Jul 222021
 

 

Poisson-Père Labat, who worked for the most part with blancs, blends and mid range rhums, came late to the party of millesime expressions – at least, so far as I have been able to establish – and you’d be hard pressed to find any identifiable years’ rhums before 1985.  Even now I don’t see the distillery releasing them very often, though of late they seem to be upping their game and have two or three top end single casks on sale right now.

But that has not stopped others from working with the concept, and in 2017 Velier got their mitts on a pair of their barrels. That was the year in which, riding high on the success of the classic Demerara rums, the Trinidadian Caronis and the Habitation Velier series of pot still rums (among others), they celebrated the company’s 70th birthday.  Though it should be made clear that this was the company’s birthday, not the 70th year of Luca Gargano’s association with that once-unknown little distributor, since he only bought it in the early 1970s. 

In his book Nomade Tra I Barili Luca – with surprising brevity – describes his search for special barrels from around the world which exemplified his long association with the spirit, sought out and purchased for the “Anniversary Collection”; but concentrates his attention on the “Warren Khong” subset,  those rums whose label designs were done by the Singapore painter. There were, however, other rhums in the series, like the Antigua Distillers’ 2012, or the two Neissons, or the Karukera 2008.  And this one.

The rhum he selected from Poisson-Pere Labat has all the Velier hallmarks: neat minimalist label with an old map of Marie Galante, slapped onto that distinctive black bottle, with the unique font they have used since the Demeraras. Cane juice derived, 57.5% ABV, coming off a column still in 2010 and aged seven years in oak.

It’s a peculiar rhum on its own, this one, nothing like all the others that the distillery makes for its own brands. And that’s because it actually tastes more like a molasses-based rum of some age, than a true agricole. The initial nose says it all: cream, chocolate, coffee grounds and molasses, mixed with a whiff of damp brown sugar. It is only after this dissipates that we get citrus, fruits, grapes, raisins, prunes, and some of that herbal and grassy whiff which characterizes the true cane juice product. That said I must confess that I really like the balance among all these seemingly discordant elements.

The comedown is with how it tastes, because compared to the bright and vivacious effervescence of the Pere Labat 3 and 8 year old and the younger blends, the Velier 7 YO comes off as rather average. It’s warm and firm, leading in with citrus zest, a trace of molasses, aromatic tobacco, licorice and dark fruits (when was the last time you read that in a cane juice rhum review?), together with the light creaminess of vanilla ice cream. There’s actually less herbal, “green” notes than on the nose, and even the finish has a brief and rather careless “good ‘nuff” vibe to it – medium long, with hints of green tea, lemon zest, some tartness of a lemon meringue pie sprinkled with brown sugar and then poof, it’s over.

Ultimately, I find it disappointing. Partly that’s because it’s impossible not to walk into any Velier experience without some level of expectations — which is why I’m glad I hid this sample among five others and tried the lot blind; I mean, I mixed up and went through the entire set twice — and Labat’s own rums, cheaper or younger, subtly equated or beat it, and one is just left asking with some bemused bafflement how on earth did that happen? 

But it’s more than just preconceived notions and thwarted expectations, and also the way it presents, samples, tastes. I think they key might be that while the rhum does display an intriguing mix of muskiness and clarity, both at once, it’s not particularly complex or memorable –  – and that’s a surprise for a rhum that starts so well, so intriguingly.  And consider this also: can you recall it with excitement or fondness? Does it make any of your best ten lists? The rhum does not stand tall in either people’s memories, or in comparison to the regular set of rums Père Labat themselves put out the door. Everyone remembers the Antigua Distillers “Catch of the Day”, or one of the two Neissons, that St. Lucia or Mount Gilboa…but this one? Runt of the litter, I’m afraid. I’ll pass.

(#838)(83/100)


Other Notes

Jul 082021
 

After a successful debut in around 2016, the Transcontinental Rum Line, the indie bottler offshoot of La Maison du Whisky in Paris, has faded some from public view, though they continued to release rums as late as 2020).  That said, with current distribution in the US and parts of Asia, it may see something of a resurgence with that increased awareness. And that’s a good thing: as with all indies of a diverse portfolio of rums it’s a bit hit or miss, but overall they have done pretty well.

La Maison was formed by Georges Bénitah in 1956, and has had a long history with spirits — particularly the importation and distribution of rare whiskies. From what I gather, Georges’s son Thierry and Luca Gargano had (and continue to have) a long and amiable relationship — so the eventual joining of forces into the joint venture La Maison & Velier, which now distributes Velier rums in France, was perhaps inevitable.  Still, before that happened, LMDW was interested enough in the rising popularity of the indie single-cask rum scene in Europe to branch out on its own, and the TCRL range was launched in 2016 with a mix of various “standard” rums all indies seem to prefer, at either cask or standard strength. 

Leaving aside the unoriginal selections from all the usual locations (Fiji and Australia were welcome aberrations, admittedly), what distinguished them right off the bat was their visual imagery and marketing strategy, which was and remains centered around the pictures of the luxury ocean liner which graced their labels, accompanied by old fashioned text font. In the style and the evocation of this era of restrained Edwardian pomp (even if it wasn’t, see other notes, below) one felt a certain genteel sensibility, as one did, for example with the bare and faded yellow labels of Berry Bros. & Rudd.

So, this rum, from Belize. The major distillery of note on Belize is Travellers (Copalli is a new up and comer), which makes the Travellers 1-barrel, 3-barrel and 5-barrel rums for which they are best known, as well as the excellent Don Omario Vintage 15 year old (some backstory for the curious is in the 1-barrel review). This rum dripped off a column still in 2005, and was aged for nine years there before being shipped to Europe for an additional two years ageing, and for whatever reason, they decided to release the two-cask-output of 792 bottles at 46%.

Given the lightness of the profile, that may not have been accidental1, because the rum, even with all that tropical ageing, was soft and warm and pillowlike, completely without the sullen potential for violence displayed by, say, a young pot still Jamaican sporting high proof, dreads and a ‘tude. It presented, I’m afraid, a nose of few surprises: toffee, white chocolate, and some coconut shavings, all very easy and relaxed.  A few minutes later it was joined by vanilla, almonds, ice cream and pears, all quite solid, just unassertive and not really trying be overly complicated.

This restrained, lean-back-in-the-berbice-chair simplicity carried over on the tongue as well, and I wish they had beefed it up some, to be honest – it gave up tastes of coconut shavings again, caramel, honey, nougat, peaches in syrup, cherries and chocolate oranges, which expanded with some water to introduce a chocolate/coffee vibe that was nice, just not particularly unique in any way.  It all moved sedately and quietly into a finish of no real length or strength, which merely repeated these distinct, simple notes, and faded out with warmth and charmth. Yawn.

It’s…well, it’s fine. Tasty little rumlet. But a straightforward presentation of such relaxed and quiet tastes is pretty much what I’ve gotten bored with, with Latin-style rons as a whole. There’s not much real fun in the whole thing, little challenge — though I fully concede this is a hot-weather rum, to be had when force and striking power is not the objective.  By that standard, it’s a very pleasant sundowner sip, and I think the key to enjoying it fully is to pick the right time and place and mood to have it. As it turned out, I had it on a hot July day in Berlin and wasn’t in a mood to play around with its laid-back aw-shucks style, so its charms were unfortunately lost on me.

(#835)(81/100)


Other notes

  • One has to be a little careful about touting the “originality” of the labelling, because the same ship, a reproduction of a painting of the Queen Mary 2, appears on multiple labels and it wasn’t until somewhat later – the 2020 releases referred to above – that each bottle got its own ship. The sensory ethos and evocation of a past time embodied in those ships, the style of painting and the labelling font, remained the same, though

  • I particularly appreciate the extra information the back (and now the front) label – the division of how much time it spent ageing in tropical vs continental climes, the still, and particularly the other bottles in the range (referred to as “lines”, like it was a shipping concern going off to exotic locales…one wonder what they would have done of somebody in the marketing department liked trains).

 

Jul 012021
 

When I looked at Moon Import’s middling Jamaica rum there was no background information as to which one of the several Jamaican distilleries made it – but here, since Guyana only has the one, we can move on and start complaining about a separate issue unique to the country, namely, which still does it come from? One can only sigh and acknowledge that a reviewer’s job is never done.

The “Remember” series was begun in 2015 by Moon Imports, an Italian independent bottler formed in 1980 by the Genoese Pepi Mongiardino, a sometime disciple of that grand old man, Sylvano Samaroli, whose business he took over in 2008 when Mr. Samaroli found no-one in his own family to continue the enterprise.  The two brands continue to be clearly separated, oddly enough. Like several other Italian distributors, Mongiardino began with whiskies and occasionally branched out into other spirits – cognac, gin, wine, and of course, rums.  Nothing I’ve read suggests that rum is a major thing with Moon — and while they have been releasing rums since 1990 in various ranges, most of them from Guyana, they tend to be rather hit and miss. The 1974-2004 30 YO Demerara Sherrywood rum was amazingly fine, for example, but a 23 YO Versailles released a year later was nowhere near that good and thus far I’ve been unimpressed by the “Remember” series, older or newer.

In 2015, when this rum was bottled as one of the four inaugural “Remember” rums, Moon imports had still had not caught the wave of popular fan enthusiasm (as attended Velier, say, or Samaroli). Smelling this column (“patent”) still Demerara rum illustrated some of the issues: it was too weak, and altogether too unremarkable – dusty and fruity, dark prunes, blackberries and pomegranates, plus overripe strawberries, watery pears and a few slightly pungent off notes, about which the best that could be said was at least you remembered them. There was a faint lushness to the aromas, just gone too quickly to develop properly and make a serious impression.

The palate started well, it must be conceded. 45% was and is not that strong or rambunctious, just firm, and the rum presented smoothly enough, dry, with tobacco, wet hay and sherry notes. With a touch of water (added more out of curiosity than necessity) some dates, caramel and ginger were noticeable, and a bit of well-oiled leather, anise and brown sugar. Then, it just kind of faded away into a completely indeterminate weak finish that reminded me of a porto infused cigarillo, and vanished like a dream in the sunlight of morning.

The rum was curiously indeterminate and lacked that sense of purpose and clarity that would make it stand out in a crowd, make a drinker sit up and take serious notice, perhaps pour another glass to check. That it was a rum was the best that could be said. There was fair bit of something there, just nothing much of anything, and that was surprising, because as a general rule, independent bottlers of any stripe tend to be rather good at such releases. But here I could barely be bothered to remember a rum so perfectly serviceable which was at the same time so utterly forgettable. Which makes the title kind of unfortunate.

(#833)(80/100)


Other Notes

  • Thanks and a hat tip to Sascha Junkert for both of the Moon Import “Remember” samples.
  • Though not stated, I think the rum comes from the French Savalle still – a “patent” still (as noted on the label) is continuous, but the Enmore wooden coffey still seems a stretch for what I tasted
  • Age is unknown…I’d suggest it’s ten years or so.
Jun 282021
 

 

In 2015, Moon Imports, one of the well known if somewhat second-tier Italian independent bottlers which was founded in 1980, released a new collection of rums called “Remember”, which at the time comprised of four rums – one each from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana.  With the exception of the agricole makers, Cuba and St. Lucia, then, the initial line represented the big guns of the Caribbean rum world. What exactly was to be “remembered” was another matter, mind you, since the rums were too recent and relatively young to commemorate anything or represent any kind of old tradition.  But it was evocative, no question, and the aura was and remains enhanced by the lovely artwork and design ethos, which company legend has it was inspired by drawings from an old 18th century German encyclopaedia, as redone by a contemporary artist Nadia Pini.

Moon Imports makes a thing on its website about sourcing its barrels in the Caribbean, but we must take that with a pinch of salt since wherever they were found, they were subsequently aged in Scotland and then released — so whatever their original tropical nature might have been, they would fail the Gargano test of (in situ) authenticity.  That doesn’t particularly bother me, since as I’ve mentioned before, there are enough continentally aged rums out there that compete handily with tropically aged ones. 

What does bother me is why Moon Imports bothered with the wimpy 45% ABV — as they have with almost all rums they have produced —  and why the information on the label of this first edition was so scanty. I mean, it was sweetly designed, but to say it was distilled in Jamaica (wherever on the island that might have been), on a patent still (another term for a continuous column still) and then go right ahead and exclude whether it was single barrel or blend, distilled in what year, aged how long, can only lead to annoyance frustration…and this might be why to this day the rum still sells (primarily on whisky sites) for under a hundred bucks. If I couldn’t tell the provenance or the age of a rum from a respected casa like Moon, I would probably pass on it too.

So we know it’s a 45% Jamaican rum bottled by Moon Import in 2015 after ageing in Scotland, and yet we’re clueless as to age, exact still-type, estate/marque, distillation date, single cask or blend, or outturn. Wonderful.

Let’s see if solace is to be found at the bottom of the glass: there may be redemption in hiding.  Nose first – not bad.  There’s a fair amount going on here – tobacco, glue, fresh sawdust, furniture polish and linseed oil (the sort you used to oil your cricket bat with, back when you thought you were the next Sobers). There’s some brine and olives and gherkins in vinegar there, gentling down to a smorgasbord of tart yellow fruit…mangoes, ginnips, pineapples, red grapefruit, that kind of thing, channeling something of a good dry white wine, though ultimately somewhat uneventful.  New Jamaicans may have spoiled our noses for this kind of subtler aroma.

Once tasted it’s clear to see it is a real Jamaican, because a certain funk comes quickly to the fore: thick fruity tastes of pineapple, strawberries, bubble gum, rotting oranges and gooseberries, bananas beginning to go.  An interesting amalgam of sharper light fruits and cream cheese and salted butter on a very yeasty bread.  It’s decent enough, just a touch unbalanced and not particularly earthshaking and the finish closes things off with a snap of light lemony crispness, a touch of tart funk, though it is a bit dry and rough and doesn’t last long enough.

It’s a completely decent-tasting, competently-made rum, this, even if you don’t know much about it. The truth is, I really don’t care what it is — I’ve had better, I’ve had stronger, I’ve had tastier, and a week from now I’d be hard put to recall anything particularly special about this one aside from the fact that it was a ‘good ‘nuff Jamaican made by Moon.’ That’s both a recommendation and an indictment, and I’m surprised that an independent bottler dating back forty years would release something so indifferently for us to try. Especially with a name like “Remember”, which it certainly doesn’t rate high enough to deserve.

(#832)(82/100)


Opinion

The rum is a good reminder that proud indie houses don’t always move with the times or understand the desires of consumers, and that you could say a whole lot of something but end up communicating nothing…and that ultimately, it’s the rum under the label and inside the bottle that matters, and not all such rums are good just because Sylvano’s disciple selected them.

Points aren’t deducted for a lack of informational provision – the rum is scored honestly based on how it sampled – but I really must confess to my irritation at not being entirely sure what it was I was scoring. Even if made six years ago, this should not be something I still have to complain about. I particularly dislike that the company’s website doesn’t see the need to provide any background on the rums it has released. It’s not an ancient maison dating back centuries, it was formed in my lifetime, it should have its damned records straight so we can tell what it was we’re buying.

Jun 212021
 

Over the last decade or so, there has been an ever increasing stable of small independent bottlers popping up.  Some produce one iteration of a rum and then fold; others associate themselves with a celebrity and produce rums in quantity, often blended, catering to the mid-to-low tiers of consumption; and some combine sales of blends with sales of high end single cask bottlings. Few stay exclusively with just releasing a few hundred bottles of a cask every now and then, because such releases are perhaps the hardest to market effectively and make money from. There is a crowded market already, and if one does not have a ready buyer on hand, it’s a money losing proposition, with very thin margins.

Indeed, most of the successful single cask indies eventually do one of two things: either they increase the amount of such bottlings, or they combine it with other sources of income that subsidizes or cushions any price shocks. That could be either another line of business altogether, like the SMWS and its “actual” business of whiskies, or other types of rums. 1423, Rum Nation, and Compagnie des Indes all follow the latter route. 1423 has the Companero and Esclavo line, Rum Nation had their blended starter rums (and their whisky business), and the Compagnie also dabbles in their own blends like the Tricorne, Dominidad, Veneragua or Caraibe.

So also does L’Esprit, the tiny company in Brittany which to me is one of the most unsung, underappreciated and underrated indies out there (together with Chantal Comte). Their original and perhaps main line of business continues to be whiskies, but the rums they put out the door are sometimes nothing short of amazing (like the white mastodons of the South Pacific Distillers and Diamond. Tristan Prohomme often releases two variants of the rums he bottles – one more or less diluted-to-standard proof version for three quarters of the outturn, and one barrel proof version for the remainder.  So there’s something for everyone and neatly squelches any comments (from snarky writers like me) about how the rums could be stronger, or weaker.

What we’re looking at today is a Haitian rum from the well known Barbancourt Distillery, column-distilled in 2004 and released in 2016 at a firm 46% that should appeal to most consumers.  I’ll bet that few know anything about it, however… unless they have read the review of its 66.2% twin, which garnered a hefty 86 points from me and another 87 points from WhiskyFun.  Was its lesser proofed sibling on that level?

I thought so, yes.  It was not as deep and intense as the stronger one, but this was to its advantage, because subtler notes I missed before came out more distinctly, without being bludgeoned flat into the ground by a high strength steamroller. The nose started off beautifully, with acetone, grass, lemon zest and the delicate herbals of a cane juice rhum (which this is).  There was a fat sort of philly-cheese-on-a-freshly-baked-bagel vibe going on, and it also nosed quite well, of herbs and cooking spices — and though fairly clean and light, it provided aromas that had a certain heft to them as well. 

The palate was also quite impressive.  Some fruit starting to go off (strawberries, mangoes, that kind of thing), faint vanilla and caramel, and delicate crispness of white and watery fruits: pears, guavas, watermelon, papaya. It lacked the authority and sureness I sensed on the aromas, but it was quite complex, as well as being distinct enough for individual bits and pieces to be picked out and appreciated, and the balance was excellent throughout. The finish was long and nicely dry, quite spicy, summing up the watery fruits, acetones, tartness and creaminess that had been the showcase of the nose and palate. 

This is a good rum: I liked it almost as much as the stronger 66.2%, but frankly, there’s not much to chose between them – the tastes and aromas are the same uniformly top notch experiences, just not as extreme.  The complexity and balance can hardly be faulted, and it’s just that I prefer the intensity and forcefulness of the cask strength rhum to this one.  Even so, I score the 46% version here about the same.  And really, let’s be clear: here is a rum in two choices for the buyer, that is all about preference and one’s individual taste. You could, without even looking, pick either bottle of this quietly released, well-made Haitian, and no matter which one ends up in your glass, still come up with a good drinking experience.

(#831)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Note the NEAT glass.  I was not, and remain, unimpressed.  A copita, or a glencairn, remains my tasting glasses of choice. If you want a dissertation on glasses and choices, Single Cask did a really good job in a two part series here and here.
  • Also, a nod of appreciation to the aesthetic of Tristan Prodhomme’s beautiful sampling kits. I really like those squared off little bottles. Full disclosure: Tristan and I traded samples here.
  • Whiskyfun scored it 86 points.  Leaving aside his scores and mine, the comparison of the two strengths of rhums from the same barrel  by both of us, is an interesting commentary on how varied proof points influence the assessment.
Jun 172021
 

 

Recapping some background for William Hinton — it is a Madeira based distillery with antecedents as far back as 1845; at one point, in the 1920s, it was the largest sugar factory on the island if not in Europe – but in 1986 it ceased operations for two decades, 1, and was then restarted in 2006 under the name Engenho Novo da Madeira, still making branded rum under the Hinton banner.  They make their own rums as well as exporting bulk elsewhere, which is how Fabio Rossi picked a few up for his Rare Rums collection back in 2017.

The company has three tiers of rum quality, with the lowest level being considered basic backbar “service” rums for mixing: there are three of these, from a 40% white we looked at in #829, a 9 months aged, and one that’s three years old. That 40% white was a flaccid agricole that could conceivably put a drinker to sleep out of simple boredom, but things get a lot more jazzed up and a whole lot more interesting with the premium or “Limited” level white (labelled as “Natural”). Neatly put, the two classes of rums generally and the two whites in particular, are night and day.

Some the stats of the two whites in the classes are the same – column still, cane juice origin…they are both agricoles. Fermented for 2-3 days with wild yeast (the other was 24 hours), and then run through that old refurbished column still that had been decommissioned (but kept) from the original estate at Funchal (Engenho do Torreão) when things shut down in 1986. And then, as if dissatisfied with this nod at tradition, they released the premium version without any ageing at all (unlike the “service” white which had been aged and then filtered back to transparency). It was also left at full strength, which is a serious attention grabbing 69%, enough to make the glass tremble, just a bit. 

That combination of zero ageing and high strength made the Edição Limitada blanco very much like some of those savage white rums I’ve written about here and here. And that’s a good thing – too often, when a company releases two rums of the same production process but differing proofs, it’s like all they do is take the little guy, chuck it on the photocopier and pressed “enlarge”. Not here. Oh no. Here, it’s a different rum altogether. 

The nose, for example, is best described as “serious” – an animal packing heat and loaded for bear: it starts with salt, brine, olives, wax, rubber, polish, and yet, the whole time it feels clear — fierce, yes, but clear nevertheless — and almost aromatic, not weighed down with too little frantically trying to do too much. A bit fruity, herbal to a fault, particularly mint, dill, sage and touch of thyme. There are some citrus notes and a warm kind of vegetal smell that suggests a spicy tom yum soup with quite a few mean-looking pimentos cruising around in it.

I particularly want to call attention to the palate, which is as good or better than that nose, because that thing happily does a tramping stomping goose step right across the tongue and delivers oodles of flavour: it’s like a sweeter version of the Paranubes, with rubber, salt, raisins and a cornucopia of almost ripe and fleshy fruits that remain hard and tart.  The taste is herbal (thyme and dill again), and also sports olives, vanilla, unsweetened yoghurt, and a trace of almost apologetic mint to go with the fruity heat. The finish is excellent — long and salty, loads of spices and herbs, and a very peculiar back note of minerals and ashes.  These don’t detract from it, but they are odd to notice at all and I guess they are there to remind you not to take it for granted.

The rhum, in short, is amazing. It upends several notions of how good a white can be and for my money gives Wray & Nephew 63% White Overproof some real competition in that category and even exceeds the Rivers Royale 69% out of Grenada, though they are different in their construction and don’t taste the quite same. The flavours are hot and spicy and there’s lots of them, yet they never get in each other’s way and are well balanced, complex to a fault and good for any purpose you might wish to put it. 

What this all leaves us with, then, is an agricole rhum that is powerful, herbal, floral and all round tasteful. It’s quality is in fact such a jump up from the “Service” white that I really must suggest you try the more premium rums, and this one, only after exploring the cheaper variants. Because if you do it the other way round you’ll really not want to have that much to do with the lesser parts of Hinton’s overall range. The Limitada excites that kind of admiration, and happily, it deserves every bit of it.

(#830)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • The rum is issued in lots (or batches), by year, and all front labels tell you which one it is (here it’s Lot #1 of 2017), though not how many lots in that year. Each such batch is 500 bottles or so — hence the “Limitada” in the name —  and both this and the bottle number is mentioned on the back label.
Jun 142021
 

William Hinton from Madeira is not a name to conjure with in the annals of rum, but this is not the first time they have come up for mention – their distillery produced the Engenho Novo da Madeira rum that Rum Nation released with some fanfare back in 2017. The following year the company of Engenho Novo, Hinton’s new incarnation (and not to be confused with Engenhos do Norte, producer of the “970 Agricola”) released some rums for themselves, and we’ll be looking at these over the next week or so.

Hinton classify their rums into three tiers: (1) the exclusive single casks, which are blends of 6YO “new Hinton” rums and 25 YO “old Hinton” rums from before the shutdown in 1986 (see below) which are then finished in various other barrels like wine or whisky or what have you; (2) the premium range which consists of two rums, an award winning 6 YO and a high proof white; and (3) the bartenders’ mixes, for general audiences, which their website refers to, in an odd turn of phrase, as a “service rum.” One of that final category is the white rum we’re examining today.

The white is a cane juice agricole – a term which Madeira has a right to use – but it is not unaged.  While the site does not specifically say so, I was told it’s under a year, around six months, in French oak casks 1. It is bottled at 40%, column still, so nothing “serious”.  It’s made fit for purpose, that’s all.

Unfortunately that purpose seems to be to put me to sleep. Dare I say it is underwhelming? It is a soft and extremely light white rum with very little in the way of an aromas at all.  It’s delicate, flowery and admittedly very clean – and one has to seriously pay attention to make out some flowers, dill, herbs, grass, sugar water and wet moss (!!), before it disappears like a summer zephyr you barely sensed in the first place

The palate is better, and remains light and clean. It has a queer sort of dusty aroma to it, like old library books stored in long disused storage room. That gradually goes away and is replaced with a dry taste of cheerios, and some fruits.  Almonds and a curiously faint whiff of vanilla. I read somewhere that this white is  made to service a poncha — a very old cocktail from Portugal’s great seafaring days invented to combat scurvy (rum plus sugar plus lemon juice, and some honey) — not so much to replace Bacardi Superior … though you could not imagine them being displeased if it did.  Drinking it neat is probably a nonstarter since it’s so wispy, and of course there’s not much of a finish (at 40% I wasn’t looking for one). Briefly fruity and floral, a quick whiff of herbs, and it’s gone. 

Although it has some very brief tastes and aromas that I suppose derive from the minimal ageing (before the results of that process got filtered right back out again), the white displays little that would make it stand out. In fact, while demonstrably being an agricole, it hardly tastes like one at all. It’s what I’m beginning to refer to more and more often as a “cruise-ship white”, a kind of all-encompassing milquetoast rum whose every character has been bleached and out so its only remaining function is to deliver a shot of bland alcohol (like, say, vodka) into a mixed drink for those who don’t know or don’t care (or both).

That said, honesty compels me to admit that there was some interesting stuff in the wings, sensed but not seen, a trace only, perhaps only waiting to emerge at the proper time, but alas, not enough to save it. The premium series probably address such deficiencies, and if so, it was a smart move to separate the generalized cocktail fodder (which this is) from a more upscale and dangerous version aimed at more masochistic folks who’ll try anything once.  If you want to know the real potential of Hinton’s white rum, don’t stop and waste time dawdling with this one, go straight for the 69% and be prepared to have your socks blown off.  Unless you like soft and easy whites, I’d walk away from this one.

(#828)(75/100)


Background & History

It’s long been noted that sugar cane migrated from Indonesia to India to the Mediterranean, and continued its westward march by being cultivated on Madeira by the first half of the 15th century.  From there it jumped to the New World, but sugar remained a stable and very profitable cash crop in Madeira and the primary engine of the island’s economy for two hundred years. At that point, with Brazil and other Portuguese colonies becoming the main sources of sugar, the focus of Madeira switched to wine, for which it became renowned (sugar cane production continued, just at a reduced level). 

The British took some involvement in the island in the 1800s, which led to several inflows of their citizens, some of whom stayed – one of these was William Hinton, a businessman who arrived in 1838 and started the eponymous company seven years later.  First a sugar factory was constructed and a distillery was added — these were large and technologically advanced and allowed Engenho Hinton to become the largest sugar processor on the island, as well as the largest rum maker (though I’m not sure what rums they actually did produce) by the 1920s. 

Unfortunately, by the 1970s and 1980s as sugar production became more and more industrialized and global, more cheaply produced  sugar from Brazil and India and elsewhere cut into Hinton’s sales (they were part of a regulated EEC industry, so low-cost labour was not an option), and by 1986 the factory and distillery closed and the facilities were mothballed – the website gives no reasons for the closure, so I’m making an educated guess here, as well as assuming they did not sell off or otherwise dispose of what bean counters like me like to refer to as “plant”.

It was restarted by Hinton’s heirs in 2006 as Engenho Novo de Madeira with a column still and using Madeira sugar cane: here again there is scanty information on where this sugar cane comes from, their own property or bought from others. Whatever the source, the practice of using rendered sugar cane juice (”honey”) continued and notes from a brochure I have state that the column still was one restored in 1969 and again in 2007, suggesting that when the distillery closed, its equipment remained intact and in place.


 

Jun 082021
 

The Stroh 160 is the North American version of the famed Austrian 80º punch in the face.  In Austria, where it was first made in 1832 by Sebastian Stroh when he came up with the “secret combo of herbs and spices” (sound familiar?), it remains a cultural institution and has actually got some form of a protected designation there. In Europe it is seen as a bartender’s mix for ski resorts because of its use in the hunter’s punch, or Jagertee, while in the US its use centers around cocktails like Polynesian- or tropical- themed drinks that require an overproof rum — that said, my own feeling is that in the last decade it has likely seen a falling popularity in such uses, since powerful high-ABV rums from Guyana and Jamaica have become more common and accessible (my opinion only). 

That it is strong and an overproof is never seriously in doubt, because even a gentle sniff provides all the redemptive power of a sledgehammer to the kneecap, and all the attendant subtlety of the follow-up question that encourages you to spill the beans. This subtlety (in rum terms) is mostly composed of vanilla ice cream and some breakfast spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice. It does present a few additional notes of light citrus, sour yoghurt, perhaps ginger.  But all that doesn’t really matter – the force of the ABV and the omnipresence of vanilla just flatten everything else, so maybe it’s just my overactive imagination kicked into overdrive by the heat and the intricate contortions of my burnt-out nasal passages that provide the notes.

Strictly speaking, no sane person of common sense drinks an overproof like this neat, since the punch bowl or cocktail is where it is destined anyway, but your fearless and witless reviewer has never been known for either, so here goes. To taste, it’s a raging maelstrom of not-much-in-particular. Again, the vanilla, no getting away from that; some salt, crushed almonds, butterscotch, caramel and cinnamon. A whiff of lemon zest zooms past. There’s really not much else here, and overall, it tastes quite straightforward — a spiced rum boosted with C4. The finish, however, is epic. It lasts forever, and clearly the makers were inspired by Stroheim, because you could walk into “Greed,” take a sip of this stuff from your hip flask, and still be belching out vanilla fumes at the end. 

Stroh has, since about 2016 or so — certainly since my original review in late 2012 when I named it a spirit — ceased using neutral alcohol (some references suggest grain alcohol, others beets) to form the base of its flagship product and begun to use alcohol distilled from molasses. This is what allows it to use the word “rum” on the label now.  However, since this bottle hails from North America and dates back to 2017, what might not pass muster in Europe could possibly find fewer obstacles out west, since the TTB has never been known for either understanding or rigorous enforcement of logic in allowing rum labels through its gate.

I’m okay with calling it a rum, as long as the molasses origin is true. In any event, I’ve always taken the position that such casual castoffs from all the major spirits categories deserve a resting place, the poor bairns, and so I gather them into the fold.

Even with the spices, It qualifies as a rum tasting drink…sort of. Scoring it, I was surprised to see I came up with pretty much the same points as eight years ago. Can’t really do otherwise, mind: it has rummy notes, the spiced flavours are reasonably well integrated, it tastes decent enough once it calms down and you find your voice; and on a cold night this thing would warm you up faster than your significant other could dream of. The Stroh is not a complete failure by any means, just a very strong, polarizing one that some people will like and others won’t. I kind of don’t, but almost do, and maybe that’s just me.

(#827)(74/100)


Other Notes

  • It is unknown where the molasses originates, or where the distillation takes place.  Since early records state that Stroh had a distillery in Klagenfurt, it’s possible they buy the molasses and do it themselves.
  • Ageing of any kind is also unknown. My money is on “rested, not aged.” No proof, though, so if anyone knows something concrete, leave a comment.

Other Notes – Background on Inländer rums and Stroh

Stroh may have great name recognition, but in modern rum circles there’s always been that air of slightly seedy disreputability about it, in spite of how long it’s been around. Few have actually written anything about the stuff, and even the Old Guard early online writers like Tatu Kaarlas, Dave Russell, El Machete, Matt Robold, Josh Miller, Scotte, Rumpundit and Chip Dykstra never got around to penning a review. And on reddit there isn’t a whole lot beyond people’s traumatized recollections or timid inquiries, as if nervous the rum might hear.

So what is Stroh, exactly, and who makes it?

The company and its eponymous product is an Austrian spiced / flavoured spirit that is one of the last surviving remnants of the European spiced and inländer (domestic) “rums” from the mid 1800s, that were sometimes known as rum vershnitt. The two types of rums are now clearly separate, however with modern Austrian/EU rules defining what a “Domestic” rum can be. Back in the day, the distinction seems to have been much more fluid and even interchangeable.

The category varied: some were cheap base rums or neutral spirits which were then boosted with high ester Jamaican rums for kick and character; others, like Stroh, added herbs and spices and flavourings and called it a recipe, a proprietary formula. The large colonial nations like Britain and France and Spain, with secure sources of molasses and rums of their own, saw no reason to go down this road, which is why Stroh and its cousins remains a peculiarity of Central Europe in general, and Germany and Austria specifically (Flensburg in north Germany was particularly famed for this kind of “rum” and had several large and well known companies which made them). Inländer rums were extremely popular in the pre-WW2 years, and one can still find their descendants (Tuzemak, Badel Domaci, Casino 50 and Croatian Maraska Room); I believe that Rhum Fantasias from 1950s and 1960s Italy were an offshoot of the practice, though these are now artifacts and no longer made in quantity, if at all.

As noted, Stroh was formed in 1832 in southern Austria and eventually located itself in Klagenfurt, the main town of the region. Its recipe proved very popular and for the next century and a half it continued under the direction of the family members.  Various changes in design and presentation and bottle shapes were introduced over the decades, and different strengths were sold (at this time there are five variants – Stroh 38, Stroh 40, Stroh 54, Stroh 60 and Stroh 80 – these numbers represent ABV, not US proof). The company grew steadily up to the 1980s and expanded its sales internationally, and eventually sold itself to the Eckes Group in the mid-1990s.  Eckes was an oils, tartar and spirits production company founded in 1857, and went into fruit juices in the 1920s as well, and after German unification the company re-oriented itself so decisively with fruit juices that is divested itself of the spirits portion of the business, which allowed the CEO, Harold Burstein to initiate a management buyout of Stroh and reorganize it. That’s where things are now. 


 

May 272021
 

Image provided courtesy of Jörn Kielhorn

Cadenhead’s defiantly massive codpiece, this 73.6% Mudland slugger, was among the strongest rums they ever unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, in 2003 1; it took no prisoners and provided no apologies and was stubbornly, intransigently, mulishly what it was – an undiluted can of pure whup-ass.  It must have scared the living bejeezus out of so many people when it was released, that all existing bottles were carefully hidden and buried and squirelled away, and blood oaths were sworn to preserve forever the silence of the grave upon its owners. 

Few rums this powerful outside the famed 151s were ever issued in the days before The Age, a genteel time of light and inoffensive blends, when noses were sniffily raised at the agricoles’ overgenerous 50º, and when 46% was considered shockingly outré, almost uncouth…not really fit for civilized company.  Even Velier, who practically redefined what Demeraras could be, balked at going too far in the proof direction back then. And yet, the Cadenhead rum really wasn’t that bad – though it must be mentioned that the growly ABV was to some extent also to its detriment.

That it exuded wild pot-still badassery in all directions was beyond question, and its nose was at pains to demonstrate it wasn’t bluffing. It was pungent. It was sharp. It threw around enormous notes of brine, pineapple, citrus, gooseberries and 5-finger.  Some caramel.  Some vanilla. There were other hints of sorrel, anise and hard Thai yellow mangoes, and yet, oddly, hardly any of the standard spicy and lumber-related aspects that could have been expected from the Versailles single wooden pot still of origin. Paradoxically, the very strength that may have recommended it to many, proved a vehicle to mask the subtleties of the still of origin.

And it didn’t slow down in the slightest when sipped, landing on the tongue with a kind of blunt force trauma that might actually be illegal in some states. Heavy salt caramel ice cream, red olives and brine, leather, oaky spice and aromatic tobacco led the charge.  Fruits were there, both sharp and ripe — prunes, blackberries, black grapes, apples — but these receded, fast, and were briefly replaced by anise, molasses and white chocolate almost too buried under the avalanche of oomph to stand out. The tastes of black bread and sour cream, cream cheese, honey, tobacco, plus a last welcome taste of strawberries and whipped cream weren’t bad at all, just too damned fleeting to be appreciated before poof, they vanished. 

Image provided courtesy of Jörn Kielhorn

Points for the finish which calmed the **** down: it was long and warm instead of crazy hot, creamy with caramel, toffee, salt, chocolate plus coffee grounds and aromatic tobacco — so, in brief, really nice — but the fruits that should have acted in counterpoint, were, alas, long gone. 

All that said, we’re talking about a pretty complex rum here, lots of stuff careening off the wall, with a sort of supercharged glee that might be displayed by a portasan to which someone strapped wheels and a jet engine.  That’s the problem, for me, it’s too much show and no go, and even letting it rest was insufficient to tone it down and allow a more leisurely examination of its profile.  The strength was there, it squatted toad-like on the senses, and it masked nuances a slightly weaker drink might have showcased more effectively (so water was a must with it).

But I’ll give it a guarded recommendation anyway – as one friend of mine says, he prefers the VSG taste profile over any other Demerara, so a rum like this is definitely for those like him – though I think care should be taken here, and as with all Versailles rums, it will be hit or miss for many.  After all, just because it’s enough of a bruiser to intoxicate Opthimus Prime does not elevate it to cult status, and is no reason to casually get one yourself just because it does. 

(#824)(83/100)


Other Notes

This thing had some interesting effects: it made me realize that I can’t count properly, as my list of 21 of the strongest rums in the world now contains 33; that Cadenhead doesn’t just not have a list of what the letter-marques on their Dated Distillation series mean, but don’t have a comprehensive list of their releases either and (c) their staff are really quite helpful and want to assist in such obscure quests even at the expense of their own sanity.

My remarks in the opening paragraph relate to the rum’s almost complete lack of an online footprint – until this review takes off, you will find only a single reference to it.  So some thanks are in order, to all those people who helped me trace the thing. Alex Van der Veer, cheapeau mon ami. Morton Pedersen over at the Cadenheads fans’ FB page, thanks. Nathan and Mitch at Cadenhead (UK), appreciate your time and effort; same goes to Angus and Kiss in the Denmark shop, who really tried.  And most of all, Alex (again) and Jörn Kielhorn, who got me the pictures I needed.

May 202021
 

These days, most rumistas are aware of the Scandinavian company 1423 and their upscale rum brand of the SBS (Single Barrel Selections, even though they sometimes aren’t). In the last five years this small Danish outfit has become a much bigger Danish outfit, not just bottling the upmarket connoisseur’s series of the cask strength single barrel releases, but whole blended lines like the Compañero rums, and occasionally horse trading barrels and supplies with other companies (the Romdeluxe R.1 Wild Tiger, for example, was originally a 1423 import).

But back when this Barbadian rum came on the scene in 2016, they were known primarily in Denmark, even though they had already been in the business of bottling and distribution for eight years by then and had had some success on the larger European rum scene. Not surprisingly, they bought and buy barrels from European brokers (like Scheer, of course…after all, who doesn’t?) and perhaps what enthused them about the Bajan barrel were the stats: distilled in 2000 at WIRD, sixteen years old, a solid 54%, enough for 224 bottles, and deriving from a pot still. That last might have clinched the sale, since most of what the drinking public was getting from the island at that point was pot-column blended rum.  A pot distillate was something rather more interesting.

The year 2000 delivered quite a few Barbadian rums from WIRD to the indie scene: Serge looked at a Cave Guildive 2000-2015 version in 2017 (87 points), one from Whisky Broker a year later (86). Single Cask Rum has probably reviewed the most, here, here, here and here, with the attendant curiosity of referring to them as originating off the Rockley Still when they likely are not (see discussion below this post). Be that as it may, they were and remain quite unique in taste, and this one was no different.  The initial nose, for example, started off very traditionally with papaya, bananas, fresh whipped cream…and some light petrol, diesel on a hot asphalt road, and tar fumes. There were hints of something medicinal, iodine-like and almost peaty notes, but very much in the background (where it belonged, trust me). Resting and coming back suggested we had just gone down the rabbit hole and entered the Hatter’s Tea Party: cookies and cream with some green tea, cucumber sandwiches on white bread (no crusts), delicate florals, light fruitiness and it was all I could do to not to think that this had one of the most completely weird aromas I’d experienced in quite a while — which is not, you understand, a bad thing…just an unexpected one.

Anyway, it must be said that the taste was better behaved. Again there was that fruity line coiling around the slightly heavier creamier notes. Citrus, tangerines, kiwi and pears set alongside vanilla, salt caramel, dark honey and Danish cookies. Also bananas and papayas plus a touch of tart and unsweetened yoghurt, very well balanced.  The medicinal, rubber, petrol and tar notes took a step backward here, so that while they could be sensed, they didn’t overwhelm – still, they distracted somewhat, and the integration into the greater whole wasn’t of the best. The finish was fine, redolent of iodine and soya, gherkins and again, all those light fruits and a touch of whipped cream and cookies.

The rum, then, was quite original, and now, reading around the other reviews of that year’s products after tasting mine, it doesn’t seem my experience was unique. This was certainly some kind of pot still action, and while it could have been made better, it wasn’t a bad rum. Last week I remarked on the weakness and flaccidity of a standard strength 8YO WIRD rum released in 2003 at 42%.  I always hesitate to put the blame of such mediocrity solely on the level of proof and years spent sleeping — because many other things impact profile, light rums do have their charms, and those who specialize in wines and lower strength spirits can often find much to enjoy there.  But when one tries another WIRD that is aged twice as long and nearly half again as strong, from another still, the impacts of age and strength and apparatus are undeniable. The SBS Barbados 2000 is not a top tier rum, it’s still seeking a balance it never finds – but it sure isn’t boring, or forgettable.

(#822)(85/100)


Notes – The Rockley “Still”

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 this rum specifically as simply coming from a “pot still” at “West Indies” – one assumes they were still getting their knowledge base up to scratch at that point, and 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.


 

May 162021
 

More than a few rums of Secret Treasures’ “classic” era with those distinctive labels, were all bottled in the year 2003.  When we consider that for years – decades, actually – the original owner of the brand, Fassbind, had been making grappa, schnapps and other spirits, then it’s not too surprising to consider that when they first went into rums, they didn’t mess around with a single barrel bottling, but picked up a number of casks all at the same time and released them simultaneously. So far I can’t find any references to rums from ST released prior to 2003 so I think we can reasonably date the inception of their rum line to that year.

The biography of the company is reprinted below the review, and I’ll simply provide the basic details: this is a WIRR (or WIRD) rum, with the type of still not mentioned (see Other Notes, below) in 1995, on the island of Barbados.  The ageing location is also unknown – Secret Treasures has noted for some others in this series, that they bought barrels that had been aged in situ, but that’s not enough for me to make the claim for this one. Oh and it was reduced down to 42% ABV, which was in line for the period, where producers were nervous about going higher at a time when standard strength was all distributors were often willing to accept (both Richard Seale and Luca Gargano faced this problem with many of their very early releases).

Therefore, what we have here is an interesting rum from the recent past which is something of a curiosity – too “young” to warrant the archaeological excitement of a truly old rum from forty or more years in the past, yet not current enough to be eagerly snapped up by today’s Barbadian fanboy.  In fact, it’s kind of fallen through the cracks. 

Can’t say I blame them. The rum is no great shakes. The nose is good enough – in fact, it could be argued it’s the best part of the experience – a little flowery, nutty, nice background of a caramel milk shake. I liked the spices coiling gently around stronger aspects of the profile, mostly vanilla, cumin and masala. There’s a touch of lemon peel, a little glue and acetones, light fruits – pears, papayas, mangoes, ripe oranges.  Nothing outstanding, just a nice, solid nose.

To taste, it’s warm, an easy drink.  For today’s more seasoned palate, it is, in fact, rather thin…almost unappetizing. I think there may be some licorice here, but it’s so faint I can’t be sure. Crushed walnuts, molasses, cereals, caramel, nougat. Some whipped cream over a dialled down fruit salad with the flavours leached out. The crispness of some apples and green grapes mixing it up with the blandness of bananas, watery pears and papaya, and believe me, that’s pushing it.  Finish is completely meh.  Short, warm, redolent of grapes, papaya, and a touch of the spices but the vanilla, molasses, pineapple and other tart notes is pretty much gone by this stage. 

As with most rums predating the current renaissance, which almost all need a bit more boosting to reach their full potential, I believe that the flaccid strength is the undoing of this rum for the modern aficionado. The nose is fine – faint, but at least clear and discernible – and it’s all downhill to near-nothingness from there. But I say that from my perspective, and those who have always stayed with the 40% rums of the world will find less to disappoint them, though I would suggest the rum retains some of that Goldilocks’s Little Bear characteristic of Barbadian rums in general.  At the time it was made, neat sipping was less the rage than a good mixed drink in which rums were not permitted to have too much character of their own, so that might account for it.

Secret Treasures has never really been a huge mover and shaker on the indie rum scene. They have almost completely dropped out of sight (and weren’t that well known even before that), stay in small markets with their current blended rums, and the promise of their initial single cask bottlings is long gone.  If it wasn’t for long-ignored old and mouldy reviews (including this one, ha ha, yeah you can sit back down there in the peanut gallery, fella), I doubt anyone would remember, know, or much care. But in a way I wish they had stuck with it.  There’s interest out there for such things and while their selections were never top tier, consider that so many releases all took place in the early 2000s, at the same time as Velier’s and Rum Nation’s first bottlings, preceding 1423, the Compagnie, L’Esprit and all those others making waves in 2021. Even if they aren’t that well regarded now, I argue that for history and remembering the first indies, it’s occasionally useful and informative to try one just to see how the world has turned, and dammit, yes, drink it for nostalgia’s sake alone, if the other reasons aren’t enough.

(#821)(80/100)


Other notes

  • A bottle of this went for £50 on Whisky Auction website in September 2018.
  • Outturn was 1258 bottles, from three casks
  • The still: it’s not mentioned on the bottle or Haromex’s website. It tastes, to me, like a pot-column blend, not aggressive enough for the pot, not light and easy enough for pure column.  Amazon’s German site refers to it being pot still, but that is the the only such extant reference (it was confirmed that there was an operational pot still at WIRD in 1995). No other source mentions the still at all (including Wikirum and RumX). We’ll have to take it as unanswered for now

Historical background

Initially Secret Treasures was the brand of a Swiss concern called Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) — who had been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer” distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what remains Switzerland’s oldest distillery. 

They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and branched out into rums in the early 2000s but not as a producer: in the usual fashion, rums at that time were sourced, aged at the origin distillery (it is unclear whether this is still happening in 2021), and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conformed to the principles of many of the modern indies. 

Fassbind’s local distribution was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, a Swiss distributor, yet they seem to have walked away from the rum side of the business, as the company website makes mention of the rum line at all. Current labels on newer editions of the Secret Treasures line refers to a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off as neither Swiss concern has any of the branded bottles in their portfolio.

Certainly the business has changed: there are no more of the pale yellow labels and sourced single barrel expressions as I found back in 2012.  Now Secret Treasures is all standard strength anonymous blends like aged “Caribbean” and “South American” rum, a completely new bottle design and the Haromex logo prominently displayed with the words “Product of Germany” on the label.


 

May 132021
 

There are some older bottles in the review queue for products from what I term the “classic” era of the Swiss / German outfit of Secret Treasures, and it’s perhaps time to push them out the door in case some curious person ever wants to research them for an auction listing or something.  Because what Secret Treasures are making now is completely different from what they did then, as I remarked in my brief company notes for last week’s entry on the “Carony” rum they released in 2003.

In short, from a traditional indie bottler who exactingly and carefully selects single barrels from a broker and bottles those, the company has of late gone more in the direction of a branded distributor, like, say, 1423 and its Companero line. That’s not a criticism, just an observation: after all, there’s a ton of little single-barrel-releasing indies out there already – one more won’t be missed – and not many go with the less glamorous route of releasing blends in quantity, though those tend to be low-rent reliable money spinners.

But returning to Secret Treasures’ rums of “the good old days”. This one is from Venezuela:  column still product, 42% ABV, 1716 bottle outturn. The label is in that old-fashioned design, noting the date of distillation as 1992 and the distillery of origin as Pampero — but it should be noted there is a “new-style label” pot-still edition released in 2002 with a completely different layout, sharing some of the same stats, the reason for which is unknown. As an aside for the curious, the Venezuelan Pampero distillery itself was formed in 1938 and remained a family concern until it was sold to Guiness in 1991; it is now a Diageo subsidiary, making the Pampero series of light rums like the Especial, Anejo, Seleccion and Oro. Clearly they also did bulk rum sales back in the 1990s.  

So that’s the schtick. The rum tasting now. Sorry for the instant spoiler, but it’s meh. The nose is okay and provided one has not already had something stronger (I had not) then aromas of caramel, creme brulee and toffee can easily be discerned, with some light oakiness, dark chocolate, smoke and old leather.  A touch of indeterminate fruitiness sets these off, some unsweetened yoghurt, plus vague citrus — and that word is a giveaway, because this whole thing is like that: vague.

Tasting it reinforces the impression of sleepy absent-mindedness. The rum tastes warm, quite easy, creamy, with both salt and sweet elements, like a good sweet soya sauce. Caramel and toffee again, a hot strong latte, oak, molasses and a nice touch of mint. The citrus wandered off somewhere and the fruits are all asleep. This is not a palate guaranteed to impress, I’m afraid. The finish is odd: it’s surprisingly long lasting; nice and warm, some molasses, coffee, bon bons, but it begs the question of where all the aromas and final closing tastes have vanished to.  

You’re tasting some alcoholic rummy stuff, sure, but what is it? That’s the review in a nutshell, and I doubt my score would have been substantially higher even back in the day when I was pleased with less. You sense there’s more in there, but it never quite wakes up and represents. From where I’m standing, it’s thin tea — a light and relatively simple, a quiet rum that rocks no boats, makes no noise, takes no prisoners. While undeniably falling into the “rum” category, what it really represents is a failure to engage the drinker, then or now – which may be the reason nobody remembers it in 2021, or even cares that they don’t.

(#820)(78/100)


Other notes

  • Comes from a blend of four barrels
  • Sold on Whisky Auction for £50 in 2018. Rumauctioneer’s May 2021 session has a “new design” blue label bottle noted above, currently bid to £17

Historical background

Initially Secret Treasures was the brand of a Swiss concern called Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) — who had been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer” distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what remains Switzerland’s oldest distillery. 

They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and branched out into rums in the early 2000s but not as a producer: in the usual fashion, rums at that time were sourced, aged at the origin distillery (it is unclear whether this is still happening in 2021), and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conformed to the principles of many of the modern indies. 

Fassbind’s local distribution was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, a Swiss distributor, yet they seem to have walked away from the rum side of the business, as the company website makes mention of the rum line at all. Current labels on newer editions of the Secret Treasures line refers to a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off as neither Swiss concern has any of the branded bottles in their portfolio.

Certainly the business has changed: there are no more of the pale yellow labels and sourced single barrel expressions as I found back in 2012.  Now Secret Treasures is all standard strength anonymous blends like aged “Caribbean” and “South American” rum, a completely new bottle design and the Haromex logo prominently displayed with the words “Product of Germany” on the label.

 

May 102021
 

In the maelstrom of ongoing indie releases coming at us from every direction almost every month, it’s easy to overlook some of the older rums, or even some of the older companies. Secret Treasures is one of these — I had discovered their charms on the same trip where I found the first Veliers, all those long years ago, at a time when the concept of independent bottlers was a relatively small scale phenomenon. Back then I bought the company’s Enmore 1989, and both Grandma Caner and I liked it so much we polished off the thing in under a week, and started looking around for more.

Over the years I bought a few others, got a few samples and reviewed the few I scored, and then ownership changed.  The last rums Haromex (the new distributor) put out the door  before they changed the ethos of the brand was the twin St Lucian John Dore and Vendome pot still rums in 2014 and subsequent releases were radically different. The company and the Secret Treasures brand has faded from view since then, and few consider their rums great finds (when they consider them at all) as other, newer indies jostle for the place it once held (for a more complete historical picture, see below)

This is where I’m supposed to make some nostalgic Old Fart kind of comment where I wax rhapsodic about the long forgotten and unappreciated rums of yore, undisovered steals and diamonds in the rough which weren’t appreciated at the time by the aggressive young rum pros of today, blah blah blah.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. The rum – a Caroni, one of a few released – fell unaccountably short of the high bar set by Velier and other independents, and remains a forgotten, forgettable curiosity, noted more for the associated name than any intrinsic quality it possesses itself.

Let’s do the tasting, then, to demonstrate why somehow this thing falls down flat. The nose gives a promising indicator of things to come, but which don’t.  It immediately reeks of the characteristic petrol, tar and road asphalt in hot weather which so defines Caroni.  It is dry and sere and surprisingly hot for a near-standard-proofed rum (42% ABV), dark and with notes of sugar water, rubber, acetones, fruits – unripe red cherries and strawberries, pears and ripe green apples.  There is also a touch of vanilla and light molasses, but nothing strong or overpowering.

A salty sweet sugar water greets the tongue with warmth and firmness.  All the fleshy and watery fruits we’re familiar with parade around – pears, watermelons, white guavas, papaya, kiwi fruits, even cucumbers all take a bow.  A trace of olives and occasional whiff of strawberries and petrol are barely noticeable, so one can only wonder where, after such a promising beginning, they all vanished to. Eloped, maybe. Certainly they bailed and left the rum with nothing but memories and a good wish to lead to its inevitably disappointing denouement, which was short, breathy, light and watery, and barely registered some vanilla, brine, a fruit or two and exactly zero points of distinction.

Secret Treasures did put out a few really exceptional rums — their lack of marketing, lack of visibility and lack of distribution mostly relegated them to obscurity (the Enmore 1989 mentioned above is a case in point) — and as is usually the case with small volume bottlers, the outturn of the original line was somewhat hit or miss, and not everything they bottled was gold. This Trini rum was something of a waste of time, for example, weak, unfocused, undistinguished, practically anonymous.  Oh it was a rum all right, identifiable as a Caroni, just not much of one. Perhaps it should have been left in the barrels a few more years. Many more years. And then finished in sherry casks. And then spiced up. Then it might have had a profile I’d actually notice. But then again, maybe not. 

(#819)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn 1304 bottles.  Distilled 1996, bottled August 2003 in Switzerland. The unproven implication is that it was completely aged in Trinidad.
  • The Ultimate Rum Guide notes it as being a “West Indies Distillery” without further elaboration, and the accompanying photo is wrong. I’ve left them a note to that effect
  • Richard Seale remarked in a FB comment on this review, “Age is an important factor in the latter day success of Caroni. This one may also be blended with neutral spirit – this was a practice in Trinidad – blending an aged rum with neutral spirit but keeping the age claim!”

Historical background

Initially Secret Treasures was the brand of a Swiss concern called Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) — who had been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer” distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what remains Switzerland’s oldest distillery. 

They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and branched out into rums in the early 2000s but not as a producer: in the usual fashion, rums at that time were sourced, aged at the origin distillery (it is unclear whether this is still happening in 2021), and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conformed to the principles of many of the modern indies. 

Fassbind’s local distribution was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, a Swiss distributor, yet they seem to have walked away from the rum side of the business, as the company website makes mention of the rum line at all. Current labels on newer editions of the Secret Treasures line refers to a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off as neither Swiss concern has any of the branded bottles in their portfolio.

Certainly the business has changed: there are no more of the pale yellow labels and sourced single barrel expressions as I found back in 2012.  Now Secret Treasures is all standard strength anonymous blends like aged “Caribbean” and “South American” rum, a completely new bottle design and the Haromex logo prominently displayed with the words “Product of Germany” on the label.


 

May 032021
 

This is not the first Demerara rum that the venerable Italian indie bottler Moon Import has aged in sherry barrels: the superb 1974 30 Year Old, and several other over their limited rums releases, have also shared in this peculiarity.  However, the results are somewhat hit or miss, because while the 30 YO scored a solid and deserved 90 points, this one doesn’t play in that league, however well-aged it may be. It’s entirely possible that this is because the rum is not an Enmore still rum at all, as the label implies, but from the Versailles single wooden pot still.

One wonders if the rum’s profile can settle this, since I’ve noted that labels from Moon Import tend to be rather careless in their wording (when a Port Mourant rum can be referred to as a “rum agricol” you know somebody is asleep at the wheel). Is this Versailles pot or Enmore coffey? Indifferent rum-geeks around the world want to know.

Let’s take a hard look at the dark gold-brown 46% ABV rum, then. The aromas are not helpful: there’s some dialled down licorice, aromatic tobacco, leather and smoke at the beginning, but none of the characteristic raw lumber, sawdust and pencil shavings of the Enmore still.  The fruits are dark and piquant – prunes, blackberries, stewed plums, plus unsweetened chocolate, coffee grounds and salted caramel. It’s more raw and intense than the DDL’s own Enmore 1993 22 YO  from the first release of the Rares, and I have to admit that Moon’s rum had more in common with DDL’s Versailles 2002 13 YO than the Enmore itself. In particular, the attendant notes of musty cardboard, fried bananas and overripe pineapple do not suggest the coffey still.

What about taste? Oddly, for a nose that bugled its own assertiveness, the palate is much less aggressive, and really lacks heft in the trousers. Still, there’s something there: the old worn leather of sweaty Clarke’s shoes, some more dark fruits (raisins, dates, prunes, all very ripe); briny tastes, caramel, unsweetened molasses, sweet soya sauce.  Not much else, and that’s disappointing, really.  Even continentally aged rums can have more complexity than this. And what of the sherry influence? Not a whole lot, sorry to report, marked mostly by its inconclusiveness, leading to a finish that is tolerably pleasant (it’s not sharp or bitchy), warm, fruity, bready (like a hot yeasty loaf fresh out of the oven) but really not that distinguishable.

So on balance, I’d suggest Moon Imports  really is a Versailles single wooden pot still rum – too many of the subtle Enmore notes are missing (I’ve argued before it’s a bit more elegant than the other two stills which tend to a more elemental brutalist profile). Is it worth the £150 it sold for on Rumauctioneer in September 2019?  That’s harder, since everyone has favourites, not just among the stills, but the indies that release them and the years from which they hail. I’d suggest that for a rum from the 1980s, for its historical value (1980s single cask rums are getting rarer all the time), released by Moon Import which has a long history of careful selections, yes, it is.  For the taste profile and its proof point, perhaps not so much. 

(#817)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin has probably reviewed more 1988 Enmore rums than anyone else around (six, covering a period of many years) and nowhere does he mention any confusion between the two stills.  Marius Elder of Single Cask Rum and Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind probably did the best listings of them all, including (where known) whether they were Versailles or Enmore still rums, but neither has reviewed many yet (note that links provided here require searching for “1988”).
  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann of Denmark for the sample

Opinion

Moon Import’s website provides nothing on this rum, perhaps because a web presence wasn’t a big thing back in 2011, perhaps because good records weren’t being kept, or perhaps (worst of all) because accurately curating one’s back catalogue is not seen as anything important…a not-uncommon attitude among indies to this day, and one capable of driving me into transports of rage any time it is casually tossed out there for popular consumption. When will it ever become common for these old houses to properly research and list their older releases, and why is it considered of such low importance? FFS, people….

That kind of information is needed, because, again like the Moon’s PM 1974, the label is a problem.  There was only a single 1988-2011 release made, and that’s this one with the bird on the label, noted as being an Enmore….and yet is also stated as being a pot still product. The RumAuctioneer item description from September 2019 says it’s a Versailles because “…the Enmore distillery closed in 1993, with its wooden coffey still and the Versailles still moved first to Uitvlugt and then to Diamond in 2000…” Which is true except that a label mentioning a rum as being both an Enmore and a pot still clearly does not have unambiguous lock on historical detail, not least because there was also a still called the Enmore still onsite at the same time.  So which factoid are we to take as the right one?

Moon Import could rightfully say “both” – the Versailles still was at Enmore, so putting one name and one still type on the label is completely correct. Maybe I’m being overly critical.  But consider that these details have a way of spreading to other informational sources that are also now being referred to as research tools. The new app Rum-X correctly notes this as being an Enmore (Versailles) distillery rum and a 660 bottle outturn….but then goes on to say it was distilled on a Double Wooden Pot still, which of course is neither of the other two, but the PM still, thereby exacerbating the confusion. An ebay listing in Italy didn’t mention the still of origin at all. 

For the majority of rum drinkers, this is a complete non-issue.  They’ll see the years, the age, the indie, and buy it (or not) if they can.  For the discerning deep-diving rum fan who counts his money very carefully before dropping that kind of coin on an old rum, the lack of consistency, and confusion about the details, is a potential deal breaker. If you can’t nail the provenance down concretely, then it’s a dangerous buy, and that goes for a lot more than just this one rum.

Apr 292021
 

The small Martinique brand (once a distillery) of Dillon is not one which makes rhums that raises fiercely acquisitive instincts in the cockles of anyone’s hearts, if one goes by the dearth of any kind of online commentary on their stuff. When was the last time you saw anyone, even on the major French language Facebook rhum clubs, crow enthusiastically about getting one? And yet Dillon has a complete – if small – set of rhums: aged versions, blancs, mixers etc.  And those that I have tried (not many, which is my loss) have been quite good. 

Today’s subject is not a distillery brand, but from one of the independents, Florent Beuchet’s Compagnie des Indes.  Long time readers of these reviews will know of my fondness for Florent’s selections, which mix up some occasionally interesting offbeat rums with the more common fare from Central America and the Caribbean that all the indies bottle.  For example, there was the Indonesian rhum released in 2015, the recent 10-Cane rum, rums from Fiji, some from Guadeloupe, and even Guatemala. 

So here is a rhum from Dillon, which nowadays has its distillation apparatus located in Depaz’s facilities (see biographical notes, below), and this makes Dillon more of a brand than a complete cane-to-cork operation. It’s a single barrel offering, 2002 vintage which was aged in Europe for 9 years of the total of 13, bottled at a quiet 44%. Note that two Dillon barrels were bottled in 2015, MA56 with a 298-bottle outturn, and MA67 with 322, but my sample didn’t mention which it was so I contacted the source, the Danish rum tooth fairy Nicolai Wachmann…and it was MA67 for those who absolutely need to know.

Whatever the case, I must advise you that if you like agricoles at all, those smaller names and lesser known establishments like Dillon should be on your radar. Not all of the rhums they make are double-digit aged, so those that are, even if farmed out to a third party, are even more worth looking at. Just smell this one, for example: it’s a fruitarian’s wet dream. In fact, the aroma almost strikes me like a very good Riesling mixing it up with a 7-up, if you could conceive of such an unlikely pairing. Lighter than the Savanna HERR and much more delicate than even a low-strength Hampden, it smells crisp and very clean, with bags of pineapple slices, green grapes, apples, red grapefruit, bubble gum and lemon zest, all underlaid by a nice nutty and creamy white chocolate and some vanilla and flowers.

Strength is a major component of the assessment of a rhum like this.  44% is the wrong ABV for a woody and character-laden deeper rum like, say a Port Mourant (I think – your mileage may vary), but for a lighter and more scintillating agricole such as the Dillon, it’s spot on. Much of the nose bleeds over to the taste: sprite, grapefruit, lemon zest, pineapples, strawberries, and also ripe mangoes, green grapes, apples, pears and a touch of cinnamon and vanilla.  At first it feels too light, too easy, but as one gets used to the underlying complexity and balance, a really well-assembled piece of work slowly comes into focus. And this is the case even on the finish: it’s tight, medium-long, and always completely under control, never overstaying its welcome, never being bitchy, never hurrying off before the last bit of flavour – citrus peel, vanilla, whipped cream, pineapples – is showcased.  

In short, though released some years ago and getting harder to find, I think this is one of those rhums that got unnecessarily short shrift from the commentariat then, and gets as little now – because it’s something of a steal. Dillon may be off the map for all those people who love posting pictures of their latest acquisitions from Hampden, WP, Fiji, Foursquare or the ultra-aged indie-release of a wooden still rum; and it barely registers in comparison to better known agricole makers like Saint James, Clement, Damoiseau, Neisson or JM (among others).  I just think it should not be written off quite so fast — because even for a single barrel release where singular aspects of the cask’s profile is what led to its selection in the first place, it’s a flavourful, well-layered, well-balanced dram that is at that a near perfect strength to showcase its attributes. And there are really quite a lot of those, for anyone desirous of checking out a lesser known marque.

(#816)(86/100)


Other notes 

Dillon was established in 1690 when the site of the distillery in Fort de France was settled by Arthur Dillon, a soldier with Lafayette’s troops in the US War of Independence. A colonel at the age of sixteen, he married a well-to-do widow and used her funds to purchase the estate, which produced sugar until switching over to rhum in the 19th century. 

The original sugar mill and plant was wiped out in the 1902 volcanic eruption of Mont Pele, and eventually a distillery went into operation in 1928, by which time there had been several changes in ownership.  In 1967 Bordeaux Badinet (now Bardinet / La Martiniquaise Group) took over, the mill closed and the original Corliss steam engine and the creole column still was sent up the road to Depaz…so nowadays Dillon continues growing its own cane, but the distillation and bottling is done by Depaz, which is owned by the same group.

Dave Russell of Rum Gallery, who actually visited the distillery, remarked that the creole single column still is still in operation and is used specifically to make the Dillon marque, perhaps in an effort to distinguish it from Depaz’s own rhums.

Apr 222021
 

One of the things that irritates me about this blended rum from Guyana which Rum Nation released in 2019, is the carelessness of the front label design.  I mean, seriously, how is it possible that “British Guyana” can actually be on a rum label in the 21st century, when Guyana has not been British anything since 1966 and when it was, it was spelled “Guiana”? Are designers really that clueless? And lest you think this is just me having a surfeit of my daily snarky-pills, think about it this way: if they couldn’t care enough to get their facts right about stuff so simple, what else is there on the label I can’t trust?

Still: I am grateful that the back label is more informative. Here, it is clearly spelled out that the rum is a blend of distillate from the French Savalle still, the (Enmore) wooden coffey still and the (Port Mourant) double wooden pot still, and this blend was aged for four years in the tropics (in British Guyana, one may assume) before undergoing a secondary European maturation for six years in ex-oloroso casks, and then decanted into 2,715 bottles, each at 56.4% ABV. What this is, then, is a bottling similar to DDL’s own experimental blended Rares, which has dropped completely out of sight since its introduction in 2019. A similar fate appears to have befallen this one since I don’t know the last time I saw one pop up at auction, let alone on social media.

But perhaps it’s an undiscovered steal, so let’s look deeper.  Nose first: it’s surprisingly simple, even straightforward. It’s warm and thick, and represents the wooden stills in fine style – dusty, redolent of breakfast spices, oak and vanilla at first, then allows additional aromas of coffee grounds, raisins, dried orange peel dark fruits, licorice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the oloroso influence is dominating though, and in fact it seems rather dialled down, which is unexpected for a rum with a six year sleep in sherry barrels.

I do, on the other hand, like the taste. It’s warm and rich and the Enmore still profile – freshly sawn lumber, sawdust, pencil shavings – is clear. Also sour cream, eggnog, and bags of dried, dark fruits (raisins, prunes, dried plums) mix it up with a nice touch of sandalwood. It takes its own sweet time getting the the point and is a little discombobulated throughout, but I can’t argue with the stewed apples, dried orange peel, ripe red guavas and licorice – it’s nice. The finish is quite solid, if unexceptional: it lasts a fair bit, and you’re left with closing notes of licorice, oak chips, vanilla, dried fruit and black cake.

Overall, it’s a good rum, though I believe it tries for too much with the three stills’ distillates and the long sherry barrel ageing.  There’s a lot going on but it doesn’t quite snap together into a harmonious whole. There’s always too much or too little of one or other element here, the sherry influence is inconsistent at best, and it keeps charging around in a confusing mishmash of rum that tastes okay but never settles down to allow us as drinkers to come to grips with it.  This is an observation also levelled at DDL’s experimental rares, by the way, but not Velier’s “blended in the barrel” series of later Guyanese rums which set the bar quite high for such blends. 

Clearing away the dishes, then, consider it as a decent blend, something for those who want to take a flier on an El Dorado rum that isn’t actually one of them, or a less expensive, younger Velier blend.  Think of it as a stronger and slightly older version of ED’s own 8 Year Old, lacking only DDL’s mastery of their blending practice to score higher. That is at best a guarded endorsement, but it’s all the rum really merits

(#814)(82/100)


Background

Rum Nation is that indie rum company founded by Fabio Rossi back in 1999 in Firenze (in NE Italy), and if they ever had a killer app of their own, it was those very old Demeraras and Jamaican “Supreme Lord” rums which were once wrapped in jute sacking and ensconced in wooden boxes. Rum Nation was one of the first of the modern rum independents that created whole ranges of rums and not just one or two single barrel expressions: from affordable starter bottles to ultra-aged products, and if they aged some of their releases in Europe, well, at the time that was hardly considered a disqualifier.

By 2016, however, things had started to change. Velier’s philosophy of pure tropically-aged rums had taken over the conceptual marketplace at the top end of sales, and a host of new and scrappy European independents had emerged to take advantage of rum’s increasing popularity. Rum Nation took on the challenge by creating a new bottle line called the Rare Collection – the standard series of entry level barroom-style bottles remained, but a new design ethos permeated the Rares – sleeker bottles, bright and informative labelling, more limited outturns. In other words, more exclusive. Many of these rums sold well and kept Rum Nation’s reputation flying high.  People of slender means and leaner purses kept buying the annual entry-level releases, while connoisseurs went after the aged Rares.

Two years later, Fabio was getting annoyed at being sidetracked from his core whisky business (he owns Wilson & Morgan, a rebottler), and he felt the indie rum business was more trouble than it was worth. Too, he was noticing the remarkable sales of the Ron Millonario line (a light bodied, rather sweet rum out of Peru), which, on the face of it, should not be anywhere near as successful as it was. And so, finally, he divested himself of the Rum Nation brand altogether, selling out to a small group of Danish investors.  He kept the Millonario brand and has an arrangement to rep RN at various rum festivals (which was how I saw him in 2019 in Berlin), but the era of his involvement with the company formed two decades earlier, is now over.  

…which might explain why the label was done that way.

Apr 082021
 

2016 seems like such a long time ago with respect to Hampden rums.  Back then we got them in dribs and drabs, from scotch whisky makers (who could rarely be bothered to mention the distillery) and the occasional indie bottler like Berry Bros. & Rudd, Compagnie des Indes, Rom Deluxe, Renegade or Murray McDavid. That all changed in 2018 when Velier concluded a deal to be their worldwide distributor and the PR machine roared into overdrive.  Since then, Hampden has become one of the boutique rums du jour, and they sell out almost as fast as the Foursquare ECS rums.

Back in 2016, though, this wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Hampden was known to the cognoscenti of course, those superdorks who paid close attention to the indie scene, knew their Caribbean distilleries cold and bought everything they could…but not many others from the larger mass market cared enough about it; and anyway, supplies were always low. The distillery was ageing its own stock and continued to sell bulk abroad, so most independents sourced from Europe. That’s how SBS, the geek-run rum arm of the Danish distribution partnership 1423, picked up this barrel.

SBS itself was only created in 2015, seven years after its parent came into being, to cater to the boys’ fascination and love for pure rums. Their business had gone well by this time and they decided to branch out into their first love – “our core DNA,” as Joshua Singh remarked to me – single barrel rums. And they picked up this continentally aged rum which had been distilled in Hampden’s pot still in September 2000 and bottled it in October 2016 in time for the European festival circuit, which is where my rum tooth fair Nicolai Wachmann picked it up and passed some on to me. 202 bottles of this 16 year old rum came out of the barrel and was left as is, at a cask strength of 58.9%.

Clearly, with the explosion of interest in both the SBS range and Hampden over the years, this is something of a find. It’s quite rare, seems to be relatively unknown, and has only turned up once at auction that I could find, and fetched a cool £150 when it did.  But when I tasted it, I thought to myself that these guys knew their sh*t, and chose well.  Consider the opening salvo of the nose – it felt like the Savanna 10YO HERR all over again (and that’s a serious compliment).  It had esters puffing and squirting in all directions, very light and clean.  A warm exhalation of rubber on a hot day, dunder and funk, formed a bed upon which sparkling notes of red currants, strawberries, crisp yellow mangoes, unsweetened yoghurt and over-sweet bubble gum competed for attention. It had that kind of cloying sweet to it, leavened with some sharper brine and olives and rye bread left to go bad and was the diametrical opposite of the rather dour and dark Caronis or PM Demeraras.

It was, however, on the plate, that it shone. This was a rum to savour, to enjoy, to treasure.  It was a solid, serious rum of surprising complexity: just shy of hot, tasting of brine, avocados, kräuterquark, salt crackers, interspersed with pineapple slices, kiwi fruits and the tartness of unripe peaches and more mangoes.  There was a wisp of vanilla in there, some faint white chocolate and nuts and caramel ice cream that somehow stopped just short of softening things too much, and allowed the crisp tartness to remain.  As for the finish, it didn’t falter – it was long and hot (in a good way), and reminded me again of the HERR, though perhaps it was a shade deeper, tasting nicely of salted caramel, bananas, pineapples, fanta, cinnamon and lemon peel.

In short, quite a serious all-round rum, not quite so savage as to scare anyone away, while powerful enough to distinguish it from standard strength rums aimed at the larger non-expert rum drinking audience. 58.9% is a near perfect strength for it, permitting full enjoyment of the nuances without any pain. Could it be mixed? Probably…though I wouldn’t. Hampden has always managed to produce rums that — whether aged in Jamaica or in Europe — set the bar a bit higher than most others; and though nobody comes right out and says so, part of the attraction of a rum so bursting with flavours is to have it neat and wring every tasting detail from every drop. This is the way most people speak of Hampden rums now that Velier is distributing them, but it was no less true in 2016. 1423 sure picked a winner that year.

(#811)(88/100)

Mar 042021
 

If two rums from the same company were made the exact same way on the same still, there are just a few things that would explain any profile variations. There’s the still settings themselves, because one rum might have different “cuts” than the other, or from higher or lower plate; there’s the proof point, stronger or weaker, at which either is bottled; and then there’s the barrel strategy, which is to say, the barrel itself and the duration of the rum’s slumber therein.

Last week I looked at a 12 year old Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum from Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, which came off their column still in some undisclosed year and was then aged in ex-bourbon barrels in Central America for more than a decade before being diluted down to a milquetoast 40%.  The 335 bottles of this Nicaraguan rum released by the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society were also 12 years old but allowed to flex the glutes at a solid 55% ABV, was in so many ways a better rum that one can only wonder at the difference. After all, isn’t tropical ageing supposed to be better? Stuff made at the distillery of origin from cane to cork should be benefiting from the voodoo of location, yet clearly that didn’t happen here.

I mean, consider the profile from start to finish.  This SMWS rum was deep and forceful from the get go.  Caramel and toffee melded well with a woody component.  Dark fruits and raisins waft across the nose and combined with some apple cider, threatens to overwhelm the smell…but the toffee, caramel, oak, chocolate and tart yoghurt end up carrying the day.  It’s a bit sweet, with some bitterness after a while, and an emergent strain of coconut and marzipan, with the whole thing getting both darker and sweeter the longer it’s nosed

Palate?  Not bad at all. It’s woody, more so than the Flor de Caña product (and this is something  about their rums many have commented on before); caramel and bitter chocolate wrestle for dominance with dark Russian peasant bread. “It’s kind of like a thin Blairmont and without the complexity,” remarked my friend Marco, who was tasting it unenthusiastically with me (he was not a fan). I disagree there, because when you leave the rum alone for a while (okay fine, I forgot about it and checked it again an hour later, so sue me) it actually provides some nice notes of coffee, brown sugar, apples and vanilla – these temper the slight oaky bitterness we sensed, and while overall I think it is rather simple and the finish just repeats the chorus of notes from above, it’s a pretty powerful statement for the company…and what it could be doing.

I have no way of knowing in which year the Flor 12 was made – company-made blends like that stay stable for long periods and are tweaked to make them that way – and so a comparison between a continentally aged rum from a single barrel selected by a whisky maker, and a blended, easier product continuously being made by the distillery, lacks true comparability or real meaning; and will without question taste differently. And that’s even without going into the oft-repeated doubts as to whether even back then, their rums truly aged for X years.

And yet, and yet….perhaps it should not taste that different. The shared DNA should be clear, there should be points of similarity that would permit a reasoned comparison to be made, the family tree to snap into focus. Here, that’s hard. If pressed, I’d say I felt this one was less like the 12 and more akin to the superlative blue-bottled 15 year old “21” I’ve always liked — but that one was also quite different from other Flor products (it was an anniversary bottling, never repeated).

So taking all that into account, what made the SMWS rum from Nicaragua so relatively good? Maybe they really were made at different times and in different ways and came off the still already more like second cousins than brothers. But assume for a minute that they were the same up to that point:  given the similarity in age, similarity in barrels and assumed sameness off the still, the only thing left to consider is the wide divergence of the proof point, and the ageing location. The 40% TA variant is faint, lacklustre and ultimately boring – it in no way provides the complexity and solidity of tastes the CA 55% does.  

I’m not trying to make a case for continental over tropical (aside from pointing out how pointless the discussion is from a taste perspective) – but I will go on record for suggesting that maybe one reason Flor de Cana can’t seem to increase its market share or get a bigger footprint on the connoisseur’s mindset, is because they have not had the guts to stake out the full proof market for their products, or even issue a limited edition series of single cask releases. And what that means is that other, smaller independents are stealing the thunder and reaping the rewards that by right should have been theirs. All because they couldn’t be bothered to move away from the traditional philosophy of their blenders.

(#806)(85/100)


Other notes’

  • Simon over at the Rum Shop Boy liked the rum, and made some interesting comments in his conclusions: he suggested that its quality disproves the oft-cited myth that lighter column still spirits require dosage to be truly palatable; and also, that a higher proof is a completely acceptable way of delivering more flavour punch to the rum.
Feb 252021
 

Back in 2013 when I wrote about the Scotch Malt Whisky Association’s release R3.4 Barbados 2002 10YO “Makes You Strong Like  Lion”, several people went on FB and passed the word around that it wasn’t a Foursquare rum, which was hardly needed since I noted in the review that it was from WIRD, and the Rockley Still. Four years later the SMWS did however, decide that the famed Barbados company shouldn’t be left out and bottled an aged rum from Foursquare (the first of two), named it R6.1, and gave it one of their usual amusing titles of “Spice At The Races.” One wonders when they’re going to try for a Mount Gay distillate, though I’m not holding my breath.

Now, for years, every rum geek in the observable rumiverse (bar a few of my acquaintances who don’t drink kool aid) has formed up behind the oft-repeated idea that there is no way a continentally aged rum is the equal of one left to sleep in its island or country of origin. I’ve always taken that statement with a pinch of salt, for two reasons: one, its adherents always talk about taste and age, yet it’s actually touted for social and economic reasons, which is a point often lost in the shuffle; and two, I’ve simply had too many aged rums that ripened in both places for me to be so dogmatic in my assertions, and I’ve seen as many failures as successes in both. Ultimately, it’s the taste that counts no matter where it’s bottled.

This pale yellow rum cost around £75 when initially released, was 57.3% and with a 210 bottle outurn, aged for a solid 14 years old (yes, in Europe) , illustrates the problem with making such sweeping “four legs good, two legs bad” generalizations, because it’s a really a fine rum in its own peculiar way, and one I enjoyed a lot.

Consider first the nose, which opens with the firm assertiveness of my primary school teacher wielding her cane. It smells of sawdust, dusty cardboard, glue, has an odd medicinal touch to it, and also a nice smoky-sweet sort of background. Then the fruits begin their march in: orange peel, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, some light cherries and peaches. The citrus line, augmented with other sharper aromas of persimmons and ginnips provide a lovely through-line, and the smokiness and leather lend an intriguing edge.

The taste is admittedly odd at the inception; my first notes speak of a pair of old, well used, polished, leather shoes (with socks still in ‘em). This is not actually a bad thing, since it is balanced off by ginger, mauby and some rich fruit notes – apples, guavas, almost ripe yellow Thai mangoes – and these make it both tart and delicately sweet, gathering force until it becomes almost creamy at the back end, with a sort of caramel, port, molasses and vanilla taste to it. This is one of these cases where the finish lingers and doesn’t do a vanishing act on you: it’s slightly acidic and tart, with vanilla, oak, smoke, unsweetened yoghurt and a touch of delicate florals and fruits. Nice.

So, a couple of points.  Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged-Mind, who was sampling it with me, and who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the various Bajan rum profiles, wondered if it was even a Foursquare at all (I chose to disagree, and accept the rum as stated).  Also, It’s unclear from the labelling whether it’s a pure pot still distillate, or – more consistent with Foursuare’s own releases – a blend of pot and column.  Rum Auctioneer classed it as a pot-column blend.  The bottle remains silent. The Rum Shop Boy, one of the few who’s reviewed it, noted it as pot still only in one part of his review, and a blend further down (and didn’t care much for it, as a matter of interest). However, he further noted in an earlier Kintra Foursquare review some months before, that Mr. Seale had confirmed some 2002 pot still 4S rum had indeed been sold that year. My own initial take was that it was a blend, as I felt it lacked the sort of distinctiveness a pot still distillate would impart and I didn’t think Mr. Seale shipped his pot still juice over to Europe. However, Simon’s quote from him, and Seale’s subsequent note on FB put he matter to rest – he confirmed it was a pot still spirit.

All that aside, it was a really good rum, one which shows that when they want to, the SMWS can pick rums with the best of them (especially with more familiar and more famous distilleries – their track record with less known and less popular marks is a bit more hit and miss).  If various laws and regulations being pursued stop indies from getting continentally aged juice in the years to come (though this is unlikely given the extent of Scheer’s stocks), I think the Society can still rest comfortably on its laurels after having issued a rum as fine as this one, young as it may be in tropical years.

(#804)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Rum Shop Boy scored the rum 67/100, so about 83 points by my scale and 3½ out of 5 on Wes’s.  Like Marco, he commented on how different it was from the Foursquare rums he knew, and rated it “disappointing”.
  • Angus over at WhiskyFun liked it much more and scored it 87, rolling out the tongue-in-cheek “dangerously quaffable” line, and meaning it.
  • Ben’s Whisky Blog (near bottom of page) rates it a “Buy” with no score
  • Post details regarding source still is updated based on a conversation on FB the same day I put it up.  It could indeed be a pot still rum, but the jury remains out.
Feb 112021
 

With the rise of the New Jamaican and their distillery offerings, it is instructive to remember that indies still have a pretty good handle on the good stuff too. We keep seeing new aged releases from Monymusk, Clarendon, Long Pond from makers big and small.  Velier continues to add new Hampden releases (or whole new collections) every time we turn around and Worthy Park is always around putting out really good pot still juice for those who know the difference. 

Lastly there’s New Yarmouth, which is the distillery in Clarendon Parish which is part of Appleton (not to be confused with the Clarendon Distillery) and supplies it with its white overproof stocks. New Yarmouth has both pot and column stills, and is more into the production of stock components for blends (often shipped elsewhere in bulk) than any individual bottlings of its own. That of course has not stopped many smaller companies from trying to bottle just New Yarmouth rums as a unique releases in their own right in the ever more concerted drive to atomize Jamaican rums to the nth degree (I’m still waiting for the first unaged backcountry moonshine to be given the full rollout as a true artisanal rum of the country). 

Back to NY: currently 1423 out of Denmark is getting some serious kudos with its 2005 edition from that distillery, Rum Artesenal has its 2009 10 YO and a stunner of a 25YO from 1994 (issued almost in tandem with Wild Parrot who did their own 1994 25YO in 2020), and even the boys over at Skylark created one called The River Mumma (Vidya) in 2020, which also hailed from 2005. Evidently that was a good year.

But as far as I’m aware, the first indie to make a real splash with this distillery was actually Florent Beuchet’s outfit, the Compagnie des Indes, when they started bottling some for the 2017 release year.  Time passes fast nowadays and new hot-sh*t releases are coming more often, and 2017 was no slouch itself — Toucan appearing on the scene, the first Worthy Parks I can recall, Novo Fogo, Foursquare’s Criterion, Rum Nation’s Madeira agricoles — yet even in this company, the CdI New Yarmouth stood out in the rum fests where it was shown.  There were two versions: one at 55% for the more general market, and a huge 65.2% beefcake that for some reason only those raving rum crazies in Denmark were allowed to buy.  That’s this one.

And what a rum it was. I don’t know what ester levels it had, but my first note was “a lot!”.  I mean, it was massive. Pencil shavings and glue. Lots of it. Musky, dry, cardboard and damp sawdust. Some rotting fruit (was that dunder they were using?) and also rubber and furniture polish slapped on enough uncured greenheart to rebuild the Parika stelling, twice. The fruitiness – sharp! – of tart apples, green grapes, passion fruit, overripe oranges and freshly peeled tangerines. Florals and crisp light notes, all of it so pungent and bursting that a little breeze through your house and the neighbors would either be calling for a HAZMAT team or the nearest distillery to find out if they had lost their master blender and a still or two.

Okay, so that was the nose, smelly, fruity, funky, alcoholic, rummy and completely unapologetic. It took no prisoners and didn’t care what you thought, and Lord was it ever distinct and original.  Was the palate any different? 

To some extent, yes. It started out dry, and quite sharp, with a lot of lumber and fresh sawn green wood – the pencils had it! – plus glue and rubber. Acetones, nail polish, paint stripper and turpentine. But also some organics were there, because clearly the kitchen and a table had now been built and now it was time for food.  So, gherkins, pickles, cucumbers in vinegar and pimento. Green apples, sour oranges and five-finger, soursop, kind of marginal, but trending towards an edgy sweet. Only at the end did the richness and hidden quality emerge to provide its own version of shock and awe: honey, caramel, nougat, bitter chocolate, and bags of rich fruits like peaches, apricots, dates, raisins, finishing up with a long, dense, sharp, dry close redolent of honey, vanilla, red wine trending to vinegar. 

From this overlong description it’s clear there’s a whole lot of shaking going on in my glass. It’s an extraordinarily rich pot still rum which rivals any Worthy Park or Hampden I’d tasted to that point.  It somehow never managed to slip off the rails into undrinkability, and was a great sipper even at that strength, completely distinct from Hampden or WP, and perhaps trending a bit more to Long Pond. But a caution – it is complex and has flavours that at first blush don’t seem to work well together (until, much to one’s surprise, they do). For that reason and for the strength, I’d suggest either trying the 55% edition or adding some water to tame this thing a bit, because it’s surely not for beginners — which may be the reason, now that I think about it, that it was only released to the guys up north, and why they were happy to get every last bottle for themselves.

The New Yarmouth, then, was not just a damned fine rum in its own right, but something more, something I would have thought to be impossible in this day and age – a distillery-specific hooch that didn’t depend on its age or its antecedents or the myth of the still or the name of its maker for effect and power.  It came together and succeeded because of the enduring strength of the rum itself, and the mastery of those who made it, and lends its lustre to all of them.

(#801)(88/100)


Other Notes

  • Some background can be found on Marius’s site over at Single Cask, and the ‘Wonk wrote his unusually scant cheat sheet which has little on it about this distillery. Note that both Clarendon Distillery and New Yarmouth Distillery are located in the Clarendon parish in south-central Jamaica, but they are distinct from each other. Clarendon makes Monymusk rums, named after the next-door sugar factory.
  • Cask #JNYD9, providing 255 bottles