Oct 142021
 

“Cavalier” was once the brand name of rums released by the Antigua Distillery on the island of the same name. Even the predecessor to the famed-but-faded English Harbour 1981 25 Year Old 1 was originally a Cavalier branded rum, and a very good one, too…for its time, anyway. But somewhere in the ‘aughts the English Harbour brand was created to be the basket for more upscale, upmarket rums – starting with the five year old and moving up in age – and the Cavalier moniker was left for the company’s “entry level” gold and white and 151 rums….which of course meant the bar scene.

There is nothing particularly exceptional about the production process here: made from molasses, fermented with a commercial strain of yeast over a period of days to a solution of 7% ABV which is then run through a columnar still and drawn off at a strength of around 90-95% ABV, tested and then barreled. In this, then, the process is more akin to Spanish heritage style rum making, where, although some aromatic compounds make it past the distillation process, the real emphasis is on the barrel strategy and wood management that make up the final product.  Antigua Distillery uses charred 200-liter American ex-bourbon barrels to which a handful of oak chips are added to boost the profile and after the appropriate time (and depending on which rum is being made), the desired aged rum from selected casks is blended in a large oak vat and diluted over a period of weeks to the final, bottled result.

From the preceding details, that result is not difficult to predict: it will likely be light, slightly sweet and have some fruity elements to it, balanced off with some salt or sour.  That was the way the 1981, the 10 YO, the 5 YO, even the puncheon all tasted, with greater or lesser quality (and success). And indeed, that’s what you get with the current white rum, bottled at 43%: on the nose, it’s very crisp and clean, and resembles a dialled down version of the 65% puncheon’s violence.  Raspberries, red currants and strawberries provide the major fruity elements, backed up by very ripe gooseberries and watery pears, and offset by a trace of vanilla, salt, brine, olives, and some varnish.

The palate is more intriguing: dusty cardboard and decaying sheetrock, light glue, varnish. This is contrasted, as the nose had been, by much of the same fruitiness (pears, guavas, strawberry bubble gum) and saltiness (brine, anchovies, sweet soya sauce), plus a bit of vanilla. Not a whole lot beyond these primary tastes. Even the finish displays that solid simplicity: some sweet, some salt, some vegetable soup, ho hum. Overall, there’s not a whole lot going on here, and the rum is really a straightforward kind of drink, without much in the way of a subtlety of flavour, or any intensity in what you do get.

Current label design

What the rum lacks is a certain amount of heft, and this is why, to my mind, the puncheon, for all its strength, is really the better rum. The Cavalier White is aged two years, filtered to clear, and then takes its place right where it is aimed at – the back bar shelf for cheap mixers, alongside Lamb’s and Bacardi whites and all those other anonymous bland cocktail feeders.  That doesn’t make it a bad rum, precisely, just an uninspiring one: a rum whose makers never cared to let off the leash, so it could be more than the sum of is age and colour. 

(#858)(76/100)


Other notes

  • My mediocre assessment notwithstanding, for those whose attentions and purchases remain limited to Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados and a few favoured indies, I’d strongly recommend taking the time to try a few of Antigua’s rums, even from the starter kit.  They’re familiar enough to be comforting, good enough to surprise, and different enough to warrant more attention.  Their newer rums with finishes and higher proof points are particularly worth checking out.
  • The mini on which the review is based comes from the early 2000s, but I’ve been told that batch variation aside, the rum is the same to this day; just the bottle label design has changed – and this is why I decided to not class it as a Rumaniacs entry. The 43% strength implies it was made for sale in Europe, not America.
Oct 112021
 

Unlike the White Jack rum which is definitely a Rumaniacs entry due to its reformulation, the Westerhall Plantation Rum remains recognizably the same as when it was first released in 1989, and there seems to be no movement afoot to change the title either (even after the brouhaha over Maison Ferrand’s rum brand name in 2019 and 2020). The Plantation Rum is a five year old product, the first to be exported, beginning the year of its introduction: previously, all rums were either for local consumption or for bulk export. Oddly, though, it’s referred to on their site as their “flagship” rum which makes one wonder what they consider their 10 YO to be — Ultra Premium Vintage Better-Than-Flagship-Best-Ever-Ever, maybe?

Westerhall has long since ceased distillation. It’s possible this was due to a downturn in sugar cane availability as sugar prices kept falling in the 1990s, or perhaps it was the poor economics of their in-house distilled, aged and blended rums not selling well enough to justify their continuance in a time pre-dating the 21st century Rum Renaissance.  Since 1996, then, the company has imported rums to produce its well-known blends: initially this was from Angostura in Trinidad, and in his 2020 Cheat Sheet on the distillery, the Cocktail Wonk remarked that recently they also began importing from two distilleries in Barbados.

This rum, issued at a relatively sedate 43% ABV, dates from the early 2000s, and is therefore from Angostura stocks only: aside from some batch variation, there’s little to distinguish it taste-wise from either earlier or later rums, and consistency has been maintained quite well. The nose is probably the best thing about it: thin, distinct enough, redolent of brine and olives, and set off by a crisp, light, fruity aspect.  Behind it lurk notes of paint, acetones, nail polish, and a nice blend of tart-sour fruits like five-finger, star-apple, gooseberries and green mangoes, with just enough sweet to mitigate the lip puckering. It does become somewhat lighter and sweeter as it opens up, and there’s even a trace of sugar water at the tail end.

Palate is nice, just uneventful – much of the nose is lost in the light easiness of the way it tastes and “watery” is not a word that would be out of place here. There are traces of peaches, apricots, bananas and green peas(!!), and some of the brininess and olives carry over; also dates and some very light citrus and vinegar-like hints, not enough to derail the experience. It retains the light sweet crispness that the nose promises, and if the finish was kind of brief – warm, dry, salty with a touch of fruits and sweet soya – well, you know what, as a whole the rum kind of works, and is not a disappointment.

What it does, is actually remind me somewhat of the Whisper Antigua rum, also an unpretentious rum aged a few years.  Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t try too hard to be some kind of uber-sexy blend from a world famous distillery backed up by a snazzy marketing campaign sporting a celebrity (from within or without the rumworld) to raise awareness. It’s just a reasonable, light five year old, closer to people’s memories to the Angostura 5YO, or some of their other such offerings.

With the usual crystal-clear 20-20 hindsight, Westerhall might have done better to take a more visionary long term view and kept their options open by maintaining the stills they did have, because the rumiverse did change in the years after 1996, opening up other possibilities others are now capitalizing on. But even if they declined to become a pure single-rum distilling force in Grenada, clearly the expertise they’re willing to hang their hat on now is that of of blending and ageing, and in this they are akin to Banks DIH in Guyana, which also lacks a still and makes rum from external imports. Let Rivers Antoine and the New Renegade distillery go for the artisanal rum crown, Westerhall will, for now, continue with what works for it.

And the Plantation rum shows that what works for Westerhall isn’t all that bad. When you really get down to it, this is an unpretentious hot-weather light rum of some originality…not much, just some.  Even if it never ascends to the tables of the rich, there’s nothing really wrong with it…as long as you’re not looking for anything particularly great, or from Grenada itself.

(#857)(81/100)

Oct 072021
 

In my more whimsical moments, I like to think Richard Seale was sweating a bit as he prepared the Triptych. Bottled in November 2016 and released in the 2017 season, it came right on the heels of the hugely successful and awe-inducing unicorn of the 2006 10 Year Old which had almost immediately ascended to near cult status and stayed there ever since. How could any follow-up match that? It was like coming up on stage after Mighty Liar just finished belting out “She Want Pan” hoping at least not too suck too bad in comparison. He need not have worried — the Triptych flew off the shelves every bit as fast as its predecessor (much to his relief, I’m sure), though in the years that followed people never quite mentioned it in the same hushed tones, with the same awe, and with the same whimpers of regret, as they did the 2006. Some, yes…but not to the same extent.

That may just be a little unfair though, because the Triptych is an enormously satisfying rum, another one of the limited “Collaboration” series between Foursquare and Velier 1 that are notable for their visually elegant simplistic design, their full proof strength and their polysyllabic titles which may have reached their apogee with the Plenipotenziario (while there’s usually a stated rationale behind the choice, I’ve always suspected were a tongue-in-cheek wink at all of us, a sort of private thing between the two men behind it).

It is also a rum that was made to deliberately showcase other aspects of the way a pot-column blend could be made to shine. Some call it “innovation” but honestly, I think the word is tossed around a bit too cavalierly these days, so let’s just say there’s always another way to blend various aged components, and Foursquare are acknowledged masters of the craft.  Most blends are various aged rums, harmoniously mixed together: here, three differently aged elements, or ‘sub-blends’, were joined in a combination – a triptych, get it? – that could be appreciated as balanced synthesis of all. 

These three pieces were [1] a 2004 pot-column blend matured in ex-Bourbon casks [2] a 2005 pot-column blend aged in ex-Madeira and [3] a 2007 pot-column blend matured in brand new (‘virgin’) oak casks. The actual duration of ageing of each before they were blended and then transferred to the final casks for completion of the blending and ageing process, is not known, though Steve James, who has what is probably the most comprehensive background notes on the Triptych, notes that the component aged in virgin oak was aged for six years before transfer (six months is more common due to the active nature of the wood, which in this instance also necessitated a larger proportion of pot still distillate of the blend in these casks).

Clearly this made for a very complex blend of disparate profiles, any one of which could unbalance the whole: the musky, darker notes of the bourbon, the dry sweet acidity of Madeira and the aggressive woody characteristic of new oak casks. At the risk of a spoiler, the rum mostly sailed past these concerns. Nosing it experimentally at first, I was struck by how delicately perfumed it was, quite dry, rather mildly fruity and much more restrained than the solid weight of the Principia that lurked in the glass alongside – this was probably a consequence of the lesser-but-still-solid proof point of 56% ABV. The fruits stayed in the background for most of the experience, and the dominant aspect of the nose was a remarkably restrained woodiness – mild pencil shavings, vanilla, musty books, old cardboard, charcoal, and damp mossy forest floors in the morning. There were also hints of crushed walnuts, almonds and spices like marsala, cumin and rosemary, plus coconut shavings, flambeed bananas and overripe peaches, but these stayed well back throughout.

The rum came into its own on the palate, where even with its relatively few core flavours, it surged to the front with an assurance that proved you don’t need a 99-piece orchestra to play Vivaldi. The rum was thick, rich and – dare we say it? – elegant: it tasted of blood oranges, coconut milk, honey, vanilla and cinnamon on the one hand, and brine, floor polish, cigarette ash (yes, I know how that sounds) on the other, and in the middle there was some sweet sour elements of sauerkraut, licorice, pickles and almonds, all tied together in a bow by a sort of lingering fruitiness difficult to nail down precisely. If the rum had any weakness it might be that the dry finish is relatively lackluster when compared against the complexity of what had preceded it: mostly vanilla, oak, brine, nuts, anise, and little fruit to balance it off.

Clearly the makers, with three aged blends being themselves blended, had to chose between various competing priorities, and balance a lot of different aspects: the various woods and their influence; the presence and absence of salt or sweet or sour or acidity; more strength versus less; the effect of the tannins working with subtler aromatics and esters. That such a tasty rum emerged from all of that is something of a minor miracle, though for my money I felt that the slightly lesser strength made it less indistinct than the stronger and more precisely dialled in coordinates of the 2006 and Principia (which were my comparators along with the Criterion, the 2004 and the Zinfadel).

Perhaps it was too much to hope that the lightning could be trapped in a bottle in quite the same way a second time. The UK bloggers who are so into Foursquare bottlings all claim the thing is as great as the 2006, “just different” but I only agree with the second part of that assessment – it’s different yes, and really good, but nope, not as great.  And the subsequent sales values are telling: as of 2021 the 2006 usually auctions for four figures (outdone only by the Velier 70th Destino which is regularly and reliably approaching two thousand pounds) while the Triptych still goes for around two to three hundred.

All that said, I must admit that in the main, I can’t help but admire the Triptych. It’s no small feat to have blended it. To take several ex-bourbon blends and put those together, or to marry a few aged and unaged components, is one thing. To find a way to merge three distinctly separate and differently-aged pot-column blends, to age that and come out the other end with this rum, is quite another. So much could have gone wrong, and so much didn’t — it’s a testament to the hard work and talent of Richard Seale and his team at Foursquare.

(#856)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn is 5400 bottles. Based on the youngest aged portion of the blend you could say it’s a 9 YO rum, though the label makes no such statement
  • Given that it came out several years back, clearly others have by now reviewed the rum: Rum Diaries Blog gave it its full throated endorsement and is, as noted, the most deeply informative article available; The Fat Rum Pirate’s 4½-star review is very good; Single Cask Rum was more dismissive with a 78/100 score, and good background notes – I particularly liked his point about the pre-sales hype coming from the perception that it was a Foursquare/Velier product (based on the label) when in fact this was not the case (it was entirely Foursquare’s work). The Rum Shop Boy loved it to the tune of 97 points, while Rum Revelations awarded 94 in a comparative tasting and Serge gave what for him is a seriously good rating of 90.
  • I do indeed have a bottle of the Triptych, but the review was done from a sample provided by Marco Freyr.  Big hat tip, mein freund….

Historical Note

I’ve remarked on this before, most recently in the opinion piece on flipping, but a recap is in order: when the 2006 ten year old was released in 2016, it flew off the shelves so fast that it became a sort of rueful joke that all online establishments sold out five minutes before the damn things went on sale.  

This situation angered a lot of people, because not only did it seem as if speculators or hoarders were buying however much they wanted (and indeed, being allowed to, thereby reducing what was available for people who genuinely wanted to drink the things and share the experience) but almost immediately bottles turned up on the FB trading clubs at highly inflated prices — this was before they were mostly closed down and the action shifted to the emergent auction sites like Rum Auctioneer.

This was seen as a piss-poor allocation and sales issue and some very annoyed posts were aimed at Velier and Foursquare. By the time the Triptych came out, not only were twice as many bottles released, but Richard and Luca came up with a better method of allocation that was the forerunner of the current systems now in play for many of their limited releases.  And that’s on top of Richard’s own personal muling services around the festival circuit, to make sure the uber-fans got at least a sample, if not a whole bottle (which always impressed me mightily, since I don’t know any other producer who would do such a thing).


 

Sep 302021
 

After only four years, the Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve rum has become so quietly ubiquitous, so well known and so widespread, that the bombshell it and all its brothers dropped on the rum world in 2017 has almost been forgotten. Even in the short time since its coming-out party, it has garnered a serious reputation for itself and reminds us all of the great rums emerging from Jamaica. One of the criteria I have for inclusion in the series is availability and longevity, and less than half a decade of being on the shelves might not strike some as sufficient time to enter the pantheon – but having tried it many times, I am convinced that it will hold its power, and continue to appeal.

My personal contention is that in about 2016 or so, a long-gestating tectonic shift started to gather real force, the phenomenon I call The Rise of the New Jamaicans. Appleton, as it had been for a long time, remained the most globally recognized Jamaican name in rum and focused mostly on blends, exported the world over. But by now the colonial model of low cost bulk rum resource extraction from the peripheries which characterized many other distilleries (not just in Jamaica), and which led to value added premium spirits in the central metropole, had been creaking for decades, and finally cracked. In all the major sugar and rum producing areas of the Caribbean, hard hit by falling sugar prices, indigenous producers were taking a good hard look at the constant bulk sales abroad and decided that rather than letting a plethora of re-bottlers and independents reap all the benefits of the rising tide of premiumization, they could get in on the action themselves. 

Worthy Park as a distillery re-emerged on the scene after reopening in 2005. It had been closed since the the 1960s when overproduction of rum had led to the shuttering of several distilleries: Gordon Clarke, a descendant of the family that owned it since 1918, felt the time was ripe to re-establish the brand name and not just make sugar, as the estate had been doing since that time. Rather than refurbish the old equipment, a completely new distillery with wider applications was constructed, and in 2005 the rum began to flow and be laid down for ageing. Bulk sales were established, and occasionally there were also sales of barrels to brokers – this is why we saw the SMWS, L’Esprit, Compagnie des Indes, Mezan, Velier, Rum Nation and 1423 popping up with indie releases for years, and third party contract rums like Doctor Bird coming across our sightlines with increasing frequency. And that’s not even counting Bacardi’s foray into the limited market with the embarrassingly indifferent money-grab of the Single Cane edition.

WP, once they got going, initially released their own inhouse branded series of rums called RumBar, which were relatively young or unaged bar staples, mixers for the most part. Aimed squarely at Appleton’s market share, these began quietly making waves, but had not yet reached any sort of critical mass, though they did became quite popular in the Jamaican, Caribbean and the North American bar scene. This all got a boost with the Special Cask rums that popped up in the festival circuit in 2017. The Marsala and Oloroso editions were really very good, and rightfully garnered rave reviews: but those were limited releases and sold at higher prices, were positioned as more premium. They were, in the following years, joined by other limited edition aged expressions, often finished, with different marques, and carved themselves a niche in the top end premium segment at prices trending towards three figures.

These were the headliners, but behind all the fancy finishes and exclusive editions and what have you, the blended six year old Single Estate rum1 slowly garnered for itself a quietly serious reputation, just kept on truckin’, was never out of production, and has now become synonymous with WP’s affordable mid-range workhorses (though oddly, it was promoted as an Ultra Premium in Jamaica itself when released there in 2019). It is perhaps a bit rarefied, retailing for around £50 in Europe and between $60-$70 in the US, but I suggest it retains real value when one considers the completely pot still production, and the fierce and uncompromising nature of its profile.

Appleton has always cornered the low-to-midrange market for Jamaican rums with its solidly made, tasty, approachable, affordable, available — and let’s face it, also inoffensive — pot-column blended rums. Worthy Park had no time for any of this wussy stuff, and went gleefully all-in with their 18,000-liter pot still. This shows up clearly the moment one cracks the Single Estate rum: the nose is light, yet presents an intense funky, fruity aroma. There is so much going on here that it behooves one to unpack the thing carefully: there is caramel ice cream, butter and salt, brine and olives.  Also softer bananas, cut with lemon peel and behind that is the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore’s back shelf, or that of a hay barn. Finally, as if thinking “dis t’ing still ain’ got enuff kick-up rumpus” it coughed up a last series of notes of biscuits, cereals, vanilla and some undefined indian spices, just because, y’know, it could.

Some might feel the 45% strength is too too timid, and serves only to restrain and contain the wide panoply of fierce tastes of which the rum is capable (and which some people really want), but perhaps more might have reduced us all to a state of catatonic shock, so let’s be grateful. For a pot still rum like this, I submit it’s probably correct, so it can appeal to a larger mass audience.  So, it’s very warm, stopping just short of hot, and presents initially as slightly sweet, with those musty spices detected on the nose snapping into clearer focus: black pepper, curry, turmeric, masala, plus all the extras of coconut shavings, bananas, citrus, vanilla, and the yeastiness of fresh dark bread. It ends things with a trace of nutmeg, cinnamon and oak, leading into a finish characterized by leather, damp aromatic pipe tobacco, port wine and some fruit

This rum tastes really fine: bitter, salt, sweet, crisp, it hits all the high notes, and if it lacks the extra fillip of finishing / double maturation like the Marsala and Oloroso, that’s no hardship, and it’s completely approachable by a layman. It has those mid-range esters, that higher level of funk, and is something like an amped-up Appleton, yet none of it is excessive, and it presents better, I think, because of the pot still origins and the eschewing of the pot and column blend (which I am slowly coming to realize produces an easier rum…but not always one of individual uniqueness).

Now, it’s a curious thing that there exists an unstated, underground perception that Worthy Park has been playing second fiddle to Hampden all this time. They certainly ferment in the same vat: not only does Hampden also sell bulk rum (and have done so for most of its modern existence), but they have their own estate range of fiery New Jamaican bar staples like Rum Fire and Stolen Overproof…as well as releases by well-known indies like the Compagnie, Renegade, SMWS, Samaroli, Murray McDavid, Romdelux, 1423, Rum Nation and BBR. Add to that the worldwide distribution deal Velier cut with Hampden in 2017 and their slick marketing, and you can see why Worthy Park seemed to be lagging behind and picking up footprints.

But I feel it’s a matter of perception, not degree, or even reality. A Key Rum of any kind is more than just “reputation”. It is a measure of reknown and quality, of an easy ability to move between the worlds of the cocktail and the neat pour, of the insatiable desire of secondary bottlers and bartenders and consumers alike to snag a bottle of the stuff, at a price that can be afforded and leave the buyer think he got the best of the deal. It welcomes, not intimidates, and you don’t have to be an expert to “get it”. By that standard, the Worthy Park workhorse of the Single Estate Reserve is not only one of most flexible and most versatile Jamaicans currently extant, but one of the best rums from the island, period, and a compelling reason to add yet another famed Jamaican distillery to the pantheon. Hampden may one day become a component of the canon as well, but for today, let Worthy Park get all the applause it so richly deserves. Because, me bredren, dem may be likkle, but damn, dem tallawah.

(#854)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • Other candidates I had tasted and considered for this entry in the Key Rums series included the Rum Bar White and Gold, as well as the WP Single Estate 3 and 12 Year Old. I felt the overall quality of this rum for the price, tipped the balance.
Sep 122021
 

It’s unclear to me what Moon Import thought it was doing back in 2004 when they blended this rum. They had done blends before, something of a departure from other Italian independents who since the 1970s had thought to bootstrap their expertise with single cask whisky selections into commensurate skill with single cask rums … but few except maybe Rum Nation (which was formed nearly two decades after Moon Import) took blends seriously.

Even when released as such, for the most part rums made that way tended to be multiple barrels of a single distillery, usually a particular year and age, so that more bottles of something exceptional could be wrung out. Moon, while certainly adhering to that philosophy when it suited them, also played around with blends more than most, particularly with Jamaican rums and here they mixed up stock from four different distilleries: Innswood, Long Pond, New Yarmouth and Monymusk, from what were undoubtedly barrels aged in Scotland. One wonders how come Hampden and Worthy Park were not considered for inclusion…perhaps they were too aggressive and didn’t play nice.

For originality at least, kudos to Moon – at that time the various operating distilleries in Jamaica were not very well known, so to take these four and combine them took some courage — to mention them individually at all was unheard of. Too bad they ballsed it up on the labelling – they spelled the name wrong on one of them, then added insult to injury by calling it a “Rhum Agricole”, just as they did with the Demerara 1974 released the same year.  They mentioned which bottle in the series it was…but not the total outturn. Moreover, they noted year of production (1982)  and year of bottling (2004)…then said there was a 25 year old hiding in one of them. Clearly quality control and fact checking were unfunded areas of endeavour in the labelling department back in the day.

But that aside, the rum had its points that its shoddy labelling could not entirely hide. Bottled at the 46% commonly used by small independents at that time, it smelled of wax and sugar water plus a bit of unsweetened yoghurt, and stoned fleshy fruits like cherries and peaches just starting to go off a little.  It presented like “Jamaica lite”, a sort of gently funked-up rum which today would be thought of as “meh” but back then was probably considered scandalous. I liked it, not least because that nose really took its time coming out and even a quarter hour later I was writing down things like “old paper”, “sweet and dry” and noted how the light clarity of green apples and citrus combined nicely with the softer aromas.

Tastewise, I would have to say it was somewhat indeterminate: it was hardly Jamaican at all by this point. Oh the flavours were there: the questions is, what were they? The rum was dry, almost astringent, and presented tastes of faint, dry smoky spices like masala, paprika and tumeric. There was some fruity ruminess – raisins, figs, dates, caramel, vanilla, and cinnamon, and yes, there were fruits hiding behind those, but it was curiously difficult to come to grips with them because they kept ducking and bobbing and weaving. Still: fruits, florals, black tea, spices, and a nice cleanliness ot the experience.  It all wrapped up in a finish that carved its way down with firm clarity, leaving behind memories of vanilla, nuts, light caramel, raisins, aromatic tobacco and peaches.

So what to say about the rum? Well, it was a good drink and a tasty dram. It was nice and complex, good nose, excellent palate, worked well as a sipping rum — after twenty plus years of ageing the rough edges had been gently sanded down to smoothness. I liked it, and I think you would too, in spite of its mild I’m-not-sure-I’m-a-Jamaican character. 

The combination worked, and the four distilleries made for an interesting blend. I’m just left with a nagging sense of incompleteness, as if there was more in there we were missing. Bottling each distillery’s rum as a quartet might have done more to highlight their qualities than mixing them all together and forcing them to give up their individuality in the soft merging of variant profiles.  It is to Pepi Mongiardino’s credit that he made a rum that skated past such concerns and came out the other end as a product worth getting. And so, while it does Jamaica no dishonour at all, I think you’ll also find that it inflames rather more desires than it quenches.

(#850)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • Bottle #218 (total outturn unknown)
  • The bottle says “pot still” but I’m ignoring that in my tagging
  • Translation of back label:“This exceptional Jamaican Rhum is part of two different bottles blended from four different distilleries: Innerwood, Yarmouth, Monymusk and Long Pond, aged in Scotland for 20 and 25 years.The two barrels could have been assembled but to keep the meticulous difference we preferred to keep them distinct.

    It will be interesting for amateurs to test themselves in tasting the two different vintages.

    Presents a bouquet of nutmeg, cinnamon, hay, yellow fruits such as apricot, banana and peach smoothed and ripe, and a final of chilli. On the palate it results in licorice wood at the entrance, with honey, cedar, ginger and dry banana.

    Exceptional cleaning and drying of the palate.”

Sep 092021
 

In 2017 I wrote about a cachaça I had tried in Toronto from a Brazilian company named Novo Fogo, which means “New Fire” in Portuguese. That was an unaged, one-year-rested “Silver” cachaça that I liked quite a bit, and in doing my research after the fact, I discovered the company also had a number of other such spirits in the portfolio, resolved to try what I could, and subsequently scouted them out in the years that followed.

This cachaça, then, is the next one up the ladder for Novo Fogo.  It is a blend of both aged and unaged spirits, derived from (of course) cane juice and departs from more traditional Brazilian cachaças in two interesting ways: it is made on a pot still (as opposed to the much more common column still spirits that dominate the industry); and it was aged for one year in American oak, not local woods like Amburana (which make Brazilian spirits so different to the palate conditioned by years of molasses-based rums or aged agricoles from the French islands).  What this does is provide the drinker with the best of three worlds: the terroire of Brazil’s southern province of Paraná (the distillery is located there, not Minas Gerais where the most traditional cachacas are made) coupled with a more familiar aged profile based on American oak… which in turn saves the more endangered Brazilian barrel woods from overharvesting. 

The question is whether that translates into a cane juice spirit that we who cut our teeth on French island agricoles could both relate to and enjoy for its own character.  The initial nose of the 43% cachaça does indeed smell promising: it is so green it squeaks going into a turn. It’s freshly cut green grass, steamed vegetables and palm fronds….if they were liquid. It smells herbal, of sugar water and citrus peel and kitchen spices, and yet also briny and solid — a bucket of salt beef mixing it up with sharp tannic and woodsy notes, and not too many sweet fleshy fruits. 

The taste moves right along from there.  Grassy and green tea flavours are prominent at first, but other sweet notes develop over time as well: light honey, caramel, vanilla, peas.  After opening up, the fruits that seemed to be missing from the nose turn up here: watermelon, pears, white guavas, even sweet peas and steamed corn, mixed up with some soya, lemongrass and parsley in a mild vegetable soup.  It leads to a quiet and short finish mostly characterized by grassy notes and some sweetish, very mild fruits. 

Novo Fogo’s one year old cachaça is an interesting variation on rhums we know. The sweet, herbal notes are not out to lunch or abnormal, and the use of the American oak has helped maintain a lightly-aged profile that other cachacas with more aggressive use of native woods might not (as Delicana showed here and here, it can be a bit hit and miss). Overall, the whole experience is somewhat removed from that of young or unaged agricoles generally, which is as it should be, since we’re not talking about a French island rhum, or a cane juice spirit made in the Indian Ocean islands with the esters dialled up to “11”. The ancestry is, however, quite clear, and anyone who has had even a passing familiarity with agricoles will find much that is recognizable and enjoyable with the “Chameleon”, especially at that approachable strength of 43%.  

That might be the secret behind the name: it is a rhum – a cachaça – made in Brazil, but hews so close to the profile we know that it might in fact be taken for something else.  Only the sly off-kilter notes and occasional divergences are there to tell you it’s not, and I submit that those differences are what make it interesting, and worth taking a chance on…as long as you don’t mind going off the beaten track a bit.

(#849)(81/100)


Other notes

  • The producer was originally a small distillery from Morretes, which is located in the south of Brazil, founded in 2004 by Fulgencio Torres Viruel (known simply as “Torres”) and master distiller Agenor Maccari (“Dr. Cachaça”), and in 2010 the Novo Fogo brand was launched after entrepreneurs Dragos and Emily Axinte partnered up to produce it. Most of the press you will find dates from 2015 which was the date that these four people acquired the facilities of Agroecologia Marumbi SA, a USDA organic certified distillery. This allowed an increase in production which in turn led to exports to North America and Europe around 2017.
  • Ever since its introduction to the festival and bartending circuit in that year, the brand has been gaining in recognition, taking its place alongside old-staple-cachaças like Leblon, Pitu, Avua and Yaguara. Its ever-increasing brand-awareness is tied to their organic and environmentally friendly production processes and stated commitment to sustainable production.
  • Novo Fogo cachaça is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of their process. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still. The resultant spirit is either rested in stainless steel tanks or put to age in American oak casks, though smaller quantities are aged in barrels made of local woods for various other expressions.
  • I reached out to Novo Fogo, curious to find out more about the name, and Luke McKinley responded from the Seattle office and replied “We gave Chameleon its name because it’s a versatile cachaça that can “blend in” to a variety of cocktails. At just 1 year of age, it retains the sugarcane funk of our unaged Silver Cachaça, but picks up enough characteristics from the American oak ex-bourbon barrels to work in stirred, spirituous cocktails.”

 

Sep 062021
 

By now, the story has entered into the folklore of rum: in October 2004 Luca Gargano and the (late) photographer Fredi Marcarini, sniffing out rums from around the Caribbean to round out Velier’s rum portfolio and being dissatisfied with Angostura’s offerings, decided to visit the Caroni distillery, even though it had already been closed for a year. Arriving at the premises and being let in, they were shown a warehouse where several thousand barrels dating back more than twenty years had been stored (and implied to be overlooked, if not actually forgotten). Most of the barrels were bought by Velier in several tranches over the following years, and always presented as some sort of exotic treasure, an undiscovered, unappreciated and unheralded jewel in the mud brought to light through intrepid and personal Indiana-Jones-style sleuthing that reaped the benefits — which larger and less adventurous rum bottlers who safely bought from European brokers, could and did not. 

In the ensuing years beginning in 2005, Caroni rums were carefully released in limited batches to the market, primarily Italy. Just as with the Demeraras, these releases broke new ground – for one, the barrels were not always blended into huge consistent outturns of several thousand bottles, but were often released as they were, a few hundred at a time: at best maybe two or three barrels of similar provenance or age or strength might be combined.  And this is why there are so very many Velier Caroni rums in existence – at last count I have about sixty-plus (the Hampden “Endemic Birds” series follows the principle of multiple bottle releases, though I submit it is for completely different reasons). Sometimes there are bottles from the same year, the same age, but a few proof points apart; in others, it’s a “Heavy” or a “Light” edition. Blends began to be issued in larger quantities.

The rum from today is from the middle of the Caroni era (which we are still living through, even if the end may now be in sight) – distilled in 1996, blended and bottled in 2017 at “Imperial” proof of 100º (57.18%), a massive angel’s share of some 86%, resulting in an an outturn of about 7,000 bottles. The decision to bottle at this strength is supposedly to showcase the heavy character of the rum and perhaps genuflect to the Navy tradition, but I suspect this is more a convenience than anything else, as various lesser and greater proofs have always characterized the Caroni line without any such romantic explanations. The red and white label, it should be noted, like the gold-white-blue Tate & Lyle facsimile adorning some of Velier’s later Caroni editions, is a replica of the style of a 1940s original. Tracking that down proved elusive, unfortunately.

So, to the tasting then. By now the heavy, tarry and fusel-oil profile of the Caronis is one of the most recognized taste markers in the rum world, so it comes as no surprise to find it here: the rum presents opening aromas of rich caramel and tar, deeply intense, with petrol held way back. There’s licorice and dark fruits – raisins, prunes, plums and blackberries – plus a nice sharpish and lighter cognac kick that is far from unpleasant. The real characteristic of the nose seems to be less the diesel machinery than the garden, however – black grapes, very soft mangoes and all manner of overripe fruit. There’s just little tartness to balance that off…unsweetened yoghurt, maybe.

Tasting the thing reveals powerful tar and petrol notes by the bucketload, dry, oily and amazingly mouth coating. The profile is nicely solid, hardly sharp at all, and displays a touch of brine and olives, as well as — initially — an oddly metallic, medicinal sort of taste.  

Once it settles down a richly dark, perfumed profile emerges for real: licorice, tar, dates, raisins, prunes, dark unsweetened chocolate, black grapes, blueberries, that cognac line again.  There’s a delicate sort of citrus background that lends a nice counterpoint to the duskier, heavier tastes. It’s not a rum to hurry through, even on the finish: this is dry, long, aromatic, phenolic, leaving behind mostly sweet thick caramel molasses notes and some burnt rubber, plus a last flirt of exhaust fumes as it roars away into memory.

As a blend, it’s really kind of spectacular – there aren’t many of these deep, surly rums around any longer, and even the New Jamaicans’ high ester rums tend towards the fruity and sharp notes, not the brutal stomp-it strength of the Clydesdales that are the Caronis. That said, not everyone will like the heaviness of the experience: agricole lovers or those who prefer soft Spanish light rums will find little to enthuse them here, and that’s Caroni for you — not everyone is in tune with the steampunk esthetic and industrial farting of this long shuttered Trini style.

But I like it, and think that even if the prices of the smaller, older and rarer editions of Velier’s Caronis are too high, there’s still good quality and interesting tastes to be found in the high-outturn blends like 12 year old, or the 15, 17 and a few others. The appeal of the Caroni line of rums lies in their miniscule variations from one batch to the next (no matter who issues it), which allows any curious enthusiast to sample just a few and get a good sense for what it’s all about. The 21 year old from 1996 is among the oldest of these blends, and while it does cost a bit, it is, in my opinion, also among the best.

(#848)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • It is often believed that Velier first released the Classic Demerara rums, and as their availability declined and the price ascended (sometimes beyond all reason), the Caronis came in to supplant them as the second great series of rums which made Velier’s reputation.  But strictly speaking, this is not true – the awareness of the Caronis peaked much later, but they began to be released in 2005, just around the same time as the first “true” dark-bottled Demeraras from the Age began to hit the market.

Additional Background

The myth of the “discovery” of these thousands of barrels may be true, but others dispute it, claiming that it had always been known that the rum stocks were there and they existed and were for sale. This goes as far back as 2000 when the distillery was already in perilous financial straits and courting buyers, and one local story held that a foreign consultant valued the year 2000 existing stocks of eighteen thousand barrels at between TT$1 billion (about US$160,000) and TT$6 billion (~US$935,000) depending on whether they were sold as aged or bulk rums. Both numbers were seen as implausibly low (US$935,000 for 18,000 barrels works out to US$52/barrel), as the writer was at pains to point out. 

The distillery shuttered in 2003, and as is now well known, independents like Velier et al, and Scheer/Main Rum, bought out the stocks over the next few years – it was not done all at once, nor was it only Velier, and it went through Government officers (one could hardly get an export license without them). What is missing from all accounts is the pricing asked for and paid, and for what volume. In 2018, by which time Caronimania was a well established (if misunderstood) phenomenon, Raffique Shah (the author of the original 2000 article) returned to the theme and scolded the politicians of the day for ignoring or not even understanding the rum stocks’ pricing given their elevation to the “Blue Label Crowd.” He suggested that they disdained their own country’s rum, couldn’t be bothered to do any due diligence, and allowed a huge potential windfall to slip through their fingers. He all but accused them of skullduggery and corruption.

Whether any of this is true or not is, at this remove, probably impossible to tell. Commercial entities are under no obligation to disclose such matters and since we know neither the volume of barrels sold nor the amount paid for each, or by whom, anything beyond this point is just uninformed speculation that hopefully will one day be replaced by facts. But it’s a good case study in how rums (or any local  third world resources for that matter) get bought and sold.


 

Aug 262021
 

Cadenhead, in their various rum releases stretching back a hundred years or more, has three major rivers running into the great indie rum ocean, each of which has progressively less information than the one before it:

  • The cask strength, single-barrel “Dated Distillation” series with a three- or four-letter identifier and lots of detail on source and age; I submit these are probably the best and rightly the most sought-after rums they release.  The only question usually remaining when you get one, is what the letters stand for.
  • The Green Label series; these are usually single-country blends, sometimes mashed together from multiple distilleries (or stills, or both), mostly from around the Caribbean and Central/South America (they’ve gone further afield of late).  Here you get less detail than the DDs, mostly just the country, the age and the strength, which is always 46% ABV. I never really cared for their puke yellow labels with green and red accents, but now they’re green for real. Not much of an improvement, really.
  • Classic Blended Rum; a blend of Caribbean rums, location never identified, age never stated (not  on label or website), usually bottled at around 50% ABV. You takes your chances with these, and I’ve only ever had one, and quite liked it.

The subject of today’s review is a Green Label Barbados. This is not the first time that this series (which Cadenhead releases without schedule, rhyme or reason) has had a Barbadian rum in it: in fact, I had looked at a Barbados 10 year old back in 2017.  There are at least seven rums that I know of in that series, not counting the full strength “Dated Distillation” collection, and I think they have an entrant from every distillery on the island between the two collections except St. Nicholas Abbey (which doesn’t export bulk). Most of the Greens are from WIRD or Mount Gay, while Foursquare is rather better represented of late in the DDs.

Which one is this, then? As far as I know, it’s a WIRD rum done in the Rockley style, based on these data points: Marco Freyr’s research, Marius Elder’s Rockley tasting based on research of his own, the year of distillation (1986 is a famous year for the Rockley style), and my own tasting – none of which is conclusive on its own, but which in aggregate are good enough for government work, and I’ll stand behind it until somebody issues the conclusive corrective.

I say it’s a Rockley style (see below for a historical recap), which is an opinion I came to after the tasting and before looking around for details, but what is it about its profile that bends my thinking that way?  Well, let’s get started and I’ll try to explain.  

Nose first: It’s both sharp and creamy at once, with clear veins of sweet red licorice, citrus, sprite and fanta running through a solid seam of caramel, toffee, white chocolate, almonds and a light latte. Letting it open up brings forth some light, clean floral scents, mint, sugar water, red currants and raisins, which the Little Caner grandly dismissed under with the brief title of “oldie fruity stuff.” (You can’t impress that boy, honestly).

The palate is interesting: it’s clean, yet also displaying some of the more solid notes which would suggest a pot still component; it retains the sharp and crisp tartness of unripe fruit – red currants, raspberries, strawberries, mangoes. Here the caramel bonbons and toffees take a back seat and touches of brine, pimentos and balsamic vinegar suggest themselves. Leaving it alone and then returning, additional notes of marzipan, green grapes and apples are noticeable, and also a rather more marked oak influence, though this does not, fortunately, overwhelm. The finish is dry, sweet and salt, with some medicinal iodine flashes, plus of course the oak, fruits and licorice, nothing too earthshaking here.

The rum as a whole is not unpleasant at all, and yes, it’s Rockley style — if you were to retry the SMWS R6.1 from 2002 (“Spice at the Races”) and then sample a few Foursquares and a MG XO, the difference is clear enough for there to be little doubt. Surprisingly, Marius felt the herbal and honey notes predominated and pushed the fruits to the back, while I thought the opposite. But he says and I inferred, that this is indeed a Rockley.

I think the extended maturation had something to do with how well it presented: even accounting for slower ageing in Scotland, eighteen years was sufficient to really enhance the distillate in a way that the older Samaroli WIRD 1986 released two years later somehow failed to do. It’s rare, unfortunately (we don’t know the outturn), but it’s come up for auction on whisky sites a few times and varies in price from £80-£120, which I think is pretty good deal for those who like Barbadian rums in general. This rum from Cadenhead is not a world beater, but it’s quite good on its own terms, and showcases an aspect of Barbados which is nice to try on occasion, if only for the variety. 

(#845)(85/100)


Notes – The Rockley “Still” (reposted)

Many producers, commentators and reviewers, myself among them, refer to the pot still distillate from WIRR/WIRD as Rockley Still rum, and there are several who conflate this with “Blackrock”, which would include Cadenhead and Samaroli (but not 1423, who refer to their 2000 rum specifically as simply coming from a “pot still” at “West Indies” – Joshua Singh confirmed for me that it was indeed a “Blackrock style” rum).

Based on the research published by Cedrik (2018) and Nick Arvanitis (2015) as well as some digging around on my own, here are some clarifications. None of it is new, but some re-posting is occasionally necessary for such articles to refresh and consolidate the facts.

“Blackrock” refers to WIRD as a whole, since the distillery is located next to an area of that name in NW Bridgetown (the capital), which was once a separate village. In the parlance, then, the WIRD distillery was sometimes referred to as “Blackrock” though this was never an official title – which didn’t stop Cadenhead and others from using it. There is no “Blackrock Still” and never has been.

Secondly, there is a “Rockley” pot still, which had possibly been acquired by a company called Batson’s (they were gathering the stills of closing operations for some reason) when the Rockley Distillery shuttered — Nick suggests it was transformed into a golf course in the late 1800s / early 1900s but provides no dates, and there is indeed a Rockley Resort and golf club in the SE of Bridgetown today. But I can’t find any reference to Batson’s online at all, nor the precise date when Rockley’s went belly-up — it is assumed to be at least a century ago. Nick writes that WIRD picked up a pot still from Batson’s between 1905 and 1920 (unlikely to be the one from Rockley), and it did work for a bit, but has not been operational since the 1950s.

This then leads to the other thread in this story which is the post-acquisition data provided by Alexandre Gabriel. In a FB video in 2018, summarized by Cedrik in his guest post on Single Cask, he noted that WIRD did indeed have a pot still from Batson’s acquired in 1936 which was inactive, as well as another pot still, the Rockley, which they got that same year, also long non-functional. What this means is that there is no such thing as a rum made on the Rockley still in the post-1995 years of the current rum renaissance, and perhaps even earlier – the labels are all misleading.  

The consensus these days is that yet a third pot still — acquired from Gregg’s Farms in the 1950s and which has remained operational to this day — provided the distillate for those rums in the last twenty years which bear the name Blackrock or Rockley. However, Cedrik adds that some of the older distillate might have come from the triple chamber Vulcan still which was variously stated as being inactive since the 1980s or 2000 (depending on the interview) and it was later confirmed that the most famous Rockley vintages from 1986 and 2000 were made with a combination of the Vulcan (used as a wash still) and the Gregg (as a spirit still). 

Yet, as Cedrik so perceptively notes, even if there is no such thing as a Rockley-still rum, there is such a thing as a Rockley style. This has nothing to do with the erroneous association with a non-functional named still.  What it is, is a flavour profile.  It has notes of iodine, tar, petrol, brine, wax and heavier pot still accents, with honey and discernible esters.  It is either loved or hated but very noticeable after one has gone through several Barbados rums. Marco Freyr often told me he could identify that profile by smell alone even if the bottler did not state it on the label, and I see no reason to doubt him.


 

Aug 232021
 

Rumaniacs Review #126 | 0844

Like so many lightweight blends predating the 21st century rum renaissance, which were sold under inviting names just to move cases which the rum’s inherent quality itself could not, this “premium” rum has a sailing ship prominently displayed on the label. Though it could as easily have been a pirate, a coconut tree, a beach, or all of the above at once, plus a chest, a peg leg and a parrot added for good measure. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s not from the island of Tortuga (north of Haiti): nor is it from the Cayman Islands (500 miles to the west), because the blending and bottling — of unspecified distillates — actually happens on Barbados – or it did, when this bottle was released.

Such was the state of subtly misleading label design in 1984 and the later 1980s when the Tortuga Rum Company was formed and began blending rums to sell on cruise ships and duty free stores around the Caribbean.  Not a single thing is wrong, and yet everything is. Perhaps fortunately, it is now no longer easily available to mislead people into what the word premium means, because these days the company concentrates more on making rum cakes (of which this apparently is a key ingredient).

That said, although it is mostly absent from online emporia where many do their shopping these days, the company still has a stable of flavoured and light blended rums available in the ships and shops noted above. And such older bottles as this one can still occasionally be sourced around the world, as witness an enthusiastic gent leaving a five-star comment (“Absolutely a great rum, the best I have had in fact”) on the Whisky Exchange as late as 2019, and my own quickie review here, based on a bottle from the 1990s sourced in 2018 in Europe. 

Colour – Amber

Age – 5 Year Old Blend

Strength – 43% ABV

Nose – I’m not entirely chased away…it’s not too shabby. Light and easy, mostly molasses, caramel, toffee, leavened by the light notes of coconut shavings, honey and nougat. Some dark fruit – raisins, blackberries, ripe cherries. 

Palate – Again, light, with some firmness lending it a bit of authority and solid tastes. Nougat, honey and coconut, like those white Ferrer or Raffaello confectioneries my much-loved chocoholic daughter can’t get enough of. There’s some sharper fruits here — ripe pears, apples, berries — as well as a touch of salted caramel and molasses, and brown sugar in a hot latte. Nice.

Finish – Warm oily, sweet, smooth. No problem.  Honey again, coconut shavings, a raisin or two, but for me to tell you there’s more would be reaching.

Thoughts – Given my despite for its blandly inoffensive white sibling, I didn’t walk in here expecting much.  But it wasn’t half bad – a completely unadventurous and reasonably tasty light sipping rum of which not much is asked and not much needs be given.  Maybe it’s sold in the right places after all. 

(77/100)


Other Notes

  • The Tortuga rum is not named after the island, but to commemorate the original name of the Cayman Islands, “Las Tortugas,” meaning “The Turtles.”
  • The company was established in 1984 by two Cayman Airways employees, Robert and Carlene Hamaty, and their first products were two blended rums, Gold and Light. Blending and bottling took place in Barbados according to the label, but this information may be dated as my sample came from a 1990s bottle. The range has now expanded beyond the two original rum types to flavoured and spiced rums, and even some aged ones, which I have never seen for sale and are therefore likely to remain sold only on ships and duty-frees. In 2011 a Jamaican conglomerate acquired a majority stake in Tortuga’s parent company, which, aside from making rums, also created a thriving business in rum cakes and flavoured specialty foods.
Jul 192021
 

 

There is a certain whimsy about a piscatorially titled distillery. “Poisson”, the small distillery also referred to as Père Labat is located on the west side of Marie Galante (the small island to the south of Guadeloupe) and means “fish” in French — which is, I’m sure you’ll grant, a rather odd name. 

Initially, I had thought that the estate was called that to commemorate the fishermen who might once have plied their trade on the nearby coastland, but no, nothing like that. It was given the name of the woman, Catherine Poisson, who bought the land from the estate of La Marechand of which it was originally a part – her actual relationship with the owners of that time is now lost to history, alas. The Père Labat business got tacked on later, by Edouard Rameau, a subsequent owner of the Poisson estate, who spearheaded its pivot away from sugar distillation and to the making of rhum, and casually appropriated the name of the famed Dominican friar who was instrumental in the development of the sugar industry of the French Caribbean islands back in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

Poisson-Père Labat continues to operate, though its name recognition quotient is not what it once was (except among enthusiasts, who sing its praises). It makes several different varieties of rhums – blancs, blends and aged expressions – at various strengths, and the subject of today’s review is from their aged line.  It is creole column still distilled, aged eight years in oak, though in a curious omission, their site doesn’t actually mention what kind (Limousin, ex-Bourbon…).  

It is also bottled at a curiously weak 42% ABV: since many of their premium rhums — and the blancs — are bottled at a higher strength, one can only assume these were meant for the American or lower end market where an aged product is called for, but not so strong as to frighten away the average drinkers.

Well, never mind.  The fact is, the rhum really is pretty good. The nose, to start off with, is clean and crisp, and has both the bite and sweet of a very good, very dry Riesling. There is a low level citrus of red grapefruit and oranges, plus bags of other juicy stuff like ripe green apples, pears, red currants, red grapes, and some herbal touches that dance around the edges without ever becoming serious participants. Not to be too anthropomorphic here, but it seems like just a bubby, crisp and happy nose. It aims only to please.

There’s an equally varied amount of tastes when one sips the thing, too – the tart, spicy fruit carries over cleanly.  Apples, yellow mangoes, unripe papayas, blood oranges, and the less-sweet black grapes.  The sharp tartness that I noted in the nose seems much more controlled here, being willing to allow the moist tobacco, freshly mown green grass and other herbs like dill and parsley to have a brief moment to shine. Sadly, the denouement leaves a lot to be desired, for while the rum surmounts the low proof in tastes and smells, at the close it kind of falls apart and chokes.  It’s wispy, short, faint, with leather, smoke, chocolate, vanilla and some undifferentiated fruits closing off the show. Nice but not impressive.  

That’s too bad, really. Had the finish been up to the standard of what came before, this would have been superlative. It presses a lot of buttons and presents a pretty well-balanced profile with a fair amount jostling for attention under the hood.  

And so, let’s sum up by noting that it’s a (small) cut above the 3YO Rhum Vieux we looked at last time. There’s more going on, more complexity, and my dissatisfaction with the close set aside, it’s a pretty neat drink to have. But as with so many other such agricoles I praise from time to time, I just wish they had added a few extra points of proof to the potion, because then it would have really shone. For the moment, though, let’s be grateful what we have gotten: a middle-aged agricole rhum bottled at living room strength which will not disappoint.

(#837)(84.5/100)


Other Notes

Jun 282021
 

 

In 2015, Moon Imports, one of the well known if somewhat second-tier Italian independent bottlers which was founded in 1980, released a new collection of rums called “Remember”, which at the time comprised of four rums – one each from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana.  With the exception of the agricole makers, Cuba and St. Lucia, then, the initial line represented the big guns of the Caribbean rum world. What exactly was to be “remembered” was another matter, mind you, since the rums were too recent and relatively young to commemorate anything or represent any kind of old tradition.  But it was evocative, no question, and the aura was and remains enhanced by the lovely artwork and design ethos, which company legend has it was inspired by drawings from an old 18th century German encyclopaedia, as redone by a contemporary artist Nadia Pini.

Moon Imports makes a thing on its website about sourcing its barrels in the Caribbean, but we must take that with a pinch of salt since wherever they were found, they were subsequently aged in Scotland and then released — so whatever their original tropical nature might have been, they would fail the Gargano test of (in situ) authenticity.  That doesn’t particularly bother me, since as I’ve mentioned before, there are enough continentally aged rums out there that compete handily with tropically aged ones. 

What does bother me is why Moon Imports bothered with the wimpy 45% ABV — as they have with almost all rums they have produced —  and why the information on the label of this first edition was so scanty. I mean, it was sweetly designed, but to say it was distilled in Jamaica (wherever on the island that might have been), on a patent still (another term for a continuous column still) and then go right ahead and exclude whether it was single barrel or blend, distilled in what year, aged how long, can only lead to annoyance frustration…and this might be why to this day the rum still sells (primarily on whisky sites) for under a hundred bucks. If I couldn’t tell the provenance or the age of a rum from a respected casa like Moon, I would probably pass on it too.

So we know it’s a 45% Jamaican rum bottled by Moon Import in 2015 after ageing in Scotland, and yet we’re clueless as to age, exact still-type, estate/marque, distillation date, single cask or blend, or outturn. Wonderful.

Let’s see if solace is to be found at the bottom of the glass: there may be redemption in hiding.  Nose first – not bad.  There’s a fair amount going on here – tobacco, glue, fresh sawdust, furniture polish and linseed oil (the sort you used to oil your cricket bat with, back when you thought you were the next Sobers). There’s some brine and olives and gherkins in vinegar there, gentling down to a smorgasbord of tart yellow fruit…mangoes, ginnips, pineapples, red grapefruit, that kind of thing, channeling something of a good dry white wine, though ultimately somewhat uneventful.  New Jamaicans may have spoiled our noses for this kind of subtler aroma.

Once tasted it’s clear to see it is a real Jamaican, because a certain funk comes quickly to the fore: thick fruity tastes of pineapple, strawberries, bubble gum, rotting oranges and gooseberries, bananas beginning to go.  An interesting amalgam of sharper light fruits and cream cheese and salted butter on a very yeasty bread.  It’s decent enough, just a touch unbalanced and not particularly earthshaking and the finish closes things off with a snap of light lemony crispness, a touch of tart funk, though it is a bit dry and rough and doesn’t last long enough.

It’s a completely decent-tasting, competently-made rum, this, even if you don’t know much about it. The truth is, I really don’t care what it is — I’ve had better, I’ve had stronger, I’ve had tastier, and a week from now I’d be hard put to recall anything particularly special about this one aside from the fact that it was a ‘good ‘nuff Jamaican made by Moon.’ That’s both a recommendation and an indictment, and I’m surprised that an independent bottler dating back forty years would release something so indifferently for us to try. Especially with a name like “Remember”, which it certainly doesn’t rate high enough to deserve.

(#832)(82/100)


Opinion

The rum is a good reminder that proud indie houses don’t always move with the times or understand the desires of consumers, and that you could say a whole lot of something but end up communicating nothing…and that ultimately, it’s the rum under the label and inside the bottle that matters, and not all such rums are good just because Sylvano’s disciple selected them.

Points aren’t deducted for a lack of informational provision – the rum is scored honestly based on how it sampled – but I really must confess to my irritation at not being entirely sure what it was I was scoring. Even if made six years ago, this should not be something I still have to complain about. I particularly dislike that the company’s website doesn’t see the need to provide any background on the rums it has released. It’s not an ancient maison dating back centuries, it was formed in my lifetime, it should have its damned records straight so we can tell what it was we’re buying.

Jun 032021
 

Photo provided courtesy of /u/HeyPaul. Used with permission, and thanks.

This is a rum whose label tickles the trivia gene lurking within me.  So in the interest of science and the perhaps boring rehash of stuff some of you already know but some of you don’t, let’s go through the background and the details

First of all, that name. Like Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation putting the pictures of the old stamps he once collected on the labels of his rums, the makers of Penny Blue did the same. Not to be confused with the Two-Penny Blue issued in the UK (the second postage stamp ever made (in 1840, following the famed Penny Black), this one is the Mauritius issued version of 1847 which is now one of the rarest (and most valuable) stamps in the world. However this may be a matter of interests only for pedants, philatelists and unread rum reviewers like this blogger.

Secondly, the Batch 002. What is it? Well, so far as I can determine, it’s a follow-up from Batch #001 (natch), a run of 7,000 bottles deriving from 22 casks matured on Mauritius at the premises of the Medine distillery (see below). Of these 22 casks, 7 each were ex-whisky, ex-cognac and ex-bourbon, and the last one was Batch #001 stock mixed back in. The ages are varied though, and I don’t know the true age of the blend — a product sheet I’ve seen makes mention that the oldest portion of the rum is 11 years old (but not how much that is), and the youngest portion 5 years.

Third, the distillery. Most know (or at least have heard) of the Harels and the Grays, the makers of New Grove (and Lazy Dodo), and I have written about rums from Chamarel and St. Aubin.  There are also lesser known distilleries like Labourdonnais (Rhumerie des Mascareignes) and Ylang Ylang (which does not make rum), as well as the Medine Distillery, founded in 1926. It’s suggested that it actually owns two facilities: it’s own original sugar factory and distillery in Bambous in the west of the island, and its acquisition via JV in February 2000, of International Distillers who made the Tilambic 151, though I cannot trace their distillery’s location, just their distribution office…maybe it’s been shut down and consolidated.


Photo courtesy of /u/HeyPaul. Used with permission.

All right, so, we have a rum, a blend, 43.2% ABV, released around 2014 or so (it’s amazing that this is mentioned nowhere, btw), column still, a 5-11 year old blend released by Indian Ocean Rum Co., which is a collaboration with Berry Bros. & Rudd, who also assisted in its development. All that plus the overlong intro suggests a rum of uncommon quality for which I would have a page and a half of tasting notes.  Alas, no. Because the rum, good as it is, feels somehow less serious, by today’s standards of high-proofed single estate bottlings.  Take the nose: it is warm and light, quite fruity, and more than a touch sweet – notes of peaches and cream, orange peel, mint chocolate and rather stronger aromas of butterscotch, caramel, vanilla, and some leather and smoke. Letting it open up provided some additional hints of crushed almonds and breakfast spices, nothing more than a breath, really.

Fruitiness was more evident and welcome on the palate; it was an easy sip, no surprise at that strength, but surprisingly dry and quite supple to try…no discomfort or real sharpness mars the experience of drinking it neat. One can taste bananas and citrus peel, some tart gooseberries and strawberries, vanilla and breakfast spices again.  Smoke and leather mingle well with cumin and cardamom and it remains arid throughout (not unpleasantly so). A few cereals, crushed nuts and light molasses round out a pretty well-balanced profile. The finish is the weak point, as it tends to be for rums at standard strength – tremulous and wispy, and over way too quick, it’s all you can do to track some orange peel, oakiness, and a touch of vanilla and nutmeg.

A rum like this is something of a study in contrasts.  At first it doesn’t seem like much. It takes effort to disassemble, and if you’re used to stronger and more forceful rums, it may appear like nothing in particular.  This would be a mistake.  It’s quite a bit more complex than it’s warm easiness suggests.  Initially it tastes simple and faint, nothing to see here people, move along please…but it gathers some momentum and complexity as it opens up, and ends up (finish aside) as quite a nice little sipper.  Reminds me of a Latin American rum with an edge, or a lightly aged rum from Guadeloupe. This is not enough for me to rate is as high as others did, but I can’t dismiss it out of hand as some sort of low end crap either, because it’s got too much going on and is too well balanced to merit such a casual dismissal.

(#826)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • My sincere thanks to the reddit user /u/HeyPaul who very kindly gave me permission to use his pictures, which were much better than my rather blurry ones.
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 162021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#821)(80/100)


Other notes

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

Historical background

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

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

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

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


 

May 132021
 

There are some older bottles in the review queue for products from what I term the “classic” era of the Swiss / German outfit of Secret Treasures, and it’s perhaps time to push them out the door in case some curious person ever wants to research them for an auction listing or something.  Because what Secret Treasures are making now is completely different from what they did then, as I remarked in my brief company notes for last week’s entry on the “Carony” rum they released in 2003.

In short, from a traditional indie bottler who exactingly and carefully selects single barrels from a broker and bottles those, the company has of late gone more in the direction of a branded distributor, like, say, 1423 and its Companero line. That’s not a criticism, just an observation: after all, there’s a ton of little single-barrel-releasing indies out there already – one more won’t be missed – and not many go with the less glamorous route of releasing blends in quantity, though those tend to be low-rent reliable money spinners.

But returning to Secret Treasures’ rums of “the good old days”. This one is from Venezuela:  column still product, 42% ABV, 1716 bottle outturn. The label is in that old-fashioned design, noting the date of distillation as 1992 and the distillery of origin as Pampero — but it should be noted there is a “new-style label” pot-still edition released in 2002 with a completely different layout, sharing some of the same stats, the reason for which is unknown. As an aside for the curious, the Venezuelan Pampero distillery itself was formed in 1938 and remained a family concern until it was sold to Guiness in 1991; it is now a Diageo subsidiary, making the Pampero series of light rums like the Especial, Anejo, Seleccion and Oro. Clearly they also did bulk rum sales back in the 1990s.  

So that’s the schtick. The rum tasting now. Sorry for the instant spoiler, but it’s meh. The nose is okay and provided one has not already had something stronger (I had not) then aromas of caramel, creme brulee and toffee can easily be discerned, with some light oakiness, dark chocolate, smoke and old leather.  A touch of indeterminate fruitiness sets these off, some unsweetened yoghurt, plus vague citrus — and that word is a giveaway, because this whole thing is like that: vague.

Tasting it reinforces the impression of sleepy absent-mindedness. The rum tastes warm, quite easy, creamy, with both salt and sweet elements, like a good sweet soya sauce. Caramel and toffee again, a hot strong latte, oak, molasses and a nice touch of mint. The citrus wandered off somewhere and the fruits are all asleep. This is not a palate guaranteed to impress, I’m afraid. The finish is odd: it’s surprisingly long lasting; nice and warm, some molasses, coffee, bon bons, but it begs the question of where all the aromas and final closing tastes have vanished to.  

You’re tasting some alcoholic rummy stuff, sure, but what is it? That’s the review in a nutshell, and I doubt my score would have been substantially higher even back in the day when I was pleased with less. You sense there’s more in there, but it never quite wakes up and represents. From where I’m standing, it’s thin tea — a light and relatively simple, a quiet rum that rocks no boats, makes no noise, takes no prisoners. While undeniably falling into the “rum” category, what it really represents is a failure to engage the drinker, then or now – which may be the reason nobody remembers it in 2021, or even cares that they don’t.

(#820)(78/100)


Other notes

  • Comes from a blend of four barrels
  • Sold on Whisky Auction for £50 in 2018. Rumauctioneer’s May 2021 session has a “new design” blue label bottle noted above, currently bid to £17

Historical background

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

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

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

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

 

Apr 222021
 

One of the things that irritates me about this blended rum from Guyana which Rum Nation released in 2019, is the carelessness of the front label design.  I mean, seriously, how is it possible that “British Guyana” can actually be on a rum label in the 21st century, when Guyana has not been British anything since 1966 and when it was, it was spelled “Guiana”? Are designers really that clueless? And lest you think this is just me having a surfeit of my daily snarky-pills, think about it this way: if they couldn’t care enough to get their facts right about stuff so simple, what else is there on the label I can’t trust?

Still: I am grateful that the back label is more informative. Here, it is clearly spelled out that the rum is a blend of distillate from the French Savalle still, the (Enmore) wooden coffey still and the (Port Mourant) double wooden pot still, and this blend was aged for four years in the tropics (in British Guyana, one may assume) before undergoing a secondary European maturation for six years in ex-oloroso casks, and then decanted into 2,715 bottles, each at 56.4% ABV. What this is, then, is a bottling similar to DDL’s own experimental blended Rares, which has dropped completely out of sight since its introduction in 2019. A similar fate appears to have befallen this one since I don’t know the last time I saw one pop up at auction, let alone on social media.

But perhaps it’s an undiscovered steal, so let’s look deeper.  Nose first: it’s surprisingly simple, even straightforward. It’s warm and thick, and represents the wooden stills in fine style – dusty, redolent of breakfast spices, oak and vanilla at first, then allows additional aromas of coffee grounds, raisins, dried orange peel dark fruits, licorice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the oloroso influence is dominating though, and in fact it seems rather dialled down, which is unexpected for a rum with a six year sleep in sherry barrels.

I do, on the other hand, like the taste. It’s warm and rich and the Enmore still profile – freshly sawn lumber, sawdust, pencil shavings – is clear. Also sour cream, eggnog, and bags of dried, dark fruits (raisins, prunes, dried plums) mix it up with a nice touch of sandalwood. It takes its own sweet time getting the the point and is a little discombobulated throughout, but I can’t argue with the stewed apples, dried orange peel, ripe red guavas and licorice – it’s nice. The finish is quite solid, if unexceptional: it lasts a fair bit, and you’re left with closing notes of licorice, oak chips, vanilla, dried fruit and black cake.

Overall, it’s a good rum, though I believe it tries for too much with the three stills’ distillates and the long sherry barrel ageing.  There’s a lot going on but it doesn’t quite snap together into a harmonious whole. There’s always too much or too little of one or other element here, the sherry influence is inconsistent at best, and it keeps charging around in a confusing mishmash of rum that tastes okay but never settles down to allow us as drinkers to come to grips with it.  This is an observation also levelled at DDL’s experimental rares, by the way, but not Velier’s “blended in the barrel” series of later Guyanese rums which set the bar quite high for such blends. 

Clearing away the dishes, then, consider it as a decent blend, something for those who want to take a flier on an El Dorado rum that isn’t actually one of them, or a less expensive, younger Velier blend.  Think of it as a stronger and slightly older version of ED’s own 8 Year Old, lacking only DDL’s mastery of their blending practice to score higher. That is at best a guarded endorsement, but it’s all the rum really merits

(#814)(82/100)


Background

Rum Nation is that indie rum company founded by Fabio Rossi back in 1999 in Firenze (in NE Italy), and if they ever had a killer app of their own, it was those very old Demeraras and Jamaican “Supreme Lord” rums which were once wrapped in jute sacking and ensconced in wooden boxes. Rum Nation was one of the first of the modern rum independents that created whole ranges of rums and not just one or two single barrel expressions: from affordable starter bottles to ultra-aged products, and if they aged some of their releases in Europe, well, at the time that was hardly considered a disqualifier.

By 2016, however, things had started to change. Velier’s philosophy of pure tropically-aged rums had taken over the conceptual marketplace at the top end of sales, and a host of new and scrappy European independents had emerged to take advantage of rum’s increasing popularity. Rum Nation took on the challenge by creating a new bottle line called the Rare Collection – the standard series of entry level barroom-style bottles remained, but a new design ethos permeated the Rares – sleeker bottles, bright and informative labelling, more limited outturns. In other words, more exclusive. Many of these rums sold well and kept Rum Nation’s reputation flying high.  People of slender means and leaner purses kept buying the annual entry-level releases, while connoisseurs went after the aged Rares.

Two years later, Fabio was getting annoyed at being sidetracked from his core whisky business (he owns Wilson & Morgan, a rebottler), and he felt the indie rum business was more trouble than it was worth. Too, he was noticing the remarkable sales of the Ron Millonario line (a light bodied, rather sweet rum out of Peru), which, on the face of it, should not be anywhere near as successful as it was. And so, finally, he divested himself of the Rum Nation brand altogether, selling out to a small group of Danish investors.  He kept the Millonario brand and has an arrangement to rep RN at various rum festivals (which was how I saw him in 2019 in Berlin), but the era of his involvement with the company formed two decades earlier, is now over.  

…which might explain why the label was done that way.

Apr 112021
 

After a decade of observing the (mostly Europe-based) independent bottlers, I think it can be said with some assurance that they tend to stick with The Tried and True in their first years. In other words, they source and release rums from the canonical distilleries in the familiar countries – Guyana, Barbados, St. Lucia, or Jamaica, with occasional fliers from Belize, Cuba, Fiji, Australia or Trinidad being seen as second order efforts.

When it comes to distinguishing themselves from the herd, few show much real imagination.  Oh, for sure the Compagnie des Indes releases private blends like the Boulet de Canon and Dominador (and released a very fine Indonesian arrack several years ago); Rom Deluxe goes to the max with its massively proofed Jamaican DOK, L’Esprit does some amazing white rums, and several indies find a way to get rums aged for nearly three decades into their bottles – I merely submit this is more and better of the same. Truly new products that showcase something different are actually in rather short supply.

When it comes to doing something original, then, the Boutique-y Rum Company – a division of Atom Brands in the UK, who also run the Masters of Malt website – is one to keep an eye on. Not only are they releasing rums from the “standard” countries, but they seem to really try to go someplace new – consider their Issan rum, the Labourdonnais, the O Reizinho or the Colombian Casa Santana. Those are rums from niche distilleries many have never even heard of before, and to add spice to the mix, there is of course the cool label design done by Jim’ll Paint It which are bright, clever, funny and chock full of little easter eggs for the knowledgeable.

Which leads us to this one. The Engenhos do Norte distillery is located in Madeira, an island considered part of Portugal (even though geographically it’s closer to Africa) and one of the few places outside the French islands that can use the term agricole legally. The rum is derived from cane run through a crusher powered by a steam engine (that’s what the label shows), fermented for about 4-5 days, passed through a columnar barbet still and then left to age in French oak barrels.  So although it doesn’t say so, it’s an aged rhum agricole. 1395 bottles were released, at a firm but not over-strong 48.8%, and the last I checked it was still selling for around forty quid which I think is a pretty good deal

Tasting notes. The nose is nice.  At under 50% not too much sharpness, just a good solid heat, redolent of soda, fanta, coca cola and strawberries.  There’s a trace of coffee and rye bread, and also a nice fruity background of apples, green grapes, yellow mangoes and kiwi fruit.  It develops well and no fault can found with the balance among these disparate elements.

I also like the way it tastes. It’s initially dry and peppery, but also crisp, tasting of marshmallows, and tart white fruits like guavas, Thai mangoes, unripe pears, soursop, papaya, watermelon and pineapple. There’s a nice thread of lemon underneath it all, cumin, vanilla, and a nice touch of brine and olives.  This all leads to a conclusion that is short and easy, redolent mostly of sweet watery fruit with a last musky brine taste, and some more lemon zest. 

In a peculiar way, it reminds me less of a French Island agricole than of a grogue from Cabo Verde.  There’s a sort of easy crispness to the experience, with the herbal notes evident but not as strong and clear and focused as a Martinique rhum is.  For centuries Madeirans drank their rhums unaged and white — of late they have begun to try and develop an aged rum industry and expand beyond the local market which thus far has consumed everything the small distilleries produce.  The development of real blending and ageing skill is still some years in the future, and thus far it’s only the small IBs like Boutique-y that have brought their rums to our attention. But I think that we should keep an eye out for the rhums from Madeira, all of them.  Based on the few I’ve tried, these guys know what they’re doing, know how to make a good rhum, and will be going places in the years to come.

(#812)(84/100)


Other notes

  • For centuries, aside from their famed fortified wines, white rum was all Madeira was known for, and just about all of it was made from small family-owned sugar cane plots, consumed locally as ponchos, and as often considered to be moonshine as a legitimate product. Because of the small size of the island a landed aristocracy based on the system of large plantations never took off there. 6-8 years ago, the Portuguese government started to incentivize the production of aged rum on Madeira.  Several producers started laying down barrels to age, one of which was Engenhos do Norte – however the lack of an export market (for now) allowed Boutique-y to buy a few barrels and release them
  • Engenhos do Norte also produces the well regarded Rum North series of rums, as well as the 970 and 980 brands.
  • The label is somewhat self explanatory: it shows the premises of the distillery, the steam driven crusher and the barbet column still. The polar bears are an in-joke: sugar cultivation took off in Madeira in the 15th and 16th century and was called ouro branco – white gold. It’s long been a sly pun that when mumbled over the roar of the machinery, the phrase is heard as ursa branco, or white bear. On the other hand, some say that Madeirans are huge hulking bear like men who hand harvest ten acres of cane before breakfast and fetch it out one-handed to the factory and this is a way of honouring their physical prowess. I don’t know which is true, but I like both stories.
Mar 292021
 

 

Indonesia is the region where sugar cane originated and gave rise to the proto-rums of yesteryear, which have their genesis in arrack, a distillate first identified by the Dutch and Portuguese in the town of Batavia (now Jakarta, the capital). After being practically unknown to the larger rum drinking public for a long time, arrack and local rums are now slowly being shown to western audiences, most notably from By The Dutch and their Batavia Arrack, and the little company of Naga which produced the rum we’re looking at today.

Based in Indonesia, Naga is a rum company formed around 2016 by Sebastien Follope, another one of those roving, spirits-loving French entrepreneurs who are behind some of the most interesting Asian rums around (Chalong Bay, Issan and Sampan are examples). While small, the company has several rums in its eclectic portfolio, though they lack any distillation facilities of their own – they are buying from a distillery on Java on the outskirts of Jakarta, which cannot be named.

This particular rum is called the Triple Wood for good reason – it is aged in three different kinds of barrels, and is an extension of the “Double Cask Aged” rum we have looked at twice before – once under that name in 2018, and once as the “Java Reserve Double Aged rum” a year later. The triple wood is similarly a molasses-based rum, column-still distilled, aged for three years in barrels made of teak (also called jati), four years in ex-Bourbon and one more year in cherry-wood barrels – it is, therefore, eight years old. Since the company was only formed in 2016 and this rum came on the scene in 2018, it is clear that the first ageing and part of the second was done at the distillery of origin (or a broker, it’s unclear).

Does this multiple wood ageing result in anything worth drinking? Yes it does – the extra year seems to have had an interesting and salutary effect on the profile –  though at 42.7% it remains as easy and soft as its siblings.  The nose, for example, is a nice step up: cardboard, musty paper, some dunder of spoiled bananas skins, plus strawberries and soft pineapple or two and brine (which, I swear, made me think of Hawaiian pizza). Caramel and bitter dark chocolate round things off.  It’s a relatively easy sniff, inoffensive yet solid.

The palate is goes on to be warm, soft, and somewhat sweeter.  Initially, given its puffed cloudy vagueness, you’d think it’s simple and amorphous, but actually it just keeps improving over time – the rum unfolds like a small origami flower, gradually – even shyly – presenting floral tastes, molasses, toffee, nougat, breakfast spices, licorice and some watery background of melons and pears.  It’s easy and very relaxing to sip, because the flavours don’t come at you all at once, but kind of stroll past doing a slow ragtime.  That low strength, much as I usually prefer something stronger, really is probably right for what that taste is, but it must also be admitted it makes for a weak finish: clean and easy, just not much more than some light flowers, strawberries and bubble gum, fanta, light molasses, and a bit of musty and dust-filled rooms.

I quite liked the rum and enjoyed its low-key, tasty nature, so different from the more aggressive high-proof rums I’ve been seeing of late – after all, one doesn’t always a need a massive overproof squirting dunder, alcohol and pain in all directions.  And arrack, this rum’s progenitor, is an interesting variation on what a rum can be (as an example, fermented rice is usually added to the fermenting molasses – see other notes for more details) which is something worth taking note of and these times of dominance by famed Caribbean distilleries. There’s no question that it’s a somewhat different kind of rum, more representative of its region than of any “standard” kind of profile – but for those who are okay trying something different, it won’t disappoint.

(#809)(81/100)

 


Other Notes

  • Naga is a Sanskrit-based word referring to the mythical creature of Asia, a dragon or large snake, that guards the treasures of the earth, and is also a symbol of prosperity and protection
  • This rum is now named “Pearl of Jakarta.”
  • Production:
    • Fermentation of molasses and fermented red rice in teak vats up to
    • 12% ABV.
    • 52% of this “cane wine” then distilled in traditional Chinese stills to 30% ABV. It is then distilled in these same stills a second time, until it reaches 60-65%.
    • 48% of the “cane wine” distilled in a column still to 92% ABV. 
    • The rums obtained in this way are then blended and aged for 3 years in teak barrels, then transferred to American oak barrels (ex-bourbon barrels) for 4 years before ageing for one final year in cherry wood barrels.
Mar 012021
 

Nearly ten years ago, I was rather indifferent to Flor de Cana’s 12 year old rum.  It wasn’t as cool as the older expressions like the 18 for sipping, and was outdone by the 7 year old for a more assertive a cocktail. The 12 YO made a decent drink…except insofar as I thought it was somewhat unfinished mid range rum which didn’t seem to be either flesh or fowl. 

A decade has now passed, and the brand has lost both brownie points and market lustre with consumers. The 2015 Chronic Kidney Disease matter has died down, but the peculiar and more lasting damage of their age statements continues. In fine, the age statement number on the label was phased out after around 2014 (when Wes Burgin first noted it in his middling-scored review) and now just says “7” or “12” or 18” without further clarification.  Of course, even then they were touting that silly “slow aged” moniker, which I regarded then and now with the same sort of impatience.  What on earth do they think this means, honestly? That the world spins more slowly for this thing?

What this all does mean, and what just about every reviewer on reddit or other fora is at pains to note (when they bother reviewing anything from Flor at all), is that the big number on the label is completely useless, if not outright deceptive. It tells you nothing of consequence, not the age, or whether it is a blend of X rums (unlikely) or whether it’s a link to the past when it was 12 years old.

With that in mind, let’s see what we have: an older 12 year old 40% rum, whose current “12” blend is no longer now what this once was; column still distilled and aged in ex-bourbon barrels. A more standard rum could not be imagined (unless maybe it’s the Appleton 12 YO or Doorly’s 12 YO).  The only reasons to try it are curiosity (always), to see if it could be a candidate for the Key Rums list (no), and to see if anything has changed from my original review (yes, but not for the better).  

I confess it did not impress now either.  The nose started out medicinal and a bit sharp.  It’s predominant characteristic was dark prunes and viscous molasses, honey, overripe cherries, a tang of salt and olives. The ageing showed up via a trace of vanilla and tannins, whose aromas stayed mostly in the background, but overall, not a particularly expressive or impressive nose.

The rum tasted mostly of caramel, treacle and molasses.  There was a trace of nuttiness and honey, a few dark and ripe fruits, nothing particularly sharp or tart.  Black olives, some brown sugar. It felt like something of a soft blanket, lacking the sharper notes of a citrus element that would have make a stronger statement and balanced things off more nicely. With some strain and patience, a touch of orange peel and unsweetened chocolate was discernible at the tail end leading into the short, dry finish, just insufficient to make a difference to the overall profile.  Not something that made it any more memorable, however. 

For my money, the 12 YO remains something of a middling work in progress, once leading to the better 18 Year Old (now the “18”) of the supposedly even more upscale “Luxury” expressions (this one is referred to as an “Ultra Premium” in its current iteration). I don’t think it merits anything near those kinds of descriptions – based on tastes alone, it encourages words like “capable,” “decent” and “mid range” but “Premium”?  No chance.

To me, it comes down to that that big number 12 on the label: without any qualifiers or explanations, it is a sign of not just shoddy marketing and the peacock-like display of a double-digit (if not an outright attempt to mislead buyers), but of a lack of faith in their own product. I have no particular issues with Flor de Cana as a whole – I admire what they’ve managed to accomplish to recover their reputation – but this rum is just not worthy, at this stage, of being included in the pantheon.  It’s too simple, too ambiguous, and it excites mostly a kind of indifference. Ten years ago it was the sort of rum I’d drink when I just wanted to get hammered, and in that sense, it’s exactly the same now

(#805)(78/100)


Other notes

  • In a time of true-aged cask-strength full-proofs as part of several primary producers’ ranges, I wonder why they insist on keeping this old work horse and not rebrand it as a true 12 year old, and/or goose the proof a bit?  For that matter, why not issue a complete range of high-octane full proofs?  To stick with the advertising of yesteryear at a time when the world has already changed so much strikes me as odd, to say the least.  Perhaps, like DDL, they regard that kind of thing as a loss-leading indulgence of the independent bottlers, not something they really care about themselves.
  • Both TWE and MoM keep on naming their entries for the rum as if it were a true-aged rum, when the label clearly says nothing of the kind.
Jan 282021
 

Photo used courtesy of /u/Franholio from his Reddit post

Every now and then a reviewer has to bite the bullet and admit that he’s got a rum to write about which is so peculiar and so rare and so unknown (though not necessarily so good) that few will have ever heard of it, fewer will ever get it, and it’s likely that nobody will ever care since the tasting notes are pointless.  Cadenhead’s 2016 release of the Caribbean Rum blend (unofficially named “Living Cask” or “1842” because of the number on the label) is one of these.  

Why is it so unknown? Well, because it’s rare, for one — of this edition, only 28 bottles were released back in 2016, and how this could happen with what is supposedly a mix of many barrels? For comparison, the Velier Albion 1989 had 108 bottles, and it wasn’t a blend. Only the Spirits of Old Man Uitvlugt had this small an outturn, if you discount the Caputo 1973 which had a single bottle. It’s been seen the sum total of one time at auction, also in 2016 and sold for £85 (in that same auction a Cadenhead from the cask series, the TMAH, sold for £116, as a comparator).  

But a gent called Franholio on Reddit, supplemented by WildOscar66, and then a 2015 review by the FRP on another variant explained it: this is a sort of Scottish solera, or an infinity cask. It is a blend of assorted rums, in this case supposedly mostly Demeraras in the 8-10 YO range, though these are never defined and could as easily be anything else. These are dunked into any one of several quarter-casks (about 50 liters) which are kept in Cadenhead shops in Edinburgh and London, constantly drawn off to bottle and then when it hits halfway down, is refilled from a bit left over from whatever IB cask they’re bottling.  What this means is that it is not only a “living cask” but that the chances of your bottle being the same as mine is small – I’ve picked up references to several of these, and they all have different bottling years, strengths, sizes and tasting notes.

That doesn’t invalidate the skill that’s used to add components to the casks, however – the rum is not a mess or a completely mish-mashed blend of batsh*t crazy by any means. Consider first the nose: even if I hadn’t known there was some Demerara in there I would have suspected it.  It smelled of well polished leather, dark dried fruits, smoke and cardamom, remarkably approachable and well tamed for the strength of 60.6%. It melded florals, fruitiness and brine well, yet always maintained a musty and hay-like background to the aromas. Only after opening up were more traditional notes discerned: molasses, caramel, burnt sugar, toffee, toblerone, a little coffee and a trace of licorice, not too strong.

I would not go so far as to say this was a clearly evident heritage (wooden) still rum, or even that there was plenty of such a beast inside, because taste-wise, I felt the rum faltering under the weight of so many bits and pieces trying to make nice with each other. Salty caramel, molasses, prunes and licorice were there, though faintly, which spoke to the dilution with other less identifiable rums; some dark and sweet fruits, vanilla, a hint of oaken bitterness, more smoke, more leather. The coffee and chocolate returned after a while.  Overall, it wasn’t really that interesting here, and while the finish was long and languorous, it was mostly a rehash of what came before – a rich black cake with loads of chopped fruits, drizzled with caramel syrup, to which has been added a hint of cinnamon and cardamom and some vanilla flavoured whipped cream.

This Cadenhead is a completely fine rum, and I’m impressed as all get out that a quarter-cask solera-style rum – one of several in shops that have better things to do than micromanage small infinity barrels – is as good as it is.  What I’m not getting is distinctiveness or something particularly unique, unlike those “lettered” single barrel releases for which Cadenhead is perhaps more renowned. I might have scored it more enthusiastically had that been the case.

I believe that the process of developing any blend is to smoothen out widely variant valleys and peaks of taste into something that is both tasty and unique in its own way, without losing the interest of the drinker by making something overly blah. Here, I think that the rum’s strength carries it further than the profile alone could had it been weaker: and that although that profile is reasonably complex and has a nice texture, sold at a price that many have commented on as being pretty good…it is ultimately not really as rewarding an experience as it might have been with more focus, on fewer elements.

(#797)(84/100)


Other notes

  • While the review ends on a down note, I did actually enjoy it, and that’s why I endorse going to any of Cadenhead’s shops that have one of these casks, and tasting a few. 
  • Nicolai Wachmann, one of my rum tooth fairies out of Denmark, kindly passed along the sample.