Sep 102020
 

It’s been many years since the first of those blended dark-coloured UK supermarket rums dating back decades crossed my path – back then I was writing for Liquorature, had not yet picked up the handle of “The ‘Caner”, and this site was years in the future.  Yet even now I recall how much I enjoyed Robert Watson’s Demerara Rum, and I compared it positively with my private tippling indulgence of the day, the Canada-made Young’s Old Sam blend — and remembered them both when writing about the Wood’s 100 and Cabot Tower rums.

All of these channelled some whiff of the old merchant bottlers and their blends, or tried for a Navy vibe (not always successfully, but ok…).  Almost all of them were (and remain) Guyanese rums in some part or all. They may be copying Pusser’s or the British heritage of centuries past, they are cheap, drinkable, and enjoyable and have no pretensions to snobbery or age or off-the-chart complexity.  They are a working man’s rums, all of them.

Watson’s Trawler rum, bottled at 40% is another sprig off that branch of British Caribbean blends, budding off the enormous tree of rums the empire produced. The company, according to Anne Watson (granddaughter of the founder), was formed in the late 1940s in Aberdeen, sold at some point to the Chivas Group, and nowadays the brand is owned by Ian McLeod distillers (home of Sheep Dip and Glengoyne whiskies). It remains a simple, easy to drink and affordable nip, a casual drink, and should be approached in precisely that spirit, not as something with pretensions of grandeur.

I say “simple” and “easy” but really should also add “rich”, which was one of the first words my rather startled notes reveal.  And “deep.”  I mean, it’s thick to smell, with layers of muscovado sugar, molasses, licorice, and bags of dark fruits.  It actually feels more solid than 40% might imply, and the aromas pervade the room quickly (so watch out, all ye teens who filch this from your parents’ liquor cabinets). It also smells of stewed apples, aromatic tobacco, ripe cherries and a wedge or two of pineapple for bite. Sure the label says Barbados is in the mix, but for my money the nose on this thing is all Demerara.

And this is an impression I continue to get when tasting it. The soft flavours of brown sugar, caramel, bitter chocolate, toffee, molasses and anise are forward again (they really wake up a cola-based diet soda, let me tell you, and if you add a lime wedge it kicks).  It tastes a bit sweet, and it develops the additional dark fruit notes such rums tend to showcase – blackberries, ripe dark cherries, prunes, plums, with a slight acidic line of citrus or pineapple rounding things out nicely.  The finish is short and faint and wispy — no gilding that lily — mostly anise, molasses and caramel, with the fruits receding quite a bit. A solid, straightforward, simple drink, I would say – no airs, no frills, very firm, and very much at home in a mix.

It’s in that simplicity, I argue, lies much of Watson’s strength and enduring appeal — “an honest and loyal rum” opined Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun in his review. It’s not terrible to drink neat, though few will ever bother to have it that way; and perhaps it’s a touch sharp and uncouth, as most such rums aged less than five years tend to be. It has those strong notes of anise and molasses and dark fruit, all good.  I think, though, it’s like all the other rums mentioned above — a mixer’s fallback, a backbar staple, a bottom shelf dweller, something you drank, got a personal taste for and never abandoned entirely, something to always have in stock at home, “just in case.” 

Such rums are are almost always and peculiarly associated with hazy, fond memories of times past, it seems to me.  First jobs, first drunks, first kisses, first tastes of independence away from parents…first solo outings of the youth turning into the adult, perhaps. I may be romanticizing a drink overmuch, you could argue…but then, just read my first paragraphs again, then the last two, and ask yourself whether you don’t have at least one rum like that in your own collection.  Because any rum that can make you think that way surely has a place there.

(#759)(82/100)

May 202020
 

Rumaniacs Review #115 | 0728

This rum is a companion of the various UK merchant bottlers’ rums which were common in the 1970s and 1980s. Examples are Lamb’s 70º Demerara Navy, Four Bells Finest Navy Rum, Mainbrace, Red Duster Finest Navy, Old Vatted Demerara rum, and so on.  Many are made by now defunct companies and were Navy wannabes, or traded in on the name without being anything of the kind.

This one is an oddity since it was made by United Rum Merchants, that conglomerate which had swallowed up Lamb’s, Keelings and Dingwall Norris: they did supply rums to the navy at one point, and this rum, made from a blend of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad rums, lacks only the proof to be considered a Navy rum. Except it is clearly not labeled as such, so we’ll just accept it as a blended rum and move on.

Dating: Made when the UK was still trying to go beyond the degrees proof (in 1980) but while this process was still not complete; and while United Rum Merchants was still located in Tooley Street, London and not yet taken over by Allied Domecq in the early 1990s. At this stage in the recent history of rum, blends were still the way to go – so like the Lamb’s 70º “Navy” it is a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad.  The proportions and distilleries and ageing (if any) are, of course, unknown.

One further point: the rum is extremely dark, so colouring is involved, and since the hydrometer notes the strength at 36.48% ABV, we can assume about 13g/L of added something-or-other.

Colour – Very dark brown

Strength 40% ABV (36.48% ABV as measured)

Nose – Meaty, gamey, salty.  Are we sure this is 40% ABV?  Feels more robust than that.  Great aromas, though – molasses, caramel, brown sugar, raisins.  Also some acetones and light tart fruits like gooseberries, soursop, to which is added a sort of bitter herbal note, and dark fruits going bad.

Palate – Much softer, one can relax here. Woody notes, molasses, brown sugar.  What acidity and tartness there was on the nose is here much subdued, and not sweet, but thick and dusty and a bit like sweet soya.

Finish – Adjectives jump off the page: short dry, dark, thick, salty, not-sweet, redolent of molasses, brown sugar, caramel, nuts. That’s a fair bit, but let’s face it, it’s all somewhat standard.

Thoughts – It’s a surprise that a blend of four different countries’ rums — which I usually view with some doubt if not skepticism or outright dislike – works as well as it does.  It’s not a world beater and displays rather more ambition than success.  But it isn’t half bad, coming as it does from a time when indifferently made blends were all the rage. 

Other – There’s some Guyanese Enmore or Port Mourant in there, I’d say, Bajan WIRD is logical for the timeframe and Jamaicans, well, who knows. I’d almost hazard a guess the gaminess in the nose comes from Caroni not Angostura, but I have no evidence outside my senses. That might work for empiricist philosophers like Locke and Hume, but won’t budge the rationalists on whose side I come down on here…so we’ll leave it as unanswered for now.

(78/100)

Dec 042018
 

Ten years ago, the 151s were regarded with the sort of wry caution with which one approaches a crazy old uncle who may lash out with either invective or drool at any moment, depending on the circumstances.  They encouraged adverbial density, were the strongest rums available to the rumworld, and used exclusively as cocktail bases and mixing agents. Myself, I was always a little amused by their ferocity and used their elephantine profiles as an excuse to write reviews that didn’t take themselves too seriously (like the BacardiLemon HartCavalier, or Appleton 151 reviews, for example).  But what else to do? I mean, back then we had no access to or real knowledge of the cask strength rums that now so dominate the upper echelons of quality rums, and to consider a 151 as anything else but a throwaway effort made to bag the overproof crown and/or to concoct crazy strong cocktails would be to mis-state what they meant to us.

As the years passed, overproofs more or less fell out of the mainstream, even out of favour, replaced by exactingly made full proof rums, some of which are approaching that kind of strength, though comparatively rarely. I can’t remember the last time I saw a review of a 151 aside from Habitation Velier’s new white (not that there were that many to begin with) and mention of any is passing rare.  But me, I never forgot them, and still hold fond memories of their harsh fury, and when I saw a Tilambic 151 sample for sale, well, what’s a reviewer to do?

Cracking it, you’d certainly exercise all the usual cautions, as one would with the SMWS Long Pond 5.1 (81.3%), the Sunset Very Strong (84.5%) or the Marienburg White (90%).  Because like all of those, the Tilambic is frenetic, unapologetic and massively alcoholic – it smokes, it seethes, it exudes badass from every pore: you can almost hear the tinkling plink of minigun shell casings piling up around your feet as you pour. To smell, it’s sharp and extremely hot, spicy and slightly sweet, redolent of raw molasses and sweet corn in a can (weird, I know), to which some light lemon zest and caramel has been mashed in with an oaken club wielded by The Rock. And which – you might be surprised to discover – is actually not bad at all.  I was certainly expecting less.

As for the palate, well, it’s a monster (yeah, big surprise). Briny with olives, pimentos, hot hot hot.  A lot carries over from the nose, but there’s more too, once you adjust to the force with which it attempts to tattoo “151” on your tongue. It has, both before and after a few drops of water, some strawberries, green apples, sawdust, light pencil shavings, licorice, mustard, vanilla and a ton of oak ameliorated by a sly little citrus line.  But it also doesn’t attempt to do too much; and unlike some indie caskers at this level, is not that complicated – in that relative simplicity lies much of its appeal, if your taste runs into high proof drinks. It all gets summed up very nicely on the finish, which is oaky, spicy, briny, dry, with a little fruit and some licorice, vanilla, caramel, and then it’s gone. Probably leaving you gasping.

So who makes this thing? We know about St. Aubin, Lazy Dodo, New Grove and Chamarel, all of which channel the old rum making traditions of the island. But the company that makes this one, Green Island, is actually a UK company which licenses International Distillers Mauritius to provide their rums – IDM also makes marks like the Flamboyant, Cascavel and the well known and positively regarded Penny Blue rums, as well as a number of Green Island starter rums.  So not so much an artisanal rum maker as a local spirits conglomerate, like DDL in Guyana or Angostura in Trinidad. The Tilambic 151 is made on a column still, aged for varying times (“up to seven years”) and has no additives, flavourings, colourings or filtrations.

That puts the it squarely into the mixing category, as are most lightly aged rums of this kind.  That it has more qualities than defects is to its everlasting credit, and our relief. I mean, this thing could take out two defensive linemen in full pads just by cracking the seal – but it was surprisingly light and flavourful too, especially after resting for a while to burn off the alcohol.  And even if it wasn’t genetically enhanced by a team of imported Swiss scientists who had seen King Kong one too many times, I can’t dismiss it out of hand – because for all its coarse and brutish power, it really was quite an interesting rum, with some positives and very few negatives. For a 151, that’s really quite an achievement.

(#575)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • The name “Tilambic” is a creole name for the local farmers’ stills, which they use, much like the Haitians do, to make their own personal hooch.
  • Steve James over at the Rum Diaries took a look at the rum back in 2014, which gives you some idea how long it’s been knocking around.
  • For additional details on the history and development of 151 overproof rums, this article provides all the background
Nov 092016
 

matugga-1

A less than impressive Jamaican wannabe rum that’s actually from the UK by way of Africa

#315

In one of those coincidences that occasionally crop up, one of my Gallic colleagues texted me as I was putting together the write up for the Matugga, and asked me what I thought of it. “Mediocre,” was the terse response, given the comparators I had on hand that day against which I was rating it, and the almost finished review – but in retrospect that was perhaps too dismissive, since it’s not entirely a bad rum, and both the good and the bad should be acknowledged, in spite of the hyped marketing message.

In this case the selling and marketing point is the rum’s purported origin – East Africa, Uganda to be exact (see my opinion below tis review), and that sure works, because it’s entirely on that basis that I bought it (Zulu Impi is another).  This is a rum like, oh, Lost Spirits or Seven Fathoms – made by a small outfit led by one person with some drive and gumption. Considered objectively and dispassionately it’s a company that, like those other two, takes an unusual, original detail about the rum’s production, and tries to develop that into an entire marketing plan, without really finishing the job of making it a really good one, even a really good young one.

Anyway, the molasses is sourced from a small town in Uganda called Matugga – forget the blurb on the company website about the quality of cane or soil – and fermented in the UK for seven days (rather a long time) before being distilled in a copper pot still and then aged in English oak, though nowhere is it stated exactly how long.  For the record I suspect around 2-3 years max.

matugga-2That age is probably about right.  The nose of the 42% Matugga certainly gave no indication that decades of careful maturation were behind it.  In fact, my first reaction was a grimace and a “yeccch”.  Rank notes of rubber, cardboard, rotting vegetable were first, followed by others of musky and damp old houses with too many cats in it.  But fortunately these sensations were fleeting, and nose changed after opening up, moving to more dominant smells honey and acetone, richer fruits, banana and treacle, maybe half a crème brûlée.  Quite an about face, and after walking around with it, I thought it was like a young, untamed and rather rambunctious Jamaican rum, more than anything else — not nearly as well made, but not to be dismissed out of hand either.  

On the palate, the orange-gold  was not that stellar, though certainly interesting: thick and oily, almost cloying…and then a sharp skewer of black pepper and pimentos without the heat kicked in.  Again, just as with the nose, it did a ninety degree turn and became another rum altogether, more traditional.  The main players emerged on stage – caramel, vanilla, some sugar water (this and the vanilla became particularly pronounced after a while), papayas, pears and white guavas.  Underneath it all was a weird kind of bitterness of raw cocoa beans that accentuated what was already a rather jagged and inconsistent profile, one moment sweet, fruity and almost cloying, the next sharp, bitchy, peppery and out to get me.  And it finished quickly and without fanfare, giving up final hints of nuts, molasses, caramel and vanilla, standard stuff, no points here.

So no, some interesting notes and originality acknowledged, the rum doesn’t really gel.  It has potential, sure, but so far as the profile is concerned, it’s somewhat incoherent, more than a little unbalanced, not well integrated and perhaps not even sure what it wants to be — a Jamaican funk bomb, or an easier, soothing  rum made for mass consumption and to bolster sales before the really good aged stuff comes out the door. Plus those additives, whatever they are, are an annoying and pointless distraction. Why didn’t they just have the guts to take the subtle notes of an East African terroire, run with it and make a case for its uniqueness, for a rum having a profile of neither arrack or molasses or agricole but a new and untried melange of them all?  Their lack of courage in standing by the inherent qualities of their own product is a depressing commentary on both what the rum is, and what it might have been.

(79/100)


Other notes

  • When I started doing my research, I was unsurprised to discover 37g/L sugar on the hydrometer tests. In this case, I believe that less sugar and more ageing would do wonders for the rum. Evidently, the makers thought the opposite.

Opinion

I firmly believe that just because the molasses – and only the molasses – hails from Uganda, that does not make this either an African or Ugandan rum.  Sorry but if Barbados can import molasses from wherever and call itself Barbados rum, and Guyana do the same with molasses from Nicaragua (to note just two well known examples), then the principle of discounting the source of molasses as a terroire / national identifier has already been established.  Fermentation, distillation and ageing all take place in the UK, and so it is essentially a British rum. The Ron Maja rum which purported to come from El Salvador (and labelled itself as such) had similar issues of provenance, with which I strongly disagreed.  Sooner or later the rumworld is going to have to come to grips with how rums with diverse sources and processes can label themselves legally — and a combination of the AOC and the currenntly-disputed form of the Barbados GI is probably going to be the base of its formulation.

May 312016
 
ampleforth

Picture (c) Ocado.com

Too much spice, too much sugar, too little interest.

The name is almost Dickensian in its imagery.  Professor Cornelius Ampleforth could be straight out of the Pickwick Papers…you know, some chubby, benevolent older fellow in half-specs and a faded waistcoat, with rather limited mental capacity, down on his heels, but possessing a good heart. Whatever – the name evokes a certain good humour and indulgence from us, and at the very least is evocative.  That, unfortunately, doesn’t make the Professor’s Rumbullion a rum worth drinking, unless you are into spiced rums and like to have that in your drink (which I’m not and I don’t, so be aware of my personal preferences in this review).

Whether there really is a Professor Cornelius Ampleforth is subject to intense and spirited debate by all the same people who can tell you the middle name of the runner up of the 1959 Tiddlywinks Championship in Patagonia.  The UK company which releases the Rumbullion is called Atom Supplies and under its umbrella of e-commerce and business consultancy, also runs the online shop Master of Malt, and the brand is their independent bottling operation.

They certainly have a sense of humour, as evinced not only by the Professor’s name, but the “Bathtub Gin” they also sell.  What they don’t have is a desire to tell you anything meaningful – one has to go outside their website to find it’s a blend of unnamed Caribbean rums flavoured with various fruits, spices, and Madgascan vanilla. No countries, no distilleries, nothing else. An informational sinkhole of annoying proportions.

Bottled at 42.6% and darkly coloured within an inch of the Kraken, what we had here was a rum that assaulted the nose immediately with enormous and instant nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon notes, caramel and toffee and chocolate, all of which rushed and jostled and ran heedlessly together like a mob entering a Black Friday sale where everything is  90% off. It was also rather thick and almost chewy, and while back in 2010 I appreciated the Captain Morgan Private Stock for precisely those reasons (no longer, mind you), here it was simply excessive, and there was no order to any of it, no gradual progression from one series of well-blended, coherent smells to another…and that made the whole experience something of a disorganized mess.

And by the time I got around to tasting it, those spices really became too much, which led to flagging interest, waning ardour and a lot of grumbling and head shaking.  So there was cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sweet dark chocolate – these were somewhat better behaved now – to which, with some water, were added scents of cloves, marzipan (I liked that) and candied oranges, at which point the party was over and I was blatted into near catatonia by just wave upon wave of cloying sweetness (quick Prof, pass the insulin!). So yeah, there were additional elements of taste that weren’t bad, just so strong and so much that it was like having seven incidences of coitus in one night – one wakes up the next morning with an utterly blank brain and no desire to do anything meaningful. Even the warm, short fade exhibited this oversweet sense of warm syrup, without adding any new notes – there was the incessant hammer of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, and to me it was just overkill.

To its credit, as I don’t hide my preferences, the makers don’t hide anything either: it is a spiced rum, it’s trumpeted as such, and they’re proud of it. But as always, it’s mostly marketing that one gets when one checks: a secret recipe (hate those), fancy wrapping and no information on components or ageing, if any. I guess for less than thirty quid we shouldn’t be asking for more.  This rum is squarely aimed at the casual imbibers who just want a tasty, tarted up, adulterated drink with a little bit of oomph and no hassle, and so although I acknowledge that spiced rums sell briskly for precisely those reasons, they really aren’t my tot of grog.

(#276 / 72/100)


Other notes

  • For the record, I disapprove of an online shop not disclosing in its listings that it is itself the maker of a rum whose tasting notes (by its own staff) are rabidly enthusiastic.
  • The RumShopBoy posted a truly funny and apropos review of this and the Navy Strength variation, and despised the ground it walked on…largely due to measured 43g/L of additives.
Mar 122011
 

First posted 12 March 2011 on Liquorature

One of the acclaimed limited edition bottlings from Bruichladdich, it will remind you of a dry rye, and is a rum worth your buck; deep, tasty with complex flavour and taste.  It’s long lasting on the palate, but not in the company of your friends.


A few days ago I was on the Ministry of Rum, and a guy there proudly announced that he had just bought all twenty bottles of the current Renegade line.  All twenty!!? I’ve only ever seen four in this whole country.  You can imagine with what envy I regarded that little announcement.  I mean, I have relatives in Deutschland and I suppose I can get a few that way, but it just strikes me as wrong somehow that I can’t get a larger selection of these intriguing rums in the only unregulated province in Canada.

Ever since I saw the first sand-blasted bottle of the Renegade line with its metal dog tag, I’ve admired the product line.  Not always appreciated it as much as I should have (chalk that down to lack of experience).  But definitely admired the concept: a whisky maker with a great reputation making rums. And pretty interesting rums at that – rums that strike a newbie rum lover raised on the Bacardis and Appletons as dry and not as sweet as he’s used to, perhaps…but rums that grow on you after a bit, like this one and all its brothers, sisters and cousins did.

The maturation in bourbon casks is only part of the equation, because the Grenada 1996 is then finished in Haute Brion casks, and it shows. The nose was just heavenly: toffee, pineapple, caramel, come first, with – what was that? cheddar? – citrus and burnt sugar emerging later to mix gently with a marshmallow softness that tamped down the spirit burn of a 46% spirit.  I’ve never been convinced that a spirit should be 46% or greater, though I’ve had my share of cask strength rums, and the occasional whisky: still, I might want to make exceptions here or there. The extra strength imparted a deeper and more complex flavour to the aroma than I had expected, and you’d probably like it as long as you’re prepared to tolerate a little more heat and spice than normal at the inception. I seem to recall I made a similar observation about overproofs once or twice.

Spice or not, heat or not, I simply could not complain about the flavour and feel on the tongue. The thing felt like a rye, though a bit drier, just enough sweet, and it leaves a coating on the tongue that is oily and long lasting (this is probably a direct result of the policy of un-chill filtering which leaves the taste-enhancing oils intact in the spirit) . There’s leather, a hint of cedar wood and always, that slightly floral and cherry hint descending from the Haut Brion casks (I may be reaching here).  And I got breakfast spice, cinnamon, caramel and chocolate; yes it’s spicy and burning on the fade and even before, but in a good way.  Curt and I had a long discussion on what heat, spice or burn actually mean in the context of a review, how it should be rated and to what degree it impacts on one’s enjoyment. In this case, I’ll just say that it was mellow and deep and not remotely reminiscent of my wife giving me a hard time after an all night bender when I pour myself through the door and can’t remember the names of the kids. Seriously.

Cask finishing seems to be an upcoming thing right now.  Of course, whiskies have always had variations which were matured in (for example) sherry casks, and rums have a few courageous souls here and there who do a double ageing, once in oak and once in something else (Ron Zacapa 23 is a good example of this idea). But Murray McDavid of Bruichladdich may have taken the concept a few notches further up the scale by buying up very specific estates’ rums and then enhancing them in some pretty awesome wine casks. This Grenada variant was completed in Haute Brion casks; it comes from the Westerhall distillery, active since 1766, and which these days makes only 3 barrels a day from a copper pot still. The stock was bought and then the casks shipped to Islay for ageing and final completion (and I’m still kinda pissed that the Hippie, when he was there, utterly ignored this aspect of Bruichladdich’s production and brought back no info on their philosophy regarding it). It’s pretty damned good, is a one line summary.

I think a sweet-toothed rum lover such as I has to grow into the Renegade rums. A year or two back, I reviewed two other variations, sniffed rather snootily and said the rums were too much like whiskies.  What a difference experience and the passing of time makes. The Renegade Grenada edition has shown me something of how different a rum can be from my own preconceptions, and yet still be enjoyable.  At ~$60-80 Canadian, it isn’t really for beginners wanting their first intro (my opinion).  But it – and its nineteen relatives in the line – may be the bridge for the truly interested person to broaden his palate to more interesting and offbeat variations…to the point where whiskies actually start to look really appealing and worth an occasional try.

Oh crap…Maltmonster and the Hippie are going to hang me with that.

(#068. 84.5/100)


Other Notes

Jan 282011
 

First posted 28 January 2011 on Liquorature

An overproof harking back to maritime days of the Empire, Favell’s lacks enough ageing or serious taste to compete with more carefully made and better aged examples of the craft, and will appeal more to whisky drinkers who like cask strength offerings, than those who like lesser strength rums to sip neat. 

Favell’s London Dock Demerara rum plays on the maritime heritage of the British empire’s trading  days: sailing ships, foggy stone wharves, the slow slap of the waves against the wooden hulls of old windjammers and clippers anchored alongside, and West Indian Trade in rum and molasses. Even the labelling reflects a slightly old-fashioned, nautical slant, what with its picture and the interesting notation that it is 100 proof rum…or 57.1% (for a discussion on why 100 proof in Britain is – or used to be – 57.1% alcohol by volume, see my article on proofs here).

Favell’s is, like other rums made in northerly climes, a blend of stock imported from the West Indies (Guyana, in this case) and again, this is stated front and center in the label: Demerara rum, product of Guyana.  In the 19th century the British empire had its largest trading hub in London, and in 1802 an entire new section of the Port of London, the West India Docks, was built to process the vast amounts of sugar and rum arriving from British colonies in the Caribbean. The Rum Dock section gave birth to Lamb’s London Dock and other rums of that period, but whose names have long vanished.  These days, only the term remains, redolent with history.

At 57% ABV, Favell’s is a proof rum (100 proof – anything over that is considered an overproof): we might term it cask strength, if that wasn’t technically incorrect.  There are frustratingly few notations on the distillation methodology available.  About all I can tell you is that the bulk rums come from Guyana, and the blend is made in Canada under license to White Favell, Vintner’s of London, who probably act like Gordon and MacPhail or Bruichladdich, but without the fame. The nice thing is that, like Screech and Old Sam’s, it’s made in Newfoundland, and that probably had something to do with the long maritime tradition of The Rock (or so the romantic in me supposes).

The nose was, as one might expect, not gentle or forgiving.  London Dock rums as a general rule adhere to Navy blending traditions, which is to say they are rough and dark and strong and have tastes are at best unsophisticated.  This one was no exception, and at 57.1%, I wasn’t surprised. It smacked the nose and was redolent of harsh spirit, caramel and some vanilla.  A bit sharper than I personally preferred.  After opening up, however, the alcohol vapours started to recede and a lighter, thinner floral scent stole about the overpowering depth of dark sugar, and I have to acknowledge that if you’re prepared to wait a bit, that almost makes it worthwhile.

However, to my disappointment, the taste failed when compared with either Pusser’s, or the A.D. Rattray’s rather excellent 13 year old Caroni rum, which are the only overproofs I’ve sampled that came close to Favell’s. The sharp taste is not medicinal, precisely (I would have marked it down for that), but it does bite like hell, and not the dark deep burn of a good, mellowed-down, well-aged overproof, but something harsher, less refined: something that required a bit more time in the barrel, I’d say. The rum was decently full-bodied as befits a Demerara rum – the problem was that the taste was not distinct, not particularly complex, or well-defined.  Oh you get the caramel, some faint burnt sugar notes, together with a trace of molasses. That’s all, though.  And the finish , well, it does linger, powerfully so…but one feels that those are mostly the alcohol fumes with some faint hints of the aforementioned standards, and so not particularly distinguished.

That this rum has absolutely nothing to do with the glory days of the British Navy and all its associated traditions is not in dispute.  It’s a pretender to a throne to which Lamb’s Navy rum and Pusser’s stand rather closer in the line of succession and merit. But I wouldn’t exactly mark it down for that either.  These days, I assume marketing swamis and smart people who study people’s tastes and how to sell things to people are usually behind the branding of any rum I review (and if any doubt my statement, feel free to weigh in on the discussion on the Ron de Jeremy slated to be produced this year): and so I don’t really hold it against them.

Favell’s is, to my mind, a success from the perspective of imagination.  I can surely, without effort, think of having a flagon of this at my side as I watch the last of the cargo being loaded onto my old sailing ship bound for Port Georgetown, the hawsers creaking as the tide comes in, the fog swirling around the dimly lamp-lit quay and muting the low conversations of the  sailors as they batten the hatches and make ready to cast off all lines.

Too bad that the taste and overall quality of Favell’s doesn’t quite live up to that promise. Close, but not quite.

(#065. 79.5/100)

Jan 152011
 

First posted 15th January 2011 on Liquorature

I’ve never hidden my affection for the Young’s Old Sam Demerara rum: for its rich dark character, thick nose and excellent mixing qualities.  Here’s a variation which simply blows it out of the water, because, unlike that simple mixer, Watson’s is in better balance overall, and is equally good as a sipper or a cocktail base.

People, I think are entirely too disbelieving of coincidences: when you consider that there are six billion plus people on the planet, I am actually amazed that there aren’t more coincidences.  One of the best in recent memory was the appearance of a rum named after one of our members: the Robert Watson Demerara dark rum, “a product of Guyana.”

Initial maturation is indeed done in Guyana, but final blending and bottling is done in Scotland by the company that owns the brand, Ian MacLeod distillers.  Established in 1933 by Ian MacLeod, the company was acquired in 1963 by the Russell family, who were primarily whisky brokers. In 2000, the company acquired the Watson’s Demerara and Trawler rum brands, but I cannot yet ascertain from whom, or where the marques originated.

Fine. After we finished grinning and congratulating Bob on the find and his suitable modesty in naming it after himself, we took stock.  Straightforward bottle, red metal cap. My picture, much affected by the five shots of various Ardbegs I had already consumed (my arms were twisted, honest) doesn’t really do it justice, but it glinted a deep red-brown colour, like burnished copper.

Watson’s is distilled to 40% in pot stills, and aged in oak casks for an unknown period – I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest at least five years, and possibly, just possibly, as long as ten (I hate not knowing this stuff). It filmed the side of the glass and had plump but barely discernible legs as the rum sheeted slowly down, which boded well for the body.

The nose was the first pleasure of the day.  Almost no bite or sting or medicinal burn, though some faint alcohol fumes were there for sure…just well masked and toned down.  And almost instantly I got sweet, rich fumes of molasses. Deep fumes.  Actually, Watson’s, like Old Sam’s, positively reeked of the dark sticky stuff and brown sugar from a freshly opened bag.  After we let it sit for a while, liquorice, nutmeg and something spicy curled around these strong and assertive scents. An excellent, uncomplicated snoot, in my opinion: no fancy additives or little thises or thatses, just the bare bones, well blended.

On the palate, it was full bodied and rich – a real Demerara rum.  It was smooth and deep, tasting faintly of chocolate, but I’d be lying to you if I pretended it had some sort of more complex flavour profile which it didn’t possess…because it doesn’t, and that’s okay, really. The molasses and sugar, with a bit of caramel and maybe vanilla, were the dominant flavours and you won’t get more than that (though the rum does exhibit a pleasing slight driness after a few minutes in the glass).  And the fade is lovely, enveloping and smooth, a dark slow burn that to me marks excellent rums.  The crazy thing I liked so much about Watson’is that I barely caught any real snarl and claw and bite of alcohol throughout – it really is surpisingly smooth. If in taste and nose this thing exceeded the Young’s Old Sam, then in the finish it simply blasted way beyond it.

It’s a pleasure to find a rum bearing the name of one of our members: you might say that’s quite enough by itself.  But to have it married to a deep and rich taste, a great balance and finish…well now, that’s an unforeseen delight, like my wife giving me a Christmas present in July. I do not believe others will share my genuine liking for this straightforward, cutlass-waving, boot-stomping Demerara rum (though I have made no secret over the years of my predilections in this direction). And while I’ve had my issues with Scottish distillers taking rum stock from the West Indies and making their own rum variations – not always successfully – with Watson’s I have so such problems. The thing is great.

Robert Watson’s rum is a phenomenal, strong tasting rum with no time for friggin’ around on the subtleties, equally good alone or in company – and if I ever see it in any store I visit, I’m pouncing on it like a hungry vulture spotting his first lame impala of the day. Count on it.

(#063)(Unscored)

Aug 182010
 

First posted 18 August 2010 on Liquorature. 

I’d seen this trapezoidal bottle once in a while on the occasional shelf in Calgary, but  I’d never been interested enough, or seen it in sufficient quantity – let alone heard anything about it – to decide whether it was worth a buy or not.  It was an interesting surprise when a very helpful gent from Co-op named Dan Ellis (may the ice in his glass never melt) sourced the thing out.  Now granted, I had been making sneery remarks at the paucity of his rum selection (as opposed to the Scottish drink) so the honour of his stores certainly came into play here.  But I’m happy he bothered.

Lightly-aged rums do not usually inspire me to treat  them with any great degree of reverence and a blend even less so, but in this case, the styling of the bottle and its comparative rarity (and, it must be stated, price – I’m as much of a snob as anyone at times, sorry), made me take more than usual care in checking it out. I was…intrigued.  And in retrospect, I’m glad I took the time.  The nose seemed fairly straightforward on the get go – a clear, intense light gold rum, very delicate (Oh God, was this another friggin’ Doorly’s? was the first thought through my mind), but with a slight hint of peaches and citrus, and definitely apple – it reminded me of my favourite (and very expensive) Riesling. My wife, who loved that New Age bottle to pieces, rudely snatched the glass from my hands and watching her little button nose try to extract scent from the glass that swallowed it whole was almost as entertaining as her attempts to translate her thinking into English.  We both tasted the oak, but she noted that there was a hint of dried forest leaves dampened by a summer rain too.  And after we stood it for a bit and it opened up, there was the molasses and burnt sugar revealing itself around the skirts of the first aromas like a shy girl hiding behind her mommy. A girl with some spirit because there’s no getting away from the slight medicinal tang to the nose which spoils what is otherwise a really good nose.

On the tongue and in the mouth, the Elements 8 Gold changed its character again: it grew up, took off its braces and flirted without shame, flicking up its skirt and laughing.  Not assured enough to be mature, still young enough to have some rawness to it, but no longer in its girlhood, it bucked in coltish adolescence across my taste buds, coating the palate with soft oiliness.  The thing is, there is no caramel or toffee taste in this thing at all – a first for me.  It’s not sweet and has a deep, rich burn going down, like a well aged cognac.  And the body is excellent, medium heavy, and maintaining that odd …cleanness which I really liked. But the finish is fast — our tomboy hasn’t learned to make a kiss last yet, so while she is fine as peaches and cream, she needs a little polish to make her into a world beater that men will stampede over each other to taste.

Elements 8 is a self-styled “premium” rum made in the St Lucia Distillery, but care has to be taken in distinguishing it from the actual products of that distillery (for example, the Admiral Rodney, or the Chairman’s Reserve brands) – the [e]8 organization works closely with the distillery while not either owning it or being owned by them.  The Elements 8 Rum Company is a UK enterprise run by two gentlemen, one of whom, like me, is a Caribbean infused German (don’t ask).  The founders of Elements 8 saw that rum, like whiskies, vodkas, gins and tequilas, could reach upscale quality and prices by dint of differentiation, innovative distillation and blending, product design, clever marketing and word of mouth.

Elements 8 is an instructive study in how to raise expectations with glowing advertising. Unlike the Kraken, which simply had fanboys going ape over it (unnecessarily so, in my opinion), this one had quality written all over its commercial messaging. Supposedly eight elements of production are married in a holistic manner to produce a rum modestly referred to as being of surpassing quality: environmental (St Lucia boasts a unique micro-climate which imparts its own character to the rum but then, so does every other island), cane from Guyana – I was told it was molasses not the actual sugar cane (one of the ads, which touted the cane  as being “hand selected” had me doubled over in laughter), water from protected rainforest habitats, three differeing yeasts, distillation, tropical ageing, blending and filtration, all in harmony. The rum is distilled in three different stills: a John Dore double retort copper pot still for the heavy, flavourful components, depth and finish; a Vendome Kentucky Bourbon copper pot still which gives the rather unique flavour profile; and a steel columnar still for the lighter components.  Since each still is charged with three different washes (from the three yeasts), we have nine blend components (actually, ten) which are blended and aged for a minimum of six years in oaken barrels that once held Buffalo Trace bourbon.  Not bad.

All right, so I tasted, I researched, I drank, then added an ice cube, and after it all, tried it as a mixer.  My conclusions?

Well, forget the mixing part. You get an interesting ginger taste with coke, but it isn’t really worth it: the [e]8 Gold is dense and viscous enough not to need the enhancement.  The nose, as I said is clean and complex, rewards time and care, and is very attractive except for that last bitchy smackdown of medicine (some care in the distillation or ageing, perhaps an additive or two might mitigate that).  The taste is something else again. I’m not sure rum lovers who like their caramel and sweetness will appreciate the slightly salty tang of a rum that is more like a cognac. If you can get past that, the smoothness of the finish and the overall richness of the blend make this quite a unique drink, one that, like Bundie or the Pyrat’s XO, can be identified blind with no doubts whatsoever.  Just not entirely a rum the way I expect one to be (this may be a limitation of mine, not the rum…get a bottle and make your own determination).

So it’s not quite my thing – maybe I’m not yuppie enough, or just like my sweet rum taste more than something made and designed for the bars of the upper class – but in way I feel a little sad, too.  The nose had real promise, really set you up for something special, and at the end I felt like the geek who got to kiss the head of the cheerleading squad, only to find she couldn’t kiss as well as my expectations had been led to believe she could. I’m left with all excitement and no true satisfaction.

I’m hoping that in the years to come, Elements 8 will find a way to marry the traditions of the older rum distillers with the new wave innovations of this century, to come up with something truly spectacular: the fact that they are attempting to produce a premium white rum speaks at a fair amount of determination to think out of the box.  I’ll  not hesitate to buy anything from their line I see going forward.

(#055)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • Thanks go to one of the founders of [e]8, Andreas Redlefsen, who was kind enough to answer all my questions on his organization, its history, outlook and methods.
  • The rum is a spiced product, a fact unknown to me at the time when I tasted it.
  • My remarks about preferring sweeter rums are amusing when read in retrospect, given the development of my tastes over time.
Jun 222010
 

First posted 22 June 2010 on Liquorature.

“The spice must flow,” said the Padishah Emperor in Dune. I agree, because I do love my cheap-ass spiced rums. My sweet tooth and plebian background make having a rum with no stratospheric price or ostentatious pedigree such a pleasant experience, truly.  And I could tell, that day when I trotted out the Renegade 1991 for my Newfie squaddie (who snatched it happily out of my hand with a speed his corpulent frame does not begin to hint at), that even if I was a snob with pretensions to the peasantry, he had more grandiose notions of what kind of rum he liked to drink (or deserved to be poured).

Which is not to say Lamb’s is a bad rum, or even particularly limited in quality. Alfred Lamb, who started making this dark rum from West Indian raw stock in 1849 in London — his factory was bombed out during the London Blitz and subsequently rebuilt — simply added spices, aged it in cellars below the Thames (hence the original title of London Dock Rum) and made pretensions to the Royal Navy cachet by stating his product was made with that recipe.  Pusser’s did the same, as readers of that review may recall. In the years since, Lamb’s has become more of a tipple than a refined drink, and not – to my knowledge anyway – any kind of top tier rum; though I know a few who swear by its 151 proof offering. One can find it pretty much anywhere in Calgary for under thirty bucks.

When I’m drinking with a good friend, I like a good grog, but the point is not the drink but the conversation that the drink enables.  Of course, if the conversation is about the drink, that’s another matter (for example, the higher priced stuff which I like company to taste with) – but for the most part, when I talk I just like a good little mixer on hand, and this is why SDRs (single digit rums) are always good…one never worries about how much money is being pissed away, only what a good time you’re having with it.

The rum is dark reddish in colour and has a very decent, almost heavy body. Lamb’s is a blend of rums from all over the Caribbean (up to 18, or so my research suggests), and has a virulent nose that I should warn you against taking a deep sniff of, if you don’t want to go crying to your mommy about how the bad rum bottle biffed you on the hooter.  The spirit burn on the nose fades fast and leaves the brave and persevering soul with an overwhelming sniff of caramel, with vanilla and cherry undertones.  The spices are harder to pick out – nutmeg and licorice come through at the tail end.  The taste is strong with the spice, and the spirit burn from those nose hasn’t gone anywhere, just grabs you by the throat and holds on – yet it can be tolerated and even adjusted to (as I did), at which point it transmutes into a sweet and caramelized almost-sipper that I quite enjoyed. The finish is hard to gauge because you’re being assaulted by the admittedly harsh spirit burn, which lasts long after the taste has vanished.  Lamb’s is about as subtle as a charging brontosaurus, really.

I’ll concede that the rum is better as a mixer, but I would caution against coke or (god forbid) pepsi.  Some kind of cola with a little less sugar would probably enhance it better, otherwise you get a syrupy mess that you either like or toss away.  For the record, I had only coke on hand so that was what I used, but as I got drunker that evening in Keenan’s house, I found that it got progressively better over ice.  Maybe that was my throat being sanded away, or something.

In summary, I liked its simplicity and taste, even as I acknowledge how devoid it is of real complexity – a connoisseur would probably never buy one of these except as a reference point. If I were to wax metaphorical, I’d say Lamb’s is the country sweetheart with a heart of gold, the one who can rope a steer or take apart a John Deere tractor, who’s on the square-dance floor at Ranchman’s giving you the eye, who you really can’t go wrong with if you don’t expect too much, treat her right and don’t tread on her toes.  Perhaps give her a kiss when the night is over.

That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure as hell is mine.

(#026)(Unscored)