Jun 072018
 

#518

The Velier Port Mourant 1972 is the Demerara rum from further back in time than anything else they’ve ever put out the door, beating out the legendary Skeldon 1973 by a year, and is a stunning 35 year old rum. Given its age and how long ago it came out the door (2008) it would seem to be a better fit for the Rumaniacs series, but I felt it raised two issues that perhaps made a full-fledged review essay more appropriate. Plus, I really liked the damned thing.

Quite aside from my personal admiration for these older Velier rums, what also piqued my interest was that two of my barking mad viking friends rated it as high as they did in their Velier PM blowout some months ago. I was surprised as well: here was a rum bottled on the drowsy side of 50% and not even fully tropically aged, and it scored that well? This seriously enagaged the gears of my curiosity, and in April of 2018 I was able to put it into an eight-rum mashupjust to see what the fuss was all about, and if I could perhaps poke a hole in their assertion that it was that good. This is the sort of cheerful one-upmanship we indulge in, in our spare time, when we aren’t posting pictures of our latest acquisitions.

Those who have read the recent post about the 8 Demerara rums from DDL and Velier (spoiler alert! read no further if you are that person) will find few surprises here, since they’ll know it rated at the top. Let’s go deeper and see if we can explain how and why it got there.

The nose made an immediate and emphatic response: “Here’s how.” I had exasperatedly grumbled “OFFS! with the El Dorado 1988 25 YOwith the PM 1972 I leaned back, sighed rapturously and said “Oh yeah.” Sweet deep raisins, licorice, soya (very light saltiness, really nicely handled), coffee, bitter chocolate leather and smoke The balance of the components and the way they segued one into the other, and re-emerged just as you thought it was all done, is nothing short of outstanding. And even when I thought the show was over and then went to wash the dishes, do the laundry, kiss the snoring wife and return, there was more waitingprunes, blackberries, nougat, anise, chocolate-covered dates, molasses, aromatic tobacco and a fine blade of almost imperceptible citrus.

A rather more traditional and solid PM backbone of licorice and molasses was in evidence once the tasting began, acting as a clothes horse upon which were hung other elements of flavourthat chocolate and coffee again, muscovado sugar, white pepper, vanillaand that was just the beginning. I went out grocery shopping, cleaned the house, made brunch for Mrs and the Little Caner, came back, tasted again, got hit by oak (not much), orange peel, flowers, sawdust, raisins, black grapes, ripe mangoesI held the bottle up to the light in some perplexity, wondering, where was all this stuff coming from? Even the finish displayed that remarkable richness of profile, and rather than go into detail, I’ll just repeat what I said in the mashup essay: “All of the aboveplus some mint”. Because that was exactly it.

The balance and complexity and overall richness of this rum is extraordinary. It is aromatic to a fault, and so generously endowed with tastes and flavours that if they were physical attributes, somewhere John Holmes would be weeping with envy. And all of that is in spite ofor because oftwo issues.

For one thing, the PM 1972 is not a particularly strong rum (“firm” might be the best word to describe it). You’d think that at 47.8% it would be a laid back, slow-’n’-easy kind of product, with a lot of complexity but not too many rabbits squirming around in its jock. But somehow it succeeds. It shines. It’s strong enough to make a statement for its quality without wimping out at some low-ass strength that would make it a dilettante’s wet dream but not completely delivering on its promise (like the Cadenhead Demerara 1975 at 40.6%, perhaps) . I’ve made many comments about my evolving preference for cask strength bruisers, yet I cannot fault the low-power engine that drives this thing, because it’s so seamlessly constructed, samples so well.

Secondly, Luca is known for his fierce proselytization on behalf of tropical ageinghis oft-stated opinion, proudly displayed on so many of the rums he slaps Velier’s name on (and which has been adopted by many other producers) is “Fully Aged in the Tropics”. But here that’s not the case: the PM 1972 was partly aged in Guyana, and partly in Europe. To some extent that may be the exception proving the rule, but to my mind what it demonstrates rather more subtly is that we should not be so quick to dismiss continental ageing just because it’s becoming some sort of conventional wisdom. The fact is that other independents like the Compagnie, Rum Nation, Transcontinental, Samaroli, Duncan Taylor, Hunter Laing etc have long shown that continental ageing can work if done right, and perhaps appeal to rum drinkers who like or prefer a different kind of aspect to their aged-rum profiles. The sweet spot of dual ageing as opposed to one place or the other may just be demonstratedin spadesby this old and almost forgotten rum, of which only 175 bottles ever came to the world from the original two barrels.

But wherever it slept and whatever the proof, somehow the Port Mourant 1972 finds an intersection of strength and ageing to present a profile that is almost without flaw. I went in to the tasting, rather snidely hoping to disprove its purported brilliance. I was unable to do so. Simply stated, the rum is phenomenal. It’s one of the best Guyanese rums at its strength, from any still, at any age, ever made. It hurts that it is so rare and that the new crop of rum drinkers are unlikely to ever try it, because you can bet that anyone who still has one is holding onto it as tight as Mrs. Caner to the dream of a Gucci purse. Given my appreciation and respect for this rum, I have to admit that if a bottle ever landed in my grubby paws, then my grip would be pretty fierce as well.

(92/100)


Other notes

  • Assuming 2 barrels of 500L each, with an outturn of 175 bottles at 0.7L each (122.5 Liters total), we can estimate something like a 90% angel’s share.
  • Distilled August 1972 bottled March 2008.
May 052018
 
Enmore 1988 1

Photo (c) Barrel-Aged-Mind

Rumaniacs Review # 077 | 0508

The 1988 Enmore vintage has quite a lot of siblings from the same year: Berry Brothers, Bristol Spirits, Compagnie des Indes, the Whisky Agency, Rum Cask and Silver Seal have all issued rums from that year, with varying ages and qualitiessome more and better, some less and less. But all are variations on a theme, that of the Enmore wooden still from Guyana now housed at Diamond, and perhaps only rum geeks with their laser-like focus bother to get them all in an effort to write a dense analysis of the finest, most minute differences. This one is, to my mind, one of the better oneseven though it’s likely that this is not from the Enmore wooden coffey still, but the Versailles single wooden pot still (see other notes below).

ColourDark blonde

Strength – 51.9%

NoseYummy. Surprisingly light at first nosing, then develops some heft and complexity after a few minutes, so don’t rush into it. Coffee, petrol, wax notes at first, opening up into oak, fruits, anise, olives, prunes, dates and not-so-sweet fruits and molasses. It’s deceptive, because at first it doesn’t seem like much, and then it just keeps coming and providing more and more aromas. Just because it starts quiet and unobtrusive sure doesn’t mean it ends up that way.

PalateCoffee, oak, fruitiness, some toffee, wax and shoe polish open the show, as well as being briny and with olives galore plus a little bit of sour creamthese come out a little bit at a time and meld really well. Lemon zest, coconut and background anise notes develop as it opens up (this is definitely one you want to take your time with). It’s crisp and clear, skirtingthinby a whisker, yet even so, satisfactorily rich, tart, creamy and flavourful. There’s a even a wisp of molasses lurking in the background which is quite pleasant. It’s warm, well-balanced, and pretty much under control the whole time.

Finish – 51.9% is a good strength: it allows the finish to go without hurry, as it heads for a creamy, briny, lemony and licorice-like exit, with perhaps some coffee grounds and bitter chocolate wrapping up the whole experience in a bow.

ThoughtsTwo years ago I rated it 89 points in Paris. This time around, trying it with a few other Enmores (including the DDL Rare First Batch Enmore 1993), I felt it remained an excellent product, even though it slipped just a little in the company it kept. But just a smidgen, within the margin of error, and it remains a great exemplar of the wooden stills and the country that no-one would ever be ashamed to own, and to share.

(88/100)


Other Notes

  • The label states the rum derives from the Single Wooden Pot Stillbut that’s not the Enmore (which is thefiling cabinetshaped wooden coffey continuous still) but the Versailles. Luca has confirmed elsewhere that it is Versailles (which means the label is a misprint), and I’ve been told that several of the 1988s share this confusionwhich likely arose because while this still originated in Versailles, it was moved variously to Enmore and Uitvlugt, before finding its final home in Diamond (DDL Website)
  • The translation of the Italian on the back label notes that the rum is aged in Europe (continental).
Mar 212018
 

 

#499

Velier’s 1997 Port Mourant expression announces its presence with the sort of growling distant rumble of an approaching storm system, igniting emotions of awe and amazement (and maybe fear) in the unwary. It’s 65.7% of fast-moving badass, blasting into a tasting session with F5 force, flinging not just bags but whole truckloads of flavour into your face.

You think I’m making this up for effect, right? Nope. The nose, right from the start, even when just cracking the bottle, is ragingly powerful, shot through with lightning flashes of licorice, blueberries, blackberries, off-colour bananas, citrus, pineapple slices in syrup. And as if that wasn’t enough, it apparently decided to include sheeting rainstorms of anise, coffee, cinnamon, ginger, nutmegjust because, y’know, they were there and it could. It was heavy, but not too much, and it made me think that while the ester-laden Savanna HERR or Hampdens and Worth Parks have similarly intense aromas (however unique to themselves), the darker heavier notes from Port Mourant definitely have their place as well.

Photo courtesy of Barrel Aged Mind

Physically tasting the rum is an experience in itself, largely because of its weight, its heft, and its tropical intensityyet amazingly, it’s all controlled and well balanced. It’s hot-just-short-of-sharp, smooth, buttery, dark, licorice-y, caramel-y and coffee-like, and while you’re enjoying that, the additional notes of blackberries, unsweetened black tea, citrus and raisins (and more anise) descend like black clouds casting ominous shadows of oomph all over the labial landscape. The assembly of the vanilla, salt caramel, fruity spices and anise notes of the PM is really quite impressive, with no overarching bite of tannins to mar the experiencethey were there, but unlike the El Dorado Rare Collection PM 1999, they kept their distance until the end. And even the finish held up well: it was long, dry, deep, with those heretofore reticent tannins finally making their presence felt,causing the fruits to recede, flowers to step back, and it all stays alive for a very, very long time.

Tropical ageing can’t be faulted when it produces a rum as good as this one. Balance is phenomenal, enjoyment off the scale, and it just doesn’t get much better than that. The endurance of the aromas and tastes hearkens back to the neverending-smell-story of the Skeldon 1973. It’s just about epic, and I mean that. Consider: I had a generous sample of this rum and played with it for some hours; I had dinner; had a bath, brushed my teeth; I went to bed; I woke up; did all the “three-S” morning ablutions, dressed, had coffee, and as I went out the door and got kissed by the wife, she frowned and asked me “What on earth have you been drinking?” Kissed me again. And then, after another sniff. – “And why the hell didn’t you share any?” I’ll drink a rum like that any day of the week. Maybe even twice.

(90/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn 1094 bottles. Wooden double pot still. Velier needs no introduction any more, right?
  • Compliments to Laurent Cuvier of Poussette fame, for his generous sharing of this gem among rums from the Lost Age of the Demeraras.
  • Two Danish squaddies of mine, Nico and Gregers, detailed their own experiences with the PM 1997 in the recent Velier PM Blowout.
  • The most detailed review of this I’ve ever seen is Barrel Aged Mind’s 2013 write up (sorry, German only). And if you want to know how far we’ve come, consider that a mere six years ago, he paid 118€ for it.

Postscript

It was instructive to note the reactions to the El Dorado Rare Collection (First Edition) reviews in general, and the Port Mourant 1999 in particular. Many people felt the ED PM took pride of place, variously calling it a flavour bomb of epic proportions, “huge”, “brutal” and “immense”. Clearly the Port Mourant rums have a cachet all their own in the lore of Demeraras; and if one disses them, one had better have good reasons why. Saying so ain’t enough, buddystate your reasons and make your case, and it had better be a good one.

My rebuttal to why the El Dorado PM got the score it did from me is quite simply, this rum. If you ever manage to get it, try them together and reflect on the difference. Hopefully your mileage doesn’t vary too far from mine, but I honestly think the Velier PM 1997 is the superior product.

Apr 272017
 

#360

The LBI 1998 starts out with a nose that is on the good side of remarkable, but not quite edging into wow! territory. That’s not at all a criticism, just an observation that it lacks the sort of rabid uniqueness that characterizes many of Velier’s legendary rums, and therefore this one may be among the most accessible “regular rum” profiles ever made by the company (if one discounts the earlier 40% offerings like the LBI 1985 or the Enmore 1987 that were bottled by Breitenstock and can’t really be considered part of the oeuvre). It starts with deep acetones, nail polish and some faint rubbery notes, which dissipate like wafts in a breeze, without fanfare, giving over to dark fleshy fruits, bags of raisins and some anise. For some rums this would be the end of the affair – not here. Waiting a few minutes brought other aromas to the table (without every losing the edge the previous ones had displayed) – crème brulee and orange chocolate, prunes, dates, plums and something like overripe bananas, all in excellent balance, no single note stealing the show, yet all being distinct and noticeable by themselves.

Photo (c) reference-rhum.com

The rum remained true to everything the nose had promised, and was really good on the palate, with the strength being, in my opinion, just about right. It was dryish and warm, with heft and forceful profile without every becoming too aggressive. The core of the whole thing was some vanilla and salty caramel, very faint molasses, and then the procession of subtler flavours beganagain raisins, plums and prunes, some dates, even some blackcurrants and grapes. With water there were additional hints of leather and smoke, with perhaps a bit too much of the bitterness of oak at the tail end, but fortunately not overbearingly dominant and did not seriously detract from the overall profile. All of this lasted for quite some time – it was quite oily on the tongue, which was pleasant – concluding with steady, mellow notes of mostly caramel, raisins and black cake plus a few extras. I should remark that the finish was nicely creamy, being offset with just enough sharpness and florals to give it a bit of an edge that made the conclusion quite a good one…sort of an exclamation point to the proceedings one might say.

Now we’re talking. The La Bonne Intention (LBI) 1998 is so different from the 1985 I looked at before (I tried them side by side), that to all intents and purposes it’s a different rum altogether, not the least because this really was bottled by Velier (not Breitenstock). The famous black bottle and standard label were part of the deal, plus, and how could you not love this, it was bottled at a firm 55.6% and tropically aged…so all Velier’s bunting was on show flying in the breeze, in this pretty nifty nine year old rum.

For the box tickers among you readers, here are the basic details. The rum’s derives from a plantation named La Bonne Intention on the East Coast of the Demerara river not too far from Georgetown but the rum was not actually distilled there but in Uitvlugt and probably in a Coffey column still (the label remarks on being made on a continuous column still). This bottle came from a single barrel, issued in 2007 at 55.6% and 274 bottles were issued. With that small an outturn being issued ten years ago, the chances of anyone outside a collector ever finding one is probably (and disappointingly) very small…or very expensive.

Does the name of LBI actually mean anything in the context of this label? Beyond some interesting history, I’d suggest not, because we have no mental map of its coordinates in the tasting rumiverse. For rums like the Port Mourants and Enmores, yes, the name means a lot when distinguishing a particular profile. FourSquare in Barbados, sometimes. Hampden or Worthy Park in Jamaica, sure. Savanna in Reunion, oh yes, and Caroni over in Trinidad, without a doubt. These are rums made with such distinctiveness and such unmistakeable profiles that even amateurs like me can tell them apart from the regular run of Caribbean rums (or Caribbean rum wannabes). Still, whatever the name, and however it lacks the instant taste-recognition of those rums noted above, there’s nothing wrong with the LBI at all. It’s a solid, impressive rum from La Casa de Luca, with many strong points and very few weak ones, and perhaps the only thing stopping rum junkies like us from praising it to the heavens are the better ones issued by the same house. So, noit’s not in the pantheon of the Skeldon 1973, PM 1974 or UF30E 1985 (or the Caputo 1973, ha ha) … but it’s still a very good rum, and just goes to show that with an outfit that knows what it’s doing, even their second tier rums are way above the juice that far too many producers are touting as top-end super-premiums.

(86/100)


Other notes

 

May 102014
 

Skeldon 1971 bottle

It’s official. Velier has raised the bar for super premium rums, with an extraordinary 32-year old blast from the past that will excavate a punt-wide trench in your wallet if you ever find one.

The 544-bottle run of the Skeldon 1973 Old Demerara Rum has, since being released in 2005, become something of an object of cult worship. In 2012 a single bottle went for sale on eBay for close to €500. I searched for three years before I found a gent in France willing to part with his (and at a cost I’m glad my wife never found out about). It isn’t very well known, except among rabid collectors, and the only reviews I’ve ever seen were in Italian and French. It is without doubt a rum from further back in time than anything else Velier has ever made, or perhaps will ever make. And it is worth every penny. Yes, I love Rum Nation, yes I have soft spots for Cadenhead, Berry Brothers, Secret Treasure, Plantation, El Dorado, Pussers, Young’s Old Sam and a score of others. But this thing is a cut above the crowd, and part of that is the way Velier mastered and balanced the subtleties trapped within the enormous tastes of a 32-year-old beefcake.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside Guyana who knows about Skeldon, or where it is. It’s a plantation on the far east of the country, right close by the Corentyne RiverI visited the area many times in my youthand not, as some have mentioned, on the Demerara (all Guyanese rums are often noted as being Demeraras, but the pedant in me disputes the moniker). The original distillate was made in Skeldon before the still was shut down, and I’ve heard that the barrels were transferred to Uitvlugt before finding their final home in Diamond Estate, where Luca Gargano found the last four barrels from that year ageing quietly away in DDL’s warehouses, perhaps even forgotten by them: he snapped them up, and from that stock, made an old, bold bastard of a rum, eschewing the softness of a standard strength and allowing it to be issued at a mouth ravaging 60.5%.

The Skeldon 1973 was remarkably dark, molasses brown, deeper in hue than the PM 1974 I looked at not too long ago. Such was the skill of the makers that almost no time needed to be spent waiting for the spirit to open up in my glass: almost as soon as I poured it out, rich, powerful fumes of coffee, burnt cocoa, and smouldering sugar cane fields billowed out. Mellow aromas of peaches, nuts and licorice provided exclamation points of distinction, and these were followed by notes of honey, pecans and toast. And it wasn’t over yet: after half an hour, when I went back to it, I detected yet other traces of cherries, blackberries, and even a sly waxy taste that was far from unpleasant. And each component was clear and distinct, crisp and vital as tropical morning sunshine.

If the nose was extraordinary, so was the palate: intense without sharpness, heated without pain, and not so much full bodied as voluptuous. Cumin, tannins and a certain muskiness attended the initial tasting, with a briny undertone, all in balance. As these receded, other flavours came to the fore: coffee again, unsweetened cocoa, walnuts, some caramel, burnt sugar cane (as from the nose), almonds, hazelnuts and at the very bottom a wink of eucalyptus oil. Many rums I have tried often seem to come from the recycle bin: reblends, a new finishing regime, a little tweak here or there, but with the venerable core formula always intact. The Skeldon 1973 does a difficult thing: it feels original, cut from new cloth and yet structured around blending basics so seamlessly that it samples phenomenally well. It’s got a certain sumptuousness to it, a sense of extravagance and out of sight quality, as rich as the silk in the lining of a Savile Row suit.

As for the finish, well, its persistence may be as unique as, oh, the Albion 1994, or the SMWS Longpond 9. Fumes and final flavours continued to make their prescence felt for minutes after a taste, as if unwilling to let go. Coffee was prevalent, toasted hazelnuts, some caramel, all melded together into a fade that was a function of 60.5%, and lasted a very very long time, none of it wasted. So good was the overall experience that I must have had four or five tasting glasses of the stuff, just so that I could savour and sample and extract the very last nuance, and even then I’m sure I missed something.

Skeldon 1973 Label

Everything works in this rum. Nose, palate, mouthfeel, exit, the whole thing. Usually I’m ambivalent about one point or another in a review – good points in one area are marred by small disappointments in others and this is why the “intangible” part of my scoring goes down and not up like all the others – but here there is such a uniformity of excellence that it made me feel re-energized about the whole business of reviewing rums (and, as an aside, that I may have underrated even the phenomenal UF30E which is about on par, and which I used as a control for this review).

What an amazing, fulfilling rum Velier has produced, indeed. Yes it’s extraordinarily hard to find, and yes its damned pricey. Good luck finding one in the States or Canada (or even in Europe, these days). I’m remarkably fortunate in that I was able to source an unopened bottle given its rarity. Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, has a track record with his bottlings that many can only envy, and is used to dealing lightning with both hands; and for no other reason this is why sourcing his products, old or new, is recommended. If you want to see what the industry can accomplish if they really try, spring some pieces of eight for what Velier is making, if even just the once.

Or try getting a taste of mine, if you’re ever in my neighborhood. I’m almost sure I’d share it with you.

(#181. 93.5/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled in Coffey still in August 1973 and bottled in April 2005
  • Velier, in 2004, bought a stake in DDL (per their website) – Luca notes in his interview with Cyril of DuRhum that it was in 2003.

Updates

  • There is a slightly younger version of Skeldon distillate, the 1978 edition – also bottled by Velier – which I have not managed to source as yet (though I finally tried it at the Tasting of the Century in 2018). It was selling on Ebay as of September 2014, for €800 and ended up fetching €1200. In January 2016, another 1978 was on offer for €2000, and by June 2021 the price at auction was £9,500. The 1973 was, by this time only ever offered once on the RumAuctioneer site, and in July 2021 was being bid up past £7,000 with a week left to go
  • As of 2015, Velier no longer had the right to select barrels from DDL’s warehouses as DDL moved to issueGargano rumsby themselves under the brand of theRare Collection”.
  • In October 2015 I re-tasted this rum, and noted a marked vanilla undercurrent appearing after it stood for half an hour. This was not substantial enough to lessen the rum’s valueit was too well made for thatbut it was there. I thought of rescoring at 93 but then compromised by making note of the fact for interested readers.
  • By 2021 DDL had released their own Skeldon rum as part of the rares, and 1423’s SBS range had also done a few.
Apr 172014
 

Picture (c) Lionswhisky.com

A worthy addition to the Port Mourant canon. A magnificent, excellently rich and fruity full-proof rum.

Allowances should be made for my personal palate: I do believe that rum deriving from the Port Mourant still in Guyana may be among the very best available, largely because the distillate runs through the only wooden still in the world. This provides the rum with a depth of flavour and richness that I have consistently scored high in all its iterations: Berry Brothers & Rudd 1975, the El Dorado 21 and 25 (PM forms part of the blend), Bristol Spirits PM 1980 and Rum Nation’s Demerara 1989 are examples (and I think Wood’s Navy rum has some PM lurking in there, as well as some Enmore, but never mind).

Velier, much like other European rum bottlers, hews to a rather starkly minimalist ethos in presentation, similar across the range (though nowhere near the aggressive consistency of SMWS’s offerings in their camo green). An opaque, black bottle with variations across the line only coming from the label design. “Menacing”, I wrote in my Albion 1994 review, and I haven’t seen much since then to change my mind about thatthese things look like they want to assault you with a nail studded club.

By now, anyone who has read my or others’ reviews of Velier products will know that they don’t muck around with standard strength 40% offerings, but give you a massive pelvic thrust of proofage that has sheep in Scotland running for cover: this one is no different, if milder, being bottled at 54.5%, which is almost weak by Velier’s standards. That strength impacts the deep and heavy nose in stunningly searing fashion: there were immediate notes of licorice and dark chopped fruits (lots of raisins there) ready for a West Indian black cake, cherries and ripening mangoes, intermingled with lighter floral notes, all held together with honey and crushed walnuts. Strength and subtlety in the same sniff.

The ruby-brown (or amber-red, take your pick) rum was dark and thick in the glass, like a boiled down soup of brown sugar. It was full bodied, spicy, syrupy, even a shade salty, hinting somewhat of maple syrup. Backing that up came wave upon wave of molasses, apples, citrus rind, prunes, sultana grapes. The rum turned a shade dry in the mouth, and continued to pump out notes of caramel, toffee, and the faint resinous aftertaste of black cardamon. Man this was quite somethingit showcased what rums were back in the day. I thought that the BBR PM 1975 might be the oldest and perhaps best rum of this particular still I’d ever see, but this baby, in my opinion, is as good or better, which I attribute mostly to its increased strength. The finish was lovely as well, though a tad on the spicy side: lingering notes of sweet molasses, citrus, and even here some of that heaviness persisted into a long finish that made the entire experience one to savour.

A recent comment on this site (in the Bundie review) made the rather startling statement that “Rum in general is not meant to be sipped neat, like a Whisky or a Scotch.” Naturally, I rebutted that, and, in writing this review, offer the Velier PM 1974 as proof positive that here is a rum which it makes no sense to drink any other way. Take it neat or don’t take it at all. You can of course mix it, but Iand I’ll go out on a limb and speak for the makerssimply don’t get the point. This is a rum to luxuriate in, to treasureand to mourn once it’s gone.

(#180. 90.5/100)


Other notes

  • 364 bottles made from two barrels, aged between September 1974 and March 2008. I’m going to be conservative and call it a 33 year old.
  • I tried the PM 1974 blind in conjunction with several other rums so as not to permit my natural enthusiasm for the vintage to cloud my scoring judgement. I’m still as miserly with my scoring as before, of course, and tried to put the brakes on scoring high just because it was what it was. But guys, galsthis thing is enormously impressive, it’s a brilliant rum, and deserves what from me is a very high rating.

 

Feb 252014
 

D3S_8412

 

A paradox of rum, marrying a lighter than expected profile with a stunningly intense full proof taste, compliments of the House of Luca

When I first poured a shot of the Velier Blairmont 1991 15 year old rum into my glass (after having waited over a year and a half for the privilege), I immediately remarked its colour: a straw coloured light amber rum. After sampling five other Veliers in the past year, all of which were dark, brawny, bearded beefcakes, this came as something of a surprise.

According to the literature on the bottle, seven barrels of the rum were distilled in Blairmont on a French Savalle still in 1991, and 1,913 bottles resulted in March 2006. Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, seems to have unprecedented access to old and mouldering barrels of rums from DDL’s warehouses, judging from the variations he keeps putting out, and one thing is clearthe man knows how to put a rum together. This is no slight against that other Italian whose products I enjoy enormously (Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation), but the two men are not really comparable except in so far as they both issue superlative rums, since they follow differing philosophies in how they make them.

This difference is most clearly discerned in the strengths of Velier’s rumsall of them are bottled at a proof greater than 50% (the Blairmont was 56%). And this was immediately evident as I nosed it: yes it had strength, but in no way was it either sharp or nasty or an assault on the senses. The initial scent was one of freshness and zest, of honey, deep, softer to nose than the strength would suggest. This was followed by orange peel and some sharper fruitshalf ripe mangoes, green grapes, apples, with a flirt of softer peach in there somewhere, mixed up with a faint nuttiness. Nice. It was more herbal than one would imagine a rum from Demerara to be (although Blairmont Estate is actually on the immediate west bank of the Berbice River).

D3S_8421

The palate was similarly excellent, being medium bodied, golden and having a clarity of taste that reminded me of a good green tea. Crisp and snappy, a bit sweet, something like a Riesling on steroids; orange and cinnamon notes crept out to have their moment in the sun, followed by more green tea and some lighter honey notes. The depth and intensity of flavours was well handled, and even at 56%, I felt that here was rum I would sip neat with no issues at all. And as could be expected, the finish took its time, was clear and well balanced, leaving me with the memories of flowers, caramel (just a bit), fresh grass and newly sawn wood.

Velier is a company formed by the Italian Luca Gargano, and he’s made nothing I haven’t liked so far. He began life as a brand rep for St James in Martinique, but eventually formed his own company to market odd variations of the agricoles he found in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Once he discovered Guyanese rums he bottled as many as he could find (it’s possible that his greatest find has been the Skeldon 1973 32 year old), and while this may be anecdotal, I think they have all attained cult status among die-hard aficionados. He’s been fortunate to have an excellent relationship with Yesu Persaud, the (now retired) chairman of DDL, who provided him with unprecedented access to their warehouses.

It’s become sort of a personal crusade for me to find these odd and rare rums that are issued (or not) on a regular basis, not least because finding something like the Blairmont, buying it and tasting it and writing about it, adds to the store of reviews available in the world. I think it’s a spectacular rum, noses well, tastes phenomenal and is, at end, both terrific and leaves me wanting more. I don’t often issue hagiographies, but in this case, my advice is to try anything you can find by this company, because Luca sure knows what he’s doing, and he isn’t bottling a whole lot.

(#179. 90.5/100)


Other Notes

 

 

May 302013
 

D3S_5982

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#165. 91/100)


Opinion

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

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

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

 

 

Apr 042013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(#152. 91/100)


Other notes

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

 

Jan 182013
 

Corentyne Thunder.

Full proof rumsI like that term. There’s a desert of rum strengths between 46% and 75%, the latter of which is what is often referred to as an overproof (for my money, anything over 50% qualifies). So to use “full-proof” seems right to distinguish rums in that arid wasteland of strength. They are the closest that rums will ever get, in my opinion, to the expressions of whiskies my sadly misguided Liquorite squaddies swoon over. I hang around those scotch swilling maltsters enough to understand the hushed and trembling voices, the bared and bowed heads and the misty eyes they get when speaking about “Glen Muddy 1993 Edition 57%”, or “Port Peathead Cask Strength Release 49 of 1975 60%here’s one of the few rums I’ve seen that matches such products strength for strength, style for style. Writing this, I fondly imagine the Maltmonster shuddering and shaking his head, muttering insalubrious deprecations under his breath at such insolence….and I smile.

The Albion 1994 rum is seventeen years old, and bottled at a beefy man-strength 60.4%, which made the tasting I conducted an equally nervous and exhilerating business. Even the dark, brooding bottle (somewhat relieved by a thick white cardboard enclosure), loomed menacingly over my seemingly defenceless glassI don’t believe I’ve ever had so intimidating an experience since the Longpond 9. What came out of the monolith was a dark amber, almost mahogany rum, and the first delighted thought as I poured it out was, “”S**t, this is grog!

The Albion wanted to prove to me that its ominous appearance was no accident. A thick-yet-sharp, fruity scent lunged right out of the glass, ready to fight, with sulphury notes of burning rubber and sun-warmed asphalt (remniscent of the older Rum Nation Jamaican 25) making themselves known right away. Then they exited the scene in a hurry, making way for deep odours of olives, raisins, black (definitely not red) grapes, heated without sharpness, which in their turn receded as the glass opened up, to reveal subtler hints of wine and sharp tropical fruitsmango leavened with freshly-cut, barely ripe papaya. White pepper and molasses fought for the last bit of nose that was left. A solid, fascinating and chewy nose, amazingly warmfor the aficionado, this might eclipse the el Dorado 25 year old 43% or the 21 year old, let alone Rum Nation’s new 1989 Demerara 23 45%.

The palate was as stunning as the nose had been. Full bodied and deep, oily and heated and without any hint of malice in its Mordor-inspired dark burn. The taste in the mouth was shamelessly aggressive, packing so many steroids that it wouldn’t surprise me if one day it would decide to grow out of the bottle. Slightly salty and dry, it thundered along like a mack truck of flavourcranberries, orange peel, lemon zest, sea salt (yes, really), molasses, oak, smoke, softer red guavas (not white), a faint background of sherry and licorice, just enough to tease without asserting any kind of biceps. Yes it was strong, yes it was a beefcake (come on, 60.4%? of course it was) – and yet at no point did I feel my senses were being pillaged, raped or plundered. Frankly, it was one of the best, meanest, hairiest shots of my experience, handily eclipsing the SMWS Longpond 9 year oldit evinced the phantasmagorical labial clout of an acid trip. And as befits such a powerful drink, the finish was epiclong and lasting and just held back from bursting into flame, presenting a lingering aftertaste of licorice, lemon peel and oak. I served this up to two dedicated maltsters, and you should have seen them abandon their vintage Springbanks to try a few extra shots of my baby, wistfully asking where in Calgary I’d found it.

Albion is a sugar plantation (and village) in the Berbice county in the east of Guyana, once owned by Bookers McConnell, and perhaps more renowned for its cricket ground where famous international and regional matches have been played over many decades. From my perspective it’s more renowned for the unique rums of its sugar, but I confess to a small bias that way. Albion had a French Savalle still which I’m supposing made this productbut you see, although the box and bottle refer to a wooden continuous still, that can’t be right since there’s no wooden still in Guyana except those that hail from Enmore, Port Mourant or Versailles (with only PM being continuous), so there may be some clarification required here. Yet I have my lingering suspicions even without thatthe taste is too rich, too redolent of a PM rum, to be taken at face value based on nothing but labelling. This rum was taken from several barrels originating at Albion prior to the consolidation. However, it was made not by DDL, but by an Italian/Swiss outfit called Velier (certainly one to watch) run by Luca Gargano. Before I knew this, I actually contacted my father and told him to talk to DDL’s higher ups about it, so impressive was the Albion, and it occurs to me now that perhaps an apology is in order.

I like Demerara-style rums best, with Panamanians a close second. Yet even within the Guyanese context there are rums and then there are rums. DDL’s El Dorados in particular are superlative: dark, heavy, full-bodied bastards, deep flavoured and aromatic to a fault. Yet in attempting to gain market share and widespread acceptanceas they havethey too timidly shy away from issuing rums of real power. Velier’s full proof line seeks to rectify this shortfall, and does it ever succeed. The Albion 1994 17 year old bashes the throat, buckles the knees, and brings tears to the eyes as it trumpets its beefcake badassery to the world. It may lack some creature comforts and doesn’t condescend to Pavlovian palates conditioned to softer 40% rums…but for those seeking a raw, powerful experience with a taste that reaffirms their cojones, this uncompromising, snarling medicine is just what the doctor ordered.

(#142. 90/100)


Other Notes

  • Fellow Guyanese will know that Albion is closer to the Berbice River than to the Corentyne, and therefore my two word summary above is somewhat misleading with strict reference to geography. The Corentyne coast more reasonably includes Port Mourant than Albion, which is actually East Berbice-Corentyne. However, there is a reason for the choice of words and here I ask the reader to understand my reference to Mittelholzer, and therefore why I would use the term in such a context.

Update, August 2015

Carl Kanto of DDL, in answer to my query about the wooden continuous still issue, said this: “There was a wooden continuous still at Albion. The type of rum depended on the operating parameters of the still. It was probably scrapped for more efficient metal Coffey stills. For sure it no longer exists.All I can says is that that’s a crying shame.

Update February 2018

This rum, tried in 2012, marked my first encounter with Velier. Since then they have gone on to become an independent rum behemoth, while DDL, which I praised so much here, has been excoriated for its dosing practices, and while they issued some full proof rums of their own in 2016, don’t seem to have taken the project as seriously as other rum makers have. In a 2021 Zoom presentation, DDL admitted they had used caramel as a smoothening agent for years, but had started to phase out the practice by 2004 (which produced the 15 YO of 2019 and onwards).