Jul 292021
 

Depending on who you talk to, it’s a toss up whether Hampden or Worthy Park is the best of the New Jamaican distilleries. Appleton / J. Wray is the market leader (in both sales and recognition); Longpond, Monymusk, New Yarmouth and Clarendon have some brand awareness from Jamaican rum cultists and indie bottlersthough of course your average Joe could care less, let alone distinguish among thembut when it comes to artisanal pot still rums, it’s all down to those two.

Hampden has a distribution arrangement with Velier (you can see Velier’s design ethos in all their labels), uses dunder in distillation, has its own aged rums and is repped by the charming, dynamic and vivacious Christelle Harris. Worthy Park does not use dunder, has deliberately elected not to partner up with anyone (unless it’s 1423, the Danish outfit who helps them market their rums around Europe) and has their own not-so-secret weapon, the approachable and cheerful King of Cool, Mr. Zan Kong as their export manager. Both sell “house brands” of their own (the Rumbar line for WP, the Velier-associated Pure Single Rums “46” and “60” for Hampden), sell to third parties which produce brands like RumFire, Stolen Overproof, Hamilton or Doctor Bird, or sell bulk for the use of European indies.

The key to their rise and recognition and all the accolades is less these points, however, than the fact that both have wedded their futures to pot still artisanal rums which have, since their introduction, taken the rumworld by storm. Worthy Park in particular is one of the best of its kind, and been confident enough in their sales to expand the admittedly rather entry-level (though still very good) Rumbar rums into a series of older and more limited expressions called the “Special Cask” series, which are further aged, issued at higher proof, and are simply amazing in every way.

This edition began to be released around 2017, and the bottle under discussion today is based on stocks laid down in 2012 — it’s a 59% ABV limited edition of 428 bottles, though I am unclear whether it came from a single cask or a few (I suspect a few). It has the peculiarity of being double aged: four years in Jamaica, and another one in Denmark by 1423, which is why initially, at the various rumfests where it was introduced, it was found at that company’s booth. That European year was in ex-Oloroso casks, so not only different casks but different climates impacted the final rum. Interesting

The results of that bifurcated ageing regimen and the pot still origin speak for themselves, and personally, wholly on my own account, I can only say the rum is kind of a quiet stunner. The nose startled the hell out of me, I must admita smoky barbeque with sweetly musky HP sauce? went the opening words of my handwritten notesreally! It was redolent of the ashes of a dying fire over which a well-marinated shashlik had been grilling and sizzling. Which did not stay long, admittedly: the real rumminess came aftercaramel, burnt sugar, bags of fruit. For a while there it even nosed like a pot still white, with slight turpentine, brine, olives and varnishy notes. Red wine, grapes, plums, very ripe apples, bananas, coconut shavings, the smells kept billowing out and all I could think was somebody had somehow managed to stuff the olfactory equivalent of a grocery’s entire fresh produce section in here.

The taste was similarly excellent, a low-rent masterpiece of execution in precision mixed up with a raucous yard party where de music blarin’ out o’ big-ass speaker size’ like young fridge. It was all-out funky Jamaican goodness, sweet and crisp and very very controlled, with the balance among all the competing elements really quite well handled. Strawberries, pineapples, bubble gum and orange zest started the party; that was then followed by raisins, dark fruits, plums, vinegar, pimento and vinegar dumped with olive oil into a oversalted salad (and I mean that in a good way). Even the finishsporting a limbo of nuts, paprika, tobacco leaves and more of those oversweet-yet-tart spoiling fruitsadded a solid conclusion to the festivities.

No blended rum or column still ever came up with a rum like this. Steve James of the Rum Diaries Blog wrote the first serious review of the series and was enamoured of the entire line, and The Fat Rum Pirate followed suit soon after with a four star review (it’s both amusing and instructive that one thought the sherry influence was too much, the other too little) and Rum Shop Boy weighed in with a positive experience of his own.

But oddly, in spite of the accolades, the rum never really scaled the heights of consumer desire to the extent that it became a must-have, and if a measure of any rum’s popularity is the amount of times it gets mentioned on social media with gleeful boasts of “I got it!!” then this seems to be considered a bit of a smaller rum. Personally, I disagree: Worthy Park’s double aged “Oloroso” rum was and remains a seriously constructed piece of complex oomph that any distiller would have been proud to release. “Though she be but little, she is fierce,” wrote Shakespeare of the diminutive Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I think that applies equally to this rum. In people’s minds it may be small, easily overlookedbut in reality, it’s Goddamned huge.

(#840)(88/100)

Jul 082021
 

After a successful debut in around 2016, the Transcontinental Rum Line, the indie bottler offshoot of La Maison du Whisky in Paris, has faded some from public view, though they continued to release rums as late as 2020). That said, with current distribution in the US and parts of Asia, it may see something of a resurgence with that increased awareness. And that’s a good thing: as with all indies of a diverse portfolio of rums it’s a bit hit or miss, but overall they have done pretty well.

La Maison was formed by Georges Bénitah in 1956, and has had a long history with spiritsparticularly the importation and distribution of rare whiskies. From what I gather, Georges’s son Thierry and Luca Gargano had (and continue to have) a long and amiable relationshipso the eventual joining of forces into the joint venture La Maison & Velier, which now distributes Velier rums in France, was perhaps inevitable. Still, before that happened, LMDW was interested enough in the rising popularity of the indie single-cask rum scene in Europe to branch out on its own, and the TCRL range was launched in 2016 with a mix of various “standard” rums all indies seem to prefer, at either cask or standard strength.

Leaving aside the unoriginal selections from all the usual locations (Fiji and Australia were welcome aberrations, admittedly), what distinguished them right off the bat was their visual imagery and marketing strategy, which was and remains centered around the pictures of the luxury ocean liner which graced their labels, accompanied by old fashioned text font. In the style and the evocation of this era of restrained Edwardian pomp (even if it wasn’t, see other notes, below) one felt a certain genteel sensibility, as one did, for example with the bare and faded yellow labels of Berry Bros. & Rudd.

So, this rum, from Belize. The major distillery of note on Belize is Travellers (Copalli is a new up and comer), which makes the Travellers 1-barrel, 3-barrel and 5-barrel rums for which they are best known, as well as the excellent Don Omario Vintage 15 year old (some backstory for the curious is in the 1-barrel review). This rum dripped off a column still in 2005, and was aged for nine years there before being shipped to Europe for an additional two years ageing, and for whatever reason, they decided to release the two-cask-output of 792 bottles at 46%.

Given the lightness of the profile, that may not have been accidental1, because the rum, even with all that tropical ageing, was soft and warm and pillowlike, completely without the sullen potential for violence displayed by, say, a young pot still Jamaican sporting high proof, dreads and a ‘tude. It presented, I’m afraid, a nose of few surprises: toffee, white chocolate, and some coconut shavings, all very easy and relaxed. A few minutes later it was joined by vanilla, almonds, ice cream and pears, all quite solid, just unassertive and not really trying be overly complicated.

This restrained, lean-back-in-the-berbice-chair simplicity carried over on the tongue as well, and I wish they had beefed it up some, to be honestit gave up tastes of coconut shavings again, caramel, honey, nougat, peaches in syrup, cherries and chocolate oranges, which expanded with some water to introduce a chocolate/coffee vibe that was nice, just not particularly unique in any way. It all moved sedately and quietly into a finish of no real length or strength, which merely repeated these distinct, simple notes, and faded out with warmth and charmth. Yawn.

It’swell, it’s fine. Tasty little rumlet. But a straightforward presentation of such relaxed and quiet tastes is pretty much what I’ve gotten bored with, with Latin-style rons as a whole. There’s not much real fun in the whole thing, little challengethough I fully concede this is a hot-weather rum, to be had when force and striking power is not the objective. By that standard, it’s a very pleasant sundowner sip, and I think the key to enjoying it fully is to pick the right time and place and mood to have it. As it turned out, I had it on a hot July day in Berlin and wasn’t in a mood to play around with its laid-back aw-shucks style, so its charms were unfortunately lost on me.

(#835)(81/100)


Other notes

  • One has to be a little careful about touting the “originality” of the labelling, because the same ship, a reproduction of a painting of the Queen Mary 2, appears on multiple labels and it wasn’t until somewhat laterthe 2020 releases referred to abovethat each bottle got its own ship. The sensory ethos and evocation of a past time embodied in those ships, the style of painting and the labelling font, remained the same, though

  • I particularly appreciate the extra information the back (and now the front) labelthe division of how much time it spent ageing in tropical vs continental climes, the still, and particularly the other bottles in the range (referred to as “lines”, like it was a shipping concern going off to exotic localesone wonder what they would have done of somebody in the marketing department liked trains).

 

Jan 072021
 

The Masters of Malt blurb for the Grenada-distilled Clarke’s Court No. 37 rum contains two sentences that make one both smile and ask more questions. A “blended Caribbean rum” which is “the thirteenth limited release rum from Clarke’s Court.” And as if trying to top that, they go on to say “The rum was designed to be supplied to exclusive social events” and both just reek of some marketing intern making ad copy in his sleep, evidently unable to come up with anything more interesting about this equally lackadaisical rum.

Why not a “Grenadian” rum, one wonders. And, if this is the 13th edition, why is it called No. 37? Is it related to the possible year of establishment of Grenada Distillers Ltd? Unlikely, because the 1998 book Grenada: Island of Conflict by George Brizan notes that as being 1936, though admittedly the Clarke’s own website notes the factory as becoming operational in 1937. An anniversary of independence? But that was 1974 so 37 years later would be 2011. Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery probably nailed it when he said it was issued to commemorate independence, and the 300th year of establishment of St. George’s (not strictly rightit was started much earlierbut the star-shaped Fort Royale, later St George’s, was indeed completed in 1710).

Where are the other 12 editions, then? Or No. 1 through No. 36? No records exist. Further research reveals that it’s a blend, released in 2010 and was aged for 8 years in oak barrels, and with current editions of the No. 37 blend also being released at 12 years of age. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it was married and then rebarreled with more fruit flavour infused (oh oh…) but this is backed up nowhere else except in hydrometer tests, which also point to additives. Lastly, while the Fat Rum Pirate noted his assumption as being a pot and column still blend, His High Wonkiness says there’s only a two-column still at Grenada Distillers, with which they occasionally make some heavier rum from plates lower down in the column and mix that into the lighter stuff from plates higher up.

Picture copyright Charlene Gooding, from Pinterest

It’s a good thing I did this research after I did the tasting, because all these questions and backstories that filled in the sadly lacking label and website info, came later, and didn’t influence my initial opinion. Alas, that opinion wasn’t all that terrific either. Which is odd in itself, because the experience started out quite solidthe nose, for example, was warm, a little spicy, and smelled initially of molasses bubble gum and soda pop. Quite sweet smelling, and got deeper than the above might imply or the strength would suggest. Nice tropical fruit basket tooguavas (the red ones), bananas, mangoes, watermelon, gherkins, plus toblerone white, almonds. Nicely creamy. Some soft salty notes, like dates and figs. Creme brulee and caramel. Irish coffee. Sonice.

It’s on the palate that it sinks, and some of the falsity shines through. Weak and wispy to a fault. Bubble gum and fanta. Light citrus, pears, more mangoes and guavas, but oddly muted, as if they aren’t sure they’re supposed to be here (this is usually a good indicator of tampering). White chocolate, crushed almonds, a hint of nutmeg, nuts, vanilla, some salt caramel ice cream. There’s even some light fresh (and I swear I’m not making this up) laundry detergent kinda taste. Overall, just unimpressive, with a finish that has to knock twice to make sure it’s heard, let alone noticed, and gives little beyond some miscellaneous fruits and a bit of tart yoghurt to let us know it was ever even there.

It’s a peculiarity of the rum that it said it was limited, but never actually how limitedthe label has a bottle number, but not a “out of xxx bottles” statement. So it’s hard to say what’s special or limited about the whole thing, especially as it continues to be made to this day and the year of distillation of the bottle one has is not mentioned. Moreover I can almost guarantee that few reading this know anything about it unless they went on a cruise down to the island themselves, orlike me, Chip, Dave and Eddate back from those days a decade or more back, when the standards for both rums and labels were very much less exacting than they are now and we accepted what we got with gratitude at getting anything at all.

However that was then, and those same easy standards and low strength fail the rum in this day and age. It’s nice enough for the unadventurous and indifferent but in no way is it as premium as it makes out it is. It’s weak, it’s not well assembled, the years it slept actually seem like less, and it’s been added to. Therefore, to me, it’s an average rum of no distinction or special individualityand so I think I’ll close this already-overlong review by just giving it an average sort of score.

(#792)(77/100)

May 132019
 

Everything you research on Naga is likely to make you rend your robes with frustration at what little you do manage to dig up. Yet paradoxically, everything you do find out about the rum itself seems guaranteed to keep you reading, and make you buy it, if no other reason than because it seems so damned interesting. The label seems designed specifically to tantalize your curiosity. Perusing it, you can with equal justification call it “Naga Batavia Arrack” (“made with Indonesian aged rum” says the script, implying there it’s arrack plus rum), or “Naga Double Cask rum” or “Naga Java Reserve Rum” or simply go with the compromise route. And each of those would, like the mythical elephant to the blind men, be somewhat correct.

It’s a Batavia Arrack from Indonesia, which means it a rum made from molasses and a red rice yeast derivative (just like the arrack made by By the Dutch). Both Naga’s 38% version with a different label, and this one, are a blend of distillates: just over half of it comes from pot stills (“Old Indonesian Pot Stillspuffs the less-than-informative website importantly, never quite explaining what that means) with a strength of 65% ABV; and just under half is 92% ABV column still spirit (the ratios are 52:48 if you’re curious). The resultant blend is then aged for three years in teak barrels and a further four years in ex-bourbon barrels, hence the moniker “double aged”. In this they’re sort of channelling both the Brazilians with their penchant for non-standard woods, and Foursquare with their multiple maturations

Whether all this results in a rum worth acquiring and drinking is best left up to the individual. What I can say is that it demonstrates both a diversity of production and a departure from what we might loosely term “standard”and is a showcase why (to me) rum is the most fascinating spirit in the world….but without the rum actually ascending to the heights of must-have-it-ness and blowing my hair back. In point of fact, it is not on a level with the other two Indonesian rums I’ve tried before, the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia 2004 10 YO and the By The Dutch Batavia Arrack.

Follow me through the tasting: the nose is initially redolent of brine and olives, and of cardboard, and dry and musty rooms left undusted too long. That’s the beginningit does develop, and after some time you can smell soy, weak vegetable soup, stale maggi cubes, and a faint line of sweet teriyaki, honey, caramel and vanilla. And, as a nod to the funkytown lovers out there, there is a hint of rotten fruits, acetones and spoiled bananas as well, as if a Jamaican had up and gone to Indonesia to take up residence in the bottleand promptly fell asleep there.

Palate. It was the same kind of delicate and light profile I remembered from the other two arracka mentioned above. Still, the texture was pleasant, it was pleasantlybut not excessivelysweet, and packed some interesting flavours in its suitcase: salt caramel ice cream, dill and parsley, cinnamon,sharp oak tannins, leather, some driness and musky notes, and a sharp fruity tang, both sweet and rotten at the same timenot very strong, but there nevertheless, making itself felt in no uncertain terms. Finish was relatively short, mostly light fruits, some brine, mustiness and a trace of rubber.

Summing up. On the negative side, there is too little info available online or off for the hard factswhat an “Indonesian” pot still actually is, where the distillery is, who owns it, when was the company established, the source of the molasses and so onthis erodes faith and trust in any proclaimed statements and in this day and age is downright irritating. Conversely, listing all the pluses: it has a genuinely nice and relatively sweet mouthfeel, is gentle, tasty, spicy, somewhat complex and different enough to excite, while still being demonstrably a rumof some kind. It just didn’t entirely appeal to me.

Because I found that overall, it lacked good integration. The pot still portion careened into the column still part of the blend and neither came out well from the encounter; the esters, acidity and tartness really did not accentuate or bring out the contrasting muskier, darker tones well at all, and it just seemed a bit confused….first you tasted one thing, then another and the balance between the components was off. Also, the wood was a shade too bittermaybe that was the teak or maybe it was the liveliness of the ex-bourbon barrels. Whatever the case, the overall impression was of a product that somehow failed to cohere.

I’m fully prepared to accept that a rum from another part of the world with which we lack familiarity caters to its own audience, and is supposed to be somewhat off the wall, somewhat at right angles to conventional tastes of bloggers like me who are raised on Caribbean fare and all its imitators. Yet even within that widely cast net, there’s stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t. This is one that falls in the middleit’s nice enough, it kinda sorta works, but not completely and not so much that I’d rush out to get me another bottle.

(#623)(79/100)

Jan 152019
 

Before considering the €300+ price tag, or grumbling about Rum Nation’s penchant for adding something extra to (some of) its rums, give the last Supreme Lord Jamaican rum from 1991 a whiff, a sniff and a snort. Sip a dram. Take your time with it. Enjoy. Because it’s simply outstanding, and even in concert with eight other Jamaicans that were on the table the day I tried it, it held up in fine style.

Part of that derives from the extended “sherry finish”though since it spent eleven years in oloroso casks I’d suggest it’s more a double maturation in the vein of Foursquare’s Exceptionals than a finish of any kind. And that influence makes itself felt right away, as scents of sweet rich honey, fleshy stoned fruits (peaches, apricots), raisins, leather, oak and vanillas in perfect balance boil out of the glass. There’s quite a bit of funksharp green apples mixing it up with rotting bananasjust less than you’d expect. And here’s the peculiar thingone can also sense molasses, caramel, a slight tannic tang and a flirt of licorice, and when that comes sauntering through the door, well, you could be forgiven for thinking this was actually a slightly off-kilter Demerara instead of something from Monymusk.

And for anyone who enjoys sipping rich Jamaicans that don’t stray too far into insanity (the NRJ TECA is the current poster child for that), it’s hard to find a rum better than this one. The 55.7% strength is near perfect. It demonstrates great thickness, excellent mouthfeel, admittedly somewhat sweet, but very clean and distinct (which is to say, not near-smothered by a blanket of softening additives which so demeans many of El Dorado’s aged offerings) to allay my concerns about dosing. It tastes of Thai lemon-grass soup or a green curry (both for veggie saltiness and the sharper line of citrus), without ever losing the core heat and fruity over-ripeness of the bananas, soft fruit, black cherries, grapes and that faint whiff of licorice. It has solid closing notes of hot black tea, more fruits (same ones), and is pleasantly, luxuriously long-lasting, reasonably firm, yet loses none of its snap and vigour.

What puts this rum over the top is the balance and control over the various competing elements of taste and smell; it’s really quite good, and even the finishwhich sums up most of the preceding tasting elementsshowcases that care and attention paid to assembling the profile. It’s kind of a shame that only 750 bottles were issued and now, nearly three years after being issued, it retails for so much. But consider: when I tried it, it edged out the SL VII, held its own (and then some) against the Ping 9, Albrecht Trelawny, CDI Worthy Park 2007 8 YO, and cruised with ease past the AD Rattray 1986 25 YO. If there was one rum that gave it serious competition, it was the EKTE 12, half as old and just as good (and also from Monymusk).

The rum continues along the path set by all the seven Supreme Lords that came before it, and since I’ve not tried them all, I can’t say whether others are better, or if this one eclipses the lot. What I do know is that they are among the best series of Jamaican rums released by any independent, among the oldest, and a key component of my own evolving rum education.

It is with some sadness that I also note that just as it was the first cask strength SL, it is likely to be among the final ones to be issued, as it represented some of the last barrels of seriously aged Jamaican stocks held by Fabio Rossi. He retained some Long Pond to make the superlative blended 30 year old a year or two back, and his attention is now more on the Rare Collection which supplant the Aged seriesbut whether you like the more recent offerings or the older ones, the pricier ones or the entry level iterations, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Supreme Lord rums (as well as their cousins the aged Demeraras), are among the top rums Rum Nation ever issued. And this one ranks right up there with the best of them.

(#589)(89/100)

Oct 072018
 

It’s odd that the fourth Exceptional Cask Series rum issued by Foursquare out of Barbados was issued at such a low proof. The “1998” and “Port Cask” Marks I and II were both released at 40%, but the very good “2004” Mark III went higher, much higher (59%) and carved itself a solid niche all its ownin contrast to the emerging ABV-creep, the Zinfadel dialled itself down to a relatively mild 43%. Perhaps, since both came out in 2015 it was felt to be a smart move to have one rated G just to offset the R-rated predator that was the “2004”, or to appease the importers who made Foursquare issue the first two Marks at 40%. Which would make sense, though for my money it remains an incrementally lesser offering from the House of Seale’s ECS, (an opinion I hold largely because of the great stuff that emerged after this one).

The Zinfadel 11 Year Old is a blend of batches of rums: one was aged for five years in bourbon casks and then another six in zinfadel barrels, and then married with another batch that had spent the full eleven years in bourbon casks. Unusual for the time (2015), Richard Seale went around in person to the various international rumfests, masterclasses and private tastings, and started his engagement on social media (he does this more than any other primary producer I’m aware of), trumpeting the fact that nothing was added, the rums weren’t filtered and the casks were dry, dry, dammitnot wet or with residual wine sloshing around (an old trick to flavour rum more definitively).

Well, Zinfadel is a sweet wine, and its influence was sure to be noticeable, whether the barrels are wet or dry or dampthe real question was whether that influence created a profile that worked, or was too dominated by one or other component of the assembly. Nosing it for the first time suggested it was a bit of both though leaning more to the formerit was lighter than the Real McCoy 12 Year Old I was trying alongside it (that one was 46%, versus 43% for the Zin which may have accounted for that), with delicate wine notes, vanilla and white toblerone gradually overtaken by some rotting bananas and fruits just starting to go. I liked its attendant creamy aroma, of yoghurt and sour cream and a white mocha, which grew tarter and fruitier over timegreen grapes, raisins, dark bread, plus some spices, mostly ginger, cloves and cardamom

Tasting revealed somewhat less clothing in the suitcase, though it was quite a decent rum to sip (mixing it is totally unnecessary) – it was a little sharp before settling down into a relative smooth experience, and tasted primarily of white and watery fruits (pears, watermelon, white gavas), cereals, coconut shavings, sweet wine, and had a sly hint of tart red fruiness that was almost, but not quite sour, behind it allred currants, cranberries, grapes. It was quite light and easy and escaped being an alcohol-flavoured water in fine stylenot bad for something at close to standard strength, and the touch of sweet fruitiness imparted by the Zin barrels was in no way overdone. Even the finish was quite pleasant, being warm, relatively soft, and closing off the show with some tart fruitiness, coconut shavings, vanilla, milk chocolate, salted caramel, french bread (!!) and touch of thyme.

Overall, quite an impressive dram for something so relatively staid in its strength. The nose is really the best part of it, though it does promise quite a bit more than the taste eventually delivers. With the light tastiness of the three partsaroma, palate and finishit’s easy to see why it remains a fan favourite. And while it’s not one of my favourites of the Exceptional Cask Series (so far the Criterion holds that honour for me), it beat out the Real McCoy 12 YO handily, is within spitting distance of the 2004, and is a worthy addition to the canon of the Exceptionals. I’d buy it againand the nice things is, three years after its release, I still can.

(#556)(83/100)

Jun 172018
 

Somehow, after a big splash in 2015-2016, Indonesian rums came and left the scene with equally and almost startling suddenness. Although Haus Alpenz has been making a Batavia Arrack Van Oosten for many years (even decades, perhaps), it is a niche spirit, really, and not many know of it, and no, I haven’t tried it. My first encounter with the arracks came when I bought the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia rum in 2015 (and quite liked it), and within the year By The Dutch put this fascinating product out the door and then occasional photos began making the rounds on FB of Naga and Nusa Cana rums. Shortly thereafter Matt Pietrek wrote one of his deep dives into the By the Dutch rum, and yet after all that, somehow they have almost vanished from the popular consciousness.

Perhaps it’s the renaissance of Bajan and Jamaican rums in those same years that stole the show, I don’t knowcertainly over the last years the various social media are fuller of Bajan and Jamaican rum pictures and commentaries than just about anything else. Maybe it’s physical distribution, festival absences, word of mouth, Facebook posts (or lack thereof). Whatever the case for its lack of mindshare, I suggest you give it a try, if only to see where rum can goor where it has already been.

Part of what makes arrack interesting is the way it is fermented. Here some fermented red rice is mixed into the yeast prior to addition to the molasses and water (up to 5%), which undoubtedly impacts the final taste. I was told by a By the Dutch rep that this particular spirit derives from sugar cane juice and fermented red rice cake, and is then twice distilled: once in a pot still, producing a distillate of about 30% ABV, and then again in another pot still to around 60-65%. At that point it is laid to rest in barrels made of teak (!!) in Indonesia for a number of years and then shipped to Amsterdam (Matt implies it’s to Scheer) where it is transferred to 1000L oak vats. The final arrack is a blend of spirits aged 8 months, 3, 5 and 8 years, with the majority of the spirit being 3 and 5 years of age and bottled at 48% ABV.

A production process with so many divergent steps is sure to bring some interesting tastes to the table. It’s intriguing to say the least. The nose, even at 48%, is remarkably soft and light, with some of that pot still action being quite evident in the initial notes: rotting banana skins, apples gone off and some funky Jamaican notes, if perhaps not as intense as a Hampden or worthy Park offering. This then slowlyalmost delicatelyreleased light citrus, watery fruit and caramel hints, chamomile, cinnamon, green tea and bitter chocolate and a sort of easy sweetness very pleasing to smell.

It got better when I tasted it, because the strength came out more clearlynot aggressive, just very solid and crisp at the same time, sweet and clear, almost like an agricole with some oak thrown in for good measure. The pot still origins were distinct, and taste of sweet fruits gone over to the dark side were handled well: apples, citrus, pears, gherkins, the very lightest hint of olives, more tea, green grapes, with cooking spices dancing around everything, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon. Even the finish was quite aromatic, lots of esters, bananas, apples, cider and a sort of grassiness that was more hinted at than forcefully explored.

As an alternative to more commonly available rums, this one interesting. It doesn’t smack you in the face or try to damage your glottisit’s too easy or thatand works well as both a sipping drink (if your tastes go that way), or something to chuck into a mai-tai or a negroni variation. One of the reasons why it should be tried and appreciated is because while it has tastes that suggest a Jamaican-Bajan hybrid, there is just enough difference from the mainstream here to make it a fascinating drink on its own merits, and shows again how rum is simply the most versatile, varied spirit available.

Plus, let’s be fair, the arrack is quite a nifty rum judged solely by itself: no, it’s not a stern and forbiddingly solid cask-strength rum, noit’s actually something of the other waybut it’s original within its limits, sweet enough for those who like that, edgy enough for those who want more. In short, eminently sippable for its strength. I think it’s an old, even ancient drink made new, and even if one does not immediately succumb to its languorous charms, I do believe it’s worth taking out for a try.

(#521)(84/100)


Other notes

The bottle clearly says “aged up to 8 years”. Understand what this means before you think you’re buying an 8 Year Old rum.


Opinion

With respect to the rum news all being about the western hemisphere’s juice: I don’t begrudge the French, Spanish or English Caribbean rum makers their glorythat would be deeply unpatriotic of me, even if one discounted the great stuff the islanders are making, neither of which is an option. There’s a reason they get just about 75% of the press, with the independents and Americans (north and south) getting the remainder.

But I just want to sound a note of caution about the blinkers such focus is imposing on our rumsight, because by concentrating on nothing but these, we’re losing sight of great stuff being made elsewhereon the French islands, St Lucia, Grenada, Mexico, Japanand Indonesia. From companies like By the Dutch and the New Asians only now beginning to be more visible.

Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live. Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013 (it was previously called the Eclipse Black 100 Proof) was one of these. It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XOwhich can be found practically everywhere and is known around the worldbut it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%). Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds ruma better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely. For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptionalthough admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way. It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste. It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known. Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembledbut originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me. The whole experience was also not so much light as underperformingmore than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely rightthe rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados. What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both. Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)

Nov 272017
 

#462

For almost two decades, Rum Nation issued very special 20+ year old Jamaican Rums in the Supreme Lord series, always at a relatively quaffable 40-45% and with that oh-so-cool retro wooden box and jute packing that has now been discontinued; then a year or two back they decided to go with a new line, the “Small Batch Rare Rums”this was to differentiate the cask strength line of more limited bottlings from the blended products with larger outturns, which Fabio sometimes refers to as “entry level” and which I always thought were quite good (ever since I bought the entire 2010 line at once).

One of the best of these is this appealing, approachable and near-sublime Jamaican rum, blended from three special years of Long Pond’s stocks: 1985, 1986 and 1977. This is a rum issued in a limited outturn of 800 bottles, and has a presentation that places it at the top of the already fairly exclusive Rares: because while many of those are in the 10-20 year age range (there is a massive bronto of the 1992-2016 Hampden 61.6% that clocks in at 24, which I need to get real bad), this one beats them all and is at least 30 years oldand given a special presentation to match with a stylish flagon and clear printing direct on the bottle, and a neat box in which to show it off to less fortunate rum chums.

The constituent rums were aged in second fill bourbon barrels before being blended and then aged for a further six years in Oloroso casks pre-used for (an unnamed) whisky, and everything about the profile shows the best parts of all that ageing. The nose was quite simply deliciousit dialled back the rubber and wax and furniture polish (though there was some of that) and amped up the characteristic Jamaican funk, mixing it up with bags of dark fruitraisins, prunes, black olives for the most part. Letting it stand gave more, much more: leather, tobacco, a smidgen of vanilla, honey, licorice, sherry, brown sugar and more raisins in a smooth smorgasbord of great olfactory construction. I walked around with that glass for over an hour and it was as rich at the end as it was in the beginning, and yes, that’s an unqualified recommendation.

Although I might have preferred a stronger, more forceful attack which 48.7% ABV did not entirely provide, there’s little I could find fault with once I actually tasted the thing. Actually, it was as good as the nose promised and didn’t disappoint in the slightest: it began with a little unsweetened chocolate, caramel, molasses and funk, then added olives and brine to the pot, before flooring the accelerator and revving it up to the redline. Tumeric and paprika, light grasses and herbs, flambeed bananas, lemon peel, more raisins and prunes, both smooth and a little savage at the same timesurely something to savour over a good cigar. And the finish was excellent, just long enough, a shade dry, presenting closing notes of oak, vanilla, leather, smoke, molasses and caramel, chocolate and the vaguest hint of fruitiness and citrus to end things off with aplomb and a flourish.

The Jamaica 30 is priced to match at around four hundred dollars and therefore I can’t in fairness suggest you put yourself in hock to go get it unless you have such coin burning a hole in your portfolio. It lands emphatically in the Fifth Avenue segment of the market, which makes it, unfortunately, mostly affordable by those who are more into showing off, rather than rum-geeks who would put it to bed next to the wife and make sure it (and not the wife) is tucked in properly.

But if you can get it, it may even be worth the outlay: this was a really nice rum. In my more imaginative moments I like to think that some years ago Rum Nation took a look at their wares and concluded that perhaps they were, with long association and decades long sales, getting, wellmaybea shade boring? I can just see Fabio Rossi in his warehouse morosely sucking rum out of a barrel, wondering where to go next, then raising his fist to high heaven and swearing like Scarlett, that “Mah rums will nevah be boring again!” It’s taken years for that metaphorical flight of fancy of mine to be fulfilled, and has he ever succeeded with the Small Batch series in general, and this one in particular. This rum is as exciting as any new rum now being made; and if that doesn’t get your juices flowing, I honestly don’t know what will. Except maybe a second bottle.

(90/100)


Other notes

I am unaware of any added sugar or dosing on the rum. Fabio Rossi has told me in the past that the Rares are unmessed-with, but I have not managed to ask about this one in particular yet. A query to him is pending. Marcus Stock, a friend of mine from Germany, took a small sample of his own and it measured at equivalent ABV of 45.18% which he calculated back to 12 g/L additives. He promised to do the test on a larger sample as a double check.

Nov 062017
 

#398

Everyone has a favourite Foursquare rum and the nice thing is, like most large large brands, there’s something for everyone in the lineup, which spans the entire gamut of price and strength and quality. For some it’s the less-proofed rums still issued for the mass market, like Rum 66 or Doorly’s; for others it’s the halo-rums such as the Triptych and 2006 ten year old. However, it my considered opinion that when you come down to the intersection of value for money and reasonable availability, you’re going to walk far to beat the Exceptional Cask series. And when Forbes magazine speaks to your product, you know you’re going places and getting it right, big time.

The Criterion 2007 ten year old (Mark V) released this year is the fifth and latest of these rums, following from the Bourbon Cask 1998-2008 10 YO (Mark I), Bourbon Cask 2004-2015 11 YO (Mark II), Port Cask 2005-2014 9 YO (Mark III), and the Zinfadel Cask 2004-2015 11YO (Mark IV). It’s quite a step up from the Port Cask, without ascending to the heights of the 2006 10 year old or other rums of its kind. For those who don’t already know, the Criterion is a pot-still and column-still blend, and while the ageing regime (three years in ex-bourbon casks and seven years in very old Madeira casks) is fine, it also subtly change the underlying DNA of what a pure Bajan rum is.

Let me explain that by just passing through the tasting notes here: let me assure you,the Criterion is pretty damned goodactually, compared to any of the lesser-proofed Doorly’s, it’s amazing.The sumptuousness of a Louis XIVth boudoir is on full display right from the initial nosing. Even for its strength – 56% – it presented with the rich velvet of caramel, red wine (or a good cognac). Oaky, spicy and burnt sugar notes melded firmly and smoothly with nutmeg, raisins, and citrus peel, cardamon and cloves, and there was a glide of apple cider on the spine that was delectable. The longer I let it breathe, the better it became and after a while chocolates, truffles and faint coffee emerged, and the balance of the entire experience was excellent.

Tasting it, there was certainly no mistaking this for any other rum from Barbados: the disparity with other rums from the island which my friend Marco Freyr remarked on (“I can detect a Rockley still Bajan rum any day of the week”) is absolutely clear, and as I taste more and more Foursquare rums, I understand why Wes and Steve are such fanboys. The rum is a liquid creme brulee wrapped up in salt caramel ice-cream, then further mixed up with almonds, prunes, cherries, marmalade, cider and nutmeg, remarkably soft and well-behaved on the tongue. Coffee and chocolate add to the fun, and I swear there was some ginger and honey floating around the back end there somewhere. It all led to a finish that was long and deeply, darkly salt-sweet, giving last notes of prunes and very ripe cherries with more of that caramel coffee background I enjoyed a lot.

So, in fine, a lovely rum, well made, well matured, nicely put together. No wonder it gets all these plaudits. My feeling is, retire the Doorly’s linethis stuff should absolutely have pride of place.

Here’s the thing, though. Purists make much of ‘clean’ rums that are unmessed with, exemplars of the style of the country, the region and the estate or maker. By that standard this rum and its brothers like the Zinfadel and the Port are problematical because none of these are actually ‘pure’ Bajan rums any longerall this finishing and ageing and second maturation in second or third-fill barrels is watering down and changing what is truly “Barbados” (or perhaps Foursquare). What these rums really are, are a way of getting around the adulteration prohibitions of Bajan law….adding taste and complexity without actually adding anything that would qualify as obvious adulteration (after all, what is ex-bourbon barrel ageing but the same thing with a more “accepted” cask?). So for the pedant, one could argue that the series is more a high end experiment and what comes out the other end is no longer a pure Barbadian hooch but a double or triple matured blended rum based on Bajan/Foursquare stocks….a subtle distinction and so not quite the same thing.

Maybe. I don’t care. My work here is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy: and the bottom line is, I enjoyed the experience and liked it, immenselyit blew the socks off the Doorly’s 12 year old I also tried that day, and makes me want to get all the Exceptional Cask series, like yesterday, and put dibs on all the ones coming out tomorrow. The Criterion is drinkable, sippable, mixable, available, accessible and all round enjoyable, and frankly, I don’t know many rums in the world which can make that statement and still remain affordable. This is one of them, and it’s a gem for everyone to have and enjoy.

(88/100)

Jan 052017
 

Laid-back, but not lazy

#333

The dodo, as most of us are well aware, is the subject of such well known epigrams as being dead as one; it remains a fixture of popular culture and language, often seen as a symbol of obsolescence, stupidity and (naturally) extinction. It is therefore something of an odd emblem for a rum company to use as its name and symbol, unless it’s considered so firmly associated with Mauritius that bird and island are seen as synonymous (which I don’t believe for a moment). So aside from the officially stated purpose of the logo raising awareness of endangered species, perhaps what we see here is also a sense of humour at work, especially since modern scientists suggest that the dodo was actually quite well adapted to its ecosystem, and it was invasive species and humans that ended up wiping it outthe bird was nowhere near as dumb as we are given to think.

Anyway, as a marketing strategy, that name works like a charm, since, as soon as I saw it in Berlin in 2016, I beelined straight over to try it, because come on, with a title like that, how could I possibly resist? It’s like telling any Guyanese male that there really is a vodka brand called IPRall of us would instantly buy a case.

Lazy Dodo Single Estate Rum (to give it the full name on the label) is made by the Grays of New Grove Rum fame (run by the Harel family that I wrote about in the New Grove 8 Year Old review) and the Milhade family who are wine makers out of Bordeaux. What background literature exists suggests that the collaboration is more in the way of knowledge sharing than strict apportioning of labour, since the cane and harvesting and processing and ageing all take place on the Pampelmousses estate in Mauritius, though perhaps the sales network in France owes something to the efforts of the Millhades who have a stronger prescence in Europe. The amber-coloured 40% ABV molasses-based, column-still product is a blend of rums aged 5, 8, and 12 years and aged in both new and used American and French oak barrels (hence the moniker “double maturation” on the label). Oh, and no additives, so I was informed. It had its coming out parties 2016 in the rum festival circuit and seemed to be quite popular, if one were to judge from the “Sold Out” sign posted up on the second day of the Berlin RumFest.

That didn’t necessarily mean it was a top tier rum, just one that was popular and very easy to drink. Nose-wise it actually presented as rather sweet and had notes of green grapes and pineapple and ripe mangoes, which I thought may have been a little over the topthere was very little of a “standard” profile here, though what was available to smell was in no way unpleasant, just rather mild, even understated.

Similar thoughts passed through my mind on the tasting. At 40% it was a defanged sort of rum, medium bodied, and the sweetness was retained, with that and the blending rounding off any rough edges it may have started life with. There were the same grape-like tastes, less pineapple here, and as it opened up (and with some water) vaguely crisper flavours emergedcitrus, red grapefruit, cider, apples, followed by some vanilla, creme brulee and soft toffee notes. It closed off short and warm, with little of the tartness carrying over into the finish, just caramel, some light citrus and nuts, and a touch of vanilla.

While I can’t rave about it, at the end of the day it’s a relaxed, laid back, unaggressive (dare I say “lazy”?) sort of sundowner, nothing earthshakingat best it made my glass wobble a bit. Aside from enjoying its placid nature I’m merely left curious as to which market it was made for. The Europeans with their penchant for more forceful drinks and robust profiles trending towards the agricole market? Tourists? Denmark, home of the cask-strength-loving vikings? The North Americans who mostly consider standard proof to be the rumiverse? Connoisseurs, barflys, cocktail makers? Hard to say. I consider it a pretty good day-to-day sort of rum, well made and reasonably complex, if lacking anything that specifically screams “Mauritius” about it. But whatever the case, it probably won’t go the way of its namesake any time soonit’s too decent a rum for that, and will likely be the beesknees for those who succumb to its light and languorous charms.

(79/100)

 

Dec 302016
 

A spectacular rum from Foursquare (and Velier), perhaps the best they’ve ever made to date.

#332

This is a rum that screaming aficionados were waiting for like fans at a Justin Bieber or Beyonce concert (or the Rolling Stones, maybe), and no write-up of the thing could be complete without mentioning the unbelievable sales pattern it displayedin my entire rum-purchasing experience, I’ve never seen anything like it. The Velier/Foursquare collaboration was making the rounds of various masterclasses in festivals around the world for almost a year before actually going on sale, and then, when it became available in August 2016 (primarily in Europe), it sold out in fifteen minutes. All this without a single formal review being issued, just word of mouth.

The only comparator in recent memory that I can think of might be the Panamonte XXV, which also flew off the shelves, and which also illustrates how far along the rum world has come in less than five years. When I got that one, it was considered one of the best rums of its kind, receiving raves across the boardand indeed, for its age (25 years), strength (40%) and price ($400) it was well positioned at the top of the food chainback then. But even in 2012 many of us aficionados had moved on past the self imposed 40% limitation, and while the Panamonte was certainly a good product, it was also, perhaps, a high water mark for standard proof rumspeople who know enough and have enough to want to drop that kind of coin, have by now migrated past that anemic proofage and demand cask strength, definitively pure rums which are made by trusted sources. This is why Arome’s five hundred bottle outturn of their new Panamanian 28 year old, about which not much is known aside from the marketing campaign and some FB dustups, is likely to be met with indifference from those who actually know their rums (though not from those with money), while 2400 bottles of Foursquare’s ten year old have become unavailable faster than you can say “wtf” in Bajan.

And once the bottle gets cracked, you can understand why. Because it’s an amazing rum, sold at a (low) price that would be an insult if it wasn’t so good, for something that ticks all the boxes: cask strength, check; no additives, check; issued in collaboration with one of the most famous names in the pure-rumworld, check; by a distillery long known for championing a lack of additives, check; by being trotted out at exclusive masterclasses where word of mouth made it a must-have, check. This thing is like an exquisite small foreign film that gains accolades in the filmfest circuit before heading off to the oscars and cleaning up there and at the box office.

Can any rum really live up to such expectations? I don’t know about you, but it sure upended mine, because my first reaction when I opened it and sniffed was a disbelieving “what the f…? (in Bajan). It banged out the door with the kinetic energy of a supercar popping the clutch at 5000 rpm, blowing fierce fumes of briny olives and caramel and oak straight down my nose and throat, before someone slammed on the brakes and eased off. What I’m trying to put over in words is something of the power of the experience, because it blasted off fast and furious and then settled down for a controlled, insane smorgasbord of nasal pornnougat, white toblerone, peaches, citrus peel, chocolate, coffee grounds, cinnamon, enough to drive a Swiss confectioner into hysterics. The creaminess of the nose was simply astoundingit was almost impossible to accept this was a 62% rum, yet it purred smoothly along without bite or bitchiness, scattering heady aromas of fruity badass in all directionsprunes, plums, blackcurrants and dark olives.

And meanwhile, the taste of the rum, its glissading force across the palate, simply had to be experienced to be believed. Not because it was all sound and fury and stabbing tridents of Poseidon, no (although it was powerful, one could not simply ignore 62% ABV), but because it was such a controlled strength. And what emerged from within the maelstrom of proof was amazingly tastyapricots, plums, raisins, blueberries, cinnamon, rye bread with butter and honey, all creamy and chewy to a fault (and that was just the first five minutes). With water even more came boiling to the surface: dark grapes and an enormous array of fruity and citrusy notes, tied up in a bow with more caramel, coffee grounds, black unsweetened chocolate paprikaman, it was like it didn’t want to stop. Even the finish upended expectations, being neither short and fleeting, nor overstaying its welcome, but almost perfect, with some floral hints, an interesting driness, and some nuttiness to accompany all that had come before, pruned down to a fierce minimalism emphasizing both heft and subtlety at the same time.

It would be arrogant in the extreme for me to say this is the best rum ever made in Barbados, since I haven’t tried every rum ever made in Barbados. But I can and must say thisthe rum points the way to the future of top-class Bajan popskull just as surely as the Velier Demeraras did for the Guyanese, and is, without a doubt, the very best Barbados rum I’ve ever tried. It’s a magnificent rum that leaves all its forebears, even those from the same distillery, limp and exhausted. This rum’s titanic flavour profile satisfies because it gets right what its previous (and lesser) earlier versions from Foursquare failed to come to grips with. It is impossibly Brobdignagian, a subtlety-challenged brown bomber, and to fully savor the current rum’s character, we as drinkers must first connect with its predecessor’s lesser-proofed antecedents. That’s why I went through other rums from the company before cracking the 2006. Somehow, after years of 40% milquetoast from Barbados, here, finally, two giants of the rum world came together and got this one absolutely right. It deserves every accolade that rum drinkers and rum writers have given it.

(91/100)


Other notes

  • To tell the complete story of its disappearance from the online and physical shelves, some subsequent observations: the 4S 2006 began turning up on ebay shortly thereafter, and aside from the bitterness of pure rum aficionados who could not get any without liquidating their retirement fund, I’ve heard it bruited about that the its disappearance was because speculators bought every bottle for resale on the secondary marketand even more pernicious rumours about how general public wasn’t even the target marketbars and bulk buyers were. Whatever the real story is, it would be a useful case study in how to move new product in a hurry.
  • Distilled 2006 in copper double retort pot still and a column still, aged three years in bourbon barrels and seven years in cognac casks and bottled in 2016. 62% ABV, 2400 bottle outturn. The “single blended rum” appellation is derived from the proposed Gargano classification system where the origin still is given prominence over the material or country/region of origin. Here it is the two still’s blended product (based on double maturation).
  • Whose rum is this, Velier or Foursquare? Velier’s Demeraras, I felt, were always Veliers, because DDL gave Luca some barrels to chose from and he bottled what he felt was right without much further input from them. Here, my impression is that Richard Seale and Luca Gargano worked closely together to make the rum, and so I attribute it to both.
Nov 032016
 

rn-jamaica-1990

We should be grateful that some makers still have sufficient stocks to permit the issuance of rums old enough to votewe sure won’t see many of them much longer. This one does fans of the Jamaican rums no dishonourit’s great.

#313

With the recent 2016 release of the 1991 Jamaica SL VIII, which really is just about as good as they say and maybe even better than this one, I rummaged around my bag of tasting notes and remembered I had a bottle from that island from a year or two back knocking about and gathering dust (would you believe I actually forgot about it?) … so I brought it upstairs, re-tasted, updated the notes, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue. ‘Cause those Supreme Lords man, they’re pretty amazing, and we don’t see many rums this old from the indie bottlers all that often.

By now, after recommending them for many years, there is nothing new I can really add to Rum Nation’s company bio that isn’t already there. They’re not innovativeor “limited edition”in the same sense that CDI or Velier or even EKTE is, but they are very consistent in their own way and according to their own philosophy, and I’ve liked them enormously since 2011 when I first ran across their products and bought just about the entire 2010 release line at once. Almost always good, always adding a little bit here and a little bit there to tweak things a bit (like the Panama being changed to an 18 year solera, the new bottle design from 2014), and incrementally improving every year (moving slowly to higher proof points, the Jamaican 57% white and those amazing twenty-plus-year-old Demerara and Jamaica rums). They catch a lot of heat for their practise of adding sugar (sometimes it’s actually caramel but never mind) to their lower- and mid-level rums (the Millonario XO in particular comes in for serious hate mail). However this Jamaican SL VII has no such inclusions and is pretty much unmessed with, so rest easy ye puritans, and on we go.

Some details: this is a pot still rum, from Hampden estate, which is rapidly turning into one of my favourite Jamaican estates, like PM is for the Demeraras. It was distilled in 1990 and poured into 822 bottles in 2013 at a not-quite-so-spectacular 45%, after slumbering for almost twelve years in Jamaica (in ex-bourbon American oak barrels), before finishing the ageing regime in the UK.

rn-j-1990-2It’s always a toss-up for me whether I’m in a Jamaican or Guyana mood, and this orangey-amber rum showed whydeep rich licorice and honey started the nose off, billowing strongly out of the glass; the funk took its place, oak joined in, to which was added easier notes of mead, grasses (grasses? I wondered, but yeah, there it was), and some orange zest. Deeper, muskier and earthier tones took their turn, before fading off into fruity hints (unripe peaches and a half ripe mango or two). I was impressed as all get out to note a hint of fresh honeycomb (complete with waxy notes) with a clear, light floral undercurrent that all combined really well.

There was no divergence on the taste, as I’ve sometimes noted with Jamaicans, and the palate followed smoothly on from what was smelled. Smooth and warmyes, 45% could be improved on, but I can find little fault with what has been accomplished here. Quite fruity, acetone-like and estery, but also competing briny notes were in the mix. Citrus, sherry, the glue of an UHU stick, then cherries and very ripe apples on the verge of going bad. It tasted remarkably clear and crisp, with the funk being held at bay while never entirely disappearing. That might actually be to its detriment, because we look for a Jamaican profile, and it’s there, just not as in-your-face as we are led to expect by other independent bottlers who have no time for subtlety and smack you in the head with it. Finish is warm, remarkably long for that strength, with closing aromas of glue, sweet soya, a sort of mash-up of fleshy fruits, all leavened with a sly, crisp citrusy note that brings it all to a lovely close. Overall, it’s a lovely and approachable rum that many, beginners and aficionados alike, will savour, I think.

Rum Nation’s marketing is quite canny. Unlike the smaller independent bottlers, they don’t just do a single barrelfor them that’s too limiting. They do two and three and four or more at a time, which permits correspondingly greater volumes (usually in the low thousands of bottles, sometimes more, sometimes less). And they issue their high-end rumsof which this is assuredly oneat an ABV that’s more than the 40% which is practically a North American standard, but less than some raging full proof number that alienates (scares off?) all but the hard core. What that leaves us with is a relatively affordable, very accessible 23 year old rum of just under a thousand bottles, issued at a decent strength, and quality not to be sneezed at. For ensuring that sales and availability and appreciation go hand in hand, that four-way combo is a tough one to beat. This is a rum worth getting, and the great thing is, you still can..

88.5/100


Other notes

Bottle provided by Fabio Rossievery time we meet we argue over the cheque, whether it’s for a dinner we share or a bottle he’s provided. Sometimes I win, sometimes he does. I still owe him for this one, which I’ve had since early 2015.

The wooden box with its jute sacking which I so loved has been discontinued, but postage stamp pictures blessedly remain as part of the overall presentation.

Mar 222016
 

D3S_3652

*

The yin to Velier’s yang approaches its own pit stop on the road to the end of the Age of Demeraras, with a worthy entry to the genre.

Because I have a thing for Demerara rums (and not just because I used to live in the neighborhood), I’m always interested in finding new onesor old ones issued anew, take your pick. The RN 1990 is a sad sort of milestone for the company, because it is one of the last of the deeply aged Demeraras the company will issue for some time, nearly depleting its stock of PM distillate which hail from 1990 and before. I tried this in the 2015 Berlin Rumfest, and liked it so much that I indulged myself in multiple glasses at Rum Nation’s booth every time there was a lull in the action, earning me some rather frosty glares from the booth attendants (I picked up a bottle some time later).

As with other old top end rums Rum Nation issued in the past, these are at the summit of their food chain, and while I sort of miss the older wooden boxes and burlap packing that were used in the Jamaican and Demerara >20 YO series, I liked the new box design too. Cool black cardboard enclosure, silver lettering, very elegant. The old style bottle was retained (not the tubby one introduced in 2014) and it looked like what it was, a pricey old boy made by Italian stylists

D3S_3654

Let’s move right into the facts. The rum was mahogany shot through with flashes of gold, 25 years old and bottled at a reasonable 45%, as most Rum Nation top enders have been. It originated from five casks bought in 2003 in the UK, transferred to oloroso sherry wood barrels in May 2004, and bottled in early 2014 (as a 23 year old which seems to be missing from my master list) and the remainder ended up in this run of 2015, of 850 bottles

Tasting notes….well, that PM profile is so very distinctive, that I must confess to some bias here just because, y’know, I like it. Licorice, ripe black cherries and chopped fruits led the way. The smell was deep and bordering on rich (the 45% held it back), and after settling down exhibited wood, vanilla, leather and some of the weird smell of light rain falling on coals, mineral and smoky and musky all at oncenot unpleasantly so, more like a counterpoint to the main theme.

Somewhat spicy to the initial taste; that took a few minutes to settle down to a pleasing warmth. The solid notes of the familiar licorice and anise crept out, dominating, the slightly lighter acidity of green grapes and citrus peel which swirled around yet more hints of black olives, tannins and some brine. There were some aromas of fleshier fruitpeaches, ripe apricotsfaintly hanging around, not enough to nudge my opinion one way or the other, really, just nice to notice. The rum exhibited a driness and woody character that was more prevalent than I recalled from others sharing this kind of taste (like Rum Nation’s own 1985 or 1989 editions, the Cadenhead 1975, or the Norse Cask 1975, let alone Velier’s 1974 PM, the last three of which are admittedly something of a cheat, being so much older). Still, I enjoyed it a lotthe rum was warm, heavy, not too jagged, and even provided additional black cake and molasses to the taste buds, once some water was added. At 45% there was very little aggressiveness which needed to be tamed here, leading to a fade that was medium long, not too shabby (certainly not sharp) – dry, pungent, aromatic, displaying mostly cloves, licorice, molasses, vanilla, smoke, dill and maybe some black tea, freshly made.

I’m not entirely sure it needed the additional filip of sherrywood finishing, but that did provide an additional complexity to the more traditional profile of the PM which made up the rum, and it took its place as a worthwhile companion to all the Demeraras that had preceded it from that company. It’s a well made, professionally assembled, delectable sipping spirit, if the profile and strength are in line with what you demand from a Demerara rum aged for a quarter century. Buyers will have little desire to quibble over how and what it delivers. And that’s quite a bit.

(#262. 89/100)

 

Feb 042015
 

D3S_8939

The XO is more expensive, and slightly older, yet I feel this one is better in every way that counts: I’m going to take a deep breath, go out on a limband say I think this is among the best rums Rivière du Mât have yet created.

Full of beans and enthusiasm after the frothing delight that was the Rivière du Mât XO, I decided to dump the previous subject of my 200th review, and go immediately to the Millésime 2004, which is close to the top of their range, and one of the better rums I had in 2014. For a rum that is less than ten years old, that says a lot for its quality and the ability of the dude who put it together.

It’s a queer thing that there is not really much to distinguish this rum were you to see it on a shelf next to its siblings, the Grand Reserve, or the XO. Indeed, with its maroon-brown box and similar bottle shape, it almost fades into obscurity next to the fire-engine red of the XO and the black of the Reserve (which may be good for the patient hunter of high-end rums, not so good for those who just pick a rum ‘cause, y’know, it looks real cool).

The XO had an average age of just over eight years, and this was eight years flat. Both rums were aged in limousin oak, but with two crucial differences: all of the Millésime stock came from 2004 distillate selected as exceptional by the master blender, and 30% of it was aged in casks that previously held port before being married at the back end.

Perhaps this was where the extra fillip of quality derived, because I’ll tell you, it started right from the nose, which was remarkably smooth and quite soft, easygoing without displaying that delicacy which so often makes a mockery of any attempts to dissect the profile. I remarked on precisely such a fragile profile in the Reserve yet in both these rums (both of which derive from molasses, not cane juice so they’re not agricoles), there was a clean and clear set of tastes: they stated with a melange of crackers and cream cheese, whipped cream, strawberries, cherries and slightly overripe apricots; this then developed on opening into notes of vanilla, ginger and nutmeg with a little coffee, rich and sensuous to smell. It suggested good future experiences to the drinker, like a girl in the red dress at the bar who’s tipping you a wink and a smile (well, we can all hope, can’t we?).

I find in quite a few rums, that while the nose promises, the taste doesn’t always deliver. Not here. It was, quite frankly, remarkably sumptuous. The Millesime 2004 was medium bodied and toffee brown, and had an immediate taste of honey and dried flowers to get things rolling, and then more fruits came crowding onto the palate, tobacco and a little aromatic smoke, coffee, ginger, breakfast spices, some of the buttery smoothness of over-soaked french bread. I loved it. It was smooth and warm and yet distinct and luxurious, like a Louis Vuitton handbag my wife keeps bugging me to buy. And it faded well, again with warmth and friendliness, no spite, leaving behind the faint backend notes of caramel and coffee and toffee, and a hint of dried flower petals.

D3S_8940

(see translation below)

 

This is a rum I have no problems recommending. It demonstrates why a lower-costing, lesser-aged rum always wins over a five hundred dollar thirty-year-old. That pricey, geriatric gentleman on your sideboard can never truly go beyond what you thought it would be (though of course it can fall short)…so it’ll not exceed your sense of, well, entitlement. It’s supposed to be phenomenalthat’s why you grandly forked over the cash your wife was hoarding for that handbag: you’ve coughed up for quality, so that thing had better put out. With a rum like the 2004 Millésimewhich, for around €60 can be considered relatively affordable in comparisonyou won’t go in expecting a whole lot, it being an 8-year-old and alland when it over-delivers like it does, it feels like God loves you. And that you’ve made a discovery you can’t help but share.

(#200. 89/100)


Other notes

  • Background to the company is given in the Grande Reserve review.
  • As noted before, the Reserve, the XO and the 2004 Millésime are not agricoles
  • Translation of French label above: “Made from a single distillation, the 2004 vintage has developed its intense character through ageing in carefully selected oak casks. The aromatic originality of this exceptional traditional old rum is enhanced by a certain portion of the rum undergoing a second maturation of one year, in Porto barrels. Gourmand, fruity, with subtle spicy touches, Riviere du Mat Millesime 2004 provides peppery hints and notes of cherry in an elegant fondu (mix). The powerful, charming finish offers a delicious sensation of harmony which will enchant lovers of great rums.

 

Jan 082015
 

D3S_9369

A rich, argicole rum of a depth and flavour I savoured for literally hoursit almost qualifies as the perfect comfort drink, and for sure it’s the best sub-10 year old rum I’ve tried in ages.

Karukera in Guadeloupe is a distillery for whom I have grown to have a great deal of respect: I was not won over by their Vieux Reserve Speciale, but the 1997 Millesime was something else again, and I often drifted back to it when looking for an agricole baseline, or a control. On the strength of that positive experience, I decided to step up and shell out for this one, partly because of the strength and partly due to the double maturation moniker, which piqued my interest.

Which is not to say that its presentation didn’t appeal to me alsoI’m shallow that way, sometimes. It may not be a top shelf super-premium rum, true, yet it did its best to raise the bar for any rum that purports to be a cut above the ordinary. Just look at that wooden box printed with all sorts of interesting details, and the sleek bottle with its cork tip. All very niceit looked damned cool on my shelf. And so, my lizard brain having been catered to and placated, off I went into my tasting routine to see whether the implied quality inside the bottle was as interesting as what the outside promised.

D3S_9373D3S_9376

Which it was. Aged for six years in bourbon and then two more in french oak cognac casks, only 2000 or so bottles of honey/amber coloured rum came out at the other end, and mine presented a very interesting aspect, in spite of my having wrestled with mostly full proof pachyderms over the last few months (so 44.6% can almost be considered “standard strength” for me, these days). Let’s just agree it wasgentler.

Sleek salt butter, cream cheese and some brininess led right off. To say I was not expecting that would be understating the matter: the rum is made from blue cane grown on the plantation itself, and I was looking for a more standard nose of vegetal notes and some citrus. But after letting the spirit rest in my glass for a bit, ah, there they were. Apricots, black grapes, cloves and orange rind sidled shyly forward, to be replaced by hay and freshly mown grass. There were some spicier oaken aromas at the back end, nothing unpleasantin fact the whole experience was really quite excellenta firm mix of salt, sweet, sharp, and pungent smells.

Tasting it was a rewarding experience. It was a medium bodied rum, quite smooth and warm, opening up with white flowers, and soft tanned leather. As the nose did, some patience rewarded me with mild caramel, smoke, more leather, which in turn morphed easily into mellow tastes of mango, pears, pineapple, cinnamon, cumin, even marzipan and flavoured port-wine cigarillos (used to love those as a young man). And I was also quite impressed with the finish, which lasted quite long, warmly dusting itself off with white guavas, caramel, and half ripe pears. The rum may have caused north of a hundred Euros, but man, it was a pretty awesome drink. My mother and I shared it in her dacha in north Germany on one of the last sunny days of autumn in 2014 as my son ran barefoot on the grass blowing soap bubbles, and it was the perfect accompaniment to a really great afternoon laze-in.

D3S_9371

Karukera continues to be made by the Espérance distillery (founded in 1895) a distillery down by the Marquisat de Saint Marie in Guadeloupe, doesn’t chill filter or add anything to its rums, and proudly wears the AOC designation. I’ve been fortunate to climb the value chain of its products and each one I try raises the bar for its rums. You can be sure I’ll buy others they make in the years to come.

Personally, I’m not sure a rum so warm and friendly, yet also firm and tasty, is suitable for mixing (it was all I could do to see what a few drops of water could do, just to be complete about it) – I know I wouldn’t, on balance. There’s a remarkable softness and overall quality to the Karukera, which, while excelling at no one thing, came together so sweetly that I honestly can’t imagine what a mix could do to enhance it. The rum is excellent as it is, and whether you like molasses spirits or agricoles (or both), there’s no doubting that here is a rum that sneaks past your defenses, hits the sweet spot of your desire for a good rum, and gives you all the love and comfort you could ever ask for. That alone may be worth all the euros I paid.

(#196. 87.5/100)

 

Jul 052013
 

D3S_7000

A Demerara rum that may not be a true solera in spite of its name. Lovely, affordable, interesting rum.

With this review, I have finally, after nearly two years of getting around to it, come to the end of the Rum Nation 2010 line of rums I bought all in one fell swoop, after being introduced to the series at Kensington Wine Market’s Raucous Rums tasting back in 2011. Since that time I have become quite a fanboy of Fabio Rossi’s products, and wish I could get more of his yearly releases: largely because I have not tasted a single one that was anything less than impressive (if occasionally different), and this one is no exception.

Bottled at a standard 40%, housed in a barroom bottle and surmounted by a plastic capped cork, the first impression as I nosed it was actually that it reminded me a lot of the El Dorado 21 year old: smoke, rich dried dark fruit (dates, raisins, prunes and black grapes), some oak sap and some burnt sugar and cinnamon, all warm and pleasantly put together. As soon as I noticed the similarity, I hustled downstairs to retrieve my 21 year old. That one proved to be subtly richer, deeper and more complex, as well as a shade drier, but the similarities were quite striking.

The congruence of the two rums’ profiles continued on a tasting. I could taste the relative youth of the No. 14 rumit lacked something of the supple depth and mastery of the 21 which derived from its ageing. And while it was a solid medium-bodied dark rum of warmth and not fire, it evinced its own character quite handsomely toothe aforementioned flavours of toffee, butterscotch and caramel, prunes and grapes, intertwined with a faint citrus, licorice and baking spices, some woodinessand an odd, light dancing note threading through the back end, some kind of cashew fruit (not the nut) and (you may not take this seriously) the fire of vinegar soaked red peppers, barely perceptible. In point of fact, it reminded me a lot of more traditional navy rums, like Pusser’s, or even a much improved-upon Lamb’s. The finish was medium long, just a shade dry, and quite clean on the exit, with soft heated velvet caramel and licorice notes to end things off.

So, an ED21 it’s not, though quite good in its own way; it expresses its own differences well, being both original and tasty, a rum which will not piss you off by going wholeheartedly off into its own domain, just sideways enough for you to appreciate it on its own merits. Think of it as a good accompaniment to the El Dorados (12, 15 or 21) without actually being oneeach one enhances the others.

If I had an issue at all with the rum it was in the labelling. Rum Nation bought a few barrels of blended bulk Demerara rum from DDL, which contained Port Morant (PM) and Versailles (SV) rums aged around four to six years. The barrels were taken to Italy and transferred into sherry (PX and Oloroso) butts for just over a year of further ageing, after which a few litres of 1997 Enmore rum was added (that comes from the famed Enmore wooden continuous Coffey still now housed at Diamond estate). That final blend was what I was sampling, and therefore for a true age statement based on the youngest portion of the rum, I guess it’s best regarded as a five year old. The question is whether that process of blending constitutes a solera systemin this case I’d suggest not. This doesn’t make the rum any less than what it is, but for those who really prefer a solera and want that sweeter, slightly thicker profile, the implication of the label may cause concern.

Rum Nation regards this rum as something of an entry level product, much as they did the Barbados 2001 10 year old. Based on the price, that is all well and good, I suppose. But you know, I enjoyed the rum, think it is a good blend of the Guyanese rums that constitute its core DNA, and for what it cost, it’s a pleasant, impressive sipping-quality rum that I drank quite a lot of and would highly recommend for those on a budget who like darker fare. It may be 40%, it may not be a true solera, and it may just be $50, but if you like navy rums in general and Demerara rums in particular, you wouldn’t be out to lunch by springing for this lovely dark product.

(#172. 84.5/100)


Other Notes

  • The No 14 moniker in the name is meant to state that the oldest rum in the blend is 14 years old.
  • The “Solera” title on the label will be omitted from future iterations

 

 

Jun 252013
 

D3S_6879

A subtle, complex, tasty sipping rum

You don’t see many of the Brugal rums hereI’ve only ever reviewed one of them, years ago when I was starting to populate the site: that one got a review, a shrug and a meh (which in retrospect may have been a touch condescending, as was my initial scoring), and I remember it principally because of its really lovely finish. The 1888 Ron Gran Reserva Familiar is something else again, and perhaps it’s sad that we don’t get to see more shops carrying it, ‘cause it’s a pretty nifty drink, and deserves its accolades.

The Brugal 1888 is a fascinating synthesis of odd subtleties and traditional strengths that displays a solid character when matched against the other bottles I had on the table that day (the BBR Fiji 8 year old and the Plantation Barbados 5 year old, both of which it outclassed). Right off I admired the blue cardboard box, the elegant tall bottle and the metal tipped cork, because unlike my friend the Bear, I always did enjoy nifty presentation, and feel that special editions or top end products deserve no less even if it does mean a few extra pesos tacked on to the price (note that said Bear does not object to the extra pesos as long as he’s not forking out the dinero himself, and smiles like a cherubic Buddha whenever I do, as he helps himself to a taste).

The first thing I noted on the nose of this mahogany red rum was its clean lightness, redolent of coffee grounds, cocoa and dark chocolate, vanilla (not quite as evident as the Plantation), all mixed up with light floral hints, and a touch of blue or black grapes, apricots and nuts. And a dusting of cinnamon so light it almost wasn’t there. At 40% I wasn’t expecting a rampaging series of flavours to reach out and scratch my face off, and I didn’t get that, just a pleasant, orderly parade of notes, one after the other.

D3S_6877

The medium light body was warm, but in no way overly spicy, more like a verbal dig in the ribs from a friend, spoken without malicein fact it was smooth, and dry, but not briny or astringent in any way. Light chopped apples mixed it up with vanilla, kiwi fruits and freshly sliced papaya. And it was smooth, very nicely so, delivering further notes of white flowers, pears, some burnt sugar, caramel (not much), butterscotch wound about with a touch of oak. All in all it was a few subtle flavours coming together really well, with a clean exit, a little astringent and dry, lasting well and providing a last creamy breath of all the pleasant rum notes described above. No, it doesn’t have the growling power of darker, stronger (or older) Jamaicans or Guyanese rums, but I don’t think that’s how they envisaged it to begin with. It just was (and is) a really well put together sipping rum of somecalmness.

The source of its rather rich set of flavours of the Brugal 1888 derives from its double maturation, once in the standard American white oak casks that once held bourbon, the second in European oak casks once used for maturing sherry (that’s where all those fruity notes come from): if Brugal’s marketing is to be believed, McCallan’s own Master of Wood was instrumental in handpicking the casks, and the end product is a blend of rums aged five to fourteen yearsthat would, to purists who insist that any blend be age-labelled based on the youngest part of the blend, make it a five year old, but y’know, even if Brugal themselves make no such distinctionman, what a five year old it is.

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Brugal is one of the 3 B’s of the Dominican Republic (eastern half of Hispaniola islandthe west is Haiti) – Brugal, Bermudez and Barceloand probably the largest. The company was formed in 1888 by Don Andres Brugal, and is now considering itself the #3 rum maker in the world by volumeagain, if promo materials are to be believed. However, when you consider that #1 is Bacardi, #2 is probably the Tanduay, then that leaves Havana Club, Captain Morgan and McDowell scrabbling for the next three placesBrugal is somewhat of a lesser player compared to these behemoths, in my opinion, so you’ll forgive me for taking that remark with some salt.

Still, sales volume and their place in the rankings is not my concern. My issue is the character of this rum from the perspective of a consumer, and which in this case I enjoyed and liked and appreciated. Anniversary offerings are traditionally good rums with an extra fillip of quality: the Brugal 1888 succeeds on many levels, is a good sipping rum, and a worthwhile addition to any rum lover’s cabinet. I’d buy it again without hesitation, to drink when I’m not on top of the world, perhaps (I have the full-proof Demeraras for that), but certainly when I’m feeling a little more relaxed and at ease with the state of my life.

(#170. 85/100)


Other Notes

  • Since 2008, Brugal has been owned by the Edrington Group, the same parent company as MacCallan’s and Highland Park. That might account for the sherry maturation philosophy and the source of the barrels I noted above.
  • The company’s literature remarks that this is a rum for whisky lovers (which I assume would be the bourbon boys, not the Hebridean maltsters).

 

Dec 282012
 

This lovely product will always be one of the top sipping rums of my 2012 experience. The awards it has garnered since 2007 state boldly that many others think so too.

Stirred by the Rum Howler’s listing of the Plantation Barbados XO in his intriguing top 30 rum list, and having brought back a bottle from the amazing Rum Depot store in Berlin back in August (yes, it was gathering dust for several months, them’s the breaks when you have a day job and a family and other interests), I resolved to check it out after finishing off the St Lucia series. It was run up against three enormously different rums which could not possibly be mistaken for each other: the Renegade Cuba 1998, Downslope Distillery’s wonky 6-month wine-barrel aged rum from Colorado about which I can’t say enough bad things, and the amazing 2012 Rum Nation Demerara 1989-2012 23 year old about which I can’t say enough good things.

The Plantation series of aged rums from Cognac-Ferrand are the major remaining hole in my review lineup (as of the beginning of 2013) of widely available commercial rums, if you don’t count other rather more exclusive European independent bottlers like Bruichladdich, Cadenhead, Berry & Rudd, Bristol Spirits or Fassbind (among others) which rarely touch the Great White North. Knowing what I know now regarding how to begin a review site of popular spirits, I really should start with the younger Plantation variations and move up the scale, but when you have twenty to chose from and can only pick one, you might also do as I did, and start at the topassuming your wallet holds out.

And I’m glad I did. Barbados rums tend to be on the soft side, but this one was like a feather pillow for the nose, trulyit handily eclipsed the Mount Gay 1703 with scents of white chocolate, buttery toffee, the nutmeg of a good eggnog, vanilla and caramel, and a lovely background of ground coconut shavings in a melange that was utterly terrific. It was a rich sensory love-in of a nose, solidly constructed, soft and breezy and if you ever wanted to have a Christmas rum to sip by a roaring fire, you would never have to go further than this one. I thought of it like a liquid, warm Hagen-Dasz, with all the sweetness that implies.

The palate was similarly excellent: sweet and a shade briny (not too much), soft as a mother’s hug before school on a cold day. It had hints of bananas and orange peel on the medium-heavy body, salty caramel, white chocolate vanilla. My lord this was good, rich and pungent and smooth as a cat’s tummy fur, with just a shade of heat to lend character, a touch of oaky spice and burnt coconutif this rum was equated to a painting, it would be a lush impressionist Monet or Degas, colourful, vibrant and above all, real. And for once the finish completed the overall picture without failing, warm, medium long and rich, with traces of almonds, citrus and oak on the slightly astringent close.

The XO is a rum that is a blend of Plantations’s “oldest reserves” (not sure how old these reserves were, since no further details are available). The blends are first aged in Barbados in ex-bourbon casks, then taken to France where they undergo secondary ageing in smaller French Oak casks for a further year to eighteen months. I must concede that this process of double ageing (somewhat akin to the Dos Maderas 5+3 or 5+5) is much to my tasteit provides the resultant spirit with a depth and creaminess that is quite becoming and is absolutely meant for leisurely exploration when time is not a factor and a buzz is not on the menu.

As I noted above, this is a solidly built, well presented, utterly traditional all-round excellent premium rum. At €45 I think it might be one of the better value for money rums available for a 40% product. That sentence should be parsed carefully, because what this means is that it is superlative at genuflecting to all the expected traditional rum expectationsbut without rising above or vaulting beyond (or violating) themit lacks the passive agressive adventurousness of Fabio Rossi’s Rum Nation Demerara 1989 23 year old (45%) or the stunning-if-somewhat-oversweet Millonario XO (40%). This is not to diss the Plantation product, mind you, just to give you a sense of both its quality and what else it could have been had someone taped a pair of balles to it.

I wish I could tell you which rums in the Plantation lineup this one compares well to, but I can’t (Plantation Rums are not widely available in Canada). Suffice to say, the Anniversary XO is phenomenal taken merely by itself. It has a complex softness and style recalling the St. Nicholas Abbey 10 or 12 year old, or most of the top Panamanian rums, and a finish that is close to conjugal harmonies. If it has a weakness at all, it’s in hewing too closely to the profile of rums, and not daring to step a little outside the demarcations: I think that had it done so, beefed itself up, perhaps aged it a little differently, they may have been one of the top premiums in the world which all others had to beat. As it is, it’s a great sipping rum that any aficionado should have on his shelf, and share generously with people who simply don’t get how good a premium rum can be when made by people who are fully investedand who care aboutthe resultant ambrosias they create.

(#138. 88.5/100)


Other Notes

  • This review was written in December 2012, and already there were cracks in the firmament: I had had the Panamonte XXV, various Panamanians, the Cartavio XO, Rum Nation’s Millonario, most of the DDL standard lineup, and was beginning to understand that dosed rums (an issue which would go on to explode two years later) could be bettered. By the end of 2014, my opinion on these smooth and sweetened rums had undergone a major shift, and if it hadn’t been my policy to keep rum reviews and scores intact, as they were when originally posted (I have to live with and defend the opinions and scores as they were then, not as I would like them to be later), I would have marked them a lot less generously than I had.

 

Mar 232012
 

First posted March 23, 2012 on Liquorature.

Dos Maderas 5+5 follows on from the middling 5+3 underproofed variation, and is in all ways a better rum. Better body, better nose, better taste, better finish. It takes everything the former did and takes such a sharp left turn on it, that you might be forgiven for thinking it’s an utterly different product, made by another company that stole part of the recipe and then ran off the reservation with it.

Just sitting there on your table top and opening up in your glass, the 5+5 is a thudding smack of cheery dark, brown-sugared rum of uncommon complexity. This is a rum that was never sad, never maudlin, never hated the worldthis rum loves you like your almost-best buddy who always had that sh*t eating grin on his face and never outgrew slapping you too hard on the back.

The 5+5 was a full strength (40%) rum originating in stocks, like the Dos Maderas 5+3, from Barbados and Guyana, and aged five years in the Caribbean prior to shipping to Spain (yes, Spain) and then aged a further three years in casks which Williams & Humbert once used to make “Dos Cortados” Palo Cortado sherry, and a further two that were used to make Don Guido Pedro Ximenez sherry (hence the PX in the title). As both of these sherries were aged on average for two decades, the residual flavours in the casks are what give the 5+5 some of its profile (notably the sweetness). It was introduced in 2009 and immediately won a gold medal in the RumXP International tasting Competition at the 2010 Miami Rum Renaissance.

On appearance, the bottle was similar to its weaker younger sib the 5+3 (and was in a nice cylinder, as befitted its luxury cachet), so I’ll pass over that except to note the 5+5 was darker, with touches of deep red in the bottle and the glass. As soon as I decanted, I got a really nice medium bodies sniff of dark brown sugar, molasses, liquorice and chocolate, alleviated by lighter profiles of a good sweet sherry.

But this was a mere intro to the main act, because the palate was a lap ahead of that. Powerful and smooth, like a good Benz limo. Chocolate, tobacco, leather, anise/mint, honey, nuts and liquorice all mated spastically on the tongue until they settled down into a harmonious blend of surprising complexity. St Michael just opened a biblical seal there. I burped gently and birds fell out of the tree. The fade was a it less spectacular: at least it was long; it preserved the memory of that surge of power the palate teased with, without actually following it through to a satisfying finish, but I did note that it left licorice, caramel and nuts (plus maybe figs) on the exit, so points there. Overall, a very solid, very good rum, with one drawback I have to note: you’ll realize after a while that the central core of caramel, brown sugar, molasses and licorice takes on a dominance that is a shade startlingkinda sneaked up on me.

The Bodega Williams & Humbert goes back over a century. It was based on a winery founded in 1877 by Sir Alexander Williams (a supposed admirer and connoisseur of sherries) and Arthur Humbert, a specialist in international relations (don’t go looking in Wikipedia, neither name is to be found there). These days Williams and Humbert also produce the noted Dos Maderas PX and Ron Malabar rums and have lent their name to a Spanish company that acquired them, José Medina y Compañía; the company is well known for their solera systems, brandies, wines and sherries and if not well known in North America, is a bigger player in Europe.

I find myself with conflicted feelings regarding this rum. That it is a good one is beyond dispute. It’s deep, dark and has a powerful and distinctive taste profile. It ranks alongside the Pussers 15, English Harbour 10, El Dorado 15 and St Nicholas Abbey 8. It has the oomph its puerile predecessor the 5+3 lacked, is complex and well blended and tastes just wonderfuland at $60 in Calgary, is value for money. So why the qualification? I think, now that I run it past all the candidates above, that it’s that honey/brown-sugar coreit gets a bit too overwhelming, and you may not always appreciate that. In that sense it shares (to me, but maybe not to you) the failings of the El Dorado 25 year old

So yes, I’m giving it (what for me is) a high score to reflect those qualities I appreciate, and will concede its overall quality. I don’t believe it won the prizes it did because a lot of people felt sorry for it. But as I’ve remarked before, we drink rums for many reasons, at many points in the timeline of our mental stateI simply want to make the buyer aware that this dark sweet backbone exists, and if it works one day when you’re feeling maudlin, or a shade romantic, then it may just as easily fail the next time, when you’re as savagely vituperative as a mauled ex-spouse with a vengeful bent and an uzi, and the 5+5’s smoothly irritating and determined good cheer may be the last thing you wantor need.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

(#94. 83/100)