Jul 062021
 

Seeing this screaming violent neon-pink bubble-gum label glaring out from where it squats sullenly in the backbar, one could be forgiven for thinking one had warped back into the 1980s or something, complete with laser shows, tight jeans, big hair and bigger shoulders.  It’s not a rum one is likely to overlook on a shelf, which of course may be the point. But no, it’s just a rum distilled in 2001 and released in 2014, and is one of at least seven casks (probably more) which Samaroli picked up from South Pacific Distillers on Fiji, the only distillery on the island.

2001 seems to have been a good year for barrels, or perhaps it was simply that SPD — which since 1998 was part of the Fosters Group from Australia — may have had cash flow problems and threw open their doors to exporting rum, because other indies like Black Adder, Berry Bros. & Rudd and Moon Import all released rums from that year. And over the last decade, the reputation of this heretofore not widely appreciated Pacific island has only grown. For the most part, they produce the Bounty branded rums for local and regional consumption, and sell bulk stocks to brokers in Europe for the independents.

One of these was the eponymous Italian indie formed in 1968 by Sylvano Samaroli (now in the Great Distillery in the Sky, may his glass never be empty there), which branched out into rums as early as 1991, with spotty releases over the next decade and a half, becoming more regular after around 2005.  Samaroli have released rums from Guadeloupe, Barbados, Cuba, Brazil, Grenada, Fiji and Haiti, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to assert that it’s for their Jamaican and Guyanese rums that they are better known (recently they have also begun making blends, none of which I have tried so far). Fiji…not so much.

The stats on this one are quickly recounted: distilled 2001 in Fiji, aged in Scotland, 552 50-cl bottles from Cask #32 released in April 2014, at 45% ABV. SPD has both a pot and a columnar still, but I have no idea which one produced the rum…it’s one of those niggling details that too many bottlers, indie or otherwise, never seem to consider as particularly important for some obscure reason of their own.

Still, it’s always fun to try and figure it out, so let’s move right on to the tasting then.  Nose first: it’s an immediate sharp billowing cloud of fresh plastic coverings on new furniture, rubber, varnish, quite rich. One can surmise that either the pot still was operational that day, or they took it off the column at a lower strength than usual. Fresh sawn lumber notes mixes with sushi and wasabi, displaying a certain metallic iodine note. Some fruits, mostly fleshy and acidic – tart mangoes, gooseberries — are there, faint, and remain too much in the background.  It’s dry and dusty, and after some time suggests some sweet breakfast spices and vanilla and a touch of caramel.

The taste was something of a let down: dry and semi-sweet, it presented cleanly, crisply… almost agricole like. Yet then it went on display notes of brine, black olives, gherkins in vinegar with pimento, pencil shavings, and only grudgingly allowed the hints of light flowers and fruits to take their place. With a touch of water (at 45% it wasn’t needed, but I was curious) faint touches of honey, mead, glue and almond soy milk coil about in the background, not really successfully – they clashed with what had come before.  The finish was nice enough – short and dry, content to be unadventurous and straightforward: almonds, vanilla, citrus, coffee and a last squeeze of lemon.

The whole rum has this odd schizophrenic quality of tastes that don’t quite line up. That’s why I give it a middling low score, though I must stress that I did enjoy it enough not to be fiercely critical. It strikes me as something of an essay in the craft, an unfinished experiment that was let out of the lab before being fully grown, or something. But as I say, it must be conceded that it was a respectable piece of work, had points of originality and was recognizably different from Caribbean products with which we are quite a bit more familiar, which is a plus.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Italian independents, perhaps because they were among the first ones I tried that had a regular output, and even if that output varied, there was no shortage. And while older names like Pellegrini, Veronnelli, Soffiantino, Martinazzi, Antoniazzi, Pedroni, Illva Saronno, and Guiducci are now fading from memory (our great loss, I think), many others continue to thrive: Rum Nation1, Moon Import, Samaroli and Silver Seal, and, of course, Velier.  Even within that group, Samaroli holds a special place in people’s estimation, including mine.  They are not now of that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, it is true — but perhaps ‘ere the end some work of noble note may yet be done. You can see them searching for it in releases like this one, and if they have not entirely succeeded, at least they have not stopped trying. This is a completely decent rum which is unusual enough to warrant a second look, and if you’re into rums from the Pacific to begin with, it’ll not disappoint.  That said, I would not recommend looking directly at that label if you can help it.

(#834)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • Bottle #160 of 552 released and since each bottle was/is half a liter, the final volume can be calculated to be about 250 liters.  Taking into account an estimated angel’s share of around 3% over 13 years (assuming European aging) then the original barrel volume would have been around 367 liters or thereabouts which would suggest a barrique, puncheon or butt. If aged in the tropics, even partly, then the original volume would be greater. Not really relevant, but I amuse myself with these little conjectures from time to time.
Sep 212020
 

Photo courtesy of and (c) Mads Heitmann of romhatten.dk

One of the interesting things about the Compagnie des Indes Dominican Republic rum we’re looking at today, is that we don’t often see rums from the half island go into anything except a mild standard strength blend.  It’s rare to see a single cask version and even rarer at this kind of power – 64.9%. Here is a rum that at that level of oomph had to be a special edition for Denmark only (see other notes), probably because nobody back in the day wanted to take a chance on a rum and a country not known for individualistic excess of any kind.

In 2020, of course, when new indies are popping up everywhere and cask strength is considered almost a new standard, such a thing is the sort of amusing tale we relegate dismissively to “them old days”, but it’s instructive to note how recently the situation actually was – the rum was released in 2016.  Another peculiarity about it is the lack of information about who made it – none of this “Secret Distillery” business, just a cryptic note of “various” distilleries – this tells us that it was likely procured from either one or more of the “Three B’s” – Bermudez, Barcelo or Brugal – or Oliver & Oliver (who produces such indeterminate blends).  The assumptions this also forces us to make are that it is from column stills, a blend, and blended prior to ageing, not after. Knowing the Compagnie, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest ageing was continental.

Still, I do appreciate the extra intensity the 64.9% brings and the ageing of fifteen years is nothing to sneeze at. The nose bears this out in some ways – it’s powerful, yes, but very light and clear, with a clean and somewhat sweetish nose. Fruits like peaches, cherries, a slice of pineapple and a red grapefruit are present, though oddly muted.  To this is added tannins, oak, shoe leather, citrus, and aromatic port-infused cigarillos, which nose well but seem tamped down, even tamed, not as furiously pungent as might have been expected.

Photo courtesy of and (c) Mads Heitmann of romhatten.dk

The palate is pretty good, though.  The tart and sweet nose gives way to a more musky, nutty and coffee-like flavour, with chocolate and mocha, a bit bitter. The sweetness noted on the aromas was less prominent here, while, with some water, the fruity component went up, and developed hand in hand with an interesting salty tang, nuts, dates and teriyaki sauce (go figure). Finish is good but not exceptional: medium long, fruity aromas of ripe mangoes, pineapple and sweet soya sauce, and a whiff of salt caramel.

A single cask full-proof rum from the Dominican Republic is harder to find nowadays, even from an independent, and my impression is that CdI (or Florent – to speak of one is to speak of the other as is the case with most small indies) found it uneconomical to release such a rum which in any event lacked precision – it had been blended before it went into the cask in 2000, and then aged for 15 years, releasing a mere 293 bottles.  It’s likely that though it sold and he didn’t lose money, he found it more efficient to go more seriously into blended rums, like the well-received Dominidad series of Dominican/Trinidadian hybrids which did away with the limited outturn of the DR 2000 and expanded his sales (he has remarked that blends outsell the single cask offering by quite a margin, an experience shared by 1423 in Denmark).

Well, whatever. Moving away from this single-country, multi-distillery type of rum was probably the right decision – because although CDI has made a few others from the DR, younger ones, they are not well known, probably for the same reason this one has faded from our senses: overall there’s something indeterminate about it, and it lacks an element of real distinctiveness that might make you run to find your credit card. In other words, while the CdI DR 15 YO is too well made to ignore completely, there’s also nothing specific enough here to recommend with real enthusiasm.

(#763)(82/100)


Other Notes

  • On FB, others gently disagreed with my assessment. Nico Rumlover commented it was the best DR rum, for him (of the 14 DR rums I’ve written about, only two score higher, so I’d suggest he has a point); and Mikkel Petersen added that he felt it was one of the best gateway rums for people who wanted to get into cask-strength additive-free juice. I hadn’t considered that, but do agree.
  • Florent has told me it’s definitely not Oliver & Oliver, and identified at least one of the distilleries in the blend. I respect his reticence and therefore will not mention it either.  
  • The rum has no additives and is not filtered. Interesting then, why it tastes sweet.
  • Back in 2014-2016, Danish bars and importers liked the Compagnie’s bottlings but having a bunch of rabid rum fans clamouring for stronger juice, asked Florent to sell them some at cask strength.  Florent told them he could do that, but for tax and other reasons could only sell them the entire outturn from a whole barrel, and this is why there are various older bottlings with the “Bottled for Denmark” on the label.  By 2016 others got into the act, these releases became more popular and more common and distribution was widened to other countries – so the label was changed to “Cask Strength” and after another year or two, the matter was dropped entirely.

Aug 202020
 

Last time, I was looking at the really quite excellent St. Aubin 10 year old from Mauritius, which was a cane juice, pot-still, decade-old rhum, a type we don’t see very much of – to my memory only the Saint James Coeur de Chauffe comes close, and that wasn’t even aged. St. Aubin certainly seems to like making rums their own way, while New Grove, also from that Indian Ocean island, provides us with rums that seem somewhat more familiar – they flit in profile between El Dorados and Barbadians, I think, with an occasional dash of Worthy Park thrown in to mix things up.

One of the rums I used as a control that day was the New Grove Single Barrel rum from 2004, which in every way tried to maximize its hit points in a way St. Aubin did not, by specifically nodding to the indie scene to establish its chops — relatively high proof (49.9%, a whisker shy of fifty), a millesime from 2004, nine years old, 297 (individually numbered) bottles from a single barrel #151, columnar creole still, aged nine years in Limousin oak…well, you get the point. 

Although cold stats alone don’t tell the tale, I must confess to being intrigued, since a primary producer’s limited single-barrel expressions tend to be somewhat special, something they picked out for good reason. That felt like the case here – the initial smell was delicious, of burnt oranges and whipped cream (!!), a sort of liquid meringue pie if you will. It negotiated the twists and turns of tart and mellower aromas really well: honey, fruits, raisins, green apples, grapes,and ripe peaches. There was never too much of one or the other, and it was all quite civilized, soft and even warm

Alas, the nose was the best part – the palate strained, it tried, but just couldn’t keep up. Certainly it was workmanlike and tasted well, firm, solid, warm; it showcased some citrus, salted caramel, vanilla and cumin, plus peaches and apricots and faint molasses, just lacking somer of that exuberance and verve the nose had primed me for. The fade was about on that level too – aromatic, a little tangy, some vanilla, bon bons, spices, and again that chocolate-orange vibe I enjoyed quite a bit. I don’t know if that’s a Mauritius thing, just that it was a tasty end to the drink.

Back when I tried New Grove’s 8 YO in 2014, I commented rather dismissively on the strength and hinted at its middle-of-the-road taste which seemed geared to please rather than excite. By the time Lazy Dodo came out a few years later (a very nice blend) I was more in tune with what New Grove was doing. No further issues of anonymity or strength afflicted the 2004 which is a ways better than either of the other two…although it still had its weaknesses, however minor.

I mean, the rum is, overall, quite a good one.  The tastes were strong and crisp and well defined, and it could be sipped easily and enjoyed at any time.  Yet somehow it lacked a pinch of that excellence and uniqueness which would have staked out its own claim to excellence, the sort of thing that made the St. Aubin so good – though by no means should this be regarded as either a criticism, or a failure on their part, for the rum was perfectly delectable in its own way. 

Scores aside, what this pair of rums clearly demonstrates is that the Caribbean doesn’t hog all the glory or possess all the cool kids’ rums – it just seems that way because they get more press.  But if you were to ever start looking elsewhere, beyond the regular and the comfortingly familiar, then take a chance and go further afield. Mauritius in general is a good place to look and New Grove specifically wouldn’t be the worst place to land.

(#754)(85/100)


Background history

Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar, has been at varying times composed of more islands and fewer, and either Dutch, English or French…though Arabs and Portuguese both made landfall there before. Its strategic position in the Indian Ocean made both French and British fight for it during the Age of Empires, and both remain represented on the island to this day, melding with the Indian and Asian cultures that also form a sizeable bulk of the population. Sugar has been a mainstay of the local economy for centuries, and there were thirty seven distilleries operational by 1878 — the first sugar mill dates back to 1740 in Domain de la Veillebague, in the village of Pampelmousses, with the first distillery starting up two years later: they sold their product mainly to Africa and Madagascar.

New Grove, a rum making concern founded by a Dr. Harel, dates back to 1852 and is intimately connected with another major Mauritius family, the Grays. The Harel family have moved into other concerns (like the Harel-Mallac group, not at all into agriculture), but other descendants formed and work for Grays – one of them sent me the company bio, for example, and three more sit on the board of directors.

Grays itself was formed in 1935 (the holding company Terra Brands, was established in 1931 by the Harels and the first still brought into operation in 1932) and are a vertically integrated spirits producer and importer.  They own all stages of local production, from cane to cork, so to speak, and make cane spirit, white rum, a solera and aged rums, for the Old Mill and New Grove brands which were established in 2003 for the export market. This explains why the SBS Mauritius 2008 rum, for example, noted on its label that it came from the Grays’ distillery.

Aug 032020
 

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

My own preference has always been for the stern elegance of the Port Mourant, and the Enmore coffey still produces rums that are complex, graceful and sophisticated when done right.  But the Versailles still is something of an ugly stepchild – you’ll go far and look long to find an unqualified positive review of any rum it spits out.  I’ve always felt that it takes rare skill to bring the rough and raw VSG pot still profile to its full potential…none of the familiar indies has had more than occasional success with it, and even Velier never really bothered to produce much Versailles rum at the height of the Age.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#749)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • The length of finish in marsala casks is unknown, if SBS responds to the query I sent, I’ll update.
  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample.
Apr 132020
 

Of all the Central American rums I’ve tried, Nicaraguan rums from the Flor de Caña facilities probably are the least like that light Spanish style so popularized by Bacardi. They inhabit a tasting style niche that isn’t quite Latin (or Cuban, if you will), but something that blends the light column still taste with something a bit deeper and richer. It makes for a nice amalgam, though it must be said that their own rums don’t always showcase that effectively, and sometimes it takes an indie to make the point with a single barrel expression. Not as a rule, not consistently, but occasionally, like here, yes.

Black Adder had done some intriguing work with their 12 YO back in 2015, and the Compagnie des Indes has released another Nicaraguan single barrel rum I quite liked, the 2004-2016 11 YO which illustrated the depth of such rums nicely. That one was fruit-forward with background notes of tobacco and spices, and possessed a certain plush softness I wasn’t expecting (previously my experience had been with Flor de Caña’s main line of commercial blended rums). So I was curious how a 17 year old rum from the Compagnie ranked against those two, and whether that additional five or six years of ageing (continental) made a discernible difference.

It did, I think. It almost seemed like there was some pot still action going on behind the scenes, upon a first sniff – rubber, salt, esters and acetone, a little paint thinner. Also a nice olive and briny note, set off by sweeter aromas of tinned peaches or apricots in syrup. Some nuts and cereals backed up the chorus, and the real takeaway was the impressive manner in which the balance among these competing aspects was maintained, with no single scent dominating the experience. Even a vague salty rottenness of of overripe cashew fruit (the ones with the external seeds), added rather than detracted from the overall complexity and it was quite a bit better than the 2004 11 YO I brought out of mothballs to do the comparison.

On the palate the rum started off with something of a different vibe: the estery fruitiness I had smelled changed to a delightful sprightly young bubble gum, mint and menthol combo which opened the show in fine style.  The rum felt thinner than the nose had suggested, and sharper, but that was likely just a function of the high ABV (64.9%) and again, it felt like it had more richness and depth than either the Blackadder or the 11 YO I was using as comparators.  With water, additional notes crept out: honey, dates, nougat and apricots (minus the tin or the syrup this time). There were some vague sensations of oak tannins, aromatic tobacco, caramel, vanilla and a little bit of molasses backing things up, leading to a very long, dry finish of fruits, nuts, honey and coconut shavings.

My personal opinion is that some water might be useful to aid in taming the beast and bringing out subtler flavours that might otherwise be cowed (and there are a lot of those). This is one of those cases where perhaps toning the rum down to an ABV more in the mid-fifties might have paid dividends: nevertheless, I can’t complain with what Florent has achieved here, which is to coax a sterling profile out of a difficult and complex high proofed spirit. And although the Danes were the only ones who got this rum at this strength back in the day, Nicaraguan rums at full proof remain a staple of the Compagnie’s releases, all of which can trace their descent back to the quality of what was envisioned five years ago, in this deserving and near unnoticed release.

(#718)(85.5/100)


Other notes

  • 240 bottle outturn, from Barrel #NCR-30
Mar 032019
 

Photo (c) Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind

Rumaniacs Review # 092 | 0604

Of all the independents and rebottlers I’ve tried over the last ten years, A.D. Rattray holds a special place in my affections, largely because it was one of the first of the kind I managed to sample back when I was getting started (Rum Nation, Cadenhead and Renegade were others).  Then, after trying their 1997 Caroni, 2003 Barbados and 2000 Panama rums, I didn’t find too many others and gradually they fell off my scope.

A.D.Rattray was a company established in 1868 by Andrew Dewar and William Rattray, and was originally an importer of olive oil and European spirits, which branched out into blending and storage of malt and grain whiskies. Their core mission – back when they were making a name for themselves with their rums — was to make unusual, exclusive, limited edition rums just like they had done with whiskies from around Scotland

To some extent, they – like many other whisky makers who dabbled in the occasional rum – retreated into a sort of obscurity in the last few years, with the indie big guns (like Velier, Rum Nation, the Compagnie, TCRL, Bristol Spirits, L’Esprit and others) grabbing market share with regular releases, rather than just the no-real-schedule, “Oh well, this cask looks ready” bottling once in a while

Colour – Straw

Strength – 46%

Nose – Shows a structural similarity to the EKTE No. 2 Monymusk (both come from copper pot stills as far as I’m aware), but lighter and sweeter and (of course) somewhat less intense. Dry.  Glue. Wet cardboard. Sap. Herbals. Florals and cane juice. Creamy orange chocolate, bubble gum, peaches in syrup, minus the peaches. Wonder where the fruit and dunders in this thing wandered off to? Interesting in its diversion from the mainstream, but also…well, somewhat disappointing.

Palate – Light, dreamy, easy-going…ultimately uninspiring.  ADR likes its 46% to a fault, but for this potential panoply, for what this could have been, it’s something of a let-down.  Caramel, nougat and coffee, flambeed bananas, faint sugar water infused with lemon rind and brown sugar, brine, red olives.  Overall, too thin to seriously appeal to the hardcore rum junkie, who would likely shrug, make some notes and move on. For more casual drinkers, this rum will score several points higher.

Finish – Short, light, easy.  Some brine and nuttiness. Toffee and bonbons.

Thoughts – Sorry, but it seems somewhat of a waste of 25 years.  A rum this old, with such potential, almost begs to be stronger. To geld it down to 46% might actually be a crime in some jurisdictions. Okay, maybe that’s just me.  Some like the lighter version of popular Jamaican marks. That’s fine. I was impressed by the age and the tastes I did sense, just less so with the overall profile which never quite gelled into something extraordinary. Actually, in spite of its already impressive age, I think it was bottled too early – another five years, when true cask strength rums were becoming the rule not the exception, and they could have bottled a 30 YO at 55% and cleaned up.

(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Marco Freyr felt it to be a pot still distillate in his 2016 review, but no hard information is available.
  • 295-bottle outturn
  • Distilled June 1986 bottled September 2011; continentally aged
Dec 272017
 

#474

Much like L’Esprit from Brittany, Ekte out of Denmark kinda flies under the radar, but both for their sense of humour (similar to the SMWS if you ask me) and their (extremely) limited edition bottlings, they should not be forgotten just yet. They came on the scene in 2015 at the UK Rumfest with a bunch of blends and limited releases, and the following year they passed through Berlin, where I tried the subject of this review, the No. 2 from Jamaica…and let me tell you, it’s no slouch on its own terms: actually, it’s quite an animal.

Like so many independents out of Europe, Ekte is the brainchild and inspiration of a single individual, the deprecatingly-named Rum Geek Extraordinaire of the Rum Club Copenhagen, Mr. Daniel Bascunan, who actually hails from Chile but followed the rum trail to its lair in Denmark, which may be the single most rum-crazy nation in Europe (and yes, that includes the UK). In 2004, he opened a cocktail bar called Barbarellah in Copenhagen and its collection boasted some 170 rums; its successor bar the Rum Club, located in the Latin Quarter, has somewhere around 500, if not more by now. In 2013 or so he was approached by a Danish liquor store chain to develop a rum range for the Scandinavian market, and with some early work in blends (which remains ongoing), he released some single cask fullproof rums from Panama (No 1), Jamaica (No 2 and 4), Nicaragua (No 3), Guyana (No 5 and 6).  I don’t know whether more are on the horizon, but if the No. 2 was anything to go by,  let’s hope he never stops.

Now, the No. 2 hails from Monymusk, and I have not had that much experience with the all-but-unknown brand — few outside Jamaica have, though this looks like it’s changing as Jamaica blasts off on the world rum scene again. Permit me to walk you through a quick ovastandin’ of the structure.  A sort of consortium was created in 2006 which comprised of the Jamaican Government, WIRD out of Barbados and DDL out of Guyana – they called it the National Rums of Jamaica and folded Clarendon, Longpond and Innswood under its umbrella (this was partly in an effort to stabilize prices and keep rum production going).  Longpond — until very recently when Maison Ferrand bought a stake — was not doing much and Clarendon was the owner of the Monymusk distillery attached to the sugar factory of the same name, which in turn provided Innswood with distillate, with the latter acting as the ageing and blending facility. The house brand for NRJ is named Monymusk (not Longpond, Innswood or Clarendon, for whatever illogical reason). Just be aware that Clarendon Distillers Limited (the company) is the owner of the distillery that is attached to Monymusk Sugar Factory and you’ll be fine (the only other distillery in the Clarendon Parish is New Yarmouth, owned by Wray & Nephew).

Anyway, now that we’re soporific with all the history and need a bracer, what’s the rum like?  Well, at 60% it wasn’t a soft and easy breath in the ear from your sweetheart promising all sorts of nice things that these PG-rated posts can’t describe. Oh no.  It’s more like a harridan excoriating you after an all night pub crawl is my opinion. When I decanted it and took a first sniff, one of Ramsey Bolton’s starving mutts leaped out of the glass, went right for the throat…but once I wrestled it into submission, the nose was actually rather good (perhaps exciting might be a better word given the fierceness of the initial attack) – rubber, acetone, furniture polish, hot and very spicy, sour and slightly spoiled fruits, mostly bananas and oranges.  It showcased Jamaican badass and funk in fine style all the way, adding more citrus, brine, black bread and cream cheese, lighter florals and bubble gum after opening up, and if one could disregard the fact that it looked like it was constantly spoiling for a fight, it actually presented as something more perfumed and crisp than I had been expecting.

The palate was where I felt the rum came into its own: it was like hot black overstrong tea (the sort that bushmen dump by the pack into a big-ass pot of water and let it boil for three days, with a snake head inside for “sum kick”), redolent of salt and wax, brine, olives, and fruit, lots of fruit, really gone over to the dark side.  The best part about it all was that as it opened up, it developed even more: cardamom, cloves, vanilla, citrus, almonds and nougat, with some tartness coming through which had hints of ginips and soursop and unsweetened yoghurt.  At 60% and with that kind of a crazy spirituous maelstrom, I would suggest some water might be advisable here, but if you’re of an adventurous disposition, take it as it is and enjoy the battle is my advice, because it sure isn’t meek, and wrestling with its pungent and fierce flavour profile is as enjoyable as all get out.  Even the finish displayed some of that aggressive demeanour, being long, somewhat dry, and had some interesting closing notes of caramel, toffee, fruits, chocolate and sharp citrus to remember it by.

Given that only 270 500ml bottles were issued it’s not one of those rums that’s easy to find any more, and I suspect it remains mostly available in the home of those cask-strength-loving Danish boys who threatened to invade France if the Compagnie des Indes didn’t release full proofs in their country.  Which is a shame, really, because if you like Jamaicans, if your thing is a powerful casker and if having a growly and jagged-edged rum attempt to beat the snot out of you around back is what tickles your johnson, then this is definitely one of the rums that should be on the top of your list to try. It’s that much of a blast to drink.

(88/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled on copper pot stills.
  • EKTE comes from the Danish word ÆGTE which means true or genuine (also “marriage”), and the capital letters were chosen for brand awareness.
  • My single paragraph on the background of Monymusk was drawn from two excellent longform articles written by Matt Pietrek (plus some double checking he did for me on the fly), which should be required reading for rum geeks, one on Clarendon and Monymusk, the other on Innswood.
  • A big hat tip to Henrik and Gregers, who brought this bottle along to the Caner Afterparty in 2016 —  I’ve dented the sample rather badly on several occasions since then. Since I’m sure Henrik is going to be reading this, I’ll use the soapbox to bugle my request, nay, demand, that the RumCorner re-opens for business 🙂
Aug 242016
 

St Nicks 5 yo single cask (a)

Might be heresy to say so, but I thought it better than the same company’s eight year old.

One of the reasons why the St. Nicholas Abbey Five year old gets the full etched-bottle treatment of the 8, 10, 12, 15 and 18 year olds (which are all remarkably good for 40% rums and earned good reviews from across the spectrum, including mine), is because the company is justifiably proud of this being the first rums they made from entirely their own matured stocks.  Previously they were ageing Foursquare rums to make the originals noted above — the ten may be one of the best mid-range 40% rums I’ve tried — but the five is entirely their own juice, as will be all other aged rums they produce in the years to come (once the 4S stuff runs out for the really old rum, of course…already the abbey has run out of 15, or so I’ve been told).

I’ve gone into the bio of the company before and they themselves have great info about the plantation on their website, so I won’t rehash that, except to make one observation: if you have an empty bottle of St. Nick’s, and you take it to Barbados on a distillery visit, they’ll refill it for you for half price with whatever age of their rum you want….and add some more etching to personalize it, for free, if you ask. It’s on my bucket list for that. My wife just wants to visit the place and walk around, it’s so pretty.

St Nicks rums

Anyway, a 40% golden coloured rum, coming off a pot still with a reflux column (from notes I scribbled while Simon Warren was talking to me about it, though the company website says pot only), aged five years in used oak barrels, so all the usual boxes are ticked.  It displayed all the uncouth, uncoordinated good-natured bumptiousness we have come to expect from fives: spicy, scraping entry of alcohol on the nose — the edges would be sanded off by a few years of further ageing, of course — with aromas of flowers, cherries, licorice, a twitch of molasses, a flirt of citrus peel and vanilla, each firm and distinct and in balance with all the others. 40% made it present somewhat it thin for me, mind, but that is a personal thing.

And, thin or not…that taste.  So rich for a five. It was a medium bodied rum, somewhat dry and spicy, redolent of fleshy fruits that are the staples of a good basket – the soft flavours of bananas, ripe mangoes and cherries mixing it up with the tartness of soursop and green apples and more of that sly citrus undercurrent.  With water (not that the rum needed any), the heretofore reticent background notes of molasses, toffee, vanilla, smoke and oak emerged, melding into a very serviceable, woody and dry finish. 

Again, I noticed that it was not a world beating exemplar of complexity – what it did was present the few notes on its guitar individually, with emphasis and without fanfare. It’s a five year old that was forthright and unpretentious, a teen (in rum years) still growing into manhood, one might say.  And in that very simplicity is its strength — it can go head to head with other fives like the El Dorado any time.  It’s quite good, and if it lacks the elemental raw power and rage of unaged pot still products, or the well-tempered maturity of older, higher-proofed ones, there’s nothing at all wrong with this worthwhile addition to the Abbey pantheon.

(#297)(82/100)


Other notes

  • The business about the ‘single cask’ requires some explanation: here what the Abbey is doing is not blending a bunch of barrels to produce one cohesive liquid and then filling all their bottles from that blend, but decanting barrel to bottle until one barrel is done and then going to the next barrel in line and decanting that….so if this is indeed so, there’s likely to be some batch variation reported over time (the bottles have no numbering or outturn noted).  My notes were scribbled in haste that day when Simon was telling me about it almost a year ago, and the website makes no mention of it, but Simon confirmed this was the case.
  • The 5 year old rum is dedicated to Simon’s newborn twins, who, in a nice concurrence of art and work and life (or cosmic fate), were the first Warrens to be born into the Abbey … just as the Abbey was releasing a new generation of rum. That’s pretty cool by any standard.
Mar 242016
 

D3S_3795

A youngish agricole with slightly loopy tastes that makes one intrigued enough to take another sip….and another two or three after that.

Cheap tinfoil cap aside, this may truly be one of the most original and striking bottle labels I’ve ever seen.  Painted right on, colourful, bright, lovely, and if I was still scoring such things, it would be tempting to add an extra point or two just to show how much it appeals.  The bottle shape was the same as the Extra Vieux I wrote about some months back, but man, the design was as jazzed up as the Tokyo downtown at rush hour, and it’s not alone: there are others in the company lineup sporting this kind of chirpy West Indian vibe — Le Corsaire, Le Carbet, Le Galion, L’Amarreuse, and La Distilerie — all appear to be special editions of one kind or another.

This rhum was one of four Neissons I tried alongside each other (the Extra Vieux, the Vieux and the Cuvee 3me Millesime were the others), with two Rhum Rhum Liberations and a CDI Guadeloupe as additional controls; what struck me more than anything else about them was the overall consistency the Neissons shared.  And here’s the thing: though (barely) recognizable as an agricole, the rhum didn’t seem to be entirely sure it wanted to be one, something I already noted with the previous iteration.

D3S_3798Okay, I jest a little, but consider the nose on the 46% orange-gold spirit.  It displayed that same spicy, musky and almost meaty scent of salt butter and olives and tequila doing some bodacious ragtime, sweat and stale eau-de-vie going off in all directions.  It was thick and warm to smell, mellowing out into more fleshy, overripe (almost going bad) mangoes and papayas and pineapples, just not so sweet.  Spices, maybe cardamom, and some wet coffee grounds. At the back end, after a while, it was possible to detect the leather and smoke and slight bitter whisper of some wood tannins hinting at some unspecified ageing, but where was the crisp, clear aroma of an agricole? The grasses and herbaceous lightness that so characterizes the style?  I honestly couldn’t smell it clearly, could barely sense it – so, points for originality, not so much for recognition (though admittedly, that was just me, and your own mileage may vary; mon ami Cyril of DuRhum, for example, is probably shaking his head in disgust, since I know he likes these a lot…it was a conversation we had last year on the subject of Neisson agricoles that made me run out and buy it for us).

D3S_3797Still, there was little to find fault with once I actually got around to tasting the medium-going-on-heavy rhum.  Once one got past the briny, slightly bitter initial profile, things warmed up, and it got interesting in a hurry. Green olives, peppers, some spice and bite, sure, but there was softer stuff coiling underneath too: peaches, apricots, overripe cherries (on the verge of going bad); salt beef and butter again (the concomitant creaminess was quite appealing), and I dunno, a chutney of some kind, stuffed with dill and sage.  Like I said, really interesting – it was quite a unique taste profile. And the finish followed along from there – soft and warm and lasting, with sweet and salt and dusty hay mixing well – I am not reaching when I say it reminded me of the mingled dusty scents of a small cornershop in Guyana, where jars of sweets and medicines and noodles and dried veggies were on open display, and my brother and I would go to buy nibbles and maybe try to sneak into the pool hall next door.

Anyway, clearing away the cutlery: the Tatanka “Le Coupeur” is a limited edition, like all the other similarly designed products Neisson put out (it was distilled in 2010), and had an outturn of a mere 120 bottles, which explains something of the price differential with more standard rhums made by the company.  Aged in a single 190 liter bourbon barrel, Le Coupeur had a fascinating aroma, original taste, and is absolutely a rhum to experience when there is time on one’s hands.  I felt there was not that much difference between this rhum and the Extra Vieux, and my delight at its appearance aside, that one appealed a smidgen more. It’s a subtle kind of thing, having to do with texture, complexity, the way the tastes sidled up, had their moment and then crept away. There’s a great rhum in here someplace, and while it showcased potential more than true over-the-top quality, I’d suggest you can still take it to your best friend’s house for a special occasion without shame, because trust me, this is a five-year old that might just set his johnson on fire.

(#263 / 83.5/100)


Other notes

  • Exclusive bottling for La Maison du Whisky, one of six, all with that bright hand drawn design
  • Age is unknown but given I bought mine in early 2015, it isn’t more than a five year old
  • Some background to the company is given in the write up of the Extra Vieux
  • This is an AOC rhum, conforming to all the regs required by the designation
  • Some have noted it is a whisky-like rhum, but I think it’s actually closer to a rhum-like tequila.
Mar 082016
 

D3S_3787

Sometimes amazing rums come into being, made by people you’ve never heard of, blindsiding you with creative genius. Here’s one from Denmark.

Often, writing about a rum that is good with flashes of great leaves me with the vague feeling of dissatisfaction, because it seems that with a little more effort and imagination and maybe even chutzpah, it could have scored higher, been more, wowed my socks off.  How often have I written “excellent work, but…”?  The Danish made Norsk Cask, which I bought together with Henrik of Rumcorner, was a rum that neatly sidestepped those concerns and has proved to be one of the best Demeraras I’ve ever had.  It shows that Velier and Silver Seal and Moon Imports aren’t the only ones who can create rums with full-proof iron-man jockstraps.

A few words about Norse Cask, once headed by a gentleman called David Larsson. Apparently he was behind a company called Qualityworld, which imported several brand name spirits as well as doing some independent bottling. Unfortunately, during the economic crisis in 2008 the bank pulled the plug on his company and it went belly-up – to our detriment, I suggest, because this guy, just on the basis of this one rum, sure looks like he knew how to pick ‘em.

Think I exaggerate?  Not in the slightest.  What we had here was a rum with a strength on the exciting side of 50%, a 57% dark red-brown rum aged an amazing 32 years (no information as to where) that exhibited a nose strong and fragrant enough to make Velier take a step back and mutter a disbelieving “Che cazzo?” (and then rush to buy one). The nose started out a little sharp, not too much, fading rapidly to heat, and exuding initial aromas of bananas, licorice and a little rubber tap on the schnozz. Man this rum was deep – I had almost forgotten what an aged-beyond-all-reason Demerara could smell like.  Black pepper, dark chocolate, coffee, cedar, lemon zest, anise and burnt sugar marched in stately progression across my nose.  And then this rich smorgasbord was followed by licorice, more brown sugar, red currants and elderberries, with some musty hay notes.  Wow.  Just…wow.

D3S_3788

The palate didn’t drop the ball, and continued to elicit my admiration: it was really well put together, rich to a fault, and I felt that not one year of the 32 was wasted.  I scorned the A.H. Riise Navy rum as an abominable sugar grenade – this restored my faith. Raisins, dried black fruits.  Esters lurked coyly in the background.  Flowers, apricots, lemon rind.  Some woodiness and tar was present, well held in check, more cedar, olives in brine and (get this!) a weird faint taste of marmite on jelly on a slice of rye bread. It somehow married the sort of supple sleekness that would give a mink nightmares with the heavy, massive stomp-’em solidity of a Clydesdale.  And the finish?  Medium long, yet very memorable – rich with black olives, sawdust, wood and some smoke, port, raisins and giving with all the love of a repentant ex-girlfriend.  I tried it in conjunction with (among others) a similarly aged Cadenhead from 1975 bottled at 40.6% and it eclipsed them all without busting a sweat.

So for once there are no qualifiers.  No buts, howevers or althoughs. There are just wistful wishes: I wish I knew more about the components; I wish there were more like it; I wish the bottle were bigger.  It’s so good I’m going to hoard this one and jealously guard it like a knight of old with his daughter’s chastity. A lesser rum would be about trying to summon maybe one or three clear (maybe even contrasting) tastes, and balance them uneasily, sometimes not well. This rum, which breathes, which challenges, which is excitingly alive and complex to a fault, wants to see each note as part of something better, a greater whole, a synthesis…a whole symphony.  And melds them in a way which is quite remarkable.

It’s a great Demerara rum. No, scratch that, I lied.  It’s a spectacular Demerara rum.

(#259. 91/100)


Other notes:

  • Distilled 1975, bottled July 2008.
  • No colouring, additives or chill filtering
  • 178 bottle outturn
  • No notes on the still, but for my money it’s the PM
  • Many thanks to Henrik for the history of Norse Cask.

D3S_3789

Dec 152015
 

Single_Barrels

Introduction

In 2015 it became widely known that DDL was severing its relationship with Velier, and Luca Gargano would no longer have access to their warehouses. With that simple statement, the Age of Velier’s Demerara Rums appeared to have come to an end. In October of that same year, I reviewed the three single barrel expressions DDL issued back in 2007, and the notes in that write up were so voluminous that I split them apart to form the basis of this essay.

My thinking went like this: when you think of all the advantages DDL enjoys in the international marketplace – brand visibility and recognition, market penetration, and the great stills like PM and EHP, to name just three – you begin to realize just how curious those three rums actually are. And how much they say about the ethos and thrust of the company’s rum strategy (or lack thereof).

Velier showed that there was a real market for such full proof, limited edition rums.  You’d think that with the Scots and the Italians’ decades-long love affair with issuing PMs and Enmores and what have you, that this largely untapped market would be aggressively exploited by the company supplying the actual rum, but no, DDL has let Moon Imports, Samaroli, Velier, Rum Nation, Secret Treasures, Silver Seal, Duncan Taylor, and many others, garner the accolades and the money while they concentrate on the core El Dorado range.

Background

The ICBU, EHP and PM expressions remain the only still-specific rums DDL have ever created since the el Dorado line burst on the scene in 1992. DDL, as you would recall, have a number of pot and columnar stills – some of wood, some very old, all producing interesting variations of taste; the El Dorado line blends various proportions of output from these stills.  Craft bottlers who have bought barrels made from the stills have long issued limited expressions like PM, EHP, ICBU,  LBI, Blairmont, Versailles, Skeldon (Velier remains the acknowledged champion in this regard), and the speed at which they sell and the high prices they command on the secondary market demonstrates the enormous cachet they have.  

Yet DDL has, as of this writing (December 2015), refused to go further with developing this gaping omission in its lineup. They told me a few months ago that I should wait for great things coming out later in 2015, and then issued the “new” 15 year old rums with various finishes.  An evolutionary stopgap, I thought (then and now) — not a radical departure, not a revolution, not great, and not particularly new.  They still don’t have millesimes or annual releases or special stills’ rums of any consequence. The three amigos referenced above are also not marketed worth a damn to exhibit their singular nature, or to take advantage of their remarkable provenance or their accessible proof point. They are priced quite high for rums that don’t have an age statement – together, they cost me north of US$300, and not many people are going to buy such relatively pricey rums unless they are really into the subculture.  So here are some initial problems DDL created for themselves: the age, the year, the outturn, none of this is on the label. Why is the year of distillation and age and bottle count not shouted from the rooftops?  Age confers cachet in any spirit; single stills’, single years’ output even more so.  What’s the holdup with DDL providing such elementary information? Actually, what’s the holdup in creating an entire line of such remarkable rums?

Independent bottlers are the leaders in this field, and there’s enormous interest for these expressions. That single post of mine about the three rums clocked a reach of 400 on FB, and 20 likes on the site, in less than an hour (trust me, that’s fast and furious going for a niche audience such as we writers have).  So knowing that limited release rums sell fast to the cognoscenti, knowing the power of social media, and using my experience as a sort of quasi baseline, I ask again…what’s stopping DDL?

Problems

The very specificity of these rums may be their undoing in the wider rum world, because it is connoisseurs and avid fans and rabid collectors who are most likely to buy them, appreciate them, and understand the divergent/unusual taste profiles, which are quite different from the more commonly available (and best-selling) El Dorados like the 5, 8, 12, 15, 21 and 25 year old. To illustrate further, how many casual rum drinkers even know there are multiple stills at Diamond, and can can name more than the PM or EHP?  One could taste the three single barrel rums, and immediately realize that they certainly aren’t standard sippers or the usual cocktail fodder — which is something of  double edged sword for rum makers, who like to be different….but not too different.

Too, it’s possible that seeing the niche interest these expressions developed over the years which Velier then expanded into a worldwide phenomenon, that the boys on the Top Floor were scared dickless and shut that sucker down fast, lest it bite into profits of more dependable rums….rather than seeing it as an opportunity. I have a feeling relative margins of various products were and are involved here.

Then there’s hard consumer cash: such DDL-made single barrel expressions are by their very nature more expensive and get more so as we climb the age ladder, but there’s another reason they cost so much – DDL never made more, or issued them in great quantity (it’s unknown what the year of the batch is, and I’m not even sure how many were made, let alone whether DDL ever issued more beyond that 2007 year, or ever will again).  

Another reason to scratch my head wondering what they’re thinking.  Are they ignoring the signs of rums’ expanding popularity and the increasing sophistication of the drinking classes, so evident all around them? Or are they simply oblivious? 

General economic musings

Now I know something about how products in a manufacturing environment are priced.  There’s all the input costs of raw materials, plus labour charges, storage costs, prep costs and marketing and distribution and shipping (using various bases of allocation for overheads), to come up with a unit production cost (i.e., what it cost to make each individual bottle).  Depending on the sophistication of the accounting / costing system and the methodology employed, the profit margin is fixed and the rum is released to the market. The brokers, intermediaries, governments, bulk buyers and stores will add fees and markups and taxes to the base selling price, and the result is the €80 to €100 (give or take) which the consumer pays for a middle aged, single barrel expression with 1000 bottles or so issued by an independent bottler. So perhaps this is a lot easier for an independent operation which buys rums from brokers, than it is for a vertically integrated multinational like DDL which has canefields, sugar factories, distillation apparatus, a huge labour force and a supply chain network that is large and far-flung.   

Now, that means the entire revenue stream from such a specific, limited rum is likely to be €100,000 or less…does anyone believe that it “only” costs that amount to shepherd a rum for ten years through all its stages for a company that is as vertically integrated from cane to cork, as DDL?  Not a chance.  Smaller bottlers have it easier since they buy one small set of already-aged barrels at a time, low infrastructure costs, and have a skeleton staff; and this is both their advantage and disadvantage because they lose economies of scale while having a limited output in a barrel that may not succeed after ageing (and lose a lot to the angels in the process), while at the same time being able to pick exactly the barrels they want.

But DDL doesn’t have this issue – they have the infrastructure to age much more than just a few barrels at a time, and there are opportunities for a millesime approach, yearly issues, and yes, single-still aged output from multiple barrels, totalling many thousands of bottles.  The economics favour DDL’s daring to go in this direction, I think, especially at higher levels of output of which they are clearly capable. (Even some limited test marketing would make sense, I think…to the USA, I would suggest, because you wouldn’t believe the volume of wistful emails I get from that country, asking me where I got mine and how can they get some?)

Still, more subjective matters do start to come into play.  For new products without a purchasing history behind them and issued in limited quantities, it’s a risk, a big one, to invest a decade or more in ageing, take the hit from the angels and losses on barrels that don’t work after all that…then bottle perhaps 15% of the original volume, price high and hope sales will follow. Distributors and shops will also not want to give shelf space or prominence to stuff they are unsure will move in volume. Also, new products can cut into the sales of the old dependables upon which all cash flow is based (and which may subsidize loss leaders like the single barrels, which can be uneconomical at first).

But it is my contention that DDL doesn’t need to do this: the path has already been blazed by the independent bottlers; and DDL / El Dorado (and the famed stills) is one of the more recognized, widely sold brands in the rum universe.  Velier has shown the model can succeed. We know for a fact that a ten year old Demerara rum from a single still (at any strength between 45-65%) can reasonably sell for €100 / US$120 and maybe even more.  And the prices escalate with both age and exclusivity, using existing distribution channels and marketing strategies already in place. DDL has spent decades building up its brand and distribution, so these are sunk costs that work to the advantage of selling more, rather than less, of the single-still expressions, even if issued 40% and not cask strength. 

el_dorado_bottlerange

Photo copyright lovedrinks.com

What’s on DDL’s strategic mind?

What this leaves us with is a number (depressing) conjectures about DDL’s short and medium term strategy.

  1. The cash cows of the aged rums which blend the stills’ outputs will continue
  2. Experiments with different cask finishes will gather some steam, concentrating, in my opinion, on the El Dorados 12, 15 and 21 years old (I doubt the 25 year old will be tampered with unless it is to make it stronger).
  3. Yes, spiced rums will continue, maybe even be expanded.  They sell briskly, much to the annoyance of many purists.
  4. The single barrel, still-specific rums may be re-started, but most of the wooden-still outputs will continue to be favoured for producing the 8, 12, 15, 21 and 25 year old blends, and not for anything more specialized.
  5. DDL will make no sudden moves into new (rum) product lines.  The company simply does not seem to be structured to allow experimental development.  That’s why agile little companies like Compagnie des Indies can survive and even make money….using DDL’s rums.

In other words, we can expect the status quo to continue for quite some time. They shut Velier out, but gave us nothing to replace it.

Of course, this is all me being pissy.  I know some of the guys over there, spent many years in Guyana, love the place, like their rums.  It annoys me no end that they almost never respond to emails, provide little beyond marketing materials when they do, have on their website a man gone to the rumshop in the sky many moons ago, and just continue doing the same old thing year after year: as I said, the new finishes on the 15 year old do not really impress me, though I do want to try them (I’m a reviewer after all). 

I think this indifference to smaller market segments is a mistake, however. Because three major trends are gathering a serious head of steam in our world:

  1. Aged scotch is rising in price faster than people can keep up; and as the industry frantically tries to sell NAS whisky to make up for the shortfall of suitably aged reserves, malt-lovers will move more and more to craft rums, especially where profiles are similar. Increasing sales of craft rums and the emergence of more and more small rum-producing companies suggests this trend is well underway, so where is DDL’s response? (Observe the farsightedness of Richard Seale partnering up with Velier in the 2015 release season, a position DDL could have had for the asking given their past association with Luca Gargano)
  2. In about five years, as rum penetrates a critical mass of drinkers who demand unadulterated, cask strength, limited edition, well made products, DDL will likely have revisit the decision to divert its stock to more craft-based offerings and reduce the blends (either that or increase output across the board, and with sugar’s woes in Guyana, that might be problematic…or another opportunity) .  Whether they have sufficient aged rums available at that point to both satisfy the blended-aged market, and something more exclusive, only they can know.  But sooner or later, they will have to start.
  3. The USA cannot keep on subsidizing Bacardi and their ilk forever.  Too many US citizens are already squawking all over social media about how the best rums are never to be found in their location and when they are, the price differential is too great between those and the subsidized rums.  Once they start agitating for reform of subsidies and tax breaks, other countries take the matter to the WTO, and fairer tax regimens and tariffs are passed – and sooner or later this will happen – then craft rums will become more competitive, and the US market will explode.  DDL had better be ready to increase its market share there when this happens. If all they have is the same old menu and live off past glories, then they will fall behind other, nimbler, smarter companies with a more diversified (or focussed) portfolio.

Summing up.

The three single barrel expressions of DDL’s impressive stable point to more serious structural deficiencies of their medium term planning with respect to rums.  They are too weak, too few, and marketed too poorly in a time of an increasingly educated, knowledgeable drinking class. I’m not saying independent bottlers’ craft expressions are the wave of the future – but I do contend that they will get a larger and larger slice of the market in the years to come, and it seems that DDL is poorly positioned to take advantage of this.  If I was on their team, the first thing I’d do is stop selling bulk rum from the wooden stills to anyone, hoard it all, and start issuing high proof, low volume, carefully selected, suitably aged rums in very limited, exclusive markets. 

But nothing I’ve read and heard and seen suggests this is on DDL’s planning horizon. There is a subtle sense of complacency involved here, along the lines of “We have the stills, we have the sugar cane, we have the storage space, and tons of old rums.  We can adapt whenever we chose.”

Maybe.  It will probably be neither so easy or quite so quick.  A small outfit dealing in a few barrels at a time, sure.  A monolith like DDL?  One can only wonder.  And, in the case of me and my rum-chum friends, hope a little.

Update January 2016

This article was overtaken by events, of course.  In January 2016, DDL announced that they would indeed issue three cask-strength expressions, an Enmore, a PM and a Versailles.  No word on issue volumes.  The youngest would be about ten years old and for the moment sold only in Europe.  So the timing of my essay, as well as my conclusions, really sucked…too bad.  Still, I’d rather be wrong and get some good rums to buy, rather and be right and get none. I hope this is a forerunner of many aged rums to come from DDL, and that they live up to the high standard Luca set.

Oct 182015
 

3 x El Dorados

(#236)

The three single barrel expressions issued by DDL are a curious bunch.  Ignoring the head of steam gathered by independent bottlers in the last ten years or so, DDL has never given either prominence or real attention to what could be Demerara rum’s killer app – single barrel, cask strength expressions that are still-specific.  When one observes the raves Velier, Cadenhead, RN, Silver Seal and others have gotten for their tightly focussed expressions hewing to precisely those coordinates, one can only wonder what DDL’s malfunction is.

And yet, here they are, these three, originating from the Port Mourant wooden double pot still, Enmore’s wooden column still and Uitvlugt’s French savalle still. So certainly some vision is at work in the hallowed halls of Diamond, however imperfect to us fanboys.

That said, there are problems with the rums reviewed here. They are non-age-specific; they are issued at what deep core rumboys consider an insulting 40% (at a time where 43-46% is practically a new norm for single barrel rums); and they seem to be issued as an afterthought instead of as core products in DDL’s range. I get the distinct impression that eight years ago when they first appeared (to commemorate the 2007 cricket world cup partly held in Guyana) they barely sold enough to keep making them.  Nowadays they’ve become sought after items, and still DDL is doing very little to promote them, re-issue newer variants, expand the range, or to make them stronger. Ah well.

Some basic facts, then: “living room” strength (to quote my Danish friend Henrik’s immortal phrase), still-specific, and confirmed by the El Dorado FB team that they are a minimum of twelve years old (Carl Kanto told me 13-16 years old, for all of them), aged in ex-bourbon barrels. No year of make is available (we can assume around 1995 or thereabouts). The bottles are tall, squarish and tapering — supposedly resembling a cricket bat, an homage to their issue — so watch  your step when having them in your home bar…they tip over easy. That’s more or less enough to be going on with.

3 x El Dorados ICBUICBU – Ex Savalle still, Uitvlugt

(83/100)

Colour: amber-orange

Nose: Quite delicate and a little thin, sharpish and fading fast, perhaps demonstrating why Velier’s decision to crank up the amperes was the right one.  Vanilla, tannins led the charge, with green grapes, the tartness of soursop (not much), plus red cherries and red currants. After opening up, additional scents of caramel, toffee and lighter floral notes.

Palate: Medium bodied, a shade astringent and dry.  Still very pleasant to sip.  Medium sweet rum, again that delicacy of flavour demands some attention and concentration.  Caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, more light flowers, blackish bananas, and even a mischievous flirt of air freshener, y’know, like pine-sol, or even varnish. The fruitness is dialled way back, and there’s some oak and leather floating around, more evident with some water.

Finish: Short, dry, thin.  Vanilla ice cream with some caramel drizzle, and white toblerone

Thoughts: shows the potential of what can be done if DDL oomphed it up a mite.

*

3 x El Dorados EHPEHP – Wooden Coffey Still, Enmore

(84.5/100)

Colour: dark copper

Nose: Some of the wooden stuff so characteristic of Enmore emerges right away. Red licorice, tannins, molasses, caramel.  A much greater depth of flavour than the ICBU.  Vanilla, almonds, dark chocolate, with faint coffee, coconut, nutmeg and maybe saffron. Very nice indeed. Quite balanced – no real sharpness or spice here, just warm waves of olfactory happiness.

Palate: Medium bodied, warm and very pleasant…just unadventurous (that 40% again?). Caramel, vanilla and licorice, lemon peel, black grapes, underlaid with faint wax-rubber notes, far from unappealing.  With water, it expands into butter and cream cheese on rye bread, almonds, nougat, oak, smoke, leather and freshly crushed tobacco leaves and vegetal stuff I couldn’t identify.

Finish: Short, aromatic and warm.  More vanilla, faint white chocolate and some flowers, deeper, subtler memories of licorice and olives. Some last oaky notes, held in check.

Thoughts: The 40% is decent enough – you’re getting quite a bit here, and it’s better than the ICBU, though not scoring hugely more. Try a more potent cask strength offering and you’ll see what I mean.

*
3 x El Dorados PMPM – Double Wooden Pot Still, Port Mourant

(85.5/100)

Colour: dark amber

Nose: Nosing this shows immediately how extraordinarily unique the PM distillate is – it’s almost unmistakeable.  It’s no accident that PM distillate is a popular constituent of many Navy-style rums. Pungent, heated and deep (slightest bit sharp), with licorice-citrus amalgam. Shoe polish on old leather shoes (and old socks in those shoes). Musty, leathery, smoky, with some molasses, anise, overripe cherries and green olives alongside a really good feta cheese. Can’t get enough of this.

Palate: This is where the rum fails to meet expectations, for all the sumptuousness of the lovely, phenolic, astringent nose. Too little of these aromas carries over to the taste, though to be fair, some does. It’s just too faint, and one is led to believe it would be deeper. Medium full body; coffee, butter dark chocolate, almonds, some tangerine zest.  More of that musty driness recalling an unused hay-loft.  Some gherkins in salt vinegar.  Leather and smoke and well-balanced oak.  A dash of sweet molasses-soaked brown sugar laces the whole package.

Finish: Dry, sweet, medium long. Dusty dried grass, aromatic tobacco, and, of course, more licorice. Impressive for a 40% rum.  

Thoughts: the nose is great, the finish, lovely.  It’s on the palate that more could be done. Perhaps unfairly, I used the Samaroli Demerara 1994 45%, Norse Cask 1975 57% and Cadenhead Green Label Demerara 1975 40.6% as controls…and those rums were incredibly rich (even if two were twice as old) in a way that this was not (though it recouped points in other areas).


A few random thoughts occurred to me as I tried these rums.  One, DDL should make more, and more often, and move right past 40%.  No, the various new cask finishes on the 15 year old don’t make up for the potential that is wasted here. Velier and other makers have proven that the stills themselves are the selling point, with some skilful and aggressive marketing.

I suspect that output from the wooden stills in particular is being saved for dependable cash cows like the various El Dorado aged expressions, and issuing stronger cask strength stuff the way independent bottlers have been doing, would lessen stocks available for the old stalwarts.  So think of it this way: the 40% 21 year old rum is fantastic for around a hundred bucks, yes…but just think of what mad people like me would pay for a unicorn like a 21 year old LBI-estate rum bottled at 50%. Just sayin’.

Anyway, that DDL chooses not to expand its own base of excellent rums by issuing more like these is to their own detriment, and my personal opinion is that if you like Guyanese rums a little different from more well-known, standard (blended) profiles , then these three are definitely worth the little extra money it takes to snap them up. They may be issued at “only” 40%, but they’re still cheaper and less powerful than Veliers for those who shy away from 60% monsters; and they serve as a great intro into the characteristics of DDL’s famous stills without breaking either the bank or your tonsils. Go get ‘em if you can.


Other notes

From the El Dorado FB team: “The annotations PM, EHP and ICBU refer to the estate of origin of the respective still that the rums are still produced on; PM being  the Port Mourant estate in the Berbice county, EHP being the Enmore estate on the East Coast of Demerara that was owned by Edward Henry Potter at the time of acquisition of the Wooden Coffey Still, and ICBU being the estate then owned by Ignatius Christian Bonner at Uitvlugt (ICB/U) on the West Coast of Demerara.”

The age of the stills recalls the old philosophical problem of Theseus’s ship: over the years all the wood of the ship was gradually replaced.  After a time, none of the wood was original, so was it still Theseus’s ship? Something similar happens with the wooden stills. Certainly there’s little of any of them that is hundreds of years old, what with constant replacement of a plank here and a plank there.

Compliments, kudos and thanks to Josh Miller of Inuakena, who not only bought these on credit for me six months or more ago, but when he discovered that he missed the PM and sent me two EHPs by mistake, couriered the missing bottle to me pronto, so I could do the review of all three before I left Berlin. Big hat-tip, mate. Mis rones son sus rones.

My original 2010 review of the ICBU shows something of how my taste, writing style and opinion have changed over the years. I didn’t refer to it when I wrote this one.

As this review was being written, so many things occurred to me that rather than obscure the tasting notes, I provide a precis of the various high points, and split off the more in-depth remarks into a separate essay about the wasted potential of the stills.

Update January 2016

The word spread like wildfire in the blogosphere and on FB in the second week of January, that DDL would issue three cask-strength aged still-specific expressions after all. A PM, a Versailles and an Enmore.

Oct 242014
 

 

D3S_9559

 

You’ll want to coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, because once you start, the Uitvlugt 16 year old grows fangs and attacks your face like a junked-out xenomorph.

Curiosity.  That’s what got me here: simple curiosity.  I’ve never tried anything by Old Man Spirits, but man, I thought, how can you even begin to argue with that cool distillery, and the strapping libido of 62.9%, which is powerful enough to make Cadenhead and A.D.Rattray take a respectful step backwards and cross their knees. And I loved the Spartan, zen-like simplicity of the bottle, which resembled nothing so much as a production prototype before some marketing genius started tartin’ her up.  So yeah, when I was contemplating my purchasing decision, I took a flyer.  What the hell, right? It’s not like you get a chance to check out tasting notes on a relative newcomer every time to see if there’s value for money here.

Old Man Spirits is a craft maker based in the north of Germany, around Schleswig, and is a new entrant to the field, I think.  They have a Panama rum, a Guyanese rum (this one), one from Belize, a Caribbean blend (including a spiced version), and a gin. There will be others. Their website is still very much a work in progress because while it has good notes on the products’ profiles (plus some plugs for how good they are), none at all on the sourcing or making of these products, or the company’s stated philosophy.

Getting back to the review: as noted, extremely simple presentation; wood tipped cork, nice; hay-honey coloured spirit, bottled at cask strength.  All good.  It was medium bodied, even light in the glass, and I loved that yellow colour.

The aromas on the nose were intense, of course – couldn’t get away from that, not at 62.9%. Bread and butter, salt crackers whiffed over with white pepper and a very spicy burn started things off. The rum was quite raw, even searing – as unexpectedly severe as my schoolmaster’s ruler (“Pay attention Mr. Caner!” whap!).  I’ve had my share of cask-strength monsters that had been in oak barrels for many many years, but this one definitely left a few shavings from the bark in there. Some softer notes tremulously crept out after ten minutes or so: faint white flowers, powdered sugar, unsweetened dark chocolate, not enough to make a real difference.

On the rather dry palate, a little sweetness began to be noticeable, and little of the salt cracker aroma carried forward, thank heaven; yet the burning lack of couth persisted – vanillas, tannins, florals, all the stuff I’d expect from an Uitvlugt distillate, were so muted as to be virtually absent.  Even adding some distilled water didn’t save it. And man, was it ever fierce. Holding on to this rum was like grasping a live grenade. The finish, long as it was, exhausted me.  It was all heat and spice burn and little in the way of closing scents (very faint chocolate and vanilla). By the time I was done sampling, I was left feeling dissatisfied, a shade undernourished and perhaps even underwhelmed: I’d been on a so-so ride with something, just not one that added up to much of anything.

D3S_9558

While it may have been unfair to compare this to Velier’s Uitvlugt 17 year old from last week, I did have them both at the same time and the comparison was inevitable…to the detriment of OMS, I’m afraid.  OMS was strong and from a source distillery I like a lot – hell, from a country whose spirits I like a lot.  Yet, for a product this expensive (€90 via Rum&Co) that wasn’t enough…I wanted and expected more.  It therefore only gets points for intensity and some interesting moments on the palate, and in my earlier days, gotta be honest folks, it would not have cracked 70.

Producing a quality, aged, cask-strength feral feline requires more than merely a draw-off from an old barrel somewhere – in order to make the product create vibes, generate word of mouth and really sell, attention has to be paid in ensuring that the thing tastes like more than just fuel for an Abrams tank, and this is something Old Man Spirits could perhaps take note of. After drinking this full-proof rum, I felt like the lady from Riga.  Old Man Spirits Special Cask No. 3 62.9% has done its best to tame the raging tiger trapped in the bottle, but somewhere along the line, it faltered, and now I know what it feels like when the tiger gets loose and bites back.

(#185. 82/100)


Other Notes

  • A point of note was this particular bottle was an out-turn from one barrel, and it yielded 28 (yes, 28) bottles – it was this, among other things, that led me to drop them an as-yet-unanswered email for additional information. Because when you think about it, it’s unclear how a splash can be made in the market with something this limited – it would have to walk on water in an extraordinarily competitive sea to accomplish that, and that’s without considering the marketing outlay and samples that have to go all over the map to rustle up some excitement.  My take – until they get around to responding to me – is they’re doing this on an exceedingly small and limited scale…sort of a single spy to sound out the market, if you will. Expect profit to be elusive.
  • Also: why are two Uitvlugt rums which are so close in age, and so similar in proof, so different?  Why is one demonstrably better, smoother, tastier?  I can only hazard that — if we assume a similar distillate and a similar fermentation process — that it comes down to the barrels. Somehow, possibly, OMS got dinged with, or utilized, older, already much-used, almost-dead casks which had little but moral support  to impart to a rum which needed a much firmer dose of authority. It’s also possible that the single barrel from which the 28 bottles were made was not aged in the tropics, as Velier is adamant theirs are. Or it could be that the agent/taster/buyer for OMS actually liked it this way, preferred something more savage, and it was issued as it was because of that personal opinion (which is reasonable – can’t expect everyone to like what I do). Velier is equally clear it doesn’t add anything to its products, and while OMS makes no such statement, I don’t think the profile suggests additives (rather, the reverse).
  • All of this aside, it will be intriguing to see how other and future products of OMS shape up, because one product does not sink a brand (or define it), and for sure I’m not done buying their stuff just yet, if they continue to make it. Unfortunately, the next pass is a year down the road so it’ll be a while before I’m back to the company’s wares. I’d really like to see what they did with the Panama.
  • There’s a tamed 46% variation on sale as well, but I didn’t buy it.  From the write up, it appears to be a diluted version of this rum, not anything especially different.  A castrated tiger, perhaps.
  • Distilled January 1998, bottled April 2014.