Ruminsky

Mar 292024
 

It’s not often that a rum aged just a few years that remains in development is as good or better than its own unaged white predecessor, but somehow, Retribution from the UK has done a fair dinkum job of it. Their white rum was unpretentious, eager to please and a decent drink that did not try to rearrange your innards (as so many feral whites try to do), and I quite liked it. Its slightly aged cousin is just a smidgen better, and it still isn’t finished or in open release yet.

Retribution is a small distillery in Frome (a town in Somerset county, in the south west of the UK) that was started relatively recently in 2019, by a brewer named Richard Lock, who wanted to go beyond the suds he had been making to that point. Something of an auto-didact, he took courses in brewing and distilling at the Herriot-Watt University, and eventually switched over to a distilling operation. He then proceeded to issue a gin as his first product before branching out to whisky and rum. The latter (as of 2024) sports three editions: the white, a spiced and a-still-in-the-barrel aged rum, all made in relatively small quantities for nowit is this last we’re looking at today.

Technical details are the same as for the white rum: the molasses based wash is fermented between one and two weeks using a French sparkling wine yeast; double distillation through the two pot stillsfirst the one named “Big” (recent acquisition, 1800L) for the stripping run, and then a spirit run through “Little” (400L) — which results in an 80% ABV distillate that was then put to age in ex bourbon barrels in 2021, and diluted down to 44% for a sample exhibit. No additives, or other mucking about, of course, that goes without saying.

Even with the knowledge that this was a work in progress at the time it was tried, I think it was and remains a pretty nifty product. The nose had a nice, crisp citrus-y tang to it, which went well with hot pastries, caramel and vanilla. Oh but it doesn’t stop there: brine, olive oil, steamed cabbages and crisp tom yum soup notes proliferate, before swiftly receding, to be replaced by a more fruity and balanced profilecherries, mangoes, ripe applessome 7-up, cloves and greek yoghurt. Not too shabby for something this young and one can only wonder what it would be like were it stronger.

The ABV is more of an issue on the palate, where many rums with good aromas falter. For now, what is tasted is pretty good: the citrus through-line remains, showcasing lemongrass, lime leaves and zest; it is accompanied by unsweetened laban, olive oil, a light briny touch and black rye bread with sour cream and salt (a weird combo, I’ll grant you). Coriander, coconut milk, sour and hot vegetable soup, bitter strong chocolate, toffee, some herbs and soya complete the profile for me, and the finish pretty much sums up everything rather quickly before disappearing.

This is a rum that was brought to the 2023 TWE Rum Show in London for evaluation, and Richard gave me some to try as I was perambulating for two days straight in the most exciting room in the joint.1 I thought it was really quite something, and while it clearly needed some more time to come to a better fruition, even as it was there was little to complain about (Alex Sandhu, in his excellent bio of the company, made a similar point in his review of the still strength sample). The rum will be issued formally in mid 2024 as part of a subscription-based Rum Club release Cask #001, and I hope that it sells well and makes it possible for there to be others of higher and age and even better quality, to come. This one is a really good start.

(#1066)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

 


Other notes

  • The question is, why review something not on the market? Whatever comes out the other end in 2024 will surely be different since it’s had another year (at least) of ageing. But it’s actually not the first time I’ve done this: Helios’s Teeda 21 YO Japanese rum was based on an unreleased sample, and so was Mia’s 2018 rum from Vietnam, and there are a few others. I think there are simply some cases where a little pre-release hype and banging of the drum is justified and that’s especially so for micro-distilleries.
  • The logo of the company references the owner’s maritime background and the ship-in-a-bottle models.
Mar 242024
 

For a distillery with a name as ominous as Retribution, the owner and distiller or record is actually a fairly genial, easy going gent, who gives off vibes of an avuncular uncle who retires after a hard day’s work wherever, to his cottage in the countryside, where the faithful hound fetches his slippers. Or so the story teller in me supposes.

The man behind the company is Richard Lock, who incorporated the micro distillery in 2019 after deciding to go beyond the beers he had been making to that point. His first product was a gin, released in February 2020, with the first rum following a year later and…well, I’d tell you more, but Alex Sandhu of the Rum Barrel has done such a sterling job of biographing Retribution and Mr. Lock, on a physical visit to the distillery, that it would be taking away from his work, and so I provide the link to his company profile for the curious. It’s too bad we don’t get more of these.

In brief, the production notes are as follows: fermentation of the molasses wash is between one and two weeks using a French sparkling wine yeast; and then run through both pot stills (humorously named “Big” and “Little”) which results in an 80% ABV white corker that is then diluted down to a shade above living room strength, 44%. No additives, or other mucking about, which has become almost a badge of honour with these newly established micros, and very welcome.

So let’s get right to it, beginning with the nose. Sweet sugar water, unaggressive but aromatic watermelon and papaya, green apples, grapes, green pears from a can and a general mild vibe that suits the owner quite well. The aromas take some time to come together, and finally open up into mild fruits, strawberry jam, white chocolate, and some tart creamy notes, firm without ever being overbearing. In short, it smells pretty good.

Tastewise it’s also quite a bit more restrained than the rutting white ester stallions of yore which have blotted these pages (well…this website at any rate) and made themselves known. The rum presents as dry and fruit forward, with strawberries, green apples, grapes and some more jam (so the nose, in taste form if one wishes to be accurate), plus some pears, melons, peas and a very faint note of wet earth and vegetables which carries on to an easy finish.

Trying to analyse this and nail down the profile, I want to just say that for an unaged rum it’s really quite fine. A lot of pleasant aromas came out of those pot stills, more than is apparent at first blush, yet nothing too barbaric or strange; and it’s distinguished by having little of that aggressive in-your-face stuff, just some edge, good taste and a mild eagerness to please. That works here in a way that with others, doesn’t always.

Retribution has to some extent been overshadowed by the more hi-falutin’ aggressive fast-moving micro distilleries run by young social-media-savvy entrepreneurs who have received more attention and loom somewhat larger in people’s minds. If you’re thinking of the New Brits and their UK distilleries, Retribution is likely not the first to spring to mind. But my advice is not to count out this little outfit just yet. Pot-still, unaged white rums are still not all that common, most are fierce little brawlersso there’s space for something more restrained like this one.

It takes gumption and grit to start a distillery of any size in Europe or the UK. It takes skill to make a good low cost, unaged, white rum right out of the gate, And it takes a rare kind of courage to keep at it without the benefit of the cool social media press, even when stuck in a small corner of a big festival, overlooked by many. This is a company we should pay more attention to when festival season comes rolling around this yearbecause its rums are nothing to sneeze at. Especially this one.

(#1065)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Mar 202024
 

We’ve heard of both Iridium and Mount Uncle Distillery before: there’s a five year old of that brand that was part of the 2021 advent calendar, and while I didn’t care overmuch for it, I did comment that at a higher strength might make it a better drink. The companywhich spun off the rum making business into a separate little outfit called FNQ Rum Companyclearly knew that already, because with this one they amped up the age to 10 years, jacked the strength to 47% and then probably thinking something else was required, aged it in red wine hogsheads for ten years before giving it a last six-month finish in agave casks left over from whatever they were doing with tequilas that year. All this from a cane-syrup seven-day-fermented wash run through their Arnold Holstein 500L pot still.

All that is pretty nice and conforms to some extent to the 5YO as well: but with that rum, one of the issues I ran into was that it didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be: an aged agricole style rum or one more in tune with the broader profiles of the rum world based on molasses. The Iridium X, fortunately for us, navigates quite well between either one and becomes a decent rum by any standard

Take a sniff and you’ll see what I mean: pineapple tarts and cheesecake get together to tango with yoghurt and sour cream andif you can believe itripe tomatoes. There’s a nice, crisp throughline mixing citrus, pineapples, sweetened red grapefruit juice, bitter chocolate, and the dry dustiness of the warm air coming off of vents that have not been used for some time. Oddly, there’s not a whole lot of brine and heavy agave notes here coming from the casks, though I imagine for those more in tune with this spirit, some could be found.

Palate is a more settled experience, and becomes a clean and relaxed version of the nose. It’s rather tart and piquant, coating the mouth well, and there’s the same yoghurt, honey and citrus axis around which perambulates the lesser notes: these are mostly gingerbread cookies, unsweetened chocolate, olives (red ones) and some brine. If one hangs around and waits a bit, there are also hints of apple cider, figs and some licorice leavened with some toasted marshmallows, but that’s pretty much it. Finish is nice enoughmedium, aromatic, like a sweet balsamic vinegar sprinkled on a grape and tomato forward salad.

Did I like it? Yes indeed, quite a bit more than the 5YO. The complexity is more present and accounted for, and there’s a lot to unpack at one’s leisure. The parts are well assembled without coming to blows over their differences, and overall it’s as solid a ten year old rum as could come out of any of the usual major regions with which we are more familiar. It’s perhaps no accident that the Boutique-y Rum Company took a 12YO Mt. Uncle to be one of its first Australian releases in 2023 that wasn’t Beenleigh. I haven’t tasted it but if it’s anything like this one it’s sure worth our attentions.

(#1064)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 15.
  • The FNQ website is remarkably short on details historical or technical. Much of the background is from my original research on the Iridium 5YO, which is worth reading in its entirety, as I’ve summarised a lot here.
  • No idea what the significance of the “Iridium” title is. I’ve sent a message along to ask.
  • Mt. Uncle is one of the most northerly distilleries in Australia. Devil’s Thumb (also in QLD) and the Hoochery (in WA) are further north, but not by much.
  • There’s a story that the 10YO is from two lost barrels of the Iridium 5, which is also repeated on the Mt. Uncle website.
  • Although it’s marketed as a limited edition, the exact outturn is unknown. The initial release was 2020 and apparently sufficient stock remains to provide an advent calendar in 2023.
Mar 152024
 

In the previous review I remarked that the slightly aged añejo from the relatively new San Juan Artisan Distillers in Puerto Rico, did not impress me very much. This was in spite of the fact that on paper they looked like they had all the plant, equipment, and resources they needed to make something better. A fair number of online comments supported this view: most thought it was a barrel thing, although I did get one remark that resonated, stating (paraphrased) that it’s not a good idea to assume that the physical pieces alone are what make the product great or stand above the hoi polloi. That aside, I closed with the observation that with what they had under the hood and bringing to the table, it was unlikely they could stay in the kiddie pool for long.

This white rum, bottled at the same strength, proves that point nicely and demonstrates yet againas if it needed to bethat unaged white rum really is in a class by itself and should never be shrugged off just because it looks the same as the filtered white bar staple that gives the “category” a bad name. The production stats aren’t significantly different from the añejo: it’s cane juice derived, fermented for a few days (as best as I can ascertainthis is subject to verification) then double distilled in the charentais pot stills. No ageing.

From that almost stereotypical agricole-style beginning comes a very nice rum indeed, with a pungent, salty, sweaty, earthy, loamy nose. It smells of grit and damp potter’s soil, and behind that lurks a sort of vague funky aspect that suggests a low-end congener count, like, oh the LFCH or OWH from Hampden, or WPL from Worthy Park. Some nice fruity notes attend, like tangerines, strawberries, bubble gum, mint…that kind of thing. But it’s very low key and in no way aggressivethe 43% ABV it pulls in with mitigates against any kind of harsh or stinging profile.

The palate corrects some of that is missing when you smell it, most particularly the grassy and herbal notes the nose didn’t seem to want to fork out. The taste provides a sweet, firm, green and grassy profile, with a touch of tart unripe pears and soursop, some yoghurt and even a little aggressive (in a good way). In my mind I genuinely see some rums with colours when tastedthis one would be white and green (channelling Slytherin or something, who knows?), and can be summarised by saying it’s like an addled 7-up with some added mojo. The finish is short but quite solid and fruity, with brine and olive oil and I swear there was a pimento lurking behind there someplace, sensed but never actually confirmed.

Altogether, then, a really solid white rum of the kind I prefer. It must be mentioned that drinking the anejo and the blanco side by side is a useful exercise and it shows how treatment and ageingtransformation, if you willdoesn’t always make for a better rum (I know, I know, this from a guy who loves rums aged four decades and over). It also demonstrates how white and unaged rums without the filtration and bleaching that so infantilizes Bacardi and Lambs and their ilk have no analogue in the whisky world, but are almost unique to rums, and should be given more serious attention.

This blanco is one of the better whites out there, and redeems my initial opinion of the distillery, which I originally felt was channelling just another Latin style rum with the twist of being from cane juice but without any of the flair. The blanco, however, is pretty damned fine: it has taste, it has aromas, it has character, and I kid you not when I say that it was one of the best things on the table the day I had it. Hopefully the distillery makes more like it, and stronger.

(#1063)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Once again, my deep appreciation to Jazz and Indy Anand of Skylark in London. Hanging out at their place to talk and check out rums is always a high point of any trip I make to the UK.
  • A brief company bio can be found below the añejo review.
Mar 102024
 

The stats by themselves are enough to make a committed rum geek shed a happy tear. It’s from a new distillery in the Caribbean, committed to making artisanal rum from sugar cane it grows itself. It’s pot still distillation: and not just any pot stills, but the charentais cognac stills that Moet Hennesy sold after abandoning their grandiose project to make rums in Trinidad with the aborted Ten Cane brand. Cane juice agricole style rums. Ageing in ex Bourbon casks for between two and three years. 43% ABV, so more than standard proof. No additives. I mean, you read all that, and how can you not be enthused? This is the horse on which French islands and Asian micro-distilleries have ridden to fame and fortune.

And yet, San Juan Artisanal’s Ron Pepón Añejo, Puerto Rico’s first agricole style cane juice rum, is somewhat of a letdown, presenting a lacklustre sort of profile that’s too shy to appeal to the geek squad, not distinctive enough to make it with the cocktail crowd and a hard sell to the majority of drinkers who have quite different ideas as to how both an agricola or a Latin style rum should taste. At best one can say it’s a decent enough starter-kit rum for those who want to dip their toes into cane juice rum (or ron) waters without being challenged by something as off the reservation as, oh, the Sajous. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement

Consider the profile: the nose opens with vanilla, some watery but piquant fruits (pears, watermelon, overripe Thai mangoes), plus unsweetened yoghurt, some salt and pepper. One can discern dates, some figs and a faint metallic iodine and herbal tincture, but let’s be honest, it’s slim pickings to smell. The aromas are faint and very light, lacking some of the crisp assertiveness of an unaged agricole while not being aged enough to get any kind of real boost from the barrels.

This same issue is more noticeable when sipped. There really is not a whole lot going on here, even after one senses vanilla, cinnamon, bitter coffee grounds, mixed in with brine, olives, some iodine, figs and sweet smoky paprika. It’s not that there isn’t something there, it’s just too subtle to make a statement fort itself, and the finish is just disappointing, even if it does lead to a slightly more vegetal, sweet and vanilla lading close. It’s too short and too light, like Bacardis from the old days, which revelled in their anonymity as if it were a badge of honour.

It gives me no real pleasure to mark down a rum made by a bunch of people who work with passion, created a distillery from scratch, and seem to have really tried to come up with something new and interesting (see bio below). And I’m not the only one: a couple of years back LifoAccountant’s observations on the /r/rum subreddit bemoaned several of the same points I do here, and he gave it a rather sub-par 4/10. Almost no other non-marketing reviews exist, so of course there may be others who take the opposite view, that the rum is excellent, and I completely respect that. I just haven’t found any.

Anyway: for now, for me, it’s not good enough to shower it with encomiums. If it’s any consolation, I think any small new distillery that has such interesting equipment and source material and desire to go places, can’t help but succeed in the long term…and so I would chalk this one up to them still finding their rum legs. Because I don’t think they’ll stay in the kiddie pool for longthere’s too much going for them, for me to define or dismiss the entire brand because of one lone rum in their stable for which I didn’t care overmuch.

(#1062)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Company Bio

San Juan Artisan Distillers is one of the new wave of Puerto Rican companies that seeks to muscle in on the long held territory of the mastodons of that island’s rum scene: Bacardi and Serralles. And while others have mostly gone from rum drinking to starting a distillery, a far more economic rationale was the inception of Pepe Álvarez’s projecthis landscape and grass business went belly up when the recession of 2008 hit, coupled with US tax incentives for establishing businesses in PR expiring.

Since he was clearly too young to retire, Álvarez looked around and realized that his experience with grass and a 14 acre farm that had been acquired in 1991 which had grown to about 70 acres by now, offered an opportunity to bootstrap both into something unique to the island: rum made directly from sugar cane juice, not molasses. Starting the new company around 2012. he managed to find an investment from the Puerto Rican government, which paid for the irrigation system, tilling equipment, sugarcane seeds and the purchase of the mill. In so doing Alvarez sourced a German made Arnold Holstein pot still, and when the two charentais pot stills from Trinidad became available after Moet Hennessy pulled out of the Ten Cane project, he snapped those up too, and to back them up, he started his own cane fields, since commercial sugar cane growing in the island was a discontinued industry.

And this wasn’t all: his son Jose joined the company after getting his civil engineering degree, and Luis Planas the former master blender of Bacardi (now working for Ron de Barrellito) was asked to consult. As if that kind of horsepower was not enough, Frank Ward (ex-Managing Director at Mount Gay) provided advice on consult.

Initially the idea was to produce an agricola-style series of rums, to be released around 2017, at which point Hurricane Maria decided to derail that plan, demolished all the cane fields and left the island without power for almost a year. Undeterred, Alvarez used stocks he sourced from the Dominican Republic to make a series of fruit-infused rums with the brand name of “Tresclavos” (which, for those with memories of 1423’s unfortunately named sub-brand is not a combination of “Tres” and “esclavos” but “tres clavos”‘three nails’). These were well received and have become island staples, which allowed the fledgling company to weather the destruction of the fields so well that small batches of the new Ron Pepon were ready to go by 2018 with other stocks being laid down to age.

The global pandemic impacted the company as much as any other but has managed to come out the other side, and in 2022 had both an unaged white rum and a 30-month or so aged variant to present, which started selling stateside and appearing in Europe. So far the brand is not a huge seller or a famed name, but its reputation is starting to be known.

The place is experiencing growththey now employ a staff of about six, built a visitor’s centre, have those amazing pot stills, still make only cane juice rum and various personages give them visibility (my friends from the Rumcast interviewed them in October 2022 as part of their Puerto Rican distillery roundup); and there have been several new stories abut them. It’s just a matter of time before they attain greater visibility and greater fame, and expand that series of rums they make. It’ll be worth waiting for, I think.


Other notes

  • Pepónstands forOld Pepeand is a nod to Alvarez’s father, also named Pepe.
  • My thanks to Jazz and Indy Anand of Skylark in London, in whose convivial company I tried this rum after filching it from their stocks. I don’t have “crash and pass out under the sink” privileges in Indy’s place: however, free access to the shelves of rum in every room more than makes up for that. Thanks and kudos as always, guys.
Mar 032024
 

It’s not entirely clear why the little Brittany-based independent bottler L’ESpritfor which I have retained an enormous fondness over the yearsadvertises so little and keeps such a low profile. One never sees them at rum festivals, Tristan Prodhomme is practically unknown among the pantheon of small-company personalities, the company is more wedded to whisky than to rum…and yet the rums this one little outfit does release have a really good track record, people do treasure the ones they get and I would always take a second look myself, if one crossed my path: it’s one of the few indies whose wares I actively seek out and keep an eye open for.

L’Esprit has, since its inception, gone through the whole gamut of what’s possible: they have released aged and unaged rums, standard strength or still strength, represented pretty much all the major rum producing countries out there (and a few minor ones), and in a nice touch, sometimes issue the same rum at two different strengthsstandard and full proof. Today’s rum comes from Foursquare: it’s the usual pot-column blend characteristic of the famed distillery, distilled in November 2005, bottled in October 2020 (so a neat 15 years old), 60.5% and as far as I know, aged in ex-bourbon barrels.

From those stats you can guess it’s a rum of furious and tasty brutality, and that’s not far off. The nose lunges from the bottle in an initial attack of pungent nutty and fruity notes, very intense. It is, one should note in passing, extremely nice too; it follows up with an uppercut of caramel, salt, acetones and the boiling scent of an “under final touch ups” stage of a new house in the hot summeracetones, plastic turpentine and floor wax (clearly more pot still in action here). Then it seems to want to calm down and more restrained aromas come throughstrawberries, unsweetened chocolate, tinned fruit syrup, dark honey, leather and port infused damp tobacco. That’s quite a lot for any rum to be providing, no matter who makes it.

Clearly slowing down is not in this bottle’s bag of tricks: it continues to go strongly, like a bat out of hell, on this and every subsequent tasting (the glass is with me for the best part of a full day): it’s sweet, dry, aromatic, tasty. Green peas, syrup again, pears, stewed apples, tinned peaches, which is all pretty much what one could expect. But it does have some kinks as well, tastes that are somewhat oddpleasant enough but almost unfamiliar, the way these components come together. Plastic, kerosene (just a touch), balsamic vinegar, mangoes in a very hot pepper sauce, that kind of thing. The edge and savagery is always just behind the sweet and more aromatic side of the profile, waiting to pounce if you treat it with anything less than respect. It all leads to a medium short finish (which, admittedly, is surprising for something that has to this point been going full steam), with not a whole lot more. Fleshy stoned fruits, some caramel and vanilla, strawberries, and the glue and wax make a short bow before scampering back offstage.

And that’s it. It’s the sort of neat pour that will leave you gasping a bit but also pleased to have been able to finish it. Overall it’s solid, and easily buffs the credentials of both producer and bottler to a brighter gleam. It has a seriously good nose with everything we like included, which is then sanded to a shine and bolted on to an anvil-heavy series of tasting notes that don’t seek to reinvent the wheel (or Foursquare), but simply present the best of which this particular barrel is capable. It’s like Tristan found a barrel he liked so much that it was only by the most supreme effort of will that he didn’t slap an ECS label on itbecause that’s the only thing I can compare it to, and that’s what it really is. I call mine “Truculentus”.

(#1061)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Feb 272024
 

One thing I have always enjoyed about the Australian distilleries (aside from their cool origin stories) is the irreverent naming. While many are completely straightforward owners’ or geographical names, there are some that enjoy a cheeky wink too, like Brix, Tin Shed, Boatrocker, Red Hen, Jimmy Rum or Winding Road. And of course there are those that take it even further, with names as evocative as Devil’s Thumb, Hoochery, Hippocampus…or Mad Monkey, the subject of today’s review.

Below this quick review is a more in depth company backgrounder: for now, what do we have in the glass? The tech sheet is as follows: molasses sourced from New South Wales, deriving from sugarcane farmed in the Condong, Broadwater, and Harwood villages and their associated sugar mills, all founded in the late 1800s; fermentation time is nine days at a peak of 26°, utilising a wild yeast and ale yeast blend (some bacteria coming from dunder), then run through the 500L pot still, and set to age in an ex-Seppeltsfield port cask for 30 months, with the first year upstairs on the mezzanine floor (more sunshine), thereafter on the distillery floor. It’s then diluted down to 44% ABV and that gives enough to fill 163 70cl bottles (which suggests small cask, not a full sized one).

Keeping it short, the nose first: it immediately provides oily, sweet, honey-like aromas, into which one can detect ripe yellow mangoes, orange juice, wasabi and even some sushi drizzled with lemon juice and sweet soya…which, admittedly, is quite an opener. It also channels some new leather furniture freshly unwrapped out of plastic, prunes, some ginger and coffee grounds, and has a crisp sort of sweetness to it that after a few minutes kind of dissipates into something thinner, and sharper.

And the taste, my, that’s lovely! Caramel, bonbons, bourbon, leather, smoke, prunes and dark unsweetened chocolate meld well together with a texture that isn’t too aggressive (the 44% is a good choice for this). Occasional rough patches and some sharpness don’t detract, reallyit’s what one can expect from a fast-aged young rum from a smallish cask. Anyway, there are hints of stewed apples, molasses, licorice, honey, peaches in syrup and an overall depth of sensation and flavour that are really quite good. Even the finish is no slouchit’s short but very aromatic, with closing notes of raspberry jam, honey and burnt brown sugar.

This is a product that is solidly, traditionally, “rummy”it wouldn’t be out of place being drunk out of plastic tumblers, chased with coconut water, while dominos are being smashed down on a plywood table in Tiger Bay or Trenchtown. It channels a nice mix of Demerara rums and Latin type rons, combining some lighter notes with heavier, duskier ones that lend a tasty counterpoint. It’s perhaps too much to ask for serious complexity and exquisitely aged quality in a rum less than three years oldthe roughness and occasional snide spiciness of the palate, and the rapid fall-off of the nose all show thisyet overall, there’s something pretty good here, and you can see this is an outfit that isn’t mucking around.

Converted to US$ this is a hundred buck rum (Australian spirits taxes are extortionate) and that’s a lot to ask for not only a newcomer without a track record, but a young newcomer. Australians, lacking something of the international choice we take for granted, may think otherwise. Rightly so, in my opinion, because from where I’m sitting, this young rum is pointing to some serious sh*t coming our way from that distillery in another five years, and rummies Down Under probably know that way ahead of us, and are stocking up.

(#1060)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Photo (c) Mad Monkey Distillery, from their website

Company Background

The distillery, located in the southern city of Adelaide was envisioned in 2018 by two amateur distillers (the unkind would say ‘moonshiners’) named Scott McCarthy and Alec McDowall (who now refer to themselves as the original addled simians, or “Crooked Finger” and “Red Beard” depending on the time of day); they met at a distilling conference at Seppeltsfield (Scott worked as a brand ambassador for Seppeltsfield Road Distillers), compared notes, and bonded over what the storyteller in me supposes is several bottles of unspeakably vile hooch and all sorts of intoxicated plans that normal people forget the next morning. Two years later, having sobered up, regained their sight and become business partners, they opened Mad Monkey Distillery in the industrial area of the city, in an old unused warehouse office. There they brought their hybrid 500L still called “Albert”, festooned their cellar door garden with a lawn, tiki huts, a wood-oven pizza van, and not being happy with all that, added an orchard and a beehive just because, well, they could. Then they got to work, all the while keeping their day jobs.

Initially they produced the usual “cane spirit” which is what rum under two years old is generally called, and have now taken that to the next level by infusing such distillates with fruits from their orchard and even using the pollinating bees from the apiary to develop yeast strains of their ownclearly, everything on the premises has to earn its keep. For the most part they stayed resolutely local, marketing their rums around the city, and have only slowly begun expanding outside these environs. During COVID shutdowns, they took advantage of the lull to set down a more consistent barrel ageing program and by 2022 and 2023 had the requisite two years of ageing in some of their barrels, enough to begin selling “rum” instead of the unaged stuff. By this time (2022) they had become successful enough to take a deep breath and quit the rat race, and have devoted themselves full time to the distillery: they have called it the first dedicated rum distillery in Adelaide, a claim which is likely true, since they don’t really make anything else, unlike the kitchen-sink ethos of many others in the joint. That sure impresses me, given the economics of their chosen field.


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 6. This is Batch #2 from 2021. Batch #1 was introduced in 2022, I think
  • The use of a distinctive bottle shape is pretty cool. Kind of makes the rum stand out on a shelf. It was also deliberately chosen (the supplier calls the stylepirate”) to stand out, since at the time of selection, the majority of bottles holding Australian spirits were the cheapest available, making for a bland and uniform look that MM wanted to avoid.
  • Seppeltsfield is a winery just NE of Adelaide. “Tawny” is a fortified port wine they make.
  • When I asked about the distillery name, Alex responded “Mad Monkey came from my long want to name a business after something Monkey related, (Monki has long been a handle of mine) and the Mad bit is coined to the wild black magic type fermentation of rum!” Can’t argue with that logic.
  • The form of the logo is similar to both the Leipzig Trade Fair in Germany and Matugga rums. I guess there are only so many ways to artistically render twoMs.
Feb 232024
 

By now little needs to be said about Hampden Estate, the famed Jamaican distillery that had its coming out party in 2018, a distribution deal with Velier, and a seemingly a new series of rums to collect just about every single year. For all its variety though, their presentation is pretty consistent and you can usually tell one at a glance just by looking at a label. Said labels conforming to all the usual Velier standards, and providing pretty much all the background details you could hope for.

In this case we’re dealing with five year old rum released in 2021 and before you ask, it’s called “The Younger” to distinguish it from the Hampden 2010 11 YO LROK also issued in the same year (which is not named, but which we shall callobviously“The Older”). The fermentation time is not mentioned, but we can assume a few weeks, using natural or “wild” yeasts; pot still distillation on double retort stills; aged in ex bourbon barrels with a 34% angel’s share. And diluted down to 47% (as an aside, I’ve seen a label on a 3L jug at 49% but either it’s a misprint or substantially the same as this one) with an ester count for those who like their numbers, of 314.8 g/hLpa. This places the LROK (“Light Rum Owen Kelly”) in the lower levels and the Wedderburn category (only the OWH and LFCH are lower) and also makes the rum extremely approachable without going off the shredding deep end of the higher ester marks.

In spite of the “low” congener count, the rum represents itself well, starting with the open, which sports a serious set of sharp, distinct, funky aromas. Rubber, plastic, kerosene, fusel notes…rough and assertive stuff, which is about what we could expect from a youngish rum, tropically aged or not. It turns a little briny, then channels some citrus, flambeed bananas, yeasty bread, overripe pineapples, cherries, bubble gum. There are even some hints of coffee grounds and the metallic tinge of an ashtray that hasn’t been cleaned.

For 47% that nose isn‘t half bad (if occasionally discombobulated); the palate is in similar territory but here the strength maysurprisingly enoughbe a bit too anaemic for finer appreciation. It’s thin and sharpish (not to its benefit, I don’t think), and astringent. It has flavours that in turn are sweet, salt and sour…which is nice, but not always well coordinated, and one has to watch the sharpness. Sobubble gum, strawberries, citrus (red grapefruit), pineapples, vanilla, and some bitter coffee grounds. Once it quietens downand it doesit gets better because the roughness also smoothens out somewhat, without ever really losing its character. Finish is decent: fruity, funky and some honey, plus cinnamon, cloves and maybe a touch of vanilla and pineapple chunks.

A lot of comments I found about this rum compliment its taste and smell and assure their readers that it’s a true Hampden, representing Jamaica in fine style. Yet almost all have various modifiers and cautions, and many compare it in some way to one of three rums from Hampden: the high-ester versions from the same distillery, the Great House series, and the backbone of the company, the 8 YO standard. Oh, and almost everyone mentions or grumbles about the price.

This is completely understandable since a frame of reference is usually needed to place a rum in contextsuch comparisons are therefore useful, if ultimately pointless: trying to say one is better or worse than any other is entirely a matter of personal taste, really. And you either like it you don’t, can afford it or can’t, will buy it on that basis or won’t. As a middle of the road ester-level rum, I myself believe it’s a decent young rum, made in quantity with the usual Hampden quality, but not with anything really special tacked on that distinguishes it as superlative for its bracket. I’d buy the first bottle for sure: and would likely pass on a second after I finish sharing it around. I call that a qualified endorsement.

(#1059)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Feb 162024
 

“Oh wow!” I wrote with a sort of delighted and startled surprise when first nosing Archie Rose’s 40% white rum they called White Cane. I had not tried anything from the distillery beforeindeed, I knew very little about itbut the rich and oily scent of a mechanic’s shop fumigated with vanilla flavoured acetones was really not what I had expected as an opening salvo. And it didn’t stop there, because the seeming light ‘n’ easy aromas it started out with contained quite a bit more oomph than was initially apparentonce it opened it up it was brine, olives, ripe and watery fruits, lots of pears and papaya, figs and persimmons, even a hint of caramel and some sweet yet tart apple cider. The nose displayed a thickness and depth that was quietly impressiveone does not often see this kind of profile in a standard proof rum very often.

Putting down my glass, I looked curiously at the sample label. Who was is this outfit? What was behind the name? Was it a left-handed nod to WW1 ack-ack fire, maybe, or a hat tip to Riverdale and the comics? An old but forgotten relative, perhaps, or a gone-to-seed second eleven cricket player from the past who nobody except the owners remembered?

Apparently not. Some references suggest that “Archie” was a slang word, a pseudonym for an underground distilling bootlegger at a time in the 1800s when the temperance movement was ascendant in Australia and distillation was illicit, if not quite illegal; and since the founder, Will Edwards established the distillery in its first location in Rosebery, an inner suburb of south Sidney, the name seemed a good fit. A more prosaic alternative is that the neighbourhood itself was named after an uninspiring and obscure 19th century British PM, Archibald Primrose, and the distillery took the contracted form of his name, so take your pick.

Anyway, it was apparently the first new distillery in the city since 1853 (one wonders what the previous one was) and comprised of several Italian made fermentation tanks (named after rappers), and three hand built gas-powered steam-boiler-heated 3600-litre pot stills made by Peter Bailey, who at the time was the country’s only still maker. It was mostly family financed, and sported a very good bar right next to the distillery to help make ends meet.

“White Cane” was and remains the company’s only unaged rum (there are some experimentals coming as well, however), and it’s interesting that they went with that name instead of the near universal “cane spirit” moniker everyone else has been using over there. The source cane came from Condong up in NSW just south of Brisbane, so the molasses likely originated from the Condong Sugar Mill, and the wash blended two kinds of molasseshigh test and B-gradefermented with two different yeasts for 4-16 days, then run through their main and pilot still at least twice, with part being “cold” (or vacuum) distilled.

That fermentation and complex distillation was probably why the taste, as well as the nose, had enough chops to excite some curiosity, if not outright enthusiasm. It presented like a crisp, tangy, citrus-like 7-up, with green apples, pineapples, ripe pears on the edge of going off, red grapes and a subtle bite of ginger. The nose, I felt, was better, but for the taste to be this interesting at 40% did demonstrate that the awards the rum won (three so far) was not mere happenstance or flinging medals at everything that turned up. The palate continued to provide subtle and almost delicate notes: white chocolate, crushed walnuts some mint, fennel, sweet coconut shavings and some faint mustier cardboard notes, leading to a short, easy, sweet and spicy finish redolent of cinnamon and ginger and papaya. Nice.

Names and origins aside, currently the distillery boasts five different rums (and fifteen whiskies, ten gins, four vodkas and various other alcoholic products, lest you err in thinking their focus is on the Noble Spirit). Their origin was, and remains primarily in, whisky, for which they have won oodles of awards, and boosted their cash flow so well that in 2020 they were able to float A$100 million financing to move to Banksmeadow, a few kilometres south of the original location, leaving Rosebery to be a sort of visitor’s area for tours, classes and other events. Two massive new pot stills were also installed allowing production to be significantly increased.

As always, there is the downside that such a wide variety of spirits production dilutes focus on any single one. Not something I can blame a distillery for, since making payroll, paying rent and expanding the business is what it’s about, but lessening the attention that can be paid to developing and improving one product. Clearly whisky is the core business and everything orbits that priority (my opinion); and we must be careful not to over-romanticize the myth of the Great Little Solo Distiller Working in Obscurity, since commercial enterprises do make good juice, and not always by accident or as throwaways. RecentHeavy Cane,” “Virgin Caneand other experimental rums Archie Rose is playing with point to a committed and interested distilling team that wants to do more than just make another supermarket rum.

The White Cane, even at 40%, is pretty good and that’s an endorsement I don’t give often. I think the panoply of tastesadmittedly delicate and occasionally too faint and hard to pick apartplay well together, don’t overstay their welcome or allow any one element to hog the show, and provide a nice drinking experience. Sometimes just as much work goes into an unaged spirit as an aged oneperhaps more since there’s no backstop of ageing to improve anything so what comes off the still had better be readyand it’s clear the distiller paid attention to the entire production process to provide both mixing and sipping chops. One can only hope the distillery expands the range and ups the proof, because then not only would it likely garner even more awards, but I’d be able to bug Steve Magarry yet again…to get me a whole bottle, not just a sample.

(#1058)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 7. This is Batch #2 from 2023. Batch #1 was introduced in 2022
  • Production notes from company webpage.
Feb 142024
 

Ways of Sunlight, published in 1957, is a collection of short stories written by the Trinidadian novelist Samuel Selvon, and was the Liquorature Book Club selection for July 2012, chosen by yours truly, largely because I had long been a fan of not only the book itself (having read during my school years), but because I was curious how the Canadian crew would handle short story collections in general and a Caribbean author outside their experience specifically (Stephen King seemed too easy, really).

Ways of Sunlight is divided into two main parts, one dealing with life in 1940s and 1950s Trinidad, the other with the experiences of the diaspora in London in the 1950s when migration from the Caribbean to the metropole was becoming more common. The main theme of Part 1 is conflict between old and new, parents and children, expats and locals, bosses and workers, and is written in a lyrical style much reminiscent of oral traditions, with frequent use of the vernacular (or creole) in both prose and speech. There is a certain nostalgia in these stories, of a simpler life not as yet cluttered with modern appurtenances and technology, of people living close to the land and having problems more directly related to daily existence. But race and class and disharmonies among economic strata are not ignored. There is humour, poignancy, love and sadness (and the ugliness of human nature as in “A Drink of Water”), clearly described in brief stories. (Note: I found “Johnson and the Cascardura’, the first and longest of the stories, very similar in context and style to Chingiz Aitmatov’s Jamiliya, which also took place in post-war village life…though on the other side of the world).

Part II is more concerned with the West Indian migrants residing in London, and explores themes of loneliness, exile, adjustment, assimilation, racism, and friendship. At this stage in our world history, we are so interconnected, so knowledgeable about other places in the world and have built so many enclaves of ethnic and cultural identity in foreign lands (Greeks in Australia, West Indians in New York, South Asians in Toronto or Chinese in San Francisco spring to mind) that it we sometimes forget how much more jarring it must have been in those times when one really was moving from one entire existence to another. But there is a closing nugget of a story “My Girl in the City” where an immigrant speaks of his love for dreary, foggy London in prose that uplifts and inspires and shows the process of assimilation reaching its logical conclusion.

I’d prefer not to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of these quickly read, tautly drawn little stories, but I must speak to some of my favourites: “Johnson and the Cascadura, (which prompted me to ask my father, years and years ago, that since I’d eaten labba and drunk creekwater in Guyana, eaten the cascadura in Trinidad and drunk from that fountain in Bridgetown, to which place would I return to die?); “The Village Washer”, with the subtly mystical conflict between Ma Procop and Ma Lambie; “Cane is Bitter” about the sad and damaging change to tradition which education engenders, and its oddly appropriate opposite “Wartime Activities.” And then there are the London tales that speak so eloquently, sadly and even humourously about what it means to be an immigrant in a major western city: “Brackley and the Bed,” “Eraser’s Dilemna,” and “Calypso in London.” But really, they’re all good, they’re good humoured, witty, insightful through their brevity as only short fiction can be, and I shouldn’t short change some by preferring others.

Sam Selvon was born in 1923 in San Fernando, Trinidad (made famous by the Calypso Rose’s “Ah goin’ to San Fernando” song familiar to any West Indian) and worked for the Trinidad Guardian in the immediate post-war years, during which he began to produce short stories and descriptive pieces under various pen names. He moved to London in the 1950s, and the experience there is what informed much of his later work, which was occupied with the efforts of West Indian immigrants to adjust to life in Britain. It was during the immediate years following his move to Britain that he published A Brighter Sun (set in Trinidad), The Lonely Londoners, and Ways of Sunlight (which bears some similarities to VS Naipual’s Miguel Street).

Selvon was among the first of the West Indian writers to deliberately slip into the creole voice in both narrative and dialogue“the oral strategies of the Caribbean calypso” remarked the Guardian in 1994 – and noted years later that this was what made him able to finish The Lonely Londoners. It’s a little uneven in the short stories here (and Liquorature had a lot of fun provoking me into lapsing into the vernacular, as I have a propensity to do when I have one or five rums too many), but no-one can deny its effect of drawing you subtly into a world almost, but not quite, familiar.

Selvon finished his life as a writer in residence at the University of Calgary in Albertaa fact unknown to me when I selected the bookand even though his literary output had diminished and received no further acclaim while he was living in Canada (he died in 1994 on a trip to Trinidad), he will always be remembered in the West Indies as one of the founders of its literate tradition. He will live, through Moses, Tiger and Urmilla and Doolarie and the many others of whom he wrote with such poignancy and good hearted humour and wit. We who hail from de Islands will remember his stories the way we do Paul Keenes-Douglas’s comedy or Trevor Rhone’s plays. Speaking for myself, I learnt to appreciate his writing as a student, I learnt to understand him as a young man, and as my years go on perhaps it is right that his characters seem less and less to me like caricatures and more and more like all those people from other lands I met over the decades, seeking like so many others before them, to make it in new countries of the mind.

Feb 122024
 

It’s about time to clear up a backlog of older tasting notes that have been shoved to the back by newer and more exciting releases, and so for the next few weeks we’ll try to push some reviews of older expressions out the door. Today we’re going to go back and look at Savanna, that Reunion based distillery which has had a fair amount of good press over the last five years, though perhaps more remaining more popular and well known in Europe than the Americas.

What distinguishes Savanna is the range of what they make. Many distilleries have ranges that are steps of the quality ladder: some have lightly aged and filtered white rums, and cheaper mass-market blends made for mixing, for the budget-minded cost-conscious proles. The next rung would be rums aged up to maybe five or six years, costing a bit more but still affordable to most, moving slightly away from the cocktail circuit without entirely entering the sipping area. Once they get to double figures, say 10-15 years or so, it’s getting premiumised and more to have without mixing, and after 18 years, say, it’s entering rarefied territory. Around this price point are also found special editions, millesimes, limited blends, single barrel releases, commemoratives and other fancy releases that go north of three figures easy. These days secondary maturations or finishes are pretty much found on all levels (except the unaged whites for obvious reasons).

Savanna stands out in that it makes rums from both molasses and cane juice, instantly doubling the potential variety it makes. Just to keep all the permutations clear is probably why they have all those names for their rums: the “Intense” series are molasses-based and relatively low on esters, hence their being named “starter rums;” the “Lontans” (also called grand arôme rums) which are also from molasses but with longer fermentations and with a high resultant ester count; there are also the “Créol” rhums which are straightforward rhum agricoles, made from fresh sugar cane juice; and the “Métis” rums which are a blend of traditionnelle and agricole. Millesimes, fancy finishes and special editions at all strengths pepper their output as well.

From the above, then, you can get a clear picture of what this rums is: a molasses based low-ester blended rum, laid to rest in 2004, aged for 9 years in ex-cognac casks and then finished in a porto cask, released at 46%. These days that’s the spec for a really decent rum, but in 2014 when this came out, they called it a starter, which shows something of how much the world has moved on, and may be why so few reviews of it exist out there.

Compared to some of the other Savanna rums tried in this lineup, the nose of this 46% rum presents as nuttier and slightly fruitier (strawberries, mild pineapple, cherries); there is a light aroma of acetones and nail polish wafting around and it’s very tart and pleasant…though I’m not sure I could pick it out of a lineup if tried blind. After some time we have caramel and blancmange and toffee, swiss bonbons, vanilla, and a strong Irish coffee (used to love those as a young man). There is a dry wine-y note in the background, and some slightly bitter tannics reminiscent of pencil sharpener leftovers, none of it particularly excessive, more like a soft exclamation point to the main thrust of the nose.

The palate is somewhat of a letdown: I’ve been whinging about the mild inoffensive anonymity of 40% rums lately, so it’s surprising to find a rum six points higher providing so little character on its own account. It’s light, watery and sharp and none too impressive. Honey, nuts, dry pastries, toffee oatmeal cookiesit’s like a breakfast cereal with some extras thrown in. A bit salty and creamy here and there as the tasting goes on, with red grapes, pancakes, caramel, light molasses and some coffee grounds making their appearance, and they all vanish quickly in a short, sharp finish made exceptional only by its brevity.

Overall, this is something of a disappointment, coming as it does from a distillery which makes some really impressive drams. Overall, one must concede that it’s not completely delinquent in tasteit does have aspects that are well done, and the assembly is decent: you will get a reasonable sip out of it. It’s just there isn’t enough on stage for the €90 it goes for, it’s all quite simple and lightand one is left with the question of whether this is a poor man’s sipper or an indifferent high-end rum that got made too fast and issued too early. The fact that Savanna ended up releasing several 12 YO editions from the 2004 distillery outturn (including a grand arome I thought was superlative) suggests the latter may hit closer to the mark.

(#1057)(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • This is part of a collection of Savanna rhums Nico Rumlover sent me some time ago when he heard I was interested, long enough back for him to conceivably have forgotten he did so. Well, whether he remembers or not, I’m immensely grateful for the time he took to crate me a great selection of what the distillery can do.
  • There are several 2004 Porto Finish single barrel editions out there: I have found two Lontans from different barrels, one eight and one nine years old, this 9YO Intense and a couple of 12YO editions. I’m sure there a few others.
  • Distilled April 2004, aged 9 years; outturn 1327 bottles. Initially I supposedly the notation of the barrel number (#973) was what it was aged in, but observed there was also a 2004 12YO which also has cask #973 marked on it and that one has an outturn of 1480 bottles. Facebook netizen Jizeus Christ Guitare set me straight by informing me this was the number of the Porto cask, which makes more sense, as it could reasonably be used multiple times. Given the outturn one wonders whether it’s a port pipe or other large cask.
  • For further reading on Savanna, I wrote a too-brief historical backgrounder on the distillery, here. A more recent visit to Reunion with a tour of the distillery was described by Rum Revelations in 2022.
Feb 092024
 

We’ve met this distillery before, a mere hundred reviews or so ago. Founded by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall in 2016, they have slowly built quite a repertoire of spirits (he likes dark ones, she prefers light so maybe there’s some kind of Jack Sprat vibe going on here) – standard rums, white ones, spiced ones, the 2021 release of the 2-3 YO 55.5% Pure Single Rum I enjoyed and a brutal 63% “fire cane” I really want to try, plus gin, falernum, limoncello and vodka, which covers the bases nicely.

So here they are again, with a somewhat offbeat take on the Pure Single Rum, if not as strong. Because the background of the company is covered in that original review, I won’t rehash it here, except to note that the columnar still I mentioned then – 380L and six plateshas a name: Alba, which was the initial name of Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter before he renamed her Allegra. I enjoy these little winks that distillers make to some interesting aspect of their past or something that interests them, in the naming of their still, truly.

Photo (c) Lord Byron Distillery website

Anyway, about the rum: molasses based, using distiller’s yeast on a wash left for seven days in closed stainless vessels, then run through the two copper alembics (it’s double distilled), then matured a minimum of three years in ex-bourbon barrels sourced from Woodford Reservewhich if shy they can call it rum, and not a cane spirit. Of course, bearing in mind the sustainable, ecologically-friendly, zero-waste nature of their operation and commitment to making pure rums, it’s not chill filtered and additive free.

This is a rum that channels one of the more peculiar olfactory profiles I’ve yet come across- it reminds me something of some Japanese rums, especially kokuto shochus. It opens with an odd sort of earthy, mouldy, damp cellar aroma, and of wet, much-worn leather boots. Brine, olives and a vegetable soup with “plenty obstacles” and a fiery pimento for kick. There’s a sense of wet paint slapped onto decaying drywall, the bitter tang of roasting chestnuts (which I never cared for myself), plastic sheeting, and only at the end when all seems over and done with, do the shy tangy notes of ripe fruit emerge, some green apples, grapes, pears, that kind of thing. It’s an unusual nose and I’m unsure how well it would work at a heftier proof point, though I would have liked to see that one a bit more, I thinka lot of subtlety gets missed out on that, say, 43% or 46% might have shown off better.

This observation is apropos for the palate as well, which is quite crisp: and while not exactly clear or clean, is close enough not to offend while still being rather too mild for everything it apparently stuffs in its jock. It channels a hot, almost sour and spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with no shortage of lemongrass, salted butter melting in a pan, with olive oil and toasted rye bread coming behind that. Again the fruits take something of a back seat and only start becoming noticeable after the rum opens up, and even then there’s not a whole lot that one can easily pick out: lemon peel, fresh peaches, pears, some watermelon, more or less. But it does meld nicely into the whole, some of the dirty notes from the nose are absent, and the finish concludes things well: short, sharp, reasonably flavourful, all of it fading fast and acting like it just wants to bail.

Strictly speaking this is not my dram of grog. I’m not won over by the loamy and earthy notes at the beginning (the official site entry refers to “bourbon corn” as a tasting note) and aspects of the nose in particular don’t work for me; plus, as always, I have my issues with standard strengthit makes everything too mild which even a few additional points of proof might have showcased more effectively. Yet I can’t fault it for that, only admire the courage it must have taken to release the rum as it is, knowing it is something at right angles to more established profiles. So to conclude, Lord Byron’s rum showcases rather more potential than the sort of intense quality sported by the 55% 2018 Pure Single Rum they did before, and would seem to be aimed at the more easy going supermarket crowd who prefer more demure fare. The furious taste profile attendant on something stronger is missing, and the tastes will not be in everyone’s comfort zone: yet underneath all that, we see a much better rum is waiting to be appreciated, and now, having written my opinion, I think I’ll go back and try my sample a few more times. Let’s see if, after a few more hours, it delivers more concretely on what it promises.

Have a good weekend!

(#1056)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 13
Feb 062024
 

Photo (c) Whisky Auctioneer

Rumaniacs Review R-162 | #1055

Fantasias as a class of rum have pretty much faded from public view, only resurrected periodically in retrospectives like this onethese days spiced rums and spirit liqueurs hog attention and wallets. Yet they were popular, once, mostly in Europe around the 1950s to 1970s. By the eighties the style had started to diminish in popularity and the rise of standards and production regulation at a country- or regional level, as well as the emergence of a “pure” rum culture probably caused is eventual demise…though not it’s complete extinction..

What Fantasia rums were, was an evolution of the “Inlander” or domestic rhums of Germany and eastern Europe, also called verschnitt: Stroh, Tuzemak, Badel Domaci, Maraska and Casino 50° are its inheritors. Originally it was cheap or neutral alcoholoften from beetsthat was then added to: sometimes that addition was high ester Jamaican rums like DOKs, at others it was herbs and spices or infusions that gave it a local touch. It was always meant to be a sort of digestif, and this was why many of them were noted as being liqueurs. Italy was famed for them and indeed the first ones I ever found were from there, made by companies like Antoniazzi, Pagliarini, Tocini and Masera, who almost nobody now recalls.

As with those, not much is known about the company that made this one, except that it hails from west-central Portugal south of Porto; it was a wine wholesesaler and importer that also dealt in brandies and sparkling wines, and themanufacture of prepared and unprepared spirits” (the Portuguese term is Aguardentes preparadas / não preparadasfabricantes for those who want to try a better translation than my evidently wobbly one here). As far as I can tell, the company, which had a history dating back to the post-war years, eventually filed for insolvency in 2012 and was completely liquidated in 2023.

NoseNo surprise: wispy and faint, and quite thin. Apricots and cherries in syrup, Ripe peaches and the tartness of unripe fleshy fruits. Cherry syrup and myrtle, rosemary. White wine, green grapes, toffee and some vanilla. A touch of apple cider and lemon pie.

PalateSweet, but with an edge. Ripe apples and riper mangoes, plus those cherries in syrup again, which if I recall those first Italian fantasias from the 1950s I tried so many years ago, was something of a characteristic for them too. A nice hint of brine, olives and hot black tea; vanilla zest and some ice cream is about all.

FinishSweet, light, bland; vanilla and light pears, a touch of salt.

ThoughtsSuch a mixed bag of various tastes and aromas, that it comes out as indeterminate, and the additions are clear: no barrel ever imparted flavours such as these, although there is a tinge of “ruminess” coiling about the whole thing, so it’s not completely bad. Still, even at 40%, discerning a real profile is an effort in concentration: at end, what we conclude is that it really is mostly like flavoured rum-like ethanol and sugar water, without enough of a body or character to make a coherent statement for today’s rum enthusiasts. We buy it more for history and curiosity, not for sharing or showing off.

(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The term “corado artificialmente” on the label means “artificially coloured”
  • The rhum was bought at auctionthe 1970s era dates from the listingand shared with me by ex-rumista, wrestling enthusiast and good friend, Nicolai, so thanks to the man for the assist.
Feb 012024
 

Cabarita Spirits is the Australian equivalent of Nine Leaves, or so I like telling myself, and Keri Algar, the Spanish-born New Zealander who is the owner, may live in one of the prettiest places on earth, close to Cabarita Beach in the Tweed Shire of New South Wales (Husk Distillers are also in the neighbourhood). Like Yoshi-san in Japan before he did a runner on us, she is also chief cook and bottle washer, to say nothing of the entire procurement department, sales force, accounting section, maintenance manager, head distiller, bottling line and managing director all rolled into one. No, really.

Photo (c) Cabarita Spirits, from the webpage

All kidding aside, Cabarita is a small distillery, conceived in 2019 after Keri was feeling glumpish about doing soulless work for The Man in perpetuity. “I was wonderinghow to be able to live on a Pacific Island in the possession of a small beachside rum bar without spending the next twenty years behind a desk, when it occurred to me that I might make rum, and that could be a means to my tropical dreams.” Starting with a rinky dink 25-litre still and a 25-litre fermenter and a lot of ideas led to two years of relentless self-education, distillery visits, sourcing equipment, and incredibly hard work and experimentation. Finally she ended up with a 230-litre copper pot still (handmade in Western Australia by HHH Distill), which she named Felix after her Spanish grandfather, who had worked as chemist in a sugar factory back in the day, and started commercial production with the usual unaged cane spirit (but oddly, no gin“I never cared for it” she sniffs). While the official name of the distillery is Cabarita Spirits, she chose a different name“Soltera”for its associations with being carefree and unbound, though she does admit that these days she’s actually never been less carefree or unbound, what with all the effort of holding down all these jobs and only getting paid for one. But there are no regrets.

The “Oro” (“gold”) rum barrel aged cane spirit which formed part of the 2023 advent calendar is her second edition of a slightly aged product. Released in that year, it derives from molasses (sourced from Condong Sugar Mill in northern NSW for the curious), has a 3-4 week open fermentation time using commercial yeast, run through Felix and then aged for eight months in an ex-bourbon barrique that was re-coopered to ~120L and charred with a medium burn. What comes out the other end is an almost-but-not-quite colourless 40% rum that really isn’t half bad. All that hard work and playing around, methinks, sure paid off.

Let’s start with how it smells: sweet, light and citrusy, channelling the sunshine of a spring morning where the slight nip of departing winter still lingers and the grass is wet with dew. There are notes of key lime pie (including a warm pastry), light florals, pineapples, bananas and kiwi fruit, old paper, and a sort of potpourri air freshener. Also the faintest hint of vanilla and caramel, damp earth and cashews, but held way back. Air freshener, potpourri. I like the youthful freshness of it, the delicacy backed up by a solid backbone of aged and varied aromas, and call me a romantic, but I see the owner in this one in a way I rarely do with others.

What I want to remark on as well, is the way the palate opens up over time. Initially it doesn’t taste like there’s too much going on (“too faint” I grumbled in my initial notes before crossing it out…twice) – laundry drying on the line, ginger, yoghurt, olive oil, caramel, citrus and pineapples (again). It takes effort to tease these notes out. Yet after five minutes, then ten, then half an hour, it turns bright and sparkling, and what in a lesser rum might be faint and wispy anonymous notes of zero distinction is transmuted somehow to a taste that’s really quite lovely. By the time I’m done, I’m scribbling about citrus, mangoes, laundry detergent and pastries and pouring another glass for Mrs. Caner to try and admiring the finish, which is longer and more crisp and tart than any standard strength rum has a right to be,

Admittedly I’m fonder of higher proof rums, so freely concede that, sure, yes, there could be more strength here (and my score reflects that): yet somehow the whole thing works well and it deserves its plaudits. Consider also the difference between what this is and what the disappointing Bayou White from last week was. There we had a sort of indifferent lowest-common-denominator commercial product made to sell and not to taste: it had about as much character as a sheet of saran wrap. Keri has not made a world beater here, noI’d be lying if I said thatbut she’s made a tasty rum with passion and drive and her own character stamped all over it. It’s a lovely little number, and a win in all the ways that matter.

(#1054)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 5
Jan 282024
 

Consider for a moment the distinctive bottle shape and sleek label design ethos of the Bayou Louisiana white rum. The crystal clear white and green1 motifs (call me an overly-visual imagineer if you will) hints at cane juice, grass, and sunshine and channels thoughts of a clean and tasty white rum in fine style. Just as well that this is all in my head because while the text tells you the usual stats, little of the images and sense of what they represent, is real.

The company making the rum is called Louisiana Spirits LLC: it was founded in 2011 by brothers Tim and Trey Litel and their friend Skip Cortes, with Bayou as their flagship brand in January 2013 (the idea had been floated in a duck blind). The chosen name was obvious (and survey-tested for its recognition factor, as if this were necessary), and back then the design had a ‘gator on it. By 2018 in a rebranding exercise it had been renamed “White” and the modern design had snapped into focus. The wag in me suggests that maybe more surveys were done but actually that’s when the SPI Group (the owners of Stoli vodka and headquartered in Luxembourg) who had already bought a majority stake in 2016, acquired all the remaining shares and took over. Some still tout it as being the largest privately owned rum distillery in the US, which I guess depends on how you look at it and where the private hands are.

Anyway, the production details: those are scanty. The label says it’s made from molasses and “sugar cane” (what does that mean, I wonder?); the company website notes the molasses as being blackstrap, provided by a family-owned sugar mill in Louisiana, M.A. Patout and Sons (whose centuries-old history is quite interesting in its own right), yet don’t seem to have any interest in making cane juice rums in the one state which has oodles of cane fields in close proximity. They have a pot still. They blend. The white rum supposedly rests for forty days before being bottled. That’s it.

Based on how it samples, I wonder at that last bitbecause all the solid character of a rum that’s had nothing but “rest” to calm it down off the still, is missing. The rum is a whole lot of standard strength nothing-in-particular. The nose channels a puling sort of weak candied ethanol, vanilla, watered down yoghurt (is there such a thing?) plus a whiff of shoe polish, sugar water and the faintest suggestion of pears and watermelon. This is a glass I poured first thing in the morning when the senses were sharp, kept there for an entire day, and that flaccid set of notes was all that was there the whole time.

There’s a bit more action on the plate, though I confess that this is damning it with faint praise since it started from such a low level already. Some sweet gherkins, a touch of tart fruit, biscuits, more ethanol and sugar water. I thought I spotted a green grape making out with a ripe pear at one stage, but admit this could be my imagination, the whole thing is is so faint and lacklustre. The finish is actually not too badit has some sharpness and dry robust character, and here one can get a vague sense of apples, green grapes and vanilla. Overall, however, it’s too little, too faint, too late and simply serves to demonstrate how everything that comes before is sub-par.

The Rumaniacs series boasts many examples of anonymous inflight minis, holiday-resort stalwarts and cruise ship staples exactly like it, and maybe that’s all this is really good for, because it channels the sort of bland, lightly aged, filtered, colourless mixers that Bacardi did with such aplomb in the seventies. Bayou continues this noble tradition, and lures you in with a great presentation bolted on to a taste that’s inoffensively boring and milquetoast, and so devoid of character, that one is, with genuine befuddlement, forced ask what they thought they were doing. If Bayou were trying to make a light vodka-like spirit, or a standard white back-bar mixer without pretensions, then they surely succeeded. If they were trying to make a white that wowed people’s socks off and put the US rum producers on the map, not even close.

(#1053)(72/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From my experience, I would suggest the rum is slightly aged and filtered to white, even if this is not mentioned anywhere.
  • Although taken over by SPD, much of the original staff seem to have remained involved, especially the head distiller, blender and even the owners.

Opinion

While for most average rum drinkers or rum buyers the disclosure on production mentioned above is enough, for my money that’s not even basic information. Fermentation is not mentioned; abv off the still is not disclosed; no photo of the still is on the website; and the ageing program is never discussed, which is to say, is the rum treated a la Bacardi with one or two year’s ageing and then filtered to white, or is a true unrefined white such as are increasing in popularity and which actually taste like a rum, not alcoholic water?

None of this is considered important enough to either mention on their website, in any of their many press releases, or interviews in the media. To me, it says a lot for what the rum truly is: a commercially and indifferently distilled product with no pretensions to being anything more. I don’t hold any grudges on this account, but what’s the big deal about mentioning it? Own your sh*t ,and don’t dress it up like something it’s not.

Still, one can only admire their expansion. The company stated it was moving 15,000 cases a year in seven states by the time Stoli approached them at the tail end of 2015, which is an incredible feat to have accomplished in three years, when you think about what the market in the US is likeone can conclude either it’s because of their great product or their great distributor or great marketing.

But I am of the belief that no producer or distiller who is truly proud of the product they make, tells you so little about it while dressing up their bottle so smartly…or disposes of their interest so fast. The fact that they sold out less than five years after they began suggests that money was always the motive, not making a really good white rum that would put Bayou on any list of great American rum producers. And I think that’s something of a shame.


 

Jan 232024
 

Black Gate distillery is an outfit to keep an eye on. The husband and wife team of Genise and Brian Hollingsworth made waves (to me, at any rate) with their 52% Dark Overproof back in 2021 and in 2023 they have come close yet again with this lovely Shiraz-cask-aged numberwhich doesn’t reimagine the rumiverse so much as take lots of what’s good with it and re-engineer it into a taste that’s uniquely their own.

Let’s just refresh our memories: located in central New South Wales, Black Gate was founded in 2009 in the small rural town of Mendooran. The husband and wife team splits the duties: Genise Holingsworth does the good stuff and makes the Lord’s favoured spirit, while her husband Brian dutifully makes that other obscure drink and handles the maintenance aspects (he’s a fitter machinist and auto mechanic by trade). They sourced two pot stillsrelatively small at 630 litres and 300 litres capacityand work with food grade molasses, commercial yeast and water, to make their various rum expressions. All are small batch (the rum output of Black Gate is only about 2000 litres per annum, and that includes the other thing). The distillery makes various Dark Rums with different finishes or cask maturations, and aside from whiskies, no cash flow stalwarts such as gins or “cane spirit” seem to be on the menu.

Photo (c) Black Gate Distillery FB page

Rums are aged in Port or Sherry casks, or both, for a minimum of two yearsto be able to be classified as “rum” under Australian law, if you recall. With respect to this one, the source was from the aforementioned molasses, and fermented for around two weeks, then run through the direct-fire pot still, aged about 3-4 years in a 225-litre Huntington Estate Shiraz cask from Mudgee, then left to rest for two months before bottling. As with the overproof, labels are all the same for all these dark rums no matter when made: the specifications are, in a clever bit of economising, white printed stick-ons. The strength of the sample from the 2023 advent calendar was 45.6%, and I note there’s a newer version for sale on their website at 47.2%, so be aware of and on the lookout for some batch variation.

More is not needed so let’s get right into it. Nose firstthis starts off interesting right away: rubber, funk, rotten oranges, flowers, tart yoghurt, wet leather and the sour hotness of kimchi, ashlyan-foo and turkish peppers. Underneath this rather startling mash up lurks a musky odour of damp loam, a kind of freshly watered potter’s mix which doesn’t sound appetising, but which I assure you, kind of is. Coiling around all that are fainter notes of acetones, ginger, vegetable soup, and pickled russian cabbage (not sauerkraut). The nose as a whole is not unpleasant, just goes off at something of a tangent and it’s probably a good idea to to let this one stand for a bit and come back to it a few times to get the full impact.

What I like about the taste is that it provides the tangy fruit that are not as clearly evident on the nose. Slightly sweet, it presents chocolate oranges, some caramel, leather, smoke, with vanilla and darker fruit (prunes, ripe raspberries, plums) coming through off the shiraz cask and the ageing. Ginnips, fresh cashews, grapes and green apples with a touch of licorice and that damp earth, apricots and overripe Thai mangoes, accompanied by a solid spicy heat all the way down culminating in a really nice low key but long lasting finish redolent of honey, brandy, coffee and fruitiness.

That’s really quite a bit for any rum to be sporting, and is one of the reasons I kept it on the go for longer than usual (two days)…just to see how it would develop. What may surprise casual drinkers is that even with all those sometimes off-kilter tastes coming through (and I must be honestthe assembly is a bit off and some will not like everything they taste here), the rum feels really accessible, even to the less exacting drinker. It gives a lot and the strength is rightmore power and intensity might have shredded itand so it doesn’t so much so much rock the boat as gently move it around a few times.

Speaking for myself, tasting this thing was a pleasurebecause with their playful experimentation, careful distillation and shiraz ageing, Black Gate have produced a young rum that is a touch off the rails, sure, but also a decent and intriguing sipping experience. Perhaps it’s no accident that That Boutique-y Rum Company picked it as one of their ‘Return to Oz’ series recently. If I was their buyer, I would likely have given it a shot too.

(#1052)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The exact age is unknown. 3-4 years goes the blurb
  • Outturn is also unclearbecause of the small scale of the distillery and the notation that it is one barrel (#BG-140), one must assume it’s less than 350 bottles.
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 17
Jan 192024
 

Although I tried all three standard expressions of the Romero Distilling Co. at the Rocky Mountain Food and Drink show in Calgary in 2023, I had already bought all of them before, and this came in useful when double checking my quickly scribbled notes on the “Amber.” That was the one which I had almost bypassed in favour of the “Dark” and the extraordinary full proof Sherry Cask editionwhich I still think is one of the best Canadian rums I’ve had to date.

A quick recap: the Calgary-based Romero Distilling Company was founded in 2018 by Diego Romero, an engineer who opened the distillery with his son Tomas (it was the latter who was running the booth that day), with a 2000-litre hybrid copper still and three 2000-litre fermenters; they use Crosby molasses from Guatemala (by way of New Brunswick) as its base, together with a commercial yeast. The company only makes rum, and remain very little known outside Albertawhich I’m hoping will change.

This rum derives from molasses, then, and is dialled in from a pot still configuration. We have no information on the duration of the distillation date, fermentation process, or the exact age of the resulting distillate. As far as I know, it’s a couple of years old (aged in ex bourbon Woodford Reserve barrels), with a relatively short time in the ex-Oloroso sherry barrels…a few months, perhapsneither data point is provided. I am at a loss why such information is not placed front and centre on the label or the web page, since it would seem to be an obvious selling point, but Romero has stated that they want to de-emphasize the number-counting people do when considering ageing as a factor, and focus on the blend as a whole. As before, I think this is not the right course of action in today’s more open world. But that’s Romero, so let’s move on to what it’s actually like.

The nose starts off by being rather thin and uninviting, which is not unusual for a 40% rum, and it does present as somewhat alcohol forward without much that’s redeeming…until it starts to build up a head of steam. Then we get some plastic, plasticine, iodine and licorice, which is nice, and toffee, caramel, vanilla and brown sugar, which is better. As it opens up there are additional hints of new leather shoes, some spicy notes (cinnamon, maybe, and cardamom), and a peculiar, faint combination of fresh sawdust and peaches in syrup, all very delicate.

Much of this comes back on the palate when tasted. There’s some slightly sweet alcohol, glue, fly paper (I swear!), cardboard, hay and a milk-soaked long-standing bowl of weetabix. With some effortthe rum remains faint throughout and one really has to pay attentionthere are also red olives and raspberries, but not a whole lot more. The finish, no surprise, is short and thin, but very clean and a little sweet. Not too bad.

Eschewing spicessupposedly it didn’t have anyand going for the sherry finish was probably a good idea, because really, the rum would be thin gruel without it. That finish saves it from being some kind of light 1970s throwback of the kind I’ve learned to endure (but not particularly like), and there’s enough going overall on for those with more sensitive snoots than mine to be able to sip it without undue issues.

For my money, however, the rum is too weak and it’s too faint, and that’s in spite of the sherry finish that provides such an intriguing but hard-to-sense counterpoint to the familiar vanilla and butterscotch notes coming from the ex-bourbon barrels. There’s potential here, and one can sense a better, stronger and more assertive rum waiting to emerge. It’s just not enough, and if we really wanted to see this thing cranked up, well, I guess then we’d call it the full proof edition, wouldn’t we, and it’s already established that that is the better rum. So for those who want to play it safe, save fifteen bucks and have a decent drink, this is the rum that will do the trick. For everyone else, it’ll be slim pickings.

(#1051)(75/100) ⭐⭐½

Jan 152024
 

Once again we start the new year off with a series of rums from the Australian Advent Calendar, 2023 Edition. First issued by the Australian rum-loving couple Mr. & Mrs. Rum in 2021, not in 2022 and now again for 2023, it answers what we out west have been wondering about for years (well…at least I have) – what’s going on with the rums being made in Australia over and beyond Bundaberg, which everyone cheerfully loathes and Beenleigh which everyone likes? Twenty four rums in the calendar, a whole raft of new and old distilleries strutting their stuff, and let me tell you, to get them to Canada was a ripping yarn in itself…not entirely unlike Butch’s father’s watch, you could say.


We begin the series out of order, with a rum from the island of Tasmania, made by a little outfit called Island Coast Spirits, located just south of Hobart, the state capital (Tasmania is an island state of Australia). It is, it should be noted, not a distillery itself since it has no equipment. The owner, Kirk Pinner, runs over to the Observatory Hill Winery (about half an hour to the NE on the other side of Hobart) which (a) is run by a friend (b) makes rum (and brandy, gin, schnapps and wine) and (c) has a still. He rents that still and makes his own rum, so not quite a contract operation like we saw with Mandakini a few weeks ago, yet not entirely a true producer or an indie either. The website is rather scanty on details, so Kirk very kindly answered an email of mine providing some of this info, and a brief company bio is provided below.

For the purposes of this review, what we need to know is the following: the rum is made on a pot still, using a combination of fermented raw cane juice and molasses…so a hybrid rum if there ever was one. Once off the still it is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels with a light char, for something just under three years and bottled at living room strength of 40%.

[My desire was…] to produce the spirits I wanted,” Kirk wrote to me, and clearly he had something easygoing in mind. Not some backyard snarling ester-sporting beefcake that stomped all over one’s glottis, just a rum that was easy and accessible. The nose confirmed that he did fairly okay with that: it smelled of delicate icing sugar, vanilla, pastries hot from the oven, as well as more standard caramel, swiss bon-bons and a light touch of molasses and brown sugar. Also some cinnamon, eggnog, ice cream, a relatively sweetish aroma, and all over soft and straightforward and simple.

The 40% ABV made for a clean and unaggressive entry; it tasted pleasantly warm and a little sweet and came completely without aggro. Vanilla and caramel and toffee carried over from the nose. A few sweetish fruitpeaches, pearsnothing too acidic or tart. Molasses, a hot caramel macchiato, flambeed bananas, icing sugar on a cake fresh out of the oven, leading serenely to a short, finish that summed up the preceding without adding much that was new.

Picture (c) Island Cost Spirits FB Page

It’s a nice little rumlet without undue pretensions, but that same easy going nature is something of a weak point for those who like their rums more assertive. There are amber Bacardis with more going on than we see here, and I had similar remarks (and reservations) about Killik’s Gold, where I noted that such low ABV hamstrings a rum that could be better a few points higher. But that said, it will work for some, because it’s simply not trying hard to be a game changer…just a soft breezy rum for easy sipping. On that level it succeeds, and the awards it’s racked up in its brief lifea silver medal at the 2022 Australian Rum Awards in Queensland, and another silver at the World Rum Awards in London in 2023 (pot still NAS category) – suggests that others certainly seem to like what the company is offering, my own reservations notwithstanding.

(#1050)(77/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Fermentation time, barrel size, ratio of sugar cane juice to molasses, outturn, are all unknown
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 4

Brief Historical bio

Island Coast Spirits is, as noted, a Tasmanian spirits maker (not a distillery). It was founded in October 2021 and has adhered to the principle of making their spirits on a third party’s distillation apparatusa pot stillfrom the beginning. This was a conscious decision made at the inception: Kirk Pinner knew when he began planning, that he did not want the significant overheads and costs/debt associated with setting up his own distillery. He wanted the flexibility to not have all that headache but to be able to concentrate on his own desires and strengths: namely to have the ability to take on projects/new spirits on a whim without worrying about the infrastructure; and to focus more on the business relationships, ingredients, selection of barrels, blending and back end work. To that end he turned to those with some expertise (like Observatory Hill Winery) and used their skills to make his spirits.

In the three years since he began, the company now makes seven different products: Vodka, Rum, Gin and Whisky, and three flavoured vodkas. So far there is just one rum in the portfoliothis onewith another very interesting one in the pipeline waiting to be released sometime in 2024. In the meantime, the distribution within Tasmania and on the mainland is good, and Kirk is building on his success (and awards) to take his juice on the road to various F&B trade expos in Asia to promote the island, the brand and the rum.


 

Jan 082024
 

This is the third time I am coming to the famed Nicaraguan rum producer’s 12 year old rum. The first occasion was in 2011 when I was still somewhat wet behind the ears: then, I commented that it was a bridge between the sipping quality older expressions and the younger mixers of the bartender’s arsenal. In 2017 I picked up another bottle to see if my opinions had changed significantly after additional years of tasting and writing, a wider and somewhat more experienced palate and a better sense of the global nature of rums. They hadn’t. It scored around the same both times.

In 2022 I went through the 12, the 15 and the 18 yet again. There were several reasons for this. One was simply opportunisticthey were available all in a row (well, why not? It’s as good a reason as any). Two, the “Centenario” is relegated to much smaller type, there is a ‘Carbon Neutral Certified’ notation, the “slow aged” thing so many sneered at in years past is gone, and an unambiguous age statement is right there: 12 Years Old. So I was curious whether that translated into something more serious. And lastly, the reviewing game tends to focus on currently popular rums and bottlers, so to revisit an old standby is needed every now and then, perhaps to apply a corrective, to check out a change in blending philosophy, or simply to see how one’s own opinion may have developed.

On the face of it, it’s not a substantially different rum. It remains a column still distillate from molasses made by the company’s facilities in Nicaragua. It adheres to the Latin/Cuban style of rum-making whereby a light distillate is sought and the real quality of the final product is demonstrated not by fermentation or still-tweaking, but by what happens after: by ageing in ex-bourbon barrels, marrying and skilful blending over time. I’ll take it on faith for now that it really is 12 years old.

By the standards above, the Flor 12 YO does not break much new ground or show off anything widely divergent from its predecessors, though it remains a tasty dram. It is gentle to smell, easy on the nose, well rounded aromatically and reminds of us of why it retains much popularity: some molasses and brown sugar notes, honey, almonds, cinnamon and light flowers. A touch of vanilla, polished leather and smoke, not much more.

40% won’t ravage the palate and the age has sanded off most of the roughness. Again there is the caramel, bon-bons, light molasses and honey. The almonds and spicesvanilla and cinnamonmake a reappearance in the background and the florals recede somewhat, while lending a subtle and delicate counterpoint. White chocolate, orange peel and nougat round things out in a finish of no great length, intensity or complexity. Like the coitus of the young, it’s over quickly.

While not particularly disappointed by the 12 YO, I’m not really impressed by it either. There are few notes of distinction about it, little that is special which would elevate it above many other blended rums of similar age that compete more successfully in the same age space: El Dorado 12 YO, Bacardi Diez, R.L. Seale 10 YO, English Harbour 10 YO, Appleton 12 YO, all of which score the same or a bit higher. It’s affordable and it sells, and the fact that it remains available after all these years indicates something of its appeal and durability. But to me, it feels like something of an indifferent throwaway, a “merely necessary” rum that is needed to round out the portfolio…and thus, the kind of product one might find on a bottom supermarket shelf, where average rums go to die.

(#1049)(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • All my Flor de Cana reviews, including those of the independents, can be found using this link. For my money, their best rum (aside from the 25 and 30 which I have not tried) has always been the blue bottled 15 YO “21”.
  • The Flor de Caña (flower of the cane) branded rum is made in Nicaragua by the Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, which was formally established in 1937 (though workers of the San Antonio sugar refinery which was its basis had been distilling their own festive hooch for local celebrations for maybe half a century before that, hence the “1890” dating on the label). The success of the distilling company led to expansion and to exporting rums to other countries in Central and South America by the late 1950s. Following on the heels of the trend established by DDL in 1992, they began to issue aged premium rums. In the mid-2010s the brand started to slip in popularity as independent bottlers, higher proof and special premium editions became more popular. The the scandal of Chronic Kidney Disease around the same time was a huge reputational blow, and the company has reportedly addressed the major health issues which led to such damning reports, as well as pivoting to a more ecological production philosophy.
Jan 052024
 

Speaking from my solitary spot in the rumiverse, 2023 was in many ways a year of challenges and changes and oddly enough, also of maintaining the status quo and holding the line. It was an exciting year with many new experiences and many new rums, and while I could not attend quite as many festivals as I might have preferredor met as many friends, colleagues, aficionados and rum people as I wanted toin many respects the year was a success on other levels and I really can’t complain except for one thing: I didn’t get to taste enough, or write enough. All this while the rum world was expanding and generating ever more new and fascinating branches and going in some interesting directions.

So here’s my observations on the state of the rumiverse, and my commentary on emerging trends and some interesting issues that popped up over the year.

Personal

For those who know something of my vagabond nomadic existence, the big event of 2023 was that after ten years living and working abroad, I returned with my family to Canada, leaving behind a stash of rums in Europe whichin spite of much begging, pleading, negotiating or even outright connivinghad to stay there because the duties and tax levied on shipping such a huge collection were simply unaffordable. One of these days I’ll figure out what to do with it, I guess.

Happily, the decade away showed me that at least Alberta (if not other provinces) began to get a pretty good rum selection, often from abroad but also from Canadian producers. Admittedly we get only the most occasional Velier rum, and none of the Foursquare ECS series; most of the indies are absent, agricole availability remains weak and juice from the Far East, Taiwan or Australia are wistful daydreams; but enough distillery and independent bottlings are now being seen that one can reasonably pick up a cask strength rum from Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, South America, Japan, and even the odd American edition, with some sleuthing…a high point for me was finding the Japanese Teeda 21 YO, for example.

On the flip side, what with trying to get professional, family and social life back into order, it made writing harder; a lot of that was just finding the time and energy to keep it up. The level of written output maintained for so many yearstwo reviews a week, essays, opinion pieces, articles and what have youdeclined, and so for 2023 I only wrote 86 reviews (vs 88 the year before) even though I travelled less; wrote no published opinions (though quite a few unpublished ones), made no new lists, posted no essays. The Key Rums and Makers series languished somewhat for lack of time to do the deep dives they require: they limped along. And there were at least regular updates to several reference posts which I like keeping an eye on: the Strongest Rums of the World, the Guide to Online Resources and the Annual Global Rumfest Schedule, all of which I think are really useful, and which should not be left to become dated. I remained active on Reddit and posted a few longform comments, but let’s face itthe reduction in output was marked. This was and is frustrating because there are a lot of things I want to research and document more deeply, and the hope is that in 2024 as things settle down I can resume a better output and address these.

Other stuff

Being able to interact with people in an environment where alcohol was not illegalwhich is to say, outside of a rum festival environmentwas also something I had not realised I missed so much during years of enforced teetotalling. People could actually come over and taste with me. I could attend a tasting, and get a bit of a buzz on, talk to interesting people, meet new ones. The New Renegade tasting run by Jane Nurse at Willow Park was a great evening, and I reconnected with all the fun people at Kensington Wine Market (especially when they had a rum tasting of their own). Mitch Wilson passed through on his world tour, and I attended his Black Tot session in Edmonton; I met Karl Mudzamba of Bira! when he came to Calgary and had an awesome afternoon riffing about the subject with him and some friends. And having Logan, Dwayne, Carter and Neil come over to share their finds and damage my shelf on a weekend afternoon was just a great experience. That said, the store people at major emporia almost totally ignore this category and know little about it, nobody outside the extremely small circle of rumdorks in Western Canada has a clue that there even is such a reviewer as the ‘Caner, and so the obscurity that I began with has come full circle. C’est la vie.

Mitch of Black Tot and the Krzysiek (the Rum Explorer), Berlin 2023, on the cruise….

With respect to rum festivals, well, those had to be chosen carefully and it was with real regret that I passed on Paris for their major events in March and October and had to limit things to the TWE and German rum shows, which was a decision driven by their being a week apart so attending both was feasible. They were great though: going on a nighttime rum cruise in Berlin with Matt & Carrie, Mitch, the Colours of Rum crowd, the Rum Explorer and Mrs. Caner was an event of which I will retain fond memories; I met up with Alex of the Rum Barrel, Steve Magarry from Oz, Dawn Davies, Dirk Becker, Pete Holland, the Skylark boys, Kris Van S., the UK rum-loving crowd, and of course the UK rum-making crowd from all those amazing little distilleries up and down the country. Overall, I just had a lot of fun walking around and talking to people.

Unsurprisingly, my new location almost demanded that my focus on which rums to review be shifted again, as they already have several times. My desire to try more rums from Australia was temporarily sated (though I look forward with real eagerness to writing about the 2023 Advent Calendar), and I have a backlog of rums from new distilleries from the UK to write about. I lack access to the best of the newest that’s out therein that respect Canada has not really changedbut on the flip side this leaves me free to spend some time looking at what Canada itself has to offer. For the most part, my initial forays have proved uninspiringespecially among the white rumsbut there are glimmers of light in the darkness. Romero and Ironworks demonstrated real quality, for example, and I know there are others to be found and written about.

Passing 1,000

Another event of some note was, of course, that the ‘Caner finally hit that once-unthinkable milestone of the 1,000th review. You have to understand what that meant to a guy who, when he started, once thought that making it to a hundred was cool beans…and didn’t even think there were a thousand rums to taste (let alone that they could be sourced). I’m not the first to get thereSerge Valentin was and remains way ahead (as I write this in the final days of 2023 he’s closing fast on 2000 rum entries) and I’m of the firm opinion that had Wes Burgin (The Fat Rum Pirate) not taken a leave of absence from the reviewing gig he would have gotten to that stat next since he wrote and posted fast and more often. But you’ll forgive me for being just a little proud of the accomplishment. The enormous catalogue of essay-length reviews, none of which was phoned in or just dashed off, all of which I can stand behind, has proved to be a consumer reference tool as useful in it own way as any book out there; and hardly a week goes by when someone doesn’t ask about a rum from decades ago which now only lurks on those sometimes obscure and forgotten posts. Tasting notes go stale within a few years, but as snapshots of a moment in time the background details and surrounding context do serve a useful function to laypeople now getting involved in the field…and this is why, although I think the Key Rums series is important, my real love is given to the Rumaniacs, started so many years ago in Paris.

Anyway, as an aside: when I began approaching the milestone I wanted to write about something very special. I sent out an exploratory note to Luca Gargano in Genoa to see if there was anything I could raid his legendary warehouse for, but that got nowhere. And seeing how occasionally, very occasionally, Richard Seale puts out a two- or three-bottle extraordinary release for worthy causes, I seriously considered approaching the man and asking him what could be done…but couldn’t find the courage (or the arrogance to pretend it was a huge deal to anyone except myself). Yet, as luck and a penchant for sniffing around liquor stores would have it, one day I found that amazing Lost Spirits Jamaican rum from 1976 gathering dust (for two freakin’ years!) in an Edmonton shop, and after thinking hard about it for a fortnight, ended up getting the bottle, it became Review #1000, and never regretted that for a momentit’s now another one of those rums for which I need a special occasion to share with others.

Developments in the Greater Rum World

With respect to the rumiverse generally, here are few observations I made throughout the year.

For one, the number of independent bottlers just keeps increasing every year, and it seems like each turn around the sun brings a new challenger out to the front, in a way that just excites people’s interest and ignites their enthusiasm. In past year we had the Companie, 1423, Nobilis, Bira!, Rom Deluxe, Valinche & Mallet, TBRQ, Dram Mor, Nectar of the Daily Drams, Swell de Spirits, Rum Sponge and others, and I don’t think it’s wrong to say the Polish company Colours of Rum was the one people were looking at in 2023, if the scuttlebutt, social media commentary and sheer visibility factor is taken into accountcertainly they seem to be all over the place these days and the rums they select are damned fine. Holmes Cay is also of note: they made waves mostly in the States and now have an increasing presence in Europe as well (especially with that thundering duo of the uber-aged pot still Foursquare rum and the Grand Arome from Savanna they came out with).

Alas, we lost sight of Sangar from Liberia, and I heard Toucan from French Guiana folded its tents which is a shame and a loss for all of us. Mim in Ghana has changed hands I think; fortunately there’s a fair bit of their juice floating around Europe. Nine Leaves in Japan is having some difficulties and I don’t think they’re doing much right now, and Moscoso in Haiti is using others’ facilities to make their klerens. As always we have losses to offset the gains.

Concurrent with all that, are a plethora of new and small distilleries emerging from around the world. In the UK we saw Retribution, Ninefold, Outlier, Dropworks, J. Gow and the Islay Rum Company take on greater visibility (they were founded in previous years and I met many in 2022, but they deserve mention again here). Matugga out of Uganda is going strong in a new direction. Australian distilleries like Killik, Tin Shed, Husk and Beenleigh began to be represented more in the indies’ repertoire, and none too soon, because a raft of others making rums of equal quality is snapping at their heels and I’m convinced we’ll see many more cross our sightline in the years to come (and none too soon). The Asian scene remained quiet and I can’t say I saw much from Sampan, Vientiane or Issan on the festival circuit, but I know they’re all still there so maybe I just attended the wrong festivals and didn’t shop enough.

With the pretty half of Renaissance DistilleryTWE Rumshow 2023

If I had to single out a single distillery for kudosoutside the indies, the Aussies or the New Brits (and I loved them all) — it’s going to have to be Renaissance out of Taiwan, whose single cask, full-proof, sub-five year old rums were simply astonishing, all of them. Their coming out party was at the TWE Rumshow in July and I consider myself fortunate to not only meet the husband and wife team and their sons (same age as the Little Big Caner) but to attend their masterclass and find out more about what they went through to get to this stage….sort of like toiling for a decade to become an overnight success. I know they brought over their best half-dozen to wow us proles, but nobody can make six rums that good without knowing exactly what they’re doing.

And this brings me to an observation I had first made to myself a year ago, thought was premature to state in 2022, which now seems to be appropriate: young rums we would not have looked at seriously before have started to become really damned good. We are conditioned to look for big numbers and multi-decade old rums and yes, those will always be fine and expensive and command our desire. Yet consider how many rums ten years or youngereven five years and belowhave crossed our paths in the last few years and which enthralled, wowed and out-and-out impressed us. Renaissance was one, the Australians and Brits showed us a bunch of others, and even the various blends coming out of more established distilleries around the Caribbean are showing a serious uptick in quality and appreciation. My friends in the whisky world groused many years ago that first the distilleries and blenders made a big thing of “age is everything” until aged stocks ran low at which point they switched the mantra to “age isn’t everything” in their marketing. Perhaps the same thing also happened in rum, but the amount of new distilleries selling really fantastic younger rums to make cash flow suggests that our little corner of the spirits world may simply be better at making such elixirs.

Arminder, the gent behind Rum Revival, (c) Rum Revival Instagram feed

Online Resources

If you were to consider only website-based reviewers you might think the writing gig is one of diminishing interest and output. I have come to the realisation that this is not so, it’s just that the format and platform and methodology has changed. The rum writing and reviewing game is as vibrant as ever, one only has to look elsewhere.

Some years ago I commented on my dissatisfaction with the increasing prevalence of the “short form” review model (you could argue Serge Valentin popularised if not actually created it), whereby quick, tasty little McNuggets of reviews are written, tasting notes are briskly and succinctly provided and a score assigned. I feltthen and to some extent nowthat bereft of context and without placing of a rum in its larger universe, with no provision of some historical or other background, such reviews may be quick to write and lend themselves to building a fast library of tasting notes, but are not always as valuable in the long term. However, in all the ensuing years, the trend has continued and it’s time to stop whining and simply accept that this is the way the world now consumes information. And indeed some of these little reviews, which are almost always platform-based on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or even FB, are pretty good, with the subreddit /r/rum being the best of them all, and Instagram coming right behind it.

It’s not just written micro-reviews either. Other formats are becoming more prevalent. A new short-form video reviewer I like, Arminder Randhawa, started his Instagram feed and YouTube channelRum Revival in 2022; and 2023 is when he really picked up a head of steam and became much more well known. I met him at TWE Rumshow in July and he’s pretty much the same as he is in his videos: fun, pleasant, engaging. In his videos he is crisp, informative and has good editing chopshis presentations really move along and unlike some others, eschew gimmickry, stay resolutely focused and on point which is why he can get away with very short ones.

Older stalwarts like Steve the Barman (on YouTube) remain fixtures on the video scene and almost makes me want to try a spiced rum on occasion (he lives in hope). His philosophy is simply that somebody needs to talk about these bottom feeders as well and so he does it, with a blend of enthusiasm and fast talk that is really fun to watch. He has not changed my mind so far, but then, he doesn’t need to. And a hat tip to Ready Set Rum in the USA who has much fun with his friends and rums as he ever did. All three of these made the Rum Raiders “Five Most Influential Rum YouTube Channels of 2023” listalong with Nia of My Rum Diaries and the duo of Roger and Robert of Just Drinking.

In any event, what I did not see as clearly then but which has slowly come into focus, is that such visual or short form reviews are part of the third internet generation of creative endeavour. This is a generation of creatives which moves a lot faster, attracting a cohort of the consuming audience whose attention span is a lot shorter and probably skews younger. Thousand word essays are passe, reading is so yesterday, and it’s crisp little reviews that make up the bulk of the reviewing ecosystem these days, including the video reviews and podcasts that have become more popular, and this is where I should give a loud shout out to the pair of Will Hoekinga and John Gulla who run that always excellent biweekly podcast The RumCast, which for me is required listening even when I disagree with them. With the exception of Steve and Ralfy who are in the UK, they serve a primarily American audience (and this shows if you know what you’re looking for), but all have a reach far exceeding that and should not be ignored.

A quick roundup of the others around the world: the UK rum reviewing scene has tilted and the three long time resources of Rum Diaries Blog, Rumshop Boy and The Fat Rum Pirate have ceased writing. They remain active on social media and the general rum community but hardly review any longer. Into their place have stepped others. Alex of the Rum Barrel is one of the best: he is a bartender at Trailer Happiness and you sort of wonder where he finds the time to be so prolific; his UK rum distillery tour is an example of the passion and breadth he brings to the subject. Another is Stuart, who runs the Secret Rum Bar and is a short form multi-bottle reviewer in the vein of Single Cask Rum and WhiskyFun. He takes horizontal or vertical tastings as his schtick, and it’s always a good read. Sandor over in Hungary must come in for mention, as he is a long form writer who writes in Hungarian and one of a kind over there, single handedly fighting to get rum some recognition in Eastern Europe. 88 Bamboo represents Asia in fine style and I look forward to the day I can meet their editorial and writing team. Nothing in Australia that I know of (which remains a shame), and Africa and South America remain silent (or at least unknown to me). In the USA, it’s mostly rum clubs (like Austin or Memphis) and reddit contributors with ancillary websites that churn out content these days, and none have made a larger impact outside their region so far as I can tell, though I usually read them all.

The Soapbox Commentary Section

It was with some relief that I observed that to some extent, the vituperation that so characterised 2019-2021 online discourse died downat least a bitas COVID receded and the great social movements the world experienced took a break, as they inevitably dountil the next crisis.

But by no means are any of the issues gone: they’re sleeping, not dead and it seems like people just need something to get them fired up when things gets too quiet. Dosing and disclosure remain on the docket and reliably come up for rancorous discussion every few months on some platform or the other. A fair amount of people who regularly dive into this subject cheered when another lawsuit was filed against a multinational for bad label design related to its ageing, without ever bothering to actually check what the laws really require and what will very likely happen (which is nothing).

The Ministry of Rum FB group, one of the largest social media rum clubs, became a cause célèbre for a while. The issues that got people sharpening their digital codpieces were a combination of a change in the ethos of the group (to a less adversarial, more inclusivebut also more dollar-centric and monetisedtrack), the treatment of existing mods/admins, and the seemingly arbitrary removal or banning of those who posted controversial opinions and commentary, without warning. This flashed in the pan until those who it affected (unsurprisingly, this was mostly the same ones who comment the most about all the usual flashpoints) departed the group en masse and immediately found more congenial FB homes. I genuinely didn’t approve (or see the point) of either side’s high handed actions given how many options each had, but there’s no question that the cesspit that the MoR had become is much less brutal now…at the expense of a certain Darwinian character it once held. Not everyone appreciates the change, probably because there are now limits where before there had been none.

The long standing issue of the Barbados and Jamaica GI remains unresolved, and continues to elevate rhetoric and blood pressures in equal measure, even as the spillover to MF / Plantation continues apace on social media. I find nothing but a raging desire to be right, to shut down dissent, and to target favoured enemies in petty vendettas in most of these posts, and have almost completely disengaged from any discussions on the subject, or even reading them, because how many times do you have to hear “Plantation is sh*t” before you get it? The GI is of great importance and I’m personally behind a strong version endorsed by Foursquare, SNA and Mount Gay (the most recent version of which most commentators have never read), but I argue that the lack of tolerance, the inability to be reasonable, to see points of view other than one’s own, has done more to hurt the case than help it. I simply cannot understandand will never acceptthe constant hate and personal attacks promulgated by a pompous commentariat who have no skin in the game but are somehow okay with telling everyone else what to think and drink (or what not to)1. And this is why thoughtful people simply sign off from getting involved, which is to everyone’s detriment. Moreover, I am convinced that it’s just a matter of time before one of these flame wars gets physical, and when (not if) it happens, you can be sure that the loudest voices who make the environment so toxic will never take any blame for inciting it. It’s a measure of how deeply this issue and the self-censorship it engenders has become embedded in the rum ecosystem, that I rewrote this one paragraph six times and pruned it savagely (it’s a summary of a much longer unpublished opinion piece), and even now I’m leery about the reaction it will inevitably provoke. But it has to be said and someone has to come straight out and say itthe enmity that people provoke and promote with their intractable trolling does our world no service, because like it or not, Plantation is not going anywhere and the GI is not in our hands…so all that spilled digital ink is accomplishing nothing positive at all. It’s time to take a step back and calm down.

Favourite Reviews / Articles of 2022

As I said, my output decreased somewhat with respect to the essays and commentaries and company biographies but here are some that managed to stand out, even if only in my personal opinion:

  • A user on reddit asked about my tasting methods when there are loads of samples to go through, so I wrote him an extended explanatory reply.
  • An extended opinion on the background surrounding the Tamosi “Kanaima” rum formed an addendum to the review which I think was a useful correction and counterweight to the vitriol that had attended the release of the rum a few years ago (which many forgot about, but I didn’t). It just goes to show how much savage commentary is driven by feelings, ego and a desire to be heard rather than anything more thoughtful or knowledgeable.
  • Only two Key Rums articles went up this year (although there is material for more to come) – the Bacardi “Ocho” and the Plantation OFTD, the latter of which was posted with some trepidation (see Soapbox, above), but which was received reasonably well.
  • The Sugar House Overproof rum review was a cheerful look at a masterful unaged rum from one of the New Brits which impressed me to the tune of 90 points. I had similar fun with L’Espirit’s “still strength” unaged MPM rum from Guyana and reread it every now and then for a laugh. Similarly, I enjoyed writing about the Outlier Distillery’s impressive “Hurricane” rum which was bottled at a growly 64% and had taste chops to die for, which was almost matched by the Bundie Overproof.
  • A small series of Rumaniacs reviews of older Bacardis is useful for the window they open into the pastR149R154
  • Review #1,000 must come in for mention here as I spent a lot of time researching it and even more drinking it. It’s one of the most magnificent rums I’ve ever tried, both for taste and for heritage.

Best Rums Tasted During the Year

As before I decided to stick with the Rumcast’s simple categorization (more or less) otherwise this post (already overlong) would become unmanageable. Even within that restriction, it’s really kind of amazing how many fantastic rums crowded into my sightline this year, whether through tastings, festivals, the generosity of friends or simple happenstance (“Oys!! You gotta try dis ting, mon!). I remain grateful and enriched by the sheer variety I was able to try…which, in 2023, numbered more than 200.

Unaged Rum

It’s not that I didn’t try more unaged rums than this small list suggests, it’s just that overall they were good but not always exceptional. I could just as easily have added a Savanna or three, and several more from Australia and the UK. These however, were the ones that stood out to me, and for my money, that HSE was simply the very best of a really strong field with the stunning Islay Rum Distillery Uine Mhor coming a close second. I should have bought myself a bottle, honestly.

Aged Rum (5 years or less)

  • JM VSOP 4YO 43% (Martinique)
  • Rom Deluxe STCHE 2019 3YO Longpond (Denmark/Jamaica) 69.6%
  • Chalong Bay Double Barrel 2YO 47% (Thailand)
  • TBRC Black Gate Australian Rum 3YO 57.2% (UK/Australia)
  • Hampden DOK 2017 5YO 64.6% (Jamaica)
  • Ninefold Distillery Watson’s Reserve 3YO No.1 59% (UK)
  • Renaissance Rums, Taiwan

Australia, Martinique, Jamaica, UK, Thailand, Taiwan…how to chose from such a cornucopia? I almost hate to narrow things down to just one, because all entrants were uniformly lovely and showcased so much variety. But this year, I want to give the blue ribbon to Renaissance for sheer overall excellence, even if the others were right there alongside it.

Aged rum (Over 5 years)

  • Rum Club No. 40 Beenleigh 2007 64.8% (Germany/Australia)
  • Appleton Hearts 3rd Edition 1993 63%(Jamaica)
  • Foursquare-Velier Raconteur 61% (Barbados)
  • TBRC Mount Uncle 12 YO Rum 64.9% (Australia)
  • Homes Cay Barbados 2002 20YO Pot still 51.1% (USA/Barbados)
  • The Last Drop Distillers 1976 44YO Rum 68.5% (UK/Jamaica)
  • Havana Club 11YO 50% (TWE Special Release)(Cuba)

It almost seems like blasphemy to pass by a magnificent Mount Uncle rum, a 20 YO Foursquare pot still, or one of the Appleton Hearts, yet I think from my own review notes, I have to award my best aged rum to the Last Drop 1976. For those who want to have a nomination and award given to something they might actually get to try one day, I’m going to have to say Raconteur was surely a well deserved #2, though I emphasise how strong the entire field is, and that none would be a fail under any circumstances.

“New to me” rum

Honestly, my love is given to this section because this is where rums that don’t always score wellsome do, some don’tbut which have a certain something to them, get to shine and show their chops and be recognized. This year India (or Indian style) had a moment, the New Brits were kicking ass and taking names, and the Philippines’ Luisita deserves serious praise for getting out from under the shadow of Don Papa and somewhat redeeming the honour of the Philippines. Yet, I want to acknowledge Canada’s Romero Distilling’s full proof sherry cask rum, which was by far the best Canadian rum I’ve had thus far and gives me hope that this non traditional region of rum making will rise up and be counted in the years to come.

Most Surprising Rum, aka “AITA for liking it?” Award

Here’s a section that keeps me honest, because they are rums where I had to exercise serious effort not to prejudge. Romero’s Amber and Dark rums did not impress which made their Cask Strength rum so much more impressive; everyone hates on Bundie (not the least in Australia) yet their overproof presented as not half bad. I walked into Cargo Cult not expecting a whole lot and walked back out again really impressed and listening to Steve Magarry snicker. And of course people do know of my general indifference to Doorly’s…so how amazing is it that I really enjoyed not one of their really old expressions but their barely-out-of-diapers 3YO? In this category, I just have to give it to Havana Club though, because normally I’m not a great fan of the Latin / Cuban rum style: however, their 11YO was so solid and well assembled, pipped the 15 YO so easily (which I didn’t think that was possible), that I could not ignore it. What a lovely dram indeed.

(Really) Honourable mentions

  • Isautier Agent Double 01 and 02 (Reunion)
  • Foursquare Touchstone (Barbados)
  • The New Renegade Pre-cask / Aged Series (Grenada)
  • The new ED cask strength series 2009 (PM and ENM)(Guyana)
  • Naga Rums (Indonesia)
  • Ninefold Distillery’s rums from the UK
  • Worthy Park 2015-2020 5 YO Canadian Only Edition 68% (Jamaica)
  • English Harbour High Congener Series 2014 6 YO 63.8% (Antigua)

These not-quite-there-by-a-nose rums are those that scored just a smidgen below the threshold I would use to bring anything into these categories, but were somehow good enough, memorable enough, that I want to call some attention to them irrespective. Isautier’s duo of cane juice and molasses based rums ensorcelled me, and the Naga rums from Indonesia weren’t of the best but unique and special even so. Ninefold just keeps on getting better every damned year and it’s tough to pick a fave so I chose the lot. Touchstone from Foursquare was really quite lovely (as most of the ECS range is), and I remain chuffed by what El Dorado has done after giving up on the Rares, and folding its limited edition aged caskers into the regular portfolio. Worthy Park and English Harbour are perennially high quality hooches, with some exceptional outturns found this year. Here though, the pride of place must go to Renegade’s precask line and also their young aged rums, most particularly the Pearls, which really was a sublime little rumlet, for something so young.

Overall best

I doubt it’s a secret that of all the rums I tried this year, that Last Drops 1976 took home the crown, and right behind it came the Cadenhead TDL 19YO which I still suspect has a smidgen of Caroni in it (unproven, but…). So that’s number 1 and 2, yet they are so unavailable it almost seems like a cheat to name them to the pantheon at all, because, what’s the point for regular rum folks? With that in mind, I reread my notes, rechecked my scores, revisited my memories, and decided that among all these really fantastic rums, this year I have to declare a tie between the Killik Handcrafted and the Black Tot 50th Anniversary because they were both original, stunning, tasty and unique rums that took rums to another level. But again, I cannot emphasise enough that any of the rums on this list is worth looking for and trying, if you can. I hope you do.

So, once again, there you have an example of my inability to make a top three listing that summarises an entire year of writing, thinking, tasting and reviewing. I hope you find it useful and enjoy your drinking, because I certainly did, and with that, I close this overlong annual review, except for one last section which I too often leave out.

Acknowledgments

No such wrap up would be complete without some words of appreciation, since the effort is never entirely solo and many people are involved in what I do. First and foremost, Mrs. Caner who has and always has had, my back, and in turn, my love. She allows me the time to think and write, and acts as a valued counsellor, especially when I’m angry. She sniffs and mutters dark imprecations about the Prada purses she isn’t getting because of my mad pursuit of the next rum, the next festival, the next meet-upbut I know she supports me in all I do, and once in a while might be persuaded to give a grudging compliment, especially if she gets to stow away on a trip to Paris in exchange.

Gregers in Denmark, thanks for all your help, and your friendship; Matt, our back and forth commentary always enriches the narrative. To Steve Magarry who once endured me babbling away for two hours in a Moroccan cafe on a Sunday morning before escaping on a flight back home, to Mr & Mrs Rum who put together those advent calendars that introduced us all to Oz, and the entire Australian and New Zealand rum community who have been so helpful and generous with your timeI’m deeply grateful to you all. Dawn Davies, you’re great, appreciate everythingstill owe you a dinner sometime. Steve the Barman, Keegan, Jazz and Indy, well, what can I say, it’s always fun to hang out with you dodgy lot. For the Canadians, my appreciation goes to Dwayne in Sask (originator of the famed Conjecture), Karl of Bira! in BC, Logan, Carter, and Neil in Calgary, the KWM folksShawn, Curt, Andrewwho always squirrel away some of the good stuff, or find me the last seat in a tasting; and Robin in TO as always. Tips of the trilby must also go to all those people who lend quiet assistance or act as sounding boards, without recompense or mention: CityBarman, John Go, Richard Seale, Sean Caleb, Christelle Harris, Will and John of Rumcast and many more.

This is a lot, but yet, and yet…one more specific person deserves mention and must not only be thanked, but saluted: the badass, cocktail-sipping Teutonic marvel with more pizzazz then the Energizer Bunny, able to leap pallets of rums and cringing reviewers in a single bound, the indomitable, pragmatic, helpful and supportive, one and only Grandma Caner. If Mrs. Caner gave moral and personal support, Grandma Caner was the one who enabled the infrastructure. For the decade I was in the Middle East, the woman patiently gave up her basement to my rum purchases, rented storage, unpacked boxes, cleared my extravagant buys through customs or the post office, and sometimes fetched them home in her bicycle panierin summer or winter, rain, snow or shine like a one-grandma Pony Express. Her small apartment was the site of the famed Caner Afterparties, and she took time and money to help me maintain a foothold on the rum scene wherever it was happening. She gets too little thanks in these pages, but she’s amazing, the greatest Mom I know, and there’s a bunch of people who’ve met her over the years who think the same.

And lastly, my personal thanks and heartfelt appreciation goes to all the very many rum loving individuals who read my work, occasionally leave a comment, and in all ways provide impetus for the project to continue. It would not be the same without all of you. Thanks again, and have a great 2024!