May 102021
 

In the maelstrom of ongoing indie releases coming at us from every direction almost every month, it’s easy to overlook some of the older rums, or even some of the older companies. Secret Treasures is one of these — I had discovered their charms on the same trip where I found the first Veliers, all those long years ago, at a time when the concept of independent bottlers was a relatively small scale phenomenon. Back then I bought the company’s Enmore 1989, and both Grandma Caner and I liked it so much we polished off the thing in under a week, and started looking around for more.

Over the years I bought a few others, got a few samples and reviewed the few I scored, and then ownership changed.  The last rums Haromex (the new distributor) put out the door  before they changed the ethos of the brand was the twin St Lucian John Dore and Vendome pot still rums in 2014 and subsequent releases were radically different. The company and the Secret Treasures brand has faded from view since then, and few consider their rums great finds (when they consider them at all) as other, newer indies jostle for the place it once held (for a more complete historical picture, see below)

This is where I’m supposed to make some nostalgic Old Fart kind of comment where I wax rhapsodic about the long forgotten and unappreciated rums of yore, undisovered steals and diamonds in the rough which weren’t appreciated at the time by the aggressive young rum pros of today, blah blah blah.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. The rum – a Caroni, one of a few released – fell unaccountably short of the high bar set by Velier and other independents, and remains a forgotten, forgettable curiosity, noted more for the associated name than any intrinsic quality it possesses itself.

Let’s do the tasting, then, to demonstrate why somehow this thing falls down flat. The nose gives a promising indicator of things to come, but which don’t.  It immediately reeks of the characteristic petrol, tar and road asphalt in hot weather which so defines Caroni.  It is dry and sere and surprisingly hot for a near-standard-proofed rum (42% ABV), dark and with notes of sugar water, rubber, acetones, fruits – unripe red cherries and strawberries, pears and ripe green apples.  There is also a touch of vanilla and light molasses, but nothing strong or overpowering.

A salty sweet sugar water greets the tongue with warmth and firmness.  All the fleshy and watery fruits we’re familiar with parade around – pears, watermelons, white guavas, papaya, kiwi fruits, even cucumbers all take a bow.  A trace of olives and occasional whiff of strawberries and petrol are barely noticeable, so one can only wonder where, after such a promising beginning, they all vanished to. Eloped, maybe. Certainly they bailed and left the rum with nothing but memories and a good wish to lead to its inevitably disappointing denouement, which was short, breathy, light and watery, and barely registered some vanilla, brine, a fruit or two and exactly zero points of distinction.

Secret Treasures did put out a few really exceptional rums — their lack of marketing, lack of visibility and lack of distribution mostly relegated them to obscurity (the Enmore 1989 mentioned above is a case in point) — and as is usually the case with small volume bottlers, the outturn of the original line was somewhat hit or miss, and not everything they bottled was gold. This Trini rum was something of a waste of time, for example, weak, unfocused, undistinguished, practically anonymous.  Oh it was a rum all right, identifiable as a Caroni, just not much of one. Perhaps it should have been left in the barrels a few more years. Many more years. And then finished in sherry casks. And then spiced up. Then it might have had a profile I’d actually notice. But then again, maybe not. 

(#819)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • Outturn 1304 bottles.  Distilled 1996, bottled August 2003 in Switzerland. The unproven implication is that it was completely aged in Trinidad.
  • The Ultimate Rum Guide notes it as being a “West Indies Distillery” without further elaboration, and the accompanying photo is wrong. I’ve left them a note to that effect
  • Richard Seale remarked in a FB comment on this review, “Age is an important factor in the latter day success of Caroni. This one may also be blended with neutral spirit – this was a practice in Trinidad – blending an aged rum with neutral spirit but keeping the age claim!”

Historical background

Initially Secret Treasures was the brand of a Swiss concern called Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) — who had been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer” distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what remains Switzerland’s oldest distillery. 

They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and branched out into rums in the early 2000s but not as a producer: in the usual fashion, rums at that time were sourced, aged at the origin distillery (it is unclear whether this is still happening in 2021), and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conformed to the principles of many of the modern indies. 

Fassbind’s local distribution was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, a Swiss distributor, yet they seem to have walked away from the rum side of the business, as the company website makes mention of the rum line at all. Current labels on newer editions of the Secret Treasures line refers to a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off as neither Swiss concern has any of the branded bottles in their portfolio.

Certainly the business has changed: there are no more of the pale yellow labels and sourced single barrel expressions as I found back in 2012.  Now Secret Treasures is all standard strength anonymous blends like aged “Caribbean” and “South American” rum, a completely new bottle design and the Haromex logo prominently displayed with the words “Product of Germany” on the label.


 

Feb 012016
 

caroni 1982Rumaniacs Review 017 | 0417

We’re down to the last sample of the old Velier rums I’ve got, this one from Caroni, and like the 1985, also bottled in 2006, though two years older. My background notes say 4600 bottles issued from 15 barrels and handsomely issued at 58.3%.  What else can I tell you about Caroni you don’t already know? Probably nothing, so let’s move on.

Colour – Dark amber

Strength – 58.3%

Nose – The 1985 was great, and this one raises the bar a smidgen. With these old, bold rums, sometimes the oak takes charge too aggressively…not here. Toasted nuts, almonds and caramel lead off.  Raisins and black grapes shoulder those aside after a while.  There’s a chirpy little citrus note coiling in the background, plus more fruits and some tar…but I was oddly reminded of the UF30E, for some reason, as I sampled this rum

Palate – Yeah, here comes the flexing musclebeach of the Caroni profile kicking sand in your face. Warm and pungent and heavy; thick, almost chewy to taste, coats the mouth very well.  Caramel, molasses and tar trumpet their arrival.  All the hits are playing, loudly.  With water, more raisins and grapes, vanilla beans, chopped dark dried fruit, ginger, unripe mangos, that citrus again…and over the half hour or so I spent with this rum, it got slightly crisper, even cleaner, in a way that enhanced, not detracted from, the overall sensation.

Finish – Long, heated, deep, a little dry.  Invites savouring. Closing notes of tar, some teriyaki and ginger, vanilla, leather and molasses.

Thoughts – I’ve had quite a few Caronis now, and they are all sprigs off the same tree. These are rums that benefit from higher proofs – the tastes are brought out in a way that diluting down to 40% would harm, rather than improve.  Whatever the case, this is one of the better ones for sure, and with that many bottles in issue, it’s likely that it can still be found somewhere. if one searches. At least we can hope so.

(89/100)

Jan 192016
 

Caroni 1985Rumaniacs Review 016 | 0416

Two more Veliers to go before we move onto other old rums, this is the “younger” one, bottled in 2006, from that Port Ellen of the rumworld, Caroni.  Here in 2004, legend has it, Luca was (as usual) talking rum, chewing sugar cane and taking pictures, when he literally tripped over (not into) a warehouse of stored casks, probably forgotten, all of  which he eventually bought.  Talk about a coup de maître – they should make a film about him: Indiana Gargano and the Lost Warehouse, know what I mean? No one in the rumworld, before or since, ever came close to uncovering this kind of treasure.  And to his credit, he didn’t blend the lot, but issued them in no less (and probably more) than 31 separate bottlings, which is good for us as buyers, even if we get threatened with divorce quite often when we fork over our pieces of eight.

Colour – Dark amber

Strength – 58.8% (6600 bottle outturn)

Nose – Damn, Caronis get better every time I try them, and this one gets better with every snooting (had enough for three passes at the thing). Beats out the Albion 1986, actually. Wooden tannins and vanilla, tarry and deep and hot, with some of that funkiness of the Jamaicans sneaking around in the background. Vague promises of fruits and licorice were being made, just enough to keep me enthused.

Palate – Dry, furiously oaky and sharp.  Some brine and olives, more vanillas, ripe red cherries, a flirt of caramel, and then a barrage of dark fruit, esters and licorice lands on you with the solidity of an Egyptian pyramid block. Gotta be honest though, even with all the fruity stuff, that oak is more dominant than usual here. Water helps, and mutes that oak knife, allowing more tars and some floor wax to take their usual central role.

Finish – Long, pungent, hot. Some coffee, licorice, sweeter fruits, more tannins (better controlled than on the tongue). Not entirely dry, but not lusciously damp either.

Thoughts – Kinda conflicted on this one.  Started out great then got hijacked in mid-palate by tenacious oaken flavours which, however tamed, still were too obvious. Not one of the worst Caronis, but not one of the best either. No matter, I still enjoyed what I got.

(87/100)

Jul 142015
 

Nicholson 42,8°

Rumaniacs Review 007 | 0407

Bottled by J&W Nicholson of Clerkenwell, London, back in the 1970s. Base stock is unknown – it might be from Caroni, yet somehow I doubt that – it lacks something of the tarry background.  No information is available on age or blend of ages. Bottled at 42.8%.

J&W Nicholson was a gin maker which opened its doors in the 1730s. They ceased UK gin production in 1941 (wartime rationing made it impractical) and sold their facility there in 1966, eventually selling the remaining business to the Distillers Company Ltd in the 1970s…at first I thought this rum seems to be an effort to diversify production as a consequence of the economic hardship which forced the sale, but further reading shows the company had been issuing rums for more than a century before. Distillers Company sold out to Guinness in 1986, and the DCL brand was in turn consolidated by Diageo in 1997.

Colour – dark brown

Nose – Fairly soft and warm. Initial aromas of butterscotch and eclairs.  Salty butter.  Caramel. Faint whiff of meatiness, a musky taint of mushrooms, and fruit starting to go.

Palate – Medium heavy, still warm and a little sharp, not unpleasantly so. Creamy and also a little musty, like a room left unaired for too long.  Coconut shavings, caramel, brown sugar predominate.  With water, coconut recedes, and smoke and dry leather come forward, along with cloves and a bit of cinnamon. That salted butter and musky background never entirely disappears.  Odd mix of tastes, all in all. No tar and asphalt notes make themselves known, supporting my contention this was unlikely to be a Caroni.

Finish – Short and smooth, heated….some crushed walnuts and toffee there, with a last flirt of mustiness and smoke.

Thoughts – Nothing special.  At best it’s a five-to-eight year old. It’s not really complex or world beating, and not a sipper’s dream by any stretch.  The nose is the oddest thing about it since it seems to stand quite separate from the way it tastes when you drink it.  But overall, a decent enough rum, quite pleasant. I liked the history of the company almost more than the rum.

 

(81/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

 

 

Nicholson Rum

Jan 252010
 

 

First posted 25 January 2010 on Liquorature.

(#009)(Unscored)

***

I’m not always and entirely a fan of Renegade Rum, but will unhesitatingly concede that they are among the most interesting ones currently available, and deserve to be sampled. Un-chill filtered at the Bruichladdich Distillery on the Isle of Islay in Scotland, these limited editions have the potential to popularize single-vintage rum if one can get past the whiskey-like finish that jars somewhat with what I expect a rum to be.

My research notes that Renegade Rums trawls the Caribbean estates for traditional single distilleries that are no longer in operation or have some stock to sell, and purchases supplies from places like Guyana, Panama, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad — then completes the maturation in oak bourbon barrels, or those which have held madeira, port or wine. This impacts the taste quite significantly, I’ve found, but more than that, it makes the release extraordinarily limited: this one from 1991 was only 1380 bottles.

I’m unclear how old the 1991 Trinidad rum actually is, since it is advertised as 17, but 16 is printed on the bottle. Whatever the true age, the palate on this 46% (92 proof rum) is uniformly excellent, with notes of port and oak and a very subtle taste of caramel. The finish is not as sweet as I would expect, and does not last as long or as smoothly as a 16 year old rum perhaps should, though hints of burnt sugar and apples can be discerned (this is probably from the French port barrels used for the final ageing). What stops this from being a stellar review is simply the way the somewhat harsh and short finish takes some getting used to – when I first tasted this, I grumblingly compared it to a whisky. See, I’ve been getting sotted on the grog for more than half my life, and us West Indian hicks don’t particularly care to have our national drink turned into a Scottish home brew.

Ok, so that is snooty. Don’t get me wrong, however: I liked it precisely because it’s different, had character, texture, body and a good strong flavour. I wouldn’t drink it neat, though, or with ice (though I did both to write this review). This one, for all its rich provenance and comparative rarity, will be drunk rarely.*

* My good friend Keenan, horrified at my cautiously tempering the good stuff with coke (I was just checking, honest), snatched it away, proceeded to drink it with bowed head and misty eyes on the rocks, complimented it most fulsomely on its character, and disdained the cheap Lambs spiced rum (3rd tier, really) I was happily getting smacked on. I may not compliment Renegade’s creation as much as he did — he had to be dragged off, screaming “Leh we tek wan moh shot, bai” when the evening was over — but at least one person really really appreciated it, and the bottle I have will be kept for his use when next he is let out to play.

Jan 192010
 

First posted 19th January 2010 on Liquorature.

(#002)(Unscored)

Surprisingly similar to the Zacapa 23…silky, sweet, smooth, supple, and a great drink by itself.

***

This review is being written in January 2010 (and amended again in April), but we actually had this phenomenal rum for the first time in April 2009, the first time I hosted the Club. A nippy night as I recall, and iconoclastic as always, I obstinately refused to get whisky, and loudly blared to all and sundry that it would be a rum night (and so started a peculiar tradition of Liquorature, which is that the voluble, lone crazy in the corner is a Caner and nothing can be done about him, so let’s buy him a bottle to shut him up when the Club meets ). I’d like to point out that this rum was such a hit that it was repeated at the March 2010 gathering, having, in the interim, gained a cachet that made its re-release almost inevitable (whiskey drinkers never have this problem, I grouse – the shop shelves buckle with the weight of the many scotches, while us poor upholders of the sugar-flag must suffer in silence).

The Trinidadian Zaya rum is value for money. Zaya’s deep amber color suggests full body and rich flavors. Aromas of caramel, molasses vanilla are most pronounced upon opening. Initial tasting reveals substantial flavors of vanilla, coffee and molasses, followed by more subtle tastes of butterscotch. It is sweet, and that’ll be off-putting to some (and I suspect whisky lovers will avoid it altogether), but damn, is it ever smooth. Finish is consistently heavy throughout, leaving behind flavors of vanilla and caramel. The flavours are excellently strong without being overwhelming…for a bit there, I thought I was tasting a spiced rum, to be honest. If you like a bit of burn the finish will please you, but it’s not out of bounds to mix it just a bit. A splash or two of coke does the trick, though I fail to see the point, and I can just drink this baby all night long.

Research informs me that until 2008, Zaya was estate-produced and bottled in Guatemala by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala, home to Zacapa’s rums. where rich volcanic soils and tropical temperatures produce some of the best sugar cane in the world (as a loyal Mudlander, I cannot in all honesty accept this heresy, and so dismiss it as claptrap for the gullible). In the first half of 2008, the distribution of rums produced by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala was assumed by the giant Diageo, resulting in the Zacapa brand being given priority. Zaya was forced to move production to the Angostura Distillery in Trinidad. Guatemalan rums are said to be some of the smoothest available; Trinidad’s rums by contrast are often more heavy on oak and tar, as evinced by the Caroni line of rums.

Packaging of the two versions is nearly identical, with a few unobtrusive changes to help you determine which version you are holding. The extra-heavy bottle with the leaf-wrapped neck and cork stopper are the same as before, but is now sealed with a sticker that reads: “Trinidad Production”. The labels are slightly modified as well. The small circular crest at the bottle’s shoulder that previously displayed a pre-Columbian native central American mask is now replaced with the Trini coat of arms containing a Scarlet Ibis and two sea horses. More obvious are the words at the very bottom of the main label, which declare the country of origin: “Imported Rum from Trinidad” now replaces “Imported Rum from Guatemala”. The one we had in April 2009 was definitely a Trini one, based on that label.

To my surprise, of all the rums we’ve had thus far, this one was the hit of the season (and it had strong competition that April night with a Jamaica Appleton Master Blender’s Legacy and a Flor Cana 18 year from Nicaragua), and I relate this to the slightly more powerful taste I mentioned, which really struck a cord with the guys. Eyes still grow misty at the memory, or so I’ve been told, and the rum keeps being used as a quasi-baseline in our group. To my mind, it’s been eclipsed by the English Harbour 1981, but there’s also a ~$100 price difference so if I was short on funds, the Trinis would get my cash for sure.

Update February 2015

There is a growing backlash against Zaya, led by people who remember the older, more complex Guatemalan profile (and the early years of the Trini one), and who despise the addition of more and more vanilla and spices into the current profile.  It has led one popular bar to remove it from their shelves altogether, as remarked in this essay by the Rum Collective.  But other online reviewers over the years (Dave Russell and the RumHowler to name two) have also begun to gripe about the matter, and the current imbroglio over the amount of sugar and other inclusions in rums is sure to add fuel to the fire.