Jul 302020
 

Although the unrealized flashes of interest and originality defining the Mexican Ron Caribe Silver still make it worth a buy, overall I remain at best only mildly impressed with it. Still, given the opportunity, it’s a no-brainer to try the next step up the chain, the 40% ABV standard-strength five year old Añejo Superior. After all, young aged rums tend to be introductions to the higher-end offerings of the company and be the workhorses of the establishmentsolid mixing ingredients, occasionally interesting neat pours, and almost always a ladder to the premium segment (the El Dorado 5 and 8 year old rums are good examples of this).

Casa D’Aristi, about which not much can be found outside some marketing materials that can hardly be taken at face value, introduced three rums to the US market in 2017, all unlisted on its website: the silver, the 5YO and 8YO. The five year old is supposedly aged in ex bourbon barrels, and both DrunkenTiki and a helpful comment from Euros Jones-Evans on FB state that vanilla is used in its assembly (a fact unknown to me when I initially wrote my tasting notes).

This makes it a spiced or flavoured rum, and it’s at pains to demonstrate that: the extras added to the rum make themselves felt right from the beginning. The thin and vapid nose stinks of vanilla, so much so that the bit of mint, sugar water and light florals and fruits (the only things that can be picked out from underneath that nasal blanket), easily gets batted aside (and that’s saying something for a rum bottled at 40%). It’s a delicate, weak little sniff, without much going on. Except of course for vanilla.

This sense of the makers not trusting themselves to actually try for a decent five year old and just chucking something to jazz it up into their vats, continues when tasted. Unsurprisingly, it starts with a trumpet blast of vanilla bolted on to a thin, soft, unaggressive alcoholic water. You can, with some effort (though who would bother remains an unanswered question) detect nutmeg, watermelon, sugar water, lemon zest and a mint-chocolate, perhaps a dusting of cinnamon. And of course, more vanilla, leading to a finish that’s more of the same, whose best feature is its completely predictable and happily-quick exit.

It’s reasonably okay and a competent drink, but feels completely contrived and would be best, as Euros remarked in his note to me, for mixes and daquiris. Yes, but if that’s the case, I wish they had said what they had done and what it was made for, right there on the bottle, so I wouldn’t waste my time with such an uninspiring and insipid fake drink. What ended up happening was that I spent a whole long time while chatting with Robin Wynne (of Miss Things in Toronto) while puzzledly keeping the glass going and asking myself with every additional sip, where on earth did all the years of ageing disappear to, and why was the whole experience so much like a spiced rum? (Well yeah, I know now).

So, on balance, unhappy, unimpressed. The rum is in every way an inferior product even next to the white. I dislike it for the same reason I didn’t care for El Dorado’s 33 YO 50th Anniversarynot for its inherent lack of quality (because one meets all kinds in this world and it can be grudgingly accepted), but for the laziness with which it is made and presented, and the subterranean potential you sense that is never allowed to emerge. It’s a cop-out, and perhaps the most baffling thing about it was why they even bothered to age it for five years. They need not have wasted any time with barrels or blending or waiting, but just filtered it to within an inch of its life, stuffed it with vanilla and gottenwell, this. And I’m still not convinced they didn’t.

(#748)(72/100)


Other Notes

Since there is almost nothing on the background of the company I didn’t already mention in the review of the Silver, I won’t rehash any of it here.

Jul 262020
 

If you believe the marketing blah (which I don’t) then here we have a nice little white rum made by a small craft company, located in the Yucatan peninsula town of Merida, in Mexico. The premises are built on the remains of an old sugar making hacienda and thirty employees labour diligently to hand prepare every bottle. They probably sing as they do so. I dab a single tear from my eye at such tradition-respecting, old-school rum making. It warms the cockles of my pickled and cynical old heart, truly.

And, the rum is quite nice for what it is – 40%, charcoal filtered, a wannabe Bacardi Superior, perhaps. It smells just dandy too, starting off nice and dry, with brine and some red olives. It opens up to aromas if sugar water, fleshy, very ripe white fruits, some citrus, and perhaps a date or two. Mostly though, you get a sense of sweet, vanilla, citrus and light salt.

It may be traditionally inoffensive to smell, but it did have a surprise or two on the palate, which was to its credit. I was resigned to just another white mixer’s delight which was willing to stay on board with the program and not rock the boat, and thenpapaya dusted with paprika and pimento? Huh? I laughed with surprise (doesn’t happen often, you can be sure), and gave points for originality on the spot. It was quite interesting to taste further, toohot vegetable soup, dill, maggi cubes, a nice salt and sweet soya rush, with some background molasses, heavy vanilla and ice cream, leading to a surprisingly long finish for something at 40%. The salt beat a hasty retreat, leaving just the creamy sweet vanilla ice cream flavoured with a touch of herbs and dry, musty spices.

Sonot bad, which leaves the final opinion somewhat conflicted. The overall profile was interesting and I liked its too-quickly-gone flashes of masochism, and so that must be acknowledged. Is it good enough to take on some of the more claw- and fang-equipped heavy hitters of the white rum world I’ve looked at before? No, not at all. But it’s nice, it’s generally inoffensive and has a few interesting points to its assembly. So as a cheap white mixer, perfectly okay, so long as that’s all you’re after.

(#747)(78/100)


Opinion / Company background

At first sight it’s easy to assume that we know so little about Ron Caribe or the self-styled little artisanal company that makes it it, because of our resolute concentration on the West Indies, to say nothing of the lessening of interest in lighter rum styles. Easy as pie to have an average so-so product from a small outfit fall off our collective consciousness, and let’s face it, Mexico does not loom large in the pantheon of Rumistas Mundial Inc.

Except that the more I looked into this the less I actually knew. Consider. The website named on the bottle (roncasrbemx.com) has been let lapse. Okaythat happens. But the website of the home company, Casa D’Aristi (which has apparently been in operation since 1935 and which makes mostly liqueurs) makes no mention of rums at all, and yet there are supposedly three in the portfoliothis silver, and a 5YO and 8YO. The address on the website leads to an intersection of roads where no such business exists and the map point coordinate is a stretch of road with no Hacienda on it. A google search on the yellow brick building in the company website leads to a pair of travelocity reviews that make no mention of a distillery (just of a rum tasting), and the company site again. Dig deeper and we find out that Casa D’Aristi is a new “umbrella brand” that incorporates the brands of another company called Grupo Aamsa which seems to be a retailer and agent of some kind, in the business of making and distributing all sorts of spirits, including beer, wine, vodka and rum, and can only be traced to a store elsewhere in the city of Merida in Yucatan.

Sorry, but at this point I lost all patience and interest. No commercial product should be this hard to track down and all it leaves me with is a sense of disillusionmentit’s so much like the 3rd party assembly of a Ron Carlos line that it hardly seems worth the bother.

So I’m just going to tell you what little else I know about the rum. I assume it’s column-still distillate trucked in from somewhere else (because of it was anything else that would have been trumpeted to high heaven as evidence of its “craft” and “small batch” street cred). According to one website it’s aged“rested” might be a better wordsix months in neutral oak barrels (I must assume this means they are completely used up third- or fourth-fill ex-bourbon barrels with nothing more than a weak word to add), and then charcoal filtered to make it even more flavourless than before. And DrunkenTiki, which probably had the most detail of any website I looked at, suggested it was made with vanilla.

It’s part of any review to tell you all this in case it impacts your decision-to-purchase and your judgement of the rum and so you need to know the nonsense that any casual search will turn up. Personally I believe the ethos and philosophyand professional prideof any producer is usually demonstrated right there on the label and supplementary materials for the aficionado, and there’s little to be impressed with on that score with this outfit. You can drink the Ron Caribe and like it, of courseas I’ve noted above, it has some good points to itbut knowing anything about it, now that’s a non-starter, which to me makes it a non-buyer.

Jun 082020
 

Part of the problem The major problem I have with this rum is that it simply tastes artificial“fake,” in today’s updated lexiconand that’s entirely aside from its labelling, which we’ll get into in a minute. For the moment, I’d suggest you follow me through a quick tasting, starting with a nose that reminds one disconcertingly of a Don Papaoak, boatloads of vanilla, icing sugar, honey, some indeterminate fleshy fruits and more vanilla. This does not, I’m afraid, enthuse.

In spite of its 46.5% strength (ah, the good old days when this was considered “daring” and “perhaps a shade too strong”), the taste provided exactly zero redemption. There’s a lot going on hereof somethingbut you never manage to come to grips with it because of the dominance of vanilla. Sure there’s some caramel, some molasses, some ice cream, some sweet oatmeal cookies, even a vague hint of a fruit or two (possibly an orange was waved over the spirit as it was ageing, without ever being dropped in) – but it’s all an indeterminate mishmash of nothing-in-particular, and the short finish of sweet, minty caramel and (you guessed it) vanilla, can at best be described as boring.

So, some background then. The rum is called “Austrian Empire Navy Rum” and originally made by Albert Michler, who established a spirits merchant business in 1863, four years before the Austrian Empire became the Austro-Hungarian Empireso he had at best four years to create some kind of naval tradition with the rum, which is unlikely. Since the company started with the making of a herbal liqueur before moving into rums, a better name for the product might be “Austro-Hungarian Navy Rum”clearly this doesn’t have the same ring to it, hence the modern simplification, evidently hoping nobody cared enough to check into the datings of the actual empire. For the record, the company which had been based in Silesia (in Czechoslovakia) limped on after WW2 when the exodus of German speaking inhabitants and the rise of the communists in 1948 shuttered it. The new iteration appears to have come into being around 2015 or so.

There are no records on whether the Austrian or Austro-Hungarian Navy ever used it or was supplied by the Michler distillery. Somehow I doubt itit was far more likely it followed in the tradition of rum verschnitt, which was neutral alcohol made from beets, tarted up with Jamaican high ester DOK, very popular and common around the mid to late 1800s in Germany and Central Europe. The thing is, this is not what the rum is now: a blended commercial product, it’s actually a sort of hodgepodge of lots of different things, all jostling for attentiona blended solera, sourced from Dominica, aged in french oak and american barrels “up to 21 years,” plus 12-16 months secondary ageing in cognac casksit’s whatever the master blender requires. It cynically trades in on a purported heritage, and is made by a UK based company of the same name located in Bristol, and who also make a few other “Austrian Navy” rums, gin, absinthe and the Ron Espero line of rums.

That anything resembling a rum manages to crawl out of this disorganized blending of so many disparate elements is a sort of minor miracle, and I maintain it’s less a rum than the cousin of the Badel Domaci, Tuzemak, Casino 50⁰ and other such domestic “Rooms” of Central Europe….even if made in Britain. It is therefore very much made for its audience: it will likely find exactly zero favour with anyone who likes a purer experience exemplified by modern Caribbean rums and new micro distilleries the world over, but anyone who likes sweet supermarket rums (possibly spiced up) will have no issue with it at all. I’m not one of the latter, though, since I personally prefer to stick with reputable houses that make, y’know, real rums.

(#734)(70/100)


Other notes

The company website makes no mention of additives or spices. My sense that it is a rum with stuff added to it is my interpretation based on the taste profile and not supported by any published material.

Dec 112019
 

Last time ‘round we looked at the Ron Carlos Caribbean Style Rum “Black”, which I dismissed with a snort of derisionit was too simple, too weak, and had nothing of any substance to really recommend it, unless all you were looking for is a jolt of something alcoholic in your coffee (and were curious about who Carlos was). It’s not often I find a product about which I can find almost nothing good to say except that “It’s a rum.” Here’s one made by the same company as the Black, in the same aggressive we-aim-for-the-low bar vein, and if you can believe it, it has even less character than its brown sibling. There are days I weep for the species.

Briefly: this is another rum from Florida Caribbean Distillers, which have several distilleries under their portfolio, sell bulk rums and neutral alcohol around the world, and have a large portfolio of low tier spirits for supermarkets, cruise ships, duty free shops and non-discriminating consumers. It’s column distilled, filtered and meant to take on the Bacardi Superior (yeah, good luck) – I’ve been unable to ascertain if it was aged, but I suspect it has, just to take off some of the rough edges, though they could just as easily have tarted it up some for the same effect.

Anyway, I ran it into my glass at a bar in Torontowhere I traded one of my gems to the cheerfully helpful and knowledgeable bartender, for some ten or so glasses of stuff I was curious about in the other direction (he could not believe some of the cheapos I was asking to try) — and this was quite the epic fail. It smelled of ethanol and vanilla on the openhow’s that for a poor start? – light brine, bananas, and very little fruitiness of any kind aside from the dream of some poor citrus that wandered in and got lost. Sugar water and watermelon could be discerned, and there was a cold and harsh metallic note in there, that was like licking a penny and about as pleasant.

The rum was standard strength (40%), so it came as little surprise that the palate was very light, verging on airyone burp and it was gone forever. Faintly sweet, smooth, warm, vaguely fruity, and again those minerally metallic notes could be sensed, reminding me of an empty tin can that once held peaches in syrup and had been left to dry. Further notes of vanilla, a single cherry and that was that, closing up shop with a finish that breathed once and died on the floor. No, really, that was it.

I am not, thus far, a fan of anything FCD have created (Noxx and Dunn 2-4-5 succeeded because single individuals with some experience and love for the subject were involved, I suggest, as they were not on Ron Carlos). You can excuse it all you want by saying it’s meant to be a low rent mixer, but when I can easily find an unaged white rum with ten times more character which would wake upnay, turbo-chargeany cocktail I want to chuck it in, and at around the same price pointwell, the argument falls down for me. I could pay twice as much for one of those and still get a better drink, a more enjoyable experience.

Of course, in this line of “work” I’ve tried a lot of white rums. Aged, unaged, filtered, pure, dosed, mixers, neaters, overproofs, underproofs, popskulls and smoothies, I’ve tried them from just about everywhere, made in all kinds of ways. Few strike me as unexciting as this one, or made with such indifference, with such rankly pecuniary motives. The Ron Carlos Caribbean Style Light Dry rum is so paper thin, so flat, so devoid of character or flair, or of anything that might make us want to drink it, it might as well be transparent. Oh wait, hang on a minute….

(#683)(68/100)


Other Notes

  • This rum is now called Ron CarlosSilver
  • Production is, as of 2018, in Puerto Rico, in the Caribe Distillery (which is owned by FCD) – I think this one was made in Florida, though.
  • Molasses based, multi-column distilled, charcoal filtered.
Dec 082019
 

If you want to know why American supermarket rums (sometimes called “value rums” which is two lies at once) get such short shrift from so many rum folks, one like this is enough to explain the general indifference. It’s milquetoast, vague, with not a single point of interest, and that’s including the equally lackluster promotion that surrounds it.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is it, who makes it, where’s it from? We must begin with the label, which unfortunately just makes me want to cringe. No really.

For starters, it’s noted as a “Caribbean Style rum”. That’s about as useful as perfumery to a hog, as Tolstoy once remarked. Clearly the makers assume a level of ignorance of their customer base that is off the scale, since exactly what is that? Even Dave Broom in his seminal book “Rum” where he addressed that very question, backed away in horror at lumping all rums from the region together as “Caribbean.” So, we talking Guyana, Cuban, French Island, Jamaican, Barbadian? Nope. Won’t work. Useless.

Next word: “Black”. Baby Rum Jesus help us. Long discredited as a way to classify rum, and if you are curious as to why, I refer you to Matt’s takedown of the matter, and anywaythe rum isn’t black, but dark brown. Then “A smooth Caribbean flavour with a distinctive taste for every palate.” Clearly we’re living back in Henry Ford’s time, where you can have any taste you want as long as it’s black. The irony of the statement is compounded by the fact that if it’s really distinctive, it cannot by definition appeal to every palate.

About the only thing we can take as a reasonable fact is the bottom part, where we see the rum is bottled by the “Ron Carlos Company de Licores, Auburndale Florida.”. Excellent. Who’re they? Google it and you’ll be directed to Florida Caribbean Distillers which is a massive industrial facility producing 188 proof near-neutral spirit (from various sources including cane) and reselling as bulk that around the world. And if the company name sounds familiar, it should bethis is the same multi-column-still factory contracted to make the Noxx & Dunn 2-4-5 Florida and the Florida Old Reserve rum I wrote about a year or two back.

Clearly this does less than enthuse me, but the Caner is nothing if not moronically persistent in the face of absurdity, so I gird up my loins and hoist my trusty glass and take one for the team so that you lot won’t have to.

It starts off in unspectacular fashion with very light caramel, chocolate, coffee and flambeed bananas. Some molasses pokes its head up like a gopher scanning for predators, then disappears, and there’s some citrus chittering waway in the background, too faint to make any kind of statement or balance off the thicker aromas in any significant way. You can sorta kinda sense some bubble gum and soda pop, sweet and fleeting, and that’s about it. About par for a 40% column still rum, to be honest.

The palate sinks the rum further. Oh, it’s so bad, so weak, so thin, so forgettable. All the notes from the nose prance and clump around with cement overshoes and no balancechocolate, coffee, nougat, caramel, molasses and some raisins, and after a few hours (here’s where I started to reach out in desperation) some kiwi fruit and papayas. It’s a near neutral, all-neutered spirit, and whether they aged it or not is irrelevant, reallyit’s just plain boring. As for the finish, well, it’s finished. It’s so faint as to be nonexistent, and I’m at a loss to tell you what it is I just had.

There’s something going on here under the hoodI think. It’s really a question of whether you’re sensitive enough to spot it and then, if you scale that hurdle, can identify what it is you got, ‘cause this sucker isn’t giving up anything easy. You’ll strain long and hard to make this rum wannabe surrender its unexceptional secrets, and frankly, I don’t think it has much to give up in the first place (except maybe a dash of alcohol into a cheap punch). Even if you’re on a budget, you can find better for the same price, and as for me, if I was in a bar this was all they had, I’d pay ‘em to make me not drink it.

(#682)(72/100)


Other notes

  • On proof66, in a 2018 comment, it notes that “All Ron Carlos Rums now are being made in Puerto Rico by Club Caribe Distllers and bottled in Florida.” The poster opined that they’re better now than they were, and give Bacardi a run for its money. I chose to doubt that.
  • As a point of interest, FCD controls the Caribe Distillery. Their primary market for rums is cruise lines, duty free shops, bulk sales elsewhere and contract rum creation (like Scheer does), alongside many other distilled spirits and brands.
  • Given the absence of current references to the Black rum reviewed here, it’s possible that it morphed into the “Dark” and was further rebranded into the “Gold”, but evidence is somewhat lacking. I still have not been able to ascertain whether it’s been aged, but from the profile, I would suggest maybe one or two years.
  • Neutral alcohol, neutral spirits spirits, or rectified spirits, are generally considered to be alcohol at 95% ABV or greater.
Aug 122019
 

Last week, I remarked briefly on persons who are famous or excel in some aspect of their lives, who then go off an lend their names to another product, like spiritsBlackwell was one of these, George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila is another, Bailey Pryor’s Real McCoy line might be among the best known, and here is one that crossed my path not too long ago, a Hawaiian white rum made with the imprimatur of Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar who maintains a residence on Maui and has long been involved in restaurants and spirits (like Cabo Wabo tequila) as a sideline from the gigs for which he is more famous.

It’s always a toss-up whether the visibility and “fame” of such a rum is canny branding / marketing or something real, since the advertising around the associated Name usually swamps any intrinsic quality the spirit might have had to begin with. There’s a fair amount of under-the-hood background (or lack thereof) to the production of this rum, but for the moment, I want to quickly get to the tasting notes, just to get that out of the way.

First off, it’s a 40% rum, white, and filtered, so the real question is what’s the source? The back label remarks that it’s made from “first pressing of virgin Maui sugar cane” (as opposed to the slutty non-Catholic kind of cane, I’m guessing) but the YouTube video (timestamp 1:02) that promotes it suggests brown sugar (which is true) so, I dunno. Whatever the case, it really does smell more like an agricole than a molasses-based rum: it starts, for example, with soda popsprite, fantaadds bubble gum and lemon zest, and has a sort of vegetal grassy note that makes me think that the word “green” is not entirely out of place. Also iced tea with a mint leaf, and the tartness of ginnip and gooseberries. It’s also surprisingly sharp for something at standard strength, though not enough to be annoying.

In that promotional video, Mr. Hagar says that the most distinct thing about the rum is the nose, and I believe it, because the palate pretty much fails by simply being too weak and insufficient to carry the promise of the nose on to the tongue in any meaningful way. It’s sharp and thin, quite clear, and tastes of lemon rind, pickled gherkins, freshly mown grass, sugar water, cane juice, and with the slightly off background of really good olive oil backing it up. But really, at end, there’s not much really there, no real complexity, and all of it goes away fast, leaving no serious aftertaste to mull over and savour and enjoy. The finish circles back to the beginning and the sense of sprite / 7-up, a bit of grass and a touch of light citrus, just not enough to provide a serious impression of any kind.

This is not really a rum to have by itself. It’s too meek and mild, and sort of presents like an agricole that isn’t, a dry Riesling or a low-rent cachaca minus the Brazilian woods, which makes one wonder how it got made to taste that way.

And therein lies something of an issue because nowhere are the production details clearly spelled out. Let’s start at the beginning: Mr. Hagar does not own a distillery. Instead, like Bailey Pryor, he contracts out the manufacture of the rum to another outfit, Hali’imaile Distilling, which was established in 2010 on Mauithe owners were involved in a less than stellar rum brand called Whaler’s which I personally disliked intensely. They in turn make a series of spiritswhiskey, vodka, gin, rumunder a brand called Pau, and what instantly makes me uneasy is that for all the bright and sparkling website videos and photos, the “History” page remarks that pineapple is used as a source material for their vodka, rum is not mentioned, and cane is nowhere noted as being utilized; note, though, that Mr. Hagar’s video mentions sugar cane and brown sugar without further elaboration, and the Hali’imaile Distilling Company did confirm they use a mash of turbinado sugar. However, in late 2016 Hali’imaile no longer makes the Sammy’s rum. In that year the sugar mill on Maui closed and production was shifted to Puerto Rico’s Seralles distillery, which also makes the Don Q brandso pay close attention to your label, to see if you got a newer version of the rum, or the older Hawaiian one. Note that Levecke, the parent company of Hali’imaile, continues to be responsible for the bottling.

With some exceptions, American distillers and their rums seem to operate along such lines of “less is more”the exceptions are usually where owners are directly involved in their production processes, ultimate products and the brands. The more supermarket-level rums give less information and expect more sales, based on slick websites, well-known promoters, unverifiable-but-wonderful origin stories and enthusiastic endorsements. Too often such rums (even ones labelledSuper Premiumlike this one) when looked at in depth, show nothing but a hollow shell and a sadly lacking depth of quality. I can’t entirely say that about the Beach Bar Rumit does have some nice and light notes, does not taste added-to and is not unpleasant in any major waybut the lack of information behind how it is made, and its low-key profile, makes me want to use it only for exactly what it is made: not neat, and not to share with my rum chumsjust as a relatively unexceptional daiquiri ingredient.

(#650)(72/100)


Other notes

  • The rum is filtered but I am unable to say whether it has been aged. The video by Let’s Tiki speaks of an oak taste that I did not detect myself.
Jun 262019
 

The fourth and last of the four Dutch West Indies rums that I obtained solely to shed some light on the islands is a pale 35% shrug of indifference called the Palmera White Aruba rum. You know me, I have a thing for unapologetically barking-mad high-proofed white rumsbut dis ain’ dat, as my bushmen squaddies would say back in the old days.

Were you to google it, you’d find that the Palmera Quality Products company produces several rumsnotably the White and the Dark “authentic Arubian rums with a rich heritage flavour” at standard strength, and is at pains to mention on its About page that “PQP produces many different beverages in its own processing plant…[and] produces products locally from carefully developed formulas that meet international standards.” No mention of a distillery, a blender, a sugar cane source, an ageing regimen. Call me a cynic, but it sure implies a mass-produced neutral-spirits-treatment operation to me, not a rum made by a dynamic master blender who knows his sh*t, let alone by a distillery that can be identified.

And maybe that’s why I can never find out anything about these companies, and why the Dutch West Indian islands’ rumsthe San Pablo Gold label and Platinum White from Curacao and the Carta Reserva from Arubahave singularly failed to make any lasting impression on the rumisphere. That might also explain why nobody ever posts an ecstatic hosanna on FB saying “I got this!” and then basks in the glory of the hunt concluded, the find immortalized, the cheers of the envious crowd modestly acknowledged.

So then, what was in the glass that day? A white rum, 35%, supposedly from Aruba (I suppose otherwise), and very little to go on beyond that. As befitting its puny mouse-that-roared proofage, it didn’t give off much of an aromasugar water, grass, dill, the sweetness of laundry detergent and a tad of lemon juice. It was marginally more assertive than the Carta Reserva, and maybe a shade better balanced between some sweet and lemony components.

The taste was mostly sodas: 7-Up or Sprite, cream soda. Some vanilla, coconut, and vague herbaceous flavours, sugar water and pears, and believe me, that was reaching. Maybe it’s an island thing, to make rums this weak (the current rums listed on the website are similarly proofed, bar a pair of 151s), but all a rum like this one can do is juice up a cocktail or give you a headache in hot weather because you won’t think something so mild could affect you, when of course it can.

The Palmera is as unprepossessing as all the others from the region I’ve sampled (bar the untried overproofed 151s). It’s light and white, weak and meek, and after the first three tries with its cousins, I approached it with distinct lack of enthusiasm, and finished the tasting exercise with relief. The rum just, I dunno, has this indifferent air of “good ‘nuff” that offends me for some reason, like barely enough effort was put into it to make it sell, and no more. Even the Curacao San Pablo rums at least had the courage to go to 40% instead of messing around with this underwhelming strength.

Socrates remarked that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Where I to apply that here and paraphrase, I’d add a codicil that the Palmera and its cousins makes inevitable“Sometimes the examined rum is not worth drinking.” Sorry, but here that’s God’s own truth, and the best I can say about it is that although it’s pointless and purposeless and near tasteless, let’s be grateful that at least it’s painless.

(#636)(64/100)


Other notes

The design of the modern labels is quite different from the one I bought, so I assume there’s been some changes over the years. I don’t know if the blend or recipe was changed when the label did, nor am I aware when this happened

Jun 242019
 

This is one of those strange rums that clearly exists, but about which nobody seems to know anything, even though I was informed it remains on sale in Aruba to this day. Jazz Singh out of the UK couldn’t helphe rather witheringly remarked that the only local stuff he found on the island was “a lot of imported column rubbish” and that the one distillery Aruba used to have is definitely closed. And good luck with finding any info on the company whose name is on the label, Playa Liquor and Bottling Co, ‘cause that’s equally opaque and non-communicative. So for the moment I’ll treat is a sort of low rent tourist trap hooch. In fact, I’m not even sure what else the company does, so spare is Playa’s online footprint, on FB or elsewhere.

There is an air of “generic” about the rum. It has a title used before“Superior Carta Reserva” was also a 1970s Puerto Rican rum made for E.F. Debrot Inc (a liquor merchant in Aruba), and it’s white, it’s 35%, and that’s about all you’re going to get here. I’d hazard a guess it’s a column still product, and that it’s made elsewhere under contract by a third partyassuming it continues to be made at all, because there’s simply no way that any rum company would not advertise its own product, even locally, with this kind of promotional black hole.

Tasting notes, then, because what else can we do? Nose: a thin, watery, a slightly salty cream soda and Angostura bitterswhat we used to call a “rockshandy” when I was a boy. Plus vanilla and a whiff of citrus. There’s not much moreit’s like light alcoholic water and no aroma of any distinctiveness whatsoever.

Palate? Nope, not a whole lot there either. 35% ABV excites little beyond my indifference. Even having it first thing in the morning with nothing else before, so that the strength would be less of a factor than later, achieved nothing. A splash of salt water and an olive or two, vanilla again, a short, faint bite of a very ripe apple, and maybe a pearor was that a cucumber? Who cares? The thing is so dim, so bland, so lacking anything resembling character, that you be forgiven for thinking it was in witness protection. The best part is the short, sweet, slightly salty, slightly dry finish, because, you know, it finishes.

So there we are. Probably molasses based, filtered, an uninspirational, boring, flaccid excuse for a rum, distinguished only by its remarkable lack of anything in particular. It’s a hollow rum, a watery alcohol delivery system, eliciting nothing in the rum drinker except perhaps a big yawn. I’ll just leave it there.

(#635)(65/100)

Sep 292018
 

Having dispensed with the age-shattering, wallet-busting Heritage Rums of the Tasting of the Century, let’s go to something a little less aged, a little less up-market, a little less well-known, and not at the same level of age or qualitysomething from, oh, the US. The resurgence of rum and concomitant explosion of small micro-distilleries there suggests that sooner or later we’ll find something from over the pond and south of 49 that’ll wow our socks off.

Certainly this rum suggests that it can and implies that it doeswhen you peruse the website for the Noxx & Dunn 2-4-5, it leaves you with the distinct impression that it’s lovingly handmade by a team of unsung experts working to redefine the category as we know it. There are glitzy photos, weather for various parts of Florida, notes that it is unadded-to and unadulterated, made from Florida molasses, aged in Florida in American oak barrels, and it’s all very positive. “A team of craftsmen with almost a century of knowledge believe that a blend of 2, 4 and 5 years produces the most consistent and drinkable of spirits” they remark, evidently not believing either the names of these craftsmen or consistently good older rums from anywhere else are worth mentioning.

Well, never mind my snark, let’s just dive right in and taste the thing. Like many lightly-aged blends it was gold in colour and edged timidly above the standard strength with 43% ABV. The initial nose presented crisply and with a light fruitiness (pears, apples and apricots). It didn’t develop much beyond that, though after half an hour I could sense some vanilla, nuts, brown sugar, flowers and raspberriesand it got sharper, edgier, over time, not less, which is usually the hallmark of a very young rum, or very active barrels (they use once-used ex-bourbon barrels for ageing).

Taste-wise, not bad. It felt something like a cross between a light Spanish style anejo and a weak Demerara without distinctly adhering to the profile of either. Dry and crisp, it was not entirely easy on the palatethat’s the uncouth youth coming throughtasting mostly of light white fruits (guavas, pears, that kind of thing), pecans, coffee, oak and leather, and gradually developed those fruity notes the nose had hinted atraspberries and very ripe cherries, all overlain with tannins, breakfast spices and light molasses. The finish, quite short and sharp, was more sweet-ish, with some bitter chocolate oranges, vanilla, brown sugar and quite a bit of oak bite.

My take is that the pot still part doesn’t provide a good balance to the lighter column still portion, the age is still too young, and I felt that the oak was really overactive, exacerbating the driness and slight bitterness beyond the point of being totally approachablethough I say this as an evaluator taking it neat (as I must), not a mixing guru, for whom such a profile would probably shine more. Not a rum to sip really, more one to mix up into a cocktail of some kind. According to Robin Wynne, that sterling barman running Miss Thing’s in Toronto who spotted me the bottle in the first place, I [would make] an Old Fashioned with it, or swapping out bourbon in a Vieux Carre with it. Also makes a great rum negroni…” So there are some suggestions for those inclined in that direction.

When I started sniffing around, the reps in Toronto were very helpful in providing additional information which is not on the webpage, and the story behind the brand is somewhat more prosaic (and to my mind, rather more interesting) than what’s on public display. Noxx & Dunn is a relatively new rum on the American scene, created a few years ago by a group of individuals who used to be part of Appleton’s salesforce and were let go when Campari acquired it. They formed their own little outfit called The Tall Tale Spirit company, and this is their only product (so far). It’s meant, as far as I’m able to determine, as a barroom mixer. The rum is primarily (but not totally) column still distillate, the blend of which is a trade secret but kept reasonably constant in order to make for a consistent taste profile. Note that TTS don’t actually own or operate a distillery, or grow sugar cane or anythingthe distillation is done by Florida Caribbean Distillers and the source is molasses from the cane grown in that state (see “other notes” below). What we have at the other end of the process, then, is a blended two-year-old rum with added components of rums four and five years old, made under contract to TTS’s specifications. Also on the plus side, there are no additives, it’s 43% and it’s fully aged in Florida in the usual American ex-bourbon oak barrels.

Overall, this is the sort of rum that is fine in a barwhich is where I found itbut not for greedily savoured home-consumption or sharing with the rum chums to show off one’s incredible perspicacity in sleuthing out undiscovered steals. Not to diss the makers, who evidently are pouring some real passion into their work, but I think it’s like many other such rums from the USA that aren’t entirely multi-column-still flavoured ethanols: too afraid to go where the flavours might actually lead, too timid to amp it up a few volts and really provide a mixer with balls or a sipper with style. It’s just shy of being a true original and that’s a shame for something that’s otherwise quite intriguing.

(#553)(78/100)


Other notes

  • As noted, the Noxx & Dunn is a contract “private label” operation, not a cane-to-cork producer. The distillery of origin is Florida Caribbean Distillers, located halfway between Orlando and Tampa: they control the Club Caribe Distillery in Puerto Rico, as well as distilleries in Lake Alfred and Auburndale (both in Florida), and provide distillation, storage, ageing and bottling facilities as part of their service.
  • Only one other review of this exists, by the Rum Howler, here. He liked it a lot more than I did, so his opinion is worth noting, given my own more middling score.
Oct 112017
 

Yeah, I’m chugging along behind the other reviewers, pulling late into the station on this one. The Smith & Cross Jamaican rum has been on people’s radar for ages now, so it’s not as if this review will do much except to raise its profile infinitesimally. Still, given its reputation, you can understand why, when I finally came across itcourtesy of a great bartender in Toronto who, by stocking stuff like this somehow manages to defeat the LCBO’s best attempts to dumb down the Canadian rum drinking publicboth excitement and expectation warred in the cockles of my rum-soaked corpus as I poured myself a generous shot (and left Robin Wynne, bless his heart, ogling, billing and cooing at the Longpond 1941 which I provided as proof that I really do exist).

And my curiosity and enthusiasm was well-founded. Consider the geek-stats on the rum, to start with: Jamaican rum from the near-epicenter of ester-land, Hampden Estate (awesome); pure pot still product (oh yeah); growly 57% strength (damned right); unfrigged-with (now we’re talking); and overall amazing quality, (well brudderman, Ah wipin’ me eyes). What more could any funk-bomb, ester-loving, rum-swilling aficionado on a budget possibly want? I mean, a juice like this beats the living snot out of, and then wipes the floor with, something like a Diplomatico, know what I mean? No soft Spanish style column still rum here, but an aggressive in-your-face spirit that’s itching for a dust-up. With style.

It certainly did not disappoint. When you smell this, it’s like Air Traffic Control didn’t just clear me for takeoff, but for blast-offscents burst out of the bottle and the glass in a rich panoply of rumstink (I mean that in a good way), matching just about any good Jamaican I’ve ever had, and exceeding quite a few. Although initially there was cream and unsweetened yoghurt or labneh, there was also the light fruitiness of esters and flowers, and absolutely no shortage of the righteous funk of rotting bananas and a garbage pail left in the sun (and I swear to you, this is not a bad thing). It was not, I judged, something to hurry past in a rush to get to the next one, so I let it stand, and indeed, additional aromas timidly crept out from behind the elephant in the roomsome rough and jagged molasses and burnt sugar, crushed strawberries in unsweetened cream, and some dark bitter chocolatein other words, yummy.

While the smell and aroma were one step removed from awesome, the taste is what told the taleit was, surprisingly enough, clean and clear, and quite spicy, redolent of olives, citrus, masala spice and a good whallop of burnt sugar. And it didn’t just exude these flavours, it seethed with them, with a sort of rough intensity that was remarkably well controlled. It also developed really well, I thoughtover time (and with some water), it kept on adding to the menu: hot black tea, a combination of earthiness, of dry and musty sawdust that one might use the word “dirty” to describe without any negative connotations, and even to the very end (an hour laterI had that glass on the go for quite some time), there was still nougat and chocolate emerging from the glass. Oh and the finish? Just excellentlong, crisp, funky, with salt and vinegar chips, creaminess and driness all fighting to get in the last word. I have just about zero complaints or whinges about this one.

So a few other tidbits before I wrap up the show. Strictly speaking, this is a blend of two styles of pot-stilled rum, Plummer and Wedderburn. These are not types of still (like John Dore and Vendome, for example) but two of the four or five main classifications the British used to type and identify Jamaica rums in the late 19th and early 20th centuryLong Pond, for example, was much known for the Wedderburn profile, a heavier bodied rum somewhat distinct from the more medium bodied Plummer style. Both have massive dunder and esters in there, so for Smith & Cross (who have been around in the UK in one form or another since the 1780s) to have brought this kind of style back out into the market several years back, when easier column-still sipping fare was more the norm, deserves quite a few accolades. The rum, as noted above, is a blend of almost equal parts Wedderburn and Plummer, with the Wedderburn aged for less than a year, and the Plummer portion split between parts aged 18 months and parts for 3 years, in white oak. Frankly, I’d love to see what a really (tropical) aged version of this rumzilla would be like, because for now the youth is apparentthough fortunately it’s neither distracting nor disqualifying on that score.

The Smith & Cross reminded me a lot of the Compagnie des Indes’s 2000 14 year old, also from Hampden, but not as good as the CDI Worthy Park 2007. There was much of the same sharp richness matched against something of a ghetto bad boy here, like an educated gentleman who knows just when to stop being one and belt you a good one. If you’re not into full proof Jamaican rums showcasing heavy dunder and funky flavours that batter the senses and skewer the palate, then this is likely not a rum for you. But for those who are willing to weather its force and scalpel-like profile, it is one that reminds us what Jamaicans used to be like and what they aspire to nowand points the way to a re-emergence of a style that has for many years been hidden from view and is now getting the praise that always should have been its right.

(88/100)


Background Notes

Smith & Cross, it should be emphasized, is acreatedrum, not one that is made by its distillery of origin (i.e., principally Hampden). In point of fact, it is made by Scheer, based on specifications provided by Haus Alpenz, a European spirits distributor who have Scarlet Ibis and Batavia Arrack under their umbrella. The story goes that around 2006, Dave Wondrich (author ofPunchandImbibebooks) was sitting in the Pegu Club NY with the Alpenz’s American importer, Eric Seed, and the latter asked him what rums and styles unavailable in the US he should be importing (following on from an earlier convo Seed had had with Jim Meehan about spirits in general). Wondrich knew that the sort of Jamaican rums called for in old cocktail recipes were all but unavailable in the US and he answeredA high ester Jamaican.” (“That’s interesting in and of itself because I think the current rum world has forgotten how bereft NA was of those products as recently as a decade ago,” remarked Dwayne Stewart, when we were discussing this in September 2020). Audrey Sanders, (owner of the Pegu) stopped by the table and reinforced what Dave was saying, and as a direct result of that conversation, Seed went to Scheer and asked them to create a funkier Jamaican blendand so Smith & Cross was born.

As for the name. “Smith & Crossis a combination of two old London firmsnames dating back to 1788: Smith & Tyers, and White Cross, sugar refiners and blenders whose premises were located along Thames Street by the London Docks. The partners were extensively involved in the rum trade, especially from Jamaica, but were eventually taken over by Hayman Distillers, another London company which was formed in 1863 – they specialized in gin themselves. At the time when Alpenz was putting together its new blended Hampden Plummer/Wederburn rum with Scheer, they had some commercial connections with Hayman, wanted an old fashioned sounding name with Jamaican connections and it’s not a stretch to suggest a gentleman’s agreement to be able to use Smith & Cross as the name of their new rum. (Hayman is now involved in another rum enterprise, Charles Merser & Co, but that’s separate from this brief bio.)


 

Aug 312017
 

#385

Perhaps it would be better to start with the straightforward tasting, lest my snark bend your mind were I to lead in with the commentary instead of finishing with it. The Mombacho 1989 Central American rum does, admittedly, boast and flourish some impressive chops on the label: 19 year old rum (1989-2008), finishing for the final two years in armagnac casks, reasonable strength of 43% (I said ‘reasonable’, not ‘outstanding’). Looking at other bottles of their range it seems within the bounds of reason to assume it’s from Nicaragua, though the ‘Central American’ noted on the label might suggest a blending with other rums from the region.

The nose is quite good for something I feared would be rather thin: unsweetened chocolate and coffee, some dark fruitnothing as deep and brooding as a good Demerara, mind, but nevertheless, there’s a kind of muskiness to the aromas that worked well. Baked apples and a sort of cereal background, something like nice blueberry tartI assume that was the armagnac finish lending its influencewith an ashy background to the whole thing.

Tastewise, also nothing to sneeze at, with a rich red wine taking the lead, plus prunes, apricots, stewed apples and burnt sugar. In its own way, it felt a little over-rich so maybe something was added? I tried it in conjunction with the Compagnie des Indes 17 year old and the Blackadder Raw Cask 12 year old (both from Nicaragua) and it is in the comparison that I got the impression that either it was doctored a mite, or the finishing was simply too dominant. With water additional flavours of honey, vanilla, cereal and tobacco could be discerned, plus licorice and some oakiness, and overall it had a nice rounded feel to it. Even the finish had that balanced quality to it, though quite shortcherries, peaches, prunes, anise, gone too quickly.

It was said to be the best rum in the world in 2008, but I’ll tell you frankly, when I read that I just smiled, shrugged and moved onit was good, but not that good. Not bottom shelf by any meansand not top shelf either. Let’s put it somewhere in the middle.

(83/100)


Opinion (you can ignore this section)

So what to make of a rum that is purported to be nineteen years old, yet whose provenance is shrouded in mystery? Mombacho is a rum brand which has a website and a Facebook page (among others) that are masterpieces of uninformative marketing. About all you get from these sources (and others) is the following:

  • They issue aged bourbon-barrel-aged expressions with fancy finishes
  • This rum is named after a volcano in Nicaragua
  • It’s distributed in Europe by an Italian company named F&G SRL out of Torino.
  • There used to be a moonshine distillery on the slopes of that volcano (the whole area is now a nature preserve) selling a rum called Mombachito
  • The rums in the brand’s lineup are variously aged from 8 to 21 years.
  • Some of the rums from Mombacho are called “Nicaraguan” and others “Central American”.

My personal assumptions are as follows: I believe this is a Flor de Cana based rum. The taste profile, and the absence of any concrete contact info of the producing distillery, if there is one, points to this (some online webpages speak to a distillery, never named, never located). I think it has been bought aged as is from FdC (they laid in a lot of stock in the 1980s as a hedge against hyperinflation and political problems, so the assumption is reasonable), and the rebottler/blender, whoever they are, aged it a further while in the armagnac casks for the finish. Some blending of barrels is highly likely, because any limited outturn would have the number of issued bottles proudly displayed as well.

Everything else I found in my research is glitzy pictures and self-promoting blah of zero interest to the diligent, curious rumhound. Even on the large Facebook rum clubs where an occasional mention can be found, about all you’re walking away with is that some people got one of the rums from the brand, but without details or facts of any kind on the brand itself. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an informational black hole

This enormous lack of background material does not make me a happy camper. I can’t trust a company which has no information behind it, therefore I can’t trust the provenance, so I can’t trust the age, it throws suspicions onto the entire label, and with all these doubts, it inevitably leads to suspicions that the price I paid (€120) was excessive for what was on show. I honestly don’t care if the makers are marketing tyros or business neophytes or freshie rum dilettantesmore should have been provided, even back in 2008.

This is where honesty in labelling becomes so very important. If this was a thirty-dollar rum, I would not worry overmuch about it, but for three figures it begs some questions. And when none of this is readily available, it devalues every other statement made in the marketing literature, or the bottle label itself. If anything positive emerges from this tirade, it is that it shows what is demanded in 2017 for any rum on the market nowadays. I doubt a new entrant to the field could get away with what Mombacho did nearly ten years ago, and the 28 year old Panamanian Arome may be the proof.

So yes, it’s a decent rum, and no, I wouldn’t buy it again. Not because it doesn’t have some quality, but because I rarely spend that kind of money more than once on a no-name brand with little but air behind it.

Other notes

I sent out a note to many of my rum swilling friends….none of them could tell me anything about the company. Mombacho’s FB page has so far declined to respond to my message asking for further info, an the mombacho.eu website was similarly unhelpful. But, if I do get some feedback, I’ll update this post.

Apr 242017
 

#359

“Aguacana” is as good a term for this cachaça as any other, denoting as it does “water of the cane” There are few titles more appropriate, because at 37.5% you’re really not getting very much out of the Brazilian drink, and even in a mix I sort of wonder what the point is and how well something this frail would fare in a caipirinha. I’m aware that it’s somewhat snobby, but seriously, 37.5% is edging out of spirits territory altogether and into some kind of never-never land of “please don’t hurt me” for the timid, and my preferences don’t run that way. Note the label by the way – it says “The Original for a Caipirinha,” which I think every such drink under the sun claims to be

Background information is as skimpy as the taste profile. The rum is made under the auspices of Bardinet, a French spirits company founded back in the 1850s by Paul Bardinet who worked on blending and taming sugar cane alcohol that was shipped to France. These days the name Bardinet (with respect to rums) is probably better associated with the Negrita and Old Nick brands, but since 1993 they have been the La Martiniquaise-Bardinet Group and control Dillon, Depaz and Sainte-Marie on Martinique, as well as Distillerie de Marie Galante and SIS in Guadeloupe. So certainly their lineup has real heft in it. As for the Aguacana, it’s one of the many brands within the group and that’s about all I could dig up – I don’t even know where specifically in Brazil it’s made. From the paucity of the information and lack of any kind of serious marketing, I get the impression it’s an afterthought meant to round out the portfolio rather than a serious attempt to make a commercial statement or break the Brazilian market.

Let’s get right into the tasting. The nose is sharper and clearer than the Thoquino that was tried alongside it, herbal and grassy, demonstrating more salt and less sugar, some vague florals and unripe green grapes so in that sense it was different. The problem was (and remains) that that was pretty much the whole shooting match: if there were more undiscovered aromas, they were far too faint and watery for me to pick them out.

Slight improvement on the palate. It presented a clean and spicy-sharp alcohol taste, quite dry, and was weak and near ghost-like at everything else – one senses there’s something there, but never entirely comes to grips with anything. So I let it rest, came back to it over a period of hours and noted tastes of iodine, watermelon, cucumbers in vinegar, flowers, and the ever-present sweet sugar water that so far has been a characteristic of every cachaça I’ve ever tried. Overall it was watery in the extreme, and even though sometimes ageing in oddly-named Brazilian woods imparts some off-base flavours to the profile, here there was none of that at all. “Slightly flavoured water” is what I remember grumbling to myself, before also noting that the finish was “inconsequential, with no aspects of profile worth mentioning that haven’t already been sunk by the mildness” (yes, my notes really do read like that).

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a drink that is not meant to be anything but a cocktail ingredient as a neat sipping spirit, and you’d be within your rights to make the criticism. Still, you have to know what it’s like on its own before you go making a mix, right? How else are you going to know what to add? In fine, the Aguacana is a meek and inoffensive and ineffective cachaça, which does the job of making a shy caipirinha easy enough since just about anything added to the glass would alter the profile to what is desired (which may be the point). The relaxation and the buzz will arrive eventually, but if you really want a sense of what the rum is like by itself, you’ll spend a long time waiting for any kind of flavour to chug into the station. And as for me, I’ve got better rums to try, so I’ll pass on this in the future unless Mrs. Caner feels generous enough to whip up a drink for me.

(70/100)

Aug 282016
 

Real McCoy 5

Understated five year old mixing material

Last time around I looked with admiration at the St. Nicholas Abbey 5 Year old, suggesting that in its unadorned simplicity and firmness lay its strengthit didn’t try to do too much all at the same time and was perfectly content to stay simple. It focused on its core competencies, in management-speak. Yet that same day, just minutes apart, I also tried the Real McCoy, another Bajan five year old, and liked it less. Since both rums are from Barbados, both are unadulterated, and both five years old, it must be the barrels and original distillate. As far as I know the St Nick’s is from their own pot still, and the McCoy from a blend of pot-column distillate out of Foursquare, and they both got aged in bourbon barrels, so there you have the same facts I do and can make up your own mind.

Just some brief biographical facts before I delve in: yes, there was a “real” McCoy, and as the marketing for this series of rums never tires of telling you, he was a Prohibition-era rumrunner who would have made Sir Scrotimus weep with happiness: a man who never dealt with adulterated rum (hence the “real”) didn’t blend his stuff with bathtub-brewed popskull and never added any sugar, and bought occasionally from Foursquare, back in the day. Mr. Bailey Prior, who was making a documentary about the chap, was so taken with the story that he decided to make some rums of his own, using Mr. Seale’s stocks, and has put out a 3 year old white, a 5 year old and a 12 year old.

real-mccoy-rg2-useSo here what we had was a copper-amber coloured 40% rum aged for five years in used Jack Daniels barrels, which presented a nose that was a little sharp, and initially redolent of green apples and apricots. It was slightly more aromatically intense than the 3 year old (which I also tried alongside it), and opened up into additional notes of honey, dates, nuts, caramel and waffles. The issue for me was primarily their lack of intensity. “Delicate,” some might say, but I felt that on balance, they were just weak.

Similar issues were there on the palate. It was easy, no real power, and reminded me why stronger rums have become my preference. However, good flavours were there: cider, apples, citrus, sharpness, balancing out vanilla and vague caramels. There were almost none of the softer fruits like bananas or fleshier fruits to balance out the sharper bite, and this was reinforced by the oak which came over in the beginning (and took on more dominance at the back end)….so overall, the thing is just too light and unbalanced. This is what proponents of the style call genuine, what lovers of 40% Bajans will nameexcellent”, and what I call uninteresting. Overall, and including the short, light, here-now-gone-in-a-flash finish, it displayed some of the same shortcomings I’ve associated with many younger and cheaper rums from Little Englandthere just wasn’t enough in there for me to care about.

Leaving aside the stills, I’m at a loss to quantify the reason why the St Nick’s presented so much more forcefully than the McCoy given their (relative) commonality of origin and age and lack of additives. The McCoy five gave every impression of being dialled-down, and has too little character or force of its own, no indelible something that would single it out from its peers: the El Dorados for all their sugar at least have some wooden still action going on in there, the St. Nick’s is firm and unambiguous, and even the Angostura five has some aggro underneath its traditional profile But all we get from the McCoy is a sort of wishy washy weakness of profile and a failure to engage. Torque it up a little and we might really have something hereuntil then, into the mix it goes.

(#298)(77/100)

Jun 192016
 

K&S 12 YO 1

Not a bah-humbug rummore like something of a “meh”.

I have an opinion on larger issues raised by this rum and others like it, but for the moment let’s just concentrate on the review before further bloviating occurs. Kirk and Sweeney is a Dominican Republic originating rum distilled and aged in the DR by Bermudez (one of the three Big Bs of Barcelo, Bermudez and Brugal) before being shipped off to California for bottling by 35 Maple Street, the spirits division of The Other Guy (a wine company). And what a bottle it isan onion bulb design, short and chubby and very distinctive, with the batch and bottle number on the label. That alone makes it stand out on any shelf dominated by the standard bottle shapes. It is named after a Prohibition-era schooner which was captured by the Coast Guard in 1924 and subsequently turned into a training vessel (and renamed), which is just another marketing plug meant to anchor the rum to its supposed piratical and disreputable antecedents.

Dark orange in colour, bottled at 40%, the K&S is aged for 12 years in the usual American oak casks. Where all that ageing went is unclear to me, because frankly, it didn’t have a nose worth a damn. Oak? What oak? Smelling it revealed more light vanilla and butterscotch than anything else, with attendant toffee and ice cream. It was gentle to a fault, and so uncomplex as to be just about boringthere was nothing new here at all. “Dull” one commentator remarked. Even the Barcelo Imperial exhibited more courage, wussy as it was.

K&S 12 YO 2To taste it was marginally better, if similarly unadventurous. Medium bodied, with an unaggressive profile, anchored by a backbone of vanilla and honey. There was a bit of the oak tannins here, fiercely controlled as to be almost absent; not much else of real complexity. Some floral notes, cinnamon, plums and richer fruits could be discerned, but they were never allowed to develop properly, or given their moment in the sunthe primary vanilla and butterscotch was simply too dominating (and for a rum that was as easy going as this one, that’s saying a lot). The Brugal 1888 exhibited a similar structure, but balanced things off a whole lot better. Maybe it was just meI simply didn’t see where all the ageing went, and there was little satisfaction at the back end which was short, soft as a feather pillow, and primarily (you guessed it) toffee and cocoa and more vanilla.

So the rum lacks the power and jazz and ever-evolving taste profile that I mark more highly, and overall it’s just not my speed. Note, however, that residents in the DR prefer lighter, softer rums (which can be bottled at 37.5%) and its therefore not beyond the pale for K&S rum to reflect their preference since (according to one respected correspondent of mine) the objective here is to make an authentic, genuine DR rum. And that, it is argued, they have achieved, and I have to admitwhatever my opinion of it is, it’s also a very affordable, very drinkable rum that many will appreciate because of that same laid back, chill-out nature to which I’m so indifferent. Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t going to like it. Not everyone has to like full proof rums, and not everyone will ever be able to afford indie outturns of a few hundred bottles, if they can even get them; and frankly not everyone wants a vibrating seacan of oomph landing on their palate. For such people, then, this rum is just peachy. For me, it just isn’t, perhaps because I’m not looking for rums that try to please everyone, are too easy and light, and don’t provide any challenge or true points of interest.

Opinion:

Years of drinking rums from across the spectrum leads me to believe that there’s something more than merely cultural that stratifies the various vocal tribes of rummies. It is a divide between rum Mixers and rum Drinkers, between bourbon fanciers moving into rums versus hebridean maltsters doing the same (with new rum evangelists jumping on top of both), all mixed up with a disagreement among three additional groups: lovers of those rums made by micro-distillers in the New World, aficionados of country-wide major brands, and fans of the independent “craft” bottlers. Add to that the fact that people not unnaturally drink only what they can find in their local likker establishment, and what that translates into is a different ethos of what each defines as a quality rum, and is also evident in the different strengths that each regards as standard, and so the concomitant rums they seemingly prefer.

That, in my opinion goes a far way to explaining why a rum like the K&S is praised by many in the New World fora as a superb rumwhile some of the Old World boyos who are much more into cask strength monsters made by independent bottlers, smile, shrug and move on, idly wondering what the fuss is all about. Because on one level the K&S is a perfectly acceptable rum, while on another it really isn’twhich side of the divide you’re on will likely dictate what your opinion of it and others like it, is.

(#280 / 81/100)


Other notes

  • I actually think it’s closer to a solera in taste profilethe Opthimus 18 was what I thought aboutbut all online literature says it is really aged for twelve years.
  • Bottle purchased in 2013I dug it out of storage while on a holiday back in Canada in 2016
  • K&S also produces an 18 and 23 year old version.

 

Apr 092016
 

D3S_3629

Bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts will get more out of this than I ever will. It redefines the word “understated.”

Knowing how I have never been entirely satisfied with rums from Barbados, I decided to buy a few about which many have waxed rhapsodic, followed that up with trying as many as I could at the 2015 Berlin rumfest, and continued on the theme by begging my friends in Europe for samples of their personal stocks of independent bottlers’ Bajans. Let’s see if I can’t get to the bottom of whywith just a few exceptionsthey don’t titillate my tonsils the way so many others have and do.

Take for example this white three year old from the “Real McCoy” company, which is using stocks from Foursquare. Others have written about Bill McCoy, a Prohibition era rumrunner who never adulterated his stocks (some of which came from Foursquare, according to a documentary made by Bailey Pryor). Apparently Mr. Pryor was so enthused by what Bill McCoy had done that he approached Richard Seale with a view to creating a modern equivalent: and after some time, the 3 year old white, a 5 year old and a 12 year old were out the door in 2014. This one is a blend of copper pot and column still distillate, 40% ABV, aged in American ex-bourbon oak, and an offering to bartenders and barflies and mixologists everywhere.

D3S_3629-001

Part of my dissatisfaction with filtered white rums meant for mixing was demonstrated right away by the aromas winding up through my glass: I had to to wait around too long for anything to happen. The nose was warm and faintly rubbery, with some faint tannins in there, sugar water, light cream,and a green olive hanging around with maybe three marshmallows. A flirt of vanilla loitered around in the back there someplace but in fine, I just couldn’t see that much was going on. “Subtle” the marketing plugs call it. “Pusillanimous” was what I was thinking.

To be fair, a lot more started jumping out of the glass when the tasting started. It was crisper and clearer and firmer than the nose, a little peppery, more vanilla, cucumbers, dill, ripe pears, sugar cane sap. It’s not big, it’s not rounded, and the range of potential tastes was too skimpy to appeal to me. Skimpy might work for a bikini, but in a rum it’s a “Dear John” letter, and is about as enthusiastically received. The finish? Longishsurprisingly so, for something at 40%, though still too light. More sugar and dill, guavas and pears, and that odd olive made a small comeback. I’m sorry, guys, but this isn’t my thing at all. I want more.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to kick off the Barbados tour with a filtered white 3 year old. It was thin, watery, too weak, and the tastes struggled to get out and make themselves felt. Maybe it’s the charcoal filtration that takes out some of what I like in my rums. The profile is there, you can sense it, just not come to grips with itit’s tantalizingly just out of reach, and like the Doorley’s XO, it lacks punch and is simply too delicate for my personal palate. For its price point and purpose it may be a tough rum to beat, mind you, but my personal preferences don’t go there. And having had white rums from quite a few makers who revel in producing fierce, joyous, in-your-face palate shredders, perhaps you can understand why something this easy going just makes me shrug and reach for the next one up the line.

(#265. 74/100)

Mar 182015
 
D3S_8975

Not my best rum photo ever: I had set the shutter speed too slow

 

This is definitely a rum to chillax with. A solid, relaxed and very pleasant Salvadorean rum which should be given some attentioneven if it’s actually from Panama.

Assume you were a new outfit in a country A and were making a new rum whose brand was once owned and which was once made, by your family; you sourced distillate from another country, B; used that country B’s facilities to make and age the finished product; and hired a Master Blender, also from that B country. Now, the question is, whose rum is it? A or B? This is not nearly as academic an exercise as it seems, because Ron Maja purports to be a rum from El Salvador, yet the sugar cane and distillate hail from Panama, the rum is aged in Panama, and the ‘recipe’ for the final blend comes courtesy of Don Pancho Fernandez, also associated with the Panamanian industry.

When I ran across the rum at the Berlin 2014 Rum Festival (where it won a Bronze medal for 11-14 year old rums), the company representative was quite clear about the matter without any prompting. She told me frankly that the purpose of making both this product and its younger 8-year old sibling (also an award winner in Madrid in 2014), was to kickstart a long-dormant rum industry in El Salvador generally, and for the family that owned the brand specifically. The issue is not entirely without precedent – for example, Pyrat’s no longer has much, if anything, to do with Anguilla, St Nicholas Abbey sourced its original stocks from Foursquare, and many Caribbean Islands’ companies buy molasses from Guyana…and you sure never see that anywhere on various labels. (My opinion is below).

That out of the way, what are we to make of the twelve year old rum aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and issued at a soothing unaggressive 40%? It was housed in a squat green bottle, decent plastic tipped cork, and marked with a bare minimum of information on the label – including that “El Salvador” moniker – and poured out in a bright golden liquid. It smelled like what it was, a soft, easy-going, medium-bodied rum, with vanillas, some brown sugar and coconut politely jostling for my attention. There was no aggressiveness at all here, and my initial opinion was that it was a good all-rounder: it could just as easily be a mixer, had neat, or over ice for those who preferred it that way. Still, given its rather gentle aroma, I’m not sure how much any mix would add to its value…a cola or ginger beer might just shred the thing.

Things got rather more assertive as I tasted it (and I went back to it twice that day when no-one was looking just to confirm my initial impressions) – the lightness of the nose gave way to a taste that was more solid. Soft fleshy fruits, vanilla, a flirt of citrus were in evidence, followed by peaches and ripe apples and smoke. And again that hint of lemon zest and perhaps even a bit of ginger, for a fillip of complexity. It was very Panamanian, or Latin if you wish – there were aspects of it that reminded me of similarly serene Peruvian and Colombian rums I’ve had, and could be confused with an Abuelo 12 (which was heavier), Juan Santos 12 (a shade lighter), or even Rum Nation’s 18 year old (a bit more complex). The finish was smooth, warm and quite docile, providing pleasant reminders of what had gone before it.

Maja is trying to jump start an indigenous rum industry, and have created a very good rum from stocks which have all been aged twelve years (it’s not a blend of various ages). To do this properly, what they have to do is grab some market share from more established companies, and hew to the standard proof line. My own feelings on 40% are not new: still, putting aside such a personal predilection, I believe that the Ron Maja 12 year old is a solid mid-tier rum whose great strength will be its overall delectability and versatility, if not true passion (it’s really not the kind of rum that inspires solo trans-Atlantic voyages in a bathtub, for example, or grandly-declaimed love from the rooftops by misguided lovelorn swains).

It’s simply good, and what it brings to the table is accessibility (many will really enjoy its laid-back profile), overall quality, and lack of in-your-face bite. It’s a well-made, smooth and warm drink, with enough going on within that you’ll never doubt that it still remembers it’s a rum. And at 40% and €45 per bottle, you really won’t have a problem drinking it neat, which for me is a pretty good recommendation.

(#207. 83/100)


Other notes:

  • The Rumporter online magazine has a small article on this rum here, in French.
  • I have an outstanding email in play to Ron Maja, where they promised to get back on to me regarding more history and background; when received, I’ll update this post.

Opinion

While appreciating the logistics and other problems Maja no doubt has undergone in bringing its product to market, I am going on record as disapproving of the labeling exercise – it ignores the reality of what this rum really is, and touches on larger issues of truth in advertising and presentation. The founding family and originator of Ron Maja is from El Salvador – is this enough to make it a Salvadorean rum when everything that comprises it except the owners, is from somewhere else?

For this to be presented as being what it supposedly is, I believe that some part of the production process has to be in El Salvador (like the Islands mentioned above have ageing and blending facilities in their territories, or St Nick’s is aged and bottled at the Abbey). The cane, the molasses, the distillation or the bottling…something. This may just be a fig leaf to add that touch of respectability or verisimilitude, but it would give consumers a better idea of what it is they are getting for their money.

Update March 2015According to the company, the recipe used to assemble the rum was developed by the family, and this is the source of stating it is Salvadorean.

Feb 132013
 


Bottled evening sunset. Among the best of all the 40% Panamanian rums I’ve tried thus farthough that is not quite what the endorsement it seems.

The Panamonte XXV has, since its introduction, received such rave reviews across the boardit may be one of the most critic-proof rums ever madethat it’s led one reviewer (who I note has not done a formal write up or, perhaps, even tried it) to complain vociferously and with unbecoming language about the lemming like behavior of the bloggers who are supposedly in the pockets of the industry and who put over-the-top positive spins on the rum in order to promote it for their own (inferred) nefarious purposes. I don’t agree with this attitudethere are far too few writers out there who love and promote rums, so we should encourage the reviewers, not viciously diss thembut there’s no question that for a really expensive product, perhaps we should really take a hard look and not be too swayed by cachet or price just because it has cachet and price.

Bearing that in mind, and given that I had dropped $400+ on a bottle of the good stuff last year, I felt it right to check how it rated against other rums of either similar age, similar provenance or similar profile, like the Arctic Wolf did in his famous dissing of the Appleton 30. So I ran the Panamonte XXV past the Cadenhead Panama 8 year old, the Rum Nation Panama 18 and 21 year old, the Ron de Jeremy and the Panama Red Overproof, as well as the Abuelos 7 and 12. And just to make life interesting, I added the El Dorado 25 40%, because of its age.

The Panamonte, right off, had a bottle that was impressivea flagon, more like, gold-tipped-cork and fancy lettering (same as the St Nicholas Abbey rums, just different etching and cork), all ensconced in a two-piece box that you’d better hold carefully, ‘cause if the snaps on either side break while you wrestle it one-handed, the bottom might just pop out like a stock market bubble, and all your hard earned money will go the way of your portfolio. But it’s kinda faux-handmade retro-cool, and I always liked that. Nothing irritates me more than a super premium, highly priced rum, coming in a shabby, cheap-ass, cardboard paper box (though I must concede the overall put-together-ness of the box wasn’t all that great either) .

The rum itself was amber and copper in hue. Soft and warm, the initial scents curling lazily from the glass were well behaved, rather dense clouds of honey, lightly toasted walnuts (or were those pecans?), blossoms like lilac petals, dark fruits like raisins, plums, just-barely-ripe peaches and bananas. Soft fruits, not citrus, and that set the stage for a rum that was not at all sharp, but as comforting as a feather bed in the winter. Maybe with your plump, soused spouse in it.

The Panamonte XXV may be among the smoothest, most unaggressive medium-bodied rums I’ve ever tasted, which is both a good or a bad thing depending on your personal preferences. The arrival stroked the palate with the gentle touch of honeymaybe maple syrup is a better descriptoras soft as your favourite pooch’s begging eyes: stroke me, master, because I love you. Evolving nuances of coconut shavings, nutmeg, caramel, cinnamon, cumin, a light dusting of caramel and sugars followed through, enhanced by some light tobacco and leather notesand hardly any oak or citrus spiciness asserting itself. Quite a change from the aridity and powerful eff-off of the Velier Albion 1994. It had an extraordinary balance that allowed no one taste to hold the high ground or dominate the profile at the expense of any other. It was, in fine, a rum that could be dreamily sipped and savoured all evening long. It might actually be a conversation stopper, for who on earth would want to do anything except make gurgling noises of enjoyment while trying to extract that very last nuance of flavour from it? As for the finish, well, one should not expect anything too epic from 40%, yet even here, warm and breathy aromatic hints of fleshy fruits and tobacco with a sly hint of oak and unsweetened chocolate were the last things to titillate the sensesbefore I poured yet another glass.

The rum, then, is a Panamanian molasses-based rum aged for 25 years in used oak barrels (standard), and is a product of the same crew who brought you the above-average (but spiced, I suspect) Panama Red I looked at not too long agoJim Wasson of Panamonte, and “Don Pancho” of Zafra, Panama Red and Ron de Jeremyer, fame. It shares something of the generalized softness I sensed in the other Panamanians like the Abuelo 12 or the Rum Nation Panama 21 (the RN 18 is a tad more aggressive), but lacks the youthful yobbishness of the Cadenhead. And it’s different from the El Dorado 25 year old 40%, being not quite as dark or deep, and a shade less sweet (that’s a good thing, by the way). It’s probably better than all of them, though I’d say the RN 21 showcases a little more risk.

So forget my remark about being “critic-proof”this rum is critic-obliterating. Stripped of the marketing hype (every single dropyawn) it’s not hard to see why, because think of all the levels on which it succeeds so swimminglyit’s smooth, it’s gentle, it tastes great, it releases its character in measured teasing doses, and is bottled at a cushy 40%. What’s not to like? I mean, it’s as if in some backroom office, a blending engineer and management type set out to tick all the boxes, making sure the greatest mass of taste was catered to (they emulated Bacardi, perhaps), and then ratcheting it all up a notch or five and pricing it to match. It makes perfect commercial sense to issue this twenty five year old as it has been, because this is the way most will try it and like it and buy it.

(#145. 87/100)


Opinion

For me, it may simply be too much of a good thing.

This is where I have to tread warily, and be clear about the rationale for my ambivalence. For what it isa 40%, aged rumit’s perfectly fine, so its intrinsic quality is not at issue (and my score reflects that). It may be about as good as any such product can or will ever get. So if the rum is so good, you ask, why the beef and bitching? Because, reader, although I haven’t tried as many rums as the Burr Brothers, Dave Russell, Ed Hamilton, or the Arctic Wolf, I have tried a lot and thought deeply about why some appealed to me but not others, tried to understand why I liked stuff I didn’t before, or dislike stuff I once loved. And there you have itit’s not the rum that has changed, it’s me.

I’ve moved on from commonly available, widely appreciated, well known products that are good to great, from soft and warm and smooth 40% rums, to rums that are stronger, more intriguing, that have the cheerfully experimental insanity of, oh, a seventies Lambo. Rums that encourage some discernment, some thinking. Rums that don’t give a sweet rat’s behind about running with the crowd. Rums that are really different yet still succeed, somehow (unlike Downslope Distilling’s misguided attempt at a six month old wine aged rum). The Panamonte XXV is without doubt one of the bestif not the bestof the Panamanian rums bottled at 40% I’ve ever tried, and for sure I’ll be sharing it with all my friends when they come over.

But it would have been greater still, I believe, had its makers had the courage to think a little more out of the ticked boxes they were intent on filling, the way Rum Nation, Velier’s full proof line, or even the Scottish rum makers do (this is why the RN Demerara 23 is better than the El Dorado 25, for example); if it could stand out from all the commercial supersellers that fly off the shelves so brisklyand go for something awesome, snarling and unique, that would rear head and shoulders above any other similarly aged product. Something that would not be a merely incremental bettering of its forebears, but a true game changer that people would whisper about in awe and envy, with bowed heads and bated breath, every time they timidly approached the mere wrapping paper that once embraced it.

Which is too bad, really, because what it leaves us with is that while I can express my admiration for the XXV, what I can’t do is rave from the mountaintops about it.

 


Other

Thanks and much love goes to my boy The Little Caner, who managed to hold in his irritation at my pilfering his favourite stuffed toy for use in the photographs.

Feb 022013
 

A victory of Nurture versus Nature.

The Panama Red (named for some lady of possible legend in a story too long to go into here but which you can certainly google) is perhaps better categorized as a full proof rum, something between about 47-70%. I make the distinction in order to separate such rums from the standard strength of 38-46% which we see most often, and those we tend to think of as real overproofs, 57% or greater (the article The Proof’s In The Drinking goes into somewhat more detail on the topic). However, since it is termed an overproof in most reviews, I’ll just make the observation and move on.

Of all the stronger variations of rum I’ve tried Cabot Tower, the various 151s, the awesome DDL Albion 1994 60.4% and the raging monster of Longpond 9this one may be among the most beguiling (not necessarily the best), largely because it upended many of my expectations. It is so well made that one might, on a first try, feel he was drinking a standard strength rum and only know the difference after attempting to rise a few glasses later and toppling in an unceremonious heap (but hopefully saving the bottle).

The first thing I noticed when comparing the rich red-brown Panama Red against other Panamanians on my shelf (the Rum Nation 18 and 21 year old, Cadenhead 8, Panamonte XXV and the Abuelo 12) is how almost perfumed the nose was. The others were solid rums in their way, with interesting profilesespecially the Rum Nation 21 and the Cadenheadyet once the searing alcohol fumes blew away from this one, it evinced a remarkably different scent of jasmine, nutmeg, honey, nougat, cinnamon and nuts to go along with the slight caramel and burnt sugar under-notes. Of course, as one might expect from a more intensely proofed product, it was a bit sharp, just not unpleasantly so….another surprise.

And the palate was also very different, quite strong: there was something really light and springy, almost cheerful about it. I find that many high-test rums tend to be somewhat navy in charactermore taste is added at the deep end to mask the fangs of alcohol. Not here. Spicy citrus and orange marmalade, sweet honey, white chocolate, figs and sharp yellow fruitmore like almost-ripe firm yellow mangos than bananasand a sort of candied orange chocolate mixing it up with a very slight smokiness of leather and tobacco and oak. A little ginger, cinnamon and baking spices, really nice, and unusually smooth for such a strong rumnot on the level of, oh, the Panamonte XXVthat would be lyingbut smooth enough for a 54% drink….which raises the inevitable question ofdosing.I should point out that all these varied flavours are much more pronounced if you do a comparative tasting, as I did. And the finish was lovely, long and heated: oak tannins, tobacco and a last sly hint of orange peel slinking away into your memory and taking residence there.

According to what research I’ve cobbled together, the Panama Red is produced from sugar cane grown in Las Cabras de Pese in Panama (the distillery for Panamonte is also located there). The rum, made from molasses, is a blend of stocks aged in the usual ex-Bourbon casks for up to five yearsoddly, the official website makes no mention of the real ageing: Jim Wasson, the CEO of Panamonte, was kind enough to provide the detail. Anyway, it’s all well and good. Yet to meand I may be totally wrong about this, so feel free to make up your own mind or point me in the definitive direction of a refutation) – this kind of ageing does not normally impart a taste quite this rich, such a cornucopia of chirpy, limbo-dancing flavours to what is essentially a rather young rum. Now, because the interaction of oak and wood and climate, to say nothing of subsequent blending, is such a complex one, I hesitate to suggest that it’s been spiced or sugared-up and simply not mentionedbut I feel it is. Not that I mind, particularlyI’d just like to know for sure one way or the other. After all, given the wild popularity of spiced rums these days (to say nothing of the emerging backlash against undisclosed additives), there should be no issue with labelling it as such (which was the argument given by my Edmontonian rum chum, who suggested that this was why it wasn’t notedbecause it isn’t).

The Panama Red is made by the same crew who make the Panamonte XXV, were involved with the Ron de Jeremy (tailor made for giggles and crude mandingo jokes), and perhaps even the same original stock as the RN Panama 18 and 21 (I’m on the fence about the Abuelos). There’s something in the subtle alchemy of all these rumsmany of which have had the hand of Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez of Zafra fame touch them at some point in their developmentthat suggests a common ancestor coiling lazily beneath them all. Which just goes to show how masterful blending and ageing can begin from a similar base and then make something spectacular out of it. The nurture here may really be more important than the nature.

Perhaps what I really appreciate about the Panama Red is its overall smoothness, unusual in an oomphed-up rum, and its lovely palate and mouthfeel. Almost everyone I’ve met who has sampled it, expressed some level of astonishment at these characteristics, and all rated it higher than usual. And while I’m no lemming, and cast a more-than-unusually jaundiced eye on spiced and sugared rums as a whole (even assuming this is one) I must concede its quality, and give it a (qualified) recommendation myself. Whether you want to mix it with something to create a subtle, taste-drenched tropical cocktail, or simply take it by itself so you and it can tango in tandem as I did, there is no question that if you like Panamanians, want something stronger, and are on a bit of a tight budget, the Panama Red is a pretty good buy.

(#143. 81.5/100)


 

Jan 292012
 

Big, stompin’ rum maybe meant to be a mixed-drinks base but really good neat. Definitely helpful for getting loaded when dollars are tight; interesting when mixed in any number of cocktails. Feeling lonesome in some cold winter clime and miss the Ole Country? This will cure what ails you.

First posted 29 January 2012 on Liquorature.


I don’t always get top end rums like Barbancourt’s Estate Reserve 15 year old to try, and often, I don’t even want to try them. Sometimes, like most people who’ve had a hard week, I just kick back with a glass of hooch that makes no pretensions to grandeur, pour it, mix it and glug it, and like the fact that it’s just there to make me feel better. Myer’s Planter’s Punch Dark Rum falls squarely into that category, and joinsmaybe exceedsfellow palate-deadeners like Young’s Old Sam, Bacardi Black, Coruba or Potter’s at the tavern bar. These are single digit rums or blends, meant for mixing (cowards cut ’em with whisky) and for my money, they’re all sweaty rums for the proles, displaying a remarkable lack of couth and subtletyI appreciate them for precisely that reason.

Pour a shot of the stuff and you’ll see where I’m coming from: Myer’s is a dark brown-red, oily rum quite distinct from Appleton’s lighter coloured offerings, and the scents of molasses, liquorice, nutmeg and dried fruit don’t merely waft out onto your nosethey gobsmack your face off. Once you stop crying like a little kid at the neighborhood bully or staring at your glass in wonder, I imagine you might try to recover your dignity, and observe how you can detect caramel, vanilla, perhaps a bit of nutmeg, coconut, citrus. Quite encouraging for something so cheap (less than $25).

The tromping arrival of unleavened flavour square-dancing across your tongue is perhaps the main selling point of a rum like Myer’s. What is lost in subtlety is made up for by stampeding mastodons of a few distinct profiles that actually mesh quite well: caramel, coconut shavings, molasses, fruit, burnt sugar with maybe some orange peel and baking spices thrown in. There’s a weird butteriness in the taste somewheremaybe from the ageing? Overall, I wish I knew for sure whether they augmented the profileas I think they havewith any additives: a rum this cheap is unlikely to be this interesting merely on the skill of a blender (if it was, it wouldn’t be so cheap). And there’s a fade here, boys and girls, but it’s strongmore like the exit of a gentleman bank robber discretely blasting away with his gat than the soft silken swish of something more polished. And it’s long, very pleasantthis is a rum which could easily be stronger and still be good.

Mix Myer’s Dark Rum in a Planter’s Punch, in a dark-rum cocktail (feel free to consult Tiare’s excellent site a mountain of crushed ice or any tiki site for ideas) or just mess with the old stand-bys, and the few weak points of the drink as a neat drink are smoothened out and it becomes an excellent base for whatever you feel like making. I’m reviewing it as a sipper, as I must, but this should not discourage you from trying other variations.

Myer’s Dark Rum is hardly an unknown, of course, having been a staple of the cocktail makers’ bars the world over for decades: It was indeed made specifically to address the popularity of Planter’s Punch (which could be equally said to originate in a recipe dated 1908, or in a Charlestonian doggerel from 1878 depending on who you ask). The company founded by Fred Myer in 1879 is now owned by Diageo, and they continue to blend nine rums out of Jamaica at the southern distillery of Monymusk (the plantations of origin are more secret than Colonel Sanders’s recipe) into the drink that we know today. Monymusk, as you may recall, also makes the middling Royal Jamaican Gold rum, which isn’t anywhere near as fun as Myer’s. Aside from calling it the “Planter’s Punch” variation, it is supposedly the same as that first produced in 1879, made from Jamaican molasses, and a combination of distillates of both pot and column stills, then aged for four years in white oak barrels. I’ll also note that my bottle clearly states Myer’s is a blend of Jamaican and Canadian rums, at which I immediately sneer and saywell, “Bulls..t”, not the least because after years of crisscrossing the country in my beater, I still haven’t found a single sugar plantation and therefore I somehow doubt Canada has a rum of its own.

I have to be careful in assigning a rating to Myer’s. It’s not quite a sipper (damned close, though), but some of my review must address the sheer enjoyment I get out of it both as such, and in a proper mixand even if it *is* added to. Like Young’s Old Sam, it exists in a somewhat less hallowed underworld of rums embraced by bartenders and not so much by connoisseurs, and which some believe must be braved only with fireproofed throat and iron-lined stomach for the crazies who drink it neat. It’s strong, powerful tasting, heavy on a few clear flavoursand doesn’t so much whisper its antecedents as bellow out the sea shanties. It may not be the coolest rum you’ve ever had, or the smoothest, but by God, when you’ve tasted this thing you know you’ve just had a *rum*.

(#92. 80.5/100)

Jan 282011
 

First posted 28 January 2011 on Liquorature

An overproof harking back to maritime days of the Empire, Favell’s lacks enough ageing or serious taste to compete with more carefully made and better aged examples of the craft, and will appeal more to whisky drinkers who like cask strength offerings, than those who like lesser strength rums to sip neat.

Favell’s London Dock Demerara rum plays on the maritime heritage of the British empire’s trading days: sailing ships, foggy stone wharves, the slow slap of the waves against the wooden hulls of old windjammers and clippers anchored alongside, and West Indian Trade in rum and molasses. Even the labelling reflects a slightly old-fashioned, nautical slant, what with its picture and the interesting notation that it is 100 proof rumor 57.1% (for a discussion on why 100 proof in Britain isor used to be – 57.1% alcohol by volume, see my article on proofs here).

Favell’s is, like other rums made in northerly climes, a blend of stock imported from the West Indies (Guyana, in this case) and again, this is stated front and center in the label: Demerara rum, product of Guyana. In the 19th century the British empire had its largest trading hub in London, and in 1802 an entire new section of the Port of London, the West India Docks, was built to process the vast amounts of sugar and rum arriving from British colonies in the Caribbean. The Rum Dock section gave birth to Lamb’s London Dock and other rums of that period, but whose names have long vanished. These days, only the term remains, redolent with history.

At 57% ABV, Favell’s is a proof rum (100 proofanything over that is considered an overproof): we might term it cask strength, if that wasn’t technically incorrect. There are frustratingly few notations on the distillation methodology available. About all I can tell you is that the bulk rums come from Guyana, and the blend is made in Canada under license to White Favell, Vintner’s of London, who probably act like Gordon and MacPhail or Bruichladdich, but without the fame. The nice thing is that, like Screech and Old Sam’s, it’s made in Newfoundland, and that probably had something to do with the long maritime tradition of The Rock (or so the romantic in me supposes).

The nose was, as one might expect, not gentle or forgiving. London Dock rums as a general rule adhere to Navy blending traditions, which is to say they are rough and dark and strong and have tastes are at best unsophisticated. This one was no exception, and at 57.1%, I wasn’t surprised. It smacked the nose and was redolent of harsh spirit, caramel and some vanilla. A bit sharper than I personally preferred. After opening up, however, the alcohol vapours started to recede and a lighter, thinner floral scent stole about the overpowering depth of dark sugar, and I have to acknowledge that if you’re prepared to wait a bit, that almost makes it worthwhile.

However, to my disappointment, the taste failed when compared with either Pusser’s, or the A.D. Rattray’s rather excellent 13 year old Caroni rum, which are the only overproofs I’ve sampled that came close to Favell’s. The sharp taste is not medicinal, precisely (I would have marked it down for that), but it does bite like hell, and not the dark deep burn of a good, mellowed-down, well-aged overproof, but something harsher, less refined: something that required a bit more time in the barrel, I’d say. The rum was decently full-bodied as befits a Demerara rumthe problem was that the taste was not distinct, not particularly complex, or well-defined. Oh you get the caramel, some faint burnt sugar notes, together with a trace of molasses. That’s all, though. And the finish , well, it does linger, powerfully sobut one feels that those are mostly the alcohol fumes with some faint hints of the aforementioned standards, and so not particularly distinguished.

That this rum has absolutely nothing to do with the glory days of the British Navy and all its associated traditions is not in dispute. It’s a pretender to a throne to which Lamb’s Navy rum and Pusser’s stand rather closer in the line of succession and merit. But I wouldn’t exactly mark it down for that either. These days, I assume marketing swamis and smart people who study people’s tastes and how to sell things to people are usually behind the branding of any rum I review (and if any doubt my statement, feel free to weigh in on the discussion on the Ron de Jeremy slated to be produced this year): and so I don’t really hold it against them.

Favell’s is, to my mind, a success from the perspective of imagination. I can surely, without effort, think of having a flagon of this at my side as I watch the last of the cargo being loaded onto my old sailing ship bound for Port Georgetown, the hawsers creaking as the tide comes in, the fog swirling around the dimly lamp-lit quay and muting the low conversations of the sailors as they batten the hatches and make ready to cast off all lines.

Too bad that the taste and overall quality of Favell’s doesn’t quite live up to that promise. Close, but not quite.

(#065. 79.5/100)