It’s all a little bit, well, funky. There’s an element of crazy about, it, perhaps deliberately created, perhaps not, which is almost in defiant contrast to more traditional PMs. All things considered, this rum raises my ire and hurts my heart, both at the same time. In it I see all that craft makers aspire to, while somehow failing to realize both its and their own potential.
Last time around I looked at the quietly impressive Bristol Spirits PM 1990 17 YO, which I tasted in conjunction with this younger 1999 iteration. You’d think that with core distillate being the same, and with the same port finishing, the results would differ only in the details. Yeah. No. The 1999, too well made to ignore, turned out so different from its sibling that I spent ages with it just to make sure I wasn’t being taken for a ride. It’s an illustration of how similar origins, combined with some chaos theory, leads to a remarkably divergent outcome
As before, the Port Mourant wooden double pot still supplied the core distillate; it was aged until 2013 in oak, and like the 17 YO from 1990, it was left to rest in port pipes for an extra finish, at that same unadventurous 46% that just makes me shrug my shoulders. When I inquired about the Peru 8 Year Old strength, they responded, “40% suits the rum well, in our opinion,” and I think they have the same opinion here. To their own detriment, maybe. One or two rums at less than cask-strength I can accept, but when the entire range never varies between 40-46%, I have to question the logic (beyond trying to sell as many as possible to more conventional purchasers). If other independent bottlers can take their barrels out for a spin and crank them up a shade just to see where they can take their audience, I see no reason why an outfit that made the magnificent PM 1980 can’t occasionally break out of their own self-imposed corsets.
Anyway, so, we had a reddish bronze rum here, nicely aged, affordably priced. On the pour some of the expected notes came out immediately: what made me retreat a metaphorical step was its unexpected aggressiveness. The thing lunged out of the glass with an attitude, was sharp and unlike its other brothers (and other PMs I’ve been fortunate enough to try)…it did not display heavy, brooding notes of enchanted forests, but instead the harsh spearing glares of desert sunlight. Initial notes of dusty hay, chopped fruits, some mangoes and papayas were there, gone very fast, a little smoke, some tannins from the oak. Leaving the rum to open some more brought out secondary scents of anise, smoke, leather, some dark chocolate, green grapes, and it was all nowhere near as deeply luscious as the 1990…no idea why. There was a shimmering clarity to the rum which was intriguing, yet not entirely appealing. The mix of light and heavy components wasn’t working for me.
The taste moved on from there…not nearly as full bodied as the other PMs in my experience, at all. More of that light sharpness, a rapier compared to the more elemental battleaxes of even the 1990 variation. Some of the richness of the others (even made by Bristol themselves) was missing here, and I really was not that impressed with the result. Tastes were decent, can’t complain too much about that – there were raisins, black grapes, prunes, figs and some dark chocolate to contend with, all interlaced with some sharp bitterness of oak which thankfully was not predominant. With water, the chocolate started to assert some biceps, as did a slightly drier element, plus fresh brewed black tea and vanilla, and even a flirt of feintiness and some other more winey notes from the port finish. I seem to remember reading somewhere that a smidgen of sugar had been added to this rum, but I didn’t really sense any – if true, it couldn’t have been much. On the fade it was dry and spicy, with some crushed walnuts, anise, more fruit and a sly background of molasses and brown sugar: that and the nose were the two best parts of the rum, for me.
My dissatisfaction with this rum stems from what appears to be two differing characteristics marrying uneasily – the dour, anise-led, brown-sugar profile of a PM, and something lighter and sharper, younger, friskier. It’s like an old fart in his Bentley trying to make nice with a coed driving a 370Z. So, is it, or will it be, a successful commercial rum? I think so. It suggests an ironic future for Bristol – they bring a well known, well-loved distillate to the stage, age it decently, make it reasonably, price it well, issue it at an agreeable strength, and I’m sure if it hasn’t already flown off the shelves, it will – and yet, this very success might prevent them from making any more of those genuinely fantastic PM-1980-style rums of which I am convinced they are capable. What a shame.
(#230 / 84/100)
- For a much more positive review of the 1999, read Marco’s take, with all his usual and remarkable historical detail.
- There is another 1999 bottled in 2010 and yet another bottled in 2014 (the latter without the port finish).