Sep 102017
 

***

Rumaniacs Review #055 | 0455

About the only place this rhum falls down is that for all the information we have on it, it leaves us begging for more.  It is a heritage (or “halo”) edition rhum, a bland of six millésimes, those years considered to be of exceptional quality – the legendary 1885 (R-010, remember that?), 1934, 1952, 1976, 1998 and 2000, and yeah, what else could we possibly want? Well, how much of each was in the blend, for one, and how old each of those components was, and further, how much (if at all) the final blend was itself aged.

But I’m not whinging too loudly.  This is an impressive dram, and only 800 bottles were issued for the 250th anniversary of the plantation (I think this was 2015).  One wonders if it was a coincidence that each bottle supposedly retails for €800, and yes, it’s still available, the secondary market has thankfully not gotten into the action here as yet.

Colour – bronze

Strength – 43%

Nose – Luscious, voluptuous. Caramel and dark fruits, hinting at (get this) a column still Demerara, except that it’s much lighter.  Florals and sweet ripe fruit are exhaled with joyous abandon – marula fruit, cashews, light pineapple, and the sweet and over-ripe scent of mangoes that fall under gargantuan tropical trees in such profusion they rot right there on the ground.  Also oaky, somewhat sharp, some freshly sawn lumber, pineapple, tobacco and grated ginger.  Whew…quite a smorgasbord, and well assembled, I assure you.

Palate – After the stronger Neissons, this seems almost tame.  Much of the nose has been retained – ripe fruits, cherries, the crispness of gooseberries, herbs and grass and cream (“krauterquark” as the Germans would say).  Much of the heavier components of the blend lose some definition here, the younger ones take over and contribute a light, frisky, sparkling profile. Pleasant, just not earth shaking.  Light strawberries, vanilla, oak (perhaps a bit much), breakfast spices, cumin, and a vein of citrus and salt caramel through the whole thing.

Finish – A shade brief, with the aforementioned fruit, cumin, citrus, salt caramel and raisins, lots of raisins.

Thoughts – I’d hazard a guess that the more recent vintages, say from 1976 on, contribute some sprightliness and vigour, some of that sharpness and tart fruitiness to the blend, while the older ones give depth and solidity upon which these rest.  For my money I’d prefer somewhat less of the former, more of the latter, or some better balance between the two, and perhaps a greater strength – all the elements of a great rum are in evidence, but it’s too light.  That’s not to say it’s bad – not at all! – but it does make for ease and comfort; I’d personally prefer something more aggressive and complex which would elevate such a great collection of vintages a few points more.

(86.5/100)

Some of the boyos have taken a look at this rhum also…see the Rumaniacs page

Jun 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #049 | 0449

Even now, years after I acquired one of the 220 bottles of this phenomenal 36 year old rum, it retains its power to amaze and, yes, even awe. It still retails in the UK for over six hundred quid, reviews are rare as sugar in a Velier rum, and to this day it is unclear whether it is a blend — or if not, from which estate or distillery it hails.  Whatever the case, it is a great bit of Jamaican rum history and should be tried by any who get the opportunity.

Colour – Amber-orange

Strength – 60.3%

Nose – Pungent, bags of fruits resting on a firm and almost sharp initial aromas.  Vanilla, coconut, aromatic tobacco, and – at least at the beginning – very little in the way of true ‘Jamaican-ness’.  Where’s the funk?  Oak is well handled for something this old – so likely it was aged in the UK.  After some minutes coffee, raisins, bitter chocolate, parsley (!!) bananas, cherries, and faint dunder starts to creep out, before developing into something much more aggressive.  Definitely a rum that gives more the longer it stays open so don’t rush into this one.  There’s also a musty, damp-cellar background to it all that combines well with the wood, and somewhat displaces the fruitiness the esters are trying to provide.

Palate – Whew, hot hot hot.  Started slow, worked up a head of steam and then just barreled down the straight looking neither left nor right. Dusty cardboard and cereals, more of that earthy mustiness, plus some brine, avocados, cumin and maybe ginger.  Adding water is the key here, and once this is done, ther is caramel and cinnamon, more cumin, hay, tobacco and chocolate, veggies, and yes, rotting bananas and fleshy fruit gone off – so apparently it may not start out Jamaican, but sure finishes like one.

Finish – Long and warm and very very aromatic.  Wood shavings, some more citrus (lemons, not oranges), ginger, cumin, those ‘off’ fruits and even (what was this?) some cigarette tar.

Thoughts – Still an excellent, amazing rum.  Honestly, I’m helpless to justify 60.3% and 36 years old and near to a four figure price tag.  How can anyone?  For the average rum drinker, you can’t.  You wouldn’t share it with your card-playing buddies, your kids had better not go near it, you wouldn’t give it away as a gift, and there are so few of these bottles around that it might even never be opened because the event to do so would never be special enough.  But all that aside, we need s**t like this.  Without such rums we would be a lesser people (and cede pride of place to the maltsters). And that’s why it’s a rum to cherish, if you can ever get it.

(90/100)

Apr 122017
 

Rumaniacs Review #033 | 0433

The Facundo rum series from Bacardi which was launched in 2013, is an attempt by the company to insert itself into the premium market with a series of aged blended rums.  Strictly speaking, it’s not a true Rumaniac vintage (the idea is to write about old stuff that isn’t actually in production any longer), but every now and then a more current expression slips through the cracks without having gone through the process of being recalled only by the elderly, filtered through their fond recollections of where they had been when they first tried it.  You know how it is – when you can’t get the vile crap you had in your younger years any longer, it grows in the memory, somehow getting better each time.

The Paraiso is the top end of the four expressions released under the brand (Neo, Eximo and Exquisito are the others) containing various rums aged up to 23 years, finished in old cognac barrels and is priced to match, though one wonders how much of that is the bottle and enclosure rather than the rum itself.  And of course there’s all the old marketing blather about jealously guarded, never-before-seen, private stocks and family casks meant only for visiting royalty, not the ignoble peasantry.

Colour – red-amber

Strength – 40%

Nose – Briny, soft and mildly fruity, with almonds and vanilla. Some toblerone and a whiff of tobacco. Herbal, grassy notes, and oak, and exactly two grapes. Sweet and light and too damned faint.  Not sure what’s stopping them from boosting it to maybe 45%.

Palate – It may be a blend of old rums, but I think it hews too closely to the formula represented in its downmarket mega-selling cousins.  The thing is too light and too weak in both mouthfeel and taste – there’s no assertiveness here. Caramel (weak). Pears and another two grapes (weak). Alcohol (weak). Vanilla (some). Almonds, oak, breakfast spices (almost nonexistent).  Sugar (too much – I read it has 15-20 g/L when doing my research after the tasting, so now I know why).  Plus, all these flavours blend into each other so it’s just a smooth butter-caramel-vanilla ice cream melange at best.  Did I mention I thought it was too sweet?

Finish – Short, kind of expected at 40%. One last grape. Halwa and Turkish delight (seriously). That is not entirely a recommendation.

Thoughts – Unless you’re a fan of light, easy sipping rums from Cuba (or in that style), and are prepared to drop north of £200, I’d suggest passing on it.  It’s not, as the website suggests, “possibly the finest rum ever sipped,” not even close. Still, the presentation is excellent, and for its strength it has a few pleasant notes — but pleasant is not what we want in something bugled to be this old and this expensive: we want a challenge, a blast from the past, something majestic.  This isn’t it, and frankly, it just annoys me. There’s more and better out there at a lesser price from the same island.

(75/100)

Other Rumaniacs were quite irritated with the rum as well, and their reviews can be found here on the Rumaniacs website.

Oct 122014
 

D3S_9334

 

***

A deeply rich and remarkable rum – 1980 was a damned good year for this company

(#183. 91.5/100)

***

When one buys a raft of intriguing aged rums and then samples several dozen more (especially after a protracted absence), the issue is which rum to start reviewing first. Since my intention on this go-around was to run through several Caroni rums from Trinidad, as well as to give more weight to agricoles from the French West Indies, I decided that one of the best of the latter deserved some consideration.  And that’s this sterling Damoiseau.

The Bellevue au Moule estate and distillery was established at the end of the 19th Century by a Mr Rimbaud from Martinique, and was acquired by Mr Roger Damoiseau in April 1942…since then it has remained within his family (the estate and distillery are currently run by Mr Hervé Damoiseau).  They claim to be the market leader in Guadeloupe — 50% market share, notes the estate web page — and their primary export market remains Europe, France in particular.

D3S_9338

Forget all that, though: this 1980 edition would be enough to assure their reputation as a premium rum maker by any standard. Damoiseau themselves obviously thought so too, because it’s not every day you see a polished wooden box enfolding a bottle, and costing as much as it did. And once open, bam, an immediate emanation of amazing aromas greeted me. Even with my experience of full proof rums clocking in at 60% and over, this one was something special: plums, dark ripe cherries and cinnamon blasted out right away.  The rum was impatient to be appreciated but then chilled out, and crisp, clean and direct notes of white flowers and the faintest bit of brown sugar and fresh grass came shyly out the door.  I’d recommend that any lucky sampler to get his beak in fast to get the initial scent bomb, and then wait around for the more relaxed aftersmells.

What also impressed me was how it arrived in the palate: you’d think that 60.3% strength would make for a snarling, savage electric impact, but no, it was relatively restrained: heated, yes, but also luscious and rich. (The closest equivalent I could come up with when looking for a comparative to this rum was the 58% Courcelles 1972 which also had some of the loveliness this one displayed). Fleshy, sweet, ripe fruit were in evidence here, pineapple, apricots, crushed grapes, apricots – it was so spectacular, so well put together, and there was so much going on there, that it rewarded multiple trips to the well.  It’s my standard practice to add some water when tasting to see how things moved on from the initial sensations: here I simply did not bother.  It was hard to believe this was an agricole, honestly – it was only at the back end that something of the light cleanliness and clarity of the agricoles emerged, and the fade was a pleasant (if a bit sharp), long-lasting melange of white fruit (guavas, I’m thinking), a twist of vanilla, and light flowers.

D3S_9341

Guadeloupe as a whole has never been overly concerned about the AOC designation, and creates both pure cane-juice and molasses-based rums, in light and dark iterations of vieux, très vieux, hors d’age and (not as common) the Millésimé – that’s where we head into rarefied territory, because it denotes a particular year, a good one. From the taste of this rum, the heft and the richness, 1980 outturn must have been phenomenal. For a very long time I’ve not been able to give enough attention to the products of the French West Indies (to my own detriment) – but even the few steps I’ve made have been worth it, if only to see diamonds like this one washed up on the strand at the high water mark.


Other notes

Aged for 18 years in 180 liter ex-bourbon barrels.

May 102014
 

Skeldon 1971 bottle

It’s official.  Velier has raised the bar for super premium rums, with an extraordinary 32-year old blast from the past that will excavate a punt-wide trench in your wallet if you ever find one.

(#181. 93.5/100)

The 544-bottle run of the Skeldon 1973 Old Demerara Rum has, since being released in 2005, become something of an object of cult worship.  In 2012 a single bottle went for sale on eBay for close to  €500. I searched for three years before I found a gent in France willing to part with his (and at a cost I’m glad my wife never found out about).  It isn’t very well known, except among rabid collectors, and the only reviews I’ve ever seen were in Italian and French.  It is without doubt a rum from further back in time than anything else Velier has ever made, or perhaps will ever make.  And it is worth every penny. Yes, I love Rum Nation, yes I have soft spots for Cadenhead, Berry Brothers, Secret Treasure, Plantation, El Dorado, Pussers, Young’s Old Sam and a score of others. But this thing is a cut above the crowd, and part of that is the way Velier mastered and balanced the subtleties trapped within the enormous tastes of a 32-year-old beefcake.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside Guyana who knows about Skeldon, or where it is. It’s a plantation on the far east of the country, right close by the Corentyne River — I visited the area many times in my youth — and not, as some have mentioned, on the Demerara (all Guyanese rums are often noted as being Demeraras, but the pedant in me disputes the moniker).  The original distillate was made in Skeldon before the still was shut down, and I’ve heard that the barrels were transferred to Uitvlugt before finding their final home in Diamond Estate, where Luca Gargano found the last four barrels from that year ageing quietly away in DDL’s warehouses, perhaps even forgotten by them: he snapped them up, and from that stock, made an old, bold bastard of a rum, eschewing the softness of a standard strength and allowing it to be issued at a mouth ravaging 60.5%.

The Skeldon 1973 was remarkably dark, molasses brown, deeper in hue than the PM 1974 I looked at not too long ago. Such was the skill of the makers that almost no time needed to be spent waiting for the spirit to open up in my glass: almost as soon as I poured it out, rich, powerful fumes of coffee, burnt cocoa, and smouldering sugar cane fields billowed out. Mellow aromas of peaches, nuts and licorice provided exclamation points of distinction, and these were followed by notes of honey, pecans and toast. And it wasn’t over yet: after half an hour, when I went back to it, I detected yet other traces of cherries, blackberries, and even a sly waxy taste that was far from unpleasant.  And each component was clear and distinct, crisp and vital as tropical morning sunshine.

If the nose was extraordinary, so was the palate:  intense without sharpness, heated without pain, and not so much full bodied as voluptuous.  Cumin, tannins and a certain muskiness attended the initial tasting, with a briny undertone, all in balance. As these receded, other flavours came to the fore: coffee again, unsweetened cocoa, walnuts, some caramel, burnt sugar cane (as from the nose), almonds, hazelnuts and at the very bottom a wink of eucalyptus oil. Many rums I have tried often seem to come from the recycle bin: reblends, a new finishing regime, a little tweak here or there, but with the venerable core formula always intact. The Skeldon 1973 does a difficult thing: it feels original, cut from new cloth and yet structured around  blending basics so seamlessly that it samples phenomenally well.  It’s got a certain sumptuousness to it, a sense of extravagance and out of sight quality, as rich as the silk in the lining of a Savile Row suit.

As for the finish, well, its persistence may be as unique as, oh, the Albion 1994, or the SMWS Longpond 9. Fumes and final flavours continued to make their prescence felt for minutes after a taste, as if unwilling to let go. Coffee was prevalent, toasted hazelnuts, some caramel, all melded together into a fade that was a function of 60.5%, and lasted a very very long time, none of it wasted.  So good was the overall experience that I must have had four or five tasting glasses of the stuff, just so that I could savour and sample and extract the very last nuance, and even then I’m sure I missed something.

Skeldon 1973 Label

Everything works in this rum.  Nose, palate, mouthfeel, exit, the whole thing. Usually I’m ambivalent about one point or another in a review – good points in one area are marred by small disappointments in others and this is why the “intangible” part of my scoring goes down and not up like all the others – but here there is such a uniformity of excellence that it made me feel re-energized about the whole business of reviewing rums (and, as an aside, that I may have underrated even the phenomenal UF30E which is about on par, and which I used as a control for this review).

What an amazing, fulfilling rum Velier has produced, indeed.  Yes it’s extraordinarily hard to find, and yes its damned pricey.  Good luck finding one in the States or Canada (or even in Europe, these days).  I’m remarkably fortunate in that I was able to source an unopened bottle given its rarity.  Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, has a track record with his bottlings that many can only envy, and is used to dealing lightning with both hands; and for no other reason this is why sourcing his products, old or new, is recommended. If you want to see what the industry can accomplish if they really try, spring some pieces of eight for what Velier is making, if even just the once.

Or try getting a taste of mine, if you’re ever in my neighborhood.  I’m almost sure I’d share it with you.

***

Other notes

Distilled in Coffey still in August 1973 and bottled in April 2005

There is a slightly younger version of Skeldon distillate, the 1978 edition – also bottled by Velier – which I have not managed to source as yet. It is selling on Ebay as of September 2014, for €800. I heard it finally sold for €1200. In January 2016, another 1978 was on offer for €2000

Velier, in 2004, bought a stake in DDL (per their website) – Luca notes in his interview with Cyril of DuRhum that it was in 2003.

Updates

As of 2015, Velier no longer has the right to select barrels from DDL’s warehouses

In October 2015 I retasted this rum, and noted a marked vanilla undercurrent appearing after it stood for half an hour.  This was not substantial enough to lessen the rum’s value – it was too well made for that – but it was there. I thought of rescoring at 93 but then compromised by making note of the fact for interested readers.

 

 

Mar 302013
 

D7K_0148

Tropic Thunder

(#147. 90.5/100)

***

Building a boutique, aged superrum at the top end of the scale – whether that scale is price or power or both – is at best an uncertain business. Too expensive, nobody will buy it, too oomphed-up and too many won’t try it. Both together and you’ll scare away all but the wealthy who casually buy not one but several of the Appleton 50s. I think that this 46% rum hits all the high notes and finds a harmonious balance between age, price and proofage. It may be among the best rums I’ve tried so far, in my lonely sojourn of the rum islands in a resolutely whisky filled ocean.

Berry Brothers and Rudd has the rather unique distinction of being one of the oldest spirits houses in the world; they have occupied the same premises in London since 1695 when Ms. Bourne founded her shop opposite St James Palace. It may be relatively unknown to rummies – yet when I remarked to the Scotchguy of KWM that I had picked up this vintage 1975 30 year old rum, he immediately knew the company and gave me quite a rundown on its antecedents.

Compared to the vaguely rococo label of the Coruba 12 label I looked at last week, or the monolithic spartan menace of the Albion 1994 I liked so much, there’s something resolutely old fashioned here: a standard barroom bottle (perhaps a little slim), with a thick paper label that is subtly genteel, even Edwardian, surmounted by a plastic tipped cork. Just a step above middle-of-the-road, I think – it gives all the information needed in a straightforward, aesthetically pleasing way. Inside, there’s a dark, almost red liquid that had me sighing with anticipation, truly (well, I blew €160 on it so I think I’m entitled).

D7K_0136

Port Mourant rum is made on the famed double wooden pot still that actually used to hang out in the estate distillery of the same name on the Corentyne Coast, and is now housed at Diamond Estate where DDL has its base of operations on the East Bank of the Demerara. Since I have at least several rums from that one still — Bristol PM 1980 and 1988, the Rum Nation 1989 23 year old, this one (and I harbour lingering suspicions about the Albion 1994 given its profile) — there are certain elements I expect from any rum bearing the appellation. And the 1975 for sure had them all. In spades.

The nose on this dark red-brown rum may be among the richest, deepest, most pungent I’ve ever experienced to this point. None of the raw alcoholic screaming hellburn of an overcoked rock god torturing his guitar like Bacardi 151, the Stroh 80 or the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3%. Just wave after wave of molasses, licorice and dark chocolate to start, mixed in with a strain of plasticine, wax and rubber (similar to what I noted on the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 or the Demerara 23, if you recall), which then dialled themselves down and walked to the corner to give other flavours their moment to hog the stage. Cherries, cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee, caramel…man, this thing just kept on giving – it was one of the most luscious noses of any rum in recent memory.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really was a rum that rewarded patience. The longer I let it stand and open up, the more it gave back to me, and this was not merely relegated to the aromas. The taste was similarly rich: rough and heated, yet without that sharpness that bespoke untamed and rebellious (and maybe stupid) youth, more like the firm hug bestowed upon you by your father when you were young. Slightly sweet, licorice and anise, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, and the darkest burnt sugar and caramel notes you’ll ever have, bound together with molasses and red guavas. It married tempestuous performance to a weirdly calm and deceptive disposition, a quality of deep spirituous serenity that was almost but not quite zen…until the last smidgen of butterscotch and toffee settled on the palate and stayed there. The exit was long and spicy, and finally faded with a last fanfare of molasses and dark brown sugar, and a faint note of sea salt.

D7K_0157

What a lovely rum indeed. It’s a fabulous, fascinating synthesis of strength and style and taste. It’s better than the hypothetical offspring of Sheldon and Penny, and without any of the nuttiness. It offers buyers (all five of them) just about everything: lose-your-shorts nose; strong and purring arrival and a stupendous finish…an overall mien of strapping, extreme flavour, yet also of charmingly cultured physicality. It’s a 1930s hood dressed in Dockers and a button down shirt.

Is it worth it? Hell yes, if you can ever find a rum so relatively obscure. Me, I covet something this unique like it was Uriah’s wife. Of course, at some point in their drinking lives, rum lovers will accept there is more to life than full proofed, deep-tasting rums; and reviewers and aficionados will see that pricey, aged and rare rums are overrated and…oh, who am I trying to con here? There will always be rums like this old, fascinating Bugatti around. And we will always love them.

Other notes

Not sure if this is 30 years old or not. Research suggests it is, but as usual, there is maddeningly little hard information the BBR website.

 

Mar 302013
 

Bottled evening sunset. Among the best of all the 40% Panamanian rums I’ve tried thus far.

(#145. 87/100)

***

The Panamonte XXV has, since its introduction, received such rave reviews across the board – it may be one of the most critic-proof rums ever made – that it’s led one reviewer (who I note has not done a formal write up or, perhaps, even tried it) to complain vociferously and with unbecoming language about the lemming like behavior of the bloggers who are supposedly in the pockets of the industry and who put over-the-top positive spins on the rum in order to promote it for their own (inferred) nefarious purposes. I don’t agree with this attitude – there are far too few writers out there who love and promote rums, so we should encourage the reviewers, not viciously diss them – but there’s no question that for a really expensive product, perhaps we should really take a hard look and not be too swayed by cachet or price just because it has cachet and price.

Bearing that in mind, and given that I had dropped $400+ on a bottle of the good stuff last year, I felt it right to check how it rated against other rums of either similar age, similar provenance or similar profile, like the Arctic Wolf did in his famous dissing of the Appleton 30. So I ran the Panamonte XXV past the Cadenhead Panama 8 year old, the Rum Nation Panama 18 and 21 year old, the Ron de Jeremy and the Panama Red Overproof, as well as the Abuelos 7 and 12. And just to make life interesting, I added the El Dorado 25 40%, because of its age.

The Panamonte, right off, had a bottle that was impressive…a flagon, more like, gold-tipped-cork and fancy lettering (same as the St Nicholas Abbey rums, just different etching and cork), all ensconced in a two-piece box that you’d better hold carefully, ‘cause if the snaps on either side break while you wrestle it one-handed, the bottom might just pop out like a stock market bubble, and all your hard earned money will go the way of your portfolio. But it’s kinda faux-handmade retro-cool, and I always liked that. Nothing irritates me more than a super premium, highly priced rum, coming in a shabby, cheap-ass, cardboard paper box (though I must concede the overall put-together-ness of the box wasn’t all that great either) .

The rum itself was amber and copper in hue. Soft and warm, the initial scents curling lazily from the glass were well behaved, rather dense clouds of honey, lightly toasted walnuts (or were those pecans?), blossoms like lilac petals, dark fruits like raisins, plums, just-barely-ripe peaches and bananas. Soft fruits, not citrus, and that set the stage for a rum that was not at all sharp, but as comforting as a feather bed in the winter. Maybe with your plump, soused spouse in it.

The Panamonte XXV may be among the smoothest, most unagressive medium-bodied rums I’ve ever tasted, which is both a good or a bad thing depending on your personal preferences. The arrival stroked the palate with the gentle touch of honey – maybe maple syrup is a better descriptor – as soft as your favourite pooch’s begging eyes: stroke me, master, because I love you. Evolving nuances of coconut shavings, nutmeg, caramel, cinnamon, cumin, a light dusting of caramel and sugars followed through, enhanced by some light tobacco and leather notes – and hardly any oak or citrus spiciness asserting itself.  Quite a change from the aridity and powerful eff-off of the Velier Albion 1994. It had an extraordinary balance that allowed no one taste to hold the high ground or dominate the profile at the expense of any other. It was, in fine, a rum that could be dreamily sipped and savoured all evening long. It might actually be a conversation stopper, for who on earth would want to do anything except make gurgling noises of enjoyment while trying to extract that very last nuance of flavour from it? As for the finish, well, one should not expect anything too epic from 40%, yet even here, warm and breathy aromatic hints of fleshy fruits and tobacco with a sly hint of oak and unsweetened chocolate were the last things to titillate the senses…before I poured yet another glass.

The Panamonte XXV is a Panamanian molasses-based rum aged for 25 years in used oak barrels (standard), and is a product of the same crew who brought you the above-average Panama Red I looked at not too long ago – Jim Wasson of Panamonte, and “Don Pancho” of Zafra, Panama Red and Ron de Jeremy…er, fame. It shares something of the generalized softness I sensed in the other Panamanians like the Abuelo 12 or the Rum Nation Panama 21 (the RN 18 is a tad more aggressive), but lacks the youthful yobbishness of the Cadenhead. And it’s different from the El Dorado 25 year old 40%, being not quite as dark or deep, and a shade less sweet (that’s a good thing, by the way). It’s probably better than all of them, though I’d say the RN 21 showcases a little more risk.

So forget my remark about being “critic-proof” – this rum is critic-obliterating. Stripped of the marketing hype (“…every single drop…” – yawn) it’s not hard to see why, because think of all the levels on which it succeeds so swimmingly – it’s smooth, it’s gentle, it tastes great, it releases its character in measured teasing doses, and is bottled at a cushy 40%. What’s not to like? I mean, it’s as if in some backroom office, a blending engineer and management type set out to tick all the boxes, making sure the greatest mass of taste was catered to (they emulated Bacardi, perhaps), and then ratcheting it all up a notch or five and pricing it to match. It makes perfect commercial sense to issue this twenty five year old as it has been, because this is the way most will try it and like it and buy it.

Personal opinions follow – you may ignore this section.

For me, it may simply be too much of a good thing.

This is where I have to tread warily, and be clear about the rationale for my ambivalence. For what it is – a 40%, aged rum – it’s perfectly fine, so its intrinsic quality is not at issue (and my score reflects that). It may be about as good as any such product can or will ever get. So if the rum is so good, you ask, why the beef and bitching? Because, reader, although I haven’t tried as many rums as the Burr Brothers, Dave Russell, Ed Hamilton, or the Arctic Wolf, I have tried a lot and thought deeply about why some appealed to me but not others, tried to understand why I liked stuff I didn’t before, or dislike stuff I once loved. And there you have it – it’s not the rum that has changed, it’s me.

I’ve moved on from commonly available, widely appreciated, well known products that are good to great, from soft and warm and smooth 40% rums, to rums that are stronger, more intriguing, that have the cheerfully experimental insanity of, oh, a seventies Lambo. Rums that encourage some discernment, some thinking.  Rums that don’t give a sweet rat’s behind about running with the crowd. Rums that are really different yet still succeed, somehow (unlike Downslope Distilling’s misguided attempt at a six month old wine aged rum). The Panamonte XXV is without doubt one of the best – if not the best – of the Panamanian rums bottled at 40% I’ve ever tried, and for sure I’ll be sharing it with all my friends when they come over.

But it would have been greater still, I believe, had its makers had the courage to think a little more out of the ticked boxes they were intent on filling, the way Rum Nation, Velier’s full proof line, or even the Scottish rum makers do (this is why the RN Demerara 23 is better than the El Dorado 25, for example); if it could stand out from all the commercial supersellers that fly off the shelves so briskly — and go for something awesome, snarling and unique, that would rear head and shoulders above any other similarly aged product. Something that would not be a merely incremental bettering of its forebears, but a true game changer that people would whisper about in awe and envy, with bowed heads and bated breath, every time they timidly approached the mere wrapping paper that once embraced it.

Which is too bad, really, because what it leaves us with is that while I can express my admiration for the XXV, what I can’t do is rave from the mountaintops about it.

Other

Thanks and much love goes to my boy The Little Caner, who managed to hold in his irritation at my pilfering his favourite stuffed toy for use in the photographs.

Mar 302013
 

Hardcore to the max. This thing eats bats out of hell for lunch. What a great, majestic rum.

(#130. 91/100)

 *

“The past is never dead” wrote William Faulkner. “It’s not even past.” Perhaps no rum I’ve ever tried proves that point more than this one. Gordon & MacPhail’s 58 yr old Longpond 1941 is an insane, extravagant orgy of self-indulgence, a freewheeling base-jump from the preponderance of hollow rums that sell by the truckload and whose names everyone knows, to the uncharted realms of uber-expensive spirits which serve no sane purpose. Surely this thousand dollar hooch is one of the wildest products a distillery has ever spoiled itself with – for, who would buy such a thing? And having bought it, who would dare drink it? But I tell you this: G&M have made a rum you might want to try (if you can) just because it exists – until Appleton issues its 75 year old in 2037 (or the 100 in 2062), I seriously doubt that there will ever be another like it.

Consider: in 1941 the world was at war; television was still a technogeek pastime for people with post-doctoral degrees, and radio was king; in spite of the decline of the British Empire, the sun still didn’t set on it; the transistor had not yet been invented and computing power 1/100th the magnitude of today’s iphone fit into several big rooms. Suburbs, discount stores, desegregation, the pill, franchise fast foods – all these had not yet touched the populace. While this barrel slumbered (the rum was taken to the UK in 1946 and then to Elgin where G&M is headquartered, to further age in 1967), the world around it changed – you can truly say, when you sip this, that you are going back in time.

Nosing this golden Rip van Winkle of a rum was, I admit, a fairly kinetic event. At 50% ABV, would you expect anything else? Strong, deep aromas threw me to the ground and assaulted my senses with rich scents of rubber and wood, some kind of Indian spice (samosas? cumin? maybe some turmeric?) and light citrus, minty, grassy notes (I like to believe this is the sugar cane itself, except I know it don’t smell like dat) and a last bash of cedar. All in balance, all strong and absolutely smashing. This was a surprisingly decent nose for something I had feared would be nothing but oak, and when I tried it I was reminded once again of why stronger expressions are fast becoming my preference.

As for the taste, well, it was not the dark and heavy billy-club to the face I was expecting either: a massive arrival, strong and intense, spicy and nicely heated without being obnoxious about it, those cedar notes became more pronounced and acted as the core around which swirled a grassy-like hay flavour, burnt sugar, dried fruits, bananas, prunes and raisins. It exited at last with a long-lasting, dry, smoky-leather flourish, retaining herbal notes of crushed sugar cane juice, and leaving behind a memory of glistening green lawns and wet earth after a warm summer rain. Taste flowed smoothly into fade in a way one cannot help but be impressed by, honestly.

These words are the bare bones – the rum is exceptionally good for its age, and while of course paying four figures for it is kinda insane by itself, I can’t say that it wasn’t a deep, flavourful product, a beefcake of heat and hi-test which could wake up a dead stick. It’s just not made like most other rums, y’know, with colouring, deep brown sugar notes and a “rum” profile (no additives in this baby). In fine, this is a product made without compromise, without affectation, without any attempt to please. It stands proud and defiant, secure in its Olympian awesomeness as perhaps the oldest commercially produced rum, ever. It sneers at El Dorado’s 25, eats Rum Nation’s superb-but-gentle offerings for lunch, smiles pityingly at the Courcelle 37 year old, and casts a merely disdainful eye at the Appleton 50.

Longpond as a distillery still exists in Jamaica, after many changes in ownership; they make the 20 and 25 year old rums to this day (alas, unfound and therefore untried by me), and have shipped much stock to the UK over the decades, hence the independent bottlers’ consistent issuing of new variations with their name. The SMWS 9 year old 81.3%, is a good example of the cheerful manner in which startlingly original variations of its products are made, and all I can say is thank you, because it shows the levels to which rums can seriously aspire, at any age.

Still, at end, there is absolutely no reason for the rum to exist. It is certainly not worth the price I paid for it – if one were to judge on nose and taste alone (although for its geriatricity, it’s right at the cliff edge). But what a rum I did get: a huge, snarling, elderly, cask strength monster from out of the past, with a taste profile that shames today’s timid and vacillating producers whose only criteria is how many cases they can move in a year, how best they can smoothen out bite, calm down unadventurous boozers and soothe unpracticed palates.

“Buy me, buy me…I won’t hurt you,” they cajole and coo to the masses, but G&M ignored ‘em all and went their own way…took a cask aged beyond all reason, waved their magic wands, blessed the barrel with the tears of virgins and the incantations of druids… and issued this one of a kind bottling. In doing so, they reminded us all that we can still produce something utterly off the scale if we just have some courage and are willing to act, after dreaming mad dreams of greatness.

 

Mar 222013
 

*

This was for me, for many years, one of the top five commercially available rums in the world, and quite frankly, the makers should sue Disney for claiming they are the happiest  place on earth: ’cause when I drink this, I am.  Not to be missed, even for the price. Four stars, triple A, I don’t care what you call it, this thing is simply awesome.

First posted on Liquorature, January 2010.

(#001/Unscored)

***

After gathering a ton of notes on rums from all points if the compass for almost a year, it seemed appropriate to begin my official rum reviews with what is arguably the best – and the second-most expensive – rum I’ve ever tasted to this point. Now I cheerfully admit to being something of a peasant and have no compunctions about using an expensive rum to dilute my cheap-ass coke if I think it a bit harsh, but for something this exclusive it almost seemed like sacrilege to let anything dilute it.

My friend Keenan and I were doing a rum run at Willow Park to stock up for a wings night (he who gets the largest raise buys the wings).  For those who have never heard of it, Willow Park in Calgary may just be as Curt has described it – the best liquor store in Western Canada.  Now Curt speaks from the misguided perception of his whisky-love (for which I have found the strength to forgive him), but there is little doubt that I have found more and better vintages of God’s water, more consistently, here than anywhere else. Browsing around, I saw this pricey bottle, read the label, hesitated and then, overcome by a fit of madness, bought the thing.  It was all I could do not to wince as the price rang up (and if you think this is dumbass, just read my review of the Appleton 30 year old)

It was well that I parted with the bucks, I think, because even a lifetime of boozing didn’t prepare me for the quality of this baby…packaging, bottle, appearance, legs, colour, drink – all were uniformly top of the scale.  I reverently cracked the sealed wax over the cork (Keenan’s wife laughed at us and our seriousness), bared our pates and bowed our heads, and took a neat sip each. And sat still, a little awed. This was, without question, the smoothest rum I’ve ever had in my life, one of the very few I’ve had without ice, and, at $200 for that bottle, it’s really pricey, but worth every penny. I’d have to say Keenan’s appreciation wasn’t far behind mine.

English Harbour 1981 is distilled by Antigua Distillery Limited from fermented molasses and bottled in 2006. It’s aged 25 years in used whisky and bourbon barrels and the subtle notes come through in the nose and taste. The copper and dark cedar color is sealed in with a wax-seal cork stopper that, when sniffed, gives a gentle nose of smoky wood followed by black cherry and currants. The initial taste doesn’t disappoint with more dry wood, caramelized dark fruit and roasted cashew in the body. And so, so smooth, it’s unbelievable – first rum I have ever had without even a smidgen of bite on the way down. The finish is dominated by smoky wood balanced with cinnamon and soft nutmeg tones. It’s like a liquid Hagen-Dasz caramel ice cream. If I ever get another one and feel like parting with that much money for the benefit of the peat-lovers, it’ll make the club for sure.

Highly, highly recommended if you can afford it (it runs into the El Dorado Problem, unfortunately, but in a pinch, the English Harbour 5-year isn’t half bad either at one-eighth the cost – I’ve got the review here as well). If only to apprise one’s palate of what rums can be at the top of the scale, buying this 25 year old is something a rum-lover should do at least once in his life.


Other notes:

This is totally irrelevant but in 2011 I snagged four more of these babies because a local shop mislabelled them at the price of the 5-Year Old. I can virtuously claim to have shared three of those bottles with others over the years.

The core of this rum is the Cavalier 1981 rum made by the same company. In 2014 I asked a brand rep about it and he admitted that they had underestimated how good the Cavalier was – when they did, they had enough left for the 5712 bottles that made up this rum.

750ml of 40%. Bottle #552 of 5712.

Update March 2013: This rum has, of course, been superceded in my affections and appreciation of quality, which was inevitable given how many rums I’ve tried and written about. I still think, though, that if one was to make any list of the top five rums in the world, this one should be somewhere on that list.

Update October 2014: tasted this again at the Berlin Rumfest and scribbled some notes.  Even given the evolution of my tastes to stronger and more intricate, original profiles, I’d still give this a solid 89 points. It loses two for lack of intensity at 40%, but the complexity of what is there remains stellar.

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