Oct 202014

velier logo 2

It’s no surprise that I start the “Makers” section of this website with Velier.  Perhaps no other company since Rum Nation has so captured my attention the way this one has, and with both it’s about their focus. The scotch makers like G&M, Cadenhead, A.D. Rattray and Bruichladdich also produce year-specific, limited editions of rums, but their product lines are somewhat diluted by not concentrating solely on rums but on the whiskies which are their primary products (at least in my opinion).  Velier in contrast has made its name primarily by doing something quite different  – they issue all of their products at full proof, and they issue only rums, mostly from Guyana, Trinidad and the French West Indies (see below for other lines of business).

Luca Gargano, the man most closely identified with the company, is a character all by himself. He is an inveterate traveller, photographer, writer and rum lover (to call him an aficionado would be to understate the matter).  His stories, delivered with a twinkle in his eye, are the stuff of either bulls**t or legend, and I prefer to believe the latter, just because, y’know, they’re so interesting – for example, there’s the one about how, in service to one of his “five principles,” he doesn’t associate with politicians, and so one time he feigned sickness in Cuba so he wouldn’t have to speak to Fidel Castro.  And the other five principles, which he calls privileges? — No watch, no cell phone, no driving and no reading newspapers.  So yeah, something of an eccentric, but man, the stories he tells, the way he tells then (he’s truly something of a born raconteur).  And he always finishes off by reaching somewhere, fishing out a bottle and a glass and saying “Taste this.”

Luca Gargano began with Velier by buying into the tiny Genoese concern in the early nineteen eighties while he was only 27 – at the time he was the Director of Marketing Spirit SpA, the largest import company in Italy.  Even then, his experience as the brand ambassador for St James (from Martinique) during the 1970s infused him with a love for rums.  Velier, a small family firm, had been founded by Casimir Chaix back in 1947, and between 1953 and 1983, it became known for importing of wines and spirits to Italy, mostly the north (products included champagne, brandy, even tea and cocoa). Luca began to change the tilt of the company by encouraging the import of spirits particularly targeted at top restaurants and wine bars and developed the image and the distribution of Champagne Billecart-Salmon, which at the time was completely unknown.


In 1991 Velier developed a line of Latin American White Spirits (cachaca, mezcal, pisco) made to cater to the trendy and ethnic spirits wave which was just gathering steam at the time.  The company began its move to craft spirits in 1992 (which I think is the year that the El Dorado 15 year old first appeared), by beginning its selection of barrels of old single malts and rum for its brand.  This led, in 1995, to the issuance of several Caribbean rums, riding the wave of the current trend in releasing craft bottling in limited quantities.

Arguably Luca’s earliest coup was to buy almost the entire Damoiseau 1980 output that had been deemed unsell-able because of a proportion of molasses in the rum.  He released Velier’s Damoiseau 1980 in 2002 (Damoiseau themselves stole a march on him and issued their own version – they had kept back some of the stock, and as I can attest, that rum is excellent) and he remarked that it was this rum that crystallized his “full-proof” concept, that of issuing rums at natural strength with no dilution whatsoever, and having them fully aged in the tropics.

Gargano 2

In 2003, after having befriended Yesu Persaud, the chairman of the Guyanese spirits conglomerate Demerara Distillers Ltd, he was given access to very old stocks mouldering away in their warehouses in Diamond – it is my contention that the issuance of these rums has solidified Velier’s name as a company whose bottlings are one of a kind, a company to watch, and whose rare and aged products are really spectacular.  Most independent bottlers have the Enmores and Port Mourants as part of the canon, and DDL themselves blend many estate- or still-specific rums into their excellent El Dorado line – but Velier took it one step further, and issued the estate specific rums as rums in their own right: LBI, Blairmont, Versailles, Albion, Skeldon, Port Mourant, Enmore…and all at natural strength.  They have, as I remarked in my Skeldon 1973 review, become occasional subjects of cult worship simply due to their rarity (and excellence – I have yet to find a dog in Velier’s line up, and have consistently scored their rums very high). In 2004, Velier bought a tiny stake in DDL, which granted them access to future (and past) rum stocks.

Another series of rums of note which enhanced Velier’s street-cred among rum aficionados was the Caroni line.  Caroni was a plantation and distillery in Trinidad, which was shuttered in 2002 (some darkly mutter that it was for crass political reasons), and has a place in rum-lovers’ pantheons which whisky aficionados reserve for Port Ellen.  The last stocks of this distillery were supposedly sold at auction in 2003, but in 2004, Velier seems to have snapped up an enormous amount of casks from the 70s, 80s and 90s which they have used to issue several iterations (all full-proof, of course).

Between 2008 and 2014, as Velier’s reputation grew (and maybe as finances and enthusiasm permitted) the company began branching out to other islands and experimenting with distillation and ageing techniques. According to Luca, he had the impulse to produce a rhum agricole with a double distillation, and convinced Mr Vittorio Gianni Capovilla, himself a master distiller (www.capovilladistillati.it) and the Bielle distillery on Marie Galante, to create a new distillery.  This was to be located beside Bielle but completely independent, apart from the sugar juice supplied by Bielle. The Liberation line (issued under the label RhumRhum) essayed to make agricoles by fermenting the juice without adding water and then double distilling it in copper pot stills.  Then there is the Clairin line of Haitian rums, launched in 2012, and more recently there are experimental blends like the 2014 release of PM/ENM, and the Ron Papalin, as well as the 2015 “Still” line from Guyana and Barbados and Jamaica.  There are plans to deal in soleras at some point.

Velier shop

In 2014 Velier opened two shops in Paris, one dedicated to Velier Rhum (the other to Triple A wines).  That same year, Luca’s first book “Atlas du Rhum” was published by Flammarion. Velier continues to do more than rums, of course.  They are both bottler and importer, yet I argue that it is for their rums they are now primarily known and upon which their fame rests.  They might import absinthe, gin and whisky and whatever else – but they make rums. Damned good ones.

Unfortunately, in 2015, it appeared that Velier’s relationship with DDL came to an end, and in spite of being a minority (very minority) shareholder in the company, their unique ability to choose barrels from DDL’s warehouses has ceased.  Some call this the end of “The Age of Velier’s Demeraras.” For those who appreciated the Demerara full proofs Velier issued from the famous stills, this cannot be anything less than a disappointment.  Luca branched out, of course – as noted, he has investigated the distribution and promotion of clairins from Haiti, hinting at deepening involvement in non-traditional sources of rum; and in 2015 he issued single estate pot still rums from Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados, as well as investigating the possibilities of Hampden estate in Jamaica for the 2016 release season – so the future of Velier’s bottlings remains both an interesting and hopeful one. Because Luca does like to push the boundaries, and his passion has been remarked on by many who have met the man.

I don’t imagine I’ll ever get them all – Luca is issuing them too fast, and my wallet can’t keep pace (a complete set of every Velier Caroni ever issued was advertised for sale by an Italian gent for over two thousand Euros, a single bottle of the Skeldon 1978 sold on Ebay for €1,200 in early 2015, and a twin set of the 1973 and 1978 was going in 2016 for €8,000, which gives you an indication of what acquiring the entire canon would entail). Yet I’ll keep trying, because Luca’s one of the few in the rum making world who keeps raising the bar for aged, powerful and unique rums that will not be seen again.

And if his name is now known more widely than before 2012 when I and others first began writing about his rums, perhaps it was inevitable that the concussive blast of his earlier work has now been replaced by smaller explosions of high quality, original rums, whose releases are eagerly awaited by those who love his work.


Below is a list of all Velier products of which I am aware.  I don’t think it’s exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point.  Links relate to reviews I’ve written…and yeah, they look as lonely as a few camels in the Sahara, but them’s the breaks.




Trinidad – Caroni

  • Caroni 1974 Heavy 34 YO (1974 – 2008), 66,1% vol.
  • Caroni 1982 Light 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 59,2%
  • Caroni 1982 Light 24 YO (1982 – 2006), 55,2% vol.
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 24 YO (1982 – 2006), 58,3% vol.
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 62%
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 77,3% vol.
  • Caroni 1983 Heavy 22 YO (1983 – 2005), 55% vol.
  • Caroni 1983 High Proof Heavy 22 YO (1983 – 2005), 52% vol.
  • Caroni 1984 Heavy 22 YO (1984 – 2006), 54,6% vol.
  • Caroni 1984 Heavy 24 YO (1984 – 2008), 59,3%
  • Caroni 1985 Old Legend 15 YO (1985 – 2006), 43,4% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Blended 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 49,5% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 21 YO (1985 – 2006), 58,8% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 62% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 75,5% vol.
  • Caroni 1988 Blended 20 YO (1988 – 2008) 43%
  • Caroni 1989 Heavy 16YO (1989 – 2005), 62% vol.
  • Caroni 1989 Light 17YO (1989- 2006), 64,2% vol.
  • Caroni 1991, 66% vol.
  • Caroni 1991 Blended 19YO (1991 – 2010), 55% vol.
  • Caroni 1991 Blended 15 YO (1991 – 2006) 43,4%
  • Caroni 1992 Heavy 20 YO (1992 – 2012) , 60,2% vol.
  • Caroni 1992 Heavy 20 YO (1992 – 2012), 55% vol.
  • Caroni 1993 Blended 17 YO (1993 – 2010), 44,4% vol.
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 18YO (1994 – 2012), 55%
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 18YO (1994 – 2012), 62,6%
  • Caroni 1994 High Proof 17 YO (1994 – 2011), 52%
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 17 YO (1996 – 2013) 55%
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 17 YO (1996 – 2013) 63%
  • Caroni 1998 100% 15 YO (1998 – 2013), 52%
  • Caroni 2000 100% 12 YO (2000 – 2012), 50%

Marie Galante





  16 Responses to “Velier”

  1. Fantastic stuff, Lance. As you know, we in the States can only lust after most of these beauties from afar. Those that I have tried have been outstanding of course.

  2. Great article on perhaps one of the best independent bottlers out there. I think the Velier bottles will be harder and harder to get as more and more experience their splendor.

    • Not until the North American and Asian markets really pay attention. It’s our good fortune that whiskies command the wallets over there, leaving our rums more affordable and available.

  3. Hope you’re making arrangements to get a bunch of this into Canada. If you want me to drink rum, it better be almost a whisky. 😉

    Seriously, though…I love the fact that a few out there are flying the banner for a less adulterated spirit. These are the kind of rums I can get behind.

    Good write-up.

  4. Every single one of the few i been able to try so far of Velier rums have all been nothing but outstanding!

  5. I’ve compared your list of the Velier bottlings, with one I got from Cyril. I recon that combined, they should almost exhaust the entire series to date.

    If you’d like, and with Cyrils acceptance of course, I could send it to you. Interested?

    • Sure I’m interested. Very much so. Cyril did indeed look over my initial list and made some corrections, but if there is another list out there, by all means send it along.

      • I’ve sent you my updated list as it stands now via your profile on Facebook.

        Some of the new additions are the Clairin from Haiti and a few others that may have differed between the two lists.

      • Not sure if you got my message, so I’ll just post it inhere as well 🙂

        So far I have found 3 different Diamond 1996.
        – A 14 year old unknown mark bottled in 2010 at 66%
        – A 15 year old SVW mark bottled in 2011 at 64,6%
        – A 16 year old SSN mark bottled in 2012 at 63,4%

  6. Hi Lance, have you heard of or tried the Velier Diamond & Port Mourant 1999 and the Uitvlugt 18 year old 1996?

  7. I’ve got the PM/Diamond, but not the Uitvlugt, which is not even on my list above.

  8. Hi Lance! Can you tell me more about the Foursquare and the Jamaican Rums at the bottom of your list? Have they already been released?

    • Just heard about them yesterday myself, Artur.

      No they have not been formally released yet: still tidying up bottle labels and final quality checking, distribution, etc.

      The idea seems to be to issue pure single estate pot still rums at a reasonable price (around 50-60 EUR). Also, because they come from operating distilleries, they will be able to avoid the limited edition problem of Velier’s rarer rums.

      • Great news! I am looking forward to those bottlings. The still type and vintage of the Jamaican indicate Worthy Park.
        I know I am getting greedy now, but I hope Velier will broaden its range in the future and also include Long Pond, Hampden, Monymusk, West Indies and Mount Gay. (Mount Gay seems nearly impossible, but one can dream, right?)

        There also seem to be new Agricoles (Liberation 2015: one at 45% and one at cask strength, both distilled in 2009) and a new Caroni (1998, 17 YO, 55%) They are listed at the french online shop Excellencerhum, though they cannot be ordered yet.

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