Feb 062024
 

Photo (c) Whisky Auctioneer

Rumaniacs Review R-162 | #1055

Fantasias as a class of rum have pretty much faded from public view, only resurrected periodically in retrospectives like this onethese days spiced rums and spirit liqueurs hog attention and wallets. Yet they were popular, once, mostly in Europe around the 1950s to 1970s. By the eighties the style had started to diminish in popularity and the rise of standards and production regulation at a country- or regional level, as well as the emergence of a “pure” rum culture probably caused is eventual demise…though not it’s complete extinction..

What Fantasia rums were, was an evolution of the “Inlander” or domestic rhums of Germany and eastern Europe, also called verschnitt: Stroh, Tuzemak, Badel Domaci, Maraska and Casino 50° are its inheritors. Originally it was cheap or neutral alcoholoften from beetsthat was then added to: sometimes that addition was high ester Jamaican rums like DOKs, at others it was herbs and spices or infusions that gave it a local touch. It was always meant to be a sort of digestif, and this was why many of them were noted as being liqueurs. Italy was famed for them and indeed the first ones I ever found were from there, made by companies like Antoniazzi, Pagliarini, Tocini and Masera, who almost nobody now recalls.

As with those, not much is known about the company that made this one, except that it hails from west-central Portugal south of Porto; it was a wine wholesesaler and importer that also dealt in brandies and sparkling wines, and themanufacture of prepared and unprepared spirits” (the Portuguese term is Aguardentes preparadas / não preparadasfabricantes for those who want to try a better translation than my evidently wobbly one here). As far as I can tell, the company, which had a history dating back to the post-war years, eventually filed for insolvency in 2012 and was completely liquidated in 2023.

NoseNo surprise: wispy and faint, and quite thin. Apricots and cherries in syrup, Ripe peaches and the tartness of unripe fleshy fruits. Cherry syrup and myrtle, rosemary. White wine, green grapes, toffee and some vanilla. A touch of apple cider and lemon pie.

PalateSweet, but with an edge. Ripe apples and riper mangoes, plus those cherries in syrup again, which if I recall those first Italian fantasias from the 1950s I tried so many years ago, was something of a characteristic for them too. A nice hint of brine, olives and hot black tea; vanilla zest and some ice cream is about all.

FinishSweet, light, bland; vanilla and light pears, a touch of salt.

ThoughtsSuch a mixed bag of various tastes and aromas, that it comes out as indeterminate, and the additions are clear: no barrel ever imparted flavours such as these, although there is a tinge of “ruminess” coiling about the whole thing, so it’s not completely bad. Still, even at 40%, discerning a real profile is an effort in concentration: at end, what we conclude is that it really is mostly like flavoured rum-like ethanol and sugar water, without enough of a body or character to make a coherent statement for today’s rum enthusiasts. We buy it more for history and curiosity, not for sharing or showing off.

(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The term “corado artificialmente” on the label means “artificially coloured”
  • The rhum was bought at auctionthe 1970s era dates from the listingand shared with me by ex-rumista, wrestling enthusiast and good friend, Nicolai, so thanks to the man for the assist.
Dec 282023
 

A.D.Rattray. Gordon & MacPhail. Berry Bros. & Rudd. Cadenhead. The names evoke whisky, empire, Scotland and the early days of the Rum Renaissance through which we are still living. For the longest while, the occasional rums issued by these long-established companies, some of which are centuries old, allowed the diligent and solitary rumhound to taste what rums could be, were made to be, and kept the spark alive. Because throughout the second half of the 20th century, they were among the few bottlers of rum who eschewed the movement to light rums (i.e., chase Bacardi, copy vodka) and laid the foundation for the famed indies who came laterSamaroli, Bristol Spirits, Moon Imports, Veronelli, Velier, Rum Nation and so many others. They did so by bottling single barrel limited edition offerings, often at cask strength, and even providing marques, provenance and all sorts of other details we now take for granted (though even then, it was rarely enough).

While A.D. Rattray issued various countries’ rums in a consistent sort of series (their Caroni 1997 was one of the first of its kind I ever tried), G&M was only an occasional bottler, while BBR had the distinction of introducing us to Fiji, Foursquare and an epic 1975 Demerara way before we knew these were must-haves. Cadenhead however, took it in a different direction: alone among these early bottlers they created three separate lines of rums: in order of increasing value they were and are the Caribbean blends, the Green Label Series, and the Dated Distillations (see below for a more in-depth discussion) – and the last one is the one that excites more avarice and grail quests than just about any other bottler unless it’s the early Jamaican and Guyanese releases of Rum Nation, or the initial bottlings of Velier.

Some of the DD series were standard indie bottlingsmiddle aged, middle strength, from well known distilleries. Barbados (including “Blackrock”), Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica were the regulars, with others from Cuba, Fiji, Belize, Brazil, Guadeloupe, Nicaragua…even a single youngish 70% pot still release from St Lucia. Most were distilled during and after the 1990s…but their real unicorns were and are the very old ones: a 1974 30YO Uitvlugt, a 1974 19YO Longpond, and a 1971 22YO Enmore, and a bunch of 1960s Uitvlugts and Port Mourants that are rarer to see than Luca without a smoke or a sweater. Even on auctions you won’t find these very often and if you do you can be sure you won’t be able to afford them.


Which brings me to today’s rum. On the surface, it’s actually not that impressive, and I’m genuinely not trying to be elitist or anything, just clear: when one hears of a rum from the Trinidad Distillery, column still, 19 years old, from 2001…well, one hardly feels the fires of avarice burning in the cockles of one’s heartbecause aside from Caroni and maybe Fernandes and 10-Cane, is there anything “serious” coming out of Trinidad, or Angostura? There are 294 bottles in play, at 55% and let’s face it, in these days of multiple indies pushing out product from Caribbean estates’ pot stills lovingly tended in distilleries with oodles of history, this is a rum that fades into the middle distance. A good rum, you tell yourself, but hardly a must have.

I imagine that a tyro nosing this for the first time with no advance notice must feel something like us newbs walking into that first John Wick movie without any forewarning. The sheer kinetic energy of that fight in Wick’s house is emblematic of the entire experience with the TDL 2001 because the initial nose is, in short, simply incredible. It’s rich, it’s deep and it seems to go on forever. It smells darkly tawny, Demerara-like, with ripe plums, prunes and bags of red cherries, cranberries, raisins and (wtf?) even a fusel oil background, a sort of medicinal iodine, or peat. In between all that waft hints of more delicate florals, dates, caramel, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, pine needles and bon-bons, all impacting the schnozz like a playful lion batting your face. For 55% ABV, the intensity and clarity of the aromas is just off the scale.

Oh and the taste isn’t lagging by any stretch either. In fact, it’s racing to get ahead. It’s really quite inspiring how much is stuffed into the profile of what is ostensibly a rum of no great shakes. It opens with hot tar and rubber, the hot smoky smell of a trust fund Lambo doing doughnuts in the Walmart parking lot, and then the fruits start coming with a marching band alongside. Prunes, overripe cherries, plums, blackcurrants, cranberries, pineapples, strawberries, followed by stewed apples, molasses and newly polished leather. And the spices, there’s plenty of thoseginger, vanilla, cardamom, sandalwood, even a taste of chamomile. It’s a veritable cornucopia and left me wondering in baffled astonishment what on earth they fed this thing before releasing it. Even the finish showed something of this richness and pungency, closing things off with dates, sweet balsamic vinegar (the kind with a fig infusion), lychees and overripe cherries and even a last touch of peatiness. It’s got so much going on that it becomes the sort of rare beast you have to go back to at least twice to really nail down.

It should not work as well as it does, yet it does. The depth is startling, the complexity completely unreal and it is clearly a whisky lover’s wet dream (as evidenced by the amount of anoraks who waxed rhapsodical about it after the fact). Quite frankly I have no idea how this has escaped notice or review all these years and am simply happy I managed to snag some. The only thing I can say with some surety and personal conviction about it, is that TDL / Angostura has got to have a bunch of Caroni barrels squirrelled away and salt some of their best rums with them, because that depth, that power of aroma and palate, surely comes from more than just an anonymous industrial still. It is perhaps no accident that so many positive notices have attended TDL’s 2002 “Flag Series” Trinidad rum that Velier issued this year, where similar surmises have been raised.

But in the end, this is what I come down to: every now and then you come across a bottleand it’s almost by unheralded happenstancethat is so surprising, so unexpected, so immeasurably good, that it simply overloads your circuits and leaves you grateful that even in this day and age you can still be amazed and that there still exist interesting, tasty, off-the-scale rums that make one happy to try some, and thankful to have the opportunity. For me, this is one of those.

(#1048)(93/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The three ranges of Cadenhead’s releases are:
    • The cask strength, single-barrel Dated Distillation series with a three- or four-letter identifier and lots of detail on source and age; I submit these are probably the best and rightly the most sought-after rums from the company (aside from a 1939-distilled Green Label from Ago). The only question usually remaining when you get one, is what the letters stand for.
    • The Green Label series; these are usually single-country blends, sometimes from multiple distilleries (or stills, or both), mostly from around the Caribbean and Central/South America; a few other countries have been added in the 2020s. Here you get less detail than the DDs, mostly just the country, the age and the strength, which is always 46% ABV. They had puke yellow labels with green and red accents for a long time, but now they’re green for real, as they had been back in the beginning.
    • Classic Blended Rum; a blend of Caribbean rums, location never identified, age never stated (anywhere), usually bottled at around 50% ABV. You takes your chances with these, and just a single one ever crossed my path.
    • Strictly speaking there is a fourth type sometimes referred to as a “Living Cask” which is a kind of personalized shop-by-shop infinity bottle. I’ve only tried one of these, though several are supposedly in existence.
Nov 102023
 

In 2015 an up and coming small rum maker called Plantation wanted to make a bar mixer to go beyond its decently regarded and well-selling Original Dark, which back then was primarily Trinidad distillate. The company had already made a name for itself in the bartending circuit with its blends like the Three Star, and its initial attempts at becoming an indie bottler got some decent reviews (mine among them). People liked them. The secondary maturation abroad and dosage, had not yet become issues. Their rums were deemed pretty good.

To the end of filling a gap in the overproof dark rum segment of the mixing market, Alexandre Gabriele the owner, repeated the process he had used to make the Three Starhe consulted with people who were in the industry, and brought together six personages of the rum world whose experiences behind the bar and within the cocktail culture were such that their opinions held real weight: JeffBeachbumBerry from Latitude 29, Martin Cate from Smuggler’s Cove, Paul McFadyen who was then at Trailer Happiness, Paul McGee from Lost Lake, Scotty Schuder from Dirty Dick, and Dave Wondrich, a cocktail historian. Based on lots of samples and lots of tastings (and probably lots of cheerfully inebriated arguments) they set to work to make a mixer that it was hoped would elevate tropical cocktails and Tiki drinks to the next level, take on Lemon Hart and Hamilton’s overproof rums, and carve its own niche in the world.

Products designed by committee rarely succeed, but here may be the exception that proves the rule: from that beginning so many years ago, the OFTD, first released in July 2016, has become one of the most popular mixing drinks ever made, perhaps not quite rivalling Bacardi in ubiquity, but so versatile and affordable and let’s face it, even drinkable, that it has become a commercial and private bar staple. Even as the groundswell of dislike for Plantation has grown into ever more poisonous online discourse, the Old Fashioned Traditional Dark, made from rums deriving from Barbados, Guyana, and Jamaica, has flourished. It eclipses every other rum in the company’s “Bar Classic” series of the line (Stiggins’ Fancy and Xaymaca are popular for other reasons); it is a step above and much more interesting than the overly sweet “Signature” blends and surely easier on the wallet than the Single Cask, Extreme or Vintage editions.

What makes it so popular and so well regarded? To some extent it really is how well the blend works; the strength certainly helps, and for sure so does the lack of any additivesit is one of the few rums Plantation makes which is not dosed. When one looks under the hood, it’s really quite a bit more complex than at first seems to be the case: back in 2018 The ‘Wonk said that the makeup was Guyana (Port Mourant distillate aged 1-2 Years in new and ex-Cognac French oak), Barbados (WIRD distillate, 4 years in new French oak and 2-4 Years in heavy toasted American white oak); and Jamaica (Clarendon MLC 1-2 Years in new French oak, Long Pond TECC 1-2 Years also in new French oak, Long Pond STCE 8½ years in ex-bourbon and ex-Cognac, and lastly some Long Pond TECA 19½ years in ex-bourbon and ex-Cognac). All blended and tied up in a bow at 69% ABV, and while perhaps by 2023 the blend has shifted somewhat, that’s not an inconsiderable amount of taste profiles to be balancing against one otherthat anything drinkable comes out at the other end is some kind of minor miracle, because my experience is that blends trying to do so much with so many things, often crash and burn.

Not here, I don’t think. The nose is no slouch and gets going immediately: hot fierce and sharp as befitting the strength, and starting the party off with banana (at one point I got banana bread, at another flambeed), caramel, and brown sugar damp with molasses. Coffee grounds, unsweetened chocolate, anise and allspice are there, leavened with coconut shavings, a touch of anise, brine, and even a mild pinch of citrus. It’s initially quite sharp and alcoholic and it’s recommended to let the glass stand a bit to let that burn off, and once you get there, it’s a nose that sticks around for a long time.

The palate is where one has to make a decision regarding the strength because it is young and it is rough at the inceptionmany reviews and write ups suggest adding a bit of water to tame it. I don’t think that’s really necessary but then, I have had a lot of rums north of 70% so maybe I’m just used to it. Anyway, the initial palate is all ethanol until it burns off; some rubber and licorice and damp sawdust (that may be the PM talking), molasses and caramel, bitter coffee grounds and chocolate again with traces of ripe mangoes, grapes and even some pineapple (which may be the Jamaican tekkin’ front). There are some vanilla, bon-bons, citrus notes and black pepper here and there, and a finish that oddly reminded me of chocolate oranges mixing it up with salt caramel ice cream topped with a few strawberries…go figure, right?

Evaluating it after trying it maybe four or five times over a period of a year, I get why it’s popular: once you get past the initial burn, you can sip the thing. It is dark, strong, noses nicely and tastes a treat, and such burn and sharp stabs as it displays are, to me, just products of its relative youth (I doubt that there is a whole lot of the aged Longpond elements in there), and in fairness it is designed to be mixed, not sipped. It makes a cool rum and coke of course, and does yeoman’s work in both a daiquiri and a mai tai as well as any other libation a creative bartender can come up with. On top of all that, the damned rum is really affordable: I’ve heard that bars are incentivised with huge cash-back enticements, and that the bulk capacity of WIRD helps keep production costs down, but all that is behind the scenesthis is a rum that subjects itself to the Stewart Affordability Conjecture and takes it seriously.

And if the taste doesn’t sway you, consider the popular statistics. It is a fixture on just about every “with what do I start stocking my home cocktail bar?” recommendation list I’ve ever seen, and the reddit comment sections are filled with people remarking that it’s a rum worth having on any shelf. There is almost no negative review on any subreddit that I’ve looked at, and even those that are less than complimentary usually concede that some aspects of it are fine, or that it has its points here and there and that it’s a moral decision for them not to buy it or stock it. Of the 185 consumer ratings on Distiller from 2016 to 2023, 95% are three-star or higher; on Rum Ratings, nearly 90% out of 257 raters gauged it at 7/10 or better and on Rum-X it has an average of 7.5/10 from 194 people who left a score. These are representative of wide cross sections of the rum drinking public and cannot easily be discounted, whatever one might think of the parent company (and nowadays that is almost all negative). Paul Senft, The Fat Rum Pirate and Rum Shop Boy have all written about it and liked it.

Summing up, the Plantation Old Fashioned Traditional Dark is a deserved yet unusualperhaps even controversialentry to the Key Rums series. It is a multi-country blend, not something that showcases a certain country. Yes, it was deliberately created to do only one thing, and therefore its value as an all-round consumer drink is somewhat circumscribed; yes it’s really strong, and surein that segment it stays and plays. Yet as I have suggested here, it has qualities over and above all that. It supercedes the modest aims of its creators, to the point where it actually can stand by itself. It remains, nearly a decade after its introduction, one of the most reviewed, commented on and widespread rums around and if its shine is less now than it was when first introduced and now that it has stiffer competition, there is no reason to doubt either its many uses or availability. It remains, for all its parent company’s woes, an incredibly popular and in-use bar staple and drinking adjunct to this day. It demonstrates, if nothing else, how well the Caribbean distillates work with each other in a way that is not often seen. And that’s no mean accomplishment for any rumespecially one made by this outfitto claim. One can only ask why more of the company’s rums don’t adhere to its philosophy.

(#1038)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • In this essay, I have made a deliberate decision to focus on the rum: not to get into the conflict and bad press Plantation gets (or why they get it), not to express my personal opinion on the issues surrounding the company, and to simply mention that such issues exist. There are sufficient resources aroundreddit has some good if heated discussions on the matterfor anyone with an interest to find out what the story is.
  • I am unsure if any part of the ageing takes place in Europe and was unable to confirm it one way or the other.
Jun 262023
 

“Asia may be the next region to discover for rummies,” I wrote back in 2018 when introducing audiences to Chalong Bay for the first time, and nothing between then and now has caused me to significantly alter that off-the-cuff prognostication. Already, back then, we were seeing interesting (if not always world-beating) rums from Tanduay from the Philippines, Mekhong from Thailand, Amrut from India, Sampan from Vietnam, and Laotian from Laos. Australia was ticking along under everyone’s radar, the Pacific islands were just getting more well known, and of course there was always Nine Leaves out of Japan.

Not long after that new companies and new brands began to sprout up and become better known through exhibitions at rum festivals all over Europe: rums from artisanal companies like Renaissance (Taiwan), Mia (Vietnam), Naga (Indonesia), Samai (Cambodia), Issan (Thailand), Mana’o (Tahiti) rubbed shoulders with older and more establishedbut still barely knownbrands like Teeda and Cor Cor (Japan), Old Monk (India), Kukhri (Nepal), Laodi (Laos), and Sang Som (Thailand again). This is what I mean when I remark that poor distribution and a fixation with the Caribbean sometimes obscures the seriously cool work being done elsewhere, and if it weren’t for an occasional indie release, we’d never even hear about some of them.

But I digress: Chalong Bay is one of the relatively new companies out there, founded in 2014 by a pair of French entrepreneurs from named Marine Lucchini and Thibault Spithakis who saw Thailand as a good place to start a small artisanal distillery. They sourced a copper column still from France and went fully organic and all-natural: no chemicals or fertilisers for the cane crop, no burning prior to harvesting, hand harvesting, and a spirit made from freshly cut and crushed cane juice with no additives, sourced from local farmers from around the region they operatePhuket, a tourist town on a spit of land jutting into the Andaman sea (the distillery is just south of the town of Phuket itself).

When last I looked at their rums, there wasn’t a whole lot of variety in the lineup. Little or no aged juice, a white and some infusions and that was it. Nowadays Chalong Bay sports three distinct lines – #001, which is the original pure unaged white rum at 40%, #002 the “Tropical Notesseries which is vapour-infused flavoured white rum (lemongrass, Thai sweet basil, cinnamon, kaffir lime are examples), and #003, a spiced variation mixed up with some nine different Asian botanicals. What their website doesn’t tell you is all the other stuff they make and which was on display at 2022’s WhiskyLive in Paris: a 2YO aged version, two different unaged whites (one wild yeast version with longer fermentation time, and another one at 57%), and this one, which was released by LMDW for their “Antipodes” collection last yeara 20 month old 62.1% growler (which is also called the Lunar Series, and represented in 2022 by the tiger on the label). It came from two ex-bourbon barrels aged in France (not Thailand), so somewhat limited, though the exact outturn is unknown…I’d suggest around a thousand bottles, maybe a shade less.

That strength is off-putting for many, and with good reasonnorth of 60% is getting a little feral, and this cane juice rum is no exceptionit’s snarly, gnarly and ugly and it doesn’t much like you. Behind all that aggro, however, is a full service agricole taste smorgasbord, plus a swag bag of gleefully provided extras. It starts off with brine, olives and sugar water and that colourless sweet syrup they sometimes put into some concoction at Starbucks. There’s a a nice scent of hummus with unsweetened yoghurt and olive oil (and a pimento or two), but all that’s required here is a little patience: soon enough we get sweet deep fruitsstrawberries, apricots, pears, raspberries, ginnips, kiwi fruit, and peaches and cream. Stick around long enough and citrus-like sodas like Sprite or Fanta make their appearance…and, even a faint tinge of mints…or mothballs.

Well…okay. It’s interesting for sure, and it is deep and strong, if a little arid. The taste is like that as well: sharp, dry, clean and fierce. It tastes initially of sugar water, soda pop, coconut shavings, combined with a flirt of vanilla and as it opens up we get crisp fruits, some light toffee and more of those pale, easy going fruits like pears, papaya, melon and white guavas. Some water is good to have here, and I’m sure it would make a banging daiquiri. The palate is the sort of thing that gives a bit more if you stick with it, and the finish is equally tasty (as well as being long and quite dry), without actually introducing much that hasn’t passed by already.

Overall, this is a rum that’s got a lot going on, is very tasty and a joy to smell. It reminds me of the O Reizinho we looked at last week, with some of that same dichotomy between the youth and the age: the two sides coexist, but uneasily. Recently I’ve tried a few rums that first made their bones as unaged unapologetic white beefcakesclairins, the new Renegades, the Reizinho, etcand were then aged a smidgen and released as sub-five year old rums (Rum Nation also did that with their first Jamaican white, you may recall). And while most are goodas this isalmost none of them have vaulted to the next level and blown my socks off…at least not yet.

The new and the original is always worth trying, and Chalong Bay has been on my radar for quite a while: what they have managed to do here for LMDW is just a few shots shy of spectacular. White rhums are admittedly something of an acquired taste, and maybe this rum will not find favour with a global, mellower audience which doesn’t eagerly or willingly (let alone deliberately) walk into a face-melting exercise in spirituous braggadocio. Still: I think this is one hell of a rum, showing the heights to which a minimally aged white can aspire if not filtered to death or overly messed withand if on this occasion it doesn’t quite make the peak, well, it comes damned close.

(#1008)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Jun 192023
 

Some rum independents1 just have a certain…something. A kind of vibe, a sort of cool marketing pizzazz and reputational cred that sets them apart from the increasing number of such companies crowding the marketplace.

It’s a varied sort of thing: sometimes it’s a colourful and interesting owner or brand rep, like Mitch Wilson, Josh Singh, Karl Mudzamba, Eric Kaye, Luca, Fabio or Florent Beuchet. Other times it’s because of really good rums that fly under the radar, like Velier in the old days, or Tristan Prodhomme’s L’Esprit range, the one-off release of Stolen Overproof. And at other times it’s an unusual, even striking, bottle or label design, such as the original frosted glass bottles of the first Renegade rums, the Habitation Veliers with their informative label and delicate watercolours, the beautiful B&W photography of Rom Deluxe’s “Wild Series” or the superb minimalism of El Destilado’s Oaxacan rums.

Not many indies play in all three areas: those that do are assured of eyeballs and mindspace way beyond their actual market footprint, and here we are looking at a rum from one of them, That Boutique-y Rum Co. This offshoot of Atom Brands (which runs the Masters of Malt online shop in the UK) is almost like a masterclass in pressing all the marketing buttons at once. For one, they have a strikingly visual label ethos, having contracted with the artist Jim’ll Paint it, who includes factual information, easter eggs, sight gags and an irreverent sense of humour into all his brightly coloured designs. For another, they are repped around the place by the enormously likeable and knowledgeable Pete Holland (who also talks up Foursquare in his spare time when Richard can convince him to come in off the beach) — in a nice meta-twist, Pete is also on quite a few of the bottle labels himself. And thirdly their rums cover a wide gamut of the world’s most famous distillery selections (plus a few off the beaten track), many of which are really quite good.

Such an example is this rum, from the evocatively-named Madeiran distillery of O Reizinho (the name means “Little King”, “Kinglet” or “The Prince” depending on your translational tool), which some might recall fom when we met the rum before as Batch 1 which was released in 2018. Batch 2 was similar in that it was also an unaged white but with the proof jacked up to 57% and here, with Batch 3, the strength remains at 57% but it’s been aged for nine months in ex-Madeira casks, hence the bright gold colouring. Other details remain constant: cane juice, about a week’s fermentation, pot still. It can legally be called an agricole.

Even nine months’ ageing can produce some variations from the pure vegetal background of an unaged white going on all cylindersbut that does not appear to be the case with Batch 3 because if you close your eyes it could just as easily be one of those clear little monsters. Holy smokes, is this rum ever pungent. It exudes a sharp breath of vegetal, funky rumstink right from the startfruits going bad in hot weather, the chewing gum-flavoured bad breath of a furious fire-and-brimstone street preacher who doesn’t keep his distance (I wish I could tell you I made this up…), sharp strawberries and pineapples, green grapes, brine and pepper-stuffed olives. There’s some light citrus and watermelon cowering behind these, and some odd smells of what can only be described as potato starch in water, go figure, plus a hint of coconut shavings, ginger and lemon zest.

The palate is more balanced and dials down the aggro a fair bit, which is welcome. It’s warm and sweet (not too much), tastes of sugar cane sap, mint, olives, brine, olives with a background of pine sol, lemon, and hot cooking oil just at the smoke point. There are a few stray notes of green bananas, black peppers, vanilla and those coconut shavings. You can still sense the funkiness underlying all thispineapples and strawberries show up, as well as soft squishy overripe orangesbut it handles well, leading to a finish that’s medium long, no burn, quite warm, and brings each taste back to the front one last time for a final bow. Some brine, pine-y notes, olives and oranges, with softer vanilla and banana and coconut and nail polish. Nice.

So, what to say here? It’s different from the rums we usually try, enough to be interesting and pique our desire for a challenge. The strength is completely solidit might be off-putting to some so a few drops of water might calm things down to manageable levels. The combination of sweet and sour and salt is good; what makes this score slightly lower in my estimation is the ageing itself, because it transforms the rum into something subtly schizophrenic, that’s neither fish not fowl, neither quite presenting the crisp clarity of an unaged white brawler, nor a more modulated aged rum whose rough edges have been sanded off. Oh, and that Madeira cask in which it was aged? Anonymous at best.

That said, the rum is nicely balanced, smells great (after you get past the preacher) and tastes decent. It’s a well done product and overall, if I did prefer Batch 1, that’s entirely a personal preference and your mileage might vary. At the end of it all, what all these O Reizinho rums do is keep the flags of cheeky insouciance and reputation for interesting rumswhich have been a hallmark of TBRC since their establishmentfluttering nicely. And that’s good for all us rum drinkers who want to go off the reservation on occasion.

(#1007)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • It’s a little unclear which the rum actually refers to, since in 2018 TBRC released a 3YO aged batch #1 of 1936 bottles at 52.6% and with a label design pretty much the same as all the others. So there are clearly two streams of these O’Reiz releasesone aged, one notwhose labels might easily be confused: pay close attention to what you’re buying with them.
Jun 022023
 

As the seasons turn and the years pass, the rumiverse edges closer and closer to the hallowed Everest of aged rums, that crowning achievement of geriatric eld grasped and never relinquished (so far) by G&M’s 58 year old rum from 1941. Alas, rums from so far back in time are now a disappearing dream, vanished into blends, collector’s vaults or the gullets of earlier connoisseurs who knew not what they had. There are few, if any, multi-decade old rums from the 1960s or 1950s to be foundthese days, it’s the 1970s that is the decade we’re left with, and everything from that era of funk and disco, hot pants, big hair, bell bottoms and the fading of flower power, is a “mere” forty something years old…assuming it’s ever bottled.

One of these is this rum, a big, bold, rare, practically unknown brown bomber from Jamaica that was laid down the year my family left Africa and arrived in Guyana – 1976. It coyly ignores its own provenance and simply says “Jamaica”, but man, that age is serious, the strength is near biblical, and a sniff of the cork is worth more than my mortgage, so it’s probably best I put a review out there for all those who may one day wonder whether it’s worth forking over that kind of gold for an unproven rum of such mystery. The short answer to that question is “yes”but only if (a) you are in funds and (b) you really have the interest. Without both these conditions, well, fuggeddabouddit.

So who on earth produced this thing? Where was it hiding all this time? Which distillery made it? What does the tech sheet look like? Andperhaps more importantlyshould we even bother? Questions such as these were going through my mind the entire time I was admiring, photographing, reading about and tasting it.


The restraint with which the rum opened is remarkable. It’s 68.5% ABV and aged almost beyond reason, and you’d expect both the power and the lumber to be overwhelming: yet it presents no bite, no scratch, no vicious wood claws, no harridan-like screamingjust a serene, enormously solid flow of firm olfactory notes. Rubber, acetones and honey start the parade, attended by salt caramel and the slightly acrid tang of a warmed-up indoor swimming pool in winter. Aromas of wafers, warm and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, coffee grounds, and a seemingly never ending parade of all the dark fruit you could name (and a few you can’t) – prunes, dried apricots, plums, sapodilla, kiwi fruit, blackberries and more. And even then it’s not doneone senses the cloying musk of dead bees, melting wax and dusty rooms in old houses, marshmallows and even moist aromatic tobacco. How so much scent was stuffed in here surpasses my understanding but it’s clear that this is one of the most complex and amazing rums I’ve ever tried.


Last Drop Distillers is not, as some alert whisky anoraks will inevitably rush to inform me, actually a distillery, but an exclusive, high-end premium indie bottler. They occasionallyor at their whimrelease very rare and very pricey ultra-aged limited edition bottlings on to the connoisseur’s market, and perhaps one of the reasons most of us have rarely if ever heard of them is because we penurious coin-counting rum-hoarding peons are too busy working for The Man to swim around the upscale markets in which Last Drop cruises. They issued mostly whisky, with an occasional liqueur, port, cognac or rum (this one) to round things out, almost all decades old, dating back to the eighties, seventies, sixties, fifties…even the 1920s.

The small company was founded in 2008 and brought together Tom Jago and James Espey, two whisky industry veterans who might at first blush seem to be a little long in the tooth to be setting up new commercial ventures at a time most of us are marking out plots and making wills and feverishly downing our valued stashes before we lose the ability to spell “rum” correctly and start drooling instead of drinking. Yet they did, even though Mr Espery (a veteran of International Distillers & Vintners (IDV), United Distillers & Vintners (UDV) and Chivas (where he was chairman) had just retired at 65 and Mr Jago (who had had a hand in the development of both Bailey’s Irish Cream and what would become Johnny Walker Blue Label) was a sprightly 82. They conjured up this little company where they determined they would source whatby their own lightswould be the rarest and best spirits available.

Riding the increasing bow wave of premiumisation that was just starting to take off, Espey did the marketing himself: no wholesaler was really interested in such small volumes as they were producing, but in the first ten years TLD sold just about all 7,000 bottles of the 11 one­-off releases of Scotch whisky made to that point. This finally attracted some attention and in 2016 Sazerac, the American spirits conglomerate which owns Buffalo Trace, bought them for an undisclosed sum in a wave of acquisitions around that time, probably to be a part of its luxury division. A condition of the deal was for the existing release philosophy and management structure to be retained, and both Mr. Jago and Mr. Espey stayed on; the former’s daughter Rebecca Jago, joined the company in 2010 and the latter’s, Beanie Espey, in 2014 ,and when in 2018 Mr. Jagohe was the president at that timepassed away, the ladies were on the expanded board and kept up the same careful pace of exclusive and expensive bottlings.

As of 2023, after fifteen years of operation, there have been a mere 31 releases, making the SMWS rum selections (70+ in about the same timeframe) seem positively profligate. None costs under four figures and since you’re most likely already googling this rum, and because the purse-hunting, gimlet-eyed Mrs Caner also reads these reviews, you’ll forgive me for not mentioning it here.


The taste, in a word: stunning. It presented less as a pure Jamaican rum than a blend of Jamaica and Demerara, and showcases the best of both. There were layers of flavour here,, starting with rubber, nail polish, brine, licorice, honey, vanilla, sweet creamed wafers and the aforementioned chocolate, coffee grounds and salted caramel. In between the spaces coiled the fruits as beforeprunes, apricots, overripe oranges and pineapplesand underneath that, one could sense cereals and toast and molasses, even a tang of marmite. And the spices, those were there, light as a dusting of icing sugar on a tart: nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, cloves.

All of the minor elements on display were chock full of memorable and strange and subtle (and sometimes near-unidentifiable) tasting notes, each of which populated the edges of our awareness for only fleeting moments before another wafted in and around and took its place. They were not the core flavours, the primary notesthose were obviousbut existed to enhance, to supply background, atmosphere, like all those strange characters who move half-unseen and almost unnoticed in the dim corners of Dickens’s or Dostoyevsky’s novels.

And the finish well, what can I say? If this was a movie it would be a four-hour-long extravaganza with a cast of thousands, a bunch of secondary also-rans, two overtures plus an intermission. In shortepic. No other word does it justice, and while admittedly there was little that was introduced at this point that wasn’t already noted above, the amalgam of a basket of ripe and overripe fruit, spices, cereal, coffee, tobacco and leather was a fitting conclusion to a great tasting experience. There are always risks, in a rum this old and from Jamaica, of over-oaking and bitterness and too much reliance on one or other ester-laden note that then ruins the party for everything else and throws the chakras out of whacknot here; in fact, the balance is superb: it is, quite simply, one of the best rums I’ve ever had.


And the questions remain. Which distillery? Everything I’ve researched says it’s a Clarendon, yet for those who are expecting some hogo-laden congener-squirting Jamaican funk bomb from Ago would be disappointed; there are no screaming, rutting esters in play here. Nor, for that matter, does the rum present as a pot still product, and the accompanying red booklet provides remarkably little background here: in fact, it tells us only that it’s from the south of Jamaica. However, Richard Seale, who helped me flesh out the background (see my notes below), in urging caution about expecting a New Jamaican taste profile, also mentioned it was likely from a long scrapped columnar still that once existed at Clarendon but which was later replaced by more modern pot and other columnar stills.

But of course, at this kind of remove, we want the info for our own historical knowledge, and while interesting, it’s ultimately almost unprovable. What’s important is that in knowing it, we see that the TLD 1976 lacks the fierce pungency of Hampden or Worthy Park (which in any case were not operational or laying down aged stock at that time), does not have the elemental brutality of Long Pond (I’m thinking TECA here), and is a ways better than the more elegant middle of the road approach of even Appleton’s older offerings (though the 50 YO comes really close).


It is admittedly somewhat mental to buy the TLD, even with that age and strength and that historical legacyit’s akin to the Black Tot Last Consignment, and for the same reason. But let’s face it, we don’t really need to. The good stuff is all around us, and there’s oodles of excellent tipple available to our relentlessly questioning snoots and jaded palates, and for less, much less. To some extent what this rum really does is to demonstrate exactly how tasty and affordable so many rums to which we have access already aremodern drinkers are fortunate in the extreme to have such a wide choice available to them.

Yet even with all that choice it has to be saidif only by methat the Jamaica 1976 is on its own terms, superlative. It’s complex to a fault, tasty beyond hope, balanced beyond dreams, a quietly amazing dram, destined to become a unicorn in its own right, like one of the old Demeraras Velier nervously slipped into the marketplace so many years ago. Somehowdon’t ask me howI scored a single one of the 183-bottle outturn, perhaps the only one allocated to Canada, which had been sitting in Edmonton for two years gathering dust, ignored and passed over. Did I regret it? A little. Did I save it? Not a chance. This one is all about cracking, savouring…and then sharing.

(#1000)(93/100)


Other notes

  • The presentation of the bottle is first rate. Red leather box, embossed logo, extra cork, a book of small details about the company and the rumand two bottles, one small 50ml mini to play with and the full sized bottle.
  • My sincere thanks to Richard Seale, who took time out on two separate occasions to answer some questions and provide context and background. He is on the tasting panel for the Last Drops Distillers and apparently enjoys the experience enormously.
  • My appreciation also to Matt Pietrek who helped me check on some historical details.
  • There is no information as to where the barrel was sourced. URM in Liverpool, maybe, but I somehow think this is one of those rum barrels some whisky outfit had squirrelled away someplace. Just a hunch.
  • Are there any other rums like this, from so far back, still ageing in any bottler’s portfolio? Unlikely, unless some of the old Scottish whisky houses are holding on to old barrels in dark cellars, unseen and maybe even forgotten by mere mortals. Richard suggested that there won’t be, either. There was a three year minimum age rule in play for whiskies since around 1916 that was also adopted by rum makers, so the incentive was to either release relatively young aged rums or send bulk abroad; and only after that rule was relaxed in 1973 or so, was there a gradually emerging market for single barrels. This, he theorises, is one of the main reasons why there are almost no bottled single barrel uber-aged rums in existence pre-dating the 1970s, and even the oddballs of the Cadenhead 1965 Guyanese rum, or the 1941 Long Pond, may just be the rare exceptions that prove the rule.
May 262023
 

Historically speaking, and indeed even in our times, there are alcoholic spirits out there that stretch the borders, let alone the definitions, of “rum”. Yet I continue to seek out, look for and try these things, whether they are almost unknown indigenous cane juice rums, proto-rums from Asia, or the old verschnitts and spirits of their ilk made in Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th century. Such bottlingsfor example the Badel Domaci (Croatia), Casino 50 (Hungary) or the Tuzemak (Czech Republic) — exert a curious fascination, a compelling kind of pull. In a way they speak to the alcoholic history of their countries, their indigenous liquors, their likes, their companies, their markets, and inform us as to how rums (in any form, by any name) permeated countries, provinces, principalities, kingdoms, or whole empires that had no colonies or tropical connections.

These are getting rarer now, as the EU expands and its standards define rum more rigorously and precisely (though still, argue many, with too many loopholes allowing substandard hooch to sneak through), and the old spirits made from neutral alcohol or unaged rum stock or whatever, leavened with some high ester Caribbean rums, fall outside the ringfence. Nowadays they cover themselves with the onomatopoeic “room” instead of “rum” and the best that can be said about that is that it dates the productin this case, it’s clear it was made (or at least bottled) after 2013 when Croatia entered the EU.

There are no references to what constitutes the Maraska Room. Wes Burgin, writing the only review to be found online, bought a bottle in 2015 on a trip to Eastern Europe and remarked without attributionbut probably correctlythat it was made from neutral alcohol or vodka doctored with rum essences, which is to say spices, flavourings, caramel and what have you. The bottle I bought in Canada (don’t ask me how it ever got herebut it was the last one on the shelf) explicitly states its ingredients as “alcohol, water, aromas, natural caramel and [something else]” …the label on the bottle is torn making the last unreadable. It sports a metal foil cap of the sort we see less of all the time, and I just give thanks that it’s not an old-style Russian version, which were designed never to close again so you had to drink the whole bottle. And it calls itself both a “room” and a “strong alcoholic drink” which is about as close to truth in labelling as we’re ever likely to get these days.

So let’s taste it and I’ll give you some more history below rather than extend this preamble even further.


Nose: Nail polish, vanilla, salt, vanilla, grapes, turned fleshy fruit. Sharp and rather medicinal with sour gummi bears dancing over the palate, plus glue and some rather indeterminate rumminessmolasses, leather, smoke, mauby, brown sugar, that kind of thingbehind it all. It smells rather candied, minty even, and resting on a bed of raw alcohol.

Palate: The confectionery parade continues with cotton candy, brown sugar and white chocolate thin, sharp and spicy. More than a hint of cherry or cranberry juice here, but also a little brine and olives, a touch of vanilla, and that thin medicinal thing refuses to go away. And it’s sweeter than it has any right to b, to be honest.

Finish: Short, aromatic, sweet, easy going. Mostly white chocolate, brine, cherries and a hint of florals and acetones.


If you know your rums, and especially if you’re more into the dosed types like Zacapa, Diplomatico, Dictador or Bumbu, or enjoy solera-style rums, then this will be of interest. However, it must be noted that you can taste a fair bit of artificiality here: the sweetness, thinness, sharpness and candy-like flavours are giveaways to the sort of additions disliked by many. Purists will find much to take issue with, while others might enjoy trying something off the reservation, made by an outfit with a fair bit of backstory, whose tradition is cherry brandies and liqueurs, not rums, and which probably brought that sensibility to this ersatz product.

What did I think? Not a whole lot. It’s tasty enough, and knowing it for what it is, I could have it after dinner one small snootful at a time. But of course the issue is that by setting itself up as a rum, even calling itself what it does, it immediately creates certain expectations and is judged by a certain set of standards. By those, it mostly fails and I think most rum lovers will try it only the once, just to say, like Wes and I did, that they have.

(#999)(69/100)⭐⭐


Historical background

Maraska is a brand belonging a company in Croatia of the same name that makes fruit ands walnut brandies (slivovitz, with variations on the spelling), liqueurs, and of course the variations of the domaci (domestic) rums/rooms for which they are best known abroad and in Europe. The name of the company derives from the marasca cherry, a type of sour Morello cherry, the best flavours of which are supposedly grown in Dalmatia (part of Croatia). Brandy called Maraschino (also made into a liqueur) is made from such cherries, and has been a cottage industry in Dalmatia since the 14th century or earlier and distilleries were established in the town of Zadar at least since the 1700s. Over time the three largest and best known were the Salghetti-Drioli combine (also the oldest, founded in 1759), Luxardo (1821) and Vlahov (1861).

While the history of Maraschino (as a general term for the brandy) encompasses many brands and companies from Zadar aside from the three mentioned above, the one we are concerned with today is Luxardo which was established by Girolamo Luxardo, an Italianthe Dalmatian coast has long had influences from across the Adriatic by Italians from the great trading entrepots like Venice. Luxardo was soon exporting Maraschino to Europe, the Americas and Asia, their high quality brandy enhanced visually by hand-knitted coverings of the bottles, a tradition still in place today. Their liqueur won gold and silver medals at the second World’s Fair in Vienna in 1854 for example, and Zadar became the city most closely identified with the spirit as it increased in popularity.

Zadar transitioned to Yugoslav sovereignty after WWII, after variously being part of France, Italy and Austria. During the war it had been nearly destroyed by Allied bombing and all industry ceased, but after 1946, production facilities were rebuilt and distillation resumed. All remaining useable equipment (which had been confiscated from the old factories) was consolidated into a single enterprise called “Maraska Company Zadar” and located at the Luxardo’s old “Maraska” factory premises which had been built in 1911. It is now the most important liqueur producer in Croatia.

It makes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, sweets and various promotional products, and in the “strong drinks” category it features Empire Gin, Cosmopolitan vodka, Royal Brand brandy. St. Simon’s Light Rum (and underproof, supposedly from selected Caribbean distillates) and of course the Maraska Room at various strengths which is noted as being “traditionally used to prepare cakes, fruit salad, tea and other hot drinks in the winter,” and with no source distillate provided.


 

Apr 242023
 

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that 99% of the readers of this article won’t know a thing about this rhum and its brand, and until I started researching the bottle, I didn’t either. That’s an increasingly rare thing these days, considering that the writings of so many stellar bloggers over the last decade, combined with Rum Ratings and Rum-X, make it almost impossible for any brand to escape notice. Yet here we are, sipping at a peculiar bottle of white rum I bought completely on a whim (mostly because I can’t resist not knowing more about it).

The company that released it was once an independent French bottler in Bordeaux called William Pitters who mostly specialised in cognac, and occasionally rums as wella couple of years ago Oliver Scars procured a 1970 HSE they had released, for example. They appear to have mostly issued rhums from Martinique as well as some punches and whiskies (Sir Pitterson whisky was a thing even if we don’t know who he was either) and on top of that, been something of a distributor toobut the source of their rhum was never disclosed. The date of formation of the company looks to be 2001, from a coming together of many tiny brands, and nowadays a much larger conglomerate called Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits is the owner1. This is more tangential to the review, though, so I provide their history below.

Exactly what we have in the glass is unclearfor one thing, I’m not entirely sure the brand exists or is being made any longer. The source distillery is a mysteryas noted, Pitterson did issue a rhum from HSE before, and Marie Brizard, the subsequent owner, had a distribution relationship with La Maunyso we don’t know source or still or (maybe) age. Yet, although no review or online store is to be found carrying this rhum, I suspect it’s still around, and if it’s been discontinued then it was in all likelihood fairly recently; the bottle and label design is too sleek and modern, the price paid was too low, and several small restaurants, bars and cafes in France mention on their menus that they have it.

Leaving aside the murkiness of the rhum’s origin, I can see why they would. It may “only” be a standard strength white rhum, it has a lovely opening nose of white chocolate, praline, almonds and nougatin other words, a bar of white toblerone (of the kind Grandma Caner reliably sends me every year at least once). It’s creamy and delicate, hardly seemingly dry at all; there is a light herbal aroma, grassy notes and sugar water that characterises an agricole, but here it’s mixed in with Danish butter cookies, chocolate cake batter like your mother allowed you to lick off the spoon after she was done; and unsweetened yoghurt.

The way it goes down is nice as wellnothing too bombastic, nothing too aggressive, just an easy sip, tasting of vaguely salty butter cookies, sugar water, vanilla and blancmange, plus a little toasted wonderbread and cheerios cereal (go figure). The herbal aspects of the aroma don’t really carry over here, and there are few if any citrus or acidic noteswhat one gets is mostly ‘neutral’ fleshy fruit like sapodilla, melon, dates, papaya, and the finish is mostly without distinction, being short, easy and mild, giving a last dash of cereal and sugar water fruits, with perhaps a bit of watermelon thrown in.

Overall it’s a rum that plants its flag firmly in the midrange. It appears made to be a mixing rum and is just good and easy enough to sip on (though this would not really be my recommendation). It may only be 40% ABV, but feels somehow heavier, firmer, a tad stronger and even if you’re used to more powerful cask strength fare, it can’t be denied that the rhum tries its best, gives a good account for itself, and is a decent price for what it does deliver. As I say, it’s not clear whether it remains a commercially manufactured product, but if you see a bottle for sale someplace on your rumshop excursions, it’s no loss if you get one.

(#991)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The rum does not claim to be an agricoleit implies such by the use of therhum blancon the label. Yet, given it supposedly hails from Martinique, the wording and spelling is not unjustified. Overall, based on taste, I’d say that it is indeed an agricole.
  • My bottle has a Portuguese tax stamp; I bought it with a batch of Madeira rhums so it may have simply ended up there. The lack of production and geographical information is unfortunate.

Historical notesMarie Brizard

The firm of Marie Brizard was founded way back in 1755 by (you guessed it) Marie Brizard whose anisette was hit among the members of the ancien régime and who soon branched out into citrus liqueurs. The company stayed privately held by her descendants, and moved into sales all over the American continents over the following century; they started their own modern advertising in the late 1800s and were even exhibited in several World’s Fairs. Expanding the portfolio to include other spirits (as well as fruit juices and cordials) were good business decisions for the company, and by the post-WW2 years, due to canny product placement in French films of the time, the brands became near-iconic. William Grant bought in with a minority stake in the 1980s as a consequence of their distributorship arrangement for whisky dating back to the 1950s, but were so excluded from any decision-making that in 1994 they relinquished their association.

This situation of familial ownership, control and decision making continued until 2013, when a severe downturn in the market and mounting losses forced Marie Brizard to convert debt to shares…which were then snapped up by an American investment firm Oaktree Capital Management, who held nearly 20% of the voting rights. Continuing cash flow problems opened the doors for capital injections and share purchases by Compagnie Européenne de Prize de Participation (COFEPP, holding company which heads the La Martiniquaise Bardinet group), which as of 2019 held a majority shareholding of 51% while aiming for more, and can therefore be said to own the company…and so also the Pitterson brand.

Apr 102023
 

At first I thought the Barbados Grande Reserve Aged Rum was a replacement for the five year old Barbados rum from Plantation which I had tried many years ago, but further investigation showed them to be quite separate. Both, however, are part of the Signature blends which include the Barbados 5, the XO, Grand Anejo and Xaymacathese are what one might infer are entry level rums for the curious (to call them ‘premium’ would be a stretch). They are neither bartenders’ mixing staples like the Three Star, OFTD or Original Dark, nor expensive limited editions like the upscale Extreme, Single Cask or Vintage series, and exist in a kind of everyman’s universe where “reasonableness” is the watchword.

That said, the production ethos of the company pervades even this introductory rum. It originates from the West Indies Rum Refinery in Barbados (we all know Ferrand, Plantation’s parent company, owns it) where it is blended from pot/column still molasses-derived rums aged from one to three years, before being shipped off to France and aged in Ferrand’s facilities there for another year. It’s released at 40%, the sweetening is glossed over, and overall, like most rums of this kind from this house, it attracts equal parts dislike and appreciation depending on who’s doing the talking.

It’s not my intent to rehash the polarising nature and background of either the company or its production practises here, except insofar as to note there aren’t many reviews of this rum to be found1, and wonder if the vitriol surrounding the company may have an impact on any writers’ desire to get sucked in. Be that as it may, the rum has to be tried sooner or later, and for new rum drinkers who wet their beaks for the first time with it, there’s little to actively dislike: it’s as good a rum to start one’s journey with as any, and better than quite a few I’ve looked at of late.

So, let’s get started. Nose: an introduction of crisp yet ripe fruit, like raspberries, red currants, pineapples, around which coils a waft of stinky sweet bubble gum in hot weather. Brown sugar and molasses and coconut shavings are discernible, plus some mushy bananas and tangerines that have seen better days. Nice enough nose, with enough going on not to be categorised as simply an entry-level molasses based product: it’s a bit better than that.

The palate now…not too shabby. No, seriously. A touch sharp going in at first sip, then it steadies: sweet and sour pork, hot black tea sweetened with condensed milk and cardamom (bush tea, we called it and I still make a mug a few times a month), light fruits plus a touch of unsweetened salt caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, orange juice and even marzipan. The problem is it tastes a bit…flattened, even dull, like Emile’s sense of taste compared to Remy’s in Ratatouille. The music is there but the bass is too high and the top- and mid-range notes don’t come through clearly enough and this is also the case when considering the finish; which turns out to be nothing we haven’t seen before, and is even a bit boringslightly briny, sweet, coconut shavings, vanilla, light citrus and some chocolate.

It goes down easy without reaching and that may be the key observation. Overall, it’s a relatively simple rum compared to others I’ve had (including some from Plantation themselves), yet a rum one can, with care and lowered expectations, have neat without too many issues. To be honest, I thought the rum was better than it had a right to be considering the sweetening Plantation is known for (I tested it after the session, not before…so the level was unknown to me while trying it).

The Grand Reserve stops short of being a cloying muddle, and is fortunately a ways from being a complete sugary messyet the additives/sugar do spoil it and make for a lesser experience, especially if one knows what one is looking for. For someone now getting into rum, it’s serviceable and they could use it as a stepping stone to get more into the field, though for getting into the Barbados style it’s useless, so forget that aspect. Those with more experience can use it as a bellwether for what to look for in Plantation’s successively more upscale (and expensive) offerings; and for those who’re really into rums, well, there’s not much to say to them, since they already know all there is to know.

(#987)(78/100)


Other notes

  • The Plantation website has no details on any of the Signature rum series at all (thelearn morelink does not work)
  • Most articles mention 15-16 g/L sweetening, or “dosage”. My hydrometer shows 36% ABV when measuring the rum, which works out to 15 g/L
  • Leaving the empty glass in the sink to evaporate overnight leaves a slightly sticky residue to be found the next morning.
  • The rum has been in production for a very long time, hence the various label changes. The first reference I can find for it dates from 2008, and is on one of the first rum review websites, Refined Vices, run by an old friend from Finland, Tatu Kaarlas (who now lives in Australia). That Grand Reserve Barbados rum had a label which stated it was from cane juice (felt by most at the time to be unlikely) not molasses…and came from Foursquare. Yeah, that’s not happening now, for sure.
Mar 302023
 

Rumaniacs Review #146 | R-0985

This is one of those rare instances where the subject is not some dusty old find from Ago with dust flaking from its shoulders, but a relatively recent bottling; and rather more than less is known about the rum, because in this instance, not only did I have the bottle in my grubby little paws, but happily it was also sporting a quite informative label. Oh, and it was a great Guyanese rum to boot. Those who bought one are surely happy they did so, or should be.

This was an independent bottling done for the Danish spirits shop Juuls (an establishment I heartily recommend for its selections and expertise, though I’ve not been fortunate enough to set foot inside it myself) by the Scottish distiller and blender Ian Macleod. IM is a small company set up in 1933 in the small town of Broxburn, just slightly west of Edinburgh, and they were pretty much in the whisky blending game. This changed in 1993, when they acquired a gin making concern, but the real forays into rum came in 1996 with the acquisition of Trawlers and Watson’s rum brands (Watson’s being primarily Guyana rum, while Trawlers being a blend of Guyana and Barbados).

Occasionally the company indulged itself with some special rum bottlings, though you would be hard pressed to find out much about any of them, and even Rum-X only has a couple. This one was a special order for Juuls, bottled in 2015 from a single cask yielding 241 bottles at 57.8%. What does the “No. 34” mean? It’s the cask number (not the series number, so those looking for Nos. 1-33 can stop their search), and theDiamond of Frederiksbergis a nod to the city where Juuls is found and the Guyanese distillery of origin. Rums of this kind were not and are not a staple of Ian Macleod’s outputwhen doing rums at all they stick with Trawler and Watsons, or make cheap underproof Jamaican’s via the Lang’s brand or undisclosed cheaper blends under the King Robert II label. Single casks like this are a very occasional one-off or special order which is why I feel ok placing it in the Rumaniacs section.

Strength – 57.8%

ColourRed-amber

NoseLight and sweet, with wax and brine and esters. The fruits that emerge are mostly from the dark and lush side: plums, dates, prunes for the most part. Also brown sugar, molasses, coffee, unsweetened chocolate and vanilla; with water and after opening up it becomes rather more tannic and oak-forward with a few background licorice notes, and the whole remains quite well done and inviting.

PalateSharp and hot, yet well controlled. Medium sweet with molasses, stewed apples, toffee, vanilla, sweet cardamom rice drizzled with hot caramel. Not precisely a riot of complexity, just sure footed and really tasty. Some raisins, more dark fruits, licorice, coffee, and this is where I would suggest there’s definitely some Port Mourant pot still juice in here.

FinishMedium, warm, sweetish and spicy with vanilla, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and caramel. The molasses and licorice take a back seat, and it’s actually something of a shame the experience is over so quickly.

ThoughtsAlthough the label says “Diamond,” any reasonably knowledgeable rum guy knows this is kind of meaningless since all the stills in Guyana are now located at the estate of that name, and especially with the older rums, care has to be taken assigning a rum just to “Diamond”. I think this is probably a Port Mourant rum, though it could as easily be from Versaillesthe richness bends me more to the former, however.

Whichever still made it, it’s a quiet stunner of a rum and it’s a shame Ian Macleod never continued mining this vein and instead went mass market. Rums like this from so recent a time are a rarity (most of this quality are from further back in time, or much older) and its my regret that although I had a great time trying it with my Danish friends and even have a sample squirrelled away, there aren’t more bottles in circulation for others to enjoy as well.

(89/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Gregers, who pretends he owns our bottle, gave me the details on the label naming convention, as well as trotting the rum out of his stash for me to try. Thanks!
  • Only one bottle ever came up for auction of late and that was here for £112 in May 2022; another Diamond, the No. 33, was also on sale that month, and sold for £143, though I’ve heard people opine that it’s not as good as this one. These are the only ones aside from the three on Rum-X (which are not from this series) which I’ve been able to trace.
Mar 232023
 

Compagnie des Indes, run by the flamboyant and cheerful Florent Beuchet, was one of the first independent bottlers whose rums I found and started reviewing, along with Rum Nation and the original Renegade and yes, Velier. The small company is still going strong, and after having made its bones with some really good single cask bottlingsI have fond memories of their Indonesian rum, for exampledid some very unusual one-offs (Florida, Thailand, Ghana, El Salvador), and also expanded into blends, much as 1423 has done, with names as evocative as Tricorn, Blacklice, Boulet de Canon, Veneragua, Barbagaya, Caraibes, Dominidad, Kaiman and (on my list to try for sure) the Great Whites. Yet, as with most independents, while it is the softer blends that provide the cash flow, it’s the cask bottlings that are deemed the cream of the crop, and form the edifice upon which the Compagnie’s reputation is considered to rest.

The rum for today is one of these: a molasses-based rum from Fiji, distilled in 2010 on a column still, aged seven years there and three years in Europe, resulting in an outturn of 407 bottles, and whose provenance is not disclosed.

The precedent for such demure modesty in the naming is admittedly not new. Sometimes pre-existing sales arrangements with other brandseven the distillery’s owncome with the condition that third party bottlings don’t get to capitalise on the distillery’s name; sometimes it’s because the provenance is not entirely nailed down; sometimes it’s reverse marketing. Whatever the reason, upon further consideration, the amused cynic in me posits that perhaps there’s a good reason for a rum coming from the only rum-making enterprise on Fiji to proclaim it comes from a “Secret Distillery”: the fact that the rum, alas, isn’t that interesting.

There is, you see, not a whole lot going on with the nose as it stands. Granted 44% isn’t the strongest rum I’ve ever tried, and indeed it was the puniest of the rums in that evening’s first flight. Yet even taking that into account the rum is something of a lightweight: some light apples, cider and yoghurt, followed by wispy, watery fruits (pears, watermelon, papaya), some grapes, and licorice. There’s a line of sugar cane sap and lemon meringue pie here and there, just difficult to come to grips with and it wafts away too quickly. There should be more to a sipping rum from one barrel than a nose this ephemeral, I’m thinking.

Tasting it reinforces this impression of “move along folks, nothing to see here.” The rum has a firm feel on the tongue, yet you’d be hard pressed to discourse on any single component of what comprises it. Some light, white fruitsguavas, pears, melontasting the slightest bit salty at times, overlaid with a whiff of acetone. If you pushed you might hazard a guess that you sense papaya or kiwi fruit, sugar water and maybe a slight briny aspect, akin to salt caramel chocolate. And the finish is just that, a finish, and a quick one at that. White guavas, a hint of brine, flowers and acetone, all weak and airy and very hard to detect.

Several years ago I tried an earlier one of the Compagnie’s Fiji rumsthat one was from 2004, also from South Pacific, also ten years old, also 44%. At the time it was too new for me to make any sweeping statements about it, though I remarked that it wasn’t quite my cup of tea (for reasons other than those noted here). In the interim there have been quite a few more candidates from the distillery, including those released by Bounty, Samaroli, L’Esprit, TCRL, the Rum Cask, Duncan Taylor, and even the Compagnie a few more times. None have had this almost indifferent aroma and vague palate, at any strength.

So we know from years of subsequent experience that both the Compagnie and South Pacific can do a whole lot better, and there is rum out there from the distillery which is just shy of magnificent. Since I know that, I can only assume that the barrel this was aged in was simply exhausted and had nothing left to give except maybe good advice. My own recommendation, then, is simply that it’s a pass. Fortunately, given the sheer volume and variety of excellent rum that Florent has put out over the last decade, there is no shortage of good and better rums from the Compagnie that can take its place.

(#983)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐


 

Mar 032023
 

Sugar House, along with Ninefold, J. Gow, Islay Rum Co and other distilleries now opening in the UK, may represent the Brit’s answer to the diminution of the merchant bottling trade, or perhaps the growing expense of getting the best casks out of the brokerages by an ever-increasing number of independents. It speaks to the desire of a new crop of aggressive young Turks to not be beholden to third parties for barrels of rum or blending skills, but to let loose and harness their own creative impulses to the max, and go out there and break some sh*t, to see what comes out the other end, frothing and hissing and dissolving glasses, taste buds and noses in equal measure.

While excitement attends the opening of any new craft micro-distillery launched by some enthusiastic young bravos, visionary lone founders or a husband and wife team that subsist on pizzazz and chutzpah and high hopes more than cold cash, they tend to be found most often in the Caribbean, Asia or Africa, with a smattering elsewhere. One does not immediately think of Scotland as rum country, know what I mean? Yet slowly but surely, small, exciting, well branded and cannily-marketed little startups are beginning to make a dent in the rumiverse over there, and Sugar House is surely one of them.

Founded in 2017 by owner and distiller Ross Bradley, it is not located in some rolling peat-smelling Scottish highland glen with fog, heather and deer in all directions, but in the down-to-earth, less than romantic industrial area just north west of the small town of Dumbarton, itself to the NW of Glasgow. Initially he used the Strathleven Distillery to pot distil the rum (and called it the Spirit of Glasgow) but as of 2018, their own equipment probably arrived and Mr. Bradley set up shop in the Vale of Leven Industrial Estate. There, welding a hybrid 1400-litre pot still (with a 12 plate rectifying column bolted on) to imported high grade molasses (Wes noted in 2018 that it was from Guyana) and a week-long fermentation time, Sugar House produces a 90% ABV spirit. Some of that goes to age, some of gets released as an unaged white, still more goes into the spiced and infused rums they also sell, and some just gets tinkered with in one fashion or another and released as an experimental, limited edition.

For the moment, none of these are under the microscope except the white, which in this case is from the 2022 batch on display at the first TWE Rumshow, and not the same as the blue labelled one Wes reviewed five years ago. He liked it a lot, and batch variation or no, new recipe or not, this Scottish rum packed quite a wallop for me as well. Consider: the nose was light and fruity, felt solid and clean, and smelled fruity, a bit malty and even beer-like, with a nice play of hops lurking in the background. There was cardboard, light watery fruit, cherries, a fine touch of funkiness (not much), some green peas and melted butter, papaya and salt, and say what you will but I thought it was different and good (though I tried manfully to keep my face impassive at the booth that day and mumbled something doofus-like, like “Hmm” and “”ok” and “interesting” which probably made the guys wonder why they were wasting time talking to me).

For 43% the palate really was surprisingly robust as well. Not sharp, just punchyit channelled a sort of earthiness of dark wet loam, damp sea wind, and again, beer, mustiness, and some ashes (all this, in an unaged white rum?). It progressed sweetly and naturally to a sort of peppery, fruity, tart series of tastesunsweetened yoghurt, pineapple and cordite mixed with sharp unripe fruits is the best I can explain it, though later some of the depth started fade as I stuck with it. It was remarkably pleasant by itself ( I was told it was even better in a mojito) and while the finish brought nothing new to the tableit mostly summed up the preceding experienceit was as sweetly and lightly loving as a wife’s kiss in the morning, and a nice summation of the drink as a whole.

It’s too early to tell the kind of impact a small craft distillery will have on the global rumisphere in years to come, but for now Sugar House is certainly making a splash locally and in Europe, where the desire of the tippling public for something new and interesting will certainly garner them plaudits and (hopefully) increase sales. Sales that I hope expand to other parts of the world, where stuff like this is in short supply as the race to premiumise gathers force and steam and relegates whites to the unfairly dismissed margins. But you know, I enjoyed and liked this standard proof unaged white rum a lotthe tastes were a mix of old and new, familiar and different, oddly unique and comfortingly the same…and it was a fun drink on top of it all. That sort of combination is rare, is welcome when it’s experienced, and to have it on display with products made so early in the lifecycle of a new company speaks well for their future endeavours. I think it’s something of an undiscovered gem.

(#977)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

 

Feb 242023
 

When it comes to Guyanese rum, I’m afraid that much as I enjoy DDL’s wares from time to timemore so of late, since they took the bull by the horns and released rums with less additionsthe really good stuff, the best stuff, to me, still comes from the indies. Alas, Velier has moved away from the Demerara rums and I can’t afford the ones that remain on the secondary market, but fortunately for us all, there is no shortage of other independent bottlers out there to satisfy our thirst for the output of those lovely wooden heritage stills.

And one of the more intriguing developments in the Demerara rumisphere by these indies, is the (occasional) release of high proof unaged white rums which were previously deemed the province of the French island rhum makers, and the Jamaicans. We’ve seen a few of these hefty molasses-based whites before, of course, whether aged a little or not at allany list of bartenders’ favourites can’t be complete without the J Wray 63%, Hampden’s Rum Fire and Worthy Park’s Rum Bar rums, and to be sure there are others from St. Vincent, Grenada, Suriname and even Guyana (where the DDL Superior High Wine is a sort of local classic to this day).

For the most part, however, something like the L’Esprit MPM is a rare thing. A one-off unaged white from the Port Mourant pot still, we’ve actually seen its near-twin beforethe “Cuvee Edgar” 2º Edition, which shared much of the DNA of the rum we’re hear to discuss todaythe First Edition. Both are Port Mourant wooden pot still rums (the label is a misprint where it says “single pot still”), both were issued to celebrate the birth of Tristan Prodhomme’s son Edgar, both are rested and not aged for about a year in inert steel tanks, and both jacked up to a strength that would have your nether regions puckering (85%), and frankly, when tasting it I wondered if it wasn’t just a bit too much for us mere mortals.

Because think about it: 40% ABV is standard strength and if taken too quickly is still a bit of a bash to the snoot when sniffed and a quick stab to the glottis when sampled. This rum is more than twice that strength, and believe me, it shows, it’s not afraid to say it, and looking at it, remembering the last time, I morbidly wondered what it had had for breakfast that day: diced and fried reviewers, maybe?

A deeper inhale than a delicate little somelier-taking-a-toot sniff I took of this clear popskull might have caused my DNA to unravel, so I took my time. Which was a good idea, as the fierce power of the aromas was off the charts; on the flip side, it allowed a lot to come through over the ten minutes I initially spent with it (the glass ended up going for two days). First, there was a near-rank orange juice past the sell-by date; then dry, fruity, meaty, briny notes all at once, savage and hard hitting. It had the soft dampness of dew on a cool misty morning in trees nestled in mountain foothills; the gasoline stink of an open jerry-can, and yet all that was offset by hot samosas and a badly made currywurst in an cheap imbiss down in Steglitz. It was dirty and aromatic and not even halfway done yet, because the aromas kept pouring out of the glass: anise and lemongrass, a touch of bitters, mauby, sorrel, unsweetened bitter chocolate and just a ton of overripe prunes, before doing a segue into a garbage pile in hot weather mixed up with the musky pungency of an untended outhouse. Yeah I know, it’s a lot and sounds this side of awful, but damn, this thing was intense, it was fun to try, and fending off the strength became a kind of game to see who would win, me or the rum.

Thankfully the palate calmed down; it was still a massive gut punch, yet it was somehow not as intent on causing damage as it was proving it was the biggest and baddest thing in the room that day. First off was rubber, plastic and lots of furniture polish Then it got sweet and creamy, channelled some Danish cookies and whipped cream, and added anise and a light fruit jam spread over salt crackers; and just to prove it had more up its sleeves than just its arms, there was a whiff of some olive oil spread over toasted black bread. It sure wasn’t your standard profile, but it the same time it was pungent, riotous, brutal and expressive to a fault.

And the finish, well that was epically longbriny, dry, deep, reeking of toasted bread, crackers, fish in olive oil (!!), smoke from a kero stove, licorice and damp sawdust, yet not sharp or damage inducing at all. It was more like a massive teutonic monument, solidly implacable, demanding you respect its awesomeness. Or something like that. As you can tell, I was quite enthused.

In a recent virtual tasting I was part of, an O Reizinho Madeira 9 month old near-white agricole rhum from Boutique-y was one of my favourites of the evening, but it confused the hell out of the whisky guys in attendance, who grudgingly admitted it had some chops (then crossed themselves while looking furtively around to see if anyone had heard), but struggled to put into words exactly what made it so goodperhaps it was because unaged whisky has never been a thing in the malty world except maybe among moonshiners the way unaged rum has been for us. Given their perplexity, I’m not sure I would dare give them this one to tryif the O Reiz made them scratch their sporrans, the L’Esprit might unravel their kilts altogether.

Because to my mind, it’s not just that L’Esprit makes great rums and Tristan knows how to pick ‘emit’s simply that of all the Guyanese rums made on all those many stills, Port Mourants at any age seem to be the pick of the litter. Here that’s proved once againI liked it a lot, even more than the 2º Edition, and that was no slouch either. For its pungency, its richness, its depth, the neverending finish, all those insane tastes and yes, even the strength. The rum is fierce, it’s powerful, it jets fire from each nostril and were you to expel a belch and a flatus after a sip of it, seismometers would quiver and the bar would be empty a second later. It’s that kind of experience, and who wouldn’t want to try it for all that, if even just the one time?

(#975)(88/100)

Feb 132023
 

If you have never heard of Wild Parrot, or have but can’t recall their releases, you can relax. You’re not alone. It is one of those recently founded small European indies that has pretty much remained in its own area and does not seek to be like 1423 and expand around the world. For the curious, the company was created in 2017 by two northern Italian rum aficionados: Stefano Cremaschi of The Whisky Roundabout store located just east of Milan, and Andrea Ferrari from the independent whiskey bottler Hidden Spirits in Ferrara, just north of Bolognethe brand’s rums are listed as a subset of Hidden Spirits on their Italian website, and also mentioned as being part of them on their FB page. Strictly speaking, it’s an online shop and brand.

So far there are a three collections out there: the first one, “Art & Animal” (11 expressions bottled in 2017 and 2018), “Black and Gold” (9 bottlings from 2019-2021, all from Jamaica and Guyana). and “Beauty of Nature” (8 bottlings from 2021-2022). The company notes that the titlings and designs of each collection are done in conjunction with, and by, the Italian artist Giulia Ronchetti, and the design and pictures on the boxes and back labels are quite striking.

The subject of today’s review is an expression from that first “Art & Animal” collection, from Guyana: a single cask deriving from the Uitvlugt estate, aged in Europe, which released 150 bottles at 48.9%. Since these gents are probably perfectly aware of the various stills that have passed through that estate distillery in the course of its storied history, I will assume this is not either an Enmore or Port Mourant wooden-still rum, but one from the French Savalle still that was housed there until it too was moved to Diamond (the actual still is nowhere mentioned, so this is in the line of an educated guess).

The reason I make the assumption is because the profile is not at all reminiscent of the wooden stills. The nose starts off with lovely, sweet and rich notes of caramel, molasses, toffee, and even some lightly aromatic spices. There is also glue, varnish and a bouquet of crisply sweet apples and green grapes, followed by ripe peaches, apricots and even a nice red winey background that has no hint of the tannic licorice and pencil shavings we usually associate with a wooden still.

The palate is excellent as well: sweet, light, tinkling,sparkly and playful, like a sunlight dappled brook chuckling over wet rocks; scintillating light fruitsguava, peaches, watermelon, papaya, even some peaches in syrup. The mouthfeel is great, if light, and sharp little stabs drive home the message that there’s still some aggro and attitude left behind after all that ageing, and it shouldn’t be taken too lightly. But one hardly notices this, because the overall experience is so intriguing and tasty, and even the finishsalty, fruity, long lasting, mostly grapes, raisins, apples and fleshy stoned fruitsis absolutely one to savour. How this much finish was wring out of such a modest proof is a mystery, but I assure you…it works, and works well.

In the years since opening for business, Wild Parrot has not garnered any sort of lasting acclaim on the international rum-circuit. That’s not surprising since they don’t attend very many festivals (which in any case had that two year COVID gap to contend with), have small outturns and are marketed primarily in Italy. Yet in an underground sort of way, they are known to the European cognoscenti and if there is any indication that the rums of the line are a good long term bet, it’s the gradual rise in prices on Rum Auctioneer, where any of the range reliably goes for over £500 these days.

So what of this one, this two-decades old Guyanese rum made in the late 1990s? Well, I think that overall, it’s a solid, delicious Uitvlugt rum that any independent would be happy to have in its portfolio. The nose, the tastes, the finish, it all works; and for those who are nervous about cask strength monsters, the armchair strength here may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Even though these days we have become somewhat jaded with the wealth of available Guyanese bottlings, this rum is at pains to show that there is still some originality and quality left in the world for the enterprising barrel selector to ferret out. This is one of them, and it’s a great find for anyone who gets to try it.

(#972)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachmann, who provided the sample.
Feb 102023
 

Memories are short in this day and age of always-on ADD infotainment, yet I remember quite clearly the short and sharp social media posts that erupted over the naming of Tamosi’s first rum “Kanaima,” which was considered disrespectful appropriation and misnaming (at the very least) of an Amerindian term by a commercial entity (see backgrounder below this review for an expanded discussion of the matter).

For those who are not familiar with the term “kanaima”, it variously refers to a spiritual force of the jungle which can be tapped into, a spirit being, or (in my own favourite) the name of an Amerindian deity, whose most famous manifestation may be A.J. Seymour’s wonderful narrative poem “The Legend of Kaieteur” which I highly recommend everyone read, and which starts:

Now Makonaima the Great Spirit dwelt
In the huge mountain rock that throbbed and felt
The swift black waters of Potaro’s race
Pause on the lip, commit themselves to space
And dive the half mile to the rocks beneath.
Black were the rocks with sharp and angry teeth
And on those teeth the eager waters died
Lost their black body, and up the mountainside
Above the gorge that seethed and foamed and hissed
Rose, resurrected, as lovely mist.

Well, that’s probably more than what you wanted (the poem is much longer1) You came here for a rum review, not an extended lesson in Guyanese verse or a treatise on amerindian spiritual naming sources. Still it says something about the word, and to this day “kanaima” (small k) is often used when speaking in the bush about spirits, especially shape-shifting were-jaguars, which are expanded on in the about page for the rum.

Introduction and naming aside, here are the bare stats: it’s a continentally aged 16 year old Guyanese Versailles wooden pot still rum from 2004, aged in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 58.9%. Some caramel was added for colouring, and the company founded by UK-based Guyanese Benjamin Boothe has continued with its releases and naming practises ever since. Like Nobilis or Rum Artesanal, two other small indies founded at about the same time, Tamosi has raised the game of limited releases with high-quality selections that have kept its reputation polished to a shine.

Tasting notes are about what one would expect if one was into Guyanese rums generally, and the wooden heritage stills specifically. The nose, for example, is so Versailles-like, it squeaks; it’s rare that I get an aroma so clearly identifiable with and relatable to that still, because usually there are aspects of the other two stills hovering around that cloud the analysis. Here it is woody, bright, pure, clean, sparkling, tannic, and chock full of sawdust and wet wooden shavings freshly shaved off an uncut piece of lumber. There’s licorice, leather, tannins, cider, grapes, salt, a few dark fruits, cinnamon and bitter black tea leavened with just a smidge of condensed milk and cardamom.

The palate is rich and deep: the proof really helps herestronger would not work nearly as well. It’s slightly bitter to taste, with mauby, cinnamon and coffee grounds, plus a touch of almonds and molasses. Once it calms down, it gets better, channelling the same bush tea the nose suggested, a little licorice and a few dark fruits. The overwhelming impression one is left with is not fruitiness but rather aromatic tobaccos and newly-sawn lumber, and that it works as well as it does is impressive. One false note, one element more than another and the whole carefully balanced edifice would shatter and collapse. But somehow that never happens, and with a long, crisp, dark finish that closes things offlicorice, salt caramel, black grapes, molasses, hot sweet tea, cider and brineit ends by being a wonderfully well-assembled VSG rum and one I enjoyed thoroughly.

I’ve often thought that it takes real skill to bring a Versailles-still rum to its full potential, and there are a lot of hit and miss expressions out there. Ten years ago something of this calibre would likely have made a bigger splash than it did, even without the attendant publicity surrounding the name. Because to get a VSG marque rum this good is a rarityPM and Enmore and Diamond and even Uitvlugt tend to have slightly higher reputations and more easily approachable profiles, while Versailles…well, not so much. And of course, now, a few years on, the Kanaima has faded from sight somewhat as newer indies and newer releases and newer halo rums come to the fore and replace it.

But I think the rum is some kind of wonderful on its own terms, and shouldn’t be overlooked or left to rust. It’s on the far side of raw, still possessing some attitude, complex to a fault and recognizable Guyanese, while being tamed just enough by time and barrel action to be enjoyable. It’s original and deeply rough and tasty as all get outand while I can’t quite go as far as Marius of Single Cask Rum when he said it was, the best VSG to come out of DDL to date,” I think it’s for sure one of the top expressions of the marque and from the still to ever make it to the wider public.

(#971)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Background

As noted, Benjamin Boothe, a first generation Guyanese immigrant to Britain (he lives in Amsterdam now), started the indie brand called Tamosi in 2020, named after aspects of Carib and Amerindian cosmology. Because his ethnic and cultural background is also West Indian, he hit on the idea of drawing attention to, and honouring, the names of local deities and spirits from indigenous and imported folklore, and named his first rum “Kanaima” explaining the choice and its background both on the bottle label and on the company website. It is clear that this was no quickie commercial marketing scheme, but something deeply feltthe level of research Mr. Boothe brought to the table was not inconsiderable (which is something a lot of other indies which claim to honour historical heritage don’t really do beyond the superficial).

You will recall that this was at the height of several interlocking and vicious social and cultural rum wars: the Barbados GI, the j’ouvert rum from Michael B. Jordan, Velier’s imbroglio with the extolling of Haiti’s undeveloped pastoralism, the “Plantation” and “Esclavo“ names, BLM, and all sorts of posts coming out almost daily about racism, diversity, gender bias, appropriation and so on.

So it was probably no surprise that almost immediately people came out of the social media woodwork to accuse him of cultural insensitivity towards indigenous religious beliefs (though few if any of the commentators were indigenous themselves). Academics with purportedly years of research into the matter challenged his assertions. Comments came thick and fast, claiming it was historically incorrect, and rank neo-colonialist cultural appropriation if not outright theft by some guy not even from the region and as usual, some of it became quite ugly. Boothe engaged with his detractors and explained his rationale, which boiled down to this: too many historical callouts in the rum world’s marketing were either superficial or limited in focus, and his own very extensive researches had shown there was quite a bit more to early sugar and rum production that involved other ethnic groups and their interactions, and this was one way to provide more information and background to that aspect of things. To my knowledge not one of his interlocutors conceded he had a point, which to my mind says rather more about them than the argument they were trying to make.

Moreover, not only did Boothe have a West Indian heritage himself, his research was no slapdash cut-and-paste shallow excerpt from a primary school text or someone else’s online post, but a close reading of many historical tomes, academic papers and primary sources to which he had dedicated much time and effort. In other words, the naming convention chosen was being done with respect and knowledge, by someone who had a cultural connection to the term much closer than, say, that of Michael B. Jordan, whose tactless trademarking of j’ouvert to name his rum at around the same time, without a smidgen of relationship to the term, also raised hackles.

However, Boothe stuck to his guns; he defended his choices, refused to alter his company’s or his rums’ names, and as usual, memories faded, the world moved on and Tamosi is a fact of life now (as are all other bottles issued under the brand, which continue the theme of being named after local spirits and deities of the country of origin). With one exception, nobody has raised the issue since that timeunlike, say, Plantation or Esclavo business, which reliably pops up for a question and a mention on reddit or Facebook at least once every few months. And there the matter lies.


 

Jan 122023
 

Samaroli was one of the first of the modern Italian independents, and focused primarily on whiskies, which remains the core of its indie bottling business to this day. The reputation of the company began in 1968 when Sylvano Samaroli began bottling for the Italian marketthe first non-UK bottler to deal seriously in that obscure Scottish tippleand eventually started issuing rums as well. The most famous of all his rum selections, and reputedly his own favourite, was probably also the first: the 1991-bottled unicorn rum of the West Indies Dark Rum from 1948. The next rum bottlings were done around 1998 and there were a few sporadic non-too-regular releases here and there until 2010…and in that year it’s like the hound was let off the leash and releases have come thick and fast ever since. Not just the usual single cask expressions, but blends and NAS rums, and the ship shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

The rum we’re looking at today is a Guyanese from 1990, bottled 26 years later in 2016 at a reasonable 45% (though admittedly, that’s rather mild for single cask releases) and from a single cask (#68) which decanted 240 bottles. Curiously, the still of origin is never mentioned. Samaroli may have been an early bellwether and trendsetter of the rum scene (as Renegade was in another context), but disclosure was never as big a thing for them as it was for Velier, though far better than Moon Imports, say. The 1990 Guyana vintage, as an aside, seemed to be a favoured year for Samaroli, as they released several expressions from it, in 2007 (two, a PM and a VSG), 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 (also a PM). With a few exceptions, almost none disclosed the still, so clearly this was deliberate; and since by 2016 that was surely a thing for connoisseurs of Demerara rums, one can only assume they did not consider it important for some obscure reason, or that the rum was blended in the barrel from several sources.

So we have to guess, which is always fun with Demeraras, and that all goes to the profile. Which starts, as always, with the nose: here it’s woody, with early notes of licorice and caramel, wet sawdust and dark fruits like prunes, raisins, plums, black grapes. It stays that way for a bit, before one senses soft flowers (lilies, just a touch of lavender), pencil shavings and an odd aroma of freshly baked bread dipped into a mixture of red wine, balsamic vinegar and olive oil (it’s not unpleasant, just unusual), with additional tannins, leather and polished wood bringing up the rear. The fruits are kept secondary for the most part, and stay noticeable, but in the background.

How it tastes is not significantly different, although less satisfying. All the same hits are playing but out of order: caramel, sawdust, licorice, dark grapes, raisins, and dates bitten into and devoured by the bitterness of sawdust, lumber, sharp licorice and gingersnaps. It gets somewhat better over time, just not spectacular, one the fruitsplums and cherries and prunes for the most parttake on more weight. Then the rum starts to taste more robust, and even creamy: one gets yoghurt and sour cream sprinkled over with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, with the heavier notes of toffee and caramel holding the high ground throughout. Finish is nice, sweetish and muscular, long lasting (for 45% that’s impressive), channelling final notes of prunes, nuts, thyme, blancmange … and even a touch tomatoes on hot bread reminiscent of pizza!

When I think of Samaroli, it always seems like it’s the grand old man of the indie rum scene; admittedly it has only few really phenomenal, well-known must-have unicorns in the pantheon, and the field has gotten way more crowded with new entrantsyet somehow, it has always seemed to be Samaroli that others aspired to beat. Perhaps it’s because in the 1980s and 1990s and even 2000s, Sylvano influenced a whole raft of young up and coming European rum and whisky peopledistillers, collectors, distributors, simple anorakswho went to him for advice or to see how he did things and paid him homage in their subsequent writings. I have my own favourite Samaroli rums, but given that he up and stepped away from the company in 2008 while retaining some influence in selections, it’s hard to know for sure which bear his fingerprints and which don’t.

Circling back: my first guess on the still is that it’s the Enmore wooden coffeyit lacks the slight roughness of the VSG, and doesn’t have the depth of the PMbut for all anyone knows, it could be a blend as well. It’s difficult to classify precisely, because there are so many odd, even discordant, notes at play here, which means it never gels into something one can really appreciate. And while obviously a “real” rum, it’s also something of an odd duck, what with those balsamic and tomato notes I observed: which lead to amusing mental connections, but also some level of confusion. Gregers Nielsen, who was shamelessly (and all-too-generously) pilfering from my bottle in Berlin the day we were trying this thing, opined that the finish was great, which it was, but alas, that was not enough to save the overall experience being somewhat flat and muddledand at the end, my opinion is simply that it’s rather more miss than hit.

(#965)(81/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


 

Jan 042023
 

Rumaniacs Review #143 | R-0963

All sorts of little mysteries attend this rum. First of all, what we know: a Haitian rhum bottled by a Belgian outfit named Fryns Hasselt in the 1980s, at 40%. What we don’t know: cane juice or molasses, type of still, which estate or brand, where it was aged and in what kind of barrelsthough I think it’s a fair bet it’s Barbancourt, it came from a column still, and the ageing was around five years, likely in Europe. A bottleperhaps even the same one flipped several timesappeared on Whisky.Auction in February, March, April and May 2019 (which is, coincidentally, just around the time I scored the sample). It seems to be the only one ever released by the little company (see below for a short bio).

ColourLight brown

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseNot much going on here. Very very light. Grapes, green apples, a touch of vanilla and evidence of heavier fruit sensed but not really tasted. Bananas, whipped cream on top of a caramel macchiato. Takes some time to come to grips with this rum, and it opens up to strengthen the vanilla and caramel component, and add a sort of weak fruit salad vibe.

PalateActually quite a bit better than the nose leads one to believe, although conversely, it’s more a matter of intensity than anything new. Caramel, vanilla, nutty fudge, a hint of flambeed bananas, stewed apples and somewhere behind all that is a suggestion of very hot loose-leaf strong black tea cut with evaporated milk, plus just a whiff of citrus zest.

Finishshort, easy, light. Sherbet, vanilla, peaches…any more than that and I’d be guessing

Overall, for all its wispy nature, it was serviceable, and I found little beyond its weakness to dislike: but when this much time and effort is required for a sniff and a snort, it’s hardly worth the trouble. It’s simple, it’s near weightless and reasonably effective at saying it’s a light rum but beyond that, it’s thin pickings and not something that showcases itself effectively enough for a real recommendation. As for it being an actual Haitian rum, well, we’ll have to take that one on trust.

(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Hydrometer showed 40% so the rum is as stated, and not added to
  • My thanks as always go to Nicolai Wachmann of Denmark for the sample.

Picture (c) Whisky.Auction

Historical Background

So who is Fryns Hasselt? An interesting little company, all in all, and they demonstrate that the French and Brits and Italians weren’t the only ones with liquor merchants who had a rep in the late 1800s and that there were small towns not called Flensburg that had several distilleries and bottlers that dabbled in rum.

Gin (or jenever) at that point was a cheap liquor for the masses made from sugar-beet molasses, but there is no record I was able to find that suggests rum was ever physically made in Hasselt. Belgium’s colonial adventures at that time were more in Africa than in the Caribbean, specifically the Belgian Congo. As the Brits found out in India, gin was known to be useful in that it disguised the bitter taste of the anti-malarial drug quininewhich may have accounted for its expanded production, quite aside from keeping the huddled masses toped up and out of mischievous activities like revolutions or communism or questioning the divine right of the king to have huge private properties in Africa while many Belgians of the time lived in misery.

The small town of Hasselt has an interesting history which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself: the key point is that for centuries it was known for its gin distilleries, to the extent that there is a now a jenever museum in the town, and an annual Jenever Fest to celebrate the spirit. In the 19th century, gin production was the most important industrial industry in the area, and most of the involved distilleries were located in Hasselt itself.

Fryns was a family company established in 1887 by the family patriarch Guillaume Fryns: he opened a distillery in a building called “In the Cloverleaf”, situated in a shopping street in downtown Hasselt, and indeed, the cloverleaf has become a logo for Fryns ever since (they trademarked it in 1908). The company passed to Guillaume’s sons Guillaume Jr. and Jules after his death in 1909, and they expanded production by adding a malt house and an ice factory to the premises, more branches in other cities and a fleet of trucks to service them all. They also spruced up the packaging and branched out into liqueurs, which were fashionable in the Roaring Twenties.

The WW2 years saw them shut down for lack of cooperation with the occupying forces so they started the rebuilding with the third generation of Fryns in 1945 and kept a steady business running; however, financial and familial problems forced a sale to external investors in 1979. The name and branding was kept, and in 1988 another large Hasselt-based distillery called Bruggeman bought it (along with a second company called Smeets). In 1995 Bruggeman moved the whole operation to Ghent, and so the involvement of Fryns in Hasselt came to a close.

This was not the end, however, because 2018 Michel Fryns (a fourth-generation scion of the family) reacquired the company and distillery from Bruggeman and promptly moved it back to Hasselt, where it remains to this day, making gins, liqueurs and pre-mixed drinks.

That’s all gin production and corporate history. With respect to rum, as far as I was able to discover, the company never actually made any. My informed supposition is simply that the the new owners post-1979 cast around for other sources of revenue and somehow got their hand on a few other distilled spirits. The only rum Fryns ever released was the old Haitian rum, and one can only suggest that it was an experiment that went nowhere, because aside from the (gin) distiller Smeets, who produced two rums called “Blacky” and “Castelgy” of uncertain provenance (they may have been verschnitts) and the Distillerie Theunissen who put out a single Jamaican rum, there is no record of any other rum ever made (which is to say, bottled) in the town. Certainly Bruggeman never appeared to have released any rums while they owned the company and the brand.

Logistics and a lack of interest probably defeated them, as there were better rums coming out of France, Britain, Italy and northern Germany. So they focused on their core competency and let the idea of branching out into rum wither on the vine, so to speak. That’s a fair bit of supposing and maybes and guesswork, but I think the chain of logic is reasonable.


 

Dec 082022
 

Rumaniacs Review #142 | 0957

As noted before (and repeated below for the curious), Cadenhead has three different bottle ranges, each of which has progressively less information than the one before it: the Dated Distillations, the Green Labels and the Caribbean blends.

The Green Label releases are always 46% and issued on no schedule; their labels and the company website provides so little information on past releases that one has to take some stuff on faithin this case, my friend Sascha Junkert (the sample originator) noted it was a 10 YO bottled in 2000, although even the best resource on Cadenhead’s older bottlings, Marco Freyr, cannot verify the dates in his detailed post on the company and the accompanying bottle list, and Rum-X only mentions one distilled in 1998. There are only a handful of Green Label 10 YO rums from Guyana / Demerara at all, and the 2000 reported date doesn’t line up for any other published resourcewhen they bother, most mention 1998-2002 as distillation dates. So some caution is in order.

What’s particularly irritating about the label in this instance is that it lacks any information not only about the dates and the still(s), but also the casksand so here one has to be careful, because there are two types of this 10YO Demerara: one “standard” release, and one matured in Laphroaig casks. How to tell the difference? The Laph aged version is much paler and has a strip taped vertically across the screw top like a tax strip. Hardly the epitome of elegant and complete information provision now, is it.

The Laphroaig aged expression. Note the identifying strip at top.

ColourPale yellow

Strength – 46%

NoseDry, dusty, with notes of anise and rotting fruits: one can only wonder what still this came off of. Salt butter, licorice, leather, tannins and smoke predominate, but there is little rich dark fruitiness in evidence. Some pencil shavings, sawdust, glue and acetone, and the bite of unsweetened tea that’s too strong.

PalateContinues the action of the sweet bubble gum, acetones, nail polish and glue, plus some plasticinenot unpleasant, just not very rum-like. Also the pencil shavings, sawdust and varnish keep coming, and after a while, some green fruits: apples, soursop, grapes. At the last, one can sense candied oranges, caramel bon bons, and more very strong and barely-sweetened black tea teetering on the edge of bitterness.

FinishReasonably long, reasonably flavourful, quite thin. Mostly licorice, caramel, tannins and a touch of unidentifiable fruit.

ThoughtsIt’s not often appreciated how much we pre-judge and line up our expectations for a rum based on what we are told about it, or what’s on the label. Here it’s frustrating to get so little, but it does focus the attention and allow an unblinking, cold-eyed view to be expressed. In fine, it’s an average product: quite drinkable, decent strength, enough flavours not to bore, too few to stand out in any way. It’s issued for the mid range, and there it resolutely stays, seeking not to rise above its station

(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • The three ranges of Cadenhead’s releases are:
    • The cask strength, single-barrel Dated Distillation series with a three- or four-letter identifier and lots of detail on source and age; I submit these are probably the best and rightly the most sought-after rums from the company (aside from a 1939-distilled Green Label from Ago). The only question usually remaining when you get one, is what the letters stand for.
    • The Green Label series; these are usually single-country blends, sometimes from multiple distilleries (or stills, or both), mostly from around the Caribbean and Central/South America; a few other countries have been added in the 2020s. Here you get less detail than the DDs, mostly just the country, the age and the strength, which is always 46% ABV. THey had puke yellow labels with green and red accents for a long time, but now they’re green for real, as they had been back in the beginning.
    • Classic Blended Rum; a blend of Caribbean rums, location never identified, age never stated (anywhere), usually bottled at around 50% ABV. You takes your chances with these, and just a single one ever crossed my path.
    • Strictly speaking there is a fourth type sometimes referred to as a “Living Cask” which is a kind of personalized shop-by-shop infinity bottle. I’ve only tried one of these, though several are supposedly in existence.
  • These older Cadenhead’s series with the puke yellow and green labels are a vanishing breed so I think the classification in the Rumaniacs is appropriate.
  • The pot-column still tagging / categorization is an assumption based on the way it tasted. I think it’s an Enmore and Versailles blend, but again, no hard evidence aside from my senses.

 

Nov 272022
 

I view L’Esprit’s unaged still-strength white rums the way I regard Mrs. Canerwith besotted love not unmixed with a little dread. Treat her right and there’s no end of the amazing wonders and complexities that will be provided; drink carelessly and you’ll be belted into next week. Seeing the stats, is clear to see why: the rum is distilled in 2019 in Jamaica, and taken at 85.6% as it dripped and smoked and frothed off the still, then released without any ageing into the wild, unfiltered and unadded-to, and completely, fiercely, joyously untamed. You get the nervous feeling that when you drink it, you can sense the Grim Reaper on your shoulder clearing his throat.

So you can understand both my awe and my trepidation. On the outside, as a white rum, it looks meek and demure (another similarity it shares with my better half), but hard experience with L’Esprit’s recent outturns of this kind have taught me some measure of caution. The initial sniff showed why this was a good idea: it was a wild storm of competing, fighting, angry tastes from all over the map, starting with coconut milk with a touch of gaminess, vanilla, and flambeed bananas drizzled with hot bitter caramel syrup. As if unsatisfied, it moved on to rubber and tar on a hot day. Glue, solvent, acetones, and behind it all, the rank meatiness of a midden heap, brine and hogo gone wild, into which somebody spilled a bucket of used engine oil. If there were any fruits around, they were blattened flat by this huge wave of rumstink, and yet, for all that this reads like some kind of crazy, it’s still somewhat better and more interestingly assembled than the Long Pond TECA.

And at that strength, when sipped, well, it provided all the acres of hurt one can expect from that huge pail of proof. It was hot, spicy, initially reeking of stripped out gears and a burnt clutch on an old Land Roverthis was brief and dissipated swiftly, being replaced by ethanol, medicinals, a tart sort of sweetness (yoghurt, citrus, green apples, grapes, strawberries) and sourness (miso soup, Thai sweet chili, soya)…and then it really got going. There was the bitter clarity of licking a copper penny. It tasted of hot and very strong unsweetened black tea, on the good side of being bitter. And then it got more creamy and spicy and warm at the back end, before relaxing into a finish that was long, sweet, salty, sour, bitteras if all taste receptors got switched back on at oncecoughing up citrus, juniper, quinine and mineral water to go with the pears and green apples that closed the show.

Damn, but this was one serious rum. It’s just this side of excessive, and is the sort of thing a resident of Trenchtown would splash on before heading to the local rum shop for a duck curry and a brawl. The tastes are completely off the scale, they’re all over the place like a half-drawn roadmap leading to an undiscovered country and it’s a small miracle that they work together as well as they do. And admittedly, it’s too fierce on the attack: the lips are numbed, the tongue paralyzed, the taste buds burnt out in a bright flash of heated sulphur and brimstone, and this will not be a rum that finds favour with many except Los Extremos who inhale this kind of thing with their morning wheaties.

And yet, and yet…it’s not entirely a bad product : once it settles down it’s a really quite interesting piece of work, in spite of its undiluted demon-piss vibe. What it does, better than most with similar specs, is unashamedly channel trashy 1980s Ahnuld, Sly, Chuck and Dolph Lundgren action movies of the sort we remember fondly today. It drops massive taste bombs, huge sharp congeners, sweat, harsh language and liquid gelignite left right and centre the way those stars dropped one liners and cool kills. I’m not sure that’s a description or a profile that’ll appeal to everyone, but for those who are willing to park their doubts, I think L’Esprit’s Jamaican white brawler is simply one to beware of, treat with respect…and maybe, once one adjusts to its fierce character, even to love.

(#954)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • It’s not stated but as far as I know, it’s Worthy Park distillate.
  • “Cuvée Daniel” refers to (L’Esprit’s owner and founder) Tristan Prodhomme’s second son; the Diamond “Cuvée Edgar” MPM unaged white referred to his first. He made these rums to commemorate them, which I think is a sweet gesture.
  • As always, I must commend the sleek little sample bottles L’Esprit favours, which fit nicely into a presentation box and are just cool as all get out.
  • Pot Still, 279-bottle outturn. Rested between July 2019 to October 2020 in inert tanks.
Oct 032022
 

The full name of this rum is the “Barikenn ‘81.6’ Brut de Colonne Rhum Agricole Blanc de Guadeloupe (Montebello). I imagine that just trying to say the whole thing in one breath distracts somewhat from the fact that this is one of the most powerful rums of recent memory (yes, I know there are others that eclipse itI made the list, after all), and if one loses focus and takes it too lightly then one might just find oneself being blasted into next week.

Most of us know something about Montebello, but who is Barikenn? At first I thought it was a lesser-known brand name from the small distillery on Guadeloupe from which the rhum hailsthe principle is not unheard of, after all. I was then corrected by a gent on Instagram who pointed out very politely that it was a French indie bottler, namely himself, Nicholas Marx (no relation to Karl), and the company was named after an old spelling variant of barrique, or barrel, in Breton. He founded the Brittany-based independent bottling outfit in 2019 in order to share his passion for high quality full-proof rums, free from adulterants and completely transparentand while he did not explicitly state it, I get the impression that until recently his market was primarily regional (much like Tristan Prodhomme of L’Esprit, which is also in Brittany, began his own operations).

If he felt that staying small was going to last, the reception of his bottlings soon disabused him of such notions. Starting out in 2019 with a pair of well regarded Foursquare and Worthy Park rums, he added a Guyanese 8 YO the following year which WhiskyFun rated 91 points … and people started to take notice. 2021 was when things got really interesting, because aside from a Mauritius and Fiji addition to the roster, he dabbled in water not many indies would dare to, so soon: unaged, white, column-still cane-juice rhum…at still strength (I amuse myself by wondering if he was taking a cue from Tristan’s high proofed South Pacific and Diamond whites). I bought a bottle in Berlin last year, and gingerly tasted it, feeling as nervous as on my first date all those years ago and with good reasonrums north of 80% can rearrange your insides, if not treated with care.

Nosing it makes the point quite clearly, because even a small and delicate sniff is like stuffing an oversalted maggi-cube up your nose, or snorting a spoonful of marmite seasoned with extra cayenne. I’m aware that this is a peculiar way for any rum reviews’s nose section to start but stay with me…it does develop. After a while one can sense lemon-infused sugar water, dish washing soap, tart pears, cranberries and red currants. A little rubber, a few acetones, a touch of vinegar (or sweet cider), and the notion one is left with after a few minutes, is one of commendable restraint in something so notionally powerful. Unlike, say, the Marienburg, the Wild Tiger or the Sunset Very Strong, the aromas on this Barikenn aren’t out to trample you flat (and then stomp on the pieces) but seem genuinely relaxed and easier than one might expect..

The taste is large, round and strong, for sure, but not, thankfully, harsh. Initial tastes are dirty, earthy, salty, yeasty, bread-y, quite pungently so, and the added marmite and vegetable soup flavours may not be to everyone’s taste. However, after some time these recede and give way to the fruit basket: bananas, red currants, strawberries, bubble gum, some pineapple slices, which leaves me wondering where this was hiding when I was smelling it. It does do somewhat better with some water, adding sweet and sour chicken, soya sauce, brine and a sort of sparkly and intense fruity note, plus plastic, brine and acetones, in a nice mix. It all leads to a long and sharp finish redolent of resin, plastic, unripe green fruits that’s really too thin and lacks heft…yet nothing I could genuinely warn you away from.

The whole thing just works. The whole experience is one of intensity, power and puissance which falters a bit at the end, yet the tastes are so pungent and deep that all I could think was that this is what the Marienburg could have aspired to, because the strength does not actually detract here as it did there: it just needs to be handled with some care and patience.

These days it seems there is some kind of obscure, unstated and never-acknowledged race to the top for these unaged white rums. Blending and filtration are lesser concerns, and it’s all about finding a rum that’s exceptional straight off the stillsomething raw and undiluted, a no-age ultra-proofed Sam Jackson style m*f*er that’s made to show it’s the meanest, the baddest and the tastiest, a rhum which can take out Mace Windu without busting a sweat or resorting to force lightning. The Barikenn Montebello is as serious and as tasty a white rum as you’ll have all year, proofed up and jacked up to a level of taste intensity that ensures you don’t just get the point…you get the whole kitchen sink as well.

(#940)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • 300 bottle outturn. The rhum was (column) distilled in 2019, rested in inert steel tanks, and bottled in 2021.
  • Source of the cane juice is single variety “red cane” which reputedly has exceptional taste qualities.
  • Barikenn has released another variation of this rhum in 2022, but at a milder 52ºit’s from the same 2019 batch.