Aug 172020
 

Mauritius is another one of those rum producing areas that flits in and out of our collective rumconsciousness, and seems to come up for mention mostly (and only) when a blogger checks out a new indie expression (SBS and Velier spring to mind). Cognoscenti might recall Penny Blue, New Grove, Chamarel or Lazy Dodo rums from the graveyard of reviews past, but honestly, when was the last time you saw one yourself, tried one, or even bought one?

St. Aubin is one of the Indian Ocean island distilleries that have been gathering some goodwill of late and should not be left out of anyone’s purchasing calculations, and with good reason: they taste pretty damned good, and they have a long history of both pot and column still production stretching back two centuries. If distribution can be sorted out beyond Europe, and there’s a resumption of the rum festivals where one can find their products, then we can hope their reputation ticks up more than it has so far. This particular rum is the top of their line, being a limited edition of not only a set number of bottles (2,080) but from a particular harvest (2003), cane juice source, completely copper-pot-still distilled, aged a solid ten years and aimed at a wider audience by tamping it down to 43%. Based on those specs it’s practically a must-have,

Certainly the 2003 10 YO does its next-best relative the St. Aubin Grande Reserve (which is itself a combo of 30% pot still 10YO from 2004 and 70% rested 7YO column still juice) quite a bit better, simply by not diluting its own core fully-pot-still essence. This is key to understanding how good the 2003 smells, because it noses cleaner, crisper, even a shade lighterand quite a bit more is going on under there. What was, in the other aged expressions, a sort of sweetness is more delicate here, closer to sugar cane sap and sugar water than the slight heaviness often attendant on molasses based rums. There are aromas of flowers, masala spice, cloves and a dash of cinnamon. And leaving it standing to open up, one gets additional hints of coffee grounds, unsweetened chocolate, and a nice delicate vein of vanilla and citrus.

The oak influence takes on a more dominant note on the palate, which is initially sweet, dry and intense. There’s bitter chocolate, caramel, cinnamon and a vague grassiness more sensed than actually experienced, plus citrus peel, chocolate oranges, cumin and the slightest hint of cilantro. Plus some Fanta and 7-up, which I was not expecting, but no entirely unhappy to taste. The whole drink is clean, crisp and dry, and the gradually emergent and assertive herbals and tart notes make it a pretty nifty neat pour. Finish is not too shabbymedium long, mostly bon-bons, caramel, light flowers and lemon meringue pie.

The cost of this ten year old rum released in 2014 is in the €140 range (when it can be tracked downI found that price in the Mauritius duty free, but not much elsewhere) and this is one of those instances where even with the modest strength, I think it worth picking up if you’re in funds. Because on top of how well it noses and tastes, those stats are impressivepot still, ten years tropical ageing, cane juice distillate, its own peculiar terroire, something not from the Caribbean….that’s pressing a lot of buttons at once. Too often we uncritically and unthinkingly fork out that kind of coin for regularly issued blends, just because of the associated name. The new and the unknown needs to be tried on its own terms as well, and here, I think that for what St. Aubin provides us with and what we get out of it, it’s well worth pausing to try, to share, and to buy.

(#753)(86/100)


A brief history

The Domaine de St. Aubin, named after the first sugar cane mill established by Pierre de St. Aubin in 1819 or thereabouts, is located in the extreme south of Mauritius in the Rivière des Anguilles, and has been cultivating cane since that yearhowever the date of first distillation of spirits is harder to pin downit’s likely within a few decades of the original opening of the sugar factory (there are records of the Harel family starting a distillery which is now New Grove in the 1850s, which also makes the Lazy Dodo brand). In the late 1960s the Franco-Mauritian Guimbeau familywho made their fortune in the tea trade for which Mauritius is also renownedacquired the estate and retained the name, and gradually developed a stable of rums produced both by a pot still (which produces what they term their “artisanal” rums) and a relatively recent columnar still for larger volume agricoles.

Nov 072018
 

“Pungent f*cker, isn’t it?” smirked Gregers, responding to my own incredulous text to him, when I recovered my glottis from the floor where the TECA had deposited and then stomped it flat. Another comment I got was from P-O Côté after the Vale Royal review came out: “Can’t wait to read your thoughts about the TECA…!! … Hard to describe without sounding gross.” And Rumboom remarked on a taste of “sweat” and “organic waste” in their own rundown of the TECA, with another post elsewhere actually using the word “manure.”

I start with these varied comments to emphasize that I am not alone in believing that the TECA is a rum you hold in your trembling hands when surveying the reeking battlefield of the zombie apocalypse. I’m a fairly fit old fart of some mental fortitude, I’ve tasted rums from up and down the quality ladderbut the TECA still left me shell-shocked and shaking, and somewhere I could hear Luca sniggering happily and doing a fist pump. Partly or completely, this was because of the huge ester level the rum displayed -1200 gr/hlpaa (remember, 1600 is the maximum legal limit after which we enter “easily-weaponizable” territory), which the makers, staying within the traditional ester band names, refer to as “Continental Flavoured” but which I just call shattering.

In sampling the initial nose of the third rum in the NRJ series, I am not kidding you when I say that I almost fell out of my chair in disbelief. The aroma was the single most rancid, hogo-laden ester bomb I’d ever experiencedI’ve tasted hundreds of rums in my time, but never anything remotely like this (except perhaps the Japanese Seven Seas rum, and I’d thought that one was a contaminated sample; now, I’m not so sure). All of the hinted-at off-the-wall aromas of the Cambridge were present here, except they were gleefully torqued upa lot. It smelled like the aforementioned tannery gone amok or the hair salon dumping every chemical on the floor (at once) – it was a massive blurt of sulphur, methane, rubber and plastic dissolving in a bubbling pool of ammonia. It smelled like hemp rope and decomposing wet jute bags, joined by something really rancidrotting meat, microwaved fish, and three-day-old roadkill marinating on a hot day next to the asphalt machine. There was the scent of a strong soy-flavoured vegetable soup and spoiling chicken tikka, raw onions and sweat. The clear, fruity ester background was so intense it made the eyes water and the nose pucker, cold and clear and precise, giving rather less enjoyment than a furious bitch slap of sharp pineapples, gooseberries, ginnips, unripe mangoes, salmiak, green apples. I know this sounds like a lot, but the rum’s nose went so far into uncharted territory that I really spent a long time on it, and this is what was there. And at the end, I really couldn’t say I enjoyed itit was just too much, of everything. Hogo is what this kind of rotten meat flavour is calledor rancio or dunder or whateverbut for my money, it stands for “Ho God!!

So that’s bad, right? Reading this, you’d think so. But courage, Sir Knight, hoist up thy codpiece and taste it. The very first expression in that section of my notes is a disbelieving “WTF?” … because it simply dumbfounded mewhere did all the crazy-ass crap go? It tasted of soda popcoke, or fantapersimmons and passion fruits and red currants, sharp and tasty. Salt, brine, bags of olives, plastic, rubber, vanilla, licorice all rubbed shoulders in a melange made pleasant just by comparing it to the trauma of what went before. The rancio and spoiling meat hogo retreated so fast it’s like they just vapourized themselves. The flavours were powerful and intense, yesat 62.5% ABV they could hardly be anything elseand you got much of the same fruitiness that lurked behind the funk of the smells, mangoes, tart gooseberries, red currants, unsweetened yoghurt and sour cream. But the real take away was that the nose and palate diverged so much. Aside from the sharp fruits and receding vegetable soup, there was also pistachio nuts, a sort of woodsy cologne, and even some over-sugared soda pop. And when I hit the finish line, it exhaled with a long sigh redolent of more pistachios, vanilla, anise, soy, olives and a veritable orchard of rotting fruits and banana skins.

The Long Pond TECA rum from National Rums of Jamaica is a grinning ode to excess of every kind. Given the profile I describe above (especially how it smelled) I think it took real courage for Luca to release it, and it once again demonstrates that he’s willing to forego initial sales to show us something we have not seen before, point us in a direction at odds with prevailing trends. It’s certainly uniqueLuca remarked to me that it was probably the first time anyone had ever released such a high-ester well-aged Long Pond, and I agree. So far we’ve seen that the low-level-ester Vale Royal was a lovely, near-traditional Jamaican rum that edged gently away from more familiar island profiles, and the mid-level-ester Cambridge dared to step over the line and become something remarkably different, with strong tastes that almost redefined Jamaican and provided a taste profile that was breathtakingif not entirely something I cared for. But the TECA didn’t edge towards the line, it didn’t step over itit was a rum that blasted way beyond and became something that knocked me straight into next week. This was and will remain one of the most original, pungently unbelievable, divisive rums I’ve tried in my entire writing career, because, quite frankly, I believe it’s a rum which few outside the deep-dive rum-junkies of the Jamaican style will ever like. And love? Well, who knows. It may yet grow on me.

(#565)(79/100)


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums. For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavoursthey are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  • Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  • Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  • Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  • Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info. Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many yearsrest in a barrel.

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries. It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV 0-20
CQV 20-50
LRM 50-90
ITP /LSO 90-120
HJC / LIB 120-150
IRW / VRW 150-250
HHH / OCLP 250-400
LPS 400-550
STC❤E 550-700
TECA 1200-1300
TECB 1300-1400
TECC 1500-1600

The Estate Name:

It’s unclear whether the TECA stands for Tilston Estate, one of the estates that got subsumed into Long Pond in the wave of consolidations in the 1940s and 1950s (this is the theory to which Luca subscribes), or for Trelawny Estates, the umbrella company created in the 1950s before being taken over by the Government and renamed National Rums of Jamaica. This is where some additional research is needednobody has written (so far) on the meaning of the “CA”, though given the Long Pond marks listed above, it’s reasonable to suppose it’s Tilston/Trelawny Estate, Continental Type A (as opposed to “B” or “C” with progressively higher ester levels. The various histories of Long Pond written by Barrel Aged Thoughts, the Cocktail Wonk and DuRhum provide useful background reading, though they do not settle the mark designation issue conclusively one way or the other.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Feb 132018
 

Rumaniacs Review #073 | 0488

So here we’re moving Neissons into the 2000’s series of rums and leaving the 1990s behind. Those were pretty good, all of them, so did that track record of cool continue? I think so. What strikes me about all these Neissons of whatever age or provenance, is their overall consistency. There are points of difference in all of them, of course, but I would be hard pressed to do a blind horizontal tasting and be able to tell you which one was whichthey all cluster around the same level of quality. And no matter which one you get, there’s hardly a dog in the lineup, and if one or two don’t ascend to the heights, that’s still no reason to give them a miss.

ColourAmber

Strength – 43.1%

NoseThis is well assembled, presenting light melded aromas of tequila (including the salt and lemon) and brown sugar, dusted with herbs: dill, sage and a little thyme. The brininess is held back nicely and with the citrust zest threading through it, what I recall most clearly is a Thai curry with lime leaves thrown in. Aside from these more dominant scents, there’s also some peaches, cucumbersand a waft of a delicate perfume, like Anaïs-Anaïs, maybe. Overall, a really good nose.

PalateThe lightness continues, if somewhat at right angles to what the nose suggested, even if much of the good was retained. Aromatic tobacco, fireplace ashes, vanilla, those herbs again, sweet red olives (the brine, it should be noted, as with the nose, was dialled down here), lemon peel, tumeric and cumin. Although the 43.1% is a delicate in terms of the components, overall the mouthfeel seems a little rough, and I no longer wonder that it wasn’t made a shade stronger.

FinishLight and somewhat short, no surprise. Sugar water infused with green tea, cumin, a little fruitiness and flowers.

ThoughtsNot the best of the lot, no. It’s got some character, a little roughness, and somewhat less of the fine integration of the 1993 (R-069) or 1994 (R-070). But for something this young to be as good as it is, now that’s a fine feat by any yardstick.

(84/100)


Laurent hasn’t dealt with this one in his four-part Neisson roundup (see Parts [1][2][3][4]), but WhiskyFun did indeed look at it in his multi-rum session, here. He scored it 86.

Jan 162018
 

#479

We’re on something of a Jamaican rum kick for a week or two, because leaving aside Barbados, they’re the ones getting all the press, what with Worthy Park and Hampden now putting out the juice, Long Pond getting back in on the act, Monymusk and New Yarmouth lurking behind the scenes, and remember JB Charley with its interesting hooch? And of course behind them all, Appleton / J. Wray remains the mastodon of the island whose market share everyone wants a bite of.

While Worthy Park’s three new 2017 pot still offerings are definitely worth a buy, and Hampden is putting some big footprints into the sands of the beach, I still have a thing for Long Pond myselfthis comes directly from that famous and oh-so-tasty G&M 1941 58 year old I value so highly and share around so much. Alas, the only place one is going to get a Long Pond rum these days (until they reopen for business, for which many are waiting with bated and boozy breath) is from the independents, and Compagnie des Indes was there to satisfy the need: so far I think they have about twenty Jamaicans in the stable, of which three or four are from Long Pond and I think they’re all sourced from Scheer or the Main Rum Company in Europe. (Note: The best online background and historical data on Long Pond currently extant is on the site of that rabid Jamaican-loving rum-chum, the Cocktail Wonk, here and here).

Moving on to tasting notes, I have to say that when the bottle was cracked and I took a hefty snootful of the pale yellow rum, I was amazed at the similarity to (and divergence from) the G&M 1941 that was over four times olderthere was that same wax and turpentine opening salvo which was augmented by phenols, rubber and some vague, musky Indian spices. Honey and brine, olives, a few sharp red peppers (gone quickly), and a generous serving of the famous funk, crisp fruits and light flowers. It was well assembled, just a shade vague, as if not entirely sure what it wanted to be.

Never mind. The palate was where the action was. Although the bottling at 44% ABV was not entirely enough to bring out all the subtleties, there was more than enough to keep the glass filled several times as I leaned back and took my time sampling it over an hour or so. It began soft and warm with bananas, honey, whipped cream, a little salt caramel, and a little rye bread, aromatic wood chips (I hesitate to say cedar, but it was close). Then the ester brass band came marching on through, providing the counterpointcitrus, tart apples, cider, green grapes, and was that a flirt of cumin and curry I sensed? It came together in a nice tantara of a long, warm and spicy finish that wasn’t particularly original, just tried to sum up the experience by re-presenting the main themeslight fruity notes, some salt, olives and caramel, and a final leaf-blade of lemon peel holding it all together.

Long Pond is known for its high ester count of its rums and that over-the-top funky flavour profile, so what I tasted, tamed as it was by the relatively unassertive proof point, came as no surprise and was a pleasant reminder of how very well properly-made, lovingly-aged Jamaican rums can be. This standard proof rum was issued for the general market with 384 bottles and as far as I know there’s no cask strength or “Danish market” edition floating around. But that’s not really a problem, since that makes it something everyone can appreciate, not just the A-types who cut cask strength rums with cask strength whisky. Whatever you preference in these matters, the CdI Long Pond 12 remains a tasty, low key Jamaican that isn’t trying to rip your face off and pour fire down you throat, just present the estery, funky Jamaican rum in its best lightwhich this it does with delicacy, finesse, and no problems at all. It’s a really good twelve year old rum.

(85/100)


Other notes

 

Aug 102017
 

#382

Renegade rums continue to hold a peculiar sort of fascination for me, because they were the first rums made by any outfit other than the big island producers or major corporations with which I came into contact. They made it into Canada just as I was starting my rum scribbles, and were the only ones I saw for many years. Given our current familiarity with unadulterated rums made by independents, and adding to that something of a nostalgia factor, perhaps this Port Mourant succeeds better than it should, but I guess by the end of this review you can decide for yourself.

The bio of the company that got posted earlier this week provides most of the details of Renegade itself, so I won’t rehash them here. This rum adheres to all the usual markers of the range: distilled in 2003, bottled in 2009 at the standard 46%, sourced from casks of juice from DDL’s Port Mourant wooden still (which raises certain expectations, naturally enough), and there’s that finish in Temperanillo casks for a few months (for the curious, Temperanillo is a rather full bodied red wine made from blue-black grapes in Spain). Also, and this is important, what we have here is not a single cask bottling, but many casks married together as part of Renegade’s production philosophy, and that’s is why the outturn is 6,650 bottles, and why, just maybe, you might still be able to get one with some judicious rumhounding.

And I think that would be a good thing, because this was a rum that channeled the spirit of the Port Mourant profile without entirely bowing to it, and provided an interesting twist on a well-known rum marque. That’s no idle fancy of mine either: when I nosed it for the first time I was looking for some of those deep woody, fruity and anise notesnone appeared. In fact the first aromas were of glue, rubber, brine, lemon-pepperand beef stock (no, really). Then came the olives, gherkins in vinegar and more brine, leather and smoke, coffee grounds, some vague caramels, pencil shavings, vanilla, oakbut where was the fruity stuff? I mean, it was good, it was intriguing, it had character, but it did depart from the norm, too, and not everyone will like that.

Photo (c) Master Quill

The taste of the pale-yellow rum was also quite engaging: it was clear and clean, quite dry, and seemed stronger than it actually was (perhaps because it was so relatively young, or because it presented as ‘light’again, not what one would normally associate with a PM). Initial tastes were of fruitwhite guavas, green apples, anjou pears and papaya, plus a tiny twist of lemonbefore other background flavours emerged, mostly leather, smoke, pencil shavings, musty hay, cardboard and vanilla. With water some more fruit crept out, nothing specific (maybe a grape or two), and the impression I was left with was more brandy than rum. Frankly, this did not resemble a Port Mourant at all. A note should also be made of a sort of minerally, ashy thing going on throughout, faint but noticeable and thankfully it was too feeble to derail the overall experience. The finish, though oddly short, was excellentwarm, easy, with citrus and raisins, some very weak molasses, and (finally!!) a flirt of licorice.

The profile as described above is exactly why I’ve always scratched my head about Renegade. I believed then (and now) that their finishing philosophy was hit-or-miss and sometimes detracted from what I felt would be an exceptional rum if left to its own devices. I imagine Mr. Reynier would disagree since this departure from the norm was exactly what he was after, and indeed, there were aspects of the overall experience here that proved his pointthis rum may have originated from a set of PM barrels as modified by Temperanillo finishing, but what went into the bottles at the other end was a fascinating synthesis that might be difficult to define or even identify as a PM rum. Which is both a rum geek’s attraction and a newbie’s despite.

On balance, I liked it a lot for its originality and daring, perhaps not so much for the final assembly and integrationa little more ageing might have done well, maybe a little less tinkering. Still, the wine finish, however polarizing, was worn with panache and verve, and if the rum ran headlong into the wall in its desire to show off new ways to present old workhorses, well, y’know, I can respect thatespecially since the rum as tasted wasn’t half bad to me. It may have lacked the dark brooding Port Mourant cask-strength menace to which Velier accustomed us, it may be a rum made by and for whisky makersbut I honestly believe that it was too well made to ignore entirely. Then and now.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

Alex over at Master Quill, who hails from somewhat more of a whisky background than I do, knowing my liking for the brand, very kindly sent me the sample, which in turn he did not like as much as I did. His review is definitely worth a look.

 

Dec 042016
 

aldea-superior-1

#322

With respect to companies which don’t want to make (or be seen to make) spiced or flavoured sugar bombs, it’s always instructive to observe the techniques that they use to avoid the dreaded “A” word. Some play with ageing or blends, some with finishing (the new El Dorado 15 year old series comes to mind), some with unorthodox schemes (like Lost Spirits or 7 Fathoms), some with toasting, but all are trying to do the same thingimpart an extra smidgen of taste to their rum, without actually adding anything to it, which I’m sure makes any rum nerd’s heart pitter-patter happily. Ron Aldea, a rum company from the Canary Islands, in the place of combined finishing and ageing regimes such as Gold of Mauritius and Mauritius Club utilize, prefer to experiment with their cask strategyin this case they used brand new American oak barrels with heavy toasting levels, which I take to mean an inordinate level of charbut fortunately without any wine or port sloshing around inside. 1

For those who didn’t read about the Caña Pura White Rum (I felt it tried unsuccessfully to straddle some kind of middle ground between soft mixer and individualistic white), it’s worth mentioning that all Ron Alddea’s rums derive from cane juice distilled to 62% in a 150-year-old, wood-fire-fed double column copper stillmade by the French firm Egrottin the Canary Islands. For those interested in historical details of the company itself, the Caña Pura review has it at the bottom of the page.

aldea-superior-3This particular rum, renamed the Maestro for the 2016 release season, was the 2013 edition limited to 9258 bottles, and dialled way down to 40%. It was a darkish gold colour, and initially presented a nose that was quite lovelybreathy even (“Hi sailor-manwant a good time?…”) before thinning out and gasping for air, which is a characteristic all 40% rums share, unfortunately. Still, all was not lostfresh peaches and apricots were there, weak but accessible, plus clearer, purer aromascucumbers, pears, sugar water, cut grass in rain, herbals, and a last rounding off of vanillas and a vague bitterness of oak. Char or no char, ten years in new oak was discernible, though well handled and not overbearing,

The agricole origin of the rum (perhaps I should call it rhum) develops from the hints given in the nose, and blossoms into something much more in the realm of such products: grassy, clear vegetals; more peaches and apricots and softer fruits, yet with some tartness, like unripe but yellow mangoes, under which coiled a creamier background of soft sweet white chocolate coffee and sugaralmost a cappuccino. The divergence from the norm came with an odd taste of ashy mineral-like notes that fortunately stayed well in the background, but were definitely noticeable. The finish was about standard for a 40% rumshort and heated, quite nice in its own waynot overly complex, just as comfortable and easy as an old chesterfield, with closing hints of chocolate and vanilla, and very little of the spicier, fruity notes. Perhaps that was to its detrimentthe integration of these various tastes matters, and here it was impossible to pick apart individual notesbut I acknowledge that’s a matter of private opinion. And as a matter of record, I did enjoy the Superior quite a bit.

Overall, for its strength and age it’s a pretty good mid-tier rum (or rhum). It’s not as distinctive as the El Dorados, say, or the various Jamaicans, or even those from St Lucia or the French islands, but I’m not sure that’s the intent. Santiago Bronchales, who I’ve been watching and talking to since his involvement in the interesting if flawed Ocean’s rum, is more of an experimenter, not a copier or a follower-on of old traditional rum profiles, and likes to go in original directions. He takes what he can, does what he is allowed, and is trying to come up with his own version of the perfect profile at the strength he knows will sell. The Superior 10 year old he’s made here is another step on the road to discovery of his own personal truth, and is an interesting rum to try when you have the chance.

(83/100)

Jun 032015
 

D3S_9106

***

Sweet enough to appeal, smooth enough to enjoy, complex enough to admire. Solid, succulent Bajan rum from 2003, a cut above the ordinary, just like its 2001 brother.

Why Fabio Rossi, the gentleman behind Rum Nation, keeps referring to his Bajan offerings as “entry level” is beyond me. ‘Cause like Mr. Gump, I may not be a smart man, but I know what entry level is. This is a few notches higher, and that it can do what it does with what for me is a relative anemic 40% strength, is no mean achievement in a pantheon dominated by R.L. Seale, Mount Gay, Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey.

That said, it does lack some of that distinctive complexity of character that would make me rank it higher. Consider first the nose of the orange-brown rum: like many of Rum Nation’s products there is that olfactory sense of sinking into the soft ease of a plush chesterfield, with which which any consumer of Barbados rums would be quite happy. Bananas, brown sugar and taffy, some crushed hazelnuts, almonds, and an odd spray of cough drops stealing through the back end (cough drops?…I tried again, and yes, that’s what it nosed like).

To taste, that depth of lushness continued, though the rum presented as a somewhat lighter, even “Spanish” style of mouthfeel. It moved away from the brown sugar and caramel, and provided initial flavours of smoke and vanillas that the oak had imparted; yet also more sweetness and smoothness here, like running our spoon through a ripe papaya. Some kick of not-quite-ripe apricots, a bit of green grape, kiwi fruit, aromatic pipe tobacco, a bit of dry mustoverall, a very unaggressive, quite friendly rum, extremely accessible. The finish was not too shabby for a standard strength rum: shorter than I might have wished for, but still impressively redolent of caramel, burnt sugar and smoky notes.

You could mix the rum, I suppose, though with something this easy-going, I question why. It has few of the jagged edges that a cocktail might seek to smoothen out, or enhance. I think it’s fine to have neatits strength (or lack thereof) makes that no chore at all. In any case, Rum Nation has never really hewed to the elemental brutality of full proof rums issued by the Scots, or Velier, or Samaroli. They strike me as closer in philosophy to Plantation, with their finishing strategy, dosage. and slightly more voluptuous profiles. In that sense, to me, it is better than the rum many use as their Bajan baseline, the Mount Gay XO, and for sure I enjoyed it more than the Cockspur 12. It actually has more in common with some of FourSquare’s rums, but that’s just me.

According to Mr. Rossi, the rum is derived from Barbados molasses distilled in a column still, aged in American oak barrels in the Caribbeanno mention where, I suppose we can assume also in Barbadosbefore being shipped off to be finished for 18-24 months in Italy, in ex-Spanish brandy casks before bottling. As a point of interest, unlike the 2001 RN Barbados 10 year old, this rum did not come from the West Indies Refinery, though you’d be hard pressed to put the two side by side, taste them blind, and know which was which. Although not eplicitly mentioned anywhere, I was told that it was from Mount Gay.

Like Plantation, Rum Nation has been catching some flak recently for adding sugar to their rums. I guess people are having some difficulty marrying the generally positive reviews out there (mine among them) with the mere suggestion of saccharine inclusion. Now I acknowledge the influence that sugar has in making this rum what it is (and that’s not a negative opinion), but am also aware this is a deliberate choice to create the final product, not to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or deliberately tart up and obscure an inferior piece of crapI’ve spent too much money on, and sampled too many of, RN’s rums, old and young, to believe that for a moment.

In any event, I can tell you that here Rum Nation has produced an affordable, pleasant and drinkable spirit, one I enjoyed thoroughly and would happily buy again. I may ultimately prefer my high-end aged agricoles and full proof twenty-plus year old taste-bombs, but that is no reason not to give this softer, younger Bajan a whirl. Even if you believe, as its maker does, that it’s “just an entry level rum.”

Because that it isn’t, not really.

(#217. 86/100)


Other notes

  • New bottle design introduced in the 2014 season
  • 8118 bottles outturn

 

May 122013
 

D3S_5540

Schizoid, androgynous, curious rum. Too well made to ignore, but not appealing enough to collect.

Right during the tasting, before I had done a single bit of research or perused the label beyond the obvious, I looked at my glass, smacked my not quite toothless gums and opined loudly and dogmatically (if not quite coherently) to an empty house that this was a rum from the Foursquare distillery in Barbados.

You might well ask whether my snoot is that good (it’s not), my memory that clear (it’s not) or I knew it for sure (I didn’t). It was more a process of elimination from the Bajan rum canonit was too clear taste-wiseand not soft enoughto be a St Nicholas Abbey, lacked the discombobulated, raw nature of the Cockspur and sure wasn’t a Mount Gay. That didn’t leave much, no matter how or with what cask Renegade decided to finish it.

Take the opening: soft, flowery, dark sugars, bananas and unsweetened dark chocolate. A bit sharp (it was bottled at 46%, so, okay). Red grapes just starting to go off, bananas, orange peel (not anything sharper like grapefruit or lemon), and a final flirt of cherries, yet overall, the scents married uneasily, resulting in something vaguely androgynous, neither strong or puissant enough to be a bellowing buccaneer (it waved the cutlass to genteelly for that) nor weak enough to be an underproofit was an uneasy mix of delicacy and clarity without strength of real character (did someone say “Prince Myshkyn”?).

D3S_5543

No relief on the palate, however original it turned out to be. The medium bodied amber spirit was drier than I expected, and even a bit briny, and pulled an interesting rabbit out of the bottleit tasted good enough, full enough, to seem more robust than it actually was. Bananas and white chocolate, a certain creaminess (like unsalted butter, really), white guavas and pecans. I know this sounds odd, but it almost seemed a shadecrunchy. It’s the craziest thing, a sort of dichotomy between the taste and the nose that had heat and citrus-plus-grapes to sniff, yet more settled and softer to sip, finishing off with a sweet, dry exit, segueing into final notes of bananas, apricots and salt biscuits.

I have some mixed feelings on the Renegade here, admiring its professional make and the clarity of the various notes, without actually enjoying the overall experience due to a discordance in the overall marriage of constituent elements. It’s not a bad rum at all, just not one I really felt like raving about to any who would listen. Yet I cannot help but admire how Renegade doesn’t really carethey tried for something off the reservation, and they succeeded. It’s original, that’s for sure.

Unlike most of the Renegades I’ve tried thus far, the label gave me little to work with on the details (I like knowing as much about a rum as possible when doing the write-up). Nothing about the finishing which Bruichladdich usually likes to trumpet front and center, for exampleI don’t know why, so here’s what my research (and the bottle) did bring up. Pot still origin. Finished in Ribero del Duero casksthis is a fruity red wine from north central Spain, which explained something of the profile. Yes, the Foursquare distillery supplied the rum, so I called it on that onethough it wasn’t until I took a hard look at the label that I saw it self-evidently mentioned. I should get my glasses changed, or perhaps research before I drink, not after.

D3S_5538

But it’s not that any of this matters, really. I’ve said before that Renegades are something of an acquired taste, should never be one’s first try at a rum, and are all quite fascinatingly differentthis may be, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, because they are made by whisky makers for whisky drinkers with rummies perhaps as an afterthought. They fail to craft a consistent rum from one bottle to the next (the variations in the line are occasionally awe-inspiring) but they know that the best way to approach making any of them is with a bold and unapologetic take-that attitude that finds ‘em swinginghardfor the fences, every time, with a sort of giddy, joyous abandon one simply has to admire. So, the end product may not always be what we expectbut man, it’s like watching a Sobers, Worrell, Lloyd or Lara on a weird day. It’s never, ever boring.

(#161. 82/100)


Other Notes

 

Mar 142013
 

To date, the only A.D. Rattray rum I’ve tried was the excellent Caroni 1997, which was quite impressive, if no longer readily available. To this is now added their Barbados 9 year old, also bottled at 46%, non chill filtered, with exactly zero additives, very much in line with the puritan, zen-like production ethic that so characterizes, oh, Cadenhead. This one was taken from a single barrel for the likker establishment “Wine & Beyond” in Edmonton (they have a few others as well, but my slender purse ran out and Mrs. Caner was watching).

I must say that after decanting this honey-hay-blonde rum into the glass, my first thought on nosing it was a rather startled “This smells like Thai food.” No, really. Sweet, and salty, with faint fruity and vegetal notes, and quite dry at first blush. I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it, but then it kinda won me over, because the aromas morphed into a herbal, burnt lemon-grass smell, which then stopped being pissy, and comfortably settled into cherries, fleshy apricots just on the edge of too ripe, and a subtle light honey. It was like breaking in a new armchair that was too stiff at the outset, but then conformed to my buttprint after I had reposed in it for a while.

This medium bodied rum was initially spicy, sharpfollowing on from the nose, and probably due to the 46% ABV bottling strengthas well as dry. It rewarded some time for it to have those alcohol fumes to burn off, and then the rather stern, starch-stiff lead-in flowed into a warm and fuzzy embrace, as if a nun stooped to hug me and it became a teddy bear. Really, it followed on from the nose like Mary’s little lamb (if not so gentle) – those sweet/salt notes were there again, followed by a smoky background, and then a softer, creamier taste, quite pleasing, of soft white guavas and bananas. The palate then took me by the hand and sat me down with a flourish of burnt sugarthe grassy hints from the nose were as gone as yesterday’s news. And it all segued into a long and warm and dry finish, with final hints of leather, smoke and caramel.

Note the difference with the Coruba 12 year old “Cigar” I looked at not too long ago. In that product, the lightness, the smokiness, the overall mouthfeel and exit were simply not that pleasant for a rum so agedA.D.Rattray have managed to take a younger rum and keep the character while losing the bitchiness. Granted the source stock was from two separate islands with different distillation methodologies and starting points, yet to my mind the ADR Barbados 9 year old succeeded in combining its core elements in a way that the Jamaican product did not.

Foursquare distillery is one of four rum producers left in Barbadosthe others are Mount Gay (of course), WIRD and St. Nicholas Abbey. The first is something of the big guy (reputation-wise) on the block, the second a behemoth which does noting special and specializes in bulk sales, and the last is a micro-boutique establishment, several orders smaller. Foursquare, part of R.L.Seale & Co and owned and managed by Sir David Seale, sits somewhere in the middle (a good link on the MoR which describes it, is here). They also make the Doorly’s line, with which I have always been unimpressed, but fair is fair: I have not seen enough of their products to make any kind of generalized statements about them.

Summing up: this rum is a spirit meant for those who know what they like, and have slept around a bit in the caramel boudoirs of the rum tasting world. Please don’t take offense if I remark that it should not be the first rum you ever try. I consider it to be a rum very much in the Renegade veinlimited, distinct, with a character and a profile very much its own, that makes no attempt to hew to any kind of generalized “let’s see how many people we can please” philosophy. It’s too early for me to say if the other ADR products I saw that day are as good as the Caroni, or how the overall line will pan out: as far as this one goes, it’s quite a good dram, which should simply be treated with a little respect and a little care, otherwise you might find yourself dismissing it too quickly, to your own detriment.

(#149. 83.5/100)


Other notes

  • Cask #15, 363 bottles. Distilled 2003, bottled 2012.
  • Update, July 2021 – This is a very dated bottling, and provides an interesting insight into how Foursquare was perceived at the time (2012-2013).
  • There is no indication on the bottle as to whether it is pot- or column-still or a blend of both.