Jan 102018
 

#477

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(86/100)


Other notes

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

Aug 102017
 

#382

Renegade rums continue to hold a peculiar sort of fascination for me, because they were the first rums made by any outfit other than the big island producers or major corporations with which I came into contact.  They made it into Canada just as I was starting my rum scribbles, and were the only ones I saw for many years. Given our current familiarity with unadulterated rums made by independents, and adding to that something of a nostalgia factor, perhaps this Port Mourant succeeds better than it should, but I guess by the end of this review you can decide for yourself.

The bio of the company that got posted earlier this week provides most of the details of Renegade itself, so I won’t rehash them here.  This rum adheres to all the usual markers of the range: distilled in 2003, bottled in 2009 at the standard 46%, sourced from casks of juice from DDL’s Port Mourant wooden still (which raises certain expectations, naturally enough), and there’s that finish in Temperanillo casks for a few months (for the curious, Temperanillo is a rather full bodied red wine made from blue-black grapes in Spain). Also, and this is important, what we have here is not a single cask bottling, but many casks married together as part of Renegade’s production philosophy, and that’s is why the outturn is 6,650 bottles, and why, just maybe, you might still be able to get one with some judicious rumhounding.

And I think that would be a good thing, because this was a rum that channeled the spirit of the Port Mourant profile without entirely bowing to it, and provided an interesting twist on a well-known rum marque. That’s no idle fancy of mine either: when I nosed it for the first time I was looking for some of those deep woody, fruity and anise notes – none appeared. In fact the first aromas were of glue, rubber, brine, lemon-pepper…and beef stock (no, really).  Then came the olives, gherkins in vinegar and more brine, leather and smoke, coffee grounds, some vague caramels, pencil shavings, vanilla, oak…but where was the fruity stuff? I mean, it was good, it was intriguing, it had character, but it did depart from the norm, too, and not everyone will like that.

    Photo (c) Master Quill

The taste of the pale-yellow rum was also quite engaging: it was clear and clean, quite dry, and seemed stronger than it actually was (perhaps because it was so relatively young, or because it presented as ‘light’ – again, not what one would normally associate with a PM). Initial tastes were of fruit – white guavas, green apples, anjou pears and papaya, plus a tiny twist of lemon – before other background flavours emerged, mostly leather, smoke, pencil shavings, musty hay, cardboard and vanilla.  With water some more fruit crept out, nothing specific (maybe a grape or two), and the impression I was left with was more brandy than rum.  Frankly, this did not resemble a Port Mourant at all.  A note should also be made of a sort of minerally, ashy thing going on throughout, faint but noticeable and thankfully it was too feeble to derail the overall experience. The finish, though oddly short, was excellent – warm, easy, with citrus and raisins, some very weak molasses, and (finally!!) a flirt of licorice.

The profile as described above is exactly why I’ve always scratched my head about Renegade. I believed then (and now) that their finishing philosophy was hit-or-miss and sometimes detracted from what I felt would be an exceptional rum if left to its own devices. I imagine Mr. Reynier would disagree since this departure from the norm was exactly what he was after, and indeed, there were aspects of the overall experience here that proved his point – this rum may have originated from a set of PM barrels as modified by Temperanillo finishing, but what went into the bottles at the other end was a fascinating synthesis that might be difficult to define or even identify as a PM rum.  Which is both a rum geek’s attraction and a newbie’s despite.

On balance, I liked it a lot for its originality and daring, perhaps not so much for the final assembly and integration — a little more ageing might have done well, maybe a little less tinkering.  Still, the wine finish, however polarizing, was worn with panache and verve, and if the rum ran headlong into the wall in its desire to show off new ways to present old workhorses, well, y’know, I can respect that – especially since the rum as tasted wasn’t half bad to me. It may have lacked the dark brooding Port Mourant cask-strength menace to which Velier accustomed us, it may be a rum made by and for whisky makers…but I honestly believe that it was too well made to ignore entirely. Then and now.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

Alex over at Master Quill, who hails from somewhat more of a whisky background than I do, knowing my liking for the brand, very kindly sent me the sample, which in turn he did not like as much as I did. His review is definitely worth a look.

 

Aug 062017
 

Renegade is – or was, in its previous incarnation – the inheritor of the rum work done by Murray McDavid, a bottler of scotch whisky established in 1996, and which acquired Bruichladdich in 2000 (Bruichladdich was itself formed in 1881, changed ownership many times until its acquisition by MM).  Renegade was formed as a separate company under this umbrella in 2006 (with a single one-pound share) and their first edition of four vintages was released the following year, with a further six in 2008 and more thereafter. Only three years of releases formed the backbone of the company’s rums (if one discounts the single bottling issued in 2012) and then the operation just wrapped up the whole show.

The story I heard was that the success and positive word of mouth of the Murray McDavid limited edition rums – one of their rums was rated as among the world’s top 50 spirits in 2006 by the Malt Enthusiast – suggested that it might be possible to not only move up the ladder into stronger proofed drinks (46%, when the standard was 40%), but into higher price brackets altogether.  Too, they spotted a niche in the rum market that would leverage their distribution systems and existing customer base into a new area (high end limited editions) while perhaps even giving whisky lovers a chance to move into another spirit that was quite similar.  This tactic presaged much of what has gone on to become canon in the next decade, and while I would not say it was particularly original – Velier and Rum Nation were already on the scene, if only with minimal exposure, and the other whisky makers like A.D Rattray and Gordon & MacPhail also had such rum bottlings from time to time – such things as finishings were new at the time, and overall it certainly upped the game considerably.

So, Renegade as a brand was a departure from the MM label – they aimed upscale with beautifully etched frosted-glass bottles that were instantly recognizable, and for each of their rums there was a fancy wine finish.  Also – and again, somewhat ahead of the modern ethos, though perhaps they were simply channelling Velier (who at the time was a virtual unknown outside of Italy) their labels were masterpieces of concise information – dates of distillation and bottling, the wine casks used to finish them, the estate or plantation or company of origin of the distillate, and a note regarding its unfiltered, unadded-to status, which also was just beginning to get some attention in those years.

The man most closely identified with the rise of Renegade was Mark Reynier, one of the original founders of Murray McDavid back in 1996, who was also instrumental in acquiring Bruichladdich in 2000, by which time that distillery had been dormant for six years. After rebuilding the distillery he turned back to his ideas regarding rums, which had crystallized in the years since Murray McDavid had done their releases (also under his aegis). “We started the company as an independent bottler extension of Murray McDavid,” he wrote to me. “At the time it was relatively easy to get mature and interesting  single estate rums, many from obsolete distilleries. It was an extension of our Scotch whisky ethos, providing more interesting bottling from casks  married together to create more balance and harmony than the  somewhat simplistic single cask bottling fad that did not, we felt, recognise the characteristics of individual barrels where every barrel was bottled regardless of its quality. For this reason we rarely bottled single casks…as we found few that truly, from a professional tasters’ perspective, merited being on their own.”

What this meant was that right from the inception, the release of a few hundred bottles from a single cask was not on the agenda, and Renegade preferred to marry several casks at once, much as Rum Nation does. This gave the double benefit (to them) of being able to create the precise flavour profile they were after without the batch variation of single barrels coming into play – weaknesses in one cask evened out by the mixing with others –  as well as having a larger outturn, sometimes around 1500-2000 bottles, but occasionally as much as 4000 (or more). Note that as far as I was able to establish, the barrels were bought from the source distilleries and shipped to Bruichladdich’s premises for maturation, so none of these rums were tropically aged, which became its own trend in the age we’re currently living through.

Reception of the Renegade rum line was positive if not spectacular, which was why in 2009 the outturn increased to ten separate bottlings from nine different islands/countries.  However there were already clouds on the horizon dating back to Murray McDavid days.  According to Mr. Reynier, as existing stocks were utilized, the quality of casks available for purchase became somewhat repetitive – more of the same, so to speak – and this was one reason why the finishing took on such a central role in the Renegade line (as it was not the under MM).  They called it Additional Cask Evolution and sought, very much as FourSquare is doing right now, to enhance the work of the barrel by using other, non-bourbon casks. “We started … Additional Cask Evolution in different, more interesting [casks], to try and  bring some much needed vibrancy to the  spirit.  Poor wood policy is as much a function of the industry’s attitude to economic efficiency…or lack of resources to buy good, fresh wood — and therefore [such rum and whisky companies] excessively re-used old, tired wood.”

Finally, even after such a short period of time, obtaining interesting and good quality barrels which adhered to Renegade’s exacting philosophy became a problem, and the extra remedial work became too onerous (similar issues afflicted MM – in short, “the hassle outweighed the benefits,” as Mr. Reynier opined), and this led to no releases at all for 2010 and 2011, with a single bottling being issued in 2012 – though by this time the writing was already on the wall and it was clear that Renegade was not going to continue along this path, whether for poor sales returns, too much money tied up in warehousing, or the imminent disposition of the company. In early 2013, Bruichladdich, Renegade and Murray McDavid were acquired by Rémy Cointreau, with MM subsequently resold to UK based company Aceo Limited.  Mr. Reynier did not continue with any of these companies (see below), although he did retain the Renegade brand name.

Stripped of all the verbiage, this is a remarkably short history for any rum company, and twenty-one releases over seven years is hardly a spectacular outturn.  But I believe – with no disrespect to or lack of love for, the other names in the indie rum industry that have survived and thrived to this day – that Renegade was, in its own way, something of a pioneer, and demonstrated the way forward for the independent bottlers. Even though Samaroli, Veronelli, Fassbind, Moon Imports, Silver Seal, Velier and Rum Nation (among others) were already on the scene, and had been for many years, they stayed within a narrow geographical confine (mostly Italy) and issued single cask bottlings that attracted little attention outside the rabid cognoscenti.  Renegade was among the first of the Scottish whisky makers to throw the weight of their whisky operations and associated brand awareness behind what was seen then as a niche market — and a small one at that.  They were not the first to issue a series of rums at once, of course, but they sure elevated the profile, and certainly they were among the most consistent users of the finishing idea across the entire lineup.  Plus – and how could you deny this? – those bottles, man…they were so damned cool, y’now? “Rum Unplugged”, Mark Reynier remarked once, referring to the brand.  He sure wasn’t kidding about that.

So, I cannot make the case for any kind of incredible reputation or groundbreaking rum philosophy which the company garnered for itself.  They exited the business, and many of their bottles rested unsold in Alberta shops for many years, unknown and unappreciated – I picked up several just by driving around, and I’m sure that they can still be picked up to this day by the enterprising rumhound. And yet, and yet….the rums they made remain curiously alive in the memories of those who tried them (I’m one of those weird beings), and may even, I can hope, grow in reputation in the future…if they can still be found. They were larger than usual outturns of a now almost forgotten, largely unreviewed independent bottlers’ philosophy, and deserve a look – whatever one’s final opinion might be – for perhaps that reason alone.


Postscript:

Mr. Reynier’s conclusion in the nineties when he was working with Murray McDavid, was that for full control of the quality of distillation and wood meant one had to had to have a distillery — he was referring to whisky, and has since extended his thinking on the subject, to encompass rums. He thought about the matter ever since, searching for a suitable rum distillery project, but never finding the proper one, and concluded he would have to start from scratch. That project came to fruition in Grenada, where for the last two years he has been involved in propagating seven different varieties of cane on Grenada, with a new, modern distillery on the cards, which is expected to go operational by December 2018. This will be called the New Renegade Rum Distillery, and so (if you’ll forgive my little bon mot), the brand which was thought to have bought the farm has in fact been resurrected and established another one.  The plan is, with Graham Williams of Westerhall, to release an interesting new range of independently bottled rums from this Grenadian base, under a revitalised Westerhall label.

Other notes

My source for much of this essay is Mr. Reynier and online web pages.  But perhaps I should take the time to tip my hat – twice – to all those employees of the company who were involved in making this brand but who are so rarely acknowledged.

Compliments to Marco Freyr , whose MM/Renegade biography and bottle list was my first stop. Just as Serge Valentin is the gold standard for tasting notes, Marco is the man for historical detail.

Bottlings

2007

2008

2009

2012

  • Guyana, Diamond Distillery, 11 YO (2001 – 2012), Tempranillo finish (1800 bottles)

References

 

May 122013
 

D3S_5540

Schizoid, androgynous, curious rum. Too well made to ignore, but not appealing enough to collect.

(#161. 82/100)

***

Right during the tasting, before I had done a single bit of research or perused the label beyond the obvious, I looked at my glass, smacked my not quite toothless gums and opined loudly and dogmatically (if not quite coherently) to an empty house that this was a rum from the FourSquare distillery in Barbados.

You might well ask whether my snoot is that good (it’s not), my memory that clear (it’s not) or I knew it for sure (I didn’t). It was more a process of elimination from the Bajan rum canon – it was too clear taste-wise — and not soft enough — to be a St Nicholas Abbey, lacked the discombobulated, raw nature of the Cockspur and sure wasn’t a Mount Gay.  That didn’t leave much, no matter how or with what cask Renegade decided to finish it.

Take the opening: soft, flowery, dark sugars, bananas and unsweetened dark chocolate.  A bit sharp (it was bottled at 46%, so, okay). Red grapes just starting to go off, bananas, orange peel (not anything sharper like grapefruit or lemon), and a final flirt of cherries, yet overall, the scents married uneasily, resulting in something vaguely androgynous, neither strong or puissant enough to be a bellowing buccanneer (it waved the cutlass to genteelly for that) nor weak enough to be an underproof…it was an uneasy mix of delicacy and clarity without strength of real character (did someone say “Prince Myshkyn”?).

D3S_5543

No relief on the palate, however original it turned out to be. The medium bodied amber spirit was drier than I expected, and even a bit briny, and pulled an interesting rabbit out of the bottle…it tasted good enough, full enough, to seem more robust than it actually was. Bananas and white chocolate, a certain creaminess (like unsalted butter, really), white guavas and pecans.  I know this sounds odd, but it almost seemed a shade…crunchy. It’s the craziest thing, a sort of dichotomy between the taste and the nose that had heat and citrus-plus-grapes to sniff, yet more settled and softer to sip, finishing off with a sweet, dry exit, segueing into final notes of bananas, apricots and salt biscuits.

I have some mixed feelings on the Renegade here, admiring its professional make and the clarity of the various notes, without actually enjoying the overall experience due to a discordance in the overall marriage of constituent elements.  It’s not a bad rum at all, just not one I really felt like raving about to any who would listen.  Yet I cannot help but admire how Renegade doesn’t really care – they tried for something off the reservation, and they succeeded. It’s original, that’s for sure.

Unlike most of the Renegades I’ve tried thus far, the label gave me little to work with on the details (I like knowing as much about a rum as possible when doing the write-up). Nothing about the finishing which Bruichladdich usually likes to trumpet front and center, for example…I don’t know why, so here’s what my research (and the bottle) did bring up.  Pot still origin. Finished in Ribero del Duero casks – this is a fruity red wine from north central Spain, which explained something of the profile.  Yes, the Foursquare distillery supplied the rum, so I called it on that one…though it wasn’t until I took a hard look at the label that I saw it self-evidently mentioned.  I should get my glasses changed, or perhaps research before I drink, not after.

D3S_5538

But it’s not that any of this matters, really.  I’ve said before that Renegades are something of an acquired taste, should never be one’s first try at a rum, and are all quite fascinatingly different — this may be, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, because they are made by whisky makers for whisky drinkers with rummies perhaps as an afterthought.  They fail to craft a consistent rum from one bottle to the next (the variations in the line are occasionally awe-inspiring) but they know that the best way to approach making any of them is with a bold and unapologetic take-that attitude that finds ‘em swinging — hard — for the fences, every time, with a sort of giddy, joyous abandon one simply has to admire.  So, the end product may not always be what we expect…but man, it’s like watching a Sobers, Worrell, Lloyd or Lara on a weird day.  It’s never, ever boring.

 

Mar 302013
 

Great noser, lackluster on the palate, and all-over unusually light. I think of this as an agricole, more than a “real” Cuban rum.

(#139. 84/100)

***

I’ve said before that Renegade’s series of rums are occasionally squirrelly – some are pretty cool, like the St Lucia variant, while others strive for greatness and stumble at the end, like the Grenada or the Guyana 16 year old. But in few other editions of the series, is that periodically discombobulated nature more on display than in the Cuba 1998 11 year old, which was not only a leap away from what might loosely be interpreted as a Cuban rum profile, but is actually a bound over the skyscrapers of rum taste that might conceivably make Superman shred his cape in rage (assuming he drinks the stuff).

The Renegade Cuba 1998 11 year old rum is a non chill-filtered, limited bottling of 1800 bottles, originally distilled in 1998 in the Paraiso distillery in Sancti Spiritus in Cuba and matured for 11 years in white oak bourbon barrels, and then finished in Amarone casks. The founding family of the Paraiso distillery, the Riondas, began their sugar business in 1891 with a company called the Tuinucú Sugar Company in the Central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus (which was also near to the original Bacardi distillery). In 1946 the Paraiso Distillery was created and in 1951, the Tuinucú Sugar Company was consolidated into both plantation and distillery operations. Poor timing, if you ask me, since the revolutionary Government took over the entire kit and kaboodle not long after and has run the show ever since.

What the hell is this thing? I wondered, as I poured myself a glass of this bright amber spirit. Yes it had been finished in Amarone casks – this is a rich and somewhat dry Italian red wine – yet what I was getting was less red than white, cheekily light and flowery, with notes of cinnamon, marzipan, juniper, jasmine and light caramel (this last almost imperceptible). In fine, it had the aromatic nature of the perfume department at HBC at Christmas, and French perfumes redolent of the fields of Provence in the summer time. Gradually, as it opened up, slight leathery hints, maybe sandalwood, stole coyly around the others. A wonderful, if very unusual, nose, and I spent a lot of time enjoying it.

All this changed on the palate, which had these light perfumes degenerate into a chemical plastic that was – after that almost delicate nose – as shocking as a kick to the rubs. at 46% I couldn’t avoid some heat there, not too bad and medium-to-light-bodied, not so much smooth as clean. Briny, salty, vegetal and herbal, this thing was more in the dry, straw-like nature of (get this) a tequila. Apples almost beginning to go and some dry fruits mellowed slowly into the weirdness of Joaquin Phoenix with a beard on Letterman, and I can’t say it impressed me much. The finish was spicy, herbal (again those green apples beginning to end their shelf life had their moment) and medium long, but was marginally redeemed by the zestiness of those perfume notes stealing back for one last hurrah. The rum as a whole was perky, then morose and then zippy all over again, like it needed a serious dose of lithium to get it on an even keel. The best part of it, I judge, was the nose, which really was quite spectacular. But overall, as I noted above…squirrelly. This may be because some of the products of this distillery which are sold in Europe, are actually agricoles (made from sugar cane juice, not molasses), but this is an educated conjecture on my part….there’s nothing in my research about this rum for me to say that with assurance.

I want to be clear that on the whole, I respect and admire Renegade’s lineup and my 84 score here reflects aspects of the quality of this particular rum which is undeniable. It was the first of the European series I’ve really made a dent in (Rum Nation is the other, and I have hopes for the Secret Treasures, Cadenheads and Plantations). For sure it’s a boutique set of rums, taking its cue from the various finished whiskies that launched the fashion many years ago. Perhaps there’s where the issue lies – I say they’re inconsistent, but maybe they’re just not made the way a major rum distiller would, but in the fashion of, and for a palate to please, a whisky maker. And as a result, the end product veers away from a profile which a person who is used to Caribbean tipple would prefer — or is accustomed to — his drink to be.

I’ve been asked many times, and see many posts on the Ministry of Rum about “Which rums are good?”, or variations on “Where does one begin to start in a rum appreciation journey?” – I’d hesitate to tell any such curious individual to begin with the Renegade rums, any of them, because of this dichotomy. Most of the Renegades are excellent products, some spectacular, some more “meh,” and all are interesting – but occasionally one comes across a wonky off-side spinner like this Cuban rum which, at end, only a die hard rum fanatic – or a mother – could truly love.

*

 

Mar 302013
 

 

In my opinion, the best of the St. Lucia rums hailing from the eponymous distillery

(#133. 83.5/100)

***

We choose friends for many reasons: in my case it’s a question of what quality they add to my overall existence and what I can contribute to theirs. I may not like everything about them, or they about me (admittedly, I occasionally piss people off, sometimes just by being in the same room breathing the air they’d rather be smoking) – yet all my friends are interesting, all have quirks and characters that are appreciated and savoured. I feel the same way about rums – they may not be the best at what they try to be, but if they go for the fences with cheerful abandon, well…how can I not appreciate that?

Renegade Rums are a subset of what I term “series rums” (like the Rum Nation, Secret Treasures, Bristol and Plantation series, for example) with which I have had a love-hate relationship since I first began trying them four years ago. Some were too much like whisky, others were not aged enough, in some cases the finish just didn’t work (for me – others may differ in their assessments), and in yet others it seemed like they weren’t loved enough by the maker. In other cases they succeeded swimmingly

The Renegade St. Lucia 1999 10 year old was firmly in that last camp. Bottled at a pleasant, tongue-titillating 46% and presented in that frosted, etched bottle I’ve always sighed over, it was aged for ten years in used Bourbon casks and then finished (for three months, I think) in Chateau LaFleur casks, which provided something of a fruity Bordeaux hint to the final profile. It was probably this which made me appreciate it more: quirky it might have been, but I couldn’t argue with the originality.

The amber, medium bodied rum was the lightest-coloured of the rums hailing from St Lucia which I tried (Forgotten CasksAdmiral Rodney and the 1931), and right away after decanting it leaped up and stabbed me in the nose with the now familiar pitchfork of Renegade’s slight overproofishness (is that a word?). Plasticine, rubber and play-dough were evinced right out of the gate – not aromas I particularly cared for, but bear with me, reader: stay with it. I had a similar experience with the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 and 1985 Demerara 23, and you gotta let that sucker breathe a bit. Do that and the next wave comes over the beachhead…smokiness, cherries, sweet breakfast spices, nougat, well-polished leather and aromatic pipe tobacco in an antique tobacconists shop found in an old European capital, along a well hidden cobbled street on a blustery day in autumn.

The taste followed right along, heated, yes, just not overbearing and mean. It wasn’t the smoothest of sipping quality rums, no – strength and youth showed in a slight bite for which I marked it down, and it had a dry tang and brininess that at first startled me – but the rum was decently aged, there was a woody backdrop to which was gradually added salt water taffy, candy, caramelized apples…plus cherries and apricots, all held in balance and harmony by scorched pine wood. Coiling around all of these sumptuous tastes were notes of Russian or black china tea…lapsang-suchong. I mean, this was just heavenly, especially since the relative youth of the rum made it spry and agile and almost mischievous, without the deep, mellow ponderousness of grandfathers (in rum years) like, oh, the Panamonte XXV or the El Dorado 25. The long finish was similarly good, exiting in the leisurely, sauntering fashion of a prima donna who knows she’s good, leaving behind the memory of salty biscuits and marzipan.

All three of St. Lucia Distillers rums scored within a few points of each other, weaknesses and low scores in one area recouped by strengths in another. Tough to choose between them all, yet, at end, I absolutely preferred the Renegade version of St Lucia’s rums to any of the others, good as they were. What it came down to was a question of character. The Admiral Rodney and 1931 were solid well-made rums: they merely hewed so closely to the line that some of the characteristics of playful experimentation were lost. For sheer originality, for sheer joy and exuberance and verve, for complexity and interesting profile, the Renegade had it.

*

Mar 302013
 


Slightly rougher than expected, but with a lovely taste all its own.

(#121. 83.5/100)

***

You’re unlikely to get Renegade Rums anywhere in Canada unless you troll in obscure stores that may have ‘em gathering dust somewhere. In speaking to purchasing agents and spirits managers from Co-op, Liquor Depot and KWM, they all tell me the same thing – the rums are loss leaders and move off the shelves too slowly. And that’s a shame, really, for while I’ll be the first to concede that the line is uneven at best (remember my snarky comments on the Guadeloupe?), Bruichladdich does take a “cask expression” whisky approach to the product that I wish we could see more of in the rum world by the major brands. They’re not the best rums of their kind that are made (I trend towards Rum Nation for that accolade in spite of their refusal to go over 40% ABV in their products)…but surely among the most innovative and interesting.

As the label notes, this is a Guyanese rum sourced from the Enmore distillery’s Versailles pot still in 1990, aged there and then finished in Madeira casks; as with Cadenhead, there is no chill filtration or additives of any kind, and the rum is brought down to Bruichladdich’s standard drinking strength of 46% by the addition of distilled water. Renegade’s awesomely cool minimalist frosted glass bottle remains the standard one I like so much…you see this in a shop, you pretty much have your eye dragged to it as if RuPaul just passed by.

At 46% strength, you expect (and get) a spicy animal – I followed my standard practice of allowing it to open a bit (I rarely add a drop of water to open a rum up unless it’s a raging overproof), and when I sniffed it, got vanilla and brown sugar notes that morphed into a darker, heated aroma like Anakin turning to the dark side. “Cough syrup! Plasticine!” bugled the Last Hippie as he tried a dram the other night, yet I disagree: the rum deepened and became richer as it settled, evincing hints of fleshy fruits, peaches, cherries…I thought it pretty damned good.

On the palate, to my surprise, it tasted something like a heated, cherry-infused chocolate, and was not as smooth as I would have expected for a rum aged for sixteen years. Yes I tasted licorice, vanilla and sweet raisins, and initially these were a shade raw, untamed…they were like Westeros’s Iron Throne, always ready to cut and slice you in an unguarded moment: still, my advice would be to stick around, because for the most part that’s just the initial jolt: it gradually faded into a sort of creamy brininess, dying out into an arid profile of chocolate and musky old leather, with a long and lasting finish redolent of caramel and a less-than-preferable lingering creaminess. Quite unusual, and not at all what el Dorado 15 (for example) would have prepared you for.

This is what I mean about both the inconsistency and the originality of the line. Partly it’s the finishing in different casks, partly it’s where it’s being aged (I may be wrong, but I do believe that this rum was aged in Scotland, the profile is so much like a younger product) – commercial establishments simply don’t get to have tastes like these, and love it or hate it, you can’t deny that it’s unusual. Are you prepared to dump about sixty Euros or seventy bucks on this? Hard to tell – my take is that I liked the Guyana 16 even for those rougher edges. I can get enough smooth-as-silk offerings at 40% and love them for precisely that reason – this baby might require some taming and in that resides my enjoyment (you may feel the opposite).

So then. Summing up. It’s got a crazy coffin, an out of left field taste, good-yet-rough fade, and presentation unique enough that when you place a bottle on the table of the bash your wife forced you out of your LazyBoy to attend, you can be assured of drawing all of her guests. They ooh and ahh. They point and snap pictures with their iphones. They offer some variation of “Nice rum” before invariably asking two questions, always the same two questions: “How much?” (enough) and “How good?” (quite).

No one ever asks, “Why?” That’s just as well, because the answer is, essentially, “Why not?” Bruichladdich made this rum because they were creative Big Bang Theory addicts, and because they could, and maybe because they were trying their secondary-finish-whisky philosophy on rums to gain market share and a wider audience. But for me, the rum has no need to be anything other than what it is and needs no real marketing or other extravagances. Perhaps the only reason it has that look to it is because it’s so damn cool. And if that and the taste aren’t reasons enough for you, then buy a Bacardi or Lemon Hart and be done with it because, let’s face it, you’re just not that into rums.

Other notes:

By 2016 nomenclature, this is not an “Enmore” rum.  Such a rum, these days, is a product coming off the Enmore wooden Coffey still, not a rum that came from the Versailles pot still which was once in the physical location of Enmore estate. Strictly speaking, this is a Versailles rum…which makes it just as interesting.

Mar 272013
 

Never had a rum that tasted so much like a peated whisky. And yet….and yet….

(#118. 81/100)

***

If ever there was a rum that exemplified the inconsistency of the Renegade line, this is it. I’m not saying it was a bad rum, just one that didn’t conform to any profile of rum that people could say they recognize as a rum. And in that fact lay (in my opinion) its failure.

Of course, like all Renegades, it was lovely to look at, with the now-familiar frosted glass enclosure and a label that gave as much information as one would wish. Column-distilled in 1998 at the Gardal distillery in Guadeloupe, bottled in 2009 with a limited run of 1300 bottles. All things are good, right?

And yet the beginning gave no hint of the surprising volte face to come, like Dick Francis’s horse skiding to an ignominuous belly flop just shy of the finishing line in the 1950s. Consider the initial scents of this hay blonde product: it was soft and light and delicate, very much like a decent cognac, and this was not surprising, since it was aged for eleven years in Limousin oak casks and then enhanced (for three months, I think) in Chateau Latour casks…so some of that cognac finish came out in the aromas. Pineapple, red grapes just starting to ripen, a good rough red wine, mellowing into a leathery dry hint. Pretty damned good. And no hint of bite or snarl or bitchiness, in spite of the 46% bottling strength.

Yet the palate was where things (in my estimation) started to come unglued: the smoky and dry aromas came out full force, attended by the over-aggressive bridegroom of iodine and seaweed, of peat and brine that suggested not so much cognacs and Gallic savoire-faire, but the elemental hacking of a Gaelic invasion, complete with longboats and battle axes. WTF? Even after opening up, the rum could barely emerge from those heated flavours, and none of the first scents I discerned could make it past the claymores of the single malts. Why do I get the feeling Bruichladdich mischievously mixed up a cask from its whisky stocks, and is sniggering into a sporran somewhere?

So the arrival was great, the palate not to my taste, and the finish, in my opinion, vacillated hestantly between the two. At 46% I’d expect a long, leisurely exit, and this was indeed the case, long, heated, dry and smoky, not displeasing in any way, with a faint nutty note batting my senses on the way out, as if to apologize for the palate.

So where do I stand on this whisky in sheep’s clothing? Not very positive, to be honest. The mouthfeel and texture on the tongue of this Renegade were, I thought quite good, and of course the opening scents were lovely. I’m just confused by that damned palate. The cognac profile I was expecting was utterly absent, while none of the lightness and floral scents of a true agricole were really in evidence. I acknowledge originality (even celebrate it), and I’m not a despiser of whiskies by any means – one can’t be a member of Liquorature for going on four years and not have gotten a real education in the subject from those who are incessantly beckoning me to the Dark Side – yet of all the ones I’ve tried, peats are my least favourite (sorry, friends of Islay). And so on that scale, the Renegade Guadeloupe fails for me.

I can’t deny its excellence on a technical level, which is why it scores so relatively well. But I’ll tell you this – if I wanted an Islay profile rum, I would not have spent €53 in the best rum shop I’ve ever seen (the Rum Depot in Berlin), but bought myself something else instead. Points to Renegade for pushing the envelope of what the definition of a rum is and can be, and congrats to people who love whisky who will marvel at the amalgam and congruence of their favourite libations (and probably tell me I’m out to lunch)…but for this rum lover, all it gets is a shake of the head, and a rum that’s left behind.

Yo, Maltmonster….I have  rum here for you!!

 

 

 

Mar 262013
 

First posted 12 March 2011 on Liquorature

One of the acclaimed limited edition bottlings from Bruichladdich, it will remind you of a dry rye, and is a rum worth your buck; deep, tasty with complex flavour and taste.  It’s long lasting on the palate, but not in the company of your friends.

(#068. 84.5/100)

***

A few days ago I was on the Ministry of Rum, and a guy there proudly announced that he had just bought all twenty bottles of the current Renegade line.  All twenty!!? I’ve only ever seen four in this whole country.  You can imagine with what envy I regarded that little announcement.  I mean, I have relatives in Deutschland and I suppose I can get a few that way, but it just strikes me as wrong somehow that I can’t get a larger selection of these intriguing rums in the only unregulated province in Canada.

Ever since I saw the first sand-blasted bottle of the Renegade line with its metal dog tag, I’ve admired the product line.  Not always appreciated it as much as I should have (chalk that down to lack of experience).  But definitely admired the concept: a whisky maker with a great reputation making rums. And pretty interesting rums at that – rums that strike a newbie rum lover raised on the Bacardis and Appletons as dry and not as sweet as he’s used to, perhaps…but rums that grow on you after a bit, like this one and all its brothers, sisters and cousins did.

The maturation in bourbon casks is only part of the equation, because the Grenada 1996 is then finished in Haute Brion casks, and it shows. The nose was just heavenly: toffee, pineapple, caramel, come first, with – what was that? cheddar? – citrus and burnt sugar emerging later to mix gently with a marshmallow softness that tamped down the spirit burn of a 46% spirit.  I’ve never been convinced that a spirit should be 46% or greater, though I’ve had my share of cask strength rums, and the occasional whisky: still, I might want to make exceptions here or there. The extra strength imparted a deeper and more complex flavour to the aroma than I had expected, and you’d probably like it as long as you’re prepared to tolerate a little more heat and spice than normal at the inception. I seem to recall I made a similar observation about overproofs once or twice.

Spice or not, heat or not, I simply could not complain about the flavour and feel on the tongue. The thing felt like a rye, though a bit drier, just enough sweet, and it leaves a coating on the tongue that is oily and long lasting (this is probably a direct result of the policy of un-chill filtering which leaves the taste-enhancing oils intact in the spirit) . There’s leather, a hint of cedar wood and always, that slightly floral and cherry hint descending from the Haut Brion casks (I may be reaching here).  And I got breakfast spice, cinnamon, caramel and chocolate; yes it’s spicy and burning on the fade and even before, but in a good way.  Curt and I had a long discussion on what heat, spice or burn actually mean in the context of a review, how it should be rated and to what degree it impacts on one’s enjoyment. In this case, I’ll just say that it was mellow and deep and not remotely reminiscent of my wife giving me a hard time after an all night bender when I pour myself through the door and can’t remember the names of the kids. Seriously.

Cask finishing seems to be an upcoming thing right now.  Of course, whiskies have always had variations which were matured in (for example) sherry casks, and rums have a few courageous souls here and there who do a double ageing, once in oak and once in something else (Ron Zacapa 23 is a good example of this idea). But Murray MacDavid of Bruichladdich may have taken the concept a few notches further up the scale by buying up very specific estates’ rums and then enhancing them in some pretty awesome wine casks. This Grenada variant was completed in Haute Brion casks; it comes from the Westerhall distillery, active since 1766, and which these days makes only 3 barrels a day from a copper pot still. The stock was bought and then the casks shipped to Islay for ageing and final completion (and I’m still kinda pissed that the Hippie, when he was there, utterly ignored this aspect of Bruichladdich’s production and brought back no info on their philosophy regarding it). It’s pretty damned good, is a one line summary.

I think a sweet-toothed rum lover such as I has to grow into the Renegade rums. A year or two back, I reviewed two other variations, sniffed rather snootily and said the rums were too much like whiskies.  What a difference experience and the passing of time makes. The Renegade Grenada edition has shown me something of how different a rum can be from my own preconceptions, and yet still be enjoyable.  At ~$60-80 Canadian, it isn’t really for beginners wanting their first intro (my opinion).  But it – and its nineteen relatives in the line – may be the bridge for the truly interested person to broaden his palate to more interesting and offbeat variations…to the point where whiskies actually start to look really appealing and worth an occasional try.

Oh crap…Maltmonster and the Hippie are going to hang me with that.

 

Mar 232013
 

First posted 25 January 2010 on Liquorature. #009

***

I’m not always and entirely a fan of Renegade Rum, but will unhesitatingly concede that they are among the most interesting ones currently available, and deserve to be sampled. Un-chill filtered at the Bruichladdich Distillery on the Isle of Islay in Scotland, these limited editions have the potential to popularize single-vintage rum if one can get past the whiskey-like finish that jars somewhat with what I expect a rum to be.

My research notes that Renegade Rums trawls the Caribbean estates for traditional single distilleries that are no longer in operation or have some stock to sell, and purchases supplies from places like Guyana, Panama, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad — then completes the maturation in oak bourbon barrels, or those which have held madeira, port or wine. This impacts the taste quite significantly, I’ve found, but more than that, it makes the release extraordinarily limited: this one from 1991 was only 1380 bottles.

I’m unclear how old the 1991 Trinidad rum actually is, since it is advertised as 17, but 16 is printed on the bottle. Whatever the true age, the palate on this 46% (92 proof rum) is uniformly excellent, with notes of port and oak and a very subtle taste of caramel. The finish is not as sweet as I would expect, and does not last as long or as smoothly as a 16 year old rum perhaps should, though hints of burnt sugar and apples can be discerned (this is probably from the French port barrels used for the final ageing). What stops this from being a stellar review is simply the way the somewhat harsh and short finish takes some getting used to – when I first tasted this, I grumblingly compared it to a whisky. See, I’ve been getting sotted on the grog for more than half my life, and us West Indian hicks don’t particularly care to have our national drink turned into a Scottish home brew.

Ok, so that is snooty. Don’t get me wrong, however: I liked it precisely because it’s different, had character, texture, body and a good strong flavour. I wouldn’t drink it neat, though, or with ice (though I did both to write this review). This one, for all its rich provenance and comparative rarity, will be drunk rarely.*

* My good friend Keenan, horrified at my cautiously tempering the good stuff with coke (I was just checking, honest), snatched it away, proceeded to drink it with bowed head and misty eyes on the rocks, complimented it most fulsomely on its character, and disdained the cheap Lambs spiced rum (3rd tier, really) I was happily getting smacked on. I may not compliment Renegade’s creation as much as he did — he had to be dragged off, screaming “Leh we tek wan moh shot, bai” when the evening was over — but at least one person really really appreciated it, and the bottle I have will be kept for his use when next he is let out to play.

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