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 waysboth 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 herewhich 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 complaintthe 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 thingit 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 sprinklingit’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 opinionand 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 oflike Norse Cask or Kingsbury or L’Espritthat 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 historyat 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 tooa 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, toofor its time, anyway. But somewhere in the ‘aughts the English Harbour brand was created to be the basket for more upscale, upmarket rumsstarting with the five year old and moving up in ageand 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 atthe 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 changedand 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 beUltra 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 uneventfulmuch 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 briefwarm, dry, salty with a touch of fruits and sweet soyawell, 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 originalitynot much, just some. Even if it never ascends to the tables of the rich, there’s nothing really wrong with itas 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 worriedthe 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, yesbut 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 combinationa 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 alongsidethis 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 woodinessmild 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 anddare 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 assessmentit’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’tit’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 notesI 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 pricesthis 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 marketWesterhall’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 exporthowever, 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 rustit was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the ruins can be seen to this day on the grounds

ColourWhite (from filtration)

AgeUnknown; suggested to be unaged but I doubt itlike 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

NoseInitially 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 waterthere’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.

PalateVery 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 spicescumin and cardamom. There’s more but the strength kind of eviscerates any subtler notes and this is what you’re left with

FinishYou 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.

ThoughtsNo 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 pantheonbut 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 brokersthis 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, availableand let’s face it, also inoffensivepot-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 rumbut 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 soordinary.

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, yesup 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 justparadoxically enoughcalls attention to the fact that it’s there to begin with. Finish is assertive and spicy, then fades fast, leaving behind memories of spicesmarsala, 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 oninstead, 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 agethough 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 impossibleLuca 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 spectacularplasticine, 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 cherriesthey 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 bitterthe 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 peculiarif faintnotes 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 themthough cold reason suggests that statements of their magnificence are unlikely to be true in every single case.

Still, we have to face factsthe 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 approachableand so limitedthat 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 mymeaslyscore 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 traditionthough 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 agedwhen they are aged at allin 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 goodiesblack tea, fruit loops cereal, a flash of orange peel, spices and herbsand leaves your palate twitchingbut 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 outand 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 inclusionperhaps they were too aggressive and didn’t play nice.

For originality at least, kudos to Moonat that time the various operating distilleries in Jamaica were not very well known, so to take these four and combine them took some courageto mention them individually at all was unheard of. Too bad they ballsed it up on the labellingthey 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 wasbut 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 ruminessraisins, 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 rumafter 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 oakwhich 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 solida 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 rhuma cachaçamade 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 onas 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 repliedWe 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 benefitswhich 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 groundfor 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 existenceat 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 fruitsraisins, prunes, plums and blackberriesplus 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, howeverblack grapes, very soft mangoes and all manner of overripe fruit. There’s just little tartness to balance that offunsweetened 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 asinitiallyan 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 spectacularthere 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 younot 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 truethe 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 yearsit 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 dayI 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 SpiritsUitvlugt, 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 statsthe ABV, the age, the country, the stillare 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 haveat 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.


 

Aug 302021
 

This rum has a very long title: it’s full name is the Silver Seal St. Lucia Distillers “Dennery” Special Reserve Rum, of the “Sestante Collection.” It’s something of a collector’s item these days, though issued relatively recently around 2017, and all the various terms on the label require some background explanation that might derail your interest in the review itself (unless you’re a trivia and history nut like I am and actually, y’know, enjoy this stuff).

Let me just provide some bare bones detail on the rum, get right into the tasting and then you can nod off to the extraneous material beneath that if you’re of a mind. Firstly, it’s a single cask bottling of 600 70-cl bottles watered down to 43% (hence the substantial outturn). It’s a no-age-statement and undated rum which is highly annoying given that it came from a single cask, and demonstrates that much as we like the indie bottlers, some (even the Oldies) still have a ways to go on matters of disclosure from time to time. Since there’s only one distillery on the island, it’s no hardship to deduce who made it.

That’s the easy part. Things get tricky from here: there are few references online about the rumnot a single reviewer I know has tasted the thing, and those that tasted its cousin, the “Superior” like Wes, Serge or Steve, had similar grouches about it, that there was just nothing to go on, and SS was not returning calls. The SS website was and remains completely useless; and as if that isn’t bad enough, there are three separate “Dennery” rums from Silver Seal: the Superior, the Special Reserve with a silver box (600 bottles, 43%) and the Special Reserve from the Sestante Collection with the dark red box (600 bottles, 43%). All display a similarly stunning paucity of information.

Another peculiarity is how dark it isit possibly speaks to decades-long maturation, if one is feeling generous and if SS ever bothered to mention it. But probably not. A first sniff and a snoot rapidly dispels any such ur-aged collector’s edition fantasies. It presents immediately with such a deep black licorice note that I remember thinking this was a mislabelled Demerara. It smells of the rich, wet loam of newly turned garden earth after a rain. Thick aromas of licorice, bitter caramel, wood chips billow out, later accompanied by unsweetened chocolates, coffee, then citrus, chocolate oranges, mint, dark cake. It’s very solid and not subtle, and completely at odds with the 1931 series of rums I was trying alongside it. Or, for that matter, with the standard Admiral Rodney.

The palate was similarly oddyet hauntingly familiar. It took me back to the jungles of Guyana where I worked as a young man fresh out of school, redolent of rotten, moss-covered logs decaying into damp dirt and leaves, under a dripping canopy speared here and there with dappled sunlight, and I literally cannot find another way to accurately describe this remarkable profile. It tasted of old and well-polished leather Berbice chairs, minerals, smoke, compost, unsweetened chocolate and dark fruits, creamy cake and just a touch of brine and lemon peel, leading into a long (for 43%) and dry finish that showed off closing notes of aromatic tobacco, dried prunes, dates and again, that leather.

Unusual? Yeah, it’s unusual. Based onthe writerstasting notes it shares a lot of DNA, it would appear, with the Superiorand this is where real info on each of the three releases would have helped us understand the tastes better. It reminded me less of a St. Lucian rum than an over-oaked Versailles from Guyana, andin a strange wayeven the dour wooden mustiness of the Saint James 1885. I’m going to give it points for unusual tastes and an interesting experience that does not fail (in my opinion, too often people mark something down because they expect it to be one way and then it doesn’t conform to the preconceived notion, for good or ill) but take away a few for excessive dark sweet oak and licorice that dominates too much.

So is it a buy? The SS Dennery does occasionally sail intoand out ofvarious auctions for under £200, so it’s something of a pricey-but-affordable indulgence. And it does have a solid indie name behind it, and tastes and samples well. Yet I can’t find myself recommending the thing. Not because it is too little like a St. Lucian, but because if Silver Seal didn’t care enough to tell us anything concrete about its age or its components or dates or stills, then either they’re too lazy to actually service their consumers in the modern age, or they know damned well what it is they’re peddling and are hiding it. This starving author ain’t buying on either account.

(#846)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • Silver Seal was founded by an Italian, Ernesto Mainardi in 2000 and like its predecessor, the Sestante import company which he had established in the late 1970s, it dealt primarily in whiskies: they began to do their own bottlings in 1985. Few records of the rums either company made are extantmost of the famous Silver Seal rums we know today were issued after Mainardi sold both companies to Massimo Righi, the owner of Whisky Antique, in 2010.
  • “Sestante” means sextant in English, and is the name of a collection Silver Seal created that was meant to pay homage to Mainardi’s original company. It showcases both whiskies and rums, but it remains unclear what makes them special. Too few of the rums in that collectionnot that we know anything much about them since there’s no master list anywherehave been reviewed to make any definitive statement about the matter.
  • St Lucia Distillers was formed in 1972 through the consolidation of the Dennery Distillery, which was owned by the Barnard family, and the distillery run by the Geest family at Roseau Bay. In 1993 the Barnards bought out the Geests, and in 2005 sold out to CL Financial (may their glasses be perpetually empty) who in turn, after their reckless financial exposure to the crash of 2008 nearly bankrupted them, sold out to Spiribam, the current owner.
  • Since St. Lucia Distillers has four stills (two John Dore pot stills, a hybrid Vendome pot still, and the original two-column McMillan coffey still) and their standard line is all blended, the Dennery rum is likely a pot-column blend (my opinion).
  • There is no “Dennery” style or classifiable rum type (unlike, say, the Rockley over in Barbados). The name has been given to the rum as a callback to the distillery’s origins, that’s all.

Opinion (adapted from my coment on FB)

I make a lot of noise about prejudging rums based on expectations, and indeed, I firmly believe it is hard to let such notions go when you know you’re tasting a rum this old, from that distillery located in this-or-that particular country. Your experience and background serve to provide background and comparators. As well as, of course, your preferences, biases and likes/dislikes.

But I also believe in the provision of information by the bottler, and to evaluate a special editionwhich this supposedly isone has to know what exactly is special about it: is that the age? provenance? distillation? great harvest from a special year? fancy barrels?

None of this is provided by Silver Seal, and yet within that limitation, the rum is quite nice (though a rather startling divergence from what we understand to be St. Lucian rums). But the opinion onjust the profileis now harder to contextualize because that’s the only data point there is. Is it as good as other rums that old, other rums that come off of that still, that strong, that year? There’s simply no way to know that or discuss it, and as such I find myself not recommending it for the buy unless you really want to get it and have the free coin. Which I don’t and I don’t.

Aug 262021
 

Cadenhead, in their various rum releases stretching back a hundred years or more, has three major rivers running into the great indie rum ocean, each of which has progressively less information than the one before it:

  • The cask strength, single-barrel “Dated Distillation” series with a three- or four-letter identifier and lots of detail on source and age; I submit these are probably the best and rightly the most sought-after rums they release. The only question usually remaining when you get one, is what the letters stand for.
  • The Green Label series; these are usually single-country blends, sometimes mashed together from multiple distilleries (or stills, or both), mostly from around the Caribbean and Central/South America (they’ve gone further afield of late). Here you get less detail than the DDs, mostly just the country, the age and the strength, which is always 46% ABV. I never really cared for their puke yellow labels with green and red accents, but now they’re green for real. Not much of an improvement, really.
  • Classic Blended Rum; a blend of Caribbean rums, location never identified, age never stated (not on label or website), usually bottled at around 50% ABV. You takes your chances with these, and I’ve only ever had one, and quite liked it.

The subject of today’s review is a Green Label Barbados. This is not the first time that this series (which Cadenhead releases without schedule, rhyme or reason) has had a Barbadian rum in it: in fact, I had looked at a Barbados 10 year old back in 2017. There are at least seven rums that I know of in that series, not counting the full strength “Dated Distillation” collection, and I think they have an entrant from every distillery on the island between the two collections except St. Nicholas Abbey (which doesn’t export bulk). Most of the Greens are from WIRD or Mount Gay, while Foursquare is rather better represented of late in the DDs.

Which one is this, then? As far as I know, it’s a WIRD rum done in the Rockley style, based on these data points: Marco Freyr’s research, Marius Elder’s Rockley tasting based on research of his own, the year of distillation (1986 is a famous year for the Rockley style), and my own tastingnone of which is conclusive on its own, but which in aggregate are good enough for government work, and I’ll stand behind it until somebody issues the conclusive corrective.

I say it’s a Rockley style (see below for a historical recap), which is an opinion I came to after the tasting and before looking around for details, but what is it about its profile that bends my thinking that way? Well, let’s get started and I’ll try to explain.

Nose first: It’s both sharp and creamy at once, with clear veins of sweet red licorice, citrus, sprite and fanta running through a solid seam of caramel, toffee, white chocolate, almonds and a light latte. Letting it open up brings forth some light, clean floral scents, mint, sugar water, red currants and raisins, which the Little Caner grandly dismissed under with the brief title of “oldie fruity stuff.” (You can’t impress that boy, honestly).

The palate is interesting: it’s clean, yet also displaying some of the more solid notes which would suggest a pot still component; it retains the sharp and crisp tartness of unripe fruitred currants, raspberries, strawberries, mangoes. Here the caramel bonbons and toffees take a back seat and touches of brine, pimentos and balsamic vinegar suggest themselves. Leaving it alone and then returning, additional notes of marzipan, green grapes and apples are noticeable, and also a rather more marked oak influence, though this does not, fortunately, overwhelm. The finish is dry, sweet and salt, with some medicinal iodine flashes, plus of course the oak, fruits and licorice, nothing too earthshaking here.

The rum as a whole is not unpleasant at all, and yes, it’s Rockley styleif you were to retry the SMWS R6.1 from 2002 (“Spice at the Races”) and then sample a few Foursquares and a MG XO, the difference is clear enough for there to be little doubt. Surprisingly, Marius felt the herbal and honey notes predominated and pushed the fruits to the back, while I thought the opposite. But he says and I inferred, that this is indeed a Rockley.

I think the extended maturation had something to do with how well it presented: even accounting for slower ageing in Scotland, eighteen years was sufficient to really enhance the distillate in a way that the older Samaroli WIRD 1986 released two years later somehow failed to do. It’s rare, unfortunately (we don’t know the outturn), but it’s come up for auction on whisky sites a few times and varies in price from £80-£120, which I think is pretty good deal for those who like Barbadian rums in general. This rum from Cadenhead is not a world beater, but it’s quite good on its own terms, and showcases an aspect of Barbados which is nice to try on occasion, if only for the variety.

(#845)(85/100)


Notes – The Rockley “Still” (reposted)

Many producers, commentators and reviewers, myself among them, refer to the pot still distillate from WIRR/WIRD as Rockley Still rum, and there are several who conflate this with “Blackrock”, which would include Cadenhead and Samaroli (but not 1423, who refer to their 2000 rum specifically as simply coming from a “pot still” at “West Indies” – Joshua Singh confirmed for me that it was indeed a “Blackrock style” rum).

Based on the research published by Cedrik (2018) and Nick Arvanitis (2015) as well as some digging around on my own, here are some clarifications. None of it is new, but some re-posting is occasionally necessary for such articles to refresh and consolidate the facts.

“Blackrock” refers to WIRD as a whole, since the distillery is located next to an area of that name in NW Bridgetown (the capital), which was once a separate village. In the parlance, then, the WIRD distillery was sometimes referred to as “Blackrock” though this was never an official title – which didn’t stop Cadenhead and others from using it. There is no “Blackrock Still” and never has been.

Secondly, there is a “Rockley” pot still, which had possibly been acquired by a company called Batson’s (they were gathering the stills of closing operations for some reason) when the Rockley Distillery shuttered — Nick suggests it was transformed into a golf course in the late 1800s / early 1900s but provides no dates, and there is indeed a Rockley Resort and golf club in the SE of Bridgetown today. But I can’t find any reference to Batson’s online at all, nor the precise date when Rockley’s went belly-up — it is assumed to be at least a century ago. Nick writes that WIRD picked up a pot still from Batson’s between 1905 and 1920 (unlikely to be the one from Rockley), and it did work for a bit, but has not been operational since the 1950s.

This then leads to the other thread in this story which is the post-acquisition data provided by Alexandre Gabriel. In a FB video in 2018, summarized by Cedrik in his guest post on Single Cask, he noted that WIRD did indeed have a pot still from Batson’s acquired in 1936 which was inactive, as well as another pot still, the Rockley, which they got that same year, also long non-functional. What this means is that there is no such thing as a rum made on the Rockley still in the post-1995 years of the current rum renaissance, and perhaps even earlier – the labels are all misleading.

The consensus these days is that yet a third pot still — acquired from Gregg’s Farms in the 1950s and which has remained operational to this day — provided the distillate for those rums in the last twenty years which bear the name Blackrock or Rockley. However, Cedrik adds that some of the older distillate might have come from the triple chamber Vulcan still which was variously stated as being inactive since the 1980s or 2000 (depending on the interview) and it was later confirmed that the most famous Rockley vintages from 1986 and 2000 were made with a combination of the Vulcan (used as a wash still) and the Gregg (as a spirit still).

Yet, as Cedrik so perceptively notes, even if there is no such thing as a Rockley-still rum, there is such a thing as a Rockley style. This has nothing to do with the erroneous association with a non-functional named still. What it is, is a flavour profile. It has notes of iodine, tar, petrol, brine, wax and heavier pot still accents, with honey and discernible esters. It is either loved or hated but very noticeable after one has gone through several Barbados rums. Marco Freyr often told me he could identify that profile by smell alone even if the bottler did not state it on the label, and I see no reason to doubt him.


 

Aug 232021
 

Rumaniacs Review #126 | 0844

Like so many lightweight blends predating the 21st century rum renaissance, which were sold under inviting names just to move cases which the rum’s inherent quality itself could not, this “premium” rum has a sailing ship prominently displayed on the label. Though it could as easily have been a pirate, a coconut tree, a beach, or all of the above at once, plus a chest, a peg leg and a parrot added for good measure. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s not from the island of Tortuga (north of Haiti): nor is it from the Cayman Islands (500 miles to the west), because the blending and bottlingof unspecified distillatesactually happens on Barbadosor it did, when this bottle was released.

Such was the state of subtly misleading label design in 1984 and the later 1980s when the Tortuga Rum Company was formed and began blending rums to sell on cruise ships and duty free stores around the Caribbean. Not a single thing is wrong, and yet everything is. Perhaps fortunately, it is now no longer easily available to mislead people into what the word premium means, because these days the company concentrates more on making rum cakes (of which this apparently is a key ingredient).

That said, although it is mostly absent from online emporia where many do their shopping these days, the company still has a stable of flavoured and light blended rums available in the ships and shops noted above. And such older bottles as this one can still occasionally be sourced around the world, as witness an enthusiastic gent leaving a five-star comment (“Absolutely a great rum, the best I have had in fact”) on the Whisky Exchange as late as 2019, and my own quickie review here, based on a bottle from the 1990s sourced in 2018 in Europe.

ColourAmber

Age – 5 Year Old Blend

Strength – 43% ABV

NoseI’m not entirely chased awayit’s not too shabby. Light and easy, mostly molasses, caramel, toffee, leavened by the light notes of coconut shavings, honey and nougat. Some dark fruitraisins, blackberries, ripe cherries.

PalateAgain, light, with some firmness lending it a bit of authority and solid tastes. Nougat, honey and coconut, like those white Ferrer or Raffaello confectioneries my much-loved chocoholic daughter can’t get enough of. There’s some sharper fruits hereripe pears, apples, berriesas well as a touch of salted caramel and molasses, and brown sugar in a hot latte. Nice.

FinishWarm oily, sweet, smooth. No problem. Honey again, coconut shavings, a raisin or two, but for me to tell you there’s more would be reaching.

ThoughtsGiven my despite for its blandly inoffensive white sibling, I didn’t walk in here expecting much. But it wasn’t half bada completely unadventurous and reasonably tasty light sipping rum of which not much is asked and not much needs be given. Maybe it’s sold in the right places after all.

(77/100)


Other Notes

  • The Tortuga rum is not named after the island, but to commemorate the original name of the Cayman Islands, “Las Tortugas,” meaningThe Turtles.
  • The company was established in 1984 by two Cayman Airways employees, Robert and Carlene Hamaty, and their first products were two blended rums, Gold and Light. Blending and bottling took place in Barbados according to the label, but this information may be dated as my sample came from a 1990s bottle. The range has now expanded beyond the two original rum types to flavoured and spiced rums, and even some aged ones, which I have never seen for sale and are therefore likely to remain sold only on ships and duty-frees. In 2011 a Jamaican conglomerate acquired a majority stake in Tortuga’s parent company, which, aside from making rums, also created a thriving business in rum cakes and flavoured specialty foods.
Aug 152021
 

It was probably a good thing that I first tried this innocent looking white rum1 released by the UK independent bottler El Destilado (not to be confused with the restaurant of the same name in Oaxaca) without knowing much about it. It came in a smallish bottle, sporting a starkly simple label I didn’t initially peruse too closely, and since I was at a rumfest, and it had been handed to me by a rum chum, well, what else could it be, right?

It might have been a rum, but even at the supposedly standard strength of 43.15% ABV, the juice burst with flavours that instantly recalled indigenous unaged cane juice like clairin, or a supercharged grogue fresh of the still and sporting serious attitude. It smelled, first of all, woodyresinous, musty, oily, lemony; it reeked of brine and olives, almonds, pine-sol air freshener and only at the back end, after taking some time to recover, were there a few shy hints of flowers and some rich, almost-gone fleshy fruits. That’s not much when you think about it, but I assure you, it made up in intensity what it lacked in complexity.

Okay, so this was different, I thought and tasted it. It was solid and serious, completely dense with all sorts of interesting flavours: first off, very pine-y and smokey. More pine soldid someone mix this with household disinfectant or something? This was followed by fresh damp sawdust of sawn lumber made into furniture right way and then polished with too much varnish, right in the sawmill (!!). Vegetable soup heavy on the salt, with generous doses of black pepper and garlic and cilantroand more pine. Barbeque sauce and smoky sweet spices, like hickory I guess. Darkly sweet but not precisely fruitythough there are some of thosemore like the heavy pungency of rotting oranges on a midden heap somewhere hot and tropical, closed off by a long and smoky finish redolent of lemon pine scent, and spoiling fruits, and more olives.

This was intense. Too raw and uncultured to be a serious top ender, white or otherwiseand I like white rums, as you knowbut defiantly original and really quite unique. I thought the pine notes were overbearing and spoiled the experience somewhatother than that, a completely solid rum that was probably cane juice, and probably unaged, and a cousin to the French island agricoles. Somewhere out there a bartender was loving this thing and blowing it kisses.

Which was correct, as confirmed by a more detailed look at that label. It was an unaged cane juice spirit called Aguardiente de Panela, came from Mexico, was akin to the Paranubes from Oaxaca and many others like it. I cautiously liked it“appreciated” might be a better term; it was tasty, quite original, and felt like it took rum in whole new directions, though it took care not to call itself that. I can say with some assurance that you would be unlikely to have tried anything like it before and therein might lie both its attraction and downfall. But I suggest that if you can, try it. It might be problematic finding any, given the limited outturn of 160 bottles (and indeed, it was something of a one-off, see my notes below this review).

Labelling the thing as an aguardiente (again, see further down) gives it a pretty broad umbrella, though clearly it is a cane juice derivative. It might have been better to use “cane spirit” to make the sale since aguardientes are a very loose category and present a moving target depending on where one is. Be that as it may, it is has all the hallmarks of a local back-country moonshine (decently made in this instance, to be sure), sporting the sort of artisanal handmade small-batch quality that makes rum geeks salivate as they search the world for the next clairin or grogue.

When such micro-still quality is found, the production ethos behind it that makes it so attractive creates issues for their producers. The output tends to be small and not easily scaled up (assuming they even want to); there somewhat inconsistent quality from batch to batch, and some simply don’t hold up over time. Moreover, such aguardientes or charandas or agricoles or unaged spirits are usually not made for a discerning international rum audience, but for local and regional consumption, by and for people who don’t know (and don’t care) that there are certain markers of consistency and quality asked for by foreign audiences. It isn’t for such tourists that it’s made (a point Luca also thought long and hard about, before promoting the Haitian clairins back in 2014).

This aguardiente perfectly encapsulates that issue. It is a unique and unusual, very distinctive small batch agricole-style cane juice rum in all the ways that matter. It satisfies its local audience just fine. That it doesn’t fly as well past its own terroire may not be its problem, but ours. That said, you certainly won’t find me complaining about what it’s like, because I want me some more. And stronger, if I can get it.

(#843)(81/100)


Other Notes:

  • The origin of the cane juice spirit / aguardiente is one of those near-unknown family stills that dot the Mexican back country (the Paranubes was like that also), and made, as stated above, more for village consumption than export. Here, it came from a three-column still tended by Sr. Delfino Cruz, whichif one can go by the labelis in the small village of San Pablo Ameyaltepec where he produces mostly mezcal. This tiny community of less than two hundred is in the state of Puebla, with the more famous state of Oaxaca on its southeast border: the El Destilado boys were sourcing mezcal from him.
  • Charlie McKay, one of the founders, told me: “We actually only got one batch of the Aguardiente de Panela and then weren’t able to get it again. The Aguardiente was sourced while Michael and Jason were tasting some of Delfino’s mezcal and they noticed a bunch of liquid in drums, asked about it and he sheepishly allowed them to taste it. It’s sort of a side product he was making but more for locals rather than as his pride and joy. Anyway the liquid was super tasty and the guys bought a bunch of it on the spot. I believe, but I’d have to double check, that it was distilled in the same still that he makes his mezcal in. The panela aspect is the sugar he uses. Our current rum which is an Aguardiente de Caña is make from raw sugar cane juice, extracted straight from the plant and fermented. The panela is a preserved form of sugar that comes as set blocks […] usually from sort of conical shaped molds. It almost looks like a darker version of palm sugar that you’d get from an Asian grocer. Anyway this is rehydrated and fermented, then distilled which gives it a slightly different flavour profile to the more green Caña version. […] It was basically something Delfino wasn’t trying to sell us, but they boys saw it and had to taste it, then we got it, sold it all and now it’s gone.
  • ThePanelain the title is named after panela, an unrefined sugar which is made by boiling and evaporating cane juiceit’s therefore something like India’s jaggery which we have come across before. Panela is commonly made around South America (especially Colombia) and it’s not a stretch to say aguardiente can be made from it, hence the name.
  • The rum was distilled in a three column still and apparently fermented in tanks made of local pine woodwhich is where the pine notes must have carried over from. It is likely that wild yeast was used for the fermentation.
  • El Destilado, whose name is on the label, is a UK based indie bottler based on London, run by a trio of spirits enthusiastsMichael Sager, Alex Wolpert and Charlie McKay; their tastes seem run more into agave spirits than rum per se since this was one of only two cane spirits they have released so far amidst a plethora of mezcals from Oaxaca. As a separate note, I like their minimalist design philosophy a lot.
  • Another rum released by El Destilado is an equally obscure “Overproof” Oaxacan Rum at 52.3% which Alex over at The Rum Barrel took a look at a few months back.

A Brief Backgrounder on Mexican cane spirits and Agardientes

Having a large band of tropical climate and a vibrant sugar industry, it would be odd in the extreme if Mexico did not have rums in its alcoholic portfolio. The truth is that their artisanal, indigenous rums are actually not well known: not just because of the overwhelming popularity and market footprint of mezcal and tequila, but because rum brands like Bacardi, Mocambo, Prohibido, Tarasco and other popular low-cost “decent-enough” sellers have the limelight. They tend to stick with the tried and true model of standard-proof light blends of middling age to saturate (primarily) their own and the American market. So the backcountry small-batch rums of long-standing productionwhich in these days of full proof and indigenous tradition are sometimes overlookedtend to have a hard time of it.

Leaving aside big brands and other alcoholic categories, however, there have always been many local cane distillates in Mexico, less exalted, less well known, often sniffed at. Some are as specific as charanda, others as wide ranging as aguardiente. The subject of today’s review is one of the latter, and if for purists it does not fall into our definitions of rum, I argue that if it’s a sugar cane distillate, it should be counted in “our” category, it needs a home and I’m perfectly happy to give it one.

Aguardientesthe word is a very broad catchall, akin to the generic English word “spirits,” translating loosely as fiery/burning waterare strong distilled alcoholic beverages, made from a variety of sources depending on the country or local tradition: macerated fruits (oranges, grapes, bananas, etc), grains (millet, barley, rice, beets, cassava, potatoes, tubers), or the classic sugar cane versions. They can be regulated under that name, and several have protected designations of origin.

Aguardiente as made in Mexico has a very supple definition, depending on where one is in that country and what the source material is. In some places it is a distilled cane spirit, in others it can be made from agave. It can be proofed down to 35%, or be stronger. It can be added to with spices, additives, you name itor not. It’s either a poor man’s drink or a connoisseur’s delight, an indigenous low-quality moonshine or the next wave of craft spirit-making to enthuse young hipsters looking for The Next Big Thing.

Globally, for the purpose of those who primary spirit is rum, aguardientes are and should be limited to those which derive from cane juice only, and indeed many such spirits are properly labelled as aguardiente de cana, or some such titular linguistic variation (in Mexico this is particularly important because of the move to call agave spirts like mezcal aguardiente de agave and create a separation within the term). Unsurprisingly in a category this broad, clairins, grogues, guaros, puntas, charandas, even cachaças, are lumped into it, sometimes incorrectlyit’s a term which requires qualifying words to nail down precisely. But for the moment and this review, consider it a cane-juice-based, small-batch, local (even traditional) alcoholic beverage, and judge it on that basis.

Sources:

I have drawn on general background reading, personal experiences, wikipedia and the Rumcast interview with Francisco Terraza (timestamp 00:30:01) for some of the information on aguardientes generally and Mexico specifically


Addendum

After posting the link to this review on Reddit’s /r/rumserious (full disclosureI am the moderator of that sub), City Barman made a comment that same evening which I felt was both enlightening and well written, and he kindly gave me permission to quote it here as an adjunct to the main review:

Back in 2003, we went with a friend to visit his family in Oaxaca. We enjoyed an almost three week bacchanal, sampling as many of the local spirits as we could get our hands on. Tequila, mezcal and aguardiente de caña ran through our blood. The only real value of 90% of what we drank was its ability to get one drunk, on the way cheap. A far majority of it was tolerable to OK, from a taste standpoint, at least to my arrogant Western palate. 10%, however, was special, unique, sometimes divine, and as I found out later, often fleeting.

It’s a very different way of life, a very different culture that allows these incredibly small producers to exist. There is a very fine line separating them betweenback-wood moonshinersandsmall batch artisans”. From month to month, a single distiller may find itself on different sides of said line. When one depends on naturally grown, fresh greens and wild, airborne yeast for the process, Mother Nature often overrides human intention. Replacing these things with more standardized, industrial methods would change the end product.

The process, by its very definition, is unpredictable and inefficient. It’s what makes the spirits cheap andeasyto produce and also affordable to the masses. It’s also what typically creates the magic, when it happens, often entirely by accident. Unpredictable and inefficient are two qualities that ensure the likes of Diageo and Rémy Cointreau will go nowhere near thecategory”, hence destroying it. The likes of Signor Gargano may find an audience for these unpredictable, small batches of joy. There may also be other producers, besides Señor Carrera, whose processes create a more consistent, predictable product.

Perhaps it’s perfectly fine and right that these spirits stay with their terroir. They represent the art in spirit making. Art that is intended for consumption, like live music and theater, is ephemeral and not entirely replicable. They also tend to be the ones that come closest to transporting their imbibers to Nirvana. Perhaps it’s good impetus to get us to escape our back yards, travel, and learn something about other human beings; their culture; their fears, hopes and dreams; their favorite drink.


 

Aug 082021
 

Worthy Park out of Jamaica had been distilling and selling youngish estate rums under the Rumbar label since about 2015, and laying down aged stocks from their spanking new distillation apparatus for a decade before that, all while selling bulk rum for cash flow. The bartender’s rums they released had always gotten good press; and the indies were able to cherry pick some really good ‘uns from the aged sales over the years (like the terrific CDI 2007 7 YO)… but it did leave Worthy Park without some middle-aged offerings of its own, and relegated to something of a second tier bottler, lacking a killer app to vault it to the next level.

They needed it, they wanted it, they got it, in 2017, when they proved once and for all that it was no longer just a purveyor of bulk rum and bartender’s backbar staples, but a major new Jamaican distiller of uncommon quality. That was the year they assaulted the festival circuit of with three serious rums, one of which has become an instant wanna-have classic, and let me tell you, I still remember what that was like.

See, at every rum fest, there are dark shadowed corners where the rum hoods sullenly lurk and gather: they acknowledge each other with a dour “S’up?” and secret handshakes; they exchange and share treasured samples of the latest halo rum, or show off those they have no intention of parting with (sometimes a sniff is all you get). And always they discuss the unheralded stars of the show that have to be tried. That year, as in others, a rumour started and began to spread, about one rum. It was a Jamaican. An awesome Jamaican. The mutterings grew until it was a babble, glasses quivered and noses twitched, and like elephants at a watering hole, the bulls sniffed the air, sensing a disturbance in the Force.

Glasses were sourced, sniffed, snooted, sampled, swapped, and low muttered “holy sh*t!” exclamations were heard with increasing frequency. Significant looks were exchanged. A drift of the deep divers began to the back booths, slow at first but getting faster: because in the shabby corner over there by 1423, there was a new rum series that just had to be tried and the story was told that if that affable, bearded, vacationing Santa Claus running the booth liked you, or if you could bat your eyes just right at Zan Kong who was holding court right there, not only could you try the two official WP rums on display, you could be spotted a taste of a special under-the-counter juice that was simply off the scale. People were elbowing each other out of the way, they were so eager to get there before stocks ran out. I hadn’t seen anything like it since the stampede to get a snootful of the Caputo 1973, ten years ago.

Okay, so I exaggerate a little for effect, and because I can’t let a good story pass without a few embellishmentsbut not really. Because of the three rums I tried that day, and of the Worthy Park rums I’ve been fortunate enough to beg, borrow, bribe, blackmail, burglarize or sample since then, this thing remains a pinnacle among spirituous codpieces, sporting the sort of cachet and quality that launches small cults and distorts the GDP of small nations.

No, seriously. The rum was a cousin to the “Oloroso”, pot still made, the light WPL marque, aged in American white oak before being shipped to Denmark where it was further aged in a dry ex-Marsala cask, and bottled at one proof point higher (60% ABV, take that, milquetoast wannabes). It smoked and frothed and dripped off the still in 2012 and was therefore also around five years old. Only 319 bottles, alas, which meant that not everyone who wanted one would ever get one….but for those who did, what a rum they got. The bottle trembled as Zan poured neat drams, as if he feared it might detonate at any moment, and indeed, since that day I’ve heard rumours (probably unfounded, but who knows, right?) that the sound of a bottle of this stuff being cracked disturbs the shape of whole buildings slightly with a small sonic boom.

I can’t entirely discount such stories, because just sniffing the thing watered eyes and puckered noses (and other parts). The rum was hot, fierce to a fault and at pains to demonstrate it possessed the entire genome of Jamaican funk and Worthy Park badass, plus an extra chromosome for kick, just because, y’know, it could. It was salt butter creaminess spread over freshly toasted sourdough bread. It oozed caramel, bananas, citrus, spoiled oranges and apples way past their prime. The complexity was really something amazing, a forceful fruity cornucopia mixed in with spices that just kept on coming: over-ripe peaches, turmeric, and sweet-smoky red pepper, then back to the fruit salad again.

It was bottled at 120 proof of power and yet, when sampled all one tasted was firmness, strength, no sharpness, like it was twenty points lower. It laid down solid notes of flambeed bananas, overripe cashews, coconut shavings, a little brine and olives, and was creamy and aromatic in a very Jamaican-funk sort of way. There were sweet notes of peaches and pineapples in syrup, a fine background of lemon peel, spices again, apples and grapes and raisins all mixing it up in fine style with sweet bell peppers, rosemary and bay leaves. And it slowed down not the slightest when approaching the finish line: it was long, peachy, creamy, tart, spicy, salty, and still managed to cough up some caramel, lemon zest and tart apples at the close.

Five years old. If nothing else it showed the astounding quality of the Compagnie’s 7 YO had been no accident. It’s difficult for me to explain precisely what made it so good, and so memorable. The finishing was definitely a part of that, and in spite of the pot still action waning somewhat between nose and palate, the balance of the sweet with the salt with the umame and the tart, was completely stellar. Nothing dominated, everything got its time to shine, and there was a lot there to process. A lot. People throw around the word “complexity” far too casually these days, but here was a rum that really earned it.

See, the WP Marsala rum displayed a furious sort of weapons-grade rum-making mojo of a kind I had been seeing all too rarely. It rewards multiple tastings, and is a completely enjoyable dram to sip from start to finish. I’ve gone back to it constantly, in all the time between then and now, and it’s not that I had to do that to “understand” it, precisely, or “get it.” I get it just fine. But I had to return to realize how good it really is, how well it marries the smooth elegance of a well mannered socialite with the brutally assertive statement of a cane cutter’s cutlass. The strength may daunt, but the aroma beguiles, the palate seduces, and the quality of the whole is gradually made manifestand once that happens, you return to it like a totem of all the quality you want, and didn’t even know you were missing.

(#842)(90/100)

Aug 052021
 

Most independents who release rhums from Savanna, that distillery on Réunion which until five years ago was practically in rum’s ultima Thule, stick with their agricolesthe cane juice rhums, for which the distillery (and indeed the island) is best known. Once in a while a more adventurous indie will go and check out what they can do with their molasses based rums (like Rum Nation did with that badass 2011 7YO Traditionelle in 2018). Those occasional oddballs do succeed, but it’s the cane juice rhums that turn heads, because Savanna boosts and amplifies and juices them up to “12” by running them through the high ester still those boys use with such aplomb. And at the other end, some really good hooch gets wrung out.

Aside from Savanna’s own stable of rhumstheir expressions have bred like concupiscent lapinesthe indies and their audiences are having a field day with them. Rum Nation, as far back as 2016 and way ahead of the curve, had this one on the grid, and it was a good complement to their Caribbean expressionslaid down to rest in 2009, aged seven years and released to the festival circuit in 2016 and 2017. Surprisingly, almost nobody has reviewed the thing, which may simply be because of the lion’s share of the attention directed at Rum Nation was on other serious hooch on display that year: the Rares, the presentation-level Caroni 21 YO and that amazing 30 YO blended Jamaican, as well as the brawny 60.5% Traditionnelle, a year later.

So on the face of it, it seems to be another one of those really neat Rum Nation products that Fabio Rossi, the former owner, used to wryly refer to and toss off as “entry level”. 45% ABV, agricole, medium-youngish, nothing to write home about, Mommy would probably not be interested. And yet, and yet…it’s really quite a nifty piece of work.

Take, for instance, that lovely little nose it has. It is sweet, light, aromatic, with occasional whiffs of bubble gum and strawberries. There’s a touch of sweet rosewater and sugar cane juice, light caramel, nougat, almonds and marzipan. And as it opens up over the minutes (I kept this on the go for the best part of half an hour), it happily provides even more: citrus peel, pears, mangoes and green grapes. The estery touch of Savanna is there, never outsized or excessive, out to seduce not to bludgeon, and in that sense the strength is exactly right for its purpose.

The taste is where many rums show their chops and sink or swim: because not everyone really bothers to spend an inordinate amount of time nosing what is, in any event, a social drink. Happily, I can report that all is good here also: initial tastes of cereal, malty cream, seeming to be a dampened down and not as tightly crisp or tart as the nose suggests it might be. There are notes of fanta and citrus based fruit juices, hanging around with light vanilla, tamarind (this was a surprise), more marzipan, almost but fortunately never overstepping the point of vague bitterness. I must particularly mention the mint chocolate, oranges and a nice sweet creaminess at the back end, and the way it closed up shop: because that is where is many rums, satisfied they’ve given what they needed to, don’t think they need any kind of enthusiastic finale. Here we have a finish that is light, crisp, sleek, sweet and dry, nicely fruity (light cherries and pineapples slices in syrup), maintaining a delicate citrus action, adding some cereal hints, and ending the sip on a fading, demure note

This is a very impressive dram for something so relatively young and standard-proofed. It lacks the rough-hewn brutality of a full proof rum clocking in over fifty, yet it’s tasty as all get out, softly solid as a Sealy posturepedic, while paradoxically retaining a light and crisp character throughout all those fancy labial and olfactory perambulations. I think of it as an unappreciated little gem, and if still available, it’s a good buy. Sure, Savanna’s own Lontan and Grand Arome series are quite good (and the 2006 10 YO HERR remains spectacular), but you wouldn’t do yourself a disservice to try this one. It’s an approachable and affordable mid-range rhum that reeks esters while trying hard to pretend it doesn’t, all while serving up a strikingly lovely and winsome profile with sweetly understated verve and panache.

(#841)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Lots of unknown on this. The location of ageing is not precisely identified, though theAged in the Tropicson the back label strongly implies full Reunion ageing. Outturn is not mentioned, nor, surprisingly enough, is the distillery noted anywhere on the label. I was told Savanna back in the day (not Riviere du Mat or Isautier, the only other two distilleries on the island), and have an outstanding email to Fabio Rossi asking about the other details