Aug 082018
 

You will rarely find two rums of the same age from the same island more unalike than the Samaroli 1992 25 YO and the Appleton “Joy” 25 year old Anniversary Blend. One is a fierce, cask strength rum, tightly focused, furiously tasty, with a complexity and balance that nearly broke my chart. The other is a blended rum brought into being utilizing every ounce of more than two decades of experience which Joy Spence, Appleton’s Master Blender, brings to the the table. And yet, under the bare statistics that ostensibly set them apart, in both there runs the blood and bones of a Jamaican rum. The “Joy” is as much from the island as the Song of the Banana Man, yardies, rice and peas and Three Finger Jack. And while the “Joy” is a blend and not so individualistic, not so strong, it is nevertheless a triumph of the discipline, a combination more art and alchemy than science, and a worthy cap to Ms. Spence’s careeruntil she makes the next one.

Photo pinched from Josh Miller, used with permission (c) Inu a Kena

Some brief background notes: the rum was issued in 2018 to mark Ms. Spence’s 37 years with Appleton, more than twenty of which were as the Master Blender. It is comprised of rums at least 25 years old, with onedating back from 1981, the year she joined the companyis in excess of 30, and it’s a blend of both pot and column still marques. With 9,000 liters made, we can estimate somewhere around 12,000 bottles floating around the world, all issued at 45% and costing a bruising $300 or more (which was the same price I paid for the Appleton 30 YO many years ago, by the way).

The “Joy” was, to me, a rum that seemed simply made initially, but developed into a really lovely and complex piece of workI got the sense of a blender working right at the edge of her abilities, with excitement and verve and panache, and this was evident as soon as I smelled it. The nose began with a beautifully rich molasses aroma mixed in with a sort of dialled down crazy of musky and sharp funkcitrus, honey, oak, rotting fruit. I left it and came back to it over a few hours, and it presented leather, caramel, coffee, ginger, lemon zest with the faint dustiness of cumin. Oh and also nougat, and white chocolate.

The palate was where it shone the brightest, I think, and I would never mix this elegant piece of work (that might actually be a offense punishable by the lash in some circles). It was nicely dry, with forward notes of honey, molasses, vanilla, caramel bon bons and dried coffee grounds, which were intercut with some lingering oak, just enough to provide some bite and tannins without disrupting the smooth flow. It was just a shade briny, not too sweet, and balanced off the deeper flavours with lighter oneslight citrus, ginger, cumin, and green apples and grapes did a funky little number off to the side, for exampleand none of it was overbearing or in your face. In fact, part of the rum’s appeal was its deceptively unassuming natureeverything seemed tamped down and rather relaxed, but wasn’t really, just solid and well constructed, and remarkably complex and well-balanced to a fault. Even the dry and medium-length finish, which at that strength tends toward the short, was very enjoyable and softly lingeringly aromatic, closing off the sip with brown sugar, honey, flowers, crushed almonds and a little orange peel.

Big hat tip to Josh Miller who allowed me to make off with this picture

Summing up, this was a wonderful sipping rum. It wasn’t one that took a single distinct note and ran with it. It wasn’t a fierce and singular Jamaican funk bomb or hogo monster that sought to impress with sharp and distinct tastes that could be precisely catalogued like a grocery list of all the things that enthrall us. It was, rather, a melange of softer tastes set off by, and blended well with, sharper ones, none of which ever seemed to strain or reach for an effect, but simply provided a slow parade of commingled flavours that somehow come together into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Ms. Spence is perhaps one of the few legends we have in this curious subculture we inhabit, where owners commonly get more publicity and adulation than blenders (unless both inhabit the same corpus). I have never met herour paths haven’t crossed, which is my loss, not hersand yet how could anyone call themselves a rum lover and not know who she is? In some way, her hands have touched, her personality has influenced and her skills are evidenced in every rum Appleton has made in the last quarter century and more. My own feeling is that if she never makes another rum in her life, she will still be known for this one. The original 30 YO was a little overoaked, the 50 YO remains too expensive, the 21 YO too indeterminate and the 12 YO too broad basedbut this one, this one is a quiet triumph of the blender’s art.

And if you want a more mundane proof of the rum’s quality, I direct you to the actions of Grandma Caner when I gave her some to try. She affects to a certain indifference my writing, expressing impatience with all these rums cluttering up her damned basement and I could see she wasn’t all that enthusiastic. But when she took an initially disinterested sip, her eyes widened: she just about swallowed her dentures in her haste to ask for moreyou never saw an arthritis ridden hand move so fast in your life. The woman finished the sample bottle, cleaned out her glass, then my glass, and I could see her eyeing the bottle, perhaps wondering if it would be considered uncouth to ask to lick it out. Then she got on her old East German rotary phone, and spent the next three hours frantically calling all her friends to go find this thing, and I swear to you, I am not making this up! Word of mouth and actions like that are an endorsement of theJoywhich no amount of money could ever buy, and the cool thing is, the rum really deserves it.

(#536)(89/100)

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 312018
 

This is the third short form review 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 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. In this case, that finish is accomplished in French oak casks which once held (or werepreviously seasoned with”, whatever that means) White Port from the Douro valley in north-west Portugal.

ColourAmber

Strength as labelled – 43%

Strength as measured (RumShopBoy) – 40.6%

NoseAt first there didn’t seem to be much of anything there, it was so mild as to be lightly flavoured alcohol. But after some minutes it got into gear and revved up some, with a solid core of light brown sugar, molasses, salt caramel, some sweet soya. Not much deep fruitiness here, just light grapefruit, bananas and nuttiness, and sweet white chocolate.

PalateI came back to this one rum over and over again, thinking it was me, that this weak-kneed profile was palate fatigue or something, but no, there really wasn’t much to talk about both at the beginning of the tasting session, or at the end. There was citrus, toffee, chocolate, caramel, brine, bananasall the hits from the nosesome vanilla and breakfast spices, and if there was more, I certainly couldn’t get it (which may be my problem, not yours). More subtlety than force here.

FinishBetter: nice and dry, a combination of sweet and tart and salt all at once. Restrained oakiness, vanilla, nutmeg, citrus peel, and the nuttiness remains consistently noticeable and in the background throughout.

ThoughtsWell, it’s subtle all rightso much so that it actually felt watered down. Weakest of the bunch for me. If ever there was a case to be made for moving to higher proofs in some rums, this one is a good example of why. I have to point you to Simon’s review here, because he was much more enthusiastic than I was, so for balance, read his notes.

(#531)(76/100)


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:

Jun 242018
 

Tasting the Mezan XO is best done by trying it in conjunction with other rums of its strength (about 40%) because it’s a deceptively mild and seemingly reticent sort of productso if you taste it with some stronger drinks, it falters. It coyly presents as a weak and diffident product, and it’s only after sticking with it for a while that its attributes snap gel more clearly and you realize how good it really is. I started out thinking it was simply too mild and too little was going on there, but by the end of the session I was a lot more appreciative of its quality.

Mezan is an independent bottler out of the UK, formed by a gent named Neil Matthieson who ran a spirits distribution company since the 1980s and used it as the parent company for Mezan in 2012 (he is the managing director of both). Following the usual route for an independent, they source barrels of various rums from around the world and bottle them in limited editions. However, in the XO they have opted for issuing a blend of rums from Jamaicanot from single distillery, but from several, and The Fat Rum Pirate notes it as having two components from Worthy Park and Monymusk (there are others, unidentified) and Steve James over at the Rum Diaries blog wrote that he heard that the youngest part of the blend is four years old. I myself was told by a rep that all components of the blend were in the 18-24 months range, but that might have been just for the rum from my batch number (#4997). I’d suggest ageing is continental.

According to Matt in his longform essay about the XO, Mr. Matthieson prefers to bottle at a strength in the low forties. This has both positive and negative aspectsit becomes more accessible to people not used to cask strength rums, but at the price for the enthusiasts of weakening its clarity. The nose of the XO makes this clearit’s nice and aromaticbut thin, very thin. Sure, there are notes of pot still funkiness, brine, olives, dunder, rotten fruit, some plasticit’s just that they’re faint and light and too wispy. That delicacy also permits the alcohol forward note to be more dominant than would otherwise be the case, and it presents more as something spicy and raw, than a delicate and nuanced rum.

The palate permits the low strength to come into its own, however. Once one waits a while and allows oneself to get used to it, the flavours become quite a bit more distinct (though they remain light). Esters, overripe bananas and some nail polish to begin with, moving into a smorgasbord of rather light sweetness, plastic, brine, citrus and green applesa sort of combination of fruits both fresh and “gone off”. Somehow this all works. And I think that the rum deserves a second and a third sip to pry out the nuances. The finish is no great shakes, short and sharp and spicy with more crisp fruits and brine, but so quick that the memory one is left with is more of a young and feisty rum than a seriously aged one.

Certainly the overall impression one is left with is of a young blend, possessing enough complexity to warrant more careful consideration. No need to mix this if you don’t want to, it’s decent as is, as long as chirpy young Jamaicans are your thing. As a Jamaican representative rated against the pantheon of better known and perhaps more impressive rums, though, it reminds me more of young and downmarket Appletons or J. Wray offerings than anything more upscale.

What makes the rum a standout is its price. Retailing in the UK at around £30 and of a reasonably plentiful outturn, it’s clear that the XO is an inexpensive way to get into the Jamaican style. There’s a lot of noise online the estate-specific rums like Monymusk, Clarendon, New Yarmouth, Worthy Park and Hampden (and that’s aside from Appleton itself), but not everyone always wants to pay the price for cask strength bruisers or indie bottlings that are so distinctly focused. When it comes to an affordable, living-room strength blended rum that is middle-of-the-road funky and estery and works well as both a sipping drink or an ingredient into something more complicated, the Mezan Jamaican XO may be a very good place to start, no matter how you like drinking it. And at the very least, it won’t unduly dent your wallet if your own opinion turns out to be less than stellar.

(#523)(82/100)

May 292018
 

#517

Writing about the Milroy Jamaican 26 year old, I rather sourly remarked that there was absolutely nothing to go on regarding the provenance of the rum. No such issue afflicts the 1988 edition of the El Dorado 25 year old rum, which is one of the most recognized premiums ever made. Even increased competition from other Caribbean (or independent) makers has done little to dull its lustre….except among the cognoscenti, who wouldn’t rinse their glencairns with it.

Which, for the uninitiated, seems somewhat extreme. After all, just look at the stats: bottled at 43%, and it’s a true 25 year old rumnobody has ever put a dent in DDL’s age statementsmade by one of the most famous brands in the rumiverse, using the near legendary stills in a masterful assembly: various sources note that the marques of EHP (wooden coffey), PM (double wooden pot still), AN (French Savalle Still) are all part of the blend, and while there is some variation from batch to batch, overall the rum remains remarkably consistent.

So what’s the issue? Well, by now, anyone who has read about DDL’s El Dorado rums isor should beaware that they practice dosing. That is, the addition of caramel syrup or sugar or whatever, in order to smoothen it out and make it more sippable, more elegant, more rounded. This is of course never acknowledged or noted on the label, and it took private hydrometer tests to ascertain that the El Dorado 25 YO 1980 version had around 50g/L of adulterants, and the El Dorado 25 YO 1986 around 39 g/L (I don’t have specs on the 1988). These additions certainly do their duty admirablythe rum is smooth, quiet, an awesome after-dinner sip. But there’s no free lunch in this world, and the price that is paid for that sippability is a muted profilea muffled, muddled, addled, over-sweetened mess that obscures the high points of a rum that old.

Nosing it makes it clear right off the bat. It’s slightly heated, fat and roundedalmost thickly aromatic. The dusky notes of anise and caramel, molasses, coconut and bananas are evident, but just barely. With some effort and concentration, raisins, apricots and prunes can be sensedalmost. It feels toned down, and that’s not just a function of the relatively low strength, but also the suppressive nature of the dosage. And even on the nose the sweetness is self-evident.

This leads to a palate that is, at best, indeterminateat worst it’s a travesty of what a rum aged for twenty five years should be. I spent half an hour sipping this rum in an attempt to take it apart, provide better tasting notesand at the end, all I came up with was vanilla, toffee, molasses and licorice. There were some white chocolate and coffee notes. Vague flowers. Fleshy fruits, very ripe oranges, faint faint faint. And over it all was the sweetness and liqueur-like nature of the whole tasting experience which was simply too much. What this also did was to make the finish practically nonexistent. It was blattened flat by a sort of cloying syrupy-ness, and no subtle tastes really emerged to make the close an enjoyable one.

If you think that this review of the ED-25 is relatively moderate and temperateor even blandyou’re quite right, so let me provide some extra personal details: the day I tasted this thing I was hopping mad with it inside of five minutes, and the very first notes in my book started out “Oh for f**k’s sake!! I wanted to write an R-rated review. I wanted to eviscerate it with foul language that would make a Mudland porknocker cringe. And eventually, I had to write this review four times from scratch lest my disappointed fury bleed too much into the narrative.

And I’ll tell you why I was so pissed offbecause I know there’s better under the hood of this deliberately triple-locked supercar. Because you can sense the quality, the brilliance of what could have been, lurking underneath the dreckbut are kept away from it by a freakin’ wall of additives neither asked for nor wanted, but which it was felt necessary to inflict. Because I’ve eaten labba and drunk creek water and want more out of the country. Because I know DDL can do, and has done, better. It’s like the Little Caner dumping on a school test because he was too lazy to study even though he knew the material inside out. And like his results when he pulls this crap, were they to be given, the ED-25 (1988) doesn’t deserve to be rated. I’m that incensed.

So I’m not going to score this rum. What’s the point? Those who want a five hundred dollar hooch with a cool presentation and excellent age won’t care enough to read this; those who despise dosage and adulteration in any form will never spring the coin, and the more knowledgeable folks in the middle know there’s better out there for lesssometimes even from El Doradoand will be neither surprised nor appreciative. I’m going to suggest that if you want a smooth, sweet, well-aged rum and can get it for free as part of a tasting or a sample set, then by all means, go for it. Want to impress people who know nothing about rum, here’s one to wow their socks off. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

(Unscored)


Other notes

In the days after this post got shared on FB, it got a remarkable amount of traction in the comment section, especially in Rum Club Canada and The Ministry of Rum. Most agreed, and others were, I imagine, amused by the idea of the Caner losing his temper.

May 132018
 

#511

The El Dorado 12 Year Old is something of an econo-budget kind of rum, lacking both the price tag and the relative quality of its upscale brothers the 15 and 21 year old. It’s a rum often overlooked in people’s enjoyment of the those two, and with good reasonit lacks much of what makes the 15 worth drinking, and is only a minor step up from the 8 year old, or even the very nice 3 year old white, both of which are cheaper. Nowadays, I usually pass it by, but the thing is referred to so often by the young, the curious, and the newcomers, that I wanted to check it out again.

What makes it less of a drink than any of the other rums noted above yet better value for money than even DDL’s 25 Year Olds is its relative simplicity. It derives partly from the Enmore wooden coffey still, and the dominant part is the SVW marque which implies the metal two column coffey still at Diamond, nothing too special there. And while it’s been aged, it just doesn’t have any of the true complexity which we see lurking behind the dosage in the 15 or 21 — that adulteration does serious damage to the profile by muffling the flavours that do exist like a wet blanket. Add to that a drowsy sort of 40% strength and you’re not really left with much that a person who likes clean and distinct tastes would truly enjoy and recommend in these days of stern 60% behemoths.

Consider the way it begins, on the nose: it has aromas redolent of butterscotch, caramel, prunes and raisins, with very little edge or bite or sharpness. It’s warm to inhale, and after opening up, it gets a little more heated and a little licorice and darker fruity notes emergeor try to. It feels really muffled, somehow, and the thing is, while quite pleasant, it lacks real complexity and is almost simple; even here, at this preliminary stage, it doesn’t take much experience with “clean” rums to suspect that something has been added to make it this way.

Such thoughts continue on the palate, where the feeling becomes the obvious. So, it’s sweet, warm, yet oddly thin too (that’s the 40% talking, I suppose). Caramel, some weak molasses and butterscotch remain the core flavours, and the fruits (prunes, peaches, pineapple) are making a fast exitwhat is left is mostly crisper spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, plus oak and some leather and a last despairing gasp of anise. The pervasiveness of caramel becomes a heavy blanket silencing all but the sharpest notes, and while this is precisely what makes it such an appreciated intro-rum to those on a shoestring and with an interest, for anyone who’s had more than ten decent rums, it falls down. The finish remains the weakest point of the rum, hardly worth remarking onthin, quick, and you really have to concentrate to make out anything beyond caramel and damp brown sugar. Perhaps a last shake from the spice jar, if you try hard.

Seen at a remove of nearly ten years, I still remember why I liked it and why new entrants to rum recommend it so often (there’s a recent review post on reddit that rates it 87). But what it showcases is rather more potential and maybe even wishful thinking than reality. It teases without coming through, it bluffs with a lone pair and is upstaged by its brothers up and down the line.

I noted above that it may be better value for money than the 25 YO and 50th Anniversary halo rums. Leaving aside the pure price differential it’s primarily a matter of those rums being incremental quality increases per geometrically more bucks spent. For sure you can taste the underlying structural assembly of the 25s (any one, 1980, 1986 or 1988) in a way the 12 can’t hope to match, but the adulteration blunts the impact of all equally, and what’s left after that’s factored in is simply that the 12 is a better buy for the coin you shell out if you don’t have much of it.

Although I bought the 12 thinking of it as a candidate for the Key Rums series, now I don’t believe it belongs on that listit does not stand as an honest blend on its own merits and too much back-end crap has been added to it. The rum rests on its laurels as a great rum of Yesteryear in the memories of its older adherents, rather than being a poster boy for innovation and quality in the Now.

However, let’s be honestmy disparaging notes here are made from the perspective of a person who has tried several hundreds of rums from across the spectrum, not as a guy who’s just starting out and has four or five little rumlets in the drinks cupboard. On the basis of using the 12 as an introductory spirit, I’m equallyif paradoxicallycomfortable asserting that for anyone who wants a cheap starter rum to get familiar with the Guyanese stills, which may one day ripen into a full blown love affair with PM, EHP, ICBU or VSG marques on their own (and at cask strength), then the 12 may just be a good place to startand then move away from at top speed.

(72/100)


Other notes

Various measurements confirm 35-39 g/L of additives, probably caramel.

May 052018
 
Enmore 1988 1

Photo (c) Barrel-Aged-Mind

Rumaniacs Review # 077 | 0508

The 1988 Enmore vintage has quite a lot of siblings from the same year: Berry Brothers, Bristol Spirits, Compagnie des Indes, the Whisky Agency, Rum Cask and Silver Seal have all issued rums from that year, with varying ages and qualitiessome more and better, some less and less. But all are variations on a theme, that of the Enmore wooden still from Guyana now housed at Diamond, and perhaps only rum geeks with their laser-like focus bother to get them all in an effort to write a dense analysis of the finest, most minute differences. This one is, to my mind, one of the better oneseven though it’s likely that this is not from the Enmore wooden coffey still, but the Versailles single wooden pot still (see other notes below).

ColourDark blonde

Strength – 51.9%

NoseYummy. Surprisingly light at first nosing, then develops some heft and complexity after a few minutes, so don’t rush into it. Coffee, petrol, wax notes at first, opening up into oak, fruits, anise, olives, prunes, dates and not-so-sweet fruits and molasses. It’s deceptive, because at first it doesn’t seem like much, and then it just keeps coming and providing more and more aromas. Just because it starts quiet and unobtrusive sure doesn’t mean it ends up that way.

PalateCoffee, oak, fruitiness, some toffee, wax and shoe polish open the show, as well as being briny and with olives galore plus a little bit of sour creamthese come out a little bit at a time and meld really well. Lemon zest, coconut and background anise notes develop as it opens up (this is definitely one you want to take your time with). It’s crisp and clear, skirtingthinby a whisker, yet even so, satisfactorily rich, tart, creamy and flavourful. There’s a even a wisp of molasses lurking in the background which is quite pleasant. It’s warm, well-balanced, and pretty much under control the whole time.

Finish – 51.9% is a good strength: it allows the finish to go without hurry, as it heads for a creamy, briny, lemony and licorice-like exit, with perhaps some coffee grounds and bitter chocolate wrapping up the whole experience in a bow.

ThoughtsTwo years ago I rated it 89 points in Paris. This time around, trying it with a few other Enmores (including the DDL Rare First Batch Enmore 1993), I felt it remained an excellent product, even though it slipped just a little in the company it kept. But just a smidgen, within the margin of error, and it remains a great exemplar of the wooden stills and the country that no-one would ever be ashamed to own, and to share.

(88/100)


Other Notes

  • The label states the rum derives from the Single Wooden Pot Stillbut that’s not the Enmore (which is thefiling cabinetshaped wooden coffey continuous still) but the Versailles. Luca has confirmed elsewhere that it is Versailles (which means the label is a misprint), and I’ve been told that several of the 1988s share this confusionwhich likely arose because while this still originated in Versailles, it was moved variously to Enmore and Uitvlugt, before finding its final home in Diamond (DDL Website)
  • The translation of the Italian on the back label notes that the rum is aged in Europe (continental).
Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer. They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier. It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever madeit’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the startdeep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts wellsalty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke. All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being soundedbut underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old. It left meuneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested itand the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle). But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows aboutso why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend? Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash? I mean, wtf, right?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives). It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy. Jaded rumistas will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-downtoo well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.” Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decentbut only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicornwhich probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
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, was one of these. It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XOwhich can be found practically everywhere and is known around the worldbut 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 ruma 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 exceptionalthough 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 assembledbut 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 underperfomingmore 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 rightthe 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)

Jan 282018
 

#483

The History Collection 1715 “Isle de FranceCuvée Spéciale, in spite of being made from cane juice, reminded me rather more of an El Dorado rum than a true agricole, and with the History Collection’s 1814 “MauritiusCuvée Grande Reserve we’re looking at today, similar thoughts occurred to mealbeit about a different country. Perhaps that’s the marker of a rum that lingers in the mind and titillates the sensesit reminds you of something, but pinning it down proves elusiveand then it turns out to be quite a distinct product in its own right, as this one is.

So, that said, and similarities aside, it’s instructive to assess the achievement of St. Aubin in producing a rhum thateven at 40% — was no slouch to sample: it had the same rich and fruity aromas of the Isle de France, brown sugar, cherries in syrup, pineapple, peaches, apricots, vanilla, and to distinguish it from its sibling (perhaps), also a series of coffee and musty, sawdust-y, cereal-y back-end notes. Sprinkled with raspberries. What with a hint of chocolate in there someplace, I was actually moving away from comparing the nose to an El Dorado, and relocating myself to Colombia, know what I mean? This thing was like a crisper Dictador 20 with just enough of the agricole background shimmering through to provide a clue as to its origins.

The nose told a tale that would be repeated right down the line, and what I smelled was pretty much what I tasted, with a few variations here and there. It was light and clean, yet displaying darker, muskier spicier notes as well: vanilla, coffee, licorice and some sharp tannins, with the musty long-disused-attic tastes remaining. Some fruitspeaches and cherries for the most partstayed in the background. The core was anise and sawdust and unsweetened chocolate, and overall it presented as somewhat dry. Quite niceif it fell down at all it was in the finish, which was more licorice and chocolate, thin tart fruits (gooseberries perhaps) and after a few hours, it took on a metallic tang of old ashes doused with water that I can’t say I entirely cared for.

Some background. The date on the bottle (1814) relates to the the Treaty of Paris signed at the end of the Napoleonic Wars by the warring nations of Europe, and it was this treaty which gave Guadeloupe back to France (it had been ceded to Sweden (!!) for a while), but which also formally confirmed Mauritius to be a colony of Great Britain (who had held it since 1810). I was informed that the rhum is cane juice based, 30% pot still 10 year old from 2004, and 70% column still (stored for six years in an inert inox tank), — which therefore does not makes the rum a 10 year old in spite of the bottling in 2014, and so I have had to retitle and amend this post, after checking with St. Aubin directly. Oh and there are 5218 bottles in the outturn, so probably enough for anyone who wants one to get one.

As noted on the Ile de France, by the way, you should expect some dosing here (caramel and “natural flavours”, not sugar, I was informed), and that’s evident after some switching back and forth between a true agricole and this onenot enough to mess it up, but noticeable enough after a while. On the plus side it gentles the whole experience down a mite, makes it smoother and quieter and more sippable for those who like softer profiles to their rums (plus of course, sweeter ones); on the negative side it dampens and mutes a profile which doesn’t really need that kind of tamperingit’s good enough as it stands. Underneath the muffling effect of the caramel addition, you can sense what it was and what was there, but it’s like listening to music underwaterthe full impact and effect of the symphony is lost. And that’s a shame because I’d be much more interested to see what it was like when purebased on the quality of what I was sampling, that was probably quite something.

(84/100)


Other notes

As stated above, current versions of the rum are only partly 10 years old, although the components remain the same as older onesthe 10 YO pot still component replaces the 7 YO portion. The label on the bottle I was sold was an older one which is now being changed to eliminate the age statement. So even if your label says 7, you’re not precisely getting that.

Jan 212018
 

#481

The current focus on the Caribbean’s rums to some extent obscures interesting developments taking place elsewherefor example the new Madeira rum from Rum Nation, French Guiana’s Toucanand rums from St. Aubin in Mauritius, which are not particularly new, but certainly lack wider appreciation, perhaps because they don’t make it to the festival circuit as much as others do. Anyway, this rum, the Isle de France 1715-2015 is part of their “History Collection”, bottled at 40% for a wider commercial market, and commemorates the year of establishment of French rule over Isle de France for the French East India Companyprior to that it was named L’Ile Maurice, and was a haven for pirates, smugglers and the all-round lawless (in which it parallels the Caribbean, maybe) from whom all of us low-rent rum reviewers claim descent when in our cups.

According to my email exchanges with the company, the rhum was produced from the harvest of 2005, and is a blend of two rhumspot still (30%) aged ten years aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and column still (70%) stored in inert inox tanks; both distillates deriving from cane juice . As a further note, although sugar was explicitly communicated to me as not being added, caramel and “natural aromas” wereso some variation from the pure is to be expected and I don’t doubt that hydrometer tests will show the dosage.

Certainly the caramel component was noticeable, and not just in the colour, which was quite darkalmost mahogany. The nose presented with sweet toffee notes almost immediately, and what was remarkable about it was also the surprising richness of it allfruity to a fault, licorice, brown sugar, pineapple and peaches, balanced off (not entirely successfully) with oak and bitter chocolate. The rhum smelled sweet, like overripe oranges and bubble gum and that to some extent was intriguingjust somewhat overpowering after a while.

Fortunately it smelled more saccharine than it tasted. The palate was quite good, rather dry, and much more robust than I had been expecting from a standard strength productsweetish, yes, also containing coconut shavings, pineapple, more peaches, light citrus, caramel and chocolate, coffee grounds, nougat, andthis is where I felt it falteredalso too much vanilla. The oak took a backseat here, the bitterness of the nose not so much in evidence and the finish was warm, short with bubble gum, licorice and dry, woody notes that were pleasant, just disappeared too swiftly.

Overall, this is quite a pleasant rhum, and strangely enough, given its cane-juice antecedents, it reminded me a lot of the El Dorado rums, particularly the 12 year old, where the dosage was also quite obvious; and it’s somewhat of a kissing cousin to the El Dorado 15 year old with respect to its panoply of flavours, specifically the licorice and chocolate. I think that attempts may have been made to emulate some of the high ester profile of the Savanna rums without blatantly ripping them off, and the dosage smoothened things out and provided some balance. At end, it’s a perfectly respectable mid-tier rum which is likely to find great favour in North America, perhaps less so in Europe.

History always fascinates me, so a few details here: the Domaine de St. Aubin, named after the first sugar cane mill established by Pierre de St. Aubin in 1819 or thereabouts, is located in the extreme south of Mauritius in the Rivière des Anguilles, and has been cultivating cane since that yearhowever the date of first distillation of spirits is harder to pin downit’s likely within a few decades of the original opening of the sugar factory (there are records of the Harel family starting a distillery which is now New Grove in the 1850s; they also make the Lazy Dodo brand which I waxed lyrical about last year). In the late 1960s the Franco-Mauritian Guimbeau familywho made their fortune in the tea trade for which Mauritius is also renownedacquired the estate and retained the name, and gradually developed a stable of rums produced both by a pot still (which produces what they term their “artisanal” rums) and a relatively recent columnar still for larger volume agricoles.

It’s a personal opinion of mine that alongside St. Lucia and Reunion, Mauritius is another one of those undiscovered countries we should be watching. Every day we read about the Jamaicans, Guyanese and Bajans; we regularly get another release from the famous rhum makers out of Martinique and Guadeloupe; and we kinda wish we could get more from St. Vincent and Grenada and other smaller Caribbean islands to round out the area, sure. However, let that not blind you to treasures made on the other side of Africa, on this small, rather-off-the-beaten-track island. Chamarel, New Grove, Penny Blue and Lazy Dodo rums are all good products, enlarging the scope of what rums arebut my advice is, don’t ignore the St Aubin rums either, because however middling my notes are, they have some pretty interesting wares, and deserve a good hard look by those who want something different and tasty, yet also not too far removed from the profiles of better known rums. It’s just close enough to more familiar products to evince a nod of appreciation and vague recall, while being a memory that remains tantalizingly elusive “Tastes oddly familiar,” I wrote after sampling the Cuvée Spéciale, “But damned if I remember precisely which one.” And that’s exactly as it should be.

(83/100)

Dec 212017
 

#472

The question that arises in my mind when I try something from Foursquare at standard strength is whether it would be better stronger, or whether it succeeds on its own merits as it stands. Long time readers of this site (both of you, ha ha) will know of my indifference to the Doorly’s XO, the R.L. Seale’s 10 YO and the Rum 66 12 Year Old, but ever since Alex over at Master Quill glowingly endorsed the Doorly’s 12 YO (and noted he didn’t buy the XO because of my review), I’ve been curious how it would fareespecially when compared with the Exceptional Cask series like the Zinfadel, Port and Criterion, let alone those amazing Habitation Velier collaborations.

The Doorly’s brand was acquired by Foursquare in 1993, and it’s possible that the emergence of the El Dorado 15 YO the year before (it was one of the first aged premium rum brands regularly and plentifully issued by a major house) might have had something to do with that; and much of Mr. Seale’s blending philosophy and barrel strategy made famous by Foursquare’s more recent rums is still demonstrated in the Doorly’s lineup, though I feel it’s currently being overshadowed by the Exceptionals, relegating it to something of an also-ran in a connoisseur’s cabinet. It’s a blend of pot and column still rum, some 90% of which was aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and 10% in Madeira casks (12 years in each). The final result is married for a short time (no details on how long) and then bottled.

I think that a lot of how you approach this rum and finally rate it will depend on where you stand regarding rums as a whole, and where you are in your personal journey. You like the Jamaican and Guyanese, or high power whites, or 55% agricoles? This might strike you as subtler, quieter, perhaps even bland. Prefer cask strength rums made by the indies, or Foursquare themselves? This one is likely to leave you frustrated at the untapped potential that never quite emerges. On the other hand, if growling ABV monsters and fierce pungency are not your thing, it would probably appeal in spades, be deemed a damned fine rumand indeed, it is well regarded and held in high esteem by many, as a result of dialling into precisely those coordinates.

Well, let’s taste it and find out, then. Nose first: it was a clear, quiet smelling experience, a stripped-down blunted Swiss army knife of almost-sharp twittering flavours led by a buttery salt caramel, burnt sugar, a bit of soft citrus (oranges rather than lemons), unripe cherries, pomegranate, cinnamon and nutmeg. What sharpness there was seemed to be more imparted by the wood, as it listed towards some oak influence, and maybe vanilla. Overall aromas were well integrated, and while for me it presented some of the same issues as the XOtoo thin, too faint, too delicateit wasn’t totally derailed by them either.

Having observed a frailty of the nose, I was prepared for something similar on the palate. Sampling it confirmed the matter: it remained weak and that seriously impaired the delivery of both texture and taste. Yet hang on, hold up a minuteit was reasonably complex and tasty too. It led off with clear caramel notes, vanilla, some brine, faint molasses, an olive or two. Also chocolate, bananas, indeterminate fruits, creamy salted butter, toffee, some oakiness for bite and finally the nutmeg and cinnamon returned for a quick twirl on the dance floor. So that part was pretty good. However, I was utterly unenthused by the quick finish, which seemed to be as wispy as a debutante’s handkerchief and provided nothing of consequenceoak, leather, a little tobacco and straw, more caramel and a vague winy note that intrigued but was gone way too quick. Sorry, but that finish was a big yawn-through….I blinked and it was gone.

Everything about the rum seems to showcase the dialled-down approach that was in vogue ten years ago but has now been overtaken by events and developments in the larger rumworld. That it’s a well-made, serviceable, standard-proof rum for those who have never gone further (and don’t want to), I concede, no issues. It’s 12 years old, it has some subtleties and interesting tastes (the taste is quite good), goes well in a cocktail or solo, piques the interest and the palate nicely. What it lacks is panache, style, heft, clarity, intensity….it misses the mark on real character. It remains a rum of enduring popularity, of course, but leaves a deep core rum fun wondering wistfully what it might have been. And then turning to the Criterion to find out.

(81/100)


Other notes

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 goodactually, 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 linethis 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 longerall 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, immenselyit 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)

Jul 192017
 

#378

No matter how many other estates or companies make and market Jamaican rum, it’s a fair bet that when it comes to recognition, Appleton has cornered the market in their own land, much like DDL has in Guyana, or how FourSquare is currently dominating Barbados. Recently I ran a few Appletons past each other (it’s one of the few decent rums one can get in the rum wasteland that is Toronto), and while the 21 year old, Master Blender’s Legacy and 30 year old are not on sale there, the rebrandedRare Blend” 12 year old was.

Re-tasting the rum after a gap of some eight years was eye-opening. My first encounter with it as a reviewer was back in 2009 and the short, unscored essay #5 came out in January 2010. Things have changed in the intervening yearsmy palate developed, tasting became more nuanced, preferences underwent alterationsand from the other side, the rum and the bottle were worked over. It was not the same rum I tried back then, nor like older versions from the 1980s and 1970s. But what was not so evident to me then and which is clear to me now, is that the Appleton 12 year old rum in all its iterations over the years, is one of the core rums of the island and the style, a sort of permanent marker that almost defines “Jamaica rum”. If one ever asks me in the future, what rum from there should one get first, or which rum should serve as a cornerstone of the Jamaican shelf, I’m going to point at it and say, “That one.”

This is because of its overall solidity of its assembly. Consider how the nose presented, warm, just short of sharp, well constructed and pleasantly complexit started with molasses, bananas, cream cheese, brine and dates, some citrus, cinnamon and apples just starting to go. It provided a little oak (not much), and some tar, anise, vanilla and brown sugar, all very tightly and distinctly constructedan excellent representation of everything Appleton stumbles a little on with their younger iterations, and which they amp upnot always as successfullyin the older ones.

The real key to capturing the rum’s essence is is the taste. How it feels in the mouth, how it develops over time. The palate is not particularly different from what one sensed on the nose, and I don’t think that was the intentionwhat it did was consolidate the gains made earlier, and build gently upon them, to provide a sipping experience that is a great lead-in to new drinkers wanting something upscale, without disappointing the hard core whose taste buds are more exacting. It was smooth and velvety, the characteristic Jamaican funk present and accounted for (without actually becoming overbearing). Salty caramel ice cream, stewed apples, citrus, cinnamon, gherkins in brine, vanilla and tannins for a little edge (perhaps a shade too much, but I wasn’t complaining). After some time one could sense the background of rotting bananas, some herbals and perhaps a whiff of dill. The finish, while short, was warm and mellow, and gave up a last whiff of dates, caramel, more brine, and overall I’d say the rum was not overly complex, but the balance between the various components simply could not be faulted. That’s what makes it a good all-round mid-tier rum.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the 12 is a fantastic 95-pointer on par with or better other exceptional Jamaicans which I have scored high in the past. It’s not. It lacks their individuality, their uniqueness, their one-barrel dynamism and exacting natures, so no, it’s not that. What makes it special and by itself almost be able to serve as a stand-in for a whole country’s rums, is that it encapsulates just about everything one likes about the island at once without shining at any one thing in particular or pissing anyone off in general. It’s a rum for Goldilocks’s little bearit’s not too hot and not too passive; not too massively funky, yet not too dialled-down either; no one aroma or taste dominates, yet the final product is of a remarkably high standard overall, self-evidently, almost emphatically, Jamaican. Best of all, it’s affordable for what it provides, and I consider it one of the best price-to-quality rums currently extant. In short, while it may not be the best rum ever made in Jamaica, it remains a quiet classic on its own terms, and one of the key rums in any rum lover’s cabinet.

(84/100)

May 162017
 

Rumaniacs Review #041 | 0441

Note: The initial full length review can be found in the main reviews section.

Everyone knows about the 50 year old rum which Appleton pushed out the door a few years ago. Not only because of the age, which they touted asthe oldest rum evereven though that was patently untrue, but because of the stratospheric price, which even now hovers around the US$4500 mark (give or take). I’m not sure if they still make itit was specifically commissioned for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence in 1962, so I suspect it was an 800-bottle one-off halo-issuebut that price alone would make many take a really jaundiced view of the thing. To their detriment, I believe, because having tasted it five times now, I can say with some assurance that it is still one of the very best rums Appleton ever made.

ColourMahogany with red tints

Strength – 45%

NoseThe smell opens the vault of my memories, of Jamaica, of the stately progression of other Appletons rums over the years, of the times I tried it before. Initial notes of glue, fading fast; then honey (I always remember the honey), eucalyptus oil, toffee, caramel, rich milk chocolate with rye bread and cream cheese, developing slowly into luscious candied oranges, molasses and burnt sugar. Some of that vegetable soup I noted from the 20 year old ceramic jug is here as well, much subdued. What woodiness that exists is amazingly well controlled for something this old (a problem the 30 year old had).

PalateThe dark richness purrs down the throat in a sort of warm, pleasant heat. Burnt brown sugar and wek molasses, caramel, toffee, nougat and nutty toblerone chocolate, a flirt of coffee. More fruits emerge than the nose had hinted at, and provide a pleasing contrast to the more creamy, musky flavours: grapes, bananas, apricots, pineapples. Then cinnamon, more honey, some cheese. Oakiness again well handled, and a sort of leather and smoke brings up the rear. I sometimes wonder how this would taste at 55%, but even at 45%, the rum is so very very good.

FinishMedium long, a fitting close to the proceedings. Mostly bananas, molasses, a little pineapple, plus a last dollop of caramel. And honey.

ThoughtsStill a wonderful rum to sip and savour. Sadly, too expensive for most. Those who can afford a whole bottle are unlikely to be into the rum world as much as we are, but whoever has it, I hope they’re sharinggenerously.

(89/100)

The other Rumaniacs have also written about the rum, and their reviews are in the usual spot.

May 152017
 

Rumaniacs Review #040 | 0440

As with the 12 year old ceramic jug, I don’t think that Appleton is exaggerating in the slightest when they call this aRare Old Jamaican Rum,” – at the time it was issued in the 1960s or 1970s they might have been hyping the product a tad, but now? Not likely. Still, you can actually find it if you’re prepared to pay Masters of Malt, who name this a 1970s era rum, the £700 it costs. And that’s more than the Longpond 1941 fetches these days. I must confess that for an aged artifact bottled (orjugged”) at a mouth-watering, drool-worthy twenty years old, I’m tempted. Consider tooat that age, it means at the very latest it had to have been distilled in 1959, and very likely earlier than that, and what lover of historical rums wouldn’t want to try that?

ColourAmber

Strength – 43%

NosePure tamed Jamaican, with elements of the profile being showcased, but not strong or violent enough to put one offa Trenchtown Rasta in a Savile Row suit, if you will. Rolling waves of salt and sweet, bananas, pineapple, chocolate and coffee, with caramel and toffee hastening to catch up from the rear. Some tobacco and smoke, a touch of vanilla, honey, anise, and very strong black tea. There’s a persistentif faintbackground odour of vegetable soup in here, both the veg and the soya. Really.

PalateMore of that dialled down bad boy attitude, nicely integrated into a profile that starts withdirt”. By which I mean a sort of loamy, earthy, vegetable taste (far from unpleasant, I hasten to add), rye bread, cumin, garam massala, molasses, and oh, a lovely clear line of florals and citrus. Did I mention the vegetable soup? All wrapped up in a bow with the usual dessert menu of salted caramel and vanilla ice cream. And as an aside, it’s quite rich and intenseIt may be jugged at 43% but it sure feels more powerful than that.

FinishFalls down here after the high point of tasting it. It just fades too damn quick, and for some inexplicable reason, the wood starts to take on an unhealthy dominance. Salted caramel, brine, olives,, breakfast and cooking spices, and a twist of licorice. All very faint and too watered down.

ThoughtsIt’s actually very different from the younger Appletons, the 12 year old jug, or the older 21 year old. Points of greatness are unfortunately ameliorated by weakness and an increasing lack of balance over the hours spent comparing it to all the others. In short, somewhat of a Shakespearean tragedypotential and hubris being brought low by inherent flaws. Though even with all that, it leaves me somewhere closer to praising the rum than coming to bury it.

(86/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews of this rum can be found on the website, here. Note that Serge was enthralled with it, while Marco was much more disapproving.