First posted 01 October 2011 on Liquorature
A strange rum from Alberta’s Highwood Distillery, Momento is aimed at the high end market without having the cojones to put its quality where its marketing leads it. It’s clean texture and originality of make are its best features, but I can’t say it really works for me.
There are some cases where a distillery looking to go in a different direction begets some kind of bratty, youthful rum that dances on your tonsils and tries out its chubby biceps on your palate. Bruichladdich comes to mind, or the reblenders and rebranders like Gordon & MacPhail and A.D Rattray (whisky makers all, I sigh). Remember the Caroni 13 year old, the Renegade line, or even (bow head here) the Longpond 1941? Rums like those made you laugh with pleasure, and walk out the store clutching your prizes, with a cape, red boots and big friggin’ “S” stamped on your chest.
Highwood Distillers, alas, does not make the cut with this insouciant Momento rum. It aspires to the heights without trying to scale them, and yet, my inquiries with the company brought forth the comment that they really were aiming for the premium segment of the market. Take my word for it: this is not premium. Nice, inoffensive, original, different. But not top of the line by a long shot.
I must concede I liked the appearance of the bottle, with its transparent label and fancy lettering: there is a spartan simplicity to it which I appreciated. Long slender bottle, enveloping a clear, straw yellow rum topped off with a white cork. If nothing else, that certainly is pretty good.
My disappointment started with the nose. It was a sharp skewer though the schnozz, a cannibal’s bone through the septum, redolent of chemicals and paint thinner. Pungent, thin and grassy…almost like fresh hay. It reminded me of the play-doh in a badly maintained day care. The body (hinted at by swift sprinter’s legs that would make Usain Bolt weep with envy) was thin and unimpressive, tangy and medium sweet – I’ve tasted white wines with more body and depth. And the cloying medicinal properties of the nose followed the palate and arrived with the screaming tantara of a badly tuned clarinet, added to by a briny, almost seaweed like taste, a tad spicy and not particular sweet. Perhaps I sensed some caramel and citrus, but I’d be reaching if I said that with assurance. The rum’s one redeeming feature to me was a certain light clarity, a tight, clean texture on the palate which was a real pleasure to feel, if not to taste. The finish was also some consolation, short and smooth: delicate, light fumes caress your throat before bailing in labba time for the backdam.
So, I give it points for originality, but you’re getting my drift – this is definitely not my glass of the good stuff. I’m barely convinced it’s a rum, and I’m not the only online reviewer to make that observation: maybe because it’s a whisky distiller that makes it, it has many properties that would appeal more to a lover of the Scotches than the rums. As a mixer it is without doubt competent; as a sipper, I’m afraid it falls down flat. Thank God it was paid for: I’d feel real bad taking this as a free sample and then have these negative feelings about it. And yet its antecedents stem from Guyana, DDL stock to be exact, and after coming to Alberta, aged in charred oak barrels for an indeterminate time. Highwood remarked in an email to me that they make no age statements on the blend, and the Arctic Wolf thought it was six to eight years old, but my own take is that it’s quite a bit younger than that – it’s too raw, too rough for any kind of serious ageing and the oak makes almost no imprint on the taste buds.
Look, I’m not really in a bad mood or trying to be bitchy ‘cause it’s fun to write a negative review. What I want is rums to be taken seriously, and this one isn’t helping me any. When a distillery with a pretty good pedigree like Highwood Distillers makes a rum this odd and appears not to be taking the blending all that seriously (unlike their startlingly deep-flavoured Potter’s, which may be one of the best mixer’s extant in the bars of Calgary), I get the impression they’re just making this rum so they can round out their portfolio (maybe it’s because they have so many different spirits in their repertoire – 90-plus, according to their rep).
The Momento might, over a period of years, morph into something pretty cool and interesting, but as it stands, all it is is a snazzy bottle encasing a pale coloured, under-distilled rum wannabe without serious taste or body, and about the best thing I can say for it is that it’s original as all get out, has that clean texture, and goes better with a cola than Doorley’s. I didn’t think it was possible to best the Prince Myshkyn of the rum world at its own game, but with the Momento, you’ve got a winner on that score, however much of a loser it is at all the others.
- Highwood Distillers was founded in 1974 and originally operated under the name ‘Sunnyvale’. In 1984, it was renamed ‘Highwood Distillers’ after the famous river and region in which it is located in the Canadian province of Alberta. It bought Potters Distillery in British Columbia in November 2005, and so the Potters Dark rum is part of their brand portfolio.
- The core distillate of the Momento is imported Demerara rum but it is unknown how long it is aged for or which DDL still it comes from.