Apr 222021
 

One of the things that irritates me about this blended rum from Guyana which Rum Nation released in 2019, is the carelessness of the front label design.  I mean, seriously, how is it possible that “British Guyana” can actually be on a rum label in the 21st century, when Guyana has not been British anything since 1966 and when it was, it was spelled “Guiana”? Are designers really that clueless? And lest you think this is just me having a surfeit of my daily snarky-pills, think about it this way: if they couldn’t care enough to get their facts right about stuff so simple, what else is there on the label I can’t trust?

Still: I am grateful that the back label is more informative. Here, it is clearly spelled out that the rum is a blend of distillate from the French Savalle still, the (Enmore) wooden coffey still and the (Port Mourant) double wooden pot still, and this blend was aged for four years in the tropics (in British Guyana, one may assume) before undergoing a secondary European maturation for six years in ex-oloroso casks, and then decanted into 2,715 bottles, each at 56.4% ABV. What this is, then, is a bottling similar to DDL’s own experimental blended Rares, which has dropped completely out of sight since its introduction in 2019. A similar fate appears to have befallen this one since I don’t know the last time I saw one pop up at auction, let alone on social media.

But perhaps it’s an undiscovered steal, so let’s look deeper.  Nose first: it’s surprisingly simple, even straightforward. It’s warm and thick, and represents the wooden stills in fine style – dusty, redolent of breakfast spices, oak and vanilla at first, then allows additional aromas of coffee grounds, raisins, dried orange peel dark fruits, licorice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the oloroso influence is dominating though, and in fact it seems rather dialled down, which is unexpected for a rum with a six year sleep in sherry barrels.

I do, on the other hand, like the taste. It’s warm and rich and the Enmore still profile – freshly sawn lumber, sawdust, pencil shavings – is clear. Also sour cream, eggnog, and bags of dried, dark fruits (raisins, prunes, dried plums) mix it up with a nice touch of sandalwood. It takes its own sweet time getting the the point and is a little discombobulated throughout, but I can’t argue with the stewed apples, dried orange peel, ripe red guavas and licorice – it’s nice. The finish is quite solid, if unexceptional: it lasts a fair bit, and you’re left with closing notes of licorice, oak chips, vanilla, dried fruit and black cake.

Overall, it’s a good rum, though I believe it tries for too much with the three stills’ distillates and the long sherry barrel ageing.  There’s a lot going on but it doesn’t quite snap together into a harmonious whole. There’s always too much or too little of one or other element here, the sherry influence is inconsistent at best, and it keeps charging around in a confusing mishmash of rum that tastes okay but never settles down to allow us as drinkers to come to grips with it.  This is an observation also levelled at DDL’s experimental rares, by the way, but not Velier’s “blended in the barrel” series of later Guyanese rums which set the bar quite high for such blends. 

Clearing away the dishes, then, consider it as a decent blend, something for those who want to take a flier on an El Dorado rum that isn’t actually one of them, or a less expensive, younger Velier blend.  Think of it as a stronger and slightly older version of ED’s own 8 Year Old, lacking only DDL’s mastery of their blending practice to score higher. That is at best a guarded endorsement, but it’s all the rum really merits

(#814)(82/100)


Background

Rum Nation is that indie rum company founded by Fabio Rossi back in 1999 in Firenze (in NE Italy), and if they ever had a killer app of their own, it was those very old Demeraras and Jamaican “Supreme Lord” rums which were once wrapped in jute sacking and ensconced in wooden boxes. Rum Nation was one of the first of the modern rum independents that created whole ranges of rums and not just one or two single barrel expressions: from affordable starter bottles to ultra-aged products, and if they aged some of their releases in Europe, well, at the time that was hardly considered a disqualifier.

By 2016, however, things had started to change. Velier’s philosophy of pure tropically-aged rums had taken over the conceptual marketplace at the top end of sales, and a host of new and scrappy European independents had emerged to take advantage of rum’s increasing popularity. Rum Nation took on the challenge by creating a new bottle line called the Rare Collection – the standard series of entry level barroom-style bottles remained, but a new design ethos permeated the Rares – sleeker bottles, bright and informative labelling, more limited outturns. In other words, more exclusive. Many of these rums sold well and kept Rum Nation’s reputation flying high.  People of slender means and leaner purses kept buying the annual entry-level releases, while connoisseurs went after the aged Rares.

Two years later, Fabio was getting annoyed at being sidetracked from his core whisky business (he owns Wilson & Morgan, a rebottler), and he felt the indie rum business was more trouble than it was worth. Too, he was noticing the remarkable sales of the Ron Millonario line (a light bodied, rather sweet rum out of Peru), which, on the face of it, should not be anywhere near as successful as it was. And so, finally, he divested himself of the Rum Nation brand altogether, selling out to a small group of Danish investors.  He kept the Millonario brand and has an arrangement to rep RN at various rum festivals (which was how I saw him in 2019 in Berlin), but the era of his involvement with the company formed two decades earlier, is now over.  

…which might explain why the label was done that way.

Dec 032020
 

Any independent bottler who’s been around for a few years always has rums at various tiers of quality, or premiumness.  Most of this has to do with increasingly elaborate packaging, marketing campaigns, price (of course) or just the hype surrounding the bottle. Though of course once we see a price tag in the hundreds (or thousands), and an age in the third decade or more, we tend to perk up and pay attention anyway without any prodding, right?

Rum Nation, a fomerly Italian-based IB has always been on board with this practice. Even back in 2011 when I bought their entire 2010 range at once, I could see they had their “starter rums” in tall barroom bottles which cost around $30-$60, and the rather more upscale Demeraras and Jamaicans which were more than two decades old, had cool wooden boxes and ran into three figures. You could tell those were special (and they remain so). Years later they changed the bottle shape to the more squat versions still in use today, but came out with a new series of cask strength small batch series they called the “Rare Rums” which had smaller outturns and were more expensive, and the seriously aged Demeraras and Jamaicans were retired.  

But even then Rum Nation went one step higher, with what one might term the Ultra Rares, of which so far, there have only been a few: a 1999 Port Mourant, a 30 Year Old blended Jamaican Long Pond from 1986, and a small number of lovely Caroni rums from the 1990s. This one, in a handsome box and flat presentation style 50cl bottle, was one from the noted year of 1997 (there a lot of Caroni rums from various IBs sporting that year of make, including one of the first I ever tried, the AD Rattray version). Bottled at 59.2% it had an Islay finish which had the virtue of at least making me curious, even if I had my doubts. And it did look really cool. 

What was it like? Short version, very Caroni-like.  Smelling it instantly brings back all the memories of the closed distillery – fresh tar being laid on a hot day, petrol, fusel oil, wax and plasticine boil out of the glass right from the start.  These aromas give way to brine and olives, iodine, acetones and nail polish, a sort of complex and medicinal amalgam that is then softened by caramel, unsweetened chocolate, almonds, cinnamon and hot, very strong black tea. I’m no peathead anorak like some of my friends, but I really could not fault that nose for the Islay touch it had.

The palate is as stern and uncompromising as an overcast day promising cold rain, and follows well from that nose. A shade bitter, it tastes of chocolate (again), tar, caramel, bags of dark fruits – dates, blackberries, prunes, raisins – with a background of vanilla, leather, smoke and sooty kerosene camping stoves farting black smoke.  It develops well from one flavour to the next and it’s well balanced but I think this may be a bit too much Caroni for some, like it was dialled to “11” in a fit of absentmindedness. Sometimes with rums like this it fails on the backstretch, choking and falling off just as it should be revving – in this case, the finish is no slouch…long and dry, dusty and sharp, tasting of aromatic cigar smoke, petrol, nuts, vanilla and a touch of cinnamon.  I really quite liked it, and feel it’s a good entry to the canon.

Rum Nation has had a solid bottling history under Fabio Rossi, was one of the first indies I ever tried, and was sold to a Danish concern back in late 2019.  The explosion of so many other indies over the last decade has dimmed its lustre, and in no way can any Trini rum in this day and age, by any bottler, compete with the Caroni juggernaut that is Velier, whether or not they’re better.  But I still believe this is an enormously tasty rum and that peaty Islay finish complemented the fusel oil and kero notes for which the closed distillery is so famed, making for an intriguing and darkly delicious drink that can’t be discounted.  

It is, at end, just a really good bottling, represents the shuttered Trinidadian distillery with force and elan; and with all the fuss and bother and sometimes-insane prices of favoured Caroni bottles from Luca’s immense hoard, it might not be out to lunch to suggest that even with the price tag this one has, it’s worth it. Try it first, if you can, or if you have reservations – because if you’re on a Caroni field exploration trip, and want a good ‘un, you could do a lot worse than Rum Nation’s entry to the pantheon.

(#782)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn is unknown, unfortunately
  • Ageing is assumed to be in Europe

Oct 292020
 

Aside from Zacapa, Botran is the other big rum name we know which comes out of Guatemala.  Both have lost some of their lustre in the last years (though probably not their sales), the former for its sweetness, the latter because it got left behind by the fast moving indie world and cask strength ethos that gradually took over the top end.

That certainly did not stop Rum Nation though, because they happily took some of the distillate from Botran’s Destiladora del Alcoholes y Rones SA (also known as DARSA) and aged it for around four years (minimum) in the Hondo River region of NE Guatemala in ex-bourbon white oak barrels.  The story goes that this area is quite humid and the warmest part of Guatemala which allowed for some interesting effects on the final distillate, a light, fruity result that was then bottled in 2018 and remains in their core lineup. 

Well, ok. I’ve had a fair bit of Botran’s lineup and if Rum Nation decides to go this route of in-country ageing to get a nice little 40% sipper, I’d love to try it.  I do after all have a lingering fondness for one of the first indies I ever had a chance to try, and retain a desire to try two other old rums from Guatemala they issued — a 1982-2005 and a 1984-2007.

Rum Nation’s own background notes say this is “one of the lightest rums in our collection” and they weren’t kidding (they omit mention that it’s also one of those rums Fabio Rossi would call a “starter rum”, but never mind). The nose just confirms this assessment: it is delicate to a falt, very light, channeling the clean white softness of a freshly laundered pillowcase hung to dry in the sun. It’s lightly sweet, fruity with the aromas of green grapes and raisins, and has a tuch of cola, mint, caramel and some vanilla, plus an additional hint of orange peel and perhaps some anise after a few minutes. A nice and easy sip to start the day’s sundowners.

The palate built on this quiet foundation.  It remained soft and warm – 40% couldn’t really provide much more – and initially tasted of candy, creme brulee, caramel and vanilla ice cream, as well as an odd and subtle mineral note. A little salt, brie, citrus, vanilla, more caramel and a touch of spite from the wood. Others have remarked on a  more pronounced licorice element, but  didn’t sense much of that.  The finish is everything we can expect: a summation of all the preceding, no new ground, a light, breathless wisp of vanilla, fruit and caramel.

Fabio Rossi no longer owns the Rum Nation brand (he sold it to a group of Danes in 2019 or thereabouts) yet his fingerprints remain all over this one.  For years he tried to find a light, fragrant, fruity distillate that would take on Zacapa and the two rums alluded to above were part of that exercise, even if eventually he found what he was looking for in Peru, not Guatemala. I think he liked what Botran was doing, though, and put in an order that resulted in this delicate standard-strength blend.  By the time it came out he was already retreating from Rum Nation, leaving it as one of the last rums he had a hand in creating.  

It’s too delicate and light and breathy for me, and as you know, these days 40% doesn’t work for me any longer. That should not, however, stop adherents of the Botrans and soft Latin style rums from giving it a try, because it sure pushes all the buttons I know they like: easy, light and clean, reasonably and subtly tasty, made to have by itself. For those drinkers not entirely won over by today’s stronger and more puissant full proof releases, this may be the fruity marshmallow they never knew they wanted.

(#773)(80/100)


Other Notes

  • I didn’t get to test for sugar, but I’m sure there’s some in here…it just tastes that way.
  • As far as I know, completely aged in Guatemala, and it’s a blend, not a solera.
Jul 162020
 

The Rum Nation Panama 2009 edition exists in a peculiar place of my mind, since it’s the unavailable, long-gone predecessor of the 18 YO Panamanian which RN released in 2010; this in turn was one of the first Panamanian rums that I had tried that wasn’t an indifferently blended bland blah, that possessed more years  and complexity than I had heretofore experienced, and was an all round lovely drink…or so I thought at the time. Nearly a decade later, my opinions of Panamanian rums is no longer so stellar: but in all honesty, to see a rum from Rum Nation that predates the current age of rum we’re living in is reason enough sometimes, to just grab the bottle, whip out the notebook, and spend an hour or so putting the pour through its paces.

Rum Nation itself needs no introduction, though you can read the bio of the company Fabio Rossi founded in 1999 and sold in 2019 here if you’re interested. They have always had three kinds of rums: [i] the ‘starter’ rums [ii] the multi-decade-old Demeraras and Jamaicans, and [iii] the Rare Collection of upscale limited releases.  Especially in the starters, there have always been justified grumbles and accusations about dosage, however minor, but of late this practice has been discontinued.  I was unable to test this one, unfortunately, but based on how it profiled, I would suggest that yes, it had a little something extra, just not enough to make it a competitor for AH Riise.

That dealt with, let’s get right into the rum. Considering the nose and the smell, the first word I wrote was “light.” It had a nice mixup of bitter tree bark, strong black tea, crushed walnuts, and a nice layering of butterscotch, vanilla and salted caramel. It developed with further hints of leather, some smoke, light molasses and seemed to be a completely decent exemplar of the lighter latin column-still style that was so in favour when it was made and now so disregarded, by so many.  For its strength, 40%, I quite liked it.

That was the smell, but what did it taste like?  Eighteen years in a barrel must, after all, show its traces. To some extent, yes: again, light is the operative word, though gentle can work too. Nuts, leather and butterscotch, a bit of brine and molasses started the party going. The other band members joined in later – vanilla, white guavas, figs papaya, watermelons, watery pears, and even coconut shavings, cloves, white chocolate, almonds and molasses.  But in spite of these good beginnings, they just started big…and then dropped rapidly off a cliff.  All those tastes literally disappeared in seconds, and made a mockery of the finish, which only displayed a short, briny aftertaste of peanut butter, almonds and caramel. Essentially, not much action in the jock and you can see how far the rum world has progressed when you compare something like this to today’s solid offerings.

In fine, the 40% strength is part of the problem, and it’s it’s too thin, too wispy, too fleetingly easy.  I suppose it can be classed as a soft evening sipper but even within that quiet profile there’s too little going on, and I remember liking the 2010 edition much more – but then, those were more innocent times and we had experienced less.  The Rum Nation 2009 says rather more about my changing tastes than about itself. Up to about 2014 I liked 40% blends and the smooth slinky Central American rums from Panama and Nicaragua quite a bit.  For example, Rum Nation’s own 21 YO Panamanian scored 89 points in early 2013; another high point came with the Panamonte XXV, to which I awarded what would be a now-unthinkable 87 points that same year; and the last one I remember scoring that well was the Peruvian Ron Cartavio XO at 88 a year later.  But by then I had started gravitating towards stronger, clearer and more forceful rums that tasted off the scale and gradually moved away from the somnolent ease of the Spanish style. 

Had I tried this Rum Nation product back at the beginning, I believe 84-86 points would have been its lot: now, with so many years of trying, tasting, and thinking about rums from all points of the compass, it ranks higher for providing a window to the world of Ago than purely for taste and enjoyment (although I did like it enough, let me be clear about that).  It’s a rum from those uncritical uncynical times at the dawn of the rum renaissance and deserves to be written about in that vein…but alas, the big-eared, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed newb who should do that has left the building…and his successor is a little harder to please.

(#745)(80/100)


Other Notes

As far as I know, the rum stock comes from Varela Hermanos, who make the Abuelo brand, and aged in American oak ex-bourbon barrels.  Awaiting some feedback from Fabio Rossi, and will update the post if needed.

Apr 302020
 

By the time this review is read, digested and (incredulously) sniffed over and dismissed, somebody out there might well be sharpening pen, tablet or iphone and getting ready to verbally off me online.  And no surprise – were I to repeat the hosannas of my original 2012 review of the Millonario XO, which scored what would now be considered a near-unbelievable, is-the-Caner-out-of-his-friggin’-mind? 88 points, I would never be taken seriously again.  The rum has become a lightning rod for rum purists, on par with the Diplo Res Ex, Dictador, Zacapa 23 or the Zaya 21, all of which are from South America, feature big numbers and small type and fine print, are almost all soleras (named so or not) and worst of all, are all tarted up with additives of one kind or another to a degree that is off putting in the Age of Foursquare, New Jamaicans and the big Indies.

Such matters in any adulterated rum would itself wouldn’t be all that problematic if (a) these things were spelled out clearly and (b) the labelling wasn’t so self-evidently deceptive and (c) the marketing wasn’t so heavy on the bullsh*t.  Rum Nation, which until recently produced and distributed the Millonario (which is made from facilities in Peru), didn’t escape such opprobrium, but since the original XO came out more than ten years back, and since so much of what RN did since then was so well received, I’m guessing some slack was granted for lesser knowledge and expertise back in the day; and as time passed reviews dried up…and the Millonario brand, while it sold extremely well, fell into a sort of limbo.

But Fabio Rossi has sold off the Rum Nation name and portfolio to concentrate on this one line of rums, which he evidently prefers (he remains in a consultancy capacity for the RN brand) or which sells a whole lot better. This deserves some consideration since he does know his spirits and has been in the game of rum for over two decades, and undoubtedly picked up a thing or two. And so, when he handed me the 2018 release (which had been matured in 2nd fill sherry casks and was actually stated to have 20g/L of added sugar), although I initially backed off and mumbled something about this not being my cup of tea any longer, honour and curiosity demanded I give it a shot anyway…so later I snuck back and tried it.

Let’s be clear, this is not in any sense one of the headliners of the various FB fora where people boast about scoring one. The nose is, bluntly, rather blunt. It’s like sucking a fruity snickers bar. It has a solid, smooth and aromatic nose in which the sweet has – somewhat surprisingly – less omnipresence than I would have expected. With that also comes something of a darkish tone to the experience – chocolate, toffee, molasses, coffee, nougat, vanilla and some fleshy fruit – prunes and plums and blackberries I’d say, which lend a certain light citrus element that was unlooked-for and quite surprising. It’s demonstrably not a Demerara, though the resemblance is there…but a newcomer to rum might not see much difference between an ED 12 and this, were they both at the same strength.

What distinguished the taste of the rum then, and again now, through all the years, is its thick firmness which feels akin to having a solid weight brush across the tongue.  The original 40% of the XO fails it nowadays (my opinion) but the intriguing thing about pushing the strength up to 50% which this has, is that it kind of works.  The tastes on the palate, are, for one, much clearer: there are marshmallows, toblerone, almonds, nuts, coffee, bitter chocolate, caramel, anise, well balanced, melding pleasantly. To this are added berries, watermelon, vanilla and some breakfast spices and cumin if you focus, with a feather bed of a finish closing things off – apples, chocolate, bitter coffee grounds, and again, some fruits and vanilla.

A 50% ABV rum like this, a solera (I assume – there is no age statement), sweet, fruity, heavy, firmer than the XO, less elegant than the Solera 15…well, it’s not as brutal as a Caroni or New Jamaican, softer than the pot column blends of the Bajans (but not as good, sorry – Barbados still gets my coin in a head-to-head)…this rum is not as bad as detractors may feel, and reminds me a lot of what I’ve often said in defense of the XO – “there’s a lot more under the hood of this thing than most admit.” But that said, there’s no denying it’s not for everyone, for the same reasons. 

I make no apologies for this, offer no excuses, no defense – it is what it is. It’s been sweetened, it feels sticky, it leaves a residue of aromatic sugar in your glass that any insect would happily swim and drown in, and that’s the rum’s cross to bear.  Every person who reads this review and is thinking of buying or trying it, has to make their peace with that, to walk away, or give in and accept. What I maintain though, is that it’s not half bad for what it is (and as long as you come to it knowing that), which is why I score it at 79 and not below the median of 75, beneath which a rum is not at all to my taste.  I wouldn’t have it in quantity and some wouldn’t have it at all; others would quaff it by the bottle, and still more would have it after dessert only, perhaps with a cigar.  I don’t know all of you and what you would do. But you each know who you are.  Hopefully this rambling review helps you make up your mind one way or another.

(#722)(79/100)