Sep 302021
 

After only four years, the Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve rum has become so quietly ubiquitous, so well known and so widespread, that the bombshell it and all its brothers dropped on the rum world in 2017 has almost been forgotten. Even in the short time since its coming-out party, it has garnered a serious reputation for itself and reminds us all of the great rums emerging from Jamaica. One of the criteria I have for inclusion in the series is availability and longevity, and less than half a decade of being on the shelves might not strike some as sufficient time to enter the pantheonbut having tried it many times, I am convinced that it will hold its power, and continue to appeal.

My personal contention is that in about 2016 or so, a long-gestating tectonic shift started to gather real force, the phenomenon I call The Rise of the New Jamaicans. Appleton, as it had been for a long time, remained the most globally recognized Jamaican name in rum and focused mostly on blends, exported the world over. But by now the colonial model of low cost bulk rum resource extraction from the peripheries which characterized many other distilleries (not just in Jamaica), and which led to value added premium spirits in the central metropole, had been creaking for decades, and finally cracked. In all the major sugar and rum producing areas of the Caribbean, hard hit by falling sugar prices, indigenous producers were taking a good hard look at the constant bulk sales abroad and decided that rather than letting a plethora of re-bottlers and independents reap all the benefits of the rising tide of premiumization, they could get in on the action themselves.

Worthy Park as a distillery re-emerged on the scene after reopening in 2005. It had been closed since the the 1960s when overproduction of rum had led to the shuttering of several distilleries: Gordon Clarke, a descendant of the family that owned it since 1918, felt the time was ripe to re-establish the brand name and not just make sugar, as the estate had been doing since that time. Rather than refurbish the old equipment, a completely new distillery with wider applications was constructed, and in 2005 the rum began to flow and be laid down for ageing. Bulk sales were established, and occasionally there were also sales of barrels to brokersthis is why we saw the SMWS, L’Esprit, Compagnie des Indes, Mezan, Velier, Rum Nation and 1423 popping up with indie releases for years, and third party contract rums like Doctor Bird coming across our sightlines with increasing frequency. And that’s not even counting Bacardi’s foray into the limited market with the embarrassingly indifferent money-grab of the Single Cane edition.

WP, once they got going, initially released their own inhouse branded series of rums called RumBar, which were relatively young or unaged bar staples, mixers for the most part. Aimed squarely at Appleton’s market share, these began quietly making waves, but had not yet reached any sort of critical mass, though they did became quite popular in the Jamaican, Caribbean and the North American bar scene. This all got a boost with the Special Cask rums that popped up in the festival circuit in 2017. The Marsala and Oloroso editions were really very good, and rightfully garnered rave reviews: but those were limited releases and sold at higher prices, were positioned as more premium. They were, in the following years, joined by other limited edition aged expressions, often finished, with different marques, and carved themselves a niche in the top end premium segment at prices trending towards three figures.

These were the headliners, but behind all the fancy finishes and exclusive editions and what have you, the blended six year old Single Estate rum1 slowly garnered for itself a quietly serious reputation, just kept on truckin’, was never out of production, and has now become synonymous with WP’s affordable mid-range workhorses (though oddly, it was promoted as an Ultra Premium in Jamaica itself when released there in 2019). It is perhaps a bit rarefied, retailing for around £50 in Europe and between $60-$70 in the US, but I suggest it retains real value when one considers the completely pot still production, and the fierce and uncompromising nature of its profile.

Appleton has always cornered the low-to-midrange market for Jamaican rums with its solidly made, tasty, approachable, affordable, availableand let’s face it, also inoffensivepot-column blended rums. Worthy Park had no time for any of this wussy stuff, and went gleefully all-in with their 18,000-liter pot still. This shows up clearly the moment one cracks the Single Estate rum: the nose is light, yet presents an intense funky, fruity aroma. There is so much going on here that it behooves one to unpack the thing carefully: there is caramel ice cream, butter and salt, brine and olives. Also softer bananas, cut with lemon peel and behind that is the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore’s back shelf, or that of a hay barn. Finally, as if thinking “dis t’ing still ain’ got enuff kick-up rumpus” it coughed up a last series of notes of biscuits, cereals, vanilla and some undefined indian spices, just because, y’know, it could.

Some might feel the 45% strength is too too timid, and serves only to restrain and contain the wide panoply of fierce tastes of which the rum is capable (and which some people really want), but perhaps more might have reduced us all to a state of catatonic shock, so let’s be grateful. For a pot still rum like this, I submit it’s probably correct, so it can appeal to a larger mass audience. So, it’s very warm, stopping just short of hot, and presents initially as slightly sweet, with those musty spices detected on the nose snapping into clearer focus: black pepper, curry, turmeric, masala, plus all the extras of coconut shavings, bananas, citrus, vanilla, and the yeastiness of fresh dark bread. It ends things with a trace of nutmeg, cinnamon and oak, leading into a finish characterized by leather, damp aromatic pipe tobacco, port wine and some fruit

This rum tastes really fine: bitter, salt, sweet, crisp, it hits all the high notes, and if it lacks the extra fillip of finishing / double maturation like the Marsala and Oloroso, that’s no hardship, and it’s completely approachable by a layman. It has those mid-range esters, that higher level of funk, and is something like an amped-up Appleton, yet none of it is excessive, and it presents better, I think, because of the pot still origins and the eschewing of the pot and column blend (which I am slowly coming to realize produces an easier rumbut not always one of individual uniqueness).

Now, it’s a curious thing that there exists an unstated, underground perception that Worthy Park has been playing second fiddle to Hampden all this time. They certainly ferment in the same vat: not only does Hampden also sell bulk rum (and have done so for most of its modern existence), but they have their own estate range of fiery New Jamaican bar staples like Rum Fire and Stolen Overproof…as well as releases by well-known indies like the Compagnie, Renegade, SMWS, Samaroli, Murray McDavid, Romdelux, 1423, Rum Nation and BBR. Add to that the worldwide distribution deal Velier cut with Hampden in 2017 and their slick marketing, and you can see why Worthy Park seemed to be lagging behind and picking up footprints.

But I feel it’s a matter of perception, not degree, or even reality. A Key Rum of any kind is more than just “reputation”. It is a measure of reknown and quality, of an easy ability to move between the worlds of the cocktail and the neat pour, of the insatiable desire of secondary bottlers and bartenders and consumers alike to snag a bottle of the stuff, at a price that can be afforded and leave the buyer think he got the best of the deal. It welcomes, not intimidates, and you don’t have to be an expert to “get it”. By that standard, the Worthy Park workhorse of the Single Estate Reserve is not only one of most flexible and most versatile Jamaicans currently extant, but one of the best rums from the island, period, and a compelling reason to add yet another famed Jamaican distillery to the pantheon. Hampden may one day become a component of the canon as well, but for today, let Worthy Park get all the applause it so richly deserves. Because, me bredren, dem may be likkle, but damn, dem tallawah.

(#854)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • Other candidates I had tasted and considered for this entry in the Key Rums series included the Rum Bar White and Gold, as well as the WP Single Estate 3 and 12 Year Old. I felt the overall quality of this rum for the price, tipped the balance.
Sep 162021
 

Last time around we discussed a Brazilian cachaça from the environmentally astute company Novo Fogo which they called “Chameleon”it was aged about a year and meant to quietly blend in to the various mixes for which it was destined (hence the name). I felt it succeeded reasonably well on its own grounds, and the next step up the food chain, the “Barrel Aged” version that is the subject of today’s review, also follows in that traditionthough in my opinion, less successfully.

The details are pretty much the same with respect to the company (I’ve added it below the review to save needless repetition). Novo Fogo is based in the southern state of Paraná in Brazil, has a strong organic and environmental ethos, and makes a trio of cachaças ranging from the “Silver” to this young barrel aged iteration: the three are the more accessible, more familiar portion of their range because they are agedwhen they are aged at allin American ex-bourbon barrels: these are sourced from the Haven Hill distillery in this instance, taken apart, sanded and charred. 1

That combo of charring the American ex-bourbon barrels and longer ageing within them, has resulted in the most rum-like cachaça I’ve ever tried. None of the slightly bitter, off-kilter amburana aromas here, no sharp juddering teak notes. Instead, initial scents of vanilla, minerals and cold campfire ashes combine uneasily with more “traditional” caramel, brown sugar, and soft fruits. One can sense the brininess, olives and more pungent hints of a pot still distillate that processed a cane juice wash, but dialled way down and wafting away before one can properly come to grips with it. It’s 40% ABV and that’s part of it, of course, because the 43% Chameleon showed more character, even though it was younger.

The palate is better: it’s tasty on its own terms, and interesting, but ultimately a weak tea that once again fails to provide anything we have not already had from various lightly aged añejos, ambres or gold rums. Biscuits, cereal, whipped cream, plus sugar water and a few spices. A soft hint of peaches, maybe cherries. The few rummy flavours the nose had promised have headed for the hills like the Road Runner, leaving nothing behind but a thin dissipating dust cloud which promises all sorts of nice goodiesblack tea, fruit loops cereal, a flash of orange peel, spices and herbsand leaves your palate twitchingbut there’s no follow-through and they dissipate quickly. The finish is pretty much more of the same: short, clean, light, mostly sugar cane sap and frassy, herbal notes. Nothing specific, nothing to remember, nothing that stands out, and all gone too quick.

Aged cachaças are somewhat less popular and perhaps less well known. This is hardly surprising, since the purpose of a serious cachaça is to boost a caipirinha, and the wilder the profile of the cachaça, the better the caipirinha is supposed to be. That sort of crazy comes best from unaged spirits, as evidenced by the strong blancs making better ti’ punches in the French islands.

None of that off-the-reservation individuality is in evidence here. The barrel-aged cachaca Novo Fogo made seems almost shy, as if embarrassed to display anything so vulgar as an actual character. It is touted as a step up from its cousin (possibly based on the fallacy that more age = better rum), but smells muted and muffled, with most of the interesting stuff bleached outand then whatever remains has agreed to a non aggression pact. While rum-like enough to appeal to someone looking into the standard-strength Brazilian spirits market to see what the fuss is all about, I feel it lacks the decent low-level complexity which marked the Chameleon. In this case, the cheaper product gets my money.

(#851)(78/100)


Other notes

  • The producer was originally a small distillery from Morretes, which is located in the south of Brazil, founded in 2004 by Fulgencio Torres Viruel (known simply as “Torres”) and master distiller Agenor Maccari (“Dr. Cachaça”), and in 2010 the Novo Fogo brand was launched after entrepreneurs Dragos and Emily Axinte partnered up to produce it. Most of the press you will find dates from 2015 which was the date that these four people acquired the facilities of Agroecologia Marumbi SA, a USDA organic certified distillery. This allowed an increase in production which in turn led to exports to North America and Europe around 2017.
  • Ever since its introduction to the festival and bartending circuit in that year, the brand has been gaining in recognition, taking its place alongside old-staple-cachaças like Leblon, Pitu, Avua and Yaguara. Its ever-increasing brand-awareness is tied to their organic and environmentally friendly production processes and stated commitment to sustainable production.
  • Novo Fogo cachaça is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of their process. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still. The resultant spirit is either rested in stainless steel tanks or put to age in American oak casks, though smaller quantities are aged in barrels made of local woods for various other expressions.
Sep 092021
 

In 2017 I wrote about a cachaça I had tried in Toronto from a Brazilian company named Novo Fogo, which means “New Fire” in Portuguese. That was an unaged, one-year-rested “Silver” cachaça that I liked quite a bit, and in doing my research after the fact, I discovered the company also had a number of other such spirits in the portfolio, resolved to try what I could, and subsequently scouted them out in the years that followed.

This cachaça, then, is the next one up the ladder for Novo Fogo. It is a blend of both aged and unaged spirits, derived from (of course) cane juice and departs from more traditional Brazilian cachaças in two interesting ways: it is made on a pot still (as opposed to the much more common column still spirits that dominate the industry); and it was aged for one year in American oak, not local woods like Amburana (which make Brazilian spirits so different to the palate conditioned by years of molasses-based rums or aged agricoles from the French islands). What this does is provide the drinker with the best of three worlds: the terroire of Brazil’s southern province of Paraná (the distillery is located there, not Minas Gerais where the most traditional cachacas are made) coupled with a more familiar aged profile based on American oakwhich in turn saves the more endangered Brazilian barrel woods from overharvesting.

The question is whether that translates into a cane juice spirit that we who cut our teeth on French island agricoles could both relate to and enjoy for its own character. The initial nose of the 43% cachaça does indeed smell promising: it is so green it squeaks going into a turn. It’s freshly cut green grass, steamed vegetables and palm fronds….if they were liquid. It smells herbal, of sugar water and citrus peel and kitchen spices, and yet also briny and solida bucket of salt beef mixing it up with sharp tannic and woodsy notes, and not too many sweet fleshy fruits.

The taste moves right along from there. Grassy and green tea flavours are prominent at first, but other sweet notes develop over time as well: light honey, caramel, vanilla, peas. After opening up, the fruits that seemed to be missing from the nose turn up here: watermelon, pears, white guavas, even sweet peas and steamed corn, mixed up with some soya, lemongrass and parsley in a mild vegetable soup. It leads to a quiet and short finish mostly characterized by grassy notes and some sweetish, very mild fruits.

Novo Fogo’s one year old cachaça is an interesting variation on rhums we know. The sweet, herbal notes are not out to lunch or abnormal, and the use of the American oak has helped maintain a lightly-aged profile that other cachacas with more aggressive use of native woods might not (as Delicana showed here and here, it can be a bit hit and miss). Overall, the whole experience is somewhat removed from that of young or unaged agricoles generally, which is as it should be, since we’re not talking about a French island rhum, or a cane juice spirit made in the Indian Ocean islands with the esters dialled up to “11”. The ancestry is, however, quite clear, and anyone who has had even a passing familiarity with agricoles will find much that is recognizable and enjoyable with the “Chameleon”, especially at that approachable strength of 43%.

That might be the secret behind the name: it is a rhuma cachaçamade in Brazil, but hews so close to the profile we know that it might in fact be taken for something else. Only the sly off-kilter notes and occasional divergences are there to tell you it’s not, and I submit that those differences are what make it interesting, and worth taking a chance onas long as you don’t mind going off the beaten track a bit.

(#849)(81/100)


Other notes

  • The producer was originally a small distillery from Morretes, which is located in the south of Brazil, founded in 2004 by Fulgencio Torres Viruel (known simply as “Torres”) and master distiller Agenor Maccari (“Dr. Cachaça”), and in 2010 the Novo Fogo brand was launched after entrepreneurs Dragos and Emily Axinte partnered up to produce it. Most of the press you will find dates from 2015 which was the date that these four people acquired the facilities of Agroecologia Marumbi SA, a USDA organic certified distillery. This allowed an increase in production which in turn led to exports to North America and Europe around 2017.
  • Ever since its introduction to the festival and bartending circuit in that year, the brand has been gaining in recognition, taking its place alongside old-staple-cachaças like Leblon, Pitu, Avua and Yaguara. Its ever-increasing brand-awareness is tied to their organic and environmentally friendly production processes and stated commitment to sustainable production.
  • Novo Fogo cachaça is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of their process. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still. The resultant spirit is either rested in stainless steel tanks or put to age in American oak casks, though smaller quantities are aged in barrels made of local woods for various other expressions.
  • I reached out to Novo Fogo, curious to find out more about the name, and Luke McKinley responded from the Seattle office and repliedWe gave Chameleon its name because it’s a versatile cachaça that can “blend in” to a variety of cocktails. At just 1 year of age, it retains the sugarcane funk of our unaged Silver Cachaça, but picks up enough characteristics from the American oak ex-bourbon barrels to work in stirred, spirituous cocktails.

 

Sep 022021
 

One of the German independent Our Rum & Spirits’ earlier bottlings is the Guyanese Enmore from 1990 which was bottled in 2015, a year after they released their first one (an 11 YO Diamond). It’s a respectable 24 (European) years old, a solid anvil-dropping 61.2% ABV, 178 bottles, and of course, it’s not from the Enmore coffey but from the Versailles single wooden pot still, which was the still-in-residence at Enmore Estate back then, before everything got shipped off to Diamond around 2000 in The Great Consolidation.

By now I’ve been trying various single-still offerings from Guyana for years, usually made by the indies but also, more recently, by DDL themselves. One thing I’ve observed is that Enmore distillate tends to be a shade more elegant and a touch light, the Port Mourant is dark and rich and rarely bad at any age, while Versailles is somewhat more brutal, is raw and assertive, and takes real skill to bring to its full potential. This may be why there are so many bottlings of the other two in circulation, while Versailles is rather more rare, and used more in Demerara rum blends (along with the PM).

That said, it’s always interesting how a rum made three decades ago and aged for so long holds on to its character. The nose here opens with fresh, damp sawdust and varnished lumber. One would expect a certain mellowness of age, a smoothening out of roughness, yet the rum still noses like a product much younger, retaining a thin crisp vibrancy, with notes of glue, acetones, licorice, smoke, well-polished old leather, faint salted caramel, and a few ripe stoned fruits for some edge. Oh, and some sweet dusting of brown sugar and cinnamon.

The palate is where such forceful strength comes into its own: here that presents as dry, woody and very sharp, like a whole bag of Red Rose loose black tea dumped into a very small pot and then doused with some brown sugar and a tin of evaporated milk (we called it “bush tea” back in the dayI once fed my little brother some when he was doing exams and he stayed up for two days straight on the stuff). Vanilla, molasses, caramel and licorice are the dominant flavours. Subtler hints of acetone, soya and brininess become noticeable after a while, and some very faint floral and fruity hints waft around without ever making a serious statement. Unsurprisingly it concludes with a finish as long as a polar summer sunset, but it’s slim pickin’s: wood and tannins, some salted caramel, anise, and again, a grain or two of cinnamon.

Well, I have to say that for something sporting a jock of such high ABV and age, I did expect something more complex and pungent on the attack. While undeniable strong and hard on the senses, in the flavour department the rum packs all the verve and panache of an eunuch’s underwear. The opening notes are simple, almost lackluster; then the palate overwhelmed with wood and varnish, and I was reminded of the Old Man SpiritsUitvlugt, which also showed off a lot of oomph but had little serious sensory action beyond the obvious. It suggests to me that the cask was not very active, and what you got was what the raw distillate brought to the party, not what the barrel itself was able to add.

Be that as it may, I can’t give the final product a completely failing grade, because let’s admit it, at that strength you’re getting a lot, the tastes that are there aren’t bad, and if it takes a bit more effort to tease out more interesting and extra aromatic notes, well, so be it. All the statsthe ABV, the age, the country, the stillare just excuses to get us to engage our senses with the rum itself, a Diamond-based Duke Nukem that’s all action and no reflection, desiring no deeper meaning for itself beyond the test of your ability to cope with it. Speaking for myself, I can’t say that’s entirely a bad thing.

(#847)(84/100)


Background History

Our Rum & Spirits, located in the small town of Hildesheim just south of Hanover in north-central Germany, is among the first of the new wave of modern German independents, however small they might be. Back in 2014 when the company bottled its first release (a Guyanese 2003 11 YO from Diamond), the rum business was a sideshow to Christian Nagel’s restaurant which served rums (and some other spirits) as part of the menu.

The next logical step was to bottle what he himself would like to haveat the very least if he had a barrel, he wouldn’t run out quite so fast. The reception to the initial Diamond was so good that others followed, and two years later he was exhibiting at the Berlin Rum Fest: he’s now a regular and a medal winner there (several times) and has multiple bottlings from Guyana, Barbados, Panama and Jamaica. For me he’s a regular stopping point whenever I’m there, if only to chat and say hello.

By early 2018 he removed his spirits activities to different premises from the restaurant and now acts as both independent and distributor; this aspect of his work became successful enough that in June of 2021, gave up the gastronomy business altogether.


 

Aug 262021
 

Cadenhead, in their various rum releases stretching back a hundred years or more, has three major rivers running into the great indie rum ocean, each of which has progressively less information than the one before it:

  • The cask strength, single-barrel “Dated Distillation” series with a three- or four-letter identifier and lots of detail on source and age; I submit these are probably the best and rightly the most sought-after rums they release. The only question usually remaining when you get one, is what the letters stand for.
  • The Green Label series; these are usually single-country blends, sometimes mashed together from multiple distilleries (or stills, or both), mostly from around the Caribbean and Central/South America (they’ve gone further afield of late). Here you get less detail than the DDs, mostly just the country, the age and the strength, which is always 46% ABV. I never really cared for their puke yellow labels with green and red accents, but now they’re green for real. Not much of an improvement, really.
  • Classic Blended Rum; a blend of Caribbean rums, location never identified, age never stated (not on label or website), usually bottled at around 50% ABV. You takes your chances with these, and I’ve only ever had one, and quite liked it.

The subject of today’s review is a Green Label Barbados. This is not the first time that this series (which Cadenhead releases without schedule, rhyme or reason) has had a Barbadian rum in it: in fact, I had looked at a Barbados 10 year old back in 2017. There are at least seven rums that I know of in that series, not counting the full strength “Dated Distillation” collection, and I think they have an entrant from every distillery on the island between the two collections except St. Nicholas Abbey (which doesn’t export bulk). Most of the Greens are from WIRD or Mount Gay, while Foursquare is rather better represented of late in the DDs.

Which one is this, then? As far as I know, it’s a WIRD rum done in the Rockley style, based on these data points: Marco Freyr’s research, Marius Elder’s Rockley tasting based on research of his own, the year of distillation (1986 is a famous year for the Rockley style), and my own tastingnone of which is conclusive on its own, but which in aggregate are good enough for government work, and I’ll stand behind it until somebody issues the conclusive corrective.

I say it’s a Rockley style (see below for a historical recap), which is an opinion I came to after the tasting and before looking around for details, but what is it about its profile that bends my thinking that way? Well, let’s get started and I’ll try to explain.

Nose first: It’s both sharp and creamy at once, with clear veins of sweet red licorice, citrus, sprite and fanta running through a solid seam of caramel, toffee, white chocolate, almonds and a light latte. Letting it open up brings forth some light, clean floral scents, mint, sugar water, red currants and raisins, which the Little Caner grandly dismissed under with the brief title of “oldie fruity stuff.” (You can’t impress that boy, honestly).

The palate is interesting: it’s clean, yet also displaying some of the more solid notes which would suggest a pot still component; it retains the sharp and crisp tartness of unripe fruitred currants, raspberries, strawberries, mangoes. Here the caramel bonbons and toffees take a back seat and touches of brine, pimentos and balsamic vinegar suggest themselves. Leaving it alone and then returning, additional notes of marzipan, green grapes and apples are noticeable, and also a rather more marked oak influence, though this does not, fortunately, overwhelm. The finish is dry, sweet and salt, with some medicinal iodine flashes, plus of course the oak, fruits and licorice, nothing too earthshaking here.

The rum as a whole is not unpleasant at all, and yes, it’s Rockley styleif you were to retry the SMWS R6.1 from 2002 (“Spice at the Races”) and then sample a few Foursquares and a MG XO, the difference is clear enough for there to be little doubt. Surprisingly, Marius felt the herbal and honey notes predominated and pushed the fruits to the back, while I thought the opposite. But he says and I inferred, that this is indeed a Rockley.

I think the extended maturation had something to do with how well it presented: even accounting for slower ageing in Scotland, eighteen years was sufficient to really enhance the distillate in a way that the older Samaroli WIRD 1986 released two years later somehow failed to do. It’s rare, unfortunately (we don’t know the outturn), but it’s come up for auction on whisky sites a few times and varies in price from £80-£120, which I think is pretty good deal for those who like Barbadian rums in general. This rum from Cadenhead is not a world beater, but it’s quite good on its own terms, and showcases an aspect of Barbados which is nice to try on occasion, if only for the variety.

(#845)(85/100)


Notes – The Rockley “Still” (reposted)

Many producers, commentators and reviewers, myself among them, refer to the pot still distillate from WIRR/WIRD as Rockley Still rum, and there are several who conflate this with “Blackrock”, which would include Cadenhead and Samaroli (but not 1423, who refer to their 2000 rum specifically as simply coming from a “pot still” at “West Indies” – Joshua Singh confirmed for me that it was indeed a “Blackrock style” rum).

Based on the research published by Cedrik (2018) and Nick Arvanitis (2015) as well as some digging around on my own, here are some clarifications. None of it is new, but some re-posting is occasionally necessary for such articles to refresh and consolidate the facts.

“Blackrock” refers to WIRD as a whole, since the distillery is located next to an area of that name in NW Bridgetown (the capital), which was once a separate village. In the parlance, then, the WIRD distillery was sometimes referred to as “Blackrock” though this was never an official title – which didn’t stop Cadenhead and others from using it. There is no “Blackrock Still” and never has been.

Secondly, there is a “Rockley” pot still, which had possibly been acquired by a company called Batson’s (they were gathering the stills of closing operations for some reason) when the Rockley Distillery shuttered — Nick suggests it was transformed into a golf course in the late 1800s / early 1900s but provides no dates, and there is indeed a Rockley Resort and golf club in the SE of Bridgetown today. But I can’t find any reference to Batson’s online at all, nor the precise date when Rockley’s went belly-up — it is assumed to be at least a century ago. Nick writes that WIRD picked up a pot still from Batson’s between 1905 and 1920 (unlikely to be the one from Rockley), and it did work for a bit, but has not been operational since the 1950s.

This then leads to the other thread in this story which is the post-acquisition data provided by Alexandre Gabriel. In a FB video in 2018, summarized by Cedrik in his guest post on Single Cask, he noted that WIRD did indeed have a pot still from Batson’s acquired in 1936 which was inactive, as well as another pot still, the Rockley, which they got that same year, also long non-functional. What this means is that there is no such thing as a rum made on the Rockley still in the post-1995 years of the current rum renaissance, and perhaps even earlier – the labels are all misleading.

The consensus these days is that yet a third pot still — acquired from Gregg’s Farms in the 1950s and which has remained operational to this day — provided the distillate for those rums in the last twenty years which bear the name Blackrock or Rockley. However, Cedrik adds that some of the older distillate might have come from the triple chamber Vulcan still which was variously stated as being inactive since the 1980s or 2000 (depending on the interview) and it was later confirmed that the most famous Rockley vintages from 1986 and 2000 were made with a combination of the Vulcan (used as a wash still) and the Gregg (as a spirit still).

Yet, as Cedrik so perceptively notes, even if there is no such thing as a Rockley-still rum, there is such a thing as a Rockley style. This has nothing to do with the erroneous association with a non-functional named still. What it is, is a flavour profile. It has notes of iodine, tar, petrol, brine, wax and heavier pot still accents, with honey and discernible esters. It is either loved or hated but very noticeable after one has gone through several Barbados rums. Marco Freyr often told me he could identify that profile by smell alone even if the bottler did not state it on the label, and I see no reason to doubt him.


 

Aug 082021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#842)(90/100)

Jul 292021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#840)(88/100)

May 272021
 

Image provided courtesy of Jörn Kielhorn

Cadenhead’s defiantly massive codpiece, this 73.6% Mudland slugger, was among the strongest rums they ever unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, in 2003 1; it took no prisoners and provided no apologies and was stubbornly, intransigently, mulishly what it wasan undiluted can of pure whup-ass. It must have scared the living bejeezus out of so many people when it was released, that all existing bottles were carefully hidden and buried and squirelled away, and blood oaths were sworn to preserve forever the silence of the grave upon its owners.

Few rums this powerful outside the famed 151s were ever issued in the days before The Age, a genteel time of light and inoffensive blends, when noses were sniffily raised at the agricoles’ overgenerous 50º, and when 46% was considered shockingly outré, almost uncouthnot really fit for civilized company. Even Velier, who practically redefined what Demeraras could be, balked at going too far in the proof direction back then. And yet, the Cadenhead rum really wasn’t that badthough it must be mentioned that the growly ABV was to some extent also to its detriment.

That it exuded wild pot-still badassery in all directions was beyond question, and its nose was at pains to demonstrate it wasn’t bluffing. It was pungent. It was sharp. It threw around enormous notes of brine, pineapple, citrus, gooseberries and 5-finger. Some caramel. Some vanilla. There were other hints of sorrel, anise and hard Thai yellow mangoes, and yet, oddly, hardly any of the standard spicy and lumber-related aspects that could have been expected from the Versailles single wooden pot still of origin. Paradoxically, the very strength that may have recommended it to many, proved a vehicle to mask the subtleties of the still of origin.

And it didn’t slow down in the slightest when sipped, landing on the tongue with a kind of blunt force trauma that might actually be illegal in some states. Heavy salt caramel ice cream, red olives and brine, leather, oaky spice and aromatic tobacco led the charge. Fruits were there, both sharp and ripeprunes, blackberries, black grapes, applesbut these receded, fast, and were briefly replaced by anise, molasses and white chocolate almost too buried under the avalanche of oomph to stand out. The tastes of black bread and sour cream, cream cheese, honey, tobacco, plus a last welcome taste of strawberries and whipped cream weren’t bad at all, just too damned fleeting to be appreciated before poof, they vanished.

Image provided courtesy of Jörn Kielhorn

Points for the finish which calmed the **** down: it was long and warm instead of crazy hot, creamy with caramel, toffee, salt, chocolate plus coffee grounds and aromatic tobaccoso, in brief, really nicebut the fruits that should have acted in counterpoint, were, alas, long gone.

All that said, we’re talking about a pretty complex rum here, lots of stuff careening off the wall, with a sort of supercharged glee that might be displayed by a portasan to which someone strapped wheels and a jet engine. That’s the problem, for me, it’s too much show and no go, and even letting it rest was insufficient to tone it down and allow a more leisurely examination of its profile. The strength was there, it squatted toad-like on the senses, and it masked nuances a slightly weaker drink might have showcased more effectively (so water was a must with it).

But I’ll give it a guarded recommendation anywayas one friend of mine says, he prefers the VSG taste profile over any other Demerara, so a rum like this is definitely for those like himthough I think care should be taken here, and as with all Versailles rums, it will be hit or miss for many. After all, just because it’s enough of a bruiser to intoxicate Opthimus Prime does not elevate it to cult status, and is no reason to casually get one yourself just because it does.

(#824)(83/100)


Other Notes

This thing had some interesting effects: it made me realize that I can’t count properly, as my list of 21 of the strongest rums in the world now contains 33; that Cadenhead doesn’t just not have a list of what the letter-marques on their Dated Distillation series mean, but don’t have a comprehensive list of their releases either and (c) their staff are really quite helpful and want to assist in such obscure quests even at the expense of their own sanity.

My remarks in the opening paragraph relate to the rum’s almost complete lack of an online footprintuntil this review takes off, you will find only a single reference to it. So some thanks are in order, to all those people who helped me trace the thing. Alex Van der Veer, cheapeau mon ami. Morton Pedersen over at the Cadenheads fans’ FB page, thanks. Nathan and Mitch at Cadenhead (UK), appreciate your time and effort; same goes to Angus and Kiss in the Denmark shop, who really tried. And most of all, Alex (again) and Jörn Kielhorn, who got me the pictures I needed.

May 202021
 

These days, most rumistas are aware of the Scandinavian company 1423 and their upscale rum brand of the SBS (Single Barrel Selections, even though they sometimes aren’t). In the last five years this small Danish outfit has become a much bigger Danish outfit, not just bottling the upmarket connoisseur’s series of the cask strength single barrel releases, but whole blended lines like the Compañero rums, and occasionally horse trading barrels and supplies with other companies (the Romdeluxe R.1 Wild Tiger, for example, was originally a 1423 import).

But back when this Barbadian rum came on the scene in 2016, they were known primarily in Denmark, even though they had already been in the business of bottling and distribution for eight years by then and had had some success on the larger European rum scene. Not surprisingly, they bought and buy barrels from European brokers (like Scheer, of courseafter all, who doesn’t?) and perhaps what enthused them about the Bajan barrel were the stats: distilled in 2000 at WIRD, sixteen years old, a solid 54%, enough for 224 bottles, and deriving from a pot still. That last might have clinched the sale, since most of what the drinking public was getting from the island at that point was pot-column blended rum. A pot distillate was something rather more interesting.

The year 2000 delivered quite a few Barbadian rums from WIRD to the indie scene: Serge looked at a Cave Guildive 2000-2015 version in 2017 (87 points), one from Whisky Broker a year later (86). Single Cask Rum has probably reviewed the most, here, here, here and here, with the attendant curiosity of referring to them as originating off the Rockley Still when they likely are not (see discussion below this post). Be that as it may, they were and remain quite unique in taste, and this one was no different. The initial nose, for example, started off very traditionally with papaya, bananas, fresh whipped cream…and some light petrol, diesel on a hot asphalt road, and tar fumes. There were hints of something medicinal, iodine-like and almost peaty notes, but very much in the background (where it belonged, trust me). Resting and coming back suggested we had just gone down the rabbit hole and entered the Hatter’s Tea Party: cookies and cream with some green tea, cucumber sandwiches on white bread (no crusts), delicate florals, light fruitiness and it was all I could do to not to think that this had one of the most completely weird aromas I’d experienced in quite a whilewhich is not, you understand, a bad thingjust an unexpected one.

Anyway, it must be said that the taste was better behaved. Again there was that fruity line coiling around the slightly heavier creamier notes. Citrus, tangerines, kiwi and pears set alongside vanilla, salt caramel, dark honey and Danish cookies. Also bananas and papayas plus a touch of tart and unsweetened yoghurt, very well balanced. The medicinal, rubber, petrol and tar notes took a step backward here, so that while they could be sensed, they didn’t overwhelmstill, they distracted somewhat, and the integration into the greater whole wasn’t of the best. The finish was fine, redolent of iodine and soya, gherkins and again, all those light fruits and a touch of whipped cream and cookies.

The rum, then, was quite original, and now, reading around the other reviews of that year’s products after tasting mine, it doesn’t seem my experience was unique. This was certainly some kind of pot still action, and while it could have been made better, it wasn’t a bad rum. Last week I remarked on the weakness and flaccidity of a standard strength 8YO WIRD rum released in 2003 at 42%. I always hesitate to put the blame of such mediocrity solely on the level of proof and years spent sleepingbecause many other things impact profile, light rums do have their charms, and those who specialize in wines and lower strength spirits can often find much to enjoy there. But when one tries another WIRD that is aged twice as long and nearly half again as strong, from another still, the impacts of age and strength and apparatus are undeniable. The SBS Barbados 2000 is not a top tier rum, it’s still seeking a balance it never findsbut it sure isn’t boring, or forgettable.

(#822)(85/100)


NotesThe RockleyStill

Many producers, commentators and reviewers, myself among them, refer to the pot still distillate from WIRR/WIRD as Rockley Still rum, and there are several who conflate this with “Blackrock”, which would include Cadenhead and Samaroli (but not 1423, who refer to this rum specifically as simply coming from a “pot still” at “West Indies”one assumes they were still getting their knowledge base up to scratch at that point, and Joshua Singh confirmed for me that it was indeed a “Blackrock style” rum).

Based on the research published by Cedrik (2018) and Nick Arvanitis (2015) as well as some digging around on my own, here are some clarifications. None of it is new, but some re-posting is occasionally necessary for such articles to refresh and consolidate the facts.

“Blackrock” refers to WIRD as a whole, since the distillery is located next to an area of that name in NW Bridgetown (the capital), which was once a separate village. In the parlance, then, the WIRD distillery was sometimes referred to as “Blackrock” though this was never an official titlewhich didn’t stop Cadenhead and others from using it. There is no “Blackrock Still” and never has been.

Secondly, there is a “Rockley” pot still, which had possibly been acquired by a company called Batson’s (they were gathering the stills of closing operations for some reason) when the Rockley Distillery shutteredNick suggests it was transformed into a golf course in the late 1800s / early 1900s but provides no dates, and there is indeed a Rockley Resort and golf club in the SE of Bridgetown today. But I can’t find any reference to Batson’s online at all, nor the precise date when Rockley’s went belly-upit is assumed to be at least a century ago. Nick writes that WIRD picked up a pot still from Batson’s between 1905 and 1920 (unlikely to be the one from Rockley), and it did work for a bit, but has not been operational since the 1950s.

This then leads to the other thread in this story which is the post-acquisition data provided by Alexandre Gabriel. In a FB video in 2018, summarized by Cedrik in his guest post on Single Cask, he noted that WIRD did indeed have a pot still from Batson’s acquired in 1936 which was inactive, as well as another pot still, the Rockley, which they got that same year, also long non-functional. What this means is that there is no such thing as a rum made on the Rockley still in the post-1995 years of the current rum renaissance, and perhaps even earlierthe labels are all misleading.

The consensus these days is that yet a third pot stillacquired from Gregg’s Farms in the 1950s and which has remained operational to this dayprovided the distillate for those rums in the last twenty years which bear the name Blackrock or Rockley. However, Cedrik adds that some of the older distillate might have come from the triple chamber Vulcan still which was variously stated as being inactive since the 1980s or 2000 (depending on the interview) and it was later confirmed that the most famous Rockley vintages from 1986 and 2000 were made with a combination of the Vulcan (used as a wash still) and the Gregg (as a spirit still).

Yet, as Cedrik so perceptively notes, even if there is no such thing as a Rockley-still rum, there is such a thing as a Rockley style. This has nothing to do with the erroneous association with a non-functional named still. What it is, is a flavour profile. It has notes of iodine, tar, petrol, brine, wax and heavier pot still accents, with honey and discernible esters. It is either loved or hated but very noticeable after one has gone through several Barbados rums. Marco Freyr often told me he could identify that profile by smell alone even if the bottler did not state it on the label, and I see no reason to doubt him.


 

May 032021
 

This is not the first Demerara rum that the venerable Italian indie bottler Moon Import has aged in sherry barrels: the superb 1974 30 Year Old, and several other over their limited rums releases, have also shared in this peculiarity. However, the results are somewhat hit or miss, because while the 30 YO scored a solid and deserved 90 points, this one doesn’t play in that league, however well-aged it may be. It’s entirely possible that this is because the rum is not an Enmore still rum at all, as the label implies, but from the Versailles single wooden pot still.

One wonders if the rum’s profile can settle this, since I’ve noted that labels from Moon Import tend to be rather careless in their wording (when a Port Mourant rum can be referred to as a “rum agricol” you know somebody is asleep at the wheel). Is this Versailles pot or Enmore coffey? Indifferent rum-geeks around the world want to know.

Let’s take a hard look at the dark gold-brown 46% ABV rum, then. The aromas are not helpful: there’s some dialled down licorice, aromatic tobacco, leather and smoke at the beginning, but none of the characteristic raw lumber, sawdust and pencil shavings of the Enmore still. The fruits are dark and piquantprunes, blackberries, stewed plums, plus unsweetened chocolate, coffee grounds and salted caramel. It’s more raw and intense than the DDL’s own Enmore 1993 22 YO from the first release of the Rares, and I have to admit that Moon’s rum had more in common with DDL’s Versailles 2002 13 YO than the Enmore itself. In particular, the attendant notes of musty cardboard, fried bananas and overripe pineapple do not suggest the coffey still.

What about taste? Oddly, for a nose that bugled its own assertiveness, the palate is much less aggressive, and really lacks heft in the trousers. Still, there’s something there: the old worn leather of sweaty Clarke’s shoes, some more dark fruits (raisins, dates, prunes, all very ripe); briny tastes, caramel, unsweetened molasses, sweet soya sauce. Not much else, and that’s disappointing, really. Even continentally aged rums can have more complexity than this. And what of the sherry influence? Not a whole lot, sorry to report, marked mostly by its inconclusiveness, leading to a finish that is tolerably pleasant (it’s not sharp or bitchy), warm, fruity, bready (like a hot yeasty loaf fresh out of the oven) but really not that distinguishable.

So on balance, I’d suggest Moon Imports really is a Versailles single wooden pot still rumtoo many of the subtle Enmore notes are missing (I’ve argued before it’s a bit more elegant than the other two stills which tend to a more elemental brutalist profile). Is it worth the £150 it sold for on Rumauctioneer in September 2019? That’s harder, since everyone has favourites, not just among the stills, but the indies that release them and the years from which they hail. I’d suggest that for a rum from the 1980s, for its historical value (1980s single cask rums are getting rarer all the time), released by Moon Import which has a long history of careful selections, yes, it is. For the taste profile and its proof point, perhaps not so much.

(#817)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin has probably reviewed more 1988 Enmore rums than anyone else around (six, covering a period of many years) and nowhere does he mention any confusion between the two stills. Marius Elder of Single Cask Rum and Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind probably did the best listings of them all, including (where known) whether they were Versailles or Enmore still rums, but neither has reviewed many yet (note that links provided here require searching for “1988”).
  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann of Denmark for the sample

Opinion

Moon Import’s website provides nothing on this rum, perhaps because a web presence wasn’t a big thing back in 2011, perhaps because good records weren’t being kept, or perhaps (worst of all) because accurately curating one’s back catalogue is not seen as anything importanta not-uncommon attitude among indies to this day, and one capable of driving me into transports of rage any time it is casually tossed out there for popular consumption. When will it ever become common for these old houses to properly research and list their older releases, and why is it considered of such low importance? FFS, people….

That kind of information is needed, because, again like the Moon’s PM 1974, the label is a problem. There was only a single 1988-2011 release made, and that’s this one with the bird on the label, noted as being an Enmore….and yet is also stated as being a pot still product. The RumAuctioneer item description from September 2019 says it’s a Versailles because “the Enmore distillery closed in 1993, with its wooden coffey still and the Versailles still moved first to Uitvlugt and then to Diamond in 2000” Which is true except that a label mentioning a rum as being both an Enmore and a pot still clearly does not have unambiguous lock on historical detail, not least because there was also a still called the Enmore still onsite at the same time. So which factoid are we to take as the right one?

Moon Import could rightfully say “both”the Versailles still was at Enmore, so putting one name and one still type on the label is completely correct. Maybe I’m being overly critical. But consider that these details have a way of spreading to other informational sources that are also now being referred to as research tools. The new app Rum-X correctly notes this as being an Enmore (Versailles) distillery rum and a 660 bottle outturn….but then goes on to say it was distilled on a Double Wooden Pot still, which of course is neither of the other two, but the PM still, thereby exacerbating the confusion. An ebay listing in Italy didn’t mention the still of origin at all.

For the majority of rum drinkers, this is a complete non-issue. They’ll see the years, the age, the indie, and buy it (or not) if they can. For the discerning deep-diving rum fan who counts his money very carefully before dropping that kind of coin on an old rum, the lack of consistency, and confusion about the details, is a potential deal breaker. If you can’t nail the provenance down concretely, then it’s a dangerous buy, and that goes for a lot more than just this one rum.

Apr 082021
 

2016 seems like such a long time ago with respect to Hampden rums. Back then we got them in dribs and drabs, from scotch whisky makers (who could rarely be bothered to mention the distillery) and the occasional indie bottler like Berry Bros. & Rudd, Compagnie des Indes, Rom Deluxe, Renegade or Murray McDavid. That all changed in 2018 when Velier concluded a deal to be their worldwide distributor and the PR machine roared into overdrive. Since then, Hampden has become one of the boutique rums du jour, and they sell out almost as fast as the Foursquare ECS rums.

Back in 2016, though, this wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Hampden was known to the cognoscenti of course, those superdorks who paid close attention to the indie scene, knew their Caribbean distilleries cold and bought everything they couldbut not many others from the larger mass market cared enough about it; and anyway, supplies were always low. The distillery was ageing its own stock and continued to sell bulk abroad, so most independents sourced from Europe. That’s how SBS, the geek-run rum arm of the Danish distribution partnership 1423, picked up this barrel.

SBS itself was only created in 2015, seven years after its parent came into being, to cater to the boys’ fascination and love for pure rums. Their business had gone well by this time and they decided to branch out into their first love“our core DNA,” as Joshua Singh remarked to mesingle barrel rums. And they picked up this continentally aged rum which had been distilled in Hampden’s pot still in September 2000 and bottled it in October 2016 in time for the European festival circuit, which is where my rum tooth fair Nicolai Wachmann picked it up and passed some on to me. 202 bottles of this 16 year old rum came out of the barrel and was left as is, at a cask strength of 58.9%.

Clearly, with the explosion of interest in both the SBS range and Hampden over the years, this is something of a find. It’s quite rare, seems to be relatively unknown, and has only turned up once at auction that I could find, and fetched a cool £150 when it did. But when I tasted it, I thought to myself that these guys knew their sh*t, and chose well. Consider the opening salvo of the noseit felt like the Savanna 10YO HERR all over again (and that’s a serious compliment). It had esters puffing and squirting in all directions, very light and clean. A warm exhalation of rubber on a hot day, dunder and funk, formed a bed upon which sparkling notes of red currants, strawberries, crisp yellow mangoes, unsweetened yoghurt and over-sweet bubble gum competed for attention. It had that kind of cloying sweet to it, leavened with some sharper brine and olives and rye bread left to go bad and was the diametrical opposite of the rather dour and dark Caronis or PM Demeraras.

It was, however, on the plate, that it shone. This was a rum to savour, to enjoy, to treasure. It was a solid, serious rum of surprising complexity: just shy of hot, tasting of brine, avocados, kräuterquark, salt crackers, interspersed with pineapple slices, kiwi fruits and the tartness of unripe peaches and more mangoes. There was a wisp of vanilla in there, some faint white chocolate and nuts and caramel ice cream that somehow stopped just short of softening things too much, and allowed the crisp tartness to remain. As for the finish, it didn’t falterit was long and hot (in a good way), and reminded me again of the HERR, though perhaps it was a shade deeper, tasting nicely of salted caramel, bananas, pineapples, fanta, cinnamon and lemon peel.

In short, quite a serious all-round rum, not quite so savage as to scare anyone away, while powerful enough to distinguish it from standard strength rums aimed at the larger non-expert rum drinking audience. 58.9% is a near perfect strength for it, permitting full enjoyment of the nuances without any pain. Could it be mixed? Probablythough I wouldn’t. Hampden has always managed to produce rums thatwhether aged in Jamaica or in Europeset the bar a bit higher than most others; and though nobody comes right out and says so, part of the attraction of a rum so bursting with flavours is to have it neat and wring every tasting detail from every drop. This is the way most people speak of Hampden rums now that Velier is distributing them, but it was no less true in 2016. 1423 sure picked a winner that year.

(#811)(88/100)

Feb 042021
 

Given the backward Prohibition-era-style rules governing alcohol in the US, Americans rightly sigh with envy when they see the rum selections in Europe. To get their favourite rums, they have to use any number of workarounds: bite the bullet and go over in person to buy some; have somebody mule it; come to an arrangement with a local liquor store in their state; or, heaven forbid, courier ita tricky and not hazard-free process, I assure you.

But occasionally the situation goes in reverse, and it’s the Europeans who grumble at the luck of the Yanks. Ed Hamilton’s little indie operation of eponymous rums is one of these. Although perhaps the most renowned for the 151 Demerara rum (which went head to head with Lemon Hart in the early 2010s and has remained a bar staple ever since), the Collection also includes a Worthy Park edition, a Navy rum, a white rum, a New York blend, even a pimento liqueurand several years’ releases (from 2004 through 2009) of St. Lucia Distillers’ rums, bottled in between 2013 and 2015.

Today we’re looking at the Hamilton 2007 7 year old rum sent to me by my old schoolfriend Cecil Ramotar, which can be considered a companion review to the 2007 9 year old I wrote about four years ago (but of which I still had a smidgen for comparison purposesin the name of science, of course). Like its older brother, the 7 YO came off of SLD’s Vendome pot still in September 2007 and set to age in ex-bourbon casks, shipped to the US in 2014 and bottled in January 2015 straight from the cask with additives of any kind. At a snorting, growling 60.4%, which I thought was excessive until I realized that several others in the line were even stronger.

That strength was bolted on to a firmness of profile and a solidity of taste that was really quite remarkable, and smelled, at the beginning, like I had stumbled into a high end cake shop with a fruit stand somewhere in there. There were aromas of honey, marzipan, cinnamon and unsweetened dark chocolate; vanilla and the sort of rich pastry that makes really good cookies. I wandered out back and found the fruit shelf: apples, green grapes, fanta, strawberries, and just the faintest hint of saline solution and olives, all dusted liberally with brown sugar.

Well, the nose might have been good, but taste tells the tale, right? Yes indeed. Again I remarked on its lack of sharpness, it’s lack of raw sandpaper scrape. I mean yes, it was spicy and hot, but it more gave an impression of real heft and weight rather than cutting pain. It was slightly salty and sweet and sour all at once, with the piquancy of gooseberries and unripe mangoes married to riper and more dusky fruits: raspberries and peaches and apricots. Somehow the molasses, salted caramel, brown sugar and creme brulee didn’t up-end that profile or create any kind of crazy mishmashthe integration of citrus, flowers, pastry and cereal notes was pretty well handled and even added some peanut brittle and mint chocolates at the back end, during a nicely long and aromatic finish.

Clearing away the dishes, it’s a seriously solid rum. If I had to chose, I think the 2004 9 Year Old edges this one out by just a bit, but the difference is more a matter of personal taste than objective quality, as both were very tasty and complex rums that add to SLD’s and Ed Hamilton’s reputations. It’s a shame that the line wasn’t continued and added tono other St. Lucia rums have been added to the Hamilton Collection since 2015 (at least not according to the master list on Ed’s site) and that makes them incredibly desirable finds in that cask strength desert they call a rum selection over there. Worse, only 20 cases of this one were releasedso a mere 240 bottles hit the market, and that was six years ago.

Now, in 2021 I think these rums are a close to extinct, akin to the Stolen Overproof Jamaican which was made, sank without a trace and is regarded as something of an overlooked bargain these days. With reviews like this one and for the kind of quality I argue the Hamilton St Lucia rum displayed, it may now be seen as more desirable, but good luck finding any. If you do, I think you’d like it (though see “other notes”, below), and hopefully accept that it’s right up there with the better known rums of the New Jamaicans, Barbados or Mudland. In my mind, deservedly so.

(#799)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the empty reviewing landscape in the US where the rum was primarily distributed, few have bothered to say anything about it. Spirits Surveyor wrote about it last year (December 2020) in a short eval, rating it 7 (presumably out of 10) and commented on “liquid baking spices”. In July of 2020 LIFO Accountant on Reddit didn’t care for it and thought it too hot and unbalanced and rated it 4/10, preferring the 9 YO. TheAgaveFairy, also on reddit, gave it a 6+ and extensive tasting notesand even thought it was a Jamaican for a bit. On RumRatings, it scored between 8 and 9, assuming you discount the one perspicacious gent who didn’t like it because he didn’t care for agricoles.
  • There’s another 7 YO from 2007 in the Collection, with a slightly lesser proof of 59% ABV.
Dec 302020
 

Hampden gets so many kudos these days from its relationship with Velierthe slick marketing, the yellow boxes, the Endemic Bird series, the great tastes, the sheer range of them allthat to some extent it seems like Worthy Park is the poor red haired stepchild of the glint in the milkman’s eye, running behind dem Big Boy picking up footprints. Yet Worthy Park is no stranger to really good rums of its own, also pot still made, and clearly distinguishable to one who loves the New Jamaicans. They are not just any Jamaicansthey’re Worthy Park, dammit. They have no special relationship with anyone, and don’t really want (or need) one.

For a long time, until around 2005, Worthy Park was either closed or distilling rum for bulk export, but in that year they restarted distilling on their double retort pot still and in 2013 Luca Gargano, the boss of Velier, came on a tour of Jamaica and took note. By 2016 when he released the first series of the Habitation Velier line (using 2015 distillates) he was able to convince WP to provide him with three rums, and in 2017 he got three more. This one was a special edition of sorts from that second set, using an extended fermentation periodthree months! – to develop a higher ester count than usual (597.3 g/hLpa, the label boasts). It was issued as an unaged 57% white, and let me tell you, it takes its place proudly among the pantheon of such rums with no apology whatsoever.

I make that statement with no expectation of a refutation. The rum doesn’t just leap out of the bottle to amaze and astonish, it detonates, as if the Good Lord hisself just gave vent to a biblical flatus. You inhale rotting fruit, rubber tyres and banana skins, a pile of warm sweet garbage left to decompose in the topical sun after being half burnt and then extinguished by a short rain. It mixes up the smell of sweet dark overripe cherries with the peculiar aroma of the ink in a fountain pen. It’s musty, it’s mucky, it’s thick with sweet Indian spices, possesses a clear burn that shouldn’t be pleasant but is, and it may still, after all this time, be one of the most original rums you’ve tried this side of next week. When you catch your breath after a long sniff, that’s the sort of feeling you’re left with.

Oh and it’s clear that WP and their master blender aren’t satisfied with just having a certifiable aroma that would make a DOK (and the Caner) weep, but are intent on amping up the juice to “12”. The rum is hot-snot and steel-solid, with the salty and oily notes of a pot still hooch going full blast. There’s the taste of wax, turpentine, salt, gherkins, sweet thick soya sauce, and if this doesn’t stretch your imagination too far, petrol and burnt rubber mixed with the sugar water. Enough? “No, mon,” you can hear them say as they tweak it some more, “Dis ting still too small.” And it is, because when you wait, you also get brine, sweet red olives, paprika, pineapple, ripe mangoes, soursop, all sweetness and salt and fruits, leading to a near explosive conclusion that leaves the taste buds gasping. Bags of fruit and salt and spices are left on the nose, the tongue, the memory and with its strength and clear, glittering power, it would be no exaggeration to remark that this is a rum which dark alleyways are afraid to have walk down it.

The rum displays all the attributes that made the estate’s name after 2016 when they started supplying their rums to others and began bottling their own. It’s a rum that’s astonishingly stuffed with tastes from all over the map, not always in harmony but in a sort of cheerful screaming chaos that shouldn’t workexcept that it does. More sensory impressions are expended here than in any rum of recent memory (and I remember the TECA) and all this in an unaged rum. It’s simply amazing.

If you want to know why I’m so enthusiastic, well, it’s because I think it really is that good. But also, in a time of timid mediocrity where too many rum makers (like those Panamanians I was riffing about last week) are afraid to take a chance, I like ambitious rum makers who go for broke, who litter rum blogs, rumfest floors and traumatized palates with the detritus of their failures, who leave their outlines in the walls they run into (and through) at top speed. I like their ambition, their guts, their utter lack of fear, the complete surrender to curiosity and the willingness to go down any damned experimentative rabbit hole they please. I don’t score this in the nineties, but God, I do admire itgive me a rum that bites off more than it can chew, any time, over milquetoast low-strength yawn-through that won’t even try gumming it.

(#790)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn unknown.
  • The Habitation Velier WP 2017 “151” edition was also a WPE and from this same batch (the ester counts are the same).
  • In the marqueWPEthe WP is self explanatory, and the “E” stands for “Ester”
Dec 172020
 

Hoochery Distillery’s name derives from, as you might imagine, the word “hooch”, a slang term for moonshine, or illegal liquor, popular during Prohibition. Some references place the word’s origin as even earlier, with the Hoochinoo Native American tribe of Alaska, who supposedlyand unusuallymade their own liquor. Whatever the case, a hoochery is a now apparently trademarked word for a low-end small-scale distillery making (you guessed it) hooch, specifically in Australia, which has a long history of formalizing words from the vernacular in new and charming ways.

The distillery itself was established in 1993 in north-western Australia’s remote Kimberly outback by Raymond “Spike” Dessert. He had been in the area since 1972 and when in the 1990s the Ord River irrigation area permitted sugar cane to be grown, he figured that the tropical climate, sugar cane, and need to diversify suggested a distillery. That’s the way the company legend runs, but maybe he just liked rum and couldn’t get any worth drinking there, who knows. What’s clear is like many independent men in a frontier province, he went about it by making stuff himself and learning as he went along, an ethos his company’s website emphasizes quite strongly.

They make several spiritswhiskey, gin, liqueursand quite a few rum expressions (up to 15 years old) with Australian molasses, yeast, local water and a five-day fermentation periodthe wash is then run through a self-made double pot still, which keeps things at a low alcohol percentage to keep as many flavours in play as possible. There seems to be a lot of manual labour and hands-on work involved in the entire process, which may be why the annual output of the distillery remains low. This one, their overproof, is a 56.4% three year old rum, and it’s quite an unusual beast, let me tell you.

The nose begins with metallic, ashy notes right away, damp cardboard in a long-abandoned, leaky musty house. Thankfully this peculiar aroma doesn’t hang around, but morphs into a sort of soya-salt veggie soup vibe, which in turn gets muskier and sweeter over time; it releases notes of bananas and molasses and syrup, before gradually lightening and becomingsurprisingly enoughrather crisp. White fruits emergeunripe pears and guavas, green apples, gooseberries, grapes. What’s really surprising is the way this all transforms over a period of ten minutes or so from one nasal profile to another. It’s not usual, but it is noteworthy.

The palate is more traditional and harbours few surprises except for how different from the aromas it turns out to be. The strength is good at 56.4% ABV and starts out very spicyin fact, this is one of those cases where it feels stronger than it is, instead of the other way around. It’s a melange of tart fruitstrawberries, ripe mangoes, ginnip, apricotstogether with brine, olives and bananas. Some molasses and vanilla and rotten oranges at the back end, as well as a slight bitterness, a tannic element, which may derive from the mahogany wood used for the filtration (either that or the barrels used for ageing were very active, or new). The finish was pretty good, providing final touches of molasses, fleshy fruits, salt, and some citrus and tart soursop to close off the show.

The rum as a whole started off well, and the nose suggested a great new style of rum snapping into focus. But somehow it fails on the tongue: it retains a raw sharpness without ever calming down and some of that initial promise is lost; it tastes rough and uncoordinated, and not as pleasing as that nose (and the initial taste) suggested it might be. It remains, to the end, very dry and glitteringly sharp, and not in a good way. The three years of ageing it had were not, I deem, entirely sufficient which makes me really interested in the 10 YO or 15 YO which they make, and how they managed to soften those.

It’s a measure of how much the Caribbean distilleries and their brands dominate the rum conversation that scant attention is paid to other lands which have a long rum tradition of their own. Part of it is that rums from, for example, Australia, don’t get marketed in the west very often, selling mostly in their own country and around Asia. I can’t say that this rum is a must-have, or that it should be on any Best-Of list made by every blogger under the sunit’s really not on that level (or the one beneath that). But I have to admit it’s interesting, it’s new, and it’s different. I haven’t had anything like it before. In a world where we’re seeing a different overpriced indie pop up every week, perhaps paying the same money for something offbeat and unusual from Down Under might just be the way to renew our sense of what a rum can be, or aspire to.

(#786)(82/100)


Other notes

  • Charcoal filtered through mahogany chips.
  • Seems to be only available in Australia for now
  • The tongue in cheek company profile says it’s the oldest legal distillery in Western Australia.
  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachman from Denmark, who, knowing of my desire to try more rums from Oz, spotted me this generous sample.
Nov 302020
 

It says “rum” on the label, but for all intents and purposes we should be calling it rhum. Chamarel made it out of cane juice on the island of Mauritius, and it’s an easy-going, sweet-smelling, good-tempered cane juice rhum that got wrung out of a pot still on the island and somehow didn’t turn into some foul-smelling, cantankerous harridan in the process. That’s probably deliberate, because had they done so, while it might have enthused the fanboys of unaged white lightning made in the backwoods, it might also cost a sale or two among the less adventurously minded.

Suffice to say, the rhum derives from cane that is grown and harvested on their estate, crushed within the day and the juice fermented for around 36 hours; then it’s run twice through Chamarel’s small (20 hL) copper pot stills and that’s about it. Into the bottle with you, at a workmanlike 44%, white as water. It presents demurely and innocentlynothing to see here, folks, move along.

What comes out of it and into your glass is, to say the least, surprising. You know me, I like those feral white rums north of 60% that barely contain their untamed ferocity and wild screaming tastes, and strut around thumping their chests like King Kong in a glass. This one isn’t anything like that. It’s warm and firm, with a sort gentle complexity rising to the nose: brine, olives, wax, swank, and watery fruit like pears and white guavas. There’s a nice snap of sugar cane juice here, coconut water, vanilla, and a bagful of fruits that aren’t aggrieved and pissed off so much as resigned to just chilling out.

On the tongue it gets crisper, clearer: which is good in its own way, yet creates other problems, the most notable of which is that it becomes evident that there are just a few clean tastes here, and that’s all. Light vanilla, cereals, nuts, almonds and chocolate, developing gradually into some acidic yellow fruits (unripe mangoes, pears, apricots) and a subtle line of citrus that could have been stronger. It’s pleasant and easy to drink, and the finish is short and breezyfruits and vanilla and some white chocolatewith nothing substantially new to add.

Overall, it’s a perfectly nice drink, yet I’m left vaguely dissatisfied, since it started so well and then just kind of dribbled away into an anonymity from which I felt the pot still and lack of ageing should have saved it. Was it perhaps too well tended and planed away to appeal to the masses? Maybe.

So, no, this isn’t Rumzilla, or a King Kong of the blancs. But with some effort it might get close to that big bad boy, because you can sense the potential, were it to be stronger and babied less in the cuts, allowed to have its head to go (no pun intended) a little ape. Then it could be, at the very least, the Son of Kong. In a nice little perfume box. I could completely live with that.

(#781)(79/100)


Other Notes

La Rhumerie de Chamarel, located in a small valley in the south west of Mauritius, cultivates its own sugarcane, and has a history on the island going back centuries. The distillery takes the title of a small nearby village named after a Frenchman who lived there around 1800 and owned most of the land upon which the village now rests. The area has had long-lived plantations growing pineapples and sugar cane, and in 2008 the owners of the Beachcomber Hotel chain (New Mauritius Hotels, one of the largest companies in Mauritius), created the new distillery on their estate of 400 hectares, at a time of weakening demand and reduced EU subsidies. Rum really started taking off in post 2006 when production was legalizedpreviously all sugar cane had to be processed into sugar by law.

The sugar cane is grown onsite and cut without pre-burning between July and December. The harvest is transported directly to the distillery and the crushed sugarcane juice filtered and taken to steel tanks for fermentation after which the wash is run through a copper Barbet-type plate still (for white rums), or the two-column 24-plate still they call an alembic (for aged and other rums). In all cases the rums are left post-distillation in inert stainless steel vats for three months before being transferred to ageing barrels of various kinds, or released as white rums, or further processed into spiced variations.

Oct 192020
 

If one rates popularity or the reach of a brand by how many joyful fanboys post pictures of their latest acquisition on social media and chirp how lucky they are to have gotten it, surely Velier’s oeuvre leads the pack, followed by Foursquare, and after them come trotting Kraken and Bumbu and maybe an agricole or two from Martinique. Nowhere in this pantheon (I use the term loosely) is Bristol Spirits to be foundyet, in the late 1990s right up to the mid 2010s, Bristol was releasing some very good juice indeed, including the near legendary 30 year old Port Mourant 1980 and some rums from the 1970s that were just joys to sample.

In fact, so popular were they, that the company even ventured out into blends and spiced rums, like the Caribbean Collection (Trinidad), Mauritius cane juice rhum, Bristol Black and so on. They released rums from Haiti, Mauritius, Peru, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Cuba, Barbados (Rockley 1986, lovely stuff) and raised the profile of the islands’ rums just as the wave of the rum renaissance was breaking. Not for them the single barrel approachmost of the time they followed Rum Nation’s ethos of mixing several barrels into one release.

Since then, Bristol has fallen somewhat out of favourI think Mr. John Barratt may be retiring, if not already withdrawn from the rum sceneand it’s rare to see their bottles for sale outside of an auction, where their prices vary directly with age, from £1800 for a 1974 Demerara to as little as £45 for a 2003 Cuban. This 1985 Versailles was bottled in 1998 at a time when nobody knew a damned thing about the stills, and back then probably sank without a tracenowadays, it’ll cost you five hundred quid, easy.

The Versailles wooden single pot still is one of the three wooden heritage stills (the Savalle is a fourth but not of wood) now housed at Diamond estate where DDL has its headquarters. It’s distillate is usually blended with others to produce blends with distinctive profiles, yet for years many bottlers have tried to issue them on their own, with varying resultsand it is my contention that it takes real skill to bring the raw untrammelled ferocity of a cask strength wooden pot still hooch to some level of elegance sufficient to create a disturbance in the Force.

Bristol, I think, came pretty close with this relatively soft 46% Demerara. The easier strength may have been the right decision because it calmed down what would otherwise have been quite a seriously sharp and even bitter nose. That nose opened with rubber and plasticine and a hot glue gun smoking away on the freshly sanded wooden workbench. There were pencil shavings, a trace of oaky bitterness, caramel, toffee, vanilla and slowly a firm series of crisp fruity notes came to the fore: green apples, raisins, grapes, apples, pears, and then a surprisingly delicate herbal touch of thyme, mint, and basil. Marius of Single Cask, who wrote a good evaluation of a number of Versailles 1985 vintages, commented on a marzipan hint, but I didn’t get that at all.

The taste, though, was where I think it really came into its own. It was just lovely: lots of fruit right offpears, apples, peaches, guavas, kiwi, both ripe and unripe, crisp and fleshy and a contrast in opposites. The herbs remained, though somewhat muted now, and a delicately clear and sharp line of citrus ran in and out of the profile, like a really good dry Riesling punctuated by tart green grapes; and a drop or two of rather unnecessary water revealed a background touch of unsweetened yogurt to balance everything off. Really nice to taste, moving sedately to a finish no less impressive, but acting more or less as a summation of the entire experience, adding just a dry burnt sugar note that was very pleasing.

Overall its a very good Versailles, one of the better ones I’ve tried. Unlike Marius I thought the strength was not a negative but a positive (he felt it was excessively diluted), because otherwise other sharper and less savoury aspects might have taken precedence and upset the fragile balance upon which my personal appreciation of the rum rested. Nowadays we consider the “low” ABV somewhat wussy, but remember, at that time in the nineties, to release a rum at 46% was considered recklessly daringeven ten years later, people were still telling Foursquare not to release the ECS Mark I 1998 at more than standard strength.

ABV aside, what I did feel was the barrel didn’t have enough of an effect, overall, and it could have rested for a few more years without harm, and indeed, been even better afterwards. Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind who wrote about the rum himself in 2014 and was the source of the sample, thought that much of the youthful freshness of the original distillate was maintained and could have been aged longer without harm. But clearly, both he and Marius really liked the thing, as did I. It’s a wonderful expression from the year, and even if there are older Versailles rums out there (like Bristol’s own 1985 22 Year Old which I’d dearly love to sample one day), to try this one from the dawn of rum’s ascent to the heights, when the wooden stills were just rising to prominence and attention, is an experience not to be foregone.

(#770)(87/100)

Oct 122020
 

Every now and then you come across a rum in its nascent stages which you just itch to write abouteven if it’s not (yet) for sale. The Mim from Ghana was one such, an aged St. Aubin was another, and last year, Reuben Virasami (currently tending bar in Toronto) passed on a new Vietnamese rhum that I felt really deserved rather more attention than it got (even from those who made it).

In brief, two expat Frenchmen, Jérémy Marcillaud and Nicolas Plesse, seeing all that lovely cane growing in Vietnam, were looking around for something to do with it and decidedwithout a lick of experience or any concept of the difficultiesto start a small distillery and make some juice. Perhaps they were inspired by the new Asians like Mia, Vientiane, Laodi, Issan, Chalong Bay or Sampanwho can tell? — and got their little outfit L’Arrangé off the ground; designed and had an inox stainless steel pot still built locally (they call it “The Beast”); contracted local farmers to supply cane, and proceeded through trial and error and many attempts over 6-8 months, to finally get some cane-juice agricole-style rhum that was actually worth bottling, and drinking (in December 2016).

Their aim was always to make a white rhum but they found rather more immediate success using the spirit for fruit infusions and arrangés (hence the name), and, as Jeremy told me when I contacted him, to export a good white requires a rather more scaled-up enterprise (and better economies of scale) than they were capable of doing at that time. As such, they sold their spiced rhums and arrangés to local bars and tried to raise visibility via the Saigon Rum Club and the city’s rum festivalbut for my money, it’s that base white rhum they made that captures my interest and hopefully one day can be a commercially successful endeavour for these guys.

L’Arrange Company Logo

So, no fancy label or bottle pic to go with the article this timeas I said, it’s not for sale. That said, these are the basics: it’s a cane juice rhum, pot still, rested for four months (sorry, ye detail-mongers, I forgot to ask about the yeast, though it seems to be a combination of locally available and wild yeast), squeezed off the still at 70% ABV then diluted to 55%. After that it goes into whatever products they’re playing with that day. Me, I tried my sample neat.

The smell is definitely suggestive of pale pot still rumstink: salt, wax, glue, olives and a trace of peeling rubber on a hot day on the highway. It turns sweet later, though it remains rough and sharp, and provides aromas of watermelons, papayas, ripe mangoes, and just a touch of passion fruit. While it’s not quite as civilized to sniff as some of the other Asian whites mentioned above, it isn’t far behind them either.

The same thing goes for the palate. It’s rough and jagged on the tongue, but has a delicious and oily thick sweet tang to it: papaya, pineapple, mangoes, sugar water, strawberries, more watermelons. There is a sort of crisp snap to it, combining sugar, flowers,citrus peel, brineeven some very faint hints of vegetable soup. Finish was short, intense, sharp and redolent of flowers, citrusd, sugar water and thyme.

Overall, this rhum is not one you would, on balance, rate as highly as others with more market presence. You would likely try it blind, shrug and remark as you walked away “Mehit’s just another white rhum. I’ve had better” And that makes sense, for its shortcomings haven’t all been ironed out yetit’s rough and sharp, the balance is a bit off (tilts rather more to the sour and salt than co-existing harmoniously with the sweet and umami). But I feel that might simply be inexperience at making a pure single white rhum and their being okay with producing one made for adding fruit and spices to, not to drink by itself.

Myself I don’t drink spiced rums or arrangés. I don’t have to, with all the other juice out there. Under normal circumstances, I’d just walk away from this one. But that whiteit was pungently original, yes, rough and unpolished, sureit lacks some of the polish and sure confidence that marked, say, Mhoba (after their years of tinkering), and yet it stayed with me. Underneath was a real potential for something even better, and that’s why I am drawing attention to this little company that few outside Asia have ever heard of. Jérémy and Nicolas might one day be successful enough to market a white, maybe even export a bit around Asia, attend a rumfest to show it off. I can hope, I guess. And all I’m saying is that if you ever see them demonstrating their work, and one of their bottles is an unaged 55% white, you could do a whole lot worse than giving it a try, because I honestly believe it’ll be one of the most interesting things in the neighborhood that day.

(#769)(79/100)


Other notes

  • I drew on the very interesting 2018 Saigoneer interview (timestamp 00:25:14) for some of the supplementary details, and the company kindly filled in the remainder.
  • It may be just my imagination, but the company logo reminds me of the jungle scenes of the French artist Henri Rousseau. I quite like it.
Sep 222020
 

Let’s start at the beginning. Skotlander rum is not made in Scotland, but in Denmark, for the very good reason that the founder, Anders Skotlander, is a Dane with the name. Denmark has long been known (to me, at any rate) as home of some of the most rum-crazy people in Europe, and Anders decided to walk the walk by actually creating some of his own, in 2013. He purchased a Müller copper pot still, sourced sugar cane molasses and in 2014 released 1000 bottles of RUM I, a white, at 40%. It promptly won a gold medal at the Miami rum festival that year; and in 2015, where both RUM I and an infused RUM III were entered, the former won Best in Class White Rum, and the latter a gold for Premium White (alongside Plantation 3 and Nine Leaves Clear, which says something about the categorization of whites in those more loosely defined times).

In the year since then, Anders Skotlander has pushed to stay not only relevant but original. He has sourced molasses and cane juice from around South America, experimented with different barrels, has used unusual storage places (like a bunker, or a century old schooner) to chuck those barrels, and has expanded the range to include spiced and botanical rums, whites, aged rums, agricole rums and even high ester rums. He’s up to Skotlander 10 right now (a 59.5% blend) and the website provides an enormous amount of information for each. And the labels, informative as they are, are masterpieces of Scandinavian minimalism which make some Velier labels seem like over-decorated roccoco indulgences in comparison.

Rums made from scratch by some small new micro-distillery in a country other than the norm are often harbingers of future trends and can bringalongside the founders’ enthusiasmsome interesting tastes to the table, even different spirits (<<cough>> ‘Murrica!!). But Skotlander, to their credit, didn’t mess around with ten different brandies, gins, vodkas, whiskies and what have you, and then pretended they were always into rum and we are now getting the ultimate pinnacle of their artsy voyage of discovery. Nah. These boys started with rum, bam! from eight o’clock, day one.

Which, after this long preamble, brings us to the very interesting Skotlander RUM V Batch #1 (1400 sømil), a rum made from molasses sourced in Brazil which are fermented for thirty days (in Denmark), pot still distilled (also in Denmark), aged in four PX barrels onboard the schooner “Mira” for about a year during which it sailed 1400 nautical miles (get it?) and then 704 bottles were unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 2016 a muscular 61.6% ABV.

At that proof point you can expect, and you get, serious intensity. The nose is really hot and spicyclearly it spend the entire voyage happily sharpening its fangs. It is clean and snarly, presenting a profile nothing like a Cuban, Bajan, Mudland, or Jamaican rum. It has fruits, yes, deep, dark orange and red-purple ones: black and red grapes, apples, unripe prunes and apricots, red grapefruits, though sorting them out is a near-impossibility. It also smells of smoke, dusty hay, a touch of vanilla and brown sugar, molasses, salted caramelif I had to guess blind I’d say it resembles a pot-still, jacked-up St. Lucian or Saint James more than anything else.

After the near-hysterical clawing of the aromas, the palate calms down somewhat. It remains sharpat that strength, how could it not? – and drips with the winey, sherry-influenced flavours. Red grapes, grapefruit again, tart apples. There is also some caramel, candied oranges and truffles (!!), with crisp cider and citrus notes dominatingbut not entirely successfully. Really, I wrote with some amused bewilderment, this is like a barely aged seriously overproofed agricole mixing it up with a Guyanese High Wine. It does have a lot going onsubsequent sips at the glass, with and without water, evidences stewed apples, fruit salad, watermelons, pineapples, strawberries, so a fair bit of esters in here. This is also evident on the close, which, while long and fragrant with candied oranges, salt caramel, smoke, vanilla and pineapples, lacks neat balance between the salt, sweeet, musky, crisp and tart elements.

I write a lot about “distinctiveness” and “uniqueness” in assessing both familiar and unfamiliar rum houses’ offerings. This has itto an extent. You can sense an really cool and original product coming into focus, even as it takes care not to skate too far to the edges of what is known and understood. But it does kind of mash untidily together, and the complexity it could be showcasing more successfully gets lost, even muddled as it careens heedlessly from one profile to the next. You could taste it several times and each time your interpretation would be slightly different, which in this case is both a recommendation and a cautionary heads-up. It’s a bold and interesting rum by my standards, however, and on that basis, even if I’m late to the party, I think I’ll keep my eye on the company, and go find me some more to try.

(#764)(82/100)


Other notes:

  • The Rum Renaissance gold medal awarded in 2014 was second prize (platinum is first), and was won for being “Best In Class” for white rum. At the time white rums were not stratified between aged or unaged, filtered or not, pot or column, and there are no records how many other rums were judged in that category. Still, for a rum not even in existence a year before, that’s not a bad showing given it was up against all other white rums, and not a subclass.
  • Skotlander V Batch #2 is slightly older, about two years, released around 2018, aged on the same schooner while it sailed for 2200 nautical miles. The same emptied ex-sherry ex-Batch 1 barrels were reused.
  • Here’s a chocolate-voiced promo video about Skotlander
  • Thanks to Gregers and Henrik, the Danes who twigged me on to this company and their rums.
Aug 172020
 

Mauritius is another one of those rum producing areas that flits in and out of our collective rumconsciousness, and seems to come up for mention mostly (and only) when a blogger checks out a new indie expression (SBS and Velier spring to mind). Cognoscenti might recall Penny Blue, New Grove, Chamarel or Lazy Dodo rums from the graveyard of reviews past, but honestly, when was the last time you saw one yourself, tried one, or even bought one?

St. Aubin is one of the Indian Ocean island distilleries that have been gathering some goodwill of late and should not be left out of anyone’s purchasing calculations, and with good reason: they taste pretty damned good, and they have a long history of both pot and column still production stretching back two centuries. If distribution can be sorted out beyond Europe, and there’s a resumption of the rum festivals where one can find their products, then we can hope their reputation ticks up more than it has so far. This particular rum is the top of their line, being a limited edition of not only a set number of bottles (2,080) but from a particular harvest (2003), cane juice source, completely copper-pot-still distilled, aged a solid ten years and aimed at a wider audience by tamping it down to 43%. Based on those specs it’s practically a must-have,

Certainly the 2003 10 YO does its next-best relative the St. Aubin Grande Reserve (which is itself a combo of 30% pot still 10YO from 2004 and 70% rested 7YO column still juice) quite a bit better, simply by not diluting its own core fully-pot-still essence. This is key to understanding how good the 2003 smells, because it noses cleaner, crisper, even a shade lighterand quite a bit more is going on under there. What was, in the other aged expressions, a sort of sweetness is more delicate here, closer to sugar cane sap and sugar water than the slight heaviness often attendant on molasses based rums. There are aromas of flowers, masala spice, cloves and a dash of cinnamon. And leaving it standing to open up, one gets additional hints of coffee grounds, unsweetened chocolate, and a nice delicate vein of vanilla and citrus.

The oak influence takes on a more dominant note on the palate, which is initially sweet, dry and intense. There’s bitter chocolate, caramel, cinnamon and a vague grassiness more sensed than actually experienced, plus citrus peel, chocolate oranges, cumin and the slightest hint of cilantro. Plus some Fanta and 7-up, which I was not expecting, but no entirely unhappy to taste. The whole drink is clean, crisp and dry, and the gradually emergent and assertive herbals and tart notes make it a pretty nifty neat pour. Finish is not too shabbymedium long, mostly bon-bons, caramel, light flowers and lemon meringue pie.

The cost of this ten year old rum released in 2014 is in the €140 range (when it can be tracked downI found that price in the Mauritius duty free, but not much elsewhere) and this is one of those instances where even with the modest strength, I think it worth picking up if you’re in funds. Because on top of how well it noses and tastes, those stats are impressivepot still, ten years tropical ageing, cane juice distillate, its own peculiar terroire, something not from the Caribbean….that’s pressing a lot of buttons at once. Too often we uncritically and unthinkingly fork out that kind of coin for regularly issued blends, just because of the associated name. The new and the unknown needs to be tried on its own terms as well, and here, I think that for what St. Aubin provides us with and what we get out of it, it’s well worth pausing to try, to share, and to buy.

(#753)(86/100)


A brief history

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

Aug 052020
 

The Cadenhead 1964 Port Mourant is one of the great unicorns of our time, a rum whose 36 years of ageing sail majestically across the senses, impervious and indifferent to the up-and-coming claimants for the crown of “oldest” and “strongest’ and “bestest” and “mostest”. Not since the Age of Velier have we seen anything like this and in some ways it supersedes even those behemoths we had all ignored back in the day, because they were “too expensive.”

And expensive this is: in June 2020 a variant bottle of this thing (bottled in 2000, 70% ABV) was bid up past all reason on Rum Auctioneer until it went under the hammer for a cool £3,000, which makes it pricier than rums from the 1930s and 1940s sporting amazing pedigrees of their own (though still less than a Velier Skeldon 1978). There’s another one now available in the August 2020 auction (the one I’m writing about here, bottled in 2001). Such prices dissuade all but the most foolhardy, the deep-pocketed or those who “clan-up”and rightfully so, for surely no rum is worth that kind of coin, and who in this day and age has it anyway?

And those stats, whew! 36 years old, pre-independence 1964 distillation (this, when finding anything from as recently the 1980s is already a problem fraught with the potential susurration of rapidly emptying wallets), Port Mourant distillate at a time when it was still at Uitvlugt, 69.3% of turbo-charged thrustthese things suggest an extraordinary rum, which usually fills me with dread as a reviewer: for, how could any rum live up to that kind of hype? Yet somehow, against my fears, Cadenhead has indeed released something exceptional.

Consider the nose: I loved it. It smelled like it was reared in an ultramodern Swiss lab and fed a diet of woodchips from DDLs stills and given only liquid molasses runoff to drink to dilute the raw caramel. It was a smoothly powerful rush of wood, well-polished old leather, smoke, licorice peas, stewed apples, prunes, and oak tannins. No rubber, no acetone, no paint stripper, just controlled thick ferocity. Some salted caramel, and molasses, flowers and as I stayed with it the subtler aromas of fennel, rosemary, masala and cumin and a twist of lemon zest all emerged.

Clearly unsatisfied with just that, it toughened up something serious when tasted. It showcased less a sense of shuddering sharpness aiming only to inflict careless pain, than the surefooted solidity of a Mack truck piloted high high speed by a really good stuntman. It’s creamy, hot, redolent of caramel, sweet bon bons and molasses. Anise. Whipped cream in a fruit salad of raisins, prunes and caramelized apples. Just a flirt of salt, and also some pine-sol mixing it up with soft flowers, coffee grounds and macadamia chocolate cookies. None of the ageing was wasted, and it did exactly what it meant to, no more, no less, with grace and power and the sense of complete control at all times. Even the finish demonstrated this: it was enormously long lasting, coming together at the last with a sort of burly, brutal rhythm of toffee, toblerone, almonds, coffee and citrus that shouldn’t work, but somehow manages to salvage real elegance from all that rough stuff and full, firm tastes. It’s a great conclusion to a seriously well aged rum.

The Cadenhead Uitvlugt 1964 followed all the traditional ways an indie has of producing a rum, except then it proceeded to dial it up to 11, added steroids, horse tranqs and industrial strength factory cleanser, and released it to just about zero acclaim (I mean, have you ever herd of it?). It’s excellence lay in how it came together over time, I thinkit started at a low idle, then gained force as it moved along. The early tasting notes and impressions could come from any one of a dozen rums, but as it developed we see a great original product coming into focus, something we have perhaps tried before, and which remains buried in the recesses of our tasting memories, but which we rarely recall being done this well.

So, circling back to the original point, is it worth the money? If you have it, yes, of course. If you don’t, maybe you can dream, as I did, of scoring a sample. “To me this is the Holy Grail” remarked Gregers Nielsen when we were discussing the bottle, and now, having tried it, I can completely understand his unrequited love (or should that be lust?) for it. Maybe, if I could, I’d pawn the family silver to get it as wellbut in the meantime, for now, I was simply happy to have received the generosity of Alex Van Der Veer, and toasted him happily as I drank this really quite superlative piece of rum history.

(#750)(91/100)


Other notes

It goes without saying this is continentally aged, The outturn is unknown.