Jan 282024
 

Consider for a moment the distinctive bottle shape and sleek label design ethos of the Bayou Louisiana white rum. The crystal clear white and green1 motifs (call me an overly-visual imagineer if you will) hints at cane juice, grass, and sunshine and channels thoughts of a clean and tasty white rum in fine style. Just as well that this is all in my head because while the text tells you the usual stats, little of the images and sense of what they represent, is real.

The company making the rum is called Louisiana Spirits LLC: it was founded in 2011 by brothers Tim and Trey Litel and their friend Skip Cortes, with Bayou as their flagship brand in January 2013 (the idea had been floated in a duck blind). The chosen name was obvious (and survey-tested for its recognition factor, as if this were necessary), and back then the design had a ‘gator on it. By 2018 in a rebranding exercise it had been renamed “White” and the modern design had snapped into focus. The wag in me suggests that maybe more surveys were done but actually that’s when the SPI Group (the owners of Stoli vodka and headquartered in Luxembourg) who had already bought a majority stake in 2016, acquired all the remaining shares and took over. Some still tout it as being the largest privately owned rum distillery in the US, which I guess depends on how you look at it and where the private hands are.

Anyway, the production details: those are scanty. The label says it’s made from molasses and “sugar cane” (what does that mean, I wonder?); the company website notes the molasses as being blackstrap, provided by a family-owned sugar mill in Louisiana, M.A. Patout and Sons (whose centuries-old history is quite interesting in its own right), yet don’t seem to have any interest in making cane juice rums in the one state which has oodles of cane fields in close proximity. They have a pot still. They blend. The white rum supposedly rests for forty days before being bottled. That’s it.

Based on how it samples, I wonder at that last bitbecause all the solid character of a rum that’s had nothing but “rest” to calm it down off the still, is missing. The rum is a whole lot of standard strength nothing-in-particular. The nose channels a puling sort of weak candied ethanol, vanilla, watered down yoghurt (is there such a thing?) plus a whiff of shoe polish, sugar water and the faintest suggestion of pears and watermelon. This is a glass I poured first thing in the morning when the senses were sharp, kept there for an entire day, and that flaccid set of notes was all that was there the whole time.

There’s a bit more action on the plate, though I confess that this is damning it with faint praise since it started from such a low level already. Some sweet gherkins, a touch of tart fruit, biscuits, more ethanol and sugar water. I thought I spotted a green grape making out with a ripe pear at one stage, but admit this could be my imagination, the whole thing is is so faint and lacklustre. The finish is actually not too badit has some sharpness and dry robust character, and here one can get a vague sense of apples, green grapes and vanilla. Overall, however, it’s too little, too faint, too late and simply serves to demonstrate how everything that comes before is sub-par.

The Rumaniacs series boasts many examples of anonymous inflight minis, holiday-resort stalwarts and cruise ship staples exactly like it, and maybe that’s all this is really good for, because it channels the sort of bland, lightly aged, filtered, colourless mixers that Bacardi did with such aplomb in the seventies. Bayou continues this noble tradition, and lures you in with a great presentation bolted on to a taste that’s inoffensively boring and milquetoast, and so devoid of character, that one is, with genuine befuddlement, forced ask what they thought they were doing. If Bayou were trying to make a light vodka-like spirit, or a standard white back-bar mixer without pretensions, then they surely succeeded. If they were trying to make a white that wowed people’s socks off and put the US rum producers on the map, not even close.

(#1053)(72/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From my experience, I would suggest the rum is slightly aged and filtered to white, even if this is not mentioned anywhere.
  • Although taken over by SPD, much of the original staff seem to have remained involved, especially the head distiller, blender and even the owners.

Opinion

While for most average rum drinkers or rum buyers the disclosure on production mentioned above is enough, for my money that’s not even basic information. Fermentation is not mentioned; abv off the still is not disclosed; no photo of the still is on the website; and the ageing program is never discussed, which is to say, is the rum treated a la Bacardi with one or two year’s ageing and then filtered to white, or is a true unrefined white such as are increasing in popularity and which actually taste like a rum, not alcoholic water?

None of this is considered important enough to either mention on their website, in any of their many press releases, or interviews in the media. To me, it says a lot for what the rum truly is: a commercially and indifferently distilled product with no pretensions to being anything more. I don’t hold any grudges on this account, but what’s the big deal about mentioning it? Own your sh*t ,and don’t dress it up like something it’s not.

Still, one can only admire their expansion. The company stated it was moving 15,000 cases a year in seven states by the time Stoli approached them at the tail end of 2015, which is an incredible feat to have accomplished in three years, when you think about what the market in the US is likeone can conclude either it’s because of their great product or their great distributor or great marketing.

But I am of the belief that no producer or distiller who is truly proud of the product they make, tells you so little about it while dressing up their bottle so smartly…or disposes of their interest so fast. The fact that they sold out less than five years after they began suggests that money was always the motive, not making a really good white rum that would put Bayou on any list of great American rum producers. And I think that’s something of a shame.


 

Nov 252023
 

Rumaniacs Review R-160 | #1041

Few rum aficionados need me to elaborate either on Don Q, the “other” major distillery on the island of Puerto Rico which makes it, Puerto Rico itself and it’s peculiar status vis-a-vis the USA, or indeed, this rum. Any one of them is an essay in itself and can lead to any number of rabbit holes,

Let’s just stick to the basics, then. In brief: like Bacardi, Destilería Serrallés was founded by a Catalan emigre in the 1860s (the sugar plantation the Serrallés family first bought goes back three decades before that), though they lacked the global ambitions of the larger company’s operations and have stayed within Puerto Rico. Don Q, named after Sancho Panza’s elderly sidekick, is the flagship brand of Destilería Serrallés with several expressions dating back to 1932 when it was launched to compete with Bacardi: however, let’s be clearthe Cristal was first released in 1978, when it was specifically designed to compete with the rising popularity of vodka. Before that, I think white rums were just called “Don Q” and had a distinguishing white label (my assumption), since I can’t find any reference to a specific one predating the Cristal.

The Cristal itself is a white rum, adhering to the Latin style of light ‘n’ easy rum making, and is the result of distillation on a multi-column still, aged in ex-bourbon barrels for between one and five years, filtered to colourlessness, blended, and then bottled at standard strength (40%). The review of the modern equivalent gives you some more details of the version you’re likely to find on store shelves these daysthis one, as far as I can tell, is from the mid to late 1980s, perhaps the 1990s (the label has undergone several revisions over the years and for different countries, so dating is imprecise at best).

Colourwhite

Strength – 40%

NoseHas a sort of light and creamy aroma, like custard drizzled with vanilla syrup. Acetones and nail polish. Slightly sweet, somewhat warm. A few faint fruity notesnothing really identifiable leaps outwhich are just trembling on the edge of a flat cream soda.

PalateSharpish, mostly pineapple, vanilla and flavoured yoghurt, iodine. Not a whole lot going on here and while not really unpleasant, there are too many discernible medicinal and ethanol notes to make to a drink worth having.

FinishDecently long, sweet vanilla milkshake and an apricot slice or two. Unremarkable, but at least there’s something here, which is already better than most of these bland, anonymous filtered blancos from the era.

ThoughtsMy remarks about when it was issued and why, is the key to unlocking why the profile is what it is: inoffensive, bland, easy, vodka-like…and by today’s standards, rather uninteresting. It remains what it has always been, a cheap bar mixer, without much of an edge to wake up a mixed drink. Older versions like this one seem even blander than the modern ones, and so my recommendation is to get one if you like to drink some rums from Ago, but don’t expect too much, and keep mixing your mojito with what’s on the shelves today.

(73/100) ⭐⭐½

Aug 142023
 

Rumaniacs Review #R-156 | 1017

ABC Distillers is not a distillery of any kind, but a brand of rums still being made (with different labels), on behalf of the ABC Fine Wines and Spirits liquor chain in Florida, brought to life by Florida Distillers (no direct connection, just a commercial one), and in this case dating back to the seventies and eighties.

ABC is a chain founded in Orlando just after Prohibition ended, in 1936 — originally it was a series of bar-and-lounge establishments named after its founder (Jack Holloway) but seeing the opportunities and lesser risks of the retail trade, switched over to liquor retail shops, and renamed itself ABC so it would always be first in the yellow pages. Nowadays ABC has over a hundred stores around Florida and has expanded into all sorts of other businesses. This particular rum we’re looking at today was made by Florida Distillers’ facility in Auburndale, but whether modern variations continue this association is unknown.

Florida Distillersone of the largest distilleries in Florida you probably never heard ofare the makers of the Ron Carlos brand and Florida Old Reserve Rum, as well as manufacturing the Noxx and Dunn 2-4-5 rum we’ve touched on before, and clearly have fully embraced the “more is better” philosophy of rum making, since nothing they produce is particularly interesting…but they sure make a lot of it, and not just for themselves. They have several distilleries churning out both industrial and commercial alcohol products and act as blenders for smaller companies who want to make use of their output and expertise.

ColourPale yellow

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseGentle, mild and floral, slightly sweet and in no hurry to get anywhere or do anything. It’s quite delicate, with some light peaches and apricots, pears and a bright line of red grapefruit and vanilla running through everything

PalateHere it goes to earn its sobriquet of “Extra Light and Dry”or tries to, for it’s astringent and blade-sharp, but lacking any kind of real dryness, and tastes more like a boosted cheap zinfandel. Slight brininess, a fruit or two, and overall it’s nothing really special. It’s too light to make a real statement, even in a mix.

FinishSurprisingly long and ultimately bland. One can taste some faint and vague florals and white fruit, and that’s it.

ThoughtsBy modern standard it falls down flat, of course. Even standard strength rums today have a profile that tries to be more than just a flavourless alcohol delivery system for a cocktail of some kind, as this one is. It’s something of a shame so many US brands even back then did nothing but try to copy that light Bacardi style instead of forging new paths, but that’s Bacardi’s legacy for you.

(73/100)

Jul 032023
 

Rumaniacs Review R-155 | 1010

By now we’ve looked at Hana Bay and its other incarnations like Whaler’s and Spirit of Hawaii from Hawaiian Distillers a few times (here, here, here, and here) and there’s nothing new to say abut it. It is no longer being made and the company bio is brief.

Hawaiian Distillers made Hana Bay rum from around the 1980s forwards and in 2002 it switched to being made in Kentucky by the brand owners at the time, Heaven Hill, who had acquired the brand from the Levecke Corporation in that year…though they may have just tossed it on the scrap heap, since I can’t find much that says it was made into the new century by them.

However, Hana and Whaler’s returned to Hawaii…Maui specifically, where Hali’imaile was founded in 2010 by a branch of the Levecke family and has its premises…I’ve heard they began making rum again in around 2014. Although the sugar industry, family connections and tropical climate would suggest it, rum is not actually their focus there – whisky, vodka and gin are, which is probably why their distillery makes rums of zero distinction. Hali’imaile’s claim to fame is to have worked to develop Sammy Hager’s Beach Bar rum, but that’s hardly an endorsement of the other rums they make and it’s been suggested that the Hana Bay wasn’t even made on Maui anymore. They don’t bother saying much about any rum on their website which may be an implicit statement about it, or simple embarrassment.

This rum is different from the Original Hana Premium (R-144) in that it is a white, with all that meant before (slight ageing then ruthlessly filtered to colourless blandness). So it lacks that pale hay colour of the Original, and the label is also not gold-edged but-silver edged, a sort of subliminal messaging as to what it is, if one is colour blind or too drunk to pay attention.

Strength – 40%

ColourWhite

Label NotesSilver edging (not gold), different medals from “Premium Rum”

NoseWeak, wispy and thin. Acetones, pears, sugar water, yet mostly the sense one gets is of bitterly astringent alcohol. Some nail polish and the smell of plastic film stretched over new furniture.

PalateIt’s a rum with some bite. White fruits, sugar water, vanilla, coconut shavings. There’s an odd touch of brine here and there, but mostly one strains to find much beyond alcohol

FinishNeutral spirit burn. One could as easily be tasting vodka with some added elements that remain difficult to identify

ThoughtsYou can probably get more out of the nose and the taste if you have it first thing in the morning (as I did, to taste it for this review without anything getting in the way). That said, who would want to? There’s too little even with that, to make a sip worthwhile. Best to dunk it into a personal (or indifferent) cocktail experiment where you don’t want to waste a good (or even a real) rum.

(70/100)⭐⭐

 

Jun 162023
 

Rumaniacs Review #154 | 1006

In this series of Rumaniacs reviews (R-149 to R-154) we’ve been looking at a set of Bacardi rums from the 1970s to the 1990s that were all part of a small collection I picked up, spanning three decades and made in Mexico and Puerto Ricothey display something of what rums from that bygone era was like, and in this final review I’ll sum up what few observations that can be made.


PreambleThe Select is a successor to the venerable “Black” or “Black Label” or “Premium Black.” Some of these labels were retired in the 1990s, although it would appear that some continued to be made concurrently for a while, and labelled as such in separate markets (a new version of the Black was reintroduced in 2014 in the UK, for example, similar to the one I reviewed back in 2010). The Select was aged for around four years and also made in charred barrels like the Dark editions then were, and the Cuatro is now; and while a search around the online shops shows it remains sporadically available (Rum Ratings has recent commentaries on it), it has definitely been discontinued and folded into the Carta Negra rebrand. The exact date is a little trickythe last reviews and commentary online about it seem to all date from purchases made pre-2010, and if neither the Rum Howler or I have it in our early reviews then it’s a fair bet that by the turn of the first decade, the Select was dead and gone.

Strength – 40%

ColourDark Gold

Label NotesProduced by Bacardi Corp. San Juan, Puerto Rico

NoseHoney, caramel, coffee, chocolate, toffee, nuts, a reasonable helping of dried fruits. Raisins, prunes, dates. Licorice and some woodsy notes, quite nice. Could hold its own in today’s world and one can see the iterations of the Black come together into something slightly newer, and incrementally better.

PalateAlso quite good compared to others. Coats the mouth nicely with brine, caramel, coffee, mocha, nougat and some almonds. Bitter chocolate, smoke, leather and honey. One thing I liked about it was that vague sense of the plastic and leather and vinyl of a cheap mid range new car owned by Leisure Suit Larry. It’s not entirely successful but does add a little character, which too many Bacardis don’t have at all.

FinishShort, warm and breathy. Mostly brown sugar and caramel with the slightest nudge of lemon zest.

ThoughtsOne wonders if giving it a score of 80 (which it deserves) is damning it with faint praise. but after so many of these Bacardis I really gotta ask, is too much to hope for something more? The rum is well done and it’s the best of the lot, but really, I was left wanting a larger helping of the potential this suggested it had, but never delivered.

For that, I think I have to go either further back, or into the modern era.

(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


OpinionSumming Up Six Bacardis

Bacardi has always hewed to the middle of the low end road and focused on their core competency of making their various blends, until recently when they started putting out rums with real age statements; the Ocho and Diez are quite capable near-sipping rum experiences, for example. Even the 16YO is beginning to expand the range of the Bat’s capabilities into the high end, though few reviewers have anything good to say about the brand as a whole, or much to say about the company’s rums at all (which I think is a mistake).

These six early rums (and some others I’ve looked at over the years) make it clear why Bacardi has the reputation it doesor lacks one. Unlike most major companies, whose rums from forty or fifty years ago were distinct, unique and often fascinating essays in the craft, and which gradually moved towards a more approachable middle, with Bacardi the opposite seems to be the case. Their earlier rums from the 1970s to early 2000s were mostly uninspiring, flat, mild, not-that-tasty mixing agents which barely moved the needle in a cocktail’s taste (often they were adjuncts to the fruit and mixes) and certainly never induced as much as a quiver in people’s minds as sipping rums. They were made that way and they stayed that way

And that was the (mildly) aged rumsthe white rums were worse. Compared to today’s robust and muscular white unaged Blutos from anywhere on the planet, Bacardi’s whites, never mind their title of “Superior” were and are picking up footprints, and considered mostly filtered anonymous crap, closer to vodkas then real rums. Few have anything good to say about them, and almost no writer I know of has ever bothered to run them through the wringer.

The characteristics these six rums demonstrate, then, are not new phenomena but have been so for a long time. “You got to go back a lot further than the 1970s to find a decent Bacardi, “ remarked Richard Seale when he read one of these mini retrospectives. I have taken his implied advice and started sourcing the oldest Bacardis I can find from pre-1970s era sales, so one dayhopefully not too far from nowI can provide another retrospective of six more from even further back, to either prove or disprove the assertion.

But that’s going into the past. As I noted above, as the years moved onand as the retrospectives’ incrementally improving scores suggestedthe mainstream Bacardi rums actually started getting better. The Select was quite nice, I thought, and today’s Carta Negra, aged editions, and even the Facundo and Single Cane series, show a company that is slowly, incrementally, even reluctantly, branching out into profiles that are more interesting, and into areas others have colonised but which perhaps may now profitably be copied. We may be living through an era which future writers will see as the renaissance of the house’s reputation for real quality, not because they’re the only ones making any (as they were back in the day), but because they really have improved…however marginally.


Supplementary Reading

I consulted some books regarding Bacardi’s background to prepare for this addendum, as well as search for bottling and labelling history (mostly without success). There’s no shortage of the history, but not a whole lot about labelling or brandingand company websites are almost universally silent about this kind of thing. Matt Pietrek’s recently published book Modern Caribbean Rumwhich will surely go down as one of the most useful and indispensable rum reference works of our timehelped a little, and I enjoyed the historical works of Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba (Tom Gjelten) and The Rise of Bacardi: From Cuban Rum to a Global Empire (Jorge Del Rosal)…that said, not much on the evolution of their blends and brands and labels.

Dr. Sneermouth’s dismissal aside, Google image searches did help, as did that great Czech site Peter’s Rum labels. Older reviewers from Ago, whose names and sites few now recall, also fleshed out some plot points of the short series: The Pirate King wrote an undated but surely pre-2008 review of the Select; and so did El Machete, in 2007, when he penned a very unfavourable opinion on it. The Fat Rum Pirate wrote a small piece on the Bacardi Black in 2014, as did I back in 2010. It’s from reading and dating such reviews that some information can be gleaned, but even here, there are limitswhich of course is why the Rumaniacs exists to begin with.


 

Jun 052023
 

Rumaniacs Review #149 | 1001

This series of Rumaniacs reviews (R-149 to R-154) we’ll be looking at over the next week or two, is a set of Bacardis from the 1970s to the 1990s that were all part of a small collection I picked up, spanning three decades, and made in Mexico and Puerto Ricothey display something of what rums from that bygone era was like, and the final review will have a series of notes summing up what few conclusions we may be able to draw.

This Bacardi Superior noted as beingSilver Labelis the doddering uncle of the set. The label refers to an 80 proof 1/10 pint white rum, which suggests the pre-1980 dating after which ABV and a metric system common (in the USA) – the rum of that title continued to be made until the 1980s after which it just became Ron Bacardi Superior. Puerto Rico is where the facilities of the company are headquartered, of course, so there’s little to be gathered here. It’s entirely possible that it goes back even to the 1960ssomething about the label just suggests that dating and I’ve seen a similar one from 1963 – but for now let’s stick with a more conservative estimate.

It’s not a stretch to infer some fairly basic facts about the Silver Label Superior: it’s probably (but very likely) lightly aged, say a year or two; column still; and filtered. Beyond that we’re guessing. Still, even from those minimal data points, a pretty decent rum was constructed so let’s go and find out what it samples like.

Strength – 40%

ColourWhite

Label Notes“Silver Label”, Made in Puerto Rico

NoseWeak and thin, mostly just alcohol fumes, sweet light and reeking faintly of bananas, Some slight saltiness, acetones, bitter black tea and a few ripe cherries. There’s a clean sort of lightness to it, like laundry powder.

PalateInteresting: briny and with olives right at the start; also some very delicate and yet distinct aromas of flowers. Some fanta, 7-up and tart yoghurt, the vague sourness of gooseberries and unripe soursop, papaya and green mangoes.

FinishAgain, interesting, i that it lasts a fair bit. Nothing new reallysome light fruits, pears and watermelons, a dusting of acetones and brine. Overall, it’s thin gruel and slim pickings.

ThoughtsAlthough most of these early Bacardi’s (especially the blancas) don’t usually do much for me, I have to admit being surprised with the overall worth of this older one. There are some characterful notes which if left untamed could be unpleasant: here the easy sweetness carries it past any serious problems and it comes out as quite a decent rum in its own right. Original and groundbreaking it’s not, and certainly not a standoutbut it is nice.

(76/100)

Apr 212023
 

Rumaniacs Review R-147 | 0990

After an hours-long tasting session of old rums from the seventies and eighties that were straining to reach the pinnacle of their mediocrity (and mostly failing), there were few surprises left when I came to the another one of the Hawaiian Distillers’ rums called Whalers.

For those who are curious there is some background in the other “Original Dark” review, the Hana Bay entry, as well as that of the Spirit of Hawaii: all of these brands were made by the same company, and although Hawaiian Distillers no longer exists, the brand of Whalers does and is nowadays made (with the same enthusiastically uninspiring indifference as before) by Hali’imaile Distilling Company. As to the term Whaler’s, it supposedly hearkens back to New England sailors who hung around Hawaii when whaling was a thing in the 1800s, which is about as romantic a story as that of pirates in the Caribbean and their cutlasses, grog and yo-ho-hos.

The rum is so similar to its red labelled cousin that it may actually be the sameseparated only by a different year of make, a tweaked blend, or a different market in which it was sold. It’s hard to tell these days since records are scant. But it’s the same strength, practically the same colour, and equally hard to dateI think the late 1970s / early 1980s remains a good estimate, though the actual ageing is a complete unknown. If any full sized bottles remain in existence, they can only be in collections like Luca Gargano’s, Mr. Remsburg’s, the Burrs, or in some forgotten attic somewhere in the US waiting for someone to inherit it.

Strength – 40%

ColourDark brown-red

NoseThin but there’s stuff there: cranberries, red grapefruit, brown sugar, molasses, cherries in syrup. Also that same wet-earth loamy sense of woodland moss and forest glades after a rain that I had with the red label variant. And, finally, the marching armies of vanilla. A lot of it. One is merely surprisedif gratefulthat so much stuff came through before it got taken over. It does, as a matter of interest, take some effort to tease out notes of this kind because it comes from a time when light blends were the thing, not stronger, heavier, pot still signatures.

PalateThe vanilla is there from the get-go, if less intensely. Really faint notes of licorice, caramel, molasses, coconut shavings, a touch of brine. Honestly, the rum is really not quite a fail, largely because there is no untoward blast of sugar to dampen the few sensations that do make it through to be sensed and noted but the effort it takes to get coherent tastes out of this thing almost defeats the purpose of drinking it.

FinishLongish, soft, easy. Molasses, caramel, brown sugar. Thin, weak,

ThoughtsI wasn’t expecting a whole lot and was rewarded for that with a bit less. It’s nothing special, breathy, light, easy hot-weather drinking. It’s pointless to have the Whalers neat, so any simple island mix is just fine and even there you would hardly taste the rum itself. I tried the samples first thing in the morning when the palate was still freshwhich is how I picked apart as much as I didand on that level it’s okay. But just as it is made with what seems like careless indifference, it excites no more than that in its turn. Name aside, history aside, it’s about as forgettable a brand as those local rums I see in Canadian supermarket annexes nowadays.

(73/100) ⭐⭐½

Mar 162023
 

Rumaniacs Review No.145 | 0981

Whaler’s as a rum brand is still being made after more than half a century, and apparently undeterred by its complete lack of anything resembling real quality, has not only kept the Original Dark Rum recipethe vanilla-bomb that I reviewed way back in 2010but actually expanded the supermarket line of their rums to include a vanilla rum, a white rum, a “topping rum” (whatever that is) and other flavoured variations that comfortably cater to the bottom shelf and are almost guaranteed to make another generation of Americans swear off rum forever.

It is no longer made in Hawaii, if it ever wasat best one could say it may have been a recipe from there; and guesses as to its true origin vary as widely as the USVI, Phillipines, or California (I think it’s just some nameless industrial facility churning out neutral alcohol on contract). The producer, if you recall, is the same outfit that also makes the Hana Bay rum, which has much of the same fanciful background and origin stories and lack of proveable provenance. Still, it does happen occasionally that rums which suck today suck a little less in the old days when they had some people with shine in their eyes and not quite so much cynicism on the factory floor (Captain Morgan is one such) making the rum. So it’s worth trying to see if it was different back in the day when Hawaiian Distilled Products from California was behind the brand.

Colourdark red-brown

Strength – 40%

NoseIt giveth hope. First, red grapefruit and some rancid olive oil, and then all the simple aromas deemed “rum-like” back in the last century come marching in like Christian soldiers. Brown sugar, molasses (just a bit), vanilla (just a lot). It’s not entirely bad though, and also has cherries, damp dark earth, dust and a little plastic.

PalateThe taste taketh hope away. It’s almost all vanilla, alcohol, brown sugar, caramel, licorice. Simple and uncomplicated and at least it goes down easy (that may be whatever sweetening or smoothening agents they added). But there’s not a whole lot beyond that going on.

FinishWarm and firm, it must be conceded. Caramel, anise, coconut shavings, even more vanilla. It’s possible a few citrus notes were there, just too faint to make any kind of statement.

ThoughtsThe rum is the ancestor to simple, dark, uninteresting, ten-buck rums you can find anywhere, often in cheap plastic bottles, and whose only purpose is to deliver a shot of alcohol today that you’ll regret tomorrow. There’s nothing to distinguish it at all, except that there seems to be rather less vanilla in this one than in the one from 2010 (which I tried again just to see). There’s also nothing to mark it as different from another Original Dark Rum from this period, put into a bottle with a greenish label. But I’ll save that “review” for another day.

(73/100) ⭐⭐½


Historical background

Back in the eighties, Whaler’s and Hana Bay were made by Hawaiian Distillers, a Hawaiian corporation that was in business since the 1970s, and was a subsidiary of Hawaiian Distilled Products Co out of Tustin California (and this is what is on the label). Before 1980 it was mainly manufacturing tourist items, including ceramics and specialty Polynesian Liqueurs – it’s defunct now and all traces of it have vanished: only head cases like me actively seek out their rums from yesteryear any longer, and the question as to where exactly the rum was distilled remains unanswered.

In the early 2010s when I first looked at Whaler’s, it was being made in Kentucky by the brand owners at the time, Heaven Hill, who had acquired the brand from the Levecke Corporation in 2002. Some time in the last ten years, Hana and Whaler’s returned to Hawaii…Maui specifically, where Hali’imaile was founded in 2010 by a branch of the Levecke family and has its premises. Surprisingly, given the sugar industry, family connections and tropical climate, rum is not actually their focus – whisky, vodka and gin are, with the distillery also making rums of zero distinction.

As of 2023, Hali’imaile Distilling Company is the distillery of the company’s products, yet their site doesn’t mention Whaler’s, Hana Bay or Mahina rums at all (these are the other brands they own and supposedly make). It may be a contract rum, but nobody really cares enough to find out, including, apparently, not even those who sell it. I’m not surprised.

Feb 272023
 

Rumaniacs Review No. 144 | 0976

In 2023, if you were to google “who makes Hana Bay rum?” you’d get a response that Hali’imaile Distilling Company is the distillery of origin; except if you went to their site, there would be no mention of Hana Bay at all (or Whaler’s and Mahina, the other brands they own and supposedly make). Digging further and you’d see that Hawaiian Distillers out of Honolulu made Hana Bay rum from around the 1980s forwards and in the early 2010s when I first looked at Whaler’s, it was being made in Kentucky by the brand owners at the time, Heaven Hill, who had acquired the brand from the Levecke Corporation in 2002.

Some time in the last ten years, it would seem that the Hana and Whaler’s returned to Hawaii…Maui specifically, where Hali’imaile was founded in 2010 by a branch of the Levecke family and has its premises…I’ve heard they began making arum around 2014. Surprisingly, given the sugar industry, family connections and tropical climate, rum is not actually their focuswhisky, vodka and gin are, with the distillery also making rums of zero distinction. One of their claims to fame is to have worked to develop Sammy Hager’s Beach Bar rum, but that’s hardly an endorsement of the other rums they make and a 2019 article suggested (without attribution) that the rum itself wasn’t even made on Maui anymore, but in the USVI, and then bottled in California; rumours even suggested it was a Philippines rum. Go figure. If that’s true, no wonder they didn’t bother mentioning the product on their website.

But to go back to this bottle and its provenance: back in the eighties, Hana Bay was made by Hawaiian Distillers, a Hawaiian corporation that was in business since the 1970s, and was a subsidiary of Hawaiian Distilled Products Co out of Tustin California. Before 1980 it was mainly manufacturing tourist items, including ceramics and specialty Polynesian Liqueurs and you can still find many of its small bottles and knick knacks on various eBay or other auction sites: the value of their products lies in these ceramics, not its rumsit’s defunct now and all traces of it have vanished: only head cases like me actively seek out their rums from yesteryear any longer, and the question as to where exactly the rum was distilled remains unanswered.

ColourPale yellow

Strength – 40%

NoseRather nice, with a crisp aroma of light green grapes, apples, some red grapefruit. Some lemon and pine-sol, quite nice, until the whole thing is taken over by the thin acid reek of a disinfectant covering the tiled floors of a sterile, cold hospital corridor.

PalateOkay it’s 40%, but not entirely nad; there’s no obvious adulteration here. Slightly creamy, buttery, with emergent sweet light fruits. Rather dry, briny and with latrger non-sweet notes of dates, olives and a stale peach or two.

FinishNothing special here, but noting bad either; acetones, light pears, a bit ot hot tea. It’s nice for what it is

ThoughtsAs far away from the adulterated mess of Whaler’s or the Spirit of Hawaii as could be imagined. This one is actually not an entirely bad rum, and makes one wonder why they didn’t bother sticking with it. Instead they just climbed to the top of a low hill, and charged downhill from there with everything that came after. We’ll be looking at some of those soon.

(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • A relatively young age can be assumed, as is the likelihood of it being a column still rum.
Jan 192023
 

 

Developments over the last few years suggest that the American rum world may slowly be shaking off its lethargy and race to the cheap bottom, and embracing a more serious rum loving ethos. Rum clubs are starting up all over the place, American spirits enthusiasts are posting reviews on social media left right and centre, more and more distilleries are making rumand with the sterling efforts of the Old Guard like Richland, St. George’s, Prichard’s, Balcones, Maggie’s Farm and others, it is now possible for you to speak about American Rum (with caps) without somebody just pityingly shaking their head at you and wondering what you were smoking. There are decent cane juice agricole-style rums coming out of Hawaii and the South, interesting experiments in New England, cask strength monsters out of Texas, and even American independent bottlers are springing up from the field like sown dragon’s teeth.

To be clear, not all of themnot most of themmake much that compares well to the big names and heavy hitters of the global rum world which gather most of the plaudits and respect (so obviously I’m not talking about McDowell’s, Bacardi, Zacapa or others in multinational combines’ low-rent stables). We have yet to see a Hampden, Worthy Park, Saint James, Nine Leaves or Savanna in the lineup coming out of the USA…and yet, there are signs that some distilleries, a few, are getting there.

To my mind, one of these Little Outfits That Could is Montanya Distillers who we have met before when discussing their fascinating Platino. Few American distilleries of any size have the street cred engendered by this one small outfit in Colorado that has yet to hit its fifteenth year of operation…and that with just four rums in the standard lineup, none of which exceeds five years’ ageing. Part of it is their published environmental record, the commitment to sustainability and their gender diversity…and partly it’s some pretty good rums as well.

Today we’ll look at one of their older expressions, the 3 year old “Exclusiva”, which one year younger than the top of the line 4YO Valentia. Nothing significant has changed since the Platino review: the Lula Sugar Mill co-op provides the complete residue from the minimal juice processing they doraw unrefined molasses (12% of the fermentations) and raw unrefined granulated cane sugar (88%) which then gets fermented for around a week, before going through the 400L direct-fire Portuguese pot still (the newer US-made still that was installed in 2021 has not seen output to bottle yet). Following In this case the distillate was aged for 2½ years in ex-whiskey American oak barrels (Laws Bourbon for the curious), and six months in French oak that once held Cabernet Sauvignon and port, made by Sutcliffe Vineyards, also a Colorado operation. 1 And then it’s bottled at a standard 40%, which to my mind, is something of a disappointment.

But only for a while, because what this all leads to is a fascinating young rum, a distinctive piece of workone that exceeds its paltry age stats and strength by quite a margin. The recalibration of my original doubts started as soon as I nosed it and inhaled solid scents of dry dusty earth, leather sofa with lint, cereal and of course, old libraries of mouldering textbooks. It smells of the thick, briny, rich beef-filled lentil soup Grandpa Caner used to insist on having every Sunday….and then the rum’s nose really starts to warm up. When that happens, it’s confounding: the fruits come out of nowhere and take over: raspberries, strawberry soda pop, Dr. Pepper, ginger ale; there’s a tart sort of warm earthiness to the whole thing reminiscent of a voluble Berbice fishwife trying to sell you a couple of stale fish and set you up with her daughter at the same time, and as if that isn’t enough, there’s a distinct smell of dirty dishwater with soap (people, I am not making this up!), black pepper and a milky rice porridge. It’s by far the most peculiar nose I’ve worked on all year, among the most distinctive, and entertaining.

So thus far, with just the nose it’s pretty cool, and I had fun ribbing Jazz and Indy about it as my tasting notes grew longer. That said, the taste is more traditional and perhaps more conservative. So the cardboard, leather and mustiness all make an encore, as do the decaying old textbooks; if you can wrap your head around this, it’s watery, woody, dry and papery at the beginning, all at the same time. Some licorice makes a bleated entrance, a few darker fruits like prunes and plums and a few lighter ones like apricots and very ripe mangoes; there’s leather, cinnamon and freshly grated ginger, fanta, and I must say, I did not miss the dishwater one bit. It’s stolid and solid, with the playfulness of the fruits and lighter elements adding a nice counterpoint. Finish is short, to be expected at 40% ABV, but at least it’s on par, nicely aromatic with cereal, brown sugar, vanilla, some light citrus, licorice and nail polish, and didn’t drop the ball into complete insubstantiality as too often happens with young and light rums

Usually, when any small rum company uses terms like “Exclusive” and “Family Reserve” and “Lost Casks” and “My Mutt MacDonald’s Preferred Distillate” and other such nods towards exclusive releases not meant for the quotidian riff raff (like your faithful reviewer), I smile…but it must be admitted that while Karen Hoskin and her team have not exactly made an exclusive, they sure have a rum that’s distinct and original, dancing to its own tune. It’s a fun drink, and yes, a bit weird too. I like that. Too often American rums don’t want to offend, keep it quiet, dial it down, make their rums lessa rum like this one shows that you can be interesting without pissing off the bank or the clientele.

But, I also must say that this is not a rum anyone should start their journey with. It’s not as polarising as the batsh*t crazy tastes of the TECA (few rums are), but it is different, it’s trembling on the edge of not being a rum at all what with the way those tastes come at you from all over the map. At the same time, honesty compels me to confess that it’s among the most original rums I had that day, and maybe that entire month. Even at standard strength, it’s worth checking out for that aloneand if one day I do meet the inimitable Ms. Hoskin, perhaps I’d genuflect, knuckle my forehead and kiss her hand, and ask her if I can please have some more…but stronger, please.

(#967)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • While the majority of Montanya’s sales remain in America, its footprint in Europe is starting to become more significant, what with their distribution arrangement with Skylark covering the UK and EU. This is one reason they are relatively better known than bigger distilleries with a more resolutely North American focus.
  • Thanks go to Jazz and Indy of Skylark, who endured my unrepentant thieving of their rum stocks on one great afternoon in London. I’m not sure whether the 29 YO Uitvlugt rum and some Kyrgyz felt slippers I left behind made up for my sticky fingers, but I hope so. When we were wrapping up and they observed my liking (and oddball tasting notes) for the Exclusiva, the guys, after they finished laughing themselves silly, made me record a complimentary message to Karen to tell her so.
Nov 232022
 

Rumaniacs Review #141 | 0953

For a distillery whose founder had a not inconsiderable impact on craft distilling in the state of New York, it’s a shame they stuck with a product that has no end of local competition and is at best reviewed with occasional praise, mostly indifference and sometimes outright disdain: whiskey. And yet they produced a rum or two at one time; and one of them, this rum, while no great shakes, suggested that they had potential and to spare had they stuck with it. Maybe.

This is a pot still, blackstrap molasses based rum (for what it’s worth, blackstrap molasses is the kind that has the most sugar already removed from it and is characterized by an almost bitter taste and thick consistency; it’s also the cheapest). The age is unknown but I think it’s around 2-3 years old, and my perhaps unfounded supposition is that after William Grant injected some capital into the company in 2010 (see historical details below), they wanted to add to the portfolio, and made this 1,000-bottle rum in 2012 to commemorate the Roggen brothers who were Huegenot dry-goods merchants and spirits dealers in the area back in the day. There was also a Hudson River Rum at 46% made at around the same time, and these two products are the only rums I think the company ever made.

ColourAmber

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseYou can still taste some molasses, brown sugar and licorice here, also some sweet fruit which remains, faint, dull and relatively unadventurous. Cherries, orange peel, caramel, some vanilla. It’s paint by the numbers time. Not bad…just not exciting.

PalateVanilla, some apples and raisins, a little licorice and bitterness, and a twang of brine. Brown sugar, caramel, molasses, unsweetened chocolate, and that’s stretching. Essentially, there’s not much going on here. It’s not precisely rough or uninviting, yet the sharpness and youth makes it a drink to have with some care.

FinishHardly anything to report on. Vanilla, some very light fruit, toffee, licorice. That’s about it.

ThoughtsRoggen’s, for all its positive marketing and enthusiastic blurbs on various online stores where it remains to be found (which by itself should tell you something since it was made in 2012), is a rum stuck in time, the sort popular ten years or more ago: punchy if you have it first thing in the morning, but hardly new and or different. It’s a drowsy sort of everyman’s hooch that you could care less about while drinking it, and forget a half hour after it’s done: not because it’s vile, or even poorly madeI have to acknowledge the competency of the distillery in not making an unmitigated disasterbut simply that while the rum is not entirely boring, it’s neither more nor less than just a lot of nothing much in particular.

(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • My thanks to Jazz and Indy Anand of Skylark Spirits, at whose house in London I pilfered the bottle and did the review notes earlier this year. This is not a brand in their distribution portfolio, but something I think Jazz picked up on one of his trips to the States.
  • The historical society of New Paltz was involved in making the rum, which I think is some kind of commemorative or promotional bottling, hence the limited outturn of 1,000 bottles.

Historical background

So, the company story, then, if this intrigues you. Tuthilltown Distillery was founded in the upstate-NY township colloquially known by that name (after a Mr. Tuthill who founded a grist mill there in 1788), but is formally called Gardiner. It was itself established by fleeing Huguenots who settled in the area in the mid-1600s and also established a small town slightly to the north called New Paltz. It was a thriving town by the mid-1700s, and it is useful to know that a pair of Swiss brothersFrancoise Pierre Roggen and Johann Jacob Roggenemigrated there in 1749 and became merchants of some note.

In the current century, Ralph Erenzo, a retired professional rock climber, acquired a property of 36 acres there in 2001, intending to build a B&B, but this never came to fruition because locals kept denying the construction permits. However, Ralph discovered an obscure 2000 law on the books that allowed local micro-distilling at a greatly reduced licensing rate ($1,500, from a previous sum of $65,000) — so long as production was less than 35,000 gallons a year. And so in 2003, with an engineer called Brian Lee (who had come to him looking to use his facilities to make artisanal flour) he shifted to booze, and founded Tuthilltown Spirits by converting one of the mill granaries to a micro-distillery. It was the first new distillery built in New York since Prohibition. Two and a half years later, they produced their first batches of vodka from scraps collected at a local apple slicing plant, and had plans for whiskies. 1

As all good Americans micros do, the distillery went all-in on any distillable booze they could: eau de vie, brandy, absinthe, infusions, vodka, rye, bourbon, gin, and, of course, rum, you know the drill. But it was whiskey that commanded their attention and much like Amrut did, knowing the quality of their product, they did small bar tastings in Paris (yes, Paris) and got a distribution deal with la Maison du Whiskey, aside from whatever small sales they had in-state. This in turn brought them to the attention of William Grant & Sons out of Scotland, who bought the brand (but not the product) in 2010 and injected some much-appreciated capital into the company to improve infrastructure, marketing and distribution; in 2017 they bought the entire thing. At this point they dispensed with all the other spirits and switched entirely to the branded Hudson Whiskey and its variations. And this is why the website for Tuthilltown is dead, while Hudson Whiskey’s is alive and well and why no reference on the latter site will even mention that they once were a smorgasbord of all things intoxicating, including rums.


Opinion

The fact that it’s topical newsmagazines that provide the background to the distillery, the name, the history and the rum’s titlingI searched through quite a few archival documents and websites to find the details used aboveexplains something of my frustration with distilleries who have no sense of their own history or respect for what they have done in years gone by. Granted Tuthilltown is not rum focused, but surely a listing all the products they have made in their existence should be easily available somewhere. This indifference to their product development and past roster, even if discontinued is simply bewildering. I mean, they made it, they labelled it, they sold it, it’s part of who they are…why pretend it doesn’t exist?

I hasten to add that this is not an exclusively American phenomenonGod knows there are examples galore across the geographical spectrum, like that Cadenhead VSG I almost thought was a ghost last year. Still, in contrast, take this counter-example: the Danish indie Rom Deluxe has a webpage devoted to their current releases, but they also have an archival section on their website where they list all their various older expressions made in years gone by. Labels, tech sheets, the lot. Given I can still find stuff from their earliest years knocking about on store shelves or collector’s basements, such material is a godsend when asking the inevitable question “what is this thing?” Quite a different mindset than so many others.

I’ve made a point of bringing up the issue of loss of current records (or having no records at all) for years and it’s the sort of subtle thing nobody really worries about, or notices…until they ask a question and realize that nobody ever wrote anything down, or recorded it and the info so readily available before, now only resides in derelict and near-inaccessible company archives, or on old web pages no longerlive”, or on some long-forgotten FB post. Rum databases like Rum Ratings and Rum-X help, for sure, but I think if companies themselves took some ownership of their releases and made sure the details were always available, then that would just help everyone out when they see an obscure bottle on a dusty shelf somewhere. Because without it, we’ll be floundering around ten years down the roadeven more than we are at presentif steps are not taken now.


 

Sep 292022
 

Rumaniacs Review #138 | 0939

Hawaiian Distillers, Inc. is a Hawaiian corporation that has been in business for more than forty years. Before 1980 it was mainly manufacturing tourist items, including ceramics and specialty Polynesian Liqueurs and you can still find many of its small bottles and knick knacks on various eBay or other auctions. In the more recent era, these are the fine people who “made” the overdosed and overspiced Hana Bay and Whaler’s abominations and give real rum a bad name. For the most part, nowadays the value of their products lies in the ceramics from the 1970s, not their rums from any year.

ColourWhite (clear)

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseIt smells, well, dirty, like a loamy forest floor where wet leaves have decomposed. Sweet. Leaves and grass. Vanilla, peaches, plums, apricots, pears, all very very light and almost indiscernible. Tastes like lightly flavoured sugar water, and there’s not much going on here, it all smells ike you were nosing a rum diluted in a bathtub.

PalateMore of the same, really. No sting, no serious heat. A watery, vaguely rummy spirit that might even be sweet. Lightextremely lightfruit notes and a bit of sugar. Coconut essence, vanilla. Not much else. It’s warm on the tongue; perhaps I could even say “spicy”were I feeling either sensitive or generous. None of that translates into any kind of taste profile worth mentioning, unless it’s dead lilies.

FinishShort, warm neutral floral infusion with a pear thrown in.

ThoughtsBig yawn. This is a rum that is absolutely not missed by anyone and should be left on any shelf or auction where it appears. Even with my despite for some modern and cynically made American rums, what they do now is worlds removed from, and better than, this “rum”which I now need another rum to wash out of my mouth so I can get a real buzz on and maybe try to forget its unrelieved tedium.

(65/100) ⭐½

Sep 082022
 

The Bacardi Añejo “Cuatro” hews to all the markers of the long-running Gold and Añejo variations upon which its distillery’s fame rests. It represents Bacardi in fine style, and those who pay the twenty five dollars or less it costs will find their comfort zone is well tended. Because, while it is a blend of mostly four year old rums (with some five and six year old rums mixed in), column still origin and filtered after ageing, the fact is that it represents the standards set by rums of yesteryear while positioning itself as an entry level almost-premium of today. Yeah…but no. There is not enough that’s original here.

Which is not to say it’s not pleasing by itself, within its limits, just that it has to be approached with some care, as it’s light to begin with, so the entire profile bends towards the subtle, not the club in the face. The nose, for example, is warm and gentle as befits a 40% light Cuban-style rum. It faithfully hits all the notes that made Bacardi famouslight caramel, cloves and brown sugar, some sharper tannins, tbacco and leather, interspersed with softer hints of banana, vanilla, green grapes, and perhaps some lemon and camomile tea thrown in. Easy sniffing, gentle nosing, very pleasant, no aggro, no worries.

The same profile attends to the palate, which begins with some spiciness, but of course settles down fast. It’s a bit rough around the edgesthe dry and sharper woody tannic notes don’t mesh well with the leather, aromatic tobacco and unsweetened caramelbut overall the additional vanilla, citrus and banana tastes help it come together. Some notes of black tea and condensed milk, a slight creaminess and then it’s on to a short, breathy finish that drifts languorously by, exhaling some sweet coffee and chocolate, a touch of molasses and freshly sawn lumber, and then it’s over.

To some extent the tasting notes as described say something about the pit of indifference into which the rum has fallen since its introduction. The issue is not that it’s good (or not), just that it’s not entirely clear what the points of it is. The gold or añejo of years past filled its duty admirably without going for an age statement, so why release the Cuatro at all? Because it could eke out a few extra dollars?

Summing up: the rum is okay, but in trying to be all things to all drinkers, falls into the trap of being neither great mixer not recommended sipper, being unsuited to fully satisfy either. For example, the filtration it undergoes removes the bite of youth and something of the biff-pow that a good mixing rum makes, and if that’s what it is, why not spend even less and go for the blanco or other even cheaper options? And at the other end, the age is too young to enthuse the connoisseur looking for a sipping rumfor such people, rightly or wrongly, sipping territory starts with rums older than five years, even ten…not four.

Had Bacardi boosted the rum a few more proof points, aged it a bit more, then they might actually have had something new, even innovativebut rather than show a little courage and diversify into the bottom rung of premiums, Bacardi have copped out and played it safe. Since the Cuatro is not completely anonymous and does display some character, I suppose taken on its own terms it sort of kind of worksso long as you know and accept what those terms are. I don’t, and couldn’t be bothered to find out, so it doesn’t work for me.

(#935)(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Opinion

These days, Bacardi rums just can’t cop a break. Ignored by most serious rum folk, relegated to consideration as a supermarket shelf filler without distinction, they are deemed bottom feeders that have corrupted the innocent palates of whole generations of broke and brainless college students and made them switch to whisky. Bacard’s very ubiquity and massive sales disguise their “good ‘nuff” quality, and have been behind its inability to be taken seriously in the modern age. From once being seen as the pinnacle of rumdom in the 1950s and ‘60s, the spiritous peak to which all wannabe rum distilleries aspired, the rums of the company have fallen to “commodity” status, while a decade’s worth of young and nimble indies and micro upstarts have taken aim at it and started to chip away at the edifice. And you’d better believe that just about nobody even bothers to rate (let alone review) their rums without an occasional scoff and guffaw. That’s what selling more cheap rums than just about anyone else on the planet gets you.

Which is not to say that Bacardi is in any danger of losing the coveted space on or near the top of the sales heap. The shyly accepted subsidies (“oh no, we really can’t, really….oh well, but if you insist…”) that are funnelled to them in the land of purportedly meritocratic capitalism via enormous tax breaks and the despised Cover-Over Tax, ensure that when a Bacardi rum goes up against any other of equivalent stats, the Bat will be orders of magnitude cheaper, even if it is of no more than equal or lesser value.

Bacardi rums have just about always been light column still blends (with some pot still juice of unknown amount in the mix). The company has never really gone the full-proof limited-release route (the 151 doesn’t really count and is in any case discontinued), and while they dabbled their toes into the water of the indie bottling scene, it made no sense for them to do it if they couldn’t do it at scalewhich they won’t, for the same reasons DDL more or less gave up on the Rares…the margins were too slim for volumes that were too small. Even the hyped special editions like the Paraiso didn’t break any seriously new groundsure they were good blends, but to my mind there was nothing that wasn’t available elsewhere for less, and that 40% and the NAS? Today’s customers will not blow the money those cost on a product like thatthey’re going after the boutique market, an area that I maintain Bacardi has never managed to successfully break into.

Except, in a way, they did try, with the trio of aged expressions of which the Cuatro is the youngest. To my mind, even with my rather dismissive tasting notes, these three rumsthe Cuatro, the Ocho and the Diezare among the better budget-minded rums the company makes. They lack the anonymity of the superior, the blanco, the gold or the dark (or variants thereof). They’re priced reasonably to move, and they have that veneer of true ageing about them. Given the lack of any ultra-aged high-proofed rums out there made by their company, these might be the best we can expect from Bacardi for a while.


 

Aug 282022
 

[In the US] there are a small number of rum distilleries, and a large number of distilleries making rum, observed Will Hoekinga in our 2021 Rumcast interview, indirectly pointing to the paucity of quality American rum making. A corresponding remark I have made myself is that if the random picking of American rums to review results in just a minute percentage being really worth seeking out then the characteristics of the part can be extrapolated to the wholeand both together suggest that of the 600+ distilleries in the United states, only a handful are currently worthy of attention.

This is not a random pronouncement made without facts in evidence either, because after trying half a hundred rums with US branding, it’s clear that the best rums sold there are either imports from elsewhere by local indies (Holmes Cay, Stolen Overproof, Hamilton, Two James, K&L) or smaller distillers like Richland, Pritchard’s, Balcones, Privateer, Maggie’s Farm, or Montanya. For sure none of the big guns like Bacardi, Captain Morgan and Cruzan really go for the brass ring, being much happier to avail themselves of millions of subsidised dollars to make low cost rum of no serious distinction. And other rum makers like Kirk and Sweeney, One-Eyed Spirits, or Florida Caribbean Distillers contract out their blends and rums to other distilleries and can hardly be said to have a single world-shattering product in their lineup.

One of the best-regarded distilleries carrying the rum flag without mixing it up with other spirits (and getting loads of press for this and other more social aspects of the job) must surely be the small Colorado-based outfit of Montanya, which was established in 2008 and whose founder, Karen Hoskin, may be one of the most interviewed rum makers in the world after Richard Seale, Joy Spence and Maggie Campbell. Without even checking too hard I found articles here, here, here, here and here, dating back a decade or more, all of them displaying the same down to earth common sense, practicality and dedication to her craft that one sees too rarely in a land where too often the coin of the realm is visibility, not expertise (or, heaven forbid, a good rum).

Ms. Hoskin, who has loved rum for decades (the first rum she became enamoured with was in India in 1999 – I think she was visiting Goa), decided to begin her own distillery business at a time when her day job of graphic and web design was no longer of much interest. She and her husband set up the distillery in Crested Butte in 2008 with a 400-litre direct-fire Portuguese-made copper pot still1, and immediately began producing two rumsa Platino Light white and a lightly aged Oro dark; these two staples have been joined in the intervening year by the a limited edition Exclusiva, a 4YO Valentia, and a special 10th Anniversary edition. By 2018 their rums were available in just about every US state and they had started on a program of international distribution, especially in the UK and Europe.

The Platino which we are looking at today, is a lightly-aged, filtered, pot still white rum, released at an inoffensive 40%, without any additives or messing around, and it is based on a wash made from raw unprocessed sugar from Louisiana (i.e., unrefined…but not the “sugar cane” that some external sources speak of). Initially the rum also had a touch of caramelised cane juice honey added to it (which was always disclosed), but as of 2021 the practise has been discontinued.

For a company so otherwise forward-looking, I find this oddly conservative. For example, although there is an emergent strain elsewhere in the world, of making (if not showing off) white rums that are pure and unaged, it has yet to become a thing in America, where most white rums follow the Bacardi model of “filtration to white” after a short period of ageing. The rationale is that this gives the best of both worlds: some taste from the wash source, and some from the barrel, with none so stark as to overpower the cocktail for which it is made. This glosses over the fact that with industrial stills producing very high ABV distillate, the former is very unlikely, on top of which filtration also removes some of the very flavour elements distillers claim to be after. In Montanya’s case with the Platino, they have gotten around this by using pot stills so that more flavour is preserved at the other end, and a pine-based lenticular filter which removes most (but not all) of the colour, and yet not quite so much of the taste.

What taste does remain and gets carried forward on the nose, is, in a single word, intriguing. Though the rum is made from unrefined sugar, little of any kind of agricole style sap-profile comes throughinstead, what we get is a papery cardboard aroma of old and tattered textbooks…at least, at the inception. This is followed by quite a bit of funky sharp pineapples and sour fruithalf ripe mangoes, strawberries going off, some overripe oranges, that kind of thing. It gradually turns into a more solid smell that channels some cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom in a pretty good combination.

The palate just wants to keep the offbeat party going, and starts with an odd sort of minerally notelike a licking a penny, or tonic water searching for a limemixed up with the ashy charcoal of dying embers on a cold night (I know, right?). Once more the fruits ride to the rescue: mangoes, soursop, pineapples (again), plus pears, watermelon and papaya. There’s a touch of vanilla, figs and melons, and the whole is sparkly and light, with a more pronounced (but not overbearing) agricole-ness to the experience than the nose had suggested there would be. It all leads to a short finish, light and fruity with just a hint of brine and sweet buns hot out of the oven

My overall feeling, having had it on the go for the best part of an hour, remains one of real interestI’d like to try more of these; since all of Montanya’s production is small batch, the variation of the Platino over time would be fascinating to experience. This is not some cheap, easygoing, hot-weather cruise-ship staple, indifferently made and lazily redolent of the Caribbean’s standard profile of caramel, fleshy fruit and vanilla. We’ve had that a thousand times before and they’re too often all but interchangeable.

No, what we’re seeing here is traces of real originality. The Platino marries a sort of bizarre agricole-wannabe vibe with minerally notes, cereals and cardboardthen mixes them all up with sharp and funky fruits, as if it was playing its own obscure tasting game of rock-paper-scissors. In my reviews, a high score does not normally attend a light, white, living-room-strength, filtered rumone where a higher proof could emphasise its points more forcefullybut I confess to being somewhat seduced with this one. It’s really worth checking out, and if there ever comes an unaged version, now that would be something I’d buy sight unseen..

(#933)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The website is admirably stuffed with production details, of which I have only taken a few bits and pieces. Some additional details provided by a very helpful Ms. Hoskin on short notice:
    • Montanya does not use fresh cane juice, as it is too difficult to transport from Lula in Louisiana. It is milled on site in Belle Rose and the fresh juice is processed there. Montanya receives 100% of what was in the cane plant in two separate forms which are subsequently recombined: raw unrefined molasses (12%) and raw unrefined granulated cane sugar (88%). The major difference is that these cane products never go to the refinery, so no processing with flocculants or other chemicals. It’s as raw, unadulterated and flavorful as you can get (and is akin to the panela of Mexico, or the unrefined sugar in kokuto shochu in Japan). It would be illegal to sell it in that form in a grocery store in the US.
    • Fermentation is open, water cooled, and lasts 6-7 days. The fermented wash goes into the still at about 17% ABV
    • Distillate comes off the still at about 74% ABV. Ms. Hoskin remarked in her email to me, “People say that can’t be done with alembics, but I am here to say it absolutely can.
    • Barrelling is at still strength, no reduction. “[This]…is somewhat unusual. Many of my colleagues water their distillate down before it goes into the barrel at about 54 to 58% alcohol. I started doing it my way because I just didn’t have a big enough rack house, but now that I do, I can’t see any reason to change.
  • My appreciation to the Skylark gents of Indy and Jazz Singhthe distributors of Montanya in the UK and the EUat whose residence I tried this rum (and quite a few others) in a small but epic Rum Show afterparty. I paid for my plunder with some rum loot of my own, and a special gift for them both from Mrs. Caner.
Jul 142022
 

Belize, until recently, had somewhat withdrawn from the epicenter of avant-garde and popular rum culture. Traveller’s, the main distillery in the country, produced soft Spanish-heritage-style rums like the One-Barrel, Three-Barrel and Five-Barrel rums and the excellent Don Omario (not sure if it remains in production), yet it was overtaken by the full-proof pot-still ethos that have of late almost defined quality modern rums for the deep diving aficionados and connoisseurs. That’s not to say Belize’s rums weren’t popularthey were, and remain so, especially to those who knew about them and liked the style. It’s just that in terms of wider appreciation and “must-have” collectors’ hunger, constant innovation, new expressions, relentless marketing and attendance at festivals the world over, Belize’s rums didn’t keep pace, and have lapsed into a sort of quiet somnolescence.

Two things have changed that view and helped raise the visibility of the country, more than a little. One was the establishment of the Copalli Distillery in 2016: this was (and is) a small, ecologically-minded organic rum maker utilizing sugar cane juice, and their small production outturn, while not reinventing the wheel, has received plaudits and good press (I have not tasted any…yet). In today’s world where environmental concerns, organic agriculture and sustainable practices are considered selling points and hallmarks of quality, the establishment of this distillery immediately created attention.

The other was a development in the USA, home of the micro-distilling culture that prides itself in starting up small outfits that produce every spirit known to man on their small stills (and are at pains to advertise a few that aren’t). In the US, strangely enough, and in spite of the success of Ed Hamilton, almost no indie bottler has ever bothered to establish itself as a serious endeavor to take on the Europeans: at best it’s an occasional one-off bottling that appears, like the Stolen Overproofand yet that strikes me as really peculiar, given the proximity of the Caribbean and Central American distilleries, and the opportunities this offers. In 2019, however, somebody didn’t wait for the second knock: a new company called Windyside Spirits was established by New Yorker Eric Kaye and his wife, specifically to support their Holmes Cay brand, and they went in with the intention of being a serious independent bottler in their own right.

What does that have to do with Belize? Well, in their first year (2019) Holmes Cay tentatively released a Barbados Foursquare rum (selected so they could do a first bottling that wouldknock it out of the park”) and it was so well received that they followed that up in 2020 with four more rums: from Guyana, Barbados (again), Fiji…and Belize. By now Barbados, Guyana and even Fiji were already well known and Belize was something of an outlier, but the combined street cred and positive word of mouth attendant on these releases certainly spilled over…and that small Central American nation was again being seriously considered as a rum maker of some note.


This rum was from the aforementioned Travellers Distillery, and the exact route it used to get to the US, whether via a broker and Europe or directly to the US, is unknown (the rear label suggests it was completely done in Belize). But clearly it went a long way, navigated the torturous byzantine byways of US regulations, and paid a lot of taxes, which is why it retails for a hundred bucks and more even in the US and that by itself might be an issue…to say nothing of the 61% ABV proof point, which would not recommend it to the casual fan of Captain Morgan or Bacardi. It is a column still product deriving from molasses, was aged from 2005 to 2020 in ex Bourbon casks and was released at full proof and without any additives or messing around.

What this produced, then was a dark reddish amber rum of some character. Nosing it for the first time was quite a kinetic experience: it reminded me initially of a full proof Demerara rum: caramel, toffee, molasses, marshmallows (slightly singed), vanilla, mocha, and coconut shavings. It took something of a detour by adding sly background notes of acetones, nail polish, a lemon zest, coca cola and even some licorice, and overall the impression was one of solid, well-aged, not-overly-complex rum of consistent quality.

The palate was (somewhat to my surprise) even better, though I was left regarding it rather dubiously and scribbling in my notes whether this was a Demerara or not and whether anything had been added. Some woody tannins were in evidence, slightly bitter, plus coffee grounds, licorice, damp tobacco, caramel, molasses and brown sugarI mean, it wasn’t, quite, but it sure had elements that a Guyana PM- or Enmore-lover would not be unhappy with. It also felt rather sweet (though not cloying, just a sort of background sense), and had a good bit of dark fruit action developing over time: very ripe dark cherries, black grapes, bananas, and dark unsweetened chocolate, all of wich went well with the toffee-caramel-molasses combo that had started the palate party.Ther finish, as befitted such a strong drink, was nicely long, mostly licorice, chocolate, coffee, and some tannins, a quietening down of that nose and palate, though one that did not add anything new, just toned it all down as it closed things off.


So for a rum chanelling the Spanish-heritage style (short fermentation, high ABV off a column still, flavour primarily by ageing), a bit on the odd side, but very nice; rums made in this way (even if by a former British colony) issued at proof have always excited my curiosity, perhaps because there are so few of them. That’s not to say this one works on all levels or fires on all cylinders because compared to others it is not quite as complexthe proof helps it get past that hurdle in a way that would not have succeeded as well as it did, had it been, say 40%. And then there are the taste and dark colour, which excite some doubts.

But I make that remark as a person who has tried more rums from around the world than most. For an American rum audience used slim pickings locally and to staring wistfully across the European rum shops, getting a rum like this must have been like a blast to usher in the zombie apocalypse. No additives, limited outturn, a tropical age statement of a decade and a half, single cask, and…was that really cask strength? The Belize 2005 took all the dials that rum-makers from Central and Latin America had consistently and puzzlingly left almost unturned for decades and spun them savagely around to “11”. As with the others in the line, the reviews it garnered were almost uniformly positive: Rum Revelations scored it 88 (“a flavour bomb”), Flaviar gave it a solid 8.0/10, Paste’s Jim Vorel penned an enthusiastic (if unscored) review, Rum Ratings’ three voters all said 9/10 and Rum-X had one reviewer award it 98 points.

All of which probably says more about the strength of the desire North Americans have for rums that are better than the standard blah they too often have to put up with, than the intrinisc worth of the rum when looked at dispassionately. But still: the Belize 15YO shows that there is something better than ten-buck supermarket fodder availableand while it may be pricey, it is worth it, and demonstrates that there is indeed a market for indie bottlings made by Americans, for their side of the Atlantic.

(#923)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • The reputation Holmes Cay developed with this and other rums almost instantly led to two episodes on the podcast RumCast (#2 for the Barbados, and #30 for the Fiji) and blurbs, reviews and articles in various industry fora like Paste, GotRum, Drinkhacker, Rum Lab, Wine Enthusiast, Robb Report, Forbes, and Esquire (to name just a few). No European indie ever got that kind of press so fast, ands it points outto me, at any ratea huge unmet demand for the sort of rums they make and the model they use to produce them.
  • In his review on Rum Revelations, Ivar also remarked on the caramel and winey taste and wondered if Travellers had monkeyed around with it. I don’t doubt HC themselves were completely above board when they said they didn’t, but on the other hand, they took what they got on faith, so who knows?
  • Thanks to John Go, who sent me a sample.
Apr 132022
 

Few in the rum world are unaware of the little rum company in Massachusetts called Privateer, so indelibly has it made its mark on the American rum scene. Maggie Campbell, the former master distiller there (as of late 2021 she is in Barbados working for Mount Gay) put her stamp on the company’s reputation quite firmly via a series of releases with evocative names like Distillers’ Drawer, Queen’s Share, Bottled in Bond and Letter of Marque (among others). And Privateer, like Velier, Savanna, Foursquare and others, had learnt of the value of limited editions, regularly releasedthey stoked excitement, tickled the collector’s avarice, and if one didn’t please, well, there was always another tweaked edition coming along soon.

After reaping many plaudits for their rums since opening for business in 2011, Privateer got yet another feather in its cap in 2020 when Velier sourced eight casks from them (three from 2016 and five from 2017). This purchase was for inclusion in the well-regarded and influential Habitation Velier series of pot still rums, and 1197 bottles of a blended 3 YO rum were released at 55.6% ABV in 2020. Whether the intersecting forces of a well-regarded (but young) American rum, pot stills and the imprimatur of Velier were or are enough to justify the price tag it commanded has dominated most discussions about the rum since it became available.

So let’s get right to it. Nose first, as always: it is straightforward with caramel bon bons,m toffee and light molasses, underlain by very light floral hints. Vanilla and lots of tannins and wood sap jostle rudely alongside, and with some effort, after a while, you get some fruity elementscherries, yellow mangoes (the Indian or Sri Lankan kind with that odd tart snap to the aroma that always reminds me of sharp crackling ozone) and peachesbut it’s something of a thin soup with too much bite, like one of those scrawny rice- eating flea-bitten mongrels from the ghetto that snap as soon as look at you.

The palate is better, perhaps because by now you’re used to things as they are and adjusted. Here we have nuts, peaches, syrup, more vanilla, more tannins (though not as overbearing) and a rum that feels more solid, thicker, more emphatic. Some unsweetened chocolate and bitter coffee left too long in the percolator round out the profile. The whole thing comes to an end with a finish that is satisfactorily long, nutty with sweet/salt caramel notes, and a final touch of fruit to give it some semblance of complexity.

Speaking for myself I think this is a rum that’s still too young, and there’s really not enough depth. The rum has presence, sure, but what in some rums is a good thing (a few core flavours, masterfully assembled) here just feels like an uneasily married series of pieces jumbled together. The strength is too high for what it attempts (not often I say that, admittedly) and the oak is very noticeable. That said, the Privateer 2017 is a rum that many Americans might like due to its better-than-usual quality (for them) and its proximity to a bourbon (which would also draw in lovers of Foursquare) — while others elsewhere would shrug it off for the same reasons.

So far, I have not been completely won over by Privateer in spite of the accolades and social media praises (which is not to say that Maggie Campbell doesn’t earn her coverageshe does). Although their rums are excellent for their milieu where there’s a much lower bar to clear, by the exacting standards of world famous rons, rums and rhums I’ve tried, they still have a ways to go. But then, in making any kind of generalised statements about the company’s products, I do too, so this review is by no means the last word on Privateer’s rums, just my solo take on this one.

(#899)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

Jan 312022
 

Rumaniacs Review #132 | 880

The exact date of make of this Hawaiian rum is a little tricky: the NZ Canterbury Museum notes it as “circa” 1960s and there are old magazine advertisements for sale online which mention it, dating from 1967 and after, so that dovetails neatly with internal Seagram’s records dating the creation date of the rum to 1965. It was made in time for the Montreal World’s Fair, also known as Expo 1967, and designed to speak to Canada’s desire to move away from its staid British past and embrace a more multicultural mindset. This was done (or so the thinking in the C-suite probably went) by making a more neutral tasting rum that chased the emergent move from the distinct shot to the anonymous long pour in the post war years, and to add something a little exotic to the portfolio. They handed it off to one of their subsidiaries in the US, since “exoticism” and “Canada” were hardly synonymous at the time.

Calvert Distillers Corporationthe maker of record on the bottle label but actually acting as more of a distributor for the Leilani branded rumwas founded in August 1934 as a holding company for the Calvert Distilling Company and Maryland Distillery (both of which were, of course, older companies) and was acquired the same year by the Canadian spirits company Seagram-Distillers Corporation. Calvert was combined with its other subsidiaries in 1954, and Seagram’s itself was sold off piecemeal between 2000 and 2002 to Vivendi, Pernod Ricard, Diageo and the Coca-Cola Company. By then the Leilani had long since been discontinued. Most online listings now refer to either mini bottles, or old advertisements.

So Seagram’s and Calvert were the official companies involved in the brand. Which distilleryHawaiian or otherwisemade the Leilani rum is more difficult since distilleries now in existence on the islands all seem to have been founded after 1980 (and in many cases after 2000). Of course, full disclosure being so much less prevalent back in the day, it is entirely possible the rum was made elsewhere and just branded as Hawaiian, but for the moment, the jury is out on this.

ColourPale yellow

Strength – 40% | 80 Proof

NoseSharp, crisp, light and clear. Lemony notes of zest and 7-Up, mangoes, unripe strawberries, pineapple and vanilla, and that’s the good part. There are also less desirable aromas of gasoline (!!), scallions and (get this) an indifferently done steak overspiced with salt and black pepper and heaped up with melted butter and green peas.

PalateLemon meringue pie, some brininess, vanilla, pears, peas, vague fruit juices and more mineral and smoke notes of some kind of charred wood. It’s a touch sweet, and can be mixed reasonably well, but nobody would ever think this is a sipping rum.

FinishLight, easy, calms down a fair bit, mostly pears, lemon zest, some Fisherman’s Friend cough drops and vanilla. I’m surprised to get that much.

ThoughtsThe rum was, of course, made for cocktails, not for any kind of sipping. Still, for a light rum bottled half a century ago and made to chase a mix (and oh yeah, to take on Bacardi), it holds up surprisingly well, and I kinda-sorta liked it. It is very light and wispy, so it was probably the right decision to have it as part of my first tasting of the day, before moving on to something stronger. I really wish I knew more about its production, because it actually reminds me of a cane juice rhum, an agricole, and it would be interesting to know if it was or not, what still it came off of, and whether it was aged.

(76/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • When we spoke, Martin Cate also mentioned his own belief that the rum was not made in Hawaii, becauseI don’t think there was a facility to make that much column rum in the islands at that time. My guess is that it was bulk from PR or possibly from WIRD since Seagrams had a long relationship with WIRD over the years.
Nov 222021
 

The Scarlet Ibis rum is not as well known as it was a decade ago, but that it continues to be in production at all is a testament to its overall utility and perceived worth in the bar scene. That said, it remains something of an unknown quantity to the mass of rum drinkers, sharing negative mindspace with, oh, say, Sea Wynde or Edwin Charley, which had their moment in the Age of Blends but have now fallen from common knowledge. In a few more years they’ll join all those other rums that recede into vague memory if a greater push isn’t made to elevate customer awareness and sales.

Where does one start? First of all, it is a rum made to order, commissioned by the New York bar Death & Co. The exact year it arrived is unknown, but since D&Co was established in January 2007 (it opened on New Year’s Eve) and since the first note I can find about the rum itself related to a 2010 MoR festival (so the rum had to have been available before that), then it’s been around since 2008-2009 or so, with short observations and reviews popping up intermittently at best ever since. 1. Eric Seed, the NY importing rep for the European distributor Haus Alpenz (which also helped source the Smith & Cross, you’ll remember) seems to have been instrumental in being point man for its creation and subsequently bringing into the US.

Production is intermittent at best, paralleling the equally inconsistent geographical availability. Facebook is littered with the detritus of occasional comments like “Where can I find it?” “Is it still being made?” “Like the new one?” or “When did it become available again?” Most who have tried it and have commented on the rum think it’s very nice, and the extra proof is appreciated. In earlier posts some suggested that the original blend had some Caroni, but Alpenz denied that, and also noted that there was an error in the press materials and it was and always has been a completely column-still product, a blend of 3-5 year old stocks, bottled at 49%.

So, a youngish rum blend, made to order. That makes it an interesting rum, quite different from most others from the twin island republic which are either overpriced Caronis (on the secondary market) or Angostura’s own decently unexceptional blends. It’s light and sharp (what some refer to as “peppery”) on the initial nose, kind of sweet and cheeky, like the playful towel-snap your older brother used to like flicking in your direction. It had notes of ripe red cherries, soft mangoes and a touch of lemon juice, honey, butterscotch and brine, which went well with some aromatic tobacco and a very faint hint of a rubber tyre.

Even at 49%, I’m afraid that it didn’t live up to the suggested quality the nose implied. Initial tastes were honey, unsweetened molasses, Guinness stout, olives and pimentos (!!), with some slowly developing fruitsdark grapes, raisins, gooseberriesplus red wine, chocolate and coffee grounds. The finish was short, not very emphatic, quite warm: mostly tobacco, light fruits, olives, toffee and a last hint of citrus. It doesn’t last long, and just sort of sidles out of the way without any fuss or bother.

Overall, it’s good, but also something of a let down. Even at 49% it seems too mild for what it seems it could present (and this from a relatively young series of blend components, so the potential is definitely there). There’s more in the trousers there someplace, the rum has a lot more it feels like it could say, but it is hampered by a lack of focus: leaving aside the proof point, it’s as if the makers weren’t sure they wanted to go in the direction of something darker (like a Caroni), or a lighter blend similar to (but different from) Angostura’s own portfolio. In a better designed rum it could have navigated a surer path between those two profiles, but as it is, the execution only shows us what could have been, without coming through with something more memorable.

(#865)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • As always, hat tip and appreciation to my old QC Rum Chum, Cecil, who passed the sample on to me.
  • The first remarks on the rum came from Sir Scrotimus in 2011. There’s a positive bartender’s blog review in 2012, the Fat Rum Pirate picked up a bottle in the UK and wrote quite positively about it in 2015, and Rum Revelations did an indifferent pass-through in 2020. Redditors have done reviews about it here, here and here. Overall, the consensus is a good one. The rum definitely has more potential than its makers seem to grasp.
  • The Scarlet Ibis is the national bird of Trinidad & Tobago and is featured on the coat of arms
  • The new edition of the rum which came out around 2019-2020 has a pair of ibises on the label. These are far more prominent than the grayed out bird on older editions such as the one I am reviewing here.
Feb 152021
 

Remember Lost Spirits? No? This was the company that made rumbles a few years ago, by using a proprietary “flash ageing” process developed by its founder, Bryan Davis, to promote “super fast ageing”. In theory, the chemical reactor Davis built would create a spirit that would taste like a twenty year old mature product, when in fact only a week old. Most sniffed condescendingly, made remarks about charlatans and snake oil sellers, sneered about how it had been tried and failed many times throughout history (usually to con the unwary and fleece the innocent) and walked awaybut I was intrigued enough to buy their three initial attempts. Those were not all that hot, although I heard subsequent editions with tweaked settings produced better results. But the hoopla faded and I heard little more about it and I was not interested enough to follow it up (an article was posted in the NYT in February 11th this year that spoke about the efforts of several companies to currently pursue this Holy Grail.)

That didn’t stop Lost Spirits from hitting the bricks to try and jack up some interest via licensing, and Rational Spirits out of South Carolina teamed up with Mr. Davis, who has continuing to tinker with the technology. In 2017 they released a Cuban Inspired rum, the second generation after Lost Spirits’ own, at a breathtaking 70.5% ABVits stated purpose was to replicate pre-Revolutionary pot still Cuban rum profiles, and use that as a springboard to do similar magic with many near-dead or all-but extinct rums (like Appleton’s legendary 17 Year Old, perhaps). Weeellllokay. Let’s see what we have here, then.

First of all, the actual origin spirit of the rum is somewhat murky. Master of Malt, Distiller.com and Andrew Abrahams all mention the pot still business, but it’s nowhere stated where that came from or who distilled it; there’s loads of this in the marketing materials which all online stores quote, and they helpfully also include Grade “A” molasses base and charred cask ageing, but hardly inspire my confidence. Since Rational is now out of business and its website leads to a gambling site, not a lot of help to be gotten there. Moreover, the “Cuban style” even in pre-1960 times was considered a light distillate made on column stills (for the most part) so there’s some issues therewould anyone even recognize what came out the other end?

So let’s try it and see. Nose is, let me state right out, great. Sure, it’s rather rough and ready, spurring and booting around, but nicely rich and deep with initial aromas of butterscotch, caramel, brine, molasses. A nice dry and dusty old cardboard smell is exuded, and then a whiff of rotten fruitsand, as the Jamaicans have taught us, this is not necessarily a bad thingto which is gradually added a fruity tinned cherry syrup, coconut shavings and vanilla. A few prunes and ripe peaches. Hints of glue, brine, humus and olive oil. It smells both musky and sweet, with anise popping in and out like a jack in the box. Glue, brine, humus and olive oil. So all in all, a lot going on in there, all nicely handled.

It starts, however, to falter when tasted, and that’s in spite of that very powerful proof. The caramel, chocolate, toffee, vanilla and butterscotch carries over. To that is added some aromatic tobacco, rather dry, plus polished well-cured leather. A drop or two of water releases additional notes of citrus and deeper molasses (perhaps a bit too much of the latter, methinks). Aside from faint dark dried fruit, most of what I taste is the non-sweet kinddates, figs, olives. Very little sweet here, more of spices and leather. The finish is simple enoughit’s long though, and quite hot and spicy (“brutal” remarked Paul Senft, in his review) – mostly vanilla, a bit of fruit, caramel and molasses, plus one last filip of anise.

So, it started really well, and then just lay down, heaved a sigh, farted and then expired, but fatally, it never really enthused me. It felt more like any reasonably decent low-brow young wannabe rummade honestly, but less like a Cuban than the bastard offspring of a rather uncouth lightly-aged Versailles hooch and a low-grade but high-proofed Hampden. The nose was fantastic, by the way, which raised hopes, but then all that goodwill drained away, because sipping and tasting invited confusion, leading to outright disappointment.

In fine, my opinion was that running it through this “flash-ageing” process neither helped nor hindered, because who could tell what the fermentation, charred barrels and the origin-still imparted, versus the tech? And the Cuban-inspired part? Not hardly. Best to ignore that aspect for now and drop the expectation down the toilet, because it’s nothing of the kind. Take your time nosing it and enjoy that part of the experience to the fullest, because after that, there’s not much of interest going on or heading your way, except a really speedy drunk.

(#802)(79/100)


Other Notes

  • The Wonk has probably written the most about Lost Spirits, here’s a tag for all his articles on the subject. They express no opinion on the technology, but just report on the story up to around 2018.
  • Originally, I scored it 81 as a rum, but ended up by subtracting a couple of points for not making anything remotely resembling a Cuban. This is an interesting point to think about, when considering a reviewer’s scoreit’s not all and always about intrinsic quality excluding all other factors, but also about the expectations he walked in with. I try not to let such secondary issues affect my judgement but in some cases it’s unavoidable, such as here. The re-creation of an old Cuban mark is so much a part of the mythos of this rum it cannot be disentangled from the critique.
  • The whole business about superfast ageing led me down some interesting thought-lines and rabbit holes. I expanded upon them in an opinion piece separate from this review a few days later.
Feb 042021
 

Given the backward Prohibition-era-style rules governing alcohol in the US, Americans rightly sigh with envy when they see the rum selections in Europe. To get their favourite rums, they have to use any number of workarounds: bite the bullet and go over in person to buy some; have somebody mule it; come to an arrangement with a local liquor store in their state; or, heaven forbid, courier ita tricky and not hazard-free process, I assure you.

But occasionally the situation goes in reverse, and it’s the Europeans who grumble at the luck of the Yanks. Ed Hamilton’s little indie operation of eponymous rums is one of these. Although perhaps the most renowned for the 151 Demerara rum (which went head to head with Lemon Hart in the early 2010s and has remained a bar staple ever since), the Collection also includes a Worthy Park edition, a Navy rum, a white rum, a New York blend, even a pimento liqueurand several years’ releases (from 2004 through 2009) of St. Lucia Distillers’ rums, bottled in between 2013 and 2015.

Today we’re looking at the Hamilton 2007 7 year old rum sent to me by my old schoolfriend Cecil Ramotar, which can be considered a companion review to the 2007 9 year old I wrote about four years ago (but of which I still had a smidgen for comparison purposesin the name of science, of course). Like its older brother, the 7 YO came off of SLD’s Vendome pot still in September 2007 and set to age in ex-bourbon casks, shipped to the US in 2014 and bottled in January 2015 straight from the cask with additives of any kind. At a snorting, growling 60.4%, which I thought was excessive until I realized that several others in the line were even stronger.

That strength was bolted on to a firmness of profile and a solidity of taste that was really quite remarkable, and smelled, at the beginning, like I had stumbled into a high end cake shop with a fruit stand somewhere in there. There were aromas of honey, marzipan, cinnamon and unsweetened dark chocolate; vanilla and the sort of rich pastry that makes really good cookies. I wandered out back and found the fruit shelf: apples, green grapes, fanta, strawberries, and just the faintest hint of saline solution and olives, all dusted liberally with brown sugar.

Well, the nose might have been good, but taste tells the tale, right? Yes indeed. Again I remarked on its lack of sharpness, it’s lack of raw sandpaper scrape. I mean yes, it was spicy and hot, but it more gave an impression of real heft and weight rather than cutting pain. It was slightly salty and sweet and sour all at once, with the piquancy of gooseberries and unripe mangoes married to riper and more dusky fruits: raspberries and peaches and apricots. Somehow the molasses, salted caramel, brown sugar and creme brulee didn’t up-end that profile or create any kind of crazy mishmashthe integration of citrus, flowers, pastry and cereal notes was pretty well handled and even added some peanut brittle and mint chocolates at the back end, during a nicely long and aromatic finish.

Clearing away the dishes, it’s a seriously solid rum. If I had to chose, I think the 2004 9 Year Old edges this one out by just a bit, but the difference is more a matter of personal taste than objective quality, as both were very tasty and complex rums that add to SLD’s and Ed Hamilton’s reputations. It’s a shame that the line wasn’t continued and added tono other St. Lucia rums have been added to the Hamilton Collection since 2015 (at least not according to the master list on Ed’s site) and that makes them incredibly desirable finds in that cask strength desert they call a rum selection over there. Worse, only 20 cases of this one were releasedso a mere 240 bottles hit the market, and that was six years ago.

Now, in 2021 I think these rums are a close to extinct, akin to the Stolen Overproof Jamaican which was made, sank without a trace and is regarded as something of an overlooked bargain these days. With reviews like this one and for the kind of quality I argue the Hamilton St Lucia rum displayed, it may now be seen as more desirable, but good luck finding any. If you do, I think you’d like it (though see “other notes”, below), and hopefully accept that it’s right up there with the better known rums of the New Jamaicans, Barbados or Mudland. In my mind, deservedly so.

(#799)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the empty reviewing landscape in the US where the rum was primarily distributed, few have bothered to say anything about it. Spirits Surveyor wrote about it last year (December 2020) in a short eval, rating it 7 (presumably out of 10) and commented on “liquid baking spices”. In July of 2020 LIFO Accountant on Reddit didn’t care for it and thought it too hot and unbalanced and rated it 4/10, preferring the 9 YO. TheAgaveFairy, also on reddit, gave it a 6+ and extensive tasting notesand even thought it was a Jamaican for a bit. On RumRatings, it scored between 8 and 9, assuming you discount the one perspicacious gent who didn’t like it because he didn’t care for agricoles.
  • There’s another 7 YO from 2007 in the Collection, with a slightly lesser proof of 59% ABV.