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 bottlers – though of course your average Joe could care less, let alone distinguish among them –  but 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 admit – “…a smoky barbeque with sweetly musky HP sauce?” went the opening words of my handwritten notes — really!  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 after – caramel, 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 finish – sporting a limbo of nuts, paprika, tobacco leaves and more of those oversweet-yet-tart spoiling fruits – added 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 overlooked – but in reality, it’s Goddamned huge. 

(#840)(88/100)

Nov 112018
 

So now we are the fourth and last ester-boosted rums issued in 2018 by Velier from the distillery of Long Pond in Jamaica, and in a strange way it sums up the preceding three rums in a way that emphasizes many of the best parts and tones down the excesses of all of them.  This is all the more curious a statement since it has the highest ester counts of the quartet, and one would expect the massive taste-bomb effluent of the TECA to be jacked up a few notches more…to “12”, maybe. And yet it doesn’t. It’s a really interesting rum.

By now the background of this series of rums is covered in the previous three reviews (see other notes below for the recap), so here we can just dive straight in, pausing only to note that this rum is of the category “Continental Flavoured,” has 1500 g/hlpa, the highest of the series, and that would make anyone who already tried the decomposing rhino of the TECA a little cautious.  No need. It has many of the same components as the TECA, but more tamed and less intense. Again, it started off with aromas of burlap, wet jute sacks, ammonia and acetones, but while present, they much more restrained than before. Furniture polish, rubber, plastic and whiff of that chewy hogo without going over the top. Oh and the fruits – nice and deep without being either too crisp or too sharp. Peaches in syrup, cherries, ripe apples, spoiling mangoes, caramel, toffee, vegetable soup, sweet soya. See what I mean? – it’s actually rather good if one can get past the meatiness of the background, and the funk and dunder are forceful enough to make a statement for themselves but don’t hog the whole show.

The palate was good as well. Strong and sharp, very fruity, with oranges, apples, soursop, unripe strawberries, green grapes and grapefruit offset with softer richer, riper tastes of pineapples and peaches.  Vanilla, some very sharp and bitter oaken notes (surpirsing for something so relatively young). You’re still sipping this in the same fragrant hair salon as the TECA — ammonia, nail polish remover, remember those? — but at least it’s not so crowded and the dead dog out back seems to have been removed.  Placticene. Also marshmallows, sour cream, and a rather more powerful set of deep musky floral notes than any of the other rums in the series (roses and lilies). Lastly, to finish things off, some licorice and bubble gum, light brine and furniture polish and fruits and funk. All in really good balance, long and fragrant, meaty and chewy without the meat, so to speak.

Because of its toned-down but still expressive nature, I’d have to say this high-ester funk bomb is an enjoyable drink and a Jamaican hogo-lover’s dream, without being quite as approachable to general audiences as the Vale Royal or the Cambridge, which I would suggest are better for those who want to dip their toes into the Jamaicans from Velier without taking a bath in the furious tastes that characterize either the TECA or the TECC.  Ivar de Laat from Toronto remarked on the TECA as being a reference rum for him, and he’s probably right about that one, but when it comes to really torqued up rums that want to show off the ripped abs of their massive ester levels, I’d suggest the TECC is probably a better one to appreciate.

(#566)(86/100)


Summing up / Opinion

When it comes down to it, my scores reveal something of my opinions on the four NRJ expressions from Long Pond. I liked the Vale Royal and Cambridge a lot; they were tasty and new and gave a nice background to other Jamaican profiles. The TECA will appeal to diehard core rum-junkies, specifically those who really know and love Jamaicans, can’t get enough of da funk and da hogo and want to see things cranked up to the max (you could argue these are the same kinds of people who go nuts over the high-peat-laden Octomores). The TECC on the other hand might actually be the best one to try if you want elements of all of these rums at once. It’s still a flavour bomb, quite meaty, just not at the level of its older brother.

The audience for the four rums will, I think, be divided into two similar groupings. The easy drinkers and Velier collectors will inevitably be drawn to the first two, the Vale Royal and the Cambridge.  Those who have been following Velier for years and sense what Luca has done may well prefer the latter two rums because they will be seen for what they are, examples of reference rums for Jamaica based on near highest ester counts available.  Neither side will be right, or wrong.

***

So, clearing away the dishes: as I noted in the first review (the Vale Royal) these four rums are useful to drink as a quartert, one after the other, because they provide insight into how esters can (and do) impact the Jamaican profile (which is not to take away anything from either Hampden or Worthy Park, both of which indulge themselves in similar pursuits). That caution need be exercised is probably a superfluous point to make, not just because of the strength of the rums (62.5%), but because different components of the chemicals provide very different tastes and not all those would be to the liking of everyone.  Personally, I think the four NRJ expressions are among the most unique rums ever to come out of Jamaica, running the gamut from drinkable to formidable to certifiable. When Richard Seale remarked a few months ago that the DOK-level rums are not for drinking straight but are meant as flavouring agents, he knew exactly what he was talking about and I can only confirm that these are poster children for the concept.

Like the clairins issued back in 2014, these are meant (I believe) to prove a point, not to please the greatest number of rum drinkers (pointless anyway, given their limited outturn) or to show off a blender’s skill (the Foursquare ECS series have dibs on that already and in any case these are pure pot still rums, not pot/column blends) – they’re a showcase of what Jamaican rums can be.  That doesn’t necessarily make them good for everyone (or the best), but man, are they ever original. I can truly and with some emphasis say that I’ve not tried their like before.

And truth to tell, we need original in this world of bland retreads, we need exciting rums, new rums, different rums, made by courageous people who are willing to go right out into the screaming edge of rum production.  Such people demonstrate – for good or ill – how varied rums can be, and deserve praise and encouragement, even if we shudder sometimes and draw back from some of their more excessive outturns.

I think what Luca was going for here was not a sipping rum at all – he said as much in an off hand comment in London not too long ago.  What he was aiming at was education and demonstration (of both hogo and Long Pond) as well as a sort of fiendish delight in issuing yet another set of rums we haven’t yet seen much of.  Has he succeeded? I think so. Leaders in any field must bridge the divide between their personal vision and their adherents’ experiences: bend too far towards the former and one risks losing the audience entirely, tilting too far the other way just makes for more of the same old blah.  I think these rums straddle the uneasy space between those two ideals in a way that is nothing short of impressive.


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums.  For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavours – they are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  •  Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  •  Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  •  Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  •  Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info.  Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many years’ rest in a barrel.

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries.  It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV                        0-20
CQV                    20-50
LRM                    50-90
ITP /LSO            90-120
HJC / LIB         120-150
IRW / VRW    150-250
HHH / OCLP    250-400
LPS                  400-550
STC❤E             550-700
TECA            1200-1300
TECB            1300-1400
TECC            1500-1600

The Estate Name:

It’s unclear whether the TECC stands for Tilston Estate, one of the estates that got subsumed into Long Pond in the wave of consolidations in the 1940s and 1950s (this is the theory to which Luca subscribes), or for Trelawny Estates, the umbrella company created in the 1950s before being taken over by the Government and renamed National Rums of Jamaica.  This is where some additional research is needed – nobody has written (so far) on the meaning of the “CC”, though given the Long Pond marks listed above, it’s reasonable to suppose it’s Tilston/Trelawny Estate, Continental Type C (as opposed to “A” or “B” with progressively higher ester levels. The various histories of Long Pond written by Barrel Aged Thoughts, the Cocktail Wonk and DuRhum provide useful background reading, though they do not settle the mark designation issue conclusively one way or the other.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Nov 072018
 

“Pungent f*cker, isn’t it?” smirked Gregers, responding to my own incredulous text to him, when I recovered my glottis from the floor where the TECA had deposited and then stomped it flat. Another comment I got was from P-O Côté after the Vale Royal review came out: “Can’t wait to read your thoughts about the TECA…!! … Hard to describe without sounding gross.” And Rumboom remarked on a taste of “sweat” and “organic waste” in their own rundown of the TECA, with another post elsewhere actually using the word “manure.”

I start with these varied comments to emphasize that I am not alone in believing that the TECA is a rum you hold in your trembling hands when surveying the reeking battlefield of the zombie apocalypse.  I’m a fairly fit old fart of some mental fortitude, I’ve tasted rums from up and down the quality ladder…but the TECA still left me shell-shocked and shaking, and somewhere I could hear Luca sniggering happily and doing a fist pump. Partly or completely, this was because of the huge ester level the rum displayed -1200 gr/hlpaa (remember, 1600 is the maximum legal limit after which we enter “easily-weaponizable” territory), which the makers, staying within the traditional ester band names, refer to as “Continental Flavoured” but which I just call shattering.

In sampling the initial nose of the third rum in the NRJ series, I am not kidding you when I say that I almost fell out of my chair in disbelief. The aroma was the single most rancid, hogo-laden ester bomb I’d ever experienced – I’ve tasted hundreds of rums in my time, but never anything remotely like this (except perhaps the Japanese Seven Seas rum, and I’d thought that one was a contaminated sample; now, I’m not so sure). All of the hinted-at off-the-wall aromas of the Cambridge were present here, except they were gleefully torqued up – a lot. It smelled like the aforementioned tannery gone amok or the hair salon dumping every chemical on the floor (at once) – it was a massive blurt of sulphur, methane, rubber and plastic dissolving in a bubbling pool of ammonia.  It smelled like hemp rope and decomposing wet jute bags, joined by something really rancid – rotting meat, microwaved fish, and three-day-old roadkill marinating on a hot day next to the asphalt machine. There was the scent of a strong soy-flavoured vegetable soup and spoiling chicken tikka, raw onions and sweat. The clear, fruity ester background was so intense it made the eyes water and the nose pucker, cold and clear and precise, giving rather less enjoyment than a furious bitch slap of sharp pineapples, gooseberries, ginnips, unripe mangoes, salmiak, green apples.  I know this sounds like a lot, but the rum’s nose went so far into uncharted territory that I really spent a long time on it, and this is what was there. And at the end, I really couldn’t say I enjoyed it – it was just too much, of everything. Hogo is what this kind of rotten meat flavour is called – or rancio or dunder or whatever — but for my money, it stands for “Ho God!!”

So that’s bad, right? Reading this, you’d think so.  But courage, Sir Knight, hoist up thy codpiece and taste it.  The very first expression in that section of my notes is a disbelieving “WTF?” … because it simply dumbfounded me – where did all the crazy-ass crap go?  It tasted of soda pop – coke, or fanta – persimmons and passion fruits and red currants, sharp and tasty. Salt, brine, bags of olives, plastic, rubber, vanilla, licorice all rubbed shoulders in a melange made pleasant just by comparing it to the trauma of what went before. The rancio and spoiling meat hogo retreated so fast it’s like they just vapourized themselves.  The flavours were powerful and intense, yes – at 62.5% ABV they could hardly be anything else – and you got much of the same fruitiness that lurked behind the funk of the smells, mangoes, tart gooseberries, red currants, unsweetened yoghurt and sour cream. But the real take away was that the nose and palate diverged so much. Aside from the sharp fruits and receding vegetable soup, there was also pistachio nuts, a sort of woodsy cologne, and even some over-sugared soda pop.  And when I hit the finish line, it exhaled with a long sigh redolent of more pistachios, vanilla, anise, soy, olives and a veritable orchard of rotting fruits and banana skins.

The Long Pond TECA rum from National Rums of Jamaica is a grinning ode to excess of every kind.  Given the profile I describe above (especially how it smelled) I think it took real courage for Luca to release it, and it once again demonstrates that he’s willing to forego initial sales to show us something we have not seen before, point us in a direction at odds with prevailing trends. It’s certainly unique – Luca remarked to me that it was probably the first time anyone had ever released such a high-ester well-aged Long Pond, and I agree. So far we’ve seen that the low-level-ester Vale Royal was a lovely, near-traditional Jamaican rum that edged gently away from more familiar island profiles, and the mid-level-ester Cambridge dared to step over the line and become something remarkably different, with strong tastes that almost redefined Jamaican and provided a taste profile that was breathtaking – if not entirely something I cared for.  But the TECA didn’t edge towards the line, it didn’t step over it – it was a rum that blasted way beyond and became something that knocked me straight into next week. This was and will remain one of the most original, pungently unbelievable, divisive rums I’ve tried in my entire writing career, because, quite frankly, I believe it’s a rum which few outside the deep-dive rum-junkies of the Jamaican style will ever like. And love? Well, who knows. It may yet grow on me. 

(#565)(79/100)


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums.  For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavours – they are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  •  Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  •  Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  •  Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  •  Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info.  Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many years’ rest in a barrel.

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries.  It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV                        0-20
CQV                    20-50
LRM                    50-90
ITP /LSO            90-120
HJC / LIB         120-150
IRW / VRW    150-250
HHH / OCLP    250-400
LPS                  400-550
STC❤E             550-700
TECA            1200-1300
TECB            1300-1400
TECC            1500-1600

The Estate Name:

It’s unclear whether the TECA stands for Tilston Estate, one of the estates that got subsumed into Long Pond in the wave of consolidations in the 1940s and 1950s (this is the theory to which Luca subscribes), or for Trelawny Estates, the umbrella company created in the 1950s before being taken over by the Government and renamed National Rums of Jamaica.  This is where some additional research is needed – nobody has written (so far) on the meaning of the “CA”, though given the Long Pond marks listed above, it’s reasonable to suppose it’s Tilston/Trelawny Estate, Continental Type A (as opposed to “B” or “C” with progressively higher ester levels. The various histories of Long Pond written by Barrel Aged Thoughts, the Cocktail Wonk and DuRhum provide useful background reading, though they do not settle the mark designation issue conclusively one way or the other.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Nov 052018
 

For those who are deep into rumlore, trying the quartet of the National Rums of Jamaica series issued by Velier in 2018 is an exercise I would recommend doing with all four at once, because each informs the other and each has an ester count that must be taken into consideration when figuring out what one wants out of them, and what one gets – and those are not always the same things.  If on the other hand you’re new to the field, prefer rums as quiescent as a feather pillow, something that could give the silkiness of a baby’s cheek a raging inferiority complex, and are merely buying the Cambridge 2005 13YO because it is made by Velier and you wanted to jump on the train and see what the fuss is about (or because of a misguided FOMO), my suggestion is to stay on the platform and look into the carriage carefully before buying a ticket.

This might sound like paradoxical advice coming from an avowed rum geek, but just follow me through the tasting of this 62.5% bronto, which sported a charmingly erect codpiece of 550 grams of esters (out of a max of 700 grams per hectoliter of alcohol (hlpa) — this moves it way out from the “Common Clean,” “Plummer” and “Wedderburn” categories, and somewhere in between the “Wedderburn” and “Continental Flavoured” (see other notes below), although it is formally listed as being a CF.  For comparison, the most furiously esterified rum ever made, the DOK (which is not supposed to be a drinking rum, by the way, but a flavouring ingredient for lesser rums and the Caputo 1973) runs at just about the legal limit of 1600 /hlpa, and most rums with a count worth mentioning pretty much stick in the few hundreds range.

There’s a reason for that. What these esters do is provide a varied and intense and enormously boosted flavour profile, not all of which can be considered palatable at all times, though the fruitiness and light flowers are common to all of them and account for much of the popularity of such rums which masochistically reach for higher numbers, perhaps just to say “I got more than you, buddy”. Maybe, but some caution should be exercised too, because high levels of esters do not in and of themselves make for really good rums every single time.  Still, with Luca having his nose in the series, one can’t help but hope for something amazingly new and perhaps even spectacular. I sure wanted that myself.

And got it, right from the initial nosing of this kinetic rum, which seemed to be straining at the leash the entire time I tried it, ready to blast me in the face with one of the most unique profiles I’ve ever tried.  Christ!…It started off with tons of dry jute sacks, dusty cardboard and hay – and then went off on a tangent so extreme that I swear it could make a triangle feel it had more than a hundred and eighty degrees. It opened a huge can of sensory whup-ass with the full undiluted rumstink of an unventilated tannery going full tilt (yes, I’ve been in one), the sort of stark pungency one finds in a hairdressing salon using way too much nail polish remover, and a serious excess of ammonia and hair relaxant…all at the same time. I mean, wow! It’s got originality, I’ll give it that (and the points to go with it) but here is one place where the funk is really a bit much.  And yet, and yet….alongside these amazingly powerful fragrances came crisp, clearly-defined fruits,mostly of the sharper variety – pineapple, gooseberries, five-finger, soursop, unripe mangoes, green grapes, red currants, olives, brine, pimentos…I could go on.

What makes the rum so astounding – and it is, you know, for all its off-the-wall wild madness – is the way it keeps developing.  In many rums what you get to smell is pretty much, with some minor variation, what you get to taste. Not here. Not even close. Oh the palate is forceful, it’s sharp, it’s as chiselled as a bodybuilder’s abs, and initially it began like the nose did, with glue, ammonia and sweet-clear acetone-perfume bolted on to a hot and full bodied rum.  But over time it became softer, slightly creamy, a bit yeasty, minty, and also oddly light, even sweet. Then came the parade of vanilla, peaches, ginger, cardamom, olives, brine, pimentos, salty caramel ice cream, freshly baked sourdough bread and a very sharp cheddar, and still it wasn’t done – it closed off in a long, dry finish laden with attar of roses, a cornucopia of sharp and unripe fleshy fruits (apricots, peaches, apples), rotting bananas, acetones, nail polish and lots and lots of flowers.

I honestly don’t know what to make of a rum this different.  It provides everything I’ve ever wanted as an answer to tame rum makers who regularly regurgitate unadventurous rums that differ only in minute ways from previous iterations and famed older blends.  This one in contrast is startlingly original, seemingly cut from new cloth — it’s massive, it’s feral, it makes no apologies for what it is and sports a simply ginormous range of flavours. It cannot be ignored just because it’s teetering on the wrong side of batsh*t crazy (which I contend it does).  Luca Gargano, if you strain your credulity to the limit, can conceivably make a boring rum…but he’s too skilled to make a bad one, and I think what he was gunning for here was a brown bomber that showcased the island, the distillery, the marque and the ester-laden profile.  He certainly succeeded at all of these things…though whether the rum is an unqualified success for the lay-drinker is a much harder question to answer.

You see, there’s a reason such high ester superrums don’t get made very often.  They simply overload the tasting circuits, and sometimes such a plethora of intense good things is simply too much.  I’m not saying that’s the case here because the balance and overall profile is quite good – just that the rum, for all its brilliantly choreographed taste gyrations, is not entirely to my taste, the ammonia-laden nose is overboard, and I think it’s likely to be a polarizing product – good for Jamaica-lovers, great for the geeks, not so much for Joe Harilall down the road. I asked for new and spectacular and I got both.  But a wonderful, amazing, must-have rum? The next Skeldon or 1970s PM, or 1980s Caroni? Not entirely.

(#564)(84/100)


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums.  For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavours – they are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  •  Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  •  Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  •  Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  •  Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info.  Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many years’ rest in a barrel.

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries.  It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV                        0-20
CQV                    20-50
LRM                    50-90
ITP /LSO            90-120
HJC / LIB         120-150
IRW / VRW    150-250
HHH / OCLP    250-400
LPS                  400-550
STC❤E             550-700
TECA            1200-1300
TECB            1300-1400
TECC            1500-1600

The Estate Name:

Like the Vale Royal estate and Long Pond itself, Cambridge was also located in Trelawny Parish and has a history covered in greater depth by BAT, here, so I’ll just provide the highlights in the interests of keeping things manageable. Founded in the late 18th century by a family named Barrett (there’s a record of still being in the hand of an Edward Barrett a generation later), it closed its doors just after the Second World War in 1947 by which time another family (or the name-changed original one) called Thompson owned the place. It’s unclear whether the mark STCE (Simon Thompson Cambridge Estate according to the estimable Luca Gargano) was maintained and used because physical stills had been brought over to Long Pond at that time, or whether the Cambridge style was being copied with existing stills.

Whatever the case back then, these days the stills are definitely at Long Pond and the Cambridge came off the a John Dore double retort pot still in 2005.  The label reflects a level of 550 g/hlpa esters which is being stated as a Continental Flavoured style, but as I’ve remarked before, the level falls in the gap between Wedderburn and CF.  I imagine they went with their own system here.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Nov 042018
 

This whole week I’ll be looking at the quartet of stern, forbidding black and white bottles of the National Rums of Jamaica, which have excited a slowly rising conversation on social media as pictures get posted and more and more people try them.  Certainly, they’ve got all the Jamaican rum punditry in transports already (plus they are issued by Velier, which is clear from the minimalist label and box design). All four will be written about in a sequence, because there’s simply no way to speak to them individually at long intervals without missing the point, which is that they’re part of an integrated set, and to understand one means to try and understand all – each informs the other. Because there’s a fair bit of background involved in these rums, below each post will have a longer-than usual “Background notes” section detailing notes common to all, and defining some terms, below the review.

The Vale Royal is probably the most traditional rum of the NRJ series, and for the reasonably wide-tasting rum drinker, the best one to start with, as will become clear when we move through the four-rum series.  It also has the lowest ester-count among the set, which might give you an inkling of how they all progress (you’d think that….but no). Bottled at 62.5%, as they all are, it derives from a double retort pot still, is 12 years old, tropically aged (of course) and is made in the Wedderburn style, with an ester count of 150 grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol (g/hlpa) — out of a max of 250 for this classification — which is not the standard accepted one for Jamaicans as a whole, but Longpond’s own.  That makes it a very approachable rum, very tasty, yet paradoxically not entirely a rum I could immediately assign to Jamaica, the way one could, for example, a Worthy Park, an Appleton, or a Hampden — though admittedly we have more experience with those and therefore know them somewhat better (this is a personal opinion, though).

Consider first the nose.  Frankly, I thought it was lovely – not just because it was different (it certainly was), but because it combined the familiar and the strange in intriguing new ways. It started off dusty, musky, loamy, earthy…the sort of damp potting soil in which my wife exercises her green thumb.  There was also a bit of vaguely herbal funk going on in the background, dry, like a hemp rope, or an old jute sack that once held rice paddy. But all this was background because on top of all that was the fruitiness, the flowery notes which gave the rum its character – cherries, peaches, pineapples, mixed with salt caramel, vanilla, almonds, hazelnuts and flambeed bananas. I mean, that was a really nice series of aromas.

On the palate the strength showed its fangs and let’s face it, at 62.5% it’s got monster power hidden under the hood, and a little patience was required.  It was sharp, sweet, flowery and estery to a fault, and somehow that dry earthy note disappeared almost entirely, probably edged out by the sheer force of all the other flavours that took over – this is perhaps one of those rums where a little water is really required.  I didn’t get much without the addition, but with a few drops there was a cloudburst of flowery flavours and sharp fruits: pears, apples, cider, green grapes, raisins, unripe mangoes, tart yoghurt and sour cream, nuts, vanilla, anise and even some yeasty bread just to shake things up.  And the finish, well, that was excellent – long, flavourful, fruity, sweetly flower-like, and took forever to die down, coughing up a last note of bitter chocolate, crushed hazelnuts, vanilla and sharp unripe fruits just to show that even on the back end it meant business and had a bit ore to smack you down with..

For my money, this is a pretty great rum. It is well aged, well balanced, and has the funky note and that fruity estery profile – neither to excess – that drives lovers of Worthy Park and Hampden into orgasmic throes of onanistic ecstasy.  It also has originality and character in that it isn’t afraid to add a few extra things into the mix that might seem startling at first – these are new and original and yet not overdone. In fine, it has almost everything I want from a rum that purports to break the mould and show us something different – old tastes combined with new and intriguing flavours that somehow don’t call that much attention to themselves, all put together into something peculiarly its own.  What it presented was an interesting melange of both Jamaican and something else, with a sly wink and an arrow pointing at the other, more ester-boosted rums in the series…for both good and ill. And that will become clearer as we progress through the line.

(#563)(87/100)


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums.  For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavours – they are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  •  Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  •  Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  •  Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  •  Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info.  Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many years’ rest in a barrel

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries.  It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV                        0-20
CQV                    20-50
LRM                    50-90
ITP /LSO            90-120
HJC / LIB         120-150
IRW / VRW    150-250
HHH / OCLP    250-400
LPS                  400-550
STCE             550-700
TECA            1200-1300
TECB            1300-1400
TECC            1500-1600

The Estate Name:

Vale Royal was a distillery located in Trelawny Parish, just like Longpond, and has a history covered in great depth by BAT, here. The long and the short of it is that it was founded in 1776 under the name of “Walky Walk” (poetic,yes?) before being retitled Vale Royal in the early 1800s. The estate managed to survive after the abolition of slavery, but a combination of falling sugar prices and a movement of consolidation led to the sale of the estate to Longpond in 1959, with the marque of VRW remaining as a memento of its glory days when it stood for “Vale Royal Wedderburn” – though as noted above, this edition, produced at Longpond’s facilities, should rightly be called a Plummer under Standard Notation, since it has 150 g/hlpa, not the required 200-300, but evidently decided to go with its own system.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Sep 062017
 

#386

Let’s be honest – 2017 is the year of FourSquare.  No other company since Velier’s post-2012 explosion on the popular rum scene, has had remotely like this kind of impact, and if you doubt that, just swim around the sea of social media and see how many references there are to Triptych and Criterion in the last six months.  Which is admittedly an odd way to begin a review of a competing product, but I wanted to mention that for all the (deservedly) amazing press surrounding the latest hot juice in the rumiverse, there remain equally solid names as well, who may not be as glitzy but have great products nevertheless, reliably issued year in and year out.

One of these is Rum Nation, which remains — after all the years since I first came across them in 2011 — among my favourites of all the independents. Their entry level rums, which usually sell for under a hundred dollars, are relatively standard proofed and are pretty good rums for those now getting into something different from mass-produced “country-brands” (even though they suffer from the dosage opprobrium that also on occasion sullies Plantation’s street cred). And because they are made from several barrels, usually have outturn in the thousands of bottles so there’s always some left to buy.  But the real gems of the Rum Nation line are — and always have been — the Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the aged Demeraras, all over twenty years old, and all bottled at an approachable strength of under 50% (dosing remains a fierce bone of contention here and is somewhat inconsistent across the line).  At least, they were at that strength, because Rum Nation, never being content to rest on their laurels, decided to go a step further.

In 2016, bowing to the emerging trend for cask strength, Rum Nation introduced the small batch “Rare Rums”.  These are much more limited editions of rums north of 50% and so far hail from Jamaica (Hampden), Reunion (Savannna) and Guyana (Enmore, Diamond and Port Mourant) – they are much closer to the ethos of Samaroli, Silver Seal, Ekte, Compagnie des Indes Danish and Cask Strength series, and, of course, the Veliers.

This also makes them somewhat more pricey, but I argue that they are worth it, and if you doubt that, just follow me through the tasting of the 57.4% 2016 Batch #2 Port Mourant, which started off with a nose of uncommonly civilized behavior (for a PM) – in a word, arresting.  With a spicy initial attack, it developed fleshy fruit, anise, licorice, spicy to a fault, adding prunes, plums, yellow mangoes, deep deep caramel and molasses, more licorice…frankly, it didn’t seem to want to stop, and throughout the exercise.I could only nod appreciatively and almost, but not quite, hurried on to taste the thing.

I am pleased to report that there were no shortcomings here either. It was warm, breathy and rich.  It may have come up in past scribblings that I’m somewhat of an unredeemed coffee-swilling chocaholic, and this satisfied my cravings as might a well-appointed Haagen-Dasz store: dark unsweetened chocolate, a strong latte, caramel, anise and burnt sugar, which was followed – after a touch of water – by dark fruit, raisins, figs and a touch of salt and bite and harshness, just enough to add character.  I was curious and wondered if it had been tarted up a mite, but honestly, whether yes or no, I didn’t care – the rum was still excellent. Rum Nation took two casks and wrung 816 bottles out of them, and I can assure you that not a drop was wasted, and even the finish – long, warm, breathy, piling on more chocolate and creme brulee to a few additional dark fruits – was something to savour.

This rum (and the Small Batch Rare Collection 1995 21 year old I tried alongside it)  exemplifies what I like about RN.  Honestly, I don’t know how Fabio Rossi does it.  Back to back, he issued two rums which were years apart in age, and their quality was so distinct, they were so well done, that I scored them both almost the same even though they were, on closer and subsequent inspection, appreciably different sprigs from the same rum branch.  No, it’s not the best PM ever (or even from RN itself), and is eclipsed by its own brother issued in the same year…but it’s a variant in quality not many other makers could have put out the door.  It’s a rum that is quite an experience to drink, and if I like the 21 better, well, it’s only a quarter-second, half a nose and a single point behind…and that’s no failure in my book.  Not by a long shot.

(89/100)

Dec 222016
 

 

***

A grand old PM. Best of the three Small Batch selections from 2016.

#329

It’s reasonable to wonder whether there isn’t some self-cannibalization going on here.  Since their inception back in 1999, Rum Nation’s flagship products were always the old-enough-to-vote Jamaicans and Demeraras, all issued at around 43-45%.  The old wooden box and jute packing gave way to sleeker, modernist boxes, but the ethos remained the same, and happily for the aficionados, there were always several thousand of these floating around, as Fabio Rossi never bottled just one cask, but several. (As an aside, something of the evolution of our world can be found in how long it took for anyone to even notice the original selections from the 1970s, which took years to sell…a situation which simply cannot occur today).

Fast forward to 2016, and the company sprang this surprise on us – in the same year that DDL pushed out its Rare Collection, RN raided its slumbering cask stash to produce three limited edition Demerara rums of their own, called the “Small Batch Rare Rums” (and I hear — in the muttered corners of the smoking area out back where the rum-hoodlums hang around — that others from Reunion and Hampden may be in the works).  Yet, because of their more limited outturn, these rums may be cutting into the sales of, or appreciation for, the top end rums that have won so much acclaim over the past decade or two, since what is made into a Small Batch cask-strength rum won’t be made into a twenty-something year old in the Supreme Lord or Demerara series.

Well, whatever.  We’re lucky to get these rums at all, I sometimes think.  And this one is right up there with the 45% Demeraras of made with such care in Rum Nation’s youth, perhaps even a smidgen better because of the extra oomph that was generously ladled out for us.

As usual, let’s get the known facts out of the way: Port Mourant distillate from the double wooden pot still in Guyana; the single cask was bought via a broker, and aged in Europe, first in the Bristol Spirits warehouse and in Italy after 2007.  The ageing was done from 1995 to 2005 in ex-bourbon barrels and transferred into a second-fill sherry cask in 2005 until final release in 2016 (Fabio told me he didn’t know whether it was first or second fill, but my own feeling after the tasting was that the sherry had an effect on the final product that was not strong enough after so many years to justify the first fill possibility, but that’s just my opinion).  The outturn was 170 bottles, bottled at that so-very-lekker strength of 57.7%, and I have bottle #002, which is almost as cool as having bottle #001.

Was it any good?  Oh yes.  Just opening it up and smelling straight out of the bottle hinted at olfactory impressions to come – some rubber, wax and floor polish, which swiftly dissipated, followed by licorice, bags of raisins and dried fruit, prunes, dates, cedar wood shavings, and a lovely aromatic tobacco and lemon peel smell behind all of those.  There were some well integrated caramel and vanilla notes, a sniff or two of red wine, but in the main, as was to be expected, it was the trio of anise, raisins and wood that were the core of the nose. It showcased all the markers of traditional excellence that I have always enjoyed about the Port Mourant distillate, all in balance and as harmonious as a zen garden.  

57.7% was also an almost perfect strength for it to be issued: over 60% it might have been too raw, under 50% and maybe too easy.  Not that it really mattered, because between the ageing and the sherry influence, the rum demonstrated a powerful but restrained mouthfeel which gave you the heat and the strength without ripping any part of your corpus to shreds. Sharp it was not…forceful might be a better appellation. And then the flavours came through, big and bold: licorice, oak, more of those aromatic cedar and cigarillos acting as the central core, upon which were hung the lesser tastes like apricots, more lemon peel, grapes, brown sugar, red wine and strong black tea, leading up to a masterful finish that lays it all out on the table so your senses get one last whiff before it all gradually dissipated.

The balance of the rum is exceptional – many of the elements are so flawlessly constructed and built into the profile that you want them simply continue, yet they create a sort of emotional, labial vortex drawing you into another sip, another glass…maybe that’s why half my bottle is already gone. What it really is, is a delivery system for ensuring you get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out of a barrel. I felt that way about Rum Nation’s Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the 57% white, and yes, about the Demeraras.  To make a series like that, of such consistent quality is something of a minor miracle.  To crank up the volts and issue a small batch version of the PM alone and have it be this good is surely another.

So, if you like Guyanese rums as a whole, cask strength rums generally and Port Mourant rums in particular, well, you really can’t go wrong here.  It’s ambitious, luscious, and delicious, providing a rum profile where drinker engagement and enjoyment is 100%.  As for the quotient of appreciation?  My friends, that may actually be off the chart.

(90/100)

Note:

This rum is the first release.  The 2nd Release, also from 2016, is a 17 year old bottled at 57.4% from two casks resulting in 816 bottles.  I tried that one at the 2016 Berlin Rumfest and can confirm it’s also quite good (though I liked this one more).