backdoor

Dec 152019
 

After all these years, there isn’t an average imbiber who hasn’t tried the Venezuelan Santa Teresa Ron Antiguo de Solera 1796 (to give its full and somewhat unwieldy title) at least once. It’s a solera rum which usually sets alarm bells ringing for those who want both more disclosure and less additives, but somehow Santa Teresa has managed, through all the years, to navigate the treacherous shoals of too much or too little and remained a consistent, if not top tier, favourite of the entire tippling class. Given the rancour and fury that often attends such rums by the social media commentariat, that’s no mean achievement.

Consider: there are nine separate micro-reviews on reddit for this thing, and on the RumRatings site, it has 437 ratings, of which more than 80% rate it 7 points or higher. Online magazines and aggregators like Distiller, Flaviar, Tastings, WineMag, Got Rum, Drink Hacker and Proof 66 have written extensively about its voluptuous charms. Even the blogosphere has always looked at it, always reviewed it, sometimes as one of their first rum reviews. Alex of the Rum Barrel, The Fat Rum Pirate, myself, the Rum Howler, Refined Vices, Ralfy, All At Sea, Rum Shop Boy, Rum Diaries Blog, Rum Gallery, Inu A Kenaall of us between 2006 and 2019 have, at some stage, tried the thing, and its popularity shows no sign of fading. If there was ever a gateway rum for the Latin style that isn’t from Panama or Cuba, then this is it (the Diplo may be another).

I think part of that is because there’s nothing excessive about it. Nor is there anything overly modest. It certainly evades the trap of turning into an over-sugared mess, or one where that’s all you taste, because the sweet, such as it is, is kept completely in the background. An August 2019 hydrometer testminerates it as 36.96% ABV, which translates into 12g/Lnot good, but hardly earth shaking when compared to other latin rums which have twice or three times that much, and many earlier reviews and tests actually showed none at all (this suggests either batch variation or an evolution in production philosophy); a Santa Teresa rep as recently as 2018 in an interview with Simon Johnson, stated flat out they don’t adulterate their rum. So, if you accept that, the only complaint that could be raised against it is that it really should be a few points stronger.

The nose is different from my admittedly fading tasting memories of ten years ago, when I first sampled it at a Liquorature get together in Calgary. Then I felt it had mostly standard South American aged rum componentsvanilla, caramel, honey, light fruits, all rather low key. Now the blend presented otherwise: I was tasting glue, sugar cane sap, floor polish, varnish right up front, and I know that wasn’t any part of what I was smelling before. The 40% ABV still makes it too weak to mount an effective and aggressive nasal assault, and that is an issue they will have to address sooner or laterbut at least, with some effort I also sensed very ripe apples, apricots, cherries in syrup, plus a dusting of cinnamon, molasses, caramel, and a little bite from oak, unsweetened dark chocolate and light orange peel.

It’s inoffensive in the extreme, there’s little to dislike here (except perhaps the strength), and for your average drinker, much to admire. The palate is quite good, if occasionally vaguelight white fruits and toblerone, nougat, salted caramel ice cream, bon bons, sugar water, molasses, vanilla, dark chocolate, brown sugar and delicate spicescinnamon and nutmeg. It’s darker in texture and thicker in taste than I recalled, but that’s all good, I think. It fails on the finish for the obvious reason, and the closing flavours that can be discerned are fleeting, short, wispy and vanish too quick.

When rated against other rums of its type, the main competitors are the Zacapa, Zafra, Diplomatico Res Ex, the Kirk and Sweeney, or even the Millonario XO or Dictador. But I always found K&S to be too fixated on a particular “cinnamon-lite” profile; Diplo, Zafra and Zacapa were oversugared in comparison; and the Millonario XO was too excessive in both areas, as was Dictador with that coffee note it likes so much. Other producers of rums similar to the 1796 — solera or otherwiseare simply too small and lack market share, and impinge hardly at all in the larger popular consciousness (Don Q and Bacardi are different for other reasons).

But I believe that after all the years since 1996 when it was introduced (for Santa Tersa’s 200th Anniversary), there are good reasons it remains a fixture in the global rumscape and a perennial popular seller. As noted above, it can be found just about everywhere in a way that other Caribbean rums aren’t always; it’s extremely well known, and remains affordable to this day (around US$40 or so) — which is good for any average Joe who can’t always get or afford a New Jamaican or Barbadian or St. Lucian or Guyanese rum. Moreover, it just tastes good enough for most and can be used as a gateway rum for Latin/Spanish style rums in general and Venezuelan ones in particular. Of course, like most gateway rums, if you stick around long enough you’ll inevitably think one day that it’s too weak, too easy and too simple and move smartly along to the next milestone on the journeybut for anyone now starting and not looking to go anywhere, this is as lovely a Key Rum of the World as any on the list before it.

(#684)(78/100)


Other Notes (adapted from 2010 review)

Santa Teresa distillery is located in Venezuela about an hour east of the capital, Caracas, on land given by the King of Spain to a favoured count in 1796. The estate ended up in the hands of a Gustavo Vollmer Rivas, who began making rum from sugar produced on nearby estates – owned by other Vollmerses – in the late 1800s. The Santa Teresa 1796 was produced in 1996 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the estate land grant, and, produced by the solera method.

In the solera process, a succession of barrels is filled with rum over a series of equal aging intervals (usually a year). One container is filled for each interval. At the end of the interval after the last container is filled, the oldest container in the solera is tapped for part of its content (say, half), which is bottled. Then that container is refilled from the next oldest container, and that one in succession from the second-oldest, down to the youngest container, which is refilled with new product. This procedure is repeated at the end of each aging interval. The transferred product mixes with the older product in the next barrel.

No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each container. This remnant diminishes to a tiny level, but there can be significant traces of product much older than the average, depending on the transfer fraction. In theory traces of the very first product placed in the solera may be present even after 50 or 100 cycles. In the Santa Teresa, there are four levels of ageing. And the final solera is topped up with “Madre” spirit, which is a young blend deriving from both columnar and pot stills. Seems a bit complicated to me, but sherry makers have been doing it for centuries in Spain, so why not for rum? The downside is, of course, that there’s no way of saying how old it is since it is such a blend of older and younger rums. The marketing for the 1796 says the rum has components of between 4 to 35 years of age in it.

Oct 232019
 

soma online

For all the faux-evasions about “a historic 250 year old Jamaican distillery” and the hints on the website, let’s not dick aroundthe Stolen Overproof is a Hampden Estate rum. You can disregard all the marketing adjectives and descriptors like “undiscovered”, “handmade” etc etc and just focus on what it is: a New Jamaican pot still rum, released at a tonsil-chewing 61.5%, aged six years and remarkably underpriced for what it is.

The Stolen Overproof has gotten favourable press from across the board almost without exception since its launch, even if there are few formal (i.e., review-website based) ones from the US itselfperhaps that’s because there’s no-one left writing essay-style rum reviews there these days except Paul Senft, and shorter ones from various Redditors (here, here, here and here). In my opinion, this is a rum that takes its place in the mid-range area right next to Rum Bar, Rum Fire, Smith & Cross and Dr. Birdand snaps at the heels of Habitation Velier’s 2010 HLCF, of which this is not a cousin, but an actual brother.

If you doubt me, permit me to offer you a glass of this stuff, as my old-schoolfriend and sometime rum-chum Cecil R. did when he passed me a sample and insisted I try it. You’d think that Stolen Spirits, a company founded in 2010 which has released some underwhelming underpoofs and “smoked” rums was hardly one to warrant serious consideration, but this rum changed my mind in a hurry, and it’ll likely surprise you as well.

soma online pharmacyThe nose was pure Jamaica, pure funk. It was dusty, briny, glue-y and wine-y, sharp and sweet and acidic. and redolent of a massive parade of fruits that came stomping through the nose with cheerful abandon. Peaches in syrup, near-ripe mangoes, guavas, pineapple, all dusted with a little salt and black pepper. It held not only these sharpish tart fruits but raisins, flambeed bananas, red currants, and as it opened further is also provided the lighter crispness of fanta, bubble-gum and flowers.

The rum is dark gold in the glass, 61.5% of high-test hooch and a Hampden, so a fierce palate is almost a given. Nor did it disappoint: it was sharp, with gasoline (!!), glue, acetones and olive oil charging right out of the gate. It tasted of fuel oil, coconut shavings, wet ashes, salt and pepper, slight molasses, tobacco and pancakes drenched in sweet syrup, cashew nutsand bags and bags of fruit and other flavours, marching in stately order, one by one, past your sensesgreen apples, grapes, cloves, red currants, strawberries, ripe pineapples, soursop, lemon zest, burnt sugar cane, salt caramel and toffee. Damnthat was quite a handful. Even the finishlong and heatedadded something: licorice, bubble gum, apples, pineapple and damp, fresh sawdust.

So, whew, deep breath. That’s quite a rum, representing the island in really fine style. I mean, the only way you’re getting closer to Jamaica without actually being there is to hug Christelle Harris in Brooklyn (which won’t get you drunk and might be a lot more fun, but also earn you a fight with everyone else around her who was thinking of doing the same thing). Essentially, it’s a Jamaican flavour bomb and the other remarkable thing about it is who made it, and from where.

The Stolen Overproof is an indie bottlingthe company was formed in 2010 in New Zealand, and seems to be a primarily US based op these daysand the story I heard was that somehow they laid hands on some barrels of Hampden distillate way back in 2016 (Scott Ferguson mentions it was 5000 cases in his video review) and brought it to market. This is fairly recently, you might say, but even a mere three years ago, Hampden was not a household name, having just launched themselves into the global marketplace, and Velier’s 2010 6 YO HLCF only reached the greater rum audience in 2017 – apparently this rum is from the same batch of barrels. The Stolen is still relatively affordable if you can find it (US$18 for a 375ml bottle), and my only guess is that they literally did not know what they had and put a standard markup on the rum, never imagining how huge Jamaica rum of this kind would become in the years ahead.

When discussing Bacardi’s near-forgotten foray into limited bottlings, I remarked that just because you slap a Jamaican distillery name on a label does not mean you instantly have a great juice. But the reverse can also be true: you can have an almost-unobserved release of an unidentified Jamaican rum from a near-unknown third-tier bottler, and done right and done well, it’ll do its best to wow your socks off. This is one of those.

(#669)(85/100)


Other Notes

60,000 1/2 sized 375ml bottles were issued, so ~22,500 liters. All ageing was confirmed to be at Hampden Estate.


Opinion, somewhat tangential to the review….

If you want to know why I generally disregard the scorings and opinions on Rum Ratings, searching for this rum tells you why. This is a really good piece of work that’s been on the market for three years, and on that site and in all that time, it has garnered a rich and varied total of six scoresone 9-pointer, three at 7 points, one of 4 … and Joola69’s rating of 1. “Just another Jamaican glue and funk rum” he sneered rather contemptuously from the commanding heights of his 2,350 other rum ratings (the top choices of which are mostly devoted to Spanish/Latin column still spirits). If you want a contrary opinion that indicts the New Jamaicans as a class, there’s one for you.

Certainly such rums as the gentleman champions have their place and they remain great sellers and crowd pleasing favourites. But really good rums shouldand doadhere to rather higher standards than just pleasing everyone with soft sweet smoothness, and in this case, a dismissive remark like the one made simply shows the author does not know what good rums have developed into, and, sadly, that having scored more than 2000 rums hasn’t improved or changed his outlook. Which is bad for all those who blindly follow and therefore never try a rum like these New Jamaicans, but good for the rest of us who can now get more of the good stuff for ourselves. Perhaps I should be more grateful.

May 272019
 

When you really get down to it, Pusser’s claim to fame rests on two main planks. The first is that it is they are the true inheritors of the actual British Navy rum recipe after Black Tot Day in 1970. The second is that they follow it.

Unfortunately, neither is completely true, depending on how you look at the background.

With respect to the first point, any research done on Navy rums shows that Lyman Hart, Lamb’s and ED&F Man, among others, sold rums to the Royal Navy back in the 1800s (Man became the major supplier in the 1900s, though I don’t think they were the sole source even then), and it is highly unlikely they were consistent in what they provided. Moreover, the rum (from whatever source) was always a blend, and the components did not stay rock solid stable for centuries. In fact, according to the booklet about the Black Tot accompanying the bottle and written by Dave Broom, the Navy rum of the 1940s had been a complex blendkind of soleraand over the centuries the Jamaican component had continually been reduced because of its funky taste which sailors did not like. Moreover there’s that modern tested-for adulteration of Pusser’s — 29 g/L additives by some estimateswhich surely was not part of the original recipe no matter who made it.

Secondly, the very fact that the recipe was tweaked more than onceas recently as 2008 it was supposedly a blend of five West Indian rumsshows up the fallacy of completely buying into the idea this is a true heritage rum: it’s hardly an inheritor of a tradition that once included Guyanese, Jamaican, Trini and maybe even Bajan rums, which progressively got reduced down to Guyana and Trini components, and now is Guyana only. Even by 2018, one could taste that the blend was favouring Guyanese distillate and that might taste good, but wasn’t exactly the Royal Navy recipe now, was it?

So, strictly speaking, neither statement holds water. The Gunpowder Proof Black Label is probably closer to the way navy rums used to be made, but yet somehow, in spite of all that, it’s the 15 YO which people remember, which they refer to as one of the touchstones of their early drinking experiences. The thing is utterly unkillable and regularly turns up on the various Facebook fora with delighted chirps and snazzy photographs and the pride of some person who has either bought one for the first time, or tried it for the first time. It is also one of the most reviewed of the entire Pusser’s line, with just about every writer sooner or later passing by to talk about it (see here, here, here, here, here, and here for some examples, almost universally positive)

And why shouldn’t they? It’s a fifteen year old rum issued at a relatively affordable price, and is widely available, has been around for decades and has decent flavour chops for those who don’t have the interest or the coin for the limited edition independents.

So what was it like? The tasting notes below reflect the blend as it was in April 2018, and this is different to both the initial rum I tried back in 2011 and again in 2019 when the “new and improved” Guyana-only blend crossed my path.

The nose, for example, certainly has lots of stationery: ruber, pencil erasers, pencil shavings. Also sawdust, citrus, lumberreminds me a lot of the Port Mourant or Versailles distillate, if a little dumbed down. After some time, molasses crept timidly out the back end with caramel, toffee, ginger and vanilla hiding in its skirts, but their overall reticence was something of a surprise given my tasting memoriesI seem to recall them as much more forward. Blame it on increasing age, I guessmine, not the rum’s.

By the time it got around to tasting, the Guyanese component of the blend was much more evident, definitely favouring the wooden pot stills’ aggressive taste profiles. Glue, rubber, nail polish, varnish were the tastes most clearly discernible at the inception, followed by bitter chocolate and damp sawdust from freshly sawn lumber. It’s beneath that that it shines even at the paltry strengthcreme brulee, warm caramel dribbled over vanilla ice cream, coffee and molasses, with just a hint of dark fruits (raisins, plums) and indistinct floral notes tidying things up. The finish, as is normal for standard proof spirits, is fairly short but nicely rounded, summarizing the aforementioned tastes and smellscaramel, vanilla, flowers, ginger, anise, raisins, dark fruits and pineapple for the most part. The added whatever-it-is makes it sweet and nicely rounded and a decent sipnon-rum-junkies would likely find favour with that, while deep-diving rum chums would equally sniff and say it’s over-sweetened and dampened down, with the good notes being obscured.

Well, each to his own, I guess. My notes here aren’t going to change anyone’s mind. At the end of it all, it is a tasty all-round rum for most, which survives in people’s tasting memories in spite of its adulteration, and constantly gains new (young) acolytes because of it. My own opinion is that while Pusser’s sells well, its glory days are behind it. It has not maintained the core blend, being forced by market pressures to simplify the components rather than keep them in play. They have extended their line over the years to add to the stable with the gunpowder proof, various strengths and other iterations, spiced versions and this to some extent dilutes the brand, good as they may all be.

So why do I call this a key rum? Because it is a good rum which should be remembered and appreciated; because it hewed and hews as close to the line of the old navy rums as we’re ever likely to get; because it’s 15 years old and still affordable; and because for all its blended nature and therefore indeterminate origins, it’s just a well-made, well-aged product with a whiff of true historical pedigree and naval heritage behind it. Even now, so many rums down the road, I remember why I liked it in the first place.

And aside from all that, even if you don’t buy into my premise, and dislike the brand dilution (or expansion), and even with all the competition, Pussers still has a lustre and brand awareness that can’t be shrugged off. Almost all bloggers sooner or later pass by and check it out, some more than once. It is a milestone marker on anyone’s journey down the myriad highways of rum. It remains relevant because no matter how many pretenders to the throne there are, this one company supposedly does actually have the (or an) original recipe for the navy rum, and if they chose to change it over time, well, okay. But the 15 year old remains one of the core rums of the lineup, one of the best they made and make, and nobody who tries it as part of their education, is ever likely to completely put it out of their minds, no matter how far past it they end up walking to other milestones down the road.

(#627)(83/100)

Feb 192019
 

Just reading the label on the Very Old Captain makes me think (rather sourly) of yesteryear’s uninformed marketing copy, Captain Morgan advertisements and the supposedly-long-debunked perception that rum is fun, a pirate’s drink, redolent of yo-ho-hos and sunny tropical beaches. Even after so many years of so many companies and writers seeking to raise the bar of quality hooch, we still get assailed by such pandering to the least common denominator and what’s perhaps more discouraging, there are many who’ll buy it on that basis alone.

Lest you think I’m just having a bad hair day, consider what the label says above and below that faux-piratical name: “Very OldandArtisan Crafted Dark Rum”. Well, it’s not very old, not artisanal, crafted has very little meaning, “artisan crafted” is not what it suggests, dark is not an indicator of anything except colour (certainly not of quality or age or purity), and that leaves only one word that can be construed as true: “rum”. One wonders why it wasn’t just left at that.

Now, this is a Philippine dark rum, blended, which the company website notes as being “the equivalent of 8 years”. Since they issue an actual 8 year old and 12 year old that are clearly stated as being such, what’s the issue with saying what this thing is without the waffling? The Philippine Daily Inquirer had an article dating back to 2015 that said it was actually five years old and no mention of a pot still was made either there or on Limtuaco’s wesbite, although the back label speaks helpfully to the matter (“We blend premium rum from molasses with pot still rum” – as if somehow the two are different things) and BespokeManBlog mentioned it the same year when writing enthusiastically about the rum. Limtuaco was clear in the blurb of the 8YO that it had some pot still action and did not do so for the VOC, so I think we can reasonably posit it’s a blend of pot and column, and the whole business of “batch” and age-equivalency can be dispensed with.

My snark on disclosure aside, what was the standard-proofed dark gold rum actually like to smell and taste and drink?

Well, somewhat better than my remarks above might imply. It nosed off the line with nail polish, some acetones and sharp flowery-fruity tones, and a lot of spicesginger, cumin, cinnamon. This was followed by apples, green grapes and unripe peaches mixed in with vanilla and some caramel, but the truth is, it all seemed just a bit forced, not real (or maybe I was suspicious as well as snarky), lacking something of the crisp forceful snap of a true pot still product.

Palate? Sweet, with white guavas and green grapes at first. Warm and somewhat faint, which is expected at that strength, with gradually emerging notes of molasses, vanilla, masala, and peaches in syrup. It’s all very mild and laid back, little oakiness or tannins or bitterness, hardly aggressive at all, which raises additional questions. The finish provided little of consequence, being soft and easy and gone in a flash, leaving behind rapidly fading memories of light acetones and watery fruits. And breakfast spices.

Given that our faith in the company’s background notes has been somewhat eroded, what it means is that we can’t tell if the rum is for realand the tastes that seemed somewhat artificial and added-to have no basis in our mind’s trust, in spite of the company website’s denials that they indulge the practice. Yet since it is positioned as something special and premium (“high-end”), I expect more disclosure from then, not less, and to tell me that it derives from blackstrap molasses and is 40% ABV is hardly a fount of information, now, is it? The fact that they make some of their spirits from neutral alcohol that’s then processed just ensures reviews like this one.

But that aside, let’s just rate the rum itself. I don’t feel it’s really anything near to the kind of high-end as they tout, and my personal opinion is one of relative indifference, sorry. I think it’s an eminently forgettable rum, largely because there’s nothing really serious to it, no depth of distinctiveness or character that would make you remember it. To its credit, that also means there’s nothing overtly traumatic about the rum either, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. For my money, it’s not a rum that would excite serious interest and enthusiasm from the hardcore, and even serious amateurs are likely to sip it, feel okay with it, and then move on to something with a little more oomph that they might actually recall the next day. Maybe like the Screech.

(#600)(72/100)


Other Notes

  • My remarks above notwithstanding, one has to consider the audience for which it is made. As far as I know it’s primarily for sale in Asia, where softer, smoother, sweet-profiled (and spiced up) rums are more common and liked.
  • The score does not reflect my dissatisfaction with the labelling and marketing, only the way it tasted.
  • The company was formed in 1852 by a Chinese immigrant to the Phillipines, Lim Tua Co, who began the business by making herb infused medicinal wines. The family continues to run the company he started, and now makes over 30 different products, including local blends and foreign brands manufactured under license. It has three bottling, processing and aging plants as well as many warehouses in Manila, though information on its stills and how they make their rums remains scanty.
  • As always, a big hat tip to John Go, who is my source for many Asian rums I’d not otherwise find. Thanks, mate.
Jan 222019
 

Haiti is unique as a nation because it is where the only successful slave revolt in the world took place, at the turn of the 18th century. Sadly, it is now the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and successive dictatorships, foreign interference and natural disasters have left the place in shambles.

That any businesses manage to survive in such an environment is a testament to their resilience, their determination, their ingenuity….and the quality of what they put out the door. The country has become the leading world producer of vetiver (a root plant used to make essential oils and fragrances), exports agricultural products and is a tourist destination, yet perhaps it is for rum that its exports are best known, and none more so than those of Barbancourt, formed in 1862 and still run by the descendants of the founder.

Until the mid 20th century, Barbancourt was something of a cottage industry, selling primarily to the local market. In 1949 they relocated the sugar cane fields of the Domaine Barbancourt in the plaine du Cul-de-Sac region in the south east, and by 1952 ramped up production, increased exports and transformed the brand into a major producer of quality rum, a distinction it has held ever since.

The rhum, based on sugar cane juice not molasses, used to be double-distilled, using pot stills in a process similar to that used to produce cognac (Dupré Barbancourt came from the cognac-producing region of Charente which was undoubtedly his inspiration); however, nowadays they use a more efficient (if less character-driven) three-column continuous distillation system, where the first column strips the solid matter from the wash and the second and third columns serve to concentrate the resultant spiritso what is coming to the market now is not what once was made by the company.

Haiti has no shortage of other rhum producing companiesbut smaller outfits like Moscoso Distillers or LaRue Distillery are much less well-known and export relatively little, (and back-country clairins are in a different class altogether)…and this makes Barbancourt the de facto rum standard bearer for the half island, and one of the reasons I chose it for this series. This is not to dismiss the efforts of all the others, or the the artisanal quality of the clairins that Velier has brought to world attention since 2014 — just to note that they all, to some extent, live in the shadow of Barbancourt; which in turn, somewhat like Mount Gay, seems in danger of being forgotten as a poster boy for Haiti, now that the pure artisanal rum movement gathers a head of steam.

The current label of the 8YO

Barbancourt’s rhums are not issued at full proof: they prefer a relatively tame 40-43%, and every possible price point and strength is not catered to. The company has a relatively small stable of products: the Blanc, the 3-star 4 Year Old, the 5-star 8 Year Old and the flagship 15 year old (Veronelli’s masterful 25 year old is a Barbancourt rhum, but not issued by them). Though if one wanted to get some, then independent bottlers like Berry Bros., Bristol Spirits, Duncan Taylor, Cadenhead, Samaroli, Plantation and Compagnie des Indes (among others) do produce stronger and more exacting limited offerings for the enthusiasts.

Yet even with those few rhums they make, whatever the competition, and whether one calls it a true agricole or not, the rhums coming from Barbancourt remain high on the quality ladder and no rumshelf could possibly be called complete without at least one of them. After trying and retrying all three major releases, my own conclusion was that at the intersection of quality and price, the one that most successfully charts a middle course between the older and the younger expressions is the 5-star 8 year old (I looked at it last way back in 2010, as well as one earlier version from back in the 1970s) which remains one of the workhorses of the company and the island, an excellent mid-level rum that almost defines Barbancourt.

It does display, however, somewhat of a schizophrenic profile. Take the nose, for exampleit almost seems like a cross between a molasses based rum and an agricole. While it certainly possesses the light, herbal aroma of a cane-juice distillate, it also smells of a light kind of brown sugar and molasses mixed up with some bananas and vanilla (it was aged in French oak on Haiti, which may account for the latter). There’s also a sly briny background, combined with a pleasant hints of nougat and well polished leather, plus the subdued acidity of green apples, grapes and cumin. Not all that intense at 43%, but excellent as an all-rounder for sure.

What the nose promises, the palate delivers, and yet that peculiar dichotomy continues. It’s soft given the strength, initially tasting of caramel, toblerone, almonds and vague molasses and vanilla (again). Brine and olives. Spicescumin, cinnamon, plus raisins, a certain delicate grassiness and maybe a plum or two (fruitiness is there, just understated). Nope, it doesn’t feel like a completely cane juice distillate, or, at best, if feels like an amalgam leading neither one way or the other, and the close sums all that up. It’s medium long, with salt caramel ice cream, vanilla, a bit of raisins and plums, a fine line of citrus, a little cinnamon dusting, and a last reminder of oaky bitterness in a relatively good, dry finish.

What makes the Barbancourt 8 YO so interestingeven uniqueis the way the makers played with the conventions and steered a center line that draws in lovers of other regions while not entirely abandoning the French island antecedents. It reminds me more of a Guadeloupe rhum than an out-and-out agricole from Martinique, with perhaps a pinch of Bajan thrown in. However, it’s in no way heavy enough to invite direct comparisons to any Demerara or Jamaican product.

So, does it fail as a Key Rum because of its indeterminate nature, or because it lacks the fierce pungency of a clairin, the full grassy nature of a true agricole?

Not at all, and not to me. It’s a completely solid rhum with its own clear profile, that succeeds at being drinkable and enjoyable on all levels, without being visibly exceptional in any specific way and sold at a price point that makes it affordable to the greater rum public out there. Many reviewers and most drinkers have come across it at least once in their journey (much more so than those who have tried clairins) and few have anything bad to say about it. It’s been made for decades, is well known and well regardednot just because it’s from Haiti, but because it also has a great price to value ratio. There’s a lot of talk about “gateway” rums, cheaper and sometimes-adulterated rums that are good enough to enjoy and savour, that lead to more and better down the road. It’s usually applied to the Zacapas, Zayas, Diplos and younger rums of this world, but if you ever want to get more serious about aged agricoles, then the Barbancourt 8 YO may actually be one of those that actually deserves the title, and remains, even after all these years, a damned fine place to start your investigations.

(#592)(84/100)


Other Notes

In a curious coincidence, a post on reddit that did a brief review of this rhum went up just a few days before this was published. There are some good links contained within the commentary.

Oct 182018
 

As noted in the Mount Gay XO revisit, that company ceded much of the intellectual and forward-looking territory of the Bajan rum landscape to Foursquarein the last ten years, correctly sensing the shifting trends and tides of the rumworld, Richard Seale bet the company’s future on aspects of rum making that had heretofore been seen as artistic, even bohemian touches best left for the snooty elite crowd of the Maltsters with their soft tweed caps, pipes, hounds, and benevolent fireside sips of some obscure Scottish tipple. He went for a more limited and experimental approach, assisted in his thinking by collaboration with one of the Names of Rum. This has paid off handsomely, and Foursquare is now the behemoth of Barbados, punching way above its weight in terms of influence, leaving brands such as Cockspur, St. Nicholas Abbey and Mount Gay as big sellers, true, but not as true innovators with real street cred (WIRD is somewhat different, for other reasons).

Now, I make no apologies for my indifference to Foursquare’s current line of Doorly’s rumthat’s a personal preference of mine and a revisit to the 10 and 12 year olds in 2017 and again in 2018 (twice!) didn’t change it one iota, though the 14 YO issued at somewhat higher strength in 2018 looks really interesting. I remain of the opinion that they’re rums from yesteryear that rank higher in memory than actuality; which won’t disqualify them from maybe being key rums in their own right, mind you….just not yet. But as I tried more and more Bajans in an effort to come to grips with the peculiarity of the island’s softer, more easygoing rum, so different from the fierce pungency of Jamaica, the woodsy warmth of Guyana, the clear quality of St Lucia, the lighter Cuban-style rums or the herbal grassiness of any French West Indian agricole, it seemed that there was another key rum of the world lurking in Little England, and I’d simply been looking with too narrow a focus at single candidates.

I don’t believe it’s too soon after their introduction to make such a claim, and argue that leaving aside Habitation Velier collaborations like the Triptych, Principia or the 2006 ten year old, the real new Key Rums from the island are the Exceptional Cask Series made by Foursquare. They are quietly high-quality, issued in quantity, still widely availableevery week I see four or five posts on FB that someone has picked up the Criterion or the Zinfadel or the Port Caskreasonably affordable (Richard Seale has made a point of keeping costs down to the level consumers can actually afford) and best of all, they are consistently really good.

Richard Sealefor to speak of him is to speak of Foursquarehas made a virtue out of what, in the previous decade of light-rum preferences, could have been a fatal regulatory blockthe inability of Bajan rum makers to adulterate their rums (the Jamaicans operate under similar restrictions). This meant that while other places could sneak some caramel or sugar or vanilla or glycerol into their rums (all in the name of smoothening out batch variation and enhancing quality, when it wasn’t “our centuries old secret family recipe” or a “traditional method”), and deny for decades that this was happening, Barbados was forced to issue purer, drier rums that did not always appeal to sweet-toothed, smooth-rum-loving general public, especially in North America. It was at the stage where importers were actually demanding that island rum producers make smooth, sweet and light rums if they wanted to export any.

What Foursquare did was to use all the rum-making options available to themexperimenting with the pot still and column still blends, barrel strategy, multiple maturations, various finishes, in situ ageingand market the hell out of the result. None of this would have mattered one whit except for the intersection of several major new forces in the rumiverse: the drive and desire for pure rums (i.e., unadulterated by additives); social media forcing disclosure of such additives and educating consumers into the benefits of having none; the rise and visibility of independents and their more limited-release approach; and the market slowly shifting to at least considering rums that were issued at full proof, and hell, you can add the emergent trend of tropical ageing to the mix. Foursquare rode that wave and are reaping the benefits therefrom. And let’s not gild the lily eitherthe rums they make in the Exceptional Series are quite goodit’s like they were making plain old Toyotas all the while, then created a low-cost Lexus for the budget-minded cognoscenti.

Now let’s be clearif one considers a really pure rum made as being entirely from one country (or island), from a specific pot or column still, deriving from a single plantation or estate’s own sugar cane, molasses/juice, fermented on site, distilled on site, aged on site, then the Exceptional Series aren’t quite it, being very good blends of pot and column distillate, and made from molasses procured elsewhere. And while sugar and caramel are not added, the influence of wine or port or cognac barrels is not inconsiderable after so many yearswhich of course adds much to the allure. But I’m not a raging, hot-eyed zealot who wants rums to be stuck in some mythical past where only a very narrow definition of spirits qualifies as a rumthat stifles innovation and out of the box thinking and eventually quality such as is demonstrated here inevitably suffers. I’m merely pointing out this matter to comment that the Exceptionals aren’t meant to represent Barbados as a whole (though I imagine Richard wouldn’t mind it if they did) – they’re meant to define Foursquare, to snatch back the glory and the street cred and the sales from other Bajan makers, and from the European re-bottlers and independents who made profits over the decades with such releases, and which many believe should remain in the land of origin.

But all that aside, there’s another aspect to this which must be mentioned: perhaps my focus still remains to narrow when I speak of the ECS and the company and the island. In point of fact, given the incredible popularity and rabid fan appreciation for the seriesoutdone, perhaps, only by the mania for collaborations like the 2006, Triptych and its successorsit is entirely likely that the Exceptional Cask series is a Key Rum because the rums have to some extent had a global impact and strengthened trends which were started by The Age of Velier’s Demeraras, developed by Foursquare and now coming on strong in Jamaicatropical ageing, no additives, cask strength. So forget Barbadosthese rums have had an enormous influence far beyond the island. They are part of the emergent trend to produce rums that are aimed between the newbies and the ur-geek connoisseurs and won’t break the bank of either.

Perhaps this is why they have captured the attention of the global rum crowd so effectivelyfor the Exceptional Series rums to ascend in the estimation of the rum public so quickly and so completely as to eclipse (no pun intended) almost everything else from Barbados, says a lot. And although this is just my opinion, I think they will stand the test of time and take their place as rums that set a new standard for the distillery and the island. For that reason I decided not to take any one individual rum as a candidate for this series, but to include the entire set to date as “one” of the Key Rums of the World.


The Rums as of 2018

NoteI have not reviewed them all formally (though I have tasting notes for most). All notes here are mine, whether published or unpublished.


Picture (c) Henrik Larsen, from FB

Mark I“1998” 1998-2008 10 Year Old, Bourbon Cask, 40%, 15,000 bottles

This rum remains unacquired and untasted by me. Frankly I think that’s the case for most people, and even though the outturn was immense at 15k bottles worldwide, that was ten years ago, so it’s likely to only be found on the secondary market. That said, I suspect this was a toe in the water for Foursquare, it tested the market and sought to move in a new direction, perhaps copying the independents’ success without damaging the rep or sales of the RL Seale’s 10 YO, Rum 66 or Doorly’s lineup. The wide gap between 2008 and 2014 when the Port Cask came out suggests that some more twiddling with the gears and levers was required before Mark II came out the door, and Richard himself rather sourly grumbled that the importers forced him to make it 40% when in point of fact he wanted to go higherbut lacked the leverage at the time.

Mark II Port Cask Finish” 2005-2014 9YO, 3yr-Bourbon, 6yr-Port, Pot/Column Blend 40%, 30,000 bottles

Six years passed between Mark I and Mark II, and a lot changed in that time. New bloggers, social media explosion, wide acknowledgement of the additives issue. With the Premise, the PCF Mark II remains the largest issue to date at 30,000 bottles worldwide. Not really a finished rum in the classic sense, but more a double aged rum, with the majority of the time spent in Port Casks.

NRubber and acetone notes, fading, then replaced by a smorgasbord of fruitiness: soft citrus of oranges, grapes, raisins, yellow mangoes, plums, vanilla, toffee; also some spices, cinnamon for the most part, and some cardamom.

PSoft and relatively wispy. Prunes, vanilla, black cherries, caramel. Some coconut milk and bananas, sweetened yoghurt.

FShort, smooth, breathy, quiet, unassuming. Some fruits and orange peel with salted caramel and bananas

TStill lacked courage (again, the strength was an importers’ demand), but pointed the way to all the (better) Exceptional Cask Series rums that turned up in the subsequent years.

Mark III“2004” 2004-2015 11 YO, Bourbon Cask, Pot/Column Blend, 59%, 24,000 bottles

In 2015 two rums were issued at the same time, both 11 years old. This was the stronger one and its quality showed in no uncertain terms that Foursquare was changing the game for Barbados.

And the Velier connection was surely a part of the underlying production philosophywe had been hearing for a year prior to the formal release that Richard Seale and Luca Gargano were turning up at exhibitions and fests to promote their new collaboration. Various favoured and fortunate tasters posted glowing comments on social media about the 2004 which showed that one didn’t need a massive and expensive marketing campaign to create buzz and hype

NClean and forceful, love that strength; wine, grapes, red grapefruit, fresh bread, laban, and bananas, coconut shavings, vanilla, cumin and cardamom. Retasting it confirmed my own comment “invite(s) further nosing just to wring the last oodles of scent from the glass.”

PBrine and red olives. Tastes smoothly of vanilla and coconut milk and yoghurt drizzled over with caramel and melted salt butter. Fruits, quite strong and intense – red grapes, red currants, cranberry juice – with further oak and kitchen spices (cumin and coriander).

FClear and crisp finish of oak, vanilla, olives, brine, toffee, and nougat.

Mark IV“Zinfadel” 2004-2015 11 YO Bourbon & Zinfadel casks, Pot/Column Blend 43%, 24,000 bottles

Not one of my favourites, really. Nice, but uncomplicated in spite of the Zinfadel secondary maturation. What makes it a standout is how much it packs into that low strength, which Richard remarked was a deliberate decision, not forced upon him by distributorsand that, if nothing else, showed that the worm was turning and he could call his own shots when it came to saying “I will issue my rum in this way.”

NLight, with delicate wine notes, vanilla and white toblerone. A whiff of rotting bananas and fruits just starting to go. Tart yoghurt and sour cream and a white mocha, with fruits and other notes in the background – green grapes, raisins, dark bread, ginger and something sharp.

POpens with watery fruits (papaya, pears, watermelon, white gavas), then steadies out with cereals, coconut shavings. Also wine, tart red fruits – red currants, cranberries, grapes. Light and easy.

FQuite pleasant, if short and relatively faint. fruits, coconut shavings, vanilla, milk chocolate, salted caramel, french bread (!!) and touch of thyme.

TA marriage of two batches of rums: Batch 1 aged full 11 years in bourbon barrels; Batch 2 five years bourbon barrels then another six in ex-Zinfadel. The relative quantities of each are unknown.

Mark V “Criterion” 2007-2017 10 YO, 3yr-Bourbon, 7yr-Madeira, Pot Column Blend 56%, 4,000 bottles

My feeling is that while the “2004” marked the true beginning of the really good Exceptionals, this is the first great ECS rumall the ones before were merely essays in the craft before the mastery of Mark V kicked in the doors and blew off the roof, and all the others that came after built on the reputation this one garnered for itself. It was, to me, also the most individualistic of the various Marks, the one I have no trouble identifying from a complete lineup of Mark II to Mark VIII

NRed wine, fruits, caramel in sumptuous abandon. Oak is there, fortunately held back; breakfast spices, burnt sugar, nutmeg, cloves. Also apples, grapes, pears, lemon peel, bitter chocolate and truffles.

PFlambeed bananas, creme brulee, coffee, chocolate, it tastes like the best kind of late-night after-dinner bar-closer. Fruit jam, dates, prunes, crushed nuts (almonds) and the soft glide of honey in the background. Delectable

FLong. Deep, dark, salt and sweet together. Prunes and very ripe cherries and caramel and coffee grounds..

Mark VI“2005” 2005-2017 12 YO, ex-bourbon, Pot/Column Blend, 59%, 24,000 bottles

The 2005 was an alternative to the double maturation of the Criterion, being a “simple” single aged rum from bourbon casks, and was also a very good rum in its own way. A solid rum, if lacking something of what made its brother so special (to me, at any rateyour own mileage might vary).

NDeep fruity notes of pears, plums, peaches in syrup (though without the sugar, ha ha). Just thick and juicy. Cream cheese, rye bread, cereals and osme cumin to give it a filip of lighter edge

PVery nice but unspectacular: tart acidic and fleshy fruit tastes, mostly yellow mangoes, unripe peaches, red guavas, grapes raisins and a bit of red grapefruit. Also a delicate touch of thyme and rosemary, with vanilla and some light molasses to wind things up.

FLong and aromatic, fruits again, rosemary, caramel and toffee.

TNot crisp so much as solid and sleek, without bite or edge. It lacks individuality while being a complete rum package for anyone who simply wants a strong, well-assembled and tasty rum

Mark VII“Dominus” 2008-2018 10 YO, ex-bourbon, ex-cognac, Pot/Column Blend, 56%, 12,000 bottles

NDusty, herbal, leather, with smoke, vanilla, prunes and some ashy hints that were quite unexpected (and not unpleasant). Turns lighter and more flowery after an hour in the glass, a tad sharp, at all times crisp and clear. It’s stern and uncompromising, a sharply cold winter’s day, precise and dry and singular.

PSolid, sweetish and thick, very much into the fruity side of thingsraisins, grapes, apples, fleshy stoned stuff, you know the ones. Also dates and some background brine, nicely done. A little dusty, dry, with aromatic tobacco notes, sour cream, cardboard, cereal and … what was this? … strawberries.

FQuietly dry and a nice mix of musky and clear. Mostly cereals, cardboard, sawdust, together with apples, prunes, peaches and a sly flirt of vanilla, salty caramel and lemon zest.

TQuite distinct and individualistic, one of the ECS that can perhaps be singled out blind.

Mark VIII“Premise” 2008-2018 10 YO, ex-bourbon, ex-Sherry, Pot/Column Blend, 46%, 30,000 bottles

NIf the Dominus was a clear winter’s day, then the Premise is a bright and warm spring morning, redolent of flowers and a basket of freshly picked fruit. Cumin, lime and massala, mixed up with apricot and green apples (somehow this works) plus grapes, olives and a nice brie. A bit salty with a touch of the sour bite of gooseberries, even pimentos (seriously!).

PVery nice, quite warm and spicy, with a clear fruity backbone upon which are hung a smorgasbord of cooking spices like rosemary, dill and cumin. Faintly lemony and wine notes, merging well into vanilla, caramel and white nutty chocolate.

FDelicately dry, with closing notes of caramel, vanilla, apricots and spices.

TToo good to be labelled as mundane, yet there’s an aspect of “we’ve done this before” too. Not a rum you could pick out of a Foursquare lineup easily.

Summary

These tasting notes are just illustrative and for the purposes of this essay are not meant to express a clear preference of mine for one over any other (though I believe that some drop off is observable in the last couple of years). It is in aggregate that they shine, and the way they represent a higher quality than normal, issued over a period of many years. You hear lots of people praising the Real McCoy and Doorly’s lines of rums as the best of Barbados, but those are standard blends that remain the same for long periods. The Exceptionals are a different keg of wash entirelyeach one is of large-but-limited release quantity, each is different, each shows Foursquare trying to go in yet another direction. Crowdsourced opinions rarely carry much weight with me, but when the greater drinking public and the social-media opinion-geeks and the reviewing community all have nothing but good to say about any rum, then you know you really have something that deserves closer scrutiny. And maybe it’s worth running over to the local store to buy one or more, just to see what the fuss is all about, or to confirm your own opinion of this series of Key Rums. Because they really are that interesting, that good, and that important.


Other Notes

I am indebted to Jonathan Jacoby’s informative graphic of the Fousquare releases and their quantities which he posted up on Facebook when the question of how many bottles were issued to the market came up in September of 2018. It is the basis of the numbers quoted above. Big hat tip to the man for adding to the store of our knowledge here.

In December 2020, the NW Rum Club did an 8-minute video summary of the high points of the 14-bottle range to that point (Detente). No tasting notes, just a quick series of highlights for the curious. Worth watching.

Big thank you and deep appreciation also go out to Gregers, Henrik and Nicolai from Denmark, who, on 24 hours notice, managed to get me samples of the last three rums so I could flesh out the tasting notes section of this essay on the Marks VI, VII and VIII. You guys are the best.

Aug 032018
 

Photo pilfered with permission (c) Simon Johnson, RumShopBoy.com

Over the years, there has developed a sort of clear understanding of what the El Dorado 15 YO is, deriving from the wooden stills that make up its core profilethat tastes are well known, consistently made and the rum is famed for that specific reason. Therefore, the reasoning for expanding the range in 2016 to include a series of finished versions of the 15YO remains unclear. DDL may have felt they might capitalize on the fashion to have multiple finishes of beloved rums, or dipping their toes into the waters already colonized by others with double or multiple maturations. On the other hand, maybe they just had a bunch of Portuguese wine barrels kicking around gathering dust and wanted to use them for something more than decorations and carved chairs.

Few peopleincluding us scrivenerswill ever have the opportunity or desire to try the entire Finished line of rums together, unless they are those who attend DDL’s marketing seminars, go to Diamond in Guyana, belong to a rum collective, have deep pockets or see these things at a rum festival. The price point makes buying them simply unfeasible, and indeed, only two writers have ever taken them apart in toto the boys in Quebec, and the Rum Shop Boy (their words are an excellent supplement to what I’ve done here).

Here are the results in brief (somewhat more detail is in the linked reviews):

El Dorado 15 YO Red Wine Finish – 78 points

Lightly sweet with licorice, toffee and fruity notes on the nose. Cherries, plums, raisins and watermelon on the palate, all staying quiet and being rather dominated by salt caramel and molasses.

El Dorado 15 YO Ruby Port Finish – 80 points

Opens with acetones and light medicinal aromas, then develops into a dry nose redolent of peanut butter, salt caramel, fruits, raisins, breakfast spices and some brine. The taste was rather waterypears, watermelons, caramel, toffee, anise and cognac filled chocolates.

El Dorado 15 YO White Port Finish – 76 points

Very mild, light brown sugar nose, some caramel, brine, sweet soya. Taste was similarly quiescent, presenting mostly citrus, coffee, chocolate, bananas, and of course, molasses and caramel toffee.

El Dorado 15 YO Dry Madeira Finish – 80 points

Nice: soft attack of sawdust and dark fruit: plums, pears, raisins, black grapes. Leavened with ripe orange peel, peaches and olives before muskier aromas of toffee and chocolate take over. Citrus disappears on the palate, replaced by salted butter and caramel drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Also bananas, kiwi fruit, oranges gone off, cinnamon and cloves. Nice, but weak.

El Dorado 15 YO Sweet Madeira Finish – 81 points

Marginally my favourite overall: noses relatively darker and richer and fruitier than just about all the others except the “Dry”delicate nose of peaches, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, caramel, peanut butter, cherries in syrup, candied oranges, bitter chocolate. Soft palate, quite dry, oak is more forward here, plus raisins, cloves and cinnamon carrying on from the nose, and the fruitiness of peaches in syrup, cherries, plus toffee, salt caramel.

El Dorado 15 YO Sauternes Finish – 78 points

Subtly different from the others. Nose of aromatic tobacco, white almond-stuffed chocolate and nail polish, then retreats to salty caramel, molasses, vanilla, cherries, raisins, lemon peel and oak, quite a bit of oak, all rather sere. Palate retains the tobacco, then vanilla, chocolate, coffee, molasses and quite a bit more dried dark fruit notes of raisins, plums, dates, and a quick hint of anise. The oak is quite noticeable, and the rum as a whole is quite dry.


Unsurprisingly, there are variations among those who’ve looked at them, and everyone will have favourites and less-liked ones among these rumsI liked the Sweet Madeira the best, while one Facebook commentator loved the Ruby Port, Simon much preferred the White Port Finish and Les Quebecois put their money on the Dry Madeira. This variation makes it a success, I’d say, because there’s something to please most palates.

The Finished range of rums also make a pleasing counterpoint to the “Basic” El Dorado 15 Year Oldsomething for everyone. But taken as a whole, I wondermy overall impression is that the woodsy, musky, dark profile of the Port Mourant double wooden pot still, which is the dominant element of the ED 15, is affectedbut not entirely enhancedby the addition of sprightly, light wine finishes: the two are disparate enough to make the marriage an uneasy one. That it works at all is a testament to the master blender’s skill, and some judicious and gentler-than-usual additions to smoothen things outthe Standard ED-15 clocks in at around 20 g/L of additives (caramel or sugar), but these are substantially less. Which is a good thingit proves, as if it ever needed to be proved at all, that DDL can forego sweetening or caramel additions after the fact, with no concomitant loss of quality or custom (why do I have the feeling they’re watching Foursquare’s double matured Exceptional Cask series like a hawk?).

What the series does make clear is that DDL is both courageous enough to try something new (the finishing concept), while at the same time remaining conservative (or nervous?) enough to maintain the continuing (if minimal) addition of adulterants. DDL of course never told anyone how popular the Finished Series are, or how the sales went, or even if the principle will remain in force for many years. Perhaps it was successful enough for them, in early 2018, to issue the 12 year old rum with a similar series of finishes.

All the preceding remarks sum up my own appreciation for and problems with the range. None of them eclipse the 15 year old standard model (to methat is entirely a personal opinion); they coexist, but uneasily. There are too many of them, which confusesit’s hard to put your money on any one of them when there are six to chose from (“the paradox of choice”, it’s called). Their exclusivity is not a given since the outturn is unknown. The unnecessary dosage, however minimal, remains. And that price! In what universe do rums that don’t differ that much from their better known brother, and are merely labelled but not proved to be “Limited,” have an asking of price of more than twice as much? That alone makes them a tough sell. (Notethe 12 year old Finished editions which emerged in 2018 without any real fanfare, also had prices that were simply unconscionable for what they were). The people who buy rums at that kind of price know their countries, estates and stills and don’t muck around with cheap plonk or standard proofed rums. They may have money to burnbut with that comes experience because wasteage of cash on substandard rums is not part of their programme. They are unlikely to buy these. The people who will fork out for the Finished series (one or all) are those who want a once-in-a-while special purchasebut that doesn’t exactly guarantee a rabid fanbase of Foursquare-level we’ll-buy-them-blind crazies, now, does it?

My personal opinion is that what El Dorado should have done is issue them as a truly limited series of numbered bottles, stated as 16-17 years old instead of the standard 15, and a few proof points higher. Had they done that, these things might have become true collector’s items, the way the 1997 single still editions have become. In linking the rums to the core 15 year old while making them no stronger, not explosively more special, and at that price, they may have diluted the 15YO brand to no great effect and even limited their sales. But at least the rums themselves aren’t crash-and-burn failures, and are pretty good in their own way. We have to give them points for that.

Jun 192018
 

It’s a curious fact that what might be the best all-round aged rum from Antigua is the one that is actually mentioned the least: you hear a lot about the popular 5 YO; the more exclusive 1981 25 YO comes up for mention reasonably often; and even the white puncheon has its adherentsbut the excellent 10 Year Old almost seems to float by in its own parallel universe, unseen and untried by many, even forgotten by a few (I first looked at in 2010 and gave it a guarded recommendation). Yet it is a dry and tasty and solid drink on its own merits, and if I had to recommend a rum at standard strength from the island, this one would absolutely get my vote, with the white coming in a close second (and may yet make the cut for the pantheon, who knows?).

There’s almost nothing going on with rum in Antigua that is original or unique to the island itself. Even back in the old days, they would import rum and blend it rather than make it themselves. Since 1932 one distillery has existed on the island and produces most of what is drunk there using imported molassesthe long operational Antigua Distillery, which produced the Cavalier brand of rums and the English Harbour 5 and 25 YO They used to make one called Soldier’s Bay, now discontinued, and a colourful local gent called “Bushy” Baretto blends an overproof he sources from them and then drags it down to 40% in a sort of local bush variation he sells (in Bolan, a small village on the west side of the island).

Since the source of all this rum made by Antigua Distilleries is imported molasses, there is no specific style we can point to and say that this one is “key” anything. Also, they are using a double column still and do not possess a pot still, or a lower capacity creole still such as the Haitians use, which would distill alcohol to a middling 60-70% strength instead of 90%+ basis of their range that wipes out most of the flavours. So again, not much of a key rum based on concepts of terroire or something real cool that is bat-bleep-crazy in its own way and excites real admiration.

With respect to AD’s other rums up and down the rangethe 65% puncheon remains a somewhat undervalued and fightin’ white brawler; the (lightly dosed) 25 Year Old is too expensive at >$200/bottle and remains a buy for money-bagged folks out there; and the 5 YO has too much vanilla (and I know it’s also been messed with somewhat). Since 2016, the company has moved towards stronger, near-cask-strength rums, is experimenting with finishes like the sherried 5 YO and a madeira, and I know they’re doing some work with Velier to raise their street cred further, as well as sourcing a pot still. But none of this is available now in quantity, and that leaves only one rum from the stable, which I have been thinking about for some years, which has grown in my memory, but which I never had a chance to try or buy again, until very recently. And that’s the 10 year old.

The nose begins with an astringent sort of dryness, redolent of burnt wood chips, pencil shavings, light rubber, citrus and even some pine aroma. It does get better once it’s left to itself for a while, calms down and isn’t quite as aggressive. It does pack more of a punch than the 25 YO, however, which may be a function of the disparity in agesnot all the edges of youth had yet been shaved away. Additional aromas of bitter chocolate, toffee, almonds and cinnamon start to come out, some fruitiness and vanilla, and even some tobacco leaves. Pretty nice, but some patience is required to appreciate it, I’d say.

The most solid portion of the rum is definitely the taste. There’s nothing particularly special about any one aspect by itselfit’s the overall experience that works. The front end is dominated by light and sweet but not overly complex tastes of nuts, toffee, molasses, unsweetened dark chocolate and cigarette tar (!!). These then subside and are replaced by flowery notes, a sort of easy fruitiness of apples, raspberries, and pears, alongside a more structured backbone of white coconut shavings, dates, oak, vanilla, caramel. The finish returns to the beginningit’s a little dry, shows off some glue and caramel, strong black tea. Oddly, it also suggests a herbal component and is a little bitter, but not so much as to derail the experience. Quite different from the softer roundness of the 25 YO, but also somewhat more aggressive, even though the proof points are the same.

So if one were to select a rum emblematic of the island, it would have to be from this company, and it would be this one. Why? It lacks the originality and uniqueness of a funky Jamaican, or the deep dark anise molasses profile of the Demeraras, or even the pot still originality of the St Lucian rums. It actually resembles a Spanish style product than any of those. By the standards of bringing something cool or new to the table, something that screams “Antigua!” then perhaps the puncheon white should have pride of place. But I feel that the 10YO is simply, quietly, unassumingly, a sturdy and well-assembled rum, bringing together aspects of the other three they make in a fashion that just succeeds. It is at bottom a well made, firm, tasty product, a rum which is pretty good in aggregate, while not distinguished by any one thing in particular. Perhaps you won’t hear the island’s name bugled loudly when you sip itbut you could probably hear it whispered; and on the basis of overall quality I have no problems including it in this series.

(#522) (83/100)

Apr 252018
 

#505

On initial inspection, Rivers Royale Grenadian Ruma white overproofis not one of the first rums you’d immediately think of as a representation of its country, its style, or a particular typeperhaps Westerhall or Clarke’s Court are more in your thoughts. It is made in small quantities at River Antoine on the spice island of Grenada, is rarely found outside there, and even though it can be bought on the UK site Masters of Malt, it barely registers on the main bloggers’ review sites.

Yet anyone who tries it swears by it. I’ve never seen a bad write-up, by anyone. And there are a several aspects of this rum which, upon closer inspection, reveal why it should be considered as part of the Grenadian pantheon and on any list of Key Rums, even if it is so relatively unknown.

For one thing, there’s it’s artisinal production. Almost alone in the English-speaking Caribbean, River Antoine adheres to very old, manual forms of rum making. The sugar cane is free from fertilizers, grown right there (not imported stock), crushed with a water wheelperhaps the oldest working one remaining in the worldand the source of the rum is juice, not molasses. Fermented for up to eight days without added yeastnatural fermentation via wild bacteria onlyin huge open-air vats and transferred to an old John Dore copper pot still (a new one was added in the 1990s). No additives of any kind, no filtration, no ageing. They are among the most natural rums in the world and the white, which is supposedly drawn off the still at a staggering 89% ABV and bottled at 69% to facilitate transport by air, is among the most flavourful whites I’ve ever tried, and thought so even back in 2010 when I first got knocked off my chair with one.

There’s also the whole business of heritage. In the geek rumiverse, it’s common knowledge that Mount Gay’s paperwork shows it as dating back to 1703 – though it was almost certainly making rum for at least fifty years before thatand River Antoine is by contrast a relative johnny-come-lately, being founded in 1785. The key difference is that Rivers (as it is locally referred to) is made almost exactly the way it was at the beginning, never relocated, never really changed its production methodology and is even using some of the same facilities and equipment. So if your journey along the road of discovery is taking you into the past and you want to know more about “the old way” and don’t want to go to Haiti, then Grenada may just be the place to go.

These points segue neatly into an emerging (if still small) movement of fair trading, organic ingredients and eco-friendly production methodologies. By those standards, and bearing in mind the points above, Rivers must be a poster child for the eco-movement, like Cape Verde, Haiti and other places where rumtime seems to have slowed down to a crawl and nobody ever saw any reason to go modern.

But is it any good? I thought so eight years ago, and in a recent, almost accidental retasting, my initially high opinion has been reconfirmed. At 69%, unaged, unfiltered, untamed, I knew that not by any stretch of the imagination was I getting a smooth and placid cocktail ingredient, and I didn’tit was more like getting assaulted by a clairin. It started out with all the hallmarks of a Jamaican or Haitian white popskullglue, acetone, vinegar, olives and brine exploded across the nose, pungent, deep and very hot. And it didn’t stop thereas it rested and then opened up, crisper and clearer notes came out to partywatermelons, pickled gherkins and sugar cane sap, married to drier, mustier aromas of cereal, old books, fresh baked bread, light fruits and even some yeast. Weird, no?

As for the taste, wellwhew! The palate did not slow down the slightest bit from the jagged assault of the nose but went right in. Although the initial entry was just short of crazy“like drinking ashes and water and licking an UHU glue stick” my notes gothis offbeat profile actually developed quite well. It turned dry, minerally, the fruitiness and citrus zest took something a back seat, and it took some time to recalibrate to this. Once that settled down the fruits emerged from hidingcherries, some guavas and yellow mangoes, orange peel, light floralsbut the crazy never entirely went away, because there were also hints of gasoline and a salt lick, and the sort of binding adhesive you can occasionally smell in brand new glossy magazines (I know of no other way to describe this, honestly). And of course the exit is quite epica long, searing acid fart that blows fumes of acetone, citrus, brine and deeper fruits down your throat.

This rum is like a lot of very good whites on the market right now: Rum Fire, the Sajous, Toucan, J.B White, to name just a few. Quite aside from the heritage, the history, the production and eco-friendly nature of it, the rum is simply and powerfully an amazing original even when rated against those on the list of 21 Great Whites. It’s not a rum that apologizes for its sense of excitement, or attempts to buffer itself with a standard profile in an effort to win brownie points with the larger audience. It is maddeningly, surely, simply itselfand while I admit that strong whites are something of a thing for me personally (and not for people who like quieter, simpler or sweeter rums), I can’t help but suggest there’s so much going on with this one that it has to be tried by rum lovers at least once.

Luca and others have told me that River Antoine are having some issues maintaining the old water wheel and the open-air vats, and repairs are continuously being made. There are rumours of upgrading the equipment, perhaps even modernizing here or there. I’m selfish, and I hope they manage to keep the old system goingbecause yes, they can make their rums faster, more easily, and issue more of them. But given the old-school quality of what I tried, the sheer force and fury and potency of what they’re already doing, I somehow wonder if anything modern they do will necessarily be betteror be regarded as a Key Rum. The way I regard this one.

(85/100)

Jan 032018
 

#475

“A few years ago, these rums [Zacapa and Diplo Res Ex] were seen as the baseline for all other rums to be judged. No longer.” Thus wrote Wes Burgin over at the Fat Rum Pirate in an excellent July 2017 post suggesting that with social media and education, enthusiasts were becoming more knowledgeable and less apt to accept adulterated rums than ever before.

Yet in spite of that ideal, in spite of the ever-expanding knowledge-base of rums the world over, the Diplo remains enormously popular. It’s unlikely that there’s any rum drinker out therejunkie or notwho didn’t at some point have a fling with this plump Venezuelan señora. Just about all rum writers have done a thing on it. Like the Bacardis, El Dorados and Zacapas, it’s one of those rums one can find just about anywhere, and for the new people coming to rum cold, it remains a staple, if not always a favourite.

That is, of course, due to both its very affordable price, and because of is sweet placidity. You don’t want expensive indie aggro? A light, easy-going drink? Something to relax with? Complex enough for Government work? No thinking required? Here’s your solution. That’s also the reason why it drops off the radar of those people who grow to take their rums seriously (if it doesn’t drive them into transports of righteous rage). Diplomaticomarketed as Botucal in Germany, named after one of the farms from which the cane comes, though it’s exactly the same productnever bothered to punch it up, never worried about cask strength, never deigned to lose the dosing or adulteration, and sells briskly day in and day out. The deep-diving rum chums just shake their heads and head for the exits to buy the latest indie casker, and discussions on Facebook about the matter are more likely than any other to end up in verbal fisticuffs.

Yet consider for a moment the page of this rum in the populist-driven, crowd-sourced “review” site RumRatings. A top-end, well-known, mid-priced unadulterated rum issued at full proof like, say, the Foursquare Criterion has 13 ratings on that site. The Triptych has 11. The 2006 10 Year Old has 4, and the most popular Foursquare rum is the 9 year old 2005 Port Cask Finish with 71. The Diplomatico in contrast has over 1,200, with most rating it between 8 and 9 out of 10 points.

Surely neither longevity, nor rank please-as-many-as-possible populism are solely responsible for such a disparity. There’s got to be more to it than just that, a reason why it regularly appears on people’s answers to the constant question “What to start with?and I’m sorry but not everyone drinks a few hundred rums a year like us writers and festival junkies, and it isn’t enough to simply shrug, sniff condescendingly and say “some people just don’t know good rums.” If it isas I suggesta rum worth revisiting, then such popularity and esteem requires a cold, beady-eyed re-consideration. We have to understand whether it has something more in its trousers, something subtle, that excites that kind of appreciation. It was in an effort to understand what lay behind the popularity of the Diplo that I deliberately sourced a bottle in Berlin in late 2017, and while my controls were a few stronger, purer rums from the Latin side, to my surprise the Diplo didn’t entirely choke even when ranked against them (I shall now pause for the incredulous expressions of indignation to pass), though for sure it never came close to exceeding any and raced to the bottom in fine style.

Part of all this is its relative simplicity compared to fierce and pungent rums now taking centre stage. The nose was a straightforward sweet toblerone, toffee, vanilla, butterscotch and caramel, very light and easy and butter-smooth, with what complexity there was being imparted by spices aimed at the sweet siderosemary, cinnamon, nutmegand a little nuttiness, and a hint of light fruit, all of which took real effort to separate out. Hardly the most complex or intriguing smell ever to waft out of a rum bottle, and the vanilla and caramel were really too dominant to provide the sort of excellence the maker trumpets for itself.

Similar issues affect the palate. Smoothyes, warmyes, comfortableundoubtedly. There was a little oak mixing things up here, but mostly the taste was muscovado sugar and caramel, vanilla, light fruits of indeterminate nature, and those same spices from the nose (cinnamon being at the forefront) with nothing particularly new or adventurous leading one into undiscovered territory. Overall, even on the finish, and then judged overall, it had little beyond a pleasant, warm sort of sweet unaggressive nature only marginally redeemed by a light tart fruity note here or there, and the edge imparted by a little oak. Beyond that, it was way too sweet for my palate as it stands right now, and in conjunction with the controls it actually sinks even further because the dampening effect of the additions becomes self evident.

So, that adulteration. It’s been measured at 30-40 g/L of whatever-it-is, which puts it in the same league as The El Dorado 12 and 15 year old rums, Rum Nation Millonario and the Cartavio XO, all of which, back in the day, I enjoyed, and all of which have subsequently slipped in my estimation in the years between then and now, and been relegated to what I refer to as “dessert rums.” But what exactly are they adding to their rum? Back in 2010 when I wrote my original unscored review, the Distilleries Unidas website made tangential mention of flavouring additives (“Onlyrich aromas and flavours are used to manufacture rums…”this comment no longer appears); and Rob Burr remarked on the 2012 Inuakena review that a Venezuelan rum liqueur called Haciendo Saruro is added to the blend, but without corroboration (it was assumed he was speaking from insider knowledge). So I think we can take it as a given that it’s been tarted up, and it’s up to each person who tries this rum to make up their own minds as to what that means to them. Personally, I no longer care much for the Diplomatico and its ilk. It presents no real challenge. It simply isn’t interesting enough and is too sweet and easy. That, however, obscures the key point that people like it precisely for those reasons. It sells well not in spite of these deficiencies (as they are, to me), but because of thembecause the majority of drinkers consider these very same drawbacks as points of distinction, and if you doubt that and the unkillability of sweet, check out the hundreds of comments in response to “Don’t treat people like snobs because they like sweet rums” post on FB in December 2017. Since I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my tastes and my palate matter more, or should take precedence over others, I can simply suggest that people try more rums to get a feel for more profiles before praising it to the high heavens as some kind of ur-rum of the Spanish style.

Let us also concede that a rum like this has its place. On the negative side are all the issues raised above. On the plus side of the ledger, for those who like these things, there is sweetness, smoothness and a stab at complexity. It works fabulously as a standalone sipping drink when concentration and thought is not desired or required. It’s not entirely an over-sugared mess like, oh, the A.H. Riise Navy rum. It makes a decent introduction to neat rums for those raised on over-spiced, over-flavoured rums or who came up through the ranks trying rums like Kraken, Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry or Don Papa. As one of the first steps in the world of rum, this ron remains a tough one to beat, and that’s why it should be on the list of anyone who is assembling the first home bar, and should be considered, for good or ill, one of the Key Rums of the Worldeven if, sooner or later, all true rum fans will inevitably move beyond it.

(74/100)

Dec 022017
 

#464

Seen over a span of decades, it is more clear than ever that the El Dorado 15 year old is a seminal rum of our time. “It is a bridge” I wrote back in 2010 in my unscored review, remarking that it straddles the territory between the lower end twelve year old and the 21 year old, and represents a sort of intermediary in value and price and age. The best of all worlds for El Dorado, you might say, and indeed it remains, even twenty five years after its introduction in 1992, one of the most popular rums in the world for those who enjoy the Demerara style. Any time a blog or website has a series of comments on favourite affordable rums, you can be sure it’ll find its way in there somewhere. It cannot be easily ignored, even now in the time of independents and cask strength Guyanese monsters aged beyond all reason.

That it succeeds at so effectively colonizing our mental map of good rums bottled at living room strength is a testament to its marketing, but also its overall quality. DDL themselves tacitly accept this by not only keeping the rum in production for over a quarter century, but chosing specifically that one to issue with a number of fancy finishes (and for a very good rundown of those, look no further than RumShopBoy’s complete analysis, and his separate conclusions, as well as the Quebec Rum’s (French) reviews the only ones available right now). My irascible father, no rum slouch himself, scorns all other rums in the El Dorado range in favour of this one. Many Guyanese exiles wouldn’t have their home bars without it. What the actual quality is, is open to much more debate, since all rumhounds and rumchums and rabid aficionados are well awareand never tire of sayingthat there is 31-35 g/L of additives in there (either caramel or sugaring, it’s never been definitively established), and by that standard alone it should, like the 21, be consigned to an also-ran.

But it isn’t. Somehow this rum, a blend of the PM, EHP and VSG stillswhich is to say, all the wooden stills, with the PM dominantkeeps on trucking like the energizer bunny, and, love it or hate it, it sells well year in and year out, and has fans from across the spectrum.

Tasting it in tandem with the 12 year old (I’ll do a revisit of this as well soon, though not as part of the Key Rums series) and the 21, it’s clear that it possesses a bit more oomph than it’s younger sibling, in all aspects. Not only in strength (43% ABV) and age (three years more than the 12), but also in overall quality. It noses quite welllicorice, anise, creamy caramel, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke. Orange rind. Some mustiness and vague saltbasically all the things that the cask strength indies demonstrate, with good complexity and balance thrown in…but somewhat more dampened down too, not as fierce, not as elemental, as what might have been the case.

The various hydrometer lists around the place have shown there’s adulteration going on in the rum, and there is no doubt that when you drink the 15 in tandem with clear, untouched rums, the softening effect of the add-ons are noticeable. What is astounding that even those levels don’t entirely sink the experience. Consider: it’s smooth and possesses depth and heat. It starts with licorice, and adds oak, some smoke, then slowly the dark fruits come into playprunes, raisins, black olives, overripe cherries. There’s some honey and the faint molasses background of coarse brown sugar. In every way it’s a better rum than the 12 year old, yet one can sense the way the flavours lack snap and crispness, and are dumbed down, softened, flattened outthe sharp peaks and valleys of an independently issued rum are noticeably planed away, and this extends all the way to the finish, which is short and sleepy and kind of sluggish, even boring: sure there’s caramel, molasses, oak, licorice, nuts and raisins again, but didn’t we just have that? Sure we did. Nothing truly interesting here.

All that aside, I’d have to say that for all its faults, there’s a lot to appreciate about this particular rum. Much like the 21 it rises above its adulteration and provides the new and not-so-demanding rum drinker with something few rums doa particular, specific series of tastes that almost, but not quite, edge outside the mainstream. It gives enough sweet to appeal to those who bend that way, and just enough of a distinctive woody-smoky-leathery profile to attract (and satisfy) those who want something heavier and more musky.

Now, let me be cleara superlative demonstration of the blender’s art this is not. It is not one of the fiercely pungent Jamaicans, not a lighter, clearer, crisper agricole, nor is it an easy going Cuban or Panamanian, or a well-assembled Bajan. I think it’s eclipsed even by the single-still offerings of DDL What it really succeeds at being, is well-nigh unique on its own particular patch. Its success rests on great appeal to the masses of rum drinkers who aren’t drinking a hundred different rums a year, and who don’t take part in the Great Sugar Debate, who just want something tasty, reasonably well made and reasonably sweet, reasonably complex, that can be either sipped or swilled or mixed up without breaking the bank. It’s on that level that the El Dorado 15 year old succeeds, remarkably well, even now, and is a tough, well-rounded standard for any other rum of its age and proof and point of origin to beat. Or at least, in the opinions of its adherents.

(82/100)

Nov 122017
 

#399

For decades Mount Gay was considered the premium rum of Barbados, and rested its claim to fame, among other things, on being the oldest rum distillery in the Caribbean (there are papers stating its antecedents going back to the mid 1600s). Its flagship 1703 was the halo rum of the island and the XO was perhaps the standard mid-priced high-quality Barbados rum with which everyone was familiarand certainly Sir Scrotimus’s hating on anyone who didn’t champion that rum didn’t hurt (after all, why else would he be such a dick about it if it wasn’t good, right?). Back when I started writing this was an ongoing situation, and while many extolled the virtues of Doorly’s or Cockspur, Mount Gay was firmly in the driver’s seat as it related to defining the Barbados rum brand.

Now, nearly ten years later, it is Mount Gay which is playing catch up. They, like DDL and many other national-level brands, misread the tea leaves and came late to the party initiated by the nimble, fast-moving independent bottlersaged, cask strength bottlings, fancy finishes, single barrel or millesime expressionsall this must have caught them so off guard that it wasn’t until 2016 or so that an effective response could be mounted with the XO Cask Strength (a very good rum, by the way).

Be that as it may, even for those coming to the rum scene now with so many other options on the table (Foursquare being the largest and best from the island), one cannot simply ignore the XO. It remains widely available, very affordable, and pretty much the same as it used to bethe 8-15 year old blend has undergone alterations over the years, sure, but the taste remains recognizably the same; the bottle is now the sleek ovoid one introduced some years ago; and in the Caribbean and the Americas it is remains a perennial best seller. Many new writers and emergent rum junkies cut their baby rum teeth on it, even if in Europe most indulgently pass it by in favour of more exciting rums to which they have access. And while its star may be fading in the heat of increased competition, this in no way diminishes what it isa key rum of Barbados, setting the standard for a long time, almost defining the style for an entire region. All current rums from there to some extent live in its (waning) shadow.

Is it still that good, or, was it ever as amazing as the wet-eyed hot zealots claimed? I didn’t think so back in the day (as I’ve noted, my preferences don’t always run to indeterminate Bajans, really), but as this series grew shape in my mind and the mental list of candidates grew, I knew it was due for a re-taste and a re-evaluation, and Robin Wynne of that fine Toronto bar Miss Things stepped forward to provide a hefty sample a few months ago when I came sniffing around (and as an irrelevant aside, you could do worse than drop into the joint, because it’s a great bar to hang out in and Robin loves to help out with an interesting pour for the rabid).

Much of my seven year old mental tasting memory of the 43% rum remained the same: the nose began with a smoky sort of butterscotch and toffee flavour, quite soft and easygoing, underlain with a gentle current of coconut shavings and bananas. Its softness was key to its appeal, I thought, and as it stood there and opened up, some brine, avocado, salty caramel, dates and nutmeg crept out. It was just complex enough to enthuse without losing any balance or being too sharp.

Palate-wise it was also reasonably well put together. Seven years ago I thought it somewhat sharp, but by now, after imbibing cask strength juggernauts by the caseload, I’m a more accustomed to heftier beefcakes and here, then, the XO faltered somewhat (which is a factor of my palate and its current preferences, not yours). Much of the nose returned for an encore: vanilla, nutmeg and a delicious caramel smokiness, more nougat, toffee, and some salt crackers. Bananas, papayas and some cinnamon made themselves known, with a little nuttiness and coffee grounds and molasses providing some depth, all leading to a short, warm and (unfortunately) rather bland finish that merely repeated the hits without presenting anything particularly new. It lacks something of an edge of aggressiveness and clarity of expression which might make it rank higher, but in fairness, its overall quality really can’t be faulted too much.

Anyway, so there we have it. A perfectly well-made, well-assembled, mid-tier rum with really good price-to-value ratio for anyone who wants a very decent rum to add to the shelf, good for either mixing or some sallies into the sipping world. That I remain only mildly enthusiastic about it is an issue for me to deal with, not you, though I honestly don’t know if we can expect off-the-scale magnificence from a Key Rum, since then it would likely fall foul of the Caner’s “3-A” Rule: it must be Available, Affordable, and Accessible. The Mount Gay XO not only ticks each of those boxes but has something else that has never really lost its lustre in all the yearsa reputation for consistent quality and worldwide brand awareness. Those attributes combined with its pleasing taste profile may well be priceless, and give it a solid place in the pantheon, as one of those rums which any aficionado should try at least once in his long journey of rum appreciation.

(83/100)


Other Notes

If it wasn’t so pricey and hard to lay paws on (3000 bottles issued), I would have said the Mount Gay Cask Strength 63% should have dibs on this entry. That’s an outright exceptional Bajan rum.

Oct 052017
 

#392

As the years roll by, I have come to the conclusion that the last decade will be regarded as the Golden Age of Rumnot just because of Velier, Silver Seal, Moon Imports, Rum Nation, Ekte, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Secret Treasures (and all their cousins), but also because of the amazing writers who have emerged to chronicle their adventures with rum. Somehow, social media and blogging software have formed a nexus with rum makers that allowed previously niche brands to simply explode onto the stage, raising awareness and knowledge to unprecedented heights.

However, an unanticipated side effect of this increase in knowledge and experience (even if only vicarious) is that buyers are more than ever leaving the what I term “national” brands like Mount Gay, El Dorado, Flor de Cana and Appleton to go venturing into the new, the esoteric or the independent. Few of the established brands have managed to meet this challengeFoursquare with its cask strength releases and Velier collaboration is one, Grenada has had one or two overproofs floating around, and DDL certainly tried (timidly to be sure) with the Rare Collection. Mount Gay is getting in on the action, and no doubt the Jamaicans are just building up a head of steam, and you can see Diplomatico, St. Lucia Distilleries and many others jumping aboard.

This leaves an old standby premium blended rum, the El Dorado 21, in something of a limbo. It’s too old to ignore, too cheap to pass by, but lacks something of the true premium cachetan affliction shared by, oh, the Flor de Cana 18. That cachet can be conferred, for example, by purity: but it sure isn’t thatit’s not from any one of the famed stills, and various measurements suggest between 16-33 g/L of additives presumed to be caramel or sugar. Alternatively, it could ascend in the estimation based on limited availability, and that isn’t the case either, since it is nowhere near as rare as the 25 YO editions, and isn’t marketed that way either. Nor does it go for broke and get released at a stronger proof point. Yet, for all that cheap premium reputation it has, I submit we should not throw it out just yet and pretend it’s some kind of bastard stepchild not worthy of our time. Revisiting it after a gap of many years made me more aware of its failingsbut also of its quality for those who aren’t too worried about either its strength or adulteration. One simply has to approach it on its own terms and either ignore it or take it as it is.

Re-sampling the rum in mid-2017some seven and a half years after my first encounter with itshowed how both I and the world had changed. Many of the elements I so loved back in the day remainedthe nose was earthy and musky, like dry ground after a long rain, and the licorice and oaky notes came through strong, attended faithfully by molasses, butterscotch, caramel, burnt sugar, very strong chocolate. I let it stand for a little and came back and there were bags of spicescinnamon, nutmeg, clovesand slowly developing dark fruits and raisins coming through. And yes, there was an emergent sweetness to it as well which made it easy easy easy to sniff (I was trying the 40% version, not the 43% one from Europe).

The nose showed much of what made and makes it such a popular premium rum for those whose tastes bend that wayat this point the profile was warm, enjoyable and luscious. Problems began with the tasting. Because while it was smooth, deep and warm, it was also thick, and by some miracle teetered on the brink of, without ever stepping over into, sweet cloyishness. That it did not do so is some kind of minor miracle, and that as many flavours came through as they did is another. Prunes, vanilla, creme brulee, more licorice, and salty caramel ice cream were first and remained the backbone of it, upon which were displayed hints of grapes, dates, cloves, christmas black cake, and even a smidgen of citrus sneaked slyly through from time to time. It was great, but just too thick for me now, a shade too sweet, and the finish, well, at 40% ABV you’re not getting much, being way too short and simply repeating what had come beforefrankly, I think that any rum this old had no business being released at such a paltry proof point.

Back in 2010 I scored it 88, saying what a brilliant rum it was, catering to all my tastes. To some extent that’s still trueit’s simply that after many years of trying rums from around the world, I’m more aware of such adulteration and can spot the masking, dampening effect on the profile more easily. I assure you, it’s by no means enough to crash and burn the experienceit’s just something I no longer care for very much, and when combined with a less than stellar strength, well…..

These days I regard the ED21 and the like with some sadness. Not because of its sweetness and adulteration, really (that’s a given, grudgingly accepted with bad grace) — but because it reminds me of a time when I knew less, was pleased with more, regarded each new rum in the queue with excitement and interest and curiosity and yes, even joy. It brings to mind a 1950 Frank O’Hara poem, where he wrote

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water.

That’s how I felt then, and occasionally, I still burn that fiercely now. But with experience (and perhaps a little wisdom), I had to trade away some of the excited exuberance of the beginner and accept that timeand my tastes, and indeed I myselfmoved on.

Because, you see, this rum is not made for me any longer. It is not made for Josh, Matt, Gregers, Laurent, Cyril, Steve, Johnny, Paul, Richard, Henrik, Wes, Simon, Ivar and others who have been at this for so long. Once, in our rum-youth, we may have regarded a 21 year old like it was some kind of Everest. But we have passed beyond it in our journey, and see it now as no more than a foothill, a small peak among Himalayans. It is made for those that follow us, for those who are now embarking on their own saga, or for the unadventurous who, like Victorian readers, prefer for now to read of the exploits of the trailblazers and pathforgers, but shy away from taking on the force and fury of a cask strength forty year old. It is for such new drinkers that the rum is for, and one day, in their turn, they will also tread beyond it.

In the meantime, though, the El Dorado 21 is one of the key aged rums of our world, no matter how distant in our memories it lies, and no matter how much its tarted up profile has become something to decry. We just remember that we liked it once, we enjoyed it once, and must allow those who appreciate rums for precisely those reasons, to discover it in their turn today as they walk down the path of their own rum discovery, seeking their own individual, personal, perfect El Dorado in the world of rum.

(84/100)


Other notes

Made from a blend of distillates from the Enmore wooden Coffey still, the Versailles single wooden pot still, and the French 4-column Savalle column stillfor my money the Versailles is dominant.

 

Jul 192017
 

#378

No matter how many other estates or companies make and market Jamaican rum, it’s a fair bet that when it comes to recognition, Appleton has cornered the market in their own land, much like DDL has in Guyana, or how FourSquare is currently dominating Barbados. Recently I ran a few Appletons past each other (it’s one of the few decent rums one can get in the rum wasteland that is Toronto), and while the 21 year old, Master Blender’s Legacy and 30 year old are not on sale there, the rebrandedRare Blend” 12 year old was.

Re-tasting the rum after a gap of some eight years was eye-opening. My first encounter with it as a reviewer was back in 2009 and the short, unscored essay #5 came out in January 2010. Things have changed in the intervening yearsmy palate developed, tasting became more nuanced, preferences underwent alterationsand from the other side, the rum and the bottle were worked over. It was not the same rum I tried back then, nor like older versions from the 1980s and 1970s. But what was not so evident to me then and which is clear to me now, is that the Appleton 12 year old rum in all its iterations over the years, is one of the core rums of the island and the style, a sort of permanent marker that almost defines “Jamaica rum”. If one ever asks me in the future, what rum from there should one get first, or which rum should serve as a cornerstone of the Jamaican shelf, I’m going to point at it and say, “That one.”

This is because of its overall solidity of its assembly. Consider how the nose presented, warm, just short of sharp, well constructed and pleasantly complexit started with molasses, bananas, cream cheese, brine and dates, some citrus, cinnamon and apples just starting to go. It provided a little oak (not much), and some tar, anise, vanilla and brown sugar, all very tightly and distinctly constructedan excellent representation of everything Appleton stumbles a little on with their younger iterations, and which they amp upnot always as successfullyin the older ones.

The real key to capturing the rum’s essence is is the taste. How it feels in the mouth, how it develops over time. The palate is not particularly different from what one sensed on the nose, and I don’t think that was the intentionwhat it did was consolidate the gains made earlier, and build gently upon them, to provide a sipping experience that is a great lead-in to new drinkers wanting something upscale, without disappointing the hard core whose taste buds are more exacting. It was smooth and velvety, the characteristic Jamaican funk present and accounted for (without actually becoming overbearing). Salty caramel ice cream, stewed apples, citrus, cinnamon, gherkins in brine, vanilla and tannins for a little edge (perhaps a shade too much, but I wasn’t complaining). After some time one could sense the background of rotting bananas, some herbals and perhaps a whiff of dill. The finish, while short, was warm and mellow, and gave up a last whiff of dates, caramel, more brine, and overall I’d say the rum was not overly complex, but the balance between the various components simply could not be faulted. That’s what makes it a good all-round mid-tier rum.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the 12 is a fantastic 95-pointer on par with or better other exceptional Jamaicans which I have scored high in the past. It’s not. It lacks their individuality, their uniqueness, their one-barrel dynamism and exacting natures, so no, it’s not that. What makes it special and by itself almost be able to serve as a stand-in for a whole country’s rums, is that it encapsulates just about everything one likes about the island at once without shining at any one thing in particular or pissing anyone off in general. It’s a rum for Goldilocks’s little bearit’s not too hot and not too passive; not too massively funky, yet not too dialled-down either; no one aroma or taste dominates, yet the final product is of a remarkably high standard overall, self-evidently, almost emphatically, Jamaican. Best of all, it’s affordable for what it provides, and I consider it one of the best price-to-quality rums currently extant. In short, while it may not be the best rum ever made in Jamaica, it remains a quiet classic on its own terms, and one of the key rums in any rum lover’s cabinet.

(84/100)

Jun 202017
 

Two comments I came across in my reading last week stuck in my mind and dovetailed into conversations I’ve had with others over many years. The first was from a reviewing website which stated (paraphrased) that they don’t review what they have nothing good to say about. The other, from a high-end watch-review site called Hodinkee, quoted a journalism professor as saying “If you’re going to write about something bad, it needs to be bad in an important way. Just being bad isn’t enough.”

Which got me thinking. Why write negative reviews at all? They’re often depressing experiences, however easily the words flow, and I always wonder when I have to write one, how some companies who claim to love the juice can make such bad swill at all.

Now, some sites I visit regularly rarely write serious (let alone scathing) criticisms of poor quality rums. A few adhere to the above policy of if there’s nothing good to say, then not saying anything at all. Serge Valentin, who scored one rum I liked 20 points wasn’t particularly negative in his review, just mentioned he didn’t like it (probably because he’s a true gentleman in such cases, and I’m not). Others use temperate language that skates over any kind of negativity, and their disdain is muted. Against such easy-going writers, others write clearly and angrily why they don’t like a particular rum (or aspects of it), as The Rum Howler did with the Appleton 30, for example, or Henrik of RumCorner did with the Don Papa rums, and for sure Wes of the Fat Rum Pirate has done the language of snark proud on many an occasion and caused me to nod in appreciation more than once, because his reasoning and preferences were clearly laid out (even if I disagreed).

Looking through all the reviews of rums I’ve written in the last seven-plus years, I note that I’ve published a few very savage critiques of rums that I felt were sub-par, many in the first few years. These days I pick more carefully and dogs rarely piss in my glass, so that may be part of why there are now less negative reviews than formerly. Still, while age has mellowed me, it’s not been by that much, and I still think the opinions expressed back then, and the ones I write now for stuff I don’t like, are relevant. And there are many reasons for that, and why I wrote, and continued to write, as I did, and why I feel it’s necessary, even important, that we do so.

Firstly, it must be stated that I disagree with the quoted professor as applied to the subject of rums, because this is money being spent by me. I’m not saying I’m a Ralph Nader style consumer advocate, but I do write for consumers, not for producers. Having written a few hundred reviews, my concept of the site has tilted slightly away from merely writing a blog about rums I tried and enjoyed – though this aspect remains and always willto writing about every rum I can lay hands on, as part of a desire to share the experience with those who share my passion. There are actually people who read these meandering essays, and importantly, some base buying decisions on the opinions I express. It implies an obligation on my part to write well and clearly where disappointments occur. Too, since this is my time and my money being expended (a lot of both, trust me), then if I find something that wastes either, I’m going to say so. The language may be tempered or furious, and I basically do it so you don’t have to.

Secondly, I believe that by not writing about mediocre or badly made products – and thereby assuming or hoping somebody else will – I’m essentially giving substandard table-tipple a free pass. That’s a cop-out, and I am firmly opposed to this philosophy. We are bombarded every day with hysterically positive targeted mass-marketing, meant to entice us to buy the latest new “premium” juice, and without a skeptical and jaded eye, it all fades into a dronish mass of boring sameness, without anyone trusted enough to pay attention to writing a dissent. Ignoring bad stuff is therefore not the solution. It has to be confronted, whether it is bad in a big or small way, and not just in commented Facebook posts that disappear in a week. This is especially important when new rum drinkers are entering the fold and are casting around for more than the Diplomaticos, Bacardis, Don Papas or Krakens to which they are accustomed. As writers and opinion shapers, there is a duty of care upon knowledeable bloggers to say when a product doesn’t come up to snuff, and why. Our websites are not facebook pages, but repositories of information and opinion going back many years and are consulted regularly – so why shouldn’t we call out crap when it exists? It detracts from our street cred if we don’t, is what I’m thinking.

Thirdly, there’s the matter of comparability. When there is a large data set of products about which nothing but good things are written, then there is no balance. People have to know what is disliked (and why) so they can evaluate the stuff a writer does appreciate (and why). In other words, an understanding by the reader of the writer’s preferences – it’s not enough to ignore or leave out the stuff one don’t like and expecting the reader to understand why, and where else will one gain that comprehension except by reading a negative review? This is not to say that I think anyone who disagrees with me is a fool (as Sir Scrotimus evidently does about anyone who disses his pet favourites) – I’m just pointing out that agreements and disagreements over any writer’s opinions exist, and given the wide and varying spread of preferences in the rumworld, one should take encomiums, even my own, with a pinch of salt, with the criticisms as a useful counterweight. Far too many buyers do no boots-on-the-ground, rum-in-the-glass research of their own and simply go with somebody else’s opinion1…and if that’s the case, that opinion had better be one that has at least a modicum of credibility.

Does a negative review have to be “bad in an important way”? Not at all. A bad rum is a bad rum, people pay money for it, whether five bucks or five hundred, and if we as writers don’t say so, the consumer is left with marketing hoopla, vague word of mouth, brief social media comments, and the click bait of ill-informed online journalists who know little about the subject they are writing about. One good example was the Downslope Distilling’s wine aged rum, where, when I did my research, I was appalled to find writers rhapsodizing about how it compared so well with top end Martinique rhums. I can only wonder how many bought the rum on that basis, and how many switched off rums immediately afterwards. Robert Parker, in his essay on “The Role of a Wine critic” stated that as far as he was concerned, good wines should be singled out for praise, and bad ones made to account for their mediocrity. I feel the same way about rums, whether made by old and proud houses which have been in existence for centuries, or by new outfits who’re trying to break into the business with small batch production. That’s why I wrote a negative about Doorley’s XO and a positive about the Foursquare 2006, and can stand by each.

Also, who defines what “bad in a big way” is? What is important and big to me is less important and much smaller to Joe Harilall down the street, or even a different reviewer. Is it taste, additives, design, mouthfeel, price, availability, overinflated marketing? For instance, some love the Millonario XO for the very same sweetness others so passionately hate, so what one considers a catastrophe may to others (or me), be inconsequential. To attempt to stratify negativity into stuff that matters and stuff that doesn’t is to attempt to rate what’s important to the larger public; and I lack that kind of omniscience, or arrogance. Better to lay it all out in the open, present the facts, justify the opinion, express the annoyance, and let the inquiring reader or buyer or taster make up their own minds. To me, that goes as much for a cheap ten dollar spiced rum as it does to a thirty year old rum costing two hundred.

The argument was made to me some years back that I should not embarrass or shoot down small producers who are now starting out, who need good word of mouth and positive feedback in order to grow and improve over time. They are, after all, employing people, paying taxes and “doing their best, while you, buddy, what the hell are you doing? (A 2019 article on The Ringer referenced a similar point) We should support them by buying their rums and providing cash flow which they will use to create better products over time. This line of reasoning is fallacious on several levels. One, it’s my damned money, sweated for, hard earned; purchasing and then giving a pass mark to a substandard product is encouraging the maker to continue making the same product, since it’s clear nothing is wrong with itso where exactly is the incentive to change coming from? Second, it’s a straightforward conflict of interest, because then I would be supporting not the consumer (on whose behalf I write, given I’m one myself), but the producer with what amounts to free and fake advertising. Thirdly, people aren’t fools and never more so than now where social media allows them to communicate dissatisfaction faster than ever beforemy credibility would be shot to hell were I to say, for example, that Don Papa is one of the best rums ever made. Lastly, I think every producer has an obligation of their own not to rest on their laurels or produce low level crap that passes muster among the less-knowledgeable, but to go for the brass ring: if they tart up a neutral spirit with additives up to the rafters and try to sell it as a premium product for a high price, why on earth would I want to be a party to that? Or if they are really a small outfit and are making a poor-quality rum, why would I want to be less than honest and tell them where they are failing, when that’s the very impetus that might make them try harder, do better, push the envelope?

So, for laser-focused sites concentrating on a very small portion of their market like Hodinkee does, their editorial policy of writing only about good stuff can perhaps be justified. From mine, where all rums in the world are the reviewing base (though they’ll never all be tried, alas), it’s simply untenable because I do my best to try everything that crosses my path. I write about any and all of them. And that means taking the good with the bad, the high end and the low endin fact, I actively search out the younger and cheaper stuff (which is not always the same thing as “bad”) just to ensure I don’t get too caught up with the old and pricey stuff (which is not always the same thing as “good”).

It’s a personal belief of mine that the past decade of amazing, thoughtful writing by so many bloggers has engendered a relationship between the Writers and the Readers based on some level of trust. Therefore I contend that writing a negative review of a rum on which I spend my money, and one day, you might spend yours, is not lazy journalism or a fun way to let off some steam and bile with witty and eviscerating language, but an important aspect of the overall business of critical thinking and writing abut rumsand maintaining that trust. My own feeling about duty of care towards the audience for which I write may be in a minority, but that feeling is rooted in a desire to provide the best information and opinion possible to an increasingly educated and curious public. As such, I honestly don’t think that a negative review, in any form, if supported by the weight of evidence and clearly-expressed thought, should ever be considered as something to avoid.


Note: In this opinion piece I am merely expressing my reasoning in support of the thesis that published takedowns of poor quality product serve a useful purpose. No negative connotation towards any of my fellow rum bloggers is meant or implied.


 

May 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #039 | 0439

A rum like this makes me want to rend my robes and gnash my teeth with frustration because there’s no information available about it aside from what’s on the label, and that’s hardly very much. Still, it’s Jamaican, it’s a J. Wray (Appleton) and it’s from the 1970s and that alone makes it interesting. Imported by another one of those enterprising Italian concerns, age unknown. From the colour I can only hope it was a real oldie.

ColourDark red-brown

Strength – 43%

Nose – “Dirtymight be the est way to describe the nose. I’ve mentionedrotting bananas and veggiesbefore in a review once or twice, and here it’s real. Quite intense for a standard proof drinkwine, bitter chocolate and black rye bread. Then molasses and bananas and a lot of compost (wet leaves in a pile) and a lot of fruit way past their sell-by date. Oh, and anise, strong black tea and some smoky, leathery aromas backing things up. Fantastic nose, really.

PalateSmoothens out and is less aggressively crazy as the nose, though still quite assertive, luscious and rich. Molasses, caramel and dark fruits (prunes, plums, stewed apples, raisins) with the off notes held much more in check. Then chocolate, black tea and some citrus oil, a flirt of sugar cane juice and the bitterness of some oak. Some spices noticeable here or there, but nothing as definitive as the nose had suggested.

FinishShort and easy, mostly caramel, wood chips, more tea, plums, a little brine and a last hint of veggies in teriyaki, odd as that might sound.

ThoughtsI really liked this rum, which didn’t present itself as an Appleton, but more like a unique Jamaican carving out its own flavour map. I seriously doubt it’ll ever be available outside a collector’s shelves, or perhaps on an auction site somewhere, but if it can be found I think it’s worth picking up, both for its history and its taste.

(85/100)

May 112017
 

Rumaniacs Review #038 | 0438

ARare Old Jamaican Rumthe ceramic jug says, and I believe it. In all my travels around the world, I’ve never seen this kind of thing for sale (and buying beer in a glass jar at a kiosk in the Russian Far East don’t count). We’re living through an enormous upswell of interest in rums, with new indies and new bottlers popping up every time we turn aroundbut stuff like this shows us that even back in the day, there was some amazingly well-presented juice floating around. Here, cool factor is off the chart.

As for the rum? Very nice indeed. Aged in the tropics (of coursewhere else would Appleton be ageing its stock?) and better than both the other 12 year old we looked a the other day, and the modern one.

ColourAmber

Strength – 43%

NoseInitial attack is as dusty and dry as a mortician’s voice (and he’s wearing well polished old leather shoes, that’s there too). Oily, vaguely like cigarette tar (not my favourite smell). Coffee and chocolate, citrus rind, and then a nice procession of tart ripe fruitsmangoes and red guavas. Some saltiness and dates and grapes, not much funk action as far as I could tell.

PalateSome bitterness of unsweetened black choclate starts things off, hot salt caramel over a coffee cake (same kind of dessert taste I got on the last 12 year old).Wood shavings, some more leather, more cigarette smoke, and then the fruits timidly emergecitrus mostly, also bananas (barely), and a dash of breakfast spices, nothing overbearing.

FinishWeak point of the experience, after the above-average smell and taste. Dry, sawdust (the mortician is back, shoes squeaking), leather, light chocolate, caramel, and the barest hint of the fruits retreating. Not impressed here, sorry.

ThoughtsIt’s better than many other, more recent Appletons of various names (likeExtra”, “Reserve”, “Legacy”, “Private stockand so on) and those of younger ages, beats out the other twelves that have been triedbut not by leaps and bounds. It’s not a furious game-changer. It sort of edges past them as if ashamed to be seen at all. A good rum, and I liked it, but it does leave me puzzled toobecause I thought it could have been better and didn’t understand why it wasn’t.

(84/100)

Some interesting and divergent perspectives on this one, from other members of the Rumaniacs. You can check out their opinions in the usual spot.

May 092017
 

Rumaniacs Review #037 | 0437

Tasting all these Appletons together and side by side is an instructive exercise. The profile remains remarkably stable at its core, while presenting some interesting diversions from the main theme, like a James Bond movie or a Sherlock Holmes short story. We smile at and are comfortable with the similarities, know the form, and sniff around for variations.

This 12 year old is from the 1980s, still retains the tinfoil screw-on cap, and its provenance can be gauged from the barroom style bottle and black label, instead of the current consistent presentation and callypigian shape (I told you this was a word worth knowing already). Beyond that, it’s now simply a piece of rum history.

ColourAmber-orange

Strength – 43%

NoseDarker, brooding, more intense and more expressive than the old V/X. Starts off with dark chocolate and orange peel, ripe bananas, also a touch of cereal, of creaminess. Later burnt sugar and bitter caramel start to emerge, melding with black tea, and maybe some anise. The nose is weak, not very robustit’s even a bit thin, surprising for 43%.

PalateOh well, much better, quite crisp, almost sprightly. Unsweetened chocolate, coffee, bananas, cereal, burnt sugar, candied orange, all the hits which the nose promised. With water the anise creeps out, some herbal notes, some vanillas, but it’s all just a bit too bitter; the slight saltiness helps control this somewhat.

FinishDry, herbal, and with caramel, black tea, some ashy (“minerally,” quite faint) and leather notes. A good finish by any standard, wraps up everything in a bow.

ThoughtsBetter than the V/X. It’s assembled better, the balance is better, and the edges I whinged about have been sanded off some. There’s still something not quite there though, some subtle filip of the blender’s art, but perhaps it’s just because there was better in the lineup I tried that day. In 2010 I wrote about a newer version of the 12 year oldA very good mid-tier rumand that still expresses my opinion here.

(81/100)

The boys over in ‘ManiacLand have taken a gander at this also, and their reviews can be found on the website.

May 082017
 

Rumaniacs Review #036 | 0436

The second in a small series on a few older Appletons. The V/X is not a sipping rum (and never was), but more of a mixing agent with just enough jagged edges, undeveloped taste and uncouth to make it shine in a cocktail (and always has been). This may be why it was my tipple of choice in the years when I first arrived in Canada: it was clearly a cut above the boring Lamb’s and Bacardi cocktail fodder that flew off the overpriced LCBO shelves, even in those simpler times when two-ingredient hooch was what passed for an elegant jungle juice, and we all loved 40%. Just about every online reviewer under the sun who began writing in the mid-to-late-2000s has some words about this one on their sitein that sense it really might be something of a heritage rum.

Much like the 21 year old from the same era, little has changed between then and now. The general profile of the V/X remains much the same, nicely representative of Jamaica, and the only question one might reasonably ask is what the V/X actually stands for. The rum is around five years of age, no less.

ColourAmber-gold

Strength – 40%

NoseIt starts off sharp and dry, with an interesting melange of orange peel and caramel, bitter burnt sugar, before settling down to a slightly creamier smell of wine barely on this side of being vinegar, black chocolate, olives and nuts, and a faint but discernible ashy-metallic (almost iodine) note I didn’t care for. Lack of ageing is clear even this early in the game.

PalateFor flavours as punchy and pungent as the nose promised, the palate falls flat and dissolves into a puddle of wuss, all directly attributable to the strength. Much of those variety of the smells is now lost in the sharpness (and thinness) of alcohol. Still, after waiting a while and tasting again, there are raisins, more orange peel, bananas very much gone off, brine, caramel, anise and tannins which, with the thinness, make the whole taste somewhat searing and astringent, even raw. Just as the nose did, once it settled it became somewhat creamier, and more enjoyable.

FinishNothing to report. Medium long. Some oak and raisins, maybe anise again, but not enough to matter or entice.

ThoughtsClearly a young rum. Lacks body and punch and is jagged in the overall nose and palate. It’s never been touted as being anything except an entry level Appleton, and that’s perfectly fine, as it is appealingly honest in a refreshing kind of way, and doesn’t pretend to benor was it ever marketed asmore than it really is.

(75/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews on this rum are at this link.

May 042017
 

Rumaniacs Review #035 | 0435

This is the first of what will be seven Appleton Estate historical rums, which I’ll post faster than usual, because they’re of a series. In going through them, what they all go to show is that while Appleton may be losing some ground to other, newer, more nimble upstarts (some even from Jamaica), their own reputation is well-deserved, and rooted in some very impressive rumssome of which are even extraordinary.

My first pass at the Appleton 21 year old came around 2012, and I wasn’t entirely in love with it, for all its age. Rereading my review (after making my tasting notes and evaluations of its 1990s era brother here) was instructive, because bar minor variations, it was very much the same rumnot much had changed in two decades, and my score was almost the same.

ColourAmber

Strength – 43%

NoseFrisky, a little spicy, with deep honey notes, borderline sweet. Straddles the divide between salt and sweet, presenting dates, cinnamon, citrus and slightly overripe apples just starting to turn. Becomes grapey and quite fruity after ten minutes or so into it (to its detriment), and I’m not sure the coffee and toffee background help much.

PalateA sort of sugarless, brinyrummyflavour, heated but full, with some Jamaican funk being the only indication of its origin. Would certainly appeal to many because there’s nothing bad about itjust nothing exceptional either. As it opens up you get burnt sugar, smoke, more coffee and some vague molasses, cider (or ale), nuts; and the funk gets so laid back as to be a thought rather than reality. Decent enough, just not sure it works when faced with a full proof single barrel offering from an indie.

FinishPretty good, longish and dry, with closing hints of bitter chocolate, hot and strong black tea, plus more toffee and salty caramel.

ThoughtsEven in 2012 this was a shade too bitter (I attributed it to over-oaking, which is also an opinion I finally conceded the 30 year old had), and I guess it was a core attribute of the range from the beginning. A decent enough rum, honest enough, just not a definitive marker of its age, or its country.

(82/100)

Other Rumaniacs have also reviewed the rum, check here for their opinions.