Jul 122024
 

Let’s get back to Australia, and take a look at one of the rums that begins to turn up the proof a little: this is the Barrel Aged Cane from a locality of the Sunshine Coast Region, just north of Brisbane, in Queensland. The torturous titlewhich when you parse it linguistically, actually makes no senseis a way to get around the two year rule for calling a rum “rum” Down Under.

There is not too much information on the distillery available on their website beyond the usual hyperboles and flowery language, so I’ll spare you that and just mention my guess that they were founded around 2019 or so, and that they have two large pot stills“Sarah” a 2500-litre spirit still 1; and “Maria” a 6,000-litre wash still 2. One interesting thing about this distillery is they are a sister company of a much better known brandNil Desperandum, which does special bottlings.

So, about this rum, then. One unusual feature about it is that it is made from locally sourced cane juice, not molasses, with wild fermentation. Although it’s exactly the same as the Sunshine & Sons Premium Spirits Original Cane, it’s slightly younger at 20 months, unsweetened, less strong (49%) and in more limited quantities (two to four 200-litre barrels per year) matured in ex-bourbon oak barrels and intended to play a role as an exception in the Nil Desperandum releasesin this case, however, it was made specially available to this advent calendar.

We don’t see to much cane juice hooch in Australia, so it goes to show the experimental nature of what they do over there. That said, the real question for us is whether it comes anywhere near to lightly aged agricoles with which we are more familiar. Nosing this displays a rum remarkably light and easy for 49%. There are hintsand I use the word carefullyof honey, fruits, lemon zest and dishwashing liquid, raisins and dates. Some ripe Thai mangoes, green grapes, oranges, and some hot pastries in a vaguely sweet but puzzlingly faint overall amalgam. It really takes some effort to pin down those elusive notes, even going back and forth for several hours,

The palate is quite firm, and once again there are tastes that only reveal themselves gradually, even reluctantly, over time: some light fruits, pears, watermelon, papaya, lychees. Nothing overbearing or overly dominant. After a while one can taste a bit of orange marmalade on white toast, vanilla, a touch of brine, some indeterminate citrus peel, wrapping up in a finish that’s short and light and sweet, but ultimately, somewhat banal.

I find this an odd rum. First of all, there is very little that says agricole here, and channels a profile more akin to a back bar light white mixing rum. It’s vaguely sweet and pretty unaggressive, and rather underwhelming for something positioning itself as a limited edition special. It’s a rum, it’s nice enough, yet it reminds me too much of those milquetoast minis that hotel fridges stock, those mild-mannered Clark Kents which they charge an arm and a leg for. It’s too easy to completely succeed in a neat pour, and yet not anonymous enough for a cocktail, while being too light to satisfy either. Admittedly, it’s better than the alcoholic water that too often passes itself off as amber or mildly aged rums out west these days…I just feel there’s more here that we aren’t being allowed to come to grips with. Hopefully future editions will try to pack a bit more punch into the plonk.

(#1080)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 advent calendar Day 9
Jun 212024
 

Those with pachyderm memories will recall that the 2021 Australian advent calendar also had a rum from Yack distillery, also called “Tavern Style”, but a much earlier batch, the No. 5; and even though the website only goes up to Batch #008, this one is assuredly newer.

I’ll place a recap of the distillery background below this review so you can read faster, and for once I’ll keep things short. Basically, there are very few aspects of this rum that are different from batch to batchthe reason there are such releases at all is because of the relatively small still capacity, which limits outturns, most of which is sold locally and within the region.

Yack Distillery uses a 1200 litre copper and glass tower still with stainless columns and a 130 litre stainless and copper modular high column still, and these two stills permit the wide flexibility to make a raft of different spirits (gins, vodka, whisky, rum, they play all the hits). With respect to this rum, they use Grade A molasses and a yeast from the Caribbean with a fermentation of 7-8 days. Once it’s run through the still, it gets tucked into an ex-bourbon barrel for four years and a Meyrieux Bourgogne Cask for another yearone wonders whether that qualifies as “double matured” or “finished” but never mind (they just call itdouble caskon the label).

Photo (c) Yack Creek Distillery

In the review of Batch #5 I remarked on its “uncommonly pleasant nose”. Here, “unusual” might be a better term: it opens as dirty, loamy, earthyredolent of compost, rotting wet autumn leaves, and fruits going off. There’s some odd honey and peat, seaweed and brine, and a weak medicinal iodine note swirling around in the background, combined with overripe orange peel notes, pineapple and peaches. I dunno, but I’m sniffing a weak TECA here, it seems like.

Still, the taste isn’t bad at all. It’s firm and warm, not scratchy, with lighter fruit coming to the fore almost immediately: papaya, ripe Indian mangoes, brown sugar, bananas, salted caramel, a crisp and spicy guacamole primed with some Thai chilis (that’s what I tasted, honest). And the finish was no slouch, medium long, a little spicy but also muskily sweet and always that hint of chili coming out to take a last bite

Well. I had to smile. This was such a jolly little number. It gambolled and frisked and jumped all over the place with all those weird notes, yet somehow it kind of came together pretty well in the endonce it got tired and chilled out. After about half an hour (I kept the glass going out of sheer curiosity) it really settled down and started to play it safe and became less energetic, and lost something of its exceptionalism. Whether that’s good or bad for you depends on your preferences, I guess.

My advice is to know your tastes and how you like your neat pour: if you’re an adventurous sort of bloke, don’t waste time waiting for it to open up and come to you, but take it as it comes. You’ll be intrigued, and maybe even surprisedpleasantly so, I hope. And if you’re the conservative, take-it-easy country solicitor type, well, wait a whileyou’ll be pleasantly surprised too.

(#1078)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Company Background (from R-0921)

The distillery is located in the eastern state of Victoria, and was founded in 2016 by two friends, Mick and Jamie, conforming to the pattern of many others: the guys were checking out whale sharks in Ningaloo (Western Australia) six years earlier, the conversation turned to spirits and opening a business, and in short order they had made plans.

Then they spent years securing the financing, buying and installing the necessary equipment and started their business. They called it Yack after the river and town in which they set up shop, and quite sensibly shortened its name, because calling it Yackandandah might have been a labelling problem and a tongue twister for lexically challenged. Unsurprisingly they have made gin and vodka to pay the immediate bills, before heading into whisky territory (where they are already up to the 27th edition as of 2024) and the 12th iteration of their rum line.


Other notes

  • From the 2023 advent calendar Day 11
  • I’m not actually sure what atavern stylerum isbut I hope to find out one day.
  • The logo on the company masthead is that of a Blue Murray Spiny Crayfish, commonly found in the creek and was designed by Jamie Heritage and his sister.
  • Yack Creek Distillery is one of a cluster of small family-run distilleries established over the last decade in and around Yackandandah and its surrounds. Backwoods Distilling is close by, and in the area are Barking Owl, Bilson’s, Glenbosch, joining the 10 or so distilleries in Victoria’s High Country.
Jun 102024
 

Now here we’re approaching a distillery that moves away somewhat from the east coast of Australia where so many other rum making outfits are found, and situates itself firmly on the southern island of Tasmania (about which I could tell you plenty historical stuff, but may risk putting you to sleep and so shall desist).

In brief, this distillery, located in New Norfolk (get it?) in the Derwent Valley in southern Tasmania, just NW of Hobart, the capital, is on premises that once housed a hospital and asylum complex. It was established in 2019 by Tarrant Derkson, who decided to make a distillery that focused on rum, after realising there weren’t any such animals around, for reasons rooted in the same history I’ll just touch on here.

Now, from 1839 until 1992, spirit productionprimarily whisky, for which there had once been sixteen distillerieswas prohibited in Tasmania, but the ban was eventually repealed. These days there are a few companies making rums, yet, similar to Australia, one gets the impression that in the main they move around gins and whiskies and rum is a sideline. Island Coast, Blackman’s Bay, Deviant Distillery, Knocklofty, Bridport Distilling are examples, making rum as a reflex nod to rounding out the portfolio rather than a prime focus (I make no judgement on this, it’s just economics and wherewithal, that’s all)

New Norfolk has no time for any of newfangled notions like portfolio diversity and resolutely makes rums, pretty much only rums, and amuse themselves by often using some very intriguing names for them. They currently produce various liqueurs, spiced rums and straightforward rums…but it is the 60% Drone Riot Wild Cane Spirit and the Diablo Robotico 66.6% pure single cask rum which really interest me, quite aside from this one, which is called Dormant Star for reasons that are probably related to it being dormant until released by cracking the bottle and quaffing it (something similar to the way Velier called one line of its rumsLiberationand gave it the year of bottling not the year of laying it down to age.

Photo (c) New Norfolk Distillery

The website production details are spartan at best but from photos and additional notes of the advent calendar we can infer the following: molasses based with some cane sugar for the ferments, which takes 7-14 days and results in a 12-14% wash which gets run through “Riley” their tame copper pot still, after which it is set to age in American oak for 2+ years. Now, according to Mrs and Mrs Rum, there is some minor dosage, but I didn’t get a chance to check it and anyway like I said, I tend to reserve judgement on this until I actually try the final product.

The nose is quite interesting: it opens with an initial aroma of dusty drywall, paint, varnish, rubber tyres and new leather upholstery of a car that sat too long in the sun (so maybe there’s an unsupervised house repairman running around the distillery?). This is balanced off by chocolates, nuts, vanilla, cardboard, rye bread, light fruits (papaya, pears, light green grapes, which is pleasant), and treacle over hot fresh pancakes, so there’s quite a bit to parse here.

The taste is a little less complicated. At 47.5% it’s firm and assertive, not particularly sharp, quite soft, a little sweet, and initial flavours are of honey plus fruitsbananas, pears, grapes, and guavas (the white ones), with some green apples providing that slight tart bite to cut the experience. There are also some light caramel and breakfast spices, vanilla and cinnamon, but one has to strain to pick those out and it’s hardly worth trying, as the finish does provide a summary of that as well, and overall it finishes quietly

This is a really nice, easygoing hot weather rum, the sort that’s quite sippable. If I had an issue with it at all it’s that it is too tame, not particularly complex and could showcase a bit more. It’s pleasant without attempting any exceptionalism, and what it succeeds at is not pissing anyone offthere is absolutely nothing wrong with it that a person who likes easier Spanish style rums would find fault with. For those who want something more brawny and uncompromising, this isn’t for you: for everyone else, it’s fine.


(#1076)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar Day 16
  • More details may be added later about the distillery background and production process, as I have some outstanding queries to them.
  • I was told there was some light dosage here but have not confirmed this
  • The five minute video recap is here.
Jun 052024
 

Even though it has been knocking around Europe for at least a decade, Héritiers Madkaud is not a name that will be instantly familiar to many rum aficionados…it’s probably best known to the French. They have occasionally been spotted on the festival circuit (and won a few awards), and remain easier to find in online stores than in brick and mortar shops. The rhums they release are from Martinique, are AOC certified cane juice rhums, and the blanc I tried was definitely right up there, so it’s kind of a downer that more people aren’t familiar with it

A few words about the brand, then. The basic story is that in 1893, Félicien Madkaudthe son of a freed slave from Lorraine in the north of Martiniquemarried the mulatto heiress of a Bordeaux merchant. Her funds gave him the capital that enabled him to buy the Fond Capot distillery in 1895 – this was part of the Duvallon estate in Carbet, then the Bellevue distillery, located near by the west-coast commune of Case Pilote. In 1906 Félicien helped his brother Augustin to open a distillery at La Dupuis in Lorrain, then he opened another for himself in Macedonia in 1920; and in 1924 he set up his nephew Louisy with La Digue distillery, which maintained production of Héritiers Madkaud rums until the mid-1970s before shuttering (the others had been closing since 1969 and La Digue was the only one left). In the early 2010s, Stéphane Madkaud, Félicien’s great-grandson, revived the brand, with distillation contracted out to Saint James in Sainte-Marie, based onyou guessed itold family recipes.

Currently the stable of the house has six rhums, three of which are unaged blancs: a standard white at 40% first released in 2007, a 50% edition called the Castlemore that came out in 20121; and the 50% ABV “Renaissance”, which was a 2017 special edition to commemorate 160 years of the birth of Félicien Madkaud, and for which the label changedthough I’m not sure anything else did.

Be that as it may, it is clear that the Cuvée Renaissance is staking out some new territory, because the nose starts out with such originality (this is not an unmixed blessing) that I had to look carefully at the label again to make sure I really was having an agricole. This rhum exudes a meaty, gamey, stinky aroma that induces PTSD flashbacks to the Long Pond TECA, or the Seven Seas Japanese rum…except that by some subtle alchemy it succeeds (sort of) whereas those just cheerfully traumatise. There are accompanying smells of really spoiled fruits and grapes that are flaccid and gone seriously off and yet I found myself somewhat enjoying the sheer chutzpah of the amalgammaybe that’s because after a bit one can sense some lemon rind, lighter fruits (pears, papayas) and florals which take the bite off, balance things better, and tame the beast…although without ever entirely allowing a complete escape from the slightly rancid opening notes.

Much of this repeats when tasted. Here the 50% takes over and gives a fierceness to the profile that points up the youth and untamed nature of the rhum. Once again it starts with meat, rotting fruit and a sort of earthy taste that reminds me of an abandoned house with waterlogged drywall, an unwashed wet dog (!!) and even (get this), quinine. To its credit there are other late developing flavours that rescue it from disastercitrus, fanta, tonic water, more light fruits and hot sweet pastriesand the finish is surprisingly well handled with musky fruity notes cut with sharper citrus and sauerkraut.

This is, admittedly, one of those rhums that will polarise opinion and even I have to concede that it does take some getting used to, and while I dislike using terms like “acquired taste,” it’s absolutely not a rhum I would recommend to neophytes. It’s a hard act to pin down because there so much weird sh*t going on at all times and after trying it four times over two days, my tasting notes are peppered with words like” amazed”, “impressed”, “fear-inducing”, “zoweee!, “crazy” and “wtf?” You get the picture.

And yet, and yet…for all that, I believe the rhum is peculiarly excellent (I chose the term carefully), and resolutely walks its own path, with tastes that within their limits, work. If the test of any rhum you’ve not tried before is how it makes you remember it after just a single session, then something exciting the thoughts this one does is hardly a failure. That kind of originality is a rarity in this day and age of milquetoast conformity, and I agree that it’s not a rum that’s easy to love…but by God, it sure is one to respect.

(#1075)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

May 262024
 

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the cheap mass produced uninteresting blah of the regular run of filtered standard strength white rums made and sold in Canada. They are mostly tasteless, cheerless, charmless and graceless, and their only purpose is to get youas economically as possibleas high as a giraffe’s butt. Perhaps we should be grateful that they do this one thing so well.

If you wonder at my snark, it’s because I know that it’s possible to make an economical white rum that is much better and has real flavour, a real character, and doesn’t require the whinging about Canada’s archaic rules on what can be called rum (minimum one year ageing is a much-derided requirement for any rum in the country). Just look at all the interesting rums being made in the UK by small distillers like Sugar House, J. Gow, Islay Rum Distillery, Ninefold, Retribution, Outlier and others. Or the New Wave of Australian distillers like Cabarita, JimmyRum, Tin Shed, Hoochery, Boatrocker, Killik et al. They have their issues as well but you don’t see them holding back do you? F**k no, they’re running full speed into the damned wall is what they’re doing.

Into this dronish mess of undifferentiated alcoholic rose water that constitutes the Great White North’s white rum landscape, comes a small New Brunswick outfit (founded as a hobby distilling project in 2016 and established a fucntional distillery three yeasrs later) called Carroll’s. It has a labelling aesthetic that is really quite lovely, and a single rum off to the side that channels the most atavistic, cheerfully fiendish impulses of the owner, Matthieu Carroll. With that rum, somewhat at variance with the others he makes, he leveraged a pot still shoehorned into his family’s bakery, did a nine day closed fermentation and brewed this popskull to amp up the ester count to 567 g/hlpa, and knock the pants off unsuspecting reviewers, most of whom don’t know what the hell to make of this thing.

Think I exaggerate? Permit me to illustrate: it’s 65.1% and packs a hell of a one-two nasal wallopboth for strength and for the congeners, which have no hesitation making themselves felt. There’s candy. Lots of sweet sugared sour candy, sour kimchi, candy floss, icing sugar on a cake and so on. There’s aromas of strawberries, pineapples, chewing gum and citrus juice from a bottle. That’s the nice part, and indeed, it’s sweeta bit delicate even; but the countervailing muskier and deeper undernotes are missing and this throws the balance off somewhat, as does the mouth puckering sour.

There are reservations on the nose, then, though it’s decent enough, but the initial the palate is where it comes into its own. Strawberries and wet hay, anise, some very tart pineapple notes, and again the candythough some of the tasting crew opined it is really too much now. They may have a point. The real aspect of the taste that may discombobulate, is that an increasingly dominant thread of red licorice comes stealing out of the night. Once this thing gets going, it’s red licorice all the way and it overwhelms everything else and again, there’s no balance. A bit more restraint on this, perhaps some more darker, heavier notes and it would have rated higher, I think, and a rather disappointingly short finish demonstrates a blurt and a blast of quick intense sweet-sour flavour with a rapid drop off.

So where does this leave us? Tasted solo it might be more of a success. Tasted with several other high ester Jamaicans in the vicinity, its lack of multi-dimensionality is more pronounced, and the crew of Rum Revelations’ 2023 face off were far more unsympathetic about it in s daiquiri (they gave it more slack on the neat pour). Yet for all that, it’s a good dram, tasty enough. Like Romero’s Cask strength rum, this one elevates the potential of Canada’s distillers and shows they can muscle into territory held by better known and more successful exporters from the islands or others from elsewhere who are dabbling in the Jamaican high ester style. Rated against them it’s not as good, nowyet Carroll’s remains on my radar as a distillery to watch because almost alone among all the local distilleries, they dare to fail in style, and that’s something deserving of more respect than others have given so far.

Because, the rum may be colourless and have its faults, but let me tell you, in spiritous tasting terms, compared to the milquetoast stuff we see from its competitors, the damn thing glows like a neon tarantula on a wedding cake. And after you take it out and kill it, you shudder at the way it made your skin crawl and your palate pucker and your tongue shrivel up and cry…yet an hour later you’ll still be saying, with equal parts disbelief and admiration, “Bai, dat ting got some really braddar badassery, nuh?” Neil C. one of the Tasting Squad in the joint the day this thing was trotted out, grudging said “It smells like sweet sh*t but damn it tastes phenomenal.”

That’s Carroll’s for you. I really can’t put it any better than that.

(#1073)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • The RHE mark refers to “red high ester”
  • Outturn unknown
  • Although under Canadian regulations this cannot be called a rum since it is not aged, to call it “High Ester Content” as per the label strikes me as confusing and does not represent what it truly is, so I’m calling it a rum.
  • Tried against several other high ester rums, mostly from Jamaica.
  • Six minute video synopsis is here.
May 212024
 

It would be easy to think that the Karu Distillery in New South Wales has some connection to South Africa’s karoo, given the gin with the cheetah on the label which the founding Australian coupleNick and Ally Ayreshave added to their lineup. You’d be wrongin point of fact the word karu is of Estonian origin, like Ally Ayres herself, and means “bear,” and was a concept they wanted to embody (it also meansEyein Maori).

The distillery is of relatively recent vintage, having been established in 2017: and while in parts of SE Asia it’s almost a cliche that micro distilleries are established by itinerant Frenchmen with a love of wine or cognac, well, in the antipodes one could argue that the equivalent is the husband and wife team, of which he have met several in our sojourns around Australian distilleries.

Nick Ayres (who was in the movie businesshe was a grip/ camera rigger/ crane operator, among other hats) and his wife Ally (who hailed from a company accounting background) initially intended to open a bar, but by 2014 they knew that they were more interested in distillation. They spent the next three years puttering around gathering experience and putting together funds and equipment: in 2017 the opened up the Karu distillery and issued their popular Affinity Gin a year later, followed quickly by the full proof Lightning, after which, in 2019 — following a masterclass held by none other than Richard Seale, because of course, it had to be himthey turned their attentions to rum. Needless to say, there were a lot of messy experiments in the skunkworks Ally ran, before the kinks started to be ironed out: this rum is the result.

Using the same Australian-made 600L pot still they call “Calcifer” (which we can only hope is named after Miyazaki’s film) as they do for the gins, but without the reflux (fermentation is two weeks in summer four weeks in winter, using a Caribbean yeast in ex olive and pickle barrels), they set their first rum to age in 2021, in ex-Australian-whisky barrels fragrantly (and with puns fully intended) named Bungholio, Barilyn Monroe, Master Splinter, Barole Caskin, Stavid Attenborough…and, well, you get the point (somebody over there is just full of vim, vinegar and enough sass to stun an elephant, that’s clearand I want to meet whoever that is). Anyway, what came out in 2023 was the first batch, this one, and they moved so fast that by the end of that year they were already up to Batch #3.

New labelling

Original label. Photo courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Rum

So there’s the intro, and what we get when all is said and done and distilled and put to sleep with the barrel, is a lightly aged 46% ABV rum that presses some interesting buttons. Take the nose, for example: it’s crisp, medium light, sweet, clean and clear, like the pure water chuckling over the rocks in an outback creek, or a really dry white wine…chardonnay perhaps. Light green grapes, just on this side of sweet, a touch of lemon peel, caramel and chocolate oranges. A dash of coffee grounds, with some vanilla and fruit going off in the background.

The palate is really no slouch either, and sports a good mouthfeel that encourages one to sip itnot always the case for a rum this young. It tastes of honey and a light tequila, mead, with that light salty-sweet cashew note that so distinguishes that drink. Ripe juicy fruits just bursting out of their skinsmangoes, cashes, cherries, with a dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon, vanilla beans and some strawberry marmalade and custard. Quite nice. Finish is short and crisp and ends things with the clear snap of a breaking glass rod, without adding anything to the party we have not sensed before.

With all that assailing the nose and the tongue and wafting back up on the fading close, it suggests not only an undiscovered steal but a veritable diamond in the rough, a sort of “where was this all my life?” vibe. Yeah…but no. Not quite. The youth of the rum is still evident in a slight rough sharpness to the way it initially assails, however well it smoothens out afterwards. The aromas and tastes are there, yet don’t flow smoothly, don’t do the tango together in harmonystuff gets getting mixed up and the steps falter and it doesn’t all come together in a cohesive whole. On those levels it stumbles and this makes the entire experience less.

Don’t get me wrong, for a first effortno other rums seem to have ever been made before this oneit’s an impressive release. The swath of prizes it won are a testament to how much judges vibrated to its frequency. Speaking for myself, however, I think it could still do with some tweaking, some strengthening, some more development: and maybe the best is yet to come in one of the subsequent releases, which, hopefully, we will be fortunate to enjoy as well.

(#1072)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 advent calendar Day 12
  • Outturn unknown
  • In six years of operation, the company has been awarded some 100 medals including a Platinum Medal at the Las Vegas Global Spirits Awards 2023 and a High Silver 93 Points in IWSC 2023, as well as an innovation award
May 032024
 

Sooner or later, even those rums that many regard as no more than the mangy spirituous curs, the spavined, rice-eating, lice-ridden mongrels of the rum world, need to be acknowledged. We all know who makes them, and who they are. To those who dislike them, they yap at the doorsteps of the rumhouse with an incessant sort of insistence day in and day out, and are dissed and dismissed with sneers and contempt at every turn. And yet there are those who swear by them with truculent blue collar appreciation as well: such rums have always existed, and have always invited disputation. They are part of the Great Rum Tree, and must be acknowledged at some point, if only to demonstrate what they are and why they elicit such strong reactions.

Bumbu, in spite of the suggestive narrative on their website, is not a distillery, it’s a brand owned by Sovereign Spirits which also owns similarly hyped and marketed sparkling wines, gins, liqueurs and three Bumbu products, two of which pass for rums with only the greatest of generosity. They are all aimed squarely at the cocktail crowd and show off slick press, cool looking bottles, celebrity endorsements, and make absolutely no imprint on the minds of those who actually know their drinks. And who is Sovereign? A family owned spirits company from NY founded in 1999 by ex-merchant banker and entrepreneur Brett Berish, with a wide marketing footprint around the world.

To understand exactly what excites the reactions to the brand that it does, one has to go back to the Original (which I’ve tried but never written about). This was a rum that emerged around 2017 or so and was supposedly made from a Barbados distillery in existence “since 1893”, which is to say, WIRD. Serge of WhiskyFun, in a savagely eviscerating review that awarded a contemptuous 15 points to this 35% “rum” (it is now marketed as being spiced, though it was not at the time) remarked that it was blended with other countries’ rums but I’ve seen no other corroboration of this claim. At 35% ABV and testing out at 40g/L of added sugar and tarnished by all the subsequent bad press WIRD’s owners got, and its undisclosed additives, it was no surprise that connoisseurs avoided it like the plague. Yet so popular did the rum provelet’s face it, easy and non-complex and tarted-up spirits are catnip to those who just want to get hammered on something that tastes okthat a mere couple of years later, the XO came on the scene.

The XO boasted the same slick marketing. Originating from Panama this time, words like “premium” “craft” “by hand” “artisanal” “120 year old distillery” and “18 years” were tossed around, the presentation was first rate and was competitively priced. No mention has ever been made about a solera style system (which is suspected by many since 18 YO rums do not usually got for €40), but parsing the language finds the usual weasel words of “up to 18 years old” on some websites, which nails it as a blend about which we therefore know nothingespecially the proportionsexcept that it comes from Don Jose distillery, is columnar still and made from molasses in the Latin/Spanish style. Aged in ex-bourbon and finished in sherry barrels. Being issued at 40% is, I guess, a step up for the producers, who trumpeted it as “full strength.” Right, But in an interesting turnaround, my hydrometer clocks this at 38.25% ABV…or 8g/L of something added, which is not a whole lotit may be that they’ve been revamping the blend somewhat of later, who knows?

So, with all this introduction out of the way: does it work or not, and is it a “boring” piece of blah, as Wes Burgin remarked in his own 1½ star 2019 review?

Yes and no. It’s way better than the oversweet mess that was the banana confected coconut-tasting Original I recall from a traumatic tasting a few years ago. It’s crisper on the nose, with elements of banana, damp tobacco, ginger, molasses, brown sugar, coffee, vanilla and caramel. All the usual hits are playing, in other words. The additives are there, while fortunately having a less than overwhelming impact in how it smells.

It’s on the palate that it fails, I think. Here there’s much less to enjoy. Tannins, coffee grounds, caramel and vanilla, some molasses and sweet cherries…even the faintest hint of astringency. It’ll bite at the tongue somewhat, sure: what starts to happen as it opens up, however, is that the sugar (or whatever else they added in to smoothen things out) begins to flatten out the peaks and troughs of what could have been a much more interesting rum if left to develop on its own without it. It just starts to feel vaguely one dimensional after a few minutes and adding in “a single ice cube” as the web entry suggests is ludicrously self defeatingit closes up the drink so you get even less than before. The finish is almost nonexistent, whispering of ginger, coffee, tannins and tumeric, but honestly, it’s slim picking by this point.

Summing up, there’s some bite here, quite welcome and as the notes above demonstrate, you can sink your teeth into it and enjoy it…up to a point. I’m not sure making it stronger would help, frankly, there’s simply too little to work with. Moreover, as with many such rums made in this way, there’s no sense of originality or something that would make you sit up and take notice. It could come from anywhere, be made by anyone, and exists to sell not to enjoy.

So: no real information on bottle or website; no age statement that can be trusted; flashy pizzazz and marketing; a profile that’s indifferent; standard strength; not a whole lot to be tasting. It’s the sort of entry-level rum that’s made to move by the cartload, and evidently it does. For those who actually know their rums or care that they are well made, it’s a product that is content to be boring, I guess, and one they would be happy to pass by for that reason. Rightfully so in my view, because there’s too little here to make even that low price seriously attractive.

(#1069)(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐

Apr 232024
 

That we get as many interesting rums out of Australia as we do is some kind of miracle. A lot of the current crop of micro-distilleries that have emerged in the last decade have to jump through ten different kind of hoops just to get off the ground, obtain the plant and pay their way while stuff is being made, and that almost presupposes that juice has to be made fast and quick. Some manage to survive the lean early years, almost all diversify, and others try to put something unique on the table.

A good example of all of this is the Wild River Mountain Distillery, located in the far north of Queensland in the Atherton Tablelands (rum distilleries Devil’s Thumb, Mt. Uncle and Bingil Bay are neighbours). Looking at their portfolio, there are 16 products being made: a vodka, a liqueur, 4 rums, 4 whiskies and 6 gins. Somebody is making sure all the bases are covered, and since there’s a fair amount of medals attending these, one can assume they’re not going out of business any time soon.

That said, the distillery, established in 2017 by the Wes Marks and his wife Amy, clearly is whisky-centric in its approach, and that’s where the enthusiasm lies: many years of experimentation (I like to think of it as taking place in a home-brewing and moonshine-type setup) to make a genuine Australian whisky and a Tennessee style hooch from local maize, predated the establishment of the formal operation. Brewing, yeast, fermentation, still-making and all sorts of other tinkering are part of this distillery’s DNA, and while rums are being made and the ever-present gins are there, it’s more like they are there for sustaining capital and cash flow than a passion in and of themselves.

Picture (c) Wild River Distillery

The rum under review today is a straightforward aged expression, and looking at the stats, it completely straightforward without any frippery: molasses-based using their signature yeast (duration not given), spring water, run through a pot still (size not known) and then set to age in ex-Bourbon barrels for about three years before being bottled at 46% — the strongest rum they currently make.

The nose is generally workmanlike and doesn’t stray too far from what’s expected. There are traces of vanilla, very ripe, squishy oranges and citrus peel, honey drizzled over nearly burnt toast, the salt of ripe cashews, and some sweet, which is almostbut not quitelike the syrup in the jar after the cherries have been taken out. Plus a banana or two, maybe an unripe apricot for kick. This sounds like a fair bit, but when you have to take the better part of an hour to nail it down, maybe not so much.

The palate, in contrast, is much nicer, with a good mouthfeel that is solid and tawny and honey-like, offset by some tart fruits, unsweetened yoghurt, cinnamon and a touch of coffee grounds. It’s not precisely sweet, but the heaviness of the way it samples gives that impression, which is a good thing; and the finish, while short, does channel and sum up most of what has gone before quite well…without, however, making an emphatic statement for itself.

That last point is key. It’s a rum, it’s decently made, it’s tastybut somehow finishes as a less than impressive dram. There’s little that’s new, original or exciting here, and reminds me of the straightforward (and sometimes indifferent) American rums I keep running into, where so-so efforts that do the job are made, yet which lack a sense of real passion and verve, the marks of distillers committed to this product line. Oh sure, it’ll liven up and give the alcohol jolt to a cocktail, but at the end, this is the sort of rum you shrug at, and reflect that it channels about as much real character as parking lot with two cars in it.

(#1068)(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 8
  • Irrespective of this middling review, if you look at their instagram feed you’d see that they sure seem to have a lot of fun over there. I can think of worse places to work.
Feb 272024
 

One thing I have always enjoyed about the Australian distilleries (aside from their cool origin stories) is the irreverent naming. While many are completely straightforward owners’ or geographical names, there are some that enjoy a cheeky wink too, like Brix, Tin Shed, Boatrocker, Red Hen, Jimmy Rum or Winding Road. And of course there are those that take it even further, with names as evocative as Devil’s Thumb, Hoochery, Hippocampus…or Mad Monkey, the subject of today’s review.

Below this quick review is a more in depth company backgrounder: for now, what do we have in the glass? The tech sheet is as follows: molasses sourced from New South Wales, deriving from sugarcane farmed in the Condong, Broadwater, and Harwood villages and their associated sugar mills, all founded in the late 1800s; fermentation time is nine days at a peak of 26°, utilising a wild yeast and ale yeast blend (some bacteria coming from dunder), then run through the 500L pot still, and set to age in an ex-Seppeltsfield port cask for 30 months, with the first year upstairs on the mezzanine floor (more sunshine), thereafter on the distillery floor. It’s then diluted down to 44% ABV and that gives enough to fill 163 70cl bottles (which suggests small cask, not a full sized one).

Keeping it short, the nose first: it immediately provides oily, sweet, honey-like aromas, into which one can detect ripe yellow mangoes, orange juice, wasabi and even some sushi drizzled with lemon juice and sweet soya…which, admittedly, is quite an opener. It also channels some new leather furniture freshly unwrapped out of plastic, prunes, some ginger and coffee grounds, and has a crisp sort of sweetness to it that after a few minutes kind of dissipates into something thinner, and sharper.

And the taste, my, that’s lovely! Caramel, bonbons, bourbon, leather, smoke, prunes and dark unsweetened chocolate meld well together with a texture that isn’t too aggressive (the 44% is a good choice for this). Occasional rough patches and some sharpness don’t detract, reallyit’s what one can expect from a fast-aged young rum from a smallish cask. Anyway, there are hints of stewed apples, molasses, licorice, honey, peaches in syrup and an overall depth of sensation and flavour that are really quite good. Even the finish is no slouchit’s short but very aromatic, with closing notes of raspberry jam, honey and burnt brown sugar.

This is a product that is solidly, traditionally, “rummy”it wouldn’t be out of place being drunk out of plastic tumblers, chased with coconut water, while dominos are being smashed down on a plywood table in Tiger Bay or Trenchtown. It channels a nice mix of Demerara rums and Latin type rons, combining some lighter notes with heavier, duskier ones that lend a tasty counterpoint. It’s perhaps too much to ask for serious complexity and exquisitely aged quality in a rum less than three years oldthe roughness and occasional snide spiciness of the palate, and the rapid fall-off of the nose all show thisyet overall, there’s something pretty good here, and you can see this is an outfit that isn’t mucking around.

Converted to US$ this is a hundred buck rum (Australian spirits taxes are extortionate) and that’s a lot to ask for not only a newcomer without a track record, but a young newcomer. Australians, lacking something of the international choice we take for granted, may think otherwise. Rightly so, in my opinion, because from where I’m sitting, this young rum is pointing to some serious sh*t coming our way from that distillery in another five years, and rummies Down Under probably know that way ahead of us, and are stocking up.

(#1060)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Photo (c) Mad Monkey Distillery, from their website

Company Background

The distillery, located in the southern city of Adelaide was envisioned in 2018 by two amateur distillers (the unkind would say ‘moonshiners’) named Scott McCarthy and Alec McDowall (who now refer to themselves as the original addled simians, or “Crooked Finger” and “Red Beard” depending on the time of day); they met at a distilling conference at Seppeltsfield (Scott worked as a brand ambassador for Seppeltsfield Road Distillers), compared notes, and bonded over what the storyteller in me supposes is several bottles of unspeakably vile hooch and all sorts of intoxicated plans that normal people forget the next morning. Two years later, having sobered up, regained their sight and become business partners, they opened Mad Monkey Distillery in the industrial area of the city, in an old unused warehouse office. There they brought their hybrid 500L still called “Albert”, festooned their cellar door garden with a lawn, tiki huts, a wood-oven pizza van, and not being happy with all that, added an orchard and a beehive just because, well, they could. Then they got to work, all the while keeping their day jobs.

Initially they produced the usual “cane spirit” which is what rum under two years old is generally called, and have now taken that to the next level by infusing such distillates with fruits from their orchard and even using the pollinating bees from the apiary to develop yeast strains of their ownclearly, everything on the premises has to earn its keep. For the most part they stayed resolutely local, marketing their rums around the city, and have only slowly begun expanding outside these environs. During COVID shutdowns, they took advantage of the lull to set down a more consistent barrel ageing program and by 2022 and 2023 had the requisite two years of ageing in some of their barrels, enough to begin selling “rum” instead of the unaged stuff. By this time (2022) they had become successful enough to take a deep breath and quit the rat race, and have devoted themselves full time to the distillery: they have called it the first dedicated rum distillery in Adelaide, a claim which is likely true, since they don’t really make anything else, unlike the kitchen-sink ethos of many others in the joint. That sure impresses me, given the economics of their chosen field.


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 6. This is Batch #2 from 2021. Batch #1 was introduced in 2022, I think
  • The use of a distinctive bottle shape is pretty cool. Kind of makes the rum stand out on a shelf. It was also deliberately chosen (the supplier calls the stylepirate”) to stand out, since at the time of selection, the majority of bottles holding Australian spirits were the cheapest available, making for a bland and uniform look that MM wanted to avoid.
  • Seppeltsfield is a winery just NE of Adelaide. “Tawny” is a fortified port wine they make.
  • When I asked about the distillery name, Alex responded “Mad Monkey came from my long want to name a business after something Monkey related, (Monki has long been a handle of mine) and the Mad bit is coined to the wild black magic type fermentation of rum!” Can’t argue with that logic.
  • The form of the logo is similar to both the Leipzig Trade Fair in Germany and Matugga rums. I guess there are only so many ways to artistically render twoMs.
Feb 162024
 

“Oh wow!” I wrote with a sort of delighted and startled surprise when first nosing Archie Rose’s 40% white rum they called White Cane. I had not tried anything from the distillery beforeindeed, I knew very little about itbut the rich and oily scent of a mechanic’s shop fumigated with vanilla flavoured acetones was really not what I had expected as an opening salvo. And it didn’t stop there, because the seeming light ‘n’ easy aromas it started out with contained quite a bit more oomph than was initially apparentonce it opened it up it was brine, olives, ripe and watery fruits, lots of pears and papaya, figs and persimmons, even a hint of caramel and some sweet yet tart apple cider. The nose displayed a thickness and depth that was quietly impressiveone does not often see this kind of profile in a standard proof rum very often.

Putting down my glass, I looked curiously at the sample label. Who was is this outfit? What was behind the name? Was it a left-handed nod to WW1 ack-ack fire, maybe, or a hat tip to Riverdale and the comics? An old but forgotten relative, perhaps, or a gone-to-seed second eleven cricket player from the past who nobody except the owners remembered?

Apparently not. Some references suggest that “Archie” was a slang word, a pseudonym for an underground distilling bootlegger at a time in the 1800s when the temperance movement was ascendant in Australia and distillation was illicit, if not quite illegal; and since the founder, Will Edwards established the distillery in its first location in Rosebery, an inner suburb of south Sidney, the name seemed a good fit. A more prosaic alternative is that the neighbourhood itself was named after an uninspiring and obscure 19th century British PM, Archibald Primrose, and the distillery took the contracted form of his name, so take your pick.

Anyway, it was apparently the first new distillery in the city since 1853 (one wonders what the previous one was) and comprised of several Italian made fermentation tanks (named after rappers), and three hand built gas-powered steam-boiler-heated 3600-litre pot stills made by Peter Bailey, who at the time was the country’s only still maker. It was mostly family financed, and sported a very good bar right next to the distillery to help make ends meet.

“White Cane” was and remains the company’s only unaged rum (there are some experimentals coming as well, however), and it’s interesting that they went with that name instead of the near universal “cane spirit” moniker everyone else has been using over there. The source cane came from Condong up in NSW just south of Brisbane, so the molasses likely originated from the Condong Sugar Mill, and the wash blended two kinds of molasseshigh test and B-gradefermented with two different yeasts for 4-16 days, then run through their main and pilot still at least twice, with part being “cold” (or vacuum) distilled.

That fermentation and complex distillation was probably why the taste, as well as the nose, had enough chops to excite some curiosity, if not outright enthusiasm. It presented like a crisp, tangy, citrus-like 7-up, with green apples, pineapples, ripe pears on the edge of going off, red grapes and a subtle bite of ginger. The nose, I felt, was better, but for the taste to be this interesting at 40% did demonstrate that the awards the rum won (three so far) was not mere happenstance or flinging medals at everything that turned up. The palate continued to provide subtle and almost delicate notes: white chocolate, crushed walnuts some mint, fennel, sweet coconut shavings and some faint mustier cardboard notes, leading to a short, easy, sweet and spicy finish redolent of cinnamon and ginger and papaya. Nice.

Names and origins aside, currently the distillery boasts five different rums (and fifteen whiskies, ten gins, four vodkas and various other alcoholic products, lest you err in thinking their focus is on the Noble Spirit). Their origin was, and remains primarily in, whisky, for which they have won oodles of awards, and boosted their cash flow so well that in 2020 they were able to float A$100 million financing to move to Banksmeadow, a few kilometres south of the original location, leaving Rosebery to be a sort of visitor’s area for tours, classes and other events. Two massive new pot stills were also installed allowing production to be significantly increased.

As always, there is the downside that such a wide variety of spirits production dilutes focus on any single one. Not something I can blame a distillery for, since making payroll, paying rent and expanding the business is what it’s about, but lessening the attention that can be paid to developing and improving one product. Clearly whisky is the core business and everything orbits that priority (my opinion); and we must be careful not to over-romanticize the myth of the Great Little Solo Distiller Working in Obscurity, since commercial enterprises do make good juice, and not always by accident or as throwaways. RecentHeavy Cane,” “Virgin Caneand other experimental rums Archie Rose is playing with point to a committed and interested distilling team that wants to do more than just make another supermarket rum.

The White Cane, even at 40%, is pretty good and that’s an endorsement I don’t give often. I think the panoply of tastesadmittedly delicate and occasionally too faint and hard to pick apartplay well together, don’t overstay their welcome or allow any one element to hog the show, and provide a nice drinking experience. Sometimes just as much work goes into an unaged spirit as an aged oneperhaps more since there’s no backstop of ageing to improve anything so what comes off the still had better be readyand it’s clear the distiller paid attention to the entire production process to provide both mixing and sipping chops. One can only hope the distillery expands the range and ups the proof, because then not only would it likely garner even more awards, but I’d be able to bug Steve Magarry yet again…to get me a whole bottle, not just a sample.

(#1058)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 7. This is Batch #2 from 2023. Batch #1 was introduced in 2022
  • Production notes from company webpage.
Feb 062024
 

Photo (c) Whisky Auctioneer

Rumaniacs Review R-162 | #1055

Fantasias as a class of rum have pretty much faded from public view, only resurrected periodically in retrospectives like this onethese days spiced rums and spirit liqueurs hog attention and wallets. Yet they were popular, once, mostly in Europe around the 1950s to 1970s. By the eighties the style had started to diminish in popularity and the rise of standards and production regulation at a country- or regional level, as well as the emergence of a “pure” rum culture probably caused is eventual demise…though not it’s complete extinction..

What Fantasia rums were, was an evolution of the “Inlander” or domestic rhums of Germany and eastern Europe, also called verschnitt: Stroh, Tuzemak, Badel Domaci, Maraska and Casino 50° are its inheritors. Originally it was cheap or neutral alcoholoften from beetsthat was then added to: sometimes that addition was high ester Jamaican rums like DOKs, at others it was herbs and spices or infusions that gave it a local touch. It was always meant to be a sort of digestif, and this was why many of them were noted as being liqueurs. Italy was famed for them and indeed the first ones I ever found were from there, made by companies like Antoniazzi, Pagliarini, Tocini and Masera, who almost nobody now recalls.

As with those, not much is known about the company that made this one, except that it hails from west-central Portugal south of Porto; it was a wine wholesesaler and importer that also dealt in brandies and sparkling wines, and themanufacture of prepared and unprepared spirits” (the Portuguese term is Aguardentes preparadas / não preparadasfabricantes for those who want to try a better translation than my evidently wobbly one here). As far as I can tell, the company, which had a history dating back to the post-war years, eventually filed for insolvency in 2012 and was completely liquidated in 2023.

NoseNo surprise: wispy and faint, and quite thin. Apricots and cherries in syrup, Ripe peaches and the tartness of unripe fleshy fruits. Cherry syrup and myrtle, rosemary. White wine, green grapes, toffee and some vanilla. A touch of apple cider and lemon pie.

PalateSweet, but with an edge. Ripe apples and riper mangoes, plus those cherries in syrup again, which if I recall those first Italian fantasias from the 1950s I tried so many years ago, was something of a characteristic for them too. A nice hint of brine, olives and hot black tea; vanilla zest and some ice cream is about all.

FinishSweet, light, bland; vanilla and light pears, a touch of salt.

ThoughtsSuch a mixed bag of various tastes and aromas, that it comes out as indeterminate, and the additions are clear: no barrel ever imparted flavours such as these, although there is a tinge of “ruminess” coiling about the whole thing, so it’s not completely bad. Still, even at 40%, discerning a real profile is an effort in concentration: at end, what we conclude is that it really is mostly like flavoured rum-like ethanol and sugar water, without enough of a body or character to make a coherent statement for today’s rum enthusiasts. We buy it more for history and curiosity, not for sharing or showing off.

(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The term “corado artificialmente” on the label means “artificially coloured”
  • The rhum was bought at auctionthe 1970s era dates from the listingand shared with me by ex-rumista, wrestling enthusiast and good friend, Nicolai, so thanks to the man for the assist.
Feb 012024
 

Cabarita Spirits is the Australian equivalent of Nine Leaves, or so I like telling myself, and Keri Algar, the Spanish-born New Zealander who is the owner, may live in one of the prettiest places on earth, close to Cabarita Beach in the Tweed Shire of New South Wales (Husk Distillers are also in the neighbourhood). Like Yoshi-san in Japan before he did a runner on us, she is also chief cook and bottle washer, to say nothing of the entire procurement department, sales force, accounting section, maintenance manager, head distiller, bottling line and managing director all rolled into one. No, really.

Photo (c) Cabarita Spirits, from the webpage

All kidding aside, Cabarita is a small distillery, conceived in 2019 after Keri was feeling glumpish about doing soulless work for The Man in perpetuity. “I was wonderinghow to be able to live on a Pacific Island in the possession of a small beachside rum bar without spending the next twenty years behind a desk, when it occurred to me that I might make rum, and that could be a means to my tropical dreams.” Starting with a rinky dink 25-litre still and a 25-litre fermenter and a lot of ideas led to two years of relentless self-education, distillery visits, sourcing equipment, and incredibly hard work and experimentation. Finally she ended up with a 230-litre copper pot still (handmade in Western Australia by HHH Distill), which she named Felix after her Spanish grandfather, who had worked as chemist in a sugar factory back in the day, and started commercial production with the usual unaged cane spirit (but oddly, no gin“I never cared for it” she sniffs). While the official name of the distillery is Cabarita Spirits, she chose a different name“Soltera”for its associations with being carefree and unbound, though she does admit that these days she’s actually never been less carefree or unbound, what with all the effort of holding down all these jobs and only getting paid for one. But there are no regrets.

The “Oro” (“gold”) rum barrel aged cane spirit which formed part of the 2023 advent calendar is her second edition of a slightly aged product. Released in that year, it derives from molasses (sourced from Condong Sugar Mill in northern NSW for the curious), has a 3-4 week open fermentation time using commercial yeast, run through Felix and then aged for eight months in an ex-bourbon barrique that was re-coopered to ~120L and charred with a medium burn. What comes out the other end is an almost-but-not-quite colourless 40% rum that really isn’t half bad. All that hard work and playing around, methinks, sure paid off.

Let’s start with how it smells: sweet, light and citrusy, channelling the sunshine of a spring morning where the slight nip of departing winter still lingers and the grass is wet with dew. There are notes of key lime pie (including a warm pastry), light florals, pineapples, bananas and kiwi fruit, old paper, and a sort of potpourri air freshener. Also the faintest hint of vanilla and caramel, damp earth and cashews, but held way back. Air freshener, potpourri. I like the youthful freshness of it, the delicacy backed up by a solid backbone of aged and varied aromas, and call me a romantic, but I see the owner in this one in a way I rarely do with others.

What I want to remark on as well, is the way the palate opens up over time. Initially it doesn’t taste like there’s too much going on (“too faint” I grumbled in my initial notes before crossing it out…twice) – laundry drying on the line, ginger, yoghurt, olive oil, caramel, citrus and pineapples (again). It takes effort to tease these notes out. Yet after five minutes, then ten, then half an hour, it turns bright and sparkling, and what in a lesser rum might be faint and wispy anonymous notes of zero distinction is transmuted somehow to a taste that’s really quite lovely. By the time I’m done, I’m scribbling about citrus, mangoes, laundry detergent and pastries and pouring another glass for Mrs. Caner to try and admiring the finish, which is longer and more crisp and tart than any standard strength rum has a right to be,

Admittedly I’m fonder of higher proof rums, so freely concede that, sure, yes, there could be more strength here (and my score reflects that): yet somehow the whole thing works well and it deserves its plaudits. Consider also the difference between what this is and what the disappointing Bayou White from last week was. There we had a sort of indifferent lowest-common-denominator commercial product made to sell and not to taste: it had about as much character as a sheet of saran wrap. Keri has not made a world beater here, noI’d be lying if I said thatbut she’s made a tasty rum with passion and drive and her own character stamped all over it. It’s a lovely little number, and a win in all the ways that matter.

(#1054)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 5
Jan 152024
 

Once again we start the new year off with a series of rums from the Australian Advent Calendar, 2023 Edition. First issued by the Australian rum-loving couple Mr. & Mrs. Rum in 2021, not in 2022 and now again for 2023, it answers what we out west have been wondering about for years (well…at least I have) – what’s going on with the rums being made in Australia over and beyond Bundaberg, which everyone cheerfully loathes and Beenleigh which everyone likes? Twenty four rums in the calendar, a whole raft of new and old distilleries strutting their stuff, and let me tell you, to get them to Canada was a ripping yarn in itself…not entirely unlike Butch’s father’s watch, you could say.


We begin the series out of order, with a rum from the island of Tasmania, made by a little outfit called Island Coast Spirits, located just south of Hobart, the state capital (Tasmania is an island state of Australia). It is, it should be noted, not a distillery itself since it has no equipment. The owner, Kirk Pinner, runs over to the Observatory Hill Winery (about half an hour to the NE on the other side of Hobart) which (a) is run by a friend (b) makes rum (and brandy, gin, schnapps and wine) and (c) has a still. He rents that still and makes his own rum, so not quite a contract operation like we saw with Mandakini a few weeks ago, yet not entirely a true producer or an indie either. The website is rather scanty on details, so Kirk very kindly answered an email of mine providing some of this info, and a brief company bio is provided below.

For the purposes of this review, what we need to know is the following: the rum is made on a pot still, using a combination of fermented raw cane juice and molasses…so a hybrid rum if there ever was one. Once off the still it is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels with a light char, for something just under three years and bottled at living room strength of 40%.

[My desire was…] to produce the spirits I wanted,” Kirk wrote to me, and clearly he had something easygoing in mind. Not some backyard snarling ester-sporting beefcake that stomped all over one’s glottis, just a rum that was easy and accessible. The nose confirmed that he did fairly okay with that: it smelled of delicate icing sugar, vanilla, pastries hot from the oven, as well as more standard caramel, swiss bon-bons and a light touch of molasses and brown sugar. Also some cinnamon, eggnog, ice cream, a relatively sweetish aroma, and all over soft and straightforward and simple.

The 40% ABV made for a clean and unaggressive entry; it tasted pleasantly warm and a little sweet and came completely without aggro. Vanilla and caramel and toffee carried over from the nose. A few sweetish fruitpeaches, pearsnothing too acidic or tart. Molasses, a hot caramel macchiato, flambeed bananas, icing sugar on a cake fresh out of the oven, leading serenely to a short, finish that summed up the preceding without adding much that was new.

Picture (c) Island Cost Spirits FB Page

It’s a nice little rumlet without undue pretensions, but that same easy going nature is something of a weak point for those who like their rums more assertive. There are amber Bacardis with more going on than we see here, and I had similar remarks (and reservations) about Killik’s Gold, where I noted that such low ABV hamstrings a rum that could be better a few points higher. But that said, it will work for some, because it’s simply not trying hard to be a game changer…just a soft breezy rum for easy sipping. On that level it succeeds, and the awards it’s racked up in its brief lifea silver medal at the 2022 Australian Rum Awards in Queensland, and another silver at the World Rum Awards in London in 2023 (pot still NAS category) – suggests that others certainly seem to like what the company is offering, my own reservations notwithstanding.

(#1050)(77/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Fermentation time, barrel size, ratio of sugar cane juice to molasses, outturn, are all unknown
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 4

Brief Historical bio

Island Coast Spirits is, as noted, a Tasmanian spirits maker (not a distillery). It was founded in October 2021 and has adhered to the principle of making their spirits on a third party’s distillation apparatusa pot stillfrom the beginning. This was a conscious decision made at the inception: Kirk Pinner knew when he began planning, that he did not want the significant overheads and costs/debt associated with setting up his own distillery. He wanted the flexibility to not have all that headache but to be able to concentrate on his own desires and strengths: namely to have the ability to take on projects/new spirits on a whim without worrying about the infrastructure; and to focus more on the business relationships, ingredients, selection of barrels, blending and back end work. To that end he turned to those with some expertise (like Observatory Hill Winery) and used their skills to make his spirits.

In the three years since he began, the company now makes seven different products: Vodka, Rum, Gin and Whisky, and three flavoured vodkas. So far there is just one rum in the portfoliothis onewith another very interesting one in the pipeline waiting to be released sometime in 2024. In the meantime, the distribution within Tasmania and on the mainland is good, and Kirk is building on his success (and awards) to take his juice on the road to various F&B trade expos in Asia to promote the island, the brand and the rum.


 

Dec 112023
 

For a country that boasts a huge population of rum-swilling West Indians and a not inconsequential number of Maritimers out east who inhale dark rums with their Jiggs Dinner, it’s odd that rums are not more appreciated and available than they are. To some extent the paucity of decent rums from abroad is alleviated by the emerging local craft distillery movement, with tasty products coming out of Ironworks, Romero, Mandakini and Potters (among several others); too, the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation makes some really interesting blends (Cabot 100 and Young’s Old Sam remain personally appreciated mixing favourites) and there’s even an Indie bottler out in BC called Bira!, run by a friend, Karl Mudzamba which fields a cask strength South Pacific and Mhoba release, with more to come.

Against all of that you have the also-rans that clutter up the store shelves in their multitudes, and which occasionally tax my objurgatory powers and genteel vocabulary to the limit: rums like Highwood’s Aged White Caribbean, Momento or the Merchant Shipping Co White, Minhas / Co-Op’s Caribbean White, all those cheap Lambs and Bacardis, and so on. There’s no shortage of low-cost fuel for the masses, yet an odd lack of serious attempts to go the Foursquare ECS route and produce a mid-level blended product of real class that can kickstart the premiumisation of Canadian rum. And yet, as the Mandakini ersatz Malabari rum proved, go even a little off the reservation, take even a bit of a chance, target the right audience…and you can sell out every release you make.

The question the overlong preamble above poses for us today, then, is whether the first release of Secret Barrel Small Batch White Rum is gold or gunk, something that gives Canadian rum brownie points…or drags it down. Now admittedly, the presentation is nifty: it channels the old square shape of turn-of-the-century whisky bottles, as does the design of the label and its font. And the narrative is amusing if nothing else: small batch, 40% and implying that maybe, possibly, it’s made in Canada (possibly in the south of Alberta, around Crowsnest Pass) by some mysterious old timer named John A. MacDonald. This is a gent whoso the back label helpfully informs usis a cross between the Most Interesting Man in the World, and one who has exploits so off the wall that he’s obviously a relative of Chuck Norris, Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan…all at once. On the other hand, we get nothing about a true country of origin, a true distillery, a still, source material, ageing, nothing.

Well, tasting blind sharpens the senses, I tell myself, so knowing the rum is standard strength, I waste no time, pour a glass and move on to how it performs. Nose first: faint nail polish and the light fruitiness of pears, papaya and watermelon start things off. It’s easy smelling, and way too light and pretty much in the wheelhouse of every bartender’s filtered white mixing rum. I expect more, somehow because although it starts off well, it fades really fast and soon it becomes more like a vodka than a rum, or some kind of mildly sweetish cough syrup. Additionally there is vanilla, some sugar water, cucumbers in rice vinegar, a bit of tinned syrup minus the fruits, and there you have it.

That taste is somewhat of a let down, to be honest, because the nose suggested there would be something there to enthuse, a bit of tart fruitiness maybe, some sweetness and edge, maybe a lone ester or two. Alas, no. One senses some sugar water and vanilla, a bit of overripe apple, a touch of brine, cucumber slices in alcohol, not a whole lot else; and adding water doesn’t do anything, least of all tease out more. The finish is, at best, quick and lacklustre with vague hints of acetone, alcohol and sugar water, and so clearly it’s not a taster’s rum: and while two decades ago this might have been a great mixer, these days it fails when matched against the stronger and more distinct overproof cocktail rums many other distilleries are making.

So what’s the background? I mean, it’s surprising how little information there is about the thing and in this day and age no commercially made rum should deliberately chose to be so anonymous without having a serious quality behind it. The SMWS can get away with some of this mystery, but they’re in their own zone and do a decent job of it. Not so here.

However, I have managed to find out that the Secret Barrel is a Guyanese rum imported from down south (but not from where you think). It’s been aged a little, about a year or two, and imported as is, then bottled by Highwood Distillery in Alberta, though they themselves had no hand in the selection processthey did so on behalf of the owners of the Secret Distilling Company (see below for more details on company background).

The whole business about John A. MacDonald is fun to read…and a cute fabrication, perhaps based on one of the founders’ relative or ancestors. Perhaps it’s just as well it’s a fireside yarn. Because although I genuinely wanted to like this rumsurely someone who had a sense of humour and a gift for tall tales would make a rum that’s just a bit off and good for raised eyebrows and a laugh or two? – it doesn’t really come up to scratch. Even with my limited experience in the world, my life is far more interesting than Old Mr. MacDonald’s, I have better tall tales and beer stories than he does, and for sure have had acquired far better rums than the one his name is on.

(#1045)(68/100) ⭐⭐


Other Notes


Company background

A few words on the company behind this little white rumlet. According to their slightly more informative website, Secret Distilling Company was started by a bunch of Calgarians in 2015 (I dug around and found out this was Adam MacDonald (the founder and man behind it all), and his friends Aaron Norris, Brendan O’Connor and Chase Craig, who all took over different aspects of the operation). They saw a market for rum opening in Western Canada, and rather than sinking serious money into a distillery and the concomitant years of development work, they went the blender’s route and looked around for stock. They found it in Guyana, and this is why their website speaks to them selling “Demerara” rums, as well as Banks XM rums.

Now this is where it gets interesting. First of all, they never stated on the label of those Demeraras which operation supplied the rum, and most of you reading this would instantly think DDL. But it’s not. In fact, it’s from the other rum producing company in Guyana which gets far less attention, Banks DIH, who make the well regarded XM series of rums (which of course also contradicts the “Made in Canada” on the label). Secondly, in the About page they claim the rum is from the “Banks Distillery of Guyana” except that Banks is not and never has been a distillerythey’re a brewery and a rum blender, not a distillery, and have no plans to change that. But ok: let’s chalk that up to beginner’s enthusiasm and cut them some slack.

And thirdlyand this is what got me going down the rabbit hole in earneston the aged Demerara rum label, they added the signature of Mr. Carlton Joao, as the Blender. This is two faux pas in one, because (a) they did so without his permission and (b) he’s not a blender at all, but a marketing executive. How do I know that? Because I know the guy personallyI went to school with him in Guyana, consulted with him on the Banks company bioand so as soon as I saw this I picked up the phone and called him and asked what was going on. He said he knew nothing at all about it; Banks sold them stock between 2015 and 2018 and they distribute the XM rum line, but that was all. The commercial relationship was pretty much over years ago.

Where their rums subsequent to 2018 come from is not mentioned anywhere, but since the original founders sold out to White Pine Resources in 2017 (this was reorganised into SBD Capital, the current owner, the following year; they invest in mining and minerals properties and for a while had alcohol and liquor sales as its prime cash generation unit), it’s possible that the Guyana route was closed down and local sources may have taken over. Gradually sales dropped, the share price of SBD dropped from three bucks a share to pennies and when I spoke to Brian Stecyk, the CEO (who was more than helpful, if understandably cagey about the affairs of the company) I got the distinct impression he’s wrapping up the show and Secret Barrel is no longer a functioning entity. In a few years the rum is likely to be a Rumaniacs entry.


 

Nov 062023
 

A few months ago I posted a picture of what I was tasting that week on Instagram which included the Camikara 12 YO: I was surprised and pleased at the responses which said how much people had liked itmost of these came from those who had sampled it at that year’s UK rum festival. This is an export rum from India which has two younger siblings (a 3YO and an 8YO) and remains a rather unknown quantity to many, perhaps because they have all been issued quietly and without the serious social media fanfare as attends so many other rums these days, and been reviewed by too few.

Yet I think we’d better start paying some attention, because this rum presses a number of buttons that, had they been made in more familiar climes by more familiar names, would have had us checking it out almost by default. Consider: here is a rum from a single cane varietal, made from cane juice (not jaggery or molasses), pot still distilled, aged for twelve years and bottled at a solid 50% ABV. Plus, it’s from India which, while having a great record in whiskies, does not have a stellar reputation for rums, yet which has on occasion surprised us with products of uncommon quality.

Piccadily Distillers made this rum in Haryana, a northern Indian stateit abuts the Punjab, and is just due south of Solan: those with long memories may recall that this is where Mohan Meakin of Old Monk fame started things going back in the 1800s. Piccadily themselves are better known, especially in India, for their malt whiskies Indri and Whistler and it’s never been made clear exactly why they would branch out into rums on an international scale, though my own impression is the market in India is simply too crowded with ersatz rums already, and increasing premiumisation of the spirit in the West suggests an opportunity to break into that market with an unusual product from a near-unknown location.

So that’s the background: what about the rum?

Nosing it suggested that the company has dispensed with most of the subtly and never-quite-proved flavoured profiles of Mohan Meakin’s Old Monk line and (to a lesser extent) Amrut’s own export rums. This stuff is not bad at allinitially quite tart and fruity, with canned peaches and yellow mangoes blending nicely with laban and the faintest whiff of sour cream. This is followed by aromas of red grapes and apples in a pleasantly clean and just-shy-of-light series of smells that feel quite crisp, while at the same time balanced off with caramel, plums, aromatic tobacco, vanilla and green peas. The sweetness that one senses is kept very much under control which stops any one aspect of the nose to predominate.

What is somewhat surprising is the strengthwe have not seen a rum from India that clocks in at 50% before (though they have been edging up of late, with the 60+% Habitation Velier Amrut being something of an outlier). This provides the taste with a firm landing on the palate, starting off with flambeed bananas, peaches, red guavas, green peas and those overripe mangoes. What distinguishes this phase of the experience is the spice-forward nature of the rum: one can with some effort make out vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, tumeric and sweet paprika, and it brings back fond memories of the spice markets in middle-eastern soukhs more than anything else. There are some hints of salted chocolate, honey, cardboard, dusty cupboards, cheerios, and the rum presents as heavier than the nose had initially suggested…but it’s pretty good, and the closing notes of damp port-infused tobacco, honey anise, herbs, citrus and (again) spices makes for a fascinating segue away from more familiar profiles.

I say “more familiar profiles” but really, this is a rum through and through and there’s no mistaking what it is. However, it must be stated that its agricole-style cane juice origins are somewhat lost in the middle of such long hot-weather ageingthe barrels do most of the heavy lifting of the profile, rather than the intrinsic nature of the cane juice distillate, which provides so much character to unaged whites from whereverif Piccadily ever made such a white I’d be clamouring to get some. Moreover, my hydrometer tests this at 47.5% ABV, which works out to about 12g/L of something, so readers should take that into accountmy own take is that it still tastes pretty good, but obviously that will not be everyone else’s opinion.

Summing up, then, I must say that as a whole, taking everything into consideration, the Camikara rum is a treat: even in the controlled environment of my study, I admired it (in company even more so) and am now sharing it with everyone I can, because noses well and tastes great with just enough originality and uniqueness to the profile to make one take a second look and maybe a third sip, and it deserves a wider consideration. Like many rums from parts of the world other than the standards, while the DNA is unmistakable, the variation is really kind of fascinating. I think it’s a solid addition to the mostly unknown slate of aged rums from Asia generally and India in particular.

(#1037)(87/100)


Full disclosure: in early 2023 I was approached about taking a look at the 12YO by the head of Piccadily’s international business. He admitted they had no distribution in Canada and no facilities to get paid for a bottle, as is my practise: he offered to send me one if I could spot him dinner and a pint when next we were in the same area of the world. I consider that a firm deal, but since I have (as of this writing) not been able to make good, you should be aware of the source.


Other notes

  • Camikara means “liquid gold” in Sanskrit
  • The press blurbs talk about 956 barrels being laid to rest in 2009, of which only 6.6% remained twelve years later. Well, that works out to around 14,000 litres, so given its limited edition marketing (3600 bottles total, with 400 bottles to India, 1200 for the US, 400 for the UK and 800 for Europe), some has probably been left behind to age even further, and / or been blended into the younger releases.
  • I like the whole origin story of barrels being overlooked and fortuitously “rediscovered” but consider the neglect and forgetting of nearly a thousand barrels to be ultimately unrealistic outside a press release, where anything goes.
  • Piccadily Distilleries is part of the Piccadily Group, which has three distilleries in the Northern part of India: Indri, Patiala, and Bawal. The distillery making the rum is unclear: Mr. Siddhartha Sharma in an interview with Rumporter says Indri, while Surrinder Kumar the company’s master distiller, said it was Patiala in an interview with MoneyControl (he notes it was when the Patiala plant was being refurbished that the barrels were rediscovered) – it is the latter that is on the label, but I do wonder at the confusion.
  • The company’s copper pot stills are Indian made.
Oct 292023
 

Rumaniacs Review R-159 | #1036

Few references exist to track down this aged bottle with stained yellow label and a description remarkably thin even for the Days of Ago when nobody cared. There is no distillery of make, no strength, no country of origin we can evaluate, nothing. It is a white rum, has pictures of several medals on it (or maybe those are those coins, like pieces of eight?) and the implication of the words “The Spanish TownJamaica” is that it hails from there. One does not even get the strength, though my hydrometer tested it out at 37.8%, so either it is 40% standard and then dosed down, or it’s clean and maybe 37%-38%.

As for the dating, the best source is a May 2019 auction listing on Whisky Auctioneer which suggests it’s from the 1960s, and which I have no grounds to seriously disputethe label fonts and design and lack of provenance tend to support it, however thin that is. However, the auction site’s notation that it was produced in Spanish Town itself is not, I think, credible.

This leaves us with just the company, Costa Y Montserrat, SL from Barcelona in Spain. That most invaluable of resources, Pete’s Rum Labels, doesn’t provide any true data, but it does have another label, which suggests they were into the retailing of Jamaican-style rums which makes them an importer and blender, and the whole Spanish Town thing is just atmosphere and a cool label design but held no real truth (which is a shame, but okay…)

The company hails from the Catalan town of San Fructuosa de Bages (officially named Sant Fruitós de Bages), just to the north of Barcelona and the industrial estate of Manresa immediately to its west; wine has been made there for centuries. The Costa & Montserrat company refers to a famous Benedictine monastery of that name, built on a mountain nearby 1 However, that aside, what we have is the founding of the company in 1840, which made brandy in the early 20th century, and also fruit liqueurs in the late 1970s. I think it still exists, but under some other name I was unable to trace, and if it does, it’s not making rums any longer.

Colourwhite

StrengthTested at 37.8%

NoseAstringent and sharp. It smells alcoholic (no pun intended), speaking more of raw ethanol than the easy lightness of a finely blended white cocktail rum. The puling strength is partly responsible for that of course. Also some rubber, minerally notes, green peas from a can, watermelon and a touch of sugar water.

PalateSurprisingly there’s some brine here, again those canned peas (or, to be more precise, the water from that can), vague light sweet fruits such as papaya, watermelon and pears, but all very lacklustre, very much in the background. It’s like a dumbed down, weakly flavoured, underproofed vodka.

FinishAlmost nonexistent, really. Light sugar water, no burn, no tickle, no real taste.

ThoughtsIf the intention of the label is to point towards Jamaica, I assure you that sampling it dispels any romantic notions that somehow I had picked up an undreamed-of pot-still Rum from the Cocktail Age. No such luck. It lacks strength, it lacks taste, it lacks any identifying characteristics of country or terroire, and is best seen as a pre-21st-century-Renaissance historical artefact that sheds light on rum’s development over the decades, rather than some kind of distant classic from a long vanished era. There’s a reason why it only fetched £31 on that auction. It’s a historian’s rum, not one for the bar crowd or connoisseurs of unappreciated rum, or even speculators.

(65/100) ⭐½

Aug 292023
 

The real question is not so much how good this Malabari Vaatte is, where it originates, or what it purports to be…but what exactly it is. Part of the issue surrounding the Mandakini is that the wording on the label could equally well be describing a real rum, a disguised alcoholic beverage claiming to be one, a spiced spirit, or some peculiar amalgam of all of the above.

The rum (I’ll use the term for now) is made in Canada, and therefore falls into the rabbit hole of the country’s arcane liquor laws, one of which, like Australia’s, states that a rumassuming it meets the basic criteria of being made from cane derivatives like molasses, juice or vesoucan only be so labelled if it is aged for a minimum time of one year. That’s all well and good except for this catch: the same terms one would use to describe a true rum not quite meeting the criteria (for example by being a completely unaged one), are also used to describe a neutral spirit that is doctored up to be more palatable. In this case it is labelled as being an “unaged spirit from sugar cane extract” which could be either one or the other, or neither. So which is it, exactly? The producers never say.

After scanning all available sources without resolution, I finally picked up the phone and asked them directly. The bottom line is that the Mandakini derives from a wash of blackstrap molasses fermented with natural yeast for two weeks or more, and is then double-distilled through a third party’s pot-still, after which a small amount of neutral spirit is added to the mix and it’s diluted down to 46%. There’s a reason for the addition, according to Abish Cheriyam, one of the founders who very kindly took the time to tell me all about itit’s to bring the price down so it’s affordable to the target audience, as well as smoothening out batch variation.

Trying it out (with three other Indian rums on the table as comparators) makes it obvious that this is not a rum of the kind we know, even taking into account its heritage. The nose is all sweet light candy and icing sugar, some vague sugar water, swank, lime peel, peppermint, bananas, and the kind of weak syrupy essence they dash into your flavoured coffee. Unfortunately the neutral spirit takes away from what could otherwise develop into much more interesting drink: it smells too much like a lightly sweet vodka. Those who are into Jamaican high ester beefcakes or strong unaged indigenous white rums will not find the droids they’re looking for here, and will likely note that this does not channel a genuine product made by some village still…at least not what they’ve come to expect from one.

The taste also makes this point: it is quite inoffensive, and it doesn’t feel like 46%, which to some extent is to its credit. Light, sweet, a little sharp, yet the downside is that there is too little to distinguish it. Some light florals, sugar water, coconut shavings, bananas and maybe the slightest touch of allspice. There is nothing distinctive here, and the rum feels too tamped down and softened up. I try to keep an open mind and am not exactly looking for the raw nastiness and sweat infused crap that real moonshine (like, oh, say, clairin) is often at pains to providebut at least a hint of such brutality would have been nice. It shrugs and coughs up a touch of mint, alcohol, medicine, cotton candy, it flexes its thin body a bit, and that’s pretty much the whole ball game. The finish is short, light, has some alcohol fumes, white fruit and light candy floss to recommend it, but alas is gone faster than my paycheck into Mrs. Caner’s hands when purses are on sale.


While members of the Indian diaspora would probably get this, the rum does not channel the subcontinent to me, and that’s not a guess, because Mandakini, irrespective of its Indian origins (all three of its founders are from the southern state of Kerala), is actually made by a small craft distillery called Last Straw, in Ontario. This is a small family outfit that was founded in 2013 as a whisky distillery with two small stills; it makes all kinds of spirits on its own accountwhisky, vodka, gin, rum and experimentals (including the fragrantly named “Mangy Squirrel Moonshine”) — and nowadays also does contract distilling, designing products from scratch for any client with an idea.

Clearly Abish Cheriyam, Alias Cheriyam and Sareesh Kunjappanengineers all, who have worked and lived in Canada for many yearshad such an idea, one that they felt deeply about, though unlike the Minhas family in western Canada, they had no background in the spirits business aside from their own enthusiasm. They did however, identify some gaps in Canada’s liquor landscape: there was very little Indian liquor on the shelves aside from Amrut’s whiskies or their Two Indies and Old Port rums, and Mohan Meakin’s Old Monk; and none at all that was an Indian equivalent to vaatte, a locally distilled liquor native to Kerala (also called patta charayam or nadan vaattu charayam), which, though banned in the state since the late 1990s (a holdover from pre-independence days when the Brits forbade local liquor so as not to damage sales of their own), retains an underground popularity almost impossible to stamp out. Rural folks disdain the imported whiskies and rums and ginsthey leave that frippery to city folks who can afford it, and much prefer their locally-made hooch. And like Jamaicans with their overproofs or Guyanese with their High Wine, no wedding or other major social occasion is complete without some underground village distiller producing several gallons to lubricate the festivities.

Since they could not afford to launch a distillery or wait for the endless licensing process to finish, they went to Last Straw to have them create it, and after experimenting endlessly with various blends and combinations, launched in August 2021, calling it a Malabari Vaatte (the similarity of that word to “water” is likely no accident), and aiming at the local Sri Lankan and Indian diaspora. Both the shape of the bottle and the lettering in five languages (Malayalam, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telegu) is directed at this population and the fact that the first batch sold out within days in Ontarioat the distillery, because they had not gotten a deal with the LCBO at the timesuggests it worked just fine. People were driving from all over the province to get themselves some.

In Kerala, Malabari vaatte is often made from the unrefined sugar called jaggery or from red rice like arrack, and also with any fruits or other ingredients as are on hand; it has a long and distinguished history as a perennially popular underground hooch, and that very likely comes from its easygoing nature which this one channels quite well. It shares that with other Asian spirits, like Korean shojus, Indonesian arracks, Cabo Verde grogues, or Vietnamese rượu: in other words, it is a (sometimes flavoured) drink of the masses, though Abish was at pains to emphasise that no flavourings or additives (aside from the aforementioned neutral alcohol) were included in his product.

As a casual hot weather drink and maybe a daiquiri ingredient, then, I freely admit it’s quite a pleasant experience, while also observing that true backwoods character is not to be looked for. To serious rum drinkers or bartending boozehounds who mix for a living, that’s an issuesome kind of restrained unhinged lunacy is exactly what we as rum drinkers want from such a purportedly indigenous drink. A sort of nasty, tough, batsh*t-level taste bomb that leaves it all out there on the table.

That said, I can see why it sellsespecially and even more so to those with a cultural attachment for itOld Monk tapped into that same vein many decades earlier. But that to some extent limits the Mandakini to that core audience, since people without that connection to its origins might pass it by. For all its good intentions and servicing the nostalgia and homesickness of an expatriate population far from their homelands, the Mandakini does not yet address the current market of the larger rum drinking population. It remains to be seen whether it can surmount that hurdle and become a bigger seller outside its core demographics. I hope it does.

(#1021)(74/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The name “Mandakini” is a common female name, familiar to most Indians from north or south. It was chosen not to represent anyone in particular but to instantly render it relatable and recognizable.
  • TheMalabariin the title refers to Kerala’s Malabar Coast, famed for its spices: it’s where Vasco da Gama made landfall in 1498 after rounding Africa.
  • There is currently a 65% ABV version of the Mandakini called “Malabari 65”, available at the distillery in Vaughn. This is one I wouldn’t mind trying just to see how it compares. If they were to make a high ester version of that, my feeling is it would fly off the shelves.
  • The range is now expanded to the original Malabari Vaatte, the 65, a Spiced Vaatte, and a Flavoured Vaatte. The latter two are apparently closer to the kind of drinks the founders initially envisioned and which are popular in Kerala, having ginger, cardamom and other spices more forward in the profile.
May 262023
 

Historically speaking, and indeed even in our times, there are alcoholic spirits out there that stretch the borders, let alone the definitions, of “rum”. Yet I continue to seek out, look for and try these things, whether they are almost unknown indigenous cane juice rums, proto-rums from Asia, or the old verschnitts and spirits of their ilk made in Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th century. Such bottlingsfor example the Badel Domaci (Croatia), Casino 50 (Hungary) or the Tuzemak (Czech Republic) — exert a curious fascination, a compelling kind of pull. In a way they speak to the alcoholic history of their countries, their indigenous liquors, their likes, their companies, their markets, and inform us as to how rums (in any form, by any name) permeated countries, provinces, principalities, kingdoms, or whole empires that had no colonies or tropical connections.

These are getting rarer now, as the EU expands and its standards define rum more rigorously and precisely (though still, argue many, with too many loopholes allowing substandard hooch to sneak through), and the old spirits made from neutral alcohol or unaged rum stock or whatever, leavened with some high ester Caribbean rums, fall outside the ringfence. Nowadays they cover themselves with the onomatopoeic “room” instead of “rum” and the best that can be said about that is that it dates the productin this case, it’s clear it was made (or at least bottled) after 2013 when Croatia entered the EU.

There are no references to what constitutes the Maraska Room. Wes Burgin, writing the only review to be found online, bought a bottle in 2015 on a trip to Eastern Europe and remarked without attributionbut probably correctlythat it was made from neutral alcohol or vodka doctored with rum essences, which is to say spices, flavourings, caramel and what have you. The bottle I bought in Canada (don’t ask me how it ever got herebut it was the last one on the shelf) explicitly states its ingredients as “alcohol, water, aromas, natural caramel and [something else]” …the label on the bottle is torn making the last unreadable. It sports a metal foil cap of the sort we see less of all the time, and I just give thanks that it’s not an old-style Russian version, which were designed never to close again so you had to drink the whole bottle. And it calls itself both a “room” and a “strong alcoholic drink” which is about as close to truth in labelling as we’re ever likely to get these days.

So let’s taste it and I’ll give you some more history below rather than extend this preamble even further.


Nose: Nail polish, vanilla, salt, vanilla, grapes, turned fleshy fruit. Sharp and rather medicinal with sour gummi bears dancing over the palate, plus glue and some rather indeterminate rumminessmolasses, leather, smoke, mauby, brown sugar, that kind of thingbehind it all. It smells rather candied, minty even, and resting on a bed of raw alcohol.

Palate: The confectionery parade continues with cotton candy, brown sugar and white chocolate thin, sharp and spicy. More than a hint of cherry or cranberry juice here, but also a little brine and olives, a touch of vanilla, and that thin medicinal thing refuses to go away. And it’s sweeter than it has any right to b, to be honest.

Finish: Short, aromatic, sweet, easy going. Mostly white chocolate, brine, cherries and a hint of florals and acetones.


If you know your rums, and especially if you’re more into the dosed types like Zacapa, Diplomatico, Dictador or Bumbu, or enjoy solera-style rums, then this will be of interest. However, it must be noted that you can taste a fair bit of artificiality here: the sweetness, thinness, sharpness and candy-like flavours are giveaways to the sort of additions disliked by many. Purists will find much to take issue with, while others might enjoy trying something off the reservation, made by an outfit with a fair bit of backstory, whose tradition is cherry brandies and liqueurs, not rums, and which probably brought that sensibility to this ersatz product.

What did I think? Not a whole lot. It’s tasty enough, and knowing it for what it is, I could have it after dinner one small snootful at a time. But of course the issue is that by setting itself up as a rum, even calling itself what it does, it immediately creates certain expectations and is judged by a certain set of standards. By those, it mostly fails and I think most rum lovers will try it only the once, just to say, like Wes and I did, that they have.

(#999)(69/100)⭐⭐


Historical background

Maraska is a brand belonging a company in Croatia of the same name that makes fruit ands walnut brandies (slivovitz, with variations on the spelling), liqueurs, and of course the variations of the domaci (domestic) rums/rooms for which they are best known abroad and in Europe. The name of the company derives from the marasca cherry, a type of sour Morello cherry, the best flavours of which are supposedly grown in Dalmatia (part of Croatia). Brandy called Maraschino (also made into a liqueur) is made from such cherries, and has been a cottage industry in Dalmatia since the 14th century or earlier and distilleries were established in the town of Zadar at least since the 1700s. Over time the three largest and best known were the Salghetti-Drioli combine (also the oldest, founded in 1759), Luxardo (1821) and Vlahov (1861).

While the history of Maraschino (as a general term for the brandy) encompasses many brands and companies from Zadar aside from the three mentioned above, the one we are concerned with today is Luxardo which was established by Girolamo Luxardo, an Italianthe Dalmatian coast has long had influences from across the Adriatic by Italians from the great trading entrepots like Venice. Luxardo was soon exporting Maraschino to Europe, the Americas and Asia, their high quality brandy enhanced visually by hand-knitted coverings of the bottles, a tradition still in place today. Their liqueur won gold and silver medals at the second World’s Fair in Vienna in 1854 for example, and Zadar became the city most closely identified with the spirit as it increased in popularity.

Zadar transitioned to Yugoslav sovereignty after WWII, after variously being part of France, Italy and Austria. During the war it had been nearly destroyed by Allied bombing and all industry ceased, but after 1946, production facilities were rebuilt and distillation resumed. All remaining useable equipment (which had been confiscated from the old factories) was consolidated into a single enterprise called “Maraska Company Zadar” and located at the Luxardo’s old “Maraska” factory premises which had been built in 1911. It is now the most important liqueur producer in Croatia.

It makes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, sweets and various promotional products, and in the “strong drinks” category it features Empire Gin, Cosmopolitan vodka, Royal Brand brandy. St. Simon’s Light Rum (and underproof, supposedly from selected Caribbean distillates) and of course the Maraska Room at various strengths which is noted as being “traditionally used to prepare cakes, fruit salad, tea and other hot drinks in the winter,” and with no source distillate provided.


 

May 222023
 

Few even within the rum world and almost nobody outside it, will remember the small UK indie bottler El Destilado about which I and a couple of others wrote in our reviews of the fascinating, off-the-reservation Aguardiente de Panela, a rum from a tiny back-country distillery in Mexico. The three British guys who run El Destilado are unabashed agave lovers and dabble with rums only as a kind of sideshow; yet so enormous was the impact that that single limited edition artisanal rum made, that not only did I immediately try to buy all available rums which the little indie had released, but added the word panela to my vocabulary, started researching artisanal Mexican spirits like aguardientes and charandas, and marvelled yet again at the sheer diversity of sugar cane spirits.

This white unaged rum is another from the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and originates in a small hill town of some three thousand inhabitants called Santa Maria Tlalixtac, which is remote enough not to have any highway coming anywhere near it; one wonders how on earth the guys even found the place, let alone the third generation distiller who makes it, Isidore Krassel Peralta1. As with the Aguardiente noted above, the rum shares some DNA with grogues, clairins, backwoods cachacas, kokuto shochus, arrack and charandaswhich is to say it is made individually according to their own methods, and primarily for local consumption (see historical notes below) and with tastes blasting out in all directions.

Consider the production stats: the masterfully minimalist label states it derives from cane juice made from Java cane, itself grown on small fields at altitude, hand harvested, crushed with a gas-powered trapiche, fermented with naturally-occurring (“wild”) yeast for five days2 in seven 1200-liter stainless steel tanks, and then squeezed through an 8-plate steel column still which is of the founder’s own design and make dating back to the 1930s (it’s been tinkered with ever since), and which produces no heads or tails.

What comes out the other end and bottled for El Destilado is nothing short of amazing. There I was in the Black Parrot bar in London (with the itinerant Richard Nicholson, both of us making occasional sheep’s eyes at the helpful and very pretty bartender Marine who was pouring our flight of five and laughing at our seriousness), and when I took my first sniff of the white rum that is the subject of this review, so astounding was the initial nose that my first tremblingly written and near disbelieving comment was “Would you just smell that!!

Aromas jetted and frothed out of the glass in all directionsnicely intense musky and tart white cane juice spiked with alcohol were the first; then plasticine and rubber and brine, extremely dry and very very clear, stopping itself from being blade-sharp and dangerous by a mere whisker. Pine needles, lemon juice, yoghurt, olives and dish washing soap clashed and banged together without apology with crisp green apples, grapes and gooseberries, to say nothing of iodine, florals and even a touch of grass and herbs. The low strength — 41.5%, should have mentioned this beforewhich I would occasionally see as a problem, actually helps here because it tames what would otherwise be a hurricane of rumstink and tones it down so it actually becomes quite good and really accessible.

The fun doesn’t stop there, and the palate takes the handoff neatly, then sprints ahead. It tastes dry, arid, minty, and reeks of alcoholic cane juice, like a mojito or a ti-punch but without the additional ingredients (no, really). There are tastes of watery sugar cane syrup, licorice, crushed mint, ripe apples, grapes and even green peas (!!), tart, briny, pine-y and smoky all at once. “It’s almost a mescal,” observed Richard sagely, his eyes crossed and his speech slurred (though it was only our first rum of the evening), as he tried masterfully not to upchuck his lunch of South Island orc flank. I concurred in principle, but honestly, you’d not mistake one for the otherthis is a rum through and through and it concluded with a sort of rough, slouching grace: sharp, firm and gnarly, redolent of spearmint, sugar water, thyme, brine, half-ripe tart fruits and a bag of pepper-stuffed olives.

Man, that’s some experience, let me tell you, the more so because it does kind of come at you so unexpectedly, with all the in-your-face kinetic aggro of a 1970s Amitabh Bachchan movie. It’s a smorgasbord of smells and flavours that collapse together with a bang and the only real mystery is how a rum of a mere 41.5% can show off so much. Taken aback at first, I ended up with a completely positive opinion of the thing: because, at end, I truly felt that it was not some feeble attempt to copy nobler sires, but a celebration of gusto, of gumption, from a company unafraid to make bold gestures. Trust me, this is a rum from which you will not walk away unmoved. Unshaken you might be, but I can almost guarantee that you will be stirred.

(#998)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Historical background

The distillery of make doesn’t seem to have a name or a company title. It looks like it’s just called “Krassel’s” and they also make rum under their own brand of Cañada which is primarily marketed in the USA. If the name sounds vaguely Teutonic, that’s because it is: the paterfamilias left Germany just before the First World war and came to Veracruz in 1917. Working various odd jobs and constantly moving to where there was employment, he ended up in the Cañada region of Oaxaca, got married and assisted in small batch distillation on the distillery of the farm where he worked. After he gained sufficient expertise, he designed and built his own still and began distilling aguardiente on his own account in Santa Maria Tlalixtac, where he settled down.

That still is understandably famous, not the least because it continued to be tinkered with and improved upon as the years passed by Max’s three sons (Max Jr., Isidoro and one other). As the rum he produced improved in quality its reputation spread, but the lack of roads proved to be a hindrance to distribution and using mule pack trains to transport lots of 40-litre jugs was impractical. By the 1960s and beyond, the sons got pilot’s licences, bought a Cessna and used it to ferry their rum around the small surrounding communities for their fiestas and local shops. The third generation continued to be involved in the family enterprise, mostly Isidoro’s four sons.

It’s unclear when this happenedmy guess is over the last decade ort sobut two American distributors now manage the rum brand’s importation into the USA, so its profile is definitely increasing there. El Destilado is, however, a UK company run by a trio of young enthusiasts and is separate from these; they do not mention the Cañada brand at all and distribute mostly in the UK and Europe.


Other notes

  • The company website for Krassel’s is quite informative and is worth a read through
  • Alex over at the The Rum Barrel Blog has reviewed the overproof version of this rum in 2021 and scored it 81/100 on his scale (about 86 on mine). Rum-X has two ratings, one of 7/10 and one of 8/10. Not much else out there
  • Good background notes on aguardientes and Mexican rum culture can be found in the Panela review mentioned above.

 

Mar 302023
 

Rumaniacs Review #146 | R-0985

This is one of those rare instances where the subject is not some dusty old find from Ago with dust flaking from its shoulders, but a relatively recent bottling; and rather more than less is known about the rum, because in this instance, not only did I have the bottle in my grubby little paws, but happily it was also sporting a quite informative label. Oh, and it was a great Guyanese rum to boot. Those who bought one are surely happy they did so, or should be.

This was an independent bottling done for the Danish spirits shop Juuls (an establishment I heartily recommend for its selections and expertise, though I’ve not been fortunate enough to set foot inside it myself) by the Scottish distiller and blender Ian Macleod. IM is a small company set up in 1933 in the small town of Broxburn, just slightly west of Edinburgh, and they were pretty much in the whisky blending game. This changed in 1993, when they acquired a gin making concern, but the real forays into rum came in 1996 with the acquisition of Trawlers and Watson’s rum brands (Watson’s being primarily Guyana rum, while Trawlers being a blend of Guyana and Barbados).

Occasionally the company indulged itself with some special rum bottlings, though you would be hard pressed to find out much about any of them, and even Rum-X only has a couple. This one was a special order for Juuls, bottled in 2015 from a single cask yielding 241 bottles at 57.8%. What does the “No. 34” mean? It’s the cask number (not the series number, so those looking for Nos. 1-33 can stop their search), and theDiamond of Frederiksbergis a nod to the city where Juuls is found and the Guyanese distillery of origin. Rums of this kind were not and are not a staple of Ian Macleod’s outputwhen doing rums at all they stick with Trawler and Watsons, or make cheap underproof Jamaican’s via the Lang’s brand or undisclosed cheaper blends under the King Robert II label. Single casks like this are a very occasional one-off or special order which is why I feel ok placing it in the Rumaniacs section.

Strength – 57.8%

ColourRed-amber

NoseLight and sweet, with wax and brine and esters. The fruits that emerge are mostly from the dark and lush side: plums, dates, prunes for the most part. Also brown sugar, molasses, coffee, unsweetened chocolate and vanilla; with water and after opening up it becomes rather more tannic and oak-forward with a few background licorice notes, and the whole remains quite well done and inviting.

PalateSharp and hot, yet well controlled. Medium sweet with molasses, stewed apples, toffee, vanilla, sweet cardamom rice drizzled with hot caramel. Not precisely a riot of complexity, just sure footed and really tasty. Some raisins, more dark fruits, licorice, coffee, and this is where I would suggest there’s definitely some Port Mourant pot still juice in here.

FinishMedium, warm, sweetish and spicy with vanilla, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and caramel. The molasses and licorice take a back seat, and it’s actually something of a shame the experience is over so quickly.

ThoughtsAlthough the label says “Diamond,” any reasonably knowledgeable rum guy knows this is kind of meaningless since all the stills in Guyana are now located at the estate of that name, and especially with the older rums, care has to be taken assigning a rum just to “Diamond”. I think this is probably a Port Mourant rum, though it could as easily be from Versaillesthe richness bends me more to the former, however.

Whichever still made it, it’s a quiet stunner of a rum and it’s a shame Ian Macleod never continued mining this vein and instead went mass market. Rums like this from so recent a time are a rarity (most of this quality are from further back in time, or much older) and its my regret that although I had a great time trying it with my Danish friends and even have a sample squirrelled away, there aren’t more bottles in circulation for others to enjoy as well.

(89/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Gregers, who pretends he owns our bottle, gave me the details on the label naming convention, as well as trotting the rum out of his stash for me to try. Thanks!
  • Only one bottle ever came up for auction of late and that was here for £112 in May 2022; another Diamond, the No. 33, was also on sale that month, and sold for £143, though I’ve heard people opine that it’s not as good as this one. These are the only ones aside from the three on Rum-X (which are not from this series) which I’ve been able to trace.