Jan 082020
 

No matter how many Guyanese wooden-still rums get bottled sporting the famed letters PM, VSG or EHP, none of them save perhaps the very oldest have anything near the mythical cachet of rums bearing the name “Skeldon”.  Even when I penned my original review of Velier’s Skeldon 1973 back in 2014 (when the company and Luca Gargano were hardly household names), it was clear that it had already become a cult rum. Nowadays the 1973 or 1978 rums sell for thousands of dollars apiece any time they come up for auction and that price and their incredible rarity makes them holy grails for many.

But for those who came to Velier’s rums late, or lack the deep pockets necessary to get one, there is an alternative, and that’s the very well assembled Skeldon 2000 that arrived on store shelves in late 2018 as part of the 3rd Release of DDL’s Rare Collection.  This collection supplanted and replaced the Velier rums (though both parties always insisted they were DDL rums from the get-go) when it was seen that they were no mere niche products, but full blown money-spinners in their own right that aimed at the very top end of the rum market. The dependable old faithfuls of Enmore, Port Mourant and Versailles were produced in 2016 and 2017, and in 2018 the fans finally got what they were lusting for — an Albion 14 YO from 2004 and this one.

The Skeldon SWR 200 is aged 18 years in Guyana, bottled at a very attractive 58.3%, and is a recreation of the SWR profile (as were the original two marks), since Skeldon’s distillery apparatus had long ago been scrapped and destroyed, way back in the 1960s when Bookers was rationalizing the many Berbice-based distilleries. Essentially it was made by combining old distillery records (and, one hopes, old samples), tweaking the continuous Blair column still , taking a deep breath and sending a prayer to the Great Master Blender In The Sky.

What came out the other end and got stuffed into a bottle was quietly stunning.  It exuded scents of deep and rich caramel, molasses, vanilla and anise (if the ED 21 YO had had less licorice and the ED 25YO no sugar, they would have come close to this). It developed into a damp mossy tropical forest steaming in the sun after a cloudburst, but this was mere background to the core aromas, which were cinnamon, molasses, cumin, salt caramel ice cream, licorice and a really strong hot chocolate drink sprinkled with, oh, more chocolate.

Its standout aspect was how smooth it came across when tasted.  As with the Albion we looked at before, the rum didn’t profile like anywhere near its true strength, was warm and firm and tasty, trending a bit towards being over-oaked and ever-so-slightly too tannic.  But those powerful notes of unsweetened cooking chocolate, creme brulee, caramel, dulce de leche, molasses and cumin mitigated the wooden bite and provided a solid counterpoint into which subtler marzipan and mint-chocolate hints could be occasionally noticed, flitting quietly in and out. The finish continued these aspects while gradually fading out, and with some patience and concentration, port-flavoured tobacco, brown sugar and cumin could be discerned.

Is it like the more famous Velier Skeldons I’ve tried?  Yes…and no. There were differences, as is inevitable over such a span of years.  What is important that the rum is a good one, noses well, tastes better, and its real failing may not be how it drinks, but how much it costs relative to other Demerara rums made by the independents…because really, not many can afford this kind of rum, and DDL’s dosage reputation would hinder easy acceptance of such a pricey spirit on its merits (a problem Velier would likely not have). In any event, there are few, if any, alive now who could even tell you what an “original” Skeldon rum tasted like, given that so much time has flowed past, that the distillery was closed so long ago, and that Skeldon’s distillery output even then was folded into other companies’ blends (remember, estate- and still-specific branding is a very recent phenomenon). 

What is a quiet miracle, though, is that DDL managed to adhere with such fidelity to the Skeldon profile map (as currently understood) that I’m not sure I could pick the three SWR rums apart from each other if tried blind – though I think the thick richness of the multi-decade ageing of the 1973 and 1978 might give them away. That is quite an achievement for the 2000 DDL incarnation, and allows many new rum aficionados who want to know what the hooplah over Skeldon is about, to get an inkling of why there’s a fuss at all.

(#691)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • In a situation that does not surprise me in the slightest, neither Release 2 nor Release 3 Rares are listed on El Dorado’s own website.
  • That “Blair” still reference has caused some confusion, but I’m reasonably confident it’s the French Savalle continuous still brought over from Blairmont estate to Uitvlught back in the 1960s and to Diamond in late 1990s/early 2000s.
Jan 062020
 

In early 2016 when the first Rares from El Dorado hit the market, there was a lot of mumbling and grumbling in the blogosphere.  Most of that was the feeling that Velier (which was to say, Luca Gargano, whose star was in rapid ascent back then) had been inconsiderately evicted from his privileged access to DDL’s barrels in a cheap shot to muscle in on the market niche he had almost singlehandedly built, for tropically-aged ultra-old full-proof still-specific Guyanese rums.  But almost as loud was the squealing about the prices, higher than Velier’s and the prevailing indies’ rates, which were seen as exorbitant for an untried first release by a company long known for dosage and lack of customer engagement. When the first reviews rolled out, many pundits ranked them lower than the Veliers from the Age which they replaced.

Three years later on, the Rare Collection is an established fact, though DDL continues to refuse to speak about them in open social media fora, and it’s gotten to the stage that many people were not even aware the Second Release had hit the stores in late 2017. By the time 2018 drew to a close, however, just about everyone knew of the Third Release, because two of the most hallowed marques in the Velier canon were being issued – an Albion and a Skeldon. Arguably, the three wooden stills of Versailles, Port Mourant and Enmore have always had greater name recognition, but the sheer rarity of the Albions and the near mythical status of the Skeldon just about guaranteed them serious attention.

Whether any rum can stand up to the weight of such expectations is an open question. Albion has not had a functional distillery apparatus since at least 1969 when Bookers’ rationalization of several Berbice distilleries into Uitvlugt was completed.  So an educated guess says that the rum (and all others with the marque) is a recreation built up from the Enmore still (not the French Savalle still) housed at Diamond, based on what we can reasonably assume is old distiller’s notes and still settings and a rigorous attempt to copy a profile from perhaps existing old samples (I’d ask DDL directly, but since they don’t answer I’ve stopped trying, since my patience, like my outhouse, has finite limits for b.s.).

With or without information, however, it must be said that I liked the Albion, a lot. It sported 14 tropical years of age, a ripped bod screaming in at 60.1% ABV and when I tried it for the first time, I was transported back to that time I tried the 1994 version that started me off on the Velier kick way back in 2012.  It was a dark amber rum, enormously, deeply, wonderfully fragrant – of cedar wood, eucalyptus, sandalwood, evocative woody notes one might even have thought came from a wooden still (but didn’t) to which were added red wine, vanilla, caramel, toffee, candied oranges, and crushed nuts. And then dissatisfied, the wheels were turned and even more was cranked out – molasses and brown sugar, plums, prunes, blackberries and other dark fruits.  It was actually somewhat sweeter than I had been expecting, but fortunately the bite of sharper fruits and tannins of the barrel kept things crisp and balanced and it made for a seriously ba

dass olfactory experience.

The palate was executed at a similarly high level. Like many of the very best rums made at high proof points, I hardly felt the proof searing across the tongue or carving divots in the throat.  In fact, while strong and hot, it never exhibited the scratchy harshness of a harridan’s nagging and could best be described as powerful, with tastes to match. There were the wooden lumber notes again (cedar), some vaguely bitter wooden tannins and nutmeg spice which went well with the dark fruits (blackcurrants, prunes), sweet red olives, brine and concentrated black cake. It was not quite sweetish and maintained a sort of musky and earthy profile throughout, but I liked that, and the finish – dry, long lasting – was quite good, redolent of prunes, coca-cola, faint licorice, nuts, toblerone, almonds and dark triple-chocolate.  All said and done, just yummy. I’ll take two.

The quality of the Albion 2004 is high and self evident on even a casual tasting — even though, good as it is, it doesn’t quite make it into the meadow of rarefied unicorn territory.  What is clear is that the Albion dispels any doubts that the Rares are now worthy inheritors of Velier’s reputation built up during the Age.  It’s among the very best rums DDL have ever issued (edged out only by the Enmore 1996 20 YO from R2…at least, so far), and if one yearns to try something that’s close as dammit to one of the more legendary Albions like the Velier editions of 1983, 1984, 1986, 1989, or 1994 – then this is as near as you’ll get without breaking the bank…it’s as good as most, and perhaps even better than some.

(#690)(88/100)


Other notes

  • The label states the rum derives from the “Continuous Coffey Still.” Given the French Savalle is never mentioned and the other Enmore rums in the Rare collection are also referred to as being made on the continuous still, as well as the woody taste profile, it stands to reason this is actually an Enmore wooden continuous still rum, tweaked to resemble the Albion.
  • Outturn is unclear – Wes suggested it was ~2000 bottles, while Ivar commented with more assurance in his review that it was 4500.
Jan 312017
 

Photo copyright (c) Masters of Malt

Rumaniacs Review #028 | 0428

In the beginning DDL made the El Dorado 1980 25 year old and it was good. The rum pundits looked upon it with favour, tasted and smiled and pronounced it great. For it was greatly aged and unique and well presented and the people were pleased and parted willingly with their hard-earned coin. But then, lo, the world around it moved and changed, and darkness moved upon the face of the cognoscenti, for as the stars turned overhead, other rums were made, better rums, stronger rums, purer rums — and the El Dorado 25 was loath to change with the times.  Verily, it was seen to be a mere mask of greatness without actually being great, having been corrupted and adulterated by the sly serpent of sugar.  And those very persons who heretofore had sung its praises and made sweet sacrifice of good yellow gold at the altar of DDL, now turned their faces from its twisted taste and denounced its falsity.  But many disciples stayed faithful to the heavy  sweetness of the rum, hearkened on to its seductive call, and continued to make obeisance to its false promises.

And it came to pass that the Lone Caner, slinking furtively behind his better-known fellow acolytes of the Order of the Rumaniacs, finally dared also to walk through the abyss, to investigate reports and rumours of this fabled beast.  Armed with only his trusty pen as weapon and notebook for shield, clad in not-quite-righteousness and supposed knowledge gleaned from years of study in matters of The Cane, he went quite into the lair of the legendary rum, to there do battle and come away with the flame of true knowledge.  Was indeed the El Dorado the mythical sugar demon denounced from many an evangelical pulpit?  Or did evil rumour and the jealous despite of the followers of the New Faith unfairly malign a misunderstood denizen of the rumiverse?

And upon reaching the very centre of the bottle’s domain, admired the Caner the golden etching of the flagon. Poured into the glass the Caner did his hard earned sample for which he had sacrificed so much.  Smelled it with overlong snoot, inhaled into much abused lungs, as he drew into himself the olfactory essence of the dram, fearing not, for the Rum Spirit was within him, his alcoholic belches were the stuff of legends unto themselves, and he was far too witless for fear.

Richness there was, immediate, for the scent of the rum spoke to the fair stills whose puissance had been taken by the Makers and through magic and incantations and the tears of virgins, been rendered down into the brown elixir worshipped in times past by the people as a Great Spirit.  Enmore spake commandingly, and Vesailles alongside, and perhaps a whisper of the fabled and elusive Uitvlugt too, all breathing life into the rich nose.  Burnt sugar there was, and nougat, coffee, burning cane fields, and anise, and the sweet aromas of fruit and licorice to make the hearts of children glad.  But lo, what was this?  Even as the richness was sensed, it congealed and became thick and cloying and the dread spectre of sugar surged forth from the darkness to do battle with the rum and the Caner.  Too strong was it for resistance, and yea, the sugar vanquished all that came before it and the nose faltered and died upon the floor.

Struggled did the Caner, to raise his glass and taste the dark brown lass, but alas, bitter disappointment was his only reward.  For by dint of sweet promises and the lure of earthly delights known to only a select few, the fair maiden of the El Dorado proved herself to be a faithless siren luring him to his doom.  Drowned he was in the overwhelming blanket of sugar.  Struggled he did to sense the dim light of vanillas and kiwi fruit and deep molasses, the soft caramels and inviting toffees and coffees and aromatic notes of tobacco.  But nay, the Dark Spirits were merciless, and he failed in his quest utterly; and even the faint glimmers of anise and caramel and burnt sugar turned their faces from him and vanished sadly into the underworld, never to be seen again…leaving him only with remaining teeth decaying and tongue coated with sticky syrup, rending his robes and gnashing his teeth in the anguish of what he had been denied.

Then wroth was the Caner, for he had earlier loved this fair spirit, which had so misled him in his innocence and newbie-ness with shades of illusion now proven false. Raised he then his acerbic pen, readied he his trusty notebook.  Furiously was the pen wielded and the ink stained the page as if he had spilled the rum running through his own veins. And he recorded for posterity his despite.  For in his disappointment and his frustration, these were the weapons he meant to use to record the legend of this mythical rum and to speak truth to those who would continue to sing songs of praise to its purported magnificence.

Therefore, then, gentle reader, take thee heed of the glorious failure of one led to ruin by his misplaced admiration for a false idol, and go not into the abyss thyself. Let his misadventure serve as both warning and instruction, that great age and great price and a fair and sweet appearance are sometimes masks to deceive the unwary.  Tread not lightly into congress with such strumpets lest ye be destroyed in thy turn.

(80/100)

Dec 062015
 

Albion 1986 cropRumaniacs Review 013 | 0413

Another old bad boy from la Casa Luca, as we continue our sojourn down memory lane with old Veliers. The Albion 1994 17 year old was the first Velier I ever tried and there’s still a soft spot in my heart for it.  This one, tried three years later, is perhaps not as good. It’s certainly older, being bottled in 1986 and it’s a weighty, meaty 25 year old…from one barrel.  Good luck finding more of this thing. Perhaps only the Albion 1983 is rarer.

Note that its actual provenance from Albion is subject to debate since Albion and its still has been shuttered long before 1983 (Marco went into the matter in some depth in his deep essay here).  Carl Kanto told me that the still is dissassembled now, but could offer no pointer as to when this happened. Also, the enclosing white box is inconsistent, speaking about a distilling date of 1994, which Luca assures me is a misprint.

Colour – Dark amber/mahogany

Strength 60.6%

Nose – Rich and robust, very similar to the Blairmont 1982 (coming next week) and a Caroni (wtf?). Caramel nuttiness and blackberries.  Not quite as sweet as the 1982, and with solid, deep notes of camphor balls, coffee and bitter chocolate, some molasses and tons of chopped dark fruit. There’s even some weird peatiness winding around the background, and the tarriness of a Caroni is self-evident.  Very strange nose here.  Good, but unexpected too.

Palate – Much better.  Solid, punchy and pungent. Meaty, even.  Cinnamon, ginger, more tar and nuts and molasses, anise/licorice, mouthwash and mouldy clothes in an old wardrobe.  Oak and leather start to emerge at the tail end…not entirely enthused here. But the rich heaviness of those fruits save it from disaster and lift it back up again, and with the emergence of rich phenols, it parts company with the Blairmont in a big way. Yummy.

Finish – Long and warm, a little dry. Not much new is brought to the party, it’s more of the same spicy fruits and cinnamon and licorice; but what there is, is plenty good and aromatic and lasting. No complaints from me.

Thoughts – A bit conflicted on this one.  The quality is there, and it adheres to the high standards of the various Veliers, yet somehow I still liked the younger version better.  It may be an academic point given its rarity now. Either way, it is still a very good full proof rum and if it doesn’t ascend to the heights of others, it does no dishonour to the brand either.  And that’s a pretty high bar for any contender to beat.

(89/100)

Albion 1986 - box crop

Jun 012010
 

This review was written in 2010 for the online rum magazine Rum Connection, and I add it here for completeness.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted that the rich are different from you and me. The same could possibly be said of premium rums at the top of the scale. They are so different, represent such an investment of time and effort, and are usually in such short supply that they come to represent something of the pinnacle of achievement in rum blending and production. Something rarefied, something out of the ordinary box in which most aged rums are placed. Something really, really special.

Such a rum is the El Dorado 25 year old, first seen in 1999 when the Millennium Edition came out. Just think of what that means. A full three years before the first stocks of the groundbreaking El Dorado 15 year old were put away (it came out in 1992 and so was set in motion in 1978), some farsighted visionary selected the barrels that held the rums which would eventually make their way into the first bottles of ED25. When the original blends were first casked, there were no personal computers, no cinema multiplexes, no ipods, cds, dvds or cell phones, and the premium rums that so dominate today’s high end market were barely a glimmer in someone’s eye. Five American presidents passed into and out of the White House while the casks slumbered and aged in DDL’s warehouses.

The ED 25 I reviewed here wasn’t the millenium edition but a more recent vintage (1980), and, perhaps as befits the pricey top end of the range, doesn’t skimp too much on the presentation (though I believe it could do better, and it seems to adhere to DDL’s philosophy of presentational minimalism). It arrives in a glass decanter quite unlike any other bottle in the El Dorado range, and fits tightly into a black cylindrical tin. The bottle is sealed with a glass-topped cork, firmly seated. Nice, very nice. Full brownie points for this, though it doesn’t equate to the bottle-lying-on-a-bed-of-satin in a blue box such as the Johnnie Walker Blue Label arrives with (and for a hundred bucks less for that one, you kinda wonder about that, but never mind).

The ED25 poured into the glass in a dark-brown cascade of liquid expense. At $300/bottle in Alberta (more in Toronto, I guarantee it, assuming it ever gets there), it was a pretty expensive shot no matter how little I decanted. On the other hand, it was worth it. Take the nose: Demerara rums are noted for thick, dark, molasses-based structure, and El Dorados pretty much pioneered the profile, but here, it was almost delicate. Somehow, DDL’s master blender managed to mute the inevitable alcohol sting of a 40% rum, dampened the sometimes excessive molasses scent, and created a complex nose that was a mixture of fresh brown sugar, caramel, orange, banana and assorted fruits. And I’m not talking about a mango, or apple or guava, but that mixture of fruits that gets into the best West Indian black cake served at Christmas time and weddings. Damn it was sexy. While I’d had the ED25 before, I had been in a hurry that day and trying it along with five other rums – so sampling it again under more controlled conditions permitted a more analytical tasting (if a less enjoyable one, given the absence of good friends), where notes I had missed the first time came through more clearly.

No discussion of El Dorado rums can be complete without mentioning their famous wooden stills, and the care DDL took to ensure the survival of the various stills from plantations that once produced their famous marques. Port Mourant, Uitvlugt (pronounced eye-flugt), Enmore, Versailles, LBI, Albion, Skeldon…the names are like a roll call of honour for marques now almost gone. These days only a few are in continuous commercial production (ICBU, PM and EHP are the most commonly found), none on the original estates. As the individual plantation distilleries closed down and were consolidated at Diamond Estate factory complex over the decades, DDL moved the entire still from the closed estate factory to Diamond. DDL operates eight different stills each with its own profile: six columnar stills, of which four are Savalle, and one is the last wooden Coffey still in existence; and two wooden pot stills, also the last in the world. From these still come rums with clear and definable characteristics that still reflect the tastes and characters of their original plantations, where they were once made.

The El Dorado 25 year old is a blend of rums from many of these stills: the Enmore wooden Coffey columnar still; the LBI and Albion Savalle stills; and the double wooden pot still from Port Mourant. Each brings its own distinct flavour to the table. And on the palate, they emerge like flowers in the desert after a rain. The rum emerging out of the blending of product from all these different stills was full-bodied, oily and coated the tongue from front to back. It was smoother than just about any other rum I had ever tried. I’m unfortunately not able to separate which taste emanates from the rum coming from which still, but I’ll tell you what I did taste: liquorice, caramel, molasses, brown sugar, burning canefields at harvest time, and baking spices, faint citrus together with the scent of freshly grated coconut. The tastes ran together in a dark, rich mélange that were enhanced with a sweet that may be the only negative I have to remark on this superb rum. I love the Demerara style – dark, full bodied and sweet – but the ED 25 is loaded with just a shade too much of the sugary stuff, and looking at my original tasting notes from six months ago, I see that I made exactly the same observation then. Beyond that, the thing is phenomenal.

The fade is similarly excellent. Long, smooth and with a gentle deep burn that releases the final fumes and tastes to the back of the throat in a voluptuous sigh of completion. This is without doubt one of the best goodbye kisses I’ve ever experienced from a rum, and I still think of it as a sort of baseline to which I compare many others. The loveliness of the complex nose, of taste reeking of class and sundowners, of a finish redolent of warm tropical nights on a moonlit shore, makes one want to laugh out loud with sheer delight.

At the top of the scale in any endeavour, ranking the best becomes problematic. When trying to assess the ED25, the relative comparisons are inevitable. There are certainly richer or more varied noses on other premium rums (English Harbour 25 is better, and I do have a soft spot for the Appleton 30); there are rums with more complexity (Mount Gay 1703); better body and taste (Flor de Cana 18, perhaps Clemente Tres Vieux for some), and for a finish, can anything beat the Gordon & MacPhail Jamaica 1941 58 yr old? But if you hold the “best” hostage to any one criterion, then you’re shortchanging the rankings, and will get nothing but vagueness. For a rum to ascend to greatness, it must be well-rounded, with near-excellence (if not actual brilliance) in all categories. Appearance, colour, body, taste, nose, balance, grace, emotional appeal, personal attraction and a certain timelessness…that’s the mitochondrial DNA of such a rum, and what comprises its core amino acids.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the El Dorado 25 year old. In the opinion of this Demerara-style-loving reviewer, it is, quite simply, one of the best rums of its kind ever made.

Update, May 2020: Clearly, in the years that passed between the time this exuberant review was written in 2010, and the time I tried another one in 2018, my opinion on its excellence changed (downwards).  But as a signpost in how preferences and an appreciations of a rum can change with time, this serves as both a useful signpost of “before” and a cautionary tale of starting with high end rums too early in one’s career before proper groundwork and wider experience is gained.