Aug 092020
 

Black Tot day came and went at the end of July with all the usual articles and reviews and happy pictures of people drinking their Navy Rum wannabes. Although it’s become more popular of late (a practice I’m sure rum-selling emporia are happy to encourage), I tend not to pay too much attention to it, since several other countries’ navies discontinued the practice on other days and in other years, so to me it’s just another date. And anyway, seriously, do I really need an excuse to try another rum? Hardly.

However, with the recent release of yet another ‘Tot variant (the 50th Anniversary Rum from the Whisky Exchange) to add to the ever-growing stable of Navy Rums purporting to be the Real Thing (or said Real Thing’s legit inheritors) and all the excited discussions and “Look what I got!” posts usually attendant upon the date, let’s look at Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof which is an update of the older Blue Label rum, jacked up to a higher strength.

Sorry to repeat what most probably already know by now, but the antecedents of the rum must be noted: the name derives from the (probably apocryphal but really interesting) story of how the navy tested for proof alcohol by checking it against whether it supported the combustion of a sample of gunpowder: the weakest strength that would do that was deemed 100 proof, and more accurate tests later showed this to be 57.15% ABV. However, as Matt Pietrek has informed us, real navy rums were always issued at a few degrees less than that and the true Navy Strength is 54.5%. Which this rum is, hence the subtitle ofOriginal Admiralty Strength”. Beyond that, there’s not much to go on (see below).

That provided, let’s get right into it then, nose forward. It’s warm but indistinct, which is to say, it’s a blended melange of several thingsmolasses, coffee (like Dictador, in a way), flambeed bananas, creme brulee, caramel, cereals. Some brown sugar, and nice spices like cinnamon, vanilla and ginger cookies. Also a bit of muskiness and brine, vegetables and fruits starting to go bad, dark and not entirely unpleasant.

The blended nature of the flavours I smelled do not translate well onto the palate, unfortunately, and taste muffled, even muddled. It’s warm to try and has is pointsmolasses, brown sugar, truffles, caramel, toffeebut secondary components (with water, say) are another story. It’s more caramel and brown sugar, vanilla and nutsand seems somehow overthick, tamped down in some fashion, nearly cloyingeven messed with. Even the subtle notes of citrus, bitter chocolate, black tea, dates, and a bite of oakiness and tannins at the medium-long back end don’t entirely rescue this, though I’ll admit it’s decent enough, and some additional final faint hints of ginger and cumin aren’t half bad.

The problem is, I really don’t know what this thing really is. I’ve said it’s just the older Blue Label 42% made stronger, and these days the majority of the blend is supposedly Guyanese, with the label describing it as a “product of Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados”. But I dunnodo these tasting notes describe a bit of any Versailles, Port Mourant or Enmore profile you’ve had of late? In fact, it reminds me more of a stronger DDL 12 or 15 year old, minus the licorice and pencil shavings, or some anonymous WIRD / Angostura combination . Because the blend changed over time and there’s no identifying date on the bottle, it’s hard to know what the assembly is, and for me to parrot “Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados” is hardly Pulitzer-prize winning research. And, annoyingly, there is also no age statement on the black label, and no distillation information at alleven Pusser’s own website doesn’t tell you anything about that. Seriously? We have to be satisfied with just this?

Hydrometer test result courtesy of TheFatRumPirate.com

Anyway, let’s wrap up with the opinion on how it presents: short version, it’s a good ‘nuff rum and you’ll like it in either a mix or by itself. I was more or less okay with its discombobulated panoply of tastes, and the strength worked well. Still, I found it oddly dry, even thin at times (for all the sweet and thick background), and given that Wes rated it at 7g/L of something-or-other, I have a suspicion that the rum itself was merely blah, and has then been added to, probably because it was just young distillate from wherever that needed correction. The brand seems to have become quite different since its introduction and early halcyon days, before Tobias passed it onand paradoxically, the marketing push around all these new variations makes me less eager to go forward, and much more curious to try some of the older ones.

(#751)(82/100)


Other Notes

  • There are several other dates for cessation of the rum ration: the New Zealand navy eliminated the practice in 1990, the Royal Canadian Navy in 1972, Australia way back in 1921, and the USA in 1862.
  • Some other reviews of the Gunpowder Proof are from Rumtastic, Drinkhacker, Ruminations, GotRum magazine, Rum Howler, Reddit and Reddit again). None of the other well-known reviewers seem to have written about it.
  • Matt Pietrek’s series of articles on Navy rums are required reading for anyone really interested in all the peculiarities, anecdotes, debunks and details surrounding this popular but sometimes misunderstood class of rums.
May 202020
 

Rumaniacs Review #115 | 0728

This rum is a companion of the various UK merchant bottlers’ rums which were common in the 1970s and 1980s. Examples are Lamb’s 70º Demerara Navy, Four Bells Finest Navy Rum, Mainbrace, Red Duster Finest Navy, Old Vatted Demerara rum, and so on. Many are made by now defunct companies and were Navy wannabes, or traded in on the name without being anything of the kind.

This one is an oddity since it was made by United Rum Merchants, that conglomerate which had swallowed up Lamb’s, Keelings and Dingwall Norris: they did supply rums to the navy at one point, and this rum, made from a blend of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad rums, lacks only the proof to be considered a Navy rum. Except it is clearly not labeled as such, so we’ll just accept it as a blended rum and move on.

Dating: Made when the UK was still trying to go beyond the degrees proof (in 1980) but while this process was still not complete; and 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 – so like the Lamb’s 70º “Navy” it is a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad. The proportions and distilleries and ageing (if any) are, of course, unknown.

One further point: the rum is extremely dark, so colouring is involved, and since the hydrometer notes the strength at 36.48% ABV, we can assume about 13g/L of added something-or-other.

ColourVery dark brown

Strength 40% ABV (36.48% ABV as measured)

NoseMeaty, gamey, salty. Are we sure this is 40% ABV? Feels more robust than that. Great aromas, thoughmolasses, caramel, brown sugar, raisins. Also some acetones and light tart fruits like gooseberries, soursop, to which is added a sort of bitter herbal note, and dark fruits going bad.

PalateMuch softer, one can relax here. Woody notes, molasses, brown sugar. What acidity and tartness there was on the nose is here much subdued, and not sweet, but thick and dusty and a bit like sweet soya.

FinishAdjectives jump off the page: short dry, dark, thick, salty, not-sweet, redolent of molasses, brown sugar, caramel, nuts. That’s a fair bit, but let’s face it, it’s all somewhat standard.

ThoughtsIt’s a surprise that a blend of four different countries’ rumswhich I usually view with some doubt if not skepticism or outright dislikeworks as well as it does. It’s not a world beater and displays rather more ambition than success. But it isn’t half bad, coming as it does from a time when indifferently made blends were all the rage.

OtherThere’s some Guyanese Enmore or Port Mourant in there, I’d say, Bajan WIRD is logical for the timeframe and Jamaicans, well, who knows. I’d almost hazard a guess the gaminess in the nose comes from Caroni not Angostura, but I have no evidence outside my senses. That might work for empiricist philosophers like Locke and Hume, but won’t budge the rationalists on whose side I come down on hereso we’ll leave it as unanswered for now.

(78/100)

May 072020
 

Rumaniacs Review #114 | 0724

These days, the only way to get some of the lesser-known rums from the last century that were made by small merchant bottlers in vanishingly small quantities, is to know an old salt, be friends with a collector like Steve Remsberg, bag an estate sale, have an elderly relative who was into rum but isn’t any longer, find a spirits emporium that forgot about their inventory, orlacking all these as I dotroll around the auction sites.

It’s in this way that you find odd rums like the Red Duster Finest Navy rum, bottled in the 1970s by the company of J. Townend & Sons. That company officially got its start in 1923, but if you look at their filings you’ll realize they took over the assets of spirits merchant John Townend, which is much older. That company was formed in Hull around 1906 by John Townend, and over four successive generations has become a fairly substantial wine and spirits distributor in England, now called The House of Townend. Unsurprisingly, they dabbled in their own bottlings from time to time, but nowadays it would appear they are primarily into distribution. Rums like the Red Duster have long been discontinued, with this one gone for thirty years or more.

The rum itself, created just after the Second World War by Charles Townend (grandfather of current company’s Managing Director, also named John) is a blend of Guyanese and Jamaican rum, not further specifiedso we don’t know the proportions of each, or the source distilleries (or stills) Perusing the paperwork suggests it was always and only for sale within the UK, not export, and indeed, they were kind enough to get back to me and state thatAs the company was unable to expand its five-strong off licence chain due to licensing restrictions, he [Charles Townend] concentrated on establishing spirit brands that he could sell to the pub and restaurant trade. He shipped large quantities of old rum which he blended himself in the cellars at Cave Street, Hull, from where the company traded at the time. He then broke down the rum before bottling it.

And in a neat little info-nugget, the label notes that the name “Red Duster” came from the house of that name wherein the company once had its premises in York Street, Hull (this address and a red brick industrial-style building still exists but is taken up by another small company now). But that house in turn was named after the Red Ensign, orRed Dusterwhich was the flag flown by British Merchant ships since 1707.

ColourReddish amber

Strength – 70° / 40% ABV

NoseAll irony aside, it smells dusty, dry, with red and black cherry notes and some wood shavings. Molasses, plums going overripe andif you can believe itsorrel and mauby (these are a red plant and a bark used for making infused drinks in parts of the West Indies). This gives the rum an amazingly peculiar and really interesting taste that resists easy categorization.

PalateSweet, dry, dusty, spicy. Fruity (dark stuff like prunes and plums) with a touch of lemon. There’s some more cherries and overripe blackberries, but overall it tastes thin and weak, not aggressive at all. Some mild licorice brings up the back end, like me ambling late to a meeting I don’t want to be in.

FinishSurprise surprise, it’s a long and fruity finish with a good dollop of vanilla and molasses, and it presents a deep, sweet and slightly dry conclusion. Not thick and solid, a little wispy, really, but still nice.

ThoughtsBlunt force trauma is not this rum’s forte, and why they would feel it necessary to release a rum with the sobriquet of “Navy” at 40% is a mystery. It was just and always a tipple for the eating and pubbing public, without pretensions to grandeur or historical heritage of any kind. Just as well, because it lacks the character and force of today’s rums of this kind, and attempting to disassemble the origins is pointless. If they had pickled Nelson in a barrel of this stuff, he might well have climbed out and thrown his own self overboard before making it halfway homebut the humourist in me suggests he would have had a last sip before doing so.

(78/100)


Other Notes:

  • My hydrometer tested this out at 40.59% ABV, so on that basis, it’s “clean”.
  • The age is unknown, and it is a blend
  • My thanks to the House of Townend’s Hanna Boyes, who provided welcome information on the historical section of the post.
Feb 092020
 

Rumaniacs Review #110 | 0700

Lemon Hart needs no further introduction, since the brand is well known and reasonably regardedI’ve written about quite a few of their products. Their star has lost some lustre of late (though one of their recent 151 releases from 2012 or thereabouts found much favour with me), and it’s interesting that Ed Hamilton’s own line of 151s was specifically introduced to challenge the equivalent LH, if not actually supplant it. With so much going on at the high end of the proof-list these days, it’s good to remember what Lemon Hart was capable of even as little as 40-50 years ago, and revel in the courage it takes to crack a bottle released at 75.5% ABV.

(The bottle is from the late 1960s / early 1970s based on label design, the “40 fl ozs” volume descriptor (switched over in mid 1970s) and the spelling of “Guyana” which was “British Guiana” until 1966. I’ve elected to stick with 1970s as a reasonable dating.)

For further information on the whole 151 series of rums and the whys and wherefores surrounding them, see this article on those beefcakes.

Colourdark amber

Strength 75.5%.

NoseHoly hell, this thing is intense. Blackcurrants, molasses, raisins, licorice, dark ripe fruits galore, and even more molasses. It’s like they poured the deepest darkest flavours imaginable from some kind of rum gunk residue into a barrel, let it steam for a while, and then grudgingly decided this might be a mite too powerful for the unwary, and added some flowers and crisp white unripe fruitssharpish pears and green apples, that kind of thing. Then, still dissatisfied, found a way to soothen the final nose with some additional vanilla, caramel, light briny aromas and some musty-dusty scents of long unopened books

PalateEven if they didn’t say so on the label, I’d say this is almost completely Guyanese just because of the way all the standard wooden-still tastes are so forcefully put on showif there was anything else in there, it was blattened flat by the licorice, plums, prunes and cloves bearing down like a falling Candy of the Lord. It remains musky, deep and absolutely massive right to the end, and even adds some salted caramel ice cream, Danish butter cookies, almonds, cloves and crushed nuts to the mix, plus maybe a bit of citrus.

FinishSuitably epic for the strength. Hot, long, fruity, with molasses, vanilla, caramel and licorice, a bit of floral lightness and aa closing whiff of lemon peel.

ThoughtsIt’s unclear how much the rum has been agedI’d suggest 2-3 years, unlikely to be more than five. Stuff this young and at this kind of strength is (or was) commonly used for mixed drinks, but the truth is that with the amount of glute-flexing, teeth-chomping action going on here, nobody would blame you if you cracked a bottle, poured a shot, and started watching 1980s Stallone or Schwarzenegger movieswhat my irascible father would call “dem akshun-pakshun film”in between pretending to work out with your long disused barbells.

(85/100)

Oct 272019
 

Rumaniacs Review #102 | 0670

The moniker of Navy Rum is one of the most recognized rum names on the planet, aided and abetted by Pusser’s supposed recreation of the rum after Black Tot Day. The Black Tot Rum (the old one retailing for a thousand bucks, not the new recreation just released in 2019) certainly helped, and over the years, we have seen the odd old decanter or jug or bottle or what have you, go on sale (the UK government was the seller) – some were actual flagons of Navy stocks that had been left over after 1970s, unlabelled, and found their way into the hands of collectorsthis is one such.

This small write up is based on a flagon of Navy Rum bought by Rene Van Hoven in Germany. He has dated it to around 1954 and it’s rated at about 55% ABV, and this is one of those times we’re going to have to take it on faith that he has the backup paperwork to substantiate what he told me. Note that it’s possible that it’s from the same stocks as were bonded in Germany, and which Wes Burgin wrote about in 2016, here.

ColourDark Brown

Strength~55%

NoseThis is a PM or Versailles distillate right up frontperhaps not a majority but certainly a good part of the blend. Molasses, pencil shavings, cedar, sawdust, glue, anise, rubber. It’s very warm and completely solid, but not sharp, eminently drinkable (which may have been the point). Brown sugar, acetones, furniture polish follow, underlain by a sort of rotting fruit note, mixed in with a damp forest and moldy moss-covered logs, tar, burnt sugar, ashes and coffee. It’s pungent, dusty, musty and quite powerful to nose. There’s a mustiness and dry cereal nuttiness (plus a smorgasbord of dark fruits) to it all, and that elevates this rum, I think, adding a layer of complexity and edge.

PalateIf there’s any Jamaican or Trini here, it’s in the bright fruity notes and the tar and petrol, and they’re all blatted flat by molasses, cedar, sawdust, cereal, nuts and enough pencil shavings to cover Babe the Blue Ox. Behind that is concentrated black cake like Tanti used to make, with bags of raisins, rum-soaked chopped fruits, prunes, salted caramel, syrup, rich cherries, and plums. There are still some acetones and nail polish and glue and rotting fruit here, but they are like counterpoint, bringing up the rear and don’t distract, just add to the pungency.

FinishLong, pungent and aromatic. A last flirt of the pencil, molasses, coffee, bitter chocolate and of course the prunes and raisins and caramel ice cream sprinkled with nuts

ThoughtsIt reminds me a lot of the overproofed 1970s Lemon Hart Demerara Rum I tried a few days earlier. That said, I don’t know if they simply made blends in different proportions back in the day, or whether the progression to rums today has changed the underlying distillate in some fashion. All I know is that like the Harewood House 1780 rum, it’s spectacular and remarkably modern. The profile is dense and rich and pungent and were you to taste it blind, you’d think it was made by an old rum house, just last year. It’s one of the tastiest rums I’ve had in ages.

(0670 | R-0102)(90/100)

Oct 092019
 

Rumaniacs Review #099 | 0663

Alfred Lamb started making his signature dark rum from West Indian raw stock in 1849 in London; it was initially aged in cellars below the Thames, which is why you still see occasional bottles of “London Dock” gathering dust on store shelves here or there, rubbing shoulders with various branded Navy rums, white rums and spiced rums, and it’s all a big yawn through these days. The current owner of the Lamb’s name, Pernod Ricard, markets it as a downmarket grocery-store kind of rum, and the days of something like the 1949 Special Consignment are long gone.

This bottle likely comes from the late 1970s: there is an earlier version noted as being from “British Guiana” that must have dated from the 1960s (Guyana gained independence in 1966) and by 1980 the UK largely ceased using degrees proof as a unit of alcoholic measure; and United Rum Merchants was taken over in 1984, which sets an absolute upper limit on its provenance (the URM is represented by the three barrels signifying Portal Dingwall & Norris, Whyte-Keeling and Alfred Lamb who merged in 1948 to form the company). Note also the “Product of Guyana”the original blend of 18 different rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad pioneered by Alfred Lamb, seems to have been reduced to Guyana only for the purpose of releasing this one.

ColourGold

Strength – 40% (since 100º proof was ~ 57.14%, then mathematically 70º proof = 40% ABV)

NoseYes, definitely Guyanese and for sure one of the wooden stills, PM or Versailles. Dark, rich and molasses based, with sawdust, pencil shavings, redolent of caramel, fudge, lemongrass, licorice, citrus, dates, tobacco leaves and green grapes.

Palate“Thick” is not out of place to describe it. Or maybe “juicy”. It’s sweet, dark, rich and dense with great mouthfeel for standard strength. A mix of both light and dark fruitspears, peaches, prunes, mint leaves, and fresh pancakes drizzled with syrup.

FinishMid length, nothing special, but a nice firm exit.

ThoughtsIt’s not the most complex thing around, but if the straightforward pleasures of a mixer or simple sipper are your thing, this won’t disappoint. It’s not trying to redefine Demerara and gives a decent account of Guyana and the stills, if less of the Navy style. Something of a one-trick pony, then, and that it’s a good pony at only that one trick is just our loss.

(0663 | R-099)(80/100)

May 272019
 

When you really get down to it, Pusser’s claim to fame rests on two main planks. The first is that it is they are the true inheritors of the actual British Navy rum recipe after Black Tot Day in 1970. The second is that they follow it.

Unfortunately, neither is completely true, depending on how you look at the background.

With respect to the first point, any research done on Navy rums shows that Lyman Hart, Lamb’s and ED&F Man, among others, sold rums to the Royal Navy back in the 1800s (Man became the major supplier in the 1900s, though I don’t think they were the sole source even then), and it is highly unlikely they were consistent in what they provided. Moreover, the rum (from whatever source) was always a blend, and the components did not stay rock solid stable for centuries. In fact, according to the booklet about the Black Tot accompanying the bottle and written by Dave Broom, the Navy rum of the 1940s had been a complex blendkind of soleraand over the centuries the Jamaican component had continually been reduced because of its funky taste which sailors did not like. Moreover there’s that modern tested-for adulteration of Pusser’s — 29 g/L additives by some estimateswhich surely was not part of the original recipe no matter who made it.

Secondly, the very fact that the recipe was tweaked more than onceas recently as 2008 it was supposedly a blend of five West Indian rumsshows up the fallacy of completely buying into the idea this is a true heritage rum: it’s hardly an inheritor of a tradition that once included Guyanese, Jamaican, Trini and maybe even Bajan rums, which progressively got reduced down to Guyana and Trini components, and now is Guyana only. Even by 2018, one could taste that the blend was favouring Guyanese distillate and that might taste good, but wasn’t exactly the Royal Navy recipe now, was it?

So, strictly speaking, neither statement holds water. The Gunpowder Proof Black Label is probably closer to the way navy rums used to be made, but yet somehow, in spite of all that, it’s the 15 YO which people remember, which they refer to as one of the touchstones of their early drinking experiences. The thing is utterly unkillable and regularly turns up on the various Facebook fora with delighted chirps and snazzy photographs and the pride of some person who has either bought one for the first time, or tried it for the first time. It is also one of the most reviewed of the entire Pusser’s line, with just about every writer sooner or later passing by to talk about it (see here, here, here, here, here, and here for some examples, almost universally positive)

And why shouldn’t they? It’s a fifteen year old rum issued at a relatively affordable price, and is widely available, has been around for decades and has decent flavour chops for those who don’t have the interest or the coin for the limited edition independents.

So what was it like? The tasting notes below reflect the blend as it was in April 2018, and this is different to both the initial rum I tried back in 2011 and again in 2019 when the “new and improved” Guyana-only blend crossed my path.

The nose, for example, certainly has lots of stationery: ruber, pencil erasers, pencil shavings. Also sawdust, citrus, lumberreminds me a lot of the Port Mourant or Versailles distillate, if a little dumbed down. After some time, molasses crept timidly out the back end with caramel, toffee, ginger and vanilla hiding in its skirts, but their overall reticence was something of a surprise given my tasting memoriesI seem to recall them as much more forward. Blame it on increasing age, I guessmine, not the rum’s.

By the time it got around to tasting, the Guyanese component of the blend was much more evident, definitely favouring the wooden pot stills’ aggressive taste profiles. Glue, rubber, nail polish, varnish were the tastes most clearly discernible at the inception, followed by bitter chocolate and damp sawdust from freshly sawn lumber. It’s beneath that that it shines even at the paltry strengthcreme brulee, warm caramel dribbled over vanilla ice cream, coffee and molasses, with just a hint of dark fruits (raisins, plums) and indistinct floral notes tidying things up. The finish, as is normal for standard proof spirits, is fairly short but nicely rounded, summarizing the aforementioned tastes and smellscaramel, vanilla, flowers, ginger, anise, raisins, dark fruits and pineapple for the most part. The added whatever-it-is makes it sweet and nicely rounded and a decent sipnon-rum-junkies would likely find favour with that, while deep-diving rum chums would equally sniff and say it’s over-sweetened and dampened down, with the good notes being obscured.

Well, each to his own, I guess. My notes here aren’t going to change anyone’s mind. At the end of it all, it is a tasty all-round rum for most, which survives in people’s tasting memories in spite of its adulteration, and constantly gains new (young) acolytes because of it. My own opinion is that while Pusser’s sells well, its glory days are behind it. It has not maintained the core blend, being forced by market pressures to simplify the components rather than keep them in play. They have extended their line over the years to add to the stable with the gunpowder proof, various strengths and other iterations, spiced versions and this to some extent dilutes the brand, good as they may all be.

So why do I call this a key rum? Because it is a good rum which should be remembered and appreciated; because it hewed and hews as close to the line of the old navy rums as we’re ever likely to get; because it’s 15 years old and still affordable; and because for all its blended nature and therefore indeterminate origins, it’s just a well-made, well-aged product with a whiff of true historical pedigree and naval heritage behind it. Even now, so many rums down the road, I remember why I liked it in the first place.

And aside from all that, even if you don’t buy into my premise, and dislike the brand dilution (or expansion), and even with all the competition, Pussers still has a lustre and brand awareness that can’t be shrugged off. Almost all bloggers sooner or later pass by and check it out, some more than once. It is a milestone marker on anyone’s journey down the myriad highways of rum. It remains relevant because no matter how many pretenders to the throne there are, this one company supposedly does actually have the (or an) original recipe for the navy rum, and if they chose to change it over time, well, okay. But the 15 year old remains one of the core rums of the lineup, one of the best they made and make, and nobody who tries it as part of their education, is ever likely to completely put it out of their minds, no matter how far past it they end up walking to other milestones down the road.

(#627)(83/100)

Feb 082019
 

Velier has always had this way of sneaking in something obscure among all their major series of rumssome 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. StillI 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 daygiven 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 actiondark 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, becauseNavyrums 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 witheven 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 callednavyand 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.

 

Dec 102015
 

AH Riise 1My mission, should I chose to accept it, is to get hammered on this crap. I drank it so you don’t have to.

I can’t imagine what was going through AH Riise’s corporate minds when they made this ersatz faux-Navy-Rum wannabe, but I should point out that the few rum guys I know from Denmark think it’s something of an insult to the spirit. It’s a sweet sugary Nicolas Sparks-level saccharine mess, with a grudging nod given to navy standards by beefing it up some. Unless you’re masochistically into multiple insulin shots, my advice is to smell it and immediately put it back in its boxand then hand it over to all those guys to whom you already presented the Coruba, Whaler’s, the Pyrat and the Kraken. It’s in good company there.

The Royal Danish Navy rum, bottled at 55% is supposedly made according to the same recipe as old AH (see below) developed over a hundred years ago, and then sold to Naval vessels who passed by. It is not a really aged rumrums “up to” 20 years old comprise the blend, always a warning signand which in turn derive from molasses, and distilled in a pot still. According to the product notes on the website, it is neither chill-filtered or coloured (but still we wonders, precious, we wonders….). And that’s about all I can find online and in my scanty library, aside from the company bio, which is below.

Royal Danish Navy 2

The nose started out badly for me, and went downhill from there. The rum presented well, mind younice and dark, looked cool in the glassbut that nose. Ugh. Darkly sweet, redolent of peaches, dark sugar, prunes, more dark sugar, some chopped fruits, even more dark sugar. It was, in a nutshell, cloying. Even a few background notes of soggy, rotting wood and cooking sherry, black berries and jam couldn’t elevate the smell of this thing. To be fair, I note that some soy sauce and green olives made an appearance after a bit (a long bit), with perhaps a flowery note coming throughbut what good did that do? And, 55%? Where was the power and intensity this should have brought to the table?

Redemption was not to be found when tasting it, alas, even though I often found in the past that nose and palate can be strikingly differentbut not here. The rum was hot, thick, creamy, full bodied, syrupy, oversweet, cloying, bubble-gum-like, sticky, vanilla-laden. It was a dentist’s wet dream, a full out cavity attack, with all the strength and all potential flavours beaten into dull defeat and abject submission. What other flavours? Vanilla, more peaches, some molasses, a shade of carameland some grudging citrus that comes out when water is added. A short, lackluster finish, warm, tasting of treacle and blackberry jam, paradoxically thick and weak at the same time.

Perhaps it was made for innocent tourists hopping off a cruise ship rather than to attain a high standard in its own right, but there’s all sorts of things wrong with the rum. It is almost drowned in excess sugar, from which the 55% can’t save it, it displays little evidence of the complexity that ageing should have imparted, and I am convinced that some guy in the blending department kinda-sorta accidentally-on-purpose dropped his Mama’s fruit basket into the vat. Therum bioon the site is shoddy, and the reality of what it is versus how it’s hawked throws the entire rum into question. I am not going to say outright that the marketing plug on their website is out and out falsebut it is misleading to say the least, especially given that Johnny Drejer has already estimated 96 g/L of sugar in it (additives? what additives?).

So, in fine, the AH Riise Navy 55% is not a rum to buy. It wastes your money and your time, unless you are into liqueurs or want to cook with it, and I can’t even imagine what kind of cocktail you could use it in. I’m a lover of Navy rums and vibrant Jamaican/Guyanese profileshell, I enjoy strong inexpensive mixers like Pusser’s, the 151s, Young’s Old Sam, Woods 100, Cabot Tower 100 and many others. So I’ve had and enjoyed cheap and not-so-cheap navy rums that had size, staying power, massiveness and strengthbut this iteration? It has a nose of no attraction, and struggles with a flaccid palate reminiscent of a coked out John Holmes in his last days. It is, to be brutally frank, a limp dick.

(#244. 68/100)

AH Riise 2


Background

We haven’t seen this company before, so let me delve into the usual history..

First of all, it should be noted that Denmark did indeed have Caribbean colonies back in the daySt. John, St. Croix and St. Thomas, which are now the US Virgin Islands. The good ole US of A bought them for $25 million in gold back in 1917. Part of the reason for the sale was the high cost of sugar production after slavery was abolished following the 1848 Danish Revolutioncertainly mismanagement of the local economy didn’t help. The Skeoch family over in St. Croix and their Diamond Rum Company was doing okay (they would go on to create the Cruzan brand after the repeal of the Volstead Act), but St. Thomas and St. John were in dire straits.

Albert Heinrich Riise, a Danish pharmacist who got a Royal Decree allowing him to open a pharmacy on Charlotte Amallie on St. Thomas in 1838, had a thing for botany and pharmaceuticals (not the recreational kind), and early on created the Riise’s Bay Rum, which was not a rum at all, but a cologne, or after-shave or hair oil, with enough alcohol content to be used as a substitute by those so inclined. This proved to be so popular that by the 1880s (when Riise’s son-in-law had taken over) rums were part of the stable of the companyone even won a medal in 1893. In 1913, the Riise holdings were sold to Olaf Poulsen, a Copenhagen pharmacist, and in 1928 to the Paiewonsky-Cassinelli family, who own the company today. They are retailers and distributors more than rum makers and their website makes no mention of this sideline of their company at all (it’s on a separate website dedicated to just the rums). That alone might explain something.

Several other A.H. Riise rums exist. Maybe one day I’ll try them all to see how much they differ from this one. Hopefully a lot.


 

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.

 

 

 

May 032012
 

This review was posted first on RumConnection in two parts in May 2012. Thanks to Mike Streeter who lends his site to such occasional contributions that exceed his normal article length.

My own, slightly edited (and scored) review which corrected some minor issues and changed the wording a bit, is below. Suffice to say, this is one of those overproofs I really enjoyed. I tried it by itself to write the review, but it’s as a mixer and base that this strong, dark Demerara rum really shines.

It’s big, it’s bad, and it’s tougher than a Brickdam jailbird’s meat ration. It’s 75.5% of tonsil-tearing muscle, a dark brown rum hurricane, and among the meanest, strongest rums available anywhere. Lemon Hart 151 stomps up to you (and maybe over you), casts you a mean, cold-eyed glare, and mutters into your traumatized corpus, “Fear me. Respect me. Honour my eye-watering awesomeness.” In the annals of badassery, this rum will always be one of Sweet Sweetback’s baddest songs.

Overproof rums are a rather astonishing display of rum-on-human violence, and the only drinks I can come up with where participants run the risk of traumatic injury every time they try someto my knowledge, only industrial ethanol, Brazilian alcool, the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3%, St. Vincent’s Sunset Very Strong (84.5%), Marienburg 90 or Stroh 80 can claim higher alcohol levels. Yet they have their adherents (I am one of them). Yes, you can get drunk faster on ‘em, and yes, they make great cocktails, and yes, for those in penury how can they be beat? – but then they exist on a level beyond that, at a point in space and time where you find ultra-marathoners, HALO parachute jumpers and all those nutso A-types who actually enjoy taking a badass risk every time they try whatever it is they try. This rum is absolutely made for such people. Like any massively overproof rum, it is for the taster an equal mixture of pleasure and pain. Few are the surviving drinkers who do not bend a trembling knee after the fact in a showy, post-trauma, did-I-actually-drink-this? thank-you-Jesus-for-letting-me-live piety. Yet, is it bad for all that? I suggest not.

Coming at me, it sat on my table, dark, squat, ugly with brooding menace and the promise of violence in its dark brown-red stare. In trying it, I didn’t waste my time making nice or taking a sniff immediately, because overproofs usually have enough raw alcohol to stun an ox into catatonia; instead, I let the vapours burn off and the concentrated flavours settle. What I got for my trouble was the spirituous equivalent of a weaponized flatus on steroidsit certainly punched like it. Damn but this was strong. A shade muskier than I would have expected. Chopped fruitoh, prunes, maybe Christmas black cake. My Aunt Sheila used to make cake that smelled like that, back in Guyana.

In the spirit of reviewing rums, I must confess to a certain masochistic pride at being able to drink any rum, no matter how foul or how strong (I can just see one of my whisky loving bête noires snickering “Isn’t that all of them?). In this case, I’m glad I did, because the taste of the Lemon Hart isn’t half bad at all for such a hellishly potent overproof. Oh sure, it’s as raw as sandpaper on the palate, and I’d never tell you it was a sipper’s onanistic must-havebut there’s more taste there than you might expect, stronger, more intense. That’s what makes it work: I got a spicy molasses darkness mixed up with burnt brown sugar, bananas, licorice (again), baking spices, and just a sly hint of cinnamon. That last is reaching, though. Lemon Hart 151 is plain-simple, powerfully constructed and straightforward dy-no-mite, and I should not pretend it’s some kind of top end table tipple.

As for the finish, well, I run out of ways to describe it in flowery language, so, to be blunt: raw and harsh and had fumes like a porknocker’s searing effluentmade my eyes water, my throat cringe and my sphincter oscillate. To be fair, even through all that there were weak hints of brown sugar and cloves that cried to their mommies (the cask strength whiskies), as they attempted to emerge through the carving heat of the alcohol, so all was not lost. It’s a mixer for sure, yet surprises are in store for the persistent and slightly deranged who stick with it.

The base liquor for Lemon Hart 151 is made in Guyana (which immediately means DDL) and bottled by Canada’s Newfoundland Liquor Corporation, which also makes the Young’s Old Sam and the Cabot Tower 100 proof Demerara, both heavy, dark molasses-snorting rums that pride themselves in not catering to a connoisseur’s sophistication, and for both of which I have a sneaking affection. Previously Pernod-Ricard had owned the marque before selling it on to a privately held concern, Mosaiq, in 2010, and Lemon Hart does indeed have quite a pedigree….it was itself first marketed in 1804 by Mr. Lehmynn Hart as the rum of choice for Royal Navy when he created the Lemon Hart company in that year, having moved the business he started in the late 1700s from Cornwall to London. Whether they market it as such or not, in the darkness and strength of the current product, you can still see the whispers of that old maritime tradition. (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Pusser’s, Lamb’s, Favell’s, or Lemon Hart has the right to the crown of “Navy Rum”.)

I remarked once that overproof rums are getting to the stage that they can seriously be considered drinks in their own right as opposed to seeing them as only Tanti Merle’s black cake ingredients or mixologists’ wet dreams. Unfortunately, like single digit rums or popular blends, they labour under a cloud of perceptive disapproval, often thought of as no more than poor student’s tipples or backdam stand-bys for the bushmen I used to drink with in my youth. I mean, can you honestly see a guy who waxes rhapsodic over the English Harbour 25 year old buy one of these bad boys? Lemon Hart 151 for sure has little couth, zero class, laughs at complexity, and does not give a good goddamn about any of that (or your tonsils, so be warned). What it cares about is giving you a concentrated burst of simple, powerful flavours wrapped up in a sheet of such stunning white lightning that, when your DNA settles back from being devolved and you can speak coherently again, you actually can consider the rum as beingwellkinda good.

(#107. 79.5/100)


Other Notes

  • This is the reissued Lemon Hart 151 which only started to hit shelves in the last year or so and lacks the 1.5% Canadian rum the previous iteration hadit’s not the original rum people may be more familiar with, which did have that inclusion.
  • For additional details on the history and development of 151 overproof rums, this article provides all the background

 

Nov 232011
 

 

First posted 23rd November 2011 on Liquorature

A dark navy rum that starts slow and nasty and evolves into a most amazingly flavourful product, and which can even be tolerated by the masochistic as a drink to sip on its own.


Honesty forces me to confess that the only reason I bought this rum was because Keenan and I had had it in local pub on a wing night and we couldn’t believe what a powerful deep-tasting mixer it made. Seeing it the other day in a shop, I snapped it up, and I have to tell you, for less than $30, you could do worse than try this pretender to the Navy rum throne. Too bad The Bear had bailed for booze-regulated eastern climes by then. I comfort myself by snidely noting his pickings are now as slim as a frog hair split four ways and sanded smooth.

There is something uniquely and even amusingly provincial – nay, Canadian – about Potter’s. The label, which tongue in cheek informs you that if you are reading it, you probably aren’t on a tropical beach (try finding that on a product made in the US); the bottle; the unassuming nature of it all. Okay, enough snickering (yeah yeah, I can see you there in the front row, fella) – I know it has a chintzy kind of faux-70’s bottle design – much like the Alberta Premium – but how can one not help but smile at the sheer chutzpah of makers who can so insouciantly flip us all the bird?

In the glass, Potter’s is copper bronze, almost red (pretty cool, that), with middling thin legs hesitantly draining down the sides. Wafts of molasses and brown sugar were immediately in evidence even before I put my beak into it, and at that point I have to tell you flat out – the initial nose may be the single worst reek since the Bundie (or, for the generous among you, the most distinctive). Plastic, plasticine, playdo and sickly sweet grape esters leapt out at me and sought to crush my sense of smell with a mass attack – I felt like my nose just harpooned a steam locomotive. Molasses, burnt sugar and some vanilla tried vainly to get out from under that crushing stench, but were mercilessly clubbed to the ground.

So pretty bad, right?

Not at all. That’s the crazy thing. Potter’s opened up like a shy bodybuilder, and after the initial bludgeon relaxed, it was actually quite good – one kind of was able to pick out the individual scents (not without effort, admittedly), and while it’ll never be on my list of alltime favourites, it wasn’t all bad. Liquorice, molasses and burning canefields all coiled around the core smells of burnt sugar, and Potter’s made no attempt to be coy or complex – what you nosed was exactly what you got, and nothing more (contrast that against the Pusser’s 15, which had hidden treasures under them tights).

And tastewise, oh man – what the hell did Potters do here? The rum is stupid good – no cheapass rum should have such a strong delivery, be this bold, or this distinctive. Dark, smoky, heavy, like the best Navy rums, or el Dorado 5 yr old, better than Lamb’s Navy, or Coruba by a sea mile, and as good or better than Young’s Old Sam’s. I tasted liquorice, tobacco and molasses, heavy and smoky on the tongue, with leather, pipe tobacco and perhaps a touch of dried grapes (my six year old son The Little Caner took a sniff and disdainfully remarked “blue cheese” before walking off with his pocketmoney, but he has a point – there is some kind of well aged rindy cheese in there too). Dry and uncompromisingly sere, not too sweet (but not too much in the opposite direction either), and quite smooth for such a seemingly unaged product. And the fade is also good – dry, deep burn down your throat, not bitchy, just slow and powerful – it lacks the sophistication of the Pusser’s 15 yr old, but guys, it ain’t far off, and it costs less. In short, this rum is, in my opinion, an unheralded mid-ranger punching well above its seemingly low-class antecedents – it’s like an accountant who strips off his tie and becomes, oh, I dunno, Superman’s poor doofus cousin. About the only thing I wish I knew was whether they had added anything to enhance the flavour profile.

So who is Potters made by? By the same outfit that makes the utterly forgettable Momento rum I so dissed not too long ago – Highwood Distillers out of Alberta. I didn’t think that the Momento cut it, and said so, but thankfully I didn’t just dismiss the whole distillery out of hand. After tasting this rum, about which not much is said on their website (actually, they just reprinted the blurb on the label), I am happy to report that if they were to branch out into aged rums, perhaps, they might really have something going here. Certainly as navy rums go, I have some fault and much praise to find in the product, because it appeals to all my basic desires in a rum – I don’t have to filet the thing, dissect it into ten different components – it is a straightforward, strong and unapologetic product made for simpler times, and simpler people than we have become.

Now, all things considered, I think Potter’s has a shade too much sulphur and is a bit too feinty to be classed as a good sipper (don’t let that stop you if you’re of a mind – it ain’t half bad that way); something about that background muskiness and cloying nature of it puts me off. And even the label suggests it isn’t one, and I may be one of the few who can stomach it as such given the initial reek (it’ll batter most others into catatonia). As a mixer, though…wow. Rounds out a coke or ginger ale just fine. I could drink it with a cola or as a cocktail base all night long, and all I could think of as I tasted it that night, was that I wish my friend had been with me, and that he hadn’t left to take up a job elsewhere. This rum was made for a guy like him, and in fact, it was a rum like him – outwardly simple, deceptively unpretentious, effective, unforgettable, humorous, powerful and the best essence of all that is north of forty nine.

(#087. 76/100)


Other Notes

  • Potter’s Distillery was founded by Ernie Potter in 1958, and originally only bottled and sold liqueurs, but over the years expanded into spirits. In 1962, Captain Harold John Cameron Terry (Captain Terry) – who started his career at 14 as an Australian seaman – acquired Potter’s Distillers. He took the company public in 1967 and was its CEO for 20 years. In 1990, production was moved from Langley to Kelowna, British Columbia where it remained until 2006. In November 2005, Highwood Distillers purchased Potter’s Distillers and folded it into its umbrella of brands.
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)

Jun 222010
 

First posted 22 June 2010 on Liquorature.

The spice must flow,” said the Padishah Emperor in Dune. I agree, because I do love my cheap-ass spiced rums. My sweet tooth and plebian background make having a rum with no stratospheric price or ostentatious pedigree such a pleasant experience, truly. And I could tell, that day when I trotted out the Renegade 1991 for my Newfie squaddie (who snatched it happily out of my hand with a speed his corpulent frame does not begin to hint at), that even if I was a snob with pretensions to the peasantry, he had more grandiose notions of what kind of rum he liked to drink (or deserved to be poured).

Which is not to say Lamb’s is a bad rum, or even particularly limited in quality. Alfred Lamb, who started making this dark rum from West Indian raw stock in 1849 in Londonhis factory was bombed out during the London Blitz and subsequently rebuiltsimply added spices, aged it in cellars below the Thames (hence the original title of London Dock Rum) and made pretensions to the Royal Navy cachet by stating his product was made with that recipe. Pusser’s did the same, as readers of that review may recall. In the years since, Lamb’s has become more of a tipple than a refined drink, and notto my knowledge anywayany kind of top tier rum; though I know a few who swear by its 151 proof offering. One can find it pretty much anywhere in Calgary for under thirty bucks.

When I’m drinking with a good friend, I like a good grog, but the point is not the drink but the conversation that the drink enables. Of course, if the conversation is about the drink, that’s another matter (for example, the higher priced stuff which I like company to taste with) – but for the most part, when I talk I just like a good little mixer on hand, and this is why SDRs (single digit rums) are always goodone never worries about how much money is being pissed away, only what a good time you’re having with it.

The rum is dark reddish in colour and has a very decent, almost heavy body. Lamb’s is a blend of rums from all over the Caribbean (up to 18, or so my research suggests), and has a virulent nose that I should warn you against taking a deep sniff of, if you don’t want to go crying to your mommy about how the bad rum bottle biffed you on the hooter. The spirit burn on the nose fades fast and leaves the brave and persevering soul with an overwhelming sniff of caramel, with vanilla and cherry undertones. The spices are harder to pick outnutmeg and licorice come through at the tail end. The taste is strong with the spice, and the spirit burn from those nose hasn’t gone anywhere, just grabs you by the throat and holds onyet it can be tolerated and even adjusted to (as I did), at which point it transmutes into a sweet and caramelized almost-sipper that I quite enjoyed. The finish is hard to gauge because you’re being assaulted by the admittedly harsh spirit burn, which lasts long after the taste has vanished. Lamb’s is about as subtle as a charging brontosaurus, really.

I’ll concede that the rum is better as a mixer, but I would caution against coke or (god forbid) pepsi. Some kind of cola with a little less sugar would probably enhance it better, otherwise you get a syrupy mess that you either like or toss away. For the record, I had only coke on hand so that was what I used, but as I got drunker that evening in Keenan’s house, I found that it got progressively better over ice. Maybe that was my throat being sanded away, or something.

In summary, I liked its simplicity and taste, even as I acknowledge how devoid it is of real complexitya connoisseur would probably never buy one of these except as a reference point. If I were to wax metaphorical, I’d say Lamb’s is the country sweetheart with a heart of gold, the one who can rope a steer or take apart a John Deere tractor, who’s on the square-dance floor at Ranchman’s giving you the eye, who you really can’t go wrong with if you don’t expect too much, treat her right and don’t tread on her toes. Perhaps give her a kiss when the night is over.

That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure as hell is mine.

(#026)(Unscored)

Feb 252010
 

Photo (c) up-spirits.com

First posted 25 February 2010 on Liquorature.

(#012)(Unscored)

***

There’s surprisingly little hard information about Pusser’sNelson’s BloodNavy Rum aside from the bare bones history and some folklore about the rum itself. For example, the bottle I bought said nothing about the age, nor did any catalogue or webpage discuss it at length except to refer to its origins. And when, as noted before, there is a scarcity of expert salespeople to discuss your selection with, well, I guess I had to take a flier and buy it based on rarityI had never seen it beforeand how much it cost. This is one of those odd times when I bought a smaller bottle simply because I didn’t know enough to make a determination of quality. The 1L bottle went at $95 and I decided to go for the 200mL at one fifth the price.

Pusser’sthe company hails from the British Virgin Islandsstakes its claim to fame on the fact that they are the inheritors of the Royal Navy tradition (this tradition is an essay all by itself and would include snippets on wets, sips, gulps and tots, grog, the scuttle butt, how rum was served to sailors and why, and how the traditon changed and was then abandoned…fascinating stuff). According to them, they use the same methods and ingredients and distil to the same strength, as the Royal Navy did for some three centuries (until the practice was abandoned in 1970). Pusser’s bought the original recipes and wooden pot-stills from the Navy in 1979 and have an extremely limited range; they seek to distinguish themselves by sticking with the old Navy method of not adding anything to the final distillation (like caramel, sugar, or other flavouring agents). This enhances the intense flavours imparted by the wooden pot-stills, which are hundreds of years old…but has the downside of making the rum less sweet, which makes mixing it a must for some.

The rum I bought, the Blue LabelNelson’s Bloodis a slightly stronger-than-standard rum at 47.5% and as I said, I have absolutely no idea how old it is, though their slightly stronger (54%) and more expensive relative is fifteen years old, so I hazard a guess based on tasting and what little experience I have, that this one may be around eight. Now further research says that the rum I had is a blend of various aged rums, matured in used whiskey or bourbon barrels, but this would fly in the face of what Pusser’s themselves claim: all concede, however, that this about as close to standard Royal Navy rumthe way it used to beas you are likely to get in this day and age.

Is it any good for the price? Well, yes. The nose is fairly pungent of the molasses used in its making (and all the sugar hints underneath that), but the practice of adding just about nothing to the mix makes it a stronger, more spirit-laden nose than one might expect. It’s smooth over icea bit too harsh neat, I thinkwith a shade of bite on the way down: though at 47% ABV that isn’t surprising. It lacks the richness of flavour and texture on the tongue of a better Mount Gay or Appleton 12, and this may come from the claimed lack of additives: but the thing is, there are flavours of vanilla and nutmeg to be found, and if the blenders add nothing and use the same centuries-old pot stills the Navy used, then it must be coming from generations of stills themselves. An interesting notion. The finish is medium long and of middling bite. Nothing special there, unfortunately

In summary, it’s a good sipping rum for sure, but not really sweet enough for my tasteI have a feeling whiskey lovers are going to appreciate it more than I would. I absolutely concede that for smoothness and intriguing, original taste (with or without an additive of one’s own), it deserves a place on anyone’s shelf, but if the price of a standard bottle is a bit steep, the 200ml peewee pictured above should do you just fine until you make up your own mind.

NB: “Pusseris a bastardization of the wordPurser”, a position on ships akin to a quartermaster in the army. It was the Purser in the Royal Navy who was responsible for acquisition and distribution of the good stuff.