Sep 012023

Foursquare and WIRD and Mount Gay grab the lion’s share of social media attention from which originates so much of our news from Barbados, and so we sometimes overlook the fourth rum maker on the island, St. Nicholas Abbey. They are a small boutique distillery that became famous a decade ago for their lovely etched squarish bottles which you could once get refilled at a discount if you presented it at the distillery (maybe no longer now, alas).

SNA remains tiny in comparison with the other distilleries, run as part of a heritage site of the same name, and managed by the Warren family (see my original reviews here and here for some details), and at the beginning, bought rum stock from Foursquare down the road to get their program off the groundRichard Seale also provided support and advice. Initially they issued 5, 10 and 12 YO aged rumsthese were the first reviews of their line that I didand over time this trio has been added to and developed into some much more high end hooches: a 15 and 18 and 20 YO and (heaven forbid) even a 23 YO…which admittedly I’ve never seen or tried (but want to). The rums were (and to some extent remain) rather more expensive than is the norm for similarly aged rums, which I know from personal experience; yet they sold and continue to sell, and these days SNA cultivates its own cane and makes its own rums rather than buying externally. What this has inevitably led to is a suite of younger rums like the unaged white, a white overproofand a different 5YO than the one I sharpened my tasting buds on all those years ago.

The stats for this 5YO, then: a lightish rum deriving from cane syrup (made in small batches from cane juiceso really, a sort of it-which-must-not-to-be-named agricole), coming off a pot-column hybrid still at 92% and then taken down to 65% or so for setting into ex-bourbon barrels. Like the white overproof it is a massive 60% ABVand it’s a smart move to do so, since it allows the aficionados to get their intensity fix, while having exactly the same rum but weaker, sold to the general marketplace.

What surprises then, bearing in mind the tech sheet, is how relatively subdued the nose is at the beginning: some light and sweet honey, mead, plus a smorgasbord of white fruits (because of course there are); gradually one senses fanta, soda pop, 7Up, a little citrus, vanilla, and the slightly sour but still piquant sense of oranges gone off. The light fruits are always there, set off to some extent by brine, olives, unsweetened chocolate and the rich scent of overripe cashews (the ones with external seeds) which always reminds me of tequila for some reason.

The nose is somewhat rough, admittedly, and this is also the case on the palate. What saves it is the rich and multilayered texture and intensity of the tastes that are handed over. Green peas, peaches, fruits, fleshy and ripe and juicy; a very firm profile, quite spicy. Some unsweetened chocolate again, orange marmalade and a dusting of mint and vanilla, yet one misses the vaguely herbal and grassy notes which the source material suggests might be there. But anyway, it’s quite good, and the finish ends well: long, sweet and a little sour, some pineapple-in-syrup notes in the rear, mostly a nicely done fruit salad drizzled with Malibu and some fresh lime juice.

Chosing between the unaged overproof and this 5YO beefcake is pointlessthey’re both good rums and serve different purposes. Trying them together, I enjoyed each of them…in different ways. I felt that overall the unaged white held somewhat more character and likely made a better cocktail, because it had not yet been changed or tamed by age or wood; on the other hand, it was lacking the additional complexity and sharp firmness the 5 YO OP was showcasing. In a pinch I’d try to get the pair. As for scores, well, back in the day I scored the standard strength 10-12-15 trio higher than I’m scoring this one now (if not by much): but whatever the score is, ultimately I think that this young overproofwith its level of controlled intensity and low-key voluptuousnessis pretty much on par with those venerable starter guns that SNA used to make its name all those years ago.

(#1022)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Other notes

  • The rum is a blend without any years of distillation or bottling. They are evidently going for a long term consistent taste profile and specific barrels from specific years are the province of more premium bottlings up the line. The ‘single caskin the title suggests they decant a whole lot of rum into many casks at the same time, and blend them together over time within that set (otherwise they really would have years of make in the title)
  • The bottles remain the same, with glass etching of the abbey house engraved on each, and a mahogany tipped stopper.
Aug 012022

It’s been years since I looked at any of the rums of Barbados’s boutique micro-distillery, St. Nicholas Abbey. This is not for want of interest, reallyjust opportunity. Plus, I had enthusiastically reviewed most of the original three-rum 81012 YO lineup (later expanded to five with the additions of the 5 and 15 YO), and felt no immediate need to search for and buy and try progressively aged and more expensive expressions like the 18, 20 and 23 year-olds that kept on coming out the door at standard strengthsooner or later one of them would cross my path, I told myself.

As the years progressed they remained at the back of my mind, however, and after 2017 I got interested all over again. Because in that year they released the 60% overproof whiteand since I had quite liked the original 40% version tasted the year before, with its cane juice and pot still origins, intriguing taste and gentle complexity, I hastened to try the OP at the first opportunity (which came at the 2022 TWE Rumshow). The overproof white is, like its lesser-proofed sibling, made from rendered cane juice (‘syrup’) then run through the pot still before being allowed to rest for three months in inert tanks, and then bottledthe current crop of 40% and 60% whites derive from the same source, it’s just that one is reduced and the other isn’totherwise, they are identical.

The standard white I tasted in 2016 had teetered on the edge of untameability, and walked a fine line between too little and too much. It was original, yet still felt something like a work in progress where the final vision had yet to snap into focus more clearly; this one was quite a bit better and it wasn’t only the extra proof. The thing smelled like a whole lot more was in there: sweet vanilla, sugar water, raspberries, cherries, and very little of the briny paraffin wax and floor polish that had marked out its predecessor. That was present, I hasten to mention, just kept firmly in the background, allowing the fruity flavours and congeners their moment to shine.

The palate was also well assembled, and holds up well; creamy hot sweet vanilla-flavoured cocoa drizzled over a four-fruit ice creamlet’s say mango, cherry, cranberries and pineapple. It didn’t come with a ton of complexityit was not that kind of rumwhat I got was, however, more than sufficient for Government work, and it was firm and warm and intense enough that I could sip it and get something reasonably complex, and near-delicious without having half my glottis abraded. The finish was suitably long and near-epic, mostly light fruits in a salad, some breakfast spices, a touch of cumin, and a green apple slice or two.

Clearly St. Nicholas Abbey have not rested on their laurels since I first ran across their wares back in 2011, or even since I sampled the initial white they made. The profile of the overproof is one that continues to work well for a rum that can be both mixer and sipper, and it straddles the divide neatly. Best of all, it’s well made enough that it never seems to be a binary decision, but one that’s entirely up to the drinker and will satisfy either way, because it’s one of those rums with the “overproof” moniker that doesn’t have to be endured, just enjoyed.

(#926)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Other Notes

  • Previous reviews of the St. Nicholas Abbey range of rums provide most of the backstory to the estate and the rum-making operation. It remains (as of 2022) the smallest of the island’s distilleries.
Aug 242016

St Nicks 5 yo single cask (a)

Might be heresy to say so, but I thought it better than the same company’s eight year old.

One of the reasons why the St. Nicholas Abbey Five year old gets the full etched-bottle treatment of the 8, 10, 12, 15 and 18 year olds (which are all remarkably good for 40% rums and earned good reviews from across the spectrum, including mine), is because the company is justifiably proud of this being the first rums they made from entirely their own matured stocks. Previously they were ageing Foursquare rums to make the originals noted abovethe ten may be one of the best mid-range 40% rums I’ve triedbut the five is entirely their own juice, as will be all other aged rums they produce in the years to come (once the 4S stuff runs out for the really old rum, of coursealready the abbey has run out of 15, or so I’ve been told).

I’ve gone into the bio of the company before and they themselves have great info about the plantation on their website, so I won’t rehash that, except to make one observation: if you have an empty bottle of St. Nick’s, and you take it to Barbados on a distillery visit, they’ll refill it for you for half price with whatever age of their rum you want….and add some more etching to personalize it, for free, if you ask. It’s on my bucket list for that. My wife just wants to visit the place and walk around, it’s so pretty.

St Nicks rums

Anyway, a 40% golden coloured rum, coming off a pot still with a reflux column (from notes I scribbled while Simon Warren was talking to me about it, though the company website says pot only), aged five years in used oak barrels, so all the usual boxes are ticked. It displayed all the uncouth, uncoordinated good-natured bumptiousness we have come to expect from fives: spicy, scraping entry of alcohol on the nosethe edges would be sanded off by a few years of further ageing, of coursewith aromas of flowers, cherries, licorice, a twitch of molasses, a flirt of citrus peel and vanilla, each firm and distinct and in balance with all the others. 40% made it present somewhat it thin for me, mind, but that is a personal thing.

And, thin or notthat taste. So rich for a five. It was a medium bodied rum, somewhat dry and spicy, redolent of fleshy fruits that are the staples of a good basketthe soft flavours of bananas, ripe mangoes and cherries mixing it up with the tartness of soursop and green apples and more of that sly citrus undercurrent. With water (not that the rum needed any), the heretofore reticent background notes of molasses, toffee, vanilla, smoke and oak emerged, melding into a very serviceable, woody and dry finish.

Again, I noticed that it was not a world beating exemplar of complexitywhat it did was present the few notes on its guitar individually, with emphasis and without fanfare. It’s a five year old that was forthright and unpretentious, a teen (in rum years) still growing into manhood, one might say. And in that very simplicity is its strengthit can go head to head with other fives like the El Dorado any time. It’s quite good, and if it lacks the elemental raw power and rage of unaged pot still products, or the well-tempered maturity of older, higher-proofed ones, there’s nothing at all wrong with this worthwhile addition to the Abbey pantheon.


Other notes

  • The business about the ‘single caskrequires some explanation: here what the Abbey is doing is not blending a bunch of barrels to produce one cohesive liquid and then filling all their bottles from that blend, but decanting barrel to bottle until one barrel is done and then going to the next barrel in line and decanting that….so if this is indeed so, there’s likely to be some batch variation reported over time (the bottles have no numbering or outturn noted). My notes were scribbled in haste that day when Simon was telling me about it almost a year ago, and the website makes no mention of it, but Simon confirmed this was the case.
  • The 5 year old rum is dedicated to Simon’s newborn twins, who, in a nice concurrence of art and work and life (or cosmic fate), were the first Warrens to be born into the Abbeyjust as the Abbey was releasing a new generation of rum. That’s pretty cool by any standard.
Apr 132016


A tasty, unaged, pot-still white rum, which St. Nicholas Abbey seems to have made while in a playfully experimental phase.

So there I was last week, reading through my notes and writing unenthusiastically about the 3 year old “Real McCoy” white rum from Barbados, which found little favour with me. But consider this unaged counterpart made right up the road from St. Nicholas Abbey, also issued at 40%, also a white and in just about every way a superior product. What could account for such a difference? Well, part of it is the lack of filtration, another is the sourceit is a full pot still product, not a blend of pot and column. Double distilled and with a longer than usual fermentation period (5 days plus two more of “resting”).

Whatever the case, unaged white pot still rums are getting quite a bit of attention these days, moving the rum world away from dependable silver mixing agents whose name everyone knows, to something a bit morewell, adventurous. Clairins and agricoles have always been around and are leading the charge, but cachacas are making some waves too, and if more makers like Nine Leaves, St. Nicks and Rum Nation and others are spending time and money on making them, the next few years will be quite interesting on that front.

This particular rum tried very hard to walk the line between too much and too little, and succeeded pretty well: not for St. Nicks’s was the dumbing down of their product to appeal to a mass market by making a rum that wouldn’t offend anyone; and yet dialling up the volts to something that would be polarizing was not for them either. They issued it in a smart looking bottle, at a tolerable 40%, and it was soothing enough to appeal without entirely disguising the potential and tamed wildness of its antecedents.

A rum like the White can only really be appreciated by trying it in tandem with rums like it up and down the scale. For example, take the aromas: wax, olives, paraffin wax, floor polish and brine leaped out of the glass, and I know how unappetizing that sounds (I was fortunate in that I’ve tried more potent popskull and so I kinda knew what to expect). But if you compare it with the DDL Superior High Wine, Rum Nation Pot Still 57%, or the Clairin Sajous, (or the Vaval, or the Casimir) which all packed more punch, you could make a reasoned argument that 40% really works for a larger drinking audience with rums like this. The character of the rum might be dampened a bit, yet it’s still there, singing as chirpily as a cageful of canaries. And be comfortedafter some minutes the nose does even out a bit, bringing forward more floral notes, the light sugariness of candyfloss, papaya and sugar watereven a flirt of light honey. However, it should be noted that there were few signs of any of that vegetal, grassy smell which is so prevalent in agricoles.

The taste was also quite intrguing. I was expecting that oily, paraffin bedrock to continue, and indeed, this was there, just not that dominant. The profile, which began with some heat, was reasonably smooth, sweet, light and clear, presenting anise, flowers and ripe cherries that kept what most would call unpleasant off-notes in the background, where they contributed a note or twothe floor polish was noticeable, for examplewithout overwhelming the taste outright. With water additional cinnamon, whipped cream and crushed walnuts could be discerned, and the finish, while short, was very crisp and clear, without any driness at all. Considering that I walked up to the St. Nick’s not expecting much of anything, it was a very pleasant surprised to be pampered by the overall worth of what I initially took to be just another throwaway white mixer.

Summing up, then, I think this is a very good all purpose white rum, and if it does not ascend to the heights of crazy as exemplified by the stronger rums noted above, you can see it had the potential to do so had they decided to beef it up some more. It retained enough character and zest to stand by itself and possesses sufficient off notes to enhance whatever cocktail you’re thinking of dunking it into. In that sense, it’s a great “bridge” rumit can be for both drinking neat or mixing, and would neither alienate those who despised the more elemental pot still whites, nor piss off the guys who prefer something that gives more bassa-bassa. When you think about it, for any clear rum to pull off that trick is quite a feat, and that’s part of why the St. Nick’s product (and many agricole white rums) succeeds, when the white McCoy three year old, or other industrial white mixing fodder like Bacardi Superior so sadly don’t. And it also succeeds, for my money, because it had the guts to actually go somewhere new.

(#266. 83/100)

Other notes

  • The source distillate in this case is not Foursquare, but St. Nick’s own stocks, from their own sugar cane.
Oct 262015

St. Nick's 15 3

An expensive, luxurious, silky, almost-heavy, near-masterpiece of assembly. This dethrones the $400 Panamonte XXV as maybe the best 40% rum I’ve ever tried. For half the price.

It’s been just over four years since I reviewed the St. Nicholas Abbey’s 8, 10 and 12 year olds, and I liked them all, a lot. They were soft, warm, well-made Bajan rums (initial distillate provided by R. L. Seale of Four Square), redolent of much history and heritagethe plantation itself is as much of interest as the rum they make. Ever since then I’ve been trying to get my hands on the other products I knew were coming: alas, the additional products the Warrens told me about never arrived in Calgary, and they came too late to other markets for me to obtain them before I moved away.

Never mind. That’s what RumFests are for. After being poured a glass or three, I spent a most convival half hour in Berlin in 2015 irritating an enormously helpful Mr. Simon Warren with endless questions and remarks about his rums, and finally gave the poor chap some peace by first calibrating on the five year old, trying some ten, and then launching into the golden-hued fifteen for which I had waited so long.

These rums were a sequence of very similar products, each a little bit different and perhaps better than its predecessor, and each certainly more complex than the one that preceded it. That’s not entirely a surprise, since the remains of the 8 and 10 were what comprised the 12, and the 12 was aged even further into the 15 (the five year old can’t be brought into this discussion since it was made completely in-house). The 10 was very much like I remembered. Soft, warm, some interesting stuff going on under the hood, and if I wished they were stronger (as I usually do these days), there was very little fault to find with what was presented.

St. Nick's 15 1

The 15 ratcheted things up a notch. At 40% ABV, I wasn’t expecting any kind of hurricane-force F5 taste bomb, and I didn’t get one. What I did get was a nose of uncommon warmth and softness, where lush, deep flavours gently swirled around and released themselves over the half hour I spent letting it breathe. Soft molasses and bananas started things off, as dense as an El Dorado that decided to take the day off. A little spiciness, not enough to matter, followed up by some nuttiness of almonds in chocolate, raisins, ripe black grapes and raisins, some orange peeland was that coconut, a flirt of cinnamon at the back end? Yes it was.

The taste continued on very pleasantly from the nose. Here some more heat was evident, well toned down (well, it is only 40%), a velvet blanket drawn across the taste buds. Bananas and molasses and raisins started the party, followed by smokier, drier hints of aromatic pipe tobacco and an old leather satchel, more almonds, vanilla, caramel, nougat. A bit of coffee and a last bit of citrus became detectable after a while. It was, in fine, a rum that encouraged leisurely appreciation, a languorous conversation, fond memories. And the finish was very much in line with all thatas well as the softer caramel, vanilla and toffee (again, there was that vague spiciness of orange peel), it honestly felt like I was having a weird mocha-infused éclair. Sweet? Yesbut all held very carefully in balance, not overwhelming, and certainly not taking over the show. It was a rum I enjoyed thoroughly, and thought it a worthy addition to the pantheon.

The bottle adhered to the same ethos as produced previous younger editions, being the marvellously etched, squarish flagon surmounted by a mahogany enclosed cork. Apparently you can get custom etching and a cut rate price on refills, if you take your own bottle to the Abbey, up in St. Peter’s parish of Barbados. The rum is completely aged on the premises in used bourbon barrelsresearch shows it is initially aged for eight years at a high proof strength (65%), and then the barrels are batched and rebarrelled for an additional seven years to make the fifteen. The bottles themselves are individually filled from each barrelit’s not like the entire output is married and then used to fill the bottles all at onceso some variation is likely to occur here.

St. Nick's 15 2

Tastes aside, the St. Nicholas Abbey 15 year old is not a raw, brawny, uncouth monster that jumps out to assault you with a roaring plethora of screaming-sharp, precise and intense flavours from the moment you uncork the bottle. It is, rather, a gentle, warm drink to have with a cigar, the evening papers and in the warm afterglow of a kiss from the wife. Its genius arises from the way the tastes that do exist meld together into an firm melange of uncommon complexity, with just enough heat to remind you it’s a rum, accompanied by a texture and mouthfeel that was silk and velvet and spice all at once.

I remember thinking that day, finalizing my detailed notes and giving the harried-looking (but still polite) Mr. Warren a chance to escape, that I really wish I knew what the eight year old 65% tasted like prior to rebarrelling for the next seven yearsI have a feeling it would be exceptional. But given that few rum makers could make a 40% rum this good at all, I concluded, perhaps comfort could be found by merely having another substantial dram poured into my glass, walking off to the corner, and enjoying it in an overstuffed armchair as restful as the rum while watching other aficionados walk past.

And that’s exactly what I did.

(#238. 88/100)

Other Notes

  • The history of the Abbey is covered in my initial essays on the younger rums, and can also be found on their excellent website.
Sep 022011

First posted 2nd September 2011 on Liquorature

A worthy successor to the 10 year old which was also expensive and extremely well made. Succeeds, in my opinion, on just about every level: presentation, nose, taste, finish and aesthetics. This is the point where you start telling yourself maybe two hundred bucks may not really be that much to blow on a single rumbut ensure the spouse concurs.

You’ve got to hand it to the Abbey. Not being content to rest on their laurels with the very excellent 10 year old I was so taken by, they issued the dark gold 12 year old limited edition rum, and built on all of its predecessor’s strengths. This is not surprising since it was the remaining stocks of the ten which form the twelve (original barrels of the ten are now exhausted or aged past ten years). And they have changed nothing except the rum itself: the etched square-shouldered bottle showing the Jacobean plantation house, mahogany tipped cork, the cheap cardboard box which Keenan so applauds, the thin wrapping paper with the company logo…all this remains the same.

St Nick’s, having emerged as a surprising new quality distillery in 2006 after the Warrens bought out the prior landholders, initially had R.L. Seale distil their product and then aged it themselves; though previously they had shopped around for stocks from all over Barbados and other places which to age in their first offerings, these days they are laying down stocks themselves using a newly acquired German distilling unit, and have impressive plans to increase their product line (I made some notes about this in the 8-yr old review if you’re interested).

It’s not about what the movie is about,” remarked Roger Ebert once, “But how the movie is about it.By that standard, how should we discuss this rum? By its nose, its flavour, its look, the bottle, the colour, how it’s distilled, blended, bottledwhat? Having written enough prose about both the eight year old and the ten year old, how can I go on from there?

I could say, for example, that it is a modern day reimagining of Bajan styles of old, or that it originates from both pot and column stills, and is aged for 12 years in white oak barrels. I could add that it is made not from molasses but from concentrated cane syrup subsequently double-distilled to about 92% prior to ageing (unlike agricoles from the French terroires, which generally limit their distillation to 70% before barreling). Then I could go on: that it has a deep, rich, dark rich nose of currants and jam, cherries, peaches and fleshy ripe fruits, redolent of breakfast spices and a touch of caramel, and tastes of jasmine and hibiscus arrangements dusted with cinnamon. But what does all this really tell you beyond dry facts you’re probably sick of and may not even agree with? Not much. What about taste, then? Would it make a difference if I noted its slightly salty-sweet tang, or its heavy body about on par with an ED 15, hints of banana and papaya melding gently into a buttery-soft mélange of fruit and brown sugar? And the long smooth, lasting finish that clutches your tonsils with the tenacity of a junkie clutching a five?

Maybe not.

So let me go off in a different direction for the more poetic among us. This rum is a hug from your mother when you had a skinned knee and came home holding back tearsin the warm softness of her comfort, all good things came back and the hurt was forgotten. The taste of this exquisite twelve year old is of a lazy Sunday breakfast with your first real lover after a good night before, and a great kiss after (substitute the word you’re thinking of), with french toast, hot strong coffee and the fixin’s melting in your mouth as you wolf it down in the warm morning sunlight of a great new day. And the finish is redolent of the smooth feeling of power that envelops you when you win a hard fought battle – in the office or on the field or in the streetand deservedly bask in the accolades. The world is your oyster. This rum goes well with it.

The St. Nicholas Abbey 12 year old Limited Reserve is not cheap. At two hundred dollars in Calgary, I have to be honest and concede that I thought long and hard about buying it – I can get the 21 YO El Dorado, or the English Harbour 25 YO, for less, and both are older vintages, proven tastes, made by well established companies for which I have great respect. I know I’m paying this price because of limited production, not entirely because it’s so good. Honestly, had it not been for the ten that St Nick’s had already won me over with, as well as their instant and honest answering of every question I had when researching this review, I might have held off.

But I must be honest: this is a reminder of what rums can be, in a conformist and lowest-common-denominator culture where blended product and cheaply spiced rums sell by the truckload, and many people have no idea that “top-end” and “rum” can be said in the same breath. And as I’ve observed before, rums are not for any one thing: some take the edge off our anger, some help us forget and take us away from our problems, some are best with which to observe a sunset, some are to toast the great events in one’s life, and still others are to share with one’s best friend over an evening spent playing chess and indulging in a desultory sort of harum scarum conversation. What is so wonderous about the twelve, and what makes me recommend it, is that in some measure, it is good for, and does, all these things.

(#084. 86/100)

Sep 022011

First posted 2nd September 2011 on Liquorature


Much as I loved the St Nicholas Abbey 10 year old (and I have yet to meet a soul who doesn’t like it), I must concede that the corresponding 8 year old is not in its league. This is not to say it’s a bad rum…just not as good as its older brother(s). And that’s a shame, because left on its own, had I never tasted any of the Abbey’s other products, I might have given my pen rein, gone to town with loads of colourful metaphors, and in all ways harped on its observed qualities. However, I had had the others, and in a vertical tasting with all three rums in attendance, the eight simply suffered by comparison. Bummer.

I should note that part of what really sets St. Nicholas apart is stellar marketing. The whole story of the plantation and its lovingly restored Jacobean house; the creation of one of the first new rum-makers in decades (quite aside from massive commercial enterprises who create hollow rums by the containerful); the sand-blasted bottle with its mahogany tipped cork wrapped in soft paper embossed with the company logo, the limited production (they’re up to about 5000 bottles total per year now)…all these envelop the plantation operation and the resultant rums in a sort of enviable cachet of quality and history that many a maker would give his last heels of ten year old for. And when you consider how good that original ten year old was (quite a debut, I’d say), well, there’s some pretty good street cred right there.

Of course, Madison Avenue b.s. can only carry a rum so far (did I hear someone say Kraken?). Consider the Young’s Old Sam Demerara Rum, or a very nice (and very cheap) Potter’s rum I have had before – utterly unspectacular, unadvertised low-end hooches the pair of ‘em, and yet I can’t imagine my pantry without either. Word of mouth and individual tastes will overwhelm a clever campaign…and that other bugbear of the big sellers, real quality. I thought St. Nicholas really had something going there.

Having waxed rhapsodic over the softness and billowing fumes of the 10, I was somewhat taken aback by a younger, sharper nose of the 8 year old. Young, boisterous, aggressive, spicy and aromatic, it reminded me of a lady in high school I once asked for a dance, who then grabbed me with quite unnecessary force, and unsmilingly said in a tone that brooked no demur, “I’ll lead.” All kidding aside, it was an interesting scent: apples, a tad of brown sugar crystals…there was a buttery kind of quality to it, yet one that was thin and faintly medicinal at the start: it gradually opened up into something more floral – white roses and hibiscus.

The mouthfeel and taste on the palate continued that odd mix of aggressiveness and restraint. It lacked the smooth wash of tastes of the ten, that was a given; however, I simply cannot express what it was about the 8 that did not permit me to separate out flavours precisely. That there were tastes was undeniable, what I was having trouble with was figuring out what they were, because they ran together so seamlessly. Perhaps it would be better to tell you what this wasn’t: not very sweet, always a problem for me; not very oily, or lasting; not very, well… rumlike – this thing was more like a decent cognac. The body was light, gold and clean (it was the lightest colour of the three St. Nick’s offerings I was sampling), bottled at 40% just like the others, and displayed a sharpness I can’t say enthused me overmuch. And the fade was unexceptional: short, medium smooth, lacking a good long finishyet to its credit, it did not have a bunch of bitchy fumes leaving their claws on your throat on the exit.

St Nicholas Abbey in Barbados, is currently distilling its own rum from its own sugar, using a German distillation apparatus they brought over from the heimat in 2009 – and unlike all others in the area, they are using sugar cane syrup (concentrated juice) rather than molasses – this may account for the lack of a caramelized brown sugar taste so prevalent in other dark or gold rums. However Foursquare Distillery (they of the dubious Doorly’s) did initially help produce the first rums here, after the Warren family bought the plantation from its previous owners in 2006. Currently St Nick’s is setting down rum at the rate of one barrel a week for ageing and they have plans to expand their line to include younger rums (3 yr and 5 yr olds, plus a white), and older ones to come – for example stocks of the ten are now past that age and are being re-issued as the twelve and the 2005 stocks they had are being held for yet older expressions.

Let’s sum up. Different production methods result in a nose that is excellent, but with a taste and finish less so. At $120 in Calgary, I’d hesitate to buy it a second time, when I can get the sterling ten year old for twenty bucks more. It’ll be interesting to match an eight year old from years hence with the one currently in my possession.

And yet, I should add this. I was similarly noncommittal and wussy about the El Dorado 12 year old (and to some extent the ED15). But this eight year old rum really isn’t made to be a high end product, however the price might suggest otherwise: it’s a bridge to the really top-tier product lines, the 10 and the 12 and (coming soon to the rumshop near you) the 15,18 and the 20. I think St Nicholas’s product strategy is based on the unexpected success of the ten, which I have been told there are no more stocks ofthe stocks that went into making this 8 yr old will eventually be the new batch of 10 yr olds to come. Therefore my take is simply that for what it is, it is an excellent rum, however expensive; you are paying for rarity rather than the intrinsic worth, thoughso if you really want quality, then spring the extra twenty bucks for the next one up the line.

(#083. 80.5/100)

Mar 052011

First posted 5 March 2011 on Liquorature

This rum is one of the best rums of it’s kind I’ve ever had, and it will dent your wallet to show it’s no accident. Everything about it works: presentation, nose, taste, finish. Even the place it’s made has a romantic cachet and youthful exuberance that enhances the aura surrounding it. You see this, you buy it, and buy it now.

St Nicholas Abbey 10 year old is one of the unsung Jedi Knights of the Universe. It succeeds without seeming to try. It embodies a grace and style many rums aim for and fail to attain, and presents it in a bottle by which a rum twice as expensive would be proud to be embraced. For a maker just barely out of the Padawan stage, I’d hazard a definitive statement and say it’s a hell of an achievement. I liked it the first time I sampled it at a tasting held by Kensington Wine Market in Calgary, bought a bottle the same night for ~$150, and have not regretted the purchase for a moment. And given that my wifenotoriously parsimonious and gimlet eyed when it comes to my purchases of the noble spiritthought it was a really wonderful rum, how can you go wrong?

A lot of bottles are either all good within and have lousy presentation without, or haveall outside and no inside,” but not this one. Now, the Last Hippie has noted how stingy I am when it comes to awarding points (I have similar problems with his generosity), but St Nick’s has come close to acing the presentation sweepstakes. The bottle is a tapering square flagon with a thick lip. It’s etched with a frieze of the plantation itself (The Great House, actually), and has a mahogany-tipped, leather covered cork that was simply stunning; bottle and box are both wrapped with soft tissue paper. If it wasn’t for the cheapo thin cardboard box it came in, it would have scored a perfect ten.

The name of the rum represents the name of the plantation in Barbados where the spirit is made. The land and buildings have been in existence at least since the 1630s but the Jacobean Great House on the grounds was only built in 1658, when the plantation was called Yeaman’s; subsequent descendants renamed it the Nicholas Plantation for tangled family issues which makes for interesting reading if you like generational history, but is too long to easily summarize. Various other owners came and went over the centuries; one of them was the man whom Mount Gay was eventually named after, Sir John Gay Alleyne: Sir John was instrumental in introducing rum production to Nicholas in the latter half of the 18th century, diversifying its fortunes from sugar and molasses production. However, it fell into debt and was sold off to new owners in the early 1800s, and was subsequently renamed St. Nicholas Abbey for what could be termed sentimental reasons by the Cumberbatch family, whose descendants held the property until 2006. Sugar production continued untiul 1947 when economic conditions caused a cessation of sugar and molasses production. but a new mill was brought to St. Nicholas in 1983 and sugar and rum production recommenced. However, the R. L. Seale’s Foursquare distillery is still the final bottler.

Whatever the stops and starts and hiccups of rum production on the island, they sure haven’t forgotten anything in the interim. You open the bottle and sniff and a buttery soft nose billows out to embrace your senses. No sting, no harshness, no fanged assault by a Colo Claw Fish or Sandpeople’s gaffi sticks. Just gentle caramel notes mixed with molasses, with cherry notes drifitng in and out of the dark sugary smells. Let it stand for a bit and open up, and you’re left with burnt brown sugar like it was Christmas come early. Others may find more complexity in the rum than I did, but what I discovered was quite enough for my personal enjoyment, believe mewhatever you detect on your own, you will not be disappointed.

As for the taste and body, well, ummwow. It’s good. It could make C3P0 wish he could drink. It has hints of nutmeg, those cherries again, some well cured leather, all wrapped up inside a molasses and caramel blanket that wasunlike the DDL El Dorado 25 year old at twice the costjust sweet enough, and dry as the humour you’d get if you mixed Monty Python with Lando Calrissian on a bender. St Nick’s gently and lovingly ravishes your throat all the way down, caresses your taste buds and coats your tongue in a way that carries flavour to every address of your taste buds. And the finish displays similar excellence of quality: it’s long; it’s lasting; it’s gentleit’s the best kiss Leia ever gave Han, and carries with it no shade of spite or bitchiness or pain. I could sip this lovely ten year old all night long. Actually, I nearly did.

I don’t know what St Nicholas Abbey has done that makes all these pieces come together so well. They do eschew complex mechanical means of mass production and have stuck with pot-still distillation techniquesthis may account for the rather high price, it being a function of rarity created by the slow and less efficient batch processingso that may be part of it. They are right next to their source of cane juice, so maybe that has something to do with it too. Currently, the rum is produced for the plantation by R. L. Seale, initially aged at 65% abv in oak bourbon casks for 8 years, and then batched and re-barrelled in to the same casks at bottle strength and then aged for a further two years at the Abbey. Just about all rums are aged in bourbon barrels, so I sort of discount that as a factor.

But however and whatever they do, somehow the Abbey makers of this sterling ten year old have combined their accumulated knowledge and a production method of their own that surpasses expectations and have, I dunno, blessed it with the Force. And created a drink so all-round excellent, that if I was a Hutt, I’d sure as hell hire Han Solo to smuggle a few cases past the Empire.

(#069. 87/100)