Oct 022019
 

If you’re of a practical turn of mind and count your kopeks, there is absolutely no reason for you to buy this rum. It does not come in a bottle which stands easily on your shelf if the supports are mislaid; it is an overly sweet and probably spiced-up adulterated mess; and, if you’re an elitist, it doesn’t come with the pedigree of a centuries-old estate distillery on an island in the Caribbean. So on that basis, somewhat of a waste of money.

What it does bring to the table is an utterly awesome and eye-catching bottle shape, in good company with just a handful of others worldwide. It’s from a country that few if any of your boozing friends will have tried any rums from, so there’s that “I tried it first” cachet you can pin to your biscuit chest. And, if pedigree is your thing, it does go back many decades, and bears the title of “Coronation” for a reason.

The Nepalese rum called Kukhri is, first and foremost, named after the country’s most identifiable edged weapon, one that is considered both weapon and tool, and made famous by the Ghurkas who have served in the British army for over two centuries. The rum brand was created in 1959 by the Nepal Distilleries Ltd in Kathmandu, and initially made with pot stillsnowadays it comes off a multi-column still, from molasses, at 42.8%, and is available in three varietiesstandard, Coronation and spiced. All of these are aged in wooden oak vats for around eight months.

The question of whether it has been added to arises immediately upon nosing it. I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand by saying it’s “simple”but there are just a few strong flavour-types coiling around: chocolate, caramel, coffee grounds, bananas and molasses, some baking spices, tobacco, and lots of prunes and dark ripe cherries. The whole aroma is quite thick and sweet with very little balance of lighter or acidic notes.

Ditto for the taste. It says it’s 42.8% on the label but my hydrometer tested the rum as 34.58% (so ~31 g/L of something has been added), and it comes as no surprise, then, that when rubbing it between thumb and forefinger it feels sticky, and when sipped, it’s overly sweet. Again, chocolate, molasses, caramel, overripe fruits and tobacco, plus a hint of red wine and flowers, not enough to matter, really. The finish is ultimately not really interesting: soft, unexceptional, sweet, fruity and musky and no, several sips make no appreciable difference.

The Coronation is firm enough, just not interesting enough, and it’s just too sweet (even for me). While I completely accept that the rum was not made for the modern palate orinitiallyto appeal to any but its regional audience where sweeter rums are much more common (India’s and Thailand’s rums are examples of what pleases), the fact is that it is unlikely to catch on outside its area of origin. This is something I suspect the company knows, because in 2018 they relaunched the brand around Asia, marketing both its historical cachet and its cocktail potential to the bar crowd.

And yet, the Coronation rum itself was supposed to be special. It was launched in 1974 to commemorate the coronation of 12th King of Nepal King Birendra, and went into wide release the following year, but nothing I read anywhere suggested the blend itself was seriously tweaked or elevated to make the rum a more memorable one. As the tasting notes above make clear, it is distinctive and famous not because of any intrinsic or masterful quality of its own, but because of that now-iconic 375ml knife-shaped bottle it comes in (supposedly hand made), and to this day it remains a popular souvenir, and is exported widely.

Too bad what’s inside doesn’t quite come to the level of its presentation, which is a near-complete victory of style over substance. Some will buy it for that purpose alonehell, I’m one of them, though perhaps I can weasel out of it by claiming writer’s privilegeand for sure it’ll be a great conversation starter and a cool-looking bottle to trot out at party time. Sometimes, I guess that’s all we can ask for in a rum, and in this case, that’s almost all we’re getting.

(#661)(72/100)

May 152019
 

(c) Duty Free Philippines website

Tanduay, for all its small footprint in the west, is one of the largest rum makers in Asia and the world (they’re either 1st or 2nd by sales volume, depending on what you read and when), and have been in business since 1854. Unsurprisingly, they see fit to commemorate their success with special editions, and like all such premiums with a supposedly limited release meant only for the upper crust, most can get one if they try. The question is, as always, whether one should bother.

The presentation of the CLX rum is goodboxed enclosure, shiny faux-gold label, solid bottle. And all the usual marketing tantaraas are bugled from the rooftops wherever you read or look. It’s a selection of their best aged reserves, supposedly for the Chairman’s personal table. It has a message on the back label from said Chairman (Dr. Lucio Tan) extolling the company’s leadership and excellence and the rum’s distinctive Filipino character (not sure what that is, precisely, but let’s pass on that and move on…). All this is par for the course for a heritage rum. We see it all the timekudos, self praise, unverifiable statements, polishing of the halos. Chairmen get these kinds of virtuous hosannas constantly, and we writers always smile when we hear or see or read them.

Because, what’s missing on this label is the stuff that might actually count as informationyou know, minor, niggly stuff like how old it is; what kind of still it was made on; what the outturn was; what made it particularly special; what the “CLX” stands forthat kind of thing. Not important to Chairmen, perhaps, and maybe not to those maintaining the Tanduay website, where this purportedly high-class rum is not listed at allbut to us proles, the poor-ass guys who actually shell out money to buy one. From my own researches here’s what I come up with: CLX is the roman numerals for “160” and the rum was first issued in 2014, based on blended stocks of their ten year old rums. It is more than likely a column still product, issued at standard strength and that’s about all I can find by asking people and looking online.

Anyway, when we’re done with do all the contorted company panegyrics and get down to the actual business of trying it, do all the frothy statements of how special it is translate into a really groundbreaking rum?

Judge for yourself. The nose was redolent, initially, of oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies and cerealslike Fruit Loops, I’m thinking. There are also light acetones and nail polish remover. There may be an orange pip or two, a few crumbs of chocolate oranges, or maybe some peach fuzz drifting around, but it’s all thin pickingsmaybe it’s the 40% ABV that’s at the root of it, maybe it’s the deliberately mild column still character that was chosen. There is some vanilla and toffee background, of course, just not enough to matterfor this to provide real oomph it really needed to be a bit stronger, even if just by a few points more.

The same issues returned on the very quiet and gentle taste. It seemed almost watery, light, yet also quite clean. A few apples and peaches, not quite ripe, providing the acid components, for some bite. Then red grapes, cinnamon, aromatic tobacco, light syrup, vanilla, leather for the deeper and softer portion of the profile. It’s all there, all quite pleasant, if perhaps too faint to make any statement that says this is really something special. And that standard proof really slays the finish, in my own estimation, because that is so breathy, quiet and gone, that one barely has time to register it before hustling to take another sip just to remind oneself what one has in the glass.

How the worm has turned. Years ago, I tried the 12 year old Tanduay Superior and loved it. It’s placidity and unusual character seemed such a cut above the ordinary, and intriguingly tasty when compared to all the standard strength Caribbean blends so common back then. That tastiness remains, but so does a certain bland sweetness, a muffled deadness, not noted back then but observed now….and which is no longer something to be enjoyed as much.

I have no issue with the standard Tanduay lineuplike the white, the 1854, the Gold, the Superior etcbeing deceptively quiet and mild and catering to the Asian palate which I have been told prefers rather more unaggressive fare (some of their rums are bottled south of 39%, for example). I just believe that for an advertised high-end commemorative rum which speaks to a long and successful commercial company history, that more is required. More taste, more strength, more character, more oomph. It’s possible that many who come looking for it in the duty free shops of Asia and blow a hundred bucks on this thing, will come away wishing they had bought a few more of the Superiors, while others will be pleased that they got themselves a steal. I know which camp I fall into.

(#624)(75/100)


Other notes

As always, thanks to John Go, who sourced the rum for me.

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.
Mar 252018
 

#500

In one of those odd coincidences that crop up from time to time, I was polishing up my essay for one of Damoiseau’s ultra-premium halo rumsa 31-year-old inky bad boy from 1953 which is usually too rare or too pricey for most to bother withwhen Single Cask posted his own in-depth evaluation. We had a good laugh over that one, but in a way it’s good too, because while one person’s review of a single rum is fine, a better opinion can be formed with several people putting their snoots and their pens in.

Age-wise, the 1953 from Guadeloupe does not class with the ur-rum of the Aged Canon, the Longpond 1941 58 year old from Jamaica. Yet it is nearly as old as the 1972 37 year old Courcelles which was the first to truly switch me on to French Island rhums, and which is the oldest such aged product I’ve yet foundothers, such as the Bally 1929 and Clement 1952 and the St James 1885 were made before 1953, but are younger. Whatever the case, it is a blast from the past, something we should try if we can just to get a sense of the evolution of rum and rhum and ron over the decades. And yes, also because it’s so damn cool to have something from the fifties.

So what was happening in 1953? The Cold War was in full swing, of course, Eisenhower was inaugurated as #34, Mossadegh was overthrown, Stalin died, Kruschev lived. The Kenyan Mau Mau uprising was going on while the Korean conflict “ended.” Everest was conquered. Watson and Crick announced DNA, Ian Fleming published the first James Bond novel, the first Playboy came out, and Jacques Tati released the whimsical classic M. Hulot’s Holiday (a favourite of mine, along with Playtime). The rationing of cane sugar in the UK came to an end. The Brits suspended the British Guiana constitution and occupied the country militarily so as to make it safe for democracy. And this rum came off the still in Damoiseau’s facilities.

I have no idea whether it was pure cane juice distillate or molassesGuadeloupe has a history of mixing things up, which is part of their attraction for mebut just based on the way it nosed and tasted when run past other aged dinosaurs (the Courcelles, Damoiseau’s own 1980, the Cadenhead Green Label 1975 among others) I’m going to say it had at least some molasses-based spirit in the bag. It was a sort of mud brown opaque liquid that immediately made me remember the St James 1885, and poured thickly into a glass, even at its relatively low ABV of 42%.

But it smelled very nice for all that low power. Really. It had deep fruity flavours of blackberries and prunes, plus a lighter note of strawberries and orange peel, flambeed bananas, and it reminded me somewhat of a Bajan Black Rock rum, what with that underlying series of crisper smells. Candied oranges, a flirt of caramel, some faint licorice, very ripe cherries added to the fun. However it was deeper than any of those, richer, smokier, and developed over time into a plump and rotund nose that steered you between the darkness of a crazy old fellow like the 1885, and the clarity of Damoiseau’s 1989 20 year old. Which perhaps says something for bottles that have sat waiting their turn for many many decades.

The palate is perhaps where people will pause and look at the glass a second time. That it was pungent and warm was beyond question: even at the rather anemic strength, one could easily appreciate the relative smooth profile, pick out some weak brine, prunes, chocolate covered dates, banana cake, strawberries and honey; and to that, over time, was added a few lighter balancing elements of unripe strawberries, maybe a stalk of lemongrass. Overall, what fruitiness there was, was dialled way back and became almost imperceptible, to be overtaken by something more like a mix between tannins and some much-too-strong unsweetened black tea, both a good and a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint. As for the finish, not much could be saidwarm, short and unfortunately weak. That said, here perhaps more could be discerned which were missing from the palateblack tea, honey, raisins, faint chocolate, plenty of crushed walnuts, if too little of the fruitiness I was looking for.

Taking all these aspects together, one must concede that it started well, it’s just that as it opened up, there emerged a sort of woody, smoky, nutty background: this gradually overwhelmed the delicate balance with the fruit which the rhum needed (my opinion), and that to some extent derailed the experience. Too, the flavours melded into each other in a way that a stronger strength might have separated, creating a somewhat indeterminate melange that was tasty, yes, justindistinct. And not entirely successful.

After the fact, looking at the rhum coldly and practically and assessing it on price alone, I can’t tell you this is a must-have. It’s the kind that relies on the numbers “5”, “3” and “1” to be taken seriously, but when it comes down to a tasting, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype of the haloand the numbers become just that, numbers. As with rums like the Black Tot (or even the St James, Clement or Bally rhums mentioned above), we’re buying to touch the past and reconnect with a sense of real heritage, back when the Cuban style of rum dominated the market, to see how what we drink now came from what was made then. It absolutely is a major product in that sensejust not exceptional, compared to what it costs, compared to what we might expect.

So, the Damoiseau 1953 nails the historical value and cool presentation ethos just fine, and it is different, fascinating, old, pretty good, and if that’s what you want, you’re good to go. You’ll be the belle of the ball showing it off, and all the stares and envious plaudits will surely be yours for the taking (unless someone trots out a Bally). The best thing to dowhen you’re in the store looking at it, with your bonus cheque twitching in your pocketis to ask yourself some very honest questions as to why you want to buy it and then proceed purely on that basis. I ignored that advice myself, and that’s why you’re reading this review.

(85/100)


Other notes

The Single Cask review is really worth a read. Also, he noted that it came from some “lost casks” but Herve Damoiseau, when confirming the age as 31 years for me (the rhum was bottled in 1984), didn’t know anything about that.

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 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.

Oct 182015
 

3 x El Dorados

(#236)

The three single barrel expressions issued by DDL are a curious bunch. Ignoring the head of steam gathered by independent bottlers in the last ten years or so, DDL has never given either prominence or real attention to what could be Demerara rum’s killer appsingle barrel, cask strength expressions that are still-specific. When one observes the raves Velier, Cadenhead, RN, Silver Seal and others have gotten for their tightly focussed expressions hewing to precisely those coordinates, one can only wonder what DDL’s malfunction is.

And yet, here they are, these three, originating from the Port Mourant wooden double pot still, Enmore’s wooden column still and Uitvlugt’s French savalle still. So certainly some vision is at work in the hallowed halls of Diamond, however imperfect to us fanboys.

That said, there are problems with the rums reviewed here. They are non-age-specific; they are issued at what deep core rumboys consider an insulting 40% (at a time where 43-46% is practically a new norm for single barrel rums); and they seem to be issued as an afterthought instead of as core products in DDL’s range. I get the distinct impression that eight years ago when they first appeared (to commemorate the 2007 cricket world cup partly held in Guyana) they barely sold enough to keep making them. Nowadays they’ve become sought after items, and still DDL is doing very little to promote them, re-issue newer variants, expand the range, or to make them stronger. Ah well.

Some basic facts, then: “living roomstrength (to quote my Danish friend Henrik’s immortal phrase), still-specific, and confirmed by the El Dorado FB team that they are a minimum of twelve years old (Carl Kanto told me 13-16 years old, for all of them), aged in ex-bourbon barrels. No year of make is available (we can assume around 1995 or thereabouts). The bottles are tall, squarish and taperingsupposedly resembling a cricket bat, an homage to their issueso watch your step when having them in your home barthey tip over easy. That’s more or less enough to be going on with.

3 x El Dorados ICBUICBU – Ex Savalle still, Uitvlugt

(83/100)

Colour: amber-orange

Nose: Quite delicate and a little thin, sharpish and fading fast, perhaps demonstrating why Velier’s decision to crank up the amperes was the right one. Vanilla, tannins led the charge, with green grapes, the tartness of soursop (not much), plus red cherries and red currants. After opening up, additional scents of caramel, toffee and lighter floral notes.

Palate: Medium bodied, a shade astringent and dry. Still very pleasant to sip. Medium sweet rum, again that delicacy of flavour demands some attention and concentration. Caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, more light flowers, blackish bananas, and even a mischievous flirt of air freshener, y’know, like pine-sol, or even varnish. The fruitness is dialled way back, and there’s some oak and leather floating around, more evident with some water.

Finish: Short, dry, thin. Vanilla ice cream with some caramel drizzle, and white toblerone

Thoughts: shows the potential of what can be done if DDL oomphed it up a mite.

*

3 x El Dorados EHPEHP – Wooden Coffey Still, Enmore

(84.5/100)

Colour: dark copper

Nose: Some of the wooden stuff so characteristic of Enmore emerges right away. Red licorice, tannins, molasses, caramel. A much greater depth of flavour than the ICBU. Vanilla, almonds, dark chocolate, with faint coffee, coconut, nutmeg and maybe saffron. Very nice indeed. Quite balancedno real sharpness or spice here, just warm waves of olfactory happiness.

Palate: Medium bodied, warm and very pleasantjust unadventurous (that 40% again?). Caramel, vanilla and licorice, lemon peel, black grapes, underlaid with faint wax-rubber notes, far from unappealing. With water, it expands into butter and cream cheese on rye bread, almonds, nougat, oak, smoke, leather and freshly crushed tobacco leaves and vegetal stuff I couldn’t identify.

Finish: Short, aromatic and warm. More vanilla, faint white chocolate and some flowers, deeper, subtler memories of licorice and olives. Some last oaky notes, held in check.

Thoughts: The 40% is decent enoughyou’re getting quite a bit here, and it’s better than the ICBU, though not scoring hugely more. Try a more potent cask strength offering and you’ll see what I mean.

*
3 x El Dorados PMPM – Double Wooden Pot Still, Port Mourant

(85.5/100)

Colour: dark amber

Nose: Nosing this shows immediately how extraordinarily unique the PM distillate isit’s almost unmistakeable. It’s no accident that PM distillate is a popular constituent of many Navy-style rums. Pungent, heated and deep (slightest bit sharp), with licorice-citrus amalgam. Shoe polish on old leather shoes (and old socks in those shoes). Musty, leathery, smoky, with some molasses, anise, overripe cherries and green olives alongside a really good feta cheese. Can’t get enough of this.

Palate: This is where the rum fails to meet expectations, for all the sumptuousness of the lovely, phenolic, astringent nose. Too little of these aromas carries over to the taste, though to be fair, some does. It’s just too faint, and one is led to believe it would be deeper. Medium full body; coffee, butter dark chocolate, almonds, some tangerine zest. More of that musty driness recalling an unused hay-loft. Some gherkins in salt vinegar. Leather and smoke and well-balanced oak. A dash of sweet molasses-soaked brown sugar laces the whole package.

Finish: Dry, sweet, medium long. Dusty dried grass, aromatic tobacco, and, of course, more licorice. Impressive for a 40% rum.

Thoughts: the nose is great, the finish, lovely. It’s on the palate that more could be done. Perhaps unfairly, I used the Samaroli Demerara 1994 45%, Norse Cask 1975 57% and Cadenhead Green Label Demerara 1975 40.6% as controlsand those rums were incredibly rich (even if two were twice as old) in a way that this was not (though it recouped points in other areas).


A few random thoughts occurred to me as I tried these rums. One, DDL should make more, and more often, and move right past 40%. No, the various new cask finishes on the 15 year old don’t make up for the potential that is wasted here. Velier and other makers have proven that the stills themselves are the selling point, with some skilful and aggressive marketing.

I suspect that output from the wooden stills in particular is being saved for dependable cash cows like the various El Dorado aged expressions, and issuing stronger cask strength stuff the way independent bottlers have been doing, would lessen stocks available for the old stalwarts. So think of it this way: the 40% 21 year old rum is fantastic for around a hundred bucks, yesbut just think of what mad people like me would pay for a unicorn like a 21 year old LBI-estate rum bottled at 50%. Just sayin’.

Anyway, that DDL chooses not to expand its own base of excellent rums by issuing more like these is to their own detriment, and my personal opinion is that if you like Guyanese rums a little different from more well-known, standard (blended) profiles , then these three are definitely worth the little extra money it takes to snap them up. They may be issued at “only” 40%, but they’re still cheaper and less powerful than Veliers for those who shy away from 60% monsters; and they serve as a great intro into the characteristics of DDL’s famous stills without breaking either the bank or your tonsils. Go get ‘em if you can.


Other notes

From the El Dorado FB team: The annotations PM, EHP and ICBU refer to the estate of origin of the respective still that the rums are still produced on; PM being the Port Mourant estate in the Berbice county, EHP being the Enmore estate on the East Coast of Demerara that was owned by Edward Henry Potter at the time of acquisition of the Wooden Coffey Still, and ICBU being the estate then owned by Ignatius Christian Bonner at Uitvlugt (ICB/U) on the West Coast of Demerara.

The age of the stills recalls the old philosophical problem of Theseus’s ship: over the years all the wood of the ship was gradually replaced. After a time, none of the wood was original, so was it still Theseus’s ship? Something similar happens with the wooden stills. Certainly there’s little of any of them that is hundreds of years old, what with constant replacement of a plank here and a plank there.

Compliments, kudos and thanks to Josh Miller of Inuakena, who not only bought these on credit for me six months or more ago, but when he discovered that he missed the PM and sent me two EHPs by mistake, couriered the missing bottle to me pronto, so I could do the review of all three before I left Berlin. Big hat-tip, mate. Mis rones son sus rones.

My original 2010 review of the ICBU shows something of how my taste, writing style and opinion have changed over the years. I didn’t refer to it when I wrote this one.

As this review was being written, so many things occurred to me that rather than obscure the tasting notes, I provide a precis of the various high points, and split off the more in-depth remarks into a separate essay about the wasted potential of the stills.

Update January 2016

The word spread like wildfire in the blogosphere and on FB in the second week of January, that DDL would issue three cask-strength aged still-specific expressions after all. A PM, a Versailles and an Enmore.

Jan 182011
 

First posted 18 January 2011 on Liquorature.

A better than average presentation, for a rum that supercedes its age

The Flor de Caña 21 is a good example of ensuring you know what you’re buying before you fork out your hard earned pieces of eight. I’m being redundant here (most other online reviews make mention of this), but I note the matter because all other Caña products have their age statement clearly and unambiguously front and center: 4 yr old, 5 yr old, 7 yr old, 12 yr old, 18 yr old. You can hardly avoid that: it’s on the front of the bottle and if you miss it, you aren’t paying attention in your hurry to peruse the price information. But the veinte uno doesn’t habla in this manner. The 21 doesn’t refer to the age, but the century for which it was bottled, and it’s actually a fifteen year old, which is noted in small gold lettering on the back. And this may in fact be reflected in the price: I paid ~$70 for it, and one would expect a 21 year old to be closer to, if not exceeding, a hundred.

Presentation was first rate – while I would have preferred a box or a tin for something this aged, I could live with the blue bag and the matching opaque blue bottle, since I’m a sucker for originality (and recall, the brilliant 18 year old doesn’t even have the bag, let alone a box). The rum itself pours into the glass in a tawny amber colour; it presents slow fat legs, for which I’m beginning to run out of amusing metaphors to describe: let’s liken it on this occasion to a Bourda fishwife’s plump gams.

The nose in this thing is, quite frankly, outstanding. It’s deceptive as well, because it starts out as a caramel-molasses scent, very smooth and hardly stinging your schnozz at alland then morphs into a clear, clean floral and herbal scent that is delicate and assertive at the same time (I know no other way to express this lovely nosemost dark rums are either medicinal or overwhelm with burnt sugar and molasses, but not this one). In fact, I liked this so much that I spent an inordinate amount of time dipping my beak into it just to revel in its pleasures.

The body is medium (the bottle says full-bodied, but I’m not entirely convinced of that), just enough sweet mixed with just enough flavour and alcohol. The profile on the tongue is something else again: rich, caramel and sugar undertones, bound together by molasses andonce morethat unique hint of clean flowers, just faint enough to draw attention and balance out the muskier sugars, yet not so much as to overwhelm. The balance really is quite good. The 21 exits in a smooth and gentlemanly fashion, with barely a sting, and yet here’s a bit of a letdown: the finish is shorter than one might expect. An excellent nose and taste and coating on the tongue and throat, you understand: just short, as if the gentleman was visiting a house of ill repute, and now, having completed his business, wishes only to put on his hat and depart the premises with all due dispatch.

Flor de Caña (flower of the cane) rum is made in Nicaragua, and is one of the most consistently good dark rums I’ve ever had, at any age (I simply adored the 18 year old). The Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua was founded in 1937, though workers of the San Antonio sugar refinery had been distilling their own festive hooch for local celebrations for maybe half a century before that. The success of the distilling company led to expansion and to exporting rums to other countries in Central and South America by the late 1950s. Following on the heels of the trend established by DDL in 1992, they began to issue aged premium rums (though stocks were surely laid down before thatafter all, when was the 18 year old I had in 2009 put into a barrel?). And since 2000, these rums have been recipients of numerous awards for excellence. No argument from me on that score.

It’s an overworked and abused cliche that 20% of Americans can’t find their own country on a map, but this is surely not an issue with anyone who knows his rums. Within the subculture, the great spirits of the small nations in the Caribbean and South America stand out as beacons of light and pride for their makersand none of us who ever taste one of these great drinks is any doubt where Venezuela, Guatemala, Guyana or Nicaragua is. We know the nations, we know the geography and we know the history. We know of and care about, above all, the premium products of these small states, and what makes them special. In increasingly disconnected, fragmented world, rums like the Flor de Caña 21 are almost like national symbols in and of themselves: they have the power to bring us together and educate us beyond their fleeting, ephemeral tastes.

(#062. 85/100).

Oct 262010
 

First posted Oct 26, 2010 on Liquorature.

Note: I have written a companion piece to this review for RumConnection here: it’s more tightly researched, a bit longer, and takes a more structured approach. But both this review and that one are of a piece, and I hope you enjoy them

Of all the rums reviewed here, I believe that the only reasonably complete “age set” of a single distillery’s products I’ve managed to buy is the el Dorado line. Somehow, Calgary seemed to have gotten most of the el Dorado aged rums over time, though some of the estate editions are missingand I’ve snagged everything I ever saw up for sale…except for the ne plus ultra, their fabled 25.

Now the El Dorado 21 costs ~$100, the English Harbour 25 goes for $200, Mount Gay 1703 $110 and Clement XO $126 (with the Appleton 30 at a whopping $300+ in Calgary, and $550 in Toronto)…the El Dorado 25 supposedly retails for a cool $350, but only when you can find it, and that’s about as likely as finding seriousness in a Rajinikanth movie. So it’s a little like a Grail of sorts for me, and when an old friend in Toronto mentioned he had a bottle of the Millenium Edition (bottled for the year 2000), and was prepared to let me have a sip under carefully controlled circumstances (lock, key, watchful guards and closed circuit cameras not excluded), well, what can a man do but accede and hustle his behind over there.

The various reviews I’ve done of the El Dorado line give more than enough history of the producing company without me adding substantially to it, but in brief, more than any one company in the world, DDL ushered in the age of premium sipping rums way back in 1992 when the El Dorado aged vintages emerged, led by the flagship 15 year old Special Reserve (which my father told me quite frankly is his favourite of them all). To a great extent this was aided by the tremendous variety of original and modern distilling equipment DDL had (and has), including original wooden stills dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries; these permit a variety of dark matured rums that form the backbone of the range.

The ED-25 shares, with a few others, the humorous cachet of being old enough to have intimate relations with itself, and to call the bottle it comes in merely “a bottle” is to do it a disservice. Like the Angostura 1919 and the Appleton 30, it comes in a container best referred to as a decanter, or maybe a flagon (minus the handle). It may lack the zen-like Spartan simplicity of the EH10, but it’s arresting for all that and the glass-topped cork makes its own statement of quality (I particularly liked the voluptuous popping sound when eased out). You feel, when opening this baby, that you should be on a plantation house somewhere, watching the sun go down over emerald green cane fields moving and rustling in the trade winds.

Right away you are enveloped by warm breathy fumes of your favourite bedtime partner gently blowing brown sugar at you. The nose is not sharp enough to sting, but asserts its prescence in a sort of mild burn that is far from unpleasant and hints of caramel, brown sugar, faint orange peel, spices and perhaps (and I’m reaching here) cinnamon. Slow, fat legs swirl in your glass as it drains in an oily film down the sides. I had observed before that I loved the viscosity of the 21 year old…this one looks to do it one better.

And it does. “Oiliness” is a mark of how well the rum coats your tongue and allows the tastes to remain there. The ED25 is a step ahead of the 21 year old I so admired, perhaps a shade more viscous, a bit thicker in the mouth. It gives the liquid a richness and feel that I find amazing. It’s still a spirit of 40% ABV, but dense enough for you to almost feel you’re getting a liqueur. The taste that comes through is of smoke and oak, sweetness (a shade more than the 21) and caramel, molasses, nuts, fresh coconut shavings still damp from the blade, bananas, cherries and a slight hint of licorice; and the sense, never quite solidified, of wet warm ground softly steaming after a tropical drizzle. And there was that wine-like taste of cigarillos soaked in port which I used to love in my smoking days.

The dark brown rum is smoother than any rum has a right to be, and to taint it with any kind of mixer would be sacrilege. I had it neat and then with ice, but my take would be to just have it neat and sip it one small mouthful at a time. The finish is long and lasting, and like a playful tabby, it bats you with half-sheathed claws right at the end just to let you know you can’t take it for granted…what a wonderful rum this was, indeed.

I suggested in my review of another uber-rum (the Appleton 30) that I can titivate around with opinions on the low and midrange rums without losing any kind of credibility, but just because a man pays a lot for a bottle of the good stuff does not immediately guarantee a positive, let alone a sterling, review. That I paid not a red cent except fuel costs to get to John’s house does not invalidate this sentiment. Was it as good as I had been led to believe?

In answering this question, I want to stay away from making any kind of unequivocal statement as “this is the best” or, “it’s the epitome of rum” or any such superlative, because at end, what you are getting here is an opinion. Mine, to be exact, and as readers of my writing will have discerned by now, I like smooth sippers of some sweetness, complex flavours and subtle underpinnings, with a good mouthfeel and long finishes. On that level, the El Dorado 25 is one of the best commercially available 40% rums ever made: in my opinion it’s a top five pick for sure (and note how carefully I phrased that). Where it fails slightly, is in the sweetness component. It’s just a bit too much, the burnt sugar and caramel flavours being a bit too aggressive: they just edge out the subtler tastes coiling beneath, and while the upside is that this smoothens things out a bit on the finish, masks the smoky oak tannins enough for it not to be a whisky (a problem I had with Appletons), it prevents that coming together of all elementsflavor profile, texture and finishthat would give it the premium many will feel a rum like this deserves, and justify the price tag.

That this is the top end of rums is not in question, and so, at the end, whether you buy it or not depends a lot on how you see rums yourself. Are you prepared to shell out over three hundred dollars for a world class sipper, or are you at that stage where you would prefer to go a rung lower and buy two or three also-premium, almost-as-good rums for that same price and triple your enjoyment? In my youth, I knew exactly where I stood on that sentiment; at my current age, with a little bit of cash socked away to indulge myself (and an understanding spouse who pretends not to notice), I’d have to concede that I’d walk – nay, runto Willow Park to buy this, if they ever stocked it.

…but only once.

(#035)(Unscored)


Update February 2017 I had the good fortune to re-taste this as part of the Rumaniacs lineup, and the intervening years made one hell of a difference: it was staggering how my own tastes had changed. Not only was 40% way too weak (the rum retails at 43% in Europe), but the sweet was now something that could only be described as an epic fail. I believe that for its time (~2005-2011) it was right and commanded the heights; few other makers could produce a 25 year old rum in any real quantity to compete with this. But as full proofs became the preferred strength, and lack of adulteration was the signature of top end rum; and as other, sometimes older rums came on the market, DDL never really changed with the times. To be sure there will always be those to whom this rum appeals. These days, I’m no longer one of them, until DDL dials down the sugar and issues the rum at a higher proof.