Mar 042021
 

If two rums from the same company were made the exact same way on the same still, there are just a few things that would explain any profile variations. There’s the still settings themselves, because one rum might have differentcutsthan the other, or from higher or lower plate; there’s the proof point, stronger or weaker, at which either is bottled; and then there’s the barrel strategy, which is to say, the barrel itself and the duration of the rum’s slumber therein.

Last week I looked at a 12 year old Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum from Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, which came off their column still in some undisclosed year and was then aged in ex-bourbon barrels in Central America for more than a decade before being diluted down to a milquetoast 40%. The 335 bottles of this Nicaraguan rum released by the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society were also 12 years old but allowed to flex the glutes at a solid 55% ABV, was in so many ways a better rum that one can only wonder at the difference. After all, isn’t tropical ageing supposed to be better? Stuff made at the distillery of origin from cane to cork should be benefiting from the voodoo of location, yet clearly that didn’t happen here.

I mean, consider the profile from start to finish. This SMWS rum was deep and forceful from the get go. Caramel and toffee melded well with a woody component. Dark fruits and raisins waft across the nose and combined with some apple cider, threatens to overwhelm the smellbut the toffee, caramel, oak, chocolate and tart yoghurt end up carrying the day. It’s a bit sweet, with some bitterness after a while, and an emergent strain of coconut and marzipan, with the whole thing getting both darker and sweeter the longer it’s nosed

Palate? Not bad at all. It’s woody, more so than the Flor de Caña product (and this is something about their rums many have commented on before); caramel and bitter chocolate wrestle for dominance with dark Russian peasant bread. “It’s kind of like a thin Blairmont and without the complexity,” remarked my friend Marco, who was tasting it unenthusiastically with me (he was not a fan). I disagree there, because when you leave the rum alone for a while (okay fine, I forgot about it and checked it again an hour later, so sue me) it actually provides some nice notes of coffee, brown sugar, apples and vanillathese temper the slight oaky bitterness we sensed, and while overall I think it is rather simple and the finish just repeats the chorus of notes from above, it’s a pretty powerful statement for the companyand what it could be doing.

I have no way of knowing in which year the Flor 12 was madecompany-made blends like that stay stable for long periods and are tweaked to make them that wayand so a comparison between a continentally aged rum from a single barrel selected by a whisky maker, and a blended, easier product continuously being made by the distillery, lacks true comparability or real meaning; and will without question taste differently. And that’s even without going into the oft-repeated doubts as to whether even back then, their rums truly aged for X years.

And yet, and yet….perhaps it should not taste that different. The shared DNA should be clear, there should be points of similarity that would permit a reasoned comparison to be made, the family tree to snap into focus. Here, that’s hard. If pressed, I’d say I felt this one was less like the 12 and more akin to the superlative blue-bottled 15 year old “21” I’ve always likedbut that one was also quite different from other Flor products (it was an anniversary bottling, never repeated).

So taking all that into account, what made the SMWS rum from Nicaragua so relatively good? Maybe they really were made at different times and in different ways and came off the still already more like second cousins than brothers. But assume for a minute that they were the same up to that point: given the similarity in age, similarity in barrels and assumed sameness off the still, the only thing left to consider is the wide divergence of the proof point, and the ageing location. The 40% TA variant is faint, lacklustre and ultimately boringit in no way provides the complexity and solidity of tastes the CA 55% does.

I’m not trying to make a case for continental over tropical (aside from pointing out how pointless the discussion is from a taste perspective) – but I will go on record for suggesting that maybe one reason Flor de Cana can’t seem to increase its market share or get a bigger footprint on the connoisseur’s mindset, is because they have not had the guts to stake out the full proof market for their products, or even issue a limited edition series of single cask releases. And what that means is that other, smaller independents are stealing the thunder and reaping the rewards that by right should have been theirs. All because they couldn’t be bothered to move away from the traditional philosophy of their blenders.

(#806)(85/100)


Other notes’

  • Simon over at the Rum Shop Boy liked the rum, and made some interesting comments in his conclusions: he suggested that its quality disproves the oft-cited myth that lighter column still spirits require dosage to be truly palatable; and also, that a higher proof is a completely acceptable way of delivering more flavour punch to the rum.
Feb 252021
 

Back in 2013 when I wrote about the Scotch Malt Whisky Association’s release R3.4 Barbados 2002 10YO “Makes You Strong Like Lion”, several people went on FB and passed the word around that it wasn’t a Foursquare rum, which was hardly needed since I noted in the review that it was from WIRD, and the Rockley Still. Four years later the SMWS did however, decide that the famed Barbados company shouldn’t be left out and bottled an aged rum from Foursquare (the first of two), named it R6.1, and gave it one of their usual amusing titles of “Spice At The Races.” One wonders when they’re going to try for a Mount Gay distillate, though I’m not holding my breath.

Now, for years, every rum geek in the observable rumiverse (bar a few of my acquaintances who don’t drink kool aid) has formed up behind the oft-repeated idea that there is no way a continentally aged rum is the equal of one left to sleep in its island or country of origin. I’ve always taken that statement with a pinch of salt, for two reasons: one, its adherents always talk about taste and age, yet it’s actually touted for social and economic reasons, which is a point often lost in the shuffle; and two, I’ve simply had too many aged rums that ripened in both places for me to be so dogmatic in my assertions, and I’ve seen as many failures as successes in both. Ultimately, it’s the taste that counts no matter where it’s bottled.

This pale yellow rum cost around £75 when initially released, was 57.3% and with a 210 bottle outurn, aged for a solid 14 years old (yes, in Europe) , illustrates the problem with making such sweepingfour legs good, two legs badgeneralizations, because it’s a really a fine rum in its own peculiar way, and one I enjoyed a lot.

Consider first the nose, which opens with the firm assertiveness of my primary school teacher wielding her cane. It smells of sawdust, dusty cardboard, glue, has an odd medicinal touch to it, and also a nice smoky-sweet sort of background. Then the fruits begin their march in: orange peel, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, some light cherries and peaches. The citrus line, augmented with other sharper aromas of persimmons and ginnips provide a lovely through-line, and the smokiness and leather lend an intriguing edge.

The taste is admittedly odd at the inception; my first notes speak of a pair of old, well used, polished, leather shoes (with socks still in ‘em). This is not actually a bad thing, since it is balanced off by ginger, mauby and some rich fruit notesapples, guavas, almost ripe yellow Thai mangoesand these make it both tart and delicately sweet, gathering force until it becomes almost creamy at the back end, with a sort of caramel, port, molasses and vanilla taste to it. This is one of these cases where the finish lingers and doesn’t do a vanishing act on you: it’s slightly acidic and tart, with vanilla, oak, smoke, unsweetened yoghurt and a touch of delicate florals and fruits. Nice.

So, a couple of points. Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged-Mind, who was sampling it with me, and who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the various Bajan rum profiles, wondered if it was even a Foursquare at all (I chose to disagree, and accept the rum as stated). Also, It’s unclear from the labelling whether it’s a pure pot still distillate, ormore consistent with Foursuare’s own releasesa blend of pot and column. Rum Auctioneer classed it as a pot-column blend. The bottle remains silent. The Rum Shop Boy, one of the few who’s reviewed it, noted it as pot still only in one part of his review, and a blend further down (and didn’t care much for it, as a matter of interest). However, he further noted in an earlier Kintra Foursquare review some months before, that Mr. Seale had confirmed some 2002 pot still 4S rum had indeed been sold that year. My own initial take was that it was a blend, as I felt it lacked the sort of distinctiveness a pot still distillate would impart and I didn’t think Mr. Seale shipped his pot still juice over to Europe. However, Simon’s quote from him, and Seale’s subsequent note on FB put he matter to resthe confirmed it was a pot still spirit.

All that aside, it was a really good rum, one which shows that when they want to, the SMWS can pick rums with the best of them (especially with more familiar and more famous distilleriestheir track record with less known and less popular marks is a bit more hit and miss). If various laws and regulations being pursued stop indies from getting continentally aged juice in the years to come (though this is unlikely given the extent of Scheer’s stocks), I think the Society can still rest comfortably on its laurels after having issued a rum as fine as this one, young as it may be in tropical years.

(#804)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Rum Shop Boy scored the rum 67/100, so about 83 points by my scale and 3½ out of 5 on Wes’s. Like Marco, he commented on how different it was from the Foursquare rums he knew, and rated it “disappointing”.
  • Angus over at WhiskyFun liked it much more and scored it 87, rolling out the tongue-in-cheek “dangerously quaffable” line, and meaning it.
  • Ben’s Whisky Blog (near bottom of page) rates it a “Buy” with no score
  • Post details regarding source still is updated based on a conversation on FB the same day I put it up. It could indeed be a pot still rum, but the jury remains out.
Dec 282020
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) has always had a peculiar turn when it comes to labels and tasting notes. The original bottlings didn’t always have permission to use the distillery names on the bottlingsat the time, blends were big, and distilleries did not always want their names to be associated with some off-the-wall, left-field bottle from a strange outfit, when this might shed a poor light on what they were more famed forthe consistency of their blends. This led the SMWS to the use of numerical identifiers for their outturns, and a whimsically titled name that had no relation to reality, really (almost every reviewer makes some reference to how they ignore those names, or don’t understand them).

What that does, though, is force the buyer / drinker / reviewer to actually pay attention to the product and discard preconceived notions at the door. Most will deny this to the heavens, but I firmly believe that few can divorce their expectations of a rum based on the label it sports, from the experience they expect to have, and then actually have. Which makes sense: if you see “Port Mourant” on a label, you expect to drink one, not some weird agricole or a Spanish style ron and your mind will bend that way. SMWS takes away this crutchnot completely, because by now everyone knows what the numbers meanbut enough so that the rums stands or falls upon your relatively clean experience.

So we walk into this rum, knowing only it’s from Panama. We don’t know if its from PILSA / Las Cabras or Don Jose / Varela Hermanos, the two main distilleries (my research suggests the latter); it has a 62% strength and 12 years of ageing in refill ex-bourbon barrels that resulted in 243 bottles. And that’s it.

But what these bare-bones notes don’t tell you is how impressive the dram actually is. You’d think an industrial column still mass-produced swill can’t aspire to something greater than its origins, yet here it tries hard, it really does. The initial column-still blandness it starts out with is rescued by good barrel activity and some serious cask strength. Notes of coconut, caramel, some boot polish, licorice waft up from the glass, some blancmange, bon bons, chocolate mints and there’s even the hint of an old, well-loved and much-abused leather sofa. After resting, it opens up to some nice truffles and chocolate notes, vanilla and florals, pineapples, oranges. Pretty good for a region that has much fallen from favour in the last years as the New Jamaicans, Bajans and other distilling regions forge ahead.

In spite of the high ABV, which lends a fair amount of initial sharpness and heat to the tongue until it burns away and settles down, it’s actually not that fierce. It becomes almost delicate, and there’s a nice vein of fruity sweetness running through, which enhances the flavours of apples, cider, green grapes, citrus, coconut, vanilla, and candied oranges. There’s also some of that polish and acetone remaining, neatly dampened by caramel and brown sugar, all balancing off well against each other. It retains that delicacy to the finish line and stays well behaved: a touch sweet throughout, with caramel (a bit much), vanilla, fruits, grapes, raisins, citrus, blancmangenot bad at all.

I’ve been indifferent to Panamanian rums of late. My initial enjoyment of their rums from the first years of this site’s reviewsof the Rum Nation 18 and 21 year old rums, the Abuelos (especially the Centuria) and the Panamonte XXV, none of which I would now score as high as I did back thenhave given way to a more critical and rather impatient judgement as I see them treading no new ground, not issuing anything particularly interesting and staying with the same old song. These days I don’t buy many and the way Las Cabras has become a distiller-for-hire for small time brands who don’t themselves produce anything ground-shaking or innovative has done little to change that opinion.

Yet somehow the SMWS seems to have bucked the trend of milquetoast anonymous blends produced by the tankerload by equally anonymous brands and third parties. This 12 year old rum strikes me as a midpoint between the soft voluptuous sweetness of the Abuelo Centuria and the rather sterner and more focused AD Rattray, and is really a fine rum for anyone to try. Unless the great Panamanian distilleries up their game and go in different directions it’s unlikely they will every recover my unbridled affection from the early yearsbut this one gives me hope that the potential for good rums remains. Even if it’s only in the occasional single barrel, ferreted out by some enterprising indie in Europe. We can hope, I guess.

(#789)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun didn’t dislike it, but wasn’t entirely blown away either and awarded it 78 points. Simon, over at TheRumShopBoy was more enthusiastic, to the tune of 88.
  • As usual, the name is a challenge. Paddington is a bear beloved of British childrens’ books dating back from the 1950s, but his origin was clearly stated to be Peru, not Panama (though neither, as far as I know, have bears of any kind). So how the SMWS got from that to this is anyone’s guessperhaps it’s his love of marmalade sandwiches, as Simon slyly pointed out.
May 272020
 

Anyone from my generation who grew up in the West Indies knows of the scalpel-sharp satirical play “Smile Orange,” written by that great Jamaican playwright, Trevor Rhone, and made into an equally funny film of the same name in 1976. It is quite literally one of the most hilarious theatre experiences of my life, though perhaps an islander might take more away from it than an expat. Why do I mention this irrelevancy? Because I was watching the YouTube video of the film that day in Berlin when I was sampling the Worthy Park series R 11.3, and though the film has not aged as well as the play, the conjoined experience brought to mind all the belly-jiggling reasons I so loved it, and Worthy Park’s rums.

You see, Hampden catches a lot of kudos and eyeballs and attention these daystheir publicity blitz for the last few years is second to none, and they are rightfully renowned for the quality of their pot still rums issued with and by Velier, the ones that fans collect with a sort of obsessive good cheer which perhaps Ringo Smith might admire (and plan a long con around). But this leaves the other New Jamaican distillery of Worthy Park and its own pot stills seeming to pick up footprints, when in fact its rums are equally good, just different. Their confidence is, in my opinion, not at all misplaced, since the SMWS R11.3fragrantly namedCrème Brûlée Flambé” — is the best of those first three WP rums (I own but haven’t tried the second trio so far).

Consider how it opened, with a nose of pencil shavings, sawdust and wood chips in a sawmill, glue and bright sweet-sour acetones that made me look rather amusedly at the bottle to confirm it wasn’t an R2.x series Enmore or something. It developed real well from there: honey, cardamom, cloves and ginger to start, followed by a wave of tart fleshy pears and apricots. There was a nice hint of avocados and salt and citrus juice, and when I let it stand for ten minutes (was watching the waiter training scene), I got last and light aromas of salt caramel ice cream, chocolate chip cookie, and butterscotch bon bons.

I remarked on the R 11.1 and R 11.2 that they were young and somewhat raw at times, not entirely cohesive, and Simon Johnson in his review of the R 11.2 also noted they lacked a certain elegance which the aged blends released by WP themselves displayed. This was not an issue here at allthe palate was more approachable and rounded than its two predecessorslots of both tart and ripe fruits, plus citrus, mint, salt caramel, rye bread, cream cheese and flowers in a good combination. The taste is not quite as complex as the nose had been but it was closeat any rate it was both meatier and slightly thicker and sweeter than those, and for once, I think the SMWS had the title of the thing exactly right. Finish was long, flavourful and zesty, mostly flowers, honey, fresh baked cheesecake, caramel, and some dry dusty notes of jute rice bags.

The distillation run from 2010 must have been a good year for Worthy Park, because the SMWS bought no fewer than seven separate casks from then to flesh out its R11 series of rums (R11.1 through R11.6 were distilled May 1st of that year, with R11.7 in September, and all were released in 2017). After that, I guess the Society felt its job was done for a while and pulled in its horns, releasing nothing in 2018 from WP, and only one moreR11.8the following year; they called it “Big and Bountiful” though it’s unclear whether this refers to Jamaican feminine pulchritude or Jamaican rums.

Anyway, this is a rum that matches its siblings and goes a step beyond them. “Grace under pressure under a hot sun” wrote Richard Eder of the New York Times about the film “Smile Orange” in 1976, describing Ringo’s equanimity towards his travails. The way the R11.3 cheerfully unfolds, without hurry, without bombast, taking its weaknesses and strengths in stride, suggests that the phrase could equally apply to the rum. After all, the best rums aren’t only the ones that are well made and taste good, but those which enrich and enhance life experiences, call back great memories of times gone by, allow you to skate past the problems and vicissitudes of reality. My experience and enjoyment the day I drank this rum, completely proved that point.

(#730)(88/100)

May 172020
 

It sounds strange to say it, but the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, aside from ushering in changes in the whisky world, had its impacts on rums as well. What made the Society stand out back in the day and initially made its name, was the focus on single cask fullproof bottlings, which at the time was only sporadically addressed by other whisky makers (and hardly at all with rums, except perhaps by the Italians like Samaroli and Velier, who were practically unknown outside Italy). At the time I wrote about the Longpond R5.1 and the WIRD R 3.4 and R 3.5, 46% was about the most I ever saw outside of the 151s, so juice that went for broke at cask strength was eye opening.

Well, fast forward some years and what I saw as groundbreaking in 2012 is now standard practice, and while the Society has expanded its rum selection to 50+ (all at fullproof), its lustre has been eclipsed somewhat in the competing glare of the many other rum makers (indies or producers) who are doing the same thing, and who, let’s face it, specialize in rumthey don’t see it as an adjunct to their main business. That and the SMWS’s pricing model, of course, which many can’t or won’t pony up for (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Society and buy my bottles).

But anyway, preamble aside, let’s keep on disassembling the R-11.x series of rums released by the Society, with the second release from Worthy Park distillate, which is called, without irony and perhaps tongue-in-cheek, “Absolutely Fabulous!” Like the R11.1, it is 57.5% ABV, distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2017, 309-bottle outturn from ex-bourbon barrels. And like that one, it’s nice and original.

The nosesweet, fruity, subtly different from the R11.1. Orange zest, papaya, pineapple, ripe yellow mangoes, plus toblerone, white pepper, honey, cereals, and again that sly hint of glue coiling around the background. It remains dusty, but also laden with spices like cinnamon, massala, crushed black peppers and there’s a subtle oily iodine-like smell wafting around that really makes the thing original. There’s a slight suggestion of rubber, not so much like a vulcanizing shop in hot weather as an old basketball’s air leaking out. Like I saidoriginal. I guess it takes all kinds.

The palate presents as hot and quite dry, a little wine-y, and also saltybrine and olives, and even salt fish with a few good ‘obstacles’ of cassava and eddoes. It’s funky and a bit off the reservation, I grant, but there’s more: well-oiled leather, aromatic tobacco, sweet chilis and cucumbers and apple ciderI really didn’t know what to make of it, except that it sort of makes you smile and try some more, see if there’s any other element of crazy hanging around waiting to ambush your tongue. Here I did add some water and it quietened down and other flavours crept out, including the fruit that the nose had promised: pineapple, mangoes, unripe peaches, caramel, nutmeg, toffee and the acrid smoke of water-doused fire, if you can believe it. Finish was nice and long, somewhat bitter, mostly tobacco, leather, smoke, not too much in the way of sweetness or fruits except for a whiff of Fanta that permeated the entire experience.

This rum is clearly from the same tree as the R11.1 but seems like a different branchand good in the same way, and its own way. That musky salt fish and iodine was odd to say the least (if not entirely unpleasant)…and what it shows is that rums made at the same time and aged for the same periodprobably in the same placecan have discernibly different profiles. Worthy Park sold the SMWS a number of barrels (none of the SMWS bottlings come from Scheer) so there’s both tropical and continental ageing in these things. And what it demonstrates is that like for all other indie bottlers, getting several barrels means one has the opportunity (takes the risk?) of having one barrel be different than its neighbor but both showing something of the character of the source estate. For my money, the R11.1 worked, and made my ears perk up, and my nose twitch. The SMWS took a chance with the R11.2 and it paid off, because this one, happily, does the same thingnot fabulously, perhaps, but with originality, and very nicely indeed.

(#727)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin scored this 88 points and felt that were it not for two off notes it would have hit 90
  • RumShopBoy, the only other person in the rumisphere who has written about the SMWS bottlings, rated it 74/100 on a 0-100 scale, so his evaluation is about the same as mine. His comments are worth noting: This is not as good as Worthy Park’s Single Estate Rums that are commercially available. Although those editions do not carry age statements, they are more refined blends that are easier to drink. That leads me to my biggest problem with this rum… it is a real challenge to enjoy it properly. There is no doubting the quality of the rum and its production but it is hard to really enjoy it. Unusually for me, I found it needed some water to make it more enjoyable.
May 142020
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is no longer, as outlined in the brief biography of the organization, quite any of those things, not really. It has offices way beyond Scotland, it’s not restricting itself to bottling malts, has moved past releasing only whiskies, and can just barely be considered a society (more of an independent bottler). This is especially so since they have begun to not just buy aged casks from whisky producers but also new-make spirit so they can age their own.

This last development has not yet occurred in the fields of their rums, though it wouldn’t really influence my purchasing decisionsI’ve been a fan for years, ever since I was fortunate enough to snap up three of their rums in Canada in 2013. That’s around the time when they started to take rums even marginally more seriously than before, and now in 2020, they have 13 different distilleries’ rums, of which the R 11.1 represents one of the New Jamaicans many fans are currently salivating over.

The Society is no stranger to Jamaicathe very first release R1.1 was a Monymusk, and thereafter they added R5 (Longpond, from 2012), R7 (Hampden, from 2016) and in 2017, they scored with Worthy Park as R11. And since I’ve unconscionably ignored the ‘Park for quite some time, I think I’ll begin the slow accretion of SMWS rum reviews with themalso because they’re pretty damned good. This one is a relatively young 7 years old, bottled in 2017 at a firm 57.5% (308-bottle outturn) and has the evocative title of “Spicy Sweet Goodness”, which is very much in line with the Society’s equally amusing and puzzling label descriptions that many have drunk themselves in to stupors trying to understand or follow.

Nose first. Yep, it’s definitely a Worthy Park and a pot still rum, such as I remember with such fondness from the Compagnie des Indes’s two 2007 WP editions, the 7YO and the 8YO, both of which were really good. It’s sweet and crisp and snaps across the nose with a light and sharp esteriness: my first written notes are “fruits, flowers and honey on white bread, wow!” But there’s also a light glue background, some cereals, ginger, cumin, lemon peel and pineapple all coming together in a very precise amalgam where each note is completely distinct. It has the freshness of a newly sun-dried white sheet with the sunshine still aromatic upon it.

This is one of those rums where the taste is even better than the nose. What it does is settle down a bit, and if it loses something of the initial clean clarity that nose displayed, well, it gains a bit in depth and overall complexity. The white bread has now been toasted, the cereal is almost like Fruit Loops, but the honey (thankfully) remains, golden and tawny and thick. These core notes are joined by brown sugar, toblerone, almonds, fleshy fruits like papaya, peaches, apricots and ears, as well as a peculiar background of beef bouillon, maggi cubes and crackers and (if you can believe it) powdered laundry detergent, y’know, like Tide or something. The light citrus (it really does remind me of Fanta at times) is there to balance everything off, acting as something of an exclamation point to the palate. The medium-lasting finish is surprisingly simple in comparison to the smorgasbord we just waded through, but it is elegant and has the main food groups well representedfruity, sweet, salty and tart, all at the same time.

Well, this was quite something. I liked it a lot. I have no idea how so much was stuffed into the ex-bourbon barrel the rum was aged in, especially given such a young age and what was (I believe) a continental ageing regimen. There are discordant bits here and there (minor ones) in the way the flavours don’t always harmonize completely; and sure, you can taste the youth in its brash liveliness and the initial sharply crisp attackyet I’m not convinced that a few more years would have done much more than enhance it marginally.

Most of the rums I’ve tried from WP are relatively young, and relatively goodit seems to be a real peculiarity of the estate to produce rums that other companies ageing their rums for twice as long would have been proud to bottle. In fine, the SMWS R11.1 is a jaunty young rumlet, made with verve and style by an outfit which seems somehow to regularly put out single-digit aged rumsfor themselves and for otherswhich are consistently and uniformly better than conventional wisdom says they should be. To do that is to Worthy Park’s credit. To recognize it and bring it to us, is that of the SMWS.

(#726)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Inadvertent loss of my original photo required me to make some adjustments which I’ll replace when I retake that picture.