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.

Jul 152019
 

Rumaniacs Review #098 | 0642

Everything about this rum is fascinating, and while there are gaps in its provenance, there’s still more available than some other rums in this series we’ve looked at. Note that it comes from the same timeframe as the Sangster’s Jamaican (R-097), but this one is much better and has more convoluted historical antecedents.

A.A. Baker & Co was founded back in 1898 by Arthur and Arnold Baker (and their cousin George) in Trieste, which at the time was the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and their main trading port and shipbuilding centre (it later got annexed into Italy, where it remains, for reasons too complex for a rum review). These gentlemen were forerunners of today’s independent bottlers, producing various rums deriving from the West Indies, Australia and Central America (as well as cognacs and whiskies), which were sourced by trading with ships that stopped over in Trieste. It still exists to this day, producing the Battle Axe Jamaican and other blended rums, though the Bakers have long since sold out to other (Italian) owners and the company moved to Gorizia, a ways up the road.

This 2-liter bottle is trickyNicolai Wachmann, who generously provided me with the sample, was told it was from the 1960s by the person he had sourced it from, but most of the pictures found online from a recent auction, suggest it was from the 1970s. Neither is the age mentioned anywhere, or which estate in Jamaica was the source of the rum, so what we are left with is the rather impressive proof, and questions we wishnot without regrethad more answers.

Colourgold

Strength – 60%

NoseEven if I didn’t know it was Jamaican going in, I would have guessed. Glue, acetone, funk, rotting bananas and orange peel, brine, paint, and that’s just the first ten seconds. There’s also the damp sawdust of freshly-sawn lumber, ginger, nail polish, aged balsamic vinegar and some good soup under all that. But once it opens it also settles down and the fruits begin to take over, like apples, grapes, mangoes…and at the last, some slightly rotten meat.

PalateWell, at that strength, it’s not a surprise that it attacks with ferocity; it’s hot and sharp and (oddly) even a little sweet. Salt, brine, black pepper, olives, and the vague mintiness of a cough syrup, including the medicinal aspect of it. Fortunately the gaminess of the nose is very much in the background here, and what one gets after some time is a richif scrawnypanoply of sharp and tart fruit flavours mixed up with some oddball elements. A touch of toffee and blancmange, quite faint, complete this picture.

FinishLong, hot and very spicy. Lots of spices and herbs here: ginger, dill, thyme, as well as caramel, vanilla and unripe apples and other sharp fruits.

ThoughtsNot very full bodied or musky, presents as somewhat thin and very clear. The strength for what is probably a rather young rum may be excessive for true appreciation, but even so, for the 1970s when light rums were all the rage, it took guts to make this thing at all.

Obviously the production methodologies of the estates have changed somewhat since this rum was made, or it’s a blend of multiple marques. Maybe both. Whatever the case, identifying which distillery in Jamaica produced it is not easyI’d hazard a guess that there’s some pot still in here (but not all) and that there’s Longpond and maybe Worthy Park in the blendbut it’s all a guess, because, who knows for sure? And that’s a real shame, because with the ascendancy of the New Jamaicans these days, how cool would it be to say you had one of their rums, dating back fifty years or more?

(#642 | R-098)(83/100)

Dec 062018
 

 

Not only was the Antigua Distilleries’ English Harbour 1981 25 YO the very first rum review posted on this site, but for a long time it was also one of my personal top sipping rums (as well as the highest priced), and ever since, I’ve had a fond place in my heart for their work. In 2017 I tried their new sherry matured rum and was impressed and intrigued at the directions in which they were goingbut the 2012 rum issued the following year as part of the Velier 70th anniversary collection, that one was something really special. I haven’t tried the single barrel offering at 68.5% from this batch, but for my money, this one at 66% is among the very best from Antigua I’ve ever tried.

The numbers almost tell the tale all by themselves: 1st limited cask release ever to come from the distillery; 6 years old; 26 casks (see note below); 44% angels share; 66% ABV; 70th anniversary edition; 212 g/hlpa congeners (which include more than just esters), placing it somewhere in the low end of the Jamaican Wedderburn category, or perhaps in the upper reaches of the Plummer. Distilled in 2012 on a continuous three-column still, and bottled in 2018, and with that, it’s not like we need to add anything else here, except perhaps to remark that these esters seem to have a differing nationality, because they sure don’t talk the same like the Jamaican bad boys from Long Pond

To be honest, the initial nose reminds me rather more of a Guyanese Uitvlugt, which, given the still of origin, may not be too far out to lunch. Still, consider the aromas: they were powerful yet light and very clearcaramel and pancake syrup mixed with brine, vegetable soup, and bags of fruits like raspberries, strawberries, red currants. Wrapped up within all that was vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and light citrus peel. Honestly, the assembly was so good that it took effort to remember it was bottled at a hefty 66% (and wasn’t from Uitvlugt).

The taste was similarly excellent, attacking strong and firm without sharpness; it was gently phenolic, with a hint of acetone, balsamic vinegar, veggie soup and crackersnothing overpowering, though. These flavours were kept subservient to the more forward tastes of caramel, toffee, white toblerone chocolate and crushed almonds, and as I waited and kept coming back to it over a period of some hours, I noted flambeed bananas, salt butter and a very strong, almost bitter black tea. It all led to a rousing finish, quite long and somewhat dry, showing off final notes of aromatic tobacco, almonds, unsweetened chocolate, vanilla and yes, of course some caramel.

Wow! This is quite some rum. It’s well balanced, just a little sweet, tasty as all get out, and an amazing product for something so relatively young deriving from a column stillI’d say it is actually better than the 1981 25YO. It has enormous character, and I’d hazard a definitive statement and say that to mix it or add water would be to diminish your drinking experiencethis is one of those hooches best had as is, honestly, and it delights and pleases and leaves you with a twinkle in your eye all through the tasting and after you’re done.

Velier, who distributes the 2012 is not, of course, an independent bottlerif they were, they’d hype themselves out of shape, market the hell out of their own releases as Velier bottlings, and never give the kind of prominence to the distiller of origin as they have since the Age of the Demeraras. Luca has always respected the source of his rums, and felt he acted as a facilitator, an educator, bringing together three points of the trianglehis own ideas, others’ best rums and the audience’s amorphous, oft-unstated, unmet and unarticulated desires. At the intersection of these forces lies the desire to find, to chose and to issue rums that are brilliantly assembled, superbly tasty, and exist to shed new sunshine on the land of origin in general and the distillery of make in particular. That’s exactly what’s been achieved here, with every one of their wishes being granted by what’s been trapped in the bottle for us to enjoy.

(#576)(88/100)


Other notes

  • Luca selected 27 barrels from the 2012 production of Antigua Distillers, but one was so exceptional he released it on its own at 68.5%. The remaining 26 barrels were blended into this rum. The information is not noted anywhere but calculations suggest the outturn is just around five thousand bottles, maybe a shade more.
  • Some other reviews of this rum are from the Rum Shop Boy (scoring it 91), and Single Cask Rum (no scoring). The latter review has some good historical and background details on the company which are worth reading.
Nov 112018
 

So now we are the fourth and last ester-boosted rums issued in 2018 by Velier from the distillery of Long Pond in Jamaica, and in a strange way it sums up the preceding three rums in a way that emphasizes many of the best parts and tones down the excesses of all of them. This is all the more curious a statement since it has the highest ester counts of the quartet, and one would expect the massive taste-bomb effluent of the TECA to be jacked up a few notches moreto “12”, maybe. And yet it doesn’t. It’s a really interesting rum.

By now the background of this series of rums is covered in the previous three reviews (see other notes below for the recap), so here we can just dive straight in, pausing only to note that this rum is of the categoryContinental Flavoured,” has 1500 g/hlpa, the highest of the series, and that would make anyone who already tried the decomposing rhino of the TECA a little cautious. No need. It has many of the same components as the TECA, but more tamed and less intense. Again, it started off with aromas of burlap, wet jute sacks, ammonia and acetones, but while present, they much more restrained than before. Furniture polish, rubber, plastic and whiff of that chewy hogo without going over the top. Oh and the fruitsnice and deep without being either too crisp or too sharp. Peaches in syrup, cherries, ripe apples, spoiling mangoes, caramel, toffee, vegetable soup, sweet soya. See what I mean? – it’s actually rather good if one can get past the meatiness of the background, and the funk and dunder are forceful enough to make a statement for themselves but don’t hog the whole show.

The palate was good as well. Strong and sharp, very fruity, with oranges, apples, soursop, unripe strawberries, green grapes and grapefruit offset with softer richer, riper tastes of pineapples and peaches. Vanilla, some very sharp and bitter oaken notes (surpirsing for something so relatively young). You’re still sipping this in the same fragrant hair salon as the TECAammonia, nail polish remover, remember those? — but at least it’s not so crowded and the dead dog out back seems to have been removed. Placticene. Also marshmallows, sour cream, and a rather more powerful set of deep musky floral notes than any of the other rums in the series (roses and lilies). Lastly, to finish things off, some licorice and bubble gum, light brine and furniture polish and fruits and funk. All in really good balance, long and fragrant, meaty and chewy without the meat, so to speak.

Because of its toned-down but still expressive nature, I’d have to say this high-ester funk bomb is an enjoyable drink and a Jamaican hogo-lover’s dream, without being quite as approachable to general audiences as the Vale Royal or the Cambridge, which I would suggest are better for those who want to dip their toes into the Jamaicans from Velier without taking a bath in the furious tastes that characterize either the TECA or the TECC. Ivar de Laat from Toronto remarked on the TECA as being a reference rum for him, and he’s probably right about that one, but when it comes to really torqued up rums that want to show off the ripped abs of their massive ester levels, I’d suggest the TECC is probably a better one to appreciate.

(#566)(86/100)


Summing up / Opinion

When it comes down to it, my scores reveal something of my opinions on the four NRJ expressions from Long Pond. I liked the Vale Royal and Cambridge a lot; they were tasty and new and gave a nice background to other Jamaican profiles. The TECA will appeal to diehard core rum-junkies, specifically those who really know and love Jamaicans, can’t get enough of da funk and da hogo and want to see things cranked up to the max (you could argue these are the same kinds of people who go nuts over the high-peat-laden Octomores). The TECC on the other hand might actually be the best one to try if you want elements of all of these rums at once. It’s still a flavour bomb, quite meaty, just not at the level of its older brother.

The audience for the four rums will, I think, be divided into two similar groupings. The easy drinkers and Velier collectors will inevitably be drawn to the first two, the Vale Royal and the Cambridge. Those who have been following Velier for years and sense what Luca has done may well prefer the latter two rums because they will be seen for what they are, examples of reference rums for Jamaica based on near highest ester counts available. Neither side will be right, or wrong.

***

So, clearing away the dishes: as I noted in the first review (the Vale Royal) these four rums are useful to drink as a quartert, one after the other, because they provide insight into how esters can (and do) impact the Jamaican profile (which is not to take away anything from either Hampden or Worthy Park, both of which indulge themselves in similar pursuits). That caution need be exercised is probably a superfluous point to make, not just because of the strength of the rums (62.5%), but because different components of the chemicals provide very different tastes and not all those would be to the liking of everyone. Personally, I think the four NRJ expressions are among the most unique rums ever to come out of Jamaica, running the gamut from drinkable to formidable to certifiable. When Richard Seale remarked a few months ago that the DOK-level rums are not for drinking straight but are meant as flavouring agents, he knew exactly what he was talking about and I can only confirm that these are poster children for the concept.

Like the clairins issued back in 2014, these are meant (I believe) to prove a point, not to please the greatest number of rum drinkers (pointless anyway, given their limited outturn) or to show off a blender’s skill (the ECS series have dibs on that already and in any case these are pure pot still rums, not pot/column blends) – they’re a showcase of what Jamaican rums can be. That doesn’t necessarily make them good for everyone (or the best), but man, are they ever original. I can truly and with some emphasis say that I’ve not tried their like before.

And truth to tell, we need original in this world of bland retreads, we need exciting rums, new rums, different rums, made by courageous people who are willing to go right out into the screaming edge of rum production. Such people demonstratefor good or illhow varied rums can be, and deserve praise and encouragement, even if we shudder sometimes and draw back from some of their more excessive outturns.

I think what Luca was going for here was not a sipping rum at allhe said as much in an off hand comment in London not too long ago. What he was aiming at was education and demonstration (of both hogo and Long Pond) as well as a sort of fiendish delight in issuing yet another set of rums we haven’t yet seen much of. Has he succeeded? I think so. Leaders in any field must bridge the divide between their personal vision and their adherents’ experiences: bend too far towards the former and one risks losing the audience entirely, tilting too far the other way just makes for more of the same old blah. I think these rums straddle the uneasy space between those two ideals in a way that is nothing short of impressive.


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums. For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavoursthey are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  • Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  • Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  • Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  • Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info. Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many yearsrest in a barrel.

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries. It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV 0-20
CQV 20-50
LRM 50-90
ITP /LSO 90-120
HJC / LIB 120-150
IRW / VRW 150-250
HHH / OCLP 250-400
LPS 400-550
STC❤E 550-700
TECA 1200-1300
TECB 1300-1400
TECC 1500-1600

The Estate Name:

It’s unclear whether the TECC stands for Tilston Estate, one of the estates that got subsumed into Long Pond in the wave of consolidations in the 1940s and 1950s (this is the theory to which Luca subscribes), or for Trelawny Estates, the umbrella company created in the 1950s before being taken over by the Government and renamed National Rums of Jamaica. This is where some additional research is needednobody has written (so far) on the meaning of the “CC”, though given the Long Pond marks listed above, it’s reasonable to suppose it’s Tilston/Trelawny Estate, Continental Type C (as opposed to “A” or “B” with progressively higher ester levels. The various histories of Long Pond written by Barrel Aged Thoughts, the Cocktail Wonk and DuRhum provide useful background reading, though they do not settle the mark designation issue conclusively one way or the other.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Nov 072018
 

“Pungent f*cker, isn’t it?” smirked Gregers, responding to my own incredulous text to him, when I recovered my glottis from the floor where the TECA had deposited and then stomped it flat. Another comment I got was from P-O Côté after the Vale Royal review came out: “Can’t wait to read your thoughts about the TECA…!! … Hard to describe without sounding gross.” And Rumboom remarked on a taste of “sweat” and “organic waste” in their own rundown of the TECA, with another post elsewhere actually using the word “manure.”

I start with these varied comments to emphasize that I am not alone in believing that the TECA is a rum you hold in your trembling hands when surveying the reeking battlefield of the zombie apocalypse. I’m a fairly fit old fart of some mental fortitude, I’ve tasted rums from up and down the quality ladderbut the TECA still left me shell-shocked and shaking, and somewhere I could hear Luca sniggering happily and doing a fist pump. Partly or completely, this was because of the huge ester level the rum displayed -1200 gr/hlpaa (remember, 1600 is the maximum legal limit after which we enter “easily-weaponizable” territory), which the makers, staying within the traditional ester band names, refer to as “Continental Flavoured” but which I just call shattering.

In sampling the initial nose of the third rum in the NRJ series, I am not kidding you when I say that I almost fell out of my chair in disbelief. The aroma was the single most rancid, hogo-laden ester bomb I’d ever experiencedI’ve tasted hundreds of rums in my time, but never anything remotely like this (except perhaps the Japanese Seven Seas rum, and I’d thought that one was a contaminated sample; now, I’m not so sure). All of the hinted-at off-the-wall aromas of the Cambridge were present here, except they were gleefully torqued upa lot. It smelled like the aforementioned tannery gone amok or the hair salon dumping every chemical on the floor (at once) – it was a massive blurt of sulphur, methane, rubber and plastic dissolving in a bubbling pool of ammonia. It smelled like hemp rope and decomposing wet jute bags, joined by something really rancidrotting meat, microwaved fish, and three-day-old roadkill marinating on a hot day next to the asphalt machine. There was the scent of a strong soy-flavoured vegetable soup and spoiling chicken tikka, raw onions and sweat. The clear, fruity ester background was so intense it made the eyes water and the nose pucker, cold and clear and precise, giving rather less enjoyment than a furious bitch slap of sharp pineapples, gooseberries, ginnips, unripe mangoes, salmiak, green apples. I know this sounds like a lot, but the rum’s nose went so far into uncharted territory that I really spent a long time on it, and this is what was there. And at the end, I really couldn’t say I enjoyed itit was just too much, of everything. Hogo is what this kind of rotten meat flavour is calledor rancio or dunder or whateverbut for my money, it stands for “Ho God!!

So that’s bad, right? Reading this, you’d think so. But courage, Sir Knight, hoist up thy codpiece and taste it. The very first expression in that section of my notes is a disbelieving “WTF?” … because it simply dumbfounded mewhere did all the crazy-ass crap go? It tasted of soda popcoke, or fantapersimmons and passion fruits and red currants, sharp and tasty. Salt, brine, bags of olives, plastic, rubber, vanilla, licorice all rubbed shoulders in a melange made pleasant just by comparing it to the trauma of what went before. The rancio and spoiling meat hogo retreated so fast it’s like they just vapourized themselves. The flavours were powerful and intense, yesat 62.5% ABV they could hardly be anything elseand you got much of the same fruitiness that lurked behind the funk of the smells, mangoes, tart gooseberries, red currants, unsweetened yoghurt and sour cream. But the real take away was that the nose and palate diverged so much. Aside from the sharp fruits and receding vegetable soup, there was also pistachio nuts, a sort of woodsy cologne, and even some over-sugared soda pop. And when I hit the finish line, it exhaled with a long sigh redolent of more pistachios, vanilla, anise, soy, olives and a veritable orchard of rotting fruits and banana skins.

The Long Pond TECA rum from National Rums of Jamaica is a grinning ode to excess of every kind. Given the profile I describe above (especially how it smelled) I think it took real courage for Luca to release it, and it once again demonstrates that he’s willing to forego initial sales to show us something we have not seen before, point us in a direction at odds with prevailing trends. It’s certainly uniqueLuca remarked to me that it was probably the first time anyone had ever released such a high-ester well-aged Long Pond, and I agree. So far we’ve seen that the low-level-ester Vale Royal was a lovely, near-traditional Jamaican rum that edged gently away from more familiar island profiles, and the mid-level-ester Cambridge dared to step over the line and become something remarkably different, with strong tastes that almost redefined Jamaican and provided a taste profile that was breathtakingif not entirely something I cared for. But the TECA didn’t edge towards the line, it didn’t step over itit was a rum that blasted way beyond and became something that knocked me straight into next week. This was and will remain one of the most original, pungently unbelievable, divisive rums I’ve tried in my entire writing career, because, quite frankly, I believe it’s a rum which few outside the deep-dive rum-junkies of the Jamaican style will ever like. And love? Well, who knows. It may yet grow on me.

(#565)(79/100)


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums. For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavoursthey are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  • Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  • Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  • Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  • Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info. Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many yearsrest in a barrel.

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries. It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV 0-20
CQV 20-50
LRM 50-90
ITP /LSO 90-120
HJC / LIB 120-150
IRW / VRW 150-250
HHH / OCLP 250-400
LPS 400-550
STC❤E 550-700
TECA 1200-1300
TECB 1300-1400
TECC 1500-1600

The Estate Name:

It’s unclear whether the TECA stands for Tilston Estate, one of the estates that got subsumed into Long Pond in the wave of consolidations in the 1940s and 1950s (this is the theory to which Luca subscribes), or for Trelawny Estates, the umbrella company created in the 1950s before being taken over by the Government and renamed National Rums of Jamaica. This is where some additional research is needednobody has written (so far) on the meaning of the “CA”, though given the Long Pond marks listed above, it’s reasonable to suppose it’s Tilston/Trelawny Estate, Continental Type A (as opposed to “B” or “C” with progressively higher ester levels. The various histories of Long Pond written by Barrel Aged Thoughts, the Cocktail Wonk and DuRhum provide useful background reading, though they do not settle the mark designation issue conclusively one way or the other.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Nov 052018
 

For those who are deep into rumlore, trying the quartet of the National Rums of Jamaica series issued by Velier in 2018 is an exercise I would recommend doing with all four at once, because each informs the other and each has an ester count that must be taken into consideration when figuring out what one wants out of them, and what one getsand those are not always the same things. If on the other hand you’re new to the field, prefer rums as quiescent as a feather pillow, something that could give the silkiness of a baby’s cheek a raging inferiority complex, and are merely buying the Cambridge 2005 13YO because it is made by Velier and you wanted to jump on the train and see what the fuss is about (or because of a misguided FOMO), my suggestion is to stay on the platform and look into the carriage carefully before buying a ticket.

This might sound like paradoxical advice coming from an avowed rum geek, but just follow me through the tasting of this 62.5% bronto, which sported a charmingly erect codpiece of 550 grams of esters (out of a max of 700 grams per hectoliter of alcohol (hlpa) — this moves it way out from the “Common Clean,” “Plummer” and “Wedderburn” categories, and somewhere in between the “Wedderburn” and “Continental Flavoured” (see other notes below), although it is formally listed as being a CF. For comparison, the most furiously esterified rum ever made, the DOK (which is not supposed to be a drinking rum, by the way, but a flavouring ingredient for lesser rums and the Caputo 1973) runs at just about the legal limit of 1600 /hlpa, and most rums with a count worth mentioning pretty much stick in the few hundreds range.

There’s a reason for that. What these esters do is provide a varied and intense and enormously boosted flavour profile, not all of which can be considered palatable at all times, though the fruitiness and light flowers are common to all of them and account for much of the popularity of such rums which masochistically reach for higher numbers, perhaps just to say “I got more than you, buddy”. Maybe, but some caution should be exercised too, because high levels of esters do not in and of themselves make for really good rums every single time. Still, with Luca having his nose in the series, one can’t help but hope for something amazingly new and perhaps even spectacular. I sure wanted that myself.

And got it, right from the initial nosing of this kinetic rum, which seemed to be straining at the leash the entire time I tried it, ready to blast me in the face with one of the most unique profiles I’ve ever tried. Christ!…It started off with tons of dry jute sacks, dusty cardboard and hayand then went off on a tangent so extreme that I swear it could make a triangle feel it had more than a hundred and eighty degrees. It opened a huge can of sensory whup-ass with the full undiluted rumstink of an unventilated tannery going full tilt (yes, I’ve been in one), the sort of stark pungency one finds in a hairdressing salon using way too much nail polish remover, and a serious excess of ammonia and hair relaxantall at the same time. I mean, wow! It’s got originality, I’ll give it that (and the points to go with it) but here is one place where the funk is really a bit much. And yet, and yet….alongside these amazingly powerful fragrances came crisp, clearly-defined fruits,mostly of the sharper varietypineapple, gooseberries, five-finger, soursop, unripe mangoes, green grapes, red currants, olives, brine, pimentosI could go on.

What makes the rum so astoundingand it is, you know, for all its off-the-wall wild madnessis the way it keeps developing. In many rums what you get to smell is pretty much, with some minor variation, what you get to taste. Not here. Not even close. Oh the palate is forceful, it’s sharp, it’s as chiselled as a bodybuilder’s abs, and initially it began like the nose did, with glue, ammonia and sweet-clear acetone-perfume bolted on to a hot and full bodied rum. But over time it became softer, slightly creamy, a bit yeasty, minty, and also oddly light, even sweet. Then came the parade of vanilla, peaches, ginger, cardamom, olives, brine, pimentos, salty caramel ice cream, freshly baked sourdough bread and a very sharp cheddar, and still it wasn’t doneit closed off in a long, dry finish laden with attar of roses, a cornucopia of sharp and unripe fleshy fruits (apricots, peaches, apples), rotting bananas, acetones, nail polish and lots and lots of flowers.

I honestly don’t know what to make of a rum this different. It provides everything I’ve ever wanted as an answer to tame rum makers who regularly regurgitate unadventurous rums that differ only in minute ways from previous iterations and famed older blends. This one in contrast is startlingly original, seemingly cut from new clothit’s massive, it’s feral, it makes no apologies for what it is and sports a simply ginormous range of flavours. It cannot be ignored just because it’s teetering on the wrong side of batsh*t crazy (which I contend it does). Luca Gargano, if you strain your credulity to the limit, can conceivably make a boring rumbut he’s too skilled to make a bad one, and I think what he was gunning for here was a brown bomber that showcased the island, the distillery, the marque and the ester-laden profile. He certainly succeeded at all of these thingsthough whether the rum is an unqualified success for the lay-drinker is a much harder question to answer.

You see, there’s a reason such high ester superrums don’t get made very often. They simply overload the tasting circuits, and sometimes such a plethora of intense good things is simply too much. I’m not saying that’s the case here because the balance and overall profile is quite goodjust that the rum, for all its brilliantly choreographed taste gyrations, is not entirely to my taste, the ammonia-laden nose is overboard, and I think it’s likely to be a polarizing productgood for Jamaica-lovers, great for the geeks, not so much for Joe Harilall down the road. I asked for new and spectacular and I got both. But a wonderful, amazing, must-have rum? The next Skeldon or 1970s PM, or 1980s Caroni? Not entirely.

(#564)(84/100)


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums. For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavoursthey are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  • Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  • Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  • Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  • Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info. Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many yearsrest in a barrel.

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries. It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV 0-20
CQV 20-50
LRM 50-90
ITP /LSO 90-120
HJC / LIB 120-150
IRW / VRW 150-250
HHH / OCLP 250-400
LPS 400-550
STC❤E 550-700
TECA 1200-1300
TECB 1300-1400
TECC 1500-1600

The Estate Name:

Like the Vale Royal estate and Long Pond itself, Cambridge was also located in Trelawny Parish and has a history covered in greater depth by BAT, here, so I’ll just provide the highlights in the interests of keeping things manageable. Founded in the late 18th century by a family named Barrett (there’s a record of still being in the hand of an Edward Barrett a generation later), it closed its doors just after the Second World War in 1947 by which time another family (or the name-changed original one) called Thompson owned the place. It’s unclear whether the mark STCE (Simon Thompson Cambridge Estate according to the estimable Luca Gargano) was maintained and used because physical stills had been brought over to Long Pond at that time, or whether the Cambridge style was being copied with existing stills.

Whatever the case back then, these days the stills are definitely at Long Pond and the Cambridge came off the a John Dore double retort pot still in 2005. The label reflects a level of 550 g/hlpa esters which is being stated as a Continental Flavoured style, but as I’ve remarked before, the level falls in the gap between Wedderburn and CF. I imagine they went with their own system here.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Nov 042018
 

This whole week I’ll be looking at the quartet of stern, forbidding black and white bottles of the National Rums of Jamaica, which have excited a slowly rising conversation on social media as pictures get posted and more and more people try them. Certainly, they’ve got all the Jamaican rum punditry in transports already (plus they are issued by Velier, which is clear from the minimalist label and box design). All four will be written about in a sequence, because there’s simply no way to speak to them individually at long intervals without missing the point, which is that they’re part of an integrated set, and to understand one means to try and understand alleach informs the other. Because there’s a fair bit of background involved in these rums, below each post will have a longer-than usual “Background notes” section detailing notes common to all, and defining some terms, below the review.

The Vale Royal is probably the most traditional rum of the NRJ series, and for the reasonably wide-tasting rum drinker, the best one to start with, as will become clear when we move through the four-rum series. It also has the lowest ester-count among the set, which might give you an inkling of how they all progress (you’d think that….but no). Bottled at 62.5%, as they all are, it derives from a double retort pot still, is 12 years old, tropically aged (of course) and is made in the Wedderburn style, with an ester count of 150 grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol (g/hlpa) — out of a max of 250 for this classificationwhich is not the standard accepted one for Jamaicans as a whole, but Longpond’s own. That makes it a very approachable rum, very tasty, yet paradoxically not entirely a rum I could immediately assign to Jamaica, the way one could, for example, a Worthy Park, an Appleton, or a Hampdenthough admittedly we have more experience with those and therefore know them somewhat better (this is a personal opinion, though).

Consider first the nose. Frankly, I thought it was lovelynot just because it was different (it certainly was), but because it combined the familiar and the strange in intriguing new ways. It started off dusty, musky, loamy, earthythe sort of damp potting soil in which my wife exercises her green thumb. There was also a bit of vaguely herbal funk going on in the background, dry, like a hemp rope, or an old jute sack that once held rice paddy. But all this was background because on top of all that was the fruitiness, the flowery notes which gave the rum its charactercherries, peaches, pineapples, mixed with salt caramel, vanilla, almonds, hazelnuts and flambeed bananas. I mean, that was a really nice series of aromas.

On the palate the strength showed its fangs and let’s face it, at 62.5% it’s got monster power hidden under the hood, and a little patience was required. It was sharp, sweet, flowery and estery to a fault, and somehow that dry earthy note disappeared almost entirely, probably edged out by the sheer force of all the other flavours that took overthis is perhaps one of those rums where a little water is really required. I didn’t get much without the addition, but with a few drops there was a cloudburst of flowery flavours and sharp fruits: pears, apples, cider, green grapes, raisins, unripe mangoes, tart yoghurt and sour cream, nuts, vanilla, anise and even some yeasty bread just to shake things up. And the finish, well, that was excellentlong, flavourful, fruity, sweetly flower-like, and took forever to die down, coughing up a last note of bitter chocolate, crushed hazelnuts, vanilla and sharp unripe fruits just to show that even on the back end it meant business and had a bit ore to smack you down with..

For my money, this is a pretty great rum. It is well aged, well balanced, and has the funky note and that fruity estery profileneither to excessthat drives lovers of Worthy Park and Hampden into orgasmic throes of onanistic ecstasy. It also has originality and character in that it isn’t afraid to add a few extra things into the mix that might seem startling at firstthese are new and original and yet not overdone. In fine, it has almost everything I want from a rum that purports to break the mould and show us something differentold tastes combined with new and intriguing flavours that somehow don’t call that much attention to themselves, all put together into something peculiarly its own. What it presented was an interesting melange of both Jamaican and something else, with a sly wink and an arrow pointing at the other, more ester-boosted rums in the seriesfor both good and ill. And that will become clearer as we progress through the line.

(#563)(87/100)


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums. For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavoursthey are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  • Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  • Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  • Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  • Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info. Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many yearsrest in a barrel

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries. It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV 0-20
CQV 20-50
LRM 50-90
ITP /LSO 90-120
HJC / LIB 120-150
IRW / VRW 150-250
HHH / OCLP 250-400
LPS 400-550
STCE 550-700
TECA 1200-1300
TECB 1300-1400
TECC 1500-1600

The Estate Name:

Vale Royal was a distillery located in Trelawny Parish, just like Longpond, and has a history covered in great depth by BAT, here. The long and the short of it is that it was founded in 1776 under the name of “Walky Walk” (poetic,yes?) before being retitled Vale Royal in the early 1800s. The estate managed to survive after the abolition of slavery, but a combination of falling sugar prices and a movement of consolidation led to the sale of the estate to Longpond in 1959, with the marque of VRW remaining as a memento of its glory days when it stood for “Vale Royal Wedderburn”though as noted above, this edition, produced at Longpond’s facilities, should rightly be called a Plummer under Standard Notation, since it has 150 g/hlpa, not the required 200-300, but evidently decided to go with its own system.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

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 272017
 

#474

Much like L’Esprit from Brittany, Ekte out of Denmark kinda flies under the radar, but both for their sense of humour (similar to the SMWS if you ask me) and their (extremely) limited edition bottlings, they should not be forgotten just yet. They came on the scene in 2015 at the UK Rumfest with a bunch of blends and limited releases, and the following year they passed through Berlin, where I tried the subject of this review, the No. 2 from Jamaicaand let me tell you, it’s no slouch on its own terms: actually, it’s quite an animal.

Like so many independents out of Europe, Ekte is the brainchild and inspiration of a single individual, the deprecatingly-named Rum Geek Extraordinaire of the Rum Club Copenhagen, Mr. Daniel Bascunan, who actually hails from Chile but followed the rum trail to its lair in Denmark, which may be the single most rum-crazy nation in Europe (and yes, that includes the UK). In 2004, he opened a cocktail bar called Barbarellah in Copenhagen and its collection boasted some 170 rums; its successor bar the Rum Club, located in the Latin Quarter, has somewhere around 500, if not more by now. In 2013 or so he was approached by a Danish liquor store chain to develop a rum range for the Scandinavian market, and with some early work in blends (which remains ongoing), he released some single cask fullproof rums from Panama (No 1), Jamaica (No 2 and 4), Nicaragua (No 3), Guyana (No 5 and 6). I don’t know whether more are on the horizon, but if the No. 2 was anything to go by, let’s hope he never stops.

Now, the No. 2 hails from Monymusk, and I have not had that much experience with the all-but-unknown brandfew outside Jamaica have, though this looks like it’s changing as Jamaica blasts off on the world rum scene again. Permit me to walk you through a quick ovastandin’ of the structure. A sort of consortium was created in 2006 which comprised of the Jamaican Government, WIRD out of Barbados and DDL out of Guyanathey called it the National Rums of Jamaica and folded Clarendon, Longpond and Innswood under its umbrella (this was partly in an effort to stabilize prices and keep rum production going). Longponduntil very recently when Maison Ferrand bought a stakewas not doing much and Clarendon was the owner of the Monymusk distillery attached to the sugar factory of the same name, which in turn provided Innswood with distillate, with the latter acting as the ageing and blending facility. The house brand for NRJ is named Monymusk (not Longpond, Innswood or Clarendon, for whatever illogical reason). Just be aware that Clarendon Distillers Limited (the company) is the owner of the distillery that is attached to Monymusk Sugar Factory and you’ll be fine (the only other distillery in the Clarendon Parish is New Yarmouth, owned by Wray & Nephew).

Anyway, now that we’re soporific with all the history and need a bracer, what’s the rum like? Well, at 60% it wasn’t a soft and easy breath in the ear from your sweetheart promising all sorts of nice things that these PG-rated posts can’t describe. Oh no. It’s more like a harridan excoriating you after an all night pub crawl is my opinion. When I decanted it and took a first sniff, one of Ramsey Bolton’s starving mutts leaped out of the glass, went right for the throatbut once I wrestled it into submission, the nose was actually rather good (perhaps exciting might be a better word given the fierceness of the initial attack) – rubber, acetone, furniture polish, hot and very spicy, sour and slightly spoiled fruits, mostly bananas and oranges. It showcased Jamaican badass and funk in fine style all the way, adding more citrus, brine, black bread and cream cheese, lighter florals and bubble gum after opening up, and if one could disregard the fact that it looked like it was constantly spoiling for a fight, it actually presented as something more perfumed and crisp than I had been expecting.

The palate was where I felt the rum came into its own: it was like hot black overstrong tea (the sort that bushmen dump by the pack into a big-ass pot of water and let it boil for three days, with a snake head inside for “sum kick”), redolent of salt and wax, brine, olives, and fruit, lots of fruit, really gone over to the dark side. The best part about it all was that as it opened up, it developed even more: cardamom, cloves, vanilla, citrus, almonds and nougat, with some tartness coming through which had hints of ginips and soursop and unsweetened yoghurt. At 60% and with that kind of a crazy spirituous maelstrom, I would suggest some water might be advisable here, but if you’re of an adventurous disposition, take it as it is and enjoy the battle is my advice, because it sure isn’t meek, and wrestling with its pungent and fierce flavour profile is as enjoyable as all get out. Even the finish displayed some of that aggressive demeanour, being long, somewhat dry, and had some interesting closing notes of caramel, toffee, fruits, chocolate and sharp citrus to remember it by.

Given that only 270 500ml bottles were issued it’s not one of those rums that’s easy to find any more, and I suspect it remains mostly available in the home of those cask-strength-loving Danish boys who threatened to invade France if the Compagnie des Indes didn’t release full proofs in their country. Which is a shame, really, because if you like Jamaicans, if your thing is a powerful casker and if having a growly and jagged-edged rum attempt to beat the snot out of you around back is what tickles your johnson, then this is definitely one of the rums that should be on the top of your list to try. It’s that much of a blast to drink.

(88/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled on copper pot stills.
  • EKTE comes from the Danish word ÆGTE which means true or genuine (also “marriage”), and the capital letters were chosen for brand awareness.
  • My single paragraph on the background of Monymusk was drawn from two excellent longform articles written by Matt Pietrek (plus some double checking he did for me on the fly), which should be required reading for rum geeks, one on Clarendon and Monymusk, the other on Innswood.
  • A big hat tip to Henrik and Gregers, who brought this bottle along to the Caner Afterparty in 2016 — I’ve dented the sample rather badly on several occasions since then. Since I’m sure Henrik is going to be reading this, I’ll use the soapbox to bugle my request, nay, demand, that the RumCorner re-opens for business 🙂
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.