May 162021
 

More than a few rums of Secret Treasures’ “classic” era with those distinctive labels, were all bottled in the year 2003. When we consider that for yearsdecades, actuallythe original owner of the brand, Fassbind, had been making grappa, schnapps and other spirits, then it’s not too surprising to consider that when they first went into rums, they didn’t mess around with a single barrel bottling, but picked up a number of casks all at the same time and released them simultaneously. So far I can’t find any references to rums from ST released prior to 2003 so I think we can reasonably date the inception of their rum line to that year.

The biography of the company is reprinted below the review, and I’ll simply provide the basic details: this is a WIRR (or WIRD) rum, with the type of still not mentioned (see Other Notes, below) in 1995, on the island of Barbados. The ageing location is also unknownSecret Treasures has noted for some others in this series, that they bought barrels that had been aged in situ, but that’s not enough for me to make the claim for this one. Oh and it was reduced down to 42% ABV, which was in line for the period, where producers were nervous about going higher at a time when standard strength was all distributors were often willing to accept (both Richard Seale and Luca Gargano faced this problem with many of their very early releases).

Therefore, what we have here is an interesting rum from the recent past which is something of a curiositytoo “young” to warrant the archaeological excitement of a truly old rum from forty or more years in the past, yet not current enough to be eagerly snapped up by today’s Barbadian fanboy. In fact, it’s kind of fallen through the cracks.

Can’t say I blame them. The rum is no great shakes. The nose is good enoughin fact, it could be argued it’s the best part of the experiencea little flowery, nutty, nice background of a caramel milk shake. I liked the spices coiling gently around stronger aspects of the profile, mostly vanilla, cumin and masala. There’s a touch of lemon peel, a little glue and acetones, light fruitspears, papayas, mangoes, ripe oranges. Nothing outstanding, just a nice, solid nose.

To taste, it’s warm, an easy drink. For today’s more seasoned palate, it is, in fact, rather thinalmost unappetizing. I think there may be some licorice here, but it’s so faint I can’t be sure. Crushed walnuts, molasses, cereals, caramel, nougat. Some whipped cream over a dialled down fruit salad with the flavours leached out. The crispness of some apples and green grapes mixing it up with the blandness of bananas, watery pears and papaya, and believe me, that’s pushing it. Finish is completely meh. Short, warm, redolent of grapes, papaya, and a touch of the spices but the vanilla, molasses, pineapple and other tart notes is pretty much gone by this stage.

As with most rums predating the current renaissance, which almost all need a bit more boosting to reach their full potential, I believe that the flaccid strength is the undoing of this rum for the modern aficionado. The nose is finefaint, but at least clear and discernibleand it’s all downhill to near-nothingness from there. But I say that from my perspective, and those who have always stayed with the 40% rums of the world will find less to disappoint them, though I would suggest the rum retains some of that Goldilocks’s Little Bear characteristic of Barbadian rums in general. At the time it was made, neat sipping was less the rage than a good mixed drink in which rums were not permitted to have too much character of their own, so that might account for it.

Secret Treasures has never really been a huge mover and shaker on the indie rum scene. They have almost completely dropped out of sight (and weren’t that well known even before that), stay in small markets with their current blended rums, and the promise of their initial single cask bottlings is long gone. If it wasn’t for long-ignored old and mouldy reviews (including this one, ha ha, yeah you can sit back down there in the peanut gallery, fella), I doubt anyone would remember, know, or much care. But in a way I wish they had stuck with it. There’s interest out there for such things and while their selections were never top tier, consider that so many releases all took place in the early 2000s, at the same time as Velier’s and Rum Nation’s first bottlings, preceding 1423, the Compagnie, L’Esprit and all those others making waves in 2021. Even if they aren’t that well regarded now, I argue that for history and remembering the first indies, it’s occasionally useful and informative to try one just to see how the world has turned, and dammit, yes, drink it for nostalgia’s sake alone, if the other reasons aren’t enough.

(#821)(80/100)


Other notes

  • A bottle of this went for £50 on Whisky Auction website in September 2018.
  • Outturn was 1258 bottles, from three casks
  • The still: it’s not mentioned on the bottle or Haromex’s website. It tastes, to me, like a pot-column blend, not aggressive enough for the pot, not light and easy enough for pure column. Amazon’s German site refers to it being pot still, but that is the the only such extant reference (it was confirmed that there was an operational pot still at WIRD in 1995). No other source mentions the still at all (including Wikirum and RumX). We’ll have to take it as unanswered for now

Historical background

Initially Secret Treasures was the brand of a Swiss concern called Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) — who had been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer” distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what remains Switzerland’s oldest distillery.

They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and branched out into rums in the early 2000s but not as a producer: in the usual fashion, rums at that time were sourced, aged at the origin distillery (it is unclear whether this is still happening in 2021), and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conformed to the principles of many of the modern indies.

Fassbind’s local distribution was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, a Swiss distributor, yet they seem to have walked away from the rum side of the business, as the company website makes mention of the rum line at all. Current labels on newer editions of the Secret Treasures line refers to a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off as neither Swiss concern has any of the branded bottles in their portfolio.

Certainly the business has changed: there are no more of the pale yellow labels and sourced single barrel expressions as I found back in 2012. Now Secret Treasures is all standard strength anonymous blends like aged “Caribbean” and “South American” rum, a completely new bottle design and the Haromex logo prominently displayed with the words “Product of Germany” on the label.


 

Nov 092020
 

Rendsburger is one of the last of the great old houses from around Flensburg, that north German / Danish town which once had a near hammerlock on the rum trade in northern Europe and the Baltic. The company is actually located in (guess?) Rendsburg, 66km due south of that famed entrepôt, in which the parent company Kruger has its home; they in turn are a small, family-run whisky and spirits specialist mainly known for being a large whisky auction house and while they have done some releases in the past, they don’t really “do,” and are not known for, rums.

To me, of far more interest is the true rationale behind WIRR’s bulk rum exports in 1986, which nobody has ever explained to my satisfactionfor some reason that was the year of the Rockley Still, and just about every indie and its dog put out an expression from that year, and with that name. Bristol has at least two I know of, Samaroli another two, SMWS did a single one with a codpiece of 64.4% Duncan Taylor and Berry Bros & Rudd both tossed their hat in the ring, Cadenhead did a Green Label 18 YO and another 12 YO at a massive 73.4%; and even unknown outfits like Caribbean Reserve and Rendsburger got in on the act with their own pilferings of the barrels, and every time they get reviews of praise and adulation, you can just hear the purse-lipped disapproving harrumphs of bah-humbug radiating from over in St. Phillip.

There’s a reason for the Rockley distillate to have the reputation it does, and that’s because it’s one of the few all-pot-still rums to ever come out of the island (the Habitation Velier Foursquare and Last Ward rums are others), and its uniqueness is not to be sneezed atexcept that it’s not quite as clear cut as that, since the actual pot still from the Rockley Estate is unlikely to have made it given its long retirement. Marius over at Single Cask, in what may be the seminal essay on the matter, strongly suggests it was a triple chamber Vulcan still (something like an interlinked series of pot stills, according to Wondrich). However, whether made by the actual still, some other pot or the Vulcan, the fact is that few who have ever had any of that 1986 expression remain unmoved by it.

So let’s try it and see what the fuss is all about. Nose first. Well, it’s powerul sharp, let me tell you (63.8% ABV!), both crisper and more precise than the Mount Gay XO Cask Strength I was using as my control. Flowers, rosemary, fennel, a little carmel, vanilla and florals really carry it through. Seems like you walked into a cool aromatic flower shop on an off day….kinda. But weak on the ruminess, alas. Red currants, raspberries add to the fruitiness (which I like), and there’s an intriguing mustiness and straw, sawdust vibe down at the back end.

It does stay sharp on the tongue, too. Sharp, and a little jagged, leaving one to wonder, is this what 18 continental years gets you? The aromatic flavours remain, quite flowery and fruity: orchids, citrus peel and sharp, tart, sweet fruit. A mix of vanilla, strawberries, pineapple and very ripe purple cherries, with some brine and olives bringing up the rear. It’s quite potent, and the fierce strength makes it very rambunctious, as it careens heedlessly around the palate from side to side with all the grace of a runaway trucksomewhat to its detriment, I’m afraid. I did, in point of fact, enjoy the finish quite a bit, it was nice and pungent, yet also aromatic and firm, redolent of brine, muskiness, some salt fish and steamed rice into which someone chucked a few ripe guavas.

While I enjoy the pot-column blends that others make with such skill, after a while they seem to be just two sterling variations on the concept, one aged-and-finished, the other just aged, and lack a certain element of singularity that Luca tapped into with his 2013 and 2015 HV series, or the Rockleys themselves do, no matter which year they were made.

I’m in a minority in preferring an element of pot still brutality in my rums, something that heedless and carelesslymagnificently, evengoes for the boundary instead of always patiently stroking along with a bye here, a single there, a quick flick to the mid-on. Even when such things fail, at least they do so with authority. They will never surpass, in overall sales, the more carefully tended rums that appeal to larger audiencethey remain a rumgeek pastime, I sometimes thinkbut I know that there are crazies, like me, who would not care to have the progeny of the Rockleys (or the Vulcan) become just an input into a series of blends. They’re far too good and individualistic for that, whether they soar or fall flat, and this is one of those that prove the point very nicely

(#776)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Sharp eyed readers will be amused at the bottle picture – I sure was, and compliments to that great guy Malte Sager who traded me the sample: for the effort he put in, the rum itself and his sly sense of humour. The real bottle label is below.
  • Marcus Elder’s article draws on useful information from other sources which he references, and it’s worth reading and following the links for. He has also run several 1986 rums against each other, in a fascinating flight.
  • Rendsburger has also released a Port Mourant, a Caroni, a Jamaican and another Barbados rum titledBlack Rock”. Not much else, though. Malte Sager is the only guy I know who has them all.

Oct 302018
 

My friend Henrik from Denmark told me once that he really dislikes the rums of WIRD. “There’s just something off about them,” he grumbled when we were discussing the output from Little England, the development of the Foursquare Exceptionals, and the Velier collaborations. On the other hand, another rum-kumpel from Germany, Marco Freyr, has no problems with them at all, and remarked that he could absolutely pinpoint any Rockley Still rum just by sniffing the glass (I have since come the the conclusion that he’s absolutely right). Coming to this Bristol Spirits rum after a long session of Bajan bruisers made by the Compagnie, Cadenhead and Foursquare themselves, I can sort of see both points of view, but come down more on the positive side, because I like the variety of tones and tastes which indie WIRD rums provide. And this one? I liked it quite a bit.

We hear so much about the rums of Mount Gay, St. Nicholas Abbey and Foursquare, that rums made by/from WIRD often get short shrift and scant mention. It’s not even seen as a true distillery of the sort that makes its own name and marks its own territory (like Foursquare, Hampden, Worthy Park or DDL do, for example). But WIRD does exist, even if the majority of its rums come to us by way of the European independents (most of its output is sold as either bulk stock to brokers, goes into the Cockspur brand, or to make the coconut-rum-liqueur Malibu which for some obscure reason, Grandma Caner simply can’t get enough of).

The brief technical blah is as follows: bottled by Bristol Spirits out of the UK from distillate left to age in Scotland for 26 years; a pot still product (I refer you to Nikos Arvanitis’s excellent little essay on the Rockley still if you want to do more research), distilled in 1986 and bottled in 2012, finished in sherry casks for an indeterminate period. The strength remains at the Bristol Spirits standard 46% ABV, which makes it very approachable to the mainstream who want to explore further into how rums from Barbados can differ from each other.

And differ it does. No smooth, well-constructed melange of pot and column still product here, redolent of spices and soft fruits. Oh no. For openers, this rum’s nose was meaty: like licking a salty maggi cube dropped into a pot of chicken stock liberally dosed with sweet soy sauce. All of this develops over time (fortunately, because I had soup for lunch and didn’t want any in my glass as well) into waxy pungency leavened with a sort of sweet rich fruitiness (cherries, ripe peaches, apples) which then further combined with a forceful sherry/madeira finish that at times verged on being overdone….even medicinal. The nose was so at odds with everything I had alongside it, that one could be forgiven for thinking this was not a Bajan rum at allit nosed that different.

Still, it was much better to taste than to smell. It was warm and reasonably smooth, though with a bite here or there to remind you it wasn’t fully tamed; its tastes were of caramel, dollops of thick dark honey on fresh toasted dark bread, camomile, thyme and cough drops. Iodine and medicinals are thankfully held way back (a pencilled-in line, not a brightly coloured oil by Frazetta, you might say). Also burnt sugar, stewed apples and some ripe cherries and the tart tastiness of soursop, ginnip and sour cream rounded things off, before lapsing into a relatively short, fruity, and honey-like finish that breathed easy fumes and then hurriedly exited the scene.

Overall, it was a rich rum, full bodied, a little oaky, quite fruity after opening up, and that sherry influenceperceptible but in no way overwhelmingwas enjoyable. In fact, the overall integration and balance of this thing is really quite good, and it provides a pleasing counterpoint to more popular and better known rums from the island, which by itself makes it worth a try. One does not have to be a deep-dive Bajan rum aficionado, parsing the minutest details of different vintages, to appreciate it for what it is, a well made Bajan rum that dares to go off on a tangent.

There’s a reason I want WIRD rums to continue to make it to the public glassware, even if it’s just second hand, via the independents (now that Maison Ferrand has taken over, it’s only older rums from European brokers they’ll get, I’m thinking). They’re different, very different, existing in some kind of joyous parallel universe where mothballs, fruits and cloves mix it up in a dusty spice cupboard and the result is peculiarly drinkable. They are, in their own way and possibly because of their relative obscurity, fascinatingly off-base. I haven’t met many so far, but those I’ve tried I’ve liked, and sure hope more will turn up in my glass in the years to come.

(#562)(86/100)


Other notes

Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘nbadass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself. The SMWS on the other hand, does this overproof stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom. They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done with it, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won. You may feel exhilarated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing 74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on mebecause, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it? It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, not from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, but in the Rockleystyle”, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.1

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungentthe very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes. That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip. And with good reasonit was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese. Christ this was hotit was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaminghe’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!. Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmiteit was just difficult to find anything through that heat. Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more. But that’s not to invalidate how good this one isabout the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall? Not bad at allin fact it grew one me. There was a lot more going on over timeso quietly it kinda sneaks up on youthan the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained. The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Wellthis one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay. It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

(#281 / 86/100)

Mar 012016
 

Samaroli Bdos 1

A Barbadian rum you’re unlikely to either forget, or get much more of, in the years to come. It’s among the most original rums from Barbados I’ve ever tried, even if it doesn’t quite come up to snuff taken as a whole.

I wish I could find more Samarolis from the early days. There aren’t enough from that maker in the world, and like most craft bottlers, their wares go up in price with every passing year. I was lucky enough to buy this remarkable Bajan rum online, and for a twenty year old rum from one of the non-standard distilleries it held its own very nicely indeed against others from the small island.

Samaroli only issued 348 bottles of this 45% rum, and went with distillate sourced from the West India Rum Refinery Ltd (which since the mid 1990s is known as the West Indies Rum Distillery, or WIRD, and owned by Goddard Enterprises from Barbadosin 2017 it was sold to Maison Ferrand). When there were dozens of rum making companies in Barbados, WIRR provided distillate for many, derived from a very old pot stillthe “Rockley still” from Blackrock, which is no longer in existence but provided the name of a specific style of rumand a Dore column still. These days they occasionally resurrect the old pot still (but not the Rockley), the Dore is long gone, and most of the alcohol they still produce is done on a large multi-column still purchased from Canadathe company is known for the Cockspur, Malibu brands of rum (and Popov vodka, but never mind). As an interesting bit of trivia, they, in partnership with DDL and Diageo, have holdings in Jamaica’s Monymusk and Innswood distilleries.

Samaroli Bdos 2

Until recently, my feeling has been that well known Bajan rums as a whole have never risen up to challenge the status quo with quality juice of which I know they’re capable. Those I tried were often too tame, too unadventurous, too complacent, and I rarely found one I could rave over, in spite of critical plaudits received from all quarters (some of Foursquare and Mount Gay rums, for example) …and took quite a bit of scorn for thinking what I did. Oh, most are good rums, competently made and pleasant to drink, I’ll never deny that, and have quite a few in my collection, though I still harbour a dislike for the Prince Myshkyn of rums, the Doorly XO. Yet with some exceptions I just find many of them unexciting: lacking something of that spark, some of that out of the box thinkingthe sheer balls that drives other makers to plunge without a backward look into the dark pools of the True Faith’s headwaters.

All that whinging aside, very few Bajan rums I found over the years were this old. Twenty years’ tropical ageing takes a hell of a percentage out of the original volume (as much as 75%), which may be why Samaroli bought and aged this stock in Scotland insteadone commentator on the last Samaroli PM I looked at advised me that it was because they pretty much buy their rum stock in the UK, and so save costs by ageing there too. Which would probably find favour with CDI, who also prefer European ageing for its slower, subtler influences on the final spirit.

Samaroli Bdos 3

Certainly Samaroli produced a rum from Little England like few others. 45% wasn’t enough to biff me on the hooter, so I swirled and inhaled and then looked with some wonder at the light gold liquid swirling demurely in my glass. The first scents were none of that soft rum, burnt sugar and banana flambe I sometimes associated with the island (based on rums past), but a near-savage attack of paint, phenols, plasticine and turpentine, mixed in with acetone and sweet aldehydes reminding me of my University chem classes (which I hated).To my relief, this all faded away after a few minutes, and the nose developed remarkably well: a burst of sweet red grapes, faint red licorice, delicate flowers, clear cucumbers in water, opening further with light additions of bread and butter and orange rind. Not the best opening act ever, but very original, came together with a bang after a while, and absolutely one to hold one’s interest.

The palate was dry, dusty, with fresh sawdust and hay notes mixing it up with that sweetish acetone from beforethen it all took a twirl like a ballerina and morphed into a smorgasbord of pale florals, sherry, Lebanese green grapes; to my disappointment some of that assertiveness, that I’m-a-rum-so-what’s-your-problem aggro was being lost (this may be a taste thing, but to me it exemplifies some of the shortcomings of non-tropical ageing to one who prefers robust and powerful rums). The taste profile was light and clear and held all the possibilities of greater power, but even the gradually emergent leather and smokewhich melded well with bananas and papayasseemed unwilling (if not actually unable) to really take their place on the palate with authority.

So the nose was intriguing and developed well, the palate just didn’t click. The finish? Oh well now, this was greatcome home please, all is forgiven. Long and lasting, a little salty-sweet, furniture polish, wax, peaches and cream, sugary lemon juice and candied oranges, a joyous amalgam of cool, studied stoicism and hot-snot badassery.

That I don’t fanatically love this rum is my issue, not yours, and I’ve described as best I could where I thought it fell down for me. There are of course many things that work in itmouthfeel, texture, and a nose and finish which I know many will like a lot, and I gave it points for daring to go away from the more commonly held perceptions of what a Bajan profile should be. I always liked that about indie bottlers, you see, that sense of wonder and curiosity (“What would happen if I messed with this rumran a turbo into it, maybe?” you can almost hear them think, and then go ahead and issue something like the SMWS 3.4 which by the way, also hailed from WIRD), and maybe they’re seeing what Silvio saw when he made this rum. It may not be the best Bajan-styled rum you’ve ever tried, but it may have also shown what was possible when you don’t care that much about styles at all.

(#258. 86/100)


Other notes

  • Bottle #274 of 348
  • My thanks and a big hat tip to Richard Seale of Foursquare, who provided me with historical background on WIRR/WIRD.
  • A 2021 analysis of all extant information of the Rockley name, style and still is summarized at the bottom of this review. It’s useful for those wanting to get a grip of what the term means.

Samaroli Bdos 1986

Jul 142013
 

D3S_7047

 

This feels and tastes mean, largely because it is. But just because it treats you like life on Keith Richards’s face isn’t an automatic disqualificationI just call it inspired insanity, and have (much to my own surprise) given it the highest rating I’ve ever awarded to a 75% overproof.

“Makes you strong like a lion”, the label remarks, in one of those tongue-in cheek references with which the SMWS likes to charm its buyers. After being battered into near insensibility (on more than one occasion) by the raging yak that was the SMWS R5.1 Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, you’ll forgive me for approaching the almost-as-torqued up 75.3% R3.4 rum with something akin to serious apprehension. I mean, I love strong and flavourful rums of real intensity, but it’s my personal belief that the folks at SMWS are snickering into their sporrans when they issue these massive overproofs, hoping that the lesser bred such as I will get a hurt real bad, be put under the table for the count, and swear off rums altogether. You kind of have to admire their persistence in the matter.

D3S_7036What we had here was a 75.3% rum issued this year (2013), with the usual obscure moniker “R3.4” which my research suggests makes the rum from the Rockley Still from the West Indian Refinery in Black Rock, Barbados. About which, I hasten to add, I know little, not having tasted their products (Bristol Spirits has a couple from there, which I hope to get my grubby little paws on one of these happy days).

Dressed up in that delightfully tall, menacing camo-green bottle that is their standard, the R3.4 decanted a pungent, blonde-amber rum into the glass, quite innocently. Here, come try me, it seemed to invite, and you just knew it was suckering me infortunately, I had previously sampled its sibling, so I was prepared, having learnt my lesson by now: I let it stand, and then nosed it very, very carefully.

Bam! it went, right away, even after a few minutes. My God, but this was strong. Shudderringly odd, this was a rum in psychopath mode, a snorting, rearing mustang of pent up aggression. Creamy, buttery, slightly salty, almonds and peanuts stomped my schnozz right out of the gate. As sharp as a sushi master’s knife, yes, but Lordie, there was a lot going on here. As it opened up it presented even more: bananas, some mustiness and smoke, the faintest odour of Benedictine. I was impressed in spite of myself, and marked it high for sheer originality, because all other 75% rums (the 151s, if you will), were so straightforwardly simple and relatively uncomplex, that finding this plethora of nasal riches was a welcome surprise.

D3S_7038As for the palate, coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, in case your rum-drinking life flickers before your eyes. Once the fire subsided, the same creamy chewiness from the nose carried over well upon arrivalbutter melting in an iron skillet, fried bananas, all wrapped up in a herbal background I couldn’t quite separate out. Intense, very intense. Wood, grassiness, rosemary, sorrel, with a snarky element of smoky peat in there someplace making mischief. It honestly felt like it was powered with fire and brimstone, this one, yet nowhere near as barefacedly badass as any of the other 151 rums I’ve tried in the pastthere’s some real couth here, honestly. But of course it is damned strong, and so warning of sobriety transmuted to drunkneness in 2.5 shots is not me being overly metaphorical..

The fade, as befitted an overproof rum, was quite long and very solid, heat and warmth without real spice, somewhat fruity, nutty, salty, and giving up last hints of oats and bran. I s**t you not, this rum was quite something, and Stuart, who was drinking it with me (he had been clouted about the ears with the Longpond as well, and was therefore understandably cautious with this one), liked it so much he immediately started calling around asking where he could get hisself some too.

All right, so let’s sum up. Short version, if you want a good time, no stress or aggro, buy something softerlike the Centenario Legado, for example. If you want to be astonished out of your socks by a rum explosion of startling, glute-flexing originality, this is the one to get (if you can). You don’t need to be a rum snob, collector or even a rum lover to appreciate a bit of overproof blending skill on your table (or your office desktop after hours).

It’s been a long running gag on Liquorature that I resolutely refuse to admit that whiskies have pride of place in the spirits world, and the crown should rightfully go to the rums. Here’s one I wish we could get more of, ‘cause it kinda proves my point (it’s made by whisky lovers, much to my annoyance). Drinking this, trying to describe it in words, I am faced with bafflement. I don’t know. It’s crazy. This rum is liquid, industrial-strength factory effluent that tastes three times as good as it should.

(#174. 88/100)

Jun 042013
 

D7K_2039

Among the best of the five year olds, and may actually be the best 5 I’ve had to date.

One of the surprising things about the Plantation Barbados 5 year old is the fact that it is bottled at what, for Plantation, is a relatively mild 40%. Still, for all my whining about wanting rums to be stronger, I can’t deny the overall quality of what many would dismiss as a mixer’s rum, because it’s a quietly impressive product that is the equal of the El Dorado 5 year old in every way, and exceeds it in others.

Cognac Ferrand is noted for taking rums from various plantations around the West Indies and Central America, ageing them in situ and then bringing them over to France where the finish it in cognac casks for a few months. This double ageing gives their rums a certain richness and depth that is really quite something, and while they simply classify the rums by the date of distillation (one is left to guess how old a given rum therefore is), in this case they have stated front and centre that it is a five year old rum, which makes comparing it against others a much less theoretical proposition.

A while back, I ran four fives against each other and commented on their various characteristics and how they stacked up – based on that, I felt (at the time), that the El Dorado five was the best of the (limited) lot. Well, here Plantation does it one better, and steals the crown. I got this impression right from the get-go, when opening it up and taking a good strong sniff. Most five year olds I’ve tried tend towards the slightly raw – there is usually a sense of better to come, with a spiciness and burn deriving from some ageing, perhaps not so complete. Here, precisely the opposite was true: the rum was quite soft, quite smooth (a bit of a nip, yesjust less than you might expect), quite pleasant on the nose. Vanilla, plums, dark berries (blackcurrants and blackberries with ripe cherries), and a dusting of coconut shavings were all in evidence, leavened as it opened up with some pineapple and cinnamon, butterscotch and toffee.

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As for the taste, well now, colour me impressed: amazingly robust on the palate, deep and intense, oily and quite smooth, warm and easy to sip. Just sweet enough to please, with simpler, forceful notes of vanilla and cinnamon segueing gently into molasses, burnt sugar, caramel, the aforementioned coconut shavings and a dark chopped-fruit melange. The feel of this rum as I drank it was of a warm freshly laundered pillow, something quite soft enough to hug, definitely more polished and nuanced than the ED5. Finish was sweet, honeylike, relaxed, and gave you no attitude whatsoever. In it, you could see the Plantation Barbados 20th Anniversary take shape. It’s that decent.

On its own you’re not necessarily going to get all this: but trying it in tandem with a few other similarly aged offerings gives you a gist of the quality I describe here. It really is quite an experience, to be able to sipnot even adding watera rum this young and this cheap. I thought Josh Miller at Inu a Kena was kidding when he muttered disbelievingly “I’m sipping a sixteen dollar rum! Neat! But he was doing no more than telling the absolute truth.

The Plantation Barbados 5 year old may be relatively uncomplex compared to older rums, not too much oomph in the trousers alcohol-wise, but you simply cannot argue with its put-togetherness. Okay, so maybe it’s not a top ender, but in my mind, it perhaps should beit takes its place among the best young rums out there. On smoothness, taste, texture, mouthfeel and finish, all for that one low low price, it is a rum that will be difficult to beat even by products many times its age.

(#166. 84.5/100)


Other notes

  • I am aware that I scored the El Dorado 5 78 points back in 2010. For that time, it was right. Now, three years down the road, I would probably rank it quite a bit more generously (and may yet do that, if I pick up another bottle). I’ll just note the discrepancy, and remark to my fellow bloggers who are kind enough to read this review, that this is why one should never taste a rum for scoring purposes in isolation but always as part of a series of some kind.
  • Also, it may cost twenty bucks or less in the US, but in Canada it’s closer to forty.
  • Plantation has been known for (and has admitted to) the practice ofdosingwhich is the adding of sugar to round out and smoothen their rums. In this case the various sugar lists maintained by the fatrumpirate and others work out to about 22 g/L for this rum. Different people have different attitudes towards this practice, so I mention the matter for completeness.
  • Update 2021No, I would not now score this as high as I did back in the day. In the last eight years I have gained much more experience in the dampening effects of this kind of dosage, and my preferences have evolved towards less rather than more. So the enthusiasm displayed above is muted, as I’m sure Josh’s is, as well. (NB: The issue with Plantation’s business model and the Barbados GI do not affect this comment, which is a puzzling linkage I find on many othersremarks on the rum).

 

Apr 182013
 

D7K_1275

*

The Barbados 2001 from Rum Nation is a solid plate of eddoes and plantains, black pudding and cookup on a refectory tablethe spirituous equivalent of comfort food. It’s a warm bosom against which one can relievedly lean after a tough dayand call it Mommy. A good, warm-hearted, undemanding rum of unexpected depth.

Rummaging idly through my shelves the other day (“Jeez, what am I going to look at this week?) I came across one of the last two unreviewed Rum Nation products I had bought back in 2011 after having been impressed as all get out by the Raucous Rums tasting session where the host had introduced them. Rum Nation is that Italian outfit which opened its doors up in 1999, and has produced some of my favourite rumsthe 1985 and 1989 Demerara 23 year olds, and the Jamaican 1985 “Supreme Lord” 25 year old among others. This Barbados variant was laid down in 2001 and bottled in 2011, and it’s a very decent product in all the aspects that matter, though not of a level that exceeds the pinnacles of achievement represented by the rums I refer to above.

So it’s not a top end rum, but it’s not a lowbrow piece of entertainment either, much as the cheap, plastic-windowed cardboard box reminiscent of an unwelcome bill envelope might intimate otherwise. The nose for example, is very pleasantly warm and almost thick, with initial flavours of bananas, vanilla and crushed walnuts mingling pleasantly with an earthy scent of ripe fleshy fruit, more cashews than peaches. It had an odd kind of richness about it, very near to cloying (though not quite there), that gradually transmuted into a floral hint with a last snap of smoke. Estery, I guess you could call it. Not entirely successful, to my mind, the aromas didn’t quite marry properly into a cohesive whole, but overall, it’s not bad at all.

The palate? All is forgiven, come home please. Oh, this was just fine. Smooth, warm, creamy, like banana ice cream liberally drizzled with caramel, toffee, a little licorice and nougat, all sprinkled with white chocolate and a shade of mint: put a cuckoo clock on top of it and you could almost pretend it was swiss. Rich and pleasantly deep for a 40% rum, and unlike some drinks where the nose was spectacular but the taste less so, here it was the other way around. The denouement was also quite good, pleasantly long and fragrant, exiting to the tune of cinnamon and vanilla and a last bash of the banana.

D7K_1276

According to Fabio Rossi, the owner of RN, this is considered an entry level rum (retailing for about €30Can$50 in my location), and is Barbados-sourced pot and column still blended rum from the West Indies Refinery, matured in American oak casks and then finished for about twelve to eighteen months in Spanish casks that once held brandy. I was unenthused about Downslope Distilling’s wine aged rum some months agothis is the rum that it should have been, could have been, had they been more patient and aged it properly.

Is it better than the other Bajans in my collection? Yes and no. It’s not as good as the Mount Gay 1703, but exceeds the XO by quite a bit, I would say, and edges out the A.D. Rattray 9 year old from R.L. Seale I looked at not too long ago. Its relative softness and smoothness is the key here (see other notes, below): it pulls an interesting trick, by seeming to be more full bodied than it is, and therefore coating the mouth with a sumptuous set of tastes that, had that slight cloying over-estery note not been present, would have scored higher with me than it did.

Still, if you’re after a good, solid sipping rum, the Barbados 2001 won’t disappoint. It’s soft, warm and easy on the palate, forgiving on the finish. It may be a rum to have when you’re feeling at peace with the world (or unwinding from it), don’t feel like concentrating too hard, and don’t need to protect your tonsils. On that level, it’s excellent at all it sets out do, and if it doesn’t ascend or aspire to the levels of some of its pricier, older cousins, at least it’s an excellent buy for the money you do shell out.

(#156. 85/100)


Other Notes

  • February 2018 – By now it is common knowledge that Rum Nation, like Plantation, practices the addition of something (usually caramel beyond just colouring) referred to somewhat inaccurately but descriptively asdosing”. This rum measures out at ~10g/L of adulteration which actually quite minimal: enough to smoothen out some rough edges, but not enough to make it a mess. Potential buyers and drinkers will have to take that into account when deciding on a purchase here.