Jan 242023
 

Taiwan is not known for rums, but then, it was not known for whisky either, and look what Kavalan has managed to accomplish. So, sooner or later, I had to come here, where an expatriate Frenchman named Oliver Caen and his Taiwanese wife Linya Chiou, have created one of the most interesting new distilling companies out there: interesting for their location, interesting for their labelling, interesting for their rums, and interesting because so few people have tried anyyet everyone knows of them, and everyone is curious to check them out. Word of mouth like that is priceless.

I’ll provide some company background below this review; for the moment, it’s enough that we know the 2017-established company has a 500L steel pot still and a more recently added 1200L copper Charentais still. Sources for the wash are both molasses and juice derived from their own small estate cane; fermentation varies and can take 15-21 days if from juice, and at least 10 days if from molasses; double distillation is practised and ageing is done in a variety of barrels sourced from France, Spain, Russia, Japan and the US. The sheer variety of the production methods they indulge in probably explains why the company has made it a hallmark of its labelling ethos to provide a level of information on the rum in each bottle that would make Luca Gargano weep with envy and frustration and for which us geeks can only be grateful.

Not many of Renaissance’s rums are as yet easily or commonly available and their production remains relatively small. The rum we are discussing today is a 2018 double-distilled 3 year old rum, and in relating the tech specs you realise that this is where that bible of a label, that ‘wall of text” comes into its own. The rum is molasses based, 15 days fermentation with some dunder, aged in a new 225L American oak cask and then finished in Fino sherry cask (Fino is a dry sherry), 306 bottle outturn and 62% ABV…and just from those details you can tell how much the label provides (I have left out quite a bit, to be honest because sometimes there is such a thing as overkill, though I’m glad to get all this too).

Anyway, the rum’s production background suggests a rich experience, and indeed, the profile is really quite interesting. The nose for example, opens right into licorice, blackcurrants, some medicinals, flortals, light delicate perfumes, vanilla and some crisp citrus notes. Underneath those aromas is something a bit softer and muskier: flambeed bananas, salt butter, the vegetable aromas of a hot and spicy miso soup leavened with ripe mangoes and lemon peel. It’s solid at 62%, though thankfully it stops short of serious aggro.

The palate was just similar enough to rums with which we are more familiar to make the occasional diversions interesting and singular, rather than off-putting. There’s som blancmange, salt caramel, bananas, licorice and almonds, all at once. This is followed, as the rum opens up some, with sharper and quite clear citrus and floral notes, some burnt bell peppers, chocolate oranges, unsweetened chocolate coffee grounds andpeculiarlyeven quinine comes to mind (and I should know). There is some faint sweet spiciness at the tail end which bleeds over into the long finishthis is mostly cloves, ginger, licoricebut at the end it’s fruity with raspberries and some syrup, honey and brine.

Well, labelling is one thing and presentation goes hand in had with it, so it talks well, but based on what I’ve described, does it walk? Opinions are mixed. All in all, there’s a fair bit of hop-skip-and-jump going on here and perhaps its inevitable that with a rum being this young and with all those processes in its DNA, it would be a little uneven. The Fat Rum Pirate, in one of the best reviews so far, suggested this very aspect, wondered what it was like without the Fino finish, and rated it three stars (out of five). Will and John of the Rumcast named this one of their rums of 2022 (in the “most surprising” category at 1:11:28) and Will remarked that “if a high ester Jamaican rum and a Fijian rum walked into a bar and had too much sherry, it would be this rum” but stayed clear of making either a full throated endorsement or a dismissal. The originality was clearly key for Will, as it was so unusual. Serge over at WhiskyFun commented on it being “big,” that he didn’t get the finish, couldn’t say it was brilliant…but surely worth checking out.

That’s really what I come down to as well. It’s unusual, in a good way. While some more ageing would likely make it better, it may be too early to ask for that: as with many small up and coming distilleries who need to make cash flow, young rums is what we’re getting (the Australians were also like this, as are some of the new American craft distilleries). The rum does channel a bit of Jamaican, and combines it with something softer and easiera Barbadian or Panama rum, say (Serge said Lost Spirits, which I thought was a stretch) – and what it reminds me of is, oddly enough, Montanya’s Exclusiva, which scored the same. The Renaissance gains points for somewhat different reasons, but it remains in the mind just as Montanya doesand all I can say is that I just wish it was cheaper.

(#968)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • For now it simply costs too much for serious appreciation, but I do recommend it.
  • This is an exclusive bottling for The Whisky Exchange
  • A brief backgrounder. The husband and wife team have been spirits importers to Taiwan since 2006; by 2013 they felt that the combination of rum’s rise on the international scene, the lack of a “serious” Taiwanese branded rum and their feeling that there could and should be one, made them investigate starting a distillery of their own (at the time Taiwan produced brands called Koxinga Gold and Wonderland, but these were not well regarded and almost unknown outside the island). Experimenting with molasses, juice or cane sugar on a 500L stainless steel pot still for the next three years (without a licence and while holding down day jobs), they decided that the rums they could make were viable, and went on to formally establish Renaissance in 2017 as a single estate distillery in southern Taiwan, using organic methods and mono-varietal cane.
  • Taiwan had a solid sugar cane industry (cane has been recorded there at least since the 14th century, and the the Dutch introduced industrial sugar production in the 1600s when the island was known as Dutch Formosa)
  • Although agriculture uses almost a quarter of the land in Taiwan (and a full half of the entire sector is plant-crop based), moves to an industrialised hi-tech manufacturing economy have gradually reduced its share to less than 2% of GDP (from 35% in 1952), and it is considered a support of the economy, not a primary driver; land use has been shrinking as well, even though the Government wants this to change in order to promote better food security. Sugar cane used to be an export crop but has been reduced of late, and is not a major focus in Taiwan any longer; therefore it is not surprising that a vibrant sugar or spirits industry based on cane has never really developed (Government monopolies, and restrictions on spirits production, were other reasons); wine on the other hand has become more popular, and the example of Kavalan whiskey is a model that no doubt influenced Mr. Caen as well.
Jan 192023
 

 

Developments over the last few years suggest that the American rum world may slowly be shaking off its lethargy and race to the cheap bottom, and embracing a more serious rum loving ethos. Rum clubs are starting up all over the place, American spirits enthusiasts are posting reviews on social media left right and centre, more and more distilleries are making rumand with the sterling efforts of the Old Guard like Richland, St. George’s, Prichard’s, Balcones, Maggie’s Farm and others, it is now possible for you to speak about American Rum (with caps) without somebody just pityingly shaking their head at you and wondering what you were smoking. There are decent cane juice agricole-style rums coming out of Hawaii and the South, interesting experiments in New England, cask strength monsters out of Texas, and even American independent bottlers are springing up from the field like sown dragon’s teeth.

To be clear, not all of themnot most of themmake much that compares well to the big names and heavy hitters of the global rum world which gather most of the plaudits and respect (so obviously I’m not talking about McDowell’s, Bacardi, Zacapa or others in multinational combines’ low-rent stables). We have yet to see a Hampden, Worthy Park, Saint James, Nine Leaves or Savanna in the lineup coming out of the USA…and yet, there are signs that some distilleries, a few, are getting there.

To my mind, one of these Little Outfits That Could is Montanya Distillers who we have met before when discussing their fascinating Platino. Few American distilleries of any size have the street cred engendered by this one small outfit in Colorado that has yet to hit its fifteenth year of operation…and that with just four rums in the standard lineup, none of which exceeds five years’ ageing. Part of it is their published environmental record, the commitment to sustainability and their gender diversity…and partly it’s some pretty good rums as well.

Today we’ll look at one of their older expressions, the 3 year old “Exclusiva”, which one year younger than the top of the line 4YO Valentia. Nothing significant has changed since the Platino review: the Lula Sugar Mill co-op provides the complete residue from the minimal juice processing they doraw unrefined molasses (12% of the fermentations) and raw unrefined granulated cane sugar (88%) which then gets fermented for around a week, before going through the 400L direct-fire Portuguese pot still (the newer US-made still that was installed in 2021 has not seen output to bottle yet). Following In this case the distillate was aged for 2½ years in ex-whiskey American oak barrels (Laws Bourbon for the curious), and six months in French oak that once held Cabernet Sauvignon and port, made by Sutcliffe Vineyards, also a Colorado operation. 1 And then it’s bottled at a standard 40%, which to my mind, is something of a disappointment.

But only for a while, because what this all leads to is a fascinating young rum, a distinctive piece of workone that exceeds its paltry age stats and strength by quite a margin. The recalibration of my original doubts started as soon as I nosed it and inhaled solid scents of dry dusty earth, leather sofa with lint, cereal and of course, old libraries of mouldering textbooks. It smells of the thick, briny, rich beef-filled lentil soup Grandpa Caner used to insist on having every Sunday….and then the rum’s nose really starts to warm up. When that happens, it’s confounding: the fruits come out of nowhere and take over: raspberries, strawberry soda pop, Dr. Pepper, ginger ale; there’s a tart sort of warm earthiness to the whole thing reminiscent of a voluble Berbice fishwife trying to sell you a couple of stale fish and set you up with her daughter at the same time, and as if that isn’t enough, there’s a distinct smell of dirty dishwater with soap (people, I am not making this up!), black pepper and a milky rice porridge. It’s by far the most peculiar nose I’ve worked on all year, among the most distinctive, and entertaining.

So thus far, with just the nose it’s pretty cool, and I had fun ribbing Jazz and Indy about it as my tasting notes grew longer. That said, the taste is more traditional and perhaps more conservative. So the cardboard, leather and mustiness all make an encore, as do the decaying old textbooks; if you can wrap your head around this, it’s watery, woody, dry and papery at the beginning, all at the same time. Some licorice makes a bleated entrance, a few darker fruits like prunes and plums and a few lighter ones like apricots and very ripe mangoes; there’s leather, cinnamon and freshly grated ginger, fanta, and I must say, I did not miss the dishwater one bit. It’s stolid and solid, with the playfulness of the fruits and lighter elements adding a nice counterpoint. Finish is short, to be expected at 40% ABV, but at least it’s on par, nicely aromatic with cereal, brown sugar, vanilla, some light citrus, licorice and nail polish, and didn’t drop the ball into complete insubstantiality as too often happens with young and light rums

Usually, when any small rum company uses terms like “Exclusive” and “Family Reserve” and “Lost Casks” and “My Mutt MacDonald’s Preferred Distillate” and other such nods towards exclusive releases not meant for the quotidian riff raff (like your faithful reviewer), I smile…but it must be admitted that while Karen Hoskin and her team have not exactly made an exclusive, they sure have a rum that’s distinct and original, dancing to its own tune. It’s a fun drink, and yes, a bit weird too. I like that. Too often American rums don’t want to offend, keep it quiet, dial it down, make their rums lessa rum like this one shows that you can be interesting without pissing off the bank or the clientele.

But, I also must say that this is not a rum anyone should start their journey with. It’s not as polarising as the batsh*t crazy tastes of the TECA (few rums are), but it is different, it’s trembling on the edge of not being a rum at all what with the way those tastes come at you from all over the map. At the same time, honesty compels me to confess that it’s among the most original rums I had that day, and maybe that entire month. Even at standard strength, it’s worth checking out for that aloneand if one day I do meet the inimitable Ms. Hoskin, perhaps I’d genuflect, knuckle my forehead and kiss her hand, and ask her if I can please have some more…but stronger, please.

(#967)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • While the majority of Montanya’s sales remain in America, its footprint in Europe is starting to become more significant, what with their distribution arrangement with Skylark covering the UK and EU. This is one reason they are relatively better known than bigger distilleries with a more resolutely North American focus.
  • Thanks go to Jazz and Indy of Skylark, who endured my unrepentant thieving of their rum stocks on one great afternoon in London. I’m not sure whether the 29 YO Uitvlugt rum and some Kyrgyz felt slippers I left behind made up for my sticky fingers, but I hope so. When we were wrapping up and they observed my liking (and oddball tasting notes) for the Exclusiva, the guys, after they finished laughing themselves silly, made me record a complimentary message to Karen to tell her so.
Dec 192022
 

The “Pagos” rum from Hampdenall 1200 bottles of the releaseis another one of that storied estate’s experiments involving Luca Gargano, whose company has distribution rights to their rums, and who is known for tweaking things in odd directions just to see what comes out at the other end (and if you doubt that, just visit the NRJ quartet or the EMB rums which are about as non-commercial as it’s possible to get). Unusually for Hampden, this isn’t a multi-bottle series, but a one-off release of a single type, though it is my understanding that there may (will?) be others in years to come.

Luca was hinting about the Pagos (the word means “cru” in Jerez) and talking it up at masterclasses in various ‘fests around Europe in 2022, and indeed it was available for the proles to try at both Paris’s WhiskyLive and London’s UK Rumfest before going on sale later that year. The key takeaway is that it was completely aged for around 3-4 years in one of some forty 500-litre butts sourced from a Bodega called Lustau in SW Spain close to Cadiz, which Velier distributes. The butts held Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso for a few years and can therefore be said to have been influenced with and by better sherry, for longer, than far too many such barrels used around the rum and whisky industry which have some cheap plonk dropped in to them for a short time and then sold around as “seasoned.” The quality of the sherry and the length of time in the barrel does make a difference…as this rum shows.1

So after all the visions and daydreams and desires to make a rum version of Macallan (which is not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, I posit, but never mind), what came out the other end was a long-fermentation pot-still Jamaican rum fully aged in these butts for the aforementioned 3-4 years, issued at a nice and firm 52% and sporting an ester count 2 that places it at the very top end of LROK territory, and edging close to HLCF…my own personal sweet spot for Hampden rums.

It’s an unusual bottling, a Hampden, a Velier, a limited edition from real sherry cask ageing, so that said, what was it like? Well, very nice, truth be told. The 52% gives it a sort of firm and easy elegance that isn’t out to wreak havoc on your sinuses, and the initial aromas are of a musky, winey, almost tawny old port. It’s chock full of baking spices like cinnamon, cloves, a touch of nutmeg; it channels a soft line of olive oil and saline, before blooming into all sorts of additional stuff that shows off the funk: pineapples, mangoes, oranges and apples that are too ripe, plus florals, acetones and even some crushed hazelnuts and pistachios. There’s a lot to unpack here for anyone who takes their time with it.

That’s the nose; the palate is somewhat less forward. It’s lightly floral, and provides tastes of a patchouli air freshener and laundry detergent, cinnamon and cloves again, creamed rice, funky and fruity, with an on and off bite that’s fun to experience. There’s somewhat more nuttiness here, but also more tart fruits: passion fruit, cherries, mangoes, strawberries and some yoghurt. I particularly liked the sense of dusty spices that hung around (reminds me of Grandma Caner’s pantry back when I was a kid), and while not overly sweet, the rum does have a sugary, liqueur-y background to it that works well with the caramel, vanilla and bananas you end up with. The finish is pretty fine toosolid, long, not obnoxiousit doesn’t flaunt a bunch of esters in your face and blare “here I am!” like a loud and bombastic opinion you didn’t ask for, just quietly dials everything down so that instead of getting one thing after another, it’s like one thing after another is subtracted, until all you’re left with is some flambeed bananas, oranges, nuts, unsweetened chocolate and wine, hanging around to tease you like the Cheshire Cat’s grin.

Well, now this was quite some rum. I really liked it: both for its complexity and the self-evident care with which it was put together (more ageing or a smaller cask would have upset the delicate balance of the taste elements), which rewarded a more patient excursion of its charms. It’s the sherry cask, I’m thinking, although which cask had more timethe Oloroso is drier and crisper, while the Pedro Ximenhez is quite a bit sweeter, so the impacts are differentis a mystery.

The Pagos, at end, is absolutely a sipping, drinking rum. It’s quite restrained for a Hampden rum, let alone a pot still Jamaicanthere’s an elegance combined with easy strength here that I don’t get to see all that often, a sort of refinement that speaks of a silk glove only barely covering a mailed fist. I’ve heard it’s sold out just about everywhere, and my feeling is that people bought the name more than the rumbut for all those who dropped the coin to get the rum just so they wouldn’t miss out, I think they’ll be stunned at what a lovely rum they ended up getting when they finally open it.

(#959)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


 

Nov 142022
 

There was a time not too long ago when anything you got from Hampden was some bulk rum export that got bottled by an indie in Europe. Berry Bros. & Rudd, Murray McDavid, Renegade, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Rum Nation…these companies and more were the ones who kept the name alive and vibrant in people’s memories. And to be fair, the rums they picked were usually quite goodthe Samaroli 1992 for example, was really kind of spectacular and even the Murray McDavid edition that was half as old, was no slouch.

All that changed after the launch of estate bottlings by Hampden in 2018, distributed globally by Velier. The reputation of the distillery bloomed overnight, and suddenly we moved from drought to delugeit seemed like everywhere we turned there was another company that touted its street cred by having a Hampden rum in ts portfolio. SMWS, SBS, Stolen Spirits, Rom Deluxe, LMDW, Duncan Taylor, Mezan, Valinch & Mallet, Rum Artesanal, Rum Club, Blackadder, Silver Seal, Wild Parrot, Hunter Laing, Kintra, and so on and so forth and such like. That’s was a lot of choices, but the cream of the cropat least with regards to customer appreciationcontinued to be the Velier releases with their near-trademarked labelling ethos and tropical ageing. And they lost no time expanding the Hampden rums into a veritable smorgasbord of offerings to cater to every taste.

At times it almost seemed like Velier-overkill. There were Habitation Velier Hampdens, the black-bottle yellow-label series, Endemic Birds, Great House, Warren Khong, Pagos, the various marks editions (now conveniently available as a sample pack) – it seems hard to believe that it all started with just a pair of 8YO rums a mere four years ago. And, predictably, for the 2022 season yet another Hampden rum was released as part of the “Magnum” quartet, though in this case it was just the one and not a whole set.

Strictly speaking, that rumon the face of it and going with the bare bones statisticspresents as nothing out of the ordinary. A pot still rum, distilled in 2016 and bottled in 2021 at 60% ABV, aged tropically for five years in ex-bourbon barrels, and bearing the marque HLCF (“Hampden Light Continental Flavoured”) which is therefore in the midrange of esterland: 500-600 g/hLpa, where for my money, the real quality lies buried and often overlooked in the rush to bag the biggest and baddest animal out there (the 1600 beast of the DOK, of course).

But whatever the ester count is, consider just how well the rum, even at that young age, comes across when you smell it. It reeks some kind of spectacular, I think: all the funky rotten fruits, orange rind, cherries, strawberries, pineapples and half chewed bubble gum we’ve grown to known and love, they’re all there. It exhales a bit of smoke, a bit of vanilla, a touch of cinnamon, some leather, honey and even sweet soya. Glue, acetones, furniture polish, fresh paint rise up to take their place and it all combines into a sort of deep complexity with a lot of different aromatic notes coexisting within a nice harmony. There’s a sort of rough richness to it that I sometimes forget Hampden rums display, and if perhaps the strength is overpowering, a touch of water can certainly bring things down a notch.

This is also true of the taste. Here, it’s more obvious that the rum has the roughness and toughness of a Trenchtown yardie the entire time: it has not been tamed and sanded down by a further decade in a barrel. What that does, however, is provide some really robust and precise notes that remain rather aggressive and sharp and which can be alleviated with some water. Glue, acetones, sweet pineapple, ginnips, tart yoghurt. The funk is well controlled, neither excessive not too faint, and there’s varnish, apple cider lurking around the corner to cosh you. It spurs roughshod over the palate, which is the youth of the thing speaking, of course, but I have to confess to a certain admiration for that. And it all leads to a nice long finish that has fruity notes, bubble gum, brine, olives, and some smoke, and brings the whole business to a hot close.

Now speaking for myself, I’m not entirely a fan of very young rums being sold at premium prices because too often it seems like a way to leverage a Name and a reputation based on past achievements, rather than intrinsic quality of a rum itself. Yet here I find myself with little to quibble about: the rum bears out a gradually developing personal premise that when it comes to the high ester rum category, the midrange is where the real action lies, not the edges of the bell curve where the extremists lie in wait to hack and slash.

I liked this rum, a lot, for all its lack of years. It’s tasty as hell. It keeps on going like the barrel had an energizer bunny stuffed inside the entire time. It’s aggressive, it’s big, it’s bad, it’s bold, and had I been the sommelier advising John Wick, I would have said to screw the Austrian and German selections and go with the Hampden. This the rum that would have justified that choice, and the body count would have been way lower had he done so, because, let’s face facts, you just can’t go far wrong when you stick with one of the badasses of the New Jamaican varietals.

(#950)(88/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • The Hampden rating doesn’t appear to polarise as much as my previous two reviews of the Foursquare and Mount Gay. Most agree that it’s a pretty fine rum. Secret Rum Bar rated it 88+ points, WhiskyFun gave it 87, while Rum-X has an average of 86 points off of 30 ratings (as of this writing).
  • As with others in the set, outturn is 1200 bottles and 600 magnums.
  • The photograph on the label is of Coney Island in New York, dated from 1954.
  • The rums in the Magnum Series Volume 1 are:
  • From the Mount Gay “Magnum EE” Review: The Magnum series of rums capitalises on the same literary concept as the seven founders of the famed photo agency wanted for their own organisation when they created and titled it in 1947, namely the multiple meanings and connotations of the word — greatness in Latin, toughness in the association with the gun, and celebration in its champagne mode (it’s just a happy coincidence that when discussing the matter they always drank magnums of champagne). Since Luca Gargano is a photo buff himself, I’m sure the references resonated with him. Four photographs made by Elliot Erwitt — an American photographer who was asked by Robert Capa to join the agency in 1954 — grace the four (black) bottles of the first release, but they have no direct relationships with the contents of the bottles in any way, and were likely chosen simply because they were appreciated as works of art.
Nov 032022
 

Tanduay, in spite of being a behemoth of rum making in Asia (it sold nearly 23 million cases in 2021) with more than a 150-year history, has a spotty recognition in the west, largely because until relatively recently it sold most of its wares in Asia, and wasn’t all that common, or available anywhere else. What knowledge or reviews of the brand as existed, came from people who had friends in the Philippines who could bring a bottle over, or sip there on a sunny beach and write about the experience. And other Philippine brands like Limtuaco or Don Papa didn’t exactly set the world on fire and make sharp nosed distributors run to book tickets to the Philippine islands: because there as in much of Asia, a lighter, softer, sweeter and more laid back rum-style is much more in vogue.

But once people realised that Don Papa (in particular) was selling quite nicely in spite of all the hissy fits about sweetening, and saw other brands’ adulterated fare were not really hurt by all the vitriol emanating from social media’s rum clubs, it was inevitable that Tanduay would make sure it expanded into more lucrative markets and try and upgrade its sales to the premium segment, where the real pesos are. This is why, even though they began selling in North America from around 2013 (with a gold and a silver rum, probably as an alternative to Bacardi’s Blanco and Gold rums and their copycats), there’s been an increasing visibility of the brand in the European rum festival and tasting scene only since 2019, with more aged products becoming part of the marketing mix.

The rum we’re looking at today is not really in the premium world, though the Rum Howler suggested in his 2019 review that it was positioned that way. It’s actually a blend of oak-aged rums of no more than five years old, and it’s semi-filtered to a pale yellow (this could equally mean it’s a blend of aged and unaged stocks like the Probitas/Veritas but I doubt it). Molasses base from a “heritage” sugar cane, column still, 40%. Nothing premium or spectacular on the face of it.

The completely standard nature of its production belies some interesting if ultimately unexciting aromas. It’s soft, which is to be expected, and a touch briny. Some vanilla and coconut shavings are easy to discern, and these are set off by pears and green apples, ripe gooseberries and a touch of citrus peel. It’s an easy smell, with the combination of soft sweetness, light sour notes and tartness coming together nicely.

Taste-wise it’s light, easy, warm-weather drinking, with the standard proofage making it hard to pick out anything particularly hard-hitting or complex. There’s vanilla, almonds, papaya and watermelon to start, and these are joined with the aforementioned grapes and apples and some tartness of sour, unripe green mangoes and citrus peel. In the background there’s some coconut, light molasses and sweet spices; but really, it’s all so faint that the effort is not commensurate with the reward, and the near-nonexistent light finishsweet and lightly fruitydoesn’t help matters. It’s light enough so it can be had neat. The character, however, is too bland and it would be overwhelmed by anything you put bit into (including the ice cube), so it’s probably best to just mix it with a cocktail where the rum profile is the background, not the point.

This is a rum that competes with the Plantation Three-Star, Bacardi and Lamb’s white rums, the Havana Club 3 YO, Beenleigh 3 YO and others of that ilk, which serve as basic cocktail mixing rums with occasional flashes of better-than-expected quality popping up to surprise us (like the Montanya Platino or the Veritas, for example). The Tanduay Silver does not, however, play in the sandbox of agricoles or unaged white rums we’ve looked at before, and to my mind, they bowed to their cultural preferences and aged it to be as soft and easy as it iswhen an unaged, higher-strength product might have shown more chops and character, and displayed more courage in a market that is aching to have more such rums.

(#947)(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • On both the Philippine and US company websites, there is no sign of the pale yellow “Silver” rum I’ve tried; it seems to be for European markets only, as the other two are resolutely colourless in their pictures, and named “white”. The specifications all seem to be the same: a lightly filtered, column-still blend of young rums under five years old.
Sep 262022
 

The Havana Club 3 Year Old Cuban rum (the one distributed by Pernod Ricard) is a delicately light cream shaded spirit, and one of those workhorses of the bartending circuit, much loved and often referenced by drinkers and mixologists from all points of the compass. That it’s primarily utilised in making mojitos or daiquiris and other such cocktails in no way dampens the enthusiasm of its adherents, with only occasional grumbles about access (by Americans) and how it may or may not compare against the Selvarey or the Veritas (Probitas) or any Jamaican of one’s acquaintance.

It’s been around almost forever, and if it was more versatile might even have made Key Rum status. However, as various comments here and here make clear, the consensus of opinion is that it’s best as a mixing rum (when not dismissed as being “only a mixing rum”). It bypasses the single barrel high proof ethos of today and remains very much was it always was, a blended rum that’s molasses based, column-still distilled, aged for three years in white oak, released at 40% ABV, and all done in Cuba. I gather it sells well and has remained a staple of cocktail books and bars both private and commercial.

When nosed it’s clear why the opinions are what they are. It smells quite creamy, but does have some claws. Aromas of vanilla, coconut shavings, almonds, and leather are there, and it’s the developing tart fruitred currants, tangerine rind, unripe applesand citrus that are its signature and which everyone comments on. I don’t find the citrus particularly heavy or overwhelming, just enough to make themselves felt. Overall, the nose is pretty much what I would expectlight, crisp and a bit weak.

The palate is somewhat more interesting, though it does start off as sharp and astringent as a Brit’s sense of humour. It feels a bit thin and the flavours need effort to tease out (that’s the 40% speaking). The citrus is more pronounced here, as are a few bitter notes of coffee grounds, tannins and toasted chestnuts. These are balanced off by vanilla, a lemon meringue pie and an oddly evocative wet hint of steaming air after a rain in the summer. At all times it is light and very crisp and could even have been an agricole were it not for the lack of the grassy herbals. And a comment should be spared for a delicate, short, dry and surprisingly smooth finish, even if it doesn’t bring much to the table beyond those notes already described above.

Clearing away the dishes, then, the HC 3 YO has its strengths and plays to those and stays firmly within its wheelhouse: ambition is not its thing and the rum doesn’t seek to change the world. Personally, having sipped it solo and then had it in a mix (I’m not a cocktail making swami by any stretch, so that duty is Mrs. Caner’s, because she really is), I think that while individually the elements of nose, palate and finish seem to be at odds and growl at each other here and there, in aggregate they cohere quite nicely. By that standard, it’s really quite a decent piece of work, one that deserves its “bartender classic” status….though to repeat, a neat pour is not really its forte, or my own preference in this instance.

(#938)(78/100)


Other notes

  • My thanks to Daniel G, a co-worker in my part of the world (which I can’t specifically identify for obvious reasons), who spotted me a generous sample from a bottle he had.
Sep 082022
 

The Bacardi Añejo “Cuatro” hews to all the markers of the long-running Gold and Añejo variations upon which its distillery’s fame rests. It represents Bacardi in fine style, and those who pay the twenty five dollars or less it costs will find their comfort zone is well tended. Because, while it is a blend of mostly four year old rums (with some five and six year old rums mixed in), column still origin and filtered after ageing, the fact is that it represents the standards set by rums of yesteryear while positioning itself as an entry level almost-premium of today. Yeah…but no. There is not enough that’s original here.

Which is not to say it’s not pleasing by itself, within its limits, just that it has to be approached with some care, as it’s light to begin with, so the entire profile bends towards the subtle, not the club in the face. The nose, for example, is warm and gentle as befits a 40% light Cuban-style rum. It faithfully hits all the notes that made Bacardi famouslight caramel, cloves and brown sugar, some sharper tannins, tbacco and leather, interspersed with softer hints of banana, vanilla, green grapes, and perhaps some lemon and camomile tea thrown in. Easy sniffing, gentle nosing, very pleasant, no aggro, no worries.

The same profile attends to the palate, which begins with some spiciness, but of course settles down fast. It’s a bit rough around the edgesthe dry and sharper woody tannic notes don’t mesh well with the leather, aromatic tobacco and unsweetened caramelbut overall the additional vanilla, citrus and banana tastes help it come together. Some notes of black tea and condensed milk, a slight creaminess and then it’s on to a short, breathy finish that drifts languorously by, exhaling some sweet coffee and chocolate, a touch of molasses and freshly sawn lumber, and then it’s over.

To some extent the tasting notes as described say something about the pit of indifference into which the rum has fallen since its introduction. The issue is not that it’s good (or not), just that it’s not entirely clear what the points of it is. The gold or añejo of years past filled its duty admirably without going for an age statement, so why release the Cuatro at all? Because it could eke out a few extra dollars?

Summing up: the rum is okay, but in trying to be all things to all drinkers, falls into the trap of being neither great mixer not recommended sipper, being unsuited to fully satisfy either. For example, the filtration it undergoes removes the bite of youth and something of the biff-pow that a good mixing rum makes, and if that’s what it is, why not spend even less and go for the blanco or other even cheaper options? And at the other end, the age is too young to enthuse the connoisseur looking for a sipping rumfor such people, rightly or wrongly, sipping territory starts with rums older than five years, even ten…not four.

Had Bacardi boosted the rum a few more proof points, aged it a bit more, then they might actually have had something new, even innovativebut rather than show a little courage and diversify into the bottom rung of premiums, Bacardi have copped out and played it safe. Since the Cuatro is not completely anonymous and does display some character, I suppose taken on its own terms it sort of kind of worksso long as you know and accept what those terms are. I don’t, and couldn’t be bothered to find out, so it doesn’t work for me.

(#935)(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Opinion

These days, Bacardi rums just can’t cop a break. Ignored by most serious rum folk, relegated to consideration as a supermarket shelf filler without distinction, they are deemed bottom feeders that have corrupted the innocent palates of whole generations of broke and brainless college students and made them switch to whisky. Bacard’s very ubiquity and massive sales disguise their “good ‘nuff” quality, and have been behind its inability to be taken seriously in the modern age. From once being seen as the pinnacle of rumdom in the 1950s and ‘60s, the spiritous peak to which all wannabe rum distilleries aspired, the rums of the company have fallen to “commodity” status, while a decade’s worth of young and nimble indies and micro upstarts have taken aim at it and started to chip away at the edifice. And you’d better believe that just about nobody even bothers to rate (let alone review) their rums without an occasional scoff and guffaw. That’s what selling more cheap rums than just about anyone else on the planet gets you.

Which is not to say that Bacardi is in any danger of losing the coveted space on or near the top of the sales heap. The shyly accepted subsidies (“oh no, we really can’t, really….oh well, but if you insist…”) that are funnelled to them in the land of purportedly meritocratic capitalism via enormous tax breaks and the despised Cover-Over Tax, ensure that when a Bacardi rum goes up against any other of equivalent stats, the Bat will be orders of magnitude cheaper, even if it is of no more than equal or lesser value.

Bacardi rums have just about always been light column still blends (with some pot still juice of unknown amount in the mix). The company has never really gone the full-proof limited-release route (the 151 doesn’t really count and is in any case discontinued), and while they dabbled their toes into the water of the indie bottling scene, it made no sense for them to do it if they couldn’t do it at scalewhich they won’t, for the same reasons DDL more or less gave up on the Rares…the margins were too slim for volumes that were too small. Even the hyped special editions like the Paraiso didn’t break any seriously new groundsure they were good blends, but to my mind there was nothing that wasn’t available elsewhere for less, and that 40% and the NAS? Today’s customers will not blow the money those cost on a product like thatthey’re going after the boutique market, an area that I maintain Bacardi has never managed to successfully break into.

Except, in a way, they did try, with the trio of aged expressions of which the Cuatro is the youngest. To my mind, even with my rather dismissive tasting notes, these three rumsthe Cuatro, the Ocho and the Diezare among the better budget-minded rums the company makes. They lack the anonymity of the superior, the blanco, the gold or the dark (or variants thereof). They’re priced reasonably to move, and they have that veneer of true ageing about them. Given the lack of any ultra-aged high-proofed rums out there made by their company, these might be the best we can expect from Bacardi for a while.


 

Aug 282022
 

[In the US] there are a small number of rum distilleries, and a large number of distilleries making rum, observed Will Hoekinga in our 2021 Rumcast interview, indirectly pointing to the paucity of quality American rum making. A corresponding remark I have made myself is that if the random picking of American rums to review results in just a minute percentage being really worth seeking out then the characteristics of the part can be extrapolated to the wholeand both together suggest that of the 600+ distilleries in the United states, only a handful are currently worthy of attention.

This is not a random pronouncement made without facts in evidence either, because after trying half a hundred rums with US branding, it’s clear that the best rums sold there are either imports from elsewhere by local indies (Holmes Cay, Stolen Overproof, Hamilton, Two James, K&L) or smaller distillers like Richland, Pritchard’s, Balcones, Privateer, Maggie’s Farm, or Montanya. For sure none of the big guns like Bacardi, Captain Morgan and Cruzan really go for the brass ring, being much happier to avail themselves of millions of subsidised dollars to make low cost rum of no serious distinction. And other rum makers like Kirk and Sweeney, One-Eyed Spirits, or Florida Caribbean Distillers contract out their blends and rums to other distilleries and can hardly be said to have a single world-shattering product in their lineup.

One of the best-regarded distilleries carrying the rum flag without mixing it up with other spirits (and getting loads of press for this and other more social aspects of the job) must surely be the small Colorado-based outfit of Montanya, which was established in 2008 and whose founder, Karen Hoskin, may be one of the most interviewed rum makers in the world after Richard Seale, Joy Spence and Maggie Campbell. Without even checking too hard I found articles here, here, here, here and here, dating back a decade or more, all of them displaying the same down to earth common sense, practicality and dedication to her craft that one sees too rarely in a land where too often the coin of the realm is visibility, not expertise (or, heaven forbid, a good rum).

Ms. Hoskin, who has loved rum for decades (the first rum she became enamoured with was in India in 1999 – I think she was visiting Goa), decided to begin her own distillery business at a time when her day job of graphic and web design was no longer of much interest. She and her husband set up the distillery in Crested Butte in 2008 with a 400-litre direct-fire Portuguese-made copper pot still1, and immediately began producing two rumsa Platino Light white and a lightly aged Oro dark; these two staples have been joined in the intervening year by the a limited edition Exclusiva, a 4YO Valentia, and a special 10th Anniversary edition. By 2018 their rums were available in just about every US state and they had started on a program of international distribution, especially in the UK and Europe.

The Platino which we are looking at today, is a lightly-aged, filtered, pot still white rum, released at an inoffensive 40%, without any additives or messing around, and it is based on a wash made from raw unprocessed sugar from Louisiana (i.e., unrefined…but not the “sugar cane” that some external sources speak of). Initially the rum also had a touch of caramelised cane juice honey added to it (which was always disclosed), but as of 2021 the practise has been discontinued.

For a company so otherwise forward-looking, I find this oddly conservative. For example, although there is an emergent strain elsewhere in the world, of making (if not showing off) white rums that are pure and unaged, it has yet to become a thing in America, where most white rums follow the Bacardi model of “filtration to white” after a short period of ageing. The rationale is that this gives the best of both worlds: some taste from the wash source, and some from the barrel, with none so stark as to overpower the cocktail for which it is made. This glosses over the fact that with industrial stills producing very high ABV distillate, the former is very unlikely, on top of which filtration also removes some of the very flavour elements distillers claim to be after. In Montanya’s case with the Platino, they have gotten around this by using pot stills so that more flavour is preserved at the other end, and a pine-based lenticular filter which removes most (but not all) of the colour, and yet not quite so much of the taste.

What taste does remain and gets carried forward on the nose, is, in a single word, intriguing. Though the rum is made from unrefined sugar, little of any kind of agricole style sap-profile comes throughinstead, what we get is a papery cardboard aroma of old and tattered textbooks…at least, at the inception. This is followed by quite a bit of funky sharp pineapples and sour fruithalf ripe mangoes, strawberries going off, some overripe oranges, that kind of thing. It gradually turns into a more solid smell that channels some cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom in a pretty good combination.

The palate just wants to keep the offbeat party going, and starts with an odd sort of minerally notelike a licking a penny, or tonic water searching for a limemixed up with the ashy charcoal of dying embers on a cold night (I know, right?). Once more the fruits ride to the rescue: mangoes, soursop, pineapples (again), plus pears, watermelon and papaya. There’s a touch of vanilla, figs and melons, and the whole is sparkly and light, with a more pronounced (but not overbearing) agricole-ness to the experience than the nose had suggested there would be. It all leads to a short finish, light and fruity with just a hint of brine and sweet buns hot out of the oven

My overall feeling, having had it on the go for the best part of an hour, remains one of real interestI’d like to try more of these; since all of Montanya’s production is small batch, the variation of the Platino over time would be fascinating to experience. This is not some cheap, easygoing, hot-weather cruise-ship staple, indifferently made and lazily redolent of the Caribbean’s standard profile of caramel, fleshy fruit and vanilla. We’ve had that a thousand times before and they’re too often all but interchangeable.

No, what we’re seeing here is traces of real originality. The Platino marries a sort of bizarre agricole-wannabe vibe with minerally notes, cereals and cardboardthen mixes them all up with sharp and funky fruits, as if it was playing its own obscure tasting game of rock-paper-scissors. In my reviews, a high score does not normally attend a light, white, living-room-strength, filtered rumone where a higher proof could emphasise its points more forcefullybut I confess to being somewhat seduced with this one. It’s really worth checking out, and if there ever comes an unaged version, now that would be something I’d buy sight unseen..

(#933)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The website is admirably stuffed with production details, of which I have only taken a few bits and pieces. Some additional details provided by a very helpful Ms. Hoskin on short notice:
    • Montanya does not use fresh cane juice, as it is too difficult to transport from Lula in Louisiana. It is milled on site in Belle Rose and the fresh juice is processed there. Montanya receives 100% of what was in the cane plant in two separate forms which are subsequently recombined: raw unrefined molasses (12%) and raw unrefined granulated cane sugar (88%). The major difference is that these cane products never go to the refinery, so no processing with flocculants or other chemicals. It’s as raw, unadulterated and flavorful as you can get (and is akin to the panela of Mexico, or the unrefined sugar in kokuto shochu in Japan). It would be illegal to sell it in that form in a grocery store in the US.
    • Fermentation is open, water cooled, and lasts 6-7 days. The fermented wash goes into the still at about 17% ABV
    • Distillate comes off the still at about 74% ABV. Ms. Hoskin remarked in her email to me, “People say that can’t be done with alembics, but I am here to say it absolutely can.
    • Barrelling is at still strength, no reduction. “[This]…is somewhat unusual. Many of my colleagues water their distillate down before it goes into the barrel at about 54 to 58% alcohol. I started doing it my way because I just didn’t have a big enough rack house, but now that I do, I can’t see any reason to change.
  • My appreciation to the Skylark gents of Indy and Jazz Singhthe distributors of Montanya in the UK and the EUat whose residence I tried this rum (and quite a few others) in a small but epic Rum Show afterparty. I paid for my plunder with some rum loot of my own, and a special gift for them both from Mrs. Caner.
Aug 112022
 

Without question, Black Gate Distillery’s “overproof” rum 1is one of the best of the crop of the New Australians that I’ve tried in the last years, and the standout of the 2021 advent calendar. It is a 52% pot-still molasses-based bag of bragaddocio, it sports an attitude, it’s big, it’s bold, and completely the sort of thing John Wick would have in order to finish off the evening in a style we can best describe as, oh, ”assertive”.

This is all the more remarkable since we’re talking about not only a relatively new distillery (founded in 2009) with relatively few products, but a rather young rumit’s three years old. Yet it deserves the accolade, because its aromas it displays and the quality of the first few minutes with it not only set the tone for all that comes after, but suggest there’s even better to come in the years ahead.

Consider how it opens: it’s, in a word, lovely. It blows right out of the glass, and reeks of rich red wines, plums, blackberries and cherries on this side of too ripe. It reminds me of the Tin Shed S.S. Ferret rum I looked at before but without the dusty, cereal, mouldy notes of an abandoned house. Here the house is in fresh paint and good nick, and you smell that glossy paint, varnish, furniture polish, acetones; and if that isn’t enough, the depth of the aromas provides morestrawberries, sorrel, the pungent smell of mauby. I got a well-remembered sense of my mom’s kitchen in Guyana just nosing the thing.

The palate doesn’t drop the ball in the slightest. The 52% strength allows the rum’s profile to be really robust, precise: it’s dry, with dark fruit bonded to crisp herbals, and solid initial notes of brine, olives and spicy miso soup. It’s around the edges that other fruits come out to playsweet Thai mangoes, apricots, cherries, raspberries, attended to by honey, salt, cloves and even a flirt of lemon zest and cumin. The finish is long and doesn’t introduce anything new, and functions more as a summing up of most of what came beforesome dark fruits, a touch of vanilla, red wine, caramel, sorrel, lemon zest and cranberrieswhich I assure you is more than enough to elevate this rum beyond the mere ordinary.

About the only thing you have to watch out for is which one you’re getting, because there are several bottlings under this name, and each set comes from a single aged cask (or two) with its own identifierthe rum I speak of here is from casks #BG081 and 82, distilled in September 2017, bottled in November 2020, and if my reading around is right, just about everyone who has had one of these overproofs really really likes it.

They’re right to do so. It is, I feel, a really fantastic young rum, and one can only wonder where it would be in another five years (or ten) if they had kept any behind to age some more. I know many reading this will prefer their old tried and true Caribbean varietals, but I can wholeheartedly endorse this new Australian expression. It’s as near to an exquisite badass as you can possibly get without being ten proof higher and ten years older. Too many rums we try these days are similar variations on old themes which have lost some lustre and originality, so it can be wonderful to find a rum like this, which finds a different way to tell the same story in a new and exciting way.

(#929)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Founded in 2009, Black Gate Distillery is located in Central West New South Wales, in the small rural town of Mendooran. Like most of the micro-distilleries of the New Australians, it’s a husband and wife operation wherein this caseGenise Holingsworth does the good stuff and makes the rum, 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, which stands to reason when one considers that the rum output of the small operation is only about 2o00 litres annually.
  • So far, Black Gate makes various Dark Rums, overproofs mostly with different finishes or cask maturations, and one called Tawny. Aside from whiskies, no cash flow stalwarts such as gins or “cane spirit” seem to be made.
  • Rums are aged in Port or Sherry casks (or both) for a minimum of two years. This rum was aged for three years in two Australian port (‘tawny’) casks: one of 225L and the other of 100L. A more recent 54.6% edition of the overproof was aged for five years.
  • Labels are all the same for all these dark overproof rums no matter when made: the specifications are, in a clever bit of economising, white printed stick-ons.
Aug 042022
 

It’s been a few years since I last looked at Beenleigh’s Inner Circle rum from Australia, and while that iteration from around 2004 was the same strength as this one — 57.2% — there are several differences between it and the current version. For one, it is no longer named “Overproof” but “Navy Strength” (incorrectly, in my view, but maybe that’s just semantics), and uses molasses from three separate sugarcane regions along the east coast of Australia 1 to produce its own distillate from Beenleigh’s column and pot stills, while back in the day it was (supposedly) pot still distillate from Fiji. Too, the older rum was aged just about two years, and the new one sports fiveboth slept in ex bourbon casksand is now topped off with a smidgen of Beenleigh’s “best ten year old”. The green dot on the label, a heritage design item reflecting the strength of the rum, remains, which is nice.

All of this is fairly basic, and for those who want something deeper, I include more historical background after the review, including what the coloured dots are all about. For the moment, it should simply be noted that I had not been particularly impressed with the earlier Inner Circle Rum, commenting rather acidly that it was “as vague as a politician’s statements,” and was surprisingly mild for something at such a strength, with faint tastes that left me rather indifferent.

No such issues afflict this one, which asserts a formidable nose that reeks nicely of dust, sawdust, some acetones and a smorgasbord of fruits from all over the map. The aromas range from a mild raspberry yoghurt, squishy yellow mangoes, dark and ripe cherries, to a dusty and somewhat woody background dusted over with pine needles, some tannins, toffee and vanilla. Plus there’s ice cream, pears, coca cola and even some freshly-ground coffee beans, all of which is reasonably distinct, front-facing and not at all meek and mild.

The taste is thick, fruity and nicely aromatic, and just a bit spicyfor a five year old it is therefore entering sipping territory if one judges solely on mouthfeel and stays there if it’s taste that’s your criterion. First off there’s the thick herbal-sweet aroma of damp tobacco leaves, fresh coffee and very strong black tea into which an inordinate amount of condensed milk has been dunked (this used to be one of my favourite “food-drinks” as a student, and I remember it well). The fruits are also well represented, musky and sweet fleshy onespears, sapodilla, kiwi fruit, overripe bananas, and apricots. With some effort one can make out blueberries, vanilla and some chocolate, not much more, and a citrus tang is oddly absent throughout. The finish is quite pleasant and gives a soft send off, redolent of some brine, dark fruits, raisins, vanilla, cinnamon and a mild touch of wet sawdust.

Overall, it’s a pretty good five year old. While not a complete success as a sipping rum, it remains more than good enough for Government work: its minor drawbacks are the relative simplicity, some tastes that don’t entirely gel, and the occasionally rough heat which has not entirely been sanded down by the oak (it succeeds better with a touch of water to tone it down). Beenleigh has its own flagship rums and this is an old brand name with some heritage and history that came through a convoluted road to their distillery, so it may succeed better in Australia, where memories and tradition ensure a certain familiarity with the product, than in other countries which don’t know anything about it.

Other than that, there’s no real reason for avoiding the rum if a slightly different taste profile is what you’re looking for to wake up your latest cocktail, you don’t want to spend a huge amount of money to get something interesting, and are curious about an aged rum from Down Under. This one fits the bill nicely on all of those.

(#927)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Inner Circle’s website notes it is a pot still rum (“small batch pot distillation”) but other sites and Steve McGarry (lately of Beenleigh), contend it’s a pot-column blend that copied the original process that was historically also a mix of column and pot still distillates.
  • Limited outturn of 2700 bottles.
  • As always, my appreciation to Mrs. and Mrs. Rum for the 2021 advent calendar, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there will be another in 2022.

Historical Background

Inner Circle was originally made by a now-defunct company called the Colonial Sugar Refinery, which had a long history pretty much unknown outside its country of origin. Formed in 1855, CSR established refineries in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji by the 1890s, and in 1901 they opened a distillery in Sidney, using pot stills to make rums from Fijian and Australian cane. The Inner Circle brand name, which first appeared in 1950, came from the limited high-quality rums they made for distribution to the favoured elite of the company and its clients, and around 1970 it got a broad commercial release in Australia: at that time it was bottled in three strengths, which in turn were identified by coloured dotsUnderproof (38-40%, the red dot), Overproof (57% or so, green dot) and 33% Overproof (73-75%, black dot).

The distillery was sold off in 1986 to Bundaberg and the brand disappeared, though CSR remains as a company involved in manufacturing of building products, no longer rums. The Inner Circle brand was resurrected in 2000 by Stuart Gilbert (the Australian Olympic yachtsman) in concert with Malcolm Campbell, one of the distillers of the company who had the original recipe, and I believe they did so with the financial backing of the Australian VOK group, which also took over the Beenleigh Rum Distillery in 2003. The rums was un-retired and is now a Beenleigh product, thought it seems to be kept as a separate brand and line of rums from their regular releases, judging from their individual and separate websites.


 

Jul 282022
 

More and more, being environmentally conscious and paying attention to a sustainable agricultural business model is a determinant for any forward looking distillery that can trade on this aspect of its operations to make sales, gain visibility and win awards. What was once a minor aspect of production methodology has grown to the point where it is something almost every new micro distilleryand many major onesseeks to institute. More than just ethically correct, it’s good business.

Lord Byron Distillery (named after the 19th century poet who is arguably the world’s first modern celebrity) is one which ticks all these boxes. It is located twenty minutes up the road from Winding Road Distillery (and is closer to the beach), about 180km south of Brisbane in New South Wales. It was founded in 2016 by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall, who are both engineers, and from the beginning went with a zero-waste and fully-sustainable philosophy. Water comes from collected rain and natural springs; bonsucro-certified molasses once merely used as cattle feed is sourced from a farmer co-operative nearby, power comes from a renewable electricity generator, and distillery waste products are turned into liquid fertilisers and feed additives.

The distillery has two copper pot stills and a steel single-column still; the pot stills were both brought from Europe and are named Ada and Allegra (after Lord Byron’s daughters, I’m assuming) — they produce the usual assortment of gins, vodka, limoncello that make for cash flowand various cane juice distillates (sometimes double distilled) which are either sold as white “rhum”, spiced, and aged rum, always in small batches.

The rum we’re looking at today derives from the 2018 harvest and was bottled in 2021, so it is about 2-3 years old, and can therefore be called “rum” under Australia’s regulations. The exact barrel number is not noted on the sample, but bar batch variation between casks, I think we can assume that what is tasted of one rum from that year, is likely to be similar to all others from that year assuming all bottling was done at the same time. For the curious, it was aged in a 260-litre ex-red wine barrel, and another six months in an ex-port barrel, so it qualifies as double-aged instead of finished, I guessoh, and it came out at a solid 55.5% so the impression I get is that it’s made for real rum fans, not casual imbibers.

The rum and its distillery do well from a marketing and ethical standpoint; and it’s a fine rum to taste as well, even for one so young. The initial aromas arising are of cereals, cheerios, and dusty furniture in an old house, as well as (paradoxically) the plastic wrapping surrounding a new pair of leather shoes. There are few sharp notes of sweet and acidic fruits to be found here, so none of the sweetest offerings fo the orchard are on sale: however, one can detect caramel, figs, dates, sapodilla and a touch of brine and papaya. As it opens up, some dark raisins and lemon pie vaguely waft by, a touch of vanilla and aromatic pipe tobacco, but that’s about it. It’s quite enough to enjoy, I assure you.

Tastewise, no slouch either: it’s deeper and more luscious than the nose implied, with a dry kind of bite. It’s very warm but not a scorcher, presenting a solid first taste of brown sugar, salt caramel ice cream, and peanut butter. This dominates the profile for a while before giving way to some fruitiness of bananas, pineapples in syrup, cherries, and anise. A little oak, a little vanilla emerge, and the port-infused cigarillos are once again in evidence, which I suppose is the wine barrels making themselves felt. The finish is soft yet pungent, quite long, and without serious sharpness or aggro; the closing notes are a firm amalgam of bitter chocolate, caramel, vanilla, raisins and cinnamon, getting quite dry at the back end.

After all is said and done, the real question is whether all the organic, locally sourced, natural ingredients have a discernible impact on what gets poured into the glass. Our grocery shelves are filled with packaged food and drink that contain all sorts of additives, preservatives, binders, chemicals and what have you, that proponents of the organic movement say hides natural flavours. Can we detect such things in rums, and deliberately seek out the pure, the natural?

To some extent, I think so, and here’s a product that makes the case for such products quite well. Lord Byron’s rum is a two year old, double distilled, double matured, with nothing added, made organically, simply, and, like my homemade pepper sauce, with as few ingredients as possible. What we get at the other end when we taste it, is a limited smorgasbord of a profile, that does the neat trick of pretending to be less than it is, then providing more. It is, in short, a quiet little corker.

(#925)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

Jul 072022
 

When it comes to Australia, the wider world knows of Bundy and Beenleigh almost by default, because they are the big guns that export globally and allow us to try their stuff as found in a duty-free or released by the independent bottlers. But perhaps a better sense of the country could be provided if we run through the rums of those multitudinous small micro-distilleries that dot the landscape, because seriously, that’s where all the cool stuff and innovation seems to be happening as these New Australians seek for the elusive magic of a truly indigenous rum that could not be mistaken for anything else. Not all seriously try for that brass ring, and of those that do, not all succeedwhat they all accomplish, however, is to enrich the rum landscape of the entire country, even if they simply make a “regular” rum.

One of the rums that doesn’t make a big thing about channelling some new style or method of production but is content to simply be good, is the rum called Amber “Tavern Style” Batch No. 5, made by the bluntly-named Yack Creek Distillery (love that name: just saying that“I had a Yack the other day”reeks of badass rumgeek machismo, doesn’t it?).

Photo (c) Yack Creek Distillery

The distillery is located in the Australian state of Victoria, and was founded in 2016 by two friends, Mick and Jamie, conforming to the pattern of many others: the guys were checking out whale sharks in Ningaloo (Western Australia) six years earlier, the conversation turned to spirits and opening a business, and in short order they had made plans. Then years were spent securing the financing, buying and installing the necessary equipment, doing some training in the field, and the business was set to go. It was calledYackafter the river and town near which they set up shop, and quite sensibly shortened its name, because calling it Yackandandah might have been a labelling problem and a tongue twister for lexically challenged. Unsurprisingly they have made gin (six varieties) and vodka (just one) to pay the immediate bills, before heading into whisky territory (where they are already up to the 16th edition) and the fifth iteration of their rum line. The philosophy is to do multiple small batches a year rather than just a few large bones, so runs and outturns have thus far remained relatively modest.

Depending on how they feel, either blackstrap molasses, molasses or sugar cane honeyall locally sourcedis used, fermented with a commercial yeast and then run through a 1000-litre copper still with stainless steel columns (a 130-litre stainless steel and copper modular high column still is utilised for smaller batches and experimentation). For the Amber “Tavern Style” rum we’re discussing today, the distillate is put into an ex-bourbon cask for about four years, and then finished in a Meyrieux Bourgogne cask for a short period before being bottled at 48%.

What that does is produce a golden rum with an uncommonly pleasant nose that is assertive enough not to fade away into thin nothingness. It is, paradoxically both light and rich, redolent of blackberries in cream, cherries, raspberries and a bag of overripe plums. At no point is it sharp or harsh, just firm and warm, It changes a fair bit over time too: after a while one can sense oranges starting to go, some kimchi (!!), paint and freshly oiled leather harnesses, and a comfortably upholstered clean leather sofa. You don’t get that every day in a rum, that’s for sure.

On the palate it continues to be a solid tasting rum with overripe fleshy fruit as before, and tastes a bit of dry sweet cereals, molasses, caramel, a touch of vanilla, brine, and that new-polished leather vibe. It’s not as vibrant as before, though, and the components one would expect to surge to the forefrontaromatic herbs, anise, spices and tart fruitstake a back seat. This leaves salty and musky flavours to take over, at the expense of a more complex multidimensional profile which the nose had hinted was possible. The finish operated at this level also: dry, wine-y, with notes of fat red grapes, licorice, olives, Danish butter cookies and some stale orange rind. It had a certain whiskey-like nature to it, suggesting a malt in rum’s clothing.

Like most new and small distilleries such as we have been reviewing of late, rums like this are youngish, decently made and solidly constructed, but not complex, uber-aged top-enders. They can’t be, because they are the distilleriesbread and butter, sharing the stage with equally young whiskies and gins through economic necessity (for now). That limits them somewhat, and it’s a quiet achievement that this one succeeds as well as it does.

The Amber No. 5 is an unquestioned achievement of the mid range: it noses solid, tastes firm and finishes with some style, even if it does leave you wishing for more: at the end its informal title of “Tavern Style” pretty much says what the makers probably had in mind when they created it. And yet, in spite of all that mid-brow aesthetic (or because of it) I really quite enjoyed it, especially in a simple Cuba Libre or with ginger beer, because the rum had enough notes to hold my interest and woke up the mix very nicely; it can even be had neat without undue discomfort. What it also does is remind mea lotof a Bacardi 8, a Young’s Old Sam, a young El Dorado or a Doorly’s: a seemingly regular, even overlooked, rum that is quite a bit better when you try it than the bare stats say it is.

(#921)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • I was told the outturn was about a hundred bottles. All are sold in the local area, most at the distillery itself in the small bar they have onsite. Obviously one made it to the 2021 advent calendar from which this sample was obtained, and for which I remain grateful to Mr. & Mrs. Rum for providing.
  • The logo on the company masthead is that of a Blue Murray Spiny Crayfish, commonly found in the creek and was designed by Jamie Heritage and his sister.
  • Yack Creek Distillery is one of a cluster of small family-run distilleries established over the last decade in and around Yackandandah and its surrounds. Backwoods Distilling is close by, and in the area are Barking Owl, Bilson’s, Glenbosch, joining the 10 or so distilleries in Victoria’s High Country.
Jun 302022
 

Photo (c) Riverbourne Distillery

Australia’s sugar cane industry is concentrated in the east of the country, so it comes as no surprise that many of the small distilleries that make rum (one cannot firmly state they are always rum distilleries) are located in the states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, usually near some kind of built up infrastructure, though sometimes on the outskirts of some small town or other. The small one-man distillery of Riverbourne is a bit more rural and remote (a relative term) in that there really isn’t much between it and Canberra, the capital, which is an hour’s drive away.

Riverbourne is another one of those craft distilleries that have sprung up in the last decade, and its founder and proprietorMartin “The Kid” Pyeis the closest thing to a scientist I’ve seen in researching these little outfits. The man is a third generation pharmacist and has studied microbiology, biochemistry, chemistry and mathematics in his career, suggesting he possesses a medieval alchemist’s mindset, and likes seeing how things work, how they’re made, and what makes them tick. He founded his small operation in 2015 and took the time to learn from Redland’s Distillery in Tasmania (one of the few completely “paddock-to-bottle” distilleries in the southern hemisphere, it is said), sourced a 900-liter steam jacketed copper pot still (named “Tilly”) and set about making whiskies, which he occasionally named after various titles in the Ludlum universe.

Rums, alas, were and are not a major priority, yet the mere fact that there is a #8 at all implies seven prior onesthe first was released back in 2018 and has been joined by a spiced version and a gin. It’s the dark sipping rum we’re discussing today, and since the website makes little mention of the technical aspects, here are a few facts I’ve gleaned. The rum derives from food-grade molasses from Northern Rivers, pot-still distillate using Caribbean-sourced yeast for the 14-day fermentation, and is aged for three and a half years in and blended from an ex-French-oak red wine cask and an ex-bourbon cask. The outturn is of course quite small – 100 to 200 bottles, give or take. Oh, and it’s bottled at 48% which may be the distillers attempt not to scare off to many potential rum drinkers with some cask strength monster only a mother (or a rum dork) could love.

Within that rather sparse background we find a rum that has an intriguing profile…if a little uncoordinated. It starts off with a nose that channels brine, olives, flowers and a miscellaneous mishmash of fruits that is hard to separate. Pineapples, mangoes and a sweet habanero or two do stand out, yet overall, it is not particularly sweet. There’s a peaty, grainya whiskey-likeaspect to this that is not normally something I care for, but here it actually works rather well. Overripe bananas and orange peel, some burnt rubber of doughnuts made by overenthusiastic teenagers on their father’s porsche, a bot of caramel, dates and butterscotch, and that’s the nose for you.

My attempt to describe the oddity of the rum’s initial palate will not resonate withlet alone appeal tomany, but I have to state that the first reaction I had was to mumble “salt soap?” to myself, because that’s what an initial taste is likethe red soap which many of my generation and earlier used in Guyana to wash dutty bukta in a standpipe or down by the river (don’t ask). Yet, once it calms down and breathes, the rum isn’t bad at all: here the sweeter notes stand out more forcefully: butter-rich pastries, pancakes and syrup, dates. Also fleshy and ripe fruitscashews, red guavas, soft mangoes, and perhaps some apricots. It’s sweeter than the nose implies, and one senses the taste of licorice, wet sawdust and a sort of sour-sweet teriyaki without ever coming to grips with it. The finish is long and dry and warm, but adds little to the partyit doesn’t actually provide much of anything except a lackluster recap of what came before, mashed together, dampened by a sweetness that hides subtler notes (though it is thankfully not cloying).

Riverbourne’s love is clearly the whiskies, and they make no bones about thatrum and gin are therefore made to defray costs and round out the portfolio, not the results of dedicated rum nerdiness and rumlove that defines, say, Killik, Soltera, Husk or Winding Road. Within that restriction, however, they haven’t done too badly with the Rich Dark Sipping Rum #8. Sure, the tastes are somewhat muddled, lack precision and it’s hard to tease much out beyond generalities (e,g, “fruit” or “sweet” which is not very useful)…yet somehow, the No.8 kind of works.

Perhaps that’s because it tastes like what it is, because it never pretends to be anything else: a rough and ready soldier’s rum, one for the proles, the worker bees, the cubicle dronesone that is simply, strongly and unaffectedly made with a straightforward lack of frippery…Australia’s own version of the El Dorado 5YO. maybe. I thought it was a nice and unprepossessing middle-ground product, the kind often overlooked in our current fascination with uber-aged Caribbean rums or overproofed white agricoles. Occasionally it takes one like this to remind us that there is a place for unpretentious blue collar rums that are competently made, enjoyably drunk and always in the backbar. This is one of those.

(#919)(81/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • As always, thanks to Mr & Mrs. Rum for the samples contained in their 2021 advent calendar, from which this rum originates.
Jun 162022
 

Aisling Distillery’s “Riverina” rum is one that defies easy description. It is a rum of real originality that can inspire equal parts admiration or despite, and the only one the resolutely whisky- and gin-focused distillery has ever released in its short eight years of existence. Its bare statistics could be described in a short sentence, yet to attempt an analysis of what makes it impressive may actually be too long for a short review like this one…because what it tries is no less than to marry a straightforward rum profile with something wholly and solely its owna character, a sense of the terroire of the region from which it hails.

Consider the nose of this 47.5% pot still rum. Now, the molasses was local, the fermentation ran to three weeks with a commercial yeast and it was aged for four years in un-charred ex-shiraz casks sourced from around the NSW region of Riverina, where several wineries exist. Yet from those seemingly commonplace elements came an initial aroma that startles and beguiles in equal measure: a sweet sort of semi-rotten funkiness that channels a heap of castoff fruit outside a busy fruit-and-veggie stand in hot weather: pineapples, strawberries, bananas going off, overripe mangoes and dark cherries, plus a scent of sweat and onions and rotting sweet potatoes. It reminds me of an overproof St. Lucian mixed up with flashes of a Longpond TECC, both lighter and more floral (faint lilies and jacaranda) than either Winding Road’s Coastal Cane or Tin Shed’s Requiem.

Then there’s the way it tastes. At a middling sort of strength, it goes warm and relatively easy on the palate, without any undue aggro: it’s actually quite pleasant. The flavours too, are deceptively simple (and not at all like those nose might suggest they would be): initial notes of smoke and well polished leather, and then a parade of bubble gum, fruits (yellow mangoes, strawberries, gooseberries, cherries, and some lighter and crisper green grapes), which then give way to some citrus juice and iced tea. There’s also some Danish butter cookies, brine, sweet maple syrup and caramel, a touch of cinnamon and brown sugar, but none of it is cloyingsweet this is not, and in fact it presents as rather dry, overall. This all segues into a pleasantly long and dry finish, quite aromatic, citrus-y, wine-y, with the briny and slightly “off” notes combing well with sweeter and more musky ones.

This is a rum to admire, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a heft and a light snap to it (plus all those weird and wonderful aromas and tastes), and feels like the sort of rum you can take any way you wantneat or mixed. It hews to some of the West Indies baseline with which we are familiar, but part of it is resolutely itself, enticing you with tastes you like and holding you in place while showing off something new. Not many new rum makers can pull off that trick on their first try.

Granted it could be aged a bit longer (four years is just a starting point, really) and become something even more complex and sanded down: that aside, the reason I suggest you get it (or at least try it) is not just because of that profile, not just because of the medal score it garnered in 2021, but the simple fact that it is on a level with other good local rums that seek to redefine what Australian rum actually is. In my sojourns around the antipodean rum scene I have yet to find a rum range so consistently unique that one single smell would alow me to bugle “Oz!” immediatelybut this is one like Killik, Tin Shed, Winding Road and others, that’s wasting no time getting there. It makes me look forward to whatever they will come up with next.

(#916)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • 700 bottle outturn from three ex-shiraz casks
  • Distilled on a 2,200 litre steam-operated pot still, with a steam jacket. The condenser is a worm condenser, not a shell in tube.

Historical Background

Situated in the town of Griffith, Aisling Distillery is in south central New South Wales in Australia, in a region called Riverina, which is locally known as the food bowl of Australia because of the predominantly agricultural economy. This in turn is based on the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) which was established in the early part of the 1900s, resulting in the land being opened up for extensive farming: fuit, vegetables, rice and vineyards were all established here, the latter often by a very large influx of Italian immigrants who remain a significant proportion of the population.

I mention all of this because the Aisling Distillery, which was founded in 2014 by the husband and wife team of Mark and Michelle Burns, was an attempt to capture and claim something of Mark’s Scottish heritage and Michelle’s Dutch background, which had to some extent been subsumed and forgotten in a largely Italian cultural milieu (about 60% of the population claim Italian background)1. A distillery was chosen, which capitalized on Mark’s engineering background and for the potential versatility, because the idea was to make small batch premium single malts with local barley (for Mark, channeling the Scots) and high quality gin (trading on on Michelle’s Dutch descent). After some research and investment they bought an Australian made 1000 liter pot still (not sure of it has a name) sourced local barely and were off to the races.

As with other such smaller distilleries we have been looking at of late, rum was not the priority. The two year ageing requirement was an issue, some experience and experimentation was needed for rum distillation and in any case, from the beginning, good whiskies and gins were the primary goals. Looking at the amount of whiskies and various gins that have been released and listed for sale over the yearsversus a single rum and one vodkaclearly the trend has continued.

That’s what makes it so interesting, to see what they did with the only rum they have produced to date, which was laid to rest in 2016, a mere two years after they started distilling. What came out the other end in 2021 was considered so good that it won the gold medal and the “best rum” trophy at the Tasting Australia Spirit Awards that same year and basically crowned it as Australia’s best rum. That’s quite an achievement for a company which doesn’t even have a primary focus on the product.


 

May 262022
 

Distilleries that go off on their own tangent are always fun to watch in action. They blend a wry and deprecating sense of humour with a quizzical and questioning mien and add to that a curiosity about the rumiverse that leads to occasional messy road kill, sure…but equally often, to intriguing variations on old faithfuls that result in fascinating new products. Killik’s Jamaican rum experiments come to mind, and also Winding Road’s focus on their cane juice based rums1, like they were single handedly trying to do agricoles one better.

Moving on from the standard proofed rums from Australia upon which the focus has been directed over the last weeks, we begin to arrive at some of those that take the strength up a few notches, and when we bring together a higher proof with an agricole-style aged rumas uncommon in Australia as almost everywhere elseit’s sure to be interesting. Such ersatz-agricoles rums are the bread and butter of the Winding Road Distilling Co in New South Wales (about 175km south of Brisbane), which is run by the husband and wife team of Mark and Camille Awad: they have two rums in their small portfolio (for the moment), both cane-juice based. The first, the Agricole Blanc was an unaged rum of this kind, one with which I was quite taken, and it’s the second one we’re looking at today.

It’s quite an eye-opener. Coastal Cane Pure Single Rum is rum with the source cane juice coming from a small mill in the Northern Rivers area (where WR are also located), and as far as I know is run through the same fermentation process as the blanc: three days in open vats using both commercial and wild yeasts, with the wash occasionally left to rest for longer (up to two weeks). Then the wash is passedtwicethrough their 1250 litre pot still (called “Short Round”) and set to age in a single 200-litre American oak barrel with a Level 3 char, producing 340 bottles after 31 months. Bottling is then done at 46% in this instance: that, however, will change to suit each subsequent release based on how it samples coming out of the ageing process.

 

Mark Awad’s avowed intention is to produce a distillate that combines the clarity of agricole rhums with a touch of the Jamaican badassery we call hogo, as well as representing, as far as possible, the terroire of NSW…specifically Northern Rivers, where they are. I can’t tell whether this is the rum that accomplishes that goal, but I can say it’s very good. The nose is lovely, starting with deep dark fruits (prunes and blackberries), opens up to lighter notes (bananas, oranges and pineapples) covered over with unsweetened yoghurt and feta cheese. There’s a nice low-level funkiness here that teases and dances around the aromas without the sort of aggressiveness that characterises the Jamaicans, combined with floral hints andI swear this is truesmoke, wet ashes, and something that reminds me of the smell on your fingers left behind by cigarettes after smoking in very cold weather.

Photo provided courtesy of Winding Road Distilling Co. (c) Mark Awad

The barrel influence is clear on the palatevanilla, some light caramel and toffee tastes are reminders that it’s not an unaged rum. But it’s also quite dry, not very sweet in spite of the lingering notes of lollipops and strawberry bubble gum, has flavours of brine and lemon-cured green Moroccan olives, and brings to mind something of a Speysider or Lowland whisky that’s been in a sherry cask for a bit. It’s one of those rums that seems simple and quiet, yet rewards patience and if allowed to open up properly, really impresses. Even the finish has that initially-restrained but subtly complex vibe, providing long, winey closing notes together with very ripe blue grapes, soft apples, brine, and a touch of lemony cumin.

I’m really intrigued with what Winding Road have done here. With two separate rums they have provided taste profiles that are quite divergent, enough to seem as if they were made by different companies altogether. There are aspects of this aged rum that are more pleasing than the unaged version, while others fall somewhat behind: I’d suggest the nose and the finish is better here, but honestly, they are both quite good, just in different ways.

The constant tinkering and experimentation that marks out these small Australian distillerieswho strive to find both their niche and that point of distinction that will set them apartclearly pays dividends. While I can’t tell you with assurance I tasted an individualistic terroire that would lead me straight to NSW (let alone Australia), neither did the Awads head into the outback at full throttle, going straight through the wall leaving only an outline of themselves behind. What they have in fact accomplished is far better: they have created a rum that is thoroughly enjoyable, one that takes a well known style of rum, twists it around and bounces it up and down a bit…and ends up making the familiar new again. I can’t wait for Release #2.

(#911)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The website specs refer to a single 200-litre barrel and the initial math seems wrong if 340 700-ml bottles were issued (since that works out to 238 litres with zero evaporation losses). However, that only computes if you assume the distillate went in and came out at the same strength. Mark confirmed: “The figures on our website are correct, even though at first glance they may seem a bit off. We filled the barrel at 67.1% ABV and when it was decanted the rum came in at 65.1%. We ended up with just short of 169 litres which we then adjusted down to 46% ABV. This gave us a bit over 239 litres which resulted in 340 bottles, plus a little extra that went towards samples.”
  • As always, chapeau to Mr. and Mrs. Rum for their kind supply of the advent calendar.
May 052022
 

Photo (c) Boatrocker Brewing & Distilling, from Instagram

The distillery and brewery called BoatRocker (with what I am sure is representative of a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour shared by many Aussies) is another small family-run outfit located in Melbourne, a mere 50km or so north of JimmyRum. It was officially founded in 2009, and like many other such small enterprises I’ve written about, their genesis is far older: in this case, in the 1980s, when the (then teenaged) founder, Matt Houghton, was enthused by the Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) show “The Beer Hunter”this led to a lifelong love of beer, homebrewing, studies of the subject in University, and even gypsy brewing after graduation, which he and his wife Andrea did while saving pennies for a “real” brewery. In 2012 they acquired property, plant and equipment (as the bean counters like to say), and established their first barrel room and cellar door, all to do with beer.

All this is about the suds, for which they soon gained an enthusiastic following and a good reputation, but where’s the rum, you ask. Well, that’s where things get a little murky and several sources have to be consulted over and above the company webpage. In short, in 2017 Boatrocker merged with a Western Australian gin-and-vodka distillery called Hippocampusthe investing owner of that distillery had taken a 33% share in Boatrocker in 2015 — uprooted that company’s hybrid still “Kylie” and moved lock stock and barrels to Melbourne. This is what is making all the distilled spirits in Boatrocker now, though I get the impression that a separate team is involved. They produce gin (several varieties, of course), whiskey, vodka and two rums (one is spiced). Oddly, there’s no unaged white in the portfolio, but perhaps they made enough money off of existing spirits, so that the need to have a white cane spirit was not seen to be as important. On the other hand, rum may not seem to be the main attraction of the company,

This rum then. For the primary ferment, a rum yeast originally from Jamaica is used. They utilise a dunder/muck pit (also not mentioned on the site), and have cultured many bacteria and wild yeast from the local area, which is continually evolving as they add fresh dunder at the end of each rum run. The esters produced by the yeast and bacteria help provide depth to the base spirit. How long the fermentation goes on for is unknown, but once this process is complete, the rum distillation is done using the aforementioned 450 litre hybrid pot still (with two ten-plate columns) and engaging just the first column and five platesthe juice comes off the still at around 58% ABV, and set to age for about two years in first-use bourbon barrels imported from the USA, with a further year in high-char (#3) American oak barrels. Bottlings is done after dilution to 45% ABV, and there you have it.

So that two-barrel maturation is why they call this rum “Double Barrel”, and indeed it does present an interesting profile, especially how it smells. The aromas are exceptionally rich in comparison to the other standard proof Australians I had on the go that day. It’s like a crisp sweet riesling. Red ripe grapefruit, blood oranges going off; dark chocolate, cherries, plums, raisins, cakes and gingersnaps, eclairs, whipped cream over irish coffee, plus a little salt butter and cinnamon. Really quite a lovely nose.

On the palate the rum feels somewhat thinner and yet also sweeter, than the nose, but retains much of the allure of the way it started out. Honey, coconut shavings, chocolate oranges, Also light fruits, molasses, caramel, vanilla, herbs, crushed almonds and cinnamon, plus (yes, we’re not done yet) a rich key lime pie and brown sugar. There’s a touch of cheesecake, tarts and, nougat here, but in the main, it’s the fruits that have it. It suffersif the word could be usedfrom a thin, short, faint but easygoing finish that has mostly vanilla, coconut shavings, light fruits and a touch of that pie again. It is by far the weakest aspect of what is otherwise quite a decent product.

Overall, I liked the nose most of all, but it was a shallow downhill coast to a somewhat one-dimensional conclusion after that. As I have observed before with the Americans and their desire to wring the most out of their stills by producing everything they can on it, I wonder whether the making of all these different things dilutes the clear-eyed focus on rum somewhat (I’m selfish that way) and that’s why the high bar the opening aromas present can’t be maintained. Dunder and muck pits do help make up for shortcomings in this area, however, and this is why the score is incrementally better than other previously-reviewed rums in this age and strength range. Yet I submit that there’s room for improvement, and one day, if they continue along this path, the potential that the Double Barrel rum only suggests right now will become a true reality. I sure hope so.

(#905)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special acknowledgement of Mr. And Mrs. Rum’s kindness in sending me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
  • This is Batch #3 according to the advent calendar notes
Apr 212022
 

Image (c) Husk Distillers, from their FB Page

In the increasingly crowded Australian spirits marketplace, for a rum maker to stand out means it has to have a unique selling point, some niche aspects of its production that sets it apart in people’s minds from all the other contenders in the marketplace. Killik’s is the tinkering with the “Jamaican-style” of rum making; Jimmy Rum has its insouciant sense of humour, colourful owner and halcyon location; Beenleigh rests its laurels on being one of the oldest and its origin myth of the shipwrecked pot still; Cabarita Spirits has its vivacious solo proprietress, Brix goes with its yuppie urban vibe, and Bundaberg seems to take a fiendish delight in being equal parts derided and despised the world over. For Husk Distillers though, it’s the focus on producing cane juice based agricole-style rumsthis is what they term “cultivated rum” and what they have in fact registered as a trademark with IP Australia.

As was noted in the review of their “Bam Bam” Spiced rum, the company makes a gin called “Ink”, a pair of unaged agricole-style rums at two strengths, a botanical, a spiced, and a few youngish aged rums. In August 2021 they issued “The Lost Blend” virgin-cane aged rum (as opposed to others made with cane having looser morals, one surmises), bringing to mind St Lucia Distillers’ “Forgotten Casks.” Like SLD, Husk had a reason to name this rum “The Lost Blend,” of course: the rum and its name was based on two barrels filled in 2014 and another in 2016 with cane juice distillate run off the 1000-litre hybrid pot-column stillbut in the aftermath of the Great Flood in 2017, the hand-written distillation notes that detailed the fermentation histories and distillation cuts for the two 2014 barrels, were destroyed, and so…

These are tragic circumstances for the distillation geek and technical gurus who want the absolute max detail (to say nothing of the distiller who might want to replicate the process). For the casual drinker and interested party, however, there is enough to be going on with: the rums from the two aforementioned years were aged until 2018 in a hot and dry tin shed, before being moved in that year to a cooler barrel warehouse until 2021 when they were slowly married and reduced, to be bottled in August 2021 at 43.5% without any additions, colourings or adulterations – 761 individually numbered bottles form the final release, which is not listed for purchase on the company’s website, because it was offered for sale only to locals at the door, and Husk Rum Club subscribers (as well as on BWS and some local shops).

What’s curious about The Lost Blend is how un-agricole-like it is at all stages of the sipping experience (this is not a criticism, precisely, but it is more than merely an observation). Take for example the nose: it displayed no real herbal grassiness that almost define the cane juice origin style of rum (even the aged ones). It started off with wet cardboard, fresh paint on damp drywall, and some new plastic sheeting. Then it moved on to gingerbread cookies, some plum liqueur, molasses, salt caramel and fudge. A touch of nutty white chocolate, brine, honey and a nice touch of light citrus zest for edge. Nicely warm and quite soft to smell, without any aggro.

If I had to use a single word to describe the palate it might be “spicy” (in multiple ways). And that’s because it wasinitial tastes were ginger, cinnamon, anise and vanilla, with a touch of pears, overripe apples, raisins, brown sugar and salted caramel ice cream. There were a few bitter notes of oak and old coffee grounds, but the citrus acidity was long gone here, and overall, even with a short and relatively dry finish that was redolent toffee and unsweetened dark chocolate it presented nicely as a light ‘n’ easy sipper that just wanted to please without going off like a frog in a sock.

Given that the Lost Blend was a rum comprising four- and six-year-old components, it’s almost as surprising to see so much come through the ageing process as what exactly emerged at the other end. I attribute the tastes I discerned to a combination of the subtropical climate and (a guess here) smaller and maybe newer casks that provided those quick and easy notes. What is more baffling is how little evidence there is of the rum actually being from cane juice, because tasted blind (as it was), my scribbled remarks read more like some solid young Latin-style ron than anything else. I did like it more than the spiced Bam Bam, though, and it is well made and works well as a softly tasty warm-weather sundowner: but my advice is to enjoy it for what it is and not to look for serious local terroire or a recognizable agricole-style flavour profilebecause that, I’m afraid, just isn’t there.

(#901)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and pat of the Panama to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
  • More notes on the company can be found in the Bam Bam Spiced Rum review.
Apr 132022
 

Few in the rum world are unaware of the little rum company in Massachusetts called Privateer, so indelibly has it made its mark on the American rum scene. Maggie Campbell, the former master distiller there (as of late 2021 she is in Barbados working for Mount Gay) put her stamp on the company’s reputation quite firmly via a series of releases with evocative names like Distillers’ Drawer, Queen’s Share, Bottled in Bond and Letter of Marque (among others). And Privateer, like Velier, Savanna, Foursquare and others, had learnt of the value of limited editions, regularly releasedthey stoked excitement, tickled the collector’s avarice, and if one didn’t please, well, there was always another tweaked edition coming along soon.

After reaping many plaudits for their rums since opening for business in 2011, Privateer got yet another feather in its cap in 2020 when Velier sourced eight casks from them (three from 2016 and five from 2017). This purchase was for inclusion in the well-regarded and influential Habitation Velier series of pot still rums, and 1197 bottles of a blended 3 YO rum were released at 55.6% ABV in 2020. Whether the intersecting forces of a well-regarded (but young) American rum, pot stills and the imprimatur of Velier were or are enough to justify the price tag it commanded has dominated most discussions about the rum since it became available.

So let’s get right to it. Nose first, as always: it is straightforward with caramel bon bons,m toffee and light molasses, underlain by very light floral hints. Vanilla and lots of tannins and wood sap jostle rudely alongside, and with some effort, after a while, you get some fruity elementscherries, yellow mangoes (the Indian or Sri Lankan kind with that odd tart snap to the aroma that always reminds me of sharp crackling ozone) and peachesbut it’s something of a thin soup with too much bite, like one of those scrawny rice- eating flea-bitten mongrels from the ghetto that snap as soon as look at you.

The palate is better, perhaps because by now you’re used to things as they are and adjusted. Here we have nuts, peaches, syrup, more vanilla, more tannins (though not as overbearing) and a rum that feels more solid, thicker, more emphatic. Some unsweetened chocolate and bitter coffee left too long in the percolator round out the profile. The whole thing comes to an end with a finish that is satisfactorily long, nutty with sweet/salt caramel notes, and a final touch of fruit to give it some semblance of complexity.

Speaking for myself I think this is a rum that’s still too young, and there’s really not enough depth. The rum has presence, sure, but what in some rums is a good thing (a few core flavours, masterfully assembled) here just feels like an uneasily married series of pieces jumbled together. The strength is too high for what it attempts (not often I say that, admittedly) and the oak is very noticeable. That said, the Privateer 2017 is a rum that many Americans might like due to its better-than-usual quality (for them) and its proximity to a bourbon (which would also draw in lovers of Foursquare) — while others elsewhere would shrug it off for the same reasons.

So far, I have not been completely won over by Privateer in spite of the accolades and social media praises (which is not to say that Maggie Campbell doesn’t earn her coverageshe does). Although their rums are excellent for their milieu where there’s a much lower bar to clear, by the exacting standards of world famous rons, rums and rhums I’ve tried, they still have a ways to go. But then, in making any kind of generalised statements about the company’s products, I do too, so this review is by no means the last word on Privateer’s rums, just my solo take on this one.

(#899)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

Apr 072022
 

Photo (c) Mt. Uncle / FNQ Rum Co. Website

Mt. Uncle Distillery is one of the older distilleries of the New Australian rum renaissance we are living through, founded more than twenty years ago, in 2001. Initially it concentrated on fruit liqueurs and spirits, which were based on ingredients conveniently found on the property and the surrounding Atherton tablelands of North Queensland where the distillery was established. Over the years Mt. Uncle branched out to produce gins, whiskies, liqueurs, vodka, and a small range of (you guessed it) rums. It is, as it likes to say, the first (and still only) distillery in northern Queensland and wears that label proudly.

As the company became better known for its ginsthere are currently five different kindsit decided to split off the rum business under its own brand, titled the FNQ Rum Company (the letters stand for Far North Queensland), perhaps in an effort to give those spirits their own distinct characterI’m surprised they would want to distance an evocative title like Mt. Uncle from their products, but never mind, that’s just me. So far they make only three rums, the Platinum (a white, not listed on their rum website), the Iridium Gold (a five year old rum) and the Iridium X (a ten year old limited edition), but the caveat is that there really is not very much detail to be had on either of the main websites, as to how these rums are made, from what and with what.

According to the Australian Advent Calendar notes on Instagram helpfully provided by Mrs and Mrs Rum, the base source of the distillate is sugar cane syrup (where in turn that came from is not mentioned, though the BBC notes it as being from a nearby sugar factory, which suggests the Tableland Mill), a fourteen day fermentation period with a commercial yeast, and finally, the resultant is aged in reconditioned ex-red-wine hogshead 1 casks with a heavy toast. Okay, but what of the still? One source makes reference to “Helga” a 1500-liter still made by the German firm of Arnold Holstein, without stating what kind it is. But since the Iridium we are looking at today won the “World’s Best Pot Still” rum award at the 2021 World Rum Awards and way down on the company FB page there’s a picture of a pot still, I guess we can stop there.

So we have a 40% pot still rum from northern Queensland, based on sugar cane syrup, no additives, no messing around, five years aged in charred barrels, living room strength. Is it any good for those seeking the Next Big Thing? It won “Best Pot Still Rum” at the 2021 World Rum Awards, so it should be a cut above, right?

Yes and no. The rum does present a really nice initial nose of crisp, light fruitsstrawberries and ripe gooseberries with all the tartness this implies. For a rum with its origins in rendered cane juice, this is not a surprisewhat is intriguing is that it really presents as both a crisp agricole-style rum and a funky unaged Jamaican, which, as it opens, adds in a deeper note of a young, rough-’n’-raw Versailles rum. There’s some licorice, toffee, damp sawdust and wood chips in a sawmill. A bit of honey, a pinch of cinnamon…but that was pretty much all.

The taste is also good…at the start. Salty, light, traces of cinnamon, sugar cane sap, vanilla, red grapes and fudge; this fades quickly, though and is replaced by more licorice, vanilla, light oak, and a briefest hint of flowers and light fruits, and then it just…dies. The finish is short and breathy and light, a touchy rummytoffee, brine, grapesand vanishes faster than the Little Caner when he hears the word “chores”.

My personal opinion is that the Iridium Gold is hampered by two issues: one, it doesn’t seem to be sure whether it wants to be an agricole-style rum, or something more normal and familiar to rum drinkers (which is to say, closer to a molasses-based profile) – it has aspects of both on both nose and palate, and doesn’t do either justice, really.

Secondly, I think there’s a lot going on in this rum that a higher strength would have showcased more seriously, so I don’t get the 40% strength which could have been jacked up to 43% or even 46% without sacrificing anything. Because I’m at a loss to understand where the flavours went, or why: it’s a pot still rum, relatively young, its trousers should have quite a bit more than just its hands in them, however raw or rambunctious. Were the cuts made at too high a strength and the congeners wiped out? Were the barrels too inactive, hence requiring that heavy charring that was spoken of? Was the rum filtered before ageing? This is where a better website and better disclosure would have helped me understand more of why the rum seemed so lacklustre and ceased to enthuse, after starting with such promise. Overall, although I really wanted to be, I’m not really that chuffed with this one.

(#897)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Mt. Uncle is clearly not willing to just produce standard stuff that everyone else does. They have expanded beyond gins and rums, and into whiskey and vodka and agave spirits (as of 2022).
  • Iridium is a very hard, brittle, silvery metal akin to platinum, and second densest metal on earth (after osmium), as well as one of the rarest. Its usefulness and commercial applications stem from its high melting point and anticorrosive properties at high temperatures. It is unclear what relevance the title has to rum, even metaphorically, since it’s not rare, hard, silvery or anti-corrosive. It does have a real ‘cool factor’ based just on how it sounds, however, so maybe that’s it.
  • The FNQ website is bare of most details I would expect to find in a site dedicated to two rums (even though there are actually three), and the core Mt. Uncle site didn’t have much more. In years to come, I hope they expand their background materials for the benefit of the geek squad or the simply curious.
  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and doff of the deerstalker to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
Apr 032022
 

Of all the rums that St Lucia Distillers makes, perhaps the best known and most widely drunk is the line of Chairman’s Reserve. It was already well regarded when I started this gig in 2009, and it remains a workhorse brand of the company today, more than twenty years after its debut. The Bounty brand is below it, the Admiral Rodney was once above it (in perception if nothing else) but the Chairman’s Reserve always held a cachet all its own, even when it was represented by just that single expression that started the cart rolling.

Made as a blend of pot and column still distillate with around five years ageing, the Chairman’s Reserve aims at a middling sort of profile that eschews the extremes of either light Latin ease or hard-edged funky uniqueness. The rum was created in the late 1990s when Laurie Bernard (the Chairman himself) felt it was time to create a premium rum that would showcase what the island had to offermore than just bulk rum shipped elsewhere, more than merely the local or tourist trade island rums like Bounty and Denros…something a bit more upscale. I don’t doubt that some inspiration was taken from the enormous success of the 1992 release of the El Dorado 15 year old and Mount Gay’s own experiments with premiumization, but what was created was so good and remained so popular, that even two decades in, the rum has not lost its lustre.

Which is not to say the rum stayed the same, or that others did not come along that changed the marketing. In 2011 the Chairman’s Reserve “Forgotten Casks” rum was released; the Admiral Rodney and the annually reformulated “1931” limited editions were trotted out at roughly the same time, all aimed at taking the distillery brand more upscale. This process continuedperhaps even acceleratedin 2017 when SLD was acquired by GBH (Spiribam) and a game of musical rums began. They expanded and switched around the Admiral Rodney rums, from being a single rum positioned between the Bounty and the Chairman’s Reserve, to several older and named “ship” expressions at the top end. The yearly 1931 series was discontinued entirely (No. 6 was the last one), the profile was locked into a single stable “1931” (it’s got about 9% cane juice, I’ve heard), and was moved to the top of the premium line with the words “Chairman’s Reserve” added to the labelling.

Now, Chairman’s Reservethat one single special rum they had started withhad to that point been seen as the premium face of SLD, the recognized face of the brand’s exports, right back from the time of its introduction in 1999. However, when the portfolio was being rationalised, it was likely felt that it was a little too staid, maybe no longer top-tier…and so it was decided to expand it, a lot. The Reserve became a whole range in its own right, a series varying in both quality and pricewhen last I checked there were nine separate rums bearing the imprimatur of Chairman’s Reserve: the Original, Forgotten Casks, “2005”, “2009”, “Lewellyn Xavier,“ “White Label”, Legacy” “1931” and the “Masters Selection.” They range from about twenty pounds for the Original, to over a hundred for the Master’s Selection, and only one (the Master’s) exceeds 46%.

With all that competition and expansion and premiumisation, the Original seems to have faded to the back, but I submit to you that this should not be the case. It remains enormously affordable and one of the few of the St Lucia Distiller’s stable one can find just about anywhere; it is widely commented on, and almost every reviewer still standing has, at some point, taken a crack at the rum (or one of its descendants). It was the first St. Lucia rum the Fat Rum Pirate tried in 2014, and he loved it; so did the Rum Shop Boy, six years later, as well as The Rum Howler; the boys at Rumcast mentioned the CR series in their 2020 roundup (Episode #17 at 0:24:50), John Go in the Philippines came to it more indifferently in 2021, but if Rum Ratings and reddit are anything to go by, people have been encouraged to go for the other variations in the Chairman’s line precisely because the original colonised our mental mindspace so comprehensively…even if they have forgotten the first one from which all others descend.

And when I went at it again in 2021, I came to understand something of its enduring appeal, because even at 40% ABV, even with its great familiarity (I’ve tried it many times, though only in social settings that precluded taking detailed notes upon which to base a review), it held up its end really really well. Granted it was standard strength, and that doesn’t always work: but the nose it started out with was quietly impressive. It was creamy, buttery, slightly sweet (but not sweetened) and smelled deliciously of toffee, Danish cookies, salted caramel ice cream, vanilla, honey and a touch of brine. Not a whole lot of sharp fruits presented themselves, and apricots and banana and ripe cherries were pretty much all, so no sharper citrus notes were there to start a riot. There were hints of herbs like rosemary, and spices like cinnamon to round things off.

Taste wise too, it was assembled with self-evident care and skill. Here it was saltier than the nose had suggested it would bemore salted caramel, more saline, a hint of olives, butterto which were added lemon meringue pie drizzled with brown sugar and a tawny, rich honey, leading to a fully respectable finish that summed up all the preceding pointsmusky caramel, toffee, molasses, bon bons, vanilla, brine, honey and a good mocha, with a little sharpness added to round things off.

This is a rum that would never be mistaken for a Guyanese, Jamaican, Brazilian, Cuban, or French island rhum, ever, and in fact, my thought was that the closest it came to was actually a slightly more pot-still-driven Barbados pot-column blended rum like Doorly’s or the Real McCoy. The overall profile was not so much uber-complex as completely and solidly precise, each note coming into its own, distinctly and clearly, then being replaced by another one. Never too many, never too few, nothing too demanding, always just enough to make for a seriously sippable drink that broke neither palate nor wallet.

Indeed, my feeling about this rum has always been that it wouldn’t scare anyone off the boat and would actually entice quite a few to come on board, not just to rums in general, but St. Lucia in particular. Because by all the measures of price, availability, brand recognition, overall taste, and approachability, the original Chairman’s Reserve just nails it. It’s a fair bet that most people wanting to dip their toes into St Lucia territory will start not with the Bounty rums, or the Admiral Rodneys (that premium cachet, rightly or wrongly, is not conducive to starter efforts), but with one of the Chairman’s Reserve expressions and they can all, every one of them, trace their ancestry back to this one original, the progenitor of the line. It’s a perennial classic for beginners or experts, for sippers, swillers or mixers, a mainstay of rum collections old and new, and it continues to call upon us to heed and hearken to its siren song. Few who do so walk away disappointed.

(#896)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½