Oct 112021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#857)(81/100)

Sep 272021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#853)(79/100)


Other notes

  • Initially the rum sold for £195 but subsequent auctions on WhiskyAuctioneer and Catawiki came in lower than that.
  • Aged in refill ex-bourbon barrels between December 1991 and 2016, with a final outturn of 228 bottles.
  • A comprehensive list of all the SMWS’s rum bottlings can be found at the bottom of the biography.
Sep 062021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#848)(86/100)


Other Notes

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

Additional Background

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

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

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


 

May 102021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#819)(78/100)


Other Notes

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

Historical background

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

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

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

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


 

Dec 032020
 

Any independent bottler who’s been around for a few years always has rums at various tiers of quality, or premiumness.  Most of this has to do with increasingly elaborate packaging, marketing campaigns, price (of course) or just the hype surrounding the bottle. Though of course once we see a price tag in the hundreds (or thousands), and an age in the third decade or more, we tend to perk up and pay attention anyway without any prodding, right?

Rum Nation, a fomerly Italian-based IB has always been on board with this practice. Even back in 2011 when I bought their entire 2010 range at once, I could see they had their “starter rums” in tall barroom bottles which cost around $30-$60, and the rather more upscale Demeraras and Jamaicans which were more than two decades old, had cool wooden boxes and ran into three figures. You could tell those were special (and they remain so). Years later they changed the bottle shape to the more squat versions still in use today, but came out with a new series of cask strength small batch series they called the “Rare Rums” which had smaller outturns and were more expensive, and the seriously aged Demeraras and Jamaicans were retired.  

But even then Rum Nation went one step higher, with what one might term the Ultra Rares, of which so far, there have only been a few: a 1999 Port Mourant, a 30 Year Old blended Jamaican Long Pond from 1986, and a small number of lovely Caroni rums from the 1990s. This one, in a handsome box and flat presentation style 50cl bottle, was one from the noted year of 1997 (there a lot of Caroni rums from various IBs sporting that year of make, including one of the first I ever tried, the AD Rattray version). Bottled at 59.2% it had an Islay finish which had the virtue of at least making me curious, even if I had my doubts. And it did look really cool. 

What was it like? Short version, very Caroni-like.  Smelling it instantly brings back all the memories of the closed distillery – fresh tar being laid on a hot day, petrol, fusel oil, wax and plasticine boil out of the glass right from the start.  These aromas give way to brine and olives, iodine, acetones and nail polish, a sort of complex and medicinal amalgam that is then softened by caramel, unsweetened chocolate, almonds, cinnamon and hot, very strong black tea. I’m no peathead anorak like some of my friends, but I really could not fault that nose for the Islay touch it had.

The palate is as stern and uncompromising as an overcast day promising cold rain, and follows well from that nose. A shade bitter, it tastes of chocolate (again), tar, caramel, bags of dark fruits – dates, blackberries, prunes, raisins – with a background of vanilla, leather, smoke and sooty kerosene camping stoves farting black smoke.  It develops well from one flavour to the next and it’s well balanced but I think this may be a bit too much Caroni for some, like it was dialled to “11” in a fit of absentmindedness. Sometimes with rums like this it fails on the backstretch, choking and falling off just as it should be revving – in this case, the finish is no slouch…long and dry, dusty and sharp, tasting of aromatic cigar smoke, petrol, nuts, vanilla and a touch of cinnamon.  I really quite liked it, and feel it’s a good entry to the canon.

Rum Nation has had a solid bottling history under Fabio Rossi, was one of the first indies I ever tried, and was sold to a Danish concern back in late 2019.  The explosion of so many other indies over the last decade has dimmed its lustre, and in no way can any Trini rum in this day and age, by any bottler, compete with the Caroni juggernaut that is Velier, whether or not they’re better.  But I still believe this is an enormously tasty rum and that peaty Islay finish complemented the fusel oil and kero notes for which the closed distillery is so famed, making for an intriguing and darkly delicious drink that can’t be discounted.  

It is, at end, just a really good bottling, represents the shuttered Trinidadian distillery with force and elan; and with all the fuss and bother and sometimes-insane prices of favoured Caroni bottles from Luca’s immense hoard, it might not be out to lunch to suggest that even with the price tag this one has, it’s worth it. Try it first, if you can, or if you have reservations – because if you’re on a Caroni field exploration trip, and want a good ‘un, you could do a lot worse than Rum Nation’s entry to the pantheon.

(#782)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn is unknown, unfortunately
  • Ageing is assumed to be in Europe

Jul 052018
 

Photo from Angostura website

What’s surprising about this white triple-filtered column-still overproof – which keeps company with 151s like the Bacardi or Cavalier and others – is that it is not a complete fail, though it does resemble a massive ethanol delivery system that forces you to consider whether a visit to your place of worship is required before it comes alive and does a chestburster on your mosquito physique. It has a few points of interest about it, in spite of its fiery heat and hard punch…and I say that grudgingly, because overall, I don’t see much to shout about.

Part of the problem is the indifference with which – to me – it seems to be made.  I blame the triple filtration for this state of affairs. No real effort appears to have been pushed into elevating it beyond a high proof cocktail ingredient (rather, such effort seems to have been directed towards muting the flavours rather than enhancing them), and one gets this impression right away when (very carefully) nosing it, where the lack of any real complexity is disappointing.  Oh sure, it’s hot and sharp and very intense, but what did you expect? And what do you get for your trouble? — not much beyond sugar water, a few briny notes, some red olives and a small amount of acetones and coconut shavings. And maybe a green grape or two. In short, as West Indians would say, mek plenty plenty noise, but ain’ got enuff action.

The palate is usually where such overproofs really get into gear, pump up the revs and start laying rubber on your face.  Certainly that happened here: as a lip-burn and tongue-scorcher, it’s tough to beat. It presented as very oily and briny and what sweet there was sensed on the nose vanished like a fart in a high wind. There were tastes of dates, figs, soya and vegetable underlain with a weird kind of petrol undertone (quite faint, thankfully). Some nail polish and new paint slapped over freshly sawn lumber – but very little in the way of fruitiness, or a more solid underpinning that might make it a more interesting neat pour.  And the heat just eviscerates the finish, which, although giving some more sweet and salt, sugar water, soya, watermelon (at last – something to praise!), is too faint and dominated by the burn to be really satisfying.

Of course, this is a rum not meant to have by itself – few rums boosted to 75% and over really are, they’re meant for bartenders, not barflies. Too, stuff at that strength is treading in dangerous waters, because there are really only two options open to it: don’t age it at all (like the Neisson L’Esprit 70° Blanc and Sunset Very Strong 84.5%) and showcase as much of the youthful vigour and original taste as one can; or age it a little – not the one or two years of the Bacardi 151, but something more serious, like the SMWS Longpond R5.1 81.3% or the Barbados R3.5 74.8% or the really quite good R3.4 75.3%.

As a puncheon, named after the oversized barrels in which they were stored, this was developed in the early part of the last century as a cheap hooch for the plantation workers and the owners.  It was never really meant for commercial sale – yet for some reason it turned out so popular that the Fernandes (the family enterprise which originally made it on the Forres Park estate) issued it to market, and even after Angostura took over the company, they kept it as the only entrant in the insane-level-of-proof portion of their portfolio.

Like all rums brewed to such heights of strength, it sustains a level of intensity that most full-proof rums can barely maintain for even five minutes, just without many (or any) of their redeeming features.  That’s part of the problem for those who want a neat and powerful drink that’ll fuel their car or blow their hair back with equal ease – because there’s a difference between an overproof that uses extreme strength to fulfill an artistic master blender’s purpose, as opposed to one that just issues it because they can’t think of anything better to do. Unfortunately, here, this is a case of the latter being taken a few steps too far.

(#525)(73/100)


Other notes

  • While the Forres Puncheon I review here is made by Angostura, its antecedents date back much further, to the original company that created it, Fernandes: and that was so fascinating that I have devoted a separate biography of the Angostura-acquired  Fernandes Distillery to it, as it was too lengthy for inclusion in this review.
  • Sample provided by my correspondent Quazi4moto, who’s turned into something of a rum fairy of samples these days.  Big hat tip to the man.
Dec 192017
 

Rumaniacs Review #065 | 0471

There are, as far as I am aware, three 1982-2005 23 year old Caronis issued by Velier. The  “Light” issued at 59.2% (R-058), the “Heavy Full Proof” which is a ripsnorting 77.3% (R-063), and now this “Heavy” one, the last of my Rumaniacs samples from Trinidad, which clocks in between those two, at 62% and a 1360-bottle outturn.   Unsurprisingly, this presents casual buyers with quite a chellenge. I know Luca felt that each iteration and individual expression of the various Caronis highlights some kind of distinct point of interest he wanted to share, but to be honest, I don’t know how the average rumhound is supposed to pick which one to buy, given the multitude available — they are all good, and in places quite similar.  It would take a dedicated and committed post-doc rumologist to unravel all the variations, even assuming the wallet held out. Nevertheless, we should be grateful that we have so many sterling expressions to choose from at all, living as we are in the belated discovery of Velier’s Second Age (the first being, of course, the Demeraras).  So you’re not hearing me whinging too loudly.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 62%

Nose – Quite distinct and very Caroni-like in all aspects. Somewhat less rubber, but more tar than the 59.2% R-058, extremely firm and lively.  Caramel, vanilla and toffee keep the road-surfacing crew nourished, and a dusting of cinnamon provides some entertainment.  When they stop for a break, there are also lime leaves, cumin and some muskier spices like sweet paprika and tumeric. Brown sugar and molasses, blackberries, red currants, and raspberries round out the ensemble. A very good nose indeed.

Palate – The clear and growly Caroni profile continues uninterrupted from the nose, with petrol and tar taking the stage up front and never entirely relinquishing their dominance.  Dry, sharp and quite oaky here (different from both the 59.2% and 77.3% versions), bitter chocolate, salty soy sauce, brine, olives and a touch of (get this) menthol and marzipan.  It has surprising heft and thickness in the mouthfeel, yet remains sharp to the end.  With water, more caramel, some citrus, dark fruit (black grapes, prunes, blackberries), and these stay mostly in the background as bit players, which I’d say was a pity as the integration could have worked better with a little more force from these flavours.

Finish – Nice and long, with fruits and toffee, tar and petrol remaining the core of it all.  It remains somewhat salty, and dry

Thoughts – A good Caroni, but then, aren’t they all?  I think it’s a bit too spicy at the back end, which is a minor observation, not a complaint.  I particularly liked the citrus ad spices on display.  On the other hand, were I asked to chose between this and the other two iterations, I’m not entirely sure this would be my first pick.  Close, but no cigar compared to, say, the 77.3%.

(85/100)


  • After all these Caronis, I need hardly mention (but I will) that Serge Valentin looked at this one in his multi-Caroni lineup in mid November 2017.  The boys in France, Olivier Scars and Jean-Paul Bouwyn, also covered it in their epic two-part Caroni session on DuRhum in August 2017 (in French, Day 10)
  • One of the Caronis from the first batch Luca issued in 2005
  • This really is the last Caroni I have.  I’ll be moving on to a Neisson session soon, though, for the curious who want to know what’s next.

Dec 152017
 

Rumaniacs Review #064 | 0469

When sampling yet another Caroni from the glory years of the 1980s, it’s something like opening a long-shut box redolent of the past, and maybe one can be forgiven for – in these times – rhapsodizing about the way hard honest rums were supposedly made by sweaty proles who had no patience for fancy finishes, plate manipulation or barrel strategy.  So in a way it’s ironic that Caroni was not considered a particularly good rum back then – it was not that well known, it certainly wasn’t the estate’s prime focus, its signature taste was disapprovingly considered a mark of poor production methodology, and few outside of Trinidad cared much about it.  But look what the passing of less than two decades since its closure has done: transmuted what we once lovingly referred to as humdrum gunk, into a definitively-profiled country-specific must-have, a treasure to be dissected and talked over like few others, whose minutest nuances of taste are endlessly debated in the cafes, lounges, clubs and elegant online drawing rooms of the rumworld.  Here’s another one to add to the trove of our knowledge, then.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 55%

Nose – Compared to some of the others in the last weeks, this one is rather light – all the expected hits are playing, but in a lesser, almost minor key. Tar, rubber, acetone — these notes never get old and I never get tired of finding ’em — segueing into softer (but still delicate) dates, fruits, molasses, more tar, brown sugar, some caramel. Delicious.  I could eat this thing.

Palate – The light profile continues,  with some muskier, spicier tastes adding to the party: ginger, maybe cumin; honey, salt caramel, lemon meringue pie, an olive or two, tar and cigarette filters.  The tar and furniture polish gradually bleed away, giving pride of place to nougat, white chocolate. Not overly complex…it’s almost simple in a way, though what flavours are there are crisp, clear and elegantly expressed and come together harmoniously.

Finish – Medium long, not very dry, nice and warm.  Last notes of honey, citrus, salt caramel, and fresh green herbs from Jamie Oliver’s kitchen garden.

Thoughts – More than most of Velier’s Caronis, this one made me think, because the conclusions to walk away with are that (a) Caroni cannot be pigeonholed so easily into some kind of heavy rum reeking of tar and fruits – it’s got far more than that up its sleeves across the range, and (b) ‘light and simple’ as a descriptor (Serge called it “shy” which is just as good) conceal depths heretofore unsuspected. This is a pretty good Caroni, issued somewhat at right angles to most others from Velier and are from Luca’s first batch, which came on the market in the mid-to-late-2000s.

(86/100)


Other notes

 

 

 

Dec 102017
 

Rumaniacs Review #063 | 0467

Having tried several of the ur-proofed rums of the rumiverse (Sunset Very Strong 84.5% and Marienburg 90% come to mind) I must confess that while stronger stuff exists, trying high-test like this makes me think I’ve run out of steroidal fortitude. It’s a shattering experience, not just because of its strength but because somehow it pushes all the boundaries of a very precise Caroni profile – it’s like getting hit with the spirituous equivalent of a fully boosted luxury freight train (assuming Louis Vuitton made one).  And it is to its credit that it not only makes a bold statement for cask strength, but also adheres to all the markers that make Caroni a must-have rum to try if one can get it.  Which may be problematic because here’s one that only got issued at a measly 123 bottles…so if you have dibs on one, treasure the thing.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 77.3%

Nose – Initially somewhat indistinct before the clouds clear and the forked lightning of specific aromas lights up the firmament.  Phenols, acetone, furniture polish get things rolling.  Salty, olives, some caramel, tar, licorice and caramel, even a touch of vegetable soup.  It’s fierce and sharp and should be savoured. The smells are quite distinct and at this strength are easy to pick apart.

Palate – Whew! Taste carefully, young padawan, for this juice be hot.  Oily and mouth coating in the best way – toffee, salty caramel ice-cream, flambeed bananas. and that’s just the beginning.  Once it builds up a head of steam, there’s tar and pretrol, creme brulee, molasses, ripe peaches, prunes, cherries, dark grapes, and some brine and sweet red olives.  Really good stuff, once you get past the sharp edge it displays – some water is highly recommended here, but just a little.

Finish – Long, dry, hot, fruity, tarry, with last notes of anise and toffee.  Like a guy who makes the best jokes at your evening soiree, you just don’t want him to leave so you can enjoy the fun some more.

Thoughts – Not the best Caroni ever, but it’s good, very good.  The strength to some extent works against it since lower proofed Caronis are every bit as tasty and easier to come to grips with (and much more available) and so perhaps more approachable than this brontosaurus.  This rum is a brutal, ascetic skewer that doesn’t try to please everyone but does one thing really remarkably well – it showcases one single slice and aspect of Caroni in a way that perhaps a softer one might not have been able to do.  And I suspect that was what Luca intended all along.

(86/100)


  • Olivier Scars and Jean-Paul Bouwyn posted a major two-day Caroni session on DuRhum in August 2017 (in French), well worth a look through.  They tried this one on Day 10
  • Serge of course dealt with this rum in his 11-Caroni lineup back in mid-November 2017
  • Rumaniacs link to be posted once other have put up their reviews.
  • Luca remarked in the addenda to DuRhum’s tasting that this was among the first of the Caronis he issued, back in 2005, and he took a deep breath and a real chance to issue it full proof, which was not considered a good selling proposition back then.  The Caronis sold out instantly, thereby solidifying his idea and proving it was a viable sales concept.  Thank goodness 🙂

Dec 052017
 

Rumaniacs Review #062 | 0465

It’s a mind game that never gets old – how many Caroni bottles are there?  I speculated that Velier alone likely has around a million in circulation and when one sees an outturn like this – 20,986 bottles! – I think that even though the long-closed distillery’s rums are now becoming must-haves on par with the Demeraras, there’s no danger of running out of possibilities in the near future.  Though as I remarked once, when we start to see Caronis being issued from the post-2000 era, the end will be near.

Be that as it may, it’s always fascinating to try another one, and this Caroni is no slouch either, like almost all the variations I’ve tried.  I’m not one of those deep-divers who dissect a single distillery’s every possible expression up and down the scale until they know them all by their first names, and can write doctoral dissertations in the slightest, most minute details of divergence or similarity from the mean…but after having sampled quite a few, certainly it’s getting easier to see commonalities and aberrations here or there.  And, of course, fun.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 52%

Nose – Rather light florals and some tar, quite restrained here.  Batman’s Trojan factory is back, dialled down but quietly asserting its prescence.  Acetones.  Leather. Caramel, sweet red grapes, cereal and brown bread, nicely balanced.  Letting it stand for a while allows yet other aromas of peanut butter and honey to emerge, together with a clear citrus twist for some edge.

Palate – Quietly delicious, with a light and crisp sort of snap.  Kind of medium heavy to light, really, so don’t be misled by the title of heavy, as this does not refer to the mouthfeel.  Caramel, vanilla, florals, some tart soursop and white guavas.  Brine and some oak influence are clear, plus an olive or two.  Overall, perhaps a bit too crisp – it verges on real sharp-ended jaggedness, without ever quite stepping over the edge.  Oh and the lemon citrus remains there throughout, faint but perceptible.

Finish – Quite long, but again, light and easy.  Hot black tea, tar, caramel, vanilla, brine, leather, nothing really original here, just well-balanced flavours and aromas throughout.

Thoughts – Not really one of the best, but even so the general quality can’t be denied.  Luca has remarked that he believes this rum (and some others from the 1980s) was put to age at a higher proof than usual (~75%) instead of 65-70%.  That might account for the profile.

(86/100)


  • Olivier Scars and Jean-Paul Bouwyn posted a major Caroni session on DuRhum in August 2017 (in French), well worth a look through.  They tried this one on Day 1
  • Serge of course dealt with this rum in his 11-Caroni lineup back in mid-November 2017
  • Rumaniacs link to be posted once other have put up their reviews.

 

Nov 292017
 

Rumaniacs Review #061 | 0463

So here’s a Caroni marked ‘Light’which supposedly means somewhat less esters than the one we looked at last week (the ‘Heavy’) but let me assure you that even though it’s a shade less proofed than that one (and less esters, supposedly), it in no way lacks for really deep tastes. If I had to chose I honestly think I would select this one for the buy…always assuming I could find it at all.  The 12 and 15 and 23 year old Veliers from the closed distillery are issued in the thousands of bottles, which is why they remain available, good intros to the line, and brisk sellers….but here we just have 820 bottles, so most likely the price would be higher than usual. I suspect that here’s a Caroni which will appreciate in value a lot, in the years to come.

Colour – Dark Amber

Strength – 55.2%

Nose – Serge on Whiskyfun thought there was not much tar here, but I thought that it was like licking a freshly laid down new road in hot weather (or maybe scarfing down an overused cigarette filter, take your pick). Loads of molasses, raisins, prunes.  Heavy aromas all around this thing – salty caramel, nuts, deep chocolate and stale coffee grounds (smells better than it sounds), and a background of fuel oil and furniture polish.

Palate – With the amount of licorice and dark fruit – raisins, prunes, black olives – in here, you might be forgiven for thinking this something from one of the DDL wooden stills.  No, really. It tastes great though, don’t get me wrong.  Fat, oily, some ashy mineral tastes, citrus, more polish, more fruits and lemon zest, with a well-controlled oak influence sliding into the background and giving some sharpness to the experience. Brine, salty caramel, dates, figs honey, finally morphing with water into overripe fruit that could have derailed the rum….but didn’t (thank heavens).

Finish – Intense and heavy on the close, with candied oranges, smoke and leather, more dates and a last dose of citrus and molasses.  Oddly short though, I was expecting something longer lasting.

Thoughts – Very good indeed, the richest, most flavourful, most enjoyable for me, and of the six Caronis I’m trying, the best of the lot.  If ‘Heavy’ and ‘Light’ are your personal determinants for rums because of the relative ester counts, well ditch the idea – this one may have less, but it’s better. See if you can get one, and I wish you lots of luck in your search, because it’s great.

(89/100)


Other Notes

As always, the Rumaniacs are looking at this Caroni too (link to be added), and Serge ran it through its paces in an 11-Caroni lineup not too long ago for those who want comparisons now.

Nov 232017
 

Rumaniacs Review #060 | 0461

If there is ever a rum to compete with Foursquare’s latest drool-worthy offerings, it surely must be Velier’s Caroni rums.  Who would have thought that a rum many thought was over-tarred and phenol-ly back in the day would have ascended to become one of the must-haves of the rumiverse?  About four years ago I saw an Italian listing for some thirty or more Caronis which he was letting go for €2000 altogether…and we all thought was batsh**t crazy expensive, smirked and moved on, which goes to show how much we knew. Nowadays, can you imagine that happening?  That’s like discovering a Caputo 1973 on sale for a hundred bucks.  About all we can say about the entire series (so far) is that I have yet to find a dog in the lineup, whether it’s a heavy (high-ester) or light (low ester) version, and that’s formidable street cred by anyone’s reckoning.

Colour – Dark Amber

Strength – 58.3%

Nose – Lovely, deep and dark and sweet, molasses, caramel, port-infused cigarillos (heavy on the tobacco), oak, with some trojans held way back.  Flowers and bubble gum (yeah I know how that sounds), nuts, honey, citrus, flowers and some dark overripe fruits – black grapes, cherries or prunes. Talk about aromatic…this thing sings.

Palate – Tarry and oaky, quite thick.  But it’s more than just oak, it’s like a well varnished cricket bat wielded by Sir Garfield, right in the face, bam.  More sweet caramel, bags of dark fruit (those prunes and cherries just starting to go), vanilla, honey, flowers, ginger, cumin and (get this!) a vague curry taste.  Water brings out some faint citrus, more oak and some mint, and it’s all very balanced in stays discreetly in the background.

Finish – Long, spicy, that curry and a masala note remain; lemon zest, florals, light honey, leather, muskiness, and not very dry.  Great ending, really.

Thoughts – It’s fat and juicy and flavourful and almost perfect at that strength. A real gem.  Oh and the outturn? … 4,600 bottles.

(88/100)


  • As always, you can find the other Rumaniacs opinions on the website.  Sneak peek, though, if you want a heads up on a bunch of Caronis altogether, the estimable Serge Valentin ran past a massive session last week.

Nov 182017
 

Rumaniacs Review #059 | 0459

If we assume Luca found four thousand barrels at that legendary Caroni warehouse, and the average outturn from each was 250 bottles, a simplistic calculation suggests somewhere in the neighborhood of one million bottles of the Trini juice from Velier alone is waiting to be bought, and that doesn’t even count the other independents out there who are releasing their own.  Figuring out which Velier Caroni to buy is complicated by the bewildering array of aged expressions that have been released, some differing only by the proof point (years and age being the same) – but the general thesis I’m coming around to is that you can pretty much buy any of them and be assured of a really good rum.  This one from 1984 is no exception. Not sure how many barrels this came from, but 580 bottles emerged…so maybe two?

Colour – Amber (these things are all amber, more or less)

Strength – 54.6%

Nose – Wow, this is nice – deep caramel, petrol and tar aromas meld well with an undercurrent of burnt brown sugar, cream cheese, Danish cookies and licorice.  There’s some bitter chocolate in the background, and after some minutes a thin blade of citrus emerges and lends a really nice counterpoint to the heavier, muskier smells.

Palate – If it didn’t have tar and petrol it wouldn’t be a Caroni, right?  There’s bags of the stuff here, a Carnival jump-up of them, but so much more too – that dark unsweetened chocolate, green grapes, coffee grounds.  Some ash and minerals, and fruits kept way back, and also honey and nougat and an olive or two.  It’s actually somewhat salty, and the sharper oak bite is a bit dominant after ten minutes or so.

Finish – Dry, briny, tarry, sharp, with some caramel and raisins and prunes to give it depth.  Still too much oak and the chocolate disappears, leaving only the slight bitter aftertaste, like the Cheshire cat’s grin.

Thoughts – Great strength for what was on show. 1984 was a good year (and that was a memorable anno for me personally since I fell in love and got dumped for the first time then, so the period kinda sticks in my mind) and this rum is an excellent line into the past…a Trini in the best sense of the term, and a Caroni lover’s delight.

(88/100)


Other Notes

Nov 082017
 

Rumaniacs Review #058 | 0458

If there ever was a rival to the famed and fabled Demerara rums issued by Velier, it is surely the Trinidadian Caroni line, which is wept over by aficionados and considered the Port Ellen of rum (my personal belief is that Port Ellen is the Caroni of whisky, but anyway…).  They hail from the long-shuttered Trinidadian distillery which closed in 2002, and it has now passed into legend how Luca Gargano found thousands of barrels of ageing rum on the estate in a forgotten warehouse, and managed to buy most of them.

Points have to be awarded for resisting the urge to blend the lot into a homogeneous, equally-aged mass and selling that in the jillions.  What in fact happened is that dozens of expressions of hundreds – or, in many cases, a few or several thousand – bottles apiece exist, just about all greater than ten years old, and many, like this one, over twenty.  It’s a treasure trove the likes of which we will probably never see again.

We have six Caroni rums from the cellars of Velier to look at over the next weeks.  Not a huge amount given my master list so far has 36 entries (and I may have missed a few), but good enough to be going along with. Let’s begin.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 59.2%

Nose – Rich and generous, with aromas of tar, rubber, party balloons.  Letting it stands allows some evolution to occur, moving towards slight sweetness, bubble gum, acetones, flowers, a little chocolate and honey.  In comparison with some of the other Caronis it almost seems delicate, but it isn’t, not really.

Palate – Here’s where it comes into its own.  It glides on the tongue (that strength is near perfect), giving earthy notes, salty, caramel, cherries, pralines, and some dark bread and cream cheese.  A little tar sticks to the back end, and a nice counterpoint of molasses (not much).  Also some bitter chocolate and cloves, and the oak is somewhat excessive here, leading to some sharp spiciness that’s not perfectly integrated, yet in no way poorly enough to sink this as a sipping dram.

Finish – Long, dry and salty (think maggi or knorr cubes), olives, some herbs, more cloves and coffee grounds, and a last bit of caramel sweetness and nougat.

Thoughts – A rich and tasty Caroni, very solid in all the ways that count.  Water helps but is not really needed, it’s delicious all its own, if a little sharp. That nose though…really good.

(85/100)


Other notes

Feb 012016
 

caroni 1982Rumaniacs Review 017 | 0417

We’re down to the last sample of the old Velier rums I’ve got, this one from Caroni, and like the 1985, also bottled in 2006, though two years older. My background notes say 4600 bottles issued from 15 barrels and handsomely issued at 58.3%.  What else can I tell you about Caroni you don’t already know? Probably nothing, so let’s move on.

Colour – Dark amber

Strength – 58.3%

Nose – The 1985 was great, and this one raises the bar a smidgen. With these old, bold rums, sometimes the oak takes charge too aggressively…not here. Toasted nuts, almonds and caramel lead off.  Raisins and black grapes shoulder those aside after a while.  There’s a chirpy little citrus note coiling in the background, plus more fruits and some tar…but I was oddly reminded of the UF30E, for some reason, as I sampled this rum

Palate – Yeah, here comes the flexing musclebeach of the Caroni profile kicking sand in your face. Warm and pungent and heavy; thick, almost chewy to taste, coats the mouth very well.  Caramel, molasses and tar trumpet their arrival.  All the hits are playing, loudly.  With water, more raisins and grapes, vanilla beans, chopped dark dried fruit, ginger, unripe mangos, that citrus again…and over the half hour or so I spent with this rum, it got slightly crisper, even cleaner, in a way that enhanced, not detracted from, the overall sensation.

Finish – Long, heated, deep, a little dry.  Invites savouring. Closing notes of tar, some teriyaki and ginger, vanilla, leather and molasses.

Thoughts – I’ve had quite a few Caronis now, and they are all sprigs off the same tree. These are rums that benefit from higher proofs – the tastes are brought out in a way that diluting down to 40% would harm, rather than improve.  Whatever the case, this is one of the better ones for sure, and with that many bottles in issue, it’s likely that it can still be found somewhere. if one searches. At least we can hope so.

(89/100)

Jan 192016
 

Caroni 1985Rumaniacs Review 016 | 0416

Two more Veliers to go before we move onto other old rums, this is the “younger” one, bottled in 2006, from that Port Ellen of the rumworld, Caroni.  Here in 2004, legend has it, Luca was (as usual) talking rum, chewing sugar cane and taking pictures, when he literally tripped over (not into) a warehouse of stored casks, probably forgotten, all of  which he eventually bought.  Talk about a coup de maître – they should make a film about him: Indiana Gargano and the Lost Warehouse, know what I mean? No one in the rumworld, before or since, ever came close to uncovering this kind of treasure.  And to his credit, he didn’t blend the lot, but issued them in no less (and probably more) than 31 separate bottlings, which is good for us as buyers, even if we get threatened with divorce quite often when we fork over our pieces of eight.

Colour – Dark amber

Strength – 58.8% (6600 bottle outturn)

Nose – Damn, Caronis get better every time I try them, and this one gets better with every snooting (had enough for three passes at the thing). Beats out the Albion 1986, actually. Wooden tannins and vanilla, tarry and deep and hot, with some of that funkiness of the Jamaicans sneaking around in the background. Vague promises of fruits and licorice were being made, just enough to keep me enthused.

Palate – Dry, furiously oaky and sharp.  Some brine and olives, more vanillas, ripe red cherries, a flirt of caramel, and then a barrage of dark fruit, esters and licorice lands on you with the solidity of an Egyptian pyramid block. Gotta be honest though, even with all the fruity stuff, that oak is more dominant than usual here. Water helps, and mutes that oak knife, allowing more tars and some floor wax to take their usual central role.

Finish – Long, pungent, hot. Some coffee, licorice, sweeter fruits, more tannins (better controlled than on the tongue). Not entirely dry, but not lusciously damp either.

Thoughts – Kinda conflicted on this one.  Started out great then got hijacked in mid-palate by tenacious oaken flavours which, however tamed, still were too obvious. Not one of the worst Caronis, but not one of the best either. No matter, I still enjoyed what I got.

(87/100)

Aug 062015
 

D3S_8965

 

The last of the flight of seven Caronis I tried in depth back in 2014, and one of the better ones.

There are two extremes to the Caronis: the limited release bottling from independent bottlers which are usually less than a thousand bottles, and Velier with its huge stockpile and multiple issues…so much so that one always has difficulty figuring out where to start with ‘em (the 12 year old 50% may be the best place).  I have a feeling that Rum Nation’s take on the late great plantation’s rum is likely to be one of the more accessible ones available to the average consumer, because the rums are (relatively) easily found, well advertised, and come on, let’s face it – Rum Nation do rums well.

In this case Rum Nation double-aged the heavy rum (from column distillate) for nine years in Trinidad itself, before shipping them off to Europe for further seven years of maturation in some barrels that were ex-bourbon, and others that once held the Peruanao 8 year old (a rather light, sprightly and delicate rum with a character similar to Bristol Spirits’s version, and also akin to the Millonario Solera 15).  The effect of the ageing regime in differing barrels and countries certainly added to its complexity and also its overall voluptuousness, I think…although I should note that some other writers refer to it as an intro to Caroni, rather than the real McCoy — Caroni “Lite,” one might say.

Nosing a beefcake of 55% usually provides an intense intro, like one of those idiots who shakes your hand with a painfully overstrong grip to show he’s a badass…the Caroni 1998 wasn’t quite like that, but it was certainly powerful.  Pungent — if not quite in the league of the Jamaican Pot Still White which edged over into ferocious – and vibrant with initial scent of honeycomb wax and rubber and straw, like a frogman strutting around in a dusty hayloft. There was a lot more going on here all at the same time, mind you — after letting the glass sit for a few minutes, additional scents of freshly sawn cedar, tar, oak, vanilla and moist molasses-soaked brown sugar were joined by softer, muskier scents of coffee, nutmeg and licorice. It was one of those rums that proved why pushing past the too-oft self-imposed 40% limitation is absolutely recommended.  It was a phenomenal rum to simply enjoy smelling.

And no slouch to taste either. Licorice and tar led off, lots of it.  The rubber, happily, started to take a back seat (I like it, but often there’s too much of a good thing and it’s nice to see it a bit subdued).  Caramel and toffee and coffee continued to make themselves felt as primaries, with background hints of green tea, white pepper coiling around behind it all.  The balance between the softer, muskier elements, and sharper, more herbal tastes was really quite something.  Even the faint bitterness of tree sap and fresh sawdust was kept in check (I was reminded of the quinine derivatives I used to have to drink in my bush years, but that was memory, not necessarily a taste I clearly sensed, and what the hell, I’ll mention it anyway). A touch of water smoothened things out quite nicely, but no additional flavours came forward that I could add to this already excellent smorgasbord.  I would like to point out that the rather brutally ascetic character I sense in many full proof Caronis (like the Veliers, for example) has been tamed here somewhat, and I attribute that to the 5g/L of sugar that Rum nation have added to the profile.  I’m not really a fan of such inclusions, yet must concede it works here.

The finish? Very long, heated and dry, really good – it released last sensations of molasses and caramel and angostura bitters (really!), with some of the  licorice and pepper notes coming over from the taste profile.  All in all, this is an enormously pleasant rum to play with and savour if you are into the Trinidadian profile, definitely one to share around.

Rum-Nation-Caroni-1998-2014

2014 was certainly an interesting year for Rum Nation.  In that single year they issued a new bottle shape (the squat one); they released their first white pot still rum (the Jamaica 57%); and for the first time they went over 50% in not one but two rums, the aforementioned Jamaica, and the amber-red medium-to-full-bodied Caroni 1998, the first batch of which I’m looking at here, and 3120 bottles of which were issued at cask strength 55% (or full proof, take your pick). They seem to positioning themselves in that relatively untravelled country between the craft makers with their few hundred bottles of exclusive full proof expressions, and the much more commercially orientated big distilleries who issue many thousands of bottles of aged rums at a lower proof point

I mentioned accessibility earlier. “Approachability” is just as good a word.  What I mean by this is how easy it is to get, how expensive it is, and how an average Tom, Dick or Harrilall would like it. With several thousand bottles of the Caroni on sale (and more batches to come), I’d say if you wanted this rum, you could find it; it’s mid-priced — not student-cheap, but reasonably affordable; and the taste has been smoothened out and somewhat domesticated by that 5g/L of added sugar. For purists, this last may be a disqualifier, but I argue that for people who buy rums only occasionally and have less lofty standards (or who don’t know or care), it would make a decent choice and introduction to higher proofed rums (to his credit, Mr. Rossi has never hidden the inclusions, but like many others, I wish a statement to that effect would be on the bottle front and centre).

In any event, a slightly softer, yet still intense taste profile, ready availability and a price your spouse won’t scream at you for, makes this Caroni a tempting proposition when the time comes to buy one for yourself, or recommend a Trini rum for a friend. My love is give to the immense stable of Velier Caronis, of course, but that’s no reason to pass Rum Nation’s top-notch edition by. It’s a damned fine exemplar of rum from a distillery whose stocks are shrinking every year.

(#225. 88/100)


Other notes

Jul 292015
 

D3S_8976

A brooding, dark exemplary Caroni with a slightly jagged ending..

We who chronicle our rum journeys make all the expected genuflections and obeisances to the great standards and stations of the cross…Appleton, Mount Gay, DDL, Four Square, Caroni, Trois Rivieres, Havana Club (the real one), J. Bally, Neisson, Flor, Diplomatico, and so on and so forth. Then we move to the independent bottlers as we broaden our ranges…and somewhere along the way, it’s almost a given that we stop at La Casa di Luca for a bite.  I’ve done twelve so far, and believe me, there’s no end in sight.

This rum from Velier is from 1996, 3000 bottles and 55% strength, and an 80% angel’s share. Sometimes Luca confuses me with his expressions because he would issue the same rum at two different strengths just ‘cause, you know, he’s got ‘em, he can, and he wants to (this heavy 1996 has been issued at 63% as well – Henrik from Rumcorner waxed rhapsodic about it here quite recently).  Frankly, I worry this may be the sad case of there being too much of a good thing. They are all very good, you understand, but finding a favourite among so many expressions that are actually quite similar is a job for someone with deeper pockets and a more discerning schnozz than mine.

The bottle and its enclosure conform to all the expected values Velier has espoused for so long: stark and two-colour presentation, the box showing a photograph of Luca’s taken at the distillery (he’s actually a very good photographer as well), and all the usual useful information you could want. About the only thing you’re not getting was any notation on additives, but you can take it from me that Luca is a Spartan minimalist who cheerfully channels Josef Albers and Mondrian, is a proponent of pure rums in all senses, and is insistent that what comes out of the cask is what goes into the bottle. So rest assured, all ye puritans.

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Photo courtesy of Velier

A darkish amber-orange coloured rum, it was, as expected, quite pungent and rich to smell, after burning off the more intense alcohol: immediate, dark scents of caramel and molasses duelled it out with musky tar, smoke, oak, leather, rubber and my son’s plasticine collection.  As it opened up, these muscular smells were lightened somewhat by lighter, sharper, floral hints, and the oils you smell on your fingers after manually peeling an orange, and some additional citrus (not much)…and then the petrol and aniseed blasted back to show they weren’t taking second place any time soon.  Heavy, thick and pungent, much like the 1994 edition.

The rum was a nocturnal, glowering Heathcliff to taste too (the nose wasn’t lying). Scarily big and bold bruiser when I tried it first (neat): more oak, molasses, tar, I couldn’t escape that signature profile, leavened somewhat with eucalyptus oil, dark chopped dried fruits, and raisins.  The harsher petrol and rubber disappeared almost entirely, and with a little water the thing became downright drinkable – certainly it was hot yet smooth all the way through, and the balance was quite extraordinary. Henrik loved the 63% edition: still, I could argue that the 55% is no slouch either, and may be more accessible than that other, stronger rum.  Just sayin’…

As for the finish, well, it was long, so no fault there: there was, I felt just a bit too much oak, and it was shade too bitter (nobody was more surprised than I).  I could make out the softer, fruitier notes that worked so well when I tasted it but here they were overwhelmed somewhat, and were only briefly discernible in the background before disappearing entirely.  So in that sense, not one of the very best of the Veliers for me, though none of this was enough to sink what really was a very good rum indeed.

Given that the sense of bitterness and oak was quite subtle, don’t take my word for it. We should be wary of dismissing a rum this engaging just because it doesn’t get up there on the soapbox and dance with the best of the best. It still stands pretty damn tall as it is, and I don’t see that much competition on the horizon. It’s a phenomenally well-made full-proof, big, thick and heavy, and it fulfills the latent misguided desire of just about any A-type who thinks a rum should match his junk.

(#224. 86/100)


Other notes:

Jul 142015
 

Nicholson 42,8°

Rumaniacs Review 007 | 0407

Bottled by J&W Nicholson of Clerkenwell, London, back in the 1970s. Base stock is unknown – it might be from Caroni, yet somehow I doubt that – it lacks something of the tarry background.  No information is available on age or blend of ages. Bottled at 42.8%.

J&W Nicholson was a gin maker which opened its doors in the 1730s. They ceased UK gin production in 1941 (wartime rationing made it impractical) and sold their facility there in 1966, eventually selling the remaining business to the Distillers Company Ltd in the 1970s…at first I thought this rum seems to be an effort to diversify production as a consequence of the economic hardship which forced the sale, but further reading shows the company had been issuing rums for more than a century before. Distillers Company sold out to Guinness in 1986, and the DCL brand was in turn consolidated by Diageo in 1997.

Colour – dark brown

Nose – Fairly soft and warm. Initial aromas of butterscotch and eclairs.  Salty butter.  Caramel. Faint whiff of meatiness, a musky taint of mushrooms, and fruit starting to go.

Palate – Medium heavy, still warm and a little sharp, not unpleasantly so. Creamy and also a little musty, like a room left unaired for too long.  Coconut shavings, caramel, brown sugar predominate.  With water, coconut recedes, and smoke and dry leather come forward, along with cloves and a bit of cinnamon. That salted butter and musky background never entirely disappears.  Odd mix of tastes, all in all. No tar and asphalt notes make themselves known, supporting my contention this was unlikely to be a Caroni.

Finish – Short and smooth, heated….some crushed walnuts and toffee there, with a last flirt of mustiness and smoke.

Thoughts – Nothing special.  At best it’s a five-to-eight year old. It’s not really complex or world beating, and not a sipper’s dream by any stretch.  The nose is the oddest thing about it since it seems to stand quite separate from the way it tastes when you drink it.  But overall, a decent enough rum, quite pleasant. I liked the history of the company almost more than the rum.

 

(81/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

 

 

Nicholson Rum

Apr 172015
 
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Photo courtesy of Velier

 

This Caroni isn’t the strongest one in the rumosphere but it conforms to most of the expectations taste-wise – a shade more dark and it could probably be used to surface a road somewhere. A good to great exemplar from the closed distillery.

This is one of five or six rums I bought in an effort to raise the profile of the now-defunct Caroni Distillery from Trinidad. That it was made by Velier didn’t hurt either, of course, because almost alone among the rums makers out there, Luca Gargano has the distinction of making just about all of his rums at cask strength, and everything he’s made thus far I’ve liked.  And at 55% ABV, it may just be accessible to a wider audience, assuming it can ever be found in the jungle of Caronis Velier makes (I bought mine from Italy for a lire or two under €80).

Because Caroni has now been closed for over a decade, its products are getting harder to find as stocks run down — when we start seeing expressions dated from the year 2000 and greater, the end is near, and purely on that basis they may be good investment choices for those inclined that way.  Bristol Spirits and Rum Nation and some other craft makers have issued rums from here before, but Velier probably has the largest selection of this type in existence (sometimes varying strengths from the same year), and I know I’ll never get them all…so let’s stick with this one, and waste no further time.

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Presentation is slightly different than the stark zen minimalism of the Guyanese rums; here it came with a black and white box, nice graphics, and all the usual useful information: distilled in 1994, aged 18 years (fourteen in Trinidad, thereafter in Guyana), bottled 2012, 6943 bottles from 23 barrels.  Plastic tipped cork (these are coming into their own these days, and are hardly worthy of comment any longer except by their absence), black bottle, decent label, and, I have to mention, when I poured it out, it was quite the darkest Caroni I’d tried thus far, which had me rubbing my hands together in glee.

I appreciate higher proofed spirits topping 60%, yet I couldn’t fault what had been accomplished in this instance with something a few points lower: the rich aromas of this dark blonde rum led off immediately with licorice and candied apples, strong and full fruity scents mixing with sharper tannins of oak; there was some burnt rubber and plastic hiding in there someplace, like a well insulated rubber truncheon to the face.  It was pleasant and full and rich, pervaded by a both deep and heated lusciousness.  The longer I let it stand, the more I got out of it, and recall with pleasure additional notes of burnt sugar, rosy, floral scents, cedar and pine…and, as if to tip me a roué’s leering wink, a last laugh of mint flavoured bubble gum (no, really – I went back to the glass four times over two days to make sure I wasn’t being messed with).

As if to make up for its mischievousness, the Caroni 1994, aged for eighteen years in oak barrels in Trinidad and Guyana, turned serious with a hint of mean on the palate.  Sharp, salty, briny tastes led right off. It was a spirituous assault on the tongue, so bright and fierce that initially it made me feel like I’d just swallowed an angry blender.  Fortunately, that smoothened out over time, and became gentler (if a term like that could be applied to such a concussive drink) – a buttery, creamy profile emerged from the maelstrom, merging seamlessly with oaken tannins, licorice, vanillas, aromatic pipe tobacco, some fresh tar; and more caramel and burnt sugar  tastes, that were stopped just shy of bitterness by some magic of the maker’s art.  And the long and lasting finish was similarly bold and complex, bringing last memories of nuts, tannins and hot black tea to leaven the caramel and anise I detected.

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As we drink this powerful shot, we come to grips with a certain essential toughness of the maker, an unsubtle reminder of a man who makes no small rums, but feral, mean, blasting caps that glance with indifference at the more soothing exemplars which pepper all the festivals and tasting events. It’s big, blunt, intimidating and seemingly impervious to dilution (I can only imagine what the stronger version is like). This Caroni is not subtle but then, Velier doesn’t really do milquetoast, preferring bold in-your-face statements to understated points of please-don’t-hurt-me diffidence.  So I’d suggest that it’s not a rum for everyone…but in its elemental power of proof lies its appeal: to those who are willing to brave it, and to those who enjoy an occasional walk on the wild side with a rum as fascinating and excellent as this one.

(#211. 87/100)


Other notes

Look again at the outturn for that year and that strength: just shy of 7,000 bottles from 23 casks.  And that’s only 1994. When you consider the sheer range of the Caronis Velier has already put out the door, and the sadly slim pickings (thus far) from other craft makers, you begin to get an inkling of exactly how much stock Velier has managed to pick up.

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Addendum (August 2015)

This included, I’ve looked at eight Caronis, most sourced in 2014. They are: