May 102021
 

In the maelstrom of ongoing indie releases coming at us from every direction almost every month, it’s easy to overlook some of the older rums, or even some of the older companies. Secret Treasures is one of theseI had discovered their charms on the same trip where I found the first Veliers, all those long years ago, at a time when the concept of independent bottlers was a relatively small scale phenomenon. Back then I bought the company’s Enmore 1989, and both Grandma Caner and I liked it so much we polished off the thing in under a week, and started looking around for more.

Over the years I bought a few others, got a few samples and reviewed the few I scored, and then ownership changed. The last rums Haromex (the new distributor) put out the door before they changed the ethos of the brand was the twin St Lucian John Dore and Vendome pot still rums in 2014 and subsequent releases were radically different. The company and the Secret Treasures brand has faded from view since then, and few consider their rums great finds (when they consider them at all) as other, newer indies jostle for the place it once held (for a more complete historical picture, see below)

This is where I’m supposed to make some nostalgic Old Fart kind of comment where I wax rhapsodic about the long forgotten and unappreciated rums of yore, undisovered steals and diamonds in the rough which weren’t appreciated at the time by the aggressive young rum pros of today, blah blah blah. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. The ruma Caroni, one of a few releasedfell unaccountably short of the high bar set by Velier and other independents, and remains a forgotten, forgettable curiosity, noted more for the associated name than any intrinsic quality it possesses itself.

Let’s do the tasting, then, to demonstrate why somehow this thing falls down flat. The nose gives a promising indicator of things to come, but which don’t. It immediately reeks of the characteristic petrol, tar and road asphalt in hot weather which so defines Caroni. It is dry and sere and surprisingly hot for a near-standard-proofed rum (42% ABV), dark and with notes of sugar water, rubber, acetones, fruitsunripe red cherries and strawberries, pears and ripe green apples. There is also a touch of vanilla and light molasses, but nothing strong or overpowering.

A salty sweet sugar water greets the tongue with warmth and firmness. All the fleshy and watery fruits we’re familiar with parade aroundpears, watermelons, white guavas, papaya, kiwi fruits, even cucumbers all take a bow. A trace of olives and occasional whiff of strawberries and petrol are barely noticeable, so one can only wonder where, after such a promising beginning, they all vanished to. Eloped, maybe. Certainly they bailed and left the rum with nothing but memories and a good wish to lead to its inevitably disappointing denouement, which was short, breathy, light and watery, and barely registered some vanilla, brine, a fruit or two and exactly zero points of distinction.

Secret Treasures did put out a few really exceptional rumstheir lack of marketing, lack of visibility and lack of distribution mostly relegated them to obscurity (the Enmore 1989 mentioned above is a case in point) — and as is usually the case with small volume bottlers, the outturn of the original line was somewhat hit or miss, and not everything they bottled was gold. This Trini rum was something of a waste of time, for example, weak, unfocused, undistinguished, practically anonymous. Oh it was a rum all right, identifiable as a Caroni, just not much of one. Perhaps it should have been left in the barrels a few more years. Many more years. And then finished in sherry casks. And then spiced up. Then it might have had a profile I’d actually notice. But then again, maybe not.

(#819)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn 1304 bottles. Distilled 1996, bottled August 2003 in Switzerland. The unproven implication is that it was completely aged in Trinidad.
  • The Ultimate Rum Guide notes it as being a “West Indies Distillery” without further elaboration, and the accompanying photo is wrong. I’ve left them a note to that effect
  • Richard Seale remarked in a FB comment on this review, Age is an important factor in the latter day success of Caroni. This one may also be blended with neutral spiritthis was a practice in Trinidadblending an aged rum with neutral spirit but keeping the age claim!”

Historical background

Initially Secret Treasures was the brand of a Swiss concern called Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) — who had been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer” distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what remains Switzerland’s oldest distillery.

They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and branched out into rums in the early 2000s but not as a producer: in the usual fashion, rums at that time were sourced, aged at the origin distillery (it is unclear whether this is still happening in 2021), and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conformed to the principles of many of the modern indies.

Fassbind’s local distribution was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, a Swiss distributor, yet they seem to have walked away from the rum side of the business, as the company website makes mention of the rum line at all. Current labels on newer editions of the Secret Treasures line refers to a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off as neither Swiss concern has any of the branded bottles in their portfolio.

Certainly the business has changed: there are no more of the pale yellow labels and sourced single barrel expressions as I found back in 2012. Now Secret Treasures is all standard strength anonymous blends like aged “Caribbean” and “South American” rum, a completely new bottle design and the Haromex logo prominently displayed with the words “Product of Germany” on the label.


 

Jul 042019
 

2014 was both too late and a bad year for those who started to wake up and realize that Velier’s Demerara rums were something special, because by then the positive reviews had started coming out the door, the prices began their inexorable rise, and, though we did not know it, it would mark the last issuance of any Demeraras of the Age by the Genoese concern headed by Luca Gargano. Yesu PersaudDDL’s chairmanwas slated to retire by the end of that year, and in early 2015 the new chairman terminated the preferential relationship.

That said, it was not entirely a disaster for Luca, because, as he remarked to me in 2018 when we were discussing that remarkable series of rums, he was already seeing a diminution in the quality of the casks he was being allowed to select from. And these consisted of marques of lesser ages, experimental work and overall diminishing returns. So perhaps it was time to move on to other things.

The Uitvlugt rum we’re looking at today, one of the last bottled in that year and in that Age, was still quite respectable based on its stats: distilled in 1996 on the four-column French Savalle Still (at the time housed at the estate, not Diamond); full tropical ageing in Guyana resulting in a 78% angel’s share losses and four remaining barrels which went into 1124 bottles; and a solid strength of 57.2%.

Did it sample well? Judge for yourself. The nose of the dark amber rum was refined, gentleeven easy. This was surprising given it was just about navy strength (one can wonder if that was a coincidence). But even with that lack of oomph, it was remarkably distinct, even precise with the clarity of the dusky aromas it emitted. These began with molasses, brown sugar, caramel and vanilla, and added a thread of licorice, cinnamon, lemon zest, and then dumped in bags of dark, fleshy fruits like plums, prunes and ripe peaches. In a way it was like stepping back into a time, when those flavours defined “good” without anyone bothering to look for additional complexitywhat distinguished this nose was the way they all came together in a refined olfactory melange, orderly, measured, balanced.

Tasting it showed that the strength which had not been so apparent when smelled was simply biding its time. It didn’t come across as aggressive or glittering sharp, just firm and very controlled, biting just enough to let you know it wasn’t to be taken for granted. The immediate tastes were of salty olives, cider, apples, quite strong. Slowly (and with a drop or two of water) this developed into molasses, brown sugar, black currants, prunes plus smoke and a well-worn, well-cared for leather jacket. But what really stood outover and beyond the rich dark fruits and the sense of well-controlled oakinesswas the sense of a rum-infused hot mocha with caramel, molasses, whipped cream, and a dusting of almonds and sweet spices, and it’s out and out delectable, even elegant. I spent a lot of time sniffing it, sure, but much more just tasting. This thing is dangerous because it’s tasty enough to encourage rampant sipping, and the finishslow, long-lasting, deeply flavoured with spices, chocolate, almonds and raisinsdoesn’t assist in one’s self control in the slightest.

For those who have a love affair with rums from the famed wooden stills, the Uitvlugt marqueswhether by Velier or other independents, light or heavy, dark or blonde, tropical or continentaloccasionally appear to be second-tier efforts, even throwaway fillers made with less elan and dedication than more famous rums we know better. Coming as they do from a column still, they are sometimes overlooked.

But they should not be. Admittedly, the Uitvlugt 1996 was not a severely complex rum with a million different subtleties chasing each other up and down the rabbit hole, the enjoyment of which lay in teasing out all the various notes, and sensing ever more around the corner. It was more a coming together of all the flavours we associate with rum, in an exciting yet somehow still traditional way, impeccably assembled, elegantly balanced, exactingly chosen, and hearkening back to familiar old favourites from simpler times which now reside only in our memories.

So even then, at the end of the Age, when all was coming to a close and we thought we had seen pretty much everything, Luca still managed to pull a few last Guyanese rum rabbits out of his hat. The Uitvlugt 1996 will likely not be one of the pot-still decades-old classics that fetches a few thousand dollars at auction, but for those who want to see what all the fuss about Velier is, while not straying too far out of their comfort zone, I can’t think of many better places to start than this unsung gem.

(#638)(87/100)


Other notes

Sep 082018
 

The Enmore wooden coffey still is one of the most famous in the rumiverse, and is linked indelibly with Guyana and DDL. Somewhat subtler than the Port Mourant double wooden pot still and more elegant than the Versailles single wooden pot, rums deriving from it don’t always succeedI believe it takes real skill to make a top-end 90-point rum from its output. But when it works well and is done wellas this one does and isthen it shines. It’s an unfortunate thing that DDL did such low key marketing for the Rares 2.0, because to my mind, the second release is better than the first, and this Enmore is the best of the lot. I’ve been harsh with DDL in the past, but just as I’ve given them hard card for fallindown ‘pon de wuk, praise for success must be equally prominent, since they deserve it here. And this a very good rum indeed.

Distilled at a rough and ready 57.2% (a sniff less than the PM 1997 from last week), the Enmore Rare is a true 20 year old rum, aged in Guyana between 1996 and 2017, and each and every one of those years is on display for the discerning drinker. Consider first the nosefor that kind of strength, the aromas presented as almost gentle, and gave the PM that was tried alongside it a run for its money. They were not sharp and rough at all, rather, rich and pungent with pencil shavings and fresh sawdust, mixing things up with harsh coffee grounds, bitter chocolate, vanilla and a little nail polish. This was followed by a very rich blancmange and creme brulee, molasses, caramel, flowers and mint, in a sensuous amalgam of soft and sweet and crisp and musky, really well balanced off. I must admit I blinked a bit and then dived in againit was unusual for me to detect quite that much in the first ten minutes, but yes, there they were, and I enjoyed them all.

The rum also tasted remarkably well, suggesting a texture that eased across the tongue with both firmness and edge (not as easy to describe as to try), and at no point did it lose any of the qualities the nose advertised. The sawdust and sharper pencil shavings remained, and here the fruitiness emerged as a more dominant actorcherries, raisins, fried sweet bananas, ripe apples, black grapes, and even some red olives (they’re not quite as salty as the green ones). Not content with that panoply, the Enmore proceeded to cough up creme brulee, light anise and molasses, flowers, coconut shavings and a sort of musky driness that reminded me of rain falling on parched ground, all ending up in a finish that was a neat high-wire act between the muskier and sharper flavours, without tumbling over the edge to either sidefruits, citrus, coconut shavings, coffee, caramel and vanilla, with a nice background of thyme.

The entire experience was excellent. It lacked real full-proof force and fury while simultaneously being just the slightest bit untamed and edgy, and at all times giving a balanced series of delicious flavours with which I had little fault to find. Honesty compels me to admit that I wondered about additives, and while I have no idea whether it has been dosed or not (I was unable to test it), the overall profile muted any such concerns for me (while not eliminating them entirelyDDL has yet to earn my unquestioning trust; though for the record, the Rares have mostly been known as being unmessed with).

As noted above, DDL’s consistent and continual lack of engagement with the rum blogosphere is as mystifying as the quiet release of the Rares 2.0. Aside from a small blurb here or there, I can’t remember seeing a serious blanket-all-the-channels press release from them, not for the Rares, not for the 2016 15 YO “finishedseries, or for the 2018 12 YO series. About the only consistent thing is that all are seen as overpriced. And that’s a shame, because leaving aside the standard strength tipple which I don’t buy much of any more, the Enmore 1996 really is a damn’ fine dram. Yes it costs some stiff coin, but come on, it’s twenty years of tropical ageing with what must be a massive angel’s share and the result is simply superb. In my opinion, it’s the best of its kind DDL have made to date.

Summing up, the Enmore, then, excites equal parts annoyance and respect: respect because it’s so good and we can now all heave a sigh of relief that DDL is putting cool tropical juice out for the geek crowd; and annoyance because we hardly knew it was out there and remain mostly unaware how good it is. Oh well. At least the wondering is over, the mystery solved: we know DDL can make these rums exceptional when they really try. Just don’t blink, or you’ll miss it when it comes out in your local liquor emporium.

(#547)(90/100)

 

Jul 292015
 

D3S_8976

A brooding, dark exemplary Caroni with a slightly jagged ending..

We who chronicle our rum journeys make all the expected genuflections and obeisances to the great standards and stations of the crossAppleton, Mount Gay, DDL, Four Square, Caroni, Trois Rivieres, Havana Club (the real one), J. Bally, Neisson, Flor, Diplomatico, and so on and so forth. Then we move to the independent bottlers as we broaden our rangesand somewhere along the way, it’s almost a given that we stop at La Casa di Luca for a bite. I’ve done twelve so far, and believe me, there’s no end in sight.

This rum from Velier is from 1996, 3000 bottles and 55% strength, and an 80% angel’s share. Sometimes Luca confuses me with his expressions because he would issue the same rum at two different strengths just ‘cause, you know, he’s got ‘em, he can, and he wants to (this heavy 1996 has been issued at 63% as wellHenrik from Rumcorner waxed rhapsodic about it here quite recently). Frankly, I worry this may be the sad case of there being too much of a good thing. They are all very good, you understand, but finding a favourite among so many expressions that are actually quite similar is a job for someone with deeper pockets and a more discerning schnozz than mine.

The bottle and its enclosure conform to all the expected values Velier has espoused for so long: stark and two-colour presentation, the box showing a photograph of Luca’s taken at the distillery (he’s actually a very good photographer as well), and all the usual useful information you could want. About the only thing you’re not getting was any notation on additives, but you can take it from me that Luca is a Spartan minimalist who cheerfully channels Josef Albers and Mondrian, is a proponent of pure rums in all senses, and is insistent that what comes out of the cask is what goes into the bottle. So rest assured, all ye puritans.

D3S_8898a

Photo courtesy of Velier

A darkish amber-orange coloured rum, it was, as expected, quite pungent and rich to smell, after burning off the more intense alcohol: immediate, dark scents of caramel and molasses duelled it out with musky tar, smoke, oak, leather, rubber and my son’s plasticine collection. As it opened up, these muscular smells were lightened somewhat by lighter, sharper, floral hints, and the oils you smell on your fingers after manually peeling an orange, and some additional citrus (not much)…and then the petrol and aniseed blasted back to show they weren’t taking second place any time soon. Heavy, thick and pungent, much like the 1994 edition.

The rum was a nocturnal, glowering Heathcliff to taste too (the nose wasn’t lying). Scarily big and bold bruiser when I tried it first (neat): more oak, molasses, tar, I couldn’t escape that signature profile, leavened somewhat with eucalyptus oil, dark chopped dried fruits, and raisins. The harsher petrol and rubber disappeared almost entirely, and with a little water the thing became downright drinkablecertainly it was hot yet smooth all the way through, and the balance was quite extraordinary. Henrik loved the 63% edition: still, I could argue that the 55% is no slouch either, and may be more accessible than that other, stronger rum. Just sayin’

As for the finish, well, it was long, so no fault there: there was, I felt just a bit too much oak, and it was shade too bitter (nobody was more surprised than I). I could make out the softer, fruitier notes that worked so well when I tasted it but here they were overwhelmed somewhat, and were only briefly discernible in the background before disappearing entirely. So in that sense, not one of the very best of the Veliers for me, though none of this was enough to sink what really was a very good rum indeed.

Given that the sense of bitterness and oak was quite subtle, don’t take my word for it. We should be wary of dismissing a rum this engaging just because it doesn’t get up there on the soapbox and dance with the best of the best. It still stands pretty damn tall as it is, and I don’t see that much competition on the horizon. It’s a phenomenally well-made full-proof, big, thick and heavy, and it fulfills the latent misguided desire of just about any A-type who thinks a rum should match his junk.

(#224. 86/100)


Other notes:

Apr 042013
 

D3S_5204

With this brutally elemental full-proof, Velier has tamed the beast but retained the beastliness.

The makers of the Diamond Estate 1996 Full Proof must have received no end of emails and letters and online posts about how the Albion 1994 60.4% was a sissy pink cupcake of a rum meant for the weak, and how they demanded something with a tad more torque in its trousers. And so came the Diamond Estate 1996 15 year old from Velier or, as it is better known, the “please move over, delicate person.” I guess it was supposed to have a nice, genteel 40% kinda strength, but obviously somebody at Casa di Luca paid attention to the cry of the masses, and thought, “No. That’s too wussy. It’s too klein.” And therefore ratcheted it up to a rip-snorting 64.6%, which I’m sure you’ll admit, for a standard table rum, is kind of amazing. This baby would shoulder aside the Albion, batter a Flavell into insensibility, tromp all over the Stroh 54and all for a reasonable price that would have Gordon & MacPhail or Cadenhead scratch their sporrans wondering how to translate wtf into gaelic.

Truth to tell, the Albion is the only other rum I have aside from the raging mastodons of the 151s to which I can reasonably compare this bad boy. It had a different, less stark presentation than the black-and-white of that particular full proof (yellow orange label and packing ain’t my favourite, but whatever) and it seemed a little less intimidating at first blush. Rest assured that this was merely a trap for the unwary, to lure you in prior to rampaging over your palate.

D3S_5213

The rum was a light mahogany in colour, with an initial scent that was amazingly unaggressiveheated, yes, just less than one would expect from a rum bottled at more than 64%. There was enough rubber on the initial nose to recall a Trojan manufacturing facility running full out, but this disappeared fast, and then waves of sumptuous aromas billowed out of the glass: deep, dark unsweetened chocolate, with hints of orange rind; jasmine blossoms, nougat, caramel, molasses, licorice, with a last nuance of camphor and medicinal undertones.

All these flavours from the nose came to more sharper and more clearly defined relief as I tasted it. You simply could not ignore a point-and-squirt, muscle-bound, nose-bashing throat-ravishing strength of 64.6%, of courseI’d be lying if I told you that, ‘cause in truth, the rum vibrated with enough power to shake the shag from my pipe. It’s remarkably well made in spite of that, though. At first, once the heat and spiciness became more tolerable, I tasted the aforementioned caramel, nougat and dark chocolate notes. Once it opened up, other flavours came forward: licorice, molasses, anise; leather and oak (less than you’d expect for a fifteen year old).And just as I thought I had the nuances nailed down, it coughed up blood and guts to show it was not quite dead, and presented a last note of marzipan and faint red wine. It didn’t have the deep fruitiness of the Albion, nor was it as sweetand that’s a good thing, because it allowed the Diamond a uniqueness that went well with its brawny sibling.

D3S_5220

Finish: long; lasting; on and on, without hate or snarkiness, strong and heated and almost without end, closing things off with oak and well-oiled leather, chocolate and exiting at last with a last caramel flounce, like a Shatner who hates to leave the stage. Aggressive, yeah: I think the Diamond 1996 may be among the meanest, hairiest two ounces in the universe. It’s like the makers had a military fetish and wanted guns strapped to this babysomething that fires napalm, heat seeking missiles, and blows s**t up real good. Nothing else can explain why they so dialled up the volts when they issued this feral expression (unless they were aiming at the crown held by the SMWS Longpond 81.3%).

Rums this strong are like tools built to military specifications: they’re are almost guaranteed to be friggin’ insane and survive a nuclear detonation. But the Diamond Estate 1996 Full Proof is more than just a pair of carbon-forged steel pliers that would crush the huevos of your daughter’s idjit boyfriend with the miniscule pressure of a three-year-old. It’s also an explosive addition to our celebration of overproof badassery. Can you tastefully blow something up with your boutique Panamonte XXV costing more than twice as much? Didn’t think so.

And therein may lie some people’s despite for it. They may not say it’s “too klein,” just that it packs too much punch. But come now: if you complain about the fierce nature of the Diamond you’re missing the point. Yep, of *course* this rum is just like reggae played at earth-moving volumes from speakers like young fridge: if you cringe away and say it’s too strong, well, sorry dude, but you’re too old. And you should switch back to tamer, less inspired, less imaginative forty percenters, good and smooth as they may be. Or, perhaps, to scotch.

D3S_5206-001

(#152. 91/100)


Other notes

  • There’s a weird absence of information on the DDL website about this series of estate rums, and later I found out that Velier has dibs on old barrels in their warehouses, and then creates the final product in EuropeI’m wondering where the ageing is done, though Luca Gargano suggests it is aged in situ.
  • Other expressions in the line are the Skeldon, Versailles, LBI, Port Mourant (there may be yet others)…l’m trying to track them all down.
  • Originated in coffey still and aged in oak from 1996-2011. After my suspicions on the Albion, I make no statements about the veracity of the origin still, but do confirm that it’s a damned good rum.