Oct 312022
 

Rumaniacs Review R-139 | 0946

Captain Morgan was not always the dismissed and derided global rum-killer which has been its lot since it nose-dived into a vat of overspiced and insipid distillate where Diageo put it. But the original spiced-rum recipe — which Samuel Bronfman of Seagram’s bought from the local Jamaican pharmacy of the Levy brothers in 1944 when he had bought the Long Pond Distillery — long predated Diageo’s acquisition. It’s just that Seagram never made it the centrepiece of the brand the way Diageo did. 

For a long time Seagram’s used rums from around the Caribbean to make blends under various brand names (see other notes, below). The Black Label rum looked at here, for example, was a Jamaican rum — we can assume from Long Pond — and there are other now-discontinued variations such as the blend of Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados rums (also under the Black Label brand) made in the early 1980s. In 1984, still owned by Seagram’s, they introduced the “Original Spiced” Captain Morgan rum which soon became enormously popular. So it isn’t all Diageo (or Vivendi, which had merged with Seagram’s a year earlier), and if this Captain Morgan Jamaican rum from the 1970s has been tarted up, well, it’s at least done with a little restraint.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 70º proof / 40% ABV

Nose – Licorice and coke, into which someone dunked a rusty nail (seriously!); ashy and minerally notes which are only partly ameliorated by rather bitter coffee grounds, brown sugar and unsweetened chocolate.  Some dark fruit like prunes, and a touch of citrus-like lemon peel.  There’s even a sense of tomato ketchup on the nose as it opens, but mostly the aromas resemble a low rent Demerara rum than anything else.

Palate – Thin, but nice, to be expected at 40%.  Again, licorice and coca cola, caramel, brown sugar, some molasses. Some coffee grounds and dark fruit.  Rather bland, all in all, buit nice enough, and the slight sweet helps it go down easy.

Finish – Short, light.  Brown sugar, blancmange, anise and light molasses.  If there’s a fruit in there, it’s hiding.

Thoughts – It’s much more “real” than modern Captains, and surprisingly drinkable. There’s more taste, more heft and a lot less clear additions.  For example, I couldn’t sense any vanilla, and the sweetness was borderline, so if had been doctored, it was with a gentle hand and a small spoon rather than a spade.

(78/100)


Other notes

  • Age is unknown.  Standard practice for such cheap rums is to age them for a few years, more than one and less than five, but that’s unsubstantiated in this case.
  • The label is interesting in and of itself. First of all it says that it’s a “product of Jamaica.”  That instantly eliminates Diageo as the producer. Secondly, it’s 70º proof – this indicates a pre-1980s dating of a pre-metric age in the Commonwealth, after which the “% ABV” and not “º proof” became the law for labels. Thirdly, it’s made by an outfit called Captain Morgan Rum Distillers in London (Dacre Street SW1H), which, as far as I can ascertain, was 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. 
  • Distillate — 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.


 

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)

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.”
Jan 102022
 

When we think of Haiti two names in rum immediately spring to mind: clairins and Barbancourt.  This pair of diametrically opposite rum making styles dominate the conversation to such an extent that it is often overlooked that there are other distilleries on the island, like Barik / Moscoso, Agriterra / Himbert, Distillerie de la Rue (Nazon), Distillerie Lacrete, La Distillerie 1716, Beauvoir Leriche and Janel Mendard (among others).  Granted most of these don’t do much branded work, stay within their regional market, or they sell bulk rum only (often clairins or their lookalikes that punch up lesser rums made by even cheaper brands), but they do exist and it’s a shame we don’t know more about them or their rums.

I make this point because the Samaroli 11 year old Haitian rum from 2004 which we are looking at today, doesn’t actually say which distillery in Haiti made it.  Admittedly, this is a pedantic issue, since we can surmise with near-total assurance that it’s a Barbancourt distillate: they supply the majority of European brokers with bulk rum from Haiti while the others mentioned here tend to do local sales or over-the-border business in the Dominican Republic.  But we don’t know for sure and all the ebay sites and auction listings for this rum and other Haitians that Samaroli bottled, do not disclose the source, so we’ll take it as an educated and probably correct guess for now.

What else?  Distilled in 2004 and released in 2015 at 45% ABV, the rum hews closely to the mantra Silvio Samaroli developed all those years ago, which said that at the intersection of medium age and medium strength is a nexus of the best of all possible aromas, textures and tastes, where neither the rawness of youth or the excessive oakiness of age can spoil the bottled distillate, and the price remains reasonable.  Well, maybe, though what’s going on these days price-wise might give anyone pause to wonder whether that still holds true.

The rum does nose nicely, mind you: it starts off with a loud blurt of glue paint and nail polish, warm but not sharp and settles down into an almost elegant and very precise profile.  Soft notes of sugar water, pear syrup, cherries, vanilla and coconut shavings cavort around the nose, offset by a delicate lining of citrus and florals and a subtle hint of deeper fruits, and herbs.

Overall the slightly briny palate is warm, but not obnoxious.  Mostly, it’s relaxed and sweet, with pears, papayas, cucumbers plus maybe a single pimento for a sly kick at the back end.  It’s not too complex – honestly, it’s actually rather shy, which may be another way of saying there’s not much going on here.  But it still beats out a bunch of standard strength Spanish-heritage rons I had on the go that same day.  What distinguishes the taste is its delicate mouthfeel, floral hints and the traces of citrus infused sugar cane sap, all quite nice.  It’s all capped by a short and floral finish, delicate and spicy-sweet, which retains that slight brininess and darker fruits that are hinted at, without any effort to overwhelm.

Formed in 1968 by the eponymous Italian gentleman, the firm made its bones in the 1970s in whiskies,  branched into rums, and has a unicorn rum or two in its portfolio (like that near legendary 1948 blend); it is the distinguished inspiration for, and conceptual ancestor of, many Italian indies who came after…but by 2022 and even perhaps before that, Samaroli slipped in the younger generation’s estimation, lagging behind new and hungry independents like 1423, Rom Deluxe or Nobilis.  These brash insurgents issued cask strength monsters crammed with 80+ points of proof that were aged to three decades, or boosted to unheard ester levels…and the more elegant, easier, civilized rums Samaroli was once known for, no longer command the same cachet.

Now, this quiet Haiti rum is not an undiscovered steal from yesteryear, or a small masterpiece of the indie bottler’s art – I’d be lying if I said that. It’s simply a nice little better-than-entry level sipper, quiet and relaxed and with just enough purring under the hood to not make it boring. But to me it also shows that Samaroli can continue to do their continental ageing thing and come out with something that — while not a brutal slug to the nuts like a clairin, or the sweet elegance of a well-aged Barbancourt or a crank-everything-up-to-”12” rum from an aggressive new indie — still manages to present decently and show off a profile that does the half-island no dishonour. In a time of ever larger bottle-stats (and attendant prices), too often done just for shock value and headlines, perhaps it is worth taking a look at a rum like this once in a while, if only to remind ourselves that there are always alternatives.

(#874)(82/100)


Other Notes

  • It is assumed to be a column-still rhum; the source, whether molasses or sugar cane, is unstated and unknown.
  • 270-bottle outturn
Aug 232021
 

Rumaniacs Review #126 | 0844

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

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

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

Colour – Amber

Age – 5 Year Old Blend

Strength – 43% ABV

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

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

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

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

(77/100)


Other Notes

  • The Tortuga rum is not named after the island, but to commemorate the original name of the Cayman Islands, “Las Tortugas,” meaning “The Turtles.”
  • The company was established in 1984 by two Cayman Airways employees, Robert and Carlene Hamaty, and their first products were two blended rums, Gold and Light. Blending and bottling took place in Barbados according to the label, but this information may be dated as my sample came from a 1990s bottle. The range has now expanded beyond the two original rum types to flavoured and spiced rums, and even some aged ones, which I have never seen for sale and are therefore likely to remain sold only on ships and duty-frees. In 2011 a Jamaican conglomerate acquired a majority stake in Tortuga’s parent company, which, aside from making rums, also created a thriving business in rum cakes and flavoured specialty foods.
Jun 282021
 

 

In 2015, Moon Imports, one of the well known if somewhat second-tier Italian independent bottlers which was founded in 1980, released a new collection of rums called “Remember”, which at the time comprised of four rums – one each from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana.  With the exception of the agricole makers, Cuba and St. Lucia, then, the initial line represented the big guns of the Caribbean rum world. What exactly was to be “remembered” was another matter, mind you, since the rums were too recent and relatively young to commemorate anything or represent any kind of old tradition.  But it was evocative, no question, and the aura was and remains enhanced by the lovely artwork and design ethos, which company legend has it was inspired by drawings from an old 18th century German encyclopaedia, as redone by a contemporary artist Nadia Pini.

Moon Imports makes a thing on its website about sourcing its barrels in the Caribbean, but we must take that with a pinch of salt since wherever they were found, they were subsequently aged in Scotland and then released — so whatever their original tropical nature might have been, they would fail the Gargano test of (in situ) authenticity.  That doesn’t particularly bother me, since as I’ve mentioned before, there are enough continentally aged rums out there that compete handily with tropically aged ones. 

What does bother me is why Moon Imports bothered with the wimpy 45% ABV — as they have with almost all rums they have produced —  and why the information on the label of this first edition was so scanty. I mean, it was sweetly designed, but to say it was distilled in Jamaica (wherever on the island that might have been), on a patent still (another term for a continuous column still) and then go right ahead and exclude whether it was single barrel or blend, distilled in what year, aged how long, can only lead to annoyance frustration…and this might be why to this day the rum still sells (primarily on whisky sites) for under a hundred bucks. If I couldn’t tell the provenance or the age of a rum from a respected casa like Moon, I would probably pass on it too.

So we know it’s a 45% Jamaican rum bottled by Moon Import in 2015 after ageing in Scotland, and yet we’re clueless as to age, exact still-type, estate/marque, distillation date, single cask or blend, or outturn. Wonderful.

Let’s see if solace is to be found at the bottom of the glass: there may be redemption in hiding.  Nose first – not bad.  There’s a fair amount going on here – tobacco, glue, fresh sawdust, furniture polish and linseed oil (the sort you used to oil your cricket bat with, back when you thought you were the next Sobers). There’s some brine and olives and gherkins in vinegar there, gentling down to a smorgasbord of tart yellow fruit…mangoes, ginnips, pineapples, red grapefruit, that kind of thing, channeling something of a good dry white wine, though ultimately somewhat uneventful.  New Jamaicans may have spoiled our noses for this kind of subtler aroma.

Once tasted it’s clear to see it is a real Jamaican, because a certain funk comes quickly to the fore: thick fruity tastes of pineapple, strawberries, bubble gum, rotting oranges and gooseberries, bananas beginning to go.  An interesting amalgam of sharper light fruits and cream cheese and salted butter on a very yeasty bread.  It’s decent enough, just a touch unbalanced and not particularly earthshaking and the finish closes things off with a snap of light lemony crispness, a touch of tart funk, though it is a bit dry and rough and doesn’t last long enough.

It’s a completely decent-tasting, competently-made rum, this, even if you don’t know much about it. The truth is, I really don’t care what it is — I’ve had better, I’ve had stronger, I’ve had tastier, and a week from now I’d be hard put to recall anything particularly special about this one aside from the fact that it was a ‘good ‘nuff Jamaican made by Moon.’ That’s both a recommendation and an indictment, and I’m surprised that an independent bottler dating back forty years would release something so indifferently for us to try. Especially with a name like “Remember”, which it certainly doesn’t rate high enough to deserve.

(#832)(82/100)


Opinion

The rum is a good reminder that proud indie houses don’t always move with the times or understand the desires of consumers, and that you could say a whole lot of something but end up communicating nothing…and that ultimately, it’s the rum under the label and inside the bottle that matters, and not all such rums are good just because Sylvano’s disciple selected them.

Points aren’t deducted for a lack of informational provision – the rum is scored honestly based on how it sampled – but I really must confess to my irritation at not being entirely sure what it was I was scoring. Even if made six years ago, this should not be something I still have to complain about. I particularly dislike that the company’s website doesn’t see the need to provide any background on the rums it has released. It’s not an ancient maison dating back centuries, it was formed in my lifetime, it should have its damned records straight so we can tell what it was we’re buying.

Jun 082021
 

The Stroh 160 is the North American version of the famed Austrian 80º punch in the face.  In Austria, where it was first made in 1832 by Sebastian Stroh when he came up with the “secret combo of herbs and spices” (sound familiar?), it remains a cultural institution and has actually got some form of a protected designation there. In Europe it is seen as a bartender’s mix for ski resorts because of its use in the hunter’s punch, or Jagertee, while in the US its use centers around cocktails like Polynesian- or tropical- themed drinks that require an overproof rum — that said, my own feeling is that in the last decade it has likely seen a falling popularity in such uses, since powerful high-ABV rums from Guyana and Jamaica have become more common and accessible (my opinion only). 

That it is strong and an overproof is never seriously in doubt, because even a gentle sniff provides all the redemptive power of a sledgehammer to the kneecap, and all the attendant subtlety of the follow-up question that encourages you to spill the beans. This subtlety (in rum terms) is mostly composed of vanilla ice cream and some breakfast spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice. It does present a few additional notes of light citrus, sour yoghurt, perhaps ginger.  But all that doesn’t really matter – the force of the ABV and the omnipresence of vanilla just flatten everything else, so maybe it’s just my overactive imagination kicked into overdrive by the heat and the intricate contortions of my burnt-out nasal passages that provide the notes.

Strictly speaking, no sane person of common sense drinks an overproof like this neat, since the punch bowl or cocktail is where it is destined anyway, but your fearless and witless reviewer has never been known for either, so here goes. To taste, it’s a raging maelstrom of not-much-in-particular. Again, the vanilla, no getting away from that; some salt, crushed almonds, butterscotch, caramel and cinnamon. A whiff of lemon zest zooms past. There’s really not much else here, and overall, it tastes quite straightforward — a spiced rum boosted with C4. The finish, however, is epic. It lasts forever, and clearly the makers were inspired by Stroheim, because you could walk into “Greed,” take a sip of this stuff from your hip flask, and still be belching out vanilla fumes at the end. 

Stroh has, since about 2016 or so — certainly since my original review in late 2012 when I named it a spirit — ceased using neutral alcohol (some references suggest grain alcohol, others beets) to form the base of its flagship product and begun to use alcohol distilled from molasses. This is what allows it to use the word “rum” on the label now.  However, since this bottle hails from North America and dates back to 2017, what might not pass muster in Europe could possibly find fewer obstacles out west, since the TTB has never been known for either understanding or rigorous enforcement of logic in allowing rum labels through its gate.

I’m okay with calling it a rum, as long as the molasses origin is true. In any event, I’ve always taken the position that such casual castoffs from all the major spirits categories deserve a resting place, the poor bairns, and so I gather them into the fold.

Even with the spices, It qualifies as a rum tasting drink…sort of. Scoring it, I was surprised to see I came up with pretty much the same points as eight years ago. Can’t really do otherwise, mind: it has rummy notes, the spiced flavours are reasonably well integrated, it tastes decent enough once it calms down and you find your voice; and on a cold night this thing would warm you up faster than your significant other could dream of. The Stroh is not a complete failure by any means, just a very strong, polarizing one that some people will like and others won’t. I kind of don’t, but almost do, and maybe that’s just me.

(#827)(74/100)


Other Notes

  • It is unknown where the molasses originates, or where the distillation takes place.  Since early records state that Stroh had a distillery in Klagenfurt, it’s possible they buy the molasses and do it themselves.
  • Ageing of any kind is also unknown. My money is on “rested, not aged.” No proof, though, so if anyone knows something concrete, leave a comment.

Other Notes – Background on Inländer rums and Stroh

Stroh may have great name recognition, but in modern rum circles there’s always been that air of slightly seedy disreputability about it, in spite of how long it’s been around. Few have actually written anything about the stuff, and even the Old Guard early online writers like Tatu Kaarlas, Dave Russell, El Machete, Matt Robold, Josh Miller, Scotte, Rumpundit and Chip Dykstra never got around to penning a review. And on reddit there isn’t a whole lot beyond people’s traumatized recollections or timid inquiries, as if nervous the rum might hear.

So what is Stroh, exactly, and who makes it?

The company and its eponymous product is an Austrian spiced / flavoured spirit that is one of the last surviving remnants of the European spiced and inländer (domestic) “rums” from the mid 1800s, that were sometimes known as rum vershnitt. The two types of rums are now clearly separate, however with modern Austrian/EU rules defining what a “Domestic” rum can be. Back in the day, the distinction seems to have been much more fluid and even interchangeable.

The category varied: some were cheap base rums or neutral spirits which were then boosted with high ester Jamaican rums for kick and character; others, like Stroh, added herbs and spices and flavourings and called it a recipe, a proprietary formula. The large colonial nations like Britain and France and Spain, with secure sources of molasses and rums of their own, saw no reason to go down this road, which is why Stroh and its cousins remains a peculiarity of Central Europe in general, and Germany and Austria specifically (Flensburg in north Germany was particularly famed for this kind of “rum” and had several large and well known companies which made them). Inländer rums were extremely popular in the pre-WW2 years, and one can still find their descendants (Tuzemak, Badel Domaci, Casino 50 and Croatian Maraska Room); I believe that Rhum Fantasias from 1950s and 1960s Italy were an offshoot of the practice, though these are now artifacts and no longer made in quantity, if at all.

As noted, Stroh was formed in 1832 in southern Austria and eventually located itself in Klagenfurt, the main town of the region. Its recipe proved very popular and for the next century and a half it continued under the direction of the family members.  Various changes in design and presentation and bottle shapes were introduced over the decades, and different strengths were sold (at this time there are five variants – Stroh 38, Stroh 40, Stroh 54, Stroh 60 and Stroh 80 – these numbers represent ABV, not US proof). The company grew steadily up to the 1980s and expanded its sales internationally, and eventually sold itself to the Eckes Group in the mid-1990s.  Eckes was an oils, tartar and spirits production company founded in 1857, and went into fruit juices in the 1920s as well, and after German unification the company re-oriented itself so decisively with fruit juices that is divested itself of the spirits portion of the business, which allowed the CEO, Harold Burstein to initiate a management buyout of Stroh and reorganize it. That’s where things are now. 


 

Apr 262021
 

Isla del Ron is one of the smaller independent rum labels out of Europe, such as have sprung up with greater frequency over the last decade. It’s a division of its parent company Unique Liquids, founded around 2009, and located in north central Germany, between Dortmund and Hanover. To add to the complexity, it owns the related company Malts of Scotland – not entirely a surprise, since Thomas Ewers, the founder, likes his whisky perhaps more than rum. Since 2012, the company has produced about 22 various single barrel rums from all the usual suspects around the Caribbean and Central America.

The rhum we’re looking at today is a peculiar specimen: a single cask release of 169 bottles at 52.6%….but where from? Consider the label, which says “South Pacific”. Can you honestly make sense of that, given that even the geographically challenged are aware (we can hope) that Guadeloupe isn’t an island in the Pacific? Alex over at Master Quill explains what’s happening here: Ewers bought a cask marked “South Pacific”, but which had been mislabelled, and was actually from Bellevue…though it’s unclear how he came to that conclusion. Assuming he’s right, that sounds simple enough except…which one?  Because there are two Bellevues, one on the small island of Marie-Galante, the other on Guadeloupe (Grand Terre) itself, Damoiseau’s Bellevue at le Moule (That Boutique-y Rum Company made a similar mistake on the label of its Bellevue rhum a couple of years ago).

But it seems to be an unknown: Thomas felt it was from Marie-Galante, and Alex wasn’t so sure, given the variety of 1998 distillate marked Guadeloupe that other indies have released in the past, but which was from Damoiseau’s Bellevue on G-T, not Bellevue on M-G. What this means is that we don’t actually know whether it’s a cane juice rhum or a molasses rum (Damoiseau has a long history of working with both), or for sure which distillery produced it.

But let’s see if the tasting helps us figure things out, because the fact is that the Isla del Ron Guadeloupe is actually a quiet kind of delicious (with certain caveats, which I’ll get to later). The nose, for example, is a warm and soft caramel ice cream pillow with a bunch of contrasting fruity notes (grapes, pomegranates, kiwi fruit) lending it some edge.  Bags of toffee, bonbons, flowers and a flirt of licorice waft around the glass, set off with oversweet strawberry bubble gum and (peculiarly) some a creamy feta cheese minus the salt. Throughout it remains a pleasant sniff, with some citrus and tannic notes bringing up the rear.

The nose doesn’t help narrow down the origin (though I have my suspicions), and the palate doesn’t either – but it is nice. It remains light, slightly briny, and just tart enough to be crisp. It has moments of sprightliness and sparkling freshness, tasting of red grapefruit, grapes, sprite, orange zest and herbs (rosemary and dill) – but also presents a contrasting whiff of sharper and slightly bitter oaky aspects, cinnamon, licorice, molasses, with back-end nougat and coconut shavings allowing it to smoothen out somewhat…if not completely successfully, in my view. I do like the finish, which is medium long, medium warm, and quite tasty: closing notes of citrus peel, caramel, pencil shavings and some raisins, plus a few delicate flowers.

Personally, my opinion on its source tends more towards Damoiseau, what with that distillery releasing rather more bulk rum to brokers than Bellevue, which is smaller and has more of a local market; and the molasses and vanilla and caramel notes point in that direction also. To be honest, though, I thought that the rum’s overall profile fell somewhere in between the crispness of the Bielle 2001 14 YO and a Cuban like Cadenhead’s ADC Spiritu Sancti 1998 14 YO. That’s not a major issue though, because as with most such situations, it’s all about whether it works as a rum or not, and if so, how good it is.  

On that basis, I’d say that yes, overall it’s a solid Guadeloupe rhum…just one without real originality. It lacks distinctiveness, and carves out no new territory of its own.  It’s a lovely tasting rhum, yes, but unfortunately, also not one you’d be able to remember clearly next week. In that sense, it’s like many bally-hooed and overhyped rums we keep hearing about every day on social media, but which then drop out of sight forever without ever having stirred the emotions of us drinkers in any serious way. And that’s a bit of a shame, really, for a rum that is otherwise quite good.

(#815)(86/100)

Feb 152021
 

Remember Lost Spirits? No? This was the company that made rumbles a few years ago, by using a proprietary “flash ageing” process developed by its founder, Bryan Davis, to promote “super fast ageing”. In theory, the chemical reactor Davis built would create a spirit that would taste like a twenty year old mature product, when in fact only a week old. Most sniffed condescendingly, made remarks about charlatans and snake oil sellers, sneered about how it had been tried and failed many times throughout history (usually to con the unwary and fleece the innocent) and walked away…but I was intrigued enough to buy their three initial attempts. Those were not all that hot, although I heard subsequent editions with tweaked settings produced better results.  But the hoopla faded and I heard little more about it and I was not interested enough to follow it up (an article was posted in the NYT in February 11th this year that spoke about the efforts of several companies to currently pursue this Holy Grail.)

That didn’t stop Lost Spirits from hitting the bricks to try and jack up some interest via licensing, and Rational Spirits out of South Carolina teamed up with Mr. Davis, who has continuing to tinker with the technology. In 2017 they released a Cuban Inspired rum, the second generation after Lost Spirits’ own, at a breathtaking 70.5% ABV – its stated purpose was to replicate pre-Revolutionary pot still Cuban rum profiles, and use that as a springboard to do similar magic with many near-dead or all-but extinct rums (like Appleton’s legendary 17 Year Old, perhaps). Weeellll…okay.  Let’s see what we have here, then.

First of all, the actual origin spirit of the rum is somewhat murky.  Master of Malt, Distiller.com and Andrew Abrahams all mention the pot still business, but it’s nowhere stated where that came from or who distilled it; there’s loads of this in the marketing materials which all online stores quote, and they helpfully also include Grade “A” molasses base and charred cask ageing, but hardly inspire my confidence. Since Rational is now out of business and its website leads to a gambling site, not a lot of help to be gotten there. Moreover, the “Cuban style” even in pre-1960 times was considered a light distillate made on column stills (for the most part) so there’s some issues there — would anyone even recognize what came out the other end?

So let’s try it and see. Nose is, let me state right out, great. Sure, it’s rather rough and ready, spurring and booting around, but nicely rich and deep with initial aromas of butterscotch, caramel, brine, molasses.  A nice dry and dusty old cardboard smell is exuded, and then a whiff of rotten fruits – and, as the Jamaicans have taught us, this is not necessarily a bad thing – to which is gradually added a fruity tinned cherry syrup, coconut shavings and vanilla. A few prunes and ripe peaches. Hints of glue, brine, humus and olive oil. It smells both musky and sweet, with anise popping in and out like a jack in the box. Glue, brine, humus and olive oil. So all in all, a lot going on in there, all nicely handled.

It starts, however, to falter when tasted, and that’s in spite of that very powerful proof. The caramel, chocolate, toffee, vanilla and butterscotch carries over. To that is added some aromatic tobacco, rather dry, plus polished well-cured leather. A drop or two of water releases additional notes of citrus and deeper molasses (perhaps a bit too much of the latter, methinks). Aside from faint dark dried fruit, most of what I taste is the non-sweet kind – dates, figs, olives. Very little sweet here, more of spices and leather. The finish is simple enough – it’s long though, and quite hot and spicy (“brutal” remarked Paul Senft, in his review) – mostly vanilla, a bit of fruit, caramel and molasses, plus one last filip of anise.

So, it started really well, and then just lay down, heaved a sigh, farted and then expired, but fatally, it never really enthused me.  It felt more like any reasonably decent low-brow young wannabe rum — made honestly, but less like a Cuban than the bastard offspring of a rather uncouth lightly-aged Versailles hooch and a low-grade but high-proofed Hampden. The nose was fantastic, by the way, which raised hopes, but then all that goodwill drained away, because sipping and tasting invited confusion, leading to outright disappointment.  

In fine, my opinion was that running it through this “flash-ageing” process neither helped nor hindered, because who could tell what the fermentation, charred barrels and the origin-still imparted, versus the tech? And the Cuban-inspired part? Not hardly. Best to ignore that aspect for now and drop the expectation down the toilet, because it’s nothing of the kind.  Take your time nosing it and enjoy that part of the experience to the fullest, because after that, there’s not much of interest going on or heading your way, except a really speedy drunk.

(#802)(79/100)


Other Notes

  • The Wonk has probably written the most about Lost Spirits, here’s a tag for all his articles on the subject. They express no opinion on the technology, but just report on the story up to around 2018.
  • Originally, I scored it 81 as a rum, but ended up by subtracting a couple of points for not making anything remotely resembling a Cuban.  This is an interesting point to think about, when considering a reviewer’s score – it’s not all and always about intrinsic quality excluding all other factors, but also about the expectations he walked in with. I try not to let such secondary issues affect my judgement but in some cases it’s unavoidable, such as here. The re-creation of an old Cuban mark is so much a part of the mythos of this rum it cannot be disentangled from the critique.
  • The whole business about superfast ageing led me down some interesting thought-lines and rabbit holes.  I expanded upon them in an opinion piece separate from this review a few days later.
Feb 082021
 

Rumaniacs Review #123 | #800

Here is a rum that defies easy tracing.  It predates us all, and almost everything about it remains educated conjecture and guesswork — even the name, assuming it has one.  It was bought by the German firm of Gerb. Hoff Weinkeller in 1941 from Wilhelm Roggemann in Hamburg (essentially that’s what the typewritten text on the label says – WR were wine and spirits merchants, no longer extant); Rene van Hoven, in whose collection the bottle currently sits gathering yet more dust, told me that all the research he had done on tax stamps, invoices, bills of sale and assorted other paper chases, suggested it had been bottled in the pre-WW2 years at least a decade earlier. I’ll take that on faith until I can find out different.

Also, it supposedly came from Jamaica, was bottled in a Burgundy wine bottle and rated 60% ABV.  I was told that no, it is not a verschnitt – that is, a neutral alcohol to which a high-ester Jamaican rum was added for kick, as was the practice in Germany and Eastern Europe back then. At that strength it might have equally been an “original overseas pure rum” (as the label claims)…or not. Don’t ask which distillery made it and inquiring after the age is pointless. Sorry, but sometimes, that’s all we have, and we take what we can get.

Colour – Dull amber

Strength – Supposedly 60% ABV per the label

Nose – Rubber and plasticine, dusty books. In fact it reminds me of an ancient second hand or antique bookstore where the aroma of glue from the bindings, and the delicate disintegrating yellow pages of unread tomes, pervades the whole place. Lots of fruits break in after some minutes – strawberries, bubble gum, fanta, oranges, overripe peaches, and also honey, molasses and a rich lemon meringue pie. It felt hot and heavy but somehow managed to avoid real raw ethanol sharpness, for which one can only be grateful

Palate – Hot, spicy, creamy, lots of stuff going on here.  Like the amazing Harewood House rum from a century and a half earlier, the taste is extraordinarily vibrant.  Molasses, damp brown sugar, soursop and unsweetened yoghurt, orange peel, sweet soya sauce.  And fruits, lots of fruits – yellow sweet mangoes, kiwi, pomegranates, peaches, yummy.  Did I mention a dusting of cinnamon and cumin?

Finish – Medium long, quite aromatic. Gets a bit rougher here, but the fruits and spices noted above see this thing out in fine style. An additional light layer of coconut and lemon zest in there, perhaps.

Thoughts – “It’s very alive,” remarked Rene to me, and I could not but agree.  The storage had evidently been impeccable, because that same week I’d tried another 1930s rum (from Martinique) of which less care had been taken, and it had been a complete disaster. This rum is not so much a Jamaican — I would not pretend to you that it screamed the island’s name as I tried it — as simply a very good, very sprightly rum that managed to stay awake and not fall flat.  And it demonstrated that even back then in the rum dark ages, perhaps it wasn’t really all that dark, and they were making some pretty good juice then too. Wish I knew more about it.

(84/100)


Other Notes

  • If you’re ever at a rumfest where Rene Van Hoven is hanging his hat, I strongly recommend you go pay his booth a visit.  The man has some very old rums from way back when, that are just fascinating to try; and his background research is usually spot on. Check out the website, and his instagram page.
Jan 142021
 

Ahh, that magical number of 23, so beloved of rum drinking lovers of sweet, so despised by those who only go for the “pure”.  Is there any pair of digits more guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of those who want to make an example of Rum Gone Wrong? Surely, after the decades of crap Zacapa kept and keeps getting, no promoter or brand owner worth their salt would suggest using it on a label for their own product?

Alas, such is not the case.  Although existing in the shadow of its much-more-famous Guatemalan cousin, Ron Presidente is supposedly made the same way, via a solera method of blending about which not enough is disclosed, so I don’t really buy into (too often what is claimed as a solera is just a complex blend). Oliver & Oliver, a blending company operating in the Dominican Republic, was revived in 1994 by the grandson of the original founder Oliver Juanillo who had fled Cuba in 1959.  It is a company whose webpage you have to peruse with some care: it’s very slick and glossy, but it’s not until you really think about it that you realize they never actually mention a distillery, a specific type of still, source of distillate, or any kind of production technique (the words “traditional pot-still method” are useful only to illustrate the need for a word like cumberworld).

That’s probably because O&O isn’t an outfit formed around a distillery of its own (in spite of the header on Flaviar’s mini bio that implies they are), but is a second-party producer – they take rum from elsewhere and do additional work on it.  Where is “elsewhere?”  It is never mentioned though it’s most likely one of the three B’s (Bermudez, Barcelo, Brugal) who have more well known and legitimate operations on the island, plus perhaps further afield as the back label implies..

Well fine, they can do that and you can read my opinion on the matter below, but for the moment, does it stand up to other rums, or even compare to the well-loved and much-derided Zacapa?

I’d suggest not. It is, in a word, simple.  It has an opening nose of caramel, toffee and nougat, hinting at molasses origins and oak ageing.  Some raisins and prunes and easy fruit that aren’t tart or overly sweet.  Plus some molasses, ripe papaya, and strewed apples and maple syrup. And that syrup really gets big in a hurry, blotting out everything in its path, so you get fruits, sweet, and little depth of any kind, just a sulky kind of heaviness that I recall from El Dorado’s 25 Year Old Rums…and all this from a 40% rum.

It gets no better when tasted.  It’s very darkly sweet, liqueur-like, giving up flavours of prunes and stewed apples (again); dates; peaches in syrup, yes, more syrup, vanilla and a touch of cocoa.  Honey, Cointreau, and both cloying and wispy at the same time, with a last gasp of caramel and toffee.  The finish is thankfully short, sweet, thin, faint, nothing new except maybe some creme brulee. It’s a rum that, in spite of its big number and heroic Jose Marti visage screams neither quality or complexity.  Mostly it yawns “boring!” 

Overall, the sense of being tamped down, of being smothered, is evident here, and I know that both Master Quill (in 2016) and Serge Valentin (in 2014) felt it had been sweetened (I agree). Oliver & Oliver makes much of the 200+ awards its rums have gotten over the years, but the real takeaway from the list is how few there are from more recent times when more exacting, if unofficial, standards were adopted by the judges who adjudicate such matters. 

It’s hard to be neutral about rums like this. Years ago, Dave Russell advised me not to be such a hardass on rums which I might perhaps not care for, but which are popular and well loved and enjoyed by those for whom it is meant, especially those in its country of origin — for the most part, I do try to adhere to his advice.  But at some point I have to simply dig in my heels and say to consumers that this is what I think, what I feel, this is my opinion on the rums you might like. And whatever others with differing tastes from mine might think or enjoy (and all power to them – it’s their money, their palate, their choice), this rum really isn’t for me.

(#794)(74/100)


Other Notes

  • The rum is named “Presidente”. Which Presidente is hard to say since the picture on the label is of Jose Marti, a leading 19th century Cuban man of letters and a national hero of that country.  Maybe it’s a word to denote excellence or something, the top of the heap. Ummm….okay.
  • On the back label it says it comes from a blend of Caribbean and Central American rums (but not which or in what proportions or what ages these were). Not very helpful.
  • Alex Van der Veer, thanks for the sample….

Opinion

I’ve remarked on the business of trust for rum-making companies before, and that a lot of the compact between consumer and creator comes from the honest, reasonably complete provision of information…not its lack.

I make no moral judgements on Oliver & Oliver’s production strategy, and I don’t deny them the right to indulge in the commercial practice of outsourcing the distillate — I simply do not understand why it’s so difficult to disclose more about the sources, and what O&O do with the rums afterwards.  What harm is there in this? In fact, I think it does such non-primary brand-makers a solid positive, because it shows they are doing their best to be open about what they are making, and how…and this raises trust. As I have written before (in the reviews of the Malecon 1979, Mombacho 1989, Don Papa Rare Cask and Dictador Best of 1977) when relevant info is left out as a deliberate marketing practice and conscious management choice, it casts doubt on everything else the company makes, to the point where nothing is believed.

Here we get no info on the source distillate (which is suggested to be cane juice, in some references, but of course is nowhere confirmed).  Nothing on the companies providing the distillate. Nothing on the stills that made it (the “pot stills” business can be disregarded). We don’t even get the faux age-statement fig-leag “6-23” of Zacapa.  We do get the word solera though, but by now, who would even believe that, or give a rodent’s derriere? The less that is given, the more people’s feeling of being duped comes into play and I really want to know who in O&O believes that such obfuscations and consequences redound to their brand’s benefit. Whoever it is should wake up and realize that that might have been okay ten years ago, but it sure isn’t now, and do us all a solid by resigning immediately thereafter.

Jan 112021
 

The rum starts slowly.  I don’t get much at the inception. Bananas, ripe; pineapples, oversweet; papayas, dark cherries, nice….and a touch of beetroot, odd. Not my thing, this rather thin series of tastes — it develops too lethargically, is too dim, lacks punch. I wait ten minutes more to make sure I’m not overreacting…perhaps there’s more? Well, yes and no. These aromas fade somewhat, to be replaced by something sprightly and sparkling – fanta, sprite, red grapefruit, lemon zest – but overall the integration is poor, and doesn’t meld well and remains too lazily easygoing, like some kind of clever class wiseass who couldn’t be bothered.

Palate is good, I like that, though perhaps a few extra points of strength would have been in order (my opinion – your own mileage will vary).  Still, it’s tasty – vanilla, green peas, pears, cucumbers, watermelon, sapodilla and kiwi fruits, grapes.  Low key, almost delicate, but well assembled, tasting nice and clean, a sipper’s delight for those who like reasonably complex faux-agricoles that are light and crisp and not dour, heavy brontosaurii of flavour that batten the glottis flat. The finish wraps things up with a flourish, and if short, it at least displays a lightly sweet and fruity melange that describes the overall profile well. 

The distillery of origin of this Moon Imports’ 1998 Guadeloupe rum (from their “Moon Collection”) is something of a mystery, since the “GMP” in the title does not fit any descriptor with which I am familiar. It could possibly be Gardel, which Renegade quoted as a source with their 11 YO 1998 rum, also released at 46%…but Gardel supposedly shut down in 1992, and afterwards Damoiseau / Bellevue was said to have used the name for some limited 1998 releases.  But it remains unclear and unproven, and so for the moment we have to leave that as an unresolved issue, which I’ll update when better info comes in.

(Photo taken from eBay; note that many Bellevue releases from Moon Import have almost exactly the same design)

Slightly more is known about Moon Import, the Italian company from Genoa that released it. Its origins dating back to 1980 when an entrepreneur named Pepi Mongiardino founded the company: he had worked for Pernod, Ballantine’s and Milton Duff in the 1970s, tasting and testing high end single malts. When that business took a downturn, he took some opportune advice from Sylvano Samaroli on how to set up a business of his own, and used a reference book to check which whiskies were not yet imported to Italy.  He cold-called those, leading to his landing the contract to import Bruichladdich. Initial focus was (unsurprisingly) whiskies — however it soon branched out from there into many other spirits, including rum, which came on the scene around 1990, and it followed the tried and true path of the independent bottler, sourcing barrels from brokers (like Scheer) and ageing them in Scotland. Label design was often done by Pepi himself, popularizing the concept of consistent individual designs for “ranges” that others subsequently latched on to, and from the beginning he eschewed 40% ABV in favour of something higher, though he avoided the full proof cask strength rum-strength model Velier later made widespread.

That all out of the way, the core statistics of this rum are that it was column distilled in 1998 (but not in or by Gardel); probably from molasses as the word agricole is nowhere mentioned and Guadeloupe does use that source material in the off-season; aged in Scotland for twelve years and released in 2010, at a comfortable strength of 46% ABV. Like Samaroli and Mark Reynier at the old Renegade outfit, Mongiardino feels this strength preserves the suppleness of the spirit and the development of a middling age profile, while balancing it off against excessive fierceness when drunk.

By the standards of its time and his philosophy, I’d say he was spot on.  That does not, however, make it a complete success in this time, or acceptable for all current palates, which seem to prefer something more aggressive, stronger, something more distinct, in order to garner huge accolades and higher scores. It’s a rum that opens slowly, easily — even lazily — and gives the impression of being “nothing in particular” at the inception.  It develops well, but never really coalesces into a complete package where everything works.  That makes it a rum I can enjoy sipping (up to a point), and is a good mid-range indie I just can’t endorse completely.

(#793)(84/100)


Other notes

  • Thanks again to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample. The guy always has a few tucked in his bag for me to try when we get together at some rumfest or other. Remind me to bug him for a picture of the bottle.
  • 360 bottle outturn
Dec 282020
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) has always had a peculiar turn when it comes to labels and tasting notes. The original bottlings didn’t always have permission to use the distillery names on the bottlings — at the time, blends were big, and distilleries did not always want their names to be associated with some off-the-wall, left-field bottle from a strange outfit, when this might shed a poor light on what they were more famed for…the consistency of their blends. This led the SMWS to the use of numerical identifiers for their outturns, and a whimsically titled name that had no relation to reality, really (almost every reviewer makes some reference to how they ignore those names, or don’t understand them).

What that does, though, is force the buyer / drinker / reviewer to actually pay attention to the product and discard preconceived notions at the door. Most will deny this to the heavens, but I firmly believe that few can divorce their expectations of a rum based on the label it sports, from the experience they expect to have, and then actually have. Which makes sense: if you see “Port Mourant” on a label, you expect to drink one, not some weird agricole or a Spanish style ron and your mind will bend that way. SMWS takes away this crutch – not completely, because by now everyone knows what the numbers mean – but enough so that the rums stands or falls upon your relatively clean experience.

So we walk into this rum, knowing only it’s from Panama. We don’t know if its from PILSA / Las Cabras or Don Jose / Varela Hermanos, the two main distilleries (my research suggests the latter); it has a 62% strength and 12 years of ageing in refill ex-bourbon barrels that resulted in 243 bottles. And that’s it.

But what these bare-bones notes don’t tell you is how impressive the dram actually is.  You’d think an industrial column still mass-produced swill can’t aspire to something greater than its origins, yet here it tries hard, it really does. The initial column-still blandness it starts out with is rescued by good barrel activity and some serious cask strength. Notes of coconut, caramel, some boot polish, licorice waft up from the glass, some blancmange, bon bons, chocolate mints and there’s even the hint of an old, well-loved and much-abused leather sofa.  After resting, it opens up to some nice truffles and chocolate notes, vanilla and florals, pineapples, oranges.  Pretty good for a region that has much fallen from favour in the last years as the New Jamaicans, Bajans and other distilling regions forge ahead.

In spite of the high ABV, which lends a fair amount of initial sharpness and heat to the tongue until it burns away and settles down, it’s actually not that fierce. It becomes almost delicate, and there’s a nice vein of fruity sweetness running through, which enhances the flavours of apples, cider, green grapes, citrus, coconut, vanilla, and candied oranges. There’s also some of that polish and acetone remaining, neatly dampened by caramel and brown sugar, all balancing off well against each other. It retains that delicacy to the finish line and stays well behaved: a touch sweet throughout, with caramel (a bit much), vanilla, fruits, grapes, raisins, citrus, blancmange…not bad at all.

I’ve been indifferent to Panamanian rums of late.  My initial enjoyment of their rums from the first years of this site’s reviews — of the Rum Nation 18 and 21 year old rums, the Abuelos (especially the Centuria) and the Panamonte XXV, none of which I would now score as high as I did back then — have given way to a more critical and rather impatient judgement as I see them treading no new ground, not issuing anything particularly interesting and staying with the same old song. These days I don’t buy many and the way Las Cabras has become a distiller-for-hire for small time brands who don’t themselves produce anything ground-shaking or innovative has done little to change that opinion.

Yet somehow the SMWS seems to have bucked the trend of milquetoast anonymous blends produced by the tankerload by equally anonymous brands and third parties. This 12 year old rum strikes me as a midpoint between the soft voluptuous sweetness of the Abuelo Centuria and the rather sterner and more focused AD Rattray, and is really a fine rum for anyone to try. Unless the great Panamanian distilleries up their game and go in different directions it’s unlikely they will every recover my unbridled affection from the early years – but this one gives me hope that the potential for good rums remains.  Even if it’s only in the occasional single barrel, ferreted out by some enterprising indie in Europe. We can hope, I guess.

(#789)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun didn’t dislike it, but wasn’t entirely blown away either and awarded it 78 points. Simon, over at TheRumShopBoy was more enthusiastic, to the tune of 88.
  • As usual, the name is a challenge.  Paddington is a bear beloved of British childrens’ books dating back from the 1950s, but his origin was clearly stated to be Peru, not Panama (though neither, as far as I know, have bears of any kind). So how the SMWS got from that to this is anyone’s guess…perhaps it’s his love of marmalade sandwiches, as Simon slyly pointed out.
Nov 262020
 

The Naga double-cask aged rum is part of the company’s standard lineup without any fancy whistles and bells, and when you nose it, you get a sensory impression both hauntingly familiar and obscurely strange. Even dialled-down and wispy as it is, it reminds one of chocolate, very ripe dark cherries, Fanta, sweet caramel, bonbons, and delicate perfumed flowers; and it’s the extras beneath all that which add piquancy and puzzlement: white pepper, a foamy Guinness stout, and a gamey, meaty smell which is fortunately quite faint. 

The rum, bottled at 40%, exists outside the comforting confines of the Caribbean and gently charts its own course, which may account for its subtle oddity.  Part of that is how it’s made: from molasses, yes, but fermented using yeast made from malted Javanese red rice. And while the rum is a blend of both pot and column still distillates made in all the usual ways, it is aged for a period in casks made from type of teak called jatti, and the remainder in bourbon casks – but alas, at this point I don’t know how much ageing in either or in total.

This process provides a tasting profile that reminds me of nothing so much than a slightly addled wooden still-rum from El Dorado: it’s sweet, feels the slightest bit sticky, and has strong notes of dark fruits, red licorice, plums, raisins and an almond chocolate bar gone soft in the heat. There’s other stuff in there as well – some caramel, vanilla, pepper again, light orange peel, but overall the whole thing is not particularly complex, and it ambles easily towards a short and gentle finish of no particular distinction that pretty much displays some dark fruit, caramel, anise and molasses, and that’s about it.

Naga is a rum company from Indonesia that was formed around 2016 by (you guessed it) another one of those roving French spirits-loving entrepreneurs, and from the lack of distillation facilities on its FB page, the constant switching around of labels and names for its rums on its website, I think it probably works a bit like Rhum Island, sourcing its distillate from another company, and adjusts swiftly to the market to tweak blends and titles to be more attractive to customers.  I have queries outstanding to them about their production details and historical background so there’s not much to go on right now, and this rum may already be called something else, since it is not on their web listing.

So, until we know more, focus on the rum itself.  It’s quiet and gentle and some cask strength lovers might say – not without justification – that it’s insipid. It has some good tastes, simple but okay, and hews to a profile with which we’re not entirely unfamiliar. It has a few off notes and a peculiar substrate of something different, which is a good thing.  So in the end, recognizably a product you know, recognizably a rum, but…not entirely. That doesn’t make it bad, just its own drink. “It’s a rum,” you write in your notebook, and then words run out; so you try some more to help yourself out, and you’ll likely still be searching for words to describe it properly by the time you realize with some surprise that the glass is empty. It’s weird how that happens. 

(#780)(77/100)


Other notes

  • The rum has its antecedents in arrack, a proto-rum from Indonesia where it was first identified by the Dutch and Portuguese in the town of Batavia, the former name for Jakarta. It has a fair similarity to By The Dutch’s Batavia Arrack, but is not as good. I thought the older version, Naga’s Java Reserve, was a touch better too. 
  • I am unsure about the age, but it feels quite young, under five years I’d say. 
  • Naga is a Sanskrit-based word referring to the mythical creature of Asia, a dragon or large snake, that guards the treasures of the earth, and is also a symbol of prosperity and protection.
Nov 162020
 

It’s when you sniff this understated and really quite excellent agricole from Marie Galante that you gain some sense of how well made both it and the green labelled “standard” blanc 50º are.  The Green Label — my term, not theirs — was good and I really liked it, but this one was a few degrees stronger and a few degrees better and makes a good case for both the utilization of specific cane varietals and a single source of origin.

Briefly, Rhum Island – a company founded in 2017 – issues rhums which are bottled in Saint Martin (a small island south of Anguilla shared by Holland and France, which has no sugar industry to speak of), sourced from distilleries on Guadeloupe and Marie Galante (it varies depending on the bottling). Whether it comes from Bielle, Pere Labat (Poisson), Capovilla or Bellevue (in this case), is anyone’s guess – as I noted, the guys at the booth who kept filling my glass kept that close to their vests. Perhaps it was/is the distilleries themselves who were shyly demure about their names being used by what is, at end, another indie bottler, albeit from the Caribbean itself. 

In short, however, the marketing blurb tells us that the rhum comes from “red cane”, and is meant to be pure agricultural monovarietal white rhum, initially distilled on column stills at 78% ABV and gradually reduced to 53% ABV, with no additives, no filtration and no ageing.

All that comes together in a rhum of uncommonly original aroma and taste. It opens with smells that confirm its provenance as an agricole, and it displays most of the hallmarks of a rhum from the blanc side (herbs, grassiness, crisp citrus and tart fruits)…but that out of the way, evidently feels it is perfectly within its rights to take a screeching ninety degree left turn into the woods.  Woody and even meaty notes creep out, which seem completely out of place, yet somehow work. This all combines with salt, rancio, brine, and olives to mix it up some more, but the overall effect is not unpleasant – rather it provides a symphony of undulating aromas that move in and out, no single one ever dominating for long before being elbowed out of the way by another.

The palate is crisp and clean and invites one to keep sipping and tasting to see what else can be wrung out, what else can be discovered. If you can believe it, it’s even more interesting than the nose – deeper somehow, more forceful and assertive, making the point less with a smorgasbord of flavours or sharp stabs to the glottis (though both are definitely present), than a sort of firm and complex strength. There were tastes of lemon custard, salt-pimento-flavoured chocolate, sweet herbs like fennel and rosemary, 7-up, candy floss and crushed walnuts and a nice medley of green apples, citrus peel, grapes, and yellow mangoes, around which flitted occasional minerally notes, olives, salt, sweet soya, and at no time, in spite of the strength, does it lose the peculiar delicacy that had also marked its brother. I also enjoyed the finish, which was long and aromatic, leaving behind the memory of bitter chocolate, grass, sugar cane sap, salt, and a herbal vegetable soup and with sweet cane vinegar.

In short, I thought this was a really fantastic white rhum. As I remarked above, it doesn’t say from which plantation / estate on Marie Galante it hails, but my own feeling is that it is not a blend – the tasting coordinates dial in too precisely, it’s too lacking in the smooth, carefully-mixed, please-all-comers anonymity to be a blend, and in any case, what are the chances that a single varietal’s cane is harvested at the same time, crushed to juice at the same time, on multiple estates, and then brought together to form a blend?  No, I’m suggesting this is one estate’s rhum, and I wish I knew which one it was, because it’s one damned fine white rhum, affordable and right tasty, and I really want some more. It’s a blanc rhum to treasure.

(#777)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • The label shown above was changed shortly after April 2019, and the new version looks like this:

Photo provided courtesy of Rhum Island

Sep 272020
 

It’s peculiar how little information there is on Smatt’s that isn’t all razzamatazz and overhyped positive posturing meant to move cases. Almost nobody has written anything of consequence about it, there’s no review of credibility out there, while the product website is a cringeworthy mass of spouting verbiage long on gushing praise and short on anything we might actually want to know. When you’re relegated to furtively checking out Rumratings and Difford’s to at least see what drinkers are saying, well, you know you’ve got an issue.  

Smatt is, according to those sources I’ve managed to check, a small-batch, boutique, Jamaican blended rum of pot and column still distillate, launched in the early 2010s. Which distillery? Unclear and unconfirmed, though it’s likely to be made by one of the companies under the NRJ banner, given the involvement of Derrick Dunn as the master blender (he started working at Innswood Distillery where he maintains an office, and is the master blender for Monymusk, the house rum of NRJ). The rum is filtered to white, released at 40% and is marketed in upscale establishments in the UK and various duty free emporia (and some online shops), which may be why it consistently maintains a low profile and is relatively unknown, as these are not places where rum geekery is in plentiful supply.

Normally, such a rum wouldn’t interest me much, but with the massive reputations the New Jamaicans have been building for themselves, it made me curious so I grudgingly parted with some coin to get a sample.  That was the right decision, because this thing turned out to be less an undiscovered steal than a low-rent Jamaican wannabe for those who don’t care about and can’t tell one Jamaican rum from another, know Appleton and stop there.  The rum takes great care not to go beyond such vanilla illusions, since originality is not its forte and it takes inoffensive pleasing-the-sipper as its highest goal. 

Consider the aromas coming off it: there’s a touch of sweet acid funkiness and herbs – sweet pickles, pineapple, strawberry bubblegum mixed in with some brine, white pepper and cereals. To some extent, you can sense bananas and oranges starting to go off, and it becomes more fruity after five minutes or so – within the limitations imposed by the filtration and that low strength – but not rich, not striking, not something you’d remember by the time you set the glass down.

The palate is, in a word, weak, and it raises the question of why it was filtered at all given that it was already quite delicate as a factor of the standard proof.  It tasted clean, very very light, and pleasantly warm, sure.  And there were pleasing, soft flavours of coconut shavings, candy, caramel, light molasses. And even some fruits, light and watery and white, like pears and ripe guavas and sugar water. Just not enough of them, or of anything else. It therefore comes as no surprise that the finish is short and sugary and sweet, a touch fruity, a little dry, and disappears in a flash

Once I drank the thing, checked my notes and assessed my opinions, I came to the conclusion that while the nose does say “Jamaican” — real quiet — it then gets completely addled and loses its way on the palate and finish and ends up as something rather anonymous. It’s not as if there was that much there to begin with at 40%, and to filter it into insensibility and flatness, to tamp down the exuberance of what an island rum can be, completely misses the point of the Jamaican rum landscape. 

Smatt’s modest self-praise of being one of the finest rums ever produced (“Considered by many as the world’s best tasting rum”) can be completely disregarded. I guess that letting it stand on its merits didn’t scream “excellence!” loud enough for the marketing folks, who clearly have at best a tangential acquaintance with rum (or truth, for that matter) but a real good sense of over-the-top adjectives. But what they’re doing by saying such things is purloining the trappings and cred of some serious, real Jamaican rum, stripping them down and selling for parts. Smatt’s is no advertisement for the island or its traditions, and while I completely accept I come at my snark from a long background of trying whites from all points of the compass (and have come to prefer strong, growly and original) that’s no excuse for Smatt’s to come out with a bland and boring rum that doesn’t even do us the favour of letting us know what it really is, while shamelessly bloviating about all the things it isn’t. Why, it’s positively Trumpian.

(#765)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • Honesty compels me to let you know that in 2015 Forbes named this as one of eight rums you should try. In 2020, the Caner is telling you it really isn’t.
  • I don’t care about the story of the pirate the rum was supposedly named after, and simply note it for completeness here.
  • Age is unknown.  I’d suggest it’s a few years old but that’s a guess based on taste and price.
Aug 092020
 

Black Tot day came and went at the end of July with all the usual articles and reviews and happy pictures of people drinking their Navy Rum wannabes. Although it’s become more popular of late (a practice I’m sure rum-selling emporia are happy to encourage), I tend not to pay too much attention to it, since several other countries’ navies discontinued the practice on other days and in other years, so to me it’s just another date. And anyway, seriously, do I really need an excuse to try another rum? Hardly.  

However, with the recent release of yet another ‘Tot variant (the 50th Anniversary Rum from the Whisky Exchange) to add to the ever-growing stable of Navy Rums purporting to be the Real Thing (or said Real Thing’s legit inheritors) and all the excited discussions and “Look what I got!” posts usually attendant upon the date, let’s look at Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof which is an update of the older Blue Label rum, jacked up to a higher strength.  

Sorry to repeat what most probably already know by now, but the antecedents of the rum must be noted: the name derives from the (probably apocryphal but really interesting) story of how the navy tested for proof alcohol by checking it against whether it supported the combustion of a sample of gunpowder: the weakest strength that would do that was deemed 100 proof, and more accurate tests later showed this to be 57.15% ABV.  However, as Matt Pietrek has informed us, real navy rums were always issued at a few degrees less than that and the true Navy Strength is 54.5%.  Which this rum is, hence the subtitle of “Original Admiralty Strength”. Beyond that, there’s not much to go on (see below).

That provided, let’s get right into it then, nose forward.  It’s warm but indistinct, which is to say, it’s a blended melange of several things — molasses, coffee (like Dictador, in a way), flambeed bananas, creme brulee, caramel, cereals.  Some brown sugar, and nice spices like cinnamon, vanilla and ginger cookies.  Also a bit of muskiness and brine, vegetables and fruits starting to go bad, dark and not entirely unpleasant.

The blended nature of the flavours I smelled do not translate well onto the palate, unfortunately, and taste muffled, even muddled.  It’s warm to try and has is points – molasses, brown sugar, truffles, caramel, toffee – but secondary components (with water, say) are another story.  It’s more caramel and brown sugar, vanilla and nuts — and seems somehow overthick, tamped down in some fashion, nearly cloying…even messed with. Even the subtle notes of citrus, bitter chocolate, black tea, dates, and a bite of oakiness and tannins at the medium-long back end don’t entirely rescue this, though I’ll admit it’s decent enough, and some additional final faint hints of ginger and cumin aren’t half bad.

The problem is, I really don’t know what this thing really is. I’ve said it’s just the older Blue Label 42% made stronger, and these days the majority of the blend is supposedly Guyanese, with the label describing it as a “product of Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados”. But I dunno – do these tasting notes describe a bit of any Versailles, Port Mourant or Enmore profile you’ve had of late?  In fact, it reminds me more of a stronger DDL 12 or 15 year old, minus the licorice and pencil shavings, or some anonymous WIRD / Angostura combination . Because the blend changed over time and there’s no identifying date on the bottle, it’s hard to know what the assembly is, and for me to parrot “Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados” is hardly Pulitzer-prize winning research. And, annoyingly, there is also no age statement on the black label, and no distillation information at all — even Pusser’s own website doesn’t tell you anything about that. Seriously?  We have to be satisfied with just this?  

Hydrometer test result courtesy of TheFatRumPirate.com

Anyway, let’s wrap up with the opinion on how it presents: short version, it’s a good ‘nuff rum and you’ll like it in either a mix or by itself. I was more or less okay with its discombobulated panoply of tastes, and the strength worked well.  Still, I found it oddly dry, even thin at times (for all the sweet and thick background), and given that Wes rated it at 7g/L of something-or-other, I have a suspicion that the rum itself was merely blah, and has then been added to, probably because it was just young  distillate from wherever that needed correction. The brand seems to have become quite different since its introduction and early halcyon days, before Tobias passed it on — and paradoxically, the marketing push around all these new variations makes me less eager to go forward, and much more curious to try some of the older ones.

(#751)(82/100)


Other Notes

  • There are several other dates for cessation of the rum ration: the New Zealand navy eliminated the practice in 1990, the Royal Canadian Navy in 1972, Australia way back in 1921, and the USA in 1862. 
  • Some other reviews of the Gunpowder Proof are from Rumtastic, Drinkhacker, Ruminations, GotRum magazine, Rum Howler, Reddit and Reddit again). None of the other well-known reviewers seem to have written about it.
  • Matt Pietrek’s series of articles on Navy rums are required reading for anyone really interested in all the peculiarities, anecdotes, debunks and details surrounding this popular but sometimes misunderstood class of rums.