Nov 272022
 

I view L’Esprit’s unaged still-strength white rums the way I regard Mrs. Caner – with besotted love not unmixed with a little dread.  Treat her right and there’s no end of the amazing wonders and complexities that will be provided; drink carelessly and you’ll be belted into next week.  Seeing the stats, is clear to see why: the rum is distilled in 2019 in Jamaica, and taken at 85.6% as it dripped and smoked and frothed off the still, then released without any ageing into the wild, unfiltered and unadded-to, and completely, fiercely, joyously untamed. You get the nervous feeling that when you drink it, you can sense the Grim Reaper on your shoulder clearing his throat.

So you can understand both my awe and my trepidation. On the outside, as a white rum, it looks meek and demure (another similarity it shares with my better half), but hard experience with L’Esprit’s recent outturns of this kind have taught me some measure of caution. The initial sniff showed why this was a good idea: it was a wild storm of competing, fighting, angry tastes from all over the map, starting with coconut milk with a touch of gaminess, vanilla, and flambeed bananas drizzled with hot bitter caramel syrup.  As if unsatisfied, it moved on to rubber and tar on a hot day. Glue, solvent, acetones, and behind it all, the rank meatiness of a midden heap, brine and hogo gone wild, into which somebody spilled a bucket of used engine oil.  If there were any fruits around, they were blattened flat by this huge wave of rumstink, and yet, for all that this reads like some kind of crazy, it’s still somewhat better and more interestingly assembled than the Long Pond TECA.

And at that strength, when sipped, well, it provided all the acres of hurt one can expect from that huge pail of proof. It was hot, spicy, initially reeking of stripped out gears and a burnt clutch on an old Land Rover – this was brief and dissipated swiftly, being replaced by ethanol, medicinals, a tart sort of sweetness (yoghurt, citrus, green apples, grapes, strawberries) and sourness (miso soup, Thai sweet chili, soya)…and then it really got going. There was the bitter clarity of licking a copper penny. It tasted of hot and very strong unsweetened black tea, on the good side of being bitter. And then it got more creamy and spicy and warm at the back end, before relaxing into a finish that was long, sweet, salty, sour, bitter – as if all taste receptors got switched back on at once — coughing up citrus, juniper, quinine and mineral water to go with the pears and green apples that closed the show.

Damn, but this was one serious rum. It’s just this side of excessive, and is the sort of thing a resident of Trenchtown would splash on before heading to the local rum shop for a duck curry and a brawl. The tastes are completely off the scale, they’re all over the place like a half-drawn roadmap leading to an undiscovered country and it’s a small miracle that they work together as well as they do. And admittedly, it’s too fierce on the attack: the lips are numbed, the tongue paralyzed, the taste buds burnt out in a bright flash of heated sulphur and brimstone, and this will not be a rum that finds favour with many except Los Extremos who inhale this kind of thing with their morning wheaties.

And yet, and yet…it’s not entirely a bad product : once it settles down it’s a really quite interesting piece of work, in spite of its undiluted demon-piss vibe. What it does, better than most with similar specs, is unashamedly channel trashy 1980s Ahnuld, Sly, Chuck and Dolph Lundgren action movies of the sort we remember fondly today. It drops massive taste bombs, huge sharp congeners, sweat, harsh language and liquid gelignite left right and centre the way those stars dropped one liners and cool kills. I’m not sure that’s a description or a profile that’ll appeal to everyone, but for those who are willing to park their doubts, I think L’Esprit’s Jamaican white brawler is simply one to beware of, treat with respect…and maybe, once one adjusts to its fierce character, even to love.

(#954)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • It’s not stated but as far as I know, it’s Worthy Park distillate.
  • “Cuvée Daniel” refers to (L’Esprit’s owner and founder) Tristan Prodhomme’s second son; the Diamond “Cuvée Edgar” MPM unaged white referred to his first. He made these rums to commemorate them, which I think is a sweet gesture.
  • As always, I must commend the sleek little sample bottles L’Esprit favours, which fit nicely into a presentation box and are just cool as all get out.
  • Pot Still, 279-bottle outturn. Rested between July 2019 to October 2020 in inert tanks.
Oct 242022
 

A kokuto shochu, one of the oldest spirits made in Japan, derives from unrefined sugar (kokuto) and in that sense it straddles an uneasy and somewhat undefined territory between agricole-style and molasses-based rums. Nosing the clear spirit demonstrates that: it opens with a lovely crisp agricole type brine and sweet alcohol, channelling sweet soda pop – Fanta, 7-Up, a bit of funk, a bit of citrus; and then adds a pot still kind of funkiness to the mix, like the aroma of fresh glue on a newly installed carpet, paint, varnish, and a lot — a lot — of fresh, light, tart, fruity notes. Guavas, Thai mangoes, strawberries, light pineapples, mixed fruit ice cream, yoghurt. Yamada Distillery makes two shochus and this is the one they call “Intense” – based solely on how it smells, I believe them.

The taste is, in a word, light. There’s a reason for this which I’ll get to in a moment, but the bottom line is that this is a spirit to drink neat and drink easy because the flavours are so delicate that mixing it would shred any profile that a neat pour would lead you expect. It’s faint, it’s sweet, it’s extremely light, and what I think of when trying it is the soft florals of cherry blossoms, hibiscus; herbs like thyme and mint, mixed up with light yellow and white fruits, cherries, grapes. It’s enormously drinkable, and beats the hell out of any indifferently made 40% blanco in recent memory…and if the finish is practically nonexistent, well, at least there are some good memories from the preceding stages of the experience.

There’s a good reason for its lightness, its sippability — and that’s because it’s a mere 30% ABV. By rum standards, where the absolute lower limit is 37.5% before heading into liqueur country, that disqualifies it from being considered a rum at all: even if we were to accept the dual fermentation cycle and its unrefined sugar base, to the rum-drinking world that strength is laughable. I mean, really?….30%??! One could inhale that in a jiffy, down a bottle without blinking, and then wash it down with a Malibu. 


Consider the provenance and specs, and park the ABV for a moment. It comes from the Amami islands in southern Japan (between Kagoshima and Okinawa), made by a tiny, family run distillery on Oshima Island 1that has existed for three generations, since 1957 — that’s considered medium old by the standards of the islands, where firms can either be founded last year, or a century ago. Perhaps they are more traditional than most, because there are no on-site tastings, no distillery sales, and no website – it seems to be a rare concession for them to even permit tours (maximum of five people), and have as much as a twitter and instagram account.  

But that aside, the Nagakumo Ichiban Bashi is practically handmade to demonstrate terroire. The brown sugar is local, from Oshima, not Okinawa, and that island. They distil in a single pass, in a pot still. The resultant is rested, not aged (at least, not in the way we would understand it), in enamelled steel tanks  for several years in a small solera system. And the resultant is really quite fascinating: similar enough to a rum not to lose me, and different enough to pique my interest.  Even at its wobbly proof point, the whole thing has a character completely lacking in those anonymous, androgynous, filtered whites that sell everywhere. 

Shochus generally, and kokuto shochus in particular, must, I think, be drunk and appreciated on their own level, with an understanding of their individual social and production culture. It is useful to come at them from a rum perspective, but perhaps we should give them space to be themselves, since to expect them the adhere to strength and profile of actual rums is to misunderstand the spirit.

Admittedly therefore, the low strength makes the shochu rate a fail when rated by western palates accustomed to and preferring sterner stuff. My personal feeling is that it works on its own level, and that nose, that lovely, robust, floral, aromatic nose…I mean, just smell that thing a few more times — it makes up for all its faintness of the palate. Perhaps the redeeming feature of the shochu is that you can channel your inner salaryman after work, sip and drink this thing multiple times, still not get a debilitating buzz on, and still find some notes to enjoy. There aren’t too many cask strength rums that allow you to do that.

(#945)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • The LMDW entry for this shochu says it is made partly from Thai rice to which muscovado sugar is then added. This is wrong. The koji mould which is used for primary fermentation is developed on Thai rice. But rice is not used as a source of the wash.
  • Shochu is an entire spirit to itself, and kokuto shochu is a subset of that. For the curious there is a complete backgrounder available, with all sources noted.
  • The name on the label, 3S, is a Japanese concern that deals primarily in shochu (the three “S” moniker stands for “Super Shochu Spirits”) where they act as an independent bottler. They are a subsidiary of G-Bridge company, which is a more general trading house established in 2006.
  • I feel that the sugar cane derivative base of kokuto makes it part of the rum family.  An outlier, true, but one which shares DNA with another unrefined-brown-sugar-based spirit such as we looked at with Habitation Velier’s jaggery-based Amrut, and the panela distillates of Mexico.  If it doesn’t fall within our definitions then we should perhaps look more carefully at what those definitions are and why they exist. In any case, there are shochus out there that do in fact got to 40% and above. It suggests we pay attention to such variations — because we could, in all innocence, be missing out on some really cool juice.
Oct 172022
 

Foursquare’s Exceptional Cask Series gets the lion’s share of the attention showered on the distillery these days, and the Doorly’s “standard line” gets most of the remainder, yet many deep diving aficionados reserve the real gold for the Foursquare-Velier collaborations. And while some wags humorously remark that the series’ are only excuses for polysyllabic rodomontade, the truth is that the collaborations are really good, just not as visible: they are released less often and with a more limited outturn than the big guns people froth over on social media. So not unnaturally they attract attention mostly at bidding time on online auctions, where they reliably climb in price as the years turn and the stock diminishes.

There currently seven rums in the set, which have been issued since February 2016 (when the famed 2006 10 YO came out): they are, in order of release as of 2022, the 2016, Triptych, Principia, Destino (whether there’s only one, or two, is examined below), Patrimonio, Plenipotenziario and Sassafras.  All are to one extent or another limited bottlings — and while they do not form an avenue to explore more experimental releases (like the pot still or LFT Foursquares in the HV series, for example), they are, in their own way, deemed special.

On the face of it, the Destino really does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary – which is to say, it conforms to the (high) standards Foursquare has set which have now almost become something of their signature. The rum is a pot-column blend, distilled in 2003 and released in December of 2017: between those dates it was aged 12 years in ex-Madeira casks and a further two in ex-Bourbon, and 2,610 of the “standard” general release edition were pushed out the door at a robust 61%, preceded by 600 bottles of the Velier 70th Anniversary edition at the same strength.

What we get was a very strong, very rich and very fruity-winey nose right off the bat. It smells of sweet apple cider, strawberries, gherkins, fermenting plums and prunes, but also sweeter notes of apricots, peaches are noticeable, presenting us with a real fruit salad.  A little vanilla and some cream can be sensed, a sort of savoury pastry, but with molasses, caramel, butterscotch all AWOL. Something of a crisply cold fine wine here, joined at the last by charred wood, cloves, soursop, and a vague lemony background.

The citrus takes on a more forward presence when the rum is tasted, with the initial palate possessing all the tart creaminess of a key lime pie, while not forgetting a certain crisp pastry note as well.  It’s delicious, really, and hardly seems as strong as it is. Stewed apples, green grapes, white guavas take their turn as the rum opens up: it turns into quite a mashup here, yet it’s all as distinct as adjacent white keys on a piano. With water emerge additional flavours: some freshly baked sourdough bread, vanilla, dates, figs, with sage, cloves, white pepper and cinnamon rounding things out delectably.

The finish is perfectly satisfactory: it’s nice and long and aromatic, yet introduces nothing new: it serves as more of a concluding summation, like the final needed paragraph to one of Proust’s long-winded essays. The rum doesn’t leave you exhausted in quite the same way as that eminent French essayist does, but you are a bit wrung out with its complexities and power when you’re done, though. And the way it winds to a conclusion is like a long exhaled breath of all the good things it encapsulates.

So…with all of the above out of the way, is it special?  Several of the ECS releases are of similar provenance and have been rated by myself and others at similar levels of liking, so is there actually a big deal to be made here, and is there a reason for the Destino to be regarded as something more “serious”?

Not really, but that’s because the rum is excellent, and works, on all levels. It noses fine, tastes fine, finishes with a snap and there’s complexity and strength and texture and quality to spare. It does Foursquare no dishonour at all, and burnishes the reputation the house nicely (as if that were needed). The rum, then, is special because we say it is: viewed objectively, it’s simply on a level with the high bar set by the company and is neither a slouch nor a disappointment, “just” a very good rum. 

Sometimes I think Richard may have painted himself into a corner with these rums he puts out: they are all of such a calibre that to maintain a rep for high quality means constantly increasing the quality lest the jaded audience get bored. There is a limit to how far that can be done, but let’s hope he hasn’t reached it yet — because know I want more of these.

(#944)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • There is a “47” and a “17” on the “Teardrops” box’s top left and bottom right tears. They reference the founding of Velier in 1947; and the issuance of the rum and 70th Anniversary of the Company, in 2017. There are total of seventy tears, of course. The numbers are repeated on the back label
  • Wharren Kong the Singaporean artist, designed the Teardrops graphic.
  • The pair was tried side by side three times: once in 2018, again in December 2021 in Berlin (from samples) and again at the 2022 Paris WhiskyLive (from bottles).

Addendum – The Two Destinos

Are the two expressions of the Destino — the general release “standard” and the Velier 70th Anniversary Richard Seale “Teardrop” edition — different or the same? The question is not a mere academic exercise in anal-retentive pedantry of interest only to rum geeks: serious money is on the line for the “Seale” release. The short answer is no, and the long answers is yes.  Sorry.

What happened is that as the Destino barrels were being prepped in 2017, Luca called Richard  — some months before formal release —  and asked for an “old rum” for the 70th Anniversary collection. Richard, who doesn’t do specials, anniversaries or cliches, initially refused, but after Luca practically broke down in tears (I exaggerate a little for effect), Richard raised his fists to heaven in a “why me?” gesture (I exaggerate a little more), grumbled a bit longer, and then reluctantly suggested that maybe, perhaps, possibly, just this once, it could be arranged to have six hundred bottles of the Destino relabelled and reboxed with the Velier 70th Anniversary colours. This was initially estimated as two casks of the many that were being readied for final blending. Luca agreed because the deadline for his release was tight, and so it was done. The label on the “Teardrops” was prepared on that basis, way in advance of either release.

Except that for one thing, it ended up being three casks, not two, and for another, “Teardrops” was in fact decanted, bottled and released a couple of months earlier than “Standard.” Yet they both came from the same batch of rum laid down in 2003, and aged identically for the same years in ex-bourbon and ex-Madeira … in that sense they are the same. The way they diverge is that three barrels were separated out and aged a couple of months less than the general release.  So, according to Richard, who took some time out to patiently explain this to me, “In theory they are ‘different’- like two single casks  – but in reality it’s the same batch of rum with the same maturation.”

Observe the ramifications of that almost negligible separation and the special labelling: on Rum Auctioneer, any one of the 600 bottles of “Teardrops” sells for £2000 or more, while one of the 2,610 bottles of the  standard goes for £500.  People claim “Teardrops” is measurably better because (variously) the box is different, the taste is “recognizably better”, or because the labelling says “selected two of his oldest Rum casks” and “very old ex-Rum casks” and not ex-Madeira and ex-bourbon. Or, perhaps because they are seduced by the Name and the much more limited 600 bottles, and let their enthusiasm get the better of them. 

Yes the box is different and the labelling description is not the same: this is as a result of the timing of the box and labels’ printing way in advance of the actual release of the rum, and so  some stuff was just guessed, or fluff-words were printed.  We saw the same thing with Amrut catalogue-versus-label difference in 2022), but I reiterate: the liquid is all of a piece, and the rums within have the miniscule taste variation attendant on any two barrels, even if laid down the same day and aged the same way. Maybe one day I’ll do a separate review of Teardrops just because of that tiny variation, but for the moment, this one will stand in for both.


 

Oct 132022
 

Do we even need to make mention of what Black Tot Day represents any more, and what the rum is all about? Probably not, but for the sake of new entrants to the field and those who don’t know, it is named after the day in 1970 that the (British) Royal Navy ceased issuing the daily tot of rum to its sailors…a day that to some will live in infamy, given the scandalous break with a centuries-long tradition. 1 However it would be too much to expect that all rums were finished at the same time – and some indeed was left over and this was sold on to private interests, one of which was Elixir Distillers, a bottler and blender owned by the people behind The Whisky Exchange (which these days I guess means Pernod-Ricard, after they bought out the founders in 2021).

Elixir initially released some of the stores they had as the Black Tot “Last Consignment” in 2014 —  it remains available, though expensive at a thousand bucks or more per bottle. It sold slowly, but the response – limited as it was – did suggest that a market existed for such blends if one could bootstrap the name as a brand. And so, since 2019, after two years of experimentation and fiddling around with blend recipes, a number of Black Tot bottlings began to appear for those of more limited means, whose scrawny purses don’t have a grand to blow on a bottle which, let’s face it, was always more about heritage and rarity than taste. That’s not to say all the new editions were particularly cheap: the the annual Master Blender’s Reserve series, the Heart of the Tot 40 YO (with only Port Mourant 1975 juice) and the 50th Anniversary, all of them ran into three figures or more.

The Black Tot Finest Caribbean Blend, by contrast, is the consumer version of the brand. Costing around £60 it is a blend of rums aged a maximum of five years (it is unknown how much the final blend was aged, if at all) in the following proportions: unaged and aged Guyanese rums from pot and column stills (60%), 5 YO Barbados rums from ot and column stills (35%), and a pinch of 3 YO Jamaican rum for kick (5%). The distilleries are not disclosed: reading around suggests Foursquare for Barbados and Longpond for Jamaica (that’s sure to be interesting).  Stating “Diamond” for Guyana is pointless, because for that country it’s not the distillery we need to know – there’s only the one – but the actual stills involved since they are all so distinctive. That aside, the rum is bottled at 46.2% ABV, so it’s not going to hurt anyone and can find wide acceptance exactly as it is.

To say I was surprised at the overall quality of what is being marketed as a downmarket Black Tot is to understate matters. I’ve tried loads of Navy Rum wannabes, real or imagined – rums from Lamb’s, Woods, Kinloch (Navy Neaters), Pusser’s, URM, Townsend (Red Duster), Lemon Hart, Challis Stern (Four Bells), Velier, AH. Riise, Cabot Tower, Potters…and only a few have impressed me with their quality. This is one of them.

The nose opens with a distinct Jamaican funk bomb, and I am instantly reminded of a low-rent TECC or TECA, less intense, but possessing similar notes of rotten bananas, whitening orange peel, and all the delightful aromas of a midden heap in hot weather. It’s a basic funk bomb, to which are added smoke, leather, salted caramel, bitter coffee grounds, and oranges. That’s the Jamaican side of things: as it develops there’s a heavier note becoming evident, licorice, molasses, brown sugar and spices like cloves and sage and cinnamon. And so that’s the Guyanese.  The Barbados portion hides somewhere in between all that, providing structure and a backbone, but to say I could pick out the notes that were its own would be pretentious. Let’s just say there was an element of “not Guyana or Jamaica” in there, and that’s the Bajan influence.

Palate wise, it’s completely solid, and here the Guyana part “tek front.” What was smelled, was tasted: bitter chocolate, coffee grounds, salted caramel, unsweetened black bush tea, toffee, some rubber and glue (I guess that was the unaged part of the blend) and vanilla.  In a curious inversion of the nose, the Longpond then stood up to be counted with pineapple, chocolate oranges, bubble gum and some unsweetened chocolate and the remainder of what could be tasted – cherries, kiwi fruits, coriander, dill, flambeed bananas and pears – hearkened to Barbados, with a touch of flowers and delicate sweetness finishing things off.

At Paris’s WhiskyLive, when Mitch Wilson (their brand ambassador) threatened grievous bodily harm and the extinguishing of my entire house if I did not immediately try the thing, I was hesitant – because as is well known, one does not simply walk into the Black Tot. The expectations are enormous. And yet, having tried it (twice – he doesn’t know I filched an extra sample in my fourth glass), I really liked this rum. It is lighter than the Last Consignment, cheaper than half a hundred indie bottlings I see that are long on promises, high in price and don’t come through and deliver.  It’s crisp, remarkably punchy and dynamic, with the flavours kaleidoscoping around and constantly changing, sometimes one note dominating, at times another. It invites long leisurely examination and doesn’t disappoint.

If Oliver Chilton is to be believed — he’s the master blender behind these Tot expressions, who cheerfully admitted to a certain flair and “mucking about” when creating the blend (he’s quite a character and I strongly recommend you chat with the guy whenever you see him at a rum show) — he just ceaselessly experimented for an extended period, trying everything, trying weird, trying crazy, knowing what he wanted but never being entirely satisfied with what he got…until he finally got it. And I’m here to say that yeah – he really did.

(#943)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sep 142022
 

Based on really really true events, which may or may not be factual….

“A column still can produce this!” smirked Indy as he poured me a generous dram of the seven year old SBS Antiguan hooch and handed it over, daring me to refuse and making sure my head was bowed and cap reverently doffed. I imagine he would not have been displeased with some genuflection, so chuffed was he – and others – with this rum.  

I considered my glass carefully, pen poised over the famed Little Black Book of Tasting Notes, trying to focus yet also look everywhere at once, because I was in the basement bar of The Proofing Room in London, there was a lot going around me at the same time, a ton of rum chums were in attendance, and the rum was quite a handful to unpack at short notice.

I had landed in the UK a few hours before (two hours late), scampered to my fleabag hotel, dumped my stuff, ran over the road to TWE to get some tasting glasses (shout out to Kelvin who was super helpful and fun to hang with in the short time I had there), then back out to meet the my vagrant itinerant friend Richard Nicholson (of NZ Rum Society fame) at the Black Parrot rum bar, and then, after sampling five or six rums, we high-tailed it over to the ‘Room where Kris Von Stedingk was magisterially holding forth on the new 2022 range of rums released by the Danish outfit of 1423. I was out of breath even before sidling in.

The joint was peppered with Visiting Royalty of Rum Geekdom: Dan Greifer was tending bar, Andrew Nicolls was feverishly making daiquiris with rum from his own brand of William George, Kit Carruthers of Ninefold was soaking up info and a glass with equal gusto, Keegan Menezes was down at the back, Indy and Jazz Singh of Skylark Spirits darting around making sure everyone had a charged glass, Vicki Ilankovan of Sated Online was mingling with her trademarked vivacity and energy, while others were calling hellos and pressing the flesh from all corners of the bar. And as Kris was in fine form with his presentation and we were derailing his spiel, Richard and I guiltily avoided his disapproving glare and snuck down to the back where the hoods huddle, and set up shop there.

I was glad it was the Antigua I started with, because that island’s distillery has been making great strides in its own experimental small batch production, dating right back to the work they were doing with the sherry cask edition back in 2016.  What I had here was a rum they sold to 1423 – that Danish outfit, you’ll recall, which is part owned by Josh Singh, the benevolent buddha of badass we left at Paris’s Maria Loca bar in 2019 but who went AWOL for this one. Antigua Distillers not only produced the subject of my very first review (the 1981 English Harbour 25YO) but has a new high-congener, full-proofed rum of its own that is supposedly off the scale and which I’ve been lusting after ever since it was released. This rum was one of its progeny.

I tried to listen to Kris rattle off the specs for the rum because he was an interesting and engaging speaker, but the serious rum convo (i.e., the “party”) in my corner was so loud (which was all Richard’s fault, I swear, the guy is just so noisy!) that I could barely hear him, and evidently Kris couldn’t either because he shouted at us to pipe down in best Ratzo style — “I’m workin’ here!” — so he could keep with the program and inform the populace and maybe sell some damned rum. We all flipped him the bird and shouted cheerfully ribald insults, then shut up. I started nosing, and then scribbling. Even at play, the ‘Caner has to work sometimes, alas.

The nose of this kinetically powered 64.9% ex-bourbon-barrel aged rum was aromatic to a fault, and demonstrated once again that well assembled column still rums can be the equal of any other kind (even if just one barrel’s outturn).  It smelled of vanilla ice cream, bubble gum, strawberries and an amazingly pungent mix of both light and heavier fruits like watermelon, green apples, grapes, peaches, and plums.  Into this was interspersed more neutral aromas of bananas, pears and papaya, and a sort of rich whipped cream that would drive a cat to ecstasy. Even with the distractions of more rums, more mixes and the loud hum of conversation, I was able to appreciate a real mastery of the craft with what came out of that bottle.

All this went into the Book with some haste, because things were moving fast, and the bar surface in front of me kept filling up with more and new glasses that had to be guarded from the potential depredations of light-and-sticky-fingered rum enthusiasts (we are not known for respecting the finer points of personal property when it comes to the good stuff). Andrew, enthusiastic as anything, kept making more William George daiquiris (which were really good — but even a tippler as practised at pilfering as Richard had trouble keeping up with the rollout), and because Kris was moving smartly along with his presentation, Jazz and Indy continued bringing more and more SBS rums to us back-bench louts. Brazil, Denmark, Jamaica, Venezuela, Guyana, French Antilles…we had a minor United Nations of Rum going on here. Every time they poured another sample — which joined its partners on the countertop in front of me in an ever-expanding lineup —  they observed how slow I was going, and regarded me with the sorrowful disappointment of skilled guilt-trippers – “What, Lance, is what we’re doing here not good enough for you?” “You don’t like SBS any more or what?” and (more cuttingly) “Eh eh, bai, I thought you were a pro, man!” (that stung).

I hastily concentrated on moving on to the taste, and here I must simply observe how vibrant and alive the rum was. Sharp — of course it was — and hot, yet that dissipated quickly, and the tastes were at all times there, thrumming, compelling, well defined and completely solid. And there were lots of them. Tart fruits notes of soft yellow mangos, soursop, ripe gooseberries, strawberries, dark cherries and almost overripe pineapple started the party off. These were balanced by nutty flavours combined with unsweetened chocolate, caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, coffee grounds and even a touch of herbs and spices (dill and cumin). Under it all was bananas and the creaminess of a sweet caramel latte which segued beautifully into a finish of epic duration, redolent of the sweetness of sugar cane, the muskiness of caramel and molasses, and the slight bitterness of freshly sawn lumber and ground coffee beans.

What’s amazing about the rum is how well it sips, even at that dramatic proof point. There’s no straining for effect, no sense of extra ageing or esterification added for your edification, no vulgar “let’s whip this out shall we?” backdam bragaddocio of codpieces compared (this sort of thing is left to visiting rum chums in seedy rumbars). It’s an astounding, amazing, astonishing rum, one where the initial experiments I tasted all those years ago seem have come to a kind of glorious fruition. I know the distillery has its own branded rums, ramped up, beefed up, torqued up, squirting esters and proofage in all directions, and I’ve been after those for ages.  Until I get one of them, however, this will be a more than adequate substitute. 

It was with some regret that I moved to other rums in the SBS’s lineup for the year – yet for the remainder of my time at the bar I kept a glass of this thing running, and eventually considered it the best of the lot, when it was all over. We laughed and talked and discussed rums and had a whole load of fun dissing each other, and finally the whole thing devolved into a raucous party and jam session which was then relocated to Trailer Happiness after we got chased out of the Proofing Room. Yet I remember this rum so well, even without the tasting notes.  It showed that English Harbour’s Catch of the Day rum from 2018 which I had also enjoyed and continue to regard as an underpriced steal, had been no accident.

So, to wrap up this overlong “review” let me sum up for those who like it brief. SBS’s 7 Year Old 2015 High Congener Antigua rum is frikken’ phenomenal and I’m just annoyed with myself for not grabbing the damned bottle out of Indy’s hands when I had the chance. He might have decked me, and maybe I would have left the bar with head held high and feet held higher…but man, it would have been worth it to get this thing.

(#937)(91/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • Initially, based on the lack of disclosed detail on the label and the product sheet, I thought this was not a high congener rum but after the first posting, both Joshua and Kris came up to confirm that yes, it was. “There was no particular reason” for the oversight, Josh said, but my money is on simple forgetfulness, because no sane marketing guy would leave such a juicy tidbit out.  So anyway, I went back and changed the post a little and amended the title to make mention of the fact.
Aug 182022
 

Rumaniacs Review # 137 | 0931

It is becoming a working theory of mine that the heydey of the merchant bottlers and their near-ubiquitous minis of rum must have been in the 1960s and 1970s, bleeding over into the 1980s. Granted this may be because the majority of such rums I find stem from that period, I just don’t think it’s all a coincidence. Air travel and tropical drinks was a thing, hotels had well-loaded minibars, cruise lines stocked them everywhere and while I’ve never found that many merchant-bottler “indie” minis from pre-1960s or post-1990s, the auction sites are rife with little bottles from the era before the oil shocks and mass commercialization changed tourism.  Nowadays wherever you go the small bottles are all global (or hyper-local) brands, not small outfits doing their own thing.

We’ve met Charles Kinloch, the bottler of this little Jamaican dark rum, before, They were behind the Navy Neaters Barbados-Guyana blend and the Guyana-only rum, as well as having a hand in the forgettable Dry Cane light rum we passed by in 2020. Founded in 1861, they suffered several changes in ownership before being dissolved in 2008 (see below for a more detailed backgrounder).

As to this rum, it’s from an unidentified distillery in Jamaica. That is not surprising, since it’s only recently that estates’ names became a selling point, once they began branding their own rums.  But in the seventies it was all bulk rum and merchant sales and nobody cared about stills or estates of origin, merely that it was “Jamaican” (with perhaps only J. Wray / Appleton bucking this trend). The 70º Proof dates it to the pre-metric pre-1980s era.  Beyond that, not a lot more, unfortunately.

Colour – dark amber

Strength – 40% ABV (70º proof)

Nose – Hunh?  This is Jamaican?  Doesn’t really smell like it.  Burnt brown sugar, molasses, plums and raisins.  It’s rich and fruity for 40%, feels dusted with a little vanilla, so likely some ageing and a lot of colouring.  An interesting point is the almost total absence of what we would term funk nowadays – the bright, spicy, fruity notes that denote a spruced-up level of congeners.

Palate – Plums, flowers, sweet dark chocolate, almonds, lemon peel and some light nail polish. Peaches in cream, light vanilla, coconut and again that touch of molasses

Finish – Warm and comforting and surprisingly long. Black tea with condensed milk mixes it up with some molasses, caramel, and vanilla.

Thoughts – Simple and quite effective, yet I can’t shake the feeling it trends towards a Demerara. Perhaps it is and Appleton blend of some kind.  Be that as it may, it’s really nice and I happily had a few more glasses that day.

(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

The rum is bottled at 95.5º proof, and the ABV conversion is not actually half that (47.75%) according to modern measures, but 54.5%. And that’s because originally 100 proof rum was actually ~57% and so the maths works out to true navy strength of 54.5%. You can read a brief explanatory essay on the matter to get the gist of it, or a more involved discussion on the Wonk’s site on strength (here) and Navy rums generally (here).


Company bio

Charles Kinloch & Son were wine and spirits merchants who were in existence since 1861, and formally incorporated as a company in 1891. They eventually joined the Courage Brewery group in 1957 – the Kinloch brand was retained, and they issued several rums from Barbados, Guiana and Jamaica (or blends thereof). Courage itself had been around since 1757 and after many mergers and acquisitions was taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group in 1972, eventually passing to the Foster’s Group in 1990. In 1995 Scottish & Newcastle bought Courage from Foster’s and it changed hands again in 2007 when Wells & Young’s Brewing company bought all the brands under that umbrella.  By then Navy Neaters had long been out of production, Kinloch was all but forgotten and the company was formally dissolved in 2008 after having been dormant for decades. The current holding company of the Courage brand name is now is more involved in pubs and beers in the UK than in rums of any kind. (As an aside, Kinloch’s building at 84 Back Church Lane E1 1LX, complete with a sign, is still visible on Google Maps’s street view – it was converted to apartments in 1999, but the sign remains).

Note: There is a German wine shop called Schollenberger established in 1996, which created its own line of spirits (starting with gin) and nowadays releases a Charles Kinloch branded blended navy rum, and a Navy Neaters, with a label that has many of the details of the original.  It is unclear whether they acquired the name or are just using it based on the company no longer existing.


 

Aug 082022
 

Long time readers of this site will know something of my movement away from softer Spanish/Latin style rons over the years. There’s nothing particularly deficient about many of them (only some), and I have a soft spot for quite a few.  It’s just that I find most quite unadventurous, occasionally boring, sometimes added-to —  though of course they all have their adherents and supporters who buy them and keep the distilleries humming. At most, one can cast aspersions on their escutcheon with matters having to do with disclosure and/or adulteration, something which companies like La Hechicera and Dictador out of Colombia, Malecon from Panama and Mombacho out of Nicaragua (there are several others) have often been the target of. That does not mean, however, that they’re all bad, and it would be a mistake to tar them all with the same brush of indifference and despite.

These thoughts occurred to me because I was forced to take an honest look at what these too-often mild-as-milkwater rums could do when done well, when I tried one that Bristol Spirits — one of the more venerable of the modern independents — had sourced from Venezuela.  The exact distillery it comes from is something of a mystery (more on that below); and it is a column still, molasses-based spirit, aged 12 years in refill American oak (ex-bourbon and in both Venezuela and Europe), un-chill-filtered, unadded-to and released at a robust 47% ABV…which I suggest is somewhat uninspiring and which Bristol calls “just about right”.

They may be on to something there, because frankly, there is little to find fault with.  The rum is crisp and tangy, with aromas jumping all over the map: initially quite fruity with scents of lemon meringue pie, pineapples, unsweetened yoghurt, bananas, it switches over after a few minutes and presents light caramel, vanilla, flowers and is light enough to present almost as an aged agricole-style rhum. It’s apparent simplicity belies an under-the-hood level of complexity I must confess to not expecting (which may be why John Barrett, Bristol’s owner, was smirking the entire time as I tried it).

Nose is one thing, though: and many rums of real olfactory promise falter and die on the palate.  At 47% this is reasonable sipping territory, which is to say, it won’t try to defenestrate my tongue.  Here, it must be conceded that the rum succeeds very nicely.  It has a good mouthfeel; it’s tangy and a little sour, yet with a solid underpinning of caramel and chocolate oranges. Ripe Thai mangoes and peaches are in evidence, some light fruit, and here again, it feels like a firm and slightly deeper agricole rhum, musky, a bit tannic, slightly sweet.  An interesting amalgam, all summed up by a shortish finish that showed off a last flirt of salt caramel ice cream with fruit bits sprinkled on top, a touch of light brine, some flowers, and it is over way too quickly.

So let’s talk a bit about Bristol, one of the stalwarts of the indie bottling ecosystem, a small company run by one man, John Barrett (he has recently brought in a young man, his son-in-law, to help run things). Bristol was established as far back as the 1990s, at the dawn of the modern rum renaissance, and if you really are curious, the Boys of Rumcast did a great interview with the man just a few weeks ago. Bristol Spirits, along with Renegade and Rum Nation, were the first indies I came into contact with that showed me the directions rum could go, and one of my best memories of the early rums I tried and wrote about, was the terrific PM 1980 25 year old that almost converted a dedicated single-malt lover to rums on the spot.  Bristol Spirits has faded from popular acclaim somewhat over the last five years or so, as new, young and aggressive little indies from all over Europe claimed market share and eyeballs of social media, yet they never went away, and their bright and simple labels have been a fixture at many a rumfest where I skulked around, and I’ve never actually had a bad one from the stable.

Bristol buys barrels like everyone else, trades them and exchanges them and sources stuff here and there, does some tinkering, blending and ageing of their own, holds on to stock they like, bottles stuff they think is ready. With respect to this Venezuelan rum, in my opinion, they hit the sweet spot, because it’s very ready. 

This is a rum that defies expectations (especially mine), and is one of the best Latin/Spanish heritage-style rums of my recent memory – in fact, it forces a reconsideration of what these distilleries can do, if juice like this becomes the norm rather than the exception it currently is. The strength is near-perfect, the notes shimmer in simple harmonies that speak of subtle and elegant arrangements which you can almost, but not quite, sense. There’s not a whole lot of oomph going on — consider it a serene chamber piece, not a symphony — and the level of complexity exhibited by a Hampden, for example, is not in evidence. Yet somehow it goes beyond all that, and at the end, it works, it tastes great and you enjoy it, and isn’t that what counts?

(#928)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Distillery

The producer noted on the label is stated as being “Destileria Sofa” which seems straightforward enough, except that you’ll never find a distillery of that name in Venezuela (and believe me, I tried).  Rum-X and various European shops make mention of it – always with respect to this very same rum and no other – and some remark it’s located in the NE of the country.  But that’s all you get.  There’s no mention of the distillery on google, reddit, wikidot or any other resource I can consult…except for one, and so, your intrepid soused reviewer got on to Simon over at Bristol Spirits: he’s the guy who helps me out when Mr. Barrett doesn’t pick up the phone. 

Long story short, it’s a distillery that makes a certain well regarded rum possibly named after a 16th century Carmelite nun, which has an association with Bacardi that prohibits it from using its own name on independent bottlings such as Bristol’s. So something similar to the “secret distillery” which Compagnie des Indes sometimes includes on its label, or how “A Jamaican Distillery” is used on occasion to avoid complications with the useage of a name like Worthy Park or what have you.  Most of the time you’re given enough to work with, as I was, but I’ll respect the confidentiality in print and not come right out with the name.

All that aside, even though permission was given to use the name of Destileria Sofa on the label as the source for the rum, I still don’t actually know what that represents or means or where the name comes from, so if anyone knows any better, or can provide information from Venezuela, feel free to send it along and I’ll add it to these notes.


Other Notes

  • After this review went up, Mads Heitmann, who runs the Danish webshop Romhatten, commented that the rum was tested at 10-11g/L sugar which he later confirmed with Bristol Spirits. If this is so (I have an outstanding email to them) it won’t change the review, which is locked, but it would explain something of the slight voluptuousness and sweetness the rum displayed, even if not particularly unpleasant in any way.
Jul 042022
 

Photo (c) L’Homme a la Poussette on FB

Rumaniacs Review #136 | 0920

Rhum Jacsi (later named Rhum Jacksi) defies easy categorization and is a research exercise leading down several peculiar rabbit holes. All initial sources agree that the rhum was from Martinique, was made from the 1950s to the 1970s and it is usually to be found at 44% ABV (some later versions were 40%). The source / etymology of the name is not written down but is easily inferred. The distillery of origin is a mystery. The companies involved in its make are the only places one can go and that’s a sufficiently lengthy story to be split off into its own section under these brief tasting notes.

Rum-X is the only place that has any technical specifications: their entry for the rhum states it is from cane juice and done on a column still (of course any such thing as the AOC is undreamed of at this stage of rhum’s evolution), but since attribution is not provided, it’s hard to know who put that entry in, or on what basis.  That said, it’s from Martinique, so the statements are not unreasonable given its rhum-making history.  Age, unfortunately is a complete zero, as is the distillery of origin. We’ll have to accept we simply don’t know, unless someone who once worked for the brand in the 1960s and 1970s steps forward to clear matters up.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 44%

Photo (c) ebay.fr

Nose – Very herbal and grassy, and is clearly an agricole rhum from cane juice. Lots of vegetables here: carrot juice, wet grass, dark red olives, a touch of pimento, and a nice medley of lighter fruity notes – passion fruit, lime zest, yellow mangoes and an occasional flash of something deeper.  It feels better and more voluptuous over time, and I particularly like the aromas of clear citrus juice, soursop, pears, green apples and vanilla.

Palate – Much of the nose transfers seamlessly here, especially the initial tastes of crisp fruits – mangoes, ginnips, ripe apples.  Once you’re past this you also get cane sap, sugar water, a slice of lime, a bit of vanilla.  Light brininess, pears and apples follow that, balanced off by dark, ripe cherries, syrup and toffee. 

Finish – Doesn’t improve noticeably on what came before, and is medium long, but doesn’t get any worse either. Fruits, tart unsweetened yoghurt, miso soup, apple cider, sort of delicate amalgam of sweet and sour overlain with dusky notes of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch.

Thoughts – This is a rum I liked, a lot.  It’s made from cane juice, but feels deeper and richer than usual, and it reminded me of the old Saint James rhums that used to be heated to 40ºC before fermentation and distillation (in a sort of quasi-Pasteurization process). Not sure of that’s what was done here, and of course the distillery of origin is not known, but It feels half clean agricole and half molasses, and it’s all over delicious.

(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Historical details

The labels on the bottles that are now being sold (usually at auction) have the notation that it is certified by CDC. But that was just a sort of selection and verification process, guaranteed by Compagnie Dubonnet-Cinzano. Nothing in their history suggests that they — or Pernod, or Ricard who took them over — originated the brand, and so this leads us to another company mentioned on one of the bottles, that of J&S Violet (Freres), which have a far stronger claim to being the ones behind the first Jacsi rhums. 

Two brothers named Violet – Pallade and Simon – who were initially itinerant drapers, opened a small shop in the southern French town of Roussillon in 1866 (it is about 40km north of Marseille) and driven by a boom in aperitif wines, they created a blend of their own that combined red wine, mistelles and botanicals…and also quinine (perhaps they also wanted in on the sale of anti malarial drinks that would sell well in tropical colonies, though certainly their marketing of the spirit as a medicinal tonic in pharmacies alleviated problems with existing established vermouth makers as well).

This low-alcohol drink was actually called byrrh – the brothers did not invent the title, just appropriated it as their brand name – and was wildly popular, so, like Dubonnet (see below), the company grew quickly. By the 1890s they had storage facilities for 15 million litres of wine, and by 1910 they employed 750 people and distributed in excess of thirty million litres of byrrh a year – in 1935 Byrrh was France’s leading aperitif brand, apparently. Pallade and Simon passed away by the advent of the first world war, and Lambert’s sons Jacques and Simon (the J&S mentioned on the label and therefore also most likely the Jacques and Simon of the brand name) took over in 1920 – which sets the earliest possible time limit on the Jacsi brand. though I believe it to have been created some decades later.

In the post WW2 years, the demand for aperitifs faded as cognacs, brandies, whiskies and light rums surged in popularity. The Violet brothers tried to expand into other spirits at this time, and it was here, in around the mid-fifties, that we start to see the first Jacsi magazine and poster advertisements appear, which is why I can reasonably date the emergence of the Jacsi rhum brand to this time period. Like most print ads of the time, they touted blue waters, tropical beaches, lissome island women, sunshine and the sweet life that could be had for the price of a bottle. It’s very likely that stocks were bought from some broker in the great port of Marseille, just down the road, rather than somebody going to Martinique directly; and the rhums were issued at 44% even then.  

1950s Label with J& Violet Bros. Label. 44%

Alas, this did not help: sales of Byrrh continued to fall, the rhum business was constant but minimal, and in 1961, beset by internecine family squabbles over a path forward, Byrrh sold its entire business, vats, stocks and barrels, to another company involved in liqueurs and aromatic wines and aperitifs – Dubonnet-Cinzano. It is from 1961 that the “selected and guaranteed by CDC” appears on the label of Jacsi branded rhums and the “J&S Violet” quietly exits.

1961 Label – CDC mentioned

So who exactly were CDC? A bottler, certainly, though not a distillery, for these were indie / merchant bottlings, not estate ones. As noted, Jacsi rhums that have turned up for sale in the past few years, all have labels that refer to la Compagnie Dubonnet-Cinzano (CDC).  This is a firm which goes back to one Joseph Dubonnet, a Frenchman who created an aperitif modestly called Dubonnet in 1846 in response to a competition organised by the French Government to find a cordial which African legionnaires would drink and colonists could buy, that would disguise the bitter taste of the anti-malarial drug quinine (it therefore served the same purpose as the British gin and tonic in India). This was done at a time when fortified and flavoured wines and liqueurs – especially anises and absinthes – were very popular, so M. Dubonnet’s enterprise found its legs and grew into a large company in very short order.

Late 1960s label, still CDC referenced and at 44%

I could not ascertain for sure whether the Italian vermouth company Cinzano had a stake in Dubonnet or vice versa, but it strikes me as unlikely since they (Cinzano) remained a family enterprise until 1985 – and for now I will simply take the name as a coincidence, or that Dubonnet produced Cinzano under licence. CDC, then, dealt much with vermouths and such flavoured drinks, but like Byrrh, they were caught up in the decline of such spirits in the 1950s.  Their own diversification efforts and core sales were good enough to stave off the end, but by the 1970s the writing was on the wall, and they sold out to Pernod Ricard in 1976 – by then the family was ready to sell. Pernod and Ricard had just merged in 1975, and had started an aggressive expansion program, and were willing to buy out CDC to fill out their spirits portfolio, which had no vermouths of note. 

Post-1970s label for 40% version after Pernod Ricard acquisition. 40% ABV and Cusenier name.

By the 1970s, the brand name had been changed to Jacksie, and the “selected and guaranteed by CDC” moniker was retained on the label  for a while before being replaced by Cusenier, which was an Argentine spirits maker acquired at the same time by PC – that’s the last reference to the brand and the rhum that can be found. But in an interesting side note, both Dubonnet and Byrrh (now Pernod Absinthe) continue to be made in Thuir, where the facilities of Byrrh once were. Jacsi itself, however, has long since been discontinued and now exists only in these pages and the occasional auction when one goes on sale. For what it’s worth, I think they are amazingly good rums for the prices I’ve seen and the only reason they keep going for low prices is because nothing is known about them. Not any more.


 

Jun 272022
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is the largest subscription-based spirits distributor in the world, focussing primarily on whisky but also blends, bourbons, gins, cognacs and, yes, occasionally rums. It has long passed the stage of simply buying a cask here or there and releasing the subsequent bottling, but is a noted stockist and ageing warehouse in its own right, purchasing new make spirit from all over the map and barrelling it themselves. Their prime focus remains the whisky arena, no matter what sort of minor releases they do in other areas of the spirit world, which I guess is understandable given their historical mandate and membership.

That said, 2017 was a relatively good rum year for the SMWS, because that was the year that the most rums were ever issued since they first got the slightest bit serious about them (in 2011): eighteen in all, of which seven were from a single distillery – Worthy Park 1. All but one of the WP Seven derived from a series of casks laid down in 2010 and somehow most of these have made it over into my stash, which does nothing to allay Mrs. Caner’s suspicions as to how much money I spend on rums (not much, honey, honest!).

So today, we’ll be looking at R11.4, a 66.1% ABV beefcake coming off a pot still, aged six years in Europe and with an outturn of 267 bottles. I’d write a longer introduction and throw in a few other observations, but really, with both the society and the distillery being known so well, it’s hardly required nowadays.

The rum is given the usual unique Society title, which this time is actually less obscure than most: it’s called the “Tasty Treat” — though that might be stretching things (especially for those new to the rum scene). The nose, for example, instantly reminds one of the insides of a pair of sweat-infused rubber boots after a hot day spent tramping through a muddy field of freshly turned sod, before it relaxes and grudgingly provides notes of sweet acetones, nail polish and turpentine (just a bit). And if you think that’s odd, wait a while: you’ll be greeted by brine, olives, cucumbers in light vinegar paired with sashimi in pimento-infused lemon juice (I kid you not). By the time you recover, all that’s gone and all that’s left is sharp, tartly ripe fruits: apples, pears, apricots, pineapples. And a touch of orange peel.

The palate is quite hot, as can be expected from something with such a high proof point; however, letting it breathe for a few minutes so it opens up and lets the sharper alcohol fumes dissipate, mitigates that heat, and a rum of rather well balanced flavours emerge out of the chaos. The segue from the nose is seamless: first the spicy, tart, fruity notes – pineapples, pears, strawberries, cherries, yellow mangoes – followed by milder, more mellow tastes.  These are flambeed bananas, caramel, honey, almonds, walnuts, unsweetened yoghurt, vanilla, and hot black tea infused with just a touch of cinnamon and cardamom. I particularly enjoyed how it finished, long and dry, with all flavours coming onstage for a final curtain call.  Nothing new at the close, nothing original, just a succinct summation of the whole experience in a languorous fade.

The odd thing about this rum is that good as it is, strong as it is, it’s missing something of the overall punch and uniqueness of some of the earlier R11.x series, let alone Worthy Park’s own rums which I had on hand as comparators.  It’s tasty and complex enough, yet lacks the voluptuousness of the juice WP puts out the door in its estate bottlings, and jumps around the flavour wheel without the structure of R11.2 or the excellent R11.3.  Maybe that’s a factor of the European ageing, maybe it’s the single barrel, maybe it’s just a different palate, maybe it’s the relative youth. It’s just not quite … there. And so, much as I like it, I can’t quite elevate it to the status of a must-have that had to be acquired by fair means or foul: because while it’s tasty enough, it’s not quite a treat.

(#918)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Jun 092022
 

Rumaniacs Review #135 | 0914

Disregard – actually, try to forget – the label for a moment, so that the word “Navy” doesn’t send you into conniption fits. It’s an advertising thing, and exists on that label for no other reason than to draw a line between the seafaring traditions of yore, and your mind — as if somehow, by buying and drinking the rum, you are instantly transported to a noble nautical heritage stretching back centuries, with sea spray in your face, snapping sails overhead, and you line up at four bells to get your tot. I guess that’s the rum part – sodomy and the lash go mercifully unexamined (though one does wonder when some courageous Navy-rum-maker wannabe will eventually go the whole tot on the label, so to speak…but I digress).

The rum is of course not a true Navy rum. That’s just marketing garbage; it’s a standard strength blend of unspecified Caribbean components which one website generously referred to originating from “the best sugar cane” and “from the Caribbean islands of Guyana” – the very thing that always soothes my suspicions about a brand and gives me the warm and fuzzies.  It’s apparently made by a company called “The Four Bells Fine Navy Rum Co.” out of Glasgow which is almost untraceable. Consider it a contract-made third-party blend, no longer made, probably hailing from the island of Guyana. You can trust that. The label says so.

Colour – Dark gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – All the snark out of the way, I must confess it wasn’t half bad. It’s a dark brown rum, actually quite aromatic. There was molasses, wood, tannins, licorice and brine with a heavy, almost sulky attitude to the nose. Wet sawdust, caramel and honey, well-polished leather boots and some emergent lumber notes that kept getting stronger. Nothing new, nothing too complicated, lots of old faithfuls – this is almost like low-level spirituous comfort food.

Palate – Again, good: warm and simple, Molasses, polished leather, dark cherries, raisins, licorice, a smidgen of sharper tannins and some sour citrus rind. By now I kind of had a bead on the thing, so was not surprised to taste additional notes of bitter chocolate, coffee grounds, toffee and molasses, clearly young, somewhat sharp. It reminded me of cheap Canadian mixers like Young’s Old Sam (a perennial favourite of mine).  

Finish – Short, which is to be expected at 40%, a bit sweet and yet also dry, with closing points of pungent licorice, molasses and a very sweet caramel macchiato. 

Thoughts – Bells is a rum that doesn’t need to be stronger, because for all its evident youth, it’s also heavy enough and has sufficient flavours to be tried neat. It is, in that respect, completely straightforward, and clearly not looking to break boundaries and redefine genres. It’s fine as it is, within its limits, but those limits are further restricted by the lack of information provided about the rum itself, and the company that makes it. Like it or not, few taste blind, and people do tend to rate a rum based on what they know about it…or not. Here we know nothing about the rum, the blend, or the maker – and if we can’t trust the information that is provided, if only on the label, then it makes us trust what we’re tasting less, much less, and there aren’t many who would buy a rum with that kind of cloud hanging over it. 

(#914)(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • For what it’s worth, I think the blend is mostly PM out of Guyana. If there’s anything else in there, it’s a very small percentage. The back label notes it as being pot still, but who knows?
  • In British Navy tradition, the strikes of a ship’s bell were not aligned with the hour. Instead, there were eight bells, one for each half-hour of a four-hour watch – four bells is therefore halfway through any one of the Middle, Morning, Forenoon, Afternoon, Dog or First watches (good that someone knew this, because naming it “eight bells” would have been unfortunate, being used as it was to denote end of watch” or a funeral). 
  • There are other Four Bells Rums — “Four Bells” as a title does not appear to have any trademark or copyright or owned brand associated with it: several firms have made use of the title — such as one I reviewed for the Rumaniacs (from the 1970s), or another that went up for auction released by Whyte & McKay
  • There remains no current references to Four Bells as a company, or the rum outside of auction sites and a few obscure online shops. It may just be a one off brand experiment into rum dating back many decades. Rum-X comments that its production ceased in the late 1970s / early 1980s.
  • A stronger 50% version of the rum remarks that W&M have the Four Bells Fine Navy Rum Company as a subsidiary but that can’t be verified. If it is a subsidiary (they have the same address), Four Bells is not mentioned anywhere on its website or company profile, and W&M has so many other minor subsidiaries under its corporate umbrella (59) that it’s unfindable. Even the CEO’s linked in profile doesn’t tell you anything about Four Bells. White & MacKay itself does deal in spirits, and is currently a subsidiary of the Philippines-based Emperador Group which is part of Alliance Global Inc a diversified F&B/Hospitality/Real Estate conglomerate.
  • I’ve sampled this out to some friends over the years, and quite a few really liked it. It’s not a waste of money, if you find it on some dusty store shelf at a cheap price and enjoy a Guyanese style of rum. I’d rate it on par with the ED-8 or -12, though maybe less complex than either.
May 232022
 

Aside from their premium “Wild Series” line of rums with their striking black and white labels and dizzying proof points, the relatively new Danish indie Rom Deluxe also has various downmarket rum offerings. One step down from “Wild” is the Collector’s Series, originally meant to capture rums that were not quite as strong as the former but retaining much of the quality.  On the face of it and perusing the listings, I don’t honestly see much difference, however, aside perhaps in a lower price.

The subject of today’s review is the first batch of Release 3 which hails from Bellevue, which can lead to some confusion since there are three places (maybe more) with that rather common name — suffice to say it’s from Le Moule on Guadeloupe, and made by Damoiseau (see “other notes”, below). Unusually for the French islands, it’s a molasses based rum, column still, distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2021 — and so aged a whopping 23 years in a combination of both tropical and continental — at a solid 55.5% (another batch has a slightly higher proof point of 56.1%). Stats like that have the nerd brigade crossing their eyes and drooling, and not just in Denmark; with good reason, since we see such ageing from French island rums only rarely.

The rum, fortunately, did not disappoint.  The nose was middle-of-the-road complex, a Goldilocks-level symphony of just about enough, never too much and rarely too little. The nose was slightly briny, but not a Sajous level-salt wax explosion. It had fruits, but was not an ester-bomb – peaches, apples, melons, apricots, flambeed bananas.  A little smoke, a little wood, noting overbearing, and all these notes were balanced off with a pleasant melange of breakfast spices, cinnamon, vanilla, caramel and a touch of licorice.

The palate settled down a bit and continued to channel an approach that eschewed the screeching sharp vulgarity of a fishwife’s flensing knife and went with something more moderate. There was salt caramel ice cream in Irish coffee, topped with whipped cream. Vanilla and brine, stewed apples, green peas, light pineapples, peaches in syrup. Things got a little odd somewhere in the middle of all this when distinct notes of wet ashes, rubber and iodine came out.  These however, didn’t stick around long and gave way to a dry, short, crisp finish redolent of strong hot black tea (sweetened with condensed milk), acetones, nail polish, brine and a last filip of toffee.

The whole rum, the entire sipping and drinking experience, really was very good. I like to think it channelled that school of thought propounded by Hesiod and Plautus (among many others) who promoted moderation in all things (“…including moderation,” quipped Oscar Wilde centuries later). It’s tasty without overdoing it, it’s firm without bombast, assertive where needed, one of the better rums coming off the island, and honestly, one can only wonder what made Rom Deluxe relegate a rum like this to the Collector’s Series and not to the more upmarket Wilds. 

No matter.  Whatever category it’s placed in, it’s really worth checking out of it ever turns up in your vicinity. I doubt you’d be disappointed.

(#910)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Outturn 258 bottles
  • Marque GMBV
  • The label and the stats are the same on both the 55.5% R3.1 and the 56.1% R3.2, except for the strength.
  • The rum is not an agricole, given it was made from molasses; this twigged a lot of people into believing it was not from MG BEllevue…but from Damoiseau (see next comment)
  • Note on origins: Originally this review mentioned Bellevue as being “…on the small island of Marie Galante just south of Guadeloupe (other distilleries there are Pere Labat and Velier/Capovilla at Poisson, and Bielle).” However, several people alerted me to overlooked inconsistencies here, because there is Bellevue on Marie Galante, another Bellevue at Le Moule in Guadeloupe (that’s Damoiseau’s place) and a third in Sainte Rose, also in Guadeloupe (which is Reimonenq). Because such confusions had arisen before (e.g. the TBRC 1999 Bellevue) most commentators felt it was a Damoiseau rum.  I got onto Kim Pedersen at Rom Deluxe and he wrote back “…you are right about the misprint on our website. It is a Bellevue from Damoiseau 🙂 […] there has been a lot of confusion about these rums, and I can see that my text on the webpage is more misleading than informative. So I think I have to change that despite the bottles is sold out.” So that means the review’s “sources” paragraph, and my title has been changed.
May 162022
 

Two years ago I took a look at L’Esprit’s Beenleigh 5YO rum from Australia and after trying manfully to come to grips with the gasp-inducing strength of 78.1%, I got up off the floor and wrote a fairly positive review about the thing. That rum was hot-snot aggressive and not bad at all, and there I thought the tale had ended…but then came this one. And then it became clear that Steve Magarry (who was then Distillery Manager over at Beenleigh) and Tristan Prodhomme (the showrunner at L’Esprit) read my review, rubbed their hands gleefully while cackling in fiendish delight, and released something a little older, a little stronger…and a whole lot better.

The 2014 rum which was bottled in 2020, has 0.2% more proof points than the one I reviewed, clocking in at 78.3%, and it’s one year older. It remains a pot-still rum, suggesting a lurking taste bomb in waiting. On the face of it, the stats would make you take a step backwards (unless you’re the sort of person who methodically works your way through the list of 21 Strongest Rums in the World, smiling the entire time). And taking even a cautiously tiny sniff is probably best here, because the rum is lava-like, the rum is sharp, and it presents itself to your attention with all the excitement of a switched-on electric hair dryer dropped into your hot tub…while you’re in it.

The first notes to discern are ostensibly off-putting: shards of burnt rubber, rotten carrots. plus meat spoiled enough for flies to be using it for a house. Stick with it: it gets better fast once it learns to relax, and then coughs up vanilla, almonds, toffee, brown sugar, and ice cream over which has been drizzled hot caramel.  Relatively simple, yes, and it seems quite standard (except for that startling cold-open), yet somehow the nose is really quite amazing. It continues into sweet dense fruit and whipped cream over a rich cheesecake, plus leather and aromatic tobacco, cherries and syrup, and that crisp sensation of biting into a stick of celery. It works, swimmingly, even though logic and the reading of such disparate tasting notes suggests it really shouldn’t.

Nosing is one thing, but rums live or die on the taste, because you can jerk your scorched nose away a lot easier than a burnt and despoiled tongue. What’s surprising about L’Esprit’s Beenleigh is that it actually plays much softer on the palate than we have any right to expect.  There’s almost a light perfumed sweetness to it, like strawberry candy floss and bubble gum, mixed up with more salted caramel ice cream….and mango shavings.  There’s gelato, pears, apricots over which someone poured condensed milk, and it’s really spicy, yes….but completely bearable — I would not throw this thing out of bed. Plus, it channeled enough fruitiness – orange marmalade, butter chocolates and gooseberries – to provide an interesting counterpoint. And I also liked the finish – it was hot and sweet black tea, crisply and sharply heavy, and fruitily tart, and slightly bitter in a way that wasn’t really unpleasant, just lent a distinctive accent to the close.  

By now we know more about Beenleigh (see other notes, below) than we did before the pandemic, much of it due to the increasing raft of independent bottlers who have put their juice through the door (including Velier, of late – Ralfy loved their 2015 5 YO), as well as the social media presence and engagement of Steve Magarry himself. What was once a distillery known mostly to Australians, uber-geeks and obscure reviewers, has, in a remarkably short period of time, become quite celebrated for the quality of its rum. Like Bundaberg, it has started to become an icon of the antipodean rum scene, while tasting better.

A whole lot better. This is an impressively civilized overproof rum  It hums along like a beefed-up garage-tuned homemade supercar fuelled with the contents of whatever’s brewing in grandma’s bathtub, and by some subtle alchemy of selection and ageing, becomes quietly amazing. Really.  I expected rougher and nastier and uglier, feared Azog, and yet to my surprise, somehow got Legolas. 

(#908)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • Sugar cane growth had been encouraged in Queensland by the Sugar and Coffee regulations in 1864, the same year as the Beenleigh plantation was established (it was named after its founders’ home in England). Initially sugar was all it produced, though a floating boat-based distillery called the “Walrus” did serve several plantations in the area from 1869 and made rum from molasses – illegally, after its license was withdrawn in 1872, continuing until 1883 when it was beached.  Francis Gooding, one of the founders, purchased the onboard still and gained a distilling license in 1884 from which time such operations formally began in Beenleigh. Through various changes in ownership, Beenleigh as a distillery continued until 1969 when it shut down because of falling demand, then relaunched in 1972 under the ownership of Mervyn Davy and his sons; they didn’t hold on to it long and sold it to the Moran family in 1980, who in turn disposed of a controlling share to Tarac Industries in 1984. All the post-1969 owners added to the facilities and expanded the distillery’s production to other spirits, and it was finally acquired in 2003 by VOK Beverages a diversified drinks company from South Australia, in whose hands it remains.
  • Tristan confirmed that the rum is indeed all pot still distillate.
  • L’Esprit is a small independent bottler out of France, perhaps better known in Europe for its whiskies. They’ve been on my radar for years, and I remain convinced they are among the best, yet also most unsung, of the independents — perhaps because they have almost no social media presence to speak of, and not everybody reads the reviews. I also think they have some of the coolest sample bottles I’ve ever seen.
  • An unsolicited (but very welcome) sample set was provided gratis to me by the owner, Tristan Prodhomme, for Christmas 2021, perhaps because he knew of my liking for strong hooch and that I buy his stuff constantly. If we can meet next time I’m in Europe, I have to see what to do to even the scales.
May 122022
 

Sooner or later, no matter what the SMWS thought the Big Gun Rums deserving of their own Big Green Bottle were, they had to come here, to Release 7.1 of the vaunted and much ignored “R” (rum) series. By 2016 when it was put on sale for the membership, they had rums from Guyana (DDL), Jamaica (Monymusk and Longpond), Barbados (WIRD) and Trinidad (Providence)…and that was it. And even if you’re not in to rums – or weren’t, six years ago – it’s clear there’s just a whole lot missing there, which could have buffed and burnished the SMWS’s sadly lacking rum department.

However, after three years’ of zero rum outturn, perhaps somebody was finally waking up, because in that year nine rums came out, and four new distilleries were added — Nicaragua’s Flor de Cana (R8), Trinidad’s Angostura (R10), Barbados’s Foursquare (R6)…and Hampden Estate’s R7. Which is nice, though it would be hard to explain why Worthy Park was ignored (they were allocated R11 a year later), where St. Lucia’s Distillery was (and is), and why every single agricole has yet to be given a spot alongside sterling rums from points around the globe.

Well, never mind. The important thing is that they finally got around to adding one of the real and enduring stars of the rum scene, Hampden Estate, which had already and quietly started to make waves in the rum and whisky worlds via independent bottlers’ offerings and various spirits festivals (they would begin the release their own estate bottlings in 2018). Certain years of Hampden’s bulk sales always seem to come up as touchstones – 1992 was one such, with the superlative pair of the  Samaroli’s 24 YO and the 25 YO being examples of the possibilities, and 1990 and 2000 both had some pretty good rums from Berry Bros, Rum Nation, CDI, Renegade and SBS. In twelve years of constant writing, I’ve never found a Hampden dog.

This one is no exception. Distilled in 2000 and bottled in 2016 for release in 2017, it’s a 54% sixteen year old cultured bruiser with an outturn of 214 bottles, and even if it doesn’t say so, the marque is an LROK “Common Clean”, which places it in the pleasantly mid- to low-range of the  ester charts (and therefore provides you with the advantage of not requiring expensive insurance against having your face ripped off, as you would with a full-powered DOK sporting off-road tyres). It is, of course, pot still made, and aged in ex-Bourbon casks.

Just about every reviewer of SMWS rums (and even some of the whiskies) likes to repeat the old trope that they (a) find the odd names of the spirits incomprehensible and (b) ignore those peculiar tasting notes that are on the label. You can sort of see the point since “Welcome to Jamrock” is not exactly clear to those genuflecting to The Queen’s. Me, I read the entire label (including the warnings) and just smile and enjoy the sense of irreverent humour at play.  The truth is, though, the rum is weird, it is odd, and I think it took some courage to release back before Hampden gained the street cred it did after 2018, and people got more used to the profile.

Consider: the nose opens up with the scent of hot porridge to which has been added a pinch of salt and a pat of melting butter. To this is then brought caramel, toffee, and the dry smell of cracked plaster and mouldy drywall in an old and dusty house.  And then we also start getting olives in spicy vinegar, delicate flowers, cherries in syrup, figs, a little bitter chocolate, marmalade with a little red-pepper attitude – it’s oddball to a fault, it’s strange and it’s peculiarly tasty, and I haven’t even gotten to the second best thing about it. Which is the gradual intermingling of herbs, grasses, marigolds and a trace of sandalwood, with cinnamon, cumin and citrus juice, all doused with aromatic tobacco (and if this sounds like a lot, it’s because, well, it is.)

Once we get to the pour and the palate, though, the rum gets down to business, stops with the fancy stuff and hauls out the happy slapper. The good stuff slides right off and it becomes a full-out badass, starting off with new paint, medicinals, a sort of minerally tang, and the crackling flash of ozone like an electrical fire’s after-smell.  There’s the disused taste of a second hand store’s sad and expired dust-covered back shelf wares here. Paprika  and black pepper, more of that vague pimento and tobacco taste, bell peppers, chocolate oranges, strawberries, even a touch of brown sugar and toffee, plus a smorgasbord of mashed-together fruits one can no longer separate. The finish is really good, by the way – it’s fruity, estery, slightly bitter, crisp, dry and has a flirt of nail polish, oakiness, bitter chocolate, caramel and campfire ashes about it, and is one to savour.

All this, from a wrong on the wrong side of 60%.  It’s amazing, it spreads carnage in all directions, but so politely that you can’t help but love the thing, and for sure it took courage to risk releasing it as it was, because at the time Hampden was not as well known as it currently is.  Now, I have to admit that this is a rum for drinkers with some naso-glottal fortitude – solera-style fanciers, El Dorado 12 YO fans and Zacapa lovers are strongly advised to smell and sip carefully lest they be rendered comatose – yet the overall quality shines through regardless for everyone, expert, aficionado or newb alike. Even at a time when we are spoiled for choice and we can have multiple rums from single distilleries to hone our senses, there are still rums out there that shine a light on aspects of estates and producers we think we know really well, and reveal qualities we can only consider ourselves fortunate to have experienced. This is one of them.

(#907)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • The word “Jamrock” refers to Jamaican’s slang for their island which they sometimes call “de Rock” (much as Newfies do theirs), and the bottle title is also the name of a 2005 song by Damian Marley.Given the premise of the song, I like the left handed compliment it implicitly gives the rum
  • Not many others have reviewed this rum, but Rum Shop Boy also rated it high in his 2018 review (87 points). The Rum-X app averages things out at 85 points from 4 ratings (before this review gets incorporated).
  • It is assumed that the distillate matured in Europe, and was sourced via a broker, or, of course, Scheer / Main Rum.
  • For those who want more background into the SMWS, a biography and bottle list (of rums) is available.

Opinion

As I’ve remarked before, yes, sure, the Society (of which I am a card-carrying, dues-paying member) is primarily a whisky club and a whisky indie bottler and that’s where its international rep rests — but to my mind, if they are going to expand into other and interesting directions like rums, then it should be doing it right, doing it seriously, and stop farting around with a mere thirteen distilleries’ and 76 bottlings twenty years after issuing the first one (as a comparison, in their very second year the Society bottled from the 16th whisky distillery and was already approaching a hundred separate releases). The inconsistency of releases, with occasional years’ long gaps, is moving out of amateur hour and into outright embarrassing and does the society no favours at all.

A regular and consistently applied schedule of top quality rum releases, however minimal, is not an impossibility in this day and age (especially if they were to hire me to source it for them, ha ha). And if it is a big deal, if new and exciting distilleries and well-regarded older ones can’t be identified and sourced, why bring in The Global Rum Ambassador on retainer as an adviser? The Society can and should do better with its ancillary releases, because if it can’t, then it should bite the bullet, admit failure (or lack of interest and expertise), and just cease altogether instead of keeping hopeful rum fans strung along. This is a huge potential new fan base they’re ignoring, at a time when more and more people are turning disgustedly away from the prices and rarity of top end whiskies. I simply don’t get the indifference.


 

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 released – they 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 elements – cherries, 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 peaches – but 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 coverage – she 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

Mar 202022
 

Rumanicas Review R-133 | 0892

There was a lot of rum floating around Italy in the post-WW2 years, but not all of it was “real” rum; much was doctored miscellaneous plonk based on neutral alcohol. I tried some a few times, but a brief foursome with a trio of Italian Rum Fantasias from the 1950s, carelessly indulged in back when I was young and irresponsible, left me, as all such things do, with little beyond guilt, a headache and a desperate need for water. Even way back then — when I knew less but thought I knew more — I was less than impressed with what those alcoholic drinks had to offer. I’m unsure whether this rum qualifies as one such, but it conforms to the type enough that mention at least has to be made.

The company of the Antoniazzi Brothers operated out of the small northeast-Italian town of Conegliano, in the county of Treviso. Initially my researches showed they were in existence in the 1950s, which suggests they were formed in the post war years as spirits merchants. But it became clear that not only had they been active in 1926 as grappa makers – the region is famous for the product, so that makes sense – but a document from 1950 shows on the letterhead that they had been founded in 1881.  Who the founder was, who the sons were and the detailed history of the company will have to wait for a more persevering sleuth.

Still, here’s what we can surmise: they probably started as minor spirits dealers, specialising in grappa and expanded into brandies and cognacs. In the 1950s onwards, as Italy recovered from the second World War, they experimented with Fantasias and liqueurs and other flavoured spirits, and by the 1970s their stable had grown quite substantially: under their own house label, they released rum, amaretto, brandy, sambuca, liqueurs, gin, scotch, whiskey, grappa, anise and who knows what else. By the turn of the century, the company had all but vanished and nowadays the name “Antoniazzi” leads to legal firms, financial services houses, and various other dead ends…but no spirits broker, merchant, wine dealer or distiller. From what others told me, the spirits company folded by the 1980s.


Colour – Straw yellow

Strength – 42%

Nose – Very light and floral, with bags of easy-going ripe white fruits; not tart precisely, or overly acidic; more creamy and noses like an amalgam of unsweetened yoghurt, almonds, valla essence and white chocolate. There’s also icing sugar and a cheesecake with some lemon peel, with a fair bit of vanilla becoming more overpowering the longer the rum stays open. 

Palate – Floral and herbal notes predominate, and the rum turns oddly dry when tasted, accompanied by a quick sharp twitch of heat. Tastes mostly of old oranges and bananas beginning to go, plus vanilla, lemon flavoured cheesecake, yoghurt, Philly cheese and the vague heavy bitterness of salt butter on over-toasted black bread.

Finish – Nice, flavourful and surprisingly extended, just not much there aside from some faint hints of key lime pie, guavas, green tea and flambeed bananas.  And, of course, more vanilla.

Thoughts – It starts well, but overall there’s not much to the experience after a few minutes. Whatever Jamaican-ness was in here has long since gone leaving only memories, because funk is mostly absent and it actually has the light and crisp flowery aromatic notes that resemble an agricole. The New Jamaicans were far in the future when this thing was made, yet even so, this golden oldie isn’t entirely a write off like so many others from the era.

(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • Hat tip to Luca Gargano and Fabio Rossi, and a huge thank you to Pietro Caputo – these gentlemen were invaluable in providing information about the Antoniazzi history.
  • Hydrometer gauged this as 40.1% ABV which equates to about 7-8g/L of adulteration.  Not much, but something is there.
  • Source estate unknown, still unknown, ageing unknown

“Fantasias”

Rhum Fantasias were to be found in the 1950s through the 1970s as the Italian versions of Vershnitt or Inlander (domestic) rums such as had been popular in Germany in the 1800s and early 1900s (they may have existed earlier, but I never found any). This class of spirits remains a brisk seller in eastern Europe: Tuzemak, Casino 50º and Badel Domaci, as well as today’s flavoured spirits, are the style’s modern inheritors.  They were mostly neutral alcohol – vodka, to some – to which some level of infusion, flavouring or spices were added to give it a pleasant taste. To the modern drinker they would be considered weak, insipid, over-flavoured, over-sugared, and lacking any kind of rum character altogether. Fifty years ago when most people didn’t even know about the French islands’ rums, Jamaica and Barbados were the epitome of ‘exotic’ and Bacardi ruled with a light-rum-mailed first, they were much more popular.


 

Mar 102022
 

For what seems our entire lifetime, Appleton was the first name in Jamaican rum. They gained their accolades by not being too extreme, and producing a tasty series of blended pot-column-still rums that didn’t push boundaries too much, too far, or too often.  But by the second decade of the 21st century this was all changing and stronger, forceful, pot-still only rums were being issued at cask strength by various independent bottlers; turbo-charging that process which I term the Rise of the New Jamaicans. 

One of the early adherents of WP was the Genoese company of Velier, which had been sniffing around Jamaica since 2013 or so, and finally managed to buy some aged (and unaged) stock to become part for its deservedly well-regarded Habitation Velier line. Few, however, manage or bother to try the entire range. There are many reasons for that: the wide array of choices available to consumers these days; the many other excellent Velier bottlings; and since there are so many HVs, people not unnaturally gravitate towards their favourite countries’ rums (the series is all about pot still expressions from many rum producers around the world) rather than fruitlessly attempt to get them all. Jamaica is probably the most popular of the set, which is no surprise, since of the 40+ releases made so far, more than half are from that island, and most of those are from Hampden (if you count the special limited editions) with which Velier has a distribution arrangement.

That said, eight other Jamaicans are from Worthy Park and are a tantalising mix of unaged white street brawlers and slightly more refined but no less loutish hoods aged ten years or so. This particular version — ensconced in the usual flat dark bottle so reminiscent of flatties my generation stuffed in their back pockets to nip at during the hot drowsy Caribbean days — came from the very beginning of Worth Park’s re-emergence as a rum maker in 2005, when they installed their new Forsyths double retort pot still at the distillery. The rum was aged ten years, and bottled at 57.8% ABV in 2015, which dates it from the very first generation of the HV releases and it remains a really good rum to this day (if it can be found).

What distinguishes the rum and what was so unusual for its time when high esters were not yet “a thing” is its rather sharply voluptuous fruitiness.  While it does start off with dates, raisins, brine and pimentos in cane vinegar, that changes. After five minutes or so, it exudes sharpish mix of apples, pears, green grapes, ginnips, soursop, kiwi fruit, and strawberries, all marinated in lemon juice, which gives it an initial aroma equivalent to the scolding of harridan’s whiplash tongue (though I mean that in a good way). Five minutes after that and you get flowers, sweet honey, a touch of lilac and a dusting of cinnamon, really quite nice.

On the palate is the promise of all those tastes that would make the New Jamaicans the rums du jour a few years down the road.  The profile is sharp, sweet, sour, estery, clean, everything we want from a Jamaican funk delivery system. Apples, unripe mangoes, green apples, green grapes, red currants, pineapples slices, citrus juice…the word gilttering is not entirely out of place to describe how it feels. What’s also nice is the secondary wave of notes that we come to: brown sugar, light molasses, honey, caramel, toffee, blancmange – still, it’s the fruits that carry the show and remain the core of the whole thing.  The finish is completely solid: fruity, citrus-y, long and spicy, and even throws in a last touch of sawdust and dusty papers as if having a last laugh at our expense.

What a rum this is indeed. It’s complex, tasty, aromatic, challenging and requires some work but few are those who don’t appreciate at least some aspects of how it presents after the session is over. Although Worthy Park has won rightful acclaim for its own branded rums like Rum Bar and the various estate editions released from 2017, it could be argued that the ease with which they colonised (new and old) consumers’ minds was somewhat helped by all the previous bulk exports that had been snapped up by the indies who came before, like Compagnie des Indes (who released classics like the really quite remarkable 2007 and 2008 WP rums, also in 2015). 

These early issues presaged and announced the subsequent emergence of estate rums that allowed Worthy Park to become the force on the world rum stage it is now.  But you know, whether some new indie or Velier or anyone else came up with this rum, doesn’t really matter – it effortlessly skates past and beyond such ruminations.  It’s simply a damned fine rum, released by a house that knows how to make ’em and another that knows how to pick ‘em. Worthy Park distillate really does go down well, at any age, and sometimes it doesn’t matter who puts out the juice, as long as what’s inside the bottle works.  What’s inside this one does work, very very well.

(#890)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • Aged completely in Jamaica. All the usual statements about no additives or messing around apply.
  • Part of the first year’s release set of Habitation Velier (2015)
Feb 212022
 

Photo (c) Christopher Sackl, used with permission

The Rum Depot is a shop in Berlin that specialises in, you guessed it, rum, and Dirk Becker, the owner, is the man behind the Berlin Rum Festival. I try to go there any time I’m in the city and have the time, because I have fond memories of my times wandering around the joint: it was the first such dedicated rum emporium I had ever visited, way back in 2012 when I had been so proud of my 50+ rum reviews (hush, ye snickerers). And aside from being introduced to Velier, Courcelles and a raft of other exclusive rums such as I could only have dreamed about in Calgary at the time, there was a whole table full of opened bottles one could sample at will.  Which I did, and do.

On this occasion it was Christmas 2021 and COVID had not yet died away so protocols were in place, but once again I was treated with patience and courtesy by Charlos and Fabian (who endured my persnickety-ness and constant questions with good cheer), and occasionally Dirk himself, when he had a free moment. At one point they brought out three bottles they intended to release in early 2022 and invited me to try them, and you’d better believe I jumped at the chance (the full story, which I started writing and clocked in at a thousand words before I put the brakes on, is better than this dry account suggests, but is too long to relate here without derailing the review completely).

Though the selections were all quite impressive, one rum from the trio was really quite a catch just on its specs, I thought: a year 2000 21 YO Barbados pot still rum from Mount Gay. We’ve been fortunate enough to try pot still rums from Barbados before, of course: Habitation Velier’s Foursquare and Last Ward releases remain two of the best known – but another one is always welcome, especially from Mount Gay, which is more noted for its blends than this kind of thing (one wonders how Dirk snapped up the barrel, and why nobody else did, but never mind).

Jacked up to 54.4%, it certainly had a lot of pedigree to live up to, and the initial nose was at pains to demonstrate the fact that it wasn’t messing around and intended to wow you from the get-go.  It was very intense, very deep and – I can think of no better word – juicy. Extremely bright aromas of honey, nougat, caramel and aromatic flowers billowed right out and enveloped the senses in a rich tangle. Some funkiness of pineapple and strawberries, salt caramel, tobacco and leather added to what was a really nice nose.

The taste was no slouch either. Very little sharpness, just solid intensity.  Honey was the first note to be discerned, tawny, raw honey dripping from the comb. Toffee, chocolate, molasses, salt caramel ice cream, a slight briny hint.  Then the aromatic tobacco and well-polished leather came onstage, followed by black cake, a mixed smorgasbord of fruits — strawberries, cherries, raisins, lychees, and even a plum or two.  There’s a touch of molasses and oak at the back end, complementing a solid finish that is musky, fruity, tart and tawny all at once, and lasts a good long time.  Which is great, since there’s not much of this stuff available and we want to savour what we do manage to sample.

Rum Club – the private bottling arm of the ‘Depot – selected and issued a really good rum here, and it adds to the reputation of Barbados as a rum producing nation. The real question it raises with me is this: with respect to pot still rums, why don’t we see more of them? Barbados has elevated its status over the last decade as the purveyors of excellent pot-column blends, which is completely fine, but I think there’s a niche to be explored here that is under-represented, both in the literature and on the shelves of our favourite rum stores. Only 292 bottles of this rum were issued to the public, most of them likely snapped up in Germany; after sampling it blind and then again knowing what it was, I thought it could serve as an indicator that there’s still lots more good stuff to come from the island, and I’d love to get more just like it. Lots more.

(#886)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Feb 072022
 

This is one of those times where I’ll circle back and fill in the detailed background later, since even a summary of more than three centuries of company life will still probably put the disinterested to sleep. 

In brief, Berry Bros & Rudd (or BBR) is a London-based wine and spirits enterprise (they have branches in several other countries) who dabble in their own bottlings of rum from time to time.  They were among the first indies to capture my attention back in 2012 or so with an extraordinary 1975 Port Mourant, but nowadays their star shines somewhat less brightly and few speak of their rums with the reverence they once were thought to command.

This rum sort of exemplifies why: it’s a rum from Haiti about which just about nothing can be found and is listed only in a few online shops which provide a bare minimum of detail.  It’s never come up for auction, is not on Rum-X’s database and nobody has reviewed it as far as I can tell. Neither Single Cask Rum nor Barrel Aged Thoughts, in their company bios, have even listed it, but then, nobody has a complete listing of BBR’s rums.

Based on the label and other sources, it is distilled in Haiti in 2004 – this of course immediately implies Barbancourt, the major and most renowned rum maker on the half-island and the only one who exports bulk to Europe where BBR would have picked up a few barrels.  As was customary a decade ago, the rum was released at 46% ABV and is column distilled, though whether molasses based or deriving from cane juice is unknown (I have little faith in the spelling convention of “rum” versus “rhum” on the label to determine the source).

That out of the way, what’s it like? It is, on initial nosing, quite pleasantly fruity and musky…but not herbal or grassy (suggesting but not confirming a molasses origin). Apples, raisins, dates and black grapes are the initial scents, followed by dark red cherries and a lingering ripe pineapple background that remains perceptible throughout. Once the rum settles down – it’s a bit thin at 46% and from time to time bites like an underfed, rice-eating, flea-bitten mongrel if one approaches it carelessly – there is a deeper note of honey, light molasses, pencil shavings and cream cheese on sourdough bread.

Some of this carries over to the palate, but not all. It tastes nicely of brine and a lightly salted trail mix of cashews and peanuts. Tart flavours of gherkins and sweet pickles creep in, leading to a firmer melange of crisp fruits and cough syrup (!!). Green grapes, unripe peaches and pears, some light orange zest and citronella. It feels watery at times, but there’s enough strength here to let more complex flavours seep through if one is patient.  The weakest point is the finish, which is less salty, sweeter and has an easy sort of fruit salad vibe going on. It’s short, breathy, easy and not too exceptional at this point: the nose remains the best part of it.

So, not a bad rum, but conversely, nothing to really write home about either.  It’s simply a competently assembled rum with no points of distinction and few weaknesses for which one might mark it down – maybe some more ageing, a few extra points of proof, would have elevated it. It’s too good to be anonymous blah, while unfortunately not staking out any tasting territory in your mind which would cause you to seriously recommend it to your friends as something they would have to try (as attends, say, every Hampden or WP rum ever made). Maybe it’s all down to BBR not having a serious rum department or in-house expertise to really select some good juice, but the upshot is that their 9YO Haitian rum from 2004 is no undiscovered masterpiece, just a forgotten rum that no-one will miss if it stays that way.

(#882)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Historical Notes

With the explosion of new and nimble independent bottlers on the European scene, some of the original bottlers we used to know a mere decade ago are fading from view, which is unfortunate.  They, these older ones, kept the flame of pure rums burning at a time when the world was glutted with anonymous blends and pointed the way to the possibilities of the rumworld we live in now. That said, I was never entirely free of the suspicion that most of these outfits had their origins in, and kept their love for, whisky as their primary focus — and rums were, at best, an afterthought. Wilson & Morgan, Cadenhead, Moon Imports, Samaroli, BBR and others, all started bottling whisky before they moved into the good stuff – but whatever the case is, they were and remain the inheritors of the merchant bottlers of old who serviced the distribution of rum around the empires they served, many of which were bought out or went under or are long out of business…and all but unknown now.

Such merchant bottlers had their origins in distributorships and spirits shops, and probably the oldest of these is the firm of Berry Brothers & Rudd in London, which, as all rum geeks are probably aware, was founded in 1698 by the surviving wife of the prematurely deceased, sadly unmissed and completely unknown Mr. Bourne, who opened a general grocery shop in that year with (one assumes inherited) funds sufficiently impressive for her to take premises opposite St. James Palace. The intricacies of the family line and business development over the centuries are too complex for this review, but by the early 1800s the shop had already moved into wine distribution and by the beginning of the 1900s was exclusively a wine and spirits merchant, bottling their own wines, sherries and whiskies well into the 20th century and expanding carefully, but globally. 

Rums seem to have been issued by BB&R on something of an irregular, ad hoc basis and the only ones predating the modern era that I know of, are a Jamaican rum from the 1960s which was auctioned in 2018, and another even rarer one from 1947/1948 that went under the hammer in February 2020 both at prices none of us can afford. Rums began to appear in the portfolio as a semi-regular thing in 2002, with a Long Pond 16YO from 1986 and a Versailles 1985 17 YO; these early editions were characterised by a simple, almost Edwardian-era label design ethos which (along with the bottle style) has now been changed several times over. Some of their modern bottlings have become very sought after, like the Jamaica 1977 or the Port Mourant 1975, but somehow the series as a whole never scaled the bar which others set so high, never got that cachet of “must have” attached to their initial work. Probably this was because of inconsistent releases and equally inconsistent quality…some were good, some were not, and some were simply okay. 

BBR continues to release rums from time to time, with a puzzling lack of publicity which may also be part of the reason their visibility is less than it could have been.  Nothing about their rum shelf is particularly impressive: not the selections, not the disclosure of what they do have, not the variety. And while they have expanded the original “Berry’s Own Selection” to now include an “Exceptional Cask” and a “Classic Range” series – sometimes distinguished, I suggest, more by price and rarity than by quality – there are never very many listed for sale or auction and no serious must-have rums to excite the cognoscenti as, say, Nobilis or Rom Deluxe does.  It remains to be seen whether the company wants to increase its footprint of well-made, well-aged rums from around the world, harness the rum-geek crowd’s enthusiasms into new and exciting ranges of young or aged expressions…or just be content to follow everyone else and remain a top tier wine and spirits merchant with a third tier rum selection.


 

Jan 242022
 

The Plantation 3-Star rum is part of the “bar classics” range of Plantation’s stable, which includes well-regarded rums like the OFTD, Original Dark and Stiggin’s Fancy.  Of course the whole “3 star” business is just marketing – it’s meant to symbolize three stars of the Caribbean rumworld whose rums from a part of the blend: Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados.  This conveniently elides the stars of Guyana, Martinique, St. Lucia and many others, but ok, whatever.  Ditto for the “World Best Cellar Master” – uh huh. Still, Plantation’s webpage for the rum provides a nice level of detail for those who want more depth on what’s in there: briefly, two of the components hail from Barbados, meaning WIRD (pot and column still) and Trinidad, which is Angostura (column only), but it’s never been clear which Jamaican distillery made their part. Longpond, perhaps, since Ferrand has an association there 1.

Taking it for a spin and trying it, ten years after its initial release — and after deliberately seeking it out — I honestly wondered what the fuss was about and why people kept singing ecstatic hosannas to the thing (when not aggressively pressing me to try it). The nose, for example, struck me as too faint (if reasonably interesting): some vague hints of glue, burnt rubber, smoke, leather, a touch of tar, bananas and ethanol.  I had to wait a long time for secondary aromas of pears, white guavas, papaya, and sugar water to emerge, and there wasn’t much of that to speak of here either. It seemed to degenerate into a lightly fruity watery alcohol rather than develop serious chops and character.

The palate was much nicer. It remained delicate and faint, but there was more to work with, somehow.  Much of the nose translated over well (usually the reverse is the case, but here it was just…well, firmer). Sweet ethanol flavoured sugar water with a touch of flowers, pears and very ripe yellow thai mangoes.  Watermelons and a strawberry infused water.  Cane sap, some unsweetened yoghourt and perhaps a green grape or two, but if this thing had any serious Jamaican in here, it was taking a serious step back, because the funk some mentioned wasn’t there for me. There was some shy and retiring hints of nuts, vanilla and aromatic tobacco on the finish, which was nice enough…it’s an easy and reasonably tasty alcoholic shot to pour into whatever mix one has on hand, and can be sipped, I suppose, though it’s a bit too sharp for that, IMHO.

The wider rumiverse’s opinions on the rum vary, either falling into the camp of those who have no problems with a cheap cocktail rum being dosed, or those who do (the latter are usually the same ones who have issues with Plantation for other reasons). Few remark on the taste of the thing, but solely on that basis and ignoring all other aspects of the company, my own feeling is that it’s really not that special. After trying it (twice) I must simply say that while it’s a decent dram, it’s hardly spectacular, and though it got really good scores back at the time it was introduced, to chirp its praises now when so much other, better stuff it out there, is simply unrealistic. 

(#878)(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

Jan 162022
 

DOK.  The initials which have now become a word, have such a sense of menace.  They have all the unfriendly finality of an axe thunking into an executioner’s block. And perhaps this was deliberate, because a DOK rum (I give a delicious shiver) is at the trembling razor’s edge of esterland, 1600 g/hlpa, something so torrid and intense that it is used to calm down cask strength neutral alcohol before being sold to Scotch lovers, and those only now getting into rum.

Richard Seale is famous for his exasperation about DOK-weenies and fangeeks who wax rhapsodic about these things, because he knows that such a high concentration of esters was historically there for a reason – not to drink neat or rack up drinking brownie points, but to act as a flavorant to pastries, perfumes and cheap European rums in the 19th and 20th centuries (some of these uses continue). The taste of such a rum is so intense that it serves no sane purpose as a drink in its own right, and even in a mix it’s akin to playing with fire if one is not careful.

But of course, nothing will dishearten these spirited Spartans, for they, like your faithful reviewer, are way too witless for fear, and it’s a badge of honour to always get the rum that’s the biggest and baddest with the mostest even when the biggest ‘n’ baddest Bajan says otherwise: and so when one gets a DOK through fair means or foul, well, it’s gonna be tried, screaming weenies be damned.  And I gotta be honest, there’s some masochism involved here as well: can I survive the experience with my senses intact and my sanity undisturbed? Does the Caner like rum?

Judge for yourself.  I poured the pale yellow rum into my glass – carefully, I don’t mind telling you — and took a prudent and delicate sniff. The strength was manageable at 66.4%, and I’ve had stronger, of course, but I was taking no chances.  Good idea, because right away I was assaulted by the squealing laydown of a supercar’s rubber donuts on a hot day.  The tyres seemed to be melting on the road, the rubber scent was that strong. Man, there was a lot to unpack here: porridge with sour milk and salted butter, sharp as hell. Creamy not-quite tart herbal cheese spread over freshly toasted yeasty bread. Glue, paint, turpentine, more rubber, varnish, acetones, the raw cheap nail polish scent of a jaded Soho streetwalker, and still it wasn’t done.  Even after five minutes the thing kept coughing up more: sharp fruits, pineapple, strawberries, ginnip, gooseberries, plus paprika, basil, dill, and red olives.

And the taste, well, damn.  Sour milk in a latte gone bad, plus glue, paint, acetones and melting rubber.  Gradually, timorously, meekly, some fruits emerged: raisins, pears, unripe strawberries, pineapples, green mangoes, ripe cashews.  Oh and olives, leather, brine and coffee grounds, more fruit, and I was thinking that half of me wanted to shudder, stop and walk away, but the other half was mordantly curious to see how long this level of crazy could be maintained before the thing ran out of gas.  Truth to tell, not much longer, because after about half an hour it seemed to think I had been punished enough, and the intense pungency drained away to a long, spicy, dry but tasty finish – I could give you another long list of finishing notes, but at the end it simply repeated the beats of what had come before in a sort of crisp and spicy summation that left nothing unrepeated.

Look, I’m not making up these tasting notes in an effort to impress by establishing the extent of my imaginative vocabulary, or how complex I think the rum is.  Therein lies a sort of pointless insanity by itself. The fact is that those sensations are there, to me, and I have to describe what I am experiencing. That the rum is a smorgasbord of sensory impressions is beyond doubt – the question is whether it works as it should, whether it provides a good tasting and drinking experience, or whether it’s just a pointless exercise in dick measuring by an independent who wants to establish a rep — somewhat like Rom Deluxe did when they released their own DOK at 85.2%, remember that one?  As with that rum, then, I have to respond with a qualified yes

Because it works…up to a point. 

The issue with the rum and others like it — and this is an entirely personal opinion — is that there is simply too much: it overwhelms the senses with an undisciplined riot of aromas and flavours that fail to cohere.  Admittedly, the boys in Germany chose well, and the Letter of Marque is not quite on the level of crazy that attended the jangling cacophony of the Wild Tiger…but it’s close, and here I suspect the ageing did take some of the edge off and allow a bit of smoothening of the raw indiscipline that the Rom Deluxe product sported so happily.  Too, the strength is more bearable and so it works slightly better from that perspective as well.  

And so, I have to give this the score I think it deserves, which is a bit on the high side, perhaps. It sure took courage for the Rum Cask company to release it onto an unsuspecting public, and there’s a lot of interesting aspects to this Jamaican rum: if one dilutes a bit, tastes carefully and with attention, I think a lot can be taken away.  Most people aren’t like that though, and I suspect that if an average Joe was given this without warning, he might grudgingly praise the thing, but would hardly be likely to spring for a bottle the way a committed Jamaican rum fan would. Unless, of course, he wanted a rum that was demonstrably one of the the biggest, bestest and mostest.

(#875)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Letter of Marque is a brand of the Rum Cask indie bottler in Germany
  • The rum was selected by bloggers Rumboom, Single Cask Rum and Barrel Aged Thoughts.
  • Distilled in 2009, this was some of Hampden’s first output laid down to age, when they reopened that year
  • 300-bottle outturn
  • A “Letter of Marque,” once called a privateering commission, was a document issued by a Government (usually the crown) during the Age of Sail to authorize a private person to attack ships of another nation with which the Government was currently at war.  Essentially it legalized piracy by outsourcing naval guerilla operations to mercenaries — privateers or corsairs — under the mantle of the national interest. The 1856 Paris Declaration eventually ended the practice of privateering and the issuance of such letters worldwide.
  • On Rum-X, some thirty or so DOK rums are listed; clearly, whether we like it or not, these high-ester funk delivery systems are here to stay and as long as they get made, they will get sold, and drunk, and boasted about.