Nov 232020
 

Sooner or later in these reviews, I always end up circling back to Velier, and for preference, it’s usually the rums from the Age of the Demeraras. It’s not that I have anything against the Caronis in their near-infinite variations, the Habitation’s pot still range, or the series of the New Hampdens, Villa Paradisetto or 70th anniversary. And I have a soft spot for even the smaller and more exactingly selected outturns of one-offs like the Courcelles or the Basseterre rums. It’s just that the Demeraras speak to me more, and remind me of the impact a then-relatively-unknown indie bottler had when it rearranged the rum landscape and worldviews of many rum aficionados back in the day.

By the time this rum was released in 2014, things were already slowing down for Velier in its ability to select original, unusual and amazing rums from DDLs warehouses, and of course it’s common knowledge now that 2014 was in fact the last year they did so. The previous chairman, Yesu Persaud, had retired that year and the arrangement with Velier was discontinued as DDL’s new Rare Collection was issued (in early 2016) to supplant them.

While this rum was hyped as being “Very Rare” and something special, I am more of the impression it was an experiment on the order of the four “coloured” edition rums DDL put out in 2019, something they had had on the go in their skunkworks, that Luca Gargano spotted and asked to be allowed to bottle. It was one of four he released that year, and perhaps illustrates that the rabbit was getting progressively harder to pull out of the hat.

Still, the stats on the as-usual nicely informative label were pretty good: two barrels of serious distillatesthe Versailles single wooden pot still and the Diamond metal coffey still (proportions unknown, alas) — yielding 570 bottles. A hefty strength of 57.9%; 18 years of tropical ageing while the two profiles married and learned how to live together without a divorce, and an angel’s share of about 78%.

How then, did such an unusual amalgam of a coffey still and a wooden pot still come out smelling and tasting like after so long? Like a Demerara rum is the short answer. A powerful one. This was a Demerara wooden still profile to out-Demerara all other wooden-still Demeraras (wellat least it tried to be). There was the characteristic licorice of the wooden stills, of course. Aromatic tobacco, coffee grounds, strong and unsweetened black tea; and after a while a parade of dark fruitsraisins, prunes, black datesset off by a thin citrus line pf lemon zest, and cumin. Ah but that was not all, for this was followed some time later when I returned to the glass, by sawdust, rotting leaves after a rain, acetones, furniture polish and some pencil shavings, cinnamon and vanillaquit a lot to unpack. It was fortunate I was trying it at home and not somewhere were time was at a premium, and could take my time with the tasting.

The nose had been so stuffed with stuff (so to speak) that the palate had a hard time keeping up. The strength was excellent for what it was, powerful without sharpness, firm without bite. But the whole presented as somewhat more bitter than expected, with the taste of oak chips, of cinchona bark, or the antimalarial pills I had dosed on for my working years in the bush. Thankfully this receded, and gave ground to cumin, coffee, dark chocolate, coca cola, bags of licorice (of course), prunes and burnt sugar (and I mean “burnt”). It felt thick and heavy and had a nice touch of creme brulee and whupped cream bringing up the rear, all of which segued into a lovely long finish of coffee grounds, minty chocolate and oranges, licorice again, and a few more overripe fruits.

Overall, not lacking or particularly shabby. Completely solid rum. The tastes were strong and it went well by itself as a solo drink. That said, although it was supposed to be a blend, the lighter column still tastes never really managed to take over from the powerful Versailles profilebut what it did do was change it, because my initial thinking was that if I had not known what it was, I would have said Port Mourant for sure. In some of the crisper, lighter fruity notes the column distillate could be sensed, and it stayed in the background all the way, when perhaps a bit more aggression there would have balanced the whole drink a bit more.

Nowadays (at the close of 2020), the rum fetches around £500 / US$800 or so at auction or on specialty spirits sites, which is in line with other non-specific Velier rums from the Late Age clocking in at under two decades’ ageing. Does that make it undervalued, something to pounce on? I don’t think so. It lacks a certain clear definition of what it is and may be too stern and uncompromising for many who prefer a more clear-cut Port Mourant or Enmore rum, than one of these experimentals. If after all this time its reputation has not made it a must-have, then we must accept that it is not one of the Legendary Bottles that will one day exceed five grandsimply an interesting variation of a well known series of rums, a complete decent sipping rum, yet not really a top-tier product of the time, or the line.

(#779)(85/100)


Other notes

  • The four 2014 Velier “blended-in-the-barrel” experimentals were:
    • Port Mourant / Enmore Experimental 1998 16YO (1998 2014), 62.2%
    • Port Mourant / Diamond Experimental 1995 19YO (1995 2014), 62.1%
    • Port Mourant / Diamond Experimental 1999 15 YO (1999 2014), 52.3.%
    • Diamond / Versailles Experimental 1996 18 YO (1996 2014), 57.9%
  • DDL’s own four rums of the 2019 “coloured” series referred to above were
    • PM/Uitvlugt/Diamond 2010 9YO at 49.6% (violet),
    • Port Mourant/Uitvlugt 2010 9YO at 51% (orange),
    • Uitvlugt/Enmore 2008 11YO 47.4% (blue)
    • Diamond/Port Mourant 2010 9YO at 49.1% (teal).

The jury is still out on how good (or not) the DDL versions are. So far I have not seen many raves about them and they seem to have dropped out of sight rather rapidly.

Sep 302020
 

In spite of rums from various 1970s years having been issued throughout that period (many are still around and about and surfacing every now and then at wallet-excavating prices), it is my contention that 1974-1975 were the real years that disco came to town. No other years from the last century except perhaps 1986 resonate more with rumistas; no other years have as many Demeraras of such profound age, of such amazing quality, issued by as many different houses. I’d like to say I’ve lost count of the amount of off-the-scale ‘75s I’ve tasted, but that would be a damned lie, because I remember them all, right back to the first one I tried, the Berry Brothers & Rudd PM 1975. I still recall the rich yet delicate solidity of the Norse Cask, the inky beauty of the Cadenhead Green label 40.6%, the black licorice and sweet tobacco of the Rendsburger, Velier’s own 1975...and now, here is another one, dredged up by another Italian outfit we never heard of before and which, sadly, maybe we never will again. Unlike Norse Cask, it has not vanished, just never bothered to have a digital footprint; in so doing it has left us only this equally overlooked and forgotten bottle of spiritous gold, and some more recent bottlings known only to ur-geeks and deep-divers.

For the kitch, I’m afraid there is not much. Thanks to my impeccably fluent lack of Italian, I can tell you it’s a 1975 Port Mourant that was bottled in 2007, and it appears to be one of those single barrel releases often indulged in by importersthis time an Italian outfit called High Spirits, which doesn’t exist beyond its odd one-page website that leads nowhere and says nothingsee below for some notes on this. The rum is 56.1%, dark red brown….

and smells absolutely magnificent. The aromas are, in a word, loaded. The distinctiveness of the PM still comes through in a wave of aromatic wine-infused cigarillos’ tobacco, coffee, bitter chocolate and, yes, licorice. You pause, enjoy this, sniff appreciatively, dive in for Round 2 and brace for the second wave. This emerges after a few minutes: and is more musky, darker in tone shot through with jagged flashes of tarter sharper notes: muscovado sugar, molasses, plums, blackberries, ripe black cherries, bananas, all the best part of, oh, the Norse Cask, of which this is undoubtedly the equal. And then there’s a bit extra for the fans, before the taste: cinnamon, vanilla, herbs, and (I kid you not) even a touch of pine resin.

And the profile, thank God, doesn’t let us down (think of what a waste that would have been, after all this time). People like me use the nose a lot to tease out flavour-notes but the majority of drinkers consider only the taste, and here, they’ll have nothing to complain about, because it continues and underlines everything the smells had promised. Again, thick and pungent with bark and herbs and fruit: plums, dark ripe cherries, ripe mangoes, bags of licorice, and an interesting combo of mauby and sorrel. Caramel and toffee and chocolate and cafe-au-lait dosed with a generous helping of brown sugar and whipped cream, each flavour clear and distinct and outright deliciousthe balance of the various soft, sharp, tart and other components is outstanding. Even the finish does the rum honourit’s long, fragrant and lasting and if it could be a colour, it would be dark brown-redthe hues of licorice, nuts, raisins, dates, stewed apples and caramel.

There’s just so much here. It’s so rich, smooth, warm, complex, inviting, tasty, sensual and outright delicious. Just as you put down the glass and finish scribbling what you optimistically think is the final tasting note, you burp and think of yet another aspect you’ve overlooked. Yes, High Spirits probably bought the barrel from a broker or an indifferent Scottish whisky maker who passed it by, but whoever selected it knew what they were doing, because they found and teased out the muscular poetry of the core distillate that in other hands could (and in its knock-offs sometimes does) turn into a schlocky muddled mess.

At end, over and beyond how it tasted, I find myself coming back to that age. Thirty two years. Such rums are getting rarer all the time. Silver Seal and Moon imports and Cadenhead and G&M occasionally upchuck one or two in the twenties, and yes, occasionally a house in Europe will issue a rum in the thirties (like CDI did with its 33YO Hong Kong Hampden, or those 1984 Monymusks that are popping up), but the big new houses are mostly remaining in the teens, and tropical ageing is the new thing which further suggests a diminution of the majority of aged bottlings. To see one like this, with the barrel slowly seeping its influence into the rum over three decades from a time most rum lovers were unborn and the rumworld we live in undreamt, is an experience not to be missed if one ever has the chance.

(#766)(91/100)


Other Notes

  • My thanks to Gregers, Pietro and Johnny for their help on this one, the pictures and background, and, of course, for the sample itself.
  • If I read the label right, it’s possible that as few as 60 bottles were issued.
  • For a recap of several 1975 Port Mourant rums, see Marius’s awesome flight notes on Single Cask.
  • High Spirits is a small Italian importer of whiskies and rums and moonlights as an occasional bottler. It is run by a gentleman by the name of Fernando Nadi Fior in Rimini (NE Italy), and he is an associate and friend of Andrea Ferrari and Stefano Cremaschi of Hidden Spirit and Wild Parrot respectively. High Spirits has quietly and primarily been dealing in whiskies and very occasional limited bottlings of rum since the formation of the company after the dissolution of the previous enterprise, Intertrade Import in the 1970s, but is still mostly unknown outside Italy.
  • I’ve often wondered about the prevalence of 1974 and 1975 Guyanese rums, so many of which were Port Mourant, We don’t see 1970s PM rums that often to begin with (Velier has a 1972, 1973 and other years as well, but they’re an exception), yet for some reason these two years seems to be unusually well represented across the various companies’ lines, and I doubt that’s a coincidence. Somehow, for some reason, a lot of barrels from Guyana went to Europe back then and yet for few other years from that decade. Hopefully one day we’ll find out why.

Apr 162020
 

Photo (c) Henrik Kristoffersen, RunCorner.dk

1974 was clearly a good year for barrel selection by the Scottish whisky maker Gordon & MacPhail. So good in fact that they were able to release several exceptional rums from that yearone was in 1999, the near spectacular 25 year old, which my Danish friends kicked themselves for missing when it came up for a tasting one year in Berlin. They got their own back at me by locating this slightly older version that was laid to sleep in the same year, emerged 29 years later (in 2003), and which is also a quietly amazing aged Demerara rumevery bit as good as its predecessor.

It’s too bad we don’t know enough about it. Oh, there’s all the usual labelling information that would have been satisfactory a short time back: 50% ABV, distilled in 1974, bottled in 2003 from two casks (#102 and #103), and that’s certainly better than what I grew up having to be satisfied with back in the day. But we’re greedy wretches, us rum writers, and now I want to know where it slumbered and which still it came from, what the total bottle-outturn was, and how much time it spent ageing where. That I don’t have such info is something of a minor irritant, but we forge ahead with what we have.

Where the still is concerned, we can certainly guess from the profile. I mean, just nose the thingheaven. Deep, fruity, wooden-still action all the way. Anise, blackberries, oak, ripe tart apples and overripe cherries, apricots and prunes. This is followed by molasses, dust, hay, well-polished leather upholstery, aromatic tobaccoand coffee grounds, lots of ‘em. An excellent nose, very rich, very pungent, very dark.

It tastes as good as the nose leads one to expect, and may even exceed the nose. The rum is a very dark brown, bottled at 50% ABV, just about the perfect strength for something so old and thick: enough to bring the flavours out with authority and some kick, not so strong as to burn you in the process. Here, the dark fruit panoply continues: blackcurrants, cherries, overripe mangoes. That’s joined by coffee, unsweetened chocolate, licorice, molasses, nougat, nuts and caramel. And then there’s a subtle third layer, very delicate, hinting of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and a freshly baked load of rye bread. The balance of the thing among these three components is really quite something, and if I had a whinge, it’s that the dry and warm finish, flavourful as it istobacco, leather, caramel, coffee, anise and breakfast spicesfeels somewhatless. It sums up everything that came before quite well, but brings nothing new to the party for a rousing encore, and is a. A minor point, really.

My first guess would be that the rum is from the double wooden PM pot still, because it lacks the rough wildness of the Versailles, or the slightly more elegant nature of the Enmore (which also tends to have a bit more lumberat least a few pencilsin the jock, so to speak). But really, at this age, at this remove, does it really matter except for us who want every single detail? I call it a Demerara, as G&M do, and am happy to have been given the opportunity to try it.

Henrik Kristofferson, who runs that somnolent and suspirant site Rum Corner (and the source of the sample) remarked in his own review that with rums this old, from that far back and for this rarity, price-to-value calculations are meaningless, and he’s right. This is a rum that’s available now probably only through sample networks, which makes it unlikely that anyone will ever get a complete bottle (let alone a complete set of all the 1974s G&M have released) unless it pops up for auction again. But I must admit, it’s good. In fact, it’s as good as the other one I tried, nearly on par with some of the Velier Demeraras from the Age, or Cadenhead’s 33 YO or Norse Cask’s amazing 32 YO (both from 1975). I wouldn’t go so far as to tell anyone who sees a bottle for many hundreds of pounds, Euros, dollars or whatever, to go drain the back account immediately and buy the thingbut if you can get a taste, get it. Get it now, and get fast, because rums like this are a dying, vanishing breed, and it’s an experience worth savouring, to see how the rums of today compare against hoary geriatric whitebeards of yesteryear, like this one. We may not see their like again any time soon.

(#719)(89/100)


Other notes

There was a third G&M 1974 bottled released in 2004 that went for auction at around £600 in 2017 (which gives you some idea how these three-decade-old vintages are appreciating), and yet another one released in 2005.

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 112015
 

D3S_9323-001

An assembly of two rums that are great on their own, made even better by being blended before ageing.

Permit me a brief box-ticking here: Velier issues cask strength monsters akin to top end whiskies (but which cost less); they hearken to individual distilleries, sometimes to individual stills within that distillery; and Luca Gargano, the maitre, has stocks of Guyanese rums and the Trini Caronis that beggar the imagination; and while occasionally there are rums that don’t quite ascend to the brilliance of others, the overall oevre is one of enormous collective quality. Here, Velier has taken something of a left turnthis rum is what Luca calls an “experimental”. Which is to say, he’s playing around a bit. The price of €150 is high enough to cause a defense contractor to smile, and reflects the rums rarityonly 848 bottles are in existence (as an aside, compare this price to the 7000 bottles or so of the thousand-dollar Black Tot).

Blending of rums to produce the final product which makes it to our shelves usually takes place after they have slept a while in their wooden beds. Ever-willing to buck the trend and go its own way, Velier blended the core distillates (from the Port Mourant double-pot still, and the Enmore wooden Coffey still) right up front, and then aged the mix for sixteen years (it’s a 2014 release). The theory was that the disparate components had a chance to meld from the beginning, and to harmonize and age as one, fully integrating their different profiles. It’s a bit of a gamble, but then, so is marriage, and I can’t think of a more appropriate turn of phrase to describe what has been accomplished here

D3S_9329

Appearance wise, box is decent; bottle and label were utterly standard, as always seems to be the case with Velierthey have little time for fancy designs and graphics, and stick with stark minimalism. Black bottle, white label, lots of info, plastic tipped cork, surrounding a dark amber rum inside. When that rum poured, I took a prudent yet hopeful step backwards: prudent because I didn’t feel like being coshed over the head with that massive proof, hopeful because in remembering the PM 1974 and the Skeldon 1973, I was hoping that the aromas would suffuse the atmosphere like the police were quelling a good riot nearby.

I wasn’t disappointed on either score. That nose spread out through the room so fast and so pungently that my mother and wife ran to me in panic from the kitchen, wondering if I had been indulging in some kind of childish chem experiment with my rums. It was not as heavy as the Damoiseau 1980 which I had had just a few hours before (I was using it and the Bristol Caroni 1974 as controls), but deep enoughhot, heavy to smell and joyously fresh and crisp. Tar, licorice and dried fruits were the lead singers here, smoothly segueing into backup vocals of black bread and butter, green olives, and a riff of coffee and smoke in the background. It had an amazing kind of softness to it after ten minutes or so, and really, I just teased myself with it for an inordinately long time.

Subtlety is not this rum’s forte, of courseit arrived on the palate with all the charming nuance of a sledgehammer to the head, and at 62.2% ABV, I was not expecting anything else. So it wasn’t a drink for the timid by any stretch, more like a hyperactive and overly-muscular kid: you had to pay close attention to what it was doing at all times. It was sharp and heavy with molasses and anise at the same time, displayed heat and firmness and distinct, separable elements, all at once: more molasses, licorice, chopped fruit, orange peel (just a bit), raisins, all the characteristic West Indian black cake ingredients. Adding some water brought out cinnamon, black grapes, ginger, flowers, tannins and leather, with some aromatic smoke rounding out an amazingly rich profile.

D3S_9324-001

Man this thing was an immense drink. I said I expected three profiles, but it was practically impossible to separate them out, so well were they assembled. There was just no way I could say how much came from PM, and how much from Enmore (Velier provided no information on the ratios of one to the other, merely remarking that the Enmore is dominant). It was the sort of rum that when you fully drop the hammer on itwhich is to say, drink a gorilla-sized two ounce shot, hold it down for a few seconds, before slugging it down and asking for a refillits flavours bang away at your throat like the Almighty is at the door (and pissed at you). Even the finish displayed something of that brooding Brando-esque machismolong lasting, heated, with closing notes of strong black slightly-bitter tea, raisins and anise. It is a brilliant bit of rum-making, and answers all questions people have when they wonder if 40% is the universe. When I see my friends and commentators and reviewers and ambassadors wax rhapsodic over spiced rums and the standard proof offerings from the great and old houses, all I want to do is smile, hand them one of these, and watch their reaction.

Sooner or later, no matter how many Demerara rums I try, I always circle back to Veliers from The Age. I think of the company’s products almost like James Bond films, following familiar territory time after time, differing only in the details. It’s always fun to try a new expression of an estate specific Guyanese rum, if only to see what madness La Casa Luca has come up with this time. And here, I think we may just have the brilliance of a film like Skyfall, with its originality and uniqueness intact, hearkening back to all that has come before, recalling not only all the old glories of times past, but the remarkable synthesis of those same elements, combined into something startlingly and wonderfully new.

That was a film to treasureand for the same reasons, so is this rum.

(#206. 91/100)


Other notes

  • Velier has also issued a Diamond+PM 1995 blend in 2014.
  • This was the third of four samples Luca Gargano sent to me personally (unasked for) in September of 2014 when he heard I would be in Europe in October of that year. He has agreed that I pay for them either in cash, or with a really good, high priced dinner in Paris.
Mar 012013
 

Tropic Thunder

Building a boutique, aged superrum at the top end of the scalewhether that scale is price or power or bothis at best an uncertain business. Too expensive, nobody will buy it, too oomphed-up and too many won’t try it. Both together and you’ll scare away all but the wealthy who casually buy not one but several of the Appleton 50s. I think that this 46% rum hits all the high notes and finds a harmonious balance between age, price and proofage. It may be among the best rums I’ve tried so far, in my lonely sojourn of the rum islands in a resolutely whisky filled ocean.

Berry Brothers and Rudd has the rather unique distinction of being one of the oldest spirits houses in the world; they have occupied the same premises in London since 1695 when Ms. Bourne founded her shop opposite St James Palace. It may be relatively unknown to rummiesyet when I remarked to the Scotchguy of KWM that I had picked up this vintage 1975 30 year old rum, he immediately knew the company and gave me quite a rundown on its antecedents.

Compared to the vaguely rococo label of the Coruba 12 label I looked at last week, or the monolithic spartan menace of the Albion 1994 I liked so much, there’s something resolutely old fashioned here: a standard barroom bottle (perhaps a little slim), with a thick paper label that is subtly genteel, even Edwardian, surmounted by a plastic tipped cork. Just a step above middle-of-the-road, I thinkit gives all the information needed in a straightforward, aesthetically pleasing way. Inside, there’s a dark, almost red liquid that had me sighing with anticipation, truly (well, I blew €160 on it so I think I’m entitled).

Port Mourant rum is made on the famed double wooden pot still that actually used to hang out in the estate distillery of the same name on the Corentyne Coast, and is now housed at Diamond Estate where DDL has its base of operations on the East Bank of the Demerara. Since I have at least several rums from that one stillBristol PM 1980 and 1988, the Rum Nation 1989 23 year old, this one (and I harbour lingering suspicions about the Albion 1994 given its profile) — there are certain elements I expect from any rum bearing the appellation. And the 1975 for sure had them all. In spades.

The nose on this dark red-brown rum may be among the richest, deepest, most pungent I’ve ever experienced to this point. None of the raw alcoholic screaming hellburn of an overcoked rock god torturing his guitar like Bacardi 151, the Stroh 80 or the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3%. Just wave after wave of molasses, licorice and dark chocolate to start, mixed in with a strain of plasticine, wax and rubber (similar to what I noted on the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 or the Demerara 23, if you recall), which then dialled themselves down and walked to the corner to give other flavours their moment to hog the stage. Cherries, cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee, caramelman, this thing just kept on givingit was one of the most luscious noses of any rum in recent memory.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really was a rum that rewarded patience. The longer I let it stand and open up, the more it gave back to me, and this was not merely relegated to the aromas. The taste was similarly rich: rough and heated, yet without that sharpness that bespoke untamed and rebellious (and maybe stupid) youth, more like the firm hug bestowed upon you by your father when you were young. Slightly sweet, licorice and anise, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, and the darkest burnt sugar and caramel notes you’ll ever have, bound together with molasses and red guavas. It married tempestuous performance to a weirdly calm and deceptive disposition, a quality of deep spirituous serenity that was almost but not quite zenuntil the last smidgen of butterscotch and toffee settled on the palate and stayed there. The exit was long and spicy, and finally faded with a last fanfare of molasses and dark brown sugar, and a faint note of sea salt.

What a lovely rum indeed. It’s a fabulous, fascinating synthesis of strength and style and taste. It’s better than the hypothetical offspring of Sheldon and Penny, and without any of the nuttiness. It offers buyers (all five of them) just about everything: lose-your-shorts nose; strong and purring arrival and a stupendous finishan overall mien of strapping, extreme flavour, yet also of charmingly cultured physicality. It’s a 1930s hood dressed in Dockers and a button down shirt.

Is it worth it? Hell yes, if you can ever find a rum so relatively obscure. Me, I covet something this unique like it was Uriah’s wife. Of course, at some point in their drinking lives, rum lovers will accept there is more to life than full proofed, deep-tasting rums; and reviewers and aficionados will see that pricey, aged and rare rums are overrated and…oh, who am I trying to con here? There will always be rums like this old, fascinating Bugatti around. And we will always love them.

(#147. 90.5/100)


Other notes

  • Not sure if this is 30 years old or not. Research suggests it is, but as usual, there is maddeningly little hard information the BBR website.

 

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

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.