May 292018
 

#517

Writing about the Milroy Jamaican 26 year old, I rather sourly remarked that there was absolutely nothing to go on regarding the provenance of the rum. No such issue afflicts the 1988 edition of the El Dorado 25 year old rum, which is one of the most recognized premiums ever made. Even increased competition from other Caribbean (or independent) makers has done little to dull its lustre….except among the cognoscenti, who wouldn’t rinse their glencairns with it.

Which, for the uninitiated, seems somewhat extreme. After all, just look at the stats: bottled at 43%, and it’s a true 25 year old rumnobody has ever put a dent in DDL’s age statementsmade by one of the most famous brands in the rumiverse, using the near legendary stills in a masterful assembly: various sources note that the marques of EHP (wooden coffey), PM (double wooden pot still), AN (French Savalle Still) are all part of the blend, and while there is some variation from batch to batch, overall the rum remains remarkably consistent.

So what’s the issue? Well, by now, anyone who has read about DDL’s El Dorado rums isor should beaware that they practice dosing. That is, the addition of caramel syrup or sugar or whatever, in order to smoothen it out and make it more sippable, more elegant, more rounded. This is of course never acknowledged or noted on the label, and it took private hydrometer tests to ascertain that the El Dorado 25 YO 1980 version had around 50g/L of adulterants, and the El Dorado 25 YO 1986 around 39 g/L (I don’t have specs on the 1988). These additions certainly do their duty admirablythe rum is smooth, quiet, an awesome after-dinner sip. But there’s no free lunch in this world, and the price that is paid for that sippability is a muted profilea muffled, muddled, addled, over-sweetened mess that obscures the high points of a rum that old.

Nosing it makes it clear right off the bat. It’s slightly heated, fat and roundedalmost thickly aromatic. The dusky notes of anise and caramel, molasses, coconut and bananas are evident, but just barely. With some effort and concentration, raisins, apricots and prunes can be sensedalmost. It feels toned down, and that’s not just a function of the relatively low strength, but also the suppressive nature of the dosage. And even on the nose the sweetness is self-evident.

This leads to a palate that is, at best, indeterminateat worst it’s a travesty of what a rum aged for twenty five years should be. I spent half an hour sipping this rum in an attempt to take it apart, provide better tasting notesand at the end, all I came up with was vanilla, toffee, molasses and licorice. There were some white chocolate and coffee notes. Vague flowers. Fleshy fruits, very ripe oranges, faint faint faint. And over it all was the sweetness and liqueur-like nature of the whole tasting experience which was simply too much. What this also did was to make the finish practically nonexistent. It was blattened flat by a sort of cloying syrupy-ness, and no subtle tastes really emerged to make the close an enjoyable one.

If you think that this review of the ED-25 is relatively moderate and temperateor even blandyou’re quite right, so let me provide some extra personal details: the day I tasted this thing I was hopping mad with it inside of five minutes, and the very first notes in my book started out “Oh for f**k’s sake!! I wanted to write an R-rated review. I wanted to eviscerate it with foul language that would make a Mudland porknocker cringe. And eventually, I had to write this review four times from scratch lest my disappointed fury bleed too much into the narrative.

And I’ll tell you why I was so pissed offbecause I know there’s better under the hood of this deliberately triple-locked supercar. Because you can sense the quality, the brilliance of what could have been, lurking underneath the dreckbut are kept away from it by a freakin’ wall of additives neither asked for nor wanted, but which it was felt necessary to inflict. Because I’ve eaten labba and drunk creek water and want more out of the country. Because I know DDL can do, and has done, better. It’s like the Little Caner dumping on a school test because he was too lazy to study even though he knew the material inside out. And like his results when he pulls this crap, were they to be given, the ED-25 (1988) doesn’t deserve to be rated. I’m that incensed.

So I’m not going to score this rum. What’s the point? Those who want a five hundred dollar hooch with a cool presentation and excellent age won’t care enough to read this; those who despise dosage and adulteration in any form will never spring the coin, and the more knowledgeable folks in the middle know there’s better out there for lesssometimes even from El Doradoand will be neither surprised nor appreciative. I’m going to suggest that if you want a smooth, sweet, well-aged rum and can get it for free as part of a tasting or a sample set, then by all means, go for it. Want to impress people who know nothing about rum, here’s one to wow their socks off. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

(Unscored)


Other notes

In the days after this post got shared on FB, it got a remarkable amount of traction in the comment section, especially in Rum Club Canada and The Ministry of Rum. Most agreed, and others were, I imagine, amused by the idea of the Caner losing his temper.

May 132018
 

#511

The El Dorado 12 Year Old is something of an econo-budget kind of rum, lacking both the price tag and the relative quality of its upscale brothers the 15 and 21 year old. It’s a rum often overlooked in people’s enjoyment of the those two, and with good reasonit lacks much of what makes the 15 worth drinking, and is only a minor step up from the 8 year old, or even the very nice 3 year old white, both of which are cheaper. Nowadays, I usually pass it by, but the thing is referred to so often by the young, the curious, and the newcomers, that I wanted to check it out again.

What makes it less of a drink than any of the other rums noted above yet better value for money than even DDL’s 25 Year Olds is its relative simplicity. It derives partly from the Enmore wooden coffey still, and the dominant part is the SVW marque which implies the metal two column coffey still at Diamond, nothing too special there. And while it’s been aged, it just doesn’t have any of the true complexity which we see lurking behind the dosage in the 15 or 21 — that adulteration does serious damage to the profile by muffling the flavours that do exist like a wet blanket. Add to that a drowsy sort of 40% strength and you’re not really left with much that a person who likes clean and distinct tastes would truly enjoy and recommend in these days of stern 60% behemoths.

Consider the way it begins, on the nose: it has aromas redolent of butterscotch, caramel, prunes and raisins, with very little edge or bite or sharpness. It’s warm to inhale, and after opening up, it gets a little more heated and a little licorice and darker fruity notes emergeor try to. It feels really muffled, somehow, and the thing is, while quite pleasant, it lacks real complexity and is almost simple; even here, at this preliminary stage, it doesn’t take much experience with “clean” rums to suspect that something has been added to make it this way.

Such thoughts continue on the palate, where the feeling becomes the obvious. So, it’s sweet, warm, yet oddly thin too (that’s the 40% talking, I suppose). Caramel, some weak molasses and butterscotch remain the core flavours, and the fruits (prunes, peaches, pineapple) are making a fast exitwhat is left is mostly crisper spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, plus oak and some leather and a last despairing gasp of anise. The pervasiveness of caramel becomes a heavy blanket silencing all but the sharpest notes, and while this is precisely what makes it such an appreciated intro-rum to those on a shoestring and with an interest, for anyone who’s had more than ten decent rums, it falls down. The finish remains the weakest point of the rum, hardly worth remarking onthin, quick, and you really have to concentrate to make out anything beyond caramel and damp brown sugar. Perhaps a last shake from the spice jar, if you try hard.

Seen at a remove of nearly ten years, I still remember why I liked it and why new entrants to rum recommend it so often (there’s a recent review post on reddit that rates it 87). But what it showcases is rather more potential and maybe even wishful thinking than reality. It teases without coming through, it bluffs with a lone pair and is upstaged by its brothers up and down the line.

I noted above that it may be better value for money than the 25 YO and 50th Anniversary halo rums. Leaving aside the pure price differential it’s primarily a matter of those rums being incremental quality increases per geometrically more bucks spent. For sure you can taste the underlying structural assembly of the 25s (any one, 1980, 1986 or 1988) in a way the 12 can’t hope to match, but the adulteration blunts the impact of all equally, and what’s left after that’s factored in is simply that the 12 is a better buy for the coin you shell out if you don’t have much of it.

Although I bought the 12 thinking of it as a candidate for the Key Rums series, now I don’t believe it belongs on that listit does not stand as an honest blend on its own merits and too much back-end crap has been added to it. The rum rests on its laurels as a great rum of Yesteryear in the memories of its older adherents, rather than being a poster boy for innovation and quality in the Now.

However, let’s be honestmy disparaging notes here are made from the perspective of a person who has tried several hundreds of rums from across the spectrum, not as a guy who’s just starting out and has four or five little rumlets in the drinks cupboard. On the basis of using the 12 as an introductory spirit, I’m equallyif paradoxicallycomfortable asserting that for anyone who wants a cheap starter rum to get familiar with the Guyanese stills, which may one day ripen into a full blown love affair with PM, EHP, ICBU or VSG marques on their own (and at cask strength), then the 12 may just be a good place to startand then move away from at top speed.

(72/100)


Other notes

Various measurements confirm 35-39 g/L of additives, probably caramel.

Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer. They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier. It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever madeit’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the startdeep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts wellsalty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke. All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being soundedbut underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old. It left meuneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested itand the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle). But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows aboutso why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend? Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash? I mean, wtf, right?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives). It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy. Jaded rumistas will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-downtoo well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.” Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decentbut only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicornwhich probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
Mar 312018
 

#501

If there was ever a standard strength, filtered white rum that could drag the Bacardi Superior behind the outhouse and whale the tar out of it, this is the one. I bought the thing on a whim, tasted it with some surprise and ended up being quietly impressed with the overall quality. I know it’s made to be the base for cocktails, and when it comes to badass white-rum-bragging-rights from Mudland the local High Wine is the Big Gunbut you know, as either a trial sipping experience, a cocktail ingredient or just to have something different that won’t rip your face off like Neisson L’Espirit 70⁰ … this rum is not bad at all.

Now according to the El Dorado site this rum derives from the Skeldon and Blairmont marques, which suggests the French Savalle still, not any of the wooden ones, or perhaps the same coffey still at Diamond that made the DDL Superior High Wine. Maybe. I sometimes wonder if they themselves remember which stills make which marques, given how often the stills were moved around the estates before being consolidated at Diamond. Never mind though, that’s niggly rum-nerd stuff. Aged three years in ex-bourbon casks, charcoal-filtered twicewhich to my mind might have been two times too manyand then bottled at a meek 40%.

Yeah, 40%. I nearly put the thing back on the shelf just because of that. Just going by comments on FB, there is something of a niche market for well made 45-50% whites which DDL could be colonizing, but it seems that the standard strength rums are their preferred Old Dependables and so they probably don’t want to rock the boat by going higher (yet). I can only shrug, and move onand it’s a good thing I didn’t ignore the rum, because it presented remarkably well, punching above its weight and dispelling many of my own initial doubts.

Nose first: yes, it certainly reminded me of the High Wine. Glue, acetone and sugar water led off, plus some rubber, brine and light fruits. Even at the placid strength it had, you could sense potential coiling around in the background, a maelstrom of apples, pears, vanilla, light smoke and unsweetened yoghurt, plus tarter, more acidic notes of orange peel, mangoes and a twirl of licorice. None of these was forceful enough to really provide a smack in the face or to elevate it to something amazing or original; they were just visible enough to be noticed and appreciated without actually emerging to do battle. It smelled something like a low-rent Enmore, actually and kind of resembled El Dorados own 12 year old

Tastewise, there was certainly nothing to complain about. It was reasonably hot, a little rough on the tongue, given to sharpness rather than smoothness. Vanilla, apples, green grapes, bitter chocolate, some indeterminate light fruits, sugar water, coconut shavings; and also a not-entirely-pleasant taste of almond milk, with the whole drink possessing the edge that made it more than a merely pleasant or bland or eager-to-please cocktail ingredient of no particular distinction. The finish, redolent of vanilla, brine, citrus and yoghurt, was actually quite good, by the wayshort, of course, and faint, but nice and warm and with just enough edge to make it stand apart from similar whites.

Where the El Dorado white 3 year old succeeds, I think, is in having a certain element of character, for all its youth. That was always the problem I had with the low end Bacardis or Lambs or other boring white stuff on sale in the LCBOs of Ontario (for example), with which this must inevitably be compared: they all felt so tamed and buttoned down and eager to please, that any adventurousness and uniqueness of profilebraggadoccio if you willseemed squeezed out in an effort to appeal (and sell) to as many as possible. They had alcohol and a light taste, and that was it: bluntly speaking, they were yawn-throughsand mixing them to juice up a cocktail was the best one could hope for.

Not here. This rum has some uncouth street-tough edge, plus a bit of complexity from the ageing, and originality from the still which is lightly planed down by the filtrationyet retains the taste of something strange and barbaric. And it still doesn’t scare off those who don’t want a cask strength screaming bastard like, oh, a clairin. For any rum made at 40% to be able to tick all these boxes and come out the other end as a rum I could reasonably recommend, is quite an achievement, and makes me want to re-evaluate its stronger older brother immediately.

(81/100)

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 awareand never tire of sayingthat 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 stillswhich is to say, all the wooden stills, with the PM dominantkeeps 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 welllicorice, anise, creamy caramel, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke. Orange rind. Some mustiness and vague saltbasically 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 playprunes, 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 outthe 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 doa 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 cleara 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 Rumnot 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 challengeFoursquare 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 cachetan affliction shared by, oh, the Flor de Cana 18. That cachet can be conferred, for example, by purity: but it sure isn’t thatit’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 failingsbut 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-2017some seven and a half years after my first encounter with itshowed how both I and the world had changed. Many of the elements I so loved back in the day remainedthe 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 spicescinnamon, nutmeg, clovesand 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 wayat 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 beforefrankly, 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 trueit’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 experienceit’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 timeand my tastes, and indeed I myselfmoved 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 stillfor 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 courseunadulterated 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.

Colourdark red-amber

Strength – 43%

NoseMarginally 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.

PalateTakes the promise and trashes itworst 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 sugarit was just too overbearingit 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.

FinishToo short, to pale, too sweet. Nothing much going on here.

ThoughtsWhat 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 rumsand 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 aboutDDL’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 ‘presentationvoice 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-stylerums 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 latelywith Samaroli and a few others becoming available, with online media like Facebook, with the reviews of English language rum bloggersthat 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 cataloguewe 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-proofRare Collectionmight 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 upage (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 alsoLuca 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 forwardkeenlyto 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 whimnot 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 rumsback 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 marketplacebrand visibility and recognition, market penetration, and the great stills like PM and EHP, to name just threeyou 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 againwhat’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 fodderwhich 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 lessdoes 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 issuethey 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 thinkto 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 thatthen 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 problematicor 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 passedand sooner or later this will happenthen 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 futurebut 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 suckedtoo 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.

Feb 042011
 

As long as you like a darker, heavier profile of fruity and dark sugar notes, this is a rum that gets better and better as you compare more and more rums to it.

First posted Feb 4, 2011 on Liquorature

The median of the el Dorado range exhibits a schizophrenic character, in line with its uncertain position as neither the entrance level rum (that honour probably belongs to the five year old), or its other bastard brother the single barrel, or any of its two superior sipping cousins, the 15 or 21. It’s kinda left alone to sink or swim on its own merits.

Those merits aren’t half bad, I should note. Readers might as well be warned, however: I have a weakness for dark rums of slight sweetness and age, and therefore I regard El Dorado’s as particularly good specimens of the type, never mind that they come from a country I spent many years in and of which I still retain fond memoriesand where I was able to pass through many of the sugar plantationsPort Mourant, Diamond and otherswhere DDL gets its raw materials and stills.

I had the 12 year the same night I meant to sample all the other rums in the range, but as noted in the 15 year old review, I was tired, irritated and feeling crabby after a particularly loathsome day at the office, and therefore limited myself to retrying the 12, and then moving upscale.

The thing is, as a rum in its own right, the 12 isn’t half bad. Made from molasses in the Enmore and Diamond coffey stills and blended with a lead spirit from the Port Mourant double pot still (the only wooden one still in existence, and which also makes the Single Barrel, and several European specialist makers) and then matured in used bourbon barrels, the 12 is not quite the equal of the 15; however, DDL have taken steps in 2006 to rejig the blend, so that now it seems to be right there on the ladder leading up to the premium sippers above it.

The nose is a bit sharp, but you can see where the progression is leading: molasses, fruit, some toffee, caramel and burnt sugar assail your nose in waves of olfactory harmony. The blend is rich and mellow and it comes out in the smell, in spite of the sharper tannins from the oak barrels making themselves felt early on.

The rum is a dark tawny colour (not as dark as the subsequent older iterations, but getting there), and of a medium heavy body; it hugs the sides of your glass as if reluctant to seep back down, when swirled. On the palate, it reminds me somewhat of an untamed horse: not entirely sure where it’s going, it bucks and kicks you some, scrapes across your tongue, but you sort of forgive that, because the overall blend of flavour and texture is so good. There is a deep flavour of dark sugar and spice, mixed in with the tang of citrus, softness of toffee, all mixed around with a lush caramel (and I’m a sucker for that, as my purchases of ice cream will attest).

The 12 fails on the backstretch, I judgeit’s a bit too harsh for a good twelve year old rum, and one expects better (the 15 more than makes up for that, I should note). This does not invalidate is as a sipper, just makes you want to run out and buy the next one up the line, or add ice, maybe a splash of chaser. But on it’s own terms, with the balance of sweet and spice and burn, with a mellow finish that lasts a pleasantly long time and oils the back of your throat for longer than you have a right to expectwell, what can I say? It’s a success for its age.

Having written all the above, what would I recommend? Truth to tell, I’d use this as a high end mixer for sure, and if looking for a premium sipper, just go up to the 15, or blow a hundred for the 21. But as a general all rounder for a lower price, this one is hard to beatit deserves a place on your shelf for all those visitors to your rooms or houses or apartments who want to try something a bit richer than Bacardi, Appleton V/X, Lamb’s or Mount Gay (those standard staples of the young), but don’t want to bust the bank doing it.

(#0098)(83/100)

 

Oct 262010
 

First posted Oct 26, 2010 on Liquorature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…but only once.

(#035)(Unscored)


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

Sep 102010
 

First posted 10 September 2010 on Liquorature #036

The 15 year old is a different animal from it’s older and younger sublings, and resides on the top of the sippers lists of many a rum aficionado.

The 15 year old is the bridge. It is the last bottle in DDL’s premium line that will not set you back three figures, and still has the cheery character of a younger rum, the cheeky palate that dances and laughs across your tongue and then happily bitch slaps you for your trouble with all the insouciance of the first girl who ever refused you a dance. In it you see the developing hints of the mastery first seen in the 12 year old that culminates the 21 year old.

I was all set to do a vertical tasting of all the El Dorados: the 5 yr, single barrel, 12, 15 and 21 year old, but truth was, the day I had set aside for this I was just to damned tired, and having had the 21 year old not too long before, I contented myself with sipping the 12 year old to refresh my memory, and then cracked the 15 year old I had managed to snag the week before; and that, by the way, was a stroke of luck, because it was the last bottle Willow Park had on the shelfthey may have had more, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Demerara Distillers Limited is one of the largest and quite possibly the most professionally run international enterprise headquartered in Guyana. It’s main competitor in the liquor trade, Banks DIH, is a blender of the XM rum line, and producer of other spirits, beers and soft drinks (and of the marvellously named bottled waterTropical Mist”), but for my money, when it comes to premium hooch, it’s DDL, and that enterprise stands alone.

The El Dorado series is DDL’s premium export line (as opposed to the decidedly mediocre local crap, the King of Diamonds or Russian Bear which people my age cut their teeth on, which even locals avoid(ed) if they can get the XM-5), and readers of my reviews, knowing my preferences, should not be surprised at how much affection I hold for El Dorados. Part of that comes from the complexity of the blend, coming as it does from fifteen to twenty five year old rums originating in the Enmore and Diamond Coffey stills, the Port Mourant double wooden pot still, and the Versailles single wooden pot still, all blended and aged in old bourbon oak casks. The quality shows.

The fifteen is a rich, dark blend characteristic of Guyanese rums, almost opaque (though not as dark as the inkiness of the Kraken, or, for that matter, its older sibling the 21 year old); it’s redolent of molasses and dark brown Demerara sugar in a freshly opened packet. There’s a sort of charcoal note wrapped around the nose somewhere, something smoky, and not at all unpleasant. Toffee and fruit jam. Like the 21 year, but not quite as much, the medium heavy dark body slowly slides back down the sides of the glass in lazy, fat legs of a Bourda market fishwife.

On the tongue, the rum is a sort of intense marriage of deep flavours. Dark chocolate (unsweetened, dried fruit, licorice, a flirt of anise start you off. You can taste the oak imparted by the barrels the components of the blend were aged in, but amazingly, they never overtake the whole blend. Note also that DDL, almost alone among premium rum makers, follows the whisky rule of stating the age of the rum as the age of the youngest part of the blend. You can separate out well balanced hints of caramel, molasses, burnt sugar, wound around with the faintest hint of cinnamon and vanilla, and the barest trace of orange peel. There is just enough sweet for me to appreciate depth and body, and just little enough to pronounce its age. In fairness, it’s a phenomenally well-balanced drink over allit can go well neat, on ice or even as a mixer (I do not recommend it as a cocktail, mind you, since it requires no adornment or enhancing).

The finish is an excellent deep burn, not really painful per se, more like a heated liquidtea! – slowly carving its way down, and it’s excellently long. Yes it does have a bit of sting to it (like the playful smack I mentioned above), but it’s not malicious in a way I often have complained about in the Appletons or the French agricolesmore like a friendly backslap to sayLater dude,” from a friend who doesn’t know his strength.

I don’t give numerical ratings as a general rule, because I want my explanation to speak for my experience, and maybe that’s a mistake, seeing how much stock readers seem to place in The Last Hippie’s Whisky ratings and the numbers he assigns to nose, palate, finish and intangibles. But in the case of this strikingly original fifteen year old, I think I might make this concession: while sticking to my guns regarding a numerical score, I will be honest to admit that on a five star scale, El Dorado 15 year old easily demonstrates that it warrants no less than four, and if it wasn’t for its even more stellar older brother, I’d give it a 4.5 star rating right away.

El Dorado 15 is on par with the Zaya 12 year, and handily eclipses the Captain Morgan Private Stock, and gives the Bruichladdich Renegade line and the upper level Flor de Cañas a run for their money at a lesser price. I actually think it’s better than most of these. If you’re looking for an intro to the world of good sippers, or a gift of liquor that is at the top of the midrange, look no further. You’ve found it.

(#0036)(Unscored)


Update December 2016

After years of selling this top class 15 year old rum, El Dorado has come in for serious opprobium in the rum community for not disclosing the addition of sugar across the line (30-38 g/L for the 15 year old depending on who’s doing the measuring, and when). I still like the rum a lot, and don’t always have a problem with additions, but I’m a bear on disclosure, and really annoyed by the fact that it was never acknowledged by DDL, to this day.

Update December 2017

After re-tasting this rum and taking account of its enduring popularity and overall worth (in spite of the dosing issues noted), I have named it one of the Key Rums of the World

Jul 302010
 

First posted 30 July 2010 on Liquorature.

We’ve tasted the El Dorado 21 year old (a superb example of the distiller’s art) and I have a 12 year old kicking around somewhere that I’m awaiting the return of the Bear to crack, but since the low end of the scale was available, it formed the third part of the three-rum selection for the July 2010 gathering. I’d like to point out that what Demerara Distillers markets abroad as 5-year, is vastly different from what is foisted on the local market in Guyana, and that’s a shame, since it says that leavings are given to the locals, while high-revenue earners are shipped abroad.

DDL is headed by a marketing dynamo: Yesu Persaud, the Chairman of the company, saw the emergence of premium sipping rums coming and lay down stocks from the 1980s and even before that; so in 1992, when DDL issued the El Dorado 15 year old Special Reserve, it showed that rum, like whisky, could compete for the sipping market on level terms. Tooand for this I have to give full credit and many attaboysDDL has used the whisky principle of stating that when something is a 12 year old or 15 year old, then that is the component of the drink that is the youngest part of the blend.

As the picture shows, this is a brown-gold rum, not terribly heavy in density. Baby legs scamper in scrawny rills back down the glass in labba-time, and those nose is simple, without complexitythe usual caramel and burnt sugar offering, though somewhat lighter than usual, and with some cinnamon and perhaps coconut thrown in for good measure. There’s that spirity sting on the schnozz to watch out for, of course. About what one would expect from a five year old. I’m beginning to come to the belated conclusion that the only real difference between a five and a fifty year old is the care taken to smoothen out and balance the various tastes and burnsyounger babies are simply bastard offsprings of more noble sires and have not yet grown into their stature, so to speak.

Tastewise, I have the advantageor suffer under the burdenof having tasted DDLs crap ware in the old country, so my expectations of their single digit rums are always low (I concede that the exported tipple is miles ahead of the local market hooch). But I must admit that the five caught me off guard: I had been expecting the slightly dark sweetness of DDLs older offerings, but got instead something drier, smokier and more distinctive. The flavour of coconut, anise and caramel blends into something akin to a very strong, unsweetened tea carving its way down your throat, with a bite of heat rather than that of acid (I hope I’m making the distinction clear). Sure there is burn at the back end, but less than I would have imaginedactually, the rum reminds me of a young cognac more than anything else.

Which is not to say I was entirely enamoured of DDL’s rum here. You know me and my love for sweets, so on that level, plus the rather low effort put into muting the burn, it’s sort of apar for the coursekinda deal; a very nice little mixer, however. Cola fills out the sweetness and body the rum itself is missing. I’m prone to playing favourites, and I really like the 21 year old, so if I was in a good mood (which I was) I’d certainly give this one a pass on the strength of my appreciation for its sibs and its quality as a mixing base. As a sipper, however, much as I’d like to state otherwise, I’d rather stay away from it.

Still, for a five year, that’s still polling ahead of the margin, I’d have to say.

(#031)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • I ran four five year old rumsincluding a later edition of this oneagainst each other in 2012, here, if you’re interested.

 

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 ofbeforeand a cautionary tale of starting with high end rums too early in one’s career before proper groundwork and wider experience is gained.

May 242010
 

 

First posted 24 May 2010 on Liquorature.

I always admire some level of originality, whether it is in food, drink, a book, movies or simply the way something looks. In an era of mass production and conformity, too much of what we buy or see is an exact copy of the same thing we bought or saw somewhere else. On that basis, I was quite happy to see Demerara Distillerssquare, tall bottle of the El Dorado Single Barrel ICBU when it was presented at the April 2010 session of the club, and since it was not only a rum, but from Guyana, I knew I was in for something interesting. Maybe the review would not be positive, but at least I would not have been bored during the sampling.

The El Dorado rum is made with the French Savalle Heritage Still from Plantation Uitvlugt (hence the ICBU marque), where a sugar factory has been functioning since 1753. It appears to be a blend as opposed to something specific and aged on its own, which is why once again there is no official age on the bottleregular readers of my rum commentary will know this to be a personal bugbear of mine, though admittedly DDL is better than most in identifying senior blends with the age of the youngest component. Still, as it is somewhat lighter than the Special Reserve 15 year oldthis may come from the fact that it does originate from a single barrelI venture a guess that the main component of the blend is a ten or twelve year old (see other notes below this review). It is a curious matter that the DDL site makes no mention of this rum at all, at this time (2010).

The rum is a deep bronze redolent of burnt Demerara sugar, with nice legs hinting at a full, dark body. A certain woodiness attends the nose along with the faint toffee and sugarit’s like a faint smell of new rain on sun-warmed wood chips, and nicely enhanced by the attendant caramel. In a way it reminded me of the aftersmell of burning cane fields at harvest time on the East Bank of the Demerara, where I once lived.

Neat it was a pleasant sipper; to my mind the smoothness of the taste was defeated by the somewhat harsher tannins and woodsy tastes the nose had hinted at. In recent years, the only DDL offering I have had was the stellar 21 year old (also reviewed on this site), and there the sharp tang of wood (I’m not yet so refined as to tell you what kind) was quite muted and blended well into the overall flavour profile. Here, less effort had been put in and the taste was therefore more pronounced. Not really in a bad way, but it did put off the sweetness of the rum quite a bit, and made it somewhat drier. Nutmeg and cinnamon came through clearly on the palate, along with coconut and vanilla, all somewhat overwhelmed by the pungency of the wood bite. I liked it better on ice, all things considered, and yes, as a mixer it’s excellent. The finish is long, and the burn lingers and that is not necessarily pleasant for all: it was not for me.

I hesitate to pronounce any kind of definitive judgement on this rum. As a reviewer who looks for certain things to describe, I must concede its taste and body. It’s intriguing, flavourful and while not as unique as the Bundy, quite forceful in its own way: and as I said at the beginning of this rum review, I am always appreciative of efforts at originalityit hints at a blender who is willing to go outside the box. As a man who has friends over, it would not be the first thing I trot out for my guests, however, since it goes a bit over the trench and off the plantation, so to speak. Oh, it’s a rum all right, and quite a good one: just a shade differentenough so that most people might take a glass or two out of curiosity, but then shrug and move on to more convivial and comfortingly familiar fare.

(#020)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • The rum is a blend of French Savalle still barrels aged between 12-13 years, according to a clarification on El Dorado’s FB page. Cark Kanto, who worked with DDL as a Production Manager, told me that it was a blend of rums around 13-16 years old.
  • The rum was released in 2007 to commemorate the cricket World Cup, some matches of which were held in Guyanathe shape of the bottle to resemble a cricket bat is therefore not an accident.
  • In tandem with this Uitvlugt ICBU, two other rums from the wooden heritage stills were released: a Port Mourant PM, and an Enmore EHP. I wrote about the trio together in a single post in 2015.
Feb 192010
 

D3S_6898

First posted Feb 19, 2010 on Liquorature.

Deep, smooth, elegant, complex, affordable. Brilliant rum catering to all my tastes.

It seems to be a cruel irony that I always find the rums I desperately want to buy and take a taste of when (a) my frugal better half is casting baleful glares in my direction, (b) my friend The Bear is unavailable to assist in the sampling and (c) cash is shortor at least, pay day is nowhere in sight, which amounts to the same thing. All three were in evidence this Friday, when, for reasons we shall not get into here, I was in the Calgary Airport liquor store. Now why they would have a store in a place that does not allow you to bring the good stuff aboard except in checked luggage (at which every West Indian I ever met would blanch, shudder and mutter thatdem peepl nah gat sensis where else me go drink it?”) escapes me, but I ended up snagging one of the three bottles I was after: the Demerara Distilleries El Dorado Special Reserve 21 Year Old.

For those unfortunate souls not from the West Indies, or the even sadder ones who know nothing about Guyana, let it be said that two mighty local spirits outfits vie for control of the local and export market: Banks DIH (a blender and beer maker) and Demerara Distilleries (a true distillery). There isn’t a Guyanese alive, of this I am convinced, who does not recall the sniff of fermenting sugar as he passes Diamond Estate to or from the airport. This is where DDL has its base of operations, and this is where they blend the elite little package that I prepared to sample some thousands of miles away.

For a rum costing close to a hundred, the packaging is surprisingly cheap printed thin cardboard, but okay. It’s what was within that I was after. DDL matures this baby in used oak whisky and bourbon barrels, and the aroma of the cork bears this out. The aroma was a pungent mix of burnt sugar, spices, soft and thick, chopped fruit in a black cake, butterscotch and caramel, molasses and smoke and I dunnoperhaps some oak, all blended very smoothly and almost inseparably in there. A first taste neat and then another on the rocks made it clear that DDL put some effort into making this a somewhat dry rum (more so than the 15 year old), but it developed on the palate very nicely, and I think The Bear would agree that it was enhanced by the whiskey notes, the same way he really appreciated the Renegade 1991. The sheer amount of tastes coming through was astounding: chocolate, coffee, mocha, truffles, raisins, dates, black currants and blackberries, anise, licorice, molasseseach flavour chased its way genteelly up one side of my palate and down the other.

Very very smooth, hardly any bite on the way down. And a long finish, where those sweet highlights come out and almost, but not quite, overpower all the other spices.

Good stuff this. At 40% it is like caramel velvet going down, and it’s one of those like the English Harbour 25, that I would not tamper with, it’s that goodno coke for this baby. It can’t class with the English Harbour all the way (at half the price, that would have been practically a miracle), but I’ll tell you thisit gives similar price point rums like the Appleton Master Blender’s Legacy a run for its money. It may disappoint on a second tasting, but thus far, for me, it’s one of the better neat rums I’ve ever tasted, and it wasn’t wasted money. Too bad the Club was not meeting this weekI would have loved to bring it along for an introduction.

Update: three weeks later the Bear and I sampled this together for my second go-around on the bottle. While his tongue had already been desensitized by the English Harbour Five we’d been sipping for the previous half hour (he agrees this is one of the great SDRs around), he was clean-bowled by the sheer quality of this 21-year. Unlike me he took no umbrage at the cheap packing, since, in his view, it does not add to the price and what you get is what you pay for. An interesting point. But after he wiped his misty eyes dry, he said that this was such a smooth, well-balanced rum that it might even be better than the EH-25. Looks like I’m not the only one to think this way.

(#015)(88/100)


Update October 2017

  • I have done a complete re-tasting and re-assessment of the ED21 and appreciated it the same way, noted the failings more clearly (mostly to do with strength and additives), scored it slightly lowerand named it one of the Key Rums of the World.
  • As a completely irrelevant aside, Grandpa Caner likes the El Dorado 15 Year Old better and refuses to cede pride of place.