Mar 302021
 


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Feb 082021
 

Rumaniacs Review #123 | #800

Here is a rum that defies easy tracing. It predates us all, and almost everything about it remains educated conjecture and guessworkeven the name, assuming it has one. It was bought by the German firm of Gerb. Hoff Weinkeller in 1941 from Wilhelm Roggemann in Hamburg (essentially that’s what the typewritten text on the label saysWR were wine and spirits merchants, no longer extant); Rene van Hoven, in whose collection the bottle currently sits gathering yet more dust, told me that all the research he had done on tax stamps, invoices, bills of sale and assorted other paper chases, suggested it had been bottled in the pre-WW2 years at least a decade earlier. I’ll take that on faith until I can find out different.

Also, it supposedly came from Jamaica, was bottled in a Burgundy wine bottle and rated 60% ABV. I was told that no, it is not a verschnittthat is, a neutral alcohol to which a high-ester Jamaican rum was added for kick, as was the practice in Germany and Eastern Europe back then. At that strength it might have equally been anoriginal overseas pure rum” (as the label claims)…or not. Don’t ask which distillery made it and inquiring after the age is pointless. Sorry, but sometimes, that’s all we have, and we take what we can get.

ColourDull amber

StrengthSupposedly 60% ABV per the label

NoseRubber and plasticine, dusty books. In fact it reminds me of an ancient second hand or antique bookstore where the aroma of glue from the bindings, and the delicate disintegrating yellow pages of unread tomes, pervades the whole place. Lots of fruits break in after some minutesstrawberries, bubble gum, fanta, oranges, overripe peaches, and also honey, molasses and a rich lemon meringue pie. It felt hot and heavy but somehow managed to avoid real raw ethanol sharpness, for which one can only be grateful

PalateHot, spicy, creamy, lots of stuff going on here. Like the amazing Harewood House rum from a century and a half earlier, the taste is extraordinarily vibrant. Molasses, damp brown sugar, soursop and unsweetened yoghurt, orange peel, sweet soya sauce. And fruits, lots of fruitsyellow sweet mangoes, kiwi, pomegranates, peaches, yummy. Did I mention a dusting of cinnamon and cumin?

FinishMedium long, quite aromatic. Gets a bit rougher here, but the fruits and spices noted above see this thing out in fine style. An additional light layer of coconut and lemon zest in there, perhaps.

Thoughts“It’s very alive,” remarked Rene to me, and I could not but agree. The storage had evidently been impeccable, because that same week I’d tried another 1930s rum (from Martinique) of which less care had been taken, and it had been a complete disaster. This rum is not so much a JamaicanI would not pretend to you that it screamed the island’s name as I tried itas simply a very good, very sprightly rum that managed to stay awake and not fall flat. And it demonstrated that even back then in the rum dark ages, perhaps it wasn’t really all that dark, and they were making some pretty good juice then too. Wish I knew more about it.

(84/100)


Other Notes

  • If you’re ever at a rumfest where Rene Van Hoven is hanging his hat, I strongly recommend you go pay his booth a visit. The man has some very old rums from way back when, that are just fascinating to try; and his background research is usually spot on. Check out the website, and his instagram page.
Dec 232020
 

Here’s my personally imaginative take on how the (fictitious) Board of Blenders from Consorcio Licorero Nacional (CLN) presented their results to the good folks at Rum of Panama Corp (registered in Panama in 2016) about the rum they intended to make for them at Las Cabras in Herrera.

“We will make a true Panamanian Rum to represent the year the Canal was opened in 1914!” they say, high fiving and chest bumping themselves in congratulation at this perspicacious stroke of marketing genius.

“But CLN is originally from Venezuela, isn’t it?” comes the confused question. ”Shouldn’t you perhaps pay homage to something from there?

“The company is now registered in Panama, in San Miguelito, so, no.” The answer is confident. “The rum will be made at a Panamanian distillery. We will make it appeal to the masses by making it a column still light rum, but also appeal to the connoisseur crowd and beef it up to a higher strength.”

Ersatz Venezuelan patriotism is forgotten. This smells like sales. “Great! How much?

“41.3%” they reply, with the quietly confident air of “it’s settled” that Joe Pesci showed when he told Mel Gibson that a banker’s fee of 2% was standard, in Lethal Weapon II.

Brows knit. “Shouldn’t that be stronger?

A twitch of moustaches, a shake of heads. This heresy must be swiftly extirpated. “That might scare away the masses, and they’re the ones we want buying the rum, as they’re the ones who move cases.”

“Ah.”

“And look, we will age it, a lot!” say the blenders brightly

Heads perk up. “Oh wonderful. We like ageing. How long, how old?

“15 to 22 years.”

“That’s not bad. Except, of course, we’ve only been in business for four years, so…”

“Oh no worries. Nobody will check. There’s that one reviewing doofus in the Middle East who might, but nobody really reads his blog, so you’re safe. And, on our website, we’ll say it’s a rum aged “up to 22 years”, so that will give you no end of credibility. People love rums aged more than twenty years”

“Isn’t that calledwelllying?

“Not at all. It’s a blend of rums, we’ll have aged rums between those years in the blend, we’ll never say how much of each, so it’s completely legit. Better than saying 15 years old, don’t you think?

“Wellif you say so.”

Paternal confidence is displayed. “You can’t lose: the rum is light, it’s old, the age is unverifiable but completely true, it has a cool name and date as part of the title, it’s sweet, and the production is so complex nobody will figure out who really is behind it, so nobody gets blamed…” More bright smiles all around, followed by toasts, handshakes, and the go-ahead is given.


Or so the story-teller in me supposes. Because all jokes and anecdotes aside, what this is, is a rum made to order. Ron 1914 touts itself as being a 15-22 YO blended rum,“Distilled in the province of Herrera and bottled at the facilities of CLN in Panama City.” CLN was formed in 1970 by five Venezuelan businessmen and deals with manufactured alcoholic products, though nowhere I’ve searched is there a reference to a distillery of their own. In this case it’s clear their using Las Cabras, proud possessor of a multi-column industrial still that churns out mucho product on demand.

Now, that distillery has its own brand of rum, the Cana Brava, but also makes rum for clients: therefore brands like Zafra, Nativo, Grander note themselves as being from therein that, then, the distillery operates like Florida Distillers who makes the completely forgettable Ron Carlos series of rums I’ve written about before.

And, unfortunately, made a rum equally unlikely to be remembered, because nosing it, your first thought is likely to be the same as mine: lights on, nobody home. There’s just so little going on here, and that’s not a function of the standard strength. There is basically some faint molasses, vanilla, a few unidentifiable fruitsnot overripe, not tart, just fleshy and sweetand an odd aroma of icing sugar. And a whiff of caramel and molasses, though don’t quote me on thatyou might miss it.

The taste is also completely uninspiring. It’s so soft and easy you could fall asleep in it, and again, there’s too much vanilla, ice cream, sugar water and anonymous fruit here to lend any kind of spirit or style to the experience. Yes, there’s some caramel and molasses at the back end, but what good does that do when all it represents is a sort of “good ‘nuff” standard profile we’ve had a jillion times before in our journey? And the finish is just like that, short, breathy, a touch of mint, caramel, vanilla, and again, just a snoozefest. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Ron 1914 was a low end spiced rum, and, for those of you who may be in doubt, that’s not a compliment.

The purpose of a rum like this escapes me. No, honestly. What’s it for? In this day and age, why make something so soft and anonymous? It doesn’t work well as a mixer (a Bacardi white or gold could just as easily do the job for less, if a cost-effective alcoholic jolt was all you were after) and as a sipper, well, come on, there’s way better value out there.

It’s always been a thing of mine that a good Spanish-style ron doesn’t have to enthuse the cask strength crowd with a wooden still in its DNA, or by squirting dunder and funk from every porebecause knowledgeable drinkers of its own style will like it just fine. They’re used to standard strength and get that subtlety of tastes imparted almost solely by barrel management and smart ageing. But I submit that even they would take one taste of this thing, put down the glass, and walk away, the way I wanted to on the day I tried it in a VIP tasting. I couldn’t do that then, but you can, now. See you.

(#788)(70/100)

Oct 212020
 

Before delving into the (admittedly interesting) background of Tres Hombres and theirfair transportconcept, let’s just list the bare bones of what this rum supposedly is, and what we do and don’t know. To begin with, it’s unclear where it’s from: “Edition No. 8 La Palma” goes unmentioned on their webpage, yet Ultimate Rum Guide lists a rum with the same stats (41.3% ABV, la Palma, Solera) as Edition No. 9, from the Domincan Republic. But other La Palma rums made by Tres Hombres list the named rums as being from the Canary islandsAldea, in point of fact, a company we have met before in our travels. Beyond that, sources agree it is a blended (solera) rum, the oldest component of which is 17 years old, 41.3% and the three barrels that made up the outturn spent some time sloshing around in barrels aboard a sailing ship (a 1943-constructed brigantine) for which Tres Hombres is renowned.

Well, Canary Islands or Dominican Republic (I’ll assume The Hombres are correct and it’s the former), it has to be evaluated, so while emails and queries chase themselves around, let’s begin. Nose first: kind of sultry and musky. Green peas developing some fuzz, old bananas, vanilla and grated coconut, that kind of neither too-sweet nor too-salt nor too-sour middle ground. It’s a little spicy and overall presents as not only relatively simple, but a little thin too, and one gets the general impression that there’s just not much gong on.

The palate, though, is better, even a little assertive. Certainly it’s firmer than the nose led me to expect. A trace briny, and also quite sweet, in an uneasy amalgam akin to tequila and sugar water. Definite traces of ripe pears and soft apples, cardamom and vanilla. Some other indiscernible fruits of no particular distinction, and a short and rather sweet finish that conferred no closing kudos to the rum. It’s as easily forgettable and anonymous as a mini-bar rum in a downmarket hotel chain, and about as exciting.

Tres Hombres is now up to No. 34 or something, includes gin in the lineup, still do some ageing onboard for a month or so it takes to cross the Atlantic and certainly they have not lost their enthusiasmthey include rums from Barbados, DR and the Canary islands. Whether this part of their business will carry them into the future or forever be a sideline is, however, not something I can answer at this timethe lack of overall publicity surrounding their rums, suggests they still have a ways to go with respect to wider consciousness and acceptance.

And with good reason, because to me and likely to others, complexity and bravura and fierce originality is not this rum’s fortesmoothness and easy drinkability are, which is something my pal Dave Russell has always banged me over the head about when discussing Spanish style rums, especially those from the DR“they like their stuff like that over there!” And so I mention for completeness that it seems rather delicate and mildthe low strength is certainly responsible for some of thatand not completely displeasing….just not my personal cup of tea.

(#771)(75/100)


Other Notes & Background

This is one of those cases where the reviewer of the rum has to firmly separate the agenda and philosophy of the company (laudable, if somewhat luddite) from the quality of the rum they sell. In no way can the ideals of one be allowed to bleed over into the perception of the other, which is something a lot of people have trouble with when talking about rums made by producers they favour or who do a laudable public service that somehow creates the uncritical assumption that their rums must be equally good.

Tres Hombres is a Dutch sailing ship company begun in 2007 by three friends as a way of transporting cargofair trade and organic produceacross and around the Atlantic, and they have a sideline running tours, daytrips and instructional voyages for aspiring old-school sailors. In 2010, while doing some repairs in the DR, they picked up 3000 bottles of rum, rebranded it as Tres Hombres No. 1 and began a rum business, whose claim to fame was the time it spentafter ageing at originabroad the ship itself while on the voyage. Not just old school, then, but very traditionalmore or less. The question of where the rum originated was elidedonly URG mentions Mardi S.A. as the source, and that’s a commercial blending op like Oliver & Oliver, not a real distillery.

What the Tres Hombres have done is found a point of separation, something to set them apart from the crowd, a selling point of distinction which fortunately jives with their environmental sensibilities. I’m not so cynical as to suggest the whole business is about gaining customers by bugling the ecological sensitivity of a minimal carbon footprintyou just have to admire what a great marketing tool it is, to speak about organic products moved without impact on the environment, and to link the long maritime history of sailing ships of yore with the rums that are transported on board them in the modern era.

May 312020
 

Rumaniacs Review #116 | 0732

Dry Cane UK had several light white rums in its portfoliosome were 37.5% ABV, some were Barbados only, some were 40%, some Barbados and Guyanese blends. All were issued in the 1970s and maybe even as late as the 1980s, after which the trail goes cold and the rums dry up, so to speak. This bottle however, based on photos on auction sites, comes from the 1970s in the pre-metric era when the strength of 40% ABV was still referred to as 70º in the UK. It probably catered to the tourist, minibar, and hotel trade, as “inoffensive” and “unaggressive” seem to be the perfect words to describe it, and II don’t think it has ever made a splash of any kind.

As to who exactly Dry Cane (UK) Ltd were, let me save you the trouble of searchingthey can’t be found. The key to their existence is the address of 32 Sackville Street noted on the label, which details a house just off Piccadilly dating back to the 1730s. Nowadays it’s an office, but in the 1970s and before, a wine, spirits and cigar merchant called Saccone & Speed (established in 1839) had premises there, and had been since 1932 when they bought Hankey Bannister, a whisky maker, in that year. HB had been in business since 1757, moved to Sackville Street in 1915 and S&S just took over the premises. Anyway, Courage Breweries took over S&S in 1963 and handed over the spirits section of the UK trade to another subsidiary, Charles Kinlochwho were responsible for that excellent tipple, the Navy Neaters 95.5º we have looked at before (and really enjoyed).

My inference is therefore that Dry Cane was a financing vehicle or shell company or wholly owned subsidiary set up for a short time to limit the exposure of the parent company (or Kinloch), as it dabbled in being an independent bottlerand just as quickly retreated, for no further products were ever made so far as I can tell. But since S&S also acquired a Gibraltar drinks franchise in 1968 and gained the concession to operate a duty free shop at Gibraltar airport in 1973, I suspect this was the rationale behind creating the rums in the first place, through the reason for its cessation is unknown. Certainly by the time S&S moved out of Sackville Street in the 1980s and to Gibraltar (where they remain to this day as part of a large conglomerate), the rum was no longer on sale.

ColourWhite

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseLight and sweet; toblerone, almonds, a touch of pears. Its watery and weak, that’s the problem with it, but interestingly, aside from all the stuff we’re expecting (and which we get) I can smell lipstick and nail polish, which I’m sure you’ll admit is unusual. It’s not like we find this rum in salons of any kind.

PalateLight and inoffensive, completely bland. Pears, sugar water, some mint. You can taste a smidgen of alcohol behind all that, it’s just that there’s nothing really serious backing it up or going on.

FinishShort, dreary, light, simple. Some sugar again and something of a vanilla cake, but even that’s reaching a bit.

ThoughtsWell, one should not be surprised. It does tell you it’s “extra light”, right there on the label; and at this time in rum history, light blends were all the rage. It is not, I should note, possible to separate out the Barbadian from the Guyanese portions. I think the simple and uncomplex profile lends credence to my theory that it was something for the hospitality industry (duty free shops, hotel minibars, inflight or onboard boozing) and served best as a light mixing staple in bars that didn’t care much for top notch hooch, or didn’t know of any.

(74/100)

May 202020
 

Rumaniacs Review #115 | 0728

This rum is a companion of the various UK merchant bottlers’ rums which were common in the 1970s and 1980s. Examples are Lamb’s 70º Demerara Navy, Four Bells Finest Navy Rum, Mainbrace, Red Duster Finest Navy, Old Vatted Demerara rum, and so on. Many are made by now defunct companies and were Navy wannabes, or traded in on the name without being anything of the kind.

This one is an oddity since it was made by United Rum Merchants, that conglomerate which had swallowed up Lamb’s, Keelings and Dingwall Norris: they did supply rums to the navy at one point, and this rum, made from a blend of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad rums, lacks only the proof to be considered a Navy rum. Except it is clearly not labeled as such, so we’ll just accept it as a blended rum and move on.

Dating: Made when the UK was still trying to go beyond the degrees proof (in 1980) but while this process was still not complete; and while United Rum Merchants was still located in Tooley Street, London and not yet taken over by Allied Domecq in the early 1990s. At this stage in the recent history of rum, blends were still the way to go – so like the Lamb’s 70º “Navy” it is a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad. The proportions and distilleries and ageing (if any) are, of course, unknown.

One further point: the rum is extremely dark, so colouring is involved, and since the hydrometer notes the strength at 36.48% ABV, we can assume about 13g/L of added something-or-other.

ColourVery dark brown

Strength 40% ABV (36.48% ABV as measured)

NoseMeaty, gamey, salty. Are we sure this is 40% ABV? Feels more robust than that. Great aromas, thoughmolasses, caramel, brown sugar, raisins. Also some acetones and light tart fruits like gooseberries, soursop, to which is added a sort of bitter herbal note, and dark fruits going bad.

PalateMuch softer, one can relax here. Woody notes, molasses, brown sugar. What acidity and tartness there was on the nose is here much subdued, and not sweet, but thick and dusty and a bit like sweet soya.

FinishAdjectives jump off the page: short dry, dark, thick, salty, not-sweet, redolent of molasses, brown sugar, caramel, nuts. That’s a fair bit, but let’s face it, it’s all somewhat standard.

ThoughtsIt’s a surprise that a blend of four different countries’ rumswhich I usually view with some doubt if not skepticism or outright dislikeworks as well as it does. It’s not a world beater and displays rather more ambition than success. But it isn’t half bad, coming as it does from a time when indifferently made blends were all the rage.

OtherThere’s some Guyanese Enmore or Port Mourant in there, I’d say, Bajan WIRD is logical for the timeframe and Jamaicans, well, who knows. I’d almost hazard a guess the gaminess in the nose comes from Caroni not Angostura, but I have no evidence outside my senses. That might work for empiricist philosophers like Locke and Hume, but won’t budge the rationalists on whose side I come down on hereso we’ll leave it as unanswered for now.

(78/100)

May 072020
 

Rumaniacs Review #114 | 0724

These days, the only way to get some of the lesser-known rums from the last century that were made by small merchant bottlers in vanishingly small quantities, is to know an old salt, be friends with a collector like Steve Remsberg, bag an estate sale, have an elderly relative who was into rum but isn’t any longer, find a spirits emporium that forgot about their inventory, orlacking all these as I dotroll around the auction sites.

It’s in this way that you find odd rums like the Red Duster Finest Navy rum, bottled in the 1970s by the company of J. Townend & Sons. That company officially got its start in 1923, but if you look at their filings you’ll realize they took over the assets of spirits merchant John Townend, which is much older. That company was formed in Hull around 1906 by John Townend, and over four successive generations has become a fairly substantial wine and spirits distributor in England, now called The House of Townend. Unsurprisingly, they dabbled in their own bottlings from time to time, but nowadays it would appear they are primarily into distribution. Rums like the Red Duster have long been discontinued, with this one gone for thirty years or more.

The rum itself, created just after the Second World War by Charles Townend (grandfather of current company’s Managing Director, also named John) is a blend of Guyanese and Jamaican rum, not further specifiedso we don’t know the proportions of each, or the source distilleries (or stills) Perusing the paperwork suggests it was always and only for sale within the UK, not export, and indeed, they were kind enough to get back to me and state thatAs the company was unable to expand its five-strong off licence chain due to licensing restrictions, he [Charles Townend] concentrated on establishing spirit brands that he could sell to the pub and restaurant trade. He shipped large quantities of old rum which he blended himself in the cellars at Cave Street, Hull, from where the company traded at the time. He then broke down the rum before bottling it.

And in a neat little info-nugget, the label notes that the name “Red Duster” came from the house of that name wherein the company once had its premises in York Street, Hull (this address and a red brick industrial-style building still exists but is taken up by another small company now). But that house in turn was named after the Red Ensign, orRed Dusterwhich was the flag flown by British Merchant ships since 1707.

ColourReddish amber

Strength – 70° / 40% ABV

NoseAll irony aside, it smells dusty, dry, with red and black cherry notes and some wood shavings. Molasses, plums going overripe andif you can believe itsorrel and mauby (these are a red plant and a bark used for making infused drinks in parts of the West Indies). This gives the rum an amazingly peculiar and really interesting taste that resists easy categorization.

PalateSweet, dry, dusty, spicy. Fruity (dark stuff like prunes and plums) with a touch of lemon. There’s some more cherries and overripe blackberries, but overall it tastes thin and weak, not aggressive at all. Some mild licorice brings up the back end, like me ambling late to a meeting I don’t want to be in.

FinishSurprise surprise, it’s a long and fruity finish with a good dollop of vanilla and molasses, and it presents a deep, sweet and slightly dry conclusion. Not thick and solid, a little wispy, really, but still nice.

ThoughtsBlunt force trauma is not this rum’s forte, and why they would feel it necessary to release a rum with the sobriquet of “Navy” at 40% is a mystery. It was just and always a tipple for the eating and pubbing public, without pretensions to grandeur or historical heritage of any kind. Just as well, because it lacks the character and force of today’s rums of this kind, and attempting to disassemble the origins is pointless. If they had pickled Nelson in a barrel of this stuff, he might well have climbed out and thrown his own self overboard before making it halfway homebut the humourist in me suggests he would have had a last sip before doing so.

(78/100)


Other Notes:

  • My hydrometer tested this out at 40.59% ABV, so on that basis, it’s “clean”.
  • The age is unknown, and it is a blend
  • My thanks to the House of Townend’s Hanna Boyes, who provided welcome information on the historical section of the post.
Mar 252020
 

Rumaniacs Review #112 | 0714

Bought at an auction for curiosity and an interest in old rhums, it was dated in the listing to the sixties or seventies, and because of its association with two other (Bardinet) bottles from Martinique, it was also deemed to be from there (the info was provided by the seller, so it strikes me as reasonable).

The address given on the label is now a modern building which houses a Hermes shop, and one of the only clues that an online search provides is a 1906 listing from the Milan International Exhibition, which notes Vernhes of Pantin (which is in Paris) as dealing with liqueurs; they used to make some low-proofed cocktails-in-a-bottle under the brand name Paquita. It doesn’t seem to exist any more. Probably a merchant bottler than, or a shop with a few personalized bottlings and creations of its own. (The other name on the label, L. Ruel of Poitiers, is a printing establishment dating back to 1854 and still in business today).

ColourAmber

Strength – 40%

NoseThere’s a robust wine-like aroma to the whole experience here. Dark re or black grapes, very ripe, plus cherries. I think its provenance in the French islands is likely accurate because the crisp snap of green apples and subtlety of light fruits points that way. But if so, pre-AOC (of course) – there’s bags of dark fruit going off, and a sort of counterpoint of rottenness that reminds me of both grappa and (please bear with me) the musky sharpness of burning mosquito coil.

PalateIt’s faint and thin (par for the course for a standard strength rhum) and crisper and clearercleaner is as good a word as any. Tastes of tart white fruits and apples, ginnip, soursop and sour cream. I liked the softer tones that came in after a whileflambeed bananas, blancmange, red wine, iodine and something sulkier and unripe balancing it off. But still too weak to seriously appeal

FinishWarm, dry, wine-y, some grapes and fruits, unexceptional in every way.

ThoughtsOverall, it’s like a rich and deeply-fruity modern agricole, and if it was made today I’d say it was from Guadeloupe. Impossible to tell now, though, which is highly frustrating for any who like deep diving into these things. We’re going to see lots more of such obscure bottlings soon, as records get lost or destroyed, and the ownersdescendants or inheritors or lawyers sell them off.

(80/100)

Feb 192020
 

The strangely named Doctor Bird rum is another company’s response to Smith and Cross, Rum Fire and the Stolen Overproof rum. These are all made or released in the USA (Stolen hails from New Zealand but its rum business is primarily in the US), but the rums themselves come from Jamaica, and there the similarity sort of breaks down, for the Doctor Bird is one of the few from Worthy Parkone of the New Jamaicans which has quietly been gaining its own accolades over the last few yearsand not from Hampden or Monymusk or Longpond or Appleton.

The quirky Detroit-based Two James Distillerywhose staff include, variously, an ex-guitar-maker, ex-EMT, ex-Marine and ex-photographer and who state openly and tongue-in-cheek that they have no problems with people stalking them on social mediais a full-fledged distillery, with a 500-gallon (1892 liter) pot still leading the charge. But while they produce gin, rye whiskey, bourbon and vodka on that still, it’s really irrelevant here becauseagain, like Stolenthey didn’t bother to make any rum themselves but imported some barrels from Worthy Park. This is a departure from most American distillers styling themselves rum makes, many of whom seem to think that if they have a still they can make anything (and are at pains to demonstrate it), but few of whom ever think of buying another country’s spirit as Stolen and Two James have.

That aside, moving on: Worthy Park you say? Okay. What else? Pot still, of course, 50% ABV, so that part is good. Hay yellow. It’s finished in moscatel sherry casks, and that kinda-sorta bothers me, since I retain bad-tempered memories of an over-finished Legendario that was well-nigh undrinkable because of itthough here, given the zero reading on a hydrometer, it’s more likely the finishing was a short one, and not in wet casks.

Certainly the sherry influence seemed to be AWOL on initial sniffing, because my first dumbfounded note-to-self was wtf is this? Salt wax bomb just went off in the glass.Sharp funk is squirting left and right, acetones, furniture polish, rotting bananas, a deep dumpster dive behind an all night take-out joint. Harshly, greasily pungent is as good as any to describe the experience. Oh and that’s just for openers. It gives you kippers and saltfish, the sweet salt of olive oil, varnish, paint thinner. Thank God the fruits come in to save the show: sharp nettlesome, stabbing, tart unripe green bastards, to be suregooseberries, five finger, green mangoes, soursop, apples, all nose-puckering and outright rude. But overall the sensation that remains on the nose is the brine and rotting fruits, and I confess to not having been this startled by a rum since my initial encounter with the clairins and the Paranunbes.

Thankfully, much of the violence which characterizes the nose disappears upon a cautious tasting, transmuted by some obscure alchemy into basic drinkability. It stays sharp, but now things converge to a sort of balance of sweet and salt (not too much of either), crisp and more fruity than before. There’s wood chips, sawdust, varnish, glue, retreating to a respectable distance. Sweet soya sauce, vegetable soup, dill and ginger, gherkins in a sweet vinegar, followed by a parade of crisp fruitiness. Pineapple, lemon peel, gooseberries, green apples, all riper than the nose had suggested they might be, and the finish, relatively swift, is less than I would have expectedand simplergiven the stabbing attack of the nose. It provides salt, raisins, the citric spiciness of cumin and dill, exhaled some last fruity notes and then disappears.

Well now, what to make of this? If, as they say, it was finished in a sherry cask, all I can say is too little of that made it through. The light sweet muskiness is there, just stays too far in the background to be considered anything but a very minor influence, and aside from some fruity notes (which could just as easily come from the rum’s own esters), the sherry didn’t habla. Maybe it’s because those Jamaican rowdies from the backdam kicked down the door and stomped it flat, who knows? The strength is perfect for what it isstronger, and morgues might have filled up with expired rum drinkers, but weaker might not have exhibited quite as much badass.

I think the challenge with the rum, for people now getting into Jamaicans (especially the New ones, who like their pot stills and funky junk dialled up to “11” ) might be to get past the aromas, the nose, and how that impacts what is tasted (a good example of how polarizing the rum is, is to check out rumratings’ comments, and those on Tarquin’s sterling reddit review. This is a rum that needs to be tried carefully because to the unprepared it might just hit them between the eyes like a Louisville Slugger. Personally I think a little more ageing or a little more finishing might have been nice, just to round things out and sand the rough edges off a shade morethis is, after all, not even a six year old rum, but a blend of pot still rums of which a 6YO is the oldest. And those high-funk, ester-sporting bad boys need careful handling to reach their full potential.

The Jamaicans have been getting so much good press of lateespecially Hampden and WPbut the peculiarity of this fame is that it’s sometimes thought you can just buy a barrel or ten from them, bottle the result and voila! – instant sold-out. Yeah, but no. Not quite. Not always. And no, not here.

(#703)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • “Doctor Bird” is not a person, and is not supposed to be “Dr. Bird.” It is, in fact, the national bird of Jamaica, a swallow-tail humming bird, only found there. Folklore has it that it was named because of the resemblance of its black crest and long bifurcated tail to the top hat and tails worn by country doctors back in the old days.
  • Big hat tip to Cecil Ramotar, ex-QC part-time rum-junkie, who made sure I got a sample of the rum to try.
Feb 122020
 

What a difference the passage of years makes. In 2010, a mere year after my long rum journey began, I came across and wrote about the Cadenhead 12 YO and gave it a rather dismissive rating of 76, remarking that while I liked it and while it had some underlying harmony, the decision to mature it in Laphroaig casks led to “not a rum, but some kind of bastardized in-the-middle product that isn’t fish or fowl.”

Later I began searching for it again, having in the interim gained rather more respect for what Cadenhead was doing. The Campbelltown-based company of course doesn’t need an introduction these daysfamed more for its whiskies, it has for decades also dabbled in limited edition rum releases as part of its “Green Label” line, the best of which might be the near-legendary Guyanese editions of the 1975, the 1972 and the highly-sought-after 1964. Over the years they have released many editions of several countries’ rums, always unfiltered and unadded-to, and it’s become something of a recent running gag that they always put three- or four-letter character codes on their rums’ labels, of which even they no longer recall all the meanings.

Anyway, this was a 12 year old, continentally-aged Guyanese rum (no still is mentioned, alas), of unknown outturn, aged 12 years in Laphroaig whisky casks and released at the 46% strength that was once a near standard for rums brought out by AD Rattray, Renegade, Cadenhead and others. The brevity and uninformativeness of the label dates the rum somewhat (modern iterations provide quite a bit more), but let’s just run with what we have here.

Nose first: short version, it’s interesting, a very strange amalgam of Demerara rum, agricole and a peaty whisky. It smells of rubber and wax, vaguely medicinal and iodine-like, is slightly sweet, quite light and there are more than a few yellow fruits parading aroundpineapple, crisp Thai mangoes, green apples drizzled with lemon juice and tartly unsweetened yoghurt. After resting it goes a little nutty and leathery, but the real effects of ageing are minimal, and vanilla and oaky notes are to all intents and purposes, absent.

The taste was better, and again there’s that peculiar agricole-ness to the initial experiencesweet sugar water, lemonade, brine, olives, and a lot of crisp white fruits. It feels somewhat thin and rough on the tongue even with a “mere” 46% of proof, and could perhaps have used some additional ageing to round things off. The medicinal and peaty tastes were faint and walked off the stage after a while, to be replaced by aromatic tobacco, cheap wet coffee grounds used one too many times, cereal, all tied together by some cereal-like tastes, cinnamon and nutmeg. That said, if you’re hunting for traditional Demerara rum flavours like molasses, licorice and caramel, search elsewherethey sure aren’t here. Finish was great thoughhot, creamy and chewy. Very tasty, a good blend of yoghurt, pears, apples, lychees, grapefruit and fruit loops cereal.

So, what did I think? At the risk of boring you to tears, permit me this digression. When he was younger and we were discussing such matters, the Little Caner could never understand why I reread books (often several times) which I’d read before (often several more times). “You know what you’re getting,” he argued, with all the eloquence and conviction of a ten year old, “You know the plot, the background, everything. So why?” And then he would favour me with that pitying look that only young teens can master, which they save for their apparently doddering and drooling older relatives, would shake his head at my self-evident stubborn obtuseness, and then add his coupe-de-grace: “Do you expect the book to change or something?

I bring up the matter because he was sitting beside me as I went through this sample, and asked me the same question. Given I had several dozens more to go through and the hourglass was running short, he wanted to know why I was wasting time. “Because, young zygote,” I responded, in that characteristically obscure way all the Caner Clan boys have of speaking to one another, “I’m not the same person who tried the original sample. I’m curious whether I’d like it less, more or the same as the first one, the first time.” I glanced slyly at him“Sort of like the way, nowadays, you react differently to books you once enjoyed, but now don’t.”

He laughed, and acknowledged the point at last, and to cut further reminisces short, let me note that I appreciated the rum more than the one from all those years agobut much of my initial opinion on its schizoid nature persists. I wasn’t entirely won over by the whisky cask ageingrums have quite enough character of their own not to need such additional enhancement, thank you very muchbut it was well assembled, well-integrated, and the Laph background enhanced rather more than detracted. It was just that it presented at odds with what we perhaps might prefer in a Demerara rum, lacked the distinct clarity of the wooden stillsand that medicinal peatiness?…well, I’m not convinced it works completely.

It will be up to each individual reading this review, however, to make up his or her own mind what they think of the rum; and perhaps, if they’re lucky, to come back to it a few times and see if their tastes evolve into an increased or decreased appreciation of what is, at end, quite a decent and interesting product. The way my boy has done with so many of his books.

(#700)(84/100)


Other Notes

The dates of distillation and bottling are unknown, but I’d suggest late 1990s early 2000s.

Feb 052020
 

Hampden is now one of the belles du jour of the New Jamaicans, but it’s been on the horizon for much longer than that, though sadly much of its output from the Elder Days was sold outside Jamaica as a sort of miscellaneous bulk item, to be bastardized and mixed and blended and lost in the drab ocean of commercial rums that made up most of what was sold up to ten years ago. Never mind, though, because these days they’ve more than made up for that by issuing rums under their own estate brand, getting the single-barrel limited-edition treatment from Velier, and getting better every time I try ‘em.

This BBR bottling predates those more recent tropically-aged estate releases and hearkens back to what I sort of suspect will be a fond memory for the annually increasing number of Old Rum Fartsthose days when all of Hampden’s output was sent for further ageing and bottling to Europe and only independents were releasing them at cask strength. Berry Brothers & Rudd, that famed spirits establishment which has been in existence in London through just about all of Britain’s imperial and post-war history, certainly channels that genteel, old-world sense of style, with its prim and near-Edwardian-style labels.

What those labels don’t give us is enough databy our rather more exacting current standards anyway. We know it’s Jamaican, Hampden, distilled in 1990, 46% ABV, and from the osmosis bleeding through Facebook, we also know it’s a completely pot still rum, bottled in 2007, a continentally-aged 17 year old. Marius of Single Cask Rum whose article on Hampden is worth a read for the curious, wrote that the 1990 bulk export batchthere was only one or two a year, rarely morewas of marque C<H> “Continental Hampden”, which would place it in the high range of ester-land… 1300-1400 grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol (g/hlpa); only the DOK is higher, going to the legal maximum of 1500-1600.

From those statistics we can expect something pretty dense and even feral, bursting with flavour and happily squirting near-rancid and over-fruity esters from every pore. It does indeed do that when you nose the yellow rum, but initially what you smell is a lot of glue, rubber, new vinyl, the fake upholstery of a cheap car and, more than anything, it reminds me of sliding a brand new 33 LP fresh out of its sleeve. Then there’s wax, sugar water, light fruitspears, guavas, papayanougat, orange peel and an interesting sub-channel of sake and tequila, some brine and olives, followed up at the last by lemon meringue pie with a good bit of crust and creaminess thrown in for good measure.

(c) Barrel Aged Mind, with thanks to Marco Freyr

Yet overall, it’s not fierce and demanding and overdone. The palate, like the nose, also demonstrated this admirable self-control, and together with the lower strength, this allowed the glittering blades of over-fruity sharpness that usually distinguishes such rums, to be dialled down and savoured more than feared or watched out for. The profile was coruscating notes in a complex almost-sour fruit salad consisting of pineapples, kiwi fruit, green grapes, unripe apples and pears, sprinkled over with cardamom and a pinch of camomile. It is also rich and creamy, tastes a bit nutty, and the lemony background went well with the vaguely salty background that gave the whole thing a tequila like aspect that somehow worked really well. The finish was medium long, mostly wrapping up the show content to stay pretty simple and straightforwardlemon zest, salt butter, pineapple, caramel and a twist of vanilla. Lovely.

Summing up, the BBR Hampden is not like the high end muscle-beach monsters of the TECC and the TECA, or even a dialled down DOK; nor is it like those New Jamaicans high-proofs that are coming out now, which sport lots of tropical ageing and dense, deep profiles. You can spot the core DNA, though, because that’s too distinct to missit’s gentler, lighter, yet also crisply fruity and very precise, just not as forceful as those 60%-and-over ester fruit bombs. I wonder whether that’s the strengthprobably, yes.

But if you’ll forgive the metaphysical license here, what it really does is evoke and bring to my mind long unthought memories: of rummaging through and inhaling the scent of just-arrived vinyl LPs in Matt’s Record Bar in GT when I was a kid with no money; of overstuffed sofas and armchairs covered with thick smelly plastic sheeting, resting in old wooden houses with Demerara shutters and Berbice chairs where the men would sip their rums and “speak of affairs” on hot Saturday afternoons and me hanging around hoping for a sip and a word. The Japanese have a word for thisnatsukashiiwhich refers to some small thing that brings you suddenly back to fond memories — not with longing for what’s gone, but with an appreciation of all the good times. I don’t want to make out that this is the experience others will have, just that this is what it did for mebut in my opinion, any rum that can do this even half as well, for anyone, is definitely worth a try, even leaving aside the lovely scents and tastes which it presents.

(#699)(88/100)


Other Notes

Two other reviewers have looked at this rum in the past:

Jan 262020
 

Rumaniacs Review #109 | 0696

It may be called a Navy rum but the label is quite clear that it’s a “Product of Guyana” so perhaps what they were doing is channelling the Pussers rums from forty years later, which also and similarly restricted themselves to one component of the navy rum recipe. The British maritime moniker has always been a rather plastic conceptas an example, I recall reading that they also sourced rums from Australia for their blend at one pointso perhaps, as long as it was sold and served to the Navy, it was allowed the title. Or maybe it’s just canny marketing of an un-trademarked title, which is meant to describe a style of rum as it was commonly understood back then.

It’s unclear when this particular rum was first introduced, as references are (unsurprisingly) scarce. It was certainly available during the 1970s, which is the earliest to which I’ve managed to date this specific bottle based on label inclusions. One gentleman commented on the FRP’s review “This was the Rum issued to all ships up until the demise of the Merchant Navy (British Merchant Marine) in 1987. We didn’t receive a tot of rum like the Royal Navy, instead we had our own-run bars (officersbar, crew bar). The label with the bells was changed sometime in the early/mid 80’s to a brown coloured label with a sailing ship.” Based on some auction listings I’ve seen, there are several different variations of the label, but I think it is safe to say that this red one dates back from the late 1970s, early 1980s at the latest.

An older label: note the HMS Challis under the bells, which I was unable to trace

Challis, Stern & Co. was a spirits wholesaler out of London that was incorporated back in 1924 – like many other small companies we have met in these reviews, they dabbled in occasional bottlings of rum to round out their wholsesaling business, and were making Four Bells rum since the 1960s at least (I saw a label on Pete’s Rum Pages with “product of British Guiana” on the label, as well as a white from post-independence times), and in all cases they used exclusively Guyanese stock. There are glancing references to an evolution of the rum in the 1980s primarily based on how the labels looked and the auctioneers’ info listingsbut it seems clear that by then it was in trouble as it ceased trading in 1989 and were taken over in 1991 by the Jackson family who run wine dealers Jackson Nugent Vintners, and they then wrapped it up without fuss or fanfare in 2006 (Challis had been classified as “dormant” for their entire tenure). It remains unclear why they bothered acquiring it unless it was to gain control of some tangible or intangible asset in which they were interested (I have an email to them to check).

ColourAmber

Strength – 42.9% (75 proof old-style)

Ahalfof Four Bells, what Guyanese would call aflattie”. Fits nicely into a hip pocket

NoseQuite definitely a Guyanese rum, though with odd bits here and there. Caramel, salt, butter, rye or sourdough bread with a touch of molasses and anise and flowers and fruits, none of which is very dominant. Prunes, dates, overripe cherries and the musky softness of fried bananas. Also pencil shavings and sawdust at the back end.

PalateDry, with a most peculiar aroma of sweet rubber. I know how that sounds, but I like it anyway, because there was a certain richness to the whole experience. Sweet red wine notes, backed up with caramel, dark chocolate, nougat and nuts. Quite a solid texture on the tongue, slightly sweet and rounded and without any bitterness of oak (the age is unknown).

FinishShort and dry, but enjoyable. Mostly caramel, toffee, sawdust and pencil shavings,

If I had to guess, I’d say this was an Enmore or the French Savalle still. Be that as it may, it goes up well against modern standard-strength DDL rums because it presents as very restrained and toned down, without every losing sight of the fact that it’s a rum. Nowadays of course, you can only get a bottle from old salts, old cellars, grandfathers or auctions, but if you find one, it’s not a bad buy.

(81/100)


Other Notes

  • Taken literally, the “four bells” name is an interesting one. 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 watchfour bells is therefore halfway through any one of the Middle, Morning, Forenoon, Afternoon, Dog or First watches (good that someone knew this, because eight bells would have been an unfortunate term to use for a rum, being used as it was to denote end of watch” or a funeral). All that said, the design of the four bells on the label could equally be representative of four founders, or be something more festive, so maybe this whole paragraph is an aside that indulges my love of historical background.
  • Proof and ABVIn 1969 the UK government created the Metrication Board to promote and establish metrification in Britain, generally on a voluntary basis. In 1978 government policy shifted, and they made it mandatory in certain sectors. In 1980 that policy flip-flopped again to revert to a voluntary basis, and the Board was abolished, though by this date just about all rum labels had ABV and the proof system fell into disuseand essentially, this allows dating of UK labels to be done within some broad ranges.
Jan 162020
 

Rumaniacs Review 0108 | 0693

This rum is a companion of the Lamb’s 70º Demerara Navy and other UK rums made by various merchants bottlers, e.g. Four Bells Finest Navy Rum, Mainbrace, Black Heart, Red Duster Finest Navy, Old Vatted Demerara rum, and so on. It’s admittedly a treat to try them and trace their dusty, almost-forgotten companies of origin.

This Navy wannabe was made when the UK had moved beyond the degrees proof (in 1980) but while United Rum Merchants was still located in Tooley Street, London and not yet taken over by Allied Domecq in the early 1990s. At this stage in the recent history of rum, blends were still the way to go, and if anything had a name-recognition factor, it was certainly “Demerara rum”, which this presumed to be. Alas, that’s all we really getso while the label helpfully notes it is a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad, do not hold your breath waiting for a dissertation or scholarly analysis of the proportions, the ageing, or even which stills or distilleries made up the blend. Such details are long lost or long buried.

ColourDark Amber

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseQuite a bit different from the strongly focussed Demerara profile of the Navy 70º we looked at beforehad the label not been clear what was in it, I would have not guessed there was any Jamaican in here. The wooden stills profile of Guyana is tamed, and the aromas are prunes, licorice, black grapes and a light brininess. After a while some salt caramel ice cream, nougat, toffee and anise become more evident. Sharp fruits are held way back and given the absence of any kind of tarriness, I’d hazard that Angostura provided the Trinidadian component.

PalateSweet, medium-thick and quite pungent, which is nice for a 40% rum. It’s mostly pears, anise and caramel that jockey for attentioneverything else is a second order effect. It’s briny off and on but not of sea water or an olive, more like butter or caramel. It’s nicely dry, with some dark fruits coiling restlessly around and about, all quite indeterminate.

FinishQuite nice. One does not expect a long denouement with a standard strength rum, of course, yet even by that low standard this isn’t bad, being dry, leathery, not very sweet or dark, and some prunes, dates, and blackberries.

ThoughtsIt’s a rather tame blend, maybe aged a wee bit, lacking any kind of single-mindedness of taste or smellwhich may have been the point, as the official Navy recipe was never a static thing, and (for example) the Jamaican portion kept varying based on the opinions of the day. It’s milder and not overwhelmed by either the funky Jamaican or the dour, wood-forward Demerara components, and that’s its selling point and strength. I do like uncompromising Port Mourant based rums, but this one isn’t half bad for what it is.

(81/100)(#692 | R-0108)

Dec 302019
 

Rumaniacs Review #107 | R-0688

Lemon Hart is known for their Navy rums and 151 overproofs, the last of which I tried while still living in Canada when it was briefly re-issued. But they did dip their toes into other waters from time to time, such as with this 73% Gluteus Maximus wannabe from Jamaica they released while the brand was still listed under the address and label of the United Rum Merchantswhich, if you recall, was a 1946 combine of Lemon Hart (owned by Portal, Dingwall & Norris), Whyte-Keelings and Lamb’s. A year later, URM became part of sugar giant Bookers which had substantial interests in British Guianese plantations and distilleries, and was amalgamated into Allied-Domecq in the early 1990s.

This kind of torqued-up Jamaica rum was not particularly unusual for LH to make, since I found references to its brothers at similar strengths dating back to a decade or two earlierbut the labels from the 1950s and 1960s were much more ornate, with curlicued scrollwork and and older vibe to them which this does not have. The Golden Jamaica Rum was also released at 40% — predating Velier’s habit of releasing the same rum at multiple proofs which drives accountants into hystericsthough at no point was the source estate or plantation or age ever mentioned. We must therefore assume it was a blend, very common at that time (we occasionally forget that single cask, single estate or even single still special releases from a particular year at cask strength are relatively recent phenomena).

ColourDark amber

Strength 73% ABV

NoseOriginal, I’ll grant it that. Hot, and very spicy. Crushed nuts and the sawdust of dried oak planks, plus a sort of dusty, mouldy room. Good thing that was just for openers. Dates, figs, olives and not-so-sweet fruits, bitter chocolate. I let it stand for a half hour while trying other rums and it became much more approachablesweeter, darker fruits with a touch of licorice and low-level funk, bananas, spoiling mangoes and bananas, green apples, gherkins, peachesnot bad. It’s kind of snappy, preppy, crisp, especially once the hogo-like aromas take on more prominence.

PalateWaiting for this to open up is definitely the way to go, because with some patience, the bags of funk, soda pop, nail polish, red and yellow overripe fruits, grapes and raisins just become a taste avalanche across the tongue. It’s a very solid series of tastes, firm but not sharp unless you gulp it (not recommended) and once you get used to it, it settles down well to just providing every smidgen of taste of which it is capable.

FinishLong, sweet, fruity, briny and darkly sweet. Really quite exceptional and long lasting.

ThoughtsThis reminds me more of a modern, proofed-up Appleton than anything else. It lacks the pungent pot-still estate-specific originality of the New Jamaicans, which of course is completely proper since at the time it was made, tepid blends were all the rage. For anyone who desires a different rum from “modern standard”, this one ticks all the boxes.

Too bad it’s out of productionI mean, Lamb’s and Lemon Hart and other such supermarket brands that have survived into the modern era get a bad rap for producing the same old boring blended blah these days, but when they were in their prime, issuing souped-up superrums that took no prisoners and tasted off the scale, it’s easy to see why the brands were so popular. It’s because they weren’t as timid, took their chances, and showed they knew their sh*t. As this rum proves, and their modern descendants so rarely do.

(83/100)

Dec 012019
 

Rumaniacs Review #106 | 0681

Mainbrace Rum is a Guyanese and Barbados blend released by Grants Wine and Spirits Merchants of London, one of many small emporia whose names are now forgotten, who indulged themselves by selling rums they had imported or bought from brokers, and blended themselves. It is unknown which still’s rums from Guyana were used, or which estate provided the rum from Barbados, though the balance of probability favours WIRR (my opinion). Ageing is completely unknowneither of the rum itself, or its constituents.

The Mainbrace name still exists in 2019, and the concept of joining two rums remains. The fancy new version is unlikely to be associated with Grants however, otherwise the heritage would have been trumpeted front and centre in the slick and one-page website that advertises the Guyana-Martinique blended rum nowin fact, the company that makes it is completely missing from the blurbs.

So what happened to Grants? And how old is the bottle really?

The “Guyana” spelling sets a lower post-independence date of 1966. Grants also released a Navy Rum and a Demerara Rumboth from Guyana, and both at “70º proof”. The address is written differently on their labels though, being “Grants of Saint James” on the Demerara label (Bury Lane is in the area of St. James, and a stone’s throw away from St. James’s Streetand BBR). Grants was still referring to itself as “of St. James” first (and until 1976 at least), but I think it’s the 40% ABV that’s key here, since that only came into effect in the mid 1980s in the UK.

Lastly, a new Grants of Saint James was incorporated in 1993 in Bristol, and when I followed that rabbit run, it led me to Matthew Clark plc, a subsidiary of C&C Group since 2018, and there I found that they had acquired Grants around 1990 and at that point it looks like the brand was retiredno references after that date exist. And so I’ll suggest this is a late 1980s rum.

ColourDark Amber

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseVery nice indeed, you can tell there’s a wooden still shedding its sawdust in here someplace. Cedar, sawdust, pencil shavings, plus fleshy fruits, licorice, tinned peaches, brown sugar and molasses. Thick and sweet but not overly so. That Guyanese component is kicking the Bajan portion big time in this profile, because the latter is well nigh unnoticeableexcept insofar as it tones down the aggressiveness of the wooden still (whichever one is represented here).

PalateDry and sharp. Then it dials itself down and goes simple. Molasses, coca-cola, fruit (raisins, apricots, cashews, prunes). Also the pencil shavings and woody notes remain, perhaps too much sothe promise of the nose is lost, and the disparity between nose and palate is glaring. There is some salt, caramel, brown sugar and anise here, but it’s all quite faint.

FinishShort, sweet, aromatic, thick, molasses, brown sugar, anise, caramel and vanilla ice cream. Nice, just too short and wispy.

ThoughtsI could smell this thing all day, because that part is outstandingbut the way is tasted and finished, not so much. I would not have pegged it as a blend, because the Guyanese part of it is so dominant. Overall, the 40% really makes the Mainbrace fall down for mehad it been dialled up ten proof points higher, it would have been outright exceptional.

(#681 | R0106)(82/100)


Historical Note

Anyone who’s got even a smattering of nautical lore has heard of the word “mainbrace”probably from some swearing, toothless, one-legged, one-eyed, parrot-wearing old salt (often a pirate) in some movie somewhere. It is a term from the days of sail, and refers to the rope used to steadyor bracethe (main)mast, stretching from the bow to the top of the mast and back to the deck. Theoretically, then, “splicing the mainbrace” would mean joining two pieces of mainbrace ropeexcept that it doesn’t. Although originally an order for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship, it became a euphemism for authorized celebratory drinking afterward, and then developed into the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum or grog.

Other

Hydrometer rates it 36.24% ABV, which works out to about 15 g/L additives of some kind.

Mar 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #30 | 0430

This rum is one of the reasons I love the spirits made so long agothey shine a light into the way things were back in the day. Alfred Lamb started making dark rum from West Indian bulk rum back in 1849, ageing his barrels in cellars below the Thames and laid claim to makingrealNavy rum. These days the company seems to make supermarket rum more than any kind of serious earth-shaking popskullbut the potential remains, as this rum (almost) points out. It’s issued by United Rum Merchants, who trace their own heritage back to LymanLemonHart in 1804 (yes, that Lyman Hart). Back during WW2 and the Blitz (in 1941) Keeling and Lamb were both bombed out of their premises and URM took them under their wing in Eastcheap. It’s a little complicated, but these days Pernod Ricard seems to own the brand and URM dissolved in 2008.

Put to rest in Dumbarton (Scotland), matured in three puncheons and 510 bottles issued around 1990, so it’s forty years oldwith maybe some change left over. It’s from Jamaica, but I don’t know which distillery. Could actually be a blend, which is what Lamb’s was known for.

Colourgold-amber

Strength – 40%

NoseWell, unusual is a good word to describe this one. The leather of old brogues, well polished and broken in with shoe polish and acetone, perhaps left in the sun too long after a long walk in the Highlands. Old veggies, fruits, bananas, light florals, all perhaps overripekinda dirty, actually, though not entirely in a bad waysomehow it gels. Vanilla, brine, a certain meatinesslet’s just call it funk and move on. Wish it was stronger, by the way.

PalateAhh, crap, too damned light. I’ve come to the personal realization that I want Jamaicans to have real torque in their trousers and 40% don’t get me there, sorry. Oh well. Solight and somewhat briny, citrus and stewed apples, some flowers again, some sweet of pancake syrup and wet compost, leather. It seems to be more complex than it is, in my opinion. Plus, it’s a bit rawnothing as relatively civilized as another venerable Jamaican, the Longpond 1941. Still, big enough, creamy enough for its age and strength.

FinishPleasingly long for a 40% rum, yay!. Vanilla, leather, some brine and olives and fruits and then it slowly fades. Quite good actually

ThoughtsA solid Jamaican rum, feels younger and fresher than any forty year old has a right to be, even if it doesn’t quite play in the same league as the Longpond 1941. Makes me wish Lamb’s would stop messing around witheveryone-can-drink-itrums, which are made for everyone, and therefore no-one.

(82/100)

Nov 272016
 

 

Rumaniacs Review 026 | 0426

While the 1975 30-year old rum issued by Berry Bros isn’t actually one of theirExceptional Caskseries, it remains one in all but name and is one of the best of the Demeraras coming out of the 1970s, taking its place in my estimation somewhere in between the Norse Cask 1975 and the Cadenhead 1975, maybe a shade behind the Velier PM 1974 and the Bristol Spirits PM 1980. It could have been even better, I think, if it had been a tad stronger, but that in no way makes it a lesser rum, because for its proof (46%) and its profile (Port Mourant), it’s quite a wonderful rum.

Colourdark amber-red

Strength – 46%

NoseSmooth, heavenly notes of licorice and wax, some well polished wooden furniture, molasses and burnt brown sugar. It gets deeper as it rests, more pungent and well rounded, adding some oak, leather, sawdust and deep dark fruitiness. These then give way to cinnamon, nutmeg, cherries and coffee grounds in a lovely, well-integrated series of smell that makes re-sniffing almost mandatory.

Palate – 46% is not problem and makes it very approachable by anyone who doesn’t like cask strength rums (which may have been the point). Strong and heated attack, slightly sweet, more licorice, vanilla, breakfast spices, molasses-soaked brown sugar, tied together with sharper citrus and fruity noteshalf-ripe mangoes or guavas, just tart enough to influence the taste without overwhelming it. With water there’s some ripe sultanas and butterscotch to round things off.

Finishreasonably long and spicy; those grapes are back, some white guavas, licorice and toffee, brown sugar, a flirt of vanilla. Not the most complex endgame, just a very good one.

ThoughtsIt’s a firm and very tasty rum of excellent balance and complexityit doesn’t try for overkill. What it does do is present a great series of flavours in serene majesty, one after the other, showcasing all the well-known elements of one of the most famous stills in the world. Any maker would have been proud to put this out the door.

(89.5/100)

NBother Rumaniacsreviews of this rum can be found here. Here’s my original review from 2013, for those who’re interested.

Oct 302016
 

blackjoeRumaniacs Review 025 | 0425

In spite of the recent (2015-2016) resurgent charge of Jamaicans on the world rum scene, an older rum like this reminds us that for a long time they were actually rather quiescent, and exported a lot for rebottling overseasto Italy in this case, where a small outfit named Illva Saronno produced the Black Joe in the 1980s. The company, founded in 1922, primarily produces Amaretto, bitters and Sicilian wines (“Illvais an acronym which stands for Industria Lombarda Liquori Vini e Affinithey are located just north of Genoa). I imagine that they were intofantasy rumssuch as were popular in Italy before rum exploded as a spirit in its own right, and bottles dating from the 1950s through to the 1980s are available online, after which the trail ceasesI could not begin to tell you which estate the rum hails from.

ColourLight Gold

Strength – 40%

NoseYep, very Jamaican, redolent of musty earth, funk, rotting bananas, pineapples in syrup, brine and olives, morphing into cardboard and cereal notes. Plus plastic and turpentine, just a bit.

PalateDid I just pass a roadworking crew with bubbling tar in it? Fortunately, I pass it quick. It’s a bit soft (at 40%, no surprise), briny, grape-y, with phenols and more sweetbut waterysyrup, and star anise. It’s all very quiet, in spite of the clarity of the tastes

FinishSharp and short, with light honey and cereals, some vague fruits. Modern stuff is better, fiercer.

ThoughtsIt’s recognizably Jamaican, but unspectacular in any fashion. The 1957 edition sells for nearly a thousand euros online, this one for substantially less. Not much point to getting it, as it appeals more to collectors and hunters of rarities than someone who actually might want to drink it. If nothing else, it shows us something of the evolution of Jamaican style rums, though. And I still wish I knew which estate produced it.

(80/100)

NBOther Rumaniacs reviews of this rum can be found here.

Mar 032016
 

Old Demerara rumRumaniacs Review 019 | 0419

So this is a rum from British Guiana in pre-Independence days, distilled for E.H. Keeling & Son in London. These days such rums are not strictly unicorns, because that would suppose we know something about themhere, their makers have long since been forgotten, the bottles drained, the labels faded, and they were not made for a discerning audience. Yet the rums still turn up here and there like old-fashioned, tarnished gems in your late Grandmother’s Edwardian jewellry box, whose story and origin have been lost because no-one ever thought to remember. Sad really. Perhaps here we can recall their memories from the days of receding empire.

E.H. Keeling was a spirits broker and merchant who sold rums under their own labelsthis one is supposedly from around 1955. Records show Edward Keeling starting his business in 1825 in partnership with Matthew Clark but when he retired in 1844 his inheritors formed their own company. During WW2, the premises (close by those of Alfred Lamb) was destroyed in the Blitz. Rum importers Portal, Dingwall & Norris offered them space in their premises to continue their business. Subsequently a partnership was formed and, after the war, Booker McConnell (who ran Guyana’s sugar estates for a while) merged with them, giving birth to a new companyUnited Rum Merchants Ltd, now part of Allied Domecq Spirits & Wine (UK) Ltd.

ColourDark Amber

Strength – 45%

NoseSomething of a wooden still wafts through here, soft, not sharp, quite deep. Licorice, bananas, citrus, apricots. Also (get this!) new leather shoes still squeaking, and a sort of bitter cooking chocolate. SoPM, EHP, VSG? Who knows. At that time there were still so many of the old stills in Guyana, and DDL wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s mind.

PalateThick, heavy, dark, heated, rich. Vanilla starts the party, then oak and tannins (too much again); dusty hay notes, then dark rye bread, prunes, pears, blackcurrants and figs, with very little spice or anise coming through (some does, just not much). It was lusciously made, reminds me of the mid range full proofs like Cabot Tower, Woods, or Watsons. Then at last comes the dark burnt sugar and some caramel notes, black cake and fruit, to swell the taste buds.

FinishWarm, fruity, with salt and that squeaky new leather of a pair of not-quite-broken-in Grenson Albert brogues. Tannins again, a little bitter, followed by the aromatic smoke of port infused cigarillos.

ThoughtsDid they really make rums that different sixty years ago? Yeah, I think so. Still, that oak is too dominant, it distracts from the core flavoursand those were lovely. Mouthfeel was excellent. Might only be six to ten years old (I don’t think massive ageing was in vogue in dem dere ole days) but damn, it’s still quite fine.

Rest easy and be comforted, Keelings. Your rum is not forgotten after all.

(84.5/100)

Old Demerara rum-001

 

 

Feb 152016
 

rhum-st-gilles-1960s-rumRumaniacs Review 018 | 0418

This is a tough rhum to track down, so there’s not much I can tell you aside from noting that the brand no longer existsI don’t even know when they went belly up. If my searches are any good, an ex-Carmelite priest called Reverend St. Gilles opened the small plantation in the 17th century (the company itself published a book about him in 1948). In their time prior to the 1980s, La Compagnie du Rhum Saint Gilles exported several varieties of rhum from Martinique to France and Italy, for distributors like Stock and Raphael. My sample was neither the 45% Reserve Speciale 10 year old, or any of the 44% reservesthis one was much milder.

ColourHay yellow

Strength – 40%

NoseCrisp and light, with light olives in vinegar, brown sugar and some citrus being leavened by softer scents of fried bananas. As it opened it up it exhibited the snap and zest and clarity of a really good Riesling. Really too light, though.

PalateLight bodied, even thin. Too sharp, really, needs some more ageing. Very precise notes of white flowers, vanillas, some oakiness, leather. It took a while to settle down after which some sugar and light fruits emerged, to be overtaken in their turn by crisp and clear vegetals. I could swear there were some basil leaves in there somewhere. Maybe not.

FinishShort, dry, indifferent and fast, like an aged shady lady of the night who just wants to be gone after doing what she came for. Last notes of citrus zest (lemon, I’d say), some grass, sweet sugar water and a bit of vanilla.

ThoughtsNot really my speed, this one, it’s too unaggressive and far too thin and meek. It takes too much effort to detect even a good standard agricole profile. We talk a lot about how rhums were made in the good old days of yore (as if they were always better, “back then”) but occasionally we realize that rums in general and agricoles in particular, are also pretty damned good today. This one fails in comparison with its descendants.

(76/100)