Mar 302021
 


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Feb 252021
 

Back in 2013 when I wrote about the Scotch Malt Whisky Association’s release R3.4 Barbados 2002 10YO “Makes You Strong Like  Lion”, several people went on FB and passed the word around that it wasn’t a Foursquare rum, which was hardly needed since I noted in the review that it was from WIRD, and the Rockley Still. Four years later the SMWS did however, decide that the famed Barbados company shouldn’t be left out and bottled an aged rum from Foursquare (the first of two), named it R6.1, and gave it one of their usual amusing titles of “Spice At The Races.” One wonders when they’re going to try for a Mount Gay distillate, though I’m not holding my breath.

Now, for years, every rum geek in the observable rumiverse (bar a few of my acquaintances who don’t drink kool aid) has formed up behind the oft-repeated idea that there is no way a continentally aged rum is the equal of one left to sleep in its island or country of origin. I’ve always taken that statement with a pinch of salt, for two reasons: one, its adherents always talk about taste and age, yet it’s actually touted for social and economic reasons, which is a point often lost in the shuffle; and two, I’ve simply had too many aged rums that ripened in both places for me to be so dogmatic in my assertions, and I’ve seen as many failures as successes in both. Ultimately, it’s the taste that counts no matter where it’s bottled.

This pale yellow rum cost around £75 when initially released, was 57.3% and with a 210 bottle outurn, aged for a solid 14 years old (yes, in Europe) , illustrates the problem with making such sweeping “four legs good, two legs bad” generalizations, because it’s a really a fine rum in its own peculiar way, and one I enjoyed a lot.

Consider first the nose, which opens with the firm assertiveness of my primary school teacher wielding her cane. It smells of sawdust, dusty cardboard, glue, has an odd medicinal touch to it, and also a nice smoky-sweet sort of background. Then the fruits begin their march in: orange peel, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, some light cherries and peaches. The citrus line, augmented with other sharper aromas of persimmons and ginnips provide a lovely through-line, and the smokiness and leather lend an intriguing edge.

The taste is admittedly odd at the inception; my first notes speak of a pair of old, well used, polished, leather shoes (with socks still in ‘em). This is not actually a bad thing, since it is balanced off by ginger, mauby and some rich fruit notes – apples, guavas, almost ripe yellow Thai mangoes – and these make it both tart and delicately sweet, gathering force until it becomes almost creamy at the back end, with a sort of caramel, port, molasses and vanilla taste to it. This is one of these cases where the finish lingers and doesn’t do a vanishing act on you: it’s slightly acidic and tart, with vanilla, oak, smoke, unsweetened yoghurt and a touch of delicate florals and fruits. Nice.

So, a couple of points.  Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged-Mind, who was sampling it with me, and who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the various Bajan rum profiles, wondered if it was even a Foursquare at all (I chose to disagree, and accept the rum as stated).  Also, It’s unclear from the labelling whether it’s a pure pot still distillate, or – more consistent with Foursuare’s own releases – a blend of pot and column.  Rum Auctioneer classed it as a pot-column blend.  The bottle remains silent. The Rum Shop Boy, one of the few who’s reviewed it, noted it as pot still only in one part of his review, and a blend further down (and didn’t care much for it, as a matter of interest). However, he further noted in an earlier Kintra Foursquare review some months before, that Mr. Seale had confirmed some 2002 pot still 4S rum had indeed been sold that year. My own initial take was that it was a blend, as I felt it lacked the sort of distinctiveness a pot still distillate would impart and I didn’t think Mr. Seale shipped his pot still juice over to Europe. However, Simon’s quote from him, and Seale’s subsequent note on FB put he matter to rest – he confirmed it was a pot still spirit.

All that aside, it was a really good rum, one which shows that when they want to, the SMWS can pick rums with the best of them (especially with more familiar and more famous distilleries – their track record with less known and less popular marks is a bit more hit and miss).  If various laws and regulations being pursued stop indies from getting continentally aged juice in the years to come (though this is unlikely given the extent of Scheer’s stocks), I think the Society can still rest comfortably on its laurels after having issued a rum as fine as this one, young as it may be in tropical years.

(#804)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Rum Shop Boy scored the rum 67/100, so about 83 points by my scale and 3½ out of 5 on Wes’s.  Like Marco, he commented on how different it was from the Foursquare rums he knew, and rated it “disappointing”.
  • Angus over at WhiskyFun liked it much more and scored it 87, rolling out the tongue-in-cheek “dangerously quaffable” line, and meaning it.
  • Ben’s Whisky Blog (near bottom of page) rates it a “Buy” with no score
  • Post details regarding source still is updated based on a conversation on FB the same day I put it up.  It could indeed be a pot still rum, but the jury remains out.
Oct 222019
 

This is a rum that has become a grail for many: it just does not seem to be easily available, the price keeps going up (it’s listed around €300 in some online shops and I’ve seen it auctioned for twice that amount), and of course (drum roll, please) it’s released by Richard Seale.  Put this all together and you can see why it is pursued with such slack-jawed drooling relentlessness by all those who worship at the shrine of Foursquare and know all the releases by their date of birth and first names.

But what is it? Well, to go by the label, it’s the result of a selection of some of the 1985 rum barrels belonging to the Alleyne Arthur reserves; and for the curious, Alleyne, Arthur & Hunte were also once merchant bottlers in Barbados (they made the original Old Brigand and the Special Barbados Rum); they acquired Doorly’s in the 1970s and were themselves taken over by Foursquare in 1993. Now, in 1995 the source rum – a pot and column still blend – which had been aged for ten years by that point, was vatted, and three barrels were left over from that exercise.  These three barrels were aged for a further six years (Richard said that “they sat for a bit – [three barrels were] small enough to forget about”) and finally decanted in 2001, into about 400 bottles – at the time the idea was to create a premium release, but they just stood there gathering dust “for no more reason than we never came up with the premium packaging.” Finally, after seeing Velier’s releases, Richard realized that premium labelling and dressing up was not really required, that simplicity was its own cachet, and the audience preferred a simple bottle and clear explanation…and in 2015, the 16 year old rum hit the market at last.

Strictly speaking, this is a rum that could easily be mistaken for an earlier Exceptional Casks release (say, the 1998, or the 2004). The nose, warm and firm, is well tamed and really well rounded.  It smells of molasses, nuts and ripe orange peel. There are also flambeed bananas, Irish coffee, apricots, some smoke and a trace of wet wood coiling around in the background, but at 43% it is well tamed and quite easy, a real sipping drink with no qualifications.  

The nose is fine, but this is one of those occasions when the palate does more.  It’s as dry and silky rough as a cat’s raspy tongue, not sweet, just firm, with just enough edge to make you think of a tux-sporting East-end hood. The acidic and tart notes are held way back with softer and muskier tastes up front: oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies, biscuits, cereal, and crushed walnuts.  Again the sweet is kept under control, and spices like cumin and massala are hinted at, together with candied oranges, rosemary and a trace of fennel. The finish is also quite good, surprisingly durable for a rum bottled at such a tame strength, and again I am reminded of the Mark 1 or Mark II as a comparator.

So definitely a rum to try if you can get a hold of it. It opens a window on to the profile of rums made in Barbados in the 1980s before the rum renaissance, by a company no longer in existence and continued by their successors and inheritors.  When we discussed it, Richard remarked that he could never quite recreate it, because he didn’t know what was in the blend – it was leftovers from the vatting, the “recipe” never written down, created by a now-retired blender. And while he undoubtedly regrets that, his eyes are set on the horizon, to all the new rums he is working on creating now and in the future, and all those who love Barbados rums will undoubtedly follow him there. But for those lucky enough to get a bottle, a sample, or a sip of the 1985, I’m sure a fond memory will be spared for this one-of-a kind bottling too. However recent, it is still a part of history trapped in a bottle, and should perhaps be tried for that reason alone, quite aside from its tasty, languid and easy going charms.

(#668)(84/100)

Oct 192019
 

Rumaniacs Review #101 | 0667

Like the Lamb’s Navy rum we looked at last time, this is a 70º proof rum, which was produced by George Morton Ltd out of Scotland. Dating this bottle is tricky, since George Morton still exists and is folded into William Grant & Sons, and OVD continues to be made (it’s popular in Scotland and Northern England, wrote Wes Burgin, who reviewed a more recent edition back in 2014) — but my own feeling is that this bottle hails from the early 1970s.

By the 1980s the old British companies had left Guyana — DDL was formed in 1983 when Diamond Liquors (Sandbach-Parker’s company) and Guyana Distillers (Booker-McConnell’s) were merged. At the same time — January 1st 1980 to be precise — the degrees proof words and “º” symbol  on the label had been discontinued and % ABV became the standard nomenclature.

This bottle notes George Morton, founded in 1838, as being located in Dundee which the OVD history page confirms as being the original offices. But a 1970s-dated Aussie listing for a 40% ABV OVD rum already shows them as being located in Glasgow, and a newer bottle label shows Talgarth Rd in London, so my Dundee edition has to be earlier. Lastly, an auction site lists a similar bottle from the 1970s with a label also showing Dundee, and a spelling of “Guyana”, so since the country became independent in 1966, I’m going to suggest the early 1970s is about right

None of this is strictly relevant, but I like illustrating the rabbit hole of research from time to time.  The rum is, of course, from Guyana, though its exact age and date of distillation is unknown.

Colour – Very dark amber

Strength – 40% ABV (since 100º proof was ~ 57.14%, then mathematically 70º proof = 40% ABV)

Nose – Heavy, dull aromas. Tobacco, dust, glue, the mustiness of old books in the abandoned sections of old libraries.  Molasses, spoiled prunes, plums and pears gone off. Little acidity or tartness here. Vague orange peel, smoke, caramel, furniture polish, toffee, brown sugar.

Palate – Curiously flat for a nose which had such heaviness to it. A little sweet, mostly dry. Molasses, dust, light fruits.  Licorice, biscuits, coca cola – perhaps they wanted to have an all-in-one snack?. There’s a slight metallic note to it, some dark fruits and dates and, of course, more caramel and molasses. Fairly simple and straightforward rum to chuck into a glass and mix up. 

Finish – Sharpish, short. Cola, lemon zest, licorice, varnish, some sawn lumber, caramel, molasses.  Not particularly complex

Thoughts – It feels like a low-rent Port Mourant, and indeed, after I wrote these words I found out that historically it had indeed mostly been PM distillate that formed the core of the OVD. Too weak and undistinguished for me, but even in this standard proofed rum, the qualities of the wooden still could not be denied and elevated it a smidgen above merely ordinary.

NB: I managed to test this with a hydrometer, and it came out at 37.33% ABV, which calculates out to 12 g/L…so either they themselves dosed it, or got the barrels like that. It’s too far back in history to know for sure, now.

(0667 | R-0101)(80/100)

Oct 172019
 

Although it’s older, Samaroli is somewhat eclipsed these days (by Velier), and is sometimes regarded as being on the same tier as, say, Rum Nation, or L’Esprit (though the comparisons are at best inexact).  With the passing of its eponymous founder, there is no single person around whom aficionados can rally, no-one to show the flag, to enthusiastically promote its rums and excitedly show off the best and newest thing they have going (not that he was doing much of that in the years immediately prior to his passing, but still…). It survives in the regard of many – myself among them – on the basis of the heritage and reputation Sylvano left behind, beautiful label design, and some really kick-ass selections.

Still, good selection or not, at the top end of the single-barrel, limited-outturn value chain, picking barrels can be a hit or miss proposition by minute increments of quality or preference. Although it’s a good rule of thumb, it does not necessarily follow that just because one release in one year is good, that all others from the same year would be of a similar level of excellence. The lesson was brought home the other day when a bunch of us tried the 2016 Samaroli 24 YO from Jamaica, which was distilled in the same year – 1992 – as the near-sublime Samaroli 25 year old 2017 edition we’d had just a few months before (and which was used as a control in subsequent tastings).

Let me just run you through the tasting notes, because this really was quite an impressive dram in its own right. Quiet and almost sleepy, it was dusty, dry, sweet and tart to begin with, like a long-unaired spice cupboard. Gradually the fruity notes of peaches, pineapple, gooseberries and cherries built up force until they took over, combining well with licorice, citrus peel aromatic tobacco, even a hint of sherry; and behind all that was the restrained funk of rotting bananas, a sort of quiet gaminess, and the medicinal sweetness of cherry-flavoured cough syrup.  

The palate was where the action really was, and fortunately it didn’t display any kind of brute force, or the sort of over-oakedness that more than two decades sometimes provides. In fact, it was remarkably drinkable, and there was a lot going on: brine, olives, flowers, licorice, peaches in syrup, cherries were the main components, backed up by citrus, mint, lemongrass, green grapes, stewed apples, bananas going off, earthy and meaty … and there was a weird salty gaminess carrying over from the nose that was vaguely like a sausage starting to spoil. How all that integrated with the fruits and flowers is a mystery, yet somehow it did, though I have to confess, the balance wasn’t quite as neat as the nose suggested it would be.  The finish was a bit sharp, but elegant and complex, with fruits, nuts and some salt lasting nicely and then fading.

This was really well put together. There was absolutely nothing intrinsically wrong with the 2016 24 YO, and it didn’t fail: it was a strong, tasty rum in its own right, represented Hampden like a boss, and it scored high (with me, as well as with Marius, who looked at earlier in 2019 and awarded it 87 points, while remarking he felt it should have been decanted earlier).  But good as it was, the general consensus was that the 1992 25 year old was simply better. Better balanced, better integrated, better tasting, smelling, the whole nine yards. The 2016 lacked a little something, an extra fillip of integration and overall enjoyment that was subtle, yet noticeable when sampled in conjunction with its brother. 

In short, the 2017 had us searching our thesaurus for suitable adjectives (and expletives) and was one of the best Jamaican rums we’d ever tried. The 2016 — distilled the same year, and bottled a year and 2% ABV apart — made us nod appreciatively, mark it up as a really good rum to have, and one to recommend…but also move on to the next one in our session. 

(#666)(88/100)


Other notes

  • The label doesn’t state it, but as far as I know it’s pot still.
  • 240 bottles released. This is #29
  • 54% ABV, European ageing

 

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.

Oct 092019
 

Rumaniacs Review #099 | 0663

Alfred Lamb started making his signature dark rum from West Indian raw stock in 1849 in London; it was initially aged in cellars below the Thames, which is why you still see occasional bottles of “London Dock” gathering dust on store shelves here or there, rubbing shoulders with various branded Navy rums, white rums and spiced rums, and it’s all a big yawn through these days.  The current owner of the Lamb’s name, Pernod Ricard, markets it as a downmarket grocery-store kind of rum, and the days of something like the 1949 Special Consignment are long gone.

This bottle likely comes from the late 1970s: there is an earlier version noted as being from “British Guiana” that must have dated from the 1960s (Guyana gained independence n 1966) and by 1980 the UK largely ceased using degrees proof as a unit of alcoholic measure; and United Rum Merchants was taken over in 1984, which sets an absolute upper limit on its provenance (the URM is represented by the three barrels signifying Portal Dingwall & Norris, Whyte-Keeling and Alfred Lamb who merged in 1948 to form the company).  Note also the “Product of Guyana” – the original blend of 18 different rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad pioneered by Alfred Lamb, seems to have been reduced to Guyana only for the purpose of releasing this one.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 40% (since 100º proof was ~ 57.14%, then mathematically 70º proof = 40% ABV)

Nose – Yes, definitely Guyanese and for sure one of the wooden stills, PM or Versailles. Dark, rich and molasses based, with sawdust, pencil shavings, redolent of caramel, fudge, lemongrass, licorice, citrus, dates, tobacco leaves and green grapes.

Palate – “Thick” is not out of place to describe it.  Or maybe “juicy”. It’s sweet, dark, rich and dense with great mouthfeel for standard strength. A mix of both light and dark fruits – pears, peaches, prunes, mint leaves, and fresh pancakes drizzled with syrup.

Finish – Mid length, nothing special, but a nice firm exit.  

Thoughts – It’s not the most complex thing around, but if the straightforward pleasures of a mixer or simple sipper are your thing, this won’t disappoint.  It’s not trying to redefine Demerara and gives a decent account of Guyana and the stills, if less of the Navy style. Something of a one-trick pony, then, and that it’s a good pony at only that one trick is just our loss.

(0663 | R-099)(80/100)

Oct 062019
 

There’s so many peculiar things going on with this rum it’s tough to find a convenient starting place, so let’s begin with what facts lie behind the rum itself and then go from there.  The rum is a Jamaican Worthy Park distillate from about 2010 or so, aged three to five years in american white oak casks, with an unknown (said to be limited but….) outturn dribbled into our glasses at a milquetoast 40%.

Since WP have a very recognizable branding scheme of their own, who released the rum? It’s found on the label, and it’s Bacardi, who evidently felt there was a market opportunity to go upscale and use their massive distribution network and marketing clout to steal a march on the independent bottlers who have pioneered limited bottlings in the last decade. I say “evidently”, because clearly they simply saw margins and profits, grandly called the new line a “breakthrough, contemporary innovation in the rum category” — but learned nothing about what actually made such rums special: things like serious barrel selection, serious ageing, serious strength, limited outturn, combined with a real and patiently garnered reputation for quality at the top end of the rum ladder. Just because you slap a Jamaican distillery name on a label does not mean you instantly have a great juice, as they have belatedly realized by the way this rum sank pretty much without a trace.

Which in 2019, four years after its release, I thought was odd…but only initially.  I say that because at first I quite liked the way it nosed. It was very much a WP rum, dry, fruity, rich, salty, with some olives bouncing around. Sweeter, fruitier notes emerged with time, fanta and coca cola and orange peel, and there was some background of smoke and leather as well. I jotted down that it was nicely pungent for a 40% rum. Understated but recognizable. So, thus far, not bad at all.

Trying physically, I can only assume that whoever put the final blend together must have been scared witless and sh*tless by the sheer crisp uniqueness of Worthy Park’s pot still distillate, so much at odds with the gentle ease of Cuban-style rons – and decided, therefore, it could not possibly be allowed to stand on its own but be added to to make it more…well, palatable, I guess. Better for Bacardi drinkers. And therefore added caramel or sugar or whatever, to the tune of 15 g/L.  And you could sense that when tasting it – it was, first of all, much fainter than one might expect from such a good nose. The dryness went AWOL, and instead of leading off with crisp citrus and brine, what we got was a sort of muted fruitiness, damped-down acetones, sour tobacco and polish, and a more soft and smooth and creamy taste. This was not unpleasant, but it did deviate from what we want — and hope we’re buying — in a Worthy Park rum. Moreover, though a half hour later I could sense apples, grapes, and unripe peaches, it was too muffled, and unbalanced at the back end, presenting both a kind of spiteful sharpness as well as a muddled mishmash of tastes confused and roiled by the additives, leading to a finish that was short and sharp — a kinda dreary and near-tasteless alcohol.

Overall, it’s unclear what Bacardi thought they were doing, acting as an independent bottler when they’ve always been primary producers who have their own ideas on how to make rums; with expertise in light rons, the clear-cut singularity of single (or a few) barrel selection from Jamaica does not seem to be their forte.  I’ve been passing Single Cane rums in many airports of the world for years but the 40% always put me off until finally I got one, this one…and kinda wished I hadn’t bothered.  It’s not a particularly good rum, a barely average product released at a strength that does little to showcase or capitalize on the unique heritage of its estate of origin. As a beginner’s rum it works to introduce Worthy Park, but my advice is to move beyond it to the real stuff from Jamaica as fast as possible, without wasting further time on the false promises of such an adulterated siren that treats its audience with contempt and cynically trades on a name without providing anything of its quality.

(#662)(78/100)


Other notes

  • Bacardi bought bulk rum directly from Worthy Park, and it was aged at WP. but they did their own blending.
  • The 15g/L additives number comes from the Fat Rum Pirate’s equally dismissive review of the same rum
Oct 022019
 

If you’re of a practical turn of mind and count your kopeks, there is absolutely no reason for you to buy this rum. It does not come in a bottle which stands easily on your shelf if the supports are mislaid; it is an overly sweet and probably spiced-up adulterated mess; and, if you’re an elitist, it doesn’t come with the pedigree of a centuries-old estate distillery on an island in the Caribbean. So on that basis, somewhat of a waste of money.

What it does bring to the table is an utterly awesome and eye-catching bottle shape, in good company with just a handful of others worldwide. It’s from a country that few if any of your boozing friends will have tried any rums from, so there’s that “I tried it first” cachet you can pin to your biscuit chest. And, if pedigree is your thing, it does go back many decades, and bears the title of “Coronation” for a reason.

The Nepalese rum called Kukhri is, first and foremost, named after the country’s most identifiable edged weapon, one that is considered both weapon and tool, and made famous by the Ghurkas who have served in the British army for over two centuries. The rum brand was created in 1959 by the Nepal Distilleries Ltd in Kathmandu, and initially made with pot stills – nowadays it comes off a multi-column still, from molasses, at 42.8%, and is available in three varieties – standard, Coronation and spiced. All of these are aged in wooden oak vats for around eight months.

The question of whether it has been added to arises immediately upon nosing it.  I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand by saying it’s “simple” – but there are just a few strong flavour-types coiling around: chocolate, caramel, coffee grounds, bananas and molasses, some baking spices, tobacco, and lots of prunes and dark ripe cherries.The whole aroma is quite thick and sweet with very little balance of lighter or acidic notes.

Ditto for the taste.  It says it’s 42.8% on the label but my hydrometer tested the rum as 34.58% (so ~31 g/L of something has been added), and it comes as no surprise, then, that when rubbing it between thumb and forefinger it feels sticky, and when sipped, it’s overly sweet. Again, chocolate, molasses, caramel, overripe fruits and tobacco, plus a hint of red wine and flowers, not enough to matter, really. The finish is ultimately not really interesting: soft, unexceptional, sweet, fruity and musky and no, several sips make no appreciable difference.

The Coronation is firm enough, just not interesting enough, and it’s just too sweet (even for me).  While I completely accept that the rum was not made for the modern palate or — initially — to appeal to any but its regional audience where sweeter rums are much more common (India’s and Thailand’s rums are examples of what pleases), the fact is that it is unlikely to catch on outside its area of origin.  This is something I suspect the company knows, because in 2018 they relaunched the brand around Asia, marketing both its historical cachet and its cocktail potential to the bar crowd.

And yet, the Coronation rum itself was supposed to be special. It was launched in 1974 to commemorate the coronation of 12th King of Nepal King Birendra, and went into wide release the following year, but nothing I read anywhere suggested the blend itself was seriously tweaked or elevated to make the rum a more memorable one. As the tasting notes above make clear, it is distinctive and famous not because of any intrinsic or masterful quality of its own, but because of that now-iconic 375ml knife-shaped bottle it comes in (supposedly hand made), and to this day it remains a popular souvenir, and is exported widely. 

Too bad what’s inside doesn’t quite come to the level of its presentation, which is a near-complete victory of style over substance.  Some will buy it for that purpose alone – hell, I’m one of them, though perhaps I can weasel out of it by claiming writer’s privilege – and for sure it’ll be a great conversation starter and a cool-looking bottle to trot out at party time. Sometimes, I guess that’s all we can ask for in a rum, and in this case, that’s almost all we’re getting.

(#661)(72/100)

Sep 302019
 

People are paying very close attention to the new Renegade distillery being constructed in Grenada, largely because of the reputation of its founder, Mark Reynier, and the endorsement which his project of making pure rums has gotten from other luminaries on the rum scene. Josh Miller has written about the status of construction, Luca Gargano of Velier and Richard Seale of Foursquare have both remarked on his anticipation of what Grenadian rums will eventually emerge from it, and there are regular updates on the company’s FB page on how things are going over there on the Spice Island.

Not many now recall the line of Murray McDavid rums Mr. Reynier pioneered in the early 2000s while he was at Bruichladdich, though I imagine quite a few more know of the frosted glass bottles of the Renegade Rums that followed them. Excluding whisky makers who occasionally but irregularly released a cask strength rum (Cadenhead might have been the most consistent of these) Renegade did much to promote the concept of both higher-proofed rums (46%, when the standard was 40%), really spiffy bottle design, amazingly informative labelling, and that of finishes in other casks, which they called Additional Cask Evolution. In the six years starting in 2007, they released a scant 21 limited edition rums (in 53,650 bottles for my fellow retentives) and then, with a combination of imminent company sale and a dissatisfaction with available rums and casks, the whole show folded in 2012 and that was all we got.

In 2019, a “mere” seven years after the company dissolved, finding one of those distinctive bottles is something of a challenge.  They very occasionally turn up on auction sites and sample exchanges, but my own feeling is that they’re almost all gone after so many years, and those that aren’t empty are being hoarded. Which is hardly surprising for bottles with such a pedigree, and a rarity conferred by not being available for so long.  This one, for example, is a 1300-bottle outturn from the Port Mourant wooden double pot still when it was located at Uitvlugt (hence the name), aged 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels, and then finished in French oak Château d’Yquem casks.

As with all such finished Guyanese rums, the two questions one always asks are “Is it representative of the source still?” and “What kind of impact did the finishing have?” I can report that with respect to the first, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Even without knowing it was a PM distillate, the nose presented wooden pot still action right away, with a deeper, darker, muskier profile than the somewhat more elegant Enmore or Uitvlugt columnar stills might have provided.  It smelled of fresh wet sawdust, a little glue, and both meat and fruit beginning to go off. There was a subtly sweet background aromas, which was likely the wine casks’ influence, but too faint to derail the more powerful influence of ripe peaches, mangoes, apricots, raisins. What I particularly liked was the occasional whiffs of brine, olives, saltfish, dill and avocados which was integrated really well with all the others.

Tastewise the rum did something of an about turn, and initially the sweeter elements took a back seat.  Not too sharp, a bit salty, started off with brine, olives and herbs (dill and rosemary). It developed with fruity flavours – stoned yellow fruit for the most part – gradually asserting their presence, to be joined by salt caramel ice cream, dates in honey and figs, and a touch of molasses and anise rounding things out.  Finish was somewhat indeterminate, mostly caramel, licorice, brine, raisins, none too long, which one could expect from the strength. 

Certainly the wooden still component was there; the wine finish was a little less noticeable, quite subtle, and it had the sense to stay back and let the major flavours “tek front” and carry the show, enhancing them but staying well out of the limelight.  I liked the rum quite a bit, though overall it suggested the whisky-making ethos of its makers more than it did that of rum itself. I suggest that they were still experimenting at this stage, and the coherent quality of the rums issued in 2008 and 2009 was still to be locked in, but for all its whisky character, it succeeded well on its own terms

Renegade’s rums in the range were always a bit hit or miss to me: some were better than others and the finishes sometimes worked as enhancers, at others as distractions (in my opinion, anyway).  Here it was all pretty good, and while I would have preferred something a bit stronger, deeper and more voluptuous as a whole – the sort of dark full-proof PM profile I enjoy – there’s no denying that the Uitvlugt 1995, for those who manage to get one, is likely to please devotees of the malt world, as well as lovers of rum who like to see how things could be made when the gears and levers are tweaked a bit, and the rum takes a gander at the dark side without actually staying there.

(#660)(84/100)


Other notes

  • Velier was a greater pioneer of informative labelling and full proof rum strength, and did so much earlier in the 2000s than Renegade.  But at the time (2007-2012) they were known mostly in Italy and relatively unknown in the larger rum world, while Renegade had somewhat better awareness in both Europe and North America.
  • I was and remain fortunate to know Cecil, a fellow QC squaddie from Guyana days, who had this bottle (from the first year of Renegade’s issuing anything) a hefty sample of which he was able to get to me…so a big hat tip and many thanks to the man for sourcing and holding on to one for so very long.
  • I’ve looked at 11 of the company’s rums so far, for the historically curious.
Sep 232019
 

If you doubt the interconnectedness of the modern world, let me relate this circular story. About three or four years ago Gregers Nielsen (now of the Danish company 1423 and someone I enjoy heckling in every rumfest I see him at) introduced me to Richland Rum from Georgia, which I thought was nice, if perhaps not a world beating standout. Fast forward a couple of years and I’m doing research on rums of Africa and in looking at Liberia I come across Sangar rums, made by an expatriate American who was consulting with – Richland Rum. Another year passes, and at the 2019 Berlin rumfest the very first stand I’m told to go to is a new rum from Liberia – Sangar.  And who told me this and pointed in their direction? Gregers…who then ended up working two booths over. I rest my case.

That amusing if irrelevant tale aside, here is some of the background of Sangar. My initial research a year or so back created some confusion – the application for equity  investment called it Sehzue Distillers; the contact email at the time said Nimba Valley Rum and the official site referred to Miseh Distilling even though the website is for Sangar rum – but in all cases the principal force behind it is Mike Sehzue, an American West Point graduate with an MBA whose father was born in Liberia.

Mr. Sehzue had no idea how to make rum, but on a visit to Liberia in 2010, he became more aware of the local cane juice alcohol with its long grass-roots history and, realizing that expertise and raw materials were on hand, he decided to open a medium sized distillery both to encourage industry in a country now recovering from a protracted and bitter civil war, and to showcase the potential of locally made rum.  A chance meeting led to an introduction (in 2014) to Erik and Karin Vonk of Richland Rum distinction and they provided him with the encouragement and technical advice which permitted him to open his distillery for business a few years later. The result is the only rum they make at the moment, the 40% Sangar White, sold primarily in Liberia, with the festival circuit raising awareness for export plans to the USA, EU and UK in later 2019 and 2020.

The rum is pot-still produced and derives from cane juice, not molasses. Sangar has no cane fields of its own, and contracts with seventeen or so local farmers in the surrounding area to source its cane, which is brought to the distillery and crushed within eight hours of cutting, with the juice put to ferment for five days.  Then it’s run through their copper pot still, and bar filtration for sediment, is bottled pretty much as it is, unaged, clear, at a relatively demure 40% (which I suspect is so that it can more easily be appreciated by the target audience in the USA).

For the hardcore rum junkie, 40% would not normally excite serious interest (although the prospect of trying a new and relatively unknown African rum absolutely should), but trust me, the combination of a rum incorporating magic words like “pot still” and “unaged” and “clear” was and is well worth seeking out when it comes to the festival near you because the aromas and tastes are barely held in check even by those softer standards. The nose, for example announced its potential badassery with an initial tantara of salt, wax, gherkins in vinegar and just enough bite to make one wonder if a red chili wasn’t hiding in there someplace. Brine and olives were at the fore, followed by crisp green apples, lemon zest, cinnamon, and cumin.

Tastewise, I would have preferred something released at a higher proof, because the profile was mild instead of forceful, slightly muddled instead of really crisp — and while that will allow anyone to drink it neat without an issue, it also muted the flavours, almost losing some, that could have used a little beefing up.  Clearly discernible were citrus, light fruit (papaya, white guavas, pears), sugar water, watermelons, sweet green peas (!!), and the rum retained just enough of the attitude to permit a good interaction with the brine and olives with the lighter components. Unsurprisingly the finish was short and wispy, mostly a mix of sweet and salt, soya, light fruits and a dash of cumin to close up the show.

So let’s sum up, then. The balance was excellent, the interplay of flavours spot on, and I was quietly impressed that so much could be packed into a package with so little aggro. Choosing my words carefully, I can say that this is a near perfect 40% white homunculus of a rumlet, and there will be an audience for it, no question – but it won’t be those who cut their teeth on agricole blancs north of 50%, for whom this will be an interesting diversion without replacing their pet loves.  That said, there’s nothing at all wrong with it – it delivers at its proof point for those who appreciate that, and for those looking for an interestingly taste-filled mild white sipper, it delivers there as well.

Sangar points to several developing themes in today’s rumworld, which I‘ve almost  inadvertently been following through my reviews and only become clearer in hindsight. First there’s the gradually increasing amount of micro-distilleries who aren’t seeking to make whisky or gin or vodka (or everything at once, as much as they can), but rum, full stop.  Bar the United States, these micros are in remote areas of the world far from the Caribbean, like Africa and the Far East. And they seem to have a near-unnatural love for issuing unaged white rums at higher proofs, which is a subset of rums drawing more attention in recent years, especially in the cocktail circuit

With respect to that last remark, Sangar is something of an outlier, since the white reviewed here is bottled at standard. And the agricole blancs from the old and proud houses of the French West Indies are not in danger of losing their pride of place any time soon, not to the Far Eastern micros, or to Sangar. But as I noted above, with the interconnectedness of the world and transmigration of skills to any place with enough desire and smarts to make a good rum, it’s possibly just a matter of time before Sangar becomes a rum producer who really does earn the use of both the words “artisanal” and “craft” … without turning the words into the meaningless marketing twaddle that afflicts so many others.

(#659)(82/100)


Other notes

Sangar has small quantities of rum ageing away in port casks in Liberia: it’s unknown when these will be released as aged rums to the market, but it does point to their long term development strategy.

Sep 192019
 

Much of the perception of small and new companies’ rums is tied up in their founders and how they interact with the general public. Perhaps nowhere is this both easier and harder to do than in the United States – easier because of the “plucky little engine that could” mythos of the solo tinkerer, harder because of the sheer geographical scale of the country. Too, it’s one thing to make a new rum, quite another to get a Je m’en fous public of Rhett Butlers to give a damn.  And this is why the chatterati and online punditocracy barely know any of the hundreds of small distilleries making rum in the USA (listed with such patience by the Burrs and Will Hoekenga in their websites)…but are often very much aware of the colourful founders of such enterprises.

That said, even within this ocean of relative indifference, a few companies and names stand out.  We’ve been hearing more about Montanya Distillery and master blender Karen Hoskin, everyone knows about Bailey Prior and the Real McCoy line, Lost Spirits may have faded from view but has great name recognition, Koloa has been making rum for ages, Pritchard’s and Richland are almost Old Stalwarts these days, the Eastern seaboard has its fair share of up and coming little rinky-dinks…and then there’s Privateer and its driven, enthusiastic, always-engaged master blender, Maggie Campbell, whose sense of humour can be gauged by her Instagram handle, “Half Pint Maggie.”

Privateer was formed by Andrew Cabot after he walked away from his tech-CEO day job in 2008 and decided to try his hand at making a really good American rum, something many considered to be a contradiction in terms (some still do). In 2011 he opened a distillery in an industrial park in Ipswich, Massachusetts but dissatisfied with initial results sniffed around for a master distiller who could deliver on his vision, and picked a then-unemployed Ms. Cambell who had distilling experience with whiskey and brandy (and cognac), and she has stayed with the company ever since. The rum is made from grade A molasses, and is twice distilled, once in a pot and once in a columnar still, before being laid to rest in charred american oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The company’s ethos is one of no additives and no messing around, which I’m perfectly happy to take on trust.

So, all that done away with, what’s this Navy Yard rum, which was first introduced back in 2016, actually like?  

Well, not bad at all. Each of the three times I tried the rum, the first thing out the door was sawdust and faint pencil shavings, swiftly dissipating to be replaced by vanilla, crushed walnuts and almonds, salted butter, caramel, butterscotch, a touch of the molasses brush, and the faintest tinge of orange peel.  What is surprising about this admittedly standard and straightforward – even simplistic – profile is how well it comes together in spite of the lack of clearly evident spices, fruits and high notes that would balance it off better. I mean, it works – on its own level, true, dancing to its own beat, yes, a little off-kilter and nothing over-the-top complex, sure…but it works. It’s a solid, aromatic dram to sniff.

The mouthfeel is quite good, one hardly feels the burn of navy strength 57.1%…at least not initially. When sipped, at first it feels warm and oily, redolent of aromatic tobacco, tart sour cream on a fruit salad (aha! – there they were!) composed of blueberries, raspberries and unripe peaches.  Vanilla remains omnipresent and unavoidable, but it does recede somewhat and tries hard not to be obnoxious – a more powerful presence might derail this rum for good. As it develops the spiciness ratchets up without ever going overboard (although it does feel a bit thinner than the nose and the ABV had suggested it would be), and gradually dates and brine and olives and figs make themselves known. The rather dry finish comes gradually and takes its time without providing anything new, summing up the whole experience decently – with salted caramel, vanilla, butter, cereal, anise and a hint of fruits — and for me, it was a diminution of the positive experience of the nose and taste.

Overall, it’s a good young rum which shows its blended philosophy and charred barrel origins clearly. This is both a strength and a weakness. A strength in that it’s well blended, the edges of pot and column merging seamlessly; it’s tasty and strong, with just a few flavours coming together. What it lacked was the complexity and depth a few more years of ageing might have imparted, and a series of crisper, fruitier notes that might balance it off better; and as I’ve said, the char provided a surfeit of vanilla, which was always too much in the front to appeal to me.

I’ve often remarked about American spirits producers who make rum, that rum seems to be something of a sideline to them, a cheaply-made cash filler to make ends meet while the whiskies that are their true priorities are ageing.  That’s not the case here because the company has been resolutely rum-focused from eight o’clock, Day One – but when I tasted it, I was surprised to be reminded of the Balcones rum from Texas, with which it shared quite a lot of textural and aromatic similarities, and to some extent also the blended pot/column Barbadian rums with which Foursquare has had such success (more Doorly’s than ECS, for the curious). That speaks well for the rum and its brothers up and down the line, and it’s clear that there’s nothing half-pint or half-assed about the Navy Yard or Privateer at all.  For me, this rum is not at the top of the heap when rated globally, but it is one of the better ones I’ve had from the US specifically.  What it achieves is to make me want to try others from the company, pronto, and if that isn’t the sure sign of success by a master distiller, then I don’t know what is.

(#658)(83/100)


Opinion

After I wrote the above, I wondered about the discrepancy in my own perception of the Navy Yard, versus the really positive commentaries I’d read, both on social media and the few reviews others had written (94 points on Distiller, for example, and Drink Insider rated it 92 with nary a negative note anywhere on FB). Now, there is as yet no reviewer or commentator outside the US who has written about the Navy Yard (or others in the line), partly because its distribution remains there; those who did really went ape for the thing, some going so far as to call it the best american rum, so why didn’t I like it more?  

The only answer I can come up with that isn’t directly related to my own palate and experience tasting rums from around the world, is that they are not coming to Privateer with the same background as others are, or I do. The sad Sahara of what is euphemistically called “rum choice” in the US, a resultant of the three-tier distribution dysfunction they amusingly call a “system”, promotes a rum selection of cheap quantity, but so denuded of real quality that when the girl next door makes something so much better than the mass-produced crap that masquerades as top-drawer rum over there, it just overloads the circuits of the local tippling class, and the points roll in like chips at a winning table in Vegas. 

This is not in any way to take away from the achievement of Maggie Cambpbell and others like her, who work tirelessly every day to raise the low bar of American rumdom. Reading around and paying attention makes it clear that Ms. Campbell is a knowledgeable and educated rum junkie, making rum to her own specs, and releasing juice that’s a step above many other US brands. The next step is to make it even better so that it takes on better known Names from around the world which – for now – rate higher. Given her fierce commitment to the brand and the various iterations they’re putting out the door, I have no doubt there will be much more to come from Privateer and I look forward to the day when the company’s hooch muscles its way to the forefront of the global rum scene, and not just America’s.


Other Notes

I drew on Matt Pietrek’s deep dive for some of the biographical details, as well as articles on Thrillist, Imbibe and various posts about Privateer on FB. Details of the company, Ms. Campbell and the distillation steps can be found both Matt’s work and t8ke’s review, here.  This is one of those cases where there’s so much information washing around that a synopsis is all that’s needed here, and if your interest has been piqued, follow the links to go deeper.

Sep 162019
 

Going back to familiar rums we liked back in the day is something in the nature of revisiting the comfort food of our youth. The memories are strong and consoling, recalling a time of less snark, less cynicism and a whole lot more enjoyment. Surely such positively-associated, fondly-remembered rums deserve a place on the high-scorers list? The problem is, that’s all some of these are – memories.  The reality, informed by a more discerning palate and more varied experience, tends to deflate such candidates and show us both what we liked about them then, and maybe don’t so much, now.

Which brings me to the Zafra 21 Master Reserve which is almighty peculiar in that I tried it a lot in the early years, yet never took notes on it…and almost nobody else in the current rum-reviewing landscape has either.  Back then, I really liked Panamanian rums, before their overall placid sameness eroded my enjoyment and other, more exciting, forceful, original rums came to dominate my pantheon. Taste-wise, I always associated and linked the Zafra — perhaps subliminally — to Diplomatico, Zaya and Zacapa – and (to a lesser extent) to Dictador and Santa Teresa.  They all share certain similarities…a smooth velvety mouthfeel, sometimes solera production, with an oft-accompanying sweetness so characteristic of the type…and a kind of amazing longevity and popularity. I mean, just take a gander at the notes on Rum Ratings – almost 80% of the 201 respondents give it a score of 8 or better. That’s far from the massive 1,472 ratings of the Zacapa 23 or the 1,721 of the Diplo Res Ex, but it shows something of the way popular opinion bends for these soft Latin-style rums.

Still, it’s been many years, so has anything except my hairline and chubbier corpus changed in any significant way here? For example, is it still made the same way?  Does it still taste as easy-going and slickly-smooth as my recollections suggest? 

Based on research I had done at the time, and again for this essay, I’d say it is.  It remains a rum whose original blend dating back to 2009 when it was first released, has not appreciably changed.  It’s a Panamanian column-still rum created by Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez who is better known for both his moniker “The Minister of Rum” (not to be taken seriously, since there is no such position), and a true 21 year old aged in bourbon barrels – though trust issues such as those which afflict other aged Panamanians in these sadly suspicious times might make one take that with a pinch of salt.  In yet another odd thing about the rum, nobody has ever done a hydrometer test on it and post-2010, good luck finding a reviewer who’s written anything (back then the reviews were mostly positive, but of course Johnny Drejer had yet to upend the rumiverse for us).

Yet for its adherents the Zafra 21 YO remains a popular — if faded — star, and people like it, and trying the gold-brown rum makes it clear why this is the case.  At 40% it’s hardly going to blow your socks off, and when inhaled, there was nothing I wasn’t already expecting: caramel, creme brulee, dark fruit, leather, sawdust.  There were subtler notes of cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar and ginger. The problem with it – for me at any rate – was that it was just too faint – it smelled watered-down, weak, with hardly any kind of serious enjoyment available for the nose, and complexity of any kind was just a vanished dream.

Nothing about the palate and mouthfeel greatly impressed me either, though I must admit, it was nice. Inoffensive might be the kindest word I can come up with to describe the faint driness, saltiness and sweetness, too vague to make a serious impression (and I was trying this first thing in the morning before a single rum greater than 45% had crossed my glass).  Caramel, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon led off, with some additional brown sugar, treacle, molasses. Trying to elicit and identify the fruity notes was as pointless as sniffing an orchard shut down for the winter. It simply had no edge, and stayed light, warm and smooth, with a finish that was short, sweet and light, with light oak, vanilla, pancake syrup and some peanut butter.  Big yawn. How 21 years of ageing in the tropics can impart so little character is the great weakness of the rum, and raises all kinds of flags to the wary.

Look, the Zafra 21 is a completely comfortable drink, like a worn pair of familiar slippers and if that lights up your wheelhouse, go for it, you won’t be disappointed.  The thing is, that’s all you get – it’s something of a one-trick pony, lacking in excitement or oomph of any kind. Thinking I was being unduly critical, I sampled nothing but 40% rums all day and then returned, but it still failed to impress. It’s one of those rums we enjoy for its unaggressive nature and decent profile, but sooner or later, when we have moved on and come back to it, we realize that the nose is anemic, the taste boring, the complexity a let down and the finish lacking any kind of fire.  Then we sit back and wonder how we ever loved it so much at all.

(#657)(75/100)

Sep 122019
 

This is a rhum to drive you to tears, or transports of ecstasy, because it’s almost guaranteed that either you’ll regret you never tried it (though you’ll only know that after you do), or fall in lust with it immediately, then bang yourself over the head for not buying more when you did.  It’s a white rhum screwed tight to a screaming 60%, unaged, and made, Lord save us, from St. James’s old pot stills — which created a juice so unlike anything else from the island that people crossed themselves when they saw it, it couldn’t be labelled as an AOC, could not even be designated as Martinique rhum, and all we get is the almost embarrassed note that it’s made from “French Antilles.” 

White rhums like this have a strong and cheerfully disreputable DNA, going back right to the beginning when all the various estates and plantations had was leaky, farty stills slapped together from cast-aside copper, steel dinner plates and maybe a leather shoe or three. We’ve had primitives like this before – the Sajous and the Paranubes come to mind, Sangar from Liberia, MIM from Ghana, South Africa’s Mhoba, the Barik rhums from Moscoso’s jury rigged column still, and even Habitation Velier’s Foursquare and TECA whites, and that mastodon of the L’Esprit from Guyana.  Yet I assure you, this innocent and demure looking pale yellow-white was on a level all its own, not just because of its origins, but because it hearkens back to rum’s origins while not forgetting a single damn thing St. James have ever learned in over two hundred years, about how to make sh*t that knocks you flat.

And also because, man, did this thing ever smell pungent — it was a bottle-sized 60-proof ode to whup-ass and rumstink.  A barrage of nail polish, spoiling fruit, wood chips, wax, salt, and gluey notes all charged right out without pause or hesitation, spoiling for a fight. Even without making a point of it, the rhum unfolded with uncommon firmness into aromas of sweet, grassy herbals.green apples, sugar water, dill, cider, vegetables, toasted bread, a sharp mature cheddar, all mixed in with moist dark earth, sugar water, biscuits, orange peel. And the balance of all of them was really quite good, truly.

Could the palate live up to all that stuff I was smelling? I got the impression it was sure trying, and it displayed an uncommon lack of roughness and jagged edges for something at that strength (the L’Esprit 85% white had a similar quality, you’ll recall).  It slid smoothly across the tongue before hijacking it with tastes of sugar water, white chocolate, almonds cumin, citrus peel and brine. Then, as if unsatisfied, it added ashes, warm bread fresh from the oven, ginger snaps, cloves, soursop…in all that time it never crossed into something excessively sweet or allowed any one element to dominate the others, and while it lacked the true complexity of a rhum I would call “great”, it didn’t fall much short either, and the finish wrapped things up with a flourish – warm, really long, with ginger, cinnamon,  herbs, citrus peel and bitter chocolate and sea salt.

Until 2019, the Coeur de Chauffe — “the Heart of the Distillation” — was an underground cult rum limited to no more than 5000 liters per year, sold only on Martinique itself. It is, in point of fact, not an AOC rhum at all since it is a pot still product. Having tried it twice now and come to grips with its elemental nature, I think of it as a throwback, an ancestor, an old-style white agricole from Ago. I appreciate it’s a rhum that will likely find only a niche audience and is not for the sweet-toothed who love gentler products; but anyone who loves his juice should one day try sampling something like this, if only to experience new tastes, or old ones expressed in different ways.  I drank it with St. James’s own more traditional Fleur de Canne 50% and some of DePaz’s work — yet somehow, even though they were all good, all tasty, it’s this one I remember for its fire and its taste and its furious energy. Clearly something so pungent and unique could not be kept hidden forever, and for all those looking for something interesting, perhaps even an alternative to some of Jamaica’s funky bad boys, well, here may just be the droid you’re looking for.

(#656)(86.5/100)

Sep 092019
 

Usually, I don’t worry about not acquiring all those aged, rare or otherwise amazing rums that make the social headlines, since I know that most exceed the reach of my scrawny purse, my ability to beg, or the extent of my nonexistent wheedling skills.  Too, after ten years of this, I’ve been fortunate enough to try so many rums that many of my personal unicorns have been tried and written about. Therefore I know it will strike many as rather peculiar that for the last two years I’ve been hunting for two very special rums issued by Tristan Prodhomme – and this one was the one I wanted most

Why?  Because L’Esprit, in making the great white shark of the Diamond 2017, did Velier one step better, creating a rum whose stats would make just about every writer reflexively haul out the word “beast” and be correct to use it, whose profile not just encourages but demands adverbial density — and which I’m convinced will stand the test of time to become a baseline for all the makes-no-sense-but-by-God-we’re-glad-to-have-tried-it white rums that will be issued from now until the Rapture.  It’s nobody’s unicorn but my own, and I’ve been looking for it since the day it got issued.

The Diamond white was confirmed to me as being a Port Mourant unaged pot still rum; it sat there, dissolving a stainless steel tank between 2017 and 2018, until Tristan, in a fit of madness, joy, bravery or unbridled enthusiasm (maybe all these at once) engendered by the birth of his son Edgar in 2017, decided to commemorate the event by releasing 276 bottles at 85% – and I don’t know what happened, but they seemed to sink without a trace. But with the rise of white rums as taste-stuffed forces in their own right, I certainly hope others will get a chance to try something as torqued-to-the-max as this one is.

I’ll get straight to it, then, and merely mention that at 85% ABV, care was taken – I poured, covered the glass, waited, removed the cover, and prudently stepped way back.

Which was the right thing to do because a rapidly expanding blast wave of rumstink assailed me without hesitation.  An enormously pungent cloud of wax and brine and tequila notes hit me broadside, so hot and fierce that somewhere in the basement I heard the Sajous weep. It was a massively powerful, sharp and meaty nose, squirting aromas with the cheerful abandon of a construction haul truck which knows nobody is likely to argue with it for the command of the road. Brine, olives, dates and figs and some sort of faintly rank meat was what I got straight off, batted aside by the smells of licorice, light molasses, sugar water and flowers, before bags and bags of fruit took  over. Ripe yellow guavas, mangoes, papaya, avocado, overripe oranges, pears…the rum just wouldn’t stop spitting out more and more as time went on.

As for the taste, well, wow.  My tongue was battered hard and fast with the sheer range of what was on display here. Being unaged and issued as a white didn’t hurt it or diminish it in the slightest, I assure you, because the integration was so well done that it actually tasted twenty proof points lower. It was redolent of brine.  Of salt fish with Guyanese chilis (ask Gregers about those, I dare ya). Of wax, floor polish, olives. Of licorice. Of fresh scallions in a vegetable soup (I know, right?). Only when these dissipated did more regular flavours timidly come out to let me know they existed…flowers, fruits, lemon meringue pie, raisins, pears, oranges, bitter chocolate, cucumbers and watermelon.  I had this glass going for two hours and it was every bit as pungent at the end as it had been at the beginning, and the finish – epic, long-lasting, hot, spicy – was similarly strong, diminished itself not one bit, and provided closing memories of sweet soya, brine, swank, pears and other light fruits. It was almost a disappointment when the experience was finally over. And lest you think my own experience is a little over-enthusiastic, Jazz Singh from Skylark got poured a shot of this thing at 4pm, and was still tasting, mumbling and drooling rapturously about the profile five hours later when we shoehorned him into an Uber. It’s that kind of rum.

The best thing about it may well be that it reminds us of the sheer range of what rums are, how over-the-top and off-the-scale they can be, even as so many rum makers try to inhabit the inoffensive centre. There are few indies or producers out there who would dare bottle something this feral as single mindedly as Tristan has done here – only the Habitation Velier whites immediately spring to mind.  It’s an unaged white badass that boasts an impeccable pedigree from one of the most famous stills in the world, it has a proof nearly off the scale, and is not for the meek, the beginner, or the careful. One either dives in and takes the entire shot, or not at all — because the Diamond white is a stunner, a slayer, a majestically vulgar shot of pure canecutter sweat, proofed and jacked to the max, and if it’s not one of the best rums I’ve had all year, I can absolutely assure you it will always rank among the most memorable.

(#655)(85/100)


Other notes

I keep score, and the Diamond takes its place among the growliest overproofs ever issued.  I’ve tasted the following:

Note: if you are interested in a list of some of the strongest rums in the world, here’s one for you.  All of the above rums are on it.

Sep 062019
 

If Diplomatico’s Distillery Collection No.1 (the one from the kettle still) was a garden sprinkler trying to be a fire hose, then this one is no more than a quick leg-lift against the tree.  It is a decent enough rum for the style, but lacks any kind of serious chops to make it rise above its more famous and distinct Distillery Collection siblings, or even that perennial favourite of the tippling class, the Diplo Res Ex. And that makes its price-point and supposed street cred a dubious proposition at best.

The Distillery Collection is an attempt by Diplomatico to capitalize on their various stills, much as St. Lucia Distillers or DDL do. The rums also function — maybe — to deflect attention away from their traditionally added-to products of the line, or even to break into previously untapped and dismissed niche markets for the more discerning rum drinkers. Unlike the No.1 which comes from a pot still, the No.2 owes its origin to a straight-out French-made Barbet column still, which leads one to wonder what the purpose was, because what came out the other end wasn’t anything we haven’t had before.

I’m not kidding. The nose was lighter than the No.1 — no shocks there, though the ABV was the same in both, 47%. Some smokiness, light oak, salt caramel ice cream, tobacco, molasses and some brine but it lacks any kind of acidic bite of (say) citrus, and there is barely any of the fruitiness that would have made it better.  You’ll sense the vague sweetness of bananas, squash, papaya, melons – those neutral fruits which add little to the experience – maybe an apple starting to go, and will have to be content with that.

Unsurprisingly, the palate dials into those same coordinates: it’s warm, light, smooth, unaggressive, with the musky tastes of muscovado sugar, molasses, caramel, toffee, toblerone (the white kind). Then it falters, not because of these things, but because of the stuff that’s not there, the tart balancing notes, the sharper parts of the profile that are notable only for their lightness or complete absence – florals, fruits, oakiness.  Sometimes a reasonably robust proof point rescues or bolsters such deficiencies – not here. It all leads to a lacklustre finish of medium length which displays no closing notes one would hurry back to the glass to experience: it had some salt caramel, light and overripe fruit notes, some vanilla, and it was all quite light and – dare I say it? – indifferent.

Ivar de Laat, the Dutch-born FB-commentator who recently began his own site Rum Revelations, made an interesting comment on the No.1 and Diplomatico – that they were light rum makers and it would be too much to expect them to make big and bold rums without a massive internal cultural change…which he felt was unlikely given that such rums are their style, the one upon which their revenues rested. And “as long as it’s making them money, I don’t see why they should change it.” 

That’s the subtle trap of these rums, because if producers only make what sells, then there’d be ten times as many dosed rums out there (pure rums at high proof have to be really good to be sellers to succeed, because their prices are higher). We are being offered incremental change at a premium, but without real improvement or major difference. It’s cosmetic. In the case of the No.2, it’s plain boring. I could live with such a deficiency in the pot still No.1 which was at least interesting, if ultimately stopping short of being a rave recommendation.  But in a column still product being marketed with pizzazz and hooplah and a tantara of trumpets…naaah.  

So I give it 75, which is on the median between good and bad.  It’s a rum that tastes like one and technically can be had without a problem — it would be incorrect for me to penalize what is not a really crappy product, and which many will like (assuming they can afford it, or want to). Its true failure lies in the expectations it raises and the price it commands, without deserving either. When it comes to the loosening of my purse strings, then, like Bartleby, I think I’ll chose not to.

(#654)(75/100)

Sep 042019
 

Outside the independents who release from all points of the compass, the rums du jour are the New Jamaicans, the pot still Bajans, the wooden-still Guyanese, the fancy St Lucian still-experimentals, French island aged and unaged rums, new Asian whites, grogues and of course the clairins (and we’re all waiting for Renegade).  In the maelstrom of so many releases, Latin rums as a class are less popular than in their heydey, outside their countries of origin, and even I tend to view them with some impatience at times, wondering when they’re going to get back in the game with some sh*t-kicking romper-stomper of their own.

Although Diplomatico’s Reserva Exclusiva sells well and remains popular, the company’s online buzz as a whole has sagged in recent years. Efforts to revive the global awareness of the Diplo-brand with exclusive premiums like the Single Vintage or the Ambassador may have succeeded —  but the absence of any stories or articles or reviews or gleeful “I got this!” photos on social media suggests a rather more downbeat story for the company that was once known as Problemático. Their success is therefore hard to gauge in an increasingly crowded and informed marketplace spoiled for choice at every price point (and every additive point, the wit suggests).

Things took an interesting turn around 2017 when No.1 and No.2 versions of the “Distillery Collection” were trotted out with much fanfare. The purpose of the Collection was to showcase other stills they had – a “kettle” (sort of a boosted pot still, for release No.1), a Barbet continuous still (release No.2) and an undefined pot still (release No.3, released in April 2019). These stills, all of which were acquired the year the original company was founded, in 1959, were and are used to provide the distillates which are blended into their various commercial marques, and  until recently, such blends were all we got. One imagines that they took note of DDL’s killer app and the rush by Jamaica and St Lucia to work with the concept and decided to go beyond their blended range into something more specific. 

We’ll look at the No.1 today.  This derives from cane “honey” (which is just rendered cane juice), aged for six years in American oak, a 5000 bottle outturn of 47% ABV. The question of course, is whether it deserves the cachet of “premium” and the price it commands, and whether it displaces the perennial front runner, the DRE (marketed as ‘Botucal’ in Germany).

So, briefly, tasing notes, then.  Nose: started off promisingly with some pencil shavings, fresh and damp sawdust, followed by brine, good olive oil and leather.  These aromas were balanced off with overripe cherries, citrus, apples, ripe grapes, which in turn provided a backdrop for heavier, muskier notes of caramel, molasses and oatmeal cookies. So definitely a step away from the more standard fare, and the 47% ABV helped give the nose a firmness and coherence that a lesser proof would not have.

I also liked the palate — up to a point. It was warm and fragrant and yeasty as bread fresh out of the oven. One could taste vanilla, treacle, oatmeal with chocolate chips and butter, a nice creamy/cereal-y sort of amalgam, and fruits then popped up — light apples, pears, watermelon, raisins, that kind of thing — combining with a delicate citrus line, leading to a short, arm, inoffensive finish that was mostly vanilla, faint brine and fruity notes, all vanishing quite quickly.

Out of six Spanish/Latin-type rums I ran past each other that day when I had nothing better to do, this Diplomatico surprised me by scoring, in aggregate right up there with the Santiago de Cuba 25 YO.  That was unexpected, almost unprecedented given the disparity in ages. The strength had something to do with it (40% SdC vs 47% Diplo), but overall the Diplo No.1 – even within its limitations – is simply more intriguing, and more original, while the Santiago was, well, very much in the vein of much we had seen before (though quite well done, let me hasten to add).

In the past, I expressed hope for a more aggressive, rough-n-tough new rum to elevate the Latin rum category. This isn’t it. For all its new-age thinking, even 47% isn’t enough, and neither is the pot still, not entirely — because although the rum is admittedly different,  one gets the impression that the creators are still too in love with their softer Spanish rums to abandon their more soothing profiles entirely, go the whole hog and aim for a growly glute-flexing pot-still brute clocking in at 50% or greater. In trying to be all things to all people —  gain credit for something uniquely new while not pissing off the loyalists — they steered a middle course which allowed for a decent new rum to emerge….just not one that blew up the stage, the stills and everyone within a radius of fifty yards. And that’s a shame, because that’s what I wanted.

(#653)(83/100)

Aug 142019
 

Damn but this rum is strong. Standard strength among the cognoscenti has been drifting up from 40% to nearly 50% (give or take), with the low sixties selling well, and the high sixties occasionally spotted running in the wild.  But over 70% ABV, and we’re entering more rarefied territory. When people see one of these, they cross themselves like Supes when he sees green kryptonite. A sip of one, and you know what it’s like to be t-boned by a fully-armoured SUV carrying a banana-republic dictator. And all his no-neck bodyguards.

What’s all the more astounding about L’Esprit’s Guyanese Diamond 11 year old which was released at 71.4% ABV and hit the shelves about three years ago (and sank without a ripple) is how really, surprisingly, forehead-smackingly good it is. It’s the sort of rum that makes me want to rush straight over to your table, babbling and drooling, waving my hands wildly in the air and suggesting — nay, demanding — that you take a sip, just to see if I was out to lunch, or telling you the God’s honest.

Think I jest?  Well, maybe a bit.  Still…just crack the bottle and give it a smell, if you please.  Release the halitotic pachyderm. What you immediately get from this is a thick bellowing snort of licorice, wood sap, chocolate and coffee, varnish, freshly baked bread liberally coated with salt butter, vanilla and molasses, all the thick and musky notes Guyana is famous for.  It’s just huge, solid as a sledge and as hard-hitting, and that’s before the sweet marshmallows and dark fruits kick in – dates, raisins, peaches, plums, black cake. Oh yeah, and in the background there’s some glue, paint, varnish, turpentine, all lurking behind like toughs in an alleyway, knuckle dusters at the ready

As for the taste, well: that was suitably shattering, and humorous metaphors and masochism aside, the truth is that taking it neat is kind of fun. It’s thick and heavy and intense – of course it is – but by no means undrinkable, and one can spend a whole hour separating out the tasting notes: what I got was caramel ice cream, molasses, Danish butter cookies and maple syrup, followed by chocolate, coffee grounds, vanilla, licorice, freshly ground black pepper, a little brine, and with water these emerge much more forcefully.  The strength mutes the vague sweetness a bit, and the overall balance is excellent, with complex interlocking elements that I really enjoyed. When I got to the finish, I was almost sorry the experience was over: it was long and hot but not viciously sharp, exhaling chocolate, caramel, cocoa, raisins, and a vein of sweet dark sugar running through the whole experience like a blade.

Based on how it initially nosed, I started out believing this was a wooden still — by the end, I was no longer so sure. The profile actually reminded me more of the Uitvlught 1996, or even DDL’s new 2018 Skeldon and Albion Rares (and, perhaps in a stretch, the old ones). After all, although the rum is labelled “Diamond”, all the stills are located at the estate of the same name these days, so it could mean anything.  In the end Tristan did confirm that the rum was pure Diamond-column-still hooch, and given the flexibility of what can come off that thing, I can only assume that they dialled in the settings to “Uitvlught”, set it to “11” and pulled the trigger.  

DDL ceased exports of bulk rum from the wooden stills a year or two back, and the word has seeped out to the Rumiverse that we’d better get existing wooden still indie rums from Guyana quick time, because one day they’ll run out.  Yet if rums of such quality as L’Esprit has found here can come off the other still, and continue to be exported for independents to bottle and rum lovers to enjoy, then I think we need have no fear that one day we’ll be without pure, cask strength, unique rums from Guyana.  L’Esprit has almost never disappointed me with their selections, and this rum, if you can still find it with its limited outturn of 166 bottles, and take a risk with its power, is really damned good and worth seeking out, even if you do flatten a city block or two after you try it.

(#651)(89/100)


Other Notes

  • Distilled 31 May 2005, bottled May 2016. Confirmed as being column still. Red brown colour.
  • Ageing in Europe, not tropical
  • I think that L’Esprit’s sample bottles are really quite superlative, but that’s just me
Feb 212017
 

 

Savanna, a distillery on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion (it’s east of Madagascar) was founded in 1870 as part of the drive by France to diversify sugar production after the loss of Saint Domingue (Haiti) and Ile de France (Mauritius) in the early 1800s. Distilleries had already appeared on Réunion by 1815 when Charles Desbassayns built the most sophisticated sugar cane mill of the island in the region of Chaudron, but records suggest primitive versions were in existence there for at least a hundred years before that. Rum production began to take on greater importance as a diversification measure after 1865, when the sugar crisis precipitated by the discovery of the beetroot sugar-making process required other sources of income to be exploited.  The sugar crisis also had the effect of requiring consolidations and closures of the various estates – in 1830 there were 189 sugar factories, by 1914 they were reduced to around twenty and now there are only three.

Originally located in Saint Paul on the west of the island, what was later Savanna was then called “Parc à Jacques” or “Bout de l’étang” and was one of the first settlements there. At the beginning of the 19th century, Olive Lemarchand bought the property, which was then called the Sugar Estate of Savanna. In 1876, the Society of the Domain of Savanna was formed and the records of a functional distillery begin around this time, with molasses being the principal source of the spirit.

Photo (c) distilleriesavanna.com

Under various owners the sugar factory and its associated distillery continued operations until the post WWII years. The man most associated with Savanna in its current iteration was an enterprising islander named  Émile Hugot (1904-1993), an engineer.  He trained as a chemist in sugar factories on the French mainland at Artres and Bucy-le-Long before returning to Réunion in May 1928 where his priority was the provision of energy to the sugar factories.  He became the Managing Dirctor of the Adam de Villiers Sugar Company at La Mare in 1932 (this was a factory to the west of the current Savanna location) before the Second World War interrupted his work and he mobilized.  In the post-war years he restructured the sugar-based economy of the island and merged the factories and properties of La Mare, Savanna and Grand-Bois and the properties of La Convenance and l’Eperon) to form the Bourbon Sugar Company in 1948, to which he added the assets of Stella in 1952.

Savanna remained as a separate distillery under this umbrella, although there were some rhums issued as “Rhum Bourbon” by the parent company (dates unknown).  In 1992 the distillery – as noted, it was originally established in Savanna in Saint Paul de la Réunion — was transferred to the Bois-Rouge site in the north-east of the island, near to the sugar refinery of the same name, with the ageing cellars following suit in 1995 and expanded further in 1999. It is completely integrated from the cane fields to the final bottling all taking place on site and, somewhat uniquely, makes both agricoles and molasses based rums as well as exporting bulk rum.  The distillery runs with a continuous still which was constructed and put into operation around 1964.

Photo (c) PlanetRum.com

Changing market conditions and expansion into other areas of the Bourbon Sugar Company – most importantly international shipping and retailing – overshadowed the historic sugar-based backbone of the company, and gradually it divested itself of these holdings, and by 2001 it had sold Savanna to Groupe Quartier Français (which already controlled Rivière du Mât). GCF was a Reunion based company headquartered in the north of the island which dealt primarily in sugar and rum. But in 2010 GQF itself was acquired by Tereos, a global French-based conglomerate which had its origins in the 19th century, and deals to this day in sugar, beets and its derivatives, distilleries and cereals. (GQF was dissolved in 2013 and no longer exists).  This is the situation today.

The Distillery of Savanna distills and aging a complete range of rum: light rum, traditional rum, agricultural rum, and various aged rums. It is the first European distillery to be ISO 9002 certified. The French Association for Quality Assurance  awarded it ISO 9001 (2000 version) in July 2003.  Although from the outset Savanna produced rums for bulk sales, with 80% of its production exported to metropolitan France and the European Union, in 2003 the company developed its own range of rums, some agricoles, some not.

Note: Particular attention can be paid to their so called “Grand Arôme” Lontan line of rums, which are high-ester spirits that are to all intents and purposes the tastiest of the lot.  Once I start to buy and try some, I’ll report back.

References

 

Rum list

(Note: because the company has been active for so long, this list is the best I could come up with and I may have missed a few…but as always, it’s a good starting point, and is good as of 2017).

  • Vieux Rhum Bourbon 49% ABV (year unknown – may not be Savanna)
  • Rhum Bourbon Blanc 49% ABV (year unknown – may not be Savanna)
  • Cap Savanna Rhum Vieux de la Reunion 43%
  • Cap Savanna Rhum Vieux de la Reunion 7 YO 43%
  • Savanna Intense Rhum Traditionnel Vieux 2004-2014 9YO Port Finish 46%
  • Savanna Intense Rhum Traditionnel Vieux 2002-2011 8YO Port Finish 46%
  • Savanna Intense Rhum Traditionnel Vieux 2007-2014 7YO Port Finish 46%
  • Savanna Intense Rhum Traditionnel Vieux 2000-2008 7YO 64.5%
  • Savanna Intense Rhum Traditionnel Blanc 40%
  • Savanna Intense Rhum Traditionnel 1999-2015 15 YO Port Finish 46%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Grand Arôme Vieux 2001-2008 6YO 63.2%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Grand Arôme Vieux 2002-2011 8YO 57.8%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Grand Arôme Vieux 2003-2015 11 YO 59.7%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Grand Arôme Vieux 2003-2011 8 YO 46%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Grand Arôme Vieux 2004-2011 8YO 57.4%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Grand Arôme Vieux 2004-2016 12YO 64.2%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Grand Arôme Vieux 2007-2016 7YO 60.4%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Traditonnel Grand Arôme Blanc 57% (60th anniversary)
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Tradionnel Vieux 2001-2009 7YO 46%
  • Savanna Lontan Rhum Traditionnel Grand Arôme Blanc 40%
  • Savanna Millenium Rhum Vieux Traditionnel 1999-2014 15 YO 43%
  • Savanna Rhum Vieux de la Reunion 15 YO 43% (issued 2003)
  • Savanna Millesime 1998 Cuvee Maison Blanche 1998-2008 10 YO 43%
  • Savanna Millesime 2002 Cuvee Maison Blanche 2002-2012 10 YO 43%
  • Savanna Millesime 2005 Cuvee Maison Blanche 2005-2015 10 YO 43%
  • Savanna Millesime 2006 Cuvee Maison Blanche 2006-2016 10 YO 43%
  • Savanna Millesime 2008 Cuvee Maison Blanche 2008-2018 10 YO 43%
  • Savanna Créol Rhum Agricole Blanc 45%
  • Savanna Créol Rhum Agricole Vieux 2002-2010 7 YO 46% Muscatel Finish
  • Savanna Créol Rhum Agricole Vieux 2002-2012 10 YO 46% Porto Finish
  • Savanna Rhum Vieux Traditionnel 3 YO 43%
  • Savanna Rhum Vieux Traditionnel 5 YO 43%
  • Savanna Rhum Vieux Traditionnel 7 YO 43%
  • Savanna Rhum Vieux Traditionnel Cuvée Spéciale 5 YO 43%
  • Savanna HERR (High Ester Rhum of Reunion) 2006-2016 10YO 63.8%
  • Savanna Rhum Traditionnel Métis 40%

Wild Island Edition 2020

  • Savanna Traditionnel  2003-2019 16 YO Armagnac Finish 52.7%
  • Savanna Grand Agricole 2012-2018 6 YO Calvados Finish 57.6%
  • Savanna Grand Arome 2005-1018 13 YO 56.4%
  • Savanna Grand Arome 2003-2018 15 YO 66.5%
Jan 262016
 

cdi-logo

***

For a company in existence for such a short time, it’s quite impressive what a wide range of rums Compagnie des Indes (which translates as the East India Company, hereinafter referred to as CDI) has managed to put out the door.  As of the 2015 release season, fourteen separate countries are represented (2 from east of Greenwich).  Unlike the trend in the USA and Canada, where creating one’s own new distillery and brand  is more common, in Europe it’s always been more about being an independent bottler (or re-bottler, I suppose).  Such enterprises don’t want to reinvent the wheel or invest in technology – though this does in fact happen as well, of course (e.g. Severin Simon in Germany).  Their strategy is to exhaustively seek out barrels from either source or broker, maybe age them a little more somewhere, and then issue them under their own label, usually in limited quantities of less than a thousand bottles per release.

While it could be argued that this hardly makes them cradles of innovation, it’s tough to fault the results when we can so rarely find the source distillers daring to go in the full-proof direction.  Until very recently, when was the last time you saw St. Lucia Distillers, FourSquare, Appleton, Mount Gay, Angostura, Travellers, Abuelo, Bacardi, Flor de Cana or other major brands, go the cask strength route in anything but their overproof 151s?  So smaller companies, whose founders often emerge from a whisky background, tend to be more into the full proof concept which has only recently started to gain great recognition in the rum world.

Such a person is Florent Beuchet, who pursued international business studies with a specialization as an International Trade Master of wine and spirits in Dijon, France.  After working part time for his father, who himself was a winemaker and ran a small distillery making absinthe and aniseed, Florent became the brand manager for Banks in New York in 2011 (his family owned shares in the company, and Florent’s father acted as a consultant for it).  This lasted for close on to two years, after which he bought a small spirits trading company he named “Diva Spirits” in 2013. This outfit dealt with the import and export of wines and spirits between Europe and the USA, and built on a network his father had created over the previous thirty five years.

cdi logo 2

Photo (c) L’homme a la poussette

While his studies had focused primarily on wines, Florent realized after working with Banks that rum interested him rather more: partly this was its versatility (read: absence of rules) but also because he saw that the concepts of terroire, distillation, ageing and blending were readily applicable to rum just as they were to wine.  More, he sensed that while the Europeans had a rather more sophisticated view of rums than Americans did, many still labored under the impression that it was a disreputable sort of drink, cheaply made, good only for a mix, and very sweet. The potential of exactingly made rums from single casks issued at full proof was still gathering steam (online reviews of rums made to precisely those specs were just beginning to appear at this time, if you discount Serge Valentin, who’d been issuing notes on them since 2010, and modesty be damned, some of them were mine).  So he saw an opening in the field that to this point had been dominated by Samaroli, Rum Nation, Velier, Moon Imports and others, few of which had the visibility and cachet they acquired in the subsequent years.

Seeking to put his ideas into practice, he formed CDI in March of 2014, in France. He sourced the rums he wanted via brokers in Holland and the UK, chose only unadulterated rums, and eschewed Rum Nation and Velier’s practice of going directly to the original distilleries in person to root around the warehouses seeking the perfect barrel (as of 2016, he has only been to Cuba, oddly enough).  The label design, with its old fashioned seal and fancy stylistic touches at the top was a calculated decision on his part – he wanted to provide something of the atmosphere and heritage of old times, sailing ships and galleons and parchment (one wonders how the famous aphorism of rum, buggery and the lash figured in his thinking, but never mind). It’s noteworthy that he had taken a sense of the room, and understood the need for providing clarity and information – and so each label also had a Velier-style section at the bottom on age, source, strength and barrel.

He also doesn’t hide that he is a disciple of honesty in rum making. He has little patience for the solera style of rum making, which he sees as dishonest way to market what is actually a blend with a misleading age statement; and he disdains rectified column-still spirit that is added to with flavourings and sugars and fancy backstories to disguise the fact that it is a commercial low end “rum”…and is then sold to an unsuspecting public as a real rum, when its artificiality is self-evident.  In that he is a follower of Richard Seale and Luca Gargano (among others), who have long championed pure rums and label disclosure.

cdi rums

Photo (c) Whiskyleaks.fr

His initial offerings from that year into the market were modest: first a Caribbean blend, then two Belize rums (same source, different strengths), a Cuban, a Guadeloupe and an 18 year old Caroni.  From the outset he knew he was going after unadulterated, pure rums, but felt that to make any kind of initial splash he perhaps had to compromise the principle, and so has added 15g/L of organic liquid cane sugar to the Caraibes blended rum and the 2015 release of the Latino, as well as 10g/L to the “Calbar” Jamaican (but to none of the others). To his credit, this information is disclosed and he makes no secret of it. (And given the RumDiaries take on the Caraibes, Florent may have been right, though Josh of Inakena disagrees, finding the dosing too obvious; current releases of Caraibes no longer have any sugar). Age is also exactly what it purports to be — meaning the true age of the rum in barrels; and even in the blends, it is never the oldest, but always the youngest portion of the blend which is noted.

Issued to the European market, sales were positive and encouraging.  In April 2015 I tried the Cuban 15 YO in Paris, and was mightily impressed, scoring it at 88 points, and remarking that “…If this is anything to go by, CDI is going to take its place among the craft makers whose rums I want to buy. All of them.” My purse and my time are limited so I have not been able to try as many as I would have liked, but certainly the customer response was gratifying enough for CDI to expand into a larger selection in 2015, when they added rums from Martinique, Barbados, Fiji, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, St. Lucia and Indonesia to the mix.

The Haitian rhum was intriguing, what with the recent upsurge in interest in clairins issued by Velier; Fiji has some tongues wagging…but the Indonesia rum in particular excited quite a lot of interest because it was so unusual (and because the distillery was not disclosed) – Florent wanted to recreate something of the flavor of Batavia Arrack, one of the progenitors of rum, and whether or not he succeeded, I don’t know – I just know I liked it quite a bit. Jamaica was also a good issue, because most lovers of the funky style are more familiar with Appleton’s work, not Hampden or Worthy Park, or New Yarmouth which was issued in 2017.  So certainly CDI is putting some interesting footprints into the sand of the rum world, and showing that while the trailblazers like Renegade, Samaroli, Rum Nation and Velier provided and continue to make many amazing rums for the consuming public, there remains space for new companies with a slightly different ethos to make their mark and provide greater variety of rums for us all to try.

A peculiar divergence from the norm is the rums issued only in the Danish market.  These are some of the rums certain to pique the interest of the cdigreater rum loving public – especially the aged Guyanese rums and the cask strength 60% Panamanian, which is surely quite an unusual product (I honestly can’t remember when was the last time I saw a full proof Panama rum).  Henrik of RumCorner, as helpful as always, and who had spotted me the CDI Guadeloupe from there which I have to write about soon, informed me that “…those releases were done in collaboration with the Danish distributor. Denmark is one of the fastest growing markets for premium and ultra premium rums, so they asked CDI for some limited cask strength products and voila. In my opinion the Barbados FourSquare 60% rum [for example] really shows what is possible at high strength in comparison with the standard issue 40% horde.”  Florent confirmed that, remarking “Once I started selling single cask to Denmark, my importer and his team told me that they’d like to know if I could bottle rums at cask strength. I told them that I could but due to duties, the prices in France would be too expensive and they wouldn’t sell so that they would have to buy the whole cask. [They did.] That’s why I decided to mention on the label that it was only bottled for Denmark…[Denmark] has quite an educated brown spirit clientele that are willing to pay a lot for pretty exclusive bottles. That’s mostly the story.” 

So where to now? Promotion and marketing will be a big focus.  Florent thinks traditional magazine space is too expensive, and prefers to engage with the public at festivals (which is where I met him and bored him to tears – twice), as well as using social media to interact with his customers.  That’s usually where he can be found lurking.  He will continue to have all his packaging, corking, labelling etc, done in France.  Ageing of his selected barrels is primarily in Europe, though some tropical ageing does take place.  In that he departs from Velier, who championed in-situ tropical ageing because of the accelerated maturation and richer flavour profiles they so preferred; Florent believes that wood takes on an dominance under such conditions, which replaces subtler, fruitier notes which he likes better. (Steve James’s review of the Barbados 16 YO made mention of this difference which he attributed to the ageing regime.)

CDI Florent

Florent in Berlin RumFest, 2015.

The year 2016 suggested that the Danish market full proof editions were no mere flash in the pan.  Whether more were issued for them, or the clamour to have a wider distribution of rums bottled at >50% was acted on, the fact is that the 2016 releases sported no fewer than twelve rums bottled at cask strength (most at around 60%).  Maybe some kind of “twinning” is being worked on, where a standard table strength rum is issued with its mate offered to the cognoscenti at a higher proof point – this makes for higher prices since the volume issued would be less, but it seems as though Florent has sensed a market opportunity here and is working on maximizing it.  Blends which tread the path of the Caraibes will also continue, with rhums like the Tricorne and Boulet de Cannon being issued at intervals. And there’s also a flavoured/spiced rhum called Darklice (licorice and other additions, and the name is evocative if nothing else) added to the stable, which is his first foray in that direction.

The current stable of countries will be expanded upon in the future (2018 and 2019 saw additional rums from Venezuela and Australia join the lineup, for example), though of course there will continue to be releases from each of the existing rum producing islands in the Caribbean.  And just to say “Martinique” is an oversimplification, since one rhum from there that CDI issued was from Dillon and another from Simon, and that is a small percentage of the distilleries over there.  So while they are more expensive than rums from the English and Spanish Caribbean, they can’t be ruled out for more releases, and of course there will always be rums from Barbados, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Guyana and Jamaica to beef up the portfolio.

My own hope is that he won’t be seduced by the sales of the spiced and blended variations of his line, but will sleuth out little known islands and distilleries and geographical regions and do what Luca has done – bottle and promote rums we haven’t seen in a while, or ever, which we’d like to try and which exemplify the global reach of the spirit.  They may not all be the best available (Fiji did not find much favour with me, sorry), but you have to give points to the new kid on the block, who’s really doing something interesting for rum.  That’s worth ten truckloads of Don Papa right there.

***

References:

  1.       Personal conversations and emails and messages with Florent Beuchet
  2.       Interview with FB by whiskyandco.net
  3.       ReferenceRhum.com
  4.       Posts on CDI Facebook page
  5.       Tiare’s post on A Mountain of Crushed Ice
  6.       Rumporter
  7.       Rumconer.dk
  8.       4FineSpirits.de interview with FB
  9.       Online posted interview with FB by Joerg Meyer (2016)
  10.       Rumporter October 2016 article
  11.       Company site

A list of rhums issued by CDI as of May 2019 is below.  As always, if you know something has been missed, send me a correction with the specs.

  • Australia 11 YO 2007-2019 43% #ASS53 (Secret Distillery)
  • Barbados 12 YO 2003-2015 45% #BD91 (FourSquare)(323 bottles)
  • Barbados 12 YO 2003-2015 45% #BD92 (FourSquare)(302 bottles)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD24 (FourSquare)(354 bottles)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD36 (FourSquare)(363 bottles)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD47 (FourSquare)(351 bottles)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #MRS236 (FourSquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 60% #MRS235 (FourSquare)(Denmark only)
  • Barbados 20 YO 1998-2016 45% #BYR5 (Multiple distilleries)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1999-2016 62% #FS8 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1999-2016 62% #FS9 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1999-2016 62% #FS20 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 9 YO 2006-2016 62.1% #MB45 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 9 YO 2006-2016 62.1% #MB46 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 9 YO 2006-2016 62.1% #MB47 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 10 YO 2007-2018 62.9% #BFD019 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 10 YO 2007-2018 43% #BFD014 (Foursquare)
  • Barbados 10 YO 2007-2018 62.1% #BFD015 (Foursquare)
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 44% #B86 (Travellers) (400 bottles)
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 44% #SF17 (Travellers) (415 bottles)
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 64% #SF48 (Travellers) (277 bottles)
  • Belize 11 YO 2005-2016 66.2% BL11 (Travellers)(Cask Strength)
  • Belize 10 YO 2006-2016 TBA% #TBA (Travellers)
  • Belize 10 YO 2006-2016 TBA% #TBA (Travellers) (Cask Strength)
  • Brazil 16 YO 2000-2016 43% #BR10 (Epris)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 1 2015 46% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 2 2016 50% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 3 2016 50% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 4 2017 46% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 5 2017 46% (blend Florida rums)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 6 2018 46% (blend Nicaragua/Panama)
  • Cuba 15 YO 1998-2014 45% #C67 (Sancti Spiritus) (280 bottles)
  • Cuba 16 YO 1998-2014 45% #CM5 (Sancti Spiritus) (232 bottles)
  • Cuba 16 YO 1998-2014 45% #CM8 (Sancti Spiritus) (280 bottles)
  • Cuba 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #CM34 (Sancti Spiritus)
  • Cuba 18 YO 1999-2017 45% #CSS11 (Sancti Spiritus)
  • Cuba 18 YO 1999-2017 59% #CSS7 (Sancti Spiritus) (Denmark only)
  • Darklice Blend 2016 46% (Guy/Bar/T&T) + licoriced water
  • Dominidad No. 1 15 YO 2000-2016 43% #SB1 (Small Batch)(33% 15YO DR / 67% 16YO T&T)
  • Dominidad No. 2 15 YO 2000-2016 43% #SB2 (Small Batch)(33% 15YO DR / 67% 16YO T&T)
  • Dominidad No. 3 16 YO 2002-2017 43% #SB3 (Small Batch)(33% 15YO DR / 67% 16YO T&T)
  • Dominican Republic 15 YO 2000-2016 64.9% #RDV 3 (Various)
  • Dominican Republic 13 YO 2003-2017 46% #RDM 1 (Various)
  • Dominican Republic 16 YO 2001-2017 62% #RDV 2 (Various)(Denmark only)
  • Dominican Republic 8 YO 2010-2019 43% #DRA3 (AFD. (Acoholes Finos Dominicanos))
  • Dominican Republic 8 YO 2010-2019 62.1% #DRA6 (AFD. (Acoholes Finos Dominicanos))
  • El Salvador 9 YO 2007-2018 43% #A46 (Cihuatan)
  • Florida 13 YO 2004-2018 45% #FMSC1 (Distillery Unknown)(finish Moscatel Cask)
  • Florida 14 YO 2004-2018 44% #FMM21 (Distillery Unknown)(finish French Whisky Casks)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2014 43% #GM 21 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)(355 bottles)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2014 43% #GM 32 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)(355 bottles)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2014 43% #G 51 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)(300 bottles)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2015 43% #CG 91 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2015 43% #CG 1704 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 17 YO 1998-2015 43% #CG 14 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 18 YO 1998-2016 55.1% #GMB57 (Damoiseau/Bellevue, Denmark Only)
  • Guadeloupe 20 YO 1998-2018 43.1% #PLG79 (Pere Labat)
  • Guatemala 9 YO 2007-2016 43% #GOS16 (DARSA)
  • Guatemala 8 YO 2009-2017 58.5% #GDS12 (DARSA) (Denmark only)
  • Guatemala 8 YO 2009-2017 59.1% #??? (DARSA) (Denmark only)
  • Guyana 10 YO 2005-2015 58% #WPM 75 (PM Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 13 YO 2002-2015 59% #WPM 36 (PM Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 13 YO 2002-2015 58% #MPM 35 (PM Still)
  • Guyana 13 YO 2002-2015 43% #MPM 63 (PM Still)
  • Guyana 21 YO 1993-2015 56% #GU 4 (Uitvlugt Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 24 YO 1990-2015 58.1% #MEY 04 (EHP Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 12 YO 2003-2016 45% #MSG6 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 12 YO 2003-2016 45% #MSG15 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 12 YO 2003-2016 45% #MSG16 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 12 YO 2003-2016 45% #MSG17 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 10 YO 2005-2016 57.5% #MPM18 (Port Mourant, Romhatten only)
  • Guyana 18 YO 1997-2016 45% #MGA4 (Uitvlugt)
  • Guyana 18 YO 1997-2016 57.9% #MGA5 (Uitvlugt, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 27 YO 1988-2016 52.7% #MEC7 (Enmore, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 14 YO 2003-2017 43% #GDD40 (Diamond)
  • Guyana 9 YO 2008-2017 59% #GYD71 (Diamond, Mahlers Vinhandel DK only)
  • Guyana 11 YO 2007-2018 60% #Gxxxx (Armagnac finish)
  • Guyana 10 YO 2010-2018 43% #GPM51 (Port Mourant)
  • Guyana 29 YO 1988-2018 48% #GEN2 (Enmore)
  • Latino 5 YO 2010-2015 40% (15 g/L sugar)
  • Latino 6 YO 2010-2017 46% (finish Vosne-Romanee red wine cask)
  • Nicaragua 11 YO 2004-2016 69.1% #SN18 (Distillery unknown)
  • Nicaragua 17 YO 1997-2015 64.9% #NCR30 (Distillery unknown)
  • Nicaragua 12 YO 2005-2017 66% #NS10 (Distillery unknown)(Denmark only)
  • Oktoberum 5 YO (2016)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 60% #MRS 255 (Distillery unknown)(Denmark only)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 44% #MRS 263 (Distillery unknown)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 44% #MRS 322 (Distillery unknown)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2016 61.5% #PMD 43 (Distillery unknown)
  • Panama 9 YO 2008-2017 43% #PSC 8 (Distillery Unknown)
  • Panama 9 YO 2008-2017 43% #PSC 77 (Distillery Unknown
  • Panama 13 YO 2004-2017 56.9% #PS 99 (Distillery Unknown)
  • St. Lucia 13 YO 2002-2015 43% #SLD 84 (St. Lucia Distillers)
  • St. Lucia 13 YO 2002-2015 56.3% #SLD 46 (St. Lucia Distillers)(Denmark only)
  • Trinidad 16 YO 2003-2019 63.5% #TLBF15 (TDL)
  • Trinidad 13 YO 2005-2018 45% #TT035 (TDL)
  • Trinidad 15 YO 2003-2018 44% #TTW9 (TDL)
  • Trinidad 20 YO 1998-2018 59.8% #TTCR14 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 23 YO 1993-2017 53.1% #TCC3 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 25* YO 1991-2016 56.2% #TP8 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 22 YO 1993-2016 48% #TC4 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 16 YO 2000-2016 63.6% #TT 96 (TDL)
  • Trinidad 24 YO 1991-2015 56.3% #SC 2 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 21 YO 1994-2015 57.8% #SC 707 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 19 YO 1996-2015 53.2% #SC 1 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2015 61% #SCT 9 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2014 43% #SC 3 (Caroni) (456 bottles)
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2014 43% #SC 2 (Caroni) (456 bottles)
  • Tricorne Unaged White Rum 2016 43% (Blend cane juice/molasses/arrack)
  • Venezuela 12 YO 2006-2018 43% VCA 1 (Corporation Alcoolés del Caribe (CADC))
  • Venezuela 12 YO 2006-2018 58% VCA 5 (Corporation Alcoolés del Caribe (CADC))
  • Venezuela 16 YO 2003-2019 63.5% VNT 61(Corporation Alcoolés del Caribe (CADC))
  • Veneragua 13 YO 2005-2018 45% (blend, 3 barrels Venezuela + 2 NIcaragua)
  • West Indies Blended 8 YO 2010-2018 40% (blend of Bdos, DR, Pan, Guy)

*Miscalculated as 26 YO on label