Jun 082021
 

The Stroh 160 is the North American version of the famed Austrian 80º punch in the face. In Austria, where it was first made in 1832 by Sebastian Stroh when he came up with the “secret combo of herbs and spices” (sound familiar?), it remains a cultural institution and has actually got some form of a protected designation there. In Europe it is seen as a bartender’s mix for ski resorts because of its use in the hunter’s punch, or Jagertee, while in the US its use centers around cocktails like Polynesian- or tropical- themed drinks that require an overproof rumthat said, my own feeling is that in the last decade it has likely seen a falling popularity in such uses, since powerful high-ABV rums from Guyana and Jamaica have become more common and accessible (my opinion only).

That it is strong and an overproof is never seriously in doubt, because even a gentle sniff provides all the redemptive power of a sledgehammer to the kneecap, and all the attendant subtlety of the follow-up question that encourages you to spill the beans. This subtlety (in rum terms) is mostly composed of vanilla ice cream and some breakfast spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice. It does present a few additional notes of light citrus, sour yoghurt, perhaps ginger. But all that doesn’t really matterthe force of the ABV and the omnipresence of vanilla just flatten everything else, so maybe it’s just my overactive imagination kicked into overdrive by the heat and the intricate contortions of my burnt-out nasal passages that provide the notes.

Strictly speaking, no sane person of common sense drinks an overproof like this neat, since the punch bowl or cocktail is where it is destined anyway, but your fearless and witless reviewer has never been known for either, so here goes. To taste, it’s a raging maelstrom of not-much-in-particular. Again, the vanilla, no getting away from that; some salt, crushed almonds, butterscotch, caramel and cinnamon. A whiff of lemon zest zooms past. There’s really not much else here, and overall, it tastes quite straightforwarda spiced rum boosted with C4. The finish, however, is epic. It lasts forever, and clearly the makers were inspired by Stroheim, because you could walk into “Greed,” take a sip of this stuff from your hip flask, and still be belching out vanilla fumes at the end.

Stroh has, since about 2016 or socertainly since my original review in late 2012 when I named it a spiritceased using neutral alcohol (some references suggest grain alcohol, others beets) to form the base of its flagship product and begun to use alcohol distilled from molasses. This is what allows it to use the word “rum” on the label now. However, since this bottle hails from North America and dates back to 2017, what might not pass muster in Europe could possibly find fewer obstacles out west, since the TTB has never been known for either understanding or rigorous enforcement of logic in allowing rum labels through its gate.

I’m okay with calling it a rum, as long as the molasses origin is true. In any event, I’ve always taken the position that such casual castoffs from all the major spirits categories deserve a resting place, the poor bairns, and so I gather them into the fold.

Even with the spices, It qualifies as a rum tasting drinksort of. Scoring it, I was surprised to see I came up with pretty much the same points as eight years ago. Can’t really do otherwise, mind: it has rummy notes, the spiced flavours are reasonably well integrated, it tastes decent enough once it calms down and you find your voice; and on a cold night this thing would warm you up faster than your significant other could dream of. The Stroh is not a complete failure by any means, just a very strong, polarizing one that some people will like and others won’t. I kind of don’t, but almost do, and maybe that’s just me.

(#827)(74/100)


Other Notes

  • It is unknown where the molasses originates, or where the distillation takes place. Since early records state that Stroh had a distillery in Klagenfurt, it’s possible they buy the molasses and do it themselves.
  • Ageing of any kind is also unknown. My money is onrested, not aged.No proof, though, so if anyone knows something concrete, leave a comment.

Other NotesBackground on Inländer rums and Stroh

Stroh may have great name recognition, but in modern rum circles there’s always been that air of slightly seedy disreputability about it, in spite of how long it’s been around. Few have actually written anything about the stuff, and even the Old Guard early online writers like Tatu Kaarlas, Dave Russell, El Machete, Matt Robold, Josh Miller, Scotte, Rumpundit and Chip Dykstra never got around to penning a review. And on reddit there isn’t a whole lot beyond people’s traumatized recollections or timid inquiries, as if nervous the rum might hear.

So what is Stroh, exactly, and who makes it?

The company and its eponymous product is an Austrian spiced / flavoured spirit that is one of the last surviving remnants of the European spiced and inländer (domestic) “rums” from the mid 1800s, that were sometimes known as rum vershnitt. The two types of rums are now clearly separate, however with modern Austrian/EU rules defining what aDomesticrum can be. Back in the day, the distinction seems to have been much more fluid and even interchangeable.

The category varied: some were cheap base rums or neutral spirits which were then boosted with high ester Jamaican rums for kick and character; others, like Stroh, added herbs and spices and flavourings and called it a recipe, a proprietary formula. The large colonial nations like Britain and France and Spain, with secure sources of molasses and rums of their own, saw no reason to go down this road, which is why Stroh and its cousins remains a peculiarity of Central Europe in general, and Germany and Austria specifically (Flensburg in north Germany was particularly famed for this kind of “rum” and had several large and well known companies which made them). Inländer rums were extremely popular in the pre-WW2 years, and one can still find their descendants (Tuzemak, Badel Domaci, Casino 50 and Croatian Maraska Room); I believe that Rhum Fantasias from 1950s and 1960s Italy were an offshoot of the practice, though these are now artifacts and no longer made in quantity, if at all.

As noted, Stroh was formed in 1832 in southern Austria and eventually located itself in Klagenfurt, the main town of the region. Its recipe proved very popular and for the next century and a half it continued under the direction of the family members. Various changes in design and presentation and bottle shapes were introduced over the decades, and different strengths were sold (at this time there are five variantsStroh 38, Stroh 40, Stroh 54, Stroh 60 and Stroh 80these numbers represent ABV, not US proof). The company grew steadily up to the 1980s and expanded its sales internationally, and eventually sold itself to the Eckes Group in the mid-1990s. Eckes was an oils, tartar and spirits production company founded in 1857, and went into fruit juices in the 1920s as well, and after German unification the company re-oriented itself so decisively with fruit juices that is divested itself of the spirits portion of the business, which allowed the CEO, Harold Burstein to initiate a management buyout of Stroh and reorganize it. That’s where things are now.


 

Jan 302020
 

India is one of these countries that makes a lot of rum but is not reknowned for itand if you doubt that, name five Indian rums, quick. Aside from a few global brands like Amrut (who are more into whiskies but also dabbled in rum with the Old Port Deluxe and the Two Indies rums) rum makers from there seem, for the moment, quite happy to sell into their internal or regional markets and eschew going abroad, and are equally indifferent to the foreign rum festival circuit where perhaps they could get more exposure or distribution deals. Perhaps being located in the most populous region of the earth, they don’t need to. The market is literally right there for them.

One such product from India came across my radar the other day: named Rhea Gold Rum, it’s made in Goa on the west coast of the subcontinent, and I can truthfully say I knew nothing about it when I tried it, so for reasons that will become clear, let me run you straight past through the tasting notes before going on.

Light amber in colour and bottled at 43%, it certainly did not nose like your favoured Caribbean rum. It smelled initially of congealed honey and beeswax left to rest in an old unaired cupboard for six monthsthat same dusty, semi-sweet waxy and plastic odour was the most evident thing about it. Letting it rest produced additional aromas of brine, olives and ripe mangoes in a pepper sauce. Faint vanilla and caramelwas this perhaps made from jaggery, or added to after the fact? Salty cashew nuts, fruit loops cereal and that was most or less ita fairly heavy, dusky scent, darkly sweet.

The palate continued that deep profile of rich and nearly overripe mangoesbig, soft, yellow and juicy, just on the edge of turning mushy. Some tastes of pears, papayas, peaches, but not as sweet, accompanied by vanilla and nuttinessbut overall, the cloying thickness of overripe fruits became gradually dominating, even at that relatively tame strength, almost overpowering all others. There was no subtlety here, just a pillow fight. Finish was too faint and syrupy (in taste not in texture) to be interesting in any meaningful way. It has some fruit, some salt caramel, it finishes and that’s pretty much it.

In my original written notes I opined that this is a spiced or added-to rumsuch things are, after all, not unknown in India. But in point of fact, it reminded me more strongly of the guava-based “rum” from Cuba called the Guyabita del Pinar, with which it seems to share kinship from half a world away, without being quite as good.

As it turns out, that wasn’t far off the mark. The company that makes itRhea Distillersis much more famous (especially in Goa) for making variations of the local spiced alcoholic spirit based on cashews, or sometimes, coconut milk. Called feni, it is the most popular tipple in the region, a softer, easier cousin to clairins, somewhat akin to grogues though made from fruit, not cameand is, as an aside, subject to a GI in its own right.

The Gold Rum was made from sugar cane juice according to the site and that makes it a “real” rumstill, bearing in mind the priorities and main products of the company, the question of why it tastes so much of cashews is not hard to guess (nothing is written anywhere on the web page about production methods, except that cane spirit is the base). Moreover, in those competitions where it was entered (ISWC 2018 and World Rum Awards 2018), it won prizes in the ‘flavoured’ or ‘spiced’ categoriesnot that of a straight product.

What else? Well, the front label wasn’t very helpful; the back label says, among other things, that it is aged in oak barrels without subsequent filtration for about three years and consists of “rum distillate”, water, E150a colouring, and without additional aromatics or artificial additives (the rest is health advisories, distribution and manufacturer data, shelf life and storage instructions). Well, I don’t know: it may not have any artificial additives, but it sure had somethingmaybe it was natural additives, like actual cashew fruit or macerate.

The website of the company also lacked any serious data, on either the product or the company background, but whatever the case and however they made it, this is definitely a spiced rum, and for me, not a very good oneperhaps a native of Goa who is used to the local drinks and buys the ubiquitous feni on the street would like it more than I did. Rhea might be serving a captive market of millions but that’s hardly an endorsement of intrinsic quality or unique production styleor, in this case, of taste. I found the Rhea unsatisfactory as a sipper, dominated by too few strong and oversweet tastes, and not a drink I could mix easily into any standard cocktail to showcase what aspects of it were more successful. In short, not my thing.

(#697)(72/100)


Opinion

Full disclosure: I’m not really a fan of spiced rums, believing there’s more than enough good and unspiced stuff out there for me not to bother with rums that are so single mindedly flavoured to the point of drowning out subtler nuances of ageing and terroiretherealrum taste, which I prefer. So in a way it was good that I tasted it without knowing what it was. You really did get my unvarnished opinion on the rum, and that was also why I wrote the review that way.

Dec 222019
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve bothered to review a rum that isn’tthe Stroh comes to mind, the Czech Tuzemak, or the Mekhong from Thailand. I don’t really mindthese things are lonely, and need a home, need a review, so why not with us? It should also be noted that this product from Eastern Europe is not meant to be a drinking spirit, but one to add to teas and used in cooking, almost unknown outside the Balkans.

The Domacithecis pronouncedchand the word means “Domestic”is not a spiced rum (i.e.,a rum with spices added), more like the reverse: a spiced concoction of some kind that has rum (or an essence of rum, whatever that might be) added to it. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it is “a spirit based on a special recipe and flavored with an extract of Rum. Its amazing aroma makes it a popular addition to many dishes.” Yeah, okay. If it was a German thing I’d call it an inländer rum, or verschnitt.

Badel 1862, the company that makes it, is an alcoholic beverages company formed in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, headquartered in Zagreb (Croatia) and still chugging along, they make mostly regional spirits like brandies, vodkas and gins, while simultaneously acting as a distributor for international brands like Bacardi. As part of the approval for their accession to the EU, they had to rename many of the spirits they were making which were not genuine: “rum” had to be changed to “room” and brandy became “bratsky;” so this provides a convenient dating regimeif your bottle says “room” then it was made after 2013. This one saysrum”, so it was made before.

Unsurprisingly it’s mostly for sale in the BalkansBosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, with outliers in Germanyand has made exactly zero impact on the greater rum drinking public in the West. Wes briefly touched on it with a review of another Croatian product, the Maraska “Room” (similar issues with namingthe EU declined to allow it to be called “rum”), but both the Maraska and the Badel are made the same way. Since I knew none of this when initially tasting the thing, all I was aware of was its puling strength (35%) and its colour (yellow) and went on from there.

Nose first. Nope, not my cup of tea. It reminded me of an eggnog Grandma Caner had made for me once, chock full of ethanol, nutmeg, cumin and cinnamon. Also sour cream, strawberries, green grapes, and a raft sweet breakfast spices tossed in with the casual abandon of a louche rake distributing his questionable favours. It smelled thin and sweet and lacked any kind of “rumminess” altogether.

Palate? No relief here for the rumistas, though plenty of joy for the sweet toothed. I mean, anyone with even a bit of experience with rums would see that it’s a doctored mess thrown like bread to the masses who know no better, and lasting long enough (over a hundred years, remember) to become a local institution defended with becoming zealotry astraditional”. Ethanol, soda pop, fantas and again, bags and bags of spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon for the most part). Vague, meek and mild, with the slightest twinge of sharpness, leading to a short, light and fruity finish of no real distinction

I wrote rather impatiently in my notes “Weak nonsensebut okay, it’s not meant to be a rum, right?” Maybe, but that might let this local Eastern European plonk off the hook. It used to be called rum, was noted as being domestic, but frankly, they should have named it something else entirely, created its own unique category, rather than associate it with a more rigorously defined spirit with a long tradition of its own.

There are 40% and 60% variations of this thing floating around and one day if I’m in the neighborhood I might try them. The important thing is that I know what it is, and by writing this essay and you reading it, now, so do you. Feel free to try it if it ever crosses your path, but know what it is you’re getting, and what it’s good for.

(#686)(65/100)

May 092019
 

Like most rums of this kind, the opinions and comments are all over the map. Some are savagely disparaging, other more tolerant and some are almost nostalgic, conflating the rum with all the positive experiences they had in Thailand, where the rum is made. Few have had it in the west, and those that did weren’t writing much outside travel blogs and review aggregating sites.

And that’s not a surprise. If you exclude the juice emerging from new, small, fast-moving micro-distilleries in Asia, and focus on the more common brands, you’ll find that many adhere to the light latin-style column-still model of standard strength tippleand many are not averse to adding a little something to make your experiencewell, a smoother one; an easier one. These rums sell by the tanker-load to the Asian public, and while I’m sure they wouldn’t mind getting some extra sales, restrict themselves to their own regionfor now.

One of these is the Thai Sang Som Special Rum, which has been around since 1977 and has supposedly garnered a 70% market share for itself in Thailand. This is a rum made from molasses, and apparently aged for five years in charred oak barrels before being bottled at 40% ABV. Back in the 1980s it won a clutch of medals (Spain, 1982 and 1983) and again in 2006, which is prominently featured in their promo literatureyet it’s almost unknown outside Thailand, since it exports minimal quantities (< 1% of production, I’ve read). It is made by the Sang Som company, itself a member of Thai Beverage, one of the largest spirits companies in the world (market cap ~US$15 billion) – and that company has around 18 distilleries in the region, which make most of the rum consumed in and exported by Thailand: SangSom, Mangkorn Thong, Blend 285, Hong Thong, and also the Mekhong, which I tried so many years ago on a whim.

The rum doesn’t specify, but I’m going out on a limb and saying, that this is a column still product. I can’t say it did much for me, on any levelthe nose is very thin, quite sweet, with hints of sugar cane sap, herbs, dill, rosemary, basil, chopped up and mixed into whipped cream. Some cinnamon, rose water, vanilla, white chocolate and more cream. Depending on your viewpoint this is either extremely subtle or extremely wussy and in either case the predominance of sweet herbal notes is a cause for concern, since it isn’t natural to rum.

No redemption is to be found when tasted, alas, though to be honest I was not really expecting much here. It’s very weak, very quiet, and at best I can suggest the word “delicate”. Some bright ripe fruits like ripe mangoes, red guavas, seed-outside cashew nuts. Coconuts, flowers, maybe incense. Also lighter notes of sugar water, watermelon, cucumbers, cinnamon, nutmegGrandma Caner said “gooseberries”, but I dispute that, the tartness was too laid back for that rather assertively mouth-puckering fruit. And the finish is so light as to be to all intents and purposes, indiscernible. No heat, no bite, no final bonk to the taste buds or the nose. Some fruit, a little soya, a bit of cream, but all in all, there’s not much going on here.

All due respect for the tourists and Asians who have no issues with a light rum and prefer their hooch to be devoid of character, this is not my cup of teamy research showed to to be a spiced rum, which explains a lot (I didn’t know that when I was trying it). It’s light and it’s easy and it’s delicate, and it requires exactly zero effort to drink, which is maybe why it sells so wellone is immediately ready to take another shot, real quick, just to see if the next sip can tease out all those notes that are hinted at but never quite come to the fore. The best thing you can say about the matter is that at least it doesn’t seem to be loaded to the rafters with sugar, which, however, is nowhere near enough for me to recommend it to serious rumhounds who’re looking for the next new and original thing.

(#622)(68/100)

Nov 142016
 

Photo copyright (c) Henrik Kristoffersen of RumCorner.dk

Impossible to forget, traumatic to recall.

#316

I don’t know why they bothered. This is three years’ additional ageing, pretty much wasted. It’s Don Papa 7 version 2.0, and just about the whole experience is the same, except the raspberries from the younger variation, which are now dark grapes. Everything elseand I mean everything else, mouthfeel, taste, finish, smell, the worksremains the same, without even some additional oakiness or complexity to make the extra expense worth it.

All right, so by now it’s clear that I’m late to the party here and all the discussions and post mortems have been done on this industrial grade spiced Phillipine rum, which it doesn’t admit to being, but which I say it is. And while there was a firestorm of online vituperation which greeted the release of the rum, making you believe that the majority of the rumworld absolutely hates this thing, the truth is actually more prosaic. Reviewers hate the rumbut most casual imbibers at whom the Don Papa is aimed are actually quite tolerant of the rums they scarf down, and the amount of people in the world who truly want a more detailed sense what they’re drinkingor have access to and desire for what we term top class hoochis still a minimal part of the rumiverse in spite of all us bloggers’ doing our best to raise the bar. But everyone agrees on one point: bad or good or in-between, the makers of the Don Papa should absolutely have disclosed its adulteration. Maybe they thought the age statement would allow them to skate around such petty concerns

If so, they were mistaken. Even bumping it up to 43% for some added bola ng bakal didn’t do much. It had the same nasal profile of sour cream, yogurt, some sweetish fruits, and over-generous helpings of vanilla, bubble gum and yes, there it was again, that distasteful excess of soda pop sprite and fanta and pepsi masquerading as “rumminess”. And no tart raspberries this time, but some dampened down dark grapes, overripe ones, plus a twist of licorice. Oh joy. My glass runneth over.

By now you should have few illusions left: the palate offered no redemption, leading any reasonable tippler to ask in genuine bewilderment, “What on earth was the rum doing for three additional years?” I mean sure, there was some bite and bitter in the mix (which initially gave me hope), just too little. And the few aromas of peaches and cream were bludgeoned into insensibility in labba time by wave upon wave of more vanilla, soda pop, the syrup in canned peaches (minus the peaches), colait was all just too much, too sweet, too cloying, and with few discernible differences from its younger sibling, and a finish that was to all intents and purposes the best thing about it, because at least now the experience was drawing to a close.

You know, if they had honestly called it a spiced or flavoured rum I would have nodded, smiled, passed it by and never bothered to write a thing. But they didn’tand so I did. And my evaluation is simply that Don Papa 10 is a hollow rum. Age or no age, it’s column still industrial spirit that’s been tarted up, where no such embellishment was required if they took some time and care and blending mastery to the task. It takes its place proudly with the Whaler’s, Kraken and Pyrat’s XO and the AH Riise Navy 57% on the bottom of any reviewer’s shelf, and with good reasonit’ll get you drunk no problem, and at a reasonable price, but if you wake up the next morning wondering what camel voided its bowels in your mouth and why you have a tattoo of “Don Papa” on your left buttock in hieroglyphs, don’t come crying saying I and all the others didn’t warn you.

(61/100)


Other notes

  • It gives me no pleasure to write reviews like this. Oh the words flow easily, the rum really isn’t worth it and I can stand by the opinion. I just don’t understand why, in this day and age, I should have to. We’ve been hearing for years how rum is in its new golden age. So why would anyone who loves rum enough to actually make one, create something that is so clearly not? In my more generous moments, I say it’s because they want to make what sells to the tippling masses and will do better as their skills improve; in my blacker moods, I think it’s a full-proof money grab adulterated with the cloying additive of indifference.
  • Compliments to Henrik of RumCorner, who provided both a large sample and the photo.
  • For an enthusiastic and uncritical perspective by alifestyle writer” (I will not use the termjournalistbecause that would be like saying Don Papa is a real rum) I direct you to this Forbes article from May 2017. It’s just another in a spate of recent rum-themed articles that are written by people who seem to want to advertise that they really know nothing at all about the subject.
  • The Bleeding Heart Rum Company is the company behind the rum, and this link will answer most other questions about the product. BHRC is in turn a subsidiary of Kanlaon Limited a small single-director, 100-share company registered in a business village in Middlesex, listing Mr. Stephen Carroll as the man in charge, and he apparently worked for Remy Cointreau for some years before striking out on his own (he has other directorships in companies involved in film and video production). Since I don’t trust much of anything the website says, I won’t rehash its blurbs here.
Oct 242016
 
don-papa-7-ans

Photo shamelessly cribbed from and copyrighted to Henrik Kristoffersen of RumCorner.dk

Caner’s Rum Quality Inverse Square Conjecture: quality of rum is inversely proportional to the square of the sum of [ glitziness of website plus design of the label ].

#311

The presentation and advertising and marketing of this rum is all about fancy bottle and label design, gorgeous visuals, and words to make you giddy with anticipation. It nails all aspects of those. Everything else is secondary, except the rum itself, which is tertiary.

Just to set the stage: I honestly thought my amigo Henrik, in his savage takedown of the rum, was exaggerating his despite. However, intrigued, I begged him for samples to save me buying them, and he was prepared to gift me the whole bottle except that his luggage was already full of stuff he was bringing to Berlin (for me). And just to see if its claim to being a “premium aged small batch rum” held up, I tried the Don Papa 7 year old (and its brother the ten year old) four times: once with a flight of eight Jamaicans, then with a flight of seven Demeraras, a third time with a raft of agricoles and then with yet another one of nine Bajans.

Lord Almighty, this thing was annoying. I don’t think I’ve been this irritated with a rum since the Pyrat’s 1623. It’s appalling lack of profile compared to the comparators is only matched by its self evident desire to emulate a soda pop. When I think of the elegant construction of something like the FourSquare 2006 and its years of development, I want to rend my robes, gnash my teeth and weep bitter tears of despair for the future of the rumiverse. It may be the bees knees in the Phillipines, where different rules for rum production are in force and different palates and tastes rulebut maybe it should stay there and not afflict real rums.

Think I’m being unjust? Unseemly vicious? That I jest? Not at all. The 40%, American-oak-aged amber rum reekedthat’s the only word I can come up with that describes the cloying, thick aroma of yoghurt emanating from the glass, a sort of sour cream and curds kind of smell, leavened with some raspberries and cherries. It makes the A.H. Riise Navy Rum seem like a masterpiece of blending assembly. And then there was the overdone saccharine citrus smell of fanta, bubble gum, vanilla (gobs of that), and sprite and cream sodawhat the hell, maybe they tossed some coke in there too. Rum? I dunnoit smelled like a mixing agent to which one adds rum.

And it was on the palate that its true adulterated nature became fully apparent. The mouthfeel is where it startedit literally felt like a soda, complete with the slight scrape of what could charitably be called bite but which I’ll call chamberpot-brewed rubbing alcohol. Again that yoghurt taste was there, this time without the creaminess, the raspberries being replaced by a peach or twoand the vanilla and sprite and coke were still there in abundance, finishing the job of ruining what had been an unremarkable, unprepossessing liquid that wasted too much of my time. There was no finish to speak of, which was unsurprising, given how dosed and choked up this thing is with so much that isn’t rum. Even Pyrat’s XO would probably shudder at what the company did here (while taking notes).

This is the kind of rum which drives reviewers into transports of rage, because it gives all rum a bad name, and frankly, with all due respect to the nation of origin which makes the much better Tanduay 12 year old, it’s barely a rum at all. And yet it sells briskly, calmly splashing around in the great urinal of low-to-mid-level adulterated rum sales, which just goes to show that spice and sugar will always move product. What most of those don’t do is slap lipstick on a pig with quite the abandon and disdain for quality this one does. It truly has to be drunk to be believed, and trust me, unless you love your dentist, that’s not something I would recommend.

(59/100)


Other notes

  • I might have been less snarky if they had simply labelled it as a spiced rum (which it is) instead of some kind of aged artisinal product (which it isn’t).
  • Cyril at DuRhum had this run through a lab test and that evaluated it with 29g/L sugar, 2.4 g/L glycerol and a massive 359 mg/L of vanilla.
  • Who makes this? Well, the Bleeding Heart Rum Company, to be exact, and this link will answer most other questions about the product. BHRC is in turn a subsidiary of Kanlaon Limited a small single-director, 100-share company registered in a business village in Middlesex, listing Mr. Stephen Carroll as the man in charge, and he apparently worked for Remy Cointreau for some years before striking out on his own (he has other directorships in companies involved in film and video production). Since I don’t trust much of anything the website says, I won’t rehash its blurbs here.
  • For an enthusiastic and uncritical perspective by alifestyle writer” (I will not use the termjournalistbecause that would be like saying Don Papa is a real rum) I direct you to this Forbes article from May 2017. It’s just another in a spate of recent rum-themed articles that are written by people who seem to want to advertise that they really know nothing at all about the subject.
May 312016
 
ampleforth

Picture (c) Ocado.com

Too much spice, too much sugar, too little interest.

The name is almost Dickensian in its imagery. Professor Cornelius Ampleforth could be straight out of the Pickwick Papers…you know, some chubby, benevolent older fellow in half-specs and a faded waistcoat, with rather limited mental capacity, down on his heels, but possessing a good heart. Whatever – the name evokes a certain good humour and indulgence from us, and at the very least is evocative. That, unfortunately, doesn’t make the Professor’s Rumbullion a rum worth drinking, unless you are into spiced rums and like to have that in your drink (which I’m not and I don’t, so be aware of my personal preferences in this review).

Whether there really is a Professor Cornelius Ampleforth is subject to intense and spirited debate by all the same people who can tell you the middle name of the runner up of the 1959 Tiddlywinks Championship in Patagonia. The UK company which releases the Rumbullion is called Atom Supplies and under its umbrella of e-commerce and business consultancy, also runs the online shop Master of Malt, and the brand is their independent bottling operation.

They certainly have a sense of humour, as evinced not only by the Professor’s name, but the “Bathtub Gin” they also sell. What they don’t have is a desire to tell you anything meaningfulone has to go outside their website to find it’s a blend of unnamed Caribbean rums flavoured with various fruits, spices, and Madgascan vanilla. No countries, no distilleries, nothing else. An informational sinkhole of annoying proportions.

Bottled at 42.6% and darkly coloured within an inch of the Kraken, what we had here was a rum that assaulted the nose immediately with enormous and instant nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon notes, caramel and toffee and chocolate, all of which rushed and jostled and ran heedlessly together like a mob entering a Black Friday sale where everything is 90% off. It was also rather thick and almost chewy, and while back in 2010 I appreciated the Captain Morgan Private Stock for precisely those reasons (no longer, mind you), here it was simply excessive, and there was no order to any of it, no gradual progression from one series of well-blended, coherent smells to another…and that made the whole experience something of a disorganized mess.

And by the time I got around to tasting it, those spices really became too much, which led to flagging interest, waning ardour and a lot of grumbling and head shaking. So there was cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sweet dark chocolate – these were somewhat better behaved now – to which, with some water, were added scents of cloves, marzipan (I liked that) and candied oranges, at which point the party was over and I was blatted into near catatonia by just wave upon wave of cloying sweetness (quick Prof, pass the insulin!). So yeah, there were additional elements of taste that weren’t bad, just so strong and so much that it was like having seven incidences of coitus in one night – one wakes up the next morning with an utterly blank brain and no desire to do anything meaningful. Even the warm, short fade exhibited this oversweet sense of warm syrup, without adding any new notes – there was the incessant hammer of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, and to me it was just overkill.

To its credit, as I don’t hide my preferences, the makers don’t hide anything either: it is a spiced rum, it’s trumpeted as such, and they’re proud of it. But as always, it’s mostly marketing that one gets when one checks: a secret recipe (hate those), fancy wrapping and no information on components or ageing, if any. I guess for less than thirty quid we shouldn’t be asking for more. This rum is squarely aimed at the casual imbibers who just want a tasty, tarted up, adulterated drink with a little bit of oomph and no hassle, and so although I acknowledge that spiced rums sell briskly for precisely those reasons, they really aren’t my tot of grog.

(#276 / 72/100)


Other notes

  • For the record, I disapprove of an online shop not disclosing in its listings that it is itself the maker of a rum whose tasting notes (by its own staff) are rabidly enthusiastic.
  • The RumShopBoy posted a truly funny and apropos review of this and the Navy Strength variation, and despised the ground it walked onlargely due to measured 43g/L of additives.
May 042013
 

D7K_1299

Not quite a rum, but close to a spiced or flavoured agricole, and a delicious drink for all that. Big hat-tip to Tony for this one and all the others.

For those who believe Cuba makes only rums, here’s a flavoured spirit close to being one without actually stating it is. It defies easy categorization, which is perhaps why it doesn’t, even on the label, say anything about what it supposedly is (a rum with additives for taste). The issue may be its source, which is variously noted as being either a cane spirit or a guava-based distillate (it’s actually a bit of both). Like the Thai Mekhong, Czech Tuzemak or Austrian Stroh, it’s close to meeting all the requirements, but isn’t, quite. Which doesn’t make it a bad drink, just an intriguing one, and for the purposes of this review, I’ll call it a rum, ‘cause, you know, what the hell. It’s kissing close, and I’m not a total purist in these matters.

What distinguished this product from the Pinar del Rio province in western Cuba to me, was its overall profile. The hay-blonde spirit immediately gave off scents of herbal lemon grass and white guavas, sugar cane peel torn off the stalk with the teeth. Sweet, soft, almost thick, and vaguely perfumedand none of this was in any way cloying or reeking of an overenthusiastic blender’s machismo either, just harmoniously balanced. To say I was startled is an understatement. Tony (he of the famous 151 proof rumballs) brought this back from Cubaon a whim, I suspect, just because it looked so differentdidn’t know much about it, but having opened it, he loved it and brought it over for us to check out in more detail.

The body and palate were a bit heated (the liquor was 40%, so some spiciness could be expected); what really was fine about it was the mouthfeel, almost silky, decently smooth and very easygoing. One could not get away from the guavas and the sweetness of almost-ripe, fleshy fruit (pears, not peaches), and here again I must stress how well put together the overall product wasthere was no real excess sugar or flavoured overkill here, the way you would find in a liqueur, just a delicate balance between competing tastes of nuts, white toblerone, a flirt of vanilla and maybe some more of that raw sugar cane sap. Finish was gentle and medium longI got less from the aromas than a lingering taste on the tongue, another thing I quite liked.

The outfit that makes this spiritSociedad L. Garay y Compañíahas been in operation since 1892, though I was unable to find out how it weathered the Cuban revolution. It seems to run on a semi-privatized basis these days. From what I was able to gather on the various Spanish-language websites I visited, the spirit is made by mixing a large quantity of the macerated guavas with a cane-derived alcoholic base, and the resultant mixture allowed to marry for about a month before being drawn off and aged in oak barrels for a further three months (for the dry “seca” versiontwo months is considered good enough for the sweet “dulce”).

D7K_1300

So an aged product it is not. But you know, some time back I wrote a positive review of the Hawaiian Kōloa rum which had not been aged at all yet still presented itself well as a rum, and Nine Leaves out of Japan does something similar with theirClearrum. This little-known almost-rum from Cuba, flavoured and sweet as it is, is a pleasant sipping product to have after dinner (or before it), something to savour with a nice tropical sundown. Don’t look for massive complexityit’s not that kind of drinkbut just enjoy it without fanfare, over ice, and share generously with your friends if that’s their thing, making sure you explain its origin and source materials before they ask the inevitable. Me, I see this as a farmer’s rum, a country rum, similar to backdam hooch my friends and I used to distil out of rice and sugar in the old days, and flavour with whatever fruits were on hand. The Seca reviewed here is made much more professionally than what we did, but the principle remains the same.

And if you haven’t been aware of it before, well, it’s so damned cheap in Cuba that you can’t go wrong with dropping five bucks and at least trying it. Everyone’s heard about Havana Club, Santiago de Cuba and the other big brands out of the islandhere’s one it’s worth your while to check out, even if you, like me, may be a bit amused, bemused and confused on the question of whether it’s a rum at all.

(#159. 79/100)

May 152012
 

A gentle, easygoing underproof rum-wannabe. There’s nothing really outstanding about it, and it’s too weak to appeal to me personally: like other Asian rums, however, it does have a taste all its own, and for those who don’t like forty-or-greater percenters, this one will satisfy.

Is this a rum at all? Liquorature is littered with comments from both the purists (who disdain any additions) and the tolerant (who don’t mind), and the bone of contention between them is always the same: can a spirit be made from less than 100% cane juice, with additives for taste and profile, and still call itself an inheritor of the seafaring tradition and swishing cutlassesa rum?

The first real lightning rod for this discussion came from the Tanduay 12 year old rum, and here is another one that is sure to reopen that argument, because the Mekhong product, named for the river running along the Thai border, clearly and boldly states its antecedents front and center: 95% cane extract, 5% from rice, plus caramel and a “secret” recipe of herbs and spices. And alsonowhere does it say it is anything but a spiritMekhong lays no claim to being a rum at all. So what I’m going to do is simply make these facts known, and place the rum (yes, I will call it that) in the same league as the Tuzemak and the Tanduay. Decent products, nice taste, no other place to categorize ‘em, welcome to the rum family.

Mekhong as a whole doesn’t really impress me, in spite of a few features that are a cut above average. The bottle is undistinguished, with a lurid red and yellow label that is sure to catch your attention in the local rum shelf. Tinfoil cap, standard bottle, nothing special here, unless it’s the clear statement of ingredients that El Kapitan so likes to see. Knowing his predilection for rums to be rums, I think I’ll pre-empt him and say flat out that a lot of people will not consider this to be one, not just because it’s not 100% cane juice or molasses, and also because of all the extras, but mostly because the makers themselves don’t.

As a 35% likker, I didn’t expect much, and I didn’t get much: on the nose it was a shade musty, with herbal and grassy notes (I felt I was in a tropical jungle glade, to be honest), and additional hints of vanilla. As befitted an underproof, it was soft and easy and made no demands. Quite gentle, actually.

The arrival was along similar lines. One might almost say it was lazy: soft and sweet and slow to come forth, with vanilla, caramel, dark sugar and that herbal, grassy note taking something of the edge there spirit(and nicely so). I think I noted some ginger, maybe citrus, but these were backseat drivers, not the equivalent of my wife’s more in-your-face front-seat aggro. As for the fade, well, it faded. There was nothing there to really speak ofwhat little there was hinted of nuts and more vanilla, but I’d be lying if I said I was anything but indifferent about it. See, this is where the 35% works against the spirit: as a gentle cocktail mixer (which is how many drink it) with delicate tropical ingredients, it’ll probably workas a sipper in its own right, it’swell, it’s a shade wussy. Keep in mind though, I’m used to stuff north of 40% (including the Lemon Hart 151 which was a gobsmacking 75.5%), so your mileage, depending on what you like, may vary. No offense to the Thais, but West Indian would probably snicker a little at this one.

Mekhong Thai spirit is a product of the Bangyikhan distillery located on the outskirts of Bangkok, and is Thailand’s first domestically produced (and branded) spirit, first created in 1941. It had its origin with James Honzatko, who was an avid brewer and eventually began producing his favourite whisky on a large scale. After Honzatko’s death, his close friend Peter Sawer took over the brewing of Mekhong and was ultimately responsible for its mass production. It’s an interesting point that Mekhong is marketed in Asia as a whiskey even if the label doesn’t say so, but it is of course nothing of the kind (so relax, Maltmonster). The distillery itself goes back a lot further, however: Bangyikhan considers itself Thailand’s first distillery, constructed in 1786 by King Buddha Yodfah Chulaloke at the mouth of the Klong Bangyikhan Canal, the canal eventually lending its name to the distillery. It was owned at various times by different parts of the Thai government, until 1957 when the private sector began taking over. In 2000, it was acquired by the Thai Beverage Company.

It may simply be an Asian thing, but rums don’t seem to be a drink of the region the way whiskies are identified with Scotland, gins with the english, vodka with the Russians or rums with the Caribbean. That’s unfortunate, since the sugar cane grasses originated in that region and you’d expect they’d be going great guns there. However, given the startling originality (I didn’t say I liked it) of the Australian Bundie, the overall solidity of the Philippine Tanduay and the impressive quality of the Indian Old Port, I know the expertise and quality is there. Here’s to hoping that the Thais spread out and go for stronger, more distinctive spirits that can really be called rums….I for one will certainly be buying if they do.

(#108. 74/100)

Apr 162011
 

First posted 16 April 2011 on Liquorature

A homunculus of a rum, thisit’s got all the hallmarks of a rumthe background taste, the nose, a bit of bite; but at end, you’ll either think it’s a strong liqueur or a weak rum, and in either case it works better as a dessert drink than a true sipper in your glass.

“Bloody mouthwash!” my esteemed and geriatric sire sneered years and years ago, as I sipped a Crème de Menthe in the days when I was still searching for a drink to call my own and clutch to my post-pubescent biscuit physique chest. I fear that since his tongue is the only instrument I know which gets sharper with constant use, he would take one shot of the Juan Santos café 34% and bugle “Nescafe!” with that same note of relish at having won an obscure point (I will note he is a rabid aficionado of the El Dorado 15, which he says he can barely afford, even as he counts his many properties and makes jokes – admittedly very funnyabout my lack of an inheritance…but I digress).

So what to make of Juan Santos’s entry into the flavoured undeproof rum segment? This liqueur by anther name?

The café infused rum is, to me, an exercise in diminution which Juan Santos made in order to break into a smaller niche, widen its appeal and maybe grab some market share from, oh, Kahlua. Diminution is the quality or process of being reduced in size, extent or importance. It’s a cousin to words like “diminutive” or “diminished” and for a serious rum drinker, neither word does this rum any favours. To be diminutive is to be small and preciously sized, wee and wondrous, like a dwarf pony, or my five year old (or my wife, but never mind). When you consider that Juan Santos has made full strength offerings like the under-the-radar 9 year old, a very quietly impressive (but a bit bland) 5 year old, and a 12 year old and 21 year old still awaiting my written attentions but which I have liked a lot, then I have to say the impolitic thing and tell you straight out that the underproof under discussion is suffering from an identity crisis. It may even be a chick’s rum. No rum or whisky drinker I know would watch me drink this thing without asking solicitously abut the state of my hormone shots. Yes, I know this is sexist, but come on: we are designed by a jillion years of evolution to equate large with male, small with female, strong likker for men and liqueurs for women, with the possible exceptions of RuPaul, and Grenada, where forty percent hooch is considered mild and for the fairer sex only

And yet, like many small things, the baby rum is pretty good if you’re prepared to take it on its own terms. You open it, and because of the lower alcohol content, you don’t get the spear of spirit skewering you right off. It presents with a smooth, soft nose, a bit like Irish coffee, really. Coffeefor which Columbia is justly famedis right in the middle, with caramel butterscotch undertones, and the alcohol lending it the slightest bit of heft. On that level, it works swimmingly.

On the tongue, the lack of alcohol bite works entirely to your advantage, because it gives you a chance not to wince, and merely appreciate the flavours: and those flavours are some dark sugar, some currants and berries, perhaps a nut of some kind and an overwhelming taste of coffee. It’s sweet, very sweet, more like a liqueur than a real rum, light and a bit creamy. Delicious, truly. On the flip side, that tastewhile nowhere near as unpleasant as the orange of the Pyrat’s XO was to mewill be the second deciding factor in making you decide whether you like it or not (the other being the sub-par strength).

So here is where I add the caveats: as long as you’re prepared to accept that this is a rumlet, not arealrum (in the sense that it is weaker than the standard 40% just about everyone is used to); as long as you really do have a sweet tooth; and as long as you don’t have a real rum nearby (like another Juan Santos) – so long as these things hold true, you’ll like this cafe infused variation. It’s these things that will make it work for some, not for others, since it is thicker and more sugary than any other rum I’ve ever tried, coats the tongue well and doesn’t so much sting as caress your taste buds. Not all will like that, and for me, having had it off and on for six months, I have to say it’s what Guyanese would callsometimish.Inconsistent, and not always serious. The finish, as we might expect from a weaker cousin of the older and brawnier relatives, is smooth, gentle and not in the slightest bit assertive.

The thing about such underproofs is that they are meant to be had as after dinner, dessert likkers. If I wanted to go on a bender, there’s no way I’d touch an underproof (any of them). I started this review by suggesting I’m not really a fan of liqueurs or underproofs. I still feel that way. I won’t open the Café variation too often. But it’s more a question of when and where than of what. No, I won’t drink it often, but I will open it on a cool evening when I’m out on the veranda after a good meal, when something standard-strong won’t cut it, and a nice, soft after-dinner rum that soothes instead of bites is called for. Something not as thick as Bailey’s. A variation on an Irish coffee, maybe. Something that complements and completes the meal, that my wife can share and enjoy while next to me, and which I can take pleasure in as the city goes quiet, night falls and the breezes blow and we talk of nothing in particular. Something, in point of fact, exactly like the Juan Santos.

(#074) (Unscored)


Background (Added in 2021)

Juan Santos rums are produced by Santana Liquors out of Baranquilla, a free trade seaport zone in the north of Colombia, on the Caribbean Sea. The company also makes various brands for other markets, like the somewhat better-known La Hechicera and Ron Santero labels (Ron Santero is the US brand name for Juan Santos, the latter of which is only sold in Canada). Their website and Forbes notes that they started operations in 1994 when their foundersassumed to be the Riascos business familybrought over some rum makers from Cuba, and an article in el Tiempo notes they are the only family owned (private) rum company in Colombiaall others are apparently part of the Colombian government monopoly.

However, it does not appear that they are actually in the business of distilling themselves, not are they primary producers of anything. They have no sugar cane fields, nor a refinery nor a distilleryat least not that they promote on their own materials and company websitesunless it is the winery they also own and operate, which is where their barrels of rum are aged. What they do, appears to be to act as third party blenders, much as Banks DIH does in Guyana. La Hechicera, their companion brand now distributed by Pernod Ricard who bought a stake in 2021, is often spoken about in rum circles as sourcing barrels and stocks of rum from around South America and then blending and bottling them in Colombia asColombianrums. But they certainly don’t make anything of their own on a distillery.

As an additional note, Juan Santos rums no longer appear to be available in primary markets and online web shopsit has been almost a decade since I sourced mine, so sometime in the mid-2010s I suspect it may have been discontinued.

Dec 112010
 

Whaler’s Rare Dark Reserve Rum is all characteristics and no character: smell without nose, burn without body and aggressiveness bordering on the obnoxious without actually delivering on any of the promises it makes. Don’t let the tempting scent fool you. That’s most of what you’re gonna be getting.

(First posted 11th December 2010)

Whaler’s Rare Reserve Dark rum is not, as its advertising might imply, made in Hawaii. Its website certainly suggests the connection by touting the traditional recipe used by whalers in the old days, copied from native islanders’ own rum production on Maui and perhaps infused with vanilla beans once used to rattle around in bottles, meant to entice whales to come closer. An amusing tale which may even be true. Be that as it may, the rum takes its name from the hardy sailors who once plied the Pacific searching for the whales to decimate and made rum on the side when stopping for R&R in the islands. But it’s actually made in Kentucky, by Heaven Hill Distillery and is a commercially indifferent low-cost, low-effort, low-interest spiced slop marketed to people who know no better, on an industrial scale.

For a bottle costing less than $25, you can’t expect too much, and indeed, it doesn’t deliver too much. In that sense, it is not like the Tanduay, an undiscovered steal: it’s just a low level adulterated rum made from neutral spirits. What makes it stand out from the crowd is a nose of real, if simple, power. Open this bottle and just let it stand there: it’s like somebody let off a butterscotch bomb in the room (and lest you think I’m exaggerating, I tasted this with a group of Scotiabank employees, and one of them smelled it twenty feet away in less than three seconds…before I poured a single glass). I have gradually been corrupted into using a glencairn glass, but truth is, you don’t need something snooty for Whaler’s – what you really need is a gas mask to filter the thing out.

The darkness of Whaler’s is, I concede, appealing, and it sports a medium body (I expected something heavier and richer from that colour, but no…). In the glass it sports thin legs, and that is where this kind of test proves its worth. Consider: a strong, overpowering nose of butterscotch and vanilla through which you can dimly and imperfectly sense caramel and some sugar and pretty much nothing else. A body that stings and burns and delivers that taste…and nothing else. A finish that is short and thin and stings (not much, but that’s me damning it with faint praise)…and nothing else. I’ve heard and read of rum lovers discussing “hollow” rums, which have all promise and no delivery – this is the first one I’ve ever tried.

What Whalers really is, when all is said and done and drunk, is a flavoured, spiced rum. Not even fancy herbal stuff like, oh, the Tuzemak, or even Captain Morgan – those two have the balls to put their money where their advertisements are and don’t have airy pretensions to more than that – but just a bucketload of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch flavouring poured into some 40% rum. As a low level mixer this will be okay, I guess. As a sipper it fails, utterly, unless you’re after a harsh liqueur of some kind, or a cocktail base. I know I’m not, but if you are, I’d suggest a coke zero or some other non-sweet mixer: this thing is too sugary by half already and doesn’t need any further embellishment.

(#058. 71/100)


Opinion

Heaven Hill distillery from Bardstown, Kentucky may be the harbinger of an accelerating trend: that of larger distillers diversifying their entire portfolios and producing more than just the spirits that once made their name. Bacardi has stuck with rums (and has one at every price point except the stratosphere) as has J. Wray & Nephew, but research I’ve done on Tanduay, Banks DIH, DDL and of course Diageo shows that these big guns (among others) are producing vodkas, tequilas, gins, whiskies, liqueurs and just about everything else north of 30% ABV. Even Bruichladdich and Cadenhead are now experimenting with rums as opposed to straight whisky production and Americancraftdistilleries in particular seem to want to make everything possible on the one still they might have. And here is the Whaler’s Distilling Company, a subsidiary of the behemoth of Heaven Hill, producing rums in Bourbon country. And vodkas. And Gin. And other stuff.

In fairness, that’s the way companies survive, by innovation and adaptation to a marketplace where drinking preferences are all over the map and changing in a heartbeat at the dictates of fashion; quality control is better and modern technologies are consistently employed for a taste that is the same bottle to bottle: none of that hit and miss approach that characterizes tiny operations making rum for local consumption on small islands. But I still kind of regret the passage from the uniqueness of such tightly focused distilleries to something more impersonal.

Oct 132010
 

First posted 13 October, 2010 on Liquorature

The best selling and most commonly quoted spiced rum in the world. It’s the standard by which all other spiced rums are measured not because of its excellence, precisely, but because of its overallokay-ness”. It’s okay everywhere while being truly outstanding at little. It’s sweetness and spice are part of the appeal.

The fact that this is a low end mixer should not dissuade you from giving it a shot (no pun intended) if you’re in the mood for a reasonably low-priced little something. It’s about on the same level as the cheaper Bacardis (Gold, and Black), but it is spiced and therefore somewhat sweeter than normal, and also not meant to be taken seriously as a sipper. Yet many aficionados with a less exclusive turn of taste are quite ardent supporters of The Captain’s spiced variant.

As I’ve noted in my review of Captain Morgan’s Private Stock, Seagram used to make the rum, but sold the rights to Diageo in the mid-eighties, and currently it is the world’s best selling spiced rum. The name is nothing more than a marketing ploy, since it enhances the connection to swashbuckling, seafaring pirate days of yore, but beyond that, there isn’t anything else (note that the TV advertising campaign I have seen in Calgary also plays on the whole bit about being like a pirate in breaking the rules and thinking outside the box to achieve success…an interesting bit of moral relativism given Morgan’s history and actions).

Captain Morgan is a tawny gold colour, and displays a medium light body in the glass. The nose is heavy with rum and vanilla, and a bit of caramel thrown in. I can’t say I detected anything beyond that, because the scent is so overwhelming. Yet the youth of the rum is evident in the sharpness at the back of the throat (it’s been matured for two years or less in charred white oak barrels), so there’s not much point in trying the rum to sip (unless you’re a slight nutcase like me and want to try it that way nevertheless). The finish is pretty good, though, a tad sharp, though not nearly as much as the nose suggested it would have. Last flavours of vanilla and nutmeg.

For my money, I suppose it’s okay. It’s a versatile ingredient in mixed drinks, but just too sweet to really appeal to meand for all those who have read my reviews about liking sugar in my rums, this must sound strange, but there is something as too much and this is a case in point. Perhaps adding just a smidgen of coke to mitigate the burn is the way to approach it.

However, like Bacardi, the Captain is available just about everywhere, and as a result, if you drop thirty bucks on a bottle when getting something in a hurry, well, you’ll certainly get what you pay for plus maybe a bit extra. Your friends and guests sure as hell aren’t going to refuse it, and, if offered at a party, neither would I.

(#039)(Unscored)

Aug 302010
 

First posted 30th August 2010 on Liquorature.

When I was discoursing about rums with a Calgary Co-op liquor sales manager (in my normal sneering way, and for the usual reason), I asked about this odd little label from Austria, because, with my penetrating insight and encyclopedic knowledge, I was aware that Austria didn’t have any sugar cane fieldsAndrea from the cashier’s till was called over, and noted flatly (in that no-nonsense way that people use to inform you they know the Truth even if you’re too ignorant to), that she’d had them all, tried the lot, was Austrian into the bargain on her mother’s side, and Stroh was quite simply the best spiced rum in the world, bar none (except perhaps another Stroh). Abashed into silence and trembling meekness at this powerful and unambiguous endorsement and the fierce look ofAgree with me if you want to live,” I tried to recover my backbone from the yellow paint in which it was soaking, and bought the bottle.

This illustrates the sad state to which us rum lovers have been forced into, in this whisky loving city: we’re so desperate to try something new, that we are pitifully grateful for any new rum that passes through the local shops. Not the low or mid range from an established maker, but something genuinely new. I ruefully concede that Stroh’s meets every criteria except one: I’m not entirely convinced it actually is a rum. Oh, it says it is, and it has the suitable origin in sugar cane by-products, whatever those might be (originally it was made from a diluted ethanol base), but note I don’t say sugar cane juice, or molasses. The problem was that when Sebastian Stroh started making this little concoction in Klagenfurt in the early 1830s, Austria was not participating in the scramble for Africa (or anywhere else), and thus lacked tropical colonies from where they could get the raw materials. So he added his own spices and flavour and additives in order to make an ersatz molasses taste, and created a domestic rum which eventually became something of a national tipple. Can’t fault the Europeans for trying to make a good likker, I suppose: I just wish they wouldn’t pretend this was the real McCoy.

Stroh’s is made in several varieties: the 80% variation (who the hell would drink this firewater, honestly?), 60%, 40%…I had bought what I thought was the tamer 54% version which apparently is the most popular (I expect outraged posts stating that this is the wimpy stuff and how real men drink the 80%), and was the only bottle for sale anyway. At half a litre for $35, that’s a mid-ranger, and in spite of my doubt regarding overproofs (what’s the point, beyond cooking, creating cocktails, making college freshmen drunk faster or simply causing pain?), it did, as new rums usually do, intrigue me. Curiosity, I fear, will be the end of me one of these days, no matter how careful I am.

Good thing I was cautious. Scarfing Keenan’s excellent brunch the next day, I cracked the bottle and I swear the alcohol wanted to strangle me right on the spot. I’ve had some unique and aggressive rums in my day (Bundie and Pyrat’s to start), but this took distinctiveness to a whole new level. The smell on this thing was likeand I swear this is trueplasticine. I thought for a moment I had entered a time warp and was back in primary school dicking around with play-do. The assault on my nose was so swift and savage that I shuddered, avoided Keenan’s smirking eyes, and poured a shot at arm’s length over ice: The Hippie complains that ice closes up a drink when one should leave it open, but the poor man is a fan of civilized whisky for retired country gents and has never been boinked over the head and had his nose speared by this raging Austrian drink. You could make out some cinnamon notes and a hint of ginger when your schnozz was reluctantly returned to you, but the truth was that I thought this a vile, underspiced and overstrength drink that should under no circumstances be hadjust so.Forget the ice. Forget nosing, smelling, checking for legs or anything fancy. Drown this one in cola, in sprite, in juice or anything else, and quickly. But I must make this observation: in a cola (a lot of cola), Stroh’s tastes like a damned ginger ale. Plasticine flavoured ginger ale that gives you a buzz. Weirdest thing. Not entirely a loss, therefore.

Of course, it was only later, doing my research and putting my notes together, that I read it was supposed to be used as a cooking ingredient for cakes and rumballs, as a cocktail base and a mixer with other things to produce smoother drinks of some power (like the B52). It’s not a drink to be had neat (surenow they tell me). Well, maybe. Rums do have this thing about being equal part sippers and equal part mixers, and their plebian origins make it difficult to distinguish which is which, sometimes. I’ll be the first to concede that as an overproof rum, Strohany one of the overproof offeringsis not for the meek and mild or those who haven’t seen “300” at least five times. Stroh’s is a hairy frigginbarbarian of a drink, a dirty, nasty, screaming crazy, wielding a murderous nose-axe meant to do you serious harm and destroy your sight. It’s one of the most distinctive liquors I’ve ever had, and while I may not like it much, I ruefully laugh as I recall my encounter with it, will give it due respect and a wide berth from here on in. Austrians, other Europeans and Andrea are welcome to have it and enjoy it (although, what the hell, I still have to finish my bottle so Ill probably go back to be bashed around a bit one of these days when I’m in a masochistic mood), and if I have one in my house one day, I’ll serve it to him (along with the Coruba).

But I gotta tell you: I don’t care what they call it, or what its antecedents area rum, this one really is not.

(#034)(Unscored)

Aug 182010
 

First posted 18 August 2010 on Liquorature.

I’d seen this trapezoidal bottle once in a while on the occasional shelf in Calgary, but I’d never been interested enough, or seen it in sufficient quantitylet alone heard anything about itto decide whether it was worth a buy or not. It was an interesting surprise when a very helpful gent from Co-op named Dan Ellis (may the ice in his glass never melt) sourced the thing out. Now granted, I had been making sneery remarks at the paucity of his rum selection (as opposed to the Scottish drink) so the honour of his stores certainly came into play here. But I’m happy he bothered.

Lightly-aged rums do not usually inspire me to treat them with any great degree of reverence and a blend even less so, but in this case, the styling of the bottle and its comparative rarity (and, it must be stated, price – I’m as much of a snob as anyone at times, sorry), made me take more than usual care in checking it out. I was…intrigued. And in retrospect, I’m glad I took the time. The nose seemed fairly straightforward on the get go – a clear, intense light gold rum, very delicate (Oh God, was this another friggin’ Doorly’s? was the first thought through my mind), but with a slight hint of peaches and citrus, and definitely apple – it reminded me of my favourite (and very expensive) Riesling. My wife, who loved that New Age bottle to pieces, rudely snatched the glass from my hands and watching her little button nose try to extract scent from the glass that swallowed it whole was almost as entertaining as her attempts to translate her thinking into English. We both tasted the oak, but she noted that there was a hint of dried forest leaves dampened by a summer rain too. And after we stood it for a bit and it opened up, there was the molasses and burnt sugar revealing itself around the skirts of the first aromas like a shy girl hiding behind her mommy. A girl with some spirit because there’s no getting away from the slight medicinal tang to the nose which spoils what is otherwise a really good nose.

On the tongue and in the mouth, the Elements 8 Gold changed its character again: it grew up, took off its braces and flirted without shame, flicking up its skirt and laughing. Not assured enough to be mature, still young enough to have some rawness to it, but no longer in its girlhood, it bucked in coltish adolescence across my taste buds, coating the palate with soft oiliness. The thing is, there is no caramel or toffee taste in this thing at all – a first for me. It’s not sweet and has a deep, rich burn going down, like a well aged cognac. And the body is excellent, medium heavy, and maintaining that odd …cleanness which I really liked. But the finish is fastour tomboy hasn’t learned to make a kiss last yet, so while she is fine as peaches and cream, she needs a little polish to make her into a world beater that men will stampede over each other to taste.

Elements 8 is a self-styledpremiumrum made in the St Lucia Distillery, but care has to be taken in distinguishing it from the actual products of that distillery (for example, the Admiral Rodney, or the Chairman’s Reserve brands) – the [e]8 organization works closely with the distillery while not either owning it or being owned by them. The Elements 8 Rum Company is a UK enterprise run by two gentlemen, one of whom, like me, is a Caribbean infused German (don’t ask). The founders of Elements 8 saw that rum, like whiskies, vodkas, gins and tequilas, could reach upscale quality and prices by dint of differentiation, innovative distillation and blending, product design, clever marketing and word of mouth.

Elements 8 is an instructive study in how to raise expectations with glowing advertising. Unlike the Kraken, which simply had fanboys going ape over it (unnecessarily so, in my opinion), this one had quality written all over its commercial messaging. Supposedly eight elements of production are married in a holistic manner to produce a rum modestly referred to as being of surpassing quality: environmental (St Lucia boasts a unique micro-climate which imparts its own character to the rum but then, so does every other island), cane from Guyana – I was told it was molasses not the actual sugar cane (one of the ads, which touted the cane as being “hand selected” had me doubled over in laughter), water from protected rainforest habitats, three differeing yeasts, distillation, tropical ageing, blending and filtration, all in harmony. The rum is distilled in three different stills: a John Dore double retort copper pot still for the heavy, flavourful components, depth and finish; a Vendome Kentucky Bourbon copper pot still which gives the rather unique flavour profile; and a steel columnar still for the lighter components. Since each still is charged with three different washes (from the three yeasts), we have nine blend components (actually, ten) which are blended and aged for a minimum of six years in oaken barrels that once held Buffalo Trace bourbon. Not bad.

All right, so I tasted, I researched, I drank, then added an ice cube, and after it all, tried it as a mixer. My conclusions?

Well, forget the mixing part. You get an interesting ginger taste with coke, but it isn’t really worth it: the [e]8 Gold is dense and viscous enough not to need the enhancement. The nose, as I said is clean and complex, rewards time and care, and is very attractive except for that last bitchy smackdown of medicine (some care in the distillation or ageing, perhaps an additive or two might mitigate that). The taste is something else again. I’m not sure rum lovers who like their caramel and sweetness will appreciate the slightly salty tang of a rum that is more like a cognac. If you can get past that, the smoothness of the finish and the overall richness of the blend make this quite a unique drink, one that, like Bundie or the Pyrat’s XO, can be identified blind with no doubts whatsoever. Just not entirely a rum the way I expect one to be (this may be a limitation of mine, not the rum…get a bottle and make your own determination).

So it’s not quite my thing – maybe I’m not yuppie enough, or just like my sweet rum taste more than something made and designed for the bars of the upper class – but in way I feel a little sad, too. The nose had real promise, really set you up for something special, and at the end I felt like the geek who got to kiss the head of the cheerleading squad, only to find she couldn’t kiss as well as my expectations had been led to believe she could. I’m left with all excitement and no true satisfaction.

I’m hoping that in the years to come, Elements 8 will find a way to marry the traditions of the older rum distillers with the new wave innovations of this century, to come up with something truly spectacular: the fact that they are attempting to produce a premium white rum speaks at a fair amount of determination to think out of the box. I’ll not hesitate to buy anything from their line I see going forward.

(#055)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • Thanks go to one of the founders of [e]8, Andreas Redlefsen, who was kind enough to answer all my questions on his organization, its history, outlook and methods.
  • The rum is a spiced product, a fact unknown to me at the time when I tasted it.
  • My remarks about preferring sweeter rums are amusing when read in retrospect, given the development of my tastes over time.
May 252010
 

First posted May 25th, 2010 on Liquorature.

Surprisingly mellow sipper from a purveyor not noted for such drinks; not overly complex, but warm, buxom, heavy and with a rich nose and body. This is the Mother Hubbard of rums, to keep in the cupboard.

Right from the get go I must mention that I’ve given Captain Morgan a wide berth thus far, simply because it always had a reputation as a low- to mid-level mixer. The fact that it was a spiced rumwhether or not it says it isalso added somewhat to its plebian cachet. Not that I have a real issue with that, but there’s so much other good stuff out there that I don’t need to go to Puerto Rico for my rums. Without trying to be insulting, the fact is that Puerto Rico, which enjoys a favourable import tax regime with the US, makes the Budweiser and Coors of rums, with all the negative connotations this implies. In making common hooch to appeal to the widest possible audience and lowest common denominator (the US consumer), some of the quality is lost in the quest for sales.

The Captain Morgan brand actually originated in Jamaica, where Seagrams bought the Long Pond distillery in the 1940s. Tax incentives favouring Puerto Rico caused them to transfer manufacturing to a factory outside San Juan (close to where the Bacardi family was setting up a factory at the same time); in 1985 they sold the rights and brand to Diageo, a British concern and (in 2010) the largest spirits company in the world. Diageo noted that they will transfer the production facilities to St Croix in 2011 or thereabouts. Nowadays there is a Captain Morgan Rum produced in Puerto Rico by Seagram (or its successors), and another by J. Wray and Son in Jamaica.

Having bored you to tears with all of this tedious history and trivia, the question remains, is it any good?

Going in, I wasn’t sure: my experience with Puerto Rico was previously with Bacardithe bestselling rum in the world and the choice of expatriates in far flung and remote corners of the world such as where I used to beand Bacardi is a well-meaning, reasonably tasty but generally boring mixerI tarred Captain Morgan with the same broad brush. Surprisingly enough, however, it really is quite a decent rum. In fact, it’s a really nice sipper for the newbie who wants to get away from mixers without losing the body and taste. But I should add this was largely because of the inclusions and additions (primarily sugar and vanillas), not because of brilliant ageing and blending skills.

The nose is candied and overwhelms right out of the gate with vanilla and caramel. The dark undertones of molasses are clearly in evidence. The dark body has some strong legs, yet they don’t kick you in face with harsh spirit notes either. This is why as an intro to a sipper, Captain Morgan is a pretty good way to start. The sweetness usually imparted by coke or other mixers that cut the spirit burn is essentially taken over by the spices added to the rum itself. And clearly effort has been taken to mute and smoothen out the palate. The downside of this is that beyond the candy of these spices, it takes a real expert to taste anything else: try as I might, I could not discern more than butterscotch, vanilla and caramel and some very faint traces of what may have been orange.

The finish is also surprisingly smooth and even, and lasts quite a bit. This may be attributable to the spices, but even so, for a three-year-old rum, I’m quite impressed. It ranks right up there, though its lack of complexity and deeper rum notes render it unsuitable for more discerning (and choosier) palates.

Speaking for myself, I’d buy this again, sure. It may not be top tier (I paid just under $30 for it), but I have a sweet tooth and enjoy a decently crafted rum that is at home either by itself or in company with a cola. As a man who has spent triple digits searching for the best of the best (and been disappointed more than once with expensive losers that fail on the finish), I cannot fault the Captain Morgan for not aspiring to great pretentiousness.

So, unlike a Coruba, which I’d feed to favoured enemies in quantity, this one I’d gladly share on a warm sunset or cold winter night with my friendsfor a low end rum, from me, that’s high praise indeed.

(#021)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • In the mid-2010s the bottle label was changed to replace the Captain Morgan portrait (head only) with the full picture ofThe Captainstanding with one leg resting a barrel. Bottle shape and contents remain the same, though.
  • 2021 Update: The rum has now been reclassified (by me) as a spiced rum due to the overwhelming vanilla profileand the fact that it’s now acknowledged as being added-to. It’s therefore unsurprising that I don’t much care for it these days.