Aug 082018
 

You will rarely find two rums of the same age from the same island more unalike than the Samaroli 1992 25 YO and the Appleton “Joy” Anniversary Blend.  One is a fierce, cask strength rum, tightly focused, furiously tasty, with a complexity and balance that nearly broke my chart.  The other is a blended rum brought into being utilizing every ounce of more than two decades of experience which Joy Spence, Appleton’s Master Blender, brings to the the table.  And yet, under the bare statistics that ostensibly set them apart, in both there run the blood and bones of a Jamaican rum. The “Joy” is as much from the island as the Song of the Banana Man, yardies, rice and peas and Three Finger Jack. And while the “Joy” is a blend and not so individualistic, not so strong, it is nevertheless a triumph of the discipline, a combination more art and alchemy than science, and a worthy cap to Ms. Spence’s career…until she makes the next one.

Photo pinched from Josh Miller, used with permission (c) Inu a Kena

Some brief background notes: the rum was issued in 2018 to mark Ms. Spence’s 37 years with Appleton, more than twenty of which were as the Master Blender.  It is comprised of rums at least 25 years old, with one — dating back from 1981, the year she joined the company — is in excess of 30, and it’s a blend of both pot and column still marques. With 9,000 liters made, we can estimate somewhere around 12,000 bottles floating around the world, all issued at 45% and costing a bruising $300 or more (which was the same price I paid for the Appleton 30 YO many years ago, by the way).

The “Joy” was, to me, a rum that seemed simply made initially, but developed into a really lovely and complex piece of work – I got the sense of a blender working right at the edge of her abilities, with excitement and verve and panache, and this was evident as soon as I smelled it. The nose began with a beautifully rich molasses aroma mixed in with a sort of dialled down crazy of musky and sharp funk – citrus, honey, oak, rotting fruit.  I left it and came back to it over a few hours, and it presented leather, caramel, coffee, ginger, lemon zest with the faint dustiness of cumin. Oh and also nougat, and white chocolate.

The palate was where it shone the brightest, I think, and I would never mix this elegant piece of work (that might actually be a punishable offense in some circles).  It was nicely dry, with forward notes of honey, molasses, vanilla, caramel bon bons and dried coffee grounds, which were intercut with some lingering oak, just enough to provide some bite and tannins without disrupting the smooth flow.  It was just a shade briny, not too sweet, and balanced off the deeper flavours with lighter ones — light citrus, ginger, cumin, and green apples and grapes did a funky little number off to the side, for example — and none of it was overbearing or in your face.  In fact, part of the rum’s appeal was its deceptively unassuming nature – everything seemed tamped down and rather relaxed, but wasn’t really, just solid and well constructed, and remarkably complex and well-balanced to a fault. Even the dry and medium-length finish, which at that strength tends toward the short, was very enjoyable and softly lingeringly aromatic, closing off the sip with brown sugar, honey, flowers, crushed almonds and a little orange peel.

Big hat tip to Josh Miller who allowed me to make off with this picture…

Summing up, this was a wonderful sipping rum. It wasn’t one that took a single distinct note and ran with it. It wasn’t a fierce and singular Jamaican funk bomb or hogo monster that sought to impress with sharp and distinct tastes that could be precisely catalogued like a grocery list of all the things that enthrall us.  It was, rather, a melange of softer tastes set off by, and blended well with, sharper ones, none of which ever seemed to strain or reach for an effect, but simply provided a slow parade of commingled flavours that somehow come together into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Ms. Spence is perhaps one of the few legends we have in this curious subculture we inhabit, where owners commonly get more publicity and adulation than blenders (unless both inhabit the same corpus).  I have never met her – our paths haven’t crossed, which is my loss, not hers – and yet how could anyone call themselves a rum lover and not know who she is? In some way, her hands have touched, her personality has influenced and her skills are evidenced in every rum Appleton has made in the last quarter century and more.  My own feeling is that if she never makes another rum in her life, she will still be known for this one. The 30 YO was a little overoaked, the 50 YO remains too expensive, the 21 YO too indeterminate and the 12 YO too broad based – but this one, this one is a quiet triumph of the blender’s art.

And if you want a more mundane proof of the rum’s quality, I direct you to the actions of Grandma Caner when I gave her some to try.  She affects to a certain indifference my writing, expressing impatience with all these rums cluttering up her damned basement and I could see she wasn’t all that enthusiastic.  But when she took an initially indifferent sip, her eyes widened: she just about swallowed her dentures in her haste to ask for more…you never saw an arthritis ridden hand move so fast in your life. The woman finished the sample bottle, cleaned out her glass, then my glass, and I could see her eyeing the bottle, perhaps wondering if it would be considered uncouth to ask to lick it out.  Then she got on her old East German rotary phone, and spent the next three hours calling all her friends to go find this thing, and I swear to you, I am not making this up!  Word of mouth and actions like that are an endorsement of the “Joy” which no amount of money could ever buy, and the cool thing is, the rum really deserves it.

(#536)(89/100)

Aug 062018
 

There’s a story I heard years ago, that of the many rums from his company, Silvano Samaroli’s own personal favourite was one of the first ones he bottled, the West Indies 1948.  Who am I to rain on a story like that, speaking as it does of a man currently residing in the Great Distillery in the Sky, and a rum from so far back in time that most of us weren’t even a twinkle in our Daddy’s eyes, made when the world was an utterly different place?  But for my money, of all the rums I’ve tried from this Italian outfit and from Jamaica (and that’s quite a few), this one is among the very best. To cut straight to the chase and save you all a lot of reading time, I think it is a sublime drinking experience for anyone who treasures Jamaican rums.

That might sound like a startling assertion, but it has a lot to do with the assembly, much with the balance, and for sure the overall complexity: and that started right with the initial nosing, which started slow, gathered momentum, and turned what we initially and indulgently thought was VW Beetle into a growling Veyron wannabe. 

Although the initial scents wafting easily from the glass are of paint thinner, acetones, rubber and some pencil shavings, for once these didn’t overwhelm or detract, but acted as a counterpoint to the rest of the nasal riches which followed – warm unsweetened chocolate, nougat, hibiscus flowers in full bloom, dust, dried coffee grounds, more light flowers with clear, delicate notes of something remarkably akin to freshly done laundry drying in the sun. Cedar, aromatic woody notes, honey tobacco.  God, was this thing ever going to stop? Nope, there was more – a light dusting of brown sugar soaked in molasses, and vanilla. If you’re looking for funk, well, it’s there, but for once content to be a bit player and not chew the scenery.

And the taste, the palate, the way it comes together, it’s masterful.  At 52% it’s downright near damned perfect – the the balance between mouth puckering citrus plus laid back funk, and easier, softer flavours is unbelievably well done.  Soda pop, honey, cereal, red currants, raspberries, fanta and orange zest dance exuberantly cross the tongue, never faltering, never allowing any one piece to dominate. Like an exquisitely choreographed dance number, the molasses, vanillas and fruits (peaches, yellow plums, pears, ripe yellow Thai mangoes) tango alongside sharper notes of citrus, lemon zest, overripe bananas, sandalwood and ginger. Even the finish is spectacular – just long enough, just sharp enough, just mellow enough, allowing each of the individually discerned flavours of fruits, toffee, chocolate and citrus to come out on stage one last time for a bow, before fading back and making way for the next one

It seems almost superfluous to go through the factoids surrounding it so let’s be brief: it is from Hampden , though this is nowhere evident on the label (I picked that up online); pot still, continentally aged, bottled at 52% in 2017 from a single barrel (Cask #19, which means nothing to most of us) of 1992 stocks, 228 bottles issued, and there you are.

I don’t know what they did differently in this rum from others they’ve issued for the last forty years, what selection criteria they used, but I must be honest – the 1992 came close to blowing out my circuits. It’s restrained but powerful, and the sometimes-overdone flavour profiles of other high ester rums, has been toned down and handled with real attention and care.  I can’t remember the last rum that excited me so much, that enthused me so much, right off the bat.  Okay, that’s crap, there was the UF30E and the Sajous and the BBR 1977…but you get the point. I had to try it several times in the course of a single evening trying to poke holes into it, trying to find a flaw that would unravel the experience, make it more mundane, bring it to the level of other rums, but no, it stayed as spectacular at one in the morning, as it was six hours earlier when my friends and I cracked it.

These days, with independent bottlers proliferating as they have, each one trying to outdo the other with a remarkable rum from yesteryear, and with Scheer’s old hoards being plundered like King Tut’s personal rum chamber, with old rums becoming impossible to find and harder to buy, I honestly believed my days of finding an undiscovered treasure were over.  After trying the Samaroli 1992, I knew I was dead wrong…and happy to be so. There are still amazing rums out there to be found, often flying beneath the radar, teased out with a little luck, delving deep trenches in your wallet. This is one of them, a rum that shows what can be done when a bottler’s great selection crosses paths with a rum sleuth’s dogged persistence…and results in me writing about a rum that is made with what — in my opinion — is more than a small dose of pure magic.

(#535)(92/100)

Jul 022018
 

The question that arises when drinking a rum that is 10 years old is whether the relatively placid 40% strength helps or hurts given our rather more discerning palates these days. The blended Jamaican XO from last week’s review, with its indeterminate age and provenance, succeeded modestly in spite of its wispiness because somehow the tastes still came through and provided a showcase for the style…and for its price it was a strong low-end contender that punched above its weight.  While the 2005 10 YO we’re looking at today is also bottled at that strength – subsequent editions are a bit stronger – it is quite a few rungs up the ladder. In fact, it’s a quietly successful offering from Mezan, and should not be passed over by those who disdain anything except cask strength juice.

Speaking immediately about the nose, even though the strength was the same, the 10 year old presented as much more emphatic and distinctive than the XO.  Bananas and lemons, brine, olives, vague sweetness. Time helped to some degree and after a while one could sense cherries, a little funkiness, unsweetened chocolate and a continual background of orange peel, all of which remained light and relatively unaggressive, but quite clear.

The taste was the part I liked this most, because it was light and clear…kinda flirty chirpy, even sprightly.  The 40% does no damage to the palate and is actually quite pleasing in its own understated way. Green grapes, apples, cider, raspberries, tart unsweetened yoghurt, chocolate and nuts underscored by the thin line of citrus peel, and supported by a faint but noticeable set of fleshier fruits (not-quite-ripe apricots and peaches and mangoes) – the funkiness of esters was there, just dialled down, which distanced it somewhat from more traditional hard-core Jamaicans that are getting all the press these days. The weakness of the rum as a whole was probably the finish, which was really too short and fine, and added nothing particularly new to the fruit basket or the tastes – some citrus, cherries, green apples and that’s about it.

Overall, I liked it but the distinctiveness of the estate profile refused to come through that general mildness, which is, of course, something of a fail mark for a country whose rums have been getting a lot of attention in the last few years.  A few extra points of proof would have helped a lot, I think — and indeed, Mezan have issued a 46% version of the Worthy Park 2005 in 2017 which I have not tasted, but which is likely to address the issue (this one was a 2015 bottling).

The finish and aftertaste of the Mezan 2005 (though not the nose and palate) to some extent suggest why some people do not entirely go for softer proof and continental ageing, which is what I believe this is. That final part of the experience is simply too nondescript and inconspicuous and over far too quickly.  But we should not be too quick to trumpet “tropical ageing only!” like it was some kind of universal truth, because we should keep in mind the sterling Worthy Park 7 YO 53% from the Compagnie des Indes, which was a better rum in every way and was also aged in Europe (note also Wes’s admiration for the 2015 10 YO Worthy Park from Kill Devil).  Also the fact that overall for its price, this is a pretty good rum for those who want to know more about the Jamaican style of Worthy Park without getting their faces ripped off by a hot blast of esters bolted to a cask strength bitch slap. On that level, I’d say it’s a qualified success.

 

(#524)(84/100)


Other notes

  • Worthy Park re-opened for business in 2005 after not having produced any rum since the sixties, so this is from the first year of issue.
  • Distillate comes from molasses and a Forsythe copper pot still.  Actual place of ageing is unknown, but I’m thinking it’s the UK, or maybe partial in both UK and Jamaica.
Jun 242018
 

Tasting the Mezan XO is best done by trying it in conjunction with other rums of its strength (about 40%) because it’s a deceptively mild and seemingly reticent sort of product – so if you taste it with some stronger drinks it falters. It coyly presents as a weak and diffident product, and it’s only after sticking with it for a while that its attributes snap more clearly into focus and you realize how good it really is. I started out thinking it was simply too mild and too little was going on there, but by the end of the session I was a lot more appreciative of its quality.

Mezan is an independent bottler out of the UK, formed by a gent named Neil Matthieson who ran a spirits distribution company since the 1980s and used it as the parent company for Mezan in 2012 (he is the managing director of both). Following the usual route for an independent, they source barrels of various rums from around the world and bottle them in limited editions.  However, in the XO they have opted for issuing a blend of rums from Jamaica – not from single distillery, but from several, and The Fat Rum Pirate notes it as having two components from Worthy Park and Monymusk (there are others, unidentified) and Steve James over at the Rum Diaries blog wrote that he heard that the youngest part of the blend is four years old. I myself was told by a rep that all components of the blend were in the 18-24 months range, but that might have been just for the rum from my batch number (#4997).  I’d suggest ageing is continental.

According to Matt in his longform essay about the XO, Mr. Matthieson prefers to bottle at a strength in the low forties.  This has both positive and negative aspects – it becomes more accessible to people not used to cask strength rums, but at the price for the enthusiasts of weakening its clarity.  The nose of the XO makes this clear – it’s nice and aromatic…but thin, very thin. Sure, there are notes of pot still funkiness, brine, olives, dunder, rotten fruit, some plastic – it’s just that they’re faint and light and too wispy. That delicacy also permits the alcohol forward note to be more dominant than would otherwise be the case, and it presents more as something spicy and raw, than a delicate and nuanced rum.

The palate permits the low strength to come into its own, however.  Once one waits a while and allows oneself to get used to it, the flavours become quite a bit more distinct (though they remain light). Esters, overripe bananas and some nail polish to begin with, moving into a smorgasbord of rather light sweetness, plastic, brine, citrus and green apples – a sort of combination of fruits both fresh and “gone off”. Somehow this all works. And I think that the rum deserves a second and a third sip to pry out the nuances.  The finish is no great shakes, short and sharp and spicy with more crisp fruits and brine, but so quick that the memory one is left with is more of a young and feisty rum than a seriously aged one.

Certainly the overall impression one is left with is of a young blend, possessing enough complexity to warrant more careful consideration. No need to mix this if you don’t want to, it’s decent as is, as long as chirpy young Jamaicans are your thing.  As a Jamaican representative rated against the pantheon of better known and perhaps more impressive rums, though, it reminds me more of young and downmarket Appletons or J. Wray offerings than anything more upscale.

What makes the rum a standout is its price. Retailing in the UK at around £30 and of a reasonably plentiful outturn, it’s clear that the XO is an inexpensive way to get into the Jamaican style. There’s a lot of noise online the estate-specific rums like Monymusk, Clarendon, New Yarmouth, Worthy Park and Hampden (and that’s aside from Appleton itself), but not everyone always wants to pay the price for cask strength bruisers or indie bottlings that are so distinctly focused.  When it comes to an affordable, living-room strength blended rum that is middle-of-the-road funky and estery and works well as both a sipping drink or an ingredient into something more complicated, the Mezan Jamaican XO may be a very good place to start, no matter how you like drinking it. And at the very least, it won’t unduly dent your wallet if your own opinion turns out to be less than stellar.

(#523)(82/100)

May 282018
 

Rumaniacs Review #080 | 0516

There’s a lot of missing information on this rum, specifically from where in Jamaica, and when it was made. Until I can get more, we’ll have to just take the tasting notes as they come, unfortunately, since that’s all I have.

Colour – Orange

Strength – 50%

Nose – “Subdued” is the best word I can think of; there is very little of the fierce funkiness or hogo-infused Jamaican badass we’ve gotten used to with more recent Hampdens or Worthy Park rums.  It’s slightly sweet, with caramel and citrus and vanilla, and the question one is left asking is “Where did the funk disappear to?”  Leaving it to open and then coming back to it does not improve or enhance the aromas much, though some fruits and additional lemon peel, coffee grounds and bananas to become more noticeable.

Palate – Ah well, here we go, the sharper funky stuff comes on stage at last.  Still rather restrained, however.  The rum presents as medium bodied, creamy, and tastes of caramel, vanilla, molasses, with a vibrant backbone of cherries, orange peel, ginger, grass, nutmeg and cinnamon.  It really reminds me more of a Demerara (sans anise) than a true Jamaican, and in the absence of real details on the estate of origin, it’s remains something of a let down for those in love with the fierce ester-driven purity of more recent vintages.

Finish – Excellent, quite long, hot, breathy, with more ginger, bitter chocolate and coffee, and quite a bit of tart fruitiness in the background

Thoughts – Not one of my favourites, to be honest.  It’s too indeterminate and doesn’t carry the flag of Jamaica particularly well.  I’m unsure, but (a) I think it’s been continentally aged and (b) it’s possible that the barrel was either charred was nearly dead. Were you to rate it as just a rum without reference to the island of origin, then it’s pretty good — but when I see Jamaica on a label, there’s certain things I look for, and even at nearly three decades old, there’s not enough here to mark it out as something special from there.

(82/100)


Other Notes

There are no details on the estate of origin nor the year of distillation to be found.  My personal opinion is that the rum is a column still rum, continentally aged and perhaps from Longpond (assuming it’s not a blend of some kind).

Tracing Milroy’s is an odd experience.  The bottom of the label provides an address which when searched for puts you in a quiet residential side street in Saxmundham (Suffolk), and when I called the phone number, the gent told me it had not been in the name of Mr. Milroy for over four years. Yet I found a reference that notes Milroy’s is a very well known spirits establishment in #3 Greek Street London. That one makes more sense (the Suffolk address was likely a personal one).  According to K&L Wines, John “Jack” Milroy opened a wine shop in the West End in 1964 with funds provided by his brother (a gold miner from South Africa) and indulged in the bottlings of single cask Scotches. It’s reasonable to suppose an occasional rum flitted through their inventory over the years. The brothers sold the company (date unknown, likely late 1990s) which was run by La Reserve under the stewardship of Mark Reynier who later went on to fame as the man behind Bruichladdich, Murray McDavid and Renegade Rums. As of 2014, the company is once again an independent shop “Milroy’s of Soho” whose site I used for some of these historical notes.

May 232018
 

Rumaniacs Review #079 | 0514

No, you read that right.  This bottle of a 1990s rum, from a company I never heard of and which no exercise of masterly google-fu can locate, which has a map of Jamaica on the label and is clearly named a Momymusk – this old and rare find says it’s a “Demerara” rum. You gotta wonder about people in them thar olden days sometimes, honestly.

W.D.J. Marketing is another one of those defunct English bottlers (I was finally able to find out it was English, released another Monymusk aged 9 years, and has been long closed, on a Swiss website) who flourished in the days before primary producers in the islands took over issuing aged expressions themselves.  What they thought they were doing by labelling it as a Demerara is anyone’s guess.  Rene (of “Rarities” fame) said it was from the 1990s, which means that it was issued when Monymusk came under the West Indies Sugar Company umbrella.  And although the label notes it was distilled in Jamaica and  bottled in England, we also don’t know where it was aged, though my money is on continental ageing.

Colour – Pale gold

Strength – 46%

Nose – Yeah, no way this is from Mudland.  The funk is all-encompassing. Overripe fruit, citrus, rotten oranges, some faint rubber, bananas that are blackened with age and ready to be thrown out.  That’s what seven years gets you. Still, it’s not bad. Leave it and come back, and you’ll find additional scents of berries, pistachio ice cream and a faint hint of flowers.

Palate – This is surprisingly sharp for a 46% rum.  Part of this is its youth, lending credence to the supposition that the ageing was continental. Fruits are little less rotten here…maybe just overripe. Bananas, oranges, raspberries, all gone over to the dark side.  A touch of salt, a flirt of vanilla, but the primary flavours of sharp acidic fruits and compost (and your kitchen sink grinder) take over everything. In short, it showcases a really righteous funk, plays hardass reggae and flirts a fine set of dreads.

Finish – Damned long for 46% (I’m not complaining), the sharpness toned down.  Gives you some last citrus, some peppercorns, a ginnip or two, and for sure some soursop ice cream.

Thoughts – What an amazing young rum this is. Too unpolished to be great, really, yet it has real quality within its limitations. If you’re deep into the varietals of Jamaica and know all the distilleries by their first names, love your funk and rejoice in the island’s style, then you might want to try sourcing this from Rene next time he drifts into your orbit. This thing will blow your toupee into next week, seriously.

(84/100)


Other notes

My notes have this as a 1960s rum, and Rene got back to me stating it was from the 1990s.  It’s very odd for a rum made that relatively recently, to have almost no internet footprint at all for both itself or its company of origin.

May 152018
 

Rumaniacs Review #078 | 0512

Tracing this rum takes one through three separate companies and dozens of tiny, offhanded remarks made on a score of obscure websites. While it’s tough to pin down a date of formation, Vaughan-Jones appears to have been a London-based spirits bottler very well known for its V-J branded gin, and the company was certainly in existence by the 1880s, likely incorporated by Edward Vaughan-Jones (the exact year remains uncertain).  According to the British Trade Journal of May 1882, Vaughan-Jones “Standard” spirits at that time were gins, whiskies, rum, Old Tom (a type of popular 18th century gin that was sweeter than London Dry but drier than Dutch Jenever), flavoured brandies, and bitters.

By the time this Jamaican rum came out in the 1960s (the date comes from an estimate of the Whisky Exchange website and I’ve got nothing better except from a tax stamp on the bottle which hints at the 1970s importation but not necessarily manufacture) another company called Hedges & Butler had taken over Vaughan-Jones, and registered various trademarks of V-J in 1957.  Following this down the rabbit hole provides the information that they themselves were wine and spirits merchants dating back to 1667, were granted a Royal Warrant by King George IV in 1830 which was renewed by Queen Victoria in 1837. They were and remain primarily (but not exclusively) in the wine and whisky business, and were taken over by The Bass Charrington Group in the 1960s.  Since 1998 they fall under the umbrella of Ian MacLeod Distillers which is where the story ends for now.

At all times, under whichever company owned the V-J brand, it appears that rum was very much an afterthought and not a major branch of the business. Some of the Vaughan-Jones family remain alive and remember their great grandfather Edward…it would be interesting to see what they know about the rums his company made. No data on the still, distillery or estate of origin is available. It is noted as being “pure” which suggests either no additives, or unblended and direct from a distillery which, from the taste, is what I chose to believe.

Colour – amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – It may just be a function of the age, but it does present somewhat oddly to those who have a bunch of modern Jamaicans to chose from. Not quite an ester bomb, this: still, it starts with brine, olives, citrus, some funk and miso soup, sweet soya, vinegar and herbs (dill, cilantro, rosemary).  Nothing off-putting, just different.

Palate – Oh well, this was lovely. Soft, well rounded.  Carmale, light molasses, herbs (dill and cilantro again), brine, tequila, olives, and a pinch of oregano and some old used coffee grounds left out in the sun too long.  It also has aspects that reminded me of the Paranubes, something of a minerally and agave background, added some light white fruits at the back end, and overall, it’s really not that sweet.  A shade thin, though.

Finish – Very nicely rounded and warm.  It all comes together here and the oddity of the nose disappears completely. Light caramel and funk, herbs, brine, with almost no fruitiness at all.

Thoughts – Drinking this next to an Appleton 12, say, or some of the newer Hampdens and Worthy Park stuff, and you could infer this was an earlier form of what they are now making. It’s not as cultured, a bit raw, and the tastes and smells are in a different (primitive?) form of what we now take for granted.  But it’s not bad, and if you’re a lover of historical artifacts from Ago, neither the background of the company nor the rum itself, is likely to disappoint.

(82/100)


Other Notes

Francesco from Lo Spirito dei Tempi, who I met briefly in April 2018, was the source of the bottle, and he noted that it was made for export to Australia from the 1880s to 1980s.  In his article he remarks that it was aged three years in Jamaica and then for a further undisclosed time underground at the London docks.

May 102018
 

(c) liquor-store-europe.com

#510

The Ping No. 9 is a private / independent bottling done by the Danish liquor store Juuls and I first came across it in 2016 when one of those anonymous mad vikings (thanks Gregers!) brought it to a truly epic Caner Afterparty session, where it was promptly run past (what else?) the G&M Longpond 1941 and the BBR 1977 itself, to which we then added a Albrecht Trewlawny 1993 17 YO (Longpond, 2nd Release) and the EKTE No 2 (Monymusk) to cross reference .  We had nothing else on hand that was the right age or from the right island, so this had to do, but even that comparison allowed us to come to grips with its structure and assembly in a way that made its strengths (and weaknesses, such as they were) somewhat clearer.

Let that pass for the moment and simply sigh with envy at whoever sprang over a thousand euros in early 2018 (on one of the FB sales pages) for a bottle of this juice – not because it’s superlative (I didn’t think it was, not entirely), but simply because we don’t see rums from the 1970s coming on the market any longer and even the 1980s are fast becoming a vanishing breed, and so to try one that geriatric, and issued at a snorting 61%? Rum heaven.

All right, so a bourbon-cask aged expression, costing four figures, continental ageing, Danish bottler buying from a Speyside outfit, 221-bottle outturn. What did it taste like? In a word, lovely. It was smooth to smell and a pleasure to inhale, largely because the huge strength was under control the whole time, presenting heat instead of crude sharpness.  It began quietly with bananas, vanilla, mead, honey, cream cheese and a little caramel, almost no citrus (and if there was any, it kept way the hell back). As we came back to it over a period of some hours, crisper notes of green apples, candied oranges, cinnamon and ginger cookies came forward as the softer ones receded.

Say what you will about tropical ageing, there’s nothing wrong with a good long continental slumber when we get stuff like this out the other end. Again it presented as remarkably soft for the strength, allowing tastes of fruits, light licorice, vanilla, cherries, plums, and peaches to segue firmly across the tongue.  Some sea salt, caramel, dates, plums, smoke and leather and a light dusting of cinnamon and florals provided additional complexity, and over all, it was really quite a good rum, closing the circle with a lovely long finish redolent of a fruit basket, port-infused cigarillos, flowers and a few extra spices.

What is both good and to some extent a let-down about the rum is its control. At no point did any of us ever feel that we were getting a 61% beefcake in our glasses.  It was not a cream puff milquetoast, no, but in comparison to the gleefully manic proctological probing that clairins subject us to, this thing is like a lover’s gentle yet firm caress – and on the level described, it’s all good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But it also, I have to concede, lacked a real edge and bite of the sort a more funky profile would have provided, which leads me to my main point of contention.

There was little that was distinctly Jamaican in the rum – no, really – and it actually reminded me more of a combo of a Bajan and a Guyanese, taken to cask strength. If the measure of a rum is the extent to which its maker conforms to the standards of the place of origin or alignment with the expected style, then you’d be hard put to really place it as being from the island. The Ping No. 9 presents a profile somewhat at odds with those characteristic tastes we associate with the newer Jamaican bottlings of late – dunder, funk, hogo, esters, pick your term – little of this was in evidence.  Whether this is a matter of how and where it was aged, or the simple fact that it was made in a different era, is debatable. But it did make me feel somewhat disappointed.

I know there’s one person who’s reading this who’s muttering “Bullsquirt!” to himself and running to get his two bottles out of the triple-locked safe where he has them stashed behind a couple of flash-bangs and a collection of nasty toys meant to cause any would-be pilferer immense discomfort (he takes his juice seriously, and they’ll get his rums when they pry them out of his quivering hands, I suspect). He’s going to re-test it, no question, then post a rebuttal for me to ponder. The thing is, I know he liked the Ping 9 more so than I did, just as he disdained the Velier 1972 Courcelles and I didn’t.  And because our tastes and palates run apart from each other, it’s very likely that others will too. Therefore, interesting as I believe the Ping 9 to be, lovers and potential purchasers might want to sample before they buy. It’s very good but it’s also different…and that makes it something of a tricky purchase, no matter what the score, the age or the price.

(86/100)


Other notes

  • The rum is actually five days under 36 years old: for once I think I’ll just note it and move on and keep calling it a 36 YO. Such a tiny variation doesn’t trouble me much at such an age.
  • For what it’s worth, it makes me suspect that the BBR 1977 also came from Longpond.  My own opinion was that the BBR was better, and the Albrecht Trelawny and the EKTE also exceeded it.
  • Both Roger Caroni (who writes in French), and Wes Burgin over at the FatRumPirate tried a brother of this rum, the Old Jamaique Long Pond 1977 35YO (at 50%), which was a collaboration between the Belgian bottler Corman-Collins and the Scots bottler Ian MacLeod, the latter of whom was also the source of this barrel for Juuls. Roger liked it a lot (without a score), and Wes also commented on the lack of funkiness; still, from his 4.5-star score, I think it’s safe to say he liked the rum from his barrel a bit more than I did the rum from mine.
  • So what’s with the name “Ping”? I asked around and was told that “Ping” was the humourous nickname given to Michael Madsen (the owner of Juuls, the 30th anniversary of which this edition commemorates) in his youth….because he looked something like a penguin, or “pingvin” in Danish.  That’s so funny it almost has to be true, though I must emphasize it’s just something of a Danish urban rum-legend.

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 🙂

Jul 162017
 

#377

Bottled in 2004 at a lukewarm 43%, Bristol Spirits have somehow transcended the living room strength of this classic 30 year old rum and produced one of the best Jamaicans of its kind.  Even under some time pressure, I still had that glass on the go for two full hours, smelling it over and over, tasting it in the tiniest of sips again and again, comparing, retasting, rechecking, making more and more notes, and in the fullproof company of Guyanese and Jamaicans I was trying alongside it, it was a standout of no mean proportions.  We simply do not see rums of this kind any longer – we can with some effort get 15-20 year olds, we may be able to source a few rums in their twenties, but when was the last time you were fortunate enough to try a thirty year old rum?

Bristol Spirits are no stranger to old stocks, of course.  There was the masterful Port Mourant 1980 and that sublime Caroni 1974, to name but two.  These days, they’ve sort of settled into a groove with more sober-minded middle-aged rums, and while I would never say that what they produce now is not up to scratch — what they put out the door is both imaginative and interesting — none of them have that aura of gravitas mixed up with a ballsy “looky here!” middle-finger-to-the-establishment braggadocio…or yes, the restrained majesty, which three decades of ageing confers on this rum.

Because it was clear that every aspect of that age was wrung out and lovingly extracted from the single originating barrel.  No attempt was made to hold a thing back, and this was evident right away on the aroma, which dumbfounded me by being much more complex and even pungent for what – let’s face it – is not the world’s most badass rum strength.  It was just so deep. It started out with the richness of burnt leaves and charred canefields after the ritual firing, smouldering in a tropical twilight; caramel, toffee, nutty nougat, almonds, burnt brown sugar, tied together with oak and slightly bitter tannins that did not detract but enhanced. What fruits there were — raisins, prunes, plums for the most part — kept a cool kind of distance which supported the aromas noted above without supplanting them, and around them all was a weird amalgam of melons, squash and citrus zest that I was at a loss to pin down at first…but trust me, it worked. Anyone who loves rums (and not just Jamaicans) would go ape for this thing.

The taste was similarly top-notch, and while I would be hard-pressed to tell you the profile screamed “funk” or “dunder” or “Jamaican”, I must also tell you that what was presented had so much to offer that the rum skated past such concerns. It started out with traditional dark caramel, a little glue and warm dark fruit – raisins, black cake, tamarind – and then went for broke.  Over two hours it developed tastes of honey, cherries, flowers, charred wood, ashes and hot damp earth after a rain, underlain with a sort of laid back but crisp flavours of green apples, lemon zest and nuts, and finished off with a surprisingly long fade redolent of raspberries and ripe cherries and vanilla.  Quite frankly, one of the reasons I kept at it for so long was simply that I found myself more and more impressed with it as time went on: to the very end it never stopped developing.

As with many really good rums – and yes, I call this one of them – there’s more to it than simple tasting notes.  The mark of a rum / rhum / ron which transcends its provenance and age and goes for something special, is one that either makes one ponder the rumiverse while drinking it, or one that brings up clear associated memories in the mind of the reviewer – to some extent both were the case here. It was not clearly and distinctively a Jamaican rum, and I wondered how the distinctive profile of the island was so muted here….was it the long ageing in Europe, the original barrel, a peculiarity of the distillate, or the still itself? And as time went on I stopped worrying about it, and was drawn back into my memories of my youth in the Caribbean, the scent of burning canefields, fresh pressed cane juice on shaved ice sold by a snow-cone vendor outside Bourda, and the first taste of a local hooch in a beergarden down the coast served neat with a bowl of ice.  Such things are in themselves irrelevant, but also part and parcel of what makes this rum, to me, quite special, the more so since it happens so rarely.

So, yeah, I’m a drooling fanboy (was it that obvious?).  But how could I not be? You have to experience the emphatic boom trapped within the otherwise standard proof to understand my enthusiasm.  Muted yes; quiet yes; not as intense – of course.  One cannot outrun one’s shadow and get out from under 43%.  But just smell the thing, taste the thing, savour the thing — like some of the Compagnie’s rums, it makes a great case for Continental ageing. You could almost imagine some half-crazed, giggling bottler, half-in and half-out the barrel with a tiny teaspoon and clean white cloth, trying to get the very last drop out just to make sure that nothing was wasted.  Given what was achieved here, assuredly none of it was. It’s just half a shot shy of great.

(90/100)


Other notes

There is no data on the originating estate.  I’m guessing here, but believe it’s either a Longpond or a Monymusk, just on the taste.  If anyone has more info, feel free to correct me on this one.