Oct 302018
 

My friend Henrik from Denmark told me once that he really dislikes the rums of WIRD. “There’s just something off about them,” he grumbled when we were discussing the output from Little England, the development of the Foursquare Exceptionals, and the Velier collaborations.  On the other hand, another rum-kumpel from Germany, Marco Freyr, has no problems with them at all, and remarked that he could absolutely pinpoint any Rockley Still rum just by sniffing the glass (I have since come the the conclusion that he’s absolutely right).  Coming to this Bristol Spirits rum after a long session of Bajan bruisers made by the Compagnie, Cadenhead and Foursquare themselves, I can sort of see both points of view, but come down more on the positive side, because I like the variety of tones and tastes which indie WIRD rums provide.  And this one? I liked it quite a bit.

We hear so much about the rums of Mount Gay, St. Nicholas Abbey and Foursquare, that rums made by/from WIRD often get short shrift and scant mention.  It’s not even seen as a true distillery of the sort that makes its own name and marks its own territory (like Foursquare, Hampden, Worthy Park or DDL do, for example). But WIRD does exist, even if the majority of its rums come to us by way of the European independents (most of its output is sold as either bulk stock to brokers, goes into the Cockspur brand, or to make the coconut-rum-liqueur Malibu which for some obscure reason, Grandma Caner simply can’t get enough of).  

The brief technical blah is as follows: bottled by Bristol Spirits out of the UK from distillate left to age in Scotland for 26 years; a pot still product (I refer you to Nikos Arvanitis’s excellent little essay on the Rockley still if you want to do more research), distilled in 1986 and bottled in 2012, finished in sherry casks for an indeterminate period. The strength remains at the Bristol Spirits standard 46% ABV, which makes it very approachable to the mainstream who want to explore further into how rums from Barbados can differ from each other. 

And differ it does. No smooth, well-constructed melange of pot and column still product here, redolent of spices and soft fruits.  Oh no. For openers, this rum’s nose was meaty: like licking a salty maggi cube dropped into a pot of chicken stock liberally dosed with sweet soy sauce.  All of this develops over time (fortunately, because I had soup for lunch and didn’t want any in my glass as well) into waxy pungency leavened with a sort of sweet rich fruitiness (cherries, ripe peaches, apples) which then further combined with a forceful sherry/madeira finish that at times verged on being overdone….even medicinal.  The nose was so at odds with everything I had alongside it, that one could be forgiven for thinking this was not a Bajan rum at all…it nosed that different.

Still, it was much better to taste than to smell.  It was warm and reasonably smooth, though with a bite here or there to remind you it wasn’t fully tamed; its tastes were of caramel, dollops of thick dark honey on fresh toasted dark bread, camomile, thyme and cough drops. Iodine and medicinals are thankfully held way back (a pencilled-in line, not a brightly coloured oil by Frazetta, you might say).  Also burnt sugar, stewed apples and some ripe cherries and the tart tastiness of soursop, ginnip and sour cream rounded things off, before lapsing into a relatively short, fruity, and honey-like finish that breathed easy fumes and then hurriedly exited the scene.

Overall, it was a rich rum, full bodied, a little oaky, quite fruity after opening up, and that sherry influence — perceptible but in no way overwhelming — was enjoyable.  In fact, the overall integration and balance of this thing is really quite good, and it provides a pleasing counterpoint to more popular and better known rums from the island, which by itself makes it worth a try.  One does not have to be a deep-dive Bajan rum aficionado, parsing the minutest details of different vintages, to appreciate it for what it is, a well made Bajan rum that dares to go off on a tangent.

There’s a reason I want WIRD rums to continue to make it to the public glassware, even if it’s just second hand, via the independents (now that Maison Ferrand has taken over, it’s only older rums from European brokers they’ll get, I’m thinking).  They’re different, very different, existing in some kind of joyous parallel universe where mothballs, fruits and cloves mix it up in a dusty spice cupboard and the result is peculiarly drinkable. They are, in their own way and possibly because of their relative obscurity, fascinatingly off-base. I haven’t met many so far, but those I’ve tried I’ve liked, and sure hope more will turn up in my glass in the years to come.

(#562)(86/100)


Other notes

Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘n’ badass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

(#281 / 86/100)

***

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself.  The SMWS on the other hand, does this stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom.  They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won.  You may feel exhilerated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing  74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on me – because, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it?  It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungent – the very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes.  That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip.  And with good reason – it was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese.  Christ this was hot – it was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaming…he’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!”.  Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmite…it was just difficult to find anything through that heat.  Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.  

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more.  But that’s not to invalidate how good this one is – about the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall?  Not bad at all – in fact it grew one me.  There was a lot more going on over time — so quietly it kinda sneaks up on you — than the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained.  The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Well…this one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay.  It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

Mar 012016
 

Samaroli Bdos 1

A Bajan rum you’re unlikely to either forget, or get much more of, in the years to come.  It’s among the most original rums from Barbados I’ve ever tried, even if it doesn’t quite come up to snuff taken as a whole.

(#258. 86/100)

***

I wish I could find more Samarolis from the early days. There aren’t enough from that maker in the world, and like most craft bottlers, their wares go up in price with every passing year.  I was lucky enough to buy this remarkable Bajan rum online, and for a twenty year old rum from one of the non-standard distilleries it held its own very nicely indeed against others from the small island.

Samaroli only issued 348 bottles of this 45% rum, and went with distillate sourced from the West India Rum Refinery Ltd (which since the mid 1990s is known as the West Indies Rum Distillery, or WIRD, and owned by Goddard Enterprises from Barbados – in 2017 it was sold to Maison Ferrand).  When there were dozens of rum making companies in Barbados, WIRR provided distillate for many, derived from a very old pot still — the “Rockley still” from Blackrock — and a Dore column still.  These days they occasionally resurrect the old pot still, the Dore is long gone, and most of the alcohol they still produce is done on a large multi-column still purchased from Canada — the company is known for the Cockspur, Malibu brands of rum (and Popov vodka, but never mind).  As an interesting bit of trivia, they, in partnership with DDL and Diageo, have holdings in Jamaica’s Monymusk and Innswood distilleries.

Samaroli Bdos 2

Until recently, my feeling has been that well known Bajan rums as a whole have never risen up to challenge the status quo with quality juice of which I know they’re capable. Those I tried were often too tame, too unadventurous, too complacent, and I rarely found one I could rave over, in spite of critical plaudits received from all quarters (some of FourSquare and Mount Gay rums, for example) …and took quite a bit of scorn for thinking what I did.  Oh, most are good rums, competently made and pleasant to drink, I’ll never deny that, and have quite a few in my collection, though I still harbour a dislike for the Prince Myshkyn of rums, the Doorly XO.  Yet with some exceptions I just find many of them unexciting: lacking something of that spark, some of that out of the box thinking…the sheer balls that drives other makers to plunge without a backward look into the dark pools of the True Faith’s headwaters.

All that whinging aside, very few Bajan rums I found over the years were this old.  Twenty years’ tropical ageing takes a hell of a percentage out of the original volume (as much as 75%), which may be why Samaroli bought and aged this stock in Scotland instead – one commentator on the last Samaroli PM I looked at advised me that it was because they pretty much buy their rum stock in the UK, and so save costs by ageing there too.  Which would probably find favour with CDI, who also prefer European ageing for its slower, subtler influences on the final spirit.

Samaroli Bdos 3

Certainly Samaroli produced a rum from Little England like few others.  45% wasn’t enough to biff me on the hooter, so I swirled and inhaled and then looked with some wonder at the light gold liquid swirling demurely in my glass. The first scents were none of that soft rum, burnt sugar and banana flambe I sometimes associated with the island (based on rums past), but a near-savage attack of paint, phenols, plasticine and turpentine, mixed in with acetone and sweet aldehydes reminding me of my University chem classes (which I hated).To my relief, this all faded away after a few minutes, and the nose developed remarkably well: a burst of sweet red grapes, faint red licorice, delicate flowers, clear cucumbers in water, opening further with light additions of bread and butter and orange rind.  Not the best opening act ever, but very original, came together with a bang after a while, and absolutely one to hold one’s interest.

The palate was dry, dusty, with fresh sawdust and hay notes mixing it up with that sweetish acetone from before…then it all took a twirl like a ballerina and morphed into a smorgasbord of pale florals, sherry, lebanese green grapes; to my disappointment some of that assertiveness, that I’m-a-rum-so-what’s-your-problem aggro was being lost (this may be a taste thing, but to me it exemplifies some of the shortcomings of non-tropical ageing to one who prefers robust and powerful rums). The taste profile was light and clear and held all the possibilities of greater power, but even the gradually emergent leather and smoke — which melded well with bananas and papayas — seemed unwilling (if not actually unable) to really take their place on the palate with authority.

So the nose was intriguing and developed well, the palate just didn’t click.  The finish? Oh well now, this was great…come home please, all is forgiven. Long and lasting, a little salty-sweet, furniture polish, wax, peaches and cream, sugary lemon juice and candied oranges, a joyous amalgam of cool, studied stoicism and hot-snot badassery.

That I don’t fanatically love this rum is my issue, not yours, and I’ve described as best I could where I thought it fell down for me. There are of course many things that work in it – mouthfeel, texture, and a nose and finish which I know many will like a lot, and I gave it points for daring to go away from the more commonly held perceptions of what a Bajan profile should be.  I always liked that about indie bottlers, you see, that sense of wonder and curiosity (“What would happen if I messed with this rum…ran a turbo into it, maybe?” you can almost hear them think, and then go ahead and issue something like the SMWS 3.4 which by the way, also hailed from WIRR), and maybe they’re seeing what Silvio saw when he made this rum. It may not be the best Bajan-styled rum you’ve ever tried, but it may have also shown what was possible when you don’t care that much about styles at all.

Other notes

Bottle #274 of 348

My thanks and a big hat tip to Richard Seale of FourSquare, who provided me with historical background on WIRR/WIRD.

Samaroli Bdos 1986

Jul 142013
 

D3S_7047

 

This feels and tastes mean, largely because it is. But just because it treats you like life on Keith Richards’s face isn’t an automatic disqualification…I just call it inspired insanity, and have (much to my own surprise) given it the highest rating I’ve ever awarded to a 75% overproof.

(#174. 88/100)

***

“Makes you strong like a lion”, the label remarks, in one of those tongue-in cheek references with which the SMWS likes to charm its buyers. After being battered into near insensibility (on more than one occasion) by the raging yak that was the SMWS R5.1 Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, you’ll forgive me for approaching the almost-as-torqued up 75.3% R3.4 rum with something akin to serious apprehension. I mean, I love strong and flavourful rums of real intensity, but it’s my personal belief that the folks at SMWS are snickering into their sporrans when they issue these massive overproofs, hoping that the lesser bred such as I will get a hurt real bad, be put under the table for the count, and swear off rums altogether. You kind of have to admire their persistence in the matter.

What we had here was a 75.3% rum issued this year (2013), with the usual obscure moniker “R3.4” which my research suggests makes the rum from the Rockley Still from the West Indian Refinery in Black Rock, Barbados. About which, I hasten to add, I know little, not having tasted their products (Bristol Spirits has a couple from there, which I hope to get my grubby little paws on one of these happy days).

D3S_7036

Dressed up in that delightfully tall, menacing camo-green bottle that is their standard, the R3.4 decanted a pungent, blonde-amber rum into the glass, quite innocently. Here, come try me, it seemed to invite, and you just knew it was suckering me in…fortunately, I had previously sampled its sibling, so I was prepared, having learnt my lesson by now: I let it stand, and then nosed it very, very carefully.

Bam! it went, right away, even after a few minutes. My God, but this was strong. Shudderringly odd, this was a rum in psychopath mode, a snorting, rearing mustang of pent up aggression. Creamy, buttery, slightly salty, almonds and peanuts stomped my schnozz right out of the gate. As sharp as a sushi master’s knife, yes, but Lordie, there was a lot going on here. As it opened up it presented even more: bananas, some mustiness and smoke, the faintest odour of Benedictine. I was impressed in spite of myself, and marked it high for sheer originality, because all other 75% rums (the 151s, if you will), were so straightforwardly simple and relatively uncomplex, that finding this plethora of nasal riches was a welcome surprise.

As for the palate, coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, in case your rum-drinking life flickers before your eyes. Once the fire subsided, the same creamy chewiness from the nose carried over well upon arrival – butter melting in an iron skillet, fried bananas, all wrapped up in a herbal background I couldn’t quite separate out. Intense, very intense. Wood, grassiness, rosemary, sorrel, with a snarky element of smoky peat in there someplace making mischief. It honestly felt like it was powered with fire and brimstone, this one, yet nowhere near as barefacedly badass as any of the other 151 rums I’ve tried in the past…there’s some real couth here, honestly. But of course it is damned strong, and so warning of sobriety transmuted to drunkneness in 2.5 shots is not me being overly metaphorical..

The fade, as befitted an overproof rum, was quite long and very solid, heat and warmth without real spice, somewhat fruity, nutty, salty, and giving up last hints of oats and bran. I s**t you not, this rum was quite something, and Stuart, who was drinking it with me (he had been clouted about the ears with the Longpond as well, and was therefore understandably cautious with this one), liked it so much he immediately started calling around asking where he could get hisself some too.

 D3S_7038

All right, so let’s sum up. Short version, if you want a good time, no stress or aggro, buy something softer…like the Centenario Legado, for example. If you want to be astonished out of your socks by a rum explosion of startling, glute-flexing originality, this is the one to get (if you can). You don’t need to be a rum snob, collector or even a rum lover to appreciate a bit of overproof blending skill on your table (or your office desktop after hours).

It’s been a long running gag on Liquorature that I resolutely refuse to admit that whiskies have pride of place in the spirits world, and the crown should rightfully go to the rums. Here’s one I wish we could get more of, ‘cause it kinda proves my point (it’s made by whisky lovers, much to my annoyance). Drinking this, trying to describe it in words, I am faced with bafflement. I don’t know. It’s crazy. This rum is liquid, industrial-strength factory effluent that tastes three times as good as it should.

 

Apr 182013
 

D7K_1275

*

The Barbados 2001 from Rum Nation is a solid plate of eddoes and plantains, black pudding and cookup on a refectory table…the spirituous equivalent of comfort food. It’s a warm bosom against which one can relievedly lean after a tough day…and call it Mommy. A good, warm-hearted, undemanding rum of unexpected depth.

(#156. 85/100)

 ***

Rummaging idly through my shelves the other day (“Jeez, what am I going to look at this week?”) I came across one of the last two unreviewed Rum Nation products I had bought back in 2011 after having been impressed as all get out by the Raucous Rums session where the Wannabe-RumGuy had introduced them. Rum Nation is that Italian outfit which opened its doors up in 1999, and has produced some of my favourite rums – the 1985 and 1989 Demerara 23 year olds, and the Jamaican 1985 “Supreme Lord” 25 year old among others. This Barbados variant was laid down in 2001 and bottled in 2011, and it’s a very decent product in all the aspects that matter, though not of a level that exceeds the pinnacles of achievement represented by the rums I refer to above.

So it’s not a top end rum, but it’s not a lowbrow piece of entertainment either, much as the cheap, plastic-windowed cardboard box reminiscent of an unwelcome bill envelope might intimate otherwise. The nose for example, is very pleasantly warm and almost thick, with initial flavours of bananas, vanilla and crushed walnuts mingling pleasantly with an earthy scent of ripe fleshy fruit, more cashews than peaches. It had an odd kind of richness about it, very near to cloying (though not quite there), that gradually transmuted into a floral hint with a last snap of smoke. Estery, I guess you could call it. Not entirely successful, to my mind, the aromas didn’t quite marry properly into a cohesive whole, but overall, it’s not bad at all.

The palate? All is forgiven, come home please. Oh, this was just fine. Smooth, warm, creamy, like banana ice cream liberally drizzled with caramel, toffee, a little licorice and nougat, all sprinkled with white chocolate and a shade of mint: put a cuckoo clock on top of it and you could almost pretend it was swiss. Rich and pleasantly deep for a 40% rum, and unlike some drinks where the nose was spectacular but the taste less so, here it was the other way around. The denouement was also quite good, pleasantly long and fragrant, exiting to the tune of cinnamon and vanilla and a last bash of the banana.

D7K_1276

According to Fabio Rossi, the owner of RN, this is considered an entry level rum (retailing for about €30…Can$50 in my location), and is Barbados-sourced pot and column still blended rum from the West Indies Refinery, matured in American oak casks and then finished for about twelve to eighteen months in Spanish casks that once held brandy. I was unenthused about Downslope Distilling’s wine aged rum some months ago – this is the rum that it should have been, could have been, had they been more patient and aged it properly.

Is it better than the other Bajans in my collection? Yes and no. It’s not as good as the Mount Gay 1703, but exceeds the XO by quite a bit, I would say, and edges out the A.D. Rattray 9 year old from R.L. Seale I looked at not too long ago. Its relative softness and smoothness is the key here (see other notes, below): it pulls an interesting trick, by seeming to be more full bodied than it is, and therefore coating the mouth with a sumptuous set of tastes that, had that slight cloying over-estery note not been present, would have scored higher with me than it did.

Still, if you’re after a good, solid sipping rum, the Barbados 2001 won’t disappoint. It’s soft, warm and easy on the palate, forgiving on the finish. It may be a rum to have when you’re feeling at peace with the world (or unwinding from it), don’t feel like concentrating too hard, and don’t need to protect your tonsils. On that level, it’s excellent at all it sets out do, and if it doesn’t ascend or aspire to the levels of some of its pricier, older cousins, at least it’s an excellent buy for the money you do shell out.


Other Notes

February 2018 – By now it is common knowledge that Rum Nation, like Plantation, practices dosing.  This rum measures out at ~10g/L of adulteration which actually quite minimal: enough to smoothen out some rough edges, but not enough to make it a mess. Potential buyers and drinkers will have to take that into account when deciding on a purchase here.