Aug 032018
 

This is the sixth and last short form review of the sixfinishedvariations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums. Because they’re all based on the standard 15 year old which is very well known, I’ll be briefer than usual in my descriptions, rather than provide an essay in each case. Tomorrow I’ll wrap them all up with a summary and such observations as seem relevant.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline. All point scores relate to that rum.


As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is donestrictly speaking that makes it (and all the others) at least a 16 year old rum, which is nice. In this case, the finish is done in casks that once held (wereseasoned with”) Sauternes wine, a sweet white from the Sauternais region in Bourdeaux characterized by concentrated and distinctive flavours. And like with the Sweet and Dry Madeira-finished rums, the source estate of the casks is not named, for whatever obscure reason.

ColourAmber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 42%

NoseIn a subtle way this is different from the others. It opens with aromatic tobacco, white almond-stuffed chocolate and nail polish before remembering what it’s supposed to be and retreating to the standard profile of salty caramel, molasses, vanilla, cherries, raisins, lemon peel and oak, quite a bit of oak, all rather sere.

PalateThe tobacco remains but the familiar El Dorado profile is more robust: vanilla, chocolate, coffee, molasses and quite a bit more dried dark fruit notes of raisins, plums, dates, and a quick hint of anise. The oak is quite noticeable for all the rum’s softness, somewhat mitigated by salt caramel and toffee. It is also quite dry, and much of the near-cloying sweetness of the regular El Dorado 15 YO is absent.

FinishNope, no joy here, soft, wispy, short and over way too quick. Raisins and unsweetened chocolate, some almonds, and just a hint of orange zest.

ThoughtsWell, it’s intriguing to say the least, and when you have a number of rums all of generally similar profiles, it’s always interesting to have one that’s a bit bent. I liked it, but not enough to dethrone either the Standard 15 YO or my own pet favourite of the series, the Sweet Madeira.

(#534)(78/100)


Links to other rums in theadditional finishseries:

Aug 022018
 

This is the fifth short form review of the sixfinishedvariations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums. Because they’re all based on the standard 15 year old which is very well known, I’ll be briefer than usual in my descriptions, rather than provide an essay in each case; and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline. All point scores relate to that rum.


As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is done. In this case, the finish is accomplished in French oak casks which once held a sweet madeira wine from an unnamed estate on the Portuguese island of Madeira, so it may be the same estate as theDryI looked at yesterday. I’m unclear why the estate is a point of secrecy, and, as with all others in the series, the rum is noted as a limited edition without ever actually coming out and stating the true outturn (I’ve read it’s around 3,000 bottles) – so how limited it truly is remains an open question.

ColourOrange-Amber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 40.7%

NoseLeaving aside a slight sweetish note (which I suppose is to be expected, though still not entirely welcome), it noses relatively darker and richer and fruitier than just about all the others except theDry”…within the limits of its strength and mild adulteration. Peaches, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, caramel, peanut butter, cherries in syrup and candied oranges, even a little bitter chocolate. It’s all rather delicate, but quite pleasant.

PalateAlso pretty nice, if somewhat mild, but that’s an issue I have with all of them so let’s move on. Soft is a good word to describe it, there’s almost no sharp edge at all, though it is somewhat drymore so (and more pleasingly so) than the Dry version. The oak is more forward here (while still restrained), plus raisins, cloves and cinnamon carrying on from the nose, and the fruitiness of peaches in syrup, cherries, plus toffee, salt caramel

FinishDry, rather longish (always nice), final aromas of almond chocolate, raisins, cloves.

ThoughtsIt is supposedly finished in Sweet Madeira casks, but it’s actually less sweet than the Dry Madeira, and more dry. That makes it pretty good in my book, and I felt it was the best of the six.

(#533)(81/100)


Links to other rums in theadditional finishseries:

Aug 012018
 

This is the fourth short form review of the sixfinishedvariations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums. The 15 year old is the core of it all, and so I’ll be briefer than usual in my descriptions, rather than provide an essay in each case; and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline. All point scores relate to that rum.


As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is done, which is edging close to a double maturation territory rather than just a finish, but I’m not a total pedant in this matter, so it’s just noted for completeness. In this case, the finish is accomplished in French oak casks which once held (or werepreviously seasoned with”) a dry madeira wine from an unnamed estate on the Portuguese island of Madeirawhich, as an aside, is getting its own quiet rep for some interesting rums these days.

ColourAmber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 40.5%

NoseBy far the best nose of the six, really liked this one a lot: sawdust and biting dark fruit undertones of plums, juicy pears, raisins, black grapes. Leavened with ripe orange peel, peaches and olives before muskier aromas of toffee and chocolate take over (as they do in all of these rums, eventually).

PalateVery smooth, but some of the sharp citrus-y element of the nose disappears. Salted butter and caramel drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Softer fruits here, not sharper onesbananas, kiwi fruit, oranges gone off. Oh, and some spicescinnamon and cloves. Nice, but weak (which is something all these rums seem to have in common).

FinishPeanut butter and soya linger alongside toffee and chocolate orange fumes, quite short.

ThoughtsCertainly the best nose, and very nice depth and complexity, though writing this, I wonder where the tartness supposedly characteristic of a dry Madeira went and hid itself (such wines are not quite the same as the red wine, ruby port or white portthey tend to be somewhat sweet, quite dry and have a somewhat tart, or acidic, profile). I also felt that even the taste, for all its complexity, let it down somewhat byagainbeing just too delicate. In a mix of any kind, the subtleties of those flavours would all disappear almost completely, and I personally prefer something more distinct or forceful when sipped neat (as this one absolutely can be). Nevertheless, a good rum by any standard for its strength.

(#532)(80/100)


Links to other rums in theadditional finishseries:

Jul 302018
 

This is the second quick look of the sixfinishedvariations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums. Because the basic information is similar in generalthe original 15 year old is the core of it all, of courseI’ll use the short form to describe them rather than an essay in each case, and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original (retasted) El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline. All point scores relate to that rum.


This rum is also finished in a French oak cask, one which held Ruby Port (a fortified red wine from the Douro valley), which is characterized by being bottled young and maintaining a rich fruity flavour. As for all these finished El Dorados, the basic component is the 15 year old, and an additional 18-24 months of finishing is done, which is edging close to a double maturation territory so effectively colonized by Foursquare in recent years.

ColourAmber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 40.5%

NoseThis has a light, sweet, almost delicate series of smells. There are acetones, flowers and some faint medicinal, varnish and glue aromas floating around (I liked thosethey added something different), and initially the rum noses as surprisingly dry (another point I enjoyed). These then morph gradually into a more fruity melangetinned cherries in syrup, ripe pears, pineapples, watermelonswhile remaining quite crisp. It also hinted at salted caramel, crunchy peanut butter, breakfast spices and a little brine, and the balance among all these seemingly competing elements is handled really well.

PalateNot sure what happened between nose and palate, but it comes across on the tongue as rather watery and mild. The fruits exist, pears, watermelons and so on, as well as the caramel, anise and toffee, but the overwhelming mental image that I get is of rum-and-syrup-soaked pears, and those chocolates with a soft cognac filling. All very quiet and restrained, with little else.

FinishWispy and faint, short, weakest point of the exercise. Plums and cherries, with some vanilla and okay undertones.

ThoughtsSome Ruby Port wines are dry and some quite sweet, but after the nose, little of the former and more of the latter were in evidence with this rum. Strength remains an issue for me here, I think 43% is simply insufficient to properly showcase the effects of the finish. It’s there, just not enough of it and it rather chokes on the taste, where the mildness becomes a factor in trying to separate out the various components. Still, this one is pretty good, and the nose is outstanding, well balanced and a joy to sniff for a long time.

(#530)(80/100)


Links to other rums in theadditional finishseries:

Jul 282018
 

This entire week I’ll look at the sixfinishedvariations of the 15 year old El Dorado rums, one per day. Because the basic information is similar in generalthe 15 year old is the core of it all, of courseI’ll use the short form to describe them rather than an essay in each case, and then wrap them all up with a summary on the last day.

The rums were all tasted together, blind, in a four-hour session, using the original El Dorado 15 with a non-blind score of 82, as a control baseline. All point scores relate to that rum.


The El Dorado 15 Year Old needs no long winded recapit’s one of the best known rums in the world, and I’ve looked at it twice now, once many years ago, and again as a Key Rum of the World. In 2016 El Dorado decided to add to the lineup by releasing six rums with varying barrel finishes. Whether these succeeded in capturing a serious slice of the market is unknown, but certainly they must have liked it because in 2018 they released another six based on the 12 Year Old. In each case, aside from the standard fifteen years of ageing, an additional 18-24 months of secondary finish was applied, in lightly toasted (charred) red wine barrels from Portugal (no further detail) in this case.

ColourAmber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 41%

NoseSomewhat dry and redolent of sawdust, accompanied by delicate flowers an acetones. Quite solid and lightly sweet, and deserves to be left to stand for a while, because after some minutes the molasses, caramel and light licorice notes characteristic of the line begin to make themselves felt, and are then in their turn dethroned by a deep fruitiness of ripe cherries, blackcurrants, plums, raisins and black grapes almost ready to spoil. In the background there’s some leather and citrus, neither strong enough to make any kind of serious impression.

PalateMuch of the fruitiness carries over from the nose: the cherries, the ripe grapes, the plums, blackcurrants and so on. Not much new is added, maybe some watermelons and pears. It all remained very much in the background as slight hint and never dominated the entire experience: that was handled by the core flavours which reversed their previous reticence on the nose and dominated this stage of the rum. So what we get is a large taste of brown sugar, salt caramel, molasses, bitter chocolate, vanilla, sweet breakfast spices, oak and anisebut they eclipse the subtleties of the red wine too much, I think.

FinishIt’s okay, medium long, not really spectacularat 43% it’s not to be expected, really. Sweet and somewhat indeterminate for fruits (almost impossible to pick out individually here), and with an intriguing peanut butter and caramel core leavened by some light flowers.

ThoughtsNot too bad, an interesting variation on the theme. Too weak at 43%, though it’s logical that cask strength lovers are not the target audience for it. I think it could safely go to 46% without alienating anyone. Too, the basic ED profile remains too overwhelming, and while the influence of the Red Wine is noticeable, it’s not clear enough or distinct enough. It can be sensed rather than directly experienced. Still, not entirely something I’d throw away with yesterday’s fish.

(#529)(78/100)


Links to other rums in theadditional finishseries:

Aug 312017
 

#385

Perhaps it would be better to start with the straightforward tasting, lest my snark bend your mind were I to lead in with the commentary instead of finishing with it. The Mombacho 1989 Central American rum does, admittedly, boast and flourish some impressive chops on the label: 19 year old rum (1989-2008), finishing for the final two years in armagnac casks, reasonable strength of 43% (I said ‘reasonable’, not ‘outstanding’). Looking at other bottles of their range it seems within the bounds of reason to assume it’s from Nicaragua, though the ‘Central American’ noted on the label might suggest a blending with other rums from the region.

The nose is quite good for something I feared would be rather thin: unsweetened chocolate and coffee, some dark fruitnothing as deep and brooding as a good Demerara, mind, but nevertheless, there’s a kind of muskiness to the aromas that worked well. Baked apples and a sort of cereal background, something like nice blueberry tartI assume that was the armagnac finish lending its influencewith an ashy background to the whole thing.

Tastewise, also nothing to sneeze at, with a rich red wine taking the lead, plus prunes, apricots, stewed apples and burnt sugar. In its own way, it felt a little over-rich so maybe something was added? I tried it in conjunction with the Compagnie des Indes 17 year old and the Blackadder Raw Cask 12 year old (both from Nicaragua) and it is in the comparison that I got the impression that either it was doctored a mite, or the finishing was simply too dominant. With water additional flavours of honey, vanilla, cereal and tobacco could be discerned, plus licorice and some oakiness, and overall it had a nice rounded feel to it. Even the finish had that balanced quality to it, though quite shortcherries, peaches, prunes, anise, gone too quickly.

It was said to be the best rum in the world in 2008, but I’ll tell you frankly, when I read that I just smiled, shrugged and moved onit was good, but not that good. Not bottom shelf by any meansand not top shelf either. Let’s put it somewhere in the middle.

(83/100)


Opinion (you can ignore this section)

So what to make of a rum that is purported to be nineteen years old, yet whose provenance is shrouded in mystery? Mombacho is a rum brand which has a website and a Facebook page (among others) that are masterpieces of uninformative marketing. About all you get from these sources (and others) is the following:

  • They issue aged bourbon-barrel-aged expressions with fancy finishes
  • This rum is named after a volcano in Nicaragua
  • It’s distributed in Europe by an Italian company named F&G SRL out of Torino.
  • There used to be a moonshine distillery on the slopes of that volcano (the whole area is now a nature preserve) selling a rum called Mombachito
  • The rums in the brand’s lineup are variously aged from 8 to 21 years.
  • Some of the rums from Mombacho are called “Nicaraguan” and others “Central American”.

My personal assumptions are as follows: I believe this is a Flor de Cana based rum. The taste profile, and the absence of any concrete contact info of the producing distillery, if there is one, points to this (some online webpages speak to a distillery, never named, never located). I think it has been bought aged as is from FdC (they laid in a lot of stock in the 1980s as a hedge against hyperinflation and political problems, so the assumption is reasonable), and the rebottler/blender, whoever they are, aged it a further while in the armagnac casks for the finish. Some blending of barrels is highly likely, because any limited outturn would have the number of issued bottles proudly displayed as well.

Everything else I found in my research is glitzy pictures and self-promoting blah of zero interest to the diligent, curious rumhound. Even on the large Facebook rum clubs where an occasional mention can be found, about all you’re walking away with is that some people got one of the rums from the brand, but without details or facts of any kind on the brand itself. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an informational black hole

This enormous lack of background material does not make me a happy camper. I can’t trust a company which has no information behind it, therefore I can’t trust the provenance, so I can’t trust the age, it throws suspicions onto the entire label, and with all these doubts, it inevitably leads to suspicions that the price I paid (€120) was excessive for what was on show. I honestly don’t care if the makers are marketing tyros or business neophytes or freshie rum dilettantesmore should have been provided, even back in 2008.

This is where honesty in labelling becomes so very important. If this was a thirty-dollar rum, I would not worry overmuch about it, but for three figures it begs some questions. And when none of this is readily available, it devalues every other statement made in the marketing literature, or the bottle label itself. If anything positive emerges from this tirade, it is that it shows what is demanded in 2017 for any rum on the market nowadays. I doubt a new entrant to the field could get away with what Mombacho did nearly ten years ago, and the 28 year old Panamanian Arome may be the proof.

So yes, it’s a decent rum, and no, I wouldn’t buy it again. Not because it doesn’t have some quality, but because I rarely spend that kind of money more than once on a no-name brand with little but air behind it.

Other notes

I sent out a note to many of my rum swilling friends….none of them could tell me anything about the company. Mombacho’s FB page has so far declined to respond to my message asking for further info, an the mombacho.eu website was similarly unhelpful. But, if I do get some feedback, I’ll update this post.

Jun 282017
 

#376

With the advent of the Hampden and Worthy Park rums which pride themselves on high ester counts, it seems that one of the emerging trends in the rumworld may well be such tasty, clear, bags-of-fruit rums with not just a single sapling populating the salad bowl, but an entire damned orchard. Yet on the other side of the world, Savanna has been doing this for some years now with their “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” lines, of which the reigning porn queen might well be the HERR 10 year old that so impressed me. That rum was startling and original, seemingly cut from wholly new cloth, bottled at a massive 63.8% and aged in cognac casks and my drool dripped into the glass almost continuously as I tried it (well…I exaggerate for effect….but not by much). And yet, Savanna made one even better than that one – it’s this rum, a Grand Arôme, a rock solid full-proof 64.2% rumzilla that encapsulated all the amazing potential Reunion had to offer, and came in ahead of its own siblings by a country mile. I’ve now tried about ten rums from Savanna, and it’s my firm belief that this is the best of them all (until I find the next one).

Speaking of Savanna and the stats. I’ve written a small bio of the company, so won’t bore you with that again, so let’s just reel off the usual details so you know what you’re drinking if you ever try it. It was distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2016, with a strength as noted above, just north of 64%. It was made on Savanna’s traditional column still (not the discontinuous one of the HERR), and Cyril, in his own excellent 2016 review, writes that it is made from the fermentation of vinasse and molasses, and for a longer period than usual – 5-10 days. As before it was fully aged in ex-cognac casks.

Photo stealthily purloined from DuRhum.com

Pause for a second and just look at all those production notes: they make no mention of additives, but for my money they didn’t add anything, and come on, why would they need to? It’s like they pulled out all the stops to make this thing a flavour bomb of epic proportions. Fermentation, distillation, ageing, the works, all that was missing was some pineapples dunked directly into the vat. And when I tried it, the results spoke for themselves.

The hot, fragrant nose began with dusty cardboard, the nostalgic feel of old boxes in an attic, of a second hand bookshop crammed to the rafters with dry books of ages past nobody now reads. Ahh, but then it changedacetone and nail polish mixed with lots of honey and rich (but not tart) flavours of bubble gum peaches, prunes, vanilla, cinnamon and a light trace of brine and avocados drizzled with lemon juice. Cocoa and some coffee, reminds me some of the Varangue Grand Arôme 40% white, but better behaved and much better constructed. My God this was richI spent perhaps half an hour just nosing the thing, and even called over my mother (who was annoyed I wouldn’t let her near my samples that day and was sitting in a huff in the kitchen) to give it a sniff. Her reaction was so positive I feared for her health and the safety of my table, but never mindthe important thing to note is that even a rum novice loved it, even at that strength.

The real treasures came on the palate, which was firm, strong and intense, as befitted a rum brewed to a ripsnorting 64.2%. Here the fruitsthose amazing, full bodied fruitsblasted out front and center. The intensity and variety were amazing, yet they lacked something of the single minded purity of the HERR, and somehow manage to create a melange without a mess, each note melding perfectly, combining the ongoing cereals and dusty book aromas with the sweet richness of the orchard without losing the best parts of either. Some rubber and sweet caramel and honey, warm papaya, and then the fruits themselvesripe mangoes, peaches in syrup, cherries, cinnamon, cloves, almonds and that yummy Pakistani rice pudding called kheer. There was aromatic tobacco, a faint citrus tang (candied oranges perhaps) and it all led up to a clean, biting finish, gradually winding down to close with green grapes, hard yellow mangoes, lemongrass, caramel and breakfast spices. Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves something amazing here.

When The Wonk and I were discussing this rum, he remarked (rather disbelievingly) that it had to be quite a product to compare with the 89 points I gave to Velier’s 32 year old PM 1975 a few days ago. It certainly is that, but really, the two aren’t strictly comparable, as they are quite different branches of the great tree of rum. The Lontan lacks the dark heaviness of Demeraras generally and the Port Mourant specifically, doesn’t have that wooden still licorice background or its overall depth. In point of fact The Lontan 12 has more in common with the Jamaicans and perhaps even agricoles, while being distinct from either one. In that observation lies the key to why it’s special.

I noted the other day that one of the unsung heroes of the subculture is likely the below-the-radar rums of St Lucia. Here’s another company not many have heard of that’s making some pretty big footprints we should be tracking. Because in summing up Savanna’s remarkable rum it’s clear that it’s a shimmering smorgasbord of extravagant and energetic and well-controlled tastes, melding a nose that won’t quit with a body that could make a metaphorical nuncio review his vows of celibacy. It mixes a glittering clarity with excellent balance, strength with softness, is crisp and complex to a fault and what we’re left with after the fact is the memory of an enormous achievement. To say the rum is “not bad” is to undersell it. To say it’s good doesn’t cut it. What we need to do is to admit it’s just about great, and oddly, part of that admission is also that it’s made by a relative unknown, without any of that emotional baggage we would bring to, say, a Velier or a Samaroli, a Rum Nation or a product from the Compagnie. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I think it’s wonderful. It’s a gift to true rum lovers who want to try something they haven’t experienced before, in their ongoing (often lonely, sometimes thankless) search for the next new rum to treasure.


(90/100)


Other notes

  • Samples provided by two generous and great rum people, Nico Rumlover and Etienne S. who asked for nothing in exchange, but got something anyway. Thanks guys. Wouldn’t have found this rum without you.
May 232017
 

#366

Nine Leaves, for whose intriguing rums I have always retained a real fondness, remains a one man operation in Japan, and while I have not written much about them of late, they continue their regular six month release regimen without pause, and have become must-stop booths at the various festivals they exhibit at on the Circuit. Every now and then they issue an expression somewhat at right angles to their regular “six-month-aged” line, such as the Velier 70th Anniversary edition from 2017, the two-year-old “Encrypted” from 2016 and this one-year-old from 2015, which was the commercial 48% variation of special 58% 60-bottle run for a Japanese hotel, aged in Cabernet Sauvignon wine casks instead of the regular American or French oak.

So, this is a pot still rum, aged for one year, bottled at 48%, and aged in red wine casks. How active or soaked these casks were, or how much residual wine there was, remains an unanswered question. The real question for me was, did it work? Nine Leaves, after all, have made some rather above-average rums by bucking the trend and staying within some very short time-frames for their ageing, but now this one seemed to be inching towards the line that the Encrypted stepped over the following year. How was it?

Well, nose first. It moved on quite a bit from the 2015 Clear (which I enjoyed for other reasons). Though it began with some rather startling waxy paraffin aggressiveness, it was not as pungent as the Clear was, and seemed somewhat more tamed, more soothing. In fact, it presented very much like a young agricole with a few extra aromas thrown in. The winey notes were there, kept well in the backgroundmore of an accent at this stage, than a bold and underlined statementand the smell exhibited a sort of clear, sprightly friskiness, of fanta, grapes, cinnamon, ginger and light florals.

That clarity of aromas was very evident on the palate as well. Even at the slightly beefed up strength it remained light and clear and crisp. Flavours of light flowers, vanilla, green grapes, lemon zest and olives in brine mixed it up with salt butter and cream cheese. The wine background came forward here, and if it wasn’t bottled at such a proof and had so many other interesting rummy sensations, it might even be considered a port of some kind. It was quite intriguing and quite interesting, though the finish was a bit of a let down, being very spicy, quite dry, doing something of a turn towards harshness, and didn’t give much up beyond some green grapes and grass, and a few breakfast spices.

Although it was a decent rum, I think it may be a bit too ambitious, and could best be considered an experimental attempt by the playful for the curious (and the knowledgeable), to make something at odds with better known profiles. The real success stories of such rums seem to be more with finishes than the entire ageing cycle. To some extent it lacked focus, and the wine background, while making its own claim to uniqueness, also confusesand although I kinda liked it, the amalgam of rum and wine doesn’t gel entirely. If you recall, Legendario and Downslope Distilling went down this road before, much more unsuccessfullyit’s a tough balancing act to get right, so kudos to Nine Leaves for doing as well as they have.

Anyway, to wrap up, thenpoints for the effort, a few approving nods for originality, but ultimately also something of a headshake for not succeeding entirely. Given that there has never been another major attempt to issue a wine-aged young rum from the company, it’s possible that was and remains an experiment which was left alone after the initial release, which is a shame, really, because I would have enjoyed seeing where Yoshi-san took it after a few more tries.

(84/100)

Jan 152017
 

Excellent young sherry-finished rum

#335

There’s a special place in my heart for English Harbour rums from Antigua, and always will be. The company’s masterful 25 year old 1981, while dropping some in my estimation over the years, remains a touchstone of my reviewing experience (it was also Review #001). Their five-year- and ten year old variations were pleasing and decent drinks that were like a mix of Bajan and Spanish rums, yet distinct from either; and I’ve always felt they were good introductions to the spirit, even if I myself have moved on to purer, stronger rums, which was one reason I enjoyed their Cavalier Puncheon.

For years that was pretty much it for English Harbour, a company formed in 1932 from the pooled resources of five Portuguese businessmen. They branched out into other liqueurs and spirits to some extent, but the rum range which developed from the original Cavalier brand has remained essentially unchanged and it was for this they were best known internationally. However, in 2016 they decided to rock the boat a little and on the festival circuit in that year, they introduced an interesting variation on their Five, a harbinger of things to come.

This particular rum is a blend that started life as the original column-still five year old (which my friends and I, back in 2009, really enjoyed); aged in ex-bourbon casks for the proper time, it was then finished for two months in sherry casks prior to bottling in March 2016 — there are plans to add oloroso, port and zinfadel finishes in the future, so they are taking some ideas from both FourSquare and DDL in this respect. Once the ageing and finishing process was complete, some ten year old was added into the blend (no idea how much) to create the final product. What it is, therefore, is something of an experimental rum. English Harbour has read the tea leaves and seen that there is money to be made and new customers to be won, in releasing rums as a higher proof point with some finishing: perhaps not cask strength, and perhaps not limited edition, just something to flesh out the staid brogues of its portfolio that may now be considered to be showing its age in a time of fast moving innovations in the rum world. Time to move into some sportier models. Nikes maybe, or Adidas.

Have they succeeded in boosting the original five year old into a new and exciting iteration? I think soit is, at the very least, betterretasting that venerable young rum in tandem with this one made me remember why I moved away from it in the first placethe 40%, the somewhat dominant vanilla and its rather simple I-aim-only-to-please profile. There is a lot to be said for messing about, even with a previously winning formula.

Just take the aromas on the rum, for examplewhat the original five was all about was soft, easy vanillas and some caramels, with a few fruits dancing shyly around in the background, all cheer and warmth, simple and amiable, went well with a mix. This one was a few rungs up the ladderpart of that was the strength, of course (46%) and part was the finishing; there were immediate notes of sherry, smoke, blackberries, jam (I kept thinking of Smuckers), all of which pushed the vanilla into the background where it belonged (without banishing it entirely). There was simply more flavour coming through at the higher proof point, which showed in developing notes of cherries, pineapple and apples that appeared with some water. Nothing aggressive here, and it retained some of that laid-back softness which so marked out its cousin, while having a subtly more complex profile that snapped into focus more clearly as I tasted each side by side.

As for the palate, very nice for a fivein short, yummy. The youthful peppiness was retainedthere was some spiciness on the tongue herebuttressed by a kind of roundness and complexity, which I’m going to say carried over from the added ten year old. Caramel, oak, vanilla, smoke, burnt sugar, a nice mix of softer fruits (those pineapple, pears and ripe cherries came over nicely) with those of a more tart character (green apples and orange zest) adding a nice filip. It’s a great little rumlet, closing things off with a short and dry finish that I wish went on longer, even if it didn’t add anything new to the overall experience. It’s a young rum, that much was clearyet the blending was handled well, and I just wondered, as I always do these days when something this soft crosses my path, whether it was added to or not (I was told no).

Thinking over the experience, I think this rum is really an essay in the craft, not yet the final rum English Harbour will release formally in the months (or years) to comefor the moment it’s not even represented on their website. EH are testing the idea out on the festival circuit, checking for feedback, positioning it as a development of pre-existing ideas into the market, to see whether riding the wave of newly-popular, higher-proofed, finished rums can carry the company’s sales into the new century. I certainly hope they succeed, because this is quite a striking rum for its age, and will likely win over some new converts, while being sure to please old fans of the brand. For any five year old, that’s saying something.

(83/100)

Dec 282016
 

A rum that comes together in unexpected but ultimately satisfying ways

#331

Finishing remains a hit or miss proposition for rum makers. Rum Nation’s finished Demeraras are pretty good, El Dorado’s 15 year old expressions in various wine finishes kinda work (in spite of the sugar adulteration), while neither the Legendario’s muscatel reek or the Pyrat’s orange liqueur nonsense ever appealed to me (and never will). So what’s there to say about the port finished 2005 issued by Foursquare as part of their “Exceptional” series?

A few good things, a few not-so-good ones. FourSquare is far too professional, too competent and too long-lived an outfit to make a really bad rum, though of course they do make some rums to which I’m personally indifferent. Here the good stuff lies in the preparation and core stats, the less than good comes from the proof and a bit of what comes out the other end. But all that aside, I believe it’s a waypoint to the future of FourSquare, when taken in conjunction with the Zinfadel finished 11 Year Old (43%), the 2004 Cask Strength (59%), and the 2013 Habitation Velier collaboration (64%).

The stats as knowncolumn and pot still rum, nine years old, distilled at FourSquare in 2005, bottled in June 2014, having spent three years in bourbon casks, and then another six in port casks, some caramel added for colouring, with an outturn of around 12,000 bottles, issued at 40%. One wonders how ⅔ of total ageing time in port barrels can possibly be interpreted as a “finish” of any kind, because for my money it’s a double-aged rum, something akin to the Dos Maderas 5+3 or 5+5 rumsbut all right, maybe it’s merely an issue of terminology and I’m not a total pedant in these matters, so let’s move on.

Starting out, the smell suggested that it was made at right angles to, and amped up from, the more traditional FourSquare rums like Rum 66, the R.L. Seale’s 10 Year old or even the Doorley’s. To my mind it was a lot of things that those weren’t, perhaps due to the unconventional (for FourSquare) ageing and cask regimeneverything here was more distinct, clearer, and a cut or two above those old stalwarts. Initially there were some faint rubber and acetone notes, after which the fruit basket was tossed into the vatblack grapes, citrus zest (orange or tangerines, not lemon), prunes, plums, vanilla, toffee and a dusting of earthy grassiness, cinnamon and maybe nutmeg. Not as forceful as a cask strength monster, no, yet pleasant to experience.

Most drinkers take their spirits at living room strength and won’t find any fault with 40% but for me the decision to bottle such an interesting rum at that ABV suggests a lack of confidence in whether to take the plunge by stepping over the full proof cliff, or continue with tried and true profiles, tweaking just a bit to sniff out the market reaction. The downside to that decision is that some of the awesome promise of the nose was lost. The smorgasbord of the fruit remained, dialled down, delivering prunes, dark ripe cherries, plus bananas, coconut shavings, nuts, brine, and the deep sugar cane aromas from fields that have just been burnt, all in well controlled balance and warming the tongue without assaulting it, leading to a quiet, short finish that lingered without presenting anything new. Sogoodbut still underwhelming.

What is perhaps surprising is that the rum works as well as it does at all – 6 years in port casks would normally be excessive since it’s less a finishing than an entire profile switcherooWhiskyFun, tongue in cheek as always, remarked it might better be called a bourbon start than a port finish. In fine, it all comes together well, and it is a lovely rum, which is why the encomiums roll in from all points of the compass. But since I know FourSquare has more up its sleeves than just its arms, I also know they can do betterand in the years between this rum’s issue and now, they have.

The 2005 is therefore not a rum I have problems recommending (especially for its very affordable price point). I simply posit that it’s a scout to the beachhead, a precursor, an exercise in the craft, not the ultimate expressionand scoring it to the stratosphere as many have done, is giving consumers the impression that it’s the best buy possible….which it isn’t.

Because, like its zinfadel cask finished brother, what this rum really is, is the rum equivalent of John the Baptist, not trying to garner any of the laurels for itself, just waiting and preparing the way for the extraordinary rum that was yet to come.

In August 2016, it did, and that’ll be the subject of my last review for 2016.

(82/100)


Other notes

  • In 2020, I named the entire Exceptional Cask Series asoneof The Key Rums of the World.
  • I let my glass rest overnight, and it developed a milky, cloudy residue after several hours. Maybe it was not filtered? I’d like to know if anyone else had a similar experience with theirs.

Dec 062016
 

aldea-tradicion

A unassuming and ultimately flawed 22 year old rum

#324

As one goes through the line of the various Ron Aldeas, which are serviceable mid-tier rums, one notices that the clear agricole profile gets progressively more lost, which I attribute to primarily the strategy of using variously toasted barrels in varying proportions. Depending on whether you want an agricole-style rum to taste like one, this may not be to your liking. This rum does not hail from the French islands or subject to the AOC (its influences are more Spanish than anything else), and therefore what we are tasting is something from elsewherethe Canary Islands in this instance. No doubt different taste and blending and ageing influences come to bear when makers from other parts of the world approach the same distillate.

As usual, some general information before we delve into the tasting notes. The Tradición is a cane-juice-derived, column still product, bottled at 42% with a 3428-bottle outturn. The 1991 edition I tried came out in 2013, making it a 22 year old, and was matured in barrels of different kinds of oak, with differing levels of toast; for the final two years the rum is transferred to used barrels of red wine (not identified) to add finish. Therein lies a problem because while that finishing regime does add some complexity, it also adds sweetness; and when I read that Drejer measured 27 g/L (which is assumed to be sugar), I can understand why it was issued at a slightly higher proof point.

That level of sugar is not immediately apparent. Somewhat at a tangent, nosing the bronze rum makes one wonder immediately where the agricole notes went off and hid themselves, because as with the Ron Aldea Familia (and to a lesser extent the Superior), the clean grassy and herbal smells that characterize the profile are utterly absent. Still, what was presented wasn’t badpeaches in cream, toffee, nougat, white toblerone, almonds were immediately apparent, with fruitier raisins and dried fruits coming up from behind, probably courtesy of those wine barrels. Not a very potent nose, just a soft and warm one.

I noted above that the rum tested positive for sugar. On the palate, that was unavoidable (my original handwritten notes, made before I knew of Drejer’s results, read “wht’s wth sweet? ths all cmng from wine barrels?). It may be a comfort to those who don’t mind such things that enough flavours remained even after that inclusion to make for an interesting sip. Initially there was the same vanilla, oak and leather, with a warm, smooth mouthfeel, and as it opened up the fruits came out and did their thing, presenting green apples, raisins, some cider and red grapesjust not what they could have been. They felt dampened down and muffled, not as crisp and clear as they might have been. It all led to a finish that was warm and hurriedly breathy as a strumpet’s fake gaspsand alas, like that seemingly spectacular activity, the experience was far too fleeting, without anything new to add to the profile as described.

Of the four Aldeas I tried in tandem, this is undoubtedly the besta warm, fragrant, almost gently aged rum, lacking the fierce untrammelled power and purity of a stronger drink. The finishing in wine barrels also adds a little something to the overall experience (which the additives then frustratingly take away). In these characteristics lie something of the rum’s polarizing naturethose who want a beefier rum will think it’s too soft; those who see “cane juice origin” and want that kind of herbal taste and don’t get it, will be miffed; and those who want a clean rum experience will avoid it altogether. The rum is rather light, and the sweetness imparted by the finish and the additives work against the delicacy of the distillate, deadening what could have been a better drink, even with the extra two percentage points of proof over the standard.

But all that aside, it’s not entirely a bad rum; as with the Centenario 20, various Panamanians or soleras (which this is not, but the similarity is striking), one simply has to walk into it knowing one’s preferences ahead of timethen buy if it’s one’s thing, try if curious, avoid if turned off. Starting the sip with preconceived notion as to what one wants, what the rum is, or what the makers seek to achieve, might just be a recipe for disappointment. And that would be unfair to what is, as noted in my one line summary, quite a pleasant and unassuming 20+ year old product. Strength aside, my only real beef with the thing is the utterly unnecessary adulterationby doing so, Aldea, for all their skill in bringing this well-aged rum to the party, have left several additional points of easily attainable quality behind on the table and diminished my ability to provide an unqualified endorsement for a rum that should have been better.

(84/100)

Dec 012016
 

mauritius-club-rum

Too young, too dressed up, when it didn’t need to be

#321

The Mauritius Club Rum 2014 (Sherry Finish) is an interesting essay in the craft, and for my money, slightly better than the Gold of Mauritius Dark rum I looked before. The sherry finishing makes its own statement and adds that extra fillip of flavour which elevates the whole experience in a way that drowning the Gold in port casks for a year did not. Note that there’s a strange disconnect between what I was told in 2015 by the brand rep, who informed me it was aged three months in oak casks (not what type) and then finished for two weeks in sherry casks; and what I see online these days, where the buying public is informed it is aged for six to eight months in South African wine barrels before finishing in sherry casks.

Well, whatever. Whether three months or six, with or without the sherry ageing, the overall profile strikes me as doing too little and hoping for too much, which is a shamewith a few more years under its belt, this could have really turned heads and attracted attention. The things is, ageing can be either done right and for a decent interval (perhaps three years or more, with many believing the sweet spot is between eight and twelve), or dispensed with it altogether (as with the various unaged whites for which I confess a sneaking love). But to stay in the middle ground, with less than a year? Plus a finish?…that may just be pushing one’s luck. It’s heading into spiced or flavoured rum territory.

The reason I make these remarks is because when I started nosing it, believing that 40% couldn’t seriously harm me, it lunged out in a schnozz-skewering intensity that caught me unprepared, the more so when had in a series with the far gentler and warmer and more easygoing muffled blanket of the Gold I’d just sampled before. To be fair though, once it settled down, there were notes of red wine (no surprise), raisins, caramel, chocolate vanilla, and something vaguely sharper, like those chocolate After-Eight mint biscuits.

The palate was softer, smoother, warm rather than hot, after the initial heat burned away.. Again, lots of sweet wine, and the sherry makes itself felt. Honey, some nuttiness (I was thinking breakfast cereals like cheerios) plus a little fruitiness, cherries, more vanilla, more chocolate and vanilla. Truth is, too little going on here, and overall, somewhat uncoordinated and quite faint. A 40% strength can be perfectly fine, but it does make for a lesser experience and dampened-down tastes that a shooter wouldn’t capture and a mix would drown and a sipper would disdain. The finish was okay for such a product, being short and easy, warm, redolent of nuts, more cheerios, honey and a very faint note of tannins. There was some character here, just not enough to suit my preferences.

I know it sounds like I’m dissing the rum, but not reallyas noted above, I liked it better than the Gold of Mauritius Dark even though it was younger, which I attribute to a better handling of the blend, and the sherry influence. Still, it must be said that the rum displayed something of schizoid character, too young and raw to be tamed with the port/sherry for the few months it aged, yet being promoted as being more than an unaged starter (that would lower expectations, which may have been the point). Moreover, when any maker puts a moniker of a single year on the bottle“2014” in this caseit creates an impression of something a little special, a “millesime” edition of a good yearand that’s certainly not the case, as it’s simply the year the rum was made. And lastly, I argueas was the case with the Goldthat by mixing it up with these external and rather dominating influences, the potential to experience a unique rum originating from a unique location with a very individual taste, was lostto our detriment.

So after this experience, I resume my search for the definitive rum from the island, the big gun that will put Mauritius on the map and allow us to use it as a quasi-baseline. Something that isn’t mixed, adulterated, finished or otherwise tampered with. I know it’s out there somewhereI just have to find it. This one isn’t it.

(79/100)


Other notes

  • The rum was made by a company called Litchliquor on Mauritius. They act as a blender and distributor under the command of master blender Frederic Bestel. They source rums from distilleries around the island and blend. age and finish these in their own facilities. The majority of their sales is on the island itself and in Europe where they have several partnerships with distributors, but also seem to be able to sell in Russia and the Far East, as well as Kenya, Canada and the UAE.
  • Because of the nature of the blend from multiple (unnamed) distilleries, there is no way to tell what kind of stills the rum came from, or whether it was from cane juice or molasses distillate.
Sep 032015
 

D3S_8920

It’s all a little bit, well, funky. There’s an element of crazy about, it, perhaps deliberately created, perhaps not, which is almost in defiant contrast to more traditional PMs. All things considered, this rum raises my ire and hurts my heart, both at the same time. In it I see all that craft makers aspire to, while somehow failing to realize both its and their own potential.

Last time around I looked at the quietly impressive Bristol Spirits PM 1990 17 YO, which I tasted in conjunction with this younger 1999 iteration. You’d think that with core distillate being the same, and with the same port finishing, the results would differ only in the details. Yeah. No. The 1999, too well made to ignore, turned out so different from its sibling that I spent ages with it just to make sure I wasn’t being taken for a ride. It’s an illustration of how similar origins, combined with some chaos theory, leads to a remarkably divergent outcome

As before, the Port Mourant wooden double pot still supplied the core distillate; it was aged until 2013 in oak, and like the 17 YO from 1990, it was left to rest in port pipes for an extra finish, at that same unadventurous 46% that just makes me shrug my shoulders. When I inquired about the Peru 8 Year Old strength, they responded, “40% suits the rum well, in our opinion,” and I think they have the same opinion here. To their own detriment, maybe. One or two rums at less than cask-strength I can accept, but when the entire range never varies between 40-46%, I have to question the logic (beyond trying to sell as many as possible to more conventional purchasers). If other independent bottlers can take their barrels out for a spin and crank them up a shade just to see where they can take their audience, I see no reason why an outfit that made the magnificent PM 1980 can’t occasionally break out of their own self-imposed corsets.

Anyway, so, we had a reddish bronze rum here, nicely aged, affordably priced. On the pour some of the expected notes came out immediately: what made me retreat a metaphorical step was its unexpected aggressiveness. The thing lunged out of the glass with an attitude, was sharp and unlike its other brothers (and other PMs I’ve been fortunate enough to try)…it did not display heavy, brooding notes of enchanted forests, but instead the harsh spearing glares of desert sunlight. Initial notes of dusty hay, chopped fruits, some mangoes and papayas were there, gone very fast, a little smoke, some tannins from the oak. Leaving the rum to open some more brought out secondary scents of anise, smoke, leather, some dark chocolate, green grapes, and it was all nowhere near as deeply luscious as the 1990…no idea why. There was a shimmering clarity to the rum which was intriguing, yet not entirely appealing. The mix of light and heavy components wasn’t working for me.

The taste moved on from there…not nearly as full bodied as the other PMs in my experience, at all. More of that light sharpness, a rapier compared to the more elemental battleaxes of even the 1990 variation. Some of the richness of the others (even made by Bristol themselves) was missing here, and I really was not that impressed with the result. Tastes were decent, can’t complain too much about thatthere were raisins, black grapes, prunes, figs and some dark chocolate to contend with, all interlaced with some sharp bitterness of oak which thankfully was not predominant. With water, the chocolate started to assert some biceps, as did a slightly drier element, plus fresh brewed black tea and vanilla, and even a flirt of feintiness and some other more winey notes from the port finish. I seem to remember reading somewhere that a smidgen of sugar had been added to this rum, but I didn’t really sense any – if true, it couldn’t have been much. On the fade it was dry and spicy, with some crushed walnuts, anise, more fruit and a sly background of molasses and brown sugar: that and the nose were the two best parts of the rum, for me.

My dissatisfaction with this rum stems from what appears to be two differing characteristics marrying uneasily – the dour, anise-led, brown-sugar profile of a PM, and something lighter and sharper, younger, friskier. It’s like an old fart in his Bentley trying to make nice with a coed driving a 370Z. So, is it, or will it be, a successful commercial rum? I think so. It suggests an ironic future for Bristol – they bring a well known, well-loved distillate to the stage, age it decently, make it reasonably, price it well, issue it at an agreeable strength, and I’m sure if it hasn’t already flown off the shelves, it will – and yet, this very success might prevent them from making any more of those genuinely fantastic PM-1980-style rums of which I am convinced they are capable. What a shame.

(#230 / 84/100)


Other notes

  • For a much more positive review of the 1999, read Marco’s take, with all his usual and remarkable historical detail.
  • There is another 1999 bottled in 2010 and yet another bottled in 2014 (the latter without the port finish).
Aug 272015
 

D3S_8927

A love note from Bristol to lovers of Guyanese PM-still rums

Bristol Spirits is that independent bottler out of the UK which started life in 1993. Their barrel selection from the various countries around the Caribbean has created an enviable track record of limited bottlings; I’ll always have good memories of the Bristol Spirits PM 1980, and the subsequent editions of the 1990 and 1999 were rums I’ve been keeping an eye out for on the basis of that positive experience.

All of these were made, of course, using the Port Mourant distillate – in this particular instance they didn’t just age it between 1990 and 2007, but allowed it rest for the final two years in matured port pipes for an extra fillip of flavor. It sort of succeeded, it’s a great rum by any standard, and of course, they did continue their happy tradition of a funky, screaming fire-engine-red label slapped on to a standard barroom bottle. I just can’t pass these things by, honestly.

The PM 1990, a dark amber rum with ruby hints to it, derived from the famed wooden PM double pot still now held in DDL’s facilities at Diamond. It poured, sulky and heavy into the glass, and while it was tamed to a very accessible 46% (which is sort of de rigeur for many of the UK craft makers who seem determined not to lose a single sale by I dunno, issuing good rum at cask strength), the initial scents were impressive from the get-go. Wood, sweat, sap, brine, oak and smoke permeated the nose at once in thick waves. These are not always my favourite smells, but I used to say the same thing about plasticine and turpentine, so what do I know? It’s the way they come together and enhance the experience, that matters, anyway. And indeed, things mellowed out after some minutes, and the good stuff came dancing forward – raisins, Christmas cake, soy sauce, molasses, licorice and burnt sugar, all wrapped up in salty caramel and toffee, citrus rind (very faint) and chamomile (even fainter). Just a phenomenally rich nose, generous with promise.

It delivered on that promise very nicely, thank you very much. Warm and strong, some sweetness came forward here, with initial tastes of salt caramel, dulce de leche ice cream, and dark tea leaves. Quite full bodied to taste, no issues there for me at all – this thing was giving the PM 1980 some serious competition at a lesser price. The more familiar tastes of licorice, molasses-soaked brown sugar and musty leather came through, and after adding some water (didn’t really need to, but what the hell) the full cornucopia of everything that came before mushroomed on the tongue. Flowers, orange rind, licorice, smoke and some tannins, together with old polished leather and linseed oil, all full and delicious and not at all over-spicy and sharp. It’s fine rum, very fine indeed. The fade was shortish, not dry, quote smooth and added no new notes of consequences, but simply summarized all the preceding, exiting warmly and easily with caramel and toffee, anise, and then it was all gone and I was hastening to refill my glass.

Here I usually end with a philosophical statement, observations that come to mind, anything that can wrap things up in a neat bow. But truth to tell, in this case I don’t think I need to. Bristol Spirits have simply made a very good rum for the price (about a hundred bucks) and age (seventeen years). As such, it will be more accessible, more available and probably more appreciated than fiercely elemental, higher-proofed offerings costing much more. So in terms of value for money, this is one of those rums that I would recommend to anyone who wants to dip his or her toe into the realm of stronger, more complex, and also more focused high-end spirits. As long as your tastes run into dark and flavorful Guyanese rums, this one won’t disappoint.

(#229. 88/100)

 

 

Jan 082015
 

D3S_9369

A rich, argicole rum of a depth and flavour I savoured for literally hoursit almost qualifies as the perfect comfort drink, and for sure it’s the best sub-10 year old rum I’ve tried in ages.

Karukera in Guadeloupe is a distillery for whom I have grown to have a great deal of respect: I was not won over by their Vieux Reserve Speciale, but the 1997 Millesime was something else again, and I often drifted back to it when looking for an agricole baseline, or a control. On the strength of that positive experience, I decided to step up and shell out for this one, partly because of the strength and partly due to the double maturation moniker, which piqued my interest.

Which is not to say that its presentation didn’t appeal to me alsoI’m shallow that way, sometimes. It may not be a top shelf super-premium rum, true, yet it did its best to raise the bar for any rum that purports to be a cut above the ordinary. Just look at that wooden box printed with all sorts of interesting details, and the sleek bottle with its cork tip. All very niceit looked damned cool on my shelf. And so, my lizard brain having been catered to and placated, off I went into my tasting routine to see whether the implied quality inside the bottle was as interesting as what the outside promised.

D3S_9373D3S_9376

Which it was. Aged for six years in bourbon and then two more in french oak cognac casks, only 2000 or so bottles of honey/amber coloured rum came out at the other end, and mine presented a very interesting aspect, in spite of my having wrestled with mostly full proof pachyderms over the last few months (so 44.6% can almost be considered “standard strength” for me, these days). Let’s just agree it wasgentler.

Sleek salt butter, cream cheese and some brininess led right off. To say I was not expecting that would be understating the matter: the rum is made from blue cane grown on the plantation itself, and I was looking for a more standard nose of vegetal notes and some citrus. But after letting the spirit rest in my glass for a bit, ah, there they were. Apricots, black grapes, cloves and orange rind sidled shyly forward, to be replaced by hay and freshly mown grass. There were some spicier oaken aromas at the back end, nothing unpleasantin fact the whole experience was really quite excellenta firm mix of salt, sweet, sharp, and pungent smells.

Tasting it was a rewarding experience. It was a medium bodied rum, quite smooth and warm, opening up with white flowers, and soft tanned leather. As the nose did, some patience rewarded me with mild caramel, smoke, more leather, which in turn morphed easily into mellow tastes of mango, pears, pineapple, cinnamon, cumin, even marzipan and flavoured port-wine cigarillos (used to love those as a young man). And I was also quite impressed with the finish, which lasted quite long, warmly dusting itself off with white guavas, caramel, and half ripe pears. The rum may have caused north of a hundred Euros, but man, it was a pretty awesome drink. My mother and I shared it in her dacha in north Germany on one of the last sunny days of autumn in 2014 as my son ran barefoot on the grass blowing soap bubbles, and it was the perfect accompaniment to a really great afternoon laze-in.

D3S_9371

Karukera continues to be made by the Espérance distillery (founded in 1895) a distillery down by the Marquisat de Saint Marie in Guadeloupe, doesn’t chill filter or add anything to its rums, and proudly wears the AOC designation. I’ve been fortunate to climb the value chain of its products and each one I try raises the bar for its rums. You can be sure I’ll buy others they make in the years to come.

Personally, I’m not sure a rum so warm and friendly, yet also firm and tasty, is suitable for mixing (it was all I could do to see what a few drops of water could do, just to be complete about it) – I know I wouldn’t, on balance. There’s a remarkable softness and overall quality to the Karukera, which, while excelling at no one thing, came together so sweetly that I honestly can’t imagine what a mix could do to enhance it. The rum is excellent as it is, and whether you like molasses spirits or agricoles (or both), there’s no doubting that here is a rum that sneaks past your defenses, hits the sweet spot of your desire for a good rum, and gives you all the love and comfort you could ever ask for. That alone may be worth all the euros I paid.

(#196. 87.5/100)

 

Jul 152014
 

D3S_8380

 

Rich sipping rum of remarkable complexity and flavour, one of the best I’ve ever had out of Jamaica.

Rum Nation’s Supreme Lord VI (the Jamaican 26 year old 2012 edition by any other name) is as good as its 2010 brother, if not actually surpassing it. It shows what can be done with an aged rum if time and care and patienceand some artistryis brought to bear. I loved the Supreme Lord V, which I reviewed a while backand I must say, the VI does dial it up a few notches. (Full disclosureFabio Rossi, the man behind Rum Nation, was having so many troubles working out the complications of me buying a single bottle from him, that he finally just lost patience, sent me the one, and said it was on the house. So this one was a freebie, which happens rarely enough these days, but a fact of which you as a reader should be aware).

Like its predecessor, this rum was dark red-amber in hue, and gave evidence of good viscosity, what with its chubby legs slowly draining back into the glass. It was also richly pungent to a fault: when I opened that bottle and decanted into my glass the aromas were all over the room in no time: a fragrant nuttiness with a faint tawny, perhaps herbal tinge, and cloves and nutmeg, a little pepper, vanilla, cherries. I noted in my review of the 2011 edition that there was that slight turpentine, plastic tinge to itnone of that was in evidence here. This rum has esters flexing their biceps all over the place.

The feel and taste on the palate was similarly excellent. There was a sense of fruit teetering on the edge of over-ripeness, without actually falling over. Leather, and the dry mustiness of a closed stable full of tack. Aromatic tobaccos mixed it up with (I kid you not) a freshly opened packet of loose black tea. Even at 45%, it was smooth and easy, with a peaches and cream texture on the tongue that quite subdued the normally sharp citrus tinge Jamaican rums have. And after adding a smidgen of water and waiting a while, there was even a tease of unsweetened dark chocolate and molasses winding its way through thereI just loved this rum, honestly.

And like the nose and the arrival, the exit was warm, a little aggressive, not too long, not too sharp and quite satisfyingone might even say it was chirpily easy-going, sauntering out the door with the casual insouciance of a person who knows he doesn’t have to tout his ability. That last twitch of molasses, orange zest and nutmeg was just heavenly. The Supreme Lord VI was quite a step up the evolutionary ladder from the last one I tried, I think (though I still love that one as well, don’t get me wrongit had an aggro I found pleasing, in its own way). All in all, this may have been one of the best Jamaican rums I’ve ever tried, and speaks volumes about why I’m a fanboy of Rum Nation.

When asked, Fabio noted to me that he produced 760 bottles of this nectar. It was distilled in a pot still out of Long Pond (home of the rampaging rhino that is the SMWS 81.3%) back in 1986, aged in ex-bourbon American oak barrels, but also finished for another eight years in Oloroso sherry buttsthat would be where the amazing panoply of flavours got a helping hand, I’d say. Rums like this one explain something of why I am prepared pay the extra coin for small batch creationsit’s a bit hit and miss, I concedebut not here.

Occasionally I go on a real multi-hour bender (usually out of boredom) – these days somewhat more rarely, of course. Still, with most rums I polished off a standard bottle in a few hoursthis one is so smooth, so tasty, so complexso goodthat the experience (were I ever to perpetrate such a discourtesy with such a gem) would take half the night, yet feel like it’s over in five minutes. There are some words I always hesitate to use in a review because it sounds so much like mindless genuflection or commercial shilling, but here I have to be honest and say, from the heart, that I think this rum is exquisite.

(#182. 90/100)

**

Jun 042013
 

D7K_2039

Among the best of the five year olds, and may actually be the best 5 I’ve had to date.

One of the surprising things about the Plantation Barbados 5 year old is the fact that it is bottled at what, for Plantation, is a relatively mild 40%. Still, for all my whining about wanting rums to be stronger, I can’t deny the overall quality of what many would dismiss as a mixer’s rum, because it’s a quietly impressive product that is the equal of the El Dorado 5 year old in every way, and exceeds it in others.

Cognac Ferrand is noted for taking rums from various plantations around the West Indies and Central America, ageing them in situ and then bringing them over to France where the finish it in cognac casks for a few months. This double ageing gives their rums a certain richness and depth that is really quite something, and while they simply classify the rums by the date of distillation (one is left to guess how old a given rum therefore is), in this case they have stated front and centre that it is a five year old rum, which makes comparing it against others a much less theoretical proposition.

A while back, I ran four fives against each other and commented on their various characteristics and how they stacked up – based on that, I felt (at the time), that the El Dorado five was the best of the (limited) lot. Well, here Plantation does it one better, and steals the crown. I got this impression right from the get-go, when opening it up and taking a good strong sniff. Most five year olds I’ve tried tend towards the slightly raw – there is usually a sense of better to come, with a spiciness and burn deriving from some ageing, perhaps not so complete. Here, precisely the opposite was true: the rum was quite soft, quite smooth (a bit of a nip, yesjust less than you might expect), quite pleasant on the nose. Vanilla, plums, dark berries (blackcurrants and blackberries with ripe cherries), and a dusting of coconut shavings were all in evidence, leavened as it opened up with some pineapple and cinnamon, butterscotch and toffee.

D7K_2035

As for the taste, well now, colour me impressed: amazingly robust on the palate, deep and intense, oily and quite smooth, warm and easy to sip. Just sweet enough to please, with simpler, forceful notes of vanilla and cinnamon segueing gently into molasses, burnt sugar, caramel, the aforementioned coconut shavings and a dark chopped-fruit melange. The feel of this rum as I drank it was of a warm freshly laundered pillow, something quite soft enough to hug, definitely more polished and nuanced than the ED5. Finish was sweet, honeylike, relaxed, and gave you no attitude whatsoever. In it, you could see the Plantation Barbados 20th Anniversary take shape. It’s that decent.

On its own you’re not necessarily going to get all this: but trying it in tandem with a few other similarly aged offerings gives you a gist of the quality I describe here. It really is quite an experience, to be able to sipnot even adding watera rum this young and this cheap. I thought Josh Miller at Inu a Kena was kidding when he muttered disbelievingly “I’m sipping a sixteen dollar rum! Neat! But he was doing no more than telling the absolute truth.

The Plantation Barbados 5 year old may be relatively uncomplex compared to older rums, not too much oomph in the trousers alcohol-wise, but you simply cannot argue with its put-togetherness. Okay, so maybe it’s not a top ender, but in my mind, it perhaps should beit takes its place among the best young rums out there. On smoothness, taste, texture, mouthfeel and finish, all for that one low low price, it is a rum that will be difficult to beat even by products many times its age.

(#166. 84.5/100)


Other notes

  • I am aware that I scored the El Dorado 5 78 points back in 2010. For that time, it was right. Now, three years down the road, I would probably rank it quite a bit more generously (and may yet do that, if I pick up another bottle). I’ll just note the discrepancy, and remark to my fellow bloggers who are kind enough to read this review, that this is why one should never taste a rum for scoring purposes in isolation but always as part of a series of some kind.
  • Also, it may cost twenty bucks or less in the US, but in Canada it’s closer to forty.
  • Plantation has been known for (and has admitted to) the practice ofdosingwhich is the adding of sugar to round out and smoothen their rums. In this case the various sugar lists maintained by the fatrumpirate and others work out to about 22 g/L for this rum. Different people have different attitudes towards this practice, so I mention the matter for completeness.
  • Update 2021No, I would not now score this as high as I did back in the day. In the last eight years I have gained much more experience in the dampening effects of this kind of dosage, and my preferences have evolved towards less rather than more. So the enthusiasm displayed above is muted, as I’m sure Josh’s is, as well. (NB: The issue with Plantation’s business model and the Barbados GI do not affect this comment, which is a puzzling linkage I find on many othersremarks on the rum).

 

May 122013
 

D3S_5540

Schizoid, androgynous, curious rum. Too well made to ignore, but not appealing enough to collect.

Right during the tasting, before I had done a single bit of research or perused the label beyond the obvious, I looked at my glass, smacked my not quite toothless gums and opined loudly and dogmatically (if not quite coherently) to an empty house that this was a rum from the Foursquare distillery in Barbados.

You might well ask whether my snoot is that good (it’s not), my memory that clear (it’s not) or I knew it for sure (I didn’t). It was more a process of elimination from the Bajan rum canonit was too clear taste-wiseand not soft enoughto be a St Nicholas Abbey, lacked the discombobulated, raw nature of the Cockspur and sure wasn’t a Mount Gay. That didn’t leave much, no matter how or with what cask Renegade decided to finish it.

Take the opening: soft, flowery, dark sugars, bananas and unsweetened dark chocolate. A bit sharp (it was bottled at 46%, so, okay). Red grapes just starting to go off, bananas, orange peel (not anything sharper like grapefruit or lemon), and a final flirt of cherries, yet overall, the scents married uneasily, resulting in something vaguely androgynous, neither strong or puissant enough to be a bellowing buccaneer (it waved the cutlass to genteelly for that) nor weak enough to be an underproofit was an uneasy mix of delicacy and clarity without strength of real character (did someone say “Prince Myshkyn”?).

D3S_5543

No relief on the palate, however original it turned out to be. The medium bodied amber spirit was drier than I expected, and even a bit briny, and pulled an interesting rabbit out of the bottleit tasted good enough, full enough, to seem more robust than it actually was. Bananas and white chocolate, a certain creaminess (like unsalted butter, really), white guavas and pecans. I know this sounds odd, but it almost seemed a shadecrunchy. It’s the craziest thing, a sort of dichotomy between the taste and the nose that had heat and citrus-plus-grapes to sniff, yet more settled and softer to sip, finishing off with a sweet, dry exit, segueing into final notes of bananas, apricots and salt biscuits.

I have some mixed feelings on the Renegade here, admiring its professional make and the clarity of the various notes, without actually enjoying the overall experience due to a discordance in the overall marriage of constituent elements. It’s not a bad rum at all, just not one I really felt like raving about to any who would listen. Yet I cannot help but admire how Renegade doesn’t really carethey tried for something off the reservation, and they succeeded. It’s original, that’s for sure.

Unlike most of the Renegades I’ve tried thus far, the label gave me little to work with on the details (I like knowing as much about a rum as possible when doing the write-up). Nothing about the finishing which Bruichladdich usually likes to trumpet front and center, for exampleI don’t know why, so here’s what my research (and the bottle) did bring up. Pot still origin. Finished in Ribero del Duero casksthis is a fruity red wine from north central Spain, which explained something of the profile. Yes, the Foursquare distillery supplied the rum, so I called it on that onethough it wasn’t until I took a hard look at the label that I saw it self-evidently mentioned. I should get my glasses changed, or perhaps research before I drink, not after.

D3S_5538

But it’s not that any of this matters, really. I’ve said before that Renegades are something of an acquired taste, should never be one’s first try at a rum, and are all quite fascinatingly differentthis may be, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, because they are made by whisky makers for whisky drinkers with rummies perhaps as an afterthought. They fail to craft a consistent rum from one bottle to the next (the variations in the line are occasionally awe-inspiring) but they know that the best way to approach making any of them is with a bold and unapologetic take-that attitude that finds ‘em swinginghardfor the fences, every time, with a sort of giddy, joyous abandon one simply has to admire. So, the end product may not always be what we expectbut man, it’s like watching a Sobers, Worrell, Lloyd or Lara on a weird day. It’s never, ever boring.

(#161. 82/100)


Other Notes

 

May 072013
 

D3S_5509

Crackers and butter

Given how much I care for Guyanese style Demerara rums (even if some of them actually originate from plantations closer to Berbice), and knowing something of the various profiles hailing from these old sugar estates, I must confess to being quite surprised at the sharp left turn this 45% ABV Plantation rum made.

No really. As soon as I opened the bottle to pour the gold-amber rum into my glass, the very first scent that reached me was salt biscuits and creamy, unsalted butter. This, to me was quite unmistakable, because in my youth I was once caught on a tramp steamer in the Atlantic for three days, and all we had to eat was salt biscuits, crackers and peanut butter (and some jam) – and the Guyana 1999 rum mirrored those scents so faithfully it was, quite frankly, like being back on board. Okay, it did mellow out, I can’t kid about thatinto smoke and wet, rain drenched wood, tannins from oak, only slowly deepening into almonds, faint citrus, hibiscus flowers and softer caramel and burnt sugar (for which I was thankfulI’ve never appreciated salt biscuits since that time).

The Guyana 1999 suggested a certain clarity and hardness rather than softer, more voluptuous tastes. Very little soothing gentleness here, yet also no real bite and sting on the palate. Indeed, the somewhat briny, tannic nose transmogrified into a creamier, very pleasantly oily feel on the tongue, and the previously restrained ponies of sugar, vanilla and caramel were allowed freer rein, though they never went so far as to dominate the overall flavour profile. Indeed, were it not for that clear, dominant “I am here” taste of butterscotch and burnt sugar, this rum would have been a lot more delicate and flowery to taste. And there were few, if any fleshy fruit or citrus notes here at all, nor where there any on the finish. It’s a very strange rum to try, yet also a pretty good onethis is one case where the palate exceeds the nose (I often find the opposite to be the case). The fade is medium to long, with a rather hard denouement of blackberries and almond nuttiness that goes on for quite some time.

D3S_5507

Plantation is one of the famed rums made in series and in quantity by what is termed an independent bottlerCognac Ferrand from France, in this case. There are many othersRum Nation, Renegade, Fassbind, Berry Brothers & Rudd and Velier are just a few examplesbut most of these tend towards a few thousand bottles per run, originating in a few casks, while I get the impression that CF does quite a bit more than that for each of its editions. The claim to fame of the Plantation line, and what gives them such a great street rep, is their finishing for a final few months in cognac casks, which imparts an intriguing flavour to each and every one of their rums I’ve been fortunate enough to try thus far, providing an intriguing counterpoint to the Renegade line, which to my mind attempts the same thing a little less successfully.

Also, I think that the slight saltiness and background cracker taste on the fade makes the rum drop a bit more than usual for meoh, I liked it, but I enjoyed other Plantations more (the Nicaragua 2001, for example, and the Barbados 20th Anniversary for sure). For a Mudlander, even one in exile as long as I have been, that’s nothing short of embarrassing. Still, I have to make this observationI tried it side by side with the Renegade Barbados 2003 6 year old (coming soon to the review site near you), and doing the tasting in tandem revealed something of the character and richness of the Plantation rum which Renegade lackedso it’s certainly better than a solo-only tasting or my ambivalent wording here might imply.

There aren’t many rums I try that evoke such strong, definitive memories. I may not have enjoyed eating stale crackers and jam for three straight days on the Atlantic Ocean, nowhat I took away from that experience was more of the black, moonless nights, blazing with stars, phosphorescent green water lapping against the hull, desultory conversations with the mate at three in the morning (while sharing some unspeakable hooch), being young, immortal and seventeen, and considering myself part of a grand adventure. This rum, with a middling nose and finish and a very pleasant palate, brought back that experience in a way that was nothing short of amazing.

Don’t know about you, but for me that’s beyond price.

(#160. 84.5/100)


Other Notes

  • According to Master Quill, his bottle of this rum has April 2009 on the bottle, so I am taking that as reasonable proof of age.
  • No mention of the stills is made anywhere except Difford’s which referred to it as coming froma small traditional copper still”. Plantation’s own site page for the vintage series doesn’t go back as far as 2009, let alone 1999, which is an issue of longevity and preservation of information about which I have serious concerns, but a subject too long for a quick comment here.
Apr 112013
 

D7K_1222

A very good double-aged Nicaraguan rum, from France. If this is what a random selection of Plantation rums is like, then I have high hopes for all the others.

Finally, I have managed to start acquiring some of the Plantation rums (long regarded by me as a major hole in the reviews of rum “series”), and if the Law of Mediocrity holds true, then this is a set of bottlings that would remedy all my bitching about the inconsistencies of the Renegade line. If it is true that the characteristic of the parts is a function of the whole, then we’ll be in for a treat as we work our way through them.

The Plantation line of rums is made by Cognac Ferrand of France, based on stocks bought from around the Caribbean and Central and South America, and some of their uniqueness rests in the fact that they are finished in cognac casks prior to final bottling (so they can be regarded as double aged). This gives the rums in the line a certain heft and complexity that many comment on quite favourably, to say nothing of the line stepping away from 40% as a matter of habitthis one from Nicaragua was bottled at a pleasant 42%. Note also that Plantation indulges the practice of dosingthe addition of small amounts of sugar or caramel to create the overall assembly.

D7K_1227

The bottle itself conformed to the Plantation standard of presentational ethics: a straw-netting enclosed barroom bottle, with the label identifying the year the rum was laid down (2001 in this case), and a map of the source country. I guess they saved the really fancy presentation for stuff like the Barbados 20th Anniversary edition, which was nothing near to this kind of standard (it was better), yet I have no fault to find here, since aside from the lack of an age statement, it provided most of what I needed.

It’s been a while since I tasted the Flor de Cana series of rums (my stocks are long since drained and not renewed), but I remembered the solidity of those, the depth of flavour, whether simple or complex, and they remained among my favourites until supplanted by other Panamanian and Guyanese expressions. This rum brought back all my memories of why I liked Nicaraguan products so much

The nose was deep and rich, redolent of vanilla, oak (not excessive, very well balanced), caramel, citrus (orange peel, even lime zest) and peaches (minus the cream). There were herbal notes flitting around the initial delectable aromas, and I reveled in the lemon grass scents which reminded me somewhat of crushed lime leaves in spicy Thai cuisine. There was no offensive astringency or bite here, just solid, complex notes I spent an inordinate amount of time admiring.

The palate was lovely. 42% ABV sent a pleasantly heated, medium bodied spirit to announce its prescence with a smoothly powerful fanfare. Honey and caramel flavours led the charge, with subtler tastes of pineapple, a ripe-but-firm mango and vanilla rounding things out. The Nicaragua 2001 was not overly sweet (so what dosing they did do was judiciously restrained, at least), slightly dry without being either cloyingly sugary, or acerbically briny. The rum was all well-balanced flavour and profile, speaking well for more expensive and older rums up the chain of the Plantation line. And I had little fault to find with the finish, which was longish, slightly dry and gave me some oak and vanilla that was not exceptional, just well put together

D7K_1228

What’s not to admire about a rum like this? Much like the Dictador 20 written about some weeks back, it displayed a solid mastery of rum-making fundamentals. It’s probably the finishing in cognac casks that gave it that extra note of complexity and balance I so enjoyed here, with the body being somewhat enhanced by the sugar (estimated at 14 g/L). In part, I see the production of these limited edition bottlings by European makers as an act of homage for the traditions of the old rum makers and their lost arts. W.G. Sebald, whose works often concerned the loss of memory, once wrote about journeys made through the half-abandoned remainders of the past, through signs that men had once been here and are now forgotten. When you try the Nicaragua 2001, you see what rum can be, once was, and maybe what it will aspire to in years to come.

(#154. 85.5/100)


Other notes

  • The Law of Mediocrity isn’t quite what it sounds like: it basically takes the position that if one takes a random sample from a set and that sample is good, then it suggests that others in the set will also be.
  • There is no literature I can find that says precisely how old the rum is. Of course, since it was casked in 2001, it has to be less than fifteen years old. One German site stated it was six years old, and the Fat Rum Pirate (the only other review out there) says he guesses 8-10, so I dunno…..
  • There is some confusion in the online literature as to whether this is pot still or column still distillate. However, the Cognac-Ferrand site notes it as coming from a columnar still.
  • People have differeing opinions on the matter of additional sugar, an imbroglio which became a major issue in late 2014 onwards. Some like it, some don’t, some are indifferent. The 14g/L number is taken from The Fat Rum Pirate’s list.