Feb 082021
 

Rumaniacs Review #123 | #800

Here is a rum that defies easy tracing.  It predates us all, and almost everything about it remains educated conjecture and guesswork — even the name, assuming it has one.  It was bought by the German firm of Gerb. Hoff Weinkeller in 1941 from Wilhelm Roggemann in Hamburg (essentially that’s what the typewritten text on the label says – WR were wine and spirits merchants, no longer extant); Rene van Hoven, in whose collection the bottle currently sits gathering yet more dust, told me that all the research he had done on tax stamps, invoices, bills of sale and assorted other paper chases, suggested it had been bottled in the pre-WW2 years at least a decade earlier. I’ll take that on faith until I can find out different.

Also, it supposedly came from Jamaica, was bottled in a Burgundy wine bottle and rated 60% ABV.  I was told that no, it is not a verschnitt – that is, a neutral alcohol to which a high-ester Jamaican rum was added for kick, as was the practice in Germany and Eastern Europe back then. At that strength it might have equally been an “original overseas pure rum” (as the label claims)…or not. Don’t ask which distillery made it and inquiring after the age is pointless. Sorry, but sometimes, that’s all we have, and we take what we can get.

Colour – Dull amber

Strength – Supposedly 60% ABV per the label

Nose – Rubber and plasticine, dusty books. In fact it reminds me of an ancient second hand or antique bookstore where the aroma of glue from the bindings, and the delicate disintegrating yellow pages of unread tomes, pervades the whole place. Lots of fruits break in after some minutes – strawberries, bubble gum, fanta, oranges, overripe peaches, and also honey, molasses and a rich lemon meringue pie. It felt hot and heavy but somehow managed to avoid real raw ethanol sharpness, for which one can only be grateful

Palate – Hot, spicy, creamy, lots of stuff going on here.  Like the amazing Harewood House rum from a century and a half earlier, the taste is extraordinarily vibrant.  Molasses, damp brown sugar, soursop and unsweetened yoghurt, orange peel, sweet soya sauce.  And fruits, lots of fruits – yellow sweet mangoes, kiwi, pomegranates, peaches, yummy.  Did I mention a dusting of cinnamon and cumin?

Finish – Medium long, quite aromatic. Gets a bit rougher here, but the fruits and spices noted above see this thing out in fine style. An additional light layer of coconut and lemon zest in there, perhaps.

Thoughts – “It’s very alive,” remarked Rene to me, and I could not but agree.  The storage had evidently been impeccable, because that same week I’d tried another 1930s rum (from Martinique) of which less care had been taken, and it had been a complete disaster. This rum is not so much a Jamaican — I would not pretend to you that it screamed the island’s name as I tried it — as simply a very good, very sprightly rum that managed to stay awake and not fall flat.  And it demonstrated that even back then in the rum dark ages, perhaps it wasn’t really all that dark, and they were making some pretty good juice then too. Wish I knew more about it.

(84/100)


Other Notes

  • If you’re ever at a rumfest where Rene Van Hoven is hanging his hat, I strongly recommend you go pay his booth a visit.  The man has some very old rums from way back when, that are just fascinating to try; and his background research is usually spot on. Check out the website, and his instagram page.
Sep 272020
 

It’s peculiar how little information there is on Smatt’s that isn’t all razzamatazz and overhyped positive posturing meant to move cases. Almost nobody has written anything of consequence about it, there’s no review of credibility out there, while the product website is a cringeworthy mass of spouting verbiage long on gushing praise and short on anything we might actually want to know. When you’re relegated to furtively checking out Rumratings and Difford’s to at least see what drinkers are saying, well, you know you’ve got an issue.  

Smatt is, according to those sources I’ve managed to check, a small-batch, boutique, Jamaican blended rum of pot and column still distillate, launched in the early 2010s. Which distillery? Unclear and unconfirmed, though it’s likely to be made by one of the companies under the NRJ banner, given the involvement of Derrick Dunn as the master blender (he started working at Innswood Distillery where he maintains an office, and is the master blender for Monymusk, the house rum of NRJ). The rum is filtered to white, released at 40% and is marketed in upscale establishments in the UK and various duty free emporia (and some online shops), which may be why it consistently maintains a low profile and is relatively unknown, as these are not places where rum geekery is in plentiful supply.

Normally, such a rum wouldn’t interest me much, but with the massive reputations the New Jamaicans have been building for themselves, it made me curious so I grudgingly parted with some coin to get a sample.  That was the right decision, because this thing turned out to be less an undiscovered steal than a low-rent Jamaican wannabe for those who don’t care about and can’t tell one Jamaican rum from another, know Appleton and stop there.  The rum takes great care not to go beyond such vanilla illusions, since originality is not its forte and it takes inoffensive pleasing-the-sipper as its highest goal. 

Consider the aromas coming off it: there’s a touch of sweet acid funkiness and herbs – sweet pickles, pineapple, strawberry bubblegum mixed in with some brine, white pepper and cereals. To some extent, you can sense bananas and oranges starting to go off, and it becomes more fruity after five minutes or so – within the limitations imposed by the filtration and that low strength – but not rich, not striking, not something you’d remember by the time you set the glass down.

The palate is, in a word, weak, and it raises the question of why it was filtered at all given that it was already quite delicate as a factor of the standard proof.  It tasted clean, very very light, and pleasantly warm, sure.  And there were pleasing, soft flavours of coconut shavings, candy, caramel, light molasses. And even some fruits, light and watery and white, like pears and ripe guavas and sugar water. Just not enough of them, or of anything else. It therefore comes as no surprise that the finish is short and sugary and sweet, a touch fruity, a little dry, and disappears in a flash

Once I drank the thing, checked my notes and assessed my opinions, I came to the conclusion that while the nose does say “Jamaican” — real quiet — it then gets completely addled and loses its way on the palate and finish and ends up as something rather anonymous. It’s not as if there was that much there to begin with at 40%, and to filter it into insensibility and flatness, to tamp down the exuberance of what an island rum can be, completely misses the point of the Jamaican rum landscape. 

Smatt’s modest self-praise of being one of the finest rums ever produced (“Considered by many as the world’s best tasting rum”) can be completely disregarded. I guess that letting it stand on its merits didn’t scream “excellence!” loud enough for the marketing folks, who clearly have at best a tangential acquaintance with rum (or truth, for that matter) but a real good sense of over-the-top adjectives. But what they’re doing by saying such things is purloining the trappings and cred of some serious, real Jamaican rum, stripping them down and selling for parts. Smatt’s is no advertisement for the island or its traditions, and while I completely accept I come at my snark from a long background of trying whites from all points of the compass (and have come to prefer strong, growly and original) that’s no excuse for Smatt’s to come out with a bland and boring rum that doesn’t even do us the favour of letting us know what it really is, while shamelessly bloviating about all the things it isn’t. Why, it’s positively Trumpian.

(#765)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • Honesty compels me to let you know that in 2015 Forbes named this as one of eight rums you should try. In 2020, the Caner is telling you it really isn’t.
  • I don’t care about the story of the pirate the rum was supposedly named after, and simply note it for completeness here.
  • Age is unknown.  I’d suggest it’s a few years old but that’s a guess based on taste and price.
Jun 082020
 

Part of the problem The major problem I have with this rum is that it simply tastes artificial – “fake,” in today’s updated lexicon – and that’s entirely aside from its labelling, which we’ll get into in a minute.  For the moment, I’d suggest you follow me through a quick tasting, starting with a nose that reminds one disconcertingly of a Don Papa – oak, boatloads of vanilla, icing sugar, honey, some indeterminate fleshy fruits and more vanilla. This does not, I’m afraid, enthuse.   

In spite of its 46.5% strength (ah, the good old days when this was considered “daring” and “perhaps a shade too strong”), the taste provided exactly zero redemption.  There’s a lot going on here — of something —  but you never manage to come to grips with it because of the dominance of vanilla. Sure there’s some caramel, some molasses, some ice cream, some sweet oatmeal cookies, even a vague hint of a fruit or two (possibly an orange was waved over the spirit as it was ageing, without ever being dropped in) – but it’s all an indeterminate mishmash of nothing-in-particular, and the short finish of sweet, minty caramel and (you guessed it) vanilla, can at best be described as boring. 

So, some background then. The rum is called “Austrian Empire Navy Rum” and originally made by Albert Michler, who established a spirits merchant business in 1863, four years before the Austrian Empire became the Austro-Hungarian Empire…so he had at best four years to create some kind of naval tradition with the rum, which is unlikely. Since the company started with the making of a herbal liqueur before moving into rums, a better name for the product might be “Austro-Hungarian Navy Rum” – clearly this doesn’t have the same ring to it, hence the modern simplification, evidently hoping nobody cared enough to check into the datings of the actual empire. For the record, the company which had been based in Silesia (in Czechoslovakia) limped on after WW2 when the exodus of German speaking inhabitants and the rise of the communists in 1948 shuttered it. The new iteration appears to have come into being around 2015 or so.

There are no records on whether the Austrian or Austro-Hungarian Navy ever used it or was supplied by the Michler distillery.  Somehow I doubt it – it was far more likely it followed in the tradition of rum verschnitt, which was neutral alcohol made from beets, tarted up with Jamaican high ester DOK, very popular and common around the mid to late 1800s in Germany and Central Europe. The thing is, this is not what the rum is now: a blended commercial product, it’s actually a sort of hodgepodge of lots of different things, all jostling for attention – a blended solera, sourced from Dominica, aged in french oak and american barrels “up to 21 years,” plus 12-16 months secondary ageing in cognac casks …it’s whatever the master blender requires. It cynically trades in on a purported heritage, and is made by a UK based company of the same name located in Bristol, and who also make a few other “Austrian Navy” rums, gin, absinthe and the Ron Espero line of rums. 

That anything resembling a rum manages to crawl out of this disorganized blending of so many disparate elements is a sort of minor miracle, and I maintain it’s less a rum than the cousin of the Badel Domaci, Tuzemak, Casino 50⁰ and other such domestic “Rooms” of Central Europe….even if made in Britain. It is therefore very much made for its audience: it will likely find exactly zero favour with anyone who likes a purer experience exemplified by modern Caribbean rums and new micro distilleries the world over, but anyone who likes sweet supermarket rums (possibly spiced up) will have no issue with it at all.  I’m not one of the latter, though, since I personally prefer to stick with reputable houses that make, y’know, real rums. 

(#734)(70/100)


Other notes

The company website makes no mention of additives or spices.  My sense that it is a rum with stuff added to it is my interpretation based on the taste profile and not supported by any published material.

May 312020
 

Rumaniacs Review #116 | 0732

Dry Cane UK had several light white rums in its portfolio – some were 37.5% ABV, some were Barbados only, some were 40%, some Barbados and Guyanese blends.  All were issued in the 1970s and maybe even as late as the 1980s, after which the trail goes cold and the rums dry up, so to speak.  This bottle however, based on photos on auction sites, comes from the 1970s in the pre-metric era when the strength of 40% ABV was still referred to as 70º in the UK. It probably catered to the tourist, minibar, and hotel trade, as “inoffensive” and “unaggressive” seem to be the perfect words to describe it, and II don’t think it has ever made a splash of any kind.

As to who exactly Dry Cane (UK) Ltd were, let me save you the trouble of searching – they can’t be found. The key to their existence is the address of 32 Sackville Street noted on  the label, which details a house just off Piccadilly dating back to the 1730s. Nowadays it’s an office, but in the 1970s and before, a wine, spirits and cigar merchant called Saccone & Speed (established in 1839) had premises there, and had been since 1932 when they bought Hankey Bannister, a whisky maker, in that year. HB had been in business since 1757, moved to Sackville Street in 1915 and S&S just took over the premises. Anyway, Courage Breweries took over S&S in 1963 and handed over the spirits section of the UK trade to another subsidiary, Charles Kinloch – who were responsible for that excellent tipple, the Navy Neaters 95.5º we have looked at before (and really enjoyed).

My inference is therefore that Dry Cane was a financing vehicle or shell company or wholly owned subsidiary set up for a short time to limit the exposure of the parent company (or Kinloch), as it dabbled in being an independent bottler — and just as quickly retreated, for no further products were ever made so far as I can tell. But since S&S also acquired a Gibraltar drinks franchise in 1968 and gained the concession to operate a duty free shop at Gibraltar airport in 1973, I suspect this was the rationale behind creating the rums in the first place, through the reason for its cessation is unknown. Certainly by the time S&S moved out of Sackville Street in the 1980s and to Gibraltar (where they remain to this day as part of a large conglomerate), the rum was no longer on sale.

Colour – White

Strength – 40% ABV

Nose – Light and sweet; toblerone, almonds, a touch of pears. Its watery and weak, that’s the problem with it, but interestingly, aside from all the stuff we’re expecting (and which we get) I can smell lipstick and nail polish, which I’m sure you’ll admit is unusual.  It’s not like we find this rum in salons of any kind.

Palate – Light and inoffensive, completely bland.  Pears, sugar water, some mint. You can taste a smidgen of alcohol behind all that, it’s just that there’s nothing really serious backing it up or going on. 

Finish – Short, dreary, light, simple. Some sugar again and something of a vanilla cake, but even that’s reaching a bit. 

Thoughts – Well, one should not be surprised.  It does tell you it’s “extra light”, right there on the label; and at this time in rum history, light blends were all the rage. It is not, I should note, possible to separate out the Barbadian from the Guyanese portions. I think the simple and uncomplex profile lends credence to my theory that it was something for the hospitality industry (duty free shops, hotel minibars, inflight or onboard boozing) and served best as a light mixing staple in bars that didn’t care much for top notch hooch, or didn’t know of any.

(74/100)

May 072020
 

Rumaniacs Review #114 | 0724

These days, the only way to get some of the lesser-known rums from the last century that were made by small merchant bottlers in vanishingly small quantities, is to know an old salt, be friends with a collector like Steve Remsberg, bag an estate sale, have an elderly relative who was into rum but isn’t any longer, find a spirits emporium that forgot about their inventory, or — lacking all these as I do — troll around the auction sites.

It’s in this way that you find odd rums like the Red Duster Finest Navy rum, bottled in the 1970s by the company of J. Townend & Sons. That company officially got its start in 1923, but if you look at their filings you’ll realize they took over the assets of spirits merchant John Townend, which is much older.  That company was formed in Hull around 1906 by John Townend, and over four successive generations has become a fairly substantial wine and spirits distributor in England, now called The House of Townend. Unsurprisingly, they dabbled in their own bottlings from time to time, but nowadays it would appear they are primarily into distribution.  Rums like the Red Duster have long been discontinued, with this one gone for thirty years or more.

The rum itself, created just after the Second World War by Charles Townend (grandfather of current company’s Managing Director, also named John) is a blend of Guyanese and Jamaican rum, not further specified – so we don’t know the proportions of each, or the source distilleries (or stills)  Perusing the paperwork suggests it was always and only for sale within the UK, not export, and indeed, they were kind enough to get back to me and state that “As the company was unable to expand its five-strong off licence chain due to licensing restrictions, he [Charles Townend] concentrated on establishing spirit brands that he could sell to the pub and restaurant trade.  He shipped large quantities of old rum which he blended himself in the cellars at Cave Street, Hull, from where the company traded at the time. He then broke down the rum before bottling it.”

And in a neat little info-nugget, the label notes that the name “Red Duster” came from the house of that name wherein the company once had its premises in York Street, Hull (this address and a red brick industrial-style building still exists but is taken up by another small company now).  But that house in turn was named after the Red Ensign, or “Red Duster” which was the flag flown by British Merchant ships since 1707.

Colour – Reddish amber

Strength – 70° / 40% ABV

Nose – All irony aside, it smells dusty, dry, with red and black cherry notes and some wood shavings.  Molasses, plums going overripe and – if you can believe it – sorrel and mauby (these are a red plant and a bark used for making infused drinks in parts of the West Indies).  This gives the rum an amazingly peculiar and really interesting taste that resists easy categorization.

Palate – Sweet, dry, dusty, spicy. Fruity (dark stuff like prunes and plums) with a touch of lemon.  There’s some more cherries and overripe blackberries, but overall it  tastes thin and weak, not aggressive at all.  Some mild licorice brings up the back end, like me ambling late to a meeting I don’t want to be in.

Finish –  Surprise surprise, it’s a long and fruity finish with a good dollop of vanilla and molasses, and it presents a deep, sweet and slightly dry conclusion. Not thick and solid, a little wispy, really, but still nice.

Thoughts – Blunt force trauma is not this rum’s forte, and why they would feel it necessary to release a rum with the sobriquet of “Navy” at 40% is a mystery.  It was just and always a tipple for the eating and pubbing public, without pretensions to grandeur or historical heritage of any kind.  Just as well, because it lacks the character and force of today’s rums of this kind, and attempting to disassemble the origins is pointless.  If they had pickled Nelson in a barrel of this stuff, he might well have climbed out and thrown his own self overboard before making it halfway home…but the humourist in me suggests he would have had a last sip before doing so.

(78/100)


Other Notes:

  • My hydrometer tested this out at 40.59% ABV, so on that basis, it’s “clean”.
  • The age is unknown, and it is a blend
  • My thanks to the House of Townend’s Hanna Boyes, who provided welcome information on the historical section of the post.
Dec 262019
 

Part of the problem with this “rum” is that the bottle itself doesn’t say who made it (the notations refer to the “Budapest Liquor Industry” and “Product of Hungary”) – after some sleuthing around I tracked it down to a company called Zwack, which is famed in the country for its high-alcohol herbal bitters called Unicum (one of the national drinks of Hungary), and a 60% once-it-was-a-rum-but-no-longer called Portorico, which is widely used for baking (like Stroh). Unfortunately its website doesn’t mention the Casino or have a picture, but since I located a Casino bottle label with Zwack printed on it, that cleared things up.

Figuring out what’s in it was harder, and here I drew a blank.  My thinking, however went like this: eastern European countries were famed – or at least renowned – for their inländer (domestic) rums, which were usually ethanol or neutral alcohol that had spices and infusions added to them. Stroh, the Badel Domaci from Croatia and the Tuzemak from Czechoslovakia, and any amount of verschnitts from Germany (Flensburg in particular) followed this pattern, and Zwack itself as a company was noted for its work with alcohols and herbal infusions.  So even though I know little about Zwack’s production specifically — and I was told that some inländer producers are now importing bulk rum produced in the Caribbean — I assume they followed this trend of manufacture generally. That said, I can’t say with assurance whether the Casino was made from molasses or beets, though I suspect it’s the latter.

If we accept these data points, then of course the Casino is not, by all current definitions, a rum, and in point of fact, the entry might just as easily be listed in the Rumaniacs page since this version is no longer being made — the word “rum” was either replaced by “room” or dropped completely from the label when Hungary joined the EU in 2004, and that suggests a manufacture for the product I tasted of around 1988-2003 which actually makes it a heritage rum entry, but what the hell.

Tasting notes, then…

The nose is firm and distinct – the 50% ABV strength helps there, of course –  and quite sweet, almost like a Tokaji. Notes of brown sugar, black tea, and what stays the longest in both nostrils and memory is the sweet notes of gummi bears and lollipops and bubble gum.  There’s other more fruity aromas as well – prunes, rip apricots, peaches, in syrup, some orange peel and chocolate with rum in the centre; as it hangs around it gets flowery and perfumed. Quite a lot going on here, but in terms of a rum profile, not really – it’s all additive-derived, not a genuine rum note in sight.

Palate follows the theme of a spice driven rum with a better-than-usual strength: dry, crisp and quite sweet.  Candied oranges, icing sugar, ginger, no caramel or molasses notes here. It’s spiced for sure, but reasonably well done, and if tasted blind I’d suggest you might think it was a low-rent mid-ester-level Jamaican without the rubber and salt.  The finish is nowhere near to the level of either the nose or the taste – short, dry, harsh, unrelieved by any serious aromas or closing notes over and beyond sweet candies, chocolate oranges and light flowers, plus maybe a hint of cinnamon. 

The funny thing is, I quite liked it.  Not as a sipping rum – its artificiality is way to evident for that – but as a sweet dessert thing to have with or dribble into an ice cream dunked into a double espresso…oh yeah. It’s fine for that.  Unfortunately, not for much else.

(#687)(72/100)


  • My thanks to Tamas Gabor and Gergő Muráth who helped me with the background and research sections.
  • A hydrometer tested this at 46.77% ABV – that works out to about 15g/L additives
  • No information is available on how old the distillate might have been, if it even was aged at all.
Dec 222019
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve bothered to review a rum that isn’t – the Stroh comes to mind, the Czech Tuzemak, or the Mekhong from Thailand. I don’t really mind – these 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 Domaci – the “c” is pronounced “ch” and 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 regime – if your bottle says “room” then it was made after 2013. This one says “rum”, so it was made before.

Unsurprisingly it’s mostly for sale in the Balkans — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, with outliers in Germany — and 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 naming — the 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 as “traditional”.  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 nonsense…but 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)

Oct 272019
 

Rumaniacs Review #102 | 0670

The moniker of Navy Rum is one of the most recognized rum names on the planet, aided and abetted by Pusser’s supposed recreation of the rum after Black Tot Day.  The Black Tot Rum (the old one retailing for a thousand bucks, not the new recreation just released in 2019) certainly helped, and over the years, we have seen the odd old decanter or jug or bottle or what have you, go on sale (the UK government was the seller) – some were actual flagons of Navy stocks that had been left over after 1970s, unlabelled, and found their way into the hands of collectors – this is one such. 

This small write up is based on a flagon of Navy Rum bought by Rene Van Hoven in Germany. He has dated it to around 1954 and it’s rated at about 55% ABV, and this is one of those times we’re going to have to take it on faith that he has the backup paperwork to substantiate what he told me. Note that it’s possible that it’s from the same stocks as were bonded in Germany, and which Wes Burgin wrote about in 2016, here.

Colour – Dark Brown

Strength – ~55%

Nose – This is a PM or Versailles distillate right up front – perhaps not a majority but certainly a good part of the blend. Molasses, pencil shavings, cedar, sawdust, glue, anise, rubber.  It’s very warm and completely solid, but not sharp, eminently drinkable (which may have been the point). Brown sugar, acetones, furniture polish follow, underlain by a sort of rotting fruit note, mixed in with a damp forest and moldy moss-covered logs, tar, burnt sugar, ashes and coffee.  It’s pungent, dusty, musty and quite powerful to nose. There’s a mustiness and dry cereal nuttiness (plus a smorgasbord of dark fruits) to it all, and that elevates this rum, I think, adding a layer of complexity and edge.

Palate – If there’s any Jamaican or Trini here, it’s in the bright fruity notes and the tar and petrol, and they’re all blatted flat by molasses, cedar, sawdust, cereal, nuts and enough pencil shavings to cover Babe the Blue Ox.  Behind that is concentrated black cake like Tanti used to make, with bags of raisins, rum-soaked chopped fruits, prunes, salted caramel, syrup, rich cherries, and plums. There are still some acetones and nail polish and glue and rotting fruit here, but they are like counterpoint, bringing up the rear and don’t distract, just add to the pungency.

Finish – Long, pungent and aromatic. A last flirt of the pencil, molasses, coffee, bitter chocolate and of course the prunes and raisins and caramel ice cream sprinkled with nuts

Thoughts – It reminds me a lot of the overproofed 1970s Lemon Hart Demerara Rum I tried a few days earlier. That said, I don’t know if they simply made blends in different proportions back in the day, or whether the progression to rums today has changed the underlying distillate in some fashion.  All I know is that like the Harewood House 1780 rum, it’s spectacular and remarkably modern. The profile is dense and rich and pungent and were you to taste it blind, you’d think it was made by an old rum house, just last year. It’s one of the tastiest rums I’ve had in ages.

(0670 | R-0102)(90/100)

Oct 102019
 

Rumaniacs Review #100 | 0664

The further back in time we go, the less we can find out about rum, not least because such things weren’t considered anything particularly premium back then and the collector’s bug is a recent phenomenon.  And even if a bottle were in fact to have survived from as far back as the 1890s – which is when this one was estimated to have been released – who would have bothered to record it, or written about it, or tried to preserve the appearance, or the label?

Well, we have what we have, so let’s see where it leads. According to the label (which itself a recreation), we are given that it’s a Jamaican rum bottled in France. It must have then been imported to New York by Greig, Lawrence and Hoyt Ltd, but when? According to Renee of Renee’s rarities (he makes a hobby of finding and tracing such dinosaurs) , it could not be dated more precisely than between 1887 and 1900 and I’ll go with that because we literally have nothing better. Secondly, what was the company? Well, that address in NW is now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in existence since 1965, so no hope there. The company was clearly a wholesale importer based on an obscure 1943 catalog of Madeira wines they put out. I doubt the company remains in existence, as there is no current reference to it anywhere.  Dead end.

As for the rum itself. I could trace Rhum St. Germain out of Bourdeaux as a brand belonging to the company of Robert Behrend & Co. from that city.  The style of lettering of labels that are available, do support a turn of the century print date — the firm was active at this time, being a general spirits distributor, and were known for their wines —  but the problem is, there’s no label linking the specific rum to these labels, so it’s less than conclusive.  I think we could perhaps accept that this is a rum from prewar or interwar years, which could conceivably be from the turn of the century, originating in Jamaica if the label is to be trusted, bottled in France, and then reshipped to the USA.  I wish I could tell you more. But that’s it.

Colour – gold

Strength – ~40% (assumed)

Nose – A relatively light rum, sharp, crisp, not deep, lacking any kind of signature Jamaican flavour.  There are aromas of honey, sweet cherries, blackberries, strawberries, grapes. Also some faint coffee and chocolate notes which are quite pleasant, but overall, it’s thin cheese, really — a lot is going on but it’s too faint to come to grips with

Palate – Nope, not much here either.  Cherries, mangoes, ripe yellow peaches, apricots, honey, with some lighter spices and cider-like notes.  Hard to pick apart anything, so in point of fact it might be even less than the estimated 40%

Finish – Short, sweet and thin.  A bit of fruits and cinnamon and gooseberries, green apples and grapes.

Thoughts: Leaves me with more doubts than anything else.  It tastes just a little like a Jamaican, and is maddeningly un-specific.  No molasses, no real grassiness, and though there’s some hints of sharper fruity flavours and sweetness that hint at something, it’s all too faint to pick apart and come to a conclusion.  Maybe the Germans weren’t the only ones to do a Verschnitt back in the day – I could get behind the theory that it’s ethanol dosed with a high ester Jamaican with no issues. It’s a pleasant rum to drink, I suppose – at least there’s that.  

(#664 | R-100)(69/100)


Other Notes

The Rumaniacs Project has lost some steam of late, but I like the idea of writing about old rums from the past as an exercise in preserving knowledge.  Since I lack the facilities of Luca and Steve to collect thousands of bottles, this is my small contribution, and I’m really happy to keep it going until I become a permanent addition to my own collection.

Aug 122019
 

Last week, I remarked briefly on persons who are famous or excel in some aspect of their lives, who then go off an lend their names to another product, like spirits – Blackwell was one of these, George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila is another, Bailey Pryor’s Real McCoy line might be among the best known, and here is one that crossed my path not too long ago, a Hawaiian white rum made with the imprimatur of Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar who maintains a residence on Maui and has long been involved in restaurants and spirits (like Cabo Wabo tequila) as a sideline from the gigs for which he is more famous.

It’s always a toss-up whether the visibility and “fame” of such a rum is canny branding / marketing or something real, since the advertising around the associated Name usually swamps any intrinsic quality the spirit might have had to begin with. There’s a fair amount of under-the-hood background (or lack thereof) to the production of this rum, but for the moment, I want to quickly get to the tasting notes, just to get that out of the way.

First off, it’s a 40% rum, white, and filtered, so the real question is what’s the source? The back label remarks that it’s made from “first pressing of virgin Maui sugar cane” (as opposed to the slutty non-Catholic kind of cane, I’m guessing) but the YouTube video (timestamp 1:02) that promotes it suggests brown sugar (which is true) so, I dunno.  Whatever the case, it really does smell more like an agricole than a molasses-based rum: it starts, for example, with soda pop – sprite, fanta – adds bubble gum and lemon zest, and has a sort of vegetal grassy note that makes me think that the word “green” is not entirely out of place. Also iced tea with a mint leaf, and the tartness of ginnip and gooseberries.  It’s also surprisingly sharp for something at standard strength, though not enough to be annoying. 

In that promotional video, Mr. Hagar says that the most distinct thing about the rum is the nose, and I believe it, because the palate pretty much fails by simply being too weak and insufficient to carry the promise of the nose on to the tongue in any meaningful way. It’s sharp and thin, quite clear, and tastes of lemon rind, pickled gherkins, freshly mown grass, sugar water, cane juice, and with the slightly off background of really good olive oil backing it up.  But really, at end, there’s not much really there, no real complexity, and all of it goes away fast, leaving no serious aftertaste to mull over and savour and enjoy. The finish circles back to the beginning and the sense of sprite / 7-up, a bit of grass and a touch of light citrus, just not enough to provide a serious impression of any kind.

This is not really a rum to have by itself.  It’s too meek and mild, and sort of presents like an agricole that isn’t, a dry Riesling or a low-rent cachaca minus the Brazilian woods, which makes one wonder how it got made to taste that way.

And therein lies something of an issue because nowhere are the production details clearly spelled out.  Let’s start at the beginning: Mr. Hagar does not own a distillery. Instead, like Bailey Pryor, he contracts out the manufacture of the rum to another outfit, Hali’imaile Distilling, which was established in 2010 on Maui – the owners were involved in a less than stellar rum brand called Whaler’s which I personally disliked intensely.  They in turn make a series of spirits – whiskey, vodka, gin, rum – under a brand called Pau, and what instantly makes me uneasy is that for all the bright and sparkling website videos and photos, the “History” page remarks that pineapple is used as a source material for their vodka, rum is not mentioned, and cane is nowhere noted as being utilized; note, though, that Mr. Hagar’s video mentions sugar cane and brown sugar without further elaboration, and the Hali’imaile Distilling Company did confirm they use a mash of turbinado sugar.  However, in late 2016 Hali’imaile no longer makes the Sammy’s rum.  In that year the sugar mill on Maui closed and production was shifted to Puerto Rico’s Seralles distillery, which also makes the Don Q brand – so pay close attention to your label, to see if you got a newer version of the rum, or the older Hawaiian one. Note that Levecke, the parent company of Hali’imaile, continues to be responsible for the bottling.

With some exceptions, American distillers and their rums seem to operate along such lines of “less is more” — the exceptions are usually where owners are directly involved in their production processes, ultimate products and the brands. The more supermarket-level rums give less information and expect more sales, based on slick websites, well-known promoters, unverifiable-but-wonderful origin stories and enthusiastic endorsements.  Too often such rums (even ones labelled “Super Premium” like this one) when looked at in depth, show nothing but a hollow shell and a sadly lacking depth of quality. I can’t entirely say that about the Beach Bar Rum – it does have some nice and light notes, does not taste added-to and is not unpleasant in any major way – but the lack of information behind how it is made, and its low-key profile, makes me want to use it only for exactly what it is made: not neat, and not to share with my rum chums — just as a relatively unexceptional daiquiri ingredient.

(#650)(72/100)


Other notes

  • The rum is filtered but I am unable to say whether it has been aged. The video by Let’s Tiki speaks of an oak taste that I did not detect myself.
Jul 152019
 

Rumaniacs Review #098 | 0642

Everything about this rum is fascinating, and while there are gaps in its provenance, there’s still more available than some other rums in this series we’ve looked at. Note that it comes from the same timeframe as the Sangster’s Jamaican (R-097), but this one is much better and has more convoluted historical antecedents.

A.A. Baker & Co was founded back in 1898 by Arthur and Arnold Baker (and their cousin George) in Trieste, which at the time was the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and their main trading port and shipbuilding centre (it later got annexed into Italy, where it remains, for reasons too complex for a rum review).  These gentlemen were forerunners of today’s independent bottlers, producing various rums deriving from the West Indies, Australia and Central America (as well as cognacs and whiskies), which were sourced by trading with ships that stopped over in Trieste. It still exists to this day, producing the Battle Axe Jamaican and other blended rums, though the Bakers have long since sold out to other (Italian) owners and the company moved to Gorizia, a ways up the road.

This 2-liter bottle is tricky – Nicolai Wachmann, who generously provided me with the sample, was told it was from the 1960s by the person he had sourced it from, but most of the pictures found online from a recent auction, suggest it was from the 1970s.  Neither is the age mentioned anywhere, or which estate in Jamaica was the source of the rum, so what we are left with is the rather impressive proof, and questions we wish — not without regret — had more answers.

Colour – gold

Strength – 60%

Nose – Even if I didn’t know it was Jamaican going in, I would have guessed. Glue, acetone, funk, rotting bananas and orange peel, brine, paint, and that’s just the first ten seconds.  There’s also the damp sawdust of freshly-sawn lumber, ginger, nail polish, aged balsamic vinegar and some good soup under all that. But once it opens it also settles down and the fruits begin to take over, like apples, grapes, mangoes…and at the last, some slightly rotten meat.

Palate – Well, at that strength, it’s not a surprise that it attacks with ferocity; it’s hot and sharp and (oddly) even a little sweet.  Salt, brine, black pepper, olives, and the vague mintiness of a cough syrup, including the medicinal aspect of it. Fortunately the gaminess of the nose is very much in the background here, and what one gets after some time is a rich – if scrawny – panoply of sharp and tart fruit flavours mixed up with some oddball elements. A touch of toffee and blancmange, quite faint, complete this picture.

Finish – Long, hot and very spicy.  Lots of spices and herbs here: ginger, dill, thyme, as well as caramel, vanilla and unripe apples and other sharp fruits.

Thoughts – Not very full bodied or musky, presents as somewhat thin and very clear.  The strength for what is probably a rather young rum may be excessive for true appreciation, but even so, for the 1970s when light rums were all the rage, it took guts to make this thing at all. 

Obviously the production methodologies of the estates have changed somewhat since this rum was made, or it’s a blend of multiple marques.  Maybe both. Whatever the case, identifying which distillery in Jamaica produced it is not easy – I’d hazard a guess that there’s some pot still in here (but not all) and that there’s Longpond and maybe Worthy Park in the blend – but it’s all a guess, because, who knows for sure? And that’s a real shame, because with the ascendancy of the New Jamaicans these days, how cool would it be to say you had one of their rums, dating back fifty years or more?

(#642 | R-098)(83/100)

Jul 112019
 

Photo (c) 1423.dk

There’s another S.B.S rum from Trinidad I should really be writing about, tried on that magical evening in Paris when I ran heedless and headfirst into the Mauritius 2008 and the Jamaican DOK 2018, but naah – there’s this other one they made back in 2016, probably long sold out and gone, which I remember equally well.  And that’s the S.B.S. Enmore, distilled in 1988, bottled twenty seven years later, with the sort of solid 51.8% ABV strength that would make the near legendary Bristol Spirits PM 1980 nod approvingly and dab a single ethanol tear from its metaphorical eye.

1423, the parent company making the Single Barrel Selection series laboured in obscurity in Denmark for years, it seems to me, before coming to the attention of the larger world with startling suddenness.  All this time – ever since 2009 when they released their first rum from barrel #1423 – this small concern founded by four friends (now five) expanded. And although they were primarily into distribution, they never ceased sourcing and bottling their own rums on the side – this culminated around 2016 with the formation of the more exclusive SBS brand, which, as the name implies, does rums from single barrels.  The first year they bottled juice from Panama, Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, Fiji and Guyana, and haven’t stopped running since.

You’ll forgive me for having a soft spot for Guyanese rums.  The profile of the wooden stills’ output appeals to me more than most, when it isn’t dumbed down and tarted up with the sweet stuff (I move off fast when that happens because if I wanted a Tiger Bay strumpet I’d go there to get rolled, thank you very much).  Anyway SBS follows the indie maxim of not messing with what’s in the barrel, so we have something clean here, as I’d expect.

It smells perfectly fine.  It reeks of well polished leather, aromatic tobacco smoke, prunes and unsweetened dark chocolate, and that’s just for openers.  There’s also raisins, salted caramel, brine, an olive or two, some mild coffee and some moist brown sugar that still has the whiff of molasses in it. And behind all that is damp black earth, rotting bananas and a darkness that makes you think perhaps it’s trying to channel a HP Lovecraft or something.

I enjoyed the nose for sure, but it’s the taste that makes or breaks a wooden still rum.  Here, it was excellent – thick, dark, and almost creamy, like Irish coffee. Some licorice and mint chocolate led off, a bit of raisins, toffee, nougat, a twitch of ripe apples.  And then it opened up and out came the coffee, the leather, salt caramel, prunes, plums, blackberries, molasses … and was that ripe avocados with salt I was getting in the background?  Quite possibly – the richness of the rum, both in taste and in texture, could hardly be faulted. And the finish was excellent, solid and breathy, not giving anything new, but sort of summing things up – so, some leather, tobacco, stale coffee grounds, caramel and those fruits again, fainter this time.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was as Guyanese as pepperpot and DDL – the real question is, which still made the rum?  The label says it’s an Enmore from a pot still, all of SBS’s records (here and here) say “Enmore” and “pot” but the Enmore still itself is a wooden coffey, so that only leaves two options – either the label is wrong, or it’s one of the two other stills, the Port Mourant wooden double pot, or the Versailles wooden single pot. And since Marco makes no mention of the PM still ever going near Enmore (it was moved to Albion, then to Uitvlugt and then to Diamond), and since the Versailles still was in Enmore in 1995 (the last year that estate’s distillery made rum) then the balance of probability says it’s a Versailles, as Marius of Single Cask Rum stated without attribution in his own rundown of the SBS rums. 

Assuming my line of reasoning is correct, then it’s a Versailles-still rum (SBS are digging to clear this mystery up on my behalf after I contacted them about the discrepancy), but maybe this is all just pedantry and anal-retentive detail mongering.  After all, it tastes a lot like the Moon Import Enmore 1988-2011 which supposedly was a coffey still rum from there, and even if it was (or wasn’t), who that drinks this thing really deep-down cares? I thought that the rum was more solid and “thicker” than a true — and usually more elegant — Enmore, yet more civilized than the Versailles rums tend to be. It was deep, dark, and delicious, a very good rum indeed for those who like that profile, and if we can’t identify its origins with precision, at least we can drink it, enjoy it, love it — and thank SBS for bringing it to our attention.  We just don’t see enough of such rums any more and that’s reason enough to appreciate what they did, even without the business about which still it came off of.

(#640)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled November 1988, bottled October 2016.  For my money that’s a 28 year old
  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachmann, who sourced me the sample quite a while back. I seem to have lost my glass-and-sample-bottle picture, hence my using stock photos
  • The rum is red brown in colour, very pretty in a glass.
Jun 242019
 

This is one of those strange rums that clearly exists, but about which nobody seems to know anything, even though I was informed it remains on sale in Aruba to this day. Jazz Singh out of the UK couldn’t help – he rather witheringly remarked that the only local stuff he found on the island was “a lot of imported column rubbish” and that the one distillery Aruba used to have is definitely closed. And good luck with finding any info on the company whose name is on the label, Playa Liquor and Bottling Co, ‘cause that’s equally opaque and non-communicative. So for the moment I’ll treat is a sort of low rent tourist trap hooch. In fact, I’m not even sure what else the company does, so spare is Playa’s online footprint, on FB or elsewhere.

There is an air of “generic” about the rum. It has a title used before – “Superior Carta Reserva” was also a 1970s Puerto Rican rum made for E.F. Debrot Inc (a liquor merchant in Aruba), and it’s white, it’s 35%, and that’s about all you’re going to get here.  I’d hazard a guess it’s a column still product, and that it’s made elsewhere under contract by a third party…assuming it continues to be made at all, because there’s simply no way that any rum company would not advertise its own product, even locally, with this kind of promotional black hole. 

Tasting notes, then, because what else can we do? Nose: a thin, watery, a slightly salty cream soda and Angostura bitters…what we used to call a “rockshandy” when I was a boy.  Plus vanilla and a whiff of citrus. There’s not much more – it’s like light alcoholic water and no aroma of any distinctiveness whatsoever.

Palate? Nope, not a whole lot there either. 35% ABV excites little beyond my indifference.  Even having it first thing in the morning with nothing else before, so that the strength would be less of a factor than later, achieved nothing.  A splash of salt water and an olive or two, vanilla again, a short, faint bite of a very ripe apple, and maybe a pear…or was that a cucumber? Who cares?  The thing is so dim, so bland, so lacking anything resembling character, that you be forgiven for thinking it was in witness protection. The best part is the short, sweet, slightly salty, slightly dry finish, because, you know, it finishes. 

So there we are. Probably molasses based, filtered, an uninspirational, boring, flaccid excuse for a rum, distinguished only by its remarkable lack of anything in particular. It’s a hollow rum, a watery alcohol delivery system, eliciting nothing in the rum drinker except perhaps a big yawn. I’ll just leave it there.

(#635)(65/100)

Apr 092019
 

The stats and the label speak to a rum that can almost be seen as extraordinary, which usually fills me with dread as a reviewer: for, how could any rum live up to that? I mean – from Jamaica in the 1980s, 33 years old, a cousin to another really good rum from there, bottled by an old and proud indie house…that’s pretty impressive, right? Yet somehow, against my fears,  Berry Bros. & Rudd have indeed released something special. The initial tasting notes could come from any one of a dozen rums, but as it develops and moves along, it gains force, and we see a great original product coming into focus, something we have perhaps tried before…just not often done this well.

BBR, you will recall, issued the 1977 36 Year Old Jamaica rum which was one of my more expensive purchases many moons back, and it was a great dram.  Fast forward a few more years and when this 1982 33 year old “Exceptional Casks” old rum – also from an unnamed distillery – came on the market, I hesitated, hauled out my cringing wallet and then took the plunge.  Because I believe that the days of easily and affordably sourcing rums more than twenty years old (let alone more than thirty) are pretty much over, and therefore if one wants to own and try rums that are almost hoary with age, one has to snap ‘em up when one can….as long as the purse holds out.

So, what do we have here?  A dark amber rum, 57% ABV, one of 225 issued bottles, in a handsome enclosure that tells you much less than you might wish. Pouring it into a glass, it billows out and presents aromas of dark fruits, well polished leather, pencil shavings, prunes, pineapples, and a whiff of fresh, damp sawdust. This is followed by a delectable melange of honey, nougat, chocolate, molasses, dates, figs and light red olives, and as if that wasn’t enough, it burped, and coughed up some very ripe apples, raisins and the musky tartness of sour cream….an hour later.  Really complex and very very aromatic.

The real party starts upon tasting it.  It’s smoothly and darkly hot, begins quite sharply, revving its engine like a boss, then apologizes and backs off from that dry and heated beginning (so sip with care at the inception).  You can taste leather, aromatic pipe tobacco (like a port-infused cigarillo), combined with softer hints of brine, olives, and dark unripe fruits. Not so much funk or rancid hogo here, quite tamed in fact, which makes it a phenomenal sipping drink, but in that very subdued nature of it, it somehow feels slightly less than those feral Jamaicans we’ve started to become used to. It’s got really good depth, lots of flavour and to mix a rum this old and this good is probably an excommunicable sin someplace. 

Lastly, the finish does not let down, though it is somewhat subdued compared to everything it showed off before – it was initially hot and then calmed down and faded away, leaving behind the memory of pineapples, ripe cherries, brine, sweet olives, raisins, with a last touch of molasses and caramel lurking in the background like a lower case exclamation point.

To my mind, it is very likely from the same stock as the other 1977s that exist (the other BBR and for sure Juuls’s Ping 1977) because much of the profile is the same (and I know that because I went downstairs and fetched them out of mothballs just to cross-check). Facts say the Ping is from Long Pond and scuttlebutt says the BBR is as well, which may be true since the hard-edged profiles of the high-ester Hampden and Worthy Park rums don’t quite fit what I was sampling (however, the question remains open, and BBR aren’t saying anything, so take my opinion here with a grain of salt).

Both rums were aged in Europe and while I know and respect that there’s a gathering movement about favouring tropical ageing over continental, I can only remark that when a rum aged in Europe comes out the other end 33 years later tasting this good, how can one say the process is somehow less?  It stands right next to its own older sibling, bursting with full flavours, backing off not one inch, leaving everything it’s got on the table. What a lovely rum.

(#615)(88/100)

Aug 122018
 

Given my despite and disdain for the overhyped, oversold and over-sugared spiced-alcoholic waters that were the Phillipine Don Papa 7YO and 10YO, you’d be within your rights to ask if I either had a screw loose or was a glutton for punishment, for going ahead and trying this one. Maybe both, I’d answer, but come on, gotta give each rum a break on its own merits, right? If we only write about stuff we like or know is good, then we’re not pushing the boundaries of discovery very much now, are we?

All this sounds nice, but part of the matter is more prosaic — I had the sample utterly blind. Didn’t know what it was. John Go, my cheerfully devious friend from the Phillipines sent me a bunch of unlabelled samples and simply said “Go taste ‘em,” without so much as informing me what any of them where (we indulge ourselves in such infantile pursuits from time to time).  And so I tasted it, rated it, scored it, and was not entirely disappointed with it.  It was not an over sugared mess, and it did not feel like it was spiced up to the rafters — though I could not test it, so you’ll have to take that into account when assessing whether these notes can be relied upon or not.

That said, let’s see what we are told officially. Bleeding Heart Rum company issued 6000 bottles of the Rare Cask in 2017 at 50.5% ABV – which is immediately proved to be a problem (dare I say “lie”?) because this is bottle #8693 –  and just about all online stores and online spirits articles speak to how the rum has no filtration and no “assembly”…well, okay. One site (and the label) called it unblended, which of course is nonsense given the outturn. Almost all mention the “STR” – shaved, toasted and roasted – barrels used, which we can infer to mean charred. There’s no age statement to be found.  And there’s no mention of additives of any kind, the stuff which so sullied the impressions of the 7 and 10 year old: and although I have been told it’s clean, that was something I was unable to test for myself and wouldn’t trust if it came from them (see opinion below). You can decide for yourself whether that kind of outturn and information provision qualifies the tag of “Rare Cask.”  It doesn’t for me.

With all that behind us, what’s it like? Well, even with the amber colour, it noses very lightly…it’s almost relaxing (not really normal for 50% ABV). Somewhat sharp, not too much, smells of sweet tinned peaches in syrup, with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon being noticeable, plus floral notes, vague salt crackers, bitter chocolate, vanilla and oatmeal cookies.  My notes speak of how delicate it noses, but at least the thick cloying blanket of an over-sweetened liqueur does not seem to be part of the program. In its own way it’s actually quite precise and not some vague mishmash of aromas that just flow together randomly.

The taste is different – here it reminds one of the El Dorado 12 (not the 15, that’s a reach) – with a strong toffee, vanilla, brown sugar and molasses backbone.  Lots of fruitiness here – raisins and orange peel, more of those tinned peaches – and also ginger, cinnamon, and bitter chocolate together with strong black tea. These latter tastes balance off the muskiness of the molasses and vanilla, and even if it has been sugared up (and I suspect that if it has, it is less compared to the others in the line), that part seems to be more restrained, to the point where it doesn’t utterly detract or seriously annoy.  The finish is surprisingly short for a rum at 50%, and sharper, mostly brown sugar, fruit syrup, caramel and chocolate, nothing new here.

So all in all, somewhat of a step up from the 7 and the 10. Additives are always a contentious subject, and I understand why some makers prefer to go down that road (while not condoning it) — what I want and advocate for is complete disclosure, which is (again) not the case with the Rare Cask. Here Bleeding Heart seem to have dispensed with the shovel and used a smaller spoon, which suggests they’re paying some attention to trends in the rum world.  When somebody with a hydrometer gets around to testing this thing, I hope to know for certain whether it’s adulterated or not, but in the meantime I’m really glad I didn’t know what I was trying.  That allowed me to be unbiased by the other two rums in the dustbin of my tasting memories when doing my evaluation, and I think this is a light-to-medium, mid-tier rum, probably five years old or less, not too complex, not too simple, with a dash of something foreign in there, but a reasonably good drink all round — especially when compared to its siblings.

(#537)(78/100)


Other Notes

According to the bottle label, the distillery of origin is the Ginebra San Miguel, founded in 1834 when Casa Róxas founded the Ayala Distillery (the first in the Philippines). Known primarily for gin, it also produced other spirits like anisette, cognac, rum and whisky, some locally, some under license. The distillery was located in Quiapo, Manila and was a major component of Ayala y Compañia (successor of Casa Róxas), which was in turn acquired by La Tondeña in 1924.

La Tondeña, in turn, was established in 1902 by Carlos Palanca, Sr. in Tondo, Manila and incorporated as La Tondeña Inc. in 1929. Its main claim to fame prior to its expansion was the production of alcohol derived from molasses, instead of the commonly used nipa palm which it rapidly displaced. Bleeding Heart is associated with the company only insofar as they evidently buy rum stock from then, though at what stage in the production or ageing process, with what kind of still, and with what inclusions, is unknown.


Opinion

One of the key concepts coiling around the various debates about additives is the matter of trust. “I don’t trust [insert brand name here] further than I can throw ‘em,” is a constant refrain and it usually pops up when adulteration is noted, suspected, proved or inferred.  But the underlying fact is that we do trust the producers.  We trust them all the time, perhaps not with marketing copy, the hysterical advertising, the press releases, the glowing brand ambassadors’ endorsements, true – but with what’s on the bottle itself.

The information on the label may be the most sacred part of any rum’s background.  Consciously or not, we take much of what it says as gospel: specifically the country of origin, the distillery source, the age, whether it is a blend or not, and the strength (against which all hydrometer tests are rated).  Gradually more and more information is being added – tropical versus continental ageing, the barrel number, angel’s share, production notes, and so on.

We trust that, and when it’s clear there is deception and outright untruth going on (quite aside from carelessness or stupidity, which can happen as well), when that compact between producer and consumer is broken, it’s well-nigh impossible to get it back — as any amount of Panamanian rum brands, Flor de Cana (and their numbers) or Dictador “Best of…” series can attest (the Best of 1977,  as well as the Malecon 79 and the Mombacho 19 reviews all had commentaries on trust, and for similar reasons).  Also, for example, not all companies who claim their rums are soleras have been shown to really make them that way (often they are blends); and aside from spiced and flavoured rums (and Plantation) just about no producer admits to dosing or additives…so when it’s discovered, social media lights up like the Fourth of July.

This is why what Bleeding Heart is doing is so annoying (I won’t say shocking, since it’s not as if they had that much trust of mine to begin with). First, no age statement.  Second, the touted outturn given the lie by the bottle number. Third, the silence on additives. Well, they could have been simply careless, labelled badly, gave the wrong info the the PR boys in the basement; but carelessness or deception, what this means is that nothing they say now can be taken at face value, it’s like a wave of disbelief that washes over every and all their public statements about their rums. And so while I give the rum the score I do, I’d also advise any potential buyer to be very careful in understanding what it is that we’re being told the rum is, versus what it actually might be.

May 282018
 

Rumaniacs Review #080 | 0516

There’s a lot of missing information on this rum, specifically from where in Jamaica, and when it was made. Until I can get more, we’ll have to just take the tasting notes as they come, unfortunately, since that’s all I have.

Colour – Orange

Strength – 50%

Nose – “Subdued” is the best word I can think of; there is very little of the fierce funkiness or hogo-infused Jamaican badass we’ve gotten used to with more recent Hampdens or Worthy Park rums.  It’s slightly sweet, with caramel and citrus and vanilla, and the question one is left asking is “Where did the funk disappear to?”  Leaving it to open and then coming back to it does not improve or enhance the aromas much, though some fruits and additional lemon peel, coffee grounds and bananas to become more noticeable.

Palate – Ah well, here we go, the sharper funky stuff comes on stage at last.  Still rather restrained, however.  The rum presents as medium bodied, creamy, and tastes of caramel, vanilla, molasses, with a vibrant backbone of cherries, orange peel, ginger, grass, nutmeg and cinnamon.  It really reminds me more of a Demerara (sans anise) than a true Jamaican, and in the absence of real details on the estate of origin, it’s remains something of a let down for those in love with the fierce ester-driven purity of more recent vintages.

Finish – Excellent, quite long, hot, breathy, with more ginger, bitter chocolate and coffee, and quite a bit of tart fruitiness in the background

Thoughts – Not one of my favourites, to be honest.  It’s too indeterminate and doesn’t carry the flag of Jamaica particularly well.  I’m unsure, but (a) I think it’s been continentally aged and (b) it’s possible that the barrel was either charred was nearly dead. Were you to rate it as just a rum without reference to the island of origin, then it’s pretty good — but when I see Jamaica on a label, there’s certain things I look for, and even at nearly three decades old, there’s not enough here to mark it out as something special from there.

(77/100)


Other Notes

There are no details on the estate of origin nor the year of distillation to be found.  My personal opinion is that the rum is a column still rum, continentally aged and perhaps from Longpond (assuming it’s not a blend of some kind).

Tracing Milroy’s is an odd experience.  The bottom of the label provides an address which when searched for puts you in a quiet residential side street in Saxmundham (Suffolk), and when I called the phone number, the gent told me it had not been in the name of Mr. Milroy for over four years. Yet I found a reference that notes Milroy’s is a very well known spirits establishment in #3 Greek Street London. That one makes more sense (the Suffolk address was likely a personal one).  According to K&L Wines, John “Jack” Milroy opened a wine shop in the West End in 1964 with funds provided by his brother (a gold miner from South Africa) and indulged in the bottlings of single cask Scotches. It’s reasonable to suppose an occasional rum flitted through their inventory over the years. The brothers sold the company (date unknown, likely late 1990s) which was run by La Reserve under the stewardship of Mark Reynier who later went on to fame as the man behind Bruichladdich, Murray McDavid and Renegade Rums. As of 2014, the company is once again an independent shop “Milroy’s of Soho” whose site I used for some of these historical notes.

May 152018
 

Rumaniacs Review #078 | 0512

Tracing this rum takes one through three separate companies and dozens of tiny, offhanded remarks made on a score of obscure websites. While it’s tough to pin down a date of formation, Vaughan-Jones appears to have been a London-based spirits bottler very well known for its V-J branded gin, and the company was certainly in existence by the 1880s, likely incorporated by Edward Vaughan-Jones (the exact year remains uncertain).  According to the British Trade Journal of May 1882, Vaughan-Jones “Standard” spirits at that time were gins, whiskies, rum, Old Tom (a type of popular 18th century gin that was sweeter than London Dry but drier than Dutch Jenever), flavoured brandies, and bitters.

By the time this Jamaican rum came out in the 1960s (the date comes from an estimate of the Whisky Exchange website and I’ve got nothing better except from a tax stamp on the bottle which hints at the 1970s importation but not necessarily manufacture) another company called Hedges & Butler had taken over Vaughan-Jones, and registered various trademarks of V-J in 1957.  Following this down the rabbit hole provides the information that they themselves were wine and spirits merchants dating back to 1667, were granted a Royal Warrant by King George IV in 1830 which was renewed by Queen Victoria in 1837. They were and remain primarily (but not exclusively) in the wine and whisky business, and were taken over by The Bass Charrington Group in the 1960s.  Since 1998 they fall under the umbrella of Ian MacLeod Distillers which is where the story ends for now.

At all times, under whichever company owned the V-J brand, it appears that rum was very much an afterthought and not a major branch of the business. Some of the Vaughan-Jones family remain alive and remember their great grandfather Edward…it would be interesting to see what they know about the rums his company made. No data on the still, distillery or estate of origin is available. It is noted as being “pure” which suggests either no additives, or unblended and direct from a distillery which, from the taste, is what I chose to believe.

Colour – amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – It may just be a function of the age, but it does present somewhat oddly to those who have a bunch of modern Jamaicans to chose from. Not quite an ester bomb, this: still, it starts with brine, olives, citrus, some funk and miso soup, sweet soya, vinegar and herbs (dill, cilantro, rosemary).  Nothing off-putting, just different.

Palate – Oh well, this was lovely. Soft, well rounded.  Caramel, light molasses, herbs (dill and cilantro again), brine, tequila, olives, and a pinch of oregano and some old used coffee grounds left out in the sun too long.  It also has aspects that reminded me of the Paranubes, something of a minerally and agave background, added some light white fruits at the back end, and overall, it’s really not that sweet.  A shade thin, though.

Finish – Very nicely rounded and warm.  It all comes together here and the oddity of the nose disappears completely. Light caramel and funk, herbs, brine, with almost no fruitiness at all.

Thoughts – Drinking this next to an Appleton 12, say, or some of the newer Hampdens and Worthy Park stuff, and you could infer this was an earlier form of what they are now making. It’s not as cultured, a bit raw, and the tastes and smells are in a different (primitive?) form of what we now take for granted.  But it’s not bad, and if you’re a lover of historical artifacts from Ago, neither the background of the company nor the rum itself, is likely to disappoint.

(82/100)


Other Notes

Francesco from Lo Spirito dei Tempi, who I met briefly in April 2018, was the source of the bottle, and he noted that it was made for export to Australia from the 1880s to 1980s.  In his article he remarks that it was aged three years in Jamaica and then for a further undisclosed time underground at the London docks.

Oct 202017
 

#395

Velier’s star shone brightly in 2017, so much so that if you were following the October 2017 UK rumfest on Facebook, it almost seemed like they took over the joint and nothing else really mattered.  Luca’s collaboration with Richard Seale of Foursquare over the last few years resulted the vigorous promotion of a new rum classification system, as well as the spectacular 2006 ten year old and the Triptych (with more to come); and for Velier’s 70th Anniversary – marked by events throughout the year – a whole raft of rums got issued from Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Mauritius, Japan….So much happened and so much got done that I had to re-issue an updated company biography, and that’s definitely a first. The Age of Velier’s Demeraras might be over and the Caronis might be on a decline as the stocks evaporate…but company is in no danger of becoming an also-ran anytime soon.

Still, all these great rums aside, let us not forget some of the older, lesser known, more individual rums they put out the door, such as the Damoiseau 1980 and the Basseterre 1995 and 1997, some of the Papalins and Liberation series, the older Guyanese rums distributed at lesser proofs by Breitenstock…and this one which is on nobody’s must-have list except mine.  It holds a special place in my heart – not just because it was issued by Velier (thought this surely is part of it), but because the original Courcelles 1972 is the very rum that started my love affair with French island rhums and agricoles…so for sure this one had some pretty big shoes to try and fill.

It filled them and then some. Reddish gold and at a robust 54% ABV (there’s another 42% version floating around) it started off with a beeswax, honey and smoke aroma, heavy and distinct, and segued into treacle, nougat, white chocolate and nuts.  Not much of an agricole profile permeated its nose, and since it’s been observed before that since Guadeloupe – from which this hails – is not AOC controlled and uses molasses as often as juice for its rhums, the Courcelles could be either one. No matter: I loved it. Even after an hour or two, more scents kept emerging from the glass – caramel and a faint saltiness, aromatic flower-based hot tea, and just to add some edge, a fine line of mild orange zest ran through it all, well balanced and adding to the overall lusciousness of the product.

The palate, which is where I spent most of my time, was excellent, though perhaps a little more restrained…some attention had to be paid here. The brutal aggro of a rum bottled at 60%-plus had been dialled back, pruned like a bonsai, and left a poem of artistry and taste behind: more honey, nougat, nutmeg, brown sugar water, and calming waves of shaved coconut and the warmth of well-polished old leather, cumin, and anise, with that same light vein of orange peel still making itself unobtrusively felt without destabilizing the experience.  At the close, long and aromatic aromas simply continued the aforementioned and quietly wrapped up the show with final suggestions of rose tea, almonds, coconut and light fruit in a long, sweet and dry finish.  Frankly, it was hard to see it being the same vintage as the Velier Courcelles 42% which was tried alongside it, and was better in every way – the 54% was an excellent strength for what was on display and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There’s a streak of contrariness in my nature that seeks to resist flavour-of-the month rums that ascend to the heights of public opinion to the point where their makers can do no wrong and every issuance of a new expression is met with chirps of delight, holy cows and a rush to buy them all. But even with that in mind, quality is quality and skill is skill and when a rum is this good it cannot be ignored or snootily dismissed in an effort to provide “balance” in some kind of perverse reflex action good only for the personal ego.  Velier, even when nobody knew of them, showed great market sense, great powers of selection and issued great rums, which is why they’re just about all collector’s items now.  The Demeraras and Caronis and collaborations with other makers showed vision and gave us all fantastic rums to treasure…but here, from the dawn of Luca’s meteoric career, came a now-almost-forgotten and generally-overlooked rum that came close to breaking the scale altogether.  It is one of the best rums from the French islands ever issued by an independent, a cornerstone of my experience with older rums from around the world…and hopefully, if you are fortunate enough to ever try it, yours.

(91/100)


  • The Courcelles distillery in Grande Terre (one of the two “wings” of Guadeloupe island) was established in the 1930s and closed way back in 1964 when the then owner, M. Despointes, transferred the inventory and equipment to another distillery, that of Ste Marthe. They continued using Courcelles’s pot still and distilled this rum in 1972.  This is probably the last year any Courcelles was made – I’ve never been able to find one made more recently.
  • Distilled in 1972 and set to age in 220 liter barrels until 2003 when it was decanted into “dead” vats, and then bottled in 2005.  I chose to call it a 31 year old, not a 33.
  • The profile does not suggest an agricole, and since Guadeloupe is not AOC compliant, it may derive from molasses…or not.  If anyone has definitive information or a link to settle the issue, please let me know.

Sep 172017
 

Rumaniacs Review #056 | 0456

I got this curious thing through separate channels from the usual Rumaniacs (a trend I foresee continuing) and it’s a mini-bottle insufficient to allow me to share it to everyone…so, sorry mes amis.  Still, it’s one of these delightful mystery rhums about which just about nothing turns up on a search, except an old French eBay listing which suggests this is a French West Indian rhum from 1953 (unconfirmed, but how cool is that year, right?) bottled at 44% ABV, so in that sense it conforms to all the reasons the ‘Maniacs exist in the first place – an old, out of production, heritage rhum, a blast from the past which only exists in memories and old internet pages (and now this one)…

Trawling around suggests that “Negresco” was not an uncommon label, used rather more commonly, it would seem, for Martinique rhums; there are references with that title from several bottlers, including Bruggeman out of Belgium, and my little sampler has “R.C Gand” as the company of make – about which there is exactly zero info – so unless a Constant Reader can contribute a nugget of information, we’ll have to be content with that.

Colour – Mahogany

Strength – Assumed 44%

Nose – Reminds me somewhat of the old E.H. Keeling Old Demerara rum (R-019): prunes gone off, bananas just starting to go, plus vinegar, soy and caramel.  Quite a “wtf?” nose, really.  There’s a musty air about it, like an old cupboard aired too seldom.  After a while, some sawdust, old dried-out cigars, a bit of anise, and indeterminate fruits and herbs

Palate – Not bad at all, perhaps because it displays no single island’s characteristics, making it something of a Caribbean rhum, maybe a blend (which I suspected was the case anyway); oddly, though labelled as a “rhum” it has faint hints of anise and deep woody and fruity flavour points in the direction of some Guianese components. With water there are plums, anise, prunes raisins and a salty bite of tequila, coffee, caramel and soya.  I’m convinced the strength is around 50-55%, by the way, though the bottle doesn’t mention it. (Note that I saw a very similar label on rum.cz — a rum label collector in Czecheslovakia — which suggests it is actually 54%, and that makes sense).

Finish – Medium long, warm, coffee, licorice and caramel, very pleasant and easy going.

Thoughts – Quite liked this one, wish I could have had a bottle to take a real long pull at it and take it apart some more.  It’s certainly a decent rhum from Ago, which, if one were to ever find it again, and at a reasonable price, is worth getting.

(85/100)

  • No other Rumaniacs have sampled this rhum, so no links this time.
  • Many thanks to Etienne, who sent this to me.
Aug 312017
 

#385

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

The nose is quite good for something I feared would be rather thin: unsweetened chocolate and coffee, some dark fruit – nothing as deep and brooding as a good Demerara, mind, but nevertheless, there’s a kind of muskiness to the aromas that worked well.  Baked apples and a sort of cereal background, something like nice blueberry tart – I assume that was the armagnac finish lending its influence – with an ashy background to the whole thing.

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

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

(83/100)


Opinion (you can ignore this section)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other notes

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