Sep 222020
 

Let’s start at the beginning. Skotlander rum is not made in Scotland, but in Denmark, for the very good reason that the founder, Anders Skotlander, is a Dane with the name. Denmark has long been known (to me, at any rate) as home of some of the most rum-crazy people in Europe, and Anders decided to walk the walk by actually creating some of his own, in 2013. He purchased a Müller copper pot still, sourced sugar cane molasses and in 2014 released 1000 bottles of RUM I, a white, at 40%. It promptly won a gold medal at the Miami rum festival that year; and in 2015, where both RUM I and an infused RUM III were entered, the former won Best in Class White Rum, and the latter a gold for Premium White (alongside Plantation 3 and Nine Leaves Clear, which says something about the categorization of whites in those more loosely defined times).

In the year since then, Anders Skotlander has pushed to stay not only relevant but original. He has sourced molasses and cane juice from around South America, experimented with different barrels, has used unusual storage places (like a bunker, or a century old schooner) to chuck those barrels, and has expanded the range to include spiced and botanical rums, whites, aged rums, agricole rums and even high ester rums. He’s up to Skotlander 10 right now (a 59.5% blend) and the website provides an enormous amount of information for each. And the labels, informative as they are, are masterpieces of Scandinavian minimalism which make some Velier labels seem like over-decorated roccoco indulgences in comparison.

Rums made from scratch by some small new micro-distillery in a country other than the norm are often harbingers of future trends and can bringalongside the founders’ enthusiasmsome interesting tastes to the table, even different spirits (<<cough>> ‘Murrica!!). But Skotlander, to their credit, didn’t mess around with ten different brandies, gins, vodkas, whiskies and what have you, and then pretended they were always into rum and we are now getting the ultimate pinnacle of their artsy voyage of discovery. Nah. These boys started with rum, bam! from eight o’clock, day one.

Which, after this long preamble, brings us to the very interesting Skotlander RUM V Batch #1 (1400 sømil), a rum made from molasses sourced in Brazil which are fermented for thirty days (in Denmark), pot still distilled (also in Denmark), aged in four PX barrels onboard the schooner “Mira” for about a year during which it sailed 1400 nautical miles (get it?) and then 704 bottles were unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 2016 a muscular 61.6% ABV.

At that proof point you can expect, and you get, serious intensity. The nose is really hot and spicyclearly it spend the entire voyage happily sharpening its fangs. It is clean and snarly, presenting a profile nothing like a Cuban, Bajan, Mudland, or Jamaican rum. It has fruits, yes, deep, dark orange and red-purple ones: black and red grapes, apples, unripe prunes and apricots, red grapefruits, though sorting them out is a near-impossibility. It also smells of smoke, dusty hay, a touch of vanilla and brown sugar, molasses, salted caramelif I had to guess blind I’d say it resembles a pot-still, jacked-up St. Lucian or Saint James more than anything else.

After the near-hysterical clawing of the aromas, the palate calms down somewhat. It remains sharpat that strength, how could it not? – and drips with the winey, sherry-influenced flavours. Red grapes, grapefruit again, tart apples. There is also some caramel, candied oranges and truffles (!!), with crisp cider and citrus notes dominatingbut not entirely successfully. Really, I wrote with some amused bewilderment, this is like a barely aged seriously overproofed agricole mixing it up with a Guyanese High Wine. It does have a lot going onsubsequent sips at the glass, with and without water, evidences stewed apples, fruit salad, watermelons, pineapples, strawberries, so a fair bit of esters in here. This is also evident on the close, which, while long and fragrant with candied oranges, salt caramel, smoke, vanilla and pineapples, lacks neat balance between the salt, sweeet, musky, crisp and tart elements.

I write a lot about “distinctiveness” and “uniqueness” in assessing both familiar and unfamiliar rum houses’ offerings. This has itto an extent. You can sense an really cool and original product coming into focus, even as it takes care not to skate too far to the edges of what is known and understood. But it does kind of mash untidily together, and the complexity it could be showcasing more successfully gets lost, even muddled as it careens heedlessly from one profile to the next. You could taste it several times and each time your interpretation would be slightly different, which in this case is both a recommendation and a cautionary heads-up. It’s a bold and interesting rum by my standards, however, and on that basis, even if I’m late to the party, I think I’ll keep my eye on the company, and go find me some more to try.

(#764)(82/100)


Other notes:

  • The Rum Renaissance gold medal awarded in 2014 was second prize (platinum is first), and was won for being “Best In Class” for white rum. At the time white rums were not stratified between aged or unaged, filtered or not, pot or column, and there are no records how many other rums were judged in that category. Still, for a rum not even in existence a year before, that’s not a bad showing given it was up against all other white rums, and not a subclass.
  • Skotlander V Batch #2 is slightly older, about two years, released around 2018, aged on the same schooner while it sailed for 2200 nautical miles. The same emptied ex-sherry ex-Batch 1 barrels were reused.
  • Here’s a chocolate-voiced promo video about Skotlander
  • Thanks to Gregers and Henrik, the Danes who twigged me on to this company and their rums.
Aug 032020
 

The three wooden stills now all gathered at DDL’s Diamond facility are called Heritage stills, their wooden greenheart components regularly serviced and replaced, and the questions they pose about the matter of Theseus’s ship are usually ignored. That’s not really important, though, because they may be the three most famous stills in existence, and the taste profiles of the rums they create are known by all dedicated rumistas, who enjoy nothing more than relentlessly analyzing them for the minutest variations and then bickering about it in a never-ending cheerful squabble.

My own preference has always been for the stern elegance of the Port Mourant, and the Enmore coffey still produces rums that are complex, graceful and sophisticated when done right. But the Versailles still is something of an ugly stepchildyou’ll go far and look long to find an unqualified positive review of any rum it spits out. I’ve always felt that it takes rare skill to bring the rough and raw VSG pot still profile to its full potentialnone of the familiar indies has had more than occasional success with it, and even Velier never really bothered to produce much Versailles rum at the height of the Age.

This brings us to the Danish company 1423: it makes many mass-market rums for the broader supermarket shelves in Europe, but is perhaps better known worldwide for its boutique rum arm the Single Barrel Selection, which specializes in single cask, limited bottlings. These aim squarely at the connoisseurs’ palates and wallets, and have gained a quiet reputation (and a following) for their quality rums and geographical range. The Diamond 2003 is a case in pointit’s 12 years old (bottled in 2015), has a finish in marsala casks, comes off the Versailles single wooden pot still and is bottled at a completely solid 62.8% with an outturn of 264 bottles. And it’s quite a hoot to drink, let me tell you

“Something is rotten in the State of Diamond,” I wrote cheerfully after a good deep sniff, and just enough to make it interesting.” Which was quite trueit smelled of fruits and vegetables starting to go off, and added some deep oak tannins which thankfully did not get overbearing but receded rapidly. To this was added almonds, peaches, prunes, anise, strawberries, some light vanilla and raisins, all tied together in a neat bow by a briny note and some zesty citrus.

The palate was also quite good, irrespective of how much (or how little) additional taste the finish provided. It had the creaminess of salted caramel ice cream, the dark fruitiness of raisins and prunes and black cake and overall struck me as a deceptively simple, very solidly-constructed rum. The good stuff came from around the edgesyou could sense some fennel and licorice and vanilla, and perhaps some nuttiness, red wine, indian spices and cloves, all dancing around that central pillar without taking center stage themselves. The finish didn’t try for anything new or exotic, but was content to sum up all that had gone before, and gave last notes of toffee, cumin, masala spice, caramel, dark fruits and brine, a nice sweet-salt amalgam, without any sharpness or bite on the exit at all. Nice.

There has been occasional confusion among the stills in the past: e.g. the SBS Enmore 1988 which I am still convinced is a Versailles; but this is (in my opinion) neither a PM nor an Enmore and if there’s any further confusion it may derive from the marsala cask whose influence is faint, but enough to skew one’s mind away from a pure VSG kind of aroma.

And it’s good, very good indeed. Even Duncan Taylor with their 27 YO 1985 couldn’t better it, DDL’s own Rare Release wasn’t significantly better (I’ve heard the Mezan and Samaroli variations are excellent but have not tried them). But it seems to me that the VSG marque is really not meant to be a standalone except for purists and deep diversit works much better as part of a blend, which is indeed what DDL uses it for in its aged releases, rarely issuing it on its own.

Summing up then, with all those difficulties in trapping the best profile out of a notoriously temperamental still, it’s completely to its credit that 1423 managed to wring as much flavour and class out of a relatively young Versailles distillate aged in Europe as they did. Perhaps their 1988 Enmore was in fact from that still also, but this one is no slouch on its own terms, has less ambiguities about its origins to boot and is an all ’round fine drink to have on the shelf.

(#749)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • The length of finish in marsala casks is unknown, if SBS responds to the query I sent, I’ll update.
  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample.
Jun 282020
 

On the first day and at the opening hour of the 2019 Berlin Rumfest, a motley collection of scruffy rum folks met at the back of the hall. Alex Sandu (the young Oxford-based Romanian barman who’s now making a name for himself on the Rum Barrel site) was talking with me about what it takes to manage and maintain a rum site. Indy and Jazz Singh of Rumcask and Skylark Spirits drifted by and sat down, and we all sighed rapturously with the memory of a rum session we had had at Lebensstern rum bar the evening before. Nicolai Wachmann, anonymous rum ninja from Denmark, having left us earlier to go look for junk food outside, rejoined us while still furiously chomping at the semi-masticated remains of his fifth burger, and we all amused ourselves shouting cheerful and childish insults at Gregers Nielsen, who was running the 1423 stand a few feet away. This is the way we soberly conscientious rum chums keep the flag of Rumdom flying high. People must know we take our duties seriously.

Things calmed down when Johnny Drejer approached, though, because in his fist he carried a bottle a lot of us hadn’t seen yetthe second in Romdeluxe’s “Wild Series” of rums, the Guyanese Enmore, with a black and white photo of a Jaguar glaring fiercely out. This was a 61.5% rum, 17 years old (2002 vintage, I believe), from one of the wooden stills (guess which?) — it had not formally gone on sale yet, and he had been presented with it for his 65th birthday a few days before (yeah, he looks awesome for his age). Since we already knew of the elephantine proportions of the Wild Tiger Release 1, we all immediately tried to elbow each other out of the way in our hurry to thrust our glasses at him, and demanded our rightful shares. And to his credit, Johnny, gentleman to the last, shared generously without hesitation or charge before hastily retreating to more civilized areas of the ‘Fest where rabid aficionados would not assault his immaculate person or pinch his birthday prize, and might remember he was actually only 50.

Now, 61.5% might seem like a lot, and indeedif you’re not ready for itit will try its best to take your face off. But nosing it with no more than the usual care suggests that it really is quite civilizedcreamy, even. Certainly one can inhale rich aromas of pencil shavings, butterscotch, sawdust and licorice, all standard for Enmore distillate. I can’t say I sensed much in the way of florals or citrus except as a brief background hint; most of the secondary wave consists of black bread, dark fruits, brie, cereals, almonds, anise and crushed walnuts. Maybe a whiff of mocha if you strain.

All this is fairly common, even boilerplate. It’s on the palate that it rises to the occasion and shows some more chops. Now the label notes it was primarily continentally aged so some tropical ageing can be inferred; it’s just shy of hot on the tongue, extremely robust, and very tasty indeedyet also not rough or sharp. You can taste unsweetened chocolate, anise, blancmange, salted caramel and coffee grounds to start with, and as it relaxes and opens up and you get used to its bold profile, musky, dark fruits like raisins, prunes, not very sweet but with a lot of body. I like the damp sawdust and licorice, the way I always do in an Enmore-still rum, and the long, fragrant finish was pleasant to a fault. Johnny, who had measured the strength of the rum and was mentioned on the label, had gotten himself a pretty nice dram.

Romdeluxe in Denmark isor started out asmore a commercial rum club that makes private label bottlings and runs promotions, than a true independent bottlerbut since they have issued several releases, I’ll call them an indie and move right on from there. Their “Wild Series” of rums has evinced a lot of attention, not just because of its variety but because of the beauty of the stark black and white photography of the large cats with which they adorn their products.

So far there is a tiger (R1 Hampden, Jamaica), jaguar (R2 Enmore, Guyana), puma (R3 Panama), black panther (R4 Belize), lion (R5, Bellevue, Guadeloupe) and leopard (R6 Caroni, Trinidad). I don’t know whether the photos are commissioned or from a stock librarywhat I do know is they are very striking, and you won’t be passing these on a shelf any time you see one. The stats on some of these rums are also quite impressivetake, for example, the strength of the Wild Tiger (85.2% ABV), or the age of the Wild Lion (25 years). These guys clearly aren’t messing around and understand you have to stand out from an ever more crowd gathering of indies these days, if you want to make a sale.

Still, perhaps because I’ve had so many of rums from the Enmore still, my impression is that this one doesn’t ascend to the heights. It’s a completely decent rum and at that strength you’re getting flavour and a reasonably complex profile. However, it isn’t really unique, and won’t wow your socks offoriginality is not its forte, and it seems, rather, to be a restatement of much that has gone before. So it’s easy to like and appreciate, but conversely, leaves no lasting imprint on the mind. A month from now, like just about everyone who was there that afternoon sampling this thing, you won’t recall many memorable characteristics of the rum itself, or much that made it stand outexcept perhaps for the fact that it was nice. Oh yeah, and that boss design. If that’s what makes you buy it, then I guess its work is done. Me, I’m saving for some of the others.

(#740)(83/100)

Jul 112019
 

Photo (c) 1423.dk

There’s another S.B.S rum from Trinidad I should really be writing about, tried on that magical evening in Paris when I ran heedless and headfirst into the Mauritius 2008 and the Jamaican DOK 2018, but naahthere’s this other one they made back in 2016, probably long sold out and gone, which I remember equally well. And that’s the S.B.S. Enmore, distilled in 1988, bottled twenty seven years later, with the sort of solid 51.8% ABV strength that would make the near legendary Bristol Spirits PM 1980 nod approvingly and dab a single ethanol tear from its metaphorical eye.

1423, the parent company making the Single Barrel Selection series laboured in obscurity in Denmark for years, it seems to me, before coming to the attention of the larger world with startling suddenness. All this timeever since 2009 when they released their first rum from barrel #1423 – this small concern founded by four friends (now five) expanded. And although they were primarily into distribution, they never ceased sourcing and bottling their own rums on the sidethis culminated around 2016 with the formation of the more exclusive SBS brand, which, as the name implies, does rums from single barrels. The first year they bottled juice from Panama, Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, Fiji and Guyana, and haven’t stopped running since.

You’ll forgive me for having a soft spot for Guyanese rums. The profile of the wooden stills’ output appeals to me more than most, when it isn’t dumbed down and tarted up with the sweet stuff (I move off fast when that happens because if I wanted a Tiger Bay strumpet I’d go there to get rolled, thank you very much). Anyway SBS follows the indie maxim of not messing with what’s in the barrel, so we have something clean here, as I’d expect.

It smells perfectly fine. It reeks of well polished leather, aromatic tobacco smoke, prunes and unsweetened dark chocolate, and that’s just for openers. There’s also raisins, salted caramel, brine, an olive or two, some mild coffee and some moist brown sugar that still has the whiff of molasses in it. And behind all that is damp black earth, rotting bananas and a darkness that makes you think perhaps it’s trying to channel a HP Lovecraft or something.

I enjoyed the nose for sure, but it’s the taste that makes or breaks a wooden still rum. Here, it was excellentthick, dark, and almost creamy, like Irish coffee. Some licorice and mint chocolate led off, a bit of raisins, toffee, nougat, a twitch of ripe apples. And then it opened up and out came the coffee, the leather, salt caramel, prunes, plums, blackberries, molasses … and was that ripe avocados with salt I was getting in the background? Quite possiblythe richness of the rum, both in taste and in texture, could hardly be faulted. And the finish was excellent, solid and breathy, not giving anything new, but sort of summing things upso, some leather, tobacco, stale coffee grounds, caramel and those fruits again, fainter this time.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was as Guyanese as pepperpot and DDLthe real question is, which still made the rum? The label says it’s an Enmore from a pot still, all of SBS’s records (here and here) say “Enmore” andpotbut the Enmore still itself is a wooden coffey, so that only leaves two optionseither the label is wrong, or it’s one of the two other stills, the Port Mourant wooden double pot, or the Versailles wooden single pot. And since Marco makes no mention of the PM still ever going near Enmore (it was moved to Albion, then to Uitvlugt and then to Diamond), and since the Versailles still was in Enmore in 1995 (the last year that estate’s distillery made rum) then the balance of probability says it’s a Versailles, as Marius of Single Cask Rum stated without attribution in his own rundown of the SBS rums.

Assuming my line of reasoning is correct, then it’s a Versailles-still rum (SBS are digging to clear this mystery up on my behalf after I contacted them about the discrepancy), but maybe this is all just pedantry and anal-retentive detail mongering. After all, it tastes a lot like the Moon Import Enmore 1988-2011 which supposedly was a coffey still rum from there, and even if it was (or wasn’t), who that drinks this thing really deep-down cares? I thought that the rum was more solid and “thicker” than a trueand usually more elegantEnmore, yet more civilized than the Versailles rums tend to be. It was deep, dark, and delicious, a very good rum indeed for those who like that profile, and if we can’t identify its origins with precision, at least we can drink it, enjoy it, love itand thank SBS for bringing it to our attention. We just don’t see enough of such rums any more and that’s reason enough to appreciate what they did, even without the business about which still it came off of.

(#640)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled November 1988, bottled October 2016. For my money that’s a 28 year old
  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachmann, who sourced me the sample quite a while back. I seem to have lost my glass-and-sample-bottle picture, hence my using stock photos
  • The rum is red brown in colour, very pretty in a glass.
Dec 102015
 

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

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

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

Royal Danish Navy 2

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

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

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

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

(#244. 68/100)

AH Riise 2


Background

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

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

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

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