Jun 222018
 

In early May 2018, following on from a much-envied and jealously-regarded Velier Port Mourant tasting, Nicolai Wachmann and Gregers Nielson busied themselves with some of the new rums issued for Velier’s 70th Anniversary.  These six full-proof rums – carefully chosen from well-known distilleries in Japan, St Lucia, Barbados, Mauritius, Marie Galante (Guadeloupe) and Jamaica – were distinguished by vivid and colourful artwork on their labels, done by a Singaporean artist named Warren Khong.  Strikingly visual in design, the series of rums immediately became known as the “Warren Khong” range, and have excited approbation in equal parts for their look, and their taste.

The following interview and notes are all from the two gentlemen’s efforts, in their own words. And so, the introduction being over, let’s hand off the flight to my Danish friends.


Last year Velier SpA celebrated its 70th anniversary, and if you’re reading this, my bet is that this would be old news to you. Nevertheless, Luca Gargano made certain that most of the rum community was, and still is, saving up money to buy all the exciting new rums that are being released during 2017 and 2018 in celebration of this milestone in the company’s history.

One of the releases is a series of six rums named after an artist from Singapore – Warren Khong.

But who is this Warren guy and how did he come about lending his name to such an awesome collection of rum?

Well we didn’t have a clue and our parents didn’t either, so we decided to do some research online and then write and ask him personally, in order to understand the connection.

W. Kong 2015 (c) Timeout.com

 

Warren Khong bio:

Warren was born in Singapore back in 1984, studied art in Singapore and has previously worked with LMDW on other spirits labels. So this is by no means the first time he has lent his name to the spirits world.

Warren Khong situates his practice primarily in the field of painting, researching its concepts and its relation to surface and materiality – from selected surfaces to light, colour and reflection, he also explores spaces and site specificity as well as the intangible or immaterial, proposing for material as Idea, as a methodology towards artmaking.

Khong graduated with a Master of Arts, Fine Arts from the La Salle College of the Arts, Singapore in partnership with Goldsmith’s College, University of London. He has had five solo exhibitions, the most recent being Light-Space (In collaboration with Urich Lau) at Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore and Whitewash at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, also in Singapore. Selected group exhibitions included In Praise Of Shadows at the Art, Design and Media Gallery at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Supernatural at Gajah Gallery, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, both in 2017.

Warren Khong’s Kuruizawa design

With regards to LMDW, Warren’s art works were used for their first Artist range of whiskies, as well as the Artifices range of Karuizawa whiskies.

How and when did you end up creating the artwork for this series of rum?

I was asked by Luca during Whisky Live Singapore 2016 if I would be willing to create a series of paintings to be used as rum labels. He was very enthusiastic about it, and I agreed. I started working on the paintings early of 2017.

Is there an underlying meaning or theme behind the artwork and choice of colours?

All Luca had asked for was that I used a brighter colour palette so as to reflect the Caribbean heritage of his rums for the bottlings, to which I agreed. As for any underlying meaning in the paintings, it happens through the execution of it. Let me further elaborate. I believe that in the distillation process, it is very controlled [and] exacting, without much room for mistakes; yet the end result is that you have rum, which is a wonderful, multi-layered drink with so many various notes that comes together in spectacular fashion. I draw a parallel there with how I approached the painting of these works. A number of colours, paint swirls, drops and the like, which appear as though somewhat random yet able to come together as a visual whole and the application of each drop of paint is controlled and exact, right where it is meant to be, non accidental.

Did you get to chose which rums got which artwork/colour?

Nope, nor would I have wanted that. I think it more fitting that Luca was the one who did the pairings!

Did Luca ask you to drink rum before painting the art?

Nope, nor would I have. I don’t drink when making my art, it would have affected my ability to create exactly what I had wanted to create. I drank after the works were done of course!

Do you enjoy rum yourself and have you tasted the rums from the Warren Khong series?

Yes, I enjoy rum myself. In fact, I am happy to say that Luca was the one who introduced it to me, and it was love at first taste. Unfortunately, I have not yet tasted any from the series.

Are you aware of the amount of hype the Warren Khong series has stirred within the rum community?

No, I am not. But I am very flattered to hear about it and am glad to have been a part of it!


And back to the tasting…

Why focus on the Khong Collection you may ask? Well, it’s been one the most hyped series of rum to be released the past year’s time and it seems that not many people have actually sat down and tasted the entire collection in one sitting. So we thought, why not make this happen and as we had access to the entire collection, we decided to do just that.

The facts:

  • The range consists of 6 different bottlings from 6 very different regions and distilleries.
  • In total, the Khong Collection officially boasts 4615 bottles.
  • The average abv of the Khong Collection is 60.31%
  • The average age is 7 years (mainly tropical)
  • The rarest is Nine Leaves Encrypted with 249 bottles
  • The largest outturn is Diamond <H> with 1659 bottles (but seems to be the most popular, so good thing it was “plentyfull”.

Nicolai preparing to do battle….

TASTING NOTES:

A word of note:

This tasting session did not set out to directly compare these six rums in order to find an overall winner. That would be like having six grandmothers compete in different disciplines of athletics and choosing the supreme winner – slow, not interesting and pointless in terms of style and origin.

What we’ve tried to do is taste the rums and rate them independently, while taking into consideration what we’ve previously tried from the various distilleries/regions, and how we found the quality and feel of the rum overall.

As such, we may have favourites amongst them, but we completely acknowledge that this is 100% subjective and therefore not necessarily something everyone else agrees upon (but you ought to agree with us, naturally!)

The grades given are a calculated average of our individual grades. This is simply because we couldn’t agree on a mutual score for each rum (hence why our individual scores are also stated), and therefore we thought, an average would demonstrate the final score more fairly.

In hindsight, we didn’t have a reference rum to kick start the tasting, so a re-tasting would be interesting at some point.

Anyway, enough talk and time for the results:

 


Chamarel Pure Single Rum Agricole 6 YO 2011-2017 55.5%

(Mauritius, 2 casks, ex-French Oak)

Nose – Citrus and grassy notes combined with an almost cake-like vanilla influence kicks off the experience. The alcohol is pleasant and almost subtle considering the strength. In the far back, hay begins to take form – thoughts of walking into a barn full of hay pallets and moist air springs to mind, with a basket of citrus fruits and green apples. Only brief whispers of lightly caramelised oak and vanilla seem to give evidence to the barrel ageing. After a good swirl, hints of lemon thyme , rosemary and perhaps white pepper, but only subtle. After some more time, elements of medicine cabinet (gaze and pills) emerge as well.

Mouth – Peppery spiciness, dry cake, fruity sweetness, orange zest

Finish – Mix of fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary, ripe apricots, Limoncello (sweet lemon liqueur) and anis. Cedar tree and light wood spice with mild white pepper and vanilla sugar. Bitter orange zest and light tannins finish off combined with a melange of the sweetness from all the fruity notes and dried cake.

Thoughts – Super charming and complex rum in its own right. We were both taken by surprise and fell in love with it’s charm, balance and super integrated alcohol. It passes quickly, but while it’s there, it’s a great acquaintance. Despite all the goodness, it remains just a tad to simple and easy, to make it truly exceptional. But for what it is, this could be a stable in our home bar any day.

Points:    84 (Gregers 86 / Nicolai 82)

 

Bielle Rhum Vieux Agricole 10 YO 2007-2017 55%

(Marie Galante, single cask, ex-Bourbon)

Nose – Cedar tree, cigar box, green grapes, hints of acetone, there’s an almost yogurt naturelle kind of acidity present; also toasted wood, vanilla, caramelised brown sugar and liquorice powder. The nose is super dry – you almost feel your mouth being rid of moisture just by smelling the rum.

After some time, it begins to develop “Matador Mix” aromas (Danish mixed sweets consisting of fruity wine gums, liquorice, caramelised sugar coatings and coconut in an elegant balance). Incredibly complex and just seems to develop new notes as time passes.

Mouth – Spicy, peppery, pungent alcohol, but not aggressive. It’s sweet and dry at the same time with a nice texture and feel. This rum caresses your tongue and mouth, it’s like a thai massage where you are crunched by a petite beautiful woman.

Finish – The wood spice, cedar tree. oak and tannins give way to more sweet aromas of acidic sweet fruit, liquorice and burned caramel. It lingers for a good time and keeps the flavours rolling in an ever complex plethora of sweet, spicy and dry elements.

Thoughts – Fantastic balance throughout. The dry impression in the nose loses ground to a wonderful sweetness, partly in the mouth yet most apparent in the finish.

Points:    90 (Gregers 91 / Nicolai 89)

Mount Gilboa Pure Single Rum 9 YO 2008-2017 66%

(Barbados, 3 casks, ex-French brandy)

Nose – The high alcohol itches the nostrils a little. Flat Coca Cola is the first thing that springs to mind (in Denmark back in the 80s and 90s, we had small cartons of coke flavoured juice, but without carbon dioxide); immediately afterwards, oak and woodspice appears with nutmeg, allspice, black pepper – one almost expects it to be a super dry sensation judging from the tannins. Dried apricots, dates, dried – almost roasted – coconut begins to emerge.

Mouth – Burnt treacle, oak and tannins, black pepper. Feisty alcohol burn.

Finish – The tannins and oak dominate the finish in a bitter way. A rich sweetness joins in and mellows out the dry bitterness, a sweetness difficult to define, leaving us wondering if it’s down to the high 66% abv. It’s a complex field of wood spice, pepper, tannins, spicy peppers, a cigar box, leather and a profound sweetness which to us resembles caramelised burnt treacle.

This sweetness lingers to the very end along with the rest of the spicy herbal and wooden notes.

Thoughts – We both agreed that this rum would have been incredible to try a year or two ago. The wood has made its appearance just a wee bit to dominant for our liking, with the bitter finish taking down the points. Having said that, it still beats the old Mount Gilboa bottlings by far, for which it deserves credit.

Points:    81 (Gregers 82 / Nicolai 80)

Nine Leaves Pure Single Rum “Encrypted” 3 YO 2014-2017 64.8%

(Japan, single cask, ex-wine)

Nose – Caramelised Bergamot and metallic citrus hints. Limoncello and an almost Sambuca-ish anise background. Elderflower and floral notes. The wine casks shine through with notes of apple vinegar and an oxidised sherry feel. It shows the young age, but incredibly complex and balanced nonetheless. So very different from what we expected. The metallic notes are very dominant – which may be an acquired taste?

Mouth – Perfumed, sweetness, tannin-ish dryness. Hot yet smooth and delicate.

Finish – Wow… this is a wave of floral notes: Elderflowers, rose water, rose pepper and a super balanced kick from the alcohol. The wine cask-notes are there again, with ripe green grapes and fresh oaky tannins. Only vague hints of vanilla seem to come through. The rum lingers in the mouth for some time and keeps reminding you of all the different flavours it’s thrown your way.

Thoughts – This is just a massive surprise! So young, yet superbly integrated. The mix of flavours are completely new and different, yet insanely appealing, delicious and juicy. Who the hell saw that coming? Without doubt, the best rum Yoshiharu has produced so far – huge kudos for this rum, Yoshi!

Points:    88 (Gregers 89 / Nicolai 87)

 

St. Lucia Pure Single Rum 7 YO 2010-2017 58.6%

(St. Lucia, single cask, ex-bourbon)

Nose – Pot still… this is dirty, full of everything you’d expect from the John Dore 2. It’s a plethora of fusel notes – motor oil, acetone, varnish and rubber with small whiffs of smoke (but in a good way). Oak and woodspice is present with fragrances of thyme and rosemary. But at the same time, you are met with baskets full of dried pineapple, mango and papaya, juicy raisins, dried apricots and hints of lime. In the far back menthol and fresh pepper notes.

Mouth – Dry…tannin-rich, sweet, spicy, hot and wonderfully dirty.

Finish – Woaaa… Minerality, motor oil, acetone, fusel notes and smoky aromas from the ageing in barrels. Sweetness in terms of preserved prunes, raisins, star anis, treacle. The oak and woodspice lingers on in the background, but balanced and submissive compared the rest of the flavours. After some time, sweet pipe tobacco, leather and cedar tree notes appear in a bizarre mix with fresh green grass and herbs.

Thoughts – This is filthy good rum. It’s insanely complex, throwing fusel notes, fruits, minerals, herbs and spices at you while wrapping it all up in dry tannins and alcohol, making sure everything is kept in balance. It’s concentrated, complex end requires your attention if you’re to enjoy it fully, yet allows for a mellow drink as well. Beautiful! And at last, a rum we agreed on, and scored exactly the same.

Points:    91 (Gregers 91 / Nicolai 91)

<H> Pure Single Rum 7 YO 2010-2017 62%

(Hampden, Jamaica, 5 casks, ex-bourbon)

Nose – Hampden, no doubt about it. This is much richer and thicker in the nose than for instance the HLCF, but almost just as pungent.  Overripe banana, succulent pineapple and mango, funky esters, acetone and varnish. The fruity elements are all overripe, on the verge of decomposing (vaguely reminding us of the Savannah’s HERR). There’s also a buttery richness to it with cinnamon and peach. Lavender soap/oil.

Mouth – Acidity, spicy sweetness (almost like the asian ginger sweets) pungent alcohol

Finish – Overripe bananas, pineapple, ester funkiness, fruit candy, dry tannins, toasted oaky vanillins. Ginger candy is back with the sweet and peppery hot touch – and with that, it fades out incredibly quick, makes a Houdini and disappears. Only a residue of the overripe bananas and some esters linger behind, and with that ciao ciao, no more.

Thoughts – Perhaps we had too high expectations of this rum, being huge fans of high ester Hampden rums. And although you cannot compare the <H> mark with HLCF from the Habitation Velier series, the HLCF just delivers so much more. In fine, this is far from the best Hampden out there in our opinion. Other Hampden fans will no doubt like it, but for us, it’s just not quite there.

Points:    87 (Gregers 86 / Nicolai 88)


Summary of scores

  • Chamarel 84
  • Bielle 90
  • Mount Gilboa 81
  • Nine Leaves 88
  • St. Lucia 91
  • Hampden <H> 87

Conclusion

So what exactly do we have here and should Mr. Khong be proud of this rum collection carrying his name? The answer is to the later is hell yes!

What we have here is a remarkable portrayal of (mostly) pure single rums. Each a fantastic example of the region and distillery it derives from and demonstrates yet again that neither age nor region is a definitive marker for quality – and that with judicious selection and decanting at just the right age, young rums can just as easily be superlative.

Are they the best of the best? In some cases perhaps, but this is very much in the eye of the beholder. What we’ve experienced since this tasting, is just how diverse feelings are towards each of these expressions. Encrypted surprised us in an immensely positive way, St Lucia was as anticipated and fully lived up to our high expectations. Chamarel was the charming sweetheart that you could venture back to every day. Bielle hit the spot, for both of us, and just delivered, period. Mount Gilboa, not our favourite of the lot, but after trying it with some added water and letting it stand for a good 30-60 minutes, this rum developed into something much more complex and fruity – alas, this is not taken into consideration here. Hampden, it’s a good rum by any account, but for us, far from the best of its kind out there. Then again, not sure how many <H> Hampdens we’ve actually tried before, so this of course should be taken into consideration as well.

At the end of the day, this series is worth every penny and showcases a diverse series of locally aged rums from exceptional producers and countries. How can you not appreciate something like that?

Gregers & Nicolai

Jun 032018
 

Rating a rum against comparators is an invaluable tool for any reviewer because it allows differences and similarities, strengths and weaknesses to not only snap into focus more clearly, but to buttress one’s memory of other rums tried in times gone by. And although Guyanese rums are losing some of their lustre these days as the Age of Velier’s Demeraras fades to black and Foursquare is the name du jour, DDL’s killer app is still going strong, and the various permutations of the stills’ output may be the most recognizable, distinctive rum style around (bar perhaps the current New Jamaicans or Reunion islanders’ work).  So when a halo rum comes around, it needs to really be run through the wringer to ensure a proper placement on the leaderboard.

For those who felt I was being unfair to DDL and their 50th Anniversary rum, or overly critical of the El Dorado 25 Year Old from 1988, let me show you what it was up against that day and give you a rum flight of as-yet-mostly-unwritten-about Demeraras which will be posted in the months to come. I don’t do enough of these and always enjoy doing a lineup for the curious; and here I think it might be a useful piece of background reading for the 25 and 50. And indeed, the more I wrote about the results, the more occurred to me…I hope you find my remarks below the thumbnails informative and not overly lengthy.

So here we are.  Note these are just tasting notes, with few opinions, and no scores – those can be found on the full reviews.  The purpose here is to rank them against each other and provide some conclusions for examination and discussion.


El Dorado Rare Collection PM <SVW> + Diamond Velier 70th Anniversary 16 YO

54.3%, tropical ageing

N – Perfumed rum.  No, really. Hot pencil shavings, rubber, sawdust and the flowery notes of esters looking for Jamaica.  It noses sweet and fruity, in a really intense way. Develops into a musky, fruity and deep series of aromas, including strawberries in cream, vanilla and a little licorice.

P – Strong spices: nutmeg and cinnamon. Also caramel, coffee, creme brulee, molasses and anise. Goes deeper and fruitier as it opens up – raisins, ripe apples, peaches.  Also woody, sweet sawdust (I know that sounds weird) and lighter flowers.

F – Lovely, long, lingering, lasting.  Molasses and coffee are dominant, with subtler flowers and fruity backgrounds, and a bit of candied oranges and mint.

El Dorado Rare Collection 2nd Batch Port Mourant 1997 20 YO

57.9%, tropical ageing

Nose – A more elemental version of the Velier 70 PM <SVW>, perhaps a smidgen better because it is more focused. Represents the PM profile in fine style, a little dialled down and not as furious as some others I’ve had. Bags of dark fruit – raisins, dark grapes, dates – anise, vanilla, flowers, also peaches and prunes and plums, very deep, very rich.

Palate – Coffee, sawdust and pencil shavings are instantly and initially dominant, but fade over time, replaced with more of those dark fruit notes of blackberries, plums and prunes, all very ripe. Background flavours of coconut and chocolate ameliorate these, taming it a little without obscuring the sharper flavours. Easy to sip, warm rather than sharp.

Finish – Spices emerge here, mostly cinnamon.  Also oakiness (not too much), coffee grounds. Bitter chocoolate, anise and vanilla, some lighter fruits.  

El Dorado Rare Collection 2nd Batch Enmore 1996 20 YO

57.2%, tropical ageing

Nose – For a rum at cask strength, this Enmore is almost gentle.  Rich, pungent aromas of freshly sawn lumber, damp sawdust. The smells of coffee, chocolate and vanilla are offset somewhat by a nice sweet acetone background.  Softer blancmange and creme brulee provide a soft contrast and it’s almost like a gentle PM.

Palate – Soft and generally quite approchable, without losing any of the qualities imparted by the robust proof.  Fruits are forward this time – cherries, raisins, grapes, fried sweet bananas, and that haunting memory of hot dry earth being hit by summer raindrops.  More caramel and molasses, quite genteel in its own way. Can’t help but wonder about dosage, but lacked the equipment to test for it, and frankly, I have to admit that this works really really well in spite of such questions.

Finish – Long and langurous, giving back some musty, musky flavours that are mostly raisins, anise and vanilla.

El Dorado 1988 25 YO

43%, tropical ageing

Nose – Warm, well rounded, with opening notes of coconuts, bananas, molasses, caramel and some anise. Some fruits emerge almost reluctantly – raisins, prunes, fleshy apricots.  Too much sweetness, it smells thick in a way that is just short of cloying

Palate – Sweet and thick. Vanilla, molasses, caramel, some licorice.  White chocolate, flowers, indeterminate fruits, a little citrus. It’s all very tamped down and muffled, and the adulteration is clear and evident, lending a liqueur-like aspect to the entire experience.

Finish – Unclear, melded and something of a nonexistent affair. Some caramel and toffee, a bit of citrus. Short and very sweet.

El Dorado 50th Anniversary 33 YO

43%, tropical ageing (33 YO)

Nose – Rich, well balanced.  Deep aromas of molasses and licorice and raisins.  Coffee grounds, cherries, vanilla, leather, some smokiness, followed after opening up with salt caramel and ripe fleshy fruits.

Palate – More of that salt caramel, pencil shavings, apples, guavas, more licorice, chocolate and coffee, plus a little citrus for bite and some vanilla.  The sweetness starts to become more noticeable here, and the promise of what it started out as, is lost.

Finish – Short, rather easy (possibly a function of the relatively low strength).  Molasses, toffee, white chocolate and anise for the most part

Velier Uitvlugt 1996 “Modified GS” 18 YO

57.2%, tropical ageing

Nose – Refined, gentle and easy, and that’s not something I say about Velier’s or cask strength bruisers very often. Very distinct: molasses, brown sugar, caramel and vanilla t start.  Adds licorice and a lot of dark fruits (mostly prunes and plums, I would say). Some light citrus peel and brine.

Palate – Somehow the nose is easy while the taste is sharp, not sure how that happened. Salt caramel, brine, olives, brown sugar, combining with tart fruits: red currants, apples, raspberries, prunes, as well as smoke and well-worn and oft-polished leather.

Finish – Crisp, distinct and clear. Orange peel, vanilla, molasses and some of the fruits noted from the plate returning for a last bow. Solidly traditional profile with a character all its own.

Habitation Velier PM White Unaged

59% (unaged)

N – Sharp and fierce, almost jagged.  Rubber, sugar water, watermelon, pears, nuts and fruits. No caramel or toffee flavours here.

P – Vegetable soup and salt beef with brine and olives. Also licorice, leather, flowers, floor polish.  Some green apples, lime zest and an odd vanilla twist. Complex, crisp, clear, seriously intense. Not for everyone, but for those who like it – oh yeah.

F – Long and dry.  Soy sauce, more veggie soup, sugar water.

Velier Port Mourant 1972 36 YO

47.8%, tropical and continental ageing

Nose – Heavenly.  Sweet deep raisins and licorice, soya, coffee, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke.  There’s just so much going on here it’s amazing. White pepper, dates, light briny notes, aromatic tobacco, overripe cherries.

Palate – Licorice right up front in fine style, blended in with vanilla, some light caramel and white pears.  Flowers, sawdust, ripe mangoes, raisins, black grapes, oak…the nose wasn’t lying, I could go at this for another couple of hours.

Finish – All of the above.  Plus some mint.


Having given you a precis of each of these rums, let’s just sum up the ranking (scoring will be in the full reviews, since that’s not the purpose of this flight):

  • 1st  – Velier PM 1972 36 YO
  • 2nd – El Dorado Rare 2nd Batch Enmore 1996 20 YO
  • 3rd – Habitation Velier PM White Unaged
  • 4th – El Dorado PM+Diamond Velier 70th Anniv 16 YO
  • 5th – El Dorado Rare 2nd Batch PM 1997 20 YO tied with Velier Uitvlugt 1996 18 YO
  • 7th – El Dorado 50th Anniversary 33 YO
  • 8th – El Dorado 1988 25 YO

What can we glean from such a lineup, small as it may be?  

Well, first of all, this is a flight that could be done blind and the lower proofed El Dorados (the 33 YO and 25 YO) would have stood out immediately, with the 1988 falling down dead last because of its additives and less complex profile when compared to the 50th Anniversary, which itself was given away by both strength and dosage.  Also, the PM White would have been self explanatory; and the Uitvlugt 1996 because of its “non-PM/EHP” taste profile could easily be identified. The depth and colour and rich taste of the Velier 1972 would distinguish it in any company, so the only real difficulty would be to separate out the Enmore from the other El Dorado Rares, and then figure out which was the PM+Diamond and which the pure PM – in point of fact, I did indeed do this tasting blind, though I knew the 8 rums which were in the mashup.

To me it’s clear that DDL has exactly zero need to adulterate its aged rums. The Enmore was really quite a lovely piece of work and the unaged PM white makes the point even more clearly.  In this day and age, given the quality of the Rares and the track record of Velier in issuing ultra-aged rums from DDL (and remember, Luca never got to choose freely, just from what DDL themselves allowed him to see, implying that they knew of old stashes squirrelled away elsewhere which they thought of using themselves one day), there is simply no need for adulteration.  Taming cask strength blends with distilled water would, I think, be quite enough. Yet DDL keeps on churning out the dosed Old Dependables — the 12, 15, 21 and the really-quite-oversugared 25 year olds from 1980, 1986 and 1988 — perhaps because they really are such dependable sellers and if it ain’t broke why fix it, so why mess with a good cash cow? But I honestly hope they will one day reduce or eliminate the practice entirely – it’s an exercise in pandering to the audience, and the days for that are behind us (my opinion). (Note: in 2020 Shaun Caleb of DDL mentioned that the practice was indeed being phased out).

Of particular note is the PM unaged white, which is admittedly a rather fearsome drink to have on its own. Habitation Velier created this entire “unaged white” series for one purpose – to showcase familiar rums from various countries (or estates), but with the twist that this was it was all pot still rum, and in the unaged ones, as close to the original state of the juice as it came dripping off the still as possible, and how excellent (in their opinion) they were, even in that nascent unaged condition.  Having had oodles of PM rums over the last ten years, I can absolutely assure you that it may be hot and fierce, but many of the markers we look for in that profile are there, right from the get-go – in the various aged expressions in this lineup we see the many branches of the tree that this elemental seed grows into.

The Uitvlugt 1996 also comes in for some mention – it’s easier and quieter and lighter than the others (which is why it can be picked out with relative ease), and it may be one of the better all-round sipping rums which is specifically not from a wooden still.  Myself, I really enjoy the licorice and woody notes of the PM, VSG and EHP, but that should not blind anyone to the quality of what the other stills can do.

The stories I heard about the second batch of the El Dorado Rare Collection being better than the first are really true – they are. Not by leaps and bounds, no, but incrementally and demonstrably so nevertheless (I wish I could have tested them for dosage, even so).  If the third batch (it’s now in prep, three marques, all interesting) keeps at this level of quality, then all those who rent their robes and gnashed their teeth about the booting out of Velier in 2015 can at least be comforted that there is some kind of replacement on the horizon, even if, with their usual odd marketing, DDL never lets on what the outturn is (or was). There remains one caveat…I’m still seeing them on store shelves and online rum emporia too often, and that to me suggests they are not selling well…so I think some price adjustment had better be made and a more targeted marketing strategy laid out — because if they see poor sales then no distributor or store will want them and then DDL might just give up the whole idea…which is not exactly what any of us want to see.

Lastly, note the preponderance of topical ageing here; and in particular, the bifurcated ageing of the PM 1972 which was the top rum of the day. Luca is a fierce believer and proselytizer of laying barrels to rest in the tropics – and always has been – and scorns continental ageing that so many independents go for when plumbing the works of Scheer for their European indie bottlings.  The 1972 shows that other approaches are possible and work in spectacular fashion. Me, I’m somewhat on the fence about this and lack his dynamic laser-like focus on tropical only (though of course, we approach the matter from differing perspectives). Brutally quick tropical maturation gives quick returns and amazingly rich and robust profiles, but I’ve had enough really interesting continentals of similar equivalent age (1 yr tropical can be said to be 5-6 yrs continental, give or take) to appreciate the quieter subtleties they impart as well. And as I remarked humorously to him some time ago, there’s no way we could have ever gotten a Longpond 58 year old rum in the tropics (an Appleton 75 due in 2037 and an El Dorado 75 in 2041 will let us see if this is true).

Anyway, the rankings I’ve done show how the preceding paragraphs impact the placement and hint at the eventual scoring, to be added in here when the real reviews are written.  Age and the still and strength are less indicators of quality on their own than complexity and originality of taste and the way these come together in a cohesive whole. No one element dictates quality, they all do. The PM white is unaged but beat both the 43% offerings; it is stronger than all the rest, but slipped in relation to the Rares, and the 1972 was standard proof (almost) but came out on top.  Just about every rum tried (aside from the sweetened abominations of the 25 and 33) scored in the high eighties and snapped at the heels of the exceptional Velier 1972.  Now that’s a wonderful rum, and it’s not that it fails, but that others succeeded and are getting better all the time…and that probably shows the full proof concept and aged rum ideas Velier gave us, have been learned by DDL (now if they could only forego that damned dosage…).  

If nothing else, this brief look at eight rums from Guyana demonstrates to us all that the future remains a bright and vibrant and experimental and interesting one for Demerara rums, and they won’t be relegated to second class status any time soon. And that should give us all reason to hope for more in the years to come…even if they’re not the Veliers we remember so fondly.

Feb 232018
 

Some days are just harder than others, especially when we put our lives and livers and family time on hold, just say f**kit and do a deep dive into rums that are insanely expensive, excrutiatingly rare and that makes ethanol leak from the eyes of every Velier fan and exiled Mudlander who ever lived. While I would not go so far as to say we suffer for our art (drinking rum unicorns like this? are you kidding?), there is no question that when two of the cool kids in the rumworld – Gregers and Nicolai – managed to put together a Velier Port Mourant session, I went into my bedroom and shed bitter tears of envy and ignored my wife for three days straight (though admittedly it helped that she was away scouring for a Prada purse at the time). 

All joking aside, both Gregers and Nicolai are long-time correspondents of mine from Denmark, and have a lot of fun at my expense laughing at all the good moonshine they get up there while I bake in the desert.  We share samples and bottles and commentary constantly – it was Gregers who introduced me to the Jamaican 1977 Ping 9, and Nicolai who provided a massive set of Savanna Lontan Grand Arômes to me a year or so ago – and because neither have a website (yet) or do writeups (yet), when I heard of their Velier PM session, I offered to host their tasting notes here…because stuff like this needs some broadcasting, given how rare these rums now are.  Caroni is the Velier outturn du jour at the moment (some might argue it’s the 2017 70th Anniversary Collection) but we must never forget the concussive blast which their Demeraras made on the world all those years ago when only Serge Valentin was writing about them at all.

So, here’s their report.  All tasting notes are theirs, all conclusions are theirs, all scorings are theirs. It’s a shame they didn’t manage to lay paws on the 1982 and 1985 versions as well – that would have made it a complete Velier PM set – but enjoy, anyway, and if you ever get any of these rums, treasure them.  They really are pretty damned good.


Velier Port Mourant 1972-2008 36 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 47.8% 175 bottles

Nose: What the… this is just pure sex in a glass. Fruity yet peppery hot notes kick off the party. Wood spice, aniseed, liquorice – but not the heavy English type, dried overripe prunes, raisins, dried figs & dates, tannins and roasted oak/wood and vanilla. In the far back dried rosemary and thyme which, shortly after, lingers into an almost floral note. Menthol notes develop a little later followed by leather and tobacco, along with cigar box / cedar tree after additional time in the glass. Did anybody say complex?

Mouth: Spicy without being too strong, fruity sweetness and a perfect oily texture – not too thin or thick.

Finish: Fruity elements to start with, then wood spice and aniseed followed by…well, more fruit. Wood spice kicks in along with complex floral notes and a fruity sweetness combined with roasted oak and vanilla. The menthol notes awaken a bit more. Tannins and a smooth and pleasant dryness cleans up the the bountiful party. The finish just keeps going and continues to be balanced yet complex, fruity and meaty in an almost feminine style – if that’s not straining your imagination too far.

Comments: Amazing! The balance, flavour and texture! The complexity! Superb rum! The alcohol is subtle and well integrated. The balance becomes even more apparent after a little time in the glass. This is super complex and wonderfully integrated. Harmonious and sexy! We need more of this stuff on the shelves – if only…

Points: 94/100


Velier Port Mourant 1974-2008 34 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 54.5% 364 bottles

Nose: Dried raisins, prunes, dates and figs, warm sweet spices (cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla), menthol, wood spice, tannins and oak. In the background lurk liquorice, aniseed, much more pungent than the 1972. Deep, earthy, meaty notes,  leading on to thick treacle, molasses, dark chocolate combined with the dried stone fruits from earlier.

Mouth: In the mouth it’s got a peppery and warm spicy kick which quickly transfers on to a fruity sweetness in the back – is it the dried stone fruits again? Who cares, we loved it anyway.

Finish: The fruitiness is rather quickly subdued by oak tannins, aniseed and other warm spices and woodspice. This is super dry, the dried stone fruits remain lingering in the far back though. Tobacco, leather, oak, tannins and strong aniseed come back again and everything lingers there for a long time.

Comments: Much more assertive than the 72. Dry and earthy, the sweetness is kept far in the background. Balance is super beautiful, but in a very different way than the ‘72 – much deeper, much more meaty, pungent, dry. There is a slight bitterness that comes lingering at the very end, which cleans up and dries your mouth. This is a great Demerara rum, one of the best.

Points: 92/100


Velier Port Mourant 1975-2008 32 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 56.7% 518 bottles

Nose: Wood spice, aniseed and hot pepper hits you straight away, like hammer to the glass. Dried prunes, raisins and menthol in the background supported by heavy notes of treacle and English licorice. Oak, tannins and vague notes of vanilla from the cask linger in the far background. It’s much more aggressive and in your face compared to the ‘72 and ‘74 which is surprising given it’s not too far removed in strength from either of those.

Mouth: Oily rich, sweet, light tannins, oaky wood spice and pepper.

Finish: Heavy, dark/burnt sweetness, aniseed and licorice dominate, dried figs and prunes return, wood spice, cinnamon and cardamom. The meaty feel is prominent but somehow things are not completely balanced…there’s something slightly off here. The bitterness comes in at the end and “cleans up” the goodness. Would have loved the sweetness and warm spices to have lasted a little longer, but the bitterness swipes it away, which takes this rum down several points.

Comments: The ‘75 is just a bit too heavy on the wood. It’s that guy in class who has all the necessary stats to succeed big time, comes close…but just doesn’t get the girl. It’s good, no doubt about it, but after the ‘72 and ‘74, it just falls behind. Having said that, there are a lot of other 75’s on the market, which redeem the year’s output of PM rums.

Points: 84/100


Velier Port Mourant 1993-2006 13 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 65% 2994 bottles

Nose: My God this is a monster. The alcohol just slaps you, hard, twice, and this is a bottle that has been opened for some time now. Aniseed, heavy wood spices, peppery notes, sweet and rich fruity notes. Licorice and burnt treacle, flambeed prunes, pungent vanilla, raisons, menthol notes. It has a freshness to it, unlike the continentally aged versions. It is somewhat chaotic, a freak show in the middle of a circus stage.

Mouth: The alcohol hits the palate fiercely, then develops into a difficult-to-define partly-fruity sweetness along with peppery notes and an oily texture.

Finish: Fusel notes quickly dominate any of the fruit we were expecting, along with any mineral or floral notes. Tannins, hot spices, wood spices, oak. It has this dry, tannin-rich meatiness to it, but not bitter as such. The beast just hangs on, but not in a harmonious balanced kind of way, more a fight for dominance – where the 93’ is determined to win.

Comments. The tropical ageing is very apparent. The alcohol, balance and flavours are by no means well integrated, true, more a mad maelstrom of everything but the kitchen sink — but the chaos is charming (and scary) at the same time. Unfortunately it’s miles behind its brothers.

Bearing in mind that this was a bottle that had been open for some time, we can only imagine how it was when newly opened and our thoughts steered towards a bodybuilder on steroids (and crack) with a serious need of a dental appointment.

Points  80/100


Velier Port Mourant 1997-2012 15 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 65.7% 1094 bottles

Nose: Holy moly… this just says “I love you” as soon as it’s poured. The tropical ageing throws a complex plethora of rich treacle, heavy dried fruits, sweet spices, cinnamon, vanilla, and pungent alcohol at you – in that laid back island way.

Mouth: On the palate, you are greeted by a sweet, spicy, oily rich and pungent juice. Slightly lighter than the 93, despite the alcohol difference but so much better and pleasant.

Finish:  The tropical ageing wins dominans now for certain. Dark liquorice, caramelised treacle, fruits – candied prunes and figs, warm spices, wood spice, vanilla, oak, stringent tannins. It closes off with a slight bitterness, but pleasantly so and seems to last forever.

Comments: The tropical ageing is much better integrated in the 97 compared to the 93. The complexity and sweetness is just so utterly well balanced and charming that it wins you over despite the high abv. The balance is generally astounding throughout and the perceived sweetness is second to none. This is pretty much how you would want your wife – tropically sweet, firm but soft, fierce but sexy, mature but also young and beautiful. If only it could have your kids.  We’d name them all for plantations in Guyana.

Points:   90/100


IN CLOSING, THE BONUS ROUND

What an evening… Our senses were boggled from the amount of flavours and alcohol we’d just exposed them to, and trying to get an overview of the entire experience seemed somewhat unnatural considering what we’d just tried.

In an attempt to step away from it all and try to let the experience sink in, we agreed another glass of rum might do the trick. I remembered that I was all out of the Caputo 1973 (I was one of the mob who had descended on poor Ruminsky’s garret in Berlin to get my sample before the police dispersed us all), but I did have something else he sent me a few years ago and thought this would make a great blind sample for Nicolai – so went and found it. As this had a decent kind of pedigree, we agreed after trying the thing, that our tasting notes should be included here as well:

Blind sample:

Nose: This is just sickeningly beautiful (Nicolai’s eyes now seemed wide open and alert again). Starts off with a profound dark caramel, deep rich treacle, warm sweet spices, vanilla, roasted oak, wood spice, burnt molasses, tannins, coconut oil, tropical fruits like papaya, mango and lychee, white pepper, “brunkager/pebernød” (Danish Christmas cookies) insanely complex and rich.

Mouth: Warm, spicy, sweet, velvet texture, buttery scotch richness and enough alcohol to keep it all in control. Nicolai was fast losing his cool by this point.

Finish: The sweet spices and alcohol was our initial thoughts. Then black liquorice, caramelized treacle, dried fruits like figs, plums, raisins, sultanas in an insanely good mix with sweet spices, oak, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon. I could see Nic casting restive and possessive glances at my sample bottle, and so hurriedly removed it from his reach.  He nearly wept.

Comments: This beautiful beast lingers forever. The balance is outstanding!! What a plethora of complex flavours. Oak, heavy rich caramel, dried fruits, spices and herbs in a beautiful balance. Unicorn tears would be shamed if placed next to it. Points were given and it was time to reveal what Nicolai had just tasted.

Velier Skeldon 1973 (!!!)

Points:  95/100


[The authors paused to catch their breath for a week at this point, before continuing…..]

So how do you wrap things up from here?

Well, to start of with, we both agreed that it was properly annoying that the PM 1972 was the best of the lot, considering it’s the only bottle we didn’t have any more of (what we tasted was a sample from Thomas Caque). It completely took us off guard…and just about blew our minds. Who would have thought that the “feminine” profile of the Port Mourant 1972 would take the lead (The Skeldon obviously not part of the equation).

It was equally interesting that the difference between tropical vs. continental ageing didn’t appear to give an overwhelming advantage/disadvantage to any one of these rums either, though of course it was clear that the ageing regime makes for very different flavour profiles.

Having said that, it is also worth noting that there are other continentally aged Port Mourants out there, which are in close competition and may in fact even take the lead. These are rums like the Norse Cask 1975, Rendsburger Bürgermeister Guyana 1975, Silver Seal 1974, which in our opinion, deserve spots next to these PM giants from Italy. Mind you, they all have similar costs to those from Velier, so not exactly something you just pick off the shelves anymore. 

Regardless, this had been one hell of an evening we are not likely to have again any time soon. 


 

Dec 312017
 

Although I always have controls on hand when writing a review, it’s not always clear in my writing how they all relate to each other, since the individual essay speaks to just a single rum.  However, I’m a firm believer in doing flights of multiple rums, whether horizontally (several rums of similar age or provenance), or vertically (where a single maker’s entire range is evaluated up and down the age or strength scale).  Such exercises are useful in that they permit similarities and differences to snap more clearly into focus, and perhaps some interesting judgements can be made on that basis.

Some time back when I was out in the real world, I spent some time doing a white rum run-through (this led to one of my favourite lists, the 21 Great Whites), a Jamaican flight (still to be written up) and this one of nine rums from Barbados.  The selections were not standard-strength or more commercially available rums like St. Nicholas Abbey, Mount Gay, Doorly’s or Fousquare, but mostly independents and limited releases: since such caskers possess attributes of strength and individuality which I felt to be incompatible with larger-volume blends existing in their own space and time; and they appeal to a different grouping of rum lovers than the specific rums tried here.  This may reduce its usefulness to some (aside from the fact that I could have made the list much longer), but certainly some limited conclusions could be drawn from the exercise nevertheless.  I’ve dispensed with my notes, thoughts and observations on each rum (that was not the purpose of the session) but the full length essay on each is linked where available, and will provide any additional background information these quick tasting notes don’t have.

So without further ado, here they are in my final post of 2017. Enjoy.


Cadenhead Mount Gay 2000-2008 8 YO BMMG 66.3%

Nose – Hot and fierce. Honey, flambeed bananas, nutmeg and peaches, salty caramel.  Gets a little sweeter over time, very distinctly so with water.

Palate – Sharp, hot. Bananas, caramel and burnt sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Tart fruits are there but take a back seat to softer ones.  Water is almost required here since it allows the lighter fruity notes to emerge more distinctly

Finish – Not so impressive – dry and medium long, but for the intensity there’s surprisingly little going on here

(84.5/100)

Cadenhead Green Label 2000-2010 10YO Mount Gay 46%

Nose – Acetone, nail polish, quite light. Bananas are back, also nutmeg and peaches, a flirt of caramel, and in fact it is quite similar to the BMMG above.  It is pleasant and light, with honey and some salty caramel remaining as the backbone, interestingly melded with some ashes and charred wood, and some medicinal notes I didn’t care for.

Palate – Salt and sweet caramel, sweet soya.  Those hospital smells translated to the palate also, not successfully IMHO.  Green tea, some pears and light fruits, chocolate and the honey almost disappears. The easy strength works well here.

Finish – 46% betrays itself into a short, light fade, mostly florals, honey, caramel and a dash of citrus rind.

(82/100)

Isla del Ron 2000-2013 Mount Gay 12 YO 61.6%

Nose – Mount Gay really does seem to have something of a profile all its own, leaning towards honey, bananas, light caramel, acetone, some rubber and a bit of brine.  Some sweet syrupy smells like mixed fruit in a can.  Resting didn’t add much to this one.

Palate – For all its heat and power, there wasn’t much going on here as one would expect.  Vanilla, brine, mint, chocolate with watery fruits (watermelon, papaya, white guavas), but all quite vague.

Finish – Long, salty-caramel-ice-cream; almonds, walnuts, vanilla, brine and an olive or two. Quite tame.

(83/100)

Compagnie des Indes 2006-2016 Foursquare 9 YO 62.1%

Nose – Olive oil in a nice garden salad, oddly enough, but sweeter florals permeate the nose as well, nicely integrated strength and balance with acetone, cherries and peaches, red grapes and Moroccan olives.

Palate – Nice! Caramel and licorice, fried bananas, apricots, chocolate and light coffee grounds. It’s 62.1% yet this is hardly felt.  Apples and some lemon zest round out an excellent profile

Finish – Longish, with cider, apples, salted butter, light molasses.  It’s a bit sharp, and with water it gets toned down very nicely indeed, at the expense of some of its distinct flavours.

(87/100)

Habitation Velier 2013-2015 Foursquare ~2 YO 64%

Nose – Power, lots of power here, leading in with pink rock salt and tomato-stuffed olives. Rubber, glue, vanilla ice cream drizzled over with hot caramel and chocolate. Lemons, cumin, sweet paparika and pepper. There’s a little wine-iness in the background, but this is very faint, almost unnoticeable.

Palate – Salty olive oil and soya, like a rich vegetable soup impregnated with lemon grass, cumin and dill. Nuts, dates and peaches, rubbery and wax notes, not all playing entirely harmoniously together, though for sheer originality it’s certainly worth a second (or third) try.  Water helps here.  Sweetness returns, caramel, fruits, herbs, really quite an experience.

Finish – Surprisingly short.  Creamy.  Dark sesame-seed bread plus herbs, caramel, honey, sweet olives. Points for originality, if nothing else, and not one you’re likely to forget anytime soon.

(87/100)

Foursquare 2005-2014 9 YO Port Cask Finish 40% (Exceptional Cask Series)

Nose – Rubber and acetone to start, fruity notes quite distinct. Grapes, oranges, tangerines (not lemons).  Vanilla, toffee, cinnamon.  Smells like a slightly amped-up Doorly’s 12 YO, showcasing what that could have been with more barrel work, because this one is younger than the Doorley’s, almost the same strength…but better.

Palate – Wish it was stronger, as that intriguing nose does not efficiently deliver tastes in equal measure: mixed fruits in a salad bowl sprinkled with brown sugar, raisins, cherries, bananas, some coconut (I liked that) and charred wood.

Finish – Short, warm, almost light.  Certainly it’s easy. A few fruity notes, some toffee, blancmage, orange zest. It works, but not as well as it might have.

(82/100)

Compagnie des Indes 2000-2016 Foursquare 16 YO 62%

Nose – Luscious.  Black grapes, prunes, plums, honey, tinned fruit salad syrup simply without excess cloying-ness which might have ruined it. 62% is remarkably well controlled, even gentle.  Sweet red olives, fried bananas, hot black tea.

Palate – Very well done, dry intense, quite rich.  Acetone (fading fast), honey, black tea sweetened with condensed milk, cherries, apricots and even some rosemary.  An interesting combination of delicacy and heft, and that’s quite a trick for any rum to pull off.

Finish – Long, rich, fruity, zesty, includes some of those sweet cooking herbs.  Doesn’t quite ignite, however, and the components don’t mesh as well as they might. That said, still a rum to savour neat, in spite of its strength.

(86/100)

Foursquare 2006-2016 Single Blended Rum 62%

Nose – As good as I remember, as amazing. Nougat, white toblerone, cream cheese; peaches, strawberries and cream, citrus rind, and a majestic panoply of darker berries and fruits. Just a lovely nose.

Palate – Dried apricots and mangoes; rich brown honey spread on toasted black bread. Cherries, overripe grapes, lemon zest and all this retains great pungency over long periods. Hard to believe, with its smoothness and assembly, that this is north of 60% ABV.

Finish – Surpisingly easy; warm, not sharp.  Quite fruity and creamy, both soft and tart at the same time.  The integration is excellent, the balance superb.

(91/100)

Bristol Spirits Rockley Still 1986-2012 26 YO 46%

Nose – Meaty, chewy, salty maggi-cubes.  Brine, olives, salted caramel. Wow, quite a left-turn.  Where was the sherry? Sweeter fruit and some waxy pungency take their own sweet time coming out, plus honey and nuts after maybe ten minutes.

Palate – Much better to taste than to smell.  Caramel, weak molasses, dollops of dark honey, cough drops, leather, rye bread.  Also bitter chocolate, burnt sugar, stewed apples and the tartness of firm white unripe fruit – apples, ginnip, soursop, that kind of thing.

Finish – Short, fruity, honey-like, with additional notes of polish on old leather. Great balance

(86/100)


Having tried these few, then, what can one say about the lot?

Well, to begin with, I believe that with some practice one can indeed pick out the Mount Gay from a Foursquare rum, though I can’t pretend this is a statistically significant sample set, and I wasn’t trying them blind, and most of the reviews had already been written. Also, spare a thought for WIRD’s Rockley Still from Bristol Spirits, which is something of an outlier in this listing dominated by the other two big guns.  In October 2017 when Marco Freyr (of Barrel Aged Mind) and I were talking and sampling like cash-rich newbs in the rumshop, he remarked that there was no way – ever! – he could mistake a Rockley Still rum.  The profile was simply too distinct from the other Bajan makers, and while at the time I didn’t entirely agree with him, further tastings of other WIRD rums (not on this list, sorry) showed that in all likelihood, with a large enough sample set, yeah, he was absolutely right – even under the influence of the sherry casks in which it was aged, it was markedly different and particular to itself, and strength had nothing to do with it.

It’s clear that quality, enjoyment and a high ranking does not rest on age, or strength, or finishing and not on fancy barrel strategy.  None of these attributes in isolation automatically makes for a good rum…a relatively youthful cognac-aged Habitation Velier ranked very well against a lesser proofed other-barrel-aged rum like the Foursquare Port Cask.  And the higher power of the 8 YO Cadenhead BMMG only marginally improved it over the older, but weaker, Green Label, neither of which had any ageing in other barrels than the norm.  The Danish cask strength CDI Foursquare rums were also quite good in spite of one being almost double the age of the other. So clearly, age has its limitations, as does the type of barrel or finishing regimen used, or the strength.

But push them into combination with each other and you’ve really got something.  The Foursquare Velier collaboration of the almost legendary 2006 ten year old pressed all the right buttons at once, and this is why even on this go-around, it beat out all the competitors.  It’s simply as spectacular now as it was then, and while it’s not the best Bajan ever made (I haven’t tried every Bajan ever made), it remains a high water mark for sure and demonstrated that when judiciously applied, with verve and skill and style, the intersection of the three components results in some awesome juice.

Lastly, it is no secret that 2017 has pretty much been the year of Foursquare (Velier might dispute that given the enthusiasm over its 70th Anniversary special issues) — and I don’t just mean the company, but its rums in general, whether released by them or other independents. This small selection of nine rums from Barbados show why this is so. That’s not to take anything away from the others, which all scored reasonably well and are credit to the island’s rum making heritage.  But certainly Richard Seale is riding high at the moment, and it remains to be seen whether the other brands from Barbados will step up to the high standards he is setting, or get relegated to second tier status for the foreseeable future.  For that reason alone, the next years’ developments will make watching Barbados rums evolve a fascinating experience.

Mar 312013
 

 

Inspired by the amazingly refreshing (and original) website andabattleofrum which has a world cup of rums – well worth a look for sheer inventiveness and style – I decided to implement an idea that both that site and the ongoing whisky range tastings on allthingswhisky.com have done so well.

Having sampled the Flor de Cana 5 and the Juan Santos 5 at the same time, I resolved to make a go of two other five year olds in the larder, and run all four through their paces to see how they stacked up against each other: after all, trying them individually was one thing, but if I rated them all at the same time, would the scores change?  Now there was a challenge to the scoring system.  And anyone who has associated with me and my rum work for any length of time knows the despite in which I hold the whole business of scores to begin with, so perhaps I should try and see whether it was as consistent as I claimed it was.

Flor de Cana 5 year old

Nose: Faint rubbery notes coil among the darker flavours of caramel and burnt sugar and fleshy fruit. Spicy, yet not overpoweringly so.
Palate: Heavy bodied (competes manfully with the El Dorado), dark sugar notes with pineapple and peaches.  Quite dry and medium sweet. A shade harsh
Finish: Medium, heated finish with some softer billowing caramel and nutty flavours.
Assessment: Overall, it failed somehow.  On its own I ranked it at 76 points…here I didn’t think it did all that well.

El Dorado 5 year old

Nose: Dark, rich brown sugar.  White flower notes, caramel, slight molasses. Became almost creamy as it opened up.
Palate: Yummy.  Heated, a shade sharp. Arrived with burnt sugar and caramel nuttiness, just enough sweet.  Deep, dark, unshashamedly rough bushman of a rum, yet quite excellent for all that.
Finish: Long and lasting, with faint closing notes of almonds.
Assessment: The epitome of younger Demerara style rums, and a credit to DDL. This is like the rambunctious first born in your family, an A-type for sure.

Angostura 5 year old

Nose: Grapes, fleshy fruits, peaches. Strong heated nose redolent of burning canefields
Palate: A medium bodied melange of vanilla, burnt brown sugar, caramel. Thick and almost chewy, yet spicy and containing a certain grace as well.
Finish: long and lasting with a closing aroma of caramel
Assessment: Aggressive, forceful and straightforward, yet lacking some of the uncouth brawny cheeriness of the El Dorado.

 Juan Santos 5 year old

Nose: Light and delicate, yet heated spirits tickle your nose. Fruit and vanilla notes so well balanced it’s almost impossible to pick apart.
Palate: Gently assertive, extremely mild…barely passes the “is this a rum?” test at all, since none of the notes one would expect out of an entry-level  rum – the molasses, brown sugar, toffee etc – are present.
Finish: long, a shade brny, and quite dry, with almost no flavours poushing past to provide closure.
Assessment: passive aggressive problem child who prefers never to speak up in class

General conclusions

Having gone through this exercise and gotten quite high doing it, what were the results and how did they stack up against my posted scores?

Well, not too bad.  Side to side rankings came up with this result:

Last was was the Juan Santos,third came the Flor, second the Angostura, and first (somewhat to my surprise) came the El Dorado 5.  Scores in my reviews bore this out: in order, 74, 76, 77 and 78, and all variations came in nose, the palate and finish, with little difference in the intangibles.  So all in all, I see this as an initial  vindication of the system, if you could call it that and however miserly it might be.  Other rankings of this nature will inevitably follow because I feel (as others do) that tasting single rums in isolation can be a sterile exercise, and gives no reference baseline which a multiple sampling would enhance.

Just as a side note, I really am impressed with Angostura’s product.  It has real character and a certain elemental brutality about it that I liked a lot…two point separation or not, it is in many respects on par with the El Dorado, which perhaps supercedes it in just that slight smidgen of smoothness and depth that pulled it ahead.

Anyway, please note that (of course) these scores reflect my tastes, not necessarily yours.  You will undoubtedly have your favourites, as I have mine, and concordance is unlikely.  And this is without even considering how many five year old rums out there, of which this is a miniscule sampling at best. That said, have fun trying them out anyway. I know I did.

Oct 042012
 

As has now become a pleasant routine every six months or so, I attended the second Kensington Wine Market Raucous Rums tasting of 2012 on Thursday 4th October, and as has also become my habit, I brought along a guest. Previously, before my rum-loving friend The Bear bailed for the Maritimes (for his health and a better job he claims, but I think he was just tired of Calgary weather), he and I made it a point to always go together. What has happened since his departure is that I always buy two tickets, and ask someone to come along with me. On this occasion it was Gordon “Pogo-san” Pogue, whom I had converted to the dark side about a year or so ago at a now-legendary rum-soaked jerk-chicken cookoff, when he (to his own everlasting astonishment I’m sure) realized that top end rums were…well, utterly fantastic.

There’s a sort of comforting routine to these tastings, which vary little from occasion to occasion. The ill-named host “ScotchGuy” (yup, I have to comment on this every time I write about KWM’s Raucous Rums) always has the glasses all poured (not Glencairns, alas), welcomes everyone, has his powerpoint dissertation on the history of rum ready to go (complete with the odd photo from Liquorature), and as always, there are new faces, different faces, all interested and curious and enthusiastic. Last time there was a cheerful crowd of Chileans that caught my eye; on this occasion a group of four beautiful ladies off to the front, a well dressed couple in the middle, and what I later came to know as a father-son tag-team together with Pogo-san and me in the rear. Snacks were low key and tasty and as you can imagine, I nibbled the evening through.

These days, I take a perverse kind of sneaky delight in trying to anticipate what Andrew would present on any given evening. I must confess to being a little ahead of most attendees, since I have been involved in these tastings for three years now (not really as impressive as it sounds given there are two a year versus maybe fifteen or so for whiskies) and since I knew he had some new variations in, I had a sense of what would be on offer. Can’t always bet on that, though: sometimes we get new stocks not yet available, like the Rum Nation series back in 2011; on other occasions it’s older wares that aren’t moving off the shelves and about which we are reminded, like the Santa Teresa Bicentenario. And sometimes Andrew just happily mixes it all up and simply puts out a series he thinks would be interesting (I occasionally get asked for a suggestion). I think he takes delight in pulling a fast one on me.

As before, the six rums were blind. Andrew had us nose and try the first rum right away before launching into the presentation. Gordon sniffed and wrinkled his nose. The light toffee-coloured rum stung the schnozz a little, and had a slight smokiness to it, toffee craminess and some vanilla, perhaps bananas, trending towards the floral. “Caramel and burnt sugar,” he opined “Maybe flowers, some fruitiness.” “Bananas?” I asked, hoping to get a confirmation. He sniffed, tasted and nodded. The two gentleman at our table tried it but didn’t offer an opinion, and with five more to go, I couldn’t blame them. I suspected this was a Bajan rum because of its soft nose and them bananas, but it was also a little more spicy than I recalled from Barbados products…I thought it might be the Mount Gay 1703 (the XO is a shade harsher than this one).

Moving on, Andrew answered a few questions from a more-than-usually vocal audience (I always like that since I’m a firm believer in audience participation), remarked that he would have liked to do a country-specific tasting one of these days (not on this occasion, but maybe soon…) and launched into the presentation, and then we tried the second rum, which was darker, gold, with a shade of red. “Nice,” I said, and it was. “How do you think it compares?” “Oh better than the first for sure,” replied Gordon. “Spices, nuts, fruits on the nose. Chocolate on the taste.” That lined up with what I thought, and mentally added roses and some winey notes, marzipan and molasses as well.

The older gentleman at our table, Michael by name, looked over at us. “You’re obviously an aficionado,” he said. “Me, I couldn’t tell the difference between one rum and the next like that. Love rums, just don’t dabble very much on the farm.” I smiled and said “Yeah, but you could probably tell one cow from the next just by asking its name and checking the pats, right?” We all laughed. “Yup,” he confirmed. “Smell the poop and know its state of health right away.” I liked him on the spot.

“Well, I’m going to suggest this is a Rum Nation product, maybe the Jamaica 25 or the Demerara 23, more than likely the former,” I hazarded, little knowing the hole I just dug for myself. But I did like the rum a lot. It was heated, yes, spicy without doubt, yet also earthy and softly flavoured, with a long finish I enjoyed.

Moving on to rum number three, a dark mahogany coloured lass. Oh this was just fine, I thought, nearly having an attack of the vapours myself. This one was awesome: breakfast toast and chocolate on the nose, a creamy, soft arrival with a balanced taste of fruits, molasses, pecan, apples. Oily finish, deep and long lasting and did this rum ever love me. “Comments?” asked Gordon, wanting to know which one I thought this was. “I honestly don’t know for sure,” I had to admit. “The only rum I know that’s this good at 40% is the St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old.” But would Andrew trot this $200 baby out, having already done so in a previous tasting? Maybe. “I guess I’ll hang my hat there,” I concluded, however doubtfully.

If I thought #3 was good, #4 ratcheted the ante up a shade. Rusty, dark rum, almost El Dorado-like. A nose of licorice, plums, dark dried fruit, and a lovely winey background on arrival. Smooth, heated, warm, with an arrival redolent of freshly sawn lumber, biscuits and a shade of cinnamon. “You know,” I whispered to Michael and Gordon and the other younger gentleman with a magnificent King George beard I secretly envied (his name was Colin and he turned out to be Michael’s son), “I honestly think this is the 25 year old Jamaican Rum Nation, but that cedar hint makes me wonder whether it isn’t the Longpond 58 year old.” “How can you tell?” asked Michael. “It’s those cedar notes that are the problem…that’s what I get from the Longpond, but if this is the J25, then Rum #2 has to be something else,” I grumbled in confusion – the others were enjoying my discomfiture.

The deep gold of Rum #5 concealed a nose of real power. Man, this sucker stood up and biffed me on the hooter with rubber, plasticine and wood, big time, devolving into floral notes as it settled, and a slight minty background. The arrival was strong and powerful: brown sugar, caramel, toffee, soggy biscuits, fruity notes…and a strong woodsy scent of cedar. “Okay,” I said, sure at last. “This one is the Longpond 58 year old. The cedar is too clear and the rum is too strong to be anything else.” “You sure? So what does that make #2 and #4?” asked Colin. “Still on the fence about #2,” I was forced to admit, “But #4 should be the Jamaican 25.” “Why are you so sure of this one?” asked Pogo-san. “Well, Andrew advertised it would be one of the selections, and I know he has it because I lent him my bottle.” I laughed. “Damn but this is strong. It’s like a porn star on a performance bonus…the finish just won’t stop.” (I was quoting one of my own reviews, to be honest). Colin and Michael could barely contain their laughter, and so did the rest of the crowd when Andrew repeated it.

Andrew had some nice things to say about the Liquorature site – I imagine our table’s relatively talkative crowd was drawing some attention and he wanted to explain why my name occasionally popped up in the presentation – and then we moved on to the last rum of the evening

Well, if I thought #5 had cojones, I was utterly unprepared for Rum #6, which was the lightest rum of the tasting. Holy crap but this was stratospheric. Glue, PVC, plastic, spicy as all hell. And then the flavours started coming: grapes, fruits, wine, mint, acetone. And a finish that simply would not stop. “Porn star?” I gasped, reaching for the water, “This thing is like a rampaging rhino on crack,” and that just dissolved the table. We were certainly having a great time over in our corner. This was like school days, where I constantly “ketch lash” for talking in the back while “Sir” or “Miss” was lecturing. “This, without doubt, is the SMWS Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, guys. Tread lightly or you’ll really get hammered.” And of course I took another sip.

As usual, we were asked to rank our #1 and #2 rum of the evening and the big reveal was as follows:

#1 was the Renegade Rums Barbados 2003 6 year old, bottled at 46%. Nobody picked this as either their #1 or #2. Hey, I got the country right, didn’t I?

#2 was (to my extreme embarassment), the Renegade Rums St Lucia (I forget the year). I excuse my inexcusable gaffe here by noting that although I have it, haven’t gotten around to doing the review on it. Yeah, sure. 2 people picked this one

#3 was picked by 13 persons, and it was the Panamonte XXV. Another rousing failure by your not-so-humble reviewer to discern the difference between a superlative Bajan product, and one from Panama. This was my own #3 pick of the evening.

#4 Yeah baby: I thought it might have been the 58 year old but then settled on the J25, and so it was. My #2 pick of the evening

#5 On a roll, I correctly assessed the 1941 Longpond 58 year old for what it was. When I can get around to saying which cask it was (#76 in this case) and what year it was bottled (1995), then I can call myself a true expert, but until then, I’ll take the kudos I can for merely identifying it. My #1 choice of the evening, but only one other person concurred

#6 And yes, this was indeed the behemoth of all rums, the 81.3% Longpond 9. No way I could mistake that. Would you believe that three people were mesmerized enough (or battered into insensibility by its mere prescence) to choose it as their first or second fave? Good for them. “They probably drink cask strength whiskies on the side,” I muttered. “I like whiskies a lot,” noted Colin, breathing a little hard. “But I’ve never had one like this.” Gordon concurred after exhaling gently. I imagine he was searching for his tonsils in Albania.

Not the most artistic photo of a lineup I ever took…blame it on the Longpond 9

And that was that. I am going to award myself 3½ points out of six – three correct guesses and one half mark for at least figuring the country right, as if this somehow means something.

But you know, it’s all a guessing game, and what of it if I get it wrong? — these things are fun. I always meet interesting people, I always have a good time, always find something new. The evening was given an even better fillip by having such a great vocal, questioning set of participants (not least of which were the four pretty ladies in the front and the well-dressed couple a table over). And I met Michael Monner and his son Colin, who graciously allowed me to use their names in this review, and hailed from a small town called Milo, just SE of Calgary (“Mike Monner from Milo” I said, rolling that around “…that sounds too cool to be true.”). Not surprisingly, given Mike’s appreciation for rums, I think I’m going to have him over or pass by Milo to see him one of these days, and bring some of my own stocks for him to try. I’d like to think my good squaddie Pogo-san enjoyed himself, will come once more if I ask him, and once again, I’ll be waiting for the next one to see what good stuff our host has to surprise us with on that occasion.

Having written this, I have a feeling I may go back to give that Longpond 9 another try: I’m having trouble falling asleep you see…

See you next time.

 

Sep 272012
 
The Raucous Rums of the evening

Tuesday 27th September 2011 was one of those days in which I participated in an event about which, even though absolutely nothing went terrifically wrong, I have mixed feelings: of both appreciation and disappointment.  I speak, of course, for the few of us who were there and know whereof I speak, of KWM’s second rum tasting event, rather euphemistically termed “Raucous Rums.”

I suppose by this time I should come to terms with the fact that we Lovers of the Cane are second class citizens n the spirits world.  I can’t speak for the vodka lovers, since most are Slavs or flavour-of-the-month-tipplers with all the insecurities and arrogance this implies; and cognac aficionados, brandy sippers and those who drink other relatively marginal spirits all speak to the excellence of their own preferences, however minor the sales of their preferred hooch may be on the world stage.  But I can’t help but feel a little aggrieved: the first rum tasting session had had somewhere around 20 people in it, with six very decent rums to be tried; this time, a mere seven months later, though eleven had signed up, only nine attended.  And yet the various whisky tastings around the city are doing great guns with loads of people crowding the stores which host them.  Like I said, I feel rather, well, second class.  An emperor penguin in a sea of elephant seals.

The “Scotch Guy” makes a point about rums

But there you have it.  The world is the way the world is, and having observed this, I shrugged my shoulders, comforted myself with the fact that rums are excellent value for money and no opprobrium is attached to (what to others is a shameful act of) mixing the low-enders; and the lack of appreciation for the extract of cane merely keeps prices down.  I should be grateful.  Disgruntled, maybe, but gratified nevertheless

As before, the Bear and I attended together, he being the only rum aficionado I know in cowtown who likes them enough to really make appreciating them a hobby (as opposed to buying a few different Bacardis and an Appleton, and saying he’s a “rum lover”).  Andrew Ferguson, who for such nights should really drop that inappropriate moniker of “The Scotch Guy,” started matters off at seven pm, and didn’t waste time with a blind testing this time around, but showed us front and center what he had on the table…some eight rums in all, with a possible ninth to come (if we wuz all good pickney and behave weself).

Showing he had polished up his speakers credentials in the intervening nine months, he didn’t give us the whole spiel and presentation of rums first, but a little at a time, interspersed with the rums about which he spoke – which was definitely a good way to go about business.

Much to my pleasure, the first two rums were recent favourites of mine: the St. Nicholas Abbey 8yr old and 12 year old.

The first 4½ rums

The 8 had a sweet nose of apples, fruit and caramel, light and somewhat floral; on the palate it was spicy at first, but mellowed like a blushing bride, presenting flavours of vanilla, apples and citrus, tempered with oak.  Short and smooth finish with just a brush of spice to remind you it was an eight year old, not quite housebroken yet and still had some rambunctiousness and dotishness left in its DNA.

The 12, made from the remains of the highly rated (by me) ten year old, was still a dark, deep, warm rum that only got better as it opened up.  Heavy, rich, dark and creamy nose, it mellowed even further into a lush and warm rum about which I simply cannot say enough good things. On the palate you get dark molasses, liquorice, pecan and nary a hint of oak.  Smooth as velvet.  Every time I taste this thing I feel like a Victorian paramour swooning over his lady love while spouting atrocious verse.

The remainder of the rums came from a relatively young outfit,  Rum Nation.  Details about the company and its antecedents and modus operandi will have to wait until I can both do more research and snag some of their products for real.  Suffice to say, this is the rum division of the Italian whisky bottler Wilson & Morgan, and founded in 1999 as the emergence of independent bottlers of premium rum gathered steam (following on the unheralded success, I suspect, of the El Dorado line of DDL from the early nineties). Rum Nation products have been around for a while, of course – various reviewers have been waxing rhapsodic about them for years – and finally they are coming to Alberta (or so Andrew says).

RN Panama 18 year old.  Eighteen year old to start with?  Holy age statement, Batman, is this for real?  It’s a 40% rum which it was unclear was blended or not – whatever the case, it came from one distillery. Nose assaulted with a Muscatel reek that was somewhat shocking after the soft and genteel gentlemanly sophistication of the St Nick’s 12, and reminded me of the Legendario.  Mellowed into tobacco and fruity hints.  Palate – nice.  Not overly sweet, smooth and fruity, with  a slightly salty tang and traces of tobacco and leather. Not entirely sold on this ‘un myself, but it’s so smooth that I want me a bottle.

RN Martinique “Hors D’Age”.  A 43% beefcake wannabe agricole, which normally would turn me off since I think most agricoles are simply too lacking in body (my opinion).  Light, pale appearance, like a white wine, and a nose to match; presents scents of fennel, liquorice and fruits.  Palate of nutneg, cinnamon, orange and liquorice, a tad dry – it really is more like a cognac than a true rum.  Short and spicy finish – did not rank high with me overall.

RN 12 year old Anniversario.  Shared my Number 1 spot with the St. Nick’s 12 and the Demerara 23 year old.  It’s from Martinique, again 43%, and 12 years old, issued to celebrate RN’s 12th anniversary (duuh).  Nose is coganc-like, sweet, smooth, soft and grapy, with traces of dark citrus and tangerine.  The taste was phenomenal: soft chocolate, fruity caramel, fruits, nuts and candy and breakfast spices.  The texture was clear and light for such seemingly heavy flavours, yet none overwhelmed the other, and all somehow remained in balance.  Finish is long and lasting.  Awesome product, nicely done, in a box I like a lot.

~60% of the audience. Who’s the Bear in this picture?

RN Solera No. 14.  An odd nose of musty grapes, ginger and liquorice, soft and billowy and smooth on this one, and it opened up into dusty molasses and brown sugar.  Continuing its right turn on the palate, it arrived with a salty tang, caramel and a trace of nutmeg.  Very whisky like, smooth and spicy at the same time, with the oak coming forward to assert its prescence firmly.   Short and dry fade.  It’s instructive to nose this rum and immediately go back to the Panama 18 year old for a wild contrast…the muscatel from that one disappears entirely and is replaced by the sweet tobacco of a good briar pipe.

RN Jamaica 25 year old.  I must admit this was in many ways the most original (I don’t say the best) rums of the night, not merely because of its age.  I inhaled the scents of (seriously) tire rubber at the start (wtf?) which faded and were replaced with the smells of autumn that remind me of the leisurely walks I used to take in Berlin and London when the days grew cool and sharp, and ravens perched on fences to preside like mourners of the demise of summer.  Fallen leaves, damp earth and a cooling nip in the air that always makes me vaguely sad. Fleshy fruits and heavier floral hints round out a soft nose.  Yet the palate is caramel and lighter fruits (apples and green grapes), merging with a delicate hint of tobacco.  Fade was smooth and long lasting, and while this wasn’t the best rum of the evening, I think I’m going to try and get this one also when it arrives.

RN Demerara 23 Year Old.  Yup, I have a soft spot for the old country.  So what?  When a rum like this arrives, you have to give it kudos, and with it, it’s clear that Rum Nation is looking to do what Bruichladdich is – to take rums in a direction, and along avenues, not previously considered. A 23 year old 43% with a surprisingly pleasant nose made up of notes you wouldn’t think could come together well – baked biscuits a bit soggy in rain, musty tobacco and aged leather, like a laird’s stable, perhaps…a weird hint of of rubber.  It arrived as a solid, dark, just-sweet-enough savoury rum, carrying traces of caramel and orange peel.  It was so well constructed and balanced that it was hard to pick out anything else. Brooding, dark and slow finish that just didn’t want to go.  What a great rum this was. It shared the pedestal for the number one spot in my estimation, and yes, I’m gonna get me one of those as well.

Lastly, to approve of the fact that we were all such a spiffing bunch of chaps, liked what he had offered and hadn’t burdened him with any snarky questions he couldn’t answer, Andrew came out with the ninth rum: a Juan Millenario Reserva Especial from Peru, and the second solera of the night.  Sweet, light and fruity nose on a amber coloured rum.  Surprisingly thick and shade too sweet on arrival, I would judge, but nevertheless a pretty good rum with a reasonably long lasting finish.  I didn’t jot down the details of what years make up the backbone alas.  I thought it was a pretty decent mid-level rum nevertheless.

Let’s just review this line up as a whole.  Three makers and six countries were represented (that might be more variety than the audience composition).  Leaving aside the first two and the last one, it was clear that the core of it all was the aged Rum Nation products.  I’m not altogether sold on making a rum tasting comprise of rums to come so that marketing and word-of-mouth can be drummed up for future sales – but then, I’m a reviewer and a buyer, not a business, and so my focus on such matters would have been to introduce others to the variety of the top enders — to make them appreciate the quality and effort that goes into rums that are out there.  And indeed, this is what I do in my own house when friends express curiosity (and on every Liquorature night that was ever mine to host).  If I had to make any kind of generalized comments beyond that, it would be to note the odd sulphury notes in some of the RN rums (which comes out as a rubbery aspect of the nose), as well as the feinty and woody/tobacco scents.  This is somewhat unusual and may turn some people off – myself I found them intriguing.  St Nicholas Abbey, of course, I had tried already and perhaps I learned to appreciate the 8 yr old a bit more than formerly.

Dale’s excellent snacks didn’t last long

So there you have both my appreciation and my disappointment.  I mourn the lack of rum lovers in my city, when so many great brands are available (and I honestly believe this province may have the best selection in the country).  And I’m a shade miffed that we basically only had three makers’ selections (two, really) on display when we could have gone with more variety.  A Renegade or Cadenhead or AD Rattray selection to leaven the crowd might have been nice.  But then, I’ve tasted a fair bit of rums on my own, and so I may be just a bit elitist in arguing for breadth.  For the crowd that was there, for the rums that we had, all I can say is thanks to KWM for not only putting on a show with some real top end rums, but for having the second one in one year – and they didn’t stint on what they put out.  Oh yeah – and thanks to Dale whose catering of the snacks was first rate and (as with all good stuff) not enough.

Now if only The Scotch Guy could turn into the Rum Dude in the future (at least until midnight, when he turns back into the pumpkin of the malts) then my Glencairn runneth over, so to speak.  But then, I’ve been known to let optimism get the better of me, so I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I’m gonna look forward to the next one.

*

Update 2013: by now, all the rums tasted here reviewed and on the site.  It was on the basis of this tasting that I bought the entire line of Rum Nation which Andrew had, and I think it was a good buy.

Jun 052012
 

 

The latest KWM’s Raucous Rums tasting was held in the KWM shop tasting room in Calgary on June 5th, and as usual I squirreled myself (and on this occasion, my grown-up daughter) off into a back corner – she had evinced an interest in the tasting process and I wanted to show her what it was I was interested in and why (though my own feeling is she might have more wanted to cross something off her personal bucket list or something). We nibbled a bit and watched the Scotchguy do his intro. Note that I have given up — after two years of concerted and fruitless effort — trying to convince him that he should rename himself for such occasions and it’s become a running gag that I always mention it in my subsequent write up.

I have few romantic illusions about the nature of tastings: while I use sessions in my house to illustrate to the dabblers and the curious about the sheer variety and scope of top ended rums (and to show that they can hold their own against any other drink, a claim which my malty friends would dispute to their dying shot), a commercial establishment wants to show what they have for sale that’s worthy of the buck. And I don’t fault that for a moment – that’s the nature of capitalism and salesmanship. I just wish there were more. But as I have been informed on more than one occasion, high end rums not only lack cachet (except among the cognoscenti) – they simply don’t sell as well as equally priced or similarly aged cognacs, brandies or scotches. Which is why good hooch all too often remains on the shelves forever, unsold and gathering cobwebs…a loss leader. The battle continues – and perhaps I should be grateful: RumVictoria down in BC, run by a Calgary exile I wish I knew better, was shocked to find that there were no tastings at all down there, and the selections he could get were shabby at best. I can only imagine how bad the situation is elsewhere in Canada.

But I digress.

As before, Andrew kept things down to six blind choices. I had a suspicion Rum Nation’s products would be one or two of them, but beyond that, I was in the dark (as it should be). As is standard for him, our host had his slideshow presentation detailing something of the history of rum and its production, for the benefit of the audience who came for a combination of curiosity and interest (there was a small tribe of cheerful Chileans on this occasion) – it’s an odd thing, but aside from myself, I never see the same people twice in a row at these tastings. Too bad, because since KWM is a relatively boutique kind of store, they never put cheap stuff in front of you, so what better place to start?

Rum #1

A light golden rum whose nose darkened a shade as it opened up. The initial scents were light honey, licorice and a very slight dark sugar tang, attended by a certain n spiciness. On the palate we noted a medium body, some molasses and vanilla, and the continuation of sharp heat that was not all that warmly received. Later the rum evinced a smokiness which was quite appealing, and overall smoothness was okay without being exceptional – the lighter body mitigated against that. Finish was medium, light and heated, but far from unpleasant. I hazarded a guess it was an agricole just because of the overall delicacy (but also clarity of flavours – a Doorly’s this was not).

Rum #2

In comparison with #1, Rum #2 was more assertive in announcing itself. A dark gold rum, it presented a nose of some strength, quite fruity with green apples, grapes, raisins and a hint of molasses. As for the arrival, it came over as quite spicy (though not nastily so – this rum liked you), heavier in body, and dry; as it opened up there were some light floral notes which carried over into the finish in a mélange of flavours so subtle I was quite at a loss as to what this baby really was. What I’m saying was that I sensed a good blend of tastes…I just couldn’t pick anything out individually. A pretty good aged rum, smooth and warm to the embrace.

Rum #3

This gold rum was an excellent piece of work, and from the faint rubbery notes on the snoot, I pegged it squarely as a Rum Nation product (but nothing beyond that), whose characteristics it seemed to embody. Smoky scents, followed by fleshy fruits (peaches, apricots, a ripe mango) and red roses (no, seriously). On the palate, excellent all round: deep, intense, warm, yet soft as well; fennel, licorice and some oak, faint molasses. The finish was lasting and darkly spicy, and carried the flavours to a long completion. Mouthfeel on this one was silky as a baby’s cheek. Me likee, seriously.

Rum #4

Another confusing problem child I couldn’t place. Dark amber rum with a nose redolent of toffee, caramel, light flowers and yet the heavier touch of bananas was there too. Smooth, medium body which somehow failed to be assertive enough, tasting of caramel, raisins and perhaps dark chocolate. It heated up a bit on the fade, which was short and intense, yet overall the rum seemed just a bit too wussy for my taste – I wasn’t sure that was because it was it was a tad underproofed, or because the blending lacked something. This didn’t stop others from smacking their lips, I should note. I thought it was a Mount Gay because of the bananas in the nose.

Rum #5

Oh, well now, here was one I knew right off the bat: the dark sweetness, the fruity vanilla, and coconut shavings on the nose gave it away, as did the smooth sweet passage across the tongue, what with the touch of candy and licorice and molasses. Smooth as all get out, sweet and soft, and the Zacapa 23 for sure. Not the best of the soleras in the world, but one of the touchstones of the genre, as I remarked in my original review…and one of the best known, of course.

Rum #6

Where had this one been all my life? Dark gold medium bodied rum trending towards the heaviness of a middle aged athlete gone to seed. Soft shades of brandy on the bouquet, slight rubbery notes, cherries, citrus and maybe a hint of dustiness as well (and I mean that in a good way). The arrival was soft and irresistible, with chopped dark fruits of Guyanese Christmas black cake, peaches and aromatic pipe tobacco. Leather and driness on the fade, accompanied by a hint of bad boy oak and an overall smoothness that was simply delectable. Aged product for sure — I once again suspected Rum Nation, and from the medium body and sweetness, I initially considered it the Panama 18 (just because I knew Andrew and what he had in stock)…but not enough to bet the farm on it.

So what were the scores and the rums?

 

Well, the system in use here is that people were asked to select which of the six rums were their #1 and #2 favourites.

Rum #1 – Haitian Barbancourt 15 Agricole. Didn’t get any votes. No-one liked it enough to give it the top spot. About all I got right on this one was that it was an agricole

Rum #2 – Juan Santos 21 year old, and it got five votes. I felt humiliated: I loved the brand and yet I missed it entirely, though it was my #3 pick.

Rum #3 – Rum Nation Martinique hors d’age (which supposedly means aged for around 4-6 years) – 6 votes, and it was my #2 pick of the evening.

Rum #4 – Ron Barcelo 10 year old Imperial. Note the rum is 38% so I was right about the possible underproof nature of it…but was I ever wrong about the brand. 9 votes.

Rum #5 – Yup, the Ron Zacapa 23, 8 votes.

Rum #6 – Rum Nation: yes it was a Panama, but not the 18 – it was the 21 year old. My best of the evening, and nine others thought so too, and so this was the undisputed champion.

So what did I take away from this, aside from my daughter’s snickering at my inability to separate the brands, four of which I had tried already and should have known?

Well, I’m nowhere near good enough to blind taste a rum and instantly know which country it comes from – I have to bone up on my regional characteristics. On the other hand, my preferences seem to be very stable: I loved Juan Santos and Rum Nation products when I reviewed them, prefer slightly darker rums with good body, have noted that excess sweet is off-putting (Zacapa is too much of a good thing, I’m coming to realize) and underproofs simply underwhelm me. In fact, if nothing else, I want rums to be stronger, and stop restraining themselves to being a standard 40%.

Another point this leads to is that my personal tastes are not just running towards more heavily proofed offerings that deliver an intensity of flavor which forty per-centers are straining to maintain, but that there aren’t enough new and intriguing outside-the-box thinkers out there. Maltsters will laugh, but the most imaginative expressions I’ve had in a while are those made by Bruichladdich, Cadenhead and AD Rattray, scotch makers all – as well as newer and more aggressively original single-domain makers like Rum Nation. The likes of Appleton, Bacardi, Mount Gay, El Dorado et al seem to be bedding down for the long haul, happy with their aged or general offerings, without trying for something seriously old and unique. Tough for us as drinkers.

Anyway, a good evening, nice snacks (if not by the inimitable Dale) and good rums. Kudos to KWM for doing more than anyone else in this regard, and not cheaping out either. Look forward to the next one later in the year.

Feb 092012
 
***

 

Thursday February 9th restored some of my faith in the future of rums here in Calgary. The third Raucous Rums tasting event which I have now attended — hosted by Kensington Wine Market’s Andrew Ferguson — did not have the rather embarassing nine people in it, but was sold out for the full complement of tickets…in fact, several people I recommended it to who took me at my word and tried to get in, told me in the week leading up to the event that it had already been sold out prior to that. Good for KWM, then.

Andrew The Occasional Rum Guy (as I shall call him for reasons related to his email address) has now held perhaps four of these gatherings, and while hamstrung by the general indifference to rums in this city (if you doubt that, feel free to go to any whisky tasting and then speak to me about the difference) there is no doubt he puts out a good selection that covers a wide gamut of styles and tastes, and they are usually at the middle to top end of the scale. No Bacardis for this gent…though I would personally take a snarky kind of pleasure in seeing one sneaked in there one of these years just to see how it matched up.

Unlike the September 27th session, where we knew right up front what we were getting (mostly Rum Nation products plus two excellent St Nicholas abbey rums), here Andrew went back to the tried and true blind test variation, which suited me just fine. Seven rums were up for consideration, and in between the history and background of rums which Andrew probably knows by heart now, we went through the lineup. For the sake of this article, I’ll simply write about the tasting notes we made, and then I’ll do the big reveal.

The Occasional Rum Guy makes a point

Rum #1.

Colour: Lightest colour of the night, gold and sunlight.

Nose: Full burnt sugar, caramel, vanilla and nuts. Chocolate, marzipan and licorice edged out towards the end

Palate: Medium body verging on light; toffee, honey, vanilla, cherries and white flowers. Bite of spice and citrus.

Finish: Medium long, pungent, toffee and honey

Notes: Seemed young, but vibrant and strong, lovely balance of flavours. Panamanian, Nicaraguan, Colombian? The slight sweet suggests it.

 

Rum #2

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: Sweet, sugar, grapes, prune juice and the scent of fleshy darker fruits. Some spicy oak background

Palate: Sweet honey, nuts, creamy vanilla notes wound around with a smooth, viscous mouthfeel. Vague tannins and some spice to the taste.

Finish: Soft, creamy finish with toffee and grapes

Notes: It’s aged, but by how much? Quite an excellent rum.

 

Dale’s snacks were as good as always and disappeared fast

Rum #3

Colour: Dark gold

Nose: Initial arrival reminds me of a Riesling; sweet and grapy; this dissipates into a fruity, floral scent, with marzipan, licorice and green grapes mixing well with subtle whiffs of burnt sugar I really liked a lot.

Palate: Somewhat thin with a spicy taste to it; brown sugar for sure, caramel just a bit. Very hard to pin down and disassemble. Has the deeper bite of an overproof

Finish: Smoky feel of burning sugar cane fields; light floral background

Notes: Thought this was an aged Cadenhead due to its strength feeling greater than 40%. Really liked the nose, taste not as much.

 

Rum #4

Colour: Dark

Nose: Chocolate, soft maple syrup notes, with a hint of spices, vanilla and burnt sugar

Palate: Medium body; spicy and oaky, extremely dry and not very sweet; some honey, dark sugar and candied notes

Finish: Long and pungent, quite spicy

Notes: Unimpressive. Couldn’t make up my mind whether this was a Cuban or a Jamaican rum, but that driness on the tongue made me wonder whether I wasn’t just barking up the wrong tree

 

Rum #5

Colour: Dark gold

Nose: Dark fruit and jam; floral notes contested with red grapes; vanilla, grapefruit, honey and leather with pipe smoke brought up the rear. Nice

Palate: Spicy, a shade dry, sweet and smooth; creamy and full-bodied with an excellent mouthfeel; dark sugar and allspice, and very smooth. Good one.

Finish: Gentle and smooth, with dark sugar notes and caramel and oak.

Notes: Something about this reminded me of a Rum Nation product, and this is where I hung my hat…not sure which one…just not the really aged varieties.

 

Rum #6

Colour: Gold

Nose: Vanilla, honey, blancmange, toffee and all the good stuff from your childhood parties. Smelled this and saw balloons and pinatas.

Palate: Sweet, dark, yet not too overloaded with caramel or other baking spcies to piss me off

Finish: An odd, port-like finish of dark grapes and vanilla

Notes: This was almost definitely the Zacapa 23 formerly out of Guatemala, I thought.

 

Rum #7

Colour: Rusty red brown

Nose: Rubbery, feinty right off the bat; Nav, who sat on my table, hated it right off. Muscatel grapes, burnt sugar and no real edgy spice to it.

Palate: Aged leather and slightly dusty scent; chocolate, cinnamon and well-cured tobacco leaves; yet smooth for all that. The most distinctive rum of the night.

Finish: Slow and fruity; dark heat with a slightly dry back end on exit.

Notes: I really enjoyed this for its distinctiveness and ranked it high on my personal pantheon (if not that of the rums of the night). I hazarded a guess this was the Jamaican 23 year old aged rum from Rum Nation…that rubbery note gave it away.

 

Dan concentrates fiercely….

At the end, the Occasional Rum Guy asked for our votes for which rums we liked in order, and then asked us to raise hands for our first and second picks of the series as he went through the list and named what we had tasted

Rum # 1 was the Traveller’s 1 Barrel from Belize. 8 people picked this as either their #1 or #2 of the evening

Rum #2 was the Ron Abuelo 12 year old from Panama. 6 people picked this as their #1 or #2 of the evening

Rum #3 was the Clemente XO Tres Vieux from Martinique. 3 people picked this one as their #1 or #2.

Rum #4 was the $300 Santa Teresa Bicentenario solera, which nobody picked for their #1 or #2.

Rum #5 was picked by 5 people as their #1 or #2 of the night (I was one of them), and turned out to be the Rum Nation Martinque 12 year old

Rum #6 was without question the most popular of the session, garnering 12 nods for best or second best…and turned out to be the Zaya 12 year old, made by the same outfit that makes the Zacapa in Guatemala, before Angostura from Trinidad took things over.

Rum #7 was the 23 year old Demerara (not Jamaica) from Rum Nation, and while I ranked it #3 for distinctiveness, nobody else except Andrew himself ranked this anywhere close to the top.

 

***

So what does an exercise like this tell us?

Well, for one thing, there’s a definite separation between the crowd-pleasers and those rums that move beyond such ephemeral and fleeting opinions and achieve true value for their price; look no further than the rapturous reception of the Zaya 12, which, when you brutally disassemble it is simply a pleasant sipper without the complexity of something like, oh, the Rum Nation Martinique 12.

Secondly, there is no correlation between quality and price: the cheapest rum of the night, the Traveller’s 1 Barrel, got 40% of the votes for being either #1 or #2 of the evening; or, in reverse, the ultra-premium $300 Santa Teresa, which was roundly dissed, and came in at #5 overall, followed only by the Rum Nation Demerara 23 and the Clemente XO (for what it’s worth, my rankings before I knew the names were the Abuelo 12, RN Martinque 12, RN Demerara 23, Zaya 12, the Clemente XO (good for nose, not so much on taste), Traveller’s 1 Barrel and Santa Teresa Bicentenario).

Thirdly, guessing what you’re drinking is not easy, and I’m no expert, in spite of having sampled as many rums as I have: look how I got the first one wrong (couldn’t even get the country right), mixed up a Scottish Cadenhead with a Martinique agricole with Rum #3 (lots in common, but still…) and confused #7 between Demerara and Jamaica.  It points out something of the subjective nature of any review, done at the time the review is performed, versus a more leisurely one-at-a-time exercise, and how the surrounding rums in a blind tasting can sway one’s opinion of others to the left and right.

Lastly, it’s clear that one need not relegate oneself to the easy rums and cheaper prices to get a good drink. I acknowledge that most rum drinkers in this province are part timers whose real love and affection is given to the whiskies (and forgive them for this lapse, but never mind) – yet when one considers the sheer variety and range of rums we had that night, ranging from dry to sweet to dusty, from cask strength to standard 40%, light to dark, there is no doubt in my mind that there’s something for everyone to be had in the rum world.

Kudos to Kensington Wine Market for taking the lead in getting that to people’s attention.

 

Feb 032011
 
Andrew Ferguson illustrates a point

Thursday 3rd February was bit of a milestone for me: it marked the first tasting I had ever attended, and it suggested that perhaps rum really does have a future when it comes to being seen as a viable alternative to whiskies in Alberta.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Rum isn’t dethroning that obscure Scottish drink any time soon (either in volume, cachet or pricing). And this modest little do at Kensington Wine Market was not presided over by some famous ur-swami of matters molasses who’s tasted four thousand rums and smiles benificently and condescendingly at the hoi-polloi from his throne up above while favouring them with mysoginistic humour.  And it sure wasn’t something like the Rum Rennaisance down in Miami where hundreds (if not thousands) of rum lovers will descend in April of this year, and sample literally hundreds of rums (I seethe in envy) over a period of days.

This effort was small and simple and was, as Andrew Ferguson (known to some as the Scotch Guy) noted, held simply to demonstrate that rums have their aged offerings also and many are on par with their northern counterparts.  There was an audience of perhaps two dozen, seated around five or six tables set up in that tiny room KWM has off down the side. And six rums.

By no stretch of the imagination would I consider myself to be an expert on taste, but come on, you can’t taste seventy-plus rums and hang out at Liquorature and not pick up at least something about the various countries making the stuff, and what some of their characteristics are. My friend the Bear and I seated ourselves and sniffed the six glasses in front of each of us, and I could tell immediately that #1 was probably Cuban (and a familiar one at that), #2 was unknown but aged, #3 was an unchill-filtered overproof that reminded me of the A.D.Rattray 13 year old Caroni, #4 unknown, and #5 and #6 were both very old, with #6 without question being either a Demerara Rum or made from it, which to me suggested a Guyanese El Dorado.

The Six Rums: (l-r) Legendario, St. Nicholas Abbey, Cadenhead Green Label, Santa Teresa Bicentenario, English Harbour 25, El Dorado 25

Legendario 9, St Nick’s 10, Cadenhead Green, Santa Teresa Bicentenario, EH25 and ED25

I’m not entirely certain how much the audience itself was aware of either the history or provenance of rums, but Andrew was taking no chances, and led us through a slideshow while he discussed how rums had come through history and gradually developed into the form we know today.  That being his leadin, he then started on the rums in front of us.

The first was, as I had suspected, Cuban: the Legendario, to be precise, nine years old. It was that sweet muscatel grape addition that gave it away. Soft, sweet, a little overpowering.  The subtler notes struggled to get out from under that grape reek, and the Bear despised it right away (and never changed his mind – remind me never to give him one of these for Christmas).  Like me, Andrew had had a frustrating time trying to dig out any information on the distillation or manufacturing methods about it, but Cuba doesn’t advertise too much so unless you speak Italian or Spanish, you’re not getting a whole lot.

The second was a rum I had definitely wanted to know more about: the St. Nicholas Abbey 10 year old out of Barbados.  I have been largely unimpressed by Bajan products as a whole – I’m going to spout some heresy here and tell you I think the Mount Gay XO is overrated – but St Nick’s was excellent.  Great nose, soft and yet spicy on the palate, with notes of banana and citrus marrying nicely into a lovely finish. It’s more expensive than the usual at $145, but I loved it.

Third was that Caroni smell-alike, and what it turned into was a Cadenhead Green Label Demerara rum. I had last had it at the Liquorature gathering where I initiated the tradition that on my night it would be rums only…but that was nearly two years ago.  Back then I had been unenthused, but now I appreciated it a bit more. 50% beefcake, solid, spicy delivery, heavy on the molasses, dry and not sweet – but with bulging biceps and an forceful mien not readily ignored.

The fourth rum had intrigued me ever since I had first seen it peeping down at me from a high shelf a few months before: the Santa Teresa Bicentenario.  I’m a bit of a snob on occasion, and I had been intrigued as to why it would be a whopping $315 and had flirted with the idea of dropping a bundle on the bottle, but had never been sure enough (the 1796 got a lukewarm review from me so I wasn’t in a hurry to go after a top-end solera). That puts this solera aged rum in the big leagues of Appleton 30 and El Dorado 25, but could it go up against those big guns?  Neither the Bear nor I thought it should (and Andrew stated he’d rather buy a whisky for the same money).  Medium body, lightly floral notes surrounding a core of burnt sugar, but still too thin and lackluster for me…not assertive enough, I guess, or complex enough.

Number five was without question the rum my ursine squaddie and I had always agreed on: that first really top end rum I’d ever tried, and the first rum I’d written about for this site: the English Harbour 1981 25 year old.  How the hell did I not spot this right away? Just this side of full-bodied, notes of caramel, banana, some citrus and nutmeg, a smooth and lingering finish, and a feel on the tongue like velvet, with hardly a smidegen of burn. Just bloody marvellous.

And as I had expected, the sixth rum was indeed a Demerara rum, yes it was an El Dorado, and not just any rum, but perhaps the rum – the El Dorado 25 year old itself. Damn that was a treat.  I’ve reviewed it twice now, once for this site and once on RumConnection, and it’s still the same: phenomenally well balanced, silky as all get out, and still just a bit too sweet….it stops just a whisker away from being a liqueur.  I’d also like to point out that Andrew noted El Dorados are probably KWM’s best selling rums (good luck finding downscale offerings like Bacardi in this store)

So many choices…

If I had one wish for the night it’s that we could have had more. I am genuinely enthusiastic about rums, and enjoy the way they run the gamut from rotgut popskull to cheap mixers, right up to more expensive fare it would almost be a sacrilege to mix with anything.  Reading the room gave me the impression most were there to inform themselves and find out a little more about a drink not often given much thought or respect in this province (like I said, we aren’t in Miami here).  Six selections seems…well, not enough. I have to concede it’s great to have such a session at all, and for a whisky guy to give it his best shot and stage the event in the first place was a pleasure.  One I fervently hope other establishments will emulate more often

But this is Calgary not Miami, it was rum and not single malts, and perhaps I shouldn’t be too optimistic.  Tastings at these stores run heavy into wines and whiskies, and given how – as I have observed sourly on more than one occasion – the shelves groan under the weight of the Islays, Speysiders and what have you, while rums are almost embarrassedly displayed in some out of the way shelf which shamefacedly showcases a mere half dozen or so…well, given that, I give thanks to Andrew and Kensington Wine Market that I got to experience this one.

Here’s hoping there’ll be another one soon.