Mar 312018
 

#501

If there was ever a standard strength, filtered white rum that could drag the Bacardi Superior behind the outhouse and whale the tar out of it, this is the one.  I bought the thing on a whim, tasted it with some surprise and ended up being quietly impressed with the overall quality. I know it’s made to be the base for cocktails, and when it comes to badass white-rum-bragging-rights from Mudland the local High Wine is the Big Gun – but you know, as either a trial sipping experience, a cocktail ingredient or just to have something different that won’t rip your face off like Neisson L’Espirit 70⁰ … this rum is not bad at all.

Now according to the El Dorado site this rum derives from the Skeldon and Blairmont marques, which suggests the French Savalle still, not any of the wooden ones, or perhaps the same coffey still at Diamond that made the DDL Superior High Wine. Maybe.  I sometimes wonder if they themselves remember which stills make which marques, given how often the stills were moved around the estates before being consolidated at Diamond. Never mind though, that’s niggly rum-nerd stuff. Aged three years in ex-bourbon casks, charcoal-filtered twice — which to my mind might have been two times too many — and then bottled at a meek 40%.

Yeah, 40%.  I nearly put the thing back on the shelf just because of that.  Just going by comments on FB, there is something of a niche market for well made 45-50% whites which DDL could be colonizing, but it seems that the standard strength rums are their preferred Old Dependables and so they probably don’t want to rock the boat by going higher (yet). I can only shrug, and move on…and it’s a good thing I didn’t ignore the rum, because it presented remarkably well, punching above its weight and dispelling many of my own initial doubts.

Nose first: yes, it certainly reminded me of the High Wine. Glue, acetone and sugar water led off, plus some rubber, brine and light fruits.  Even at the placid strength it had, you could sense potential coiling around in the background, a maelstrom of apples, pears, vanilla, light smoke and unsweetened yoghurt, plus tarter, more acidic notes of orange peel, mangoes and a twirl of licorice. None of these was forceful enough to really provide a smack in the face or to elevate it to something amazing or original; they were just visible enough to be noticed and appreciated without actually emerging to do battle.  It smelled something like a low-rent Enmore, actually and kind of resembled El Dorado’s own 12 year old

Tastewise, there was certainly nothing to complain about.  It was reasonably hot, a little rough on the tongue, given to sharpness rather than smoothness. Vanilla, apples, green grapes, bitter chocolate, some indeterminate light fruits, sugar water, coconut shavings; and also a not-entirely-pleasant taste of almond milk, with the whole drink possessing the edge that made it more than a merely pleasant or bland or eager-to-please cocktail ingredient of no particular distinction. The finish, redolent of vanilla, brine, citrus and yoghurt, was actually quite good, by the way – short, of course, and faint, but nice and warm and with just enough edge to make it stand apart from similar whites.

Where the El Dorado white 3 year old succeeds, I think, is in having a certain element of character, for all its youth.  That was always the problem I had with the low end Bacardis or Lambs or other boring white stuff on sale in the LCBOs of Ontario (for example), with which this must inevitably be compared: they all felt so tamed and buttoned down and eager to please, that any adventurousness and uniqueness of profile — braggadoccio if you will — seemed squeezed out in an effort to appeal (and sell) to as many as possible. They had alcohol and a light taste, and that was it: bluntly speaking, they were yawn-throughs — and mixing them to juice up a cocktail was the best one could hope for.  

Not here. This rum has some uncouth street-tough edge, plus a bit of complexity from the ageing, and originality from the still which is lightly planed down by the filtration…yet retains the taste of something strange and barbaric. And it still doesn’t scare off those who don’t want a cask strength screaming bastard like, oh, a clairin. For any rum made at 40% to be able to tick all these boxes and come out the other end as a rum I could reasonably recommend, is quite an achievement, and makes me want to re-evaluate its stronger older brother immediately.

(80/100)

Nov 012017
 

*

All apologies to those who like the Bacardi Superior, Lamb’s White and other filtered, smooth, bland (dare I say boring?) 40% white rums in their cocktails, or who just like to get hammered on whatever is cheap to get and easily available – but you can do better.  For anyone who likes a massive white rum reeking of esters and funk and God only knows what else, one of the great emergent trends in the last decade has surely been the new selection and quality of white rums from around the world.  Almost all are unaged, some are pot still and some are column, they’re usually issued at north of 45%, they exude badass and take no prisoners, and in my opinion deserve more than just a passing mention.

Now, because aged rums get all the press and are admittedly somewhat better tasting experiences, white (or ‘clear’ or ‘blanc’) rums aren’t usually accorded the same respect, and that’s fair – I’d never deny their raw and oft-uncouth power, which can be a startling change from softer or older juice.  They aren’t always sipping quality rums, and some are out and out illogical and should never see the light of day. Yet we should never ignore them entirely.  They are pungent and flavourful beyond belief, with zesty, joyful profiles and off-the-reservation craziness worthy of attention, and many compare very favourably to rums costing twice or three times as much.

So let me just provide the curious (the daring?) a list of some white rums I’ve tried over the last years.  It’s by no means exhaustive, so apologies if I’ve left off a personal favourite – I can only list what I myself have tried. And admittedly, not all will find favour and not all will appeal – but for sheer originality and gasp-inducing wtf-moments, you’re going to look far to beat these guys.  And who knows?  You might even like a few, and at least they’re worth a shot.  Maybe several.

(Note: I’ve linked to written reviews where available.  For those where the full review hasn’t been published yet, some brief tasting notes. Scores are excluded, since I’m trying to show them off, not rank them, and in any case they’re in no particular order).


[1] Clairin Sajous – Haiti

If creole still haitian white rums not made by Barbancourt had a genesis in the wider world’s perceptions, it might have been this one and its cousins. In my more poetic moments I like to say the Sajous didn’t get introduced, it got detonated, and the reverbrations are still felt today.  There were always white unaged popskulls around – this one and the Vaval and Casimir gave them respectability.

[2] J. Bally Blanc Agricole – Martinique

What a lovely rum this is indeed.  J. Bally has been around for ages, and they sure know what they’re doing. This one is aged for three months and filtered to white, yet somehow it still shows off some impressive chops.  The 50% helps for sure.  Apples, watermelon, some salt and olives and tobacco on the nose, while the palate is softer than the strength might suggest, sweet, with fanta, citrus, thyme carrying the show. Yummy.

[3] St. Aubin Agricole Rhum Blanc  – Mauritius

New Grove, Gold of Mauritius and Lazy Dodo might be better known right now, but Chamarel and St Aubin are snapping at their heels.  St. Aubin made this phenomenal pot still 50% brutus and I can’t say enough good things about it. It has a 1960’s-style Batman style salad bar of Pow! Biff! Smash!  Brine, grass, herbs, salt beef and gherkins combine in a sweaty, hairy drink that is amazingly controlled white rhum reminiscent of both a clairin and a Jamaican.

[4] DDL Superior High Wine – Guyana

Nope, it’s not a wine, and it sure isn’t superior.  I’m actually unsure whether it’s still made any longer – and if it is, whether it’s made on the same still as before. Whatever the case, Guyanese swear by it, I got one of my first drunks on it back in University days, and the small bottle I got was pungent, fierce and just about dissolved my glass. At 69% it presents as grassy, fruity, and spicy, with real depth to the palate, and if it’s a raw scrape of testosterone-fuelled sandpaper on the glottis, well, I’ve warned you twice now.

[5] Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Brazil

Fair enough, there are thousands of cachacas in Brazil, and at best I’ve tried a couple of handfuls.  Of the few that crossed my path, whether aged or not, this one was a standout for smooth, sweet, aromatic flavours that delicately mixed up sweet and salt and a nice mouthfeel – even at 40% it presented well. Josh Miller scored it as his favourite with which to make a caipirinha some time back when he was doing his 14-rum cachaca challenge. Since it isn’t all that bombastic or adversarial, it may be one of the more approachable rums of its kind that is – best of all – quite widely available.

[6] Neisson L’Espirit 70° Blanc – Martinique

Breathe deep and easy on this one, and sip with care.  Then look at the glass again, because if your experience parallels mine, you’ll be amazed that this is a 140-proof falling brick of oomph – it sure doesn’t feel that way. In fact there’s a kind of creaminess mixed up with nuts and citrus that is extremely enjoyable, and when I tried (twice), I really did marvel that so much taste could be stuffed into an unaged spirit and contained so well.

[7] Rum Fire Velvet – Jamaica

Whew!  Major tongue scraper. Massive taste, funk and dunder squirt in all directions. Where these whites are concerned, my tastes tend to vacillate between clairins and Jamaicans, and here the family resemblance is clear.  Tasting notes like beeswax, rotten fruit and burnt sausages being fried on a stinky kero flame should not dissuade you from giving this one a shot at least once, though advisories are in order, it being 63% and all.

[8] Charley’s JB Overproof (same as J. Wray 63%) – Jamaica

A big-’n’-bad Jamaican made only for country lads for the longest while, before townies started screaming that the boys in the backdam shouldn’t have all the fun and it got issued more widely on the island. Very similar to the J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof with which it should share the spotlight, because they’re twins in all but name..

[9] Nine Leaves Clear 2015 – Japan

If Yoshiharu Takeuchi of the Japanese concern Nine Leaves wasn’t well known before he released the Encrypted for Velier’s 70th Anniversary, he should be. He’s a Japanese rum renaissance samurai, a one-man distillery operation, marketing manager, cook and candlestick maker – and his 50% unaged whites are excellent.  This one from 2015 melded a toned down kind of profile, redolent of soap, cinnamon, nutmeg, apples and other light fruits, and is somewhat better behaved than its Caribbean cousins…and a damned decent rum, a velvet sleeve within which lurks a well made glittering wakizashi. (the 2017 ain’t bad either).

[10] Cavalier Rum Puncheon White 65% – Antigua

Same as the 151 but with little a few less rabbits in its jock.  Since the Antigua Distiller’s 1981 25 year old was review #001 and I liked it tremendously (before moving on) I have a soft spot for the company…which shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this raging beast, because in it you can spot some of those delicate notes of blackberries and other fruit which I so enjoyed in their older offerings.  Strong yes, a tad thin, and well worth a try.

[11] Rum Nation Pot Still White 57% – Jamaica

One of the first Independents to go the whole hog with a defiantly unaged white.  It’s fierce, it’s smelly, it’s flavourful, and an absolute party animal. I call mine Bluto. It’s won prizes up and down the festival circuit (including 2017 Berlin where I tried it again) and with good reason – it’s great, attacking with thick, pot still funk and yet harnessing some delicacy and quieter flavours too.

[12] Kleren Nasyonal Traditionnal 22 Rhum Blanc – Haiti

Moscoso Distillers is the little engine that could – I suspect that if Velier had paused by their place back when Luca was sourcing Haitian clairins to promote, we’d have a fifth candidate to go alongside Sajous,Vaval, Casimir and La Rocher. Like most creole columnar still products made in Haiti, it takes some palate-adjustment to dial in its fierce, uncompromising nature properly. And it is somewhat rough, this one, perhaps even jagged. But the tastes are so joyously, unapologetically there, that I enjoyed it just as much as other, perhaps more genteel  products elsewhere on this list.

[13] Toucan 50% Rhum Blanc Agricole – French Guiana

This new white only emerged in the last year or two, and for a rum as new as this to make the list should tell you something.  I tried it at the 2017 Berlin rumfest and liked it quite a bit, because it skated the line between brine, olives, furniture polish and something sweeter and lighter (much like the Novo Fogo does, but with more emphasis)…and at 50% it has the cojones to back up its braggadocio. It’s a really good white rhum.

[14] Rum Nation Ilha de Madeira Agricole 2017

Lovely 45% white, with an outstanding flavour profile.  Not enough research available yet for me to talk about its antecedents aside from it being of Madeira origin and “natural” (which I take to mean unaged for the moment).  But just taste the thing – a great combo of soda pop and more serious flavours of brine, gherkins, grass, vanilla, white chocolate.  There’s edge to it and sweet and sour and salt and it comes together reallly well.  One of those rums that will likely gain wide acceptance because of being toned down some.  Reminds me of both the Novo Fogo and the St. Aubin whites, with some pot still Jamaican thrown in for kick.

[15] A1710 La Perle

A1710 is a new kid on the block out of Martinique, operating out of Habitation Simon.  This white they issued at 54.5% is one of the best ones I’ve tried.  Nose of phenols, swank, acetones, freshly sawn lumber, bolted onto a nearly indecently tasty palate of wax, licorice, sugar water, sweet bonbons and lemongrass.  It’s almost cachaca-like…just better.

This list was supposed to be ten but then it grew legs and fangs, so what the hell, here are a few more Honourable Mentions for the rabid among you…

[16] Marienburg 90% – Suriname

This is Blanc Vader. With two light sabers. Admittedly, I only included it to showcase the full power of the blanc side.  It’s not really that good.  However, if you have it (or scored a sample off me) then you’ve not only gotten two standard proofed bottles for the price of one but also the dubious distinction of possessing full bragging rights at any “I had the strongest rum ever” competition.  Right now, I’m one of the few of those.

[17] Sunset Very Strong Overproof 84.5%)

The runner up in the strength sweepstakes. Even at that strength, it has a certain creamy delicacy to it which elevates it above the Marienburg.  Overall, it’s not really suited for anything beyond a mix and more bragging rights — because the hellishly ferocious palate destroys everything in its path. It’s a Great White, sure…like Jaws.

[18] St. Nicholas Abbey Unaged White – Barbados

This is another very approachable white rum, unaged, a “mere” 40% which blew the Real McCoy 3 year old white away like a fart in a high wind. Part of it is its pot still antecedents.  It’s salty sweet (more sweet than salt) with a juicy smorgasbord of pretty flavours dancing lightly around without assaulting you at the same time.  A great combo of smoothness and quiet strength and flavour all at once, very approachable, and much more restrained (ok, it’s weaker) than others on this list.

[19] Vientain Loatan – Laos

Probably the least of all these rhums in spite of being bottled at 56%, and the hardest to find due to it hardly being exported, and mostly sold in Asia. On the positive side is the strength and the tastes, very similar to agricoles.  On the negative some of those tastes are bitter and don’t play well together, the balance is off and overall it’s a sharp and raw rhum akin to uncured vinegar, in spite of some sweet and citrus.  Hard to recommend, but hard to ignore too.  May be worth a few tries to come to grips with it.

[20] Mana’o Rhum Agricole Blanc – Tahiti

Not so unique, not so fierce, not so pungent as other 50% rums on this list, but tasty nevertheless.  Again, like Rum Nation’s Ilha de Madeira, it’s quite easily appreciated because the 50% ABV doesn’t corner you in an alley, grab you by the glottis and shake you down for your spare cash, and is somehow tamed into a more well-behaved sort of beast, with just a bit of feral still lurking behind it all.

[21] La Confrérie du Rhum 2014 Cuvée Speciale Rhum Blanc – Guadeloupe

A hot, unaged, spicy 50% blanc, with an estery nose, firm body and all round excellent series of tastes that do the Longueteau operation proud.  It’s lighter than one might expect for something at this strength, and overall is a solid, tasty and well-put-together white rhum. La Confrerie is a quasi-independent operation run by Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany and they do single cask bottlings from time to time – their focus is agricoles, and all that knowledge and promotion sure isn’t going to waste.


So there you have it, a whole bunch of modern white rums spanning the globe for you to take a look at (as noted above, I’ve missed some, but then, I haven’t tried them all).  

I used to think that whites were offhand efforts tossed indifferently into the rum lineup by producers who focused on “more serious work” and gave them scant attention, as if they were the bastard offspring of glints in the milkman’s eye. No longer.

Nowadays they are not only made seriously but taken seriously, and I know several bartenders who salivate at the mere prospect of getting a few of these torqued up high-tension hooches to play with as they craft their latest cocktail.  I drink ‘em neat, others mix ‘em up, but whatever the case, it is my firm belief you should try some of the rums on this list at least once, just to see what the hell the ‘Caner is ranting on about.  I almost guarantee you won’t be entirely disappointed.

And bored?  No chance.


Other notes

Consider this a companion piece to Josh Miller’s excellent rundown of 12 agricoles, taken from his perspective of how they fare in a Ti Punch.

Apr 172017
 

Picture (c) Steve James of the Rum Diaries Blog

#357

The blurbs about the rum refer to this as being made from “very pure” cane molasses (as opposed to, I’m guessing, very impure or merely pure molasses).  Said molasses are fermented for two weeks using two different yeast strains, triple distilled in copper pot stills; from which the rum is taken at 80% ABV, diluted down to 60% and then laid to rest for a minimum of six months to a year in charred oak barrels before being filtered to within an inch of its life to produce this 40% clear mixing agent.  It’s a relatively new rum on to the scene, coming to market around 2011 or so; and made by a Dutch concern called Zuidam Distillers, established in 1975 by Fred Van Zuidam…his sons currently run the show.  Originally there was  only a small copper pot still and a single production line, but growing business in the 1990s and 2000s allowed them to expand to their current facilities using four copper pot stills and four production lines.  That enabled the company, like so many others, to expand the lineup, which now includes whiskies, genever (Dutch gin), liqueurs and of course, a rum or two, none of which have crossed my path before.

Thinking about the rum itself, I suppose it is meant to deal a bitchslap at the more common white Bacardis of this world by bridging the gap between the milquetoast made by the ex-Cuban company and more feral white unaged pot still products like the ones issued by Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti and Jamaica, and thereby snatch back some European market share for such rums.  Certainly it’s one of a very few European distilleries that make a rum at all, and any white rum from a pot still (even if bleached to nothing), may be something to look out for — though why they would name it after a nautical harbinger of doom remains an unanswered, unanswerable question; and why bother filtering the thing is just a plain mystery (I’ve heard that they may eliminate that step in the near future ).

Since the important thing is not these academic notes but whether it all comes together or not in a real tasting, let’s move on. The nose is dry and just a bit sweet, not so much spicy as gently warm. Alas, the notes resemble a surfeit of excessively sugared swank (in that it seems to be channeling an agricole) plus vanilla, something akin to vodka sipped past a sugar cube, though it was reasonably crisp and clear. After some time there were florals, salt, dates, and some estery fumes straining to get out — but never quite succeeding, which is where the decision to filter it shows its weakness since much of the distinctive aromas get wiped out in such a process.

On the palate, bluntly speaking, it fails.  It’s too thin, too watery.  More sugar, mint, some marzipan (are we sure this is a rum, or a gin wannabe?).  There’s nothing standard about this at all, and it’s at right angles to any other white rum I’ve ever tried.  Whipped cream, ripe breadfruit, nail polish, cucumbers in vinegar with perhaps a pimento and some dill thrown in for some kick and to wake up reviewers who’re put to sleep by it.  After adding some water (more out of curiosity than necessity) vanilla, coconut shavings and white chocolate were noticeable, and the best thing about it was the silkiness of the whole thing (in spite of its anemic body) which makes it an almost-sipping-quality white, without ever demonstrating a firmness of taste that might ameliorate the lack of complexity.  As for the finish…meh. Soft, warm and fast, gone so quick that all you can get from it is some warm vanilla…and more of that sugar water, so this aspect was certainly the weakest part of the whole experience.

So no, it’s better to mix, not to have by itself.  I didn’t care much for it, and in short, the rum still needs more work. Above, I noted that it may have wanted to try and straddle the divide between soft white rum pillows and more uncompromising unaged pot still panthers, but what emerges at the other end is really just an alcohol infused vanilla-and-sugar water drink with a few odd notes.  I think there’s some potential here, but for the Flying Dutchman to score higher and win wider acceptance in this day and age, perhaps it might have been a better idea to not only issue it unfiltered, but also bump up the strength a notch.  Then they might really have something to crow about, and excite more of the public’s interest than this version inspired.

 (74/100)

Other notes

  • The company makes a 3 year old gold rum as well. The source is the same.
Sep 182016
 

botran-blanca

A laid back white rum with more of a profile than expected

#302

***

“A balanced combination of distilled rums” remarks the webpage for the Guatemalan company Botran, which makes a number of light, Spanish style rums in the solera method, and goes on in rhapsodic marketspeak about being aged in the mountains of Guatemala in lightly toasted white oak American barrels (although note that I was told by a brand rep that this rum was aged in French oak).  It may sound like snippiness on my part, but in truth this is still more information than many other makers provide, so back to my notes: what else is there to say about the rums they make…let’s see…column still product, aged up to three years, charcoal filtered, from reduced sugar cane juice (“honey”), fermentation taking five days or so with a pineapple-based yeast strain.

The five Botran brothers (Venancio, Andres, Felipe, Jesus and Alejandro) whose parents immigrated from Spain to Central America, established the Industria Licorera Quetzalteca in the western Guatemalan town of Quetzaltenango (2300 meters above sea level) back in 1939 when most rums were produced by Mom-and-Pop outfits on their own parcels of land.  The company remains a family owned business to this day; curiously, the sugar cane comes from the family estate of Retalhuleu in the south.  They also produce the Zacapa line of rums which have come in for equal praise and opprobrium in the last few years, a matter originating in the disdain some have for the solera method, the sweetness and the light nature of the rums, as well as the feeling that no age statement should be put on such products.

botran-blanca-2Still, the rum’s profile is what I’m looking at today, not how it’s made, so let’s move on. Those with preferences running towards lighter, easier fare will find little to complain about here, and for a white rum that has been filtered to the colour of water, it’s not bad.  It doesn’t smell like much at the inception – mostly light vanilla, a little watermelon and sugar water, with some estery potential more sensed than actually smelled.  It was really faint, very light, very easy — and that didn’t allow much aroma to come out punching, another thing that cask strength rum lovers sniff at with disdain.

You get more on the palate, which was pleasing: the undercurrent of acetone and nail polish remained firmly in the background, some grassiness and vanilla, as well as bananas and a flirt of sweetness that reminded me of nothing so much as marzipan, all mixed up with coconut shavings and sugar water.  Even at 40% ABV it was a very gentle, relaxed sort of rum (as many aged whites are), and unfortunately that carried over to a rather short and lackluster finish that had nothing additional to add to the conversation.  All in all, it was a slightly above-average white mixer, drier and with somewhat more tastes evident in it than I had been expecting – it was certainly better than the baseline Bacardi Superior, for which I have little patience myself unless I want to get hammered when nothing else is available.

At the end, the question is what the rum is for, and the conclusion is that outside the mixing circuit, not much – and indeed, that is how it is sold and marketed.  Even with the flavours described above, it’s likely too bland (and too weak) to appeal to those who like sipping their rums, and is more a wannabe competitor for the white Bacardis which have greater market share.  I’m not convinced the solera system helps this (or any) white rum much, or provides any kind of real distinctiveness to the brand.  The company might be better off not trying to go head to head with the mastodons of the white mixing world, but to carve out a niche of its own by being fiercer, more aggressive, more unique.  But then, of course, it would not be a Botran rum: and given the decades and generations the family has put it into their products, it’s unlikely to happen anyway. Too bad…because that means it remains what it is, a decent cocktail ingredient, displaying little that’s extraordinarily new or original.

(79/100)

Other notes

Introduced in 2012.  There are other flavoured whites made by the company, none of which I’ve tried

Jul 222016
 

Sagatiba Pura 2

Great nose. Taste and finish don’t quite measure up.

(#288 / 78/100)

***

This was a cachaça I bought back in 2011 or thereabouts, and never bothered to open and review because I had zero experience with the spirit beyond getting smacked on caipirinhas a few times; I lacked sufficient background to rate it properly and it seemed to be unfair to score it when there were no fitting comparators.  Several years on, nearly three hundred reviews and quite a few Brazilian spirits later, plus available comparators and controls, and I felt better equipped to write something I can put my name behind.  

Sagatiba PuraSagatiba Pura is produced in the small town of Patrocinio Paulista in the state of São Paolo, Brazil.  The company was formed in 2004, and through adroit marketing and what must have been pretty good brand ambassadorship, became one of the first cachaças to be widely exported and known outside its country of origin (it claimed to hold a 90% market share of cachaças in Britain in 2007).  It was likely this exposure that caused Campari to buy it in 2011 for $26 million. The company also makes Velha and Preciosa variations, which are aged and brown rhums in their own right, unlike this clear one, which was (and remains as of this writing) the only one of the line to make it to Canada. Too, while the USA appears to have gotten the 38% ABV version introduced back in 2013, mine was 40%.

The clear, multi-distilled, unaged cachaça had a nose that was by far the best of the series I tried that day, and though it came from a column still, did a good imitation of being a pot still product.  Rich, briny, waxy and redolent of spanish olives with  splash of furniture polish, it also had some hints of woodiness lurking in the background (though of course it had not been aged).  What made it shine in my estimation was the way it developed – after standing for a few minutes – and started to provide smells of citrus peel, crushed sugar cane, a sweetish amalgam of cinnamon and nutmeg, and even the light perfume of flowers…a really nice aroma all round, light and clean.

It was too bad that this promise didn’t carry over as to how it tasted.  It was spicy, clear, clean and dry, not sweet at all, with (initially) little of the delicate perfume the nose suggested. There was a certain metallic taste to it, a mixture of tobacco and wet campfire ashes, almost mineral-y in nature, sufficiently aggressive to squash the lighter vegetals, wet grass, aromatic cigarillos, sugar water, florals, watermelon and sliced pears which came out (helped by some water). These clashing flavours did not, in my estimation, play well together. Exactly the same notes carried over into the fade, which was short and dry and warm and smooth enough, but still ruined by the ashy and smoky, background, which was far too dominant and all-encompassing for me to appreciate it. There was originality here, no doubt, but no adherence to one taste profile over the other – like gambolling puppies they were all allowed to do pretty much what they pleased, without discipline or imposed order.

It’s curious that the Sagatiba is marketed as some kind of premium top end cachaça – it sure doesn’t taste like one, though it is better than the Leblon I tried alongside it. It’s possible that since the majority of the rum drinking public outside Brazil knows little about the type, or because bartenders who nab a bottle or two of it frothed over its potential, that such claims can be made. As far as I’m concerned, it has a snazzy bottle, clean, clear design philosophy (so it looks real cool), and excellent marketing, which, when all is distilled down to what matters – the taste and how it drinks – just makes me shrug and move it to the mixers shelf, which is probably where it always belonged anyway.

***

Apr 092016
 

D3S_3629

Bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts will get more out of this than I ever will. It redefines the word “understated.”

(#265. 74/100)

***

Knowing how I have never been entirely satisfied with rums from Barbados, I decided to buy a few about which many have waxed rhapsodic, followed that up with trying as many as I could at the 2015 Berlin rumfest, and continued on the theme by begging my friends in Europe for samples of their personal stocks of independent bottlers’ Bajans.  Let’s see if I can’t get to the bottom of why — with just a few exceptions — they don’t titillate my tonsils the way so many others have and do.

Such as this white three year old from the “Real McCoy” company, which is using stocks from Foursquare. Others have written about Bill McCoy, a Prohibition era rumrunner who never adulterated his stocks (some of which came from, er, Foursquare, according to a documentary made by Bailey Pryor).  Apparently Mr. Pryor was so enthused by what Bill McCoy had done that he approached Richard Seale with a view to creating a modern equivalent: and after some time, the 3 year old white, a 5 year old and a 12 year old were out the door in 2014.  This one is a blend of copper pot and column still distillate, 40% ABV, aged in American ex-bourbon oak, and an offering to bartenders and barflies and mixologists everywhere.

D3S_3629-001

Part of my dissatisfaction with filtered white rums meant for mixing was demonstrated right away by the aromas winding up through my glass: I had to to wait around too long for anything to happen. The nose was warm and faintly rubbery, with some faint tannins in there, sugar water, light cream,and a green olive hanging around with maybe three marshmallows.  A flirt of vanilla loitered around in the back there someplace but in fine, I just couldn’t see that much was going on. “Subtle” the marketing plugs call it. “Pusillanimous” was what I was thinking.

To be fair, a lot more started jumping out of the glass when the tasting started.  It was crisper and clearer and firmer than the nose, a little peppery, more vanilla, cucumbers, dill, ripe pears, sugar cane sap.  It’s not big, it’s not rounded, and the range of potential tastes was too skimpy to appeal to me.  Skimpy might work for a bikini, but in a rum it’s a “Dear John” letter, and is about as enthusiastically received.  The finish?  Longish – surprisingly so, for something at 40%, though still too light. More sugar and dill, guavas and pears, and that odd olive made a small comeback. I’m sorry, guys, but this isn’t my thing at all. I want more.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to kick off the Barbados tour with a filtered white 3 year old.  It was thin, watery, too weak, and the tastes struggled to get out and make themselves felt.  Maybe it’s the charcoal filtration that takes out some of what I like in my rums.  The profile is there, you can sense it, just not come to grips with it…it’s tantalizingly just out of reach, and like the Doorley’s XO, it lacks punch and is simply too delicate for my personal palate.  For its price point and purpose it may be a tough rum to beat, mind you, but my personal preferences don’t go there. And having had white rums from quite a few makers who revel in producing fierce, joyous, in-your-face palate shredders, perhaps you can understand why something this easy going just makes me shrug and reach for the next one up the line.

 

Oct 152015
 

Sunset 1Hulk no like puny rum.  Hulk smash. The last and strongest of the overproof howitzers batters my glass.

(#235. 84/100)

***

It’s a giant of a drink, the most powerful commercial rum ever made, a gurgling frisson of hot-snot turbo-charged proofage.  0.5% additional points of proof and the black clothes squad with silenced helicopters and full SWAT gear would be rapelling down to my apartment searching for weaponized rum. It skirts jail-time illegality by a whisker, and I can truly say the only reason I bought it was anal-retentive machismo and the desire to say I had. Like every 151 ever made (but more so), it was a drink to be feared the way Superman crosses himself when he sees Kryptonite

The Sunset Very Strong Rum is equal parts amazing and puzzling. For one thing, it’s not entirely clear why St. Vincent makes such a juggernaut.  Bragging rights, maybe? Even with their proof-point, 151s are vastly more popular, and more common, so what’s the point of this one?  About all it could reasonably be used for, after all is (a) a killer cocktail (b) the fastest drunk ever (c) an economical boozer for those without deep pockets, since one gets two 40% bottles for every one of these, and (d) an excuse to use lots and lots of colourful metaphors.

The Sunset Very Strong is made by St Vincent Distillers, formed from Mt. Bentnick Estate which had its genesis at the turn of the 20th century; in 1963 it was sold to the government and renamed the St. Vincent Distillery. This company was itself resold to a private concern in 1996 but the name was retained and they remain in operation to this day.  The SVS originates from a two column stainless steel still – I am unclear whether the molasses comes from Guyana or new cane crops planted on the island, and nowhere is it mentioned whether any ageing takes place at all. (I’ve heard that it’s unaged, though I believe it is, just a bit).

I can tell this is boring to non-history buffs. Seriously, you want tasting notes on this thing?  To be honest, I don’t quite know where to start, since drinking the rum neat is an exercise in futility (no-one else ever will).  But whatever….

Sunset 2The (cautiously assessed) nose was extremely sharp, a glimmering silver blade of pure heat.  For all that, once the bad stuff burned off, I was amazed by how much was going on under the hood.  Initially, there was an explosion of an abandoned Trojan factory installed in the Batcave, fresh cut onions, sweat and oil, crazy crazy intense. Stick with it, though, is my advice – because it did cool off (a little).  And then there were vanilla aromas, some cane sap, coconut shavings and red ripe cherries, a subtle hint of butter lurking in the background. I looked at the glass in some astonishment, quite pleased with the scents that emerged where I had expected nothing but rotgut, and then moved on to taste.

Before you sip, a word of warning.  Move your cigar to the side. Make sure no sparks are nearby. Literally, take a tiny drop at a time. A teensy tiny one.  84.5% is so incredibly ferocious that even that small drop coated the entire tongue with a massive heated oiliness. And it was even a bit creamy.  Wow.  White chocolate, butter biscuits, philadelphia cream cheese on wonder bread, vanilla ice cream, nuts, nougat, toblerone, all dialled up to “11” (make that “12”).  To call this rum sharp or chewy might understate the matter. It had so much maxillary oomph that it might well cause the shark in Jaws to go see his therapist, yet it was remarkable how much I enjoyed it. As for the fade, well, come on, what were you expecting? Long and dry as speeches my father makes at other people’s weddings.  Ongoing notes of vanilla, butter, white chocolate (nothing new here).  But those few, clear tastes went on for ages – I think my automatic watch might run down before the closing notes of the SVS dissipate. And before you ask – yes, I really liked this thing.

At 84.5% ABV, the SVS is brutal, amazing, interesting, tasty, and will always be the most powerful rum of its kind…in shadowed corners of near-abandoned bars I’ve heard it whispered that it once tore an Encyclopedia Brittanica collection in half with its bare hands while simultaneously curing the common cold and giving birth to Def Leppard and AC/DC (at the same time). In the overproof rum pantheon, the Sunset Very Strong sits at the extreme top, next to that crazy bastard next door who claims to have brewed something stronger in his grandmother’s bathtub.

But as psychotic as it is, I can’t help but think this is what we’ve been looking for from the world of badass white full-proofs. It’s wholly ridiculous, impractical to a fault and so completely preposterous that it revels in its own depravity. Frankly, that’s just what a powerful Hulk-sized rum should do. And depending on your level of crazy, it’s either a blessing or a curse that the Sunset Very Strong Rum will rarely be seen beyond the walls of a local watering hole’s private stocks, amused fanboys’ homebars…or, perhaps, mine.

Other notes:

  • I must stress that originality is not the SVS’s forte.  The Clairins out of Haiti, for example are quite a bit more off the beaten track (if not as strong).  The SVS is actually a very traditional white rum, akin to Grenada’s Clarke’s Court or Guyanese High Wine, and serves primarily a local market (exports are relatively minimal outside the Caribbean).  Unlike those two, it’s merely torqued up to the maximum legal point and that provided the flavours it did contain with such intensity that it became a sort of masochistic reflex just to try it that way. But it was meant as a mixer, not a sipper, and should be tried that way, I think.
  • This rum is the most popular spirit on the island, and is often seen as the kill-divil of overproof choice in many other small Caribbean islands catering to the tourist trade. It is almost always mixed. Word has it that it’s so popular in St Vincent, that when stocks ran out after a shipment of Guyanese molasses was held up at the port, riots nearly ensued.
  • A year or so after I tried this rum, I scored one even more powerful – the Surinamese Marienburg 90%.  That one was stronger, but I liked this one better.

 

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.

 

Feb 192015
 

Photo courtesy barfish.de

A relatively light and sweet potent white lightning that sits square between a white agricole and full-proofed island hooch, with a charm and power all its own.

(#203. 80.5/100)

***

The very first review ever written for Liquorature (and here) was the Antigua Distillers’ masterful English Harbour 25 year old 1981.  In later years, I had my suspicions about it – from the similarity of profiles, I thought it was a rebranded, perhaps re-blended version of the Cavalier 1981, which was an understated and excellent rum in its own right, and the sales of which must have caught everyone off guard. So when in 2014 I met a brand rep for Antigua Distillers, I asked him straight out whether one made up the bones of the other, and he answered in the affirmative.

I relate this trivia only to provide some background, because it was three years before I ran into any other rums made by that company, and was lucky enough to try two of them – the ferocious blow-your-hair-back 151, and the very interesting subject of this review, the white 65% Cavalier Puncheon.  You wouldn’t think it’s all that hot – I have this untested theory that in the main, white high-test like DDL Superior High Wine or J. Wray & Nephew white, tend to be for indigenous consumption, not really for the export market – but I’ll tell you, the Puncheon ain’t half bad.

It was a rum supposedly aged for a couple of years in bourbon barrels, before being charcoal filtered to colourlessness. This is one reason I tend to give white rums a miss when looking for something to buy – the filtration wipes out some of the flavours that (in my opinion) would enhance the drink, making most white rums somewhat bland and unadventurous, good mostly for mixing something else.

Here though, something surprising happened – there was still some torque left in the trousers as I smelled it, it wasn’t all boring dronish white vanilla cotton wool whatever-it-was milquetoast.  The rum was hot and spicy yes (by way of comparison, let me remark that it was not raw and sharp), and presented almost delicately, if this can believed in such a strong rum; with initial scents of sweet, light fruity aromas.  There were vanilla notes and white flowers as background, as well as a very faint grassy whiff, not at all unpleasant or jarring.

This unusual lightness, and sweetness, carried over to the palate as well.  Here, rather more was going on – honey, nuts – I kept thinking of cheerios, honestly – some cocoa, ripe yellow mangoes, vanilla and the barest hint of caramel.  The Puncheon was a young rum, of course, but that two years of ageing had its influence, for which I was grateful — it muted what would otherwise have been a furious amalgam of liquid electrical shocks to the tongue. Even the finish was pretty okay, being long and heated (no surprises there), closing off with fresh hay, vanilla, flowers again, and bark stripped fresh from an oak tree somewhere.

I won’t go so far as to say it’s a sipper’s rum – it’s a little too strong and uncultured for that – but it’s got more complexity than a white Bacardi, for example (and Bacardi seem determined to not piss anyone off, and so remove all traces of individuality from such white rums).  In fact, as I concentrated on it and took a few more sips, it occurred to me that maybe I could see the background to the English Harbour 10 year old take shape in the not-quite-docile taste profile. And maybe even some of the black-currant elements I remembered fondly from the 1981.

Recently, I’ve been on a bit of tear, trawling through an enormous volume of fairly expensive, top end rums.  Would it surprise you to know I don’t always want to?  Sometimes, all I want, all I need, is something straightforward to settle down with, a rum with some fierceness and heft, a solid exemplar of the distillers art and the maker’s machismo.  It doesn’t have to be a dark, funky rum oozing molasses and dunder from every pore, squirting its malevolent power in all directions. All it needs to be is a decent rum, a little strong, possessing a reasonably original flavour profile, that I can mix into a potent drink I can drown my sorrows in as I glumly watch my son the Caner Tot beating the crap out of me at StarCraft 2 or whatever other game he chooses to excel at this week.

It needs to be a rum, in fact, very much like this one.


Other notes

  • A puncheon was originally a high-proof, heavy-type rum first produced in Trinidad, at Caroni, in 1627
  • The Antigua Distillers web page makes no mention of this rum at all. It does not seem to have been updated since 2003.
  • I personally call this a full-proof, not an overproof.
  • Some notes on the history of the company are to be found in the Cavalier 1981 review

 

Aug 092013
 

D7K_2785

 

The DDL Superior High Wine is not superior and not a wine, but will get you high without breaking a sweat.

(#177. 79/100)

***

One of the first rums I ever had as a young man was this one, and the last time I drank was it nearly thirty years ago, when I was thinking of dropping out of University, depressed about my future, and downing a whole raft of shooters in a small beer garden one still, hot afternoon, with a bowl ’ice and my one-armed friend Greg from UG. A few weeks later my life changed and put me on the path that led to where I am now. Between then and now, not much has changed: it’s still very much a low-level, overproofed white lightning meant for local consumption not export, and it’s unlikely it’ll ever be seen much outside the West Indies. And, oddly, as I prepare to move my family abroad for a few years on another life-changing experience next week, this is among the last rums I’ll review for a while.

You’d think that this makes it a mere bathtub-distilled mess for the masses, with nothing to really recommend it (the Grenadian Clarke’s Court “Bush” variation I tried some years ago is another example), but you’d be wrong. That may be because even though it is filtered and beaten and bleached to within a whisker of resembling water, it’s actually made in one of the coffey stills at Diamond (I was told #3, which I think is one of the metal ones from the estate itself). And that lends the initial nose a surprising heft, quite aside from its 69% proofage.

The nose is, as a consequence, quite spicy, and herbal…grassy almost, like a steaming, sunlit meadow after a tropical rain. Chopped light/white fruits, citrus peel (lime) and a rather startling vein of brown sugar was actually in evidence as well. Oh, I won’t kid you, this thing is a rather savage animal and won’t play *that* nice with your schnozz – but even so, there’s quite a bit more action going on there than you’d imagine from something so easy to dismiss out of hand as a local tipple

D7K_2787

This schizophrenic character between texture and taste continued on the palate, which even for 69% is a bit…uncompromising (okay, it’s raw, sandpaper for the unprepared, so watch out – but it does even out after a minute). Spicy as all get-out, medium bodied (although I confess to thinking it pulled a neat shell game on me, and seemed fuller than it was, somehow), astringent and ego-withering as my Aunt Sheila in full flow, and remarkably dry (very much like Flor de Caña’s white dry rum). There’s a subtle agricole style to the whole experience, something about the cleanliness and herbal nature of the taste. Plus, I shouldn’t forget to mention additional flavours of vanilla, cinnamon bark, burnt sugar notes and a faint hint of caramel. And let me not kid you…sure the rum is strong, and I remarked it was sharp at the beginning, but once you start getting into it (or getting high), it smoothens out quite well, and becomes, on subsequent sips, a chain mail glove grasping your glottis, not a sushi knife. The finish is, of course, quite long, quite dry, and leaves a last flirt of almonds and vanilla to remember it by.

Like I said…a somewhat schizoid rum.

High Wine is what real men and porknockers drink in the Guyanese bush and whole swathes of society down by the pint in beer gardens up and down the coast. The men mix it rarely, and get paralyzingly drunk on it in labba time before going off to find a shady lady or a girlie magazine. Not for these guys the indifferent XM 5 year old, or even the King of Diamonds 5, let alone the nobler DDL rums we all know and appreciate. They want this one — cheap, clear and bludgeoningly powerful.

As it was then, so it is now. This is a romping, stomping, cheerful soldier’s and bushman’s rum, a blue collar love note to the working classes, and will never see the tables of the rich. It’s not one you’ll ever be comfortable putting on the top shelf:  your friends will probably laugh at you were you to trot it out like your firstborn for review. All the islands and all the rum producers have rums like this one, their almost unappreciated red-haired stepchildren, not entirely legit, not made for the upper crust, just for those who need to take the edge off once in a while without mucking around with “oak”, “vanillas”, “spicy tumeric background” or “a perky little nose”. It’s too raw and uncompromising for me to really recommend it neat, but you know, if you ever went down to Mudland, you really should try a shot, just the one time — perhaps with coconut water — just so you can say you have. It’s absolutely worth it for that.


Other notes

The Rum Howler, who gave me the bottle in late 2012, remarked that this iteration made from the Coffey still #3 will be discontinued sometime and production moved to the new multi-column still, but we’re both in the dark as to exactly when that was or will be.