Jan 162020
 

Rumaniacs Review 0108 | 0693

This rum is a companion of the Lamb’s 70º Demerara Navy and other UK rums made by various merchants bottlers, e.g. Four Bells Finest Navy Rum, Mainbrace, Black Heart, Red Duster Finest Navy, Old Vatted Demerara rum, and so on.  It’s admittedly a treat to try them and trace their dusty, almost-forgotten companies of origin.

This Navy wannabe was made when the UK had moved beyond the degrees proof (in 1980) but while United Rum Merchants was still located in Tooley Street, London and not yet taken over by Allied Domecq in the early 1990s. At this stage in the recent history of rum, blends were still the way to go, and if anything had a name-recognition factor, it was certainly “Demerara rum”, which this presumed to be. Alas, that’s all we really get – so while the label helpfully notes it is a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad, do not hold your breath waiting for a dissertation or scholarly analysis of the proportions, the ageing, or even which stills or distilleries made up the blend. Such details are long lost or long buried.

Colour – Dark Amber

Strength – 40% ABV

Nose – Quite a bit different from the strongly focussed Demerara profile of the Navy 70º we looked at before – had the label not been clear what was in it, I would have not guessed there was any Jamaican in here. The wooden stills profile of Guyana is tamed, and the aromas are prunes, licorice, black grapes and a light brininess. After a while some salt caramel ice cream, nougat, toffee and anise become more evident.  Sharp fruits are held way back and given the absence of any kind of tarriness, I’d hazard that Angostura provided the Trinidadian component. 

Palate – Sweet, medium-thick and quite pungent, which is nice for a 40% rum. It’s mostly pears, anise and caramel that jockey for attention – everything else is a second order effect.  It’s briny off and on but not of sea water or an olive, more like butter or caramel. It’s nicely dry, with some dark fruits coiling restlessly around and about, all quite indeterminate.

Finish – Quite nice.  One does not expect a long denouement with a standard strength rum, of course, yet even by that low standard this isn’t bad, being dry, leathery, not very sweet or dark, and some prunes, dates, and blackberries.

Thoughts – It’s a rather tame blend, maybe aged a wee bit, lacking any kind of single-mindedness of taste or smell…which may have been the point, as the official Navy recipe was never a static thing, and (for example) the Jamaican portion kept varying based on the opinions of the day. It’s milder and not overwhelmed by either the funky Jamaican or the dour, wood-forward Demerara components, and that’s its selling point and strength.  I do like uncompromising Port Mourant based rums, but this one isn’t half bad for what it is.

(81/100)(#692 | R-0108)

Feb 082019
 

Velier has always had this way of sneaking in something obscure among all their major series of rums — some smaller or very individual bottling that doesn’t so much fly under the radar as not excite quite the same rabid fly-off-the-shelves obsessiveness as, for example, the old Demeraras or Caronis.  So there are those Basseterres from 1995 and 1997, for example, or the Courcelles from 1972, or that 1954 RASC army rum I’m still searching for.

Another may well be the Very Old Royal Navy rum released in 2017.  At the time, it got quite a lot of press (and Wes and Simon were the lucky guys who got to write about it first), yet it disappeared from our mental rum-map fairly quickly, and nowadays you’ll look hard on the social media fora to find mention of it.  Its place in the sun has been taken by the Habitation whites, or Foursquare collaborations, or the National Rums of Jamaica quartet, or whatever else emerges every month from Luca’s fertile imagination. Still – I submit that it may be a forgotten steal even at its price, and when I tried it, it impressed me quite a bit.

The specs are mentioned on the label, but let’s just quickly run through the data anyway. This is a full proof rum bottled at the old standard “proof” – “Navy” strength, or 57.18%.  The word Navy hearkens back not only to this ABV, but to the fact that it tries to recreate the original blend of island rums that was issued to the British fleet back in the day – given the change in the blend over the centuries it’s probably fruitless to try, but points for the effort nevertheless. So, inside of it we have the following components:  Guyanese rum, more than 15 years old, aged in Europe (said to be Enmore but I have my doubts); Jamaica pot still rum, fully tropical-aged, more than 12 years old (Worthy Park plus a few others); and a tropically aged Caroni more than twenty years old. Now, the label also notes an average age of 17.42 years, which suggests a somewhat higher proportion of the Caroni, and the continental ageing of the Demerara points to a rather lesser influence from that part of the blend.  I’d expect to have dominant notes of Caroni, some Jamaican funk hiding behind that, and the Demerara part bringing up the rear to round things off.

The nose suggested that this wasn’t far off. Mild for the strength, warm and aromatic, the first notes were deep petrol-infused salt caramel ice cream (yeah, I know how that sounds).  Combining with that were some rotten fruit aromas (mangoes and bananas going off), brine and olives that carried the flag for the Jamaicans, with sharp bitter woody hints lurking around; and, after a while, fainter wooden and licorice notes from the Mudlanders (I’d suggest Port Mourant but could be the Versailles, not sure).  I also detected brown sugar, molasses and a sort of light sherry smell coiling around the entire thing, together with smoke, leather, wood, honey and some cream tarts. Quite honestly, there was so much going on here that it took the better part of an hour to get through it all. It may be a navy grog, but definitely is a sipper’s delight from the sheer olfactory badassery.

That complexity was also evident on the palate, which started warm, sweet and darkly bitter, like rich chocolate, and remained dry throughout.  With coffee grounds and pickles in vinegar. The Caroni side of things was there (diesel, rubber, wax, all the usual markers) but somewhat less than their predominance on the nose, and this was a good thing, since it allowed the Demerara flavours to get in on the action – dark fruit, plums, wood, raisins, licorice, flambeed bananas, cloves and cinnamon.  Even the Jamaicans took a back seat, though the funk persisted, just without force. Overall, it tasted a little creamy, with flowers and honey that can be sensed but not quite come to grips with. And the finish? Totally solid, long and lasting, black tea, anise, plums, blackberries to which was added licorice, brown sugar, and caramel drizzle over vanilla ice cream.

Wow.  It’s tough to know what to make of this, there’s so much action in the tasting experience that it could be accused with some justification, of being too busy, what with three distinct and well known profiles vying for your attention.  But I know I liked it, a lot, though also feeling that the Caroni dominance at the inception could have been toned down a shade. Overall? A worthy addition to the canon. It gives the “official” thousand-buck Black Tot a real run for its money while leaving all the other pretenders in the dust.

I say that with some irony, because “Navy” rums of whatever stripe are a dime a dozen, and one of the more recognized monikers in the rumworld.  A sense of ho-hum permeates the more common offerings (they’re considered medium class tipple by many), assuming they’re even made at the proper strength or have the proper combination of Caribbean components. And those blends are endlessly tinkered with – even Pusser’s, who make much of their possession of the “true” Navy rum recipe (which is a blend of several nations’ grog) recently changed the recipe of the 15 YO and Navy rum to being principally Guyanese rum, and still issued that at below par strength.  So having another one on the market doesn’t exactly shiver the timbers of the rumiverse.

But speaking for myself, I now regret not having bought a bottle back in 2017; at the time I was buying a bunch of others, including the 70th Anniversary collection, and it didn’t rate that high for me.  Once I got into it, once I relaxed, let the combined flavours wash over nose and tongue, I couldn’t stop writing. It starts slow, builds up a head of steam, and then simply charges through your defenses to give an experience like few others.  It’s a terrific rum, and even if it wasn’t called “navy” and was just itself, it would still retain a special place both in my tasting memory, and on my shelf.

(#597)(88/100)


Other Notes

  • While it’s not stated on the label, and remains unconfirmed by Velier directly, one website noted the blend as comprising Caroni, Port Mourant and Hampden.  While the source was unattributed, it’s probably correct based on the tasting.
  • Other reviews you might like to read are The Fat Rum Pirate (4 out of 5 stars) and The Rum Shop Boy (85/100)
  • Nico from Coeur de Chauffe pointed me to the 2017 Whisky Live presentation video where Luca spoke about this rum (in French, see the 15:50 mark) and noted its Jamaican components as mostly Worthy Park 2005, with a touch of New Yarmouth and Hampden.  The other pieces are Enmore 1990, and Caroni 1996.  I still have my issues with the Enmore 1990, since at that time the Versailles single wooden pot still was there and the woody notes of the profile remind me more of that than the wooden coffey still with the Enmore name.

 

Apr 062017
 

#354

Amrut, that Bangalore company which makes the Old Port rum I tried many years ago, as well as whiskies many swoon over, is no stranger to making rums, but their marketing effort is primarily aimed at the subcontinent itself, and perhaps other parts of Asia (maybe they’re chasing Old Monk, which was once the #1 rum in India).  There’s not much of a range (five rums in all), and I rarely saw any of them in Canada – this one was bought in Europe.  Given that this particular rum is a blend of – get this! – Jamaican, Bajan, Guyanese and Indian pot-still rum, one can perhaps be forgiven for asking whether they’re going in the direction of Ocean’s Atlantic Rum; and as far as I was concerned that one suffered from overreach.  But at least we know where the “Two Indies” moniker derives, if nothing else.

It’s also worth commenting on one thing: the Indian component of the rum is supposedly a pot still originating distillate based on jaggery, which is a natural sweetener made from sugar cane…whose by-product is molasses so one wonders why not just go there and have done, but never mind.  The issues (not problems) we have are two fold: firstly, jaggery is actually made from either sugar cane or the date palm, so I’m unsure of which variation is in use here (since sugar cane jaggery is cheaper, I’m putting my money there); secondly, assuming the jaggery is from cane, it is in effect a reduced version of sugar cane juice – a syrup – what we in the West Indies and parts of South America sometimes refer to as “honey”. So in effect there’s nothing particularly special about the matter except that its source product is made in Asia and widely known there.  And, of course, the marketing, since it suggests a divergence and distinction from more familiar terms.

Anyway, all this preamble leads inevitably to the question of whether that basic ingredient lends a difference to the profile, the way for example a “maple syrup rum” would (and yes, there is such an abomination). I don’t really think so – the difference in taste and smell I noted seemed to be more a product of the entire geographical environment, the way a Bundie is linked to Australia, and Dzama is Madagascar and Ryoma is Japanese.  I’m not saying I could necessarily taste it blind and know it was either from India in general or Amrut in particular – but there were differences from more traditional Caribbean or Latin American rums with which we have greater experience

Consider first how it smelled.  The nose began by presenting a sort of lush fruitiness that spilled over into over-ripe, almost spoiled mangoes, persimmons and sweet tropical fruit and kiwi, something also akin to those cloying yellow-orange cashews the snacking nuts are made from (not those with the stones inside).  In the background there lurked caramel and vanilla, some cloying sweet and also breakfast spices (cloves and maybe nutmeg mostly, though very light) just as the Old Monk had; and overall, the aromas were heavy and (paradoxically enough) not all that easy to pick out – perhaps that was because of the inoffensive 42.8% ABV it was bottled at.

I liked the taste a lot better, though that queer heaviness persisted through what ended up as a much clearer rum than I had expected.  So, bananas, more of the mangoes and cashews, honey, papayas, and the spices.  Adding some water released some chocolate and coffee, nutmeg, more vanilla and caramel, maybe some light molasses, some licorice, a nice twist of citrus rind, which I liked – it provided an edge that was sorely needed.  Finish was soft and quick, reasonably clean and warm, but was mostly the spices and caramel than anything else.

Reading around doing the usual research (and there is really not very much to go on so I have an outstanding email and a FB message sent out to them) suggests there are no artificial flavours included: but I dunno, that profile is quite different, and the breakfast spices are evident, so I gotta wonder about that; and the overall mouthfeel does suggest some sugar added (no proof on my side, though).  This doesn’t sink the drink, but it does make for an unusual  experience.  You’re not getting any Jamaican funk, Guyanese wooden stills or easier Bajans, nor any of that off-the-wall madness of an unaged white popskull.  It is simply what it is, in its own unique way.

On balance, a decent enough drink. I liked it just fine, though without any kind of rabid enthusiasm – it was from somewhere new, that’s all. You could drink it neat, no issues. Personally I thought the flavours were a mite too heavy (it stopped just short of being cloying) and meshed rather clumsily in a way that edged towards a muddle rather than something clearer and more distinct that would have succeeded better.  Much like the Tanduay, Mekhong, Tuzemak, Bundie or even the Don Papa rums, I suspect it is made based on a local conception of rum, and is for local palates.  Add to that the terroire concept and you can see why it tastes so off-base to one weaned on Caribbean tipple.  There’s a subtle difference from any of the British West Indian rums I’ve tried over the years, and though the Two Indies is a combo of several nations’ rums, I can’t separate the constituents and tell you with assurance, “Oh yeah, this comes from Foursquare” or “That’s Hampden” or even “PM!”  (and no, I don’t know whether these were the constituents).

So, they have used jaggery rather than molasses to make it, blended their way around a mishmash of profiles, and while I liked it and was intrigued, I didn’t believe all that was really needed and may even have made it less than its potential.  In Guyanese creole, when we see that kind of thing showing itself off as an artistic blending choice we usually smile, grunt “jiggery-pokery” and then shrug and fill another tumbler.  That pretty much sums things up for me, so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a compliment or not.

(82/100)


Other notes

The rum makes no mention of its age, and nothing I’ve unearthed speaks to it.  That was also part of my email to Amrut, so this post will likely be updated once I get a response.

Aug 032016
 

CDI Caraibes 1

Lack of oomph and added sugar make it a good rum for the unadventurous general market.

Your appreciation and philosophy of rum can be gauged by your reaction to Compagnie des Indes Caraïbes edition, which was one of the first rums Florent Beuchet made.  It’s still in production, garnering reviews that are across the spectrum – some like it, some don’t. Most agree it’s okay.  I think it’s one of the few missteps CDI ever made, and shows a maker still experimenting, still finding his feet.  Brutally speaking, it’s a fail compared to the glittering panoply and quality of their full proof rums which (rightfully) garner much more attention and praise.

To some extent that’s because there is a purity and focus to other products in the company’s line up: most are single barrel expressions from various countries, unblended with other rums, issued at varying strengths, all greater than the anemic 40% of the Caraïbes… and none of them have additives, which this one does (15g/L of organic sugar cane syrup plus caramel for colouring).That doesn’t make it a bad rum, just one that doesn’t appeal to me…though it may to many others who have standards different from mine.  You know who you are.

I know many makers in the past have done blends of various islands’ rums — Ocean’s Atlantic was an example — but I dunno, I’ve never been totally convinced it works. Still, observe the thinking that went into the assembly (the dissemination of which more rum makers who push multi-island blends out the door should follow).  According to Florent, the Caraïbes is a mix of column still rums: 25% Barbados for clarity and power (the spine), 50% Trinidad & Tobago (Angostura) for fruitiness and flowers, and 25% Guyanese rum (Enmore and PM) for the finish. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to ask what the relative proofs of the various components were. The unmixed barrels  were aged for 3-5 years in ex-bourbon casks in the tropics, then moved to Europe for the final marriage of the rums (and the additives).

Where I’m going with this is to establish that some care and thought actually went into the blend.  That it didn’t work may be more my personal predilections than yours, hence my opening remark.  But consider how it sampled and follow me through my reasoning.  The nose, as to be expected, channelled a spaniel’s loving eyes: soft and warm, somewhat dry, if ultimately too thin, with some of the youth of the components being evident.  Flowers, apricots, ripening red cherries plus some anise and raisins, and unidentifiable muskier notes, it was pleasant, easy, unaggressive.

The mouth was quite a smorgasbord of flavours as well, leading off with cloves, cedar, leather and peaches (a strange and not entirely successful amalgam), with vanilla,  toffee, ginger snaps, anise and licorice being held way back, present and accounted for, very weak.  The whole mouthfeel was sweeter, denser, fuller, than might be expected from 40% (and that’s where the additive comes into its own, as well as in taking out some sharper edges), but the weakness of the taste profile sinks the effort.  Rather than smoothening out variations and sharpness in the taste profile, the added sweeteners smothers it all like a heavy feather blanket. You can sense more there, somewhere…you just can’t get to it.  The rum should have been issued at 45% at least in order to ameliorate these effects, which carried over into a short, sweet finish of anise and licorice (more dominant here at the end), ginger and salted caramel ice cream from Hagen Dasz (my favourite).

CDI Caraibes 2

All right so there you have it.  The 40% is not enough and the added sugar had an effect that obstructed the efforts of other, perhaps subtler flavours to escape.  Did the assembly of the three countries’ rums work?  I think so, but only up to a point. The Guyanese component, even in small portions, is extremely recognizable and draws attention away from others that could have been beefed up, and the overall lightness of the rum makes details hard to analyze. I barely sensed any Bajan, and the Trini could have been any country’s stocks with a fruity and floral profile (a Caroni it was not).

In fine, this rum has more potential than performance for a rum geek, and since it was among the first to be issued by the company, aimed lower, catered to a mass audience, it sold briskly.  Maybe this is a case of finance eclipsing romance…no rum maker can afford to ignore something popular that sells well, whatever their artistic ambitions might be. Fortunately for us all, as time rolled by, CDI came out with a truckload of better, stronger, more unique rums for us to chose from, giving something to just about everyone.  What a relief.

(#293 / 82/100)

 

Apr 252016
 

D3S_5678

For me this is a rum that evokes real nostalgia, even though I’ve mostly moved past it.

I enjoy storytelling, but if rambling background notes and local anecdotes are not your thing, skip three paragraphs.

It was a fact of life in Guyana in the 1980s and 1990s that as one moved up the income scale from poor to less poor, one upgraded from Lighthouse matches to bic lighters to zippos; from leaky, loosely packed Bristol cigarettes to Benson & Hedges (gold pack, preferably made in the UK, not Barbados), and stopped swilling the pestilential King of Diamonds (which nowadays has gained stature only by being long out of production), younger XMs and High Wine rums, in favour of the somewhat more upscale Banks DIH 10 year old.

Alas, as a young man just growing out of training wheels and nappies, my slender purse (and near nonexistent income) relegated me to matches, Bristols and XM five, which my best friend John and I smoked and swilled in quantities that makes me shudder these days.  We’d sit in the convival open-air tropical atmosphere of Palm Court, smoke up a storm (killing those butch Mudland-sized mosquitoes in their thousands), and call happily to our favourite waiter who knew us on sight “Double five, coke an’ a bowl a ‘ice, Prince!” followed by  “Keep ‘em comin’! I don’ wan’ see de bottom o’ de glass.” I somehow suspect that were we to get together one of these years, John and I, this routine would not change appreciably, as long as Prince is still around.

D3S_5672Starting as “Demerara Ice House” (there really was an ice factory in Water Street, and yes, it’s still there) and now called D’Aguiar’s Industries and Holdings (hence the DIH) at the beginning of the 20th century, the D’Aguiar family built up a huge food and drinks conglomerate, of which rums remain a relatively small part – they were and remain one of the first and largest bottlers in the Caribbean. They have a huge facility right outside Georgetown in the fragrantly named “Thirst Park”, they make beer, soft drinks, distilled water (among many other consumer nibbles) and with respect to rums, act as blenders, not makers like DDL. Their best known rums back then were the 5, 10 and 15 year old, the Premium Blend, and to this has currently been added a VXO, 12 year old, a White and XM “Classic”. Legend has it they have a rum or two squirrelled away that’s 20 or 25 years old, but I never saw it myself. (And if you really are interested in a more in-depth look at Banks, see the company bio I posted in February 2018)

All right, so much for the reminiscing.  What we had here was a tubby bottle quite different from the slim one I recall, containing a dark orange-gold rum bottled at 40%.  The XM in the title stands for “eXtra Mature” and has always been a sort of informal title for the rums, since nobody ever refers to them as “Banks” – that moniker refers to the company’s beer. It was aged for close on to ten years in bourbon barrels, and then finished for another six months or so in cognac barrels, which allows the company to wax rhapsodic in its marketing materials about this being “a cognac of rums”.

Smelling the XM 10 made me wonder whether there wasn’t some Enmore or Port Mourant distillate coiling around inside, even if it’s true they don’t buy anything from DDL.  It was warm and not too sweet, pungent with wet cardboard, cereal, vanilla, licorice, dried fruits and some faint rubbery, waxy undertones stopping just short of medicinal.  It lacked heft, which was not too surprising given the standard strength, though most casual drinkers would have little to find fault with here – it was perfectly serviceable, if ultimately not earth-shaking in any way.

To taste it was quite good, and demonstrated some agreeable heft for a 40% rum (it reminded me somewhat of the Pusser’s 15 in that regard).  Medium bodied, soft and quite warm, there was also a queer kind of thin-ness to the overall profile, which fortunately did not transmute into any kind of unpleasant sharpness.  It entered with a sort of dusty driness, started with tart flavours of mango and anise and ginger cookies, then softened to flavours of red olives, vanilla, caramel, some light toffee, overripe cherries and bananas – overall, after some minutes the lasting impression it left on my mind was one of light sweetness and licorice, and the finish followed gently along from there, being warm and pleasantly lasting. It did not provide anything new or original over and beyond the taste, simply placed a firm exclamation point on the easy going profile that preceded it.  

D3S_5677My own opinion was that it lacked body and needed a firmer texture…the XM 10, while not exactly anorexic, gave the impression of having rather more potential than actuality, and the flavours, decent and tasty enough by themselves, suffered somewhat from dumbing things down to standard strength (this may be my personal preferences talking — I’ve gone on record many times in stating that 40% is just not good enough for me anymore — so take that bias into account).  On the other hand, maybe it’s like the DDL 12 year old, a bridge to the better rums in the XM universe like the 12 and the 15…and since I obtained those the other day, once I review them I can tell you whether this paucity of character is a characteristic of this rum only, or some sort of preference of the master blender that permeates the line. Honestly, I hope it’s the former.

(#268 / 82/100)


Other notes:

  • I find the cheap tinfoil cap to be somewhat surprising for a ten year old rum.
  • Nowadays Banks DIH no longer buy their bulk stock from Diamond and have no sugar cane fields, distillation apparatus or processing facilities of their own.  They remain blenders, and buy raw rum from around the Caribbean (Trinidad and Barbados), which is one reason their juice is not and can not be called “Demerara” rum, the other being that DDL won a court case to have that distinction.  Since this bottle notes the word “Demerara” on the back label, I suspect it was an older one dating back from before the court case, made from original stocks which were sourced in Guyana.
  • I was treated with extreme courtesy by Jerry Gitany and Christian de Montaguère at the latter’s eponymous shop in Paris last week: after selecting a raft of rums – about seventeen altogether –  I plundered ten of their opened stocks, of which this was one.  The Little Caner might have been bored out of his mind for the three hours it took me to work my way through those ten samples (it was meant to be only six…Jerry kept opening new bottles for me to try and my resistance was weak),  but I had a wonderful time.  Merci beaucoup, mes amis.
Oct 222015
 

Black tot 1

Bottled history.  Nothing more, nothing less.

“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” remarked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I remembered that bit of wisdom before embarking on our tryst with this rum.  And to ensure that my long anticipation for the Tot wasn’t bending my feeble mind (I bought the bottle 2014, and tasted it for the first time almost a full year later) I tempered my judgement by trying it three times, with the Skeldon 1973 32 year old, BBR 1977 36 year old, a Velier Caroni and the Samaroli Barbados 1986.  Just to be sure I wasn’t getting too enthusiastic you understand. I had to be sure. I do these things so you don’t have to.

As much as the G&M Longpond 1941, St James 1885 or the J. Bally 1929, to name a few, the near-legendary Black Tot Last Consignment is one of the unicorns of the rum world.  I’m not entirely convinced it should be so – many craft makers issue releases in lots of less than a thousand bottles, while some 7,000 bottles of this are in existence (or were).  Nor is it truly on par with some of the other exceptional rums I’ve tried…the reason people are really willing to shell out a thousand bucks, is that whiff of unique naval pedigree, the semi-mystical aura of true historical heritage.  A rum that was stored for forty years (not aged, stored) in stone flagons, and then married and bottled and sold, with a marketing programme that would have turned the rum into one of the absolute must-haves of our little world…if only it wasn’t quite so damned expensive.

I don’t make these points to be snarky. After all, when you taste it, what you are getting is a 1960s rum and that by itself is pretty nifty.  But there’s an odd dearth of hard information about the Tot that would help an average drinking Joe to evaluate it (assuming said Joe had the coin). About all you know going in is that it come from British Royal Navy stocks left over after the final rum ration was issued to the Jolly Jack Tars on Black Tot Day (31st July, 1970 for the few among you who don’t weep into your glasses every year on that date), and that it was released in 2010 on the same day. No notes on the rum’s true ageing or its precise components are readily available.  According to lore, it supposedly contains rums from Barbados, Guyana (of course), Trinidad, and a little Jamaica, combining the dark, licorice notes of Mudland, the vanillas and tars of the Trinis and that dunderesque whiffy funk of the Jamaicans.  And, the writer in me wants to add, the fierce calypso revelry of them all. Complete with mauby, cookup, doubles, rice and peas, pepperpot and jerk chicken.

Black Tot 1

All that aside, the rum’s presentation is exceptional. A wooden box of dark wood (walnut? oak?). A booklet written by Dave Broom on the background to the rum. A copper plated tot container. A tot ration card facsimile. And a bottle whose cork was covered with a hard, brittle wax sealant that Gregers, Cornelius and Henrik laughed themselves silly watching me try to cut off. The bottle itself was a stubby barroom style bottle with a good cork.  No fault to find on the appearance, at all.  Believe me, we were all raring to try this one.

The aromas first: at 54.3%, I expected more sharpness than the Tot exhibited, and enjoyed the deep and warm nose. Initially, anise and slightly chocolate-infused fumes billowed out of our glasses in well controlled balance.  Cardboard, musty hay, caramel and some tar and tobacco juice (maybe that was the Trinis speaking up?) followed swiftly.  The official literature suggests that the Jamaican part of the blend was minimal, because sailors didn’t care for it, but what little there was exerted quite a pull: dunder and a vaguely bitter, grassy kind of funk was extremely noticeable.  Here was a rum, however, that rewarded patience, so it was good that our conversation was long and lively and far-reaching.  Minutes later, further scents of brine and olives emerged, taking their turn on the stage before being replaced in their turn by prunes, black ripe cherries, leavened with sharper oak tannins, and then molasses, some caramel, smoke, and then (oddly enough), some ginger and dried smoked sausages snuck in there. It was very good…very strong with what we could term traditional flavours.  Still, not much new ground was broken here. It was the overall experience that was good, not the originality.

Good thing the palate exceeded the nose.  Here the strength came into its own – the Tot was a borderline heavy rum, almost mahogany-dark, quite heated on the tongue, with wave after wave of rich dark unsweetened chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, oak deftly kept in check.  Thick meaty flavours (yeah, there were those smoked deli meats again). It was a bit dry, nothing to spoil its lusciousness.  We put down our glasses, talked rum some more, and when we tried it again, we noted some salty, creamy stuff (an aggressive brie mixing it up with red peppers stuffed with cheese in olive oil, was the image that persisted in my mind).  Nuts, rye bread, some coffee. And underlying it all was the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore straight out of a gothic novel.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the finish failed a little – it was dry, quite long, so no complaints on that score – it just added little more to the party than the guests we had already seen. Smoke, tannins, aromatic tobacco, some molasses again, a little vegetal stuff, that was about it.  Leaving aside what I knew about it (or discovered later), had I tasted it blind I would have felt it was a rather young rum (sub-ten-year-old), with some aged components thrown in as part of the blend (but very well done, mind).

Which may not be too far from the truth. Originally the rum handed out in the 18th and 19th centuries was a Barbados- or Jamaican-based product.  But as time went on, various other more complex and blended rums were created and sold to the navy by companies such as Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, C&J Dingwall, George Morton and others. Marks were created from estates like Worthy Park, Monymusk, Long Pond, Blue Castle (all in Jamaica); from Mount Gilboa in Barbados; from Albion and Port Mourant in Guyana; and quite a few others. Gradually this fixed the profile of a navy rum as being one that combined the characteristics of all of these (Jamaica being the tiniest due to its fierce pungency), and being blended to produce a rum which long experience had shown was preferred by the sailors. E.D.&F. Man was the largest supplier of rums to the navy, and it took the lead in blending its own preferred style, which was actually a solera – this produced a blend where the majority of the rum was less than a decade old, but with aspects of rums much older than that contained within it.

The problem was that the depot (and all records about the vats and their constituent rums) was damaged, if not outright destroyed during the 1941 Blitz.  In effect this means that what we were looking at here was a rum, blended, and aged solera style, that was in all likelihood re-established in the 1940s only, and that means that the majority of the blend would be from the sixties, with aged components within it that reasonably date back to twenty years earlier. And that might account for the taste profile I sensed.

So now what?  We’ve tasted a sorta-kinda 1960s rum, we’ve accepted that this was “the way rums were made” with some serious, jowl-shaking, sage nods of approval. We’ve established it has a fierce, thick, dark taste, as if a double-sized magnum of Sunset Very Strong ravished the Supreme Lord VI and had a gently autistic child. It had a serious nose, excellent taste, and finished reasonably strong, if perhaps without flourish or grandeur.  The question is, is it worth the price?

Now Pusser’s bought the recipe years ago and in theory at least, they’re continuing the tradition.  Try their Original Admiralty Blend (Blue Label), the Gunpowder Strength or the fifteen year old, and for a lot less money you’re going to get the same rum (more or less) as the Jolly Jack Tars once drank. Why drop that kinda cash on the Tot, when there’s something that’s still being made that supposedly shares the same DNA?  Isn’t the Pusser’s just as good, or better? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s better, no (not least because of the reported 29 g/l sugar added). But at over nine hundred dollars cheaper, I have to wonder whether it isn’t a better bargain, rather than drinking a bottle like the Tot, with all its ephemeral transience. (Not that it’s going to stop anyone, of course, least of all those guys who buy not one but three Appleton 50s at once).

So this is where your wallet and your heart and your brain have to come to a compromise, as mine did. See, on the basis of quality of nose and palate and finish – in other words, if we were to evaluate the rum blind without knowing what it was – I’d say the Black Tot last Consignment is a very well blended product with excellent complexity and texture.  It has a lot of elements I appreciate in my rums, and if it fails a bit on the back stretch, well, them’s the breaks. I’ll give what I think is a fair score that excludes all factors except how it smells, tastes and makes me feel. Because I have to be honest – it’s a lovely rum, a historical blast from the past, and I don’t regret getting it for a second.

At the end, though, what really made it stand out in my mind, was the pleasure I had in sharing such a piece of rum heritage with my friends.  I have cheaper rums that can do the trick just as easily.  But they just wouldn’t have quite the same cachet. The same sense of gravitas. The overall quality. And that’s what the money is for, too.

(#237. 87/100)


Other notes:

I’m aware this review is a bit long. I tend to be that way, get really enthusiastic, when a rum is very old, very pricey or very very good. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one applies here.

Nov 202014
 

D3S_8850

 

A rum potentially seventeen years old, undone by trying to be all things to all drinkers.

Ocean’s Rum Atlantic Limited Edition 1997 is made (or at least aged) in the Canary Islands, not the first place you’d think about when considering a rum of any kind.  Probably thinking that less was not more, and more might be good enough, the makers came up with this rather startling combo of components hailing from seven (yes, seven) different rum-making locations, and trotted out the 43% result as the “Atlantic” Limited Edition (the meaning of the 1997 is unclear).  I imagine that this must have read really well on paper when it was being sold to the roneros in the front line.

The bottom-heavy, tapering bottle had a label with an astrolabe printed on it, harking back to the old maritime days of yore.  The rum itself was a blend of already-aged rums that were between 15-21 years old, and hailing from Bodegas Pedro Oliver (Domincan Republic – it’s not mentioned on the label in error), Foursquare (Barbados), DDL (Guyana), Trinidad Distillers (T&T), Worthy Park Distillers (Jamaica), Distilerie de Gallion (Martinique), and Travellers (Belize).  Quite an assortment, I thought.  The rums were blended and then aged for a further two years in barrels that held red wine from Spain (Somontano), blended some more, allowed to rest for a further year and then run off into 5,432 numbered bottles in June of 2013.  I’d like to point out that this is not a one-off either – Ocean’s has a similar limited edition “Pacific” rum (including stock from Fiji), and an “Indian” rum (with some rum from Swaziland added too), which suggests a company ethos of having at least one rum from out of left field included in their blends.

Now, having come at rums from a perspective of clearly defined styles as well as specific countries, I confess to being somewhat doubtful (if intrigued) about the philosophy of mixing the darker Guyanese rums with funkier Jamaican ones, the softer style of Barbados and Belize, mixing in a Dominican, throwing in Trinidad’s odd tang, and finally adding an agricole into the mix as well – it just flies in the face of experience, is all.  Intriguing, yes…but successful? I guess that depends on the drinker.

Take for example, the nose on this 43%, mahogany-red coloured rum. Caramel, peaches, brown sugar, rye bread and butter – a shade briny, pleasant. Further notes of faint honey, coffee and coconut presented after a while. All in all, while decent, it was not out-of-the-canefield special for a €75 purchase (I expected more) and frankly, I thought the aroma was undernourished, perhaps a shade thin, like Steve Rogers before he buffed up.

Which is not to say the whole experience was unpleasant; the palate was quite generous in this regard: caramel, peaches, brown sugar presented first, with more of that faintly briny undertone.  It’s smooth enough and sweet enough (perhaps too much so).  Here I could detect some of the components as well – licorice and raisins, more coconut and honey, a flirt of cinnamon, softer honey notes, a very tiny backend of citrus and oak.  At 43% some of the intensity of flavour was lost; and I should remark on the overall lightness and cleanliness of the taste.  The finish was reasonable, exiting with closing notes of cinnamon and caramel, and a bit of citrus peel. Yet somehow I was left feeling dissatisfied.  The softer flavours did not mesh well with the sharper ones of oak and citrus, and the coconut was a less than perfect match-up with the licorice.

D3S_8857

Ocean’s is a new outfit based in Zaragoza, Spain, beginning its life in 2012. As is common with relative newcomers, their website is long on products and marketing, and short on history (something I personally enjoy, others probably not so much).  Essentially they are an independent bottler, but with ambition: they have ageing warehouses the Ayala Valley (Basque Country, Spain) and La Palma Island  in the Canaries. They have various seven year old rums, the limited editions, and some craft stocks from Jamaica, Trinidad and other places.  So you can tell these boys mean business and want to be around for the long haul (I wrote a bio of the company here).

Anyway, my opinion: overall, on taste and nosing elements and on the finish, the rum will please a lot of people and it’s a decent all round drink that need not be mixed if you don’t want to. It works…to a point. As I noted above, the balance of the various components doesn’t really gel for me;  all the dancers were on the stage, yes…they just weren’t all doing the same ragtime, so to speak.

There’s no denying that Ocean’s, afire with enthusiasm and brimming with confidence, threw away the safety gear, took a deep breath, and ran full speed and headfirst into the wall.  You can’t help but admire that.  But admiration aside, a cold and unemotional taste of this premium-touted Atlantic edition leaves me wishing they had exhibited just a bit more restraint, been more ruthlessly selective. And not quite so heedlessly assembled such a smorgasbord of rums, which ended up being somewhat (and unfortunately) less than the sum of its parts.

(#188 / 81.5/100)

Jan 292012
 

Big, stompin’ rum maybe meant to be a mixed-drinks base but really good neat. Definitely helpful for getting loaded when dollars are tight; interesting when mixed in any number of cocktails. Feeling lonesome in some cold winter clime and miss the Ole Country? This will cure what ails you.

First posted 29 January 2012 on Liquorature. 


I don’t always get top end rums like Barbancourt’s Estate Reserve 15 year old to try, and often, I don’t even want to try them. Sometimes, like most people who’ve had a hard week, I just kick back with a glass of hooch that makes no pretensions to grandeur, pour it, mix it and glug it, and like the fact that it’s just there to make me feel better. Myer’s Planter’s Punch Dark Rum falls squarely into that category, and joins – maybe exceeds – fellow palate-deadeners like Young’s Old Sam, Bacardi Black, Coruba or Potter’s at the tavern bar. These are single digit rums or blends, meant for mixing (cowards cut ’em with whisky) and for my money, they’re all sweaty rums for the proles, displaying a remarkable lack of couth and subtlety – I appreciate them for precisely that reason.

Pour a shot of the stuff and you’ll see where I’m coming from: Myer’s is a dark brown-red, oily rum quite distinct from Appleton’s lighter coloured offerings, and the scents of molasses, liquorice, nutmeg and dried fruit don’t merely waft out onto your nose – they gobsmack your face off. Once you stop crying like a little kid at the neighborhood bully or staring at your glass in wonder, I imagine you might try to recover your dignity, and observe how you can detect caramel, vanilla, perhaps a bit of nutmeg, coconut, citrus. Quite encouraging for something so cheap (less than $25).

The tromping arrival of unleavened flavour square-dancing across your tongue is perhaps the main selling point of a rum like Myer’s. What is lost in subtlety is made up for by stampeding mastodons of a few distinct profiles that actually mesh quite well: caramel, coconut shavings, molasses, fruit, burnt sugar with maybe some orange peel and baking spices thrown in. There’s a weird butteriness in the taste somewhere… maybe from the ageing? Overall, I wish I knew for sure whether they augmented the profile – as I think they have – with any additives: a rum this cheap is unlikely to be this interesting merely on the skill of a blender (if it was, it wouldn’t be so cheap). And there’s a fade here, boys and girls, but it’s strong – more like the exit of a gentleman bank robber discretely blasting away with his gat than the soft silken swish of something more polished. And it’s long, very pleasant – this is a rum which could easily be stronger and still be good.

Mix Myer’s Dark Rum in a Planter’s Punch, in a dark-rum cocktail (feel free to consult Tiare’s excellent site a mountain of crushed ice or any tiki site for ideas) or just mess with the old stand-bys, and the few weak points of the drink as a neat drink are smoothened out and it becomes an excellent base for whatever you feel like making. I’m reviewing it as a sipper, as I must, but this should not discourage you from trying other variations.

Myer’s Dark Rum is hardly an unknown, of course, having been a staple of the cocktail makers’ bars the world over for decades: It was indeed made specifically to address the popularity of Planter’s Punch (which could be equally said to originate in a recipe dated 1908, or in a Charlestonian doggerel from 1878 depending on who you ask). The company founded by Fred Myer in 1879 is now owned by Diageo, and they continue to blend nine rums out of Jamaica at the southern distillery of Monymusk (the plantations of origin are more secret than Colonel Sanders’s recipe) into the drink that we know today. Monymusk, as you may recall, also makes the middling Royal Jamaican Gold rum, which isn’t anywhere near as fun as Myer’s. Aside from calling it the “Planter’s Punch” variation, it is supposedly the same as that first produced in 1879, made from Jamaican molasses, and a combination of distillates of both pot and column stills, then aged for four years in white oak barrels. I’ll also note that my bottle clearly states Myer’s is a blend of Jamaican and Canadian rums, at which I immediately sneer and say…well, “Bulls..t”, not the least because after years of crisscrossing the country in my beater, I still haven’t found a single sugar plantation and therefore I somehow doubt Canada has a rum of its own.

I have to be careful in assigning a rating to Myer’s. It’s not quite a sipper (damned close, though), but some of my review must address the sheer enjoyment I get out of it both as such, and in a proper mix – and even if it *is* added to. Like Young’s Old Sam, it exists in a somewhat less hallowed underworld of rums embraced by bartenders and not so much by connoisseurs, and which some believe must be braved only with fireproofed throat and iron-lined stomach for the crazies who drink it neat. It’s strong, powerful tasting, heavy on a few clear flavours – and doesn’t so much whisper its antecedents as bellow out the sea shanties. It may not be the coolest rum you’ve ever had, or the smoothest, but by God, when you’ve tasted this thing you know you’ve just had a *rum*.

(#92. 80.5/100)

Aug 162011
 

First posted 16 August 2011 on Liquorature

A solidly impressive aged product from Pusser’s. Though it’s “only” 40% ABV, you might compare it to a barbarian using a fork – snickering, but all the while appreciating the strength and the quality.

West Indians probably snigger into their shot glasses in every beer garden, corner store or rumshop whenever the name of this Navy-style rum comes up.  In fact, I’m pretty sure of it, and if you don’t get that, find a guy fresh off the boat or the plane and get him to explain it to you.  Like many Caribbean bon mots, it’s about as subtle as a charging rhino.  Yet, there’s no denying either the pedigree or the impact of the rum itself. It’s a powerful strong concoction not overly mucked about with. Rums like this have names like Maxwell, Clarence…or Brutus.

That ambivalent phrasing pretty much sums up my attitude towards Pussers, towards which I have an on-again, off-again relationship (much like I do with Clement XO).  At one moment I appreciate its marketing, its unapologetically and brutally minimalist presentation and its take-no-prisoners if-you-can’t-hack-it-you’re-a-wuss flavor.  At others I simply blow it away as something not subtle enough, not refined enough.  I’m inconsistent that way sometimes. My friend Keenan, who hails from the Maritimes, quite liked it, by the way, and so do a few others I know.

Pusser is a corruption of the word Purser, a name given to that worthy gent on each ship in the Royal Navy whose job it was to hand out the rum ration in the days before Black Friday in July 1970, when rum was officially banished from aboard all vessels of war. The company that makes it, Pusser’s, bought the recipe and stills from the Royal Navy and launched themselves into business, and may reasonably be said to make the rum closest to what navy rums really were back in the old days. Characteristics include overproofing, not very sweet, dark and heavy body and minimal – if any – additives.  In that way, it’s very much like the Cadenhead Green Label or Demerara rums I’ve tried.  Lamb’s Old Navy, Sailor Jerry, London Dock and Wood’s all have claims (some say pretensions) to the title of Navy Rums, but my feeling is that Pusser’s got it.

The rum is aged for 15 years in ex-bourbon barrels, and various sources have suggested that the blend that is aged comprises four rums: portions of Jamaican, Bajan, a bit of Trini, and a hefty dose of a Guyanese rum, which immediately implies (to me), DDL – because they are the only ones left making rum from wooden stills which is a Pusser rum claim to fame as well. Some have said five rums, but I’ve been unable to confirm this: Pusser’s doesn’t give out too much in the way of details, and in any event, the blend of Navy rums never really stayed stable but was often tweaked and recalibrated over the centuries.

All this history is fine, you say, but do you mind? Get to the rum itself.

Well, there’s the bottle above.  Squat, unadorned, in your face (a bit like the much more refined English Harbour 10 year old).  The label is somewhat at odds with its proletarian cachet, what with all those bright red and blue colours, and again you think of that dancer (just sayin’…).

The liquid within was dark, as befits a Navy rum, and poured out like a young El Dorado on steroids. The thing had medium legs, and a pungent nose that almost invited further exploration.  You’d think that something so aimed at the drinking classes would have a straightforward bouquet that didn’t frig around and advertised its forthcoming palate simply and directly, with a minimum of fuss and bother.  But that wasn’t so at all.  I took a sniff, wasn’t too impressed, and was about to make snotty notes and grumbling remarks, when the flavours started coming through the air and I realized that this fifteen year old Jolly Jack Tar had quite a lot under its leotards. A full, rich and earthy scent – quite spicy, let me note right off – redolent of cocoa and a hint of vanilla, and dark brown sugar marinated just enough in oak to get that slight bite.  Maybe some cinnanmon played around in the background there, but whatever it was, it made for a more complex nose than I had started off with.

The arrival on the palate is neither smooth nor harsh: powerful, though, quite impressive for a 40% rum.  You get the sense of strength barely held in check from being rotgut moonshine by the blender’s art. I was tasting dark caramel and chocolate, cinnamon (there it was) and baked apples.  Some citrus and maybe sherry. And, alas, the woodiness and spiciness of ageing not entirely mitigated by skilful blending.  This was not enough for me to seriously mark it down, but it was noticeable, and if your preferences are for more flavourings rather than minimalism, more sweet rather than less, then this may not be the rum for you.  I’m no expert on the obscure Scottish drink, but I thought that here was a rum that actually had more characteristics of an aged whisky or a cognac, though it probably is too sweet for the purists and cognoscenti.

The finish was perhaps the least impressive thing about it – however, given how high a position it started from that’s not to be read as an indictment of what is really quite a unique drink – it was medium long and a little too harsh for me, especially after what I had considered a very good beginning, but of greater than usual richness and warmth. The viscosity of the rum was enough to make the finish last – I just didn’t care too much for what it was that lasted.  But at end, this is a matter of the spiciness rather than any intrinsic quality, and by most standards, I’d say Pusser’s 15 year old rum is a solidly top-of-the-middle-shelf product, to be had either neat or in a cocktail, and enjoyed either way. It’s rich, it’s complex, and only my personal preferences make it slightly less than a winner.  Most reviews I’ve read drool over the product.

Over the years I must concede to being somewhat won over by rums stronger than the standard and near-ubiquitous 40% (this is not one of them, being bottled at the standard forty).  The flavours are stronger, more powerful: even a small shot attacks your palate like a tiny hammer of Thor, and as cocktail mixers they are beyond compare for the same reasons.  Pusser’s great virtue is its complexity of flavour and strength of taste you get for a standard strength rum – you’ll go far to find something quite like this, overproof or not, and again, I can only mention the Cadenheads or the Renegades as comparators. Any time I feel like being smacked around by a spicy, muscled beefcake of a rum which proudly struts its stuff, Pusser’s isn’t far from my mind.

So if pressed – yes, I like it.  Yeah, wrap it up for me – I’ll take it.  And I think I’ll call mine Brutus.

(#082)(Unscored)