Jun 152020
 

Francisco Montero is, unusually enough, a Spanish rum making concern, and the website has the standard founding myth of one man wanting to make rum and going after his dream and establishing a company in Granada to do so in 1963. Initially the company used sugar from cane (!!) grown around southern Spain to make their rums, but over time this supply dried up and now in the 21st century they source molasses from a number of different locations around the world, which they distill and age into various rums in their portfolio. Francisco Montero continues operations to this day, and in 2013 celebrated their 50th Anniversary with a supposedly special bottling to mark the occasion.

I say “supposedly” because after tasting, I must confess to wondering what exactly was so special about it. The nose itself started off wellmostly caramel, molasses, raisins, a dollop of vanilla ice cream, with hints of coffee and citrus, flowers and some delicate sweet, and some odd funkiness lurking in the backgroundshoes, rotting vegetables, some wood (it reminds me somewhat of the Dos Maderas 5+3).

But afterwards, things didn’t capitalize on that strong open or proceed with any kind of further originality. It tasted wispy and commercially anonymous, that was the problem, and gave over little beyond what was already in the nose. Molasses, caramel, some fruitall that odd stuff vanished, and it became dry, unimpressive. Okay after ten minutes, it turned a tad creamy, and grudgingly gave up a green apple or two, toast, and some walnuts. But really? That was it? Big yawn. Finish was short, bland, faintly dry, a hint of dried fruits, caramel, brown sugar.

So what was this? Well, it’s a 40% ABV solera rum with differing accounts of whether the oldest component is five or ten yearsbut even if we’re generous and accept ten, there’s just not enough going on here to impress, to deserve the word “special” or even justify “anniversary”.

Reading around, you only get two different opinionsthe cautiously positive ones from any of those that sell it, and the harshly negative from those who tried it. That’s practically unheard of for a premium ron that marks an event (50th anniversary, remember) and is of limited provenance (7000 bottles, not particularly rare, but somewhat “limited”, so ok). Most of the time people whinge about price and availability, but nobody really seems to care enough to make it a cause. Even the the ones who disliked it just spoke to taste, not cost. “Turpentine” growled one observer. Quite disappointed,” wrote another, and the coup de grace was offered by a third “Who in their right mind has been buying this stuff for 50 years?!” Ouch.

I’m not that harsh, just indifferentand while I accept that the rum was made specifically for palates sharing a preference for sherries, soleras and lighter ron profiles (e.g. locals, tourists and cruise ships, not the more exacting rumistas who hang around FB rum clubs), I still believe Montero could have done better. It’s too weak, too young, too expensive, and not interesting enough. If this is what the descendants of the great Spanish ron makers who birthed Bacardi and the “Spanish style” have come to when they want to make a special edition to showcase their craft, they should stop trying. The nose is all that makes me score this thing above 75, and for me, that’s almost like damning it with faint praise.

(#736)(76/100)


Other notes

  • Master Quill, that sterling gent who was the source of the sample, scored it 78 and provided details of the production methodology.
  • Not much else for the company has been reviewed except by the FRP, who reviewed the Gran Reserva back in 2017
Aug 082018
 

You will rarely find two rums of the same age from the same island more unalike than the Samaroli 1992 25 YO and the Appleton “Joy” 25 year old Anniversary Blend. One is a fierce, cask strength rum, tightly focused, furiously tasty, with a complexity and balance that nearly broke my chart. The other is a blended rum brought into being utilizing every ounce of more than two decades of experience which Joy Spence, Appleton’s Master Blender, brings to the the table. And yet, under the bare statistics that ostensibly set them apart, in both there runs the blood and bones of a Jamaican rum. The “Joy” is as much from the island as the Song of the Banana Man, yardies, rice and peas and Three Finger Jack. And while the “Joy” is a blend and not so individualistic, not so strong, it is nevertheless a triumph of the discipline, a combination more art and alchemy than science, and a worthy cap to Ms. Spence’s careeruntil she makes the next one.

Photo pinched from Josh Miller, used with permission (c) Inu a Kena

Some brief background notes: the rum was issued in 2018 to mark Ms. Spence’s 37 years with Appleton, more than twenty of which were as the Master Blender. It is comprised of rums at least 25 years old, with onedating back from 1981, the year she joined the companyis in excess of 30, and it’s a blend of both pot and column still marques. With 9,000 liters made, we can estimate somewhere around 12,000 bottles floating around the world, all issued at 45% and costing a bruising $300 or more (which was the same price I paid for the Appleton 30 YO many years ago, by the way).

The “Joy” was, to me, a rum that seemed simply made initially, but developed into a really lovely and complex piece of workI got the sense of a blender working right at the edge of her abilities, with excitement and verve and panache, and this was evident as soon as I smelled it. The nose began with a beautifully rich molasses aroma mixed in with a sort of dialled down crazy of musky and sharp funkcitrus, honey, oak, rotting fruit. I left it and came back to it over a few hours, and it presented leather, caramel, coffee, ginger, lemon zest with the faint dustiness of cumin. Oh and also nougat, and white chocolate.

The palate was where it shone the brightest, I think, and I would never mix this elegant piece of work (that might actually be a offense punishable by the lash in some circles). It was nicely dry, with forward notes of honey, molasses, vanilla, caramel bon bons and dried coffee grounds, which were intercut with some lingering oak, just enough to provide some bite and tannins without disrupting the smooth flow. It was just a shade briny, not too sweet, and balanced off the deeper flavours with lighter oneslight citrus, ginger, cumin, and green apples and grapes did a funky little number off to the side, for exampleand none of it was overbearing or in your face. In fact, part of the rum’s appeal was its deceptively unassuming natureeverything seemed tamped down and rather relaxed, but wasn’t really, just solid and well constructed, and remarkably complex and well-balanced to a fault. Even the dry and medium-length finish, which at that strength tends toward the short, was very enjoyable and softly lingeringly aromatic, closing off the sip with brown sugar, honey, flowers, crushed almonds and a little orange peel.

Big hat tip to Josh Miller who allowed me to make off with this picture

Summing up, this was a wonderful sipping rum. It wasn’t one that took a single distinct note and ran with it. It wasn’t a fierce and singular Jamaican funk bomb or hogo monster that sought to impress with sharp and distinct tastes that could be precisely catalogued like a grocery list of all the things that enthrall us. It was, rather, a melange of softer tastes set off by, and blended well with, sharper ones, none of which ever seemed to strain or reach for an effect, but simply provided a slow parade of commingled flavours that somehow come together into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Ms. Spence is perhaps one of the few legends we have in this curious subculture we inhabit, where owners commonly get more publicity and adulation than blenders (unless both inhabit the same corpus). I have never met herour paths haven’t crossed, which is my loss, not hersand yet how could anyone call themselves a rum lover and not know who she is? In some way, her hands have touched, her personality has influenced and her skills are evidenced in every rum Appleton has made in the last quarter century and more. My own feeling is that if she never makes another rum in her life, she will still be known for this one. The original 30 YO was a little overoaked, the 50 YO remains too expensive, the 21 YO too indeterminate and the 12 YO too broad basedbut this one, this one is a quiet triumph of the blender’s art.

And if you want a more mundane proof of the rum’s quality, I direct you to the actions of Grandma Caner when I gave her some to try. She affects to a certain indifference my writing, expressing impatience with all these rums cluttering up her damned basement and I could see she wasn’t all that enthusiastic. But when she took an initially disinterested sip, her eyes widened: she just about swallowed her dentures in her haste to ask for moreyou never saw an arthritis ridden hand move so fast in your life. The woman finished the sample bottle, cleaned out her glass, then my glass, and I could see her eyeing the bottle, perhaps wondering if it would be considered uncouth to ask to lick it out. Then she got on her old East German rotary phone, and spent the next three hours frantically calling all her friends to go find this thing, and I swear to you, I am not making this up! Word of mouth and actions like that are an endorsement of theJoywhich no amount of money could ever buy, and the cool thing is, the rum really deserves it.

(#536)(89/100)

Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer. They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier. It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever madeit’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the startdeep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts wellsalty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke. All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being soundedbut underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old. It left meuneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested itand the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle). But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows aboutso why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend? Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash? I mean, wtf, right?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives). It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy. Jaded rumistas will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-downtoo well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.” Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decentbut only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicornwhich probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
Sep 102017
 

***

Rumaniacs Review #055 | 0455

About the only place this rhum falls down is that for all the information we have on it, it leaves us begging for more. It is a heritage (orhalo”) edition rhum, a bland of six millésimes, those years considered to be of exceptional qualitythe legendary 1885 (R-010, remember that?), 1934, 1952, 1976, 1998 and 2000, and yeah, what else could we possibly want? Well, how much of each was in the blend, for one, and how old each of those components was, and further, how much (if at all) the final blend was itself aged.

But I’m not whinging too loudly. This is an impressive dram, and only 800 bottles were issued for the 250th anniversary of the plantation (I think this was 2015). One wonders if it was a coincidence that each bottle supposedly retails for €800, and yes, it’s still available, the secondary market has thankfully not gotten into the action here as yet.

Colourbronze

Strength – 43%

NoseLuscious, voluptuous. Caramel and dark fruits, hinting at (get this) a column still Demerara, except that it’s much lighter. Florals and sweet ripe fruit are exhaled with joyous abandonmarula fruit, cashews, light pineapple, and the sweet and over-ripe scent of mangoes that fall under gargantuan tropical trees in such profusion they rot right there on the ground. Also oaky, somewhat sharp, some freshly sawn lumber, pineapple, tobacco and grated ginger. Whewquite a smorgasbord, and well assembled, I assure you.

PalateAfter the stronger Neissons, this seems almost tame. Much of the nose has been retainedripe fruits, cherries, the crispness of gooseberries, herbs and grass and cream (“krauterquarkas the Germans would say). Much of the heavier components of the blend lose some definition here, the younger ones take over and contribute a light, frisky, sparkling profile. Pleasant, just not earth shaking. Light strawberries, vanilla, oak (perhaps a bit much), breakfast spices, cumin, and a vein of citrus and salt caramel through the whole thing.

FinishA shade brief, with the aforementioned fruit, cumin, citrus, salt caramel and raisins, lots of raisins.

ThoughtsI’d hazard a guess that the more recent vintages, say from 1976 on, contribute some sprightliness and vigour, some of that sharpness and tart fruitiness to the blend, while the older ones give depth and solidity upon which these rest. For my money I’d prefer somewhat less of the former, more of the latter, or some better balance between the two, and perhaps a greater strengthall the elements of a great rum are in evidence, but it’s too light. That’s not to say it’s badnot at all! – but it does make for ease and comfort; I’d personally prefer something more aggressive and complex which would elevate such a great collection of vintages a few points more.

(86.5/100)ruma

Some of the boyos have taken a look at this rhum alsosee the Rumaniacs page

May 252017
 

#367

In my own limited experience, Neisson has been one of the most distinctive Martinique agricole makers I’ve come across. There’s something salty, oily, tequila-ish and musky in those of their rums I’ve tried, and while this might not always be to my liking, the quality of their work could never be denied. To date, I’ve stuck with their aged rums, but back in 2016 L’homme à la Poussette (I’m thinking his poussette should be retired soon as his kids grow up but I hope he never changes the name of his site) passed along this ferocious white rhino, perhaps to gleefully observe my glottis landing in Albania.

Now, this rum is something of a special edition, initially released in 2002 for the 70th Anniversary of the distillery, and annually without change thereafterit is rested for six months in steel tanks after being taken off their Savalle still, but it is not aged in any way. Although the resolutely family-owned distillery is now 85 years old, the rum retains the original title, perhaps because of its popularity among the rabid cognoscenti, who enjoy its 70⁰ ABV and the 70cl square bottle Maybe some enterprising mathematician could work out how the sums of the corners and angles on the thing added up to or produced 70 — for my money, I’m more interested in whether the company releases more than 70 bottles a year or not, because for anyone who likes white lightningwhether for a cocktail or to brave by itselfthis unaged rum is definitely up there with the best (or craziest).

You could tell that was the case just by smelling it: clearly Neisson felt that the subtle, light milquetoasts of the independent full proofs or the clairins (who bottle at a “mere” 60% or so) needed a kick in the pants to get them to up their game and join the Big Boys. The sheer intensity of the nose left me gaspingsalt, wax, paraffin and floor polish billowed out hotly without any warning, accompanied by the sly note of well-worn, well-polished leather shoes (oxfords, not brogues, of course). Nothing shy here at all, and the best thing about itonce I got past the heatwas what followed: coconut cream, almonds, olives, fruits (cherries, apricots, papaya, tart mangoes), all bedded down in a bath of sugar water and watermelon, and presenting themselves with attitude. If I was telling a story, I’d wax lyrical by saying the ground moved, trees shook, and an electric guitar solo was screaming in the backgroundbut you kinda get the point already, right?

Oh, and that’s not allthe tasting was still to come. And so, be warned – 70 degrees of badass carves a glittering blade of heat down your throat, as surgically precise and sharp as a Swiss army knife. A hot, spicy, and amazingly smooth sweet sugar waterspiked with stewed prunes, lemon zest, wet grass and gherkins in brineroared across the palate. With its brought-forward notes of polish and wax and grassiness, I felt like it was channelling the gleeful over-the-top machismo of a clairin, yet for all that enormous conflation of clear and crisp tastes, it still felt (and I know this is difficult to believe) smoother, creamier and more tamed than lesser-proofed whites like the Rum Nation 57%, Charley’s J.B. Jamaican white, the Clairin Sajous or the Klérin Nasyonal….which says a lot for how well the L’Esprit is actually made. And the finish was no slouch either, long and very warm, salt butter and cereals mixing it up with some citrus, red grapefruit, more grass and even a hint of the smooth salty oiliness of a well-made tequila.

How the hell did they stuff so much taste into the bottle?” I asked myself in wonder. Perhaps the unwritten, unspoken codicil is “and not muck it all up into an unfocussed mess?” Well, they did provide the profile, they didn’t muck it up, I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it was only later that I realized that in a world where Ringling Brothers can fit fifteen fat clowns into a Mini, I should not have been so surprised, when it’s obvious that in the rumiverse just about anything is possible. Certainly Neisson proved it here.

You know how we hear the old joke about “Rum is the coming thing….and always will be”? This kind of statement is regularly and tiresomely trumpeted by all the know-nothing online drinks magazines who have their lazy hacks attempt to pen a few words or make up a click-bait list about a subject on which they are woefully ill-equipped to speak. Stilltake that statement a bit further. I honestly believe that as the stocks of old and majestic 20+ or 30+ rums run out or are priced out of existence, it will soon become the turn of unaged, unfiltered white rums to take center stage and become De NexBig Ting. I accept that for the most part these will be cocktail basesbut for the enterprising, for the slightly addled, for the adventurous among us, for those who are willing to step off the path and enter Mirkwood directly, the real next undiscovered country lies with these white mastodons which showcase much of the amazing talent that remains in our world, needing only the bugling of an enthusiastic drinker or an enthusiastic writer, to bring them to a wider audience.

(86/100)


Other notes

I should mention that Josh Miller of Inu A Kena ran the Neisson 70 through a 12-rum agricole challenge a while back. If you’re not into neat drinks so much but love a cocktail, that article is worth a re-visit.

May 162017
 

Rumaniacs Review #041 | 0441

Note: The initial full length review can be found in the main reviews section.

Everyone knows about the 50 year old rum which Appleton pushed out the door a few years ago. Not only because of the age, which they touted asthe oldest rum evereven though that was patently untrue, but because of the stratospheric price, which even now hovers around the US$4500 mark (give or take). I’m not sure if they still make itit was specifically commissioned for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence in 1962, so I suspect it was an 800-bottle one-off halo-issuebut that price alone would make many take a really jaundiced view of the thing. To their detriment, I believe, because having tasted it five times now, I can say with some assurance that it is still one of the very best rums Appleton ever made.

ColourMahogany with red tints

Strength – 45%

NoseThe smell opens the vault of my memories, of Jamaica, of the stately progression of other Appletons rums over the years, of the times I tried it before. Initial notes of glue, fading fast; then honey (I always remember the honey), eucalyptus oil, toffee, caramel, rich milk chocolate with rye bread and cream cheese, developing slowly into luscious candied oranges, molasses and burnt sugar. Some of that vegetable soup I noted from the 20 year old ceramic jug is here as well, much subdued. What woodiness that exists is amazingly well controlled for something this old (a problem the 30 year old had).

PalateThe dark richness purrs down the throat in a sort of warm, pleasant heat. Burnt brown sugar and wek molasses, caramel, toffee, nougat and nutty toblerone chocolate, a flirt of coffee. More fruits emerge than the nose had hinted at, and provide a pleasing contrast to the more creamy, musky flavours: grapes, bananas, apricots, pineapples. Then cinnamon, more honey, some cheese. Oakiness again well handled, and a sort of leather and smoke brings up the rear. I sometimes wonder how this would taste at 55%, but even at 45%, the rum is so very very good.

FinishMedium long, a fitting close to the proceedings. Mostly bananas, molasses, a little pineapple, plus a last dollop of caramel. And honey.

ThoughtsStill a wonderful rum to sip and savour. Sadly, too expensive for most. Those who can afford a whole bottle are unlikely to be into the rum world as much as we are, but whoever has it, I hope they’re sharinggenerously.

(89/100)

The other Rumaniacs have also written about the rum, and their reviews are in the usual spot.

Mar 262017
 

#350

The Savanna Millésime 2006 High Ester Rum from Réunion (or HERR, as it is labelled) is a steroid-infused Guadeloupe rum mixing it up with a Caroni and a Bajan. It may the closest one will ever come to one of Worthy Park or Hampden’s Jamaican taste bombs without buying one, betters them in sheer olfactory badassery and is possibly one of the best of its kind currently in production, or the craziest. It’s very likely that once you try it you’ll wonder where it was hiding all this time. It emphatically puts Réunion on the map of must-have rum producing nations with not just flair, but with the resounding thump of a falling seacan.

Just to set the background. I had bought the Savanna Rhum Traditonnel Vieux 2000 “Intense” 7 year old back in April 2016 in Paris, and when I finally wrote about it, remarked on the way it was interesting and tasty and seemed to channel a good Guadeloupe rum in that it walked a fine line between molasses based product and an agricole. Purely on the strength of that positive experience, I sprung for the HERR, and made some notes to get some of the other “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” Lontan series from Savanna as well (see “other notes”, below). The molasses-based HERR was distilled in 2006, aged for ten years in ex-cognac casks, bottled at a hefty 63.8% in 2016, bottle #101 of 686, and released for the 60th Anniversary of the Parisian liquor emporium La Maison du Whisky.

Anyway, after that initial enjoyable dustup with the “Intense”, I was quite enthusiastic, and wasn’t disappointed. Immediately upon pouring the golden-amber liquid into my glass, the aromas billowed out, and what aromas they were, proceeding with heedless, almost hectic pungency – caramel, leather, some tar, smoke and molasses to start off with, followed with sharper notes of vanilla, dark dried fruit, raisins and prunes and dates. It had an abundance, a reckless, riotous profusion of flavours, so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking that not only did Savanna throw in the kitchen sink in making it, but for good measure they included the rest of the kitchen, half the pantry and some of the plumbing as well. Even the back end of the nose, with some overripe bananas and vegetables starting to go off, and a very surprising vein of sweet bubble-gum, did nothing to seriously detract from the experience; and if I were to say anything negative about it, it was that perhaps at 63.8% the rum may just have been a shade over-spicy.

Still, whatever reservations I may have had did not extend much further than that, and when I tasted it, I was nearly bowled over. My God but this thing was rich…fruity and tasty to a fault. Almost 64% of proof, and yet it was warm, not hot, easy and solid on the tongue, and once againlike its cousinweaving between agricole and molasses rums in fine style. There was molasses, a trace of anise, a little coffee, vanilla and some leather to open the party; and this was followed by green apples, grapes, hard yellow mangoes, olives, more raisins, prunes, peaches and yes, that strawberry bubble-gum as well. I mean, it was almost like a one-stop shop of all the hits that make rum my favourite drink; and it lasted for a long long time, closing with a suitably epic, somewhat dry finish of commendable duration which perhaps added little that was new, but which summed up all the preceding notes of nose and palate with warmth and heat and good memories. There was simply so much going on here that several subsequent tastings were almost mandated, and I regret none of them (and neither did Grandma Caner, who was persuaded to try some). It presented as enormously crisp and distinct and it’s unlikely to be confused with any other rum I’ve ever tasted.

Just as an (irrelevant) aside, I was so struck with the kaleidoscopic flavours bursting out of the thing that I let the sample remain in my glass for a full four days (which is likely four days more than anyone else ever will) and observed it ascending to the heights before plunging into a chaotic maelstrom I’m somewhat at odds to explain. But one thing is clear – if the sharp fruitiness of unrestrained rutting esters is your thing, then you may just agree with me that the rum is worth a try, not just once, but several times and may only be bettered by the Lontan 2004 12 year old 64.2% made by the same company.

I said in the opening remarks that it might be the best of its kind currently in production, or one of the craziest. I believe that anyone who tries it will marvel at the explosive panoply of flavours while perhaps recognizing those off-putting notes which jar somewhat with what one expects a rum to possess. Having read of my experience, I leave it to you to decide which side of the divide you fall on. The HERR is not so much polarizing as unique, and it demands that you accept it as it is, warts and everything, on its own terms or not at all. If you do, I somehow doubt you’ll be disappointed, and may just spend a few days playing around with it, wondering what that last smidgen of flavour actually was. Sort of like I did.

(88/100)


Other notes

  • Personal encomiums and opinions apart, I should inject a note of caution. When tried in conjunction to the muskier, deeper Demeraras, HERR’s relative thinness becomes more apparent. Too, after some hours, that vein of bubble-gum sweet also takes on a dominance that can be off-putting to those preferring darker tastes in their rums, though such a whinge would not disqualify it from any rum lover’s shelf. But the chaos I noted earlier comes after you let it sit for the aforementioned few days. By the fourth day the rum becomes sharp, biting, and almost vinegary, and while one can still get the smorgasbord of fruitiness which is the source of its exceptionalism, it is no longer feels like the same rum one started with. Pouring a fresh sample right next to it on that day showed me the metamorphosis, and I believe that oxidation is something to beware of for any opened but long-untouched bottle.
  • As it turned out, an amazingly generous aficionado by the name of Nico Rumlover (long may his glass remain full) sent me not one or two additional Savanna samples, but eight more, just so that I could give them a shot…so look for those write-ups in the months to come. Along with several other rums and rhums, I used all of them (and the Intense) as comparators for this review.
  • Historical distillery notes can be found in the Makers section for those whose interests run that way.
  • Rum Nation looks to be releasing a Savanna 12 YO at 59.5% sometime this year.

 

Aug 132016
 

JM 1845 Cuvee - 1

After a tough day at work, the Cuvée 1845 is a balm to the exhausted mind.

Even at 42% ABV, The Rhum J.M. Cuvée makes a statement for agricoles that is worth listening to. It finds a balance between body, mouthfeel, taste, spiciness and warmth in a way that reminds us that agricoles should not be taken as merely a small subset of the greater rumworld, but should hold a place in the pantheon second to none. While these days my preferences run mostly towards stronger, full proof rums, I must say that there’s nothing about this lovely product that makes me want to ask for it to be dialled up. It’s excellent as it is.

Issued as an anniversary edition for the 170th year of production on the plantation in 2015 (which was when I tried it), the Cuvée is a rhum aged at least ten years in oak barrels, gold in colour, and housed in a handsome gold etched flagon of admirable simplicity. J.M. is, of course, the old house on Martinique which issued the haunting 1995 15 year old, as well as the equally memorable 2002 Millesime 10 year old, but I think this one is just a shade better. J.M. as a plantation has been in existence for longer than 170 yearsPere Labat founded the sugar refinery as far back as the 1700s, and it is clear that the current owners have forgotten nothing about what it means to make a top notch rhum.

JM 1845 Cuvee - 2There was a certain tartness in the nose that started things off, something like ginnip and soursop, the crisp and firm ripeness of a green apple. It was not sharp or spicy, just heated and well controlled in a way that made smelling it a joy rather than an exercise in pain managementI didn’t have to set it aside to chill out and breathe, but could dive right in. Once it opened a bit, it softened up, providing additional easy-going scents of vanilla, gingerbread cookies, unsweetened yoghurt and just a dash of pepper and cumin (which is not as odd as it may sound).

It was the taste that elevated the rhum above its 1995 and 2002 compatriots. What sinks an agricole in the minds of many molasses rum lovers is both the clarity and sharpness, whatever the tastes might be. Nothing of the kind happened here. In fact, it displayed the sort of originality and balance of crispness and softness which many rums these days seem to shy away from in an effort not to piss anyone off. The feel body was medium, soft, and had the instantly recognizable herbaceous background which marked it as a cane juice product. Over a period of time, spices, black pepper, vanilla, light citrus and flowers emerged, surrounded by woody notes from the oak barrels where it has rested. These oaky notes were held in check, providing a background of tannins that did not overwhelm, but enhanced further notes of ginger snaps, orange zest, ripe apples, and created a lovely mix of clear, light softness redolent of these many flavours all at once. And the finish was equally high-gradesweet, smooth, warm, tasty (nothing new added here, alas); perhaps a bit too shortmore a summing up of the whole experience than any effort to go off the reservation by presenting anything new.

There’s was something almost sensuous about the whole experience. The 1845, and indeed the rest of the rhums from this company, lacked that peculiar sense of individualism that marked out the Neisson line, yet in their own way are as distinct as any other, and with a quality not to be sneezed at. This is a rhum so well made that sipping it neat is almost mandatorymixing it might be a punishable offense in some places, and I certainly wouldn’t. Admittedly, the only J.M. rhums I’ve tried have been fairly high end oneswhen you can carry only one and buy only one, you tend to chose from the better end of the spectrumbut even among those I’ve sampled, this one stands out. It’s a remarkable, tasty, solid accomplishment from one of the last single-domaine, family-owned houses still in existence on Martinique. And a feather in its cap by any definition.

(#294)(88/100)


Other notes

  • Blend of rhums aged a minimum of ten years in 200-liter oak barrels
  • A brief bio of J.M is provided in the 1995 review
Mar 302013
 

A liquid, light peanut butter and jelly sandwich, heightened with unsweetened chocolate and displaying enormous smoothness and quality. Great product.

Ron Abuelo Centuria is the top of the line Panamanian rum originating from Varela Hermanos, the outfit that brought the 7 year old and 12 year old to the table, issued in late 2010 to celebrate their Centennial.

It’s said in some places to be solera-system-aged for thirty years in used bourbon barrels and in others that the blend of rums (some aged thirty years) was run through a solera: but one must always keep in mind that in any solera rum, only a small fraction of the resultant is actually that old (the math suggests it can be as little as 5% after less than ten years, and the average age of the blend trends towards seven). I make these remarks not to denigrate the product, just to inject some caution (and reality) into pronouncements regarding its age.

Not that you need to know all that, because taken by itself, this is quite a product. Ensconced in a wooden and cardboard box, in a neat bottle with a decent cork, there’s very little about it that doesn’t work. Except maybe the €155 price tag: considering that only 3000 bottles were made, this may be deemed cheap to some lucky fellows who have more money than I do.

Nose first: cherries, dark chocolate, coffee, walnuts and vanilla came right out of the initial pour of the bronze mahogany liquid. Really quite nice, but I suspect there may be some alien DNA in the Centuria somewhere, because after moving on and settling into a creamy, deep burnt sugar and caramel bedrock, there were some discordant background notes that melded uneasily with the core scents so well begun: salt biscuits and a certain musty driness (without being particularly arid) that just seemed, I dunno, out of place. It wasn’t enough to sink the Bismarck, but it wasn’t expected either.

The rum raised the bar for premiums by being phenomenally smooth, mind you. Bitch and bite were long forgotten dreams on the palate, as on the nose: the Centuria may lack the furious, focussed accelerative aggro of a Porsche, but that isn’t its purpose (especially not at 40% ABV) — it’s more a fully tricked-out Audi sedan, as smooth and deceptive as proverbially still waters. Caramel, nougat and burnt sugar flavours led in, followed by a slow segue into a combined smoky, salt/sweet set of tastes reminding one of pecans and dried fruits like dates and figs, not fleshier ones like peaches. In fact, this became so pronounced as to almost dismember the sweeter notes altogether (but not quite,which is to its real creditgreat balance of the competing flavours was evident here).

The exit is more problematic: though quite long for a rum bottled at standard strength, there’s something of that buttery caramel salty-sweet tang that doesn’t quite click for me. Yes it was pleasantly heated and took its time saying adios, which is fineI just didn’t care for the musky, flavours so remniscent of a peanut-butter-and-chocolate energy bar. I should hasten to add this is a personal thing for me, so you may like this aspect much more than I do. And I can’t lieit’s a damned fine rum, a more-than-pleasant fireplace drink on a nippy night, leading to deep kisses and warm embraces from someone you’ve loved for a very long time.

I often make mention, with top end rums that cost three figures and up, about elements of character. What I mean by this is that the complexity of the parts should lead to a harmonious commingling of the whole in a way that doesn’t repeat old profiles, but intriguingly, fascinatingly, joyously seeks a new tier of its own, for better or worse. The Centuria has character for sure, and what that does is make it different, albeit in a manner that may polarize opinion, especially at the aforementioned back end.

Still, this rum would have, as many overpaid management types in my company would say, all the key performance indicators identified, the drivers nailed down and quantified, all the basic boxes ticked. But then there’s the fuzzier stuff, the weird stuff, the stuff that some guys would call “over and beyond” or “elevated performance”, boldly going where no executive has gone before. In this Anniversary edition rum made by a solid company with quite a pedigree, it’s clear that they’ve succeeded (all my bitching about the off-notes aside). This is an excellent sipping rum where components come together really well, are dead serious about their task of pleasing you, and have taken time out to address some real complex subtleties. This is not the best rum of its kind ever mademy own preference on the Panamanians edges more perhaps towards the Rum Nation Panama 21but if you’re buying what Varela Hermanos is selling, they sure won’t short change you.

(#151. 88/100)


Other notes

  • The business about the Centennial is somewhat confusing: Varela Hermanos traces its origins back to 1908 when Don José Varela Blanco founded the Ingenio San Isidro sugar mill, the first in Panama, with alcohol distillation beginning in 1936. So I’m unclear how this rum was first issued in late 2010 to commemorate a hundred years of operations.
  • According to online remarks made by others at the time, but not represented on the bottle or its box, the Centuria contains no additives for colouring or flavour. This is, however, contradicted by hydrometer tests here (27g/L) and by Drejer (20g/L) and PhilthyRum (20g/L).

 

Mar 302013
 

A Millonario by another name, and as lovely.

Soleras as a rule tend toward the smooth and sweet side, and have a rather full body redolent of all sorts of interesting fruity flavours. My maltster friends regard this type of drink the way they would a sherry bomb (or a disrobed virgin, if one desperate enough could be found), with a mixture of hidden liking and puritan disdain. Still, after having had two fairly dry products in as many weeks, perhaps it was time to relax in a perfumed boudoir instead of the sere desert air. And because the Ron Cartavio XO was from Peru and a solera, I tried it together with the Ron Millonario Solera 15 and the Millonario XO which also hail from there, to see how it stacked up.

The Cartavio XO is pretty much the top of the line made by the company and is priced to match . It arrived in a black tin can and had a wooden tipped cork fixed into place by the twisted wire one might look for in a champagnenice touch. Liked the bottle tootapering, blocky, rounded shoulders, absolutely minimal design esthetic, and etched in gold (the tin can had most of the info, which was as it should be.

Smelling this was an exercise in repressed romanticism. Luscious is not a word that would be out of place to describe it. Creamy, almost like a mild citrus ice-cream, quite smooth and gentle on the nose. Apricots, cherries, vanilla, with just enough background of oaken tannins to provide some character. These scents mellowed gently into flower blossomsin spite of its depth, the nose had a certain soft, clean brightness to it, like the skin of a sleepy baby after being freshly washed and powdered. It was without a doubt better than the Solera 15, but interestingly enough, it lacked some of the complex pungency that so elevated the Millonario XO.

The feel on the tongue was similarly rich and pleasant, though perhaps a shade more acerbic than the Millonario, but beyond that, quiet and heavy and quite aromatic. Here again is a rum that takes its time, being in no hustling rush to get the sipping experience over with. At 40%, there wasn’t going to be any aggro, no yobbish pummelling on the palate, and indeed, from that perspective, I wasn’t expecting any. The rum sang of vanilla and fruit (peaches and dried apricots), dark chocolate, sherry, nuts and a very faint vegetal note, all of which solidified into a rich and serene taste close to the fullness of honey (if not quite so thick).

The one thing it is not quite good at is the exit. Medium long, hints of nuts, caramel, a sweet-salt tang, with a closing flirt of nutmeg. Faintly dry, but not unpleasantly sothe fragrant, almost humid rush of closing scents married well with that profile, yet try it against the Millonario and see if it doesn’t quite come up to that standard. Sure it’s solid and has a pleasant finish (some would sigh beatifically and say “awesome”), yet perhaps it is a shade too quiet and polished and does not demonstrate any kind of singular, individualistic character all its own, that said it was a walk-on-water rumit reminded me more of a liqueur (a very good one, mind), and here I thought there were similarities to other well-made drinks of some age and real quality, like the St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old, or the El Dorado 25, which were so well put together (and, unfortunately, so sweet) that they lost that sense of individuality exemplified by their own younger siblings. An issue worth remarking on.

Another point I’d like to make is this: the taste profile of the two XOs is extraordinarily similar. In fact, the two are so close together that I wondered whether Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation didn’t source his rum from Cartavio (for the record, he hedged when asked). It would take real effort to taste them side by side and know right off which was which. I’d say that the Millonario has the upper hand based on a slightly better nose, but in all other respects, these two excellent soleras are on par.

The Cartavio brand of rums was originally made in the coastal town of that name, just north of Lima: sugar cane grows in the area and has been since 1891, though the company was founded in 1929 – this XO is an 80th anniversary edition, quite limited in production. The parent company is Distilerias Unidas SAC, and they use molasses as the raw ingredient combined with a continuous fermentation process, utilizing a John Dore pot still and a continuous still.

Let’s sum up, then. Soft, pungent, all-round lovely, and the taste and palate being the best thing about it. I imagine you can make a cocktail with this rum. What I can’t imagine is why. The Cartavio XO may be among the best examples of passive aggression ever seen in the rum world, because clearly the distillers don’t want you to mix it (and my own takeyou shouldn’t).. By the time you hit to the bottom of this baby, you’ll still be scratching your brow, wondering what the hell that last tiny hint of savour actually was. It really is that good.

In fine, this is a rum that is quiet, gentle, and flows without fuss or turmoil to a serene conclusion. It is a rural country stream, chuckling dreamily over rocks and burbling to its destination with no agendaall it wants is to please, and it succeeds. It lacks the testosterone fury of a full- or overproof rum, and avoids the blandness of more commercial rums that sell by the tanker load: drinking this rum and revelling in its unaggressive and unassuming sophistication is something like loving another repressed person like yourself, dearlyand waiting for the kiss that never quite comes when you want it, but is going to happen, eventually, neverthelessand be worth the wait when it does.

(#150. 88/100)


Other Notes

  • On the tin enclosure and on the website, Cartavio note that the rum is an 18 year old made in the solera method, aged in white oak barrels (some from Slovenia, how cool is that?) but caution must be exercised in what the age statement really means: is it a blend of rums originating from a solera whose average age is eighteen (unlikely, since the math wouldn’t support that); is it a blend of rums averaging eighteen years which then went into a solera process; is it a solera rum that has been in the process for 18 years (my choice for most likely); or is it a solera blend of rums that was then aged for another eighteen years? I simply can’t get resolution on the matter: and it illustrates the issue with pinpointing the true age of a solera rum. For my money, the oldest part of this blend is eighteen, not the youngest. However, note that Josh Miller in early 2016, remarked in his review of the lineup that there isno rum younger than 18 years in the blend.And Matt Pietrek, in a piece on Cartavio, wrote in December 2015 that it was also a true 18 year old.
  • According to wikipedia, Cartavio rums are now made in Aruba. I’m unclear whether “made” means “aged”, “bottled” or both. My bottle makes no such mention, by the way.