Oct 072021
 

In my more whimsical moments, I like to think Richard Seale was sweating a bit as he prepared the Triptych. Bottled in November 2016 and released in the 2017 season, it came right on the heels of the hugely successful and awe-inducing unicorn of the 2006 10 Year Old which had almost immediately ascended to near cult status and stayed there ever since. How could any follow-up match that? It was like coming up on stage after Mighty Liar just finished belting out “She Want Pan” hoping at least not too suck too bad in comparison. He need not have worriedthe Triptych flew off the shelves every bit as fast as its predecessor (much to his relief, I’m sure), though in the years that followed people never quite mentioned it in the same hushed tones, with the same awe, and with the same whimpers of regret, as they did the 2006. Some, yesbut not to the same extent.

That may just be a little unfair though, because the Triptych is an enormously satisfying rum, another one of the limited “Collaboration” series between Foursquare and Velier 1 that are notable for their visually elegant simplistic design, their full proof strength and their polysyllabic titles which may have reached their apogee with the Plenipotenziario (while there’s usually a stated rationale behind the choice, I’ve always suspected were a tongue-in-cheek wink at all of us, a sort of private thing between the two men behind it).

It is also a rum that was made to deliberately showcase other aspects of the way a pot-column blend could be made to shine. Some call it “innovation” but honestly, I think the word is tossed around a bit too cavalierly these days, so let’s just say there’s always another way to blend various aged components, and Foursquare are acknowledged masters of the craft. Most blends are various aged rums, harmoniously mixed together: here, three differently aged elements, or ‘sub-blends’, were joined in a combinationa triptych, get it? – that could be appreciated as balanced synthesis of all.

These three pieces were [1] a 2004 pot-column blend matured in ex-Bourbon casks [2] a 2005 pot-column blend aged in ex-Madeira and [3] a 2007 pot-column blend matured in brand new (‘virgin’) oak casks. The actual duration of ageing of each before they were blended and then transferred to the final casks for completion of the blending and ageing process, is not known, though Steve James, who has what is probably the most comprehensive background notes on the Triptych, notes that the component aged in virgin oak was aged for six years before transfer (six months is more common due to the active nature of the wood, which in this instance also necessitated a larger proportion of pot still distillate of the blend in these casks).

Clearly this made for a very complex blend of disparate profiles, any one of which could unbalance the whole: the musky, darker notes of the bourbon, the dry sweet acidity of Madeira and the aggressive woody characteristic of new oak casks. At the risk of a spoiler, the rum mostly sailed past these concerns. Nosing it experimentally at first, I was struck by how delicately perfumed it was, quite dry, rather mildly fruity and much more restrained than the solid weight of the Principia that lurked in the glass alongsidethis was probably a consequence of the lesser-but-still-solid proof point of 56% ABV. The fruits stayed in the background for most of the experience, and the dominant aspect of the nose was a remarkably restrained woodinessmild pencil shavings, vanilla, musty books, old cardboard, charcoal, and damp mossy forest floors in the morning. There were also hints of crushed walnuts, almonds and spices like marsala, cumin and rosemary, plus coconut shavings, flambeed bananas and overripe peaches, but these stayed well back throughout.

The rum came into its own on the palate, where even with its relatively few core flavours, it surged to the front with an assurance that proved you don’t need a 99-piece orchestra to play Vivaldi. The rum was thick, rich anddare we say it? – elegant: it tasted of blood oranges, coconut milk, honey, vanilla and cinnamon on the one hand, and brine, floor polish, cigarette ash (yes, I know how that sounds) on the other, and in the middle there was some sweet sour elements of sauerkraut, licorice, pickles and almonds, all tied together in a bow by a sort of lingering fruitiness difficult to nail down precisely. If the rum had any weakness it might be that the dry finish is relatively lackluster when compared against the complexity of what had preceded it: mostly vanilla, oak, brine, nuts, anise, and little fruit to balance it off.

Clearly the makers, with three aged blends being themselves blended, had to chose between various competing priorities, and balance a lot of different aspects: the various woods and their influence; the presence and absence of salt or sweet or sour or acidity; more strength versus less; the effect of the tannins working with subtler aromatics and esters. That such a tasty rum emerged from all of that is something of a minor miracle, though for my money I felt that the slightly lesser strength made it less indistinct than the stronger and more precisely dialled in coordinates of the 2006 and Principia (which were my comparators along with the Criterion, the 2004 and the Zinfadel).

Perhaps it was too much to hope that the lightning could be trapped in a bottle in quite the same way a second time. The UK bloggers who are so into Foursquare bottlings all claim the thing is as great as the 2006, “just different” but I only agree with the second part of that assessmentit’s different yes, and really good, but nope, not as great. And the subsequent sales values are telling: as of 2021 the 2006 usually auctions for four figures (outdone only by the Velier 70th Destino which is regularly and reliably approaching two thousand pounds) while the Triptych still goes for around two to three hundred.

All that said, I must admit that in the main, I can’t help but admire the Triptych. It’s no small feat to have blended it. To take several ex-bourbon blends and put those together, or to marry a few aged and unaged components, is one thing. To find a way to merge three distinctly separate and differently-aged pot-column blends, to age that and come out the other end with this rum, is quite another. So much could have gone wrong, and so much didn’tit’s a testament to the hard work and talent of Richard Seale and his team at Foursquare.

(#856)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn is 5400 bottles. Based on the youngest aged portion of the blend you could say it’s a 9 YO rum, though the label makes no such statement
  • Given that it came out several years back, clearly others have by now reviewed the rum: Rum Diaries Blog gave it its full throated endorsement and is, as noted, the most deeply informative article available; The Fat Rum Pirate’s 4½-star review is very good; Single Cask Rum was more dismissive with a 78/100 score, and good background notesI particularly liked his point about the pre-sales hype coming from the perception that it was a Foursquare/Velier product (based on the label) when in fact this was not the case (it was entirely Foursquare’s work). The Rum Shop Boy loved it to the tune of 97 points, while Rum Revelations awarded 94 in a comparative tasting and Serge gave what for him is a seriously good rating of 90.
  • I do indeed have a bottle of the Triptych, but the review was done from a sample provided by Marco Freyr. Big hat tip, mein freund….

Historical Note

I’ve remarked on this before, most recently in the opinion piece on flipping, but a recap is in order: when the 2006 ten year old was released in 2016, it flew off the shelves so fast that it became a sort of rueful joke that all online establishments sold out five minutes before the damn things went on sale.

This situation angered a lot of people, because not only did it seem as if speculators or hoarders were buying however much they wanted (and indeed, being allowed to, thereby reducing what was available for people who genuinely wanted to drink the things and share the experience) but almost immediately bottles turned up on the FB trading clubs at highly inflated pricesthis was before they were mostly closed down and the action shifted to the emergent auction sites like Rum Auctioneer.

This was seen as a piss-poor allocation and sales issue and some very annoyed posts were aimed at Velier and Foursquare. By the time the Triptych came out, not only were twice as many bottles released, but Richard and Luca came up with a better method of allocation that was the forerunner of the current systems now in play for many of their limited releases. And that’s on top of Richard’s own personal muling services around the festival circuit, to make sure the uber-fans got at least a sample, if not a whole bottle (which always impressed me mightily, since I don’t know any other producer who would do such a thing).


 

Sep 122021
 

It’s unclear to me what Moon Import thought it was doing back in 2004 when they blended this rum. They had done blends before, something of a departure from other Italian independents who since the 1970s had thought to bootstrap their expertise with single cask whisky selections into commensurate skill with single cask rums … but few except maybe Rum Nation (which was formed nearly two decades after Moon Import) took blends seriously.

Even when released as such, for the most part rums made that way tended to be multiple barrels of a single distillery, usually a particular year and age, so that more bottles of something exceptional could be wrung out. Moon, while certainly adhering to that philosophy when it suited them, also played around with blends more than most, particularly with Jamaican rums and here they mixed up stock from four different distilleries: Innswood, Long Pond, New Yarmouth and Monymusk, from what were undoubtedly barrels aged in Scotland. One wonders how come Hampden and Worthy Park were not considered for inclusionperhaps they were too aggressive and didn’t play nice.

For originality at least, kudos to Moonat that time the various operating distilleries in Jamaica were not very well known, so to take these four and combine them took some courageto mention them individually at all was unheard of. Too bad they ballsed it up on the labellingthey spelled the name wrong on one of them, then added insult to injury by calling it a “Rhum Agricole”, just as they did with the Demerara 1974 released the same year. They mentioned which bottle in the series it wasbut not the total outturn. Moreover, they noted year of production (1982) and year of bottling (2004)…then said there was a 25 year old hiding in one of them. Clearly quality control and fact checking were unfunded areas of endeavour in the labelling department back in the day.

But that aside, the rum had its points that its shoddy labelling could not entirely hide. Bottled at the 46% commonly used by small independents at that time, it smelled of wax and sugar water plus a bit of unsweetened yoghurt, and stoned fleshy fruits like cherries and peaches just starting to go off a little. It presented like “Jamaica lite”, a sort of gently funked-up rum which today would be thought of as “meh” but back then was probably considered scandalous. I liked it, not least because that nose really took its time coming out and even a quarter hour later I was writing down things like “old paper”, “sweet and dry” and noted how the light clarity of green apples and citrus combined nicely with the softer aromas.

Tastewise, I would have to say it was somewhat indeterminate: it was hardly Jamaican at all by this point. Oh the flavours were there: the questions is, what were they? The rum was dry, almost astringent, and presented tastes of faint, dry smoky spices like masala, paprika and tumeric. There was some fruity ruminessraisins, figs, dates, caramel, vanilla, and cinnamon, and yes, there were fruits hiding behind those, but it was curiously difficult to come to grips with them because they kept ducking and bobbing and weaving. Still: fruits, florals, black tea, spices, and a nice cleanliness ot the experience. It all wrapped up in a finish that carved its way down with firm clarity, leaving behind memories of vanilla, nuts, light caramel, raisins, aromatic tobacco and peaches.

So what to say about the rum? Well, it was a good drink and a tasty dram. It was nice and complex, good nose, excellent palate, worked well as a sipping rumafter twenty plus years of ageing the rough edges had been gently sanded down to smoothness. I liked it, and I think you would too, in spite of its mild I’m-not-sure-I’m-a-Jamaican character.

The combination worked, and the four distilleries made for an interesting blend. I’m just left with a nagging sense of incompleteness, as if there was more in there we were missing. Bottling each distillery’s rum as a quartet might have done more to highlight their qualities than mixing them all together and forcing them to give up their individuality in the soft merging of variant profiles. It is to Pepi Mongiardino’s credit that he made a rum that skated past such concerns and came out the other end as a product worth getting. And so, while it does Jamaica no dishonour at all, I think you’ll also find that it inflames rather more desires than it quenches.

(#850)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • Bottle #218 (total outturn unknown)
  • The bottle says “pot still” but I’m ignoring that in my tagging
  • Translation of back label:This exceptional Jamaican Rhum is part of two different bottles blended from four different distilleries: Innerwood, Yarmouth, Monymusk and Long Pond, aged in Scotland for 20 and 25 years.The two barrels could have been assembled but to keep the meticulous difference we preferred to keep them distinct.

    It will be interesting for amateurs to test themselves in tasting the two different vintages.

    Presents a bouquet of nutmeg, cinnamon, hay, yellow fruits such as apricot, banana and peach smoothed and ripe, and a final of chilli. On the palate it results in licorice wood at the entrance, with honey, cedar, ginger and dry banana.

    Exceptional cleaning and drying of the palate.

Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer. They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier. It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever madeit’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the startdeep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts wellsalty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke. All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being soundedbut underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old. It left meuneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested itand the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle). But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows aboutso why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend? Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash? I mean, wtf, right?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives). It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy. Jaded rumistas will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-downtoo well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.” Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decentbut only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicornwhich probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
Aug 242015
 

D3S_9397

While I loved the single-minded, furious purity of the PM and Diamond rums individually, I could not find fault with what was accomplished by marrying them off.

(#228 / 89.5/100)

***

In a time where conglomerates rule the roost, where even old distilleries with respected antecedents produce supposedly high-end rums that aren’t always, the wonderment is that rums like Veliers can still be made. The craft makers are the sharp end of the spearmany are artists who cater only to those who want the pure rum experiencethey live in their own corner of the rumworld, have small sales of pricey rums, and we must be prepared to enter there, hoping that their ethos seeps into the wider world. This rum is a good place to start. Because, you see, working through and assimilating the oeuvre of all Velier’s expressions can be a lifelong occupation for us rum lovers; and while there is no one of their rums that must be drunk in order to qualify as a well-rounded geek of the dark spirit, I submit that if you are not eventually familiar with the brand, you’re really not a rum lover at all.

Luca Gargano’s reputation has been made in three major stepsthe Damoiseau 1980, the Demerara rums and the Caronis (with maybe Haitian clairins waiting in the wings for the next big thing). The man addresses the commercial lack of adventurousness in far too many makers by emphatically banging the table with products like this oneun-chill-filtered, unadulterated, cask-strength. And, as with the EHP-PM blend that was also issued in 2014, here the output of the Diamond still and the Port Mourant still was married (by DDL) prior to letting them age for nineteen years. He calls it an experimental. I call it exceptional.

D3S_9396

Even as I let it stand there, opening up, the dark amber rum introduced itself with a decisive nose that struck to the heart, and established its quality and originality at once. After tasting hundreds of rums over many years I didn’t think I was capable of surprise any longerthis thing proved me absolutely wrong. Immediate wine and feinty notes wafted out of the glass, accompanied by a cheering section of plums, blackberries and vanilla. I thought, okay, this was great, but it continued – caramel, smoke, some oakiness, licorice and dark toblerone notes added themselves to the overall mélange, combining into a luscious amalgam that represented an obscure and crazy kind of brilliant madness in a bottle. This was a rum I just could not stop nosing for another fifteen minutes, so enthralling was the experience.

That 62.1% really made itself felt on the palate, even after sitting around waiting to burn off for a while. It was certainly quite spicy, sharp even. Good body and awesomely intense mouthfeel, but this was one of the few Veliers where I thought it might be a shade too torqued up. But never mind that – just luxuriate in the panoply of tastes it provided in exchange. Licorice and marzipan led straight off, followed by burnt sugar, some tar (not as much as with the Caronis), mitigated by more unsweetened dark chocolate and coffee grounds. Port infused cigarillos, mixed in with smoke and wood, black cherries, more plums and more prunes, and some vague phenols rounding things out. Here water is absolutely recommended, and lo and behold, even more stuff came out – some stale coffee grounds (not as bad as it sounds), freshly sawn wood, musty old cigars and more smoke, honey and cream cheese. It was the gift that kept on giving. I went through three glasses of the stuff, while warding off the depredations of my better half, who was wondering what the gurgles of delight were all about. As for the finish well, pretty damned good, long of course, hot and spicy without the sandpaper rasping across the back of the throat, and final notes of dark chopped fruits, cake, more licorice, dried raisins and (weirdest of all) some fried bananas.

D3S_9399

Think of it as you would an El Dorado on crack, beefed up and dialed to “11” and yet, and yet…it didn’t have the direct in-yer-face machismo of Velier’s single-still editions with their singular power and focus. In fact, the tastes were not so much fierce and attacking as well-behaved, coming across the taste buds in a strong and orderly fashion. For a rum this strong, that’s nothing short of amazing. Drinking and savouring and enjoying a rum like the Diamond-PM is to be reminded that rum can ascend to heights more makers need to seek. Luca rarely, if ever, just throws rum out the door, never dumbs his sh*t down, never dilutes it to crap or adds the worm. He always seems to try going for broke, and to experience this rum is to watch a man risking his talent and his company’s reputation, not merely taking them out for a stroll. I don’t know about you, but for me that deserves respect.

Other notes
2 barrels, 564 bottles

Distilled 1995, bottled July 2014. The sources are the metal coffey still of Diamond and the wooden double pot still of Port Mourant, with Diamond supposedly dominant.

The marks on the barrels were <SV> and PM. PM needs no elaboration. The SV is more problematic, because Diamond had marks <S>, S<W> and SVW at various times. Marco in his seminal essay of the various Guyanese estates thought it might be from one of the original owners, a Mr. M. Steele, or maybe Mr. Samuel Welsh. But in truth, with Diamond absorbing so many different estates in the last hundred years, it’s anyone’s guess. Shouldn’t stop you from reading his essay, though

D3S_9400

 

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 Republicit’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 eitherOcean’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 wellit just flies in the face of experience, is all. Intriguing, yesbut 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 buttera 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 welllicorice 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 worksto 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, yesthey 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)

Aug 052013
 

D7K_2782

 

Rich, simply flavoured, overproofed Navy-style rum that has a skinnier corpus than expected

There’s nothing much I can tell you about Wood’s Rum Distillery itself because (a) it’s not a distillery and (b) there’s not much online about it, even on their own website (and my books barely speak to the big names so what hope is there for the small ones?), but the brand did exist for over a century before being acquired by William Grant in 2002 – these are the boys who also own Sailor Jerry and the OVD rum brands and supposedly dabble in minor whiskies like Glenfiddich and Balvenie (or so rumour has it). They are, however, blendersdescendants of the merchant bottlers of the old days. I wish, on the strength of what I tasted here, that I knew more about the company’s origins and how it got into the Navy rum market. It’s perhaps kind of appropriate that I bought it at Heathrow, Britain’s largest modern equivalent to the old ports.

The first noticeable, unmistakable aromas that billowed forth as I cracked the cheap tinfoil cap, were huge, in-your-face biffs of molasses, licorice and coffee. They were deep and dark and rich and had it not been for the rather raw profile overall, I could be forgiven for thinking the rum was an old Demerara from Enmore, or even a Dictador 20 on steroids. Which is not too surprising, because Woods made a rum here which took the characteristic dark pot still distillates from DDL in Guyana (one source suggests some column distillate is used as well, about which I have my doubts, but okay), aged them in oak for up to three years and then bottled the result without gelding the poor thing to 40%but remained at a chest-hair-curling 57%. Drink this neat and you’ll feel like a hobbit drinking with Treebeard. So good for them, methinks. The intensity remained, the darkness persisted, in any kind of cocktail the tastes stayed true, and frankly, Navy rums should be a tad more oomphed up than the norm, otherwise they wouldn’t (to my mind anyway) be Navy rums.

D7K_2783

What about the taste? Well, pretty much what you would expect, all in all (come on, were you really expecting a swan to emerge from an eighteen-quid duckling?). Woods 100 was a dark red, almost black rumwhich had been part of the initial attraction for mepoured inkily into the glass, and when sipped conformed as closely to the anticipated profile as one James Bond movie does to another: spicy, rich, dark melange of flavours promised by the nose. And these were the same molasses, burnt sugar, coffee and licorice overtones, which buried the subtler elements as completely as an alpine avalanche. Sure, I found sly and supple hints of chopped fruits, cinnamon, vanilla, ripe cherries and cashews, but not enough to really stand outthe balance was all towards the dominant notes. The finish was, as befitted an overproof, long and lasting, giving more of the molasses and burnt sugar, quite heated and a shade dry. But, of course, with claws.

It should be pointed out that I felt the rum teetered on the edge of being medium bodied, because it was harsher on the tongue and one the fade than I had anticipated, thinner (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by El Dorados)…there’s an element of rawness to it, a lack of refinement and couth which points to the short maturation. Still, it’s young, it’s brawny, it’s cheap, it’s not like I should expect a miracle: like any young stud, strength is the selling point, not staying power or finnesse.

There are many rums like Wood’s on my shelf, which says a lot for my affections when it comes to sweaty, prole-centric, cane-cutter rums I don’t necessarily sip. Cabot Tower 100, Favell, Young’s Old Sam are the first that spring to mind, but also Robert Watson, some of the old Enmores (better made, older and smoother but not quite as cheerily nutso as this ‘un), Pusser’s or Lamb’s. I’d place this one about on par with the Cabot’s (which scored 78).

D7K_2784

But y’know, Demerara rum seem to be good no matter what, and that is particularly true of the wooden pot still products. Whether they are made to sip and savour (like BBR’s Port Morant 1975 or Bristol Spirits PM 1980) or to get one hammered (all the others named above), they all have that deep, rich fruity molasses note within their variations, and this one stands forward to take its place loudly and proudly (even obnoxiously) among all the others. The fact that many online shop-commentaries resound with the plaudits of ex Royal Navy men who esteem Woods above just about any other Navy rum says all, I think, that needs to be said about this cheerful, powerful, unpretentious cask-strength rum.

(#176. 80/100)


Other notes

  • In passing, why name it “100” when it’s actually 114 proof? Well, here I’d refer you to my essay on poofage, but in fine, in the old maritime days, 100 proof was a measure of the least (most diluted) ratio of alcohol to water which would still support the combustion of gunpowder. And that equated to about 57% ABV. This was called 100 proof.

 

 

 

Jul 052013
 

D3S_7000

A Demerara rum that may not be a true solera in spite of its name. Lovely, affordable, interesting rum.

With this review, I have finally, after nearly two years of getting around to it, come to the end of the Rum Nation 2010 line of rums I bought all in one fell swoop, after being introduced to the series at Kensington Wine Market’s Raucous Rums tasting back in 2011. Since that time I have become quite a fanboy of Fabio Rossi’s products, and wish I could get more of his yearly releases: largely because I have not tasted a single one that was anything less than impressive (if occasionally different), and this one is no exception.

Bottled at a standard 40%, housed in a barroom bottle and surmounted by a plastic capped cork, the first impression as I nosed it was actually that it reminded me a lot of the El Dorado 21 year old: smoke, rich dried dark fruit (dates, raisins, prunes and black grapes), some oak sap and some burnt sugar and cinnamon, all warm and pleasantly put together. As soon as I noticed the similarity, I hustled downstairs to retrieve my 21 year old. That one proved to be subtly richer, deeper and more complex, as well as a shade drier, but the similarities were quite striking.

The congruence of the two rums’ profiles continued on a tasting. I could taste the relative youth of the No. 14 rumit lacked something of the supple depth and mastery of the 21 which derived from its ageing. And while it was a solid medium-bodied dark rum of warmth and not fire, it evinced its own character quite handsomely toothe aforementioned flavours of toffee, butterscotch and caramel, prunes and grapes, intertwined with a faint citrus, licorice and baking spices, some woodinessand an odd, light dancing note threading through the back end, some kind of cashew fruit (not the nut) and (you may not take this seriously) the fire of vinegar soaked red peppers, barely perceptible. In point of fact, it reminded me a lot of more traditional navy rums, like Pusser’s, or even a much improved-upon Lamb’s. The finish was medium long, just a shade dry, and quite clean on the exit, with soft heated velvet caramel and licorice notes to end things off.

So, an ED21 it’s not, though quite good in its own way; it expresses its own differences well, being both original and tasty, a rum which will not piss you off by going wholeheartedly off into its own domain, just sideways enough for you to appreciate it on its own merits. Think of it as a good accompaniment to the El Dorados (12, 15 or 21) without actually being oneeach one enhances the others.

If I had an issue at all with the rum it was in the labelling. Rum Nation bought a few barrels of blended bulk Demerara rum from DDL, which contained Port Morant (PM) and Versailles (SV) rums aged around four to six years. The barrels were taken to Italy and transferred into sherry (PX and Oloroso) butts for just over a year of further ageing, after which a few litres of 1997 Enmore rum was added (that comes from the famed Enmore wooden continuous Coffey still now housed at Diamond estate). That final blend was what I was sampling, and therefore for a true age statement based on the youngest portion of the rum, I guess it’s best regarded as a five year old. The question is whether that process of blending constitutes a solera systemin this case I’d suggest not. This doesn’t make the rum any less than what it is, but for those who really prefer a solera and want that sweeter, slightly thicker profile, the implication of the label may cause concern.

Rum Nation regards this rum as something of an entry level product, much as they did the Barbados 2001 10 year old. Based on the price, that is all well and good, I suppose. But you know, I enjoyed the rum, think it is a good blend of the Guyanese rums that constitute its core DNA, and for what it cost, it’s a pleasant, impressive sipping-quality rum that I drank quite a lot of and would highly recommend for those on a budget who like darker fare. It may be 40%, it may not be a true solera, and it may just be $50, but if you like navy rums in general and Demerara rums in particular, you wouldn’t be out to lunch by springing for this lovely dark product.

(#172. 84.5/100)


Other Notes

  • The No 14 moniker in the name is meant to state that the oldest rum in the blend is 14 years old.
  • The “Solera” title on the label will be omitted from future iterations

 

 

Nov 172012
 

Good rum, but overshadowed by the marketing message

The ad copy reads like a dream: casks squirrelled away in 2007 when a fire ravaged St Lucia Distillers warehouses, were misplaced and then found, and when tried, evinced a more complex flavour profile than that of the standard Chairman’s Reserve (which, alas, I have yet to sample). Is it, as it is marketed, something special?

I have a reason for leading in this way: the other day while Mark the Mad Rock God was receiving instruction from his guitar Yoda, Yoda’s wife and I ran four separate St Lucia distillers products through the wringer (the Forgotten Casks, the Admiral Rodney, the Renegade St Lucia, and the 1931). All were good, all were tasty. Yet somehow, if even by a nose, the Forgotten Casks variant finished in the rear in spite of its overall quality. In other words, there were three other products by the same distillery that beat it.

Speaking of the maker: St Lucia Distillers was formally born in 1972 when the two remaining distilleries on the islandthe Barnard Family Estate in Dennery, which was for the most part producing strong white rums, and the Geest family distillery at Roseaumerged to form a joint venture. Today, St. Lucia Distillers Limited is located on the site of the old Geest Distillery, once a part of the Sugar Manufacturers mill in Roseau, on the west coast of St. Lucia. In 2005 the Barnard family, sold to CLICO, with third generation rum-maker Laurie Barnard staying on as Managing Director (Update: CLICO went bankrupt and sold the distillery to Spiribam in 2016). The aged plant from the two original distilleries which formed the company was replaced in the second half of the 1990s with a new two-column still, which permitted a rapid diversification of product lines: vodka, gin, brandy, many other rums. However, as a result of St Lucia’s move away from land intensive sugar cane cultivation to bananas, they no longer grow their own sugar, but import molasses from (where else?) Guyana. Both the new stills and a secure source of supply ensured that the company was able to expand and it has created a good export market to Europe and Africa.

Perhaps the first inkling that the St. Lucia Distillers may not themselves consider the Forgotten Casks rum among their best offerings is the cheap tinfoil cap. Not a nail in the coffin, preciselymore like a polite nose tap. Squat bottle, decent label, ensconced in a cheap cardboard box giving the history of the forgotten casks themselves. The aroma was nothing to sneeze at, mind: soft scents of citrus (more lime than orange), marzipan and a sort of warm smokiness attended my pouring this dark amber rum. As it opened up, dried dark fruits (raisins?), chocolate and burnt brown sugar began to make themselves subtly felt. It was not a heavy rum to nose, but a very pleasant unobtrusive one, with a subtlety that was quite attractive, and distinct enough to better both the Doorly’s XO and the Juan Santos Five Year old, which were too timid to let us know what they were all about

The arrival of the medium bodied rum was a shade heated, though not so much as to be unpleasantat 40% I would have been surprised if it had been. The light smoky background persisted under a soft kind of light crispness: Mary, who was kind enough to sample this with me, suggested a wine loverparticularly one who appreciated a Sauvignon-Blancwould probably really enjoy this baby. As we sampled back and forth we noted tastes of a buttery creaminess, English biscuits, and then caramel and toffee. And a driness that led to a medium long finish redolent of that same creamy caramel. I’d hesitate to add this rum to a mixit’s borderline, still a bit rough around the edges and needing some couth, yet good enough for the curious to try on their own.

Is it better than the original Chairman’s Reserve which was never misplaced? I can’t tell, since I never had any. However, my online research of St Lucia Distiller’s website suggests that while the original is a blend of rums individually aged for 4½ years and then aged a further six months after blending, this variant is a blend of coffey and pot-still rums seven to twelve years old, first separately aged (by still output) in white oak barrels and then married for a further five years (maybe while lost?)…so probably since 2007. Therefore I’d hazard a wild-ass-guess that yeah, it’s probably better just ‘cause it really is olderand for those who are fortunate enough to try them both side by side, feel free to comment and let me know. (As an aside, note that the Admiral Rodney rum made by the same company is aged eight to twelve years so perhaps this one is either a high-end Chairman’s Reserve or a low end Admiral Rodney.)

So: the Forgotten Casks are officially a limited edition of misplaced casks now found and bottled. It’s considered by the makers to be a premium rum. Tastes pretty good, in my opinion. You want to intro someone to rums (especially a wine drinker)…good place to start may be here. All this is good. But it’s not as if, like the original Angostura 1919, the barrels were superlatively enhanced by the fire, or lost for literally decades. These barrels were misplaced for about four or five years, and all that means to me is that they were aged a bit more. The rum is simply not an undiscovered steal or some unbelievably good rum that somehow slipped past us.

It’s a good rum, a tasty rum and a nice rum. That it isn’t an utterly premium undervalued rum has more to do with its marketing promo campaign than the fact that it’s a decent product, perhaps matured differently and tasting well for its age. I honestly don’t think they needed to state that the barrels were lost and found, because the Forgotten Casks rum stands up quite nicely on its own without further embellishmentall they really needed to say it was an eight or ten years old or something. And the problem for St. Lucia’s Distillers this created, in my opinion, is that by naming the rum as they did, they created an expectation it did not meet, and a cachet I don’t think it quite deserved.

(#131. 81/100)


Other Notes

  • The order of the four rums in my tasting (the reviews for which are not yet complete) is from bottom to top: Forgotten Casks, Admiral Rodney, Renegade and 1931. Less than ten points separate the first from the last, and all exceed 80, which qualifies as good for me and says a lot for the overall quality of the line.

 

Aug 162011
 

First posted 16 August 2011 on Liquorature

A solidly impressive aged product from Pusser’s. Though it’sonly” 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), DDLbecause 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 meI’ll take it. And I think I’ll call mine Brutus.

(#082)(Unscored)

Feb 042011
 

As long as you like a darker, heavier profile of fruity and dark sugar notes, this is a rum that gets better and better as you compare more and more rums to it.

First posted Feb 4, 2011 on Liquorature

The median of the el Dorado range exhibits a schizophrenic character, in line with its uncertain position as neither the entrance level rum (that honour probably belongs to the five year old), or its other bastard brother the single barrel, or any of its two superior sipping cousins, the 15 or 21. It’s kinda left alone to sink or swim on its own merits.

Those merits aren’t half bad, I should note. Readers might as well be warned, however: I have a weakness for dark rums of slight sweetness and age, and therefore I regard El Dorado’s as particularly good specimens of the type, never mind that they come from a country I spent many years in and of which I still retain fond memoriesand where I was able to pass through many of the sugar plantationsPort Mourant, Diamond and otherswhere DDL gets its raw materials and stills.

I had the 12 year the same night I meant to sample all the other rums in the range, but as noted in the 15 year old review, I was tired, irritated and feeling crabby after a particularly loathsome day at the office, and therefore limited myself to retrying the 12, and then moving upscale.

The thing is, as a rum in its own right, the 12 isn’t half bad. Made from molasses in the Enmore and Diamond coffey stills and blended with a lead spirit from the Port Mourant double pot still (the only wooden one still in existence, and which also makes the Single Barrel, and several European specialist makers) and then matured in used bourbon barrels, the 12 is not quite the equal of the 15; however, DDL have taken steps in 2006 to rejig the blend, so that now it seems to be right there on the ladder leading up to the premium sippers above it.

The nose is a bit sharp, but you can see where the progression is leading: molasses, fruit, some toffee, caramel and burnt sugar assail your nose in waves of olfactory harmony. The blend is rich and mellow and it comes out in the smell, in spite of the sharper tannins from the oak barrels making themselves felt early on.

The rum is a dark tawny colour (not as dark as the subsequent older iterations, but getting there), and of a medium heavy body; it hugs the sides of your glass as if reluctant to seep back down, when swirled. On the palate, it reminds me somewhat of an untamed horse: not entirely sure where it’s going, it bucks and kicks you some, scrapes across your tongue, but you sort of forgive that, because the overall blend of flavour and texture is so good. There is a deep flavour of dark sugar and spice, mixed in with the tang of citrus, softness of toffee, all mixed around with a lush caramel (and I’m a sucker for that, as my purchases of ice cream will attest).

The 12 fails on the backstretch, I judgeit’s a bit too harsh for a good twelve year old rum, and one expects better (the 15 more than makes up for that, I should note). This does not invalidate is as a sipper, just makes you want to run out and buy the next one up the line, or add ice, maybe a splash of chaser. But on it’s own terms, with the balance of sweet and spice and burn, with a mellow finish that lasts a pleasantly long time and oils the back of your throat for longer than you have a right to expectwell, what can I say? It’s a success for its age.

Having written all the above, what would I recommend? Truth to tell, I’d use this as a high end mixer for sure, and if looking for a premium sipper, just go up to the 15, or blow a hundred for the 21. But as a general all rounder for a lower price, this one is hard to beatit deserves a place on your shelf for all those visitors to your rooms or houses or apartments who want to try something a bit richer than Bacardi, Appleton V/X, Lamb’s or Mount Gay (those standard staples of the young), but don’t want to bust the bank doing it.

(#0098)(83/100)

 

Jan 282011
 

First posted 28 January 2011 on Liquorature

An overproof harking back to maritime days of the Empire, Favell’s lacks enough ageing or serious taste to compete with more carefully made and better aged examples of the craft, and will appeal more to whisky drinkers who like cask strength offerings, than those who like lesser strength rums to sip neat.

Favell’s London Dock Demerara rum plays on the maritime heritage of the British empire’s trading days: sailing ships, foggy stone wharves, the slow slap of the waves against the wooden hulls of old windjammers and clippers anchored alongside, and West Indian Trade in rum and molasses. Even the labelling reflects a slightly old-fashioned, nautical slant, what with its picture and the interesting notation that it is 100 proof rumor 57.1% (for a discussion on why 100 proof in Britain isor used to be – 57.1% alcohol by volume, see my article on proofs here).

Favell’s is, like other rums made in northerly climes, a blend of stock imported from the West Indies (Guyana, in this case) and again, this is stated front and center in the label: Demerara rum, product of Guyana. In the 19th century the British empire had its largest trading hub in London, and in 1802 an entire new section of the Port of London, the West India Docks, was built to process the vast amounts of sugar and rum arriving from British colonies in the Caribbean. The Rum Dock section gave birth to Lamb’s London Dock and other rums of that period, but whose names have long vanished. These days, only the term remains, redolent with history.

At 57% ABV, Favell’s is a proof rum (100 proofanything over that is considered an overproof): we might term it cask strength, if that wasn’t technically incorrect. There are frustratingly few notations on the distillation methodology available. About all I can tell you is that the bulk rums come from Guyana, and the blend is made in Canada under license to White Favell, Vintner’s of London, who probably act like Gordon and MacPhail or Bruichladdich, but without the fame. The nice thing is that, like Screech and Old Sam’s, it’s made in Newfoundland, and that probably had something to do with the long maritime tradition of The Rock (or so the romantic in me supposes).

The nose was, as one might expect, not gentle or forgiving. London Dock rums as a general rule adhere to Navy blending traditions, which is to say they are rough and dark and strong and have tastes are at best unsophisticated. This one was no exception, and at 57.1%, I wasn’t surprised. It smacked the nose and was redolent of harsh spirit, caramel and some vanilla. A bit sharper than I personally preferred. After opening up, however, the alcohol vapours started to recede and a lighter, thinner floral scent stole about the overpowering depth of dark sugar, and I have to acknowledge that if you’re prepared to wait a bit, that almost makes it worthwhile.

However, to my disappointment, the taste failed when compared with either Pusser’s, or the A.D. Rattray’s rather excellent 13 year old Caroni rum, which are the only overproofs I’ve sampled that came close to Favell’s. The sharp taste is not medicinal, precisely (I would have marked it down for that), but it does bite like hell, and not the dark deep burn of a good, mellowed-down, well-aged overproof, but something harsher, less refined: something that required a bit more time in the barrel, I’d say. The rum was decently full-bodied as befits a Demerara rumthe problem was that the taste was not distinct, not particularly complex, or well-defined. Oh you get the caramel, some faint burnt sugar notes, together with a trace of molasses. That’s all, though. And the finish , well, it does linger, powerfully sobut one feels that those are mostly the alcohol fumes with some faint hints of the aforementioned standards, and so not particularly distinguished.

That this rum has absolutely nothing to do with the glory days of the British Navy and all its associated traditions is not in dispute. It’s a pretender to a throne to which Lamb’s Navy rum and Pusser’s stand rather closer in the line of succession and merit. But I wouldn’t exactly mark it down for that either. These days, I assume marketing swamis and smart people who study people’s tastes and how to sell things to people are usually behind the branding of any rum I review (and if any doubt my statement, feel free to weigh in on the discussion on the Ron de Jeremy slated to be produced this year): and so I don’t really hold it against them.

Favell’s is, to my mind, a success from the perspective of imagination. I can surely, without effort, think of having a flagon of this at my side as I watch the last of the cargo being loaded onto my old sailing ship bound for Port Georgetown, the hawsers creaking as the tide comes in, the fog swirling around the dimly lamp-lit quay and muting the low conversations of the sailors as they batten the hatches and make ready to cast off all lines.

Too bad that the taste and overall quality of Favell’s doesn’t quite live up to that promise. Close, but not quite.

(#065. 79.5/100)

Jan 152011
 

First posted 15th January 2011 on Liquorature

I’ve never hidden my affection for the Young’s Old Sam Demerara rum: for its rich dark character, thick nose and excellent mixing qualities. Here’s a variation which simply blows it out of the water, because, unlike that simple mixer, Watson’s is in better balance overall, and is equally good as a sipper or a cocktail base.

People, I think are entirely too disbelieving of coincidences: when you consider that there are six billion plus people on the planet, I am actually amazed that there aren’t more coincidences. One of the best in recent memory was the appearance of a rum named after one of our members: the Robert Watson Demerara dark rum, “a product of Guyana.

Initial maturation is indeed done in Guyana, but final blending and bottling is done in Scotland by the company that owns the brand, Ian MacLeod distillers. Established in 1933 by Ian MacLeod, the company was acquired in 1963 by the Russell family, who were primarily whisky brokers. In 2000, the company acquired the Watson’s Demerara and Trawler rum brands, but I cannot yet ascertain from whom, or where the marques originated.

Fine. After we finished grinning and congratulating Bob on the find and his suitable modesty in naming it after himself, we took stock. Straightforward bottle, red metal cap. My picture, much affected by the five shots of various Ardbegs I had already consumed (my arms were twisted, honest) doesn’t really do it justice, but it glinted a deep red-brown colour, like burnished copper.

Watson’s is distilled to 40% in pot stills, and aged in oak casks for an unknown periodI’m going to go out on a limb and suggest at least five years, and possibly, just possibly, as long as ten (I hate not knowing this stuff). It filmed the side of the glass and had plump but barely discernible legs as the rum sheeted slowly down, which boded well for the body.

The nose was the first pleasure of the day. Almost no bite or sting or medicinal burn, though some faint alcohol fumes were there for surejust well masked and toned down. And almost instantly I got sweet, rich fumes of molasses. Deep fumes. Actually, Watson’s, like Old Sam’s, positively reeked of the dark sticky stuff and brown sugar from a freshly opened bag. After we let it sit for a while, liquorice, nutmeg and something spicy curled around these strong and assertive scents. An excellent, uncomplicated snoot, in my opinion: no fancy additives or little thises or thatses, just the bare bones, well blended.

On the palate, it was full bodied and richa real Demerara rum. It was smooth and deep, tasting faintly of chocolate, but I’d be lying to you if I pretended it had some sort of more complex flavour profile which it didn’t possessbecause it doesn’t, and that’s okay, really. The molasses and sugar, with a bit of caramel and maybe vanilla, were the dominant flavours and you won’t get more than that (though the rum does exhibit a pleasing slight driness after a few minutes in the glass). And the fade is lovely, enveloping and smooth, a dark slow burn that to me marks excellent rums. The crazy thing I liked so much about Watson’is that I barely caught any real snarl and claw and bite of alcohol throughoutit really is surpisingly smooth. If in taste and nose this thing exceeded the Young’s Old Sam, then in the finish it simply blasted way beyond it.

It’s a pleasure to find a rum bearing the name of one of our members: you might say that’s quite enough by itself. But to have it married to a deep and rich taste, a great balance and finishwell now, that’s an unforeseen delight, like my wife giving me a Christmas present in July. I do not believe others will share my genuine liking for this straightforward, cutlass-waving, boot-stomping Demerara rum (though I have made no secret over the years of my predilections in this direction). And while I’ve had my issues with Scottish distillers taking rum stock from the West Indies and making their own rum variationsnot always successfullywith Watson’s I have so such problems. The thing is great.

Robert Watson’s rum is a phenomenal, strong tasting rum with no time for frigginaround on the subtleties, equally good alone or in companyand if I ever see it in any store I visit, I’m pouncing on it like a hungry vulture spotting his first lame impala of the day. Count on it.

(#063)(Unscored)

Aug 282010
 

mount gay 1703

Stunning. Strong marriage of well balanced flavours, terrific nose and a silky finish marred ever so slightly by a slight bitterness at the tail end. A damned worthy entry at the top-end, showing Mount Gay is still a force to be reckoned with in the premium lines.

First posted 28 August 2010 on Liquorature.

Mount Gay. The premier house of rum on Barbados, the oldest rum distillery in the world, and this rum, their premium product, first seen in 2009. I was not entirely enthused with the Extra Old, but here, they have created a small gem that takes the qualities I liked in the Extra Old, and made almost none of the mistakes; and while it may not entirely beat the snot out of the EH25 or the Appleton 30, it is on par with the El Dorado 21, tastes like the Clemente XO, and can quit the field of battle with honour in the company of these exceptional opponents

The top end of their production line was not a part of the Liquorature gathering of August 2010, but because I had just blown the ~$125 on it and wanted to try it in company, I brought it along anywayit’s become in an occasional thing of mine to bring something high-end to the table when I want the others to sample, because I am fully aware that without that, they’ll never spend the cash on anything but whisky (I’m fighting a valiant rearguard action here, as you might notice). As the sole ‘Caner here, I consider this my small contribution to their education in Matters of Rum.

All fun aside, let’s look at the 1703. The bottle is simple, blocky and new age, harkening back to the old jugs of yore (and I adore simple elegance, so this gets mucho brownie points from me); the cork has a sumptuously tight feel to it and is metal tipped cork, tightly settled: it makes a plump, happy sound when popped. The colour of the rum is a tawny dark gold, with reddish tints hinting of copperperhaps a freshly minted new coin. Like both the Doorly’s and XO, it possesses a medium body, lighter than other islands like Jamaica (or Guyana’s molasses beefcakes), but about on par with Martinique’s agricole offerings. It’s a blend of rums between 10 and 30 years old, both pot and column still as far as I know.

I don’t often spend more than fifteen minutes on a tasting before I make up my mind one way or the other: neither my experience nor my sophistication being wide enough to take this further. However, when reviewing aged rums in particular, a more serious attitude really is needed (well, if you spent over a hundred bucks, doesn’t the object deserve more than just a cursory sip and disinterested demeanour?), and it’s always a good idea to let the opened spirit breathe in the glass. The initial nose is of cinnamon, nutmeg and a soft whiff of bananas (the Mount Gay signature), but when it has sat in the glass for another few minutes, it opens up like my wife’s arms when I come back from a long trip abroad, and I get that warm comforting whiff of caramel, burnt sugar and toffee coiling around subtle fruits and spices. And more than a hint ofwell, leather. Maybe that’s just me, though.

In the mouth the 1703 is quite dry and low-to-medium sweet, another thing it shares with both the Elements 8 and the Clemente XO, and for which I marked them down (and again I have to stress how personal a thing this business with the sweetness is for me). However, in fairness I have to mention how smooth the rum is, in spite of the aggressive oaken tastethe 1703 is a blend of rums aged between ten to thirty years in used bourbon barrelsand how subtler flavours slowly seep through the backbone of the tannins: vanilla, caramel, sugar, and baked apples. Yes, taking one’s time with this is almost a given: unlike a young lover who is all energy and power with no character, this one is all about mature and sober reflection of what it means to make love. The lack of sugar makes the overall taste much like a cognac (and the dryness reinforces this impression), and for that reason I myself won’t rank this high on my pantheon of truly great rums, but I fully acknowledge the depth of skill Master Blender Allen Smith utilized in marrying various rums aged ten to thirty years into this excellent synthesis.

The sting in the tail comes at the end. On the pleasantly long and reasonably smooth finish there is that faint hint of bitterness and spite which so marred my enjoyment of the XOless than that offering, true, but I was watching and waiting for it, and yes, it’s there: unlike the Appleton 30 which expended much time in muting the oaken infusion, here this was not the case, or at least, less effort was made. When one thinks of the overall brilliant beginnings of the rum, it’s subtlety and complexity of married blends, this isto say the leastproblematic. I think, however, that brandy aficionados and whisky lovers will look at me askance and ask me what the hell my problem is, were I to bring it up, and guzzle the thing down with great enjoyment.

As a gift for someone special, as a sundowner in your new McMansion overlooking a lake somewhere, this rum will not disappoint, and overall, it’s an excellent choice for a sipper (no, I didn’t even think of bastardizing this with cola), in spite of its final bitchiness, which is a minor blip on an otherwise straight line, in my opinion (enough to make me mark it down, mind you). Mount Gay has been officially making rums since 1703, and lost a little ground in the premium market over the last decades, but it appears their long tradition of rums for the cognoscenti is in no danger of disappearing anytime soon.

(#097. 85/100)

 

Aug 182010
 

First posted 18 August 2010 on Liquorature.

I’d seen this trapezoidal bottle once in a while on the occasional shelf in Calgary, but I’d never been interested enough, or seen it in sufficient quantitylet alone heard anything about itto decide whether it was worth a buy or not. It was an interesting surprise when a very helpful gent from Co-op named Dan Ellis (may the ice in his glass never melt) sourced the thing out. Now granted, I had been making sneery remarks at the paucity of his rum selection (as opposed to the Scottish drink) so the honour of his stores certainly came into play here. But I’m happy he bothered.

Lightly-aged rums do not usually inspire me to treat them with any great degree of reverence and a blend even less so, but in this case, the styling of the bottle and its comparative rarity (and, it must be stated, price – I’m as much of a snob as anyone at times, sorry), made me take more than usual care in checking it out. I was…intrigued. And in retrospect, I’m glad I took the time. The nose seemed fairly straightforward on the get go – a clear, intense light gold rum, very delicate (Oh God, was this another friggin’ Doorly’s? was the first thought through my mind), but with a slight hint of peaches and citrus, and definitely apple – it reminded me of my favourite (and very expensive) Riesling. My wife, who loved that New Age bottle to pieces, rudely snatched the glass from my hands and watching her little button nose try to extract scent from the glass that swallowed it whole was almost as entertaining as her attempts to translate her thinking into English. We both tasted the oak, but she noted that there was a hint of dried forest leaves dampened by a summer rain too. And after we stood it for a bit and it opened up, there was the molasses and burnt sugar revealing itself around the skirts of the first aromas like a shy girl hiding behind her mommy. A girl with some spirit because there’s no getting away from the slight medicinal tang to the nose which spoils what is otherwise a really good nose.

On the tongue and in the mouth, the Elements 8 Gold changed its character again: it grew up, took off its braces and flirted without shame, flicking up its skirt and laughing. Not assured enough to be mature, still young enough to have some rawness to it, but no longer in its girlhood, it bucked in coltish adolescence across my taste buds, coating the palate with soft oiliness. The thing is, there is no caramel or toffee taste in this thing at all – a first for me. It’s not sweet and has a deep, rich burn going down, like a well aged cognac. And the body is excellent, medium heavy, and maintaining that odd …cleanness which I really liked. But the finish is fastour tomboy hasn’t learned to make a kiss last yet, so while she is fine as peaches and cream, she needs a little polish to make her into a world beater that men will stampede over each other to taste.

Elements 8 is a self-styledpremiumrum made in the St Lucia Distillery, but care has to be taken in distinguishing it from the actual products of that distillery (for example, the Admiral Rodney, or the Chairman’s Reserve brands) – the [e]8 organization works closely with the distillery while not either owning it or being owned by them. The Elements 8 Rum Company is a UK enterprise run by two gentlemen, one of whom, like me, is a Caribbean infused German (don’t ask). The founders of Elements 8 saw that rum, like whiskies, vodkas, gins and tequilas, could reach upscale quality and prices by dint of differentiation, innovative distillation and blending, product design, clever marketing and word of mouth.

Elements 8 is an instructive study in how to raise expectations with glowing advertising. Unlike the Kraken, which simply had fanboys going ape over it (unnecessarily so, in my opinion), this one had quality written all over its commercial messaging. Supposedly eight elements of production are married in a holistic manner to produce a rum modestly referred to as being of surpassing quality: environmental (St Lucia boasts a unique micro-climate which imparts its own character to the rum but then, so does every other island), cane from Guyana – I was told it was molasses not the actual sugar cane (one of the ads, which touted the cane as being “hand selected” had me doubled over in laughter), water from protected rainforest habitats, three differeing yeasts, distillation, tropical ageing, blending and filtration, all in harmony. The rum is distilled in three different stills: a John Dore double retort copper pot still for the heavy, flavourful components, depth and finish; a Vendome Kentucky Bourbon copper pot still which gives the rather unique flavour profile; and a steel columnar still for the lighter components. Since each still is charged with three different washes (from the three yeasts), we have nine blend components (actually, ten) which are blended and aged for a minimum of six years in oaken barrels that once held Buffalo Trace bourbon. Not bad.

All right, so I tasted, I researched, I drank, then added an ice cube, and after it all, tried it as a mixer. My conclusions?

Well, forget the mixing part. You get an interesting ginger taste with coke, but it isn’t really worth it: the [e]8 Gold is dense and viscous enough not to need the enhancement. The nose, as I said is clean and complex, rewards time and care, and is very attractive except for that last bitchy smackdown of medicine (some care in the distillation or ageing, perhaps an additive or two might mitigate that). The taste is something else again. I’m not sure rum lovers who like their caramel and sweetness will appreciate the slightly salty tang of a rum that is more like a cognac. If you can get past that, the smoothness of the finish and the overall richness of the blend make this quite a unique drink, one that, like Bundie or the Pyrat’s XO, can be identified blind with no doubts whatsoever. Just not entirely a rum the way I expect one to be (this may be a limitation of mine, not the rum…get a bottle and make your own determination).

So it’s not quite my thing – maybe I’m not yuppie enough, or just like my sweet rum taste more than something made and designed for the bars of the upper class – but in way I feel a little sad, too. The nose had real promise, really set you up for something special, and at the end I felt like the geek who got to kiss the head of the cheerleading squad, only to find she couldn’t kiss as well as my expectations had been led to believe she could. I’m left with all excitement and no true satisfaction.

I’m hoping that in the years to come, Elements 8 will find a way to marry the traditions of the older rum distillers with the new wave innovations of this century, to come up with something truly spectacular: the fact that they are attempting to produce a premium white rum speaks at a fair amount of determination to think out of the box. I’ll not hesitate to buy anything from their line I see going forward.

(#055)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • Thanks go to one of the founders of [e]8, Andreas Redlefsen, who was kind enough to answer all my questions on his organization, its history, outlook and methods.
  • The rum is a spiced product, a fact unknown to me at the time when I tasted it.
  • My remarks about preferring sweeter rums are amusing when read in retrospect, given the development of my tastes over time.
Feb 192010
 

D3S_6898

First posted Feb 19, 2010 on Liquorature.

Deep, smooth, elegant, complex, affordable. Brilliant rum catering to all my tastes.

It seems to be a cruel irony that I always find the rums I desperately want to buy and take a taste of when (a) my frugal better half is casting baleful glares in my direction, (b) my friend The Bear is unavailable to assist in the sampling and (c) cash is shortor at least, pay day is nowhere in sight, which amounts to the same thing. All three were in evidence this Friday, when, for reasons we shall not get into here, I was in the Calgary Airport liquor store. Now why they would have a store in a place that does not allow you to bring the good stuff aboard except in checked luggage (at which every West Indian I ever met would blanch, shudder and mutter thatdem peepl nah gat sensis where else me go drink it?”) escapes me, but I ended up snagging one of the three bottles I was after: the Demerara Distilleries El Dorado Special Reserve 21 Year Old.

For those unfortunate souls not from the West Indies, or the even sadder ones who know nothing about Guyana, let it be said that two mighty local spirits outfits vie for control of the local and export market: Banks DIH (a blender and beer maker) and Demerara Distilleries (a true distillery). There isn’t a Guyanese alive, of this I am convinced, who does not recall the sniff of fermenting sugar as he passes Diamond Estate to or from the airport. This is where DDL has its base of operations, and this is where they blend the elite little package that I prepared to sample some thousands of miles away.

For a rum costing close to a hundred, the packaging is surprisingly cheap printed thin cardboard, but okay. It’s what was within that I was after. DDL matures this baby in used oak whisky and bourbon barrels, and the aroma of the cork bears this out. The aroma was a pungent mix of burnt sugar, spices, soft and thick, chopped fruit in a black cake, butterscotch and caramel, molasses and smoke and I dunnoperhaps some oak, all blended very smoothly and almost inseparably in there. A first taste neat and then another on the rocks made it clear that DDL put some effort into making this a somewhat dry rum (more so than the 15 year old), but it developed on the palate very nicely, and I think The Bear would agree that it was enhanced by the whiskey notes, the same way he really appreciated the Renegade 1991. The sheer amount of tastes coming through was astounding: chocolate, coffee, mocha, truffles, raisins, dates, black currants and blackberries, anise, licorice, molasseseach flavour chased its way genteelly up one side of my palate and down the other.

Very very smooth, hardly any bite on the way down. And a long finish, where those sweet highlights come out and almost, but not quite, overpower all the other spices.

Good stuff this. At 40% it is like caramel velvet going down, and it’s one of those like the English Harbour 25, that I would not tamper with, it’s that goodno coke for this baby. It can’t class with the English Harbour all the way (at half the price, that would have been practically a miracle), but I’ll tell you thisit gives similar price point rums like the Appleton Master Blender’s Legacy a run for its money. It may disappoint on a second tasting, but thus far, for me, it’s one of the better neat rums I’ve ever tasted, and it wasn’t wasted money. Too bad the Club was not meeting this weekI would have loved to bring it along for an introduction.

Update: three weeks later the Bear and I sampled this together for my second go-around on the bottle. While his tongue had already been desensitized by the English Harbour Five we’d been sipping for the previous half hour (he agrees this is one of the great SDRs around), he was clean-bowled by the sheer quality of this 21-year. Unlike me he took no umbrage at the cheap packing, since, in his view, it does not add to the price and what you get is what you pay for. An interesting point. But after he wiped his misty eyes dry, he said that this was such a smooth, well-balanced rum that it might even be better than the EH-25. Looks like I’m not the only one to think this way.

(#015)(88/100)


Update October 2017

  • I have done a complete re-tasting and re-assessment of the ED21 and appreciated it the same way, noted the failings more clearly (mostly to do with strength and additives), scored it slightly lowerand named it one of the Key Rums of the World.
  • As a completely irrelevant aside, Grandpa Caner likes the El Dorado 15 Year Old better and refuses to cede pride of place.