Nov 232020
 

Sooner or later in these reviews, I always end up circling back to Velier, and for preference, it’s usually the rums from the Age of the Demeraras.  It’s not that I have anything against the Caronis in their near-infinite variations, the Habitation’s pot still range, or the series of the New Hampdens, Villa Paradisetto or 70th anniversary. And I have a soft spot for even the smaller and more exactingly selected outturns of one-offs like the Courcelles or the Basseterre rums. It’s just that the Demeraras speak to me more, and remind me of the impact a then-relatively-unknown indie bottler had when it rearranged the rum landscape and worldviews of many rum aficionados back in the day. 

By the time this rum was released in 2014, things were already slowing down for Velier in its ability to select original, unusual and amazing rums from DDLs warehouses, and of course it’s common knowledge now that 2014 was in fact the last year they did so.  The previous chairman, Yesu Persaud, had retired that year and the arrangement with Velier was discontinued as DDL’s new Rare Collection was issued (in early 2016) to supplant them.

While this rum was hyped as being “Very Rare” and something special, I am more of the impression it was an experiment on the order of the four “coloured” edition rums DDL put out in 2019, something they had had on the go in their skunkworks, that Luca Gargano spotted and asked to be allowed to bottle.  It was one of four he released that year, and perhaps illustrates that the rabbit was getting progressively harder to pull out of the hat.

Still, the stats on the as-usual nicely informative label were pretty good: two barrels of serious distillates – the Versailles single wooden pot still and the Diamond metal coffey still (proportions unknown, alas) — yielding 570 bottles. A hefty strength of 57.9%; 18 years of tropical ageing while the two profiles married and learned how to live together without a divorce, and an angel’s share of about 78%.

How then, did such an unusual amalgam of a coffey still and a wooden pot still come out smelling and tasting like after so long? Like a Demerara rum is the short answer. A powerful one. This was a Demerara wooden still profile to out-Demerara all other wooden-still Demeraras (well…at least it tried to be). There was the characteristic licorice of the wooden stills, of course.  Aromatic tobacco, coffee grounds, strong and unsweetened black tea; and after a while a parade of dark fruits – raisins, prunes, black dates – set off by a thin citrus line pf lemon zest, and cumin.  Ah but that was not all, for this was followed some time later when I returned to the glass, by sawdust, rotting leaves after a rain, acetones, furniture polish and some pencil shavings, cinnamon and vanilla…quit a lot to unpack. It was fortunate I was trying it at home and not somewhere were time was at a premium, and could take my time with the tasting.

The nose had been so stuffed with stuff (so to speak) that the palate had a hard time keeping up.  The strength was excellent for what it was, powerful without sharpness, firm without bite. But the whole presented as somewhat more bitter than expected, with the taste of oak chips, of cinchona bark, or the antimalarial pills I had dosed on for my working years in the bush.  Thankfully this receded, and gave ground to cumin, coffee, dark chocolate, coca cola, bags of licorice (of course), prunes and burnt sugar (and I mean “burnt”). It felt thick and heavy and had a nice touch of creme brulee and whupped cream bringing up the rear, all of which segued into a lovely long finish of coffee grounds, minty chocolate and oranges, licorice again, and a few more overripe fruits.

Overall, not lacking or particularly shabby. Completely solid rum. The tastes were strong and it went well by itself as a solo drink. That said, although it was supposed to be a blend, the lighter column still tastes never really managed to take over from the powerful Versailles profile – but what it did do was change it, because my initial thinking was that if I had not known what it was, I would have said Port Mourant for sure. In some of the crisper, lighter fruity notes the column distillate could be sensed, and it stayed in the background all the way, when perhaps a bit more aggression there would have balanced the whole drink a bit more. 

Nowadays (at the close of 2020), the rum fetches around £500 / US$800 or so at auction or on specialty spirits sites, which is in line with other non-specific Velier rums from the Late Age clocking in at under two decades’ ageing. Does that make it undervalued, something to pounce on?  I don’t think so.  It lacks a certain clear definition of what it is and may be too stern and uncompromising for many who prefer a more clear-cut Port Mourant or Enmore rum, than one of these experimentals. If after all this time its reputation has not made it a must-have, then we must accept that it is not one of the Legendary Bottles that will one day exceed five grand – simply an interesting variation of a well known series of rums, a complete decent sipping rum, yet not really a top-tier product of the time, or the line.

(#779)(85/100)


Other notes

  • The four 2014 Velier “blended-in-the-barrel” experimentals were:
    • Port Mourant / Enmore Experimental 1998 16YO (1998 – 2014), 62.2%
    • Port Mourant / Diamond Experimental 1995 19YO (1995 – 2014), 62.1%
    • Port Mourant / Diamond Experimental 1999 15 YO (1999 – 2014), 52.3.%
    • Diamond / Versailles Experimental 1996 18 YO (1996 – 2014), 57.9%
  • DDL’s own four rums of the 2019 “coloured” series referred to above were 
    • PM/Uitvlugt/Diamond 2010 9YO at 49.6% (violet),
    • Port Mourant/Uitvlugt 2010 9YO at 51% (orange),
    • Uitvlugt/Enmore 2008 11YO 47.4% (blue)
    • Diamond/Port Mourant 2010 9YO at 49.1% (teal).

The jury is still out on how good (or not) the DDL versions are. So far I have not seen many raves about them and they seem to have dropped out of sight rather rapidly.

Oct 192020
 

If one rates popularity or the reach of a brand by how many joyful fanboys post pictures of their latest acquisition on social media and chirp how lucky they are to have gotten it, surely Velier’s oeuvre leads the pack, followed by Foursquare, and after them come trotting Kraken and Bumbu and maybe an agricole or two from Martinique.  Nowhere in this pantheon (I use the term loosely) is Bristol Spirits to be found – yet, in the late 1990s right up to the mid 2010s, Bristol was releasing some very good juice indeed, including the near legendary 30 year old Port Mourant 1980 and some rums from the 1970s that were just joys to sample.

In fact, so popular were they, that the company even ventured out into blends and spiced rums, like the Caribbean Collection (Trinidad), Mauritius cane juice rhum, Bristol Black and so on. They released rums from Haiti, Mauritius, Peru, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Cuba, Barbados (Rockley 1986, lovely stuff) and raised the profile of the islands’ rums just as the wave of the rum renaissance was breaking. Not for them the single barrel approach – most of the time they followed Rum Nation’s ethos of mixing several barrels into one release.

Since then, Bristol has fallen somewhat out of favour —  I think Mr. John Barratt may be retiring, if not already withdrawn from the rum scene — and it’s rare to see their bottles for sale outside of an auction, where their prices vary directly with age, from £1800 for a 1974 Demerara to as little as £45 for a 2003 Cuban. This 1985 Versailles was bottled in 1998 at a time when nobody knew a damned thing about the stills, and back then probably sank without a trace – nowadays, it’ll cost you five hundred quid, easy.

The Versailles wooden single pot still is one of the three wooden heritage stills (the Savalle is a fourth but not of wood) now housed at Diamond estate where DDL has its headquarters.  It’s distillate is usually blended with others to produce blends with distinctive profiles, yet for years many bottlers have tried to issue them on their own, with varying results – and it is my contention that it takes real skill to bring the raw untrammelled ferocity of a cask strength wooden pot still hooch to some level of elegance sufficient to create a disturbance in the Force.

Bristol, I think, came pretty close with this relatively soft 46% Demerara.  The easier strength may have been the right decision because it calmed down what would otherwise have been quite a seriously sharp and even bitter nose.  That nose opened with rubber and plasticine and a hot glue gun smoking away on the freshly sanded wooden workbench.  There were pencil shavings, a trace of oaky bitterness, caramel, toffee, vanilla and slowly a firm series of crisp fruity notes came to the fore: green apples, raisins, grapes, apples, pears, and then a surprisingly delicate herbal touch of thyme, mint, and basil. Marius of Single Cask, who wrote a good evaluation of a number of Versailles 1985 vintages, commented on a marzipan hint, but I didn’t get that at all.

The taste, though, was where I think it really came into its own. It was just lovely: lots of fruit right off – pears, apples, peaches, guavas, kiwi, both ripe and unripe, crisp and fleshy and a contrast in opposites. The herbs remained, though somewhat muted now, and a delicately clear and sharp line of citrus ran in and out of the profile, like a really good dry Riesling punctuated by tart green grapes; and a drop or two of rather unnecessary water revealed a background touch of unsweetened yogurt to balance everything off. Really nice to taste, moving sedately to a finish no less impressive, but acting more or less as a summation of the entire experience, adding just a dry burnt sugar note that was very pleasing.

Overall its a very good Versailles, one of the better ones I’ve tried. Unlike Marius I thought the strength was not a negative but a positive (he felt it was excessively diluted), because otherwise other sharper and less savoury aspects might have taken precedence and upset the fragile balance upon which my personal appreciation of the rum rested.  Nowadays we consider the “low” ABV somewhat wussy, but remember, at that time in the nineties, to release a rum at 46% was  considered recklessly daring – even ten years later, people were still telling Foursquare not to release the ECS Mark I 1998 at more than standard strength. 

ABV aside, what I did feel was the barrel didn’t have enough of an effect, overall, and it could have rested for a few more years without harm, and indeed, been even better afterwards. Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind who wrote about the rum himself in 2014 and was the source of the sample, thought that much of the youthful freshness of the original distillate was maintained and could have been aged longer without harm.  But clearly, both he and Marius really liked the thing, as did I. It’s a wonderful expression from the year, and even if there are older Versailles rums out there (like Bristol’s own 1985 22 Year Old which I’d dearly love to sample one day), to try this one from the dawn of rum’s ascent to the heights, when the wooden stills were just rising to prominence and attention, is an experience not to be foregone.

(#770)(87/100)

Aug 032020
 

The three wooden stills now all gathered at DDL’s Diamond facility are called Heritage stills, their wooden greenheart components regularly serviced and replaced, and the questions they pose about the matter of Theseus’s ship are usually ignored. That’s not really important, though, because they may be the three most famous stills in existence, and the taste profiles of the rums they create are known by all dedicated rumistas, who enjoy nothing more than relentlessly analyzing them for the minutest variations and then bickering about it in a never-ending cheerful squabble.

My own preference has always been for the stern elegance of the Port Mourant, and the Enmore coffey still produces rums that are complex, graceful and sophisticated when done right.  But the Versailles still is something of an ugly stepchild – you’ll go far and look long to find an unqualified positive review of any rum it spits out.  I’ve always felt that it takes rare skill to bring the rough and raw VSG pot still profile to its full potential…none of the familiar indies has had more than occasional success with it, and even Velier never really bothered to produce much Versailles rum at the height of the Age.

This brings us to the Danish company 1423: it makes many mass-market rums for the broader supermarket shelves in Europe, but is perhaps better known worldwide for its boutique rum arm the Single Barrel Selection, which specializes in single cask, limited bottlings. These aim squarely at the connoisseurs’ palates and wallets, and have gained a quiet reputation (and a following) for their quality rums and geographical range.  The Diamond 2003 is a case in point – it’s 12 years old (bottled in 2015), has a finish in marsala casks, comes off the Versailles single wooden pot still and is bottled at a completely solid 62.8% with an outturn of 264 bottles. And it’s quite a hoot to drink, let me tell you

“Something is rotten in the State of Diamond,” I wrote cheerfully after a good deep sniff, “…and just enough to make it interesting.” Which was quite true – it smelled of fruits and vegetables starting to go off, and added some deep oak tannins which thankfully did not get overbearing but receded rapidly.  To this was added almonds, peaches, prunes, anise, strawberries, some light vanilla and raisins, all tied together in a neat bow by a briny note and some zesty citrus.  

The palate was also quite good, irrespective of how much (or how little) additional taste the finish provided.  It had the creaminess of salted caramel ice cream, the dark fruitiness of raisins and prunes and black cake and overall struck me as a deceptively simple, very solidly-constructed rum. The good stuff came from around the edges – you could sense some fennel and licorice and vanilla, and perhaps some nuttiness, red wine, indian spices and cloves, all dancing around that central pillar without taking center stage themselves. The finish didn’t try for anything new or exotic, but was content to sum up all that had gone before, and gave last notes of toffee, cumin, masala spice, caramel, dark fruits and brine, a nice sweet-salt amalgam, without any sharpness or bite on the exit at all.  Nice.

There has been occasional confusion among the stills in the past: e.g. the SBS Enmore 1988 which I am still convinced is a Versailles; but this is (in my opinion) neither a PM nor an Enmore and if there’s any further confusion it may derive from the marsala cask whose influence is faint, but enough to skew one’s mind away from a pure VSG kind of aroma.

And it’s good, very good indeed. Even Duncan Taylor with their 27 YO 1985 couldn’t better it, DDL’s own Rare Release wasn’t significantly better (I’ve heard the Mezan and Samaroli variations are excellent but have not tried them). But it seems to me that the VSG marque is really not meant to be a standalone except for purists and deep divers – it works much better as part of a blend, which is indeed what DDL uses it for in its aged releases, rarely issuing it on its own.  

Summing up then, with all those difficulties in trapping the best profile out of a notoriously temperamental still, it’s completely to its credit that 1423 managed to wring as much flavour and class out of a relatively young Versailles distillate aged in Europe as they did.  Perhaps their 1988 Enmore was in fact from that still also, but this one is no slouch on its own terms, has less ambiguities about its origins to boot and is an all ’round fine drink to have on the shelf.

(#749)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • The length of finish in marsala casks is unknown, if SBS responds to the query I sent, I’ll update.
  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample.
Jul 112019
 

Photo (c) 1423.dk

There’s another S.B.S rum from Trinidad I should really be writing about, tried on that magical evening in Paris when I ran heedless and headfirst into the Mauritius 2008 and the Jamaican DOK 2018, but naah – there’s this other one they made back in 2016, probably long sold out and gone, which I remember equally well.  And that’s the S.B.S. Enmore, distilled in 1988, bottled twenty seven years later, with the sort of solid 51.8% ABV strength that would make the near legendary Bristol Spirits PM 1980 nod approvingly and dab a single ethanol tear from its metaphorical eye.

1423, the parent company making the Single Barrel Selection series laboured in obscurity in Denmark for years, it seems to me, before coming to the attention of the larger world with startling suddenness.  All this time – ever since 2009 when they released their first rum from barrel #1423 – this small concern founded by four friends (now five) expanded. And although they were primarily into distribution, they never ceased sourcing and bottling their own rums on the side – this culminated around 2016 with the formation of the more exclusive SBS brand, which, as the name implies, does rums from single barrels.  The first year they bottled juice from Panama, Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, Fiji and Guyana, and haven’t stopped running since.

You’ll forgive me for having a soft spot for Guyanese rums.  The profile of the wooden stills’ output appeals to me more than most, when it isn’t dumbed down and tarted up with the sweet stuff (I move off fast when that happens because if I wanted a Tiger Bay strumpet I’d go there to get rolled, thank you very much).  Anyway SBS follows the indie maxim of not messing with what’s in the barrel, so we have something clean here, as I’d expect.

It smells perfectly fine.  It reeks of well polished leather, aromatic tobacco smoke, prunes and unsweetened dark chocolate, and that’s just for openers.  There’s also raisins, salted caramel, brine, an olive or two, some mild coffee and some moist brown sugar that still has the whiff of molasses in it. And behind all that is damp black earth, rotting bananas and a darkness that makes you think perhaps it’s trying to channel a HP Lovecraft or something.

I enjoyed the nose for sure, but it’s the taste that makes or breaks a wooden still rum.  Here, it was excellent – thick, dark, and almost creamy, like Irish coffee. Some licorice and mint chocolate led off, a bit of raisins, toffee, nougat, a twitch of ripe apples.  And then it opened up and out came the coffee, the leather, salt caramel, prunes, plums, blackberries, molasses … and was that ripe avocados with salt I was getting in the background?  Quite possibly – the richness of the rum, both in taste and in texture, could hardly be faulted. And the finish was excellent, solid and breathy, not giving anything new, but sort of summing things up – so, some leather, tobacco, stale coffee grounds, caramel and those fruits again, fainter this time.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was as Guyanese as pepperpot and DDL – the real question is, which still made the rum?  The label says it’s an Enmore from a pot still, all of SBS’s records (here and here) say “Enmore” and “pot” but the Enmore still itself is a wooden coffey, so that only leaves two options – either the label is wrong, or it’s one of the two other stills, the Port Mourant wooden double pot, or the Versailles wooden single pot. And since Marco makes no mention of the PM still ever going near Enmore (it was moved to Albion, then to Uitvlugt and then to Diamond), and since the Versailles still was in Enmore in 1995 (the last year that estate’s distillery made rum) then the balance of probability says it’s a Versailles, as Marius of Single Cask Rum stated without attribution in his own rundown of the SBS rums. 

Assuming my line of reasoning is correct, then it’s a Versailles-still rum (SBS are digging to clear this mystery up on my behalf after I contacted them about the discrepancy), but maybe this is all just pedantry and anal-retentive detail mongering.  After all, it tastes a lot like the Moon Import Enmore 1988-2011 which supposedly was a coffey still rum from there, and even if it was (or wasn’t), who that drinks this thing really deep-down cares? I thought that the rum was more solid and “thicker” than a true — and usually more elegant — Enmore, yet more civilized than the Versailles rums tend to be. It was deep, dark, and delicious, a very good rum indeed for those who like that profile, and if we can’t identify its origins with precision, at least we can drink it, enjoy it, love it — and thank SBS for bringing it to our attention.  We just don’t see enough of such rums any more and that’s reason enough to appreciate what they did, even without the business about which still it came off of.

(#640)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled November 1988, bottled October 2016.  For my money that’s a 28 year old
  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachmann, who sourced me the sample quite a while back. I seem to have lost my glass-and-sample-bottle picture, hence my using stock photos
  • The rum is red brown in colour, very pretty in a glass.
May 242018
 

#515

Two independent bottlers out of Europe which I have not done much with are Mezan and Duncan Taylor, though I have samples and a plethora of notes of rums from both. Let’s try to remedy that this week with a quick look at the current subject, which presses many of my buttons at once: it’s from Enmore estate but the single wooden Versailles pot still (which alongside Port Mourant is one of my favourite stills from Guyana), distilled in 1985 and bottled in 2012 so a hefty 27 years old, and it has a no-nonsense strength of 52.5%. Need I say continental ageing? No additives or messing around? Probably not. You could tell that as one of the first rums they issued, they probably figured that they’d release a 27 year old Hulk to the market and reap all the glory therefrom.

Did they succeed? Not quite.The nose was fine, mind – very light, thin and sharp, redolent of glue, acetones, pencil shavings, the rich aroma of a brand new leather jacket, oak, a little anise and a raft of light and indeterminate fruits (apples, orange peel and pears) that were difficult to pick apart.  It had a musty sort of smell too…like aged, dust-covered old books in a stuffy library. Odd, but by no means unpleasant.

Thinness of the nose aside, the palate took something of a ninety degree left turn. It felt thicker, richer, with the glue and furniture polish notes receding, yet what emerged was a rum that seemed over-oaked, and very dry, very crisp.  What fruits there were – and there were some, mostly raisins, pears, unripe apples and green mangoes – were of the mouth puckering kind, quite tart, accompanied by orange peel, nutmeg, cardboard or drywall, and something that reminded me of the dustiness of a drought-stricken backyard. The strength was fine for what it was – not low enough to make it a mild crowd-pleaser, not so strong as to make it an assault on the tongue, so on that level it succeeded just fine. The finish gave up more of those tart fruity sensations, oak notes, some pepper and cooking herbs (thyme and parsley)…yet overall, it somehow failed to cohere really well, and the whole experience was deflated by its relative lack of voluptuousness that either some more ageing or some time in tropical climes might have ameliorated.

Duncan Taylor started life in 1938, formed by Abe Rosenberg and his two brothers, who had a sales license for major states in the US which allowed for rapid growth in the post-war years (especially with the J&B brand). It was a company that dealt in whiskies, both as a merchant and as a broker in Glasgow, and over time they acquired what was one of the largest privately-held collections of rare malt whisky casks in the world. The partnership was sold in 1980, but the collection of whiskies owned by Duncan Taylor was not part of that sale. Euan Shand and his partner Alan Gordon bought it in 2002 and moved the company to Scotland. At that point they made a conscious decision to cease operating as a broker and tread down the road of being an indie bottler of its own branded whiskies.  In 2012 they expanded the portfolio into rums as well, although thus far it seems that those who have been fortunate enough to review some of their work (mostly Wes and Steve), feel that it’s a bit hit or miss.

Here, I’d have to say that the Enmore 27 YO is rather more miss than hit, and it copied the form of the Veliers without the underlying passion that served Luca so well in his own Enmores. Which is surprising because even in continental climes, twenty seven years is twenty seven years and I somehow felt there should be more on display here.  But it just doesn’t gel for me – there’s a thin kind of hardness to the experience which I did not like, a sort of cold, austere, uncompromising lack of warmer flourishes and tastes which I see in tropically aged rums that slept many years less. Essentially, it tastes like it’s not quite ready to be decanted, and in summary, I conclude by noting that Duncan Taylor might have thought, when they issued this well-aged rum, that they were channelling the Hulk…but in reality, after all that time, only succeeded in growing a green fingernail.

(84/100)


Other notes

Thanks and a hat-tip to Maco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind, who not only wrote the definitive biography of the company, but sent me the samplewhich he also reviewed, more positively than I did. He also wrote that the rum was not from the Enmore wooden coffey still, but the Versailles single wooden pot still which was housed at Enmore before being moved to Diamond.  The word “pot” on the bottle label makes that clear, hence the title of the post

 

 

 

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