May 292018
 

#517

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Unscored)


Other notes

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

Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer.  They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier.  It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever made – it’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the start – deep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts well – salty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke.  All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being sounded…but underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old.  It left me…uneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested it…and the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle).  But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows about…so why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend?  Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives).  It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy.  Others will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-down – too well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.”  Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decent…but only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicorn – which probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
Mar 252018
 

#500

In one of those odd coincidences that crop up from time to time, I was polishing up my essay for one of Damoiseau’s ultra-premium halo rums – a 31-year-old inky bad boy from 1953 which is usually too rare or too pricey for most to bother with – when Single Cask posted his own in-depth evaluation.  We had a good laugh over that one, but in a way it’s good too, because while one person’s review of a single rum is fine, a better opinion can be formed with several people putting their snoots and their pens in.

Age-wise, the 1953 from Guadeloupe does not class with the ur-rum of the Aged Canon, the Longpond 1941 58 year old from Jamaica. Yet it is nearly as old as the 1972 37 year old Courcelles which was the first to truly switch me on to French Island rhums, and which is the oldest such aged product I’ve yet found – others, such as the Bally 1929 and Clement 1952 and the St James 1885 were made before 1953, but are younger. Whatever the case, it is a blast from the past, something we should try if we can just to get a sense of the evolution of rum and rhum and ron over the decades. And yes, also because it’s so damn cool to have something from the fifties.

So what was happening in 1953? The Cold War was in full swing, of course, Eisenhower was inaugurated as #34, Mossadegh was overthrown, Stalin died, Kruschev lived. The Kenyan Mau Mau uprising was going on while the Korean conflict “ended.” Everest was conquered.  Watson and Crick announced DNA, Ian Fleming published the first James Bond novel, the first Playby came out, and Jacques Tati released the whimsical classic M. Hulot’s Holiday (a favourite of mine, along with Playtime). The rationing of cane sugar in the UK came to an end. The Brits suspended the British Guiana constitution and occupied the country militarily so as to make it safe for democracy.  And this rum came off the still in Damoiseau’s facilities.

I have no idea whether it was pure cane juice distillate or molasses – Guadeloupe has a history of mixing things up, which is part of their attraction for me – but just based on the way it nosed and tasted when run past other aged dinosaurs (the Courcelles, Damoiseau’s own 1980, the Cadenhead Green Label 1975 among others) I’m going to say it had at least some molasses-based spirit in the bag. It was a sort of mud brown opaque liquid that immediately made me remember the St James 1885, and poured thickly into a glass, even at its relatively low ABV of 42%.

But it smelled very nice for all that low power. Really. It had deep fruity flavours of blackberries and prunes, plus a lighter note of strawberries and orange peel, and it reminded me somewhat of a Bajan Black Rock rum, what with that underlying series of crisper smells.  Candied oranges, a flirt of caramel, some faint licorice, very ripe cherries added to the fun. However it was deeper than any of those, richer, smokier, and developed over time into a plump and rotund nose that steered you between the darkness of a crazy old fellow like the 1885, and the clarity of Damoiseau’s 1989 20 year old.  Which perhaps says something for bottles that have sat waiting their turn for many many decades.

The palate is perhaps where people will pause and look at the glass a second time.  That it was pungent and warm was beyond question: even at the rather anemic strength, one could easily appreciate the relative smooth profile, pick out some weak brine, prunes, chocolate covered dates, strawberries and honey; and to that, over time, was added a few lighter balancing elements of unripe strawberries, maybe a stalk of lemongrass. Overall, what fruitiness there was, was dialled way back and became almost imperceptible, to be overtaken by something more like a mix between tannins and some much-too-strong unsweetened black tea, both a good and a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint.  As for the finish, not much could be said – warm, short and unfortunately weak. That said, here perhaps more could be discerned which were missing from the palate – black tea, honey, raisins, faint chocolate, plenty of crushed walnuts, if too little of the fruitiness I was looking for.

Taking all these aspects together, one must concede that it started well, it’s just that as it opened up, there emerged a sort of woody, smoky, nutty background: this gradually overwhelmed the delicate balance with the fruit which the rhum needed (my opinion), and that to some extent derailed the experience. Too, the flavours melded into each other in a way that a stronger strength might have separated, creating a somewhat indeterminate melange that was tasty, yes, just…indistinct. And not entirely successful.

After the fact, looking at the rhum coldly and practically and assessing it on price alone, I can’t tell you this is a must-have.  It’s the kind that relies on the numbers “5”, “3” and “1” to be taken seriously, but when it comes down to a tasting, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype of the halo…and the numbers become just that, numbers.  As with rums like the Black Tot (or even the St James, Clement or Bally rhums mentioned above), we’re buying to touch the past and reconnect with a sense of real heritage, back when the Cuban style of rum dominated the market, to see how what we drink now came from what was made then. It absolutely is a major product in that sense — just not exceptional, compared to what it costs, compared to what we might expect.

So, the Damoiseau 1953 nails the historical value and cool presentation ethos just fine, and it is different, fascinating, old, pretty good, and if that’s what you want, you’re good to go. You’ll be the belle of the ball showing it off, and all the stares and envious plaudits will surely be yours for the taking (unless someone trots out a Bally). The best thing to do — when you’re in the store looking at it, with your bonus cheque twitching in your pocket — is to ask yourself some very honest questions as to why you want to buy it and then proceed purely on that basis.  I ignored that advice myself, and that’s why you’re reading this review.

(85/100)


Other notes

The Single Cask review is really worth a read.  Also, he noted that it came from some “lost casks” but Herve Damoiseau, when confirming the age as 31 years for me (the rhum was bottled in 1984), didn’t know anything about that.

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.