Aug 182015
 

D3S_9081

As appealing and soft as a pair of slippers on a cold evening

(#227 / 83/100)

*

Nosing this golden brown forty percenter was like revisiting a place in the mind. The soft sweet scents transported me back to the first time I tried the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva on a dark, bitterly cold and wintry evening.  This rum, made by the same outfit as the DRE, was quite similar: caramel, toffee, unsweetened chocolate and salted butter on rye bread.  There was a slight salty-sweet note here that hinted at soya, or even tequila, but very much in the background, and as it developed, coffee, dried dark fruits and raisins were also elbowing their way to my attention – not bad at all. I felt warmer just sniffing it, and thought back to the early fun days of Liquorature, where I fought a long hard battle to excommunicate the heresy of the scottish tipple with the rums of the True Faith (ultimately without success, but the fight rages on).

I have to comment on the velvety smoothness of the mouthfeel of the Cacique, which was great – it was like your rice-eating mongrel’s adoring I-love-you-master kiss without the drool, or a hungry cat purring and making nice. It was warm and sweet and unaggressive sort of feel on the palate, smooth and thick, without ever quite stepping off the edge and becoming a sweet vanilla-bomb.  Anyway…salt butter again, sour cream, toffee, vanilla, more coffee, very light floral notes, and exactly zero woody or even tobacco notes to be found.  Water?  Naah, I passed – water might have shredded this thing, it was already too light.  You see, the 40% was too weak to really emphasize and bring out the potential of the flavours hidden beneath…I really had to stretch just to sense what I described just now. This made it somewhat unadventurous, uncomplicated, and lacking in what us techno-rum-geeks with our love of exactitude, call “oomph.”  And this carried over into the fade, which might have been the weakest part of the entire drinking experience – the brown sugar came out really hard here, with dark, sweet caramel, butter and toffee…barely escaping the dreaded term “cloying” by the slight bitterness of oak and stale coffee grounds.

D3S_9084

The brand first marketed its rums way back in 1959 – it is now owned by Diageo – and according to wikipedia, it’s the top selling rum in Venezuela (Diplomatico must be pissed). Three varieties exist, the Añejo, the Cacique and the Antiguo, in ascending order, so this is a considered by the makers to be a middle of the road rum. All the rums in the range are supposedly made from molasses distilled in copper pot stills (I kinda doubt that – the profile suggests column still product), aged a little, then blended, then aged again, for up to eight years. The 500 is no newcomer to the stage, being first issued in 1992 to commemorate the date Columbus landed in the New World (I hesitate to use the word “discovered”).  Now you know as much as I do, and that’s still more than you’ll find on the Diageo website.

Cacique is made by Licoreras Unidas SA in La Miel – these are the same cheerful amigos who make the equally sweet, light and very drinkable Diplomaticos, which may inspire either praise and derision depending on where you stand on the sugar issue. I always kinda liked the Diplomaticos myself, especially in the early years — and even now that I’m more of a dark, heavy, full-proofed aged-rum aficionado, I still think they’re really good as introductory sipping rums (which is also how I came across them).  So I expected the Cacique to more or less hew to the same profile, and it didn’t disappoint in any major way. It shared points of similarity with the light Colombian and Peruvian rums, as well as the other Venezuelans, which argues for a commonality of origin in the diaspora of Cuban-influenced roneros.

So…did I like it?  Yes and no.  The smooth and familiar tastes were comforting in their own way, sweet, pleasant, unadventurous, uncomplex – they love you. No attention needed be paid to the Cacique – it wasn’t that kind of rum – but if that’s your thing, add five points to my score. If on the other hand you’re into cask strength beefcakes that menacingly flex their power and dunder and esters in all directions, and show their indifference to your health or your opinion or your tonsils, better take five off.

Other notes

A cacique is an Arawak (Amerindian) tribal chieftain. I wonder if the irony of a bottle label commemorating both the arrival of Europeans, and the title of a chief of those they nearly exterminated, ever occurred to anyone.

Jul 222015
 

Severin Simon

(#223)

Germany has a number of home-grown rum makers out there.  Oh, they’re not world beaters by any means, but in a country that never really had any tropical colonies, no real culture of rum, no background in sugar cane production, it’s surprising to find any at all. And I’m always curious about these relatively small companies – after all, some small ones become big ones through sheer blending skill and mastery of craft bottlings and great word of mouth, right? Maybe this will be one of them, who knows, let’s take a look, I always tell myself. And let’s never pretend that a background in making other spirits does not have its positive side.

I’ve looked at two other German companies’ rums before (Old Man Spirits and Alt-Enderle), and today I’ll turn my attention to Severin Simon, a small distillery out of Bavaria, which has been, in one form or another, open for business since 1879. Severin Simon made and make gin, schnapps, brandy and whisky, and are now turning their attention to rum, which kicked off into high gear when they installed new distillery apparatus in 2012.  As with the other two companies mentioned above, their primary market remains Germany.

An interesting point of their production methodology is that they use fair trade organic molasses deriving from the Dominican Republic: Tres Hombres ship it to Germany in their sailing ship, and I appreciate that Severin Simon doesn’t use industrial grade alcohol and tart it up to make a throwaway paint-stripper.  Ageing is done in oak barrels made of local Spessart oak, some of which have been charred, some not. Two of the three rums I tried were aged eighteen months, and the current 2015 crop of rums is edging to just over two years, with single-cask and longer aged, higher-proofed rums on the horizon.

Valkyrie

Valkyrie (“Nordic”)

Notes – Pale gold. Pot still. Aged for 18 months in new barrels whose staves and floor were hand toasted.  Non-chill-filtered.  No additives or inclusions.40% for 0.5 L, costing ~€53

Nose – Sharp, even thin. Too much oak here.  Leather, smoke, caramel, some vague dried fruits and rosemary.

Palate – Light to medium bodied.  Unappealingly raw.  This thing should be aged more, I think.  Maybe it’s that local oak used in the barrels. Some raisins, dried prunes, plums, burnt sugar.  Water doesn’t help. It’s that smokiness, the sharper tannins of the oak, asserting too much influence.

Finish – Short and dry. Musty leather, charcoal-fire smoke, raisins and some toffee and caramel, all over rather quickly.

Thoughts – Should be aged for another few years, which I believe is the intention anyway. Given the price tag, do they consider it their premium rum? It’s complex enough, and a decent rum, just too much smoke and ash, not enough of the other stuff I enjoy. Plus, the sharpness needs some toning down, I think.

(79/100)

Kalypso

Bavarian Sweetened Rum (“Kalypso”)

Notes – Colour: amber. Pot still, flavoured rum.  Aged about two years. Darkest rum of the three.  40%, costs ~€48. Simon Severin noted the rum has 50g/L sugar.  Points to them for not dissembling on the matter.

Nose – Why is this thing so spicy at 40%? Oh, okay, it dies down after a few minutes.  Massive and simple taste bomb, this one, mostly vanilla and mocha, with prunes and some raisins at the back end.

Palate – Medium bodied. Spiciness of the nose gives way to thicker warmth. Sweet and redolent of more vanilla, raisins, coconut shavings, molasses, brown sugar, and red cherries in syrup. If you know what you’re looking for (or have good comparators) you can tell this is a young rum, still too uncouth in spite of the inclusions, which help mask – but not eliminate – a lack of well-cut underlying base distillate.

Finish – None too long, nothing special. Mostly more vanilla and some caramel here. Some lemon zest, if you strain a bit.

Thoughts – I’ll stick with unflavoured rums.

(74/100)

Konig

Royal Bavarian Navy Rum (“Königlisch”)

Notes – Colour: light amber. Two-tier solera system rum, molasses based, oldest component aged eighteen months.  Initial distillate from pot still. Dark straw coloured, 40%. Around €35.

Nose – Rather whisky-like, salty, oaky and herbal.  Smoothest of the three, which may be damning it with faint praise.

Palate – Medium bodied. Citrus emerges from out of the musky background; smoke and woody notes, not altogether masking some burnt sugar, salty caramel and black olives.  Rather spicy, turns arid after a while.

Finish – Short and dry.  Fennel and toasted walnuts, some non-too-sweet toffee.

Thoughts – To my mind this one is – by a narrow margin – the best of the three, and the cheapest.  The absence of clearly identifiable sugar inclusions, and the eschewing of charred barrels somehow allows a shade more complexity to sneak in there. It’s a toss-up between this one and the Valkyrie for those who like their smoky background more.

(80/100)

Summing up

Like Old Man Spirits and their interesting – if ultimately not quite successful – Uitvlugt 16 year old, what we have here is a company still finding its legs in the rum world. Pot still and molasses source notwithstanding, a few more years and tweaking their cuts, ageing profile and barrel selection, and they’ll really have something here.  I’d like to see if they ever come out with a white rum made from cane juice…have a feeling the Spessart oak they use would work some interesting effects there.

Let me just close by repeating something I’ve said before – you have to give points to people who actually make a product and jump through all the hoops to get a company off the ground in a field like rum, in a highly regulated region like the EU; and who provide employment and pay taxes and contribute to the larger rum world. I always and sincerely wish these outfits well, no matter what my rating of their products might be.

Jul 012015
 

D3S_8946

Neither attempt — to make an ersatz agricole (from molasses) or a white mixing agent to take on the more established brands — really works.

(#220. 78/100)

***

Prichard’s is that outfit from Tennessee which has been quietly and busily putting out rums for nearly twenty years, ever since Phil Prichard decided to make rum in whiskey country.  And while it is now common for new entrants to the market to sell white unaged rum from their stills to cover startup costs and provide cash flow while they wait for more favoured stocks to mature, Mr. Prichard didn’t do anything of the sort, and so his white rum – called Crystal – came later to his company’s portfolio (the first review I’ve seen is dated around 2007).

White rums (or “clear” or “silver”, or “blanc”, pick your moniker) come in several varieties, to my mind: agricoles (of which clairins are a subset), cachacas and white mixers, with a new field of unaged pot still whites beginning to gather a head of steam. The question to me was which target the Crystal was taking aim at, and if it succeeded at any. The evocatively named rum is apparently distilled five times using the same sweet Louisiana molasses as the Fine Rum, which is a major selling and marketing point for the company; it is unaged and comes straight from the barrel (though I’m curious – if it was utterly unaged, what was it doing in a barrel in the first place, but never mind).

Anyway, one thing I remarked on right away after pouring it out, was a certain clear crispness to the nose.  No real complexity here: green apples and vanilla for the most part, and remarkably sweet to smell: the origin molasses were detectable in spite of the filtration. The vanilla was really quite overpowering, though, even if  some cream and saltiness emerged at the back end…overall, nothing too difficult to tease out.

Even at 40% it kinda grated on the palate: it was sharp, too raw – that was the lack of ageing making itself felt.  It wasn’t precisely light either, and the initial clarity of the nose dissipated early, to become a slightly heavier, oilier drink.  When it opened up, other, less appealing tastes stepped up to show themselves off – still a lot of sugar and vanillas, yes, but also harsher iodine and metallic notes, with some crackers and brie teasing the senses without ever taking centre stage. And it was oddly dry as things wrapped up, with those vanillas and fresh-cut green apples returning to take a last look around before disappearing in a short finish.

D3S_8946-001

I review all spirits as if they were meant to be had neat – right or wrong, that’s my cross to bear in an attempt to use the exact same methodology to evaluate every rum I try.  To have different techniques in evaluating different rums based on any idea of what a rum should be used for (sipping drink, cocktail ingredient) is to introduce a bias, if not outright confusion.

So by the standard of whether it works as a neat rum, then, the Crystal doesn’t succeed (and even Prichard’s website doesn’t imply otherwise and plugs it as a mixer).  The very slight acidity of the fruit I tasted, mixed up with the lingering molasses, the vanilla, the jarring metallic notes, creates a discordant taste profile which destroys the sipping experience.  As a cocktail ingredient, then? Probably much better.  Not with a coke though – something sharper is needed to take the vanillas off, so I’d suggest ginger beer, lime, Angostura bitters, something in that direction. Prichard’s own website gives some examples.

Since I’m not into tiki or cocktail culture, such white, bland, filtered rums don’t do much for me, and that’s why in over five years I’ve reviewed almost none (I’ve gotten hammered on them quite often, mind you).  This one’s okay, I guess: it’s just a sweet-molasses-based silver, lacking sufficient complexity or blending artistry to make it as a solo drink. My low score should not be seen as a blanket indictment, then, since its failure as a neat sample does not invalidate it as a cocktail ingredient where it may shine more. I’ll leave it to experts in that field to argue the case for the Crystal, which unfortunately I myself could not and cannot make.

 

Jun 282015
 

D3S_8944

A paradox of the mid range: a pot still rum that fails at very little…except perhaps excitement.

(#219. 81/100)

***

I’ve been writing and rewriting this review for almost three months: each time I came to grips with it, I thought of something else to add (or delete), or some new and interesting product eclipsed the Prichard’s and made me want to publish that first. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, maybe.

Prichard’s has been in business since 1996 when they became the first new distillery in Tennessee since the 1940s and have quite a stable of output, including some interesting rum products to their name – they produce three real rums, one spiced rum, three flavoured rums….plus six whiskies and five liqueurs.  So, as with many such outfits in the ‘States, I occasionally wonder if their love isn’t primarily given elsewhere and they make true rums only in order to branch out a little.  However, the website and interviews suggest the opposite, so maybe I’ve got it wrong. And I don’t mind that…I’m just curious about it.

Small companies making rum in the USA sometimes try to recreate the American rums of yore by varying their input or production methods.  In this case, Prichard’s use not blackstrap molasses (the black sticky residue after most of the sugar has been extracted), but sweet Louisiana Grade A molasses, of the sort that could be put on your pancakes the morning after.  The rum is then aged for four years in fifteen-gallon barrels of new oak (another point of departure from more traditional techniques) Whether that works or not is up to the individual.  I don’t think it’s all bad, just not something I’d remember enthusiastically a week from now either. It somehow results in a symphony of ho-hum in spite of some off-kilter moments.

Perhaps starting with the aromas might make the point clearer: initially the amber liquid as decanted from the squat long-necked bottle presented clearly, with chocolate and toffee leading the fray.  A little patience, a drop of water, and spices began to come forward – cardamon, fennel, apples, a cherry or two, and sly twitch of lemongrass for zest – before being blattened into the ground by a ridiculous amount of emerging iodine, leather, caramel, burnt brown sugar that dominated the nose from there on in.

The rum was medium bodied, neither fierce nor fawn.  It slid smoothly on the palate, just a little bit of burn from the standard proofage. I dunno, it seemed diffident, good ‘nuff, like a Three Bears of a rum, neither too much or too little.  Again mocha and dark chocolate, coffee, toffee.  And after it opened up, black grapes, overripe apples, more iodine, and a thin kind of vanilla thread through the whole business, with anise, molasses and caramel really taking ownership at this point and carrying the whole experience through to a lacklustre finish with just more of the same — unexceptionally so, in my opinion.

That grayness of my opinion has to do with the fact that while the Prichard’s Fine Rum  is a workmanlike product by any standard — competently made and reasonably executed — it doesn’t have that extra edge of oomph that excites.  It lacks any single shining point of distinction or originality upon which I can hang my hat and say “this part is freakin’ great,” hence my continual suspicion, however unjustified, that bourbon is what they really want to be making, and rum is an indifferent afterthought. Still…that it’s a drinkable, even sippable rum, with perhaps a shade too much Grade A hanging around in there, but worth the outlay — that’s all beyond dispute; it’s the question of whether it’s a must-have that’s is a bit more open to doubt.

See, some rums trumpet their badassery to the world, while others tick over quietly like swiss watches, the undercurrents of their quality self-evident to those who look and enjoy.  Here’s a rum that neither leaves you turning cartwheels in transports of drunken exuberance, nor shaking your head sadly as you mumble about a piece of junk you wasted time trying – but walking away from the experience, remarking to your friend, “That, mon ami, is a plain old rum.”

 

May 102014
 

Skeldon 1971 bottle

It’s official.  Velier has raised the bar for super premium rums, with an extraordinary 32-year old blast from the past that will excavate a punt-wide trench in your wallet if you ever find one.

(#181. 93.5/100)

The 544-bottle run of the Skeldon 1973 Old Demerara Rum has, since being released in 2005, become something of an object of cult worship.  In 2012 a single bottle went for sale on eBay for close to  €500. I searched for three years before I found a gent in France willing to part with his (and at a cost I’m glad my wife never found out about).  It isn’t very well known, except among rabid collectors, and the only reviews I’ve ever seen were in Italian and French.  It is without doubt a rum from further back in time than anything else Velier has ever made, or perhaps will ever make.  And it is worth every penny. Yes, I love Rum Nation, yes I have soft spots for Cadenhead, Berry Brothers, Secret Treasure, Plantation, El Dorado, Pussers, Young’s Old Sam and a score of others. But this thing is a cut above the crowd, and part of that is the way Velier mastered and balanced the subtleties trapped within the enormous tastes of a 32-year-old beefcake.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside Guyana who knows about Skeldon, or where it is. It’s a plantation on the far east of the country, right close by the Corentyne River — I visited the area many times in my youth — and not, as some have mentioned, on the Demerara (all Guyanese rums are often noted as being Demeraras, but the pedant in me disputes the moniker).  The original distillate was made in Skeldon before the still was shut down, and I’ve heard that the barrels were transferred to Uitvlugt before finding their final home in Diamond Estate, where Luca Gargano found the last four barrels from that year ageing quietly away in DDL’s warehouses, perhaps even forgotten by them: he snapped them up, and from that stock, made an old, bold bastard of a rum, eschewing the softness of a standard strength and allowing it to be issued at a mouth ravaging 60.5%.

The Skeldon 1973 was remarkably dark, molasses brown, deeper in hue than the PM 1974 I looked at not too long ago. Such was the skill of the makers that almost no time needed to be spent waiting for the spirit to open up in my glass: almost as soon as I poured it out, rich, powerful fumes of coffee, burnt cocoa, and smouldering sugar cane fields billowed out. Mellow aromas of peaches, nuts and licorice provided exclamation points of distinction, and these were followed by notes of honey, pecans and toast. And it wasn’t over yet: after half an hour, when I went back to it, I detected yet other traces of cherries, blackberries, and even a sly waxy taste that was far from unpleasant.  And each component was clear and distinct, crisp and vital as tropical morning sunshine.

If the nose was extraordinary, so was the palate:  intense without sharpness, heated without pain, and not so much full bodied as voluptuous.  Cumin, tannins and a certain muskiness attended the initial tasting, with a briny undertone, all in balance. As these receded, other flavours came to the fore: coffee again, unsweetened cocoa, walnuts, some caramel, burnt sugar cane (as from the nose), almonds, hazelnuts and at the very bottom a wink of eucalyptus oil. Many rums I have tried often seem to come from the recycle bin: reblends, a new finishing regime, a little tweak here or there, but with the venerable core formula always intact. The Skeldon 1973 does a difficult thing: it feels original, cut from new cloth and yet structured around  blending basics so seamlessly that it samples phenomenally well.  It’s got a certain sumptuousness to it, a sense of extravagance and out of sight quality, as rich as the silk in the lining of a Savile Row suit.

As for the finish, well, its persistence may be as unique as, oh, the Albion 1994, or the SMWS Longpond 9. Fumes and final flavours continued to make their prescence felt for minutes after a taste, as if unwilling to let go. Coffee was prevalent, toasted hazelnuts, some caramel, all melded together into a fade that was a function of 60.5%, and lasted a very very long time, none of it wasted.  So good was the overall experience that I must have had four or five tasting glasses of the stuff, just so that I could savour and sample and extract the very last nuance, and even then I’m sure I missed something.

Skeldon 1973 Label

Everything works in this rum.  Nose, palate, mouthfeel, exit, the whole thing. Usually I’m ambivalent about one point or another in a review – good points in one area are marred by small disappointments in others and this is why the “intangible” part of my scoring goes down and not up like all the others – but here there is such a uniformity of excellence that it made me feel re-energized about the whole business of reviewing rums (and, as an aside, that I may have underrated even the phenomenal UF30E which is about on par, and which I used as a control for this review).

What an amazing, fulfilling rum Velier has produced, indeed.  Yes it’s extraordinarily hard to find, and yes its damned pricey.  Good luck finding one in the States or Canada (or even in Europe, these days).  I’m remarkably fortunate in that I was able to source an unopened bottle given its rarity.  Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, has a track record with his bottlings that many can only envy, and is used to dealing lightning with both hands; and for no other reason this is why sourcing his products, old or new, is recommended. If you want to see what the industry can accomplish if they really try, spring some pieces of eight for what Velier is making, if even just the once.

Or try getting a taste of mine, if you’re ever in my neighborhood.  I’m almost sure I’d share it with you.

***

Other notes

Distilled in Coffey still in August 1973 and bottled in April 2005

There is a slightly younger version of Skeldon distillate, the 1978 edition – also bottled by Velier – which I have not managed to source as yet. It is selling on Ebay as of September 2014, for €800. I heard it finally sold for €1200. In January 2016, another 1978 was on offer for €2000

Velier, in 2004, bought a stake in DDL (per their website) – Luca notes in his interview with Cyril of DuRhum that it was in 2003.

Updates

As of 2015, Velier no longer has the right to select barrels from DDL’s warehouses

In October 2015 I retasted this rum, and noted a marked vanilla undercurrent appearing after it stood for half an hour.  This was not substantial enough to lessen the rum’s value – it was too well made for that – but it was there. I thought of rescoring at 93 but then compromised by making note of the fact for interested readers.

 

 

Jul 292013
 

D3S_7028

Good all round Bajan rum from Berry Brothers & Rudd, that’s worth its price and is a good note on which to close your day.

(#175. 85/100)

***

What a relief it was to try this well-aged rum, and to find that its Fijian 8 year old cousin which I had tried some weeks back was indeed something of an iconoclastic aberration. There’s not much I could say about a line of rums of which I have only ever sampled three, and it would have been wrong to extrapolate based on such a small sample size. So it’s a happy matter that I can confirm the Bajan 13 year old is an excellent buy all round.

One of the pleasant things about independent bottlers who make a “series” is the consistency of presentation – think Renegade and their frosted glass bottles, or Plantation and the straw netting. It saves the reviewer a whole bunch of time not to have to assess a presentational score (I know the principle has its detractors, no need to mention it). So, tall bottle, well fitting plastic cork, simplistic labelling utterly consistent with the other BBR rums I’ve written about (the Fiji and the Port Morant 1975).

The lead in on the nose was caramel and molasses, muted and light, yet with some heat as well (the rum is 46% after all). Vanilla undertones had their place before segueing into subtler aromas of pineapple and nicely ripened yellow gooseberries. A flirt of citrus (ripe orange peel) coiled around all of this, well balanced with preceding elements, and then the whole was wrapped up in emerging perfumes of delicate white flowers and a barely perceptible wine background. Quite intriguing, all in all.

I must comment on the excellent mouthfeel of this thirteen year old, honey-coloured rum: it’s medium bodied yet quite smooth for all that, with some heat imparted by the strength, but not so much as to become peppery or overly spicy. There’s a luxurious creaminess in the way this runs across the tongue, a certain chewiness that was very appealing. The rum was neither too sweet nor too salty (while possessing elements of both), and what I came away with was vanilla, honey, white chocolate, light coconut shavings and bananas, all held together by a softer citrus hint than the nose had promised. And at the tail end the odd sweetness of a strawberry lollipop, fading into a long clean finish redolent of chopped fruits and some saltiness. Really quite a decent product – I enjoyed it a lot.

D3S_7032

Where does the distillate originate? I wish I knew for sure. I almost want to say it comes from Mount Gay, but somewhere in that profile I’m more leaning towards R. L. Seale’s FourSquare (and indeed, the Masters of Malt website says that’s its home), and also, from its richness, that it’s a pot still distillate. The ageing in white oak barrels was well handled, in my opinion, because the resultant is in very good balance overall, and it’s a sipper’s drink rather than one to mix.

Writing this review as my life changes yet again, I am assailed by a sense of melancholy. This review will be one of the last for a while (the country I’m moving to is dry in all senses of the word). Perhaps it is fitting that one of the final rums I’ve tried and written up tasting notes for, is also one of the more pleasing ones. Not the best, of course (is there any such thing?) but certainly a rum to have and to enjoy at any point on the arc of your existence. Even if, or perhaps especially, as with me, you won’t be trying any more for a while.

 

Jun 212013
 

D3S_6841

 

Quasimodo in a shrink-wrapped muscle-car with overlarge tyres

(#169. 80.5/100)

***

 Rums have gotten, over the decades and centuries, rather civilized. Sweaty muscular beefcakes like the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3% and the Bacardi 151 always exist, of course, accompanied by more uncouth and less cultured rums even than that, made less for export than for local consumption…but for the most part, what we get is soft, soothing, decent, well padded.

This 46% rum, however, made by those genteel fellows in England, Berry Brothers and Rudd, was none of these things…which, when you recall the near-brilliant 1975 Port Mourant they also made, is kind of odd. Civilized? Nope. Smooth? Not really. Calming, easy on the nose? Don’t make me laugh. Berry Brothers have done something rather amazingly insane, or stupefyingly stupid depending on your viewpoint, with this Fijian product. They’ve made it a raw, nasty, brutish, ugly, foul tasting kill divil that I dunno, should be used to scour the paint job off your souped up Ford F150. Or maybe fuel it.

You think I’m kidding, right? Yeah…but no.

Some time ago I reviewed the SMWS Longpond 9, and the Rum Nation Demerara 23 and the Jamaica 25 year old. All three of these had rubbery, almost medicinal notes to them that were initially somewhat disconcerting, but eventually melded into a unique whole I could not help but appreciate. The off-notes I didn’t care for were relatively subdued and well integrated into a fascinating synthesis. No such feeling swept over me as my brother and I nosed the Berry Brothers & Rudd Fijian 8 year old. Because in this case, raw plasticine and rubber notes were so powerful, that I felt a Bugatti had just peeled out of the shop, leaving a black strip on the pavement a mile wide. Medicinal, turpentine, paint thinner was what you got on that nose. Iodine, seaweed, brine, salt biscuits. And then more burnt rubber. They held a commanding stance from the outset, and never let go. Yes there were also timid, trembling scents of grassy and herbal aromas that crept in as if afraid to be noticed; yes, if you paid attention you would get apple cider and perhaps a flirt of not quite ripe pineapple. But it was small consolation. You had to try too hard. They were shouldered aside and squashed flat.

To taste, it was heated and spicy, as befitted a stronger product, and it was reasonably smooth, not raw and clawing, so no issues there. Hay-blonde, quite light, somewhat thin and clear and clean on the tongue. I was kind of suckered in by some lazy background notes of freshly-sawn white wood of some kind, bananas, softer pineapple and an even fainter grassy-green floral note that developed over time, but then the uncompromising rubber returned. Merde, but this was unpleasant. Iodine, seaweed, some peat (I kid you not) mixed it up in the schoolyard with an overweight bully of peeling rubber, turpentine and styrofoam. It’s like I was trying to sample a neoprene suit left behind on the set of “Debbie Does Dallas.” I can concede without hesitation that the texture was pretty good, it felt physically pleasant in the mouth, and the finish was medium long and heated (and may have been the best thing about it, perhaps because we could now see an end to the experience). But I simply don’t appreciate a rum that is redolent of the freshly torn plastic coming off new, over-polished wooden furniture.

D3S_6846

So, with all due apologies to BBR (who have made other rums I really enjoyed), this is not a rum I cared for. I asked a dedicated maltster whether, given the profile I described, he would buy it (for $75, which is what I paid), and he said probably, so it may work better for Islay-lovers than it did for me. The thing is, underneath the taste is the texture, and in that texture and mouthfeel you can sense the rum this could have been had it been toned down a bit, perhaps been a bit sweeter (and this is why I scored it as I have). I always thought the Renegades were inconsistent and made by — and perhaps for — whisky lovers, and here we have another in that vein, something of a harnessed lunatic, loud and uncouth and unrefined as a fading rock star’s leopard-skin trousers.

It probably won’t sell much, but you know, I do have a kind of sneaking admiration for the concept, much as I shudder at the taste. It takes a certain kind of guts to make a rum that tastes so crazily off base as to appeal to not just the 1%, but the 1% of that 1% who would welcome the adventure, appreciate the uniqueness and throw caution to the winds when drinking it. Because, for sure, there are very few rums in my whole experience which are anything like this Fijian popskull.

Just be warned – It’s an absolute animal of a drink to have if you’re not prepared.


Other Notes

As is usual with craft bottlings such as this one, I could not find much information on the source. However, since there really is only one distillery on Fiji (the South Pacific Distillery, which makes the seemingly well-regarded Bounty brand), it seems reasonable to suppose that the raw stock comes from there. In what barrels it was aged and in which country, is something I’m currently still researching.

Given the light and clean profile, I will hazard that the distillate comes from sugar cane juice (like an agricole) and not from molasses, and is probably a column still product. Still, these are merely my conjectures, so if a reader has more info, please post a remark.

I notice that there are nine and ten year old Fijian rums made by BBR as well.

 

 

May 072013
 

D3S_5509

Crackers and butter

(#160. 84.5/100)

***

Given how much I care for Guyanese style Demerara rums (even if some of them actually originate from plantations closer to Berbice), and knowing something of the various profiles hailing from these plantations, I must confess to being quite surprised at the sharp left turn this 45% ABV Plantation rum made.

No really. As soon as I opened the bottle to pour the gold-amber rum into my glass, the very first scent that reached me was salt biscuits and creamy, unsalted butter.  This, to me was quite unmistakable, because in my youth I was once caught on a tramp steamer in the Atlantic for three days, and all we had to eat was salt biscuits, crackers and peanut butter (and some jam) – and the Guyana 1999 rum mirrored those scents so faithfully it was, quite frankly, like being back on board.  Okay, it did mellow out, I can’t kid about that – into smoke and wet, rain drenched wood, tannins from oak, only slowly deepening into almonds, faint citrus, hibiscus flowers and softer caramel and burnt sugar (for which I was thankful – I’ve never appreciated salt biscuits since that time).

The Guyana 1999 suggested a certain clarity and hardness rather than softer, more voluptuous tastes.  Very little soothing gentleness here, yet also no real bite and sting on the palate.  Indeed, the somewhat briny, tannic nose transmogrified into a creamier, very pleasantly oily feel on the tongue, and the previously restrained ponies of sugar, vanilla and caramel were allowed freer rein, though they never went so far as to dominate the overall flavour profile. Indeed, were it not for that clear, dominant “I am here” taste of butterscotch and burnt sugar, this rum would have been a lot more delicate and flowery to taste.  And there were few, if any fleshy fruit or citrus notes here at all, nor where there any on the finish.  It’s a very strange rum to try, yet also a pretty good one – this is one case where the palate exceeds the nose (I often find the opposite to be the case). The fade is medium to long, with a rather hard denouement of blackberries and almond nuttiness that goes on for quite some time.

D3S_5507

Plantation is one of the famed rums made in series and in quantity by what is termed an independent bottler – Cognac Ferrand from France, in this case.  There are many others – Rum Nation, Renegade, Fassbind, Berry Brothers & Rudd and Velier are just a few examples – but most of these tend towards a few thousand bottles per run, originating in a few casks, while I get the impression that CF does quite a bit more than that for each of its editions. The claim to fame of the Plantation line, and what gives them such a great street rep, is their finishing for a final few months in cognac casks, which imparts an intriguing flavour to each and every one of their rums I’ve been fortunate enough to try thus far, providing an intriguing counterpoint to the Renegade line, which to my mind attempts the same thing a little less successfully.

Also, I think that the slight saltiness and background cracker taste on the fade makes the rum drop a bit more than usual for me – oh, I liked it, but I enjoyed other Plantations more (the Nicaragua 2001, for example, and the Barbados 20th Anniversary for sure).  For a Mudlander, even one in exile as long as I have been, that’s nothing short of embarrassing.  Still, I have to make this observation – I tried it side by side with the Renegade Barbados 2003 6 year old (coming soon to the review site near you), and doing the tasting in tandem revealed something of the character and richness of the Plantation rum which Renegade lacked…so it’s certainly better than a solo-only tasting or my ambivalent wording here might imply.

There aren’t many rums I try that evoke such strong, definitive memories.  I may not have enjoyed eating stale crackers and jam for three straight days on the Atlantic Ocean, no…what I took away from that experience was more of the black, moonless nights, blazing with stars, phosphorescent green water lapping against the hull, desultory conversations with the mate at three in the morning (while sharing some unspeakable hooch), being young, immortal and seventeen, and considering myself part of a grand adventure.  This rum, with a middling nose and finish and a very pleasant palate, brought back that experience in a way that was nothing short of amazing.

Don’t know about you, but for me that’s priceless.


Other Notes

According to Master Quill, his bottle of this rum has April 2009 on the bottle, so I am taking that as reasonable proof of age.

May 022013
 

D7K_1292

Parts of this rum succeed swimmingly, others less so.

(#158. 83/100)

***

This was the second of two rums brought over some days ago, by my squaddie Tony – he of the famous 151 proof rumballs guaranteed to lay you out flat under the table in labba time. I remember having about four of these alcoholic grenades a few years back, and then having a serious and lengthy conversation with a doorpost for the next ten minutes, thinking it was the Hippie. Tony had the good fortune to visit Cuba recently, and being one of the few Caners in the whole province (he claims to have seen a few others of our near-mythical breed in occasional flyspeck watering holes, though this may be mere rumour), he brought back both this rum and the 12 year old Santiago de Cuba I looked at before.

So what to say about this one? Well, first of all, it’s not of a level quite comparable to the sterling 12 year old mentioned above, but it reminded me a lot of another Cuban rum I reviewed some months before, the Ron Palma Mulata de Cuba, which I didn’t care for all that much in spite of its also being aged twelve years. After doing some research, it came as no surprise that the same company made them both – Technoazucar. The company website barely makes mention of this rum beyond some technical details, which I find an odd omission.

Secondly, the Vigia is made from sugar syrup, not molasses, which may account for something of its lighter, vegetal nose (the title of the rum comes from Hemmingway’s residence in San Francisco de Paula, Havana). Be that as it may, the mahogany rum did indeed have a rather herbal tang to it: dry, spicy, with hints of lemon grass, orange zest, dark brown sugar and cinnamon. Not aloofly astringent like Professor McGonnagal, more like, oh Professor Spout – plumper, more inviting, pleasantly earthy and absolutely no-nonsense. I thought that nose was the best thing about this product, though the taste wasn’t much behind.

The palate morphed from the aforementioned grassy notes to something quite different – a touch of red grapes and wine surrounding the caramel and burnt sugar core. A floral background of white blossoms stole gently around these aromas, and the mouthfeel was pleasant, without drama or overacting of any kind. Not all that smooth, but not overly spicy either – it was quite a difference from the Mulata, and closer in profile to (if lighter than) the Santiago de Cuba. Certainly it was sweeter than either, I should note, just not enough to be either cloying or offensive. A medium long, none-too-special exit redolent of caramel and flowery notes, plus some crushed walnuts, light smoke and leather, rounded off the overall profile.

So, the nose was pretty decent, the palate almost as excellent and the finish just meh. The Vigia was, to my mind, a youngish rum (five to seven years, I judge), one to mix in a nice daiquiri perhaps, or that old standby, the Libre. Some of my ambivalence comes from me seeing it as an agricole, not so much a molasses based product, and while I have great admiration for such rums when properly made (such as in the French Caribbean Islands), here it just seems that they wanted to produce a mid-tier rum without too much additional effort, saved their love for more top tier products, and let it go as it was.

Which is strange because it’s better than the Mulata 12 year old even without that extra care and attention. How odd is that?.

 

Apr 122013
 

D7K_1244

 

A set of Bata flip-flops made out of Gucci-quality leather

(#155. 80.5/100)

***

Frankly, I just don’t get the point of underproofs. It’s like they aren’t quite sure what they want to be, and are deathly afraid of offending even one potential customer by being, I dunno, a real rum. If I wanted a light liqueur, I would have bought one, and to have a rum aged twelve years to be bottled at a strength like 35% makes little sense to me: the wussiness sinks an otherwise decent product. You can taste the underlying potential…it just doesn’t deliver.

Put aside the grumbling about oomph, and this 12 year old rum made in Costa Rica (presented to me by my compadres Mary and Stuart, who recently returned from there) is a pretty good product, mind you…it rises – barely – above its weakness, one might say. Consider merely the presentation: decent cardboard box of good paper, well designed, holding a frosted, dark, engraved bottle with a plastic screw cap. Solid all the way ‘round.

This was a rum too weak to batter your schnozz — so gentleness, warmth, lightness and softness were expected and received — and had intriguing and predominating scents of vanilla. Around that core swirled light floral hints, freshly cut ripe peaches and apricots (not rich enough for pineapple by any means, which was a good thing). Sweet, not cloying, and a faintly medicinal background, barely noticeable. Relatively unassertive, which may point to where underproofs usually unravel for me.

That gentleness carried on to the palate as well. This was a very smooth and light rum, and because of its delicacy, very difficult to pick apart. Almost no oak prescence, more vanilla and caramel and light flowers, all of which morphed into the androgynous nature of a papaya, skirting the line between a little tartness and none at all. There was hardly any finish to speak of, a short exit that left a quick last taste of oak and vanilla (but none of the raw smoke of older, more powerful expressions), and left me looking with some dissatisfaction at my glass. It gave too little, you see, and while a person casually trying something in this line would probably enjoy it, I preferred and continue to prefer, stronger and more intense drinks. This wasn’t one of them, good as its makers made it.

Speaking of the makers, Centenario Internacional SA from Costa Rica makes quite a range of these rums – five, seven, nine, twelve year and twenty year olds (plus a solera 25 40% not mentioned on their website). Aged in white oak barrels, the product of locally grown sugar cane, all except the solera are bottled at 35% according to the website’s photographs, so this is not an aberration, but a deliberate blending choice. I’m afraid I was not able to come up with much more regarding the company history – however, it did not seem to be one of those decades- or centuries- old distilling houses with traditions handed down through the generations, more a commercial spirits maker of relatively recent antecedents.

In fine, then, the general profile of the Centenario strikes an intriguing balance between the smooth lightness of some of the Colombian rums (like the Juan Santos 12, or the Ron Viejo de Caldas Añejo 8 años 38%) and the slightly more assertive Panamanians such as the Abuelo 12 or RN Panama 18. But bar the Viejo de Caldas, those drinks were bottled at par proof or better, had heft, hair and some hormones under the satin slinkiness. On this one, I can’t help thinking that they had a great product in the making , and for reasons known only to themselves, they dialled it back down to a puff piece I can barely call a rum without snickering. Much as I believe it to be a good product, I would only use it to introduce a newbie to the rum world, because at end, speaking for myself and knowing my preferences, that weakness of proof is its undoing – they have, alas, made a sow’s ear out of a silk purse.


Other notes

Scouring the online shops shows me that the 40% expressions of the Legado are available, mostly in Europe. I suspect I’d enjoy those a lot more and score them more highly than this one.

Josh Miller from Inu a Kena has reviewed the Centenario 25 and notes it as being a solera. No such notation for the Legado, either on box or bottle

This one can be had neat, no problem. It’s gentle and smooth enough not to bite. A drink for the calmly unadventurous who prefer navigate through less treacherous waters without any stress.