May 262012

A better than expected, overproof: smoother, tastier, more engaging.  Should be tried neat before you bastardize it with a mix, ’cause it may just surprise you too.

Yeah. Smell that sucker. That whap you feel in your schnozz is a hundred proof hitting you in da face. This is a rum which indulges in a level of unapologetic phallocentrism that would make Ron Jeremy weep with envy This is what they would serve in Buxton’s Tipperary Hall to my squaddies Biggers and Evan, if they could ever get it. I mean, a hundred proof, wow – sure, his is a rum that only now approaches where cask strength whiskies have been for years, but I can tell you, somewhere out there a tractor is feeling inadequate.

Cabot Tower Demerara Rum, made by the Newfoundland & Labrador Liquor Corporation (who I believe are also behind the Young’s Old Sam, Lemon Hart 151 and a few other bottom feeders I enjoy) is named after a tower in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, situated on Signal Hill (from where Marconi received the first wireless signal from Cornwall, back in 1901). Construction of tower begun in 1898 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland, and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  The rum itself uses Demerara rum (age and still, alas, unknown) imported from Guyana, blesses it with druids and then distils it to a yummy cask strength 57.5%. That to many would make it an instant mixing agent, I suppose, but I’ve been on a bit of a cask strength and overproof kick for a while, so indulge me while I urge you to take a second taste.

Nose? Well, it’s certainly more enjoyable than many of the 151 overproofs I review, and the case could be made that when it comes to man-sized rums this one is right up there. Deep, heavy and powerful, yet lacking in serious bite and sting…quite mellow in its own way, hinting of burnt sugar, molasses, caramel, honey, vanilla, with perhaps some chocolate at the back end: and an odd mustiness, like truffles Soft and sweet…not at all the vicious claws one would expect from something this (relatively) strong.

Claws there were indeed, of course, once I actually sipped this bad boy. The body on the Cabot Tower was like an agile baby hippo…heavy, spirited and playful, and also cleaner and clearer than the dark colour and heavy nose might lead you to expect. Dry, a shade sere and not that sweet after all: the vanilla and chocolate take a back seat and I simply noted a spicy sort of brown sugar with some oak making itself felt as well. The fade was excellent, mind, as a result of the extra alcohol (and some nice zesty licorice notes), and I must tell you, after stuffing myself at a neighborhood restaurant that evening, this rum carved its way down and was an excellent way to aid my digestion. Damn right you can drink it neat. It really is a pretty good rum in and of itself.

People kind enough to read past reviews posted here know of my sneaking admiration for the Newfie products, and that’s not just because one of my best friends hails from there: Young’s Old Sam and Newfoundland Screech both received nice reviews from me, irrespective of their relatively lacking pedigree (a St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old they are not). I just wish I could find out more about it, because even the NLLC website says nothing about methods of distillation, age or blending, let alone what barrels, if any, they were aged in (sure I can say American whisky barrels, because aren’t they always? …but that just seems like a cheat somehow). Kind of annoying.

Summing up, I liked Cabot Cove rum.  A lot. It somehow managed to overcome the cask strength curse that too often attends overproofs where the only thing you feel is bite, and came up with an impressive marriage of puissance and profile (I wanted to use the word “puissance” just once in my writing, so here you are). I spent almost half my life in the Caribbean, and some of my love for dark rums comes from that experience. Sipping this thoroughly cheerful dark red rum which makes no apologies for being what it is and succeeds beyond expectations, all I can say in my own uninspired way is God bless Newfoundland, praise Jah for rums…and thank the Good Lord for Guyana.

(#109. 78/100)

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 some — to 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 steroids – it certainly punched like it. Damn but this was strong. A shade muskier than I would have expected. Chopped fruit…oh, 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-have…but 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 effluent…made 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 being…well…kinda 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 had…it’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


May 312010


Picture courtesy of Chip Dykstra, TheRumHowlerBlog

First posted 31 May 2010 on Liquorature.

All humour and snide Newfie jokes aside, Screech is a thoroughly rock solid rum: not brilliant at any one thing, it is simply good at everything without shining anywhere.  Odd, but if you’re after something that just goes ahead and does what it does, here’s the one for you.

One has to smile when seeing a name as evocative as Screech. It has all these connotations of pain about it, mixed up with the Newfie seafaring heritage and their backwoods image so beloved of Canadian humourists: and so one’s imagination goes riot as the tipple of Newfoundland comes on the table for a taste.  Will it be a mess of agony as it sears one’s defenseless throat?  Will it be redolent of paint thinner, drano and various vile poisons meant to lure the unwary to their doom? One of those harsh hooches originally made on small wooden pot stills by somebody’s Uncle Seamus and not to be sampled by the unwise?

Screech has been so panned over the years, so made into an object of humour, that it’s quality (or lack thereof) have been made the butt of jokes, as opposed to being evaluated on its own merits.  Being a peasant myself and having grown up on low class paint remover and equally vile smokes made from kongapump leaves (don’t ask…but just whisper it to any Guyanese and he will nod wisely), I happily suffer from none of these hangups, and am perfectly prepared to sample this Single Digit Rum as one more interesting drink on my liquid road to nirvana. And I’d be lying if I wasn’t at least a little intrigued by something with so memorable a title.

Originally, Newfoundland hooch was not called that, or anything at all…it was just 18th and 19th century backwoods booze gleaned from the sticky leavings from the insides of molasses or rum barrels that had come through Newfie harbours from the West Indian trade.  It was melted out of the barrels with boiling water and then distilled in homemade stills to produce a hellishly strong rotgut akin the Brazilian alcool, or South African Cape Smoke, and as likely to make you go blind as anything else.  I worked in Labrador a few years ago, and the stories I heard suggested one can still buy its modern (and equally vile) descendants under the table in a few more rural areas.

The story goes that some poor sap from south of 49 took a hefty shot of the stuff while stationed on The Rock during the forties, and, seeing a Newfie toss it back (as any real man should), followed suit: apparently his howl of pain and misery (accompanied by a most interesting purplish colour change to the face) echoed for miles, brought his detachment in on the run, and they demanded to know what the hell that ungodly screech had been.  The Newfie (I like to think he bears a suspicious resemblance to the Bear) raised an eyebrow, blinked mild eyes, and said “The screech? That be the rum, boyo.”

Anyway, the stuff I was tasting is a more refined variant, based on blending of real rum stock imported to Newfoundland from Jamaica.  It’s a two year old distillate of molasses that gets aged in used whiskey or bourbon barrels, isn’t spiced or dandified like a tart’s handkerchief, and doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is: a young rum, happy to be brazen, rough and a bit uncouth, showing off its spankin’ new sailor’s wellies.

Okay, so enough anecdotal nonsense.  Is it any good?

I thought it was. Oh, it kicks like a St. John’s fishwife on a bad hair day, no doubt; it’s not subtle, but bold and assertive and sports a hefty pair of biceps, together with a deep spirit-y nose redolent of molasses and caramel and not much else. It might make the eyes of the unwary water, the way any young brew does (the Coruba is another good example of a rum that does this). It has medium legs and a darkish copper-red, medium-dark colour and body…and it is just on the right side of enough sweet for me: not as spicy or caramelized as the Captain Morgan Private Stock, and not as whiskey-like as the Renegades. Quite a decent flavour profile, with some hints of fruit I couldn’t quite pick out…and maple, I think. A short and searing finish alleviated by…what else?  Another shot.

It’s at this point I should make remarks on what I smell and taste and what have you, but that’s just a waste of time with something so elemental. And being that way, I won’t make any more comments about nose and palate and finish (all are a bit raw, though by no means as harsh as some others I’ve tried) since my experience suggests the terms are overused in a product that is made to be drunk by people with no time to waste on frippery. My more dramatic side suggests that the dour nature of The Rock carried over into the character of its rum, and I liked that just fine.  I took it neat but preferred it with ice, and with cola it goes down very nicely indeed.

In summary then.  Screech is a decent mixer and can be had with colas or other mixin’s with nae problems (make a Scrape for yersel’ if ye want).  But the truth is that only wussies mix it up: real Newfies (or their wannabes) put hair on their chests and weight between their legs by drinking it the way it was meant to be had, which is to say, neat.

And if you be screamin’ yer lungs out after imbibin’, well, me son, it just be the Screech.

(Oh, and forget the cod: that be for tourists only.)



Feb 252010

First posted 25th February 2010 on Liquorature;


Young, rambunctious and strong of nose and taste.  It is the epitome of a low ranking Demerara rum, with powerful scents and tastes lacking in anything remotely resembling complexity: and yet, I really kinda like it.  Perhaps because it’s a simple creation of such primary flavours.  It’s not meant for taking neat, but as a mixer? Yummo.


The bottle of Old Sam I tasted is a “single digit rum” whose ingredients come from the Old Country, where the primary distillation takes place in DDLs facilities — these are the gentlemen who make the excllent El Dorado 21 year old also reviewed on this site —  but is matured and blended in Newfoundland.  There it is made by the same company responsible for making Screech, the much-loved, equally-derided traditional Newfie tipple –  also deriving from a Caribbean raw stock –  and which I have to check out one of these days.

The history of the rum revolves around parts of the old “Triangular Trade” (from Europe with trade goods, to Africa for slaves, over to the West Indies for sale of slaves and goods and loading of fruit, fish, sugar and rum, and then back to Europe – over time stops in North America were added).  Howard Young and Company introduced Old Sam to England in 1797 – why they would ship it to Newfoundland for blending is a mystery, since rum was already being made in commerical quantities in the Caribbean at that time: perhaps it was because back then, Guiana was vacillating between being a Dutch colony and an  English one, and often used as a bargaining chip in the wars of the time between these two powers.

Old Sam is a Demerara Rum, dark and rich, redolent of molasses and bunt sugar. It is aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, and then blended with various other 12-year old rums. “Navy” rum is a much bandied-about term — Pusser’s, Lamb’s, Screech and Old Sam all like to make claims to the title, but this low end stuff is nowhere near the much better, smoother Pusser’s, and even the Old Sam website recommends it as a mixer, or a base for cocktails and food requiring a rum ingredient.

Having said that, I have to say that the nose, while sharp, is rich, and develops good hints of caramel, brown sugar – a lot of brown sugar – and a shade of fruity vanilla.  Nothing out of the ordinary, and being relatively young, is not particularly smooth.  Note that I still get all pissy when rums don’t mention their age even if it’s two years old or something, since to me, age and price and word of mouth are the three pieces that go together in assessing whether to buy a rum or not. For this one I have one out of three – price, and since that is quite low (about $22), and since I’ve never heard of this one mentioned, or lauded, it seems reasonable to suppose it’s a young ‘un, not particularly special, and indeed, the tasting pretty much confirmed that. Harsh on the way down, has a burn and kick that would make a smarter man swear off low-end rums for good, and not much of a finish.  About par for a low end rum – it’s definitely not for sipping. As a mixer, it’s pretty good, but not everyone will enjoy that very rich burnt sugar and molasses taste.

Rereading this, it sure looks like I am dissing the rum. That’s unintentional, and perhaps results from me treating it like an upscale sipper, and judging it that way. So let me be clear: it’s disappointing as a sipping spirit….but in a mix, it’s excellent. Brown sugar, molasses, caramel, vanilla and coke.  Fine, just fine.  It kind of proves the point that you don’t have to have a premium sipper to enjoy a rum. Unsuspected riches exist for the diligent trawler and tireless taster, and if you’re into deep, dark Demerara rums, you can do worse than this unpretentious product. Personally, I’ll keep searching for better, knowing that another rum equivalent of Cibola is probably waiting for me out there, somewhere…but that doesn’t mean I don’t like this one.

Update June 2020

  • Over the years my liking for Old Sam’s has remained steadfast, and these days I’d probably score it around 80-82. My personal opinion is that it is a large proportion PM distillate, though this has never been confirmed. With DDL no longer exporting bulk “heritage still” rums, it’s possible that Young’s Old Sam may be forced to change its blend in years to come.
  • Who Old Sam actually was is a subject of some conjecture, brought to a head with the BLM movement in the last years, because to some the drawing of the man  on the label is that of a black man, implying a product being sold that implicitly glorifies slavery.  Others dispute that interpretation of the picture, saying it’s of Mr. Young himself.