May 152019
 

(c) Duty Free Philippines website

Tanduay, for all its small footprint in the west, is one of the largest rum makers in Asia and the world (they’re either 1st or 2nd by sales volume, depending on what you read and when), and have been in business since 1854. Unsurprisingly, they see fit to commemorate their success with special editions, and like all such premiums with a supposedly limited release meant only for the upper crust, most can get one if they try. The question is, as always, whether one should bother.

The presentation of the CLX rum is goodboxed enclosure, shiny faux-gold label, solid bottle. And all the usual marketing tantaraas are bugled from the rooftops wherever you read or look. It’s a selection of their best aged reserves, supposedly for the Chairman’s personal table. It has a message on the back label from said Chairman (Dr. Lucio Tan) extolling the company’s leadership and excellence and the rum’s distinctive Filipino character (not sure what that is, precisely, but let’s pass on that and move on…). All this is par for the course for a heritage rum. We see it all the timekudos, self praise, unverifiable statements, polishing of the halos. Chairmen get these kinds of virtuous hosannas constantly, and we writers always smile when we hear or see or read them.

Because, what’s missing on this label is the stuff that might actually count as informationyou know, minor, niggly stuff like how old it is; what kind of still it was made on; what the outturn was; what made it particularly special; what the “CLX” stands forthat kind of thing. Not important to Chairmen, perhaps, and maybe not to those maintaining the Tanduay website, where this purportedly high-class rum is not listed at allbut to us proles, the poor-ass guys who actually shell out money to buy one. From my own researches here’s what I come up with: CLX is the roman numerals for “160” and the rum was first issued in 2014, based on blended stocks of their ten year old rums. It is more than likely a column still product, issued at standard strength and that’s about all I can find by asking people and looking online.

Anyway, when we’re done with do all the contorted company panegyrics and get down to the actual business of trying it, do all the frothy statements of how special it is translate into a really groundbreaking rum?

Judge for yourself. The nose was redolent, initially, of oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies and cerealslike Fruit Loops, I’m thinking. There are also light acetones and nail polish remover. There may be an orange pip or two, a few crumbs of chocolate oranges, or maybe some peach fuzz drifting around, but it’s all thin pickingsmaybe it’s the 40% ABV that’s at the root of it, maybe it’s the deliberately mild column still character that was chosen. There is some vanilla and toffee background, of course, just not enough to matterfor this to provide real oomph it really needed to be a bit stronger, even if just by a few points more.

The same issues returned on the very quiet and gentle taste. It seemed almost watery, light, yet also quite clean. A few apples and peaches, not quite ripe, providing the acid components, for some bite. Then red grapes, cinnamon, aromatic tobacco, light syrup, vanilla, leather for the deeper and softer portion of the profile. It’s all there, all quite pleasant, if perhaps too faint to make any statement that says this is really something special. And that standard proof really slays the finish, in my own estimation, because that is so breathy, quiet and gone, that one barely has time to register it before hustling to take another sip just to remind oneself what one has in the glass.

How the worm has turned. Years ago, I tried the 12 year old Tanduay Superior and loved it. It’s placidity and unusual character seemed such a cut above the ordinary, and intriguingly tasty when compared to all the standard strength Caribbean blends so common back then. That tastiness remains, but so does a certain bland sweetness, a muffled deadness, not noted back then but observed now….and which is no longer something to be enjoyed as much.

I have no issue with the standard Tanduay lineuplike the white, the 1854, the Gold, the Superior etcbeing deceptively quiet and mild and catering to the Asian palate which I have been told prefers rather more unaggressive fare (some of their rums are bottled south of 39%, for example). I just believe that for an advertised high-end commemorative rum which speaks to a long and successful commercial company history, that more is required. More taste, more strength, more character, more oomph. It’s possible that many who come looking for it in the duty free shops of Asia and blow a hundred bucks on this thing, will come away wishing they had bought a few more of the Superiors, while others will be pleased that they got themselves a steal. I know which camp I fall into.

(#624)(75/100)


Other notes

As always, thanks to John Go, who sourced the rum for me.

Apr 092019
 

The stats and the label speak to a rum that can almost be seen as extraordinary, which usually fills me with dread as a reviewer: for, how could any rum live up to that? I meanfrom Jamaica in the 1980s, 33 years old, a cousin to another really good rum from there, bottled by an old and proud indie housethat’s pretty impressive, right? Yet somehow, against my fears, Berry Bros. & Rudd have indeed released something special. The initial tasting notes could come from any one of a dozen rums, but as it develops and moves along, it gains force, and we see a great original product coming into focus, something we have perhaps tried beforejust not often done this well.

BBR, you will recall, issued the 1977 36 Year Old Jamaica rum which was one of my more expensive purchases many moons back, and it was a great dram. Fast forward a few more years and when this 1982 33 year old “Exceptional Casks” old rumalso from an unnamed distillerycame on the market, I hesitated, hauled out my cringing wallet and then took the plunge. Because I believe that the days of easily and affordably sourcing rums more than twenty years old (let alone more than thirty) are pretty much over, and therefore if one wants to own and try rums that are almost hoary with age, one has to snap ‘em up when one can….as long as the purse holds out.

So, what do we have here? A dark amber rum, 57% ABV, one of 225 issued bottles, in a handsome enclosure that tells you much less than you might wish. Pouring it into a glass, it billows out and presents aromas of dark fruits, well polished leather, pencil shavings, prunes, pineapples, and a whiff of fresh, damp sawdust. This is followed by a delectable melange of honey, nougat, chocolate, molasses, dates, figs and light red olives, and as if that wasn’t enough, it burped, and coughed up some very ripe apples, raisins and the musky tartness of sour cream….an hour later. Really complex and very very aromatic.

The real party starts upon tasting it. It’s smoothly and darkly hot, begins quite sharply, revving its engine like a boss, then apologizes and backs off from that dry and heated beginning (so sip with care at the inception). You can taste leather, aromatic pipe tobacco (like a port-infused cigarillo), combined with softer hints of brine, olives, and dark unripe fruits. Not so much funk or rancid hogo here, quite tamed in fact, which makes it a phenomenal sipping drink, but in that very subdued nature of it, it somehow feels slightly less than those feral Jamaicans we’ve started to become used to. It’s got really good depth, lots of flavour and to mix a rum this old and this good is probably an excommunicable sin someplace.

Lastly, the finish does not let down, though it is somewhat subdued compared to everything it showed off beforeit was initially hot and then calmed down and faded away, leaving behind the memory of pineapples, ripe cherries, brine, sweet olives, raisins, with a last touch of molasses and caramel lurking in the background like a lower case exclamation point.

To my mind, it is very likely from the same stock as the other 1977s that exist (the other BBR and for sure Juuls’s Ping 1977) because much of the profile is the same (and I know that because I went downstairs and fetched them out of mothballs just to cross-check). Facts say the Ping is from Long Pond and scuttlebutt says the BBR is as well, which may be true since the hard-edged profiles of the high-ester Hampden and Worthy Park rums don’t quite fit what I was sampling (however, the question remains open, and BBR aren’t saying anything, so take my opinion here with a grain of salt).

Both rums were aged in Europe and while I know and respect that there’s a gathering movement about favouring tropical ageing over continental, I can only remark that when a rum aged in Europe comes out the other end 33 years later tasting this good, how can one say the process is somehow less? It stands right next to its own older sibling, bursting with full flavours, backing off not one inch, leaving everything it’s got on the table. What a lovely rum.

(#615)(88/100)

Dec 302018
 

Take this as less a review, than a description of my experience with a rum I didn’t know what to do with.

*

I have been sitting on this review for over a year, alternately confused and disgusted and wondering and puzzled. It was a rum like nothing I’d ever had before, tawdry and smelly and meaty, an open sewer of a rum, a discarded tart’s handkerchief, yet I could not believe it could actually be so. No reputable companyno company periodwould willingly release such a product into the wild without reason, so what was I missing? Was it me and a degraded sense of smell and taste? Was itas initially described in my notesone of the worst hogo-laden bastards ever made, was it a contaminated sampleor a vanguard of the the taken-to-weaponizable-extremes dunder detonations of the New Jamaicans?

It took the Velier-issued NRJ TECA specifically for me to go back to this one sample (sent to me by that connoisseur of Asian rum junkies, John Go, who I’m sure is grinning at my experience) and give it another shot a year later, and perhaps it was also the complete faith I had that Luca Gargano would never release a substandard rum, which made me finally come to grips with the TECA’s Japanese equivalent and understand that perhaps they had been ahead of the curve all along. Or perhaps not.

Because for the unprepared (as I was), the nose of this rum is edging right up against revolting. It’s raw, rotting meat mixed with wet fruity garbage distilled into your rum glass without any attempt at dialling it down (except perhaps to 40% which is a small mercy). It’s like a lizard that died alone and unnoticed under your workplace desk and stayed there, was then soaked in diesel, drizzled with molten rubber and tar, set afire and then pelted with gray tomatoes. That thread of rot permeates every aspect of the nosethe brine and olives and acetone/rubber smell, the maggi cubes, the hot vegetable soup and lemongrasseverything.

And much of that smell of sour funk persists on the taste (you better believe I was careful with it, even at standard strength), though here I must say it’s been transmuted into something more bearable. It’s hot and thin and sharp, reminding me of Chinese 5-spice, coriander, aji-no-moto and ginger with a little soy and green onions sprinkled over a good fried rice, plus sugar water and watery fruits like papaya and pears. Under it all is that earthy and musky taste, not so evident but always there, and that to some extent spoils the overall experienceor enhances it depending on your tolerance for high levels of dunder in your rum. The finish was relatively short and intermediate, with some teriyaki and sweet soya and very faint molassesand the memory of that lizard.

All right so that sounds like crap right? Sure it does. My initial sentiments were so negative I was afraid to score the damn thing. I had never had an experience of such intensity before, of such off-the-wall tastes that I could not seriously associate with rums. And for the record, nobody else I spoke to (those who had tried it) felt the same way about it.

So it became a question of seeing who made it and how it was made, to see if that shed any light on the matter. I talked to a few of my correspondents in Japan and came up empty. Yes they knew of the rum, no they had not heard any reports of anything such as I described, and no there was nothing particularly unusual about the production methods employed by Kikusui Shuzo distillery on Honshu, using Shikoku sugar cane which they process on a column still and age for three years. In fact, these boys are the ones making the Ryoma 7 year old rum, which I remembered having similarly odd (if not as feral) smells and tastes, but much gentler and much better integrated into the overall drink. Seven Seas rum is now imported into Germany, but I can’t entirely rid myself of the feeling that it’s really not meant for the export market, which might explain why it’s not mentioned much. On the other hand, maybe rum reviewers are keeling over left and right after a sip but before they get anything to print, so who knows?

Anyway, enough of the snark. Bluntly, I tried the Seven Seas in 2017 and didn’t like it and felt it was over the top, a badly made product that was off on balance, complexity and taste. In 2018 Velier’s National Rums of Jamaica convinced me there was method behind the madness, I had perhaps been ignorant and too harsh and that something in the production methodology paralleled the high congener and ester levels of the TECA, even if I could find no confirmation of the matter. Because of the uncertainties I’m going to officially leave it as unscored, because I feel my original 65 was too low but I don’t know enough and feel too ambivalent to rate it higher. Assuming my ideas are correct, then I’d ramp it up to 74….but no more. Even properly made as a true rum, it’s not enough to convince me I want to buy the bottle. I’m fully prepared to accept that my experience may have been unique to me; and I love the funky Jamaican stylebut neither point is quite enough to make me want to risk this Japanese rum a third time.

(#585)(Unscored)

Dec 022018
 

Rumaniacs Review #087 | 0574

As with the Bucaneer rum in R-086, the Old Fort Reserve rum is from St. Lucia Distillers, and while it won an award in the 80-proof light category in an (unknown) 2003 “Rumfest”, it was withdrawn from the company’s lineup in that same year. Bucaneer did not fit the portfolio as the company had decided to concentrate on brands like Bounty; and the Old Fort Reserve had a similar fateit was overtaken by the Chairman’s Reserve brand. What this means, then, is when you taste an Old Fort (and you are interested in such historical matters) then you are actually trying the precursor to one of the better known current St Lucia marks.

Although somewhat overtaken by developments in the rum world in the new century, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the Old Fort was considered to be the premium rum of the distillery, and was blended in such a way as to represent the best the company had to offer. As far as I know, it was 6-8 years old, matured in ex-bourbon casks (Notethe original Chairman’s Reserve was aged for 4½ years and then aged a further six months after blending so if the philosophy from Old Fort was continued then my ageing figures may be in errorI’m checking on that).

ColourGold

Strength – 40%

NoseA little sharp, but also sweet, fruity (apricots, orange marmalade, ripe apples), dusty, dry with just a little honey, brine and pickled gherkins in the background. Somewhat earthy anddirtyat the tail end. A nice nose, though demonstrating more promise than actuality.

PalateDiluted syrup decanted from a tin of peaches. Pears, cucumbers, sugar water, watermelon, and a nicely incorporated deeper tone of molasses and caramel. Still somewhat briny, which gives it a touch of character that I liked, and some gently emerging notes of dill and cumin round off what these days is an unaggressive profile, but which back in the day was considered top of the line.

FinishLonger than expected for standard proof, dry, dusty, salty finishing off with molasses and light fruits.

ThoughtsIt’s unexceptional by today’s standards, and its successor the Chairman’s Reserve (especially the Forgotten Cask variation) is better in almost every way. But as a historical artifact of the way things were done and how rum brands developed on St. Lucia, it really is a fascinating rum in itself.

(77/100)


Other reviews by various members of the Rumaniacs can be found at the website, here.

Nov 242018
 

Rumaniacs Review #086 | 0571

Ed Hamilton, in his 1995 book Rums of the Eastern Caribbean, made mention of the Buccaneer rum as a regular part of the St. Lucia Distillers lineup, but nowadays the rum is no longer in productionthe last reference to it was an award given to it in the 2003 Rum Fest (which fest it was is somewhat open to conjecture), and a notation that it was discontinued, later confirmed by Mike Speakman that it was in the same year. So we can assume that the Buccaneer I tasted is at best an early 2000s rum, no later, and probably earlier. An interesting point is that Hamilton wrote of it as being 43%, but both the label photo in his book and my sample came in at 40%. It’s likely that both variations existed, depending on the market in which it sold (i.e., US versus Europe) – DDL did the same with its El Dorados, for example. Also, Eastern Caribbean Distillers (as per the fine print on the label) is a subsidiary of St. Lucia Distillers set up in 1987, but I can find no reference as to when the name ceased to be used.

[As an aside, Buccaneer is a title used by several rums over the decades: I found references to a Buccaneer Superior White, a blend of Bajan and Guyanese rum (Buccaneer Vintners, UK); another from Maryland USA (Majestic Distilling) that touted its origin as Virgin Island rum; and a Buccaneer matured rum from Ghana, made by Gihoc Distilleries in Accra, but the background of which is too lengthy to go into here.]

ColourDark Gold

Strength – 40%

NoseHoney, molasses, brine, olives, and the richness of ripe prunes, very arm and smooth. It’s a little sharp to begin with (it settles after five minutes or so), and has some interesting background aromas of gherkins, cucumbers, pears and a sort of salt-sour tang that’s difficult to pin down precisely but is by no means unpleasant.

PalateOily, salty and sweet all at once. Tastes a little rougher than the nose suggested it might be, but is also quite warm after one adjusts. Pineapple, cherries, mangoes, followed on by dates, molasses, honey and brown sugar, and a touch of vanilla.

FinishMedium long, and here the molasses and burnt brown sugar notes really come into their own. Also some light fruitiness, aromatic tobacco and vanilla, but these are buried under the molasses, really.

ThoughtsCertainly a rum from yesteryear. Nowadays the big guns from St. Lucia Distilleries are the 1931 series, the Admiral Rodney, the Chairman’s Reserve (and its offshoot theForgotten Casks”) and some of the cask strength offerings of the Independents (including Ed Hamilton himself). The writing had been on the wall for the wide variety and range of the distillery’s rums even back in the 1990s as they focused on core competencies, consolidation and better-selling brands. It’s kind of a shame, because this rum was quite a decent drambut I like to think that all they learned in all the decades since they made them, has now been incorporated into the excellent series of standard proofed rums they make now. In that sense, the Buccaneer still lives on.

(80/100)

Aug 142018
 

Rumaniacs Review #081 | 0538

In Barbados, back in the early 1900s, distillers and bottlers were by a 1906 law, separate, and since the distilleries couldn’t bottle rum, many spirits shops and merchants didMartin Doorly, E.S.A. Field and R.L. Seale were examples of this in action. On the other side, in the early 1900s a pair of immigrant German brothers, the Stades, set up the West Indies Rum Refinery (now known as WIRD) and all distillate from there carried the mark of their name.

In 1909 Mr Edward Samuel Allison Field established E.S.A. Field as a trading company in Bridgetown and over time, using WIRD distillate, released what came to be referred to assee through rum”, also calledStade’swhich sold very well for decades.

In 1962 Seale’s acquired E.S.A. Field and continued to bottle a dark and a white rum under that brand (which is why you see both their names on the label) – the white was humourously referred to as a drink with which toEat, Sleep And Forget.In 1977 the bottling of ESAF was moved to Hopefield (in St. Phillip), so that places this specific rum between 1977 and 1996, in which year the distillate was switched to Foursquare and the mark ofStadeswas discontinued. These days the brand is not made for export, and only sold in Barbados, in a very handsome new bottle. Richard Seale modestly points out it’s the most popular rum in Barbados.

ColourWhite

Strength – 43%

NoseDusty, plastic and minerally, like dead wet campfire ashes. Lots of off-ripe fruits and toffee, but also sugar water, watermelons and pears, iodine and medicine-y notes, all of which exist uneasily together and don’t really gel for me.

PalateSort of like a vegetable soup with too much sweet soya, which may read more bizarre than it actually tastes. Bananas and so the queer taste of wood sap. Kiwi fruit and pears, some brine and again those off-ripe sweet fleshy fruits and a sharp clear taste of flint.

FinishMedium long, something of a surprise. Dry, and after the fruits and toffee make themselves known and bail, also some flint and the sense of having licked a stone.

ThoughtsOdd rum, very odd. Given the preference of the drinking audience back then for morestandardEnglish rum profilesslightly sweet, medium bodied, molasses, caramel and fruitsthe tastes come off as a little jarring and one wonders how this came to be as reputedly popular as it was Still, it’s quite interesting for all that.

(79/100)


Other notes

Thanks to Richard Seale, who provided most of the historical background and (lots of) corrections. Ed Hamilton’s Rums of the Eastern Caribbean contributed some additional details, though as was pointed out to me rather tartly, there are occasional inconsistencies in his work.

 

Aug 122018
 

Given my despite and disdain for the overhyped, oversold and over-sugared spiced-alcoholic waters that were the Phillipine Don Papa 7YO and 10YO, you’d be within your rights to ask if I either had a screw loose or was a glutton for punishment, for going ahead and trying this one. Maybe both, I’d answer, but come on, gotta give each rum a break on its own merits, right? If we only write about stuff we like or know is good, then we’re not pushing the boundaries of discovery very much now, are we?

All this sounds nice, but part of the matter is more prosaicI had the sample utterly blind. Didn’t know what it was. John Go, my cheerfully devious friend from the Phillipines sent me a bunch of unlabelled samples and simply said “Go taste ‘em,” without so much as informing me what any of them where (we indulge ourselves in such infantile pursuits from time to time). And so I tasted it, rated it, scored it, and was not entirely disappointed with it. It was not an over sugared mess, and it did not feel like it was spiced up to the raftersthough I could not test it, so you’ll have to take that into account when assessing whether these notes can be relied upon or not.

That said, let’s see what we are told officially. Bleeding Heart Rum company issued 6000 bottles of the Rare Cask in 2017 at 50.5% ABVwhich is immediately proved to be a problem (dare I say “lie”?) because this is bottle #8693 – and just about all online stores and online spirits articles speak to how the rum has no filtration and no “assembly”well, okay. One site (and the label) called it unblended, which of course is nonsense given the outturn. Almost all mention the “STR”shaved, toasted and roastedbarrels used, which we can infer to mean charred. There’s no age statement to be found. And there’s no mention of additives of any kind, the stuff which so sullied the impressions of the 7 and 10 year old: and although I have been told it’s clean, that was something I was unable to test for myself and wouldn’t trust if it came from them (see opinion below). You can decide for yourself whether that kind of outturn and information provision qualifies the tag of “Rare Cask.” It doesn’t for me.

With all that behind us, what’s it like? Well, even with the amber colour, it noses very lightlyit’s almost relaxing (not really normal for 50% ABV). Somewhat sharp, not too much, smells of sweet tinned peaches in syrup, with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon being noticeable, plus floral notes, vague salt crackers, bitter chocolate, vanilla and oatmeal cookies. My notes speak of how delicate it noses, but at least the thick cloying blanket of an over-sweetened liqueur does not seem to be part of the program. In its own way it’s actually quite precise and not some vague mishmash of aromas that just flow together randomly.

The taste is differenthere it reminds one of the El Dorado 12 (not the 15, that’s a reach) – with a strong toffee, vanilla, brown sugar and molasses backbone. Lots of fruitiness hereraisins and orange peel, more of those tinned peachesand also ginger, cinnamon, and bitter chocolate together with strong black tea. These latter tastes balance off the muskiness of the molasses and vanilla, and even if it has been sugared up (and I suspect that if it has, it is less compared to the others in the line), that part seems to be more restrained, to the point where it doesn’t utterly detract or seriously annoy. The finish is surprisingly short for a rum at 50%, and sharper, mostly brown sugar, fruit syrup, caramel and chocolate, nothing new here.

So all in all, somewhat of a step up from the 7 and the 10. Additives are always a contentious subject, and I understand why some makers prefer to go down that road (while not condoning it) — what I want and advocate for is complete disclosure, which is (again) not the case with the Rare Cask. Here Bleeding Heart seem to have dispensed with the shovel and used a smaller spoon, which suggests they’re paying some attention to trends in the rum world. When somebody with a hydrometer gets around to testing this thing, I hope to know for certain whether it’s adulterated or not, but in the meantime I’m really glad I didn’t know what I was trying. That allowed me to be unbiased by the other two rums in the dustbin of my tasting memories when doing my evaluation, and I think this is a light-to-medium, mid-tier rum, probably five years old or less, not too complex, not too simple, with a dash of something foreign in there, but a reasonably good drink all roundespecially when compared to its siblings.

(#537)(78/100)


Other Notes

According to the bottle label, the distillery of origin is the Ginebra San Miguel, founded in 1834 when Casa Róxas founded the Ayala Distillery (the first in the Philippines). Known primarily for gin, it also produced other spirits like anisette, cognac, rum and whisky, some locally, some under license. The distillery was located in Quiapo, Manila and was a major component of Ayala y Compañia (successor of Casa Róxas), which was in turn acquired by La Tondeña in 1924.

La Tondeña, in turn, was established in 1902 by Carlos Palanca, Sr. in Tondo, Manila and incorporated as La Tondeña Inc. in 1929. Its main claim to fame prior to its expansion was the production of alcohol derived from molasses, instead of the commonly used nipa palm which it rapidly displaced. Bleeding Heart is associated with the company only insofar as they evidently buy rum stock from then, though at what stage in the production or ageing process, with what kind of still, and with what inclusions, is unknown.


Opinion

One of the key concepts coiling around the various debates about additives is the matter of trust. “I don’t trust [insert brand name here] further than I can throw ‘em,” is a constant refrain and it usually pops up when adulteration is noted, suspected, proved or inferred. But the underlying fact is that we do trust the producers. We trust them all the time, perhaps not with marketing copy, the hysterical advertising, the press releases, the glowing brand ambassadors’ endorsements, truebut with what’s on the bottle itself.

The information on the label may be the most sacred part of any rum’s background. Consciously or not, we take much of what it says as gospel: specifically the country of origin, the distillery source, the age, whether it is a blend or not, and the strength (against which all hydrometer tests are rated). Gradually more and more information is being addedtropical versus continental ageing, the barrel number, angel’s share, production notes, and so on.

We trust that, and when it’s clear there is deception and outright untruth going on (quite aside from carelessness or stupidity, which can happen as well), when that compact between producer and consumer is broken, it’s well-nigh impossible to get it backas any amount of Panamanian rum brands, Flor de Cana (and their numbers) or Dictador “Best of” series can attest (the Best of 1977, as well as the Malecon 79 and the Mombacho 19 reviews all had commentaries on trust, and for similar reasons). Also, for example, not all companies who claim their rums are soleras have been shown to really make them that way (often they are blends); and aside from spiced and flavoured rums (and Plantation) just about no producer admits to dosing or additivesso when it’s discovered, social media lights up like the Fourth of July.

This is why what Bleeding Heart is doing is so annoying (I won’t say shocking, since it’s not as if they had that much trust of mine to begin with). First, no age statement. Second, the touted outturn given the lie by the bottle number. Third, the silence on additives. Well, they could have been simply careless, labelled badly, gave the wrong info the the PR boys in the basement; but carelessness or deception, what this means is that nothing they say now can be taken at face value, it’s like a wave of disbelief that washes over every and all their public statements about their rums. And so while I give the rum the score I do, I’d also advise any potential buyer to be very careful in understanding what it is that we’re being told the rum is, versus what it actually might be.

May 282018
 

Rumaniacs Review #080 | 0516

There’s a lot of missing information on this rum, specifically from where in Jamaica, and when it was made. Until I can get more, we’ll have to just take the tasting notes as they come, unfortunately, since that’s all I have.

ColourOrange

Strength – 50%

Nose – “Subduedis the best word I can think of; there is very little of the fierce funkiness or hogo-infused Jamaican badass we’ve gotten used to with more recent Hampdens or Worthy Park rums. It’s slightly sweet, with caramel and citrus and vanilla, and the question one is left asking isWhere did the funk disappear to?” Leaving it to open and then coming back to it does not improve or enhance the aromas much, though some fruits and additional lemon peel, coffee grounds and bananas to become more noticeable.

PalateAh well, here we go, the sharper funky stuff comes on stage at last. Still rather restrained, however. The rum presents as medium bodied, creamy, and tastes of caramel, vanilla, molasses, with a vibrant backbone of cherries, orange peel, ginger, grass, nutmeg and cinnamon. It really reminds me more of a Demerara (sans anise) than a true Jamaican, and in the absence of real details on the estate of origin, it’s remains something of a let down for those in love with the fierce ester-driven purity of more recent vintages.

FinishExcellent, quite long, hot, breathy, with more ginger, bitter chocolate and coffee, and quite a bit of tart fruitiness in the background

ThoughtsNot one of my favourites, to be honest. It’s too indeterminate and doesn’t carry the flag of Jamaica particularly well. I’m unsure, but (a) I think it’s been continentally aged and (b) it’s possible that the barrel was either charred was nearly dead. Were you to rate it as just a rum without reference to the island of origin, then it’s pretty goodbut when I see Jamaica on a label, there’s certain things I look for, and even at nearly three decades old, there’s not enough here to mark it out as something special from there.

(77/100)


Other Notes

There are no details on the estate of origin nor the year of distillation to be found. My personal opinion is that the rum is a column still rum, continentally aged and perhaps from Longpond (assuming it’s not a blend of some kind).

Tracing Milroy’s is an odd experience. The bottom of the label provides an address which when searched for puts you in a quiet residential side street in Saxmundham (Suffolk), and when I called the phone number, the gent told me it had not been in the name of Mr. Milroy for over four years. Yet I found a reference that notes Milroy’s is a very well known spirits establishment in #3 Greek Street London. That one makes more sense (the Suffolk address was likely a personal one). According to K&L Wines, JohnJackMilroy opened a wine shop in the West End in 1964 with funds provided by his brother (a gold miner from South Africa) and indulged in the bottlings of single cask Scotches. It’s reasonable to suppose an occasional rum flitted through their inventory over the years. The brothers sold the company (date unknown, likely late 1990s) which was run by La Reserve under the stewardship of Mark Reynier who later went on to fame as the man behind Bruichladdich, Murray McDavid and Renegade Rums. As of 2014, the company is once again an independent shopMilroy’s of Sohowhose site I used for some of these historical notes.

May 232018
 

Rumaniacs Review #079 | 0514

No, you read that right. This bottle of a 1990s rum, from a company I never heard of and which no exercise of masterly google-fu can locate, which has a map of Jamaica on the label and is clearly named a Momymuskthis old and rare find says it’s aDemerararum. You gotta wonder about people in them thar olden days sometimes, honestly.

W.D.J. Marketing is another one of those defunct English bottlers (I was finally able to find out it was English, released another Monymusk aged 9 years, and has been long closed, on a Swiss website) who flourished in the days before primary producers in the islands took over issuing aged expressions themselves. What they thought they were doing by labelling it as a Demerara is anyone’s guess. Rene (ofRaritiesfame) said it was from the 1990s, which means that it was issued when Monymusk came under the West Indies Sugar Company umbrella. And although the label notes it was distilled in Jamaica and bottled in England, we also don’t know where it was aged, though my money is on continental ageing.

ColourPale gold

Strength – 46%

NoseYeah, no way this is from Mudland. The funk is all-encompassing. Overripe fruit, citrus, rotten oranges, some faint rubber, bananas that are blackened with age and ready to be thrown out. That’s what seven years gets you. Still, it’s not bad. Leave it and come back, and you’ll find additional scents of berries, pistachio ice cream and a faint hint of flowers.

PalateThis is surprisingly sharp for a 46% rum. Part of this is its youth, lending credence to the supposition that the ageing was continental. Fruits are little less rotten heremaybe just overripe. Bananas, oranges, raspberries, all gone over to the dark side. A touch of salt, a flirt of vanilla, but the primary flavours of sharp acidic fruits and compost (and your kitchen sink grinder) take over everything. In short, it showcases a really righteous funk, plays hardass reggae and flirts a fine set of dreads.

FinishDamned long for 46% (I’m not complaining), the sharpness toned down. Gives you some last citrus, some peppercorns, a ginnip or two, and for sure some soursop ice cream.

ThoughtsWhat an amazing young rum this is. Too unpolished to be great, really, yet it has real quality within its limitations. If you’re deep into the varietals of Jamaica and know all the distilleries by their first names, love your funk and rejoice in the island’s style, then you might want to try sourcing this from Rene next time he drifts into your orbit. This thing will blow your toupee into next week, seriously.

(84/100)


Other notes

My notes have this as a 1960s rum, and Rene got back to me stating it was from the 1990s. It’s very odd for a rum made that relatively recently, to have almost no internet footprint at all for both itself or its company of origin.

May 152018
 

Rumaniacs Review #078 | 0512

Tracing this rum takes one through three separate companies and dozens of tiny, offhanded remarks made on a score of obscure websites. While it’s tough to pin down a date of formation, Vaughan-Jones appears to have been a London-based spirits bottler very well known for its V-J branded gin, and the company was certainly in existence by the 1880s, likely incorporated by Edward Vaughan-Jones (the exact year remains uncertain). According to the British Trade Journal of May 1882, Vaughan-JonesStandardspirits at that time were gins, whiskies, rum, Old Tom (a type of popular 18th century gin that was sweeter than London Dry but drier than Dutch Jenever), flavoured brandies, and bitters.

By the time this Jamaican rum came out in the 1960s (the date comes from an estimate of the Whisky Exchange website and I’ve got nothing better except from a tax stamp on the bottle which hints at the 1970s importation but not necessarily manufacture) another company called Hedges & Butler had taken over Vaughan-Jones, and registered various trademarks of V-J in 1957. Following this down the rabbit hole provides the information that they themselves were wine and spirits merchants dating back to 1667, were granted a Royal Warrant by King George IV in 1830 which was renewed by Queen Victoria in 1837. They were and remain primarily (but not exclusively) in the wine and whisky business, and were taken over by The Bass Charrington Group in the 1960s. Since 1998 they fall under the umbrella of Ian MacLeod Distillers which is where the story ends for now.

At all times, under whichever company owned the V-J brand, it appears that rum was very much an afterthought and not a major branch of the business. Some of the Vaughan-Jones family remain alive and remember their great grandfather Edwardit would be interesting to see what they know about the rums his company made. No data on the still, distillery or estate of origin is available. It is noted as beingpurewhich suggests either no additives, or unblended and direct from a distillery which, from the taste, is what I chose to believe.

Colouramber

Strength – 43%

NoseIt may just be a function of the age, but it does present somewhat oddly to those who have a bunch of modern Jamaicans to chose from. Not quite an ester bomb, this: still, it starts with brine, olives, citrus, some funk and miso soup, sweet soya, vinegar and herbs (dill, cilantro, rosemary). Nothing off-putting, just different.

PalateOh well, this was lovely. Soft, well rounded. Caramel, light molasses, herbs (dill and cilantro again), brine, tequila, olives, and a pinch of oregano and some old used coffee grounds left out in the sun too long. It also has aspects that reminded me of the Paranubes, something of a minerally and agave background, added some light white fruits at the back end, and overall, it’s really not that sweet. A shade thin, though.

FinishVery nicely rounded and warm. It all comes together here and the oddity of the nose disappears completely. Light caramel and funk, herbs, brine, with almost no fruitiness at all.

ThoughtsDrinking this next to an Appleton 12, say, or some of the newer Hampdens and Worthy Park stuff, and you could infer this was an earlier form of what they are now making. It’s not as cultured, a bit raw, and the tastes and smells are in a different (primitive?) form of what we now take for granted. But it’s not bad, and if you’re a lover of historical artifacts from Ago, neither the background of the company nor the rum itself, is likely to disappoint.

(82/100)


Other Notes

Francesco from Lo Spirito dei Tempi, who I met briefly in April 2018, was the source of the bottle, and he noted that it was made for export to Australia from the 1880s to 1980s. In his article he remarks that it was aged three years in Jamaica and then for a further undisclosed time underground at the London docks.

Oct 202017
 

#395

Velier’s star shone brightly in 2017, so much so that if you were following the October 2017 UK rumfest on Facebook, it almost seemed like they took over the joint and nothing else really mattered. Luca’s collaboration with Richard Seale of Foursquare over the last few years resulted the vigorous promotion of a new rum classification system, as well as the spectacular 2006 ten year old and the Triptych (with more to come); and for Velier’s 70th Anniversarymarked by events throughout the yeara whole raft of rums got issued from Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Mauritius, Japan….So much happened and so much got done that I had to re-issue an updated company biography, and that’s definitely a first. The Age of Velier’s Demeraras might be over and the Caronis might be on a decline as the stocks evaporatebut company is in no danger of becoming an also-ran anytime soon.

Still, all these great rums aside, let us not forget some of the older, lesser known, more individual rums they put out the door, such as the Damoiseau 1980 and the Basseterre 1995 and 1997, some of the Papalins and Liberation series, the older Guyanese rums distributed at lesser proofs by Breitenstockand this one which is on nobody’s must-have list except mine. It holds a special place in my heartnot just because it was issued by Velier (thought this surely is part of it), but because the original Courcelles 1972 is the very rum that started my love affair with French island rhums and agricolesso for sure this one had some pretty big shoes to try and fill.

It filled them and then some. Reddish gold and at a robust 54% ABV (there’s another 42% version floating around) it started off with a beeswax, honey and smoke aroma, heavy and distinct, and segued into treacle, nougat, white chocolate and nuts. Not much of an agricole profile permeated its nose, and since it’s been observed before that since Guadeloupefrom which this hailsis not AOC controlled and uses molasses as often as juice for its rhums, the Courcelles could be either one. No matter: I loved it. Even after an hour or two, more scents kept emerging from the glasscaramel and a faint saltiness, aromatic flower-based hot tea, and just to add some edge, a fine line of mild orange zest ran through it all, well balanced and adding to the overall lusciousness of the product.

The palate, which is where I spent most of my time, was excellent, though perhaps a little more restrainedsome attention had to be paid here. The brutal aggro of a rum bottled at 60%-plus had been dialled back, pruned like a bonsai, and left a poem of artistry and taste behind: more honey, nougat, nutmeg, brown sugar water, and calming waves of shaved coconut and the warmth of well-polished old leather, cumin, and anise, with that same light vein of orange peel still making itself unobtrusively felt without destabilizing the experience. At the close, long and aromatic aromas simply continued the aforementioned and quietly wrapped up the show with final suggestions of rose tea, almonds, coconut and light fruit in a long, sweet and dry finish. Frankly, it was hard to see it being the same vintage as the Velier Courcelles 42% which was tried alongside it, and was better in every waythe 54% was an excellent strength for what was on display and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There’s a streak of contrariness in my nature that seeks to resist flavour-of-the month rums that ascend to the heights of public opinion to the point where their makers can do no wrong and every issuance of a new expression is met with chirps of delight, holy cows and a rush to buy them all. But even with that in mind, quality is quality and skill is skill and when a rum is this good it cannot be ignored or snootily dismissed in an effort to provide “balance” in some kind of perverse reflex action good only for the personal ego. Velier, even when nobody knew of them, showed great market sense, great powers of selection and issued great rums, which is why they’re just about all collector’s items now. The Demeraras and Caronis and collaborations with other makers showed vision and gave us all fantastic rums to treasurebut here, from the dawn of Luca’s meteoric career, came a now-almost-forgotten and generally-overlooked rum that came close to breaking the scale altogether. It is one of the best rums from the French islands ever issued by an independent, a cornerstone of my experience with older rums from around the worldand hopefully, if you are fortunate enough to ever try it, yours.

(91/100)


  • The Courcelles distillery in Grande Terre (one of the two “wings” of Guadeloupe island) was established in the 1930s and closed way back in 1964 when the then owner, M. Despointes, transferred the inventory and equipment to another distillery, that of Ste Marthe. They continued using Courcelles’s pot still and distilled this rum in 1972. This is probably the last year any Courcelles was madeI’ve never been able to find one made more recently.
  • Distilled in 1972 and set to age in 220 liter barrels until 2003 when it was decanted into “dead” vats, and then bottled in 2005. I chose to call it a 31 year old, not a 33.
  • The profile does not suggest an agricole, and since Guadeloupe is not AOC compliant, it may derive from molassesor not. If anyone has definitive information or a link to settle the issue, please let me know.

Sep 292017
 

#390

After messing round with other Bajan rums for a while, I finally came to the Compagnie des Indes FourSquare 9 year old, and had to concede that even setting aside the headline-grabbing 2006 or Triptych or Criterion releases, this was what I was looking for and which almost none of the three other caskersthe Cadenhead BMMG and 10 year old and the Isla del Ronhad not provided. Mount Gay’s indie fullproof bruisers were certainly interesting and made powerful statements for their distillery of origin, but either Florent picked more judiciously than Cadenhead or the Isla del Ron, or the 4S juice in this instance was simply betterbecause for a nine year old rum aged in Europe, it really was a tasty piece of work.

There’s a full bio of the Compagnie des Indes available, so suffice to say I need only add that the Florent’s outfit is still going full blast in 2017, and has added to its stable of standard strength rums every year, as well as taking notes from the happiness of the gloating Danes up north (and the envy of everyone else) and began releasing cask strength variations starting from 2016 onwards, to the relief and applause of the less fortunate proles who previously had to beg and genuflect and possibly hock the family jewels to get themselves some. This Danish-edition rum was a rip snorting 62.1% and one of 227 bottles with the original distillation in 2006 and bottled in 2016 (Barrel #MB45), and now you know pretty much all you need to be going along with aside from the tastes, and we’re going there right now

Right away, the aromas of salty, oily brine (like a really good olive oil) and florals emerged, better integrated than all the other Bajans which were being tried alongside it; and for 62.1% the control over the release of all that sharpness was amazing, because it seemed actually quite gentle for the strength, like a tiger pretending to be a tabby (water helps even more). Other delectable scents emerged over timeacetones, cherries, peaches in a light syrup, more olives, cherries, even some bananas and raisins here and thereit was really quite nice and the best part was, it lasted for a good long time.

I thoroughly enjoyed the taste as well: something of a Demerara seeped delicately into the profile here, some deeper caramel and licorice tastes, mixed in with fried bananas, red olives brine, and yes, peaches in cream, cherries and some tart apricots, plus a green apple slice or three, all covered over with drizzle of lime. And again I’m forced to mention that the control over intensity and stabbing pitchforks of proof was again masterful: concrete solid, massively rooted in rum fundamentals, assertive and aggressive like a boss, and tasty as all get out. Even the finish did not falter: longish, very warm, with closing notes of cider, apples, salted butter and caramel, florals and fruit, all coming together and concluding the night’s entertainment with a nice exclamation point. And a bow.

It always makes me wonder who gets the kudos when a rum like this succeeds. After all, one could argue that CDI just decanted a third party barrel from FourSquare and bottled and sold it, so shouldn’t all the hosannas go to Richard Seale’s boys, and hence increase their sales? Well, kind of. Certainly there’s no gainsaying the overall quality of rums from the distillery of origin (even if the ageing was likely done in Europe by Scheer)…yet as we observed with the indie Mount Gay rums we tried before, cask strength and a respected house name do not always a superlative rum make. The discernment and selection of the guy doing the choosing of which barrel to buy, also comes into play and I think they did well here, really well. I’m not a dedicated Foursquare deep diver and uber-fan like my friends Steve James, The Fat Rum Pirate and Rum Shop Boy (they know every one of Richard’s bottlings ever made, by their first names), but even I have to say that this sub ten year old rum aged in Europe does both the Compagnie and Foursquare damn proudand given its quality, deservedly so.

(87/100)

Sep 242017
 

#389

Based in Germany, Isla del Ron is not a very well known indie, and as of this writing seem to have only done 17 different single cask rum bottlings, from as wide afield as Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Brazil, Guyana, Cuba, Martinique, Nicaragua, and Reunion. Initially founded in 2009 by Thomas Ewer, it concentrated on bottling small quantities of Scotch whiskies, and began with rums in 2013. In the paucity of their history and selections, and their slim-pickin’s website, I get the impression they have a small operation going, something a bit bigger than, oh, Spirits of Old Man (which did an underwhelming Uitvlught rum a few years back) but not in the Ekte or L’Esprit range (yet). That’s about all I have to go on regarding the company, so we’ll have to be satisfied with that for the moment and move on.

That aside, here we have another Barbados rum in my short series about Bajan juice issued by the independentsthis one is another Mount Gay cask strength beefcake, with an outturn of 215 bottles and a hefty 61.6% ABV, and was tasted in tandem with the Cadenhead BMMG, the Green Labeland a Danish Foursquare from Compagnie des Indes as a counterweight, just because I was curious.

The nose started out with aromas of honey, nail polish, acetone and a thread of sweet diluted syrup, leading into a rather watery burst of light fruitpears, watermelon, bananas, some nuttiness, vanilla. But it is actually rather light, even faint, not what I was expecting from something north of 60% and even resting it for ten minutes or more didn’t help much, except perhaps to burp up some additional cough-syrup-like aromas. You wouldn’t expect a cask strength offering to lack intensity, but outside the sharp heat of the burn, there really wasn’t as much going on here taste-wise as I was expecting, and nowhere near as forcefully.

It was better to taste, however: briny, some olives, caramel, almonds and something minty and sharp, and a queer commingling of oversweet caramel mousse and very dark bitter chocolate (however odd that might sound). There was also vanilla, some sweetness, papaya, watermelon, more pears, and yes the bananas were there, together with tarter fruit like yellow half-ripe mangoes. There’s certainly a “rummy” core to the whole experience, yet somehow the whole thing fails to cohere and present well, as the two Cadenheads tried alongside didthis rum was by a wide margin the faintest of the four rums I tried that day (in spite of the alcohol strength) and even the finish, while long, only reminded me of what had gone beforecaramel, some fruits, brine, nuts, vanilla and that was pretty much it.

If the BMMG was too strong and jagged and the Green Label was too light and easy, then this rum somehow navigated between each of each of those and combined them into one rum that was okay but simply did not succeed as well as a cask strength 12 year old rum should, and I suggest that perhaps the ageing barrel was not very active; note also that since I was simultaneously sampling a relatively younger European-aged cask-strength Bajan that was very good, we can possibly discount the ageing location of the barrel as a factor in this disparity of quality (though this is just my opinion).

So summing up, I kinda sorta liked it, just not as much as I should have, or was prepared to. It made more of a statement than the Green Label but paradoxically gave somewhat less in the flavour department and did not eclipse the BMMG. So while it’s a decent limited edition Barbados rum from Mount Gay, it’s not entirely one I would recommend unless you were deep into the Bajan canon and wanted an example of every possible variation, just to see how they could be convoluted and twisted and remade into something that was certainly interesting, but not an unqualified success

(83/100)


Other notes

  • Although the bottle does not specifically state that this is a Mount Gay rum, the company website does indeed mention it as originating from there. Too bad they don’t mention the still.
  • Thanks to Marco Freyr, the source of the sample, whose 2013 review of the rum (in German) is on his website Barrel Aged Mind.
Sep 212017
 

#388

Marco Freyr, in between his densely researched articles on Barrel-Aged-Mind, indulges himself with tasting independent bottlers’ wares, all at cask strength. Marco does not waste time with the featherweight Bacardis of this worldhe goes straight for the brass ring, and analyzes his rums like he was a Swiss watchmaker looking for flaws in the Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260. Some time back he shipped me some Bajan fullproofsbeing amused, perhaps, at my earlier work on Mount Gay’s XO, and feeling I should see what others did with their juice, both now and in the past. This is not to diminish Richard’s or the Warren’s outputyeah, rightsimply to call attention to decent rums made elsewhere on the island, which was the same line of reasoning behind my writing about the Banks DIH rums from Guyana to contrast against the DDL stuff.

Anyway, in that vein here’s the second of a few full proof rums from Little England I want to run past you. This one is also from Cadenheadnot one of their M-for-massive iterations that knock you under the table and leave the weak-kneed trembling and crossing themselves, but from the Green Label collection. A 2000-2010 ten-year-old bottling, issued at a relatively mild 46% and therefore much more approachable by those who prefer standard-proof rums. I’m not always a fan of the Green Labelstheir quality is inconsistent, as the Laphroaig-aged Demerara implies and the 1975 Demerara emphatically refutesbut there aren’t that many Bajan rums out there made by the indies to begin with (aside from Foursquare’s juice), so we should take at least try one or three when they cross our path.

Nose first: for a ten year old aged in Europe, it was quite fruity and sweet and the first smells that greeted me were a mild acetone, honey and banana flambee, with spices (nutmeg and cloves), some fruitiness (peaches, pears) and caramel. Allowing for the difference in power, it was similar to the BMMG we looked at last week, though its nasal profile whispered rather than bellowed and lacked the fierce urgency that a stronger ABV would have provided. The fruits were overtaken by flowers after some minutes, but throughout the tasting, I felt that honey, caramel and bananas remained at the core of it all, simple and distinct.

To some extent this continued on the tasting as well. With a strength of 46% the Green Label didn’t really need water, as it was light and warm enough to have neat (I added some later) and the golden rum didn’t upend any expectations on that score. It was initially very sippable, presenting both some brine and some caramel sweet right away, right up to the point wherewhat just happened here?it let go a series of medicinal, camphor-like farts that almost derailed the entire experience. These were faint but unmistakeable and although the subsequent tastings (and water) ameliorated this somewhat with green tea, a little citrus, more honey, caramel, and chocolate, it was impossible to ignore completely. And at the close, the 46% resulted in a short, breathy finish of no real distinction, with most of the abovementioned notes repeating themselves.

I’ve had enough Foursquare rums, made by both them and the independents, to believe that Marco was correct when he wrote that he doubted this rum was from them, but instead hailed from Mount Gaymuch more than Doorly’s or Rum66 or the more recent FS work, it shared points of similarity with the Cadenhead’s BMMG cask strength as well as the 1703 from Mount Gay itself. And like him, I thought there was some pot still action coiling around inside it, even if Cadenhead obdurately refused to divulge much in the way of information here.

At the end, though, whatever the source, I didn’t care much for it. With the BMMG I remarked it was too raw, perhaps too strong for its (continental) ageing and could use some damping down, a lesser strengthnot something I say often. Here, to some extent the opposite was true: it was mild and medium-sweet, floral and fruity and had it not been for that blade of medicine in the middle, I would have rated it quite a decent Bajan rum, a credit to Mount Gay (if not entirely rivalling the 1703). As it was, combined with the overall lack of punch and depth, it finishes as a rum I’d not be in a hurry to buy again, because it’s too deprecating to qualify as a fullproof bruiser and the taste doesn’t take up enough of the slack to elevate it any further.

(82/100)

Marco’s unscored 2012 German-language review, from the same bottle as the sample he sent me, can be found on his wesbite, here.

Sep 172017
 

Rumaniacs Review #056 | 0456

I got this curious thing through separate channels from the usual Rumaniacs (a trend I foresee continuing) and it’s a mini-bottle insufficient to allow me to share it to everyoneso, sorry mes amis. Still, it’s one of these delightful mystery rhums about which just about nothing turns up on a search, except an old French eBay listing which suggests this is a French West Indian rhum from 1953 (unconfirmed, but how cool is that year, right?) bottled at 44% ABV, so in that sense it conforms to all the reasons the ‘Maniacs exist in the first placean old, out of production, heritage rhum, a blast from the past which only exists in memories and old internet pages (and now this one)…

Trawling around suggests thatNegrescowas not an uncommon label, used rather more commonly, it would seem, for Martinique rhums; there are references with that title from several bottlers, including Bruggeman out of Belgium, and my little sampler hasR.C Gandas the company of makeabout which there is exactly zero infoso unless a Constant Reader can contribute a nugget of information, we’ll have to be content with that.

ColourMahogany

StrengthAssumed 44%

NoseReminds me somewhat of the old E.H. Keeling Old Demerara rum (R-019): prunes gone off, bananas just starting to go, plus vinegar, soy and caramel. Quite awtf?” nose, really. There’s a musty air about it, like an old cupboard aired too seldom. After a while, some sawdust, old dried-out cigars, a bit of anise, and indeterminate fruits and herbs

PalateNot bad at all, perhaps because it displays no single island’s characteristics, making it something of a Caribbean rhum, maybe a blend (which I suspected was the case anyway); oddly, though labelled as arhumit has faint hints of anise and deep woody and fruity flavour points in the direction of some Guianese components. With water there are plums, anise, prunes raisins and a salty bite of tequila, coffee, caramel and soya. I’m convinced the strength is around 50-55%, by the way, though the bottle doesn’t mention it. (Note that I saw a very similar label on rum.cza rum label collector in Czecheslovakiawhich suggests it is actually 54%, and that makes sense).

FinishMedium long, warm, coffee, licorice and caramel, very pleasant and easy going.

ThoughtsQuite liked this one, wish I could have had a bottle to take a real long pull at it and take it apart some more. It’s certainly a decent rhum from Ago, which, if one were to ever find it again, and at a reasonable price, is worth getting.

(85/100)

  • No other Rumaniacs have sampled this rhum, so no links this time.
  • Many thanks to Etienne, who sent this to me.
Jul 162017
 

#377

Bottled in 2004 at a lukewarm 43%, Bristol Spirits have somehow transcended the living room strength of this classic 30 year old rum and produced one of the best Jamaicans of its kind. Even under some time pressure, I still had that glass on the go for two full hours, smelling it over and over, tasting it in the tiniest of sips again and again, comparing, retasting, rechecking, making more and more notes, and in the fullproof company of Guyanese and Jamaicans I was trying alongside it, it was a standout of no mean proportions. We simply do not see rums of this kind any longerwe can with some effort get 15-20 year olds, we may be able to source a few rums in their twenties, but when was the last time you were fortunate enough to try a thirty year old rum?

Bristol Spirits are no stranger to old stocks, of course. There was the masterful Port Mourant 1980 and that sublime Caroni 1974, to name but two. These days, they’ve sort of settled into a groove with more sober-minded middle-aged rums, and while I would never say that what they produce now is not up to scratchwhat they put out the door is both imaginative and interestingnone of them have that aura of gravitas mixed up with a ballsy “looky here!” middle-finger-to-the-establishment braggadocioor yes, the restrained majesty, which three decades of ageing confers on this rum.

Because it was clear that every aspect of that age was wrung out and lovingly extracted from the single originating barrel. No attempt was made to hold a thing back, and this was evident right away on the aroma, which dumbfounded me by being much more complex and even pungent for whatlet’s face itis not the world’s most badass rum strength. It was just so deep. It started out with the richness of burnt leaves and charred canefields after the ritual firing, smouldering in a tropical twilight; caramel, toffee, nutty nougat, almonds, burnt brown sugar, tied together with oak and slightly bitter tannins that did not detract but enhanced. What fruits there wereraisins, prunes, plums for the most partkept a cool kind of distance which supported the aromas noted above without supplanting them, and around them all was a weird amalgam of melons, squash and citrus zest that I was at a loss to pin down at firstbut trust me, it worked. Anyone who loves rums (and not just Jamaicans) would go ape for this thing.

The taste was similarly top-notch, and while I would be hard-pressed to tell you the profile screamed “funk” or “dunder” or “Jamaican”, I must also tell you that what was presented had so much to offer that the rum skated past such concerns. It started out with traditional dark caramel, a little glue and warm dark fruitraisins, black cake, tamarindand then went for broke. Over two hours it developed tastes of honey, cherries, flowers, charred wood, ashes and hot damp earth after a rain, underlain with a sort of laid back but crisp flavours of green apples, lemon zest and nuts, and finished off with a surprisingly long fade redolent of raspberries and ripe cherries and vanilla. Quite frankly, one of the reasons I kept at it for so long was simply that I found myself more and more impressed with it as time went on: to the very end it never stopped developing.

As with many really good rumsand yes, I call this one of themthere’s more to it than simple tasting notes. The mark of a rum / rhum / ron which transcends its provenance and age and goes for something special, is one that either makes one ponder the rumiverse while drinking it, or one that brings up clear associated memories in the mind of the reviewerto some extent both were the case here. It was not clearly and distinctively a Jamaican rum, and I wondered how the distinctive profile of the island was so muted here….was it the long ageing in Europe, the original barrel, a peculiarity of the distillate, or the still itself? And as time went on I stopped worrying about it, and was drawn back into my memories of my youth in the Caribbean, the scent of burning canefields, fresh pressed cane juice on shaved ice sold by a snow-cone vendor outside Bourda, and the first taste of a local hooch in a beergarden down the coast served neat with a bowl of ice. Such things are in themselves irrelevant, but also part and parcel of what makes this rum, to me, quite special, the more so since it happens so rarely.

So, yeah, I’m a drooling fanboy (was it that obvious?). But how could I not be? You have to experience the emphatic boom trapped within the otherwise standard proof to understand my enthusiasm. Muted yes; quiet yes; not as intenseof course. One cannot outrun one’s shadow and get out from under 43%. But just smell the thing, taste the thing, savour the thinglike some of the Compagnie’s rums, it makes a great case for Continental ageing. You could almost imagine some half-crazed, giggling bottler, half-in and half-out the barrel with a tiny teaspoon and clean white cloth, trying to get the very last drop out just to make sure that nothing was wasted. Given what was achieved here, assuredly none of it was. It’s just half a shot shy of great.

(90/100)


Other notes

There is no data on the originating estate. I’m guessing here, but believe it’s either a Longpond or a Monymusk, just on the taste. If anyone has more info, feel free to correct me on this one.

Jun 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #049 | 0449

Even now, years after I acquired one of the 220 bottles of this phenomenal 36 year old rum, it retains its power to amaze and, yes, even awe. It still retails in the UK for over six hundred quid, reviews are rare as sugar in a Velier rum, and to this day it is unclear whether it is a blendor if not, from which estate or distillery it hails. Whatever the case, it is a great bit of Jamaican rum history and should be tried by any who get the opportunity.

ColourAmber-orange

Strength – 60.3%

NosePungent, bags of fruits resting on a firm and almost sharp initial aromas. Vanilla, coconut, aromatic tobacco, andat least at the beginningvery little in the way of true ‘Jamaican-ness’. Where’s the funk? Oak is well handled for something this oldso likely it was aged in the UK. After some minutes coffee, raisins, bitter chocolate, parsley (!!) bananas, cherries, and faint dunder starts to creep out, before developing into something much more aggressive. Definitely a rum that gives more the longer it stays open so don’t rush into this one. There’s also a musty, damp-cellar background to it all that combines well with the wood, and somewhat displaces the fruitiness the esters are trying to provide.

PalateWhew, hot hot hot. Started slow, worked up a head of steam and then just barreled down the straight looking neither left nor right. Dusty cardboard and cereals, more of that earthy mustiness, plus some brine, avocados, cumin and maybe ginger. Adding water is the key here, and once this is done, ther is caramel and cinnamon, more cumin, hay, tobacco and chocolate, veggies, and yes, rotting bananas and fleshy fruit gone offso apparently it may not start out Jamaican, but sure finishes like one.

FinishLong and warm and very very aromatic. Wood shavings, some more citrus (lemons, not oranges), ginger, cumin, those ‘offfruits and even (what was this?) some cigarette tar.

ThoughtsStill an excellent, amazing rum. Honestly, I’m helpless to justify 60.3% and 36 years old and near to a four figure price tag. How can anyone? For the average rum drinker, you can’t. You wouldn’t share it with your card-playing buddies, your kids had better not go near it, you wouldn’t give it away as a gift, and there are so few of these bottles around that it might even never be opened because the event to do so would never be special enough. But all that aside, we need s**t like this. Without such rums we would be a lesser people (and cede pride of place to the maltsters). And that’s why it’s a rum to cherish, if you can ever get it.

(90/100)

May 072017
 

Think of the great and noble Demerara rum marques and a few initials come to mind. PM. EHP. VSG. ICBU. PDW.

PDwhat?

I spent days trolling around trying to find out what those initials meant and came up dry. I was left thinking that if Cadenhead doesn’t get its act together, it’s going to be a running joke that they’re clueless as to how to name their rums, and maybe I’ll solicit lottery entries for best guess what these initials represent.

But that’s just me and somewhat irrelevant, so let’s just rewind to the beginning. Caribbean Distillers Limited was and is not a distillery of any kind, merely a now-dormant subsidiary of DDL (Yesu Persaud and Komal Samaroo were/are its officers), incorporated in the UK in 1986 with £100 share capital. It seems reasonable to assume it was the distribution arm for DDL in Europe, or a vehicle for financial transactions which would have been difficult to carry out from Guyana, where extremely stringent exchange controls existed at that time. So by the time Cadenhead bought their barrel(s) it was from this company which in turn had access to all of DDL’s exported aged rums.

The most common geriatrics one can still find (and, perhaps, afford) are those from the 1970s made in limited runs by the whisky makerswe’re not all like Uncle Serge, who just reviewed the Samaroli 1948 Longpond the other day. And, yes, of course even older ones do existthe Saint James 1885 proves thatbut they’re usually far too pricey and in many cases just made in some far away time, and are not normally thirty or forty years old. So it was with some appreciation that I sprung some of my hard earned cash to buy a sample of this hoary 29 year old Cadenhead, dating back from 1972, and bottled at a whopping 60.9%. You gotta love those Scots – as far back as 2002, way before us writers were even out of rum-diapers and we all and only loved living room strength, they were out there pushing fullproof mastodons.

Is it worth it, if one can find it? I suggest yes, and for those of you who are shrugging (“Ahh, it’s just another strong rum”), well, I’ll just dive straight into the tasting notes and maybe that’ll hold your waning attention. Certainly nothing else would express my appreciation quite as well. Starting with the nose, it was aggressive and spicy but without any serious damage-inducing sharpness redolent of massive pot still crazyin fact, it presented almost creamily, with coconut shavings, vanilla, exotic baked fruit in a cream pie (think a steroid infused lemon meringue), and the vague delicacy of flowers rounding out the backend. With water it opened up spectacularly: it went all citrusy, tartly creamy, very fruity, tacking on some licoriceI was left looking wonderingly at the amber liquid in the glass, wondering what on earth this really was: a Port Mourant? Emore? John Dore? For my money it’s the single wooden pot still (VSG marque), because it lacks some of the depth of the PM and I had enough Enmores to believe it wasn’t that. But that’s only a guess really, since nobody knows what the PDW stands for.

Anyway, I was equally pleased (enthused might be a better word) with the taste, which was, quite frankly, an edged weapon of dark rum magic. Everything I liked in a Demerara rum was here, and in great balance without excess anywhere. First there were prunes and other dark fruitsraisins, blackberries, blackcurrants. To this was added licorice, slightly bitter-and-salty burnt sugar and caramel. Oakiness was kept way backit was a breath, not a shout. These core flavours were circled by sharper citrus notes, as well as some of that lemon meringue again; faint green grapes, some apples, and a pear or two, nothing serious, just enough unobtrusive small flavours tucked away in the corner to garner appreciation for the rum as a whole. And while forceful, the 60.9% was really well handled, leading to a heated finish redolent of much of the above (and nothing markedly different, or new) that went on for so long I nearly feel asleep waiting for it to stop. In short, this was a magnificently aged rum. Maybe I should be genuflecting.

So far, just about all rums from the disco decade I’ve tried have been very old ones (not necessarily very good ones in all cases), aged two decades or more, bottled at the beginning of the rum renaissance in the 2000s. There’s Velier’s PM 1974 and Skeldon 1973, Norse Cask 1975, Cadenhead’s own Green Label 1975 Demerara, and a few others here or there….and now this one. The PDW is a big, growly, deep, tasty rum, and if you’re tired of Veliers, go see if you can find it. It’s a triumph of the maker’s imagination and the difficulties of ageing that long. It couldn’t have been easy to make, or decide when to stop, but Cadenhead seems to have kept at it and at it, and waited to bottle the thing only when they were sure, really sure, they had it absolutely right. And they did.

(91/100)

 

Apr 242017
 

#359

“Aguacana” is as good a term for this cachaça as any other, denoting as it does “water of the cane” There are few titles more appropriate, because at 37.5% you’re really not getting very much out of the Brazilian drink, and even in a mix I sort of wonder what the point is and how well something this frail would fare in a caipirinha. I’m aware that it’s somewhat snobby, but seriously, 37.5% is edging out of spirits territory altogether and into some kind of never-never land of “please don’t hurt me” for the timid, and my preferences don’t run that way. Note the label by the way – it says “The Original for a Caipirinha,” which I think every such drink under the sun claims to be

Background information is as skimpy as the taste profile. The rum is made under the auspices of Bardinet, a French spirits company founded back in the 1850s by Paul Bardinet who worked on blending and taming sugar cane alcohol that was shipped to France. These days the name Bardinet (with respect to rums) is probably better associated with the Negrita and Old Nick brands, but since 1993 they have been the La Martiniquaise-Bardinet Group and control Dillon, Depaz and Sainte-Marie on Martinique, as well as Distillerie de Marie Galante and SIS in Guadeloupe. So certainly their lineup has real heft in it. As for the Aguacana, it’s one of the many brands within the group and that’s about all I could dig up – I don’t even know where specifically in Brazil it’s made. From the paucity of the information and lack of any kind of serious marketing, I get the impression it’s an afterthought meant to round out the portfolio rather than a serious attempt to make a commercial statement or break the Brazilian market.

Let’s get right into the tasting. The nose is sharper and clearer than the Thoquino that was tried alongside it, herbal and grassy, demonstrating more salt and less sugar, some vague florals and unripe green grapes so in that sense it was different. The problem was (and remains) that that was pretty much the whole shooting match: if there were more undiscovered aromas, they were far too faint and watery for me to pick them out.

Slight improvement on the palate. It presented a clean and spicy-sharp alcohol taste, quite dry, and was weak and near ghost-like at everything else – one senses there’s something there, but never entirely comes to grips with anything. So I let it rest, came back to it over a period of hours and noted tastes of iodine, watermelon, cucumbers in vinegar, flowers, and the ever-present sweet sugar water that so far has been a characteristic of every cachaça I’ve ever tried. Overall it was watery in the extreme, and even though sometimes ageing in oddly-named Brazilian woods imparts some off-base flavours to the profile, here there was none of that at all. “Slightly flavoured water” is what I remember grumbling to myself, before also noting that the finish was “inconsequential, with no aspects of profile worth mentioning that haven’t already been sunk by the mildness” (yes, my notes really do read like that).

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a drink that is not meant to be anything but a cocktail ingredient as a neat sipping spirit, and you’d be within your rights to make the criticism. Still, you have to know what it’s like on its own before you go making a mix, right? How else are you going to know what to add? In fine, the Aguacana is a meek and inoffensive and ineffective cachaça, which does the job of making a shy caipirinha easy enough since just about anything added to the glass would alter the profile to what is desired (which may be the point). The relaxation and the buzz will arrive eventually, but if you really want a sense of what the rum is like by itself, you’ll spend a long time waiting for any kind of flavour to chug into the station. And as for me, I’ve got better rums to try, so I’ll pass on this in the future unless Mrs. Caner feels generous enough to whip up a drink for me.

(70/100)

Apr 132017
 

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission

“Super Premium”? Not at allbut still quite a tasty dram. Surprised they didn’t call it aNavy”.

#356

Bottled at an assertive but not excessive 50%, the Svenska Eldvattan Weiron is a blended rum out of Sweden made by the same happy bunch of guys who are behind the Rum Swedes lineup, which I’ve never tried but about which I’ve heard many good things. That said, they don’t limit themselves to rum, and are primarily into bottling various whiskies, with a gin and a tequila or two for good measure. This one is rather daringly called the “Super Premium Aged Caribbean Rum” which I’m sure has more than one rum junkie itching to see if it actually lives up to what few independent bottlers would dare to claim, not least because (a) nobody can actually define the term precisely and (b) there’s tons of rums out there which probably deserve the appellation more.

Getting the basics out of the way, the rum was issued in early 2015; part of the blend is Jamaican, part is Bajan, and there is more that remains unidentified. However, to please the above-mentioned junkie, there are no additives, no chill filtering, and the individual components were all matured at the distilleries of origin, which unfortunately remain unknown to this day. As an aside the Weiron seems to be turning into its own little lineup, as various other editions are being issued (like some Caroni and Nicaragua single cask, fullproof expressions). Beyond that, there’s not much to tell you, not even the outturn, or the age of the bits and pieces; and there’s something about the bottle’s stark presentational ethos that suggests the Swedes felt that Velier obviously had far too much flower-child frippery and ridiculous ostentation in their overlabelled and overdecorated bottles. Either that or they’re channelling Ikea, who knows?

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission

When smelled, one can instantly sense some pot still action going on here, as evidenced by the swiftly fading paint thinner and shoe polish aromas, although it didn’t hang around long enough to be a core component of the nose. Still, there was cardboard, cream cheese, molasses and crispy crackers, both sweet and salt at the same time in a very nice balance. It was manageably spicy, and took its own sweet time getting to the point, and after some minutes, darker fruit began to emerge, caramel, raisins, together with some nuttiness and leather, and perhaps a touch of toffee and vanilla, all bound together by an undercurrent of lemon peel and faint funkiness that pointed to the Jamaican more than any kind of Bajan influence.

It was on the palate that it came into its own and made more of a statement. Warm and smooth, with a firm little burn for a 50% rum, and amazingly well assembled. Cherries, olives, cumin, cardamom, brown sugar were the initial flavours, tied up in a bow with some very faint citrus and licorice. With water the citrus disappeared, replaced by a good aged cheddar and black bread, more raisins, bananas, plus some herbal background of fennel and rosemary, and closing off with a lovely medium-long finish of fruit, more anise and sharper oaky tannins. Overall, I had to admit, this wasn’t bad at all, and just wish I knew more about it – Steve James, who loved the rum and sent me the sample, felt it set a new benchmark for multi-island blended hooch, and though I was not quite as enraptured as he was, even I have to admit there was a lot of really good stuff going on here, and at its price point it’s well worth it.

Mostly these days I’m at that stage in my rum journey where blends don’t do much for me as they once did, and I want and prefer the product of a single distillery, bottled as is. For example, I think the 2007 single-still expressions from DDL are better than their aged blends, and efforts to marry off disparate profiles like Oceans Distillery did with their Atlantic edition, or Amrut with their Two Indies didn’t entirely work for me (perhaps the Black Tot is the exception that proves the rule). For a profile as distinct as Jamaica to be mixed up with a Bajan (and whatever the additional piece(s) was/were) the resultant has to be damned good to get my vote and my score. Still, all that aside, in this particular case the lack of information works for the rum rather than against it, because it forces one to walk in blind without preconceptions and simply try what’s on offer. On that basis alone, then, I’d say the Swedes have done a pretty good job at creating a fascinating synthesis of various countries’ rums, and produced something of their own whose moniker of “Super Premium” may be more hope than reality and which may not be greater than the sum of its partsbut is not necessarily less than those either.

(85/100)