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 theseI 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 ruma Caroni, one of a few releasedfell 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, fruitsunripe 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 aroundpears, 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 rumstheir 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 spiritthis was a practice in Trinidadblending 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 distilleryfresh 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 fruitsdates, blackberries, prunes, raisinswith 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 revvingin this case, the finish is no slouchlong 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 reservationsbecause 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 overproofwhich keeps company with 151s like the Bacardi or Cavalier and othersis 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 punchand I say that grudgingly, because overall, I don’t see much to shout about.

Part of the problem is the indifference with whichto meit 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 aingot 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 lumberbut 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 lastsomething 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 itselffew 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 littlenot 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 saleyet 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 easebecause 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. TheLightissued at 59.2% (R-058), theHeavy Full Proofwhich is a ripsnorting 77.3% (R-063), and now thisHeavyone, 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 availablethey 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.

ColourAmber

Strength – 62%

NoseQuite 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.

PalateThe 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.

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

ThoughtsA 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 forin these timesrhapsodizing 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 thenit 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.

ColourGold

Strength – 55%

NoseCompared to some of the others in the last weeks, this one is rather lightall the expected hits are playing, but in a lesser, almost minor key. Tar, rubber, acetonethese notes never get old and I never get tired of finding ’emsegueing into softer (but still delicate) dates, fruits, molasses, more tar, brown sugar, some caramel. Delicious. I could eat this thing.

PalateThe 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 complexit’s almost simple in a way, though what flavours are there are crisp, clear and elegantly expressed and come together harmoniously.

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

ThoughtsMore 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 fruitsit’s got far more than that up its sleeves across the range, and (b) ‘light and simpleas a descriptor (Serge called itshywhich 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 profileit’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 bottlesso if you have dibs on one, treasure the thing.

ColourAmber

Strength – 77.3%

NoseInitially 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.

PalateWhew! Taste carefully, young padawan, for this juice be hot. Oily and mouth coating in the best waytoffee, 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 displayssome water is highly recommended here, but just a little.

FinishLong, 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.

ThoughtsNot 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 wellit 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 oldhow 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 meanbut after having sampled quite a few, certainly it’s getting easier to see commonalities and aberrations here or there. And, of course, fun.

ColourAmber

Strength – 52%

NoseRather 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.

PalateQuietly 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 crispit verges on real sharp-ended jaggedness, without ever quite stepping over the edge. Oh and the lemon citrus remains there throughout, faint but perceptible.

FinishQuite 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.

ThoughtsNot 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 buyalways 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.

ColourDark Amber

Strength – 55.2%

NoseSerge 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 thingsalty caramel, nuts, deep chocolate and stale coffee grounds (smells better than it sounds), and a background of fuel oil and furniture polish.

PalateWith the amount of licorice and dark fruitraisins, prunes, black olivesin 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).

FinishIntense 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.

ThoughtsVery good indeed, the richest, most flavourful, most enjoyable for me, and of the six Caronis I’m trying, the best of the lot. If ‘Heavyand ‘Lightare your personal determinants for rums because of the relative ester counts, well ditch the ideathis 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 altogetherand 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.

ColourDark Amber

Strength – 58.3%

NoseLovely, 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 fruitsblack grapes, cherries or prunes. Talk about aromaticthis thing sings.

PalateTarry 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.

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

ThoughtsIt’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 emergedso maybe two?

ColourAmber (these things are all amber, more or less)

Strength – 54.6%

NoseWow, this is nicedeep 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.

PalateIf 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 toothat 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.

FinishDry, 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.

ThoughtsGreat 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 pasta 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 hundredsor, in many cases, a few or several thousandbottles 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.

ColourAmber

Strength – 59.2%

NoseRich 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.

PalateHere’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.

FinishLong, 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.

ThoughtsA 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 thoughreally 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.

ColourDark amber

Strength – 58.3%

NoseThe 1985 was great, and this one raises the bar a smidgen. With these old, bold rums, sometimes the oak takes charge too aggressivelynot 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 tarbut I was oddly reminded of the UF30E, for some reason, as I sampled this rum

PalateYeah, 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 againand 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.

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

ThoughtsI’ve had quite a few Caronis now, and they are all sprigs off the same tree. These are rums that benefit from higher proofsthe 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 theyoungerone, 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 maîtrethey 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.

ColourDark amber

Strength – 58.8% (6600 bottle outturn)

NoseDamn, 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.

PalateDry, 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.

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

ThoughtsKinda 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 thinkalthough I should note that some other writers refer to it as an intro to Caroni, rather than the real McCoyCaroniLite,” 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. Pungentif 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 youafter 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-pricednot 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 crossAppleton, 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 rangesand 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 wellHenrik 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.

D3S_8898a

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 drinkablecertainly 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 unknownit might be from Caroni, yet somehow I doubt thatit 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 1970sat 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.

Colourdark brown

NoseFairly 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.

PalateMedium 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.

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

ThoughtsNothing 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
 
rum-caroni-1994-18-anni

Photo courtesy of Velier

 

This Caroni isn’t the strongest one in the rumosphere but it conforms to most of the expectations taste-wisea 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 downwhen 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 allso let’s stick with this one, and waste no further time.

D3S_8897

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 pineand, as if to tip me a roué’s leering wink, a last laugh of mint flavoured bubble gum (no, reallyI 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.

D3S_8896

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 everyonebut 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.

D3S_8898

Addendum (August 2015)

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

Apr 082015
 

D3S_8890

Another, slightly lesser brother from the same mother. It stands in the shadow of the company’s magnificent 34 Year Old.

It’s possible that Bristol Spirits decided to play it safe (again) with the 43% expression from the closed Caroni Distillery of Trinidady’know, give it a wider audience than the drop-down-dead-of-old-age 34 year old 1974 variation which would dig a deep hole in both your wallet and your marriage. Or maybe that’s how the barrel played out when it came time to bottle the liquor (notice that 2008 was the same year they produced the 1974, so both were issued simultaneously). It’s good, but in my own opinion, could have been a shade bettertheir contention that they’re happy with the strength at which they issue their rums always struck me as taking the road more commonly travelled instead of breaking out to chart their own path.

Which is not to say that anyone buying the 19 year old will be disappointed. Even the appearance is quietly dramatic and eye catching, and adheres to Bristol’s standards: a psychedelic orange label on a barroom bottle with a plastic tipped cork, all housed in a cool black torpedo tube lettered in silver. I love Velier’s minimalism, but must concede I have a soft spot for Bristol as well.

Anyway, the rum itself: column-still produced, it was a dark golden brown liquid in the glass, displaying slow, chubby legs draining away down the sides. At 43% it was mellow to smell, dense and almost heavy with dark cherries, hibiscus blooms, licorice and a touch of brown sugar and molasses. Yet at the same time it was also quite clean on the nose, warm, without any overweening alcohol sharpness that would have debased the rather luscious aroma.

To taste, the Caroni 1989 would not be described as “heavy,” as opposed to a full-proofed Demerara hailing from a wooden still, or a massively aged Jamaica rum flinging dunder and funk in all directions, both of which really could be. It was, in point of fact, a curious and delicious melange of textures that accurately navigated to being a medium bodied rum without actually being a pussyfooted one-hit-wonder. A column still distillate produced this? Wow. Richbut not overwhelmingnotes of anise, fleshy fruit on the edge of ripeness, brown sugar, licorice, some molasses started things going, and after opening up you could tell the shared DNA of the 1974 (which I was tasting side by side): it was a less aggressive, easier version of that growling geriatric Trini. There were faint tastes of black olives, smoke, tannins and smoke, mixed in with road tar (this actually sounds worse than it is, trust me). I could not detect any of that salt and nuttiness that I remarked on the 1974 and it was a very pleasant drinking experience all ‘rounduntil the end.

D3S_8894

I’m going to spare a word about what to me was a disappointing finish for something so aged. It was lacklustre in a way that was surprising after the quality of what had come before, and which diminished the positive impact of the preceding nose and palate. This is where the 43% works against the rum and lessens the overall experience I’m afraid (some may disagree). Sure it was clean and warm, even a shade dry, on the exit, with caramel and vanilla and smoky notes to finish things offbut it displayed a too-short attitude of good-enough “git-’er-dun” that offended me in a vague way. So yeah, the 43% does make a difference (just as 35% or 55% would).

I’m sort of conflicted on this Caroni. I certainly liked it enough: it’s a rambunctious, delicious rum with a great profile and sleek, supple tastes to itbut which chokes a little on the back end. The question isas it must bewhether it’s as good as the 34 year old expression, or just different. It’s probably leaning more to the latter. At the end, while it’s not quite as remarkable as its sibling, if you’re on a budget and want a Caroni, this one is an absolutely decent buy (I paid €130 for it), and you won’t feel short-changed if you spring for the thing, my whinging on the finish aside. Because it’s a Caroni and because I wanted to give the distillery some exposure, I bought it (and four or five others from various makers)…yet personally, I’d prefer to wait and save for something a bit more mature, somethingwell, beefier. Like the 1974. Even at 46%, that one at least had some of the courage of its convictions.

(#210 / 85/100)


Addendum (August 2015)

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

Feb 122015
 

D3S_9555

A Spartan rum, sporting a massive codpiece, ripped eight-pack, and real attitude. Not for the lovers of softer or sweeter fare.

You just gotta shake your head with appreciation when you regard Cadenhead and their commitment to muscle-bound zen machismo in rums. They’ve always had a certain retro charm and a daring to go off the reservation that I grudgingly admired, and they have continued along that path here with this monster full proof.

Leaving aside the squat, glowering psycho-orange-and-yellow bottle with its cork stopper which is almost a Cadenhead signature, it should simply be noted that Cadenhead hewed to their minimalist ethos and added nothing in, and filtered nothing out. In some previous iterations they tremulously diluted to drinking strength (whatever that might mean), but not hereperhaps they wanted the TMAH to take Velier out back and beat the snot out of it. It’s bottled at 66.9% – a hilariously strong drink, a growlingly full-proofed rum that wants to land on your glottis like a blacksmith’s solid iron anvil.

D3S_9555-001

I had been softened by several forty percenters, sampled prior to cracking this one, and was consequently somewhat unprepared for the force with which the TMAH assaulted my beak (it was sharp and deep, and should absolutely be left to stand for a while before nosing). I could barely discern any molasses background at all, in between furiously swirling notes of rye bread, salt biscuits and salt butter. Not much caramel here. But patience, patienceit did get better. After opening up, it smoothened out a good bit and simply became an intense drink rather than a skewering oneand one could gradually tease out thin threads of honey and nougat, and sweeter notes of vanilla, cherriesand a little spicy note of marzipan.

That didn’t soften the arrival, of course. It was a little less than medium bodied, this rumeven thin, which I didn’t care forand it detonated with a hurricane force level of taste, scattering shrapnel of sweet and salt in all directions. Dates and figs came to mind, more crackers, a sharp aged cheddar (but not as creamy). Adding water helped here: almonds, nutmeg and slivers of dried fruit emerged, but slowly, thinly, as if terrified of being bludgeoned to death by the alcohol. “Chewy” would not describe the experience exactly, but it comes close. Appropriately enough for such a full proof glass of high-test, the finish was enormously long, a sarissa of lingering flavours of nutmeg and vanilla and light sharp red fruit (pomegranates?). Cask strength, overproof, full proof or whateverit was certainly a rum that demanded attention.

D3S_9556

Trinidad Distillers was established by Angostura back in the 1940seven then Angostura had been into rum production for decades, though more famous for their eponymous bittersand began producing alcohol in bulk. At first this was primarily for rum production: as time went on, bulk exports formed a large part of its portfolio. Note however that most of the molasses they work with originates outside of Trinidadin Guyana, Panama and the Dominican Republic. In any event, Angostura as a company has little to do with it. Cadenhead out of Campbelltown in Scotland have simply followed the craft-bottler route, bought a few barrels distilled in 1991, and then issued the rum at cask strength after it came of age in 2013, without any further mucking about

A rum like Cadenhead’s 21 year old is a curious beast. Dissecting its profile and coming up with tasting notes is not like having the elements line up and present themselves one after another, like some kind of surreal audition or a debutante’s ball. They arrive when and as they will, and as we sip and try and think, we understand it’s not important to catch every nuance, every last flavour; sometimes all that matters is the overall tone, the commingled experience. I may not be able to give you a complete set of tasting notes here: but the encounter as a whole is quite something.

And, it must be conceded, occasionally painful

(#201. 85/100)


Other notes:

  • Aged in ex-bourbon casks. No information on where, but I think it was in Scotland. If you compare similar full-proofed, similarly aged rums from Velier to the TMAH, you’ll see the difference tropical aging makes.
  • Bottled April 2013.
  • I really have no clue what TMAH stands for: Angostura never responded to me, and Cadenhead’s reps said they didn’t know. An anonymous online wit on FBthanks, Cecilsaid it stood for “Too Much Alcohol Here.” May his glass never be empty.

 

Dec 282014
 

D3S_9458

A surprising, dry, sharp and flavourful rum, yet somewhat missing of the high bar set by the Caronis made by other Italians. It’s got too many conflicting components, good in themselves, failing to cohere.

Readily available, cheaper and often excellent “everyone has one in his bar” rums dot the North American reviewing landscape, and every blogger usually begins his or her writing with such standards (European bloggers like Cyril, Marco and Henrik do not, for other reasons). Just like all film lovers eventually come to Ozu, sooner or later all us web scriveners move towards the craft bottlers, and with good reason. These makers take a select set of barrels from a particular country, a favoured distilleryeven a specific stilland then lovingly tend the result without the problems of mass producing massive amounts of rum for an export market. These are almost alwaysand probably always will besomewhat niche products, created for the rabid, not the mainstream, and alas, they tend to be pricey, if available at all. I think it’s a crime that more of this craft stuff doesn’t come over the watereven Renegade Rums are a vanishing breed over the pond. Add to that that this is a Caroni, and that says all that needs to be said as to why I bought it (for €80).

Depending on how you order the words on the label, this rum is called “Silver Seal Fine Caroni Heavy Rum 1997” with an additional moniker “Wildlife series No. 2” which relates to the label illustration of “Red, Blue and Yellow Macaws” by Harro Maas (several other Silver Seal rums have such designs). Given that it was marked as being bottled in 2011 on the label, then it is a 14 year old rum, even if it is not stated outright as being such; and like many other independent bottlers, they diluted the rum with distilled water down to 46%. Black tipped cork on a standard barroom bottle, which held a golden-brown rum inside.

As I noted before with the Bristol Spirits and Barangai Caronis, there were certain things I expected from the rum, and here I found some of them returning like well-regarded, familiar friends on holiday, others not. The nose started off somewhat lightly, with cherries and white flowers, but after just a few minutes the heavier flavours began to marshall their attack: tar, leather and smoke began, with estery wax and rubber notes of squishing wellies charging in later. It was hot and spicy throughoutsomewhat surprising for a rum of such relatively modest proofage. And yet, as I stuck with it (and re-tasted later), the sweet flowers returned, accompanied by aromatic soap, citrus andget this! – bubble gum. A bit light, overall, and very rich in complexity and flavour.

No milquetoast rum this, it displayed real heft and weight to the taste. Salty, briny and spicy, with tar, jute rice bags and heavy burnt sugar notes present, without the rum ever actually becoming sweet. Oak and smoke abounded, plus black dripping engine oil from a leak under your car, cooking on the asphalt on a really hot day. Alas, these notes on the palate did not reach the high standard set by the initial scent. Adding some water didn’t quite rescue it, but did allow other flavours of vanilla and green olives to emerge. The rather lacklustre finish of salted peanuts, butter and caramelized sugar was more of a question mark than an exclamation point on a unique rum which didn’t come together properlyI think too many interesting and complex flavours were at work (and querulously interfering with each other) for me to really love it. The nose was great, the palate pretty good and the finish justmeh. In a way it was a kinda crazy amalgam of taste impressions, not all of it succeeding as it should.

D3S_9459

Silver Seal is a bottler much in the vein of Velier, Rum Nation and others, if perhaps older (they were formed in 1979 and named “Sestante” before being renamed in 2001 after a ten year operational hiatus): like them, it bottles casks sourced and aged with attention to detail, from all over the world; like them, it is based in Italy; unlike Velier it does dampen down the natural exuberance of the cask, perhaps to appeal to a broader audience. Its website gives equal, if not more prominence, to whisky (drat!), which I have to admit may not be all badlove of the product does not blind me to the fact that flogging rums in the shops of the world can be an uphill slog, so if their whisky sales allow them to continue producing rums, well, that’s all good.

Summing up, I enjoyed the rum, just not as much as other Caronis I went through in series that day. This one is a shade too dry and saltyand maybe harshin comparison to those. Oh, it’s a country mile ahead of cheaper and more available Trini rums, and there’s no denying its complexity (and the taste which single malt Islay lovers will really drool over) — so points for its technique there.

But you see, when people want to know about a particular rum, they’re after something quite specific. They never ask questions like, “Is the bouquet transcendent?” Oris the palate sublime?” Oris this a rum to share with friends, to show my personal sophistication?”

What they do want to know is, “Is it any good?” That’s what they always ask. And what they really mean by that, is “Is it good for the price?

So for what I paid, I can’t tell you with a straight face that the Silver Seal Caroni 1997 is extraordinarily remarkable, an undiscovered masterpiece, a da Vinci among rums. But I can make the case that for the money you spend, you’ll have a fascinating and intriguing timeas long as you accept that the overall profile is less that of a well balanced rum than that of a smorgasbord of great individual bits and pieces, that somehow fail to communicate with the mothership.

(#194. 86/100)


Addendum (August 2015)

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