Oct 112021
 

Unlike the White Jack rum which is definitely a Rumaniacs entry due to its reformulation, the Westerhall Plantation Rum remains recognizably the same as when it was first released in 1989, and there seems to be no movement afoot to change the title either (even after the brouhaha over Maison Ferrand’s rum brand name in 2019 and 2020). The Plantation Rum is a five year old product, the first to be exported, beginning the year of its introduction: previously, all rums were either for local consumption or for bulk export. Oddly, though, it’s referred to on their site as their “flagship” rum which makes one wonder what they consider their 10 YO to be — Ultra Premium Vintage Better-Than-Flagship-Best-Ever-Ever, maybe?

Westerhall has long since ceased distillation. It’s possible this was due to a downturn in sugar cane availability as sugar prices kept falling in the 1990s, or perhaps it was the poor economics of their in-house distilled, aged and blended rums not selling well enough to justify their continuance in a time pre-dating the 21st century Rum Renaissance.  Since 1996, then, the company has imported rums to produce its well-known blends: initially this was from Angostura in Trinidad, and in his 2020 Cheat Sheet on the distillery, the Cocktail Wonk remarked that recently they also began importing from two distilleries in Barbados.

This rum, issued at a relatively sedate 43% ABV, dates from the early 2000s, and is therefore from Angostura stocks only: aside from some batch variation, there’s little to distinguish it taste-wise from either earlier or later rums, and consistency has been maintained quite well. The nose is probably the best thing about it: thin, distinct enough, redolent of brine and olives, and set off by a crisp, light, fruity aspect.  Behind it lurk notes of paint, acetones, nail polish, and a nice blend of tart-sour fruits like five-finger, star-apple, gooseberries and green mangoes, with just enough sweet to mitigate the lip puckering. It does become somewhat lighter and sweeter as it opens up, and there’s even a trace of sugar water at the tail end.

Palate is nice, just uneventful – much of the nose is lost in the light easiness of the way it tastes and “watery” is not a word that would be out of place here. There are traces of peaches, apricots, bananas and green peas(!!), and some of the brininess and olives carry over; also dates and some very light citrus and vinegar-like hints, not enough to derail the experience. It retains the light sweet crispness that the nose promises, and if the finish was kind of brief – warm, dry, salty with a touch of fruits and sweet soya – well, you know what, as a whole the rum kind of works, and is not a disappointment.

What it does, is actually remind me somewhat of the Whisper Antigua rum, also an unpretentious rum aged a few years.  Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t try too hard to be some kind of uber-sexy blend from a world famous distillery backed up by a snazzy marketing campaign sporting a celebrity (from within or without the rumworld) to raise awareness. It’s just a reasonable, light five year old, closer to people’s memories to the Angostura 5YO, or some of their other such offerings.

With the usual crystal-clear 20-20 hindsight, Westerhall might have done better to take a more visionary long term view and kept their options open by maintaining the stills they did have, because the rumiverse did change in the years after 1996, opening up other possibilities others are now capitalizing on. But even if they declined to become a pure single-rum distilling force in Grenada, clearly the expertise they’re willing to hang their hat on now is that of of blending and ageing, and in this they are akin to Banks DIH in Guyana, which also lacks a still and makes rum from external imports. Let Rivers Antoine and the New Renegade distillery go for the artisanal rum crown, Westerhall will, for now, continue with what works for it.

And the Plantation rum shows that what works for Westerhall isn’t all that bad. When you really get down to it, this is an unpretentious hot-weather light rum of some originality…not much, just some.  Even if it never ascends to the tables of the rich, there’s nothing really wrong with it…as long as you’re not looking for anything particularly great, or from Grenada itself.

(#857)(81/100)

Oct 042021
 

Rumaniacs Review #127 | 0855

To be clear, there remains a Westerhall White Jack rum in current production.  It’s not this one. It has been suggested that it’s the same as the Jack Iron rum, just made into a white. That’s a harder call, but I doubt that too, because there’s a bit more complexity to this one than the Jack Iron where the reverse might have been expected. 

In any case, this version has been discontinued. Even by 2015 when The Fat Rum Pirate penned one of the only reviews of this 70% white Grenadian overproof, it had already undergone reformulation and rebranding that led to a sexier bottle and a one-degree proof reduction in strength. The current stylish ice-blue-and-white bottle is rated 69%, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that this was done to go head to head with the much better known and well-regarded Clarke’s Court White Overproof or Rivers Antoine white popskulls which were also at that strength, and perhaps also to steal a point or two of market share the pack leader, the Wray and Nephew 63% version (although good luck with that, ‘cause in my view they had and have nothing to worry about).  Then again, it might also have been to make it more easily transportable on airlines ferrying tourists in and out, who often cap their spirit strength allowances at 70% ABV.

Old and new variants of the White Jack. The one reviewed here is the bottle on the left.

That said, it’s useful to know that Westerhall in Grenada is no longer a distillery: though a distillery did exist since the mid-1800s, it was all about the bulk export market — Westerhall’s own brand, Rum Sipper Strong, was created to service the islanders’ demand only in the early 1970s.  It took another decade and a half or so, before the Westerhall Plantation Rum 1 was formulated specifically for export – however, the sales couldn’t have been strong enough to justify the distillery, because by 1996 Westerhall ceased distillation completely and started buying bulk rum itself (mostly from Trinidad’s Angostura), leaving its distillery to rust – it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the ruins can be seen to this day on the grounds

Colour – White (from filtration)

Age – Unknown; suggested to be unaged but I doubt it – like many early white rums were, it’s likely lightly aged, a year or so, and then filtered to clarity (unaged rum is already clear). 

Strength 70% ABV

Nose – Initially there’s a certain heavy meatiness, like yeasty bread dipped into a thick split pea soup; salt, brine, olives, fresh bell peppers.  Also citrus and herbs, grass, sugar water – there’s an element of cane juice here that is completely unexpected.  Surprisingly it develops very nicely, with some estery background notes and sharp fruitiness of strawberries and bananas.

Palate – Very intense, unsurprising at the strength. Nuts, cream, butter, quite creamy, and tasting both of sweet and salt; lemon zest, apples, bananas, red currants and some spices – cumin and cardamom.  There’s more but the strength kind of eviscerates any subtler notes and this is what you’re left with

Finish – You wouldn’t think there’s more than a hot last of spicy fumes, but actually, it’s not bad: toast and cream cheese, chives, olives which gradually transmutes into a nice sweetness of green grapes, bananas and some other indeterminate fruits.

Thoughts – No competitor to the more aggressive, individualistic, funkier and all-out better J. Wray.  It’s a column-still, barely-aged rum, with all that implies, and strong enough to cure all that ails you (from a broken heart to your stalled jalopy, it’s rumoured) — and it’s surprising that as much taste has come through as it has. Not entirely a bad rum, just not one of much real character, and best for its intended purpose, a mix of some kind.

(78/100)

Sep 272021
 

Just in case rums that have mated with a two-by-four are not your thing, kiss your significant other tenderly and take a deep heaving breath before sipping SMWS’s first Trini offering, because at 63.4% and with this profile, you’ll need a fall-back plan.  I mean, there’s an enormous expanding blast radius of sharp aromas and tastes billowing around this thing that makes such prudence not just an option, but a requirement. Reading the stats on the bottle gives rise to some serious anticipation, which makes it all the more peculiar that it ends up being so…ordinary.

Take a careful sniff. You’ll probably find, like me, a fair bit of “traditional” rummy aromas here: vanilla and caramel, blancmange, coffee, creme brulee. The slight bitterness of oak and wood varnish. Raisins, kiwi fruits and orange rind, a touch of mild salt.  And….and… well actually, that’s pretty much it. What the…? For sure the nasal assault is strong and sharp and hot, yet that proof point, that quarter century age, does suggest that it should do more than simply giving the impression of still being in short trousers. It feels washed out.

How’s the profile when tasted, then? Better, yes…up to a point. The hot bite of oak tannins leads in and never quite lets go. Some shoe polish, iodine, glue. Coiling behind that are salted caramel ice cream, vanilla (again, annoyingly obstreperous) and white chocolate, almonds, and where the hell are the fruits gone? At best, if you strain you might pick up some black tea and with water and I dunno, peppermint gum, a green apple, maybe half a pear.  Water helps tone down that acrid tone, but this just – paradoxically enough – calls attention to the fact that it’s there to begin with. Finish is assertive and spicy, then fades fast, leaving behind memories of spices – marsala, cumin, more vanilla, brown sugar and again, oak and black tea.

By now you’ve probably come to the dismayed realization that this is not a rum eliciting paeans of praise from choirs of angels who’ve gotten high on their share, and you’d be right, because it fails on a number of levels. The strength obliterates subtlety: not always a bad thing when done right, but on this occasion all it does is dampen down what should be a more complex, dense series of tastes. Even with 25 years of continental ageing there should be more going on — instead, we get a fiery shot that could as easily be five years old.  The vanilla is like a guest that won’t leave and between that and the oak, the result is a rum overwhelmed by hot simplicity.

The SMWS, which was formed in 1983, is primarily a whisky society, though in recent years they have branched out into armagnacs, cognacs, bourbons, rums, and even gins. So far they have rums from Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Nicaragua, Belize and Trinidad and it’s all a bit hit or miss, with mostly Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana rums holding up their end when rated against other indies doing the same thing. From T&T they have several Caronis (the R13.x series) and only two from Trinidad Distillers, the R10.1 and R10.2, issued in 2016 and 2017 respectively. That distillery is of course the home of Angostura, and always struck me, what with their industrial stills and barrel focus, as closer to the Spanish heritage production ethos than that of the English.

Personally, I’m not always won over by Trinidad rums aside from the Caronis (this is a purely personal thing). Angostura, though more informative than the Panamanians, too often shares something of their overall ho-hum, good-’nuff anonymity and deserves an occasional suspicious look. Sort of like “Okay, it’s a rum, so what?” That can work with blended releases issued to the broader market where “cheap and decent” gets the sales, but for a more exacting audience exemplified by those people whom the indies serve, that can be fatal, as it is here. The R10.1 is a strong blast of nothing in particular, a big show with no go, showcasing far too much of the barrel and not enough of the booze.

(#853)(79/100)


Other notes

  • Initially the rum sold for £195 but subsequent auctions on WhiskyAuctioneer and Catawiki came in lower than that.
  • Aged in refill ex-bourbon barrels between December 1991 and 2016, with a final outturn of 228 bottles.
  • A comprehensive list of all the SMWS’s rum bottlings can be found at the bottom of the biography.
Jan 202019
 

The Jack Iron rum from Westerhall is a booming overproof issued both in a slightly aged and a white version, and both are a whopping 70% ABV. While you can get it abroad — this bottle was tried in Italy, for example — my take is that it’s primarily a rum for local consumption (though which island can lay claim to it is a matter of idle conjecture), issued to paralyze brave-but-foolhardy tourists who want to show off their Chewbacca chests by drinking it neat, or to comfort the locals who don’t have time to waste getting hammered and just want to do it quick time. Add to that the West Indian slang for manly parts occasionally being iron and you can sense a sort of cheerful and salty islander sense of humour at work (see “other notes” below for an alternative backstory).

Truth to tell, the Jack Iron is not strictly a Grenadian rum – even back in the 1990s and probably for long before, it was distilled and slightly aged (three years) at Angostura’s facilities in Trinidad, before being shipped to the Spice Island for final blending and bottling. It had its antecedents in local moonshine brewed in the Grenadines to between 70% and 90%, sometimes spiced up, sometimes not, with water used as a chaser, and was usually referred to as “Jack”. (Apparently there is a 99% version of this rum called “Carriacou 99%!” floating around as well, available only on the eponymous island).

Since we’re talking about an overproof column still product made in an industrial facility with minimal ageing, the pale straw colour is understandable, and one does not go in expecting too much. This makes the initial aromas of the Jack Iron somewhat surprising, because they’re actually quite good. It smelled light, sweet and almost delicate, like raspberries dumped into pear-infused water. However, this is deceptive: it lures you into a false sense of security, and actually it’s the fin of the shark that gotcha. Much more heated and forceful aromas become noticeable after the alcohol burns off – olives, brine, gherkins, some relatively mild fruit (watermelons, pears, papaya) but none of the heavy fleshy ones.

Everything turns on a dime when it’s tasted, where the full force of the proof is brought to bear. It’s hot, fiery, fierce. Alas, that heat also takes much of the taste away as well, so all you get is sharp bite without soft taste (the Neisson L’Esprit 70⁰ Blanc found a way around this, somehow, but not here). Essentially almost all the tastes bar a few that slip through, are killed cold stone dead and it takes some real effort to discern candy floss, very light fruits (same as the nose), vague vanilla, some florals, and even the Angostura 5 YO is better than this (while being much weaker). This does not appreciably change even when water is added, by the way, and while the finish is suitably epic, and you can pick out some marzipan and vanilla and watermelon juice (and that’s if you reach), at the end it’s just long and hot and sharp. And, I confess, boring.

To some extent this rum reminds me less of Angostura’s lightly aged offerings were they to be beefed up, than of the the Marienburg 90 from Suriname, and also St. Vincent’s Sunset Very Strong. The nose is really kind of nice – delicate, herbal, floral, like a velvet-wrapped stilletto; unlike the palate, which is just a sledge, simple, bludgeoning, direct, without subtlety or complexity of any kind. Of course it’s a mix, not a sip, and it would certainly ratchet up anything into which you dump it, so there’s that I suppose.

Like many overproofs, complexity is not what it’s about — it’ll never be an international festival favourite, being the sort of rum best had in the local backcountry or on a bartender’s back shelf. It goes down much better only after a couple of shots (with chaser), when just about everything somebody says becomes a masterpiece of scintillating wit or a blindingly intelligent insight. Just be aware that such a state of affairs doesn’t last into the next morning’s headache, which is really not the rum’s fault, but your own, if you had gone late into the night with your squaddies, daring to drink it like a Grenadian.

(#591)(74/100)


Other notes

When I listed the Jack Iron as one of the 21 strongest rums in the world, Vaughn Renwick on Facebook made this comment: “The history of Jack Iron is murky, but as far as I know from the mid 1900s at least and probably earlier, it was originally a ‘cask rum’ or ‘puncheon rum’ of high but indeterminate strength, shipped directly from Trinidad to Carriacou, a dependency of Grenada. Certainly it was the only place it was available until recently. I believe it was called ‘Jack Iron’ because if you were brave enough to drink it, it was akin to being hit by the iron handle used to turn a car ‘jack’. Because it was shipped in wooden casks it had a light straw colour. Possibly it spent some time in casks in storage after distillation.”

Feb 122015
 

D3S_9555

A Spartan rum, sporting a massive codpiece, ripped eight-pack, and real attitude.  Not for the lovers of softer or sweeter fare.

You just gotta shake your head with appreciation when you regard Cadenhead and their commitment to muscle-bound zen machismo in rums.  They’ve always had a certain retro charm and a daring to go off the reservation that I grudgingly admired, and they have continued along that path here with this monster full proof.

Leaving aside the squat, glowering psycho-orange-and-yellow bottle with its cork stopper which is almost a Cadenhead signature, it should simply be noted that Cadenhead hewed to their minimalist ethos and added nothing in, and filtered nothing out.  In some previous iterations they tremulously diluted to drinking strength (whatever that might mean), but not here – perhaps they wanted the TMAH to take Velier out back and beat the snot out of it. It’s bottled at 66.9% – a hilariously strong drink, a growlingly full-proofed rum that wants to land on your glottis like a blacksmith’s solid iron anvil.

D3S_9555-001

I had been softened by several forty percenters, sampled prior to cracking this one, and was consequently somewhat unprepared for the force with which the TMAH assaulted my beak (it was sharp and deep, and should absolutely be left to stand for a while before nosing). I could barely discern any molasses background at all, in between furiously swirling notes of rye bread, salt biscuits and salt butter.  Not much caramel here.  But patience, patience – it did get better.  After opening up, it smoothened out a good bit and simply became an intense drink rather than a skewering one – and one could gradually tease out thin threads of honey and nougat, and sweeter notes of vanilla, cherries…and a little spicy note of marzipan.

That didn’t soften the arrival, of course. It was a little less than medium bodied, this rum – even thin, which I didn’t care for – and it detonated with a hurricane force level of taste, scattering shrapnel of sweet and salt in all directions. Dates and figs came to mind, more crackers, a sharp aged cheddar (but not as creamy).  Adding water helped here: almonds, nutmeg and slivers of dried fruit emerged, but slowly, thinly, as if terrified of being bludgeoned to death by the alcohol.  “Chewy” would not describe the experience exactly, but it comes close. Appropriately enough for such a full proof glass of high-test, the finish was enormously long, a sarissa of lingering flavours of nutmeg and vanilla and light sharp red fruit (pomegranates?). Cask strength, overproof, full proof or whatever – it was certainly a rum that demanded attention.

D3S_9556

Trinidad Distillers was established by Angostura back in the 1940s – even then Angostura had been into rum production for decades, though more famous for their eponymous bitters – and began producing alcohol in bulk.  At first this was primarily for rum production: as time went on, bulk exports formed a large part of its portfolio. Note however that most of the molasses they work with originates outside of Trinidad – in Guyana, Panama and the Dominican Republic.  In any event, Angostura as a company has little to do with it.  Cadenhead out of Campbelltown in Scotland have simply followed the craft-bottler route, bought a few barrels distilled in 1991, and then issued the rum at cask strength after it came of age in 2013, without any further mucking about

A rum like Cadenhead’s 21 year old is a curious beast.  Dissecting its profile and coming up with tasting notes is not like having the elements line up and present themselves one after another, like some kind of surreal audition or a debutante’s ball. They arrive when and as they will, and as we sip and try and think, we understand it’s not important to catch every nuance, every last flavour; sometimes all that matters is the overall tone, the commingled experience.  I may not be able to give you a complete set of tasting notes here: but the encounter as a whole is quite something.

And, it must be conceded, occasionally painful

(#201. 85/100)


Other notes:

  • Aged in ex-bourbon casks. No information on where, but I think it was in Scotland. If you compare similar full-proofed, similarly aged rums from Velier to the TMAH, you’ll see the difference tropical aging makes.
  • Bottled April 2013.
  • I really have no clue what TMAH stands for: Angostura never responded to me, and Cadenhead’s reps said they didn’t know. An anonymous online wit on FB –thanks, Cecil — said it stood for “Too Much Alcohol Here.” May his glass never be empty.

 

 

Mar 122011
 

First posted 12 March 2011 on Liquorature

Simple, rough, surprisingly tasty….good value, I think. You are going to get hit with a molasses club at the inception, and if you stick with it, it’ll reward your patience.  I’d say mix it, but a brave soul may take it as is.

Like most average folks I grew up watching bartenders mix drinks with Angostura Bitters; and one of the enduring memories of my first years in Georgetown was pouring a couple of drops into a cream soda to make a “rockshandy”.  It was years before I realized that the Angostura company also made a whole lotta rums, one of which, the Premium 5 year old, I’m taking a look at here.  I selected it as one of the three official rums for Liquorature’s February 2011  Gathering, but it was eclipsed in most people’s minds by the Favell’s London Dock, and the Renegade Grenada 1996.  Oh well.

Appearance wise, I’d have to say what I liked most about it was the bottle itself, and the colour: a deep copper bronze. It suggested that here was a rum done more in the demerara style than anything else. Against that, there was the cheap tinfoil cap which did less than enthuse me, as such things usually do, but these days I sort of sigh and move on…it’s ot as if my sniffy opinions are going to change a large company’s capping policy.

I noted above that this was a rum which seemed to have its origins in the Demerara style: this suggests right off the mark that what we would expect is a dark, heavy bodied rum of some sweetness, crammed with molasses and dark sugar flavour.  The initial nose upon breaking the seal confirmed the idea. Soft. Rich.  Molasses like “fuss time,” front and center. It reminded me of nothing so much as Young’s Old Sam’s Demerara rum, just not quite so overpoweringly single minded: I mean, the Premium 5 actually had a few extra notes to it, once it deigned to open up…slightly overripe bananas, and the hint of some fleshy kind of soft fruit – peaches or apricots, perhaps. Was there some sweet behind all that, like a grape?  Not sure.  But yummy nevertheless.  And to confirm this was not some old fuddy-duddy overaged grandfather of rum with hoarfrost in its scraggly whiskers, you could definitely sense its boisterous youth – a sharp, slightly uncouth bite to the shnozz.

Do we ever even remember what it was like to be fifteen?  When the world was young and ripe and came every day with an apple in its mouth?  When we burst with energy and felt everything with a zeal and passion that made all experiences black or white with no subtleties or variations?  When we wore shades all the time because we were so cool that the sun shone twenty four hours a day?  When our bodies ran so smoothly, so well, that we could eat all day long and still come out lean and mean, and we could digest a golf bag with no problems and nary the loss of a single bowel movement?  We paid for that fierce level of energy and blazing radiance of youth by not having much intellectual power, just about zero points of experience, and by pissing people off by making brash and brutal statements without even thinking about it.  This rum was something like that.

That edge of youth, that exuberance and cheerful spring, carried over to the taste and feel on the palate.  And while the legs of the rum on the sides of my glass were the slow, fat and voluptuous gams of a “Biggest Loser” contestant, the arrival of the spirit on the tongue came with a blaring tantarra of molasses trumpets, and a dark and medium-heavy body rescued from liqueur-ishness by having a lack of sugar that was just enough to compensate.  A spicy, heated, entrance betrayed its lack of years (or could be argued to emerge from the oak barrels in which it is matured); it was all mixed in with vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, bananas, and a faint citrus fork that neatly skewered the sweeter, muskier tastes (while staying firmly in the background).

The fade was a little less…well, shall we say exuberant.  Here the lack of years of the Premium Five was the most apparent, because to be honest, it was a rather crabby finish, a bit rough and ungentle, like the words we said to the first girl we so cruelly dumped in our teenage years. The burn was sharp and scratchy, yet I still gained some burnt sugar flavour in the final exhalation of fumes at that back end, which rescued it from being just a malicious product, out to do you harm and cause you pain.

In summary, I fondly regard the Angostura Premium Dark Five year Old as a canecutter’s rum: it’s hot and hairy, of strong character and not overly blessed with a plethora of sophistication…yet, it’s a rum you’d be glad to have around after a physical day’s work when all you want to do is kick back, have a curry gilbacker with dhal and rice and something to go with it.  Something like this rum, which you can uncork, mix it or not, drink, feel its warm burn, and never have to worry about how to spell “plethora”.

(#070. 77/100)

Dec 012010
 

 

Original Post Date 01 December 2010 on Liquorature.

(#013)(Unscored)

Workable blend that makes for a perfectly solid mixer without shining in any other way, except to maybe pip the low-end Appletons. Best save for the 1919 version.

***

Royal Oak Select Rum is another one of those annoying rums that tell you nothing about how old it is, which instantly informs you it’s a blend.  I don’t care much for whisky, as my humourous posts have made clear (I think the Peat Heads are misguided, but innocently so, and may be dint of effort and tender ministrations be brought to understand the error of their ways), but I do appreciate the fact that every bottle has its age on it. As a rule of thumb, I assume that when this is not the case on rum bottles, then it is less than five years old. Cadenhead Green Label is an exception, of course.

A golden rum, Angostura is young (3-6 years, nothing more definitive), made in Trinidad by the same folks who are now producing the once-superlative but now downgraded Zaya 12 year old, but not a on par with that voluptuous lass. Like with all single-digit rums (SDRs, as I call them), it lacks the polish and finish of older siblings (yes, yes, with the exception of the fabled EH-5), and I think it is not distilled for the export market, really.  Therefore it may be best used as a mixer.

Still, even for young rum, this baby has its admirers, and I’m one of them.  I wouldn’t drink it straight, since it’s a bit too harsh on the tongue and throat for that – the younger parts of the blend certainly assert their prescence early on.  But the nose has an interesting hint of citrus, and intriguing caramel overtones develop more seriously on further tasting, together with coconut and a certain mellow spiciness.  The body is quite good, with a sort of oiliness that leads to a long lasting flavour.  The finish is medium short, quite a bit of burn, but the caramel sweetness remains, mixed with a faint nuttiness. It’s a bit richer in flavour than I had expected, and while I don’t expect that much from an SDR, its strength (43%) and dominating sugar-caramel aftertaste belie the light colour and make it a good choice to go head to head 1:1 with coke.

In summary, a decent mixer about on par with an Appleton V/X but with its own profile and a stronger taste and slightly smoother finish, so not as low-tier as the Bundaberg (which I have gone on record as not appreciating).  Anyone who buys this is not scraping the bottom of the barrel by any means.

Note: I must go on record to express my appreciation to Keenan who raided his pantry to provide me with this bottle to sample. He finds it highly amusing to watch while I try to stay sober and drink four of his rums at the same time.

 

Oct 272010
 

Photo (c) Whisky Antique

First posted 27 October, 2010 on Liquorature.

Excellent presentation; a rich, complex and smooth experience that reminds you why premium rums exist at all and makes for a good gift for aficionados

Somewhere in the midst of an alcoholic haze left by the last gathering of the Gentlemen of Liquorature, I had this vague memory of drinking quite a superlative little sipper.  Pat had, of course, been quite miffed when I wrote the review of the Bacardi 8, since he had wanted to surprise me with something I hadn’t had before  – but he got me on the rebound with this one. Fortunately, my tasting notes survive the bender, and once I sobered up and remembered my name, I dug them out for this review.

Angostura is that Trini distillery that now makes the excellent Zaya (Diageo, via its shareholding in Moet Hennessy, owns the Zaya brand, but do not own the distillery – CL Financial retains majority shareholdings there). They have been making blended rums since the early part of the 20th century (1947, according to them).  At that time Bacardi owned some 45% of the stock, which it held until 1997 when CL Financial – the largest T&T conglomerate with fingers in dozens of pies – bought the shares (they ran into a major liquidity crisis in 2008 and in order to get a bailout, relinquished seats on the board to the Government1).

I don’t as a general rule make a comment on the bottle, but in this case I’m happy to make an exception: Angostura, home of the bitters and the Royal Oak, have poured the 1919 variation into a short, squat, square bottle with rounded shoulder and a massive, voluptuous cork.  Its excellence is more in the simplicity than anything overt…I had the same feeling about the English Harbour 10 year old.

The 1919 is a blend of rums aged a minimum of 8 years – both bottle and the company website makes this claim – in charred oak barrels which were previously used to age bourbon whiskey.  It’s a golden brown liquid, quite clear, somewhat reminiscent of the Havana Club Barrel Proof and has that same brilliant hue when the sunlight hits it.

On the nose, there is surprisingly little spirit burn.  There’s a mellow billowing scent when the bottle is opened, in which the smooth odours of caramel, vanilla and flowers balance well and softly together. There is a richness to the nose that is quite unexpected, and it promises an excellent drink.  Sipping it is a uniformly pleasant experience: I don’t usually expect too much from younger rums, though those greater than seven years are usually pretty decent mixers (the Flor de Cana 7 yr old is a perfect example): this one, it must be said, is an exception.  As a ground level sipper, it’s bloody good, perhaps a slightly less sweet and less spiced-up version of the Captain Morgan Private Stock at about the same price, but equally smooth, equally tasty.

The feel in the mouth is warm and silky rather than harsh, and after letting it breath you get flavours of buttery caramel, vanilla and molasses, but not too much of any one: in fact, the 1919 is remarkably restrained and well balanced among these primaries.  Coiling subtly around this backbone are some fruity and softer floral hints that I can’t quite identify but that enhance the central notes excellently. The texture is slightly viscous and smooth as all get-out.  And the finish is long, warm and spicy, with the faintest hint of sharpness that seems to be there just to remind you this is not the best Angostura wants to give (that might be the 1824 rum).

All in all, for a rum that costs in the forty dollar range, I’m impressed. For all its relatively youth, it scores highly in all the right areas: presentation, nose, flavour profile, mouthfeel and finish.  It is equally good as a mixer or as a sipper, again very much like the Captain Morgan Private Stock. And what it lacks in the complexity and sheer brilliance of the older premium rums (like the English Harbour 25, Appleton 30 or the El Dorado 25 and 21), it makes up for by being, quite simply, one of the best low cost rums out there, one which the average Tom, Dick or Harrilall can afford, and enjoy.

(#043)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • In 2016 or shortly thereafter, the short, stubby and squared bottle (the “old” version, reviewed here in 2010) was replaced with a more standardized cylindrical barroom-style bottle; apparently the blend was tweaked as well, because a couple of commentators on Masters of Malt were scathing in their denunciations of the new taste.
  • Difford’s Guide and my own company biography of Fernandes Distillers both note that the “1919” name derived from a batch of rum recovered from a 1932 Government rum storage warehouse fire by Fernandes; some casks labelled 1919 survived and the rum inside was felt to be good enough to blend and bottle under that title.  As a result it became a standard blend ever after, even transferring over to Angostura when they took over Fernandes in 1973. However, that blend did change over time – for instance there was supposedly some Caroni in the original makeup, but certainly no longer.
Jan 252010
 

 

First posted 25 January 2010 on Liquorature.

(#009)(Unscored)

***

I’m not always and entirely a fan of Renegade Rum, but will unhesitatingly concede that they are among the most interesting ones currently available, and deserve to be sampled. Un-chill filtered at the Bruichladdich Distillery on the Isle of Islay in Scotland, these limited editions have the potential to popularize single-vintage rum if one can get past the whiskey-like finish that jars somewhat with what I expect a rum to be.

My research notes that Renegade Rums trawls the Caribbean estates for traditional single distilleries that are no longer in operation or have some stock to sell, and purchases supplies from places like Guyana, Panama, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad — then completes the maturation in oak bourbon barrels, or those which have held madeira, port or wine. This impacts the taste quite significantly, I’ve found, but more than that, it makes the release extraordinarily limited: this one from 1991 was only 1380 bottles.

I’m unclear how old the 1991 Trinidad rum actually is, since it is advertised as 17, but 16 is printed on the bottle. Whatever the true age, the palate on this 46% (92 proof rum) is uniformly excellent, with notes of port and oak and a very subtle taste of caramel. The finish is not as sweet as I would expect, and does not last as long or as smoothly as a 16 year old rum perhaps should, though hints of burnt sugar and apples can be discerned (this is probably from the French port barrels used for the final ageing). What stops this from being a stellar review is simply the way the somewhat harsh and short finish takes some getting used to – when I first tasted this, I grumblingly compared it to a whisky. See, I’ve been getting sotted on the grog for more than half my life, and us West Indian hicks don’t particularly care to have our national drink turned into a Scottish home brew.

Ok, so that is snooty. Don’t get me wrong, however: I liked it precisely because it’s different, had character, texture, body and a good strong flavour. I wouldn’t drink it neat, though, or with ice (though I did both to write this review). This one, for all its rich provenance and comparative rarity, will be drunk rarely.*

* My good friend Keenan, horrified at my cautiously tempering the good stuff with coke (I was just checking, honest), snatched it away, proceeded to drink it with bowed head and misty eyes on the rocks, complimented it most fulsomely on its character, and disdained the cheap Lambs spiced rum (3rd tier, really) I was happily getting smacked on. I may not compliment Renegade’s creation as much as he did — he had to be dragged off, screaming “Leh we tek wan moh shot, bai” when the evening was over — but at least one person really really appreciated it, and the bottle I have will be kept for his use when next he is let out to play.

Jan 192010
 

First posted 19th January 2010 on Liquorature.

(#002)(Unscored)

Surprisingly similar to the Zacapa 23…silky, sweet, smooth, supple, and a great drink by itself.

***

This review is being written in January 2010 (and amended again in April), but we actually had this phenomenal rum for the first time in April 2009, the first time I hosted the Club. A nippy night as I recall, and iconoclastic as always, I obstinately refused to get whisky, and loudly blared to all and sundry that it would be a rum night (and so started a peculiar tradition of Liquorature, which is that the voluble, lone crazy in the corner is a Caner and nothing can be done about him, so let’s buy him a bottle to shut him up when the Club meets ). I’d like to point out that this rum was such a hit that it was repeated at the March 2010 gathering, having, in the interim, gained a cachet that made its re-release almost inevitable (whiskey drinkers never have this problem, I grouse – the shop shelves buckle with the weight of the many scotches, while us poor upholders of the sugar-flag must suffer in silence).

The Trinidadian Zaya rum is value for money. Zaya’s deep amber color suggests full body and rich flavors. Aromas of caramel, molasses vanilla are most pronounced upon opening. Initial tasting reveals substantial flavors of vanilla, coffee and molasses, followed by more subtle tastes of butterscotch. It is sweet, and that’ll be off-putting to some (and I suspect whisky lovers will avoid it altogether), but damn, is it ever smooth. Finish is consistently heavy throughout, leaving behind flavors of vanilla and caramel. The flavours are excellently strong without being overwhelming…for a bit there, I thought I was tasting a spiced rum, to be honest. If you like a bit of burn the finish will please you, but it’s not out of bounds to mix it just a bit. A splash or two of coke does the trick, though I fail to see the point, and I can just drink this baby all night long.

Research informs me that until 2008, Zaya was estate-produced and bottled in Guatemala by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala, home to Zacapa’s rums (see update below). where volcanic soils and tropical temperatures produce some of the best sugar cane in the world (as a loyal Mudlander, I cannot in all honesty accept this heresy, and so dismiss it as claptrap for the gullible). In the first half of 2008, the distribution of rums produced by Industrias Licoreras was assumed by the giant Diageo, resulting in the Zacapa brand being given priority. Zaya was forced to move production to the Angostura Distillery in Trinidad. Guatemalan rums are said to be some of the smoothest available; Trinidad’s rums by contrast are often more heavy on oak and tar, as evinced by the Caroni line of rums.

Packaging of the two versions is nearly identical, with a few unobtrusive changes to help you determine which version you are holding. The extra-heavy bottle with the leaf-wrapped neck and cork stopper are the same as before, but is now sealed with a sticker that reads: “Trinidad Production”. The labels are slightly modified as well. The small circular crest at the bottle’s shoulder that previously displayed a pre-Columbian native central American mask is now replaced with the Trini coat of arms containing a Scarlet Ibis and two sea horses. More obvious are the words at the very bottom of the main label, which declare the country of origin: “Imported Rum from Trinidad” now replaces “Imported Rum from Guatemala”. The one we had in April 2009 was definitely a Trini one, based on that label.

To my surprise, of all the rums we’ve had thus far, this one was the hit of the season (and it had strong competition that April night with a Jamaica Appleton Master Blender’s Legacy and a Flor de Cana 18 year from Nicaragua), and I relate this to the slightly more powerful taste I mentioned, which really struck a cord with the guys. Eyes still grow misty at the memory, or so I’ve been told, and the rum keeps being used as a quasi-baseline in our group. To my mind, it’s been eclipsed by the English Harbour 1981, but there’s also a ~$100 price difference so if I was short on funds, the Trinis would get my cash for sure.

Update February 2015

There is a growing backlash against Zaya, led by people who remember the older, more complex Guatemalan profile (and the early years of the Trini one), and who despise the addition of more and more vanilla and spices into the current profile.  It has led one popular bar to remove it from their shelves altogether, as remarked in this essay by the Rum Collective.  But other online reviewers over the years (Dave Russell and the RumHowler to name two) have also begun to gripe about the matter, and the current imbroglio over the amount of sugar and other inclusions in rums is sure to add fuel to the fire.


Update October 2021 (From a FB post by Matt Pietrek)

Here’s a little recent rum history rabbit hole I just went down, learning a few interesting things along the way. The elders among us may remember a time when Zaya rum was made in Guatemala, and considered a top shelf rum. It was only circa 2008 that production moved to Trinidad and its labelling became….. controversial….
It’s been reported in many places that Zaya was originally distilled at DARSA in Guatemala. (Update: Confirmed.) I had long assumed that Zaya was just another of the Industria Licorera Quezalteca-owned brands, alongside Zacapa and Botran.
I may have been wrong.
I just now came across this trademark registration for Zaya rum, first filed in 2000, and pictured here.
The original registrant was Wilson Daniels Ltd, although the current owner is listed as Infinium Spirits, both California companies. A little more digging turned out that both companies were owned by a Win Wilson. His obituary notes this:
“Win’s proudest career accomplishments included representing Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for more than 25 years, creating Cabo Wabo Tequila (named one of the “Top Three Tequilas in the World” by Anthony Dias Blue of Bon Appétit magazine) and conceptualizing the ultra-premium Zaya Rum brand from Guatemala.”
This got me thinking – Perhaps Zaya was an entirely a US-conceived brand, made using Guatemalan-made rum. Nothing wrong with that, of course. It just means that it may not have been a Guatemalan-origin brand, as I assumed. With that in mind, the similarity of the Zacapa and Zaya names seems more intentional. Assuming my above hypothesis is correct, Might Wilson have mimicked the Zacapa name with a vaguely sound-alike name, i.e., Zaya?
Meanwhile, I also learned that both Infinium Spirits and Wilson Daniels are owned by Young’s Holdings, the owner of Young’s Market, a major American liquor distributor that recently became a subsidiary of Republic National Distributing Company, the second largest US wine & spirits distributor.