Jan 082024
 

This is the third time I am coming to the famed Nicaraguan rum producer’s 12 year old rum.  The first occasion was in 2011 when I was still somewhat wet behind the ears: then, I commented that it was a bridge between the sipping quality older expressions and the younger mixers of the bartender’s arsenal. In 2017 I picked up another bottle to see if my opinions had changed significantly after additional years of tasting and writing, a wider and somewhat more experienced palate and a better sense of the global nature of rums. They hadn’t. It scored around the same both times.

In 2022 I went through the 12, the 15 and the 18 yet again. There were several reasons for this. One was simply opportunistic — they were available all in a row (well, why not? It’s as good a reason as any). Two, the “Centenario” is relegated to much smaller type, there is a ‘Carbon Neutral Certified’ notation, the “slow aged” thing so many sneered at in years past is gone, and an unambiguous age statement is right there: 12 Years Old. So I was curious whether that translated into something more serious. And lastly, the reviewing game tends to focus on currently popular rums and bottlers, so to revisit an old standby is needed every now and then, perhaps to apply a corrective, to check out a change in blending philosophy, or simply to see how one’s own opinion may have developed. 

On the face of it, it’s not a substantially different rum. It remains a column still distillate from molasses made by the company’s facilities in Nicaragua. It adheres to the Latin/Cuban style of rum-making whereby a light distillate is sought and the real quality of the final product is demonstrated not by fermentation or still-tweaking, but by what happens after: by ageing in ex-bourbon barrels, marrying and skilful blending over time. I’ll take it on faith for now that it really is 12 years old.

By the standards above, the Flor 12 YO does not break much new ground or show off anything widely divergent from its predecessors, though it remains a tasty dram. It is gentle to smell, easy on the nose, well rounded aromatically and reminds of us of why it retains much popularity: some molasses and brown sugar notes, honey, almonds, cinnamon and light flowers. A touch of vanilla, polished leather and smoke, not much more. 

40% won’t ravage the palate and the age has sanded off most of the roughness. Again there is the caramel, bon-bons, light molasses and honey. The almonds and spices – vanilla and cinnamon – make a reappearance in the background and the florals recede somewhat, while lending a subtle and delicate counterpoint. White chocolate, orange peel and nougat round things out in a finish of no great length, intensity or complexity. Like the coitus of the young, it’s over quickly.

While not particularly disappointed by the 12 YO, I’m not really impressed by it either. There are few notes of distinction about it, little that is special which would elevate it above many other blended rums of similar age that compete more successfully in the same age space: El Dorado 12 YO, Bacardi Diez, R.L. Seale 10 YO, English Harbour 10 YO, Appleton 12 YO, all of which score the same or a bit higher. It’s affordable and it sells, and the fact that it remains available after all these years indicates something of its appeal and durability. But to me, it feels like something of an indifferent throwaway, a “merely necessary” rum that is needed to round out the portfolio…and thus, the kind of product one might find on a bottom supermarket shelf, where average rums go to die. 

(#1049)(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • All my Flor de Cana reviews, including those of the independents, can be found using this link. For my money, their best rum (aside from the 25 and 30 which I have not tried) has always been the blue bottled 15 YO “21”.
  • The Flor de Caña (flower of the cane) branded rum is made in Nicaragua by the Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, which was formally established in 1937 (though workers of the San Antonio sugar refinery which was its basis  had been distilling their own festive hooch for local celebrations for maybe half a century before that, hence the “1890” dating on the label). The success of the distilling company led to expansion and to exporting rums to other countries in Central and South America by the late 1950s. Following on the heels of the trend established by DDL in 1992, they began to issue aged premium rums. In the mid-2010s the brand started to slip in popularity as independent bottlers, higher proof and special premium editions  became more popular. The the scandal of Chronic Kidney Disease around the same time was a huge reputational blow, and the company has reportedly addressed the major health issues which led to such damning reports, as well as pivoting to a more ecological production philosophy.
Nov 062023
 

A few months ago I posted a picture of what I was tasting that week on Instagram which included the Camikara 12 YO: I was surprised and pleased at the responses which said how much people had liked it — most of these came from those who had sampled it at that year’s UK rum festival. This is an export rum from India which has two younger siblings (a 3YO and an 8YO) and remains a rather unknown quantity to many, perhaps because they have all been issued quietly and without the serious social media fanfare as attends so many other rums these days, and been reviewed by too few.

Yet I think we’d better start paying some attention, because this rum presses a number of buttons that, had they been made in more familiar climes by more familiar names, would have had us checking it out almost by default. Consider: here is a rum from a single cane varietal, made from cane juice (not jaggery or molasses), pot still distilled, aged for twelve years and bottled at a solid 50% ABV. Plus, it’s from India which, while having a great record in whiskies, does not have a stellar reputation for rums, yet which has on occasion surprised us with products of uncommon quality.

Piccadily Distillers made this rum in Haryana, a northern Indian state – it abuts the Punjab, and is just due south of Solan: those with long memories may recall that this is where Mohan Meakin of Old Monk fame started things going back in the 1800s. Piccadily themselves are better known, especially in India, for their malt whiskies Indri and Whistler and it’s never been made clear exactly why they would branch out into rums on an international scale, though my own impression is the market in India is simply too crowded with ersatz rums already, and increasing premiumisation of the spirit in the West suggests an opportunity to break into that market with an unusual product from a near-unknown location.

So that’s the background: what about the rum?

Nosing it suggested that the company has dispensed with most of the subtly and never-quite-proved flavoured profiles of Mohan Meakin’s Old Monk line and (to a lesser extent) Amrut’s own export rums. This stuff is not bad at all – initially quite tart and fruity, with canned peaches and yellow mangoes blending nicely with laban and the faintest whiff of sour cream. This is followed by aromas of red grapes and apples in a pleasantly clean and just-shy-of-light series of smells that feel quite crisp, while at the same time balanced off with caramel, plums, aromatic tobacco, vanilla and green peas. The sweetness that one senses is kept very much under control which stops any one aspect of the nose to predominate.

What is somewhat surprising is the strength – we have not seen a rum from India that clocks in at 50% before (though they have been edging up of late, with the 60+% Habitation Velier Amrut being something of an outlier). This provides the taste with a firm landing on the palate, starting off with flambeed bananas, peaches, red guavas, green peas and those overripe mangoes. What distinguishes this phase of the experience is the spice-forward nature of the rum: one can with some effort make out vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, tumeric and sweet paprika, and it brings back fond memories of the spice markets in middle-eastern soukhs more than anything else. There are some hints of salted chocolate, honey, cardboard, dusty cupboards, cheerios, and the rum presents as heavier than the nose had initially suggested…but it’s pretty good, and the closing notes of damp port-infused tobacco, honey anise, herbs, citrus and (again) spices makes for a fascinating segue away from more familiar profiles.

I say “more familiar profiles” but really, this is a rum through and through and there’s no mistaking what it is. However, it must be stated that its agricole-style cane juice origins are somewhat lost in the middle of such long hot-weather ageing – the barrels do most of the heavy lifting of the profile, rather than the intrinsic nature of the cane juice distillate, which provides so much character to unaged whites from wherever – if Piccadily ever made such a white I’d be clamouring to get some. Moreover, my hydrometer tests this at 47.5% ABV, which works out to about 12g/L of something, so readers should take that into account – my own take is that it still tastes pretty good, but obviously that will not be everyone else’s opinion.

Summing up, then, I must say that as a whole, taking everything into consideration, the Camikara rum is a treat: even in the controlled environment of my study, I admired it (in company even more so) and am now sharing it with everyone I can, because noses well and tastes great with just enough originality and uniqueness to the profile to make one take a second look and maybe a third sip, and it deserves a wider consideration. Like many rums from parts of the world other than the standards, while the DNA is unmistakable, the variation is really kind of fascinating. I think it’s a solid addition to the mostly unknown slate of aged rums from Asia generally and India in particular. 

(#1037)(87/100)


Full disclosure: in early 2023 I was approached about taking a look at the 12YO by the head of Piccadily’s international business. He admitted they had no distribution in Canada and no facilities to get paid for a bottle, as is my practise: he offered to send me one if I could spot him dinner and a pint when next we were in the same area of the world. I consider that a firm deal, but since I have (as of this writing) not been able to make good, you should be aware of the source.


Other notes

  • Camikara means “liquid gold” in Sanskrit
  • The press blurbs talk about 956 barrels being laid to rest in 2009, of which only 6.6% remained twelve years later. Well, that works out to around 14,000 litres, so given its limited edition marketing (3600 bottles total, with 400 bottles to India, 1200 for the US, 400 for the UK and 800 for Europe), some has probably been left behind to age even further, and / or been blended into the younger releases. 
  • I like the whole origin story of barrels being overlooked and fortuitously “rediscovered” but consider the neglect and forgetting of nearly a thousand barrels to be ultimately unrealistic outside a press release, where anything goes.
  • Piccadily Distilleries is part of the Piccadily Group, which has three distilleries in the Northern part of India: Indri, Patiala, and Bawal. The distillery making the rum is unclear: Mr. Siddhartha Sharma in an interview with Rumporter says Indri, while Surrinder Kumar the company’s master distiller, said it was Patiala in an interview with MoneyControl (he notes it was when the Patiala plant was being refurbished that the barrels were rediscovered) – it is the latter that is on the label, but I do wonder at the confusion. 
  • The company’s copper pot stills are Indian made.
May 192023
 

If the author of some fictional novel that somehow included rum were to make mention of a South Sea island hooch made in Fiji, sourced from the Pacific island directly by an African expatriate living in Western Canada (by way of New Zealand), who gave it to a nomadic, vagrant, itinerant (and occasionally fragrant) West Indian to try, he would probably be sneered at for having an overactive imagination and told to stick with something more realistic. And yet, that’s exactly what this product is, and that’s exactly what happened.

To set the stage, I tried the rum (and its siblings) several times on a thoroughly enjoyable, tall-story-and-b.s.-filled afternoon in the company of the bottler, a friendly, well-known gent named Karl Mudzamba – he’s originally from Zimbabwe and now lives in Vancouver. The rum — his rum — was distilled on a pot still at the South Pacific Distillery in 2008, fully aged there, is a blend of nine casks and has an outturn of 1272 bottles.  It is, as a point of interest, also the one that kicked off the small indie company called Bira! which Karl founded in 2019 to address his not unfounded conviction that Canada was not being served the tastiest and the mostest by the bestest – even in Alberta, which is probably the province with the widest rum selection in the country.

What Canadians got in 2020 when the rum was released – mostly only to them – was a rum of remarkable originality. Granted, there have been several indies issuing SPD rums – Compagnie des Indes, Samaroli, L’Esprit, Kill Devil, The Rum Cask, TCRL, Duncan Taylor, and Berry Bros. & Rudd have all done some bottlings over the years; some have been stronger and some have been older – yet few have the tags that characterised this one: pot still and full tropical ageing with a profile that teased and pleased and stayed on to deliver.  Not since the peculiarly elusive and haunting power of the TCRL 8 Year Old have I had a rum from Fiji that made me spend so much time on one.

The nose, to start with, was lovely.  55% ABV made it hit something of a firm sweet spot, and it was dry and smoky to start, reminding me of roasted coffee beans, unsweetened chocolate with almonds, and toffee.  It opened out to some thickly aromatic fruits – bananas, peaches and apricots set off with hints of pineapple and strawberries – before adding a last briny scent of olives.  It wasn’t particularly sweet and had more than just a hint of a freshly disinfected hospital about it, which I hasten to add, was not unpleasant – just odd.It’s the combination that makes it all hang together, and work.

Much of this continued to be sensed on tasting it. This came in three distinct waves which swelled and subsided over time. First, those heavy fruits (apricots and peaches and kiwi) which now felt riper and juicier…more tart, if you will.  Then muskier flavours of coffee grounds, chocolate, crushed almonds with some sharper tannins of oak influence, cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg.  And lastly the salt-caramel ice cream, honey and slight iodine and rubber background which closed up the experience, leading to the long and fragrant finish.  This last was particularly nice because it dispensed with any kind of sharpness and summarised the preceding experience without trying too hard to do anything new: there were just some fruits, some honey and some medicinals – all of which was dry and almost astringent, but fortunately not bitter.  

What emerged out of this tasting session (as well as from everything else from Bira! I tried that afternoon), was the conviction that aside from being one of the first independent bottlers of rums in Canada, Karl knows how to pick ‘em, and indeed, he did his research on Fiji and knew the various releases that were out there, from other independents. Fiji rums have always been a bit hit and miss depending on who’s picking, where it’s been aged and the still that made it.  By going straight to the source and bypassing brokers, by ensuring the barrels were selected according to his own desires and visions, Karl has issued a well-rounded, tasty, complex rum of excellent quality, and best of all, it’s not one I have to get a plane ticket to Europe to find.  If this is what one potential future aspect of the Canadian rum scene is, I may have returned at just the right time.

(#997)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Background and Company Notes

  • Karl Mudzamba clearly has a penchant for going his own way. While most new independents who source their rum stock start the exercise with a recognizable Name (Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica are old stalwarts and long-favoured choices, as Holmes Cay for one has demonstrated) so as to ensure initial name recognition and sales, then make an effort to see they are repped in the EU and US almost as a given, Karl has done nothing of the kind. His first release was this one from South Pacific Distilleries, and he sourced it not from Europe, but directly from Fiji. Moreover, he also wanted it to be a completely unaged white rum, but Canada being what it is, with liquor laws predating the Flood and about as hard to turn as the ark itself, unaged rum cannot be imported.  So he went with his second choice, and I’m not unhappy that he did so.
  • The Bira ceremony is one practised by the Shona people of Zimbabwe: it is a dusk to dawn celebration, a ritual, in which members of an extended family or clan get together, and with the use of music and dance, ask ancestral spirits to come into the world of the living. When the spirits come they take over the body of the spirit medium – usually an elder of the family – and act as an intermediary between the participants and the spirits of those who have passed on, or even the Creator. The ceremony is composed of singing, dancing, hand clapping and sometimes traditional musical instruments (drums, gourd shakers), and one consistent feature is to use music favoured by the departed to entice them to participate.
  • So far the small company has three releases out there: the South Pacific rum we discuss here, and two aged cane juice varietals from Mhoba. They’re all quite good.
  • The stylized Bira dancer on the label was added after the South Pacific issue, and is now the logo of the company brand.
  • Other references are:
Mar 302023
 

Rumaniacs Review #146 | R-0985

This is one of those rare instances where the subject is not some dusty old find from Ago with dust flaking from its shoulders, but a relatively recent bottling; and rather more than less is known about the rum, because in this instance, not only did I have the bottle in my grubby little paws, but happily it was also sporting a quite informative label. Oh, and it was a great Guyanese rum to boot.  Those who bought one are surely happy they did so, or should be.

This was an independent bottling done for the Danish spirits shop Juuls (an establishment I heartily recommend for its selections and expertise, though I’ve not been fortunate enough to set foot inside it myself) by the Scottish distiller and blender Ian Macleod.  IM is a small company set up in 1933 in the small town of Broxburn, just slightly west of Edinburgh, and they were pretty much in the whisky blending game.  This changed in 1993, when they acquired a gin making concern, but the real forays into rum came in 1996 with the acquisition of Trawlers and Watson’s rum brands (Watson’s being primarily Guyana rum, while Trawlers being a blend of Guyana and Barbados).

Occasionally the company indulged itself with some special rum bottlings, though you would be hard pressed to find out much about any of them, and even Rum-X only has a couple. This one was a special order for Juuls, bottled in 2015 from a single cask yielding 241 bottles at 57.8%.  What does the “No. 34” mean? It’s the cask number (not the series number, so those looking for Nos. 1-33 can stop their search), and the “Diamond of Frederiksberg” is a nod to the city where Juuls is found and the Guyanese distillery of origin. Rums of this kind were not and are not a staple of Ian Macleod’s output – when doing rums at all they stick with Trawler and Watsons, or make cheap underproof Jamaican’s via the Lang’s brand or undisclosed cheaper blends under the King Robert II label. Single casks like this are a very occasional one-off or special order which is why I feel ok placing it in the Rumaniacs section.

Strength – 57.8%

Colour – Red-amber

Nose – Light and sweet, with wax and brine and esters. The fruits that emerge are mostly from the dark and lush side: plums, dates, prunes for the most part.  Also brown sugar, molasses, coffee, unsweetened chocolate and vanilla; with water and after opening up it becomes rather more tannic and oak-forward with a few background licorice notes, and the whole remains quite well done and inviting.

Palate – Sharp and hot, yet well controlled. Medium sweet with molasses, stewed apples, toffee, vanilla, sweet cardamom rice drizzled with hot caramel.  Not precisely a riot of complexity, just sure footed and really tasty. Some raisins, more dark fruits, licorice, coffee, and this is where I would suggest there’s definitely some Port Mourant pot still juice in here.

Finish – Medium, warm, sweetish and spicy with vanilla, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and caramel. The molasses and licorice take a back seat, and it’s actually something of a shame the experience is over so quickly.

Thoughts – Although the label says “Diamond,” any reasonably knowledgeable rum guy knows this is kind of meaningless since all the stills in Guyana are now located at the estate of that name, and especially with the older rums, care has to be taken assigning a rum just to “Diamond”.  I think this is probably a Port Mourant rum, though it could as easily be from Versailles – the richness bends me more to the former, however. 

Whichever still made it, it’s a quiet stunner of a rum and it’s a shame Ian Macleod never continued mining this vein and instead went mass market. Rums like this from so recent a time are a rarity (most of this quality are from further back in time, or much older) and its my regret that although I had a great time trying it with my Danish friends and even have a sample squirrelled away, there aren’t more bottles in circulation for others to enjoy as well.

(89/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Gregers, who pretends he owns our bottle, gave me the details on the label naming convention, as well as trotting the rum out of his stash for me to try. Thanks!
  • Only one bottle ever came up for auction of late and that was here for £112 in May 2022; another Diamond, the No. 33, was also on sale that month, and sold for £143, though I’ve heard people opine that it’s not as good as this one.  These are the only ones aside from the three on Rum-X (which are not from this series) which I’ve been able to trace.
Feb 172023
 

Last year Chris Seale and I were talking at Paris’s WhiskyLive and he mentioned that he had read some of my earlier work on the Doorly’s line of rums and thought I had been unnecessarily rough on the brand. I responded that this was very true — it’s hardly something I could pretend was not — but it faithfully reflected my feelings and opinions from more than a decade ago and of course, I’ve moved on to developing a real appreciation for Foursquare in the many years between then and now – especially the new Habitation Velier LFT and pot still editions,  and the ECS series, to say nothing of the Collaborations.  That said, I did remark I just found the Doorly’s brand as a whole too lackluster – most are public-facing and mass-market: the low-cost components of the house. They’re too weak, too easy, to everyman-pleasing; they are therefore not aimed at me but at those who are closer to starting their journey.

While completely acknowledging the house’s impact and importance, especially to the bourbon crossover crowd who I believe to be among the brand’s most fervent admirers (next to the Brits), I think it’s taken the Doorly’s 14 year old 48% pot-column blend (a part of the blend was aged in ex-Madeira, though specific details are lacking) released around 2019, to make me accept that finally there’s one of the line I can get serious about and introduce to my mommy.  It presses more buttons than all its siblings – it’s stronger, has a bit more pot-still oomph, more decisive tastes and is to me, at the perfect age for what it is. Close your eyes and you could be drinking any top flight indie bottling.

Consider how it opens: the nose begins with the attack of light skirmishers – varnish, glue and brine, quicky gone, not sharp or aggressive, just making themselves felt. Next comes the light cavalry on the flanks: green apples, grapes, papaya, watermelon, pears, a touch of soursop, and then the heavy infantry masses to take over, and here the more traditional aromas of caramel, vanilla, toffee, blancmange, molasses, supported by the spices of cumin, rosemary, and cinnamon.  

Once we start tasting the thing, the palate is where the battle is joined. Flavours vie for dominance – brine and olives and some nail polish duke it out with sweeter fruity notes of ripe red apples, pears and peaches in syrup, and very ripe dark cherries.  On the flanks the molasses, toasted coconut and musky port-infused tobacco are having their own separate argument with a miso soup and kimchi, but the key takeaway is that when all is considered together, the whole palate is well-balanced between sweet, salt and sour.  And the finish concludes this nicely by closing off the show with a spicy, long, dry, fruity and aromatic exhalation that somehow doesn’t give any side a win but shows off the best part of all of them.

This sounds like a lot, sure, but then, I tend to give Doorly’s more attention than most, precisely because thus far I’ve been less than impressed with the line. When the dust finally settles and the tally is made on the 14 YO, I consider this a very good sipping rum for us proles and the one Doorly’s I have no problem recommending to anyone, without resorting to a lazy and overworked references to bourbon or Pappy that just chases away those who have no interest in either. In fact, what this reminds me of quite closely is the ECS Criterion.

And yet, curiously, although my belief is that the rum is pretty damned fine not everyone agrees or goes that far. The rum garners positive reviews, yes, just not raves of the sort that more exclusive limited editions of the Collaborations or the ECS line get almost routinely (score aggregators cluster most user evaluations of the D14 at around the mid eighties with the others trending higher). Overall I think it’s a good rum, well made, well assembled, succeeding on every level without reaching for the moon, a sipper for every occasion for any income bracket, and frankly, I believe it’s an ECS edition in all but name. I call mine “Misnomer.”

(#973)(84/100)

Jan 162023
 

In all the excitement about the latest releases from the Reunion distillery of Savanna, it’s always good to keep in mind that there are two other distilleries on the island making some pretty good rhum – Rivière-du-Mât and Isautier. I’d suggest that the former is probably the lesser known, but Isautier is gaining some traction of late, because there have been quite a few neat rhums emerging from the distillery in recent years that are making some waves and exciting serious attention.

So let’s forego any long introductory perambulations and get right down to the facts at hand. This is a cane juice origin rhum, made by the named distillery, on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. It’s one a pair of rhums named after two sailing ships used by the Isautier brothers to transport their cargos to and from Reunion in the 19th and early 20th century, and this one is an agricole distilled off a column still (its twin, the L’Apollonie, is a traditionnel, made from molasses).  The nice part is that it’s cognac-cask aged for the full 15 years (no short finishes or dual-ageing for these boys) and the results, bottled at 55.3%, is at pains show all the notes that were wrung out of the process.

Nose: “lightly rich” is the only term that comes to mind, and the aromas come in three distinct sets.  First, it’s sweet strawberry bubble gum, bags of tart mangoes, gooseberries, dark grapes, and oranges and lemon peel.  Second, florals – light and sweet, like hibiscus, lavender and maybe a dusty rose or two. And then, thirdly, the spices – cinnamon and cloves, rounded out and complemented by a touch of vanilla and coconut, and it gets more precise and distinct as the minutes click by.  It’s the sort of nose that encourages one to keep it on hand for a second and third sniff, just to see if anything new popped up since the last time.

The palate has sparkly and light notes, exhibiting the sort of happy perkiness Mrs. Caner displays when she gets to buy a new Prada purse. It’s nicely, restrainedly sweet, with notes of cinnamon, cloves and herbs (like oregano, parsley and rosemary, how’s that for an odd combo?).  The fresh green grassiness of an agricole is less evident – probably as the influence of the barrel took over Management – but in its place we get raisins, apples, prunes, then cereal and honey dripped over fresh toast. Though the finish was not spectacular – it more or less summed up the fruity freshness that had preceded it and added a touch of spices and lasted a decently long time, 

Overall, I’d have to sum up by noting that the L’Elise had a terrific nose followed by a rather less exalted – but still excellent, very solid – palate. Admittedly it doesn’t spark a riot on the tongue, however fascinating it smelled five seconds earlier, yet the quality can’t be gainsaid, and the denouement was a nice conclusion to a very pleasing drinking  experience. If nothing else, it demonstrated that even if Savanna might have a lock on the high ester fruit bombs, the aged rhums made elsewhere on the islands are no slouches. By any standard, this is pretty fine stuff.

A rhum like this excites curiosity, invites idle wonderings. Like “Where’s Isautier?” “Who is Isautier?” “Is this an agricole rhum?” “What’s the L’Elise?” “Who is John Galt?” Stuff like that. Drax might do us all one better by asking, with perfect seriousness, “Why is Isautier?” And you know, maybe this rhum actually is an answer: Isautier’s L’Elise 15 year old rhum exists because they wanted it to, to reflect their heritage and show off their own rum-making street cred and just put something out there that’s really damned cool.  The nice thing about the rum, then, is that when all is said and done, it answers all those questions solely with itself.

(#966)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The rum is part of LMDW’s “Antipodes” collection for 2022/2023. In geography, the antipode of any spot on Earth is the point on Earth’s surface diametrically opposite to it, and antipodal points are as far away from each other as possible. LMDW’s catalogue (p.2, and p.154) notes that the collection “pays tribute to contrasts and opposites through spirits sourced from across the globe….showcasing the duality found in styles and profiles.” Given the catalogue of antipodal spirits and drinks is pretty all-inclusive, it’s not really very meaningful beyond being their theme for 2023.
  • For those who are interested in a deeper look at the background of Isautier, this little biography helps fill in some historical blanks.
Dec 262022
 

Photo courtesy of Steve James at The Rum Diaries Blog, who kindly chipped in after my own photo got corrupted. 

The clear, light, and distinct nose on this Guadeloupe agricole is really quite sumptuous, and hearkens back to a time before more formal rules were put into place (even on Guadeloupe) as to how cane juice rhums were put together.  It has a clean sweetness to it, quite crisp, redolent of grapes, green apples and a touch of vanilla and caramel to start.  Sweet and sour chicken with tons of vegetables, sweet soya. And it develops into more complex territory after that – leather, freshly mown hay, citrus peel, cumin and pomegranates and was that oregano I smelled there? It could be, quite possibly. It’s just a low key, precise and controlled series of aromas. 

Tastewise, it’s not too shabby either, and I remember thinking, it’s been a while since I had something quite like this, from Guadeloupe or anywhere else. It opens with salty, unsweetened, nearly-bitter chocolate flavoured with pimento — not one of my favourites, but I have tried some on occasion when feeling adventurous (or stupid, take your pick). Coffee grounds (fresh ones, still steaming, not yesterday’s batch which I get at the office), some leather, caramel, toffee, almonds and pralines – makes me wonder where the agricole is hiding, as the citrus is not to be found and the cane sap and herbal notes aren’t playing nice. Still, there are some fruits to be sensed – black grapes, prunes, overripe peaches, bananas – but not anything crisper than that.  It concludes with some lighter notes, of apples and hard yellow mangoes, a touch of sugar water, and it’s quite long for 42% ABV, gliding to a serene stop next to the sign saying “have another sip.”  

Which, if you ever locate this almost forgotten rhum, you would be well advised to – it’s pretty fine, honestly.


As I noted above, it’s 42% ABV, a cane juice, column-still rhum from the Gardel distillery which is located in the north-east of Grand Terre in the commune of Le Moule. Gardel, owned by Générale Sucrière (itself a major player in the global sugar refining industry) is one of two distilleries in Le Moule — the other is Damoiseau — and earns some of its distinction by being the sole sugar refinery on the main island. Gardel doesn’t make any rhums of its own any longer, but it was known for selling rum stock to brokers and others – they ceased distillation in 1992 and destroyed or sold their stills shortly thereafter, so this rhum is among the last that came from there (see also other notes below), even if it came to us via the independent bottler path.

It’s been some time since we reviewed any rums from the “Secret Treasures” line originally created by the Swiss concern Fassbind, and not without good reason – they sold off their spirits distribution portfolio way back in 2005 to another Swiss distributor called Best Taste which wasn’t interested in any indie bottling operations, and so punted it over to a German company called Haromex.  Almost all of the reviews of Secret Treasures rums came from the pre-sale bottlings, which, like Renegade, were perhaps somewhat ahead of their time, and that’s probably why Fassbind was glad to let them go.

Haromex changed the bottle style while keeping something of the label design ethos in the initial post-acquisition period, but nothing has now been issued under the ST label for many years now: the last of them, two St Lucia bottlings (here and here, both quite good) were probably leftovers from the sale. There were some attempts at blends – “South America” and “Old Caribbean” were two – yet it’s unlikely you ever heard of either and I never saw them to buy, which tells you all you need to know about what an impact they made.  Nowadays Haromex has settled on being a distributor and shows up at European rum festivals here and there to tout its brands…but no rums they themselves have had a hand in bottling.


Fassbind and Secret Treasures may have come on the indie scene too early, and it’s too bad they did not continue: because this is quite a lovely rum.  Almost forgotten now except by those Europeans who picked up bottles here and there a decade ago, it shows that it’s not enough to simply have a shuttered distillery to make a name and have a following (did somebody say Caroni?). Nor is it enough to have good production values that people remember. If the audience isn’t there and there is no larger voice to proselytise for it, brand name and rum and distillery will vanish, as Gardel pretty much has. 

And that’s a shame for rums which may not have been the best out there, but which at least showed promise, tasted great, and which we didn’t have enough of. They helped chart a path many other small outfits followed in the years that came after, and enriched and educated those like me who consider themselves fortunate to have tried a few. Who knows what Fassbind could have achieved, had they stuck with it.  This rum and others of the line give us a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

(#961)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • My remarks on “the last rum from Gardel” notwithstanding, several independent bottlers have bottled Gardel rhums/rums prior to the cessation of distillation.  A non exhaustive list is:
    • Gardel Rhum Vieux Cuvee Ultime 45%
    • Secret Treasure (Fassbind) 1992 11YO 42% Std Label
    • Secret Treasure (Fassbind) 1989 13 YO 42% Black label
    • Secret Treasure (Fassbind) 1989 14 YO 42% Std Label
    • Bristol Spirits Gardel Rhum 1992 10 YO 46%
    • Renegade Gardel 1998 11YO 46% (Chateau Latour)
    • Renegade Gardel 1996 11YO 46% (Chateau Lafleur)
    • Moon Import Gardel 1992 10YO 46%
    • Moon Import Gardel 1982 18 YO 46%
    • Rumclub Gardel 1983 38 YO 46.6% (GMG)
    • Cadenhead Dated Distillation Gardel 1982 20 YO 57.8%
    • Cadenhead Dated Distillation Gardel 1982 18 YO 57.2%
    • Silver Seal “Cigar Choice” 1977 32 YO 50.8%
    • Murray McDavid Gardel 1998 12 YO 46%
    • Douglas Laing Caribbean Reserve 1992 9 YO 46%
  • The source of the post-1992 distillates remains unknown, but as Flo remarked in his deep dive into the distillery, it’s very likely Damoiseau/Bellevue.
  • I’ve elected to keep this rum in the main section and not the Rumaniacs, even though it’s definitely a Golden Oldie that’s dead and gone.
  • This particular Gardel has come up on Rum Auctioneer a few times in 2021-2022, averaging out at about £150 these days.  Who knows, it may all be the same bottle (impossible to tell for sure, since, unlike the 1992 edition with the classic cream-yellow-brown label, here the bottle number is not provided).
Nov 172022
 

Whatever my personal opinions on the need for the four Magnum rums to exist as a separate collection as opposed to being folding into other series, they are there, they’re a fact of life and we move on. In any case, we’ve learnt a bit about the legendary photo agency (even if we’re not into current history) and read up about the style and importance of Elliot Erwitt (even if we’re not photographers or understand the connection), and have tasted four new rums from old and proud houses, so it’s by no means a waste.

Moreover, for all their variations in quality, the fact is the rums really are kind of good, and this is a way to make them shine and gain (even more) popular acclaim. “Good” did I say? Well…yes, though perhaps I understate matters. The Foursquare, for all my relative lack of enthusiasm was quite decent (many disagreed and thought it was much better), and the Hampden and the Mount Gay rums were, I thought, excellent in their own right.  But when it comes ot the Saint James, the lowest proofed of the lot, “good” or “excellent” just doesn’t cut it.  Because this is a rum that’s exceptional.

Part of that may have been the completely approachable strength (45%) and part was surely the impact of fifteen years ageing in Martinique: we rarely see agricole rhums that old, so by itself that’s a selling point; plus, this may be the first indie bottling Saint James have ever allowed (like Appleton’s pot still collection, another Velier coup from a couple of years back). The real takeaway is that this rum combines an agricole sensibility with a long-term barrel-ageing philosophy (much as the Bally 18 YO did) and while of course I can’t speak for your experience or to your preferences, when I tried it, it was love at first sip.

The first notes of the rum opened with a complex symphony so rich I slugged the shot down, then poured a second glass immediately, just to make sure somebody wasn’t messing with me. There was a complex fruit symphony of tart gooseberries, miso, very ripe gooseberries and mangoes, and a smorgasbord of all the sour funkiness I would normally have associated with Jamaica. Pineapples, cherries, sprite, lemon rind, honey, and that was before a panoply of cane sap and herbals made themselves known: fennel, rosemary, cloves, jasmine.  The balance was superb and each delicate aromatic chip  was clear, bright, and neither dominating nor dominated by, any other.

It was a great experience tasting it, as well.  It felt just right on the tongue, silky, velvety, rich, and the tastes just went on from there. A lot of the bright and effervescent character remained, sweet, sour, tart, clean and voluptuous: pineapple slices and light yellow Thai mangoes, plus 7Up, honey, with additional threads of vanilla, cinnamon, rosemary and cardamom, plus just enough coffee grounds, chocolate and woodsmoke to present an intriguing and welcome counterpoint. The prevalence of dried fruits – thankfully not oversweet – brought to mind aged armagnacs or cognacs, especially when combined with a hint of aromatic damp tobacco. And it led to a really nice finish, surprisingly long, presenting a finale of delicious, sweetly gentle florals, bananas, honey, fruits and anise. 

Like Stuart Pearce of the underrated review site Secret Rum Bar, I have tended to view much-reduced aged agricole rhums with some hesitation, some reluctance, even occasional suspicion; and in his own review he noted that he felt the palate became somewhat flat, hence his lower score. I thought otherwise myself, though: it  dialled down from the impact the nose had made, to be sure, yet I didn’t think any quality was truly lost. 

Frankly, my opinion was (and remains, after sneaking a second round in at the Paris Whisky Live later in the year) that it is hard to see how it could have been improved upon. It’s one of the best aged agricoles I’ve ever tried, and to my mind, is some kind of wonderful. It dares to take a chance, to not so much go off the beaten track as delicately careen along the skirting to show possibilities, hinting, not bludgeoning.  It marries a solid age not often seen in agricole rhums, with a lower strength that allows all the complexities of the barrels and the gradual transmutation of the rhum, to be presented in their full flower. To bring this up to cask strength but make it younger would not have worked as well, and to simply age it without addressing the balance of tastes and intensity would have invited failure. Saint James drew upon all the skills they had – and that’s a lot – and ended up providing Velier, and us, with one of those miraculous rhums that achieves its immediate goals of being just damned good…and then continues climbing towards an even higher sensibility.

(#951)(91/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ 


Other notes

  • Once again it seems like I have a minority opinion. Secret Rum Bar rated it 84 points, WhiskyFun gave it 88, while Rum-X has an average of 84 points off of 12 ratings.
  • As with the other rums in this quartet, the outturn is 600 magnums and 1200 bottles.
  • The photograph on the label is from 2005 and depicts a scene from the wedding of a friend of Erwitt’s in Rome. The woman shown in silhouette is the bride.
  • 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 072022
 

By now it’s almost like an annual event at the beginning of each new rum-release season: Velier makes an announcement about a co-bottling or a new rum, or a whole new series, and the rumiverse goes politely batsh*t for a while. To be honest, I kind of look forward to see what they come up with myself, because you really can’t fault their originality, or their style. And the rums themselves are usually interesting, with an occasional gem popping up here and there.

Now, most independents go with the standard big Caribbean distilleries, keep the labels consistent, and stay within just a few clearly pre-established “ranges.” Not Velier. They go off on their own tangent, every time. There was the clairins in 2014, HV in 2015, the pair of Indian ocean rums in 2017, the Hampden launch in 2018 (and all its various sub-series like Great House and Endemic Birds et al, since then), the Barbosa grogue and Villa Paradisetto in 2019, Japoniani in 2020, and — well, I could go on. Each has its own label design aesthetic, and tries to be original in some small way. For the 2022 season, then, the pride of place along with the Papa Rouyos and twenty Saint James expressions was surely the Magnum Series No.1 featuring Elliot Erwitt’s black and white photos on the label.

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 I don’t think they have direct relationships with the contents of the bottles in any way, and were chosen simply because they were appreciated as works of art.

So let’s get started with the first of the four, the Mount Gay, which could equally well be called the Last Last Last Ward. It is a pot still distillate laid down in 2007 when Frank Ward was still running the joint; the idea was to create a new and different brand called Mount Gilboa, and there have been some barrels that the Ward family kept after the takeover by Remy Cointreau, some of which were bottled as the Last Ward rums of the Habitation Velier line. The rum was triple distilled on double retort pot stills and aged in American white oak for 14 years (unlikely to be new – the influence would be too great, so my money is on ex-bourbon casks), after which a mere 600 bottles were squeezed out at 60% ABV.

What comes out at the other end after a near decade and a half is really kind of spectacular.  The initial aromas are a perfumed symphony of sweet molasses, honey, and flambeed bananas in a luscious kind of mélange. A vein of sweet and creamy caramel coffee winds its way around rich scents of custard, coconut shavings and vanilla. This is offset by the tart muskiness of soft and almost-overripe fruits: pears, guavas, oranges, apples, grapes, black cherries. I enjoyed the hint of the spices – cinnamon, cardamom, rosemary — and the whole thing displays a depth of complexity not to be sneezed at.

It tastes really good too.  The 60% lands on the palate as solidly as a right-wing extremist’s denial of …well, anything. It’s deceptively soft, the impact doesn’t get there until later: initially it’s all mushy fruit and smoke and leather, with the barest bitter tang of oakiness.  Vanilla, coconut shavings, those flambeed bananas again, plus light florals, a touch of smoke, and a creamy, tart yoghurt mixing it up with honey, caramel, and a dusting of cinnamon and cardamom. The finish is a gradual come down from these heights – it’s epically long, of course, and doesn’t feel like adding anything to the party, being content to sum up with light molasses, yoghurt, those ripe fruits, pineapples and spices. 

Overall, I think the rum is great, and it reminds me a lot of the Habitation Velier Last Ward 2007 and 2009 rums – which is hardly surprising since they come from the same batch of barrels squirrelled away all those years ago. They all have that sense of displaying a sort of quality without effort, like it was hardly even trying, and are quite different from the normal run of Mount Gay rums which are more widely available, and more affordable. The Magnum is neither worse nor better than either of those two earlier HV editions – better to say it exists on that same level of pot still excellence, and I suppose that if the distillate had not been used for the Magnum line, it would have been completely appropriate to be the third Last Ward in the Habitations. The price will probably keep the average buyer away, but for those who can score a sample or even a bottle of this latest in the Velier lineup, I think it’s more than worth it.

(#948)(88/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Opinions on the online databases like Rum-X and Rum Ratings mostly felt it did not quite come up to snuff; in doing my last checks before posting this review, was surprised to see I liked it more than most. I passed over comments like the alcohol being too high or the profile not being their thing (those are personal opinions, and each has their own which won’t necessarily align with mine), but one thing must be conceded: there are other Barbadian rums out there — some even from Mount Gay — which are almost or equally good, and which cost less.  It has to be accepted that part of the price here is the rarity and small outturn, and the premium of the name.
  • The photograph on the label is a 1999 photo of the Californian seaside resort of Pacific Palisades.
Oct 172022
 

Foursquare’s Exceptional Cask Series gets the lion’s share of the attention showered on the distillery these days, and the Doorly’s “standard line” gets most of the remainder, yet many deep diving aficionados reserve the real gold for the Foursquare-Velier collaborations. And while some wags humorously remark that the series’ are only excuses for polysyllabic rodomontade, the truth is that the collaborations are really good, just not as visible: they are released less often and with a more limited outturn than the big guns people froth over on social media. So not unnaturally they attract attention mostly at bidding time on online auctions, where they reliably climb in price as the years turn and the stock diminishes.

There currently eight rums in the set, which have been issued since February 2016 (when the famed 2006 10 YO came out): they are, in order of release as of January 2023, the 2016, Triptych, Principia, Destino (whether there’s only one, or two, is examined below), Patrimonio, Plenipotenziario, Sassafras and Racounteur.  All are to one extent or another limited bottlings — and while they do not form an avenue to explore more experimental releases (like the pot still or LFT Foursquares in the HV series, for example), they are, in their own way, deemed special.

On the face of it, the Destino really does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary – which is to say, it conforms to the (high) standards Foursquare has set which have now almost become something of their signature. The rum is a pot-column blend, distilled in 2003 and released in December of 2017: between those dates it was aged 12 years in ex-Madeira casks and a further two in ex-Bourbon, and 2,610 of the “standard” general release edition were pushed out the door at a robust 61%, preceded by 600 bottles of the Velier 70th Anniversary edition at the same strength.

What we get was a very strong, very rich and very fruity-winey nose right off the bat. It smells of sweet apple cider, strawberries, gherkins, fermenting plums and prunes, but also sweeter notes of apricots, peaches are noticeable, presenting us with a real fruit salad.  A little vanilla and some cream can be sensed, a sort of savoury pastry, but with molasses, caramel, butterscotch all AWOL. Something of a crisply cold fine wine here, joined at the last by charred wood, cloves, soursop, and a vague lemony background.

The citrus takes on a more forward presence when the rum is tasted, with the initial palate possessing all the tart creaminess of a key lime pie, while not forgetting a certain crisp pastry note as well.  It’s delicious, really, and hardly seems as strong as it is. Stewed apples, green grapes, white guavas take their turn as the rum opens up: it turns into quite a mashup here, yet it’s all as distinct as adjacent white keys on a piano. With water emerge additional flavours: some freshly baked sourdough bread, vanilla, dates, figs, with sage, cloves, white pepper and cinnamon rounding things out delectably.

The finish is perfectly satisfactory: it’s nice and long and aromatic, yet introduces nothing new: it serves as more of a concluding summation, like the final needed paragraph to one of Proust’s long-winded essays. The rum doesn’t leave you exhausted in quite the same way as that eminent French essayist does, but you are a bit wrung out with its complexities and power when you’re done, though. And the way it winds to a conclusion is like a long exhaled breath of all the good things it encapsulates.

So…with all of the above out of the way, is it special?  Several of the ECS releases are of similar provenance and have been rated by myself and others at similar levels of liking, so is there actually a big deal to be made here, and is there a reason for the Destino to be regarded as something more “serious”?

Not really, but that’s because the rum is excellent, and works, on all levels. It noses fine, tastes fine, finishes with a snap and there’s complexity and strength and texture and quality to spare. It does Foursquare no dishonour at all, and burnishes the reputation the house nicely (as if that were needed). The rum, then, is special because we say it is: viewed objectively, it’s simply on a level with the high bar set by the company and is neither a slouch nor a disappointment, “just” a very good rum. 

Sometimes I think Richard may have painted himself into a corner with these rums he puts out: they are all of such a calibre that to maintain a rep for high quality means constantly increasing the quality lest the jaded audience get bored. There is a limit to how far that can be done, but let’s hope he hasn’t reached it yet — because know I want more of these.

(#944)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • There is a “47” and a “17” on the “Teardrops” box’s top left and bottom right tears. They reference the founding of Velier in 1947; and the issuance of the rum and 70th Anniversary of the Company, in 2017. There are total of seventy tears, of course. The numbers are repeated on the back label
  • Wharren Kong the Singaporean artist, designed the Teardrops graphic.
  • The pair was tried side by side three times: once in 2018, again in December 2021 in Berlin (from samples) and again at the 2022 Paris WhiskyLive (from bottles).

Addendum – The Two Destinos

Are the two expressions of the Destino — the general release “standard” and the Velier 70th Anniversary Richard Seale “Teardrop” edition — different or the same? The question is not a mere academic exercise in anal-retentive pedantry of interest only to rum geeks: serious money is on the line for the “Seale” release. The short answer is no, and the long answers is yes.  Sorry.

What happened is that as the Destino barrels were being prepped in 2017, Luca called Richard  — some months before formal release —  and asked for an “old rum” for the 70th Anniversary collection. Richard, who doesn’t do specials, anniversaries or cliches, initially refused, but after Luca practically broke down in tears (I exaggerate a little for effect), Richard raised his fists to heaven in a “why me?” gesture (I exaggerate a little more), grumbled a bit longer, and then reluctantly suggested that maybe, perhaps, possibly, just this once, it could be arranged to have six hundred bottles of the Destino relabelled and reboxed with the Velier 70th Anniversary colours. This was initially estimated as two casks of the many that were being readied for final blending. Luca agreed because the deadline for his release was tight, and so it was done. The label on the “Teardrops” was prepared on that basis, way in advance of either release.

Except that for one thing, it ended up being three casks, not two, and for another, “Teardrops” was in fact decanted, bottled and released a couple of months earlier than “Standard.” Yet they both came from the same batch of rum laid down in 2003, and aged identically for the same years in ex-bourbon and ex-Madeira … in that sense they are the same. The way they diverge is that three barrels were separated out and aged a couple of months less than the general release.  So, according to Richard, who took some time out to patiently explain this to me, “In theory they are ‘different’- like two single casks  – but in reality it’s the same batch of rum with the same maturation.”

Observe the ramifications of that almost negligible separation and the special labelling: on Rum Auctioneer, any one of the 600 bottles of “Teardrops” sells for £2000 or more, while one of the 2,610 bottles of the  standard goes for £500.  People claim “Teardrops” is measurably better because (variously) the box is different, the taste is “recognizably better”, or because the labelling says “selected two of his oldest Rum casks” and “very old ex-Rum casks” and not ex-Madeira and ex-bourbon. Or, perhaps because they are seduced by the Name and the much more limited 600 bottles, and let their enthusiasm get the better of them. 

Yes the box is different and the labelling description is not the same: this is as a result of the timing of the box and labels’ printing way in advance of the actual release of the rum, and so  some stuff was just guessed, or fluff-words were printed.  We saw the same thing with Amrut catalogue-versus-label difference in 2022), but I reiterate: the liquid is all of a piece, and the rums within have the miniscule taste variation attendant on any two barrels, even if laid down the same day and aged the same way. Maybe one day I’ll do a separate review of Teardrops just because of that tiny variation, but for the moment, this one will stand in for both.


 

Aug 082022
 

Long time readers of this site will know something of my movement away from softer Spanish/Latin style rons over the years. There’s nothing particularly deficient about many of them (only some), and I have a soft spot for quite a few.  It’s just that I find most quite unadventurous, occasionally boring, sometimes added-to —  though of course they all have their adherents and supporters who buy them and keep the distilleries humming. At most, one can cast aspersions on their escutcheon with matters having to do with disclosure and/or adulteration, something which companies like La Hechicera and Dictador out of Colombia, Malecon from Panama and Mombacho out of Nicaragua (there are several others) have often been the target of. That does not mean, however, that they’re all bad, and it would be a mistake to tar them all with the same brush of indifference and despite.

These thoughts occurred to me because I was forced to take an honest look at what these too-often mild-as-milkwater rums could do when done well, when I tried one that Bristol Spirits — one of the more venerable of the modern independents — had sourced from Venezuela.  The exact distillery it comes from is something of a mystery (more on that below); and it is a column still, molasses-based spirit, aged 12 years in refill American oak (ex-bourbon and in both Venezuela and Europe), un-chill-filtered, unadded-to and released at a robust 47% ABV…which I suggest is somewhat uninspiring and which Bristol calls “just about right”.

They may be on to something there, because frankly, there is little to find fault with.  The rum is crisp and tangy, with aromas jumping all over the map: initially quite fruity with scents of lemon meringue pie, pineapples, unsweetened yoghurt, bananas, it switches over after a few minutes and presents light caramel, vanilla, flowers and is light enough to present almost as an aged agricole-style rhum. It’s apparent simplicity belies an under-the-hood level of complexity I must confess to not expecting (which may be why John Barrett, Bristol’s owner, was smirking the entire time as I tried it).

Nose is one thing, though: and many rums of real olfactory promise falter and die on the palate.  At 47% this is reasonable sipping territory, which is to say, it won’t try to defenestrate my tongue.  Here, it must be conceded that the rum succeeds very nicely.  It has a good mouthfeel; it’s tangy and a little sour, yet with a solid underpinning of caramel and chocolate oranges. Ripe Thai mangoes and peaches are in evidence, some light fruit, and here again, it feels like a firm and slightly deeper agricole rhum, musky, a bit tannic, slightly sweet.  An interesting amalgam, all summed up by a shortish finish that showed off a last flirt of salt caramel ice cream with fruit bits sprinkled on top, a touch of light brine, some flowers, and it is over way too quickly.

So let’s talk a bit about Bristol, one of the stalwarts of the indie bottling ecosystem, a small company run by one man, John Barrett (he has recently brought in a young man, his son-in-law, to help run things). Bristol was established as far back as the 1990s, at the dawn of the modern rum renaissance, and if you really are curious, the Boys of Rumcast did a great interview with the man just a few weeks ago. Bristol Spirits, along with Renegade and Rum Nation, were the first indies I came into contact with that showed me the directions rum could go, and one of my best memories of the early rums I tried and wrote about, was the terrific PM 1980 25 year old that almost converted a dedicated single-malt lover to rums on the spot.  Bristol Spirits has faded from popular acclaim somewhat over the last five years or so, as new, young and aggressive little indies from all over Europe claimed market share and eyeballs of social media, yet they never went away, and their bright and simple labels have been a fixture at many a rumfest where I skulked around, and I’ve never actually had a bad one from the stable.

Bristol buys barrels like everyone else, trades them and exchanges them and sources stuff here and there, does some tinkering, blending and ageing of their own, holds on to stock they like, bottles stuff they think is ready. With respect to this Venezuelan rum, in my opinion, they hit the sweet spot, because it’s very ready. 

This is a rum that defies expectations (especially mine), and is one of the best Latin/Spanish heritage-style rums of my recent memory – in fact, it forces a reconsideration of what these distilleries can do, if juice like this becomes the norm rather than the exception it currently is. The strength is near-perfect, the notes shimmer in simple harmonies that speak of subtle and elegant arrangements which you can almost, but not quite, sense. There’s not a whole lot of oomph going on — consider it a serene chamber piece, not a symphony — and the level of complexity exhibited by a Hampden, for example, is not in evidence. Yet somehow it goes beyond all that, and at the end, it works, it tastes great and you enjoy it, and isn’t that what counts?

(#928)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Distillery

The producer noted on the label is stated as being “Destileria Sofa” which seems straightforward enough, except that you’ll never find a distillery of that name in Venezuela (and believe me, I tried).  Rum-X and various European shops make mention of it – always with respect to this very same rum and no other – and some remark it’s located in the NE of the country.  But that’s all you get.  There’s no mention of the distillery on google, reddit, wikidot or any other resource I can consult…except for one, and so, your intrepid soused reviewer got on to Simon over at Bristol Spirits: he’s the guy who helps me out when Mr. Barrett doesn’t pick up the phone. 

Long story short, it’s a distillery that makes a certain well regarded rum possibly named after a 16th century Carmelite nun, which has an association with Bacardi that prohibits it from using its own name on independent bottlings such as Bristol’s. So something similar to the “secret distillery” which Compagnie des Indes sometimes includes on its label, or how “A Jamaican Distillery” is used on occasion to avoid complications with the useage of a name like Worthy Park or what have you.  Most of the time you’re given enough to work with, as I was, but I’ll respect the confidentiality in print and not come right out with the name.

All that aside, even though permission was given to use the name of Destileria Sofa on the label as the source for the rum, I still don’t actually know what that represents or means or where the name comes from, so if anyone knows any better, or can provide information from Venezuela, feel free to send it along and I’ll add it to these notes.


Other Notes

  • After this review went up, Mads Heitmann, who runs the Danish webshop Romhatten, commented that the rum was tested at 10-11g/L sugar which he later confirmed with Bristol Spirits. If this is so (I have an outstanding email to them) it won’t change the review, which is locked, but it would explain something of the slight voluptuousness and sweetness the rum displayed, even if not particularly unpleasant in any way.
Jul 142022
 

Belize, until recently, had somewhat withdrawn from the epicenter of avant-garde and popular rum culture. Traveller’s, the main distillery in the country, produced soft Spanish-heritage-style rums like the One-Barrel, Three-Barrel and Five-Barrel rums and the excellent Don Omario (not sure if it remains in production), yet it was overtaken by the full-proof pot-still ethos that have of late almost defined quality modern rums for the deep diving aficionados and connoisseurs. That’s not to say Belize’s rums weren’t popular – they were, and remain so, especially to those who knew about them and liked the style.  It’s just that in terms of wider appreciation and “must-have” collectors’ hunger, constant innovation, new expressions, relentless marketing and attendance at festivals the world over, Belize’s rums didn’t keep pace, and have lapsed into a sort of quiet somnolescence.

Two things have changed that view and helped raise the visibility of the country, more than a little. One was the establishment of the Copalli Distillery in 2016: this was (and is) a small, ecologically-minded organic rum maker utilizing sugar cane juice, and their small production outturn, while not reinventing the wheel, has received plaudits and good press (I have not tasted any…yet). In today’s world where environmental concerns, organic agriculture and sustainable practices are considered selling points and hallmarks of quality, the establishment of this distillery immediately created attention.

The other was a development in the USA, home of the micro-distilling culture that prides itself in starting up small outfits that produce every spirit known to man on their small stills (and are at pains to advertise a few that aren’t). In the US, strangely enough, and in spite of the success of Ed Hamilton, almost no indie bottler has ever bothered to establish itself as a serious endeavor to take on the Europeans: at best it’s an occasional one-off bottling that appears, like the Stolen Overproof — and yet that strikes me as really peculiar, given the proximity of the Caribbean and Central American distilleries, and the opportunities this offers. In 2019, however, somebody didn’t wait for the second knock: a new company called Windyside Spirits was established by New Yorker Eric Kaye and his wife, specifically to support their Holmes Cay brand, and they went in with the intention of being a serious independent bottler in their own right.

What does that have to do with Belize? Well, in their first year (2019) Holmes Cay tentatively released a Barbados Foursquare rum (selected so they could do a first bottling that would “knock it out of the park”) and it was so well received that they followed that up in 2020 with four more rums: from Guyana, Barbados (again), Fiji…and Belize. By now Barbados, Guyana and even Fiji were already well known and Belize was something of an outlier, but the combined street cred and positive word of mouth attendant on these releases certainly spilled over…and that small Central American nation was again being seriously considered as a rum maker of some note.


This rum was from the aforementioned Travellers Distillery, and the exact route it used to get to the US, whether via a broker and Europe or directly to the US, is unknown (the rear label suggests it was completely done in Belize). But clearly it went a long way, navigated the torturous byzantine byways of US regulations, and paid a lot of taxes, which is why it retails for a hundred bucks and more even in the US and that by itself might be an issue…to say nothing of the 61% ABV proof point, which would not recommend it to the casual fan of Captain Morgan or Bacardi. It is a column still product deriving from molasses, was aged from 2005 to 2020 in ex Bourbon casks and was released at full proof and without any additives or messing around.

What this produced, then was a dark reddish amber rum of some character.  Nosing it for the first time was quite a kinetic experience: it reminded me initially of a full proof Demerara rum: caramel, toffee, molasses, marshmallows (slightly singed), vanilla, mocha, and coconut shavings.  It took something of a detour by adding sly background notes of acetones, nail polish, a lemon zest, coca cola and even some licorice, and overall the impression was one of solid, well-aged, not-overly-complex rum of consistent quality.

The palate was (somewhat to my surprise) even better, though I was left regarding it rather dubiously and scribbling in my notes whether this was a Demerara or not and whether anything had been added.  Some woody tannins were in evidence, slightly bitter, plus coffee grounds, licorice, damp tobacco, caramel, molasses and brown sugar – I mean, it wasn’t, quite, but it sure had elements that a Guyana PM- or Enmore-lover would not be unhappy with. It also felt rather sweet (though not cloying, just a sort of background sense), and had a good bit of dark fruit action developing over time: very ripe dark cherries, black grapes, bananas, and dark unsweetened chocolate, all of wich went well with the toffee-caramel-molasses combo that had started the palate party.Ther finish, as befitted such a strong drink, was nicely long, mostly licorice, chocolate, coffee, and some tannins, a quietening down of that nose and palate, though one that did not add anything new, just toned it all down as it closed things off.


So for a rum chanelling the Spanish-heritage style (short fermentation, high ABV off a column still, flavour primarily by ageing), a bit on the odd side, but very nice; rums made in this way (even if by a former British colony) issued at proof have always excited my curiosity, perhaps because there are so few of them. That’s not to say this one works on all levels or fires on all cylinders because compared to others it is not quite as complex – the proof helps it get past that hurdle in a way that would not have succeeded as well as it did, had it been, say 40%. And then there are the taste and dark colour, which excite some doubts.

But I make that remark as a person who has tried more rums from around the world than most. For an American rum audience used slim pickings locally and to staring wistfully across the European rum shops, getting a rum like this must have been like a blast to usher in the zombie apocalypse. No additives, limited outturn, a tropical age statement of a decade and a half, single cask, and…was that really cask strength? The Belize 2005 took all the dials that rum-makers from Central and Latin America had consistently and puzzlingly left almost unturned for decades and spun them savagely around to “11”. As with the others in the line, the reviews it garnered were almost uniformly positive: Rum Revelations scored it 88 (“a flavour bomb”), Flaviar gave it a solid 8.0/10, Paste’s Jim Vorel penned an enthusiastic (if unscored) review, Rum Ratings’ three voters all said 9/10 and Rum-X had one reviewer award it 98 points. 

All of which probably says more about the strength of the desire North Americans have for rums that are better than the standard blah they too often have to put up with, than the intrinisc worth of the rum when looked at dispassionately. But still: the Belize 15YO shows that there is something better than ten-buck supermarket fodder available — and while it may be pricey, it is worth it, and demonstrates that there is indeed a market for indie bottlings made by Americans, for their side of the Atlantic.

(#923)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • The reputation Holmes Cay developed with this and other rums almost instantly led to two episodes on the podcast RumCast (#2 for the Barbados, and #30 for the Fiji) and blurbs, reviews and articles in various industry fora like Paste, GotRum, Drinkhacker, Rum Lab, Wine Enthusiast, Robb Report, Forbes, and Esquire (to name just a few). No European indie ever got that kind of press so fast, ands it points out – to me, at any rate – a huge unmet demand for the sort of rums they make and the model they use to produce them.
  • In his review on Rum Revelations, Ivar also remarked on the caramel and winey taste and wondered if Travellers had monkeyed around with it. I don’t doubt HC themselves were completely above board when they said they didn’t, but on the other hand, they took what they got on faith, so who knows?
  • Thanks to John Go, who sent me a sample.
Jan 102022
 

When we think of Haiti two names in rum immediately spring to mind: clairins and Barbancourt.  This pair of diametrically opposite rum making styles dominate the conversation to such an extent that it is often overlooked that there are other distilleries on the island, like Barik / Moscoso, Agriterra / Himbert, Distillerie de la Rue (Nazon), Distillerie Lacrete, La Distillerie 1716, Beauvoir Leriche and Janel Mendard (among others).  Granted most of these don’t do much branded work, stay within their regional market, or they sell bulk rum only (often clairins or their lookalikes that punch up lesser rums made by even cheaper brands), but they do exist and it’s a shame we don’t know more about them or their rums.

I make this point because the Samaroli 11 year old Haitian rum from 2004 which we are looking at today, doesn’t actually say which distillery in Haiti made it.  Admittedly, this is a pedantic issue, since we can surmise with near-total assurance that it’s a Barbancourt distillate: they supply the majority of European brokers with bulk rum from Haiti while the others mentioned here tend to do local sales or over-the-border business in the Dominican Republic.  But we don’t know for sure and all the ebay sites and auction listings for this rum and other Haitians that Samaroli bottled, do not disclose the source, so we’ll take it as an educated and probably correct guess for now.

What else?  Distilled in 2004 and released in 2015 at 45% ABV, the rum hews closely to the mantra Silvio Samaroli developed all those years ago, which said that at the intersection of medium age and medium strength is a nexus of the best of all possible aromas, textures and tastes, where neither the rawness of youth or the excessive oakiness of age can spoil the bottled distillate, and the price remains reasonable.  Well, maybe, though what’s going on these days price-wise might give anyone pause to wonder whether that still holds true.

The rum does nose nicely, mind you: it starts off with a loud blurt of glue paint and nail polish, warm but not sharp and settles down into an almost elegant and very precise profile.  Soft notes of sugar water, pear syrup, cherries, vanilla and coconut shavings cavort around the nose, offset by a delicate lining of citrus and florals and a subtle hint of deeper fruits, and herbs.

Overall the slightly briny palate is warm, but not obnoxious.  Mostly, it’s relaxed and sweet, with pears, papayas, cucumbers plus maybe a single pimento for a sly kick at the back end.  It’s not too complex – honestly, it’s actually rather shy, which may be another way of saying there’s not much going on here.  But it still beats out a bunch of standard strength Spanish-heritage rons I had on the go that same day.  What distinguishes the taste is its delicate mouthfeel, floral hints and the traces of citrus infused sugar cane sap, all quite nice.  It’s all capped by a short and floral finish, delicate and spicy-sweet, which retains that slight brininess and darker fruits that are hinted at, without any effort to overwhelm.

Formed in 1968 by the eponymous Italian gentleman, the firm made its bones in the 1970s in whiskies,  branched into rums, and has a unicorn rum or two in its portfolio (like that near legendary 1948 blend); it is the distinguished inspiration for, and conceptual ancestor of, many Italian indies who came after…but by 2022 and even perhaps before that, Samaroli slipped in the younger generation’s estimation, lagging behind new and hungry independents like 1423, Rom Deluxe or Nobilis.  These brash insurgents issued cask strength monsters crammed with 80+ points of proof that were aged to three decades, or boosted to unheard ester levels…and the more elegant, easier, civilized rums Samaroli was once known for, no longer command the same cachet.

Now, this quiet Haiti rum is not an undiscovered steal from yesteryear, or a small masterpiece of the indie bottler’s art – I’d be lying if I said that. It’s simply a nice little better-than-entry level sipper, quiet and relaxed and with just enough purring under the hood to not make it boring. But to me it also shows that Samaroli can continue to do their continental ageing thing and come out with something that — while not a brutal slug to the nuts like a clairin, or the sweet elegance of a well-aged Barbancourt or a crank-everything-up-to-”12” rum from an aggressive new indie — still manages to present decently and show off a profile that does the half-island no dishonour. In a time of ever larger bottle-stats (and attendant prices), too often done just for shock value and headlines, perhaps it is worth taking a look at a rum like this once in a while, if only to remind ourselves that there are always alternatives.

(#874)(82/100)


Other Notes

  • It is assumed to be a column-still rhum; the source, whether molasses or sugar cane, is unstated and unknown.
  • 270-bottle outturn
Nov 112021
 

Photo Courtesy Rom Deluxe

Rumaniacs Review #129 | 0863

Rom Deluxe, the Danish company whose very first release and company biography was profiled last week, ended up making a total of seven initial bottlings, all of which were more or less non-commercial, and served primarily to establish the small company’s bona fides around the country. They are long since only to be found either in some collector’s back shelf, unlabelled and perhaps even unremembered, or in Rom Deluxe’s own shelves. As a comment on the many years that Rom Deluxe was only a small hobby outfit, observe that six of these seven bottlings were made in 2016 (the year the company was founded) to 2019 (the year of the “Wild series” first release) after which the ethos of changed to a more commercial mindset; the 7th edition, in 2020, was a special edition for a client, not the market.

In the founding year four bottlings were done, with the second and fourth from Barbados – Foursquare to be exact.  This fourth edition was 11 years old (from 2005), and released in early 2017 at cask strength, though the exact outturn is unknown – I’d suggest between two to three hundred bottles.

Colour – Gold

Age – 11 YO

Strength – 58.8%

Nose – Sweet light fruit, raspberries, papayas and the tartness of red currants.  Cherries and unripe green pears.  Vanilla and the slight lemony tang of cumin (I like that), as well as some hint of licorice.  Delicate but emphatic at the same time, yet the heavier notes of a pot still element seem curiously absent.

Palate – Completely solid rum to drink neat; dry and a touch briny and then blends gently into salt caramel ice cream, black bread and herbal cottage cheese (kräuter quark to the Germans).  After opening and a few minutes it develops a more fruity character – plums, ripe black cherries – and mixes it up with cinnamon, light molasses and anise. It goes down completely easy.

Finish – Nice and longish, no complaints.  The main flavours reprise themselves here: anise, molasses, dark fruits, a bot of salt and some citrus. 

Thoughts – Okay it’s a Foursquare, and so a pot-column blend, but perhaps we have all been spoiled by the Exceptionals, because even with the 58.8% strength, it seems more column still than a pot-column mashup, and somehow rather more easy going than it should be. Not too complex, and not too bad — simply decent, just not outstanding or memorable in any serious way.

(82/100)


Other notes

  • Thanks as always go to Nicolai Wachmann, for the sample, and Kim Pedersen of Rom Deluxe for his help with the background details.
Nov 042021
 

Photo courtesy of Rom Deluxe

Rumaniacs Review #128 | 0862

Few outside Denmark will know or even remember what Rom Deluxe issued back at the beginning of their existence. The Danish company made its international (or at least European) debut in 2019 with the stunningly designed and smartly chosen “Wild Series” (now into R.19 which I call “Po”), and for most people, its history begins there.  However, it has been in existence since 2016 when three friends — Claus Andersen, Thomas Nielsen and Lasse Bjørklund — came together to establish the small hobby-company and their very first release was the anonymously titled rum of RDL #1.

This was a cask strength rum from the Dominican Republic (Oliver & Oliver), issued at 65%, dating from 2004 and bottled in 2016, so a 12 Year Old. Unsurprisingly it’s molasses based, column still, and it was sold not with any fancy printed label glued on to the logo-etched bottle, but a tie-on (!!) which for sheer originality is tough to beat. It’s unlikely to be found in stores these days, and I’m not even completely sure it ever got a full commercial distribution. 

Colour – Gold

Age – 12 Years

Strength 65%

Nose – Quite sweet, redolent of ripe dark fruits with a touch of both tannins and vanilla. There is a trace of molasses, brown sugar and cherries in syrup, plus attar of roses and some other winey notes. Nosing it blind leads to some initial confusion because it has elements of both a finished Barbados rum and a savalle-still Guyanese in there, but no, it really is a DR rum.  

Photo courtesy of Rom Deluxe

Palate – Soft and easy even at that strength: caramel, vanilla, almonds, nougat, tinned cherries and syrup.  It’s relatively uncomplex, with some additional brininess and dryness on the backend.  Nutmeg and ginger lend some snap, and herbs provide a little extra, but not enough to get past the basic tastes.

Finish – Completely straightforward now, with vanilla, unsweetened chocolate, some caramel and molasses.  Very ho hum by this point and once you get here you no longer think it’s either Bajan or Mudland.  You know it’s Spanish heritage juice.

Thoughts – Starts out decently with intriguing aromas, then falters as each subsequent step is taken until it remains as just a touch above ordinary.  The strength saves it from being a fail, and the sweetness – whether inherent or added – mitigates the strength enough to make it a tolerable sip. For that alone you’ve got to admire the construction, yet it’s a rum you sense is a work in progress, selected for ease of use rather than brutality of experience. Three years later, that would change.

(79/100)


Other notes

  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample, and Kim Perdersen of Rom Deluxe for the bottle photographs
  • The background on the company was too long to include, so I wrote it as a separate “Makers” series article, and tucked it over there. It includes as exhaustive a list of their bottlings as possible.
Oct 192021
 

Photograph courtesy of reddit user SpicVanDyke,

DDL has, since 2016, capitalized on the worldwide fame of the heritage stills which the independents had forged during and before the current rum renaissance (though it is a peculiarity of the culture that many Guyanese remain completely unaware of the reverence they’re held in around the globe). They have released several editions of the Rare Collection, and also begun to dabble in some interesting experimentals, as well as standard proof editions of the individual wooden still marques (rather than blends). Beginners and Guyanese rum lovers are spoiled for choice these days in a way I can only envy….where was all this juice when I was growing up?

Yet, to my mind, for all of DDL’s effective multi-pronged colonization of the Demerara rum space, it’s not yet time to count out the independent bottlers who did so much to raise the profile of the marques and the stills at the first place. The SMWS, 1423, Tamosi, the Compagnie, Silver Seal and many others are releasing rums edging ever closer to three decades old, from all the major stills. And even if age isn’t the thing, there are always rums released by outfits we barely heard of — like Norse Cask or Kingsbury or L’Esprit — that somehow wow us with their sheer untrammelled excellence.

One rum like that is from what I seriously consider to be one of the most unsung independent bottlers in the rumisphere, L’Esprit. Located in Brittany and run by Tristan Prodhomme, they have bottled few “merely ho-hum” rums in their short history…at least in my opinion. The subject of today’s review, the 2005 12 YO from the Guyanese Port Mourant double wooden pot still, shows why I think that to be the case: it’s among the best they’ve ever done, and one of the best PM rums out there that isn’t from the 1970s, doesn’t have 20+ years of ageing and doesn’t cost multiples of four figures.

Just opening it and taking a deep sniff brings back a lot of memories, not just of Guyana but the ghosts of PM rums past.  It smells rich and deep and dark (in spite of the dark hay colour), of chocolate, toffee, nougat, of fresh bread hot from the oven.  There’s the aroma of pastries, ginger, marzipan and the fruitiness of rum-soaked, raisin-infused Christmas black cake sprinkled with crushed almonds, and over all of that is the scent, never overbearing but always there, of licorice and anise and lemons. 

Tristan bottled this thing at 58%, which was probably the right decision because it has such a rich and intense panoply of tastes that were it stronger, it might conceivably overwhelm your taste buds with a cheerful sensory overload. It’s dry and dusty, hot but not quite sharp, and if the nose restrained the fruits before, it now allows them off the leash: citrus peel, raisins, plums and dark, ripe prunes; oranges and strawberries and, because that clearly wasn’t enough, even stuffed some flambeed bananas in there for good measure. There’s vanilla ice cream sprinkled with nuts, more black cake (a lot of black cake), toblerone, aromatic tobacco, even a touch of salt caramel and Swiss bon bons. It leads to a long, dry, pungent and aromatic finish redolent of citrus, tart fruits, some yoghurt, anise, dark fruits and a final slice of the cake your Granny used to save for you on Boxing Day.

This rum is, in short, really kind of spectacular.  It does nothing new, but gives so much and does what it does so well, that it’s like revisiting all one’s favourite Port Mourant rums at once. Do I have a thing for Guyana generally, and for Port Mourant specifically?  Sure I do. But it’s more than just liking a rum, any rum, or even this rum. Tasting it is a form of natsukashii — a Japanese term for some small thing that brings back sudden, clear and strongly fond memories — not with a wistful longing for what’s past but with an appreciation of the good times, now gone, always remembered. 

Because, sooner or later, my mind always returns to Guyana. Not just for the nameless waterfalls, the South Savanna or the Pakaraimas; not only because I miss pepperpot, cookup, or a clap’ roti wit’ baigan choka, or egg ball ‘n’ sour; and not solely because I remember the cool red waters of its creeks, Stabroek Market, that lovely blue mosque at Crabwood Creek, speedboats across the Essequibo, cricket at Bourda, the regatta at Bartica, running along the seawall, or the dreaming jungle paths ‘in de bush’ where I worked all those years ago. 

No, not only for those things, though certainly that’s part of it, and of course, I’ve eaten labba and drunk creekwater, so there’s that.  But eventually, always, my mind goes back for the sheer variety of the country’s rums, those amazing rums, in their seemingly inexhaustible variety, that come from all those many stills housed at Diamond. L’Esprit didn’t intend to make a rum that evoked such feelings, of course, but that’s what they did. Every one of us has some object (or some rum) like that.  This is one of mine, and even if you disagree and just drink the thing, I believe you’d like and appreciate the rum for what it is too — a superb example of what DDL is capable of and what L’Esprit managed to bottle.

(#859)(91/100)


Other notes

  • A special hat tip to the reddit user SpicVanDyke, who graciously allowed me to use his photograph when mine turned out to be garbage. His (also positive) review, the only other one I could find, is here.
  • 238-bottle outturn
Jul 082021
 

After a successful debut in around 2016, the Transcontinental Rum Line, the indie bottler offshoot of La Maison du Whisky in Paris, has faded some from public view, though they continued to release rums as late as 2020).  That said, with current distribution in the US and parts of Asia, it may see something of a resurgence with that increased awareness. And that’s a good thing: as with all indies of a diverse portfolio of rums it’s a bit hit or miss, but overall they have done pretty well.

La Maison was formed by Georges Bénitah in 1956, and has had a long history with spirits — particularly the importation and distribution of rare whiskies. From what I gather, Georges’s son Thierry and Luca Gargano had (and continue to have) a long and amiable relationship — so the eventual joining of forces into the joint venture La Maison & Velier, which now distributes Velier rums in France, was perhaps inevitable.  Still, before that happened, LMDW was interested enough in the rising popularity of the indie single-cask rum scene in Europe to branch out on its own, and the TCRL range was launched in 2016 with a mix of various “standard” rums all indies seem to prefer, at either cask or standard strength. 

Leaving aside the unoriginal selections from all the usual locations (Fiji and Australia were welcome aberrations, admittedly), what distinguished them right off the bat was their visual imagery and marketing strategy, which was and remains centered around the pictures of the luxury ocean liner which graced their labels, accompanied by old fashioned text font. In the style and the evocation of this era of restrained Edwardian pomp (even if it wasn’t, see other notes, below) one felt a certain genteel sensibility, as one did, for example with the bare and faded yellow labels of Berry Bros. & Rudd.

So, this rum, from Belize. The major distillery of note on Belize is Travellers (Copalli is a new up and comer), which makes the Travellers 1-barrel, 3-barrel and 5-barrel rums for which they are best known, as well as the excellent Don Omario Vintage 15 year old (some backstory for the curious is in the 1-barrel review). This rum dripped off a column still in 2005, and was aged for nine years there before being shipped to Europe for an additional two years ageing, and for whatever reason, they decided to release the two-cask-output of 792 bottles at 46%.

Given the lightness of the profile, that may not have been accidental1, because the rum, even with all that tropical ageing, was soft and warm and pillowlike, completely without the sullen potential for violence displayed by, say, a young pot still Jamaican sporting high proof, dreads and a ‘tude. It presented, I’m afraid, a nose of few surprises: toffee, white chocolate, and some coconut shavings, all very easy and relaxed.  A few minutes later it was joined by vanilla, almonds, ice cream and pears, all quite solid, just unassertive and not really trying be overly complicated.

This restrained, lean-back-in-the-berbice-chair simplicity carried over on the tongue as well, and I wish they had beefed it up some, to be honest – it gave up tastes of coconut shavings again, caramel, honey, nougat, peaches in syrup, cherries and chocolate oranges, which expanded with some water to introduce a chocolate/coffee vibe that was nice, just not particularly unique in any way.  It all moved sedately and quietly into a finish of no real length or strength, which merely repeated these distinct, simple notes, and faded out with warmth and charmth. Yawn.

It’s…well, it’s fine. Tasty little rumlet. But a straightforward presentation of such relaxed and quiet tastes is pretty much what I’ve gotten bored with, with Latin-style rons as a whole. There’s not much real fun in the whole thing, little challenge — though I fully concede this is a hot-weather rum, to be had when force and striking power is not the objective.  By that standard, it’s a very pleasant sundowner sip, and I think the key to enjoying it fully is to pick the right time and place and mood to have it. As it turned out, I had it on a hot July day in Berlin and wasn’t in a mood to play around with its laid-back aw-shucks style, so its charms were unfortunately lost on me.

(#835)(81/100)


Other notes

  • One has to be a little careful about touting the “originality” of the labelling, because the same ship, a reproduction of a painting of the Queen Mary 2, appears on multiple labels and it wasn’t until somewhat later – the 2020 releases referred to above – that each bottle got its own ship. The sensory ethos and evocation of a past time embodied in those ships, the style of painting and the labelling font, remained the same, though

  • I particularly appreciate the extra information the back (and now the front) label – the division of how much time it spent ageing in tropical vs continental climes, the still, and particularly the other bottles in the range (referred to as “lines”, like it was a shipping concern going off to exotic locales…one wonder what they would have done of somebody in the marketing department liked trains).

 

Jun 212021
 

Over the last decade or so, there has been an ever increasing stable of small independent bottlers popping up.  Some produce one iteration of a rum and then fold; others associate themselves with a celebrity and produce rums in quantity, often blended, catering to the mid-to-low tiers of consumption; and some combine sales of blends with sales of high end single cask bottlings. Few stay exclusively with just releasing a few hundred bottles of a cask every now and then, because such releases are perhaps the hardest to market effectively and make money from. There is a crowded market already, and if one does not have a ready buyer on hand, it’s a money losing proposition, with very thin margins.

Indeed, most of the successful single cask indies eventually do one of two things: either they increase the amount of such bottlings, or they combine it with other sources of income that subsidizes or cushions any price shocks. That could be either another line of business altogether, like the SMWS and its “actual” business of whiskies, or other types of rums. 1423, Rum Nation, and Compagnie des Indes all follow the latter route. 1423 has the Companero and Esclavo line, Rum Nation had their blended starter rums (and their whisky business), and the Compagnie also dabbles in their own blends like the Tricorne, Dominidad, Veneragua or Caraibe.

So also does L’Esprit, the tiny company in Brittany which to me is one of the most unsung, underappreciated and underrated indies out there (together with Chantal Comte). Their original and perhaps main line of business continues to be whiskies, but the rums they put out the door are sometimes nothing short of amazing (like the white mastodons of the South Pacific Distillers and Diamond. Tristan Prohomme often releases two variants of the rums he bottles – one more or less diluted-to-standard proof version for three quarters of the outturn, and one barrel proof version for the remainder.  So there’s something for everyone and neatly squelches any comments (from snarky writers like me) about how the rums could be stronger, or weaker.

What we’re looking at today is a Haitian rum from the well known Barbancourt Distillery, column-distilled in 2004 and released in 2016 at a firm 46% that should appeal to most consumers.  I’ll bet that few know anything about it, however… unless they have read the review of its 66.2% twin, which garnered a hefty 86 points from me and another 87 points from WhiskyFun.  Was its lesser proofed sibling on that level?

I thought so, yes.  It was not as deep and intense as the stronger one, but this was to its advantage, because subtler notes I missed before came out more distinctly, without being bludgeoned flat into the ground by a high strength steamroller. The nose started off beautifully, with acetone, grass, lemon zest and the delicate herbals of a cane juice rhum (which this is).  There was a fat sort of philly-cheese-on-a-freshly-baked-bagel vibe going on, and it also nosed quite well, of herbs and cooking spices — and though fairly clean and light, it provided aromas that had a certain heft to them as well. 

The palate was also quite impressive.  Some fruit starting to go off (strawberries, mangoes, that kind of thing), faint vanilla and caramel, and delicate crispness of white and watery fruits: pears, guavas, watermelon, papaya. It lacked the authority and sureness I sensed on the aromas, but it was quite complex, as well as being distinct enough for individual bits and pieces to be picked out and appreciated, and the balance was excellent throughout. The finish was long and nicely dry, quite spicy, summing up the watery fruits, acetones, tartness and creaminess that had been the showcase of the nose and palate. 

This is a good rum: I liked it almost as much as the stronger 66.2%, but frankly, there’s not much to chose between them – the tastes and aromas are the same uniformly top notch experiences, just not as extreme.  The complexity and balance can hardly be faulted, and it’s just that I prefer the intensity and forcefulness of the cask strength rhum to this one.  Even so, I score the 46% version here about the same.  And really, let’s be clear: here is a rum in two choices for the buyer, that is all about preference and one’s individual taste. You could, without even looking, pick either bottle of this quietly released, well-made Haitian, and no matter which one ends up in your glass, still come up with a good drinking experience.

(#831)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Note the NEAT glass.  I was not, and remain, unimpressed.  A copita, or a glencairn, remains my tasting glasses of choice. If you want a dissertation on glasses and choices, Single Cask did a really good job in a two part series here and here.
  • Also, a nod of appreciation to the aesthetic of Tristan Prodhomme’s beautiful sampling kits. I really like those squared off little bottles. Full disclosure: Tristan and I traded samples here.
  • Whiskyfun scored it 86 points.  Leaving aside his scores and mine, the comparison of the two strengths of rhums from the same barrel  by both of us, is an interesting commentary on how varied proof points influence the assessment.
May 312021
 

In my own rather middling 2017 review of the Doorly’s 12 I remarked “It’s a well-made, serviceable, standard-proof rum for those who have never gone further (and don’t want to)…and remains a rum of enduring popularity.”  Rereading that review, re-tasting the rum, and thinking about all the developments in the rumworld between then and now, I would not change the review – but must concede that it works precisely because of those things that at the time I sniffed at, and retains its widespread appeal to both new drinkers and old in a way that cannot easily be discounted.  

We’re living in a rumstorm of Foursquare. I’ve never seen anything like it in all the time I’ve been writing about the subject.  Just about every single day, someone writes on social media about picking up this or that Exceptional Cask bottling or one of the Habitation Velier collaborations, gets a flurry of likes and comments, and the next day there’s another one. New releases are now online events in themselves, and while few now recall how startling this seemed just a few years ago, it’s almost a accepted wisdom nowadays that when  they go on sale they sell out five minutes before the shop pulls the trigger. 

All of this has turned the Face of Foursquare, Richard Seale, into the nearest thing the rum world has to a rock star (minus the leather pants). His ongoing online engagement, his irascible turn of phrase, his near-legendary inability to crack a smile, his take-no-prisoners approach to discussions, his highly vocal opinions, his fierce advocacy for protected status of Barbados rum, the quality of the rums he’s putting out the door, his amazing generosity in handing them out at festivals, the commitment to keeping his rums affordable — all these things have elevated him into the “must-meet” stratosphere of any rum festival he chooses to attend.  And have brought his rums to the attention of an incredibly wide audience, including those of whisky aficionados — Fred Minnick famously referred to Foursquare’s rums in the aggregate as the “Pappy of Rum” in 2017, and Matt Pietrek’s review of the rise of Foursquare in  a Punch article in 2018 made a similar reference.

Such publicity and the ongoing releases of cask strength rums in the Exceptional Cask Series (Key Rums in their own right) and the Collaborations leaves faithful old standbys in something of a limbo (much like the El Dorado 21 was), even occasionally dismissed. They are issued at close to standard strength and lack a clear signature kind of taste such as distinguishes Demeraras or Jamaicans, the sort of profile that allows even a novice drinker to take it blind and bugle “Bajan!” without hesitation. That is both the draw and the drawback of the Doorly’s line and the Rum 66, and the R.L. Seale 10 year old, though I contend that this should in no way stand in the way of appreciating them, not just because of their un-added-to nature and their age, but because on a price to quality ratio they’re great buys. People have been bugling the praises of the Doorly’s rums of all ages on both sides of the Atlantic for decades, and with good reason.

In spite of their being eclipsed by the new hot-snot Foursquare ECS and collaboration rums everyone froths over, in the last years I’ve deliberately sought out these standard, aged Bajans – multiple times – just to get a grip on what makes them so unkillable…because, like the El Dorados and low-rent Appletons, they sell gangbusters year in and year out, always come up for mention sooner or later and everyone has either tried one, recommended one, been recommended one or reviewed one.  I mean, everyone. Perhaps the key to their appeal is that In their own quiet way, they define not so much Barbados (although they do), but a single operation, Foursquare. The Doorly’s 12, is, in my opinion, one of the foundation stones of much that came to prominence in the last years – a blend of column and pot still distillate some of which was aged separately in Madeira casks, tropical ageing for the full 12 years, yet not torqued up to full proof, just serenely and calmly itself, at living room strength.

Consider the nose, for example. Not a whole lot of exceptional going on there, but what there is is clear, crisp and exquisitely balanced – it has an initial nutty, creamy and salt caramel attack, a touch briny and, set off with some molasses and vanilla. There’s a lightly citrus and fruity component coiling behind it all, made up of both sharper and sweeter elements (though it should be noted that the rum noses rather dry and not really sweet) like orange peel, bananas and raisins.  But this is an hour of effort speaking – for the most part, the average Joe will enjoy the vanilla, caramel and fruitiness and be happy with the no-nonsense approach.

The palate is where the rum falters somewhat, because the 40% ABV isn’t quite enough to showcase the varied elements (note that the rum is sold at 43% in Europe and other areas).  It has quite a bit of caramel ice cream, vanilla, white chocolate, crushed walnuts and light molasses. With more time and concentration, one can tease out the soft flavours of flambeed bananas, papaya, toffee, offset by spicy oak and citrus peel notes.  There’s even a touch of olives and brine and strawberries.  But it’s weak tea compared to the firmness of slightly stronger rums: 43% would be – and is – an improvement (I’ve tried both variations) and 46% might just be perfect; and the indeterminate finish – oak, vanilla, toffee, cinnamon and almost vaporized fruits – is too short and effervescent to leave a real impression.

Tasting notes such as these describe why I’m not entirely won over by the “standard” lines of rum made in Barbados, which are aimed at a broad audience.  Even in my earlier years of writing, I was ambivalent about them. My tastes developed towards more clear-cut rums displaying more defined and unique profiles. The Doorly’s 12 YO to me is not so much indifferent (because it’s not), as undifferentiated (because it is).  It’s very well made, tastes nice, has wide applicability, can be gifted and recommended without fear or favour, and you can tell it has age and solid production chops – I’d never dream of trying to dent its reputation on those aspects.  What it lacks is a certain element of real individuality. But I repeat that this is just a personal preference, an aspect of my own private proclivities (of all the writers I know, only one or two others share this opinion) — it has nothing to do with the wider world and its generally positive relationship to the Doorly’s line in general and the 12 YO specifically.  And now, after so many years of going back and forth among the various Barbados rums made by the various makers on the island, it’s time to cave, concede these are not flaws as I did before, but real strengths…and admit it to the canon.

Because, all the waffling aside, it’s almost the perfect rum for any enthusiastic amateur with some rum knowledge with which to wet his whistle.  Yes the 14 YO is stronger and the 5 YO is cheaper, but this one is Goldilocks’s little bear, strikes a perfect middle, perfect for a beginner to start their journey away from sweetened rums so many still regard as “premium.” It’s really affordable and of good quality for those who don’t taste a hundred-plus rums a year and have a slender budget with which to make careful purchases. It pleases reasonably on all levels. It almost always figures on a list of “what to start with” for the newcomers. It’s unadulterated and its age statement is real.  In fine, it’s one of the best midrange rums — on price, on age, on quality — ever made, by anyone. 

By that standard, there aren’t many rums that can exceed it. And therefore I do believe that it deserves a place on anyone’s shelf, either as a marker for one’s appreciation of well made rums that don’t ascend to the stratosphere, or a stopping point beyond which it’s tough to go without shelling out a lot more money. How can that combination be beat?  Short answer, it’s almost impossible.

(#825)(82/100)


Other notes

  • The rum re-reviewed here was the 40% version which I own.  I have added more notes to it from subsequent informal tastings at rumfests in both Paris and Berlin in 2019. The 43% edition is slightly better, but it was not what this essay is based on (though it would not change the sentiments expressed).
May 272021
 

Image provided courtesy of Jörn Kielhorn

Cadenhead’s defiantly massive codpiece, this 73.6% Mudland slugger, was among the strongest rums they ever unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, in 2003 1; it took no prisoners and provided no apologies and was stubbornly, intransigently, mulishly what it was – an undiluted can of pure whup-ass.  It must have scared the living bejeezus out of so many people when it was released, that all existing bottles were carefully hidden and buried and squirelled away, and blood oaths were sworn to preserve forever the silence of the grave upon its owners. 

Few rums this powerful outside the famed 151s were ever issued in the days before The Age, a genteel time of light and inoffensive blends, when noses were sniffily raised at the agricoles’ overgenerous 50º, and when 46% was considered shockingly outré, almost uncouth…not really fit for civilized company.  Even Velier, who practically redefined what Demeraras could be, balked at going too far in the proof direction back then. And yet, the Cadenhead rum really wasn’t that bad – though it must be mentioned that the growly ABV was to some extent also to its detriment.

That it exuded wild pot-still badassery in all directions was beyond question, and its nose was at pains to demonstrate it wasn’t bluffing. It was pungent. It was sharp. It threw around enormous notes of brine, pineapple, citrus, gooseberries and 5-finger.  Some caramel.  Some vanilla. There were other hints of sorrel, anise and hard Thai yellow mangoes, and yet, oddly, hardly any of the standard spicy and lumber-related aspects that could have been expected from the Versailles single wooden pot still of origin. Paradoxically, the very strength that may have recommended it to many, proved a vehicle to mask the subtleties of the still of origin.

And it didn’t slow down in the slightest when sipped, landing on the tongue with a kind of blunt force trauma that might actually be illegal in some states. Heavy salt caramel ice cream, red olives and brine, leather, oaky spice and aromatic tobacco led the charge.  Fruits were there, both sharp and ripe — prunes, blackberries, black grapes, apples — but these receded, fast, and were briefly replaced by anise, molasses and white chocolate almost too buried under the avalanche of oomph to stand out. The tastes of black bread and sour cream, cream cheese, honey, tobacco, plus a last welcome taste of strawberries and whipped cream weren’t bad at all, just too damned fleeting to be appreciated before poof, they vanished. 

Image provided courtesy of Jörn Kielhorn

Points for the finish which calmed the **** down: it was long and warm instead of crazy hot, creamy with caramel, toffee, salt, chocolate plus coffee grounds and aromatic tobacco — so, in brief, really nice — but the fruits that should have acted in counterpoint, were, alas, long gone. 

All that said, we’re talking about a pretty complex rum here, lots of stuff careening off the wall, with a sort of supercharged glee that might be displayed by a portasan to which someone strapped wheels and a jet engine.  That’s the problem, for me, it’s too much show and no go, and even letting it rest was insufficient to tone it down and allow a more leisurely examination of its profile.  The strength was there, it squatted toad-like on the senses, and it masked nuances a slightly weaker drink might have showcased more effectively (so water was a must with it).

But I’ll give it a guarded recommendation anyway – as one friend of mine says, he prefers the VSG taste profile over any other Demerara, so a rum like this is definitely for those like him – though I think care should be taken here, and as with all Versailles rums, it will be hit or miss for many.  After all, just because it’s enough of a bruiser to intoxicate Opthimus Prime does not elevate it to cult status, and is no reason to casually get one yourself just because it does. 

(#824)(83/100)


Other Notes

This thing had some interesting effects: it made me realize that I can’t count properly, as my list of 21 of the strongest rums in the world now contains 33; that Cadenhead doesn’t just not have a list of what the letter-marques on their Dated Distillation series mean, but don’t have a comprehensive list of their releases either and (c) their staff are really quite helpful and want to assist in such obscure quests even at the expense of their own sanity.

My remarks in the opening paragraph relate to the rum’s almost complete lack of an online footprint – until this review takes off, you will find only a single reference to it.  So some thanks are in order, to all those people who helped me trace the thing. Alex Van der Veer, cheapeau mon ami. Morton Pedersen over at the Cadenheads fans’ FB page, thanks. Nathan and Mitch at Cadenhead (UK), appreciate your time and effort; same goes to Angus and Kiss in the Denmark shop, who really tried.  And most of all, Alex (again) and Jörn Kielhorn, who got me the pictures I needed.