Sep 222021
 

€57. Think about that for a minute. That’s how much this rum cost when it was first released in 2005. Good luck finding it anywhere near that, now. By 2019 the bottle price had already climbed past £1800 and as of this writing it is closing in on three grand on the auction listings.  And it’s not even the most famed or the best of the Demeraras, because the unicorns most avidly sought after and collected tend to be the PM and Skeldons, and maybe the Albions and UF30E. For some reason, Diamond, LBI, Blairmont and Uitvlugt rums from the canon, even those from pre-1990, are occasionally deemed as “less” — whatever that can possibly mean in this day and age — though of course still appreciating nicely on secondary markets.

Photo (c) Velier

The French Savalle-still Guyanese rum released by Velier may not be one of the top-tier three-decade-old grail quests (unless it’s being sourced by a canny and knowledgeable investor-fan who knows better), but I submit it certainly has the pedigree to be included in the pantheon. Distilled in 1988 and aged in Guyana until 2005, it’s a robust 52.9% 17 year old rum whose origin still was housed at Uitvlugt at the time, and four barrels came together to produce 1091 bottles, which, if they used ex-bourbon American Standard barrels, implies an angel’s share so measly as to be impossible – Luca Gargano got back to me and said it was four 200-liter refilled (i.e. consolidated) barrels.

The aromas of this thing were certainly of that rich thickness that marked out others from that far back. The nose was initially spectacular – plasticine, furniture polish, fresh paint over new wood; briny and olive-y, offset by a wonderful scent of autumn leaves after a rain, damp aromatic tobacco, and the deep smell of ripe, fleshy fruits. As it opened up molasses and salt caramel ice cream came forward and were joined by darker and oversweet prunes, blackberries, red cherries…they teetered right on the edge of going off altogether before pulling back from the brink.  Crisp and musky at the same time, the nose had just a trace of tannins at the back end, and was, after some time, even faintly bitter – the fruits were there, but so was the hint of something sour, like an almost spoiled lemon.

The palate was a curious beast, again quite briny, which I thought unusual for an Uitvlugt.  Too, there were these peculiar – if faint – notes of tar and petrol, then the sour-sweet taste of freshly-grated ginger. However, after these badasses came, sneered and then departed, we were thankfully in more familiar territory: molasses, caramel, and burnt sugar took over the stage, to be joined by lemons, chocolate oranges, a freshly baked meringue pie, raisins, dates and prunes. You might think that such notes would present as somewhat oversweet, but the rum never quite overstepped the mark and stayed crisp and flavourful without too much excess in any department. I particularly loved the lingering finish, which was a touch sharp, fruity, warm, redolent of breakfast spices and some olives, as warm and welcome and sweet as Mrs. Caner’s kisses when I promise to buy her that Prada purse she’s been after for so long.

It’s become almost conventional wisdom that the Age’s Demeraras are the pinnacle of everything a Demerara rum could ever aspire to be. Few rums from anywhere equal them, fewer surpass them and they are both summit and baseline for any Demeraras ever made. Given the mania to get one, and the aura of near mythical invincibility surrounding the series, it is difficult nowadays to be objective about any of them…though cold reason suggests that statements of their magnificence are unlikely to be true in every single case.

Still, we have to face facts – the early rums distilled in the ’70s and ’80s really were and are a cut above the ordinary, and there are few weaklings in the bunch, which is why a rum like this can now be found only on secondary markets for four figures. Even parking my cynicism and experience, I have to concede that the Uitvlugt 1988 is so good and so tasty and so approachable – and so limited – that in the years to come, it might go the way of the Skeldons and bankrupt a third world nation. It was and remains a rum seething with the richness of a great spirit in any category, and has added luster to the annals of the Demeraras.

(#852)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • Angel’s share calculation: 1,091 bottles x 0.7 liters/bottle ÷ 4 barrels = 191 liters/barrel, which works out to a loss from the maximum 800 liters (4 x 200 liters for the “standard” ASB) of around 5%. Luca Gargano confirmed (a week after this article went up) that several 200 Liter barrels had been consolidated into the four which were mentioned on the label..
  • The marque on the barrels is SP-ICBU. Tech details from Velier’s site.
  • Not many reviews out there.  Single Cask Rum was really enthusiastic about this one (96 points), much more so than I was, while Marco, in one of the first such reviews back in 2014, was less positive in his unscored review and as usual, his historical detail is impeccable. Gregers Nielsen, one of my rum chums, was so horrified by my “measly” score that he nearly unfriended me on the spot, since he felt it to be one of the top five Velier Demeraras ever made.
Apr 222021
 

One of the things that irritates me about this blended rum from Guyana which Rum Nation released in 2019, is the carelessness of the front label design.  I mean, seriously, how is it possible that “British Guyana” can actually be on a rum label in the 21st century, when Guyana has not been British anything since 1966 and when it was, it was spelled “Guiana”? Are designers really that clueless? And lest you think this is just me having a surfeit of my daily snarky-pills, think about it this way: if they couldn’t care enough to get their facts right about stuff so simple, what else is there on the label I can’t trust?

Still: I am grateful that the back label is more informative. Here, it is clearly spelled out that the rum is a blend of distillate from the French Savalle still, the (Enmore) wooden coffey still and the (Port Mourant) double wooden pot still, and this blend was aged for four years in the tropics (in British Guyana, one may assume) before undergoing a secondary European maturation for six years in ex-oloroso casks, and then decanted into 2,715 bottles, each at 56.4% ABV. What this is, then, is a bottling similar to DDL’s own experimental blended Rares, which has dropped completely out of sight since its introduction in 2019. A similar fate appears to have befallen this one since I don’t know the last time I saw one pop up at auction, let alone on social media.

But perhaps it’s an undiscovered steal, so let’s look deeper.  Nose first: it’s surprisingly simple, even straightforward. It’s warm and thick, and represents the wooden stills in fine style – dusty, redolent of breakfast spices, oak and vanilla at first, then allows additional aromas of coffee grounds, raisins, dried orange peel dark fruits, licorice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the oloroso influence is dominating though, and in fact it seems rather dialled down, which is unexpected for a rum with a six year sleep in sherry barrels.

I do, on the other hand, like the taste. It’s warm and rich and the Enmore still profile – freshly sawn lumber, sawdust, pencil shavings – is clear. Also sour cream, eggnog, and bags of dried, dark fruits (raisins, prunes, dried plums) mix it up with a nice touch of sandalwood. It takes its own sweet time getting the the point and is a little discombobulated throughout, but I can’t argue with the stewed apples, dried orange peel, ripe red guavas and licorice – it’s nice. The finish is quite solid, if unexceptional: it lasts a fair bit, and you’re left with closing notes of licorice, oak chips, vanilla, dried fruit and black cake.

Overall, it’s a good rum, though I believe it tries for too much with the three stills’ distillates and the long sherry barrel ageing.  There’s a lot going on but it doesn’t quite snap together into a harmonious whole. There’s always too much or too little of one or other element here, the sherry influence is inconsistent at best, and it keeps charging around in a confusing mishmash of rum that tastes okay but never settles down to allow us as drinkers to come to grips with it.  This is an observation also levelled at DDL’s experimental rares, by the way, but not Velier’s “blended in the barrel” series of later Guyanese rums which set the bar quite high for such blends. 

Clearing away the dishes, then, consider it as a decent blend, something for those who want to take a flier on an El Dorado rum that isn’t actually one of them, or a less expensive, younger Velier blend.  Think of it as a stronger and slightly older version of ED’s own 8 Year Old, lacking only DDL’s mastery of their blending practice to score higher. That is at best a guarded endorsement, but it’s all the rum really merits

(#814)(82/100)


Background

Rum Nation is that indie rum company founded by Fabio Rossi back in 1999 in Firenze (in NE Italy), and if they ever had a killer app of their own, it was those very old Demeraras and Jamaican “Supreme Lord” rums which were once wrapped in jute sacking and ensconced in wooden boxes. Rum Nation was one of the first of the modern rum independents that created whole ranges of rums and not just one or two single barrel expressions: from affordable starter bottles to ultra-aged products, and if they aged some of their releases in Europe, well, at the time that was hardly considered a disqualifier.

By 2016, however, things had started to change. Velier’s philosophy of pure tropically-aged rums had taken over the conceptual marketplace at the top end of sales, and a host of new and scrappy European independents had emerged to take advantage of rum’s increasing popularity. Rum Nation took on the challenge by creating a new bottle line called the Rare Collection – the standard series of entry level barroom-style bottles remained, but a new design ethos permeated the Rares – sleeker bottles, bright and informative labelling, more limited outturns. In other words, more exclusive. Many of these rums sold well and kept Rum Nation’s reputation flying high.  People of slender means and leaner purses kept buying the annual entry-level releases, while connoisseurs went after the aged Rares.

Two years later, Fabio was getting annoyed at being sidetracked from his core whisky business (he owns Wilson & Morgan, a rebottler), and he felt the indie rum business was more trouble than it was worth. Too, he was noticing the remarkable sales of the Ron Millonario line (a light bodied, rather sweet rum out of Peru), which, on the face of it, should not be anywhere near as successful as it was. And so, finally, he divested himself of the Rum Nation brand altogether, selling out to a small group of Danish investors.  He kept the Millonario brand and has an arrangement to rep RN at various rum festivals (which was how I saw him in 2019 in Berlin), but the era of his involvement with the company formed two decades earlier, is now over.  

…which might explain why the label was done that way.

Jul 042019
 

2014 was both too late and a bad year for those who started to wake up and realize that Velier’s Demerara rums were something special, because by then the positive reviews had started coming out the door, the prices began their inexorable rise, and, though we did not know it, it would mark the last issuance of any Demeraras of the Age by the Genoese concern headed by Luca Gargano.  Yesu Persaud – DDL’s chairman – was slated to retire by the end of that year, and in early 2015 the new chairman terminated the preferential relationship.

That said, it was not entirely a disaster for Luca, because, as he remarked to me in 2018 when we were discussing that remarkable series of rums, he was already seeing a diminution in the quality of the casks he was being allowed to select from. And these consisted of marques of lesser ages, experimental work and overall diminishing returns. So perhaps it was time to move on to other things.

The Uitvlugt rum we’re looking at today, one of the last bottled in that year and in that Age, was still quite respectable based on its stats: distilled in 1996 on the four-column French Savalle Still (at the time housed at the estate, not Diamond); full tropical ageing in Guyana resulting in a 78% angel’s share losses and four remaining barrels which went into 1124 bottles; and a solid strength of 57.2%.

Did it sample well? Judge for yourself. The nose of the dark amber rum was refined, gentle…even easy. This was surprising given it was just about navy strength (one can wonder if that was a coincidence).  But even with that lack of oomph, it was remarkably distinct, even precise with the clarity of the dusky aromas it emitted. These began with molasses, brown sugar, caramel and vanilla, and added a thread of licorice, cinnamon, lemon zest, and then dumped in bags of dark, fleshy fruits like plums, prunes and ripe peaches. In a way it was like stepping back into a time, when those flavours defined “good” without anyone bothering to look for additional complexity – what distinguished this nose was the way they all came together in a refined olfactory melange, orderly, measured, balanced. 

Tasting it showed that the strength which had not been so apparent when smelled was simply biding its time.  It didn’t come across as aggressive or glittering sharp, just firm and very controlled, biting just enough to let you know it wasn’t to be taken for granted. The immediate tastes were of salty olives, cider, apples, quite strong.  Slowly (and with a drop or two of water) this developed into molasses, brown sugar, black currants, prunes plus smoke and a well-worn, well-cared for leather jacket. But what really stood out — over and beyond the rich dark fruits and the sense of well-controlled oakiness — was the sense of a rum-infused hot mocha with caramel, molasses, whipped cream, and a dusting of almonds and sweet spices, and it’s out and out delectable, even elegant.  I spent a lot of time sniffing it, sure, but much more just tasting. This thing is dangerous because it’s tasty enough to encourage rampant sipping, and the finish – slow, long-lasting, deeply flavoured with spices, chocolate, almonds and raisins – doesn’t assist in one’s self control in the slightest. 

For those who have a love affair with rums from the famed wooden stills, the Uitvlugt marques – whether by Velier or other independents, light or heavy, dark or blonde, tropical or continental – occasionally appear to be second-tier efforts, even throwaway fillers made with less elan and dedication than more famous rums we know better. Coming as they do from a column still, they are sometimes overlooked.

But they should not be. Admittedly, the Uitvlugt 1996 was not a severely complex rum with a million different subtleties chasing each other up and down the rabbit hole, the enjoyment of which lay in teasing out all the various notes, and sensing ever more around the corner.  It was more a coming together of all the flavours we associate with rum, in an exciting yet somehow still traditional way, impeccably assembled, elegantly balanced, exactingly chosen, and hearkening back to familiar old favourites from simpler times which now reside only in our memories.

So even then, at the end of the Age, when all was coming to a close and we thought we had seen pretty much everything, Luca still managed to pull a few last Guyanese rum rabbits out of his hat.  The Uitvlugt 1996 will likely not be one of the pot-still decades-old classics that fetches a few thousand dollars at auction, but for those who want to see what all the fuss about Velier is, while not straying too far out of their comfort zone, I can’t think of many better places to start than this unsung gem.  

(#638)(87/100)


Other notes

Dec 162018
 

When we think of independent bottlers, all the usual suspects out of Europe usually come to mind — Velier, Rum Nation, L’Esprit, the Compagnie, the whisky boys up north who indulge themselves in the odd single cask expression from time to time, SMWS, Bristol Spirits, and the list goes on.

These well-known names obscure the fact that smaller operations — stores and even individuals — can and do in fact issue single barrel offerings as well.  For example, Kensington Wine Market in Calgary does it with whiskies quite often; a bunch of redditors recently got together and bought a cask of a 2005 Foursquare rum; and in the case of the rum under review today, K&L Wines out of California bought a single cask of Uitvlugt Savalle-still juice from an independent warehouse in Scotland, and issued it in the States.

It excites equal parts curiosity and admiration, and not just because of the retro-cool label – although that’s quite attractive. I mean, it’s not as if the US is known for independent bottlings – they’re much more into going the whole hog and creating entire new distilleries (however small). The rum is twenty years old (1994-2014), a robust 52.8% and for once seems not to have been sourced from Scheer.  The name “Faultline” is what K&L uses for its own bottlings, and I gather that The Two Davids of K&L happened to be in Scotland in early 2014 and found two Demeraras (Enmore, Uitvlugt) and a Jamaican Hampden mouldering away, and manned up and bought the lot to issue as was – not a trivial exercise for them, since (as they put it), these casks were “much more expensive than single malt whiskies despite the fact that they’re half as desirable.”

Half as desirable?  Oh please. To American audiences maybe, but I submit that were they to try this thing and go further afield in their polling, the scales would be rather more evenly adjusted.  The nose of an Uitvlugt rum, deriving as it does from a Savalle column still, is a great counterpoint to the woodsy Enmore and PM and Versailles rums (the UF30E remains one of the best Guyanese rums ever made, in my own estimation) — here it delivered quite well. It began with a nose of old leather shoes, well polished and long broken in. It provided smoke, a faint rubber background, and after opening up, the light florals of a fabric softener and freshly sun-dried laundry.  There were more traditional aromas of caramel, vanilla, molasses, cumin, tea leaves and aromatic tobacco, with rich deep fruits (peaches, apples, apricots) dancing around these smells, but never overwhelming them.

The palate was also very approachable and tasty. Soft and warm, tasting of brine and red Moroccan olives (they’re slightly sweeter than the green ones); leather and wooden floors, old and well worn and well polished, so to speak. Fruitiness is again generally light – green grapes, peaches, some lemon zest, raisins – resting well on a bed of salty caramel, butter and cinnamon.  Overall, not too concentrated or overwhelming, and the strength is just about perfect for what it does. It teases and doles out delicate, clear notes in a sort of delicate assembly that invites further sipping, and the finish goes in yet other directions: dry and somewhat tannic, hinting at strong black unsweetened tea, oakiness, some raisins and stewed apples, toffee, toblerone and coffee grounds. Plus a last whiff of those fruity hints to round things out.

There’s not really a true periodic stable of such rum releases by K&L who are more into an “as and when” approach, and therefore such bottlings are, I submit, more like personalized number plates lending street cred to the issuer…something like vanity rums. Fun to get, fun to drink, interesting to have, great to taste, cool to point to — but not really meant to build a brand or a rum-issuing company: K&L is after all a liquor emporium, not an outfit specializing in indie bottlings. So a rum like this serves to draw attention to the store that sells them, providing a sort of exclusive cachet that you can only get if you shop there.  Well, that’s fair, I don’t rain on capitalism – but it does make that kind of release something of a one-off. It doesn’t support a wider array of brands or draw attention to other rums released by the same company, since there aren’t that many to be going on with.

That doesn’t invalidate the Uitvlugt 1994 though.  It’s lovely. It exists, smells the way it smells, tastes as it does, and is a real nice piece of work. I think what it points to is something often ignored by the larger American rum tippling public and the press —  that they have the same potential to issue good single-barrel, limited-edition, cask-strength rums as anyone else…and come up with something pretty nifty at the back-end when they try. This rum, limited as it is and even with its price tag, is really quite good…and single barrel or not, I’m sure the Davids weren’t disappointed with what they got.  I know that I wasn’t.

(#579)(85/100)


  • Big thank you to Quazi4Moto for the sample. It’s taken a while, but I got to it at last.
Sep 192018
 

Every rum drinker who’s been at it for a while has a personal unicorn.  It might not always be some hoary old grandfather of a rum, forgotten by all but barking-mad rum nerds, or the miniscule output of a distillery no-one now remembers (like the Heisenberg Distillery) — sometimes it’s just a rum that’s hard to get and isn’t for sale in local markets. Occasionally it’s even one they possess already but which evokes strong positive memories.

One of mine has always been the Skeldon 1978, which was too rare or too expensive (usually both) for me to acquire. It finally became available to try at the Tasting of the Century that Luca Gargano tacked on to the formal launching of the new Hampden Estate rums in September 2018, and to say I jumped at the chance would be to understate the matter, not just because of the Skeldon itself, but because of the chance to try it in the company of blogging friends, along with other amazing rums.

The history of the Skeldon 1978 bottling from a long-dismantled Savalle still is an odd one: the plantation is on the far eastern side of Guyana and the distillery has been shut down since 1960, though the original sugar factory’s remains continue to moulder away there, now replaced by a modern white elephant.  It’s possible that the Savalle still which made it was taken elsewhere (Uitvlugt is the unconfirmed suspect) and this distillate hails from there rather than Skeldon — but certainly the “SWR” barrels ended up at Diamond, where Luca  saw them gathering dust in the warehouse and convinced Yesu Persaud (the chairman of DDL at the time) to part with them.  The 4-barrel 544-bottle outturn of the 1973 Edition was issued as was, but when the prototypes of the 1978 came to Genoa for final tasting, Luca noted something different in them, and later he challenged Mr. Persaud on what they were – and it was admitted that the three barrels of 1978 were deemed insufficient (whatever that means) and they mixed in some leftover 1973. Luca was so pissed off that he sat on both editions for almost a year before finally issuing them to the market in early 2006, and what we are getting is a 688-bottle blend, the precise proportions of which are unknown — I was told the 1973 component was quite minimal.

Fortunately, whatever the mix, the rum was (spoiler alert) almost as stunning as the 1973, which is the only other rum to which it can perhaps be compared.  In the large balloon glasses we were given it smelled dark and pungently rich, and Lordie, there was so much of it. Chocolate, coffee, deep anise and molasses, raisins, some floral notes, fleshy fruits, honey, crushed walnuts, nougat, cream cheese, unsweetened yoghurt and light olives. Tired yet?  Too bad, there’s more – bread, cloves and vanilla, and then, after about half an hour, the thing turned chewy: boiled beef bouillon, lentil soup, maggi cubes, marmite and more molasses and burnt sugar, all held together with some delicate herbs, very much in the background. Gregers and I looked at each other and almost in unison we laughed and said “We gotta get us some glasses like these.”

Although things at the Tasting were going faster than I was able to write (and listen), this was not a rum I wanted to be hurried with after waiting so long, and certainly it’s one with which to take one’s time. It unfolded gradually on the tongue, almost languorously and even at 60.4%, it was amazing how entirely under control it remained the entire time. Most of the tastes in the nose carried over, primarily anise, coffee and bitter chocolate, oranges, strong black tea, cumin, and that lentil soup / beef broth meatiness I remarked on earlier.  But there were also more muted, subtler hints of papaya and fleshy fruits, aromatic tobacco, flambeed bananas and salty caramel. A rather dry note of over-roasted nuts came into play at the back end, a slight indeterminate bitterness (something like a manager who can never compliment your work without a closing criticism), but fortunately the muskier fruit and creamy notes ameliorated it for the most part. And while the finish was more a last bow on the stage than a true epilogue that added a few extra fillips of flavour, it was in no way disappointing, leaving me with a memory of coffee, nougat, salt caramel ice cream, fruits, raisins, licorice and light chocolate oranges.

This was quite a rum, to be sure, and while I don’t think it quite eclipsed the Skeldon 1973, it sang its own distinct tune, hot and delicious, yet paradoxically quite clean and clear, with powerful tastes bolted on to a profile of generous complexity. In fine, the Skeldon 1978 is a black drop of Guyanese-Italian oomph in a bottle, and making it a blend didn’t hurt it one bit. It’s a well-made rum, produced with care and affection, and through the alchemy of its selection, turned a mere rum into a Rum, big, bold, badass….one to be remembered. To have tasted it in tandem with other amazingly old rums and in the company of old (and new) friends, was an experience I’m not likely to be forgetting any time soon.  

(#550)(90/100)


Other notes

 

 

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 Gun – but 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 twice — which to my mind might have been two times too many — and 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 on…and 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 Dorado’s 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 way – short, 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 profile — braggadoccio if you will — seemed 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-throughs — and 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 filtration…yet 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 232017
 

Photo (c) WhiskyAntique

Rumaniacs Review #066 | 0473

The Velier Albion 1983 bottled at standard strength shares space with others of the original Velier rum lineup bottled by Breitenstein such as the Enmore 1987 and LBI 1985; it comes complete with colorful box which was discontinued some years later, and in tasting it you can see, even from so far back, the ethos of the company’s founder start to shine through…but only faintly. Five casks of origin, no notes on tropical vs continental ageing or the final outturn, sorry.  I’d suggest that these days finding one of the original Velier bottlings from nearly twenty years ago is next to impossible, and probably at a price that negates any sense of value it might come with given the paltry ABV…but never mind.  Let’s try it, because I love the products of the First Age and history is what we’re after in the series anyway.

Colour – Amber-gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – A nose like this makes me gnash my teeth and wish better records had been kept of the various stills that were moved, swapped, cannibalized, dismantled, repaired, tossed around and trashed in Guyana’s long and storied rum history. Maybe a Savalle still or some now disappeared columnar still — certainly not one of the wooden ones. It was a rich, deep Demerara rum kinda smell, presenting with admirable force and clarity even at 40% – butterscotch, a little licorice, nuts, molasses, molasses coated brown sugar. To which, some patience and further snooting will add flowers, squash, pears, cumin and orange peel.  Oh, and also some brine and red grapes topped with whipped cream.  Yummy.

Palate – Very soft and restrained, no surprise.  Some of the nasal complexity seems to fade away … but not as much as I feared. Blancmage, creme brulee, vanilla, caramel toffee, brown bread and herbal cream cheese.  Leather and some earthier, muskier tones come forward, bound together by rich brown sugar and molasses, white chocolate and coffee grounds. There’s a little citrus, but dark-red grapes, raisins, prunes and blueberries carry off the Fruit Cup.

Finish – Surprisingly, unexpectedly robust and long lived.  The closing aromas of deep dark grapes, burnt sugar, light citrus, licorice, molasses and caramel is not dazzlingly complex, simply delicious and doesn’t try to do too much

Thoughts – A very good forty percenter which showcases what even that strength can accomplish with some imagination and skill; observe the difference between a Doorly’s XO or 12 YO and something like this and you will understand my whinging bout the former’s lack of profile.  There’s just so much more going on here and all of it is enjoyable.  There’s a 45.7% 25 year old version issued (also from 2003) which I’m dying to try — and of course, the masterful 1986 25 Year Old (R-013) and 1994 17 Year Old, which kicked off my love affair with Veliers — but no matter which one you end up sourcing by bottle or sample, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

(86/100)


 

Feb 262017
 

#345

All grog-blog hoodlums and Danes know the story, and somewhere out there you can just bet the Danes are smirking.  Back when Compagnie des Indes was a new independent bottler just starting out, selling their initial 46%-or-so editions around Europe, the rum lovers from Denmark shook their heads and said they wanted cask strength rums.  Y’know, the real stuff, the ones dosed with huge quantities of whup-ass, coming with battleaxes taped to the bottle, not frilly pink cupcakes for the weak-kneed. Florent shuddered a little at the thought of a bunch of intoxicated rum-loving vikings turning up in France demanding their hooch in person, and hurriedly advised them that if they wanted that, they’d have to buy the entire barrel; after some haggling it was agreed and a whole bunch of cask strength rums were shipped north.  These proved to be so popular (and not only with the lucky folks for whom it was made) that they sold out in next to no time, left the rest of the world grumbling about how come they didn’t get any, and were the impetus behind the subsequent release of the Cask Strength editions by the Compagnie, beginning in 2016.

Having said all the above, the Uitvlugt outturn from Guyana is somewhat less well known than its brawnier cousins from the wooden stills which have formed a part of every navy rum ever made for literally centuries.  The Uitvlugt marque derives from the four-column French Savalle still, which was originally two two-column stills joined into one since their migration to Diamond, and according to DDL, can produce nine different types of rum (light to heavy).  Still, if you believe for one moment that a column still rum in general, or one from Uitvlugt in particular, is in some way less, then you have not tried the best of them all — the UF30E — or many of the other craft bottlings issued over the years.  And you can believe me when I tell you, this eighteen year old full proof rum that the Compagnie put out the door is no slouch either, and is just a few drams short of exceptional.

So, brief stats for the number crunchers: an eighteen year old rum, 1997-2016, 387 bottle outturn from cask #MGA5.  This is not the cask strength variation of the 45% 18 YO finished in Armagnac casks as far as I am aware, but a straightforward 57.9%.  And all the usual assurances of no additives, dilutants and other creepy crawly weird stuff that results in abominations like the Don Papa.  Also, it is pale yellow, which is a resounding response to all those who believe darker is somehow older.

None of the musky anise and dark fruits such as accompany the PM and Enmore marques were on display here, of course, but attention was drawn immediately to acetone and pencil erasers, underlaid with the strong smell of rubber laid down by a hot rod on a fresh made highway under a scorching summer sky.  Once this burned off – and it never really did, not entirely – the rum displayed a plethora of additional interesting aromas: mint leaves, wet cardboard and cereal, the tartness of fresh ginnips, and a deep floral sweet scent that was far from unpleasant, though here and there I felt the integration was somewhat lacking.

The palate, now here was a profile that demanded we sit up and take heed. Petrol and fusel oils screamed straight onto the tongue.  It was immensely dry, redolent of glue and fusel oils and bags of dried fruit, feeling at times almost Jamaican, if that isn’t stretching credulity too much.  For all that the rum had a real depth to the mouthfeel, and as it opened up (and with some water), lovely distinct  fruity flavours emerged (cherries, peaches, apricots, mangoes), mixing it up really well with lemon rind, brine and olives.  Even after ten minutes or so it was pouring out rich, chewy tastes, leading to a smooth, hot finish that was quite exceptional, being crisp and clean, giving up last notes of olives in brine, tart apples, teriyaki sauce, and a nice mix of sweet and sour and fruits, something like a Hawaiian pizza gone crazy. It wasn’t entirely successful everywhere – there were some jagged notes here and there, and perhaps the body would have been a little less sharp (even for something south of 60%)…but overall, a really well done piece of the rumiverse.

Bringing all this to a conclusion, the Uitvlugt is a powerful achievement, a delicious, strong, well balanced rum of uncommon quality that succeeds in almost every aspect of its assembly, falling down in only minor points.  It goes to show that while the Port Mourants and the Enmores of Guyana get most of the headlines and are far better known (and distinctive, don’t ever forget that), Uitvlugt may just be the little engine that could, chuggin gamely ahead, year in and year out, producing capable little world beaters every time.  If the UF30E or the 1997 Velier or the other rums from that still made by CDI didn’t convince you already that great stuff could come from this place, well, here’s another to add some lustre to the company, the still and the estate.

(87/100)

Apr 282016
 

D3S_3879

A rum from Ago.  Perhaps only a Guyanese or a retired British Navy man could truly love it.

For the most part, over the last months I’ve concentrated on fairly well known rums, made by bottlers with whom we’re all reasonably familiar. Today, I’m going to reach into the past a bit, to the Guyana Distillers El Dorado Bonded Reserve. Sorry, what? I can hear you say, You mean DDL don’t you, Mr. Caner? Yeah…and no.  This rum was made in the early 1980s before DDL changed its name, and in it was one of those hooches like the King of Diamonds, now long gone and out of production…in it, we can see what local rum was like before El Dorado was launched to the overseas market in 1992.  

Sampling this rum pulled back a curtain of the mind. As a young man, I had had it years ago, before DDL became what it now is, before craft rums and independent bottlers were up to their current stature, and way before the El Dorado line had established itself as one of the baselines of the rum world. You’re not going into the extreme past like with the G&M Long Pond 1941, St Andrea 1939 or even the St James 1885, no…but the Bonded Reserve does demonstrate how fast the rum world has in fact evolved since those days – because I cannot remember trying anything quite like it in recent memory.

It was an old bottle.  The label was faded and old fashioned, the tinfoil cap spoke to different days.  Even the bottle glass looked worn and tired. Within it was a 40% rum that decanted a golden rum into the glass.  It smelled thin and dusty, with not much going on at the inception – some smoke and leather and vanilla, a touch of caramel and grapes, raisins, with some cumin and molasses to round things out, all quite subdued and tepid.

D3S_3880Tasting the Bonded Reserve raised all sorts of questions, and for anyone into Mudland rums, the first one had to be the one you’re all thinking of: from which still did it come?  I didn’t think it was any of the wooden ones – there was none of that licorice or fruity intensity here that so distinguishes them. It was medium to light bodied in texture, very feebly sweet, and presented initially as dry – I’d suggest it was a column still product. Prunes, coffee, some burnt sugar, nougat and caramel, more of that faint leather and smoke background, all rounded out with the distant, almost imperceptible murmuring of citrus and crushed walnuts, nothing special. The finish just continued on these muted notes of light raisins and molasses and toffee, but too little of everything or anything to excite interest beyond the historical.

To be honest, the rum was so divergent from the firm, crisp, well-known profiles of todays’ Demeraras that it suggested an almost entirely different product altogether.  It could just as easily have been a Trini or Bajan rum, or even (with some imagination) a softer Spanish-style product.  Given that it won a double gold medal in Leipzig in 1982, one can only hazard that the competition that year was feeble, and the rum renaissance through which we fortunate beings are currently living through had yet to gather a head of steam.

In fine, then, it’s almost, but not quite, an historical artifact.  It’s no longer for sale, isn’t being made, and it was by mere happenstance that I saw this on the Whisky Exchange in 2014 and had some spare cash left over . Rating it might do it an injustice, because you’ll look long and hard to ever find its twin…I might have bought the last one.  

So, how do I put this? Well, let’s see – it’s a rum, contains alcohol, and that’s nice; it’s not entirely bad, or undrinkable.  It will do good things to your cocktail, and there’s my recommendation for it, I guess, because at the end, assuming you ever see a bottle, you probably won’t ever enjoy it any other way.  

(#269. 77/100)


Other notes

  • Peter’s Rum Labels in Czech Republic have this exact label on file, but noted as being made by DDL. DDL was formed in 1983 when Diamond Liquors (Sandbach-Parker’s company) and Guyana Distillers (Booker McConnell’s) were merged.  So this rum had to be made between the time of the medal it won in 1982 and the creation of DDL in 1983.  That would explain how I was able to still find it to drink in 1985 in many shops in Georgetown and the countryside.
  • Guyana Distillers was based out of Uitvlugt, which goes a long way to clarifying the lack of a characteristic or familiar profile, since their still was a four column French Savalle still, producing several different kinds of rum. Based on my tasting, I’d suggest the rum is less than five years old…maybe three or so
Jan 042016
 

Blairmont 1982 cropRumaniacs Review 015 | 0415

Happy New Year, everyone. 2016 is upon us, I assume everyone is all sobered up, and today we continue our examination of older Veliers…the 1982 Blairmont in this case.  I’ve looked at the 1991 edition before and I thought it was exceptional at the time, but that one was half as old as this lovingly aged monster supposedly taken off the French Savalle still in Guyana (the box may be a misprint unless it was referring to a now destroyed pot still).  Both are excellent, though.

For those who are interested, Blairmont is a sugar estate on the west bank of the Berbice River in Guyana, founded by Lambert Blair in the early 1800s, and which closed in 1962. I used to pass by the sugar factory in my youth when visiting a cattle ranch nearby. The still from Blairmont — one of them, at any rate — was probably transferred to Uitvlugt and thence to Diamond (see Marco’s magnificent dissertation on the distilleries of Guyana for more information).

Colour – dark amber

Strength – 60.4%

Nose – Intense and thrumming with raw power; deep red winey notes, cherries, prunes, figs. Sweetness is kept under strict control, it’s lightly salty, redolent of dark fruits, coffee, and an odd twist of cream cheese spread over toasted rye bread, dill and some other unidentifiable grassy notes. “Sumptuous” would not be out of place to describe this amazing nose.

Palate – Initially dry and sere, cardboard and pumpernicklel or other dark breads fresh from the oven.  At once musky and clear, reminds me a little of the Skeldon. Flowers and lighter white wine notes, raisins, honey, black grapes, really nicely welded together under the torch of well-controlled oaky notes, which, surprising for this kind of age, don’t dominate at all but remain nicely in the background.

Finish – Long and succulent, and an invitation to breathe deep and slow. More grapes, flowers, salt crackers, dark fruit, christmas cake, even a bit of licorice that had gone unnoticed before.

Thoughts – I’m always amazed when a full proof rum manages to rein in its own power and exuberance without scratching your face off, though why I should be surprised with this company after all I’ve tried from their stocks is a mystery.  Short version – a fantastic, old, bold rum, of which far too little was ever made. It’s better than the 1991, I think, and one can only sigh with regret that so few remain.

(91/100)

Blairmont 1982 - box crop

 

Nov 082015
 

UF30E 1985 cropRumaniacs Review 011 | 0411

Time to address the brontosaurii of Velier for a few Rumaniacs write ups, since the samples are there. UF30E is a bit “young” for inclusion into the Rumaniacs pantheon, but it is out of production, so let’s have it. The code stands for Uitvlugt Field #30 East, or some such, which would puzzle even someone from Mudland (like, umm…well, me).  Never mind.  With an outturn of 814 bottles from three barrels, it remains one of the best rums from Velier I’ve ever sampled.  And while I thought had overpraised it back in 2013, it turns out I may have sold it short, given others’ responses to it in the years between then and now.

Colour – darkish amber

Strength – 60.7%

Nose – Nothing changed between then and now…it’s still amazing.  Heated, dark, viscous, heavy on the nose, molasses, prunes, dark chopped fruit, blackcurrants,  dates, and black cake. After opening somewhat, these opening salvoes were followed by lighter tones of flowers, chocolate, some anise. Rich and powerful and not at all astringent or bitchy.

Palate – The balance of the various components competing for your olfactory and labial attention is extraordinary. The  Velier PM 1974 is fantastic too, but for different reasons, and something of a one-trick pony in comparison to the sheer variety that was going on here: sweet and salt, teriyaki chicken (minus the bird but with all the veg), molasses, more fruits, green apples, a little smoke and leather and aromatic cigarillos, and those aromatic hints of what, rosewater? orange juice?  Whatever it was, it was great. Even 60.7%, which would normally scare the trees into shedding their autumn leaves, was remarkably well handled.  You got hit with the power, sure…you didn’t mind it, is all.

Finish – sums up everything that has come before.  Long, lasting and pungent, not dry. Nuts, flowers, some sweet soya, molasses, a shade of caramel. The thing doesn’t want to leave, honestly.

Thoughts – Brilliant all-round rum which pushes all the right buttons for me. Still makes me regret I didn’t buy more when I had the chance. Since it was issued back in 2011 with a reasonable outturn, it’s probably more than likely it’s still available somewhere.

(92/100)

Oct 162014
 

D3S_9388

An exceedingly well-made, clean, relatively light rum with remarkable depth of flavour and beautiful mouthfeel.

Velier, as its barrels mature in Guyana, issues annual releases when they feel they are ready, much as Rum Nation and other craft rum makers do.  This presents a particular and peculiar problem to rummies, because there is no consistency to any of them: in other words, while a DDL El Dorado 21 Year Old will be more or less the same no matter when you buy it, a Velier PM 2013 release will not be the same as a Velier PM 2014 release, even if they are both fifteen years old. This, to my mind, highlights a great strength and great weakness of craft bottlers, because while it allows for amazing creativity and variety, it also limits the issuance of a particular bottling to a few thousand bottles at best, and it forces consumers to shell out a lot more money for favoured companies’ products – as I have.

D3S_9390That aside, let’s start at the beginning with some core facts about the subject under review here. Velier issued this new (2014 year) release in July, with 1404 bottles deriving from five barrels; it was distilled on a Savalle still, it’s an experimental version – a lighter distillate from a still which can produce both light and dark variations, hence the “ULR”, which stands for Uitvlugt Light Rum (thanks, Cyril).  The labelling on bottle and cardboard case is excellent, by the way: no fancy frippery or outlandish graphics, just pertinent facts about the rum (including evaporation losses of 77%), as brief and stark as a haiku.  Just about everything you might want to know is there.

 

Nose?  Wow.  Just lovely.  The ULR 1997 was a darkish-honey colour in the glass, and emitted heated vapours of soft clarity that was reminiscent (if not quite as spectacular) as the that McLaren that was the UF30E. Vanilla, herbal tea and white flowers right off the bat, not fierce on the attack, just clean and strong, and persistent to a fault.  Vague caramel and salt biscuits followed on, and easy notes of fruit jam and sweet, ripe black grapes closed off the nose – it was so succulent that I felt I had just roped in Monica Bellucci in a teddy.

You can tell a masterful rum when, as you sip the thing down, 59.7% doesn’t really feel like it.  It was as exciting and well made as a Gibson guitar, with notes that hummed and vibrated in harmony…I honestly don’t know how this is accomplished so well.  The white chocolate, cafe-au-lait, pastries, and creamy buttery notes slid smoothly past my taste buds and there were some oak tones winding their way around the palate, though not enough to spoil the drink. Nougat and hazelnuts shimmered around the edges, moving to a lingering, warm finish with final fumes of raspberries in cream.

D3S_9389Uitvlugt was a West Coast Demerara sugar plantation which Bookers McConnell mothballed decades ago: it means “outflow” in Old Dutch (yes, like New York, Guyana was once a Dutch colony), and it usually has marques of ICB/U, ICB/C and ICB associated with it (most notably by DDL itself), possibly by reference to the original owner of the plantation, Iohann Christoffer Boode; it’s unclear when this new moniker of ULR began. Its rums, made from a metal Savalle still, are usually characterized by a distillate which is not so heavy as the dark brooding machismo of, oh, Port Mourant.  This one may be even more so.

 

Summing up, the Uitvlugt 1997 is immensely enjoyable…I went through three tasting glasses of it in next to no time, it was so pleasant.  It’s cleaner and lighter than other Veliers (like the Albion 1994), has perhaps more in common with the Blairmont 1991, and stands singularly apart from the remarkable Diamond 1999 (2014 edition); it’s a UF30E in waiting, maybe. It might not be the most charismatic or powerful exhibit in this sub-universe of the equine-endowed full-proofs, but it isn’t a shrinking violet in the greenhouse either, and compares exceedingly well with all its other siblings.


Other Notes

This was one of four samples provided by Luca Gargano to me personally when he heard I would be in Europe in October 2014.  I stand by my sterling review because it really is that good (see the review for Old Man Spirits’s Uitvlugt 16 year old next week for an interesting counterpoint).  I have outstanding query from my email to him…I’ll get into that when I deal with the Old Man.  See you next time.

D3S_9392

 

 

May 102014
 

Skeldon 1971 bottle

It’s official.  Velier has raised the bar for super premium rums, with an extraordinary 32-year old blast from the past that will excavate a punt-wide trench in your wallet if you ever find one.

The 544-bottle run of the Skeldon 1973 Old Demerara Rum has, since being released in 2005, become something of an object of cult worship.  In 2012 a single bottle went for sale on eBay for close to  €500. I searched for three years before I found a gent in France willing to part with his (and at a cost I’m glad my wife never found out about).  It isn’t very well known, except among rabid collectors, and the only reviews I’ve ever seen were in Italian and French.  It is without doubt a rum from further back in time than anything else Velier has ever made, or perhaps will ever make.  And it is worth every penny. Yes, I love Rum Nation, yes I have soft spots for Cadenhead, Berry Brothers, Secret Treasure, Plantation, El Dorado, Pussers, Young’s Old Sam and a score of others. But this thing is a cut above the crowd, and part of that is the way Velier mastered and balanced the subtleties trapped within the enormous tastes of a 32-year-old beefcake.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside Guyana who knows about Skeldon, or where it is. It’s a plantation on the far east of the country, right close by the Corentyne River — I visited the area many times in my youth — and not, as some have mentioned, on the Demerara (all Guyanese rums are often noted as being Demeraras, but the pedant in me disputes the moniker).  The original distillate was made in Skeldon before the still was shut down, and I’ve heard that the barrels were transferred to Uitvlugt before finding their final home in Diamond Estate, where Luca Gargano found the last four barrels from that year ageing quietly away in DDL’s warehouses, perhaps even forgotten by them: he snapped them up, and from that stock, made an old, bold bastard of a rum, eschewing the softness of a standard strength and allowing it to be issued at a mouth ravaging 60.5%.

The Skeldon 1973 was remarkably dark, molasses brown, deeper in hue than the PM 1974 I looked at not too long ago. Such was the skill of the makers that almost no time needed to be spent waiting for the spirit to open up in my glass: almost as soon as I poured it out, rich, powerful fumes of coffee, burnt cocoa, and smouldering sugar cane fields billowed out. Mellow aromas of peaches, nuts and licorice provided exclamation points of distinction, and these were followed by notes of honey, pecans and toast. And it wasn’t over yet: after half an hour, when I went back to it, I detected yet other traces of cherries, blackberries, and even a sly waxy taste that was far from unpleasant.  And each component was clear and distinct, crisp and vital as tropical morning sunshine.

If the nose was extraordinary, so was the palate:  intense without sharpness, heated without pain, and not so much full bodied as voluptuous.  Cumin, tannins and a certain muskiness attended the initial tasting, with a briny undertone, all in balance. As these receded, other flavours came to the fore: coffee again, unsweetened cocoa, walnuts, some caramel, burnt sugar cane (as from the nose), almonds, hazelnuts and at the very bottom a wink of eucalyptus oil. Many rums I have tried often seem to come from the recycle bin: reblends, a new finishing regime, a little tweak here or there, but with the venerable core formula always intact. The Skeldon 1973 does a difficult thing: it feels original, cut from new cloth and yet structured around  blending basics so seamlessly that it samples phenomenally well.  It’s got a certain sumptuousness to it, a sense of extravagance and out of sight quality, as rich as the silk in the lining of a Savile Row suit.

As for the finish, well, its persistence may be as unique as, oh, the Albion 1994, or the SMWS Longpond 9. Fumes and final flavours continued to make their prescence felt for minutes after a taste, as if unwilling to let go. Coffee was prevalent, toasted hazelnuts, some caramel, all melded together into a fade that was a function of 60.5%, and lasted a very very long time, none of it wasted.  So good was the overall experience that I must have had four or five tasting glasses of the stuff, just so that I could savour and sample and extract the very last nuance, and even then I’m sure I missed something.

Skeldon 1973 Label

Everything works in this rum.  Nose, palate, mouthfeel, exit, the whole thing. Usually I’m ambivalent about one point or another in a review – good points in one area are marred by small disappointments in others and this is why the “intangible” part of my scoring goes down and not up like all the others – but here there is such a uniformity of excellence that it made me feel re-energized about the whole business of reviewing rums (and, as an aside, that I may have underrated even the phenomenal UF30E which is about on par, and which I used as a control for this review).

What an amazing, fulfilling rum Velier has produced, indeed.  Yes it’s extraordinarily hard to find, and yes its damned pricey.  Good luck finding one in the States or Canada (or even in Europe, these days).  I’m remarkably fortunate in that I was able to source an unopened bottle given its rarity.  Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, has a track record with his bottlings that many can only envy, and is used to dealing lightning with both hands; and for no other reason this is why sourcing his products, old or new, is recommended. If you want to see what the industry can accomplish if they really try, spring some pieces of eight for what Velier is making, if even just the once.

Or try getting a taste of mine, if you’re ever in my neighborhood.  I’m almost sure I’d share it with you.

(#181. 93.5/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled in Coffey still in August 1973 and bottled in April 2005
  • Velier, in 2004, bought a stake in DDL (per their website) – Luca notes in his interview with Cyril of DuRhum that it was in 2003.

Updates

  • There is a slightly younger version of Skeldon distillate, the 1978 edition – also bottled by Velier – which I have not managed to source as yet (though I finally tried it at the Tasting of the Century in 2018). It was selling on Ebay as of September 2014, for €800 and ended up fetching €1200. In January 2016, another 1978 was on offer for €2000, and by June 2021 the price at auction was £9,500.  The 1973 was, by this time only ever offered once on the RumAuctioneer site, and in July 2021 was being bid up past £7,000 with a week left to go
  • As of 2015, Velier no longer had the right to select barrels from DDL’s warehouses as DDL moved to issue “Gargano rums” by themselves under the brand of the “Rare Collection”.
  • In October 2015 I re-tasted this rum, and noted a marked vanilla undercurrent appearing after it stood for half an hour.  This was not substantial enough to lessen the rum’s value – it was too well made for that – but it was there. I thought of rescoring at 93 but then compromised by making note of the fact for interested readers.
  • By 2021 DDL had released their own Skeldon rum as part of the rares, and 1423’s SBS range had also done a few.
Feb 252014
 

D3S_8412

 

A paradox of rum, marrying a lighter than expected profile with a stunningly intense full proof taste, compliments of the House of Luca

When I first poured a shot of the Velier Blairmont 1991 15 year old rum into my glass (after having waited over a year and a half for the privilege), I immediately remarked its colour: a straw coloured light amber rum. After sampling five other Veliers in the past year, all of which were dark, brawny, bearded beefcakes, this came as something of a surprise.

According to the literature on the bottle, seven barrels of the rum were distilled in Blairmont on a French Savalle still in 1991, and 1,913 bottles resulted in March 2006. Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, seems to have unprecedented access to old and mouldering barrels of rums from DDL’s warehouses, judging from the variations he keeps putting out, and one thing is clear – the man knows how to put a rum together. This is no slight against that other Italian whose products I enjoy enormously (Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation), but the two men are not really comparable except in so far as they both issue superlative rums, since they follow differing philosophies in how they make them.

This difference is most clearly discerned in the strengths of Velier’s rums – all of them are bottled at a proof greater than 50% (the Blairmont was 56%). And this was immediately evident as I nosed it: yes it had strength, but in no way was it either sharp or nasty or an assault on the senses. The initial scent was one of freshness and zest, of honey, deep, softer to nose than the strength would suggest. This was followed by orange peel and some sharper fruits…half ripe mangoes, green grapes, apples, with a flirt of softer peach in there somewhere, mixed up with a faint nuttiness. Nice. It was more herbal than one would imagine a rum from Demerara to be (although Blairmont Estate is actually on the immediate west bank of the Berbice River).

D3S_8421

The palate was similarly excellent, being medium bodied, golden and having a clarity of taste that reminded me of a good green tea. Crisp and snappy, a bit sweet, something like a Riesling on steroids; orange and cinnamon notes crept out to have their moment in the sun, followed by more green tea and some lighter honey notes. The depth and intensity of flavours was well handled, and even at 56%, I felt that here was rum I would sip neat with no issues at all. And as could be expected, the finish took its time, was clear and well balanced, leaving me with the memories of flowers, caramel (just a bit), fresh grass and newly sawn wood.

Velier is a company formed by the Italian Luca Gargano, and he’s made nothing I haven’t liked so far. He began life as a brand rep for St James in Martinique, but eventually formed his own company to market odd variations of the agricoles he found in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Once he discovered Guyanese rums he bottled as many as he could find (it’s possible that his greatest find has been the Skeldon 1973 32 year old), and while this may be anecdotal, I think they have all attained cult status among die-hard aficionados. He’s been fortunate to have an excellent relationship with Yesu Persaud, the (now retired) chairman of DDL, who provided him with unprecedented access to their warehouses.

It’s become sort of a personal crusade for me to find these odd and rare rums that are issued (or not) on a regular basis, not least because finding something like the Blairmont, buying it and tasting it and writing about it, adds to the store of reviews available in the world. I think it’s a spectacular rum, noses well, tastes phenomenal and is, at end, both terrific and leaves me wanting more. I don’t often issue hagiographies, but in this case, my advice is to try anything you can find by this company, because Luca sure knows what he’s doing, and he isn’t bottling a whole lot.

(#179. 90.5/100)


Other Notes

 

 

May 302013
 

 D3S_5982

 

Concentrated black cake. Uitvlugt East Field #30 takes its place as the source of one of the best rums I’ve had this year.

In my rather tiny world, sourcing a rum like the Uitvlugt 1985 27 year old 60.7% is quite an experience. A rum limited enough, rare enough and old enough that to use a single appellation like “aged” to describe it is akin to saying Tolstoy wrote rather long books. The series of rums imported to Europe by Velier (these are DDL products selected by them in Guyana, not Europe) answers every beef I ever had about rums not being strong enough, addresses every complaint about a lack of imagination. Thus far, each of the full proof series has been spectacular, powerful, brilliant, exceptional, original and charges out of the bottle like a bat out of hell to give me all it has. This is what rums were made to be. This is what more rums should be. Want to go up against the Scots, boys? Want to give whisky some hard card? You’d better start making more of these.

Having established its pedigree as a rum massive as an oak tree flung by a F5 hurricane, what of it? It’s aged a magnificent 27 years in the tropics, losing 90% of its volume if Velier is to be believed, and powerful enough to brain a rampaging ox, but is it any good?

Mmmm. Yeah. It’s good. Nosing this torqued up full proof is, like, I dunno, trying to lasso a drunken moose: I mean, the rum is hard charging to a fault, practically an inhalation of supercharged testosterone — a quick sniff and my abs were instantly firm enough to do my laundry on, and I was casting restive glances at my wife. Thick, spicy smorgasbord of fruit notes led off right away: prunes, currants, raisins, blackberries lead in, followed by faint flowery notes, licorice, cloves, black unsweetened chocolate. I felt I was at the dessert buffet of some high class hotel restaurant. Heated, yes; spicy, almost; but you know, for a beefed-up rum like this, once the alcohol fumes blow off, you can’t help but be impressed with a nose this rich, where so much is going on all at the same time.

D3S_5993

Dark mahogany and ruby red tints coloured the spirit itself, which was a treacly, almost heavy liquid in the mouth. Here was a spirit that coated your tongue, your tonsils and your teeth and hung on with the tenacity of a junkie to a five dollar bill. Awesomely smooth for its strength, generously providing tastes of licorice, chopped dried fruit for Caribbean Christmas black cake, green grapes just starting to go, aromatic port-finished cigarillos…it’s deeply, darkly luscious to a fault. I tasted some of the oak tannins imparted by the long ageing, and in no way were they disconcertingly acidic or too sharp, but just right, leading to a long aromatic, finish as lasting as a diva holding a high C….like, forever. If this was a real opera, somewhere, Pavarotti would be feeling inadequate.

Even at 60.7%, which some might consider a bit much, the Uitvlught impressed with its mastery of blending art. Like its brothers (the Albion 1994 and the Diamond 1996), this rum is one of the tastiest, biggest, baddest, most fantabulistic spirits I’ve tried and that sound you heard was, quite simply, my mind being blown. Because this intensity is precisely why we should attempt to move past 40% in our rums – the strength of flavour and body, the commingled multitudinous tastes, simply invites sampling and more sampling, and then even more, just so you could check out what that last smidgen of flavour really was.

D3S_5994

Velier out of Genoa bought three barrels from DDL (they are in fact DDL rums though the labelling seems ambiguous), aged them for twenty seven years and, in line with other European makers, simply bottled them as they came out. The Velier line is really kind of fantastic – marques from Blairmont, LBI, Port Mourant, Albion, Skeldon, Enmore (and that’s just the Guyanese) are all available, if rarer than a compliment from my boss. I can’t begin to express my admiration for the series – there’s an unapologetic narcissism to them that doesn’t so much flip the bird at standard strength rums as ignore them altogether. Their rums are awesome – terrific nose, aggressive profile, epic finish.

And, at end, it may be self-defeating – it may simply be too much to be contained in a mere bottle. To have this rum burbling in your glass is to know what Godzilla’s captor might have felt like. By the time all the tasting notes have been wrung out, it may actually be a shade too amazing for those who prefer something a little less strong (like 40%). But you know what? I don’t care. The full proof rums from Velier are what they are. Not everyone will like them — their starkness and somewhat elemental brutality will be off-putting to many — but then, they are not for everyone. Verlier echoed the European ethos of simplicity and minimalism in their products, wrestled the white lightning out of the cask and trapped it in a bottle for those of us who care.

If you can find Velier’s rums, any of ‘em, my advice would be to buy them, and quickly. Because if you’re ever into rum for the long term, there will come a time (if it has not arrived already) where you’ll be so damned glad you did. I know I am.

And now, after writing this review and taking a last sip, I think I’ll go see what the wife is up to….assuming she hasn’t already fled.

(#165. 91/100)


Opinion

I’ve made no secret of my wistful disappointment of tame drinks that go exactly no place special and have a small sense of imagination. The question that arises, is why aren’t more iridescent gems like this one ever made? What’s keeping the rest of the world from following suit? Why aren’t Flor de Cana, DDL, Appleton, Mount Gay or others indulging some hi-test full proofs of their own, besides issuing the occasional 151? I suppose I can think of several reasons: they won’t sell; they’re seen as too exclusive; they’re tough to find; they don’t appeal to the young; they’re too strong; too expensive; too tough to make by labels content with what they are doing already; and market forces favour 40%.

There are special editions around, of course — lots of them, almost all made in Europe. The challenge is finding any. Perhaps nothing shows the potential of such a niche market as the speed with which such specialized bottlings by Bruichladdich, Gordon & McPhail, Fassbind, Bristol Spirits, Berry Bros., Velier, Silver Seal and Cadenhead fly off the shelves. They may languish in shops in North America, but I chose to believe it’s because they are not commonly available, not well known, and therefore remain a perceived nouveaux riche kind of pastime for crazies like myself.

So it’s not as if the full proof, limited-cask expressions don’t exist – they do. Here’s hoping the major bottlers in the West Indies and the Americas will follow suit and produce their own full-proof liquid machismo one day, the way Velier has done here, so magnificently.

 

 

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 Distillers’ square, 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 bottle – regular 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 old – this may come from the fact that it does originate from a single barrel –  I 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 sugar…it’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 originality – it 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 different…enough 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 Guyana – the 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.