Jun 172019
 

It’s remarkable how fast the SBS line of rums have exploded onto the rumconsciousness of the world. This is a series released by 1423, the same Danish outfit which made the really quite elegant 2008 Mauritius rum I wrote about with such love a while back, and has received enormously positive word of mouth on social media for the last year or so.  The only similar company I can call to mind that rose so quickly in the public’s esteem would be the Compagnie des Indes, which shared a similarly exacting (and excellent) sense of which barrels to choose and which rums to bottle.

Three things make Jamaica in general — and Worthy Park and Hampden in particular — the current belle du jour for rums.  One there’s the fairy tale story of old and noble rum houses in previously shabby circumstances rising phoenix-like from the ashes of near closure and bankruptcy, to establish their own brands and not just sell bulk.  Two, there’s that thing about pure rums, pot still rums, traditionally made, from lovingly maintained, decades-old equipment, eschewing anonymous blends. And three, there’s the ever-expanding circle of rum enthusiasts who simply can’t get enough of the dunder, the hogo, the rancio, that funky flavour for which the island is famous.

By that standard, this rum presses all the right buttons for Jamaican rum lovers.  It has much in common with both the Wild Tiger rum, and the NRJ series released by Velier last year, and some of the Habitation Velier rums before that.  It’s a Hampden rum, massively ester-laden at close the the bleeding max of 1600, thereby earning the marque of DOK (which actually stands for Dermot Owen Kelly-Lawson, a Hampden distiller who died in 1934). It’s unaged except for six months’ rest in PX barrels, and released at a firm but not obnoxious 59.7% ABV – more than good enough for Government work.

Now me, after the shattering experiences with the TECA and TECC (and to some extent the Wild Tiger), I approached it cautiously.  I spoke gently, kept my head bowed low, and did not make eye contact immediately. Maybe the PX casks’ ageing ameliorated the furious acid-sweet and rotting rancio of such high ester funk bombs, but I wasn’t taking any chances. It might have ninja knives hidden behind the demure facade of the minimalist labelling.

I needn’t have worried. The nose started off with the dust of old clothes cupboards with one too many mothballs, leavened with fruits, lots of fruits, all sweet and acidic and very sharp (a hallmark of the DOK, you might say).  Pineapples, yellow mangoes, ripe apricots and peaches, cashews, and soursop all duelled for bragging rights here. It’s what was underneath all those ripe and rotting and tear-inducing aromas that made it special – because after a while one could sense acetones, glue, nail polish, damp sawdust mixed in with white chocolate, sour cream, and vanilla in a nose that seemed to stretch from here to the horizon. I had this rum on the go for three hours, so pungent and rich were the smells coming from it, and it never faltered, never stopped.

And the palate was right up there too.  Not for this rum the thick odour of mouldering rancio which occasionally mars extreme high-ester rums – here the sherry influence tamed the flavours and gave it an extra dimension of texture which was very pleasant (and perhaps points the way forward for such rums in the future).  The tastes were excellent: sweet honey, dates and almonds, together with licorice, bitter chocolate, cumin, a dusting of nutmeg and lemon zest. As it opened up, the parade of fruits came banging through the door: dark grapes, five-finger, green apples, pineapples, unripe kiwi fruit, more soursop, more lemon zest…merde, was there anything that was not stuffed in here? As for the finish, really good – long, dry, hot, breathy.  Almost everything I had tasted and smelled came thundering down the slope to a rousing finale, with all the fruits and spices and ancillary notes coming together…a little unbalanced, true, a little sharp, yes, a shade “off” for sure, but still very much an original.

Summing up then. The SBS Jamaican 2018 is a Hampden rum, though this is nowhere mentioned on the label.  It’s a furiously crisp and elegant drink, a powerfully and sharply drawn rum underneath which one could always sense the fangs lying in wait, biding their time.  I noted that some of its tastes are a bit off, and one could definitely taste what must have been a much more pronounced hogo. The sherry notes are actually more background than dominant, and it was the right decision, I think, to make it a finish rather than a full out maturation as this provides roundness and filler, without burying the pungent profile of the original.

The other day I was asked which of the Jamaican high ester funky chickens I thought was best: the TECC, the Wild Tiger, or this SBS version.  After thinking about it, I’d have to say the Wild Tiger was rough and raw and ready and needed some further taming to become a standout – it scored decently, but trotted in third. The real difficulty came with the other two.  On balance I’d have to say the TECC had more character, more depth, more overall maturity…not entirely surprising given its age and who picked it. But right behind it, for different reasons, came the SBS Jamaica. I thought that even for its young age, it comported itself well.  It was tasty, it was funky to a fault, the PX gave it elegance and a nice background, and overall it was a drink that represented the profile of the high ester marques quite well.

DOK Jamaican rums that are identified and marketed as such are a recent phenomenon, and were previously not released at all (and if they were, it was hardly mentioned). They’ve quickly formed an audience all their own, and irrespective of the sneering dismissal of the marque by some distillers who persist in seeing them as flavouring agents not meant for drinking, this is pissing into the wind — because nothing will stop the dunderheads from getting their fix, as the rapid online sellout of the SBS’s 217 bottles demonstrated.  When one tastes a rum like this one, it’s not hard to understand the attraction. So what if it does not conform to what others say a Jamaican rum should be? Who cares about it being too hogo-centric? It’s distinctive to a fault, nicely finished, well assembled and an all-round good drink — and that may be the very mark of individuality to which many a DOK made in the future can and should aspire.

(#633)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • According to 1423, the rum was freshly distilled in 2018 and aged for six months in four 40 litre casks, then blended together, rested and issued outside the normal release cycle, in November 2018, as a sort of individual bottling.
  • All ageing done in Europe
  • A week after this review came out, Flo of Barrel aged Thoughts posted a comparison of six DOK rums including this one (in German), which is worth going through.
Apr 032019
 

It’s entirely possible that in 2004 when this rum was released, just before the movement towards accuracy in labelling got a push start, that a label was hardly considered to be prime real estate worthy of mention. That might be why on this Moon Imports rum from 1974, Port Mourant is spelled without a “U”, the date of bottling and ultimate age of the rum is not mentioned and it’s noted as a “rum agricol – pot still.” Hang on, what….?

So the search for more info begins. Now, if you’re looking on Moon Imports’ own website to find out what this rum is all about and what’s with the peculiarity of the label, let me save you some trouble – it isn’t there. None of the historical, old bottlings they made in their heydey are listed, and in an odd twist, no rums seem to have been released since 2017. It’s possible that since they took over Samaroli in 2008 (Sr. Silvio was reported not to have found anyone within his family to hand over to, and sold it on to a fellow Italian in Genoa…no, not that one) they realized that Samaroli had all the rum kudos and brand awareness of single barrel rums, and disengaged the Moon Imports brand from that part of the business and shifted it over. My conjecture only, however.

Samaroli had been around since 1968 and Moon Imports from 1980, and shared the practice of doing secondary finishes or complete ageings of their continentally aged stock in other barrels. In this case they took a PM distillate from (gasp!) 1974 and either aged it fully or finished it in sherry casks, which would create a very interesting set of flavours indeed. The double wooden pot still from Port Mourant is one of the most famous stills in existence, after all, and its profile is endlessly dissected and written about in rum blogs the world over, so to tamper with it seems almost like heresy punishable by burning at the stake while doused in overproof DOK. But let’s see how it comes out at the other end….

Rich. Great word to start with, even at 46%. Those sherry barrels definitely have an influence here, and the first aromas of the dark ruby-amber rum are of licorice, dusty jute rice bags stored in an unaired warehouse, overlain with deep smells of raisins, dark grapes, sweet red wine. If you want a break from light Latins or the herbal clarity of the agricoles, here’s your rum. Better yet, let it open for some time. Do that and additional soft notes billow gently out – more licorice, molasses, cinnamon, and damp brown sugar, prune juice. There is a slight undercurrent of tannic bitterness you can almost come to grips with, but it’s fended off by (and provides a nice counterpoint to) flowers, unsweetened rich chocolate, cedar and pine needles. I could have gone on smelling this thing for hours, it was that enticing.

With respect to the palate, at 46%, much as I wish it were stronger, the rum is simply luscious, perhaps too much so – had it been sweeter (and it isn’t) it might have edged dangerously close to a cloying mishmash, but as it is, the cat’s-tongue-rough-and-smooth profile was excellent. It melded leather and the creaminess of salt butter and brie with licorice, brown sugar, molasses and butter cookies (as a hat tip to them barking-mad northern vikings, I’ll say were Danish). Other tastes emerge: prunes and dark fruit – lots of dark fruit. Blackberries, plums, dates. Very dense, layer upon layer of tastes that combined really really well, and providing a relatively gentle but tasteful summary on the finish. Sometimes things fall apart (or disappear entirely) at this stage, but here it’s like a never ending segue that reminds us of cedar, sawdust, sugar raisins, plums, prunes, and chocolate oranges.

Well now. This was one seriously good rum. Sometimes, with so much thrumming under the hood, only a stronger strength can make sense of it, but no, here is a meaty, sweetie, fruity smorgasbord of many things all at once…and while I acknowledge that the sherry influence is responsible for a lot of that – some may consider it a bit overbearing – I enjoyed this thing thoroughly. 1974 was definitely a good year.

It gets the the score it gets because I thought that even for a 46% rum and the maturation philosophy, the excellence and panoply of its tastes was exceptional, and it deserves the rating. But can’t help but wonder if it had a little extra something stuffed into its shorts, or whether the sherry casks weren’t a bit livelier than expected (or not entirely empty). Not all such maturations, finishings or double ageings always work, but I have to admit, the Moon Imports 1974 succeeded swimmingly.  And while the rum is admittedly not cheap, I maintain that if you’re into deep dark and rich Demerara variations of great age from Ago, here’s one that’s playing your tune and calling you to the floor, to take your turn with it…and see if you’re a fit.

(#613)(90/100)


Other notes

  • For a brief history of Moon Imports and their bottlings, Marco of Barrel Aged Mind did his usual exemplary job.
  • No data on outturn exists.
Mar 262013
 

Dos Maderas 5+5 follows on from the middling 5+3 underproofed variation, and is in all ways a better rum. Better body, better nose, better taste, better finish. It takes everything the former did and takes such a sharp left turn on it, that you might be forgiven for thinking it’s an utterly different product, made by another company that stole part of the recipe and then ran off the reservation with it.

First posted March 23, 2012 on Liquorature. 

(#94. 83/100)

***

Just sitting there on your table top and opening up in your glass, the 5+5 is a thudding, concussive blast of cheery dark, brown-sugared rum of uncommon complexity. This is a rum that was never sad, never maudlin, never hated the world – this rum loves you like your almost-best buddy who always had that sh*t eating grin on his face and never outgrew slapping you too hard on the back.

The 5+5 was a full strength (40%) rum originating in stocks, like the Dos Maderas 5+3, from Barbados and Guyana, and aged five years in the Caribbean prior to shipping to Spain (yes, Spain) and then aged a further three years in casks which Williams & Humbert once used to make “Dos Cortados” Palo Cortado sherry, and a further two that were used to make Don Guido Pedro Ximenez sherry (hence the PX in the title). As both of these sherries were aged on average for two decades, the residual flavours in the casks are what give the 5+5 some of its profile (notably the sweetness). It was introduced in 2009 and immediately won a gold medal in the RumXP International tasting Competition at the 2010 Miami Rum Renaissance.

On appearance, the bottle was similar to its weaker younger sib the 5+3 (and was in a nice cylinder, as befitted its luxury cachet), so I’ll pass over that except to note the 5+5 was darker, with touches of deep red in the bottle and the glass. As soon as I decanted, I got a really nice medium bodies sniff of dark brown sugar, molasses, liquorice and chocolate, alleviated by lighter profiles of a good sweet sherry.

But this was a mere intro to the main act, because the palate was a lap ahead of that. Powerful and smooth, like a good Benz limo. Chocolate, tobacco, leather, anise/mint, honey, nuts and liquorice all mated spastically on the tongue until they settled down into a harmonious blend of surprising complexity. St Michael just opened a biblical seal there. I burped gently and birds fell out of the tree. The fade was a it less spectacular: at least it was long; it preserved the memory of that surge of power the palate teased with, without actually following it through to a satisfying finish, but I did note that it left licorice, caramel and nuts (plus maybe figs) on the exit, so points there. Overall, a very solid, very good rum, with one drawback I have to note: you’ll realize after a while that the central core of caramel, brown sugar, molasses and licorice takes on a dominance that is a shade startling…kinda sneaked up on me.

The Bodega Williams & Humbert goes back over a century. It was based on a winery founded in 1877 by Sir Alexander Williams (a supposed admirer and connoisseur of sherries) and Arthur Humbert, a specialist in international relations (don’t go looking in Wikipedia, neither name is to be found there). These days Williams and Humbert also produce the noted Dos Maderas PX and Ron Malabar rums and have lent their name to a Spanish company that acquired them, José Medina y Compañía; the company is well known for their solera systems, brandies, wines and sherries and if not well known in North America, is a bigger player in Europe.

I find myself with conflicted feelings regarding this rum. That it is a good one is beyond dispute. It’s deep, dark and has a powerful and distinctive taste profile. It ranks alongside the Pussers 15English Habour 10El Dorado 15 and St Nicholas Abbey 8. It has the oomph its puerile predecessor the 5+3 lacked, is complex and well blended and tastes just wonderful…and at $60 in Calgary, is value for money. So why the qualification? I think, now that I run it past all the candidates above, that it’s that honey/brown-sugar core…it gets a bit too overwhelming, and you may not always appreciate that. In that sense it shares (to me, but maybe not to you) the failings of the El Dorado 25 year old

So yes, I’m giving it (what for me is) a high score to reflect those qualities I appreciate, and will concede its overall quality. I don’t believe it won the prizes it did because a lot of people felt sorry for it.  But as I’ve remarked before, we drink rums for many reasons, at many points in the timeline of our mental state – I simply want to make the buyer aware that this dark sweet backbone exists, and if it works one day when you’re feeling maudlin, or a shade romantic, then it may just as easily fail the next time, when you’re as savagely vituperative as a mauled ex-spouse with a vengeful bent and an uzi, and the 5+5’s smoothly irritating and determined good cheer may be the last thing you want…or need.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.