Jun 222018
 

In early May 2018, following on from a much-envied and jealously-regarded Velier Port Mourant tasting, Nicolai Wachmann and Gregers Nielson busied themselves with some of the new rums issued for Velier’s 70th Anniversary.  These six full-proof rums – carefully chosen from well-known distilleries in Japan, St Lucia, Barbados, Mauritius, Marie Galante (Guadeloupe) and Jamaica – were distinguished by vivid and colourful artwork on their labels, done by a Singaporean artist named Warren Khong.  Strikingly visual in design, the series of rums immediately became known as the “Warren Khong” range, and have excited approbation in equal parts for their look, and their taste.

The following interview and notes are all from the two gentlemen’s efforts, in their own words. And so, the introduction being over, let’s hand off the flight to my Danish friends.


Last year Velier SpA celebrated its 70th anniversary, and if you’re reading this, my bet is that this would be old news to you. Nevertheless, Luca Gargano made certain that most of the rum community was, and still is, saving up money to buy all the exciting new rums that are being released during 2017 and 2018 in celebration of this milestone in the company’s history.

One of the releases is a series of six rums named after an artist from Singapore – Warren Khong.

But who is this Warren guy and how did he come about lending his name to such an awesome collection of rum?

Well we didn’t have a clue and our parents didn’t either, so we decided to do some research online and then write and ask him personally, in order to understand the connection.

W. Kong 2015 (c) Timeout.com

 

Warren Khong bio:

Warren was born in Singapore back in 1984, studied art in Singapore and has previously worked with LMDW on other spirits labels. So this is by no means the first time he has lent his name to the spirits world.

Warren Khong situates his practice primarily in the field of painting, researching its concepts and its relation to surface and materiality – from selected surfaces to light, colour and reflection, he also explores spaces and site specificity as well as the intangible or immaterial, proposing for material as Idea, as a methodology towards artmaking.

Khong graduated with a Master of Arts, Fine Arts from the La Salle College of the Arts, Singapore in partnership with Goldsmith’s College, University of London. He has had five solo exhibitions, the most recent being Light-Space (In collaboration with Urich Lau) at Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore and Whitewash at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, also in Singapore. Selected group exhibitions included In Praise Of Shadows at the Art, Design and Media Gallery at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Supernatural at Gajah Gallery, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, both in 2017.

Warren Khong’s Kuruizawa design

With regards to LMDW, Warren’s art works were used for their first Artist range of whiskies, as well as the Artifices range of Karuizawa whiskies.

How and when did you end up creating the artwork for this series of rum?

I was asked by Luca during Whisky Live Singapore 2016 if I would be willing to create a series of paintings to be used as rum labels. He was very enthusiastic about it, and I agreed. I started working on the paintings early of 2017.

Is there an underlying meaning or theme behind the artwork and choice of colours?

All Luca had asked for was that I used a brighter colour palette so as to reflect the Caribbean heritage of his rums for the bottlings, to which I agreed. As for any underlying meaning in the paintings, it happens through the execution of it. Let me further elaborate. I believe that in the distillation process, it is very controlled [and] exacting, without much room for mistakes; yet the end result is that you have rum, which is a wonderful, multi-layered drink with so many various notes that comes together in spectacular fashion. I draw a parallel there with how I approached the painting of these works. A number of colours, paint swirls, drops and the like, which appear as though somewhat random yet able to come together as a visual whole and the application of each drop of paint is controlled and exact, right where it is meant to be, non accidental.

Did you get to chose which rums got which artwork/colour?

Nope, nor would I have wanted that. I think it more fitting that Luca was the one who did the pairings!

Did Luca ask you to drink rum before painting the art?

Nope, nor would I have. I don’t drink when making my art, it would have affected my ability to create exactly what I had wanted to create. I drank after the works were done of course!

Do you enjoy rum yourself and have you tasted the rums from the Warren Khong series?

Yes, I enjoy rum myself. In fact, I am happy to say that Luca was the one who introduced it to me, and it was love at first taste. Unfortunately, I have not yet tasted any from the series.

Are you aware of the amount of hype the Warren Khong series has stirred within the rum community?

No, I am not. But I am very flattered to hear about it and am glad to have been a part of it!


And back to the tasting…

Why focus on the Khong Collection you may ask? Well, it’s been one the most hyped series of rum to be released the past year’s time and it seems that not many people have actually sat down and tasted the entire collection in one sitting. So we thought, why not make this happen and as we had access to the entire collection, we decided to do just that.

The facts:

  • The range consists of 6 different bottlings from 6 very different regions and distilleries.
  • In total, the Khong Collection officially boasts 4615 bottles.
  • The average abv of the Khong Collection is 60.31%
  • The average age is 7 years (mainly tropical)
  • The rarest is Nine Leaves Encrypted with 249 bottles
  • The largest outturn is Diamond <H> with 1659 bottles (but seems to be the most popular, so good thing it was “plentyfull”.

Nicolai preparing to do battle….

TASTING NOTES:

A word of note:

This tasting session did not set out to directly compare these six rums in order to find an overall winner. That would be like having six grandmothers compete in different disciplines of athletics and choosing the supreme winner – slow, not interesting and pointless in terms of style and origin.

What we’ve tried to do is taste the rums and rate them independently, while taking into consideration what we’ve previously tried from the various distilleries/regions, and how we found the quality and feel of the rum overall.

As such, we may have favourites amongst them, but we completely acknowledge that this is 100% subjective and therefore not necessarily something everyone else agrees upon (but you ought to agree with us, naturally!)

The grades given are a calculated average of our individual grades. This is simply because we couldn’t agree on a mutual score for each rum (hence why our individual scores are also stated), and therefore we thought, an average would demonstrate the final score more fairly.

In hindsight, we didn’t have a reference rum to kick start the tasting, so a re-tasting would be interesting at some point.

Anyway, enough talk and time for the results:

 


Chamarel Pure Single Rum Agricole 6 YO 2011-2017 55.5%

(Mauritius, 2 casks, ex-French Oak)

Nose – Citrus and grassy notes combined with an almost cake-like vanilla influence kicks off the experience. The alcohol is pleasant and almost subtle considering the strength. In the far back, hay begins to take form – thoughts of walking into a barn full of hay pallets and moist air springs to mind, with a basket of citrus fruits and green apples. Only brief whispers of lightly caramelised oak and vanilla seem to give evidence to the barrel ageing. After a good swirl, hints of lemon thyme , rosemary and perhaps white pepper, but only subtle. After some more time, elements of medicine cabinet (gaze and pills) emerge as well.

Mouth – Peppery spiciness, dry cake, fruity sweetness, orange zest

Finish – Mix of fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary, ripe apricots, Limoncello (sweet lemon liqueur) and anis. Cedar tree and light wood spice with mild white pepper and vanilla sugar. Bitter orange zest and light tannins finish off combined with a melange of the sweetness from all the fruity notes and dried cake.

Thoughts – Super charming and complex rum in its own right. We were both taken by surprise and fell in love with it’s charm, balance and super integrated alcohol. It passes quickly, but while it’s there, it’s a great acquaintance. Despite all the goodness, it remains just a tad to simple and easy, to make it truly exceptional. But for what it is, this could be a stable in our home bar any day.

Points:    84 (Gregers 86 / Nicolai 82)

 

Bielle Rhum Vieux Agricole 10 YO 2007-2017 55%

(Marie Galante, single cask, ex-Bourbon)

Nose – Cedar tree, cigar box, green grapes, hints of acetone, there’s an almost yogurt naturelle kind of acidity present; also toasted wood, vanilla, caramelised brown sugar and liquorice powder. The nose is super dry – you almost feel your mouth being rid of moisture just by smelling the rum.

After some time, it begins to develop “Matador Mix” aromas (Danish mixed sweets consisting of fruity wine gums, liquorice, caramelised sugar coatings and coconut in an elegant balance). Incredibly complex and just seems to develop new notes as time passes.

Mouth – Spicy, peppery, pungent alcohol, but not aggressive. It’s sweet and dry at the same time with a nice texture and feel. This rum caresses your tongue and mouth, it’s like a thai massage where you are crunched by a petite beautiful woman.

Finish – The wood spice, cedar tree. oak and tannins give way to more sweet aromas of acidic sweet fruit, liquorice and burned caramel. It lingers for a good time and keeps the flavours rolling in an ever complex plethora of sweet, spicy and dry elements.

Thoughts – Fantastic balance throughout. The dry impression in the nose loses ground to a wonderful sweetness, partly in the mouth yet most apparent in the finish.

Points:    90 (Gregers 91 / Nicolai 89)

Mount Gilboa Pure Single Rum 9 YO 2008-2017 66%

(Barbados, 3 casks, ex-French brandy)

Nose – The high alcohol itches the nostrils a little. Flat Coca Cola is the first thing that springs to mind (in Denmark back in the 80s and 90s, we had small cartons of coke flavoured juice, but without carbon dioxide); immediately afterwards, oak and woodspice appears with nutmeg, allspice, black pepper – one almost expects it to be a super dry sensation judging from the tannins. Dried apricots, dates, dried – almost roasted – coconut begins to emerge.

Mouth – Burnt treacle, oak and tannins, black pepper. Feisty alcohol burn.

Finish – The tannins and oak dominate the finish in a bitter way. A rich sweetness joins in and mellows out the dry bitterness, a sweetness difficult to define, leaving us wondering if it’s down to the high 66% abv. It’s a complex field of wood spice, pepper, tannins, spicy peppers, a cigar box, leather and a profound sweetness which to us resembles caramelised burnt treacle.

This sweetness lingers to the very end along with the rest of the spicy herbal and wooden notes.

Thoughts – We both agreed that this rum would have been incredible to try a year or two ago. The wood has made its appearance just a wee bit to dominant for our liking, with the bitter finish taking down the points. Having said that, it still beats the old Mount Gilboa bottlings by far, for which it deserves credit.

Points:    81 (Gregers 82 / Nicolai 80)

Nine Leaves Pure Single Rum “Encrypted” 3 YO 2014-2017 64.8%

(Japan, single cask, ex-wine)

Nose – Caramelised Bergamot and metallic citrus hints. Limoncello and an almost Sambuca-ish anise background. Elderflower and floral notes. The wine casks shine through with notes of apple vinegar and an oxidised sherry feel. It shows the young age, but incredibly complex and balanced nonetheless. So very different from what we expected. The metallic notes are very dominant – which may be an acquired taste?

Mouth – Perfumed, sweetness, tannin-ish dryness. Hot yet smooth and delicate.

Finish – Wow… this is a wave of floral notes: Elderflowers, rose water, rose pepper and a super balanced kick from the alcohol. The wine cask-notes are there again, with ripe green grapes and fresh oaky tannins. Only vague hints of vanilla seem to come through. The rum lingers in the mouth for some time and keeps reminding you of all the different flavours it’s thrown your way.

Thoughts – This is just a massive surprise! So young, yet superbly integrated. The mix of flavours are completely new and different, yet insanely appealing, delicious and juicy. Who the hell saw that coming? Without doubt, the best rum Yoshiharu has produced so far – huge kudos for this rum, Yoshi!

Points:    88 (Gregers 89 / Nicolai 87)

 

St. Lucia Pure Single Rum 7 YO 2010-2017 58.6%

(St. Lucia, single cask, ex-bourbon)

Nose – Pot still… this is dirty, full of everything you’d expect from the John Dore 2. It’s a plethora of fusel notes – motor oil, acetone, varnish and rubber with small whiffs of smoke (but in a good way). Oak and woodspice is present with fragrances of thyme and rosemary. But at the same time, you are met with baskets full of dried pineapple, mango and papaya, juicy raisins, dried apricots and hints of lime. In the far back menthol and fresh pepper notes.

Mouth – Dry…tannin-rich, sweet, spicy, hot and wonderfully dirty.

Finish – Woaaa… Minerality, motor oil, acetone, fusel notes and smoky aromas from the ageing in barrels. Sweetness in terms of preserved prunes, raisins, star anis, treacle. The oak and woodspice lingers on in the background, but balanced and submissive compared the rest of the flavours. After some time, sweet pipe tobacco, leather and cedar tree notes appear in a bizarre mix with fresh green grass and herbs.

Thoughts – This is filthy good rum. It’s insanely complex, throwing fusel notes, fruits, minerals, herbs and spices at you while wrapping it all up in dry tannins and alcohol, making sure everything is kept in balance. It’s concentrated, complex end requires your attention if you’re to enjoy it fully, yet allows for a mellow drink as well. Beautiful! And at last, a rum we agreed on, and scored exactly the same.

Points:    91 (Gregers 91 / Nicolai 91)

<H> Pure Single Rum 7 YO 2010-2017 62%

(Hampden, Jamaica, 5 casks, ex-bourbon)

Nose – Hampden, no doubt about it. This is much richer and thicker in the nose than for instance the HLCF, but almost just as pungent.  Overripe banana, succulent pineapple and mango, funky esters, acetone and varnish. The fruity elements are all overripe, on the verge of decomposing (vaguely reminding us of the Savannah’s HERR). There’s also a buttery richness to it with cinnamon and peach. Lavender soap/oil.

Mouth – Acidity, spicy sweetness (almost like the asian ginger sweets) pungent alcohol

Finish – Overripe bananas, pineapple, ester funkiness, fruit candy, dry tannins, toasted oaky vanillins. Ginger candy is back with the sweet and peppery hot touch – and with that, it fades out incredibly quick, makes a Houdini and disappears. Only a residue of the overripe bananas and some esters linger behind, and with that ciao ciao, no more.

Thoughts – Perhaps we had too high expectations of this rum, being huge fans of high ester Hampden rums. And although you cannot compare the <H> mark with HLCF from the Habitation Velier series, the HLCF just delivers so much more. In fine, this is far from the best Hampden out there in our opinion. Other Hampden fans will no doubt like it, but for us, it’s just not quite there.

Points:    87 (Gregers 86 / Nicolai 88)


Summary of scores

  • Chamarel 84
  • Bielle 90
  • Mount Gilboa 81
  • Nine Leaves 88
  • St. Lucia 91
  • Hampden <H> 87

Conclusion

So what exactly do we have here and should Mr. Khong be proud of this rum collection carrying his name? The answer is to the later is hell yes!

What we have here is a remarkable portrayal of (mostly) pure single rums. Each a fantastic example of the region and distillery it derives from and demonstrates yet again that neither age nor region is a definitive marker for quality – and that with judicious selection and decanting at just the right age, young rums can just as easily be superlative.

Are they the best of the best? In some cases perhaps, but this is very much in the eye of the beholder. What we’ve experienced since this tasting, is just how diverse feelings are towards each of these expressions. Encrypted surprised us in an immensely positive way, St Lucia was as anticipated and fully lived up to our high expectations. Chamarel was the charming sweetheart that you could venture back to every day. Bielle hit the spot, for both of us, and just delivered, period. Mount Gilboa, not our favourite of the lot, but after trying it with some added water and letting it stand for a good 30-60 minutes, this rum developed into something much more complex and fruity – alas, this is not taken into consideration here. Hampden, it’s a good rum by any account, but for us, far from the best of its kind out there. Then again, not sure how many <H> Hampdens we’ve actually tried before, so this of course should be taken into consideration as well.

At the end of the day, this series is worth every penny and showcases a diverse series of locally aged rums from exceptional producers and countries. How can you not appreciate something like that?

Gregers & Nicolai

Feb 232018
 

Some days are just harder than others, especially when we put our lives and livers and family time on hold, just say f**kit and do a deep dive into rums that are insanely expensive, excrutiatingly rare and that makes ethanol leak from the eyes of every Velier fan and exiled Mudlander who ever lived. While I would not go so far as to say we suffer for our art (drinking rum unicorns like this? are you kidding?), there is no question that when two of the cool kids in the rumworld – Gregers and Nicolai – managed to put together a Velier Port Mourant session, I went into my bedroom and shed bitter tears of envy and ignored my wife for three days straight (though admittedly it helped that she was away scouring for a Prada purse at the time). 

All joking aside, both Gregers and Nicolai are long-time correspondents of mine from Denmark, and have a lot of fun at my expense laughing at all the good moonshine they get up there while I bake in the desert.  We share samples and bottles and commentary constantly – it was Gregers who introduced me to the Jamaican 1977 Ping 9, and Nicolai who provided a massive set of Savanna Lontan Grand Arômes to me a year or so ago – and because neither have a website (yet) or do writeups (yet), when I heard of their Velier PM session, I offered to host their tasting notes here…because stuff like this needs some broadcasting, given how rare these rums now are.  Caroni is the Velier outturn du jour at the moment (some might argue it’s the 2017 70th Anniversary Collection) but we must never forget the concussive blast which their Demeraras made on the world all those years ago when only Serge Valentin was writing about them at all.

So, here’s their report.  All tasting notes are theirs, all conclusions are theirs, all scorings are theirs. It’s a shame they didn’t manage to lay paws on the 1982 and 1985 versions as well – that would have made it a complete Velier PM set – but enjoy, anyway, and if you ever get any of these rums, treasure them.  They really are pretty damned good.


Velier Port Mourant 1972-2008 36 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 47.8% 175 bottles

Nose: What the… this is just pure sex in a glass. Fruity yet peppery hot notes kick off the party. Wood spice, aniseed, liquorice – but not the heavy English type, dried overripe prunes, raisins, dried figs & dates, tannins and roasted oak/wood and vanilla. In the far back dried rosemary and thyme which, shortly after, lingers into an almost floral note. Menthol notes develop a little later followed by leather and tobacco, along with cigar box / cedar tree after additional time in the glass. Did anybody say complex?

Mouth: Spicy without being too strong, fruity sweetness and a perfect oily texture – not too thin or thick.

Finish: Fruity elements to start with, then wood spice and aniseed followed by…well, more fruit. Wood spice kicks in along with complex floral notes and a fruity sweetness combined with roasted oak and vanilla. The menthol notes awaken a bit more. Tannins and a smooth and pleasant dryness cleans up the the bountiful party. The finish just keeps going and continues to be balanced yet complex, fruity and meaty in an almost feminine style – if that’s not straining your imagination too far.

Comments: Amazing! The balance, flavour and texture! The complexity! Superb rum! The alcohol is subtle and well integrated. The balance becomes even more apparent after a little time in the glass. This is super complex and wonderfully integrated. Harmonious and sexy! We need more of this stuff on the shelves – if only…

Points: 94/100


Velier Port Mourant 1974-2008 34 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 54.5% 364 bottles

Nose: Dried raisins, prunes, dates and figs, warm sweet spices (cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla), menthol, wood spice, tannins and oak. In the background lurk liquorice, aniseed, much more pungent than the 1972. Deep, earthy, meaty notes,  leading on to thick treacle, molasses, dark chocolate combined with the dried stone fruits from earlier.

Mouth: In the mouth it’s got a peppery and warm spicy kick which quickly transfers on to a fruity sweetness in the back – is it the dried stone fruits again? Who cares, we loved it anyway.

Finish: The fruitiness is rather quickly subdued by oak tannins, aniseed and other warm spices and woodspice. This is super dry, the dried stone fruits remain lingering in the far back though. Tobacco, leather, oak, tannins and strong aniseed come back again and everything lingers there for a long time.

Comments: Much more assertive than the 72. Dry and earthy, the sweetness is kept far in the background. Balance is super beautiful, but in a very different way than the ‘72 – much deeper, much more meaty, pungent, dry. There is a slight bitterness that comes lingering at the very end, which cleans up and dries your mouth. This is a great Demerara rum, one of the best.

Points: 92/100


Velier Port Mourant 1975-2008 32 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 56.7% 518 bottles

Nose: Wood spice, aniseed and hot pepper hits you straight away, like hammer to the glass. Dried prunes, raisins and menthol in the background supported by heavy notes of treacle and English licorice. Oak, tannins and vague notes of vanilla from the cask linger in the far background. It’s much more aggressive and in your face compared to the ‘72 and ‘74 which is surprising given it’s not too far removed in strength from either of those.

Mouth: Oily rich, sweet, light tannins, oaky wood spice and pepper.

Finish: Heavy, dark/burnt sweetness, aniseed and licorice dominate, dried figs and prunes return, wood spice, cinnamon and cardamom. The meaty feel is prominent but somehow things are not completely balanced…there’s something slightly off here. The bitterness comes in at the end and “cleans up” the goodness. Would have loved the sweetness and warm spices to have lasted a little longer, but the bitterness swipes it away, which takes this rum down several points.

Comments: The ‘75 is just a bit too heavy on the wood. It’s that guy in class who has all the necessary stats to succeed big time, comes close…but just doesn’t get the girl. It’s good, no doubt about it, but after the ‘72 and ‘74, it just falls behind. Having said that, there are a lot of other 75’s on the market, which redeem the year’s output of PM rums.

Points: 84/100


Velier Port Mourant 1993-2006 13 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 65% 2994 bottles

Nose: My God this is a monster. The alcohol just slaps you, hard, twice, and this is a bottle that has been opened for some time now. Aniseed, heavy wood spices, peppery notes, sweet and rich fruity notes. Licorice and burnt treacle, flambeed prunes, pungent vanilla, raisons, menthol notes. It has a freshness to it, unlike the continentally aged versions. It is somewhat chaotic, a freak show in the middle of a circus stage.

Mouth: The alcohol hits the palate fiercely, then develops into a difficult-to-define partly-fruity sweetness along with peppery notes and an oily texture.

Finish: Fusel notes quickly dominate any of the fruit we were expecting, along with any mineral or floral notes. Tannins, hot spices, wood spices, oak. It has this dry, tannin-rich meatiness to it, but not bitter as such. The beast just hangs on, but not in a harmonious balanced kind of way, more a fight for dominance – where the 93’ is determined to win.

Comments. The tropical ageing is very apparent. The alcohol, balance and flavours are by no means well integrated, true, more a mad maelstrom of everything but the kitchen sink — but the chaos is charming (and scary) at the same time. Unfortunately it’s miles behind its brothers.

Bearing in mind that this was a bottle that had been open for some time, we can only imagine how it was when newly opened and our thoughts steered towards a bodybuilder on steroids (and crack) with a serious need of a dental appointment.

Points  80/100


Velier Port Mourant 1997-2012 15 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 65.7% 1094 bottles

Nose: Holy moly… this just says “I love you” as soon as it’s poured. The tropical ageing throws a complex plethora of rich treacle, heavy dried fruits, sweet spices, cinnamon, vanilla, and pungent alcohol at you – in that laid back island way.

Mouth: On the palate, you are greeted by a sweet, spicy, oily rich and pungent juice. Slightly lighter than the 93, despite the alcohol difference but so much better and pleasant.

Finish:  The tropical ageing wins dominans now for certain. Dark liquorice, caramelised treacle, fruits – candied prunes and figs, warm spices, wood spice, vanilla, oak, stringent tannins. It closes off with a slight bitterness, but pleasantly so and seems to last forever.

Comments: The tropical ageing is much better integrated in the 97 compared to the 93. The complexity and sweetness is just so utterly well balanced and charming that it wins you over despite the high abv. The balance is generally astounding throughout and the perceived sweetness is second to none. This is pretty much how you would want your wife – tropically sweet, firm but soft, fierce but sexy, mature but also young and beautiful. If only it could have your kids.  We’d name them all for plantations in Guyana.

Points:   90/100


IN CLOSING, THE BONUS ROUND

What an evening… Our senses were boggled from the amount of flavours and alcohol we’d just exposed them to, and trying to get an overview of the entire experience seemed somewhat unnatural considering what we’d just tried.

In an attempt to step away from it all and try to let the experience sink in, we agreed another glass of rum might do the trick. I remembered that I was all out of the Caputo 1973 (I was one of the mob who had descended on poor Ruminsky’s garret in Berlin to get my sample before the police dispersed us all), but I did have something else he sent me a few years ago and thought this would make a great blind sample for Nicolai – so went and found it. As this had a decent kind of pedigree, we agreed after trying the thing, that our tasting notes should be included here as well:

Blind sample:

Nose: This is just sickeningly beautiful (Nicolai’s eyes now seemed wide open and alert again). Starts off with a profound dark caramel, deep rich treacle, warm sweet spices, vanilla, roasted oak, wood spice, burnt molasses, tannins, coconut oil, tropical fruits like papaya, mango and lychee, white pepper, “brunkager/pebernød” (Danish Christmas cookies) insanely complex and rich.

Mouth: Warm, spicy, sweet, velvet texture, buttery scotch richness and enough alcohol to keep it all in control. Nicolai was fast losing his cool by this point.

Finish: The sweet spices and alcohol was our initial thoughts. Then black liquorice, caramelized treacle, dried fruits like figs, plums, raisins, sultanas in an insanely good mix with sweet spices, oak, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon. I could see Nic casting restive and possessive glances at my sample bottle, and so hurriedly removed it from his reach.  He nearly wept.

Comments: This beautiful beast lingers forever. The balance is outstanding!! What a plethora of complex flavours. Oak, heavy rich caramel, dried fruits, spices and herbs in a beautiful balance. Unicorn tears would be shamed if placed next to it. Points were given and it was time to reveal what Nicolai had just tasted.

Velier Skeldon 1973 (!!!)

Points:  95/100


[The authors paused to catch their breath for a week at this point, before continuing…..]

So how do you wrap things up from here?

Well, to start of with, we both agreed that it was properly annoying that the PM 1972 was the best of the lot, considering it’s the only bottle we didn’t have any more of (what we tasted was a sample from Thomas Caque). It completely took us off guard…and just about blew our minds. Who would have thought that the “feminine” profile of the Port Mourant 1972 would take the lead (The Skeldon obviously not part of the equation).

It was equally interesting that the difference between tropical vs. continental ageing didn’t appear to give an overwhelming advantage/disadvantage to any one of these rums either, though of course it was clear that the ageing regime makes for very different flavour profiles.

Having said that, it is also worth noting that there are other continentally aged Port Mourants out there, which are in close competition and may in fact even take the lead. These are rums like the Norse Cask 1975, Rendsburger Bürgermeister Guyana 1975, Silver Seal 1974, which in our opinion, deserve spots next to these PM giants from Italy. Mind you, they all have similar costs to those from Velier, so not exactly something you just pick off the shelves anymore. 

Regardless, this had been one hell of an evening we are not likely to have again any time soon. 


 

Feb 032011
 
Andrew Ferguson illustrates a point

Thursday 3rd February was bit of a milestone for me: it marked the first tasting I had ever attended, and it suggested that perhaps rum really does have a future when it comes to being seen as a viable alternative to whiskies in Alberta.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Rum isn’t dethroning that obscure Scottish drink any time soon (either in volume, cachet or pricing). And this modest little do at Kensington Wine Market was not presided over by some famous ur-swami of matters molasses who’s tasted four thousand rums and smiles benificently and condescendingly at the hoi-polloi from his throne up above while favouring them with mysoginistic humour.  And it sure wasn’t something like the Rum Rennaisance down in Miami where hundreds (if not thousands) of rum lovers will descend in April of this year, and sample literally hundreds of rums (I seethe in envy) over a period of days.

This effort was small and simple and was, as Andrew Ferguson (known to some as the Scotch Guy) noted, held simply to demonstrate that rums have their aged offerings also and many are on par with their northern counterparts.  There was an audience of perhaps two dozen, seated around five or six tables set up in that tiny room KWM has off down the side. And six rums.

By no stretch of the imagination would I consider myself to be an expert on taste, but come on, you can’t taste seventy-plus rums and hang out at Liquorature and not pick up at least something about the various countries making the stuff, and what some of their characteristics are. My friend the Bear and I seated ourselves and sniffed the six glasses in front of each of us, and I could tell immediately that #1 was probably Cuban (and a familiar one at that), #2 was unknown but aged, #3 was an unchill-filtered overproof that reminded me of the A.D.Rattray 13 year old Caroni, #4 unknown, and #5 and #6 were both very old, with #6 without question being either a Demerara Rum or made from it, which to me suggested a Guyanese El Dorado.

The Six Rums: (l-r) Legendario, St. Nicholas Abbey, Cadenhead Green Label, Santa Teresa Bicentenario, English Harbour 25, El Dorado 25

Legendario 9, St Nick’s 10, Cadenhead Green, Santa Teresa Bicentenario, EH25 and ED25

I’m not entirely certain how much the audience itself was aware of either the history or provenance of rums, but Andrew was taking no chances, and led us through a slideshow while he discussed how rums had come through history and gradually developed into the form we know today.  That being his leadin, he then started on the rums in front of us.

The first was, as I had suspected, Cuban: the Legendario, to be precise, nine years old. It was that sweet muscatel grape addition that gave it away. Soft, sweet, a little overpowering.  The subtler notes struggled to get out from under that grape reek, and the Bear despised it right away (and never changed his mind – remind me never to give him one of these for Christmas).  Like me, Andrew had had a frustrating time trying to dig out any information on the distillation or manufacturing methods about it, but Cuba doesn’t advertise too much so unless you speak Italian or Spanish, you’re not getting a whole lot.

The second was a rum I had definitely wanted to know more about: the St. Nicholas Abbey 10 year old out of Barbados.  I have been largely unimpressed by Bajan products as a whole – I’m going to spout some heresy here and tell you I think the Mount Gay XO is overrated – but St Nick’s was excellent.  Great nose, soft and yet spicy on the palate, with notes of banana and citrus marrying nicely into a lovely finish. It’s more expensive than the usual at $145, but I loved it.

Third was that Caroni smell-alike, and what it turned into was a Cadenhead Green Label Demerara rum. I had last had it at the Liquorature gathering where I initiated the tradition that on my night it would be rums only…but that was nearly two years ago.  Back then I had been unenthused, but now I appreciated it a bit more. 50% beefcake, solid, spicy delivery, heavy on the molasses, dry and not sweet – but with bulging biceps and an forceful mien not readily ignored.

The fourth rum had intrigued me ever since I had first seen it peeping down at me from a high shelf a few months before: the Santa Teresa Bicentenario.  I’m a bit of a snob on occasion, and I had been intrigued as to why it would be a whopping $315 and had flirted with the idea of dropping a bundle on the bottle, but had never been sure enough (the 1796 got a lukewarm review from me so I wasn’t in a hurry to go after a top-end solera). That puts this solera aged rum in the big leagues of Appleton 30 and El Dorado 25, but could it go up against those big guns?  Neither the Bear nor I thought it should (and Andrew stated he’d rather buy a whisky for the same money).  Medium body, lightly floral notes surrounding a core of burnt sugar, but still too thin and lackluster for me…not assertive enough, I guess, or complex enough.

Number five was without question the rum my ursine squaddie and I had always agreed on: that first really top end rum I’d ever tried, and the first rum I’d written about for this site: the English Harbour 1981 25 year old.  How the hell did I not spot this right away? Just this side of full-bodied, notes of caramel, banana, some citrus and nutmeg, a smooth and lingering finish, and a feel on the tongue like velvet, with hardly a smidegen of burn. Just bloody marvellous.

And as I had expected, the sixth rum was indeed a Demerara rum, yes it was an El Dorado, and not just any rum, but perhaps the rum – the El Dorado 25 year old itself. Damn that was a treat.  I’ve reviewed it twice now, once for this site and once on RumConnection, and it’s still the same: phenomenally well balanced, silky as all get out, and still just a bit too sweet….it stops just a whisker away from being a liqueur.  I’d also like to point out that Andrew noted El Dorados are probably KWM’s best selling rums (good luck finding downscale offerings like Bacardi in this store)

So many choices…

If I had one wish for the night it’s that we could have had more. I am genuinely enthusiastic about rums, and enjoy the way they run the gamut from rotgut popskull to cheap mixers, right up to more expensive fare it would almost be a sacrilege to mix with anything.  Reading the room gave me the impression most were there to inform themselves and find out a little more about a drink not often given much thought or respect in this province (like I said, we aren’t in Miami here).  Six selections seems…well, not enough. I have to concede it’s great to have such a session at all, and for a whisky guy to give it his best shot and stage the event in the first place was a pleasure.  One I fervently hope other establishments will emulate more often

But this is Calgary not Miami, it was rum and not single malts, and perhaps I shouldn’t be too optimistic.  Tastings at these stores run heavy into wines and whiskies, and given how – as I have observed sourly on more than one occasion – the shelves groan under the weight of the Islays, Speysiders and what have you, while rums are almost embarrassedly displayed in some out of the way shelf which shamefacedly showcases a mere half dozen or so…well, given that, I give thanks to Andrew and Kensington Wine Market that I got to experience this one.

Here’s hoping there’ll be another one soon.