Aug 232021
 

Rumaniacs Review #126 | 0844

Like so many lightweight blends predating the 21st century rum renaissance, which were sold under inviting names just to move cases which the rum’s inherent quality itself could not, this “premium” rum has a sailing ship prominently displayed on the label. Though it could as easily have been a pirate, a coconut tree, a beach, or all of the above at once, plus a chest, a peg leg and a parrot added for good measure. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s not from the island of Tortuga (north of Haiti): nor is it from the Cayman Islands (500 miles to the west), because the blending and bottling — of unspecified distillates — actually happens on Barbados – or it did, when this bottle was released.

Such was the state of subtly misleading label design in 1984 and the later 1980s when the Tortuga Rum Company was formed and began blending rums to sell on cruise ships and duty free stores around the Caribbean.  Not a single thing is wrong, and yet everything is. Perhaps fortunately, it is now no longer easily available to mislead people into what the word premium means, because these days the company concentrates more on making rum cakes (of which this apparently is a key ingredient).

That said, although it is mostly absent from online emporia where many do their shopping these days, the company still has a stable of flavoured and light blended rums available in the ships and shops noted above. And such older bottles as this one can still occasionally be sourced around the world, as witness an enthusiastic gent leaving a five-star comment (“Absolutely a great rum, the best I have had in fact”) on the Whisky Exchange as late as 2019, and my own quickie review here, based on a bottle from the 1990s sourced in 2018 in Europe. 

Colour – Amber

Age – 5 Year Old Blend

Strength – 43% ABV

Nose – I’m not entirely chased away…it’s not too shabby. Light and easy, mostly molasses, caramel, toffee, leavened by the light notes of coconut shavings, honey and nougat. Some dark fruit – raisins, blackberries, ripe cherries. 

Palate – Again, light, with some firmness lending it a bit of authority and solid tastes. Nougat, honey and coconut, like those white Ferrer or Raffaello confectioneries my much-loved chocoholic daughter can’t get enough of. There’s some sharper fruits here — ripe pears, apples, berries — as well as a touch of salted caramel and molasses, and brown sugar in a hot latte. Nice.

Finish – Warm oily, sweet, smooth. No problem.  Honey again, coconut shavings, a raisin or two, but for me to tell you there’s more would be reaching.

Thoughts – Given my despite for its blandly inoffensive white sibling, I didn’t walk in here expecting much.  But it wasn’t half bad – a completely unadventurous and reasonably tasty light sipping rum of which not much is asked and not much needs be given.  Maybe it’s sold in the right places after all. 

(77/100)


Other Notes

  • The Tortuga rum is not named after the island, but to commemorate the original name of the Cayman Islands, “Las Tortugas,” meaning “The Turtles.”
  • The company was established in 1984 by two Cayman Airways employees, Robert and Carlene Hamaty, and their first products were two blended rums, Gold and Light. Blending and bottling took place in Barbados according to the label, but this information may be dated as my sample came from a 1990s bottle. The range has now expanded beyond the two original rum types to flavoured and spiced rums, and even some aged ones, which I have never seen for sale and are therefore likely to remain sold only on ships and duty-frees. In 2011 a Jamaican conglomerate acquired a majority stake in Tortuga’s parent company, which, aside from making rums, also created a thriving business in rum cakes and flavoured specialty foods.
Dec 232020
 

Here’s my personally imaginative take on how the (fictitious) Board of Blenders from Consorcio Licorero Nacional (CLN) presented their results to the good folks at Rum of Panama Corp (registered in Panama in 2016) about the rum they intended to make for them at Las Cabras in Herrera.

“We will make a true Panamanian Rum to represent the year the Canal was opened in 1914!” they say, high fiving and chest bumping themselves in congratulation at this perspicacious stroke of marketing genius.

“But CLN is originally from Venezuela, isn’t it?” comes the confused question. ”Shouldn’t you perhaps pay homage to something from there?”

“The company is now registered in Panama, in San Miguelito, so, no.” The answer is confident. “The rum will be made at a Panamanian distillery. We will make it appeal to the masses by making it a column still light rum, but also appeal to the connoisseur crowd and beef it up to a higher strength.”

Ersatz Venezuelan patriotism is forgotten. This smells like sales. “Great!  How much?”

“41.3%” they reply, with the quietly confident air of “it’s settled” that Joe Pesci showed when he told Mel Gibson that a banker’s fee of 2% was standard, in Lethal Weapon II.

Brows knit. “Shouldn’t that be stronger?”

A twitch of moustaches, a shake of heads. This heresy must be swiftly extirpated. “That might scare away the masses, and they’re the ones we want buying the rum, as they’re the ones who move cases.”

“Ah.”

“And look, we will age it, a lot!” say the blenders brightly

Heads perk up. “Oh wonderful.  We like ageing.  How long, how old?”

“15 to 22 years.”

“That’s not bad. Except, of course, we’ve only been in business for four years, so…”

“Oh no worries.  Nobody will check. There’s that one reviewing doofus in the Middle East who might, but nobody really reads his blog, so you’re safe. And, on our website, we’ll say it’s a rum aged “up to 22 years”, so that will give you no end of credibility. People love rums aged more than twenty years”

“Isn’t that called…well…lying?”

“Not at all. It’s a blend of rums, we’ll have aged rums between those years in the blend, we’ll never say how much of each, so it’s completely legit. Better than saying 15 years old, don’t you think?”

“Well…if you say so.”

Paternal confidence is displayed. “You can’t lose: the rum is light, it’s old, the age is unverifiable but completely true, it has a cool name and date as part of the title, it’s sweet, and the production is so complex nobody will figure out who really is behind it, so nobody gets blamed…” More bright smiles all around, followed by toasts, handshakes, and the go-ahead is given.


Or so the story-teller in me supposes. Because all jokes and anecdotes aside, what this is, is a rum made to order. Ron 1914 touts itself as being a 15-22 YO blended rum,“Distilled in the province of Herrera and bottled at the facilities of CLN in Panama City.” CLN was formed in 1970 by five Venezuelan businessmen and deals with manufactured alcoholic products, though nowhere I’ve searched is there a reference to a distillery of their own. In this case it’s clear their using Las Cabras, proud possessor of a multi-column industrial still that churns out mucho product on demand. 

Now, that distillery has its own brand of rum, the Cana Brava, but also makes rum for clients: therefore brands like Zafra, Nativo, Grander note themselves as being from there – in that, then, the distillery operates like Florida Distillers who makes the completely forgettable Ron Carlos series of rums I’ve written about before.

And, unfortunately, made a rum equally unlikely to be remembered, because nosing it, your first thought is likely to be the same as mine: lights on, nobody home. There’s just so little going on here, and that’s not a function of the standard strength. There is basically some faint molasses, vanilla, a few unidentifiable fruits – not overripe, not tart, just fleshy and sweet – and an odd aroma of icing sugar. And a whiff of caramel and molasses, though don’t quote me on that – you might miss it.

The taste is also completely uninspiring. It’s so soft and easy you could fall asleep in it, and again, there’s too much vanilla, ice cream, sugar water and anonymous fruit here to lend any kind of spirit or style to the experience. Yes, there’s some caramel and molasses at the back end, but what good does that do when all it represents is a sort of “good ‘nuff” standard profile we’ve had a jillion times before in our journey? And the finish is just like that, short, breathy, a touch of mint, caramel, vanilla, and again, just a snoozefest. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Ron 1914 was a low end spiced rum, and, for those of you who may be in doubt, that’s not a compliment.

The purpose of a rum like this escapes me.  No, honestly.  What’s it for?  In this day and age, why make something so soft and anonymous?  It doesn’t work well as a mixer (a Bacardi white or gold could just as easily do the job for less, if a cost-effective alcoholic jolt was all you were after) and as a sipper, well, come on, there’s way better value out there.

It’s always been a thing of mine that a good Spanish-style ron doesn’t have to enthuse the cask strength crowd with a wooden still in its DNA, or by squirting dunder and funk from every pore – because knowledgeable drinkers of its own style will like it just fine.  They’re used to standard strength and get that subtlety of tastes imparted almost solely by barrel management and smart ageing. But I submit that even they would take one taste of this thing, put down the glass, and walk away, the way I wanted to on the day I tried it in a VIP tasting. I couldn’t do that then, but you can, now. See you.

(#788)(70/100)

Jul 302020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#748)(72/100)


Other Notes

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

Jul 262020
 

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

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

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

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

(#747)(78/100)


Opinion / Company background

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 292020
 

Let’s dispense with the origin story right away. Call me jaundiced, but after doing this for over ten years, I not only roll my eyes when I read about rum heritage and pirates and prohibition heroes and (in this case) rum-running schooners, but fight a near-overwhelming urge to fall asleep. The facts are as follows: this is a rum named after a boat; it is made by Bermudez in the Dominican Republic; launched in 2012; it is claimed to be 18 years true ageing (a statement that is something of a bone of contention); it is a light, standard-strength Latin-style ron, imported to the US by the spirits division (35 Maple Street) of a direct-to-trade wine merchant (The Other Guys Inc) owned by a spirits company that itself had started with wine (3 Badge Beverage Company). 

Kirk & Sweeney have always maintained, as have those who talked to Bermudez, that the rum is aged a full X years (12, 18 or 23). The two points that make people uneasy with that statement are the labels, where it says, as in this case, “18 Years” and not “18 Years Old,” (thereby skirting any possible accusations of of misrepresentation) and the price, which is deemed by many to be simply too cheap for a rum that old. Moreover, the profile doesn’t seem to be quite … there, and if it needs help from what are clearly discernible additions, you can see why the suspicions fester.

This is not to say that there isn’t some interesting stuff to be found. Take the nose, for example.  It smells of salted caramel, vanilla ice cream, brown sugar, a bit of molasses, and is warm, quite light, with maybe a dash of mint and basil thrown in.  But taken together, what it has is the smell of a milk shake, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of startling originality – not exactly what 18 years of ageing would give you, pleasant as it is. It’s soft and easy, that’s all.  No thinking required.

On the palate this continues, and to the shortcomings of a rather straightforward series of tastes – more vanilla, molasses, salted caramel, almonds, cream cheese, a touch of leather and yes, more ice cream – is added the strength, 40% ABV, and just too much sweetness, which is simply not enough to make any of the flavours pop and sparkle. It’s a thin juice, over-sweet, over-vanilla-ed, a slumgullion, and the short and unexceptional finish which just repeats the same notes, does more to bore than impress.  We could perhaps permit the K&S 12 year to pass muster on that basis – for something half again as old, such indulgence is not available, sorry.

Now, that’s my considered opinion. But that said, the rum has had fervent adherents who really stand by its charms, though it is unclear whether that’s because they don’t have a decent base of comparison, or simply prefer and are used to light rums. Chris Nell of Drinkhacker gave it a solid A- in 2015. Kara Newman awarded 93 points in an undated Wine Enthusiast mini-review, and Influenster gave it 4½ stars out of 5 which was also the general opinion of the many comments on that tasting note. Flaviar aggregated it at 8.5/10. Eric Zadona of EZdrinking probably nailed it when he remarked in an unscored 2017 review, that it would appeal to the Zacapa-loving crowd. The two best reviews available online – none of today’s crop of regulars have bothered – come from Diving & Chilling, in an lengthy unscored essay that touched on all the high (and low) points and disliked it, and Dave Russell of Rum Gallery who did the same in his crisp style, and loved it (9.5 points). And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that group-sourced scoring website Rum Ratings, where the majority of the 143 posters rated it 8 or 9 points.

It may have fallen out of favour with today’s more educated and vocal rum drinkers, what with the increased popularity of the Caribbean full proofs from the estates and distilleries, and the European independents. If it sells briskly in the US (from whence most of the positive commentary originates), perhaps it’s because it sells in the US, and part of the reason for that may be that they are so starved for choice that if it looks cool and tastes halfway decent (which this does), it’ll move. So, summing up, if what you’re after is a cool looking bottle within which are ensconced light, unaggressive flavours, you’ve come to the right place.  Step up and pays your money because so as long as you like rums like the Dictador, Diplomatico, Zacapa, Opthimus 18 or El Dorado 12, then you will be quite pleased with what you’re getting here.

(#715)(79/100)


Other Notes

Because the case of its doubted age is not proven with certainty, I have elected to continue using the “Years Old” descriptor in the title…but I use it with reservations.

Feb 192020
 

The strangely named Doctor Bird rum is another company’s response to Smith and Cross, Rum Fire  and the Stolen Overproof rum. These are all made or released in the USA (Stolen hails from New Zealand but its rum business is primarily in the US), but the rums themselves come from Jamaica, and there the similarity sort of breaks down, for the Doctor Bird is one of the few from Worthy Park — one of the New Jamaicans which has quietly been gaining its own accolades over the last few years — and not from Hampden or Monymusk or Longpond or Appleton.

The quirky Detroit-based Two James Distillery — whose staff include, variously, an ex-guitar-maker, ex-EMT, ex-Marine and ex-photographer and who state openly and tongue-in-cheek that they have no problems with people stalking them on social media — is a full-fledged distillery, with a 500-gallon (1892 liter) pot still leading the charge.  But while they produce gin, rye whiskey, bourbon and vodka on that still, it’s really irrelevant here because – again, like Stolen – they didn’t bother to make any rum themselves but imported some barrels from Worthy Park. This is a departure from most American distillers styling themselves rum makers, many of whom seem to think that if they have a still they can produce anything (and are at pains to demonstrate it), but few of whom ever think of buying another country’s spirit as Stolen and Two James have.

That aside, moving on: Worthy Park you say?  Okay. What else? Pot still, of course, 50% ABV, so that part is good.  Hay yellow. It’s finished in moscatel sherry casks, and that kinda-sorta bothers me, since I retain bad-tempered memories of an over-finished Legendario that was well-nigh undrinkable because of it – though here, given the zero reading on a hydrometer, it’s more likely the finishing was a short one, and not in wet casks.

Certainly the sherry influence seemed to be AWOL on initial sniffing, because my first dumbfounded note-to-self was wtf is this? Salt wax bomb just went off in the glass. Sharp funk is squirting left and right, acetones, furniture polish, rotting bananas, a deep dumpster dive behind an all night take-out joint. Harshly, greasily pungent is as good as any to describe the experience. Oh and that’s just for openers. It gives you kippers and saltfish, the sweet salt of olive oil, varnish, paint thinner. Thank God the fruits come in to save the show: sharp nettlesome, stabbing, tart unripe green bastards, to be sure – gooseberries, five finger, green mangoes, soursop, apples, all nose-puckering and outright rude.  But overall the sensation that remains on the nose is the brine and rotting fruits, and I confess to not having been this startled by a rum since my initial encounter with the clairins and the Paranubes

Thankfully, much of the violence which characterizes the nose disappears upon a cautious tasting, transmuted by some obscure alchemy into basic drinkability.  It stays sharp, but now things converge to a sort of balance of sweet and salt (not too much of either), crisp and more fruity than before. There’s wood chips, sawdust, varnish, glue, retreating to a respectable distance. Sweet soya sauce, vegetable soup, dill and ginger, gherkins in a sweet vinegar, followed by a parade of crisp fruitiness. Pineapple, lemon peel, gooseberries, green apples, all riper than the nose had suggested they might be, and the finish, relatively swift, is less than I would have expected — and simpler — given the stabbing attack of the nose.  It provides salt, raisins, the citric spiciness of cumin and dill, exhaled some last fruity notes and then disappears.

Well now, what to make of this? If, as they say, it was finished in a sherry cask, all I can say is too little of that made it through. The light sweet muskiness is there, just stays too far in the background to be considered anything but a very minor influence, and aside from some fruity notes (which could just as easily come from the rum’s own esters), the sherry didn’t habla. Maybe it’s because those Jamaican rowdies from the backdam kicked down the door and stomped it flat, who knows? The strength is perfect for what it is – stronger, and morgues might have filled up with expired rum drinkers, but weaker might not have exhibited quite as much badass.

I think the challenge with the rum, for people now getting into Jamaicans (especially the New ones, who like their pot stills and funky junk dialled up to “11” ) might be to get past the aromas, the nose, and how that impacts what is tasted (a good example of how polarizing the rum is, is to check out rumratings’ comments, and those on Tarquin’s sterling reddit review. This is a rum that needs to be tried carefully because to the unprepared it might just hit them between the eyes like a Louisville Slugger. Personally I think a little more ageing or a little more finishing might have been nice, just to round things out and sand the rough edges off a shade more – this is, after all, not even a six year old rum, but a blend of pot still rums of which a 6YO is the oldest. And those high-funk, ester-sporting bad boys need careful handling to reach their full potential. 

The Jamaicans have been getting so much good press of late – especially Hampden and WP – but the peculiarity of this fame is that it has led to the belief that anyone can just buy a barrel or ten from them, bottle the result and voila! – instant sold-out. Yeah, but no. Not quite. Not always. And no, not here.

(#703)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • “Doctor Bird” is not a person, and is not supposed to be “Dr. Bird.” It is, in fact, the national bird of Jamaica, a swallow-tail humming bird, only found there. Folklore has it that it was named because of the resemblance of its black crest and long bifurcated tail to the top hat and tails worn by country doctors back in the old days.
  • Big hat tip to Cecil Ramotar, ex-QC part-time rum-junkie, who made sure I got a sample of the rum to try.
Dec 112019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#683)(68/100)


Other Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#682)(72/100)


Other notes

  • On proof66, in a 2018 comment, it notes that “All Ron Carlos Rums now are being made in Puerto Rico by Club Caribe Distllers and bottled in Florida.” The poster opined that they’re better now than they were, and give Bacardi a run for its money.  I chose to doubt that. 
  • As a point of interest, FCD controls the Caribe Distillery. Their primary market for rums is cruise lines, duty free shops, bulk sales elsewhere and contract rum creation (like Scheer does), alongside many other distilled spirits and brands.
  • Given the absence of current references to the Black rum reviewed here, it’s possible that it morphed into the “Dark” and was further rebranded into the “Gold”, but evidence is somewhat lacking. I still have not been able to ascertain whether it’s been aged, but from the profile, I would suggest maybe one or two years.
  • Neutral alcohol, neutral spirits spirits, or rectified spirits, are generally  considered to be alcohol at 95% ABV or greater.
Jun 262019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#636)(64/100)


Other notes

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

Jun 242019
 

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

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

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

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

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

(#635)(65/100)

Dec 162018
 

When we think of independent bottlers, all the usual suspects out of Europe usually come to mind — Velier, Rum Nation, L’Esprit, the Compagnie, the whisky boys up north who indulge themselves in the odd single cask expression from time to time, SMWS, Bristol Spirits, and the list goes on.

These well-known names obscure the fact that smaller operations — stores and even individuals — can and do in fact issue single barrel offerings as well.  For example, Kensington Wine Market in Calgary does it with whiskies quite often; a bunch of redditors recently got together and bought a cask of a 2005 Foursquare rum; and in the case of the rum under review today, K&L Wines out of California bought a single cask of Uitvlugt Savalle-still juice from an independent warehouse in Scotland, and issued it in the States.

It excites equal parts curiosity and admiration, and not just because of the retro-cool label – although that’s quite attractive. I mean, it’s not as if the US is known for independent bottlings – they’re much more into going the whole hog and creating entire new distilleries (however small). The rum is twenty years old (1994-2014), a robust 52.8% and for once seems not to have been sourced from Scheer.  The name “Faultline” is what K&L uses for its own bottlings, and I gather that The Two Davids of K&L happened to be in Scotland in early 2014 and found two Demeraras (Enmore, Uitvlugt) and a Jamaican Hampden mouldering away, and manned up and bought the lot to issue as was – not a trivial exercise for them, since (as they put it), these casks were “much more expensive than single malt whiskies despite the fact that they’re half as desirable.”

Half as desirable?  Oh please. To American audiences maybe, but I submit that were they to try this thing and go further afield in their polling, the scales would be rather more evenly adjusted.  The nose of an Uitvlugt rum, deriving as it does from a Savalle column still, is a great counterpoint to the woodsy Enmore and PM and Versailles rums (the UF30E remains one of the best Guyanese rums ever made, in my own estimation) — here it delivered quite well. It began with a nose of old leather shoes, well polished and long broken in. It provided smoke, a faint rubber background, and after opening up, the light florals of a fabric softener and freshly sun-dried laundry.  There were more traditional aromas of caramel, vanilla, molasses, cumin, tea leaves and aromatic tobacco, with rich deep fruits (peaches, apples, apricots) dancing around these smells, but never overwhelming them.

The palate was also very approachable and tasty. Soft and warm, tasting of brine and red Moroccan olives (they’re slightly sweeter than the green ones); leather and wooden floors, old and well worn and well polished, so to speak. Fruitiness is again generally light – green grapes, peaches, some lemon zest, raisins – resting well on a bed of salty caramel, butter and cinnamon.  Overall, not too concentrated or overwhelming, and the strength is just about perfect for what it does. It teases and doles out delicate, clear notes in a sort of delicate assembly that invites further sipping, and the finish goes in yet other directions: dry and somewhat tannic, hinting at strong black unsweetened tea, oakiness, some raisins and stewed apples, toffee, toblerone and coffee grounds. Plus a last whiff of those fruity hints to round things out.

There’s not really a true periodic stable of such rum releases by K&L who are more into an “as and when” approach, and therefore such bottlings are, I submit, more like personalized number plates lending street cred to the issuer…something like vanity rums. Fun to get, fun to drink, interesting to have, great to taste, cool to point to — but not really meant to build a brand or a rum-issuing company: K&L is after all a liquor emporium, not an outfit specializing in indie bottlings. So a rum like this serves to draw attention to the store that sells them, providing a sort of exclusive cachet that you can only get if you shop there.  Well, that’s fair, I don’t rain on capitalism – but it does make that kind of release something of a one-off. It doesn’t support a wider array of brands or draw attention to other rums released by the same company, since there aren’t that many to be going on with.

That doesn’t invalidate the Uitvlugt 1994 though.  It’s lovely. It exists, smells the way it smells, tastes as it does, and is a real nice piece of work. I think what it points to is something often ignored by the larger American rum tippling public and the press —  that they have the same potential to issue good single-barrel, limited-edition, cask-strength rums as anyone else…and come up with something pretty nifty at the back-end when they try. This rum, limited as it is and even with its price tag, is really quite good…and single barrel or not, I’m sure the Davids weren’t disappointed with what they got.  I know that I wasn’t.

(#579)(85/100)


  • Big thank you to Quazi4Moto for the sample. It’s taken a while, but I got to it at last.
Sep 292018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#553)(78/100)


Other notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(88/100)


Background Notes

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

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


 

Aug 312017
 

#385

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

The nose is quite good for something I feared would be rather thin: unsweetened chocolate and coffee, some dark fruit – nothing as deep and brooding as a good Demerara, mind, but nevertheless, there’s a kind of muskiness to the aromas that worked well.  Baked apples and a sort of cereal background, something like nice blueberry tart – I assume that was the armagnac finish lending its influence – with an ashy background to the whole thing.

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

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

(83/100)


Opinion (you can ignore this section)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other notes

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

Jun 192016
 

K&S 12 YO 1

Not a bah-humbug rum…more like something of a “meh”.

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

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

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

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

Opinion: 

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

That, in my opinion goes a far way to explaining why a rum like the K&S is praised by many in the New World fora as a superb rum…while some of the Old World boyos who are much more into cask strength monsters made by independent bottlers, smile, shrug and move on, idly wondering what the fuss is all about.  Because on one level the K&S is a perfectly acceptable rum, while on another it really isn’t…which side of the divide you’re on will likely dictate what your opinion of it and others like it, is.

(#280 / 81/100)


Other notes

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

 

Apr 092016
 

D3S_3629

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

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

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

D3S_3629-001

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

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

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

(#265. 74/100)

Mar 182015
 
D3S_8975

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#207. 83/100)


Other notes:

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

Opinion

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

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

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

Mar 132013
 

Come on now, be honest, why did you really buy this product?

How can one ignore the advertising and marketing behind something as evocatively (or crassly) named as Ron de Jeremy, distributed by One-Eyed Spirits? There is almost nothing I can write that would not in some way be seen by the average reader as a mandingo-esque, pornographic allusion. I think the best — nay, perhaps the only — way I can approach this review is to do a full one-eighty course change, sink deep into the netherworlds of geekdom and nerd nirvana, and reference a great epos of wishful manhood….like, umm, Star Trek.

Think of this rum as an off-kilter riff on that ultimate TV bromance. This is you and your best buddy playing with phasers and electrocuting Horta in your spare time, because, when you get down to it, Ron de Jeremy is not for drinking by yourself — so who else to try it with than some friend whose sense of humour mirrors your own and who won’t laugh at your new ears and deadpan Sheldonisms? This is a rum born to be shared and snickered over, which is why the younger and more rebellious crowd of rum drinkers probably laughed themselves into a collective sneezing fit and bought it like tribbles were on sale that day.

Ensconced in a bottle reminiscent of the English Harbour 10 year old, numbered (mine is bottle number 23124…but of how many?) it’s fairly simply designed (I always like that), and for those used to seeing Ron Jeremy as a fatter, ageing prescence on a TV show or on photographs, the younger hand drawn visage will be a bit startling. We can all agree, I’m sure, that his face is not the selling point, though. Maybe it’s his ears.

Ron de Jeremy presented such a queerly discombobulated dissonance between nose and palate that it almost seemed like two people, one of whom is in the throes of pon-farr. This started as early as when it was opened and I got an immediate hit of stale Gorn sweat – for me, with my memories of life in the tropics, it presented like the bitter whiff of anti-malarials in a bush hospital. A vaguely bitter, herbal, grassy lead-in that recalls to memory the scent of dried-out sugar-cane stalks (and quinine) was the first thing out the door. And however much it then mellowed out – and it did – however much it transmogrified into caramel, burnt sugar, toffee and butterscotch, it had already mind-melded with me and that made my opinion less than it might have been.

So, negative on the nose, Keptin. Was the palate any better? I thought it was. Quite decent, actually. Medium bodied, a little aggro right up front. Briny, not-so-sweet and heated to start, a shade harsh – an 18 year old Panamanian it was not – then once it hit what passed for warp in its own universe, it evinced a rather pleasant vanilla sweetness, commingled with oak, leather and walnuts (hush, ye snickerers). Medium long fade with a last jarring sweet bath-soap note warping in from nowhere. It may have pretended not to be of a piece with the initial aromas, but clearly, they went together like Spock and the other guy. Essentially, the rum started one way and finished another…maybe I should call it Seven of Nine.

Ron de Jeremy “Adult” Rum is a Panamanian, distilled by the boys at Varela Hermanos who make the Abuelos (or so I’ve been told), hewing to the line of several other Panamanians in my possession, if not quite as good as many. It is near in profile if not in scent to the Abuelo 7. Don Pancho Fernandez of Zafra Reserve fame has been involved in the production of this rum…and here again I make mention of the palate-level similarity all these Panamanians seem to possess (in my own opinion), which perhaps illustrates the drawbacks of having one person, no matter how experienced and well known and qualified, driving the taste profile of so many rums. I like Panamanians a lot, but the ones available to me are similar enough — bar minor variations — that I am in danger of shrugging and moving on out of sheer boredom.

You’d be surprised, though: overall, in spite of its cost of about $40 here in Canada, I’m thinking it’s worth the extra credits. Because for all its failure at the start, it’s a decent, workmanlike rum, better than quite a few others I’ve had over the years. An intriguing, if not necessarily good nose, a decent palate and a fade not to be sneezed at.

I may not believe a company vulgar enough to call itself “One-Eyed Spirits” can bring something this decent to the table right out of the gate. But I can’t always write about what I wanted in a rum, but must address what I actually got — and on that level my opinion is a positive one. Set aside the nonsense of a porn star shilling for a rum just because of his name, put away any preconceptions you have of the marketing message, ignore its opening salvo, strip away all that — and what you’re left with is a Panama rum, one that’s not too shabby, whose quality, like that of the Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks, barely succeeds in spite of its advertising, but not because of it.

(#148. 80/100)


Other Notes

  • Masters of Malt mentions the rum as being 8 years old. The bottle of course tells you nothing.
Feb 132013
 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#145. 87/100)


Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

 


Other

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

Feb 022013
 

A victory of Nurture versus Nature. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#143. 81.5/100)