Dec 312017
 

Although I always have controls on hand when writing a review, it’s not always clear in my writing how they all relate to each other, since the individual essay speaks to just a single rum.  However, I’m a firm believer in doing flights of multiple rums, whether horizontally (several rums of similar age or provenance), or vertically (where a single maker’s entire range is evaluated up and down the age or strength scale).  Such exercises are useful in that they permit similarities and differences to snap more clearly into focus, and perhaps some interesting judgements can be made on that basis.

Some time back when I was out in the real world, I spent some time doing a white rum run-through (this led to one of my favourite lists, the 21 Great Whites), a Jamaican flight (still to be written up) and this one of nine rums from Barbados.  The selections were not standard-strength or more commercially available rums like St. Nicholas Abbey, Mount Gay, Doorly’s or Fousquare, but mostly independents and limited releases: since such caskers possess attributes of strength and individuality which I felt to be incompatible with larger-volume blends existing in their own space and time; and they appeal to a different grouping of rum lovers than the specific rums tried here.  This may reduce its usefulness to some (aside from the fact that I could have made the list much longer), but certainly some limited conclusions could be drawn from the exercise nevertheless.  I’ve dispensed with my notes, thoughts and observations on each rum (that was not the purpose of the session) but the full length essay on each is linked where available, and will provide any additional background information these quick tasting notes don’t have.

So without further ado, here they are in my final post of 2017. Enjoy.


Cadenhead Mount Gay 2000-2008 8 YO BMMG 66.3%

Nose – Hot and fierce. Honey, flambeed bananas, nutmeg and peaches, salty caramel.  Gets a little sweeter over time, very distinctly so with water.

Palate – Sharp, hot. Bananas, caramel and burnt sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Tart fruits are there but take a back seat to softer ones.  Water is almost required here since it allows the lighter fruity notes to emerge more distinctly

Finish – Not so impressive – dry and medium long, but for the intensity there’s surprisingly little going on here

(84.5/100)

Cadenhead Green Label 2000-2010 10YO Mount Gay 46%

Nose – Acetone, nail polish, quite light. Bananas are back, also nutmeg and peaches, a flirt of caramel, and in fact it is quite similar to the BMMG above.  It is pleasant and light, with honey and some salty caramel remaining as the backbone, interestingly melded with some ashes and charred wood, and some medicinal notes I didn’t care for.

Palate – Salt and sweet caramel, sweet soya.  Those hospital smells translated to the palate also, not successfully IMHO.  Green tea, some pears and light fruits, chocolate and the honey almost disappears. The easy strength works well here.

Finish – 46% betrays itself into a short, light fade, mostly florals, honey, caramel and a dash of citrus rind.

(82/100)

Isla del Ron 2000-2013 Mount Gay 12 YO 61.6%

Nose – Mount Gay really does seem to have something of a profile all its own, leaning towards honey, bananas, light caramel, acetone, some rubber and a bit of brine.  Some sweet syrupy smells like mixed fruit in a can.  Resting didn’t add much to this one.

Palate – For all its heat and power, there wasn’t much going on here as one would expect.  Vanilla, brine, mint, chocolate with watery fruits (watermelon, papaya, white guavas), but all quite vague.

Finish – Long, salty-caramel-ice-cream; almonds, walnuts, vanilla, brine and an olive or two. Quite tame.

(83/100)

Compagnie des Indes 2006-2016 Foursquare 9 YO 62.1%

Nose – Olive oil in a nice garden salad, oddly enough, but sweeter florals permeate the nose as well, nicely integrated strength and balance with acetone, cherries and peaches, red grapes and Moroccan olives.

Palate – Nice! Caramel and licorice, fried bananas, apricots, chocolate and light coffee grounds. It’s 62.1% yet this is hardly felt.  Apples and some lemon zest round out an excellent profile

Finish – Longish, with cider, apples, salted butter, light molasses.  It’s a bit sharp, and with water it gets toned down very nicely indeed, at the expense of some of its distinct flavours.

(87/100)

Habitation Velier 2013-2015 Foursquare ~2 YO 64%

Nose – Power, lots of power here, leading in with pink rock salt and tomato-stuffed olives. Rubber, glue, vanilla ice cream drizzled over with hot caramel and chocolate. Lemons, cumin, sweet paparika and pepper. There’s a little wine-iness in the background, but this is very faint, almost unnoticeable.

Palate – Salty olive oil and soya, like a rich vegetable soup impregnated with lemon grass, cumin and dill. Nuts, dates and peaches, rubbery and wax notes, not all playing entirely harmoniously together, though for sheer originality it’s certainly worth a second (or third) try.  Water helps here.  Sweetness returns, caramel, fruits, herbs, really quite an experience.

Finish – Surprisingly short.  Creamy.  Dark sesame-seed bread plus herbs, caramel, honey, sweet olives. Points for originality, if nothing else, and not one you’re likely to forget anytime soon.

(87/100)

Foursquare 2005-2014 9 YO Port Cask Finish 40% (Exceptional Cask Series)

Nose – Rubber and acetone to start, fruity notes quite distinct. Grapes, oranges, tangerines (not lemons).  Vanilla, toffee, cinnamon.  Smells like a slightly amped-up Doorly’s 12 YO, showcasing what that could have been with more barrel work, because this one is younger than the Doorley’s, almost the same strength…but better.

Palate – Wish it was stronger, as that intriguing nose does not efficiently deliver tastes in equal measure: mixed fruits in a salad bowl sprinkled with brown sugar, raisins, cherries, bananas, some coconut (I liked that) and charred wood.

Finish – Short, warm, almost light.  Certainly it’s easy. A few fruity notes, some toffee, blancmage, orange zest. It works, but not as well as it might have.

(82/100)

Compagnie des Indes 2000-2016 Foursquare 16 YO 62%

Nose – Luscious.  Black grapes, prunes, plums, honey, tinned fruit salad syrup simply without excess cloying-ness which might have ruined it. 62% is remarkably well controlled, even gentle.  Sweet red olives, fried bananas, hot black tea.

Palate – Very well done, dry intense, quite rich.  Acetone (fading fast), honey, black tea sweetened with condensed milk, cherries, apricots and even some rosemary.  An interesting combination of delicacy and heft, and that’s quite a trick for any rum to pull off.

Finish – Long, rich, fruity, zesty, includes some of those sweet cooking herbs.  Doesn’t quite ignite, however, and the components don’t mesh as well as they might. That said, still a rum to savour neat, in spite of its strength.

(86/100)

Foursquare 2006-2016 Single Blended Rum 62%

Nose – As good as I remember, as amazing. Nougat, white toblerone, cream cheese; peaches, strawberries and cream, citrus rind, and a majestic panoply of darker berries and fruits. Just a lovely nose.

Palate – Dried apricots and mangoes; rich brown honey spread on toasted black bread. Cherries, overripe grapes, lemon zest and all this retains great pungency over long periods. Hard to believe, with its smoothness and assembly, that this is north of 60% ABV.

Finish – Surpisingly easy; warm, not sharp.  Quite fruity and creamy, both soft and tart at the same time.  The integration is excellent, the balance superb.

(91/100)

Bristol Spirits Rockley Still 1986-2012 26 YO 46%

Nose – Meaty, chewy, salty maggi-cubes.  Brine, olives, salted caramel. Wow, quite a left-turn.  Where was the sherry? Sweeter fruit and some waxy pungency take their own sweet time coming out, plus honey and nuts after maybe ten minutes.

Palate – Much better to taste than to smell.  Caramel, weak molasses, dollops of dark honey, cough drops, leather, rye bread.  Also bitter chocolate, burnt sugar, stewed apples and the tartness of firm white unripe fruit – apples, ginnip, soursop, that kind of thing.

Finish – Short, fruity, honey-like, with additional notes of polish on old leather. Great balance

(86/100)


Having tried these few, then, what can one say about the lot?

Well, to begin with, I believe that with some practice one can indeed pick out the Mount Gay from a Foursquare rum, though I can’t pretend this is a statistically significant sample set, and I wasn’t trying them blind, and most of the reviews had already been written. Also, spare a thought for WIRD’s Rockley Still from Bristol Spirits, which is something of an outlier in this listing dominated by the other two big guns.  In October 2017 when Marco Freyr (of Barrel Aged Mind) and I were talking and sampling like cash-rich newbs in the rumshop, he remarked that there was no way – ever! – he could mistake a Rockley Still rum.  The profile was simply too distinct from the other Bajan makers, and while at the time I didn’t entirely agree with him, further tastings of other WIRD rums (not on this list, sorry) showed that in all likelihood, with a large enough sample set, yeah, he was absolutely right – even under the influence of the sherry casks in which it was aged, it was markedly different and particular to itself, and strength had nothing to do with it.

It’s clear that quality, enjoyment and a high ranking does not rest on age, or strength, or finishing and not on fancy barrel strategy.  None of these attributes in isolation automatically makes for a good rum…a relatively youthful cognac-aged Habitation Velier ranked very well against a lesser proofed other-barrel-aged rum like the Foursquare Port Cask.  And the higher power of the 8 YO Cadenhead BMMG only marginally improved it over the older, but weaker, Green Label, neither of which had any ageing in other barrels than the norm.  The Danish cask strength CDI Foursquare rums were also quite good in spite of one being almost double the age of the other. So clearly, age has its limitations, as does the type of barrel or finishing regimen used, or the strength.

But push them into combination with each other and you’ve really got something.  The Foursquare Velier collaboration of the almost legendary 2006 ten year old pressed all the right buttons at once, and this is why even on this go-around, it beat out all the competitors.  It’s simply as spectacular now as it was then, and while it’s not the best Bajan ever made (I haven’t tried every Bajan ever made), it remains a high water mark for sure and demonstrated that when judiciously applied, with verve and skill and style, the intersection of the three components results in some awesome juice.

Lastly, it is no secret that 2017 has pretty much been the year of Foursquare (Velier might dispute that given the enthusiasm over its 70th Anniversary special issues) — and I don’t just mean the company, but its rums in general, whether released by them or other independents. This small selection of nine rums from Barbados show why this is so. That’s not to take anything away from the others, which all scored reasonably well and are credit to the island’s rum making heritage.  But certainly Richard Seale is riding high at the moment, and it remains to be seen whether the other brands from Barbados will step up to the high standards he is setting, or get relegated to second tier status for the foreseeable future.  For that reason alone, the next years’ developments will make watching Barbados rums evolve a fascinating experience.

Nov 012017
 

*

All apologies to those who like the Bacardi Superior, Lamb’s White and other filtered, smooth, bland (dare I say boring?) 40% white rums in their cocktails, or who just like to get hammered on whatever is cheap to get and easily available – but you can do better.  For anyone who likes a massive white rum reeking of esters and funk and God only knows what else, one of the great emergent trends in the last decade has surely been the new selection and quality of white rums from around the world.  Almost all are unaged, some are pot still and some are column, they’re usually issued at north of 45%, they exude badass and take no prisoners, and in my opinion deserve more than just a passing mention.

Now, because aged rums get all the press and are admittedly somewhat better tasting experiences, white (or ‘clear’ or ‘blanc’) rums aren’t usually accorded the same respect, and that’s fair – I’d never deny their raw and oft-uncouth power, which can be a startling change from softer or older juice.  They aren’t always sipping quality rums, and some are out and out illogical and should never see the light of day. Yet we should never ignore them entirely.  They are pungent and flavourful beyond belief, with zesty, joyful profiles and off-the-reservation craziness worthy of attention, and many compare very favourably to rums costing twice or three times as much.

So let me just provide the curious (the daring?) a list of some white rums I’ve tried over the last years.  It’s by no means exhaustive, so apologies if I’ve left off a personal favourite – I can only list what I myself have tried. And admittedly, not all will find favour and not all will appeal – but for sheer originality and gasp-inducing wtf-moments, you’re going to look far to beat these guys.  And who knows?  You might even like a few, and at least they’re worth a shot.  Maybe several.

(Note: I’ve linked to written reviews where available.  For those where the full review hasn’t been published yet, some brief tasting notes. Scores are excluded, since I’m trying to show them off, not rank them, and in any case they’re in no particular order).


[1] Clairin Sajous – Haiti

If creole still haitian white rums not made by Barbancourt had a genesis in the wider world’s perceptions, it might have been this one and its cousins. In my more poetic moments I like to say the Sajous didn’t get introduced, it got detonated, and the reverbrations are still felt today.  There were always white unaged popskulls around – this one and the Vaval and Casimir gave them respectability.

[2] J. Bally Blanc Agricole – Martinique

What a lovely rum this is indeed.  J. Bally has been around for ages, and they sure know what they’re doing. This one is aged for three months and filtered to white, yet somehow it still shows off some impressive chops.  The 50% helps for sure.  Apples, watermelon, some salt and olives and tobacco on the nose, while the palate is softer than the strength might suggest, sweet, with fanta, citrus, thyme carrying the show. Yummy.

[3] St. Aubin Rhum Blanc Agricole Extra Premium – Mauritius

New Grove, Gold of Mauritius and Lazy Dodo might be better known right now, but Chamarel and St Aubin are snapping at their heels.  St. Aubin made this phenomenal pot still 50% brutus and I can’t say enough good things about it. It has a 1960’s-style Batman style salad bar of Pow! Biff! Smash!  Brine, grass, herbs, salt beef and gherkins combine in a sweaty, hairy drink that is amazingly controlled white rhum reminiscent of both a clairin and a Jamaican.

[4] DDL Superior High Wine – Guyana

Nope, it’s not a wine, and it sure isn’t superior.  I’m actually unsure whether it’s still made any longer – and if it is, whether it’s made on the same still as before. Whatever the case, Guyanese swear by it, I got one of my first drunks on it back in University days, and the small bottle I got was pungent, fierce and just about dissolved my glass. At 69% it presents as grassy, fruity, and spicy, with real depth to the palate, and if it’s a raw scrape of testosterone-fuelled sandpaper on the glottis, well, I’ve warned you twice now.

[5] Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Brazil

Fair enough, there are thousands of cachacas in Brazil, and at best I’ve tried a couple of handfuls.  Of the few that crossed my path, whether aged or not, this one was a standout for smooth, sweet, aromatic flavours that delicately mixed up sweet and salt and a nice mouthfeel – even at 40% it presented well. Josh Miller scored it as his favourite with which to make a caipirinha some time back when he was doing his 14-rum cachaca challenge. Since it isn’t all that bombastic or adversarial, it may be one of the more approachable rums of its kind that is – best of all – quite widely available.

[6] Neisson L’Espirit 70° Blanc – Martinique

Breathe deep and easy on this one, and sip with care.  Then look at the glass again, because if your experience parallels mine, you’ll be amazed that this is a 140-proof falling brick of oomph – it sure doesn’t feel that way. In fact there’s a kind of creaminess mixed up with nuts and citrus that is extremely enjoyable, and when I tried (twice), I really did marvel that so much taste could be stuffed into an unaged spirit and contained so well.

[7] Rum Fire Velvet – Jamaica

Whew!  Major tongue scraper. Massive taste, funk and dunder squirt in all directions. Where these whites are concerned, my tastes tend to vacillate between clairins and Jamaicans, and here the family resemblance is clear.  Tasting notes like beeswax, rotten fruit and burnt sausages being fried on a stinky kero flame should not dissuade you from giving this one a shot at least once, though advisories are in order, it being 63% and all.

[8] Charley’s JB Overproof (same as J. Wray 63%) – Jamaica

A big-’n’-bad Jamaican made only for country lads for the longest while, before townies started screaming that the boys in the backdam shouldn’t have all the fun and it got issued more widely on the island. Very similar to the J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof with which it should share the spotlight, because they’re twins in all but name..

[9] Nine Leaves Clear 2015 – Japan

If Yoshiharu Takeuchi of the Japanese concern Nine Leaves wasn’t well known before he released the Encrypted for Velier’s 70th Anniversary, he should be. He’s a Japanese rum renaissance samurai, a one-man distillery operation, marketing manager, cook and candlestick maker – and his 50% unaged whites are excellent.  This one from 2015 melded a toned down kind of profile, redolent of soap, cinnamon, nutmeg, apples and other light fruits, and is somewhat better behaved than its Caribbean cousins…and a damned decent rum, a velvet sleeve within which lurks a well made glittering wakizashi. (the 2017 ain’t bad either).

[10] Cavalier Rum Puncheon White 65% – Antigua

Same as the 151 but with little a few less rabbits in its jock.  Since the Antigua Distiller’s 1981 25 year old was review #001 and I liked it tremendously (before moving on) I have a soft spot for the company…which shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this raging beast, because in it you can spot some of those delicate notes of blackberries and other fruit which I so enjoyed in their older offerings.  Strong yes, a tad thin, and well worth a try.

[11] Rum Nation Pot Still White 57% – Jamaica

One of the first Independents to go the whole hog with a defiantly unaged white.  It’s fierce, it’s smelly, it’s flavourful, and an absolute party animal. I call mine Bluto. It’s won prizes up and down the festival circuit (including 2017 Berlin where I tried it again) and with good reason – it’s great, attacking with thick, pot still funk and yet harnessing some delicacy and quieter flavours too.

[12] Kleren Nasyonal Traditionnal 22 Rhum Blanc – Haiti

Moscoso Distillers is the little engine that could – I suspect that if Velier had paused by their place back when Luca was sourcing Haitian clairins to promote, we’d have a fifth candidate to go alongside Sajous,Vaval, Casimir and La Rocher. Like most creole columnar still products made in Haiti, it takes some palate-adjustment to dial in its fierce, uncompromising nature properly. And it is somewhat rough, this one, perhaps even jagged. But the tastes are so joyously, unapologetically there, that I enjoyed it just as much as other, perhaps more genteel  products elsewhere on this list.

[13] Toucan 50% Rhum Blanc Agricole – French Guiana

This new white only emerged in the last year or two, and for a rum as new as this to make the list should tell you something.  I tried it at the 2017 Berlin rumfest and liked it quite a bit, because it skated the line between brine, olives, furniture polish and something sweeter and lighter (much like the Novo Fogo does, but with more emphasis)…and at 50% it has the cojones to back up its braggadocio. It’s a really good white rhum.

[14] Rum Nation Ilha de Madeira Agricole 2017

Lovely 45% white, with an outstanding flavour profile.  Not enough research available yet for me to talk about its antecedents aside from it being of Madeira origin and “natural” (which I take to mean unaged for the moment).  But just taste the thing – a great combo of soda pop and more serious flavours of brine, gherkins, grass, vanilla, white chocolate.  There’s edge to it and sweet and sour and salt and it comes together reallly well.  One of those rums that will likely gain wide acceptance because of being toned down some.  Reminds me of both the Novo Fogo and the St. Aubin whites, with some pot still Jamaican thrown in for kick.

[15] A1710 La Perle

A1710 is a new kid on the block out of Martinique, operating out of Habitation Simon.  This white they issued at 54.5% is one of the best ones I’ve tried.  Nose of phenols, swank, acetones, freshly sawn lumber, bolted onto a nearly indecently tasty palate of wax, licorice, sugar water, sweet bonbons and lemongrass.  It’s almost cachaca-like…just better.

This list was supposed to be ten but then it grew legs and fangs, so what the hell, here are a few more Honourable Mentions for the rabid among you…

[16] Marienburg 90% – Suriname

This is Blanc Vader. With two light sabers. Admittedly, I only included it to showcase the full power of the blanc side.  It’s not really that good.  However, if you have it (or scored a sample off me) then you’ve not only gotten two standard proofed bottles for the price of one but also the dubious distinction of possessing full bragging rights at any “I had the strongest rum ever” competition.  Right now, I’m one of the few of those.

[17] Sunset Very Strong Overproof 84.5%)

The runner up in the strength sweepstakes. Even at that strength, it has a certain creamy delicacy to it which elevates it above the Marienburg.  Overall, it’s not really suited for anything beyond a mix and more bragging rights — because the hellishly ferocious palate destroys everything in its path. It’s a Great White, sure…like Jaws.

[18] St. Nicholas Abbey Unaged White – Barbados

This is another very approachable white rum, unaged, a “mere” 40% which blew the Real McCoy 3 year old white away like a fart in a high wind. Part of it is its pot still antecedents.  It’s salty sweet (more sweet than salt) with a juicy smorgasbord of pretty flavours dancing lightly around without assaulting you at the same time.  A great combo of smoothness and quiet strength and flavour all at once, very approachable, and much more restrained (ok, it’s weaker) than others on this list.

[19] Vientain Loatan – Laos

Probably the least of all these rhums in spite of being bottled at 56%, and the hardest to find due to it hardly being exported, and mostly sold in Asia. On the positive side is the strength and the tastes, very similar to agricoles.  On the negative some of those tastes are bitter and don’t play well together, the balance is off and overall it’s a sharp and raw rhum akin to uncured vinegar, in spite of some sweet and citrus.  Hard to recommend, but hard to ignore too.  May be worth a few tries to come to grips with it.

[20] Mana’o Rhum Agricole Blanc – Tahiti

Not so unique, not so fierce, not so pungent as other 50% rums on this list, but tasty nevertheless.  Again, like Rum Nation’s Ilha de Madeira, it’s quite easily appreciated because the 50% ABV doesn’t corner you in an alley, grab you by the glottis and shake you down for your spare cash, and is somehow tamed into a more well-behaved sort of beast, with just a bit of feral still lurking behind it all.

[21] La Confrérie du Rhum 2014 Cuvée Speciale Rhum Blanc – Guadeloupe

A hot, unaged, spicy 50% blanc, with an estery nose, firm body and all round excellent series of tastes that do the Longueteau operation proud.  It’s lighter than one might expect for something at this strength, and overall is a solid, tasty and well-put-together white rhum. La Confrerie is a quasi-independent operation run by Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany and they do single cask bottlings from time to time – their focus is agricoles, and all that knowledge and promotion sure isn’t going to waste.


So there you have it, a whole bunch of modern white rums spanning the globe for you to take a look at (as noted above, I’ve missed some, but then, I haven’t tried them all).  

I used to think that whites were offhand efforts tossed indifferently into the rum lineup by producers who focused on “more serious work” and gave them scant attention, as if they were the bastard offspring of glints in the milkman’s eye. No longer.

Nowadays they are not only made seriously but taken seriously, and I know several bartenders who salivate at the mere prospect of getting a few of these torqued up high-tension hooches to play with as they craft their latest cocktail.  I drink ‘em neat, others mix ‘em up, but whatever the case, it is my firm belief you should try some of the rums on this list at least once, just to see what the hell the ‘Caner is ranting on about.  I almost guarantee you won’t be entirely disappointed.

And bored?  No chance.


Other notes

Consider this a companion piece to Josh Miller’s excellent rundown of 12 agricoles, taken from his perspective of how they fare in a Ti Punch.

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