Nov 102022
 

The new rums of Velier’s first edition of the Magnum Elliot Erwitt series of rums are only four in number, and it’s too early to tell whether future editions will materialise. Honestly, I don’t see any need to create a new series at all: both the Hampden and Foursquare rums already have well established collaborative series of their own, Saint James could have been folded into the 25th AOC Anniversary bottling and I’m sure a home could have been found for Mount Gay somewhere. The Magnum photographic connection — to rum, Velier or the distilleries — is tenuous at best and even the selected photographer is a relatively obscure choice.

Still, if the intent was to release four rums that stand out in an arresting and visual fashion, then that works, and surely Velier is treading on familiar ground they themselves have helped establish. And there have been one-offs and smaller series before, like the original Damoiseau 1980, or the twin Basseterre rhums, or the two Indian Ocean series releases. Nothing says it needs to be an ongoing multi-year effort like, oh, Rom Deluxe’s “Wild” series. Next year there will likely be yet another one and I do enjoy looking for and at those distinctive designs.

What thoughts like these suggest, however, is a diminishment of the importance of a rum range that retains a quality and consistency level over long periods. The Demeraras, the Caronis, the HV series of rums — even the 70th Anniversary Collection — are all examples of successful and important long term ranges Velier has created. By making a series of short-lived “little” series like Warren Khong, Indian Ocean, Japoniani, Villa Paradisetto (among others), one wonders if there really is an overarching philosophy at work, some kind of through-line that makes each range truly unique in some individual fashion, over and above the arresting designs and colours.

I make this observation because of the four rums in the first collection, the Foursquare is the one that, to me, stood out the least (I tried all four together). The production stats, on paper, are all sterling: pot-column-still blend (the website calls it a “100% pot still pure single blended rum” but that’s a contradiction in terms, and I confirmed it is indeed a blend of the sort Foursquare is known for), distilled in 2005, double aged in ex-bourbon and sherry casks for sixteen years, then released with an outturn of 1200 700ml bottles and 600 1.5L magnums at 61%. A serious, old tropically aged rum. The distillery doesn’t make much that’s older than that.

What it doesn’t do is break new ground in any significant way. The nose is light for the strength, for example, and feels consistent with my memory of other ECS releases. Dusty and somewhat papery at first, before the more usual salt-caramel, vanilla, and aromas of grapes, peaches and ripe apples emerge. There’s a creamy, briny, almost tart laban background, macaroons, some nuttiness, a touch of orange peel and cinnamon, a bit of basil and rosemary herbs. A decent nose, about what is expected.

It tastes about the same. The texture is great, very solid and emphatic, and channels fruitiness well: mostly cherries in syrup (minus the excessive sweet), ripe red grapes and apples and peaches; there’s also brown sugar, vanilla, coconut shavings, some molasses, white chocolate and nuttiness, set off with just the suggestion of citrus. The finish sums all that up, adds little additional complexity and its major claim to fame is that it it is really quite epically long, with notes of unsweetened yoghurt, caramel, vanilla and some indeterminate fruitiness.

Overall, it’s good. That said, it didn’t move me much — what’s missing is something of the exceptionalism, the blazing fire and shoot-the-moon excellence that define Velier’s best collaborations with Foursquare, and that distillery’s own finest ECS editions. This is a hyped limited release with serious artistic pretensions; the profile is consistent, the taste is good, it adheres to most of  the markers that we seek in a limited edition Barbados rum…and yet it’s one that doesn’t ring my bells, doesn’t make me sit up in stunned wtf-level amazement and then head straight over to wherever is selling it so I can get me a bottle and consider myself fortunate to pay three figures for the privilege. Barbados rum lovers will not be disappointed, of course (it would have to be a real dog for that), and investors will continue to buy it because of the limited outturn, so it won’t fail in the market.  For me though, it’s a pass at the price.

(#949)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From the Velier Mount Gay “Magnum EE” Review: The Magnum series of rums capitalises on the same literary concept as the seven founders of the famed photo agency wanted for their own organisation when they created and titled it in 1947, namely the multiple meanings and connotations of the word — greatness in Latin, toughness in the association with the gun, and celebration in its champagne mode (it’s just a happy coincidence that when discussing the matter they always drank magnums of champagne). Since Luca Gargano is a photo buff himself, I’m sure the references resonated with him. Four photographs made by Elliot Erwitt — an American photographer who was asked by Robert Capa to join the agency in 1954 — grace the four (black) bottles of the first release, but they have no direct relationships with the contents of the bottles in any way, and were likely chosen simply because they were appreciated as works of art.
  • This is particularly the case here, where the label photograph is of the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, taken in 1970. What that has to do with the rum or either of the involved companies, is simple: nothing.
  • Others’ opinions of this rum are almost exactly reversed from the Mount Gay Magnum edition which I liked more. Just about everyone who has written in about it loves this one, while I think it less. Secret Rum Bar rated it 92 points, WhiskyFun gave it 86, while Rum-X has an average of 88 points off of 25 ratings, with several topping 90.
Oct 172022
 

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

There currently seven rums in the set, which have been issued since February 2016 (when the famed 2006 10 YO came out): they are, in order of release as of 2022, the 2016, Triptych, Principia, Destino (whether there’s only one, or two, is examined below), Patrimonio, Plenipotenziario and Sassafras.  All are to one extent or another limited bottlings — and while they do not form an avenue to explore more experimental releases (like the pot still or LFT Foursquares in the HV series, for example), they are, in their own way, deemed special.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#944)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

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

Addendum – The Two Destinos

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

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

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

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

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


 

Aug 112022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#929)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Founded in 2009, Black Gate Distillery is located in Central West New South Wales, in the small rural town of Mendooran.  Like most of the micro-distilleries of the New Australians, it’s a husband and wife operation where – in this case – Genise Holingsworth does the good stuff and makes the rum, while her husband Brian dutifully makes that other obscure drink and handles the maintenance aspects (he’s a fitter machinist and auto mechanic by trade). They sourced two pot stills – relatively small at 630 litres and 300 litres capacity – and work with food grade molasses, commercial yeast and water, to make their various rum expressions. All are small batch, which stands to reason when one considers that the rum output of the small operation is only about 2o00 litres annually.
  • So far, Black Gate makes various Dark Rums, overproofs mostly with different finishes or cask maturations, and one called Tawny. Aside from whiskies, no cash flow stalwarts such as gins or “cane spirit” seem to be made.
  • Rums are aged in Port or Sherry casks (or both) for a minimum of two years. This rum was aged for three years in two Australian port (‘tawny’) casks: one of 225L and the other of 100L. A more recent 54.6% edition of the overproof was aged for five years. 
  • Labels are all the same for all these dark overproof rums no matter when made: the specifications are, in a clever bit of economising, white printed stick-ons.
Jul 282022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#925)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

May 092022
 

One of the downsides of working and living where I do is that the latest newest releases pass by and can’t be tried in time to catch the initial wave of advertising and consumer interest. Sometimes whole years pass by between the much ballyhooed arrival of some interesting new product and my ability to write the review…by which time not only has the interest flagged but also the supply, and a whole new raft of fresh rums are hogging the limelight. This is particularly thorny with respect to the very limited issues of independent bottlers who do single cask releases, but fortunately is not quite as bad with primary producers who keep their flagships stable for long periods of time.

A well-known company which falls in the middle of the divide between extremely small batches of single barrel rums (of the indies) and much more plentiful globally-available supplies (of the major producers) is Foursquare, specifically their Exceptional Casks Series. These are regular releases of many thousands of bottles…though they are finite, even if some are more plentiful than others. Fortunately they are widely dispersed geographically which is why one does see a small but steady trickle of posts on social media about somebody picking up this or that bottle at what remains a reasonable price for the age and supply.

One of these is the “Premise” which was released along side the “Dominus” and the “2005” in 2018 and had a substantial 30,000-bottle outturn 1 – it was ECS Mark VIII, one of the “red line label” low-alcohol sub-series of the line which include the Port Cask, Zinfadel, Detente, Sagacity, Indelible, etc. I touched on it briefly as one of the eight bottlings which made me see the series as a Key Rum of the World, an opinion which has only solidified over the years. Recently I was able to try it again, and it’s interesting how the summary notes made three and a half years ago remain relevant…there really isn’t much I would change, except perhaps to fill in and expand the details.

It’s a pot/column still aged blend, made up of three years’ ageing in ex-Bourbon casks and seven in sherry casks, released at 46%, and let me tell you, this is one case where the lower strength really is an advantage, because there is a bright sprightliness of a warm spring morning about the nose, redolent of flowers and a basket of freshly picked fruit. There’s the spiciness of cumin, vanilla and masala, mixed up with apricot and green apples (which somehow works real well) plus grapes, olives and a nice brie. A bit salty, a bit tannic, with a touch of the sour bite of gooseberries.

Tastewise, the low ABV remains solid and presents as quite warm and spicy, with a clear fruity backbone upon which are hung a smorgasbord of cooking spices like rosemary, dill and cumin. Also brine, some strong green tea, to which are added some faintly lemony and red wine notes from the sherry, merging well into vanilla, caramel and white nutty chocolate and then smoothly leading into a delicately dry finish, with closing notes of toffee, vanilla, apricots and spices. 

“Straight sipper?” asked Ralfy (probably rhetorically). “Absolutely!” And I agree. It’s a great little warm-weather sundowner, and if it treads ground with which we have become familiar, well, remember what it was like four years ago when blended rums this good from major houses in limited release were the exception, not the rule. If I had to chose, I would rate it ahead of the Zin and the Port Cask, but not as exciting and fresh as the superlative Criterion 2(which admittedly, had more sock in its jock, but still…). However, this is semantics: I enjoyed it, and moreover, everyone has their own favourites from the lineup, so mine will be different from yours

Now, it’s long been bruited around that Foursquare, more and better than most, makes rums that particularly appeal whiskey anoraks – the dry, woodsy, fruity core profile makes it a good rum to entice such drinkers (particularly those into Bourbon) away from the Dark Side…and given the popularity of their rums in the US, surely there’s some truth to that. The overused term “gateway rum” is one I don’t like much, but here is a rum that actually does deserve the title. Like others in the red line ECS series, the “Premise” has a very large outturn that allows most who want it to get it; that combines an approachable strength (for the cautious) with an accessible price (for the impecunious); for newcomers it’s soft enough not to intimidate and for aficionados it’s complex enough to appreciate. There’s something for everyone here, all in a single bottle and believe me, that is no small feat for any one rum to achieve.

(#906)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

A “premise” as a noun, is A statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion, or as a verb, means to base an argument, theory, or undertaking on. The evocative name of the rum was not chosen by accident: back in 2017 when the rum was being finalized, Richard Seale was making a specific point, that a rum could be additive free and unmessed-with and still be a good rum. This was the place he started from, the basis of his work, and although even as late as 2018 it was mostly the UK bloggers who were singing the company’s praises, the conclusion that the Mark VIII left behind was surely a ringing endorsement of the core premise: that confected rums need not be held up as ideals to emulate or be seen as ends in themselves, when so much quality could be achieved by adding nothing at all.

May 052022
 

Photo (c) Boatrocker Brewing & Distilling, from Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#905)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special acknowledgement of Mr. And Mrs. Rum’s kindness in sending me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
  • This is Batch #3 according to the advent calendar notes
May 012022
 

It’s an old saw that time grants experience at the expense of youth, and indeed the entire review of the El Dorado 21 YO rum was an extended meditation on this theme.  But perhaps, had I wanted to illustrate the issue more fully, it would have been better to reflect on the descent of the Barbados 20th Anniversary XO in my estimation over the intervening years since I first tried and wrote about it in 2012.  Back then I awarded it what by contemporary standards is an unbelievable 88.5 points and my opening blurb naming it “one of the top sipping rums of my 2012 experience” can in no way be repeated a decade later without causing howls of disbelieving and derisive laughter from all and sundry, and a recent re-tasting of the rum shows why this is the case.


The rum’s nose opens with a light, medicinal sort of aroma reminiscent of quinine, except that it’s sweet and not sharp at all.  It develops into hints of honey, caramel, blancmange and soft ripe fruits – flambeed bananas, raisins, apples on the edge of spoiling – that combine into a softly congealed sweetness that hides the sharpness one suspects may be lurking beneath it all. There are marshmallows, coconut milk, sweet pastries with a surfeit of icing sugar, but little acid bite or edge that would balance this all off. It’s a heavy dull, sweet nose, covering the senses like a wet blanket.


The deepening disappointment I feel about the rum has nothing really to do with the War of the Barbados GI (as I’ve heard it described), or the choice of Plantation as a brand name (with all its subsequent negative connotations), or some of the questionable business practices of the company. Those matters have been discussed and dissected at length and will continue to raise blood pressures for years to come. It doesn’t even have anything to do with Ferrand’s careful marketing, problematic labelling and the cold-eyed sales strategy, none of which, after all, is personal – it’s just business. But all these dodgy issues aside, the fact remains that if ever there was a poster child for how tastes evolve and how what was once a real favourite can turn into a symbol of so much that no longer works, this rum is it.


On the palate, the initial sensations suggest all is well.  The tastes are nicely fruity: sugar cane sap, vanilla, coconuts shavings, white chocolate, giving one the impression of a liquid Ferrero Raffaello Confetteria (but not as good). And yet, all the fruits striding forward to centre stage are too ripe, here – yellow mangoes, peaches, apricots, cherries.  Thickly sweet tastes overwhelm the sharper rummy notes of caramel and light molasses with a barrage of marshmallows, candy floss and sugar water and blattens everything flat.


That profile as described might surprise many emergent rum fans from America in particular. After all, if one were to consult those three great repositories of crowdsourced rum opinion – Reddit’s /r/rum, Rum Ratings and Rum-X – the vast majority of the respondents just love this thing, as the high consolidated scores on those platforms attest (the last one is the lowest with a 79 point average from 414 ratings). 

And on the surface, there’s no question that it presses many of the right buttons: it’s been widely available (since 2007) at a slightly-higher-than-cheap price, has got that faux-ultra-premium bottle and gold etching; and it’s not part of the “standard backbar line” of the 3-Star, OFTD or Original Dark but one level higher (the “Signature Blends”). It remains bottled at 40% ABV and continues to be touted as being a blend of “quintessential extra-old rums from Barbados”. The company website provides disclosure: the various ages of the blend, the pot/column still makeup, the dual-ageing regimen, and of particular note is the 20g/L “dosage” element, which is considered to be the sugaring that makes it sweet (it’s not, really, but serves as a useful shorthand). So all that provision and declaration and presentation, and it’s all good, right?  


The finish is smothering, though light, and thankfully escapes the kiss-of-death word “cloying”. There’s stuff going on here and it’s delicious: caramel, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, raisins, honey and even some tamarind, but there’s not enough of it, and what is sensed remains covered over by a sort of placid languor, a dampening effect of the sweetening that provides a sweet and warm conclusion, just not a memorable one.


Not entirely. For all its current disclosure, Plantation sure wasn’t talking any more than anyone else, back in 2012 and it was only after 2014 that they started to come up to scratch (trust me, I was there).  That’s when they and many (but not all) others belatedly came out of the closet in a come-to-Jesus-moment and said “Yeah, but we always did it this way, it’s been a long standing practice, and it makes the rum better.”1.

What’s often not addressed in the denunciations of dosage is exactly why the sugaring was and remains considered such a bad thing, so here’s a recap.  A common refrain is that it destroys the purity of rum, the way spicing does, so one is not getting an original experience – and worse, one may be paying a higher price for a cheap rum cunningly dosed to make it seem more premium. Secondly there’s a lesser but no less important point of reasons related to fitness and health. But those matters aside, it really is because rum chums hate being lied to: the practice was never disclosed by any producer, while being fiercely denied the whole time. These and other social issues surrounding the parent company go a long way to explaining the despite the rum gets, though at end, much of this is window dressing, and it’s how the rum works (or not), and perhaps how it’s classified, that’s the key issue, since disclosure is now provided. Other than that, the matters above don’t — or shouldn’t — impact on any evaluation of the rum at all (though no doubt many will disagree with me on this one).

By that exacting, laser-focused and narrow-bore standard, then, all the markers suggest a rum with luscious potential…but one which doesn’t deliver. It is really too faint to be taken seriously and too sweet to showcase real complexity — although this is precisely what many new entrants to rum, weaned on Captain Morgan, cheap Bacardis, Kraken, Bumbu or Don Papa, consider smooth, sippable and top end. As with earlier El Dorado rums, nowadays for me the real question is not the dosage per se (after all, I can simply chose not to drop my coin on the rum) just why it continues, since it is really quite unnecessary. The rum is discernibly fine and can be better with less additions, or no sweetening at all; and I think that the state of the rumiverse generally is now sufficiently educated and aware – in a way we were not back in the early 2000s – for it to be re-released as an adulterated / spiced rum or reissued without the dosage as something more serious…rather than pandering the way it does and having the best of both worlds.

That might make me a purist…but I chose to believe it’s more that I don’t think that a rum that’s already intrinsically decent needs to have such embellishment, which we never asked for, no longer need and really no longer want. It cheapens the whole category and lessens any kind of serious consideration of the spirit as a whole

All that, and it really is just too damned sweet.

(#904)(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • My hydrometer tested this out at 35.07% ABV, which works out to just about 20g/L so the website is spot on. This is a reduction from the decanter version I had originally reviewed a decade ago.
  • In this retrospective, I have deliberately chosen not to go deeper into the theme of “separating the artist from the art”, as that is a subject requiring a much more nuanced and opiniated exploration. It is, however, on my radar, and not only for this company.
  • What exactly the “20th Anniversary” is, remains debated.  Some say it’s of Mr. Gabriel’s becoming a master blender, others have differering opinions.  It’s not the age of the rum, though, which is a blend of 8-15 YO distillates. It may of course be simply a number put there for marketing reasons, or something of significance to Maison Ferrand.
Jan 122022
 

Over the last years, one of the inescapable conclusions I’ve come to is that rums that dare to be different or faithfully rep their terroire without reference to others, will always and only get niche acknowledgement from that sliver of the rumisphere that knows and understands the varieties of rum and is not reluctant to try something on the blank edges of the map. Wider acceptance by the larger mass of the rum buying public, though…that may be harder.

This is perhaps why some of the more artisanal cane derived spirits of the day – aguardientes, grogues, clairins, charandas, kokuto shochu, even cachaças – struggle to find mainstream acceptance outside their limited areas of origin.  It’s no accident that perhaps the most popular and well-known of the Japanese rum makers, Nine Leaves, holds the distinction of being popular and well-known not just because of good marketing, but because Takeuchi-san’s rums are the most approachable to a “western” palate, in a way the country’s other sugar cane spirits are not.

I begin with this comment because a similar train of thought went through my mind as I tried what I honestly believe to be one of the best of the Brazilian company Novo Fogo’s lineup, the pot-still distilled “Tanager” cachaça.  Originally they labelled it a “cane juice spirit” but current labels all have the word “cachaça” there, and it is the first of their “Two Woods” series, released in 2017 and afterwards1. The ageing is still rather short: one year in Four Roses ex-bourbon barrels and three further months in arariba (Brazilian zebrawood) barrels, which they claim is what gives it the spirit that characteristic brown-red colour. As to why they named it after a bird, well, who knows (and frankly, who cares? – it’s a nice word, a nice name, and others have used stranger titles).

The woods have had a really interesting impact on the cachaça and changed it quite a bit.  The nose, for example is lovely: nutty, salty and a touch tannic, redolent of cane juice, herbs, wet green grass, moss and a delicate line of strawberries and peaches. There’s a sort of damp earthiness to it, mixed up with spices like tumeric and cinnamon that I particularly liked.

The taste is less successful, perhaps because the slightly sharper attack of the zebrawood is more pronounced here, ameliorated by the relatively low proof point of 42%.  It’s tannic, but also salty, fruity, loam-y and sweet, and there is that characteristic grassy and sugar cane sap profile of a cachaca, plus some vanilla and sweetly tart pears and white guavas. Cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin round things off in a pleasant, low key finish that just escapes being bitter and becomes, through some odd alchemy, crisply refreshing, like a lemon-mint drink.

Cachaças are, of course, meant to be drunk in a caipirinha, but Novo Fogo is aiming for a different market than the huge internal one of Brazil. The rum tastes like an agricole bent ninety degrees away from true, flavourful and interesting, but not so off the map as to be unapproachable. What’s also important is that the short ageing in that combination of woods has produced a rum that is closer than almost any cachaça I’ve ever tried to a profile that is recognizably a “regular rum”….if not completely.  

Therein lies its intriguing and beguiling nature, and therein lies my appreciation for what it is. It may, in the end, be this and the others in the line that espouse a philosophy of finishing rather than ageing in local woods, that will allow Novo Fogo’s cachaças to appeal to a much greater audience than just the aficionados and deep divers who thus far have been its most faithful adherents. I wish them luck,

(#876)(85/100)


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, Jamel, 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.
  • One wonders, given all these stats, whether the Habitation Velier series will ever come knocking to take a few barrels – it seems to press all their buttons and they could sure do worse.
  • There’s more company background in their very well-designed website.
Aug 082021
 

Worthy Park out of Jamaica had been distilling and selling youngish estate rums under the Rumbar label since about 2015, and laying down aged stocks from their spanking new distillation apparatus for a decade before that, all while selling bulk rum for cash flow. The bartender’s rums they released had always gotten good press; and the indies were able to cherry pick some really good ‘uns from the aged sales over the years (like the terrific CDI 2007 7 YO)… but it did leave Worthy Park without some middle-aged offerings of its own, and relegated to something of a second tier bottler, lacking a killer app to vault it to the next level.

They needed it, they wanted it, they got it, in 2017, when they proved once and for all that it was no longer just a purveyor of bulk rum and bartender’s backbar staples, but a major new Jamaican distiller of uncommon quality. That was the year they assaulted the festival circuit of with three serious rums, one of which has become an instant wanna-have classic, and let me tell you, I still remember what that was like.

See, at every rum fest, there are dark shadowed corners where the rum hoods sullenly lurk and gather: they acknowledge each other with a dour “S’up?” and secret handshakes; they exchange and share treasured samples of the latest halo rum, or show off those they have no intention of parting with (sometimes a sniff is all you get). And always they discuss the unheralded stars of the show that have to be tried. That year, as in others, a rumour started and began to spread, about one rum. It was a Jamaican. An awesome Jamaican. The mutterings grew until it was a babble, glasses quivered and noses twitched, and like elephants at a watering hole, the bulls sniffed the air, sensing a disturbance in the Force.  

Glasses were sourced, sniffed, snooted, sampled, swapped, and low muttered “holy sh*t!” exclamations were heard with increasing frequency. Significant looks were exchanged. A drift of the deep divers began to the back booths, slow at first but getting faster: because in the shabby corner over there by 1423, there was a new rum series that just had to be tried and the story was told that if that affable, bearded, vacationing Santa Claus running the booth liked you, or if you could bat your eyes just right at Zan Kong who was holding court right there, not only could you try the two official WP rums on display, you could be spotted a taste of a special under-the-counter juice that was simply off the scale. People were elbowing each other out of the way, they were so eager to get there before stocks ran out. I hadn’t seen anything like it since the stampede to get a snootful of the Caputo 1973, ten years ago. 

Okay, so I exaggerate a little for effect, and because I can’t let a good story pass without a few embellishments…but not really.  Because of the three rums I tried that day, and of the Worthy Park rums I’ve been fortunate enough to beg, borrow, bribe, blackmail, burglarize or sample since then, this thing remains a pinnacle among spirituous codpieces, sporting the sort of cachet and quality that launches small cults and distorts the GDP of small nations.

No, seriously. The rum was a cousin to the “Oloroso”, pot still made, the light WPL marque, aged in American white oak before being shipped to Denmark where it was further aged in a dry ex-Marsala cask, and bottled at one proof point higher (60% ABV, take that, milquetoast wannabes).  It smoked and frothed and dripped off the still in 2012 and was therefore also around five years old. Only 319 bottles, alas, which meant that not everyone who wanted one would ever get one….but for those who did, what a rum they got. The bottle trembled as Zan poured neat drams, as if he feared it might detonate at any moment, and indeed, since that day I’ve heard rumours (probably unfounded, but who knows, right?) that the sound of a bottle of this stuff being cracked disturbs the shape of whole buildings slightly with a small sonic boom. 

I can’t entirely discount such stories, because just sniffing the thing watered eyes and puckered noses (and other parts). The rum was hot, fierce to a fault and at pains to demonstrate it possessed the entire genome of Jamaican funk and Worthy Park badass, plus an extra chromosome for kick, just because, y’know, it could. It was salt butter creaminess spread over freshly toasted sourdough bread. It oozed caramel, bananas, citrus, spoiled oranges and apples way past their prime. The complexity was really something amazing, a forceful fruity cornucopia mixed in with spices that just kept on coming: over-ripe peaches, turmeric, and sweet-smoky red pepper, then back to the fruit salad again. 

It was bottled at 120 proof of power and yet, when sampled all one tasted was firmness, strength, no sharpness, like it was twenty points lower.  It laid down solid notes of flambeed bananas, overripe cashews, coconut shavings, a little brine and olives, and was creamy and aromatic in a very Jamaican-funk sort of way. There were sweet notes of peaches and pineapples in syrup, a fine background of lemon peel, spices again, apples and grapes and raisins all mixing it up in fine style with sweet bell peppers, rosemary and bay leaves.  And it slowed down not the slightest when approaching the finish line: it was long, peachy, creamy, tart, spicy, salty, and still managed to cough up some caramel, lemon zest and tart apples at the close.

Five years old.  If nothing else it showed the astounding quality of the Compagnie’s 7 YO had been no accident. It’s difficult for me to explain precisely what made it so good, and so memorable. The finishing was definitely a part of that, and in spite of the pot still action waning somewhat between nose and palate, the balance of the sweet with the salt with the umame and the tart, was completely stellar. Nothing dominated, everything got its time to shine, and there was a lot there to process. A lot. People throw around the word “complexity” far too casually these days, but here was a rum that really earned it. 

See, the WP Marsala rum displayed a furious sort of weapons-grade rum-making mojo of a kind I had been seeing all too rarely. It rewards multiple tastings, and is a completely enjoyable dram to sip from start to finish. I’ve gone back to it constantly, in all the time between then and now, and it’s not that I had to do that to “understand” it, precisely, or “get it.” I get it just fine. But I had to return to realize how good it really is, how well it marries the smooth elegance of a well mannered socialite with the brutally assertive statement of a cane cutter’s cutlass.  The strength may daunt, but the aroma beguiles, the palate seduces, and the quality of the whole is gradually made manifest…and once that happens, you return to it like a totem of all the quality you want, and didn’t even know you were missing.

(#842)(90/100)

Jul 292021
 

Depending on who you talk to, it’s a toss up whether Hampden or Worthy Park is the best of the New Jamaican distilleries. Appleton / J. Wray is the market leader (in both sales and recognition); Longpond, Monymusk, New Yarmouth and Clarendon have some brand awareness from Jamaican rum cultists and indie bottlers – though of course your average Joe could care less, let alone distinguish among them –  but when it comes to artisanal pot still rums, it’s all down to those two.

Hampden has a distribution arrangement with Velier (you can see Velier’s design ethos in all their labels), uses dunder in distillation, has its own aged rums and is repped by the charming,  dynamic and vivacious Christelle Harris. Worthy Park does not use dunder, has deliberately elected not to partner up with anyone (unless it’s 1423, the Danish outfit who helps them market their rums around Europe) and has their own not-so-secret weapon, the approachable and cheerful King of Cool, Mr. Zan Kong as their export manager.  Both sell “house brands” of their own (the Rumbar line for WP, the Velier-associated Pure Single Rums “46” and “60” for Hampden), sell to third parties which produce brands like RumFire, Stolen Overproof, Hamilton or Doctor Bird, or sell bulk for the use of European indies.

The key to their rise and recognition and all the accolades is less these points, however, than the fact that both have wedded their futures to pot still artisanal rums which have, since their introduction, taken the rumworld by storm. Worthy Park in particular is one of the best of its kind, and been confident enough in their sales to expand the admittedly rather entry-level (though still very good) Rumbar rums into a series of older and more limited expressions called the “Special Cask” series, which are further aged, issued at higher proof, and are simply amazing in every way.

This edition began to be released around 2017, and the bottle under discussion today is based on stocks laid down in 2012 — it’s a 59% ABV limited edition of 428 bottles, though I am unclear whether it came from a single cask or a few (I suspect a few).  It has the peculiarity of being double aged: four years in Jamaica, and another one in Denmark by 1423, which is why initially, at the various rumfests where it was introduced, it was found at that company’s booth.  That European year was in ex-Oloroso casks, so not only different casks but different climates impacted the final rum. Interesting…

The results of that bifurcated ageing regimen and the pot still origin speak for themselves, and personally, wholly on my own account, I can only say the rum is kind of a quiet stunner. The nose startled the hell out of me, I must admit – “…a smoky barbeque with sweetly musky HP sauce?” went the opening words of my handwritten notes — really!  It was redolent of the ashes of a dying fire over which a well-marinated shashlik had been grilling and sizzling.  Which did not stay long, admittedly: the real rumminess came after – caramel, burnt sugar, bags of fruit.  For a while there it even nosed like a pot still white, with slight turpentine, brine, olives and varnishy notes.  Red wine, grapes, plums, very ripe apples, bananas, coconut shavings, the smells kept billowing out and all I could think was somebody had somehow managed to stuff the olfactory equivalent of a grocery’s entire fresh produce section in here.

The taste was similarly excellent, a low-rent masterpiece of execution in precision mixed up with a raucous yard party where de music blarin’ out o’ big-ass speaker size’ like young fridge. It was all-out funky Jamaican goodness, sweet and crisp and very very controlled, with the balance among all the competing elements really quite well handled. Strawberries, pineapples, bubble gum and orange zest started the party; that was then followed by raisins, dark fruits, plums, vinegar, pimento and vinegar dumped with olive oil into a oversalted salad (and I mean that in a good way). Even the finish – sporting a limbo of nuts, paprika, tobacco leaves and more of those oversweet-yet-tart spoiling fruits – added a solid conclusion to the festivities.

No blended rum or column still ever came up with a rum like this. Steve James of the Rum Diaries Blog wrote the first serious review of the series and was enamoured of the entire line, and The Fat Rum Pirate followed suit soon after with a four star review (it’s both amusing and instructive that one thought the sherry influence was too much, the other too little) and Rum Shop Boy weighed in with a positive experience of his own. 

But oddly, in spite of the accolades, the rum never really scaled the heights of consumer desire to the extent that it became a must-have, and if a measure of any rum’s popularity is the amount of times it gets mentioned on social media with gleeful boasts of “I got it!!” then this seems to be considered a bit of a smaller rum.  Personally, I disagree: Worthy Park’s double aged “Oloroso” rum was and remains a seriously constructed piece of complex oomph that any distiller would have been proud to release. “Though she be but little, she is fierce,” wrote Shakespeare of the diminutive Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I think that applies equally to this rum. In people’s minds it may be small, easily overlooked – but in reality, it’s Goddamned huge. 

(#840)(88/100)

Jul 082021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#835)(81/100)


Other notes

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

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

 

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).
Jun 172018
 

Somehow, after a big splash in 2015-2016, Indonesian rums came and left the scene with equally and almost startling suddenness.  Although Haus Alpenz has been making a Batavia Arrack Van Oosten for many years (even decades, perhaps), it is a niche spirit, really, and not many know of it, and no, I haven’t tried it. My first encounter with the arracks came when I bought the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia rum in 2015 (and quite liked it), and within the year By The Dutch put this fascinating product out the door and then occasional photos began making the rounds on FB of Naga and Nusa Cana rums.  Shortly thereafter Matt Pietrek wrote one of his deep dives into the By the Dutch rum, and yet after all that, somehow they have almost vanished from the popular consciousness.

Perhaps it’s the renaissance of Bajan and Jamaican rums in those same years that stole the show, I don’t know – certainly over the last years the various social media are fuller of Bajan and Jamaican rum pictures and commentaries than just about anything else. Maybe it’s physical distribution, festival absences, word of mouth, Facebook posts (or lack thereof).  Whatever the case for its lack of mindshare, I suggest you give it a try, if only to see where rum can go…or where it has already been.

Part of what makes arrack interesting is the way it is fermented. Here some fermented red rice is mixed into the yeast prior to addition to the molasses and water (up to 5%), which undoubtedly impacts the final taste.  I was told by a By the Dutch rep that this particular spirit derives from sugar cane juice and fermented red rice cake, and is then twice distilled: once in a pot still, producing a distillate of about 30% ABV, and then again in another pot still to around 60-65%.  At that point it is laid to rest in barrels made of teak (!!) in Indonesia for a number of years and then shipped to Amsterdam (Matt implies it’s to Scheer) where it is transferred to 1000L oak vats. The final arrack is a blend of spirits aged 8 months, 3, 5 and 8 years, with the majority of the spirit being 3 and 5 years of age and bottled at 48% ABV.

A production process with so many divergent steps is sure to bring some interesting tastes to the table. It’s intriguing to say the least.  The nose, even at 48%, is remarkably soft and light, with some of that pot still action being quite evident in the initial notes: rotting banana skins, apples gone off and some funky Jamaican notes, if perhaps not as intense as a Hampden or worthy Park offering.  This then slowly — almost delicately — released light citrus, watery fruit and caramel hints, chamomile, cinnamon, green tea and bitter chocolate and a sort of easy sweetness very pleasing to smell.

It got better when I tasted it, because the strength came out more clearly – not aggressive, just very solid and crisp at the same time, sweet and clear, almost like an agricole with some oak thrown in for good measure.  The pot still origins were distinct, and taste of sweet fruits gone over to the dark side were handled well: apples, citrus, pears, gherkins, the very lightest hint of olives, more tea, green grapes, with cooking spices dancing around everything, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon.  Even the finish was quite aromatic, lots of esters, bananas, apples, cider and a sort of grassiness that was more hinted at than forcefully explored.

As an alternative to more commonly available rums, this one interesting. It doesn’t smack you in the face or try to damage your glottis – it’s too easy or that – and works well as both a sipping drink (if your tastes go that way), or something to chuck into a mai-tai or a negroni variation. One of the reasons why it should be tried and appreciated is because while it has tastes that suggest a Jamaican-Bajan hybrid, there is just enough difference from the mainstream here to make it a fascinating drink on its own merits, and shows again how rum is simply the most versatile, varied spirit available.   

Plus, let’s be fair, the arrack is quite a nifty rum judged solely by itself: no, it’s not a stern and forbiddingly solid cask-strength rum, no – it’s actually something of the other way… but it’s original within its limits, sweet enough for those who like that, edgy enough for those who want more. In short, eminently sippable for its strength.  I think it’s an old, even ancient drink made new, and even if one does not immediately succumb to its languorous charms, I do believe it’s worth taking out for a try.

(#521)(84/100)


Other notes

The bottle clearly says “aged up to 8 years”.  Understand what this means before you think you’re buying an 8 Year Old rum.


Opinion

With respect to the rum news all being about the western hemisphere’s juice: I don’t begrudge the French, Spanish or English Caribbean rum makers their glory — that would be deeply unpatriotic of me, even if one discounted the great stuff the islanders are making, neither of which is an option. There’s a reason they get just about 75% of the press, with the independents and Americans (north and south) getting the remainder.  

But I just want to sound a note of caution about the blinkers such focus is imposing on our rumsight, because by concentrating on nothing but these, we’re losing sight of great stuff being made elsewhere – on the French islands, St Lucia, Grenada, Mexico, Japan…and Indonesia. From companies like By the Dutch and the New Asians only now beginning to be more visible.

Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live.  Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013 (it was previously called the Eclipse Black 100 Proof) was one of these.  It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XO – which can be found practically everywhere and is known around the world – but it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%).  Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds rum – a better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely.  For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptional – though admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way.  It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?”

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste.  It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known.  Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.  

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembled – but originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me.  The whole experience was also not so much light as underperforming … more than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely right – the rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados.  What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both.  Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)

Nov 272017
 

#462

For almost two decades, Rum Nation issued very special 20+ year old Jamaican Rums in the Supreme Lord series, always at a relatively quaffable 40-45% and with that oh-so-cool retro wooden box and jute packing that has now been discontinued; then a year or two back they decided to go with a new line, the “Small Batch Rare Rums” – this was to differentiate the cask strength line of more limited bottlings from the blended products with larger outturns, which Fabio sometimes refers to as “entry level” and which I always thought were quite good (ever since I bought the entire 2010 line at once).

One of the best of these is this appealing, approachable and near-sublime Jamaican rum, blended from three special years of Long Pond’s stocks: 1985, 1986 and 1977. This is a rum issued in a limited outturn of 800 bottles, and has a presentation that places it at the top of the already fairly exclusive Rares: because while many of those are in the 10-20 year age range (there is a massive bronto of the 1992-2016 Hampden 61.6% that clocks in at 24, which I need to get real bad), this one beats them all and is at least 30 years old…and given a special presentation to match with a stylish flagon and clear printing direct on the bottle, and a neat box in which to show it off to less fortunate rum chums.

The constituent rums were aged in second fill bourbon barrels before being blended and then aged for a further six years in Oloroso casks pre-used for (an unnamed) whisky, and everything about the profile shows the best parts of all that ageing.  The nose was quite simply delicious – it dialled back the rubber and wax and furniture polish (though there was some of that) and amped up the characteristic Jamaican funk, mixing it up with bags of dark fruit – raisins, prunes, black olives for the most part.  Letting it stand gave more, much more: leather, tobacco, a smidgen of vanilla, honey, licorice, sherry, brown sugar and more raisins in a smooth smorgasbord of great olfactory construction. I walked around with that glass for over an hour and it was as rich at the end as it was in the beginning, and yes, that’s an unqualified recommendation.

Although I might have preferred a stronger, more forceful attack which 48.7% ABV did not entirely provide, there’s little I could find fault with once I actually tasted the thing.  Actually, it was as good as the nose promised and didn’t disappoint in the slightest: it began with a little unsweetened chocolate, caramel, molasses and funk, then added olives and brine to the pot, before flooring the accelerator and revving it up to the redline.  Tumeric and paprika, light grasses and herbs, flambeed bananas, lemon peel, more raisins and prunes, both smooth and a little savage at the same time – surely something to savour over a good cigar. And the finish was excellent, just long enough, a shade dry, presenting closing notes of oak, vanilla, leather, smoke, molasses and caramel, chocolate and the vaguest hint of fruitiness and citrus to end things off with aplomb and a flourish.

The Jamaica 30 is priced to match at around four hundred dollars and therefore I can’t in fairness suggest you put yourself in hock to go get it unless you have such coin burning a hole in your portfolio.  It lands emphatically in the Fifth Avenue segment of the market, which makes it, unfortunately, mostly affordable by those who are more into showing off, rather than rum-geeks who would put it to bed next to the wife and make sure it (and not the wife) is tucked in properly.

But if you can get it, it may even be worth the outlay: this was a really nice rum. In my more imaginative moments I like to think that some years ago Rum Nation took a look at their wares and concluded that perhaps they were, with long association and decades long sales, getting, well…maybe…a shade boring?  I can just see Fabio Rossi in his warehouse morosely sucking rum out of a barrel, wondering where to go next, then raising his fist to high heaven and swearing like Scarlett, that “Mah rums will nevah be boring again!”  It’s taken years for that metaphorical flight of fancy of mine to be fulfilled, and has he ever succeeded with the Small Batch series in general, and this one in particular.  This rum is as exciting as any new rum now being made; and if that doesn’t get your juices flowing, I honestly don’t know what will. Except maybe a second bottle.

(90/100)


Other notes

I am unaware of any added sugar or dosing on the rum. Fabio Rossi has told me in the past that the Rares are unmessed-with, but I have not managed to ask about this one in particular yet.  A query to him is pending. Marcus Stock, a friend of mine from Germany, took a small sample of his own and it measured at equivalent ABV of 45.18% which he calculated back to 12 g/L additives.  He promised to do the test on a larger sample as a double check.

Nov 062017
 

#398

Everyone has a favourite Foursquare rum and the nice thing is, like most large large brands, there’s something for everyone in the lineup, which spans the entire gamut of price and strength and quality. For some it’s the less-proofed rums still issued for the mass market, like Rum 66 or Doorly’s; for others it’s the halo-rums such as the Triptych and 2006 ten year old.  However, it my considered opinion that when you come down to the intersection of value for money and reasonable availability, you’re going to walk far to beat the Exceptional Cask series. And when Forbes magazine speaks to your product, you know you’re going places and getting it right, big time.

The Criterion 2007 ten year old (Mark V) released this year is the fifth and latest of these rums, following from the Bourbon Cask 1998-2008 10 YO (Mark I), Bourbon Cask 2004-2015 11 YO (Mark II),  Port Cask 2005-2014 9 YO (Mark III), and the Zinfadel Cask 2004-2015 11YO (Mark IV).  It’s quite a step up from the Port Cask, without ascending to the heights of the 2006 10 year old or other rums of its kind.  For those who don’t already know, the Criterion is a pot-still and column-still blend, and while the ageing regime (three years in ex-bourbon casks and seven years in very old Madeira casks) is fine, it also subtly change the underlying DNA of what a pure Bajan rum is.

Let me explain that by just passing through the tasting notes here: let me assure you,the Criterion is pretty damned good – actually, compared to any of the lesser-proofed Doorly’s, it’s amazing.The sumptuousness of a Louis XIVth boudoir is on full display right from the initial nosing.  Even for its strength – 56% – it presented with the rich velvet of caramel, red wine (or a good cognac).  Oaky, spicy and burnt sugar notes melded firmly and smoothly with nutmeg, raisins, and citrus peel, cardamon and cloves, and there was a glide of apple cider on the spine that was delectable.  The longer I let it breathe, the better it became and after a while chocolates, truffles and faint coffee emerged, and the balance of the entire experience was excellent.

Tasting it, there was certainly no mistaking this for any other rum from Barbados: the disparity with other rums from the island which my friend Marco Freyr remarked on (“I can detect a Rockley still Bajan rum any day of the week”) is absolutely clear, and as I taste more and more Foursquare rums, I understand why Wes and Steve are such fanboys. The rum is a liquid creme brulee wrapped up in salt caramel ice-cream, then further mixed up with almonds, prunes, cherries, marmalade, cider and nutmeg, remarkably soft and well-behaved on the tongue. Coffee and chocolate add to the fun, and I swear there was some ginger and honey floating around the back end there somewhere.  It all led to a finish that was long and deeply, darkly salt-sweet, giving last notes of prunes and very ripe cherries with more of that caramel coffee background I enjoyed a lot.  

So, in fine, a lovely rum, well made, well matured, nicely put together.  No wonder it gets all these plaudits.  My feeling is, retire the Doorly’s line – this stuff should absolutely have pride of place.

Here’s the thing, though. Purists make much of ‘clean’ rums that are unmessed with, exemplars of the style of the country, the region and the estate or maker.  By that standard this rum and its brothers like the Zinfadel and the Port are problematical because none of these are actually ‘pure’ Bajan rums any longer… all this finishing and ageing and second maturation in second or third-fill barrels is watering down and changing what is truly “Barbados” (or perhaps Foursquare). What these rums really are, are a way of getting around the adulteration prohibitions of Bajan law….adding taste and complexity without actually adding anything that would qualify as obvious adulteration (after all, what is ex-bourbon barrel ageing but the same thing with a more “accepted” cask?).  So for the pedant, one could argue that the series is more a high end experiment and what comes out the other end is no longer a pure Barbadian hooch but a double or triple matured blended rum based on Bajan/Foursquare stocks….a subtle distinction and so not quite the same thing.

Maybe.  I don’t care.  My work here is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy: and the bottom line is, I enjoyed the experience and liked it, immensely – it blew the socks off the Doorly’s 12 year old I also tried that day, and makes me want to get all the Exceptional Cask series, like yesterday, and put dibs on all the ones coming out tomorrow.  The Criterion is drinkable, sippable, mixable, available, accessible and all round enjoyable, and frankly, I don’t know many rums in the world which can make that statement and still remain affordable.  This is one of them, and it’s a gem for everyone to have and enjoy.

(88/100)

Jan 172017
 

A new direction for the Japanese rum-maker, which has some flaws but is an interesting rum nevertheless.

#336

When researching the background for the Encrypted, I came across the website RumRatings, which is a place where people rate and comment on rums they have tried without going through the effort of, say, creating a website or putting their thoughts on a more formal basis (the way one sees on the /r/rum forum on reddit, for example, a site where fans can be even more rabid than on Facebook but where the discussion tends to be both more civil and certainly more intelligent).

The comments were not inspiring. “Too young and harsh and chemical,” wrote one from Hungary whose tastes ran into the sweet of Dictador, Millonario and Zacapa; “This sh*t is a waste of time,” opined another from Romania, who headed his less than enthusiastic comment “Whisky Rum or something…” and who also (from the link to his “cabinet”) seemed to prefer softer soleras and sweeter rums and put the Jamaican RumFire and a Bristol Spirits 1996 Caroni close to the bottom.

Such criticisms serve a purpose in this instance, because there aren’t many reviewers who have yet taken to Nine Leaves, so even an opinion from the street is useful when we buy one…and just because I like ‘em personally doesn’t mean you will. So I don’t link to these negative remarks in an effort to diss the gentlemen in question or to sneer at their opinions, just to lay the groundwork for suggesting that if your tastes run into the more easy-going, softer Spanish style of rums – or those that are known by now to be softer, smoother and sweeter than the norm — then this Company’s rums might not be in your wheelhouse. Nine Leaves aren’t as individualized as, say, unaged cask-strength agricoles from a pot still, but their rums do take some getting used to.

Nine Leaves, that one-man outfit from Japan makes very young rums (most six months or so), and they are closer in profile to a mashup of whites and Jamaicans with the leavening influence of Barbados thrown in, plus maybe a clairin or two for some fangs. Yoshiharu Takeuchi makes no attempt to be particularly unique, which is perhaps why his rums actually are. And of all those Clear and “Almost <<pick your season>>” French- or American-oak-aged six month old rums, I’d have to say he’s done something pretty interesting here, like nothing he’s attempted before. He’s thrown kaizen out the window and gone in a new direction.

Consider: normally Nine Leaves distills its rums, does the cuts, and then ages the result for six months, which is why there are a bewildering array of multi-years Almost Springs and Almost Autumns and Angel’s Half French and American Cask Aged rums in their portfolio; but with the Encrypted, he has gone in the “finishing” direction (much as English Harbour, DDL and Foursquare have done in the past year or two).  This is a blend of four rums, each two years old  – the four were aged in barrels of American oak, barrels that previously held oloroso, brandy…and one that remains unidentified, perhaps in an effort to tease Florent Bouchet of the Compagnie, who occasionally holds a distillery of origin to be “secret”, leading to tons of heated conjectures and endlessly entertaining commentary in the blogosphere.  The closest Nine Leaves has previously come to this concept is with their Sauvignon Blanc edition, but the ultimate intention is the same — to add to the flavour profile without actually adding anything, a tactic Zacapa, A. H. Riise and Don Papa could perhaps take note of.

Bottled at a firm 48% in 2016, the golden rum is certainly a step above their younger products.  All share a somewhat astringent, rather thin-but-intense nose (I’m trying hard not to think of my feared primary school teacher, the redoubtable Mrs. Jagan, with her sharp voice, pince-nez, bladed nose and ever-ready foot-long ruler but that’s almost impossible), and here that was only marginally ameliorated by the ageing period.  Sharp for sure, acerbic yes, intense without question – but the aromas weren’t half bad. Citrus, light florals, some earthiness and lavender doing an interesting tango, plus the vaguest hint of fruits and grassiness, all very crisp and distinct.  It presents far more like an agricole than a molasses based rum.

The two years of ageing was where to some extent the rum failed to deliver when tasted, however promising the nose had been. The crisp clarity was retained, yet it still presented as somewhat raw, a shade too uncouth, without any rounding that would have made the mouthfeel better.  Fortunately, that aside, the taste was excellent, and once I got used to it, I found myself appreciating its sprightliness and youth, and again I was left wondering how this was so much like an agricole.  Those same vegetal, grassy notes persisted, to which were added florals, red wine, orange zest, sultanas, and also a sort of cereal background that developed into the creaminess of cheese on black bread.  It was odd, but came together quite well, and I had no real complaints about the finish, which was somewhat spicy, but still exited with a cleanliness and clarity redolent of the spicier tartness of green apples and grapes.

Putting all these observations together, it was, in fine, a pretty decent two year old rum – the finishes certainly helped it attain a level that simple ageing never would have. When you consider Nine Leaves’s regular issuances of six month old rums, made pretty much the same way, aged in either in one barrel or another, it’s easy to grumble that they make the same rums on every go-around, so getting one is like getting them all.  By making the Encrypted, Nine Leaves has shown they are not bound to the way they have made rums before — and are quite willing to take their products into new and interesting directions that may not entirely work now, but hold great promise for their efforts in the future

(85/100)

Dec 302016
 

A spectacular rum from Foursquare (and Velier), perhaps the best they’ve ever made to date.

#332

This is a rum that screaming aficionados were waiting for like fans at a Justin Bieber or Beyonce concert (or the Rolling Stones, maybe), and no write-up of the thing could be complete without mentioning the unbelievable sales pattern it displayed…in my entire rum-purchasing experience, I’ve never seen anything like it. The Velier/Foursquare collaboration was making the rounds of various masterclasses in festivals around the world for almost a year before actually going on sale, and then, when it became available in August 2016 (primarily in Europe), it sold out in fifteen minutes.  All this without a single formal review being issued, just word of mouth.

The only comparator in recent memory that I can think of might be the Panamonte XXV, which also flew off the shelves, and which also illustrates how far along the rum world has come in less than five years.  When I got that one, it was considered one of the best rums of its kind, receiving raves across the board – and indeed, for its age (25 years), strength (40%) and price ($400) it was well positioned at the top of the food chain…back then.  But even in 2012 many of us aficionados had moved on past the self imposed 40% limitation, and while the Panamonte was certainly a good product, it was also, perhaps, a high water mark for standard proof rums – people who know enough and have enough to want to drop that kind of coin, have by now migrated past that anemic proofage and demand cask strength, definitively pure rums which are made by trusted sources.  This is why Arome’s five hundred bottle outturn of their new Panamanian 28 year old, about which not much is known aside from the marketing campaign and some FB dustups, is likely to be met with indifference from those who actually know their rums (though not from those with money), while 2400 bottles of Foursquare’s ten year old have become unavailable faster than you can say “wtf” in Bajan.

And once the bottle gets cracked, you can understand why.  Because it’s an amazing rum, sold at a (low) price that would be an insult if it wasn’t so good, for something that ticks all the boxes: cask strength, check; no additives, check; issued in collaboration with one of the most famous names in the pure-rumworld, check; by a distillery long known for championing a lack of additives, check; by being trotted out at exclusive masterclasses where word of mouth made it a must-have, check.  This thing is like an exquisite small foreign film that gains accolades in the filmfest circuit  before heading off to the oscars and cleaning up there and at the box office.

Can any rum really live up to such expectations?  I don’t know about you, but it sure upended mine, because my first reaction when I opened it and sniffed was a disbelieving “what the f…?” (in Bajan).  It banged out the door with the kinetic energy of a supercar popping the clutch at 5000 rpm, blowing fierce fumes of briny olives and caramel and oak straight down my nose and throat, before someone slammed on the brakes and eased off.  What I’m trying to put over in words is something of the power of the experience, because it blasted off fast and furious and then settled down for a controlled, insane smorgasbord of nasal porn – nougat, white toblerone, peaches, citrus peel, chocolate, coffee grounds, cinnamon, enough to drive a Swiss confectioner into hysterics.  The creaminess of the nose was simply astounding – it was almost impossible to accept this was a 62% rum, yet it purred smoothly along without bite or bitchiness, scattering heady aromas of fruity badass in all directions – prunes, plums, blackcurrants and dark olives.  

And meanwhile, the taste of the rum, its glissading force across the palate, simply had to be experienced to be believed.  Not because it was all sound and fury and stabbing tridents of Poseidon, no (although it was powerful, one could not simply ignore 62% ABV), but because it was such a controlled strength.  And what emerged from within the maelstrom of proof was amazingly tasty – apricots, plums, raisins, blueberries, cinnamon, rye bread with butter and honey, all creamy and chewy to a fault (and that was just the first five minutes).  With water even more came boiling to the surface: dark grapes and an enormous array of fruity and citrusy notes, tied up in a bow with more caramel, coffee grounds, black unsweetened chocolate paprika…man, it was like it didn’t want to stop.  Even the finish upended expectations, being neither short and fleeting, nor overstaying its welcome, but almost perfect, with some floral hints, an interesting driness, and some nuttiness to accompany all that had come before, pruned down to a fierce minimalism emphasizing both heft and subtlety at the same time.

It would be arrogant in the extreme for me to say this is the best rum ever made in Barbados, since I haven’t tried every rum ever made in Barbados.  But I can and must say this – the rum points the way to the future of top-class Bajan popskull just as surely as the Velier Demeraras did for the Guyanese, and is, without a doubt, the very best Barbados rum I’ve ever tried. It’s a magnificent rum that leaves all its forebears, even those from the same distillery, limp and exhausted. This rum’s titanic flavour profile satisfies because it gets right what its previous (and lesser) earlier versions from Foursquare failed to come to grips with. It is impossibly Brobdignagian, a subtlety-challenged brown bomber, and to fully savor the current rum’s character, we as drinkers must first connect with its predecessor’s lesser-proofed antecedents.  That’s why I went through other rums from the company before cracking the 2006.  Somehow, after years of 40% milquetoast from  Barbados, here, finally, two giants of the rum world came together and got this one absolutely right.  It deserves every accolade that rum drinkers and rum writers have given it.

(91/100)


Other notes

  • To tell the complete story of its disappearance from the online and physical shelves, some subsequent observations: the 4S 2006 began turning up on ebay shortly thereafter, and aside from the bitterness of pure rum aficionados who could not get any without liquidating their retirement fund, I’ve heard it bruited about that the its disappearance was because speculators bought every bottle for resale on the secondary market…and even more pernicious rumours about how general public wasn’t even the target market – bars and bulk buyers were.  Whatever the real story is, it would be a useful case study in how to move new product in a hurry.
  • Distilled 2006 in copper double retort pot still and a column still, aged three years in bourbon barrels and seven years in cognac casks and bottled in 2016. 62% ABV, 2400 bottle outturn. The “single blended rum” appellation is derived from the proposed Gargano classification system where the origin still is given prominence over the material or country/region of origin. Here it is the two still’s blended  product (based on double maturation).
  • Whose rum is this, Velier or Foursquare?  Velier’s Demeraras, I felt, were always Veliers, because DDL gave Luca some barrels to chose from and he bottled what he felt was right without much further input from them.  Here, my impression is that Richard Seale and Luca Gargano worked closely together to make the rum, and so I attribute it to both.
Oct 292016
 

rl-seale-full

Overrated.  Apologies to lovers of the rum, but it’s a mediocre ten year old in a cool bottle.

#312

The R.L. Seale 10 year old is a sort of old stalwart in the pantheon of Barbados hooch.  Sooner or later everyone passes by it, and it’s considered a benchmark against which, in the past, many Barbadian rums were rated, one of the basket of rums that defined the entire Bajan style.  In this day of independent bottlers and full proof offerings, to say nothing of Foursquare’s own tinkering and varied expressions, it starts to show something of its age.  And I’ve never been entirely won over by it…not then, not now.

Before you all spontaneously combust, please put down your electronic pitchforks and burning i-phone torches, and hold your emails, FB posts, twitter feeds, hashtags and any other forms of online vituperation. I’m fully aware I’m swimming against the tide on this one — just try to find a negative review of a Foursquare rum online…I dare ya —  but perhaps a review that goes against the grain should be considered just because it does that, not be thrown away with yesterday’s fish.

rl-seale-labelYears ago, in 2010,  I wrote a distinctly unflattering portrait of the Doorly’s XO (at the time of this writing I had yet to try the 12 YO and finally did so in 2017, and again in 2021).  In subsequent years I always and uneasily thought it was the surety (maybe the arrogance?) of a beginner that made my opinion what it was (I called the Doorly’s the “Prince Myshkyn of rums”), and given the critical plaudits and encomiums Mr. Seale has gotten since then, to say nothing of his remark to me that I just did not appreciate pure, unadulterated rum (in other words, the added sugar of other, higher-scoring rums had skewed my perspective)…well, let’s just say I was curious what a gap of several years’ experience would do, and so ran a bunch of Barbadian rums past each other to see how this and the Rum 66 and the 2015-2016 editions stacked up.

The darkish gold rum, bottled at 43% was light, almost delicate, redolent of delicate white flowers and too much fabric softener.  There were thin hints of caramel, salted butter and vanilla coiling around underneath that, with some cider, cinnamon, nutmeg and crushed nuts following that.  And dry, surprisingly so. So once again, taste wasn’t the issue for me, the understated nature of it was – the whole was just too damn timorous, like it was too shy to come out and actually make a statement (the very issue I had with the Doorly’s).

Things improved on the palate, where the 10 year old proved somewhat sharper and spicier than the Rum 66 I was trying alongside it, but at least displayed something more than vague whiffs and promises without delivery. It was sweet and salt at the same time, fried bananas in olive oil, peanut butter spread on warm French bread — for originality the rum sure went off in some strange directions, to its credit — with faint tar and oak and vanilla undertones mixing it up with apples and maybe some more nuts, ending up with a finish that was short, flirty and faint, that gave nothing original to remember it by.  

All in all, it lacked punch and heft and compared poorly against the five controls I had  in place to rate it. The much ballyhooed honesty of the rum was beyond question – it was clearly not adulterated in any way, which was great, allowing the core profile to come through, but it just didn’t have that emphasis and clarity, the overall integration of complex flavours making their statement, which I preferred and continue to prefer. For its price and intended audience, it’s a good buy (which is why it sells well and continues to receive plaudits to this day) — all the same, I contend that Foursquare has shown in the years after 2015 what they’re really capable of when they try. Their port cask, their white and the spectacular 2006 10 year old, are all miles ahead of this one.  They address all my issues with firmness, power, clarity, integration, assembly, balance, and are just plain better rums than the R.L. Seale’s 10 YO.

And that’s why those rums will absolutely get my money in the future, while this one simply won’t.  I’ve had better, both from Barbados, and from Foursquare.

80/100


Other online reviewers don’t share my indifference, and love this thing.  To be fair, I include their reviews here so you can get other opinions:

Sep 262016
 

seven-fathoms

*

The rum that Pyrat’s could have been

#306

A trend I see gathering more and more steam these days is that of snazzy marketing campaigns for (mostly) new rums, bugling their lovingly preserved family recipes, boasting slick webpages oddly short on facts but long on eye candy, trumpeting old traditions made new (but respectfully adhered to), or new and innovative production methods which enhance the final product.  Words like “artisan”, “premium”, “handcrafted”, “traditional”, “every single drop” are tossed around with the insouciant carelessness of hormonal teenagers with their chastity.

This kind of folderol just irritates me, not least because it seems like such a copout, a lazy substitute for the actual product. Seven Fathoms, which is going for that last category, is staking its claim to fame on the fact that they age their rum in watertight barrels that are weighted down and put under water (42 feet deep, or seven fathoms, get it?), so that the action of the waves agitates the barrels and increases contact between rum and wood…which, with the additional pressure, thereby making for a denser flavour profile in somewhat less time. Ageing seems to be around one to three years depending on the rum.

Whether that works or not is questionable. I can accept that it likely has an effect, but whether that effect has such an impact as to elevate the whole rum to some other level of quality on the basis of claims alone is something like accepting statements of superfast ageing, or proprietary yeast strains, or family recipes from Ago, or the impact of Tanti’s enamel bathtub as a finishing agent.  Kinda have to go there and try the thing, y’know?

So let’s do that: it was an amber-red rum, bottled at 40% and aged less than five years. It smelled, on the initial pour, rather spicy – sweet and fruity, with apricots, cherries, pears and some vague breakfast spices, and with a noticeable background of orange zest (this is where the reference to Pyrat’s comes in). While most of my research suggests that it was of pot still origin, the scents lacked some of that pungency and depth which would mark it as such with more emphasis.  Still, quite a decent nose, and if not world beating, at least it was aromatic.

The taste was clearer about the origin and also quite original in its own way.  It was not quite full bodied, but spicy and smooth enough to please. Cucumbers soaked in brine and vinegar (I know how that sounds), ripe tomatoes (wtf? – that’s a first for me) and molasses, bound together by a core of caramel, nougat, peaches and other lighter fruits, sugar water, vanilla and the slightly bitter oak tannins imparted by the barrels themselves. I noted with some relief how well the orange zest that carried over from the nose had been integrated into the whole, lending just enough spritely shuck and jive to enhance without overwhelming the drink.  It was a beguiling mix of soft and spice, done well, leading to a finish that was warm, a little dry, providing closing aromas of vanilla, crushed almonds and some oak tannins.  All in all, quite serviceable for a young rum.

The Cayman island Spirits Company has been in business since about 2008 when they operated out of a small building in George Town (on Grand Cayman), and in 2013 they moved to a spanking new facility as part of their efforts to expand, diversify and launch an attack on the global market. They began back in the day with a handmade still apparently constructed from two ice-buckets welded together, but have since progressed to both a pot still and a column still, and produce the Seven Fathoms premium, as well as a series of “Governor’s Reserve” Rums – white, overproof, gold, dark, spiced, banana and coconut.  Oh, and a vodka.  And a gin.  The rum derives from local sugar cane (which a brand rep told me was “as far as possible” which I took to mean “not all of it”). The distillate comes from refined sugar and molasses fermented for six days in 4000-liter stainless steel tanks and is double distilled in a German-made copper pot still.  Then it’s barreled off into ex-bourbon barrels, which are themselves sealed in a sort of Texas-sized condom (the process is actually patented, or so I was informed), and taken out to sea somewhere secret to be submerged. Note that I’ve read the ageing is not 100% underwater but I don’t know how much is terrestrial and how much is aquatic at this point.

Summing up: my take is that they’ll find Europe a tougher nut to crack than the US, where younger 40% rums tend to be viewed with somewhat more favour and so sell better (and that’s not counting island-hopping tourists who stop off on Grand Cayman).  Be that as it may, here is one rum that tries to go slightly off in a new direction without entirely abandoning what a rum should be, and I’m happy to report it’s not bad at all.  This seems to be one of those instances where if you filter out the noise and rah-rah of the advertising, put away the key individualistic selling point of the ageing regimen, ignore the near-hysterically positive notes on TripAdvisor and other sites – do all of that, take it all down to its essence, and what’s left is still a rum which you won’t be entirely unhappy buying, and sharing.

(82.5/100)