SMWS R1.4 Monymusk 1991 21 YO Jamaican Rum (“Gets The Juices Flowing”) – Review

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Dec 052021
 

Nobody ever accused the Scotch Malt whisky Society of being in a hurry: although they began releasing rums as far back as 2001 (three unnamed releases, from Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados), they seemed none too happy or enthusiastic with the results, for they waited another ten years before issuing another Jamaican (the R1.2 “Rhubarb and Goose-gogs”), then two more in 2012 during Glenmorangie’s tenure at the helmand then we hung around watching another seven years go by (and new owners take over) before the R1.5 “A Little Extravagant” came out the door in 2019.

As you can imagine, the first issues now command some hefty coin, though thankfully not Velier-esque levels of certifiable insanity (the R1.4 I’m discussing here has been climbing though: £190 in 2016 and £230 two years later on Whisky Auctioneer). This is likely because until Simon Johnson of The Rum Shop Boy blog began reviewing the SMWS rums in his own collection in 2018, most rum people overlooked WhiskyFun’s reviews (or my own 2012 attempts to be funny) few knew anything about the Society’s cane output, or cared much. They were too obscurethe overlap between whisky and rum anoraks had not yet gathered a head of steamand deemed too expensive.

The R1 series (see ‘Other Notes’ below for a quick recap on the numbering schema) of the Society is from Jamaica, Monymusk to be exact and this specific one is from the third issue in 2012, the R1.4, which, in an unconscionable fit of rather reasonable naming, they call “Get the Juices Flowing” … though of course that could describe any Jamaican under the sun. Distilled in 1991, bottled in 2012, the still is unmentionedhowever, since Monymusk rum is distilled at Clarendon which has had a columnar still only since 2009, it’s almost certainly a pot still rum. A peculiarity is the outturn: 696 bottles from a “single cask”, which the label helpfully tells us was a sherry butt (likely 500 liters or perhaps more), and as we know from experience, the Society does not muck around with proof but releases it as is from the cask – 66.2% here.

That out of the way, let’s get on to the interesting stuff: a continentally aged rum old enough to vote, from a distillery from which we don’t get such offerings often enough. Nose first: wow, very powerful (66.2%, remember? … that’ll put some hair on the old biscuit-chest). Deep burnt sugar, buttery and caramel notes offset by smoke, almonds, ashes and charred wood (don’t ask) and a cornucopia of fruits: red wine, citrus, green apples, grapes, raisins, dates, prunes, peaches, strawberries….it’s very rich, with hot and spicy fumes and aromas just billowing out of the glass.

The strength manifests itself uncompromisingly and solidly when tasted as well. Trying small sips until one adjusts is probably best here, because then the flavours can be savoured stress free and more easily. And there’s a lot of those, including initial notes, the beginning of tarry smokiness and burning rubber (excuse me? I didn’t think this was a Caroni). There are also light florals, delicate white fleshed fruits, contrasted moments later with more acidic onescider, green apples, mangoes, red grapes and the tartness of lemon peel, all twinkling and frisky, plus brine, olives and some salted caramel. The finish is excellent toolong, toasty, cereal-y, crisp herbs, fruit-filled, a lollipop or two, bubble gum, strawberries and that light touch of saline.

While there’s no such notation anywhere on the product page or the bottle itself, clearly someone knew enough to let the esters of the leash here, and balance them carefully with softer tastes to take the edge off. The overall impact is undeniable, and it’s a very impressive dramvery fruity and yet also quite dark and firm in its own way with the caramel, vanilla and brine integrated into the profile very well. There are some weak points here and there, mostly at the inception of smelling and tasting: one’s senses need to become acclimatized to the force blasting out of the glass before true appreciation sets in. But overall, this is as good as any Hampden or Worthy Park rum out there, and it’s only major drawback is that it’s so hard to locate these days.

(#869)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • For those new to the Society’s ethos, they don’t name their products, they number them: this stemmed from a practice they had fallen into in the 1980s when whisky distilleries providing single barrels didn’t always want their names associated with this young upstart. Numbers were assigned, one per distillery, plus a second decimal for which release; and funny nameswhich supposedly were coded references to the taste profilewere added later. With the exception of the first expressions in 2001, rums followed this practice and as of this writing in December 2021, fourteen distilleries in seven countries, all in the Caribbean and Central America are represented. There’s a master list tacked on to the bottom of the Society history which I keep updated as best I can.
  • Sincere and grateful hat tip to Simon Johnson, who spotted me this sample when I couldn’t find one. His own review is worth reading.

Opinion

I’ve written and thought about the SMWS more than most indies, because I find their business model very interesting, and most of their rums aren’t bad at allthey just don’t seem to have a firm handle on where they want to go with this aspect of what they do. In terms of their operations, on the surface they are an independent whisky bottler, sourcing barrels from whisky distilleries and releasing them to the market. The main difference is that this market is all subscriber-based and requires membership in the society (at an annual cost, additional to that of the product), and you’ll never see one of their bottles on a shop shelf (unless said shop is a member themselvesand even then, they can only sell to other members).

This creates some interesting commercial dynamics. With thousands of members around the globe and only a few hundred bottles per release (single barrel, remember), it’s inevitable that most people wanting, say, one of the 275 bottles of release 66.177, will be SOL. The society has responded to this inevitable problem by issuing many more expressions in a given period than ever before, from all over the flavour map, and allocating supplies all over the world. They have begun doing blends. Prices are not subject to escalation (except on secondary markets). And of course they have dabbled their toes into other spirits categories as wellgin, bourbon, Armagnac, rum, and so on.

One could reasonably argue how this possibly results in an ongoing commercial enterprise: after all, today there are tons of companies selling single cask bottlings and you don’t have to worry about membership dues tacked on to what is already a hefty price (indie bottlings tend to be more expensive than readily available blends or estate bottlings because of their individualistic nature and different cost structures). The SMWS’s success has rested on a number of pillars: first mover advantagesthey were among the first to seriously popularize the concept of single barrel unblended whisky sales, at scale (while not inventing it); great barrel selections in their first years; really good marketing; the mystique of exclusivity of a subscriber based society; and the gradual move and expansion into more than just Scottish distilleries’ whiskiesother countries, other spirits and even an ageing programme of their own (they no longer just buy pre-aged casks from distilleries).

Because the Society remains at heart a whisky-based enterprise, rums are unfortunately given short shrift, and even engaging Ian Burrell to be a sort of onboard consultant in 2020 hasn’t helped muchthere has been no noticeable improvement or creative explosion on the rum front. The rums that are released are occasionally set at a price difficult to justify, not as varied as they could be (releases remain solely from the Caribbean and Central America in a time of interesting production from around the world) and the lack of real advertising of these products doesn’t engage the broader rum community who could potentially be their greatest cheerleaders. Other better-known and well-regarded indies are running circles around SMWS’s rum portfolio, issuing more, better, more often and with a lot more hooplah, and primary producers are only just getting started themselves. Moreover, the Society’s rums are released with an inconsistency that is problematic by itself: why would anyone fork out an annual subscription fee when one can’t tell whether in a single year this can result in many rums available for purchase, or a few, or one…or none?

So, personally I think that the rum section of the society needs serious work and more attention by someone who can dedicate time and energy to that alone and not dilute their focus with other things. If a 29 year old Guyanese rum or a 23 year old Caroni can cost £275 each and remain on the ”available” list for months, then I think there are underlying issues of price, promotion, awareness and perception of value that must be improved. The Society may be the cat’s meow on the whisky front (though I note that grumbles about availability, price and quality are a constant feature of online discourse), but with respect to rums, they’re nowhere near the front of the pack. And that’s a pity for an aspect of their work that has such potential for growth.

[Note: this opinion is an expansion of observations briefly touched on in the 2020 company profile of the SMWS; also, full disclosure: I am a member of the SMWS myself, focusing solely on their rums].


 

Jul 012020
 

As the memories of the Velier Demeraras fades and the Caronis climb in price past the point of reason and into madness, it is good to remember the third major series of rums that Velier has initiated, which somehow does not get all the appreciation and braying ra-ra publicity so attendant on the others. This is the Habitation Velier collection, and to my mind it has real potential of eclipsing the Caronis, or even those near-legendary Guyanese rums which are so firmly anchored to Luca’s street cred.

I advertise the importance of the series in this fashion because too often they’re seen as secondary efforts released by a major house, and priced (relatively) low to match, at a level not calculated to exciteCollector’s Envy”. But they are all pot still rums, they’re from all over the world, they’re all cask strength, they’re both aged and unaged, and still, even years after their introduction, remain both available and affordable for what they are. When was the last time you heard that about a Velier rum?

Since there is such a wide range in the series, it goes without saying that variations in quality and diverse opinions attend them allsome are simply considered better than others and I’ve heard equal volumes of green p*ss and golden praise showered on any one of them. But in this instance I must tell you right out, that the EMB released in 2019 is a really good sub-ten year old rum, just shy of spectacular and I don’t think I’m the only one to feel that way.

The first impression I got from nosing this kinetic 62% ABV rum, was one of light crispness, like biting into a green apple. It was tart, nicely sweet, but also with a slight sourness to it, and just a garden of fruitsapricots, soursop, guavas, prunescombined with nougat, almonds and the peculiar bitterness of unsweetened double chocolate. And vanilla, coconut shavings and basil, if you can believe it. All this in nine years’ tropical ageing? Wow. It’s the sort of rum I could sniff at for an hour and still be finding new things to explore and classify.

The taste is better yet. Here the light clarity gives way to something much fiercer, growlier, deeper, a completely full bodied White Fang to the nose’s tamer Buck if you will. As it cheerfully tries to dissolve your tongue you can clearly taste molasses, salted caramel, dates, figs, ripe apples and oranges, brown sugar and honey, and a plethora of fragrant spices that make you think you were in an oriental bazaar someplacemint, basil, and cumin for the most part. I have to admit, water does help shake loose a few other notes of vanilla, salted caramel, and the low-level funk of overripe mangoes and pineapple and bananas, but this is a rum with a relatively low level of esters (275.5 gr/hlpa) compared to a mastodon channeling DOK and so they were content to remain in the background and not upset the fruit cart.

As for the finish, well, in rum terms it was longer than the current Guyanese election and seemed to feel that it was required that it run through the entire tasting experience a second time, as well as adding some light touches of acetone and rubber, citrus, brine, plus everything else we had already experienced the palate. I sighed when it was overand poured myself another shot.

Man, this was one tasty dram. Overall, what struck me, what was both remarkable and memorable about it, was what it did not try to be. It didn’t display the pleasant blended anonymity of too many Barbados rums I’ve tried and was not as woodsy and dark as the Demeraras. It was strong yes, but the ageing sanded off most of the rough edges. It didn’t want or try to be an ester monster, while at the same time was individual and funky enough to please those who dislike the sharp extremes of a TECA or a DOK rumand I also enjoyed how easily the various tastes worked well together, flowed into each other, like they all agreed to a non-aggression pact or something.

It was, in short, excellent on its own terms, and while not exactly cheap at around a hundred quid, it iswith all the strength and youth and puritya lot of Grade A meat on the hoof. It stomped right over my palate and my expectations, as well as exceeding a lot of other more expensive rums which are half as strong and twice as old but nowhere near this goodor this much fun.

(#741)(86/100)

Rum Nation Jamaica 1991 Supreme Lord VIII 25 Year Old Rum (Monymusk) – Review

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Jan 152019
 

Before considering the €300+ price tag, or grumbling about Rum Nation’s penchant for adding something extra to (some of) its rums, give the last Supreme Lord Jamaican rum from 1991 a whiff, a sniff and a snort. Sip a dram. Take your time with it. Enjoy. Because it’s simply outstanding, and even in concert with eight other Jamaicans that were on the table the day I tried it, it held up in fine style.

Part of that derives from the extended “sherry finish”though since it spent eleven years in oloroso casks I’d suggest it’s more a double maturation in the vein of Foursquare’s Exceptionals than a finish of any kind. And that influence makes itself felt right away, as scents of sweet rich honey, fleshy stoned fruits (peaches, apricots), raisins, leather, oak and vanillas in perfect balance boil out of the glass. There’s quite a bit of funksharp green apples mixing it up with rotting bananasjust less than you’d expect. And here’s the peculiar thingone can also sense molasses, caramel, a slight tannic tang and a flirt of licorice, and when that comes sauntering through the door, well, you could be forgiven for thinking this was actually a slightly off-kilter Demerara instead of something from Monymusk.

And for anyone who enjoys sipping rich Jamaicans that don’t stray too far into insanity (the NRJ TECA is the current poster child for that), it’s hard to find a rum better than this one. The 55.7% strength is near perfect. It demonstrates great thickness, excellent mouthfeel, admittedly somewhat sweet, but very clean and distinct (which is to say, not near-smothered by a blanket of softening additives which so demeans many of El Dorado’s aged offerings) to allay my concerns about dosing. It tastes of Thai lemon-grass soup or a green curry (both for veggie saltiness and the sharper line of citrus), without ever losing the core heat and fruity over-ripeness of the bananas, soft fruit, black cherries, grapes and that faint whiff of licorice. It has solid closing notes of hot black tea, more fruits (same ones), and is pleasantly, luxuriously long-lasting, reasonably firm, yet loses none of its snap and vigour.

What puts this rum over the top is the balance and control over the various competing elements of taste and smell; it’s really quite good, and even the finishwhich sums up most of the preceding tasting elementsshowcases that care and attention paid to assembling the profile. It’s kind of a shame that only 750 bottles were issued and now, nearly three years after being issued, it retails for so much. But consider: when I tried it, it edged out the SL VII, held its own (and then some) against the Ping 9, Albrecht Trelawny, CDI Worthy Park 2007 8 YO, and cruised with ease past the AD Rattray 1986 25 YO. If there was one rum that gave it serious competition, it was the EKTE 12, half as old and just as good (and also from Monymusk).

The rum continues along the path set by all the seven Supreme Lords that came before it, and since I’ve not tried them all, I can’t say whether others are better, or if this one eclipses the lot. What I do know is that they are among the best series of Jamaican rums released by any independent, among the oldest, and a key component of my own evolving rum education.

It is with some sadness that I also note that just as it was the first cask strength SL, it is likely to be among the final ones to be issued, as it represented some of the last barrels of seriously aged Jamaican stocks held by Fabio Rossi. He retained some Long Pond to make the superlative blended 30 year old a year or two back, and his attention is now more on the Rare Collection which supplant the Aged seriesbut whether you like the more recent offerings or the older ones, the pricier ones or the entry level iterations, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Supreme Lord rums (as well as their cousins the aged Demeraras), are among the top rums Rum Nation ever issued. And this one ranks right up there with the best of them.

(#589)(89/100)

Renegade 2003 Monymusk 5 Year Old RumReview

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Jan 102018
 

#477

You’re going to read more about rums from the Monymusk distillery out of Jamaica in the next few years, I’m thinking, given how the island’s lesser-known products are emerging from the shadows; and distilleries other than Appleton are coming back into their own as distinct producers in their own rightHampden, Longpond, Worthy Park, New Yarmouth, Clarendon/Monymusk are all ramping up and causing waves big time. But aside from the Royal Jamaican Gold I tried many years ago (and was, at the time, not entirely won over by) and the EKTE 12 YO from a few weeks back, plus a few indieswork I have yet to write about, there still isn’t that much out there in general releaseso it may be instructive to go back in history a while to the near-beginning of the rum renaissance in 2009, when Renegade Rum Company, one of the first of the modern independent bottlers not from Italy, issued 3960 bottles of this interesting 5 year old from a pot still at Monymusk.

Even in the Scottish company it kept (and many such outfits remained after Renegade folded), Renegade was not a normal UK indie. If one were to eliminate the dosing issue, they were actually more akin to Italy’s Rum Nation, because they married multiple barrels of a given distillate to provide several thousand bottles of a rum (not just a few hundred), and then finished them in various ex-wine barrels as part of their Additional Cask Evolution strategy. Alas, they seemed to have raced ahead of the market and consumer consciousness, because the rums sold well but not spectacularly, which is why I could still pick one up (albeit as a sample) so many years later. Moreover, as Mark Reynier remarked to me, finding the perfect set of aged casks which conformed to his personal standards was becoming more and more difficult, which was the main reason for eventually closing up the Renegade shopto the detriment of all us rum chums.

But I think he was on to something that was at the time unappreciated by all but the connoisseurs of the day, because while agricoles aged five years can be amazing, molasses based rums are not often hitting their stride until in their double digitsyet here, Renegade issued a five year old Jamaican pot still product that was a quietly superior rum which I honestly believe that were it made today, aficionados would be snapping up in no time flat and perhaps making Luca, Fabio, Tristan, Daniel and others cast some nervous glances over their shoulders.

Anyway, let me walk you through the tasting and I’ll explain why the rum worked as well as it did. It nosed well from the get-go, that’s for sure, with Jamaican funk and esters coming off in all directions. It felt thicker and more dour than the golden hue might have suggested, initially smelling of rubber, nail polish, tomato-stuffed olives in brine and salty cashew nuts with a sort of creamy undertone; but this receded over time and it morphed into a much lighter, crisper series of smellsbananas going off, overripe oranges, cumin, raisins and some winey hints probably deriving from the finish. Tempranillo is a full bodied red wine from Spain, so the aromas coming off of that were no real surprise.

What did surprise me was that when I tasted it, it did something of a 180 on meit got somewhat clearer, lighter, sweeter, more floral, than the nose had suggested it would. Traces of Kahlúa and coconut liqueur initially, bread and salt butter, some oakiness and sharper citrus notes; this was tamed better with water and the fruits were coaxed out of hiding, adding a touch of anise to the proceedings. Pears, cashews, guavas, with the citrus component quite laid back and becoming almost unnoticeable, lending a nice, delicately sharp counterpoint to the muskier flavours the fleshier fruits laid down. It all led to a pleasant, tightly minimal and slightly unbalanced finish that was long for that strength, but gave generously (some might say heedlessly) of the few flavours that remainedcherries, pears, red guavas, a little more anise, and some salt.

In a word? Yummy. It’s a tasty young rum of middling strength that hits all the high points and has the combination of complexity and assertiveness and good flavours well nailed down. It has elements that appeal to cask strength lovers without alienating the softer crowd, and the tempranillo finish adds an intriguing background wine and fruity note that moderates the Jamaican funk and dunder parts of the profile nicely. Though perhaps the weak point is the finishwhich did not come up to the high water mark set by both nose and taste and was a shade incoherentthat’s no reason not to like the rum as it stands, to me.

Anyway, in these days of the great movement towards exacting pure rums of distillery-specific,country-defining brands, it’s good to remember an unfinished experiment such as this Jamaican rum from Renegade, which pointed the way towards many of the developments we are living through now. That may be of no interest to you as a casual imbiber, of course, so let me close by saying that it’s a pretty damned good Jamaican rum on its own meritswhich, if you were ever to see it gathering dust somewhere on a back shelf, you could do worse than to snap it and its brothers up immediately.

(86/100)


Other notes

Compliments to Alex Van der Veer of Master Quill, an underrated resource of the rum-reviewers shortlist, who sent me the sample. His own review can be found on his website and I’m nudging him gently in the ribs here, hoping he reads this and writes more, more often 🙂

EKTE No. 2 12 Year Old Jamaican RumReview

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Dec 272017
 

#474

Much like L’Esprit from Brittany, Ekte out of Denmark kinda flies under the radar, but both for their sense of humour (similar to the SMWS if you ask me) and their (extremely) limited edition bottlings, they should not be forgotten just yet. They came on the scene in 2015 at the UK Rumfest with a bunch of blends and limited releases, and the following year they passed through Berlin, where I tried the subject of this review, the No. 2 from Jamaicaand let me tell you, it’s no slouch on its own terms: actually, it’s quite an animal.

Like so many independents out of Europe, Ekte is the brainchild and inspiration of a single individual, the deprecatingly-named Rum Geek Extraordinaire of the Rum Club Copenhagen, Mr. Daniel Bascunan, who actually hails from Chile but followed the rum trail to its lair in Denmark, which may be the single most rum-crazy nation in Europe (and yes, that includes the UK). In 2004, he opened a cocktail bar called Barbarellah in Copenhagen and its collection boasted some 170 rums; its successor bar the Rum Club, located in the Latin Quarter, has somewhere around 500, if not more by now. In 2013 or so he was approached by a Danish liquor store chain to develop a rum range for the Scandinavian market, and with some early work in blends (which remains ongoing), he released some single cask fullproof rums from Panama (No 1), Jamaica (No 2 and 4), Nicaragua (No 3), Guyana (No 5 and 6). I don’t know whether more are on the horizon, but if the No. 2 was anything to go by, let’s hope he never stops.

Now, the No. 2 hails from Monymusk, and I have not had that much experience with the all-but-unknown brandfew outside Jamaica have, though this looks like it’s changing as Jamaica blasts off on the world rum scene again. Permit me to walk you through a quick ovastandin’ of the structure. A sort of consortium was created in 2006 which comprised of the Jamaican Government, WIRD out of Barbados and DDL out of Guyanathey called it the National Rums of Jamaica and folded Clarendon, Longpond and Innswood under its umbrella (this was partly in an effort to stabilize prices and keep rum production going). Longponduntil very recently when Maison Ferrand bought a stakewas not doing much and Clarendon was the owner of the Monymusk distillery attached to the sugar factory of the same name, which in turn provided Innswood with distillate, with the latter acting as the ageing and blending facility. The house brand for NRJ is named Monymusk (not Longpond, Innswood or Clarendon, for whatever illogical reason). Just be aware that Clarendon Distillers Limited (the company) is the owner of the distillery that is attached to Monymusk Sugar Factory and you’ll be fine (the only other distillery in the Clarendon Parish is New Yarmouth, owned by Wray & Nephew).

Anyway, now that we’re soporific with all the history and need a bracer, what’s the rum like? Well, at 60% it wasn’t a soft and easy breath in the ear from your sweetheart promising all sorts of nice things that these PG-rated posts can’t describe. Oh no. It’s more like a harridan excoriating you after an all night pub crawl is my opinion. When I decanted it and took a first sniff, one of Ramsey Bolton’s starving mutts leaped out of the glass, went right for the throatbut once I wrestled it into submission, the nose was actually rather good (perhaps exciting might be a better word given the fierceness of the initial attack) – rubber, acetone, furniture polish, hot and very spicy, sour and slightly spoiled fruits, mostly bananas and oranges. It showcased Jamaican badass and funk in fine style all the way, adding more citrus, brine, black bread and cream cheese, lighter florals and bubble gum after opening up, and if one could disregard the fact that it looked like it was constantly spoiling for a fight, it actually presented as something more perfumed and crisp than I had been expecting.

The palate was where I felt the rum came into its own: it was like hot black overstrong tea (the sort that bushmen dump by the pack into a big-ass pot of water and let it boil for three days, with a snake head inside for “sum kick”), redolent of salt and wax, brine, olives, and fruit, lots of fruit, really gone over to the dark side. The best part about it all was that as it opened up, it developed even more: cardamom, cloves, vanilla, citrus, almonds and nougat, with some tartness coming through which had hints of ginips and soursop and unsweetened yoghurt. At 60% and with that kind of a crazy spirituous maelstrom, I would suggest some water might be advisable here, but if you’re of an adventurous disposition, take it as it is and enjoy the battle is my advice, because it sure isn’t meek, and wrestling with its pungent and fierce flavour profile is as enjoyable as all get out. Even the finish displayed some of that aggressive demeanour, being long, somewhat dry, and had some interesting closing notes of caramel, toffee, fruits, chocolate and sharp citrus to remember it by.

Given that only 270 500ml bottles were issued it’s not one of those rums that’s easy to find any more, and I suspect it remains mostly available in the home of those cask-strength-loving Danish boys who threatened to invade France if the Compagnie des Indes didn’t release full proofs in their country. Which is a shame, really, because if you like Jamaicans, if your thing is a powerful casker and if having a growly and jagged-edged rum attempt to beat the snot out of you around back is what tickles your johnson, then this is definitely one of the rums that should be on the top of your list to try. It’s that much of a blast to drink.

(88/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled on copper pot stills.
  • EKTE comes from the Danish word ÆGTE which means true or genuine (also “marriage”), and the capital letters were chosen for brand awareness.
  • My single paragraph on the background of Monymusk was drawn from two excellent longform articles written by Matt Pietrek (plus some double checking he did for me on the fly), which should be required reading for rum geeks, one on Clarendon and Monymusk, the other on Innswood.
  • A big hat tip to Henrik and Gregers, who brought this bottle along to the Caner Afterparty in 2016 — I’ve dented the sample rather badly on several occasions since then. Since I’m sure Henrik is going to be reading this, I’ll use the soapbox to bugle my request, nay, demand, that the RumCorner re-opens for business 🙂
Mar 262013
 

First posted 10th April 2011 on Liquorature

Solid beginning leads to a disappointing finish: appearance and nose are excellent, but somehow not enough care was taken to follow through on these advantages.


Appleton (or J. Wray & Nephew, if you will) so thoroughly dominates the rums of Jamaica, that it feels somehow wrong to see a bottle marked Jamaican Rum without the moniker of that famed distiller emblazoned on it. Now, not having been to Jamaica for many years (and having paid more attention to a winsome lass named Renu and markedly less to the available rums at the time), I’m a little off on exactly how many exported Jamaican rums there actually are. Still, I think it’s safe to say there aren’t many from actual estates over and beyond Appleton: Longpond, Monymusk, Worthy Park and a few others which make bulk rum for export and onward sale to independents and merchant bottlers, not real estate rums (seeother notesbelow).

The bottle states that it is made by Royal Jamaican Rums; some trolling around shows that it is actually distilled in the Monymusk distillery located in the south central parish of St Catherine’s. Monymusk Distillery (and Clarendon) is owned by National Rums of Jamaica, a consortium formed for historical purposes too complex to go into here, and NRJ itself is 1/3 owned byeachDDL of Guyana, Maison Ferrand (Plantation) of France and the Jamaican state-owned vehicle of the National Sugar Company. There are remarks on it being handcrafted, hand drawn and bottled, and meticulously blended which I simply pass over as advertising hoopla. However, what I can’t overlook is the appearance: a stark black bottle, bright coloured printing on it (it’s eye catching, I’ll admit: you see this on a shelf, you will come back for a second look, guaranteed), and a straw braided wrapping around the neck. Pretty original. You won’t mistake it for an Appleton, no doubt about that.

That originality of appearance may be the second-best thing about it, if you’re keeping your eye out for some unique new product undiscovered and unappreciated by the hoi-polloi. The rum poured out as an amber gold liquid of middling legs (nothing special there) – and I thought the nose deserved a special mention. I sniffed soft floral hints right away, and hardly any sting; some medicinal phenol-like scents were sensed and then drifted away almost before I realized it, and a creamy chocolate smell wound around with grape sat at the core of itit wasn’t quite as obvious as the Legendario was (the muscatel in there kind of boxed you on the hooter right away), and I appreciated the subtlety more. I need hardly mention that after opening up in the glass, our old standby aromas of caramel and burnt sugar deigned to make an appearance, though I doubt most people would want to wait that long.

The taste on the palate did not, in my opinion, live up to the hype of either bottle or nose. Some people think tasting should be the sole criteria, and I’ve gotten no end of grief from friends who believe I’m insane to award (or deduct) points for the look of a bottle, or the effort expended in smelling what is at its most basic level, a drink to be drunk. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s just not fine for me, and I take enjoyment from all aspects of the experiencethis is why I give more points to a well designed presentation than just an average blah bottle, and take my time with the nose of even a cheap product. However, here, the taste was dry and astringent, and the oak in which had been matured came through with surprising fierceness. It was arid and a little bitter, with a raw alcohol bite which gave the lie to that excellent nose I had enjoyed. And briny, with a weird biscuit undertone that made me wonder whether some wag had salted some hardtack into the maturing bourbon casks. And yet, a second taste suggested that a toffee or butterscotch flavour was trying to emerge with all the shyness of a girl showing her date the prom dress when he comes to pick her up. I was not impressed, is allthe arrival of the rum had started well, but didn’t even get to the middle stretch before faltering. A shame. And I sighed in disappointment as I felt the finish: a short acid burn, not kind to my throat, with zero redeeming features about it.

I just didn’t get it, and still don’t now. Here was a rum with obvious attempts at pedigree which had a taste that simply failed. As a mixer it would cut it, sure, and I suspect that maybe that was because it was a blend of rums of maybe one to three years old; it was labelled on the makers site as being meticulously blended in small batches, and all this was to the good. You’d just think that if a rum was going to take on the Goliath of the Jamaican industry, it would have had more overall quality, some more effort put in beyond the admittedly superior nose. Without a decent taste, it lowers itself to being another low-end mixer, slightly redeemed by better than average packaging and a good smell. Alas, drinking any rum is more than these thingsit’s an overall aesthetic experience, and in spite of its impressive beginnings, at end it’s just a damned Anancy story.

There’s an old South African joke I used to hear when I lived in that neck of the woods, about the perfect mouse trap designed by (who else?) Van der Merwe; his first iteration had a razor blade with a piece of cheese on one side: his stroke of genius was to assume that the mouse would lean over the blade to get the cheese on the other side and cut its own throat. The idea that the mouse could go around the trap never seemed to occur to Van. When this was pointed out to the baas, he went away and designed the perfected versionrazor blade only, no cheese. How did it work? The puzzled rodent would go lower and lower, and cut its own throat while asking, “Where’s the friggincheese?” This rum reminds me a little of that joke: I turn it around and around, drink sip after sip, and keep wondering where the hell the good stuff is, the uppercut that would take on Appleton. And then it’s gone and I finished it and I realize there just ain’t any, and it was a trap all along.

(#072. 77/100)

Other Notes

  • For a more in-depth discussion of Jamaican distilleries, the best current resource is probably the Cocktail Wonk’s work here, with further work on Clarendon and Monymusk detailed here.