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
Oct 222015
 

Black tot 1

Bottled history.  Nothing more, nothing less.

“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” remarked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I remembered that bit of wisdom before embarking on our tryst with this rum.  And to ensure that my long anticipation for the Tot wasn’t bending my feeble mind (I bought the bottle 2014, and tasted it for the first time almost a full year later) I tempered my judgement by trying it three times, with the Skeldon 1973 32 year old, BBR 1977 36 year old, a Velier Caroni and the Samaroli Barbados 1986.  Just to be sure I wasn’t getting too enthusiastic you understand. I had to be sure. I do these things so you don’t have to.

As much as the G&M Longpond 1941, St James 1885 or the J. Bally 1929, to name a few, the near-legendary Black Tot Last Consignment is one of the unicorns of the rum world.  I’m not entirely convinced it should be so – many craft makers issue releases in lots of less than a thousand bottles, while some 7,000 bottles of this are in existence (or were).  Nor is it truly on par with some of the other exceptional rums I’ve tried…the reason people are really willing to shell out a thousand bucks, is that whiff of unique naval pedigree, the semi-mystical aura of true historical heritage.  A rum that was stored for forty years (not aged, stored) in stone flagons, and then married and bottled and sold, with a marketing programme that would have turned the rum into one of the absolute must-haves of our little world…if only it wasn’t quite so damned expensive.

I don’t make these points to be snarky. After all, when you taste it, what you are getting is a 1960s rum and that by itself is pretty nifty.  But there’s an odd dearth of hard information about the Tot that would help an average drinking Joe to evaluate it (assuming said Joe had the coin). About all you know going in is that it come from British Royal Navy stocks left over after the final rum ration was issued to the Jolly Jack Tars on Black Tot Day (31st July, 1970 for the few among you who don’t weep into your glasses every year on that date), and that it was released in 2010 on the same day. No notes on the rum’s true ageing or its precise components are readily available.  According to lore, it supposedly contains rums from Barbados, Guyana (of course), Trinidad, and a little Jamaica, combining the dark, licorice notes of Mudland, the vanillas and tars of the Trinis and that dunderesque whiffy funk of the Jamaicans.  And, the writer in me wants to add, the fierce calypso revelry of them all. Complete with mauby, cookup, doubles, rice and peas, pepperpot and jerk chicken.

Black Tot 1

All that aside, the rum’s presentation is exceptional. A wooden box of dark wood (walnut? oak?). A booklet written by Dave Broom on the background to the rum. A copper plated tot container. A tot ration card facsimile. And a bottle whose cork was covered with a hard, brittle wax sealant that Gregers, Cornelius and Henrik laughed themselves silly watching me try to cut off. The bottle itself was a stubby barroom style bottle with a good cork.  No fault to find on the appearance, at all.  Believe me, we were all raring to try this one.

The aromas first: at 54.3%, I expected more sharpness than the Tot exhibited, and enjoyed the deep and warm nose. Initially, anise and slightly chocolate-infused fumes billowed out of our glasses in well controlled balance.  Cardboard, musty hay, caramel and some tar and tobacco juice (maybe that was the Trinis speaking up?) followed swiftly.  The official literature suggests that the Jamaican part of the blend was minimal, because sailors didn’t care for it, but what little there was exerted quite a pull: dunder and a vaguely bitter, grassy kind of funk was extremely noticeable.  Here was a rum, however, that rewarded patience, so it was good that our conversation was long and lively and far-reaching.  Minutes later, further scents of brine and olives emerged, taking their turn on the stage before being replaced in their turn by prunes, black ripe cherries, leavened with sharper oak tannins, and then molasses, some caramel, smoke, and then (oddly enough), some ginger and dried smoked sausages snuck in there. It was very good…very strong with what we could term traditional flavours.  Still, not much new ground was broken here. It was the overall experience that was good, not the originality.

Good thing the palate exceeded the nose.  Here the strength came into its own – the Tot was a borderline heavy rum, almost mahogany-dark, quite heated on the tongue, with wave after wave of rich dark unsweetened chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, oak deftly kept in check.  Thick meaty flavours (yeah, there were those smoked deli meats again). It was a bit dry, nothing to spoil its lusciousness.  We put down our glasses, talked rum some more, and when we tried it again, we noted some salty, creamy stuff (an aggressive brie mixing it up with red peppers stuffed with cheese in olive oil, was the image that persisted in my mind).  Nuts, rye bread, some coffee. And underlying it all was the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore straight out of a gothic novel.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the finish failed a little – it was dry, quite long, so no complaints on that score – it just added little more to the party than the guests we had already seen. Smoke, tannins, aromatic tobacco, some molasses again, a little vegetal stuff, that was about it.  Leaving aside what I knew about it (or discovered later), had I tasted it blind I would have felt it was a rather young rum (sub-ten-year-old), with some aged components thrown in as part of the blend (but very well done, mind).

Which may not be too far from the truth. Originally the rum handed out in the 18th and 19th centuries was a Barbados- or Jamaican-based product.  But as time went on, various other more complex and blended rums were created and sold to the navy by companies such as Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, C&J Dingwall, George Morton and others. Marks were created from estates like Worthy Park, Monymusk, Long Pond, Blue Castle (all in Jamaica); from Mount Gilboa in Barbados; from Albion and Port Mourant in Guyana; and quite a few others. Gradually this fixed the profile of a navy rum as being one that combined the characteristics of all of these (Jamaica being the tiniest due to its fierce pungency), and being blended to produce a rum which long experience had shown was preferred by the sailors. E.D.&F. Man was the largest supplier of rums to the navy, and it took the lead in blending its own preferred style, which was actually a solera – this produced a blend where the majority of the rum was less than a decade old, but with aspects of rums much older than that contained within it.

The problem was that the depot (and all records about the vats and their constituent rums) was damaged, if not outright destroyed during the 1941 Blitz.  In effect this means that what we were looking at here was a rum, blended, and aged solera style, that was in all likelihood re-established in the 1940s only, and that means that the majority of the blend would be from the sixties, with aged components within it that reasonably date back to twenty years earlier. And that might account for the taste profile I sensed.

So now what?  We’ve tasted a sorta-kinda 1960s rum, we’ve accepted that this was “the way rums were made” with some serious, jowl-shaking, sage nods of approval. We’ve established it has a fierce, thick, dark taste, as if a double-sized magnum of Sunset Very Strong ravished the Supreme Lord VI and had a gently autistic child. It had a serious nose, excellent taste, and finished reasonably strong, if perhaps without flourish or grandeur.  The question is, is it worth the price?

Now Pusser’s bought the recipe years ago and in theory at least, they’re continuing the tradition.  Try their Original Admiralty Blend (Blue Label), the Gunpowder Strength or the fifteen year old, and for a lot less money you’re going to get the same rum (more or less) as the Jolly Jack Tars once drank. Why drop that kinda cash on the Tot, when there’s something that’s still being made that supposedly shares the same DNA?  Isn’t the Pusser’s just as good, or better? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s better, no (not least because of the reported 29 g/l sugar added). But at over nine hundred dollars cheaper, I have to wonder whether it isn’t a better bargain, rather than drinking a bottle like the Tot, with all its ephemeral transience. (Not that it’s going to stop anyone, of course, least of all those guys who buy not one but three Appleton 50s at once).

So this is where your wallet and your heart and your brain have to come to a compromise, as mine did. See, on the basis of quality of nose and palate and finish – in other words, if we were to evaluate the rum blind without knowing what it was – I’d say the Black Tot last Consignment is a very well blended product with excellent complexity and texture.  It has a lot of elements I appreciate in my rums, and if it fails a bit on the back stretch, well, them’s the breaks. I’ll give what I think is a fair score that excludes all factors except how it smells, tastes and makes me feel. Because I have to be honest – it’s a lovely rum, a historical blast from the past, and I don’t regret getting it for a second.

At the end, though, what really made it stand out in my mind, was the pleasure I had in sharing such a piece of rum heritage with my friends.  I have cheaper rums that can do the trick just as easily.  But they just wouldn’t have quite the same cachet. The same sense of gravitas. The overall quality. And that’s what the money is for, too.

(#237. 87/100)


Other notes:

I’m aware this review is a bit long. I tend to be that way, get really enthusiastic, when a rum is very old, very pricey or very very good. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one applies here.

Aug 182010
 

Publicity Photo (c) RockSpirits.ca

First posted 18 August 2010 on Liquorature.

Fresh from the intense concentration I brought to the Elements 8 Gold rum, I trotted out the flattie of Smuggler’s Cove Dark to chillax with.  I would have damaged the Young’s Old Sam, but it was almost done, so off I went to this one.  My more romantic side likes to think that the humourous and positive reviews of Newfie Screech and Lamb’s so impressed the family of one of my Maritime friends at the office, that when she went back to Nova Scotia for some R&R (rather more recreation than rest, I’d say), they chipped in to assist in the purchase of a flattie just for me, to drink, enjoy and review. “Drink, mon!” that gift joyously asks, and I am duly grateful and gave Tanya a big (but chaste) smooch to express my gratitude.

Smuggler’s Cove is blended from Jamaican rum stock by Glenora Distillery in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia which opened its doors in 1990: a good example of how low on the pecking order they consider their rum is the fact that they advertise themselves not as a rum distiller (which to me would make them a damned sight more famous and distinctive), but as the only single malt distillery in America (they make the Glen Breton Rare Canadian Single Malt whisky, and they have a legal battle with the Scotch Whisky Association as a consequence of using the name “Glen”). And yet, you really have to search and peruse and squint to find the shy – almost apologetic – remark somewhere in the fine print, that they make amber, white and dark rums as well.  Given that the Dark won a Gold Medal in the 2003 International Rum Festival, I find that a troubling and sad omission.  On the other hand, that just keeps the price down for me, so maybe it’s all good.

After the complex interactions of the Elements 8 which I likened to a young girl growing up but not out of her braces, and learning how to smooch properly (while not exactly succeeding), it is clear that Smuggler’s Cove Dark is her  45% ABV enhanced boyfriend who was out to teach me a goddamned lesson.  He’s the captain of the football team, doesn’t have a brain in his head, but sports a massive set of biceps and very stern case of hallitosis. The nose practically knocks you off your feet: molasses, sugar and spices, with armpits reeking of flowers. (maybe he’s got questions about his masculinity?).

Honesty compels me to admit that I took one sip of this neat, and, like the Coruba, shuddered and reached for the mixin’s. That powerful taste of caramel, vanilla and molasses is well nigh overwhelmed by Football Boy kicking me in the sack with his steel toed Spirit boots, and the burn ain’t pleasant either. There’s a whisper of real potential – nutmeg, fruit and spices whisper gently – under the strong rum reek, but it’ll never come out on its own.  A cola added 1:1 does, on the other hand, provide an intriguing counterpoint and I think it’s not too far from the Old Sam, though the balance of flavours isn’t quite as good as that particular low-end mixer. The finish on its own is brutally strong, like an uppercut you never saw that lays you out, and scratches the back of your throat as efficiently and sharply as might a hangnail on the finger of the doc giving you a prostrate exam.

I’m not suggesting that Smuggler’s Cove is one of the premier low-class hooches out there, like English Harbour 5 YO or Appleton V/X, or Old Sam’s…but I am saying that as a mixer, it’s quite good, with subtler hints a neat sip would not suggest it had.  I’d actually rate it ahead of the V/X. And, it has to be said that much like every Maritimer I ever met, once you get past the the craggy frontage, the dour kick to the tenders and the glorious lack of sophistication, once you accept it for what it is, you might just end up making a friend for life and a staple that stays — constantly replenished — in your rum cabinet forever.

(#033)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • Jamaican distillery of origin unspecified; still unspecified. According to the NLLC provincial website, it’s been made since 1992.  In 2021, when I was repairing the site and followed up, the rum was no longer listed on Glen Breton’s own website. A Canadian distributor, BID, in an undated article, noted it was a blend of rums aged a minimum of two years, and intimated it was pot still derived.
Feb 252010
 

D7K_3085

First posted 25 February 2010 on Liquorature

Short version – too much orange peel and marmalade flavours mar an otherwise reasonable rum.


It may sound sacrilegious to even mention this 15 year old product of Anguilla in the same breath as Bundie, but when you think about it, Bundaberg is without question one of the unique rums in the world: one may despise it and spit after mentioning its name, but there’s no denying it stays with you. It’s like the dark reflection of the EH25.  And Pyrat (pronounced “pirate”) is another one like that which, love it or hate it, will not soon be forgotten.

While made in Anguilla, it isbended and bottled at DDL’s facilities in Guyana, and then imported to North America by a company out of Nevada called Patron spirits (I don’t know whether the Nevada company owns or has shares in the  producer but maybe the rum is just made under contract).  It has a squat, bottom heavy bottle reminiscent of the old pirate bottles (embedded in our mental imagery of the world by what must be a thousand movies), and an amber, clear colour verging on the orange. It is a blend of different 15-year-old rums aged in used whiskey or bourbon barrels, and bottled at 40% strength.

I must concede Pyrat’s is a pretty unique middle-end rum, although cheaper than one would expect for a 15-year old (~$40). The first thing that hits you after you remove the cork is the citrus nose.  Yes there’s sugar and vanilla and caramel notes in there too, but they are almost clobbered into insensibility by the attack of the orange marmalade and citrus peel flavouring (and to some extent, by the spirit as well – this has a sharp bouquet).  The taste is similar: a little harsh, mid-level burn, medium finish…and those orangey notes just keep on going forever. It’s like you are drinking a liquid orange bathed in burnt sugar, with just enough whiskey aftertaste to stop this from being classed as a liqueur (it’s a close run thing, however).  Very, very distinctive: like the Bundie, you could taste this blind and know exactly what it is.

Did I like it?  Texture, yes, taste, not at all.  It conflicted a little with my sense of what a rum should taste like – I was startled by how intense the orange was – but it was smooth enough and mellow enough for me to appreciate it more as the evening wore on. The flavour sort of darkened over the hours and became heavier, which I sort of enjoyed.  That said, I’m not entirely sure this as good as it could have been for the kind of ageing it has undergone: the Venezuelan Diplomatica Exclusiva Reserva was a lot better for about the same price. I must concede that as a mixer (3:1 in favour of the Pyrat’s) this lights up a coke like the 1st of July, and is even better when one adds a lime wedge, so all is not lost.

But maybe the Last Hippe has had the last laugh after all: because I’ve been spoiled to think of 10-year-olds and better as sippers, the way whiskeys are.  And when older rums like this one fall just short of the mark, then unique or not, I must simply state that my preference is not always for the uniqueness of taste or flavour, or even the superlativeness of the texture and feel on the tongue, but on the relative ranking of this baby to other fifteen year olds I like.

And while I appreciate Pyrat’s as a crazy unique drink in a class all its own, I must say — all pundits to the contrary — it’ll never entirely be one of my favourites.

(#073. 73/100)


Other Notes

  • Sometime in the last few years prior to this review, or so I heard, Pyrat’s changed the blending to enhance the citrus, and prior blends were darker, sweeter and smokier. That being the case, I might have to take one of the older variants to see whether the changes were an improvement or not. Note also that this rum is now bottled, and maybe even made, in Guyana, at DDL’s facilities.
  • Update April 2017:  A post went up on Facebook recently that supplied a photograph of the new label.  Here at last the statement is more honest, calling it a spirit which is a blend of rums and “natural flavours.”  So it’s a spiced spirit now, and not really a true rum. Disregard the word “artisanal”.