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 wasthe rum was released in 2016. Another peculiarity about it is the lack of information about who made itnone of this “Secret Distillery” business, just a cryptic note of “various” distilleriesthis tells us that it was likely procured from either one or more of the “Three B’s”Bermudez, Barcelo or Brugalor 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 waysit’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 Florentto 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 precisionit 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 decisionbecause 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 theBottled for Denmarkon the label. By 2016 others got into the act, these releases became more popular and more common and distribution was widened to other countriesso the label was changed toCask Strengthand 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 ofto 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 familiarthey 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 chopsrelatively 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 herethe 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 partthe 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 tooaromatic, 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 twoalthough 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 goodthough 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’ rumsit 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 stepchildyou’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 potentialnone 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 pointit’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 trueit 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 edgesyou 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 diversit 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 sniffrubber, 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 missionback when they were making a name for themselves with their rumswas to make unusual, exclusive, limited edition rums just like they had done with whiskies from around Scotland

To some extent, theylike many other whisky makers who dabbled in the occasional rumretreated 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

ColourStraw

Strength – 46%

NoseShows 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 alsowell, somewhat disappointing.

PalateLight, dreamy, easy-goingultimately 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.

FinishShort, light, easy. Some brine and nuttiness. Toffee and bonbons.

ThoughtsSorry, 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 earlyanother 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 Jamaicaand 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 brandfew 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 Guyanathey 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). Longponduntil very recently when Maison Ferrand bought a stakewas 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 throatbut 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 abovethe ten may be one of the best mid-range 40% rums I’ve triedbut 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 coursealready 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 nosethe edges would be sanded off by a few years of further ageing, of coursewith 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 notthat 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 basketthe 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 complexitywhat 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 strengthit 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 caskrequires 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 Abbeyjust as the Abbey was releasing a new generation of rum. That’s pretty cool by any standard.
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 marketplacebrand visibility and recognition, market penetration, and the great stills like PM and EHP, to name just threeyou 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 againwhat’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 fodderwhich 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 lessdoes 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 issuethey 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 thinkto 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 thatthen 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 problematicor 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 passedand sooner or later this will happenthen 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 futurebut 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 suckedtoo 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.