Jan 282018
 

#483

The History Collection 1715 “Isle de France” Cuvée Spéciale, in spite of being made from cane juice, reminded me rather more of an El Dorado rum than a true agricole, and with the History Collection’s 1814 “Mauritius” Cuvée Grande Reserve we’re looking at today, similar thoughts occurred to me…albeit about a different country. Perhaps that’s the marker of a rum that lingers in the mind and titillates the senses – it reminds you of something, but pinning it down proves elusive…and then it turns out to be quite a distinct product in its own right, as this one is.

So, that said, and similarities aside, it’s instructive to assess the achievement of St. Aubin in producing a rhum that — even at 40%  — was no slouch to sample: it had the same rich and fruity aromas of the Isle de France, brown sugar, cherries in syrup, pineapple, peaches, apricots, vanilla, and to distinguish it from its sibling (perhaps), also a series of coffee and musty, sawdust-y, cereal-y back-end notes.  Sprinkled with raspberries.  What with a hint of chocolate in there someplace, I was actually moving away from comparing the nose to an El Dorado, and relocating myself to Colombia, know what I mean?  This thing was like a crisper Dictador 20 with just enough of the agricole background shimmering through to provide a clue as to its origins.

The nose told a tale that would be repeated right down the line, and what I smelled was pretty much what I tasted, with a few variations here and there.  It was light and clean, yet displaying darker, muskier spicier notes as well: vanilla, coffee, licorice and some sharp tannins, with the musty long-disused-attic tastes remaining.  Some fruits – peaches and cherries for the most part – stayed in the background.  The core was anise and sawdust and unsweetened chocolate, and overall it presented as somewhat dry.  Quite nice — if it fell down at all it was in the finish, which was more licorice and chocolate, thin tart fruits (gooseberries perhaps) and after a few hours, it took on a metallic tang of old ashes doused with water that I can’t say I entirely cared for.

Some background. The date on the bottle (1814) relates to the the Treaty of Paris signed at the end of the Napoleonic Wars by the warring nations of Europe, and it was this treaty which gave Guadeloupe back to France (it had been ceded to Sweden (!!) for a while), but which also formally confirmed Mauritius to be a colony of Great Britain (who had held it since 1810). I was informed that the rhum is cane juice based, 30% pot still 10 year old from 2004, and 70% column still (stored for six years in an inert inox tank), — which therefore does not makes the rum a 10 year old in spite of the bottling in 2014, and so I have had to retitle and amend this post, after checking with St. Aubin directly. Oh and there are 5218 bottles in the outturn, so probably enough for anyone who wants one to get one.

As noted on the Ile de France, by the way, you should expect some dosing here (caramel and “natural flavours”, not sugar, I was informed), and that’s evident after some switching back and forth between a true agricole and this one…not enough to mess it up, but noticeable enough after a while.  On the plus side it gentles the whole experience down a mite, makes it smoother and quieter and more sippable for those who like softer profiles to their rums (plus of course, sweeter ones); on the negative side it dampens and mutes a profile which doesn’t really need that kind of tampering – it’s good enough as it stands.  Underneath the muffling effect of the caramel addition, you can sense what it was and what was there, but it’s like listening to music underwater…the full impact and effect of the symphony is lost. And that’s a shame because I’d be much more interested to see what it was like when pure – based on the quality of what I was sampling, that was probably quite something.

(84/100)


Other notes

As stated above, current versions of the rum are only partly 10 years old, although the components remain the same as older ones – the 10 YO pot still component replaces the 7 YO portion. The label on the bottle I was sold was an older one which is now being changed to eliminate the age statement.  So even if your label says 7, you’re not precisely getting that.

Dec 302016
 

A spectacular rum from FourSquare (and Velier), perhaps the best Bajan they’ve ever made.

#332

***

This is a rum that screaming aficionados were waiting for like fans at a Justin Bieber or Beyonce concert (or the Rolling Stones, maybe), and no write-up of the thing could be complete without mentioning the unbelievable sales pattern it displayed…in my entire rum-purchasing experience, I’ve never seen anything like it. The Velier/FourSquare collaboration was making the rounds of various masterclasses in festivals around the world for almost a year before actually going on sale, and then, when it became available in August 2016 (primarily in Europe), it sold out in fifteen minutes.  All this without a single formal review being issued, just word of mouth.

The only comparator in recent memory that I can think of might be the Panamonte XXV, which also flew off the shelves, and which also illustrates how far along the rum world has come in less than five years.  When I got that one, it was considered one of the best rums of its kind, receiving raves across the board – and indeed, for its age (25 years), strength (40%) and price ($400) it was well positioned at the top of the food chain…back then.  But even in 2012 many of us aficionados had moved on past the self imposed 40% limitation, and while the Panamonte was certainly a good product, it was also, perhaps, a high water mark for standard proof rums – people who know enough and have enough to want to drop that kind of coin, have by now migrated past that anemic proofage and demand cask strength, definitively pure rums which are made by trusted sources.  This is why Arome’s five hundred bottle outturn of their new Panamanian 28 year old, about which not much is known aside from the marketing campaign and some FB dustups, is likely to be met with indifference from those who actually know their rums (though not from those with money), while 2400 bottles of FourSquare’s ten year old have become unavailable faster than you can say “wtf” in Bajan.

And once the bottle gets cracked, you can understand why.  Because it’s an amazing rum, sold at a (low) price that would be an insult if it wasn’t so good, for something that ticks all the boxes: cask strength, check; no additives, check; issued in collaboration with one of the most famous names in the pure-rumworld, check; by a distillery long known for championing a lack of additives, check; by being trotted out at exclusive masterclasses where word of mouth made it a must-have, check.  This thing is like an exquisite small foreign film that gains accolades in the filmfest circuit  before heading off to the oscars and cleaning up there and at the box office.

Can any rum really live up to such expectations?  I don’t know about you, but it sure upended mine, because my first reaction when I opened it and sniffed was a disbelieving “what the f…?” (in Bajan).  It banged out the door with the kinetic energy of a supercar popping the clutch at 5000 rpm, blowing fierce fumes of briny olives and caramel and oak straight down my nose and throat, before someone slammed on the brakes and eased off.  What I’m trying to put over in words is something of the power of the experience, because it blasted off fast and furious and then settled down for a controlled, insane smorgasbord of nasal porn – nougat, white toblerone, peaches, citrus peel, chocolate, coffee grounds, cinnamon, enough to drive a Swiss confectioner into hysterics.  The creaminess of the nose was simply astounding – it was almost impossible to accept this was a 62% rum, yet it purred smoothly along without bite or bitchiness, scattering heady aromas of fruity badass in all directions – prunes, plums, blackcurrants and dark olives.  

And meanwhile, the taste of the rum, its glissading force across the palate, simply had to be experienced to be believed.  Not because it was all sound and fury and stabbing tridents of Poseidon, no (although it was powerful, one could not simply ignore 62% ABV), but because it was such a controlled strength.  And what emerged from within the maelstrom of proof was amazingly tasty – apricots, plums, raisins, blueberries, cinnamon, rye bread with butter and honey, all creamy and chewy to a fault (and that was just the first five minutes).  With water even more came boiling to the surface: dark grapes and an enormous array of fruity and citrusy notes, tied up in a bow with more caramel, coffee grounds, black unsweetened chocolate paprika…man, it was like it didn’t want to stop.  Even the finish upended expectations, being neither short and fleeting, nor overstaying its welcome, but almost perfect, with some floral hints, an interesting driness, and some nuttiness to accompany all that had come before, pruned down to a fierce minimalism emphasizing both heft and subtlety at the same time.

It would be arrogant in the extreme for me to say this is the best rum ever made in Barbados, since I haven’t tried every rum ever made in Barbados.  But I can and must say this – the rum points the way to the future of top-class Bajan popskull just as surely as the Velier Demeraras did for the Guyanese, and is, without a doubt, the very best Barbados rum I’ve ever tried. It’s a magnificent rum that leaves all its forebears, even those from the same distillery, limp and exhausted. This rum’s titanic flavour profile satisfies because it gets right what its previous (and lesser) earlier versions from FourSquare failed to come to grips with. It is impossibly Brobdignagian, a subtlety-challenged brown bomber, and to fully savor the current rum’s character, we as drinkers must first connect with its predecessor’s lesser-proofed antecedents.  That’s why I went through other rums from the company before cracking the 2006.  Somehow, after years of 40% milquetoast from  Barbados, here, finally, two giants of the rum world came together and got this one absolutely right.  It deserves every accolade that rum drinkers and rum writers have given it.

(91/100)

Other notes

  • To tell the complete story of its disappearance from the online and physical shelves, some subsequent observations: the 4S 2006 began turning up on ebay shortly thereafter, and aside from the bitterness of pure rum aficionados who could not get any without liquidating their retirement fund, I’ve heard it bruited about that the its disappearance was because speculators bought every bottle for resale on the secondary market…and even more pernicious rumours about how general public wasn’t even the target market – bars and bulk buyers were.  Whatever the real story is, it would be a useful case study in how to move new product in a hurry.
  • Distilled 2006 in copper double retort pot still, aged three years in bourbon barrels and seven years in cognac casks and bottled in 2016. 62% ABV, 2400 bottle outturn. The “single blended rum” appellation is derived from the proposed Gargano classification system where the origin still is given prominence over the material or country/region of origin. Here it is a single still’s blended  product (based on double maturation).
  • Whose rum is this, Velier or FourSquare?  Velier’s Demeraras, I felt, were always Veliers, because DDL gave Luca some barrels to chose from and he bottled what he felt was right without much further input from them.  Here, my impression is that Richard Seale and Luca Gargano worked closely together to make the rum, and so I attribute it to both.
Dec 282016
 

A rum that comes together in unexpected but ultimately satisfying ways

#331

Finishing remains a hit or miss proposition for rum makers. Rum Nation’s finished Demeraras are pretty good, El Dorado’s 15 year old expressions in various wine finishes kinda work (in spite of the sugar adulteration), while neither the Legendario’s muscatel reek or the Pyrat’s orange liqueur nonsense ever appealed to me (and never will).  So what’s there to say about the port finished 2005 issued by FourSquare as part of their “Exceptional” series?

A few good things, a few not-so-good ones.  FourSquare is far too professional, too competent and too long-lived an outfit to make a really bad rum, though of course they do make some rums to which I’m personally indifferent.  Here the good stuff lies in the preparation and core stats, the less than good comes from the proof and a bit of what comes out the other end. But all that aside, I believe it’s a waypoint to the future of FourSquare, when taken in conjunction with the Zinfadel finished 11 Year Old (43%), the 2004 Cask Strength (59%), and the 2013 Habitation Velier collaboration (64%).

The stats as known – column and pot still rum, nine years old, distilled at FourSquare in 2005, bottled in June 2014, having spent three years in bourbon casks, and then another six in port casks, some caramel added for colouring, with an outturn of around 12,000 bottles, issued at 40%.  One wonders how ⅔ of total ageing time in port barrels can possibly be interpreted as a “finish” of any kind, because for my money it’s a double-aged rum, something akin to the Dos Maderas 5+3 or 5+5 rums – but all right, maybe it’s merely an issue of terminology and I’m not a total pedant in these matters, so let’s move on.

Starting out, the smell suggested that it was made at right angles to, and amped up from, the more traditional FourSquare rums like Rum 66, the R.L. Seale’s 10 Year old or even the Doorley’s. To my mind it was a lot of things that those weren’t, perhaps due to the unconventional (for FourSquare) ageing and cask regimen – everything here was more distinct, clearer, and a cut or two above those old stalwarts.  Initially there were some faint rubber and acetone notes, after which the fruit basket was tossed into the vat – black grapes, citrus zest (orange or tangerines, not lemon), prunes, plums, vanilla, toffee and a dusting of earthy grassiness, cinnamon and maybe nutmeg.  Not as forceful as a cask strength monster, no, yet pleasant to experience.

Most drinkers take their spirits at living room strength and won’t find any fault with 40% but for me the decision to bottle such an interesting rum at that ABV suggests a lack of confidence in whether to take the plunge by stepping over the full proof cliff, or continue with tried and true profiles, tweaking just a bit to sniff out the market reaction. The downside to that decision is that some of the awesome promise of the nose was lost.  The smorgasbord of the fruit remained, dialled down, delivering prunes, dark ripe cherries, plus bananas, coconut shavings, nuts, brine, and the deep sugar cane aromas from fields that have just been burnt, all in well controlled balance and warming the tongue without assaulting it, leading to a quiet, short finish that lingered without presenting anything new.  So – good…but still underwhelming.

What is perhaps surprising is that the rum works as well as it does at all – 6 years in port casks would normally be excessive since it’s less a finishing than an entire profile switcheroo – WhiskyFun, tongue in cheek as always, remarked it might better be called a bourbon start than a port finish. In fine, it all comes together well, and it is a lovely rum, which is why the encomiums roll in from all points of the compass.  But since I know FourSquare has more up its sleeves than just its arms, I also know they can do better…and in the years between this rum’s issue and now, they have.

The 2005 is therefore not a rum I have problems recommending (especially for its very affordable price point). I simply posit that it’s a scout to the beachhead, a precursor, an exercise in the craft, not the ultimate expression — and scoring it to the stratosphere as many have done, is giving consumers the impression that it’s the best buy possible….which it isn’t.  

Because, like its zinfadel cask finished brother, what this rum really is, is the rum equivalent of John the Baptist, not trying to garner any of the laurels for itself, just waiting and preparing the way for the extraordinary rum that was yet to come. 

In August 2016, it did, and that’ll be the subject of my last review for 2016.

(82/100)

Other notes

I let my glass rest overnight, and it developed a milky, cloudy residue after several hours.  Maybe it was not filtered?  I’d like to know if anyone else had a similar experience with theirs.

Dec 262016
 

When a rum makes you want to try its stronger brother, you are left asking whether it has failed or succeeded.

#330

It must be a preference thing.  My son the Little Caner (rapidly becoming the Big Caner) loves chocolate ice cream but detests the salted caramel Haagen-Dasz I scarf by the bucketload (before being noisily sick in the outhouse). My father (Grampy Caner) can’t get enough of El Dorado 15 year old yet I can’t get him to touch a full proof without shuddering. As for me, while I enjoy rums from around the Caribbean, have never been able to get a grip on Bajan rums as a whole – Mount Gay and FourSquare in particular – in spite of all the other critical plaudits that these companies garner from other corners of the rumiverse.  

With that in mind I picked up a bunch of Bajans back in 2015 and put them through an exhaustive wringer then, and again in 2016, just to see whether the passage of years changed anything. To some extent, the experience dispelled a few preconceptions, while confirming others.  In fine, it’s a decent 40% sipping rum that breaks no new ground and could, I think, be pushed to higher strength without losing anything in the process.(And indeed, there is a recent series of 2016 releases of the 66FR which are both cask strength (50%) and slightly stronger than mine here (42%) as well as a new 6 year old, so for sure I’m not done trying FourSquare’s offerings any time soon.)

FourSquare Distillery was the last remaining family owned outfit in Barbados until St. Nicholas Abbey opened up for a business nearly a decade ago.  The “66” in the moniker refers to the Barbados Independence Act of 1966, when Little England severed its colonial ties with Britain, while the “Family Reserve” reflects its origins in that small part of the company’s production which had heretofore been reserved for the Seale family (or so the marketing materials suggest).  The rum is a blend of column and copper pot still distillate, with a 65% ABV spirit set to age in white oak barrels for twelve years when already married – in other words, the blend is not done after ageing, but before…the reverse of the process most other makers follow when producing blended rums.

Certainly the blending regimen and the age did their work reasonably well. The nose was very smooth and warm, with light, almost delicate notes of wax, brine and paint leading off, which  disappeared quickly. A solid blast of brown sugar took their place, plus slightly off tastes of overripe fruit, smoke and dusty cardboard. After some minutes, the final smells emerged – lilacs and other flowers, a very faint fruitiness, with nuts and more smoke at the back end. Reading this might make it sound like a cornucopia of olfactory bliss, but the fact is that it was all really really faint – it took ages to pick them out, and there’s simply not enough going on here to make it memorable in any meaningful way.

Still, the palate of this copper brown rum was decent.  A spicy lead-in presenting immediate flavours of vanilla, toffee, butter, and yes, that salted caramel ice cream I always liked, offering bitter, salt and sweet in equal proportion. Some peaches and whipped cream, nuts, more flowers and an interesting coconut undercurrent that emerged slowly, almost grudgingly after adding some water.  The oak was there, but well controlled and not overbearing. The best thing about the rum was the smooth creaminess of the otherwise rather thin profile, vaguely salty and estery at the same time, leading to a good finish for a 40%, medium long, with peanut butter and delicate flowery notes.  There was a sort of clean elegance to the whole thing, reminding me somewhat of a Glendronach, or a Speysider, and has much in common with the Cockspur 12 year old. But, in the main, for me, it lacked oomph and assertiveness which I preferred more.  That makes it better for those who don’t care for cask strength rums, I would suggest, or long drinks for those in the cocktail circuit.

Summing up the experience, then, I felt then (and now) that for a 12 year old, it presented as far too restrained, even somewhat underwhelming.  Just doesn’t seem to push any buttons, being content to stay in the middle of the road and not piss anyone off by going off the reservation.  It has an element of okay, of settling for the middle, of “let’s leave it there, then” that is surprising for a rum aged this long.  Part of it is the 40%, of course which the market preferred back in the day when it was first released, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a rum for those who like their sipping drinks easier, with less aggro, not for today’s more demanding or discerning drinkers who might want and prefer a more robust and aggressive cask strength Bajan bruiser.

In the past, as little as ten years ago, where nobody was talking about sugar or additives and producers across the board were dosing with enthusiasm and without declaration, the Jamaicans and Bajans were forced by their countries’ laws to eschew additives of any kind.  This made many of their rums appeal to a minority who understood and appreciated purity, while the majority got their taste buds hacked and cultivated by adulterated products.  But that couldn’t last. The clamour for disclosure blew up when ALKOL, Johnny Drejr and others started posting their statistics and showed the Emperor was buck naked for all to see.  Suddenly those makers who had always been bound to make pure rums became the belles of the ball, and were lauded for their honesty and adherence to tradition.

That was all fine, but somewhere in all this brouhaha the whole issue of whether all of their products were good drinks got lost…in other words, the pendulum swung a little too far the other way, and to my mind, this rum and some others too often got a free pass. You’ll search long and hard to find a review – any review – of Bajan products that is in any way short of simpering adoration. But the fact is that there are better rums from the island out there and frankly, it’s the cask strength version of this rum that I think will be the new standard for Rum 66 in the years to come — it won’t be this exemplar of a pre-sugar, pre-fullproof time, no matter how bright it shines in the memories of those who remain wedded to that more innocent and less discerning era.

(80/100)

Just as some of my fellow reviewers make no secret of both their admiration and enjoyment of Bajan rums, I had to be clear about my personal ambivalence. So for those who want other opinions, here are two of them.

 

Oct 292016
 

rl-seale-full

Overrated.  Apologies to lovers of the rum, but it’s a mediocre ten year old in a cool bottle.

#312

The R.L. Seale 10 year old is a sort of old stalwart in the pantheon of Barbados hooch.  Sooner or later everyone passes by it, and it’s considered a benchmark against which, in the past, many Barbadian rums were rated, one of the basket of rums that defined the entire Bajan style.  In this day of independent bottlers and full proof offerings, to say nothing of Foursquare’s own tinkering and varied expressions, it starts to show something of its age.  And I’ve never been entirely won over by it…not then, not now.

Before you all spontaneously combust, please put down your electronic pitchforks and burning i-phone torches, and hold your emails, FB posts, twitter feeds, hashtags and any other forms of online vituperation. I’m fully aware I’m swimming against the tide on this one — just try to find a negative review of a Foursquare rum online…I dare ya —  but perhaps a review that goes against the grain should be considered just because it does that, not be thrown away with yesterday’s fish.

rl-seale-labelYears ago, in 2010,  I wrote a distinctly unflattering portrait of the Doorley’s XO (at the time of this writing I had yet to try the 12 YO and finally did so in 2017).  In subsequent years I always and uneasily thought it was the surety (maybe the arrogance?) of a beginner that made my opinion what it was (I called the Doorley’s the “Prince Myshkyn of rums”), and given the critical plaudits and encomiums Mr. Seale has gotten since then, to say nothing of his remark to me that I just did not appreciate pure, unadulterated rum (in other words, the added sugar of other, higher-scoring rums had skewed my perspective)…well, let’s just say I was curious what a gap of several years’ experience would do, and so ran a bunch of Barbadian rums past each other to see how this and the Rum 66 and the 2015-2016 editions stacked up.

The darkish gold rum, bottled at 43% was light, almost delicate, redolent of delicate white flowers and too much fabric softener.  There were thin hints of caramel, salted butter and vanilla coiling around underneath that, with some cider, cinnamon, nutmeg and crushed nuts following that.  And dry, surprisingly so. So once again, taste wasn’t the issue for me, the understated nature of it was – the whole was just too damn timorous, like it was too shy to come out and actually make a statement (the very issue I had with the Doorley’s).

Things improved on the palate, where the 10 year old proved somewhat sharper and spicier than the Rum 66 I was trying alongside it, but at least displayed something more than vague whiffs and promises without delivery. It was sweet and salt at the same time, fried bananas in olive oil, peanut butter spread on warm French bread — for originality the rum sure went off in some strange directions, to its credit — with faint tar and oak and vanilla undertones mixing it up with apples and maybe some more nuts, ending up with a finish that was short, flirty and faint, that gave nothing original to remember it by.  

All in all, it lacked punch and heft and compared poorly against the five controls I had  in place to rate it. The much ballyhooed honesty of the rum was beyond question – it was clearly not adulterated in any way, which was great, allowing the core profile to come through, but it just didn’t have that emphasis and clarity, the overall integration of complex flavours making their statement, which I preferred and continue to prefer. For its price and intended audience, it’s a good buy (which is why it sells well and continues to receive plaudits to this day) — all the same, I contend that Foursquare has shown in the years after 2015 what they’re really capable of when they try. Their port cask, their white and the spectacular 2006 10 year old, are all miles ahead of this one.  They address all my issues with firmness, power, clarity, integration, assembly, balance, and are just plain better rums than the R.L. Seale’s 10 YO.

And that’s why those rums will absolutely get my money in the future, while this one simply won’t.  I’ve had better, both from Barbados, and from Foursquare.

80/100

Other online reviewers don’t share my indifference, and love this thing.  To be fair, I include their reviews here so you can get other opinions:

Sep 262016
 

seven-fathoms

*

The rum that Pyrat’s could have been

#306

A trend I see gathering more and more steam these days is that of snazzy marketing campaigns for (mostly) new rums, bugling their lovingly preserved family recipes, boasting slick webpages oddly short on facts but long on eye candy, trumpeting old traditions made new (but respectfully adhered to), or new and innovative production methods which enhance the final product.  Words like “artisan”, “premium”, “handcrafted”, “traditional”, “every single drop” are tossed around with the insouciant carelessness of hormonal teenagers with their chastity.

This kind of  folderol just irritates me, not least because it seems like such a copout, a lazy substitute for the actual product. Seven Fathoms, which is going for that last category, is staking its claim to fame on the fact that they age their rum in watertight barrels that are weighted down and put under water (42 feet deep, or seven fathoms, get it?), so that the action of the waves agitates the barrels and increases contact between rum and wood…which, with the additional pressure, thereby making for a denser flavour profile in somewhat less time. Ageing seems to be around one to three years depending on the rum.

Whether that works or not is questionable. I can accept that it likely has an effect, but whether that effect has such an impact as to elevate the whole rum to some other level of quality on the basis of claims alone is something like accepting statements of superfast ageing, or proprietary yeast strains, or family recipes from Ago, or the impact of Tanti’s enamel bathtub as a finishing agent.  Kinda have to go there and try the thing, y’know?

So let’s do that: it was an amber-red rum, bottled at 40% and aged less than five years. It smelled, on the initial pour, rather spicy – sweet and fruity, with apricots, cherries, pears and some vague breakfast spices, and with a noticeable background of orange zest (this is where the reference to Pyrat’s comes in). While most of my research suggests that it was of pot still origin, the scents lacked some of that pungency and depth which would mark it as such with more emphasis.  Still, quite a decent nose, and if not world beating, at least it was aromatic.

The taste was clearer about the origin and also quite original in its own way.  It was not quite full bodied, but spicy and smooth enough to please. Cucumbers soaked in brine and vinegar (I know how that sounds), ripe tomatoes (wtf? – that’s a first for me) and molasses, bound together by a core of caramel, nougat, peaches and other lighter fruits, sugar water, vanilla and the slightly bitter oak tannins imparted by the barrels themselves. I noted with some relief how well the orange zest that carried over from the nose had been integrated into the whole, lending just enough spritely shuck and jive to enhance without overwhelming the drink.  It was a beguiling mix of soft and spice, done well, leading to a finish that was warm, a little dry, providing closing aromas of vanilla, crushed almonds and some oak tannins.  All in all, quite serviceable for a young rum.

The Cayman island Spirits Company has been in business since about 2008 when they operated out of a small building in George Town (on Grand Cayman), and in 2013 they moved to a spanking new facility as part of their efforts to expand, diversify and launch an attack on the global market. They began back in the day with a handmade still apparently constructed from two ice-buckets welded together, but have since progressed to both a pot still and a column still, and produce the Seven Fathoms premium, as well as a series of “Governor’s Reserve” Rums – white, overproof, gold, dark, spiced, banana and coconut.  Oh, and a vodka.  And a gin.  The rum derives from local sugar cane (which a brand rep told me was “as far as possible” which I took to mean “not all of it”). The distillate comes from refined sugar and molasses fermented for six days in 4000-liter stainless steel tanks and is double distilled in a German-made copper pot still.  Then it’s barreled off into ex-bourbon barrels, which are themselves sealed in a sort of Texas-sized condom (the process is actually patented, or so I was informed), and taken out to sea somewhere secret to be submerged. Note that I’ve read the ageing is not 100% underwater but I don’t know how much is terrestrial and how much is aquatic at this point.

Summing up: my take is that they’ll find Europe a tougher nut to crack than the US, where younger 40% rums tend to be viewed with somewhat more favour and so sell better (and that’s not counting island-hopping tourists who stop off on Grand Cayman).  Be that as it may, here is one rum that tries to go slightly off in a new direction without entirely abandoning what a rum should be, and I’m happy to report it’s not bad at all.  This seems to be one of those instances where if you filter out the noise and rah-rah of the advertising, put away the key individualistic selling point of the ageing regimen, ignore the near-hysterically positive notes on TripAdvisor and other sites – do all of that, take it all down to its essence, and what’s left is still a rum which you won’t be entirely unhappy buying, and sharing.

(82.5/100)

 

Aug 282016
 

Real McCoy 5

Understated five year old mixing material

(#298 / 77/100)

***

Last time around I looked with admiration at the St. Nicholas Abbey 5 Year old, suggesting that in its unadorned simplicity and firmness lay its strength…it didn’t try to do too much all at the same time and was perfectly content to stay simple. It focused  on its core competencies, in management-speak.  Yet that same day, just minutes apart, I also tried the Real McCoy, another Bajan five year old, and liked it less. Since both rums are from Barbados, both are unadulterated, and both five years old, it must be the barrels and original distillate.  As far as I know the St Nick’s is from their own pot still, and the McCoy from a blend of pot-column distillate out of Foursquare, and they both got aged in bourbon barrels, so there you have the same facts I do and can make up your own mind.

Just some brief biographical facts before I delve in: yes, there was a “real” McCoy, and as the marketing for this series of rums never tires of telling you, he was a Prohibition-era rumrunner who would have made Sir Scrotimus weep with happiness: a man who never dealt with adulterated rum (hence the “real”) didn’t blend his stuff with bathtub-brewed popskull and never added any sugar, and bought occasionally from Foursquare, back in the day.  Mr. Bailey Prior, who was making a documentary about the chap, was so taken with the story that he decided to make some rums of his own, using Mr. Seale’s stocks, and has put out a 3 year old white, a 5 year old and a 12 year old.

real-mccoy-rg2-useSo here what we had was a copper-amber coloured 40% rum aged for five years in used Jack Daniels barrels, which presented a nose that was a little sharp, and initially redolent of green apples and apricots.  It was slightly more aromatically intense than the 3 year old (which I also tried alongside it), and opened up into additional notes of honey, dates, nuts, caramel and waffles. The issue for me was primarily their lack of intensity. “Delicate,” some might say, but I felt that on balance, they were just weak.

Similar issues were there on the palate. It was easy, no real power, and reminded me why stronger rums have become my preference.  However, good flavours were there: cider, apples, citrus, sharpness, balancing out vanilla and vague caramels.  There were almost none of the softer fruits like bananas or fleshier fruits to balance out the sharper bite, and this was reinforced by the oak which came over in the beginning (and took on more dominance at the back end)….so overall, the thing is just too light and unbalanced. This is what proponents of the style call genuine, what lovers of 40% Bajans will name “excellent”, and what I call uninteresting. Overall, and including the short, light, here-now-gone-in-a-flash finish, it displayed some of the same shortcomings I’ve associated with many younger and cheaper rums from Little England – there just wasn’t enough in there for me to care about.

Leaving aside the stills, I’m at a loss to quantify the reason why the St Nick’s presented so much more forcefully than the McCoy given their (relative) commonality of origin and age and lack of additives. The McCoy five gave every impression of being dialled-down, and has too little character or force of its own, no indelible something that would single it out from its peers: the El Dorados for all their sugar at least have some wooden still action going on in there, the St. Nick’s is firm and unambiguous, and even the Angostura five has some aggro underneath its traditional profile  But all we get from the McCoy is a sort of wishy washy weakness of profile and a failure to engage.  Torque it up a little and we might really have something here…until then, into the mix it goes.

 

Feb 262016
 


Samaroli Dem 1994 1A very well blended, original melange of traditional Demerara flavours that comes up to the bar without effort, but doesn’t jump over.

(#257. 86.5/100)

***

It is a curious matter that although Samaroli may well be the first independent bottler to dabble in the issuing of year-specific, country-specific craft rums (they began with whiskies back in 1968), somehow they never seem to quite get the respect or street cred that its inheritors like Velier, RN, CDI and others do.  Few of their rums grace the review pages of the blogosphere, and yet, those that show up have all gotten pretty positive words said about them.  So why the lack of recognition and raves of the sort that others receive so often?

Part of it is the expense of course; another may be inconsistency in the range (I’ve tried too few to make that claim with assurance – I liked their Nicaragua 1995 and am intrigued by this one, but that’s hardly a huge sample set); still another is perhaps that the company is simply relegated to the status of “another one of the boys” because of their limited outturn.  Not for them the thousands of Caronis or Demeraras like Velier, or the more widely disseminated people-pleasers from Rum Nation and Plantation. Samaroli inhabits the undefined space between Luca’s pure cask strength bruisers and the occasionally dosed but usually very pleasant lower-proofed offerings from Rossi and Gabriel.  In fact, if you think about it, of all the independent bottlers currently in vogue, it is CDI which more closely adheres to Samaroli’s limited edition geographical spread.Samaroli Dem 1994 2

Be that as it may, that makes them neither more, or less than any of the others, simply themselves. So let’s look at one or two and see how they stack up: in this review, I tried a twelve year old from Guyana, the 1994 edition “dark” rum. It was distilled in 1994, matured in Scotland (why there, I wonder?) and bottled in 2006 at a modest 45% with an outturn of 346 bottles. No information is provided as to the still or blend of stills which comprise the rum (but we can guess right away).

Now, based on the above, I think it was reasonable to assume it was a blend, but for my money the Port Mourant still comprises the dominant portion thereof – just nosing it made that clear. It started off dark, with instant fumes of licorice, molasses and burnt sugar, and the spicy and musky background which denotes that particular still.  Almost all sharper and more acidic citrus scents were notable by their absence here, but paying some more attention teased out additional notes of tamarind, brine, clean vegetals and anise…a really nicely done traditional opening.Samaroli Dem 1994 3

I enjoyed the taste of the mahogany coloured twelve year old as well. It presented as warm and soft to the first taste, with well controlled bite: prunes, licorice (of course), and a musky dry taste like dark earth freshly ploughed, after a hard rain.  The spicier fruity notes came into their own after a few minutes, with lemon zest leading the charge, together with other vanilla and oaky elements that had missed their turn when I had smelled it the first time – it was a well put together assembly of tastes, occasionally sharp, nothing to complain about, and perhaps could have been somewhat stronger to really make those flavours sing. Closing things off, I liked the finish quite a bit as well: medium long, very solid, adroitly weaving between driness and softness, providing last hints of anise, burnt sugar, vanilla, cherries and some cinnamon.

The Samaroli 12 year old Demerara was very solid, professionally made, competently executed rum, if perhaps lacking that last filip of complexity and power to make it score higher.  No matter…what there was, emerged well and was assembled without major blemish.  If I score it the way I have, well, it was because I had a surfeit of PMs to use as comparators, and I assure you that the ones in contention were just as excellent.

So: Samaroli’s Demerara dark rum is a good-if-perhaps-not-great rum.  It adhered to all the main pointers of the style, was not adulterated in any way, and for its strength provided an excellent sipping rum that took on El Dorado’s own twelve year old and ran it into the ground.  DDL has gotten some bad press recently from around the fora of the cognoscenti, for the core El Dorado line which hydrometer tests suggested had been dosed with sugar.  Samaroli, as others have done, showed  the potential which such Demerara rums have, at any strength, and demonstrated that you don’t need to mess with a winning formula if you don’t want to, can issue as much or as little as you like, and still end up making a damned classy product that the public would enjoy.

Sep 202015
 
Photo Copyright (c) Henri Comte

Photo Copyright (c) Henri Comte

An agricole that bends the rules just enough to be original, without dishonouring its antecedents. What a remarkable rhum.

(#233. 86/100)

***

In between the larger and more well known independent bottlers lurk smaller operators pursuing their own vision. Some, like Old Man Spirits, or Delicana, fight the good fight without undue recognition or perhaps even real commercial success.  Others seem to find a more workable middle road. Chantal Comte is one of these, an eponymous company run by a bright and vivacious lady who Cyril of DuRhum interviewed earlier in 2015.  I first saw some of her products in 2014, bought some more out of Switzerland, and now keep an eye out for anything else the lady makes, because, almost alone among the independent bottlers, her company specializes in agricoles and pays no mind to the larger market of molasses based rums.  That gives her rhums a focus that seems to pay huge dividends, at the price of being relatively unknown and relegated almost to bit-player status in the broader rum community.

Born in Morocco into a family with West Indian connections, Ms. Comte started out as a winemaker in the early 1980s, in Nimes. Martinique influenced her interest in rhum, and through the decades she was mentored by two major players in the agricole world, André Depaz of the Mount Pelee plantation, and Paul Hayot (the Hayot family company took over the Clement distillery, you will recall). In the  mid eighties this interest developed to the point where she began blending and bottling some of Depaz’s rhums (with André’s encouragement) and stuck with a philosophy of blending the original vintages, sourced from all over the French West Indies, and bottled at natural strength…whatever was felt to be appropriate to the final expression.

What I had here, then, was a bourbon finished 46.5% amber-coloured AOC Martinique rhum…the questions for me were, which plantation and how old, because Martinique has quite a few different agricole makers and Ms. Comte bottles several. But then the fine print on the label showed it was L’Habitation Saint-Etienne, so mystery solved. How old?  No idea. The rhum is a blend, and comprises several different vintages from HSE: there is no detail on whether the blend was itself aged or not, and how long the bourbon finishing regimen was. It was probably an XO, six years old at least, and honestly, I felt it was likely older than that. On the other hand, I was informed that all vintages are derived from small creole column-still distillates (much like most of the French island agricoles) aged in limousin oak before final transferrence to bourbon barrels for the final finishing and blend.  No additions, no filtration, and the AOC designation remains.

D3S_8953

These days I don’t write much on presentation unless there’s something intriguing (or irritating – cheap corks and tinfoil caps are pet bugbears of mine).  Still, I’d like to comment on the beefy barroom bottle, similar to Rum Nation’s, as well as the wooden box, which certainly gets my nod of approval, given the thing costs over a hundred euros – I’ve never discarded my feeling that when one pays a fair bit of coin, then one is entitled to a fair bit of bling, and here the delivery is just fine. (Note to wife: makes a great gift at Christmas).

On to the rhum, then.  Amber coloured, remember, and middling strength. Pouring it out was almost sensuous, it even felt thicker than usual.  It nosed well, and smelled heavenly – instant green lime zest mixed with softer vanillas, plus eucalyptus and that characteristic grassy cleanliness that so mark agricoles.  I remember looking at my glass in some amazement, wondering how the soft and the sharp scents could meld so well.  Trust me, they did. As it opened up cinnamon, rosemary and riccotta cheese came out, and there was a growing background of ripe fruits from the bourbon barrels tapping my tonsils to say “Oy…we’re here.”

For a rum this light in colour, it was also pleasantly deep (though not heavy a la Port Mourant or Caroni, it was too fresh and clear for that) – somewhat stinging initially, even harsh, so watch out.  And also, be warned…there’s an opening salvo of cordite and firecrackers in here, a gun-oil kind of metallic note; not strong enough to overwhelm subtler tastes that were waiting in the wings, and they died away quickly…but it did make my hair curl for a moment.  More traditional tastes followed in swift, balanced unison, trip-trapping across the palate – semi-sweet fresh fruit, lemon-grass,  ripe mangos, papaya, vanilla, ginger (very faint). It began to trend towards driness as it trailed off, and the finish just confirmed that – fairly long, heated, arid, and last flavours of grass and mild zest to round things off.

Honestly, I don’t know how they managed to meld the offbeat metallic notes with sharp citrus, clean grasses and soft fruits all at once and wrap it all up in a bow of tannins that were kept in check, but they did it, and the result is really worth trying. I liked it partly on the strength of that originality, and indeed, it was on the basis of this one rhum, that I bought their 1977 45% and 1980 58% Trois Rivieres editions as well. It’s a little offbeat, marching to its own tune, and if it’s not quite as insane as the certifiable Clairin Sajous, well, I guess they thought that they had taken enough risks with their client base for one day, and pulled in their horns

My experience with independent bottlers is that they usually come to rum after dabbling in the obscure Scottish drink and only later discovering the True Faith.  Ms. Comte took a different path, starting out with wine (she owns the Château de la Tuilerie which she inherited from her father, and until recently, ran the winery there).  It’s debatable what specific skills can be transferred from one spirit to another: yet, if other editions put out by her company are on par with or better than this rather interesting and remarkable rhum, all I can say is that I hope more wine makers move over to rhums, and quickly.

Other notes

Big hat tip to Cyril of DuRhum, who not only wrote the initial interview with Ms. Comte, but proofed my initial post.

 

Sep 142015
 
Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

An unaggressive, bright and clear, sipping-quality rhum agricole that can serve as a bridge between traditional molasses rum and agricoles.

(#232 / 85/100)

***

Clément holds the dubious distinction of providing one of the first agricoles I ever tried.  That was five years (and some change) ago. At the time when I tried that Tres Vieux XO, just about the top of their range, I remember the clarity and smooth brightness of it, and how it flirted with a molasses profile without ever stepping over the  line.  That rhum was a blend of three exceptional years’ production…the Hors D’Age I was trying this time around was supposedly a blend of the best vintages of the past fifteen years.  On the basis of such remarks are high prices charged.  Note the “hors d’age” statement – what that means in principle, is that the rhum is aged between three and six years, which strikes me as absurd for a bottle costing in the €90+ range.  Still, it is an AOC rhum, Clément is enthusiastic abut the care with which they assembled it, and all in all, it’s a pretty decent dram.

Clément has a long history, dating back to 1887 and the purchase of domaine de l’Acajou by Homère Clément. Initially it just produced sugar and raw alcohol, but the demand for liquor durting the first world war persuaded him to upgrade to a distillery in 1917. After the death of Homère, his son Charles took over the business. Credited with developing (some say perfecting) the company’s rhum agricole methodology, he studied distillation at the Louis Pasteur School in France, and named the first bottlings after his father.  He subsequently expanded the company by instigating mass exports to France, which became the company’s primary market outside the Caribbean.  When he died in 1973, his sons took over, but thirteen years later they sold the Acajou distillery to another Martinique business owned by family friends (Groupe Bernard Hayot, one of the largest family businesses in France), who have kept the brand, heritage and plantation intact and functioning and modernized. The company gained the AOC designation in 1996.

Agricoles, of course, even the aged ones, trend towards a certain clarity and lightness to them…one might even say sprightly. The nose on the Homère Cuvée broke no new ground, while still being quite delicious to sniff. It presented a tasty mix of the tartness of freshly pressed apple juice (almost cider-like), and softer tastes of under-ripe apricots, freshly sliced.  Some vague grassy hints wafted around, very much in the background, and after a few minutes traces of nuts and yellow mangoes and a little leather and waxy stuff rounded things out.  It was quite soft and smooth, with very little sting or bite to it.

The golden rum was equally gentle to taste, providing very little aggressiveness even at 44% (unless it was just me and my palate being fireproofed by stronger drinks).  The feel on the tongue was quite pleasant, gentle and easy-going to a fault.  It started out smooth and then morphed to something drier over time. Sharper tastes of lemon dueled it out with more apples, mint-leaves and green grass, some brine and dates, all of which came together really well, with additional breakfast spices, cinnamon and hazelnuts being in evidence…even some chocolate.  I found it, in fact, to be somewhat similar to the XO (they were side by side, so I tasted them both simultaneously, one to inform the other), just not quite as good.  Still, even after all those tastes, there was still some faint traces of leather and smoke to round things out, and while I won’t swear to a tinge of molasses in there, it certainly felt like it. The fade was sweet and aromatic, smooth and warm, pretty short, some wood, leather, chocolate and citrus ending the experience.

There’s enough good stuff trapped in the bottle to please, even satisfy, just insufficient excitement to make it a ultra-remarkable drink that would score higher. Of course, chosing which vintages to blend into a rhum like this presents its own difficulties to the makers, and I’d never say it was bad rhum: my feeling is simply that the Cuvée had more modest goals than the rather more impressive XO, and aimed no higher.  Did I like it?  Yes.  Enjoy it?  Surely. It’s a really well-made AOC rhum for those who like agricoles and displays the hallmarks of time and care and blending expertise.  So when I say you won’t feel short-changed by the Cuvée, that’s entirely true…what you won’t be is seriously challenged.  Still, just because it doesn’t rise to the heights of its predecessor is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. It’s a worthy addition to the brand.

 

***

Other notes

It’s possible that this rhum has been made in order to replace the sadly discontinued XO.  Some people disliked the XO (I was initially not enthused myself, though my appreciation grew over the years), and there’s a whole FB thread about varying opinions on the matter; the cynic in me thinks that by not stating which vintages comprise the blend, it allows Clément the freedom to sidestep the issue of what happens when those vintages run out…unlike with the XO, where they couldn’t mess with the assembly because everyone knew which years’ production was inside.  I hope the silence on the components of the Homère is more a trade secret than an end run around the buying public.

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