Mar 302021
 


The site is completely functional and you can read and access everything through the menus abovebut navigation via the links, categories, tags and so on, is currently non-functional and being repaired. That’s a lot of work and will take several weeks, even a month or two. When this sign disappears, it will all be fixed. Sorry about the inconvenience.

NB: All FBlikesare gone. If you liked a post before and happen across it again, do me a favour and like it again. It does nothing except flip a counter here and won’t redirect you anywherebut it does tell me something about the popularity of a post. Thanks!


 

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 tookblame 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.

TheScotch Guymakes 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 endersto 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 yearand they didn’t stint on what they put out. Oh yeahand 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 upafter two years of concerted and fruitless efforttrying 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 sureI 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 allas 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 attendedhosted by Kensington Wine Market’s Andrew Fergusondid not have the rather embarassing nine people in it, but was sold out for the full complement of ticketsin 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 gentthough 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 hatnot sure which onejust 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 Nationthat 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 bestand 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 mindremind 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 wholeI’m going to spout some heresy here and tell you I think the Mount Gay XO is overratedbut 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 onlybut 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 sweetbut 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 menot 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 rumthe 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 seemswell, 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 howas I have observed sourly on more than one occasionthe 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 sowell, 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.