, flinging not just bags but whole truckloads of flavour into your face.

You think I’m making this up for effect, right?  Nope. The nose, right from the start, even when just cracking the bottle, is ragingly powerful, shot through with lightning flashes of licorice, blueberries, blackberries, off-colour bananas, citrus, pineapple slices in syrup.  And as if that wasn’t enough, it apparently decided to include sheeting rainstorms of anise, coffee, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg…just because, y’know, they were there and it could. It was heavy, but not too much, and it made me think that while the ester-laden Savanna HERR or Hampdens and Worth Parks have similarly intense aromas (however unique to themselves), the darker heavier notes from Port Mourant definitely have their place as well.

Photo courtesy of Barrel Aged Mind

Physically tasting the rum is an experience in itself, largely because of its weight, its heft, and its tropical intensity – yet amazingly, it’s all controlled and well balanced.  It’s hot-just-short-of-sharp, smooth, buttery, dark, licorice-y, caramel-y and coffee-like, and while you’re enjoying that, the additional notes of blackberries, unsweetened black tea, citrus and raisins (and more anise) descend like black clouds casting ominous shadows of oomph all over the labial landscape. The assembly of the vanilla, salt caramel, fruity spices and anise notes of the PM is really quite impressive, with no overarching bite of tannins to mar the experience – they were there, but unlike the El Dorado Rare Collection PM 1999, they kept their distance until the end. And even the finish held up well: it was long, dry, deep, with those heretofore reticent tannins finally making their presence felt,causing the fruits to recede, flowers to step back, and it all stays alive for a very, very long time.  

Tropical ageing can’t be faulted when it produces a rum as good as this one.  Balance is phenomenal, enjoyment off the scale, and it just doesn’t get much better than that. The endurance of the aromas and tastes hearkens back to the neverending-smell-story of the Skeldon 1973. It’s just about epic, and I mean that. Consider: I had a generous sample of this rum and played with it for some hours;  I had dinner; had a bath, brushed my teeth; I went to bed; I woke up; did all the “three-S” morning ablutions, dressed, had coffee, and as I went out the door and got kissed by the wife, she frowned and asked me “What on earth have you been drinking?” Kissed me again. And then, after another sniff. – “And why the hell didn’t you share any?”  I’ll drink a rum like that any day of the week.  Maybe even twice.

(90/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn 1094 bottles.  Wooden double pot still.  Velier needs no introduction any more, right?
  • Compliments to Laurent Cuvier of Poussette fame, for his generous sharing of this gem among rums from the Lost Age of the Demeraras.
  • Two Danish squaddies of mine, Nico and Gregers, detailed their own experiences with the PM 1997 in the recent Velier PM Blowout.
  • The most detailed review of this I’ve ever seen is Barrel Aged Mind’s 2013 write up (sorry, German only). And if you want to know how far we’ve come, consider that a mere six years ago, he paid 118€ for it.

Postscript

It was instructive to note the reactions to the El Dorado Rare Collection (First Edition) reviews in general, and the Port Mourant 1999 in particular. Many people felt the ED PM took pride of place, variously calling it a flavour bomb of epic proportions, “huge”, “brutal” and “immense”. Clearly the Port Mourant rums have a cachet all their own in the lore of Demeraras; and if one disses them, one had better have good reasons why. Saying so ain’t enough, buddy – state your reasons and make your case, and it had better be a good one.

My rebuttal to why the El Dorado PM got the score it did from me is quite simply, this rum.  If you ever manage to get it, try them together and reflect on the difference. Hopefully your mileage doesn’t vary too far from mine, but I honestly think the Velier PM 1997 is the superior product.

Mar 142018
 

#496

It’s been two years since the furore created by the inadvertently premature publication of the Velier catalogue entries for the El Dorado Rare Collection ignited in the minds of the Velier lovers, and I’ve been sitting on the three bottles almost since that time, waiting to get around to them. One of the reasons the reviews were not written immediately was simply that I felt the dust needed to settle down a bit, so that they could be approached with something resembling objectivity.  Two years might have been just about enough for me to forget the original reviews that came out that year…and then The Little Caner was glancing through the Big Black Notebook #2 and pointing out that here were notes I took – twice! – and still not written about, so what’s your malfunction, Pops? Move along already.

Yes well.  Leaving aside the young man’s disrespect for his geriatric sire, let’s review the stats on this rum, the Versailles, made from the near legendary wooden single pot still, marque VSG.  First of all, no information on the outturn was ever made available, so I’m forced to go with Luca’s comment to me of “about 3000 bottles,” which DDL never felt it necessary to nail down for us. Distilled 2002, bottled in 2015, so a 13 year old rum. Strength was a beefy 63% and for that you could expect some seriously intense flavour when coupled with full tropical ageing. There are some other facts which I’ll go into in more depth below the tasting notes, but let me address these first, so you get the same impressions I had without anything else clouding your mind.

A bright orange brown in hue, the nose that billowed out as soon as the bottle was cracked, was deep and lush, and I liked it right off.  Coffee and candied oranges, nougat and caramel, quite soft for a 63% beefcake, and quite rich, to which were added, over time, additional notes of furniture polish, muscavado, anise, florals and some light paint thinner.  Having had a few El Dorados quite recently, I remember thinking this actually presented quite close to the 12 Year Old “standard” rum (at 40%), which, while stupefied to the point of near imbecility in terms of both strength and adulteration, also had Versailles pot still rum as a major portion of the blend.

That wooden pot still taste profile really comes into its own on the palate (much as the 12 year old did), and this was no exception.  The whole taste was anise, pencil shavings and oak forward, and this became the bedrock upon which other, warmer and subtler flavours rested – fruits like apricots, pears, plums, raisins and ripe apples for the most part – but the tannins were perhaps a bit too dominant and shoved the caramel, molasses, herbs (like rosemary and mint) and lighter fruity elements into the background.  I added water to see what would happen and the fruits displayed better, but it also allowed a certain sweet syrup (the kind canned fruits come with) to become noticeable, not entirely to the rum’s benefit. It tasted well, was intense and powerful beyond question: I just felt the balance between the elements was weighted too heavily in favour of the woods and bitter chocolate notes…at the expense of a more tempered rum that I would appreciate more.  As for the finish, it really was too tannic for my liking, once again pushing soft fruits into the background and not allowing much except caramel, lemon zest, raisins and acetones to close off the show.

Overall, the rum displayed rather less of the hallmarks of careful and judicious balancing of the tastes to which Velier’s aged mastodons had accustomed us, and while it was not a shabby rum by any means, it also had components that subtly clashed with each other, in such a way that the showcasing of a wooden still’s profile was downgraded (though not entirely lost, thank goodness). More to the point, it feels…well, dumbed down. Straightforward. Edging close to simple.

Now, according to Henrik over on the Rumcorner, who reviewed this very same rum before passing it over to me, it was tampered with – some 14g/L of adulteration was present, and the Fat Rum Pirate noted 8 g/L himself.  That’s not enough to disqualify it from the running – you have to go way over 20 g/L to start seriously degrading the taste of a rum this powerful – but the question is and will always remain, why bother? At the price point and relative rarity, for the purpose of the issue – to take over from Velier and make a mark on the full proof rarities of the world – only die-hards would buy it and they’re the ones who knew best, and know now, what they’re buying, so why piss them off (and worse yet, omit the disclosure)? Tradition? Gimme a break.  (On the other hand, it is possible DDL merely mismeasured the true ABV and it’s actually not 63% and thereby fooled the hydrometers and calculations…but I chose to doubt that).

That said, this is one of those times when I think that if there was dosage and not an ABV misreading (which some still maintain and DDL as usual says nothing about either way), then the addition served a purpose, and DDL were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.  The sugar (or caramel or whatever the additive was – remember, a hydrometer measures changes in density, it does not identify the source – we just assume it’s sugar) allowed the sharper bite of tannins to be tamed somewhat and made the rum a powerful, brutal drink with the jagged edges toned down…but this came at a price: it also masked the subtleties that the hardcore look for and enjoy.

Serge of WhiskyFun scored this 90 points, Cyril of DuRhum gave 86, and Henrik gave it 83 and RumShopBoy about 84, and they all made it clear what they experienced — me,  I sort of fall in the middle of the Serge’s enthusiasm and Henrik’s despite, and can call it a good rum without embarrassment – but alas, it’s not a game-changer, not a must-have, not a scene-stealer. It comes off as being just another limited edition bottling from a new independent bottler, featuring a marque that still has some lustre and shine, but not one which this rum burnishes to a high gloss.

(84.5/100)


 

 

 

Mar 072018
 

#494

The Avuá brand of cachaça has a slightly different pedigree from independents in Europe who buy from brokers, and is closer to that of small new rum companies who buy selected stock direct from distilleries (e.g.Whisper, Toucan, and Real McCoy, for example).  Two New Yorkers – one a former brand manager for Red Bull, Pete Nevenglosky, the other a businessman and lawyer, Nate Whitehouse – developed a liking for the spirit and sensed (or thought they could exploit) a rising appreciation for craft spirits in the US – rum generally, cachaça specifically.  After some searching and sampling around, they settled on Fazenda da Quinta Agronegócios, a distillery just outside Rio dating back to 1923 which produces the trio of the da Quinta cachaças — an Amburana-aged, an oak-aged and a white. Starting with the Aburana and the white, these were rebranded for sale in the US as Avuá Amburana and Avuá Prata but I have not been able to establish anything particularly original about them that would set them apart from the da Quinta line

Never mind. Quite aside from these biographical details, I’m always on the lookout for interesting white rums, and so made it a point to check out the Prata just to see how well it fared.  Which was, for a 42% rested-but-not-aged pot still rum, not shabby at all, if not quite as feral or in-your-face as some of the French island blancs, or, for that matter, the clairins.  In fact, nosing it, the Prata presented as a rather genteel variation of such more elemental whites, and for that reason may actually be preferred by people who are put off excessive expressions of crazy and are more middle of the road.  It was redolent of sugar cane juice freshly pressed, oily, briny and with some olive action in the background, but also herbal notes of dill and a little sage, some faint rubber hints, and subtle acetone and florals rounding out the profile.  

The palate was not overly aggressive – at that strength it would have been surprising if it had been – and while quite dry, it reminded me somewhat of the unaged column still clairins, just gentler.  It was warm, sweet, and almost delicate, and also contained some of Neisson’s tequila and briny notes. Sugar water (and that’s white sugar, by the way), more dill, sage, rosemary and a little cinnamon, but what distinguished it after a few minutes was an unique (for cachacas) taste of musty earth and wet tropical vegetation that bordered on the funkiness of a Jamaican without ever actually being so.  The mouthfeel was rather light, warm and relatively smooth, so certainly the initial cuts and the resting period had their impact. As for the finish, nothing original there – just warm, aromatic sweet spices, and a vague mustiness that was far from unpleasant and made the rum stand out in its own way.

As a white rum the Prata cachaça carves out some interesting territory for itself: it’s not so crude and jagged as to be off-putting to the greater public; its tastes are pleasant, yet distinct enough not to be confused with other whites; and overall, one weakness (much like the Toucan No. 4) is that for the complexity that it does exhibit, it could easily be stronger and lose no adherents.  One is left with rather more titillating sensations and vague sensory memories than an explicit and clear-cut profile, and it showcases emergent potential rather than a solid current achievement. It’s interesting to note that the company is now also producing a Still Strength version (45%) to maybe address precisely this issue, and if they are doing that, we should be keeping an eye out for what else they’re doing in the next few years.  Because if they ever have the bolas to issue this white rum’s same profile at 50% or greater, I’d probably grin, take a deep breath, and dive right in.

(82/100)

Mar 042018
 

#493

The other day I read that there are supposedly forty thousand cachaça producers in Brazil ¹ — if that statistic is actually true, then most are probably from small ops like the 500+ or so in Haiti – backyard moonshineries, rather than medium to large commercial operations. But there is no doubting that they represent a significant slice of the global volume of cane-derived spirits and it’s too bad that so few reviews of them exist (perhaps the lack of exports is to blame – most is drunk in-country; or maybe we need some Brazilian spirits bloggers).

A major characteristic of cachaças, when aged, is the resting in barrels made of local hardwoods. That peculiarity of local ageing is, to me, rather crucial when it comes to distinguishing an aged cachaca from any other rum. It’s what makes aged cachaças unique — most of us are so used to our hooch being decanted from ex-bourbon barrels, that to address a Brazilian rum for the first time can come over as a startling experience (note – I am using the term rum and cachaça interchangeably).

Take for example the Cachaça Avuá Amburana, made by Fazenda da Quinta, a small 3rd generation outfit founded in 1923, located just outside Rio de Janeiro. Their cachaça is made from two types of sugar cane, has a 24 hours fermentation period, and is pot still distilled.  As the name implies, it is aged in barrels made of amburana wood (which supposedly imparts an intense colour and flavours of sweetish vanilla) for up to two years and is bottled at 40%.

Does the amburana make for a uniquely different taste profile?  Yes and no.  It certainly presented aspects that were similar to young agricoles – fresh and crisp aromas of watery pears, sugar cane sap, swank and watermelon just to start with, clear without real sharpness.  It’s after opening up for a few minutes that it shows its antecedents more clearly, because other smells, somewhat more unusual, begin to emerge – cinnamon, nutmeg, bitter chocolate, sawn lumber, wet sawdust, freshly baked dark bread.  Not your standard fare by any means.  

The palate was quite firm for a 40% rum, stopping just short of sharp and marrying complexity with a variety of flavours in decent balance with each other. It had both red wine and muskier whisky notes, and bags of the aforementioned spices – cinnamon and nutmeg. Vanilla, ginger, sugar water, gherkins, cucumbers, a sharp cheddar, sawdust…and also a weird line of sweet bubble gum.  And, of course, some herbal grassiness – but overall the defining taste was mostly the cinnamon and swank with that slight bitter background.  This continued smoothly into a longish finish that again brought out the bubble gum, some Sprite (or 7-Up, take your pick), faint citrus, more cinnamon and vanilla, and a bit of sugar cane sap. A little dry, overall, but pleasingly complex and tasty for all that. I just wish it had been bumped up in proof a few notches – at ~45% it might just be amazing.

Tasting the Avuá Amburana blind, without some experience or comparators around, you’d be hard pressed to identify the country of origin (though the slight bitterness, woodsy taste and cinnamon background would likely give it away), and might even confuse it with an agricole – probably to the displeasure of any Brazilian. Be that as it may, I quite liked it, and since its introduction in 2013 it’s made a quiet splash in North America, as well as winning awards in 2015 (Berlin Rumfest) and 2016 (Madrid Congreso del Ron).

Brazilians involved in the production of cachaças are at pains to distinguish them from agricoles, but any casual rum aficionado would have some difficulty following the logic – after all, both derive from cane juice, distilled on either pot or column stills, the cane juice has a short fermentation time and is processed soon after harvesting.  Regulations are specific to each region: for example, a cachaça can only be called so if it derives from Brazil and at least 50% of the blend is aged for a minimum of one year, and for me that’s a naming and production convention and not a serious departure from agricoles (to use another example, calling only a rum made in Guyana a “Demerara” does not make it any less of a rum).  Also, as briefly noted above and more applicable to Brazil, a cachaça can (but does not have to) be aged in local woods like jequabita, amburana, carvalho etc, and not the more “traditional” oak barrels like ex-bourbon, ex-cognac, limousin oak, and so on – however, since the type of wood of the ageing barrel is not a disqualifier for any rum or ron or rhum anywhere in the world (except perhaps Cuba), this again seems more a local peculiarity, not a fundamental difference between the two types of rum.

So in other words, given the cane juice origin, then either cachaça is a Brazilian agricole, or agricoles are French cachaças.  To me such distinctions are geographical, not fundamental. Irrespective of the pride that the producing countries bring to their indigenous rums, production philosophies and heritage, both have interesting products that are cool to drink and make killer cocktails. That the French island rhums currently get more good press than cachaças do is no reason to ignore the latter – taken with their uniqueness and taste and wide applicabilty, something like the Avuá Amburana is good to experience if you want to go a little off the beaten track without heading into the jungle altogether.  It’s a pretty nifty cachaça that’s well worth checking out.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • ¹ Messias Soares Cavalcante, A verdadeira história da cachaça. São Paulo 2011 page 608
  • Uncoloured, unfiltered.  Small batch production.  Each bottle is numbered
  • Ralfy gave the Avua an in-depth look on his video in May 2017.
  • Matt Pietrek, the Cocktail Wonk, used this rum to provide an introduction to cachaças, back in 2015. It’s also got some good historical notes on the founders.
Feb 102018
 

#487

Yeah! It screams as you sip it, seeming to want to channel a heavy metal rock star in his prime as he puts together a yowling riff on his axe and squeals impossibly high notes into the mike like his huevos were getting crushed. Pow! Biff! Smack! went the rum on the nose.  Holy pot still Batman, what the hell was this?  I smelled hard, I blinked tears, I coughed out rhum fumes and a hundred flies died on the spot. The maelstrom of clear aggro swirling madly in my glass made me think that if I’d had the St. Aubin Blanc four years ago I would have suspected the clairins of copying them.  This rhum was a hellish, snorting magnificent, pummelling nose: olives, brine, vinegar, acetone, salt beef and garlic pork (“wit’ plenty plenty ‘erb,” as my Aunt Sheila would have said), gherkins, sugar water, and more olives, presenting like a real dirty martini.  Wow.  Just…wow.  Though bottled at a relatively bearable 50%, it was fierce and pungent and tasty and wild and definitely left the reservation far behind, just like the white Jamaicans and clairins did.

What elevated the experience of drinking it was the sensation of sampling a potent escaped white lightning while at the same time understanding (not without some wonder) that it was totally under the control of its makers (St. Aubin out of Mauritius) and no extraneous frippery of blending or touch of ageing were allowed to mess with the monster’ essential badassery.  Some of the salt  took a back seat here, the olives were toned down, and in their place emerged sharp and clear notes of wax and furniture polish, leavened by bleeding sugar cane juice, watermelon, swank, pears and a bunch of heavier fruits, hot and just starting to spoil, reminding me more of a Jamaican white like the Rum Nation 57%, or the Rum Fire, or that faithful old standby, J. Wray 63%.  Oh but this was not all.  Once it settled its hot-snot profile down to manageable levels, came to a sort of grudging equilibrium among all the fierce competing flavours, there was a last cough of cereal, biscuits, oatmeal, salted butter and a dash of cumin to wrap up the show.  And it all led to a suitably epic finish that neatly summed up all the foregoing — and so cool that the sun did shine 24 hours a day when I was trying it, and, as the song goes, it did wear its sunglasses at night.

See, while furious aggression a la clairin was not quite the blanc’s style, the sheer range of what it presented took my breath away; the balance was damned fine and the range of its flavour profile was impressive as hell.  I’ll be the first to admit that such potent whites are not to everyone’s tastes, and if you doubt that, feel free to sample a clairin or three. But man, are they ever original. They burst with crazy, are infused with off-the-reservation nutso, and when you finish one, shudder and reach for the Diplo, then whether you liked it or not you could never doubt that at least it was original, right?  That and the bitchin’ cocktails they make, is, to me, their selling point.

Because of its pot still origins and because of its relatively manageable strength, I think this thing might just be one of the more approachable whites out there, and I’d really be interested how other drinkers, writers and barflies see it.  I make a lot of jokes at Adam West’s 1960s Batman series with their hokey sound effects overlaid on the TV screen and the campy dialogue, but what we sometimes forget is that after all was said and done, even on that series somebody always got hit and somebody always fell down and there was a cool quip at the end.  I don’t have a cool quip on this one, but guys, I drank it and got hit and just about fell down.

(85/100)


Other notes

There are some background notes on St. Aubin in the Historical series “Mauritius” and “Isle de France” reviews for those who are interested

Jan 162018
 

#479

We’re on something of a Jamaican rum kick for a week or two, because leaving aside Barbados, they’re the ones getting all the press, what with Worthy Park and Hampden now putting out the juice, Longpond getting back in on the act, Monymusk and New Yarmouth lurking behind the scenes, and remember JB Charley with its interesting hooch? And of course behind them all, Appleton / J. Wray remains the mastodon of the island whose market share everyone wants a bite of.

While Worthy Park’s three new 2017 pot still offerings are definitely worth a buy, and Hampden is putting some big footprints into the sands of the beach, I still have a thing for Longpond myself – this comes directly from that famous and oh-so-tasty G&M 1941 58 year old I value so highly and share around so much.  Alas, the only place one is going to get a Longpond rum these days (until they reopen for business, for which many are waiting with bated and boozy breath) is from the independents, and Compagnie des Indes was there to satisfy the need: so far I think they have about twenty Jamaicans in the stable, of which three or four are from Longpond and I think they’re all sourced from Scheer or the Main Rum Company in Europe. (Note: The best online background and historical data on Longpond currently extant is on the site of that rabid Jamaican-loving rum-chum, the Cocktail Wonk, here and here).

Moving on to tasting notes, I have to say that when the bottle was cracked and I took a hefty snootful of the pale yellow rum, I was amazed at the similarity to (and divergence from) the G&M 1941 that was over four times older – there was that same wax and turpentine opening salvo which was augmented by phenols, rubber and some vague, musky Indian spices.  Honey and brine, olives, a few sharp red peppers (gone quickly), and a generous serving of the famous funk, crisp fruits and light flowers. It was well assembled, just a shade vague, as if not entirely sure what it wanted to be.

Never mind.  The palate was where the action was. Although the bottling at 44% ABV was not entirely enough to bring out all the subtleties, there was more than enough to keep the glass filled several times as I leaned back and took my time sampling it over an hour or so.  It began soft and warm with bananas, honey, whipped cream, a little salt caramel, and a little rye bread, aromatic wood chips (I hesitate to say cedar, but it was close).  Then the ester brass band came marching on through, providing the counterpoint – citrus, tart apples, cider, green grapes, and was that a flirt of cumin and curry I sensed? It came together in a nice tantara of a long, warm and spicy finish that wasn’t particularly original, just tried to sum up the experience by re-presenting the main themes – light fruity notes, some salt, olives and caramel, and a final leaf-blade of lemon peel holding it all together.

Longpond is known for its high ester count of its rums and that over-the-top funky flavour profile, so what I tasted, tamed as it was by the relatively unassertive proof point, came as no surprise and was a pleasant reminder of how very well properly-made, lovingly-aged Jamaican rums can be. This standard proof rum was issued for the general market with 384 bottles and as far as I know there’s no cask strength or “Danish market” edition floating around.  But that’s not really a problem, since that makes it something everyone can appreciate, not just the A-types who cut cask strength rums with cask strength whisky.  Whatever you preference in these matters, the CdI Longpond 12 remains a tasty, low key Jamaican that isn’t trying to rip your face off and pour fire down you throat, just present the estery, funky Jamaican rum in its best light…which this it does with delicacy, finesse, and no problems at all.  It’s a really good twelve year old rum.

(85/100)


Other notes

 

Jan 102018
 

#477

You’re going to read more about rums from the Monymusk distillery out of Jamaica in the next few years, I’m thinking, given how the island’s lesser-known products are emerging from the shadows; and distilleries other than Appleton are coming back into their own as distinct producers in their own right – Hampden, Longpond, Worthy Park, New Yarmouth, Clarendon/Monymusk are all ramping up and causing waves big time.  But aside from the Royal Jamaican Gold I tried many years ago (and was, at the time, not entirely won over by) and the EKTE 12 YO from a few weeks back, plus a few indies’ work I have yet to write about, there still isn’t that much out there in general release… so it may be instructive to go back in history a while to the near-beginning of the rum renaissance in 2009, when Renegade Rum Company, one of the first of the modern independent bottlers not from Italy, issued 3960 bottles of this interesting 5 year old from Monymusk.

Even in the Scottish company it kept (and many such outfits remained after Renegade folded), Renegade was not a normal UK indie.  If one were to eliminate the dosing issue, they were actually more akin to Italy’s Rum Nation, because they married multiple barrels of a given distillate to provide several thousand bottles of a rum (not just a few hundred), and then finished them in various ex-wine barrels as part of their Additional Cask Evolution strategy. Alas, they seemed to have raced ahead of the market and consumer consciousness, because the rums sold well but not spectacularly, which is why I could still pick one up (albeit as a sample) so many years later. Moreover, as Mark Reynier remarked to me, finding the perfect set of aged casks which conformed to his personal standards was becoming more and more difficult, which was the main reason for eventually closing up the Renegade shop…to the detriment of all us rum chums.

But I think he was on to something that was at the time unappreciated by all but the connoisseurs of the day, because while agricoles aged five years can be amazing, molasses based rums are not often hitting their stride until in their double digits – yet here, Renegade issued a five year old Jamaican pot still product that was a quietly superior rum which I honestly believe that were it made today, aficionados would be snapping up in no time flat and perhaps making Luca, Fabio, Tristan, Daniel and others cast some nervous glances over their shoulders.

Anyway, let me walk you through the tasting and I’ll explain why the rum worked as well as it did.  It nosed well from the get-go, that’s for sure, with Jamaican funk and esters coming off in all directions.  It felt thicker and more dour than the golden hue might have suggested, initially smelling of rubber, nail polish, tomato-stuffed olives in brine and salty cashew nuts with a sort of creamy undertone; but this receded over time and it morphed into a much lighter, crisper series of smells – bananas going off, overripe oranges, cumin, raisins and some winey hints probably deriving from the finish. Tempranillo is a full bodied red wine from Spain, so the aromas coming off of that were no real surprise.

What did surprise me was that when I tasted it, it did something of a 180 on me — it got somewhat clearer, lighter, sweeter, more floral, than the nose had suggested it would.  Traces of Kahlúa and coconut liqueur initially, bread and salt butter, some oakiness and sharper citrus notes; this was tamed better with water and the fruits were coaxed out of hiding, adding a touch of anise to the proceedings.  Pears, cashews, guavas, with the citrus component quite laid back and becoming almost unnoticeable, lending a nice, delicately sharp counterpoint to the muskier flavours the fleshier fruits laid down.  It all led to a pleasant, tightly minimal and slightly unbalanced finish that was long for that strength, but gave generously (some might say heedlessly) of the few flavours that remained – cherries, pears, red guavas, a little more anise, and some salt.

In a word?  Yummy. It’s a tasty young rum of middling strength that hits all the high points and has the combination of complexity and assertiveness and good flavours well nailed down.  It has elements that appeal to cask strength lovers without alienating the softer crowd, and the tempranillo finish adds an intriguing background wine and fruity note that moderates the Jamaican funk and dunder parts of the profile nicely. Though perhaps the weak point is the finish — which did not come up to the high water mark set by both nose and taste and was a shade incoherent — that’s no reason not to like the rum as it stands, to me.

Anyway, in these days of the great movement towards exacting pure rums of distillery-specific,country-defining brands, it’s good to remember an unfinished experiment such as this Jamaican rum from Renegade, which pointed the way towards many of the developments we are living through now.  That may be of no interest to you as a casual imbiber, of course, so let me close by saying that it’s a pretty damned good Jamaican rum on its own merits — which, if you were ever to see it gathering dust somewhere on a back shelf, you could do worse than to snap it and its brothers up immediately.

(86/100)


Other notes

Compliments to Alex Van der Veer of Master Quill, an underrated resource of the rum-reviewers shortlist, who sent me the sample.  His own review can be found on his website and I’m nudging him gently in the ribs here, hoping he reads this and writes more, more often 🙂

Jul 162017
 

#377

Bottled in 2004 at a lukewarm 43%, Bristol Spirits have somehow transcended the living room strength of this classic 30 year old rum and produced one of the best Jamaicans of its kind.  Even under some time pressure, I still had that glass on the go for two full hours, smelling it over and over, tasting it in the tiniest of sips again and again, comparing, retasting, rechecking, making more and more notes, and in the fullproof company of Guyanese and Jamaicans I was trying alongside it, it was a standout of no mean proportions.  We simply do not see rums of this kind any longer – we can with some effort get 15-20 year olds, we may be able to source a few rums in their twenties, but when was the last time you were fortunate enough to try a thirty year old rum?

Bristol Spirits are no stranger to old stocks, of course.  There was the masterful Port Mourant 1980 and that sublime Caroni 1974, to name but two.  These days, they’ve sort of settled into a groove with more sober-minded middle-aged rums, and while I would never say that what they produce now is not up to scratch — what they put out the door is both imaginative and interesting — none of them have that aura of gravitas mixed up with a ballsy “looky here!” middle-finger-to-the-establishment braggadocio…or yes, the restrained majesty, which three decades of ageing confers on this rum.

Because it was clear that every aspect of that age was wrung out and lovingly extracted from the single originating barrel.  No attempt was made to hold a thing back, and this was evident right away on the aroma, which dumbfounded me by being much more complex and even pungent for what – let’s face it – is not the world’s most badass rum strength.  It was just so deep. It started out with the richness of burnt leaves and charred canefields after the ritual firing, smouldering in a tropical twilight; caramel, toffee, nutty nougat, almonds, burnt brown sugar, tied together with oak and slightly bitter tannins that did not detract but enhanced. What fruits there were — raisins, prunes, plums for the most part — kept a cool kind of distance which supported the aromas noted above without supplanting them, and around them all was a weird amalgam of melons, squash and citrus zest that I was at a loss to pin down at first…but trust me, it worked. Anyone who loves rums (and not just Jamaicans) would go ape for this thing.

The taste was similarly top-notch, and while I would be hard-pressed to tell you the profile screamed “funk” or “dunder” or “Jamaican”, I must also tell you that what was presented had so much to offer that the rum skated past such concerns. It started out with traditional dark caramel, a little glue and warm dark fruit – raisins, black cake, tamarind – and then went for broke.  Over two hours it developed tastes of honey, cherries, flowers, charred wood, ashes and hot damp earth after a rain, underlain with a sort of laid back but crisp flavours of green apples, lemon zest and nuts, and finished off with a surprisingly long fade redolent of raspberries and ripe cherries and vanilla.  Quite frankly, one of the reasons I kept at it for so long was simply that I found myself more and more impressed with it as time went on: to the very end it never stopped developing.

As with many really good rums – and yes, I call this one of them – there’s more to it than simple tasting notes.  The mark of a rum / rhum / ron which transcends its provenance and age and goes for something special, is one that either makes one ponder the rumiverse while drinking it, or one that brings up clear associated memories in the mind of the reviewer – to some extent both were the case here. It was not clearly and distinctively a Jamaican rum, and I wondered how the distinctive profile of the island was so muted here….was it the long ageing in Europe, the original barrel, a peculiarity of the distillate, or the still itself? And as time went on I stopped worrying about it, and was drawn back into my memories of my youth in the Caribbean, the scent of burning canefields, fresh pressed cane juice on shaved ice sold by a snow-cone vendor outside Bourda, and the first taste of a local hooch in a beergarden down the coast served neat with a bowl of ice.  Such things are in themselves irrelevant, but also part and parcel of what makes this rum, to me, quite special, the more so since it happens so rarely.

So, yeah, I’m a drooling fanboy (was it that obvious?).  But how could I not be? You have to experience the emphatic boom trapped within the otherwise standard proof to understand my enthusiasm.  Muted yes; quiet yes; not as intense – of course.  One cannot outrun one’s shadow and get out from under 43%.  But just smell the thing, taste the thing, savour the thing — like some of the Compagnie’s rums, it makes a great case for Continental ageing. You could almost imagine some half-crazed, giggling bottler, half-in and half-out the barrel with a tiny teaspoon and clean white cloth, trying to get the very last drop out just to make sure that nothing was wasted.  Given what was achieved here, assuredly none of it was. It’s just half a shot shy of great.

(90/100)


Other notes

There is no data on the originating estate.  I’m guessing here, but believe it’s either a Longpond or a Monymusk, just on the taste.  If anyone has more info, feel free to correct me on this one.

Jun 262017
 

#375

Velier rums have now become so famous that new editions and collaborations disappear from the shelves fifteen minutes before they go on sale, and the “classic” editions from the Age of the Demeraras are all but impossible to find at all.  Still, keeping one’s twitchy ears and long nose alert does in fact get you somewhere in the end, which is why, after a long drought of the company’s rums in my battered notebook (if you discount the legendary Caputo 1973), I managed to pick up this little gem and am pleased to report that it conforms to all the standards that made Velier the poster child for independent bottlers.  It’s one of the better Port Mourant variations out there (although not the best – that honour, for me, still belongs to the Velier PM 1974, the Norse Cask 1975, with the Batch 1 Rum Nation 1995 Rare PM running a close third), and drinking it makes me wistful, even nostalgic, about all those magical rums which are getting rarer by the day and which speak to times of excellence now gone by.

And how could I not be? I mean, just look at the bare statistics. Guyanese rum, check. Full proof, check – it’s 56.7%. Massively old, double-check…the thing is 32 years old, distilled in May 1975 (a very good year) and bottled in March 2008 (my eyes are already misting over), from three barrels which gave out a measly 518 bottles. The only curious thing about it is the maturation which was done both in Guyana and Great Britain, but with no details on how long in each.  And a mahogany hue which, knowing how Luca does things, I’m going to say was a result of all that king-sized ageing.  All this comes together in a microclimate of old-school badass that may just be a characteristic of these geriatric products.

How did it smell?  Pretty damned good.  Heavy and spiced. A vein of caramel salty-sweetness ran hotly through the fierce dark of the standard PM profile, lending a blade of distinction to the whole.  The first aromas were of anise and wood chips, tannins, leather, orange marmalade.  The wood may have been a bit much, and obscured what came later – herbs and molasses, raisins, raw untreated honey from the comb, with a bit of brooding tar behind the whole thing.  Lightness and clarity were not part of the program here, tannins and licorice were, perhaps too much, yet there’s nothing here I would tell you failed in any way, and certainly nothing I would advise you to steer clear of.

On the taste, the anise confidently rammed itself to the fore, plus a bunch of oak tannins that were fortunately kept in check (a smidgen more would have not been to the PM’s advantage, I thought).  There were warm, heavy tastes of brown sugar vanilla, caramel, bananas, and then a majestic procession of fruitiness stomped along by – raisins, prunes, blackberries, dark cherries, accompanied by nougat, avocado and salt, orange peel and white chocolate. All the tastes I like in my Demerara rums were on display, and with a warmth and power conveyed by the 56.7% that no 40% PM could ever hope to match, undone only – and ever so slightly – by the oaken tannins, which even carried over to the finish.  Fortunately, the anise and warmer raisins and salt caramel came along for their curtain call as well, so overall, all I can say is this is a hell of a rum, long lasting, tasty and no slouch at all. Frankly, I believe that this was the rum DDL should have been aiming for with its 1980 and 1986 25 year old rums.

So, how does it rate in the pantheon of the great Demeraras from the Age?  Well, I think the oak and licorice, though restrained, may be somewhat too aggressive (though not entirely dominant), and they edge out subtler, deeper flavours which can be tasted but not fully appreciated to their maximum potential – the balance is a bit off.  This is not a disqualification in any sense of the word, the rum is too well made for that; and in any case, such flavours are somewhat of a defining characteristic of the still, so anyone buying a PM would already know of it – but for those who like a more coherent assembly, it’s best to be aware of the matter.  

Just consider the swirling maelstrom of cool, of near-awe, that surrounds this product, not just for its provenance, or its age, but for lustre it brings to the entire Age’s amazing reputation.  It’s a rum to bring tears to the eyes, because we will not see its like again, in these times of increasing participation by the indies, and the <30 year aged output.  Who would, or could, buy such a rum anyway, at the price it fetches nowadays (I saw one on retail for €2000 last week)?

At this stage in the state of the rumworld, I think we should just accept that we can no longer expect to be able to source those original monsters with which the giants of the subculture made their bones.  Anyone who has one of these is holding on to it for resale or for judicious sharing among the hard core rum chums who have pictures of every Velier bottle ever made hanging on walls where the Lamborghini Countach or Pamela Anderson was once posted.  You can sort of understand why.  They are all a cut above the ordinary and this one is no exception. In its own way, it’s great. And even if it does not ascend to the stratosphere the way I felt the 1974 did, then by God you will say its name when you taste it, and all your squaddies will doff their hats and bow twice.  It’s simply that kind of experience.

(89/100)

Jun 222017
 

#374

Two bottles of  Secret Treasures St. Lucian rum came my way in early 2017, entirely unexpected and unannounced, and both were fascinating variations on a theme.  Did I say thanks to Eddie K?  I think so, but let’s just tip the trilby to the man one more time, because even next to its very sound brother, this baby from a John Dore pot still is no slouch either, and not much has been written about either one, and it’s entirely possible that they are among the most under-the-radar value-for-money indie rums around.

Since there’s not much more to say about the basic details of the originating bottler already noted in the Vendome Pot Still essay, here’s the additional background relevant to this rum: it is from St. Lucia Distillers, made on their John Dore pot still, aged nine years (same as its sibling) in ex-bourbon barrels, issued at 55% and gold in colour.  The outturn is not noted anywhere, and the Haromex website only speaks about “carefully selected barrels” so I have no idea how many bottles are out there (though coming from a single cask, around 300 bottles isn’t out to lunch); or even where the ageing process took place — from the profile I’d hazard a guess that it was done in St. Lucia. I also believe it’s from the same batch as the others in this series, so consider 2005 as the distillation date as reasonable.

That out of the way, what did it smell like.  Different from the Vendome, for sure. The nose was all  low key fruitiness, medium sweet. You could sense something of old furniture lovingly polished and floors well waxed, mingling delicately with a little oak and brine, but the gradually emergent breakfast spices, sugarcane sap, cinnamon, peaches, cherry and pineapple carried the day.  Overall, it’s a firm yet not overbearing, skirting delicacy by a whisker, and noticeably heavier than the Vendome (the comparisons are inevitable, of course, as they were tried in tandem).  As the rum opened up, there was also caramel and nougat and some tangerines, with muskiness and cardboard and dry breakfast cereal, coming together in a very good balance.

The palate was curiously indeterminate when initially tasted, before it settled down.  Yes there was coffee and chocolate with a little caramel drizzle, but the fruits seem reticent and initially took a back seat to muskier, heavier notes.  It was good, just not entirely distinctive.  It also tasted a little winey, possessing the qualities of a zinfandel or maybe even a dry (but not oversweet) Tokaji.  It’s only after waiting ten minutes that the fruits came out full force and became the dominant note – pineapples again, cherries, ripe peaches in syrup, papaya and licorice with vanilla and whipped cream tidying up the loose ends.  The finish summarized all of the preceding, being easy and warm, quite smooth, with chocolate, nougat, cloves and a hint of saltiness and citrus closing up the shop.

On balance, while I could tell them apart, figuring out which is better is a lost cause.  The Vendome pot still rum from last week was an excellent product by itself, with the crispness dialled down and a solid complexity married to individuality and balance in a way one can’t help but appreciate.  Its twin from the John Dore still evinced a somewhat cleaner, more fruity profile, with additional notes of coffee and cocoa forming a tasty synthesis that I enjoyed just as much.  This was why I spent a couple of  days with the two glasses (regularly recharged of course – I sacrifice my liver for the art), going back and forth from one to the other, but truth to tell, for all their individuality and heft, I can’t chose between them in terms of overall quality and don’t really want to.  

So I’m giving them both the same score, and no matter which one you end up with, if St. Lucian rums are your thing, or good quality unmessed-with fullproof rums of any kind turn your crank, you won’t feel shortchanged by either one. This rum and its brother are a useful counterweight to the more distinctive Jamaicans, Bajans, Guyanese or Trinis. And they remind us all that there’s another type of profile – somewhat unsung, occasionally overlooked — that’s also a part of the already excellent British West Indian rum canon.

(86/100)

For an in-depth discussion of the production process and the stills, Marco Freyr has done his usual superb work in his own review of the rum, which he scored at 91.