Mar 042021
 

If two rums from the same company were made the exact same way on the same still, there are just a few things that would explain any profile variations. There’s the still settings themselves, because one rum might have different “cuts” than the other, or from higher or lower plate; there’s the proof point, stronger or weaker, at which either is bottled; and then there’s the barrel strategy, which is to say, the barrel itself and the duration of the rum’s slumber therein.

Last week I looked at a 12 year old Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum from Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, which came off their column still in some undisclosed year and was then aged in ex-bourbon barrels in Central America for more than a decade before being diluted down to a milquetoast 40%.  The 335 bottles of this Nicaraguan rum released by the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society were also 12 years old but allowed to flex the glutes at a solid 55% ABV, was in so many ways a better rum that one can only wonder at the difference. After all, isn’t tropical ageing supposed to be better? Stuff made at the distillery of origin from cane to cork should be benefiting from the voodoo of location, yet clearly that didn’t happen here.

I mean, consider the profile from start to finish.  This SMWS rum was deep and forceful from the get go.  Caramel and toffee melded well with a woody component.  Dark fruits and raisins waft across the nose and combined with some apple cider, threatens to overwhelm the smell…but the toffee, caramel, oak, chocolate and tart yoghurt end up carrying the day.  It’s a bit sweet, with some bitterness after a while, and an emergent strain of coconut and marzipan, with the whole thing getting both darker and sweeter the longer it’s nosed

Palate?  Not bad at all. It’s woody, more so than the Flor de Caña product (and this is something  about their rums many have commented on before); caramel and bitter chocolate wrestle for dominance with dark Russian peasant bread. “It’s kind of like a thin Blairmont and without the complexity,” remarked my friend Marco, who was tasting it unenthusiastically with me (he was not a fan). I disagree there, because when you leave the rum alone for a while (okay fine, I forgot about it and checked it again an hour later, so sue me) it actually provides some nice notes of coffee, brown sugar, apples and vanilla – these temper the slight oaky bitterness we sensed, and while overall I think it is rather simple and the finish just repeats the chorus of notes from above, it’s a pretty powerful statement for the company…and what it could be doing.

I have no way of knowing in which year the Flor 12 was made – company-made blends like that stay stable for long periods and are tweaked to make them that way – and so a comparison between a continentally aged rum from a single barrel selected by a whisky maker, and a blended, easier product continuously being made by the distillery, lacks true comparability or real meaning; and will without question taste differently. And that’s even without going into the oft-repeated doubts as to whether even back then, their rums truly aged for X years.

And yet, and yet….perhaps it should not taste that different. The shared DNA should be clear, there should be points of similarity that would permit a reasoned comparison to be made, the family tree to snap into focus. Here, that’s hard. If pressed, I’d say I felt this one was less like the 12 and more akin to the superlative blue-bottled 15 year old “21” I’ve always liked — but that one was also quite different from other Flor products (it was an anniversary bottling, never repeated).

So taking all that into account, what made the SMWS rum from Nicaragua so relatively good? Maybe they really were made at different times and in different ways and came off the still already more like second cousins than brothers. But assume for a minute that they were the same up to that point:  given the similarity in age, similarity in barrels and assumed sameness off the still, the only thing left to consider is the wide divergence of the proof point, and the ageing location. The 40% TA variant is faint, lacklustre and ultimately boring – it in no way provides the complexity and solidity of tastes the CA 55% does.  

I’m not trying to make a case for continental over tropical (aside from pointing out how pointless the discussion is from a taste perspective) – but I will go on record for suggesting that maybe one reason Flor de Cana can’t seem to increase its market share or get a bigger footprint on the connoisseur’s mindset, is because they have not had the guts to stake out the full proof market for their products, or even issue a limited edition series of single cask releases. And what that means is that other, smaller independents are stealing the thunder and reaping the rewards that by right should have been theirs. All because they couldn’t be bothered to move away from the traditional philosophy of their blenders.

(#806)(85/100)


Other notes’

  • Simon over at the Rum Shop Boy liked the rum, and made some interesting comments in his conclusions: he suggested that its quality disproves the oft-cited myth that lighter column still spirits require dosage to be truly palatable; and also, that a higher proof is a completely acceptable way of delivering more flavour punch to the rum.
Dec 262019
 

Part of the problem with this “rum” is that the bottle itself doesn’t say who made it (the notations refer to the “Budapest Liquor Industry” and “Product of Hungary”) – after some sleuthing around I tracked it down to a company called Zwack, which is famed in the country for its high-alcohol herbal bitters called Unicum (one of the national drinks of Hungary), and a 60% once-it-was-a-rum-but-no-longer called Portorico, which is widely used for baking (like Stroh). Unfortunately its website doesn’t mention the Casino or have a picture, but since I located a Casino bottle label with Zwack printed on it, that cleared things up.

Figuring out what’s in it was harder, and here I drew a blank.  My thinking, however went like this: eastern European countries were famed – or at least renowned – for their inländer (domestic) rums, which were usually ethanol or neutral alcohol that had spices and infusions added to them. Stroh, the Badel Domaci from Croatia and the Tuzemak from Czechoslovakia, and any amount of verschnitts from Germany (Flensburg in particular) followed this pattern, and Zwack itself as a company was noted for its work with alcohols and herbal infusions.  So even though I know little about Zwack’s production specifically — and I was told that some inländer producers are now importing bulk rum produced in the Caribbean — I assume they followed this trend of manufacture generally. That said, I can’t say with assurance whether the Casino was made from molasses or beets, though I suspect it’s the latter.

If we accept these data points, then of course the Casino is not, by all current definitions, a rum, and in point of fact, the entry might just as easily be listed in the Rumaniacs page since this version is no longer being made — the word “rum” was either replaced by “room” or dropped completely from the label when Hungary joined the EU in 2004, and that suggests a manufacture for the product I tasted of around 1988-2003 which actually makes it a heritage rum entry, but what the hell.

Tasting notes, then…

The nose is firm and distinct – the 50% ABV strength helps there, of course –  and quite sweet, almost like a Tokaji. Notes of brown sugar, black tea, and what stays the longest in both nostrils and memory is the sweet notes of gummi bears and lollipops and bubble gum.  There’s other more fruity aromas as well – prunes, rip apricots, peaches, in syrup, some orange peel and chocolate with rum in the centre; as it hangs around it gets flowery and perfumed. Quite a lot going on here, but in terms of a rum profile, not really – it’s all additive-derived, not a genuine rum note in sight.

Palate follows the theme of a spice driven rum with a better-than-usual strength: dry, crisp and quite sweet.  Candied oranges, icing sugar, ginger, no caramel or molasses notes here. It’s spiced for sure, but reasonably well done, and if tasted blind I’d suggest you might think it was a low-rent mid-ester-level Jamaican without the rubber and salt.  The finish is nowhere near to the level of either the nose or the taste – short, dry, harsh, unrelieved by any serious aromas or closing notes over and beyond sweet candies, chocolate oranges and light flowers, plus maybe a hint of cinnamon. 

The funny thing is, I quite liked it.  Not as a sipping rum – its artificiality is way to evident for that – but as a sweet dessert thing to have with or dribble into an ice cream dunked into a double espresso…oh yeah. It’s fine for that.  Unfortunately, not for much else.

(#687)(72/100)


  • My thanks to Tamas Gabor and Gergő Muráth who helped me with the background and research sections.
  • A hydrometer tested this at 46.77% ABV – that works out to about 15g/L additives
  • No information is available on how old the distillate might have been, if it even was aged at all.
Dec 222019
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve bothered to review a rum that isn’t – the Stroh comes to mind, the Czech Tuzemak, or the Mekhong from Thailand. I don’t really mind – these things are lonely, and need a home, need a review, so why not with us? It should also be noted that this product from Eastern Europe is not meant to be a drinking spirit, but one to add to teas and used in cooking, almost unknown outside the Balkans.

The Domaci – the “c” is pronounced “ch” and the word means “Domestic” – is not a spiced rum (i.e.,a rum with spices added), more like the reverse: a spiced concoction of some kind that has rum (or an essence of rum, whatever that might be) added to it. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it is “a spirit based on a special recipe and flavored with an extract of Rum. Its amazing aroma makes it a popular addition to many dishes.” Yeah, okay.  If it was a German thing I’d call it an inländer rum, or verschnitt.

Badel 1862, the company that makes it, is an alcoholic beverages company formed in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, headquartered in Zagreb (Croatia) and still chugging along, they make mostly regional spirits like brandies, vodkas and gins, while simultaneously acting as a distributor for international brands like Bacardi.  As part of the approval for their accession to the EU, they had to rename many of the spirits they were making which were not genuine: “rum” had to be changed to “room” and brandy became “bratsky;” so this provides a convenient dating regime – if your bottle says “room” then it was made after 2013. This one says “rum”, so it was made before.

Unsurprisingly it’s mostly for sale in the Balkans — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, with outliers in Germany — and has made exactly zero impact on the greater rum drinking public in the West.  Wes briefly touched on it with a review of another Croatian product, the Maraska “Room” (similar issues with naming — the EU declined to allow it to be called “rum”), but both the Maraska and the Badel are made the same way. Since I knew none of this when initially tasting the thing, all I was aware of was its puling strength (35%) and its colour (yellow) and went on from there.  

Nose first.  Nope, not my cup of tea.  It reminded me of an eggnog Grandma Caner had made for me once, chock full of ethanol, nutmeg, cumin and cinnamon.  Also sour cream, strawberries, green grapes, and a raft sweet breakfast spices tossed in with the casual abandon of a louche rake distributing his questionable favours. It smelled thin and sweet and lacked any kind of “rumminess” altogether.

Palate? No relief here for the rumistas, though plenty of joy for the sweet toothed. I mean, anyone with even a bit of experience with rums would see that it’s a doctored mess thrown like bread to the masses who know no better, and lasting long enough (over a hundred years, remember) to become a local institution defended with becoming zealotry as “traditional”.  Ethanol, soda pop, fantas and again, bags and bags of spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon for the most part). Vague, meek and mild, with the slightest twinge of sharpness, leading to a short, light and fruity finish of no real distinction

I wrote rather impatiently in my notes “Weak nonsense…but okay, it’s not meant to be a rum, right?” Maybe, but that might let this local Eastern European plonk off the hook.  It used to be called rum, was noted as being domestic, but frankly, they should have named it something else entirely, created its own unique category, rather than associate it with a more rigorously defined spirit with a long tradition of its own. 

There are 40% and 60% variations of this thing floating around and one day if I’m in the neighborhood I might try them. The important thing is that I know what it is, and by writing this essay and you reading it, now, so do you.  Feel free to try it if it ever crosses your path, but know what it is you’re getting, and what it’s good for.

(#686)(65/100)