May 262023
 

Historically speaking, and indeed even in our times, there are alcoholic spirits out there that stretch the borders, let alone the definitions, of “rum”. Yet I continue to seek out, look for and try these things, whether they are almost unknown indigenous cane juice rums, proto-rums from Asia, or the old verschnitts and spirits of their ilk made in Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th century. Such bottlings — for example the Badel Domaci (Croatia), Casino 50 (Hungary) or the Tuzemak (Czech Republic) — exert a curious fascination, a compelling kind of pull. In a way they speak to the alcoholic history of their countries, their indigenous liquors, their likes, their companies, their markets, and inform us as to how rums (in any form, by any name) permeated countries, provinces, principalities, kingdoms, or whole empires that had no colonies or tropical connections. 

These are getting rarer now, as the EU expands and its standards define rum more rigorously and precisely (though still, argue many, with too many loopholes allowing substandard hooch to sneak through), and the old spirits made from neutral alcohol or unaged rum stock or whatever, leavened with some high ester Caribbean rums, fall outside the ringfence. Nowadays they cover themselves with the onomatopoeic “room” instead of “rum” and the best that can be said about that is that it dates the product – in this case, it’s clear it was made (or at least bottled) after 2013 when Croatia entered the EU.

There are no references to what constitutes the Maraska Room. Wes Burgin, writing the only review to be found online, bought a bottle in 2015 on a trip to Eastern Europe and remarked without attribution — but probably correctly — that it was made from neutral alcohol or vodka doctored with rum essences, which is to say spices, flavourings, caramel and what have you. The bottle I bought in Canada (don’t ask me how it ever got here – but it was the last one on the shelf) explicitly states its ingredients as “alcohol, water, aromas, natural caramel and [something else]” …the label on the bottle is torn making the last unreadable. It sports a metal foil cap of the sort we see less of all the time, and I just give thanks that it’s not an old-style Russian version, which were designed never to close again so you had to drink the whole bottle. And it calls itself both a “room” and a “strong alcoholic drink” which is about as close to truth in labelling as we’re ever likely to get these days.

So let’s taste it and I’ll give you some more history below rather than extend this preamble even further.  


Nose: Nail polish, vanilla, salt, vanilla, grapes, turned fleshy fruit. Sharp and rather medicinal with sour gummi bears dancing over the palate, plus glue and some rather indeterminate rumminess – molasses, leather, smoke, mauby, brown sugar, that kind of thing – behind it all. It smells rather candied, minty even, and resting on a bed of raw alcohol. 

Palate: The confectionery parade continues with cotton candy, brown sugar and white chocolate thin, sharp and spicy. More than a hint of cherry or cranberry juice here, but also a little brine and olives, a touch of vanilla, and that thin medicinal thing refuses to go away. And it’s sweeter than it has any right to b, to be honest.

Finish: Short, aromatic, sweet, easy going. Mostly white chocolate, brine, cherries and a hint of florals and acetones.


If you know your rums, and especially if you’re more into the dosed types like Zacapa, Diplomatico, Dictador or Bumbu, or enjoy solera-style rums, then this will be of interest. However, it must be noted that you can taste a fair bit of artificiality here: the sweetness, thinness, sharpness and candy-like flavours are giveaways to the sort of additions disliked by many.  Purists will find much to take issue with, while others might enjoy trying something off the reservation, made by an outfit with a fair bit of backstory, whose tradition is cherry brandies and liqueurs, not rums, and which probably brought that sensibility to this ersatz product.

What did I think? Not a whole lot.  It’s tasty enough, and knowing it for what it is, I could have it after dinner one small snootful at a time.  But of course the issue is that by setting itself up as a rum, even calling itself what it does, it immediately creates certain expectations and is judged by a certain set of standards.  By those, it mostly fails and I think most rum lovers will try it only the once, just to say, like Wes and I did, that they have.

(#999)(69/100)⭐⭐


Historical background

Maraska is a brand belonging a company in Croatia of the same name that makes fruit ands walnut brandies (slivovitz, with variations on the spelling), liqueurs, and of course the variations of the domaci (domestic) rums/rooms for which they are best known abroad and in Europe. The name of the company derives from the marasca cherry, a type of sour Morello cherry, the best flavours of which are supposedly grown in Dalmatia (part of Croatia).  Brandy called Maraschino (also made into a liqueur) is made from such cherries, and has been a cottage industry in Dalmatia since the 14th century or earlier and distilleries were established in the town of Zadar at least since the 1700s. Over time the three largest and best known were the Salghetti-Drioli combine (also the oldest, founded in 1759), Luxardo (1821) and Vlahov (1861).

While the history of Maraschino (as a general term for the brandy) encompasses many brands and companies from Zadar aside from the three mentioned above, the one we are concerned with today is Luxardo which was established by Girolamo Luxardo, an Italian – the Dalmatian coast has long had influences from across the Adriatic by Italians from the great trading entrepots like Venice. Luxardo was soon exporting Maraschino to Europe, the Americas and Asia, their high quality brandy enhanced visually by hand-knitted coverings of the bottles, a tradition still in place today. Their liqueur won gold and silver medals at the second World’s Fair in Vienna in 1854 for example, and Zadar became the city most closely identified with the spirit as it increased in popularity.

Zadar transitioned to Yugoslav sovereignty after WWII, after variously being part of France, Italy and Austria. During the war it had been nearly destroyed by Allied bombing and all industry ceased, but after 1946, production facilities were rebuilt and distillation resumed.  All remaining useable equipment (which had been confiscated from the old factories) was consolidated into a single enterprise called “Maraska Company Zadar” and located at the Luxardo’s old “Maraska” factory premises which had been built in 1911. It is now the most important liqueur producer in Croatia. 

It makes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, sweets and various promotional products, and in the “strong drinks” category it features Empire Gin, Cosmopolitan vodka, Royal Brand brandy. St. Simon’s Light Rum (and underproof, supposedly from selected Caribbean distillates) and of course the Maraska Room at various strengths which is noted as being “traditionally used to prepare cakes, fruit salad, tea and other hot drinks in the winter,” and with no source distillate provided.


 

Apr 242023
 

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that 99% of the readers of this article won’t know a thing about this rhum and its brand, and until I started researching the bottle, I didn’t either.  That’s an increasingly rare thing these days, considering that the writings of so many stellar bloggers over the last decade, combined with Rum Ratings and Rum-X, make it almost impossible for any brand to escape notice. Yet here we are, sipping at a peculiar bottle of white rum I bought completely on a whim (mostly because I can’t resist not knowing more about it).

The company that released it was once an independent French bottler in Bordeaux called William Pitters who mostly specialised in cognac, and occasionally rums as well – a couple of years ago Oliver Scars procured a 1970 HSE they had released, for example. They appear to have mostly issued rhums from Martinique as well as some punches and whiskies (Sir Pitterson whisky was a thing even if we don’t know who he was either) and on top of that, been something of a distributor too – but the source of their rhum was never disclosed. The date of formation of the company looks to be 2001, from a coming together of many tiny brands, and nowadays a much larger conglomerate called Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits is the owner1. This is more tangential to the review, though, so I provide their history below.

Exactly what we have in the glass is unclear – for one thing, I’m not entirely sure the brand exists or is being made any longer. The source distillery is a mystery – as noted, Pitterson did issue a rhum from HSE before, and Marie Brizard, the subsequent owner, had a distribution relationship with La Mauny – so we don’t know source or still or (maybe) age. Yet, although no review or online store is to be found carrying this rhum, I suspect it’s still around, and if it’s been discontinued then it was in all likelihood fairly recently; the bottle and label design is too sleek and modern, the price paid was too low, and several small restaurants, bars and cafes in France mention on their menus that they have it. 

Leaving aside the murkiness of the rhum’s origin, I can see why they would. It may “only” be a standard strength white rhum, it has a lovely opening nose of white chocolate, praline, almonds and nougat – in other words, a bar of white toblerone (of the kind Grandma Caner reliably sends me every year at least once). It’s creamy and delicate, hardly seemingly dry at all; there is a light herbal aroma, grassy notes and sugar water that characterises an agricole, but here it’s mixed in with Danish butter cookies, chocolate cake batter like your mother allowed you to lick off the spoon after she was done; and unsweetened yoghurt. 

The way it goes down is nice as well – nothing too bombastic, nothing too aggressive, just an easy sip, tasting of vaguely salty butter cookies, sugar water, vanilla and blancmange, plus a little toasted wonderbread and cheerios cereal (go figure). The herbal aspects of the aroma don’t really carry over here, and there are few if any citrus or acidic notes – what one gets is mostly ‘neutral’ fleshy fruit like sapodilla, melon, dates, papaya, and the finish is mostly without distinction, being short, easy and mild, giving a last dash of cereal and sugar water fruits, with perhaps a bit of watermelon thrown in.

Overall it’s a rum that plants its flag firmly in the midrange. It appears made to be a mixing rum and is just good and easy enough to sip on (though this would not really be my recommendation). It may only be 40% ABV, but feels somehow heavier, firmer, a tad stronger and even if you’re used to more powerful cask strength fare, it can’t be denied that the rhum tries its best, gives a good account for itself, and is a decent price for what it does deliver. As I say, it’s not clear whether it remains a commercially manufactured product, but if you see a bottle for sale someplace on your rumshop excursions, it’s no loss if you get one.

(#991)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The rum does not claim to be an agricole – it implies such by the use of the “rhum blanc” on the label.  Yet, given it supposedly hails from Martinique, the wording and spelling is not unjustified. Overall, based on taste, I’d say that it is indeed an agricole.
  • My bottle has a Portuguese tax stamp; I bought it with a batch of Madeira rhums so it may have simply ended up there.  The lack of production and geographical information is unfortunate.

Historical notes – Marie Brizard

The firm of Marie Brizard was founded way back in 1755 by (you guessed it) Marie Brizard whose anisette was hit among the members of the ancien régime and who soon branched out into citrus liqueurs. The company stayed privately held by her descendants, and moved into sales all over the American continents over the following century; they started their own modern advertising in the late 1800s and were even exhibited in several World’s Fairs. Expanding the portfolio to include other spirits (as well as fruit juices and cordials) were good business decisions for the company, and by the post-WW2 years, due to canny product placement in French films of the time, the brands became near-iconic. William Grant bought in with a minority stake in the 1980s as a consequence of their distributorship arrangement for whisky dating back to the 1950s, but were so excluded from any decision-making that in 1994 they relinquished their association.  

This situation of familial ownership, control and decision making continued until 2013, when a severe downturn in the market and mounting losses forced Marie Brizard to convert debt to shares…which were then snapped up by an American investment firm Oaktree Capital Management, who held nearly 20% of the voting rights. Continuing cash flow problems opened the doors for capital injections and share purchases by Compagnie Européenne de Prize de Participation (COFEPP, holding company which heads the La Martiniquaise Bardinet group), which as of 2019 held a majority shareholding of 51% while aiming for more, and can therefore be said to own the company…and so also the Pitterson brand. 

Apr 212023
 

Rumaniacs Review R-147 | 0990 

After an hours-long tasting session of old rums from the seventies and eighties that were straining to reach the pinnacle of their mediocrity (and mostly failing), there were few surprises left when I came to the another one of the Hawaiian Distillers’ rums called Whalers. 

For those who are curious there is some background in the other “Original Dark” review, the Hana Bay entry, as well as that of the Spirit of Hawaii: all of these brands were made by the same company, and although Hawaiian Distillers no longer exists, the brand of Whalers does and is nowadays made (with the same enthusiastically uninspiring indifference as before) by Hali’imaile Distilling Company. As to the term Whaler’s, it supposedly hearkens back to New England sailors who hung around Hawaii when whaling was a thing in the 1800s, which is about as romantic a story as that of pirates in the Caribbean and their cutlasses, grog and yo-ho-hos.

The rum is so similar to its red labelled cousin that it may actually be the same – separated only by a different year of make, a tweaked blend, or a different market in which it was sold.  It’s hard to tell these days since records are scant.  But it’s the same strength, practically the same colour, and equally hard to date – I think the late 1970s / early 1980s remains a good estimate, though the actual ageing is a complete unknown. If any full sized bottles remain in existence, they can only be in collections like Luca Gargano’s, Mr. Remsburg’s, the Burrs, or in some forgotten attic somewhere in the US waiting for someone to inherit it.

Strength – 40%

Colour – Dark brown-red

Nose – Thin but there’s stuff there: cranberries, red grapefruit, brown sugar, molasses, cherries in syrup.  Also that same wet-earth loamy sense of woodland moss and forest glades after a rain that I had with the red label variant. And, finally, the marching armies of vanilla.  A lot of it. One is merely surprised — if grateful — that so much stuff came through before it got taken over.  It does, as a matter of interest, take some effort to tease out notes of this kind because it comes from a time when light blends were the thing, not stronger, heavier, pot still signatures.

Palate – The vanilla is there from the get-go, if less intensely. Really faint notes of licorice, caramel, molasses, coconut shavings, a touch of brine.  Honestly, the rum is really not quite a fail, largely because there is no untoward blast of sugar to dampen the few sensations that do make it through to be sensed and noted but the effort it takes to get coherent tastes out of this thing almost defeats the purpose of drinking it.

Finish – Longish, soft, easy.  Molasses, caramel, brown sugar. Thin, weak, 

Thoughts – I wasn’t expecting a whole lot and was rewarded for that with a bit less.  It’s nothing special, breathy, light, easy hot-weather drinking.  It’s pointless to have the Whalers neat, so any simple island mix is just fine and even there you would hardly taste the rum itself.  I tried the samples first thing in the morning when the palate was still fresh – which is how I picked apart as much as I did – and on that level it’s okay.  But just as it is made with what seems like careless indifference, it excites no more than that in its turn.  Name aside, history aside, it’s about as forgettable a brand as those local rums I see in Canadian supermarket annexes nowadays.

(73/100) ⭐⭐½

Apr 102023
 

At first I thought the Barbados Grande Reserve Aged Rum was a replacement for the five year old Barbados rum from Plantation which I had tried many years ago, but further investigation showed them to be quite separate.  Both, however, are part of the Signature blends which include the Barbados 5, the XO, Grand Anejo and Xaymaca — these are what one might infer are entry level rums for the curious (to call them ‘premium’ would be a stretch). They are neither bartenders’ mixing staples like the Three Star, OFTD or Original Dark, nor expensive limited editions like the upscale Extreme, Single Cask or Vintage series, and exist in a kind of everyman’s universe where “reasonableness” is the watchword.

That said, the production ethos of the company pervades even this introductory rum. It originates from the West Indies Rum Refinery in Barbados (we all know Ferrand, Plantation’s parent company, owns it) where it is blended from pot/column still molasses-derived rums aged from one to three years, before being shipped off to France and aged in Ferrand’s facilities there for another year.  It’s released at 40%, the sweetening is glossed over, and overall, like most rums of this kind from this house, it attracts equal parts dislike and appreciation depending on who’s doing the talking.

It’s not my intent to rehash the polarising nature and background of either the company or its production practises here, except insofar as to note there aren’t many reviews of this rum to be found1, and wonder if the vitriol surrounding the company may have an impact on any writers’ desire to get sucked in. Be that as it may, the rum has to be tried sooner or later, and for new rum drinkers who wet their beaks for the first time with it, there’s little to actively dislike: it’s as good a rum to start one’s journey with as any, and better than quite a few I’ve looked at of late.

So, let’s get started.  Nose: an introduction of crisp yet ripe fruit, like raspberries, red currants, pineapples, around which coils a waft of stinky sweet bubble gum in hot weather. Brown sugar and molasses and coconut shavings are discernible, plus some mushy bananas and tangerines that have seen better days. Nice enough nose, with enough going on not to be categorised as simply an entry-level molasses based product: it’s a bit better than that.

The palate now…not too shabby. No, seriously. A touch sharp going in at first sip, then it steadies: sweet and sour pork, hot black tea sweetened with condensed milk and cardamom (bush tea, we called it and I still make a mug a few times a month), light fruits plus a touch of unsweetened salt caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, orange juice and even marzipan. The problem is it tastes a bit…flattened, even dull, like Emile’s sense of taste compared to Remy’s in Ratatouille. The music is there but the bass is too high and the top- and mid-range notes don’t come through clearly enough and this is also the case when considering the finish; which turns out to be nothing we haven’t seen before, and is even a bit boring — slightly briny, sweet, coconut shavings, vanilla, light citrus and some chocolate.  

It goes down easy without reaching and that may be the key observation. Overall, it’s a relatively simple rum compared to others I’ve had (including some from Plantation themselves), yet a rum one can, with care and lowered expectations, have neat without too many issues. To be honest, I thought the rum was better than it had a right to be considering the sweetening Plantation is known for (I tested it after the session, not before…so the level was unknown to me while trying it). 

The Grand Reserve stops short of being a cloying muddle, and is fortunately a ways from being a complete sugary mess — yet the additives/sugar do spoil it and make for a lesser experience, especially if one knows what one is looking for. For someone now getting into rum, it’s serviceable and they could use it as a stepping stone to get more into the field, though for getting into the Barbados style it’s useless, so forget that aspect. Those with more experience can use it as a bellwether for what to look for in Plantation’s successively more upscale (and expensive) offerings; and for those who’re really into rums, well, there’s not much to say to them, since they already know all there is to know.

(#987)(78/100)


Other notes

  • The Plantation website has no details on any of the Signature rum series at all (the “learn more” link does not work)
  • Most articles mention 15-16 g/L sweetening, or “dosage”. My hydrometer shows 36% ABV when measuring the rum, which works out to 15 g/L
  • Leaving the empty glass in the sink to evaporate overnight leaves a slightly sticky residue to be found the next morning.
  • The rum has been in production for a very long time, hence the various label changes.  The first reference I can find for it dates from 2008, and is on one of the first  rum review websites, Refined Vices, run by an old friend from Finland, Tatu Kaarlas (who now lives in Australia). That Grand Reserve Barbados rum had a label which stated it was from cane juice (felt by most at the time to be unlikely) not molasses…and came from Foursquare. Yeah, that’s not happening now, for sure.
Apr 032023
 

The first thing one notices about the rum, even before it’s poured, is the colour – dark, almost black, with reddish tints, and completely not natural. This creates both expectations and dread in the reviewer because firstly, there’s the whole question of additives, and secondly, it suggests the channelling of the Navy Rum vibe of yore, complete with cutlasses, yo ho hos and some sort of faux-Demerara vibe to deceive the unwary. This does not usually end well.

It’s a relief then, that neither of these is obviously or obnoxiously the case, and in fact, the rum presents rather well at first blush, even with a rather lacklustre 42% strength. The nose has a lot of interesting (if restrained) things going on there: tannins, well polished leather and cinnamon to start off with, quite easy to smell, nothing harsh or bloviating, no straining to make a point.  There some dark elderberry and cranberry notes, vaguely sour, caramel, a touch of molasses and behind it all, the tang of mauby (a bark made into Caribbean soft drinks by locals) – not at all the “traditional” rum flavours one might be expecting and a far cry from the confected, dosed-to-the-gills Bumbu-esque profile one might think is coming.

On the palate it comes off as a bit sweet and briny at the same time, the mauby taking on some more heft, accompanied by cinnamon, molasses and a peculiar sort of scent that reminds me of a sunlit damp forest glade, rank with decomposing leaves and mossy logs and the memory of a rain just ceased.  There is a hint of some fruits – prunes, elderberries again, a vague cough syrup and grenadine dropped here and there.  It’s not bad, all in all, and the finish, while short, at least doesn’t drop the ball, and glides to an easy conclusion with caramel, some sweet prunes, and that slight mauby thing coming onstage for a last bow.

Compared to some of their other efforts, this is a pretty solid rum from the Ironworks Distillery in Nova Scotia (in eastern Canada), though frankly, it would have made more of an impact with several more proof points – 42% really remains to weak. Still, while there are others in the lineup I have not yet tried (including some I don’t want to), as a first introduction to the distillery, I could have picked worse based on label spec. But what are the specs, exactly? There is maddeningly little on the company website.  

Here’s what we know: it derives from Guatemalan molasses imported into the maritimes, fermented on site over a period of weeks (exact time unspecified), and run through an unidentified still which is either a hybrid or a column still made by Muller from Germany.  A further unspecified period of ageing takes place in ex-bourbon barrels, and again, while some of their barrels are placed on board the Black Beauty floating boat warehouse in the harbour, we are not told whether any of the components of this rum were from there. Lastly, at no point is the age of the rum mentioned, yet this is a company which proudly touts the age of the “Ten,” their oldest rum.

If you detect the bite of irritated impatience here, you’re right. This is getting to be a thing with Canadian rums and the companies that make then, and it’s annoying as hell. In this day and age, I should not have to make comments about disclosure (i.e., the lack thereof), or email the company or ask for further details.  It should be right there on the label or at least in their website — which takes such pains to say who they are and with what pride they what they do. Ironworks has been around for more than a decade, and has steadily amassed a nice stable of regionally appreciated spirits. It’s time to stop with this coy, wink-wink amateur-hour stuff and step up to the big boys table – and part of that is disclosure, not prideful marketing about being the Small Distillery That Could with a scrappy origin story.

I like the rum itself, and am relieved that the inclusion of caramel colouring into the mix to make it darker was not compensation for weaknesses in other areas: and the truth must be told, it’s a more complex and interesting rum than I was expecting — a rum I don’t mind drinking, or mixing. But just as I give it the respect it has earned, I demand that we as consumers are treated with a little more respect in our turn, and provided with the details that would tell us what it is that we just paid forty bucks for. 

(#986)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • The “Bluenose” is a famous Canadian schooner built in 1921 which won many competitions in the 1920s and was exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Its metal parts were made on the premises of the iron works which the company took over in 2009.
  • I have seen an occasional unconfirmed comment that the rum is spiced, but in the absence of more formal evidence, I chose to doubt it.  The offbeat taste of the rum is, to more a function of its source material, long fermentation, and maybe even the barrels they use.
  • Because of the gradual reduction of North American rum reviewers and the fact that Ironworks does not export much (if at all) other reviews are scant.  However, I point you to Rum Revelations’ notes on Canadian rums from late 2022, including their indifference to other Ironworks products. A reddit reviewer gave the Bluenose 83 points in 2013, and stated its age as about one year. RumRatings was more scattershot, and few conclusions can be drawn from their commentariat – about a third of the votes rated it 7/10. Rum-X, as of this writing, does not have an entry for it.

Historical background

Ironworks is a distillery in the Maritime (Canadian) province of Nova Scotia, founded by Pierre Guevremont and Lynne MacKay in 2009, and inspired a year earlier by a random reading of a magazine article on the growth of the spirits industry (I find this odd because it is much more usual for people to start a distillery based on a connection to some spirit or other, or out of real love for a single product line).  Quite aside from distillation of quality spirits, they wanted to get deep into the technical aspects of fermentation, distillations, ageing and infusing, all via experimentation and personal experience; as well, they hope to use local ingredients as far as possible, and provide employment for the local economy.

They acquired premises in the small town of Lunenburg, in what was once a marine blacksmith’s workshop that serviced the shipbuilders who operated along the South Shore; and happily also provided the title of the fledgling distillery when the time came to name it.  The couple bought a 30,000-litre fermentation tank and a Muller still from Germany (type is not mentioned but I think it’s a hybrid from the few photos I’ve seen), and nowadays source apples, pears, molasses and ferment them all year for a wide ranging spirits portfolio of rum, vodka, brandy, gin and whisky.  Barrels are sourced from all over – with an emphasis on ex-bourbon for rum – and the warehousing has expanded beyond the small storage area to a boat, offices and more.

The company met with enough success that after little more than five years,  it already had won some twenty awards for its products, and it became one of the few of Nova Scotia’s growing craft distillers with a reputation that expanded outside its home province. Their spirits became popular enough that in early 2016 they partnered up with Halifax’s airport to open a liquor store on the premises to allow passengers to buy alcohol when travelling – and limited it to locally made products only. In 2018 they sent a few barrels around the world in a sailing ship, which some herald as a stunt, but which Ms. McKay defended as an experiment to see if the old tale of spirits ageing better at sea was true or not – the barrels were subsequently blended into the “Around The World Rum”, and rapidly sold out.  One could argue as to whether it was marketing or not, but the key takeaway was the willingness of the owners to think a bit outside to box and come up with some ingenious marketing ideas, as well as – one would hope – a more interesting and better rum.

Currently the company makes several different rums, the best known of which are the Amber, the Rum Boat Rum, the “Ten”, the Bluenose and the “Around the World Rum”, the last of which was the special edition referred to above.  They also make a rum cream and an experimental rum blended with maple syrup and then aged some more which they call maple rum and which I term an arrangé or infused spirit.

To some extent the rise of the European – and, of late, American – independent bottlers, as well as the obdurate and overly complex regulatory Canadian landscape, has limited the company’s ability to expand as rapidly as they might wish.  The lack of concentration on one spirit type is also an issue I’ve commented on before, and does not allow for world class expertise to develop as rapidly as it would for a more laser-focused company.  But one must consider the commercial realities of small companies which have to make payroll and generate cash flow, and so, for now, we must accept that Ironworks is a distillery that makes some intriguing rums, and is gradually increasing its footprint and awareness around the country.


 

Mar 272023
 

What we are trying today is the Co-Op Caribbean White Rum, which at around C$30 or less is comfortably within the reach of anyone’s purse if perhaps not their purpose. The rum is supplied to the Co-Op supermarket chain by a very interesting Calgary-based company called Minhas Distillery, which until recently didn’t have a distillery in the city, just a brewery, and whatever spirits they produced came from a distillery down in Wisconsin…which is all less than helpful in tracing the product since rum is really not in their portfolio.

What Co-op sells is a white rum in a sleek glass bottle, 40%, without any statement of origin beyond the “Minhas Distillery”. It is supposedly a Caribbean rum, yet no origin distillery is mentioned (let alone a country), and there’s no age, no still, no source material…in this day and age of full disclosure you almost have to admire the courage it takes to foist something so meaningless on the public and pretend it’s worth their coin. Admittedly though, none of this is necessarily a disqualification, because it could be a beast in disguise, a Hampden in hiding — for all we know, a few barrels could have been sourced under the table, or there could be a mad geeky rum nerd distiller lurking in the bowels of Minhas wielding dunder and lightning, ready to bring out the next Caribbean rum killing Canadian hooch.

Alas, sampling it dispels any such romantic notions in labba time. This so-called Caribbean rum is just shy of a one-note wonder. It is not fierce, given its living room strength, and does actually smell of something (which immediately marks it as better than the Merchant Shipping Co. White) – vanilla essence, and mothballs, coconut shavings, and lemon meringue pie.  It smells rather sweet, there are some nice light floral hints here and there; and it has some crushed almond nuts smells floating around, yet there’s also a sort of odd papery dusty aroma surrounding it, almost but not quite like old clothes on a rack at a charity sale, and which reminds me of Johnson’s Baby Powder more than anything else (no, I’m not kidding). 

The palate is where the ultimate falsity of all that preceded it snaps more clearly into focus.  Flowers, lemon, even mothballs, all gone. The baby powder and old clothes have vanished. Like a siren luring you overboard and then showing its true face, the rum turns thin, harsh and medicinal when tasted, rough and sandpapery, mere alcohol is loosed upon the world and all you get is a faint taste of vanilla to make it all go down.  Off and on for over an hour I kept coming back, but nothing further ever emerged, and the short, dusty, dry and sweet vanilla finish was the only other experience worthy of note here.

So.  As a sipping rum, then it’s best left on the shelf. No real surprise here. As a mixer, I’m less sure, because it’s not a complete fail, but I do honestly wonder what it could be used for since there is so much better out there – even the Bacardi Superior, because at least that one has been made for so long that all the rough edges have been sanded off and it has a little bit of character that’s so sadly lacking and so sorely needed here. 

There’s more than enough blame to go around with respect to this white rum, from Minhas on down to those bright shining lights in Co-Op’s purchasing and marketing departments (or, heaven help us, those directing the corporate strategy of what anonymous spirits to rebrand as company products), none of whom apparently have much of a clue what they’re doing when it comes to rum. It’s not enough that they don’t know what they’re making (or are too ashamed to actually tell us), but they haven’t even gone halfway to making something of even reasonable quality. It’s a cynical push of a substandard product to the masses – the idea of making a true premium product is apparently not part of the program.  

In a way then, it’s probably best we don’t know what country or island or distillery or still this comes from: and I sure hope it’s some nameless, faceless corporate-run industrial multi-column factory complex somewhere. Because if Co-Op’s Caribbean white rum descends from stock sourced from any the great distilleries of the French islands, Barbados, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Guyana, Venezuela, Jamaica or Cuba (et al), and has been turned into this – whether through ignorance, inaction or intent– then all hope is lost, the battle is over, and we should all pack our bags and move to Europe.

(#984)(74/100) ⭐⭐½


Background Notes

Minhas is a medium-sized liquor conglomerate based on Calgary, and was founded in 1999 by Manjit Minhas and her brother Ravinder. She was 19 at the time, trained in the oil and gas industry as an engineer and had to sell her car to raise finance to buy the brewery, as they were turned down by traditional sources of capital (apparently their father, who since 1993 had run a chain of liquor stores across Alberta, would not or could not provide financing). 

The initial purchase was the distillery and brewery in Wisconsin, and the company was first called Mountain Crest Liquors Inc. Its stated mission was to “create recipes and market high quality premium liquor and sell them at a discounted price in Alberta.” This enterprise proved so successful that a brewery in Calgary was bought in 2002 and currently the company consists of the Minhas Micro Brewery in the city (it now has distillation apparatus as well), and the brewery, distillery and winery in Wisconsin.

What is key about the company is that they are a full service provider. They have some ninety different brands of beers, spirits, liqueurs and wines, and the company produces brands such as Boxer’s beers, Punjabi rye whiskey, Polo Club Gin, and also does tequila, cider, hard lemonades. More importantly for this review, Minhas acts as a producer of private labels for Canadian and US chains as diverse as “Costco, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Aldi’s, Tesco/Fresh & Easy, Kum & Go, Superstore/Loblaws, Liquor Depot/Liquor Barn” (from their website). As a bespoke maker of liquors for third parties, Minhas caters to the middle and low end of the spirits market, and beer remains one of their top sellers, with sales across Canada, most of the USA, and around the world. So far, they have yet to break into the premium market for rums.


Other Notes

  • I did contact them directly via social media and their site, and was directed via messenger to an email address that never responded to my queries on sourcing. However, after this post went up, Richard Seale  of Foursquare got on to me via FB and left a comment that the distillate possibly came from WIRD (he himself had refused as the price they wanted was too low). The general claim on Minhas’s website is that their products are made with Alberta ingredients. 
  • It’s my supposition that there is some light ageing (a year or two), that it’s molasses based and column still distilled. It remains educated guesswork, however, not verified facts.
  • Ms. Minhas’s father, having sold the liquor shops many years ago, has recently opened a large distillery in Saskatchewan with the same business model, but that is outside the scope of this article and so I have elected not to go into detail, and only include it here for completeness.
Mar 162023
 

Rumaniacs Review No.145 | 0981

Whaler’s as a rum brand is still being made after more than half a century, and apparently undeterred by its complete lack of anything resembling real quality, has not only kept the Original Dark Rum recipe – the vanilla-bomb that I reviewed way back in 2010 – but actually expanded the supermarket line of their rums to include a vanilla rum, a white rum, a “topping rum” (whatever that is) and other flavoured variations that comfortably cater to the bottom shelf and are almost guaranteed to make another generation of Americans swear off rum forever.

It is no longer made in Hawaii, if it ever was – at best one could say it may have been a recipe from there; and guesses as to its true origin vary as widely as the USVI, Phillipines, or California (I think it’s just some nameless industrial facility churning out neutral alcohol on contract). The producer, if you recall, is the same outfit that also makes the Hana Bay rum, which has much of the same fanciful background and origin stories and lack of proveable provenance. Still, it does happen occasionally that rums which suck today suck a little less in the old days when they had some people with shine in their eyes and not quite so much cynicism on the factory floor (Captain Morgan is one such) making the rum. So it’s worth trying to see if it was different back in the day when Hawaiian Distilled Products from California was behind the brand.

Colour – dark red-brown

Strength – 40%

Nose – It giveth hope.  First, red grapefruit and some rancid olive oil,  and then all the simple aromas deemed “rum-like” back in the last century come marching in like Christian soldiers. Brown sugar, molasses (just a bit), vanilla (just a lot).  It’s not entirely bad though, and also has cherries, damp dark earth, dust and a little plastic.

Palate – The taste taketh hope away.  It’s almost all vanilla, alcohol, brown sugar, caramel, licorice.  Simple and uncomplicated and at least it goes down easy (that may be whatever sweetening or smoothening agents they added).  But there’s not a whole lot beyond that going on.

Finish – Warm and firm, it must be conceded. Caramel, anise, coconut shavings, even more vanilla.  It’s possible a few citrus notes were there, just too faint to make any kind of statement.

Thoughts – The rum is the ancestor to simple, dark, uninteresting, ten-buck rums you can find anywhere, often in cheap plastic bottles, and whose only purpose is to deliver a shot of alcohol today that you’ll regret tomorrow.  There’s nothing to distinguish it at all, except that there seems to be rather less vanilla in this one than in the one from 2010 (which I tried again just to see). There’s also nothing to mark it as different from another Original Dark Rum from this period, put into a bottle with a greenish label. But I’ll save that “review” for another day.

(73/100) ⭐⭐½


Historical background

Back in the eighties, Whaler’s and Hana Bay were made by Hawaiian Distillers, a Hawaiian corporation that was in business since the 1970s, and was a subsidiary of Hawaiian Distilled Products Co out of Tustin California (and this is what is on the label). Before 1980 it was mainly manufacturing tourist items, including ceramics and specialty Polynesian Liqueurs – it’s defunct now and all traces of it have vanished: only head cases like me actively seek out their rums from yesteryear any longer, and the question as to where exactly the rum was distilled remains unanswered.

In the early 2010s when I first looked at Whaler’s, it was being made in Kentucky by the brand owners at the time, Heaven Hill, who had acquired the brand from the Levecke Corporation in 2002. Some time in the last ten years, Hana and Whaler’s returned to Hawaii…Maui specifically, where Hali’imaile was founded in 2010 by a branch of the Levecke family and has its premises. Surprisingly, given the sugar industry, family connections and tropical climate, rum is not actually their focus – whisky, vodka and gin are, with the distillery also making rums of zero distinction.

As of 2023, Hali’imaile Distilling Company is the distillery of the company’s products, yet their site doesn’t mention Whaler’s, Hana Bay or Mahina rums at all (these are the other brands they own and supposedly make). It may be a contract rum, but nobody really cares enough to find out, including, apparently, not even those who sell it. I’m not surprised.

Feb 272023
 

Rumaniacs Review No. 144 | 0976

In 2023, if you were to google “who makes Hana Bay rum?” you’d get a response that Hali’imaile Distilling Company is the distillery of origin; except if you went to their site, there would be no mention of Hana Bay at all (or Whaler’s and Mahina, the other brands they own and supposedly make). Digging further and you’d see that Hawaiian Distillers out of Honolulu made Hana Bay rum from around the 1980s forwards and in the early 2010s when I first looked at Whaler’s, it was being made in Kentucky by the brand owners at the time, Heaven Hill, who had acquired the brand from the Levecke Corporation in 2002. 

Some time in the last ten years, it would seem that the Hana and Whaler’s returned to Hawaii…Maui specifically, where Hali’imaile was founded in 2010 by a branch of the Levecke family and has its premises…I’ve heard they began making arum around 2014. Surprisingly, given the sugar industry, family connections and tropical climate, rum is not actually their focus – whisky, vodka and gin are, with the distillery also making rums of zero distinction. One of their claims to fame is to have worked to develop Sammy Hager’s Beach Bar rum, but that’s hardly an endorsement of the other rums they make and a 2019 article suggested (without attribution) that the rum itself wasn’t even made on Maui anymore, but in the USVI, and then bottled in California; rumours even suggested it was a Philippines rum. Go figure. If that’s true, no wonder they didn’t bother mentioning the product on their website.

But to go back to this bottle and its provenance: back in the eighties, Hana Bay was made by Hawaiian Distillers, a Hawaiian corporation that was in business since the 1970s, and was a subsidiary of Hawaiian Distilled Products Co out of Tustin California. Before 1980 it was mainly manufacturing tourist items, including ceramics and specialty Polynesian Liqueurs and you can still find many of its small bottles and knick knacks on various eBay or other auction sites: the value of their products lies in these ceramics, not its rums – it’s defunct now and all traces of it have vanished: only head cases like me actively seek out their rums from yesteryear any longer, and the question as to where exactly the rum was distilled remains unanswered.

Colour – Pale yellow

Strength – 40%

Nose – Rather nice, with a crisp aroma of light green grapes, apples, some red grapefruit.  Some lemon and pine-sol, quite nice, until the whole thing is taken over by the thin acid reek of a disinfectant covering the tiled floors of a sterile, cold hospital corridor.

Palate – Okay it’s 40%, but not entirely nad; there’s no obvious adulteration here.  Slightly creamy, buttery, with emergent sweet light fruits.  Rather dry, briny and with latrger non-sweet notes of dates, olives and a stale peach or two.

Finish – Nothing special here, but noting bad either; acetones, light pears, a bit ot hot tea. It’s nice for what it is

Thoughts – As far away from the adulterated mess of Whaler’s or the Spirit of Hawaii as could be imagined.  This one is actually not an entirely bad rum, and makes one wonder why they didn’t bother sticking with it. Instead they just climbed to the top of a low hill, and charged downhill from there with everything that came after. We’ll be looking at some of those soon.

(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • A relatively young age can be assumed, as is the likelihood of it being a column still rum.
Jan 092023
 

The rum we are looking at today is named simply “Fortress rum”, after the Fortress of Louisburg on Île Royale, now Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, where the barrels of rum were aged. 1. The back label says the rum is made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients (no further qualification), the website talks about “select Caribbean rums” (no further elaboration) aged in “oak barrels” (no further info on what kind) and the company of origin is Authentic Seacoast Distilling Co. Ltd which has its fingers in all sorts of pies: beer, vodka, coffee, rumcake, hand sanitizers and soaps and for good measure has associations with small inns and hotels in the area in a kind of one-stop hospitality enterprise.

What little the website and photos and my own background reading provide is as follows: the rum is a blend of Caribbean imports of unknown provenance, probably mixed in with a small quantity of locally distilled rum made on the single column still seen in the site photo archive (which may be why the label mentions domestic ingredients, although….). The ageing takes place on the island, but no information is provided in what kind of oak barrels or for how long.  Previous comments on social media (especially reddit) are unanimous that it’s a decent Canadian rum, a kind of ok sipper, compares well against Ironworks’ rums, available mostly in the Maritimes and Ontario, and the web page is at pains to mention many medals it won every year between 2015 and 2018 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

I have my own opinion on any spirits competitions’ usefulness, and as far as I’m concerned this is another case where the abominably restricted rum selection available to Canadians — caused by provincial monopolies dating back to Prohibition times — has so limited their ability to taste world class rum, that even a subpar product like this one can tout medals which mean very little as some kind of evidence of success, and never be corrected by locals. Because frankly, it’s not that great a rum at all.

Let’s take it apart so I can explain my chain of reasoning.  Since I knew nothing about the rum aside from the strength (45%), I went in completely blind.  The nose was decent enough – fruity, tart, with some yoghurt, vanilla, strawberries and light citrus notes.  Some bubble gum and cherries, more vanilla and a touch of leather and bitterness of tannins that had not been sanded down very much. Oh, and more vanilla. There was really too much vanilla – initially it was rather laid back and inobtrusive, but gradually it really took over and dominated the entire nose.

45% is a good strength for an unpretentious rum, which this turned out to be when tasted. Some mellow fruitiness started the party going, mostly ripe apples, red cherries, and cranberries.  This was backed up by vanilla, acetones, furniture polish and varnish, to which was added a little salt, caramel, the minerality of charcoal and — bloody hell! — more vanilla.  What little tannins and leather were in the aroma vanished here, and the finish gave little hint of more: some light and easy fruit, cinnamon, vanilla (again!) and green tea, before vanishing with a whisper.

The Fortress rum to some extent suffers from that issue that I’ve remarked on before, that of sharing its production with too many other spirits so nobody has time to do one thing right.  As a rum, it also fails on all sorts of levels – the lack of information provision not the least among them. It’s indeterminate in taste, and its solid proof is undone by an excess of vanilla past the point of being reasonably provided by barrel ageing.  This is why my notes have a big question mark on the page asking “V. Added?” And the more I think about it, that’s what they did. The vanilla is nice…but only up to a point.  Less is really more in a case like this, and like excess sugar in other rums, it masks and hides taste elements that could be more assertive – even interesting – if allowed to get out there and shine.

But we’re not allowed to judge that. Somebody went out there and decided for us that the natural profile — of this unknown distillate off an unknown still and unknown source location, as changed by unknown barrels for an unknown period of time — needed boosting.  They chose to call what they did “authentic”, rather than provide data on what the rum is actually made of, where it’s from and how it’s made up (in other words, really authentic information). The upshot is that they ended up with a distilled sow’s ear while pretending they had somehow succeeded in making a silk purse. 

(#964)(73/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Originally released in 2015 as a result of research with Parks Canada to release something authentic to the 18th century period. The ageing of the barrels in or near to the Fortress itself strikes me as a nice marketing gimmick, but no more.
  • For a rum issued in 2015, minimal or nonexistent disclosure was something that could be glossed over.  In the 2020s, it’s unacceptable for even the company website to make no mention of anything useful, let alone the label.
  • I get the sense from watching an enthusiastic video review from Booze on the Rocks that his bottle was numbered, but no such notation was on the one I poured from.
  • Reddit /r/rum had some more positive evaluations from here and here, and half of the 24 evaluations on Rum Ratings rated it 8/10 or better; the average of two raters on Rum-X gave it 67/100.  Nobody else seems to have done a full review.
  • I am aware of and deplore that as a Canadian-produced rum, its visibility and distribution is hampered by arcane and complex provincial distribution rules that cater to government monopolies’ interests, not consumers. This does not excuse any of the weaknesses it displays, but it does create a feedback issue for the company since too few people get to opine on its quality, and wider distribution is hardly worth the effort of complying with those regulations.

Historical background

Canada – especially the eastern islands and provinces – has a long history of and involvement with rum. The infamous triangular trade (Europe to Africa to the West Indies, or America to Africa to the Caribbean) included trading with Canada’s eastern seaboard, and the French in Quebec and the islands had long established trading posts and a mercantile presence there.  Alcohol was an early and common trading item, especially wine and beer which were made locally since the 1600s — rum, however, was an import from the beginning and came from the French West Indies. In the centuries that passed, rum has in fact become a tipple of choice for Maritimers (while whisky predominates out west, and wine and beer are of course popular everywhere).

Rums were initially bought in bulk from the Caribbean and then blended, a practice that continues to this day: standard Canadian rums brands like Potters, Lamb’s, Screech, Cabot Tower and Young’s Old Sam (among many others) are the result, and it will come as no surprise to know that Guyana and Jamaica tend to be the most common acknowledged sources and profiles. More recently, mirroring developments in the US, rum was also distilled from shipped-in molasses by small distilleries, which often have whiskies as their prime focus – Smuggler’s Cove and Momento and Ironworks are examples of that trend, though so far results have been mixed and none have made any serious local, regional or international splash. As remarked above in “other notes”, this has a lot to do with restrictions laid on Canadian producers by the state and its provincial monopolies.


 

Jan 042023
 

Rumaniacs Review #143 | R-0963

All sorts of little mysteries attend this rum.  First of all, what we know: a Haitian rhum bottled by a Belgian outfit named Fryns Hasselt in the 1980s, at 40%. What we don’t know: cane juice or molasses, type of still, which estate or brand, where it was aged and in what kind of barrels – though I think it’s a fair bet it’s Barbancourt, it came from a column still, and the ageing was around five years, likely in Europe. A bottle – perhaps even the same one flipped several times –  appeared on Whisky.Auction in February, March, April and May 2019 (which is, coincidentally, just around the time I scored the sample). It seems to be the only one ever released by the little company (see below for a short bio).

Colour – Light brown

Strength – 40% ABV

Nose – Not much going on here.  Very very light.  Grapes, green apples, a touch of vanilla and evidence of heavier fruit sensed but not really tasted.  Bananas, whipped cream on top of a caramel macchiato.  Takes some time to come to grips with this rum, and it opens up to strengthen the vanilla and caramel component, and add a sort of weak fruit salad vibe.

Palate – Actually quite a bit better than the nose leads one to believe, although conversely, it’s more a matter of intensity than anything new. Caramel, vanilla, nutty fudge, a hint of flambeed bananas, stewed apples and somewhere behind all that is a suggestion of very hot loose-leaf strong black tea cut with evaporated milk, plus just a whiff of citrus zest.

Finish – short, easy, light. Sherbet, vanilla, peaches…any more than that and I’d be guessing

Overall, for all its wispy nature, it was serviceable, and I found little beyond its weakness to dislike: but when this much time and effort is required for a sniff and a snort, it’s hardly worth the trouble. It’s simple, it’s near weightless and reasonably effective at saying it’s a light rum but beyond that, it’s thin pickings and not something that showcases itself effectively enough for a real recommendation. As for it being an actual Haitian rum, well, we’ll have to take that one on trust.

(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Hydrometer showed 40% so the rum is as stated, and not added to
  • My thanks as always go to Nicolai Wachmann of Denmark for the sample.

Picture (c) Whisky.Auction

Historical Background

So who is Fryns Hasselt? An interesting little company, all in all, and they demonstrate that the French and Brits and Italians weren’t the only ones with liquor merchants who had a rep in the late 1800s and that there were small towns not called Flensburg that had several distilleries and bottlers that dabbled in rum.

Gin (or jenever) at that point was a cheap liquor for the masses made from sugar-beet molasses, but there is no record I was able to find that suggests rum was ever physically made in Hasselt. Belgium’s colonial adventures at that time were more in Africa than in the Caribbean, specifically the Belgian Congo. As the Brits found out in India, gin was known to be useful in that it disguised the bitter taste of the anti-malarial drug quinine – which may have accounted for its expanded production, quite aside from keeping the huddled masses toped up and out of mischievous activities like revolutions or communism or questioning the divine right of the king to have huge private properties in Africa while many Belgians of the time lived in misery.

The small town of Hasselt has an interesting history which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself: the key point is that for centuries it was known for its gin distilleries, to the extent that there is a now a jenever museum in the town, and an annual Jenever Fest to celebrate the spirit. In the 19th century, gin production was the most important industrial industry in the area, and most of the involved distilleries were located in Hasselt itself. 

Fryns was a family company established in 1887 by the family patriarch Guillaume Fryns: he opened a distillery in a building called “In the Cloverleaf”, situated in a shopping street in downtown Hasselt, and indeed, the cloverleaf has become a logo for Fryns ever since (they trademarked it in 1908). The company passed to Guillaume’s sons Guillaume Jr. and Jules after his death in 1909, and they expanded production by adding a malt house and an ice factory to the premises, more branches in other cities and a fleet of trucks to service them all. They also spruced up the packaging and branched out into liqueurs, which were fashionable in the Roaring Twenties.  

The WW2 years saw them shut down for lack of cooperation with the occupying forces so they started the rebuilding with the third generation of Fryns in 1945 and kept a steady business running; however, financial and familial problems forced a sale to external investors in 1979.  The name and branding was kept, and in 1988 another large Hasselt-based distillery called Bruggeman bought it (along with a second company called Smeets). In 1995 Bruggeman moved the whole operation to Ghent, and so the involvement of Fryns in Hasselt came to a close.

This was not the end, however, because  2018 Michel Fryns (a fourth-generation scion of the family) reacquired the company and distillery from Bruggeman and promptly moved it back to Hasselt, where it remains to this day, making gins, liqueurs and pre-mixed drinks.

That’s all gin production and corporate history. With respect to rum, as far as I was able to discover, the company never actually made any. My informed supposition is simply that the the new owners post-1979 cast around for other sources of revenue and somehow got their hand on a few other distilled spirits. The only rum Fryns ever released was the old Haitian rum, and one can only suggest that it was an experiment that went nowhere, because aside from the (gin) distiller Smeets, who produced two rums called “Blacky” and “Castelgy” of uncertain provenance (they may have been verschnitts) and the Distillerie Theunissen who put out a single Jamaican rum, there is no record of any other rum ever made (which is to say, bottled) in the town. Certainly Bruggeman never appeared to have released any rums while they owned the company and the brand.

Logistics and a lack of interest probably defeated them, as there were better rums coming out of France, Britain, Italy and northern Germany. So they focused on their core competency and let the idea of branching out into rum wither on the vine, so to speak.  That’s a fair bit of supposing and maybes and guesswork, but I think the chain of logic is reasonable.


 

Nov 232022
 

Rumaniacs Review #141 | 0953

For a distillery whose founder had a not inconsiderable impact on craft distilling in the state of New York, it’s a shame they stuck with a product that has no end of local competition and is at best reviewed with occasional praise, mostly indifference and sometimes outright disdain: whiskey.  And yet they produced a rum or two at one time; and one of them, this rum, while no great shakes, suggested that they had potential and to spare had they stuck with it.  Maybe.

This is a pot still, blackstrap molasses based rum (for what it’s worth, blackstrap molasses is the kind that has the most sugar already removed from it and is characterized by an almost bitter taste and thick consistency; it’s also the cheapest). The age is unknown but I think it’s around 2-3 years old, and my perhaps unfounded supposition is that after William Grant injected some capital into the company in 2010 (see historical details below), they wanted to add to the portfolio, and made this 1,000-bottle rum in 2012 to commemorate the Roggen brothers who were Huegenot dry-goods merchants and spirits dealers in the area back in the day. There was also a Hudson River Rum at 46% made at around the same time, and these two products are the only rums I think the company ever made.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 40% ABV

Nose – You can still taste some molasses, brown sugar and licorice here, also some sweet fruit which remains, faint, dull and relatively unadventurous. Cherries, orange peel, caramel, some vanilla. It’s paint by the numbers time. Not bad…just not exciting.

Palate – Vanilla, some apples and raisins, a little licorice and bitterness, and a twang of brine. Brown sugar, caramel, molasses, unsweetened chocolate, and that’s stretching. Essentially, there’s not much going on here.  It’s not precisely rough or uninviting, yet the sharpness and youth makes it a drink to have with some care.

Finish – Hardly anything to report on. Vanilla, some very light fruit, toffee, licorice. That’s about it.

Thoughts – Roggen’s, for all its positive marketing and enthusiastic blurbs on various online stores where it remains to be found (which by itself should tell you something since it was made in 2012), is a rum stuck in time, the sort popular ten years or more ago: punchy if you have it first thing in the morning, but hardly new and or different. It’s a drowsy sort of everyman’s hooch that you could care less about while drinking it, and forget a half hour after it’s done: not because it’s vile, or even poorly made — I have to acknowledge the competency of the distillery in not making an unmitigated disaster — but simply that while the rum is not entirely boring, it’s neither more nor less than just a lot of nothing much in particular.  

(76/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • My thanks to Jazz and Indy Anand of Skylark Spirits, at whose house in London I pilfered the bottle and did the review notes earlier this year.  This is not a brand in their distribution portfolio, but something I think Jazz picked up on one of his trips to the States.
  • The historical society of New Paltz was involved in making the rum, which I think is some kind of commemorative or promotional bottling, hence the limited outturn of 1,000 bottles.

Historical background

So, the company story, then, if this intrigues you. Tuthilltown Distillery was founded in the upstate-NY township colloquially known by that name (after a Mr. Tuthill who founded a grist mill there in 1788), but is formally called Gardiner. It was itself established by fleeing Huguenots who settled in the area in the mid-1600s and also established a small town slightly to the north called New Paltz.  It was a thriving town by the mid-1700s, and it is useful to know that a pair of Swiss brothers – Francoise Pierre Roggen and Johann Jacob Roggen – emigrated there in 1749 and became merchants of some note.

In the current century, Ralph Erenzo, a retired professional rock climber, acquired a property of 36 acres there in 2001, intending to build a B&B, but this never came to fruition because locals kept denying the construction permits. However, Ralph discovered an obscure 2000 law on the books that allowed local micro-distilling at a greatly reduced licensing rate ($1,500, from a previous sum of $65,000) — so long as production was less than 35,000 gallons a year. And so in 2003, with an engineer called Brian Lee (who had come to him looking to use his facilities to make artisanal flour) he shifted to booze, and founded Tuthilltown Spirits by converting one of the mill granaries to a micro-distillery. It was the first new distillery built in New York since Prohibition. Two and a half years later, they produced their first batches of vodka from scraps collected at a local apple slicing plant, and had plans for whiskies. 1

As all good Americans micros do, the distillery went all-in on any distillable booze they could: eau de vie, brandy, absinthe, infusions, vodka, rye, bourbon, gin, and, of course, rum, you know the drill.  But it was whiskey that commanded their attention and much like Amrut did, knowing the quality of their product, they did small bar tastings in Paris (yes, Paris) and got a distribution deal with la Maison du Whiskey,  aside from whatever small sales they had in-state. This in turn brought them to the attention of William Grant & Sons out of Scotland, who bought the brand (but not the product) in 2010 and injected some much-appreciated capital into the company to improve infrastructure, marketing and distribution; in 2017 they bought the entire thing.  At this point they dispensed with all the other spirits and switched entirely to the branded Hudson Whiskey and its variations. And this is why the website for Tuthilltown is dead, while Hudson Whiskey’s is alive and well and why no reference on the latter site will even mention that they once were a smorgasbord of all things intoxicating, including rums.


Opinion

The fact that it’s topical newsmagazines that provide the background to the distillery, the name, the history and the rum’s titling — I searched through quite a few archival documents and websites to find the details used above —  explains something of my frustration with distilleries who have no sense of their own history or respect for what they have done in years gone by. Granted Tuthilltown is not rum focused, but surely a listing all the products they have made in their existence should be easily available somewhere. This indifference to their product development and past roster, even if discontinued is simply bewildering.  I mean, they made it, they labelled it, they sold it, it’s part of who they are…why pretend it doesn’t exist? 

I hasten to add that this is not an exclusively American phenomenon – God knows there are examples galore across the geographical spectrum, like that Cadenhead VSG I almost thought was a ghost last year. Still, in contrast, take this counter-example: the Danish indie Rom Deluxe has a webpage devoted to their current releases, but they also have an archival section on their website where they list all their various older expressions made in years gone by.  Labels, tech sheets, the lot. Given I can still find stuff from their earliest years knocking about on store shelves or collector’s basements, such material is a godsend when asking the inevitable question “what is this thing?” Quite a different mindset than so many others.

I’ve made a point of bringing up the issue of loss of current records (or having no records at all) for years and it’s the sort of subtle thing nobody really worries about, or notices…until they ask a question and realize that nobody ever wrote anything down, or recorded it and the info so readily available before, now only resides in derelict and near-inaccessible company archives, or on old web pages no longer “live”, or on some long-forgotten FB post. Rum databases like Rum Ratings and Rum-X help, for sure, but I think if companies themselves took some ownership of their releases and made sure the details were always available, then that would just help everyone out when they see an obscure bottle on a dusty shelf somewhere. Because without it, we’ll be floundering around ten years down the road — even more than we are at present — if steps are not taken now.


 

Nov 212022
 

Rumaniacs Review #140 | 0952

Captain Morgan, of course, requires no introduction, yet its history presented us with some interestingly convoluted pathways (R-139); it showed that although in its modern 2020s iteration it’s a throwaway piece of cheap spiced dreck, made with indifference and sold wholesale with what I can only conclude is contempt for its core audience, the fact is that once, not too far back, it had aspirations to being something quite a bit more interesting.  More genuine. Almost a real rum.

We can date this one more accurately because the 70º on the label had been replaced with 40% ABV which went into effect in 1980, and since 1984 the “Original Spiced” came on the market so the blends were gradually (if not instantly) discontinued. This may be one of the last of the true multi-country blends, and in this case it looks like they were drawing down from all the casks they had in storage from Barbados, Jamaica, and Guyana.

Colour – Dark amber

Strength – 40%

Nose – Sweet stewed plums, cherries in syrup,  Licorice, salt caramel, molasses, wood, pencils, tree bark and sap.  A few fleshy fruits roaming around in the background, bananas, very ripe oranges, but too faint to make much of an impression.

Palate – Thick, sweet caramel and brown sugar dominate, with molasses, and a strong latte.  Some apples, raisins, syrup and a few spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.  It’s interesting and a far cry from the sort of thin pickings today’s spiced rums have become. 

Finish – Short, to be expected. Mostly caramel, coffee, chocolate, licorice and some sawdust, with the slightest citrus hint cutting through.

Thoughts – This is why I like these old rums, and, even more, old rums that are the progenitors of today’s editions. No matter what the economic reasons that the rums of yesteryear were made the way they were, it’s obvious that even at the low strength at which they were issued back then, they were worlds apart, and better, than the modern variants with their crude sweetening and spicing: in comparison, the new “rums” are just ersatz products, pale imitations, and, in fine, dirty deeds done dirt cheap. 

(78/100)


Other notes

  • The label states that it’s made by an outfit called Captain Morgan Rum Distillers in London (Dacre Street SW1H 0DR), which, as far as I can ascertain, is the distribution arm in the UK at that time, never mind that they didn’t have a distillery there. The street address is long closed and has been redeveloped into flats, a small hotel, and office space.
  • Seagram’s and Vivendi merged in June 2000, with the key point being the joining of their media empires…the spirits business was secondary and Edgar Bronfman noted at the time it would be sold off anyway. A year later the wine and spirits division of Seagram’s was on the block and three conglomerates were in the running to take over the lucrative brand portfolio: an alliance of Brown-Forman and Bacardi, the latter of which at the time was having cash flow issues and was heavily in debt; Allied Domecq; and a partnership of Pernod-Ricard and Diageo. Diageo-PR won the tussle, split the portfolio and Diageo walked away with (among other brands) Captain Morgan, though they had to give up Malibu brand on anti-competitive grounds to do so. 
  • Distillation — aside from that derived from Long Pond, and other countries’ stocks — was primarily from Puerto Rico. Around 2011, Captain Morgan was induced by massive tax breaks and financial concessions, to build a distillery and make its rums in the US Virgin Islands. Nowadays this is where Captain Morgan brands are made.
  • Originally, as noted, Captain Morgan was a blend from Jamaica and other islands. Hugh Barty-King and Anton Massel, in their 1983 book “Rum Yesterday and Today” (p.190), wrote that  “There were always 65,000 forty-gallon barrels of rum at the Seagram UK processing plant at Speke, Liverpool, and the storage centre at Huyton. Their supplies came mainly from Guyana and Jamaica, but also in small amounts from Barbados, Hawaii, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The rum was diluted and made up into various blends, put into bottles on which labels were put with such names as ‘Captain Morgan’ (the most in demand), ‘Woods’, ‘Myers’, ‘Old Charlie’ and ‘Tropicana’.”

 

Aug 182022
 

Rumaniacs Review # 137 | 0931

It is becoming a working theory of mine that the heydey of the merchant bottlers and their near-ubiquitous minis of rum must have been in the 1960s and 1970s, bleeding over into the 1980s. Granted this may be because the majority of such rums I find stem from that period, I just don’t think it’s all a coincidence. Air travel and tropical drinks was a thing, hotels had well-loaded minibars, cruise lines stocked them everywhere and while I’ve never found that many merchant-bottler “indie” minis from pre-1960s or post-1990s, the auction sites are rife with little bottles from the era before the oil shocks and mass commercialization changed tourism.  Nowadays wherever you go the small bottles are all global (or hyper-local) brands, not small outfits doing their own thing.

We’ve met Charles Kinloch, the bottler of this little Jamaican dark rum, before, They were behind the Navy Neaters Barbados-Guyana blend and the Guyana-only rum, as well as having a hand in the forgettable Dry Cane light rum we passed by in 2020. Founded in 1861, they suffered several changes in ownership before being dissolved in 2008 (see below for a more detailed backgrounder).

As to this rum, it’s from an unidentified distillery in Jamaica. That is not surprising, since it’s only recently that estates’ names became a selling point, once they began branding their own rums.  But in the seventies it was all bulk rum and merchant sales and nobody cared about stills or estates of origin, merely that it was “Jamaican” (with perhaps only J. Wray / Appleton bucking this trend). The 70º Proof dates it to the pre-metric pre-1980s era.  Beyond that, not a lot more, unfortunately.

Colour – dark amber

Strength – 40% ABV (70º proof)

Nose – Hunh?  This is Jamaican?  Doesn’t really smell like it.  Burnt brown sugar, molasses, plums and raisins.  It’s rich and fruity for 40%, feels dusted with a little vanilla, so likely some ageing and a lot of colouring.  An interesting point is the almost total absence of what we would term funk nowadays – the bright, spicy, fruity notes that denote a spruced-up level of congeners.

Palate – Plums, flowers, sweet dark chocolate, almonds, lemon peel and some light nail polish. Peaches in cream, light vanilla, coconut and again that touch of molasses

Finish – Warm and comforting and surprisingly long. Black tea with condensed milk mixes it up with some molasses, caramel, and vanilla.

Thoughts – Simple and quite effective, yet I can’t shake the feeling it trends towards a Demerara. Perhaps it is and Appleton blend of some kind.  Be that as it may, it’s really nice and I happily had a few more glasses that day.

(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

The rum is bottled at 95.5º proof, and the ABV conversion is not actually half that (47.75%) according to modern measures, but 54.5%. And that’s because originally 100 proof rum was actually ~57% and so the maths works out to true navy strength of 54.5%. You can read a brief explanatory essay on the matter to get the gist of it, or a more involved discussion on the Wonk’s site on strength (here) and Navy rums generally (here).


Company bio

Charles Kinloch & Son were wine and spirits merchants who were in existence since 1861, and formally incorporated as a company in 1891. They eventually joined the Courage Brewery group in 1957 – the Kinloch brand was retained, and they issued several rums from Barbados, Guiana and Jamaica (or blends thereof). Courage itself had been around since 1757 and after many mergers and acquisitions was taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group in 1972, eventually passing to the Foster’s Group in 1990. In 1995 Scottish & Newcastle bought Courage from Foster’s and it changed hands again in 2007 when Wells & Young’s Brewing company bought all the brands under that umbrella.  By then Navy Neaters had long been out of production, Kinloch was all but forgotten and the company was formally dissolved in 2008 after having been dormant for decades. The current holding company of the Courage brand name is now is more involved in pubs and beers in the UK than in rums of any kind. (As an aside, Kinloch’s building at 84 Back Church Lane E1 1LX, complete with a sign, is still visible on Google Maps’s street view – it was converted to apartments in 1999, but the sign remains).

Note: There is a German wine shop called Schollenberger established in 1996, which created its own line of spirits (starting with gin) and nowadays releases a Charles Kinloch branded blended navy rum, and a Navy Neaters, with a label that has many of the details of the original.  It is unclear whether they acquired the name or are just using it based on the company no longer existing.


 

Jul 042022
 

Photo (c) L’Homme a la Poussette on FB

Rumaniacs Review #136 | 0920

Rhum Jacsi (later named Rhum Jacksi) defies easy categorization and is a research exercise leading down several peculiar rabbit holes. All initial sources agree that the rhum was from Martinique, was made from the 1950s to the 1970s and it is usually to be found at 44% ABV (some later versions were 40%). The source / etymology of the name is not written down but is easily inferred. The distillery of origin is a mystery. The companies involved in its make are the only places one can go and that’s a sufficiently lengthy story to be split off into its own section under these brief tasting notes.

Rum-X is the only place that has any technical specifications: their entry for the rhum states it is from cane juice and done on a column still (of course any such thing as the AOC is undreamed of at this stage of rhum’s evolution), but since attribution is not provided, it’s hard to know who put that entry in, or on what basis.  That said, it’s from Martinique, so the statements are not unreasonable given its rhum-making history.  Age, unfortunately is a complete zero, as is the distillery of origin. We’ll have to accept we simply don’t know, unless someone who once worked for the brand in the 1960s and 1970s steps forward to clear matters up.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 44%

Photo (c) ebay.fr

Nose – Very herbal and grassy, and is clearly an agricole rhum from cane juice. Lots of vegetables here: carrot juice, wet grass, dark red olives, a touch of pimento, and a nice medley of lighter fruity notes – passion fruit, lime zest, yellow mangoes and an occasional flash of something deeper.  It feels better and more voluptuous over time, and I particularly like the aromas of clear citrus juice, soursop, pears, green apples and vanilla.

Palate – Much of the nose transfers seamlessly here, especially the initial tastes of crisp fruits – mangoes, ginnips, ripe apples.  Once you’re past this you also get cane sap, sugar water, a slice of lime, a bit of vanilla.  Light brininess, pears and apples follow that, balanced off by dark, ripe cherries, syrup and toffee. 

Finish – Doesn’t improve noticeably on what came before, and is medium long, but doesn’t get any worse either. Fruits, tart unsweetened yoghurt, miso soup, apple cider, sort of delicate amalgam of sweet and sour overlain with dusky notes of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch.

Thoughts – This is a rum I liked, a lot.  It’s made from cane juice, but feels deeper and richer than usual, and it reminded me of the old Saint James rhums that used to be heated to 40ºC before fermentation and distillation (in a sort of quasi-Pasteurization process). Not sure of that’s what was done here, and of course the distillery of origin is not known, but It feels half clean agricole and half molasses, and it’s all over delicious.

(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Historical details

The labels on the bottles that are now being sold (usually at auction) have the notation that it is certified by CDC. But that was just a sort of selection and verification process, guaranteed by Compagnie Dubonnet-Cinzano. Nothing in their history suggests that they — or Pernod, or Ricard who took them over — originated the brand, and so this leads us to another company mentioned on one of the bottles, that of J&S Violet (Freres), which have a far stronger claim to being the ones behind the first Jacsi rhums. 

Two brothers named Violet – Pallade and Simon – who were initially itinerant drapers, opened a small shop in the southern French town of Roussillon in 1866 (it is about 40km north of Marseille) and driven by a boom in aperitif wines, they created a blend of their own that combined red wine, mistelles and botanicals…and also quinine (perhaps they also wanted in on the sale of anti malarial drinks that would sell well in tropical colonies, though certainly their marketing of the spirit as a medicinal tonic in pharmacies alleviated problems with existing established vermouth makers as well).

This low-alcohol drink was actually called byrrh – the brothers did not invent the title, just appropriated it as their brand name – and was wildly popular, so, like Dubonnet (see below), the company grew quickly. By the 1890s they had storage facilities for 15 million litres of wine, and by 1910 they employed 750 people and distributed in excess of thirty million litres of byrrh a year – in 1935 Byrrh was France’s leading aperitif brand, apparently. Pallade and Simon passed away by the advent of the first world war, and Lambert’s sons Jacques and Simon (the J&S mentioned on the label and therefore also most likely the Jacques and Simon of the brand name) took over in 1920 – which sets the earliest possible time limit on the Jacsi brand. though I believe it to have been created some decades later.

In the post WW2 years, the demand for aperitifs faded as cognacs, brandies, whiskies and light rums surged in popularity. The Violet brothers tried to expand into other spirits at this time, and it was here, in around the mid-fifties, that we start to see the first Jacsi magazine and poster advertisements appear, which is why I can reasonably date the emergence of the Jacsi rhum brand to this time period. Like most print ads of the time, they touted blue waters, tropical beaches, lissome island women, sunshine and the sweet life that could be had for the price of a bottle. It’s very likely that stocks were bought from some broker in the great port of Marseille, just down the road, rather than somebody going to Martinique directly; and the rhums were issued at 44% even then.  

1950s Label with J& Violet Bros. Label. 44%

Alas, this did not help: sales of Byrrh continued to fall, the rhum business was constant but minimal, and in 1961, beset by internecine family squabbles over a path forward, Byrrh sold its entire business, vats, stocks and barrels, to another company involved in liqueurs and aromatic wines and aperitifs – Dubonnet-Cinzano. It is from 1961 that the “selected and guaranteed by CDC” appears on the label of Jacsi branded rhums and the “J&S Violet” quietly exits.

1961 Label – CDC mentioned

So who exactly were CDC? A bottler, certainly, though not a distillery, for these were indie / merchant bottlings, not estate ones. As noted, Jacsi rhums that have turned up for sale in the past few years, all have labels that refer to la Compagnie Dubonnet-Cinzano (CDC).  This is a firm which goes back to one Joseph Dubonnet, a Frenchman who created an aperitif modestly called Dubonnet in 1846 in response to a competition organised by the French Government to find a cordial which African legionnaires would drink and colonists could buy, that would disguise the bitter taste of the anti-malarial drug quinine (it therefore served the same purpose as the British gin and tonic in India). This was done at a time when fortified and flavoured wines and liqueurs – especially anises and absinthes – were very popular, so M. Dubonnet’s enterprise found its legs and grew into a large company in very short order.

Late 1960s label, still CDC referenced and at 44%

I could not ascertain for sure whether the Italian vermouth company Cinzano had a stake in Dubonnet or vice versa, but it strikes me as unlikely since they (Cinzano) remained a family enterprise until 1985 – and for now I will simply take the name as a coincidence, or that Dubonnet produced Cinzano under licence. CDC, then, dealt much with vermouths and such flavoured drinks, but like Byrrh, they were caught up in the decline of such spirits in the 1950s.  Their own diversification efforts and core sales were good enough to stave off the end, but by the 1970s the writing was on the wall, and they sold out to Pernod Ricard in 1976 – by then the family was ready to sell. Pernod and Ricard had just merged in 1975, and had started an aggressive expansion program, and were willing to buy out CDC to fill out their spirits portfolio, which had no vermouths of note. 

Post-1970s label for 40% version after Pernod Ricard acquisition. 40% ABV and Cusenier name.

By the 1970s, the brand name had been changed to Jacksie, and the “selected and guaranteed by CDC” moniker was retained on the label  for a while before being replaced by Cusenier, which was an Argentine spirits maker acquired at the same time by PC – that’s the last reference to the brand and the rhum that can be found. But in an interesting side note, both Dubonnet and Byrrh (now Pernod Absinthe) continue to be made in Thuir, where the facilities of Byrrh once were. Jacsi itself, however, has long since been discontinued and now exists only in these pages and the occasional auction when one goes on sale. For what it’s worth, I think they are amazingly good rums for the prices I’ve seen and the only reason they keep going for low prices is because nothing is known about them. Not any more.


 

Jun 202022
 

For years, South Pacific Distillery out of Fiji has been sending bulk rum abroad, which the indies of Europe have been snapping up and releasing as limited edition single cask bottlings: TCRL, L’Esprit, Samaroli, Rum Cask, Duncan Taylor, the Compagnie, Kill Devil and others have all released a bottle or two, and that is pretty much the only introduction most of us have to Fiji’s rums. However, like most distilleries which either dominate a country or seek to diversify in the region, they do have an in-house label of their own: the “Bounty” brand, which I must hasten to distinguish from St. Lucia Distillery’s brand of the same name, and which is sold mostly in the Asia-Pacific/NZ/Australia region (if online sales listings are anything to go by).

The St. Lucia brand title is of course a play on the words “bounty” and “bountiful”; I suspect that this is half of what’s behind SPD’s name as well, with the other half coming from the name of the ship involved in the most famous mutiny in naval history (“after the Potemkin!” you can hear the Eisenstein fans protest immediately). Bounty from Fiji has had limited penetration into European and American markets (which is why there are so few reviews of the thing and why the Rum-X entry doesn’t have a distillery attached to it), and SLD’s Bounty stays mostly within the Caribbean, so maybe that’s the reason there’s never been a lawsuit between the two companies — and why one has to be very careful to peruse label and origin statements of any Bounty bottle one comes across.

Be that as it may, I always liked South Pacific Distillery’s rums, and the TCRL 2009 was hands down the best and most memorable of those I’ve tried, so I’m always game to try another one, especially if the distillery itself makes it. What we have here is a blend issued at 58% (though my hydrometer rated it 60.1%, go figure), molasses based, and first brought to market in 1979. The distillery has both pot and column stills, and in his own review, the Fat Rum Pirate remarked that the descriptor of “small batch” on the label of this rum suggested a pot still origin, though this is nowhere explicitly mentioned, either on the label or by SPD itself (and neither is the outturn, or the age). 

This is about par for the course for such brands who don’t take on board the Hampden or Renaissance labelling ethos (to name just two), so let’s just get right into it. Nose first: it’s very solid, almost brutal, in the way it runs right into your face with an initial attack of brine, wine-y notes, spoiled grapes and a sort of clean and clear scent of new rain on hot bricks. There’s dust, cereal, a touch of sawdust, which gradually gives way to acetone and nail polish, and then a lush basket of fruits: raspberries, red currants, strawberries, pineapple, cherries, pungent and tart and a little sour.  Oh and there are notes of freshly turned wet sod, grass, and (get this) even fish oil. As a marker of its distinctiveness, that’s quite a combination.

Alas, it doesn’t last. The whole experience settles down from that rather wild-eyed and untamed mustang of a nose. On the palate, the tastes are firm and spicy, bordering on sharp, with a texture that flows well: there’s licorice and bags of fruit here – crisp white pears, strawberries, yellow half-ripe mangoes, red guavas, and yellow cashews. Also cereals and pastries, dusted with icing sugar, brown coconut sugar, licorice and honey.  There’s some caramel sweetness to taste and that makes it actually quite pleasant to sip, though by the time you hit the finish it gets to be a bit overbearing and masks the crisper flavours – you can hardly call it more than a simple finish, really, and it’s perhaps too reliant on brown sugar and molasses at the end.

This dampening of citrus and fruit portion of the profile by molasses, caramel and brown sugar lessens the overall experience, I think (and it was that sweetness that made me test the rum to begin with). That the result suggested no additional sugar at all hardly invalidates the profile as described, and in fairness, it works…within its limits. It’s a decent product for sure. It’s also reasonably affordable when available, and can be found on occasional auctions in Europe, if not in shops. 

Those who drop some coin on it are hardly likely to be disappointed, though my personal opinion is that a truer representation of the distillery and the country is probably better found with the independent bottlings, since those select casks based on seeking out the “Fiji” part more than the “rum”, while the Bounty does exactly the opposite, and so becomes less distinctive. It may therefore be better to use the overproof as an introduction to the country and the brand: keeping one’s expectations modest and not seeing it as some kind of top end sipping rum, may be the key to enjoying the Bounty Premium Overproof to its fullest.

(#917)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • A short introduction to the distillery and a listing of independent bottlers’ releases from it, is provided by Single Cask Rum.
  • South Pacific Distillery has a history rather longer and more complex, with many more changes in ownership, than is commonly known. A small bio will go up soon, as even that small history is too long to include here.
  • The label does not represent, as some believe, the outmoded trope of a pirate ship, but is a picture of the “Bounty” ship made famous by Messrs Bligh and Christian and after which the brand is named..
Apr 252022
 

Rumaniacs Review #134 | 0902

Back in 2015 I tasted another one of these older Navy-style rums, also called Navy Neaters and I have no idea why that rum didn’t make the Rumaniacs series. That one was a Guyana-Barbados blend, while this one is Guyana only; both were made by the same company of Charles Kinloch & Co. Kinloch made light white filtered rums and a Jamaican or two, plus various blends, but by the 1980s no rum bearing the Kinloch name were being made any longer.

Four basic background facts are involved here and I’ll just give them to you in point form.

  1. “Neaters” were the full strength (neat) rum served onboard ship to the petty officers (NCOs) and above; ratings (regular sailors), were served with a measure of rum famously known as the tot, which was usually diluted and also called grog, and if you don’t know the terms, well, are you sure you’re into rum?
  2. The rum is bottled at 95.5º proof, and the ABV conversion is not actually half that (47.75%) according to modern measures, but 54.5%. And that’s because originally 100 proof rum was actually ~57% and so the maths works out to true navy strength of 54.5%. You can read a brief explanatory essay on the matter to get the gist of it, or a more involved discussion on the Wonk’s site on strength (here) and Navy rums generally (here)
  3. The spelling of Guyana makes the rum date to post-1966 (independence). The use of degrees (º) proof is a vestige of the British imperial measurement system abandoned for metric in 1980 so 1970s is the best dating for the Neaters we can come up with.
  4. Charles Kinloch & Son were wine and spirits merchants who were in existence since 1861, and formally incorporated as a company in 1891. They eventually joined the Courage Brewery group in 1957 – the Kinloch brand was retained, and they issued several rums from Barbados, Guiana and Jamaica. Courage itself had been around since 1757 and after many mergers and acquisitions was taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group in 1972, eventually passing to the Foster’s Group in 1990. In 1995 Scottish & Newcastle bought Courage from Foster’s and it changed hands again in 2007 when Wells & Young’s Brewing company bought all the brands under that umbrella.  By then Navy Neaters had long been out of production, Kinloch was all but forgotten and the company was formally dissolved in 2008 after having been dormant for decades. The current holding company of the Courage brand name is now is more involved in pubs and beers in the UK than in rums of any kind. (As an aside, Kinloch’s building at 84 Back Church Lane E1 1LX, complete with a sign, is still visible on Google Maps’s street view – it was converted to apartments in 1999, but the sign remains)

Colour – dark mud brown

Strength – 54.5%

Nose – Tree bark, mauby, dark unsweetened chocolate, white grapes,  Airy and sweet.  Coca cola, raisins, molasses and strong dark licorice.

Palate – Dark licorice, leather, cola; plums and mauby drink. There’s some bitterness of coffee grounds and very powerful unsweetened black tea, plus some prunes and plums. The heaviness suggests some doctoring, but was unable to confirm this at the time.

Finish – Long, thick, tongue-coating, sweetish.  Feels longer than it is.

Thoughts – Rums from the past hailing from familiar distilleries which are tasted with modern sensibilities and an experience with modern rums, are a window into the way things were a long time ago: blends, ferments, ageing, stills, all aspects of the production process made for completely different rums.  I would peg this as a Demerara rum, sure, and probably PM or VSG distillate. Beyond that, it’s just a pleasure to marvel at how well the familiar Guyanese wooden still profile has held up over the decades.

(85/100)

Apr 112022
 

The brand of Ron De Mulata is a low end version of Havana Club, established in 1993: it was sold only in Cuba until 2005 when it gradually began to see some export sales, mostly to Europe (UK, Spain and Germany remain major markets). It is a completely Cuban brand, and has expanded its variations up and down the age ladder, from a silver dry rum, aged white, to rons aged 3, 5, 7 and 15 years, plus a Gran Reserva, Palma Superior and even an Elixir de Cuba. It is supposedly one of the most popular rums on the island, commanding, according to some sources, up to 10% of the local market.

Which distilleries make it is a tricky business to ferret out.  This one, an aguardiente (see notes on nomenclature, below) is made from juice, and yes, the Cubans did make cane juice rons: it is labelled as coming from Destileria Paraiso (also referred to as Sancti Spiritus, though that’s actually the name of a town nearby), and others of more recent vintage are from Santa Fe, and still others are named. It would appear to be something of a blended cooperative effort by Technoazucar, one of the state-run sugar / rum enterprises (Corporacion Cuba Ron is another).

By the time the Mulata rums, including this aguardiente, started seeing foreign sales in 2005, the label had a makeover, because the green-white design on my bottle, with its diagonal separation, has long been discontinued. The lady remains the same (her colour has varied over the decades, and the name of the series makes it clear she is a part-white part black mestizo, or mulata), and the rum is unusual in that it is a cane juice rum to this day. However, since it continues to be made and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I am making the assumption that for all the updates in bottle and label design, the underlying juice has undergone no significant change and therefore does not qualify for inclusion in the Rumaniacs series. On that basis, it started out, and remains, a white 40% agricole-style rum, hence the title aguardiente.

You would not necessarily believe that when you smell it, though. In fact, it smells decidedly odd on first examination: dusky, briny, with gherkins, olives, some pencil shavings, and lemon peel.  This is followed up by herbs like dill and cardamom before doing a ninety degree hard right into laundry detergent, iodine, medicinals, the watery, slightly antiseptic scent of a swimming pool (and yes, I know how that sounds).  Fruits are vague at best, and as a purported cane juice rum, this doesn’t much adhere to the profile of such a product.

Upon a hefty shot, it does, however, move closer to what one would expect of such a rum. The shy timidity of the profile is something of a downer, but one can evince notes of iodine (not as bad as it sounds), sugar water, vanilla, grassiness, and watery fruit (pears, white peaches, guavas, unripe pineapples). There’s not much else going on here: the few agricole-like bits and pieces can be sensed, but lack the assertiveness to take them to the next level, and the finish is no help: it’s short, shy, no more than a light breeze across the senses, carrying with it weak hints of green peas, pineapples, and vanilla.

There’s no evidence for this one way or the other, but I think the rum is a filtered white with perhaps a little bit of ageing, and is probably coming off an industrial column still. It lacks the fierce raw pungency of something more down-to-earth made by the peasantry who want to get hammered (so go for greater strength) with no more than a basic ti-punch (so pungent flavours). This rum fails on both counts, and aspires to little more than being a jolt to wake up a hot-weather tropical cocktail. It doesn’t impress.

(#898)(70/100) ⭐⭐


Notes on nomenclature

The use of the word “rum” in this essay is problematic and it has been commented on FB that the product reviewed here cannot be called a rum because (a) it is not made from molasses and (b) it is not aged. I don’t entirely buy into either of those arguments since no regulation in force specifies those two particular aspects as being requirements for naming it either rum (or ron) or aguardiente – though they do prevent it from being called a Cuban rum.

However, there are the traditional rules and modern regulations of the Cuban rum industry which must be taken into account. Under these specifications, an aguardiente is not actually a cane juice rum at all – it is the first distillate coming off the column still, usually at around 75%, retaining much flavour and aroma from the process (this is then blended with the second type of distillate, known as destilado de caña or redistillado which is much higher proofed and has fewer aromas and flavours, being as it is closer to neutral alcohol). By this tradition of naming then, my review subject should not even be called an aguardiente, let alone a rum.

Even the Denominación de Origen Protegida (the DOP, or Protected Designated of Origin) doesn’t specifically reference cane juice, although as per Article 20 rum must come from “raw materials made exclusively from sugar cane”, which doesn’t exclude it. And in Article 21 it mentions that aguardiente – elsewhere and again noted (but not defined or required to be named such) as being the first phase distillate of around 75% ABV – must be aged for about two years and then filtered before going onto be blended. Article 23 lists several different types of añejos but unaged spirits and aguardientes are not mentioned except as before.

This leads us to two possibilities.

  1. Either what I have reviewed is a bottled first-phase distillate, which means it is aged for two years and a column still distillate deriving from molasses, named as per tradition.  This therefore implies that all sources that state it is cane juice origin are wrong.
  2. This is an unaged cane juice distillate (from a column still), casually named aguardiente because there is no prohibition against using that name, or requirement to use any other term. Given the loose definition of aguardiente across the world, this possibility cannot be discounted.

Neither conjecture eliminates aguardiente as being from some form of sugar cane processing, because it is; and in the absence of a better word, and because it is not forbidden to do so, I am calling it a rum. However, I do accept that it’s a more complex issue than it appears at first sight, and the Cuban regs either don’t cover it adequately (yet), or deliberately ignore the sub-type.


 

Mar 202022
 

Rumanicas Review R-133 | 0892

There was a lot of rum floating around Italy in the post-WW2 years, but not all of it was “real” rum; much was doctored miscellaneous plonk based on neutral alcohol. I tried some a few times, but a brief foursome with a trio of Italian Rum Fantasias from the 1950s, carelessly indulged in back when I was young and irresponsible, left me, as all such things do, with little beyond guilt, a headache and a desperate need for water. Even way back then — when I knew less but thought I knew more — I was less than impressed with what those alcoholic drinks had to offer. I’m unsure whether this rum qualifies as one such, but it conforms to the type enough that mention at least has to be made.

The company of the Antoniazzi Brothers operated out of the small northeast-Italian town of Conegliano, in the county of Treviso. Initially my researches showed they were in existence in the 1950s, which suggests they were formed in the post war years as spirits merchants. But it became clear that not only had they been active in 1926 as grappa makers – the region is famous for the product, so that makes sense – but a document from 1950 shows on the letterhead that they had been founded in 1881.  Who the founder was, who the sons were and the detailed history of the company will have to wait for a more persevering sleuth.

Still, here’s what we can surmise: they probably started as minor spirits dealers, specialising in grappa and expanded into brandies and cognacs. In the 1950s onwards, as Italy recovered from the second World War, they experimented with Fantasias and liqueurs and other flavoured spirits, and by the 1970s their stable had grown quite substantially: under their own house label, they released rum, amaretto, brandy, sambuca, liqueurs, gin, scotch, whiskey, grappa, anise and who knows what else. By the turn of the century, the company had all but vanished and nowadays the name “Antoniazzi” leads to legal firms, financial services houses, and various other dead ends…but no spirits broker, merchant, wine dealer or distiller. From what others told me, the spirits company folded by the 1980s.


Colour – Straw yellow

Strength – 42%

Nose – Very light and floral, with bags of easy-going ripe white fruits; not tart precisely, or overly acidic; more creamy and noses like an amalgam of unsweetened yoghurt, almonds, valla essence and white chocolate. There’s also icing sugar and a cheesecake with some lemon peel, with a fair bit of vanilla becoming more overpowering the longer the rum stays open. 

Palate – Floral and herbal notes predominate, and the rum turns oddly dry when tasted, accompanied by a quick sharp twitch of heat. Tastes mostly of old oranges and bananas beginning to go, plus vanilla, lemon flavoured cheesecake, yoghurt, Philly cheese and the vague heavy bitterness of salt butter on over-toasted black bread.

Finish – Nice, flavourful and surprisingly extended, just not much there aside from some faint hints of key lime pie, guavas, green tea and flambeed bananas.  And, of course, more vanilla.

Thoughts – It starts well, but overall there’s not much to the experience after a few minutes. Whatever Jamaican-ness was in here has long since gone leaving only memories, because funk is mostly absent and it actually has the light and crisp flowery aromatic notes that resemble an agricole. The New Jamaicans were far in the future when this thing was made, yet even so, this golden oldie isn’t entirely a write off like so many others from the era.

(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • Hat tip to Luca Gargano and Fabio Rossi, and a huge thank you to Pietro Caputo – these gentlemen were invaluable in providing information about the Antoniazzi history.
  • Hydrometer gauged this as 40.1% ABV which equates to about 7-8g/L of adulteration.  Not much, but something is there.
  • Source estate unknown, still unknown, ageing unknown

“Fantasias”

Rhum Fantasias were to be found in the 1950s through the 1970s as the Italian versions of Vershnitt or Inlander (domestic) rums such as had been popular in Germany in the 1800s and early 1900s (they may have existed earlier, but I never found any). This class of spirits remains a brisk seller in eastern Europe: Tuzemak, Casino 50º and Badel Domaci, as well as today’s flavoured spirits, are the style’s modern inheritors.  They were mostly neutral alcohol – vodka, to some – to which some level of infusion, flavouring or spices were added to give it a pleasant taste. To the modern drinker they would be considered weak, insipid, over-flavoured, over-sugared, and lacking any kind of rum character altogether. Fifty years ago when most people didn’t even know about the French islands’ rums, Jamaica and Barbados were the epitome of ‘exotic’ and Bacardi ruled with a light-rum-mailed first, they were much more popular.


 

Jan 312022
 

Rumaniacs Review #132 | 880

The exact date of make of this Hawaiian rum is a little tricky: the NZ Canterbury Museum notes it as “circa” 1960s and there are old magazine advertisements for sale online which mention it, dating from 1967 and after, so that dovetails neatly with internal Seagram’s records dating the creation date of the rum to 1965. It was made in time for the Montreal World’s Fair, also known as Expo 1967, and designed to speak to Canada’s desire to move away from its staid British past and embrace a more multicultural mindset. This was done (or so the thinking in the C-suite probably went) by making a more neutral tasting rum that chased the emergent move from the distinct shot to the anonymous long pour in the post war years, and to add something a little exotic to the portfolio. They handed it off to one of their subsidiaries in the US, since “exoticism” and “Canada” were hardly synonymous at the time.

Calvert Distillers Corporation — the maker of record on the bottle label but actually acting as more of a distributor for the Leilani branded rum — was founded in August 1934 as a holding company for the Calvert Distilling Company and Maryland Distillery (both of which were, of course, older companies) and was acquired the same year by the Canadian spirits company Seagram-Distillers Corporation. Calvert was combined with its other subsidiaries in 1954, and Seagram’s itself was sold off piecemeal between 2000 and 2002 to Vivendi, Pernod Ricard, Diageo and the Coca-Cola Company. By then the Leilani had long since been discontinued. Most online listings now refer to either mini bottles, or old advertisements.

So Seagram’s and Calvert were the official companies involved in the brand.  Which distillery — Hawaiian or otherwise — made the Leilani rum is more difficult since distilleries now in existence on the islands all seem to have been founded after 1980 (and in many cases after 2000).  Of course, full disclosure being so much less prevalent back in the day, it is entirely possible the rum was made elsewhere and just branded as Hawaiian, but for the moment, the jury is out on this.

Colour – Pale yellow

Strength – 40% | 80 Proof

Nose – Sharp, crisp, light and clear.  Lemony notes of zest and 7-Up, mangoes, unripe strawberries, pineapple and vanilla, and that’s the good part.  There are also less desirable aromas of  gasoline (!!), scallions and (get this) an indifferently done steak overspiced with salt and black pepper and heaped up with melted butter and green peas.

Palate – Lemon meringue pie, some brininess, vanilla, pears, peas, vague fruit juices and more mineral and smoke notes of some kind of charred wood.  It’s a touch sweet, and can be mixed reasonably well, but nobody would ever think this is a sipping rum.

Finish – Light, easy, calms down a fair bit, mostly pears, lemon zest, some Fisherman’s Friend cough drops and vanilla. I’m surprised to get that much.

Thoughts – The rum was, of course, made for cocktails, not for any kind of sipping. Still, for a light rum bottled half a century ago and made to chase a mix (and oh yeah, to take on Bacardi), it holds up surprisingly well, and I kinda-sorta liked it. It is very light and wispy, so it was probably the right decision to have it as part of my first tasting of the day, before moving on to something stronger. I really wish I knew more about its production, because it actually reminds me of a cane juice rhum, an agricole, and it would be interesting to know if it was or not, what still it came off of, and whether it was aged. 

(76/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • When we spoke, Martin Cate also mentioned his own belief that the rum was not made in Hawaii, because “I don’t think there was a facility to make that much column rum in the islands at that time. My guess is that it was bulk from PR or possibly from WIRD since Seagrams had a long relationship with WIRD over the years.”
Dec 192021
 

Rumaniacs Review R-131 | 873

Bounty Rum — not to be confused with the South Pacific Distillery rum of the same name — was the first branded rum produced by St. Lucia Distillers in 1972 when the combine was formed through the consolidation of the Dennery Distillery (which was owned by the Barnard family) and the distillery run by the Geest family at Roseau Bay. 

The rum was considered the workhorse of the brand, a step down from the subsequent releases of the Chairman’s Reserve, Admiral Rodney and other blends of greater perceived cachet and exclusivity that came into prominence in the post-2000 rum renaissance.

The Bounty rum brand has never been retired from active duty, and continues to be sold all around the Caribbean to this day: it is something of a back bar staple in the US, a mixer’s drink for the most part. The various rums that were developed over time can be flavoured, spiced, white, aged, unaged, column or pot-column blends, and retain their popularity by virtue of their affordability and generic usefulness. 

The rum was part of a set of minis from the 1970s and 1980s that I bought, and since the label is all but unfindable and there is nothing to distinguish it otherwise, I am forced to make some assumptions until Mike Speakman or SLD (hopefully) gets back to me: I think it’s from the 1970s, sold for airline and hotel minibar use; a column still spirit, slightly aged; and the closest thing to it in 2021 is probably the Bounty Gold rum (not the Dark). No rum as shown on this label remains in production.

Colour – Light gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – Quite sweet, notes of honey, mead, molasses and brown sugar.  There’s also the aroma of hay, sawdust and decaying paper, the musty smell of old libraries and second hand bookstores. With a bit of time to open up, we get green peas, cherries, tart yoghurt and even the slight metallic bite of a coin.

Palate – Interesting: some brine and olives to start, plus nuts, almonds and nougat. The slight sweetness of molasses and brown sugar carries over from the nose, as well as raisins, spices, grass and a touch of dill and rosemary.

Finish – Short and aromatic, with spices, brine and light fruitiness.  Plus, a touch of dustiness returns here.

Thoughts – In today’s climate it can work as a sipping rum, I suppose, though I doubt many would use it for anything but to make a mix, even assuming it could be found.  It’s nice enough, and shows clearly how far St Lucia Distillers’ other rums have come since this was originally made. But back then it was all light blends, and this Bounty rum adheres faithfully to that lackluster profile.

(78/100)


Other Notes

  • Brief subsequent history: in 1993 the Barnards bought out the Geests, and in 2005 sold out to CL Financial who in turn, after their reckless financial exposure to the crash of 2008 nearly bankrupted them, sold out to the Martinique conglomerate Group Bernard Hayot (Spiribam), the current owner. 
  • The ageing and still are unknown: my assumption is that as with most such rums made back in the day, it was from a column still, and aged less than five years.  It’s descendant is probably the current Bounty Gold rum which is a 2YO column still rum.