May 202021
 

These days, most rumistas are aware of the Scandinavian company 1423 and their upscale rum brand of the SBS (Single Barrel Selections, even though they sometimes aren’t). In the last five years this small Danish outfit has become a much bigger Danish outfit, not just bottling the upmarket connoisseur’s series of the cask strength single barrel releases, but whole blended lines like the Compañero rums, and occasionally horse trading barrels and supplies with other companies (the Romdeluxe R.1 Wild Tiger, for example, was originally a 1423 import).

But back when this Barbadian rum came on the scene in 2016, they were known primarily in Denmark, even though they had already been in the business of bottling and distribution for eight years by then and had had some success on the larger European rum scene. Not surprisingly, they bought and buy barrels from European brokers (like Scheer, of courseafter all, who doesn’t?) and perhaps what enthused them about the Bajan barrel were the stats: distilled in 2000 at WIRD, sixteen years old, a solid 54%, enough for 224 bottles, and deriving from a pot still. That last might have clinched the sale, since most of what the drinking public was getting from the island at that point was pot-column blended rum. A pot distillate was something rather more interesting.

The year 2000 delivered quite a few Barbadian rums from WIRD to the indie scene: Serge looked at a Cave Guildive 2000-2015 version in 2017 (87 points), one from Whisky Broker a year later (86). Single Cask Rum has probably reviewed the most, here, here, here and here, with the attendant curiosity of referring to them as originating off the Rockley Still when they likely are not (see discussion below this post). Be that as it may, they were and remain quite unique in taste, and this one was no different. The initial nose, for example, started off very traditionally with papaya, bananas, fresh whipped cream…and some light petrol, diesel on a hot asphalt road, and tar fumes. There were hints of something medicinal, iodine-like and almost peaty notes, but very much in the background (where it belonged, trust me). Resting and coming back suggested we had just gone down the rabbit hole and entered the Hatter’s Tea Party: cookies and cream with some green tea, cucumber sandwiches on white bread (no crusts), delicate florals, light fruitiness and it was all I could do to not to think that this had one of the most completely weird aromas I’d experienced in quite a whilewhich is not, you understand, a bad thingjust an unexpected one.

Anyway, it must be said that the taste was better behaved. Again there was that fruity line coiling around the slightly heavier creamier notes. Citrus, tangerines, kiwi and pears set alongside vanilla, salt caramel, dark honey and Danish cookies. Also bananas and papayas plus a touch of tart and unsweetened yoghurt, very well balanced. The medicinal, rubber, petrol and tar notes took a step backward here, so that while they could be sensed, they didn’t overwhelmstill, they distracted somewhat, and the integration into the greater whole wasn’t of the best. The finish was fine, redolent of iodine and soya, gherkins and again, all those light fruits and a touch of whipped cream and cookies.

The rum, then, was quite original, and now, reading around the other reviews of that year’s products after tasting mine, it doesn’t seem my experience was unique. This was certainly some kind of pot still action, and while it could have been made better, it wasn’t a bad rum. Last week I remarked on the weakness and flaccidity of a standard strength 8YO WIRD rum released in 2003 at 42%. I always hesitate to put the blame of such mediocrity solely on the level of proof and years spent sleepingbecause many other things impact profile, light rums do have their charms, and those who specialize in wines and lower strength spirits can often find much to enjoy there. But when one tries another WIRD that is aged twice as long and nearly half again as strong, from another still, the impacts of age and strength and apparatus are undeniable. The SBS Barbados 2000 is not a top tier rum, it’s still seeking a balance it never findsbut it sure isn’t boring, or forgettable.

(#822)(85/100)


NotesThe RockleyStill

Many producers, commentators and reviewers, myself among them, refer to the pot still distillate from WIRR/WIRD as Rockley Still rum, and there are several who conflate this with “Blackrock”, which would include Cadenhead and Samaroli (but not 1423, who refer to this rum specifically as simply coming from a “pot still” at “West Indies”one assumes they were still getting their knowledge base up to scratch at that point, and Joshua Singh confirmed for me that it was indeed a “Blackrock style” rum).

Based on the research published by Cedrik (2018) and Nick Arvanitis (2015) as well as some digging around on my own, here are some clarifications. None of it is new, but some re-posting is occasionally necessary for such articles to refresh and consolidate the facts.

“Blackrock” refers to WIRD as a whole, since the distillery is located next to an area of that name in NW Bridgetown (the capital), which was once a separate village. In the parlance, then, the WIRD distillery was sometimes referred to as “Blackrock” though this was never an official titlewhich didn’t stop Cadenhead and others from using it. There is no “Blackrock Still” and never has been.

Secondly, there is a “Rockley” pot still, which had possibly been acquired by a company called Batson’s (they were gathering the stills of closing operations for some reason) when the Rockley Distillery shutteredNick suggests it was transformed into a golf course in the late 1800s / early 1900s but provides no dates, and there is indeed a Rockley Resort and golf club in the SE of Bridgetown today. But I can’t find any reference to Batson’s online at all, nor the precise date when Rockley’s went belly-upit is assumed to be at least a century ago. Nick writes that WIRD picked up a pot still from Batson’s between 1905 and 1920 (unlikely to be the one from Rockley), and it did work for a bit, but has not been operational since the 1950s.

This then leads to the other thread in this story which is the post-acquisition data provided by Alexandre Gabriel. In a FB video in 2018, summarized by Cedrik in his guest post on Single Cask, he noted that WIRD did indeed have a pot still from Batson’s acquired in 1936 which was inactive, as well as another pot still, the Rockley, which they got that same year, also long non-functional. What this means is that there is no such thing as a rum made on the Rockley still in the post-1995 years of the current rum renaissance, and perhaps even earlierthe labels are all misleading.

The consensus these days is that yet a third pot stillacquired from Gregg’s Farms in the 1950s and which has remained operational to this dayprovided the distillate for those rums in the last twenty years which bear the name Blackrock or Rockley. However, Cedrik adds that some of the older distillate might have come from the triple chamber Vulcan still which was variously stated as being inactive since the 1980s or 2000 (depending on the interview) and it was later confirmed that the most famous Rockley vintages from 1986 and 2000 were made with a combination of the Vulcan (used as a wash still) and the Gregg (as a spirit still).

Yet, as Cedrik so perceptively notes, even if there is no such thing as a Rockley-still rum, there is such a thing as a Rockley style. This has nothing to do with the erroneous association with a non-functional named still. What it is, is a flavour profile. It has notes of iodine, tar, petrol, brine, wax and heavier pot still accents, with honey and discernible esters. It is either loved or hated but very noticeable after one has gone through several Barbados rums. Marco Freyr often told me he could identify that profile by smell alone even if the bottler did not state it on the label, and I see no reason to doubt him.


 

May 062021
 

The rums of the Reunion Island company Savanna span a wide stylistic gamut, depending on the source material (juice or molasses, for they utilize both), which still made them, and how many esters stuck around for the party (this is particularly the case with the high ester still Savanna casually uses to smack the unsuspecting and unwary into next week).

Perhaps taking a leaf out of Velier’s book, they also release a whole raft of “sets” or typesfor example, the Lontan (Grand Arôme / high ester rhums based on long fermentation times of up to 15 days), Creol (aged and unaged agricoles), Intense (molasses based, occasionally finished, aged and unaged), or Métis (blends of agricole and molasses rums). And that’s not even counting the cool-named varieties within those sets, like “Thunderstruck,” “Chai Humide,” “Wild Island,” or the utterly prosaic put-me-to-sleep-please “Belgium.” They seem to have no particular interest in releasing things at a consistent strength and you’ll find rums at standard strength right up to 67% (a 2019 creol I still get delicious nightmares about).

Unsurprisingly, there’s an enormous variation of tastes in these rumsperhaps only the Guadeloupe boys can boast anything that jumps around the flavour wheel as much. You cannot make any predeterminations on “what I expect” with this distillery, and it would be foolhardy to try. I’ve tasted those that are heavy on fruits, others that are more creamy or yeasty or flowery or creamy or are dark, light, heavy, solid, flaky….well, you get my drift.

Still, this 57% ABV grand arôme, which was released in 2016 for La Maison Du Whisky’s 60th Anniversary (they went into partnership with Velier the following year and formed LM&V), seemed at pains to make the point yet again. In this case, it clearly wanted to channel a cachaca duking it out with a DOK, for it nosed pretty much like they were having a serious disagreement: vegetables and oversweet fruits decomposing on a hot day in a market someplace tropical; herbs, wet grass, sweet pickles, hot dog relish (I know what this sounds like!); sugar water; iodine, papaya, strawberries; wax, brine and cucumbers in a light pimento-soaked vinegar. I mean, seriously, does that remind you of any rum you’ve ever tried? I both liked it and wondered where the rum was hiding.

In fairness, the taste was pretty good and conformed more to the ideals. 57% was a good strength for it, and even with the slight roughness of it being unaged, it wasn’t savage, just warm and firm. It tasted initially of brine and olives and then did a switcheroo to light anise and sugar water, fresh sugar cane sap bleeding off the stalk, combined with the tartness of unripe white fruit (guavas, soursop, pears), orange peel and some delicate flowers. A touch of caramel, toffee, breakfast spices, ginger, nutmeg, rosemary and cinnamon, maybe. It fell apart on the finish, alasthat was short, watery, thin, somewhat sweet and lacking any of the complexity with just some herbs, mint, dill, anise and swank drifting away into nothingness.

In other words, the rum started out strongand startlingthat nose really was somethingand then each successive stage was weaker than the one before it. That it had more complexity and style than most whites is undeniable, it just wasn’t assembled that well (which is a purely personal opinion, of course). Why LMDW would release an unaged Savanna rum for a major anniversary at a time when Reunion wasn’t much appreciated and super-aged rums were much more likely to attract attention and money, is anyone’s guess. It’s also a peculiarity of the rum that it comes from molasses but through some weird alchemy of the process, actually tastes more like an agricole, which I’m sure you’ll admit is quite a neat trick.

The Fat Rum Pirate in his four-star 2017 review of this rum, remarked “This won’t be for everyone but [..] but whilst similar to other high ABV whites, it has enough going on to be different.” That encapsulates my own feelings as well: while I enjoy (and sometimes fear) the untamed ferocity of the clairins, the Guyanese and Jamaican unaged crazies, or the more refined French island blancs, I also appreciate something original which has the courage to go off on a tangent, before somehow coming together as a recognizably good rum. This one shows that happening in fine style and I’m happy to have had the chance to try it.

(#818)(82/100)


Other notes

  • The LMDW 60th Anniversary release has a 1,000-bottle outturn. Bottle number noted on the label
  • As before, thanks and a hat tip to Nico Rumlover for the sample. His unscored tasting notes can be found here.

Opinion

I’ve heard it bruited about from time to time (by the social media commentariat and never-silent chatterati) that rums which sport labels with [a number plus the word “Anniversary”] are presenting a deliberately misleading faux-age-statement. I completely understand how any minor confusion could arisewhen a rum says “50 Yearsin large attention-grabbing typeface and then the Lilliputian wordAnniversarybarely visible below that, then the case is easy to make (looking at you, El Dorado, ignoring you, Plantation).

In the main, however, I disagree with the premise. It presupposes an erroneous and all-encompassing assumption of blinkered stupidity by rum drinkers who can’t differentiate the word “anniversary” from the termyears oldwhen buying something upscale. Sometimes, such commentators really should extend consumers the courtesy of not thinking they (the consumers) automatically morons just because they (the talkers) know a smidgen more. Though to be fair, consumers really do owe it to themselves as well to pay close attention to what they’re buying.

May 032021
 

This is not the first Demerara rum that the venerable Italian indie bottler Moon Import has aged in sherry barrels: the superb 1974 30 Year Old, and several other over their limited rums releases, have also shared in this peculiarity. However, the results are somewhat hit or miss, because while the 30 YO scored a solid and deserved 90 points, this one doesn’t play in that league, however well-aged it may be. It’s entirely possible that this is because the rum is not an Enmore still rum at all, as the label implies, but from the Versailles single wooden pot still.

One wonders if the rum’s profile can settle this, since I’ve noted that labels from Moon Import tend to be rather careless in their wording (when a Port Mourant rum can be referred to as a “rum agricol” you know somebody is asleep at the wheel). Is this Versailles pot or Enmore coffey? Indifferent rum-geeks around the world want to know.

Let’s take a hard look at the dark gold-brown 46% ABV rum, then. The aromas are not helpful: there’s some dialled down licorice, aromatic tobacco, leather and smoke at the beginning, but none of the characteristic raw lumber, sawdust and pencil shavings of the Enmore still. The fruits are dark and piquantprunes, blackberries, stewed plums, plus unsweetened chocolate, coffee grounds and salted caramel. It’s more raw and intense than the DDL’s own Enmore 1993 22 YO from the first release of the Rares, and I have to admit that Moon’s rum had more in common with DDL’s Versailles 2002 13 YO than the Enmore itself. In particular, the attendant notes of musty cardboard, fried bananas and overripe pineapple do not suggest the coffey still.

What about taste? Oddly, for a nose that bugled its own assertiveness, the palate is much less aggressive, and really lacks heft in the trousers. Still, there’s something there: the old worn leather of sweaty Clarke’s shoes, some more dark fruits (raisins, dates, prunes, all very ripe); briny tastes, caramel, unsweetened molasses, sweet soya sauce. Not much else, and that’s disappointing, really. Even continentally aged rums can have more complexity than this. And what of the sherry influence? Not a whole lot, sorry to report, marked mostly by its inconclusiveness, leading to a finish that is tolerably pleasant (it’s not sharp or bitchy), warm, fruity, bready (like a hot yeasty loaf fresh out of the oven) but really not that distinguishable.

So on balance, I’d suggest Moon Imports really is a Versailles single wooden pot still rumtoo many of the subtle Enmore notes are missing (I’ve argued before it’s a bit more elegant than the other two stills which tend to a more elemental brutalist profile). Is it worth the £150 it sold for on Rumauctioneer in September 2019? That’s harder, since everyone has favourites, not just among the stills, but the indies that release them and the years from which they hail. I’d suggest that for a rum from the 1980s, for its historical value (1980s single cask rums are getting rarer all the time), released by Moon Import which has a long history of careful selections, yes, it is. For the taste profile and its proof point, perhaps not so much.

(#817)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin has probably reviewed more 1988 Enmore rums than anyone else around (six, covering a period of many years) and nowhere does he mention any confusion between the two stills. Marius Elder of Single Cask Rum and Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind probably did the best listings of them all, including (where known) whether they were Versailles or Enmore still rums, but neither has reviewed many yet (note that links provided here require searching for “1988”).
  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann of Denmark for the sample

Opinion

Moon Import’s website provides nothing on this rum, perhaps because a web presence wasn’t a big thing back in 2011, perhaps because good records weren’t being kept, or perhaps (worst of all) because accurately curating one’s back catalogue is not seen as anything importanta not-uncommon attitude among indies to this day, and one capable of driving me into transports of rage any time it is casually tossed out there for popular consumption. When will it ever become common for these old houses to properly research and list their older releases, and why is it considered of such low importance? FFS, people….

That kind of information is needed, because, again like the Moon’s PM 1974, the label is a problem. There was only a single 1988-2011 release made, and that’s this one with the bird on the label, noted as being an Enmore….and yet is also stated as being a pot still product. The RumAuctioneer item description from September 2019 says it’s a Versailles because “the Enmore distillery closed in 1993, with its wooden coffey still and the Versailles still moved first to Uitvlugt and then to Diamond in 2000” Which is true except that a label mentioning a rum as being both an Enmore and a pot still clearly does not have unambiguous lock on historical detail, not least because there was also a still called the Enmore still onsite at the same time. So which factoid are we to take as the right one?

Moon Import could rightfully say “both”the Versailles still was at Enmore, so putting one name and one still type on the label is completely correct. Maybe I’m being overly critical. But consider that these details have a way of spreading to other informational sources that are also now being referred to as research tools. The new app Rum-X correctly notes this as being an Enmore (Versailles) distillery rum and a 660 bottle outturn….but then goes on to say it was distilled on a Double Wooden Pot still, which of course is neither of the other two, but the PM still, thereby exacerbating the confusion. An ebay listing in Italy didn’t mention the still of origin at all.

For the majority of rum drinkers, this is a complete non-issue. They’ll see the years, the age, the indie, and buy it (or not) if they can. For the discerning deep-diving rum fan who counts his money very carefully before dropping that kind of coin on an old rum, the lack of consistency, and confusion about the details, is a potential deal breaker. If you can’t nail the provenance down concretely, then it’s a dangerous buy, and that goes for a lot more than just this one rum.

Jan 142021
 

Ahh, that magical number of 23, so beloved of rum drinking lovers of sweet, so despised by those who only go for thepure”. Is there any pair of digits more guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of those who want to make an example of Rum Gone Wrong? Surely, after the decades of crap Zacapa kept and keeps getting, no promoter or brand owner worth their salt would suggest using it on a label for their own product?

Alas, such is not the case. Although existing in the shadow of its much-more-famous Guatemalan cousin, Ron Presidente is supposedly made the same way, via a solera method of blending about which not enough is disclosed, so I don’t really buy into (too often what is claimed as a solera is just a complex blend). Oliver & Oliver, a blending company operating in the Dominican Republic, was revived in 1994 by the grandson of the original founder Oliver Juanillo who had fled Cuba in 1959. It is a company whose webpage you have to peruse with some care: it’s very slick and glossy, but it’s not until you really think about it that you realize they never actually mention a distillery, a specific type of still, source of distillate, or any kind of production technique (the words “traditional pot-still method” are useful only to illustrate the need for a word like cumberworld).

That’s probably because O&O isn’t an outfit formed around a distillery of its own (in spite of the header on Flaviar’s mini bio that implies they are), but is a second-party producerthey take rum from elsewhere and do additional work on it. Where is “elsewhere?” It is never mentioned though it’s most likely one of the three B’s (Bermudez, Barcelo, Brugal) who have more well known and legitimate operations on the island, plus perhaps further afield as the back label implies..

Well fine, they can do that and you can read my opinion on the matter below, but for the moment, does it stand up to other rums, or even compare to the well-loved and much-derided Zacapa?

I’d suggest not. It is, in a word, simple. It has an opening nose of caramel, toffee and nougat, hinting at molasses origins and oak ageing. Some raisins and prunes and easy fruit that aren’t tart or overly sweet. Plus some molasses, ripe papaya, and strewed apples and maple syrup. And that syrup really gets big in a hurry, blotting out everything in its path, so you get fruits, sweet, and little depth of any kind, just a sulky kind of heaviness that I recall from El Dorado’s 25 Year Old Rumsand all this from a 40% rum.

It gets no better when tasted. It’s very darkly sweet, liqueur-like, giving up flavours of prunes and stewed apples (again); dates; peaches in syrup, yes, more syrup, vanilla and a touch of cocoa. Honey, Cointreau, and both cloying and wispy at the same time, with a last gasp of caramel and toffee. The finish is thankfully short, sweet, thin, faint, nothing new except maybe some creme brulee. It’s a rum that, in spite of its big number and heroic Jose Marti visage screams neither quality or complexity. Mostly it yawns “boring!

Overall, the sense of being tamped down, of being smothered, is evident here, and I know that both Master Quill (in 2016) and Serge Valentin (in 2014) felt it had been sweetened (I agree). Oliver & Oliver makes much of the 200+ awards its rums have gotten over the years, but the real takeaway from the list is how few there are from more recent times when more exacting, if unofficial, standards were adopted by the judges who adjudicate such matters.

It’s hard to be neutral about rums like this. Years ago, Dave Russell advised me not to be such a hardass on rums which I might perhaps not care for, but which are popular and well loved and enjoyed by those for whom it is meant, especially those in its country of originfor the most part, I do try to adhere to his advice. But at some point I have to simply dig in my heels and say to consumers that this is what I think, what I feel, this is my opinion on the rums you might like. And whatever others with differing tastes from mine might think or enjoy (and all power to themit’s their money, their palate, their choice), this rum really isn’t for me.

(#794)(74/100)


Other Notes

  • The rum is namedPresidente”. Which Presidente is hard to say since the picture on the label is of Jose Marti, a leading 19th century Cuban man of letters and a national hero of that country. Maybe it’s a word to denote excellence or something, the top of the heap. Ummm….okay.
  • On the back label it says it comes from a blend of Caribbean and Central American rums (but not which or in what proportions or what ages these were). Not very helpful.
  • Alex Van der Veer, thanks for the sample….

Opinion

I’ve remarked on the business of trust for rum-making companies before, and that a lot of the compact between consumer and creator comes from the honest, reasonably complete provision of informationnot its lack.

I make no moral judgements on Oliver & Oliver’s production strategy, and I don’t deny them the right to indulge in the commercial practice of outsourcing the distillateI simply do not understand why it’s so difficult to disclose more about the sources, and what O&O do with the rums afterwards. What harm is there in this? In fact, I think it does such non-primary brand-makers a solid positive, because it shows they are doing their best to be open about what they are making, and howand this raises trust. As I have written before (in the reviews of the Malecon 1979, Mombacho 1989, Don Papa Rare Cask and Dictador Best of 1977) when relevant info is left out as a deliberate marketing practice and conscious management choice, it casts doubt on everything else the company makes, to the point where nothing is believed.

Here we get no info on the source distillate (which is suggested to be cane juice, in some references, but of course is nowhere confirmed). Nothing on the companies providing the distillate. Nothing on the stills that made it (the “pot stills” business can be disregarded). We don’t even get the faux age-statement fig-leag “6-23” of Zacapa. We do get the word solera though, but by now, who would even believe that, or give a rodent’s derriere? The less that is given, the more people’s feeling of being duped comes into play and I really want to know who in O&O believes that such obfuscations and consequences redound to their brand’s benefit. Whoever it is should wake up and realize that that might have been okay ten years ago, but it sure isn’t now, and do us all a solid by resigning immediately thereafter.

Dec 072017
 

#466

“Sample #18 reminds me of a Don Papa,” grumbled a Philippine friend of mine, who was blind tasting some samples I had sent over to Quezon City. “Hot distillate on the nose, very sweet.” In those few words he encapsulated something of my own unease about the Dictador rums out of Colombia, because while hydrometer tests reveal no adulteration for the 12 and 20 year soleras, and probably none for the Insolent and Perpetual (they measure 3-4 g/L which is within the margin of error), the plain fact is that they simply taste too damned sweeta characteristic of most solera-style rums I’ve tried. Which would lead any cynical rumhound, in these sad and suspicious times, to posit that maybe they understated the actual ABV so that a hydrometer test would register exactly what the label says.

Given that the zero-additives-registered 12 and 20 somewhat predated the current sugar imbroglio, one could make the case they’re not pulling a fast one, but the question refuses to go awaybecause when Cyril tried theBest of 1978version it came out as 17 g/L and even if this were not the case, when you try this rum from a year earlier, you cannot help but feel that there’s more in its trouser pockets than a pair of hands. That does not make it entirely bad, and since many have said nice things about it, perhaps it’s merely one you should be wary about buying if your personal palate does not run to the lighter, sweeter Spanish style of rums in general, or soleras in particular. And if you want to know exactly what you’re buying, well, that’s a matter for my opinions down below this review.

Anyway, tasting notes: all those who have tried the various Dictador expressions have remarked on the coffee undertones: that remained strong here as wellit’s something of a Dictador signature. It was soft and rounded, exhibiting gentle, creamy notes of sweet blancmange, bon bons and caramel. There was something of a red wine background here, raisins, and a vague fruitiness that was maddeningly elusive because it never quite emerged and came to the fore with any kind of authority. The nose therefore came through as something of a sleeping beauty behind a frosted glass caseI could sense some potential, but was never quite able to get the kiss of life from itthe liqueur note to the smells, while not as overpowering as on the 20, kept getting in the way.

Things were slightly more impressive to taste, because here the strength of 45.5% worked better, and it presented as a little edgy, a little jagged, if lacking that smooth purring of velvet which we might have expected (and the ease of which were other defining characteristics of the 12 or the 20 along with that over-sweetened coffee which wouldn’t go away) – this, to the 1977’s credit, added some character: chocolate, coffee (again), cumin, a light lemony flirt of coriander, ginger, even sweet red paprika: but the core of it all remains the caramel-coffee. Ultimately, however, it remained relatively uncomplex, fragileeven weakthe flavours were somewhat unassertive, flat, jittered around too much and fell away too quickly. My personal opinion was that it lacked punch and staying power, which was most to be remarked on the finish which was a quick burst of caramel, coffee, chocolate and oaken heat mixed up with some black tea….and then it was gone. Poof.

Now that’s not to say we’re sure, when all is said and done, the nose nosed, the palate palated and the finish finished, that we’re entirely clear what we had. Certainly it was some of something, but was it much of anything? I’m going to have to piss off some people (including maybe even my compadre in the Philippines) by suggesting that yes, I think it wasbetter, at least, than the preceding remarks might imply, or than I had expected going in. For one thing, while it was sweet, it was not excessively so (at least compared to the real dentist’s wet dreams such as Don Papa 7, or the A.H. Riise). It had reasonably nice tastes and smells, so as a dessert rum or smooth, sweet sipping experience, this will do the job. It delivers for all those who like that profileand from what I am led to understand by many correspondents of mine, this is the style that is preferred in South and Central America, and the Spanish Caribbean, hence its enduring popularity.

So here’s what I’ll do. If you like this kind of thing, add five points to my score. If you detest soleras, sweeter rums or underpowered blended drinks, subtract five. Either way, you’ll probably come out with the perfect number to represent your own feelings on the matter. Me, I rate it as a middling decent rum which needs less sweet, less coffee, more disclosure, more complexityand the courage to stop with the solera moniker, call it a blend, age it for the full monty, and for sure add quite a bit of extra oomph. Then I might buy not just a bottle, but a case.

(80/100)


Other notes

  • Bottle #84 of 300.
  • In a curious coincidence, the Cocktail Wonk posted an informative article on the whole business of soleras for Punch Magazine just the other day. That and DuRhum’s (French) article on Dictador are useful background reading to my opinion below.
  • Note theCask Reffield in the second photo. ThePstands for Port Cask aged; other variations areAOfor American Oak, “Wfor Wine, andSfor Sherry
  • The RumShopBoy reviewed the Best of 1981 in September 2018 and made remarks similar to those here, scoring it 76

Opinion

The “Best of 1977” sounds real good, but is ultimately useless as any kind of standard by which to measure it since no additional information is given as to how old it is, even in solera terms. I wish I could tell you it’s 1977-2016 or 1950-1977 or something, but there’s simply nothing to go on here. Dictador do themselves no favours in this matter by consistently naming their various rums as “Aged 12 years” or “Aged 20 years” (with “solera” in much smaller typeface on the label), when of course they are nothing of the kind by commonly accepted parlancethe oldest rum in the blend is that old not the youngest, there is no mention of how much of that age is included, and even the average age is a matter of conjecture. It may be legal, but it is somewhat deceptive too. The same issue afflicts the entire “Best of…” series and dilutes their effectiveness in all the ways that matter to those who want to know what they’re buying. Because we really don’t know, and can’t tell.

Quite aside from ageing (or lack thereof) consider the the whole question of tasted-but-untested additives. The “Best of…” series are an informational sinkhole of gargantuan proportions, an exercise in enormous frustration. Henrik Kristoffersen nailed it in November 2017 on the Global Rum Club forum where he asked where this stuff came from and were they really sitting on barrels from as far back as 1966 for this long? Others chipped in asking how ageing any barrels that long could possibly leave anything behind after the angels took their bite of the pizza. Still others noted the same barrel reference on both the Best of 1981 and the Best of 1966 bottle labels. Then there were the discussions on whether anything was actually distilled by Dictador or whether they (like Hechicera, also from Colombia) sourced distillate from around the continent. And then there was Cyril’s take-no-prisoners French-language article on Dictador as a whole, which did not leave either the company or their big gun looking too good.

If this isn’t a poster child for the application of The Rum Chum’s First Law (“Drink what you likeknow what you drink”) I don’t know what is. It sips well if you like that profile, but God help you if you want to find out what it’s made of, how old it is, or where it comes from. And before you think that I’m being unreasonably snarky, note that a discussion like this is not a mere academic rum geek pastimeknowing what you’re looking at allows you to rate and assess its price in your local shop (the 1977 edition goes for north of $200, and the 1966, labelled as “51 years,” is closing in on €500). If you can’t find out whether the damned thing is five years old or fifty, whether it’s pot or column, solera or true-aged, added-to or cleanthen the producer has betrayed his trust with you; and you’re within your rights to not only demand more, but to ask the hard questions of anyone who is trying to regurgitate a bunch of marketing folderol without actually saying much of anything. For sure we’re not getting the whole story here and since we don’t know what we’re buying, I’d suggest you leave this review and opinion, with me having spent my coin so you don’t have to spend yours.

(Closing note: this Opinion dovetails with my other commentaries on the matter of trust, detailed in or as opinions below, the reviews of the Malecon 79, Mombacho 19 and the Don Papa Rare Cask).

Aug 312017
 

#385

Perhaps it would be better to start with the straightforward tasting, lest my snark bend your mind were I to lead in with the commentary instead of finishing with it. The Mombacho 1989 Central American rum does, admittedly, boast and flourish some impressive chops on the label: 19 year old rum (1989-2008), finishing for the final two years in armagnac casks, reasonable strength of 43% (I said ‘reasonable’, not ‘outstanding’). Looking at other bottles of their range it seems within the bounds of reason to assume it’s from Nicaragua, though the ‘Central American’ noted on the label might suggest a blending with other rums from the region.

The nose is quite good for something I feared would be rather thin: unsweetened chocolate and coffee, some dark fruitnothing as deep and brooding as a good Demerara, mind, but nevertheless, there’s a kind of muskiness to the aromas that worked well. Baked apples and a sort of cereal background, something like nice blueberry tartI assume that was the armagnac finish lending its influencewith an ashy background to the whole thing.

Tastewise, also nothing to sneeze at, with a rich red wine taking the lead, plus prunes, apricots, stewed apples and burnt sugar. In its own way, it felt a little over-rich so maybe something was added? I tried it in conjunction with the Compagnie des Indes 17 year old and the Blackadder Raw Cask 12 year old (both from Nicaragua) and it is in the comparison that I got the impression that either it was doctored a mite, or the finishing was simply too dominant. With water additional flavours of honey, vanilla, cereal and tobacco could be discerned, plus licorice and some oakiness, and overall it had a nice rounded feel to it. Even the finish had that balanced quality to it, though quite shortcherries, peaches, prunes, anise, gone too quickly.

It was said to be the best rum in the world in 2008, but I’ll tell you frankly, when I read that I just smiled, shrugged and moved onit was good, but not that good. Not bottom shelf by any meansand not top shelf either. Let’s put it somewhere in the middle.

(83/100)


Opinion (you can ignore this section)

So what to make of a rum that is purported to be nineteen years old, yet whose provenance is shrouded in mystery? Mombacho is a rum brand which has a website and a Facebook page (among others) that are masterpieces of uninformative marketing. About all you get from these sources (and others) is the following:

  • They issue aged bourbon-barrel-aged expressions with fancy finishes
  • This rum is named after a volcano in Nicaragua
  • It’s distributed in Europe by an Italian company named F&G SRL out of Torino.
  • There used to be a moonshine distillery on the slopes of that volcano (the whole area is now a nature preserve) selling a rum called Mombachito
  • The rums in the brand’s lineup are variously aged from 8 to 21 years.
  • Some of the rums from Mombacho are called “Nicaraguan” and others “Central American”.

My personal assumptions are as follows: I believe this is a Flor de Cana based rum. The taste profile, and the absence of any concrete contact info of the producing distillery, if there is one, points to this (some online webpages speak to a distillery, never named, never located). I think it has been bought aged as is from FdC (they laid in a lot of stock in the 1980s as a hedge against hyperinflation and political problems, so the assumption is reasonable), and the rebottler/blender, whoever they are, aged it a further while in the armagnac casks for the finish. Some blending of barrels is highly likely, because any limited outturn would have the number of issued bottles proudly displayed as well.

Everything else I found in my research is glitzy pictures and self-promoting blah of zero interest to the diligent, curious rumhound. Even on the large Facebook rum clubs where an occasional mention can be found, about all you’re walking away with is that some people got one of the rums from the brand, but without details or facts of any kind on the brand itself. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an informational black hole

This enormous lack of background material does not make me a happy camper. I can’t trust a company which has no information behind it, therefore I can’t trust the provenance, so I can’t trust the age, it throws suspicions onto the entire label, and with all these doubts, it inevitably leads to suspicions that the price I paid (€120) was excessive for what was on show. I honestly don’t care if the makers are marketing tyros or business neophytes or freshie rum dilettantesmore should have been provided, even back in 2008.

This is where honesty in labelling becomes so very important. If this was a thirty-dollar rum, I would not worry overmuch about it, but for three figures it begs some questions. And when none of this is readily available, it devalues every other statement made in the marketing literature, or the bottle label itself. If anything positive emerges from this tirade, it is that it shows what is demanded in 2017 for any rum on the market nowadays. I doubt a new entrant to the field could get away with what Mombacho did nearly ten years ago, and the 28 year old Panamanian Arome may be the proof.

So yes, it’s a decent rum, and no, I wouldn’t buy it again. Not because it doesn’t have some quality, but because I rarely spend that kind of money more than once on a no-name brand with little but air behind it.

Other notes

I sent out a note to many of my rum swilling friends….none of them could tell me anything about the company. Mombacho’s FB page has so far declined to respond to my message asking for further info, an the mombacho.eu website was similarly unhelpful. But, if I do get some feedback, I’ll update this post.

Feb 152017
 

#342

Considering that the Seleccion Esplendida was pushed out as both a specific year’s production and an enormously aged near-thirty-year-old rum – a breed getting rarer all the time now that collectors, enthusiasts and rum lovers are snapping up the old 1970s, 1980s and even 1990s vintages – it’s somewhat surprising how little of a rep the brand or the rum itself actually has. I mean, when was the last time you saw anyone rhapsodizing about it, or even giving it a casual mention, anywhere? Perhaps that’s because for something that old we kind of expect to see it issued at cask strength in a limited edition of some kind accompanied by smart marketing, none of which occurred here (the company, Caribbean Spirits, doesn’t even appear to have a website).

Let’s pass on that for the moment though, and simply go with what we have here. For what it’s worth, I was somewhat ambivalent about this pink-brown 40% column still product out of Panama, partly for its proof point, partly for how it sampled and partly for the price (around €200 these days). Panamanian rums are a subset of the Cuban style of rum-making, molasses and column still derived and generally light and faintly citrusy, and this rum adhered to the profile (to a point) without major deviations, but also without striking out into the sort of amazing directions one could possibly hope for in a rum nearly three decades old.

It was light on the nose, redolent of sugar cane juice and the creaminess of rice pudding, flowers and saffron, with very little of a caramel or toffee or burnt sugar in evidence anywhere. In fact it was rather easy and warm, with little tartness or sharpness. It also presented with a some surprising amount of baking spices, cinnamon, vanilla, and after a while, what to me felt like an excess of cherry syrup poured straight from the can (hold the cherries). So yes there was fruitiness and pleasant aromas, just nothing earth shaking that would make me want to break out the thesaurus. In point of fact, I was reminded somewhat of a dialed-down Panama Red, or something of the Origines series of rums (which I’ve tried but don’t have detailed notes for). But the more distinct and complex notes of the Rum Nation Panama 21 year old or 18 year old were not part of the program so far as I could tell.

The quality on the palate was certainly better once I got around to tasting it…up to a point Overall it was soft and well rounded, again quite light, with warm flavours of fruit, aromatic tobacco, vanilla and more cinnamon, maybe a dash of nutmeg. Water wasn’t needed for something this easy, but I added some anyway and was rewarded with some black tea, a slightly more tannic and sharper series of oak and toffee hints, leading to a short and almost imperceptible finish of little distinction where the dominant notes were of cinnamon and vanilla.

Here the 40% worked to its detrimentit should have been stronger and not diluted too much, because for one it actually tasted younger and secondly some of the potential complexity was stifled under a feather blanket of wuss. Frankly, after playing with it for some hours I just gave up on it. It offered too little for what it advertised, and struck me more as a cupcake of a rum that would fail to impress the hardcore while probably pleasing lovers of lighter fare: in either case they’d be dropping too many pesos for something where the delivery was nowhere near the promise. If you want a Panamanian with some real huevos, I more recommend the Rum Club Private Selection Panama 15 Year Old, which, at north of 50% really gives you value for money. I’ll tell you more about that next time.

(82/100)


Opinion

The Ron Malecon 1979 is somewhat of an atypical Panamanian rum with which I have a number of issues, not the least of which is the remarkableand disturbinglack of background information available about the rum itself, or the outfit behind it.

Here are the few vague “facts” available. 1. The rum is attributed to Caribbean Spirits Panama Ltd, which has the official address in Cheapside, London and about which I can find nothing in Panama proper; 2. The cane used by the company is from “their own harvest”, which leads to more questions than answers; 3. The owners of the (unnamed) distillery hail from Cuba and this rum is made in the “Cuban” style; 4. It is a column-still product; 5. Don Pancho Fernandez is involved somehow, according to an Italian youtube video. Unfortunately I can’t place the photographs in that video to any of the three distilleries there (Carta Vieja, Ingenia San Carlos or Varela Hermanos). Given Don Pancho’s involvement, I would have expected PILSA (Provedora Internacional de Licores, S.A, established in 2000) and their distillery San Carlos, to be behind the rum (the way the label and the PILSA website speak to their Cuban antecedents suggests it), but as Master Quill pointed out in his own review of this rum a few months ago, this rum predates the distillery, so the question remains open.

When a company which produces several enormously aged expressions has nothing beyond marketing blurbs to promote them and provides little of value on the label, then all sots of doubts start to creep into a rum nerd’s mind. That says a lot for the disrepute some producers have brought upon the field. We are getting to the point of distrusting them all, if they don’t provide detailed info, up front and every time. Country, source, still, outturn, ABV, barrels, additives and age – these are the minimum requirements many demand, and we have to be able to trust those (I make similar points in the reviews of Dictador’s seemingly ultra-aged Best of 1977 rum, the Mombacho 19, and the Don Papa Rare Cask.

How frustrating it is, then, doing research on a rum this expensive. Are Master Quill’s review and now this one, really the only write up of the Malecon available? I hope not, but certainly it’s been a chore to find anything concrete, and even the company is damned hard to pin down aside from various notes made on sellers’ websites. And for a rum fetching north of two hundred euros, which is supposedly aged in white oak barrels, stored in caves (!!) in Panama, for 29 years (1979-2008) – well now, perhaps you can understand my displeasure. We’re living in a time where more, not less is required of the producers of such a rum, sold for such a price. The lack of it coupled with the profile as described casts doubt on the entire age statement and provenance of the product.


Other Notes

  • Many thanks to L’homme à la poussette (the man with the stroller), who provided the sample. Laurent’s French-language rum site is one of my favourite weekly stopping points as I scour the web for new reviews and articles on the subject, and we trade stuff whenever we can.
Nov 092016
 

matugga-1

A less than impressive Jamaican wannabe rum that’s actually from the UK by way of Africa

#315

In one of those coincidences that occasionally crop up, one of my Gallic colleagues texted me as I was putting together the write up for the Matugga, and asked me what I thought of it. “Mediocre,” was the terse response, given the comparators I had on hand that day against which I was rating it, and the almost finished reviewbut in retrospect that was perhaps too dismissive, since it’s not entirely a bad rum, and both the good and the bad should be acknowledged, in spite of the hyped marketing message.

In this case the selling and marketing point is the rum’s purported originEast Africa, Uganda to be exact (see my opinion below tis review), and that sure works, because it’s entirely on that basis that I bought it (Zulu Impi is another). This is a rum like, oh, Lost Spirits or Seven Fathomsmade by a small outfit led by one person with some drive and gumption. Considered objectively and dispassionately it’s a company that, like those other two, takes an unusual, original detail about the rum’s production, and tries to develop that into an entire marketing plan, without really finishing the job of making it a really good one, even a really good young one.

Anyway, the molasses is sourced from a small town in Uganda called Matuggaforget the blurb on the company website about the quality of cane or soiland fermented in the UK for seven days (rather a long time) before being distilled in a copper pot still and then aged in English oak, though nowhere is it stated exactly how long. For the record I suspect around 2-3 years max.

matugga-2That age is probably about right. The nose of the 42% Matugga certainly gave no indication that decades of careful maturation were behind it. In fact, my first reaction was a grimace and a “yeccch”. Rank notes of rubber, cardboard, rotting vegetable were first, followed by others of musky and damp old houses with too many cats in it. But fortunately these sensations were fleeting, and nose changed after opening up, moving to more dominant smells honey and acetone, richer fruits, banana and treacle, maybe half a crème brûlée. Quite an about face, and after walking around with it, I thought it was like a young, untamed and rather rambunctious Jamaican rum, more than anything elsenot nearly as well made, but not to be dismissed out of hand either.

On the palate, the orange-gold was not that stellar, though certainly interesting: thick and oily, almost cloyingand then a sharp skewer of black pepper and pimentos without the heat kicked in. Again, just as with the nose, it did a ninety degree turn and became another rum altogether, more traditional. The main players emerged on stagecaramel, vanilla, some sugar water (this and the vanilla became particularly pronounced after a while), papayas, pears and white guavas. Underneath it all was a weird kind of bitterness of raw cocoa beans that accentuated what was already a rather jagged and inconsistent profile, one moment sweet, fruity and almost cloying, the next sharp, bitchy, peppery and out to get me. And it finished quickly and without fanfare, giving up final hints of nuts, molasses, caramel and vanilla, standard stuff, no points here.

So no, some interesting notes and originality acknowledged, the rum doesn’t really gel. It has potential, sure, but so far as the profile is concerned, it’s somewhat incoherent, more than a little unbalanced, not well integrated and perhaps not even sure what it wants to bea Jamaican funk bomb, or an easier, soothing rum made for mass consumption and to bolster sales before the really good aged stuff comes out the door. Plus those additives, whatever they are, are an annoying and pointless distraction. Why didn’t they just have the guts to take the subtle notes of an East African terroire, run with it and make a case for its uniqueness, for a rum having a profile of neither arrack or molasses or agricole but a new and untried melange of them all? Their lack of courage in standing by the inherent qualities of their own product is a depressing commentary on both what the rum is, and what it might have been.

(79/100)


Other notes

  • When I started doing my research, I was unsurprised to discover 37g/L sugar on the hydrometer tests. In this case, I believe that less sugar and more ageing would do wonders for the rum. Evidently, the makers thought the opposite.

Opinion

I firmly believe that just because the molassesand only the molasseshails from Uganda, that does not make this either an African or Ugandan rum. Sorry but if Barbados can import molasses from wherever and call itself Barbados rum, and Guyana do the same with molasses from Nicaragua (to note just two well known examples), then the principle of discounting the source of molasses as a terroire / national identifier has already been established. Fermentation, distillation and ageing all take place in the UK, and so it is essentially a British rum. The Ron Maja rum which purported to come from El Salvador (and labelled itself as such) had similar issues of provenance, with which I strongly disagreed. Sooner or later the rumworld is going to have to come to grips with how rums with diverse sources and processes can label themselves legallyand a combination of the AOC and the currenntly-disputed form of the Barbados GI is probably going to be the base of its formulation.

Jun 192016
 

K&S 12 YO 1

Not a bah-humbug rummore like something of a “meh”.

I have an opinion on larger issues raised by this rum and others like it, but for the moment let’s just concentrate on the review before further bloviating occurs. Kirk and Sweeney is a Dominican Republic originating rum distilled and aged in the DR by Bermudez (one of the three Big Bs of Barcelo, Bermudez and Brugal) before being shipped off to California for bottling by 35 Maple Street, the spirits division of The Other Guy (a wine company). And what a bottle it isan onion bulb design, short and chubby and very distinctive, with the batch and bottle number on the label. That alone makes it stand out on any shelf dominated by the standard bottle shapes. It is named after a Prohibition-era schooner which was captured by the Coast Guard in 1924 and subsequently turned into a training vessel (and renamed), which is just another marketing plug meant to anchor the rum to its supposed piratical and disreputable antecedents.

Dark orange in colour, bottled at 40%, the K&S is aged for 12 years in the usual American oak casks. Where all that ageing went is unclear to me, because frankly, it didn’t have a nose worth a damn. Oak? What oak? Smelling it revealed more light vanilla and butterscotch than anything else, with attendant toffee and ice cream. It was gentle to a fault, and so uncomplex as to be just about boringthere was nothing new here at all. “Dull” one commentator remarked. Even the Barcelo Imperial exhibited more courage, wussy as it was.

K&S 12 YO 2To taste it was marginally better, if similarly unadventurous. Medium bodied, with an unaggressive profile, anchored by a backbone of vanilla and honey. There was a bit of the oak tannins here, fiercely controlled as to be almost absent; not much else of real complexity. Some floral notes, cinnamon, plums and richer fruits could be discerned, but they were never allowed to develop properly, or given their moment in the sunthe primary vanilla and butterscotch was simply too dominating (and for a rum that was as easy going as this one, that’s saying a lot). The Brugal 1888 exhibited a similar structure, but balanced things off a whole lot better. Maybe it was just meI simply didn’t see where all the ageing went, and there was little satisfaction at the back end which was short, soft as a feather pillow, and primarily (you guessed it) toffee and cocoa and more vanilla.

So the rum lacks the power and jazz and ever-evolving taste profile that I mark more highly, and overall it’s just not my speed. Note, however, that residents in the DR prefer lighter, softer rums (which can be bottled at 37.5%) and its therefore not beyond the pale for K&S rum to reflect their preference since (according to one respected correspondent of mine) the objective here is to make an authentic, genuine DR rum. And that, it is argued, they have achieved, and I have to admitwhatever my opinion of it is, it’s also a very affordable, very drinkable rum that many will appreciate because of that same laid back, chill-out nature to which I’m so indifferent. Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t going to like it. Not everyone has to like full proof rums, and not everyone will ever be able to afford indie outturns of a few hundred bottles, if they can even get them; and frankly not everyone wants a vibrating seacan of oomph landing on their palate. For such people, then, this rum is just peachy. For me, it just isn’t, perhaps because I’m not looking for rums that try to please everyone, are too easy and light, and don’t provide any challenge or true points of interest.

Opinion:

Years of drinking rums from across the spectrum leads me to believe that there’s something more than merely cultural that stratifies the various vocal tribes of rummies. It is a divide between rum Mixers and rum Drinkers, between bourbon fanciers moving into rums versus hebridean maltsters doing the same (with new rum evangelists jumping on top of both), all mixed up with a disagreement among three additional groups: lovers of those rums made by micro-distillers in the New World, aficionados of country-wide major brands, and fans of the independent “craft” bottlers. Add to that the fact that people not unnaturally drink only what they can find in their local likker establishment, and what that translates into is a different ethos of what each defines as a quality rum, and is also evident in the different strengths that each regards as standard, and so the concomitant rums they seemingly prefer.

That, in my opinion goes a far way to explaining why a rum like the K&S is praised by many in the New World fora as a superb rumwhile some of the Old World boyos who are much more into cask strength monsters made by independent bottlers, smile, shrug and move on, idly wondering what the fuss is all about. Because on one level the K&S is a perfectly acceptable rum, while on another it really isn’twhich side of the divide you’re on will likely dictate what your opinion of it and others like it, is.

(#280 / 81/100)


Other notes

  • I actually think it’s closer to a solera in taste profilethe Opthimus 18 was what I thought aboutbut all online literature says it is really aged for twelve years.
  • Bottle purchased in 2013I dug it out of storage while on a holiday back in Canada in 2016
  • K&S also produces an 18 and 23 year old version.

 

Dec 022015
 

Chnatal 1980 2

This rhum is a quietly dazzling masterpiece.

The Chantal Comte 1980 purrs away in the glass, containing so many quietly thrumming riches, revealed in so gradual a fashion, that it embarrasses ordinary rums. And yet, its characteristics aren’t gaudily thrown before us to entertain or impress. There are no marketing tricks here, no fancy “finished in” or “made this unusual way…”. No dosing, adding or off-the-wall ageing. It is only after I tried it for the fourth time that I truly appreciated the full reach of its accomplishment, and realized how well and how subtly it had been made. And all this from a seven year old rum.

The Chantal Comte Rhum Vieux Agricole Appellation Martinique Controllee 1980 (to give it its full title) hails from St. Luce, which is to say Trois Rivieres. Chantal Comte, a lady who owns the Tullieres estate in France, and who also has a long association with the French West Indies, has an appreciation for rhum which many years ago prompted her to begin issuing aged agricoles under her own label. The Hors D’Age from Habitation Ste. Etienne was a wonderful rhum for example, and the 20 Year old St. Luce 1977 Millesime was also pretty goodyet here she does it one better, and perhaps this is one reason why the price of the seven year old 1980 is more than twice that of the 1977 even though less than half as old (that and the fact that 15,000 bottles of the 1977 were issued, versus 1400 of the 1980).

The presentation was somewhat lackluster for a rhum of this price: a black cardboard cylinder enclosing a very handsome frosted glass bottle. Never mind, I’ve made my sniffy observations on this kind of thing before. The label, relatively simple, filled in some of the details noted above. The age was not stated and it took some sleuthing around to have it confirmed that it’s a seven year oldno idea why that was omittedwere they waiting for a reviewer to talk about it, perhaps afraid people would be put off by its single-digit age?

Chantal 1980 1

Anyway, forget the preamble and walk with me through the sampling. It was a dark amber rhum, issued at a solid 58%, and the nosewell, all I can say it was great. It was a beautifully rich yet simultaneously subtle, and complex to a fault. An initially warm and delicious melange of fruits, flowers and the faintest background of turpentine and well polished floors. This developed into lavender, toned-down lilies, unripe cherries, everything soft and yet edgy at the same time (that was the 58% speakingit intensified everything without actually moving the rhum into harsh bitchiness). But this wasn’t the end. We were in the middle of a six hour tasting session and as the hours wore on we kept coming back to this one glass, and by the time it was over, to those flavours we smelled, were added some faint caramel and molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, very faint ginger and baking spices. And all these in a really harmonious balance.

Since it was a relatively strong rhum, I expected some sharpness at the inception of the taste, and indeed this was there. But that dialled itself down to a strong kind of heat that made the experience a much better one after some minutes. It was quite full bodied and intense, and the immediate sensations were of butter cookies with a strawberry jam centre (for the benefit of my friends Henrik and Gregers who were there with me, I’ll say they were Danish); cinnamon again, black cherries teetering on the brink of over-ripeness, plus an assortment of light peaches, apricots, bananas and dark honey. And all this intertwined with the sweetness kept way back, a dusting of leather and smoke, aromatic port infused cigarillos, some drier woody notes, and even some brinebut I must emphasize how extraordinarily well this all came together, without any one aspect dominating any otherit was as well balanced and solid as the keystone in a Roman arch.

As for the finish, well, what can I tell you? It was great, summing up everything that came before: long and a little dry, spicy and wholesome, with both the sweet and the salt of a top-end Japanese soya, finishing things off with some oaky notes, almonds, vanilla, and port.

The construction and gradual unfolding of this thing is amazing. I started by liking it, an hour later I was impressed, and by the time the evening was over I was in love. It took time for the full effect to sink in. It lacks the rough hewn brutality and single-minded intensity of the Veliers, and is perhaps more akin to Rum Nationjust better (perhaps because “dosing” is not part of the assembly). The 1980 may be classed as an AOC agricole, but I honestly think this has aspects of both French and Spanish style rums (with maybe a flirt of Bajan thrown in for good measure). It’s an order of magnitude better than many products twice or three times as old, and thinking I was being too enthusiastic, I tried it four separate times over a week and yep, it was still as good as that first time. It is the best sub-ten year old rum I’ve ever tried.

I truly enjoy rums that are well made and appealing, no matter who makes them, and find that certain companies are consistently top grade. That they are almost all independent bottlers not seeking to dominate their market (though Velier comes close) may be key to the quality of their rums, because they are niche players, not commercial mastodons like Diageo or Bacardi, and therefore they pay careful attention to what they slap their labels on. Their stuff isn’t made by committee, so to speak; perhaps to them money and market share is less important than making rums, not mere products.

Yet, even within the small independent world of Veliers, Compagnie des Indies, Duncan Taylors, Rum Nations, Moon Imports and Samarolis, there are occasional bright shining stars that amaze and awe us with the sheer brilliance of their creations. While it’s obviously an unknown if all of Mme Comte’s rhums operate at the level of the three I have tried so farI can hope. This rhum is one of the absolute best I’ve had all year, and it earns that accolade not because of stratospheric price or fancy bottle or raritybut because it really is that extraordinarily good.

(#243. 92/100)


Other notes

  • Chantal Comte’s website makes no mention of this rum at all. I contacted the company directly and they told me it was a seven year old, aged in oak (but not what kind).
  • I highly recommend, if you ever try this rhum, to take your time with it. The scents and tastes simply grow richer over time.
  • The closest rhum to this profile I recall is the Courcelles 1972 which exhibited many of the same characteristics, but was many years older.

Opinion

I read somewhere recently thatFrench Island style” (agricole) rhums represent less than 10% of market share for rums as a whole. The wonderment is, perhaps, that agricoles continue to exist at all, given the preponderance of molasses based rums in the world. I think they remain an unappreciated resource, rums that live in their own space and time, in places we must be willing to visit, to touch, to sample, to experience. An inability to even concede they are worth trying is a profoundly depressing inadequacy, something like saying black and white, silent or subtitled films have no place in the world overrun by remakes, sequels and superhero retreads. Those who casually deny themselves such rhums are also denying themselves the building blocks of the drinking imagination.

 

Sep 272015
 

Epris 1

If originality and straying off the beaten path of the rumworld is your thing, wander no further. The thing is just a few stops short of being stunning.

This is one of the rare occasions where I tasted a rum blind, knowing absolutely nothing at all about it before I startedreally, absolutely zilch. Not the country, not the company, not the distillate. I blame this on the pad I crash at in Berlin which has no wi-fi, no internet, no elevator, and what passes for hi-tech is an East-German era rotary dial phone. So the situation when I tasted this rum was kinda interesting, and allowed me to dispense with any preconceived notions and just tell you what it was like to drink. Short version? It isn’t half bad, and just a step removed from superlative.

Before all that, let’s speak briefly about the company. L’Esprit is a French bottler and distributor based in Rennes, in the Brittany province of France. They do all the usual importation and distribution of old favourites from old countries (or islands) which we know better, but have also branched out into independent bottlings from all over the mapBarbados, Guyana, Panama, Guadeloupe, Nicaragua and so on, all uncoloured, unmessed-with, unadded-to. (A more comprehensive biography is available).

This is a column still cane juice product. Bottled at 47.7%, the rum (I’ll call it that, even though, y’know, it confuses me, and it may actually be a rhum….or not) was light yellow, one of 198 from the single cask, and matured between 1999 and 2012 in an ex-bourbon barrel: it’s a hair over thirteen years old. It’s not, strictly speaking, an originalBruichladdich (Renegade) and Cadenhead have both issued rums from Epris before. Epris, for what it’s worth, is a distillery located just outside São Paolo in Brazil, and they apparently also distill for Bacardi (as usual, their website is massively uninformative on their product lines).

Epris 2

Brazil may be something of an afterthought for L’Esprit (or not). Doesn’t matter. It’s great. There’s very little that’s wrong with the spirit, and much that they got absolutely right. Consider first the aroma: Vegetal, sweet and easy to sniff, quite warm. Initial notes of cardboard, creamy nougat touched with some lemon zest. There was a musty kind of background here, like dried hay in a sunlit field, but also the clean, crisp sweetness of a good Riesling. After a while additional notes of peaches, soft ripe mangos, green grapes and then the slight tartness of soursop, ginnips and green apples came to the fore. Really cool stuff, honestly.

That slight lip-puckering tartness didn’t go away on the taste either, which I think was a good thing. It was oily and pleasant, a little fuller than the light yellow colour might have implied, and was both a little sweet and a little briny at the same time. The vegetal hay-like notes (complete with dusty dry hints) stayed along for the ride, with citrus emerging gradually from the background. Somehow the rum managed to balance both the creamier tastes of brie and toblerone with sharper citrus and soursop into a melange I quite enjoyed. With water these tastes came into fuller focus, but I can’t pretend anything new or more original came out, except perhaps some smokiness and well-oiled leather.

The finish was also quite excellentsomehow L’Esprit managed to dampen down the sharper and more acidic citrus notes, and allow the deeper, fruitier closing aromas (plus a last surprising licorice hint) to take their turn on the stage in a fade of medium length which closed things off just right. All in all, it was just sweet enough, just strong enough, just fruity enough, just salty enough; and displayed a quality to both delight and impress.

Clearing away the dishes, then, the rum had real character and originality, and I enjoyed it a lotit was one of those samples that has sent me running around looking for more. I think that agricole aficionados would greatly enjoy it, and even traditional molasses rum lovers would have little to complain about hereL’Esprit have found an intersection of heavy and light, warm and sharp, fruity and tart aspects here, that left me admiring as hell, wondering if I shouldn’t get more into Brazilian products. In reviewing the Ron Veroes Anejo, I said of it that it should have had more edge, more oomph, more complexity, more daring. Here’s an example of the rum about which I was thinking.

(#234. 85/100)


Other notes

  • Sometimes a review is about more than just tasting notes, but illustrates a larger point about the rum universe.
    • Since tasting the L’Esprit Epris, I’ve been left with questions that remain unresolved. It was made in Brazil from cane juice, but aged in France, so is it a cachaca? An agricole? An aged red-haired love-child of both? Does ageing it that long make it less than either, or more? When you think about it, what it does, moreand perhaps betterthan any rum I’ve tried in the last year, is tell us that we have to take a look at how we classify rum. It’s the exceptions that inform how good our rules are, and this one falls into no clear point in the current system. Perhaps it’s time to seriously examine the system.
  • Compliments to Cyril of DuRhum, who provided the sample gratis, as well as the photographs from which the crops above were taken

 

Mar 032015
 

D3S_9074

A unique fifteen year old agricole that lacks something of the deep dark depth of the Damoiseau 1980 I so liked, but is a great and tasty example of the style neverthelessas long as your tastes run that way.

As adolescents, among our most fervent wishes was to have coitus without interruptus the way a hobbit has breakfast: whenever possible, preferably all the time, twice daily if we could manage it (well, what teenager hasn’t?) But as the years wound on, some reality entered that little fantasy: the truth is that unlimited anything gets boring after a while. One does not wish to eat manna from heaven every single day, do the same job day in and day out, indulge in neverending bedroom calisthenics…or drink the same kind of rum all the time.

I relate this (possibly apocryphal) story to link to another conversation a fellow reviewer and I had not too long ago: that agricoles just weren’t his thing, and remain an acquired taste enveloped in a certain subtle snobbery for those who preferred them. I understand this perspective, since agricoles as a whole are quite different from molasses based rums that reek of caramel, licorice, fruits, toffee and what have you. And while I don’t care for the term “acquired taste” – this is where the imputed elitism has its source – the fact is that the gent was right: tastes do evolve: rums which are current favourites may lose their place in the sun, to be replaced by others you would have never dreamed of touching when you were just starting out. Rhums are seen by their adherents to possess remarkable quality in their own right, no matter how much the taste profile bends away at right angles from what others have come to accept as more common (or better).

Anyway, remembering the wonderful experience I had with the Damoiseau 1980, when I saw a bottle of the JM 1995 Rhum Tres Vieux 15 year old (which nowadays retails in the €200 range), I dived right in. And believe me, when I say it’s different, those of you who prefer more traditional fare can take that as the absolute truth. It’s not for everyone necessarily, but for those whose palates bend in that direction, it’s quite a drink.

As is proper for a top-of-the-line aged product, the green bottle, sealed with wax and possessing a cool leather embossed label came in a fine wooden box that showcased its antecedents, its AOC designationwhich means it adhered to stringent manufacturing guidelines such as how soon after reaping the source cane had to be distilled, additions, filtration, etcand its age. Now strictly speaking, this is a millésime, but it is noted as being a très vieux (very old)…it could just as easily be termed an XO, but I’m not a purist on the matter and will let it pass with just that comment.

The single-column copper-still rhum was a honey gold colour with coppery hints, and gave promise of a medium-light body, which the nose certainly confirmed. It gave forth immediate scents of freshly mown grass and crushed sugar cane, slightly sweetand quite dry, though not enough to wrinkle the nose. There were notes of toffee, salty peanut brittle, bon-bons, even a slightly sweetish bubble-gum background which balanced off the brininess. The 44.8% strength was just about right, I think, otherwise we might have really been struck with a dry desert wind on this one.

Still, I liked it, and as the taste developed, saw no real reason to change my opinion. The palate was smooth and warm, where all the harmonies of the nose developed to a fuller expressionflowers, rain-wet grass, sugar cane rind stripped with the teeth, a flirt of tangerine rind, and biscuits with dry cheesea liquid warm croissant with a dab of rich, freshly churned butterall underlain with a sweetish vanilla background, and almost no oak tannins at all. None of the individual components predominated over any otherthe balance was really quite something. What also surprised me was the faint anise taste that revealed itself after a few minutes and melded well into the overall whole. The finish was short to medium and reminded me a lot of the Clemente XO: both had that closing aroma of smouldering cane fields and vanillas that to this day evoke so many memories.

Situated in the north of Martinique in Bellevue, J.M. began life with Pére Labat, who was credited with commercializing and proliferating the sugar industry in the French West Indies during the 18th century. He operated a sugar refinery at his property on the Roche Rover, and sold the estate to Antoine Leroux-Préville in 1790 – it was then renamed Habitation Fonds-Préville. In 1845, his daughters sold the property again, this time to a merchant from Saint-Pierre names Jean-Marie Martin. With the decline in sugar production but with the concomitant rise in sales of distilled spirits, Jean-Marie recognized an opportunity, and built a small distillery on the estate, and switched the focus away from sugar and towards rum, which he aged in oak barrels branded with his initials “JM”. In 1914 Gustave Crassous de Médeuil bought the plantation from his brother Ernest (I was unable to establish whether Ernest was a descendant or relative of Jean-Marie), and merged it with his already existing estate of Maison Bellevue. The resulting company has been family owned, and making rhum, ever since and is among the last of the independent single domaine plantations on Martinique.

If I had fault to find at all in the rhum, it was its aridity, which subtly spoiled (for me) the smoothness of the overall experience, and is another reason I appreciated its relatively lower proof. Though my sample set of agricoles is too small to make the claim with assurance, it may also speak to my palate being adulterated by rums that have added inclusions (like sugar) to smoothen out such a profile, a practice eschewed by AOC agricoles. Still, summing up, this is a rhum I’ll have to come back to, in the years to come, and will probably rise in my estimation much as the Clemente did. The J.M. 1995 is the kind of rum I’ve been pestered about for ages. People couldn’t quite describe it, but they said I had to sample it, and review it. I just had to.

Well, I did. They were right. It’s quite a lovely drinking experience

(#205. 86/100)


Opinion

Many French West Indian distilleries adhere to a certain puritan strain of rhum production (whether or not they apply for AOC rating). They use cane juice, don’t add anything to their rhums to either colour them or adulterate them, often issue them at cask strength, and sniffily refer to molasses based rums with the somewhat disdainful moniker of “industrials”. They may have a pointif there had ever been a pure ethos of rum making, shorn of all the modern and technical innovations, surely it is the agricoles which represent its continuance in modern times. They are a miniscule part of the rum world by volume of sales, yet they hang in there, producing these uniquely tasting, offbeat rums, seen by their tasting champions as exemplars of the craft the way it is, and was, meant to be.

I don’t really agree with that concept 100%, since it is in the nature of mankind to move forward and evolveand to stick with “the way things were” forever strikes me as unreasoning, almost fanatical, adherence to a single tradition or ideology. But there’s no doubt that JM, with rhums like this one, are probably on to something, and to tamper with the philosophy of how it’s made would be to discard a link with rum’s past, lose the variety that makes rum great, and leave us poorer for it.

So while not all aspects of the JM 1995 find favour with me (all apologies to the cognoscenti who feel the opposite is true), I acknowledge its distinctiveness and remarkable profileand if I don’t entirely fall under its beguiling spell, I don’t hate it either, and maybe it’s all just a case of me still acquiring the taste.

Jul 012013
 

D3S_5493

Passive,easy, light, indifferent, with a finish as short as this review

Put aside my issues with underproof rums in general, and the five year old rum made by Centenario Internacional SA out of Costa Rica comes off as a reasonable rum, quite soft, and in line with many of their other jelly-kneed products: which is to say, pleasant and perfectly drinkable, but ultimately uninspiring (to me). As before, I simply note that I’m unclear who the rum is made for, since it’s too weak to appeal to an aficionado or to make a mix where strength is called for, and too strong for those who prefer liqueurs and digestifs. Perhaps it’s a liquid primer for beginners who want to test the waters before plunging right in.

In the glass, this hay blonde 35% spirit presented itself on the nose like a somnambulant Chihuahua: it had a smooth, shy, yet oddly nippy little nose to it. And that scent was very nice, if kind of, well, tiny: cherries and frangipani meandered out, brown sugar and caramel notes held hands with them, wound around with a smidgen of oak tannins and citrus. To some extent this lack of oomph is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with underproofs, since I’ve long since stated that I personally am more enthused by stronger and more aggressive (and darker) profiles: light, dancing notes that are difficult to come to grips with just don’t do much for me, pleasant as they may be (and admittedly, they really are quite pleasant, in this rum).

As befitted a less powerful rum, the arrival on the tongue was smooth, light and lacked sting or oiliness. Tangerine rinds and brown sugar, caramel infused with muskier, sharper oak: overall a pretty nice rum, just without chutzpah. As it opened up (didn’t need long for that), other, subtler tastes emerged, honey and pecans, a bit of vanilla. Quite enjoyable on its own. It succeeds swimmingly on taste and aroma, but failed on intensity, and while to me that sank it, there’s no question that as a drink judged on its own standards (that of rums bottled at 35%), it wasn’t half bad. Of course, it would come as no surprise to anyone that the finish was short and gentle and tasty, like being enveloped in a thin but very soft sweater that someone wore too close to a smoky fire for an hour or two.

D3S_5490

So: as a five year old, it’s reasonable without passion, self-contained without aggro. A bit passive, if you will, giving you what it has without real flair or bang-down-your-door animalism. Bearing in mind my personal palate, which tends towards darker and stronger rums, I can’t say I would ever buy such a rum, because underneath, if I were to be honest, here’s a product that doesn’t look like it wants to be a rum at all, or, at best, is truly sure about its place in our piratical universe.

(#171. 78/100)


Opinion

It’s appreciated that my disdain for rums bottled at under 40% is a divisive issue, and many will like it for the same reasons I don’t. The purpose of these remarks (even if negative) is to illustrate how I reacted to a rum that does not conform to my own standards, even if it does to those of others. As with any product one is unsure of (or disagrees with the review of) and where one gets different opinions from many people, sourcing a sample of one’s own to try is probably best.

If your preference is for such a relatively gentle drink but you do enjoy some complexity as well, take a look at the Legado 12 year old made by the same company. It’s also 35% (available at 40% in Europe), and has similar qualifications from me, but there’s quite a bit more interesting stuff going on in that one than here, especially at the front end.

 

May 302013
 

D3S_5982

 

Concentrated black cake. Uitvlugt East Field #30 takes its place as the source of one of the best rums I’ve had this year.

In my rather tiny world, sourcing a rum like the Uitvlugt 1985 27 year old 60.7% is quite an experience. A rum limited enough, rare enough and old enough that to use a single appellation like “aged” to describe it is akin to saying Tolstoy wrote rather long books. The series of rums imported to Europe by Velier (these are DDL products selected by them in Guyana, not Europe) answers every beef I ever had about rums not being strong enough, addresses every complaint about a lack of imagination. Thus far, each of the full proof series has been spectacular, powerful, brilliant, exceptional, original and charges out of the bottle like a bat out of hell to give me all it has. This is what rums were made to be. This is what more rums should be. Want to go up against the Scots, boys? Want to give whisky some hard card? You’d better start making more of these.

Having established its pedigree as a rum massive as an oak tree flung by a F5 hurricane, what of it? It’s aged a magnificent 27 years in the tropics, losing 90% of its volume if Velier is to be believed, and powerful enough to brain a rampaging ox, but is it any good?

Mmmm. Yeah. It’s good. Nosing this torqued up full proof is, like, I dunno, trying to lasso a drunken moose: I mean, the rum is hard charging to a fault, practically an inhalation of supercharged testosteronea quick sniff and my abs were instantly firm enough to do my laundry on, and I was casting restive glances at my wife. Thick, spicy smorgasbord of fruit notes led off right away: prunes, currants, raisins, blackberries lead in, followed by faint flowery notes, licorice, cloves, black unsweetened chocolate. I felt I was at the dessert buffet of some high class hotel restaurant. Heated, yes; spicy, almost; but you know, for a beefed-up rum like this, once the alcohol fumes blow off, you can’t help but be impressed with a nose this rich, where so much is going on all at the same time.

D3S_5993

Dark mahogany and ruby red tints coloured the spirit itself, which was a treacly, almost heavy liquid in the mouth. Here was a spirit that coated your tongue, your tonsils and your teeth and hung on with the tenacity of a junkie to a five dollar bill. Awesomely smooth for its strength, generously providing tastes of licorice, chopped dried fruit for Caribbean Christmas black cake, green grapes just starting to go, aromatic port-finished cigarillosit’s deeply, darkly luscious to a fault. I tasted some of the oak tannins imparted by the long ageing, and in no way were they disconcertingly acidic or too sharp, but just right, leading to a long aromatic, finish as lasting as a diva holding a high C….like, forever. If this was a real opera, somewhere, Pavarotti would be feeling inadequate.

Even at 60.7%, which some might consider a bit much, the Uitvlught impressed with its mastery of blending art. Like its brothers (the Albion 1994 and the Diamond 1996), this rum is one of the tastiest, biggest, baddest, most fantabulistic spirits I’ve tried and that sound you heard was, quite simply, my mind being blown. Because this intensity is precisely why we should attempt to move past 40% in our rumsthe strength of flavour and body, the commingled multitudinous tastes, simply invites sampling and more sampling, and then even more, just so you could check out what that last smidgen of flavour really was.

D3S_5994

Velier out of Genoa bought three barrels from DDL (they are in fact DDL rums though the labelling seems ambiguous), aged them for twenty seven years and, in line with other European makers, simply bottled them as they came out. The Velier line is really kind of fantasticmarques from Blairmont, LBI, Port Mourant, Albion, Skeldon, Enmore (and that’s just the Guyanese) are all available, if rarer than a compliment from my boss. I can’t begin to express my admiration for the seriesthere’s an unapologetic narcissism to them that doesn’t so much flip the bird at standard strength rums as ignore them altogether. Their rums are awesometerrific nose, aggressive profile, epic finish.

And, at end, it may be self-defeatingit may simply be too much to be contained in a mere bottle. To have this rum burbling in your glass is to know what Godzilla’s captor might have felt like. By the time all the tasting notes have been wrung out, it may actually be a shade too amazing for those who prefer something a little less strong (like 40%). But you know what? I don’t care. The full proof rums from Velier are what they are. Not everyone will like themtheir starkness and somewhat elemental brutality will be off-putting to manybut then, they are not for everyone. Verlier echoed the European ethos of simplicity and minimalism in their products, wrestled the white lightning out of the cask and trapped it in a bottle for those of us who care.

If you can find Velier’s rums, any of ‘em, my advice would be to buy them, and quickly. Because if you’re ever into rum for the long term, there will come a time (if it has not arrived already) where you’ll be so damned glad you did. I know I am.

And now, after writing this review and taking a last sip, I think I’ll go see what the wife is up to….assuming she hasn’t already fled.

(#165. 91/100)


Opinion

I’ve made no secret of my wistful disappointment of tame drinks that go exactly no place special and have a small sense of imagination. The question that arises, is why aren’t more iridescent gems like this one ever made? What’s keeping the rest of the world from following suit? Why aren’t Flor de Cana, DDL, Appleton, Mount Gay or others indulging some hi-test full proofs of their own, besides issuing the occasional 151? I suppose I can think of several reasons: they won’t sell; they’re seen as too exclusive; they’re tough to find; they don’t appeal to the young; they’re too strong; too expensive; too tough to make by labels content with what they are doing already; and market forces favour 40%.

There are special editions around, of courselots of them, almost all made in Europe. The challenge is finding any. Perhaps nothing shows the potential of such a niche market as the speed with which such specialized bottlings by Bruichladdich, Gordon & McPhail, Fassbind, Bristol Spirits, Berry Bros., Velier, Silver Seal and Cadenhead fly off the shelves. They may languish in shops in North America, but I chose to believe it’s because they are not commonly available, not well known, and therefore remain a perceived nouveaux riche kind of pastime for crazies like myself.

So it’s not as if the full proof, limited-cask expressions don’t existthey do. Here’s hoping the major bottlers in the West Indies and the Americas will follow suit and produce their own full-proof liquid machismo one day, the way Velier has done here, so magnificently.

 

 

Feb 132013
 


Bottled evening sunset. Among the best of all the 40% Panamanian rums I’ve tried thus farthough that is not quite what the endorsement it seems.

The Panamonte XXV has, since its introduction, received such rave reviews across the boardit may be one of the most critic-proof rums ever madethat it’s led one reviewer (who I note has not done a formal write up or, perhaps, even tried it) to complain vociferously and with unbecoming language about the lemming like behavior of the bloggers who are supposedly in the pockets of the industry and who put over-the-top positive spins on the rum in order to promote it for their own (inferred) nefarious purposes. I don’t agree with this attitudethere are far too few writers out there who love and promote rums, so we should encourage the reviewers, not viciously diss thembut there’s no question that for a really expensive product, perhaps we should really take a hard look and not be too swayed by cachet or price just because it has cachet and price.

Bearing that in mind, and given that I had dropped $400+ on a bottle of the good stuff last year, I felt it right to check how it rated against other rums of either similar age, similar provenance or similar profile, like the Arctic Wolf did in his famous dissing of the Appleton 30. So I ran the Panamonte XXV past the Cadenhead Panama 8 year old, the Rum Nation Panama 18 and 21 year old, the Ron de Jeremy and the Panama Red Overproof, as well as the Abuelos 7 and 12. And just to make life interesting, I added the El Dorado 25 40%, because of its age.

The Panamonte, right off, had a bottle that was impressivea flagon, more like, gold-tipped-cork and fancy lettering (same as the St Nicholas Abbey rums, just different etching and cork), all ensconced in a two-piece box that you’d better hold carefully, ‘cause if the snaps on either side break while you wrestle it one-handed, the bottom might just pop out like a stock market bubble, and all your hard earned money will go the way of your portfolio. But it’s kinda faux-handmade retro-cool, and I always liked that. Nothing irritates me more than a super premium, highly priced rum, coming in a shabby, cheap-ass, cardboard paper box (though I must concede the overall put-together-ness of the box wasn’t all that great either) .

The rum itself was amber and copper in hue. Soft and warm, the initial scents curling lazily from the glass were well behaved, rather dense clouds of honey, lightly toasted walnuts (or were those pecans?), blossoms like lilac petals, dark fruits like raisins, plums, just-barely-ripe peaches and bananas. Soft fruits, not citrus, and that set the stage for a rum that was not at all sharp, but as comforting as a feather bed in the winter. Maybe with your plump, soused spouse in it.

The Panamonte XXV may be among the smoothest, most unaggressive medium-bodied rums I’ve ever tasted, which is both a good or a bad thing depending on your personal preferences. The arrival stroked the palate with the gentle touch of honeymaybe maple syrup is a better descriptoras soft as your favourite pooch’s begging eyes: stroke me, master, because I love you. Evolving nuances of coconut shavings, nutmeg, caramel, cinnamon, cumin, a light dusting of caramel and sugars followed through, enhanced by some light tobacco and leather notesand hardly any oak or citrus spiciness asserting itself. Quite a change from the aridity and powerful eff-off of the Velier Albion 1994. It had an extraordinary balance that allowed no one taste to hold the high ground or dominate the profile at the expense of any other. It was, in fine, a rum that could be dreamily sipped and savoured all evening long. It might actually be a conversation stopper, for who on earth would want to do anything except make gurgling noises of enjoyment while trying to extract that very last nuance of flavour from it? As for the finish, well, one should not expect anything too epic from 40%, yet even here, warm and breathy aromatic hints of fleshy fruits and tobacco with a sly hint of oak and unsweetened chocolate were the last things to titillate the sensesbefore I poured yet another glass.

The rum, then, is a Panamanian molasses-based rum aged for 25 years in used oak barrels (standard), and is a product of the same crew who brought you the above-average (but spiced, I suspect) Panama Red I looked at not too long agoJim Wasson of Panamonte, and “Don Pancho” of Zafra, Panama Red and Ron de Jeremyer, fame. It shares something of the generalized softness I sensed in the other Panamanians like the Abuelo 12 or the Rum Nation Panama 21 (the RN 18 is a tad more aggressive), but lacks the youthful yobbishness of the Cadenhead. And it’s different from the El Dorado 25 year old 40%, being not quite as dark or deep, and a shade less sweet (that’s a good thing, by the way). It’s probably better than all of them, though I’d say the RN 21 showcases a little more risk.

So forget my remark about being “critic-proof”this rum is critic-obliterating. Stripped of the marketing hype (every single dropyawn) it’s not hard to see why, because think of all the levels on which it succeeds so swimminglyit’s smooth, it’s gentle, it tastes great, it releases its character in measured teasing doses, and is bottled at a cushy 40%. What’s not to like? I mean, it’s as if in some backroom office, a blending engineer and management type set out to tick all the boxes, making sure the greatest mass of taste was catered to (they emulated Bacardi, perhaps), and then ratcheting it all up a notch or five and pricing it to match. It makes perfect commercial sense to issue this twenty five year old as it has been, because this is the way most will try it and like it and buy it.

(#145. 87/100)


Opinion

For me, it may simply be too much of a good thing.

This is where I have to tread warily, and be clear about the rationale for my ambivalence. For what it isa 40%, aged rumit’s perfectly fine, so its intrinsic quality is not at issue (and my score reflects that). It may be about as good as any such product can or will ever get. So if the rum is so good, you ask, why the beef and bitching? Because, reader, although I haven’t tried as many rums as the Burr Brothers, Dave Russell, Ed Hamilton, or the Arctic Wolf, I have tried a lot and thought deeply about why some appealed to me but not others, tried to understand why I liked stuff I didn’t before, or dislike stuff I once loved. And there you have itit’s not the rum that has changed, it’s me.

I’ve moved on from commonly available, widely appreciated, well known products that are good to great, from soft and warm and smooth 40% rums, to rums that are stronger, more intriguing, that have the cheerfully experimental insanity of, oh, a seventies Lambo. Rums that encourage some discernment, some thinking. Rums that don’t give a sweet rat’s behind about running with the crowd. Rums that are really different yet still succeed, somehow (unlike Downslope Distilling’s misguided attempt at a six month old wine aged rum). The Panamonte XXV is without doubt one of the bestif not the bestof the Panamanian rums bottled at 40% I’ve ever tried, and for sure I’ll be sharing it with all my friends when they come over.

But it would have been greater still, I believe, had its makers had the courage to think a little more out of the ticked boxes they were intent on filling, the way Rum Nation, Velier’s full proof line, or even the Scottish rum makers do (this is why the RN Demerara 23 is better than the El Dorado 25, for example); if it could stand out from all the commercial supersellers that fly off the shelves so brisklyand go for something awesome, snarling and unique, that would rear head and shoulders above any other similarly aged product. Something that would not be a merely incremental bettering of its forebears, but a true game changer that people would whisper about in awe and envy, with bowed heads and bated breath, every time they timidly approached the mere wrapping paper that once embraced it.

Which is too bad, really, because what it leaves us with is that while I can express my admiration for the XXV, what I can’t do is rave from the mountaintops about it.

 


Other

Thanks and much love goes to my boy The Little Caner, who managed to hold in his irritation at my pilfering his favourite stuffed toy for use in the photographs.