Nov 222021
 

The Scarlet Ibis rum is not as well known as it was a decade ago, but that it continues to be in production at all is a testament to its overall utility and perceived worth in the bar scene. That said, it remains something of an unknown quantity to the mass of rum drinkers, sharing negative mindspace with, oh, say, Sea Wynde or Edwin Charley, which had their moment in the Age of Blends but have now fallen from common knowledge.  In a few more years they’ll join all those other rums that recede into vague memory if a greater push isn’t made to elevate customer awareness and sales.

Where does one start?  First of all, it is a rum made to order, commissioned by the New York bar Death & Co. The exact year it arrived is unknown, but since D&Co was established in January 2007 (it opened on New Year’s Eve) and since the first note I can find about the rum itself related to a 2010 MoR festival (so the rum had to have been available before that), then it’s been around since 2008-2009 or so, with short observations and reviews popping up intermittently at best ever since. 1. Eric Seed, the NY importing rep for the European distributor Haus Alpenz (which also helped source the Smith & Cross, you’ll remember) seems to have been instrumental in being point man for its creation and subsequently bringing into the US. 

Production is intermittent at best, paralleling the equally inconsistent geographical availability.  Facebook is littered with the detritus of occasional comments like “Where can I find it?” “Is it still being made?” “Like the new one?” or “When did it become available again?” Most who have tried it and have commented on the rum think it’s very nice, and the extra proof is appreciated.  In earlier posts some suggested that the original blend had some Caroni, but Alpenz denied that, and also noted that there was an error in the press materials and it was and always has been a completely column-still product, a blend of 3-5 year old stocks, bottled at 49%.

So, a youngish rum blend, made to order.  That makes it an interesting rum, quite different from most others from the twin island republic which are either overpriced Caronis (on the secondary market) or Angostura’s own decently unexceptional blends. It’s light and sharp (what some refer to as “peppery”) on the initial nose, kind of sweet and cheeky, like the playful towel-snap your older brother used to like flicking in your direction.  It had notes of ripe red cherries, soft mangoes and a touch of lemon juice, honey, butterscotch and brine, which went well with some aromatic tobacco and a very faint hint of a rubber tyre.

Even at 49%, I’m afraid that it didn’t live up to the suggested quality the nose implied. Initial tastes were honey, unsweetened molasses, Guinness stout, olives and pimentos (!!), with some slowly developing fruits – dark grapes, raisins, gooseberries – plus red wine, chocolate and coffee grounds. The finish was short, not very emphatic, quite warm: mostly tobacco, light fruits, olives, toffee and a last hint of citrus. It doesn’t last long, and just sort of sidles out of the way without any fuss or bother.

Overall, it’s good, but also something of a let down. Even at 49% it seems too mild for what it seems it could present (and this from a relatively young series of blend components, so the potential is definitely there).  There’s more in the trousers there someplace, the rum has a lot more it feels like it could say, but it is hampered by a lack of focus: leaving aside the proof point, it’s as if the makers weren’t sure they wanted to go in the direction of something darker (like a Caroni), or a lighter blend similar to (but different from) Angostura’s own portfolio. In a better designed rum it could have navigated a surer path between those two profiles, but as it is, the execution only shows us what could have been, without coming through with something more memorable.

(#865)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • As always, hat tip and appreciation to my old QC Rum Chum, Cecil, who passed the sample on to me. 
  • The first remarks on the rum came from Sir Scrotimus in 2011. There’s a positive bartender’s blog review in 2012, the Fat Rum Pirate picked up a bottle in the UK and wrote quite positively about it in 2015, and Rum Revelations did an indifferent pass-through in 2020.  Redditors have done reviews about it here, here and here. Overall, the consensus is a good one. The rum definitely has more potential than its makers seem to grasp.
  • The Scarlet Ibis is the national bird of Trinidad & Tobago and is featured on the coat of arms
  • The new edition of the rum which came out around 2019-2020 has a pair of ibises on the label. These are far more prominent than the grayed out bird on older editions such as the one I am reviewing here.
Sep 272021
 

Just in case rums that have mated with a two-by-four are not your thing, kiss your significant other tenderly and take a deep heaving breath before sipping SMWS’s first Trini offering, because at 63.4% and with this profile, you’ll need a fall-back plan.  I mean, there’s an enormous expanding blast radius of sharp aromas and tastes billowing around this thing that makes such prudence not just an option, but a requirement. Reading the stats on the bottle gives rise to some serious anticipation, which makes it all the more peculiar that it ends up being so…ordinary.

Take a careful sniff. You’ll probably find, like me, a fair bit of “traditional” rummy aromas here: vanilla and caramel, blancmange, coffee, creme brulee. The slight bitterness of oak and wood varnish. Raisins, kiwi fruits and orange rind, a touch of mild salt.  And….and… well actually, that’s pretty much it. What the…? For sure the nasal assault is strong and sharp and hot, yet that proof point, that quarter century age, does suggest that it should do more than simply giving the impression of still being in short trousers. It feels washed out.

How’s the profile when tasted, then? Better, yes…up to a point. The hot bite of oak tannins leads in and never quite lets go. Some shoe polish, iodine, glue. Coiling behind that are salted caramel ice cream, vanilla (again, annoyingly obstreperous) and white chocolate, almonds, and where the hell are the fruits gone? At best, if you strain you might pick up some black tea and with water and I dunno, peppermint gum, a green apple, maybe half a pear.  Water helps tone down that acrid tone, but this just – paradoxically enough – calls attention to the fact that it’s there to begin with. Finish is assertive and spicy, then fades fast, leaving behind memories of spices – marsala, cumin, more vanilla, brown sugar and again, oak and black tea.

By now you’ve probably come to the dismayed realization that this is not a rum eliciting paeans of praise from choirs of angels who’ve gotten high on their share, and you’d be right, because it fails on a number of levels. The strength obliterates subtlety: not always a bad thing when done right, but on this occasion all it does is dampen down what should be a more complex, dense series of tastes. Even with 25 years of continental ageing there should be more going on — instead, we get a fiery shot that could as easily be five years old.  The vanilla is like a guest that won’t leave and between that and the oak, the result is a rum overwhelmed by hot simplicity.

The SMWS, which was formed in 1983, is primarily a whisky society, though in recent years they have branched out into armagnacs, cognacs, bourbons, rums, and even gins. So far they have rums from Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Nicaragua, Belize and Trinidad and it’s all a bit hit or miss, with mostly Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana rums holding up their end when rated against other indies doing the same thing. From T&T they have several Caronis (the R13.x series) and only two from Trinidad Distillers, the R10.1 and R10.2, issued in 2016 and 2017 respectively. That distillery is of course the home of Angostura, and always struck me, what with their industrial stills and barrel focus, as closer to the Spanish heritage production ethos than that of the English.

Personally, I’m not always won over by Trinidad rums aside from the Caronis (this is a purely personal thing). Angostura, though more informative than the Panamanians, too often shares something of their overall ho-hum, good-’nuff anonymity and deserves an occasional suspicious look. Sort of like “Okay, it’s a rum, so what?” That can work with blended releases issued to the broader market where “cheap and decent” gets the sales, but for a more exacting audience exemplified by those people whom the indies serve, that can be fatal, as it is here. The R10.1 is a strong blast of nothing in particular, a big show with no go, showcasing far too much of the barrel and not enough of the booze.

(#853)(79/100)


Other notes

  • Initially the rum sold for £195 but subsequent auctions on WhiskyAuctioneer and Catawiki came in lower than that.
  • Aged in refill ex-bourbon barrels between December 1991 and 2016, with a final outturn of 228 bottles.
  • A comprehensive list of all the SMWS’s rum bottlings can be found at the bottom of the biography.
Feb 122015
 

D3S_9555

A Spartan rum, sporting a massive codpiece, ripped eight-pack, and real attitude.  Not for the lovers of softer or sweeter fare.

You just gotta shake your head with appreciation when you regard Cadenhead and their commitment to muscle-bound zen machismo in rums.  They’ve always had a certain retro charm and a daring to go off the reservation that I grudgingly admired, and they have continued along that path here with this monster full proof.

Leaving aside the squat, glowering psycho-orange-and-yellow bottle with its cork stopper which is almost a Cadenhead signature, it should simply be noted that Cadenhead hewed to their minimalist ethos and added nothing in, and filtered nothing out.  In some previous iterations they tremulously diluted to drinking strength (whatever that might mean), but not here – perhaps they wanted the TMAH to take Velier out back and beat the snot out of it. It’s bottled at 66.9% – a hilariously strong drink, a growlingly full-proofed rum that wants to land on your glottis like a blacksmith’s solid iron anvil.

D3S_9555-001

I had been softened by several forty percenters, sampled prior to cracking this one, and was consequently somewhat unprepared for the force with which the TMAH assaulted my beak (it was sharp and deep, and should absolutely be left to stand for a while before nosing). I could barely discern any molasses background at all, in between furiously swirling notes of rye bread, salt biscuits and salt butter.  Not much caramel here.  But patience, patience – it did get better.  After opening up, it smoothened out a good bit and simply became an intense drink rather than a skewering one – and one could gradually tease out thin threads of honey and nougat, and sweeter notes of vanilla, cherries…and a little spicy note of marzipan.

That didn’t soften the arrival, of course. It was a little less than medium bodied, this rum – even thin, which I didn’t care for – and it detonated with a hurricane force level of taste, scattering shrapnel of sweet and salt in all directions. Dates and figs came to mind, more crackers, a sharp aged cheddar (but not as creamy).  Adding water helped here: almonds, nutmeg and slivers of dried fruit emerged, but slowly, thinly, as if terrified of being bludgeoned to death by the alcohol.  “Chewy” would not describe the experience exactly, but it comes close. Appropriately enough for such a full proof glass of high-test, the finish was enormously long, a sarissa of lingering flavours of nutmeg and vanilla and light sharp red fruit (pomegranates?). Cask strength, overproof, full proof or whatever – it was certainly a rum that demanded attention.

D3S_9556

Trinidad Distillers was established by Angostura back in the 1940s – even then Angostura had been into rum production for decades, though more famous for their eponymous bitters – and began producing alcohol in bulk.  At first this was primarily for rum production: as time went on, bulk exports formed a large part of its portfolio. Note however that most of the molasses they work with originates outside of Trinidad – in Guyana, Panama and the Dominican Republic.  In any event, Angostura as a company has little to do with it.  Cadenhead out of Campbelltown in Scotland have simply followed the craft-bottler route, bought a few barrels distilled in 1991, and then issued the rum at cask strength after it came of age in 2013, without any further mucking about

A rum like Cadenhead’s 21 year old is a curious beast.  Dissecting its profile and coming up with tasting notes is not like having the elements line up and present themselves one after another, like some kind of surreal audition or a debutante’s ball. They arrive when and as they will, and as we sip and try and think, we understand it’s not important to catch every nuance, every last flavour; sometimes all that matters is the overall tone, the commingled experience.  I may not be able to give you a complete set of tasting notes here: but the encounter as a whole is quite something.

And, it must be conceded, occasionally painful

(#201. 85/100)


Other notes:

  • Aged in ex-bourbon casks. No information on where, but I think it was in Scotland. If you compare similar full-proofed, similarly aged rums from Velier to the TMAH, you’ll see the difference tropical aging makes.
  • Bottled April 2013.
  • I really have no clue what TMAH stands for: Angostura never responded to me, and Cadenhead’s reps said they didn’t know. An anonymous online wit on FB –thanks, Cecil — said it stood for “Too Much Alcohol Here.” May his glass never be empty.