Jan 292017
 

Two year old fire in a bottle

#339

You’d think that after running through a set of FourSquare products over the last few months (here, here, here and here), that I’ve more or less covered what I wanted to and moved on.  Yeah…but no such luck. Still got a few more to come, starting with a representative of one of the most hotly anticipated rum “series” in recent memory: the Habitation Velier outturns of very young rums, you remember the ones, those with the cool pics of the stills of origin on the labels. They are primarily from the Big Three – Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana — and while they are aimed at the general market, my own feeling is that it’s hardcore aficionados who are more likely to enjoy them, not those who are beginning their own personal journey of rum discovery.  You’ll see why in a minute.

This series of rums has several reasons for existing.  To begin with, as Velier’s reputation grew over the last five years Luca Gargano wanted to move along from the issuance of full proof, single still, aged-beyond-all-reason rums whose prices were climbing geometrically, and to collaborate more with other distilleries so as to get newer and more affordable juice out the door.  Second he wanted to prove that young rums could be every bit as exciting as the hoary old grandfathers (in rum years) with which he had originally established Velier’s street cred.  Third, he wanted a showcase for his proposed new rum classifications, the so-called Seale-Gargano system developed with himself and Richard Seale (or should it be the Gargano-Seale system?) which is gradually picking up some traction (though not outright acceptance…yet).  An lastly, of course, just to laugh out loud, shake things up a tad, and make some hot-snot new rums that one could get excited about, which existed in their own universe not overshadowed by the oldsters from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

So, the details of this Bajan popskull from FourSquare: it’s a pale yellow two-year-old (actually two years eleven months according to 4S), issued at a rip-snorting frisson of sixty four degrees of unapologetically badass proofage, pot-still derived, and aged in 370-liter cognac barrels, which may be the single element that raised its profile above that of a standard young overproof and into the realms of some kind of inspired insanity.  And I use the term carefully, because anyone thinking that somehow Velier and 4S waved a magic wand and wove a masterpiece of smooth Bajan silk that took nearly three years to make, would have been in for something of a rude awakening if they tried it with that preconception in mind.  It wasn’t anything of the sort.  Sniffing it for the first time was like inhaling an incandescent blaze of sheet lightning.

“Wtf is this?!” I remember asking myself in dumbfounded amazement as I jotted down my notes. It was hot vanilla and caramel shot through with flashes of brine and olives, all on top of a pot-still impregnated glue-gun. Swirling notes of black pepper, licorice and crushed nuts stabbed through here and there, with an amalgam of cooking spices bringing up the rear – salt and lemon pepper, a little paprika thrown in for good measure, a smorgasbord of sweet and salt and tartness.  It wasn’t entirely harmonious (are you kidding?) but a very distinct nose, suggesting that maybe FourSquare should experiment more with solo pot still rums instead of blending pot and column in their standard lineup.

Moving cautiously into the taste, I tried it neat first, then with water, and similarly intense flavours rose up and smote me righteously both times. Something of salty-oily tequila tastes were first off,  like a Maggi cube (or Knorr, if you’re in Europe) in veggie soup; nuts, dates and peaches followed, interspersed with background hints of rubber and wax, all very very intense and very firm, individual and discrete.  Water did help to tame this beast (to be honest, I took some masochistic pleasure in the sheer force of this thing and added it more out of curiosity) – that allowed some of the sweetness to finally emerge at the backend, though that was more like a thin vein of licorice, burnt sugar and cream than a caramel-toffee mother lode.  I must concede that for a rum this young, it had quite a flavour set – even the finish, which was surprisingly short (and dry) didn’t repeat the experience, but added a few extra hints of kero, fruit, black bread and kräuterquark (ask the Germans), plus a final flirt of honey.  I was left feeling enthused (and quite a bit breathless) at the end of it all, and tried it again a few more times over the next few days, just to see whether the experience mellowed at all with time (it didn’t).

Whew!  This is a hell of a rum. I’m going to go on record as stating it might be better approached not only with some care, but also without illusions and absolutely not as your first foray into rums of any kind. It is a bold, burning, singular rum of real strength and a really crisp profile which would not necessarily appeal to lovers of the kinds of hooch that FourSquare and St Nick’s and Mount Gay have been putting out for decades, because it’s not soft, and it’s not tolerant and it’s not easy.  What it actually is, is a young product that hits both your expectations and your palate like a well swung sledgehammer and upends both.  Perhaps I’ve had so many rums in my time that I’m somewhat jaded and am on the lookout for stuff that goes off in different directions, but you know, that’s not what we have here, because it’s unmistakably the real deal.  It’s quite simply, unique: and in tasting it, I got a forceful reminder of all the amazing directions a rum could go, when made by masters who could actually dream, and dare, of making it.

(87/100)

Other notes

The bottle (a sample thereof) came my way courtesy of Henrik of RumCorner at the follow-up to the Berlin RumFest in 2016, sometimes called “The ‘Caner Afterparty”. As he lovingly extracted it from his haversack that afternoon (being careful to snatch it back if our pours got to heavy, which meant a lot of snatching was going on), Henrik told me that he had been hanging around the agricole stand when Richard Seale passed by; immediately a small crowd gathered and a discussion group started (and knowing the two of them, at least, it could not have been anything other than intense).  When the group dispersed, Richard casually took the bottle, which he had had in his hands the whole time, and handed it over to Henrik without any intro or comment whatsoever. Gotta love them rum folks, honestly.

Dec 222016
 

 

***

A grand old PM. Best of the three Small Batch selections from 2016.

#329

It’s reasonable to wonder whether there isn’t some self-cannibalization going on here.  Since their inception back in 1999, Rum Nation’s flagship products were always the old-enough-to-vote Jamaicans and Demeraras, all issued at around 43-45%.  The old wooden box and jute packing gave way to sleeker, modernist boxes, but the ethos remained the same, and happily for the aficionados, there were always several thousand of these floating around, as Fabio Rossi never bottled just one cask, but several. (As an aside, something of the evolution of our world can be found in how long it took for anyone to even notice the original selections from the 1970s, which took years to sell…a situation which simply cannot occur today).

Fast forward to 2016, and the company sprang this surprise on us – in the same year that DDL pushed out its Rare Collection, RN raided its slumbering cask stash to produce three limited edition Demerara rums of their own, called the “Small Batch Rare Rums” (and I hear — in the muttered corners of the smoking area out back where the rum-hoodlums hang around — that others from Reunion and Hampden may be in the works).  Yet, because of their more limited outturn, these rums may be cutting into the sales of, or appreciation for, the top end rums that have won so much acclaim over the past decade or two, since what is made into a Small Batch cask-strength rum won’t be made into a twenty-something year old in the Supreme Lord or Demerara series.

Well, whatever.  We’re lucky to get these rums at all, I sometimes think.  And this one is right up there with the 45% Demeraras of made with such care in Rum Nation’s youth, perhaps even a smidgen better because of the extra oomph that was generously ladled out for us.

As usual, let’s get the known facts out of the way: Port Mourant distillate from the double wooden pot still in Guyana; the single cask was bought via a broker, and aged in Europe, first in the Bristol Spirits warehouse and in Italy after 2007.  The ageing was done from 1995 to 2005 in ex-bourbon barrels and transferred into a second-fill sherry cask in 2005 until final release in 2016 (Fabio told me he didn’t know whether it was first or second fill, but my own feeling after the tasting was that the sherry had an effect on the final product that was not strong enough after so many years to justify the first fill possibility, but that’s just my opinion).  The outturn was 170 bottles, bottled at that so-very-lekker strength of 57.7%, and I have bottle #002, which is almost as cool as having bottle #001.

Was it any good?  Oh yes.  Just opening it up and smelling straight out of the bottle hinted at olfactory impressions to come – some rubber, wax and floor polish, which swiftly dissipated, followed by licorice, bags of raisins and dried fruit, prunes, dates, cedar wood shavings, and a lovely aromatic tobacco and lemon peel smell behind all of those.  There were some well integrated caramel and vanilla notes, a sniff or two of red wine, but in the main, as was to be expected, it was the trio of anise, raisins and wood that were the core of the nose. It showcased all the markers of traditional excellence that I have always enjoyed about the Port Mourant distillate, all in balance and as harmonious as a zen garden.  

57.7% was also an almost perfect strength for it to be issued: over 60% it might have been too raw, under 50% and maybe too easy.  Not that it really mattered, because between the ageing and the sherry influence, the rum demonstrated a powerful but restrained mouthfeel which gave you the heat and the strength without ripping any part of your corpus to shreds. Sharp it was not…forceful might be a better appellation. And then the flavours came through, big and bold: licorice, oak, more of those aromatic cedar and cigarillos acting as the central core, upon which were hung the lesser tastes like apricots, more lemon peel, grapes, brown sugar, red wine and strong black tea, leading up to a masterful finish that lays it all out on the table so your senses get one last whiff before it all gradually dissipated.

The balance of the rum is exceptional – many of the elements are so flawlessly constructed and built into the profile that you want them simply continue, yet they create a sort of emotional, labial vortex drawing you into another sip, another glass…maybe that’s why half my bottle is already gone. What it really is, is a delivery system for ensuring you get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out of a barrel. I felt that way about Rum Nation’s Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the 57% white, and yes, about the Demeraras.  To make a series like that, of such consistent quality is something of a minor miracle.  To crank up the volts and issue a small batch version of the PM alone and have it be this good is surely another.

So, if you like Guyanese rums as a whole, cask strength rums generally and Port Mourant rums in particular, well, you really can’t go wrong here.  It’s ambitious, luscious, and delicious, providing a rum profile where drinker engagement and enjoyment is 100%.  As for the quotient of appreciation?  My friends, that may actually be off the chart.

(90/100)

Note:

This rum is the first release.  The 2nd Release, also from 2016, is a 17 year old bottled at 57.4% from two casks resulting in 816 bottles.  I tried that one at the 2016 Berlin Rumfest and can confirm it’s also quite good (though I liked this one more).

Dec 112016
 

cdi-enmore-27-yo-1

Single word summary – superlative.

#325

Compagnie des Indes burst in the scene in late 2014, which may be a rather melodramatic turn of phrase, but quite apt. The first of their line that I tried was the Cuban 1998 15 year old, which enthused me about the company immensely, and as the years moved on I’ve sampled up and down the range, from the less than stellar blends, to an Indonesian and a Fijian, and to more standard Jamaicans (with more coming). In all that time they have rarely made a bad rum, and if they eschew the tropical ageing regime and wild inventiveness that characterizes Velier’s Caribbean rums, that doesn’t mean they aren’t in their own way widening the path that Velier built and coming up with some amazing products of their own.

Nowhere is that more evident than in this magnificent 27 year old Guyanese rum, issued at a tonsil-wobbling 52.7%  – it is without a doubt the most Velier-like rum never issued by Velier, and given the difference in owner’s philosophy behind it, a stunning achievement by any standard, a wonderful rum, and one of the best from Enmore I’ve ever had.  One can only shed a tear and rend one’s beard and ask despairingly of the rum gods why the Danes were so clever and so fortunate as to have this 224-bottle outturn made especially for them, because that’s the only place you’re going to get one.

cdi-enmore-27-yo-2Right off the bat, I was impressed when I poured the copper-brown rum into the glass.  I mean, wow!  It was redolent from ten paces, deep and rich and dark and evincing all the hallmarks of a great Demerara rum: initial – and one could almost say boilerplate – aromas of cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar, caramel and coffee started things off, boiling fiercely out of the glass and around the small room like it was practicing aromatherapy without a license. And then other flavours, firm and distinct and freely distributed as exclamation points in a Ludlum thriller, came out to back up the brass band – some licorice, petrol, wax, furniture polish, acetone, all well controlled (sometimes they get ahead of themselves in an aged Enmore or Port Mourant rum, but here they were in perfect harmony)

And the palate, man, just delicious. Not soft or gentle, not something tamed and easy-going for the unadventurous, but really hefty and strong, making its point with force but without ever crossing over the line into savage. When you drink this, you know you’re drinking a rum, y’know? because no attempt was made to dial things down. The waxy, car-engine notes subsided, allowing olives, brine and black pepper to begin the attack on the tongue, which displayed a medium body in texture.  More licorice and cinnamon followed, and yes, there was the vanilla, the toffee, plus more coffee, red grapes, peaches, a squeeze of lemon rind. And at the end there as some dry in there, a sly sherry influence, winey and sweet and salty at the same time, very nicely integrated into the proceedings. Even the finish didn’t disappoint, being just on the hot side, long lasting to a fault, presenting closing tastes of coffee, nougat, more fruits, and a last series of nutmeg and cinnamon and anise notes.

This is a really well made, enormously satisfying rum from Guyana and does credit to the Enmore estate. Luca might champion in-situ tropical ageing, Fabio a sort of amalgam of both tropical and European, while Florent goes the European-only-ageing route…but how can you argue with the results when after twenty seven years you get something like this?  It was the coolest thing to come out of wood since, I don’t know…a flute, a bar stool, a boat…stuff like that.

Anyway, closing up the shop, I have to admit that there’s just something about Florent and his rums I appreciate.  The other members of my pantheon (Luca, Fabio, Sylvano) are from other planes of existence. Fabio is a cheerful instrument of cosmic convergence, while Luca is a visitor to our plane from a superior universe that only exists in the imagination, with Sylvano being one of the benevolent old Star Trek Preservers that have moved on.  But Florent?  He’s a mortal straining for excellence with the tools he has…which he uses to sometimes achieve the extraordinary. Here, I think he made it.  He really did.

(91/100)

Other notes

  • Cask MEC27
  • The company bio makes mention of why the Danes got the cask strength rums and the rest of the world didn’t, but in the 2016 release season, CDI did start issuing cask strength rums for other than Denmark.
  • Aged November 1988 – April 2016
Nov 222016
 

velier-enmore-1987-0

Among the first Velier Demerara rums, eclipsed by its better-made brothers in the years that followed

#319

It’s become almost a game to ferret out the initial issuings of rums made by companies whose names are made famous by the passing of time. Back in 2000, who had ever heard of Velier outside of Italy?  Yet even then, the company was forging into the future by issuing rums defiantly called full proof, although there could have been few who were entirely sure what the term meant. 40% ruled the roost, “cask strength” was for whiskies, and only the occasional Demerara rum from an independent bottler was to be seen anywhere, usually tucked away on a liquor shop’s dusty back shelves, almost with an air of embarrassment.

velier-enmore-1987-2The Velier-imported, Breitenstein*-bottled Enmore 1987 full proof rum may have the distinction of being one of the very first of the Demerara rums Velier ever slapped its label on – certainly my master list in the company biography has few from Guyana issued prior to that.  That might account for how at odds this rum tastes from other more familiar Enmores, and how strange it feels in comparison.

Consider: the nose opened with some brief petrol smells, which dissipated rapidly.  Then came pears and green apples, and creamed green peas, again gone in a flash. It was light and sweet in comparison to the other Enmores from Silver Seal and CDI I was sampling alongside it, and I dunno, it didn’t really work for me.  Later aromas of cake batter dusted with icing sugar, caramel and toffee, cinnamon and some faint bitter chocolate were about all I could take away from the experience, and I really had to reach for those.

The palate was also something of a let-down.  Sharp, salty, and somewhat thin, a surprise for the 56.6%, with such acidic tastes as existed being primarily lemon rind and camomile. With water some cinnamon buns grudgingly said hello. The rum as a whole was surprisingly demure and unassertive, with somewhat less than the nose promised coming through, even after an hour or so – vanilla and caramel of course, brown sugar, some light citrus peel, a melange of vague fruitiness that wasn’t cooperating, and that was pretty much it.  Even the finish was hardly a masterpiece of flair and originality, just a slow fade, with some more allspice and toffee and vanilla coming together in a sort of tired way. It was certainly not the lush, rich and firm tropical profile that Luca’s subsequent rums prepared us for.  I suspect that the rum was aged in Europe, not Guyana — the bottler, an old Dutch spirits-trading firm from the 1860s that morphed into DDL Europe in the later 2000s, was unlikely to have done more than provided Luca with a selection to chose from, aged in Holland. That might account for it, but I’m still chasing that one down since it’s my conjecture, not a stated fact.

Anyway, that’s what makes this something of a disappointment – one can’t help but compare it to the high bar set by rums that came later, because those are far more available and well-known…and better.  In this Enmore we saw the as-yet-unharnessed and unpolished potential that matured in rums like the Port Mourant series (1972, 1974, 1975), the legendary Skeldon 1973 and UF30E, and the 1980s and 1990-series Enmores, Diamonds, Uitvlugts and Blairmonts.  In 2000 Luca Gargano had a pedigree with wines and other occasional rums (like the Damoiseau 1980), and now in 2016 he is rightfully acknowledged as a master in his field.  But I feel that when this rum was bottled, he was still a cheerful, young, long-haired, piss-and-vinegar Apprentice mucking about with his rum-assembly kit in the basement, knowing he loved rums, not being afraid of failure, but not yet having the complete skillset he needed to wow the world.  How fortunate for us all that he stuck with it.

(82/100)

Other Notes

Thanks to Eddie K. who pointed out that there were in fact older Veliers issued in the 1990s by Thompson & Co. – so I changed the review (and the Makers rum listing) to reflect that this one is not the first.

*Breitenstein is a Holland-based trading company 100% owned by DDL, not a separate third party as I had initially thought.

velier-enmore-1987-1

Nov 032016
 

rn-jamaica-1990

We should be grateful that some makers still have sufficient stocks to permit the issuance of rums old enough to vote – we sure won’t see many of them much longer.  This one does fans of the Jamaican rums no dishonour – it’s great.

#313

With the recent 2016 release of the 1991 Jamaica SL VIII, which really is just about as good as they say and maybe even better than this one, I rummaged around my bag of tasting notes and remembered I had a bottle from that island from a year or two back knocking about and gathering dust (would you believe I actually forgot about it?) … so I brought it upstairs, re-tasted, updated the notes, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue. ‘Cause those Supreme Lords man, they’re pretty amazing, and we don’t see many rums this old from the indie bottlers all that often.

By now, after recommending them for many years, there is nothing new I can really add to Rum Nation’s company bio that isn’t already there. They’re not innovative – or “limited edition” – in the same sense that CDI or Velier or even EKTE is, but they are very consistent in their own way and according to their own philosophy, and I’ve liked them enormously since 2011 when I first ran across their products and bought just about the entire 2010 release line at once.  Almost always good, always adding a little bit here and a little bit there to tweak things a bit (like the Panama being changed to an 18 year solera, the new bottle design from 2014), and incrementally improving every year (moving slowly to higher proof points, the Jamaican 57% white and those amazing twenty-plus-year-old Demerara and Jamaica rums). They catch a lot of heat for their practise of adding sugar (sometimes it’s actually caramel but never mind) to their lower- and mid-level rums (the Millonario XO in particular comes in for serious hate mail).  However this Jamaican SL VII has no such inclusions and is pretty much unmessed with, so rest easy ye puritans, and on we go.

Some details: this is a pot still rum, from Hampden estate, which is rapidly turning into one of my favourite Jamaican estates, like PM is for the Demeraras.  It was distilled in 1990 and poured into 822 bottles in 2013 at a not-quite-so-spectacular 45%, after slumbering for almost twelve years in Jamaica (in ex-bourbon American oak barrels), before finishing the ageing regime in the UK.

rn-j-1990-2It’s always a toss-up for me whether I’m in a Jamaican or Guyana mood, and this orangey-amber rum showed why – deep rich licorice and honey started the nose off, billowing strongly out of the glass; the funk took its place, oak joined in, to which was added easier notes of mead, grasses (grasses? I wondered, but yeah, there it was), and some orange zest. Deeper, muskier and earthier tones took their turn, before fading off into fruity hints (unripe peaches and a half ripe mango or two). I was impressed as all get out to note a hint of fresh honeycomb (complete with waxy notes) with a clear, light floral undercurrent that all combined really well.

There was no divergence on the taste, as I’ve sometimes noted with Jamaicans, and the palate followed smoothly on from what was smelled. Smooth and warm – yes, 45% could be improved on, but I can find little fault with what has been accomplished here.  Quite fruity, acetone-like and estery, but also competing briny notes were in the mix.  Citrus, sherry, the glue of an UHU stick, then cherries and very ripe apples on the verge of going bad.  It tasted remarkably clear and crisp, with the funk being held at bay while never entirely disappearing.  That might actually be to its detriment, because we look for a Jamaican profile, and it’s there, just not as in-your-face as we are led to expect by other independent bottlers who have no time for subtlety and smack you in the head with it. Finish is warm, remarkably long for that strength, with closing aromas of glue, sweet soya, a sort of mash-up of fleshy fruits, all leavened with a sly, crisp citrusy note that brings it all to a lovely close.  Overall, it’s a lovely and approachable rum that many, beginners and aficionados alike, will savour, I think.

Rum Nation’s marketing is quite canny.  Unlike the smaller independent bottlers, they don’t just do a single barrel – for them that’s too limiting.  They do two and three and four or more at a time, which permits correspondingly greater volumes (usually in the low thousands of bottles, sometimes more, sometimes less).  And they issue their high-end rums — of which this is assuredly one — at an ABV that’s more than the 40% which is practically a North American standard, but less than some raging full proof number that alienates (scares off?) all but the hard core.  What that leaves us with is a relatively affordable, very accessible 23 year old rum of just under a thousand bottles, issued at a decent strength, and quality not to be sneezed at. For ensuring that sales and availability and appreciation go hand in hand, that four-way combo is a tough one to beat. This is a rum worth getting, and the great thing is, you still can..

88.5/100


Other notes

Bottle provided by Fabio Rossi – every time we meet we argue over the cheque, whether it’s for a dinner we share or a bottle he’s provided. Sometimes I win, sometimes he does. I still owe him for this one, which I’ve had since early 2015.

The wooden box with its jute sacking which I so loved has been discontinued, but postage stamp pictures blessedly remain as part of the overall presentation.

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