Feb 162024
 

“Oh wow!” I wrote with a sort of delighted and startled surprise when first nosing Archie Rose’s 40% white rum they called White Cane. I had not tried anything from the distillery beforeindeed, I knew very little about itbut the rich and oily scent of a mechanic’s shop fumigated with vanilla flavoured acetones was really not what I had expected as an opening salvo. And it didn’t stop there, because the seeming light ‘n’ easy aromas it started out with contained quite a bit more oomph than was initially apparentonce it opened it up it was brine, olives, ripe and watery fruits, lots of pears and papaya, figs and persimmons, even a hint of caramel and some sweet yet tart apple cider. The nose displayed a thickness and depth that was quietly impressiveone does not often see this kind of profile in a standard proof rum very often.

Putting down my glass, I looked curiously at the sample label. Who was is this outfit? What was behind the name? Was it a left-handed nod to WW1 ack-ack fire, maybe, or a hat tip to Riverdale and the comics? An old but forgotten relative, perhaps, or a gone-to-seed second eleven cricket player from the past who nobody except the owners remembered?

Apparently not. Some references suggest that “Archie” was a slang word, a pseudonym for an underground distilling bootlegger at a time in the 1800s when the temperance movement was ascendant in Australia and distillation was illicit, if not quite illegal; and since the founder, Will Edwards established the distillery in its first location in Rosebery, an inner suburb of south Sidney, the name seemed a good fit. A more prosaic alternative is that the neighbourhood itself was named after an uninspiring and obscure 19th century British PM, Archibald Primrose, and the distillery took the contracted form of his name, so take your pick.

Anyway, it was apparently the first new distillery in the city since 1853 (one wonders what the previous one was) and comprised of several Italian made fermentation tanks (named after rappers), and three hand built gas-powered steam-boiler-heated 3600-litre pot stills made by Peter Bailey, who at the time was the country’s only still maker. It was mostly family financed, and sported a very good bar right next to the distillery to help make ends meet.

“White Cane” was and remains the company’s only unaged rum (there are some experimentals coming as well, however), and it’s interesting that they went with that name instead of the near universal “cane spirit” moniker everyone else has been using over there. The source cane came from Condong up in NSW just south of Brisbane, so the molasses likely originated from the Condong Sugar Mill, and the wash blended two kinds of molasseshigh test and B-gradefermented with two different yeasts for 4-16 days, then run through their main and pilot still at least twice, with part being “cold” (or vacuum) distilled.

That fermentation and complex distillation was probably why the taste, as well as the nose, had enough chops to excite some curiosity, if not outright enthusiasm. It presented like a crisp, tangy, citrus-like 7-up, with green apples, pineapples, ripe pears on the edge of going off, red grapes and a subtle bite of ginger. The nose, I felt, was better, but for the taste to be this interesting at 40% did demonstrate that the awards the rum won (three so far) was not mere happenstance or flinging medals at everything that turned up. The palate continued to provide subtle and almost delicate notes: white chocolate, crushed walnuts some mint, fennel, sweet coconut shavings and some faint mustier cardboard notes, leading to a short, easy, sweet and spicy finish redolent of cinnamon and ginger and papaya. Nice.

Names and origins aside, currently the distillery boasts five different rums (and fifteen whiskies, ten gins, four vodkas and various other alcoholic products, lest you err in thinking their focus is on the Noble Spirit). Their origin was, and remains primarily in, whisky, for which they have won oodles of awards, and boosted their cash flow so well that in 2020 they were able to float A$100 million financing to move to Banksmeadow, a few kilometres south of the original location, leaving Rosebery to be a sort of visitor’s area for tours, classes and other events. Two massive new pot stills were also installed allowing production to be significantly increased.

As always, there is the downside that such a wide variety of spirits production dilutes focus on any single one. Not something I can blame a distillery for, since making payroll, paying rent and expanding the business is what it’s about, but lessening the attention that can be paid to developing and improving one product. Clearly whisky is the core business and everything orbits that priority (my opinion); and we must be careful not to over-romanticize the myth of the Great Little Solo Distiller Working in Obscurity, since commercial enterprises do make good juice, and not always by accident or as throwaways. RecentHeavy Cane,” “Virgin Caneand other experimental rums Archie Rose is playing with point to a committed and interested distilling team that wants to do more than just make another supermarket rum.

The White Cane, even at 40%, is pretty good and that’s an endorsement I don’t give often. I think the panoply of tastesadmittedly delicate and occasionally too faint and hard to pick apartplay well together, don’t overstay their welcome or allow any one element to hog the show, and provide a nice drinking experience. Sometimes just as much work goes into an unaged spirit as an aged oneperhaps more since there’s no backstop of ageing to improve anything so what comes off the still had better be readyand it’s clear the distiller paid attention to the entire production process to provide both mixing and sipping chops. One can only hope the distillery expands the range and ups the proof, because then not only would it likely garner even more awards, but I’d be able to bug Steve Magarry yet again…to get me a whole bottle, not just a sample.

(#1058)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 7. This is Batch #2 from 2023. Batch #1 was introduced in 2022
  • Production notes from company webpage.
Feb 092024
 

We’ve met this distillery before, a mere hundred reviews or so ago. Founded by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall in 2016, they have slowly built quite a repertoire of spirits (he likes dark ones, she prefers light so maybe there’s some kind of Jack Sprat vibe going on here) – standard rums, white ones, spiced ones, the 2021 release of the 2-3 YO 55.5% Pure Single Rum I enjoyed and a brutal 63% “fire cane” I really want to try, plus gin, falernum, limoncello and vodka, which covers the bases nicely.

So here they are again, with a somewhat offbeat take on the Pure Single Rum, if not as strong. Because the background of the company is covered in that original review, I won’t rehash it here, except to note that the columnar still I mentioned then – 380L and six plateshas a name: Alba, which was the initial name of Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter before he renamed her Allegra. I enjoy these little winks that distillers make to some interesting aspect of their past or something that interests them, in the naming of their still, truly.

Photo (c) Lord Byron Distillery website

Anyway, about the rum: molasses based, using distiller’s yeast on a wash left for seven days in closed stainless vessels, then run through the two copper alembics (it’s double distilled), then matured a minimum of three years in ex-bourbon barrels sourced from Woodford Reservewhich if shy they can call it rum, and not a cane spirit. Of course, bearing in mind the sustainable, ecologically-friendly, zero-waste nature of their operation and commitment to making pure rums, it’s not chill filtered and additive free.

This is a rum that channels one of the more peculiar olfactory profiles I’ve yet come across- it reminds me something of some Japanese rums, especially kokuto shochus. It opens with an odd sort of earthy, mouldy, damp cellar aroma, and of wet, much-worn leather boots. Brine, olives and a vegetable soup with “plenty obstacles” and a fiery pimento for kick. There’s a sense of wet paint slapped onto decaying drywall, the bitter tang of roasting chestnuts (which I never cared for myself), plastic sheeting, and only at the end when all seems over and done with, do the shy tangy notes of ripe fruit emerge, some green apples, grapes, pears, that kind of thing. It’s an unusual nose and I’m unsure how well it would work at a heftier proof point, though I would have liked to see that one a bit more, I thinka lot of subtlety gets missed out on that, say, 43% or 46% might have shown off better.

This observation is apropos for the palate as well, which is quite crisp: and while not exactly clear or clean, is close enough not to offend while still being rather too mild for everything it apparently stuffs in its jock. It channels a hot, almost sour and spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with no shortage of lemongrass, salted butter melting in a pan, with olive oil and toasted rye bread coming behind that. Again the fruits take something of a back seat and only start becoming noticeable after the rum opens up, and even then there’s not a whole lot that one can easily pick out: lemon peel, fresh peaches, pears, some watermelon, more or less. But it does meld nicely into the whole, some of the dirty notes from the nose are absent, and the finish concludes things well: short, sharp, reasonably flavourful, all of it fading fast and acting like it just wants to bail.

Strictly speaking this is not my dram of grog. I’m not won over by the loamy and earthy notes at the beginning (the official site entry refers to “bourbon corn” as a tasting note) and aspects of the nose in particular don’t work for me; plus, as always, I have my issues with standard strengthit makes everything too mild which even a few additional points of proof might have showcased more effectively. Yet I can’t fault it for that, only admire the courage it must have taken to release the rum as it is, knowing it is something at right angles to more established profiles. So to conclude, Lord Byron’s rum showcases rather more potential than the sort of intense quality sported by the 55% 2018 Pure Single Rum they did before, and would seem to be aimed at the more easy going supermarket crowd who prefer more demure fare. The furious taste profile attendant on something stronger is missing, and the tastes will not be in everyone’s comfort zone: yet underneath all that, we see a much better rum is waiting to be appreciated, and now, having written my opinion, I think I’ll go back and try my sample a few more times. Let’s see if, after a few more hours, it delivers more concretely on what it promises.

Have a good weekend!

(#1056)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 13
Feb 012024
 

Cabarita Spirits is the Australian equivalent of Nine Leaves, or so I like telling myself, and Keri Algar, the Spanish-born New Zealander who is the owner, may live in one of the prettiest places on earth, close to Cabarita Beach in the Tweed Shire of New South Wales (Husk Distillers are also in the neighbourhood). Like Yoshi-san in Japan before he did a runner on us, she is also chief cook and bottle washer, to say nothing of the entire procurement department, sales force, accounting section, maintenance manager, head distiller, bottling line and managing director all rolled into one. No, really.

Photo (c) Cabarita Spirits, from the webpage

All kidding aside, Cabarita is a small distillery, conceived in 2019 after Keri was feeling glumpish about doing soulless work for The Man in perpetuity. “I was wonderinghow to be able to live on a Pacific Island in the possession of a small beachside rum bar without spending the next twenty years behind a desk, when it occurred to me that I might make rum, and that could be a means to my tropical dreams.” Starting with a rinky dink 25-litre still and a 25-litre fermenter and a lot of ideas led to two years of relentless self-education, distillery visits, sourcing equipment, and incredibly hard work and experimentation. Finally she ended up with a 230-litre copper pot still (handmade in Western Australia by HHH Distill), which she named Felix after her Spanish grandfather, who had worked as chemist in a sugar factory back in the day, and started commercial production with the usual unaged cane spirit (but oddly, no gin“I never cared for it” she sniffs). While the official name of the distillery is Cabarita Spirits, she chose a different name“Soltera”for its associations with being carefree and unbound, though she does admit that these days she’s actually never been less carefree or unbound, what with all the effort of holding down all these jobs and only getting paid for one. But there are no regrets.

The “Oro” (“gold”) rum barrel aged cane spirit which formed part of the 2023 advent calendar is her second edition of a slightly aged product. Released in that year, it derives from molasses (sourced from Condong Sugar Mill in northern NSW for the curious), has a 3-4 week open fermentation time using commercial yeast, run through Felix and then aged for eight months in an ex-bourbon barrique that was re-coopered to ~120L and charred with a medium burn. What comes out the other end is an almost-but-not-quite colourless 40% rum that really isn’t half bad. All that hard work and playing around, methinks, sure paid off.

Let’s start with how it smells: sweet, light and citrusy, channelling the sunshine of a spring morning where the slight nip of departing winter still lingers and the grass is wet with dew. There are notes of key lime pie (including a warm pastry), light florals, pineapples, bananas and kiwi fruit, old paper, and a sort of potpourri air freshener. Also the faintest hint of vanilla and caramel, damp earth and cashews, but held way back. Air freshener, potpourri. I like the youthful freshness of it, the delicacy backed up by a solid backbone of aged and varied aromas, and call me a romantic, but I see the owner in this one in a way I rarely do with others.

What I want to remark on as well, is the way the palate opens up over time. Initially it doesn’t taste like there’s too much going on (“too faint” I grumbled in my initial notes before crossing it out…twice) – laundry drying on the line, ginger, yoghurt, olive oil, caramel, citrus and pineapples (again). It takes effort to tease these notes out. Yet after five minutes, then ten, then half an hour, it turns bright and sparkling, and what in a lesser rum might be faint and wispy anonymous notes of zero distinction is transmuted somehow to a taste that’s really quite lovely. By the time I’m done, I’m scribbling about citrus, mangoes, laundry detergent and pastries and pouring another glass for Mrs. Caner to try and admiring the finish, which is longer and more crisp and tart than any standard strength rum has a right to be,

Admittedly I’m fonder of higher proof rums, so freely concede that, sure, yes, there could be more strength here (and my score reflects that): yet somehow the whole thing works well and it deserves its plaudits. Consider also the difference between what this is and what the disappointing Bayou White from last week was. There we had a sort of indifferent lowest-common-denominator commercial product made to sell and not to taste: it had about as much character as a sheet of saran wrap. Keri has not made a world beater here, noI’d be lying if I said thatbut she’s made a tasty rum with passion and drive and her own character stamped all over it. It’s a lovely little number, and a win in all the ways that matter.

(#1054)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 5
Jan 282024
 

Consider for a moment the distinctive bottle shape and sleek label design ethos of the Bayou Louisiana white rum. The crystal clear white and green1 motifs (call me an overly-visual imagineer if you will) hints at cane juice, grass, and sunshine and channels thoughts of a clean and tasty white rum in fine style. Just as well that this is all in my head because while the text tells you the usual stats, little of the images and sense of what they represent, is real.

The company making the rum is called Louisiana Spirits LLC: it was founded in 2011 by brothers Tim and Trey Litel and their friend Skip Cortes, with Bayou as their flagship brand in January 2013 (the idea had been floated in a duck blind). The chosen name was obvious (and survey-tested for its recognition factor, as if this were necessary), and back then the design had a ‘gator on it. By 2018 in a rebranding exercise it had been renamed “White” and the modern design had snapped into focus. The wag in me suggests that maybe more surveys were done but actually that’s when the SPI Group (the owners of Stoli vodka and headquartered in Luxembourg) who had already bought a majority stake in 2016, acquired all the remaining shares and took over. Some still tout it as being the largest privately owned rum distillery in the US, which I guess depends on how you look at it and where the private hands are.

Anyway, the production details: those are scanty. The label says it’s made from molasses and “sugar cane” (what does that mean, I wonder?); the company website notes the molasses as being blackstrap, provided by a family-owned sugar mill in Louisiana, M.A. Patout and Sons (whose centuries-old history is quite interesting in its own right), yet don’t seem to have any interest in making cane juice rums in the one state which has oodles of cane fields in close proximity. They have a pot still. They blend. The white rum supposedly rests for forty days before being bottled. That’s it.

Based on how it samples, I wonder at that last bitbecause all the solid character of a rum that’s had nothing but “rest” to calm it down off the still, is missing. The rum is a whole lot of standard strength nothing-in-particular. The nose channels a puling sort of weak candied ethanol, vanilla, watered down yoghurt (is there such a thing?) plus a whiff of shoe polish, sugar water and the faintest suggestion of pears and watermelon. This is a glass I poured first thing in the morning when the senses were sharp, kept there for an entire day, and that flaccid set of notes was all that was there the whole time.

There’s a bit more action on the plate, though I confess that this is damning it with faint praise since it started from such a low level already. Some sweet gherkins, a touch of tart fruit, biscuits, more ethanol and sugar water. I thought I spotted a green grape making out with a ripe pear at one stage, but admit this could be my imagination, the whole thing is is so faint and lacklustre. The finish is actually not too badit has some sharpness and dry robust character, and here one can get a vague sense of apples, green grapes and vanilla. Overall, however, it’s too little, too faint, too late and simply serves to demonstrate how everything that comes before is sub-par.

The Rumaniacs series boasts many examples of anonymous inflight minis, holiday-resort stalwarts and cruise ship staples exactly like it, and maybe that’s all this is really good for, because it channels the sort of bland, lightly aged, filtered, colourless mixers that Bacardi did with such aplomb in the seventies. Bayou continues this noble tradition, and lures you in with a great presentation bolted on to a taste that’s inoffensively boring and milquetoast, and so devoid of character, that one is, with genuine befuddlement, forced ask what they thought they were doing. If Bayou were trying to make a light vodka-like spirit, or a standard white back-bar mixer without pretensions, then they surely succeeded. If they were trying to make a white that wowed people’s socks off and put the US rum producers on the map, not even close.

(#1053)(72/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From my experience, I would suggest the rum is slightly aged and filtered to white, even if this is not mentioned anywhere.
  • Although taken over by SPD, much of the original staff seem to have remained involved, especially the head distiller, blender and even the owners.

Opinion

While for most average rum drinkers or rum buyers the disclosure on production mentioned above is enough, for my money that’s not even basic information. Fermentation is not mentioned; abv off the still is not disclosed; no photo of the still is on the website; and the ageing program is never discussed, which is to say, is the rum treated a la Bacardi with one or two year’s ageing and then filtered to white, or is a true unrefined white such as are increasing in popularity and which actually taste like a rum, not alcoholic water?

None of this is considered important enough to either mention on their website, in any of their many press releases, or interviews in the media. To me, it says a lot for what the rum truly is: a commercially and indifferently distilled product with no pretensions to being anything more. I don’t hold any grudges on this account, but what’s the big deal about mentioning it? Own your sh*t ,and don’t dress it up like something it’s not.

Still, one can only admire their expansion. The company stated it was moving 15,000 cases a year in seven states by the time Stoli approached them at the tail end of 2015, which is an incredible feat to have accomplished in three years, when you think about what the market in the US is likeone can conclude either it’s because of their great product or their great distributor or great marketing.

But I am of the belief that no producer or distiller who is truly proud of the product they make, tells you so little about it while dressing up their bottle so smartly…or disposes of their interest so fast. The fact that they sold out less than five years after they began suggests that money was always the motive, not making a really good white rum that would put Bayou on any list of great American rum producers. And I think that’s something of a shame.


 

Jan 232024
 

Black Gate distillery is an outfit to keep an eye on. The husband and wife team of Genise and Brian Hollingsworth made waves (to me, at any rate) with their 52% Dark Overproof back in 2021 and in 2023 they have come close yet again with this lovely Shiraz-cask-aged numberwhich doesn’t reimagine the rumiverse so much as take lots of what’s good with it and re-engineer it into a taste that’s uniquely their own.

Let’s just refresh our memories: located in central New South Wales, Black Gate was founded in 2009 in the small rural town of Mendooran. The husband and wife team splits the duties: Genise Holingsworth does the good stuff and makes the Lord’s favoured spirit, while her husband Brian dutifully makes that other obscure drink and handles the maintenance aspects (he’s a fitter machinist and auto mechanic by trade). They sourced two pot stillsrelatively small at 630 litres and 300 litres capacityand work with food grade molasses, commercial yeast and water, to make their various rum expressions. All are small batch (the rum output of Black Gate is only about 2000 litres per annum, and that includes the other thing). The distillery makes various Dark Rums with different finishes or cask maturations, and aside from whiskies, no cash flow stalwarts such as gins or “cane spirit” seem to be on the menu.

Photo (c) Black Gate Distillery FB page

Rums are aged in Port or Sherry casks, or both, for a minimum of two yearsto be able to be classified as “rum” under Australian law, if you recall. With respect to this one, the source was from the aforementioned molasses, and fermented for around two weeks, then run through the direct-fire pot still, aged about 3-4 years in a 225-litre Huntington Estate Shiraz cask from Mudgee, then left to rest for two months before bottling. As with the overproof, labels are all the same for all these dark rums no matter when made: the specifications are, in a clever bit of economising, white printed stick-ons. The strength of the sample from the 2023 advent calendar was 45.6%, and I note there’s a newer version for sale on their website at 47.2%, so be aware of and on the lookout for some batch variation.

More is not needed so let’s get right into it. Nose firstthis starts off interesting right away: rubber, funk, rotten oranges, flowers, tart yoghurt, wet leather and the sour hotness of kimchi, ashlyan-foo and turkish peppers. Underneath this rather startling mash up lurks a musky odour of damp loam, a kind of freshly watered potter’s mix which doesn’t sound appetising, but which I assure you, kind of is. Coiling around all that are fainter notes of acetones, ginger, vegetable soup, and pickled russian cabbage (not sauerkraut). The nose as a whole is not unpleasant, just goes off at something of a tangent and it’s probably a good idea to to let this one stand for a bit and come back to it a few times to get the full impact.

What I like about the taste is that it provides the tangy fruit that are not as clearly evident on the nose. Slightly sweet, it presents chocolate oranges, some caramel, leather, smoke, with vanilla and darker fruit (prunes, ripe raspberries, plums) coming through off the shiraz cask and the ageing. Ginnips, fresh cashews, grapes and green apples with a touch of licorice and that damp earth, apricots and overripe Thai mangoes, accompanied by a solid spicy heat all the way down culminating in a really nice low key but long lasting finish redolent of honey, brandy, coffee and fruitiness.

That’s really quite a bit for any rum to be sporting, and is one of the reasons I kept it on the go for longer than usual (two days)…just to see how it would develop. What may surprise casual drinkers is that even with all those sometimes off-kilter tastes coming through (and I must be honestthe assembly is a bit off and some will not like everything they taste here), the rum feels really accessible, even to the less exacting drinker. It gives a lot and the strength is rightmore power and intensity might have shredded itand so it doesn’t so much so much rock the boat as gently move it around a few times.

Speaking for myself, tasting this thing was a pleasurebecause with their playful experimentation, careful distillation and shiraz ageing, Black Gate have produced a young rum that is a touch off the rails, sure, but also a decent and intriguing sipping experience. Perhaps it’s no accident that That Boutique-y Rum Company picked it as one of their ‘Return to Oz’ series recently. If I was their buyer, I would likely have given it a shot too.

(#1052)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The exact age is unknown. 3-4 years goes the blurb
  • Outturn is also unclearbecause of the small scale of the distillery and the notation that it is one barrel (#BG-140), one must assume it’s less than 350 bottles.
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 17
Jan 152024
 

Once again we start the new year off with a series of rums from the Australian Advent Calendar, 2023 Edition. First issued by the Australian rum-loving couple Mr. & Mrs. Rum in 2021, not in 2022 and now again for 2023, it answers what we out west have been wondering about for years (well…at least I have) – what’s going on with the rums being made in Australia over and beyond Bundaberg, which everyone cheerfully loathes and Beenleigh which everyone likes? Twenty four rums in the calendar, a whole raft of new and old distilleries strutting their stuff, and let me tell you, to get them to Canada was a ripping yarn in itself…not entirely unlike Butch’s father’s watch, you could say.


We begin the series out of order, with a rum from the island of Tasmania, made by a little outfit called Island Coast Spirits, located just south of Hobart, the state capital (Tasmania is an island state of Australia). It is, it should be noted, not a distillery itself since it has no equipment. The owner, Kirk Pinner, runs over to the Observatory Hill Winery (about half an hour to the NE on the other side of Hobart) which (a) is run by a friend (b) makes rum (and brandy, gin, schnapps and wine) and (c) has a still. He rents that still and makes his own rum, so not quite a contract operation like we saw with Mandakini a few weeks ago, yet not entirely a true producer or an indie either. The website is rather scanty on details, so Kirk very kindly answered an email of mine providing some of this info, and a brief company bio is provided below.

For the purposes of this review, what we need to know is the following: the rum is made on a pot still, using a combination of fermented raw cane juice and molasses…so a hybrid rum if there ever was one. Once off the still it is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels with a light char, for something just under three years and bottled at living room strength of 40%.

[My desire was…] to produce the spirits I wanted,” Kirk wrote to me, and clearly he had something easygoing in mind. Not some backyard snarling ester-sporting beefcake that stomped all over one’s glottis, just a rum that was easy and accessible. The nose confirmed that he did fairly okay with that: it smelled of delicate icing sugar, vanilla, pastries hot from the oven, as well as more standard caramel, swiss bon-bons and a light touch of molasses and brown sugar. Also some cinnamon, eggnog, ice cream, a relatively sweetish aroma, and all over soft and straightforward and simple.

The 40% ABV made for a clean and unaggressive entry; it tasted pleasantly warm and a little sweet and came completely without aggro. Vanilla and caramel and toffee carried over from the nose. A few sweetish fruitpeaches, pearsnothing too acidic or tart. Molasses, a hot caramel macchiato, flambeed bananas, icing sugar on a cake fresh out of the oven, leading serenely to a short, finish that summed up the preceding without adding much that was new.

Picture (c) Island Cost Spirits FB Page

It’s a nice little rumlet without undue pretensions, but that same easy going nature is something of a weak point for those who like their rums more assertive. There are amber Bacardis with more going on than we see here, and I had similar remarks (and reservations) about Killik’s Gold, where I noted that such low ABV hamstrings a rum that could be better a few points higher. But that said, it will work for some, because it’s simply not trying hard to be a game changer…just a soft breezy rum for easy sipping. On that level it succeeds, and the awards it’s racked up in its brief lifea silver medal at the 2022 Australian Rum Awards in Queensland, and another silver at the World Rum Awards in London in 2023 (pot still NAS category) – suggests that others certainly seem to like what the company is offering, my own reservations notwithstanding.

(#1050)(77/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Fermentation time, barrel size, ratio of sugar cane juice to molasses, outturn, are all unknown
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 4

Brief Historical bio

Island Coast Spirits is, as noted, a Tasmanian spirits maker (not a distillery). It was founded in October 2021 and has adhered to the principle of making their spirits on a third party’s distillation apparatusa pot stillfrom the beginning. This was a conscious decision made at the inception: Kirk Pinner knew when he began planning, that he did not want the significant overheads and costs/debt associated with setting up his own distillery. He wanted the flexibility to not have all that headache but to be able to concentrate on his own desires and strengths: namely to have the ability to take on projects/new spirits on a whim without worrying about the infrastructure; and to focus more on the business relationships, ingredients, selection of barrels, blending and back end work. To that end he turned to those with some expertise (like Observatory Hill Winery) and used their skills to make his spirits.

In the three years since he began, the company now makes seven different products: Vodka, Rum, Gin and Whisky, and three flavoured vodkas. So far there is just one rum in the portfoliothis onewith another very interesting one in the pipeline waiting to be released sometime in 2024. In the meantime, the distribution within Tasmania and on the mainland is good, and Kirk is building on his success (and awards) to take his juice on the road to various F&B trade expos in Asia to promote the island, the brand and the rum.


 

Dec 022023
 

Almost all of Capricorn Distilling’s current line up of releases are good ones, and they haven’t even started a serious ageing program yet. Whether this is a matter of their desire to tinker and see what happens, or a clearly thought-out distillation philosophy, is unknown to me. What I do know, is that having tried their standard range (not the spiced, infused, gins, liqueurs or anything else) I can honestly state that if you get a white unaged Australian rum this year, you could do worse than buy a case of their juice generallyand the High Ester in particular. Because that thing is damned good: it channels Jamaica by way of Reunion, adds a measure of outback attitude, and sports serious rum making mojo on all levels.

It’s on par with the overproofs of Black Gate or Killik (especially the latter’s Silver) in my estimation, and indeed it shares some of those rums’ DNA: molasses-based based, a 10-15 day fermentation using a different yeast from the Coastal Cane, some dunder for kick (and maybe a diced dingo or two, who knows? — with Warren, you get the impression that anything is possible). Then there’s a single pass-through on Rocky (the double retort pot still), after which it’s left to rest for a while and diluted down to 51% before bottling.

If that sounds interesting, wait until you nose it, because while it’s not quite as well rounded as the Pure Single Rum, it’s hot, it’s spicy, it’s clean as new steel, and really crisp. There’s a sense of sparkling wine about itchianti, Riesling, plus some 7up, and pineapples. Lemony cumin, ginger, florals, cinnamon, which slowly merges with a damper aroma of rain on hot clay bricks and then softens into coconut shavings, oatmeal cookies and white chocolate crusted with almonds. The clear metallic sweat of someone who’s been exerting themselves in very cold weather after just having had a bath (yeah, I know how barmy that sounds). Juicy and ripe white fruitspapaya, guavas, pears, green apples and a few slices of pineapple. This is clearly a rum that enjoys Christmas.

The palate is somewhat more subdued, while still professing a certain originality. First there’s that clean scent of fresh laundry hot from the drier, followed by a sweet, tart, yoghurt, and citrus-y hints of ripe fruits that have not yet started to go. What distinguishes the taste is the way the sour miso soup or kimchi comes out swinging here, as does a kind of sweet-salt tartness of, say, pickled tomatoes and bell peppers (with a reaper thrown in for good measure). Added to that are notes of pine, cinnamon, licorice, ginger, wet sawdust, fruits…it just keeps chugging along, one taste after another. This one rum packs a lot in its jock and isn’t afraid to sport it, right down to the aromatic, long, dry, fruity and crisp finish that immediately encourages another pour.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s occasionally hit and miss (that’s why I tried it multiple times), and the crisp sourness mixed with sweet and salt won’t be to everyone’s taste. And indeed, Wally told me that his own team liked the Pure Single Rum best; my friend and tasting chum Logan also felt it lagged (slightly) behind the Pure Single and even the Coastal Cane.

I completely get that, because they are good rums in their own right, and I’ve reviewed them with genuine affection, scored them well. But for my money, thosewhile excellent in their own pitchdon’t break new ground with quite the same in-yer-face insouciance, don’t get hit outside the boundary, and remain satisfied with a solid bouncy four into deep fine leg. The High Ester Cane, in contrast, appeals to my love of the original, the offbeat, the new, and has no hesitation going for a powerful, lofty out-of-the-park six. It walks up to your wicket, hits you over the head and drags you off the field, and, love it or like it or hate it, you’ll always know you’ve had something different that day. That’s not a compliment in everyone’s book, but it sure is in mine.

(#1043)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • My fellow Calgarian reviewer, friend and redditor, FarDefinition2, as well as another redditor FrostyThought8591 both felt the High Ester was not quite as good as the Pure Single or the Coastal Cane, but both agreed it would shine in cocktails. This is why sharing samples around and checking for feedback is so usefulit not only gives consumers another opinion, it also forces me to consider other points of view.

Company background (from Review #1029)

Capricorn Distilling’s origins date back to 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-litre still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of businessmotel, pub, restaurant, distilleryto provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in 2020 in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards.

The distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small and newly-established companies: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the ever-present cash flow generator of gins. The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW.

Nov 272023
 

Capricorn really is a distillery off in its own zone, and I mean that in a good way. Aged or unaged I’ve rarely seen a producer so young make rums that display such a deft, sure touchthey’re not all world beaters, but I think they’re certainly a cut above the ordinary, even the entry-level standard-strength “Coastal Cane” which I likened to a cross between an agricole and a Jamaican white overproof. In November 2023 they had a sort of coming-out party at the Brisbane Rum Revolution, where there were a number of complimentary comments about the various releases: the Pure Single Rum was one of the ones singled out (no pun intended) for especial attention, and many remarked on how pleased they were to have tried it.

The Pure Single Rum, which is a title deriving from the Gargano Classification system (see other notes below) conforms to its requirements exactlyit is a rum made via batch distillation, on a pot still, from a single distillery. It’s the extras that elevate it to the next level because few 4YO rums have the distinction of being this good (did someone say “Renaissance”?). The rum is molasses based, a week’s fermentation, aged in ex-Shiraz casks for 2½ before being transferred out to a new American oak barrel (no ex-bourbon here) and then decanted into 221 bottles at 56% in November 2022. The idea is always to have a limited amount of this rum based on a cask that’s deemed ready (Release 3 just hit the shelves a few months ago) and right now there are a couple hundred casks or so slumbering in the warehouse, waiting their moment. Labelling is minimal and states the provenance nicely, and there are no additives, no filtration, no extras.

Tasting notes, then: the nose opens with a hot breath of sweet strawberry-flavoured bubble gum, a salt caramel and vanilla ice cream cone, gummi bears, and white toblerone chocolate. Some very ripe dark grapes, prunes. Honey, waffles and cereal mix well with toffee and brown sugar: overall the aromas is consistently strong without being sharp, well controlled, slightly sweet to inhale and overall seems like a pillow for the nose. It also smells like the most “traditional” rum of the four Capricorn rums I had, because there’s less of the tart and slightly sour tang that characterises the others, and emphasises a profile we similar to that of Barbados, Panama and even Guyana (minus the wooden stills).

I also enjoy the taste, and in assessing this aspect I can understand why it was so popular at the festival: a good mouthfeel, very warm, with honey, caramel, vanilla, fresh wonderbread toast, and even some salt crackers and brie. It has hints of ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, as well as swiss bonbons, dulce de leche and a few dates, figs and other mild fruits like papaya and watermelon. The finish is unambitious and lets you down easy without introducing anything that isn’t already therea tawny mix of molasses, caramel, toffee, vanilla and honey with a sprinkling of breakfast spices.

The Pure Single rum is an interesting mix of solidity and delicacy at the same time, and yet it never strays too far from a traditional “rummy” taste: it is the one rum of the distillery that comes closest to being completely recognizable as an aged rum by anyone, and that’s one reason for its easy acceptance and why people liked it. It is not precisely challenging, and introduces little that is new: a trailblazer for a new Australian style it is not (though I would not have objected had it done so). Nor is Capricorn going for a moon shot or a Hail Mary passthey have other rums for that. What they are trying to do with this oneand have succeeded, I thinkis assemble a solid young rum that’s fascinating and tasty and well made, complex and delicious enough for Government work, and simply a really good rum to try on its own and to enjoy.

(#1042)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • From Release #3 it looks like there is a now a numerical designator on the label.
  • “Pure Single Rum” is a term of relatively recent derivation. It was coined by Luca Gargano of Velier in 2017 as part of his suggested new classification of rum, which he believed was not being well served by older systems based on colour or regions. His idea was to create a new regimen that focused more on production techniques and he came up with four basic classifications: Pure Single rum, Traditional rum, Single Blended rum, and Ordinary rum. These form the basis of the Gargano classification, which is detailed in rather more depth on Velier’s page. It has received some criticism for shortcomings and exclusions, and for not catering to rums which fall outside the clear demarcationssome prefer the Cates System advocated by Martin Cates of Smuggler’s Cove which has more gradations and is easier to understandbut if it has added a single term to our vocabulary of rum, it’s that first category of Pure Single Rum.

Company background (from Review #1029 of the Coastal Cane)

Capricorn Distilling’s origins bean in 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-litre still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of businessmotel, pub, restaurant, distilleryto provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in 2020 in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards.

The distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small and newly-established companies: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the everpresent cash flow generator of gins. The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW.

Nov 152023
 

Brisbane’s Rum Revolution in Down Under has just ended last weekend, and among the many excited questions of “were you there?” and “did you drink this?” posted on social media, were a surprising number of accolades given to Capricorn, the little distillery run by Warren Brewer (also and variously called Walter, Wal, Wally, Warren and Wally Walter, depending on how he’s feeling on the day), south of Brisbane. People were getting all gobsmacked over the High Ester rum (rightfully so methinks) and I’m hoping we’ll see it at a rumfest in Europe next year, so we can see how others feel about it.

Alas, today I’m not reviewing that one (although I want to) but will instead focus on another very interesting experimental rum the distillery makes, the Dumpster Diver, which among other things, demonstrates that West Indians are not the only people out there with a sharp and obscure sense of humour. Now, this is an unaged rum, white, molasses-based, jacked up to the nines by using a cane juice acid, muck, and natural ferment to supercharge the thing; it was fermented for about thirty days, distilled in a single pass through the double retort pot still (that’s the one named Rocky), then left to snooze in a stainless steel vat for a couple of months. I’d like to think Warren then chucked it into a dumpster out back behind the shed for people to fish out when they wanted some, but naaah, he just bottled it…at 62%. It is not currently available in shops (it remains something of a trial release and not mentioned on the company website), and Wally tells me it can always be had to buy at the back door of his distillery where they sign waivers before tastings (well…not really: but they are warned what to expect so as to cushion the shock).

Normally at this point I’d tell you about the distillery and its background; however, that’s already available (reprinted below), and the only thing to add to it is that I think Walter deserves the praises, because this rum is really quite a blast to have neator, as he reminds me, in a totally awesome martini. This is one rum that’ll cure what ails you.

So, let’s just dive right in. Nose first: it’s redolent of cucumbers and a few pimentos in white vinegar, really hot and sharp. There’s an element of dusty houses, old cupboards, granny’s unused bloomers (best not go there) and a whole lot of dry and expired cereals. The smell is slightly sweet, and also sour, channelling gherkins and diluted balsamic vinegar: there is a sort of kimchi vibe here that’s quite nice, and even some ashlan-foo (which made Mrs. Caner sigh with nostalgia when I passed the glass to her to confirm). The intensity fades after it opens up and remains well controlled and rather quiescent most of the time. Towards the end, things get weird for a whileit could be just me but I thought I nosed some disinfectant, pine sol and even the slight acrid hint of a chlorine bleach, which makes it slip in my estimation, but overall, the nose is really quite somethingnot one you’ll forget in a hurry, and somewhat reminiscent of an agricole.

Photo (c) and courtesy of Josh Wall

It is also excellent on the palate: strong, firm, solid, and very dry. Letting it stand to let the harsh alcohol burn off is probably a good idea, or alternatively, some might like to add a little water. This allows a solid taste experience to unfold, starting with an air of clean white laundry flapping in the breeze on a sunny day, white wine and tart fruits, plus unsweetened yoghurt, which presents a sort of crisp fruitness that is very pleasant. Pomegranates, figs, dragon fruit, soursop and other unusual stuff like that, but also citrus, green apples and grapes, each snapping crisply into focus and then quickly moving aside for the next one. As for the finish, well, pretty damned fine: dry, dusty, fruity, nicely long, with acetones, nail polish remover and bubble gumplus the usual fruit salad rounding things out.

New rums like this from far-flung locations are why I stay in the game. It’s such an interesting dram, on so many levels. It shows a lot of rough edges“like a country bai com’ to town”and a demonstrable lack of couth is right there, front and centreyou can almost smell it sweating and sweltering in the heat. And yet it’s a completely solid rum, channelling Hampden by way of Worthy Park with a little TECA thrown in, before adding its own exuberant Queensland twist. It’s rough, it’s brutal, it’s got tastes and to spare, attitude beyond reason and when you’re done you will realise that it’s also an immensely enjoyable drink on its own terms. And yeah, it really does make a seriously sleazy, filthy, barkin’ mad martini.

(#1039)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Disclosure: although Warren and I agreed I’d send him something from my stocks to pay off for the samples he sent to me in Canada, as of this writing I have not yet done so. Just waiting for my empty sample bottles to arrive, though, and all will be settled.
  • I’ve asked for a photo of the bottle and label, as none appear to be available online, even on the company’s social media pages. My sincere thanks to Josh Wall of the Brisbane Rum Club FB page, who kindly allowed me to use his photograph of the rum bottle and its label. Ta, and a hat tip, mate.

Company background (from Review #1029)

Capricorn Distilling’s origins began in 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-litre still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of businessmotel, pub, restaurant, distilleryto provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in 2020 in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards.

The distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small and newly-established companies: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the everpresent cash flow generator of gins.The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW.


 

Nov 062023
 

A few months ago I posted a picture of what I was tasting that week on Instagram which included the Camikara 12 YO: I was surprised and pleased at the responses which said how much people had liked itmost of these came from those who had sampled it at that year’s UK rum festival. This is an export rum from India which has two younger siblings (a 3YO and an 8YO) and remains a rather unknown quantity to many, perhaps because they have all been issued quietly and without the serious social media fanfare as attends so many other rums these days, and been reviewed by too few.

Yet I think we’d better start paying some attention, because this rum presses a number of buttons that, had they been made in more familiar climes by more familiar names, would have had us checking it out almost by default. Consider: here is a rum from a single cane varietal, made from cane juice (not jaggery or molasses), pot still distilled, aged for twelve years and bottled at a solid 50% ABV. Plus, it’s from India which, while having a great record in whiskies, does not have a stellar reputation for rums, yet which has on occasion surprised us with products of uncommon quality.

Piccadily Distillers made this rum in Haryana, a northern Indian stateit abuts the Punjab, and is just due south of Solan: those with long memories may recall that this is where Mohan Meakin of Old Monk fame started things going back in the 1800s. Piccadily themselves are better known, especially in India, for their malt whiskies Indri and Whistler and it’s never been made clear exactly why they would branch out into rums on an international scale, though my own impression is the market in India is simply too crowded with ersatz rums already, and increasing premiumisation of the spirit in the West suggests an opportunity to break into that market with an unusual product from a near-unknown location.

So that’s the background: what about the rum?

Nosing it suggested that the company has dispensed with most of the subtly and never-quite-proved flavoured profiles of Mohan Meakin’s Old Monk line and (to a lesser extent) Amrut’s own export rums. This stuff is not bad at allinitially quite tart and fruity, with canned peaches and yellow mangoes blending nicely with laban and the faintest whiff of sour cream. This is followed by aromas of red grapes and apples in a pleasantly clean and just-shy-of-light series of smells that feel quite crisp, while at the same time balanced off with caramel, plums, aromatic tobacco, vanilla and green peas. The sweetness that one senses is kept very much under control which stops any one aspect of the nose to predominate.

What is somewhat surprising is the strengthwe have not seen a rum from India that clocks in at 50% before (though they have been edging up of late, with the 60+% Habitation Velier Amrut being something of an outlier). This provides the taste with a firm landing on the palate, starting off with flambeed bananas, peaches, red guavas, green peas and those overripe mangoes. What distinguishes this phase of the experience is the spice-forward nature of the rum: one can with some effort make out vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, tumeric and sweet paprika, and it brings back fond memories of the spice markets in middle-eastern soukhs more than anything else. There are some hints of salted chocolate, honey, cardboard, dusty cupboards, cheerios, and the rum presents as heavier than the nose had initially suggested…but it’s pretty good, and the closing notes of damp port-infused tobacco, honey anise, herbs, citrus and (again) spices makes for a fascinating segue away from more familiar profiles.

I say “more familiar profiles” but really, this is a rum through and through and there’s no mistaking what it is. However, it must be stated that its agricole-style cane juice origins are somewhat lost in the middle of such long hot-weather ageingthe barrels do most of the heavy lifting of the profile, rather than the intrinsic nature of the cane juice distillate, which provides so much character to unaged whites from whereverif Piccadily ever made such a white I’d be clamouring to get some. Moreover, my hydrometer tests this at 47.5% ABV, which works out to about 12g/L of something, so readers should take that into accountmy own take is that it still tastes pretty good, but obviously that will not be everyone else’s opinion.

Summing up, then, I must say that as a whole, taking everything into consideration, the Camikara rum is a treat: even in the controlled environment of my study, I admired it (in company even more so) and am now sharing it with everyone I can, because noses well and tastes great with just enough originality and uniqueness to the profile to make one take a second look and maybe a third sip, and it deserves a wider consideration. Like many rums from parts of the world other than the standards, while the DNA is unmistakable, the variation is really kind of fascinating. I think it’s a solid addition to the mostly unknown slate of aged rums from Asia generally and India in particular.

(#1037)(87/100)


Full disclosure: in early 2023 I was approached about taking a look at the 12YO by the head of Piccadily’s international business. He admitted they had no distribution in Canada and no facilities to get paid for a bottle, as is my practise: he offered to send me one if I could spot him dinner and a pint when next we were in the same area of the world. I consider that a firm deal, but since I have (as of this writing) not been able to make good, you should be aware of the source.


Other notes

  • Camikara means “liquid gold” in Sanskrit
  • The press blurbs talk about 956 barrels being laid to rest in 2009, of which only 6.6% remained twelve years later. Well, that works out to around 14,000 litres, so given its limited edition marketing (3600 bottles total, with 400 bottles to India, 1200 for the US, 400 for the UK and 800 for Europe), some has probably been left behind to age even further, and / or been blended into the younger releases.
  • I like the whole origin story of barrels being overlooked and fortuitously “rediscovered” but consider the neglect and forgetting of nearly a thousand barrels to be ultimately unrealistic outside a press release, where anything goes.
  • Piccadily Distilleries is part of the Piccadily Group, which has three distilleries in the Northern part of India: Indri, Patiala, and Bawal. The distillery making the rum is unclear: Mr. Siddhartha Sharma in an interview with Rumporter says Indri, while Surrinder Kumar the company’s master distiller, said it was Patiala in an interview with MoneyControl (he notes it was when the Patiala plant was being refurbished that the barrels were rediscovered) – it is the latter that is on the label, but I do wonder at the confusion.
  • The company’s copper pot stills are Indian made.
Oct 212023
 

In the last review we looked at a product from Romero Distilling, a small and relatively new-ish distillery in Calgary which has the distinction of focusing almost exclusively on making rums (of all kinds). At first blush it seems to conform to the standards of many occasionally unfocused local distillers who are still playing around trying to find the perfect groove: their “Dark” rum left me somewhat dissatisfied and mostly indifferent (spiced rums not being my thing for reasons I went into some detail in that review), and while I didn’t mention it, the “Amber”which I own, opened and tried at homehasn’t turned my crank much either.

The Sherry Finish Cask Strength Rum, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal, and an order of magnitude better than either of thoseit quite literally left me looking happily at my glass, wondering whence this thing had sprung, and completely unwilling to stop trying it. Now, it’s a pot-still 1200-bottle limited edition 57% ABV rum without any spices, colourants or additives, so right away it has a better starting point than the other two; it’s aged for two years or so in ex-Woodford Reserve barrels and then another two-plus in newly emptied ex-Oloroso sherry barrels brought over from Spainthat to my mind makes it a double aged (not a finished) rum, but whatever…the important thing is, what comes out the other end is to my mind, really impressive.

First of all there’s the way the nose opens. Compared to the low strength and rather thin aromas of its spiced sibling, this packs a solid punch: it presents some woody and tannic notes, with solid sweet caramel, chewing gum, toffee, molasses and a delicate hint of a cinnamon-flavoured unsweetened mocha. Not too much fruitiness heremore dates and coconut shavingsbut a fair amount of cereals, rye bread, cardboard and crushed almonds. Really great smells, and one that’s worth keeping around for more than just the time it takes to have a sip or three and move on.

When tasted, it continues well: hot fresh pastries like pine tarts or pecan pie start the show, and here some fruit start to make themselves noticeable: ripe and heavier ones like sapodilla, plums, prunes and some apricots, with flashes of molasses and honey (love that). There’s even the slight trace of a good brie, some olive oil, rotten lemons, and something savoury lurking in the background, as if it is trying to channel a raw clairin, or a tequila. The finish is also quite good, lasting a long time and wrapping things up with salt caramel, coffee, some brininess and those fresh baked pastries.

To say I wasmerely pleasedis understating matters. I was damned impressed. The rum seemed so good on the first try that not only did I keep the glass going for the next two hours, but as soon as I got home, went straight out and bought a bottle online (I’m told that the rum has just gone into general release in Alberta). What’s also really interesting is that for 57% ABV, double the ageing and no spicing it up, it only costs C$7 more than the C$75 Dark with which I had previously been relatively unenthused.

So, in the final analysis, although I have many more rums from north of 49 to try, so far this is one of the best Canadians I’ve yet come across, the highest scoring to date. It’s not a copy of some Caribbean profile, doesn’t seek to emulate noble sires from hotter climes, but is completely, calmly, resolutely, itself. It adheres to the profile of rum while providing just enough kinks and twists to show that the makers knew exactly what they were doing when they made it. It shows how something better than the dronish herd of mass produced tipple can be made here, and hopefully sell, and while I’m sure over time other rums will inevitably eclipse it…for now, it remains a high point of the Canadian rum scene and deserves serious attention.

(#1034)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • The rum was awarded “Best in Class” at the 2023 Alberta Beverage awards (in a three way tie). Given the judges’ primary expertise, what it was rated against, and what else was on the list of candidates and winners, this is not an award to be taken completely seriously, and the scores were, shall we say, somewhat excessively enthusiastic. But it had to be mentioned.
  • Company details can be found in the review of the Romero Dark
  • The rum is a blend of several barrels and an outturn of 2000 bottles.
  • A hydrometer test comes out at 56.8% ABV, so it’s clean from that perspective (and tastes that way, but I checked anyway)
  • The company runs tour, tasting and blending sessions at its facility in Calgary, which I’ve heard from friends of mine who went, are quite good.
  • There’s a fair bit of marketing copy on the website and other promotional materials, about rum running in Canada during Alberta’s own Prohibition era, but this is local colour and has no bearing on Romero directly.
Oct 122023
 

This is the fifth and final review in the short series (of sixI have tried one before) where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

For all its rather off-putting connotations to those who don’t know the term, noble rot is a controlled fungus infestation of grapes that go on to produce a particularly fine and concentrated sweet wine. Perhaps it is no surprise then, that a wine lover like Olivier Caen, one of the founders of the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, sourced barrels of this kind of wine in which to age some of his rum. I sometimes think it’s his intention to try them every possible kind of cask in existence, but one can’t quibble with the results, because in many cases what comes out the other end is really kind of great.

By now we have come to know a fair bit about the production techniques of the small distillery just by perusing the labels, and this one is no different. The cane is their own, planted by the distillery, sent to a nearby factory to be crushed and turned into molasses which is then fermented with any one of a number of different yeast strains (a French West Indian one in this case, and for just shy of four weeks). There is the double distillation in the Charentais pot still (the second pass is on the lees) and then the distillate is set to age in a first fill noble rot barrel that has been “shaved, toasted and charred”. Four years later and et voilà, we have this rum, bottled to showcase ever percentage point of its 64% strength.

With that kind of potentiallocal sugar cane molasses, long fermentation, double pot still distillation, first fill charred barrelone would expect no shortage of aromas and flavours jostling and shoving to get out the gate and strut their stuff, and indeed that’s what we get. The nose, for example, is delectableit’s crisp, very clear, and reminds me of a dry Riesling, with notes of red grapefruit, grapes and some tart, sharp ripe fruitsapples, cider, red currants and some laid back light florals. There’s a slight creaminess in the background, like yoghurt; and salt butter spread over hot croissants fresh from the oven. Nice.

The strength does the rum no harm and the four years of ageing has tamped down the excess reasonably well. So it doesn’t hurt or display too much sharpness. It tastes slightly creamy, like salt caramel ice cream minus some sugar; a touch salty, and all the crisp fruits remain available to be enjoyedapples, grapes, pears, apricots, peaches and even some ginnips and lychees. One can perhaps detect traces of coconut shavings and spices like vanilla and cinnamon, even mauby bark, which is nice, but it’s just a bit, here and gone quickly. Finish is long and epic, as is to be expected, clean and clear, quite spicy, mostly fruits and florals and even a touch of honey.

Overall then, not terribly different from others we’ve tasted, but every bit as good as most and better than some. This is a short review because I want to get to the summation of my observations and there’s nothing much more to add to the company bio or this rum you don’t already know. I should, however, close with the note that for me this was one of the best of the six, and I’d buy it if it ever turned up in my market. We don’t get so many unique and tasty rums at this strength from obscure markets as it is, so we need to treasure the ones we find.

(#1032)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in this short series:


Summing upsome general observations on the rums of the line

As the six reviews I’ve written make clear, I really like the company and its rumsthey have placed Taiwan firmly on the map of quality rum making, and hopefully inspire others on the island to try their hand, to the point where it becomes a rum-geek’s destination the way the Caribbean is. It’s one of the most consistently good estate producers out there, the more so because they don’t have a single standard product out there, no blends, no regular five or ten year old that carries the flag, or appeals to the larger crowd. It’s all single barrel releases, like they were an indie bottler with a single clientthemselves. I’ve yet to find a dog in the series.

The rums they make are of a uniformly high level of excellence, and while others have scored the various individual expressions lower than I have (or higher) depending on their personal tastes, few fail to concede the power and uniqueness of the overall line. The combination of local cane, different yeast strains, varied fermentation times, a smallish pot still, double distillation, and all those crazy barrels in which the rums are either finished or double matured, constitutes something of a profile enhancer. The rums always have a whole lot bopping around in the foreground while some weird sh*t is dancing the ragtime out back, and as if that wasn’t enough, they are almost always issued at cask strength, with all the intensity of flavour and aromas this implies.

That said, there are a few issues as well, of which the most important and oft-repeatedfrom a consumer’s perspective anywayis the expense. I have zero patience for those in subsidised markets who grouse when a rum from somewhere else is over thirty dollars…but here they have a point. Renaissance’s rums are expensive, and at over a hundred bucks a pop for rums less than five years old, that’s a hard sell and a tough buy when there’s so much older stuff out there, of equally good value. It’s pointless to argue that taxes make up a large part of that, as do freight charges to get the things shipped all the way from the far east: optics are everything and until those prices become more affordable, the company’s excellent rums will remain a niche product for many.

Secondly there’s the unintended consequence of the very qualities that make the company’s name: the lack of a standard product. Consider another two highly-lauded relatively new estate producers: Hampden and Worthy Park. They gained a following with rums everyone could afford and which were widely available and then started to go upscale with more limited releases that channelled the variations imparted by different barrels and experiments in the production process. Renaissance took the reverse approach and started right away from this point without every going through the “standard product” stage and has issued nothing but premium releases. This to some extent hampers a broader recognitionoh sure, they have great word of mouth and I hope this small series raises their profile even more (because they deserve it) but how many people have actually tried them, or can?

Moreover, there is a subtler, more important effect of all the variations in releases which so delight the connoisseurs: the lack of a consistent, standard production model (like, oh, Hampden’s 8YO workhorse), and what this means is that there is nothing here that defines Taiwanese terroire specifically. There’s too much other stuff in the way. Consider how distinctive the traditional Caribbean and Latin American rums are, for their countriesyou can tell apart a Jamaican, Guyanese and French island rum quite easily because they channel something intrinsic to their points of origin, such as the stills of Guyana, the fermentation of Jamaica or the cane juice origin of Martinique and Haiti. For all Renaissance’s quality, the short ageing in all those different barrels obscures what might one day help define Taiwanese rum, something that also hampers, say, Nine Leaves out of Japan…but not, in contrast, Cor Cor or Ryomi.

Where I see this is going, then, is that the distillery will continue to make waves in the high end market for the foreseeable future with those entrancing limited single barrel releases, especially if they get better distribution. Who knows, these early essays in the craft may one day be regarded like Velier’s famed Demeraras and Caronisdeemed to pricey at the time, always remarked on for their quality, appreciating astronomically in the years that follow.

At some stage though, as the company expands (and I think they will), I suspect that the scaling up of the distillery will result in the production of a “regular” Taiwanese blend in quantity, without the distraction of other enhancements and embellishments. Whether aged or unaged, juice or molasses, overproofed or living room strength, if the quality is retained and the taste is as good, their market is all but assured. If and when they ever do that, you can be sure that far more than just obscure bloggers like this one will be hungering for what they have produced.


 

Oct 022023
 

This is the fourth review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

*

The consistency of quality of the Renaissance line of rums creates something of an issue for a reviewer, because while they are all different in subtle ways, so far they are also all really good (at least in the opinion of this writer)…which makes writing anything new almost impossible. In a way they remind me of Demerara rums, or Caronis, in the way that they resemble James Bond movies: they all have recognizable beats, similar tropes and so we enjoy then, look for similarities, variations and easter eggs, and spend an inordinate amount of time dissecting minutiae and arguing about which is the best. And of course, everyone will have an opinion about all of those things.

By now, then, after four previous excursions into the company’s line, we know enough about the company not to belabour the point, and so we’ll just cover the highlights. Renaissance is a husband and wife team who created a rum distillery in Taiwan out of whole cloth in 2017 (after four years of messing about trying to get it off the ground), gaining acclaim for their rigorously individualistic style of rum making in the years that followed (at which point we pause for the obligatory mention of the encyclopaedic labels). By 2021 as the world reopened, awards began rolling in and the distillery gained a quietly swelling renown…and rum aficionados who cocked an eye towards Asia took notice.

One of the peculiarities of the distillery is its resolute focus on single barrel rum releases. I have seen no indie bottling ethos here, and no mass market releases of lesser supermarket fare, or other spirits’ production meant to generate cash flow. They have issued young rums derived from local molasses or their own juice, and aged in whatever barrels they managed to source: limousin, ex-bourbon, wine, whisky, cognac, to which is then added a secondary maturation or finish in (again) any of those barrel types.

The rum we’re looking at today conforms to this principle. 20 days fermentation from Taiwan molasses (referred to as ‘Formosan’), double distilled in the 1200 litre Charentais pot still, then stuffed into a new oak 350 litre Limousin cask for three years, and finally given a secondary maturation in a fist fill 400-litre bas armagnac cask for the final year, being finally bottled in April 2022 at 63.2%.

What these dry and rather technical details suggest, then, is that there are some three or four different points at which flavours are developed: the longer than usual fermentation, the double distillation with the middle-third cut, and the two singular barrel types. The bas-armagnac barrel in particular can be expected to lend quite an interesting influence to the final product.

And we surely get all of that. The initial nose on the rum is lovely: firm, crisp, fresh and lively to a faultbright yellow fleshy acidic fruit (Thai mangoes, peaches, apricots, apples) mixed up with overripe green grapes, honey and flambeed bananas. A touch of vanilla and the slight bitterness of tannics, completely under control and never allowed to get overbearing. There are some notes of ruby grapefruit and blood oranges, light florals and it’s just a great osing experience.

Taste wise it also holds up really well. It’s rich and deep and flavourful with bags of fruit: grapefruit again, strawberries, kiwi fruit and lychees. Some light vanilla, icing sugar and a banana split drizzled with caramel make for an interesting combo, as do the less sweet fruits like sapodilla and bananas, sprinkled with coconut shavings. Finish is epically long as we can expect from the strength, and while it introduces nothing new it allows the individual notes their brief moment on the stage so as to remind me of the way they all work together to provide a great taste experience.

Overall, there’s nothing to find fault with and for those who prefer something tamer, a few drops of water are more than sufficient to tamp down the intensity somewhat without losing anything in translation. It’s a lovely rum at any strength and with one caveat, I recommend it unreservedly, and score it right in the ballpark of all the other rums they’ve made which I’ve so enjoyed.

That one qualification is, of course, the price, which is an issue several have remarked on before with all of the rums from this small company. Even in today’s inflated times, it will set one back three figures and there are not many who will be willing to spend that on a four year old rum, when there are others at similar strength a decade or so older from more familiar climes, sporting more familiar names, more familiar profiles. And so the point is not a minor one. Yet when one considers the freight charges, taxes and duties needed to bring such a singular product to the west; the costs of making it at all without support from other lines of business or economies of scale; and the limited batch outturn of the rum itself…when one takes all these things into account I would not say it’s an untoward extravagance. And even if I could not afford one of each release Renaissance have so far made, even if I just got this one single rum to stand in for all the others that remain out of reach, I would not consider the purchase a bad one, or ever harbour a single regret.

(#1030)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in this short series:

Sep 302023
 

Today we’ll go back Down Under, because we want to check out a starter rum from another one of those small distilleries that seem to be popping up with increasing frequency all over the map: craft, small batch, experimental, not from the Usual Countries, founded and run by one or two quasi-certifiable enthusiasts who just want to hare off and do something different, because, well, they can.

Capricorn Distilling’s origins bean in 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-liter still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of businessmotel, pub, restaurant, distilleryto provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards.

Still, for all the stated love of rums, the distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small outfits: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the everpresent cash flow generator of gins.The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW and acquired in 2022.

The Coastal Cane is a molasses based spirit, from molasses fermented for ten days and then run twice throughRockythe double retort. No ageing, no additions, no filtering, just reduction down to standard strength of 40% ABV.

The middling-long fermentation time and that double pass through the pot still provide quite an aromatic punch. The nose starts with rubber, rotting fruit, brine and sugar water, making me blink in surprise…wait, what? is this a Jamaican undercover in Oz? … The smells continue: acetones, turpentine, new plastic peeled off a new phone. Some bananas, mangoes, papaya, maybe a grape or two. There’s a sense of freshness, of greenness, about the whole aromatic experience, like the damp floor of a forest glade after a summer shower. After a while one can sense mint and marzipan, prunes and apricots, all of which is a little sharp. Admittedly it has a bunch of rough edges and it’s quite spicy for 40%, but we can ascribe that to the fact that it probably boiled and frothed off the still just a few minutes before being stuffed into the bottle and calmed down with some water, so it’s to be expected, really.

When tasted there’s a certain minerality about the rum, something like ashes, or water on hot concrete. Admittedly it’s rough, but I quite like the taste, because it also channels some sugar water, grassiness, mint, marzipan and pine needles (kind of odd, in a nice way), overripe fruits, a twist of citrus. It then moves quickly to a short, crisp and tangy finish, where things go back to being traditionalfruits, rubber, olives, a touch of sugar water, and ends the short show in a not unpleasant flourish akin to a smack across the back of the head..

You sort of have to wonder at what this entry level rum manages to achieve. Its youth is evident, and yes there are ragged edges that show that; but you can also sense potential in the thingit would probably make a bangin’ daiquiriand overall it presents something like a cross between an agricole and a Jamaican white overproof. Over the last few weeks we have been looking at some seriously high powered young aged rums from Taiwan, but this unassuming rumlet proves that strength isn’t everything, and you can be made to appeal to the accountant in the front office… while still impressing the cane cutter out back.

(#1029)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Disclosure:

Although Warren and I agreed I’d send him something from my stocks to pay off for the free samples he sent (mind, he did say it was unnecessary…I mean, a few 5cl bottles? – hardly evidence in a bankruptcy proceeding), as of this writing I have yet to honour the promise. But it will be.

Sep 262023
 

This is the third review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

Although the little Renaissance Distillery on Taiwan was officially founded in 2017, many years of small-scale under-the-radar tinkering and experimentation preceded that. The husband and wife team of Linya Chiou and Olivier Caen started a small spirits import company on the island as far back as 2006, and by the early 2010s were looking around wondering why Taiwan, which had a subtropical climate (the south is actually tropical) and planted sugar cane, did not have a rum industry of any consequence.

The truth was that it did: but it was a remnant of the state monopoly which had only relaxed and allowed a market to develop after 2002; even so, licensing restrictions and the torpor of the bureaucracy made it difficult to think seriously about such a proposition, so Olivier sourced a short neck 500L locally made pot still, installed it on their property and started planting his own sugar cane. For the next four years he experimented ceaselessly and mostly at night with harvesting, juice, molasses, fermentation, distillation, making the cuts, checking the ageing, the whole nine yardsin fact the op was quasi-legal at best, an outright moonshinery at worst. The results and samples he shared around suggested he was on to something there and in 2017 the distillery formally opened and started commercial, licit operations.

Output remained and continues to remain rather small, and most of what was released up to 2020 — about 17 barrels’ worth of productionwas rum laid down pre-2017; however that by itself garnered attention and plaudits, notably that of David Broom in 2021 when he remarked on his blog “Remember how Kavalan blew people’s minds? Renaissance will do the same for rum.” So far, there have been perhaps sixty barrels released to June 2023, and the hallmark of the brand remains small batch, single cask, high proof rum, usually finished (or double aged) in casks of whatever seems to catch Olivier’s fancy that day. There are a few blends in the mix, but it’s these single cask bottlings that make the company’s namehigh end, pricey and not easy to get.

This 4 Year Old rum is no different. Distilled in 2018 (cask #18102 for the curious, because knowing the casks is actually something of a thing here), it is based on Taiwanese molasses fermented for 30 days, comes off the 1200L charentais pot still after a double pass. It was set to age in a limousin new oak barrel (350 liters, so somewhere between a barrique and a puncheon) for three years and then transferred into an ex cognac cask (Hennessy, I was told) for another year. Outturn 346 70cl bottles, at a solid, chest-thumping 64.4%.

The nose uses that strength to make grand gestures and bold statements, that’s for sure. It hits you hard and doesn’t say sorry. Initially it is the right side of too sharp, yet once the sensation is sorted out it’s more like a very clean, very crisp and very dry Riesling, redolent of sugar water, light red grapefruit (is there such a thing?), yellow mangoes and tart ripe green grapes. It needs time to open upsome water would helpand after a while releases additional pleasant notes of cinnamon and ginger cookies with a touch of unsweetened chocolate, and a sort of vanilla flavoured whipped cream.

For all the oomph the rum packs in its jock, it’s medium bodied and firm rather than wielding a sledgethough of course some caution should still be exercised…just because the texture is solid doesn’t mean there isn’t something more serious waiting to get you when your guard is down. The palate is sweet-ish and middle bodiednot thin, not heavy or thick, just sort of in between with a nice medium-dry mouthfeel. Still, tastes are somewhat (and surprisingly) subdued for something that spent a year making nice in a cognac cask: plums, raisins, vanilla, honey, the tartness of laban and kiwi fruits and papaya, a little grapefruit, a little allspice, a little cinnamon. The finish is completely serviceable, if not outstandinga good summation of the preceding. One gets a last whiff of fruits and spices, some grapes, citrus, honey and even a twitch of licorice out of nowhere. It’s finishes well.

So, this is a really good rum that adheres to the style and profile the makers have established for themselves. It’s got that cognac vibe, the sprightliness of youth with a touch of the maturity that ageing brings, is strong, tasty and well assembled. Some may suggest it’s one of those cases where a little dilution might not have been a bad thing, which is a fair point, though I completely respect the decision to be consistent and bottle it as it is and let the consumers take their chances.

Because by not pandering to anyone’s tastes, what Renaissance has done is provided us with a young rum of what I presume to say is a rare calibre, one that takes on others aged five times longer and gives a good account of itself. It’s not the best rum they’ve made, of the six I’ve sampledyet it solidifies an already impressive reputation for consistency of style and quality, and for those who venture forth to brave the high proof and crisply intense tastes, they will find little to dislike and much to enjoy.

(#1028)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


The rums in this short series:

Sep 182023
 

This is the second review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued dozens of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

For a rum younger than three years to give such a good account of itself is no mean feat, yet Renaissance Distillery out of Taiwan has done just that with this 2½ YO rum that in most other circumstances would be considered barely out of diapers. I think that in many ways they channel the sort of experimental drive and tinkering mentality that characterises Mhoba from South Africa, the New Australians, or the freshly minted crop of UK distilleries, who also come up with startlingly original young products from seemingly nowhere and without having to age something until it’s old enough to vote.

Renaissance Distillery, for those late to the party, is that small company rum by the husband and wife team of Olivier Caen and Linya Chiou which was officially founded in 2017 on the island of Taiwan, and so far as I am aware, is the only rum-focused distillery there even though sugar remains a crop grown on the island (for many years the state held a monopoly on spirits production which is why distilleries are thin on the ground). They concentrate on full-proof single-cask limited releasesand of course everyone now knows about their War & Peace style labels that are the envy of the known world.

This rum, one of six that was shown off at the 2023 TWE Rumshow, has stats that ten years ago would have seemed unbelievable, but with the passage of time and development of the rumiverse are now merely “pretty good”: a molasses-based wash (from Formosan sugar cane) fermented for 13 days, passed twice through the charentais pot still and then double aged: a year and a half in toasted American oak, and then a further 1½ years in a Saint-Julien 2nd growth cask (and though which house is not identified, I’ve read that the actual Chateau of origin is Léoville-Poyferré)1, and then squeezed into 252 bottles at a muscular 64.7% ABV.

The nose of the rum that this fermentation, distillation, short ageing and those two casks produces at the other end is a smidgen short of fantastic. No really. It is a lovely, rich deeply fruity nose, redolent of plums, blackcurrants and slightly overripe pears, underlain with brine, olives, the slightest hint of rancio, salty cashews, tequila and even a nice brie. I can honestly say it’s one of the more unusual aromas to come out of a rum I’ve had of late, and it’s all good. It keeps changing as it opens and develops, cycling into very ripe black grapes, red grapefruit and a tangy bit of citrus and vanilla, all very clean and quite crispone hardly notices the strength at all, except in so far as it helps deliver those smells more intensely.

To taste it is similarly mercurial…and delicious. It starts off hot and prickly and initially it’s all traditional notes: caramel, vanilla, leather, pepper, tannins, dark ripe fruits (raisins, prunes, plums). And then quietly, sinuously, almost before they’re noticed, creep in other flavours of freshly sawn cedar, nail polish, cucumbers in balsamic fig-infused vinegar, hot black tea sweetened with damp brown sugar still reeking of molasses, wet soil, and even rye bread slathered with salt butter and honey. And it all quietly inexorably leads to a strong, long, aromatic finish that reminds us of the fruits, the citrus, the vanilla and the wood, before closing up shop and fading away until the next sip.

It’s not often I try a rum that does what this one does with such seeming effortlessness: to move from one state of being to another without hurry and without haste and showcase the best of what it is capable. The strength and youth is only marginally tamed by the two casks and that short ageing time, but they do leave their imprint and enrich what in lesser hands might have been a sharp hot spicy mess of transmogrified gunk (I’ve had several like this in my time, trust me). Renaissance have channelled fermentation, still, ageing, casks and something intrinsic to Taiwantheir terroire, perhapsand brought it all together into a rum that is really quite a fine drink, one whose charms you can only revel in, the more it develops.

(#1026)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in the series:


Other notes

  • Not many other reviews out there: Whiskyfun’s 82 pointer from August of 2023 is the only one I can find. Serge’s tasting notes and mine are similar, but he draws different conclusions and likes it less.
Sep 102023
 

Over the next few weeks I’ll issue a set of reviews of the rums released by the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. One rum of the six that were demonstrated that afternoonthe #18260 “Finohas already been reviewed, so this short series will concentrate on the remaining five.

It has taken almost a decade for the small distillery called Renaissance to become a presence on the global rum stage, and four of those years were spent essentially operating as an unlicensed, near-illegal moonshinery. Olivier Caen and his wife Linya Chiou somehow weathered the stresses of holding down their day jobs while raising two sons, sourcing the cane, getting equipment to work, experimenting with fermentation, distillation, ageing, barrels, molasses, juice, dunder, acid, yeast…the whole nine yards. In 2017 the company was formally registered and even then it took another few years for people to notice they existed…just in time for COVID to delay matters for even longer.

But the wait has been worth it, for it allowed word to seep out into the Rumiverse that here was a new distillery from an new location about which we know too little, balancing terroire with tradition, out to make a mark with interesting rums issued at beefcake power and fancy casks, every time. Oh and their labels really are kind of awesome, said, like, everyone.

Which leads us to the rum under discussion today, one of 356 bottles of barrel #18095 which was distilled from 13-day-fermented molasses in April 2018 and bottled in October 2022 after having been run twice through the 1200-Litre Charentais pot still. The resultant rum was laid to rest for just over four years in a 350L limousin oak cask with varying levels of toast, and … well you get the drift. I could give you more but the label does that better than I could and provides even more and I’m already into the fourth paragraph without even telling you what the rum tastes like yet.

And that profile is pretty neat. The initial nose of this massive 63.5% ABV rum is at pains to make itself known and issue a statement, and it does that with aplombit blasts out initial notes of caramel and warm honey, white chocolate and milk-soaked cinnamon-flavoured cheerios. It’s some kind of sharp, so care must be taken, but once that blows off all one remembers is the firmness and solidity of the aromas, which, after some minutes, also channel a nice mix of lemon rind, half-ripe yellow mangoes, vanilla and brown sugar, plus a whiff of sweet pineapple. And even then it’s not quite over, with some piquant wet sawdust and varnish-y notes coming through here and there

Not enough? The palate will cure what ails you, assuming you sip and don’t gulp (therein lies a quick drunk, trust me). It’s a lovely amalgam of breakfast spicescinnamon, rosemary and vanilla, plus brown sugar, light molasses, gummi bears and both florals and fruits are back in fine style, to which some oakiness, tannics and brine are stirred for the finale. And that’s quite a finish: it’s hot, long-lasting and brings back most of the florals (light, herbal and grassy) and fruits (mangoes, cherries, red grapes and apples) and ties it all in a bow of sweet spices.

Whew. Some experience, this is. Yet for all its quality, I think this is the rum I would have liked toned down just a little. The intensity can use a touch of water to dial things down a notch, which would allow a better integration of the overall profile. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really quite good, and it’s a fascinating experience to observe the way it takes apart and reassembles well-known and easily recognizable elements into a configuration that’s almost, but not quite, familiar. It’s an impressive dram by that standard.

And that’s the mark of a good distiller, I think, the way we are carefully led to the edge of the map and then a step or two beyond it, to Ultima Thule or that blank spot where it says “here theyre be tygers…”. Rums like thisstrange yet familiar, unabashedly full proof, channelling a personal vision and merging a traditional distillation ethos with a solid grasp of the fundamentals, then marrying that off to a level of disclosure that is the envy of the spirits worldare why I stay in this game. This was not the best of the Renaissance rums I sampled that day at the Rumshow masterclass, no. But it made my tonsils cringe, my ears perk up and my hair blow back and isn’t that what we look for anytime we try something new?

(#1024)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


The rums in the series:

Aug 292023
 

The real question is not so much how good this Malabari Vaatte is, where it originates, or what it purports to be…but what exactly it is. Part of the issue surrounding the Mandakini is that the wording on the label could equally well be describing a real rum, a disguised alcoholic beverage claiming to be one, a spiced spirit, or some peculiar amalgam of all of the above.

The rum (I’ll use the term for now) is made in Canada, and therefore falls into the rabbit hole of the country’s arcane liquor laws, one of which, like Australia’s, states that a rumassuming it meets the basic criteria of being made from cane derivatives like molasses, juice or vesoucan only be so labelled if it is aged for a minimum time of one year. That’s all well and good except for this catch: the same terms one would use to describe a true rum not quite meeting the criteria (for example by being a completely unaged one), are also used to describe a neutral spirit that is doctored up to be more palatable. In this case it is labelled as being an “unaged spirit from sugar cane extract” which could be either one or the other, or neither. So which is it, exactly? The producers never say.

After scanning all available sources without resolution, I finally picked up the phone and asked them directly. The bottom line is that the Mandakini derives from a wash of blackstrap molasses fermented with natural yeast for two weeks or more, and is then double-distilled through a third party’s pot-still, after which a small amount of neutral spirit is added to the mix and it’s diluted down to 46%. There’s a reason for the addition, according to Abish Cheriyam, one of the founders who very kindly took the time to tell me all about itit’s to bring the price down so it’s affordable to the target audience, as well as smoothening out batch variation.

Trying it out (with three other Indian rums on the table as comparators) makes it obvious that this is not a rum of the kind we know, even taking into account its heritage. The nose is all sweet light candy and icing sugar, some vague sugar water, swank, lime peel, peppermint, bananas, and the kind of weak syrupy essence they dash into your flavoured coffee. Unfortunately the neutral spirit takes away from what could otherwise develop into much more interesting drink: it smells too much like a lightly sweet vodka. Those who are into Jamaican high ester beefcakes or strong unaged indigenous white rums will not find the droids they’re looking for here, and will likely note that this does not channel a genuine product made by some village still…at least not what they’ve come to expect from one.

The taste also makes this point: it is quite inoffensive, and it doesn’t feel like 46%, which to some extent is to its credit. Light, sweet, a little sharp, yet the downside is that there is too little to distinguish it. Some light florals, sugar water, coconut shavings, bananas and maybe the slightest touch of allspice. There is nothing distinctive here, and the rum feels too tamped down and softened up. I try to keep an open mind and am not exactly looking for the raw nastiness and sweat infused crap that real moonshine (like, oh, say, clairin) is often at pains to providebut at least a hint of such brutality would have been nice. It shrugs and coughs up a touch of mint, alcohol, medicine, cotton candy, it flexes its thin body a bit, and that’s pretty much the whole ball game. The finish is short, light, has some alcohol fumes, white fruit and light candy floss to recommend it, but alas is gone faster than my paycheck into Mrs. Caner’s hands when purses are on sale.


While members of the Indian diaspora would probably get this, the rum does not channel the subcontinent to me, and that’s not a guess, because Mandakini, irrespective of its Indian origins (all three of its founders are from the southern state of Kerala), is actually made by a small craft distillery called Last Straw, in Ontario. This is a small family outfit that was founded in 2013 as a whisky distillery with two small stills; it makes all kinds of spirits on its own accountwhisky, vodka, gin, rum and experimentals (including the fragrantly named “Mangy Squirrel Moonshine”) — and nowadays also does contract distilling, designing products from scratch for any client with an idea.

Clearly Abish Cheriyam, Alias Cheriyam and Sareesh Kunjappanengineers all, who have worked and lived in Canada for many yearshad such an idea, one that they felt deeply about, though unlike the Minhas family in western Canada, they had no background in the spirits business aside from their own enthusiasm. They did however, identify some gaps in Canada’s liquor landscape: there was very little Indian liquor on the shelves aside from Amrut’s whiskies or their Two Indies and Old Port rums, and Mohan Meakin’s Old Monk; and none at all that was an Indian equivalent to vaatte, a locally distilled liquor native to Kerala (also called patta charayam or nadan vaattu charayam), which, though banned in the state since the late 1990s (a holdover from pre-independence days when the Brits forbade local liquor so as not to damage sales of their own), retains an underground popularity almost impossible to stamp out. Rural folks disdain the imported whiskies and rums and ginsthey leave that frippery to city folks who can afford it, and much prefer their locally-made hooch. And like Jamaicans with their overproofs or Guyanese with their High Wine, no wedding or other major social occasion is complete without some underground village distiller producing several gallons to lubricate the festivities.

Since they could not afford to launch a distillery or wait for the endless licensing process to finish, they went to Last Straw to have them create it, and after experimenting endlessly with various blends and combinations, launched in August 2021, calling it a Malabari Vaatte (the similarity of that word to “water” is likely no accident), and aiming at the local Sri Lankan and Indian diaspora. Both the shape of the bottle and the lettering in five languages (Malayalam, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telegu) is directed at this population and the fact that the first batch sold out within days in Ontarioat the distillery, because they had not gotten a deal with the LCBO at the timesuggests it worked just fine. People were driving from all over the province to get themselves some.

In Kerala, Malabari vaatte is often made from the unrefined sugar called jaggery or from red rice like arrack, and also with any fruits or other ingredients as are on hand; it has a long and distinguished history as a perennially popular underground hooch, and that very likely comes from its easygoing nature which this one channels quite well. It shares that with other Asian spirits, like Korean shojus, Indonesian arracks, Cabo Verde grogues, or Vietnamese rượu: in other words, it is a (sometimes flavoured) drink of the masses, though Abish was at pains to emphasise that no flavourings or additives (aside from the aforementioned neutral alcohol) were included in his product.

As a casual hot weather drink and maybe a daiquiri ingredient, then, I freely admit it’s quite a pleasant experience, while also observing that true backwoods character is not to be looked for. To serious rum drinkers or bartending boozehounds who mix for a living, that’s an issuesome kind of restrained unhinged lunacy is exactly what we as rum drinkers want from such a purportedly indigenous drink. A sort of nasty, tough, batsh*t-level taste bomb that leaves it all out there on the table.

That said, I can see why it sellsespecially and even more so to those with a cultural attachment for itOld Monk tapped into that same vein many decades earlier. But that to some extent limits the Mandakini to that core audience, since people without that connection to its origins might pass it by. For all its good intentions and servicing the nostalgia and homesickness of an expatriate population far from their homelands, the Mandakini does not yet address the current market of the larger rum drinking population. It remains to be seen whether it can surmount that hurdle and become a bigger seller outside its core demographics. I hope it does.

(#1021)(74/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The name “Mandakini” is a common female name, familiar to most Indians from north or south. It was chosen not to represent anyone in particular but to instantly render it relatable and recognizable.
  • TheMalabariin the title refers to Kerala’s Malabar Coast, famed for its spices: it’s where Vasco da Gama made landfall in 1498 after rounding Africa.
  • There is currently a 65% ABV version of the Mandakini called “Malabari 65”, available at the distillery in Vaughn. This is one I wouldn’t mind trying just to see how it compares. If they were to make a high ester version of that, my feeling is it would fly off the shelves.
  • The range is now expanded to the original Malabari Vaatte, the 65, a Spiced Vaatte, and a Flavoured Vaatte. The latter two are apparently closer to the kind of drinks the founders initially envisioned and which are popular in Kerala, having ginger, cardamom and other spices more forward in the profile.
Jun 302023
 

Worthy Park rums at any age just seem to go for the boundary, every single timeno matter how it turns out. The results are rums of consistently decent (or high) quality, day in and day out, and I rarely find a failure, a flea-bitten dog or an also-ran glue-factory candidate in any of themand this goes all the way back to Rum Nation’s unaged white from 2014 (now matured into one of their regular five year old rums), or the Compagnie’s 2007 7YO and 8 YO released in 2015. All of which, for their time, shook the rum world with tremors of an incipient disturbance in the Force.

Since those early years Worthy Park has continued providing a fair amount of distillate for the use of third parties, while simultaneously developing their in house brands. These run the gamut from the entry level Rum Bar Silver and Gold (and overproof), to the 109, the Select, the Special Cask series (with various finishes or secondary maturations in porto, marsala, madeira, sherry etc), and the single estate aged rum, currently running at 12 years but likely soon to be older. There are even special versions like the recent Canadian release of the 2015 5YO, or the “Cask Selection” single barrel series. It can get a bit confusing sorting out all those “specials”, “selections” and “reserves” and good luck to anyone trying to make a collection of the lot.

For those who want a funky Jamaican alternative to the mellower mass-market Appletons or more rarefied Hampdens with their ever increasing series of limited collections, Worthy Park continues to provide good value for money, even for their more youthful expressions which they are experimenting with a la Foursquare. These limited editions fall under the Special Cask linehigher ABV, limited outturns, somewhat youthful, double maturationsand some time ago I picked up No.6 of their Special Cask Releases, of which I had already tried and liked the Oloroso and Marsala editions. This one was the usual pot still distillate, tropically aged in once-used ex-Bourbon barrels for four years, then matured a second time in virgin oak casks (not the slutty kind, I gather), which then provided 397 bottles at 55%. The back label says “casks” yet one wonders exactly how many (or how few) were needed for such a small outturn. Two, maybe?

Never mind though. The age of five years and that double maturation is what’s interesting, as well as the pot still distillateone would expect the casks to be quite active because of their little-used nature and the heat in the tropics. Nosing it suggests that it works really well to get flavours to manifest quickly, because while somewhat hot to smell, it is also deep, dark and dour at first sniff…quite delicious. Pancakes and maple syrup, creamy unsweetened yoghurt and a lovely amalgam of honey, caramel, toffee, nougat and white chocolate. It may have been the casks, it just seems to me that aroma-wise the pot still sour funky fruits seem to have been kept away, though faint traces of pineapple, strawberries and overripe bananas and oranges do linger for those with long snoots; and these are joined by notes of salt crackers, gherkins and balsamic vinegar (one of those fancy ones, from figs maybe).

The absence of the funkiness is, on the palate, more striking, and would make anyone trying this blind to wonder whether it conformed to a particularly Jamaican profile at all. The strength is solid and bearable at 55%, no worries there; it starts off with traditional notes of caramel, toffee, light molasses and vanilla, before segueing into some olives and brine, a touch of sweet soya, and a subdued panoply of dark fruitsprunes, plums, blackberries, that kind of thing. Tucked in way at the back are the oddballs, of which I wish there were moresome iodine, charcoal, cooking herbs and lemon. Nothing overbearing, just really interesting, and set off by a pleasant, long and dry finish redolent of aromatic pipe tobacco, red wine, brine and some sour red grapes.

It’s really quite impressive what Worthy Park has done with a mere five years of ageing, and shows why they have developed the reputation they doto the extent where a friend of mine in Saskatchewan asked me to get a WP Canadian-only release for him (same age and lacking any ageing- or finishing-flourishes) even though it exceeded his normal budget for such things. The tastes are solid, the aromas are well integrated and if it’s a bit hot and rough around the edges and doesn’t sport anything seriously original, it’s still a surprisingly varied and interesting rum. At the time when I bought the bottle everyone was going apesh*t over the just-released WP 109: me, I shrugged and reached into the slightly more recent past to get this one, and still think that while both are good, this is the better buy.

(#1009)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Of course, as soon as I saw “No. 6” I couldn’t let it restwhich ones were 1-5, right? I started a list of the Special Cask Releases but the numbering scheme and inconsistencies of label-naming have thus far defeated even a mind as organised and agile as mine: there are too many gaps and similar names to make the list exhaustive (I’ve sent a note to Zan Kong to assist). But here’s what I came up with:
    • Special Cask Release #8 | 52% | 2013-2018 | 2-4 YO | Quatre Vins | 1318b
    • Special Cask Release #7 | 55% | 2013-2018 | 5 YO | Oloroso
    • Special Cask Release #6 | 55% | 2013-2018 | 5 YO | Virgin Oak | 397b
    • Special Cask Release #4 | 58% | 2013-2018 | 5 YO | Madeira
    • Special Cask Release #3 | 57% | 2013-2018 | 5 YO | Sherry
    • Special Cask Release #x | 59% | 2012-2017 | 5 YO | Oloroso
    • Special Cask Release #x | 45% | 2010-2020 | 10 YO | Port
    • Special Cask Release #x | 45% | 2010-???? | 10 YO | Madeira
    • Special Cask Release #x | 60% | 2012-2017 | 5 YO | Marsala
    • Special Cask Release #x | 59% | 2008-2013 | 5 YO | Oloroso | 428b
    • Special Cask Release #x | 56% | 2008-2017 | 9 YO | Port | 585b
Jun 262023
 

“Asia may be the next region to discover for rummies,” I wrote back in 2018 when introducing audiences to Chalong Bay for the first time, and nothing between then and now has caused me to significantly alter that off-the-cuff prognostication. Already, back then, we were seeing interesting (if not always world-beating) rums from Tanduay from the Philippines, Mekhong from Thailand, Amrut from India, Sampan from Vietnam, and Laotian from Laos. Australia was ticking along under everyone’s radar, the Pacific islands were just getting more well known, and of course there was always Nine Leaves out of Japan.

Not long after that new companies and new brands began to sprout up and become better known through exhibitions at rum festivals all over Europe: rums from artisanal companies like Renaissance (Taiwan), Mia (Vietnam), Naga (Indonesia), Samai (Cambodia), Issan (Thailand), Mana’o (Tahiti) rubbed shoulders with older and more establishedbut still barely knownbrands like Teeda and Cor Cor (Japan), Old Monk (India), Kukhri (Nepal), Laodi (Laos), and Sang Som (Thailand again). This is what I mean when I remark that poor distribution and a fixation with the Caribbean sometimes obscures the seriously cool work being done elsewhere, and if it weren’t for an occasional indie release, we’d never even hear about some of them.

But I digress: Chalong Bay is one of the relatively new companies out there, founded in 2014 by a pair of French entrepreneurs from named Marine Lucchini and Thibault Spithakis who saw Thailand as a good place to start a small artisanal distillery. They sourced a copper column still from France and went fully organic and all-natural: no chemicals or fertilisers for the cane crop, no burning prior to harvesting, hand harvesting, and a spirit made from freshly cut and crushed cane juice with no additives, sourced from local farmers from around the region they operatePhuket, a tourist town on a spit of land jutting into the Andaman sea (the distillery is just south of the town of Phuket itself).

When last I looked at their rums, there wasn’t a whole lot of variety in the lineup. Little or no aged juice, a white and some infusions and that was it. Nowadays Chalong Bay sports three distinct lines – #001, which is the original pure unaged white rum at 40%, #002 the “Tropical Notesseries which is vapour-infused flavoured white rum (lemongrass, Thai sweet basil, cinnamon, kaffir lime are examples), and #003, a spiced variation mixed up with some nine different Asian botanicals. What their website doesn’t tell you is all the other stuff they make and which was on display at 2022’s WhiskyLive in Paris: a 2YO aged version, two different unaged whites (one wild yeast version with longer fermentation time, and another one at 57%), and this one, which was released by LMDW for their “Antipodes” collection last yeara 20 month old 62.1% growler (which is also called the Lunar Series, and represented in 2022 by the tiger on the label). It came from two ex-bourbon barrels aged in France (not Thailand), so somewhat limited, though the exact outturn is unknown…I’d suggest around a thousand bottles, maybe a shade less.

That strength is off-putting for many, and with good reasonnorth of 60% is getting a little feral, and this cane juice rum is no exceptionit’s snarly, gnarly and ugly and it doesn’t much like you. Behind all that aggro, however, is a full service agricole taste smorgasbord, plus a swag bag of gleefully provided extras. It starts off with brine, olives and sugar water and that colourless sweet syrup they sometimes put into some concoction at Starbucks. There’s a a nice scent of hummus with unsweetened yoghurt and olive oil (and a pimento or two), but all that’s required here is a little patience: soon enough we get sweet deep fruitsstrawberries, apricots, pears, raspberries, ginnips, kiwi fruit, and peaches and cream. Stick around long enough and citrus-like sodas like Sprite or Fanta make their appearance…and, even a faint tinge of mints…or mothballs.

Well…okay. It’s interesting for sure, and it is deep and strong, if a little arid. The taste is like that as well: sharp, dry, clean and fierce. It tastes initially of sugar water, soda pop, coconut shavings, combined with a flirt of vanilla and as it opens up we get crisp fruits, some light toffee and more of those pale, easy going fruits like pears, papaya, melon and white guavas. Some water is good to have here, and I’m sure it would make a banging daiquiri. The palate is the sort of thing that gives a bit more if you stick with it, and the finish is equally tasty (as well as being long and quite dry), without actually introducing much that hasn’t passed by already.

Overall, this is a rum that’s got a lot going on, is very tasty and a joy to smell. It reminds me of the O Reizinho we looked at last week, with some of that same dichotomy between the youth and the age: the two sides coexist, but uneasily. Recently I’ve tried a few rums that first made their bones as unaged unapologetic white beefcakesclairins, the new Renegades, the Reizinho, etcand were then aged a smidgen and released as sub-five year old rums (Rum Nation also did that with their first Jamaican white, you may recall). And while most are goodas this isalmost none of them have vaulted to the next level and blown my socks off…at least not yet.

The new and the original is always worth trying, and Chalong Bay has been on my radar for quite a while: what they have managed to do here for LMDW is just a few shots shy of spectacular. White rhums are admittedly something of an acquired taste, and maybe this rum will not find favour with a global, mellower audience which doesn’t eagerly or willingly (let alone deliberately) walk into a face-melting exercise in spirituous braggadocio. Still: I think this is one hell of a rum, showing the heights to which a minimally aged white can aspire if not filtered to death or overly messed withand if on this occasion it doesn’t quite make the peak, well, it comes damned close.

(#1008)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½