Dec 302020
 

Hampden gets so many kudos these days from its relationship with Velier —  the slick marketing, the yellow boxes, the Endemic Bird series, the great tastes, the sheer range of them all — that to some extent it seems like Worthy Park is the poor red haired stepchild of the glint in the milkman’s eye, running behind dem Big Boy picking up footprints. Yet Worthy Park is no stranger to really good rums of its own, also pot still made, and clearly distinguishable to one who loves the New Jamaicans. They are not just any Jamaicans…they’re Worthy Park, dammit. They have no special relationship with anyone, and don’t really want (or need) one.

For a long time, until around 2005, Worthy Park was either closed or distilling rum for bulk export, but in that year they restarted distilling on their double retort pot still and in 2013 Luca Gargano, the boss of Velier, came on a tour of Jamaica and took note. By 2016 when he released the first series of the Habitation Velier line (using 2015 distillates) he was able to convince WP to provide him with three rums, and in 2017 he got three more.  This one was a special edition of sorts from that second set, using an extended fermentation period – three months! – to develop a higher ester count than usual (597.3 g/hLpa, the label boasts). It was issued as an unaged 57% white, and let me tell you, it takes its place proudly among the pantheon of such rums with no apology whatsoever.

I make that statement with no expectation of a refutation. The rum doesn’t just leap out of the bottle to amaze and astonish, it detonates, as if the Good Lord hisself just gave vent to a biblical flatus. You inhale rotting fruit, rubber tyres and banana skins, a pile of warm sweet garbage left to decompose in the topical sun after being half burnt and then extinguished by a short rain. It mixes up the smell of sweet dark overripe cherries with the peculiar aroma of the ink in a fountain pen.  It’s musty, it’s mucky, it’s thick with sweet Indian spices, possesses a clear burn that shouldn’t be pleasant but is, and it may still, after all this time, be one of the most original rums you’ve tried this side of next week. When you catch your breath after a long sniff, that’s the sort of feeling you’re left with.

Oh and it’s clear that WP and their master blender aren’t satisfied with just having a certifiable aroma that would make a DOK (and the Caner) weep, but are intent on amping up the juice to “12”.  The rum is hot-snot and steel-solid, with the salty and oily notes of a pot still hooch going full blast. There’s the taste of wax, turpentine, salt, gherkins, sweet thick soya sauce, and if this doesn’t stretch your imagination too far, petrol and burnt rubber mixed with the sugar water. Enough?  “No, mon,” you can hear them say as they tweak it some more, “Dis ting still too small.” And it is, because when you wait, you also get brine, sweet red olives, paprika, pineapple, ripe mangoes, soursop, all sweetness and salt and fruits, leading to a near explosive conclusion that leaves the taste buds gasping.  Bags of fruit and salt and spices are left on the nose, the tongue, the memory and with its strength and clear, glittering power, it would be no exaggeration to remark that this is a rum which dark alleyways are afraid to have walk down it.

The rum displays all the attributes that made the estate’s name after 2016 when they started supplying their rums to others and began bottling their own. It’s a rum that’s astonishingly stuffed with tastes from all over the map, not always in harmony but in a sort of cheerful screaming chaos that shouldn’t work…except that it does. More sensory impressions are expended here than in any rum of recent memory (and I remember the TECA) and all this in an unaged rum. It’s simply amazing.

If you want to know why I’m so enthusiastic, well, it’s because I think it really is that good. But also, in a time of timid mediocrity where too many rum makers (like those Panamanians I was riffing about last week) are afraid to take a chance, I like ambitious rum makers who go for broke, who litter rum blogs, rumfest floors and traumatized palates with the detritus of their failures, who leave their outlines in the walls they run into (and through) at top speed.  I like their ambition, their guts, their utter lack of fear, the complete surrender to curiosity and the willingness to go down any damned experimentative rabbit hole they please. I don’t score this in the nineties, but God, I do admire it – give me a rum that bites off more than it can chew, any time, over milquetoast low-strength yawn-through that won’t even try gumming it.

(#790)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn unknown.  
  • The Habitation Velier WP 2017 “151” edition was also a WPE and from this same batch (the ester counts are the same). 
  • In the marque “WPE” the WP is self explanatory, and the “E” stands for “Ester”
Jul 222020
 

By now most will be aware of my admiration for unshaven, uncouth and unbathed white rums that reek and stink up the joint and are about as unforgettable as Mike Tyson’s first fights.  They move well away from the elegant and carefully-nurtured long-aged offerings that command high prices and elicit reverent murmurs of genteel appreciation: that’s simply not on the program for these, which seek to hammer your taste buds into the ground without apology. I drink ‘em neat whenever possible, and while no great cocktail shaker myself, I know they make some mixed drinks that ludicrously tasty.

So let’s spare some time to look at this rather unique white rum released by Habitation Velier, one whose brown bottle is bolted to a near-dyslexia-inducing name only a rum geek or still-maker could possibly love. And let me tell you, unaged or not, it really is a monster truck of tastes and flavours and issued at precisely the right strength for what it attempts to do.

The opening movements of the rum immediately reveal something of its originality – it smells intensely and simultaneously salty and sweet and estery, like a fresh fruit salad doused with sugar water and vinegar at the same time. It combines mangoes, guavas, watermelons, green apples, unripe apricots and papayas in equal measure, and reminds me somewhat of the Barik white rum from Haiti I tried some time before. There’s also a briny aroma to it, of olives, bell peppers, sour apple cider, sweet soya sauce, with additional crisp and sharp (and plentiful) fruity notes being added as it opens up.  And right there in the background is a sly tinge of rottenness, something meaty going off, a kind of rumstink action that fortunately never quite overwhelms of gains the upper hand.

When tasted it presents  a rather more traditional view of an unaged white agricole rhum, being sharp, sweet, light, crisp.  Herbs take over here – mint, dill, fresh-mown grass and cane peel for the most part.  There’s a lovely sweet and fruity tang to the rhum at this point, and you can easily taste sugar water, light white fruits (guavas, apples, cashews, pears, papayas), plus a delicate hint of flowers and citrus peel, all commingling nicely.  As you drink it more it gets warmer and easier and some of that crisp clarity is lost – but I think that overall that’s to its benefit, and the 59% ABV makes it even more palatable as a neat pour and sip.  Certainly it goes down without pain or spite, and while there is less here than on other parts of the drink, you can still get closing notes of watermelon, citrus, pears, sugar water, and a last lemony touch that’s just right.

Evaluating a rum like this requires some thinking, because there are both familiar and odd elements to the entire experience.  It reminds me of clairins, but also of the Paranubes, even a mezcal or two, all mixed up with a good cachaca and a nice layer of light sweet. The smells are good, if occasionally too energetic, and tumble over each other in their haste to get out, but the the tastes are spot on and there’s never too much of any one of them and I was reminded a little of the quality of that TCRL Fiji 2009 I could never quite put my finger on – this rhum was equally unforgettable.

The rum grew on me in a most peculiar way.  At first, not entirely sure what to make of it, and not satisfied with its overall balance, I felt it shouldn’t do better than 82.  A day later, I tried it again, unable to get it out of my mind, and rated it a more positive 84 because now I could see more clearly where it was going.  But in the end, a week later and with four more tries under my belt, I had to admit how well assembled the rum truly was, and settled on my final score.  Any rum which grows in the mind like that, getting better each time, is the sure mark of one that deserves a lot more attention.  In this case it remains one of my happy discoveries of the entire Habitation Velier line, and is a great advertisement for both agricoles and the more unappreciated and overlooked white rums of no particular age.

(#746)(85/100)


Other notes

  • The name refers to the German still used to make the rhum
  • This 1st edition of this rhum had a brown bottle.  The 2nd edition uses a clear one. Both editions derive from a 2015 harvest.
  • From Bielle distillery on Marie Galante
  • It’s a little early for the Rumaniacs series but two of the members have reviewed it, here, neither as positively as I have.  My sample came from the same source as theirs.
Jul 012020
 

As the memories of the Velier Demeraras fades and the Caronis climb in price past the point of reason and into madness, it is good to remember the third major series of rums that Velier has initiated, which somehow does not get all the appreciation and braying ra-ra publicity so attendant on the others. This is the Habitation Velier collection, and to my mind it has real potential of eclipsing the Caronis, or even those near-legendary Guyanese rums which are so firmly anchored to Luca’s street cred.

I advertise the importance of the series in this fashion because too often they’re seen as secondary efforts released by a major house, and priced (relatively) low to match, at a level not calculated to excite “Collector’s Envy”. But they are all pot still rums, they’re from all over the world, they’re all cask strength, they’re both aged and unaged, and still, even years after their introduction, remain both available and affordable for what they are. When was the last time you heard that about a Velier rum? 

Since there is such a wide range in the series, it goes without saying that variations in quality and diverse opinions attend them all – some are simply considered better than others and I’ve heard equal volumes of green p*ss and golden praise showered on any one of them. But in this instance I must tell you right out, that the EMB released in 2019 is a really good sub-ten year old rum, just shy of spectacular and I don’t think I’m the only one to feel that way.

The first impression I got from nosing this kinetic 62% ABV rum, was one of light crispness, like biting into a green apple.  It was tart, nicely sweet, but also with a slight sourness to it, and just a garden of fruits – apricots, soursop, guavas, prunes – combined with nougat, almonds and the peculiar bitterness of unsweetened double chocolate.  And vanilla, coconut shavings and basil, if you can believe it.  All this in nine years’ tropical ageing?  Wow. It’s the sort of rum I could sniff at for an hour and still be finding new things to explore and classify.

The taste is better yet. Here the light clarity gives way to something much fiercer, growlier, deeper, a completely full bodied White Fang to the nose’s tamer Buck if you will.  As it cheerfully tries to dissolve your tongue you can clearly taste molasses, salted caramel, dates, figs, ripe apples and oranges, brown sugar and honey, and a plethora of fragrant spices that make you think you were in an oriental bazaar someplace – mint, basil, and cumin for the most part.  I have to admit, water does help shake loose a few other notes of vanilla, salted caramel, and the low-level funk of overripe mangoes and pineapple and bananas, but this is a rum with a relatively low level of esters (275.5 gr/hlpa) compared to a mastodon channeling DOK and so they were content to remain in the background and not upset the fruit cart. 

As for the finish, well, in rum terms it was longer than the current Guyanese election and seemed to feel that it was required that it run through the entire tasting experience a second time, as well as adding some light touches of acetone and rubber, citrus, brine, plus everything else we had already experienced the palate.  I sighed when it was over…and poured myself another shot.

Man, this was one tasty dram.  Overall, what struck me, what was both remarkable and memorable about it, was what it did not try to be. It didn’t display the pleasant blended anonymity of too many Barbados rums I’ve tried and was not as woodsy and dark as the Demeraras. It was strong yes, but the ageing sanded off most of the rough edges. It didn’t want or try to be an ester monster, while at the same time was individual and funky enough to please those who dislike the sharp extremes of a TECA or a DOK rum – and I also enjoyed how easily the various tastes worked well together, flowed into each other, like they all agreed to a non-aggression pact or something.  

It was, in short, excellent on its own terms, and while not exactly cheap at around a hundred quid, it is – with all the strength and youth and purity – a lot of Grade A meat on the hoof. It stomped right over my palate and my expectations, as well as exceeding a lot of other more expensive rums which are half as strong and twice as old but nowhere near this good…or this much fun. 

(#741)(86/100)

Jun 112020
 

 

 

There are few people who tried the quartet of the Velier black-bottled Long Pond series that was released (or should that read “unleashed”?) in 2018, who didn’t have an opinion on the snarling beastie that was the 2003 NRJ TECA. That was a rank, reeking, sneering, foul-smelling animal of a rum, unwashed, uncouth, unafraid, and it blasted its way through each and every unwary palate on the planet.  If Luca Gargano, the boss of Velier, wanted to provide a rum that would show what a high ester beefcake could do, and to educate us as to why it was never meant to be had on its own, he succeeded brilliantly with that one.

And yet a year later, he produced another pure single rum, also from the double retort pot still at Long Pond, also a TECA, a year younger and a percentage point weaker, with fourscore or so more gr/hlpa esters – and it blew the 2018 version out of the water.  It was an amazing piece of work, better in almost every way (except perhaps for rumstink), and if one did not know better, just about a completely different rum altogether. Which makes it rather strange that it has not received more plaudits, or been mentioned more often (see “other notes”, below).

Let’s see if we can’t redress that somewhat. This is a Jamaican rum from Longpond, double pot still made, 62% ABV, 14 years old, and released as one of the pot still rums the Habitation Velier line is there to showcase.  I will take it as a given it’s been completely tropically aged.  Note of course, the ester figure of 1289.5 gr/hlpa, which is very close to the maximum (1600) allowed by Jamaican law.  What we could expect from such a high number, then, is a rum sporting taste-chops of uncommon intensity and flavour, as rounded off by nearly a decade and a half of ageing – now, those statistics made the TECA 2018 detonate in your face and it’s arguable whether that’s a success, but here? … it worked. Swimmingly.

Nose first. Some of the lurking bog-monsters of the acetones, rubber and sulphur that defined the earlier version remained, but much more restrained – rubber, wax, brine, funk, plasticine, rotting fruits, pineapple, that kind of thing. What made it different was a sort of enhanced balance, a sweetness and thickness to the experience, which I really enjoyed. Much of the “wtf?” quality of its brother – the gaminess, the meatiness, the reek – was toned down or had disappeared, replaced by a much tastier series of fleshy, overripe fruit, pineapple and crushed almonds.

What distinguished the rum so much on the palate, I think, was the way that the very things I had shuddered at with the NRJ TECA were, when dialled down and better integrated, exactly what made this one so very good.  The spoiling meat and hogo danced around the background, but never overwhelmed the solid notes of mint, thyme, rubber, nail polish, acetones and bags of molasses and caramel and ripe fruits.  I particularly liked the way that the combination of ripe peaches and apricots versus the tart citrus-and-strawberry line stopped the whole “descent into madness” thing.  This allowed the rum to be extreme, yes, but not overpoweringly so…sweeter and thicker and sharper and better than one would be led to expect with that ester count, like they had all agreed to a non-aggression pact. The finish – which seemed to want to hang around for a while to show off – was redolent of molasses, mint, fruits, ripe peaches, pineapples, lemon peel and a weird little whiff of green peas, and I enjoyed it quite a bit as well.

So – good or bad? Let’s see if we can sum this up. In short, I believe the 2005 TECA was a furious and outstanding rum on nearly every level. But that comes with caveats. “Fasten your seatbelt” remarked Serge Valentin in his 85 point review, and Christoph Harrer on the German Rum Club page wrote shakily (perhaps in awe) that “the smell is […] brutal and hit me like a bomb,” — which leads one to wonder what he might have made of the original TECA, but he had a point: you can’t treat it like a Zacapa or a Diplo…therein lies madness and trauma for sure. Even if you like your Jamaicans and boast of your experiences with fullproof Hampdens and Worthy Park rums, this was one to be approached — at that strength and with that ester count — with some caution. 

Perhaps it would take a few more nips and sips to appreciate it more fully.  I tried it at the German rumfest in 2019, and while I knew right away that it was special and a true original, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it…and so filched a second sample to try more carefully, at leisure.  Normally I walk around a rumfest with four glasses in my hand, but that day I kept one glass with this juice on the go for the entire afternoon, and returned the very next day to get another two. And the conclusion I came to, then and now, is that while at the beginning it has all the grace of a runaway D9, at the end, when the dust settles, all the disparate notes come together in a rhythm that somehow manages to elevate its initial brutality to a surprising, and very welcome, elegance. 

(#735)(87/100)


Other Notes

Others have varying opinions on this rum, mostly on the plus side. Marius over at Single Cask Rum did the full comparison of the two TECA rums and came to similar conclusions as I did, scoring it 86 points. Le Blog a Roger was less positive and felt it was still too extreme for him and gave it 82.  And our old Haiku-style-reviewer, Serge Valentin noted it as being “not easy” and “perhaps a tad too much” but liked it to the tune of 85 points.

May 192018
 

#513

The question of why Velier would want to issue a well-endowed, claw-equipped high-test like this, is, on the surface, somewhat unclear.  Because my own opinion is that this is not a product for the general marketplace. It’s not aimed at beginners, 40% strength lovers or those with a sweet tooth who have two of every edition of the Ron Zacapa ever made. It’s an utterly unaged cask strength white with serious strength one point short of 60%, to which is bolted a massive 537.59 g/laa of esters…that puts in the realm of the Rum Fire Jamaican white, and that one packed quite a bit of gelignite in its jock, remember? Aside from serious rum-junkies, ester-loving deep-dive geeks and Demerara-rum fanboys (I’m all of these in one), I wonder who would buy the thing when there are so many great independent offerings of an aged Demerara out there (many of which are Port Mourant still rums themselves).

Let’s see if the tasting notes can provide some insight. At 59% ABV, I was careful with it, letting it open for a while, and was rewarded with quite an impressive and complex series of aromas: rubber and plasticene, nail polish remover, followed by a combination of sugar water, brine, watermelon, pears, roasted nuts, plus a firm, crisp-yet-light fruitiness which the strength did not eviscerate.  That’s always something of a risk with high proof rums, whose intensity can obliterate subtler nuances of flavour on nose or palate.

Unaged rums take some getting used to because they are raw from the barrel and therefore the rounding out and mellowing of the profile which ageing imparts, is not a factor.  That means all the jagged edges, dirt, warts and everything, remain. Here that was evident after a single sip: it was sharp and fierce, with the licorice notes subsumed into dirtier flavours of salt beef, brine, olives and garlic pork (seriously!). It took some time for other aspects to come forward – gherkins, leather, flowers and varnish – and even then it was not until another half hour had elapsed that crisper acidic notes like unripe apples and thai lime leaves (I get those to buy in the local market), were noticeable. Plus some vanilla – where on earth did that come from?  It all led to a long, duty, dry finish that provided yet more: sweet, sugary, sweet-and-salt soy sauce in a clear soup. Damn but this was a heady, complex piece of work. I liked it a lot, really.

Reading those tasting note and looking at the stats of the rum, I think you’d agree this is not your standard table rum; maybe even one that only a madman or a visionary would try to make money from, when it’s so obviously stuffed with sleeping leopards. Who on earth would make this kind of thing; and then, having been made, who is addled enough to buy it? Drink it?  And why?

To answer those questions, it’s useful to look at the man behind the rum.  Luca Gargano, whose Five Principles are now the source of equal parts merriment and respect, doesn’t often say it in as many words, but obeys another: I call it the Sixth Rum Principle, and it suggests that Luca believes that rum should be made pure, fresh, organic, without additives of any kind from cane through to still.  If he had a choice, I’m sure he’s prefer to have wild yeast do the fermentation of a wash gathered in the bark of trees hollowed out by the latest hurricane.

But a codicil to the Principle is simply that a rum need not necessarily be aged to be good…even fabulous. Now for a man who selected and popularized the extraordinary Port Mourant series of aged rums, that seems like bizarre thing to say, but look no further than the clairins from Haiti which have made such a splash in the rumiverse over the last four years, or any of the unaged French Island whites, and you’ll see that may really be on to something.

And that leads to the intersection of the Port Mourants and the Principle. I’m sure Luca was perfectly aware of the quality and reputation of the PM 1972, PM 1974 and PM 1975….to say nothing of the later editions. “What I wanted to do,” he told me recently in that utterly sure, subtly evangelic voice he uses in rum festivals around the world, “Is demonstrate how the rum everyone likes and appreciates – the Port Mourants, Foursquares, Jamaicans – started life.  Okay, they’re not for everyone. But for those who really know the profiles of the islands’ rums blind, they can now see what such rums were before any ageing or any kind of cask influence.”

Drinking this rum shows what results from applying that principle. There’s a whole raft of these whites out in the market right now, distinguished by lovely drawings of the stills from which they originate. I’m not sure how they sell, or who’s buying them, or even if they are making a splash in the perceptions of the larger rum world.  All I know is it’s an amazing rum that one should try at least once, even if it’s just to appreciate for the one time how the raging cataracts of a Port Mourant distillate started out, before the torrent of taste calmed down, evened out…and flowed into the ocean of all the other great PMs we have learnt to know and appreciate over the years.

(88/100)

Dec 132017
 

#468

Velier’s Last Ward is an elegaic and haunting rum that evokes memories of old times and old places, yet is brought smack bang up to date for the modern connoisseur and rum lover.  It is a summing up of all things Mount Gay that matter if you’re in tune with it, just a really good rum if you’re not, and is one to savour and appreciate and enjoy no matter what your state of mind or preference in rum.  One can only wonder, with all the great distilleries that are represented in the independent bottlers’ more popular and better-known wares, how a small batch production like this one was ever conceived of, let alone made it out to the general marketplace.  It is one of the best rums from Mount Gay not actually sold under the brand.

The “Last Ward” is about as evocative a title for a rum as I’ve ever come across.  It breathes of Barbados, of history and of rum. It speaks to the Ward family who ran Mount Gay for over a century (Aubrey Ward acquired it in the early 1900s) and still appear to have involvement with the company which was officially in existence since 1703 (unofficially much before that) and acquired in 1989 by Remy Cointreau. Frank Ward started producing a brand called Mount Gilboa in 2007, naming it after the original plantation and distillery before it had been renamed in 1801 after Sir John Gay Alleyne, whom John Sober had inveigled to manage the new company when he had bought it in 1747.

Did all that history and age and heritage translate into a rum worth drinking?  It’s not always the case, of course, but here the answer is a firm yes. It started with the nose, where the very first word of my notes is “Wow.” It was smooth and heated, handling the 59% ABV quite well, smelling of furniture polish, leather, light flowers, bags of white chocolate, nougat, toblerone, coffee grounds and salt caramel.  It was aromatic enough to make me think of a warmer, softer Savanna Lontan, to be honest, and continued with almonds, pecans and vanilla, all of which harmonized into a nose one might not initially pick out as specifically Bajan, but which was definitely worth spending some time with.

The palate developed with somewhat more force, being sharp and intense without losing any of the aromatic character I liked so much on the nose.  Oak took more of a leadership role here, and behind it coiled flavours of flowers, citrus and marzipan. Letting it stand for some time (and later adding some water) cooled it down and allowed other components to emerge – bon bons, more caramel, coconut shavings, bananas, white chocolate, tied together with a vague complementary sweetness which made the whole experience a very approachable one. The sharpness and intensity which began the taste was almost totally morphed to something quieter and by the time the finish arrived.  And that was very pleasant indeed, long lasting, sweet, with caramel and vanilla walking a fine line next to orange peel and nuttiness.

Almost everything about the production details is stated clearly on the label in a fashion that shames brands who indifferently genuflect to the concept (like for instance the Dictador Best of 1977, remember that?): double retort pot still origin; triple distilled in 2007, aged ten years in Barbados with an angel’s share of 65%, no sugar, issued at a robust 59% ABV. About the only thing missing is in what kind of barrels it was aged in, but those are ex-bourbon, so now you know as much as I do. (As an aside for those who like such details, the still is made by McMillan from Scotland, who are still in business making copperware for distilleries the world over, and have been ever since their founding in 1867).

Mount Gay has now started producing its cask strength series of the XO (63%) which I thought was very good, a German indie called Rendsburger made a 1986 Rockley Still 18 year old rum I quite liked, and we’ve been trying various WIRD rums for years now — these demonstrated with emphasis and aplomb what could be done even if you didn’t hail from Foursquare…and this rum is as good as almost all of them. Just about everything works here, comes together right – it finds the intersection of a name redolent of memory, a presentation in quiet pastels, all married to a profile of strength, reasonable complexity, and, dare I say it? – even beauty.  

If I had any note of caution to sound about the matter, it’s that those who like fierce and brutal purity in their cask strength rums might not entirely appreciate one which is firm rather than sharply distinct, and rather more diffuse and melded together in a way that makes individual notes lack a certain clarity; and the pot still heritage is not as evident as I might have liked – but to me that’s a minor whinge….overall, this thing is good. The Last Ward is a like a WIRD rum taken out to left field and torqued up to just about the max, and represents a triumph of the imagination as much as the better known Foursquare Exceptional Cask series or Mr. Seale’s collaborations with Velier. It may not entirely beat the Foursquare 2006 10 year old, but believe me when I say that that is no reason to leave it on any shelf where you see it.

(89/100)


Other notes

Both The Fat Rum Pirate and Single Cask Rum, whose reviews are also available, noted that it derived from 19 of the oldest barrels remaining. Luca got back on to me and aside from confirming the 19 barrel number, said the actual outturn was 4,746 bottles.