Feb 232024
 

By now little needs to be said about Hampden Estate, the famed Jamaican distillery that had its coming out party in 2018, a distribution deal with Velier, and a seemingly a new series of rums to collect just about every single year. For all its variety though, their presentation is pretty consistent and you can usually tell one at a glance just by looking at a label. Said labels conforming to all the usual Velier standards, and providing pretty much all the background details you could hope for.

In this case we’re dealing with five year old rum released in 2021 and before you ask, it’s called “The Younger” to distinguish it from the Hampden 2010 11 YO LROK also issued in the same year (which is not named, but which we shall callobviously“The Older”). The fermentation time is not mentioned, but we can assume a few weeks, using natural or “wild” yeasts; pot still distillation on double retort stills; aged in ex bourbon barrels with a 34% angel’s share. And diluted down to 47% (as an aside, I’ve seen a label on a 3L jug at 49% but either it’s a misprint or substantially the same as this one) with an ester count for those who like their numbers, of 314.8 g/hLpa. This places the LROK (“Light Rum Owen Kelly”) in the lower levels and the Wedderburn category (only the OWH and LFCH are lower) and also makes the rum extremely approachable without going off the shredding deep end of the higher ester marks.

In spite of the “low” congener count, the rum represents itself well, starting with the open, which sports a serious set of sharp, distinct, funky aromas. Rubber, plastic, kerosene, fusel notes…rough and assertive stuff, which is about what we could expect from a youngish rum, tropically aged or not. It turns a little briny, then channels some citrus, flambeed bananas, yeasty bread, overripe pineapples, cherries, bubble gum. There are even some hints of coffee grounds and the metallic tinge of an ashtray that hasn’t been cleaned.

For 47% that nose isn‘t half bad (if occasionally discombobulated); the palate is in similar territory but here the strength maysurprisingly enoughbe a bit too anaemic for finer appreciation. It’s thin and sharpish (not to its benefit, I don’t think), and astringent. It has flavours that in turn are sweet, salt and sour…which is nice, but not always well coordinated, and one has to watch the sharpness. Sobubble gum, strawberries, citrus (red grapefruit), pineapples, vanilla, and some bitter coffee grounds. Once it quietens downand it doesit gets better because the roughness also smoothens out somewhat, without ever really losing its character. Finish is decent: fruity, funky and some honey, plus cinnamon, cloves and maybe a touch of vanilla and pineapple chunks.

A lot of comments I found about this rum compliment its taste and smell and assure their readers that it’s a true Hampden, representing Jamaica in fine style. Yet almost all have various modifiers and cautions, and many compare it in some way to one of three rums from Hampden: the high-ester versions from the same distillery, the Great House series, and the backbone of the company, the 8 YO standard. Oh, and almost everyone mentions or grumbles about the price.

This is completely understandable since a frame of reference is usually needed to place a rum in contextsuch comparisons are therefore useful, if ultimately pointless: trying to say one is better or worse than any other is entirely a matter of personal taste, really. And you either like it you don’t, can afford it or can’t, will buy it on that basis or won’t. As a middle of the road ester-level rum, I myself believe it’s a decent young rum, made in quantity with the usual Hampden quality, but not with anything really special tacked on that distinguishes it as superlative for its bracket. I’d buy the first bottle for sure: and would likely pass on a second after I finish sharing it around. I call that a qualified endorsement.

(#1059)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Feb 092024
 

We’ve met this distillery before, a mere hundred reviews or so ago. Founded by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall in 2016, they have slowly built quite a repertoire of spirits (he likes dark ones, she prefers light so maybe there’s some kind of Jack Sprat vibe going on here) – standard rums, white ones, spiced ones, the 2021 release of the 2-3 YO 55.5% Pure Single Rum I enjoyed and a brutal 63% “fire cane” I really want to try, plus gin, falernum, limoncello and vodka, which covers the bases nicely.

So here they are again, with a somewhat offbeat take on the Pure Single Rum, if not as strong. Because the background of the company is covered in that original review, I won’t rehash it here, except to note that the columnar still I mentioned then – 380L and six plateshas a name: Alba, which was the initial name of Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter before he renamed her Allegra. I enjoy these little winks that distillers make to some interesting aspect of their past or something that interests them, in the naming of their still, truly.

Photo (c) Lord Byron Distillery website

Anyway, about the rum: molasses based, using distiller’s yeast on a wash left for seven days in closed stainless vessels, then run through the two copper alembics (it’s double distilled), then matured a minimum of three years in ex-bourbon barrels sourced from Woodford Reservewhich if shy they can call it rum, and not a cane spirit. Of course, bearing in mind the sustainable, ecologically-friendly, zero-waste nature of their operation and commitment to making pure rums, it’s not chill filtered and additive free.

This is a rum that channels one of the more peculiar olfactory profiles I’ve yet come across- it reminds me something of some Japanese rums, especially kokuto shochus. It opens with an odd sort of earthy, mouldy, damp cellar aroma, and of wet, much-worn leather boots. Brine, olives and a vegetable soup with “plenty obstacles” and a fiery pimento for kick. There’s a sense of wet paint slapped onto decaying drywall, the bitter tang of roasting chestnuts (which I never cared for myself), plastic sheeting, and only at the end when all seems over and done with, do the shy tangy notes of ripe fruit emerge, some green apples, grapes, pears, that kind of thing. It’s an unusual nose and I’m unsure how well it would work at a heftier proof point, though I would have liked to see that one a bit more, I thinka lot of subtlety gets missed out on that, say, 43% or 46% might have shown off better.

This observation is apropos for the palate as well, which is quite crisp: and while not exactly clear or clean, is close enough not to offend while still being rather too mild for everything it apparently stuffs in its jock. It channels a hot, almost sour and spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with no shortage of lemongrass, salted butter melting in a pan, with olive oil and toasted rye bread coming behind that. Again the fruits take something of a back seat and only start becoming noticeable after the rum opens up, and even then there’s not a whole lot that one can easily pick out: lemon peel, fresh peaches, pears, some watermelon, more or less. But it does meld nicely into the whole, some of the dirty notes from the nose are absent, and the finish concludes things well: short, sharp, reasonably flavourful, all of it fading fast and acting like it just wants to bail.

Strictly speaking this is not my dram of grog. I’m not won over by the loamy and earthy notes at the beginning (the official site entry refers to “bourbon corn” as a tasting note) and aspects of the nose in particular don’t work for me; plus, as always, I have my issues with standard strengthit makes everything too mild which even a few additional points of proof might have showcased more effectively. Yet I can’t fault it for that, only admire the courage it must have taken to release the rum as it is, knowing it is something at right angles to more established profiles. So to conclude, Lord Byron’s rum showcases rather more potential than the sort of intense quality sported by the 55% 2018 Pure Single Rum they did before, and would seem to be aimed at the more easy going supermarket crowd who prefer more demure fare. The furious taste profile attendant on something stronger is missing, and the tastes will not be in everyone’s comfort zone: yet underneath all that, we see a much better rum is waiting to be appreciated, and now, having written my opinion, I think I’ll go back and try my sample a few more times. Let’s see if, after a few more hours, it delivers more concretely on what it promises.

Have a good weekend!

(#1056)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 13
Jan 232024
 

Black Gate distillery is an outfit to keep an eye on. The husband and wife team of Genise and Brian Hollingsworth made waves (to me, at any rate) with their 52% Dark Overproof back in 2021 and in 2023 they have come close yet again with this lovely Shiraz-cask-aged numberwhich doesn’t reimagine the rumiverse so much as take lots of what’s good with it and re-engineer it into a taste that’s uniquely their own.

Let’s just refresh our memories: located in central New South Wales, Black Gate was founded in 2009 in the small rural town of Mendooran. The husband and wife team splits the duties: Genise Holingsworth does the good stuff and makes the Lord’s favoured spirit, while her husband Brian dutifully makes that other obscure drink and handles the maintenance aspects (he’s a fitter machinist and auto mechanic by trade). They sourced two pot stillsrelatively small at 630 litres and 300 litres capacityand work with food grade molasses, commercial yeast and water, to make their various rum expressions. All are small batch (the rum output of Black Gate is only about 2000 litres per annum, and that includes the other thing). The distillery makes various Dark Rums with different finishes or cask maturations, and aside from whiskies, no cash flow stalwarts such as gins or “cane spirit” seem to be on the menu.

Photo (c) Black Gate Distillery FB page

Rums are aged in Port or Sherry casks, or both, for a minimum of two yearsto be able to be classified as “rum” under Australian law, if you recall. With respect to this one, the source was from the aforementioned molasses, and fermented for around two weeks, then run through the direct-fire pot still, aged about 3-4 years in a 225-litre Huntington Estate Shiraz cask from Mudgee, then left to rest for two months before bottling. As with the overproof, labels are all the same for all these dark rums no matter when made: the specifications are, in a clever bit of economising, white printed stick-ons. The strength of the sample from the 2023 advent calendar was 45.6%, and I note there’s a newer version for sale on their website at 47.2%, so be aware of and on the lookout for some batch variation.

More is not needed so let’s get right into it. Nose firstthis starts off interesting right away: rubber, funk, rotten oranges, flowers, tart yoghurt, wet leather and the sour hotness of kimchi, ashlyan-foo and turkish peppers. Underneath this rather startling mash up lurks a musky odour of damp loam, a kind of freshly watered potter’s mix which doesn’t sound appetising, but which I assure you, kind of is. Coiling around all that are fainter notes of acetones, ginger, vegetable soup, and pickled russian cabbage (not sauerkraut). The nose as a whole is not unpleasant, just goes off at something of a tangent and it’s probably a good idea to to let this one stand for a bit and come back to it a few times to get the full impact.

What I like about the taste is that it provides the tangy fruit that are not as clearly evident on the nose. Slightly sweet, it presents chocolate oranges, some caramel, leather, smoke, with vanilla and darker fruit (prunes, ripe raspberries, plums) coming through off the shiraz cask and the ageing. Ginnips, fresh cashews, grapes and green apples with a touch of licorice and that damp earth, apricots and overripe Thai mangoes, accompanied by a solid spicy heat all the way down culminating in a really nice low key but long lasting finish redolent of honey, brandy, coffee and fruitiness.

That’s really quite a bit for any rum to be sporting, and is one of the reasons I kept it on the go for longer than usual (two days)…just to see how it would develop. What may surprise casual drinkers is that even with all those sometimes off-kilter tastes coming through (and I must be honestthe assembly is a bit off and some will not like everything they taste here), the rum feels really accessible, even to the less exacting drinker. It gives a lot and the strength is rightmore power and intensity might have shredded itand so it doesn’t so much so much rock the boat as gently move it around a few times.

Speaking for myself, tasting this thing was a pleasurebecause with their playful experimentation, careful distillation and shiraz ageing, Black Gate have produced a young rum that is a touch off the rails, sure, but also a decent and intriguing sipping experience. Perhaps it’s no accident that That Boutique-y Rum Company picked it as one of their ‘Return to Oz’ series recently. If I was their buyer, I would likely have given it a shot too.

(#1052)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The exact age is unknown. 3-4 years goes the blurb
  • Outturn is also unclearbecause of the small scale of the distillery and the notation that it is one barrel (#BG-140), one must assume it’s less than 350 bottles.
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 17
Jan 192024
 

Although I tried all three standard expressions of the Romero Distilling Co. at the Rocky Mountain Food and Drink show in Calgary in 2023, I had already bought all of them before, and this came in useful when double checking my quickly scribbled notes on the “Amber.” That was the one which I had almost bypassed in favour of the “Dark” and the extraordinary full proof Sherry Cask editionwhich I still think is one of the best Canadian rums I’ve had to date.

A quick recap: the Calgary-based Romero Distilling Company was founded in 2018 by Diego Romero, an engineer who opened the distillery with his son Tomas (it was the latter who was running the booth that day), with a 2000-litre hybrid copper still and three 2000-litre fermenters; they use Crosby molasses from Guatemala (by way of New Brunswick) as its base, together with a commercial yeast. The company only makes rum, and remain very little known outside Albertawhich I’m hoping will change.

This rum derives from molasses, then, and is dialled in from a pot still configuration. We have no information on the duration of the distillation date, fermentation process, or the exact age of the resulting distillate. As far as I know, it’s a couple of years old (aged in ex bourbon Woodford Reserve barrels), with a relatively short time in the ex-Oloroso sherry barrels…a few months, perhapsneither data point is provided. I am at a loss why such information is not placed front and centre on the label or the web page, since it would seem to be an obvious selling point, but Romero has stated that they want to de-emphasize the number-counting people do when considering ageing as a factor, and focus on the blend as a whole. As before, I think this is not the right course of action in today’s more open world. But that’s Romero, so let’s move on to what it’s actually like.

The nose starts off by being rather thin and uninviting, which is not unusual for a 40% rum, and it does present as somewhat alcohol forward without much that’s redeeming…until it starts to build up a head of steam. Then we get some plastic, plasticine, iodine and licorice, which is nice, and toffee, caramel, vanilla and brown sugar, which is better. As it opens up there are additional hints of new leather shoes, some spicy notes (cinnamon, maybe, and cardamom), and a peculiar, faint combination of fresh sawdust and peaches in syrup, all very delicate.

Much of this comes back on the palate when tasted. There’s some slightly sweet alcohol, glue, fly paper (I swear!), cardboard, hay and a milk-soaked long-standing bowl of weetabix. With some effortthe rum remains faint throughout and one really has to pay attentionthere are also red olives and raspberries, but not a whole lot more. The finish, no surprise, is short and thin, but very clean and a little sweet. Not too bad.

Eschewing spicessupposedly it didn’t have anyand going for the sherry finish was probably a good idea, because really, the rum would be thin gruel without it. That finish saves it from being some kind of light 1970s throwback of the kind I’ve learned to endure (but not particularly like), and there’s enough going overall on for those with more sensitive snoots than mine to be able to sip it without undue issues.

For my money, however, the rum is too weak and it’s too faint, and that’s in spite of the sherry finish that provides such an intriguing but hard-to-sense counterpoint to the familiar vanilla and butterscotch notes coming from the ex-bourbon barrels. There’s potential here, and one can sense a better, stronger and more assertive rum waiting to emerge. It’s just not enough, and if we really wanted to see this thing cranked up, well, I guess then we’d call it the full proof edition, wouldn’t we, and it’s already established that that is the better rum. So for those who want to play it safe, save fifteen bucks and have a decent drink, this is the rum that will do the trick. For everyone else, it’ll be slim pickings.

(#1051)(75/100) ⭐⭐½

Jan 152024
 

Once again we start the new year off with a series of rums from the Australian Advent Calendar, 2023 Edition. First issued by the Australian rum-loving couple Mr. & Mrs. Rum in 2021, not in 2022 and now again for 2023, it answers what we out west have been wondering about for years (well…at least I have) – what’s going on with the rums being made in Australia over and beyond Bundaberg, which everyone cheerfully loathes and Beenleigh which everyone likes? Twenty four rums in the calendar, a whole raft of new and old distilleries strutting their stuff, and let me tell you, to get them to Canada was a ripping yarn in itself…not entirely unlike Butch’s father’s watch, you could say.


We begin the series out of order, with a rum from the island of Tasmania, made by a little outfit called Island Coast Spirits, located just south of Hobart, the state capital (Tasmania is an island state of Australia). It is, it should be noted, not a distillery itself since it has no equipment. The owner, Kirk Pinner, runs over to the Observatory Hill Winery (about half an hour to the NE on the other side of Hobart) which (a) is run by a friend (b) makes rum (and brandy, gin, schnapps and wine) and (c) has a still. He rents that still and makes his own rum, so not quite a contract operation like we saw with Mandakini a few weeks ago, yet not entirely a true producer or an indie either. The website is rather scanty on details, so Kirk very kindly answered an email of mine providing some of this info, and a brief company bio is provided below.

For the purposes of this review, what we need to know is the following: the rum is made on a pot still, using a combination of fermented raw cane juice and molasses…so a hybrid rum if there ever was one. Once off the still it is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels with a light char, for something just under three years and bottled at living room strength of 40%.

[My desire was…] to produce the spirits I wanted,” Kirk wrote to me, and clearly he had something easygoing in mind. Not some backyard snarling ester-sporting beefcake that stomped all over one’s glottis, just a rum that was easy and accessible. The nose confirmed that he did fairly okay with that: it smelled of delicate icing sugar, vanilla, pastries hot from the oven, as well as more standard caramel, swiss bon-bons and a light touch of molasses and brown sugar. Also some cinnamon, eggnog, ice cream, a relatively sweetish aroma, and all over soft and straightforward and simple.

The 40% ABV made for a clean and unaggressive entry; it tasted pleasantly warm and a little sweet and came completely without aggro. Vanilla and caramel and toffee carried over from the nose. A few sweetish fruitpeaches, pearsnothing too acidic or tart. Molasses, a hot caramel macchiato, flambeed bananas, icing sugar on a cake fresh out of the oven, leading serenely to a short, finish that summed up the preceding without adding much that was new.

Picture (c) Island Cost Spirits FB Page

It’s a nice little rumlet without undue pretensions, but that same easy going nature is something of a weak point for those who like their rums more assertive. There are amber Bacardis with more going on than we see here, and I had similar remarks (and reservations) about Killik’s Gold, where I noted that such low ABV hamstrings a rum that could be better a few points higher. But that said, it will work for some, because it’s simply not trying hard to be a game changer…just a soft breezy rum for easy sipping. On that level it succeeds, and the awards it’s racked up in its brief lifea silver medal at the 2022 Australian Rum Awards in Queensland, and another silver at the World Rum Awards in London in 2023 (pot still NAS category) – suggests that others certainly seem to like what the company is offering, my own reservations notwithstanding.

(#1050)(77/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Fermentation time, barrel size, ratio of sugar cane juice to molasses, outturn, are all unknown
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 4

Brief Historical bio

Island Coast Spirits is, as noted, a Tasmanian spirits maker (not a distillery). It was founded in October 2021 and has adhered to the principle of making their spirits on a third party’s distillation apparatusa pot stillfrom the beginning. This was a conscious decision made at the inception: Kirk Pinner knew when he began planning, that he did not want the significant overheads and costs/debt associated with setting up his own distillery. He wanted the flexibility to not have all that headache but to be able to concentrate on his own desires and strengths: namely to have the ability to take on projects/new spirits on a whim without worrying about the infrastructure; and to focus more on the business relationships, ingredients, selection of barrels, blending and back end work. To that end he turned to those with some expertise (like Observatory Hill Winery) and used their skills to make his spirits.

In the three years since he began, the company now makes seven different products: Vodka, Rum, Gin and Whisky, and three flavoured vodkas. So far there is just one rum in the portfoliothis onewith another very interesting one in the pipeline waiting to be released sometime in 2024. In the meantime, the distribution within Tasmania and on the mainland is good, and Kirk is building on his success (and awards) to take his juice on the road to various F&B trade expos in Asia to promote the island, the brand and the rum.


 

Dec 112023
 

For a country that boasts a huge population of rum-swilling West Indians and a not inconsequential number of Maritimers out east who inhale dark rums with their Jiggs Dinner, it’s odd that rums are not more appreciated and available than they are. To some extent the paucity of decent rums from abroad is alleviated by the emerging local craft distillery movement, with tasty products coming out of Ironworks, Romero, Mandakini and Potters (among several others); too, the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation makes some really interesting blends (Cabot 100 and Young’s Old Sam remain personally appreciated mixing favourites) and there’s even an Indie bottler out in BC called Bira!, run by a friend, Karl Mudzamba which fields a cask strength South Pacific and Mhoba release, with more to come.

Against all of that you have the also-rans that clutter up the store shelves in their multitudes, and which occasionally tax my objurgatory powers and genteel vocabulary to the limit: rums like Highwood’s Aged White Caribbean, Momento or the Merchant Shipping Co White, Minhas / Co-Op’s Caribbean White, all those cheap Lambs and Bacardis, and so on. There’s no shortage of low-cost fuel for the masses, yet an odd lack of serious attempts to go the Foursquare ECS route and produce a mid-level blended product of real class that can kickstart the premiumisation of Canadian rum. And yet, as the Mandakini ersatz Malabari rum proved, go even a little off the reservation, take even a bit of a chance, target the right audience…and you can sell out every release you make.

The question the overlong preamble above poses for us today, then, is whether the first release of Secret Barrel Small Batch White Rum is gold or gunk, something that gives Canadian rum brownie points…or drags it down. Now admittedly, the presentation is nifty: it channels the old square shape of turn-of-the-century whisky bottles, as does the design of the label and its font. And the narrative is amusing if nothing else: small batch, 40% and implying that maybe, possibly, it’s made in Canada (possibly in the south of Alberta, around Crowsnest Pass) by some mysterious old timer named John A. MacDonald. This is a gent whoso the back label helpfully informs usis a cross between the Most Interesting Man in the World, and one who has exploits so off the wall that he’s obviously a relative of Chuck Norris, Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan…all at once. On the other hand, we get nothing about a true country of origin, a true distillery, a still, source material, ageing, nothing.

Well, tasting blind sharpens the senses, I tell myself, so knowing the rum is standard strength, I waste no time, pour a glass and move on to how it performs. Nose first: faint nail polish and the light fruitiness of pears, papaya and watermelon start things off. It’s easy smelling, and way too light and pretty much in the wheelhouse of every bartender’s filtered white mixing rum. I expect more, somehow because although it starts off well, it fades really fast and soon it becomes more like a vodka than a rum, or some kind of mildly sweetish cough syrup. Additionally there is vanilla, some sugar water, cucumbers in rice vinegar, a bit of tinned syrup minus the fruits, and there you have it.

That taste is somewhat of a let down, to be honest, because the nose suggested there would be something there to enthuse, a bit of tart fruitiness maybe, some sweetness and edge, maybe a lone ester or two. Alas, no. One senses some sugar water and vanilla, a bit of overripe apple, a touch of brine, cucumber slices in alcohol, not a whole lot else; and adding water doesn’t do anything, least of all tease out more. The finish is, at best, quick and lacklustre with vague hints of acetone, alcohol and sugar water, and so clearly it’s not a taster’s rum: and while two decades ago this might have been a great mixer, these days it fails when matched against the stronger and more distinct overproof cocktail rums many other distilleries are making.

So what’s the background? I mean, it’s surprising how little information there is about the thing and in this day and age no commercially made rum should deliberately chose to be so anonymous without having a serious quality behind it. The SMWS can get away with some of this mystery, but they’re in their own zone and do a decent job of it. Not so here.

However, I have managed to find out that the Secret Barrel is a Guyanese rum imported from down south (but not from where you think). It’s been aged a little, about a year or two, and imported as is, then bottled by Highwood Distillery in Alberta, though they themselves had no hand in the selection processthey did so on behalf of the owners of the Secret Distilling Company (see below for more details on company background).

The whole business about John A. MacDonald is fun to read…and a cute fabrication, perhaps based on one of the founders’ relative or ancestors. Perhaps it’s just as well it’s a fireside yarn. Because although I genuinely wanted to like this rumsurely someone who had a sense of humour and a gift for tall tales would make a rum that’s just a bit off and good for raised eyebrows and a laugh or two? – it doesn’t really come up to scratch. Even with my limited experience in the world, my life is far more interesting than Old Mr. MacDonald’s, I have better tall tales and beer stories than he does, and for sure have had acquired far better rums than the one his name is on.

(#1045)(68/100) ⭐⭐


Company background

A few words on the company behind this little white rumlet. According to their slightly more informative website, Secret Distilling Company was started by a bunch of Calgarians in 2015 (I dug around and found out this was Adam MacDonald (the founder and man behind it all), and his friends Aaron Norris, Brendan O’Connor and Chase Craig, who all took over different aspects of the operation). They saw a market for rum opening in Western Canada, and rather than sinking serious money into a distillery and the concomitant years of development work, they went the blender’s route and looked around for stock. They found it in Guyana, and this is why their website speaks to them selling “Demerara” rums, as well as Banks XM rums.

Now this is where it gets interesting. First of all, they never stated on the label of those Demeraras which operation supplied the rum, and most of you reading this would instantly think DDL. But it’s not. In fact, it’s from the other rum producing company in Guyana which gets far less attention, Banks DIH, who make the well regarded XM series of rums (which of course also contradicts the “Made in Canada” on the label). Secondly, in the About page they claim the rum is from the “Banks Distillery of Guyana” except that Banks is not and never has been a distillerythey’re a brewery and a rum blender, not a distillery, and have no plans to change that. But ok: let’s chalk that up to beginner’s enthusiasm and cut them some slack.

And thirdlyand this is what got me going down the rabbit hole in earneston the aged Demerara rum label, they added the signature of Mr. Carlton Joao, as the Blender. This is two faux pas in one, because (a) they did so without his permission and (b) he’s not a blender at all, but a marketing executive. How do I know that? Because I know the guy personallyI went to school with him in Guyana, consulted with him on the Banks company bioand so as soon as I saw this I picked up the phone and called him and asked what was going on. He said he knew nothing at all about it; Banks sold them stock between 2015 and 2018 and they distribute the XM rum line, but that was all. The commercial relationship was pretty much over years ago.

Where their rums subsequent to 2018 come from is not mentioned anywhere, but since the original founders sold out to White Pine Resources in 2017 (this was reorganised into SBD Capital, the current owner, the following year; they invest in mining and minerals properties and for a while had alcohol and liquor sales as its prime cash generation unit), it’s possible that the Guyana route was closed down and local sources may have taken over. Gradually sales dropped, the share price of SBD dropped from three bucks a share to pennies and when I spoke to Brian Stecyk, the CEO (who was more than helpful, if understandably cagey about the affairs of the company) I got the distinct impression he’s wrapping up the show and Secret Barrel is no longer a functioning entity. In a few years the rum is likely to be a Rumaniacs entry.


 

Nov 272023
 

Capricorn really is a distillery off in its own zone, and I mean that in a good way. Aged or unaged I’ve rarely seen a producer so young make rums that display such a deft, sure touchthey’re not all world beaters, but I think they’re certainly a cut above the ordinary, even the entry-level standard-strength “Coastal Cane” which I likened to a cross between an agricole and a Jamaican white overproof. In November 2023 they had a sort of coming-out party at the Brisbane Rum Revolution, where there were a number of complimentary comments about the various releases: the Pure Single Rum was one of the ones singled out (no pun intended) for especial attention, and many remarked on how pleased they were to have tried it.

The Pure Single Rum, which is a title deriving from the Gargano Classification system (see other notes below) conforms to its requirements exactlyit is a rum made via batch distillation, on a pot still, from a single distillery. It’s the extras that elevate it to the next level because few 4YO rums have the distinction of being this good (did someone say “Renaissance”?). The rum is molasses based, a week’s fermentation, aged in ex-Shiraz casks for 2½ before being transferred out to a new American oak barrel (no ex-bourbon here) and then decanted into 221 bottles at 56% in November 2022. The idea is always to have a limited amount of this rum based on a cask that’s deemed ready (Release 3 just hit the shelves a few months ago) and right now there are a couple hundred casks or so slumbering in the warehouse, waiting their moment. Labelling is minimal and states the provenance nicely, and there are no additives, no filtration, no extras.

Tasting notes, then: the nose opens with a hot breath of sweet strawberry-flavoured bubble gum, a salt caramel and vanilla ice cream cone, gummi bears, and white toblerone chocolate. Some very ripe dark grapes, prunes. Honey, waffles and cereal mix well with toffee and brown sugar: overall the aromas is consistently strong without being sharp, well controlled, slightly sweet to inhale and overall seems like a pillow for the nose. It also smells like the most “traditional” rum of the four Capricorn rums I had, because there’s less of the tart and slightly sour tang that characterises the others, and emphasises a profile we similar to that of Barbados, Panama and even Guyana (minus the wooden stills).

I also enjoy the taste, and in assessing this aspect I can understand why it was so popular at the festival: a good mouthfeel, very warm, with honey, caramel, vanilla, fresh wonderbread toast, and even some salt crackers and brie. It has hints of ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, as well as swiss bonbons, dulce de leche and a few dates, figs and other mild fruits like papaya and watermelon. The finish is unambitious and lets you down easy without introducing anything that isn’t already therea tawny mix of molasses, caramel, toffee, vanilla and honey with a sprinkling of breakfast spices.

The Pure Single rum is an interesting mix of solidity and delicacy at the same time, and yet it never strays too far from a traditional “rummy” taste: it is the one rum of the distillery that comes closest to being completely recognizable as an aged rum by anyone, and that’s one reason for its easy acceptance and why people liked it. It is not precisely challenging, and introduces little that is new: a trailblazer for a new Australian style it is not (though I would not have objected had it done so). Nor is Capricorn going for a moon shot or a Hail Mary passthey have other rums for that. What they are trying to do with this oneand have succeeded, I thinkis assemble a solid young rum that’s fascinating and tasty and well made, complex and delicious enough for Government work, and simply a really good rum to try on its own and to enjoy.

(#1042)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • From Release #3 it looks like there is a now a numerical designator on the label.
  • “Pure Single Rum” is a term of relatively recent derivation. It was coined by Luca Gargano of Velier in 2017 as part of his suggested new classification of rum, which he believed was not being well served by older systems based on colour or regions. His idea was to create a new regimen that focused more on production techniques and he came up with four basic classifications: Pure Single rum, Traditional rum, Single Blended rum, and Ordinary rum. These form the basis of the Gargano classification, which is detailed in rather more depth on Velier’s page. It has received some criticism for shortcomings and exclusions, and for not catering to rums which fall outside the clear demarcationssome prefer the Cates System advocated by Martin Cates of Smuggler’s Cove which has more gradations and is easier to understandbut if it has added a single term to our vocabulary of rum, it’s that first category of Pure Single Rum.

Company background (from Review #1029 of the Coastal Cane)

Capricorn Distilling’s origins bean in 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-litre still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of businessmotel, pub, restaurant, distilleryto provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in 2020 in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards.

The distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small and newly-established companies: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the everpresent cash flow generator of gins. The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW.

Nov 252023
 

Rumaniacs Review R-160 | #1041

Few rum aficionados need me to elaborate either on Don Q, the “other” major distillery on the island of Puerto Rico which makes it, Puerto Rico itself and it’s peculiar status vis-a-vis the USA, or indeed, this rum. Any one of them is an essay in itself and can lead to any number of rabbit holes,

Let’s just stick to the basics, then. In brief: like Bacardi, Destilería Serrallés was founded by a Catalan emigre in the 1860s (the sugar plantation the Serrallés family first bought goes back three decades before that), though they lacked the global ambitions of the larger company’s operations and have stayed within Puerto Rico. Don Q, named after Sancho Panza’s elderly sidekick, is the flagship brand of Destilería Serrallés with several expressions dating back to 1932 when it was launched to compete with Bacardi: however, let’s be clearthe Cristal was first released in 1978, when it was specifically designed to compete with the rising popularity of vodka. Before that, I think white rums were just called “Don Q” and had a distinguishing white label (my assumption), since I can’t find any reference to a specific one predating the Cristal.

The Cristal itself is a white rum, adhering to the Latin style of light ‘n’ easy rum making, and is the result of distillation on a multi-column still, aged in ex-bourbon barrels for between one and five years, filtered to colourlessness, blended, and then bottled at standard strength (40%). The review of the modern equivalent gives you some more details of the version you’re likely to find on store shelves these daysthis one, as far as I can tell, is from the mid to late 1980s, perhaps the 1990s (the label has undergone several revisions over the years and for different countries, so dating is imprecise at best).

Colourwhite

Strength – 40%

NoseHas a sort of light and creamy aroma, like custard drizzled with vanilla syrup. Acetones and nail polish. Slightly sweet, somewhat warm. A few faint fruity notesnothing really identifiable leaps outwhich are just trembling on the edge of a flat cream soda.

PalateSharpish, mostly pineapple, vanilla and flavoured yoghurt, iodine. Not a whole lot going on here and while not really unpleasant, there are too many discernible medicinal and ethanol notes to make to a drink worth having.

FinishDecently long, sweet vanilla milkshake and an apricot slice or two. Unremarkable, but at least there’s something here, which is already better than most of these bland, anonymous filtered blancos from the era.

ThoughtsMy remarks about when it was issued and why, is the key to unlocking why the profile is what it is: inoffensive, bland, easy, vodka-like…and by today’s standards, rather uninteresting. It remains what it has always been, a cheap bar mixer, without much of an edge to wake up a mixed drink. Older versions like this one seem even blander than the modern ones, and so my recommendation is to get one if you like to drink some rums from Ago, but don’t expect too much, and keep mixing your mojito with what’s on the shelves today.

(73/100) ⭐⭐½

Oct 212023
 

In the last review we looked at a product from Romero Distilling, a small and relatively new-ish distillery in Calgary which has the distinction of focusing almost exclusively on making rums (of all kinds). At first blush it seems to conform to the standards of many occasionally unfocused local distillers who are still playing around trying to find the perfect groove: their “Dark” rum left me somewhat dissatisfied and mostly indifferent (spiced rums not being my thing for reasons I went into some detail in that review), and while I didn’t mention it, the “Amber”which I own, opened and tried at homehasn’t turned my crank much either.

The Sherry Finish Cask Strength Rum, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal, and an order of magnitude better than either of thoseit quite literally left me looking happily at my glass, wondering whence this thing had sprung, and completely unwilling to stop trying it. Now, it’s a pot-still 1200-bottle limited edition 57% ABV rum without any spices, colourants or additives, so right away it has a better starting point than the other two; it’s aged for two years or so in ex-Woodford Reserve barrels and then another two-plus in newly emptied ex-Oloroso sherry barrels brought over from Spainthat to my mind makes it a double aged (not a finished) rum, but whatever…the important thing is, what comes out the other end is to my mind, really impressive.

First of all there’s the way the nose opens. Compared to the low strength and rather thin aromas of its spiced sibling, this packs a solid punch: it presents some woody and tannic notes, with solid sweet caramel, chewing gum, toffee, molasses and a delicate hint of a cinnamon-flavoured unsweetened mocha. Not too much fruitiness heremore dates and coconut shavingsbut a fair amount of cereals, rye bread, cardboard and crushed almonds. Really great smells, and one that’s worth keeping around for more than just the time it takes to have a sip or three and move on.

When tasted, it continues well: hot fresh pastries like pine tarts or pecan pie start the show, and here some fruit start to make themselves noticeable: ripe and heavier ones like sapodilla, plums, prunes and some apricots, with flashes of molasses and honey (love that). There’s even the slight trace of a good brie, some olive oil, rotten lemons, and something savoury lurking in the background, as if it is trying to channel a raw clairin, or a tequila. The finish is also quite good, lasting a long time and wrapping things up with salt caramel, coffee, some brininess and those fresh baked pastries.

To say I wasmerely pleasedis understating matters. I was damned impressed. The rum seemed so good on the first try that not only did I keep the glass going for the next two hours, but as soon as I got home, went straight out and bought a bottle online (I’m told that the rum has just gone into general release in Alberta). What’s also really interesting is that for 57% ABV, double the ageing and no spicing it up, it only costs C$7 more than the C$75 Dark with which I had previously been relatively unenthused.

So, in the final analysis, although I have many more rums from north of 49 to try, so far this is one of the best Canadians I’ve yet come across, the highest scoring to date. It’s not a copy of some Caribbean profile, doesn’t seek to emulate noble sires from hotter climes, but is completely, calmly, resolutely, itself. It adheres to the profile of rum while providing just enough kinks and twists to show that the makers knew exactly what they were doing when they made it. It shows how something better than the dronish herd of mass produced tipple can be made here, and hopefully sell, and while I’m sure over time other rums will inevitably eclipse it…for now, it remains a high point of the Canadian rum scene and deserves serious attention.

(#1034)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • The rum was awarded “Best in Class” at the 2023 Alberta Beverage awards (in a three way tie). Given the judges’ primary expertise, what it was rated against, and what else was on the list of candidates and winners, this is not an award to be taken completely seriously, and the scores were, shall we say, somewhat excessively enthusiastic. But it had to be mentioned.
  • Company details can be found in the review of the Romero Dark
  • The rum is a blend of several barrels and an outturn of 2000 bottles.
  • A hydrometer test comes out at 56.8% ABV, so it’s clean from that perspective (and tastes that way, but I checked anyway)
  • The company runs tour, tasting and blending sessions at its facility in Calgary, which I’ve heard from friends of mine who went, are quite good.
  • There’s a fair bit of marketing copy on the website and other promotional materials, about rum running in Canada during Alberta’s own Prohibition era, but this is local colour and has no bearing on Romero directly.
Oct 172023
 

So there I was walking around the impressively well organised Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival, which had boatloads of beers, wines and spirits and food (and precious few rums), all superbly arranged in terms of space and one’s ability to navigate. For a guy used to the tight confines and crowded booth frontage of European festivals, it was eye opening to be able to walk five abreast in any direction and join ten people in front of a display and not bump elbows. Every now and then I wandered back over to Karl Mudzamba and his compadre Ernie, who were manning the Bira! booth, to apprise him of any new finds, or just hang out and enjoy their company.

One of the few rums partaking this event was Romero Distilling Company, which is located in Calgary: it was founded in 2018 by Diego Romero, an engineer who came to the country from Spain in the 1960s and worked in the mining and mineral processing industries as an adult before moving on to what we can only imagine was a passion project. He opened the distillery with his son Tomas (it was he who was running the booth), bought a 2000-litre hybrid copper still, three 2000-litre fermenters and, if memory serves, uses Crosby molasses from Guatemala (by way of New Brunswick) to get things going. The company only makes rum, opting not to dilute its focus with other kinds of spirits, as so many others do, and remains very little known outside Alberta.

Now, I’ve actually already bought a bottle of the Dark and the Amber rums, and I’ve written a few quick tasting notes on both, but have not gotten around to trying either one seriously, or doing any real researchso it was good to see a bottle available for tasting at the booth, and Tomas patiently led me through the basic details, which I’ll not discuss until after I give you the tasting notes.

The standard strength (40%) rum is, as its name implies, dark. It’s also got a nose that’s peculiarly tannic in a sweetish kind of way, slightly oaky, and quite crisp. There’s quite a dollop of spices hitting you right awaycardamom and vanilla are the most obvious, with some cinnamon, light licorice, rosemary and black unsweetened tea backing that up. It’s too tame to do any damage and it looks to have been aged a few yearsmore than that is hard to tease out.

It remains easy and quite soft on the palate, and the crisp cleanliness of the nose is retained. It’s flavourful and the sense of the spices continues: the mouthfeel is really nice, and I suspect that even if the label doesn’t say so, there’s more than just some barrel ageing going on here. There are some red wine and bourbon notes in the background, a touch of ripe peaches in syrup, and overall it’s quite pleasant, even if additional vanilla and cardamom and cinnamon seem insistent on making themselves felt. Finish is quite short, but at least it’s clean, and repeats most of the spices, slight tannics, ginger and fruit reasonably well.

So, after all this, what is it? Based on the label, you’re not getting much: 40%, molasses based, batch number, aged in ex-bourbon barrels. The website is where you get more: ex-Woodford Reserve barrels, pot still distillation…and additional spices. Which spices? That’s not given. How long is it aged? Not provided either. Year of distillation? Nada.

Tomas on the other hand, was quite informative and outgoing. He confirmed the barrels, and said the Dark is made as a blend, consistently about two-plus years old (hence the lack of a year of make), with all natural ingredients, nothing artificial. And while he called his still a single-column still, the website entry for this rum mentions it’s a pot still, and an article in the Calgary Herald mentions a hybrid, which last makes more sense given its flexibility and the photographs I’ve seen.

Essentially then: the Dark is a spiced rum, even if it doesn’t say so explicitly. This is a puzzle since the company does make an amber coloured Spiced version, so it’s unclear why the title was left off. Tomas said that they don’t emphasise the ageing because that just leads to preconceptions that young rums can’t be good ones and they wanted it to speak for itself. Maybe so, but I suggest that in today’s climate of disclosure, nothing is really lost by providing consumers with what they need to make an informed choice when buying a C$75 rum, and if Renaissance proved anything, it’s that rums aged under five years can be pretty damned fine.

So. What did I think? For people like my vlogger friend Steve the Barman in the UK, who likes expounding on the joys of rums like this, it’s right in his wheelhouse. It’s decent enough. It’s tasty, sweetish and as an after dinner drink will work just fine. Those who like rums like the Kraken, Don Papa, AH Riise, Bumbu and Captain Morgan will find much to enjoy. As a rum on its own terms, I myself find it less successful, and the cardamom and vanilla in particular have a disconcertingly powerful impact on the overall profile, shouldering aside other and more delicate aspects. On the basis of these comments you can decide where your own preferences lie, I think.

(#1033)(Unscored)


Other notes

  • It would be remiss not to mention that the Dark has won several awards: a Gold Medal in the Frankfurt International Trophy 2022 as well as the competition’s Best Canadian Spirit that same year; and a gold and silver medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2021 and 2022 respectively (both in the Dark Rum category).
  • The company runs tour, tasting and blending sessions at its facility in Calgary, which I’ve heard from friends of mine who went, are quite good.
  • There’s a fair bit of marketing copy on the website and other promotional materials, about rum running in Canada during Alberta’s own Prohibition era, but this is local colour and has no bearing on Romero directly.
  • The crow on the logo reflects the Crowsnest Pass in the south of Alberta, through which moonshine was supposedly transported on its way to the US in the bad old days.

Opinion

It’s no secret that spiced rums hold no particular appeal for me. Though occasionally their taste is nice enough, there is no yardstick by which to judge themsome sort of baseline by which to assess their profile, the levels of what’s put in, how many different spices, where those come from, and to what spirit exactly such additions are made. In other words, it becomes impossible to judge value or effectively compare one with the other. Are you paying for what is touted as an all-natural product (always a plus in these organic-everything times)? The hard-to-get (and therefore expensive) spices and flavourings? The exclusivity or age or quality or source of the rum stock it’s put into? The length of time it all marries in casks, leading to additional price hikes?

Who knows these things? Nobody except the producer, that’s who. And therefore, I can’t tell whether a given spiced rum is neutral alcohol gotten on the cheap to which stuff has been added (perhaps to get around the costs of a years-long barrel-ageing program), or a youngish rum topped up with all-natural ingredients that make for a nicely flavoured drink. Both could conceivably be sold at a premium with all sorts of glib explanations.

Years of looking at spiced, flavoured or infused rums (yes, I do try them) have left me with a certain cynicism regarding what goes on a label, and at end, it comes down to thisin the absence of a common, agreed-to standard, no matter how informal, I just don’t trust them. I have no doubt that small and upcoming distilleries like Romero suffer from a lack of regional (let alone global) recognition, but they’re not helping themselves by the lack of proper disclosure here either (though it may be completely inadvertent). It’s not an inconsequential issue for a consumer being asked to pay that price, and hampers a more serious consideration of a distillery that really does make some interesting rums, another of which I’ll tell you about next time.


 

Oct 122023
 

This is the fifth and final review in the short series (of sixI have tried one before) where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

For all its rather off-putting connotations to those who don’t know the term, noble rot is a controlled fungus infestation of grapes that go on to produce a particularly fine and concentrated sweet wine. Perhaps it is no surprise then, that a wine lover like Olivier Caen, one of the founders of the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, sourced barrels of this kind of wine in which to age some of his rum. I sometimes think it’s his intention to try them every possible kind of cask in existence, but one can’t quibble with the results, because in many cases what comes out the other end is really kind of great.

By now we have come to know a fair bit about the production techniques of the small distillery just by perusing the labels, and this one is no different. The cane is their own, planted by the distillery, sent to a nearby factory to be crushed and turned into molasses which is then fermented with any one of a number of different yeast strains (a French West Indian one in this case, and for just shy of four weeks). There is the double distillation in the Charentais pot still (the second pass is on the lees) and then the distillate is set to age in a first fill noble rot barrel that has been “shaved, toasted and charred”. Four years later and et voilà, we have this rum, bottled to showcase ever percentage point of its 64% strength.

With that kind of potentiallocal sugar cane molasses, long fermentation, double pot still distillation, first fill charred barrelone would expect no shortage of aromas and flavours jostling and shoving to get out the gate and strut their stuff, and indeed that’s what we get. The nose, for example, is delectableit’s crisp, very clear, and reminds me of a dry Riesling, with notes of red grapefruit, grapes and some tart, sharp ripe fruitsapples, cider, red currants and some laid back light florals. There’s a slight creaminess in the background, like yoghurt; and salt butter spread over hot croissants fresh from the oven. Nice.

The strength does the rum no harm and the four years of ageing has tamped down the excess reasonably well. So it doesn’t hurt or display too much sharpness. It tastes slightly creamy, like salt caramel ice cream minus some sugar; a touch salty, and all the crisp fruits remain available to be enjoyedapples, grapes, pears, apricots, peaches and even some ginnips and lychees. One can perhaps detect traces of coconut shavings and spices like vanilla and cinnamon, even mauby bark, which is nice, but it’s just a bit, here and gone quickly. Finish is long and epic, as is to be expected, clean and clear, quite spicy, mostly fruits and florals and even a touch of honey.

Overall then, not terribly different from others we’ve tasted, but every bit as good as most and better than some. This is a short review because I want to get to the summation of my observations and there’s nothing much more to add to the company bio or this rum you don’t already know. I should, however, close with the note that for me this was one of the best of the six, and I’d buy it if it ever turned up in my market. We don’t get so many unique and tasty rums at this strength from obscure markets as it is, so we need to treasure the ones we find.

(#1032)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in this short series:


Summing upsome general observations on the rums of the line

As the six reviews I’ve written make clear, I really like the company and its rumsthey have placed Taiwan firmly on the map of quality rum making, and hopefully inspire others on the island to try their hand, to the point where it becomes a rum-geek’s destination the way the Caribbean is. It’s one of the most consistently good estate producers out there, the more so because they don’t have a single standard product out there, no blends, no regular five or ten year old that carries the flag, or appeals to the larger crowd. It’s all single barrel releases, like they were an indie bottler with a single clientthemselves. I’ve yet to find a dog in the series.

The rums they make are of a uniformly high level of excellence, and while others have scored the various individual expressions lower than I have (or higher) depending on their personal tastes, few fail to concede the power and uniqueness of the overall line. The combination of local cane, different yeast strains, varied fermentation times, a smallish pot still, double distillation, and all those crazy barrels in which the rums are either finished or double matured, constitutes something of a profile enhancer. The rums always have a whole lot bopping around in the foreground while some weird sh*t is dancing the ragtime out back, and as if that wasn’t enough, they are almost always issued at cask strength, with all the intensity of flavour and aromas this implies.

That said, there are a few issues as well, of which the most important and oft-repeatedfrom a consumer’s perspective anywayis the expense. I have zero patience for those in subsidised markets who grouse when a rum from somewhere else is over thirty dollars…but here they have a point. Renaissance’s rums are expensive, and at over a hundred bucks a pop for rums less than five years old, that’s a hard sell and a tough buy when there’s so much older stuff out there, of equally good value. It’s pointless to argue that taxes make up a large part of that, as do freight charges to get the things shipped all the way from the far east: optics are everything and until those prices become more affordable, the company’s excellent rums will remain a niche product for many.

Secondly there’s the unintended consequence of the very qualities that make the company’s name: the lack of a standard product. Consider another two highly-lauded relatively new estate producers: Hampden and Worthy Park. They gained a following with rums everyone could afford and which were widely available and then started to go upscale with more limited releases that channelled the variations imparted by different barrels and experiments in the production process. Renaissance took the reverse approach and started right away from this point without every going through the “standard product” stage and has issued nothing but premium releases. This to some extent hampers a broader recognitionoh sure, they have great word of mouth and I hope this small series raises their profile even more (because they deserve it) but how many people have actually tried them, or can?

Moreover, there is a subtler, more important effect of all the variations in releases which so delight the connoisseurs: the lack of a consistent, standard production model (like, oh, Hampden’s 8YO workhorse), and what this means is that there is nothing here that defines Taiwanese terroire specifically. There’s too much other stuff in the way. Consider how distinctive the traditional Caribbean and Latin American rums are, for their countriesyou can tell apart a Jamaican, Guyanese and French island rum quite easily because they channel something intrinsic to their points of origin, such as the stills of Guyana, the fermentation of Jamaica or the cane juice origin of Martinique and Haiti. For all Renaissance’s quality, the short ageing in all those different barrels obscures what might one day help define Taiwanese rum, something that also hampers, say, Nine Leaves out of Japan…but not, in contrast, Cor Cor or Ryomi.

Where I see this is going, then, is that the distillery will continue to make waves in the high end market for the foreseeable future with those entrancing limited single barrel releases, especially if they get better distribution. Who knows, these early essays in the craft may one day be regarded like Velier’s famed Demeraras and Caronisdeemed to pricey at the time, always remarked on for their quality, appreciating astronomically in the years that follow.

At some stage though, as the company expands (and I think they will), I suspect that the scaling up of the distillery will result in the production of a “regular” Taiwanese blend in quantity, without the distraction of other enhancements and embellishments. Whether aged or unaged, juice or molasses, overproofed or living room strength, if the quality is retained and the taste is as good, their market is all but assured. If and when they ever do that, you can be sure that far more than just obscure bloggers like this one will be hungering for what they have produced.


 

Oct 022023
 

This is the fourth review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

*

The consistency of quality of the Renaissance line of rums creates something of an issue for a reviewer, because while they are all different in subtle ways, so far they are also all really good (at least in the opinion of this writer)…which makes writing anything new almost impossible. In a way they remind me of Demerara rums, or Caronis, in the way that they resemble James Bond movies: they all have recognizable beats, similar tropes and so we enjoy then, look for similarities, variations and easter eggs, and spend an inordinate amount of time dissecting minutiae and arguing about which is the best. And of course, everyone will have an opinion about all of those things.

By now, then, after four previous excursions into the company’s line, we know enough about the company not to belabour the point, and so we’ll just cover the highlights. Renaissance is a husband and wife team who created a rum distillery in Taiwan out of whole cloth in 2017 (after four years of messing about trying to get it off the ground), gaining acclaim for their rigorously individualistic style of rum making in the years that followed (at which point we pause for the obligatory mention of the encyclopaedic labels). By 2021 as the world reopened, awards began rolling in and the distillery gained a quietly swelling renown…and rum aficionados who cocked an eye towards Asia took notice.

One of the peculiarities of the distillery is its resolute focus on single barrel rum releases. I have seen no indie bottling ethos here, and no mass market releases of lesser supermarket fare, or other spirits’ production meant to generate cash flow. They have issued young rums derived from local molasses or their own juice, and aged in whatever barrels they managed to source: limousin, ex-bourbon, wine, whisky, cognac, to which is then added a secondary maturation or finish in (again) any of those barrel types.

The rum we’re looking at today conforms to this principle. 20 days fermentation from Taiwan molasses (referred to as ‘Formosan’), double distilled in the 1200 litre Charentais pot still, then stuffed into a new oak 350 litre Limousin cask for three years, and finally given a secondary maturation in a fist fill 400-litre bas armagnac cask for the final year, being finally bottled in April 2022 at 63.2%.

What these dry and rather technical details suggest, then, is that there are some three or four different points at which flavours are developed: the longer than usual fermentation, the double distillation with the middle-third cut, and the two singular barrel types. The bas-armagnac barrel in particular can be expected to lend quite an interesting influence to the final product.

And we surely get all of that. The initial nose on the rum is lovely: firm, crisp, fresh and lively to a faultbright yellow fleshy acidic fruit (Thai mangoes, peaches, apricots, apples) mixed up with overripe green grapes, honey and flambeed bananas. A touch of vanilla and the slight bitterness of tannics, completely under control and never allowed to get overbearing. There are some notes of ruby grapefruit and blood oranges, light florals and it’s just a great osing experience.

Taste wise it also holds up really well. It’s rich and deep and flavourful with bags of fruit: grapefruit again, strawberries, kiwi fruit and lychees. Some light vanilla, icing sugar and a banana split drizzled with caramel make for an interesting combo, as do the less sweet fruits like sapodilla and bananas, sprinkled with coconut shavings. Finish is epically long as we can expect from the strength, and while it introduces nothing new it allows the individual notes their brief moment on the stage so as to remind me of the way they all work together to provide a great taste experience.

Overall, there’s nothing to find fault with and for those who prefer something tamer, a few drops of water are more than sufficient to tamp down the intensity somewhat without losing anything in translation. It’s a lovely rum at any strength and with one caveat, I recommend it unreservedly, and score it right in the ballpark of all the other rums they’ve made which I’ve so enjoyed.

That one qualification is, of course, the price, which is an issue several have remarked on before with all of the rums from this small company. Even in today’s inflated times, it will set one back three figures and there are not many who will be willing to spend that on a four year old rum, when there are others at similar strength a decade or so older from more familiar climes, sporting more familiar names, more familiar profiles. And so the point is not a minor one. Yet when one considers the freight charges, taxes and duties needed to bring such a singular product to the west; the costs of making it at all without support from other lines of business or economies of scale; and the limited batch outturn of the rum itself…when one takes all these things into account I would not say it’s an untoward extravagance. And even if I could not afford one of each release Renaissance have so far made, even if I just got this one single rum to stand in for all the others that remain out of reach, I would not consider the purchase a bad one, or ever harbour a single regret.

(#1030)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in this short series:

Sep 262023
 

This is the third review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

Although the little Renaissance Distillery on Taiwan was officially founded in 2017, many years of small-scale under-the-radar tinkering and experimentation preceded that. The husband and wife team of Linya Chiou and Olivier Caen started a small spirits import company on the island as far back as 2006, and by the early 2010s were looking around wondering why Taiwan, which had a subtropical climate (the south is actually tropical) and planted sugar cane, did not have a rum industry of any consequence.

The truth was that it did: but it was a remnant of the state monopoly which had only relaxed and allowed a market to develop after 2002; even so, licensing restrictions and the torpor of the bureaucracy made it difficult to think seriously about such a proposition, so Olivier sourced a short neck 500L locally made pot still, installed it on their property and started planting his own sugar cane. For the next four years he experimented ceaselessly and mostly at night with harvesting, juice, molasses, fermentation, distillation, making the cuts, checking the ageing, the whole nine yardsin fact the op was quasi-legal at best, an outright moonshinery at worst. The results and samples he shared around suggested he was on to something there and in 2017 the distillery formally opened and started commercial, licit operations.

Output remained and continues to remain rather small, and most of what was released up to 2020 — about 17 barrels’ worth of productionwas rum laid down pre-2017; however that by itself garnered attention and plaudits, notably that of David Broom in 2021 when he remarked on his blog “Remember how Kavalan blew people’s minds? Renaissance will do the same for rum.” So far, there have been perhaps sixty barrels released to June 2023, and the hallmark of the brand remains small batch, single cask, high proof rum, usually finished (or double aged) in casks of whatever seems to catch Olivier’s fancy that day. There are a few blends in the mix, but it’s these single cask bottlings that make the company’s namehigh end, pricey and not easy to get.

This 4 Year Old rum is no different. Distilled in 2018 (cask #18102 for the curious, because knowing the casks is actually something of a thing here), it is based on Taiwanese molasses fermented for 30 days, comes off the 1200L charentais pot still after a double pass. It was set to age in a limousin new oak barrel (350 liters, so somewhere between a barrique and a puncheon) for three years and then transferred into an ex cognac cask (Hennessy, I was told) for another year. Outturn 346 70cl bottles, at a solid, chest-thumping 64.4%.

The nose uses that strength to make grand gestures and bold statements, that’s for sure. It hits you hard and doesn’t say sorry. Initially it is the right side of too sharp, yet once the sensation is sorted out it’s more like a very clean, very crisp and very dry Riesling, redolent of sugar water, light red grapefruit (is there such a thing?), yellow mangoes and tart ripe green grapes. It needs time to open upsome water would helpand after a while releases additional pleasant notes of cinnamon and ginger cookies with a touch of unsweetened chocolate, and a sort of vanilla flavoured whipped cream.

For all the oomph the rum packs in its jock, it’s medium bodied and firm rather than wielding a sledgethough of course some caution should still be exercised…just because the texture is solid doesn’t mean there isn’t something more serious waiting to get you when your guard is down. The palate is sweet-ish and middle bodiednot thin, not heavy or thick, just sort of in between with a nice medium-dry mouthfeel. Still, tastes are somewhat (and surprisingly) subdued for something that spent a year making nice in a cognac cask: plums, raisins, vanilla, honey, the tartness of laban and kiwi fruits and papaya, a little grapefruit, a little allspice, a little cinnamon. The finish is completely serviceable, if not outstandinga good summation of the preceding. One gets a last whiff of fruits and spices, some grapes, citrus, honey and even a twitch of licorice out of nowhere. It’s finishes well.

So, this is a really good rum that adheres to the style and profile the makers have established for themselves. It’s got that cognac vibe, the sprightliness of youth with a touch of the maturity that ageing brings, is strong, tasty and well assembled. Some may suggest it’s one of those cases where a little dilution might not have been a bad thing, which is a fair point, though I completely respect the decision to be consistent and bottle it as it is and let the consumers take their chances.

Because by not pandering to anyone’s tastes, what Renaissance has done is provided us with a young rum of what I presume to say is a rare calibre, one that takes on others aged five times longer and gives a good account of itself. It’s not the best rum they’ve made, of the six I’ve sampledyet it solidifies an already impressive reputation for consistency of style and quality, and for those who venture forth to brave the high proof and crisply intense tastes, they will find little to dislike and much to enjoy.

(#1028)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


The rums in this short series:

Sep 222023
 

Don Q is the other big brand from Puerto Rico that many believe has bragging rights over the Big Bad Bat when it comes to quality, yet somehow does not inhabit as a deep a mindspace as Bacardi does. The brand is very well known in the US and Canada (though I don’t see it for sale out west very often) but I get the impression it’s somewhat less of a thing in Europe or Asiaprobably because they have plenty of brands of their own and so don’t exist in the same spirituous desert.

Don Q is the flagship brand of the other huge distilling operation on the island of Puerto Rico, Destilería Serrallés: like Bacardi it was founded by a Catalan emigre in the 1860s, though they lacked the international ambitions of the larger company and have stayed within Puerto Rico the whole time. Destilería Serrallés produces three main tiers of this branded rum: the Traditional range of mixing agents (Cristal, Gold and 151); a series of flavoured rums, and the more upscale “Serrallés Collection”, which is where the aged, finished and stronger premiums live. Don Q as a brand is named after Don Quixote (one wonders where Sancho Panza is lurking), but the reason has little to do with the wannabe over-the-hill knight and more to do with the author and his masterwork (see below).

The Cristal is a white rum from the Traditional range: it is of course nothing like the robust white brawling full proof rums whose praises I have extolled in past lists of Great Whites, the ones that go out there sporting an attitude, showing off their glutes and spoiling for a fight. In point of fact it’s a light rum coming off multiple distillation runs on a five-column industrial still, aged in ex-bourbon barrels for between one and five years, filtered to colourlessness, blended, and then bottled at standard strength (40%). Therefore it adheres more to the ethos of relaxed and affordable backbar general mixers, a sort of workhorse of daiquiris and mojitos, hearkening back to the light rum period of the previous century, than something more primitive and elemental.

The tasting notes show why the above paragraph can be written. There’s vanilla, coconut shavings, some nail polish and brine. Also, after some time, one can pick out citrus, light cream soda, cherries, some ripe juicy pears. It just kind of fades away at this point and there’s little more to be gained by hanging around

The palate shows off a similarly light and easy island charm: sweet, light, creamy, with some watermelon, papaya, cream soda, ginger, and again, the pears, maybe a couple of bananas. A dusting of cinnamon can be discerned with care, and the finish is as expectedshort, prickly, a touch of honey and coconut shavings set off by that slight twist of lemon.

The Cristal, then, is a completely serviceable rum with just enough taste in there to lift it (slightly) above more anonymous fare that tries less, and I can see why some consider it a step above other whites, including Bacardi’s. There’s a bit of edge lurking behind the inoffensive first taste, a hint of undiscovered character. That said, the strength makes that difficult to come to grips with, and rums like this are never going to be my go-tos unless I just want to get econo-hammered. Overall they display too little of interest, being quite content to stay in the background, sink in the cocktail, and disappear. Thus, they play it safe and take no chancesthe alcohol is delivered, the drink is ok, it goes down easy, no fuss, no bother, mission accomplished.

That will work fine for people who don’t care, and I don’t cast any aspersions on either buyer or seller in this matterthe purpose of the review, then, is less to pass judgement than to simply tell you what you’re getting when you fork over your two bits. As with Bacardi Superior, Lamb’s and other lightly aged, filtered white rums, the answer is, “not a whole lot”. But then, that’s also why you don’t pay a whole lotit’s quite cheap, and you’re not getting a dated, decades-old rum of complexity and age which is old enough to vote and will take your an hour to come to grips with…just a relatively neutral, inoffensive rum that serves its limited purpose, and delivers exactly what you pay for, plus a few cents extra.

(#1027)(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • The rum is cheap, yes: this also comes not only from economies of (large) scale, but from the impact of the cover-over tax rebate the company receives, which keep prices down.
  • This is not a much-reviewed rum; the Fat Rum Pirate rated it two stars in 2017 and he commented on its neutralityhe wasn’t impressed. Spirits Review gave it 7 olives out of 10 in an undated review probably coming from around 2010 (the design of the bottle is an earlier variant). Honestboozereviews, writing in 2018, figured it rated around 6.5 points and mentioned it mixed well, was easy to find, and cheap. Lastly, Dave Russell of the dormant site Rum Gallery scored it 8.5 points in 2012 and said that he asked Robero Serralles about the name Don Q, and was told it linked the brandmade by the descendants of Spanish Catalansto Spain and its preeminent work of literature, and both were masterpieces.
Sep 182023
 

This is the second review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued dozens of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

For a rum younger than three years to give such a good account of itself is no mean feat, yet Renaissance Distillery out of Taiwan has done just that with this 2½ YO rum that in most other circumstances would be considered barely out of diapers. I think that in many ways they channel the sort of experimental drive and tinkering mentality that characterises Mhoba from South Africa, the New Australians, or the freshly minted crop of UK distilleries, who also come up with startlingly original young products from seemingly nowhere and without having to age something until it’s old enough to vote.

Renaissance Distillery, for those late to the party, is that small company rum by the husband and wife team of Olivier Caen and Linya Chiou which was officially founded in 2017 on the island of Taiwan, and so far as I am aware, is the only rum-focused distillery there even though sugar remains a crop grown on the island (for many years the state held a monopoly on spirits production which is why distilleries are thin on the ground). They concentrate on full-proof single-cask limited releasesand of course everyone now knows about their War & Peace style labels that are the envy of the known world.

This rum, one of six that was shown off at the 2023 TWE Rumshow, has stats that ten years ago would have seemed unbelievable, but with the passage of time and development of the rumiverse are now merely “pretty good”: a molasses-based wash (from Formosan sugar cane) fermented for 13 days, passed twice through the charentais pot still and then double aged: a year and a half in toasted American oak, and then a further 1½ years in a Saint-Julien 2nd growth cask (and though which house is not identified, I’ve read that the actual Chateau of origin is Léoville-Poyferré)1, and then squeezed into 252 bottles at a muscular 64.7% ABV.

The nose of the rum that this fermentation, distillation, short ageing and those two casks produces at the other end is a smidgen short of fantastic. No really. It is a lovely, rich deeply fruity nose, redolent of plums, blackcurrants and slightly overripe pears, underlain with brine, olives, the slightest hint of rancio, salty cashews, tequila and even a nice brie. I can honestly say it’s one of the more unusual aromas to come out of a rum I’ve had of late, and it’s all good. It keeps changing as it opens and develops, cycling into very ripe black grapes, red grapefruit and a tangy bit of citrus and vanilla, all very clean and quite crispone hardly notices the strength at all, except in so far as it helps deliver those smells more intensely.

To taste it is similarly mercurial…and delicious. It starts off hot and prickly and initially it’s all traditional notes: caramel, vanilla, leather, pepper, tannins, dark ripe fruits (raisins, prunes, plums). And then quietly, sinuously, almost before they’re noticed, creep in other flavours of freshly sawn cedar, nail polish, cucumbers in balsamic fig-infused vinegar, hot black tea sweetened with damp brown sugar still reeking of molasses, wet soil, and even rye bread slathered with salt butter and honey. And it all quietly inexorably leads to a strong, long, aromatic finish that reminds us of the fruits, the citrus, the vanilla and the wood, before closing up shop and fading away until the next sip.

It’s not often I try a rum that does what this one does with such seeming effortlessness: to move from one state of being to another without hurry and without haste and showcase the best of what it is capable. The strength and youth is only marginally tamed by the two casks and that short ageing time, but they do leave their imprint and enrich what in lesser hands might have been a sharp hot spicy mess of transmogrified gunk (I’ve had several like this in my time, trust me). Renaissance have channelled fermentation, still, ageing, casks and something intrinsic to Taiwantheir terroire, perhapsand brought it all together into a rum that is really quite a fine drink, one whose charms you can only revel in, the more it develops.

(#1026)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in the series:


Other notes

  • Not many other reviews out there: Whiskyfun’s 82 pointer from August of 2023 is the only one I can find. Serge’s tasting notes and mine are similar, but he draws different conclusions and likes it less.
Sep 102023
 

Over the next few weeks I’ll issue a set of reviews of the rums released by the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. One rum of the six that were demonstrated that afternoonthe #18260 “Finohas already been reviewed, so this short series will concentrate on the remaining five.

It has taken almost a decade for the small distillery called Renaissance to become a presence on the global rum stage, and four of those years were spent essentially operating as an unlicensed, near-illegal moonshinery. Olivier Caen and his wife Linya Chiou somehow weathered the stresses of holding down their day jobs while raising two sons, sourcing the cane, getting equipment to work, experimenting with fermentation, distillation, ageing, barrels, molasses, juice, dunder, acid, yeast…the whole nine yards. In 2017 the company was formally registered and even then it took another few years for people to notice they existed…just in time for COVID to delay matters for even longer.

But the wait has been worth it, for it allowed word to seep out into the Rumiverse that here was a new distillery from an new location about which we know too little, balancing terroire with tradition, out to make a mark with interesting rums issued at beefcake power and fancy casks, every time. Oh and their labels really are kind of awesome, said, like, everyone.

Which leads us to the rum under discussion today, one of 356 bottles of barrel #18095 which was distilled from 13-day-fermented molasses in April 2018 and bottled in October 2022 after having been run twice through the 1200-Litre Charentais pot still. The resultant rum was laid to rest for just over four years in a 350L limousin oak cask with varying levels of toast, and … well you get the drift. I could give you more but the label does that better than I could and provides even more and I’m already into the fourth paragraph without even telling you what the rum tastes like yet.

And that profile is pretty neat. The initial nose of this massive 63.5% ABV rum is at pains to make itself known and issue a statement, and it does that with aplombit blasts out initial notes of caramel and warm honey, white chocolate and milk-soaked cinnamon-flavoured cheerios. It’s some kind of sharp, so care must be taken, but once that blows off all one remembers is the firmness and solidity of the aromas, which, after some minutes, also channel a nice mix of lemon rind, half-ripe yellow mangoes, vanilla and brown sugar, plus a whiff of sweet pineapple. And even then it’s not quite over, with some piquant wet sawdust and varnish-y notes coming through here and there

Not enough? The palate will cure what ails you, assuming you sip and don’t gulp (therein lies a quick drunk, trust me). It’s a lovely amalgam of breakfast spicescinnamon, rosemary and vanilla, plus brown sugar, light molasses, gummi bears and both florals and fruits are back in fine style, to which some oakiness, tannics and brine are stirred for the finale. And that’s quite a finish: it’s hot, long-lasting and brings back most of the florals (light, herbal and grassy) and fruits (mangoes, cherries, red grapes and apples) and ties it all in a bow of sweet spices.

Whew. Some experience, this is. Yet for all its quality, I think this is the rum I would have liked toned down just a little. The intensity can use a touch of water to dial things down a notch, which would allow a better integration of the overall profile. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really quite good, and it’s a fascinating experience to observe the way it takes apart and reassembles well-known and easily recognizable elements into a configuration that’s almost, but not quite, familiar. It’s an impressive dram by that standard.

And that’s the mark of a good distiller, I think, the way we are carefully led to the edge of the map and then a step or two beyond it, to Ultima Thule or that blank spot where it says “here theyre be tygers…”. Rums like thisstrange yet familiar, unabashedly full proof, channelling a personal vision and merging a traditional distillation ethos with a solid grasp of the fundamentals, then marrying that off to a level of disclosure that is the envy of the spirits worldare why I stay in this game. This was not the best of the Renaissance rums I sampled that day at the Rumshow masterclass, no. But it made my tonsils cringe, my ears perk up and my hair blow back and isn’t that what we look for anytime we try something new?

(#1024)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


The rums in the series:

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 252023
 

Killik distillery, located in the east of Melbourne, is one of the “New Australian” outfits I have an eye out for: like others located up and down the east coast of Australia (and elsewhere), they are seeking to bootstrap a homegrown rum industry into something greater by applying modern techniques to old-style rum-making and adding an occasional dash of crazy to set themselves apart. So far it’s mostly local sales that keep these small and often family-owned operations afloat, yet slowly their reputation is spreading beyond the Bundies and Beenleighs everyone knows. The Boutique-y Rum Company’s recent bottlings of Black Gate and Mt. Uncle distilleries speaks well for the future of antipodean rums, and Killik is sure to be a part of that movement.

Readers with pachyderm-level memories will likely recall that we’ve looked at a Killik Gold (rum) beforethat one was a year or so old and matured in Chardonnay casks, while this one is of somewhat more recent vintage, no finishing or fancy cask, and a different age. When I addressed this question to the Brothers Pratt (the owners), they remarked that although the overall production process remains the samethey continue to tinker with wild yeast fermentation and Jamaican high-ester-style rum making as a core ethosthe small size of their output means that until they expand it to larger sizes, batches are and will be strikingly varied, and those batches come out quite often. In that sense they are somewhat like the six-month ageing-and-output cycle Nine Leaves in Japan used to have.

One thing to look out for is the label. Now recall, Australia has that 2-year rule that states a cane based spirit cannot be called rum until it is aged for at least two years (producers are trying to address a potential revision to this outdated law through the courts)…so strictly speaking Killik should only be able to call itas beforea “gold” or a “cane spirit” or some variant thereof. However, in what I personally consider a stroke of marketing genius, they trademarked their name and the image of the anchor device together, as “Killik Handcrafted Rum,” and cheerfully added that to their labels, right above the word “Gold”. They therefore stayed within the law while simultaneously skirting it and unambiguously stating what they’re making.

This particular versionit’s hard to identify it precisely since there is no notation on the label or the websitewas confirmed to me to be at least twice as old as the version from 2022 that had come from the 2021 advent calendar. It is therefore a completely different rum, still made on a hybrid still, with dunder and wild yeast part of the recipe pushing the congener count up. It is also a blendof 75% original stock rum now aged to 3 years, plus 25% of one year old fresh make. As before, the barrels are from a local cooperage and I have an outstanding query as to whether it was used or new barrels and if used, what they previously held.

Bottled at the same 42%, the Gold takes a few more chances than the original didit noses as slightly richer, rounder, fuller. And while the funk and congeners remain as muted as before, there’s an overall sense of something slightly richer here: paint and furniture polish, a touch of wax, acetones and new plastic. This dissipates over time and is replaced by some middling-sharp fruity notesapples, green grapes, diluted lemon juice, apricots, pineapples and unripe peaches. There are also, after some minutes, hints of vanilla, cherries, lemon key pie, hot sweet pastries, cookies, and unsweetened yoghurtvery nice for something so relatively young.

The palate maintains that sense of something more complex and richer than its predecessor, even if the strength undercuts that somewhat. And yet overall still it tastes pretty goodgreen apples, light pineapple slices, bananas, pine tart and grapes, combine nicely with the sense of pastries steaming fresh from the oven, vanilla, light sugar water, lemon zest, and bitter chocolate and crushed walnuts. The finish wraps up the show as best it can, and sums up the tart and creamy fruits and pastries vibe quite wellit is quite easy drinking with a bit of a sour edge, occasionally sharp, not too hot. More cannot really be said here.

Overall, I think the low strength hamstrings a decent rum that could actually be even betterthat 42% is okay for casual drinking, but for more appreciation you do need more oomph. The relatively young age is something of a mixed blessing as well, since along with the slightly added complexity comes a bit of roughnessand so I can’t completely recommend it as a sipping rum. That said, the thing makes a really fine daiquiri, and on that front, with those sharp fruity notes leaning up against the warm pastries, the rum walks down strange and interesting yet hauntingly familiar paths inhabited by hot Jamaican patties and fierce white overproofs served in plastic tumblers at backcountry rumshopsand if nothing else, those are the qualities which define it as a rum too good to walk away from.

(#1019)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

Aug 222023
 

Rumaniacs Review #R-157 | #1019

Somehow, in all this time of reviewing rums from around the world, from around Barbados, and from within the Foursquare oeuvre, I never got around to looking at the Doorly’s “Macaw” white rum. Not the new 40% 3YO and its 47% ABV sibling which is in line with the redesigned and now-consistently labelled range as it currently exists (3YO, 5YO, 8YO, XO, 12YO and 14YO, and if this piques your curiosity just head over to Alex’s excellent vertical review of the lot) but the rather older and more venerable one at 40% and a sky blue label. Maybe it’s just in time, because it’s now been quietly discontinued.

Note the care with which I define the rum: in spite of several online references to it, it is not, as sometimes described, a three year old rum, but a blended NAS (no age statement) workhorse of the bar industry that goes back a fair bit. It is a mix of various pot-column distillates some of which (according to Richard Seale, who was as forthcoming as ever) are in the three-years-or-so age range, but often with a jot of something older for oomph.

In a reorganisation of the Doorly’s line a few years ago, the idea was to replace this with a true 3YO and beef up the proof a bit; what ended up happening was that the 40% proved so durable and popular that the 3YO was released in two strengths, the standard and the now main edition, the 47% (no other rum of the line has this double release as far as I know)…and each of those is slightly different from the other one in terms of its blend profile. That, however, left the older Macaw as the rum that got overtaken by the times, as the light, inoffensive white rum style pioneered by the Bat became less popular, and more muscular and distinctive whites began to climb in favour. It’s a rum that if you like it you need not necessarily fear of running out any time soon, as it still remains reasonably available (as of this writing in 2023)…but a stock-up might not be a bad idea.

ColourWhite

Strength – 40%

NoseQuite soft and easy, like a cream soda or rock-shandy soda and a whiff of vanilla. A little strawberry bubble gum. Quite clean, though somewhat alcoholically sharp at the inception. Some mild glue and acetones and white fruits.

PalateAgain, that cream soda like taste, light fruits, cucumbers, melons, papaya and maybe a ripe pear or two. Freshly grated and still damp coconut shavings, vanilla, bananas, an interesting melange of soft and sharp. Could be stronger.

FinishFaint and short and easy. Mostly vanilla, sugar water and some mild fruitiness.

ThoughtsThe Macaw remains what it always was: a mixing white rum from yesteryear that actually shows some character, and a profile more than just stuck in neutral. It shows what could have been done by all those bland and anonymous rum producers who slavishly aped Bacardi in the previous century, had they possessed some courage. I’m not a complete fan of the rum, but when compared against so many bland blends that characterised the periodsoulless, tasteless, flavourless, characterlessit bloody well shines in comparison.

(#1019)(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Alex Sandu of the Rum Barrel blog met up with me in Berlin after this year’s rumfest, and we had a private tasting session where he very kindly brought this along.
Aug 102023
 

Bundabergor “Bundie”may the most globally famous rum from Australia, the rum that (according to the local wags) coke, ginger beer and weekends were invented for. Even if you’ve never seen a bottle or tried it, you’ve likely heard the name. Aussies seem to love hating on it with a sort of gruff affection, but God help the gronk or the pom who disses the thingthen you get comments like Gunnar’s, which, I have to be honest, made me laugh harder than the closing sentences of the latest Plantation diss. Though they have something of a hammerlock on low end rum sales in Australia (especially Queensland), they don’t do that well outside Oz (many know the brand, though fewer have tried it), since they have not, to my knowledge, ever bothered to sell bulk abroad, cultivate a serious export market, or delve into specialised bottlings of their own until very recentlyeven with the deep pockets of Diageo, which bought the brand in 2000.

Yet Canada gets some, from time to time, and I’ve tried a couple. It’s been more than a decade since Keenan and I suffered the agonies of our tonsils being tied into pretzels by the original Bundaberg, but that merely exemplified what a deficient knowledge of Australian rums we possessed back then, because, well, what the hell did we know? I did try the Black labelled “Reserve” some time later; and thought it was better…still, I felt no particular urgency to take it further, acquire more, taste more widely, not even when my desire to highlight Australia became more pronounced a few years ago. It took Gunnar’s cheerfully bellowing and sneering comment on that first review the other week to reignite my curiosity: enough for me to run out, and buy the only other available Bundie in my local market,

The rum I bought was the Overproof. As far as I know it’s been in commercial production and distribution for most of this century, and though the website doesn’t say so and details are surprisingly thin on the ground, it’s a pot-column still blend of a rather indeterminate age, likely less than five years old. It’s also rather good, with a solid 57.7% strength that provides a wallop that really allows the flavours to pop.

Walk with me here. I can’t speak for you but I still recall the buttery tequila and rotten cashew fruit taste of the Original and to a great extent this is what people remember with such distaste nowit’s “rough as a badger’s arse” according to one redditor just a year ago. Little of that is in evidence on the nose of the Overproof. What you do get is overripe green grapes, hard and too-sweet bon-bons gone stale in a dusty room, salt and a slight agave note: nothing near as overpowering as before, just enough to recall the low end Bundies of yore. Also ginger snaps, a little rubber, light molasses, lemongrass and squishy bananas in hot weather. Not normal, no….not bad either, however.

The taste is where it all hangs in the balance, and here it falters. “Oh wow, this actually hurts going down,” said The Little Big Caner who was helping me do tasting notes, and had little experience with the care needed in testing stronger fare. This is not a rum he likes, apparently. Yet there’s pepsi, hot buttered scones and pastries, olive oil, overripe soft brown bananas, damp brown sugar and molasses. A slight sweetness, vanilla, caramel, some florals. The strength requires some care, and once one is acclimatised it comes across as reasonably smooth, distinctive and not completely unpleasant drink. The finish is long and aromaticcola, ginger, some vanilla, anise and that faintly sickly sweet-salt-sourthicksense of a dosed tequila. That’s the DNA of this thing and allows it to be tied to all its forebearsif I didn’t know better (or knew more) I’d say this was the local terroire.

Sowhat to make of it? Well, I believe that the Bundaberg Overproof is a kind of exceptional low grade Rummus Maximus, the sort of in-your-face, colourful, fiery, vegemite-munching experience you really can only appreciate to the fullest after having been bludgeoned into catatonia by its low-rent everyschmuck predecessors. It’s difficult to convey the scope of the (minor) achievement the rum provides because most of us lack a good frame of reference: we have all tasted dozens of Barbadian, French-island, Fijian, Venezuelan, Cuban, Guyanese or Jamaican rums (to name just a few), but Bundies? … not so many.

Comparisons with other Bundies aside, however, I consider the Bundie Overproof “Extra Bold” to be a strong, vulgar, distinctive and uncouth rum…and still a fine and interesting rum to try at least once. And if it retains the vestigial taste profile that so many Aussies claim to detest, I at least can assure you it’s not excessive and you won’t soon forget its unique brand of crazy. It may not have been “suckled straight from a breast of the finest proportions,” as Gunnar rhapsodized, but I see no reason to doubt his claim that many a night of vile debauchery and shenanigan fun has been fuelled by this beverage. In fact, I think my bottle will accompany me to the very next party I attendjust to check.

(#1015)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Historical Background

Bundaberg Distillery was founded in 1888 by seven Queensland sugar mill owners of the time, at the dawn of the sugar industry there. Within a couple of years it was being sold around the country; and shortly after went belly-up in one of the many disasters to befall the place. Bought out of receivership by three of the original investors in 1894, it again went under for seven years in 1907 (a bad fire), and would you believe it, once again in 1936 (after yet another fire which ruptured the storage area so badly that the Burnett River nearby ran overproof for months).

Yet already by that time it had become a peculiarly Australian and hugely popular libation. In 1899 Bundie accompanied the Aussie soldiers to the Boer War. The distillery was rebuilt in 1914 in time for the Royal Australian Navy and the British Royal Navy to commandeer their entire output and yes, it was there wherever Australians were in WW2 as well.

With the economic downturn of the post-war years, Bundaberg struggled with drought, higher taxes and lessening sales. Yet they continued to produce rum, selling it for the most part as an overproof to local agents who bottled it themselves and it was only in 1974 that they began producing rum under their own branding, using the now-famous square bottle, three-piece label and the polar bear iconography (meant to imply that a Bundie could ward off the deepest cold) which had been introduced in 1961.

Diageo bought the brand in 2000 and moved the entire operation to Sidney in 2014, while spending millions in an expansion plan to meet an increasing global demand. The standard Original flagship was thereafter joined by several different BundiesRed, Black, Extra Smooth, Black, Reserve, and even a limited edition 18 year old. Say what you will about the pernicious effects of cold hearted cost-cutting accountants rationalising distilleries by closing them, Diageo has both grown Bundaberg’s sales and expanded the lineup of rums the company produces. To this day, however, the majority of sales remain regional, with Queensland still being the biggest single consumer. It remains to be seen if they can ever grow a worldwide audience.