Jun 172018
 

#521

Somehow, after a big splash in 2015-2016, Indonesian rums came and left the scene with equally and almost startling suddenness.  Although Haus Alpenz has been making a Batavia Arrack Van Oosten for many years (even decades, perhaps), it is a niche spirit, really, and not many know of it, and no, I haven’t tried it. My first encounter with the arracks came when I bought the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia rum in 2015 (and quite liked it), and within the year By The Dutch put this fascinating product out the door and then occasional photos began making the rounds on FB of Naga and Nusa Cana rums.  Shortly thereafter Matt Pietrek wrote one of his deep dives into the By the Dutch rum, and yet after all that, somehow they have almost vanished from the popular consciousness.

Perhaps it’s the renaissance of Bajan and Jamaican rums in those same years that stole the show, I don’t know – certainly over the last years the various social media are fuller of Bajan and Jamaican rum pictures and commentaries than just about anything else. Maybe it’s physical distribution, festival absences, word of mouth, Facebook posts (or lack thereof).  Whatever the case for its lack of mindshare, I suggest you give it a try, if only to see where rum can go…or where it has already been.

Part of what makes arrack interesting is the way it is fermented. Here some fermented red rice is mixed into the yeast prior to addition to the molasses and water (up to 5%), which undoubtedly impacts the final taste.  I was told by a By the Dutch rep that this particular spirit derives from sugar cane juice and fermented red rice cake, and is then twice distilled: once in a pot still, producing a distillate of about 30% ABV, and then again in another pot still to around 60-65%.  At that point it is laid to rest in barrels made of teak (!!) in Indonesia for a number of years and then shipped to Amsterdam (Matt implies it’s to Scheer) where it is transferred to 1000L oak vats. The final arrack is a blend of spirits aged 8 months, 3, 5 and 8 years, with the majority of the spirit being 3 and 5 years of age and bottled at 48% ABV.

A production process with so many divergent steps is sure to bring some interesting tastes to the table. It’s intriguing to say the least.  The nose, even at 48%, is remarkably soft and light, with some of that pot still action being quite evident in the initial notes: rotting banana skins, apples gone off and some funky Jamaican notes, if perhaps not as intense as a Hampden or worthy Park offering.  This then slowly — almost delicately — released light citrus, watery fruit and caramel hints, chamomile, cinnamon, green tea and bitter chocolate and a sort of easy sweetness very pleasing to smell.

It got better when I tasted it, because the strength came out more clearly – not aggressive, just very solid and crisp at the same time, sweet and clear, almost like an agricole with some oak thrown in for good measure.  The pot still origins were distinct, and taste of sweet fruits gone over to the dark side were handled well: apples, citrus, pears, gherkins, the very lightest hint of olives, more tea, green grapes, with cooking spices dancing around everything, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon.  Even the finish was quite aromatic, lots of esters, bananas, apples, cider and a sort of grassiness that was more hinted at than forcefully explored.

As an alternative to more commonly available rums, this one is good to try at least once. It doesn’t smack you in the face or try to damage your glottis – it’s too easy or that – and works well as both a sipping drink (if your tastes go that way), or something to chuck into a mai-tai or a negroni variation. One of the reasons why it should be tried and appreciated is because while it has tastes that suggest a Jamaican-Bajan hybrid, there is just enough variation here to make it a fascinating drink on its own merits, and shows again how rum is simply the most versatile, varied spirit available.   Plus, it’s quite a nifty rum by itself, sweet enough for those who like that, edgy enough for those who want more.

Now, with respect to the rum news all being about the western hemisphere’s juice: I don’t begrudge the French, Spanish or English Caribbean rum makers their glory — that would be deeply unpatriotic of me, even if one discounted the great stuff the islanders are making, neither of which is an option. There’s a reason they get just about 75% of the press, with the independents and Americans (north and south) getting the remainder.  But I just want to sound a note of caution about the blinkers such focus is imposing on our rumsight, because by concentrating on nothing but these, we’re losing sight of great stuff being made elsewhere – on the French islands, St Lucia, Grenada, Mexico, Japan…and Indonesia. From companies like By the Dutch. A stern and forbiddingly solid cask-strength rum this is not – but it’s original within its limits, eminently sippable for its strength, it’s an old, even ancient drink made new, and even if one does not immediately succumb to its languorous charms, I do believe it’s worth taking out for a try.

(84/100)


Other notes

The bottle clearly says “aged up to 8 years”.  Understand what this means before you think you’re buying an 8 Year Old rum.

Jun 132018
 

#520

Since we’re talking about Nine Leaves again, let me just issue this brief review of another of the 2016 editions, the American Oak 2 year old.  This was something of a departure for the company and its genially low-key one-man owner, master blender, accountant, chief salesman, procurement officer, distiller, bottler, secretary, and maybe even floor cleaner, and the departure is in that it’s aged for so long.  

Most of the time Yoshiharu Takeuchi (who holds all of the positions noted above plus maybe a few others) releases rums in a six month cycle for the Angel’s Half expressions, and annually for the unaged “Clear” ones. This one is, however, aged for two years – it was the first “real” aged edition he made, and it was put to rest almost at the same time Nine Leaves opened for business.  Why two years? Because it’s the maximum a rum can be aged in Japan, he told me, before heavier taxes start to kick in, noting also that this is why for the moment older rums will not be part of the Nine Leaves’ stable.

Be that as it may, the 50% 2YO pot still rum should be seen as a companion piece to the Encrypted, which came out in the same year, and was also two years old.  However, the Encrypted was a two year old finished blend (of four rums), and this rum was a straight two year old without any other barrels aside from the American oak. I tried it together with the that and the Angel’s Half 6-month from last week, at the same time… and somewhat to my surprise, I liked this one best.

The nose rather interestingly presented hints of a funky kind of fruitiness at the beginning (like a low rent Jamaican, perhaps), while the characteristic clarity and crisp individualism of the aromas such as the other Nine Leaves rums possessed, remained.  It was musky and sweet, had some zesty citrus notes, fresh apples, pears and overall had a pleasing clarity about it. Plus there were baking spices as well – nutmeg and cumin and those rounded out the profile quite well.

Palate, short version, yummy. Some sugar water, vanilla, cereals and those spices again, cider and apple juice.  No brine here, no olives, more like a kind of tartness, akin to unsweetened fresh yoghurt. And a minerally iodine peat-bog taste lurked in the background, which fortunately stayed there and wasn’t so aggressive as to derail the experience.  It was quite smooth, with some edge and rawness, but well controlled, closing things off with a finish that was quiet, clear and relatively easy, redolent mostly of acidic fruits, apples, cider, oranges and a bit of vanilla.  That’s a rather brief set of tasting notes, but I assure you, the experience was well worth it.

When I posted the Angel’s Half notes last week on reddit, one person asked me whether what I described was typical for Nine Leaves.  Based on these three Nine Leaves rums from 2016, I’d have to say yes – but even with rums so relatively similar and from the same tree, there were points of individuality that made them distinct in their own right.  Of the three, this one was my favourite – it provided reasonable complexity, clarity, enjoyment, retained its sprightly youth and vigour, while suggesting how the ageing sanded off the rough edges.  For a two year old rum made on the other side of the world, this thing is quite an achievement, and demonstrates yet again that a rum doesn’t have to be aged up to wazoo or come from a famed Caribbean estate to make a solid and favourable impression on anyone who tries it.

(86/100)


Other notes

The rum’s label could use some work.  It states it’s an Angel’s half but neither the year nor the ageing are clearly noted, which inevitably leads to some confusion.  Also, the only way to tell it’s different from the 6 month old is the yellow label for the 2YO, as opposed to the white one on the 6-month. I think Yoshi has corrected this in subsequent releases, though one remains perennially unsure what the release quantity is.

Jun 072018
 

#518

The Velier Port Mourant 1972 is the Demerara rum from further back in time than anything else they’ve ever put out the door, beating out the legendary Skeldon 1973 by a year, and is a stunning 35 year old rum.  Given its age and how long ago it came out the door (2008) it would seem to be a better fit for the Rumaniacs series, but I felt it raised two issues that perhaps made a full-fledged review essay more appropriate. Plus, I really liked the damned thing.

Quite aside from my personal admiration for these older Velier rums, what also piqued my interest was that two of my barking mad viking friends rated it as high as they did in their Velier PM blowout some months ago.  I was surprised as well: here was a rum bottled on the drowsy side of 50% and not even fully tropically aged, and it scored that well? This seriously enagaged the gears of my curiosity, and in April of 2018 I was able to put it into an eight-rum mashup…just to see what the fuss was all about, and if I could perhaps poke a hole in their assertion that it was that good. This is the sort of cheerful one-upmanship we indulge in, in our spare time, when we aren’t posting pictures of our latest acquisitions.

Those who have read the recent post about the 8 Demerara rums from DDL and Velier (spoiler alert! read no further if you are that person) will find few surprises here, since they’ll know it rated at the top. Let’s go deeper and see if we can explain how and why it got there.

The nose made an immediate and emphatic response: “Here’s how.”  I had exasperatedly grumbled “OFFS!” with the El Dorado 1988 25 YO — with the PM 1972 I leaned back, sighed rapturously and said “Oh yeah.”  Sweet deep raisins, licorice, soya (very light saltiness, really nicely handled), coffee, bitter chocolate leather and smoke  The balance of the components and the way they segued one into the other, and re-emerged just as you thought it was all done, is nothing short of outstanding.  And even when I thought the show was over and then went to wash the dishes, do the laundry, kiss the snoring wife and return, there was more waiting – prunes, blackberries, nougat, anise, chocolate-covered dates, molasses, aromatic tobacco and a fine blade of almost imperceptible citrus.

A rather more traditional and solid PM backbone of licorice and molasses was in evidence once the tasting began, acting as a clothes horse upon which were hung other elements of flavour – that chocolate and coffee again, muscovado sugar, white pepper, vanilla…and that was just the beginning.  I went out grocery shopping, cleaned the house, made brunch for Mrs and the Little Caner, came back, tasted again, got hit by oak (not much), orange peel, flowers, sawdust, raisins, black grapes, ripe mangoes…I held the bottle up to the light in some perplexity, wondering, where was all this stuff coming from?  Even the finish displayed that remarkable richness of profile, and rather than go into detail, I’ll just repeat what I said in the mashup essay: “All of the above…plus some mint”. Because that was exactly it.

The balance and complexity and overall richness of this rum is extraordinary.  It is aromatic to a fault, and so generously endowed with tastes and flavours that if they were physical attributes, somewhere John Holmes would be weeping with envy. And all of that is in spite of — or because of — two issues.  

For one thing, the PM 1972 is not a particularly strong rum (“firm” might be the best word to describe it).  You’d think that at 47.8% it would be a laid back, slow-’n’-easy kind of product, with a lot of complexity but not too many rabbits squirming around in its jock.  But somehow it succeeds. It shines. It’s strong enough to make a statement for its quality without wimping out at some low-ass strength that would make it a dilettante’s wet dream but not completely delivering on its promise (like the Cadenhead Demerara 1975 at 40.6%, perhaps) .  I’ve made many comments about my evolving preference for cask strength bruisers, yet I cannot fault the low-power engine that drives this thing, because it’s so seamlessly constructed, samples so well.

Secondly, Luca is known for his fierce proselytization on behalf of tropical ageing – his oft-stated opinion, proudly displayed on so many of the rums he slaps Velier’s name on (and which has been adopted by many other producers) is “Fully Aged in the Tropics”.  But here that’s not the case: the PM 1972 was partly aged in Guyana, and partly in Europe. To some extent that may be the exception proving the rule, but to my mind what it demonstrates rather more subtly is that we should not be so quick to dismiss continental ageing just because it’s becoming some sort of conventional wisdom.  The fact is that other independents like the Compagnie, Rum Nation, Transcontinental, Samaroli, Duncan Taylor, Hunter Laing etc have long shown that continental ageing can work if done right, and perhaps appeal to rum drinkers who like or prefer a different kind of aspect to their aged-rum profiles. The sweet spot of dual ageing as opposed to one place or the other may just be demonstrated – in spades – by this old and almost forgotten rum, of which only 175 bottles ever came to the world from the original two barrels.

But wherever it slept and whatever the proof, somehow the Port Mourant 1972 finds an intersection of strength and ageing to present a profile that is almost without flaw.  I went in to the tasting, rather snidely hoping to disprove its purported brilliance. I was unable to do so. Simply stated, the rum is phenomenal. It’s one of the best Guyanese rums at its strength, from any still, at any age, ever made. It hurts that it is so rare and that the new crop of rum drinkers are unlikely to ever try it, because you can bet that anyone who still has one is holding onto it as tight as Mrs. Caner to the dream of a Gucci purse.  Given my appreciation and respect for this rum, I have to admit that if a bottle ever landed in my grubby paws, then my grip would be pretty fierce as well. 

(92/100)


Other notes

  • Assuming 2 barrels of 500L each, with an outturn of 175 bottles at 0.7L each (122.5 Liters total), we can estimate something like a 90% angel’s share.
  • Distilled August 1972 bottled March 2008.
May 242018
 

#515

Two independent bottlers out of Europe which I have not done much with are Mezan and Duncan Taylor, though I have samples and a plethora of notes of rums from both. Let’s try to remedy that this week with a quick look at the current subject, which presses many of my buttons at once: it’s from Enmore estate but the single wooden Versailles pot still (which alongside Port Mourant is one of my favourite stills from Guyana), distilled in 1985 and bottled in 2012 so a hefty 27 years old, and it has a no-nonsense strength of 52.5%. Need I say continental ageing? No additives or messing around? Probably not. You could tell that as one of the first rums they issued, they probably figured that they’d release a 27 year old Hulk to the market and reap all the glory therefrom.

Did they succeed? Not quite.The nose was fine, mind – very light, thin and sharp, redolent of glue, acetones, pencil shavings, the rich aroma of a brand new leather jacket, oak, a little anise and a raft of light and indeterminate fruits (apples, orange peel and pears) that were difficult to pick apart.  It had a musty sort of smell too…like aged, dust-covered old books in a stuffy library. Odd, but by no means unpleasant.

Thinness of the nose aside, the palate took something of a ninety degree left turn. It felt thicker, richer, with the glue and furniture polish notes receding, yet what emerged was a rum that seemed over-oaked, and very dry, very crisp.  What fruits there were – and there were some, mostly raisins, pears, unripe apples and green mangoes – were of the mouth puckering kind, quite tart, accompanied by orange peel, nutmeg, cardboard or drywall, and something that reminded me of the dustiness of a drought-stricken backyard. The strength was fine for what it was – not low enough to make it a mild crowd-pleaser, not so strong as to make it an assault on the tongue, so on that level it succeeded just fine. The finish gave up more of those tart fruity sensations, oak notes, some pepper and cooking herbs (thyme and parsley)…yet overall, it somehow failed to cohere really well, and the whole experience was deflated by its relative lack of voluptuousness that either some more ageing or some time in tropical climes might have ameliorated.

Duncan Taylor started life in 1938, formed by Abe Rosenberg and his two brothers, who had a sales license for major states in the US which allowed for rapid growth in the post-war years (especially with the J&B brand). It was a company that dealt in whiskies, both as a merchant and as a broker in Glasgow, and over time they acquired what was one of the largest privately-held collections of rare malt whisky casks in the world. The partnership was sold in 1980, but the collection of whiskies owned by Duncan Taylor was not part of that sale. Euan Shand and his partner Alan Gordon bought it in 2002 and moved the company to Scotland. At that point they made a conscious decision to cease operating as a broker and tread down the road of being an indie bottler of its own branded whiskies.  In 2012 they expanded the portfolio into rums as well, although thus far it seems that those who have been fortunate enough to review some of their work (mostly Wes and Steve), feel that it’s a bit hit or miss.

Here, I’d have to say that the Enmore 27 YO is rather more miss than hit, and it copied the form of the Veliers without the underlying passion that served Luca so well in his own Enmores. Which is surprising because even in continental climes, twenty seven years is twenty seven years and I somehow felt there should be more on display here.  But it just doesn’t gel for me – there’s a thin kind of hardness to the experience which I did not like, a sort of cold, austere, uncompromising lack of warmer flourishes and tastes which I see in tropically aged rums that slept many years less. Essentially, it tastes like it’s not quite ready to be decanted, and in summary, I conclude by noting that Duncan Taylor might have thought, when they issued this well-aged rum, that they were channelling the Hulk…but in reality, after all that time, only succeeded in growing a green fingernail.

(84/100)


Other notes

Thanks and a hat-tip to Maco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind, who not only wrote the definitive biography of the company, but sent me the samplewhich he also reviewed, more positively than I did. He also wrote that the rum was not from the Enmore wooden coffey still, but the Versailles single wooden pot still which was housed at Enmore before being moved to Diamond.  The word “pot” on the bottle label makes that clear.

 

 

 

May 192018
 

#513

The question of why Velier would want to issue a well-endowed, claw-equipped high-test like this, is, on the surface, somewhat unclear.  Because my own opinion is that this is not a product for the general marketplace. It’s not aimed at beginners, 40% strength lovers or those with a sweet tooth who have two of every edition of the Ron Zacapa ever made. It’s an utterly unaged cask strength white with serious strength one point short of 60%, to which is bolted a massive 537.59 g/laa of esters…that puts in the realm of the Rum Fire Jamaican white, and that one packed quite a bit of gelignite in its jock, remember? Aside from serious rum-junkies, ester-loving deep-dive geeks and Demerara-rum fanboys (I’m all of these in one), I wonder who would buy the thing when there are so many great independent offerings of an aged Demerara out there (many of which are Port Mourant still rums themselves).

Let’s see if the tasting notes can provide some insight. At 59% ABV, I was careful with it, letting it open for a while, and was rewarded with quite an impressive and complex series of aromas: rubber and plasticene, nail polish remover, followed by a combination of sugar water, brine, watermelon, pears, roasted nuts, plus a firm, crisp-yet-light fruitiness which the strength did not eviscerate.  That’s always something of a risk with high proof rums, whose intensity can obliterate subtler nuances of flavour on nose or palate.

Unaged rums take some getting used to because they are raw from the barrel and therefore the rounding out and mellowing of the profile which ageing imparts, is not a factor.  That means all the jagged edges, dirt, warts and everything, remain. Here that was evident after a single sip: it was sharp and fierce, with the licorice notes subsumed into dirtier flavours of salt beef, brine, olives and garlic pork (seriously!). It took some time for other aspects to come forward – gherkins, leather, flowers and varnish – and even then it was not until another half hour had elapsed that crisper acidic notes like unripe apples and thai lime leaves (I get those to buy in the local market), were noticeable. Plus some vanilla – where on earth did that come from?  It all led to a long, duty, dry finish that provided yet more: sweet, sugary, sweet-and-salt soy sauce in a clear soup. Damn but this was a heady, complex piece of work. I liked it a lot, really.

Reading those tasting note and looking at the stats of the rum, I think you’d agree this is not your standard table rum; maybe even one that only a madman or a visionary would try to make money from, when it’s so obviously stuffed with sleeping leopards. Who on earth would make this kind of thing; and then, having been made, who is addled enough to buy it? Drink it?  And why?

To answer those questions, it’s useful to look at the man behind the rum.  Luca Gargano, whose Five Principles are now the source of equal parts merriment and respect, doesn’t often say it in as many words, but obeys another: I call it the Sixth Rum Principle, and it suggests that Luca believes that rum should be made pure, fresh, organic, without additives of any kind from cane through to still.  If he had a choice, I’m sure he’s prefer to have wild yeast do the fermentation of a wash gathered in the bark of trees hollowed out by the latest hurricane.

But a codicil to the Principle is simply that a rum need not necessarily be aged to be good…even fabulous. Now for a man who selected and popularized the extraordinary Port Mourant series of aged rums, that seems like bizarre thing to say, but look no further than the clairins from Haiti which have made such a splash in the rumiverse over the last four years, or any of the unaged French Island whites, and you’ll see that may really be on to something.

And that leads to the intersection of the Port Mourants and the Principle. I’m sure Luca was perfectly aware of the quality and reputation of the PM 1972, PM 1974 and PM 1975….to say nothing of the later editions. “What I wanted to do,” he told me recently in that utterly sure, subtly evangelic voice he uses in rum festivals around the world, “Is demonstrate how the rum everyone likes and appreciates – the Port Mourants, Foursquares, Jamaicans – started life.  Okay, they’re not for everyone. But for those who really know the profiles of the islands’ rums blind, they can now see what such rums were before any ageing or any kind of cask influence.”

Drinking this rum shows what results from applying that principle. There’s a whole raft of these whites out in the market right now, distinguished by lovely drawings of the stills from which they originate. I’m not sure how they sell, or who’s buying them, or even if they are making a splash in the perceptions of the larger rum world.  All I know is it’s an amazing rum that one should try at least once, even if it’s just to appreciate for the one time how the raging cataracts of a Port Mourant distillate started out, before the torrent of taste calmed down, evened out…and flowed into the ocean of all the other great PMs we have learnt to know and appreciate over the years.

(88/100)

May 102018
 

(c) liquor-store-europe.com

#510

The Ping No. 9 is a private / independent bottling done by the Danish liquor store Juuls and I first came across it in 2016 when one of those anonymous mad vikings (thanks Gregers!) brought it to a truly epic Caner Afterparty session, where it was promptly run past (what else?) the G&M Longpond 1941 and the BBR 1977 itself, to which we then added a Albrecht Trewlawny 1993 17 YO (Longpond, 2nd Release) and the EKTE No 2 (Monymusk) to cross reference .  We had nothing else on hand that was the right age or from the right island, so this had to do, but even that comparison allowed us to come to grips with its structure and assembly in a way that made its strengths (and weaknesses, such as they were) somewhat clearer.

Let that pass for the moment and simply sigh with envy at whoever sprang over a thousand euros in early 2018 (on one of the FB sales pages) for a bottle of this juice – not because it’s superlative (I didn’t think it was, not entirely), but simply because we don’t see rums from the 1970s coming on the market any longer and even the 1980s are fast becoming a vanishing breed, and so to try one that geriatric, and issued at a snorting 61%? Rum heaven.

All right, so a bourbon-cask aged expression, costing four figures, continental ageing, Danish bottler buying from a Speyside outfit, 221-bottle outturn. What did it taste like? In a word, lovely. It was smooth to smell and a pleasure to inhale, largely because the huge strength was under control the whole time, presenting heat instead of crude sharpness.  It began quietly with bananas, vanilla, mead, honey, cream cheese and a little caramel, almost no citrus (and if there was any, it kept way the hell back). As we came back to it over a period of some hours, crisper notes of green apples, candied oranges, cinnamon and ginger cookies came forward as the softer ones receded.

Say what you will about tropical ageing, there’s nothing wrong with a good long continental slumber when we get stuff like this out the other end. Again it presented as remarkably soft for the strength, allowing tastes of fruits, light licorice, vanilla, cherries, plums, and peaches to segue firmly across the tongue.  Some sea salt, caramel, dates, plums, smoke and leather and a light dusting of cinnamon and florals provided additional complexity, and over all, it was really quite a good rum, closing the circle with a lovely long finish redolent of a fruit basket, port-infused cigarillos, flowers and a few extra spices.

What is both good and to some extent a let-down about the rum is its control. At no point did any of us ever feel that we were getting a 61% beefcake in our glasses.  It was not a cream puff milquetoast, no, but in comparison to the gleefully manic proctological probing that clairins subject us to, this thing is like a lover’s gentle yet firm caress – and on the level described, it’s all good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But it also, I have to concede, lacked a real edge and bite of the sort a more funky profile would have provided, which leads me to my main point of contention.

There was little that was distinctly Jamaican in the rum – no, really – and it actually reminded me more of a combo of a Bajan and a Guyanese, taken to cask strength. If the measure of a rum is the extent to which its maker conforms to the standards of the place of origin or alignment with the expected style, then you’d be hard put to really place it as being from the island. The Ping No. 9 presents a profile somewhat at odds with those characteristic tastes we associate with the newer Jamaican bottlings of late – dunder, funk, hogo, esters, pick your term – little of this was in evidence.  Whether this is a matter of how and where it was aged, or the simple fact that it was made in a different era, is debatable. But it did make me feel somewhat disappointed.

I know there’s one person who’s reading this who’s muttering “Bullsquirt!” to himself and running to get his two bottles out of the triple-locked safe where he has them stashed behind a couple of flash-bangs and a collection of nasty toys meant to cause any would-be pilferer immense discomfort (he takes his juice seriously, and they’ll get his rums when they pry them out of his quivering hands, I suspect). He’s going to re-test it, no question, then post a rebuttal for me to ponder. The thing is, I know he liked the Ping 9 more so than I did, just as he disdained the Velier 1972 Courcelles and I didn’t.  And because our tastes and palates run apart from each other, it’s very likely that others will too. Therefore, interesting as I believe the Ping 9 to be, lovers and potential purchasers might want to sample before they buy. It’s very good but it’s also different…and that makes it something of a tricky purchase, no matter what the score, the age or the price.

(86/100)


Other notes

  • The rum is actually five days under 36 years old: for once I think I’ll just note it and move on and keep calling it a 36 YO. Such a tiny variation doesn’t trouble me much at such an age.
  • For what it’s worth, it makes me suspect that the BBR 1977 also came from Longpond.  My own opinion was that the BBR was better, and the Albrecht Trelawny and the EKTE also exceeded it.
  • Both Roger Caroni (who writes in French), and Wes Burgin over at the FatRumPirate tried a brother of this rum, the Old Jamaique Long Pond 1977 35YO (at 50%), which was a collaboration between the Belgian bottler Corman-Collins and the Scots bottler Ian MacLeod, the latter of whom was also the source of this barrel for Juuls. Roger liked it a lot (without a score), and Wes also commented on the lack of funkiness; still, from his 4.5-star score, I think it’s safe to say he liked the rum from his barrel a bit more than I did the rum from mine.
  • So what’s with the name “Ping”? I asked around and was told that “Ping” was the humourous nickname given to Michael Madsen (the owner of Juuls, the 30th anniversary of which this edition commemorates) in his youth….because he looked something like a penguin, or “pingvin” in Danish.  That’s so funny it almost has to be true, though I must emphasize it’s just something of a Danish urban rum-legend.

Apr 252018
 

#505

On initial inspection, Rivers Royale Grenadian Rum – a white overproof – is not one of the first rums you’d immediately think of as a representation of its country, its style, or a particular type — perhaps Westerhall or Clarke’s Court are more in your thoughts.  It is made in small quantities at River Antoine on  the spice island of Grenada, is rarely found outside there, and even though it can be bought on the UK site Masters of Malt, it barely registers on the main bloggers’ review sites.

Yet anyone who tries it swears by it.  I’ve never seen a bad write-up, by anyone. And there are a several aspects of this rum which, upon closer inspection, reveal why it should be considered as part of the Grenadian pantheon and on any list of Key Rums, even if it is so relatively unknown.  

For one thing, there’s it’s artisinal production.  Almost alone in the English-speaking Caribbean, River Antoine adheres to very old, manual forms of rum making.  The sugar cane is free from fertilizers, grown right there (not imported stock), crushed with a water wheel – perhaps the oldest working one remaining in the world – and the source of the rum is juice, not molasses. Fermented for up to eight days without added yeast – natural fermentation via wild bacteria only – in huge open-air vats and transferred to an old John Dore copper pot still (a new one was added in the 1990s).  No additives of any kind, no filtration, no ageing. They are among the most natural rums in the world and the white, which is supposedly drawn off the still at a staggering 89% ABV and bottled at 69% to facilitate transport by air, is among the most flavourful whites I’ve ever tried, and thought so even back in 2010 when I first got knocked off my chair with one.

There’s also the whole business of heritage.  In the geek rumiverse, it’s common knowledge that Mount Gay’s paperwork shows it as dating back to 1703 – though it was almost certainly making rum for at least fifty years before that – and River Antoine is by contrast a relative johnny-come-lately, being founded in 1785. The key difference is that Rivers (as it is locally referred to) is made almost exactly the way it was at the beginning, never relocated, never really changed its production methodology and is even using some of the same facilities and equipment. So if your journey along the road of discovery is taking you into the past and you want to know more about “the old way” and don’t want to go to Haiti, then Grenada may just be the place to go.

These points segue neatly into an emerging (if still small) movement of fair trading, organic ingredients and eco-friendly production methodologies.  By those standards, and bearing in mind the points above, Rivers must be a poster child for the eco-movement, like Cape Verde, Haiti and other places where rumtime seems to have slowed down to a crawl and nobody ever saw any reason to go modern.

But is it any good?  I thought so eight years ago, and in a recent, almost accidental retasting, my initially high opinion has been reconfirmed.  At 69%, unaged, unfiltered, untamed, I knew that not by any stretch of the imagination was I getting a smooth and placid cocktail ingredient, and I didn’t – it was more like getting assaulted by a clairin.  It started out with all the hallmarks of a Jamaican or Haitian white popskull – glue, acetone, vinegar, olives and brine exploded across the nose, pungent, deep and very hot. And it didn’t stop there – as it rested and then opened up, crisper and clearer notes came out to party – watermelons, pickled gherkins and sugar cane sap, married to drier, mustier aromas of cereal, old books, fresh baked bread, light fruits and even some yeast.  Weird, no?

As for the taste, well…whew! The palate did not slow down the slightest bit from the jagged assault of the nose but went right in. Although the initial entry was just short of crazy – “like drinking ashes and water and licking an UHU glue stick” my notes go – this offbeat profile actually developed quite well. It turned dry, minerally, the fruitiness and citrus zest took something a back seat, and it took some time to recalibrate to this. Once that settled down the fruits emerged from hiding — cherries, some guavas and yellow mangoes, orange peel, light florals…but the crazy never entirely went away, because there were also hints of gasoline and a salt lick, and the sort of binding adhesive you can occasionally smell in brand new glossy magazines (I know of no other way to describe this, honestly).  And of course the exit is quite epic – a long, searing acid fart that blows fumes of acetone, citrus, brine and deeper fruits down your throat.

This rum is like a lot of very good whites on the market right now: Rum Fire, the Sajous, Toucan, J.B White, to name just a few. Quite aside from the heritage, the history, the production and eco-friendly nature of it, the rum is simply and powerfully an amazing original even when rated against those on the list of 21 Great Whites.  It’s not a rum that apologizes for its sense of excitement, or attempts to buffer itself with a standard profile in an effort to win brownie points with the larger audience.  It is maddeningly, surely, simply itself — and while I admit that strong whites are something of a thing for me personally (and not for people who like quieter, simpler or sweeter rums), I can’t help but suggest there’s so much going on with this one that it has to be tried by rum lovers at least once.

Luca and others have told me that River Antoine are having some issues maintaining the old water wheel and the open-air vats, and repairs are continuously being made. There are rumours of upgrading the equipment, perhaps even modernizing here or there.  I’m selfish, and I hope they manage to keep the old system going – because yes, they can make their rums faster, more easily, and issue more of them. But given the old-school quality of what I tried, the sheer force and fury and potency of what they’re already doing, I somehow wonder if anything modern they do will necessarily be better…or be regarded as a Key Rum. The way I regard this one.

(85/100)

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)