Nov 142016
 

Photo copyright (c) Henrik Kristoffersen of RumCorner.dk

Impossible to forget, traumatic to recall. 

#316

I don’t know why they bothered. This is three years’ additional ageing, pretty much wasted.  It’s Don Papa 7 version 2.0, and just about the whole experience is the same, except the raspberries from the younger variation, which are now dark grapes. Everything else – and I mean everything else, mouthfeel, taste, finish, smell, the works – remains the same, without even some additional oakiness or complexity to make the extra expense worth it.

All right, so by now it’s clear that I’m late to the party here and all the discussions and post mortems have been done on this industrial grade spiced Phillipine rum, which it doesn’t admit to being, but which I say it is. And while there was a firestorm of online vituperation which greeted the release of the rum, making you believe that the majority of the rumworld absolutely hates this thing, the truth is actually more prosaic. Reviewers hate the rum…but most casual imbibers at whom the Don Papa is aimed are actually quite tolerant of the rums they scarf down, and the amount of people in the world who truly want a more detailed sense what they’re drinking — or have access to and desire for what we term top class hooch —  is still a minimal part of the rumiverse in spite of all us bloggers’ doing our best to raise the bar.  But everyone agrees on one point: bad or good or in-between, the makers of the Don Papa should absolutely have disclosed its adulteration. Maybe they thought the age statement would allow them to skate around such petty concerns

If so, they were mistaken. Even bumping it up to 43% for some added bola ng bakal didn’t do much. It had the same nasal profile of sour cream, yogurt, some sweetish fruits, and over-generous helpings of vanilla, bubble gum and yes, there it was again, that distasteful excess of soda pop sprite and fanta and pepsi masquerading as “rumminess”. And no tart raspberries this time, but some dampened down dark grapes, overripe ones, plus a twist of licorice. Oh joy. My glass runneth over.

By now you should have few illusions left: the palate offered no redemption, leading any reasonable tippler to ask in genuine bewilderment, “What on earth was the rum doing for three additional years?” I mean sure, there was some bite and bitter in the mix (which initially gave me hope), just too little.  And the few aromas of peaches and cream were bludgeoned into insensibility in labba time by wave upon wave of more vanilla, soda pop, the syrup in canned peaches (minus the peaches), cola…it was all just too much, too sweet, too cloying, and with few discernible differences from its younger sibling, and a finish that was to all intents and purposes the best thing about it, because at least now the experience was drawing to a close.  

You know, if they had honestly called it a spiced or flavoured rum I would have nodded, smiled, passed it by and never bothered to write a thing. But they didn’t…and so I did. And my evaluation is simply that Don Papa 10 is a hollow rum. Age or no age, it’s column still industrial spirit that’s been tarted up, where no such embellishment was required if they took some time and care and blending mastery to the task.  It takes its place proudly with the Whaler’s, Kraken and Pyrat’s XO and the AH Riise Navy 57% on the bottom of any reviewer’s shelf, and with good reason — it’ll get you drunk no problem, and at a reasonable price, but if you wake up the next morning wondering what camel voided its bowels in your mouth and why you have a tattoo of “Don Papa” on your left buttock in hieroglyphs, don’t come crying saying I and all the others didn’t warn you.

(61/100)

Other notes

  • It gives me no pleasure to write reviews like this.  Oh the words flow easily, the rum really isn’t worth it and I can stand by the opinion. I just don’t understand why, in this day and age, I should have to. We’ve been hearing for years how rum is in its new golden age.  So why would anyone who loves rum enough to actually make one, create something that is so clearly not?  In my more generous moments, I say it’s because they want to make what sells to the tippling masses and will do better as their skills improve; in my blacker moods, I think it’s a full-proof money grab adulterated with the cloying additive of indifference.
  • Compliments to Henrik of RumCorner, who provided both a large sample and the photo.
  • For an enthusiastic and uncritical perspective by a “lifestyle writer” (I will not use the term “journalist” because that would be like saying Don Papa is a real rum) I direct you to this Forbes article from May 2017.  It’s just another in a spate of recent rum-themed articles that are written by people who seem to want to advertise that they really know nothing at all about the subject.
Oct 242016
 
don-papa-7-ans

Photo shamelessly cribbed from and copyrighted to Henrik Kristoffersen of RumCorner.dk

Caner’s Rum Quality Inverse Square Conjecture: quality of rum is inversely proportional to the square of the sum of [ glitziness of website plus design of the label ].

#311

The presentation and advertising and marketing of this rum is all about fancy bottle and label design, gorgeous visuals, and words to make you giddy with anticipation.  It nails all aspects of those. Everything else is secondary, except the rum itself, which is tertiary.  

Just to set the stage: I honestly thought my amigo Henrik, in his savage takedown of the rum, was exaggerating his despite. However, intrigued, I begged him for samples to save me buying them, and he was prepared to gift me the whole bottle except that his luggage was already full of stuff he was bringing to Berlin (for me).  And just to see if its claim to being a “premium aged small batch rum” held up, I tried the Don Papa 7 year old (and its brother the ten year old) four  times: once with a flight of eight Jamaicans, then with a flight of seven Demeraras, a third time with a raft of agricoles and then with yet another one of nine Bajans.  

Lord Almighty, this thing was annoying. I don’t think I’ve been this irritated with a rum since the Pyrat’s 1623. It’s appalling lack of profile compared to the comparators is only matched by its self evident desire to emulate a soda pop. When I think of the elegant construction of something like the FourSquare 2006 and its years of development, I want to rend my robes, gnash my teeth and weep bitter tears of despair for the future of the rumiverse. It may be the bees knees in the Phillipines, where different rules for rum production are in force and different palates and tastes rule – but maybe it should stay there and not afflict real rums.

Think I’m being unjust?  Unseemly vicious? That I jest?  Not at all.  The 40%, American-oak-aged amber rum reeked — that’s the only word I can come up with that describes the cloying, thick aroma of yoghurt emanating from the glass, a sort of sour cream and curds kind of smell, leavened with some raspberries and cherries.  It makes the A.H. Riise Navy Rum seem like a masterpiece of blending assembly. And then there was the overdone saccharine citrus smell of fanta, bubble gum, vanilla (gobs of that), and sprite and cream soda…what the hell, maybe they tossed some coke in there too. Rum? I dunno – it smelled like a mixing agent to which one adds rum.

And it was on the palate that its true adulterated nature became fully apparent.  The mouthfeel is where it started – it literally felt like a soda, complete with the slight scrape of what could charitably be called bite but which I’ll call chamberpot-brewed rubbing alcohol.  Again that yoghurt taste was there, this time without the creaminess, the raspberries being replaced by a peach or two…and the vanilla and sprite and coke were still there in abundance, finishing the job of ruining what had been an unremarkable, unprepossessing liquid that wasted too much of my time.  There was no finish to speak of, which was unsurprising, given how dosed and choked up this thing is with so much that isn’t rum.  Even Pyrat’s XO would probably shudder at what the company did here (while taking notes).

This is the kind of rum which drives reviewers into transports of rage, because it gives all rum a bad name, and frankly, with all due respect to the nation of origin which makes the much better Tanduay 12 year old, it’s barely a rum at all.  And yet it sells briskly, calmly splashing around in the great urinal of low-to-mid-level adulterated rum sales, which just goes to show that spice and sugar will always move product.  What most of those don’t do is slap lipstick on a pig with quite the abandon and disdain for quality this one does. It truly has to be drunk to be believed, and trust me, unless you love your dentist, that’s not something I would recommend.

(59/100)


Other notes

  • I might have been less snarky if they had simply labelled it as a spiced rum (which it is) instead of some kind of aged artisinal product (which it isn’t).
  • Cyril at DuRhum had this run through a lab test and that evaluated it with 29g/L sugar, 2.4 g/L glycerol and a massive 359 mg/L of vanilla.
  • Who makes this? Well, the Bleeding Heart Rum Company, to be exact, and this link will answer most other questions about the product. BHRC is in turn a subsidiary of Kanlaon Limited a small single-director, 100-share company registered in a business village in Middlesex, listing Mr. Stephen Carroll as the man in charge, and he apparently worked for Remy Cointreau for some years before striking out on his own (he has other directorships in companies involved in film and video production).  Since I don’t trust much of anything the website says, I won’t rehash its blurbs here.
  • For an enthusiastic and uncritical perspective by a “lifestyle writer” (I will not use the term “journalist” because that would be like saying Don Papa is a real rum) I direct you to this Forbes article from May 2017.  It’s just another in a spate of recent rum-themed articles that are written by people who seem to want to advertise that they really know nothing at all about the subject.
May 312016
 
ampleforth

Picture (c) Ocado.com

Too much spice, too much sugar, too little interest.

(#276 / 78/100)

***

The name is almost Dickensian in its imagery.  Professor Cornelius Ampleforth could be straight out of the Pickwick Papers…you know, some chubby, benevolent older fellow in half-specs and a faded waistcoat, with rather limited mental capacity, down on his heels, but possessing a good heart. Whatever – the name evokes a certain good humour and indulgence from us, and at the very least is evocative.  That, unfortunately, doesn’t make the Professor’s Rumbullion a rum worth drinking, unless you are into spiced rums and like to have that in your drink (which I’m not and I don’t, so be aware of my personal preferences in this review).

Whether there really is a Professor Cornelius Ampleforth is subject to intense and spirited debate by all the same people who can tell you the middle name of the runner up of the 1959 Tiddlywinks Championship in Patagonia.  The UK company which releases the Rumbullion is called Atom Supplies and under its umbrella of e-commerce and business consultancy, also runs the online shop Master of Malt, and the brand is their independent bottling operation. They certainly have a sense of humour, as evinced not only by the Professor’s name, but the “Bathtub Gin” they also sell.

Bottled at 42.6% and darkly coloured within an inch of the Kraken, what we had here was a rum that assaulted the nose immediately with enormous and instant nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon notes, caramel and toffee and chocolate, all of which rushed and jostled and ran heedlessly together like a mob entering a Black Friday sale where everything is  90% off. It was also rather thick and almost chewy, and while back in 2010 I appreciated the Captain Morgan Private Stock for precisely those reasons (no longer, mind you), here it was simply excessive, and there was no order to any of it, no gradual progression from one series of well-blended, coherent smells to another…and that made the whole experience something of a disorganized mess.

And by the time I got around to tasting it, those spices really became too much, which led to flagging interest, waning ardour and a lot of grumbling and head shaking.  So there was cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sweet dark chocolate – these were somewhat better behaved now – to which, with some water, were added scents of cloves, marzipan (I liked that) and candied oranges, at which point the party was over and I was blatted into near catatonia by just wave upon wave of cloying sweetness (quick Prof, pass the insulin!). So yeah, there were additional elements of taste that weren’t bad, just so strong and so much that it was like having seven incidences of coitus in one night – one wakes up the next morning with an utterly blank brain and no desire to do anything meaningful. Even the warm, short fade exhibited this oversweet sense of warm syrup, without adding any new notes – there was the incessant hammer of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, and to me it was just overkill.

To its credit, as I don’t hide my preferences, the makers don’t hide anything either: it is a spiced rum, it’s trumpeted as such, and they’re proud of it. But as always, it’s mostly marketing that one gets when one checks: a secret recipe (hate those), fancy wrapping and no information on components or ageing, if any. I guess for less than thirty quid we shouldn’t be asking for more.  This rum is squarely aimed at the casual imbibers who just want a tasty, tarted up, adulterated drink with a little bit of oomph and no hassle, and so although I acknowledge that spiced rums sell briskly for precisely those reasons, they really aren’t my tot of grog.

 

Other notes

For the record, I disapprove of an online shop not disclosing in its listings that it is itself the maker of a rum whose tasting notes (by its own staff) are rabidly enthusiastic.

Mar 262013
 

First posted 11 July 2011 on Liquorature and the Rum Connection

(#080)

***

This review first appeared in two parts on the Rum Connection website, here.  It is reposted here with minor corrections and amendments. It’s a bit of a rant, I’m afraid, and somewhat overlong…it speaks to my disappointment in what has been touted as an ultra-premium, but isn’t.

I enjoy the Pyrat’s XO rum about as much as I do the leisurely explorations of my favourite proctologist: the thing is a perennial dust-gatherer on my shelf, and I finally traded it away to the Arctic Wolf in Edmonton. And when one considers the abysmal regard I have for its enormous tangerine nose, one could reasonably ask what business I had shelling out four times as much to buy the brand’s top-end product, the Cask 1623.  Truth is, it was like a splinter lodged in my mind for over a year, and no matter how many times I passed it squatting smugly there behind a glass case, I could never get rid of the impression it was sneering at me and calling me a puling, whining cheapskate.  So the other day when I had some disposable income, I finally said to hell with it, and got ‘er.

Pyrat’s is a product of the Anguilla Rums company.  This is an establishment with its own origin story (whether true or not, it’s still fun reading) regarding a travelling seaman called CJ Planter who fell in love with an island girl who may have been the illegitimate daughter of a plantation owner and a local lady who dabbled in witchcraft.  CJ eventually began a rum-making concern which, it must be emphasized, did not create rums from scratch, but blended rums from elsewhere (which continues today – I imagine this is because Anguilla, a beautiful but tiny speck in the Caribbean which if you sneezed at the wrong time you’d miss as you flew over it, lacks the resources to have full blown sugar cane plantations on the available land).  Subsequent digging suggests that the Pyrat brand is actually owned by a Nevada outfit called the Patron Spirits Company, and they have a line of spirits products that extends from Patron tequila, to Ultimat vodka, to liqueurs, and rums. So do they own the Anguilla company?  Don’t know…probably they are acting as marketing and distribution agents for the factory, which, as  Ed Hamilton of the Ministry of Rum notes, was shut down in 2010. Note that the rum is now made from DDL’s rum stock from Guyana, and given the shutdown in Anguilla, it’s very likely that the blending takes place in Guyana as well (I was not able to definitely confirm this beyond the anecdotal, but Arctic told me they definitely bottle it there, so it seems reasonable).

Be that as it may, I must commend them for the mere look of the package.  I’m a sucker for a good presentation; it’s part of the overall aesthetic, I argue, much to the disgust of the various maltsters of my acquaintance, who refuse to be sidetracked by such mundane matters and make no bones about chucking wrapper, box and bunting as soon as they buy a bottle of anything. Here, Pyrat’s delivers, and this is as it should be for a self-annointed “ultra-premium” rum costing north of two hundred bucks. The hand blown bottle is encased in a wooden box (the Pyrat homepage says cedar, but I notice one reviewer says walnut, and from the lack of an aroma, walnut is my take also), and around its neck is a medallion with the patron saint of fortune tellers and bartenders, Hoti.  And there’s a hand lettered label signed by the master blender.  Pretty cool.

The rum is a dark amber colour, and has a heavy look to it. The cork is a real cork, no extras or plastic anything. And as soon as I opened the stopper, I knew I’d been had. Well, perhaps not – perhaps I’d allowed myself to be had in my eagerness to try something new at the supposed top end of the scale. The nose wafted out and it was immediately clear that customers of the XO had written in and started a campaign to assure Pyrat’s that the citrus they had sensed in the XO — the very thing I had disliked so much about it – was for wussies and they demanded something with just as much or more orange heft: and Pyrat’s complied.  Open the botle and the waft of an orange grove comes right at you.

There’s a sullen, sulky heaviness to it when it pours into your glass that reminds you of a lighter-coloured El Dorado – and the legs were relatively slow and fat as they slid down the sides, so that part was good. But nosing it was about as subtle as the grapefruit scene with Mae Clark in 1931’s “Public Enemy”.  Yes, I got vanilla (and I had to strain for that); yes there were subtler hints of cherries and flowers here (more strain), under which moved the darker scent of burnt brown sugar – but there was nothing overly dramatic that grabbed my snoot, no I-see-Vishnu moment, no heavenly chorus of angel who should attend the opening of such a purportedly premium product. What was self evident was, as I’ve noted, that damned scent.

The citrus background was more muted than in the XO, but still far too prevalent and bashed the others into a sort of torpid insensibility – it’s like an orange Chuck Norris came through the joint, belted out a roundhouse kick to the face, and all the other smells fell down, twitching feebly.

***

The palate?  No redemption, I’m afraid, and by now I was wondering – what the hell was going on? Did some disgruntled vet pop a few hundred rinds into the still? The liquid was thicker and oilier than other rums I’ve tried, and coated the tongue like it wanted to be a delivery system for a few fascinating flavours the master blender had pulled out of his hat; there was a sweet and lasting flavor, but what the hell was it? A liqueur?

I was tasting a smoothly sweetish spirit and a commingled taste of various almost impossible-to-discern elements dominated by orange marmalade flavor.  Again I got the annoyingly faint background tastes the nose had hinted at, without any of them having the courage to tek front and show us who was boss. The floral scents dimmed more than shimmered, the caramel-molasses and burnt sugar taste faded almost entirely, and what I was left with was something that wasn’t sure what it wanted to be…too sweet for a rum, not complex enough for a high-end. Excuse me fellas. I thought there was supposed to be rums here. This was what two hundred drops of my sweat had bought?

And don’t believe I was entirely mollified by the excellent fade, the only thing I don’t have a whinge about. The 1623 goes down very well, without serious burn or scratch, and even a non-rum-drinker might like that part: my 72 year old father-in-law took a sniff, smacked his gums, sipped it down and allowed it may even eclipse the standard Russian rotgut he preferred (talk about damning with faint praise there), while observing it had too much sugar, as if I should shoot off to Anguilla immediately and take them to task about the matter. In fact, I did send an email down there (and to Patron) asking about the taste and the sugar, which has thus far remained unanswered.

Pyrat’s Cask 1623, also known as Cask 23 for people who can’t be bothered to write the whole thing, is a blend of rums aged up to 40 years.  Note the careful phrasing on the Pyrat website: “We distill the dark amber spirit in limited quantities, ageing its smooth distinctive blend of premium Caribbean rums in oak barrels for up to 40 years.” What that means to me is that the oldest rum in the blend is 40 years old (not the youngest) and there’s no information regarding what proportion is that old.  About all I’ve read online is that the average age of the blends of pot-still and column-still rums that make the 1623, is 23 years. Even the barrels are a bit dodgy – I’ve heard of the usual bourbon barrels, of course, and rumours of barrels that once held orange liqueur. So maybe that’s what it is. Caveat Emptor.

Honesty compels me to note that Pyrat’s 1623 won the 2007 Ministry of Rum tasting competition, but speaking for this puppy, I can only wonder how on earth that happened. Let me put it to you this way: if you were handing out prizes for distinctiveness, then Bundie, Old Port, Pyrat’s XO and maybe Legendario would come out top – you could taste them blind and know what you were getting because they are so unique in taste, so different: but that difference does not translate into real quality, and frankly, I think Pyrat’s is teetering on the edge of not being a rum at all, what with all that extra stuff they must be chucking into the ageing barrels with such languid insouciance.

So there we have it. Unimpressive.  I know I sound a little miffed, perhaps even a shade snarky. But I’m feeling let down, more than a little annoyed.  Actually, I’m plenty mad.  This rum is such a disappointment – it’s a forty dollar rum in a hundred dollar package, selling for two hundred.  Some might argue that I like the sugar-caramel-molasses taste in my rums, and just as I like that taste, so there are others out there who prefer peats, and others who will like orange or sherry or what have you.  No harm no foul.  Yet, I disagree: the whole selling point of Islay whiskies is that unmistakeable peatiness; with rums it’s the core of caramel and burnt sugar enhanced by the varying notes imparted by climate (Bundie or Old Port spring to mind immediately), distillation techniques, ageing and the barrels used.  In the top end of rums, there is an underlying harmony, a sort of zen marriage of all good things that come together like a Porsche 911 GT3.  Sure it blasts off with you, but in a good way. All is in balance. You don’t mind getting your faced ripped off at 6500 rpm and 200mph because you are utterly ensorcelled by the sheer unbridled harmony of the components meshing together like they were lubricated in distilled angels’ tears.

And that’s not the case here. We’ve been sold on a marketing gimmick. We’ve been fed on rarity, a carefully parsed age statement, and price (and a really odd dearth of online reviews I have difficulty comprehending – what, has no-one tasted this thing?). When I tried the English Harbour 1981, the Appleton 30 and Master’s Blend, the El Dorado 21 and 25, the G&M Longpond 1941, I could taste the underlying structural complexity and efforts to both smoothen and balance off the competing flavours.  Here, we have an inexplicable central taste of citrus that advertises its ego from the get go, practically drowns out all other flavours, and to my mind is only marginally redeemed by an extraordinary smoothness.  Ultra-premium? Yeah, it’s about as ultra-premium as a garage sale with one good item in it.

For a rum this expensive and positioning itself at the top of the rum chain, I’d suggest that they stop messing about with the Hoti medallion…and replace it with one that bears the imprint of the patron saint of shell games and snake oil sellers.

 

Mar 262013
 

D7K_3085

First posted 25 February 2010 on Liquorature

Short version – too much orange peel and marmalade flavours mar an otherwise reasonable rum.

(#073. 73/100)

***

It may sound sacrilegious to even mention this 15 year old product of Anguilla in the same breath as Bundie, but when you think about it, Bundaberg is without question one of the unique rums in the world: one may despise it and spit after mentioning its name, but there’s no denying it stays with you. It’s like the dark reflection of the EH25.  And Pyrat (pronounced “pirate”) is another one like that which, love it or hate it, will not soon be forgotten.

While made in Anguilla, it isbended and bottled at DDL’s facilities in Guyana, and then imported to North America by a company out of Nevada (I don’t know whether the Nevada company owns or has shares in the  producer).  It has a squat, bottom heavy bottle reminiscent of the old pirate bottles (embedded in our mental imagery of the world by what must be a thousand movies), and an amber, clear colour verging on the orange. It is a blend of different 15-year-old rums aged in used whiskey or bourbon barrels, and bottled at 40% strength.

I must concede Pyrat’s is a pretty unique middle-end rum, although cheaper than one would expect for a 15-year old (~$40). The first thing that hits you after you remove the cork is the citrus nose.  Yes there’s sugar and vanilla and caramel notes in there too, but they are almost clobbered into insensibility by the attack of the orange marmalade and citrus peel flavouring (and to some extent, by the spirit as well – this has a sharp bouquet).  The taste is similar: a little harsh, mid-level burn, medium finish…and those orangey notes just keep on going forever. It’s like you are drinking a liquid orange bathed in burnt sugar, with just enough whiskey aftertaste to stop this from being classed as a liqueur (it’s a close run thing, however).  Very, very distinctive: like the Bundie, you could taste this blind and know exactly what it is.

Did I like it?  Texture, yes, taste, not at all.  It conflicted a little with my sense of what a rum should taste like – I was startled by how intense the orange was – but it was smooth enough and mellow enough for me to appreciate it more as the evening wore on. The flavour sort of darkened over the hours and became heavier, which I sort of enjoyed.  That said, I’m not entirely sure this as good as it could have been for the kind of ageing it has undergone: the Venezuelan Diplomatica Exclusiva Reserva was a lot better for about the same price. I must concede that as a mixer (3:1 in favour of the Pyrat’s) this lights up a coke like the 1st of July, and is even better when one adds a lime wedge, so all is not lost.

But maybe the Last Hippe has had the last laugh after all: because I’ve been spoiled to think of 10-year-olds and better as sippers, the way whiskeys are.  And when older rums like this one fall just short of the mark, then unique or not, I must simply state that my preference is not always for the uniqueness of taste or flavour, or even the superlativeness of the texture and feel on the tongue, but on the relative ranking of this baby to other fifteen year olds I like.

And there, while I appreciate Pyrat’s as a crazy unique drink in a class all its own, I must say it’ll never entirely be one of my favourites (all other pundits to the contrary).

A last note: I heard that sometime in the last few years Pyrat’s changed the blending to enhance the citrus, and prior blends were darker, sweeter and smokier. That being the case, I might have to take one of the older variants to see whether the changes were an improvement or not. Note also that this rum is now bottled, and maybe even made, in Guyana, at DDL’s facilities.

Update April 2017

A post went up n Facebook recently that supplied a photograph of the new label.  Here at last the statement is more honest, calling it a spirit which is a blend of rums and “natural flavours.”  So it’s a spiced spirit now, and not really a true rum. Disregard the word “artisanal”.

Mar 262013
 

Whaler’s Rare Dark Reserve Rum is all characteristics and no character: smell without nose, burn without body and aggressiveness bordering on the obnoxious without actually delivering on any of the promises it makes.  Don’t let the tempting scent fool you.  That’s most of what you’re gonna be getting.

(First posted 11th December 2010)

(#058. 71/100)

***

Whaler’s Rare Reserve Dark rum is not, as its advertising might imply, made in Hawaii.  Its website certainly suggests the connection by touting the traditional recipe used by whalers in the old days, copied from native islanders’ own rum production on Maui and perhaps infused with vanilla beans once used to rattle around in bottles, meant to entice whales to come closer. An amusing tale which may even be true. Be that as it may, the rum takes its name from the hardy sailors who once plied the Pacific searching for the whales to decimate and made rum on the side when stopping for R&R in the islands.

For a bottle costing less than $25, you can’t expect too much, and indeed, it doesn’t deliver too much.  In that sense, it is not like the Tanduay, an undiscovered steal: it’s just a low level adulterated rum made from neutral spirits.  What makes it stand out from the crowd is a nose of real, if simple, power.  Open this bottle and just let it stand there: it’s like somebody let off a butterscotch bomb in the room (and lest you think I’m exaggerating, I tasted this with a group of Scotiabank employees, and one of them smelled it twenty feet away in less than threee seconds…before I poured a single glass). I have gradually been corrupted into using a glencairn glass, but truth is, you don’t need something snooty for Whaler’s – what you really need is a gas mask to filter the thing out.

The darkness of Whaler’s is, I concede, appealing, and it sports a medium body (I expected something heavier and richer from that colour, but no…).  In the glass it sports thin legs, and that is where this kind of test proves its worth.  Consider: a strong, overpowering nose of butterscotch and vanilla through which you can dimly and imperfectly sense caramel and some sugar and pretty much nothing else.  A body that stings and burns and delivers that taste…and nothing else.  A finish that is short and thin and stings (not much, but that’s me damning it with faint praise)…and nothing else.  I’ve heard and read of rum lovers discussing “hollow” rums, which have all promise and no delivery – this is the first one I’ve ever tried.

What Whalers really is, when all is said and done and drunk, is a flavoured, spiced rum.  Not even fancy herbal stuff like, oh, the Tuzemak, or even Captain Morgan – those two have the balls to put their money where their advertisements are and don’t have airy pretensions to more than that – but just a bucketload of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch flavouring poured into some 40% rum. As a low level mixer this will be okay, I guess.  As a sipper it fails, utterly, unless you’re after a harsh liqueur of some kind, or a cocktail base.  I know I’m not, but if you are, I’d suggest a coke zero or some other non-sweet mixer: this thing is too sugary by half already and doesn’t need any further embellishment.

 

An editorial note:

Heaven Hill distillery from Bardstown, Kentucky may be the harbinger of an accelerating trend: that of larger distillers diversifying their entire portfolios and producing more than just the spirits that once made their name.  Bacardi has stuck with rums (and has one at every price point except the stratosphere) as has J. Wray & Nephew, but research I’ve done on Tanduay, Banks DIH, DDL and of course Diageo shows that these big guns (among others) are producing vodkas, tequilas, gins, whiskies, liqueurs and just about everything else north of 30% ABV.  Even Bruichladdich and Cadenhead are now experimenting with rums as opposed to straight whisky production. And here is the Whaler’s Distilling Company, a subsidiary of Heaven Hill, producing rums in Bourbon country.

In fairness, that’s the way companies survive, by innovation and adaptation to a marketplace where drinking preferences are all over the map and changing in a heartbeat at the dictates of fashion; quality control is better and modern technologies are consistently employed for a taste that is the same bottle to bottle: none of that hit and miss approach that characterizes tiny operations making rum for local consumption on small islands. But I still kind of regret the passage from the uniqueness of such tightly focused distilleries to something more impersonal.

Mar 242013
 

First posted 26 November 2010 on Liquorature.

Herbal, different and like few other rums (we’ll be generous with the term) ever made; will add variety to cocktails and cheer to any Czechs you booze with, but my take is to exercise care when you have it neat.

(#050. 73/100)

***

We must establish from the outset that all labeling to the contrary, Tuzemak is not a rum.  This is because it is made from potatoes (some travel bloggers and websites say beets, so I’m still trying to find out which), not sugar cane, and while you might find it in the rum section, it’s simply because the Czech manufacturers have in the past included colouring and taste additives to make it more like a real rum, and called it as such.  I’m no fan of over-regulation, and the EU has whole warehouses crammed floor to ceiling with them, but in this case their ruling that to be classified and sold as rum in Europe, the thing can’t be made from pommes-de-terre, finds much favor with me.

Which is not to say I actually despise the drink I bought on a whim at willow Park the other day (my curiosity and nosiness will be the undoing of me one day, I fear). As a confirmed internationalist and pretender to cosmopolitanism, I try to take a more tolerant view of differences, and if this thing more or less looks like a brown drink, tastes sweeter than whisky and smells a bit like the good stuff, while being trumpeted as a rum in Czechoslovakia even though they have been forbidden to do so…well, I’m not averse to taking it at face value (The Last Hippie, who refuses to concede that there is any other whisky than the Scotch kind even as he snootily reviews what he terms “lesser offerings” in an effort to call himself fair, would probably be horrified at my laissez-faire attitude, but them’s the breaks).

Tuzemak actually means “domestic” in Czech, and simply refers to its down home origins (not a maid).  Previously called Tuzemsky rum, it is, like Stroh’s, something of a local institution, and made with an old, supposedly traditional recipe. Czechs are great beer drinkers, but they do like hard stuff as well: aside from the rum, there is both slivovice (a kind of plum brandy) and Becherovka, (a herbal 38% liqueur). This one seems to take the best part of tose and creates a drink for the people who never have drinks…just a drink, and then another drink and then…

Enough temporizing, then: what’s the story on the rum?

On the nose, it’s not too shabby. It’s a little pungent, a shade sharp, but as it settles, wafts of vanilla billow gently into your nose without too much sting or burn.  There is a very slight medicinal undertone that kind of spoils the taste, but not so much as to seriously detract from the overall quality, just to show it’s not an aged product.  What kind of blend it is – that is to say, what’s in it or how many differing ingredients there are – I cannot say. There’s too little information available.

The palate continues enhancing what the nose promised.  As one tastes, the vanilla becomes more pronouced, keeping in step with a gradually increasing floral note, some kind of herbs (similar to the Stroh 54) and a faint liquorice hint that blends pretty well into the overall balance.  It’s like a light sweet semi dry cognac, and for once I do not mean this in a bad way. It’s young and a little rambunctious, not too sophisticated…yet nice too, even as a low end sipper. The finish is short and dry and without serious sting or burn, the warm breath of the fumes come up the back of your throat and linger gently before dissipating

In summary, I think this is a very workmanlike entry to the genre.  I’d drink it neat, yes; but it makes a phenomenally different and pleasurable mixer too, largely due to its unusual herbal properties which give even that old faithful, the rum and coke, a uniquely different perspective.  Remember how I despised the plasticine taste of the Stroh 54?  This delectable local tipple from middle Europe avoids the pitfalls of that overproof, and is a decent rum, an interesting sipping tipple and something that I’d recommend for any who want to try something a little off the reservation.

Na zdravi!

***

Mar 242013
 

First posted 13 October, 2010.

(#039)(Unscored)

The  best selling and most commonly quoted spiced rum in the world.  It’s the standard by which all other spiced rums are measured not because of its excellence, precisely, but because of its overall “okay-ness”. It’s okay everywhere while being truly outstanding at little. It’s sweetness and spice are part of the appeal.

***

The fact that this is a low end mixer should not dissuade you from giving it a shot (no pun intended) if you’re in the mood for a reasonably low-priced little something. It’s about on the same level as the cheaper Bacardis (Gold, and Black), but it is spiced and therefore somewhat sweeter than normal, and also not meant to be taken seriously as a sipper.  Yet many aficionados with a less exclusive turn of taste are quite ardent supporters of The Captain’s spiced variant.

As I’ve noted in my review of Captain Morgan’s Private Stock, Seagram used to make the rum, but sold the rights to Diageo in the mid-eighties, and currently it is the world’s best selling spiced rum. The name is nothing more than a marketing ploy, since it enhances the connection to swashbuckling, seafaring pirate days of yore, but beyond that, there isn’t anything else (note that the TV advertising campaign I have seen in Calgary also plays on the whole bit about being like a pirate in breaking the rules and thinking outside the box to achieve success…an interesting bit of moral relativism given Morgan’s history and actions).

Captain Morgan is a tawny gold colour, and displays a medium light body in the glass. The nose is heavy with rum and vanilla, and a bit of caramel thrown in.  I can’t say I detected anything beyond that, because the scent is so overwhelming.  Yet the youth of the rum is evident in the sharpness at the back of the throat (it’s been matured for two years or less in charred white oak barrels), so there’s not much point in trying the rum to sip (unless you’re a slight nutcase like me and want to try it that way nevertheless). The finish is pretty good, though, a tad sharp, though not nearly as much as the nose suggested it would have. Last flavours of vanilla and nutmeg.

For my money, I suppose it’s okay.  It’s a versatile ingredient in mixed drinks, but just too sweet to really appeal to me — and for all those who have read my reviews about liking sugar in my rums, this must sound strange, but there is something as too much and this is a case in point.  Perhaps adding just a smidgen of coke to mitigate the burn is the way to approach it.

However, like Bacardi, the Captain is available just about everywhere, and as a result, if you drop thirty bucks on a bottle when getting something in a hurry, well, you’ll certainly get what you pay for plus maybe a bit extra. Your friends and guests sure as hell aren’t going to refuse it, and, if offered at a party, neither would I.

Mar 242013
 

First posted 30th August 2010 on Liquorature.

(#034)(Unscored)

***

When I was discoursing about rums with a Calgary Co-op liquor sales manager (in my normal sneering way, and for the usual reason), I asked about this odd little label from Austria, because, with my penetrating insight and encyclopedic knowledge, I was aware that Austria didn’t have any canefields  — Andrea from the cashier’s till was called over, and noted flatly (in that no-nonsense way that people use to inform you they know the Truth even if you’re too ignorant to), that she’d had them all, tried the lot, was Austrian into the bargain on her mother’s side, and Stroh was quite simply the best spiced rum in the world, bar none (except perhaps another Stroh). Abashed into silence and trembling meekness at this powerful and unambiguous endorsement and the fierce look of “Agree with me if you want to live,” I tried to recover my backbone from the yellow paint in which it was soaking, and bought the bottle.

This illustrates the sad state to which us rum lovers have been forced into, in this whisky loving city: we’re so desperate to try something new, that we are pitifully grateful for any new rum that passes through the local shops.  Not the low or mid range from an established maker, but something genuinely new. I ruefully concede that Stroh’s meets every criteria except one: I’m not entirely convinced it actually is a rum.  Oh, it says it is, and it has the suitable origin in sugar cane by-products, whatever those might be (originally it was made from a diluted ethanol base), but note I don’t say sugar cane juice, or molasses. The problem was that when Sebastian Stroh started making this little concoction in Klagenfurt in the early 1830s, Austria was not participating in the scramble for Africa (or anywhere else), and thus lacked tropical colonies from where they could get the raw materials.  So he added his own spices and flavour and additives in order to make an ersatz molasses taste, and created a domestic rum which eventually became something of a national tipple.  Can’t fault the Europeans for trying to make a good likker, I suppose: I just wish they wouldn’t pretend this was the real McCoy.

Stroh’s is made in several varieties: the 80% variation (who the hell would drink this firewater, honestly?), 60%, 40%…I had bought what I thought was the tamer 54% version which apparently is the most popular (I expect outraged posts stating that this is the wimpy stuff and how real men drink the 80%), and was the only bottle for sale anyway. At half a litre for $35, that’s a mid-ranger, and in spite of my doubt regarding overproofs (what’s the point, beyond cooking, creating cocktails, making college freshmen drunk faster or simply causing pain?), it did, as new rums usually do, intrigue me.  Curiosity, I fear, will be the end of me one of these days, no matter how careful I am.

Good thing I was cautious.  Scarfing Keenan’s excellent brunch the next day, I cracked the bottle and I swear the alcohol wanted to strangle me right on the spot.  I’ve had some unique and aggressive rums in my day (Bundie and Pyrat’s to start), but this took distinctiveness to a whole new level.  The smell on this thing was like – and I swear this is true – plasticine. I thought for a moment I had entered a time warp and was back in primary school dicking around with play-do. The assault on my nose was so swift and savage that I shuddered, avoided Keenan’s smirking eyes, and poured a shot at arm’s length over ice: The Hippie complains that ice closes up a drink when one should leave it open, but the poor man is a fan of civilized whisky for retired country gents and has never been boinked over the head and had his nose speared by this raging Austrian drink.  You could make out some cinnamon notes and a hint of ginger when your schnozz was reluctantly returned to you, but the truth was that I thought this a vile, underspiced and overstrength drink that should under no circumstances be had “just so.”  Forget the ice.  Forget nosing, smelling, checking for legs or anything fancy. Drown this one in cola, in sprite, in juice or anything else, and quickly.  But I must make this observation: in a cola (a lot of cola), Stroh’s tastes like a damned ginger ale. Plasticine flavoured ginger ale that gives you a buzz. Weirdest thing. Not entirely a loss, therefore.

Of course, it was only later, doing my research and putting my notes together, that I read it was supposed to be used as a cooking ingredient for cakes and rumballs, as a cocktail base and a mixer with other things to produce smoother drinks of some power (like the B52).  It’s not a drink to be had neat (sure…now they tell me). Well, maybe.  Rums do have this thing about being equal part sippers and equal part mixers, and their plebian origins make it difficult to distinguish which is which, sometimes. I’ll be the first to concede that as an overproof rum, Stroh – any one of the overproof offerings – is not for the meek and mild or those who haven’t seen “300” at least five times.  Stroh’s is a hairy friggin’ barbarian of a drink, a dirty, nasty, screaming crazy, wielding a murderous nose-axe meant to do you serious harm and destroy your sight.  It’s one of the most distinctive liquors I’ve ever had, and while I may not like it much, I ruefully laugh as I recall my encounter with it, will give it due respect and a wide berth from here on in.  Austrians, other Europeans and Andrea are welcome to have it and enjoy it (although, what the hell, I still have to finish my bottle so Ill probably go back to be bashed around a bit one of these days when I’m in a masochistic mood), and if I have one in my house one day, I’ll serve it to him (along with the Coruba).

But I gotta tell you: I don’t care what they call it, or what its antecedents are – a rum, this one really is not.

Mar 242013
 

 

First posted 27 June 2010 on Liquorature.

(#027)(Unscored)

Overproofed, overpriced, overrated.

***

Kraken Black — the selection for the June 2010 Book Club session — is a victory of advertising over the reality of what it is, of style over substance for those who are ok with it, a low-to-middling value (~$28 Can) wrapped up in a presentation that would have you believe the price is an undiscovered steal.  A lot of people are going to drink this thing, wax loquacious at the spice, admire the darkness and say “wow!” I’m afraid, though, that’s just knee-jerk, because you take Kraken apart, and it just can’t live up to the hype.

Fair is fair: I liked the bottle, and the presentation was cool. I enjoyed seeing a rum with the stones to put a mythological creature that’s created to do a Godzilla on  ancient Greece right there front and center. The small handles I thought were affectations, but hearkened back to old seafaring days, so what the hell: points for that.  Points also for that inky black swirling rum which is by far the darkest I’ve ever seen, and therefore for sheer originality, this rum sitting on a shelf is sure to get your attention.

The rum sits in the glass and soaks up the light, letting just some dark brownish red glints through – decent middling legs, nothing special. It’s a blend, this one, a new addition to the market (Proximo Spirits from NY, which also markets Matusalem, distributes this), and bottled at 94 proof…47%  ABV. And it supposedly has something like eighteen different spices added to it.

The nose is problematic – caramel had to be added to get the colour this dark and that comes through, but so does, vanilla and toffee and chocolate…and a medicinal odour remniscent of cough medicine that is both jarring and unwelcome, and no, I do not attribute it to the 47%. Even a Glencairn glass the Hippie provided could not save the schnozz from being skewered by that hospital reek.

The taste is better. The caramel is not dominating, and lets other flavours like licorice, cinnamon and maybe nutmeg through, but for the most part all I got is a musky cloying taste of too much molasses left in (and that weird chocolate texture) that destroyed the fine balance a spiced rum needs. But I must make note of this: for a 47% rum, it’s damned smooth going down, and so I think a lot of people are going to love this rum in spite of the cough medicine taste that persists and just ruins the whole thing for me. The finish goes on for longer than expected (a definite plus) but what it does is permit the very things you don’t like to persist.

My suspicions are that with the recent resurgence of interest and popularity in quality rums, a lot of lesser wares are flooding the market in an effort to mine the vein. Nothing else explains why so many American and Canadian companies are buying all these Caribbean raw stocks and blending and distributing the results themselves (not always to the benefit of our palates, alas). When Bruichladdich, Cadenhead or A.D. Rattray put their resources and acknowledged street cred behind a rum, I’ll acknowledge the effort and result, but I can’t yet give the same cachet to the (supposedly Angostura-owned) Lawrenceburg distillery in Indiana, sorry.

So I’ve said it fails for me, but fails as what? As a sipper or a mixer? As a sipper, yes but not by as much as you’d think: it’s smooth enough and intriguing enough – cough syrup crap taste aside — for me to not to mark it below the Young’s Old Sam, or Bundie or the Coruba: though none of these has pretensions to grandeur the way the Kraken does, and if you doubt me, just compare the websites and the forum chatter among all these.  As a mixer I have to be more careful – remember, the purpose of the mix is to either fill the weaknesses of the rum, enhance the diluter, or create a synthesis of rum and additive(s) which is greater (and weaker) than the sum of its parts. Put like that, this rum shows its dichotomy and in trying to be both cocktail and sipper, pleases neither. It’s too spiced, too medicinal – too cloying –  to work well as a mixer, for coke, ginger ale or others.

And so my recommendation would simply echo old Zeus, call in Harryhausen, and issue the command to (what else?)  — release the Kraken.