Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live.  Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013, was one of these.  It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XO – which can be found practically everywhere and is known around the world – but it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%).  Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds rum – a better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely.  For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptional – though admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way.  It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?”

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste.  It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known.  Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.  

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembled – but originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me.  The whole experience was also not so much light as underperfoming … more than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely right – the rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados.  What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both.  Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)

Dec 012016
 

mauritius-club-rum

Too young, too dressed up, when it didn’t need to be

#321

The Mauritius Club Rum 2014 (Sherry Finish) is an interesting essay in the craft, and for my money, slightly better than the Gold of Mauritius Dark rum I looked before. The sherry finishing makes its own statement and adds that extra fillip of flavour which elevates the whole experience in a way that drowning the Gold in port casks for a year did not.  Note that there’s a strange disconnect between what I was told in 2015 by the brand rep, who informed me it was aged three months in oak casks (not what type) and then finished for two weeks in sherry casks; and what I see online these days, where the buying public is informed it is aged for six to eight months in South African wine barrels before finishing in sherry casks.

Well, whatever. Whether three months or six, with or without the sherry ageing, the overall profile strikes me as doing too little and hoping for too much, which is a shame – with a few more years under its belt, this could have really turned heads and attracted attention. The things is, ageing can be either done right and for a decent interval (perhaps three years or more, with many believing the sweet spot is between eight and twelve), or dispensed with it altogether (as with the various unaged whites for which I confess a sneaking love).  Go in the middle with less than a year? Plus a finish?…that may just be pushing one’s luck. It’s heading into spiced or flavoured rum territory.

The reason I make these remarks is because when I started nosing it, believing that 40% couldn’t seriously harm me, it lunged out in a schnozz-skewering intensity that caught me unprepared, the more so when had in a series with the far gentler and warmer and more easygoing muffled blanket of the Gold I’d just sampled before.  To be fair though, once it settled down, there were notes of red wine (no surprise), raisins, caramel, chocolate vanilla, and something vaguely sharper, like those chocolate After-Eight mint biscuits.

The palate was softer, smoother, warm rather than hot, after the initial heat burned away..  Again, lots of sweet wine, and the sherry makes itself felt.  Honey, some nuttiness (I was thinking breakfast cereals like cheerios) plus a little fruitiness, cherries, more vanilla, more chocolate and vanilla.  Truth is, too little going on here, and overall, somewhat uncoordinated and quite faint. A 40% strength can be perfectly fine, but it does make for a lesser experience and dampened-down tastes that a shooter wouldn’t capture and a mix would drown and a sipper would disdain.  The finish was okay for such a product, being short and easy, warm, redolent of nuts, more cheerios, honey and a very faint note of tannins. There was some character here, just not enough to suit my preferences.

I know it sounds like I’m dissing the rum, but not really – as noted above, I liked it better than the Gold of Mauritius Dark even though it was younger, which I attribute to a better handling of the blend, and the sherry influence.  Still, it must be said that the rum displayed something of schizoid character, too young and raw to be tamed with the port/sherry for the few months it aged, yet being promoted as being more than an unaged starter (that would lower expectations, which may have been the point).  Moreover, when any maker puts a moniker of a single year on the bottle — “2014” in this case — it creates an impression of something a little special, a “millesime” edition of a good year…and that’s certainly not the case, as it’s simply the year the rum was made.  And lastly, I argue — as was the case with the Gold — that by mixing it up with these external and rather dominating influences, the potential to experience a unique rum originating from a unique location with a very individual taste, was lost — to our detriment.

So after this experience, I resume my search for the definitive rum from the island, the big gun that will put Mauritius on the map and allow us to use it as a quasi-baseline. Something that isn’t mixed, adulterated, finished or otherwise tampered with.  I know it’s out there somewhere – I just have to find it. This one isn’t it.

(79/100)

Jul 052013
 

D3S_7000

A Demerara rum that may not be a true solera in spite of its name. Lovely, affordable, interesting rum.

(#172. 84.5/100)

 ***

With this review, I have finally, after nearly two years of getting around to it, come to the end of the Rum Nation 2010 line of rums I bought all in one fell swoop, after being introduced to the series at Kensington Wine Market’s Raucous Rums tasting back in 2011. Since that time I have become quite a fanboy of Fabio Rossi’s products, and wish I could get more of his yearly releases: largely because I have not tasted a single one that was anything less than impressive (if occasionally different), and this one is no exception.

Bottled at a standard 40%, housed in a barroom bottle and surmounted by a plastic capped cork, the first impression as I nosed it was actually that it reminded me a lot of the El Dorado 21 year old: smoke, rich dried dark fruit (dates, raisins, prunes and black grapes), some oak sap and some burnt sugar and cinnamon, all warm and pleasantly put together. As soon as I noticed the similarity, I hustled downstairs to retrieve my 21 year old. That one proved to be subtly richer, deeper and more complex, as well as a shade drier, but the similarities were quite striking.

The congruence of the two rums’ profiles continued on a tasting. I could taste the relative youth of the No. 14 rum – it lacked something of the supple depth and mastery of the 21 which derived from its ageing. And while it was a solid medium-bodied dark rum of warmth and not fire, it evinced its own character quite handsomely too – the aforementioned flavours of toffee, butterscotch and caramel, prunes and grapes, intertwined with a faint citrus, licorice and baking spices, some woodiness…and an odd, light dancing note threading through the back end, some kind of cashew fruit (not the nut) and (you may not take this seriously) the fire of vinegar soaked red peppers, barely perceptible. In point of fact, it reminded me a lot of more traditional navy rums, like Pusser’s, or even a much improved-upon Lamb’s. The finish was medium long, just a shade dry, and quite clean on the exit, with soft heated velvet caramel and licorice notes to end things off.

So, an ED21 it’s not, though quite good in its own way; it expresses its own differences well, being both original and tasty, a rum which will not piss you off by going wholeheartedly off into its own domain, just sideways enough for you to appreciate it on its own merits. Think of it as a good accompaniment to the El Dorados (12, 15 or 21) without actually being one…each one enhances the others.

If I had an issue at all with the rum it was in the labelling. Rum Nation bought a few barrels of blended bulk Demerara rum from DDL, which contained Port Morant (PM) and Versailles (SV) rums aged around four to six years. The barrels were taken to Italy and transferred into sherry (PX and Oloroso) butts for just over a year of further ageing, after which a few litres of 1997 Enmore rum was added (that comes from the famed Enmore wooden continuous Coffey still now housed at Diamond estate). That final blend was what I was sampling, and therefore for a true age statement based on the youngest portion of the rum, I guess it’s best regarded as a five year old. The question is whether that process of blending constitutes a solera system…in this case I’d suggest not. This doesn’t make the rum any less than what it is, but for those who really prefer a solera and want that sweeter, slightly thicker profile, the implication of the label may cause concern.

Rum Nation regards this rum as something of an entry level product, much as they did the Barbados 2001 10 year old. Based on the price, that is all well and good, I suppose. But you know, I enjoyed the rum, think it is a good blend of the Guyanese rums that constitute its core DNA, and for what it cost, it’s a pleasant, impressive sipping-quality rum that I drank quite a lot of and would highly recommend for those on a budget who like darker fare. It may be 40%, it may not be a true solera, and it may just be $50, but if you like navy rums in general and Demerara rums in particular, you wouldn’t be out to lunch by springing for this lovely dark product.

 

Other Notes

The No 14 moniker in the name is meant to state that the oldest rum in the blend is 14 years old.

The “Solera” title on the label will be omitted from future iterations

 

 

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.


Other Notes

 

Apr 112013
 

D7K_1222

A very good double-aged Nicaraguan rum, from France.  If this is what a random selection of Plantation rums is like, then I have high hopes for all the others.

(#154. 85.5/100)

***

Finally, I have managed to start acquiring some of the Plantation rums (long regarded by me as a major hole in the reviews of rum “series”), and if the Law of Mediocrity holds true, then this is a set of bottlings that would remedy all my bitching about the inconsistencies of the Renegade line. If it is true that the characteristic of the parts is a function of the whole, then we’ll be in for a treat as we work our way through them.

The Plantation line of rums is made by Cognac Ferrand of France, based on stocks bought from around the Caribbean and Central and South America, and some of their uniqueness rests in the fact that they are finished in cognac casks prior to final bottling (so they can be regarded as double aged). This gives the rums in the line a certain heft and complexity that many comment on quite favourably, to say nothing of the line stepping away from 40% as a matter of habit – this one from Nicaragua was bottled at a pleasant 42%. Note also that Plantation indulges the practice of dosing – the addition of small amounts of sugar or caramel to create the overall assembly.

D7K_1227

The bottle itself conformed to the Plantation standard of presentational ethics: a straw-netting enclosed barroom bottle, with the label identifying the year the rum was laid down (2001 in this case), and a map of the source country. I guess they saved the really fancy presentation for stuff like the Barbados 20th Anniversary edition, which was nothing near to this kind of standard (it was better), yet I have no fault to find here, since aside from the lack of an age statement, it provided most of what I needed.

It’s been a while since I tasted the Flor de Cana series of rums (my stocks are long since drained and not renewed), but I remembered the solidity of those, the depth of flavour, whether simple or complex, and they remained among my favourites until supplanted by other Panamanian and Guyanese expressions. This rum brought back all my memories of why I liked Nicaraguan products so much

The nose was deep and rich, redolent of vanilla, oak (not excessive, very well balanced), caramel, citrus (orange peel, even lime zest) and peaches (minus the cream). There were herbal notes flitting around the initial delectable aromas, and I reveled in the lemon grass scents which reminded me somewhat of crushed lime leaves in spicy Thai cuisine. There was no offensive astringency or bite here, just solid, complex notes I spent an inordinate amount of time admiring.

The palate was lovely. 42% ABV sent a pleasantly heated, medium bodied spirit to announce its prescence with a smoothly powerful fanfare. Honey and caramel flavours led the charge, with subtler tastes of pineapple, a ripe-but-firm mango and vanilla rounding things out. The Nicaragua 2001 was not overly sweet (so what dosing they did do was judiciously restrained, at least), slightly dry without being either cloyingly sugary, or acerbically briny. The rum was all well-balanced flavour and profile, speaking well for more expensive and older rums up the chain of the Plantation line. And I had little fault to find with the finish, which was longish, slightly dry and gave me some oak and vanilla that was not exceptional, just well put together

 D7K_1228

What’s not to admire about a rum like this? Much like the Dictador 20 written about some weeks back, it displayed a solid mastery of rum-making fundamentals. It’s probably the finishing in cognac casks that gave it that extra note of complexity and balance I so enjoyed here, with the body being somewhat enhanced by the sugar (estimated at 14 g/L). In part, I see the production of these limited edition bottlings by European makers as an act of homage for the traditions of the old rum makers and their lost arts. W.G. Sebald, whose works often concerned the loss of memory, once wrote about journeys made through the half-abandoned remainders of the past, through signs that men had once been here and are now forgotten. When you try the Nicaragua 2001, you see what rum can be, once was…and maybe what it will aspire to in years to come.


Other notes

  • The Law of Mediocrity isn’t quite what it sounds like: it basically takes the position that if one takes a random sample from a set and that sample is good, then it suggests that others in the set will also be.
  • There is no literature I can find that says precisely how old the rum is. Of course, since it was casked in 2001, it has to be less than fifteen years old. One German site stated it was six years old, but I dunno…..
  • There is some confusion in the online literature as to whether this is pot still or column still distillate. However, the Cognac-Ferrand site notes it as coming from a columnar still.
  • People have differeing opinions on the matter of additional sugar.  Some like it, some don’t, some are indifferent. The 14g/L number is taken from The Fat Rum Pirate’s list.

 

 

 

 

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
 

 

This lovely product will always be one of the top sipping rums of my 2012 experience. The awards it has garnered since 2007 state boldly that many others think so too.

(#138. 88.5/100)

***

Stirred by the Rum Howler’s listing of the Plantation Barbados XO in his intriguing top 30 rum list, and having brought back a bottle from the amazing Rum Depot store in Berlin back in August (yes, it was gathering dust for several months, them’s the breaks when you have a day job and a family and other interests), I resolved to check it out after finishing off the St Lucia series. It was run up against three enormously different rums which could not possibly be mistaken for each other: the Renegade Cuba 1998Downslope Distillery’s wonky 6-month wine-barrel aged rum from Colorado about which I can’t say enough bad things, and the amazing 2012 Rum Nation Demerara 1989-2012 23 year old about which I can’t say enough good things.

The Plantation series of aged rums from Cognac-Ferrand are the major remaining hole in my review lineup (as of the beginning of 2013) of widely available commercial rums, if you don’t count other rather more exclusive European boutique makers like Bruichladdich, Cadenhead, Berry & Rudd, Bristol Spirits or Fassbind (among others) which rarely touch the Great White North. Knowing what I know now regarding how to begin a review site of popular spirits, I really should start with the younger Plantation variations and move up the scale, but when you have twenty to chose from and can only pick one, you might also do as I did, and start at the top…assuming your wallet holds out.

And I’m glad I did. Barbados rums tend to be on the soft side, but this one was like a feather pillow for the nose, truly…it handily eclipsed the Mount Gay 1703 with scents of white chocolate, buttery toffee, the nutmeg of a good eggnog, vanilla and caramel, and a lovely background of ground coconut shavings in a melange that was utterly terrific. It was a rich sensory love-in of a nose, solidly constructed, soft and breezy and if you ever wanted to have a Christmas rum to sip by a roaring fire, you would never have to go further than this one. I thought of it like a liquid, warm Hagen-Dasz, with all the sweetness that implies.

The palate was similarly excellent: sweet and a shade briny (not too much), soft as a mother’s hug before school on a cold day. It had hints of bananas and orange peel on the medium-heavy body, salty caramel, white chocolate vanilla. My lord this was good, rich and pungent and smooth as a cat’s tummy fur, with just a shade of heat to lend character, a touch of oaky spice and burnt coconut…if this rum was equated to a painting, it would be a lush impressionist Monet or Degas, colourful, vibrant and above all, real. And for once the finish completed the overall picture without failing, warm, medium long and rich, with traces of almonds, citrus and oak on the slightly astringent close.

The XO is a rum that is a blend of Plantations’s “oldest reserves” (not sure how old these reserves were, since no further details are available). The blends are first aged in Barbados in ex-bourbon casks, then taken to France where they undergo secondary ageing in smaller French Oak casks for a further year to eighteen months. I must concede that this process of double ageing (somewhat akin to the Dos Maderas 5+3 or 5+5) is much to my taste…it provides the resultant spirit with a depth and creaminess that is quite becoming and is absolutely meant for leisurely exploration when time is not a factor and a buzz is not on the menu.

As I noted above, this is a solidly built, well presented, utterly traditional all-round excellent premium rum. At €45 I think it might be one of the better value for money rums available for a 40% product. That sentence should be parsed carefully, because what this means is that it is superlative at genuflecting to all the expected traditional rum expectations…but without rising above or vaulting beyond (or violating) them…it lacks the passive agressive adventurousness of Fabio Rossi’s Rum Nation Demerara 1989 23 year old (45%) or the stunning-if-somewhat-oversweet Millonario XO (40%). This is not to diss the Plantation product, mind you, just to give you a sense of both its quality and what else it could have been had someone taped a pair of balles to it.

I wish I could tell you which rums in the Plantation lineup this one compares well to, but I can’t (Plantation Rums are not widely available in Canada). Suffice to say, the Anniversary XO is phenomenal taken merely by itself. It has a complex softness and style recalling the St. Nicholas Abbey 10 or 12 year old, or most of the top Panamanian rums, and a finish that is close to conjugal harmonies. If it has a weakness at all, it’s in hewing too closely to the profile of rums, and not daring to step a little outside the demarcations: I think that had it done so, beefed itself up, perhaps aged it a little differently, they may have been one of the top premiums in the world which all others had to beat. As it is, it’s a great sipping rum that any aficionado should have on his shelf, and share generously with people who simply don’t get how good a premium rum can be when made by people who are fully invested – and who care about – the resultant ambrosias they create.

***

 

 

Mar 302013
 

Fair warning: the wine is strong on this one.

(#137. 71/100)

***

I would like to wax rhapsodic on this 40% rum; spout literate encomiums to its puissance and scintillating quality, write heady metaphors with words like “ambrosia,””zoweee!” and “wtf”. I’d like to share with you, reader, the happiness of Unicaworld (“would place this alongside my good Martinique rums on my top shelf”) or the Whatsnewinbooze blog (“…a great product from a new distillery…” and “This is an absolute must try…”) or the remarks of the Big Kahuna, when he referred to this rum as one of two shining standouts he tried from Downslope Distilling.

Unfortunately I can’t. And the short version is that in my opinion the rum, sorry to say, doesn`t work. At all.

Have you any idea how frustrating that is? Here I am, tasting rums in their tens and hundreds on mostly my own dime, month in and month out, fighting the long defeat in a desperate championing of rums in a resolutely whisky drinking country (and as part of a primarily whisky drinking book club), plaintively trumpeting the case for distilleries to go beyond, seek new horizons, rise above 40%, push the envelope, experiment…and now this rum comes along from an enthusiastic bunch of guys in Colorado who’re trying to do everything I ask for, and it…just….fails. Aaargh. It’s enough to drive a man to drink, honestly.

Downslope Distilling is an outfit set up in Colorado in 2008 partly because of some peculiar laws regarding making and distributing spirits in that state, and partly as a consequence of the rabid interest of its founders in producing what one might term craft spirits: reading around I get the impression their real interest is whiskey and vodkas, perhaps gins, with rums almost an afterthought, but maybe that’s just me. At end, I see it as a logical evolution of micro-breweries which took off in popularity some years back. Hey, we can make a decent beer…let’s try something different.

Now, with respect to its rums, DD uses unprocessed Maui cane sugar as the base from which to distil its blend, running it through a pot still twice, and then, without any filtration, chucks it right into a barrel that once held wine – each barrel used (or set of barrels) held a different wine so output is not only limited to several hundred bottles per individual run, but widely divergent from batch to batch depending on the wine it once held. I suspect that the bottle I got was aged in Merlot casks from the Napa valley where they host those popular limo tours (other bottlings are aged in Tokaji casks which is a sweet dessert wine from Hungary, or in California Chardonnay casks).

When I poured this light blonde spirit into my glass, what I smelled from three paces was a cloying reek of enormously beefed up Muscatel grapes, as if the Legendario from Cuba had enhanced itself by snorting enough coke to keel over a Himalayan yak. I mean, it was so pervasive that I could barely make out anything else – not even the usual burnt sugar and caramel notes that so characterize most rums. That’s not surprising, since they use sugar, not molasses to begin with, so to some extent what we’re getting here is an agricole. It was raw and harsh and burning, grudgingly gave up a hint of nutmeg and grassy notes, before morphing into a wine on the edge of turning to vinegar, or overripe oranges just starting to go. Sharp and unappealing to me.

I was not reassured by the palate either: yes the wine aged rum was sweet, but also briny, and as sharp and grasping on the tongue as a vindictive ex-wife’s lawyer. It was dry as a bone and even after several minutes, all one could ascertain taste-wise was more grapes and more table plonk — way, way too much — that flooded the taste buds with their own omniscience so intensely that eventually I just had to give up, because nothing was gonna make it through those three hundred Spartans of wine. About the only thing that even marginally redeemed what I was tasting was the attendant finish, quite long, with banana, cinnamon and bitter wine notes. Not enough to save it. If they had not labelled the rum as such, I wouldn’t have known it had it been placed before me blind.

Part of the issue here is the ageing. Rums are aged in oak for years – at least one, preferably three to five, and good ones for many more – and then finished in wine casks for a few months. To try and combine the two processes for six months in barrels that impart such enormous influence is too little of one and too much of the other, and it sinks this drink utterly. No, really – it’s too raw to have neat, and I could not find a mix that even remotely ameliorated the overarching wine bedrock. This is a product in need of severe oak support for at perhaps another five years. It was a mistake to issue it so early, since what it accomplished was to give startup rum makers a bad name and makes buyers avoid rum-creating micro-distillers on principle (to the detriment of all of us boozers). Compare this hastily issued rum to the years of preparation St Nicholas Abbey did in the late 2000s before issuing their first rum, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

In fine, Downslope Distilling’s wine aged rum is too sharp, too young and too far out to lunch for me to even admire its adventurousness much as I usually applaud such efforts. What this padawan needs is a Yoda to guide it to adolescence, and a little less enthusiasm from online writers or distillery visitors who should be more stinting with their praise and more comparative in their approach (come on, are you seriously trying to tell me this rum compares magnificently to a top Martinique agricole? gimme a break). In years to come, Downslope Distilling may grow into something, and I really hope they do, because at least they’re trying, and have the advantage of enthusiasm, obsession, perhaps even love for what they do (so more power to them for that); however, right now, they’d do better to be more self-critical about the hooch they’re passing off as quality. They may have thought they were putting some James Brown into their spirit: what they got was his sweat instead of his style.

***

Because this is a small distillery not really that well known, and because I’m quoting directly, I’m including my references here:

http://unicaworld.com/foodwinekitchen/foods-and-wines/wines-and-spirits/5917/wine-weirdos-and-downslope-distilling-barrel-aged-rum/  “…would place this alongside my good Martinique rums on my top shelf.” As well, the “James Brown” comment.

http://whatsnewinbooze.blogspot.com/2010/05/downslope-distilling-wine-barrel-aged.html “…This is a great product from a new distillery…” and “This is an absolute must try…”

http://www.bigkahunabrew.com/2012/02/downslope-distilling-centennial-colo.html The Big Kahuna commented that this was “…wonderful with two shining standouts…” referring to both this one and a vanilla flavoured variant.

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 – in years to come they came to be called independent bottlers) 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.