Aug 082018
 

You will rarely find two rums of the same age from the same island more unalike than the Samaroli 1992 25 YO and the Appleton “Joy” Anniversary Blend.  One is a fierce, cask strength rum, tightly focused, furiously tasty, with a complexity and balance that nearly broke my chart.  The other is a blended rum brought into being utilizing every ounce of more than two decades of experience which Joy Spence, Appleton’s Master Blender, brings to the the table.  And yet, under the bare statistics that ostensibly set them apart, in both there run the blood and bones of a Jamaican rum. The “Joy” is as much from the island as the Song of the Banana Man, yardies, rice and peas and Three Finger Jack. And while the “Joy” is a blend and not so individualistic, not so strong, it is nevertheless a triumph of the discipline, a combination more art and alchemy than science, and a worthy cap to Ms. Spence’s career…until she makes the next one.

Photo pinched from Josh Miller, used with permission (c) Inu a Kena

Some brief background notes: the rum was issued in 2018 to mark Ms. Spence’s 37 years with Appleton, more than twenty of which were as the Master Blender.  It is comprised of rums at least 25 years old, with one — dating back from 1981, the year she joined the company — is in excess of 30, and it’s a blend of both pot and column still marques. With 9,000 liters made, we can estimate somewhere around 12,000 bottles floating around the world, all issued at 45% and costing a bruising $300 or more (which was the same price I paid for the Appleton 30 YO many years ago, by the way).

The “Joy” was, to me, a rum that seemed simply made initially, but developed into a really lovely and complex piece of work – I got the sense of a blender working right at the edge of her abilities, with excitement and verve and panache, and this was evident as soon as I smelled it. The nose began with a beautifully rich molasses aroma mixed in with a sort of dialled down crazy of musky and sharp funk – citrus, honey, oak, rotting fruit.  I left it and came back to it over a few hours, and it presented leather, caramel, coffee, ginger, lemon zest with the faint dustiness of cumin. Oh and also nougat, and white chocolate.

The palate was where it shone the brightest, I think, and I would never mix this elegant piece of work (that might actually be a punishable offense in some circles).  It was nicely dry, with forward notes of honey, molasses, vanilla, caramel bon bons and dried coffee grounds, which were intercut with some lingering oak, just enough to provide some bite and tannins without disrupting the smooth flow.  It was just a shade briny, not too sweet, and balanced off the deeper flavours with lighter ones — light citrus, ginger, cumin, and green apples and grapes did a funky little number off to the side, for example — and none of it was overbearing or in your face.  In fact, part of the rum’s appeal was its deceptively unassuming nature – everything seemed tamped down and rather relaxed, but wasn’t really, just solid and well constructed, and remarkably complex and well-balanced to a fault. Even the dry and medium-length finish, which at that strength tends toward the short, was very enjoyable and softly lingeringly aromatic, closing off the sip with brown sugar, honey, flowers, crushed almonds and a little orange peel.

Big hat tip to Josh Miller who allowed me to make off with this picture…

Summing up, this was a wonderful sipping rum. It wasn’t one that took a single distinct note and ran with it. It wasn’t a fierce and singular Jamaican funk bomb or hogo monster that sought to impress with sharp and distinct tastes that could be precisely catalogued like a grocery list of all the things that enthrall us.  It was, rather, a melange of softer tastes set off by, and blended well with, sharper ones, none of which ever seemed to strain or reach for an effect, but simply provided a slow parade of commingled flavours that somehow come together into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Ms. Spence is perhaps one of the few legends we have in this curious subculture we inhabit, where owners commonly get more publicity and adulation than blenders (unless both inhabit the same corpus).  I have never met her – our paths haven’t crossed, which is my loss, not hers – and yet how could anyone call themselves a rum lover and not know who she is? In some way, her hands have touched, her personality has influenced and her skills are evidenced in every rum Appleton has made in the last quarter century and more.  My own feeling is that if she never makes another rum in her life, she will still be known for this one. The 30 YO was a little overoaked, the 50 YO remains too expensive, the 21 YO too indeterminate and the 12 YO too broad based – but this one, this one is a quiet triumph of the blender’s art.

And if you want a more mundane proof of the rum’s quality, I direct you to the actions of Grandma Caner when I gave her some to try.  She affects to a certain indifference my writing, expressing impatience with all these rums cluttering up her damned basement and I could see she wasn’t all that enthusiastic.  But when she took an initially indifferent sip, her eyes widened: she just about swallowed her dentures in her haste to ask for more…you never saw an arthritis ridden hand move so fast in your life. The woman finished the sample bottle, cleaned out her glass, then my glass, and I could see her eyeing the bottle, perhaps wondering if it would be considered uncouth to ask to lick it out.  Then she got on her old East German rotary phone, and spent the next three hours calling all her friends to go find this thing, and I swear to you, I am not making this up!  Word of mouth and actions like that are an endorsement of the “Joy” which no amount of money could ever buy, and the cool thing is, the rum really deserves it.

(#536)(89/100)

Jul 122018
 

These days, anyone finding a rum three decades old had better hold on to it, because they’re getting rarer all the time.  As prices for the 1970s and 1980s rums climb past the fourth digit, locating one can be an equally fortunate and frustrating exercise…depending on how it turns out. As to why Velier chose to issue two rums of the same distillation and aging dates, at two different strengths, well, we know he has done this before, most famously with the entire Caroni line and some of the pre-Age Demerara rums.

Of course, it’s possible that Velier in this instance worked on the principle of taking a the entire outturn and bottling some at cask strength and the remainder at a more quaffable proof appealing to a broader audience.  That’s reasonable, I guess (L’Esprit does the same) – yet although the 54% Courcelles 1972 and this 42% version share the same years, there’s a difference in that the 54% was laid to rest in steel vats for nearly two additional years, and both are referred to as the dernière distillation which suggests that a bunch of barrels were involved, each with its own peculiarities.

And those peculiarities are important because they make this softer rhum individual on its own merits and different from its brawnier frere. Take the nose for example: it’s lovely and sweet, light without actually being delicate. It presents bags of light fruit – pears, ripe apples, watermelons, cherries – that go on forever, to which are added soft red-wine notes, honey, thyme and a drizzle of hot caramel on vanilla ice cream.  In a way it reminds me a lot of the Savanna 15 Year Old Porto Finish from Reunion (haven’t written about this yet), but somewhat deeper even so, because the scents grow richer over time in spite of its relatively low proof point and their overall mildness.

Tasting a rum like this is a mixed experience – one appreciates the subtlety, but strains to pick apart the notes. That said, it’s quite good, with lovely clear and clean notes of light fruitiness – pears again, watermelon again, some grapes, raisins and ripe mangoes, set off by softer nuances that speak of nougat, white chocolate, a flirt of coffee, rosemary, caramel, vanilla, thyme and some florals. It also has a background of honey that I quite enjoy with a profile like this because it strengthens the whole in a quiet kind of way, provides a bed for the rest of the flavours to emerge onto and do their thing. About the weakest point of the whole experience may be how it ends – the finish is short and faint, a zephyr following from a stiff breeze, with just some barely discernible floral and fruity hints and a bit of orange zest and tart yoghurt, and then it’s all over.

After writing up my notes, I keep coming back to how differently it presents when rated against the 54% version – it’s like they are different branches from the tree, growing in different directions while still conforming to underlying and similar standards (many of the tasting components, for example, are quite similar). The 42% iteration, I have to somewhat reluctantly note, is less when placed next to its masterful stronger sibling.  On its own, with nothing else to compare it to, it’s quietly, subtly brilliant and will not disappoint the casual drinker. But side by side, its potential clarion call is muted and dialled down, it is deferential and says much less…and when it does, it whispers.

(#528)(86/100)


Other notes

  • The Courcelles distillery in Grande Terre (one of the two “wings” of Guadeloupe island) was established in the 1930s and closed way back in 1964 when the then owner, M. Despointes, transferred the inventory and equipment to another distillery, that of Ste Marthe. They continued using Courcelles’s pot still and distilled this rum in 1972.  This is probably the last year any Courcelles distillate was made – I’ve never been able to find one produced more recently.
  • Distilled in 1972 and set to age in 220 liter barrels until 2003.  Outturn is unknown
  • The profile does not suggest an agricole, and since Guadeloupe is not AOC compliant, it probably derives from molasses. The taste certainly suggests it.
  • About that strength differential – in my essay about the Age of the Demeraras, I remarked that the first three releases of Velier Demeraras were all issued at standard proofs because Luca was nervous about moving too fast with releasing >50% cask strength rums.  I suspect that he had similar feelings about the 42% version of the Courcelles, which was why it was bottled first – two years later, just when he was putting out the full proof Skeldons in 2005, he went full bore with the rest of the Courcelles stock and never looked back.
Jun 072018
 

#518

The Velier Port Mourant 1972 is the Demerara rum from further back in time than anything else they’ve ever put out the door, beating out the legendary Skeldon 1973 by a year, and is a stunning 35 year old rum.  Given its age and how long ago it came out the door (2008) it would seem to be a better fit for the Rumaniacs series, but I felt it raised two issues that perhaps made a full-fledged review essay more appropriate. Plus, I really liked the damned thing.

Quite aside from my personal admiration for these older Velier rums, what also piqued my interest was that two of my barking mad viking friends rated it as high as they did in their Velier PM blowout some months ago.  I was surprised as well: here was a rum bottled on the drowsy side of 50% and not even fully tropically aged, and it scored that well? This seriously enagaged the gears of my curiosity, and in April of 2018 I was able to put it into an eight-rum mashup…just to see what the fuss was all about, and if I could perhaps poke a hole in their assertion that it was that good. This is the sort of cheerful one-upmanship we indulge in, in our spare time, when we aren’t posting pictures of our latest acquisitions.

Those who have read the recent post about the 8 Demerara rums from DDL and Velier (spoiler alert! read no further if you are that person) will find few surprises here, since they’ll know it rated at the top. Let’s go deeper and see if we can explain how and why it got there.

The nose made an immediate and emphatic response: “Here’s how.”  I had exasperatedly grumbled “OFFS!” with the El Dorado 1988 25 YO — with the PM 1972 I leaned back, sighed rapturously and said “Oh yeah.”  Sweet deep raisins, licorice, soya (very light saltiness, really nicely handled), coffee, bitter chocolate leather and smoke  The balance of the components and the way they segued one into the other, and re-emerged just as you thought it was all done, is nothing short of outstanding.  And even when I thought the show was over and then went to wash the dishes, do the laundry, kiss the snoring wife and return, there was more waiting – prunes, blackberries, nougat, anise, chocolate-covered dates, molasses, aromatic tobacco and a fine blade of almost imperceptible citrus.

A rather more traditional and solid PM backbone of licorice and molasses was in evidence once the tasting began, acting as a clothes horse upon which were hung other elements of flavour – that chocolate and coffee again, muscovado sugar, white pepper, vanilla…and that was just the beginning.  I went out grocery shopping, cleaned the house, made brunch for Mrs and the Little Caner, came back, tasted again, got hit by oak (not much), orange peel, flowers, sawdust, raisins, black grapes, ripe mangoes…I held the bottle up to the light in some perplexity, wondering, where was all this stuff coming from?  Even the finish displayed that remarkable richness of profile, and rather than go into detail, I’ll just repeat what I said in the mashup essay: “All of the above…plus some mint”. Because that was exactly it.

The balance and complexity and overall richness of this rum is extraordinary.  It is aromatic to a fault, and so generously endowed with tastes and flavours that if they were physical attributes, somewhere John Holmes would be weeping with envy. And all of that is in spite of — or because of — two issues.  

For one thing, the PM 1972 is not a particularly strong rum (“firm” might be the best word to describe it).  You’d think that at 47.8% it would be a laid back, slow-’n’-easy kind of product, with a lot of complexity but not too many rabbits squirming around in its jock.  But somehow it succeeds. It shines. It’s strong enough to make a statement for its quality without wimping out at some low-ass strength that would make it a dilettante’s wet dream but not completely delivering on its promise (like the Cadenhead Demerara 1975 at 40.6%, perhaps) .  I’ve made many comments about my evolving preference for cask strength bruisers, yet I cannot fault the low-power engine that drives this thing, because it’s so seamlessly constructed, samples so well.

Secondly, Luca is known for his fierce proselytization on behalf of tropical ageing – his oft-stated opinion, proudly displayed on so many of the rums he slaps Velier’s name on (and which has been adopted by many other producers) is “Fully Aged in the Tropics”.  But here that’s not the case: the PM 1972 was partly aged in Guyana, and partly in Europe. To some extent that may be the exception proving the rule, but to my mind what it demonstrates rather more subtly is that we should not be so quick to dismiss continental ageing just because it’s becoming some sort of conventional wisdom.  The fact is that other independents like the Compagnie, Rum Nation, Transcontinental, Samaroli, Duncan Taylor, Hunter Laing etc have long shown that continental ageing can work if done right, and perhaps appeal to rum drinkers who like or prefer a different kind of aspect to their aged-rum profiles. The sweet spot of dual ageing as opposed to one place or the other may just be demonstrated – in spades – by this old and almost forgotten rum, of which only 175 bottles ever came to the world from the original two barrels.

But wherever it slept and whatever the proof, somehow the Port Mourant 1972 finds an intersection of strength and ageing to present a profile that is almost without flaw.  I went in to the tasting, rather snidely hoping to disprove its purported brilliance. I was unable to do so. Simply stated, the rum is phenomenal. It’s one of the best Guyanese rums at its strength, from any still, at any age, ever made. It hurts that it is so rare and that the new crop of rum drinkers are unlikely to ever try it, because you can bet that anyone who still has one is holding onto it as tight as Mrs. Caner to the dream of a Gucci purse.  Given my appreciation and respect for this rum, I have to admit that if a bottle ever landed in my grubby paws, then my grip would be pretty fierce as well. 

(92/100)


Other notes

  • Assuming 2 barrels of 500L each, with an outturn of 175 bottles at 0.7L each (122.5 Liters total), we can estimate something like a 90% angel’s share.
  • Distilled August 1972 bottled March 2008.
May 102018
 

(c) liquor-store-europe.com

#510

The Ping No. 9 is a private / independent bottling done by the Danish liquor store Juuls and I first came across it in 2016 when one of those anonymous mad vikings (thanks Gregers!) brought it to a truly epic Caner Afterparty session, where it was promptly run past (what else?) the G&M Longpond 1941 and the BBR 1977 itself, to which we then added a Albrecht Trewlawny 1993 17 YO (Longpond, 2nd Release) and the EKTE No 2 (Monymusk) to cross reference .  We had nothing else on hand that was the right age or from the right island, so this had to do, but even that comparison allowed us to come to grips with its structure and assembly in a way that made its strengths (and weaknesses, such as they were) somewhat clearer.

Let that pass for the moment and simply sigh with envy at whoever sprang over a thousand euros in early 2018 (on one of the FB sales pages) for a bottle of this juice – not because it’s superlative (I didn’t think it was, not entirely), but simply because we don’t see rums from the 1970s coming on the market any longer and even the 1980s are fast becoming a vanishing breed, and so to try one that geriatric, and issued at a snorting 61%? Rum heaven.

All right, so a bourbon-cask aged expression, costing four figures, continental ageing, Danish bottler buying from a Speyside outfit, 221-bottle outturn. What did it taste like? In a word, lovely. It was smooth to smell and a pleasure to inhale, largely because the huge strength was under control the whole time, presenting heat instead of crude sharpness.  It began quietly with bananas, vanilla, mead, honey, cream cheese and a little caramel, almost no citrus (and if there was any, it kept way the hell back). As we came back to it over a period of some hours, crisper notes of green apples, candied oranges, cinnamon and ginger cookies came forward as the softer ones receded.

Say what you will about tropical ageing, there’s nothing wrong with a good long continental slumber when we get stuff like this out the other end. Again it presented as remarkably soft for the strength, allowing tastes of fruits, light licorice, vanilla, cherries, plums, and peaches to segue firmly across the tongue.  Some sea salt, caramel, dates, plums, smoke and leather and a light dusting of cinnamon and florals provided additional complexity, and over all, it was really quite a good rum, closing the circle with a lovely long finish redolent of a fruit basket, port-infused cigarillos, flowers and a few extra spices.

What is both good and to some extent a let-down about the rum is its control. At no point did any of us ever feel that we were getting a 61% beefcake in our glasses.  It was not a cream puff milquetoast, no, but in comparison to the gleefully manic proctological probing that clairins subject us to, this thing is like a lover’s gentle yet firm caress – and on the level described, it’s all good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But it also, I have to concede, lacked a real edge and bite of the sort a more funky profile would have provided, which leads me to my main point of contention.

There was little that was distinctly Jamaican in the rum – no, really – and it actually reminded me more of a combo of a Bajan and a Guyanese, taken to cask strength. If the measure of a rum is the extent to which its maker conforms to the standards of the place of origin or alignment with the expected style, then you’d be hard put to really place it as being from the island. The Ping No. 9 presents a profile somewhat at odds with those characteristic tastes we associate with the newer Jamaican bottlings of late – dunder, funk, hogo, esters, pick your term – little of this was in evidence.  Whether this is a matter of how and where it was aged, or the simple fact that it was made in a different era, is debatable. But it did make me feel somewhat disappointed.

I know there’s one person who’s reading this who’s muttering “Bullsquirt!” to himself and running to get his two bottles out of the triple-locked safe where he has them stashed behind a couple of flash-bangs and a collection of nasty toys meant to cause any would-be pilferer immense discomfort (he takes his juice seriously, and they’ll get his rums when they pry them out of his quivering hands, I suspect). He’s going to re-test it, no question, then post a rebuttal for me to ponder. The thing is, I know he liked the Ping 9 more so than I did, just as he disdained the Velier 1972 Courcelles and I didn’t.  And because our tastes and palates run apart from each other, it’s very likely that others will too. Therefore, interesting as I believe the Ping 9 to be, lovers and potential purchasers might want to sample before they buy. It’s very good but it’s also different…and that makes it something of a tricky purchase, no matter what the score, the age or the price.

(86/100)


Other notes

  • The rum is actually five days under 36 years old: for once I think I’ll just note it and move on and keep calling it a 36 YO. Such a tiny variation doesn’t trouble me much at such an age.
  • For what it’s worth, it makes me suspect that the BBR 1977 also came from Longpond.  My own opinion was that the BBR was better, and the Albrecht Trelawny and the EKTE also exceeded it.
  • Both Roger Caroni (who writes in French), and Wes Burgin over at the FatRumPirate tried a brother of this rum, the Old Jamaique Long Pond 1977 35YO (at 50%), which was a collaboration between the Belgian bottler Corman-Collins and the Scots bottler Ian MacLeod, the latter of whom was also the source of this barrel for Juuls. Roger liked it a lot (without a score), and Wes also commented on the lack of funkiness; still, from his 4.5-star score, I think it’s safe to say he liked the rum from his barrel a bit more than I did the rum from mine.
  • So what’s with the name “Ping”? I asked around and was told that “Ping” was the humourous nickname given to Michael Madsen (the owner of Juuls, the 30th anniversary of which this edition commemorates) in his youth….because he looked something like a penguin, or “pingvin” in Danish.  That’s so funny it almost has to be true, though I must emphasize it’s just something of a Danish urban rum-legend.

Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer.  They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier.  It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever made – it’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the start – deep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts well – salty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke.  All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being sounded…but underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old.  It left me…uneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested it…and the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle).  But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows about…so why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend?  Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives).  It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy.  Others will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-down – too well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.”  Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decent…but only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicorn – which probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
Apr 072018
 

#503

If you’re looking at this title and muttering to yourself “What the hell is Rendsburger?” you’re certainly not alone.  Aside from Spirits of Old Man out of Germany or Norsk Cask from Denmark, they may be among the least known independent bottlers out there and before a bunch of samples drifted across my scope, I sure hadn’t heard about them either. Strictly speaking, Rendsburg is the north-west German town close to Flensburg in which the parent company Kruger – a small, family-run whisky and spirits specialist  mainly known for its large whisky auction house – has its home. Therefore they have much in common with the makers of White Cat, the eminently forgettable white rum I looked at some time back and share some of the same centuries-old trading DNA which made the history of the White Cat more interesting than the rum itself.

By now many of us still-specific rum nifflers more or less agree that the 1970s were very good years for rum, especially the period 1972-1975 which is the source of many amazing products made by independent bottlers in the first decade of the new millenium and which at the time of issue were pretty much ignored. Rums like the Velier PM 1972 and PM 1974, the Norse Cask PM 1975, BBR 1975 PM, Silver Seal 1974 28 YO Demerara…the honour roll is long and distinguished, even if we can barely source them any longer and they’re drifting into “unicorn” status.

That a small outfit like Kruger – which doesn’t really “do” rums – could bring out something as excellent as this says a lot for the heritage stills DDL now has dibs on, and how far back they go (and perhaps, how underutilized they were as marques in their own right until quite recently). Kruger named its rums after the town in which they operate, slapped the picture of various mayors on the line of outturns of whiskies and occasional rums…and somehow in the middle of all that, managed to pick up a barrel the likes of which Velier would have been proud, issued a 56.9% 32 year old PM in 2007 and met with exactly zero fanfare and almost total indifference.

How this aged rum created nary a ripple in the wider rum world – even back in 2007 – is mystifying. It’s a real Port Mourant beefcake in all the ways that matter. Sniff this dark brown monolith and just revel in the deep, dark aromas: slightly bitter chocolate, licorice, backed up with salt caramel ice cream, a thrumming undercurrent of molasses, and that was just in the first sixty seconds. It let forth billowing fumes of anise, dark fruits – prunes, plums, blackberries, overripe cherries, raisins, to which were added (over some hours) sweet soy with just enough salt to add some character, faint citrus, smoke, leather and even a touch of vanilla.  

As for the palate, man, I’m in heaven, because I just found another 1975 to add to the pantheon. That same growling, thick richness of the nose segued to the tongue with no pause, no hesitation and no detours.  The strength was near perfect – it gave strength without sharpness, allowing all the flavours to march solidly across the stage and present themselves one after the other: licorice, vanilla, caramel, bags of fruits, a little saltiness, biscuits and cereal.   The whole thing was warm and thick with dark flavours that never seemed to want to stop showing off and even the oak, which at first I thought started to take on an unhealthy dominance after some minutes (I was actually writing “Mozart just exited the scene and is replaced by Salieri!” before crossing it out), retreated into the background, chilled out, and was (to my relief) content to be a part of the troupe rather than a scene stealing hog.  The exemplary and traditional Port Mourant profile finished long, slow, voluptuously and with chocolate, coffee grounds, some oak, vanilla, raisins and anise, and overall, my take was it was simply one of the Grand Old Men of the plantation and the still.

Of course, when it comes to Guyana, Enmore and Port Mourant are the stars of the show, boasting well-known and oft-analyzed profiles, and name recognition nearly off the charts. Versailles rums, good as they are, often live in their shadow.  What this means for deep-diving rum nerds, is that the PM profile may be one of the best known of its kind, its variations endlessly dissected, the minutest deviations pondered over by PhD students in rumology. Here, I submit there’s no need — the rum is superlative.  It’s one of the best of the independent Port Mourants rums in existence and shows how high the bar has been set not only by the rums listed above, but by itself. It’s a bottle hungering to be cracked, has a cork demanding to be popped…an ambrosia begging to be sampled, drunk, enjoyed and, damnit, shared.  

As I unhurriedly went through this rum, leaving many others to await their turn another day, I thought of W. H. Davies, who wrote in “Leisure”

What is this life, if, full of care

We have no time to stand and stare?

Here we do need to stand and stare, I think: because rums like this need to be savoured, to evoke dreams of old days gone by; not hurried over, or guzzled quickly and moved away from as the next hot-snot new bottling comes on the scene. It rewards not only patience but slow appreciation, and about the only regrettable thing I can say about it is how rare it is, how unknown.  For rum junkies in general and Port Mourant lovers in particular, it conjures memories, exhilaration and, at the end, perhaps even a little sadness. It’s simply that kind of experience, and I’m glad I managed to try it.

(90/100)


Other Notes

  • Rendsburger also has single cask bottlings of Barbados and Caroni, which I’ll get to sooner or later.
  • Sharp eyed readers will be amused at the bottle picture – I sure was, and compliments to that great guy Malte who traded me the sample: for the effort he put in, the rum itself and his sly sense of humour. The real bottle label is below.

Photo (c) Whyskyrific.com

Mar 252018
 

#500

In one of those odd coincidences that crop up from time to time, I was polishing up my essay for one of Damoiseau’s ultra-premium halo rums – a 31-year-old inky bad boy from 1953 which is usually too rare or too pricey for most to bother with – when Single Cask posted his own in-depth evaluation.  We had a good laugh over that one, but in a way it’s good too, because while one person’s review of a single rum is fine, a better opinion can be formed with several people putting their snoots and their pens in.

Age-wise, the 1953 from Guadeloupe does not class with the ur-rum of the Aged Canon, the Longpond 1941 58 year old from Jamaica. Yet it is nearly as old as the 1972 37 year old Courcelles which was the first to truly switch me on to French Island rhums, and which is the oldest such aged product I’ve yet found – others, such as the Bally 1929 and Clement 1952 and the St James 1885 were made before 1953, but are younger. Whatever the case, it is a blast from the past, something we should try if we can just to get a sense of the evolution of rum and rhum and ron over the decades. And yes, also because it’s so damn cool to have something from the fifties.

So what was happening in 1953? The Cold War was in full swing, of course, Eisenhower was inaugurated as #34, Mossadegh was overthrown, Stalin died, Kruschev lived. The Kenyan Mau Mau uprising was going on while the Korean conflict “ended.” Everest was conquered.  Watson and Crick announced DNA, Ian Fleming published the first James Bond novel, the first Playby came out, and Jacques Tati released the whimsical classic M. Hulot’s Holiday (a favourite of mine, along with Playtime). The rationing of cane sugar in the UK came to an end. The Brits suspended the British Guiana constitution and occupied the country militarily so as to make it safe for democracy.  And this rum came off the still in Damoiseau’s facilities.

I have no idea whether it was pure cane juice distillate or molasses – Guadeloupe has a history of mixing things up, which is part of their attraction for me – but just based on the way it nosed and tasted when run past other aged dinosaurs (the Courcelles, Damoiseau’s own 1980, the Cadenhead Green Label 1975 among others) I’m going to say it had at least some molasses-based spirit in the bag. It was a sort of mud brown opaque liquid that immediately made me remember the St James 1885, and poured thickly into a glass, even at its relatively low ABV of 42%.

But it smelled very nice for all that low power. Really. It had deep fruity flavours of blackberries and prunes, plus a lighter note of strawberries and orange peel, and it reminded me somewhat of a Bajan Black Rock rum, what with that underlying series of crisper smells.  Candied oranges, a flirt of caramel, some faint licorice, very ripe cherries added to the fun. However it was deeper than any of those, richer, smokier, and developed over time into a plump and rotund nose that steered you between the darkness of a crazy old fellow like the 1885, and the clarity of Damoiseau’s 1989 20 year old.  Which perhaps says something for bottles that have sat waiting their turn for many many decades.

The palate is perhaps where people will pause and look at the glass a second time.  That it was pungent and warm was beyond question: even at the rather anemic strength, one could easily appreciate the relative smooth profile, pick out some weak brine, prunes, chocolate covered dates, strawberries and honey; and to that, over time, was added a few lighter balancing elements of unripe strawberries, maybe a stalk of lemongrass. Overall, what fruitiness there was, was dialled way back and became almost imperceptible, to be overtaken by something more like a mix between tannins and some much-too-strong unsweetened black tea, both a good and a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint.  As for the finish, not much could be said – warm, short and unfortunately weak. That said, here perhaps more could be discerned which were missing from the palate – black tea, honey, raisins, faint chocolate, plenty of crushed walnuts, if too little of the fruitiness I was looking for.

Taking all these aspects together, one must concede that it started well, it’s just that as it opened up, there emerged a sort of woody, smoky, nutty background: this gradually overwhelmed the delicate balance with the fruit which the rhum needed (my opinion), and that to some extent derailed the experience. Too, the flavours melded into each other in a way that a stronger strength might have separated, creating a somewhat indeterminate melange that was tasty, yes, just…indistinct. And not entirely successful.

After the fact, looking at the rhum coldly and practically and assessing it on price alone, I can’t tell you this is a must-have.  It’s the kind that relies on the numbers “5”, “3” and “1” to be taken seriously, but when it comes down to a tasting, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype of the halo…and the numbers become just that, numbers.  As with rums like the Black Tot (or even the St James, Clement or Bally rhums mentioned above), we’re buying to touch the past and reconnect with a sense of real heritage, back when the Cuban style of rum dominated the market, to see how what we drink now came from what was made then. It absolutely is a major product in that sense — just not exceptional, compared to what it costs, compared to what we might expect.

So, the Damoiseau 1953 nails the historical value and cool presentation ethos just fine, and it is different, fascinating, old, pretty good, and if that’s what you want, you’re good to go. You’ll be the belle of the ball showing it off, and all the stares and envious plaudits will surely be yours for the taking (unless someone trots out a Bally). The best thing to do — when you’re in the store looking at it, with your bonus cheque twitching in your pocket — is to ask yourself some very honest questions as to why you want to buy it and then proceed purely on that basis.  I ignored that advice myself, and that’s why you’re reading this review.

(85/100)


Other notes

The Single Cask review is really worth a read.  Also, he noted that it came from some “lost casks” but Herve Damoiseau, when confirming the age as 31 years for me (the rhum was bottled in 1984), didn’t know anything about that.

Oct 092017
 

#393

By now just about everyone knows that the Gordon and MacPhail Longpond 1941 58 year old walks and talks de Jamaican like a boss.  That thing gave super-aged rums a massive boost in visibility, showing that the patient, off-the-scale ageing of rums can be done with some care in Europe and come out at the other end with a profile that zooms to the top of the charts.  I seriously doubt a tropical aged rum could survive that long without being reduced to a thimbleful, and rarely with such quality.  Alas, the feat has almost never been replicated (except by Appleton with their 50 year old, the runner up).

Still, G&M have done something pretty interesting with Demeraras as well, and as proof positive of the statement, I offer the much younger Demerara Vintage Rum, which was brought into the world in that excellent decade of the 1970s…1974 in this case (the years 1972-1975 were really stellar ones for rum production by the indies).  This rum is bottled at 50%, is 25 years old, and is a triumph of continental ageing of any stripe, and of Demeraras in particular, even though we actually have no information as to which specific still(s) it came from.

Never mind that, though.  If you are one of the fortunate few who can pick up a glass of this ambrosia, take a deep smell, which you can because it is deep and dark and rich and troubles the snoot not at all.  Was it a PM? An Enmore? The savalle? I thought the former somewhat more likely, because although it was rather soft in the attack (much less so than a Port Mourant might have been when it arrives with all guns blazing), it conforms to much of the profile I’ve come to associate with that still. Anise, dark fruitcake, coconut shavings, prunes, peaches, bags and bags of fruits soaked in (what else?) more rum, and my lord, is this thing ever deep and full-bodied, inviting one ever deeper into the glass (for the record, I probably spent two hours on it).

And as for the palate, well, short version is, it’s pretty great, I enjoyed it thoroughly, mostly because of the way that flavours of brown sugar, molasses, charred oak, marshmallows, vanilla (I call it “caramelized oomph” for short) produced an almost sublime sipping experience.  Over the course of the session, there were more dark fruit, ripe cherries, apples, coconut, even more raisins and licorice, with some tart flavours of ripe mangoes and a squeeze of lime coiling underneath it all. The finish, nice and long-lasting, was dominated by a sort of charred wood and burnt sugar thing which could have been tamed some, but truly, there was nothing to whinge about here – it was simply solid, if without brilliance or off-the-scale excellence

If I had anything cautionary (or negative) to say about the rum, it’s that (a) it needed to be stronger (b) it was not overly complex in spite of the flavours described above and (c) no matter how hard I tried, I could not rid myself of the suspicion that it had been tarted up some, perhaps with caramel, perhaps with sugar — it just wasn’t all….there. And having had several clean and pure rums from that era, I think it’s possible, though proof is lacking in this matter – it’s just my thinking based on the profile and the comparators on the table back then (note that G&M’s 1971 version of a similar rum has been tested with 19 g/L of additives, so the suspicion is not as out to lunch as it might appear).

At the end of it all, even where it falters, the Demerara 1974 does not really fail.  It really is a very good product and might even cause DDL a few sleepness nights here or there, because it shows up the massively oversugared messes of their own 25 year olds (1980 and 1986 editions both), without ever needing to go over the top in that direction. I haven’t got  clue which still made the rum, or whether it was adulterated, but frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, because it’s somehow, in spite of all that, still a rum to savour on a cold night anywhere, and if I had more coin in my pocket the day I met it and exchanged kisses, you could be sure I would never have been satisfied with the little I managed to get.

(89/100)


Other notes

This is not the same 1974 rum which Henrik of RumCorner reviewed…that one was left to age a bit longer, until 2003, though interestingly, many of his notes parallel mine

Jul 162017
 

#377

Bottled in 2004 at a lukewarm 43%, Bristol Spirits have somehow transcended the living room strength of this classic 30 year old rum and produced one of the best Jamaicans of its kind.  Even under some time pressure, I still had that glass on the go for two full hours, smelling it over and over, tasting it in the tiniest of sips again and again, comparing, retasting, rechecking, making more and more notes, and in the fullproof company of Guyanese and Jamaicans I was trying alongside it, it was a standout of no mean proportions.  We simply do not see rums of this kind any longer – we can with some effort get 15-20 year olds, we may be able to source a few rums in their twenties, but when was the last time you were fortunate enough to try a thirty year old rum?

Bristol Spirits are no stranger to old stocks, of course.  There was the masterful Port Mourant 1980 and that sublime Caroni 1974, to name but two.  These days, they’ve sort of settled into a groove with more sober-minded middle-aged rums, and while I would never say that what they produce now is not up to scratch — what they put out the door is both imaginative and interesting — none of them have that aura of gravitas mixed up with a ballsy “looky here!” middle-finger-to-the-establishment braggadocio…or yes, the restrained majesty, which three decades of ageing confers on this rum.

Because it was clear that every aspect of that age was wrung out and lovingly extracted from the single originating barrel.  No attempt was made to hold a thing back, and this was evident right away on the aroma, which dumbfounded me by being much more complex and even pungent for what – let’s face it – is not the world’s most badass rum strength.  It was just so deep. It started out with the richness of burnt leaves and charred canefields after the ritual firing, smouldering in a tropical twilight; caramel, toffee, nutty nougat, almonds, burnt brown sugar, tied together with oak and slightly bitter tannins that did not detract but enhanced. What fruits there were — raisins, prunes, plums for the most part — kept a cool kind of distance which supported the aromas noted above without supplanting them, and around them all was a weird amalgam of melons, squash and citrus zest that I was at a loss to pin down at first…but trust me, it worked. Anyone who loves rums (and not just Jamaicans) would go ape for this thing.

The taste was similarly top-notch, and while I would be hard-pressed to tell you the profile screamed “funk” or “dunder” or “Jamaican”, I must also tell you that what was presented had so much to offer that the rum skated past such concerns. It started out with traditional dark caramel, a little glue and warm dark fruit – raisins, black cake, tamarind – and then went for broke.  Over two hours it developed tastes of honey, cherries, flowers, charred wood, ashes and hot damp earth after a rain, underlain with a sort of laid back but crisp flavours of green apples, lemon zest and nuts, and finished off with a surprisingly long fade redolent of raspberries and ripe cherries and vanilla.  Quite frankly, one of the reasons I kept at it for so long was simply that I found myself more and more impressed with it as time went on: to the very end it never stopped developing.

As with many really good rums – and yes, I call this one of them – there’s more to it than simple tasting notes.  The mark of a rum / rhum / ron which transcends its provenance and age and goes for something special, is one that either makes one ponder the rumiverse while drinking it, or one that brings up clear associated memories in the mind of the reviewer – to some extent both were the case here. It was not clearly and distinctively a Jamaican rum, and I wondered how the distinctive profile of the island was so muted here….was it the long ageing in Europe, the original barrel, a peculiarity of the distillate, or the still itself? And as time went on I stopped worrying about it, and was drawn back into my memories of my youth in the Caribbean, the scent of burning canefields, fresh pressed cane juice on shaved ice sold by a snow-cone vendor outside Bourda, and the first taste of a local hooch in a beergarden down the coast served neat with a bowl of ice.  Such things are in themselves irrelevant, but also part and parcel of what makes this rum, to me, quite special, the more so since it happens so rarely.

So, yeah, I’m a drooling fanboy (was it that obvious?).  But how could I not be? You have to experience the emphatic boom trapped within the otherwise standard proof to understand my enthusiasm.  Muted yes; quiet yes; not as intense – of course.  One cannot outrun one’s shadow and get out from under 43%.  But just smell the thing, taste the thing, savour the thing — like some of the Compagnie’s rums, it makes a great case for Continental ageing. You could almost imagine some half-crazed, giggling bottler, half-in and half-out the barrel with a tiny teaspoon and clean white cloth, trying to get the very last drop out just to make sure that nothing was wasted.  Given what was achieved here, assuredly none of it was. It’s just half a shot shy of great.

(90/100)


Other notes

There is no data on the originating estate.  I’m guessing here, but believe it’s either a Longpond or a Monymusk, just on the taste.  If anyone has more info, feel free to correct me on this one.

Jun 262017
 

#375

Velier rums have now become so famous that new editions and collaborations disappear from the shelves fifteen minutes before they go on sale, and the “classic” editions from the Age of the Demeraras are all but impossible to find at all.  Still, keeping one’s twitchy ears and long nose alert does in fact get you somewhere in the end, which is why, after a long drought of the company’s rums in my battered notebook (if you discount the legendary Caputo 1973), I managed to pick up this little gem and am pleased to report that it conforms to all the standards that made Velier the poster child for independent bottlers.  It’s one of the better Port Mourant variations out there (although not the best – that honour, for me, still belongs to the Velier PM 1974, the Norse Cask 1975, with the Batch 1 Rum Nation 1995 Rare PM running a close third), and drinking it makes me wistful, even nostalgic, about all those magical rums which are getting rarer by the day and which speak to times of excellence now gone by.

And how could I not be? I mean, just look at the bare statistics. Guyanese rum, check. Full proof, check – it’s 56.7%. Massively old, double-check…the thing is 32 years old, distilled in May 1975 (a very good year) and bottled in March 2008 (my eyes are already misting over), from three barrels which gave out a measly 518 bottles. The only curious thing about it is the maturation which was done both in Guyana and Great Britain, but with no details on how long in each.  And a mahogany hue which, knowing how Luca does things, I’m going to say was a result of all that king-sized ageing.  All this comes together in a microclimate of old-school badass that may just be a characteristic of these geriatric products.

How did it smell?  Pretty damned good.  Heavy and spiced. A vein of caramel salty-sweetness ran hotly through the fierce dark of the standard PM profile, lending a blade of distinction to the whole.  The first aromas were of anise and wood chips, tannins, leather, orange marmalade.  The wood may have been a bit much, and obscured what came later – herbs and molasses, raisins, raw untreated honey from the comb, with a bit of brooding tar behind the whole thing.  Lightness and clarity were not part of the program here, tannins and licorice were, perhaps too much, yet there’s nothing here I would tell you failed in any way, and certainly nothing I would advise you to steer clear of.

On the taste, the anise confidently rammed itself to the fore, plus a bunch of oak tannins that were fortunately kept in check (a smidgen more would have not been to the PM’s advantage, I thought).  There were warm, heavy tastes of brown sugar vanilla, caramel, bananas, and then a majestic procession of fruitiness stomped along by – raisins, prunes, blackberries, dark cherries, accompanied by nougat, avocado and salt, orange peel and white chocolate. All the tastes I like in my Demerara rums were on display, and with a warmth and power conveyed by the 56.7% that no 40% PM could ever hope to match, undone only – and ever so slightly – by the oaken tannins, which even carried over to the finish.  Fortunately, the anise and warmer raisins and salt caramel came along for their curtain call as well, so overall, all I can say is this is a hell of a rum, long lasting, tasty and no slouch at all. Frankly, I believe that this was the rum DDL should have been aiming for with its 1980 and 1986 25 year old rums.

So, how does it rate in the pantheon of the great Demeraras from the Age?  Well, I think the oak and licorice, though restrained, may be somewhat too aggressive (though not entirely dominant), and they edge out subtler, deeper flavours which can be tasted but not fully appreciated to their maximum potential – the balance is a bit off.  This is not a disqualification in any sense of the word, the rum is too well made for that; and in any case, such flavours are somewhat of a defining characteristic of the still, so anyone buying a PM would already know of it – but for those who like a more coherent assembly, it’s best to be aware of the matter.  

Just consider the swirling maelstrom of cool, of near-awe, that surrounds this product, not just for its provenance, or its age, but for lustre it brings to the entire Age’s amazing reputation.  It’s a rum to bring tears to the eyes, because we will not see its like again, in these times of increasing participation by the indies, and the <30 year aged output.  Who would, or could, buy such a rum anyway, at the price it fetches nowadays (I saw one on retail for €2000 last week)?

At this stage in the state of the rumworld, I think we should just accept that we can no longer expect to be able to source those original monsters with which the giants of the subculture made their bones.  Anyone who has one of these is holding on to it for resale or for judicious sharing among the hard core rum chums who have pictures of every Velier bottle ever made hanging on walls where the Lamborghini Countach or Pamela Anderson was once posted.  You can sort of understand why.  They are all a cut above the ordinary and this one is no exception. In its own way, it’s great. And even if it does not ascend to the stratosphere the way I felt the 1974 did, then by God you will say its name when you taste it, and all your squaddies will doff their hats and bow twice.  It’s simply that kind of experience.

(89/100)