Jul 102018
 

Now that Americans can bring back Cuban booze without sanction, it’s likely that their rums will get a boost in sales, and if the Havana Club trademark war ever gets resolved – though I doubt it will happen any time soon – then we’ll see many more on the market.  However, at this period in time, over and above the big names from the island like Santiago de Cuba or Havana Club, to get seriously aged juice that’s really from Cuba, we still have to look primarily at the independents for now.

One of these is Kill Devil, named — as any rummie can tell you — after the old term for rum used in its infancy in the Caribbean many centuries ago.  Kill Devil is the rum brand of the whiskey blender Hunter Laing, and they’ve been around since 1949 when Frederick Laing founded a whisky blending outfit in Glasgow.  In 2013, now run by descendants, the company created an umbrella organization called Hunter Laing & Co, which folded in all their various companies (like Edition Spirits and the Premier Bonding bottling company). As far as my research goes, the first rums they released to the market – unadulterated, usually at 46%, unfiltered – came in 2016, and they have issued releases from Barbados, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Fiji and this one from Cuba.  One imagines that they read the tea leaves and realized there was some money to be made in rums as well as whiskies, though by coming into the market so relatively late, they’re butting heads with a lot of other new entrants – good for us as consumers for sure, perhaps not quite as rosy-cheeked for them.

As for Sancti Spiritus, this is a Cuban distillery also known as Paraiso, dating from 1946 (there is some dispute here – another source says 1944) that is located almost dead center in the island.  Much of what is known of their rums comes from independents like Compagnie des Indes, Cadenhead, Bristol Spirits, Secret Treasures, Samaroli, Duncan Taylor, Isla del Ron and Renegade, implying a substantial export market of bulk rum to Europe.  But they also make rums of their own under the Santero brand, like the Añejo Blanco, Carta Blanca 3 YO, Palma Superior, Añejo Ambarino, Añejo Reserva, Carta Oro 5YO, Añejo 7YO and Firewater (none of which I’ve tried, to my detriment). And I’ve heard it said they supply Havana Club as well, so there’s no shortage of places for anyone with an interest to get some.

Some brief stats, for the propellerheads like me: the single-cask rum here is from the above-noted distillery, coloured pale gold, distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2016, with 362 bottles released.  And it has a strength of 46%, similar to rums issued by Renegade and L’Esprit and others, keeping it within reach and tolerance of the greater rum drinking audience.

That may be, but it was still quite a forceful piece of work to smell, much more so than I was expecting, and would perhaps come as a surprise to those who are used to softer, milder Bacardis as “Cuban style” exemplars. Presenting rather dry and spicy – almost hot – it seemed to steer a course somewhere between a light molasses column still rum, and the grassier and more vegetal notes of an agricole…without actually leaning towards either one. It had a mix of cherries, peaches and tart soursop, unsweetened yoghurt, vanilla, oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a very faint line of citrus running through the whole thing. It felt somewhat schizophrenic, to be honest – both acidic (in a good way) as well as lightly creamy – and that made it intriguing to say the least.

As it was sipped, it became somewhat less creamy than the nose had intimated – “sprightly” might be a good word as any to describe it. It was quite clean in the mouth, tasting of green grapes, apples, cider, mixed up with something of the saliva-flooding crisp tartness of red currants, or lemons just starting to go off. What made it stand out was the background notes of light flowers,caramel, vanilla, bananas, ginnips, and wet dark brown sugar, plus those spices again, mostly cinnamon. The finish was also quite elegant, and left memories of light caramel and fudge, oakiness and vanilla, with a little citrus for bite. It lacked a certain roundness and smooth planing away of rough edges, but I suggest that’s a good thing – it made it its own rum rather than a milquetoast please-as-many-as-you-can commercial product you’ll forget tomorrow morning.

Overall, the rum shows that even with all our bitching about pot still rums being better and yet not represented often enough, there’s little that’s bad about a column still spirit when done right, and the Kill Devil is a good example.  Even though I don’t know at what strength it came off the line, I feel that whatever complexities seventeen years of ageing imparted managed to provide an end result that was quite a nice rum (Cuban or otherwise). Which likely demonstrates that if we want to have a good column still experience from a juice aged in continental climes, there are certainly candidates for your coin out there, and as long as you come to grips with its slightly odd personality, this is one of them.

(#527)(84/100)

May 022017
 

#361

The Sancti Spiritus distillery in Central Cuba, also known as Paraiso, has been making rums since 1946, and other than its history (see “other notes” below) there is remarkably little hard information about its operations, its size, volume or exports on hand. Aside from what must be substantial local production which we don’t see, they may be better known for the relatively new Ron Paraiso brand, as well as from the labels of independent bottlers like Compagnie des Indes, Kill Divil, Bristol Spirits, the Whisky Agency, and, here, W.M.Cadenhead.  Based on what one sees for sale online, barrels seem to have begun hitting Europe somewhere around the mid 1990s, with the one I’m looking at today coming off the (columnar) still in 1998 and bottled at a firm 59.2% in 2013.  Cadenhead, as usual, have amused themselves with putting the abbreviation “ADC” on the label, which could mean variously “Aroma de Cuba,“ or “Acerca de caña” or, in my patois, “All Done Cook” – any of these could be used, since Cadenhead never discloses – or doesn’t know itself – what the initials denote, and I’m tired of asking and getting “Ahhhh…duuuuh….Cuba?” in response.

A number of people who like the heavier, thrumming British West Indian rums (from Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados for example) have sniffed disparagingly to me about Spanish rons recently, especially the column still ones, which are most of them.  I suspect this has to do with their despite for Bacardi and the light Panamanian stuff that’s been slipping in the ratings of late.   Nothing wrong with that, but my own feeling is that they’re casting too wide a net, and if one throws out an entire region’s worth of bathwater based on a few sampled rums, then one misses the baby that washed out the door as well.  Maybe it’s the occasional lack of verifiable ageing, maybe it’s the lightness, maybe it’s the palate of the drinker. Don’t know. But this Cuban ron does deserve a closer look.

Consider first the nose on the pale yellow ron: it was a sparkling, light dose of crisp, clean aromas, starting off with rubbery, sweet acetones all at once.  In its own way it was also quite tart, reminding me of gooseberries, pickled gherkins, cucumbers and lots of sugar water, stopping just short of presenting an agricole profile.  I don’t think I could have sipped it blind and known immediately it was from Cuba.  At a whisker shy of 60% it attacked strongly, but was too well made to be sharply malicious, and was simply and forcefully intense, which was to its credit and made the experience of smelling it a very good one, especially once some soursop, citrus and baking spices were coaxed out of hiding a few minutes later.

The taste fell down somewhat – there was dry wood, a lot of strange and almost-bitter tannins at the start; which was fortunately not a disqualification, because these tastes balanced off what might otherwise have been an overabundance of light sweetness represented by watermelon and papaya and Anjou pears.  Gradually it unfolded like a flower at dawn, producing additional faint notes of orange zest, almost-ripe yellow mangoes and apricots, balanced by iodine, menthol (!!), tumeric and some strong black tea, all of which led to a conclusion that was suitably long, clear and spicy, closing off the show with nutmeg, more of that tartness, and a flirt of orange zest.

Briefly, Cadenhead’s ADC stacked up well against a raft of agricoles, Spanish and Surinamese rums that were on the table that day. It did make me think, though: reading around others experiences with Cuban rums generally, one thing that strikes me as consistent is that the demonstrably older a Cuban rum is, the more commonly it is scored high.  Now pot still rums made with some skill can be good right out of the gate, and creole column-still juice out of the French islands prove all the time that higher age does not necessarily confer higher praise (or scores).  But with column still rums made in the Cuban/Spanish style, the usual easy 40% young stuff or blended rons of some age just don’t have that sizzle which Cadenhead somehow extracted out of their barrel here. In other words, for such traditionally light rums, additional ageing is a better deal, it would seem.

So, in fine, I believe that this rum is better than the Havana Club Barrel Proof (and the Seleccion de Maestros that succeeded it), better than the Renegade 11 year old (but maybe I should retaste since I tried that one ages ago); it edges out the Santiago de Cuba 12 year old, though is perhaps not quite as good as the CDI Sancti Spiritus (also from 1998).  Those dour Scots took the sunshine of the tropics, doused it with some cold salt sea-spray and foam-lashed rocks, and produced an amalgam of both that’s better than either, and just falls short of remarkable – it’s worth a try by anyone, if it can still be found.

(86.5/100)

Other notes

A few words on the distillery history: called variously the Paraiso or Sancti Spiritus distillery, the founding family, the Riondas, began their sugar business in 1891 with a company called the Tuinucú Sugar Company in the 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. Since the revolution, the Government took over the entire operation not long after and has run the show ever since.

Apr 302017
 

Rumaniacs Review #034 | 0434

By now we are all aware of the two different kinds of Havana Club.  This rum is the one from Cuba, not the Bacardi version made in “not Cuba” and hails from the 1980s which, coincidentally, is when I started drinking DDL’s King of Diamonds (a useless factoid, I know).  No point rehashing well-known details of the brand, so off we go.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 40%

Nose – Oh well, very nice indeed, quite a few steps ahead of the Facundo Paraiso.  Dare I say “the real deal”?  Better not.  Initially it smells very crisp and floral, with light “watery” fruits (pears, guavas, even watermelon), and then segues gently into something more creamy.  Actually the aroma moves into heavier syrup-from-tinned-peaches territory after a while, but is redeemed from cloying heaviness by remaining reasonably light, adding some brine and genteel gone-to-seed flower gardens with too much earth.  Some traces of toffee, tobacco, maybe a flirt of cinnamon.  Gone too fast, alas.

Palate – What just happened here? Was that licorice, medicinals and plasticene I tasted?  Indeed it was. Just as suddenly, it went limp again, but after standing for a while, with some effort, I could make out additional flavours of green peas (!!), apple juice, vanilla, nutmeg, caramel, cardamon…and some bitterness of over-zealous application of the barrel.  Good potential, but ultimately unsatisfying and again, this being the era of 40%, really not intense enough, while interesting in its own way.

Finish – Well done, reasonably long for the strength.  Cigar smoke, brine, some last herbal notes and a couple of olives.  Dry and dirty and quite pleasant.

Thoughts – Nose and finish are the best part of the experience, with some nice points on the palate.  Not as anonymous and boring as the Bacardis, yet lacks punch in its own way; and even though it may be churlish to grumble about the way rums were made back then, a few extra points of proof would have gone a long way to raising the labial volume to something higher.

(80/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews of this rum can be found on the website.

Mar 272017
 

Rumaniacs Review #032 | 0432

Over and above the skimpy details of the company provided in the notes written for the Carta Oro (Rumaniacs-031) there’s nothing new here, except to note that this rum is definitely better, and I enjoyed it a lot more.  So let’s dive right in and be briefer than usual

Nose – Very Spanish in its lightness.  Cornflakes, cereal, lemon peel, vanilla and salted butter come to the fore.  It’s a little spicy and tart for 40%, something like a lemon meringue pie, very nice actually, if a little gentle. Opens up to smoke and leather after some time.

Palate – I’ve moved away somewhat from the Latin style, but no fault to be found here.  Orange marmalade, a little caramel and coffee grounds and white chocolate, and with water there is a whiff of licorice, toffee, more vanilla, leavened by sharper fruits such as ginnips, red currants, red guavas…that kind of thing.  Really a very nice rum.

Finish – Short and delicious, quite light and crisp, with more tart fruity notes and some smoke and very faint licorice and orange peel.

Thoughts – I have no idea how aged this rum is – I suspect five to ten years.  Whatever the case, it’s a most enjoyable dram.  Probably out of all our price ranges at this point, if a bottle could even be found whose provenance one can trust. With the opening of the American market to Cuban products, we can expect to see a lot of rums many have never tried before from companies that will surge to the fore but which until now remain relatively obscure. I really look forward to that.

(84/100)

Mar 272017
 

Rumaniacs Review #031 | 0431

This is a Cuban rum from a company that still exists in Santiago de Cuba and now called Ron Caney: the holding company was (and may still be) called Combinado de Bebidas de Santiago de Cuba and was supposedly formed around 1862…however, it is also noted to be operating out of a former Bacardi factory, so my take is that it’s using expropriated facilities, which is confirmed by Tom Gjelten’s book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba.  This rum is from the late 1960s or early 1970s, is also known as “Gold,” and for sure is no longer in production, though modern and aged variants do of course exist (the Ultimate Rum Guide has a list for the curious). The export version is the Havana Club marque from Cuba.

Picture here taken from ebay and I’m unclear if it’s the same one as what I was tasting.  The actual bottle pic for the sample in my possession is very low res, but shown below.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – Soft citronella notes, flowers, relatively uncomplex, but laid back, light and quite clean.  Some cream pie and vanilla.

Palate – Sharp, clean and light, a little aggressive in a way the nose didn’t mention. Started off with a faint medicine-y taste which is far from unpleasant. Some salted caramel and cream cheese. Salty brine and olives, citrus peel, balsamic vinegar and cheese-stuffed peppers.  Maybe I got a dud sample that oxidized too much, ’cause it sure didn’t taste like a normal Cuban.  Still – not entirely a write-off.

Finish – Short, sharp, mostly lemon peel and some candied oranges.

Thoughts – Probably a very young rum. If one can find a bottle, it’s probably worth more for historical value than to actually drink it

(78/100)