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 Key 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.
May 162022
 

Two years ago I took a look at L’Esprit’s Beenleigh 5YO rum from Australia and after trying manfully to come to grips with the gasp-inducing strength of 78.1%, I got up off the floor and wrote a fairly positive review about the thing. That rum was hot-snot aggressive and not bad at all, and there I thought the tale had ended…but then came this one. And then it became clear that Steve Magarry (who was then Distillery Manager over at Beenleigh) and Tristan Prodhomme (the showrunner at L’Esprit) read my review, rubbed their hands gleefully while cackling in fiendish delight, and released something a little older, a little stronger…and a whole lot better.

The 2014 rum which was bottled in 2020, has 0.2% more proof points than the one I reviewed, clocking in at 78.3%, and it’s one year older. It remains a pot-still rum, suggesting a lurking taste bomb in waiting. On the face of it, the stats would make you take a step backwards (unless you’re the sort of person who methodically works your way through the list of 21 Strongest Rums in the World, smiling the entire time). And taking even a cautiously tiny sniff is probably best here, because the rum is lava-like, the rum is sharp, and it presents itself to your attention with all the excitement of a switched-on electric hair dryer dropped into your hot tub…while you’re in it.

The first notes to discern are ostensibly off-putting: shards of burnt rubber, rotten carrots. plus meat spoiled enough for flies to be using it for a house. Stick with it: it gets better fast once it learns to relax, and then coughs up vanilla, almonds, toffee, brown sugar, and ice cream over which has been drizzled hot caramel.  Relatively simple, yes, and it seems quite standard (except for that startling cold-open), yet somehow the nose is really quite amazing. It continues into sweet dense fruit and whipped cream over a rich cheesecake, plus leather and aromatic tobacco, cherries and syrup, and that crisp sensation of biting into a stick of celery. It works, swimmingly, even though logic and the reading of such disparate tasting notes suggests it really shouldn’t.

Nosing is one thing, but rums live or die on the taste, because you can jerk your scorched nose away a lot easier than a burnt and despoiled tongue. What’s surprising about L’Esprit’s Beenleigh is that it actually plays much softer on the palate than we have any right to expect.  There’s almost a light perfumed sweetness to it, like strawberry candy floss and bubble gum, mixed up with more salted caramel ice cream….and mango shavings.  There’s gelato, pears, apricots over which someone poured condensed milk, and it’s really spicy, yes….but completely bearable — I would not throw this thing out of bed. Plus, it channeled enough fruitiness – orange marmalade, butter chocolates and gooseberries – to provide an interesting counterpoint. And I also liked the finish – it was hot and sweet black tea, crisply and sharply heavy, and fruitily tart, and slightly bitter in a way that wasn’t really unpleasant, just lent a distinctive accent to the close.  

By now we know more about Beenleigh (see other notes, below) than we did before the pandemic, much of it due to the increasing raft of independent bottlers who have put their juice through the door (including Velier, of late – Ralfy loved their 2015 5 YO), as well as the social media presence and engagement of Steve Magarry himself. What was once a distillery known mostly to Australians, uber-geeks and obscure reviewers, has, in a remarkably short period of time, become quite celebrated for the quality of its rum. Like Bundaberg, it has started to become an icon of the antipodean rum scene, while tasting better.

A whole lot better. This is an impressively civilized overproof rum  It hums along like a beefed-up garage-tuned homemade supercar fuelled with the contents of whatever’s brewing in grandma’s bathtub, and by some subtle alchemy of selection and ageing, becomes quietly amazing. Really.  I expected rougher and nastier and uglier, feared Azog, and yet to my surprise, somehow got Legolas. 

(#908)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • Sugar cane growth had been encouraged in Queensland by the Sugar and Coffee regulations in 1864, the same year as the Beenleigh plantation was established (it was named after its founders’ home in England). Initially sugar was all it produced, though a floating boat-based distillery called the “Walrus” did serve several plantations in the area from 1869 and made rum from molasses – illegally, after its license was withdrawn in 1872, continuing until 1883 when it was beached.  Francis Gooding, one of the founders, purchased the onboard still and gained a distilling license in 1884 from which time such operations formally began in Beenleigh. Through various changes in ownership, Beenleigh as a distillery continued until 1969 when it shut down because of falling demand, then relaunched in 1972 under the ownership of Mervyn Davy and his sons; they didn’t hold on to it long and sold it to the Moran family in 1980, who in turn disposed of a controlling share to Tarac Industries in 1984. All the post-1969 owners added to the facilities and expanded the distillery’s production to other spirits, and it was finally acquired in 2003 by VOK Beverages a diversified drinks company from South Australia, in whose hands it remains.
  • Tristan confirmed that the rum is indeed all pot still distillate.
  • L’Esprit is a small independent bottler out of France, perhaps better known in Europe for its whiskies. They’ve been on my radar for years, and I remain convinced they are among the best, yet also most unsung, of the independents — perhaps because they have almost no social media presence to speak of, and not everybody reads the reviews. I also think they have some of the coolest sample bottles I’ve ever seen.
  • An unsolicited (but very welcome) sample set was provided gratis to me by the owner, Tristan Prodhomme, for Christmas 2021, perhaps because he knew of my liking for strong hooch and that I buy his stuff constantly. If we can meet next time I’m in Europe, I have to see what to do to even the scales.
May 122022
 

Sooner or later, no matter what the SMWS thought the Big Gun Rums deserving of their own Big Green Bottle were, they had to come here, to Release 7.1 of the vaunted and much ignored “R” (rum) series. By 2016 when it was put on sale for the membership, they had rums from Guyana (DDL), Jamaica (Monymusk and Longpond), Barbados (WIRD) and Trinidad (Providence)…and that was it. And even if you’re not in to rums – or weren’t, six years ago – it’s clear there’s just a whole lot missing there, which could have buffed and burnished the SMWS’s sadly lacking rum department.

However, after three years’ of zero rum outturn, perhaps somebody was finally waking up, because in that year nine rums came out, and four new distilleries were added — Nicaragua’s Flor de Cana (R8), Trinidad’s Angostura (R10), Barbados’s Foursquare (R6)…and Hampden Estate’s R7. Which is nice, though it would be hard to explain why Worthy Park was ignored (they were allocated R11 a year later), where St. Lucia’s Distillery was (and is), and why every single agricole has yet to be given a spot alongside sterling rums from points around the globe.

Well, never mind. The important thing is that they finally got around to adding one of the real and enduring stars of the rum scene, Hampden Estate, which had already and quietly started to make waves in the rum and whisky worlds via independent bottlers’ offerings and various spirits festivals (they would begin the release their own estate bottlings in 2018). Certain years of Hampden’s bulk sales always seem to come up as touchstones – 1992 was one such, with the superlative pair of the  Samaroli’s 24 YO and the 25 YO being examples of the possibilities, and 1990 and 2000 both had some pretty good rums from Berry Bros, Rum Nation, CDI, Renegade and SBS. In twelve years of constant writing, I’ve never found a Hampden dog.

This one is no exception. Distilled in 2000 and bottled in 2016 for release in 2017, it’s a 54% sixteen year old cultured bruiser with an outturn of 214 bottles, and even if it doesn’t say so, the marque is an LROK “Common Clean”, which places it in the pleasantly mid- to low-range of the  ester charts (and therefore provides you with the advantage of not requiring expensive insurance against having your face ripped off, as you would with a full-powered DOK sporting off-road tyres). It is, of course, pot still made, and aged in ex-Bourbon casks.

Just about every reviewer of SMWS rums (and even some of the whiskies) likes to repeat the old trope that they (a) find the odd names of the spirits incomprehensible and (b) ignore those peculiar tasting notes that are on the label. You can sort of see the point since “Welcome to Jamrock” is not exactly clear to those genuflecting to The Queen’s. Me, I read the entire label (including the warnings) and just smile and enjoy the sense of irreverent humour at play.  The truth is, though, the rum is weird, it is odd, and I think it took some courage to release back before Hampden gained the street cred it did after 2018, and people got more used to the profile.

Consider: the nose opens up with the scent of hot porridge to which has been added a pinch of salt and a pat of melting butter. To this is then brought caramel, toffee, and the dry smell of cracked plaster and mouldy drywall in an old and dusty house.  And then we also start getting olives in spicy vinegar, delicate flowers, cherries in syrup, figs, a little bitter chocolate, marmalade with a little red-pepper attitude – it’s oddball to a fault, it’s strange and it’s peculiarly tasty, and I haven’t even gotten to the second best thing about it. Which is the gradual intermingling of herbs, grasses, marigolds and a trace of sandalwood, with cinnamon, cumin and citrus juice, all doused with aromatic tobacco (and if this sounds like a lot, it’s because, well, it is.)

Once we get to the pour and the palate, though, the rum gets down to business, stops with the fancy stuff and hauls out the happy slapper. The good stuff slides right off and it becomes a full-out badass, starting off with new paint, medicinals, a sort of minerally tang, and the crackling flash of ozone like an electrical fire’s after-smell.  There’s the disused taste of a second hand store’s sad and expired dust-covered back shelf wares here. Paprika  and black pepper, more of that vague pimento and tobacco taste, bell peppers, chocolate oranges, strawberries, even a touch of brown sugar and toffee, plus a smorgasbord of mashed-together fruits one can no longer separate. The finish is really good, by the way – it’s fruity, estery, slightly bitter, crisp, dry and has a flirt of nail polish, oakiness, bitter chocolate, caramel and campfire ashes about it, and is one to savour.

All this, from a wrong on the wrong side of 60%.  It’s amazing, it spreads carnage in all directions, but so politely that you can’t help but love the thing, and for sure it took courage to risk releasing it as it was, because at the time Hampden was not as well known as it currently is.  Now, I have to admit that this is a rum for drinkers with some naso-glottal fortitude – solera-style fanciers, El Dorado 12 YO fans and Zacapa lovers are strongly advised to smell and sip carefully lest they be rendered comatose – yet the overall quality shines through regardless for everyone, expert, aficionado or newb alike. Even at a time when we are spoiled for choice and we can have multiple rums from single distilleries to hone our senses, there are still rums out there that shine a light on aspects of estates and producers we think we know really well, and reveal qualities we can only consider ourselves fortunate to have experienced. This is one of them.

(#907)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • The word “Jamrock” refers to Jamaican’s slang for their island which they sometimes call “de Rock” (much as Newfies do theirs), and the bottle title is also the name of a 2005 song by Damian Marley.Given the premise of the song, I like the left handed compliment it implicitly gives the rum
  • Not many others have reviewed this rum, but Rum Shop Boy also rated it high in his 2018 review (87 points). The Rum-X app averages things out at 85 points from 4 ratings (before this review gets incorporated).
  • It is assumed that the distillate matured in Europe, and was sourced via a broker, or, of course, Scheer / Main Rum.
  • For those who want more background into the SMWS, a biography and bottle list (of rums) is available.

Opinion

As I’ve remarked before, yes, sure, the Society (of which I am a card-carrying, dues-paying member) is primarily a whisky club and a whisky indie bottler and that’s where its international rep rests — but to my mind, if they are going to expand into other and interesting directions like rums, then it should be doing it right, doing it seriously, and stop farting around with a mere thirteen distilleries’ and 76 bottlings twenty years after issuing the first one (as a comparison, in their very second year the Society bottled from the 16th whisky distillery and was already approaching a hundred separate releases). The inconsistency of releases, with occasional years’ long gaps, is moving out of amateur hour and into outright embarrassing and does the society no favours at all.

A regular and consistently applied schedule of top quality rum releases, however minimal, is not an impossibility in this day and age (especially if they were to hire me to source it for them, ha ha). And if it is a big deal, if new and exciting distilleries and well-regarded older ones can’t be identified and sourced, why bring in The Global Rum Ambassador on retainer as an adviser? The Society can and should do better with its ancillary releases, because if it can’t, then it should bite the bullet, admit failure (or lack of interest and expertise), and just cease altogether instead of keeping hopeful rum fans strung along. This is a huge potential new fan base they’re ignoring, at a time when more and more people are turning disgustedly away from the prices and rarity of top end whiskies. I simply don’t get the indifference.


 

Feb 212022
 

Photo (c) Christopher Sackl, used with permission

The Rum Depot is a shop in Berlin that specialises in, you guessed it, rum, and Dirk Becker, the owner, is the man behind the Berlin Rum Festival. I try to go there any time I’m in the city and have the time, because I have fond memories of my times wandering around the joint: it was the first such dedicated rum emporium I had ever visited, way back in 2012 when I had been so proud of my 50+ rum reviews (hush, ye snickerers). And aside from being introduced to Velier, Courcelles and a raft of other exclusive rums such as I could only have dreamed about in Calgary at the time, there was a whole table full of opened bottles one could sample at will.  Which I did, and do.

On this occasion it was Christmas 2021 and COVID had not yet died away so protocols were in place, but once again I was treated with patience and courtesy by Charlos and Fabian (who endured my persnickety-ness and constant questions with good cheer), and occasionally Dirk himself, when he had a free moment. At one point they brought out three bottles they intended to release in early 2022 and invited me to try them, and you’d better believe I jumped at the chance (the full story, which I started writing and clocked in at a thousand words before I put the brakes on, is better than this dry account suggests, but is too long to relate here without derailing the review completely).

Though the selections were all quite impressive, one rum from the trio was really quite a catch just on its specs, I thought: a year 2000 21 YO Barbados pot still rum from Mount Gay. We’ve been fortunate enough to try pot still rums from Barbados before, of course: Habitation Velier’s Foursquare and Last Ward releases remain two of the best known – but another one is always welcome, especially from Mount Gay, which is more noted for its blends than this kind of thing (one wonders how Dirk snapped up the barrel, and why nobody else did, but never mind).

Jacked up to 54.4%, it certainly had a lot of pedigree to live up to, and the initial nose was at pains to demonstrate the fact that it wasn’t messing around and intended to wow you from the get-go.  It was very intense, very deep and – I can think of no better word – juicy. Extremely bright aromas of honey, nougat, caramel and aromatic flowers billowed right out and enveloped the senses in a rich tangle. Some funkiness of pineapple and strawberries, salt caramel, tobacco and leather added to what was a really nice nose.

The taste was no slouch either. Very little sharpness, just solid intensity.  Honey was the first note to be discerned, tawny, raw honey dripping from the comb. Toffee, chocolate, molasses, salt caramel ice cream, a slight briny hint.  Then the aromatic tobacco and well-polished leather came onstage, followed by black cake, a mixed smorgasbord of fruits — strawberries, cherries, raisins, lychees, and even a plum or two.  There’s a touch of molasses and oak at the back end, complementing a solid finish that is musky, fruity, tart and tawny all at once, and lasts a good long time.  Which is great, since there’s not much of this stuff available and we want to savour what we do manage to sample.

Rum Club – the private bottling arm of the ‘Depot – selected and issued a really good rum here, and it adds to the reputation of Barbados as a rum producing nation. The real question it raises with me is this: with respect to pot still rums, why don’t we see more of them? Barbados has elevated its status over the last decade as the purveyors of excellent pot-column blends, which is completely fine, but I think there’s a niche to be explored here that is under-represented, both in the literature and on the shelves of our favourite rum stores. Only 292 bottles of this rum were issued to the public, most of them likely snapped up in Germany; after sampling it blind and then again knowing what it was, I thought it could serve as an indicator that there’s still lots more good stuff to come from the island, and I’d love to get more just like it. Lots more.

(#886)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Feb 072022
 

This is one of those times where I’ll circle back and fill in the detailed background later, since even a summary of more than three centuries of company life will still probably put the disinterested to sleep. 

In brief, Berry Bros & Rudd (or BBR) is a London-based wine and spirits enterprise (they have branches in several other countries) who dabble in their own bottlings of rum from time to time.  They were among the first indies to capture my attention back in 2012 or so with an extraordinary 1975 Port Mourant, but nowadays their star shines somewhat less brightly and few speak of their rums with the reverence they once were thought to command.

This rum sort of exemplifies why: it’s a rum from Haiti about which just about nothing can be found and is listed only in a few online shops which provide a bare minimum of detail.  It’s never come up for auction, is not on Rum-X’s database and nobody has reviewed it as far as I can tell. Neither Single Cask Rum nor Barrel Aged Thoughts, in their company bios, have even listed it, but then, nobody has a complete listing of BBR’s rums.

Based on the label and other sources, it is distilled in Haiti in 2004 – this of course immediately implies Barbancourt, the major and most renowned rum maker on the half-island and the only one who exports bulk to Europe where BBR would have picked up a few barrels.  As was customary a decade ago, the rum was released at 46% ABV and is column distilled, though whether molasses based or deriving from cane juice is unknown (I have little faith in the spelling convention of “rum” versus “rhum” on the label to determine the source).

That out of the way, what’s it like? It is, on initial nosing, quite pleasantly fruity and musky…but not herbal or grassy (suggesting but not confirming a molasses origin). Apples, raisins, dates and black grapes are the initial scents, followed by dark red cherries and a lingering ripe pineapple background that remains perceptible throughout. Once the rum settles down – it’s a bit thin at 46% and from time to time bites like an underfed, rice-eating, flea-bitten mongrel if one approaches it carelessly – there is a deeper note of honey, light molasses, pencil shavings and cream cheese on sourdough bread.

Some of this carries over to the palate, but not all. It tastes nicely of brine and a lightly salted trail mix of cashews and peanuts. Tart flavours of gherkins and sweet pickles creep in, leading to a firmer melange of crisp fruits and cough syrup (!!). Green grapes, unripe peaches and pears, some light orange zest and citronella. It feels watery at times, but there’s enough strength here to let more complex flavours seep through if one is patient.  The weakest point is the finish, which is less salty, sweeter and has an easy sort of fruit salad vibe going on. It’s short, breathy, easy and not too exceptional at this point: the nose remains the best part of it.

So, not a bad rum, but conversely, nothing to really write home about either.  It’s simply a competently assembled rum with no points of distinction and few weaknesses for which one might mark it down – maybe some more ageing, a few extra points of proof, would have elevated it. It’s too good to be anonymous blah, while unfortunately not staking out any tasting territory in your mind which would cause you to seriously recommend it to your friends as something they would have to try (as attends, say, every Hampden or WP rum ever made). Maybe it’s all down to BBR not having a serious rum department or in-house expertise to really select some good juice, but the upshot is that their 9YO Haitian rum from 2004 is no undiscovered masterpiece, just a forgotten rum that no-one will miss if it stays that way.

(#882)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Historical Notes

With the explosion of new and nimble independent bottlers on the European scene, some of the original bottlers we used to know a mere decade ago are fading from view, which is unfortunate.  They, these older ones, kept the flame of pure rums burning at a time when the world was glutted with anonymous blends and pointed the way to the possibilities of the rumworld we live in now. That said, I was never entirely free of the suspicion that most of these outfits had their origins in, and kept their love for, whisky as their primary focus — and rums were, at best, an afterthought. Wilson & Morgan, Cadenhead, Moon Imports, Samaroli, BBR and others, all started bottling whisky before they moved into the good stuff – but whatever the case is, they were and remain the inheritors of the merchant bottlers of old who serviced the distribution of rum around the empires they served, many of which were bought out or went under or are long out of business…and all but unknown now.

Such merchant bottlers had their origins in distributorships and spirits shops, and probably the oldest of these is the firm of Berry Brothers & Rudd in London, which, as all rum geeks are probably aware, was founded in 1698 by the surviving wife of the prematurely deceased, sadly unmissed and completely unknown Mr. Bourne, who opened a general grocery shop in that year with (one assumes inherited) funds sufficiently impressive for her to take premises opposite St. James Palace. The intricacies of the family line and business development over the centuries are too complex for this review, but by the early 1800s the shop had already moved into wine distribution and by the beginning of the 1900s was exclusively a wine and spirits merchant, bottling their own wines, sherries and whiskies well into the 20th century and expanding carefully, but globally. 

Rums seem to have been issued by BB&R on something of an irregular, ad hoc basis and the only ones predating the modern era that I know of, are a Jamaican rum from the 1960s which was auctioned in 2018, and another even rarer one from 1947/1948 that went under the hammer in February 2020 both at prices none of us can afford. Rums began to appear in the portfolio as a semi-regular thing in 2002, with a Long Pond 16YO from 1986 and a Versailles 1985 17 YO; these early editions were characterised by a simple, almost Edwardian-era label design ethos which (along with the bottle style) has now been changed several times over. Some of their modern bottlings have become very sought after, like the Jamaica 1977 or the Port Mourant 1975, but somehow the series as a whole never scaled the bar which others set so high, never got that cachet of “must have” attached to their initial work. Probably this was because of inconsistent releases and equally inconsistent quality…some were good, some were not, and some were simply okay. 

BBR continues to release rums from time to time, with a puzzling lack of publicity which may also be part of the reason their visibility is less than it could have been.  Nothing about their rum shelf is particularly impressive: not the selections, not the disclosure of what they do have, not the variety. And while they have expanded the original “Berry’s Own Selection” to now include an “Exceptional Cask” and a “Classic Range” series – sometimes distinguished, I suggest, more by price and rarity than by quality – there are never very many listed for sale or auction and no serious must-have rums to excite the cognoscenti as, say, Nobilis or Rom Deluxe does.  It remains to be seen whether the company wants to increase its footprint of well-made, well-aged rums from around the world, harness the rum-geek crowd’s enthusiasms into new and exciting ranges of young or aged expressions…or just be content to follow everyone else and remain a top tier wine and spirits merchant with a third tier rum selection.


 

Jan 162022
 

DOK.  The initials which have now become a word, have such a sense of menace.  They have all the unfriendly finality of an axe thunking into an executioner’s block. And perhaps this was deliberate, because a DOK rum (I give a delicious shiver) is at the trembling razor’s edge of esterland, 1600 g/hlpa, something so torrid and intense that it is used to calm down cask strength neutral alcohol before being sold to Scotch lovers, and those only now getting into rum.

Richard Seale is famous for his exasperation about DOK-weenies and fangeeks who wax rhapsodic about these things, because he knows that such a high concentration of esters was historically there for a reason – not to drink neat or rack up drinking brownie points, but to act as a flavorant to pastries, perfumes and cheap European rums in the 19th and 20th centuries (some of these uses continue). The taste of such a rum is so intense that it serves no sane purpose as a drink in its own right, and even in a mix it’s akin to playing with fire if one is not careful.

But of course, nothing will dishearten these spirited Spartans, for they, like your faithful reviewer, are way too witless for fear, and it’s a badge of honour to always get the rum that’s the biggest and baddest with the mostest even when the biggest ‘n’ baddest Bajan says otherwise: and so when one gets a DOK through fair means or foul, well, it’s gonna be tried, screaming weenies be damned.  And I gotta be honest, there’s some masochism involved here as well: can I survive the experience with my senses intact and my sanity undisturbed? Does the Caner like rum?

Judge for yourself.  I poured the pale yellow rum into my glass – carefully, I don’t mind telling you — and took a prudent and delicate sniff. The strength was manageable at 66.4%, and I’ve had stronger, of course, but I was taking no chances.  Good idea, because right away I was assaulted by the squealing laydown of a supercar’s rubber donuts on a hot day.  The tyres seemed to be melting on the road, the rubber scent was that strong. Man, there was a lot to unpack here: porridge with sour milk and salted butter, sharp as hell. Creamy not-quite tart herbal cheese spread over freshly toasted yeasty bread. Glue, paint, turpentine, more rubber, varnish, acetones, the raw cheap nail polish scent of a jaded Soho streetwalker, and still it wasn’t done.  Even after five minutes the thing kept coughing up more: sharp fruits, pineapple, strawberries, ginnip, gooseberries, plus paprika, basil, dill, and red olives.

And the taste, well, damn.  Sour milk in a latte gone bad, plus glue, paint, acetones and melting rubber.  Gradually, timorously, meekly, some fruits emerged: raisins, pears, unripe strawberries, pineapples, green mangoes, ripe cashews.  Oh and olives, leather, brine and coffee grounds, more fruit, and I was thinking that half of me wanted to shudder, stop and walk away, but the other half was mordantly curious to see how long this level of crazy could be maintained before the thing ran out of gas.  Truth to tell, not much longer, because after about half an hour it seemed to think I had been punished enough, and the intense pungency drained away to a long, spicy, dry but tasty finish – I could give you another long list of finishing notes, but at the end it simply repeated the beats of what had come before in a sort of crisp and spicy summation that left nothing unrepeated.

Look, I’m not making up these tasting notes in an effort to impress by establishing the extent of my imaginative vocabulary, or how complex I think the rum is.  Therein lies a sort of pointless insanity by itself. The fact is that those sensations are there, to me, and I have to describe what I am experiencing. That the rum is a smorgasbord of sensory impressions is beyond doubt – the question is whether it works as it should, whether it provides a good tasting and drinking experience, or whether it’s just a pointless exercise in dick measuring by an independent who wants to establish a rep — somewhat like Rom Deluxe did when they released their own DOK at 85.2%, remember that one?  As with that rum, then, I have to respond with a qualified yes

Because it works…up to a point. 

The issue with the rum and others like it — and this is an entirely personal opinion — is that there is simply too much: it overwhelms the senses with an undisciplined riot of aromas and flavours that fail to cohere.  Admittedly, the boys in Germany chose well, and the Letter of Marque is not quite on the level of crazy that attended the jangling cacophony of the Wild Tiger…but it’s close, and here I suspect the ageing did take some of the edge off and allow a bit of smoothening of the raw indiscipline that the Rom Deluxe product sported so happily.  Too, the strength is more bearable and so it works slightly better from that perspective as well.  

And so, I have to give this the score I think it deserves, which is a bit on the high side, perhaps. It sure took courage for the Rum Cask company to release it onto an unsuspecting public, and there’s a lot of interesting aspects to this Jamaican rum: if one dilutes a bit, tastes carefully and with attention, I think a lot can be taken away.  Most people aren’t like that though, and I suspect that if an average Joe was given this without warning, he might grudgingly praise the thing, but would hardly be likely to spring for a bottle the way a committed Jamaican rum fan would. Unless, of course, he wanted a rum that was demonstrably one of the the biggest, bestest and mostest.

(#875)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Letter of Marque is a brand of the Rum Cask indie bottler in Germany
  • The rum was selected by bloggers Rumboom, Single Cask Rum and Barrel Aged Thoughts.
  • Distilled in 2009, this was some of Hampden’s first output laid down to age, when they reopened that year
  • 300-bottle outturn
  • A “Letter of Marque,” once called a privateering commission, was a document issued by a Government (usually the crown) during the Age of Sail to authorize a private person to attack ships of another nation with which the Government was currently at war.  Essentially it legalized piracy by outsourcing naval guerilla operations to mercenaries — privateers or corsairs — under the mantle of the national interest. The 1856 Paris Declaration eventually ended the practice of privateering and the issuance of such letters worldwide.
  • On Rum-X, some thirty or so DOK rums are listed; clearly, whether we like it or not, these high-ester funk delivery systems are here to stay and as long as they get made, they will get sold, and drunk, and boasted about.
Jan 102022
 

When we think of Haiti two names in rum immediately spring to mind: clairins and Barbancourt.  This pair of diametrically opposite rum making styles dominate the conversation to such an extent that it is often overlooked that there are other distilleries on the island, like Barik / Moscoso, Agriterra / Himbert, Distillerie de la Rue (Nazon), Distillerie Lacrete, La Distillerie 1716, Beauvoir Leriche and Janel Mendard (among others).  Granted most of these don’t do much branded work, stay within their regional market, or they sell bulk rum only (often clairins or their lookalikes that punch up lesser rums made by even cheaper brands), but they do exist and it’s a shame we don’t know more about them or their rums.

I make this point because the Samaroli 11 year old Haitian rum from 2004 which we are looking at today, doesn’t actually say which distillery in Haiti made it.  Admittedly, this is a pedantic issue, since we can surmise with near-total assurance that it’s a Barbancourt distillate: they supply the majority of European brokers with bulk rum from Haiti while the others mentioned here tend to do local sales or over-the-border business in the Dominican Republic.  But we don’t know for sure and all the ebay sites and auction listings for this rum and other Haitians that Samaroli bottled, do not disclose the source, so we’ll take it as an educated and probably correct guess for now.

What else?  Distilled in 2004 and released in 2015 at 45% ABV, the rum hews closely to the mantra Silvio Samaroli developed all those years ago, which said that at the intersection of medium age and medium strength is a nexus of the best of all possible aromas, textures and tastes, where neither the rawness of youth or the excessive oakiness of age can spoil the bottled distillate, and the price remains reasonable.  Well, maybe, though what’s going on these days price-wise might give anyone pause to wonder whether that still holds true.

The rum does nose nicely, mind you: it starts off with a loud blurt of glue paint and nail polish, warm but not sharp and settles down into an almost elegant and very precise profile.  Soft notes of sugar water, pear syrup, cherries, vanilla and coconut shavings cavort around the nose, offset by a delicate lining of citrus and florals and a subtle hint of deeper fruits, and herbs.

Overall the slightly briny palate is warm, but not obnoxious.  Mostly, it’s relaxed and sweet, with pears, papayas, cucumbers plus maybe a single pimento for a sly kick at the back end.  It’s not too complex – honestly, it’s actually rather shy, which may be another way of saying there’s not much going on here.  But it still beats out a bunch of standard strength Spanish-heritage rons I had on the go that same day.  What distinguishes the taste is its delicate mouthfeel, floral hints and the traces of citrus infused sugar cane sap, all quite nice.  It’s all capped by a short and floral finish, delicate and spicy-sweet, which retains that slight brininess and darker fruits that are hinted at, without any effort to overwhelm.

Formed in 1968 by the eponymous Italian gentleman, the firm made its bones in the 1970s in whiskies,  branched into rums, and has a unicorn rum or two in its portfolio (like that near legendary 1948 blend); it is the distinguished inspiration for, and conceptual ancestor of, many Italian indies who came after…but by 2022 and even perhaps before that, Samaroli slipped in the younger generation’s estimation, lagging behind new and hungry independents like 1423, Rom Deluxe or Nobilis.  These brash insurgents issued cask strength monsters crammed with 80+ points of proof that were aged to three decades, or boosted to unheard ester levels…and the more elegant, easier, civilized rums Samaroli was once known for, no longer command the same cachet.

Now, this quiet Haiti rum is not an undiscovered steal from yesteryear, or a small masterpiece of the indie bottler’s art – I’d be lying if I said that. It’s simply a nice little better-than-entry level sipper, quiet and relaxed and with just enough purring under the hood to not make it boring. But to me it also shows that Samaroli can continue to do their continental ageing thing and come out with something that — while not a brutal slug to the nuts like a clairin, or the sweet elegance of a well-aged Barbancourt or a crank-everything-up-to-”12” rum from an aggressive new indie — still manages to present decently and show off a profile that does the half-island no dishonour. In a time of ever larger bottle-stats (and attendant prices), too often done just for shock value and headlines, perhaps it is worth taking a look at a rum like this once in a while, if only to remind ourselves that there are always alternatives.

(#874)(82/100)


Other Notes

  • It is assumed to be a column-still rhum; the source, whether molasses or sugar cane, is unstated and unknown.
  • 270-bottle outturn
Dec 082021
 

It’s the Red Queen’s race, I sometimes think: top dogs in the indie scene have to keep on inventing and innovating to maintain their lead, release ever-older or fancier bottlings, enthuse the fans, show how cool they are, all to remain in the same place — and none, perhaps, know this as well as Velier, whose various “series” go back a decade or more and keep the bar set really high. The legendary Demeraras, Caronis and Habitations, the Indian Ocean series, Endemic Birds, Foursquare Collaborations, 70th Anniversary, Appleton Hearts, True Explorer, Rhum Rhum, NRJ…the list just keeps growing.

But the unspoken concomitant to these various collections is that new editions spring from Luca’s fertile imagination and keep getting issued, so often and so quickly that though they elevate Velier to the status of front runner, they drop out of sight almost as quickly if no champions arise to promote them regularly.  Sure, one or two here or there attain mythical status (the Skeldons, some of the Caronis, the original NRJ TECA, the Damoiseau 1980, the Foursquare 2006 and the HV PM White are some such) but in the main, series as a whole tend to vanish from popular consciousness rather quickly.  Consider: can you name the component bottles of the Endemic Birds series, or even how many there are?

Back in 2017, the Genoese firm of Velier celebrated its 70th anniversary (of its founding in 1947, not Luca Gargano’s ownership), and to mark the occasion they released (what else?) a 70th Anniversary series of bottles from all over the map.  Within that select set was a further sub-group, one of six rums whose label and box design ethos was created by Warren Khong, an artist from Singapore of whom Luca was quite fond1. These were rums from Hampden (Jamaica), Mount Gilboa (Barbados), Nine Leaves (Japan), Chamarel (Mauritius), Bielle (Marie Galante) and St. Lucia Distillers, and it’s this last one we’ll be looking at today.

The St. Lucia Distillers edition came from the 6000-liter John Dore pot still No. 2 and in a nice gesture, Velier sent Ian Burrell around to Castries to select a barrel to be a part of the collection.  It was distilled in 2010, aged seven years (tropical, of course), and 267 bottles were issued at a nicely robust 58.6%. 

So, nosing it. Sweet acetones and rubber in an extraordinary balance; initially almost Jamaican, minus the fruit…but only till it changes gears and moves into second.  Sweet, light and forcefully crisp with very precise, definite nasal components. Orange zest, green grapes apples and cider.  Vanilla ice cream.  Varnish, smoke, thyme, mint, pineapple, tic-tacs. There’s a lot foaming on the beach with this rum and it’s definitely worth taking one’s time with.

The palate is trickier: somewhat unbalanced, it’s hot and a bit addled and doesn’t roll out the welcome mat, but nobody can deny it’s very distinct. Initially a shade bitter, and even sour; acidic, cider-like, bubbly, light, crisp, sharp, distinct.  Lots of easy esters here, perhaps an overabundance, because then they get bitchy, which is something that happens when not enough care is taken to balance them off with barrel influence and the inherent character of the rum itself. Becomes nice and sweet-salt as it opens up, which is pleasant, but the finish, relatively the weakest part of the entry (though still very good) is all about esters, fruitiness and some briny notes. Lots of ‘em.

Back in 2017 Marius over at Single Cask Rum reviewed the rum giving it love to the tune of 93 points; and six months later, two of the coolest deep-diving Danish rumdorks of my acquaintance — Gregers and Nicolai — went through the series in its entirety and were really quite enthusiastic about the St. Lucia, both scoring it 91. Some months later I nabbed a sample from Nicolai (same bottle, I’m guessing) and this review results from it. It’s an interesting rum to try, for sure: had I tried it blind I would have sworn it was either a Jamaican DOK-wannabe or a grand arome from Savanna, with some intriguing aspects of its own. That said, the rum seems to be too reliant on the sharp sour fruitiness of the esters which the pot still had allowed through to establish some street cred, leaving other aspects that would have made it shine more, left out, taking a back seat or just subsumed.

While by no means a merely average rum – it is, in point of fact, very good indeed, I want more like it and so far it’s the best scoring St. Lucia rum I’ve ever tried – I’m not convinced that it exceeds the (or my) magic 90 point threshold beyond which we enter halo territory. Nowadays it has sunk into partial obscurity and the dust-covered collections of those who bought theirs early, and while prices have been creeping up over the last years, they are thankfully not four figures yet. It’s too bad that more reviewers haven’t tried and written about it so we could see how other scores rank up, but then, it’s really all a matter of degree: all of us who’ve tried it agree that it’s one really fine rum, no matter how many or how few points we award. And it demonstrates once again – as if it needed to be proved – that Velier maintains a comfortable lead in the race they’re running.

(#870)(88/100)

Dec 052021
 

Nobody ever accused the Scotch Malt whisky Society of being in a hurry: although they began releasing rums as far back as 2001 (three unnamed releases, from Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados), they seemed none too happy or enthusiastic with the results, for they waited another ten years before issuing another Jamaican (the R1.2 “Rhubarb and Goose-gogs”), then two more in 2012 during Glenmorangie’s tenure at the helm…and then we hung around watching another seven years go by (and new owners take over) before the R1.5 “A Little Extravagant” came out the door in 2019. 

As you can imagine, the first issues now command some hefty coin, though thankfully not Velier-esque levels of certifiable insanity (the R1.4 I’m discussing here has been climbing though: £190 in 2016 and £230 two years later on Whisky Auctioneer). This is likely because until Simon Johnson of The Rum Shop Boy blog began reviewing the SMWS rums in his own collection in 2018, most rum people overlooked WhiskyFun’s reviews (or my own 2012 attempts to be funny) few knew anything about the Society’s cane output, or cared much. They were too obscure – the overlap between whisky and rum anoraks had not yet gathered a head of steam – and deemed too expensive.

The R1 series (see ‘Other Notes’ below for a quick recap on the numbering schema) of the Society is from Jamaica, Monymusk to be exact and this specific one is from the third issue in 2012, the R1.4, which, in an unconscionable fit of rather reasonable naming, they call “Get the Juices Flowing” … though of course that could describe any Jamaican under the sun.  Distilled in 1991, bottled in 2012, the still is unmentioned – however, since Monymusk rum is distilled at Clarendon which has had a columnar still only since 2009, it’s almost certainly a pot still rum. A peculiarity is the outturn: 696 bottles from a “single cask”, which the label helpfully tells us was a sherry butt (likely 500 liters or perhaps more), and as we know from experience, the Society does not muck around with proof but releases it as is from the cask – 66.2% here. 

That out of the way, let’s get on to the interesting stuff: a continentally aged rum old enough to vote, from a distillery from which we don’t get such offerings often enough. Nose first: wow, very powerful (66.2%, remember? … that’ll put some hair on the old biscuit-chest). Deep burnt sugar, buttery and caramel notes offset by smoke, almonds, ashes and charred wood (don’t ask) and a cornucopia of fruits: red wine, citrus, green apples, grapes, raisins, dates, prunes, peaches, strawberries….it’s very rich, with hot and spicy fumes and aromas just billowing out of the glass.

The strength manifests itself uncompromisingly and solidly when tasted as well. Trying small sips until one adjusts is probably best here, because then the flavours can be savoured stress free and more easily.  And there’s a lot of those, including initial notes, the beginning of tarry smokiness and burning rubber (excuse me?  I didn’t think this was a Caroni). There are also light florals, delicate white fleshed fruits, contrasted moments later with more acidic ones – cider, green apples, mangoes, red grapes and the tartness of lemon peel, all twinkling and frisky, plus brine, olives and some salted caramel. The finish is excellent too – long, toasty, cereal-y, crisp herbs, fruit-filled, a lollipop or two, bubble gum, strawberries and that light touch of saline. 

While there’s no such notation anywhere on the product page or the bottle itself, clearly someone knew enough to let the esters of the leash here, and balance them carefully with softer tastes to take the edge off.  The overall impact is undeniable, and it’s a very impressive dram – very fruity and yet also quite dark and firm in its own way with the caramel, vanilla and brine integrated into the profile very well.  There are some weak points here and there, mostly at the inception of smelling and tasting: one’s senses need to become acclimatized to the force blasting out of the glass before true appreciation sets in.  But overall, this is as good as any Hampden or Worthy Park rum out there, and it’s only major drawback is that it’s so hard to locate these days.

(#869)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • For those new to the Society’s ethos, they don’t name their products, they number them: this stemmed from a practice they had fallen into in the 1980s when whisky distilleries providing single barrels didn’t always want their names associated with this young upstart. Numbers were assigned, one per distillery, plus a second decimal for which release; and funny names — which supposedly were coded references to the taste profile — were added later. With the exception of the first expressions in 2001, rums followed this practice and as of this writing in December 2021, fourteen distilleries in seven countries, all in the Caribbean and Central America are represented. There’s a master list tacked on to the bottom of the Society history which I keep updated as best I can.
  • Sincere and grateful hat tip to Simon Johnson, who spotted me this sample when I couldn’t find one. His own review is worth reading.

Opinion

I’ve written and thought about the SMWS more than most indies, because I find their business model very interesting, and most of their rums aren’t bad at all – they just don’t seem to have a firm handle on where they want to go with this aspect of what they do.  In terms of their operations, on the surface they are an independent whisky bottler, sourcing barrels from whisky distilleries and releasing them to the market. The main difference is that this market is all subscriber-based and requires membership in the society (at an annual cost, additional to that of the product), and you’ll never see one of their bottles on a shop shelf (unless said shop is a member themselves – and even then, they can only sell to other members).

This creates some interesting commercial dynamics.  With thousands of members around the globe and only a few hundred bottles per release (single barrel, remember), it’s inevitable that most people wanting, say, one of the 275 bottles of release 66.177, will be SOL. The society has responded to this inevitable problem by issuing many more expressions in a given period than ever before, from all over the flavour map, and allocating supplies all over the world. They have begun doing blends. Prices are not subject to escalation (except on secondary markets). And of course they have dabbled their toes into other spirits categories as well – gin, bourbon, Armagnac, rum, and so on.

One could reasonably argue how this possibly results in an ongoing commercial enterprise: after all, today there are tons of companies selling single cask bottlings and you don’t have to worry about membership dues tacked on to what is already a hefty price (indie bottlings tend to be more expensive than readily available blends or estate bottlings because of their individualistic nature and different cost structures). The SMWS’s success has rested on a number of pillars: first mover advantages – they were among the first to seriously popularize the concept of single barrel unblended whisky sales, at scale (while not inventing it); great barrel selections in their first years; really good marketing; the mystique of exclusivity of a subscriber based society; and the gradual move and expansion into more than just Scottish distilleries’ whiskies – other countries, other spirits and even an ageing programme of their own (they no longer just buy pre-aged casks from distilleries).

Because the Society remains at heart a whisky-based enterprise, rums are unfortunately given short shrift, and even engaging Ian Burrell to be a sort of onboard consultant in 2020 hasn’t helped much – there has been no noticeable improvement or creative explosion on the rum front. The rums that are released are occasionally set at a price difficult to justify, not as varied as they could be (releases remain solely from the Caribbean and Central America in a time of interesting production from around the world) and the lack of real advertising of these products doesn’t engage the broader rum community who could potentially be their greatest cheerleaders. Other better-known and well-regarded indies are running circles around SMWS’s rum portfolio, issuing more, better, more often and with a lot more hooplah, and primary producers are only just getting started themselves. Moreover, the Society’s rums are released with an inconsistency that is problematic by itself: why would anyone fork out an annual subscription fee when one can’t tell whether in a single year this can result in many rums available for purchase, or a few, or one…or none?

So, personally I think that the rum section of the society needs serious work and more attention by someone who can dedicate time and energy to that alone and not dilute their focus with other things. If a 29 year old Guyanese rum or a 23 year old Caroni can cost £275 each and remain on the ”available” list for months, then I think there are underlying issues of price, promotion, awareness and perception of value that must be improved. The Society may be the cat’s meow on the whisky front (though I note that grumbles about availability, price and quality are a constant feature of online discourse), but with respect to rums, they’re nowhere near the front of the pack. And that’s a pity for an aspect of their work that has such potential for growth.

[Note: this opinion is an expansion of observations briefly touched on in the 2020 company profile of the SMWS; also, full disclosure: I am a member of the SMWS myself, focusing solely on their rums].


 

Nov 152021
 

Rumaniacs Review #130 | 0864

Today we’ll look at the propenultimate rum which the Danish company Rom Deluxe released in their initial forays into their local rum scene.  Six of the seven rums (the seventh being a special release for a client in 2020) were bottled in 2016-2017 after which the “line” ceased. They were all unlabelled and not sold to commercial establishments on a consistent basis, but taken around to tastings, friends, retailers and served as something of an introduction to the tiny company back before they got “serious”. I wonder if they made any money off them.

This is a Worthy Park rum, cask strength, distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2017 (it’s the only one that was done that year). 

Colour – Gold

Age – 6 YO

Strength 64.9%

Nose – The funk is strong with this one.  There’s gooseberries, pineapples, unripe Thai mangoes, unmistakably Jamaican, a serious, fierce nose. Bags of fruit – green apples, pears, blood oranges, red grapefruit, coming to a nice sweet-sour combo after a few minutes.  I’d say there was some light vanilla and baking spices at the back end, but not enough to do more than lend an accent to the main dish.

Palate – Salt, sour and sweet, really strong, but the sharpness is kept at bay with a firmness of taste elements that is impressive. Funk of course, “tek front”, this thing is Jamaican beyond doubt.  Brine and olives in lemon juice, green grapes and apples, grapefruits again, plus grated ginger and a touch of (get this!) wasabi. So softer notes of dates and figs, cumin, nutmeg.  I could sip this for hours, and in fact, I pretty much did.

Finish – Long, dry, fruity, with apples, grapes, citrus, pineapples, kiwi fruits and strawberries.  Plus vanilla.  And bubble gum.

Thoughts – Really good, really solid rum, lots of notes from around the wheel, but always, at end, a Jamaican pot still rum, and a very impressive one.  I doubt I’d be able to say WP or Hampden in a pinch (and it’s a WP, of course)…just that it’s not a bottle I’d give away if I had one. The bad news is that this one is long gone.  The good news is they — Worthy Park and the independents like Rom Deluxe – are making more.

(85/100)


Other notes

  • Thanks as always go to Nicolai Wachmann, for the sample, and Kim Pedersen of Rom Deluxe for his help with the background details.
  • Outturn unknown