Mar 292024
 

It’s not often that a rum aged just a few years that remains in development is as good or better than its own unaged white predecessor, but somehow, Retribution from the UK has done a fair dinkum job of it. Their white rum was unpretentious, eager to please and a decent drink that did not try to rearrange your innards (as so many feral whites try to do), and I quite liked it. Its slightly aged cousin is just a smidgen better, and it still isn’t finished or in open release yet.

Retribution is a small distillery in Frome (a town in Somerset county, in the south west of the UK) that was started relatively recently in 2019, by a brewer named Richard Lock, who wanted to go beyond the suds he had been making to that point. Something of an auto-didact, he took courses in brewing and distilling at the Herriot-Watt University, and eventually switched over to a distilling operation. He then proceeded to issue a gin as his first product before branching out to whisky and rum. The latter (as of 2024) sports three editions: the white, a spiced and a-still-in-the-barrel aged rum, all made in relatively small quantities for nowit is this last we’re looking at today.

Technical details are the same as for the white rum: the molasses based wash is fermented between one and two weeks using a French sparkling wine yeast; double distillation through the two pot stillsfirst the one named “Big” (recent acquisition, 1800L) for the stripping run, and then a spirit run through “Little” (400L) — which results in an 80% ABV distillate that was then put to age in ex bourbon barrels in 2021, and diluted down to 44% for a sample exhibit. No additives, or other mucking about, of course, that goes without saying.

Even with the knowledge that this was a work in progress at the time it was tried, I think it was and remains a pretty nifty product. The nose had a nice, crisp citrus-y tang to it, which went well with hot pastries, caramel and vanilla. Oh but it doesn’t stop there: brine, olive oil, steamed cabbages and crisp tom yum soup notes proliferate, before swiftly receding, to be replaced by a more fruity and balanced profilecherries, mangoes, ripe applessome 7-up, cloves and greek yoghurt. Not too shabby for something this young and one can only wonder what it would be like were it stronger.

The ABV is more of an issue on the palate, where many rums with good aromas falter. For now, what is tasted is pretty good: the citrus through-line remains, showcasing lemongrass, lime leaves and zest; it is accompanied by unsweetened laban, olive oil, a light briny touch and black rye bread with sour cream and salt (a weird combo, I’ll grant you). Coriander, coconut milk, sour and hot vegetable soup, bitter strong chocolate, toffee, some herbs and soya complete the profile for me, and the finish pretty much sums up everything rather quickly before disappearing.

This is a rum that was brought to the 2023 TWE Rum Show in London for evaluation, and Richard gave me some to try as I was perambulating for two days straight in the most exciting room in the joint.1 I thought it was really quite something, and while it clearly needed some more time to come to a better fruition, even as it was there was little to complain about (Alex Sandhu, in his excellent bio of the company, made a similar point in his review of the still strength sample). The rum will be issued formally in mid 2024 as part of a subscription-based Rum Club release Cask #001, and I hope that it sells well and makes it possible for there to be others of higher and age and even better quality, to come. This one is a really good start.

(#1066)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

 


Other notes

  • The question is, why review something not on the market? Whatever comes out the other end in 2024 will surely be different since it’s had another year (at least) of ageing. But it’s actually not the first time I’ve done this: Helios’s Teeda 21 YO Japanese rum was based on an unreleased sample, and so was Mia’s 2018 rum from Vietnam, and there are a few others. I think there are simply some cases where a little pre-release hype and banging of the drum is justified and that’s especially so for micro-distilleries.
  • The logo of the company references the owner’s maritime background and the ship-in-a-bottle models.
Mar 242024
 

For a distillery with a name as ominous as Retribution, the owner and distiller or record is actually a fairly genial, easy going gent, who gives off vibes of an avuncular uncle who retires after a hard day’s work wherever, to his cottage in the countryside, where the faithful hound fetches his slippers. Or so the story teller in me supposes.

The man behind the company is Richard Lock, who incorporated the micro distillery in 2019 after deciding to go beyond the beers he had been making to that point. His first product was a gin, released in February 2020, with the first rum following a year later and…well, I’d tell you more, but Alex Sandhu of the Rum Barrel has done such a sterling job of biographing Retribution and Mr. Lock, on a physical visit to the distillery, that it would be taking away from his work, and so I provide the link to his company profile for the curious. It’s too bad we don’t get more of these.

In brief, the production notes are as follows: fermentation of the molasses wash is between one and two weeks using a French sparkling wine yeast; and then run through both pot stills (humorously named “Big” and “Little”) which results in an 80% ABV white corker that is then diluted down to a shade above living room strength, 44%. No additives, or other mucking about, which has become almost a badge of honour with these newly established micros, and very welcome.

So let’s get right to it, beginning with the nose. Sweet sugar water, unaggressive but aromatic watermelon and papaya, green apples, grapes, green pears from a can and a general mild vibe that suits the owner quite well. The aromas take some time to come together, and finally open up into mild fruits, strawberry jam, white chocolate, and some tart creamy notes, firm without ever being overbearing. In short, it smells pretty good.

Tastewise it’s also quite a bit more restrained than the rutting white ester stallions of yore which have blotted these pages (well…this website at any rate) and made themselves known. The rum presents as dry and fruit forward, with strawberries, green apples, grapes and some more jam (so the nose, in taste form if one wishes to be accurate), plus some pears, melons, peas and a very faint note of wet earth and vegetables which carries on to an easy finish.

Trying to analyse this and nail down the profile, I want to just say that for an unaged rum it’s really quite fine. A lot of pleasant aromas came out of those pot stills, more than is apparent at first blush, yet nothing too barbaric or strange; and it’s distinguished by having little of that aggressive in-your-face stuff, just some edge, good taste and a mild eagerness to please. That works here in a way that with others, doesn’t always.

Retribution has to some extent been overshadowed by the more hi-falutin’ aggressive fast-moving micro distilleries run by young social-media-savvy entrepreneurs who have received more attention and loom somewhat larger in people’s minds. If you’re thinking of the New Brits and their UK distilleries, Retribution is likely not the first to spring to mind. But my advice is not to count out this little outfit just yet. Pot-still, unaged white rums are still not all that common, most are fierce little brawlersso there’s space for something more restrained like this one.

It takes gumption and grit to start a distillery of any size in Europe or the UK. It takes skill to make a good low cost, unaged, white rum right out of the gate, And it takes a rare kind of courage to keep at it without the benefit of the cool social media press, even when stuck in a small corner of a big festival, overlooked by many. This is a company we should pay more attention to when festival season comes rolling around this yearbecause its rums are nothing to sneeze at. Especially this one.

(#1065)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Mar 202024
 

We’ve heard of both Iridium and Mount Uncle Distillery before: there’s a five year old of that brand that was part of the 2021 advent calendar, and while I didn’t care overmuch for it, I did comment that at a higher strength might make it a better drink. The companywhich spun off the rum making business into a separate little outfit called FNQ Rum Companyclearly knew that already, because with this one they amped up the age to 10 years, jacked the strength to 47% and then probably thinking something else was required, aged it in red wine hogsheads for ten years before giving it a last six-month finish in agave casks left over from whatever they were doing with tequilas that year. All this from a cane-syrup seven-day-fermented wash run through their Arnold Holstein 500L pot still.

All that is pretty nice and conforms to some extent to the 5YO as well: but with that rum, one of the issues I ran into was that it didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be: an aged agricole style rum or one more in tune with the broader profiles of the rum world based on molasses. The Iridium X, fortunately for us, navigates quite well between either one and becomes a decent rum by any standard

Take a sniff and you’ll see what I mean: pineapple tarts and cheesecake get together to tango with yoghurt and sour cream andif you can believe itripe tomatoes. There’s a nice, crisp throughline mixing citrus, pineapples, sweetened red grapefruit juice, bitter chocolate, and the dry dustiness of the warm air coming off of vents that have not been used for some time. Oddly, there’s not a whole lot of brine and heavy agave notes here coming from the casks, though I imagine for those more in tune with this spirit, some could be found.

Palate is a more settled experience, and becomes a clean and relaxed version of the nose. It’s rather tart and piquant, coating the mouth well, and there’s the same yoghurt, honey and citrus axis around which perambulates the lesser notes: these are mostly gingerbread cookies, unsweetened chocolate, olives (red ones) and some brine. If one hangs around and waits a bit, there are also hints of apple cider, figs and some licorice leavened with some toasted marshmallows, but that’s pretty much it. Finish is nice enoughmedium, aromatic, like a sweet balsamic vinegar sprinkled on a grape and tomato forward salad.

Did I like it? Yes indeed, quite a bit more than the 5YO. The complexity is more present and accounted for, and there’s a lot to unpack at one’s leisure. The parts are well assembled without coming to blows over their differences, and overall it’s as solid a ten year old rum as could come out of any of the usual major regions with which we are more familiar. It’s perhaps no accident that the Boutique-y Rum Company took a 12YO Mt. Uncle to be one of its first Australian releases in 2023 that wasn’t Beenleigh. I haven’t tasted it but if it’s anything like this one it’s sure worth our attentions.

(#1064)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 15.
  • The FNQ website is remarkably short on details historical or technical. Much of the background is from my original research on the Iridium 5YO, which is worth reading in its entirety, as I’ve summarised a lot here.
  • No idea what the significance of the “Iridium” title is. I’ve sent a message along to ask.
  • Mt. Uncle is one of the most northerly distilleries in Australia. Devil’s Thumb (also in QLD) and the Hoochery (in WA) are further north, but not by much.
  • There’s a story that the 10YO is from two lost barrels of the Iridium 5, which is also repeated on the Mt. Uncle website.
  • Although it’s marketed as a limited edition, the exact outturn is unknown. The initial release was 2020 and apparently sufficient stock remains to provide an advent calendar in 2023.
Mar 152024
 

In the previous review I remarked that the slightly aged añejo from the relatively new San Juan Artisan Distillers in Puerto Rico, did not impress me very much. This was in spite of the fact that on paper they looked like they had all the plant, equipment, and resources they needed to make something better. A fair number of online comments supported this view: most thought it was a barrel thing, although I did get one remark that resonated, stating (paraphrased) that it’s not a good idea to assume that the physical pieces alone are what make the product great or stand above the hoi polloi. That aside, I closed with the observation that with what they had under the hood and bringing to the table, it was unlikely they could stay in the kiddie pool for long.

This white rum, bottled at the same strength, proves that point nicely and demonstrates yet againas if it needed to bethat unaged white rum really is in a class by itself and should never be shrugged off just because it looks the same as the filtered white bar staple that gives the “category” a bad name. The production stats aren’t significantly different from the añejo: it’s cane juice derived, fermented for a few days (as best as I can ascertainthis is subject to verification) then double distilled in the charentais pot stills. No ageing.

From that almost stereotypical agricole-style beginning comes a very nice rum indeed, with a pungent, salty, sweaty, earthy, loamy nose. It smells of grit and damp potter’s soil, and behind that lurks a sort of vague funky aspect that suggests a low-end congener count, like, oh the LFCH or OWH from Hampden, or WPL from Worthy Park. Some nice fruity notes attend, like tangerines, strawberries, bubble gum, mint…that kind of thing. But it’s very low key and in no way aggressivethe 43% ABV it pulls in with mitigates against any kind of harsh or stinging profile.

The palate corrects some of that is missing when you smell it, most particularly the grassy and herbal notes the nose didn’t seem to want to fork out. The taste provides a sweet, firm, green and grassy profile, with a touch of tart unripe pears and soursop, some yoghurt and even a little aggressive (in a good way). In my mind I genuinely see some rums with colours when tastedthis one would be white and green (channelling Slytherin or something, who knows?), and can be summarised by saying it’s like an addled 7-up with some added mojo. The finish is short but quite solid and fruity, with brine and olive oil and I swear there was a pimento lurking behind there someplace, sensed but never actually confirmed.

Altogether, then, a really solid white rum of the kind I prefer. It must be mentioned that drinking the anejo and the blanco side by side is a useful exercise and it shows how treatment and ageingtransformation, if you willdoesn’t always make for a better rum (I know, I know, this from a guy who loves rums aged four decades and over). It also demonstrates how white and unaged rums without the filtration and bleaching that so infantilizes Bacardi and Lambs and their ilk have no analogue in the whisky world, but are almost unique to rums, and should be given more serious attention.

This blanco is one of the better whites out there, and redeems my initial opinion of the distillery, which I originally felt was channelling just another Latin style rum with the twist of being from cane juice but without any of the flair. The blanco, however, is pretty damned fine: it has taste, it has aromas, it has character, and I kid you not when I say that it was one of the best things on the table the day I had it. Hopefully the distillery makes more like it, and stronger.

(#1063)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Once again, my deep appreciation to Jazz and Indy Anand of Skylark in London. Hanging out at their place to talk and check out rums is always a high point of any trip I make to the UK.
  • A brief company bio can be found below the añejo review.
Mar 102024
 

The stats by themselves are enough to make a committed rum geek shed a happy tear. It’s from a new distillery in the Caribbean, committed to making artisanal rum from sugar cane it grows itself. It’s pot still distillation: and not just any pot stills, but the charentais cognac stills that Moet Hennesy sold after abandoning their grandiose project to make rums in Trinidad with the aborted Ten Cane brand. Cane juice agricole style rums. Ageing in ex Bourbon casks for between two and three years. 43% ABV, so more than standard proof. No additives. I mean, you read all that, and how can you not be enthused? This is the horse on which French islands and Asian micro-distilleries have ridden to fame and fortune.

And yet, San Juan Artisanal’s Ron Pepón Añejo, Puerto Rico’s first agricole style cane juice rum, is somewhat of a letdown, presenting a lacklustre sort of profile that’s too shy to appeal to the geek squad, not distinctive enough to make it with the cocktail crowd and a hard sell to the majority of drinkers who have quite different ideas as to how both an agricola or a Latin style rum should taste. At best one can say it’s a decent enough starter-kit rum for those who want to dip their toes into cane juice rum (or ron) waters without being challenged by something as off the reservation as, oh, the Sajous. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement

Consider the profile: the nose opens with vanilla, some watery but piquant fruits (pears, watermelon, overripe Thai mangoes), plus unsweetened yoghurt, some salt and pepper. One can discern dates, some figs and a faint metallic iodine and herbal tincture, but let’s be honest, it’s slim pickings to smell. The aromas are faint and very light, lacking some of the crisp assertiveness of an unaged agricole while not being aged enough to get any kind of real boost from the barrels.

This same issue is more noticeable when sipped. There really is not a whole lot going on here, even after one senses vanilla, cinnamon, bitter coffee grounds, mixed in with brine, olives, some iodine, figs and sweet smoky paprika. It’s not that there isn’t something there, it’s just too subtle to make a statement fort itself, and the finish is just disappointing, even if it does lead to a slightly more vegetal, sweet and vanilla lading close. It’s too short and too light, like Bacardis from the old days, which revelled in their anonymity as if it were a badge of honour.

It gives me no real pleasure to mark down a rum made by a bunch of people who work with passion, created a distillery from scratch, and seem to have really tried to come up with something new and interesting (see bio below). And I’m not the only one: a couple of years back LifoAccountant’s observations on the /r/rum subreddit bemoaned several of the same points I do here, and he gave it a rather sub-par 4/10. Almost no other non-marketing reviews exist, so of course there may be others who take the opposite view, that the rum is excellent, and I completely respect that. I just haven’t found any.

Anyway: for now, for me, it’s not good enough to shower it with encomiums. If it’s any consolation, I think any small new distillery that has such interesting equipment and source material and desire to go places, can’t help but succeed in the long term…and so I would chalk this one up to them still finding their rum legs. Because I don’t think they’ll stay in the kiddie pool for longthere’s too much going for them, for me to define or dismiss the entire brand because of one lone rum in their stable for which I didn’t care overmuch.

(#1062)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Company Bio

San Juan Artisan Distillers is one of the new wave of Puerto Rican companies that seeks to muscle in on the long held territory of the mastodons of that island’s rum scene: Bacardi and Serralles. And while others have mostly gone from rum drinking to starting a distillery, a far more economic rationale was the inception of Pepe Álvarez’s projecthis landscape and grass business went belly up when the recession of 2008 hit, coupled with US tax incentives for establishing businesses in PR expiring.

Since he was clearly too young to retire, Álvarez looked around and realized that his experience with grass and a 14 acre farm that had been acquired in 1991 which had grown to about 70 acres by now, offered an opportunity to bootstrap both into something unique to the island: rum made directly from sugar cane juice, not molasses. Starting the new company around 2012. he managed to find an investment from the Puerto Rican government, which paid for the irrigation system, tilling equipment, sugarcane seeds and the purchase of the mill. In so doing Alvarez sourced a German made Arnold Holstein pot still, and when the two charentais pot stills from Trinidad became available after Moet Hennessy pulled out of the Ten Cane project, he snapped those up too, and to back them up, he started his own cane fields, since commercial sugar cane growing in the island was a discontinued industry.

And this wasn’t all: his son Jose joined the company after getting his civil engineering degree, and Luis Planas the former master blender of Bacardi (now working for Ron de Barrellito) was asked to consult. As if that kind of horsepower was not enough, Frank Ward (ex-Managing Director at Mount Gay) provided advice on consult.

Initially the idea was to produce an agricola-style series of rums, to be released around 2017, at which point Hurricane Maria decided to derail that plan, demolished all the cane fields and left the island without power for almost a year. Undeterred, Alvarez used stocks he sourced from the Dominican Republic to make a series of fruit-infused rums with the brand name of “Tresclavos” (which, for those with memories of 1423’s unfortunately named sub-brand is not a combination of “Tres” and “esclavos” but “tres clavos”‘three nails’). These were well received and have become island staples, which allowed the fledgling company to weather the destruction of the fields so well that small batches of the new Ron Pepon were ready to go by 2018 with other stocks being laid down to age.

The global pandemic impacted the company as much as any other but has managed to come out the other side, and in 2022 had both an unaged white rum and a 30-month or so aged variant to present, which started selling stateside and appearing in Europe. So far the brand is not a huge seller or a famed name, but its reputation is starting to be known.

The place is experiencing growththey now employ a staff of about six, built a visitor’s centre, have those amazing pot stills, still make only cane juice rum and various personages give them visibility (my friends from the Rumcast interviewed them in October 2022 as part of their Puerto Rican distillery roundup); and there have been several new stories abut them. It’s just a matter of time before they attain greater visibility and greater fame, and expand that series of rums they make. It’ll be worth waiting for, I think.


Other notes

  • Pepónstands forOld Pepeand is a nod to Alvarez’s father, also named Pepe.
  • My thanks to Jazz and Indy Anand of Skylark in London, in whose convivial company I tried this rum after filching it from their stocks. I don’t have “crash and pass out under the sink” privileges in Indy’s place: however, free access to the shelves of rum in every room more than makes up for that. Thanks and kudos as always, guys.
Feb 092024
 

We’ve met this distillery before, a mere hundred reviews or so ago. Founded by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall in 2016, they have slowly built quite a repertoire of spirits (he likes dark ones, she prefers light so maybe there’s some kind of Jack Sprat vibe going on here) – standard rums, white ones, spiced ones, the 2021 release of the 2-3 YO 55.5% Pure Single Rum I enjoyed and a brutal 63% “fire cane” I really want to try, plus gin, falernum, limoncello and vodka, which covers the bases nicely.

So here they are again, with a somewhat offbeat take on the Pure Single Rum, if not as strong. Because the background of the company is covered in that original review, I won’t rehash it here, except to note that the columnar still I mentioned then – 380L and six plateshas a name: Alba, which was the initial name of Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter before he renamed her Allegra. I enjoy these little winks that distillers make to some interesting aspect of their past or something that interests them, in the naming of their still, truly.

Photo (c) Lord Byron Distillery website

Anyway, about the rum: molasses based, using distiller’s yeast on a wash left for seven days in closed stainless vessels, then run through the two copper alembics (it’s double distilled), then matured a minimum of three years in ex-bourbon barrels sourced from Woodford Reservewhich if shy they can call it rum, and not a cane spirit. Of course, bearing in mind the sustainable, ecologically-friendly, zero-waste nature of their operation and commitment to making pure rums, it’s not chill filtered and additive free.

This is a rum that channels one of the more peculiar olfactory profiles I’ve yet come across- it reminds me something of some Japanese rums, especially kokuto shochus. It opens with an odd sort of earthy, mouldy, damp cellar aroma, and of wet, much-worn leather boots. Brine, olives and a vegetable soup with “plenty obstacles” and a fiery pimento for kick. There’s a sense of wet paint slapped onto decaying drywall, the bitter tang of roasting chestnuts (which I never cared for myself), plastic sheeting, and only at the end when all seems over and done with, do the shy tangy notes of ripe fruit emerge, some green apples, grapes, pears, that kind of thing. It’s an unusual nose and I’m unsure how well it would work at a heftier proof point, though I would have liked to see that one a bit more, I thinka lot of subtlety gets missed out on that, say, 43% or 46% might have shown off better.

This observation is apropos for the palate as well, which is quite crisp: and while not exactly clear or clean, is close enough not to offend while still being rather too mild for everything it apparently stuffs in its jock. It channels a hot, almost sour and spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with no shortage of lemongrass, salted butter melting in a pan, with olive oil and toasted rye bread coming behind that. Again the fruits take something of a back seat and only start becoming noticeable after the rum opens up, and even then there’s not a whole lot that one can easily pick out: lemon peel, fresh peaches, pears, some watermelon, more or less. But it does meld nicely into the whole, some of the dirty notes from the nose are absent, and the finish concludes things well: short, sharp, reasonably flavourful, all of it fading fast and acting like it just wants to bail.

Strictly speaking this is not my dram of grog. I’m not won over by the loamy and earthy notes at the beginning (the official site entry refers to “bourbon corn” as a tasting note) and aspects of the nose in particular don’t work for me; plus, as always, I have my issues with standard strengthit makes everything too mild which even a few additional points of proof might have showcased more effectively. Yet I can’t fault it for that, only admire the courage it must have taken to release the rum as it is, knowing it is something at right angles to more established profiles. So to conclude, Lord Byron’s rum showcases rather more potential than the sort of intense quality sported by the 55% 2018 Pure Single Rum they did before, and would seem to be aimed at the more easy going supermarket crowd who prefer more demure fare. The furious taste profile attendant on something stronger is missing, and the tastes will not be in everyone’s comfort zone: yet underneath all that, we see a much better rum is waiting to be appreciated, and now, having written my opinion, I think I’ll go back and try my sample a few more times. Let’s see if, after a few more hours, it delivers more concretely on what it promises.

Have a good weekend!

(#1056)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 13
Feb 012024
 

Cabarita Spirits is the Australian equivalent of Nine Leaves, or so I like telling myself, and Keri Algar, the Spanish-born New Zealander who is the owner, may live in one of the prettiest places on earth, close to Cabarita Beach in the Tweed Shire of New South Wales (Husk Distillers are also in the neighbourhood). Like Yoshi-san in Japan before he did a runner on us, she is also chief cook and bottle washer, to say nothing of the entire procurement department, sales force, accounting section, maintenance manager, head distiller, bottling line and managing director all rolled into one. No, really.

Photo (c) Cabarita Spirits, from the webpage

All kidding aside, Cabarita is a small distillery, conceived in 2019 after Keri was feeling glumpish about doing soulless work for The Man in perpetuity. “I was wonderinghow to be able to live on a Pacific Island in the possession of a small beachside rum bar without spending the next twenty years behind a desk, when it occurred to me that I might make rum, and that could be a means to my tropical dreams.” Starting with a rinky dink 25-litre still and a 25-litre fermenter and a lot of ideas led to two years of relentless self-education, distillery visits, sourcing equipment, and incredibly hard work and experimentation. Finally she ended up with a 230-litre copper pot still (handmade in Western Australia by HHH Distill), which she named Felix after her Spanish grandfather, who had worked as chemist in a sugar factory back in the day, and started commercial production with the usual unaged cane spirit (but oddly, no gin“I never cared for it” she sniffs). While the official name of the distillery is Cabarita Spirits, she chose a different name“Soltera”for its associations with being carefree and unbound, though she does admit that these days she’s actually never been less carefree or unbound, what with all the effort of holding down all these jobs and only getting paid for one. But there are no regrets.

The “Oro” (“gold”) rum barrel aged cane spirit which formed part of the 2023 advent calendar is her second edition of a slightly aged product. Released in that year, it derives from molasses (sourced from Condong Sugar Mill in northern NSW for the curious), has a 3-4 week open fermentation time using commercial yeast, run through Felix and then aged for eight months in an ex-bourbon barrique that was re-coopered to ~120L and charred with a medium burn. What comes out the other end is an almost-but-not-quite colourless 40% rum that really isn’t half bad. All that hard work and playing around, methinks, sure paid off.

Let’s start with how it smells: sweet, light and citrusy, channelling the sunshine of a spring morning where the slight nip of departing winter still lingers and the grass is wet with dew. There are notes of key lime pie (including a warm pastry), light florals, pineapples, bananas and kiwi fruit, old paper, and a sort of potpourri air freshener. Also the faintest hint of vanilla and caramel, damp earth and cashews, but held way back. Air freshener, potpourri. I like the youthful freshness of it, the delicacy backed up by a solid backbone of aged and varied aromas, and call me a romantic, but I see the owner in this one in a way I rarely do with others.

What I want to remark on as well, is the way the palate opens up over time. Initially it doesn’t taste like there’s too much going on (“too faint” I grumbled in my initial notes before crossing it out…twice) – laundry drying on the line, ginger, yoghurt, olive oil, caramel, citrus and pineapples (again). It takes effort to tease these notes out. Yet after five minutes, then ten, then half an hour, it turns bright and sparkling, and what in a lesser rum might be faint and wispy anonymous notes of zero distinction is transmuted somehow to a taste that’s really quite lovely. By the time I’m done, I’m scribbling about citrus, mangoes, laundry detergent and pastries and pouring another glass for Mrs. Caner to try and admiring the finish, which is longer and more crisp and tart than any standard strength rum has a right to be,

Admittedly I’m fonder of higher proof rums, so freely concede that, sure, yes, there could be more strength here (and my score reflects that): yet somehow the whole thing works well and it deserves its plaudits. Consider also the difference between what this is and what the disappointing Bayou White from last week was. There we had a sort of indifferent lowest-common-denominator commercial product made to sell and not to taste: it had about as much character as a sheet of saran wrap. Keri has not made a world beater here, noI’d be lying if I said thatbut she’s made a tasty rum with passion and drive and her own character stamped all over it. It’s a lovely little number, and a win in all the ways that matter.

(#1054)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 5
Jan 282024
 

Consider for a moment the distinctive bottle shape and sleek label design ethos of the Bayou Louisiana white rum. The crystal clear white and green1 motifs (call me an overly-visual imagineer if you will) hints at cane juice, grass, and sunshine and channels thoughts of a clean and tasty white rum in fine style. Just as well that this is all in my head because while the text tells you the usual stats, little of the images and sense of what they represent, is real.

The company making the rum is called Louisiana Spirits LLC: it was founded in 2011 by brothers Tim and Trey Litel and their friend Skip Cortes, with Bayou as their flagship brand in January 2013 (the idea had been floated in a duck blind). The chosen name was obvious (and survey-tested for its recognition factor, as if this were necessary), and back then the design had a ‘gator on it. By 2018 in a rebranding exercise it had been renamed “White” and the modern design had snapped into focus. The wag in me suggests that maybe more surveys were done but actually that’s when the SPI Group (the owners of Stoli vodka and headquartered in Luxembourg) who had already bought a majority stake in 2016, acquired all the remaining shares and took over. Some still tout it as being the largest privately owned rum distillery in the US, which I guess depends on how you look at it and where the private hands are.

Anyway, the production details: those are scanty. The label says it’s made from molasses and “sugar cane” (what does that mean, I wonder?); the company website notes the molasses as being blackstrap, provided by a family-owned sugar mill in Louisiana, M.A. Patout and Sons (whose centuries-old history is quite interesting in its own right), yet don’t seem to have any interest in making cane juice rums in the one state which has oodles of cane fields in close proximity. They have a pot still. They blend. The white rum supposedly rests for forty days before being bottled. That’s it.

Based on how it samples, I wonder at that last bitbecause all the solid character of a rum that’s had nothing but “rest” to calm it down off the still, is missing. The rum is a whole lot of standard strength nothing-in-particular. The nose channels a puling sort of weak candied ethanol, vanilla, watered down yoghurt (is there such a thing?) plus a whiff of shoe polish, sugar water and the faintest suggestion of pears and watermelon. This is a glass I poured first thing in the morning when the senses were sharp, kept there for an entire day, and that flaccid set of notes was all that was there the whole time.

There’s a bit more action on the plate, though I confess that this is damning it with faint praise since it started from such a low level already. Some sweet gherkins, a touch of tart fruit, biscuits, more ethanol and sugar water. I thought I spotted a green grape making out with a ripe pear at one stage, but admit this could be my imagination, the whole thing is is so faint and lacklustre. The finish is actually not too badit has some sharpness and dry robust character, and here one can get a vague sense of apples, green grapes and vanilla. Overall, however, it’s too little, too faint, too late and simply serves to demonstrate how everything that comes before is sub-par.

The Rumaniacs series boasts many examples of anonymous inflight minis, holiday-resort stalwarts and cruise ship staples exactly like it, and maybe that’s all this is really good for, because it channels the sort of bland, lightly aged, filtered, colourless mixers that Bacardi did with such aplomb in the seventies. Bayou continues this noble tradition, and lures you in with a great presentation bolted on to a taste that’s inoffensively boring and milquetoast, and so devoid of character, that one is, with genuine befuddlement, forced ask what they thought they were doing. If Bayou were trying to make a light vodka-like spirit, or a standard white back-bar mixer without pretensions, then they surely succeeded. If they were trying to make a white that wowed people’s socks off and put the US rum producers on the map, not even close.

(#1053)(72/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From my experience, I would suggest the rum is slightly aged and filtered to white, even if this is not mentioned anywhere.
  • Although taken over by SPD, much of the original staff seem to have remained involved, especially the head distiller, blender and even the owners.

Opinion

While for most average rum drinkers or rum buyers the disclosure on production mentioned above is enough, for my money that’s not even basic information. Fermentation is not mentioned; abv off the still is not disclosed; no photo of the still is on the website; and the ageing program is never discussed, which is to say, is the rum treated a la Bacardi with one or two year’s ageing and then filtered to white, or is a true unrefined white such as are increasing in popularity and which actually taste like a rum, not alcoholic water?

None of this is considered important enough to either mention on their website, in any of their many press releases, or interviews in the media. To me, it says a lot for what the rum truly is: a commercially and indifferently distilled product with no pretensions to being anything more. I don’t hold any grudges on this account, but what’s the big deal about mentioning it? Own your sh*t ,and don’t dress it up like something it’s not.

Still, one can only admire their expansion. The company stated it was moving 15,000 cases a year in seven states by the time Stoli approached them at the tail end of 2015, which is an incredible feat to have accomplished in three years, when you think about what the market in the US is likeone can conclude either it’s because of their great product or their great distributor or great marketing.

But I am of the belief that no producer or distiller who is truly proud of the product they make, tells you so little about it while dressing up their bottle so smartly…or disposes of their interest so fast. The fact that they sold out less than five years after they began suggests that money was always the motive, not making a really good white rum that would put Bayou on any list of great American rum producers. And I think that’s something of a shame.


 

Jan 232024
 

Black Gate distillery is an outfit to keep an eye on. The husband and wife team of Genise and Brian Hollingsworth made waves (to me, at any rate) with their 52% Dark Overproof back in 2021 and in 2023 they have come close yet again with this lovely Shiraz-cask-aged numberwhich doesn’t reimagine the rumiverse so much as take lots of what’s good with it and re-engineer it into a taste that’s uniquely their own.

Let’s just refresh our memories: located in central New South Wales, Black Gate was founded in 2009 in the small rural town of Mendooran. The husband and wife team splits the duties: Genise Holingsworth does the good stuff and makes the Lord’s favoured spirit, while her husband Brian dutifully makes that other obscure drink and handles the maintenance aspects (he’s a fitter machinist and auto mechanic by trade). They sourced two pot stillsrelatively small at 630 litres and 300 litres capacityand work with food grade molasses, commercial yeast and water, to make their various rum expressions. All are small batch (the rum output of Black Gate is only about 2000 litres per annum, and that includes the other thing). The distillery makes various Dark Rums with different finishes or cask maturations, and aside from whiskies, no cash flow stalwarts such as gins or “cane spirit” seem to be on the menu.

Photo (c) Black Gate Distillery FB page

Rums are aged in Port or Sherry casks, or both, for a minimum of two yearsto be able to be classified as “rum” under Australian law, if you recall. With respect to this one, the source was from the aforementioned molasses, and fermented for around two weeks, then run through the direct-fire pot still, aged about 3-4 years in a 225-litre Huntington Estate Shiraz cask from Mudgee, then left to rest for two months before bottling. As with the overproof, labels are all the same for all these dark rums no matter when made: the specifications are, in a clever bit of economising, white printed stick-ons. The strength of the sample from the 2023 advent calendar was 45.6%, and I note there’s a newer version for sale on their website at 47.2%, so be aware of and on the lookout for some batch variation.

More is not needed so let’s get right into it. Nose firstthis starts off interesting right away: rubber, funk, rotten oranges, flowers, tart yoghurt, wet leather and the sour hotness of kimchi, ashlyan-foo and turkish peppers. Underneath this rather startling mash up lurks a musky odour of damp loam, a kind of freshly watered potter’s mix which doesn’t sound appetising, but which I assure you, kind of is. Coiling around all that are fainter notes of acetones, ginger, vegetable soup, and pickled russian cabbage (not sauerkraut). The nose as a whole is not unpleasant, just goes off at something of a tangent and it’s probably a good idea to to let this one stand for a bit and come back to it a few times to get the full impact.

What I like about the taste is that it provides the tangy fruit that are not as clearly evident on the nose. Slightly sweet, it presents chocolate oranges, some caramel, leather, smoke, with vanilla and darker fruit (prunes, ripe raspberries, plums) coming through off the shiraz cask and the ageing. Ginnips, fresh cashews, grapes and green apples with a touch of licorice and that damp earth, apricots and overripe Thai mangoes, accompanied by a solid spicy heat all the way down culminating in a really nice low key but long lasting finish redolent of honey, brandy, coffee and fruitiness.

That’s really quite a bit for any rum to be sporting, and is one of the reasons I kept it on the go for longer than usual (two days)…just to see how it would develop. What may surprise casual drinkers is that even with all those sometimes off-kilter tastes coming through (and I must be honestthe assembly is a bit off and some will not like everything they taste here), the rum feels really accessible, even to the less exacting drinker. It gives a lot and the strength is rightmore power and intensity might have shredded itand so it doesn’t so much so much rock the boat as gently move it around a few times.

Speaking for myself, tasting this thing was a pleasurebecause with their playful experimentation, careful distillation and shiraz ageing, Black Gate have produced a young rum that is a touch off the rails, sure, but also a decent and intriguing sipping experience. Perhaps it’s no accident that That Boutique-y Rum Company picked it as one of their ‘Return to Oz’ series recently. If I was their buyer, I would likely have given it a shot too.

(#1052)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The exact age is unknown. 3-4 years goes the blurb
  • Outturn is also unclearbecause of the small scale of the distillery and the notation that it is one barrel (#BG-140), one must assume it’s less than 350 bottles.
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 17
Jan 152024
 

Once again we start the new year off with a series of rums from the Australian Advent Calendar, 2023 Edition. First issued by the Australian rum-loving couple Mr. & Mrs. Rum in 2021, not in 2022 and now again for 2023, it answers what we out west have been wondering about for years (well…at least I have) – what’s going on with the rums being made in Australia over and beyond Bundaberg, which everyone cheerfully loathes and Beenleigh which everyone likes? Twenty four rums in the calendar, a whole raft of new and old distilleries strutting their stuff, and let me tell you, to get them to Canada was a ripping yarn in itself…not entirely unlike Butch’s father’s watch, you could say.


We begin the series out of order, with a rum from the island of Tasmania, made by a little outfit called Island Coast Spirits, located just south of Hobart, the state capital (Tasmania is an island state of Australia). It is, it should be noted, not a distillery itself since it has no equipment. The owner, Kirk Pinner, runs over to the Observatory Hill Winery (about half an hour to the NE on the other side of Hobart) which (a) is run by a friend (b) makes rum (and brandy, gin, schnapps and wine) and (c) has a still. He rents that still and makes his own rum, so not quite a contract operation like we saw with Mandakini a few weeks ago, yet not entirely a true producer or an indie either. The website is rather scanty on details, so Kirk very kindly answered an email of mine providing some of this info, and a brief company bio is provided below.

For the purposes of this review, what we need to know is the following: the rum is made on a pot still, using a combination of fermented raw cane juice and molasses…so a hybrid rum if there ever was one. Once off the still it is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels with a light char, for something just under three years and bottled at living room strength of 40%.

[My desire was…] to produce the spirits I wanted,” Kirk wrote to me, and clearly he had something easygoing in mind. Not some backyard snarling ester-sporting beefcake that stomped all over one’s glottis, just a rum that was easy and accessible. The nose confirmed that he did fairly okay with that: it smelled of delicate icing sugar, vanilla, pastries hot from the oven, as well as more standard caramel, swiss bon-bons and a light touch of molasses and brown sugar. Also some cinnamon, eggnog, ice cream, a relatively sweetish aroma, and all over soft and straightforward and simple.

The 40% ABV made for a clean and unaggressive entry; it tasted pleasantly warm and a little sweet and came completely without aggro. Vanilla and caramel and toffee carried over from the nose. A few sweetish fruitpeaches, pearsnothing too acidic or tart. Molasses, a hot caramel macchiato, flambeed bananas, icing sugar on a cake fresh out of the oven, leading serenely to a short, finish that summed up the preceding without adding much that was new.

Picture (c) Island Cost Spirits FB Page

It’s a nice little rumlet without undue pretensions, but that same easy going nature is something of a weak point for those who like their rums more assertive. There are amber Bacardis with more going on than we see here, and I had similar remarks (and reservations) about Killik’s Gold, where I noted that such low ABV hamstrings a rum that could be better a few points higher. But that said, it will work for some, because it’s simply not trying hard to be a game changer…just a soft breezy rum for easy sipping. On that level it succeeds, and the awards it’s racked up in its brief lifea silver medal at the 2022 Australian Rum Awards in Queensland, and another silver at the World Rum Awards in London in 2023 (pot still NAS category) – suggests that others certainly seem to like what the company is offering, my own reservations notwithstanding.

(#1050)(77/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Fermentation time, barrel size, ratio of sugar cane juice to molasses, outturn, are all unknown
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 4

Brief Historical bio

Island Coast Spirits is, as noted, a Tasmanian spirits maker (not a distillery). It was founded in October 2021 and has adhered to the principle of making their spirits on a third party’s distillation apparatusa pot stillfrom the beginning. This was a conscious decision made at the inception: Kirk Pinner knew when he began planning, that he did not want the significant overheads and costs/debt associated with setting up his own distillery. He wanted the flexibility to not have all that headache but to be able to concentrate on his own desires and strengths: namely to have the ability to take on projects/new spirits on a whim without worrying about the infrastructure; and to focus more on the business relationships, ingredients, selection of barrels, blending and back end work. To that end he turned to those with some expertise (like Observatory Hill Winery) and used their skills to make his spirits.

In the three years since he began, the company now makes seven different products: Vodka, Rum, Gin and Whisky, and three flavoured vodkas. So far there is just one rum in the portfoliothis onewith another very interesting one in the pipeline waiting to be released sometime in 2024. In the meantime, the distribution within Tasmania and on the mainland is good, and Kirk is building on his success (and awards) to take his juice on the road to various F&B trade expos in Asia to promote the island, the brand and the rum.


 

Dec 022023
 

Almost all of Capricorn Distilling’s current line up of releases are good ones, and they haven’t even started a serious ageing program yet. Whether this is a matter of their desire to tinker and see what happens, or a clearly thought-out distillation philosophy, is unknown to me. What I do know, is that having tried their standard range (not the spiced, infused, gins, liqueurs or anything else) I can honestly state that if you get a white unaged Australian rum this year, you could do worse than buy a case of their juice generallyand the High Ester in particular. Because that thing is damned good: it channels Jamaica by way of Reunion, adds a measure of outback attitude, and sports serious rum making mojo on all levels.

It’s on par with the overproofs of Black Gate or Killik (especially the latter’s Silver) in my estimation, and indeed it shares some of those rums’ DNA: molasses-based based, a 10-15 day fermentation using a different yeast from the Coastal Cane, some dunder for kick (and maybe a diced dingo or two, who knows? — with Warren, you get the impression that anything is possible). Then there’s a single pass-through on Rocky (the double retort pot still), after which it’s left to rest for a while and diluted down to 51% before bottling.

If that sounds interesting, wait until you nose it, because while it’s not quite as well rounded as the Pure Single Rum, it’s hot, it’s spicy, it’s clean as new steel, and really crisp. There’s a sense of sparkling wine about itchianti, Riesling, plus some 7up, and pineapples. Lemony cumin, ginger, florals, cinnamon, which slowly merges with a damper aroma of rain on hot clay bricks and then softens into coconut shavings, oatmeal cookies and white chocolate crusted with almonds. The clear metallic sweat of someone who’s been exerting themselves in very cold weather after just having had a bath (yeah, I know how barmy that sounds). Juicy and ripe white fruitspapaya, guavas, pears, green apples and a few slices of pineapple. This is clearly a rum that enjoys Christmas.

The palate is somewhat more subdued, while still professing a certain originality. First there’s that clean scent of fresh laundry hot from the drier, followed by a sweet, tart, yoghurt, and citrus-y hints of ripe fruits that have not yet started to go. What distinguishes the taste is the way the sour miso soup or kimchi comes out swinging here, as does a kind of sweet-salt tartness of, say, pickled tomatoes and bell peppers (with a reaper thrown in for good measure). Added to that are notes of pine, cinnamon, licorice, ginger, wet sawdust, fruits…it just keeps chugging along, one taste after another. This one rum packs a lot in its jock and isn’t afraid to sport it, right down to the aromatic, long, dry, fruity and crisp finish that immediately encourages another pour.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s occasionally hit and miss (that’s why I tried it multiple times), and the crisp sourness mixed with sweet and salt won’t be to everyone’s taste. And indeed, Wally told me that his own team liked the Pure Single Rum best; my friend and tasting chum Logan also felt it lagged (slightly) behind the Pure Single and even the Coastal Cane.

I completely get that, because they are good rums in their own right, and I’ve reviewed them with genuine affection, scored them well. But for my money, thosewhile excellent in their own pitchdon’t break new ground with quite the same in-yer-face insouciance, don’t get hit outside the boundary, and remain satisfied with a solid bouncy four into deep fine leg. The High Ester Cane, in contrast, appeals to my love of the original, the offbeat, the new, and has no hesitation going for a powerful, lofty out-of-the-park six. It walks up to your wicket, hits you over the head and drags you off the field, and, love it or like it or hate it, you’ll always know you’ve had something different that day. That’s not a compliment in everyone’s book, but it sure is in mine.

(#1043)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • My fellow Calgarian reviewer, friend and redditor, FarDefinition2, as well as another redditor FrostyThought8591 both felt the High Ester was not quite as good as the Pure Single or the Coastal Cane, but both agreed it would shine in cocktails. This is why sharing samples around and checking for feedback is so usefulit not only gives consumers another opinion, it also forces me to consider other points of view.

Company background (from Review #1029)

Capricorn Distilling’s origins date back to 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-litre still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of businessmotel, pub, restaurant, distilleryto provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in 2020 in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards.

The distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small and newly-established companies: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the ever-present cash flow generator of gins. The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW.

Nov 272023
 

Capricorn really is a distillery off in its own zone, and I mean that in a good way. Aged or unaged I’ve rarely seen a producer so young make rums that display such a deft, sure touchthey’re not all world beaters, but I think they’re certainly a cut above the ordinary, even the entry-level standard-strength “Coastal Cane” which I likened to a cross between an agricole and a Jamaican white overproof. In November 2023 they had a sort of coming-out party at the Brisbane Rum Revolution, where there were a number of complimentary comments about the various releases: the Pure Single Rum was one of the ones singled out (no pun intended) for especial attention, and many remarked on how pleased they were to have tried it.

The Pure Single Rum, which is a title deriving from the Gargano Classification system (see other notes below) conforms to its requirements exactlyit is a rum made via batch distillation, on a pot still, from a single distillery. It’s the extras that elevate it to the next level because few 4YO rums have the distinction of being this good (did someone say “Renaissance”?). The rum is molasses based, a week’s fermentation, aged in ex-Shiraz casks for 2½ before being transferred out to a new American oak barrel (no ex-bourbon here) and then decanted into 221 bottles at 56% in November 2022. The idea is always to have a limited amount of this rum based on a cask that’s deemed ready (Release 3 just hit the shelves a few months ago) and right now there are a couple hundred casks or so slumbering in the warehouse, waiting their moment. Labelling is minimal and states the provenance nicely, and there are no additives, no filtration, no extras.

Tasting notes, then: the nose opens with a hot breath of sweet strawberry-flavoured bubble gum, a salt caramel and vanilla ice cream cone, gummi bears, and white toblerone chocolate. Some very ripe dark grapes, prunes. Honey, waffles and cereal mix well with toffee and brown sugar: overall the aromas is consistently strong without being sharp, well controlled, slightly sweet to inhale and overall seems like a pillow for the nose. It also smells like the most “traditional” rum of the four Capricorn rums I had, because there’s less of the tart and slightly sour tang that characterises the others, and emphasises a profile we similar to that of Barbados, Panama and even Guyana (minus the wooden stills).

I also enjoy the taste, and in assessing this aspect I can understand why it was so popular at the festival: a good mouthfeel, very warm, with honey, caramel, vanilla, fresh wonderbread toast, and even some salt crackers and brie. It has hints of ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, as well as swiss bonbons, dulce de leche and a few dates, figs and other mild fruits like papaya and watermelon. The finish is unambitious and lets you down easy without introducing anything that isn’t already therea tawny mix of molasses, caramel, toffee, vanilla and honey with a sprinkling of breakfast spices.

The Pure Single rum is an interesting mix of solidity and delicacy at the same time, and yet it never strays too far from a traditional “rummy” taste: it is the one rum of the distillery that comes closest to being completely recognizable as an aged rum by anyone, and that’s one reason for its easy acceptance and why people liked it. It is not precisely challenging, and introduces little that is new: a trailblazer for a new Australian style it is not (though I would not have objected had it done so). Nor is Capricorn going for a moon shot or a Hail Mary passthey have other rums for that. What they are trying to do with this oneand have succeeded, I thinkis assemble a solid young rum that’s fascinating and tasty and well made, complex and delicious enough for Government work, and simply a really good rum to try on its own and to enjoy.

(#1042)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • From Release #3 it looks like there is a now a numerical designator on the label.
  • “Pure Single Rum” is a term of relatively recent derivation. It was coined by Luca Gargano of Velier in 2017 as part of his suggested new classification of rum, which he believed was not being well served by older systems based on colour or regions. His idea was to create a new regimen that focused more on production techniques and he came up with four basic classifications: Pure Single rum, Traditional rum, Single Blended rum, and Ordinary rum. These form the basis of the Gargano classification, which is detailed in rather more depth on Velier’s page. It has received some criticism for shortcomings and exclusions, and for not catering to rums which fall outside the clear demarcationssome prefer the Cates System advocated by Martin Cates of Smuggler’s Cove which has more gradations and is easier to understandbut if it has added a single term to our vocabulary of rum, it’s that first category of Pure Single Rum.

Company background (from Review #1029 of the Coastal Cane)

Capricorn Distilling’s origins bean in 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-litre still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of businessmotel, pub, restaurant, distilleryto provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in 2020 in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards.

The distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small and newly-established companies: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the everpresent cash flow generator of gins. The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW.

Oct 212023
 

In the last review we looked at a product from Romero Distilling, a small and relatively new-ish distillery in Calgary which has the distinction of focusing almost exclusively on making rums (of all kinds). At first blush it seems to conform to the standards of many occasionally unfocused local distillers who are still playing around trying to find the perfect groove: their “Dark” rum left me somewhat dissatisfied and mostly indifferent (spiced rums not being my thing for reasons I went into some detail in that review), and while I didn’t mention it, the “Amber”which I own, opened and tried at homehasn’t turned my crank much either.

The Sherry Finish Cask Strength Rum, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal, and an order of magnitude better than either of thoseit quite literally left me looking happily at my glass, wondering whence this thing had sprung, and completely unwilling to stop trying it. Now, it’s a pot-still 1200-bottle limited edition 57% ABV rum without any spices, colourants or additives, so right away it has a better starting point than the other two; it’s aged for two years or so in ex-Woodford Reserve barrels and then another two-plus in newly emptied ex-Oloroso sherry barrels brought over from Spainthat to my mind makes it a double aged (not a finished) rum, but whatever…the important thing is, what comes out the other end is to my mind, really impressive.

First of all there’s the way the nose opens. Compared to the low strength and rather thin aromas of its spiced sibling, this packs a solid punch: it presents some woody and tannic notes, with solid sweet caramel, chewing gum, toffee, molasses and a delicate hint of a cinnamon-flavoured unsweetened mocha. Not too much fruitiness heremore dates and coconut shavingsbut a fair amount of cereals, rye bread, cardboard and crushed almonds. Really great smells, and one that’s worth keeping around for more than just the time it takes to have a sip or three and move on.

When tasted, it continues well: hot fresh pastries like pine tarts or pecan pie start the show, and here some fruit start to make themselves noticeable: ripe and heavier ones like sapodilla, plums, prunes and some apricots, with flashes of molasses and honey (love that). There’s even the slight trace of a good brie, some olive oil, rotten lemons, and something savoury lurking in the background, as if it is trying to channel a raw clairin, or a tequila. The finish is also quite good, lasting a long time and wrapping things up with salt caramel, coffee, some brininess and those fresh baked pastries.

To say I wasmerely pleasedis understating matters. I was damned impressed. The rum seemed so good on the first try that not only did I keep the glass going for the next two hours, but as soon as I got home, went straight out and bought a bottle online (I’m told that the rum has just gone into general release in Alberta). What’s also really interesting is that for 57% ABV, double the ageing and no spicing it up, it only costs C$7 more than the C$75 Dark with which I had previously been relatively unenthused.

So, in the final analysis, although I have many more rums from north of 49 to try, so far this is one of the best Canadians I’ve yet come across, the highest scoring to date. It’s not a copy of some Caribbean profile, doesn’t seek to emulate noble sires from hotter climes, but is completely, calmly, resolutely, itself. It adheres to the profile of rum while providing just enough kinks and twists to show that the makers knew exactly what they were doing when they made it. It shows how something better than the dronish herd of mass produced tipple can be made here, and hopefully sell, and while I’m sure over time other rums will inevitably eclipse it…for now, it remains a high point of the Canadian rum scene and deserves serious attention.

(#1034)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • The rum was awarded “Best in Class” at the 2023 Alberta Beverage awards (in a three way tie). Given the judges’ primary expertise, what it was rated against, and what else was on the list of candidates and winners, this is not an award to be taken completely seriously, and the scores were, shall we say, somewhat excessively enthusiastic. But it had to be mentioned.
  • Company details can be found in the review of the Romero Dark
  • The rum is a blend of several barrels and an outturn of 2000 bottles.
  • A hydrometer test comes out at 56.8% ABV, so it’s clean from that perspective (and tastes that way, but I checked anyway)
  • The company runs tour, tasting and blending sessions at its facility in Calgary, which I’ve heard from friends of mine who went, are quite good.
  • There’s a fair bit of marketing copy on the website and other promotional materials, about rum running in Canada during Alberta’s own Prohibition era, but this is local colour and has no bearing on Romero directly.
Oct 022023
 

This is the fourth review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

*

The consistency of quality of the Renaissance line of rums creates something of an issue for a reviewer, because while they are all different in subtle ways, so far they are also all really good (at least in the opinion of this writer)…which makes writing anything new almost impossible. In a way they remind me of Demerara rums, or Caronis, in the way that they resemble James Bond movies: they all have recognizable beats, similar tropes and so we enjoy then, look for similarities, variations and easter eggs, and spend an inordinate amount of time dissecting minutiae and arguing about which is the best. And of course, everyone will have an opinion about all of those things.

By now, then, after four previous excursions into the company’s line, we know enough about the company not to belabour the point, and so we’ll just cover the highlights. Renaissance is a husband and wife team who created a rum distillery in Taiwan out of whole cloth in 2017 (after four years of messing about trying to get it off the ground), gaining acclaim for their rigorously individualistic style of rum making in the years that followed (at which point we pause for the obligatory mention of the encyclopaedic labels). By 2021 as the world reopened, awards began rolling in and the distillery gained a quietly swelling renown…and rum aficionados who cocked an eye towards Asia took notice.

One of the peculiarities of the distillery is its resolute focus on single barrel rum releases. I have seen no indie bottling ethos here, and no mass market releases of lesser supermarket fare, or other spirits’ production meant to generate cash flow. They have issued young rums derived from local molasses or their own juice, and aged in whatever barrels they managed to source: limousin, ex-bourbon, wine, whisky, cognac, to which is then added a secondary maturation or finish in (again) any of those barrel types.

The rum we’re looking at today conforms to this principle. 20 days fermentation from Taiwan molasses (referred to as ‘Formosan’), double distilled in the 1200 litre Charentais pot still, then stuffed into a new oak 350 litre Limousin cask for three years, and finally given a secondary maturation in a fist fill 400-litre bas armagnac cask for the final year, being finally bottled in April 2022 at 63.2%.

What these dry and rather technical details suggest, then, is that there are some three or four different points at which flavours are developed: the longer than usual fermentation, the double distillation with the middle-third cut, and the two singular barrel types. The bas-armagnac barrel in particular can be expected to lend quite an interesting influence to the final product.

And we surely get all of that. The initial nose on the rum is lovely: firm, crisp, fresh and lively to a faultbright yellow fleshy acidic fruit (Thai mangoes, peaches, apricots, apples) mixed up with overripe green grapes, honey and flambeed bananas. A touch of vanilla and the slight bitterness of tannics, completely under control and never allowed to get overbearing. There are some notes of ruby grapefruit and blood oranges, light florals and it’s just a great osing experience.

Taste wise it also holds up really well. It’s rich and deep and flavourful with bags of fruit: grapefruit again, strawberries, kiwi fruit and lychees. Some light vanilla, icing sugar and a banana split drizzled with caramel make for an interesting combo, as do the less sweet fruits like sapodilla and bananas, sprinkled with coconut shavings. Finish is epically long as we can expect from the strength, and while it introduces nothing new it allows the individual notes their brief moment on the stage so as to remind me of the way they all work together to provide a great taste experience.

Overall, there’s nothing to find fault with and for those who prefer something tamer, a few drops of water are more than sufficient to tamp down the intensity somewhat without losing anything in translation. It’s a lovely rum at any strength and with one caveat, I recommend it unreservedly, and score it right in the ballpark of all the other rums they’ve made which I’ve so enjoyed.

That one qualification is, of course, the price, which is an issue several have remarked on before with all of the rums from this small company. Even in today’s inflated times, it will set one back three figures and there are not many who will be willing to spend that on a four year old rum, when there are others at similar strength a decade or so older from more familiar climes, sporting more familiar names, more familiar profiles. And so the point is not a minor one. Yet when one considers the freight charges, taxes and duties needed to bring such a singular product to the west; the costs of making it at all without support from other lines of business or economies of scale; and the limited batch outturn of the rum itself…when one takes all these things into account I would not say it’s an untoward extravagance. And even if I could not afford one of each release Renaissance have so far made, even if I just got this one single rum to stand in for all the others that remain out of reach, I would not consider the purchase a bad one, or ever harbour a single regret.

(#1030)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in this short series:

Sep 262023
 

This is the third review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

Although the little Renaissance Distillery on Taiwan was officially founded in 2017, many years of small-scale under-the-radar tinkering and experimentation preceded that. The husband and wife team of Linya Chiou and Olivier Caen started a small spirits import company on the island as far back as 2006, and by the early 2010s were looking around wondering why Taiwan, which had a subtropical climate (the south is actually tropical) and planted sugar cane, did not have a rum industry of any consequence.

The truth was that it did: but it was a remnant of the state monopoly which had only relaxed and allowed a market to develop after 2002; even so, licensing restrictions and the torpor of the bureaucracy made it difficult to think seriously about such a proposition, so Olivier sourced a short neck 500L locally made pot still, installed it on their property and started planting his own sugar cane. For the next four years he experimented ceaselessly and mostly at night with harvesting, juice, molasses, fermentation, distillation, making the cuts, checking the ageing, the whole nine yardsin fact the op was quasi-legal at best, an outright moonshinery at worst. The results and samples he shared around suggested he was on to something there and in 2017 the distillery formally opened and started commercial, licit operations.

Output remained and continues to remain rather small, and most of what was released up to 2020 — about 17 barrels’ worth of productionwas rum laid down pre-2017; however that by itself garnered attention and plaudits, notably that of David Broom in 2021 when he remarked on his blog “Remember how Kavalan blew people’s minds? Renaissance will do the same for rum.” So far, there have been perhaps sixty barrels released to June 2023, and the hallmark of the brand remains small batch, single cask, high proof rum, usually finished (or double aged) in casks of whatever seems to catch Olivier’s fancy that day. There are a few blends in the mix, but it’s these single cask bottlings that make the company’s namehigh end, pricey and not easy to get.

This 4 Year Old rum is no different. Distilled in 2018 (cask #18102 for the curious, because knowing the casks is actually something of a thing here), it is based on Taiwanese molasses fermented for 30 days, comes off the 1200L charentais pot still after a double pass. It was set to age in a limousin new oak barrel (350 liters, so somewhere between a barrique and a puncheon) for three years and then transferred into an ex cognac cask (Hennessy, I was told) for another year. Outturn 346 70cl bottles, at a solid, chest-thumping 64.4%.

The nose uses that strength to make grand gestures and bold statements, that’s for sure. It hits you hard and doesn’t say sorry. Initially it is the right side of too sharp, yet once the sensation is sorted out it’s more like a very clean, very crisp and very dry Riesling, redolent of sugar water, light red grapefruit (is there such a thing?), yellow mangoes and tart ripe green grapes. It needs time to open upsome water would helpand after a while releases additional pleasant notes of cinnamon and ginger cookies with a touch of unsweetened chocolate, and a sort of vanilla flavoured whipped cream.

For all the oomph the rum packs in its jock, it’s medium bodied and firm rather than wielding a sledgethough of course some caution should still be exercised…just because the texture is solid doesn’t mean there isn’t something more serious waiting to get you when your guard is down. The palate is sweet-ish and middle bodiednot thin, not heavy or thick, just sort of in between with a nice medium-dry mouthfeel. Still, tastes are somewhat (and surprisingly) subdued for something that spent a year making nice in a cognac cask: plums, raisins, vanilla, honey, the tartness of laban and kiwi fruits and papaya, a little grapefruit, a little allspice, a little cinnamon. The finish is completely serviceable, if not outstandinga good summation of the preceding. One gets a last whiff of fruits and spices, some grapes, citrus, honey and even a twitch of licorice out of nowhere. It’s finishes well.

So, this is a really good rum that adheres to the style and profile the makers have established for themselves. It’s got that cognac vibe, the sprightliness of youth with a touch of the maturity that ageing brings, is strong, tasty and well assembled. Some may suggest it’s one of those cases where a little dilution might not have been a bad thing, which is a fair point, though I completely respect the decision to be consistent and bottle it as it is and let the consumers take their chances.

Because by not pandering to anyone’s tastes, what Renaissance has done is provided us with a young rum of what I presume to say is a rare calibre, one that takes on others aged five times longer and gives a good account of itself. It’s not the best rum they’ve made, of the six I’ve sampledyet it solidifies an already impressive reputation for consistency of style and quality, and for those who venture forth to brave the high proof and crisply intense tastes, they will find little to dislike and much to enjoy.

(#1028)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


The rums in this short series:

Aug 292023
 

The real question is not so much how good this Malabari Vaatte is, where it originates, or what it purports to be…but what exactly it is. Part of the issue surrounding the Mandakini is that the wording on the label could equally well be describing a real rum, a disguised alcoholic beverage claiming to be one, a spiced spirit, or some peculiar amalgam of all of the above.

The rum (I’ll use the term for now) is made in Canada, and therefore falls into the rabbit hole of the country’s arcane liquor laws, one of which, like Australia’s, states that a rumassuming it meets the basic criteria of being made from cane derivatives like molasses, juice or vesoucan only be so labelled if it is aged for a minimum time of one year. That’s all well and good except for this catch: the same terms one would use to describe a true rum not quite meeting the criteria (for example by being a completely unaged one), are also used to describe a neutral spirit that is doctored up to be more palatable. In this case it is labelled as being an “unaged spirit from sugar cane extract” which could be either one or the other, or neither. So which is it, exactly? The producers never say.

After scanning all available sources without resolution, I finally picked up the phone and asked them directly. The bottom line is that the Mandakini derives from a wash of blackstrap molasses fermented with natural yeast for two weeks or more, and is then double-distilled through a third party’s pot-still, after which a small amount of neutral spirit is added to the mix and it’s diluted down to 46%. There’s a reason for the addition, according to Abish Cheriyam, one of the founders who very kindly took the time to tell me all about itit’s to bring the price down so it’s affordable to the target audience, as well as smoothening out batch variation.

Trying it out (with three other Indian rums on the table as comparators) makes it obvious that this is not a rum of the kind we know, even taking into account its heritage. The nose is all sweet light candy and icing sugar, some vague sugar water, swank, lime peel, peppermint, bananas, and the kind of weak syrupy essence they dash into your flavoured coffee. Unfortunately the neutral spirit takes away from what could otherwise develop into much more interesting drink: it smells too much like a lightly sweet vodka. Those who are into Jamaican high ester beefcakes or strong unaged indigenous white rums will not find the droids they’re looking for here, and will likely note that this does not channel a genuine product made by some village still…at least not what they’ve come to expect from one.

The taste also makes this point: it is quite inoffensive, and it doesn’t feel like 46%, which to some extent is to its credit. Light, sweet, a little sharp, yet the downside is that there is too little to distinguish it. Some light florals, sugar water, coconut shavings, bananas and maybe the slightest touch of allspice. There is nothing distinctive here, and the rum feels too tamped down and softened up. I try to keep an open mind and am not exactly looking for the raw nastiness and sweat infused crap that real moonshine (like, oh, say, clairin) is often at pains to providebut at least a hint of such brutality would have been nice. It shrugs and coughs up a touch of mint, alcohol, medicine, cotton candy, it flexes its thin body a bit, and that’s pretty much the whole ball game. The finish is short, light, has some alcohol fumes, white fruit and light candy floss to recommend it, but alas is gone faster than my paycheck into Mrs. Caner’s hands when purses are on sale.


While members of the Indian diaspora would probably get this, the rum does not channel the subcontinent to me, and that’s not a guess, because Mandakini, irrespective of its Indian origins (all three of its founders are from the southern state of Kerala), is actually made by a small craft distillery called Last Straw, in Ontario. This is a small family outfit that was founded in 2013 as a whisky distillery with two small stills; it makes all kinds of spirits on its own accountwhisky, vodka, gin, rum and experimentals (including the fragrantly named “Mangy Squirrel Moonshine”) — and nowadays also does contract distilling, designing products from scratch for any client with an idea.

Clearly Abish Cheriyam, Alias Cheriyam and Sareesh Kunjappanengineers all, who have worked and lived in Canada for many yearshad such an idea, one that they felt deeply about, though unlike the Minhas family in western Canada, they had no background in the spirits business aside from their own enthusiasm. They did however, identify some gaps in Canada’s liquor landscape: there was very little Indian liquor on the shelves aside from Amrut’s whiskies or their Two Indies and Old Port rums, and Mohan Meakin’s Old Monk; and none at all that was an Indian equivalent to vaatte, a locally distilled liquor native to Kerala (also called patta charayam or nadan vaattu charayam), which, though banned in the state since the late 1990s (a holdover from pre-independence days when the Brits forbade local liquor so as not to damage sales of their own), retains an underground popularity almost impossible to stamp out. Rural folks disdain the imported whiskies and rums and ginsthey leave that frippery to city folks who can afford it, and much prefer their locally-made hooch. And like Jamaicans with their overproofs or Guyanese with their High Wine, no wedding or other major social occasion is complete without some underground village distiller producing several gallons to lubricate the festivities.

Since they could not afford to launch a distillery or wait for the endless licensing process to finish, they went to Last Straw to have them create it, and after experimenting endlessly with various blends and combinations, launched in August 2021, calling it a Malabari Vaatte (the similarity of that word to “water” is likely no accident), and aiming at the local Sri Lankan and Indian diaspora. Both the shape of the bottle and the lettering in five languages (Malayalam, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telegu) is directed at this population and the fact that the first batch sold out within days in Ontarioat the distillery, because they had not gotten a deal with the LCBO at the timesuggests it worked just fine. People were driving from all over the province to get themselves some.

In Kerala, Malabari vaatte is often made from the unrefined sugar called jaggery or from red rice like arrack, and also with any fruits or other ingredients as are on hand; it has a long and distinguished history as a perennially popular underground hooch, and that very likely comes from its easygoing nature which this one channels quite well. It shares that with other Asian spirits, like Korean shojus, Indonesian arracks, Cabo Verde grogues, or Vietnamese rượu: in other words, it is a (sometimes flavoured) drink of the masses, though Abish was at pains to emphasise that no flavourings or additives (aside from the aforementioned neutral alcohol) were included in his product.

As a casual hot weather drink and maybe a daiquiri ingredient, then, I freely admit it’s quite a pleasant experience, while also observing that true backwoods character is not to be looked for. To serious rum drinkers or bartending boozehounds who mix for a living, that’s an issuesome kind of restrained unhinged lunacy is exactly what we as rum drinkers want from such a purportedly indigenous drink. A sort of nasty, tough, batsh*t-level taste bomb that leaves it all out there on the table.

That said, I can see why it sellsespecially and even more so to those with a cultural attachment for itOld Monk tapped into that same vein many decades earlier. But that to some extent limits the Mandakini to that core audience, since people without that connection to its origins might pass it by. For all its good intentions and servicing the nostalgia and homesickness of an expatriate population far from their homelands, the Mandakini does not yet address the current market of the larger rum drinking population. It remains to be seen whether it can surmount that hurdle and become a bigger seller outside its core demographics. I hope it does.

(#1021)(74/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The name “Mandakini” is a common female name, familiar to most Indians from north or south. It was chosen not to represent anyone in particular but to instantly render it relatable and recognizable.
  • TheMalabariin the title refers to Kerala’s Malabar Coast, famed for its spices: it’s where Vasco da Gama made landfall in 1498 after rounding Africa.
  • There is currently a 65% ABV version of the Mandakini called “Malabari 65”, available at the distillery in Vaughn. This is one I wouldn’t mind trying just to see how it compares. If they were to make a high ester version of that, my feeling is it would fly off the shelves.
  • The range is now expanded to the original Malabari Vaatte, the 65, a Spiced Vaatte, and a Flavoured Vaatte. The latter two are apparently closer to the kind of drinks the founders initially envisioned and which are popular in Kerala, having ginger, cardamom and other spices more forward in the profile.
Jun 302023
 

Worthy Park rums at any age just seem to go for the boundary, every single timeno matter how it turns out. The results are rums of consistently decent (or high) quality, day in and day out, and I rarely find a failure, a flea-bitten dog or an also-ran glue-factory candidate in any of themand this goes all the way back to Rum Nation’s unaged white from 2014 (now matured into one of their regular five year old rums), or the Compagnie’s 2007 7YO and 8 YO released in 2015. All of which, for their time, shook the rum world with tremors of an incipient disturbance in the Force.

Since those early years Worthy Park has continued providing a fair amount of distillate for the use of third parties, while simultaneously developing their in house brands. These run the gamut from the entry level Rum Bar Silver and Gold (and overproof), to the 109, the Select, the Special Cask series (with various finishes or secondary maturations in porto, marsala, madeira, sherry etc), and the single estate aged rum, currently running at 12 years but likely soon to be older. There are even special versions like the recent Canadian release of the 2015 5YO, or the “Cask Selection” single barrel series. It can get a bit confusing sorting out all those “specials”, “selections” and “reserves” and good luck to anyone trying to make a collection of the lot.

For those who want a funky Jamaican alternative to the mellower mass-market Appletons or more rarefied Hampdens with their ever increasing series of limited collections, Worthy Park continues to provide good value for money, even for their more youthful expressions which they are experimenting with a la Foursquare. These limited editions fall under the Special Cask linehigher ABV, limited outturns, somewhat youthful, double maturationsand some time ago I picked up No.6 of their Special Cask Releases, of which I had already tried and liked the Oloroso and Marsala editions. This one was the usual pot still distillate, tropically aged in once-used ex-Bourbon barrels for four years, then matured a second time in virgin oak casks (not the slutty kind, I gather), which then provided 397 bottles at 55%. The back label says “casks” yet one wonders exactly how many (or how few) were needed for such a small outturn. Two, maybe?

Never mind though. The age of five years and that double maturation is what’s interesting, as well as the pot still distillateone would expect the casks to be quite active because of their little-used nature and the heat in the tropics. Nosing it suggests that it works really well to get flavours to manifest quickly, because while somewhat hot to smell, it is also deep, dark and dour at first sniff…quite delicious. Pancakes and maple syrup, creamy unsweetened yoghurt and a lovely amalgam of honey, caramel, toffee, nougat and white chocolate. It may have been the casks, it just seems to me that aroma-wise the pot still sour funky fruits seem to have been kept away, though faint traces of pineapple, strawberries and overripe bananas and oranges do linger for those with long snoots; and these are joined by notes of salt crackers, gherkins and balsamic vinegar (one of those fancy ones, from figs maybe).

The absence of the funkiness is, on the palate, more striking, and would make anyone trying this blind to wonder whether it conformed to a particularly Jamaican profile at all. The strength is solid and bearable at 55%, no worries there; it starts off with traditional notes of caramel, toffee, light molasses and vanilla, before segueing into some olives and brine, a touch of sweet soya, and a subdued panoply of dark fruitsprunes, plums, blackberries, that kind of thing. Tucked in way at the back are the oddballs, of which I wish there were moresome iodine, charcoal, cooking herbs and lemon. Nothing overbearing, just really interesting, and set off by a pleasant, long and dry finish redolent of aromatic pipe tobacco, red wine, brine and some sour red grapes.

It’s really quite impressive what Worthy Park has done with a mere five years of ageing, and shows why they have developed the reputation they doto the extent where a friend of mine in Saskatchewan asked me to get a WP Canadian-only release for him (same age and lacking any ageing- or finishing-flourishes) even though it exceeded his normal budget for such things. The tastes are solid, the aromas are well integrated and if it’s a bit hot and rough around the edges and doesn’t sport anything seriously original, it’s still a surprisingly varied and interesting rum. At the time when I bought the bottle everyone was going apesh*t over the just-released WP 109: me, I shrugged and reached into the slightly more recent past to get this one, and still think that while both are good, this is the better buy.

(#1009)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Of course, as soon as I saw “No. 6” I couldn’t let it restwhich ones were 1-5, right? I started a list of the Special Cask Releases but the numbering scheme and inconsistencies of label-naming have thus far defeated even a mind as organised and agile as mine: there are too many gaps and similar names to make the list exhaustive (I’ve sent a note to Zan Kong to assist). But here’s what I came up with:
    • Special Cask Release #8 | 52% | 2013-2018 | 2-4 YO | Quatre Vins | 1318b
    • Special Cask Release #7 | 55% | 2013-2018 | 5 YO | Oloroso
    • Special Cask Release #6 | 55% | 2013-2018 | 5 YO | Virgin Oak | 397b
    • Special Cask Release #4 | 58% | 2013-2018 | 5 YO | Madeira
    • Special Cask Release #3 | 57% | 2013-2018 | 5 YO | Sherry
    • Special Cask Release #x | 59% | 2012-2017 | 5 YO | Oloroso
    • Special Cask Release #x | 45% | 2010-2020 | 10 YO | Port
    • Special Cask Release #x | 45% | 2010-???? | 10 YO | Madeira
    • Special Cask Release #x | 60% | 2012-2017 | 5 YO | Marsala
    • Special Cask Release #x | 59% | 2008-2013 | 5 YO | Oloroso | 428b
    • Special Cask Release #x | 56% | 2008-2017 | 9 YO | Port | 585b
Jun 192023
 

Some rum independents1 just have a certain…something. A kind of vibe, a sort of cool marketing pizzazz and reputational cred that sets them apart from the increasing number of such companies crowding the marketplace.

It’s a varied sort of thing: sometimes it’s a colourful and interesting owner or brand rep, like Mitch Wilson, Josh Singh, Karl Mudzamba, Eric Kaye, Luca, Fabio or Florent Beuchet. Other times it’s because of really good rums that fly under the radar, like Velier in the old days, or Tristan Prodhomme’s L’Esprit range, the one-off release of Stolen Overproof. And at other times it’s an unusual, even striking, bottle or label design, such as the original frosted glass bottles of the first Renegade rums, the Habitation Veliers with their informative label and delicate watercolours, the beautiful B&W photography of Rom Deluxe’s “Wild Series” or the superb minimalism of El Destilado’s Oaxacan rums.

Not many indies play in all three areas: those that do are assured of eyeballs and mindspace way beyond their actual market footprint, and here we are looking at a rum from one of them, That Boutique-y Rum Co. This offshoot of Atom Brands (which runs the Masters of Malt online shop in the UK) is almost like a masterclass in pressing all the marketing buttons at once. For one, they have a strikingly visual label ethos, having contracted with the artist Jim’ll Paint it, who includes factual information, easter eggs, sight gags and an irreverent sense of humour into all his brightly coloured designs. For another, they are repped around the place by the enormously likeable and knowledgeable Pete Holland (who also talks up Foursquare in his spare time when Richard can convince him to come in off the beach) — in a nice meta-twist, Pete is also on quite a few of the bottle labels himself. And thirdly their rums cover a wide gamut of the world’s most famous distillery selections (plus a few off the beaten track), many of which are really quite good.

Such an example is this rum, from the evocatively-named Madeiran distillery of O Reizinho (the name means “Little King”, “Kinglet” or “The Prince” depending on your translational tool), which some might recall fom when we met the rum before as Batch 1 which was released in 2018. Batch 2 was similar in that it was also an unaged white but with the proof jacked up to 57% and here, with Batch 3, the strength remains at 57% but it’s been aged for nine months in ex-Madeira casks, hence the bright gold colouring. Other details remain constant: cane juice, about a week’s fermentation, pot still. It can legally be called an agricole.

Even nine months’ ageing can produce some variations from the pure vegetal background of an unaged white going on all cylindersbut that does not appear to be the case with Batch 3 because if you close your eyes it could just as easily be one of those clear little monsters. Holy smokes, is this rum ever pungent. It exudes a sharp breath of vegetal, funky rumstink right from the startfruits going bad in hot weather, the chewing gum-flavoured bad breath of a furious fire-and-brimstone street preacher who doesn’t keep his distance (I wish I could tell you I made this up…), sharp strawberries and pineapples, green grapes, brine and pepper-stuffed olives. There’s some light citrus and watermelon cowering behind these, and some odd smells of what can only be described as potato starch in water, go figure, plus a hint of coconut shavings, ginger and lemon zest.

The palate is more balanced and dials down the aggro a fair bit, which is welcome. It’s warm and sweet (not too much), tastes of sugar cane sap, mint, olives, brine, olives with a background of pine sol, lemon, and hot cooking oil just at the smoke point. There are a few stray notes of green bananas, black peppers, vanilla and those coconut shavings. You can still sense the funkiness underlying all thispineapples and strawberries show up, as well as soft squishy overripe orangesbut it handles well, leading to a finish that’s medium long, no burn, quite warm, and brings each taste back to the front one last time for a final bow. Some brine, pine-y notes, olives and oranges, with softer vanilla and banana and coconut and nail polish. Nice.

So, what to say here? It’s different from the rums we usually try, enough to be interesting and pique our desire for a challenge. The strength is completely solidit might be off-putting to some so a few drops of water might calm things down to manageable levels. The combination of sweet and sour and salt is good; what makes this score slightly lower in my estimation is the ageing itself, because it transforms the rum into something subtly schizophrenic, that’s neither fish not fowl, neither quite presenting the crisp clarity of an unaged white brawler, nor a more modulated aged rum whose rough edges have been sanded off. Oh, and that Madeira cask in which it was aged? Anonymous at best.

That said, the rum is nicely balanced, smells great (after you get past the preacher) and tastes decent. It’s a well done product and overall, if I did prefer Batch 1, that’s entirely a personal preference and your mileage might vary. At the end of it all, what all these O Reizinho rums do is keep the flags of cheeky insouciance and reputation for interesting rumswhich have been a hallmark of TBRC since their establishmentfluttering nicely. And that’s good for all us rum drinkers who want to go off the reservation on occasion.

(#1007)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • It’s a little unclear which the rum actually refers to, since in 2018 TBRC released a 3YO aged batch #1 of 1936 bottles at 52.6% and with a label design pretty much the same as all the others. So there are clearly two streams of these O’Reiz releasesone aged, one notwhose labels might easily be confused: pay close attention to what you’re buying with them.
May 192023
 

If the author of some fictional novel that somehow included rum were to make mention of a South Sea island hooch made in Fiji, sourced from the Pacific island directly by an African expatriate living in Western Canada (by way of New Zealand), who gave it to a nomadic, vagrant, itinerant (and occasionally fragrant) West Indian to try, he would probably be sneered at for having an overactive imagination and told to stick with something more realistic. And yet, that’s exactly what this product is, and that’s exactly what happened.

To set the stage, I tried the rum (and its siblings) several times on a thoroughly enjoyable, tall-story-and-b.s.-filled afternoon in the company of the bottler, a friendly, well-known gent named Karl Mudzambahe’s originally from Zimbabwe and now lives in Vancouver. The rumhis rumwas distilled on a pot still at the South Pacific Distillery in 2008, fully aged there, is a blend of nine casks and has an outturn of 1272 bottles. It is, as a point of interest, also the one that kicked off the small indie company called Bira! which Karl founded in 2019 to address his not unfounded conviction that Canada was not being served the tastiest and the mostest by the bestesteven in Alberta, which is probably the province with the widest rum selection in the country.

What Canadians got in 2020 when the rum was releasedmostly only to themwas a rum of remarkable originality. Granted, there have been several indies issuing SPD rumsCompagnie des Indes, Samaroli, L’Esprit, Kill Devil, The Rum Cask, TCRL, Duncan Taylor, and Berry Bros. & Rudd have all done some bottlings over the years; some have been stronger and some have been olderyet few have the tags that characterised this one: pot still and full tropical ageing with a profile that teased and pleased and stayed on to deliver. Not since the peculiarly elusive and haunting power of the TCRL 8 Year Old have I had a rum from Fiji that made me spend so much time on one.

The nose, to start with, was lovely. 55% ABV made it hit something of a firm sweet spot, and it was dry and smoky to start, reminding me of roasted coffee beans, unsweetened chocolate with almonds, and toffee. It opened out to some thickly aromatic fruitsbananas, peaches and apricots set off with hints of pineapple and strawberriesbefore adding a last briny scent of olives. It wasn’t particularly sweet and had more than just a hint of a freshly disinfected hospital about it, which I hasten to add, was not unpleasantjust odd.It’s the combination that makes it all hang together, and work.

Much of this continued to be sensed on tasting it. This came in three distinct waves which swelled and subsided over time. First, those heavy fruits (apricots and peaches and kiwi) which now felt riper and juicier…more tart, if you will. Then muskier flavours of coffee grounds, chocolate, crushed almonds with some sharper tannins of oak influence, cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg. And lastly the salt-caramel ice cream, honey and slight iodine and rubber background which closed up the experience, leading to the long and fragrant finish. This last was particularly nice because it dispensed with any kind of sharpness and summarised the preceding experience without trying too hard to do anything new: there were just some fruits, some honey and some medicinalsall of which was dry and almost astringent, but fortunately not bitter.

What emerged out of this tasting session (as well as from everything else from Bira! I tried that afternoon), was the conviction that aside from being one of the first independent bottlers of rums in Canada, Karl knows how to pick ‘em, and indeed, he did his research on Fiji and knew the various releases that were out there, from other independents. Fiji rums have always been a bit hit and miss depending on who’s picking, where it’s been aged and the still that made it. By going straight to the source and bypassing brokers, by ensuring the barrels were selected according to his own desires and visions, Karl has issued a well-rounded, tasty, complex rum of excellent quality, and best of all, it’s not one I have to get a plane ticket to Europe to find. If this is what one potential future aspect of the Canadian rum scene is, I may have returned at just the right time.

(#997)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Background and Company Notes

  • Karl Mudzamba clearly has a penchant for going his own way. While most new independents who source their rum stock start the exercise with a recognizable Name (Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica are old stalwarts and long-favoured choices, as Holmes Cay for one has demonstrated) so as to ensure initial name recognition and sales, then make an effort to see they are repped in the EU and US almost as a given, Karl has done nothing of the kind. His first release was this one from South Pacific Distilleries, and he sourced it not from Europe, but directly from Fiji. Moreover, he also wanted it to be a completely unaged white rum, but Canada being what it is, with liquor laws predating the Flood and about as hard to turn as the ark itself, unaged rum cannot be imported. So he went with his second choice, and I’m not unhappy that he did so.
  • The Bira ceremony is one practised by the Shona people of Zimbabwe: it is a dusk to dawn celebration, a ritual, in which members of an extended family or clan get together, and with the use of music and dance, ask ancestral spirits to come into the world of the living. When the spirits come they take over the body of the spirit mediumusually an elder of the familyand act as an intermediary between the participants and the spirits of those who have passed on, or even the Creator. The ceremony is composed of singing, dancing, hand clapping and sometimes traditional musical instruments (drums, gourd shakers), and one consistent feature is to use music favoured by the departed to entice them to participate.
  • So far the small company has three releases out there: the South Pacific rum we discuss here, and two aged cane juice varietals from Mhoba. They’re all quite good.
  • The stylized Bira dancer on the label was added after the South Pacific issue, and is now the logo of the company brand.
  • Other references are:
May 022023
 

More and more we are ceasing to regard rum as being the province of just the great geographical areas which have long stratified the spirit into styles which promotedand are limited bythe regional perceptions of old colonial empires. British (Jamaican, Barbadian, Guyanese), Spanish/Latin and French are the best known of course, and Matt Petrek has long argued (correctly, in my view) that they are best seen as production classifiers than true regional markersbut ultimately the one thing that that particular series of classification did was that it centred our minds in the western hemisphere, with perhaps the occasional nod to Reunion or Madeira.

In the last decade, this limited focus has blown wide open. We can, with not too much effort, original source rums from Africa, Australia, India, Japan, Philippines, Viet Nam, Madagascar, Laos, Cambodia…even the USA and Canada are popping up on the scene. Not all of superb quality, but often of real interest and real uniqueness. And, in a perhaps amusing sort of irony, at last we are seeing the distilleries coming home to roost, as small European companies are eschewing the route of the independent, and actively opening small craft distilleries in their home countries.

In the UK, new companies such as J. Gow, along with Ninefold, Dark Matter, Sugar House, Islay Rum Company and a few others, are at the forefront of this expansion into the homeland. They don’t mess around, often go pot still from the get go, have no issues experimenting with fermentations, distillations and barrels in a way that would perhaps make a more seasoned veteran of, say, Cuba’s maestros roneros, flinchand produce both aged and unaged rums of varying quality for us to try. Not everything succeeds, but Good Lord, a lot of it does, and J. Gow’s “Revenge” is one of them.

I’ll get into J. Gow’s backstory a bit more in the background notes, rather than make the intro here go on for even longer. For now, the stats: this is a pot still rum made entirely in Orkney in the north of Scotland from imported molasses that are fermented for 5–14 days, in a temperature-controlled 2000-litre fermenter. The wash goes to about 8% ABV, and is then distilled in a stripping run in the pot still, to around 30% ABV. A second spirit run then produces the final high proof distillate which is set to age, although with this one, an extra stripping run has taken place to make it a bit stronger. The rum is a blend of J. Gow’s HD (Heavy Dunder) and DS marques, then aged for 3 years in situ, in a combination of ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks.

Named “Revenge” after a prize taken in 1724 (and no, not from the Dread Pirate Roberts), the 43% rum has some real fangs, let me tell you. The nose is deep and dark, quite at odds with its light straw colour. Molasses, brown sugar and vanilla notes predominate, and underneath that is a sort of light perfumed sweetnessacetones, strawberries, yoghurt, white chocolate…even some flowerswhich balances it off nicely. With time some fleshy fruit emerge as well, so it’s a pretty good trifecta there, belying that three years of ageing. It noses older, more mature, more rounded, in a good way.

The palate is where things get both interesting and head off into uncharted seas. It’s initially light and fruity, so some pears, apricots, guavas, vanilla and florals; then a series of darker notes subtly invade the tasteblack tea, molasses, caramel, the faintest touch of licorice. But what makes it stand out (to me at any rate) is the malty, briny, grainy, cereal notes which circle around the others, not obnoxiously and not hogging the limelight, but somehow lending a twist to more traditional “rummy” profile we might have expected. It makes the rum distinctive in a way far too many are not, and even the tang of bitterness at the tail endthe oak starts to take overisn’t entirely a bad thing. The finish kind of sums up the experience with a short, light denouement, leaving behind some perfumed florals, toffee and a peppery note.

I confess to being somewhat startled at how good this three year old rum wasI’ve tried five year olds with less chops than this one showed off so casually. The notes come together quite wellWes Burgin commented several times on his appreciation for its balanceand even at 43% there was no shortage of bits and pieces to tease out and indulge oneself identifying. I particularly respected how it went off at a tangent on the palate, and didn’t simply try to be a copy of some island hooch. It’s a really good rum, a remarkably tasty introduction (to me) of what the Scots can do if they were to take some time off from the local tipple and try to make a real spirit. And the best part is, there are more in the line that are every bit as good. I can’t wait to get started.

 

(#993)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Brief Historical Background

The small Scottish distillery of VS Distillers is named after its founder, Collin Van Schayk, and it sits a few feet away from the shoreline of what may be the world’s smallest island that hosts a distillery: Lamb Holm, a mere 0.15 sq miles in area (less than half a square km).

That location is not the only odd thing about them, and the distillery’s title is practically unknown, with the company being much more widely recognized by its brand name, J. Gow. The late and unlamented Mr. John Gow was (perhaps inevitably) a pirate, albeit a rather unsuccessful onehe hailed from the Orkneys, itself an island group which would be the northernmost point of Scotland if it wasn’t for the Shetland Islands even further out. His claim to fame, aside from a career deemed short even by the rough standards of the 1700s (said piratical endeavours lasted less than a year between inception and his execution) was that he was caught, tried and hung, the rope broke…and he was ceremoniously and solicitously hung again (in spite of the perhaps apocryphal tradition that a botched hanging allows the condemned to go free since God evidently pardoned him).

Mr. Van Shayk founded the company in 2016 with a 2000 liter pot still (why he chose such a remote, even obscure, location has never been answeredI suspected there’s some family heritage there someplace). Almost immediately he began making spiced rums which, in spite of the groans of the purists, sold quite welland the success garnered by these initial efforts convinced him to branch out not only into pure single rums, but to tinker with various barrel types as well as fermentation techniques. It’s too early to see where this is all going, but for sure originality and experimentation are part of the recipe, now and in the future.