Jun 192023
 

Some rum independents1 just have a certain…something. A kind of vibe, a sort of cool marketing pizzazz and reputational cred that sets them apart from the increasing number of such companies crowding the marketplace. 

It’s a varied sort of thing: sometimes it’s a colourful and interesting owner or brand rep, like Mitch Wilson, Josh Singh, Karl Mudzamba, Eric Kaye, Luca, Fabio or Florent Beuchet. Other times it’s because of really good rums that fly under the  radar, like Velier in the old days, or Tristan Prodhomme’s L’Esprit range, the one-off release of Stolen Overproof. And at other times it’s an unusual, even striking, bottle or label design, such as the original frosted glass bottles of the first Renegade rums, the Habitation Veliers with their informative label and delicate watercolours, the beautiful B&W photography of Rom Deluxe’s “Wild Series” or the superb minimalism of El Destilado’s Oaxacan rums.

Not many indies play in all three areas: those that do are assured of eyeballs and mindspace way beyond their actual market footprint, and here we are looking at a rum from one of them, That Boutique-y Rum Co. This offshoot of Atom Brands (which runs the Masters of Malt online shop in the UK) is almost like a masterclass in pressing all the marketing buttons at once.  For one, they have a strikingly visual label ethos, having contracted with the artist Jim’ll Paint it, who includes factual information, easter eggs, sight gags and an irreverent sense of humour into all his brightly coloured designs. For another, they are repped around the place by the enormously likeable and knowledgeable Pete Holland (who also talks up Foursquare in his spare time when Richard can convince him to come in off the beach) — in a nice meta-twist, Pete is also on quite a few of the bottle labels himself. And thirdly their rums cover a wide gamut of the world’s most famous distillery selections (plus a few off the beaten track), many of which are really quite good.

Such an example is this rum, from the evocatively-named Madeiran distillery of O Reizinho (the name means “Little King”, “Kinglet” or “The Prince” depending on your translational tool), which some might recall fom when we met the rum before as Batch 1 which was released in 2018. Batch 2 was similar in that it was also an unaged white but with the proof jacked up to 57% and here, with Batch 3, the strength remains at 57% but it’s been aged for nine months in ex-Madeira casks, hence the bright gold colouring. Other details remain constant: cane juice, about a week’s fermentation, pot still. It can legally be called an agricole.

Even nine months’ ageing can produce some variations from the pure vegetal background of an unaged white  going on all cylinders — but that does not appear to be the case with Batch 3 because if you close your eyes it could just as easily be one of those clear little monsters. Holy smokes, is this rum ever pungent. It exudes a sharp breath of vegetal, funky rumstink right from the start – fruits going bad in hot weather, the chewing gum-flavoured bad breath of a furious fire-and-brimstone street preacher who doesn’t keep his distance (I wish I could tell you I made this up…), sharp strawberries and pineapples, green grapes, brine and pepper-stuffed olives. There’s some light citrus and watermelon cowering behind these, and some odd smells of what can only be described as potato starch in water, go figure, plus a hint of coconut shavings, ginger and lemon zest.

The palate is more balanced and dials down the aggro a fair bit, which is welcome. It’s warm and sweet (not too much), tastes of sugar cane sap, mint, olives, brine, olives with a background of pine sol, lemon, and hot cooking oil just at the smoke point.  There are a few stray notes of green bananas, black peppers, vanilla and those coconut shavings.  You can still sense the funkiness underlying all this – pineapples and strawberries show up, as well as soft squishy overripe oranges – but it handles well, leading to a finish that’s medium long, no burn, quite warm, and brings each taste back to the front one last time for a final bow. Some brine, pine-y notes, olives and oranges, with softer vanilla and banana and coconut and nail polish.  Nice.

So, what to say here? It’s different from the rums we usually try, enough to be interesting and pique our desire for a challenge. The strength is completely solid – it might be off-putting to some so a few drops of water might calm things down to manageable levels. The combination of sweet and sour and salt is good; what makes this score slightly lower in my estimation is the ageing itself, because it transforms the rum into something subtly schizophrenic, that’s neither fish not fowl, neither quite presenting the crisp clarity of an unaged white brawler, nor a more modulated aged rum whose rough edges have been sanded off.  Oh, and that Madeira cask in which it was aged? Anonymous at best.

That said, the rum is nicely balanced, smells great (after you get past the preacher) and tastes decent. It’s a well done product and overall, if I did prefer Batch 1, that’s entirely a personal preference and your mileage might vary.  At the end of it all, what all these O Reizinho rums do is keep the flags of cheeky insouciance and reputation for interesting rums — which have been a hallmark of TBRC since their establishment — fluttering nicely. And that’s good for all us rum drinkers who want to go off the reservation on occasion.

(#1007)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • It’s a little unclear which  the rum actually refers to, since in 2018 TBRC released a 3YO aged batch #1 of 1936 bottles at 52.6% and with a label design pretty much the same as all the others. So there are clearly two streams of these O’Reiz releases — one aged, one not — whose labels might easily be confused: pay close attention to what you’re buying with them.
Jun 022023
 

As the seasons turn and the years pass, the rumiverse edges closer and closer to the hallowed Everest of aged rums, that crowning achievement of geriatric eld grasped and never relinquished (so far) by G&M’s 58 year old rum from 1941. Alas, rums from so far back in time are now a disappearing dream, vanished into blends, collector’s vaults or the gullets of earlier connoisseurs who knew not what they had. There are few, if any, multi-decade old rums from the 1960s or 1950s to be found – these days, it’s the 1970s that is the decade we’re left with, and everything from that era of funk and disco, hot pants, big hair, bell bottoms and the fading of flower power, is a “mere” forty something years old…assuming it’s ever bottled.

One of these is this rum, a big, bold, rare, practically unknown brown bomber from Jamaica that was laid down the year my family left Africa and arrived in Guyana – 1976. It coyly ignores its own provenance and simply says “Jamaica”, but man, that age is serious, the strength is near biblical, and a sniff of the cork is worth more than my mortgage, so it’s probably best I put a review out there for all those who may one day wonder whether it’s worth forking over that kind of gold for an unproven rum of such mystery. The short answer to that question is “yes” – but only if (a) you are in funds and (b) you really have the interest. Without both these conditions, well, fuggeddabouddit.

So who on earth produced this thing? Where was it hiding all this time?   Which distillery made it? What does the tech sheet look like? And – perhaps more importantly – should we even bother? Questions such as these were going through my mind the entire time I was admiring, photographing, reading about and tasting it.


The restraint with which the rum opened is remarkable.  It’s 68.5% ABV and aged almost beyond reason, and you’d expect both the power and the lumber to be overwhelming: yet it presents no bite, no scratch, no vicious wood claws, no harridan-like screaming – just a serene, enormously solid flow of firm olfactory notes.  Rubber, acetones and honey start the parade, attended by salt caramel and the slightly acrid tang of a warmed-up indoor swimming pool in winter.  Aromas of wafers, warm and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, coffee grounds, and a seemingly never ending parade of all the dark fruit you could name (and a few you can’t) – prunes, dried apricots, plums, sapodilla, kiwi fruit, blackberries and more. And even then it’s not done – one senses the cloying musk of dead bees, melting wax and dusty rooms in old houses, marshmallows and even moist aromatic tobacco.  How so much scent was stuffed in here surpasses my understanding but it’s clear that this is one of the most complex and amazing rums I’ve ever tried.


Last Drop Distillers is not, as some alert whisky anoraks will inevitably rush to inform me, actually a distillery, but an exclusive, high-end premium indie bottler. They occasionally – or at their whim – release very rare and very pricey ultra-aged limited edition bottlings on to the connoisseur’s market, and perhaps one of the reasons most of us have rarely if ever heard of them is because we penurious coin-counting rum-hoarding peons are too busy working for The Man to swim around the upscale markets in which Last Drop cruises. They issued mostly whisky, with an occasional liqueur, port, cognac or rum (this one) to round things out, almost all decades old, dating back to the eighties, seventies, sixties, fifties…even the 1920s. 

The small company was founded in 2008 and brought together Tom Jago and James Espey, two whisky industry veterans who might at first blush seem to be a little long in the tooth to be setting up new commercial ventures at a time most of us are marking out plots and making wills and feverishly downing our valued stashes before we lose the ability to spell “rum” correctly and start drooling instead of drinking.  Yet they did, even though Mr Espery (a veteran of International Distillers & Vintners (IDV), United Distillers & Vintners (UDV) and Chivas (where he was chairman) had just retired at 65 and Mr Jago (who had had a hand in the development of both Bailey’s Irish Cream and what would become Johnny Walker Blue Label) was a sprightly 82. They conjured up this little company where they determined they would source what – by their own lights – would be the rarest and best spirits available.  

Riding the increasing bow wave of premiumisation that was just starting to take off, Espey did the marketing himself: no wholesaler was really interested in such small volumes as they were producing, but in the first ten years TLD sold just about all 7,000 bottles of the 11 one­-off releases of Scotch whisky made to that point. This finally attracted some attention and in 2016 Sazerac, the American spirits conglomerate which owns Buffalo Trace, bought them for an undisclosed sum in a wave of acquisitions around that time, probably to be a part of its luxury division. A condition of the deal was for the existing release philosophy and management structure to be retained, and both Mr. Jago and Mr. Espey stayed on; the former’s daughter Rebecca Jago, joined the company in 2010 and the latter’s, Beanie Espey, in 2014 ,and when in 2018 Mr. Jago — he was the president at that time — passed away, the ladies  were on the expanded board and kept up the same careful pace of exclusive and expensive bottlings.

As of 2023, after fifteen years of operation, there have been a mere 31 releases, making the SMWS rum selections (70+ in about the same timeframe) seem positively profligate.  None costs under four figures and since you’re most likely already googling this rum, and because the purse-hunting, gimlet-eyed Mrs Caner also reads these reviews, you’ll forgive me for not mentioning it here.


The taste, in a word: stunning. It presented less as a pure Jamaican rum than a blend of Jamaica and Demerara, and showcases the best of both.  There were layers of flavour here,, starting with rubber, nail polish, brine, licorice, honey, vanilla, sweet creamed wafers and the aforementioned chocolate, coffee grounds and salted caramel.  In between the spaces coiled the fruits as before – prunes, apricots, overripe oranges and pineapples – and underneath that, one could sense cereals and toast and molasses, even a tang of marmite.  And the spices, those were there, light as a dusting of icing sugar on a tart: nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, cloves.

All of the minor elements on display were chock full of memorable and strange and subtle (and sometimes near-unidentifiable) tasting notes, each of which populated the edges of our awareness for only fleeting moments before another wafted in and around and took its place. They were not the core flavours, the primary notes — those were obvious —  but existed to enhance, to supply background, atmosphere, like all those strange characters who move half-unseen and almost unnoticed in the dim corners of Dickens’s or Dostoyevsky’s novels. 

And the finish well, what can I say? If this was a movie it would be a four-hour-long extravaganza with a cast of thousands, a bunch of secondary also-rans, two overtures plus an intermission. In short – epic.  No other word does it justice, and while admittedly there was little that was introduced at this point that wasn’t already noted above, the amalgam of a basket of ripe and overripe fruit, spices, cereal, coffee, tobacco and leather was a fitting conclusion to a great tasting experience. There are always risks, in a rum this old and from Jamaica, of over-oaking and bitterness and too much reliance on one or other ester-laden note that then ruins the party for everything else and throws the chakras out of whack – not here; in fact, the balance is superb: it is, quite simply, one of the best rums I’ve ever had.


And the questions remain. Which distillery?  Everything I’ve researched says it’s a Clarendon, yet for those who are expecting some hogo-laden congener-squirting Jamaican funk bomb from Ago would be disappointed; there are no screaming, rutting esters in play here.  Nor, for that matter, does the rum present as a pot still product, and the accompanying red booklet provides remarkably little background here: in fact, it tells us only that it’s from the south of Jamaica.  However, Richard Seale, who helped me flesh out the background (see my notes below), in urging caution about expecting a New Jamaican taste profile, also mentioned it was likely from a long scrapped columnar still that once existed at Clarendon but which was later replaced by more modern pot and other columnar stills.

But of course, at this kind of remove, we want the info for our own historical knowledge, and while interesting, it’s ultimately almost unprovable.  What’s important is that in knowing it, we see that the TLD 1976 lacks the fierce pungency of Hampden or Worthy Park (which in any case were not operational or laying down aged stock at that time), does not have the elemental brutality of Long Pond (I’m thinking TECA here), and is a ways better than the more elegant middle of the road approach of even Appleton’s older offerings (though the 50 YO comes really close). 


It is admittedly somewhat mental to buy the TLD, even with that age and strength and that historical legacy – it’s akin to the Black Tot Last Consignment, and for the same reason. But let’s face it, we don’t really need to. The good stuff is all around us, and there’s oodles of excellent tipple available to our relentlessly questioning snoots and jaded palates, and for less, much less. To some extent what this rum really does is to demonstrate exactly how tasty and affordable so many rums to which we have access already are — modern drinkers are fortunate in the extreme to have such a wide choice available to them.

Yet even with all that choice it has to be said – if only by me – that the Jamaica 1976 is on its own terms, superlative.  It’s complex to a fault, tasty beyond hope, balanced beyond dreams, a quietly amazing dram, destined to become a unicorn in its own right, like one of the old Demeraras Velier nervously slipped into the marketplace so many years ago. Somehow – don’t ask me how – I scored a single one of the 183-bottle outturn, perhaps the only one allocated to Canada, which had been sitting in Edmonton for two years gathering dust, ignored and passed over.  Did I regret it? A little. Did I save it? Not a chance. This one is all about cracking, savouring…and then sharing. 

(#1000)(93/100)


Other notes

  • The presentation of the bottle is first rate.  Red leather box, embossed logo, extra cork, a book of small details about the company and the rum – and two bottles, one small 50ml mini to play with and the full sized bottle.
  • My sincere thanks to Richard Seale, who took time out on two separate occasions to answer some questions and provide context and background.  He is on the tasting panel for the Last Drops Distillers and apparently enjoys the experience enormously.
  • My appreciation also to Matt Pietrek who helped me check on some historical details.
  • There is no information as to where the barrel was sourced. URM in Liverpool, maybe, but I somehow think this is one of those rum barrels some whisky outfit had squirrelled away someplace. Just a hunch.
  • Are there any other rums like this, from so far back, still ageing in any bottler’s portfolio? Unlikely, unless some of the old Scottish whisky houses are holding on to old barrels in dark cellars, unseen and maybe even forgotten by mere mortals. Richard suggested that there won’t be, either. There was a three year minimum age rule in play for whiskies since around 1916 that was also adopted by rum makers, so the incentive was to either release relatively young aged rums or send bulk abroad; and only after that rule was relaxed in 1973 or so, was there a gradually emerging market for single barrels. This, he theorises, is one of the main reasons why there are almost no bottled single barrel uber-aged rums in existence pre-dating the 1970s, and even the oddballs of the Cadenhead 1965 Guyanese rum, or the 1941 Long Pond, may just be the rare exceptions that prove the rule.
May 222023
 

Few even within the rum world and almost nobody outside it, will remember the small UK indie bottler El Destilado about which I and a couple of others wrote in our reviews of the fascinating, off-the-reservation Aguardiente de Panela, a rum from a tiny back-country distillery in Mexico. The three British guys who run El Destilado are unabashed agave lovers and dabble with rums only as a kind of sideshow; yet so enormous was the impact that that single limited edition artisanal rum made, that not only did I immediately try to buy all available rums which the little indie had released, but added the word panela to my vocabulary, started researching artisanal Mexican spirits like aguardientes and charandas, and marvelled yet again at the sheer diversity of sugar cane spirits.

This white unaged rum is another from the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and originates in a small hill town of some three thousand inhabitants called Santa Maria Tlalixtac, which is remote enough not to have any highway coming anywhere near it; one wonders how on earth the guys even found the place, let alone the third generation distiller who makes it, Isidore Krassel Peralta1. As with the Aguardiente noted above, the rum shares some DNA with grogues, clairins, backwoods cachacas, kokuto shochus, arrack and charandas – which is to say it is made individually according to their own methods, and primarily for local consumption (see historical notes below) and with tastes blasting out in all directions.

Consider the production stats: the masterfully minimalist label states it derives from cane juice made from Java cane, itself grown on small fields at altitude, hand harvested, crushed with a gas-powered trapiche, fermented with naturally-occurring (“wild”) yeast for five days2 in seven 1200-liter stainless steel tanks, and then squeezed through an 8-plate steel column still which is of the founder’s own design and make dating back to the 1930s (it’s been tinkered with ever since), and which produces no heads or tails.

What comes out the other end and bottled for El Destilado is nothing short of amazing. There I was in the Black Parrot bar in London (with the itinerant Richard Nicholson, both of us making occasional sheep’s eyes at the helpful and very pretty bartender Marine who was pouring our flight of five and laughing at our seriousness), and when I took my first sniff of the white rum that is the subject of this review, so astounding was the initial nose that my first tremblingly written and near disbelieving comment was “Would you just smell that!!”

Aromas jetted and frothed out of the glass in all directions – nicely intense musky and tart white cane juice spiked with alcohol were the first; then plasticine and rubber and brine, extremely dry and very very clear, stopping itself from being blade-sharp and dangerous by a mere whisker. Pine needles, lemon juice, yoghurt, olives and dish washing soap clashed and banged together without apology with crisp green apples, grapes and gooseberries, to say nothing of iodine, florals and even a touch of grass and herbs. The low strength — 41.5%, should have mentioned this before — which I would occasionally see as a problem, actually helps here because it tames what would otherwise be a hurricane of rumstink and tones it down so it actually becomes quite good and really accessible.

The fun doesn’t stop there, and the palate takes the handoff neatly, then sprints ahead.  It tastes dry, arid, minty, and reeks of alcoholic cane juice, like a mojito or a ti-punch but without the additional ingredients (no, really). There are tastes of watery sugar cane syrup, licorice, crushed mint, ripe apples, grapes and even green peas (!!), tart, briny, pine-y and smoky all at once. “It’s almost a mescal,” observed Richard sagely, his eyes crossed and his speech slurred (though it was only our first rum of the evening), as he tried masterfully not to upchuck his lunch of South Island orc flank. I concurred in principle, but honestly, you’d not mistake one for the other – this is a rum through and through and it concluded with a sort of rough, slouching grace: sharp, firm and gnarly, redolent of spearmint, sugar water, thyme, brine, half-ripe tart fruits and a bag of pepper-stuffed olives.

Man, that’s some experience, let me tell you, the more so because it does kind of come at you so unexpectedly, with all the in-your-face kinetic aggro of a 1970s Amitabh Bachchan movie. It’s a smorgasbord of smells and flavours that collapse together with a bang and the only real mystery is how a rum of a mere 41.5% can show off so much. Taken aback at first, I ended up with a completely positive opinion of the thing: because, at end, I truly felt that it was not some feeble attempt to copy nobler sires, but a celebration of gusto, of gumption, from a company unafraid to make bold gestures. Trust me, this is a rum from which you will not walk away unmoved. Unshaken you might be, but I can almost guarantee that you will be stirred.

(#998)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Historical background

The distillery of make doesn’t seem to have a name or a company title.  It looks like it’s just called “Krassel’s” and they also make rum under their own brand of Cañada which is primarily marketed in the USA.  If the name sounds vaguely Teutonic, that’s because it is: the paterfamilias left Germany just before the First World war and came to Veracruz in 1917.  Working various odd jobs and constantly moving to where there was employment, he ended up in the Cañada region of Oaxaca, got married and assisted in small batch distillation on the distillery of the farm where he worked.  After he gained sufficient expertise, he designed and built his own still and began distilling aguardiente on his own account in Santa Maria Tlalixtac, where he settled down.

That still is understandably famous, not the least because it continued to be tinkered with and improved upon as the years passed by Max’s three sons (Max Jr., Isidoro and one other).  As the rum he produced improved in quality its reputation spread, but the lack of roads proved to be a hindrance to distribution and using mule pack trains to transport lots of 40-litre jugs was impractical.  By the 1960s and beyond, the sons got pilot’s licences, bought a Cessna and used it to ferry their rum around the small surrounding communities for their fiestas and local shops. The third generation continued to be involved in the family enterprise, mostly Isidoro’s four sons.

It’s unclear when this happened — my guess is over the last decade ort so — but two American distributors now manage the rum brand’s importation into the USA, so its profile is definitely increasing there. El Destilado is, however, a UK company run by a trio of young enthusiasts and is separate from these; they do not mention the Cañada brand at all and distribute mostly in the UK and Europe.


Other notes

  • The company website for Krassel’s is quite informative and is worth a read through
  • Alex over at the The Rum Barrel Blog has reviewed the overproof version of this rum in 2021 and scored it 81/100 on his scale (about 86 on mine).  Rum-X has two ratings, one of 7/10 and one of 8/10. Not much else out there
  • Good background notes on aguardientes and Mexican rum culture can be found in the Panela review mentioned above.

 

May 192023
 

If the author of some fictional novel that somehow included rum were to make mention of a South Sea island hooch made in Fiji, sourced from the Pacific island directly by an African expatriate living in Western Canada (by way of New Zealand), who gave it to a nomadic, vagrant, itinerant (and occasionally fragrant) West Indian to try, he would probably be sneered at for having an overactive imagination and told to stick with something more realistic. And yet, that’s exactly what this product is, and that’s exactly what happened.

To set the stage, I tried the rum (and its siblings) several times on a thoroughly enjoyable, tall-story-and-b.s.-filled afternoon in the company of the bottler, a friendly, well-known gent named Karl Mudzamba – he’s originally from Zimbabwe and now lives in Vancouver. The rum — his rum — was distilled on a pot still at the South Pacific Distillery in 2008, fully aged there, is a blend of nine casks and has an outturn of 1272 bottles.  It is, as a point of interest, also the one that kicked off the small indie company called Bira! which Karl founded in 2019 to address his not unfounded conviction that Canada was not being served the tastiest and the mostest by the bestest – even in Alberta, which is probably the province with the widest rum selection in the country.

What Canadians got in 2020 when the rum was released – mostly only to them – was a rum of remarkable originality. Granted, there have been several indies issuing SPD rums – Compagnie des Indes, Samaroli, L’Esprit, Kill Devil, The Rum Cask, TCRL, Duncan Taylor, and Berry Bros. & Rudd have all done some bottlings over the years; some have been stronger and some have been older – yet few have the tags that characterised this one: pot still and full tropical ageing with a profile that teased and pleased and stayed on to deliver.  Not since the peculiarly elusive and haunting power of the TCRL 8 Year Old have I had a rum from Fiji that made me spend so much time on one.

The nose, to start with, was lovely.  55% ABV made it hit something of a firm sweet spot, and it was dry and smoky to start, reminding me of roasted coffee beans, unsweetened chocolate with almonds, and toffee.  It opened out to some thickly aromatic fruits – bananas, peaches and apricots set off with hints of pineapple and strawberries – before adding a last briny scent of olives.  It wasn’t particularly sweet and had more than just a hint of a freshly disinfected hospital about it, which I hasten to add, was not unpleasant – just odd.It’s the combination that makes it all hang together, and work.

Much of this continued to be sensed on tasting it. This came in three distinct waves which swelled and subsided over time. First, those heavy fruits (apricots and peaches and kiwi) which now felt riper and juicier…more tart, if you will.  Then muskier flavours of coffee grounds, chocolate, crushed almonds with some sharper tannins of oak influence, cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg.  And lastly the salt-caramel ice cream, honey and slight iodine and rubber background which closed up the experience, leading to the long and fragrant finish.  This last was particularly nice because it dispensed with any kind of sharpness and summarised the preceding experience without trying too hard to do anything new: there were just some fruits, some honey and some medicinals – all of which was dry and almost astringent, but fortunately not bitter.  

What emerged out of this tasting session (as well as from everything else from Bira! I tried that afternoon), was the conviction that aside from being one of the first independent bottlers of rums in Canada, Karl knows how to pick ‘em, and indeed, he did his research on Fiji and knew the various releases that were out there, from other independents. Fiji rums have always been a bit hit and miss depending on who’s picking, where it’s been aged and the still that made it.  By going straight to the source and bypassing brokers, by ensuring the barrels were selected according to his own desires and visions, Karl has issued a well-rounded, tasty, complex rum of excellent quality, and best of all, it’s not one I have to get a plane ticket to Europe to find.  If this is what one potential future aspect of the Canadian rum scene is, I may have returned at just the right time.

(#997)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Background and Company Notes

  • Karl Mudzamba clearly has a penchant for going his own way. While most new independents who source their rum stock start the exercise with a recognizable Name (Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica are old stalwarts and long-favoured choices, as Holmes Cay for one has demonstrated) so as to ensure initial name recognition and sales, then make an effort to see they are repped in the EU and US almost as a given, Karl has done nothing of the kind. His first release was this one from South Pacific Distilleries, and he sourced it not from Europe, but directly from Fiji. Moreover, he also wanted it to be a completely unaged white rum, but Canada being what it is, with liquor laws predating the Flood and about as hard to turn as the ark itself, unaged rum cannot be imported.  So he went with his second choice, and I’m not unhappy that he did so.
  • The Bira ceremony is one practised by the Shona people of Zimbabwe: it is a dusk to dawn celebration, a ritual, in which members of an extended family or clan get together, and with the use of music and dance, ask ancestral spirits to come into the world of the living. When the spirits come they take over the body of the spirit medium – usually an elder of the family – and act as an intermediary between the participants and the spirits of those who have passed on, or even the Creator. The ceremony is composed of singing, dancing, hand clapping and sometimes traditional musical instruments (drums, gourd shakers), and one consistent feature is to use music favoured by the departed to entice them to participate.
  • So far the small company has three releases out there: the South Pacific rum we discuss here, and two aged cane juice varietals from Mhoba. They’re all quite good.
  • The stylized Bira dancer on the label was added after the South Pacific issue, and is now the logo of the company brand.
  • Other references are:
Apr 102023
 

At first I thought the Barbados Grande Reserve Aged Rum was a replacement for the five year old Barbados rum from Plantation which I had tried many years ago, but further investigation showed them to be quite separate.  Both, however, are part of the Signature blends which include the Barbados 5, the XO, Grand Anejo and Xaymaca — these are what one might infer are entry level rums for the curious (to call them ‘premium’ would be a stretch). They are neither bartenders’ mixing staples like the Three Star, OFTD or Original Dark, nor expensive limited editions like the upscale Extreme, Single Cask or Vintage series, and exist in a kind of everyman’s universe where “reasonableness” is the watchword.

That said, the production ethos of the company pervades even this introductory rum. It originates from the West Indies Rum Refinery in Barbados (we all know Ferrand, Plantation’s parent company, owns it) where it is blended from pot/column still molasses-derived rums aged from one to three years, before being shipped off to France and aged in Ferrand’s facilities there for another year.  It’s released at 40%, the sweetening is glossed over, and overall, like most rums of this kind from this house, it attracts equal parts dislike and appreciation depending on who’s doing the talking.

It’s not my intent to rehash the polarising nature and background of either the company or its production practises here, except insofar as to note there aren’t many reviews of this rum to be found1, and wonder if the vitriol surrounding the company may have an impact on any writers’ desire to get sucked in. Be that as it may, the rum has to be tried sooner or later, and for new rum drinkers who wet their beaks for the first time with it, there’s little to actively dislike: it’s as good a rum to start one’s journey with as any, and better than quite a few I’ve looked at of late.

So, let’s get started.  Nose: an introduction of crisp yet ripe fruit, like raspberries, red currants, pineapples, around which coils a waft of stinky sweet bubble gum in hot weather. Brown sugar and molasses and coconut shavings are discernible, plus some mushy bananas and tangerines that have seen better days. Nice enough nose, with enough going on not to be categorised as simply an entry-level molasses based product: it’s a bit better than that.

The palate now…not too shabby. No, seriously. A touch sharp going in at first sip, then it steadies: sweet and sour pork, hot black tea sweetened with condensed milk and cardamom (bush tea, we called it and I still make a mug a few times a month), light fruits plus a touch of unsweetened salt caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, orange juice and even marzipan. The problem is it tastes a bit…flattened, even dull, like Emile’s sense of taste compared to Remy’s in Ratatouille. The music is there but the bass is too high and the top- and mid-range notes don’t come through clearly enough and this is also the case when considering the finish; which turns out to be nothing we haven’t seen before, and is even a bit boring — slightly briny, sweet, coconut shavings, vanilla, light citrus and some chocolate.  

It goes down easy without reaching and that may be the key observation. Overall, it’s a relatively simple rum compared to others I’ve had (including some from Plantation themselves), yet a rum one can, with care and lowered expectations, have neat without too many issues. To be honest, I thought the rum was better than it had a right to be considering the sweetening Plantation is known for (I tested it after the session, not before…so the level was unknown to me while trying it). 

The Grand Reserve stops short of being a cloying muddle, and is fortunately a ways from being a complete sugary mess — yet the additives/sugar do spoil it and make for a lesser experience, especially if one knows what one is looking for. For someone now getting into rum, it’s serviceable and they could use it as a stepping stone to get more into the field, though for getting into the Barbados style it’s useless, so forget that aspect. Those with more experience can use it as a bellwether for what to look for in Plantation’s successively more upscale (and expensive) offerings; and for those who’re really into rums, well, there’s not much to say to them, since they already know all there is to know.

(#987)(78/100)


Other notes

  • The Plantation website has no details on any of the Signature rum series at all (the “learn more” link does not work)
  • Most articles mention 15-16 g/L sweetening, or “dosage”. My hydrometer shows 36% ABV when measuring the rum, which works out to 15 g/L
  • Leaving the empty glass in the sink to evaporate overnight leaves a slightly sticky residue to be found the next morning.
  • The rum has been in production for a very long time, hence the various label changes.  The first reference I can find for it dates from 2008, and is on one of the first  rum review websites, Refined Vices, run by an old friend from Finland, Tatu Kaarlas (who now lives in Australia). That Grand Reserve Barbados rum had a label which stated it was from cane juice (felt by most at the time to be unlikely) not molasses…and came from Foursquare. Yeah, that’s not happening now, for sure.
Mar 302023
 

Rumaniacs Review #146 | R-0985

This is one of those rare instances where the subject is not some dusty old find from Ago with dust flaking from its shoulders, but a relatively recent bottling; and rather more than less is known about the rum, because in this instance, not only did I have the bottle in my grubby little paws, but happily it was also sporting a quite informative label. Oh, and it was a great Guyanese rum to boot.  Those who bought one are surely happy they did so, or should be.

This was an independent bottling done for the Danish spirits shop Juuls (an establishment I heartily recommend for its selections and expertise, though I’ve not been fortunate enough to set foot inside it myself) by the Scottish distiller and blender Ian Macleod.  IM is a small company set up in 1933 in the small town of Broxburn, just slightly west of Edinburgh, and they were pretty much in the whisky blending game.  This changed in 1993, when they acquired a gin making concern, but the real forays into rum came in 1996 with the acquisition of Trawlers and Watson’s rum brands (Watson’s being primarily Guyana rum, while Trawlers being a blend of Guyana and Barbados).

Occasionally the company indulged itself with some special rum bottlings, though you would be hard pressed to find out much about any of them, and even Rum-X only has a couple. This one was a special order for Juuls, bottled in 2015 from a single cask yielding 241 bottles at 57.8%.  What does the “No. 34” mean? It’s the cask number (not the series number, so those looking for Nos. 1-33 can stop their search), and the “Diamond of Frederiksberg” is a nod to the city where Juuls is found and the Guyanese distillery of origin. Rums of this kind were not and are not a staple of Ian Macleod’s output – when doing rums at all they stick with Trawler and Watsons, or make cheap underproof Jamaican’s via the Lang’s brand or undisclosed cheaper blends under the King Robert II label. Single casks like this are a very occasional one-off or special order which is why I feel ok placing it in the Rumaniacs section.

Strength – 57.8%

Colour – Red-amber

Nose – Light and sweet, with wax and brine and esters. The fruits that emerge are mostly from the dark and lush side: plums, dates, prunes for the most part.  Also brown sugar, molasses, coffee, unsweetened chocolate and vanilla; with water and after opening up it becomes rather more tannic and oak-forward with a few background licorice notes, and the whole remains quite well done and inviting.

Palate – Sharp and hot, yet well controlled. Medium sweet with molasses, stewed apples, toffee, vanilla, sweet cardamom rice drizzled with hot caramel.  Not precisely a riot of complexity, just sure footed and really tasty. Some raisins, more dark fruits, licorice, coffee, and this is where I would suggest there’s definitely some Port Mourant pot still juice in here.

Finish – Medium, warm, sweetish and spicy with vanilla, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and caramel. The molasses and licorice take a back seat, and it’s actually something of a shame the experience is over so quickly.

Thoughts – Although the label says “Diamond,” any reasonably knowledgeable rum guy knows this is kind of meaningless since all the stills in Guyana are now located at the estate of that name, and especially with the older rums, care has to be taken assigning a rum just to “Diamond”.  I think this is probably a Port Mourant rum, though it could as easily be from Versailles – the richness bends me more to the former, however. 

Whichever still made it, it’s a quiet stunner of a rum and it’s a shame Ian Macleod never continued mining this vein and instead went mass market. Rums like this from so recent a time are a rarity (most of this quality are from further back in time, or much older) and its my regret that although I had a great time trying it with my Danish friends and even have a sample squirrelled away, there aren’t more bottles in circulation for others to enjoy as well.

(89/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Gregers, who pretends he owns our bottle, gave me the details on the label naming convention, as well as trotting the rum out of his stash for me to try. Thanks!
  • Only one bottle ever came up for auction of late and that was here for £112 in May 2022; another Diamond, the No. 33, was also on sale that month, and sold for £143, though I’ve heard people opine that it’s not as good as this one.  These are the only ones aside from the three on Rum-X (which are not from this series) which I’ve been able to trace.
Mar 232023
 

Compagnie des Indes, run by the flamboyant and cheerful Florent Beuchet, was one of the first independent bottlers whose rums I found and started reviewing, along with Rum Nation and the original Renegade and yes, Velier. The small company is still going strong, and after having made its bones with some really good single cask bottlings — I have fond memories of their Indonesian rum, for example — did some very unusual one-offs (Florida, Thailand, Ghana, El Salvador), and also expanded into blends, much as 1423 has done, with names as evocative as Tricorn, Blacklice, Boulet de Canon, Veneragua, Barbagaya, Caraibes, Dominidad, Kaiman and (on my list to try for sure) the Great Whites. Yet, as with most independents, while it is the softer blends that provide the cash flow, it’s the cask bottlings that are deemed the cream of the crop, and form the edifice upon which the Compagnie’s reputation is considered to rest.

The rum for today is one of these: a molasses-based rum from Fiji, distilled in 2010 on a column still, aged seven years there and three years in Europe, resulting in an outturn of 407 bottles, and whose provenance is not disclosed.

The precedent for such demure modesty in the naming is admittedly not new. Sometimes pre-existing sales arrangements with other brands — even the distillery’s own — come with the condition that third party bottlings don’t get to capitalise on the distillery’s name; sometimes it’s because the provenance is not entirely nailed down; sometimes it’s reverse marketing. Whatever the reason, upon further consideration, the amused cynic in me posits that perhaps there’s a good reason for a rum coming from the only rum-making enterprise on Fiji to proclaim it comes from a “Secret Distillery”: the fact that the rum, alas, isn’t that interesting. 

There is, you see, not a whole lot going on with the nose as it stands. Granted 44% isn’t the strongest rum I’ve ever tried, and indeed it was the puniest of the rums in that evening’s first flight. Yet even taking that into account the rum is something of a lightweight: some light apples, cider and yoghurt, followed by wispy, watery fruits (pears, watermelon, papaya), some grapes, and licorice. There’s a line of sugar cane sap and lemon meringue pie here and there, just difficult to come to grips with and it wafts away too quickly. There should be more to a sipping rum from one barrel than a nose this ephemeral, I’m thinking.

Tasting it reinforces this impression of “move along folks, nothing to see here.” The rum has a firm feel on the tongue, yet you’d be hard pressed to discourse on any single component of what comprises it. Some light, white fruits – guavas, pears, melon – tasting the slightest bit salty at times, overlaid with a whiff of acetone. If you pushed you might hazard a guess that you sense papaya or kiwi fruit, sugar water and maybe a slight briny aspect, akin to salt caramel chocolate. And the finish is just that, a finish, and a quick one at that.  White guavas, a hint of brine, flowers and acetone, all weak and airy and very hard to detect.

Several years ago I tried an earlier one of the Compagnie’s Fiji rums – that one was from 2004, also from South Pacific, also ten years old, also 44%.  At the time it was too new for me to make any sweeping statements about it, though I remarked that it wasn’t quite my cup of tea (for reasons other than those noted here). In the interim there have been quite a few more candidates from the distillery, including those released by Bounty, Samaroli, L’Esprit, TCRL, the Rum Cask, Duncan Taylor, and even the Compagnie a few more times.  None have had this almost indifferent aroma and vague palate, at any strength.

So we know from years of subsequent experience that both the Compagnie and South Pacific can do a whole lot better, and there is rum out there from the distillery which is just shy of magnificent.  Since I know that, I can only assume that the barrel this was aged in was simply exhausted and had nothing left to give except maybe good advice.  My own recommendation, then, is simply that it’s a pass. Fortunately, given the sheer volume and variety of excellent rum that Florent has put out over the last decade, there is no shortage of good and better rums from the Compagnie that can take its place.

(#983)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐


 

Feb 242023
 

When it comes to Guyanese rum, I’m afraid that much as I enjoy DDL’s wares from time to time – more so of late, since they took the bull by the horns and released rums with less additions –  the really good stuff, the best stuff, to me, still comes from the indies.  Alas, Velier has moved away from the Demerara rums and I can’t afford the ones that remain on the secondary market, but fortunately for us all, there is no shortage of other independent bottlers out there to satisfy our thirst for the output of those lovely wooden heritage stills.  

And one of the more intriguing developments in the Demerara rumisphere by these indies, is the (occasional) release of high proof unaged white rums which were previously deemed the province of the French island rhum makers, and the Jamaicans.  We’ve seen a few of these hefty molasses-based whites before, of course, whether aged a little or not at all – any list of bartenders’ favourites can’t be complete without the J Wray 63%, Hampden’s Rum Fire and Worthy Park’s Rum Bar rums, and to be sure there are others from St. Vincent, Grenada, Suriname and even Guyana (where the DDL Superior High Wine is a sort of local classic to this day).

For the most part, however, something like the L’Esprit MPM is a rare thing.  A one-off unaged white from the Port Mourant pot still, we’ve actually seen its near-twin before – the “Cuvee Edgar” 2º Edition, which shared much of the DNA of the rum we’re hear to discuss today – the First Edition. Both are Port Mourant wooden pot still rums (the label is a misprint where it says “single pot still”), both were issued to celebrate the birth of Tristan Prodhomme’s son Edgar, both are rested and not aged for about a year in inert steel tanks, and both jacked up to a strength that would have your nether regions puckering (85%), and frankly, when tasting it I wondered if it wasn’t just a bit too much for us mere mortals.

Because think about it: 40% ABV is standard strength and if taken too quickly is still a bit of a bash to the snoot when sniffed and a quick stab to the glottis when sampled. This rum is more than twice that strength, and believe me, it shows, it’s not afraid to say it, and looking at it, remembering the last time, I morbidly wondered what it had had for breakfast that day: diced and fried reviewers, maybe?

A deeper inhale than a delicate little somelier-taking-a-toot sniff I took of this clear popskull might have caused my DNA to unravel, so I took my time. Which was a good idea, as the fierce power of the aromas was off the charts; on the flip side, it allowed a lot to come through over the ten minutes I initially spent with it (the glass ended up going for two days). First, there was a near-rank orange juice past the sell-by date; then dry, fruity, meaty, briny notes all at once, savage and hard hitting. It had the soft dampness of dew on a cool misty morning in trees nestled in mountain foothills; the gasoline stink of an open jerry-can, and yet all that was offset by hot samosas and a badly made currywurst in an cheap imbiss down in Steglitz. It was dirty and aromatic and not even halfway done yet, because the aromas kept pouring out of the glass: anise and lemongrass, a touch of bitters, mauby, sorrel, unsweetened bitter chocolate and just a ton of overripe prunes, before doing a segue into a garbage pile in hot weather mixed up with the musky pungency of an untended outhouse. Yeah I know, it’s a lot and sounds this side of awful, but damn, this thing was intense, it was fun to try, and fending off the strength became a kind of game to see who would win, me or the rum.

Thankfully the palate calmed down; it was still a massive gut punch, yet it was somehow not as intent on causing damage as it was proving it was the biggest and baddest thing in the room that day.  First off was rubber, plastic and lots of furniture polish  Then it got sweet and creamy, channelled some Danish cookies and whipped cream, and added anise and a light fruit jam spread over salt crackers; and just to prove it had more up its sleeves than just its arms, there was a whiff of some olive oil spread over toasted black bread.  It sure wasn’t your standard profile, but it the same time it was pungent, riotous, brutal and expressive to a fault.

And the finish, well that was epically long – briny, dry, deep, reeking of toasted bread, crackers, fish in olive oil (!!), smoke from a kero stove, licorice and damp sawdust, yet not sharp or damage inducing at all.  It was more like a massive teutonic monument, solidly implacable, demanding you respect its awesomeness.  Or something like that.  As you can tell, I was quite enthused.

In a recent virtual tasting I was part of, an O Reizinho Madeira 9 month old near-white agricole rhum from Boutique-y was one of my favourites of the evening, but it confused the hell out of the whisky guys in attendance, who grudgingly admitted it had some chops (then crossed themselves while looking furtively around to see if anyone had heard), but struggled to put into words exactly what made it so good – perhaps it was because unaged whisky has never been a thing in the malty world except maybe among moonshiners the way unaged rum has been for us. Given their perplexity, I’m not sure I would dare give them this one to try — if the O Reiz made them scratch their sporrans, the L’Esprit might unravel their kilts altogether.  

Because to my mind, it’s not just that L’Esprit makes great rums and Tristan knows how to pick ‘em – it’s simply that of all the Guyanese rums made on all those many stills, Port Mourants at any age seem to be the pick of the litter. Here that’s proved once again — I liked it a lot, even more than the 2º Edition, and that was no slouch either. For its pungency, its richness, its depth, the neverending finish, all those insane tastes and yes, even the strength. The rum is fierce, it’s powerful, it jets fire from each nostril and were you to expel a belch and a flatus after a sip of it, seismometers would quiver and the bar would be empty a second later. It’s that kind of experience, and who wouldn’t want to try it for all that, if even just the one time?

(#975)(88/100)

Feb 132023
 

If you have never heard of Wild Parrot, or have but can’t recall their releases, you can relax.  You’re not alone. It is one of those recently founded small European indies that has pretty much remained in its own area and does not seek to be like 1423 and expand around the world. For the curious, the company was created in 2017 by two northern Italian rum aficionados: Stefano Cremaschi of The Whisky Roundabout store located just east of Milan, and Andrea Ferrari from the independent whiskey bottler Hidden Spirits in Ferrara, just north of Bologne — the brand’s rums are listed as a subset of Hidden Spirits on their Italian website, and also mentioned as being part of them on their FB page. Strictly speaking, it’s an online shop and brand.

So far there are a three collections out there: the first one, “Art & Animal” (11 expressions bottled in 2017 and 2018), “Black and Gold” (9 bottlings from 2019-2021, all from Jamaica and Guyana). and “Beauty of Nature” (8 bottlings from 2021-2022). The company notes that the titlings and designs of each collection are done in conjunction with, and by, the Italian artist Giulia Ronchetti, and the design and pictures on the boxes and back labels are quite striking.

The subject of today’s review is an expression from that first “Art & Animal” collection, from Guyana: a single cask deriving from the Uitvlugt estate, aged in Europe, which released 150 bottles at 48.9%. Since these gents are probably perfectly aware of the various stills that have passed through that estate distillery in the course of its storied history, I will assume this is not either an Enmore or Port Mourant wooden-still rum, but one from the French Savalle still that was housed there until it too was moved to Diamond (the actual still is nowhere mentioned, so this is in the line of an educated guess). 

The reason I make the assumption is because the profile is not at all reminiscent of the wooden stills.  The nose starts off with lovely, sweet and rich notes of  caramel, molasses, toffee, and even some lightly aromatic spices. There is also glue, varnish and a bouquet of crisply sweet apples and green grapes, followed by ripe peaches, apricots and even a nice red winey background that has no hint of the tannic licorice and pencil shavings we usually associate with a wooden still.

The palate is excellent as well: sweet, light, tinkling,sparkly and playful, like a sunlight dappled brook chuckling over wet rocks; scintillating light fruits – guava, peaches, watermelon, papaya, even some peaches in syrup.  The mouthfeel is great, if light, and sharp little stabs drive home the message that there’s still some aggro and attitude left behind after all that ageing, and it shouldn’t be taken too lightly.  But one hardly notices this, because the overall experience is so intriguing and tasty, and even the finish – salty, fruity, long lasting, mostly grapes, raisins, apples and fleshy stoned fruits – is absolutely one to savour.  How this much finish was wring out of such a modest proof is a mystery,  but I assure you…it works, and works well.

In the years since opening for business, Wild Parrot has not garnered any sort of lasting acclaim on the international rum-circuit.  That’s not surprising since they don’t attend very many festivals (which in any case had that two year COVID gap to contend with), have small outturns and are marketed primarily in Italy.  Yet in an underground sort of way, they are known to the European cognoscenti and if there is any indication that the rums of the line are a good long term bet, it’s the gradual rise in prices on Rum Auctioneer, where any of the range reliably goes for over £500 these days.

So what of this one, this two-decades old Guyanese rum made in the late 1990s?  Well, I think that overall, it’s a solid, delicious Uitvlugt rum that any independent would be happy to have in its portfolio. The nose, the tastes, the finish, it all works; and for those who are nervous about cask strength monsters, the armchair strength here may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Even though these days we have become somewhat jaded with the wealth of available Guyanese bottlings, this rum is at pains to show that there is still some originality and quality left in the world for the enterprising barrel selector to ferret out.  This is one of them, and it’s a great find for anyone who gets to try it.

(#972)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachmann, who provided the sample.
Jan 122023
 

Samaroli was one of the first of the modern Italian independents, and focused primarily on whiskies, which remains the core of its indie bottling business to this day. The reputation of the company began in 1968 when Sylvano Samaroli began bottling for the Italian market — the first non-UK bottler to deal seriously in that obscure Scottish tipple — and eventually started issuing rums as well. The most famous of all his rum selections, and reputedly his own favourite, was probably also the first: the 1991-bottled unicorn rum of the West Indies Dark Rum from 1948. The next rum bottlings were done around 1998 and there were a few sporadic non-too-regular releases here and there until 2010…and in that year it’s like the hound was let off the leash and releases have come thick and fast ever since.  Not just the usual single cask expressions, but blends and NAS rums, and the ship shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

The rum we’re looking at today is a Guyanese from 1990, bottled 26 years later in 2016 at a reasonable 45% (though admittedly, that’s rather mild for single cask releases) and from a single cask (#68) which decanted 240 bottles. Curiously, the still of origin is never mentioned. Samaroli may have been an early bellwether and trendsetter of the rum scene (as Renegade was in another context), but disclosure was never as big a thing for them as it was for Velier, though far better than Moon Imports, say. The 1990 Guyana vintage, as an aside, seemed to be a favoured year for Samaroli, as they released several expressions from it, in 2007 (two, a PM and a VSG), 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 (also a PM). With a few exceptions, almost none disclosed the still, so clearly this was deliberate; and since by 2016 that was surely a thing for connoisseurs of Demerara rums, one can only assume they did not consider it important for some obscure reason, or that the rum was blended in the barrel from several sources.

So we have to guess, which is always fun with Demeraras, and that all goes to the profile.  Which starts, as always, with the nose: here it’s woody, with early notes of licorice and caramel, wet sawdust and dark fruits like prunes, raisins, plums, black grapes. It stays that way for a bit, before one senses soft flowers (lilies, just a touch of lavender), pencil shavings and an odd aroma of freshly baked bread dipped into a mixture of red wine, balsamic vinegar and olive oil (it’s not unpleasant, just unusual), with additional tannins, leather and polished wood bringing up the rear. The fruits are kept secondary for the most part, and stay noticeable, but in the background.

How it tastes is not significantly different, although less satisfying.  All the same hits are playing but out of order: caramel, sawdust, licorice, dark grapes, raisins, and dates bitten into and devoured by the bitterness of sawdust, lumber, sharp licorice and gingersnaps. It gets somewhat better over time, just not spectacular, one the fruits – plums and cherries and prunes for the most part – take on more weight.  Then the rum starts to taste more robust, and even creamy: one gets yoghurt and sour cream sprinkled over with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, with the heavier notes of toffee and caramel holding the high ground throughout.  Finish is nice, sweetish and muscular, long lasting (for 45% that’s impressive), channelling final notes of prunes, nuts, thyme, blancmange … and even a touch tomatoes on hot bread reminiscent of pizza!

When I think of Samaroli, it always seems like it’s the grand old man of the indie rum scene; admittedly it has only few really phenomenal, well-known must-have unicorns in the pantheon, and the field has gotten way more crowded with new entrants…yet somehow, it has always seemed to be Samaroli that others aspired to beat. Perhaps it’s because in the 1980s and 1990s and even 2000s, Sylvano influenced a whole raft of young up and coming European rum and whisky people – distillers, collectors, distributors, simple anoraks – who went to him for advice or to see how he did things and paid him homage in their subsequent writings. I have my own favourite Samaroli rums, but given that he up and stepped away from the company in 2008 while retaining some influence in selections, it’s hard to know for sure which bear his fingerprints and which don’t.

Circling back: my first guess on the still is that it’s the Enmore wooden coffey — it lacks the slight roughness of the VSG, and doesn’t have the depth of the PM — but for all anyone knows, it could be a blend as well. It’s difficult to classify precisely, because there are so many odd, even discordant, notes at play here, which means it never gels into something one can really appreciate. And while obviously a “real” rum, it’s also something of an odd duck, what with those balsamic and tomato notes I observed: which lead to amusing mental connections, but also some level of confusion. Gregers Nielsen, who was shamelessly (and all-too-generously) pilfering from my bottle in Berlin the day we were trying this thing, opined that the finish was great, which it was, but alas, that was not enough to save the overall experience being somewhat flat and muddled — and at the end, my opinion is simply that it’s rather more miss than hit.

(#965)(81/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


 

Dec 262022
 

Photo courtesy of Steve James at The Rum Diaries Blog, who kindly chipped in after my own photo got corrupted. 

The clear, light, and distinct nose on this Guadeloupe agricole is really quite sumptuous, and hearkens back to a time before more formal rules were put into place (even on Guadeloupe) as to how cane juice rhums were put together.  It has a clean sweetness to it, quite crisp, redolent of grapes, green apples and a touch of vanilla and caramel to start.  Sweet and sour chicken with tons of vegetables, sweet soya. And it develops into more complex territory after that – leather, freshly mown hay, citrus peel, cumin and pomegranates and was that oregano I smelled there? It could be, quite possibly. It’s just a low key, precise and controlled series of aromas. 

Tastewise, it’s not too shabby either, and I remember thinking, it’s been a while since I had something quite like this, from Guadeloupe or anywhere else. It opens with salty, unsweetened, nearly-bitter chocolate flavoured with pimento — not one of my favourites, but I have tried some on occasion when feeling adventurous (or stupid, take your pick). Coffee grounds (fresh ones, still steaming, not yesterday’s batch which I get at the office), some leather, caramel, toffee, almonds and pralines – makes me wonder where the agricole is hiding, as the citrus is not to be found and the cane sap and herbal notes aren’t playing nice. Still, there are some fruits to be sensed – black grapes, prunes, overripe peaches, bananas – but not anything crisper than that.  It concludes with some lighter notes, of apples and hard yellow mangoes, a touch of sugar water, and it’s quite long for 42% ABV, gliding to a serene stop next to the sign saying “have another sip.”  

Which, if you ever locate this almost forgotten rhum, you would be well advised to – it’s pretty fine, honestly.


As I noted above, it’s 42% ABV, a cane juice, column-still rhum from the Gardel distillery which is located in the north-east of Grand Terre in the commune of Le Moule. Gardel, owned by Générale Sucrière (itself a major player in the global sugar refining industry) is one of two distilleries in Le Moule — the other is Damoiseau — and earns some of its distinction by being the sole sugar refinery on the main island. Gardel doesn’t make any rhums of its own any longer, but it was known for selling rum stock to brokers and others – they ceased distillation in 1992 and destroyed or sold their stills shortly thereafter, so this rhum is among the last that came from there (see also other notes below), even if it came to us via the independent bottler path.

It’s been some time since we reviewed any rums from the “Secret Treasures” line originally created by the Swiss concern Fassbind, and not without good reason – they sold off their spirits distribution portfolio way back in 2005 to another Swiss distributor called Best Taste which wasn’t interested in any indie bottling operations, and so punted it over to a German company called Haromex.  Almost all of the reviews of Secret Treasures rums came from the pre-sale bottlings, which, like Renegade, were perhaps somewhat ahead of their time, and that’s probably why Fassbind was glad to let them go.

Haromex changed the bottle style while keeping something of the label design ethos in the initial post-acquisition period, but nothing has now been issued under the ST label for many years now: the last of them, two St Lucia bottlings (here and here, both quite good) were probably leftovers from the sale. There were some attempts at blends – “South America” and “Old Caribbean” were two – yet it’s unlikely you ever heard of either and I never saw them to buy, which tells you all you need to know about what an impact they made.  Nowadays Haromex has settled on being a distributor and shows up at European rum festivals here and there to tout its brands…but no rums they themselves have had a hand in bottling.


Fassbind and Secret Treasures may have come on the indie scene too early, and it’s too bad they did not continue: because this is quite a lovely rum.  Almost forgotten now except by those Europeans who picked up bottles here and there a decade ago, it shows that it’s not enough to simply have a shuttered distillery to make a name and have a following (did somebody say Caroni?). Nor is it enough to have good production values that people remember. If the audience isn’t there and there is no larger voice to proselytise for it, brand name and rum and distillery will vanish, as Gardel pretty much has. 

And that’s a shame for rums which may not have been the best out there, but which at least showed promise, tasted great, and which we didn’t have enough of. They helped chart a path many other small outfits followed in the years that came after, and enriched and educated those like me who consider themselves fortunate to have tried a few. Who knows what Fassbind could have achieved, had they stuck with it.  This rum and others of the line give us a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

(#961)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • My remarks on “the last rum from Gardel” notwithstanding, several independent bottlers have bottled Gardel rhums/rums prior to the cessation of distillation.  A non exhaustive list is:
    • Gardel Rhum Vieux Cuvee Ultime 45%
    • Secret Treasure (Fassbind) 1992 11YO 42% Std Label
    • Secret Treasure (Fassbind) 1989 13 YO 42% Black label
    • Secret Treasure (Fassbind) 1989 14 YO 42% Std Label
    • Bristol Spirits Gardel Rhum 1992 10 YO 46%
    • Renegade Gardel 1998 11YO 46% (Chateau Latour)
    • Renegade Gardel 1996 11YO 46% (Chateau Lafleur)
    • Moon Import Gardel 1992 10YO 46%
    • Moon Import Gardel 1982 18 YO 46%
    • Rumclub Gardel 1983 38 YO 46.6% (GMG)
    • Cadenhead Dated Distillation Gardel 1982 20 YO 57.8%
    • Cadenhead Dated Distillation Gardel 1982 18 YO 57.2%
    • Silver Seal “Cigar Choice” 1977 32 YO 50.8%
    • Murray McDavid Gardel 1998 12 YO 46%
    • Douglas Laing Caribbean Reserve 1992 9 YO 46%
  • The source of the post-1992 distillates remains unknown, but as Flo remarked in his deep dive into the distillery, it’s very likely Damoiseau/Bellevue.
  • I’ve elected to keep this rum in the main section and not the Rumaniacs, even though it’s definitely a Golden Oldie that’s dead and gone.
  • This particular Gardel has come up on Rum Auctioneer a few times in 2021-2022, averaging out at about £150 these days.  Who knows, it may all be the same bottle (impossible to tell for sure, since, unlike the 1992 edition with the classic cream-yellow-brown label, here the bottle number is not provided).
Nov 172022
 

Whatever my personal opinions on the need for the four Magnum rums to exist as a separate collection as opposed to being folding into other series, they are there, they’re a fact of life and we move on. In any case, we’ve learnt a bit about the legendary photo agency (even if we’re not into current history) and read up about the style and importance of Elliot Erwitt (even if we’re not photographers or understand the connection), and have tasted four new rums from old and proud houses, so it’s by no means a waste.

Moreover, for all their variations in quality, the fact is the rums really are kind of good, and this is a way to make them shine and gain (even more) popular acclaim. “Good” did I say? Well…yes, though perhaps I understate matters. The Foursquare, for all my relative lack of enthusiasm was quite decent (many disagreed and thought it was much better), and the Hampden and the Mount Gay rums were, I thought, excellent in their own right.  But when it comes ot the Saint James, the lowest proofed of the lot, “good” or “excellent” just doesn’t cut it.  Because this is a rum that’s exceptional.

Part of that may have been the completely approachable strength (45%) and part was surely the impact of fifteen years ageing in Martinique: we rarely see agricole rhums that old, so by itself that’s a selling point; plus, this may be the first indie bottling Saint James have ever allowed (like Appleton’s pot still collection, another Velier coup from a couple of years back). The real takeaway is that this rum combines an agricole sensibility with a long-term barrel-ageing philosophy (much as the Bally 18 YO did) and while of course I can’t speak for your experience or to your preferences, when I tried it, it was love at first sip.

The first notes of the rum opened with a complex symphony so rich I slugged the shot down, then poured a second glass immediately, just to make sure somebody wasn’t messing with me. There was a complex fruit symphony of tart gooseberries, miso, very ripe gooseberries and mangoes, and a smorgasbord of all the sour funkiness I would normally have associated with Jamaica. Pineapples, cherries, sprite, lemon rind, honey, and that was before a panoply of cane sap and herbals made themselves known: fennel, rosemary, cloves, jasmine.  The balance was superb and each delicate aromatic chip  was clear, bright, and neither dominating nor dominated by, any other.

It was a great experience tasting it, as well.  It felt just right on the tongue, silky, velvety, rich, and the tastes just went on from there. A lot of the bright and effervescent character remained, sweet, sour, tart, clean and voluptuous: pineapple slices and light yellow Thai mangoes, plus 7Up, honey, with additional threads of vanilla, cinnamon, rosemary and cardamom, plus just enough coffee grounds, chocolate and woodsmoke to present an intriguing and welcome counterpoint. The prevalence of dried fruits – thankfully not oversweet – brought to mind aged armagnacs or cognacs, especially when combined with a hint of aromatic damp tobacco. And it led to a really nice finish, surprisingly long, presenting a finale of delicious, sweetly gentle florals, bananas, honey, fruits and anise. 

Like Stuart Pearce of the underrated review site Secret Rum Bar, I have tended to view much-reduced aged agricole rhums with some hesitation, some reluctance, even occasional suspicion; and in his own review he noted that he felt the palate became somewhat flat, hence his lower score. I thought otherwise myself, though: it  dialled down from the impact the nose had made, to be sure, yet I didn’t think any quality was truly lost. 

Frankly, my opinion was (and remains, after sneaking a second round in at the Paris Whisky Live later in the year) that it is hard to see how it could have been improved upon. It’s one of the best aged agricoles I’ve ever tried, and to my mind, is some kind of wonderful. It dares to take a chance, to not so much go off the beaten track as delicately careen along the skirting to show possibilities, hinting, not bludgeoning.  It marries a solid age not often seen in agricole rhums, with a lower strength that allows all the complexities of the barrels and the gradual transmutation of the rhum, to be presented in their full flower. To bring this up to cask strength but make it younger would not have worked as well, and to simply age it without addressing the balance of tastes and intensity would have invited failure. Saint James drew upon all the skills they had – and that’s a lot – and ended up providing Velier, and us, with one of those miraculous rhums that achieves its immediate goals of being just damned good…and then continues climbing towards an even higher sensibility.

(#951)(91/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ 


Other notes

  • Once again it seems like I have a minority opinion. Secret Rum Bar rated it 84 points, WhiskyFun gave it 88, while Rum-X has an average of 84 points off of 12 ratings.
  • As with the other rums in this quartet, the outturn is 600 magnums and 1200 bottles.
  • The photograph on the label is from 2005 and depicts a scene from the wedding of a friend of Erwitt’s in Rome. The woman shown in silhouette is the bride.
  • The rums in the Magnum Series Volume 1 are:
  • From the Mount Gay “Magnum EE” Review: The Magnum series of rums capitalises on the same literary concept as the seven founders of the famed photo agency wanted for their own organisation when they created and titled it in 1947, namely the multiple meanings and connotations of the word — greatness in Latin, toughness in the association with the gun, and celebration in its champagne mode (it’s just a happy coincidence that when discussing the matter they always drank magnums of champagne). Since Luca Gargano is a photo buff himself, I’m sure the references resonated with him. Four photographs made by Elliot Erwitt — an American photographer who was asked by Robert Capa to join the agency in 1954 — grace the four (black) bottles of the first release, but they have no direct relationships with the contents of the bottles in any way, and were likely chosen simply because they were appreciated as works of art.
Nov 142022
 

There was a time not too long ago when anything you got from Hampden was some bulk rum export that got bottled by an indie in Europe. Berry Bros. & Rudd, Murray McDavid, Renegade, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Rum Nation…these companies and more were the ones who kept the name alive and vibrant in people’s memories. And to be fair, the rums they picked were usually quite good – the Samaroli 1992 for example, was really kind of spectacular and even the Murray McDavid edition that was half as old, was no slouch.

All that changed after the launch of estate bottlings by Hampden in 2018, distributed globally by Velier. The reputation of the distillery bloomed overnight, and suddenly we moved from drought to deluge – it seemed like everywhere we turned there was another company that touted its street cred by having a Hampden rum in ts portfolio. SMWS, SBS, Stolen Spirits, Rom Deluxe, LMDW, Duncan Taylor, Mezan, Valinch & Mallet, Rum Artesanal, Rum Club, Blackadder, Silver Seal, Wild Parrot, Hunter Laing, Kintra, and so on and so forth and such like. That’s was a lot of choices, but the cream of the crop – at least with regards to customer appreciation – continued to be the Velier releases with their near-trademarked labelling ethos and tropical ageing.  And they lost no time expanding the Hampden rums into a veritable smorgasbord of offerings to cater to every taste.

At times it almost seemed like Velier-overkill.  There were Habitation Velier Hampdens, the  black-bottle yellow-label series, Endemic Birds, Great House, Warren Khong, Pagos, the various marks editions (now conveniently available as a sample pack) – it seems hard to believe that it all started with just a pair of 8YO rums a mere four years ago.  And, predictably, for the 2022 season yet another Hampden rum was released as part of the “Magnum” quartet, though in this case it was just the one and not a whole set.

Strictly speaking, that rum – on the face of it and going with the bare bones statistics – presents as nothing out of the ordinary. A pot still rum, distilled in 2016 and bottled in 2021 at 60% ABV, aged tropically for five years in ex-bourbon barrels, and bearing the marque HLCF (“Hampden Light Continental Flavoured”) which is therefore in the midrange of esterland: 500-600 g/hLpa, where for my money, the real quality lies buried and often overlooked in the rush to bag the biggest and baddest animal out there (the 1600 beast of the DOK, of course).

But whatever the ester count is, consider just how well the rum, even at that young age, comes across when you smell it.  It reeks some kind of spectacular, I think: all the funky rotten fruits, orange rind, cherries, strawberries, pineapples and half chewed bubble gum we’ve grown to known and love, they’re all there. It exhales a bit of smoke, a bit of vanilla, a touch of cinnamon, some leather, honey and even sweet soya. Glue, acetones, furniture polish, fresh paint rise up to take their place and it all combines into a sort of deep complexity with a lot of different aromatic notes coexisting within a nice harmony. There’s a sort of rough richness to it that I sometimes forget Hampden rums display, and if perhaps the strength is overpowering, a touch of water can certainly bring things down a notch.

This is also true of the taste. Here, it’s more obvious that the rum has the roughness and toughness of a Trenchtown yardie the entire time: it has not been tamed and sanded down by a further decade in a barrel.  What that does, however, is provide some really robust and precise notes that remain rather aggressive and sharp and which can be alleviated with some water. Glue, acetones, sweet pineapple, ginnips, tart yoghurt. The funk is well controlled, neither excessive not too faint, and there’s varnish, apple cider lurking around the corner to cosh you. It spurs roughshod over the palate, which is the youth of the thing speaking, of course, but I have to confess to a certain admiration for that. And it all leads to a nice long finish that has fruity notes, bubble gum, brine, olives, and some smoke, and brings the whole business to a hot close.

Now speaking for myself, I’m not entirely a fan of very young rums being sold at premium prices because too often it seems like a way to leverage a Name and a reputation based on past achievements, rather than intrinsic quality of a rum itself. Yet here I find myself with little to quibble about: the rum bears out a gradually developing personal premise that when it comes to the high ester rum category, the midrange is where the real action lies, not the edges of the bell curve where the extremists lie in wait to hack and slash. 

I liked this rum, a lot, for all its lack of years. It’s tasty as hell. It keeps on going like the barrel had an energizer bunny stuffed inside the entire time. It’s aggressive, it’s big, it’s bad, it’s bold, and had I been the sommelier advising John Wick, I would have said to screw the Austrian and German selections and go with the Hampden. This the rum that would have justified that choice, and the body count would have been way lower had he done so, because, let’s face facts, you just can’t go far wrong when you stick with one of the badasses of the New Jamaican varietals.

(#950)(88/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • The Hampden rating doesn’t appear to polarise as much as my previous two reviews of the Foursquare and Mount Gay.  Most agree that it’s a pretty fine rum. Secret Rum Bar rated it 88+ points, WhiskyFun gave it 87, while Rum-X has an average of 86 points off of 30 ratings (as of this writing).
  • As with others in the set, outturn is 1200 bottles and 600 magnums.
  • The photograph on the label is of Coney Island in New York, dated from 1954. 
  • The rums in the Magnum Series Volume 1 are:
  • From the Mount Gay “Magnum EE” Review: The Magnum series of rums capitalises on the same literary concept as the seven founders of the famed photo agency wanted for their own organisation when they created and titled it in 1947, namely the multiple meanings and connotations of the word — greatness in Latin, toughness in the association with the gun, and celebration in its champagne mode (it’s just a happy coincidence that when discussing the matter they always drank magnums of champagne). Since Luca Gargano is a photo buff himself, I’m sure the references resonated with him. Four photographs made by Elliot Erwitt — an American photographer who was asked by Robert Capa to join the agency in 1954 — grace the four (black) bottles of the first release, but they have no direct relationships with the contents of the bottles in any way, and were likely chosen simply because they were appreciated as works of art.
Oct 172022
 

Foursquare’s Exceptional Cask Series gets the lion’s share of the attention showered on the distillery these days, and the Doorly’s “standard line” gets most of the remainder, yet many deep diving aficionados reserve the real gold for the Foursquare-Velier collaborations. And while some wags humorously remark that the series’ are only excuses for polysyllabic rodomontade, the truth is that the collaborations are really good, just not as visible: they are released less often and with a more limited outturn than the big guns people froth over on social media. So not unnaturally they attract attention mostly at bidding time on online auctions, where they reliably climb in price as the years turn and the stock diminishes.

There currently eight rums in the set, which have been issued since February 2016 (when the famed 2006 10 YO came out): they are, in order of release as of January 2023, the 2016, Triptych, Principia, Destino (whether there’s only one, or two, is examined below), Patrimonio, Plenipotenziario, Sassafras and Racounteur.  All are to one extent or another limited bottlings — and while they do not form an avenue to explore more experimental releases (like the pot still or LFT Foursquares in the HV series, for example), they are, in their own way, deemed special.

On the face of it, the Destino really does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary – which is to say, it conforms to the (high) standards Foursquare has set which have now almost become something of their signature. The rum is a pot-column blend, distilled in 2003 and released in December of 2017: between those dates it was aged 12 years in ex-Madeira casks and a further two in ex-Bourbon, and 2,610 of the “standard” general release edition were pushed out the door at a robust 61%, preceded by 600 bottles of the Velier 70th Anniversary edition at the same strength.

What we get was a very strong, very rich and very fruity-winey nose right off the bat. It smells of sweet apple cider, strawberries, gherkins, fermenting plums and prunes, but also sweeter notes of apricots, peaches are noticeable, presenting us with a real fruit salad.  A little vanilla and some cream can be sensed, a sort of savoury pastry, but with molasses, caramel, butterscotch all AWOL. Something of a crisply cold fine wine here, joined at the last by charred wood, cloves, soursop, and a vague lemony background.

The citrus takes on a more forward presence when the rum is tasted, with the initial palate possessing all the tart creaminess of a key lime pie, while not forgetting a certain crisp pastry note as well.  It’s delicious, really, and hardly seems as strong as it is. Stewed apples, green grapes, white guavas take their turn as the rum opens up: it turns into quite a mashup here, yet it’s all as distinct as adjacent white keys on a piano. With water emerge additional flavours: some freshly baked sourdough bread, vanilla, dates, figs, with sage, cloves, white pepper and cinnamon rounding things out delectably.

The finish is perfectly satisfactory: it’s nice and long and aromatic, yet introduces nothing new: it serves as more of a concluding summation, like the final needed paragraph to one of Proust’s long-winded essays. The rum doesn’t leave you exhausted in quite the same way as that eminent French essayist does, but you are a bit wrung out with its complexities and power when you’re done, though. And the way it winds to a conclusion is like a long exhaled breath of all the good things it encapsulates.

So…with all of the above out of the way, is it special?  Several of the ECS releases are of similar provenance and have been rated by myself and others at similar levels of liking, so is there actually a big deal to be made here, and is there a reason for the Destino to be regarded as something more “serious”?

Not really, but that’s because the rum is excellent, and works, on all levels. It noses fine, tastes fine, finishes with a snap and there’s complexity and strength and texture and quality to spare. It does Foursquare no dishonour at all, and burnishes the reputation the house nicely (as if that were needed). The rum, then, is special because we say it is: viewed objectively, it’s simply on a level with the high bar set by the company and is neither a slouch nor a disappointment, “just” a very good rum. 

Sometimes I think Richard may have painted himself into a corner with these rums he puts out: they are all of such a calibre that to maintain a rep for high quality means constantly increasing the quality lest the jaded audience get bored. There is a limit to how far that can be done, but let’s hope he hasn’t reached it yet — because know I want more of these.

(#944)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • There is a “47” and a “17” on the “Teardrops” box’s top left and bottom right tears. They reference the founding of Velier in 1947; and the issuance of the rum and 70th Anniversary of the Company, in 2017. There are total of seventy tears, of course. The numbers are repeated on the back label
  • Wharren Kong the Singaporean artist, designed the Teardrops graphic.
  • The pair was tried side by side three times: once in 2018, again in December 2021 in Berlin (from samples) and again at the 2022 Paris WhiskyLive (from bottles).

Addendum – The Two Destinos

Are the two expressions of the Destino — the general release “standard” and the Velier 70th Anniversary Richard Seale “Teardrop” edition — different or the same? The question is not a mere academic exercise in anal-retentive pedantry of interest only to rum geeks: serious money is on the line for the “Seale” release. The short answer is no, and the long answers is yes.  Sorry.

What happened is that as the Destino barrels were being prepped in 2017, Luca called Richard  — some months before formal release —  and asked for an “old rum” for the 70th Anniversary collection. Richard, who doesn’t do specials, anniversaries or cliches, initially refused, but after Luca practically broke down in tears (I exaggerate a little for effect), Richard raised his fists to heaven in a “why me?” gesture (I exaggerate a little more), grumbled a bit longer, and then reluctantly suggested that maybe, perhaps, possibly, just this once, it could be arranged to have six hundred bottles of the Destino relabelled and reboxed with the Velier 70th Anniversary colours. This was initially estimated as two casks of the many that were being readied for final blending. Luca agreed because the deadline for his release was tight, and so it was done. The label on the “Teardrops” was prepared on that basis, way in advance of either release.

Except that for one thing, it ended up being three casks, not two, and for another, “Teardrops” was in fact decanted, bottled and released a couple of months earlier than “Standard.” Yet they both came from the same batch of rum laid down in 2003, and aged identically for the same years in ex-bourbon and ex-Madeira … in that sense they are the same. The way they diverge is that three barrels were separated out and aged a couple of months less than the general release.  So, according to Richard, who took some time out to patiently explain this to me, “In theory they are ‘different’- like two single casks  – but in reality it’s the same batch of rum with the same maturation.”

Observe the ramifications of that almost negligible separation and the special labelling: on Rum Auctioneer, any one of the 600 bottles of “Teardrops” sells for £2000 or more, while one of the 2,610 bottles of the  standard goes for £500.  People claim “Teardrops” is measurably better because (variously) the box is different, the taste is “recognizably better”, or because the labelling says “selected two of his oldest Rum casks” and “very old ex-Rum casks” and not ex-Madeira and ex-bourbon. Or, perhaps because they are seduced by the Name and the much more limited 600 bottles, and let their enthusiasm get the better of them. 

Yes the box is different and the labelling description is not the same: this is as a result of the timing of the box and labels’ printing way in advance of the actual release of the rum, and so  some stuff was just guessed, or fluff-words were printed.  We saw the same thing with Amrut catalogue-versus-label difference in 2022), but I reiterate: the liquid is all of a piece, and the rums within have the miniscule taste variation attendant on any two barrels, even if laid down the same day and aged the same way. Maybe one day I’ll do a separate review of Teardrops just because of that tiny variation, but for the moment, this one will stand in for both.


 

Oct 032022
 

The full name of this rum is the “Barikenn ‘81.6’ Brut de Colonne Rhum Agricole Blanc de Guadeloupe (Montebello)”.  I imagine that just trying to say the whole thing in one breath distracts somewhat from the fact that this is one of the most powerful rums of recent memory (yes, I know there are others that eclipse it – I made the list, after all), and if one loses focus and takes it too lightly then one might just find oneself being blasted into next week.

Most of us know something about Montebello, but who is Barikenn?  At first I thought it was a lesser-known brand name from the small distillery on Guadeloupe from which the rhum hails – the principle is not unheard of, after all. I was then corrected by a gent on Instagram who pointed out very politely that it was a French indie bottler, namely himself, Nicholas Marx (no relation to Karl), and the company was named after an old spelling variant of barrique, or barrel, in Breton. He founded the Brittany-based independent bottling outfit in 2019 in order to share his passion for high quality full-proof rums, free from adulterants and completely transparent – and while he did not explicitly state it, I get the impression that until recently his market was primarily regional (much like Tristan Prodhomme of L’Esprit, which is also in Brittany, began his own operations).

If he felt that staying small was going to last, the reception of his bottlings soon disabused him of such notions. Starting out in 2019 with a pair of well regarded Foursquare and Worthy Park rums, he added a Guyanese 8 YO the following year which WhiskyFun rated 91 points … and people started to take notice. 2021 was when things got really interesting, because aside from a Mauritius and Fiji addition to the roster, he dabbled in water not many indies would dare to, so soon: unaged, white, column-still cane-juice rhum…at still strength (I amuse myself by wondering if he was taking a cue from Tristan’s high proofed South Pacific and Diamond whites).  I bought a bottle in Berlin last year, and gingerly tasted it, feeling as nervous as on my first date all those years ago and with good reason – rums north of 80% can rearrange your insides, if not treated with care.

Nosing it makes the point quite clearly, because even a small and delicate sniff is like stuffing an oversalted maggi-cube up your nose, or snorting a spoonful of marmite seasoned with extra cayenne. I’m aware that this is a peculiar way for any rum reviews’s nose section to start but stay with me…it does develop. After a while one can sense lemon-infused sugar water, dish washing soap, tart pears, cranberries and red currants.  A little rubber, a few acetones, a touch of vinegar (or sweet cider), and the notion one is left with after a few minutes, is one of commendable restraint in something so notionally powerful.  Unlike, say, the Marienburg, the Wild Tiger or the Sunset Very Strong, the aromas on this Barikenn aren’t out to trample you flat (and then stomp on the pieces) but seem genuinely relaxed and easier than one might expect.. 

The taste is large, round and strong, for sure, but not, thankfully, harsh. Initial tastes are dirty, earthy, salty, yeasty, bread-y, quite pungently so, and the added marmite and vegetable soup flavours may not be to everyone’s taste. However, after some time these recede and give way to the fruit basket: bananas, red currants, strawberries, bubble gum, some pineapple slices, which leaves me wondering where this was hiding when I was smelling it. It does do somewhat better with some water, adding sweet and sour chicken, soya sauce, brine and a sort of sparkly and intense fruity note, plus plastic, brine and acetones, in a nice mix.  It all leads to a long and sharp finish redolent of resin, plastic, unripe green fruits that’s really too thin and lacks heft…yet nothing I could genuinely warn you away from. 

The whole thing just works. The whole experience is one of intensity, power and puissance which falters a bit at the end, yet the tastes are so pungent and deep that all I could think was that this is what the Marienburg could have aspired to, because the strength does not actually detract here as it did there: it just needs to be handled with some care and patience. 

These days it seems there is some kind of obscure, unstated and never-acknowledged race to the top for these unaged white rums. Blending and filtration are lesser concerns, and it’s all about finding a rum that’s exceptional straight off the still – something raw and undiluted, a no-age ultra-proofed Sam Jackson style m*f*er that’s made to show it’s the meanest, the baddest and the tastiest, a rhum which can take out Mace Windu without busting a sweat or resorting to force lightning. The Barikenn Montebello is as serious and as tasty a white rum as you’ll have all year, proofed up and jacked up to a level of taste intensity that ensures you don’t just get the point…you get the whole kitchen sink as well.

(#940)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • 300 bottle outturn. The rhum was (column) distilled in 2019, rested in inert steel tanks, and bottled in 2021. 
  • Source of the cane juice is single variety “red cane” which reputedly has exceptional taste qualities.
  • Barikenn has released another variation of this rhum in 2022, but at a milder 52º – it’s from the same 2019 batch.
Sep 142022
 

Based on really really true events, which may or may not be factual….

“A column still can produce this!” smirked Indy as he poured me a generous dram of the seven year old SBS Antiguan hooch and handed it over, daring me to refuse and making sure my head was bowed and cap reverently doffed. I imagine he would not have been displeased with some genuflection, so chuffed was he – and others – with this rum.  

I considered my glass carefully, pen poised over the famed Little Black Book of Tasting Notes, trying to focus yet also look everywhere at once, because I was in the basement bar of The Proofing Room in London, there was a lot going around me at the same time, a ton of rum chums were in attendance, and the rum was quite a handful to unpack at short notice.

I had landed in the UK a few hours before (two hours late), scampered to my fleabag hotel, dumped my stuff, ran over the road to TWE to get some tasting glasses (shout out to Kelvin who was super helpful and fun to hang with in the short time I had there), then back out to meet the my vagrant itinerant friend Richard Nicholson (of NZ Rum Society fame) at the Black Parrot rum bar, and then, after sampling five or six rums, we high-tailed it over to the ‘Room where Kris Von Stedingk was magisterially holding forth on the new 2022 range of rums released by the Danish outfit of 1423. I was out of breath even before sidling in.

The joint was peppered with Visiting Royalty of Rum Geekdom: Dan Greifer was tending bar, Andrew Nicolls was feverishly making daiquiris with rum from his own brand of William George, Kit Carruthers of Ninefold was soaking up info and a glass with equal gusto, Keegan Menezes was down at the back, Indy and Jazz Singh of Skylark Spirits darting around making sure everyone had a charged glass, Vicki Ilankovan of Sated Online was mingling with her trademarked vivacity and energy, while others were calling hellos and pressing the flesh from all corners of the bar. And as Kris was in fine form with his presentation and we were derailing his spiel, Richard and I guiltily avoided his disapproving glare and snuck down to the back where the hoods huddle, and set up shop there.

I was glad it was the Antigua I started with, because that island’s distillery has been making great strides in its own experimental small batch production, dating right back to the work they were doing with the sherry cask edition back in 2016.  What I had here was a rum they sold to 1423 – that Danish outfit, you’ll recall, which is part owned by Josh Singh, the benevolent buddha of badass we left at Paris’s Maria Loca bar in 2019 but who went AWOL for this one. Antigua Distillers not only produced the subject of my very first review (the 1981 English Harbour 25YO) but has a new high-congener, full-proofed rum of its own that is supposedly off the scale and which I’ve been lusting after ever since it was released. This rum was one of its progeny.

I tried to listen to Kris rattle off the specs for the rum because he was an interesting and engaging speaker, but the serious rum convo (i.e., the “party”) in my corner was so loud (which was all Richard’s fault, I swear, the guy is just so noisy!) that I could barely hear him, and evidently Kris couldn’t either because he shouted at us to pipe down in best Ratzo style — “I’m workin’ here!” — so he could keep with the program and inform the populace and maybe sell some damned rum. We all flipped him the bird and shouted cheerfully ribald insults, then shut up. I started nosing, and then scribbling. Even at play, the ‘Caner has to work sometimes, alas.

The nose of this kinetically powered 64.9% ex-bourbon-barrel aged rum was aromatic to a fault, and demonstrated once again that well assembled column still rums can be the equal of any other kind (even if just one barrel’s outturn).  It smelled of vanilla ice cream, bubble gum, strawberries and an amazingly pungent mix of both light and heavier fruits like watermelon, green apples, grapes, peaches, and plums.  Into this was interspersed more neutral aromas of bananas, pears and papaya, and a sort of rich whipped cream that would drive a cat to ecstasy. Even with the distractions of more rums, more mixes and the loud hum of conversation, I was able to appreciate a real mastery of the craft with what came out of that bottle.

All this went into the Book with some haste, because things were moving fast, and the bar surface in front of me kept filling up with more and new glasses that had to be guarded from the potential depredations of light-and-sticky-fingered rum enthusiasts (we are not known for respecting the finer points of personal property when it comes to the good stuff). Andrew, enthusiastic as anything, kept making more William George daiquiris (which were really good — but even a tippler as practised at pilfering as Richard had trouble keeping up with the rollout), and because Kris was moving smartly along with his presentation, Jazz and Indy continued bringing more and more SBS rums to us back-bench louts. Brazil, Denmark, Jamaica, Venezuela, Guyana, French Antilles…we had a minor United Nations of Rum going on here. Every time they poured another sample — which joined its partners on the countertop in front of me in an ever-expanding lineup —  they observed how slow I was going, and regarded me with the sorrowful disappointment of skilled guilt-trippers – “What, Lance, is what we’re doing here not good enough for you?” “You don’t like SBS any more or what?” and (more cuttingly) “Eh eh, bai, I thought you were a pro, man!” (that stung).

I hastily concentrated on moving on to the taste, and here I must simply observe how vibrant and alive the rum was. Sharp — of course it was — and hot, yet that dissipated quickly, and the tastes were at all times there, thrumming, compelling, well defined and completely solid. And there were lots of them. Tart fruits notes of soft yellow mangos, soursop, ripe gooseberries, strawberries, dark cherries and almost overripe pineapple started the party off. These were balanced by nutty flavours combined with unsweetened chocolate, caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, coffee grounds and even a touch of herbs and spices (dill and cumin). Under it all was bananas and the creaminess of a sweet caramel latte which segued beautifully into a finish of epic duration, redolent of the sweetness of sugar cane, the muskiness of caramel and molasses, and the slight bitterness of freshly sawn lumber and ground coffee beans.

What’s amazing about the rum is how well it sips, even at that dramatic proof point. There’s no straining for effect, no sense of extra ageing or esterification added for your edification, no vulgar “let’s whip this out shall we?” backdam bragaddocio of codpieces compared (this sort of thing is left to visiting rum chums in seedy rumbars). It’s an astounding, amazing, astonishing rum, one where the initial experiments I tasted all those years ago seem have come to a kind of glorious fruition. I know the distillery has its own branded rums, ramped up, beefed up, torqued up, squirting esters and proofage in all directions, and I’ve been after those for ages.  Until I get one of them, however, this will be a more than adequate substitute. 

It was with some regret that I moved to other rums in the SBS’s lineup for the year – yet for the remainder of my time at the bar I kept a glass of this thing running, and eventually considered it the best of the lot, when it was all over. We laughed and talked and discussed rums and had a whole load of fun dissing each other, and finally the whole thing devolved into a raucous party and jam session which was then relocated to Trailer Happiness after we got chased out of the Proofing Room. Yet I remember this rum so well, even without the tasting notes.  It showed that English Harbour’s Catch of the Day rum from 2018 which I had also enjoyed and continue to regard as an underpriced steal, had been no accident.

So, to wrap up this overlong “review” let me sum up for those who like it brief. SBS’s 7 Year Old 2015 High Congener Antigua rum is frikken’ phenomenal and I’m just annoyed with myself for not grabbing the damned bottle out of Indy’s hands when I had the chance. He might have decked me, and maybe I would have left the bar with head held high and feet held higher…but man, it would have been worth it to get this thing.

(#937)(91/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • Initially, based on the lack of disclosed detail on the label and the product sheet, I thought this was not a high congener rum but after the first posting, both Joshua and Kris came up to confirm that yes, it was. “There was no particular reason” for the oversight, Josh said, but my money is on simple forgetfulness, because no sane marketing guy would leave such a juicy tidbit out.  So anyway, I went back and changed the post a little and amended the title to make mention of the fact.
Aug 082022
 

Long time readers of this site will know something of my movement away from softer Spanish/Latin style rons over the years. There’s nothing particularly deficient about many of them (only some), and I have a soft spot for quite a few.  It’s just that I find most quite unadventurous, occasionally boring, sometimes added-to —  though of course they all have their adherents and supporters who buy them and keep the distilleries humming. At most, one can cast aspersions on their escutcheon with matters having to do with disclosure and/or adulteration, something which companies like La Hechicera and Dictador out of Colombia, Malecon from Panama and Mombacho out of Nicaragua (there are several others) have often been the target of. That does not mean, however, that they’re all bad, and it would be a mistake to tar them all with the same brush of indifference and despite.

These thoughts occurred to me because I was forced to take an honest look at what these too-often mild-as-milkwater rums could do when done well, when I tried one that Bristol Spirits — one of the more venerable of the modern independents — had sourced from Venezuela.  The exact distillery it comes from is something of a mystery (more on that below); and it is a column still, molasses-based spirit, aged 12 years in refill American oak (ex-bourbon and in both Venezuela and Europe), un-chill-filtered, unadded-to and released at a robust 47% ABV…which I suggest is somewhat uninspiring and which Bristol calls “just about right”.

They may be on to something there, because frankly, there is little to find fault with.  The rum is crisp and tangy, with aromas jumping all over the map: initially quite fruity with scents of lemon meringue pie, pineapples, unsweetened yoghurt, bananas, it switches over after a few minutes and presents light caramel, vanilla, flowers and is light enough to present almost as an aged agricole-style rhum. It’s apparent simplicity belies an under-the-hood level of complexity I must confess to not expecting (which may be why John Barrett, Bristol’s owner, was smirking the entire time as I tried it).

Nose is one thing, though: and many rums of real olfactory promise falter and die on the palate.  At 47% this is reasonable sipping territory, which is to say, it won’t try to defenestrate my tongue.  Here, it must be conceded that the rum succeeds very nicely.  It has a good mouthfeel; it’s tangy and a little sour, yet with a solid underpinning of caramel and chocolate oranges. Ripe Thai mangoes and peaches are in evidence, some light fruit, and here again, it feels like a firm and slightly deeper agricole rhum, musky, a bit tannic, slightly sweet.  An interesting amalgam, all summed up by a shortish finish that showed off a last flirt of salt caramel ice cream with fruit bits sprinkled on top, a touch of light brine, some flowers, and it is over way too quickly.

So let’s talk a bit about Bristol, one of the stalwarts of the indie bottling ecosystem, a small company run by one man, John Barrett (he has recently brought in a young man, his son-in-law, to help run things). Bristol was established as far back as the 1990s, at the dawn of the modern rum renaissance, and if you really are curious, the Boys of Rumcast did a great interview with the man just a few weeks ago. Bristol Spirits, along with Renegade and Rum Nation, were the first indies I came into contact with that showed me the directions rum could go, and one of my best memories of the early rums I tried and wrote about, was the terrific PM 1980 25 year old that almost converted a dedicated single-malt lover to rums on the spot.  Bristol Spirits has faded from popular acclaim somewhat over the last five years or so, as new, young and aggressive little indies from all over Europe claimed market share and eyeballs of social media, yet they never went away, and their bright and simple labels have been a fixture at many a rumfest where I skulked around, and I’ve never actually had a bad one from the stable.

Bristol buys barrels like everyone else, trades them and exchanges them and sources stuff here and there, does some tinkering, blending and ageing of their own, holds on to stock they like, bottles stuff they think is ready. With respect to this Venezuelan rum, in my opinion, they hit the sweet spot, because it’s very ready. 

This is a rum that defies expectations (especially mine), and is one of the best Latin/Spanish heritage-style rums of my recent memory – in fact, it forces a reconsideration of what these distilleries can do, if juice like this becomes the norm rather than the exception it currently is. The strength is near-perfect, the notes shimmer in simple harmonies that speak of subtle and elegant arrangements which you can almost, but not quite, sense. There’s not a whole lot of oomph going on — consider it a serene chamber piece, not a symphony — and the level of complexity exhibited by a Hampden, for example, is not in evidence. Yet somehow it goes beyond all that, and at the end, it works, it tastes great and you enjoy it, and isn’t that what counts?

(#928)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Distillery

The producer noted on the label is stated as being “Destileria Sofa” which seems straightforward enough, except that you’ll never find a distillery of that name in Venezuela (and believe me, I tried).  Rum-X and various European shops make mention of it – always with respect to this very same rum and no other – and some remark it’s located in the NE of the country.  But that’s all you get.  There’s no mention of the distillery on google, reddit, wikidot or any other resource I can consult…except for one, and so, your intrepid soused reviewer got on to Simon over at Bristol Spirits: he’s the guy who helps me out when Mr. Barrett doesn’t pick up the phone. 

Long story short, it’s a distillery that makes a certain well regarded rum possibly named after a 16th century Carmelite nun, which has an association with Bacardi that prohibits it from using its own name on independent bottlings such as Bristol’s. So something similar to the “secret distillery” which Compagnie des Indes sometimes includes on its label, or how “A Jamaican Distillery” is used on occasion to avoid complications with the useage of a name like Worthy Park or what have you.  Most of the time you’re given enough to work with, as I was, but I’ll respect the confidentiality in print and not come right out with the name.

All that aside, even though permission was given to use the name of Destileria Sofa on the label as the source for the rum, I still don’t actually know what that represents or means or where the name comes from, so if anyone knows any better, or can provide information from Venezuela, feel free to send it along and I’ll add it to these notes.


Other Notes

  • After this review went up, Mads Heitmann, who runs the Danish webshop Romhatten, commented that the rum was tested at 10-11g/L sugar which he later confirmed with Bristol Spirits. If this is so (I have an outstanding email to them) it won’t change the review, which is locked, but it would explain something of the slight voluptuousness and sweetness the rum displayed, even if not particularly unpleasant in any way.
Jul 142022
 

Belize, until recently, had somewhat withdrawn from the epicenter of avant-garde and popular rum culture. Traveller’s, the main distillery in the country, produced soft Spanish-heritage-style rums like the One-Barrel, Three-Barrel and Five-Barrel rums and the excellent Don Omario (not sure if it remains in production), yet it was overtaken by the full-proof pot-still ethos that have of late almost defined quality modern rums for the deep diving aficionados and connoisseurs. That’s not to say Belize’s rums weren’t popular – they were, and remain so, especially to those who knew about them and liked the style.  It’s just that in terms of wider appreciation and “must-have” collectors’ hunger, constant innovation, new expressions, relentless marketing and attendance at festivals the world over, Belize’s rums didn’t keep pace, and have lapsed into a sort of quiet somnolescence.

Two things have changed that view and helped raise the visibility of the country, more than a little. One was the establishment of the Copalli Distillery in 2016: this was (and is) a small, ecologically-minded organic rum maker utilizing sugar cane juice, and their small production outturn, while not reinventing the wheel, has received plaudits and good press (I have not tasted any…yet). In today’s world where environmental concerns, organic agriculture and sustainable practices are considered selling points and hallmarks of quality, the establishment of this distillery immediately created attention.

The other was a development in the USA, home of the micro-distilling culture that prides itself in starting up small outfits that produce every spirit known to man on their small stills (and are at pains to advertise a few that aren’t). In the US, strangely enough, and in spite of the success of Ed Hamilton, almost no indie bottler has ever bothered to establish itself as a serious endeavor to take on the Europeans: at best it’s an occasional one-off bottling that appears, like the Stolen Overproof — and yet that strikes me as really peculiar, given the proximity of the Caribbean and Central American distilleries, and the opportunities this offers. In 2019, however, somebody didn’t wait for the second knock: a new company called Windyside Spirits was established by New Yorker Eric Kaye and his wife, specifically to support their Holmes Cay brand, and they went in with the intention of being a serious independent bottler in their own right.

What does that have to do with Belize? Well, in their first year (2019) Holmes Cay tentatively released a Barbados Foursquare rum (selected so they could do a first bottling that would “knock it out of the park”) and it was so well received that they followed that up in 2020 with four more rums: from Guyana, Barbados (again), Fiji…and Belize. By now Barbados, Guyana and even Fiji were already well known and Belize was something of an outlier, but the combined street cred and positive word of mouth attendant on these releases certainly spilled over…and that small Central American nation was again being seriously considered as a rum maker of some note.


This rum was from the aforementioned Travellers Distillery, and the exact route it used to get to the US, whether via a broker and Europe or directly to the US, is unknown (the rear label suggests it was completely done in Belize). But clearly it went a long way, navigated the torturous byzantine byways of US regulations, and paid a lot of taxes, which is why it retails for a hundred bucks and more even in the US and that by itself might be an issue…to say nothing of the 61% ABV proof point, which would not recommend it to the casual fan of Captain Morgan or Bacardi. It is a column still product deriving from molasses, was aged from 2005 to 2020 in ex Bourbon casks and was released at full proof and without any additives or messing around.

What this produced, then was a dark reddish amber rum of some character.  Nosing it for the first time was quite a kinetic experience: it reminded me initially of a full proof Demerara rum: caramel, toffee, molasses, marshmallows (slightly singed), vanilla, mocha, and coconut shavings.  It took something of a detour by adding sly background notes of acetones, nail polish, a lemon zest, coca cola and even some licorice, and overall the impression was one of solid, well-aged, not-overly-complex rum of consistent quality.

The palate was (somewhat to my surprise) even better, though I was left regarding it rather dubiously and scribbling in my notes whether this was a Demerara or not and whether anything had been added.  Some woody tannins were in evidence, slightly bitter, plus coffee grounds, licorice, damp tobacco, caramel, molasses and brown sugar – I mean, it wasn’t, quite, but it sure had elements that a Guyana PM- or Enmore-lover would not be unhappy with. It also felt rather sweet (though not cloying, just a sort of background sense), and had a good bit of dark fruit action developing over time: very ripe dark cherries, black grapes, bananas, and dark unsweetened chocolate, all of wich went well with the toffee-caramel-molasses combo that had started the palate party.Ther finish, as befitted such a strong drink, was nicely long, mostly licorice, chocolate, coffee, and some tannins, a quietening down of that nose and palate, though one that did not add anything new, just toned it all down as it closed things off.


So for a rum chanelling the Spanish-heritage style (short fermentation, high ABV off a column still, flavour primarily by ageing), a bit on the odd side, but very nice; rums made in this way (even if by a former British colony) issued at proof have always excited my curiosity, perhaps because there are so few of them. That’s not to say this one works on all levels or fires on all cylinders because compared to others it is not quite as complex – the proof helps it get past that hurdle in a way that would not have succeeded as well as it did, had it been, say 40%. And then there are the taste and dark colour, which excite some doubts.

But I make that remark as a person who has tried more rums from around the world than most. For an American rum audience used slim pickings locally and to staring wistfully across the European rum shops, getting a rum like this must have been like a blast to usher in the zombie apocalypse. No additives, limited outturn, a tropical age statement of a decade and a half, single cask, and…was that really cask strength? The Belize 2005 took all the dials that rum-makers from Central and Latin America had consistently and puzzlingly left almost unturned for decades and spun them savagely around to “11”. As with the others in the line, the reviews it garnered were almost uniformly positive: Rum Revelations scored it 88 (“a flavour bomb”), Flaviar gave it a solid 8.0/10, Paste’s Jim Vorel penned an enthusiastic (if unscored) review, Rum Ratings’ three voters all said 9/10 and Rum-X had one reviewer award it 98 points. 

All of which probably says more about the strength of the desire North Americans have for rums that are better than the standard blah they too often have to put up with, than the intrinisc worth of the rum when looked at dispassionately. But still: the Belize 15YO shows that there is something better than ten-buck supermarket fodder available — and while it may be pricey, it is worth it, and demonstrates that there is indeed a market for indie bottlings made by Americans, for their side of the Atlantic.

(#923)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • The reputation Holmes Cay developed with this and other rums almost instantly led to two episodes on the podcast RumCast (#2 for the Barbados, and #30 for the Fiji) and blurbs, reviews and articles in various industry fora like Paste, GotRum, Drinkhacker, Rum Lab, Wine Enthusiast, Robb Report, Forbes, and Esquire (to name just a few). No European indie ever got that kind of press so fast, ands it points out – to me, at any rate – a huge unmet demand for the sort of rums they make and the model they use to produce them.
  • In his review on Rum Revelations, Ivar also remarked on the caramel and winey taste and wondered if Travellers had monkeyed around with it. I don’t doubt HC themselves were completely above board when they said they didn’t, but on the other hand, they took what they got on faith, so who knows?
  • Thanks to John Go, who sent me a sample.
Jun 272022
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is the largest subscription-based spirits distributor in the world, focussing primarily on whisky but also blends, bourbons, gins, cognacs and, yes, occasionally rums. It has long passed the stage of simply buying a cask here or there and releasing the subsequent bottling, but is a noted stockist and ageing warehouse in its own right, purchasing new make spirit from all over the map and barrelling it themselves. Their prime focus remains the whisky arena, no matter what sort of minor releases they do in other areas of the spirit world, which I guess is understandable given their historical mandate and membership.

That said, 2017 was a relatively good rum year for the SMWS, because that was the year that the most rums were ever issued since they first got the slightest bit serious about them (in 2011): eighteen in all, of which seven were from a single distillery – Worthy Park 1. All but one of the WP Seven derived from a series of casks laid down in 2010 and somehow most of these have made it over into my stash, which does nothing to allay Mrs. Caner’s suspicions as to how much money I spend on rums (not much, honey, honest!).

So today, we’ll be looking at R11.4, a 66.1% ABV beefcake coming off a pot still, aged six years in Europe and with an outturn of 267 bottles. I’d write a longer introduction and throw in a few other observations, but really, with both the society and the distillery being known so well, it’s hardly required nowadays.

The rum is given the usual unique Society title, which this time is actually less obscure than most: it’s called the “Tasty Treat” — though that might be stretching things (especially for those new to the rum scene). The nose, for example, instantly reminds one of the insides of a pair of sweat-infused rubber boots after a hot day spent tramping through a muddy field of freshly turned sod, before it relaxes and grudgingly provides notes of sweet acetones, nail polish and turpentine (just a bit). And if you think that’s odd, wait a while: you’ll be greeted by brine, olives, cucumbers in light vinegar paired with sashimi in pimento-infused lemon juice (I kid you not). By the time you recover, all that’s gone and all that’s left is sharp, tartly ripe fruits: apples, pears, apricots, pineapples. And a touch of orange peel.

The palate is quite hot, as can be expected from something with such a high proof point; however, letting it breathe for a few minutes so it opens up and lets the sharper alcohol fumes dissipate, mitigates that heat, and a rum of rather well balanced flavours emerge out of the chaos. The segue from the nose is seamless: first the spicy, tart, fruity notes – pineapples, pears, strawberries, cherries, yellow mangoes – followed by milder, more mellow tastes.  These are flambeed bananas, caramel, honey, almonds, walnuts, unsweetened yoghurt, vanilla, and hot black tea infused with just a touch of cinnamon and cardamom. I particularly enjoyed how it finished, long and dry, with all flavours coming onstage for a final curtain call.  Nothing new at the close, nothing original, just a succinct summation of the whole experience in a languorous fade.

The odd thing about this rum is that good as it is, strong as it is, it’s missing something of the overall punch and uniqueness of some of the earlier R11.x series, let alone Worthy Park’s own rums which I had on hand as comparators.  It’s tasty and complex enough, yet lacks the voluptuousness of the juice WP puts out the door in its estate bottlings, and jumps around the flavour wheel without the structure of R11.2 or the excellent R11.3.  Maybe that’s a factor of the European ageing, maybe it’s the single barrel, maybe it’s just a different palate, maybe it’s the relative youth. It’s just not quite … there. And so, much as I like it, I can’t quite elevate it to the status of a must-have that had to be acquired by fair means or foul: because while it’s tasty enough, it’s not quite a treat.

(#918)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

May 232022
 

Aside from their premium “Wild Series” line of rums with their striking black and white labels and dizzying proof points, the relatively new Danish indie Rom Deluxe also has various downmarket rum offerings. One step down from “Wild” is the Collector’s Series, originally meant to capture rums that were not quite as strong as the former but retaining much of the quality.  On the face of it and perusing the listings, I don’t honestly see much difference, however, aside perhaps in a lower price.

The subject of today’s review is the first batch of Release 3 which hails from Bellevue, which can lead to some confusion since there are three places (maybe more) with that rather common name — suffice to say it’s from Le Moule on Guadeloupe, and made by Damoiseau (see “other notes”, below). Unusually for the French islands, it’s a molasses based rum, column still, distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2021 — and so aged a whopping 23 years in a combination of both tropical and continental — at a solid 55.5% (another batch has a slightly higher proof point of 56.1%). Stats like that have the nerd brigade crossing their eyes and drooling, and not just in Denmark; with good reason, since we see such ageing from French island rums only rarely.

The rum, fortunately, did not disappoint.  The nose was middle-of-the-road complex, a Goldilocks-level symphony of just about enough, never too much and rarely too little. The nose was slightly briny, but not a Sajous level-salt wax explosion. It had fruits, but was not an ester-bomb – peaches, apples, melons, apricots, flambeed bananas.  A little smoke, a little wood, noting overbearing, and all these notes were balanced off with a pleasant melange of breakfast spices, cinnamon, vanilla, caramel and a touch of licorice.

The palate settled down a bit and continued to channel an approach that eschewed the screeching sharp vulgarity of a fishwife’s flensing knife and went with something more moderate. There was salt caramel ice cream in Irish coffee, topped with whipped cream. Vanilla and brine, stewed apples, green peas, light pineapples, peaches in syrup. Things got a little odd somewhere in the middle of all this when distinct notes of wet ashes, rubber and iodine came out.  These however, didn’t stick around long and gave way to a dry, short, crisp finish redolent of strong hot black tea (sweetened with condensed milk), acetones, nail polish, brine and a last filip of toffee.

The whole rum, the entire sipping and drinking experience, really was very good. I like to think it channelled that school of thought propounded by Hesiod and Plautus (among many others) who promoted moderation in all things (“…including moderation,” quipped Oscar Wilde centuries later). It’s tasty without overdoing it, it’s firm without bombast, assertive where needed, one of the better rums coming off the island, and honestly, one can only wonder what made Rom Deluxe relegate a rum like this to the Collector’s Series and not to the more upmarket Wilds. 

No matter.  Whatever category it’s placed in, it’s really worth checking out of it ever turns up in your vicinity. I doubt you’d be disappointed.

(#910)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Outturn 258 bottles
  • Marque GMBV
  • The label and the stats are the same on both the 55.5% R3.1 and the 56.1% R3.2, except for the strength.
  • The rum is not an agricole, given it was made from molasses; this twigged a lot of people into believing it was not from MG BEllevue…but from Damoiseau (see next comment)
  • Note on origins: Originally this review mentioned Bellevue as being “…on the small island of Marie Galante just south of Guadeloupe (other distilleries there are Pere Labat and Velier/Capovilla at Poisson, and Bielle).” However, several people alerted me to overlooked inconsistencies here, because there is Bellevue on Marie Galante, another Bellevue at Le Moule in Guadeloupe (that’s Damoiseau’s place) and a third in Sainte Rose, also in Guadeloupe (which is Reimonenq). Because such confusions had arisen before (e.g. the TBRC 1999 Bellevue) most commentators felt it was a Damoiseau rum.  I got onto Kim Pedersen at Rom Deluxe and he wrote back “…you are right about the misprint on our website. It is a Bellevue from Damoiseau 🙂 […] there has been a lot of confusion about these rums, and I can see that my text on the webpage is more misleading than informative. So I think I have to change that despite the bottles is sold out.” So that means the review’s “sources” paragraph, and my title has been changed.