Aug 302021
 

This rum has a very long title: it’s full name is the Silver Seal St. Lucia Distillers “Dennery” Special Reserve Rum, of the “Sestante Collection.”  It’s something of a collector’s item these days, though issued relatively recently around 2017, and all the various terms on the label require some background explanation that might derail your interest in the review itself (unless you’re a trivia and history nut like I am and actually, y’know, enjoy this stuff).  

Let me just provide some bare bones detail on the rum, get right into the tasting and then you can nod off to the extraneous material beneath that if you’re of a mind.  Firstly, it’s a single cask bottling of 600 70-cl bottles watered down to 43% (hence the substantial outturn).  It’s a no-age-statement and undated rum which is highly annoying given that it came from a single cask, and demonstrates that much as we like the indie bottlers, some (even the Oldies) still have a ways to go on matters of disclosure from time to time. Since there’s only one distillery on the island, it’s no hardship to deduce who made it.

That’s the easy part. Things get tricky from here: there are few references online about the rum – not a single reviewer I know has tasted the thing, and those that tasted its cousin, the “Superior” like Wes, Serge or Steve, had similar grouches about it, that there was just nothing to go on, and SS was not returning calls.  The SS website was and remains completely useless; and as if that isn’t bad enough, there are three separate “Dennery” rums from Silver Seal: the Superior, the Special Reserve with a silver box (600 bottles, 43%) and the Special Reserve from the Sestante Collection with the dark red box (600 bottles, 43%). All display a similarly stunning paucity of information.

Another peculiarity is how dark it is – it possibly speaks to decades-long maturation, if one is feeling generous and if SS ever bothered to mention it. But probably not. A first sniff and a snoot rapidly dispels any such ur-aged collector’s edition fantasies.  It presents immediately with such a deep black licorice note that I remember thinking this was a mislabelled Demerara.  It smells of the rich, wet loam of newly turned garden earth after a rain.  Thick aromas of licorice, bitter caramel, wood chips billow out, later accompanied by unsweetened chocolates, coffee, then citrus, chocolate oranges, mint, dark cake.  It’s very solid and not subtle, and completely at odds with the 1931 series of rums I was trying alongside it. Or, for that matter, with the standard Admiral Rodney.

The palate was similarly odd…yet hauntingly familiar. It took me back to the jungles of Guyana where I worked as a young man fresh out of school, redolent of rotten, moss-covered logs decaying into damp dirt and leaves, under a dripping canopy speared here and there with dappled sunlight, and I literally cannot find another way to accurately describe this remarkable profile. It tasted of old and well-polished leather Berbice chairs, minerals, smoke, compost, unsweetened chocolate and dark fruits, creamy cake and just a touch of brine and lemon peel, leading into a long (for 43%) and dry finish that showed off closing notes of aromatic tobacco, dried prunes, dates and again, that leather.

Unusual?  Yeah, it’s unusual. Based onthe writers’ tasting notes it shares a lot of DNA, it would appear, with the Superior — and this is where real info on each of the three releases would have helped us understand the tastes better. It reminded me less of a St. Lucian rum than an over-oaked Versailles from Guyana, and – in a strange way – even the dour wooden mustiness of the Saint James 1885.  I’m going to give it points for unusual tastes and an interesting experience that does not fail (in my opinion, too often people mark something down because they expect it to be one way and then it doesn’t conform to the preconceived notion, for good or ill) but take away a few for excessive dark sweet oak and licorice that dominates too much.  

So is it a buy? The SS Dennery does occasionally sail into — and out of — various auctions for under £200, so it’s something of a pricey-but-affordable indulgence.  And it does have a solid indie name behind it, and tastes and samples well. Yet I can’t find myself recommending the thing. Not because it is too little like a St. Lucian, but because if Silver Seal didn’t care enough to tell us anything concrete about its age or its components or dates or stills, then either they’re too lazy to actually service their consumers in the modern age, or they know damned well what it is they’re peddling and are hiding it. This starving author ain’t buying on either account.

(#846)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • Silver Seal was founded by an Italian, Ernesto Mainardi in 2000 and like its predecessor, the Sestante import company which he had established in the late 1970s, it dealt primarily in whiskies: they began to do their own bottlings in 1985. Few records of the rums either company made are extant – most of the famous Silver Seal rums we know today were issued after Mainardi sold both companies to Massimo Righi, the owner of Whisky Antique, in 2010.
  • “Sestante” means sextant in English, and is the name of a collection Silver Seal created that was meant to pay homage to Mainardi’s original company.  It showcases both whiskies and rums, but it remains unclear what makes them special. Too few of the rums in that collection – not that we know anything much about them since there’s no master list anywhere – have been reviewed to make any definitive statement about the matter.
  • St Lucia Distillers was formed in 1972 through the consolidation of the Dennery Distillery, which was owned by the Barnard family, and the distillery run by the Geest family at Roseau Bay. In 1993 the Barnards bought out the Geests, and in 2005 sold out to CL Financial (may their glasses be perpetually empty) who in turn, after their reckless financial exposure to the crash of 2008 nearly bankrupted them, sold out to Spiribam, the current owner.
  • Since St. Lucia Distillers has four stills (two John Dore pot stills, a hybrid Vendome pot still, and the original two-column McMillan coffey still) and their standard line is all blended, the Dennery rum  is likely a pot-column blend (my opinion).
  • There is no “Dennery” style or classifiable rum type (unlike, say, the Rockley over in Barbados). The name has been given to the rum as a callback to the distillery’s origins, that’s all.

Opinion (adapted from my coment on FB)

I make a lot of noise about prejudging rums based on expectations, and indeed, I firmly believe it is hard to let such notions go when you know you’re tasting a rum this old, from that distillery located in this-or-that particular country. Your experience and background serve to provide background and comparators. As well as, of course, your preferences, biases and likes/dislikes.

But I also believe in the provision of information by the bottler, and to evaluate a special edition – which this supposedly is – one has to know what exactly is special about it: is that the age? provenance? distillation? great harvest from a special year? fancy barrels?

None of this is provided by Silver Seal, and yet within that limitation, the rum is quite nice (though a rather startling divergence from what we understand to be St. Lucian rums). But the opinion on “just the profile” is now harder to contextualize because that’s the only data point there is. Is it as good as other rums that old, other rums that come off of that still, that strong, that year? There’s simply no way to know that or discuss it, and as such I find myself not recommending it for the buy unless you really want to get it and have the free coin. Which I don’t and I don’t.

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.
Jul 062021
 

Seeing this screaming violent neon-pink bubble-gum label glaring out from where it squats sullenly in the backbar, one could be forgiven for thinking one had warped back into the 1980s or something, complete with laser shows, tight jeans, big hair and bigger shoulders.  It’s not a rum one is likely to overlook on a shelf, which of course may be the point. But no, it’s just a rum distilled in 2001 and released in 2014, and is one of at least seven casks (probably more) which Samaroli picked up from South Pacific Distillers on Fiji, the only distillery on the island.

2001 seems to have been a good year for barrels, or perhaps it was simply that SPD — which since 1998 was part of the Fosters Group from Australia — may have had cash flow problems and threw open their doors to exporting rum, because other indies like Black Adder, Berry Bros. & Rudd and Moon Import all released rums from that year. And over the last decade, the reputation of this heretofore not widely appreciated Pacific island has only grown. For the most part, they produce the Bounty branded rums for local and regional consumption, and sell bulk stocks to brokers in Europe for the independents.

One of these was the eponymous Italian indie formed in 1968 by Sylvano Samaroli (now in the Great Distillery in the Sky, may his glass never be empty there), which branched out into rums as early as 1991, with spotty releases over the next decade and a half, becoming more regular after around 2005.  Samaroli have released rums from Guadeloupe, Barbados, Cuba, Brazil, Grenada, Fiji and Haiti, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to assert that it’s for their Jamaican and Guyanese rums that they are better known (recently they have also begun making blends, none of which I have tried so far). Fiji…not so much.

The stats on this one are quickly recounted: distilled 2001 in Fiji, aged in Scotland, 552 50-cl bottles from Cask #32 released in April 2014, at 45% ABV. SPD has both a pot and a columnar still, but I have no idea which one produced the rum…it’s one of those niggling details that too many bottlers, indie or otherwise, never seem to consider as particularly important for some obscure reason of their own.

Still, it’s always fun to try and figure it out, so let’s move right on to the tasting then.  Nose first: it’s an immediate sharp billowing cloud of fresh plastic coverings on new furniture, rubber, varnish, quite rich. One can surmise that either the pot still was operational that day, or they took it off the column at a lower strength than usual. Fresh sawn lumber notes mixes with sushi and wasabi, displaying a certain metallic iodine note. Some fruits, mostly fleshy and acidic – tart mangoes, gooseberries — are there, faint, and remain too much in the background.  It’s dry and dusty, and after some time suggests some sweet breakfast spices and vanilla and a touch of caramel.

The taste was something of a let down: dry and semi-sweet, it presented cleanly, crisply… almost agricole like. Yet then it went on display notes of brine, black olives, gherkins in vinegar with pimento, pencil shavings, and only grudgingly allowed the hints of light flowers and fruits to take their place. With a touch of water (at 45% it wasn’t needed, but I was curious) faint touches of honey, mead, glue and almond soy milk coil about in the background, not really successfully – they clashed with what had come before.  The finish was nice enough – short and dry, content to be unadventurous and straightforward: almonds, vanilla, citrus, coffee and a last squeeze of lemon.

The whole rum has this odd schizophrenic quality of tastes that don’t quite line up. That’s why I give it a middling low score, though I must stress that I did enjoy it enough not to be fiercely critical. It strikes me as something of an essay in the craft, an unfinished experiment that was let out of the lab before being fully grown, or something. But as I say, it must be conceded that it was a respectable piece of work, had points of originality and was recognizably different from Caribbean products with which we are quite a bit more familiar, which is a plus.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Italian independents, perhaps because they were among the first ones I tried that had a regular output, and even if that output varied, there was no shortage. And while older names like Pellegrini, Veronnelli, Soffiantino, Martinazzi, Antoniazzi, Pedroni, Illva Saronno, and Guiducci are now fading from memory (our great loss, I think), many others continue to thrive: Rum Nation1, Moon Import, Samaroli and Silver Seal, and, of course, Velier.  Even within that group, Samaroli holds a special place in people’s estimation, including mine.  They are not now of that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, it is true — but perhaps ‘ere the end some work of noble note may yet be done. You can see them searching for it in releases like this one, and if they have not entirely succeeded, at least they have not stopped trying. This is a completely decent rum which is unusual enough to warrant a second look, and if you’re into rums from the Pacific to begin with, it’ll not disappoint.  That said, I would not recommend looking directly at that label if you can help it.

(#834)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • Bottle #160 of 552 released and since each bottle was/is half a liter, the final volume can be calculated to be about 250 liters.  Taking into account an estimated angel’s share of around 3% over 13 years (assuming European aging) then the original barrel volume would have been around 367 liters or thereabouts which would suggest a barrique, puncheon or butt. If aged in the tropics, even partly, then the original volume would be greater. Not really relevant, but I amuse myself with these little conjectures from time to time.
Jul 012021
 

When I looked at Moon Import’s middling Jamaica rum there was no background information as to which one of the several Jamaican distilleries made it – but here, since Guyana only has the one, we can move on and start complaining about a separate issue unique to the country, namely, which still does it come from? One can only sigh and acknowledge that a reviewer’s job is never done.

The “Remember” series was begun in 2015 by Moon Imports, an Italian independent bottler formed in 1980 by the Genoese Pepi Mongiardino, a sometime disciple of that grand old man, Sylvano Samaroli, whose business he took over in 2008 when Mr. Samaroli found no-one in his own family to continue the enterprise.  The two brands continue to be clearly separated, oddly enough. Like several other Italian distributors, Mongiardino began with whiskies and occasionally branched out into other spirits – cognac, gin, wine, and of course, rums.  Nothing I’ve read suggests that rum is a major thing with Moon — and while they have been releasing rums since 1990 in various ranges, most of them from Guyana, they tend to be rather hit and miss. The 1974-2004 30 YO Demerara Sherrywood rum was amazingly fine, for example, but a 23 YO Versailles released a year later was nowhere near that good and thus far I’ve been unimpressed by the “Remember” series, older or newer.

In 2015, when this rum was bottled as one of the four inaugural “Remember” rums, Moon imports had still had not caught the wave of popular fan enthusiasm (as attended Velier, say, or Samaroli). Smelling this column (“patent”) still Demerara rum illustrated some of the issues: it was too weak, and altogether too unremarkable – dusty and fruity, dark prunes, blackberries and pomegranates, plus overripe strawberries, watery pears and a few slightly pungent off notes, about which the best that could be said was at least you remembered them. There was a faint lushness to the aromas, just gone too quickly to develop properly and make a serious impression.

The palate started well, it must be conceded. 45% was and is not that strong or rambunctious, just firm, and the rum presented smoothly enough, dry, with tobacco, wet hay and sherry notes. With a touch of water (added more out of curiosity than necessity) some dates, caramel and ginger were noticeable, and a bit of well-oiled leather, anise and brown sugar. Then, it just kind of faded away into a completely indeterminate weak finish that reminded me of a porto infused cigarillo, and vanished like a dream in the sunlight of morning.

The rum was curiously indeterminate and lacked that sense of purpose and clarity that would make it stand out in a crowd, make a drinker sit up and take serious notice, perhaps pour another glass to check. That it was a rum was the best that could be said. There was fair bit of something there, just nothing much of anything, and that was surprising, because as a general rule, independent bottlers of any stripe tend to be rather good at such releases. But here I could barely be bothered to remember a rum so perfectly serviceable which was at the same time so utterly forgettable. Which makes the title kind of unfortunate.

(#833)(80/100)


Other Notes

  • Thanks and a hat tip to Sascha Junkert for both of the Moon Import “Remember” samples.
  • Though not stated, I think the rum comes from the French Savalle still – a “patent” still (as noted on the label) is continuous, but the Enmore wooden coffey still seems a stretch for what I tasted
  • Age is unknown…I’d suggest it’s ten years or so.
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. 


 

May 162021
 

More than a few rums of Secret Treasures’ “classic” era with those distinctive labels, were all bottled in the year 2003.  When we consider that for years – decades, actually – the original owner of the brand, Fassbind, had been making grappa, schnapps and other spirits, then it’s not too surprising to consider that when they first went into rums, they didn’t mess around with a single barrel bottling, but picked up a number of casks all at the same time and released them simultaneously. So far I can’t find any references to rums from ST released prior to 2003 so I think we can reasonably date the inception of their rum line to that year.

The biography of the company is reprinted below the review, and I’ll simply provide the basic details: this is a WIRR (or WIRD) rum, with the type of still not mentioned (see Other Notes, below) in 1995, on the island of Barbados.  The ageing location is also unknown – Secret Treasures has noted for some others in this series, that they bought barrels that had been aged in situ, but that’s not enough for me to make the claim for this one. Oh and it was reduced down to 42% ABV, which was in line for the period, where producers were nervous about going higher at a time when standard strength was all distributors were often willing to accept (both Richard Seale and Luca Gargano faced this problem with many of their very early releases).

Therefore, what we have here is an interesting rum from the recent past which is something of a curiosity – too “young” to warrant the archaeological excitement of a truly old rum from forty or more years in the past, yet not current enough to be eagerly snapped up by today’s Barbadian fanboy.  In fact, it’s kind of fallen through the cracks. 

Can’t say I blame them. The rum is no great shakes. The nose is good enough – in fact, it could be argued it’s the best part of the experience – a little flowery, nutty, nice background of a caramel milk shake. I liked the spices coiling gently around stronger aspects of the profile, mostly vanilla, cumin and masala. There’s a touch of lemon peel, a little glue and acetones, light fruits – pears, papayas, mangoes, ripe oranges.  Nothing outstanding, just a nice, solid nose.

To taste, it’s warm, an easy drink.  For today’s more seasoned palate, it is, in fact, rather thin…almost unappetizing. I think there may be some licorice here, but it’s so faint I can’t be sure. Crushed walnuts, molasses, cereals, caramel, nougat. Some whipped cream over a dialled down fruit salad with the flavours leached out. The crispness of some apples and green grapes mixing it up with the blandness of bananas, watery pears and papaya, and believe me, that’s pushing it.  Finish is completely meh.  Short, warm, redolent of grapes, papaya, and a touch of the spices but the vanilla, molasses, pineapple and other tart notes is pretty much gone by this stage. 

As with most rums predating the current renaissance, which almost all need a bit more boosting to reach their full potential, I believe that the flaccid strength is the undoing of this rum for the modern aficionado. The nose is fine – faint, but at least clear and discernible – and it’s all downhill to near-nothingness from there. But I say that from my perspective, and those who have always stayed with the 40% rums of the world will find less to disappoint them, though I would suggest the rum retains some of that Goldilocks’s Little Bear characteristic of Barbadian rums in general.  At the time it was made, neat sipping was less the rage than a good mixed drink in which rums were not permitted to have too much character of their own, so that might account for it.

Secret Treasures has never really been a huge mover and shaker on the indie rum scene. They have almost completely dropped out of sight (and weren’t that well known even before that), stay in small markets with their current blended rums, and the promise of their initial single cask bottlings is long gone.  If it wasn’t for long-ignored old and mouldy reviews (including this one, ha ha, yeah you can sit back down there in the peanut gallery, fella), I doubt anyone would remember, know, or much care. But in a way I wish they had stuck with it.  There’s interest out there for such things and while their selections were never top tier, consider that so many releases all took place in the early 2000s, at the same time as Velier’s and Rum Nation’s first bottlings, preceding 1423, the Compagnie, L’Esprit and all those others making waves in 2021. Even if they aren’t that well regarded now, I argue that for history and remembering the first indies, it’s occasionally useful and informative to try one just to see how the world has turned, and dammit, yes, drink it for nostalgia’s sake alone, if the other reasons aren’t enough.

(#821)(80/100)


Other notes

  • A bottle of this went for £50 on Whisky Auction website in September 2018.
  • Outturn was 1258 bottles, from three casks
  • The still: it’s not mentioned on the bottle or Haromex’s website. It tastes, to me, like a pot-column blend, not aggressive enough for the pot, not light and easy enough for pure column.  Amazon’s German site refers to it being pot still, but that is the the only such extant reference (it was confirmed that there was an operational pot still at WIRD in 1995). No other source mentions the still at all (including Wikirum and RumX). We’ll have to take it as unanswered for now

Historical background

Initially Secret Treasures was the brand of a Swiss concern called Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) — who had been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer” distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what remains Switzerland’s oldest distillery. 

They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and branched out into rums in the early 2000s but not as a producer: in the usual fashion, rums at that time were sourced, aged at the origin distillery (it is unclear whether this is still happening in 2021), and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conformed to the principles of many of the modern indies. 

Fassbind’s local distribution was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, a Swiss distributor, yet they seem to have walked away from the rum side of the business, as the company website makes mention of the rum line at all. Current labels on newer editions of the Secret Treasures line refers to a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off as neither Swiss concern has any of the branded bottles in their portfolio.

Certainly the business has changed: there are no more of the pale yellow labels and sourced single barrel expressions as I found back in 2012.  Now Secret Treasures is all standard strength anonymous blends like aged “Caribbean” and “South American” rum, a completely new bottle design and the Haromex logo prominently displayed with the words “Product of Germany” on the label.


 

Feb 112021
 

With the rise of the New Jamaican and their distillery offerings, it is instructive to remember that indies still have a pretty good handle on the good stuff too. We keep seeing new aged releases from Monymusk, Clarendon, Long Pond from makers big and small.  Velier continues to add new Hampden releases (or whole new collections) every time we turn around and Worthy Park is always around putting out really good pot still juice for those who know the difference. 

Lastly there’s New Yarmouth, which is the distillery in Clarendon Parish which is part of Appleton (not to be confused with the Clarendon Distillery) and supplies it with its white overproof stocks. New Yarmouth has both pot and column stills, and is more into the production of stock components for blends (often shipped elsewhere in bulk) than any individual bottlings of its own. That of course has not stopped many smaller companies from trying to bottle just New Yarmouth rums as a unique releases in their own right in the ever more concerted drive to atomize Jamaican rums to the nth degree (I’m still waiting for the first unaged backcountry moonshine to be given the full rollout as a true artisanal rum of the country). 

Back to NY: currently 1423 out of Denmark is getting some serious kudos with its 2005 edition from that distillery, Rum Artesenal has its 2009 10 YO and a stunner of a 25YO from 1994 (issued almost in tandem with Wild Parrot who did their own 1994 25YO in 2020), and even the boys over at Skylark created one called The River Mumma (Vidya) in 2020, which also hailed from 2005. Evidently that was a good year.

But as far as I’m aware, the first indie to make a real splash with this distillery was actually Florent Beuchet’s outfit, the Compagnie des Indes, when they started bottling some for the 2017 release year.  Time passes fast nowadays and new hot-sh*t releases are coming more often, and 2017 was no slouch itself — Toucan appearing on the scene, the first Worthy Parks I can recall, Novo Fogo, Foursquare’s Criterion, Rum Nation’s Madeira agricoles — yet even in this company, the CdI New Yarmouth stood out in the rum fests where it was shown.  There were two versions: one at 55% for the more general market, and a huge 65.2% beefcake that for some reason only those raving rum crazies in Denmark were allowed to buy.  That’s this one.

And what a rum it was. I don’t know what ester levels it had, but my first note was “a lot!”.  I mean, it was massive. Pencil shavings and glue. Lots of it. Musky, dry, cardboard and damp sawdust. Some rotting fruit (was that dunder they were using?) and also rubber and furniture polish slapped on enough uncured greenheart to rebuild the Parika stelling, twice. The fruitiness – sharp! – of tart apples, green grapes, passion fruit, overripe oranges and freshly peeled tangerines. Florals and crisp light notes, all of it so pungent and bursting that a little breeze through your house and the neighbors would either be calling for a HAZMAT team or the nearest distillery to find out if they had lost their master blender and a still or two.

Okay, so that was the nose, smelly, fruity, funky, alcoholic, rummy and completely unapologetic. It took no prisoners and didn’t care what you thought, and Lord was it ever distinct and original.  Was the palate any different? 

To some extent, yes. It started out dry, and quite sharp, with a lot of lumber and fresh sawn green wood – the pencils had it! – plus glue and rubber. Acetones, nail polish, paint stripper and turpentine. But also some organics were there, because clearly the kitchen and a table had now been built and now it was time for food.  So, gherkins, pickles, cucumbers in vinegar and pimento. Green apples, sour oranges and five-finger, soursop, kind of marginal, but trending towards an edgy sweet. Only at the end did the richness and hidden quality emerge to provide its own version of shock and awe: honey, caramel, nougat, bitter chocolate, and bags of rich fruits like peaches, apricots, dates, raisins, finishing up with a long, dense, sharp, dry close redolent of honey, vanilla, red wine trending to vinegar. 

From this overlong description it’s clear there’s a whole lot of shaking going on in my glass. It’s an extraordinarily rich pot still rum which rivals any Worthy Park or Hampden I’d tasted to that point.  It somehow never managed to slip off the rails into undrinkability, and was a great sipper even at that strength, completely distinct from Hampden or WP, and perhaps trending a bit more to Long Pond. But a caution – it is complex and has flavours that at first blush don’t seem to work well together (until, much to one’s surprise, they do). For that reason and for the strength, I’d suggest either trying the 55% edition or adding some water to tame this thing a bit, because it’s surely not for beginners — which may be the reason, now that I think about it, that it was only released to the guys up north, and why they were happy to get every last bottle for themselves.

The New Yarmouth, then, was not just a damned fine rum in its own right, but something more, something I would have thought to be impossible in this day and age – a distillery-specific hooch that didn’t depend on its age or its antecedents or the myth of the still or the name of its maker for effect and power.  It came together and succeeded because of the enduring strength of the rum itself, and the mastery of those who made it, and lends its lustre to all of them.

(#801)(88/100)


Other Notes

  • Some background can be found on Marius’s site over at Single Cask, and the ‘Wonk wrote his unusually scant cheat sheet which has little on it about this distillery. Note that both Clarendon Distillery and New Yarmouth Distillery are located in the Clarendon parish in south-central Jamaica, but they are distinct from each other. Clarendon makes Monymusk rums, named after the next-door sugar factory.
  • Cask #JNYD9, providing 255 bottles
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.

Oct 052020
 

Although just about every conversation about the Hamilton 151 remarks on its purpose to replicate the Lemon Hart 151 as a basic high proof bar-room mixer, this is a common misconception – in point of fact its stated objective was to be better than Lemon Hart. And if its reputation has been solidly entrenched as a staple of that aspect of the drinking world, then it is because it really is one of the few 151s to satisfy both rum drinkers and cocktail shakers with its quality in a way the LH did not always. 

Back in the late 2000s / early 2010s Lemon Hart — for whatever reason — was having real trouble releasing its signature 151, and it sporadically went on and off the market, popping back on the scene with a redesigned label in 2012 before going AWOL again a couple of years later. Aside from Bacardi’s own 151, it had long been a fixture of the bar scene, even preceding the tiki craze of the mid 1930s (some of this backstory is covered in the History of the 151s).  Into this breach came Ed Hamilton, the founder of the Ministry of Rum website and its associated discussion forum, author of Rums of the Eastern Caribbean and an acknowledged early rum guru from the dawn of the rum renaissance.  As he recounts in a 2018 interview (from around timestamp 00:41:50), he decided to create his own line of Demerara rums, both 86 and 151 proof and while barred from using the word “Demerara” for trademark reasons, he did manage to issue the new rums in 2015 and they have been on the market ever since. 

Whether Hamilton 151 has replaced or superseded the Lemon Hart is an open question best left to an individual’s personal experience, but to compare them directly is actually apples and oranges to some extent, because the LH version blends Guyanese, Jamaican and Barbados rums while Hamilton’s is Guyanese only – though likely a blend of more than one still.  But certainly there’s at least some significant element of the wooden stills in there, because the profile is unmistakable.

It is, in short, a powerful wooden fruit bomb, one which initially sits and broods in the glass, dark and menacing, and needs to sit and breathe for a while.  Fumes of prunes, plums, blackcurrants and raspberries rise as if from a grumbling and stuttering half-dormant volcano, moderated by tarter, sharper flavours of damp, sweet, wine-infused tobacco, bitter chocolate, ginger and anise. The aromas are so deep it’s hard to believe it’s so young — the distillate is aged around five years or less in Guyana as far as I know, then shipped in bulk to the USA for bottling. But aromatic it is, to a fault.

It’s also hard to see the Hamilton 151 as “only” a bar-based cocktail mixer when one tries it like I did, neat. The taste is very strong, very powerful — given the 75.5% ABV, caution is of course in order —  yet not sharp so much as firm, a flavoured cricket bat stroking the tongue, tasting thirty proof points lower. There’s the piquance of ginger, red wine, raisins, dark fruits, followed by vanilla, caramel, cloves, licorice, pencil shavings, and cedar planks, melding an initially simple-seeming rum profile with something more complex and providing a texture that can be both coked up or had by itself.  Me, I could as easily sip it as dunk it into a double espresso, and then pour that over a vanilla ice cream.  Even the long lasting finish gives up a few extra points, and it closes the experience with dark red cherries, plums and prunes again, as well as coriander, cumin, cloves and toffee. Pretty good in comparison to a lot of other 151s I’ve tried over the years.

Frankly, I found the rum revelatory, even kind of quietly amazing.  Sure, it hit on all the expected notes, and the quality didn’t ascend to completely new heights (though it scaled several rises of its own).  But neither did it collapse and fall like a rock. In its own way, the rum redefined a good 151, moving it away from being a back-alley palate-mugger, to more of a semi-civilized, tux-clad thug. It might not be as good as a high-proofed ultra-aged Velier from the Age….but it wasn’t entirely removed from that level either. Drinking it, standing on the foothill of its taste, you can see the mountaintop to which it could aspire.

(#767)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • You’ll note the careful use of the word “Demerara” on the label. This was to get around the trademark issue which prevented the use of the term “Demerara Rum.” The rum is trademarked…the river is not.
  • Thanks and a tip of the trilby to Cecil, old-school ex-QC squaddie, for sending me a more-than-generous sample.

 

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.
Sep 072020
 

Cadenhead just refuses to depart the rum scene, which is probably a good thing for us.  We see rums too rarely from Berry Bros & Rudd, Gordon & MacPhail or AD Rattray, who were among the first introductions many of us ever had to fullproof single cask rums (even if they were sadly misguided whisky bottlers who didn’t know where or what the good stuff truly was). And there’s Cadenhead, persistently truckin’ away, releasing a bit here and a bit there, a blend or a single cask, and their juice goes up slowly but steadily in value (e.g. the fabled 1964 Uitvlugt which sold on RumAuctioneer a few months back for a cool three grand).

Cadenhead has always marched to its own tune and idiosyncratic, offbeat bent.  They never really created a consistent feel for their rums, and had a number of different rum lines, however small, however similar (or peculiar). There’s the blended one-off of the Classic Green Label rum, there is the whole “standard” Green Label range with their cheap-looking, puke yellow/green labelling design and occasional playful experimentation; there’s the green box and more professional  ethos of the 1975 Green Label Demerara, and then there’s the stubby yellow- label “dated distillation” bottlings of the single casks, which carries three- or four-letter marques on them, about which I have always joked they themselves never knew the meanings.

Usually I go after the single casks, which seem to be made with more serious intent.  But the lower-end Green Labels have some interesting ones too, like that Laphroaig finished Demerara 12 YO, or the Barbados 10 YO (no it’s not a Foursquare).  Even the Panama 8 YO had its points for me, back when I was still getting a handle on things. So to see a 25 year old “Guyanan” rum (that term irritates me no end) is quite enough to get my attention, especially since this is the top end of a small range-within-a-range that also has an 8 and a 15 year old. Alas, age aside, there are few details to be going on with – no still, no year of distillation or bottling, no outturn.  It is 46% and non filtered, not added to, and I think we can take it for granted that it’s continentally aged.

As with all Guyanese rums where the provenance is murky, part of the fun is trying to take it apart and guessing what’s inside when it’s not mentioned.  The nose gives a few clues: it’s warm and fruity, with ripe prunes and peaches right up front.  Some nuttiness and sweet caramel and molasses the slightest bhoite of oak.  But none of the distinctive wooden-still glue, pencil shavings, sawdust and anise are in evidence here. Actually I find the smell to be rather underwhelming – hardly the sort of power and complexity I would expect from a quarter century in a barrel, anywhere.

Perhaps redemption is to be found when tasting it, I mutter to myself, and move on actually drinking what’s in the glass. Mmmm….yeah…but no. Again, not quite spicy – initial tastes are some toffee, toblerone and gummi bears, dark fruits (prunes, plums and raisins for the most part, plus a slice of pineapple, maybe an apple or two).  Molasses, smoke, leather, a touch of licorice, brine, olives.  With a drop of water, it gets drier and a tad woody, but never entirely loses the thinness of the core profile, and this carries over into the finish, which is sharp and scrawny, leaving behind the memory of some fruits, some marshmallows, some softer white chocolate notes, and that’s about it.

Leaving aside the paucity of the labelling, I’d say this was not from any of the wooden stills, and very likely an Uitvlugt French Savalle still rum.  There seems to be quite a bit of this washing around Cadenhead in the late 1990s, so I’ll date it from there as a sort of educated guesstimate. 

But with respect to an opinion, I find the rum something of a disappointment.  The deeper notes one would expect from a Guyanese rum are tamped down and flattened out, their majestic peaks and valleys smoothened into a quaffable rum, yes, but not one that does much except exist.  Part of the problem for me is I honestly don’t think I could tell, blind, that this thing was 25 years old, and therefore the whole point of ageing something that long (no matter where) is lost of the drinker can’t sense and enjoy the voluptuous experience and rich complexity brought about by chucking something into a barrel until it’s old enough to vote. With this 25 year old, Cadenhead implicitly promises something that the rum just doesn’t deliver,  and so it is, while drinkable, not really one of their stellar must-haves.

(#758)(82/100)


Other notes

It’s surprising how there is almost no reference to this rum online at all.  It suggests a rarity that might make it worth getting, if the taste was not a factor.

Jul 262020
 

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

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

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

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

(#747)(78/100)


Opinion / Company background

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 132020
 

The Old Monk series of rums, perhaps among the best known to the Western world of those hailing from India, excites a raft of passionate posts whenever it comes up for mention, ranging from enthusiastic fanboy positivity, to disdain spread equally between its lack of disclosure about provenance and make, and the rather unique taste. Neither really holds water, but it is emblematic of both the unstinting praise of adherents who “just like rum” without thinking further, and those who take no cognizance of cultures other than their own and the different tastes that attend to them.

That’s unfortunate — because we should pay attention to other countries’ rums.  As I remarked in a rambling interview in early July 2020, concentration on the “Caribbean 5” makes one ignore other parts of the world far too often, and make no mistake, rum really is a global spirit, often indigenously so, in a way whisky or gin or vodka are not.  One of the things I really enjoy about it is its immense variety, which the Old Monk, Dzama, Batavia Arrack, Bundaberg , Mhoba, Cor Cor, Juan Santos and Bacardi (to list just a few examples from around the world) showcase every bit as well as the latest drooled-over Hampden or Foursquare.

Which is not to say, I’m afraid, that this rum from India deserves unstinting and uncritical accolades as some sort of natural backcountry traditional spirit made in The Old Way for generations. To begin with, far too little is known about it.  Leaving aside the very interesting history of the Indian company Mohan Meakin, official blurbs talk about it being made in the “traditional manner” and then never say what that actually is. No production details are provided, either on the bottle or the company website –  but given its wild popularity in India and the diaspora, and its massive sales numbers even in a time of demise (2016 – ~4 million cases) it suggests something made on a large scale, with an ageing process in place. Is it truly a blend of various 12 year old rums, as some sources suggest? No way of knowing, but at the price point it sells for, it strikes me as unlikely. Beyond that and the strength (42.8% ABV), we have nothing.

That means we take the rum as it is almost without preconceptions, and indeed, the initial notes of the smell are promising: it’s thick and solid, redolent of boiled sweets, caramel bon bons, crushed walnuts, bitter cocoa, coffee grounds, ashes, molasses, brine, even some olives.  But it’s too much of the sweet, and it smells – I’m choosing this word carefully – cloying.  There is just too much thickness here, it’s a morass of bad bananas, sweet molasses and brown sugar rotting in the sun, and reminds me of nothing so much as jaggery, such as that which I recall with similar lack of fondness from the Amrut Two Indies.  But as a concession there was a bit of brine and clear cane juice, just insufficient to enthuse.

The sensation of thickness and dampening was much more pronounced on the palate, and I think this is where people’s opinions start to diverge.  There’s a heavy and furry softness of texture on the mouthfeel, tastes of molasses, coffee, cocoa, with too much brown sugar and wet jaggery; it reminds me of a hot toddy, and I don’t say that with enthusiasm.  It’s a cocktail ready-made and ready to drink, good for a cold day and even a citrus hint  (which rescues it from being a completely cloying mess) doesn’t do enough to rescue it from the bottom of the glass. And the finish, well, noting to be surprised at – it’s short, it’s sweet, it’s thick, and it’s thankfully over very quickly.

I can’t rid myself of the feeling something has been added here.  Sugar, caramel, spices, I don’t know. Wes at the FRP did the hydrometer test on it and it came up clean, yet you can’t taste this thing and tell me it’s as pure as Caesar’s Jamaican wife, not even close. In point of fact, though, what this rum reminds me of is its cousin the Amrut Two Indies, the Nepalese Kukhri (though not as sweet), a low-end Jamaican Rum (Myer’s, Appleton V/X maybe, or even a less interesting el Dorado 12 Year Old.  Because of the profile I describe, it can certainly be had by itself or mixed into a sugar-free cola very nicely and therein lies, I suspect, much of its appeal as a spirit in Asia.

In Asia maybe – but not in Europe. The bartender at the Immertreu Bar in Berlin showed some surprise when I selected it from his back shelf, and shook his head with evident disappointment. “For this, you don’t need a tasting glass” he sniffed, not even bothering to hide his disdain.  And after I had smelled, tasted and tried it, then looked askance at the glass, he shrugged…”I told you so.” He didn’t understand that had to try the rum whether or not I believed him, but to be honest, this was one of those occasions where I wish I had listened harder.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s Old Monk may have outsold all other brands in India, and ten years later could even price itself higher than Bacardi in Germany, and outsell it….but those glory days, I’m afraid, are gone. The world has moved on. Old Monk hasn’t, and that’s both its attraction and its downfall to those who try it for the first time, and go on to either love it or hate it. Few of these, however, will remain completely indifferent.

(#745)(79/100)


Other Notes

  • I am assuming a column still product derived from molasses or jaggery.  Online background suggests it is a blend of 12 year old rums, but the official website makes no such claim and neither does the label, so I’ll leave it as a blended aged rum without further elaboration. 
  • Whether it was distilled past 90% or taken off the still before that is equally unknown. The cynic in me suggests it might be flavoured ethanol, not just because of the taste, but also since the company never actually says anything about the production process and this invites both suspicion and censure in this day and age.
  • The bottle shape is not all glass – from the shoulders up it is plastic.
  • Who the figure of the monk represents is unclear. One possibly apocryphal story suggests there was a British monk who used to hang around the factory where Mohan Meakin’s rums were made and aged, shadowing the master blender – his advice was so good that when Old Monk was first launched the name and bottle were based on him. Another story goes it was the idea of one of the founders, Ved Mohan, who was inspired by the life of Benedictine monks. And a third variation is that it’s actually H.G. Meakin who took over the Dyer Brewery and distillery in 1887 and formed Dyer-Meakin.
  • Wikipedia, the Times of India, Business Today and Mid-Day.com (an Indian online paper) say the brand was launched in 1954, and some European marketing material says 1935.  I think 1954 is likely correct.
  • The XXX in the title refers to “Very-Extra-Good-Something” and is not meant to be salacious.
  • The bottle shape was unique enough for me to give it a mention in the disposable clickbait list of 12 Interesting Bottle Designs.
  • A detailed biography of Mohan Meakin is available here.
Apr 162020
 

Photo (c) Henrik Kristoffersen, RunCorner.dk

1974 was clearly a good year for barrel selection by the Scottish whisky maker Gordon & MacPhail.  So good in fact that they were able to release several exceptional rums from that year – one was in 1999, the near spectacular 25 year old, which my Danish friends kicked themselves for missing when it came up for a tasting one year in Berlin. They got their own back at me by locating this slightly older version that was laid to sleep in the same year, emerged 29 years later (in 2003), and which is also a quietly amazing aged Demerara rum — every bit as good as its predecessor. 

It’s too bad we don’t know enough about it.  Oh, there’s all the usual labelling information that would have been satisfactory a short time back: 50% ABV, distilled in 1974, bottled in 2003 from two casks (#102 and #103), and that’s certainly better than what I grew up having to be satisfied with back in the day.  But we’re greedy wretches, us rum writers, and now I want to know where it slumbered and which still it came from, what the total bottle-outturn was, and how much time it spent ageing where. That I don’t have such info is something of a minor irritant, but we forge ahead with what we have.

Where the still is concerned, we can certainly guess from the profile.  I mean, just nose the thing – heaven. Deep, fruity, wooden-still action all the way. Anise, blackberries, oak, ripe tart apples and overripe cherries, apricots and prunes.  This is followed by molasses, dust, hay, well-polished leather upholstery, aromatic tobacco…and coffee grounds, lots of ‘em. An excellent nose, very rich, very pungent, very dark. 

It tastes as good as the nose leads one to expect, and may even exceed the nose.  The rum is a very dark brown, bottled at 50% ABV, just about the perfect strength for something so old and thick: enough to bring the flavours out with authority and some kick, not so strong as to burn you in the process. Here, the dark fruit panoply continues: blackcurrants, cherries, overripe mangoes. That’s joined by coffee, unsweetened chocolate, licorice, molasses, nougat, nuts and caramel. And then there’s a subtle third layer, very delicate, hinting of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and a freshly baked load of rye bread. The balance of the thing among these three components is really quite something, and if I had a whinge, it’s that the dry and warm finish, flavourful as it is – tobacco, leather, caramel, coffee, anise and breakfast spices – feels somewhat…less. It sums up everything that came before quite well, but brings nothing new to the party for a rousing encore, and is a. A minor point, really.

My first guess would be that the rum is from the double wooden PM pot still, because it lacks the rough wildness of the Versailles, or the slightly more elegant nature of the Enmore (which also tends to have a bit more lumber — at least a few pencils — in the jock, so to speak).  But really, at this age, at this remove, does it really matter except for us who want every single detail? I call it a Demerara, as G&M do, and am happy to have been given the opportunity to try it.

Henrik Kristofferson, who runs that somnolent and suspirant site Rum Corner (and the source of the sample) remarked in his own review that with rums this old, from that far back and for this rarity, price-to-value calculations are meaningless, and he’s right.  This is a rum that’s available now probably only through sample networks, which makes it unlikely that anyone will ever get a complete bottle (let alone a complete set of all the 1974s G&M have released) unless it pops up for auction again. But I must admit, it’s good. In fact, it’s as good as the other one I tried, nearly on par with some of the Velier Demeraras from the Age, or Cadenhead’s 33 YO or Norse Cask’s amazing 32 YO (both from 1975). I wouldn’t go so far as to tell anyone who sees a bottle for many hundreds of pounds, Euros, dollars or whatever, to go drain the back account immediately and buy the thing…but if you can get a taste, get it.  Get it now, and get fast, because rums like this are a dying, vanishing breed, and it’s an experience worth savouring, to see how the rums of today compare against hoary geriatric whitebeards of yesteryear, like this one. We may not see their like again any time soon.

(#719)(89/100)


Other notes

There was a third G&M 1974 bottled released in 2004 that went for auction at around £600 in 2017 (which gives you some idea how these three-decade-old vintages are appreciating), and yet another one released in 2005.

Feb 122020
 

What a difference the passage of years makes. In 2010, a mere year after my long rum journey began, I came across and wrote about the Cadenhead 12 YO and gave it a rather dismissive rating of 76, remarking that while I liked it and while it had some underlying harmony, the decision to mature it in Laphroaig casks led to “not a rum, but some kind of bastardized in-the-middle product that isn’t fish or fowl.”

Later I began searching for it again, having in the interim gained rather more respect for what Cadenhead was doing.  The Campbelltown-based company of course doesn’t need an introduction these days – famed more for its whiskies, it has for decades also dabbled in limited edition rum releases as part of its “Green Label” line, the best of which might be the near-legendary Guyanese editions of the 1975, the 1972 and the highly-sought-after 1964. Over the years they have released many editions of several countries’ rums, always unfiltered and unadded-to, and it’s become something of a recent running gag that they always put three- or four-letter character codes on their rums’ labels, of which even they no longer recall all the meanings.

Anyway, this was a 12 year old, continentally-aged Guyanese rum (no still is mentioned, alas), of unknown outturn, aged 12 years in Laphroaig whisky casks and released at the 46% strength that was once a near standard for rums brought out by AD Rattray, Renegade, Cadenhead and others. The brevity and uninformativeness of the label dates the rum somewhat (modern iterations provide quite a bit more), but let’s just run with what we have here.

Nose first: short version, it’s interesting, a very strange amalgam of Demerara rum, agricole and a peaty whisky. It smells of rubber and wax, vaguely medicinal and iodine-like, is slightly sweet, quite light and there are more than a few yellow fruits parading around – pineapple, crisp Thai mangoes, green apples drizzled with lemon juice and tartly unsweetened yoghurt. After resting it goes a little nutty and leathery, but the real effects of ageing are minimal, and vanilla and oaky notes are to all intents and purposes, absent.

The taste was better, and again there’s that peculiar agricole-ness to the initial experience – sweet sugar water, lemonade, brine, olives, and a lot of crisp white fruits.  It feels somewhat thin and rough on the tongue even with a “mere” 46% of proof, and could perhaps have used some additional ageing to round things off. The medicinal and peaty tastes were faint and walked off the stage after a while, to be replaced by aromatic tobacco, cheap wet coffee grounds used one too many times, cereal, all tied together by some cereal-like tastes, cinnamon and nutmeg.  That said, if you’re hunting for traditional Demerara rum flavours like molasses, licorice and caramel, search elsewhere – they sure aren’t here. Finish was great though – hot, creamy and chewy. Very tasty, a good blend of yoghurt, pears, apples, lychees, grapefruit and fruit loops cereal.

So, what did I think? At the risk of boring you to tears, permit me this digression. When he was younger and we were discussing such matters, the Little Caner could never understand why I reread books (often several times) which I’d read before (often several more times).  “You know what you’re getting,” he argued, with all the eloquence and conviction of a ten year old, “You know the plot, the background, everything. So why?” And then he would favour me with that pitying look that only young teens can master, which they save for their apparently doddering and drooling older relatives, would shake his head at my self-evident stubborn obtuseness, and then add his coupe-de-grace: “Do you expect the book to change or something?”

I bring up the matter because he was sitting beside me as I went through this sample, and asked me the same question.  Given I had several dozens more to go through and the hourglass was running short, he wanted to know why I was wasting time. “Because, young zygote,” I responded, in that characteristically obscure way all the Caner Clan boys have of speaking to one another, “I’m not the same person who tried the original sample. I’m curious whether I’d like it less, more or the same as the first one, the first time.” I glanced slyly at him – “Sort of like the way, nowadays, you react differently to books you once enjoyed, but now don’t.”

He laughed, and acknowledged the point at last, and to cut further reminisces short, let me note that I appreciated the rum more than the one from all those years ago…but much of my initial opinion on its schizoid nature persists. I wasn’t entirely won over by the whisky cask ageing – rums have quite enough character of their own not to need such additional enhancement, thank you very much – but it was well assembled, well-integrated, and the Laph background enhanced rather more than detracted.  It was just that it presented at odds with what we perhaps might prefer in a Demerara rum, lacked the distinct clarity of the wooden stills…and that medicinal peatiness?…well, I’m not convinced it works completely. 

It will be up to each individual reading this review, however, to make up his or her own mind what they think of the rum; and perhaps, if they’re lucky, to come back to it a few times and see if their tastes evolve into an increased or decreased appreciation of what is, at end, quite a decent and interesting product. The way my boy has done with so many of his books.

(#700)(84/100)


Other Notes

The dates of distillation and bottling are unknown, but I’d suggest late 1990s early 2000s.

Feb 032020
 

The Okinawan Helios Distillery came to greater attention (and reknown) of the western rum scene in 2019, when they presented a white rum and a 5 Year Old that were impressive right out of the gate.  Perhaps we should not have been surprised, given that the company has been in the business since 1961 – it is supposedly the oldest such distillery in the country. Then, it was called Taiyou, and made cheap rum blends from sugar cane, both to sell to the occupying American forces, and to save rice for food and sake production. In the decades since, they’ve branched out, but always continued making the good stuff, and you can’t be in rum for nearly sixty years and not pick up a thing or two. To me, the only question is why they waited so long to move west make a splash.

Aside from beers and awamori, for which they are better known in Japan, rums make up a good portion of the portfolio, with the 5YO and white leading the charge – both, as noted, are pretty good.  But in the back room skunkworks there was always the desire to go further, and age longer, as I was told in Paris in 2019 when a commercially-complete but as-yet-officially-unbottled sample was passed over the counter for me to try.  Most distillers would go in easy increments up a graded “age-curve” – you know, 10 years old, maybe 12, or 15 or something like that. Not these boys. They went right up to 21 and planted their flag firmly there.

And they had reason to. The rum was a noser’s delight, soft and yet firm, with a remarkably well balanced amalgam of caramel, ripe (but not overripe) fruits, cola, fanta, citrus…and that was just in the first thirty seconds. I stared at in some wonder – I’d never seen or tried a Japanese rum this old, and had thought that perhaps the company’s experience in making aged whisky would make it more malt-like than rum-like – but no, this thing was uniformly all round excellent. As if to prove the point, when I left it standing and came back to it there were also notes of bitter chocolate, Danish butter cookies, sweet aromatic tobacco, leather, and smoke. And behind all that, like a never-materializing thundercloud, there was a vaguely rank and hogo-y meatiness, sensed rather than directly experienced, but rounding out the nasal profile nicely.

Clearly twenty one years of careful maturation in ex-bourbon barrels had had its effect, and had sanded off the rougher edges evident on the aromas of both the Teeda 5YO and the white.  Did this continue when tasted?  

Photo (c) Nomunication website.

Yes indeed. Granted 43% was hardly cask strength (the 48% official version would likely be more emphatic), but the tastes were as smoothly crisp as anyone could hope for, with a creamy, salt-buttery lead-in that was almost silky.  The wood influence was clear – vanilla, smoke, leather – yet not overbearing; the bitter tannins run which could have run amok in something this old were tamed well. Standard and well-defined notes of an aged Caribbean molasses-based rum paraded across the palate one after the other – stoned ripe fruits, caramel, toffee, strong black tea, port-infused tobacco – and bags of delicately handled spices like cinnamon and cumin jeteed around them.  These were set off by cola, and light licorice and meaty hints, just enough to make themselves known, before the whole thing came to an end in a gentle finish of all these flavours coming on to the stage for one last bow in a sort of integrated unison that had me asking for seconds and thirds and vowing to get me a bottle when it finally became available.

That bottle has now been released. One of 2500, says Nomunication, and they mention a price tag of 28,000 yen, which is about ‎€240. I imagine it’ll be a bit more expensive by the time it gets over to America or Europe when taxes, tariffs and transport are tacked on — but I think it’s really worth it, especially since it’s stronger, and older than anything we’re likely to see from Japan that isn’t a whiskey. Tasting it, I was reminded of a well-made Damoiseau, or other rums from Guadeloupe – with it’s own quirks and originality, not adhering to a regimen or a strictly enforced code, but simply made with passion and without additives and with a whole lot of skill, in a country that keeps making ‘em better all the time.

(#698)(90/100)


Other Notes

  • The official release of the  21 Year Old Rum is 48% ABV, while the sample I tried was 43%, one of three bottles made for the festival circuit in 2019.  I was told back then that no changes were envisaged to what I was sampling – the blend had been “locked” – aside from tinkering with the strength; so I’ll take it on faith that any difference between what I based my notes on and what’s out there for sale, is minimal.
  • The 5 Year Old review has a brief background on the distillery and some notes on its methods of production. As far as I know this is a rum from molasses, and comes from a stainless steel pot still.
Jan 302020
 

India is one of these countries that makes a lot of rum but is not reknowned for it — and if you doubt that, name five Indian rums, quick.  Aside from a few global brands like Amrut (who are more into whiskies but also dabbled in rum with the Old Port Deluxe and the Two Indies rums) rum makers from there seem, for the moment, quite happy to sell into their internal or regional markets and eschew going abroad, and are equally indifferent to the foreign rum festival circuit where perhaps they could get more exposure or distribution deals. Perhaps being located in the most populous region of the earth, they don’t need to. The market is literally right there for them.

One such product from India came across my radar the other day: named Rhea Gold Rum, it’s made in Goa on the west coast of the subcontinent, and I can truthfully say I knew nothing about it when I tried it, so for reasons that will become clear, let me run you straight past through the tasting notes before going on.

Light amber in colour and bottled at 43%, it certainly did not nose like your favoured Caribbean rum.  It smelled initially of congealed honey and beeswax left to rest in an old unaired cupboard for six months – that same dusty, semi-sweet waxy and plastic odour was the most evident thing about it. Letting it rest produced additional aromas of brine, olives and ripe mangoes in a pepper sauce.  Faint vanilla and caramel – was this perhaps made from jaggery, or added to after the fact? Salty cashew nuts, fruit loops cereal and that was most or less it – a fairly heavy, dusky scent, darkly sweet.

The palate continued that deep profile of rich and nearly overripe mangoes — big, soft, yellow and juicy, just on the edge of turning mushy.  Some tastes of pears, papayas, peaches, but not as sweet, accompanied by vanilla and nuttiness…but overall, the cloying thickness of overripe fruits became gradually dominating, even at that relatively tame strength, almost overpowering all others. There was no subtlety here, just a pillow fight. Finish was too faint and syrupy (in taste not in texture) to be interesting in any meaningful way.  It has some fruit, some salt caramel, it finishes and that’s pretty much it.

In my original written notes I opined that this is a spiced or added-to rum — such things are, after all, not unknown in India.  But in point of fact, it reminded me more strongly of the guava-based “rum” from Cuba called the Guyabita del Pinar, with which it seems to share kinship from half a world away, without being quite as good.

As it turns out, that wasn’t far off the mark. The company that makes it – Rhea Distillers – is much more famous (especially in Goa) for making variations of the local spiced alcoholic spirit based on cashews, or sometimes, coconut milk.  Called feni, it is the most popular tipple in the region, a softer, easier cousin to clairins, somewhat akin to grogues though made from fruit, not came — and is, as an aside, subject to a GI in its own right.

The Gold Rum was made from sugar cane juice according to the site and that makes it a  “real” rum – still, bearing in mind the priorities and main products of the company, the question of why it tastes so much of cashews is not hard to guess (nothing is written anywhere on the web page about production methods, except that cane spirit is the base).  Moreover, in those competitions where it was entered (ISWC 2018 and World Rum Awards 2018), it won prizes in the ‘flavoured’ or ‘spiced’ categories – not that of a straight product.

What else? Well, the front label wasn’t very helpful; the back label says, among other things, that it is aged in oak barrels without subsequent filtration for about three years and consists of “rum distillate”, water, E150a colouring, and without additional aromatics or artificial additives (the rest is health advisories, distribution and manufacturer data, shelf life and storage instructions). Well, I don’t know: it may not have any artificial additives, but it sure had something – maybe it was natural additives, like actual cashew fruit or macerate.

The website of the company also lacked any serious data, on either the product or the company background, but whatever the case and however they made it, this is definitely a spiced rum, and for me, not a very good one – perhaps a native of Goa who is used to the local drinks and buys the ubiquitous feni on the street would like it more than I did. Rhea  might be serving a captive market of millions but that’s hardly an endorsement of intrinsic quality or unique production style – or, in this case, of taste.  I found the Rhea unsatisfactory as a sipper, dominated by too few strong and oversweet tastes, and not a drink I could mix easily into any standard cocktail to showcase what aspects of it were more successful.  In short, not my thing.

(#697)(72/100)


Opinion

Full disclosure: I’m not really a fan of spiced rums, believing there’s more than enough good and unspiced stuff out there for me not to bother with rums that are so single mindedly flavoured to the point of drowning out subtler nuances of ageing and terroire…the “real” rum taste, which I prefer. So in a way it was good that I tasted it without knowing what it was. You really did get my unvarnished opinion on the rum, and that was also why I wrote the review that way.

Oct 102019
 

Rumaniacs Review #100 | 0664

The further back in time we go, the less we can find out about rum, not least because such things weren’t considered anything particularly premium back then and the collector’s bug is a recent phenomenon.  And even if a bottle were in fact to have survived from as far back as the 1890s – which is when this one was estimated to have been released – who would have bothered to record it, or written about it, or tried to preserve the appearance, or the label?

Well, we have what we have, so let’s see where it leads. According to the label (which itself a recreation), we are given that it’s a Jamaican rum bottled in France. It must have then been imported to New York by Greig, Lawrence and Hoyt Ltd, but when? According to Renee of Renee’s rarities (he makes a hobby of finding and tracing such dinosaurs) , it could not be dated more precisely than between 1887 and 1900 and I’ll go with that because we literally have nothing better. Secondly, what was the company? Well, that address in NW is now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in existence since 1965, so no hope there. The company was clearly a wholesale importer based on an obscure 1943 catalog of Madeira wines they put out. I doubt the company remains in existence, as there is no current reference to it anywhere.  Dead end.

As for the rum itself. I could trace Rhum St. Germain out of Bourdeaux as a brand belonging to the company of Robert Behrend & Co. from that city.  The style of lettering of labels that are available, do support a turn of the century print date — the firm was active at this time, being a general spirits distributor, and were known for their wines —  but the problem is, there’s no label linking the specific rum to these labels, so it’s less than conclusive.  I think we could perhaps accept that this is a rum from prewar or interwar years, which could conceivably be from the turn of the century, originating in Jamaica if the label is to be trusted, bottled in France, and then reshipped to the USA.  I wish I could tell you more. But that’s it.

Colour – gold

Strength – ~40% (assumed)

Nose – A relatively light rum, sharp, crisp, not deep, lacking any kind of signature Jamaican flavour.  There are aromas of honey, sweet cherries, blackberries, strawberries, grapes. Also some faint coffee and chocolate notes which are quite pleasant, but overall, it’s thin cheese, really — a lot is going on but it’s too faint to come to grips with

Palate – Nope, not much here either.  Cherries, mangoes, ripe yellow peaches, apricots, honey, with some lighter spices and cider-like notes.  Hard to pick apart anything, so in point of fact it might be even less than the estimated 40%

Finish – Short, sweet and thin.  A bit of fruits and cinnamon and gooseberries, green apples and grapes.

Thoughts: Leaves me with more doubts than anything else.  It tastes just a little like a Jamaican, and is maddeningly un-specific.  No molasses, no real grassiness, and though there’s some hints of sharper fruity flavours and sweetness that hint at something, it’s all too faint to pick apart and come to a conclusion.  Maybe the Germans weren’t the only ones to do a Verschnitt back in the day – I could get behind the theory that it’s ethanol dosed with a high ester Jamaican with no issues. It’s a pleasant rum to drink, I suppose – at least there’s that.  

(#664 | R-100)(69/100)


Other Notes

The Rumaniacs Project has lost some steam of late, but I like the idea of writing about old rums from the past as an exercise in preserving knowledge.  Since I lack the facilities of Luca and Steve to collect thousands of bottles, this is my small contribution, and I’m really happy to keep it going until I become a permanent addition to my own collection.

Aug 142019
 

Damn but this rum is strong. Standard strength among the cognoscenti has been drifting up from 40% to nearly 50% (give or take), with the low sixties selling well, and the high sixties occasionally spotted running in the wild.  But over 70% ABV, and we’re entering more rarefied territory. When people see one of these, they cross themselves like Supes when he sees green kryptonite. A sip of one, and you know what it’s like to be t-boned by a fully-armoured SUV carrying a banana-republic dictator. And all his no-neck bodyguards.

What’s all the more astounding about L’Esprit’s Guyanese Diamond 11 year old which was released at 71.4% ABV and hit the shelves about three years ago (and sank without a ripple) is how really, surprisingly, forehead-smackingly good it is. It’s the sort of rum that makes me want to rush straight over to your table, babbling and drooling, waving my hands wildly in the air and suggesting — nay, demanding — that you take a sip, just to see if I was out to lunch, or telling you the God’s honest.

Think I jest?  Well, maybe a bit.  Still…just crack the bottle and give it a smell, if you please.  Release the halitotic pachyderm. What you immediately get from this is a thick bellowing snort of licorice, wood sap, chocolate and coffee, varnish, freshly baked bread liberally coated with salt butter, vanilla and molasses, all the thick and musky notes Guyana is famous for.  It’s just huge, solid as a sledge and as hard-hitting, and that’s before the sweet marshmallows and dark fruits kick in – dates, raisins, peaches, plums, black cake. Oh yeah, and in the background there’s some glue, paint, varnish, turpentine, all lurking behind like toughs in an alleyway, knuckle dusters at the ready.

As for the taste, well: that was suitably shattering, and humorous metaphors and masochism aside, the truth is that taking it neat is kind of fun. It’s thick and heavy and intense – of course it is – but by no means undrinkable, and one can spend a whole hour separating out the tasting notes: what I got was caramel ice cream, molasses, Danish butter cookies and maple syrup, followed by chocolate, coffee grounds, vanilla, licorice, freshly ground black pepper, a little brine, and with water these emerge much more forcefully.  The strength mutes the vague sweetness a bit, and the overall balance is excellent, with complex interlocking elements that I really enjoyed. When I got to the finish, I was almost sorry the experience was over: it was long and hot but not viciously sharp, exhaling chocolate, caramel, cocoa, raisins, and a vein of sweet dark sugar running through the whole experience like a blade.

Based on how it initially nosed, I started out believing this was a wooden still — by the end, I was no longer so sure. The profile actually reminded me more of the Uitvlught 1996, or even DDL’s new 2018 Skeldon and Albion Rares (and, perhaps in a stretch, the old ones). After all, although the rum is labelled “Diamond”, all the stills are located at the estate of the same name these days, so it could mean anything.  In the end Tristan did confirm that the rum was pure Diamond-column-still hooch, and given the flexibility of what can come off that thing, I can only assume that they dialled in the settings to “Uitvlught”, set it to “11” and pulled the trigger.  

DDL ceased exports of bulk rum from the wooden stills a year or two back, and the word has seeped out to the Rumiverse that we’d better get existing wooden still indie rums from Guyana quick time, because one day they’ll run out.  Yet if rums of such quality as L’Esprit has found here can come off the other still, and continue to be exported for independents to bottle and rum lovers to enjoy, then I think we need have no fear that one day we’ll be without pure, cask strength, unique rums from Guyana.  L’Esprit has almost never disappointed me with their selections, and this rum, if you can still find it with its limited outturn of 166 bottles, and take a risk with its power, is really damned good and worth seeking out, even if you do flatten a city block or two after you try it.

(#651)(89/100)


Other Notes

  • Distilled 31 May 2005, bottled May 2016. Confirmed as being column still. Red brown colour.
  • Ageing in Europe, not tropical
  • I think that L’Esprit’s sample bottles are really quite superlative, but that’s just me