Oct 112021
 

Unlike the White Jack rum which is definitely a Rumaniacs entry due to its reformulation, the Westerhall Plantation Rum remains recognizably the same as when it was first released in 1989, and there seems to be no movement afoot to change the title either (even after the brouhaha over Maison Ferrand’s rum brand name in 2019 and 2020). The Plantation Rum is a five year old product, the first to be exported, beginning the year of its introduction: previously, all rums were either for local consumption or for bulk export. Oddly, though, it’s referred to on their site as their “flagship” rum which makes one wonder what they consider their 10 YO to beUltra Premium Vintage Better-Than-Flagship-Best-Ever-Ever, maybe?

Westerhall has long since ceased distillation. It’s possible this was due to a downturn in sugar cane availability as sugar prices kept falling in the 1990s, or perhaps it was the poor economics of their in-house distilled, aged and blended rums not selling well enough to justify their continuance in a time pre-dating the 21st century Rum Renaissance. Since 1996, then, the company has imported rums to produce its well-known blends: initially this was from Angostura in Trinidad, and in his 2020 Cheat Sheet on the distillery, the Cocktail Wonk remarked that recently they also began importing from two distilleries in Barbados.

This rum, issued at a relatively sedate 43% ABV, dates from the early 2000s, and is therefore from Angostura stocks only: aside from some batch variation, there’s little to distinguish it taste-wise from either earlier or later rums, and consistency has been maintained quite well. The nose is probably the best thing about it: thin, distinct enough, redolent of brine and olives, and set off by a crisp, light, fruity aspect. Behind it lurk notes of paint, acetones, nail polish, and a nice blend of tart-sour fruits like five-finger, star-apple, gooseberries and green mangoes, with just enough sweet to mitigate the lip puckering. It does become somewhat lighter and sweeter as it opens up, and there’s even a trace of sugar water at the tail end.

Palate is nice, just uneventfulmuch of the nose is lost in the light easiness of the way it tastes and “watery” is not a word that would be out of place here. There are traces of peaches, apricots, bananas and green peas(!!), and some of the brininess and olives carry over; also dates and some very light citrus and vinegar-like hints, not enough to derail the experience. It retains the light sweet crispness that the nose promises, and if the finish was kind of briefwarm, dry, salty with a touch of fruits and sweet soyawell, you know what, as a whole the rum kind of works, and is not a disappointment.

What it does, is actually remind me somewhat of the Whisper Antigua rum, also an unpretentious rum aged a few years. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t try too hard to be some kind of uber-sexy blend from a world famous distillery backed up by a snazzy marketing campaign sporting a celebrity (from within or without the rumworld) to raise awareness. It’s just a reasonable, light five year old, closer to people’s memories to the Angostura 5YO, or some of their other such offerings.

With the usual crystal-clear 20-20 hindsight, Westerhall might have done better to take a more visionary long term view and kept their options open by maintaining the stills they did have, because the rumiverse did change in the years after 1996, opening up other possibilities others are now capitalizing on. But even if they declined to become a pure single-rum distilling force in Grenada, clearly the expertise they’re willing to hang their hat on now is that of of blending and ageing, and in this they are akin to Banks DIH in Guyana, which also lacks a still and makes rum from external imports. Let Rivers Antoine and the New Renegade distillery go for the artisanal rum crown, Westerhall will, for now, continue with what works for it.

And the Plantation rum shows that what works for Westerhall isn’t all that bad. When you really get down to it, this is an unpretentious hot-weather light rum of some originalitynot much, just some. Even if it never ascends to the tables of the rich, there’s nothing really wrong with itas long as you’re not looking for anything particularly great, or from Grenada itself.

(#857)(81/100)

Oct 042021
 

Rumaniacs Review #127 | 0855

To be clear, there remains a Westerhall White Jack rum in current production. It’s not this one. It has been suggested that it’s the same as the Jack Iron rum, just made into a white. That’s a harder call, but I doubt that too, because there’s a bit more complexity to this one than the Jack Iron where the reverse might have been expected.

In any case, this version has been discontinued. Even by 2015 when The Fat Rum Pirate penned one of the only reviews of this 70% white Grenadian overproof, it had already undergone reformulation and rebranding that led to a sexier bottle and a one-degree proof reduction in strength. The current stylish ice-blue-and-white bottle is rated 69%, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that this was done to go head to head with the much better known and well-regarded Clarke’s Court White Overproof or Rivers Antoine white popskulls which were also at that strength, and perhaps also to steal a point or two of market share the pack leader, the Wray and Nephew 63% version (although good luck with that, ‘cause in my view they had and have nothing to worry about). Then again, it might also have been to make it more easily transportable on airlines ferrying tourists in and out, who often cap their spirit strength allowances at 70% ABV.

Old and new variants of the White Jack. The one reviewed here is the bottle on the left.

That said, it’s useful to know that Westerhall in Grenada is no longer a distillery: though a distillery did exist since the mid-1800s, it was all about the bulk export marketWesterhall’s own brand, Rum Sipper Strong, was created to service the islanders’ demand only in the early 1970s. It took another decade and a half or so, before the Westerhall Plantation Rum 1 was formulated specifically for exporthowever, the sales couldn’t have been strong enough to justify the distillery, because by 1996 Westerhall ceased distillation completely and started buying bulk rum itself (mostly from Trinidad’s Angostura), leaving its distillery to rustit was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the ruins can be seen to this day on the grounds

ColourWhite (from filtration)

AgeUnknown; suggested to be unaged but I doubt itlike many early white rums were, it’s likely lightly aged, a year or so, and then filtered to clarity (unaged rum is already clear).

Strength 70% ABV

NoseInitially there’s a certain heavy meatiness, like yeasty bread dipped into a thick split pea soup; salt, brine, olives, fresh bell peppers. Also citrus and herbs, grass, sugar waterthere’s an element of cane juice here that is completely unexpected. Surprisingly it develops very nicely, with some estery background notes and sharp fruitiness of strawberries and bananas.

PalateVery intense, unsurprising at the strength. Nuts, cream, butter, quite creamy, and tasting both of sweet and salt; lemon zest, apples, bananas, red currants and some spicescumin and cardamom. There’s more but the strength kind of eviscerates any subtler notes and this is what you’re left with

FinishYou wouldn’t think there’s more than a hot last of spicy fumes, but actually, it’s not bad: toast and cream cheese, chives, olives which gradually transmutes into a nice sweetness of green grapes, bananas and some other indeterminate fruits.

ThoughtsNo competitor to the more aggressive, individualistic, funkier and all-out better J. Wray. It’s a column-still, barely-aged rum, with all that implies, and strong enough to cure all that ails you (from a broken heart to your stalled jalopy, it’s rumoured) — and it’s surprising that as much taste has come through as it has. Not entirely a bad rum, just not one of much real character, and best for its intended purpose, a mix of some kind.

(78/100)

Jan 072021
 

The Masters of Malt blurb for the Grenada-distilled Clarke’s Court No. 37 rum contains two sentences that make one both smile and ask more questions. A “blended Caribbean rum” which is “the thirteenth limited release rum from Clarke’s Court.” And as if trying to top that, they go on to say “The rum was designed to be supplied to exclusive social events” and both just reek of some marketing intern making ad copy in his sleep, evidently unable to come up with anything more interesting about this equally lackadaisical rum.

Why not a “Grenadian” rum, one wonders. And, if this is the 13th edition, why is it called No. 37? Is it related to the possible year of establishment of Grenada Distillers Ltd? Unlikely, because the 1998 book Grenada: Island of Conflict by George Brizan notes that as being 1936, though admittedly the Clarke’s own website notes the factory as becoming operational in 1937. An anniversary of independence? But that was 1974 so 37 years later would be 2011. Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery probably nailed it when he said it was issued to commemorate independence, and the 300th year of establishment of St. George’s (not strictly rightit was started much earlierbut the star-shaped Fort Royale, later St George’s, was indeed completed in 1710).

Where are the other 12 editions, then? Or No. 1 through No. 36? No records exist. Further research reveals that it’s a blend, released in 2010 and was aged for 8 years in oak barrels, and with current editions of the No. 37 blend also being released at 12 years of age. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it was married and then rebarreled with more fruit flavour infused (oh oh…) but this is backed up nowhere else except in hydrometer tests, which also point to additives. Lastly, while the Fat Rum Pirate noted his assumption as being a pot and column still blend, His High Wonkiness says there’s only a two-column still at Grenada Distillers, with which they occasionally make some heavier rum from plates lower down in the column and mix that into the lighter stuff from plates higher up.

Picture copyright Charlene Gooding, from Pinterest

It’s a good thing I did this research after I did the tasting, because all these questions and backstories that filled in the sadly lacking label and website info, came later, and didn’t influence my initial opinion. Alas, that opinion wasn’t all that terrific either. Which is odd in itself, because the experience started out quite solidthe nose, for example, was warm, a little spicy, and smelled initially of molasses bubble gum and soda pop. Quite sweet smelling, and got deeper than the above might imply or the strength would suggest. Nice tropical fruit basket tooguavas (the red ones), bananas, mangoes, watermelon, gherkins, plus toblerone white, almonds. Nicely creamy. Some soft salty notes, like dates and figs. Creme brulee and caramel. Irish coffee. Sonice.

It’s on the palate that it sinks, and some of the falsity shines through. Weak and wispy to a fault. Bubble gum and fanta. Light citrus, pears, more mangoes and guavas, but oddly muted, as if they aren’t sure they’re supposed to be here (this is usually a good indicator of tampering). White chocolate, crushed almonds, a hint of nutmeg, nuts, vanilla, some salt caramel ice cream. There’s even some light fresh (and I swear I’m not making this up) laundry detergent kinda taste. Overall, just unimpressive, with a finish that has to knock twice to make sure it’s heard, let alone noticed, and gives little beyond some miscellaneous fruits and a bit of tart yoghurt to let us know it was ever even there.

It’s a peculiarity of the rum that it said it was limited, but never actually how limitedthe label has a bottle number, but not a “out of xxx bottles” statement. So it’s hard to say what’s special or limited about the whole thing, especially as it continues to be made to this day and the year of distillation of the bottle one has is not mentioned. Moreover I can almost guarantee that few reading this know anything about it unless they went on a cruise down to the island themselves, orlike me, Chip, Dave and Eddate back from those days a decade or more back, when the standards for both rums and labels were very much less exacting than they are now and we accepted what we got with gratitude at getting anything at all.

However that was then, and those same easy standards and low strength fail the rum in this day and age. It’s nice enough for the unadventurous and indifferent but in no way is it as premium as it makes out it is. It’s weak, it’s not well assembled, the years it slept actually seem like less, and it’s been added to. Therefore, to me, it’s an average rum of no distinction or special individualityand so I think I’ll close this already-overlong review by just giving it an average sort of score.

(#792)(77/100)

Nov 192020
 

Recently I was observed to be writing more reviews of obscure rums nobody ever hears about (or can get) than the commonly favoured tipple and new releases favoured by the commenterati. That’s a completely fair thing to say, because I do. Not because I want to be behind the timesI’m gutted I couldn’t try the three new pot-still Appletons from Velier so many people are waxing rhapsodical about, for exampleit’s more a factor of my current location, and inability to travel and the cancellation of the entire 2020 rumfest season.

It’s also as a somewhat deliberate choice. After all, there are loads of people rendering opinions on what’s out there that’s and new and interesting, so what more could one blogger really add? And so I take advantage of these admittedly peculiar circumstances to write about rums that are less well known, a bit off the beaten track, but no less fascinating. Because there will always be, one day, years from now, questions about such bottleseven if only by a single individual finding a dust-covered specimen on some back shelf someplace, written off by the store or owner, ignored by everyone else.

One such is this Samaroli rum sporting an impressive 22 years of continental ageing, hailing from Grenadaalas, not Rivers Antoine, but you can’t have everything (the rum very likely came from Westerhallthey ceased distilling in 1996 but were the only ones exporting bulk rum before that). You’ll look long and hard before you find any kind of write up about it, or anyone who owns itnot surprising when you consider the €340 price tag it fetches in stores and at auction. This is the second Grenada rum selected under the management of Antonio Bleve who took over operations at Samaroli in the mid 2000s and earned himself a similar reputation as Sylvio Samaroli (RIP), that of having the knack of picking right.

I would not suggest, however, that this is entirely the case here. The rum noses decently enough (it clocks in at 45% ABV) and smells pungently sweet, akin to a smoked-out beehive dripping honey into the ashes. There’s caramel toffee, bon bons, cinnamon, white chocolate and a kind of duskiness to the aroma that isn’t bad. After some time additional smells of vanilla and salted caramel ice cream can be detected, but on the whole it’s not very heavy in the fruits department. Some plums and dark berries, and a bare minimum of the tart notes of sharper fruit to balance them off.

The palate is, frankly, something of a disappointment after a nose that was already not all that exciting to begin with. Many of the notes that are present when I smell it return for a subtler encore when sampled: salted caramel ice cream, a dulce de leche coffee, more white chocolate with some nuttiness, honey, caramel, cinnamon, and very few crisp fruits that would have livened up the experience some. Raisins, dates, dried plums is more or less it and I really have no idea what the back label is on about when it refers to “typical Spanish style.” The finish is similarly middle of the road, as if fearing to offend, and gives up a few final notes of cinnamon, chocolate, raisins, plums and toffee, dusted with a bit of vanilla, and that’s about all you’re getting.

So what to make of this expensive two-decades-old Grenada rum released by an old and proud Italian house? Overall it’s really quite pleasant, avoids disaster and is tasty enough, just nothing special. I was expecting more. You’d be hard pressed to identify its provenance if tried blind. Like an SUV taking the highway, it stays firmly on the road without going anywhere rocky or offroad, perhaps fearing to nick the paint or muddy the tyres.

The problem with that kind of undistinguished anonymity which takes no chances, is that it provides the drinker with no new discoveries, no new challenges, nothing to write home in shock and awe about. To some extent, I’d suggest the rum is a product of its timein 2005, IBs were still much more cautious about releasing cask-strength, hairy-chested beefcakes that reordered the rumiverse, and were careful not too stray too far from the easy blends which was what sold big time back then. That’s all well and good, but it also shows that those who don’t dare, don’t win … and that’s why this rum is all but forgotten and unacknowledged now (unlike, of course, the Veliers from the same era). In short, it lacks distinctiveness and character, and remains merely a good way to drop two hundred quid without getting much of anything in return.

(#778)(80/100)


Other Notes

  • 320 bottles of the 0.7 liter edition appeared….and another 120 bottles of a 0.5 liter edition
  • The first Grenada rum selected by Bleve was the 1993-2011 45% with a blue label.
Jan 172019
 

Rumaniacs Review # R-089 | 590

This spite of a light whiteto give it its full name, theClarke’s Court Superior Refined Grenada Light Rum” – should not be confused with either the current version of the Superior Light being released at 40%, or the best selling and much better Pure White at 69%. The one here is an older version of the rum, column distilled (Ed Hamilton’s 1995 book Rums of the Eastern Caribbean mentions a two-column still in operation around that time), aged for under a year, filtered to clarity and meant as a low level mixer. You could argue that it’s meant to take on the Bacardi Superior with which it shares several characteristics, and perhaps it’s a holdover from the light rum craze of the sixties and seventies when cocktails made with such rums were all the rage.

As always when dealing with rums from even ten years back, there’s a dearth of information about the various iterations over the years and decades, and I lack the resources to go to Grenada and ask in person. Still, given that I bought this as a mini, and part of a single lot of rums dating back at least ten years, the “2000srange of when it was made appears reasonableand since there are other, more current 43% Superior Light rums from Clarke’s with Grenada shown as green on the label, it may even pre-date the turn of the century. It’s unlikely that the recipe is seriously different.

ColourWhite

Strength – 43%

NoseDusty herbal smell, very light, with faint notes of curry and massala. Fennel and rosemary, and a whiff of cardboard. Provides some brine, sweeter fruity hints (pears, white guavas), and coconut shavings after some minutes. Quite a vague nose, mellow, unaggressive, easy going.

PalateDoes something of an about face when tastedturns slightly oaky, which is odd sicne it’s only been aged for a year or less, and then filtered to nothing afterwards. As with the nose, probably best to wait a littlethen some shy nuances of sugar water, apples and pears peek out, accompanied by coconut shavings again, and a touch of raw sugar cane juice.

FinishShort, light, breezy, faint. Mostly light fruits, flowers, and pears.

ThoughtsThese kinds of whites are (or were) for easy beachfront sipping in a fruity cocktail of yesteryear, or in a local dive with a bowl of ice and a cheap chaser, to be taken while gettintight in the tropical heat over a loud and ferocious game of dominos. Nowadays of course, there are many other options available, more powerful, more intense, more pungentand a rum like this is unlikely to be found outside back-country beer-gardens, tourist bars or in an old salt’s collection. I mourn its loss for the lack of information on it, but not for its milquetoast taste.

(70/100)

Oct 282018
 

Rumaniacs Review #85 | 0561

There are three operations making rum in GrenadaWesterhall, Rivers Antoine and Clarke’s Court, the last of which was formed in 1937, operating under the umbrella of the Grenada Sugar Factory (the largest on the island) and named after an estate of the same name in the southern parish of St. George’s. This title in turn derived from two separate sources: Gedney Clarke, who bought the Woodlands estate from the French in the late 1700s, and a bay calledCourt Bayincluded with the property (this in turn was originally titledWatering Baybecause of the fresh water springs, but how it came to change to Court is not recorded). The company sold rums with names like Tradewinds and Red Neck before the Clarke’s Court moniker became the standard and I’m still trying to find out when that happened.

References to Kalypso, a 67.5% white overproof, exist until the late 1990s when it was marketed concurrently with the 69% Pure White Rum, but I can find no trace subsequent to that, and the company website makes no mention of it in the current lineup of their rums. So I am assuming (subject to further info becoming available) that the two were similar enough in profile and strength for the production of the Kalypso to be discontinued in favour of the better known and maybe better-selling Pure. The rum is unaged and column still produced (the current distillery was constructed in the 1970s and utilizes a John Dore two-column, continuous-distillation still).

ColourWhite

Strength 67.5%

NoseSharp and very aggressive, not surprising for that strength. Also quite aromaticesters, and nail polish, strawberries, pears and sour cream, to begin with. It smells rather lighter than it is, and sweeter than it tastes, which is nice. Leaving it to open up results in additional smells of sugar water, nutmeg and the slight bite of ginger.

PalateWhew. Pungent is the word to use here. Some plastic and furniture polish, a little brine. Most of all the light clear sweetness from the nose comes through and remains firmly in placepears, watermelon, white guavas, papayas, with the spiced notes of nutmeg and ginger also remaining in the profile.

FinishHot and long lasting of course, no surprises there. Mostly light fruit and some aromatic flowers.

ThoughtsThe Kalypso lacks the fierce individualism of pot still whites and really doesn’t class with the same company’s Pure White Rum which is an order of magnitude more pungent. But it’s not bad, and taken with coconut water, bitters, cola or whatever else, it’ll juice up a mix with no problems at all, which is hardly surprising since that’s precisely what it was made for. Too bad it’s no longer available.

(80/100)

 

Apr 252018
 

#505

On initial inspection, Rivers Royale Grenadian Ruma white overproofis not one of the first rums you’d immediately think of as a representation of its country, its style, or a particular typeperhaps Westerhall or Clarke’s Court are more in your thoughts. It is made in small quantities at River Antoine on the spice island of Grenada, is rarely found outside there, and even though it can be bought on the UK site Masters of Malt, it barely registers on the main bloggers’ review sites.

Yet anyone who tries it swears by it. I’ve never seen a bad write-up, by anyone. And there are a several aspects of this rum which, upon closer inspection, reveal why it should be considered as part of the Grenadian pantheon and on any list of Key Rums, even if it is so relatively unknown.

For one thing, there’s it’s artisinal production. Almost alone in the English-speaking Caribbean, River Antoine adheres to very old, manual forms of rum making. The sugar cane is free from fertilizers, grown right there (not imported stock), crushed with a water wheelperhaps the oldest working one remaining in the worldand the source of the rum is juice, not molasses. Fermented for up to eight days without added yeastnatural fermentation via wild bacteria onlyin huge open-air vats and transferred to an old John Dore copper pot still (a new one was added in the 1990s). No additives of any kind, no filtration, no ageing. They are among the most natural rums in the world and the white, which is supposedly drawn off the still at a staggering 89% ABV and bottled at 69% to facilitate transport by air, is among the most flavourful whites I’ve ever tried, and thought so even back in 2010 when I first got knocked off my chair with one.

There’s also the whole business of heritage. In the geek rumiverse, it’s common knowledge that Mount Gay’s paperwork shows it as dating back to 1703 – though it was almost certainly making rum for at least fifty years before thatand River Antoine is by contrast a relative johnny-come-lately, being founded in 1785. The key difference is that Rivers (as it is locally referred to) is made almost exactly the way it was at the beginning, never relocated, never really changed its production methodology and is even using some of the same facilities and equipment. So if your journey along the road of discovery is taking you into the past and you want to know more about “the old way” and don’t want to go to Haiti, then Grenada may just be the place to go.

These points segue neatly into an emerging (if still small) movement of fair trading, organic ingredients and eco-friendly production methodologies. By those standards, and bearing in mind the points above, Rivers must be a poster child for the eco-movement, like Cape Verde, Haiti and other places where rumtime seems to have slowed down to a crawl and nobody ever saw any reason to go modern.

But is it any good? I thought so eight years ago, and in a recent, almost accidental retasting, my initially high opinion has been reconfirmed. At 69%, unaged, unfiltered, untamed, I knew that not by any stretch of the imagination was I getting a smooth and placid cocktail ingredient, and I didn’tit was more like getting assaulted by a clairin. It started out with all the hallmarks of a Jamaican or Haitian white popskullglue, acetone, vinegar, olives and brine exploded across the nose, pungent, deep and very hot. And it didn’t stop thereas it rested and then opened up, crisper and clearer notes came out to partywatermelons, pickled gherkins and sugar cane sap, married to drier, mustier aromas of cereal, old books, fresh baked bread, light fruits and even some yeast. Weird, no?

As for the taste, wellwhew! The palate did not slow down the slightest bit from the jagged assault of the nose but went right in. Although the initial entry was just short of crazy“like drinking ashes and water and licking an UHU glue stick” my notes gothis offbeat profile actually developed quite well. It turned dry, minerally, the fruitiness and citrus zest took something a back seat, and it took some time to recalibrate to this. Once that settled down the fruits emerged from hidingcherries, some guavas and yellow mangoes, orange peel, light floralsbut the crazy never entirely went away, because there were also hints of gasoline and a salt lick, and the sort of binding adhesive you can occasionally smell in brand new glossy magazines (I know of no other way to describe this, honestly). And of course the exit is quite epica long, searing acid fart that blows fumes of acetone, citrus, brine and deeper fruits down your throat.

This rum is like a lot of very good whites on the market right now: Rum Fire, the Sajous, Toucan, J.B White, to name just a few. Quite aside from the heritage, the history, the production and eco-friendly nature of it, the rum is simply and powerfully an amazing original even when rated against those on the list of 21 Great Whites. It’s not a rum that apologizes for its sense of excitement, or attempts to buffer itself with a standard profile in an effort to win brownie points with the larger audience. It is maddeningly, surely, simply itselfand while I admit that strong whites are something of a thing for me personally (and not for people who like quieter, simpler or sweeter rums), I can’t help but suggest there’s so much going on with this one that it has to be tried by rum lovers at least once.

Luca and others have told me that River Antoine are having some issues maintaining the old water wheel and the open-air vats, and repairs are continuously being made. There are rumours of upgrading the equipment, perhaps even modernizing here or there. I’m selfish, and I hope they manage to keep the old system goingbecause yes, they can make their rums faster, more easily, and issue more of them. But given the old-school quality of what I tried, the sheer force and fury and potency of what they’re already doing, I somehow wonder if anything modern they do will necessarily be betteror be regarded as a Key Rum. The way I regard this one.

(85/100)

Mar 122011
 

First posted 12 March 2011 on Liquorature

One of the acclaimed limited edition bottlings from Bruichladdich, it will remind you of a dry rye, and is a rum worth your buck; deep, tasty with complex flavour and taste. It’s long lasting on the palate, but not in the company of your friends.


A few days ago I was on the Ministry of Rum, and a guy there proudly announced that he had just bought all twenty bottles of the current Renegade line. All twenty!!? I’ve only ever seen four in this whole country. You can imagine with what envy I regarded that little announcement. I mean, I have relatives in Deutschland and I suppose I can get a few that way, but it just strikes me as wrong somehow that I can’t get a larger selection of these intriguing rums in the only unregulated province in Canada.

Ever since I saw the first sand-blasted bottle of the Renegade line with its metal dog tag, I’ve admired the product line. Not always appreciated it as much as I should have (chalk that down to lack of experience). But definitely admired the concept: a whisky maker with a great reputation making rums. And pretty interesting rums at thatrums that strike a newbie rum lover raised on the Bacardis and Appletons as dry and not as sweet as he’s used to, perhapsbut rums that grow on you after a bit, like this one and all its brothers, sisters and cousins did.

The maturation in bourbon casks is only part of the equation, because the Grenada 1996 is then finished in Haute Brion casks, and it shows. The nose was just heavenly: toffee, pineapple, caramel, come first, withwhat was that? cheddar? – citrus and burnt sugar emerging later to mix gently with a marshmallow softness that tamped down the spirit burn of a 46% spirit. I’ve never been convinced that a spirit should be 46% or greater, though I’ve had my share of cask strength rums, and the occasional whisky: still, I might want to make exceptions here or there. The extra strength imparted a deeper and more complex flavour to the aroma than I had expected, and you’d probably like it as long as you’re prepared to tolerate a little more heat and spice than normal at the inception. I seem to recall I made a similar observation about overproofs once or twice.

Spice or not, heat or not, I simply could not complain about the flavour and feel on the tongue. The thing felt like a rye, though a bit drier, just enough sweet, and it leaves a coating on the tongue that is oily and long lasting (this is probably a direct result of the policy of un-chill filtering which leaves the taste-enhancing oils intact in the spirit) . There’s leather, a hint of cedar wood and always, that slightly floral and cherry hint descending from the Haut Brion casks (I may be reaching here). And I got breakfast spice, cinnamon, caramel and chocolate; yes it’s spicy and burning on the fade and even before, but in a good way. Curt and I had a long discussion on what heat, spice or burn actually mean in the context of a review, how it should be rated and to what degree it impacts on one’s enjoyment. In this case, I’ll just say that it was mellow and deep and not remotely reminiscent of my wife giving me a hard time after an all night bender when I pour myself through the door and can’t remember the names of the kids. Seriously.

Cask finishing seems to be an upcoming thing right now. Of course, whiskies have always had variations which were matured in (for example) sherry casks, and rums have a few courageous souls here and there who do a double ageing, once in oak and once in something else (Ron Zacapa 23 is a good example of this idea). But Murray McDavid of Bruichladdich may have taken the concept a few notches further up the scale by buying up very specific estatesrums and then enhancing them in some pretty awesome wine casks. This Grenada variant was completed in Haute Brion casks; it comes from the Westerhall distillery, active since 1766, and which these days makes only 3 barrels a day from a copper pot still. The stock was bought and then the casks shipped to Islay for ageing and final completion (and I’m still kinda pissed that the Hippie, when he was there, utterly ignored this aspect of Bruichladdich’s production and brought back no info on their philosophy regarding it). It’s pretty damned good, is a one line summary.

I think a sweet-toothed rum lover such as I has to grow into the Renegade rums. A year or two back, I reviewed two other variations, sniffed rather snootily and said the rums were too much like whiskies. What a difference experience and the passing of time makes. The Renegade Grenada edition has shown me something of how different a rum can be from my own preconceptions, and yet still be enjoyable. At ~$60-80 Canadian, it isn’t really for beginners wanting their first intro (my opinion). But itand its nineteen relatives in the linemay be the bridge for the truly interested person to broaden his palate to more interesting and offbeat variationsto the point where whiskies actually start to look really appealing and worth an occasional try.

Oh crapMaltmonster and the Hippie are going to hang me with that.

(#068. 84.5/100)


Other Notes

Nov 022010
 

First posted 2nd November 2010 on Liquorature.

My trip to Toronto last October permitted me to taste rums that never would have made it to Calgary (one or two would never have made it anywhere), and since my circle of friends is admittedly small, and few of those travel to rum producing states, it’s not as if I would have gotten any of the last five subjects of my reviews from them either. So kudos and thanks one last time to John, who opened his cabinet to my inquiring snoot, and let’s get to the review of the last rum in this decidedly odd series.

Rivers Royale is from the Spice Island, as is the Clarke’s Court, though River Antoine Estate Distillery is in Saint Andrew’s Parish on the Northeast coast of Grenada, while Clarke’s is from the south…apparently there is healthy competition for bragging rights on the island as to which is stronger (both are white overproofs), or simply better. Because I had the bushvariation of the Clarke’s (which was, by the way, quite good), and because Antoine’s white lightning has a surpisingly robust flavor profile for an overproof, I’m not going to get in the middle of that particular dispute except to make this observation: Rivers is made the same way as it was way back in 1785 when the place was founded.

On the smaller islands like Grenada, commercial cane production is a thing of the past (partly this is a space issue, partly it’s the economics of world sugar trade), and most distilleries import molasses or raw rum stock from other places with more space available for economical cane cultivation (like Guyana)…except for River Antoine. These local lads don’t muck about. They cultivate their own cane, reap it, process it and make the rum like they always made it, crushing the cane with a press whose motive power is drawn from an old waterwheel, concentrating the juice in open vats (John, who’s been there, noted rather sourly that it’s not impossible for bat guano to be a part of the mix, but I digress) then boiling it down in cast iron pots over an open fire fed by the cane remnants.

After fermentation, the resultant is distilled in an ancient copper pot still (copper supposedly imparts better (and subtler) flavours to the distillate than stainless steel)…the entire process takes abut ten days from cane to finished product.

It’s perhaps the only remaining distillery in the Caribbean that can make the boast of using such old fashioned technology, and it’s quite a tourist draw. What you get if you go to the estate-cum-distillery in person (and at factory prices, apparently) is the local version, bottled straight out of the still, at about 75-80% alcohol (stories vary), which is to say 150-160 degrees proof. I won’t swear to it, but I think John had the real McCoy, not the watered down version sold to western homeys so they can get through customs, and I say that because it was an overproof for sure, complete with the deep burn and raw sting of real moonshine…though I gotta tell you, surprisingly robust flavours came through.

The clear liquor I tasted that night had a medium body, with middling legs in my glass. The claws struck at my nose without hesitation, but after my eyes stopped watering and I rolled my medium rare tongue back off the floor, what I got was a rather welcome waft ofwell, schnapps. A slightly floral hint. Salt, brine, olives. As I’ve noted before, I don’t spend too much time trying to taste test an overproof, neat or otherwise, because the spirit burns out anything I might think I’m tasting (or which my imagination conjures up for me as my stomach ties itself up in complex knots and I try to turn myself inside out): on the other hand, I have to say that I don’t know what they did down there in Granada, but if you stick with Rivers Royale, you will taste cherries, fruit, maybe some orange peel. Quite amazing. And as for the finish, well, come onwho’re you kidding? On an overproof? It’s a potent likker with real power behind dem claws, and it sears deeply, and farts acid, but not in a way that makes you scream: it sure ainsmooth like a more commercial rum, and that’s the best I can do for you.

There’s something about the overall interaction of all elements of this overproof that works for me, though. I liked the hand drawn, unpretentious label. I liked the title itself, that air of old time creole French, and the old-fashioned way it was made. I liked the rum. It’s potent likker, and will singe your throat (and eyebrows if you’re not careful). It’s absolutely an island product and I don’t care what anyone says, for me it’s not really a true commercial export product that will one day show up in Calgary (import, strength and quality regulations probably won’t allow it) – I consider it one of those backwoods bashwars you’ll find as you tour the Caribbean, locally made and locally consumed, unpretentious and not giving a damn, rude and cheerful and unsophisticated, and quite simply, one of the best rums you’ve ever tried…one those rums you’ll be happy you’ve had once you’ve had it and will remember with a smile forever.

(#046) (Unscored)


Other Notes

Oct 212010
 

First posted 21 October, 2010.

(#041)(Unscored)

A strong white overproof, of which not much can be said, since I had an adulterated version: but thatbushis one of the most evocative, crazy experiences I’ve ever had, and if you brave the Spice Island to get some, more power to you.

***

I have never had a rum like this one, and I know that 99.99% of the people reading this (even if you’re from the Caribbean) haven’t either. No, really. When was the last time you a had a 138 proof rum with what looks suspiciously like a worm floating in it? I know for damn sure I’ve never even seen one like it (and maybe never will again).

Now let’s be clear about one thing. The real Clarke’s is a legitimate overproof white lightning made in Grenada by the Grenada Sugar Factory since 1937, and is apparently the most popular rum on the Spice Island, best had with some Angostura bitters (the 43% darker rums made here are supposedly for the ladies, who “prefer gentler rums”). Local wags claim it’ll add hair to your chest, strip the paint off anything, and can run your car if you don’t have any petrol. Older ladies use it as a rub. The commercial rums of this distillery have actually won several awards for excellence. However, what *I* had was – how do I put it – a refined variant of the standard recipe. In a word, I had the “bush” (and that’s why I’m also not scoring it). How it got into the kitchen of one of my oldest long-distance friends is a question best left unaddressed.

Bush of course has a long and honoured tradition in the West Indies. We called it “bashwar” in the jungle camps I used to work in, always had a 45-gallon drum fermenting somepace, and as I noted in the Newfoundland Screech review, backyard variations are a fixture in the remoter areas of The Rock. You take your life in our hands when you drink some of this stuff, I told John, as he poured me a generous shot of a clear purple-brown rum. He grinned and turned the bottle, which no longer had a white rum in it, but a coloured liquid in which floated additional ingredients: leaves, bark, twigs, berries, and, yes, that plump worm. I said a heartfelt prayer that the thing was dead, and knew right away that there was exactly zero point in attempting to review the rum the way I dealt with more commercial wares that actually pass a certification process of some kind.

The tasting of some new, as-yet-untasted rum of the cheaper type, no matter how it started life or ended up in my glass, is more an exercise in zen than anything else (hush, ye snickerers). It’s about feeling, about memory, about what it brings into your mind when you taste it (even if you immediately throw up afterwards). It’s about who you are and what brought you to this place.

By that criteria, Clarke’s delivered in spades. After waving away the spirit fumes which evidently wanted my wife to collect on the insurance, I got a powerful scent of chemicals, and was transported to my boyhood in a flash. It was the exact scent of the orange lye soap I grew up bathing with at a small stand pipe in the overgrown backyard of a small house we moved to in Georgetown’s Charles Street when I was nine. It was my aunt Sheila cutting up a tableful of fiery hot peppers at four in the morning to make into hot sauce. It was “It’s A Fact” at 645 in the morning on Radio Demerara, black pudd’n’ with plenty sour, a hot curry with roti, a cookup with nuff nuff chili ‘pon it.

And the taste, wow: sweet, brandy-like, fiery as all hell, and yet dusty too…old, aged, like a sleepy pre-Independence Georgetown dreaming in the sun under the Union Jack. It was the memory of the dingy beer gardens my brother and I haunted on Broad Street, with bob-pieces given to us by our uncle Ronald to play pool with. It was the smell of too many old pool tables with dead rails and old balls that barely bounced. It was the smell of rum and stale beer and cigarette smoke and guys with no clear occupation playing cards or dominos in these places at ten in the morning while Roger and I shot a rack. It was the deep smell of the old drugstore right down the street, now long gone, with chico sweets in rows of huge glass jars, plastic revolvers with rolls of caps from China, all mixed up with the odours of Limacol, drugs and prescriptions and memories of childhood when life looked sunny and summer holidays went on forever.

At 69%, you aren’t getting subtlety on the finish and I won’t pretend you will, or that Clarke’s bush variant even approximates that. But you know, all those herbs and crap in the bottle seem to have smoothened it out somewhat, taken the edge off, because the burn is deep and warmand still with that elder dusty air wafting around in the back of your throat, like the times of our youth in a small town that you now no longer remember clearly, except in your dreams and fading memories.

I sort of likened the Bacardi 151 to a race car and wrote a good humoured review in that vein. Clarke Court’s Pure White Rum (the bush variation) is not like that at all. It’s strong and crazy and unique, and I didn’t think of speed or racing thunder at all when I tasted itinstead, the cars I got were the old taxis of Georgetown: Hillmans, Austins, and Morris Oxfords, with cracked vinyl upholstery and purring engines, and my brother and I jouncing around on a Saturday morning going with our mother to Bourda market to shop for fresh stuff. The rum may be raw, smelly, one-of-a-kind home-adapted hooch , and commercially unavailable in this iteration. But the memories it evokes in this long departed Mudlander are priceless.