Dec 202016
 

rn-enmore-rare-1

***

#328

It really is amazing how many different ways there are to express the outturn from a single Guyanese still, Enmore or Port Mourant or any of the others  We might have to approach them like James Bond movies (or Sherlock Holmes short stories)…enjoying the similarities while searching for points of variation, which gives us the rare rum equivalents of  masterpieces like Skyfall versus occasionally indifferent efforts like A View to a Kill.

Rum Nation’s first serious foray into multiple-edition small-batch cask strength rums probably deserve to be tried as a trio, the way, for example, DDL’s three amigos from 2007 are.  Each of the three is unique in its own way, each has points that the others don’t, and if one is weak, it’s made up for with strengths of another and they work best taken together.  Of course, that’ll cost you a bit, since rums made at full proof are not cheap, but to have rums like this at 40% is to do a disservice to those famous stills from which Demerara rums are wrung with such effort and sweat.  Even DDL finally came around to accepting that when they issued their own Rare Casks collection earlier in 2016.

Of the three Rum Nation rums I tried (in tandem with several others), there was no question in my mind that this one sat square in the middle, not just in the trio, but in the entire Enmore canon.  Personally I always find Enmores somewhat of hit or miss proposition – sometimes they exceed expectations and produce amazing profiles, and sometimes they disappoint, or at least fall short of expectations (like the Renegade Enmore 1990 16 year old did)….another property they share with Bond movies  However, it must also be said that they are very rarely boring. That wooden still profile gives them all a character that is worth trying…several times.  

rn-enmore-rare-2

Take this one for example, an interesting medium-aged fourteen-year-old, almost lemon-yellow rum, with an outturn of 442 bottles from six casks (77-82).  It was distilled in 2002 and bottled this year, the first batch of Rum Nation’s cask strength series, with a mouth watering 56.8% ABV…now there’s a strength almost guaranteed to make an emphatic statement on your schnozz and your glottis.  And before those of you who prefer no adulteration ask — no, as far as I’m aware, it wasn’t messed with.

The nose demonstrated that the colour was no accident; it was sprightly, almost playful with clean notes of hay, planed-off wood shavings, lemony notes.  Not for this rum the pungent, almost dour Port Mourant depth – here it was crisper, cleaner. Gradually other aspects of the profile emerged – old, very ripe cherries, apples, cider, vanilla.  As if bored, it puffed out some mouldy cardboard and cherries that have gone off, before relenting and providing the final subtle anise note, but clearer, lighter, and nothing like the PM, more like a cavatino lightly wending its way through the main melody.

Certainly the nose was excellent – but the palate was something of a let down from the high bar that it set.  It was, to begin with, quite dry, feeling on the tongue like I was beating a carpet indoors.  It was less than full bodied, quite sharp and hot, with initial flavours of polish, sawdust and raisins, a flirt of honey; it was only with some water that other flavours were coaxed out — wax and turpentine, orange chocolates, dates, vanilla and Indian spices (in that sense it reminded me of the Bristol Spirits 1988 Enmore), and some eucalyptus, barely noticeable. It was the sawdust that I remember, though (not the citrus)…it reminded me of motes hanging motionless in a dark barn, speared by seams of light from the rising sun outside.  The finish was pleasant, reasonably long, repeating the main themes of the palate, without introducing anything new.

Overall, this is a rum that, while professionally executed and pleasant to drink (with a really good nose), breaks little new ground – it doesn’t take the Enmore profile to heights previously unscaled.  Yet I enjoyed it slightly more than the RN Diamond 2005 I looked at before.  Partly this is about the character of the whole experience, the way the various elements fused into a cohesive whole.  My friend Henrik, who also tried these three Small Batch Rare Rums together, was much more disapproving – he felt the Enmore was the weakest of the three, with light woods and citrus being all there was. My own opinion was that there was indeed less going on here than in other editions I’ve tried, but part of what I enjoyed was the way that what there was melded together in a way where little failed and much succeeded.  And if it did not come up to the level of other Enmores like the Compagnie des Indes 1988 27 year old (91 points), or the Velier 1988 19 year old (89 points), well, I felt it was still better than others I’ve tried, and by my yardstick, a damned good entry into the genre. Something like, oh, Thunderball or Goldeneye – not the very best, but far, far from the worst.

(87/100)

Other notes

To provide some balance for those who are curious,see the links to two other sets of reviews:

As with all expressions where this are differences in opinion, trying before buying is the way to go, especially if your personal tastes

I’m waiting on Fabio to tell me where the ageing took place – I have a feeling a good portion was in Europe.

 

 

 

Dec 182016
 

rn-sbrr-diamond-2005-1

#327

What a change just a few years have wrought. Back in 2009-2010, cask strength rums were hardly on the horizon, “full proof” drinks were primarily Renegade at 46% with a few dust-gatherers from independent bottlers like Secret Treasures, Cadenhead, Berry Bros., or Samaroli making exactly zero waves in North America, and Velier’s superlative rums issued almost a decade earlier known to few outside Italy.  Rum Nation took two years to sell a pair of 1974 and a 1975 25 year old Jamaican rums bottled at 45%….and they were around since 1999!

As 2016 comes to a close, observe the continental drift of the landscape: Velier is the mastodon of the full proofs, DDL released its Rares in February, FourSquare and Mount Gay are both issuing powerful and new versions of their old stalwarts, the Jamaicans are undergoing a rennaissance of old marques, and previously unremarked and unknown independent bottlers (some new, some not so new) are all clamouring for your attention.  Companies like Compagnie des Indes, Ekte, L’Espirit, Kill Devil and others are the vanguard, and more are coming.  Even the regular, tried-and-true makers whose names we grew up with, are amping up their rums to 42-43% more often.

rn-sbrr-diamond-2005-2In between all of these companies is Rum Nation, that Italian outfit run by Fabio Rossi, whose products I’ve been watching and writing about since 2011, when I bought almost their entire 2010 release line at once.  They’ve been making rums since the 1990s (like the two Jamaicans noted above), and over the past three years have attracted equal parts admiration and derision, depending on who’s doing the talking – it’s almost always the matter of additives to their rums; it should be observed that at the top end, it’s not usually the case, like with the 23-26 year old Jamaicans and Demeraras which remain among the best rums of their kind available.

The Small Batch Rare Rums Collection is Fabio’s last old stocks of Demerara rum, and has been on the drawing boards, so to speak, for quite some time – as DDL and Velier showed us with their own Rares, the decision to issue a rum can be made more than a year in advance of the actual first sales, what with all the bureaucratic hoops and logistics a bottler has to go through to bring the vision  to market. Anyway – the Diamond I’m writing about today, the youngest of the three, was from the 1st Batch and is RN’s own foray into the cask-strength market, issued at a rough and ready 58.6%, distilled in 2005 from the double column metal coffey still, and bottled in 2016…the outturn was/is 473 bottles, the presentation of which are the same RN style, but with cardboard tube enclosures, simpler and perhaps more informative labels to go along with them – and which, as always, have the postage stamp motif which has become almost a hallmark of Fabio’s (he used to be a collector in his youth, as I was). And no, no additives as far as I’m aware.

If you’ve been bored to tears by all this set-the-stage introductory material, your immediate and impatient question at the top was most likely, well, how good was the thing? .

All in all, it wasn’t bad – what set it lower on the podium than some others is probably the ageing, which I suspect was not fully tropical (Fabio still has to get back to me on that one but bearing in mind past products, it’s a good bet) and therefore not all the rougher edges had time to be fully integrated with and mellowed by the oak barrels in which it had been aged. It smelled light, with initial easy-to-spot caramel, white toblerone, vanilla and toffee, leavened with some watery fruit (green pears and watermelons), cloves, cumin, marzipan, before settling down to emit some odd background notes of black pepper, sawdust, grapes, raisins, fleshier stoned fruits, bubble gum and a soda pop…maybe pepsi, or 7-up.  Not entirely my thing – it was a bit sharp and raw, needed some snap and firmness to make the point more distinct, and the synthesis could have been better.

Diamond rums, of course, have been among my favourites for a while (comparisons with Velier are unavoidable) and what they lack in the fierce pungent originality of the rums from the wooden stills they regain in blending and ageing skill.  Some of that was evident when tasting the amber coloured rum – it started off hot, lunging out of the gate with first tastes of cocoa and light coffee, vanilla, some brine, some sweet (good balance there, not too much of either), and a muted explosion of fruits.  It was quite a bit lighter in mouthfeel than the PM and Enmore tasted right alongside, which some might mark down because it presents as thin, but to me there’s a world of difference between the two terms – the Doorley’s or an underproof 37.5% rum is thin; well made agricoles are light. So here I think that lightness has to be taken together with the crisp intensity of the tastes that come through, because no scrawny, spavined, rice-eating street cur of a rum could provide this much.  There were peaches, apricots, blackberries, cherries, bonbons and caramel sweets, and with water, all that plus some licorice under tight control, and a light woodsy backdrop melding somewhat uneasily with the whole…and a long, slow finish that provided closing notes of licorice, sweets, more fruits (nothing too citrusy or tart here) and, surprisingly enough, a coffee cake with loads of whipped cream.

All this taken into account, was the youngest rum the best of the three or not?

Well…no.  I found it somewhat austere, to be honest, a few clear notes coming together with the quiet, restrained sadness of a precise Chopin nocturne or a flute sonata by Debussy, and less of the passionate emotional fire of Beethoven, Verdi, Puccini or Berlioz that almost epitomizes the Guyanese rums when made at the peak of their potential.  It requires some more taming, I think, even dialling down — compared with its siblings and a bunch of other Demeraras I tried alongside it, it feels unfinished, like it needed some more ageing to come into its full glory.  Whatever.  It’s still a very tasty tot, and as long as you take what I said about lightness versus thinness alongside the strength and price and tasting notes together, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed if you do end up spring for it.

(86/100)

Dec 062016
 

aldea-tradicion

A unassuming and ultimately flawed 22 year old rum

#324

As one goes through the line of the various Ron Aldeas, which are serviceable mid-tier rums, one notices that the clear agricole profile gets progressively more lost, which I attribute to primarily the strategy of using variously toasted barrels in varying proportions.  Depending on whether you want an agricole-style rum to taste like one, this may not be to your liking.  This rum does not hail from the French islands or subject to the AOC (its influences are more Spanish than anything else), and therefore what we are tasting is something from elsewhere – the Canary Islands in this instance. No doubt different taste and blending and ageing influences come to bear when makers from other parts of the world approach the same distillate.

As usual, some general information before we delve into the tasting notes. The Tradición is a cane-juice-derived,  column still product, bottled at 42% with a 3428-bottle outturn. The 1991 edition I tried came out in 2013, making it a 22 year old, and was matured in barrels of different kinds of oak, with differing levels of toast; for the final two years the rum is transferred to used barrels of red wine (not identified) to add finish. Therein lies a problem because while that finishing regime does add some complexity, it also adds sweetness; and when I read that Drejer measured 27 g/L (which is assumed to be sugar), I can understand why it was issued at a slightly higher proof point.

That level of sugar is not immediately apparent. Somewhat at a tangent, nosing the bronze rum makes one wonder immediately where the agricole notes went off and hid themselves, because as with the Ron Aldea Familia (and to a lesser extent the Superior), the clean grassy and herbal smells that characterize the profile are utterly absent.  Still, what was presented wasn’t bad – peaches in cream, toffee, nougat, white toblerone, almonds were immediately apparent, with fruitier raisins and dried fruits coming up from behind, probably courtesy of those wine barrels.  Not a very potent nose, just a soft and warm one.

I noted above that the rum tested positive for sugar.  On the palate, that was unavoidable (my original handwritten notes, made before I knew of Drejer’s results, read “wht’s wth sweet?  ths all cmng from wine barrels?”).  It may be a comfort to those who don’t mind such things that enough flavours remained even after that inclusion to make for an interesting sip.  Initially there was the same vanilla, oak and leather, with a warm, smooth mouthfeel, and as it opened up the fruits came out and did their thing, presenting  green apples, raisins, some cider and red grapes…just not what they could have been. They felt dampened down and muffled, not as crisp and clear as they might have been.  It all led to a finish that was warm and hurriedly breathy as a strumpet’s fake gasps – and alas, like that seemingly spectacular activity, the experience was far too fleeting, without anything new to add to the profile as described.

Of the four Aldeas I tried in tandem, this is undoubtedly the best — a warm, fragrant, almost gently aged rum, lacking the fierce untrammelled power and purity of a stronger drink. The finishing in wine barrels also adds a little something to the overall experience (which the additives then frustratingly take away). In these characteristics lie something of the rum’s polarizing nature – those who want a beefier rum will think it’s too soft; those who see “cane juice origin” and want that kind of herbal taste and don’t get it, will be miffed; and those who want a clean rum experience will avoid it altogether. The rum is rather light, and the sweetness imparted by the finish and the additives work against the delicacy of the distillate, deadening what could have been a better drink, even with the extra two percentage points of proof over the standard.

But all that aside, it’s not entirely a bad rum; as with the Centenario 20, various Panamanians or soleras (which this is not, but the similarity is striking), one simply has to walk into it knowing one’s preferences ahead of time — then buy if it’s one’s thing, try if curious, avoid if turned off. Starting the sip with preconceived notion as to what one wants, what the rum is, or what the makers seek to achieve, might just be a recipe for disappointment.  And that would be unfair to what is, as noted in my one line summary, quite a pleasant and unassuming 20+ year old product. Strength aside, my only real beef with the thing is the utterly unnecessary adulteration – by doing so, Aldea, for all their skill in bringing this well-aged rum to the party, have left several additional points of easily attainable quality behind on the table and diminished my ability to provide an unqualified endorsement for a rum that should have been better.

(84/100)

Dec 052016
 

aldea-familia-1

A decent fifteen year old faux-agricole trying to moving away from its origins.

#323

Sorry, but “Chairman’s Select Hidden Treasure,” “Special Top Brass Only Reserve,” “Family Laid Away” casks, you know the kind of special rums to which I refer…stuff like this just makes me smile.  Largely because I see it as nothing more than a name applied so as to move product.  Of course, in the old days of landed estates run by the plantocracy, such special hooch really was made, exclusively for the caudillos and the nobility, for the chairman, business titans, princes, presidents, political hacks, Government apparatchiks, visiting tourists, the special invitees, Santa Claus, retiring veeps and senior managers (are we sure we speak only of the past here?).  

And now, through an enormous stroke of good fortune and generosity of the makers, us. One wonders how it is possible for something made for so exclusive a clientele, by any of the makers who issue them, to ever get into the grubby paws of the the great unwashed masses and the hordes of the illiterate rabble (you know, like me and you), but I suppose economics is economics and the producers of these apparent ambrosias wish to share their street cred just to, well, show they have it in the first place.

In any case, editorializing aside and whatever the source, let’s just call it what it is, a fifteen year old rum with a name meant to showcase its exclusivity, and move on…if I go along this line of thought I might let my snark off the leash, and nobody wants that.

Aside from such historical company details as are already in Cana Pura review, the background to this Canary-Island-made rum are fairly straightforward. This is a true fifteen year old rum limited to 6964 bottles, aged from 1998 to 2013 in French oak of different levels of toast (you could call this an “enhanced” recipe, I suppose), thereby following on from the Ron Aldea Superior’s barrel strategy. The Familia, like the Superior, is derived from cane juice not molasses, although in this instance one could be forgiven for wondering where the rhum went since the profile is so much more “traditional.”

That might be a rather controversial opinion, but observe the profile as we step through what it sampled like. The nose was gentle, subtle, easy, and too faint, really, which is a bitch I have about all 40% rums these days, some more than others – here it’s about par for the course, maybe a bit richer than normal for that strength. There were pleasant notes of vanilla, aromatic tobacco, cheerios with some cinnamon and nutmeg, toffee and caramel. But very little of the agricole content which we might have expected .  Pleasant yes, agricole no, and overall, too light for easy appreciation of the smells.

More of the same was on the taste, nice as the mouthfeel and texture was – vanilla, caramel, aromatic pipe tobacco, some winey notes.  It was a little sharp, no problem, light in the mouth overall, perhaps on the border of thin. Briny, an olive or two.  Fruits, I suppose, but they’re too indistinct and jumbled up in the mix to be easily separated and individually identified and so let’s call it a dampened-down fruit salad and move on. The finish was reasonable, ending things with a warm, medium long, and vaguely fruity close.  It’s the faintness and lack of firmness, that final exclamation point, that makes it fall down, and yes, that’s traceable to the 40%, which in honesty I felt should have been at least five points higher to make a statement worth noting.  Let’s be fair, however – for those who like the lighter Spanish style rons, this will go over well.  Just because I prefer hairier, stronger rums doesn’t mean you do, or will, or should.

So back to that opinion. The rum falls somewhat short of the quietly tasty Superior rum made by the same company.  There, the agricole background was more interestingly integrated into the flavour notes, and you couldn’t miss it.  Though both of these rums are from cane juice (and may therefore be termed agricoles), and while neither supposedly have additives***, the French island profile of the Familia has been kind of lost on me, and therefore it presents much more like a molasses-based British Caribbean rum (with some Spanish influences).  That makes it relate to a whole different crop of rums, and in that crowded field, it somehow lacks sufficient gravitas to command either attention or my unadulterated appreciation.  

(81/100)

*** The master rum sugar list shows this to have 20g/L of sugar, so the big question is where’s this coming from, and why isn’t it disclosed?

Dec 042016
 

aldea-superior-1

#322

With respect to companies which don’t want to make (or be seen to make) spiced or flavoured sugar bombs, it’s always instructive to observe the techniques that they use to avoid the dreaded “A” word. Some play with ageing or blends, some with finishing (the new El Dorado 15 year old series comes to mind), some with unorthodox schemes (like Lost Spirits or 7 Fathoms), some with toasting, but all are trying to do the same thing – impart an extra smidgen of taste to their rum, without actually adding anything to it, which I’m sure makes any rum nerd’s heart pitter-patter happily. Ron Aldea, a rum company from the Canary Islands, in the place of combined finishing and ageing regimes such as Gold of Mauritius and Mauritius Club utilize, prefer to experiment with their cask strategy – in this case they used brand new American oak barrels with heavy toasting levels, which I take to mean an inordinate level of char – but fortunately without any wine or port sloshing around inside.***

For those who didn’t read about the Caña Pura White Rum (I felt it tried unsuccessfully to straddle some kind of middle ground between soft mixer and individualistic white), it’s worth mentioning that all Ron Alddea’s rums derive from cane juice distilled to 62% in a 150-year-old, wood-fire-fed double column copper still — made by the French firm Egrott — in the Canary Islands. For those interested in historical details of the company itself, the Caña Pura review has it at the bottom of the page.

aldea-superior-3This particular rum, renamed the Maestro for the 2016 release season, was the 2013 edition limited to 9258 bottles, and dialled way down to 40%. It was a darkish gold colour, and initially presented a nose that was quite lovely…breathy even (“Hi sailor-man…want a good time?…”) before thinning out and gasping for air, which is a characteristic all 40% rums share, unfortunately. Still, all was not lost – fresh peaches and apricots were there, weak but accessible, plus clearer, purer aromas – cucumbers, pears, sugar water, cut grass in rain, herbals, and a last rounding off of vanillas and a vague bitterness of oak. Char or no char, ten years in new oak was discernible, though well handled and not overbearing,

The agricole origin of the rum (perhaps I should call it rhum) develops from the hints given in the nose, and blossoms into something much more in the realm of such products: grassy, clear vegetals; more peaches and apricots and softer fruits, yet with some tartness, like unripe but yellow mangoes, under which coiled a creamier background of soft sweet white chocolate coffee and sugar…almost a cappuccino. The divergence from the norm came with an odd taste of ashy mineral-like notes that fortunately stayed well in the background, but were definitely noticeable. The finish was about standard for a 40% rum – short and heated, quite nice in its own way — not overly complex, just as comfortable and easy as an old chesterfield, with closing hints of chocolate and vanilla, and very little of the spicier, fruity notes. Perhaps that was to its detriment – the integration of these various tastes matters, and here it was impossible to pick apart individual notes – but I acknowledge that’s a matter of private opinion. And as a matter of record, I did enjoy the Superior quite a bit.

Overall, for its strength and age it’s a pretty good mid-tier rum (or rhum). It’s not as distinctive as the El Dorados, say, or the various Jamaicans, or even those from St Lucia or the French islands, but I’m not sure that’s the intent. Santiago Bronchales, who I’ve been watching and talking to since his involvement in the interesting if flawed Ocean’s rum, is more of an experimenter, not a copier or a follower-on of old traditional rum profiles, and likes to go in original directions. He takes what he can, does what he is allowed, and is trying to come up with his own version of the perfect profile at the strength he knows will sell. The Superior 10 year old he’s made here is another step on the road to discovery of his own personal truth, and is an interesting rum to try when you have the chance.

(83/100)

***Drejer has measured this rum to have 22g/L of sugar/additives.  Initially I was prepared to argue that the vanillas and sweetness I noticed where barrel related, but a measurement of that magnitude kind of throws me, and I’ve sent a note along to Ron Aldea for their response.

 

 

Oct 042016
 

travellers-3-barrel-2

A light, easygoing, tasty three year old that’s better than average.  

#309

Located in Belmopan (capital of Belize), Travellers is a distillery which traces its origins to 1953 when Master Blender Senor Omario Jaime Pedomo opened a bar he named Traveller’s as a nod to the rum sales made to people travelling to and from Belize City. The company currently uses molasses with natural fermentation (both source of the former and duration of the latter are unknown to me at this time) and double distills the result in a triple column continuous still, for a supposedly smoother, lighter taste.  Like many other likker outfits that are big in their own country (DDL comes to mind) they also produces liqueurs, brandies, gins, wines, and vodka, mostly for the local market.

Given that I enjoyed the other rums made by them, it’s odd how long this Belizean hooch escaped my grubby little paws and maybe says something for my purchasing priorities, or where I’ve been buying.  It’s the mid-range companion to the quite interesting 1-Barrel and 5-Barrel expressions (the numbers refer to the years of ageing), which may not have scored in the stratosphere, but were tasty, workmanlike rums by any standard. If I had to stratify them, I’d say they were a kind of mix of the softer Bajan and Spanish styles, but that’s just me.

travellers-3-barrel-1The 3 barrel also evinces a peculiarity of the Traveller’s design philosophy – every one of their three products sports a different label, this one with that “parrot” moniker on it which was absent in the other two, and the five even went with a different bottle shape entirely. It doesn’t really matter, not does it impact my enjoyment, it’s just a curious divergence from the norm of consistency, and I wonder whether it’s deliberate.

Anyway, moving right along: a light orange-gold rum aged three years, distilled at 40% for the North American market (I’ve not seen any Europeans review it, which suggests it’s either attracting zero attention there or simply not available). A quick sharp jab of turpentine and wax flared briefly on the nose, and then was gone, followed by wood, sawdust, salted caramel, Haagen-Dasz toffee ice cream and vanilla.  Only barely could some light fruity notes be discerned, maybe cherries, maybe apricots — in either case they were overripe.  It was an interesting smell, overall, especially in how it developed, but admittedly somewhat schizophrenic between sweet and salt and fruity.

The rum was medium bodied in the mouth, a little sharp, because the ageing had been brief enough to just take some of the edges off a rawer, more jagged profile, not all. In a peculiar reversal of the way flavours usually develop, it started off with large, dominant flavours of butterscotch, caramel, crushed walnuts and toffee, plus a minor key of cinnamon, apricots and faint citrus, maybe orange peel…and crushed apples bleeding juice before being made into cider.  The finish was perhaps the oddest part of my experience with this rum – it was short and the initial smells that I noted did an Alcatraz at the beginning, were back here: wax, paraffin, some turpentine and furniture polish, as well as sweeter, shyer notes of fruits, more caramel, more butterscotch…there really was too much of this.

On balance, the Parrot 3 Barrel showcased rather more potential than actuality.  Digging out my initial tasting notes for the 1 and 5 barrel, it’s clear this falls right in the middle, the tastes of the  former being tamed a little and being more developed, while not quite at the level of the latter. Something about the overall dominance of the toffee and caramel and vanillas was vaguely off-putting, and didn’t allow the subtler flavours to come through as well as they might have.

So although it’s a well made drink, I think it’s a bit of a yawn-through — still not in the ballpark of either the 5-Barrel or the Don Omario’s 15 year old, and yet lacking the 1-Barrel’s unashamed, almost joyous assertiveness and youth. Like a middle child not knowing which one of the siblings to hang out with, this rum uneasily tries to bridge the divide while balancing precariously in the centre.  That it succeeds at all (and it does, more or less) and provides an enjoyable experience, is quite a feat under such circumstances

(81/100)