Nov 232011
 

 

First posted 23rd November 2011 on Liquorature

A dark navy rum that starts slow and nasty and evolves into a most amazingly flavourful product, and which can even be tolerated by the masochistic as a drink to sip on its own.


Honesty forces me to confess that the only reason I bought this rum was because Keenan and I had had it in local pub on a wing night and we couldn’t believe what a powerful deep-tasting mixer it made. Seeing it the other day in a shop, I snapped it up, and I have to tell you, for less than $30, you could do worse than try this pretender to the Navy rum throne. Too bad The Bear had bailed for booze-regulated eastern climes by then. I comfort myself by snidely noting his pickings are now as slim as a frog hair split four ways and sanded smooth.

There is something uniquely and even amusingly provincial – nay, Canadian – about Potter’s. The label, which tongue in cheek informs you that if you are reading it, you probably aren’t on a tropical beach (try finding that on a product made in the US); the bottle; the unassuming nature of it all. Okay, enough snickering (yeah yeah, I can see you there in the front row, fella) – I know it has a chintzy kind of faux-70’s bottle design – much like the Alberta Premium – but how can one not help but smile at the sheer chutzpah of makers who can so insouciantly flip us all the bird?

In the glass, Potter’s is copper bronze, almost red (pretty cool, that), with middling thin legs hesitantly draining down the sides. Wafts of molasses and brown sugar were immediately in evidence even before I put my beak into it, and at that point I have to tell you flat out – the initial nose may be the single worst reek since the Bundie (or, for the generous among you, the most distinctive). Plastic, plasticine, playdo and sickly sweet grape esters leapt out at me and sought to crush my sense of smell with a mass attack – I felt like my nose just harpooned a steam locomotive. Molasses, burnt sugar and some vanilla tried vainly to get out from under that crushing stench, but were mercilessly clubbed to the ground.

So pretty bad, right?

Not at all. That’s the crazy thing. Potter’s opened up like a shy bodybuilder, and after the initial bludgeon relaxed, it was actually quite good – one kind of was able to pick out the individual scents (not without effort, admittedly), and while it’ll never be on my list of alltime favourites, it wasn’t all bad. Liquorice, molasses and burning canefields all coiled around the core smells of burnt sugar, and Potter’s made no attempt to be coy or complex – what you nosed was exactly what you got, and nothing more (contrast that against the Pusser’s 15, which had hidden treasures under them tights).

And tastewise, oh man – what the hell did Potters do here? The rum is stupid good – no cheapass rum should have such a strong delivery, be this bold, or this distinctive. Dark, smoky, heavy, like the best Navy rums, or el Dorado 5 yr old, better than Lamb’s Navy, or  Coruba by a sea mile, and as good or better than Young’s Old Sam’s.  I tasted liquorice, tobacco and molasses, heavy and smoky on the tongue, with leather, pipe tobacco and perhaps a touch of dried grapes (my six year old son The Little Caner took a sniff and disdainfully remarked “blue cheese” before walking off with his pocketmoney, but he has a point – there is some kind of well aged rindy cheese in there too). Dry and uncompromisingly sere, not too sweet (but not too much in the opposite direction either), and quite smooth for such a seemingly unaged product. And the fade is also good – dry, deep burn down your throat, not bitchy, just slow and powerful – it lacks the sophistication of the Pusser’s 15 yr old, but guys, it ain’t far off, and it costs less. In short, this rum is, in my opinion, an unheralded mid-ranger punching well above its seemingly low-class antecedents – it’s like an accountant who strips off his tie and becomes, oh, I dunno, Superman’s poor doofus cousin. About the only thing I wish I knew was whether they had added anything to enhance the flavour profile.

So who is Potters made by? By the same outfit that makes the utterly forgettable Momento rum I so dissed not too long ago – Highwood Distillers out of Alberta. I didn’t think that the Momento cut it, and said so, but thankfully I didn’t just dismiss the whole distillery out of hand. After tasting this rum, about which not much is said on their website (actually, they just reprinted the blurb on the label), I am happy to report that if they were to branch out into aged rums, perhaps, they might really have something going here. Certainly as navy rums go, I have some fault and much praise to find in the product, because it appeals to all my basic desires in a rum – I don’t have to filet the thing, dissect it into ten different components – it is a straightforward, strong and unapologetic product made for simpler times, and simpler people than we have become.

Now, all things considered, I think Potter’s has a shade too much sulphur and is a bit too feinty to be classed as a good sipper (don’t let that stop you if you’re of a mind – it ain’t half bad that way); something about that background muskiness and cloying nature of it puts me off. And even the label suggests it isn’t one, and I may be one of the few who can stomach it as such given the initial reek (it’ll batter most others into catatonia). As a mixer, though…wow. Rounds out a coke or ginger ale just fine. I could drink it with a cola or as a cocktail base all night long, and all I could think of as I tasted it that night, was that I wish my friend had been with me, and that he hadn’t left to take up a job elsewhere. This rum was made for a guy like him, and in fact, it was a rum like him – outwardly simple, deceptively unpretentious, effective, unforgettable, humorous, powerful and the best essence of all that is north of forty nine.

(#087. 76/100)


Other Notes

  • Potter’s Distillery was founded by Ernie Potter in 1958, and originally only bottled and sold liqueurs, but over the years expanded into spirits. In 1962, Captain Harold John Cameron Terry (Captain Terry) – who started his career at 14 as an Australian seaman – acquired Potter’s Distillers. He took the company public in 1967 and was its CEO for 20 years. In 1990, production was moved from Langley to Kelowna, British Columbia where it remained until 2006. In November 2005, Highwood Distillers purchased Potter’s Distillers and folded it into its umbrella of brands.
Oct 012011
 

Photo (c) Highwood Distillers

First posted 01 October 2011 on Liquorature

A strange rum from Alberta’s Highwood Distillery, Momento is aimed at the high end market without having the cojones to put its quality where its marketing leads it.  It’s clean texture and originality of make are its best features, but I can’t say it really works for me.


There are some cases where a distillery looking to go in a different direction begets some kind of bratty, youthful rum that dances on your tonsils and tries out its chubby biceps on your palate. Bruichladdich comes to mind, or the reblenders and rebranders like Gordon & MacPhail and A.D Rattray (whisky makers all, I sigh). Remember the Caroni 13 year old, the Renegade line, or even (bow head here) the Longpond 1941? Rums like those made you laugh with pleasure, and walk out the store clutching your prizes, with a cape, red boots and big friggin’ “S” stamped on your chest.

Highwood Distillers, alas, does not make the cut with this insouciant Momento rum. It aspires to the heights without trying to scale them, and yet, my inquiries with the company brought forth the comment that they really were aiming for the premium segment of the market. Take my word for it: this is not premium. Nice, inoffensive, original, different. But not top of the line by a long shot.

I must concede I liked the appearance of the bottle, with its transparent label and fancy lettering: there is a spartan simplicity to it which I appreciated. Long slender bottle, enveloping a clear, straw yellow rum topped off with a white cork. If nothing else, that certainly is pretty good.

My disappointment started with the nose. It was a sharp skewer though the schnozz, a cannibal’s bone through the septum, redolent of chemicals and paint thinner. Pungent, thin and grassy…almost like fresh hay. It reminded me of the play-doh in a badly maintained day care. The body (hinted at by swift sprinter’s legs that would make Usain Bolt weep with envy) was thin and unimpressive, tangy and medium sweet – I’ve tasted white wines with more body and depth. And the cloying medicinal properties of the nose followed the palate and arrived with the screaming tantara of a badly tuned clarinet, added to by a briny, almost seaweed like taste, a tad spicy and not particular sweet. Perhaps I sensed some caramel and citrus, but I’d be reaching if I said that with assurance. The rum’s one redeeming feature to me was a certain light clarity, a tight, clean texture on the palate which was a real pleasure to feel, if not to taste. The finish was also some consolation, short and smooth: delicate, light fumes caress your throat before bailing in labba time for the backdam.

So, I give it points for originality, but you’re getting my drift – this is definitely not my glass of the good stuff. I’m barely convinced it’s a rum, and I’m not the only online reviewer to make that observation: maybe because it’s a whisky distiller that makes it, it has many properties that would appeal more to a lover of the Scotches than the rums. As a mixer it is without doubt competent; as a sipper, I’m afraid it falls down flat. Thank God it was paid for: I’d feel real bad taking this as a free sample and then have these negative feelings about it. And yet its antecedents stem from Guyana, DDL stock to be exact, and after coming to Alberta, aged in charred oak barrels for an indeterminate time. Highwood remarked in an email to me that they make no age statements on the blend, and the Arctic Wolf thought it was six to eight years old, but my own take is that it’s quite a bit younger than that – it’s too raw, too rough for any kind of serious ageing and the oak makes almost no imprint on the taste buds.

Look, I’m not really in a bad mood or trying to be bitchy ‘cause it’s fun to write a negative review. What I want is rums to be taken seriously, and this one isn’t helping me any. When a distillery with a pretty good pedigree like Highwood Distillers makes a rum this odd and appears not to be taking the blending all that seriously (unlike their startlingly deep-flavoured Potter’s, which may be one of the best mixer’s extant in the bars of Calgary), I get the impression they’re just making this rum so they can round out their portfolio (maybe it’s because they have so many different spirits in their repertoire – 90-plus, according to their rep).

The Momento might, over a period of years, morph into something pretty cool and interesting, but as it stands, all it is is a snazzy bottle encasing a pale coloured, under-distilled rum wannabe without serious taste or body, and about the best thing I can say for it is that it’s original as all get out, has that clean texture, and goes better with a cola than Doorley’s. I didn’t think it was possible to best the Prince Myshkyn of the rum world at its own game, but with the Momento, you’ve got a winner on that score, however much of a loser it is at all the others.

(#079. 71/100)


Other Notes

  • Highwood Distillers was founded in 1974 and originally operated under the name ‘Sunnyvale’. In 1984, it was renamed ‘Highwood Distillers’ after the famous river and region in which it is located in the Canadian province of Alberta. It bought Potters Distillery in British Columbia in November 2005, and so the Potters Dark rum is part of their brand portfolio.
  • The core distillate of the Momento is imported Demerara rum but it is unknown how long it is aged for or which DDL still it comes from.