Dec 022017
 

#464

Seen over a span of decades, it is more clear than ever that the El Dorado 15 year old is a seminal rum of our time. “It is a bridge” I wrote back in 2010 in my unscored review, remarking that it straddles the territory between the lower end twelve year old and the 21 year old, and represents a sort of intermediary in value and price and age. The best of all worlds for El Dorado, you might say, and indeed it remains, even twenty five years after its introduction in 1992, one of the most popular rums in the world for those who enjoy the Demerara style.  Any time a blog or website has a series of comments on favourite affordable rums, you can be sure it’ll find its way in there somewhere.  It cannot be easily ignored, even now in the time of independents and cask strength Guyanese monsters aged beyond all reason.

That it succeeds at so effectively colonizing our mental map of good rums bottled at living room strength is a testament to its marketing, but also its overall quality.  DDL themselves tacitly accept this by not only keeping the rum in production for over a quarter century, but chosing specifically that one to issue with a number of fancy finishes (and for a very good rundown of those, look no further than RumShopBoy’s complete analysis, and his separate conclusions, as well as the Quebec Rum’s (French) reviews the only ones available right now). My irascible father, no rum slouch himself, scorns all other rums in the El Dorado range in favour of this one. Many Guyanese exiles wouldn’t have their home bars without it.  What the actual quality is, is open to much more debate, since all rumhounds and rumchums and rabid aficionados are well aware – and never tire of saying – that there is 31-35 g/L of additives in there (either caramel or sugaring, it’s never been definitively established), and by that standard alone it should, like the 21, be consigned to an also-ran.

But it isn’t.  Somehow this rum, a blend of the PM, EHP and VSG stills – which is to say, all the wooden stills, with the PM dominant – keeps on trucking like the energizer bunny, and, love it or hate it, it sells well year in and year out, and has fans from across the spectrum.

Tasting it in tandem with the 12 year old (I’ll do a revisit of this as well soon, though not as part of the Key Rums series) and the 21, it’s clear that it possesses a bit more oomph than it’s younger sibling, in all aspects.  Not only in strength (43% ABV) and age (three years more than the 12), but also in overall quality. It noses quite well – licorice, anise, creamy caramel, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke.  Orange rind.  Some mustiness and vague salt – basically all the things that the cask strength indies demonstrate, with good complexity and balance thrown in…but somewhat more dampened down too, not as fierce, not as elemental, as what might have been the case.

The various hydrometer lists around the place have shown there’s adulteration going on in the rum, and there is no doubt that when you drink the 15 in tandem with clear, untouched rums, the softening effect of the add-ons are noticeable. What is astounding that even those levels don’t entirely sink the experience. Consider: it’s smooth and possesses depth and heat.  It starts with licorice, and adds oak, some smoke, then slowly the dark fruits come into play – prunes, raisins, black olives, overripe cherries.  There’s some honey and the faint molasses background of coarse brown sugar.  In every way it’s a better rum than the 12 year old, yet one can sense the way the flavours lack snap and crispness, and are dumbed down, softened, flattened out – the sharp peaks and valleys of an independently issued rum are noticeably planed away, and this extends all the way to the finish, which is short and sleepy and kind of sluggish, even boring: sure there’s caramel, molasses, oak, licorice, nuts and raisins again, but didn’t we just have that?  Sure we did. Nothing truly interesting here.

All that aside, I’d have to say that for all its faults, there’s a lot to appreciate about this particular rum.  Much like the 21 it rises above its adulteration and provides the new and not-so-demanding rum drinker with something few rums do – a particular, specific series of tastes that almost, but not quite, edge outside the mainstream.  It gives enough sweet to appeal to those who bend that way, and just enough of a distinctive woody-smoky-leathery profile to attract (and satisfy) those who want something heavier and more musky.  

Now, let me be clear – a superlative demonstration of the blender’s art this is not. It is not one of the fiercely pungent Jamaicans, not a lighter, clearer, crisper agricole, nor is it an easy going Cuban or Panamanian, or a well-assembled Bajan.  I think it’s eclipsed even by the single-still offerings of DDL What it really succeeds at being, is well-nigh unique on its own particular patch.  Its success rests on great appeal to the masses of rum drinkers who aren’t drinking a hundred different rums a year, and who don’t take part in the Great Sugar Debate, who just want something tasty, reasonably well made and reasonably sweet, reasonably complex, that can be either sipped or swilled or mixed up without breaking the bank.  It’s on that level that the El Dorado 15 year old succeeds, remarkably well, even now, and is a tough, well-rounded standard for any other rum of its age and proof and point of origin to beat. Or at least, in the opinions of its adherents.

(82/100)

Oct 052017
 

#392

As the years roll by, I have come to the conclusion that the last decade will be regarded as the Golden Age of Rum – not just because of Velier, Silver Seal, Moon Imports, Rum Nation, Ekte, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Secret Treasures (and all their cousins), but also because of the amazing writers who have emerged to chronicle their adventures with rum.  Somehow, social media and blogging software have formed a nexus with rum makers that allowed previously niche brands to simply explode onto the stage, raising awareness and knowledge to unprecedented heights.

However, an unanticipated side effect of this increase in knowledge and experience (even if only vicarious) is that buyers are more than ever leaving the what I term “national” brands like Mount Gay, El Dorado, Flor de Cana and Appleton to go venturing into the new, the esoteric or the independent. Few of the established brands have managed to meet this challenge – Foursquare with its cask strength releases and Velier collaboration is one, Grenada has had one or two overproofs floating around, and DDL certainly tried (timidly to be sure) with the Rare Collection.  Mount Gay is getting in on the action, and no doubt the Jamaicans are just building up a head of steam, and you can see Diplomatico, St. Lucia Distilleries and many others jumping aboard.

This leaves an old standby premium blended rum, the El Dorado 21, in something of a limbo.  It’s too old to ignore, too cheap to pass by, but lacks something of the true premium cachet…an affliction shared by, oh, the Flor de Cana 18.  That cachet can be conferred, for example, by purity: but it sure isn’t that – it’s not from any one of the famed stills, and various measurements suggest between 16-33 g/L of additives presumed to be caramel or sugar.  Alternatively, it could ascend in the estimation based on limited availability, and that isn’t the case either, since it is nowhere near as rare as the 25 YO editions, and isn’t marketed that way either. Nor does it go for broke and get released at a stronger proof point. Yet, for all that cheap premium reputation it has, I submit we should not throw it out just yet and pretend it’s some kind of bastard stepchild not worthy of our time.  Revisiting it after a gap of many years made me more aware of its failings…but also of its quality for those who aren’t too worried about either its strength or adulteration. One simply has to approach it on its own terms and either ignore it or take it as it is.

Re-sampling the rum in mid-2017 – some seven and a half years after my first encounter with it – showed how both I and the world had changed.  Many of the elements I so loved back in the day remained – the nose was earthy and musky, like dry ground after a long rain, and the licorice and oaky notes came through strong, attended faithfully by molasses, butterscotch, caramel, burnt sugar, very strong chocolate.  I let it stand for a little and came back and there were bags of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves – and slowly developing dark fruits and raisins coming through.  And yes, there was an emergent sweetness to it as well which made it easy easy easy to sniff (I was trying the 40% version, not the 43% one from Europe).

The nose showed much of what made and makes it such a popular premium rum for those whose tastes bend that way – at this point the profile was warm, enjoyable and luscious.  Problems began with the tasting.  Because while it was smooth, deep and warm, it was also thick, and by some miracle teetered on the brink of, without ever stepping over into, sweet cloyishness.  That it did not do so is some kind of minor miracle, and that as many flavours came through as they did is another.  Prunes, vanilla, creme brulee, more licorice, and salty caramel ice cream were first and remained the backbone of it, upon which were displayed hints of grapes, dates, cloves, christmas black cake, and even a smidgen of citrus sneaked slyly through from time to time.  It was great, but just too thick for me now, a shade too sweet, and the finish, well, at 40% ABV you’re not getting much, being way too short and simply repeating what had come before – frankly, I think that any rum this old had no business being released at such a paltry proof point.

Back in 2010 I scored it 88, saying what a brilliant rum it was, catering to all my tastes.  To some extent that’s still true – it’s simply that after many years of trying rums from around the world, I’m more aware of such adulteration and can spot the masking, dampening effect on the profile more easily.  I assure you, it’s by no means enough to crash and burn the experience – it’s just something I no longer care for very much, and when combined with a less than stellar strength, well…..

These days I regard the ED21 and the like with some sadness.  Not because of its sweetness and adulteration, really (that’s a given, grudgingly accepted with bad grace) — but because it reminds me of a time when I knew less, was pleased with more, regarded each new rum in the queue with excitement and interest and curiosity and yes, even joy.  It brings to mind a 1950 Frank O’Hara poem, where he wrote

“Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water.”

That’s how I felt then, and occasionally, I still burn that fiercely now.  But with experience (and perhaps a little wisdom), I had to trade away some of the excited exuberance of the beginner and accept that time – and my tastes, and indeed I myself – moved on.

Because, you see, this rum is not made for me any longer.  It is not made for Josh, Matt, Gregers, Laurent, Cyril, Steve, Johnny, Paul, Richard, Henrik, Wes, Simon, Ivar and others who have been at this for so long.  Once, in our rum-youth, we may have regarded a 21 year old like it was some kind of Everest. But we have passed beyond it in our journey, and see it now as no more than a foothill, a small peak among Himalayans.  It is made for those that follow us, for those who are now embarking on their own saga, or for the unadventurous who, like Victorian readers, prefer for now to read of the exploits of the trailblazers and pathforgers, but shy away from taking on the force and fury of a cask strength forty year old.  It is for such new drinkers that the rum is for, and one day, in their turn, they will also tread beyond it.

In the meantime, though, the El Dorado 21 is one of the key aged rums of our world, no matter how distant in our memories it lies, and no matter how much its tarted up profile has become something to decry.  We just remember that we liked it once, we enjoyed it once, and must allow those who appreciate rums for precisely those reasons, to discover it in their turn today as they walk down the path of their own rum discovery, seeking their own individual, personal, perfect El Dorado in the world of rum.

(84/100)


Other notes

Made from a blend of distillates from the Enmore wooden Coffey still, the Versailles single wooden pot still, and the French 4-column Savalle column still – for my money the Versailles is dominant.

 

Mar 102017
 

Photo copyright whisky.dk

Rumaniacs Review #029 | 0429

Issued around 2011, the El Dorado 25 YO received an update from the original 1980 version, with the blend tweaked a little.  The enclosure and bottle remained the same, however, and unfortunately for the modern rumporn brigade of the millenial teens, not enough was done to upgrade the rum to what a current (2017) connoisseur would consider par for the course – unadulterated and cask strength.  Instead, sticking with the tried and true formula which sold so well in the past, it remained 43%, and perhaps we should consider it a favour that the reported 51 g/L sugar of the 1980 version was reduced to 39 g/L here.  I suppose that’s why this one scored incrementally better.  But still, a 25 year old rum made from some of the most famous stills in the world should be a world beater.  And it isn’t. Not even close.

Colour – dark red-amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Marginally better than the 1980 (I tried both side by side).  While still too anemic, it was vaguely crispier and fruitier, nuttier and brinier. Bags of anise and dark dried raisins, jam, molasses and caramel, given some edge with notes of tobacco and oak and some minerally ashy background.  A very good nose.

Palate – Takes the promise and trashes it…worst part of the experience.  This is a €400+ rum, aged 25 years (with all the attendant expectations such stats engender), and a depressingly liqueured might-have-been. If one strains the nose almost out of its original shape, one can sense (rather than actually taste) black cake and honey, vanilla and oak, philly cheese on toast, plus traditional fruits, raisins, anise, prunes, backed up by a nice creme brulee.  And to that extent I liked it. But the sugar…it was just too overbearing – it was like you could never quite come to grips with what was on offer, not because of a low ABV (though this did absolutely nothing to enhance the experience) but because the sweet dampened everything.  It made for a thick, muddy sort of mangrove swamp, instead of the crisp, complex, fast-flowing river that would have been better.

Finish – Too short, to pale, too sweet.  Nothing much going on here.

Thoughts – What the rum provides is still ahead of spiced nonsense like the Kraken or Don Papa, but that’s damning it with faint praise.  Those cost 1/10th of this and have fewer pretensions, raise fewer expectations. Seven years ago I enjoyed the 25 YO El Dorados I tried because I knew less and was more satisfied with 40-43% rums.  That time has now passed and I can see more failure than achievement here. One of my idols proved to have feet of clay, alas.

(81/100)

Other Rumaniacs liked this rum even less than I did.  You can see their evaluations on the official website.

Jan 312017
 

Photo copyright (c) Masters of Malt

Rumaniacs Review #028 | 0428

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(80/100)

Jan 272016
 
LUCA-900x411

Photo (c) 2013 congresodelron.com

Luca sounds tired.  The boss of Velier has just returned from Cape Verde off the coast of Senegal, where he was investigating small rum producers like in Haiti, has been caught up in the online discussions of the “Rare” issues, gave an interview to DuRhum (in French), and is now on his way to Morocco to attend some business and help shoot a documentary, before heading off to Cape Verde again.  I catch him in the back of a taxi, but he’s willing to talk a little.  Truthfully, when it comes to rums, the man is always ready to talk, and it’s never just a little.  Maybe that’s one reason he and I get along.

We discuss his interview with Cyril, but my own interest is much more focused, and gradually we get to what I want to talk about — DDL’s new Velier replacements, called the “Rare Collection” and I had opined that premature news of their introduction could have been handled better. Commercial considerations had prevented Luca from going on record before this, but apparently DDL have now given him their blessing, and he knows I want facts rather than speculations.

“I honestly wanted to tell you back in December, when your “Wasted Potential” article came out,” he says. “But we (DDL and myself) had agreed nothing would be said about the Rare Collection until the time for official press releases and introductions came around.  So I had to be quiet.”

“It happens,” I shrug, stifling my rush of petty irritation, since, like most people, I hate being wrong. “Why don’t you step me through the sequence of events regarding the issue?”

He settles into what I call his ‘presentation’ voice and talks nonstop for several minutes. Much to my surprise, the conception of these three rums goes back to January 2015, a full year ago.  Following the retirement of Yesu Persaud, the new CEO of DDL (Komal Samaroo) met with Luca and told him they were going to make ‘Gargano-style’ rums themselves following the full-proof, single-still, limited-edition principles, and as such the ability of Velier to bottle from DDL’s stocks would cease. “But I have to be clear,” Luca said. “Aside from the Skeldon, I never ever just walked into the warehouse and sampled at random and said I wanted this barrel or that barrel – I always and only got shown a limited selection by DDL and chose from them. And the vintages were getting younger all the time – I was hardly ever seeing stuff younger than the early 2000s any more.”

He’s admitted it before, and confirmed that initially the situation made him sad – it was something like seeing your own child grow up and move out of the house – but proud as well.  It showed that there was real potential by a major distiller to go in this direction, and that the full-proof concept was a viable commercial proposition. And it made sense for DDL to fold these rums into the larger el Dorado brand.

“Which would in any case always be associated with you,” I cut in. “For the foreseeable future, DDL’s full proofs will live in your shadow.”

“That’s not important,” he says earnestly. “It’s not about ego for me.  It’s about rum: authentic, honest, tropical aged, full proof rum. If DDL makes them, the rumworld is just as well served, because good rums are being made and sold.”

“One could argue that DDL let you take the risk and open the market and then moved in to capitalize on your success,” I point out.  I’m not on anyone’s side on this matter and I know business is business (it’s not personal, right?).  DDL didn’t get to be what it was without some very sharp people at the top, and while I am surprised it took this long for them to get in on the action, they are finally doing something.

I can almost see him shaking his head. “No. Because it’s their rum. I always insisted that DDL was mentioned on our labels – because I never felt it was ‘mine’…the name of Velier was only ever in the fine print at the back. I found a few diamonds, sure, but never pretended to own the mine, you know?  And I did the same for the Clairins.”  I think he’s being just a bit disingenuous here, personally, because one does not become a successful businessman without at least a little talent, aggro and braggadocio, and I suspect he knows perfectly well how synonymous his name has become with full proof rums in general, and Demeraras in particular.  But I let it pass, and he continues.

rare-mads-1

Photo (c) Mads Heitmann, Romhatten

“So by November of 2015 a lot of the work was done – the selection of the vintages, the label mockups.  Some samples went out to Europe –“

“Hang on,” I interrupt. “Exactly how much were you involved in all this?”

“Not at all.”

“Seriously?”

“No.  I did not select the barrels, I did not choose the vintages, I had nothing to do with advertising or label design. All I knew was that there would be an Enmore, a PM and a Versailles. By the time I received samples in December, it was all complete, and my only involvement was as the distributor for Italy.”

“Why are they only being sold only Europe?”

He hesitates a moment and I can sense him choosing his words with some care. “DDL is a Guyanese company,” he says at last. “And I think their information gathering and knowledge relate and are geared more to the North American market than the European one.   In North America it’s always been difficult to introduce new spirits into their states-segmented markets; and there has never been a really strong movement or tradition or knowledge of craft full-proofs.  It was only lately — with Samaroli and a few others becoming available, with online media like Facebook, with the reviews of English language rum bloggers — that the profile of such rums has increased and the potential more fully understood. But in Europe full-proofs have always sold well and been widely appreciated – indeed that has always been my primary market. So it made sense to start there.”

“With the potential to cross the Atlantic in the future?”

He shrugs.  “That’s for DDL to decide.  I hope so.”

“So we’re in December now. My own article on the missed opportunities of DDL came out around that time.”

“Yes, and a lot of people read it.  And I wanted to contact you to advise you that there were indeed new single-still rums coming out.  But my arrangement with DDL forbade that, so…”

I’m still a little miffed about the matter, but it’s water under the bridge and there’s nothing I can do except admit I got it wrong and move on.

“Why do you think DDL never responded to my article, or contacted me?”

“I have no idea.”

“Because it strikes me as strange that a major new bottling is being issued to the market, and there was no advance knowledge, no teasers or sly hints or even massive advertising to stimulate interest.”

“Well, they did send some samples to one of the Rumfests late in the year – I believe to Belgium – “

“And it received almost no publicity at all.”

“It was just for evaluation purposes, I think, not an advertising campaign to kick off the release. That was supposed to come in this year.”

Well, DDL is run by some smart people, and I suppose they have reasons for what they do and how they do it.  However,  I also believe they are underestimating the force-multiplying power of social media in a big way and maybe my mind just works differently since I’m a consumer as well as a writer, not a company marketing guru.

It occurs to me that with respect to communication, the premature release of information on the Rares must have caught everyone off guard. “So now we come to 2016,” I say, following that thought. “Your company somehow issued a webpage link to show these rums as becoming available, on January 13th.  Then it disappeared.  What happened?”

His embarrassment is palpable over the long distance telephone line. “That was a mistake,” he says ruefully.  “My graphics people worked so fast that the mockup and catalogue update were all done ahead of time.  They didn’t bother to check with me before posting it up, because they didn’t see anything special about a new item on the catalogue…we do, after all, add stuff constantly. I was in Cape Verde then, away from communications, and as soon as I came out and realized what had happened, I pulled the link immediately.  By then the news was all over the place.”

rare-mads-2

Photo (c) Mads Heitmann, Romhatten.

“And then?”

He lets out a deep breath. “The story went viral in the online rum community.  You know this, you followed it.”

Indeed I had. The story flashed around the world in less than a day. Wes at the FatRumPirate pushed out an article on the three rums on the 15th; a Danish blogger, Mads Heitmann, was able to get a complete set of the three bottles and reviewed the PM 1999 ln the 19th. And on top of that, he posted prices on his site and on Facebook, which went viral as fast as the original post from Velier’s site, and changed the entire direction of the story. The news was well and truly out there and could not be called back, which demonstrates what I mean about the power of Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and all the rest.

“But none of it had any more to do with me,” Luca argues. “I made my sincere apologies to DDL, explained to them that the initial, unpriced, posting was an error I tried to correct and not a leak of any kind.  I was waiting for a green light from them to make a public announcement and start publicizing.”

I suppose I can accept that, since all my notes and private discussions support it. “The story now started to get bigger than just you, because aside from the annoyance of the rum community about the releases just popping out of nowhere, which is a minor matter, they now had to contend with the pricing.  And that was no small thing – it was deemed exorbitant.”

“Your article didn’t help,” he says, half laughing, half accusing, referring to the essay I then wrote on January 20th, where I both complained about the introduction and expressed my hopes for their quality.

The conversation seems to have come around to the point where I’m the one answering questions instead of him; still, the point is valid. “I wasn’t trying to. At the time I was pretty put out. DDL should have read the tea leaves and done damage control immediately, gotten ahead of this story.  Back then, I solicited their input without response.  Okay, I’m small fry, a small blogger in a wide world of them, and it was an opinion piece, and yet I don’t think I was wrong; and this was now an issue affecting consumers all over the map – somebody should have stood up, posted online, gotten involved, calmed the waters.”

“I can’t speak to that,” he responds, with a note of finality.

The cost per bottle is of interest to us as consumers, so I persist. “What can you tell me about the price, on the record?”

PM 1999 Romhatten

Picture crop (c) Romhatten.dk

“I think the Danish numbers are high,” he admits. Privately, I had thought so too, and the KR6500+ (~€870) initially quoted on January 19th for all three bottles together has in fact been reduced in some online shops in Denmark.  Factor in the very high alcohol taxes in that country, and the base shop prices (before markups) to consumers are probably closer to expectations.  Still high, but relatively more affordable.

“The price in Italy will likely be around the level of equivalent Veliers, plus maybe 10-15%.  But I can’t say that for sure across Europe, because I sell only in Italy, to shops, not to individuals, and taxes and markups vary.  But they are not as expensive as you made out to be.”

Since I’ve argued that price is a function of brand awareness and exclusivity as well as production costs, I ask the question that’s been bugging me all this time.  “What’s the outturn of the range?”

“About 3,000 bottles for each expression is my guess. I’m not entirely sure of the exact numbers”

“And future issues?”

“I can’t say: I’m hearing that maybe an annual release of two bottlings, with about the same quantity as these.”  Which gives us all hope, I think.  Two is not as good as four or five, yet I don’t know that many full-proof rum lovers who would complain too much. At least they’re getting something.

The answers are getting shorter, and I sense we may be coming to the end of this conversation.  I only have one more. “You’re distributing the rums in Italy, and have had a long association with DDL.  You’re hardly a disinterested party. But as a simple lover of rum, putting aside any bias as much as you can, what do you think of the Rare Collection?”

There’s a smile in his voice as he notes the care of my phrasing. Or maybe he’s just thinking of these rums, his now-grown children, with fondness, and delights at an opportunity to speak of them. “I received samples in December 2015, and Daniele (Biondi) and I tried them together with five or six other Enmores, Port Mourants and Versailles rums we had from previous years.  And I am telling you, these are every bit as good.  They lost nothing, and preserve everything in my principles – tropically aged, no additives, single-still, cask strength.  The taste is amazingly good, and I think they are great additions to the full proof Demerara lineup.  It may be too early to tell, but if they continue to issue such rums in the future, these first editions may one day be worth quite a bit, the same way my first bottlings appreciated on the secondary markets.”

His tone has that evangelical fervor, the ring of utter personal conviction, that always characterizes his public presentations, and I gotta admit, the enthusiasm is infectious. He may or not be right, and others may disagree with his assessment in the months and years to come – but there’s no doubt he really believes they’re that good.  I’ve heard him speak that way about his other rums and rhums as well, and we know Velier’s track record, so perhaps we should just take it at face value.  Until shops actually start selling them and we start seeing reviews out there, not much more to be said.  I think we’re just about done here.

I scratch my head, look at my notes and questions, and realize an hour has gone by. Luca is now buying organic apples for his pretty wife through the taxi window, waiting to see if there’s anything else, but he’s covered it all for me, filled in most of the blanks.  What little information I have from DDL confirms most of this. So I give him my regards and thanks, we exchange notes on our movements around the world in 2016 and agree to see if we can meet up somewhere, have a relaxed session and maybe drink a sample or ten.  And, of course, as always, to talk rums.

***

Other notes

This was not a formal interview.  It was a discussion between the two of us, which is why I wrote it the way I did. From his perspective, it was to some extent also publicity, even damage control.  It’s no coincidence that this and Cyril’s more formal interview came out so close together.  Had I not written the two other essays about DDL already, I would not have bothered, but this wraps things up and substitutes such opinions and guesses as I have expressed, with more factual information.

The formal release of these rums for sale with all the marketing blitz, brass bands and bunting is supposed to be the end of January / early February  2016.

 

 

Jan 202016
 

Rare Collection

“I hope for them that the rums are good,” muttered Cyril darkly, as a bunch of us exchanged comments on the newest DDL offerings.  We should have been happy, but we weren’t, not really.  Few of us rum watchers were.

Back in December 2015, I read the tea leaves spectacularly wrong and suggested that DDL would not be issuing single-still Velier-style full proofs any time soon.  A month later they did: an Enmore 1993, Versailles 2002 and PM 1999.  I’m actually kinda surprised nobody ragged my tail about my utter inability to forecast what might even have been a foregone conclusion after the age of Velier’s Demeraras abruptly ended. So yeah, I munching a big crow sandwich right now.

Still: if you’re not deep into rums, perhaps the way the blogosphere erupted at the news of DDL’s full-proof “Rare Collection” might have taken you aback. A link to an article on Velier’s site went viral almost immediately on the FB pages of la Confrere, Global Rum Club, Ministry of Rum; even some blogs made mention of it. People who loved Velier’s Demeraras, and who snapped up indie bottlings of Guyanese rums for ages, were happy as a Caner who fell into the vat, that DDL had finally started to “tek front.”

But as time went on, it became clear that there were several issues with the three bottlings named above, and all of them pointed to what I maintain are deficiencies in DDL’s strategic (or marketing) arm.  They misread the public sentiment and displayed no real current knowledge of what drives purchases of upscale “super-premium” rums.  They came at the wrong time, at the wrong price, with too little information and with the wrong fanfare.

Consider:

There was absolutely no forewarning at all (see footnote 1).  The picture and a brief notation in Italian went up on the Velier website (it has now disappeared) and that was it. And not even in time to make the Christmas season, where traditionally liquor sales peak.  As of this writing (January 20th) they are still not represented on El Dorado’s own website (although the deceased Mr. Robinson remains as a valued member of the team). DDL’s Facebook page has nothing, and questions I raised in private messages to them went unanswered.  Wow. Who on earth is in charge of getting the message out over there?

Along with the lack of warning, there was no mention of three key points that anyone selling a rum about which there is great anticipation should reasonably consider:

    1. Where were these to be distributed/sold?
    2. What would the price be?
    3. How many bottles were issued?

So essentially, until the Danes at Romhatten got their hands on a set and started writing about them (the PM received a 96 rating), few people knew where they could be had.  Most online stores still don’t carry them. It was later established they would not be sold in North America. And when it was understood that they averaged out at €290 a bottle in Denmark and Germany, whereas most independent bottlings of the same ages cost between a €100-200 on the primary market, the grumbles got louder.

Leaving out production costs and taxes, two things drive a bottle’s price way up – age (to some extent, though I have paid an arm and a leg for a seven year old from 1980), and more than that, rarity.  The two together create monsters like the Appleton 50 year old ($4500/bottle) for example.  One of the reasons a Velier Skeldon 1978 pushes prices past the thousand euro mark on the secondary market, is because there are so few out there.

However, DDL has not marketed the rums with indie-bottler-level pricing to titillate the market and grab initial market share and establish their own reputation for great full proof rums, separate from that of Velier; they gave no hint of how many bottles were issued; they advertised not at all, and to add insult to injury, are staying mum on the fora where they can engage their fans and the general public. All of this suggests that we are being asked to pay very high prices for an unproven product of uncertain commonality. If a hundred bottles had been issued that would be one thing….ten thousand would be quite another matter.

Consider this key point also – Luca was the recipient of a decade of goodwill for his full proof lines, aided and abetted by issuing rums that were very very good.  The man had an enviable track record, made almost no dogs, and had no dishonour or disrepute attached to his product (like DDL got when hydrometer tests began to show the inclusion of unreported sugar to their standard aged rums), and as a result, people were willing to buy his products blind, almost at any price, knowing they would get something that had a good chance of being an excellent drink and a worthwhile investment. And to his credit, Luca provided all the info up front, and never priced his rums to the point where this kind of essay became necessary.

DDL maybe felt that “if we issue it they will come.”  Given the explosion of interest in the new line, they were certainly correct there, and they themselves have many decades of goodwill of their own to tap into, deriving from the El Dorado line of rums (if not the Single Barrel expressions).  So I’m not saying DDL makes bad rums (quite the opposite in fact).  And believe me, I’m not pissy because I read the future wrong.  In fact, I have already bitten the bullet, put my money where my mouth is, and bought all three of these releases at those crazy prices.  I look forward — keenly — to reviewing them.  

What I am is annoyed with the stumbles of a company for which I have great regard, and which should know better. You don’t issue expensive rums after the holiday season, when purses are scrawny and credit card bills are due. The pricing and the lack of information are sure to piss off more serious rum lovers (and writers) who make purchasing decisions carefully.  One spends twenty bucks on a whim…not three hundred. And think about this also: when bloggers to whose opinions people attend say they will not buy these rums because they are too pricey or difficult to get (as several have already told me), their audience gets turned off too, and sales will inevitably diminish. If this happens and DDL believes there’s no market for full proofs, well, then, what do you think they will do? Cancel the entire line, maybe?

So yeah, I’m a little miffed with DDL’s new rums, much as I applaud the fact that they’re issued at all.  Only time will tell whether the price they’ve set is justified.  In the meantime, they’d better start providing us consumers with more information, not less.  And those rums had better be damned good. 


Notes

  1. Inadvertently, I’m sure, the Guyanese daily Stabroek News actually mentioned these three rums…back in November 4th, 2015. It is clearly stated in that article that they would only be sold in Europe.
  2. In January 2019, I wrote a recap of my opinions on the the Rares to that point, Releases I, II and III.
Dec 152015
 

Single_Barrels

Introduction

In 2015 it became widely known that DDL was severing its relationship with Velier, and Luca Gargano would no longer have access to their warehouses. With that simple statement, the Age of Velier’s Demerara Rums appeared to have come to an end. In October of that same year, I reviewed the three single barrel expressions DDL issued back in 2007, and the notes in that write up were so voluminous that I split them apart to form the basis of this essay.

My thinking went like this: when you think of all the advantages DDL enjoys in the international marketplace – brand visibility and recognition, market penetration, and the great stills like PM and EHP, to name just three – you begin to realize just how curious those three rums actually are. And how much they say about the ethos and thrust of the company’s rum strategy (or lack thereof).

Velier showed that there was a real market for such full proof, limited edition rums.  You’d think that with the Scots and the Italians’ decades-long love affair with issuing PMs and Enmores and what have you, that this largely untapped market would be aggressively exploited by the company supplying the actual rum, but no, DDL has let Moon Imports, Samaroli, Velier, Rum Nation, Secret Treasures, Silver Seal, Duncan Taylor, and many others, garner the accolades and the money while they concentrate on the core El Dorado range.

Background

The ICBU, EHP and PM expressions remain the only still-specific rums DDL have ever created since the el Dorado line burst on the scene in 1992. DDL, as you would recall, have a number of pot and columnar stills – some of wood, some very old, all producing interesting variations of taste; the El Dorado line blends various proportions of output from these stills.  Craft bottlers who have bought barrels made from the stills have long issued limited expressions like PM, EHP, ICBU,  LBI, Blairmont, Versailles, Skeldon (Velier remains the acknowledged champion in this regard), and the speed at which they sell and the high prices they command on the secondary market demonstrates the enormous cachet they have.  

Yet DDL has, as of this writing (December 2015), refused to go further with developing this gaping omission in its lineup. They told me a few months ago that I should wait for great things coming out later in 2015, and then issued the “new” 15 year old rums with various finishes.  An evolutionary stopgap, I thought (then and now) — not a radical departure, not a revolution, not great, and not particularly new.  They still don’t have millesimes or annual releases or special stills’ rums of any consequence. The three amigos referenced above are also not marketed worth a damn to exhibit their singular nature, or to take advantage of their remarkable provenance or their accessible proof point. They are priced quite high for rums that don’t have an age statement – together, they cost me north of US$300, and not many people are going to buy such relatively pricey rums unless they are really into the subculture.  So here are some initial problems DDL created for themselves: the age, the year, the outturn, none of this is on the label. Why is the year of distillation and age and bottle count not shouted from the rooftops?  Age confers cachet in any spirit; single stills’, single years’ output even more so.  What’s the holdup with DDL providing such elementary information? Actually, what’s the holdup in creating an entire line of such remarkable rums?

Independent bottlers are the leaders in this field, and there’s enormous interest for these expressions. That single post of mine about the three rums clocked a reach of 400 on FB, and 20 likes on the site, in less than an hour (trust me, that’s fast and furious going for a niche audience such as we writers have).  So knowing that limited release rums sell fast to the cognoscenti, knowing the power of social media, and using my experience as a sort of quasi baseline, I ask again…what’s stopping DDL?

Problems

The very specificity of these rums may be their undoing in the wider rum world, because it is connoisseurs and avid fans and rabid collectors who are most likely to buy them, appreciate them, and understand the divergent/unusual taste profiles, which are quite different from the more commonly available (and best-selling) El Dorados like the 5, 8, 12, 15, 21 and 25 year old. To illustrate further, how many casual rum drinkers even know there are multiple stills at Diamond, and can can name more than the PM or EHP?  One could taste the three single barrel rums, and immediately realize that they certainly aren’t standard sippers or the usual cocktail fodder — which is something of  double edged sword for rum makers, who like to be different….but not too different.

Too, it’s possible that seeing the niche interest these expressions developed over the years which Velier then expanded into a worldwide phenomenon, that the boys on the Top Floor were scared dickless and shut that sucker down fast, lest it bite into profits of more dependable rums….rather than seeing it as an opportunity. I have a feeling relative margins of various products were and are involved here.

Then there’s hard consumer cash: such DDL-made single barrel expressions are by their very nature more expensive and get more so as we climb the age ladder, but there’s another reason they cost so much – DDL never made more, or issued them in great quantity (it’s unknown what the year of the batch is, and I’m not even sure how many were made, let alone whether DDL ever issued more beyond that 2007 year, or ever will again).  

Another reason to scratch my head wondering what they’re thinking.  Are they ignoring the signs of rums’ expanding popularity and the increasing sophistication of the drinking classes, so evident all around them? Or are they simply oblivious? 

General economic musings

Now I know something about how products in a manufacturing environment are priced.  There’s all the input costs of raw materials, plus labour charges, storage costs, prep costs and marketing and distribution and shipping (using various bases of allocation for overheads), to come up with a unit production cost (i.e., what it cost to make each individual bottle).  Depending on the sophistication of the accounting / costing system and the methodology employed, the profit margin is fixed and the rum is released to the market. The brokers, intermediaries, governments, bulk buyers and stores will add fees and markups and taxes to the base selling price, and the result is the €80 to €100 (give or take) which the consumer pays for a middle aged, single barrel expression with 1000 bottles or so issued by an independent bottler. So perhaps this is a lot easier for an independent operation which buys rums from brokers, than it is for a vertically integrated multinational like DDL which has canefields, sugar factories, distillation apparatus, a huge labour force and a supply chain network that is large and far-flung.   

Now, that means the entire revenue stream from such a specific, limited rum is likely to be €100,000 or less…does anyone believe that it “only” costs that amount to shepherd a rum for ten years through all its stages for a company that is as vertically integrated from cane to cork, as DDL?  Not a chance.  Smaller bottlers have it easier since they buy one small set of already-aged barrels at a time, low infrastructure costs, and have a skeleton staff; and this is both their advantage and disadvantage because they lose economies of scale while having a limited output in a barrel that may not succeed after ageing (and lose a lot to the angels in the process), while at the same time being able to pick exactly the barrels they want.

But DDL doesn’t have this issue – they have the infrastructure to age much more than just a few barrels at a time, and there are opportunities for a millesime approach, yearly issues, and yes, single-still aged output from multiple barrels, totalling many thousands of bottles.  The economics favour DDL’s daring to go in this direction, I think, especially at higher levels of output of which they are clearly capable. (Even some limited test marketing would make sense, I think…to the USA, I would suggest, because you wouldn’t believe the volume of wistful emails I get from that country, asking me where I got mine and how can they get some?)

Still, more subjective matters do start to come into play.  For new products without a purchasing history behind them and issued in limited quantities, it’s a risk, a big one, to invest a decade or more in ageing, take the hit from the angels and losses on barrels that don’t work after all that…then bottle perhaps 15% of the original volume, price high and hope sales will follow. Distributors and shops will also not want to give shelf space or prominence to stuff they are unsure will move in volume. Also, new products can cut into the sales of the old dependables upon which all cash flow is based (and which may subsidize loss leaders like the single barrels, which can be uneconomical at first).

But it is my contention that DDL doesn’t need to do this: the path has already been blazed by the independent bottlers; and DDL / El Dorado (and the famed stills) is one of the more recognized, widely sold brands in the rum universe.  Velier has shown the model can succeed. We know for a fact that a ten year old Demerara rum from a single still (at any strength between 45-65%) can reasonably sell for €100 / US$120 and maybe even more.  And the prices escalate with both age and exclusivity, using existing distribution channels and marketing strategies already in place. DDL has spent decades building up its brand and distribution, so these are sunk costs that work to the advantage of selling more, rather than less, of the single-still expressions, even if issued 40% and not cask strength. 

el_dorado_bottlerange

Photo copyright lovedrinks.com

What’s on DDL’s strategic mind?

What this leaves us with is a number (depressing) conjectures about DDL’s short and medium term strategy.

  1. The cash cows of the aged rums which blend the stills’ outputs will continue
  2. Experiments with different cask finishes will gather some steam, concentrating, in my opinion, on the El Dorados 12, 15 and 21 years old (I doubt the 25 year old will be tampered with unless it is to make it stronger).
  3. Yes, spiced rums will continue, maybe even be expanded.  They sell briskly, much to the annoyance of many purists.
  4. The single barrel, still-specific rums may be re-started, but most of the wooden-still outputs will continue to be favoured for producing the 8, 12, 15, 21 and 25 year old blends, and not for anything more specialized.
  5. DDL will make no sudden moves into new (rum) product lines.  The company simply does not seem to be structured to allow experimental development.  That’s why agile little companies like Compagnie des Indies can survive and even make money….using DDL’s rums.

In other words, we can expect the status quo to continue for quite some time. They shut Velier out, but gave us nothing to replace it.

Of course, this is all me being pissy.  I know some of the guys over there, spent many years in Guyana, love the place, like their rums.  It annoys me no end that they almost never respond to emails, provide little beyond marketing materials when they do, have on their website a man gone to the rumshop in the sky many moons ago, and just continue doing the same old thing year after year: as I said, the new finishes on the 15 year old do not really impress me, though I do want to try them (I’m a reviewer after all). 

I think this indifference to smaller market segments is a mistake, however. Because three major trends are gathering a serious head of steam in our world:

  1. Aged scotch is rising in price faster than people can keep up; and as the industry frantically tries to sell NAS whisky to make up for the shortfall of suitably aged reserves, malt-lovers will move more and more to craft rums, especially where profiles are similar. Increasing sales of craft rums and the emergence of more and more small rum-producing companies suggests this trend is well underway, so where is DDL’s response? (Observe the farsightedness of Richard Seale partnering up with Velier in the 2015 release season, a position DDL could have had for the asking given their past association with Luca Gargano)
  2. In about five years, as rum penetrates a critical mass of drinkers who demand unadulterated, cask strength, limited edition, well made products, DDL will likely have revisit the decision to divert its stock to more craft-based offerings and reduce the blends (either that or increase output across the board, and with sugar’s woes in Guyana, that might be problematic…or another opportunity) .  Whether they have sufficient aged rums available at that point to both satisfy the blended-aged market, and something more exclusive, only they can know.  But sooner or later, they will have to start.
  3. The USA cannot keep on subsidizing Bacardi and their ilk forever.  Too many US citizens are already squawking all over social media about how the best rums are never to be found in their location and when they are, the price differential is too great between those and the subsidized rums.  Once they start agitating for reform of subsidies and tax breaks, other countries take the matter to the WTO, and fairer tax regimens and tariffs are passed – and sooner or later this will happen – then craft rums will become more competitive, and the US market will explode.  DDL had better be ready to increase its market share there when this happens. If all they have is the same old menu and live off past glories, then they will fall behind other, nimbler, smarter companies with a more diversified (or focussed) portfolio.

Summing up.

The three single barrel expressions of DDL’s impressive stable point to more serious structural deficiencies of their medium term planning with respect to rums.  They are too weak, too few, and marketed too poorly in a time of an increasingly educated, knowledgeable drinking class. I’m not saying independent bottlers’ craft expressions are the wave of the future – but I do contend that they will get a larger and larger slice of the market in the years to come, and it seems that DDL is poorly positioned to take advantage of this.  If I was on their team, the first thing I’d do is stop selling bulk rum from the wooden stills to anyone, hoard it all, and start issuing high proof, low volume, carefully selected, suitably aged rums in very limited, exclusive markets. 

But nothing I’ve read and heard and seen suggests this is on DDL’s planning horizon. There is a subtle sense of complacency involved here, along the lines of “We have the stills, we have the sugar cane, we have the storage space, and tons of old rums.  We can adapt whenever we chose.”

Maybe.  It will probably be neither so easy or quite so quick.  A small outfit dealing in a few barrels at a time, sure.  A monolith like DDL?  One can only wonder.  And, in the case of me and my rum-chum friends, hope a little.

Update January 2016

This article was overtaken by events, of course.  In January 2016, DDL announced that they would indeed issue three cask-strength expressions, an Enmore, a PM and a Versailles.  No word on issue volumes.  The youngest would be about ten years old and for the moment sold only in Europe.  So the timing of my essay, as well as my conclusions, really sucked…too bad.  Still, I’d rather be wrong and get some good rums to buy, rather and be right and get none. I hope this is a forerunner of many aged rums to come from DDL, and that they live up to the high standard Luca set.

Jun 012010
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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