Sep 102020
 

It’s been many years since the first of those blended dark-coloured UK supermarket rums dating back decades crossed my pathback 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 blendand 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 showcaseblackberries, 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 wispyno gilding that lilymostly anise, molasses and caramel, with the fruits receding quite a bit. A solid, straightforward, simple drink, I would sayno 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 abovea 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 parentsfirst solo outings of the youth turning into the adult, perhaps. I may be romanticizing a drink overmuch, you could arguebut 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.

ColourVery dark brown

Strength 40% ABV (36.48% ABV as measured)

NoseMeaty, gamey, salty. Are we sure this is 40% ABV? Feels more robust than that. Great aromas, thoughmolasses, 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.

PalateMuch 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.

FinishAdjectives 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.

ThoughtsIt’s a surprise that a blend of four different countries’ rumswhich I usually view with some doubt if not skepticism or outright dislikeworks 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.

OtherThere’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 hereso 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 Bacardi, Lemon Hart, Cavalier, 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 alcoholicit 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 whichyou might be surprised to discoveris 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 complicatedin 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 rumsIDM 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 sealbut 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 handbecause 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 reviewbut 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 originEast 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 Fathomsmade 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 Matuggaforget the blurb on the company website about the quality of cane or soiland 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 elsenot 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 cloyingand 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 stagecaramel, 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 bea 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 molassesand only the molasseshails 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 legallyand 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 meaningfulone 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 onlargely due to measured 43g/L of additives.