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) ⭐⭐


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.
Mar 272023
 

What we are trying today is the Co-Op Caribbean White Rum, which at around C$30 or less is comfortably within the reach of anyone’s purse if perhaps not their purpose. The rum is supplied to the Co-Op supermarket chain by a very interesting Calgary-based company called Minhas Distillery, which until recently didn’t have a distillery in the city, just a brewery, and whatever spirits they produced came from a distillery down in Wisconsin…which is all less than helpful in tracing the product since rum is really not in their portfolio.

What Co-op sells is a white rum in a sleek glass bottle, 40%, without any statement of origin beyond the “Minhas Distillery”. It is supposedly a Caribbean rum, yet no origin distillery is mentioned (let alone a country), and there’s no age, no still, no source material…in this day and age of full disclosure you almost have to admire the courage it takes to foist something so meaningless on the public and pretend it’s worth their coin. Admittedly though, none of this is necessarily a disqualification, because it could be a beast in disguise, a Hampden in hidingfor all we know, a few barrels could have been sourced under the table, or there could be a mad geeky rum nerd distiller lurking in the bowels of Minhas wielding dunder and lightning, ready to bring out the next Caribbean rum killing Canadian hooch.

Alas, sampling it dispels any such romantic notions in labba time. This so-called Caribbean rum is just shy of a one-note wonder. It is not fierce, given its living room strength, and does actually smell of something (which immediately marks it as better than the Merchant Shipping Co. White) – vanilla essence, and mothballs, coconut shavings, and lemon meringue pie. It smells rather sweet, there are some nice light floral hints here and there; and it has some crushed almond nuts smells floating around, yet there’s also a sort of odd papery dusty aroma surrounding it, almost but not quite like old clothes on a rack at a charity sale, and which reminds me of Johnson’s Baby Powder more than anything else (no, I’m not kidding).

The palate is where the ultimate falsity of all that preceded it snaps more clearly into focus. Flowers, lemon, even mothballs, all gone. The baby powder and old clothes have vanished. Like a siren luring you overboard and then showing its true face, the rum turns thin, harsh and medicinal when tasted, rough and sandpapery, mere alcohol is loosed upon the world and all you get is a faint taste of vanilla to make it all go down. Off and on for over an hour I kept coming back, but nothing further ever emerged, and the short, dusty, dry and sweet vanilla finish was the only other experience worthy of note here.

So. As a sipping rum, then it’s best left on the shelf. No real surprise here. As a mixer, I’m less sure, because it’s not a complete fail, but I do honestly wonder what it could be used for since there is so much better out thereeven the Bacardi Superior, because at least that one has been made for so long that all the rough edges have been sanded off and it has a little bit of character that’s so sadly lacking and so sorely needed here.

There’s more than enough blame to go around with respect to this white rum, from Minhas on down to those bright shining lights in Co-Op’s purchasing and marketing departments (or, heaven help us, those directing the corporate strategy of what anonymous spirits to rebrand as company products), none of whom apparently have much of a clue what they’re doing when it comes to rum. It’s not enough that they don’t know what they’re making (or are too ashamed to actually tell us), but they haven’t even gone halfway to making something of even reasonable quality. It’s a cynical push of a substandard product to the massesthe idea of making a true premium product is apparently not part of the program.

In a way then, it’s probably best we don’t know what country or island or distillery or still this comes from: and I sure hope it’s some nameless, faceless corporate-run industrial multi-column factory complex somewhere. Because if Co-Op’s Caribbean white rum descends from stock sourced from any the great distilleries of the French islands, Barbados, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Guyana, Venezuela, Jamaica or Cuba (et al), and has been turned into thiswhether through ignorance, inaction or intentthen all hope is lost, the battle is over, and we should all pack our bags and move to Europe.

(#984)(74/100) ⭐⭐½


Background Notes

Minhas is a medium-sized liquor conglomerate based on Calgary, and was founded in 1999 by Manjit Minhas and her brother Ravinder. She was 19 at the time, trained in the oil and gas industry as an engineer and had to sell her car to raise finance to buy the brewery, as they were turned down by traditional sources of capital (apparently their father, who since 1993 had run a chain of liquor stores across Alberta, would not or could not provide financing).

The initial purchase was the distillery and brewery in Wisconsin, and the company was first called Mountain Crest Liquors Inc. Its stated mission was to “create recipes and market high quality premium liquor and sell them at a discounted price in Alberta.” This enterprise proved so successful that a brewery in Calgary was bought in 2002 and currently the company consists of the Minhas Micro Brewery in the city (it now has distillation apparatus as well), and the brewery, distillery and winery in Wisconsin.

What is key about the company is that they are a full service provider. They have some ninety different brands of beers, spirits, liqueurs and wines, and the company produces brands such as Boxer’s beers, Punjabi rye whiskey, Polo Club Gin, and also does tequila, cider, hard lemonades. More importantly for this review, Minhas acts as a producer of private labels for Canadian and US chains as diverse as “Costco, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Aldi’s, Tesco/Fresh & Easy, Kum & Go, Superstore/Loblaws, Liquor Depot/Liquor Barn” (from their website). As a bespoke maker of liquors for third parties, Minhas caters to the middle and low end of the spirits market, and beer remains one of their top sellers, with sales across Canada, most of the USA, and around the world. So far, they have yet to break into the premium market for rums.


Other Notes

  • I did contact them directly via social media and their site, and was directed via messenger to an email address that never responded to my queries on sourcing. However, after this post went up, Richard Seale of Foursquare got on to me via FB and left a comment that the distillate possibly came from WIRD (he himself had refused as the price they wanted was too low). The general claim on Minhas’s website is that their products are made with Alberta ingredients.
  • It’s my supposition that there is some light ageing (a year or two), that it’s molasses based and column still distilled. It remains educated guesswork, however, not verified facts.
  • Ms. Minhas’s father, having sold the liquor shops many years ago, has recently opened a large distillery in Saskatchewan with the same business model, but that is outside the scope of this article and so I have elected not to go into detail, and only include it here for completeness.
Feb 202023
 

This is a sample review I’ve been sitting on for quite a while, and after trying it was never entirely certain I wanted to write about at all: but perhaps it’s best to get it out there so people can get a feel for the thing. It’s a rhum made in Vietnam since 2017 by a three-person outfit founded by an expatriate Martinique native named Roddy Battajon and occasionally turns up in social media feeds and in French and regional magazinesbut, like other Vietnam rum brands we’ve looked at before (Mia, L’Arrangé Dosai and Sampan so far), lacks exposure and a more international presence. It’s the usual issue: too small for sufficient revenues to allow for rum festival attendance and a distribution deal, and the pandemic certainly did not help. Since 2022 they’ve entered into some partnership deals, however, so there is hope for a greater footprint in the years to comefor now the primary market for its rhums seems to remain regional, with some being for sale in France.

Mr. Battajon has been in Vietnam since around 2016, arriving with ten years of F&B experience in Europe under his belt, and after knocking around the bar circuit there for a while, felt that the high quality of local sugar cane and the mediocre local rhums (the most popular is called Chauvet, and there are bathtub moonshines called “scorpion” and “snake wine” which one drinks just to say one has) left a space for something more premium. He linked up with a Vietnamese partner who doubles up as General Manager in charge of procurement and product sourcing (bottles, labels, corks, cane juice, spares…), and an Amsterdam-based designer and communications guy. Navigating the stringent regulations, sinking his capital into a small alembic (a stainless steel pot still), bootstrapping his Caribbean heritage and tinkering the way all such micro-distillers do, he released his first cane juice rhum in early 2017 and has been quietly puttering along ever since.

The rum is made as organically as possible, sourcing pesticide-free cane from local farmers, and eschewing additives all the wayfor now a “Bio” certification remains elusive since the certifying mechanism has not yet been instituted in Vietnam. However they recycle the bagasse into compost, and botanical leftovers into a sort of bitters, and have plans to use solar panels for energy going forward, as well as continuing to source organic cane wherever they can find it.

This then, finally brings us to the rhum itself. So: cane juice, pot-still distilled from that little alembic (have not been able to establish the size or makeup), and bottled at a muscular 55% ABV. Mr. Battajon makes it clear in a 2017 interview, without stating it explicitly, that his vision of rhum is one of infusion and flavouring, not the “pure” one currently in vogue, though he is careful to make a distinction between what he does and a “rhum arrangé”. The company now makes several different lightly aged products but I have not seen anything to suggest that either an unaged white is available (yet) or that if it is, it is unadded-to.

In various articles, listings and comments online, mention is made of coffee beans, pineapple, mangoes, other fruits, and various herbs, barks and spices being added to the ageing barrels. I had no idea this was the case when I tried itit was a sample from Reuben Virasami, a fellow Guyanese and bartender who spent some time in Vietnam and who now resides in Torontoand he didn’t provide any info to go along with it, so I gave it the same run-through that all rhums receive. In other words, I treated it as a straightforward product.

What the Legacy did, when I tried it, was transport me back to a corner of my mind inhabited by the Cuban Guayabita del Pinar. It had that same sense of sweetly intense fruitiness about itthe nose was rich with ripe, dripping pineapples, soft and squishy mangoes, some sugar cane sap, and a few spices too subtle to make outcinnamon and maybe nutmeg, I’d hazard. 55% makes the arrival quite powerful, even overpowering, so care should be taking to avoid a nasal blowoutfortunately it’s not sharp or stabbing at all, just thick.

The palate is much more interesting because some of the sweet fruit intensity is tamped down. That said, it’s not a whole lot different from the nose: pineapples, mangoes, yoghurt, a touch of breakfast spices, anise and red bell peppers, and something akin to maple syrup drizzled over hot pancakes. There’s a delicate citrus line underlying the whole thing, something crisp yet unidentifiable, with an alcoholic kick lending emphasis, but behind that, not a whole lot to go on. The finish was disappointing, to be honest, because it was short and presented nothing particularly new.

So yes, when all is said and done, the Legacy is very much along the line of the ‘Pinar except here it’s been dialled up quite a bit. Overall, it’s too sweet for me, too cloying, and you must understand that preference of mine in case you make a purchasing decision on the basis of this reviewI don’t care for infused and spiced rums or arrangés, really, unless the addition is kept at a manageable, more subtle, level, not ladled into my face with a snow shovel. Here, in spite of the extra proof points, that just wasn’t the case: I felt drenched in mango-pineapple flavours, and that strength amplified the experience to a level I was not enthusiastic about. If I want a cocktail, I’ll make one.

It would be unfair of me to score a rum of a kind I usually do not buy and don’t care forsince I don’t knowingly purchase or sample such rums, experience is thin on the ground, and then I’d be making an assessment of quality I’m not equipped to deliver. Therefore I’ll dispense with a score, just write my thoughts and comments, and leave it for others to rate when their time comes. But I’ll make this remarkif a company labels its product as a rhum without qualification (by excluding the words “spiced” or “infused” or “arrangé”) then it’s asking for it to be judged alongside others that are deemed more real, more genuine. That leaves the door open to a lot of criticism, no matter how organic and well made the rhum is, and here, that’s not entirely to its advantage.

(#974)(Unscored)


Other notes

  • Not sure what the origin of the company title Belami is. On the other hand the word “Legacy” is likely a call back to Mr. Battajon’s grandmother, from whom he drew inspiration.
  • This Legacy edition was 55% ABV. In the various expressions, the strength varies from ~48% to ~60%
  • I’ve written an email to the company asking for clarification on a few points, so this post will be amended if I get a response.
  • Because several years’ worth of the Legacy were issued (some at 55%, some stronger, some weaker), I’m unsure as to the age. None state the year of make on the label as far as I can tell, but online stores sometimes make mention of the one they’re selling.
Feb 132023
 

If you have never heard of Wild Parrot, or have but can’t recall their releases, you can relax. You’re not alone. It is one of those recently founded small European indies that has pretty much remained in its own area and does not seek to be like 1423 and expand around the world. For the curious, the company was created in 2017 by two northern Italian rum aficionados: Stefano Cremaschi of The Whisky Roundabout store located just east of Milan, and Andrea Ferrari from the independent whiskey bottler Hidden Spirits in Ferrara, just north of Bolognethe brand’s rums are listed as a subset of Hidden Spirits on their Italian website, and also mentioned as being part of them on their FB page. Strictly speaking, it’s an online shop and brand.

So far there are a three collections out there: the first one, “Art & Animal” (11 expressions bottled in 2017 and 2018), “Black and Gold” (9 bottlings from 2019-2021, all from Jamaica and Guyana). and “Beauty of Nature” (8 bottlings from 2021-2022). The company notes that the titlings and designs of each collection are done in conjunction with, and by, the Italian artist Giulia Ronchetti, and the design and pictures on the boxes and back labels are quite striking.

The subject of today’s review is an expression from that first “Art & Animal” collection, from Guyana: a single cask deriving from the Uitvlugt estate, aged in Europe, which released 150 bottles at 48.9%. Since these gents are probably perfectly aware of the various stills that have passed through that estate distillery in the course of its storied history, I will assume this is not either an Enmore or Port Mourant wooden-still rum, but one from the French Savalle still that was housed there until it too was moved to Diamond (the actual still is nowhere mentioned, so this is in the line of an educated guess).

The reason I make the assumption is because the profile is not at all reminiscent of the wooden stills. The nose starts off with lovely, sweet and rich notes of caramel, molasses, toffee, and even some lightly aromatic spices. There is also glue, varnish and a bouquet of crisply sweet apples and green grapes, followed by ripe peaches, apricots and even a nice red winey background that has no hint of the tannic licorice and pencil shavings we usually associate with a wooden still.

The palate is excellent as well: sweet, light, tinkling,sparkly and playful, like a sunlight dappled brook chuckling over wet rocks; scintillating light fruitsguava, peaches, watermelon, papaya, even some peaches in syrup. The mouthfeel is great, if light, and sharp little stabs drive home the message that there’s still some aggro and attitude left behind after all that ageing, and it shouldn’t be taken too lightly. But one hardly notices this, because the overall experience is so intriguing and tasty, and even the finishsalty, fruity, long lasting, mostly grapes, raisins, apples and fleshy stoned fruitsis absolutely one to savour. How this much finish was wring out of such a modest proof is a mystery, but I assure you…it works, and works well.

In the years since opening for business, Wild Parrot has not garnered any sort of lasting acclaim on the international rum-circuit. That’s not surprising since they don’t attend very many festivals (which in any case had that two year COVID gap to contend with), have small outturns and are marketed primarily in Italy. Yet in an underground sort of way, they are known to the European cognoscenti and if there is any indication that the rums of the line are a good long term bet, it’s the gradual rise in prices on Rum Auctioneer, where any of the range reliably goes for over £500 these days.

So what of this one, this two-decades old Guyanese rum made in the late 1990s? Well, I think that overall, it’s a solid, delicious Uitvlugt rum that any independent would be happy to have in its portfolio. The nose, the tastes, the finish, it all works; and for those who are nervous about cask strength monsters, the armchair strength here may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Even though these days we have become somewhat jaded with the wealth of available Guyanese bottlings, this rum is at pains to show that there is still some originality and quality left in the world for the enterprising barrel selector to ferret out. This is one of them, and it’s a great find for anyone who gets to try it.

(#972)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachmann, who provided the sample.
Feb 102023
 

Memories are short in this day and age of always-on ADD infotainment, yet I remember quite clearly the short and sharp social media posts that erupted over the naming of Tamosi’s first rum “Kanaima,” which was considered disrespectful appropriation and misnaming (at the very least) of an Amerindian term by a commercial entity (see backgrounder below this review for an expanded discussion of the matter).

For those who are not familiar with the term “kanaima”, it variously refers to a spiritual force of the jungle which can be tapped into, a spirit being, or (in my own favourite) the name of an Amerindian deity, whose most famous manifestation may be A.J. Seymour’s wonderful narrative poem “The Legend of Kaieteur” which I highly recommend everyone read, and which starts:

Now Makonaima the Great Spirit dwelt
In the huge mountain rock that throbbed and felt
The swift black waters of Potaro’s race
Pause on the lip, commit themselves to space
And dive the half mile to the rocks beneath.
Black were the rocks with sharp and angry teeth
And on those teeth the eager waters died
Lost their black body, and up the mountainside
Above the gorge that seethed and foamed and hissed
Rose, resurrected, as lovely mist.

Well, that’s probably more than what you wanted (the poem is much longer1) You came here for a rum review, not an extended lesson in Guyanese verse or a treatise on amerindian spiritual naming sources. Still it says something about the word, and to this day “kanaima” (small k) is often used when speaking in the bush about spirits, especially shape-shifting were-jaguars, which are expanded on in the about page for the rum.

Introduction and naming aside, here are the bare stats: it’s a continentally aged 16 year old Guyanese Versailles wooden pot still rum from 2004, aged in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 58.9%. Some caramel was added for colouring, and the company founded by UK-based Guyanese Benjamin Boothe has continued with its releases and naming practises ever since. Like Nobilis or Rum Artesanal, two other small indies founded at about the same time, Tamosi has raised the game of limited releases with high-quality selections that have kept its reputation polished to a shine.

Tasting notes are about what one would expect if one was into Guyanese rums generally, and the wooden heritage stills specifically. The nose, for example, is so Versailles-like, it squeaks; it’s rare that I get an aroma so clearly identifiable with and relatable to that still, because usually there are aspects of the other two stills hovering around that cloud the analysis. Here it is woody, bright, pure, clean, sparkling, tannic, and chock full of sawdust and wet wooden shavings freshly shaved off an uncut piece of lumber. There’s licorice, leather, tannins, cider, grapes, salt, a few dark fruits, cinnamon and bitter black tea leavened with just a smidge of condensed milk and cardamom.

The palate is rich and deep: the proof really helps herestronger would not work nearly as well. It’s slightly bitter to taste, with mauby, cinnamon and coffee grounds, plus a touch of almonds and molasses. Once it calms down, it gets better, channelling the same bush tea the nose suggested, a little licorice and a few dark fruits. The overwhelming impression one is left with is not fruitiness but rather aromatic tobaccos and newly-sawn lumber, and that it works as well as it does is impressive. One false note, one element more than another and the whole carefully balanced edifice would shatter and collapse. But somehow that never happens, and with a long, crisp, dark finish that closes things offlicorice, salt caramel, black grapes, molasses, hot sweet tea, cider and brineit ends by being a wonderfully well-assembled VSG rum and one I enjoyed thoroughly.

I’ve often thought that it takes real skill to bring a Versailles-still rum to its full potential, and there are a lot of hit and miss expressions out there. Ten years ago something of this calibre would likely have made a bigger splash than it did, even without the attendant publicity surrounding the name. Because to get a VSG marque rum this good is a rarityPM and Enmore and Diamond and even Uitvlugt tend to have slightly higher reputations and more easily approachable profiles, while Versailles…well, not so much. And of course, now, a few years on, the Kanaima has faded from sight somewhat as newer indies and newer releases and newer halo rums come to the fore and replace it.

But I think the rum is some kind of wonderful on its own terms, and shouldn’t be overlooked or left to rust. It’s on the far side of raw, still possessing some attitude, complex to a fault and recognizable Guyanese, while being tamed just enough by time and barrel action to be enjoyable. It’s original and deeply rough and tasty as all get outand while I can’t quite go as far as Marius of Single Cask Rum when he said it was, the best VSG to come out of DDL to date,” I think it’s for sure one of the top expressions of the marque and from the still to ever make it to the wider public.

(#971)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Background

As noted, Benjamin Boothe, a first generation Guyanese immigrant to Britain (he lives in Amsterdam now), started the indie brand called Tamosi in 2020, named after aspects of Carib and Amerindian cosmology. Because his ethnic and cultural background is also West Indian, he hit on the idea of drawing attention to, and honouring, the names of local deities and spirits from indigenous and imported folklore, and named his first rum “Kanaima” explaining the choice and its background both on the bottle label and on the company website. It is clear that this was no quickie commercial marketing scheme, but something deeply feltthe level of research Mr. Boothe brought to the table was not inconsiderable (which is something a lot of other indies which claim to honour historical heritage don’t really do beyond the superficial).

You will recall that this was at the height of several interlocking and vicious social and cultural rum wars: the Barbados GI, the j’ouvert rum from Michael B. Jordan, Velier’s imbroglio with the extolling of Haiti’s undeveloped pastoralism, the “Plantation” and “Esclavo“ names, BLM, and all sorts of posts coming out almost daily about racism, diversity, gender bias, appropriation and so on.

So it was probably no surprise that almost immediately people came out of the social media woodwork to accuse him of cultural insensitivity towards indigenous religious beliefs (though few if any of the commentators were indigenous themselves). Academics with purportedly years of research into the matter challenged his assertions. Comments came thick and fast, claiming it was historically incorrect, and rank neo-colonialist cultural appropriation if not outright theft by some guy not even from the region and as usual, some of it became quite ugly. Boothe engaged with his detractors and explained his rationale, which boiled down to this: too many historical callouts in the rum world’s marketing were either superficial or limited in focus, and his own very extensive researches had shown there was quite a bit more to early sugar and rum production that involved other ethnic groups and their interactions, and this was one way to provide more information and background to that aspect of things. To my knowledge not one of his interlocutors conceded he had a point, which to my mind says rather more about them than the argument they were trying to make.

Moreover, not only did Boothe have a West Indian heritage himself, his research was no slapdash cut-and-paste shallow excerpt from a primary school text or someone else’s online post, but a close reading of many historical tomes, academic papers and primary sources to which he had dedicated much time and effort. In other words, the naming convention chosen was being done with respect and knowledge, by someone who had a cultural connection to the term much closer than, say, that of Michael B. Jordan, whose tactless trademarking of j’ouvert to name his rum at around the same time, without a smidgen of relationship to the term, also raised hackles.

However, Boothe stuck to his guns; he defended his choices, refused to alter his company’s or his rums’ names, and as usual, memories faded, the world moved on and Tamosi is a fact of life now (as are all other bottles issued under the brand, which continue the theme of being named after local spirits and deities of the country of origin). With one exception, nobody has raised the issue since that timeunlike, say, Plantation or Esclavo business, which reliably pops up for a question and a mention on reddit or Facebook at least once every few months. And there the matter lies.


 

Jan 092023
 

The rum we are looking at today is named simply “Fortress rum”, after the Fortress of Louisburg on Île Royale, now Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, where the barrels of rum were aged. 1. The back label says the rum is made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients (no further qualification), the website talks about “select Caribbean rums” (no further elaboration) aged in “oak barrels” (no further info on what kind) and the company of origin is Authentic Seacoast Distilling Co. Ltd which has its fingers in all sorts of pies: beer, vodka, coffee, rumcake, hand sanitizers and soaps and for good measure has associations with small inns and hotels in the area in a kind of one-stop hospitality enterprise.

What little the website and photos and my own background reading provide is as follows: the rum is a blend of Caribbean imports of unknown provenance, probably mixed in with a small quantity of locally distilled rum made on the single column still seen in the site photo archive (which may be why the label mentions domestic ingredients, although….). The ageing takes place on the island, but no information is provided in what kind of oak barrels or for how long. Previous comments on social media (especially reddit) are unanimous that it’s a decent Canadian rum, a kind of ok sipper, compares well against Ironworks’ rums, available mostly in the Maritimes and Ontario, and the web page is at pains to mention many medals it won every year between 2015 and 2018 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

I have my own opinion on any spirits competitions’ usefulness, and as far as I’m concerned this is another case where the abominably restricted rum selection available to Canadianscaused by provincial monopolies dating back to Prohibition timeshas so limited their ability to taste world class rum, that even a subpar product like this one can tout medals which mean very little as some kind of evidence of success, and never be corrected by locals. Because frankly, it’s not that great a rum at all.

Let’s take it apart so I can explain my chain of reasoning. Since I knew nothing about the rum aside from the strength (45%), I went in completely blind. The nose was decent enoughfruity, tart, with some yoghurt, vanilla, strawberries and light citrus notes. Some bubble gum and cherries, more vanilla and a touch of leather and bitterness of tannins that had not been sanded down very much. Oh, and more vanilla. There was really too much vanillainitially it was rather laid back and inobtrusive, but gradually it really took over and dominated the entire nose.

45% is a good strength for an unpretentious rum, which this turned out to be when tasted. Some mellow fruitiness started the party going, mostly ripe apples, red cherries, and cranberries. This was backed up by vanilla, acetones, furniture polish and varnish, to which was added a little salt, caramel, the minerality of charcoal andbloody hell! — more vanilla. What little tannins and leather were in the aroma vanished here, and the finish gave little hint of more: some light and easy fruit, cinnamon, vanilla (again!) and green tea, before vanishing with a whisper.

The Fortress rum to some extent suffers from that issue that I’ve remarked on before, that of sharing its production with too many other spirits so nobody has time to do one thing right. As a rum, it also fails on all sorts of levelsthe lack of information provision not the least among them. It’s indeterminate in taste, and its solid proof is undone by an excess of vanilla past the point of being reasonably provided by barrel ageing. This is why my notes have a big question mark on the page asking “V. Added?” And the more I think about it, that’s what they did. The vanilla is nice…but only up to a point. Less is really more in a case like this, and like excess sugar in other rums, it masks and hides taste elements that could be more assertiveeven interestingif allowed to get out there and shine.

But we’re not allowed to judge that. Somebody went out there and decided for us that the natural profileof this unknown distillate off an unknown still and unknown source location, as changed by unknown barrels for an unknown period of timeneeded boosting. They chose to call what they did “authentic, rather than provide data on what the rum is actually made of, where it’s from and how it’s made up (in other words, really authentic information). The upshot is that they ended up with a distilled sow’s ear while pretending they had somehow succeeded in making a silk purse.

(#964)(73/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Originally released in 2015 as a result of research with Parks Canada to release something authentic to the 18th century period. The ageing of the barrels in or near to the Fortress itself strikes me as a nice marketing gimmick, but no more.
  • For a rum issued in 2015, minimal or nonexistent disclosure was something that could be glossed over. In the 2020s, it’s unacceptable for even the company website to make no mention of anything useful, let alone the label.
  • I get the sense from watching an enthusiastic video review from Booze on the Rocks that his bottle was numbered, but no such notation was on the one I poured from.
  • Reddit /r/rum had some more positive evaluations from here and here, and half of the 24 evaluations on Rum Ratings rated it 8/10 or better; the average of two raters on Rum-X gave it 67/100. Nobody else seems to have done a full review.
  • I am aware of and deplore that as a Canadian-produced rum, its visibility and distribution is hampered by arcane and complex provincial distribution rules that cater to government monopoliesinterests, not consumers. This does not excuse any of the weaknesses it displays, but it does create a feedback issue for the company since too few people get to opine on its quality, and wider distribution is hardly worth the effort of complying with those regulations.

Historical background

Canadaespecially the eastern islands and provinceshas a long history of and involvement with rum. The infamous triangular trade (Europe to Africa to the West Indies, or America to Africa to the Caribbean) included trading with Canada’s eastern seaboard, and the French in Quebec and the islands had long established trading posts and a mercantile presence there. Alcohol was an early and common trading item, especially wine and beer which were made locally since the 1600srum, however, was an import from the beginning and came from the French West Indies. In the centuries that passed, rum has in fact become a tipple of choice for Maritimers (while whisky predominates out west, and wine and beer are of course popular everywhere).

Rums were initially bought in bulk from the Caribbean and then blended, a practice that continues to this day: standard Canadian rums brands like Potters, Lamb’s, Screech, Cabot Tower and Young’s Old Sam (among many others) are the result, and it will come as no surprise to know that Guyana and Jamaica tend to be the most common acknowledged sources and profiles. More recently, mirroring developments in the US, rum was also distilled from shipped-in molasses by small distilleries, which often have whiskies as their prime focusSmuggler’s Cove and Momento and Ironworks are examples of that trend, though so far results have been mixed and none have made any serious local, regional or international splash. As remarked above inother notes”, this has a lot to do with restrictions laid on Canadian producers by the state and its provincial monopolies.


 

Jan 042023
 

Rumaniacs Review #143 | R-0963

All sorts of little mysteries attend this rum. First of all, what we know: a Haitian rhum bottled by a Belgian outfit named Fryns Hasselt in the 1980s, at 40%. What we don’t know: cane juice or molasses, type of still, which estate or brand, where it was aged and in what kind of barrelsthough I think it’s a fair bet it’s Barbancourt, it came from a column still, and the ageing was around five years, likely in Europe. A bottleperhaps even the same one flipped several timesappeared on Whisky.Auction in February, March, April and May 2019 (which is, coincidentally, just around the time I scored the sample). It seems to be the only one ever released by the little company (see below for a short bio).

ColourLight brown

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseNot much going on here. Very very light. Grapes, green apples, a touch of vanilla and evidence of heavier fruit sensed but not really tasted. Bananas, whipped cream on top of a caramel macchiato. Takes some time to come to grips with this rum, and it opens up to strengthen the vanilla and caramel component, and add a sort of weak fruit salad vibe.

PalateActually quite a bit better than the nose leads one to believe, although conversely, it’s more a matter of intensity than anything new. Caramel, vanilla, nutty fudge, a hint of flambeed bananas, stewed apples and somewhere behind all that is a suggestion of very hot loose-leaf strong black tea cut with evaporated milk, plus just a whiff of citrus zest.

Finishshort, easy, light. Sherbet, vanilla, peaches…any more than that and I’d be guessing

Overall, for all its wispy nature, it was serviceable, and I found little beyond its weakness to dislike: but when this much time and effort is required for a sniff and a snort, it’s hardly worth the trouble. It’s simple, it’s near weightless and reasonably effective at saying it’s a light rum but beyond that, it’s thin pickings and not something that showcases itself effectively enough for a real recommendation. As for it being an actual Haitian rum, well, we’ll have to take that one on trust.

(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Hydrometer showed 40% so the rum is as stated, and not added to
  • My thanks as always go to Nicolai Wachmann of Denmark for the sample.

Picture (c) Whisky.Auction

Historical Background

So who is Fryns Hasselt? An interesting little company, all in all, and they demonstrate that the French and Brits and Italians weren’t the only ones with liquor merchants who had a rep in the late 1800s and that there were small towns not called Flensburg that had several distilleries and bottlers that dabbled in rum.

Gin (or jenever) at that point was a cheap liquor for the masses made from sugar-beet molasses, but there is no record I was able to find that suggests rum was ever physically made in Hasselt. Belgium’s colonial adventures at that time were more in Africa than in the Caribbean, specifically the Belgian Congo. As the Brits found out in India, gin was known to be useful in that it disguised the bitter taste of the anti-malarial drug quininewhich may have accounted for its expanded production, quite aside from keeping the huddled masses toped up and out of mischievous activities like revolutions or communism or questioning the divine right of the king to have huge private properties in Africa while many Belgians of the time lived in misery.

The small town of Hasselt has an interesting history which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself: the key point is that for centuries it was known for its gin distilleries, to the extent that there is a now a jenever museum in the town, and an annual Jenever Fest to celebrate the spirit. In the 19th century, gin production was the most important industrial industry in the area, and most of the involved distilleries were located in Hasselt itself.

Fryns was a family company established in 1887 by the family patriarch Guillaume Fryns: he opened a distillery in a building called “In the Cloverleaf”, situated in a shopping street in downtown Hasselt, and indeed, the cloverleaf has become a logo for Fryns ever since (they trademarked it in 1908). The company passed to Guillaume’s sons Guillaume Jr. and Jules after his death in 1909, and they expanded production by adding a malt house and an ice factory to the premises, more branches in other cities and a fleet of trucks to service them all. They also spruced up the packaging and branched out into liqueurs, which were fashionable in the Roaring Twenties.

The WW2 years saw them shut down for lack of cooperation with the occupying forces so they started the rebuilding with the third generation of Fryns in 1945 and kept a steady business running; however, financial and familial problems forced a sale to external investors in 1979. The name and branding was kept, and in 1988 another large Hasselt-based distillery called Bruggeman bought it (along with a second company called Smeets). In 1995 Bruggeman moved the whole operation to Ghent, and so the involvement of Fryns in Hasselt came to a close.

This was not the end, however, because 2018 Michel Fryns (a fourth-generation scion of the family) reacquired the company and distillery from Bruggeman and promptly moved it back to Hasselt, where it remains to this day, making gins, liqueurs and pre-mixed drinks.

That’s all gin production and corporate history. With respect to rum, as far as I was able to discover, the company never actually made any. My informed supposition is simply that the the new owners post-1979 cast around for other sources of revenue and somehow got their hand on a few other distilled spirits. The only rum Fryns ever released was the old Haitian rum, and one can only suggest that it was an experiment that went nowhere, because aside from the (gin) distiller Smeets, who produced two rums called “Blacky” and “Castelgy” of uncertain provenance (they may have been verschnitts) and the Distillerie Theunissen who put out a single Jamaican rum, there is no record of any other rum ever made (which is to say, bottled) in the town. Certainly Bruggeman never appeared to have released any rums while they owned the company and the brand.

Logistics and a lack of interest probably defeated them, as there were better rums coming out of France, Britain, Italy and northern Germany. So they focused on their core competency and let the idea of branching out into rum wither on the vine, so to speak. That’s a fair bit of supposing and maybes and guesswork, but I think the chain of logic is reasonable.


 

Nov 232022
 

Rumaniacs Review #141 | 0953

For a distillery whose founder had a not inconsiderable impact on craft distilling in the state of New York, it’s a shame they stuck with a product that has no end of local competition and is at best reviewed with occasional praise, mostly indifference and sometimes outright disdain: whiskey. And yet they produced a rum or two at one time; and one of them, this rum, while no great shakes, suggested that they had potential and to spare had they stuck with it. Maybe.

This is a pot still, blackstrap molasses based rum (for what it’s worth, blackstrap molasses is the kind that has the most sugar already removed from it and is characterized by an almost bitter taste and thick consistency; it’s also the cheapest). The age is unknown but I think it’s around 2-3 years old, and my perhaps unfounded supposition is that after William Grant injected some capital into the company in 2010 (see historical details below), they wanted to add to the portfolio, and made this 1,000-bottle rum in 2012 to commemorate the Roggen brothers who were Huegenot dry-goods merchants and spirits dealers in the area back in the day. There was also a Hudson River Rum at 46% made at around the same time, and these two products are the only rums I think the company ever made.

ColourAmber

Strength – 40% ABV

NoseYou can still taste some molasses, brown sugar and licorice here, also some sweet fruit which remains, faint, dull and relatively unadventurous. Cherries, orange peel, caramel, some vanilla. It’s paint by the numbers time. Not bad…just not exciting.

PalateVanilla, some apples and raisins, a little licorice and bitterness, and a twang of brine. Brown sugar, caramel, molasses, unsweetened chocolate, and that’s stretching. Essentially, there’s not much going on here. It’s not precisely rough or uninviting, yet the sharpness and youth makes it a drink to have with some care.

FinishHardly anything to report on. Vanilla, some very light fruit, toffee, licorice. That’s about it.

ThoughtsRoggen’s, for all its positive marketing and enthusiastic blurbs on various online stores where it remains to be found (which by itself should tell you something since it was made in 2012), is a rum stuck in time, the sort popular ten years or more ago: punchy if you have it first thing in the morning, but hardly new and or different. It’s a drowsy sort of everyman’s hooch that you could care less about while drinking it, and forget a half hour after it’s done: not because it’s vile, or even poorly madeI have to acknowledge the competency of the distillery in not making an unmitigated disasterbut simply that while the rum is not entirely boring, it’s neither more nor less than just a lot of nothing much in particular.

(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • My thanks to Jazz and Indy Anand of Skylark Spirits, at whose house in London I pilfered the bottle and did the review notes earlier this year. This is not a brand in their distribution portfolio, but something I think Jazz picked up on one of his trips to the States.
  • The historical society of New Paltz was involved in making the rum, which I think is some kind of commemorative or promotional bottling, hence the limited outturn of 1,000 bottles.

Historical background

So, the company story, then, if this intrigues you. Tuthilltown Distillery was founded in the upstate-NY township colloquially known by that name (after a Mr. Tuthill who founded a grist mill there in 1788), but is formally called Gardiner. It was itself established by fleeing Huguenots who settled in the area in the mid-1600s and also established a small town slightly to the north called New Paltz. It was a thriving town by the mid-1700s, and it is useful to know that a pair of Swiss brothersFrancoise Pierre Roggen and Johann Jacob Roggenemigrated there in 1749 and became merchants of some note.

In the current century, Ralph Erenzo, a retired professional rock climber, acquired a property of 36 acres there in 2001, intending to build a B&B, but this never came to fruition because locals kept denying the construction permits. However, Ralph discovered an obscure 2000 law on the books that allowed local micro-distilling at a greatly reduced licensing rate ($1,500, from a previous sum of $65,000) — so long as production was less than 35,000 gallons a year. And so in 2003, with an engineer called Brian Lee (who had come to him looking to use his facilities to make artisanal flour) he shifted to booze, and founded Tuthilltown Spirits by converting one of the mill granaries to a micro-distillery. It was the first new distillery built in New York since Prohibition. Two and a half years later, they produced their first batches of vodka from scraps collected at a local apple slicing plant, and had plans for whiskies. 1

As all good Americans micros do, the distillery went all-in on any distillable booze they could: eau de vie, brandy, absinthe, infusions, vodka, rye, bourbon, gin, and, of course, rum, you know the drill. But it was whiskey that commanded their attention and much like Amrut did, knowing the quality of their product, they did small bar tastings in Paris (yes, Paris) and got a distribution deal with la Maison du Whiskey, aside from whatever small sales they had in-state. This in turn brought them to the attention of William Grant & Sons out of Scotland, who bought the brand (but not the product) in 2010 and injected some much-appreciated capital into the company to improve infrastructure, marketing and distribution; in 2017 they bought the entire thing. At this point they dispensed with all the other spirits and switched entirely to the branded Hudson Whiskey and its variations. And this is why the website for Tuthilltown is dead, while Hudson Whiskey’s is alive and well and why no reference on the latter site will even mention that they once were a smorgasbord of all things intoxicating, including rums.


Opinion

The fact that it’s topical newsmagazines that provide the background to the distillery, the name, the history and the rum’s titlingI searched through quite a few archival documents and websites to find the details used aboveexplains something of my frustration with distilleries who have no sense of their own history or respect for what they have done in years gone by. Granted Tuthilltown is not rum focused, but surely a listing all the products they have made in their existence should be easily available somewhere. This indifference to their product development and past roster, even if discontinued is simply bewildering. I mean, they made it, they labelled it, they sold it, it’s part of who they are…why pretend it doesn’t exist?

I hasten to add that this is not an exclusively American phenomenonGod knows there are examples galore across the geographical spectrum, like that Cadenhead VSG I almost thought was a ghost last year. Still, in contrast, take this counter-example: the Danish indie Rom Deluxe has a webpage devoted to their current releases, but they also have an archival section on their website where they list all their various older expressions made in years gone by. Labels, tech sheets, the lot. Given I can still find stuff from their earliest years knocking about on store shelves or collector’s basements, such material is a godsend when asking the inevitable question “what is this thing?” Quite a different mindset than so many others.

I’ve made a point of bringing up the issue of loss of current records (or having no records at all) for years and it’s the sort of subtle thing nobody really worries about, or notices…until they ask a question and realize that nobody ever wrote anything down, or recorded it and the info so readily available before, now only resides in derelict and near-inaccessible company archives, or on old web pages no longerlive”, or on some long-forgotten FB post. Rum databases like Rum Ratings and Rum-X help, for sure, but I think if companies themselves took some ownership of their releases and made sure the details were always available, then that would just help everyone out when they see an obscure bottle on a dusty shelf somewhere. Because without it, we’ll be floundering around ten years down the roadeven more than we are at presentif steps are not taken now.


 

Oct 132022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#943)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Aug 082022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#928)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Distillery

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

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

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


Other Notes

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