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 countriesGuyana, 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 bottlesI 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 Companya division of Atom Brands in the UK, who also run the Masters of Malt websiteis 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 newconsider 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 whiteof 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 Nortehowever 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 brancowhite 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 302021
 


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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 ownthey 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 reasonit is aged in three different kinds of barrels, and is an extension of the “Double Cask Aged” rum we have looked at twice beforeonce 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 barrelsit 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 doesthe extra year seems to have had an interesting and salutary effect on the profilethough 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 timethe rum unfolds like a small origami flower, graduallyeven shylypresenting 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 lateafter 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 molassessee 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 profilebut 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.
Nov 082015
 

UF30E 1985 cropRumaniacs Review 011 | 0411

Time to address the brontosaurii of Velier for a few Rumaniacs write ups, since the samples are there. UF30E is a bityoungfor inclusion into the Rumaniacs pantheon, but it is out of production, so let’s have it. The code stands for Uitvlugt Field #30 East, or some such, which would puzzle even someone from Mudland (like, ummwell, me). Never mind. With an outturn of 814 bottles from three barrels, it remains one of the best rums from Velier I’ve ever sampled. And while I thought had overpraised it back in 2013, it turns out I may have sold it short, given othersresponses to it in the years between then and now.

Colourdarkish amber

Strength – 60.7%

NoseNothing changed between then and nowit’s still amazing. Heated, dark, viscous, heavy on the nose, molasses, prunes, dark chopped fruit, blackcurrants, dates, and black cake. After opening somewhat, these opening salvoes were followed by lighter tones of flowers, chocolate, some anise. Rich and powerful and not at all astringent or bitchy.

PalateThe balance of the various components competing for your olfactory and labial attention is extraordinary. The Velier PM 1974 is fantastic too, but for different reasons, and something of a one-trick pony in comparison to the sheer variety that was going on here: sweet and salt, teriyaki chicken (minus the bird but with all the veg), molasses, more fruits, green apples, a little smoke and leather and aromatic cigarillos, and those aromatic hints of what, rosewater? orange juice? Whatever it was, it was great. Even 60.7%, which would normally scare the trees into shedding their autumn leaves, was remarkably well handled. You got hit with the power, sureyou didn’t mind it, is all.

Finishsums up everything that has come before. Long, lasting and pungent, not dry. Nuts, flowers, some sweet soya, molasses, a shade of caramel. The thing doesn’t want to leave, honestly.

ThoughtsBrilliant all-round rum which pushes all the right buttons for me. Still makes me regret I didn’t buy more when I had the chance. Since it was issued back in 2011 with a reasonable outturn, it’s probably more than likely it’s still available somewhere.

(92/100)

Oct 282015
 

Saint James 1885 cropRumanicas Review 010 | 0410

Yes, you read that right. 1885. Holy molasses this thing is old. How can anyone even begin to assess a spirit that was made so incredibly long ago? I’m literally in awe.

What was going on back then anyway? Sino French war in Vietnam; the Mahdist army overran Khartoum and killed General Gordon; AT&T was incorporated in New York; Gottlieb Daimler patented his engine; the North West rebellion in Canada; the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York harbour; the Third Anglo-Burmese warand St. James began bottling its vintages that year, same year as they introduced the square bottle. It may be the very first ever made, anywhere.

At around £6000 per bottle, all one can say isouch,” be grateful for the sample, and dive in on bended knee with head reverently bowed.

Colourdark brown, almost black

Strength – 43%

NoseDark dark dark and so very plush. Made me feel I was sinking into an old Chesterfield. Plums, dark grapes, figs and black olives without the salt. Some vegetal in the background (really far in the bushes). Deep and thick, smoky, dusty. Not very sugary at all, and had some essence of tart and juicy overripe pears. Then soy sauce and teriyaki, mixed with dark molasses soaked brown sugar. Fresh and heavy, both at the same time.

PalateWarm, full-bodied, thick and heavy. Must have been made before the French islands moved full time to cane juice. Dark prunes and cherries in syrupand yet, and yetwhere’s the sugar? Treacle, bitter chocolate, pancakes and maple syrup, a cereal note in there somewhere, maybe rye bread. Molasses, plums and pomegranates, a flirt of anise, some oakiness but nothing excessive. Incredibly deep and tasty, amazingly well balanced.

FinishShort and warm. Some last notes of licorice, molasses and raisins, and some dry earthy mustiness to wrap it all up.

ThoughtsIt was a fantastic rhum (rum?). Can’t imagine what a more leisurely tasting spanning many days would be like. The depth of the thing is amazing, and I felt it worked well even for a more modern palate: it was quite a remarkably rich and complex beast, and it felt almost sacrilegious to drink it at all.

OtherNo idea how long it was aged prior to bottling. According to Antique wines & Spirits, it was bottled in 1952. Can it truly be 67 years old? No, not really. According to Benoît Bail who spoke to the master blender at St. James, all the 1885 stocks were in fact destroyed in the eruption of Pelee in 1902. Some bottles of the 1885 were over in Europe and Cointreau (when they took over the distillery), was able to locate many of them in Amsterdam, Paris and London, and sent them back to Martinique, where there were still on sale at St. James into the 1990s. The master blender was of the opinion that the rhum itself was/is 8-10 years old, not more.

Also, the different taste of the rums from that time (until the 1930s) arises because the cane juice was heated (not boiled) at around 40°C before fermenting it. Pasteurization, you see, had not yet made a big splash and large steel tanks were not common.

I heard that Luca Gargano of Velier bought 300 bottles of this as an investment kin the 1980s. I can just marvel at the perspicacity and far-sightedness of the man.

(90/100)

See also: Cecil’s (French) review on DuRhum is also pretty good.

Jun 292015
 
Barbancourt 15

Photo courtesy of The Whisky Exchange

Rumaniacs Review 005 | 0405

The forerunner of the still excellent fifteen year old rhum made in Haiti to this day, this one was generated in the 1970s, and it’s a pretty good rhum even after a remove of so many years. Pot still 43%, about 15,000 bottles were issued according to The Sage, while The Whisky Exchange says 20,000doesn’t matter, they’re rare as hen’s teeth these days anyway. I think the recipe they used then is a little different than the current iteration of the 15, but not by much. Note also the similarity of the box to today’s edition.

Nose: Oddly thin and discombobulated. Spicy, not too much. Nuts, caramel, port infused pipe tobacco, black grapes, some zest. Gets easier as you keep at it, rewards some patience and savouring.

Palate: Light bodied yet not anorexically thin, thank God (hate those). Some beef and biceps kept under velvet sleeves – 43% is great here. Not quite a molasses background, but somecaramel, vanilla, toffee, crushed walnuts, ice cream without enough cream. Black grapes continue, red guavas, some anise and fennel and black tea (without sugar). A shade too thin, reallystill, you can’t fault the fact that it’s delicious.

Finish: Medium short, unremarkable. Nothing more than the aforementioned spices and toffee to report. Goes down nicely, and at least it doesn’t hate you.

Thoughts: Amazing how consistent this is in quality to the current 15 year old, which I quite liked. Still, tasted after the >25 Year Old Veronelli, you can sense the difference. Surprised this was/is a cane juice producthas elements that hearken more to molasses, but what do I know? A pretty good all-round rhum in all times, in all worlds.

(83/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

Barbancourt 1970s 15 yr old

Jun 062015
 

IMG_6970_2Rumaniacs Review 004 | 0404

First rum I drank back in the day. Was working in the interior of Guyana for gold exploration companies at the time; every Saturday evening, a couple of bottles of this stuff were trotted out for us to get hammered on. We drank it swiftly, continuously, copiously and without a care for quality. This one is supposedly fruit curednot that I noticed much of that.

Nose: Thin, sharp. Coconut shavings, swiftly disappearing. Faint caramel and vanilla. Nuts. Anise, but not much. Raisins, red guavas and grapes waved at me, but kept way back.

Palate: Light bodied, hay coloured 40%, almost not a Demerara at all. Thin and sharp. White flowers, more coconut, a few fruity notes, peaches and cream with a dusting of cinnamon. Some mangos, raisins and black currants at the backend. A bit sweet, hardly noticeable. There’s not enough going on here to care, really. It’s all very underwhelming

Finish: Short, sharp and dismissive. Almost nothing to discern here at all beyond scraping heat and dark sugar and licorice.

Thoughts: A throwaway rum, for mixing, I suppose. I remember it being a lot more raw and pestilential. No notes on ageing provided, but methinks it’s a really young ‘unat best a five year old. In between grumbling that nobody ever thought to keep any of these rums for heritage purposes (people were to busy drinking the stuff) Carl Kanto remarked to me that there were aged variations of the King of Diamonds, and they evolved into the El Dorado line in the 1990s. For my money (speaking metaphorically), this wasn’t one of themif one could ever be found, I suppose you could buy it for historical value.

(75/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid
Jun 012010
 

This review was written in 2010 for the online rum magazine Rum Connection, and I add it here for completeness.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted that the rich are different from you and me. The same could possibly be said of premium rums at the top of the scale. They are so different, represent such an investment of time and effort, and are usually in such short supply that they come to represent something of the pinnacle of achievement in rum blending and production. Something rarefied, something out of the ordinary box in which most aged rums are placed. Something really, really special.

Such a rum is the El Dorado 25 year old, first seen in 1999 when the Millennium Edition came out. Just think of what that means. A full three years before the first stocks of the groundbreaking El Dorado 15 year old were put away (it came out in 1992 and so was set in motion in 1978), some farsighted visionary selected the barrels that held the rums which would eventually make their way into the first bottles of ED25. When the original blends were first casked, there were no personal computers, no cinema multiplexes, no ipods, cds, dvds or cell phones, and the premium rums that so dominate today’s high end market were barely a glimmer in someone’s eye. Five American presidents passed into and out of the White House while the casks slumbered and aged in DDL’s warehouses.

The ED 25 I reviewed here wasn’t the millenium edition but a more recent vintage (1980), and, perhaps as befits the pricey top end of the range, doesn’t skimp too much on the presentation (though I believe it could do better, and it seems to adhere to DDL’s philosophy of presentational minimalism). It arrives in a glass decanter quite unlike any other bottle in the El Dorado range, and fits tightly into a black cylindrical tin. The bottle is sealed with a glass-topped cork, firmly seated. Nice, very nice. Full brownie points for this, though it doesn’t equate to the bottle-lying-on-a-bed-of-satin in a blue box such as the Johnnie Walker Blue Label arrives with (and for a hundred bucks less for that one, you kinda wonder about that, but never mind).

The ED25 poured into the glass in a dark-brown cascade of liquid expense. At $300/bottle in Alberta (more in Toronto, I guarantee it, assuming it ever gets there), it was a pretty expensive shot no matter how little I decanted. On the other hand, it was worth it. Take the nose: Demerara rums are noted for thick, dark, molasses-based structure, and El Dorados pretty much pioneered the profile, but here, it was almost delicate. Somehow, DDL’s master blender managed to mute the inevitable alcohol sting of a 40% rum, dampened the sometimes excessive molasses scent, and created a complex nose that was a mixture of fresh brown sugar, caramel, orange, banana and assorted fruits. And I’m not talking about a mango, or apple or guava, but that mixture of fruits that gets into the best West Indian black cake served at Christmas time and weddings. Damn it was sexy. While I’d had the ED25 before, I had been in a hurry that day and trying it along with five other rums – so sampling it again under more controlled conditions permitted a more analytical tasting (if a less enjoyable one, given the absence of good friends), where notes I had missed the first time came through more clearly.

No discussion of El Dorado rums can be complete without mentioning their famous wooden stills, and the care DDL took to ensure the survival of the various stills from plantations that once produced their famous marques. Port Mourant, Uitvlugt (pronounced eye-flugt), Enmore, Versailles, LBI, Albion, Skeldon…the names are like a roll call of honour for marques now almost gone. These days only a few are in continuous commercial production (ICBU, PM and EHP are the most commonly found), none on the original estates. As the individual plantation distilleries closed down and were consolidated at Diamond Estate factory complex over the decades, DDL moved the entire still from the closed estate factory to Diamond. DDL operates eight different stills each with its own profile: six columnar stills, of which four are Savalle, and one is the last wooden Coffey still in existence; and two wooden pot stills, also the last in the world. From these still come rums with clear and definable characteristics that still reflect the tastes and characters of their original plantations, where they were once made.

The El Dorado 25 year old is a blend of rums from many of these stills: the Enmore wooden Coffey columnar still; the LBI and Albion Savalle stills; and the double wooden pot still from Port Mourant. Each brings its own distinct flavour to the table. And on the palate, they emerge like flowers in the desert after a rain. The rum emerging out of the blending of product from all these different stills was full-bodied, oily and coated the tongue from front to back. It was smoother than just about any other rum I had ever tried. I’m unfortunately not able to separate which taste emanates from the rum coming from which still, but I’ll tell you what I did taste: liquorice, caramel, molasses, brown sugar, burning canefields at harvest time, and baking spices, faint citrus together with the scent of freshly grated coconut. The tastes ran together in a dark, rich mélange that were enhanced with a sweet that may be the only negative I have to remark on this superb rum. I love the Demerara style – dark, full bodied and sweet – but the ED 25 is loaded with just a shade too much of the sugary stuff, and looking at my original tasting notes from six months ago, I see that I made exactly the same observation then. Beyond that, the thing is phenomenal.

The fade is similarly excellent. Long, smooth and with a gentle deep burn that releases the final fumes and tastes to the back of the throat in a voluptuous sigh of completion. This is without doubt one of the best goodbye kisses I’ve ever experienced from a rum, and I still think of it as a sort of baseline to which I compare many others. The loveliness of the complex nose, of taste reeking of class and sundowners, of a finish redolent of warm tropical nights on a moonlit shore, makes one want to laugh out loud with sheer delight.

At the top of the scale in any endeavour, ranking the best becomes problematic. When trying to assess the ED25, the relative comparisons are inevitable. There are certainly richer or more varied noses on other premium rums (English Harbour 25 is better, and I do have a soft spot for the Appleton 30); there are rums with more complexity (Mount Gay 1703); better body and taste (Flor de Cana 18, perhaps Clemente Tres Vieux for some), and for a finish, can anything beat the Gordon & MacPhail Jamaica 1941 58 yr old? But if you hold the “best” hostage to any one criterion, then you’re shortchanging the rankings, and will get nothing but vagueness. For a rum to ascend to greatness, it must be well-rounded, with near-excellence (if not actual brilliance) in all categories. Appearance, colour, body, taste, nose, balance, grace, emotional appeal, personal attraction and a certain timelessness…that’s the mitochondrial DNA of such a rum, and what comprises its core amino acids.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the El Dorado 25 year old. In the opinion of this Demerara-style-loving reviewer, it is, quite simply, one of the best rums of its kind ever made.

Update, May 2020: Clearly, in the years that passed between the time this exuberant review was written in 2010, and the time I tried another one in 2018, my opinion on its excellence changed (downwards). But as a signpost in how preferences and an appreciations of a rum can change with time, this serves as both a useful signpost ofbeforeand a cautionary tale of starting with high end rums too early in one’s career before proper groundwork and wider experience is gained.