Nov 252021
 

What is there to say about either Velier or Caroni, that hasn’t been said so many times before? 

It seems almost superfluous to repeat the story but for the sake of those new to the saga, here’s the basics: Caroni was a Trinidadian sugar factory and distillery which, after many ups and downs related to the vicissitudes of the sugar industry, finally closed in 2003. In late 2004 Luca Gargano, the boss of Velier, came upon and subsequently bought, many hundreds (if not thousands) of barrels that had been destined for auctioning or fire sale disposal (for the sake of completeness, note that many others did too). 

Previously, either on their own account or when managed by Tate & Lyle (a British concern which operated the establishment for many years), Caroni had made rums of their own, but they were considered low quality blends and never thought to be very good. Now, however, Velier issued them in tiny lots, often single barrel releases, cask strength and quite old. Though initially sold only in Italy, by 2010 they had already acquired an underground following, with a reputation that only grew over the years – and this is why prices on secondary markets for the very first releases dating from the 1970s or 1980s can go for thousands of dollars, or pounds.

These days, with the prices and number of variations of the early Caroni rums ascending out of reach of most, the blended aged expressions may be the best value for money Veliers from the canon we can still afford, or find. What they provide for us is something of the tar and smoke and petrol portions of the profile that characterize the type, without any of the miniscule variations and peculiarities of single barrel expressions.  They are, in short more approachable overall to the curious layman who wants to know what the Godawful kerfuffle is all about.  Granted, many other indies have gotten on the bandwagon with their own Caronis and they are usually quite good, but you know how it is with Velier’s cachet and their knack of picking out good barrels even when making blends. 

So, this one: distilled on a column in Caroni in February of 1998 and aged in situ until September 2015, when it was shipped to Scotland for blending and bottling at 55% ABV.  All this is on the label, but curiously, we don’t know the total outturn.  In any event it’s one of a progressively more aged series of blends – 12 YO, 15 YO, this one and 21 YO – meant for a more consumer facing market, not the exclusive Caronimaniacs out there, who endlessly dissect every minor variation as if prepping for a doctoral thesis.

Those who spring for this relatively cheaper blend hoping for a sip at the well, will likely not be disappointed. It has all the characteristics of something more exclusive, more expensive. Initial aromas are of petrol, an old machinists shop with vulcanizing shit going on in the background, rubber, phenols, iodine. Gradually fruits emerge, all dark and sullen and sulky.  Plums, blackberries, dates, plus sweet caramel and molasses.  Some herbs – dill, rosemary.  And behind it all coils the familiar scent of fresh hot tar being laid down in the summer sun.

The taste is very similar.  Like the nose, the first notes are of an old bottom-house car repair shop where the oil has soaked into the sand, and rubber tyres and inner tubes are being repaired everywhere, and the occasionally pungent raw petrol aromas makes you feel like you’re passing an oil refinery. But this is all surface: behind that is also a more solid and lasting profile of brine, olives, dates, figs, and almost overripe peaches, prunes, even some coffee grounds and anise. It’s dry, and a touch bitter, redolent of aromatic cigarillos, damp black tea leaves. Nice but also, on occasion, a little confusing.  No complaints on the finish, which is reasonably long, thick, with notes of caramel, nuts, licorice and dark fruit.  It’s a peculiarity of the rum that although sweetness is really not in this rum’s DNA, it kinda tastes that way.

It’s been bruited around before that Caroni rums, back in the days of Ago, were failures, implying that these rums today being hailed as such classics are a function of heritage and memory alone, not real quality in the Now. Well, maybe: still, it must be also said that in a torrential race to the lees of anonymity and sameness, they do stand out, they are in their own way unique, and the public has embraced their peculiarities with enthusiasm (and their wallets). 

On balance, I liked it, but not quite as much as the 21 YO in the blended series. That one was a bit better balanced, had a few extra points of elegant distinction about it, while this one is more of a goodhearted country boy without the sophistication – but you know, overall, you would not go wrong picking this one up if you could.  There is nothing wrong with this one either, and it represents Caroni’s now well-know tar and petrol profile quite solidly, as well as simply being a really good rum.

(#866)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • The label is a facsimile of the original Tate & Lyle Caroni rum labels from the 1940s
Nov 222021
 

The Scarlet Ibis rum is not as well known as it was a decade ago, but that it continues to be in production at all is a testament to its overall utility and perceived worth in the bar scene. That said, it remains something of an unknown quantity to the mass of rum drinkers, sharing negative mindspace with, oh, say, Sea Wynde or Edwin Charley, which had their moment in the Age of Blends but have now fallen from common knowledge.  In a few more years they’ll join all those other rums that recede into vague memory if a greater push isn’t made to elevate customer awareness and sales.

Where does one start?  First of all, it is a rum made to order, commissioned by the New York bar Death & Co. The exact year it arrived is unknown, but since D&Co was established in January 2007 (it opened on New Year’s Eve) and since the first note I can find about the rum itself related to a 2010 MoR festival (so the rum had to have been available before that), then it’s been around since 2008-2009 or so, with short observations and reviews popping up intermittently at best ever since. 1. Eric Seed, the NY importing rep for the European distributor Haus Alpenz (which also helped source the Smith & Cross, you’ll remember) seems to have been instrumental in being point man for its creation and subsequently bringing into the US. 

Production is intermittent at best, paralleling the equally inconsistent geographical availability.  Facebook is littered with the detritus of occasional comments like “Where can I find it?” “Is it still being made?” “Like the new one?” or “When did it become available again?” Most who have tried it and have commented on the rum think it’s very nice, and the extra proof is appreciated.  In earlier posts some suggested that the original blend had some Caroni, but Alpenz denied that, and also noted that there was an error in the press materials and it was and always has been a completely column-still product, a blend of 3-5 year old stocks, bottled at 49%.

So, a youngish rum blend, made to order.  That makes it an interesting rum, quite different from most others from the twin island republic which are either overpriced Caronis (on the secondary market) or Angostura’s own decently unexceptional blends. It’s light and sharp (what some refer to as “peppery”) on the initial nose, kind of sweet and cheeky, like the playful towel-snap your older brother used to like flicking in your direction.  It had notes of ripe red cherries, soft mangoes and a touch of lemon juice, honey, butterscotch and brine, which went well with some aromatic tobacco and a very faint hint of a rubber tyre.

Even at 49%, I’m afraid that it didn’t live up to the suggested quality the nose implied. Initial tastes were honey, unsweetened molasses, Guinness stout, olives and pimentos (!!), with some slowly developing fruits – dark grapes, raisins, gooseberries – plus red wine, chocolate and coffee grounds. The finish was short, not very emphatic, quite warm: mostly tobacco, light fruits, olives, toffee and a last hint of citrus. It doesn’t last long, and just sort of sidles out of the way without any fuss or bother.

Overall, it’s good, but also something of a let down. Even at 49% it seems too mild for what it seems it could present (and this from a relatively young series of blend components, so the potential is definitely there).  There’s more in the trousers there someplace, the rum has a lot more it feels like it could say, but it is hampered by a lack of focus: leaving aside the proof point, it’s as if the makers weren’t sure they wanted to go in the direction of something darker (like a Caroni), or a lighter blend similar to (but different from) Angostura’s own portfolio. In a better designed rum it could have navigated a surer path between those two profiles, but as it is, the execution only shows us what could have been, without coming through with something more memorable.

(#865)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • As always, hat tip and appreciation to my old QC Rum Chum, Cecil, who passed the sample on to me. 
  • The first remarks on the rum came from Sir Scrotimus in 2011. There’s a positive bartender’s blog review in 2012, the Fat Rum Pirate picked up a bottle in the UK and wrote quite positively about it in 2015, and Rum Revelations did an indifferent pass-through in 2020.  Redditors have done reviews about it here, here and here. Overall, the consensus is a good one. The rum definitely has more potential than its makers seem to grasp.
  • The Scarlet Ibis is the national bird of Trinidad & Tobago and is featured on the coat of arms
  • The new edition of the rum which came out around 2019-2020 has a pair of ibises on the label. These are far more prominent than the grayed out bird on older editions such as the one I am reviewing here.
Nov 152021
 

Rumaniacs Review #130 | 0864

Today we’ll look at the propenultimate rum which the Danish company Rom Deluxe released in their initial forays into their local rum scene.  Six of the seven rums (the seventh being a special release for a client in 2020) were bottled in 2016-2017 after which the “line” ceased. They were all unlabelled and not sold to commercial establishments on a consistent basis, but taken around to tastings, friends, retailers and served as something of an introduction to the tiny company back before they got “serious”. I wonder if they made any money off them.

This is a Worthy Park rum, cask strength, distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2017 (it’s the only one that was done that year). 

Colour – Gold

Age – 6 YO

Strength 64.9%

Nose – The funk is strong with this one.  There’s gooseberries, pineapples, unripe Thai mangoes, unmistakably Jamaican, a serious, fierce nose. Bags of fruit – green apples, pears, blood oranges, red grapefruit, coming to a nice sweet-sour combo after a few minutes.  I’d say there was some light vanilla and baking spices at the back end, but not enough to do more than lend an accent to the main dish.

Palate – Salt, sour and sweet, really strong, but the sharpness is kept at bay with a firmness of taste elements that is impressive. Funk of course, “tek front”, this thing is Jamaican beyond doubt.  Brine and olives in lemon juice, green grapes and apples, grapefruits again, plus grated ginger and a touch of (get this!) wasabi. So softer notes of dates and figs, cumin, nutmeg.  I could sip this for hours, and in fact, I pretty much did.

Finish – Long, dry, fruity, with apples, grapes, citrus, pineapples, kiwi fruits and strawberries.  Plus vanilla.  And bubble gum.

Thoughts – Really good, really solid rum, lots of notes from around the wheel, but always, at end, a Jamaican pot still rum, and a very impressive one.  I doubt I’d be able to say WP or Hampden in a pinch (and it’s a WP, of course)…just that it’s not a bottle I’d give away if I had one. The bad news is that this one is long gone.  The good news is they — Worthy Park and the independents like Rom Deluxe – are making more.

(85/100)


Other notes

  • Thanks as always go to Nicolai Wachmann, for the sample, and Kim Pedersen of Rom Deluxe for his help with the background details.
  • Outturn unknown
Nov 112021
 

Photo Courtesy Rom Deluxe

Rumaniacs Review #129 | 0863

Rom Deluxe, the Danish company whose very first release and company biography was profiled last week, ended up making a total of seven initial bottlings, all of which were more or less non-commercial, and served primarily to establish the small company’s bona fides around the country. They are long since only to be found either in some collector’s back shelf, unlabelled and perhaps even unremembered, or in Rom Deluxe’s own shelves. As a comment on the many years that Rom Deluxe was only a small hobby outfit, observe that six of these seven bottlings were made in 2016 (the year the company was founded) to 2019 (the year of the “Wild series” first release) after which the ethos of changed to a more commercial mindset; the 7th edition, in 2020, was a special edition for a client, not the market.

In the founding year four bottlings were done, with the second and fourth from Barbados – Foursquare to be exact.  This fourth edition was 11 years old (from 2005), and released in early 2017 at cask strength, though the exact outturn is unknown – I’d suggest between two to three hundred bottles.

Colour – Gold

Age – 11 YO

Strength – 58.8%

Nose – Sweet light fruit, raspberries, papayas and the tartness of red currants.  Cherries and unripe green pears.  Vanilla and the slight lemony tang of cumin (I like that), as well as some hint of licorice.  Delicate but emphatic at the same time, yet the heavier notes of a pot still element seem curiously absent.

Palate – Completely solid rum to drink neat; dry and a touch briny and then blends gently into salt caramel ice cream, black bread and herbal cottage cheese (kräuter quark to the Germans).  After opening and a few minutes it develops a more fruity character – plums, ripe black cherries – and mixes it up with cinnamon, light molasses and anise. It goes down completely easy.

Finish – Nice and longish, no complaints.  The main flavours reprise themselves here: anise, molasses, dark fruits, a bot of salt and some citrus. 

Thoughts – Okay it’s a Foursquare, and so a pot-column blend, but perhaps we have all been spoiled by the Exceptionals, because even with the 58.8% strength, it seems more column still than a pot-column mashup, and somehow rather more easy going than it should be. Not too complex, and not too bad — simply decent, just not outstanding or memorable in any serious way.

(82/100)


Other notes

  • Thanks as always go to Nicolai Wachmann, for the sample, and Kim Pedersen of Rom Deluxe for his help with the background details.
Nov 042021
 

Photo courtesy of Rom Deluxe

Rumaniacs Review #128 | 0862

Few outside Denmark will know or even remember what Rom Deluxe issued back at the beginning of their existence. The Danish company made its international (or at least European) debut in 2019 with the stunningly designed and smartly chosen “Wild Series” (now into R.19 which I call “Po”), and for most people, its history begins there.  However, it has been in existence since 2016 when three friends — Claus Andersen, Thomas Nielsen and Lasse Bjørklund — came together to establish the small hobby-company and their very first release was the anonymously titled rum of RDL #1.

This was a cask strength rum from the Dominican Republic (Oliver & Oliver), issued at 65%, dating from 2004 and bottled in 2016, so a 12 Year Old. Unsurprisingly it’s molasses based, column still, and it was sold not with any fancy printed label glued on to the logo-etched bottle, but a tie-on (!!) which for sheer originality is tough to beat. It’s unlikely to be found in stores these days, and I’m not even completely sure it ever got a full commercial distribution. 

Colour – Gold

Age – 12 Years

Strength 65%

Nose – Quite sweet, redolent of ripe dark fruits with a touch of both tannins and vanilla. There is a trace of molasses, brown sugar and cherries in syrup, plus attar of roses and some other winey notes. Nosing it blind leads to some initial confusion because it has elements of both a finished Barbados rum and a savalle-still Guyanese in there, but no, it really is a DR rum.  

Photo courtesy of Rom Deluxe

Palate – Soft and easy even at that strength: caramel, vanilla, almonds, nougat, tinned cherries and syrup.  It’s relatively uncomplex, with some additional brininess and dryness on the backend.  Nutmeg and ginger lend some snap, and herbs provide a little extra, but not enough to get past the basic tastes.

Finish – Completely straightforward now, with vanilla, unsweetened chocolate, some caramel and molasses.  Very ho hum by this point and once you get here you no longer think it’s either Bajan or Mudland.  You know it’s Spanish heritage juice.

Thoughts – Starts out decently with intriguing aromas, then falters as each subsequent step is taken until it remains as just a touch above ordinary.  The strength saves it from being a fail, and the sweetness – whether inherent or added – mitigates the strength enough to make it a tolerable sip. For that alone you’ve got to admire the construction, yet it’s a rum you sense is a work in progress, selected for ease of use rather than brutality of experience. Three years later, that would change.

(79/100)


Other notes

  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample, and Kim Perdersen of Rom Deluxe for the bottle photographs
  • The background on the company was too long to include, so I wrote it as a separate “Makers” series article, and tucked it over there. It includes as exhaustive a list of their bottlings as possible.
Oct 312021
 

In the previous review I wrote about the Reunion-made Savanna HERR Blanc 57º White Rum (second batch, from 2018), and was surprised and pleased at the reaction it elicited: quite a few comments were made on various platforms, showing a really positive feeling about the rum. Today we will, as promised, go deeper into its brother rum, released in tandem with it each time one was issued, also 57% ABV, and also stuffed to the gills with an ester count that leaves the rum geek crowd with slightly trembling knees, quivering hands and clenching…well, you get my drift.

The “57” series of rums was part of a skunk works project which the Indian ocean island distillery of Savanna initiated back in 2005 where they let their Maître de Chai off the leash without any clear directions beyond “go”. The gentleman took them at their word, messing around with every variable of the production process he could — and what came out the other end was so off the reservation that when management peeled themselves off the floor, found their voices and timorously looked around for buyers, they realized that none existed if they wanted to sell it as a rum. And so the pungent distillate was left to rest in a steel tank for over a decade, until the rise of the New Jamaicans and a renewed appreciation for high ester rums squirting raw funk from every pore showed that yes, there was indeed a market for the thing.  The first edition was trotted out in the 2017 festival season, followed by this second one in 2018 with a limited run of 1500 bottles, all issued at 57% ABV (the pot still and column still versions were released concurrently).

The Jamaicans would probably sniff rather tolerantly (if not disdainfully) at an ester count of a “mere” 578.7 g/Hlpa which places the rum somewhere between the odd no-man’s land of Wedderburn (200-300) and Continental Flavoured (700-1600). And they would nod with distantly polite appreciation at a column still distillate generated from an experimental long fermentation of six days. On the face of it, they would hardly worry that their own street cred was in danger of being superseded and just on the basis of the numbers, they’re right.

Except that, not really…because the rum turned out to be really rather good, which is why it and its brothers have become sort of underground rumdork cult classics. Consider the nose: it was intense and sweet and tart, and started off, oddly enough, with an aroma of fresh sawdust and pencil shavings 1, combined with a freshly disinfected hospital room, iodine and pine sol. It morphed to sweet fruit infused water, redolent of watermelons and very light Thai mangoes – there were times it was almost delicate. Bags of strawberries, red grapefruit, bubble gum, kiwi fruits and green apples.  Behind all that, there almost seemed to be a sort of whisky finish to the whole thing and overall, what I got was a lot of florals and a lot of fruits, and those easily shouldered aside any other subtle notes.

The palate had an equal quality, though perhaps not as complex.  Here the pencil shavings took something of a back seat and just chilled out (maybe they were sulking), leaving some nice florals, ripe apples, lemons, pineapple, strawberries, grapefruit and licorice to carry the show, backed up by some cereal, cardboard and lightly musty tastes of varnish and damp tobacco. The fruitiness of the whole thing was a constant throughout, until it all came to a conclusion in a finish that was long, fruity, tart — almost sour — and just intense enough for government work.  Like the 57 HERR, it gained from being left alone to open up, because it didn’t do the old soldier thing and fade away, just gathered its forces and presented as solid and complex even an hour later.

So, a funny thing happened as I was tasting this Lontan 57 – I really liked it. What it lacked was some of the take-no-prisoners machismo of the pot still HERR 57, which seemed to revel in its own puissance (and afforded writers the rare opportunity to use the word “puissance”). That did not, however, mean it didn’t have some of the offbeat notes of Boomerang’s Strangé (or her perfume commercial), just that they were better controlled: it moved easily and elegantly through its paces, had a nice balance and just a few off notes. It shared and showed a similar line of descent with the HERR 57, while at all times being its own thing. This column still, molasses-based rum reminded me somewhat of Haitian clairins, even Mexican charandas, but its closest comparator might actually be another artisanal spirit we don’t get enough of yet, the oddly refined Cabo Verde grogues.

Tasting two 57s from the same year — the HERR and the Lontan — side by side, reveals their differing natures, showcases their differing origins, and the differing ways they were made.  It also demonstrates that if you have a maitre de chai who takes “go” to mean “where no-one has gone before,” then with some imagination and cheerful bombast, you can make a really sterling and tasty rum of firmness, originality and serious flavour. Sort of like this one.  It’s definitely a rum worth having on the shelf.

(#861)(86/100)


Other Notes

Savanna very helpfully classifies its rums using various words which tell the curious what its rums are: 

  • Lontan (Grand Arôme / high ester rhums based on long fermentation times of up to 15 days, source can be either molasses or juice), 
  • Creol (aged and unaged agricoles from cane juice), 
  • Intense and/or Traditionnel (molasses based, occasionally finished, aged and unaged), 
  • Métis (blends of agricole and molasses rums).
Oct 262021
 

The distillery of Savanna (on Reunion island in the Indian Ocean) is putting out so many collections and individual bottlings, so fast, that even something as relatively recent as this rum from 2018 has very much fallen by the wayside, recalled by few but high ester rum geeks and Savanna lovers.  It suggests something of the difference between them and an independent bottler, in that there is no single strongly-visible voice that stands in for them and their wares.

I make this point because when you come down to it, this rum is very similar to the Habitation Velier HERR unaged white, and yet many will remember that one and eagerly source it because of the cachet of the Velier name, while Savanna gets lost in the shuffle of its torrent of newer releases, the passage of time and the short memories of the pubic. Geeks know about Savanna….the rank and file of the casual rum drinkers would be hard pressed to find the distillery (let alone the island) on a map.

But I suggest this is an issue for the promotion by Savanna’s own marketing and perhaps of truly curious rum fans, and the various bloggers out there. The fact of the matter is that any rum coming out of Reunion deserves a look, Savanna more than most, because of that completely badass high ester alembic pot still they have going in some shadowed corner of their distillery. Though most of their rums are column still distilled, though they produce rums from both molasses and cane juice, and even though they have Grand Arome, Creol, Metis, Lontan and Intense branded rums up to wazoo, every now and then they seem to want to go off the reservation and trot that alembic out to show off and produce a special edition just because, well, they can.

The 57 Batch 2 rum we’re looking at today is one of a pair released in early 2018, whose only distinguishing characteristics from each other are the length of fermentation (11 days for this one), the ester levels (423.4 g/Hlpa for this rum) and the still that made it (the pot still, here).  In that sense, I feel the purpose of releasing the two rums (we’ll be looking at the other one in the next review) was somewhat more educational, to show people what a difference the three components could make when mixed and matched in interesting ways – both rums were released in early 2018, with an outturn of 1500 bottles and at a strength of 57º. The only thing I don’t know and remains unmentioned anywhere, was if it was juice or molasses based.

Perhaps the tasting can help, so let’s move right on to that.  Nose first: short version, it’s amazingly rich and fruity. It’s very precise and crisp, with a lot of things going on at the same time: grapes, lemon zest, sugar water, watermelon, papaya, and also green apples, gooseberries and some yoghurt.  There’s a nice evocation of laundry detergent, of white sheets drying outside in a snapping wind on a bright and sunlit day and a nice background of nail polish, acetones and kiwi fruits to make things interesting.

Palate, nice, more of the good stuff : lemon zest, red grapefruit, sour cherry sweets, bon bons, loads of light florals, and gives the impression of a juicy green apple crunching between the teeth. Some sweet cider and mint, quite sharp, with few musky or softening agents here…which takes it down a peg or two for a lack of integration and balance (some will inevitably call it a crazy jumble of everything except the kitchen sink, which may not be far off), but overall, quite a hefty, piquant, pungent dram.  I particularly want to draw attention to the long and lasting finish: this is fruity, a little sour, has a scent of pine needles and lemon dish detergent (this is not a bad thing, honestly) and like many high ester rums I’ve tried in the past (including the Jamaicans), gets a little bitter after a few hours in the glass, but overall, this is a minor complaint – the rum works, and how.

So there’s a lot of interesting things about this rum: the pot still distillation, the level of esters which is just about spot on, and the really fantastic taste and finish.  Apparently the rum was part of an experimental series which was initiated around 2005, at a time when such aromatics were confined to the bulk rum market and destined for confectionary or perfumes.  Savanna tinkered with fermentation lengths, bacterial strains, durations, stills and came up with this severely pungent hooch which I guess they simply did not know what to do with (one wonders why chucking it into a barrel was not an option, but maybe some did, who knows?).  While it is unaged by all standard definitions, it rested in inert steel tanks until the world changed around it and high ester rums became a thing — it is probably no coincidence that it was released in 2018, the same year as Habitation Velier’s HERR White.

There are fair bit of reviews around about the HERR 57: WhiskyFun scored Batch 1 (from 2017, same ester count and strength) 84 points the year it came out and commented wryly that it was “unknown territory” for him. Alex Sandu of the Rum Barrel (rapidly turning into one of the better review sites out there), remarked on its incredible intensity of flavour and scored it a very high 92, and even Rum Ratings is littered with a few casual fans who erratically score and either love or hate the thing, but can’t stop talking about it. 

Savanna’s rums appeal to me because of their variety: molasses based or cane juice, pot still or column, long fermentations or short, bags of esters or just a sprinkling…it’s like everything that they make is on one end of the spectrum or another, a binary choice for all, and no middle ground to be seen anywhere. I kind of appreciate that kind of extremism which never takes the safe average but tries to push the boundaries.  Savanna makes something for just about every palate and while some succeed and some hit the wall, there are very few that are outright bad or downright boring. Here they produced a rum that will force you to have an opinion — and mine, for the absence of doubt, is definitely positive. It’s a hell of a tasty rum.

(#860)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Few sites I looked at mentioned the source but both Alex and Reuben noted it as being molasses. Still checking into it. 
  • 1500 bottle outturn.  Four batches in total were released by 2020, each with the same ester count and strength, but different outturns (B#1 2300, B#2 1500, B#3 unknown, B#4 1400).
Oct 192021
 

Photograph courtesy of reddit user SpicVanDyke,

DDL has, since 2016, capitalized on the worldwide fame of the heritage stills which the independents had forged during and before the current rum renaissance (though it is a peculiarity of the culture that many Guyanese remain completely unaware of the reverence they’re held in around the globe). They have released several editions of the Rare Collection, and also begun to dabble in some interesting experimentals, as well as standard proof editions of the individual wooden still marques (rather than blends). Beginners and Guyanese rum lovers are spoiled for choice these days in a way I can only envy….where was all this juice when I was growing up?

Yet, to my mind, for all of DDL’s effective multi-pronged colonization of the Demerara rum space, it’s not yet time to count out the independent bottlers who did so much to raise the profile of the marques and the stills at the first place. The SMWS, 1423, Tamosi, the Compagnie, Silver Seal and many others are releasing rums edging ever closer to three decades old, from all the major stills. And even if age isn’t the thing, there are always rums released by outfits we barely heard of — like Norse Cask or Kingsbury or L’Esprit — that somehow wow us with their sheer untrammelled excellence.

One rum like that is from what I seriously consider to be one of the most unsung independent bottlers in the rumisphere, L’Esprit. Located in Brittany and run by Tristan Prodhomme, they have bottled few “merely ho-hum” rums in their short history…at least in my opinion. The subject of today’s review, the 2005 12 YO from the Guyanese Port Mourant double wooden pot still, shows why I think that to be the case: it’s among the best they’ve ever done, and one of the best PM rums out there that isn’t from the 1970s, doesn’t have 20+ years of ageing and doesn’t cost multiples of four figures.

Just opening it and taking a deep sniff brings back a lot of memories, not just of Guyana but the ghosts of PM rums past.  It smells rich and deep and dark (in spite of the dark hay colour), of chocolate, toffee, nougat, of fresh bread hot from the oven.  There’s the aroma of pastries, ginger, marzipan and the fruitiness of rum-soaked, raisin-infused Christmas black cake sprinkled with crushed almonds, and over all of that is the scent, never overbearing but always there, of licorice and anise and lemons. 

Tristan bottled this thing at 58%, which was probably the right decision because it has such a rich and intense panoply of tastes that were it stronger, it might conceivably overwhelm your taste buds with a cheerful sensory overload. It’s dry and dusty, hot but not quite sharp, and if the nose restrained the fruits before, it now allows them off the leash: citrus peel, raisins, plums and dark, ripe prunes; oranges and strawberries and, because that clearly wasn’t enough, even stuffed some flambeed bananas in there for good measure. There’s vanilla ice cream sprinkled with nuts, more black cake (a lot of black cake), toblerone, aromatic tobacco, even a touch of salt caramel and Swiss bon bons. It leads to a long, dry, pungent and aromatic finish redolent of citrus, tart fruits, some yoghurt, anise, dark fruits and a final slice of the cake your Granny used to save for you on Boxing Day.

This rum is, in short, really kind of spectacular.  It does nothing new, but gives so much and does what it does so well, that it’s like revisiting all one’s favourite Port Mourant rums at once. Do I have a thing for Guyana generally, and for Port Mourant specifically?  Sure I do. But it’s more than just liking a rum, any rum, or even this rum. Tasting it is a form of natsukashii — a Japanese term for some small thing that brings back sudden, clear and strongly fond memories — not with a wistful longing for what’s past but with an appreciation of the good times, now gone, always remembered. 

Because, sooner or later, my mind always returns to Guyana. Not just for the nameless waterfalls, the South Savanna or the Pakaraimas; not only because I miss pepperpot, cookup, or a clap’ roti wit’ baigan choka, or egg ball ‘n’ sour; and not solely because I remember the cool red waters of its creeks, Stabroek Market, that lovely blue mosque at Crabwood Creek, speedboats across the Essequibo, cricket at Bourda, the regatta at Bartica, running along the seawall, or the dreaming jungle paths ‘in de bush’ where I worked all those years ago. 

No, not only for those things, though certainly that’s part of it, and of course, I’ve eaten labba and drunk creekwater, so there’s that.  But eventually, always, my mind goes back for the sheer variety of the country’s rums, those amazing rums, in their seemingly inexhaustible variety, that come from all those many stills housed at Diamond. L’Esprit didn’t intend to make a rum that evoked such feelings, of course, but that’s what they did. Every one of us has some object (or some rum) like that.  This is one of mine, and even if you disagree and just drink the thing, I believe you’d like and appreciate the rum for what it is too — a superb example of what DDL is capable of and what L’Esprit managed to bottle.

(#859)(91/100)


Other notes

  • A special hat tip to the reddit user SpicVanDyke, who graciously allowed me to use his photograph when mine turned out to be garbage. His (also positive) review, the only other one I could find, is here.
  • 238-bottle outturn
Oct 142021
 

“Cavalier” was once the brand name of rums released by the Antigua Distillery on the island of the same name. Even the predecessor to the famed-but-faded English Harbour 1981 25 Year Old 1 was originally a Cavalier branded rum, and a very good one, too…for its time, anyway. But somewhere in the ‘aughts the English Harbour brand was created to be the basket for more upscale, upmarket rums – starting with the five year old and moving up in age – and the Cavalier moniker was left for the company’s “entry level” gold and white and 151 rums….which of course meant the bar scene.

There is nothing particularly exceptional about the production process here: made from molasses, fermented with a commercial strain of yeast over a period of days to a solution of 7% ABV which is then run through a columnar still and drawn off at a strength of around 90-95% ABV, tested and then barreled. In this, then, the process is more akin to Spanish heritage style rum making, where, although some aromatic compounds make it past the distillation process, the real emphasis is on the barrel strategy and wood management that make up the final product.  Antigua Distillery uses charred 200-liter American ex-bourbon barrels to which a handful of oak chips are added to boost the profile and after the appropriate time (and depending on which rum is being made), the desired aged rum from selected casks is blended in a large oak vat and diluted over a period of weeks to the final, bottled result.

From the preceding details, that result is not difficult to predict: it will likely be light, slightly sweet and have some fruity elements to it, balanced off with some salt or sour.  That was the way the 1981, the 10 YO, the 5 YO, even the puncheon all tasted, with greater or lesser quality (and success). And indeed, that’s what you get with the current white rum, bottled at 43%: on the nose, it’s very crisp and clean, and resembles a dialled down version of the 65% puncheon’s violence.  Raspberries, red currants and strawberries provide the major fruity elements, backed up by very ripe gooseberries and watery pears, and offset by a trace of vanilla, salt, brine, olives, and some varnish.

The palate is more intriguing: dusty cardboard and decaying sheetrock, light glue, varnish. This is contrasted, as the nose had been, by much of the same fruitiness (pears, guavas, strawberry bubble gum) and saltiness (brine, anchovies, sweet soya sauce), plus a bit of vanilla. Not a whole lot beyond these primary tastes. Even the finish displays that solid simplicity: some sweet, some salt, some vegetable soup, ho hum. Overall, there’s not a whole lot going on here, and the rum is really a straightforward kind of drink, without much in the way of a subtlety of flavour, or any intensity in what you do get.

Current label design

What the rum lacks is a certain amount of heft, and this is why, to my mind, the puncheon, for all its strength, is really the better rum. The Cavalier White is aged two years, filtered to clear, and then takes its place right where it is aimed at – the back bar shelf for cheap mixers, alongside Lamb’s and Bacardi whites and all those other anonymous bland cocktail feeders.  That doesn’t make it a bad rum, precisely, just an uninspiring one: a rum whose makers never cared to let off the leash, so it could be more than the sum of is age and colour. 

(#858)(76/100)


Other notes

  • My mediocre assessment notwithstanding, for those whose attentions and purchases remain limited to Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados and a few favoured indies, I’d strongly recommend taking the time to try a few of Antigua’s rums, even from the starter kit.  They’re familiar enough to be comforting, good enough to surprise, and different enough to warrant more attention.  Their newer rums with finishes and higher proof points are particularly worth checking out.
  • The mini on which the review is based comes from the early 2000s, but I’ve been told that batch variation aside, the rum is the same to this day; just the bottle label design has changed – and this is why I decided to not class it as a Rumaniacs entry. The 43% strength implies it was made for sale in Europe, not America.
Oct 112021
 

Unlike the White Jack rum which is definitely a Rumaniacs entry due to its reformulation, the Westerhall Plantation Rum remains recognizably the same as when it was first released in 1989, and there seems to be no movement afoot to change the title either (even after the brouhaha over Maison Ferrand’s rum brand name in 2019 and 2020). The Plantation Rum is a five year old product, the first to be exported, beginning the year of its introduction: previously, all rums were either for local consumption or for bulk export. Oddly, though, it’s referred to on their site as their “flagship” rum which makes one wonder what they consider their 10 YO to be — Ultra Premium Vintage Better-Than-Flagship-Best-Ever-Ever, maybe?

Westerhall has long since ceased distillation. It’s possible this was due to a downturn in sugar cane availability as sugar prices kept falling in the 1990s, or perhaps it was the poor economics of their in-house distilled, aged and blended rums not selling well enough to justify their continuance in a time pre-dating the 21st century Rum Renaissance.  Since 1996, then, the company has imported rums to produce its well-known blends: initially this was from Angostura in Trinidad, and in his 2020 Cheat Sheet on the distillery, the Cocktail Wonk remarked that recently they also began importing from two distilleries in Barbados.

This rum, issued at a relatively sedate 43% ABV, dates from the early 2000s, and is therefore from Angostura stocks only: aside from some batch variation, there’s little to distinguish it taste-wise from either earlier or later rums, and consistency has been maintained quite well. The nose is probably the best thing about it: thin, distinct enough, redolent of brine and olives, and set off by a crisp, light, fruity aspect.  Behind it lurk notes of paint, acetones, nail polish, and a nice blend of tart-sour fruits like five-finger, star-apple, gooseberries and green mangoes, with just enough sweet to mitigate the lip puckering. It does become somewhat lighter and sweeter as it opens up, and there’s even a trace of sugar water at the tail end.

Palate is nice, just uneventful – much of the nose is lost in the light easiness of the way it tastes and “watery” is not a word that would be out of place here. There are traces of peaches, apricots, bananas and green peas(!!), and some of the brininess and olives carry over; also dates and some very light citrus and vinegar-like hints, not enough to derail the experience. It retains the light sweet crispness that the nose promises, and if the finish was kind of brief – warm, dry, salty with a touch of fruits and sweet soya – well, you know what, as a whole the rum kind of works, and is not a disappointment.

What it does, is actually remind me somewhat of the Whisper Antigua rum, also an unpretentious rum aged a few years.  Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t try too hard to be some kind of uber-sexy blend from a world famous distillery backed up by a snazzy marketing campaign sporting a celebrity (from within or without the rumworld) to raise awareness. It’s just a reasonable, light five year old, closer to people’s memories to the Angostura 5YO, or some of their other such offerings.

With the usual crystal-clear 20-20 hindsight, Westerhall might have done better to take a more visionary long term view and kept their options open by maintaining the stills they did have, because the rumiverse did change in the years after 1996, opening up other possibilities others are now capitalizing on. But even if they declined to become a pure single-rum distilling force in Grenada, clearly the expertise they’re willing to hang their hat on now is that of of blending and ageing, and in this they are akin to Banks DIH in Guyana, which also lacks a still and makes rum from external imports. Let Rivers Antoine and the New Renegade distillery go for the artisanal rum crown, Westerhall will, for now, continue with what works for it.

And the Plantation rum shows that what works for Westerhall isn’t all that bad. When you really get down to it, this is an unpretentious hot-weather light rum of some originality…not much, just some.  Even if it never ascends to the tables of the rich, there’s nothing really wrong with it…as long as you’re not looking for anything particularly great, or from Grenada itself.

(#857)(81/100)

Oct 072021
 

In my more whimsical moments, I like to think Richard Seale was sweating a bit as he prepared the Triptych. Bottled in November 2016 and released in the 2017 season, it came right on the heels of the hugely successful and awe-inducing unicorn of the 2006 10 Year Old which had almost immediately ascended to near cult status and stayed there ever since. How could any follow-up match that? It was like coming up on stage after Mighty Liar just finished belting out “She Want Pan” hoping at least not too suck too bad in comparison. He need not have worried — the Triptych flew off the shelves every bit as fast as its predecessor (much to his relief, I’m sure), though in the years that followed people never quite mentioned it in the same hushed tones, with the same awe, and with the same whimpers of regret, as they did the 2006. Some, yes…but not to the same extent.

That may just be a little unfair though, because the Triptych is an enormously satisfying rum, another one of the limited “Collaboration” series between Foursquare and Velier 1 that are notable for their visually elegant simplistic design, their full proof strength and their polysyllabic titles which may have reached their apogee with the Plenipotenziario (while there’s usually a stated rationale behind the choice, I’ve always suspected were a tongue-in-cheek wink at all of us, a sort of private thing between the two men behind it).

It is also a rum that was made to deliberately showcase other aspects of the way a pot-column blend could be made to shine. Some call it “innovation” but honestly, I think the word is tossed around a bit too cavalierly these days, so let’s just say there’s always another way to blend various aged components, and Foursquare are acknowledged masters of the craft.  Most blends are various aged rums, harmoniously mixed together: here, three differently aged elements, or ‘sub-blends’, were joined in a combination – a triptych, get it? – that could be appreciated as balanced synthesis of all. 

These three pieces were [1] a 2004 pot-column blend matured in ex-Bourbon casks [2] a 2005 pot-column blend aged in ex-Madeira and [3] a 2007 pot-column blend matured in brand new (‘virgin’) oak casks. The actual duration of ageing of each before they were blended and then transferred to the final casks for completion of the blending and ageing process, is not known, though Steve James, who has what is probably the most comprehensive background notes on the Triptych, notes that the component aged in virgin oak was aged for six years before transfer (six months is more common due to the active nature of the wood, which in this instance also necessitated a larger proportion of pot still distillate of the blend in these casks).

Clearly this made for a very complex blend of disparate profiles, any one of which could unbalance the whole: the musky, darker notes of the bourbon, the dry sweet acidity of Madeira and the aggressive woody characteristic of new oak casks. At the risk of a spoiler, the rum mostly sailed past these concerns. Nosing it experimentally at first, I was struck by how delicately perfumed it was, quite dry, rather mildly fruity and much more restrained than the solid weight of the Principia that lurked in the glass alongside – this was probably a consequence of the lesser-but-still-solid proof point of 56% ABV. The fruits stayed in the background for most of the experience, and the dominant aspect of the nose was a remarkably restrained woodiness – mild pencil shavings, vanilla, musty books, old cardboard, charcoal, and damp mossy forest floors in the morning. There were also hints of crushed walnuts, almonds and spices like marsala, cumin and rosemary, plus coconut shavings, flambeed bananas and overripe peaches, but these stayed well back throughout.

The rum came into its own on the palate, where even with its relatively few core flavours, it surged to the front with an assurance that proved you don’t need a 99-piece orchestra to play Vivaldi. The rum was thick, rich and – dare we say it? – elegant: it tasted of blood oranges, coconut milk, honey, vanilla and cinnamon on the one hand, and brine, floor polish, cigarette ash (yes, I know how that sounds) on the other, and in the middle there was some sweet sour elements of sauerkraut, licorice, pickles and almonds, all tied together in a bow by a sort of lingering fruitiness difficult to nail down precisely. If the rum had any weakness it might be that the dry finish is relatively lackluster when compared against the complexity of what had preceded it: mostly vanilla, oak, brine, nuts, anise, and little fruit to balance it off.

Clearly the makers, with three aged blends being themselves blended, had to chose between various competing priorities, and balance a lot of different aspects: the various woods and their influence; the presence and absence of salt or sweet or sour or acidity; more strength versus less; the effect of the tannins working with subtler aromatics and esters. That such a tasty rum emerged from all of that is something of a minor miracle, though for my money I felt that the slightly lesser strength made it less indistinct than the stronger and more precisely dialled in coordinates of the 2006 and Principia (which were my comparators along with the Criterion, the 2004 and the Zinfadel).

Perhaps it was too much to hope that the lightning could be trapped in a bottle in quite the same way a second time. The UK bloggers who are so into Foursquare bottlings all claim the thing is as great as the 2006, “just different” but I only agree with the second part of that assessment – it’s different yes, and really good, but nope, not as great.  And the subsequent sales values are telling: as of 2021 the 2006 usually auctions for four figures (outdone only by the Velier 70th Destino which is regularly and reliably approaching two thousand pounds) while the Triptych still goes for around two to three hundred.

All that said, I must admit that in the main, I can’t help but admire the Triptych. It’s no small feat to have blended it. To take several ex-bourbon blends and put those together, or to marry a few aged and unaged components, is one thing. To find a way to merge three distinctly separate and differently-aged pot-column blends, to age that and come out the other end with this rum, is quite another. So much could have gone wrong, and so much didn’t — it’s a testament to the hard work and talent of Richard Seale and his team at Foursquare.

(#856)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn is 5400 bottles. Based on the youngest aged portion of the blend you could say it’s a 9 YO rum, though the label makes no such statement
  • Given that it came out several years back, clearly others have by now reviewed the rum: Rum Diaries Blog gave it its full throated endorsement and is, as noted, the most deeply informative article available; The Fat Rum Pirate’s 4½-star review is very good; Single Cask Rum was more dismissive with a 78/100 score, and good background notes – I particularly liked his point about the pre-sales hype coming from the perception that it was a Foursquare/Velier product (based on the label) when in fact this was not the case (it was entirely Foursquare’s work). The Rum Shop Boy loved it to the tune of 97 points, while Rum Revelations awarded 94 in a comparative tasting and Serge gave what for him is a seriously good rating of 90.
  • I do indeed have a bottle of the Triptych, but the review was done from a sample provided by Marco Freyr.  Big hat tip, mein freund….

Historical Note

I’ve remarked on this before, most recently in the opinion piece on flipping, but a recap is in order: when the 2006 ten year old was released in 2016, it flew off the shelves so fast that it became a sort of rueful joke that all online establishments sold out five minutes before the damn things went on sale.  

This situation angered a lot of people, because not only did it seem as if speculators or hoarders were buying however much they wanted (and indeed, being allowed to, thereby reducing what was available for people who genuinely wanted to drink the things and share the experience) but almost immediately bottles turned up on the FB trading clubs at highly inflated prices — this was before they were mostly closed down and the action shifted to the emergent auction sites like Rum Auctioneer.

This was seen as a piss-poor allocation and sales issue and some very annoyed posts were aimed at Velier and Foursquare. By the time the Triptych came out, not only were twice as many bottles released, but Richard and Luca came up with a better method of allocation that was the forerunner of the current systems now in play for many of their limited releases.  And that’s on top of Richard’s own personal muling services around the festival circuit, to make sure the uber-fans got at least a sample, if not a whole bottle (which always impressed me mightily, since I don’t know any other producer who would do such a thing).


 

Oct 042021
 

Rumaniacs Review #127 | 0855

To be clear, there remains a Westerhall White Jack rum in current production.  It’s not this one. It has been suggested that it’s the same as the Jack Iron rum, just made into a white. That’s a harder call, but I doubt that too, because there’s a bit more complexity to this one than the Jack Iron where the reverse might have been expected. 

In any case, this version has been discontinued. Even by 2015 when The Fat Rum Pirate penned one of the only reviews of this 70% white Grenadian overproof, it had already undergone reformulation and rebranding that led to a sexier bottle and a one-degree proof reduction in strength. The current stylish ice-blue-and-white bottle is rated 69%, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that this was done to go head to head with the much better known and well-regarded Clarke’s Court White Overproof or Rivers Antoine white popskulls which were also at that strength, and perhaps also to steal a point or two of market share the pack leader, the Wray and Nephew 63% version (although good luck with that, ‘cause in my view they had and have nothing to worry about).  Then again, it might also have been to make it more easily transportable on airlines ferrying tourists in and out, who often cap their spirit strength allowances at 70% ABV.

Old and new variants of the White Jack. The one reviewed here is the bottle on the left.

That said, it’s useful to know that Westerhall in Grenada is no longer a distillery: though a distillery did exist since the mid-1800s, it was all about the bulk export market — Westerhall’s own brand, Rum Sipper Strong, was created to service the islanders’ demand only in the early 1970s.  It took another decade and a half or so, before the Westerhall Plantation Rum 1 was formulated specifically for export – however, the sales couldn’t have been strong enough to justify the distillery, because by 1996 Westerhall ceased distillation completely and started buying bulk rum itself (mostly from Trinidad’s Angostura), leaving its distillery to rust – it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the ruins can be seen to this day on the grounds

Colour – White (from filtration)

Age – Unknown; suggested to be unaged but I doubt it – like many early white rums were, it’s likely lightly aged, a year or so, and then filtered to clarity (unaged rum is already clear). 

Strength 70% ABV

Nose – Initially there’s a certain heavy meatiness, like yeasty bread dipped into a thick split pea soup; salt, brine, olives, fresh bell peppers.  Also citrus and herbs, grass, sugar water – there’s an element of cane juice here that is completely unexpected.  Surprisingly it develops very nicely, with some estery background notes and sharp fruitiness of strawberries and bananas.

Palate – Very intense, unsurprising at the strength. Nuts, cream, butter, quite creamy, and tasting both of sweet and salt; lemon zest, apples, bananas, red currants and some spices – cumin and cardamom.  There’s more but the strength kind of eviscerates any subtler notes and this is what you’re left with

Finish – You wouldn’t think there’s more than a hot last of spicy fumes, but actually, it’s not bad: toast and cream cheese, chives, olives which gradually transmutes into a nice sweetness of green grapes, bananas and some other indeterminate fruits.

Thoughts – No competitor to the more aggressive, individualistic, funkier and all-out better J. Wray.  It’s a column-still, barely-aged rum, with all that implies, and strong enough to cure all that ails you (from a broken heart to your stalled jalopy, it’s rumoured) — and it’s surprising that as much taste has come through as it has. Not entirely a bad rum, just not one of much real character, and best for its intended purpose, a mix of some kind.

(78/100)

Sep 302021
 

After only four years, the Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve rum has become so quietly ubiquitous, so well known and so widespread, that the bombshell it and all its brothers dropped on the rum world in 2017 has almost been forgotten. Even in the short time since its coming-out party, it has garnered a serious reputation for itself and reminds us all of the great rums emerging from Jamaica. One of the criteria I have for inclusion in the series is availability and longevity, and less than half a decade of being on the shelves might not strike some as sufficient time to enter the pantheon – but having tried it many times, I am convinced that it will hold its power, and continue to appeal.

My personal contention is that in about 2016 or so, a long-gestating tectonic shift started to gather real force, the phenomenon I call The Rise of the New Jamaicans. Appleton, as it had been for a long time, remained the most globally recognized Jamaican name in rum and focused mostly on blends, exported the world over. But by now the colonial model of low cost bulk rum resource extraction from the peripheries which characterized many other distilleries (not just in Jamaica), and which led to value added premium spirits in the central metropole, had been creaking for decades, and finally cracked. In all the major sugar and rum producing areas of the Caribbean, hard hit by falling sugar prices, indigenous producers were taking a good hard look at the constant bulk sales abroad and decided that rather than letting a plethora of re-bottlers and independents reap all the benefits of the rising tide of premiumization, they could get in on the action themselves. 

Worthy Park as a distillery re-emerged on the scene after reopening in 2005. It had been closed since the the 1960s when overproduction of rum had led to the shuttering of several distilleries: Gordon Clarke, a descendant of the family that owned it since 1918, felt the time was ripe to re-establish the brand name and not just make sugar, as the estate had been doing since that time. Rather than refurbish the old equipment, a completely new distillery with wider applications was constructed, and in 2005 the rum began to flow and be laid down for ageing. Bulk sales were established, and occasionally there were also sales of barrels to brokers – this is why we saw the SMWS, L’Esprit, Compagnie des Indes, Mezan, Velier, Rum Nation and 1423 popping up with indie releases for years, and third party contract rums like Doctor Bird coming across our sightlines with increasing frequency. And that’s not even counting Bacardi’s foray into the limited market with the embarrassingly indifferent money-grab of the Single Cane edition.

WP, once they got going, initially released their own inhouse branded series of rums called RumBar, which were relatively young or unaged bar staples, mixers for the most part. Aimed squarely at Appleton’s market share, these began quietly making waves, but had not yet reached any sort of critical mass, though they did became quite popular in the Jamaican, Caribbean and the North American bar scene. This all got a boost with the Special Cask rums that popped up in the festival circuit in 2017. The Marsala and Oloroso editions were really very good, and rightfully garnered rave reviews: but those were limited releases and sold at higher prices, were positioned as more premium. They were, in the following years, joined by other limited edition aged expressions, often finished, with different marques, and carved themselves a niche in the top end premium segment at prices trending towards three figures.

These were the headliners, but behind all the fancy finishes and exclusive editions and what have you, the blended six year old Single Estate rum1 slowly garnered for itself a quietly serious reputation, just kept on truckin’, was never out of production, and has now become synonymous with WP’s affordable mid-range workhorses (though oddly, it was promoted as an Ultra Premium in Jamaica itself when released there in 2019). It is perhaps a bit rarefied, retailing for around £50 in Europe and between $60-$70 in the US, but I suggest it retains real value when one considers the completely pot still production, and the fierce and uncompromising nature of its profile.

Appleton has always cornered the low-to-midrange market for Jamaican rums with its solidly made, tasty, approachable, affordable, available — and let’s face it, also inoffensive — pot-column blended rums. Worthy Park had no time for any of this wussy stuff, and went gleefully all-in with their 18,000-liter pot still. This shows up clearly the moment one cracks the Single Estate rum: the nose is light, yet presents an intense funky, fruity aroma. There is so much going on here that it behooves one to unpack the thing carefully: there is caramel ice cream, butter and salt, brine and olives.  Also softer bananas, cut with lemon peel and behind that is the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore’s back shelf, or that of a hay barn. Finally, as if thinking “dis t’ing still ain’ got enuff kick-up rumpus” it coughed up a last series of notes of biscuits, cereals, vanilla and some undefined indian spices, just because, y’know, it could.

Some might feel the 45% strength is too too timid, and serves only to restrain and contain the wide panoply of fierce tastes of which the rum is capable (and which some people really want), but perhaps more might have reduced us all to a state of catatonic shock, so let’s be grateful. For a pot still rum like this, I submit it’s probably correct, so it can appeal to a larger mass audience.  So, it’s very warm, stopping just short of hot, and presents initially as slightly sweet, with those musty spices detected on the nose snapping into clearer focus: black pepper, curry, turmeric, masala, plus all the extras of coconut shavings, bananas, citrus, vanilla, and the yeastiness of fresh dark bread. It ends things with a trace of nutmeg, cinnamon and oak, leading into a finish characterized by leather, damp aromatic pipe tobacco, port wine and some fruit

This rum tastes really fine: bitter, salt, sweet, crisp, it hits all the high notes, and if it lacks the extra fillip of finishing / double maturation like the Marsala and Oloroso, that’s no hardship, and it’s completely approachable by a layman. It has those mid-range esters, that higher level of funk, and is something like an amped-up Appleton, yet none of it is excessive, and it presents better, I think, because of the pot still origins and the eschewing of the pot and column blend (which I am slowly coming to realize produces an easier rum…but not always one of individual uniqueness).

Now, it’s a curious thing that there exists an unstated, underground perception that Worthy Park has been playing second fiddle to Hampden all this time. They certainly ferment in the same vat: not only does Hampden also sell bulk rum (and have done so for most of its modern existence), but they have their own estate range of fiery New Jamaican bar staples like Rum Fire and Stolen Overproof…as well as releases by well-known indies like the Compagnie, Renegade, SMWS, Samaroli, Murray McDavid, Romdelux, 1423, Rum Nation and BBR. Add to that the worldwide distribution deal Velier cut with Hampden in 2017 and their slick marketing, and you can see why Worthy Park seemed to be lagging behind and picking up footprints.

But I feel it’s a matter of perception, not degree, or even reality. A Key Rum of any kind is more than just “reputation”. It is a measure of reknown and quality, of an easy ability to move between the worlds of the cocktail and the neat pour, of the insatiable desire of secondary bottlers and bartenders and consumers alike to snag a bottle of the stuff, at a price that can be afforded and leave the buyer think he got the best of the deal. It welcomes, not intimidates, and you don’t have to be an expert to “get it”. By that standard, the Worthy Park workhorse of the Single Estate Reserve is not only one of most flexible and most versatile Jamaicans currently extant, but one of the best rums from the island, period, and a compelling reason to add yet another famed Jamaican distillery to the pantheon. Hampden may one day become a component of the canon as well, but for today, let Worthy Park get all the applause it so richly deserves. Because, me bredren, dem may be likkle, but damn, dem tallawah.

(#854)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • Other candidates I had tasted and considered for this entry in the Key Rums series included the Rum Bar White and Gold, as well as the WP Single Estate 3 and 12 Year Old. I felt the overall quality of this rum for the price, tipped the balance.
Sep 272021
 

Just in case rums that have mated with a two-by-four are not your thing, kiss your significant other tenderly and take a deep heaving breath before sipping SMWS’s first Trini offering, because at 63.4% and with this profile, you’ll need a fall-back plan.  I mean, there’s an enormous expanding blast radius of sharp aromas and tastes billowing around this thing that makes such prudence not just an option, but a requirement. Reading the stats on the bottle gives rise to some serious anticipation, which makes it all the more peculiar that it ends up being so…ordinary.

Take a careful sniff. You’ll probably find, like me, a fair bit of “traditional” rummy aromas here: vanilla and caramel, blancmange, coffee, creme brulee. The slight bitterness of oak and wood varnish. Raisins, kiwi fruits and orange rind, a touch of mild salt.  And….and… well actually, that’s pretty much it. What the…? For sure the nasal assault is strong and sharp and hot, yet that proof point, that quarter century age, does suggest that it should do more than simply giving the impression of still being in short trousers. It feels washed out.

How’s the profile when tasted, then? Better, yes…up to a point. The hot bite of oak tannins leads in and never quite lets go. Some shoe polish, iodine, glue. Coiling behind that are salted caramel ice cream, vanilla (again, annoyingly obstreperous) and white chocolate, almonds, and where the hell are the fruits gone? At best, if you strain you might pick up some black tea and with water and I dunno, peppermint gum, a green apple, maybe half a pear.  Water helps tone down that acrid tone, but this just – paradoxically enough – calls attention to the fact that it’s there to begin with. Finish is assertive and spicy, then fades fast, leaving behind memories of spices – marsala, cumin, more vanilla, brown sugar and again, oak and black tea.

By now you’ve probably come to the dismayed realization that this is not a rum eliciting paeans of praise from choirs of angels who’ve gotten high on their share, and you’d be right, because it fails on a number of levels. The strength obliterates subtlety: not always a bad thing when done right, but on this occasion all it does is dampen down what should be a more complex, dense series of tastes. Even with 25 years of continental ageing there should be more going on — instead, we get a fiery shot that could as easily be five years old.  The vanilla is like a guest that won’t leave and between that and the oak, the result is a rum overwhelmed by hot simplicity.

The SMWS, which was formed in 1983, is primarily a whisky society, though in recent years they have branched out into armagnacs, cognacs, bourbons, rums, and even gins. So far they have rums from Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Nicaragua, Belize and Trinidad and it’s all a bit hit or miss, with mostly Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana rums holding up their end when rated against other indies doing the same thing. From T&T they have several Caronis (the R13.x series) and only two from Trinidad Distillers, the R10.1 and R10.2, issued in 2016 and 2017 respectively. That distillery is of course the home of Angostura, and always struck me, what with their industrial stills and barrel focus, as closer to the Spanish heritage production ethos than that of the English.

Personally, I’m not always won over by Trinidad rums aside from the Caronis (this is a purely personal thing). Angostura, though more informative than the Panamanians, too often shares something of their overall ho-hum, good-’nuff anonymity and deserves an occasional suspicious look. Sort of like “Okay, it’s a rum, so what?” That can work with blended releases issued to the broader market where “cheap and decent” gets the sales, but for a more exacting audience exemplified by those people whom the indies serve, that can be fatal, as it is here. The R10.1 is a strong blast of nothing in particular, a big show with no go, showcasing far too much of the barrel and not enough of the booze.

(#853)(79/100)


Other notes

  • Initially the rum sold for £195 but subsequent auctions on WhiskyAuctioneer and Catawiki came in lower than that.
  • Aged in refill ex-bourbon barrels between December 1991 and 2016, with a final outturn of 228 bottles.
  • A comprehensive list of all the SMWS’s rum bottlings can be found at the bottom of the biography.
Sep 222021
 

€57. Think about that for a minute. That’s how much this rum cost when it was first released in 2005. Good luck finding it anywhere near that, now. By 2019 the bottle price had already climbed past £1800 and as of this writing it is closing in on three grand on the auction listings.  And it’s not even the most famed or the best of the Demeraras, because the unicorns most avidly sought after and collected tend to be the PM and Skeldons, and maybe the Albions and UF30E. For some reason, Diamond, LBI, Blairmont and Uitvlugt rums from the canon, even those from pre-1990, are occasionally deemed as “less” — whatever that can possibly mean in this day and age — though of course still appreciating nicely on secondary markets.

Photo (c) Velier

The French Savalle-still Guyanese rum released by Velier may not be one of the top-tier three-decade-old grail quests (unless it’s being sourced by a canny and knowledgeable investor-fan who knows better), but I submit it certainly has the pedigree to be included in the pantheon. Distilled in 1988 and aged in Guyana until 2005, it’s a robust 52.9% 17 year old rum whose origin still was housed at Uitvlugt at the time, and four barrels came together to produce 1091 bottles, which, if they used ex-bourbon American Standard barrels, implies an angel’s share so measly as to be impossible – Luca Gargano got back to me and said it was four 200-liter refilled (i.e. consolidated) barrels.

The aromas of this thing were certainly of that rich thickness that marked out others from that far back. The nose was initially spectacular – plasticine, furniture polish, fresh paint over new wood; briny and olive-y, offset by a wonderful scent of autumn leaves after a rain, damp aromatic tobacco, and the deep smell of ripe, fleshy fruits. As it opened up molasses and salt caramel ice cream came forward and were joined by darker and oversweet prunes, blackberries, red cherries…they teetered right on the edge of going off altogether before pulling back from the brink.  Crisp and musky at the same time, the nose had just a trace of tannins at the back end, and was, after some time, even faintly bitter – the fruits were there, but so was the hint of something sour, like an almost spoiled lemon.

The palate was a curious beast, again quite briny, which I thought unusual for an Uitvlugt.  Too, there were these peculiar – if faint – notes of tar and petrol, then the sour-sweet taste of freshly-grated ginger. However, after these badasses came, sneered and then departed, we were thankfully in more familiar territory: molasses, caramel, and burnt sugar took over the stage, to be joined by lemons, chocolate oranges, a freshly baked meringue pie, raisins, dates and prunes. You might think that such notes would present as somewhat oversweet, but the rum never quite overstepped the mark and stayed crisp and flavourful without too much excess in any department. I particularly loved the lingering finish, which was a touch sharp, fruity, warm, redolent of breakfast spices and some olives, as warm and welcome and sweet as Mrs. Caner’s kisses when I promise to buy her that Prada purse she’s been after for so long.

It’s become almost conventional wisdom that the Age’s Demeraras are the pinnacle of everything a Demerara rum could ever aspire to be. Few rums from anywhere equal them, fewer surpass them and they are both summit and baseline for any Demeraras ever made. Given the mania to get one, and the aura of near mythical invincibility surrounding the series, it is difficult nowadays to be objective about any of them…though cold reason suggests that statements of their magnificence are unlikely to be true in every single case.

Still, we have to face facts – the early rums distilled in the ’70s and ’80s really were and are a cut above the ordinary, and there are few weaklings in the bunch, which is why a rum like this can now be found only on secondary markets for four figures. Even parking my cynicism and experience, I have to concede that the Uitvlugt 1988 is so good and so tasty and so approachable – and so limited – that in the years to come, it might go the way of the Skeldons and bankrupt a third world nation. It was and remains a rum seething with the richness of a great spirit in any category, and has added luster to the annals of the Demeraras.

(#852)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • Angel’s share calculation: 1,091 bottles x 0.7 liters/bottle ÷ 4 barrels = 191 liters/barrel, which works out to a loss from the maximum 800 liters (4 x 200 liters for the “standard” ASB) of around 5%. Luca Gargano confirmed (a week after this article went up) that several 200 Liter barrels had been consolidated into the four which were mentioned on the label..
  • The marque on the barrels is SP-ICBU. Tech details from Velier’s site.
  • Not many reviews out there.  Single Cask Rum was really enthusiastic about this one (96 points), much more so than I was, while Marco, in one of the first such reviews back in 2014, was less positive in his unscored review and as usual, his historical detail is impeccable. Gregers Nielsen, one of my rum chums, was so horrified by my “measly” score that he nearly unfriended me on the spot, since he felt it to be one of the top five Velier Demeraras ever made.
Sep 162021
 

Last time around we discussed a Brazilian cachaça from the environmentally astute company Novo Fogo which they called “Chameleon” — it was aged about a year and meant to quietly blend in to the various mixes for which it was destined (hence the name). I felt it succeeded reasonably well on its own grounds, and the next step up the food chain, the “Barrel Aged” version that is the subject of today’s review, also follows in that tradition — though in my opinion, less successfully.

The details are pretty much the same with respect to the company (I’ve added it below the review to save needless repetition). Novo Fogo is based in the southern state of Paraná in Brazil, has a strong organic and environmental ethos, and makes a trio of cachaças ranging from the “Silver” to this young barrel aged iteration: the three are the more accessible, more familiar portion of their range because they are aged — when they are aged at all — in American ex-bourbon barrels: these are sourced from the Haven Hill distillery in this instance, taken apart, sanded and charred. 1

That combo of charring the American ex-bourbon barrels and longer ageing within them, has resulted in the most rum-like cachaça I’ve ever tried. None of the slightly bitter, off-kilter amburana aromas here, no sharp juddering teak notes. Instead, initial scents of vanilla, minerals and cold campfire ashes combine uneasily with more “traditional” caramel, brown sugar, and soft fruits. One can sense the brininess, olives and more pungent hints of a pot still distillate that processed a cane juice wash, but dialled way down and wafting away before one can properly come to grips with it. It’s 40% ABV and that’s part of it, of course, because the 43% Chameleon showed more character, even though it was younger.

The palate is better: it’s tasty on its own terms, and interesting, but ultimately a weak tea that once again fails to provide anything we have not already had from various lightly aged añejos, ambres or gold rums. Biscuits, cereal, whipped cream, plus sugar water and a few spices. A soft hint of peaches, maybe cherries. The few rummy flavours the nose had promised have headed for the hills like the Road Runner, leaving nothing behind but a thin dissipating dust cloud which promises all sorts of nice goodies – black tea, fruit loops cereal, a flash of orange peel, spices and herbs – and leaves your palate twitching…but there’s no follow-through and they dissipate quickly. The finish is pretty much more of the same: short, clean, light, mostly sugar cane sap and frassy, herbal notes. Nothing specific, nothing to remember, nothing that stands out, and all gone too quick.

Aged cachaças are somewhat less popular and perhaps less well known. This is hardly surprising, since the purpose of a serious cachaça is to boost a caipirinha, and the wilder the profile of the cachaça, the better the caipirinha is supposed to be. That sort of crazy comes best from unaged spirits, as evidenced by the strong blancs making better ti’ punches in the French islands.

None of that off-the-reservation individuality is in evidence here. The barrel-aged cachaca Novo Fogo made seems almost shy, as if embarrassed to display anything so vulgar as an actual character. It is touted as a step up from its cousin (possibly based on the fallacy that more age = better rum), but smells muted and muffled, with most of the interesting stuff bleached out…and then whatever remains has agreed to a non aggression pact. While rum-like enough to appeal to someone looking into the standard-strength Brazilian spirits market to see what the fuss is all about, I feel it lacks the decent low-level complexity which marked the Chameleon. In this case, the cheaper product gets my money.

(#851)(78/100)


Other notes

  • The producer was originally a small distillery from Morretes, which is located in the south of Brazil, founded in 2004 by Fulgencio Torres Viruel (known simply as “Torres”) and master distiller Agenor Maccari (“Dr. Cachaça”), and in 2010 the Novo Fogo brand was launched after entrepreneurs Dragos and Emily Axinte partnered up to produce it. Most of the press you will find dates from 2015 which was the date that these four people acquired the facilities of Agroecologia Marumbi SA, a USDA organic certified distillery. This allowed an increase in production which in turn led to exports to North America and Europe around 2017.
  • Ever since its introduction to the festival and bartending circuit in that year, the brand has been gaining in recognition, taking its place alongside old-staple-cachaças like Leblon, Pitu, Avua and Yaguara. Its ever-increasing brand-awareness is tied to their organic and environmentally friendly production processes and stated commitment to sustainable production.
  • Novo Fogo cachaça is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of their process. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still. The resultant spirit is either rested in stainless steel tanks or put to age in American oak casks, though smaller quantities are aged in barrels made of local woods for various other expressions.
Sep 122021
 

It’s unclear to me what Moon Import thought it was doing back in 2004 when they blended this rum. They had done blends before, something of a departure from other Italian independents who since the 1970s had thought to bootstrap their expertise with single cask whisky selections into commensurate skill with single cask rums … but few except maybe Rum Nation (which was formed nearly two decades after Moon Import) took blends seriously.

Even when released as such, for the most part rums made that way tended to be multiple barrels of a single distillery, usually a particular year and age, so that more bottles of something exceptional could be wrung out. Moon, while certainly adhering to that philosophy when it suited them, also played around with blends more than most, particularly with Jamaican rums and here they mixed up stock from four different distilleries: Innswood, Long Pond, New Yarmouth and Monymusk, from what were undoubtedly barrels aged in Scotland. One wonders how come Hampden and Worthy Park were not considered for inclusion…perhaps they were too aggressive and didn’t play nice.

For originality at least, kudos to Moon – at that time the various operating distilleries in Jamaica were not very well known, so to take these four and combine them took some courage — to mention them individually at all was unheard of. Too bad they ballsed it up on the labelling – they spelled the name wrong on one of them, then added insult to injury by calling it a “Rhum Agricole”, just as they did with the Demerara 1974 released the same year.  They mentioned which bottle in the series it was…but not the total outturn. Moreover, they noted year of production (1982)  and year of bottling (2004)…then said there was a 25 year old hiding in one of them. Clearly quality control and fact checking were unfunded areas of endeavour in the labelling department back in the day.

But that aside, the rum had its points that its shoddy labelling could not entirely hide. Bottled at the 46% commonly used by small independents at that time, it smelled of wax and sugar water plus a bit of unsweetened yoghurt, and stoned fleshy fruits like cherries and peaches just starting to go off a little.  It presented like “Jamaica lite”, a sort of gently funked-up rum which today would be thought of as “meh” but back then was probably considered scandalous. I liked it, not least because that nose really took its time coming out and even a quarter hour later I was writing down things like “old paper”, “sweet and dry” and noted how the light clarity of green apples and citrus combined nicely with the softer aromas.

Tastewise, I would have to say it was somewhat indeterminate: it was hardly Jamaican at all by this point. Oh the flavours were there: the questions is, what were they? The rum was dry, almost astringent, and presented tastes of faint, dry smoky spices like masala, paprika and tumeric. There was some fruity ruminess – raisins, figs, dates, caramel, vanilla, and cinnamon, and yes, there were fruits hiding behind those, but it was curiously difficult to come to grips with them because they kept ducking and bobbing and weaving. Still: fruits, florals, black tea, spices, and a nice cleanliness ot the experience.  It all wrapped up in a finish that carved its way down with firm clarity, leaving behind memories of vanilla, nuts, light caramel, raisins, aromatic tobacco and peaches.

So what to say about the rum? Well, it was a good drink and a tasty dram. It was nice and complex, good nose, excellent palate, worked well as a sipping rum — after twenty plus years of ageing the rough edges had been gently sanded down to smoothness. I liked it, and I think you would too, in spite of its mild I’m-not-sure-I’m-a-Jamaican character. 

The combination worked, and the four distilleries made for an interesting blend. I’m just left with a nagging sense of incompleteness, as if there was more in there we were missing. Bottling each distillery’s rum as a quartet might have done more to highlight their qualities than mixing them all together and forcing them to give up their individuality in the soft merging of variant profiles.  It is to Pepi Mongiardino’s credit that he made a rum that skated past such concerns and came out the other end as a product worth getting. And so, while it does Jamaica no dishonour at all, I think you’ll also find that it inflames rather more desires than it quenches.

(#850)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • Bottle #218 (total outturn unknown)
  • The bottle says “pot still” but I’m ignoring that in my tagging
  • Translation of back label:“This exceptional Jamaican Rhum is part of two different bottles blended from four different distilleries: Innerwood, Yarmouth, Monymusk and Long Pond, aged in Scotland for 20 and 25 years.The two barrels could have been assembled but to keep the meticulous difference we preferred to keep them distinct.

    It will be interesting for amateurs to test themselves in tasting the two different vintages.

    Presents a bouquet of nutmeg, cinnamon, hay, yellow fruits such as apricot, banana and peach smoothed and ripe, and a final of chilli. On the palate it results in licorice wood at the entrance, with honey, cedar, ginger and dry banana.

    Exceptional cleaning and drying of the palate.”

Sep 092021
 

In 2017 I wrote about a cachaça I had tried in Toronto from a Brazilian company named Novo Fogo, which means “New Fire” in Portuguese. That was an unaged, one-year-rested “Silver” cachaça that I liked quite a bit, and in doing my research after the fact, I discovered the company also had a number of other such spirits in the portfolio, resolved to try what I could, and subsequently scouted them out in the years that followed.

This cachaça, then, is the next one up the ladder for Novo Fogo.  It is a blend of both aged and unaged spirits, derived from (of course) cane juice and departs from more traditional Brazilian cachaças in two interesting ways: it is made on a pot still (as opposed to the much more common column still spirits that dominate the industry); and it was aged for one year in American oak, not local woods like Amburana (which make Brazilian spirits so different to the palate conditioned by years of molasses-based rums or aged agricoles from the French islands).  What this does is provide the drinker with the best of three worlds: the terroire of Brazil’s southern province of Paraná (the distillery is located there, not Minas Gerais where the most traditional cachacas are made) coupled with a more familiar aged profile based on American oak… which in turn saves the more endangered Brazilian barrel woods from overharvesting. 

The question is whether that translates into a cane juice spirit that we who cut our teeth on French island agricoles could both relate to and enjoy for its own character.  The initial nose of the 43% cachaça does indeed smell promising: it is so green it squeaks going into a turn. It’s freshly cut green grass, steamed vegetables and palm fronds….if they were liquid. It smells herbal, of sugar water and citrus peel and kitchen spices, and yet also briny and solid — a bucket of salt beef mixing it up with sharp tannic and woodsy notes, and not too many sweet fleshy fruits. 

The taste moves right along from there.  Grassy and green tea flavours are prominent at first, but other sweet notes develop over time as well: light honey, caramel, vanilla, peas.  After opening up, the fruits that seemed to be missing from the nose turn up here: watermelon, pears, white guavas, even sweet peas and steamed corn, mixed up with some soya, lemongrass and parsley in a mild vegetable soup.  It leads to a quiet and short finish mostly characterized by grassy notes and some sweetish, very mild fruits. 

Novo Fogo’s one year old cachaça is an interesting variation on rhums we know. The sweet, herbal notes are not out to lunch or abnormal, and the use of the American oak has helped maintain a lightly-aged profile that other cachacas with more aggressive use of native woods might not (as Delicana showed here and here, it can be a bit hit and miss). Overall, the whole experience is somewhat removed from that of young or unaged agricoles generally, which is as it should be, since we’re not talking about a French island rhum, or a cane juice spirit made in the Indian Ocean islands with the esters dialled up to “11”. The ancestry is, however, quite clear, and anyone who has had even a passing familiarity with agricoles will find much that is recognizable and enjoyable with the “Chameleon”, especially at that approachable strength of 43%.  

That might be the secret behind the name: it is a rhum – a cachaça – made in Brazil, but hews so close to the profile we know that it might in fact be taken for something else.  Only the sly off-kilter notes and occasional divergences are there to tell you it’s not, and I submit that those differences are what make it interesting, and worth taking a chance on…as long as you don’t mind going off the beaten track a bit.

(#849)(81/100)


Other notes

  • The producer was originally a small distillery from Morretes, which is located in the south of Brazil, founded in 2004 by Fulgencio Torres Viruel (known simply as “Torres”) and master distiller Agenor Maccari (“Dr. Cachaça”), and in 2010 the Novo Fogo brand was launched after entrepreneurs Dragos and Emily Axinte partnered up to produce it. Most of the press you will find dates from 2015 which was the date that these four people acquired the facilities of Agroecologia Marumbi SA, a USDA organic certified distillery. This allowed an increase in production which in turn led to exports to North America and Europe around 2017.
  • Ever since its introduction to the festival and bartending circuit in that year, the brand has been gaining in recognition, taking its place alongside old-staple-cachaças like Leblon, Pitu, Avua and Yaguara. Its ever-increasing brand-awareness is tied to their organic and environmentally friendly production processes and stated commitment to sustainable production.
  • Novo Fogo cachaça is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of their process. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still. The resultant spirit is either rested in stainless steel tanks or put to age in American oak casks, though smaller quantities are aged in barrels made of local woods for various other expressions.
  • I reached out to Novo Fogo, curious to find out more about the name, and Luke McKinley responded from the Seattle office and replied “We gave Chameleon its name because it’s a versatile cachaça that can “blend in” to a variety of cocktails. At just 1 year of age, it retains the sugarcane funk of our unaged Silver Cachaça, but picks up enough characteristics from the American oak ex-bourbon barrels to work in stirred, spirituous cocktails.”

 

Sep 062021
 

By now, the story has entered into the folklore of rum: in October 2004 Luca Gargano and the (late) photographer Fredi Marcarini, sniffing out rums from around the Caribbean to round out Velier’s rum portfolio and being dissatisfied with Angostura’s offerings, decided to visit the Caroni distillery, even though it had already been closed for a year. Arriving at the premises and being let in, they were shown a warehouse where several thousand barrels dating back more than twenty years had been stored (and implied to be overlooked, if not actually forgotten). Most of the barrels were bought by Velier in several tranches over the following years, and always presented as some sort of exotic treasure, an undiscovered, unappreciated and unheralded jewel in the mud brought to light through intrepid and personal Indiana-Jones-style sleuthing that reaped the benefits — which larger and less adventurous rum bottlers who safely bought from European brokers, could and did not. 

In the ensuing years beginning in 2005, Caroni rums were carefully released in limited batches to the market, primarily Italy. Just as with the Demeraras, these releases broke new ground – for one, the barrels were not always blended into huge consistent outturns of several thousand bottles, but were often released as they were, a few hundred at a time: at best maybe two or three barrels of similar provenance or age or strength might be combined.  And this is why there are so very many Velier Caroni rums in existence – at last count I have about sixty-plus (the Hampden “Endemic Birds” series follows the principle of multiple bottle releases, though I submit it is for completely different reasons). Sometimes there are bottles from the same year, the same age, but a few proof points apart; in others, it’s a “Heavy” or a “Light” edition. Blends began to be issued in larger quantities.

The rum from today is from the middle of the Caroni era (which we are still living through, even if the end may now be in sight) – distilled in 1996, blended and bottled in 2017 at “Imperial” proof of 100º (57.18%), a massive angel’s share of some 86%, resulting in an an outturn of about 7,000 bottles. The decision to bottle at this strength is supposedly to showcase the heavy character of the rum and perhaps genuflect to the Navy tradition, but I suspect this is more a convenience than anything else, as various lesser and greater proofs have always characterized the Caroni line without any such romantic explanations. The red and white label, it should be noted, like the gold-white-blue Tate & Lyle facsimile adorning some of Velier’s later Caroni editions, is a replica of the style of a 1940s original. Tracking that down proved elusive, unfortunately.

So, to the tasting then. By now the heavy, tarry and fusel-oil profile of the Caronis is one of the most recognized taste markers in the rum world, so it comes as no surprise to find it here: the rum presents opening aromas of rich caramel and tar, deeply intense, with petrol held way back. There’s licorice and dark fruits – raisins, prunes, plums and blackberries – plus a nice sharpish and lighter cognac kick that is far from unpleasant. The real characteristic of the nose seems to be less the diesel machinery than the garden, however – black grapes, very soft mangoes and all manner of overripe fruit. There’s just little tartness to balance that off…unsweetened yoghurt, maybe.

Tasting the thing reveals powerful tar and petrol notes by the bucketload, dry, oily and amazingly mouth coating. The profile is nicely solid, hardly sharp at all, and displays a touch of brine and olives, as well as — initially — an oddly metallic, medicinal sort of taste.  

Once it settles down a richly dark, perfumed profile emerges for real: licorice, tar, dates, raisins, prunes, dark unsweetened chocolate, black grapes, blueberries, that cognac line again.  There’s a delicate sort of citrus background that lends a nice counterpoint to the duskier, heavier tastes. It’s not a rum to hurry through, even on the finish: this is dry, long, aromatic, phenolic, leaving behind mostly sweet thick caramel molasses notes and some burnt rubber, plus a last flirt of exhaust fumes as it roars away into memory.

As a blend, it’s really kind of spectacular – there aren’t many of these deep, surly rums around any longer, and even the New Jamaicans’ high ester rums tend towards the fruity and sharp notes, not the brutal stomp-it strength of the Clydesdales that are the Caronis. That said, not everyone will like the heaviness of the experience: agricole lovers or those who prefer soft Spanish light rums will find little to enthuse them here, and that’s Caroni for you — not everyone is in tune with the steampunk esthetic and industrial farting of this long shuttered Trini style.

But I like it, and think that even if the prices of the smaller, older and rarer editions of Velier’s Caronis are too high, there’s still good quality and interesting tastes to be found in the high-outturn blends like 12 year old, or the 15, 17 and a few others. The appeal of the Caroni line of rums lies in their miniscule variations from one batch to the next (no matter who issues it), which allows any curious enthusiast to sample just a few and get a good sense for what it’s all about. The 21 year old from 1996 is among the oldest of these blends, and while it does cost a bit, it is, in my opinion, also among the best.

(#848)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • It is often believed that Velier first released the Classic Demerara rums, and as their availability declined and the price ascended (sometimes beyond all reason), the Caronis came in to supplant them as the second great series of rums which made Velier’s reputation.  But strictly speaking, this is not true – the awareness of the Caronis peaked much later, but they began to be released in 2005, just around the same time as the first “true” dark-bottled Demeraras from the Age began to hit the market.

Additional Background

The myth of the “discovery” of these thousands of barrels may be true, but others dispute it, claiming that it had always been known that the rum stocks were there and they existed and were for sale. This goes as far back as 2000 when the distillery was already in perilous financial straits and courting buyers, and one local story held that a foreign consultant valued the year 2000 existing stocks of eighteen thousand barrels at between TT$1 billion (about US$160,000) and TT$6 billion (~US$935,000) depending on whether they were sold as aged or bulk rums. Both numbers were seen as implausibly low (US$935,000 for 18,000 barrels works out to US$52/barrel), as the writer was at pains to point out. 

The distillery shuttered in 2003, and as is now well known, independents like Velier et al, and Scheer/Main Rum, bought out the stocks over the next few years – it was not done all at once, nor was it only Velier, and it went through Government officers (one could hardly get an export license without them). What is missing from all accounts is the pricing asked for and paid, and for what volume. In 2018, by which time Caronimania was a well established (if misunderstood) phenomenon, Raffique Shah (the author of the original 2000 article) returned to the theme and scolded the politicians of the day for ignoring or not even understanding the rum stocks’ pricing given their elevation to the “Blue Label Crowd.” He suggested that they disdained their own country’s rum, couldn’t be bothered to do any due diligence, and allowed a huge potential windfall to slip through their fingers. He all but accused them of skullduggery and corruption.

Whether any of this is true or not is, at this remove, probably impossible to tell. Commercial entities are under no obligation to disclose such matters and since we know neither the volume of barrels sold nor the amount paid for each, or by whom, anything beyond this point is just uninformed speculation that hopefully will one day be replaced by facts. But it’s a good case study in how rums (or any local  third world resources for that matter) get bought and sold.


 

Sep 022021
 

One of the German independent Our Rum & Spirits’ earlier bottlings is the Guyanese Enmore from 1990 which was bottled in 2015, a year after they released their first one (an 11 YO Diamond). It’s a respectable 24 (European) years old, a solid anvil-dropping 61.2% ABV, 178 bottles, and of course, it’s not from the Enmore coffey but from the Versailles single wooden pot still, which was the still-in-residence at Enmore Estate back then, before everything got shipped off to Diamond around 2000 in The Great Consolidation.

By now I’ve been trying various single-still offerings from Guyana for years, usually made by the indies but also, more recently, by DDL themselves. One thing I’ve observed is that Enmore distillate tends to be a shade more elegant and a touch light, the Port Mourant is dark and rich and rarely bad at any age, while Versailles is somewhat more brutal, is raw and assertive, and takes real skill to bring to its full potential. This may be why there are so many bottlings of the other two in circulation, while Versailles is rather more rare, and used more in Demerara rum blends (along with the PM).

That said, it’s always interesting how a rum made three decades ago and aged for so long holds on to its character. The nose here opens with fresh, damp sawdust and varnished lumber.  One would expect a certain mellowness of age, a smoothening out of roughness, yet the rum still noses like a product much younger, retaining a thin crisp vibrancy, with notes of glue, acetones, licorice, smoke, well-polished old leather, faint salted caramel, and a few ripe stoned fruits for some edge. Oh, and some sweet dusting of brown sugar and cinnamon.

The palate is where such forceful strength comes into its own: here that presents as dry, woody and very sharp, like a whole bag of Red Rose loose black tea dumped into a very small pot and then doused with some brown sugar and a tin of evaporated milk (we called it “bush tea” back in the day – I once fed my little brother some when he was doing exams and he stayed up for two days straight on the stuff). Vanilla, molasses, caramel and licorice are the dominant flavours.  Subtler hints of acetone, soya and brininess become noticeable after a while, and some very faint floral and fruity hints waft around without ever making a serious statement.  Unsurprisingly it concludes with a finish as long as a polar summer sunset, but it’s slim pickin’s: wood and tannins, some salted caramel, anise, and again, a grain or two of cinnamon.

Well, I have to say that for something sporting a jock of such high ABV and age, I did expect something more complex and pungent on the attack. While undeniable strong and hard on the senses, in the flavour department the rum packs all the verve and panache of an eunuch’s underwear. The opening notes are simple, almost lackluster; then the palate overwhelmed with wood and varnish, and I was reminded of the Old Man Spirits’ Uitvlugt, which also showed off a lot of oomph but had little serious sensory action beyond the obvious. It suggests to me that the cask was not very active, and what you got was what the raw distillate brought to the party, not what the barrel itself was able to add.

Be that as it may, I can’t give the final product a completely failing grade, because let’s admit it, at that strength you’re getting a lot, the tastes that are there aren’t bad, and if it takes a bit more effort to tease out more interesting and extra aromatic notes, well, so be it. All the stats – the ABV, the age, the country, the still – are just excuses to get us to engage our senses with the rum itself, a Diamond-based Duke Nukem that’s all action and no reflection, desiring no deeper meaning for itself beyond the test of your ability to cope with it. Speaking for myself, I can’t say that’s entirely a bad thing.

(#847)(84/100)


Background History

Our Rum & Spirits, located in the small town of Hildesheim just south of Hanover in north-central Germany, is among the first of the new wave of modern German independents, however small they might be. Back in 2014 when the company bottled its first release (a Guyanese 2003 11 YO from Diamond), the rum business was a sideshow to Christian Nagel’s restaurant which served rums (and some other spirits) as part of the menu. 

The next logical step was to bottle what he himself would like to have – at the very least if he had a barrel, he wouldn’t run out quite so fast. The reception to the initial Diamond was so good that others followed, and two years later he was exhibiting at the Berlin Rum Fest: he’s now a regular and a medal winner there (several times) and has multiple bottlings from Guyana, Barbados, Panama and Jamaica. For me he’s a regular stopping point whenever I’m there, if only to chat and say hello.

By early 2018 he removed his spirits activities to different premises from the restaurant and now acts as both independent and distributor; this aspect of his work became successful enough that in June of 2021, gave up the gastronomy business altogether.