Apr 132022
 

Few in the rum world are unaware of the little rum company in Massachusetts called Privateer, so indelibly has it made its mark on the American rum scene. Maggie Campbell, the former master distiller there (as of late 2021 she is in Barbados working for Mount Gay) put her stamp on the company’s reputation quite firmly via a series of releases with evocative names like Distillers’ Drawer, Queen’s Share, Bottled in Bond and Letter of Marque (among others). And Privateer, like Velier, Savanna, Foursquare and others, had learnt of the value of limited editions, regularly released – they stoked excitement, tickled the collector’s avarice, and if one didn’t please, well, there was always another tweaked edition coming along soon.

After reaping many plaudits for their rums since opening for business in 2011, Privateer got yet another feather in its cap in 2020 when Velier sourced eight casks from them (three from 2016 and five from 2017). This purchase was for inclusion in the well-regarded and influential Habitation Velier series of pot still rums, and 1197 bottles of a blended 3 YO rum were released at 55.6% ABV in 2020. Whether the intersecting forces of a well-regarded (but young) American rum, pot stills and the imprimatur of Velier were or are enough to justify the price tag it commanded has dominated most discussions about the rum since it became available.

So let’s get right to it. Nose first, as always: it is straightforward with caramel bon bons,m toffee and light molasses, underlain by very light floral hints.  Vanilla and lots of tannins and wood sap jostle rudely alongside, and with some effort, after a while, you get some fruity elements – cherries, yellow mangoes (the Indian or Sri Lankan kind with that odd tart snap to the aroma that always reminds me of sharp crackling ozone) and peaches – but it’s something of a thin soup with too much bite, like one of those scrawny rice- eating flea-bitten mongrels from the ghetto that snap as soon as look at you.

The palate is better, perhaps because by now you’re used to things as they are and adjusted. Here we have nuts, peaches, syrup, more vanilla, more tannins (though not as overbearing) and a rum that feels more solid, thicker, more emphatic. Some unsweetened chocolate and bitter coffee left too long in the percolator round out the profile.  The whole thing comes to an end with a finish that is satisfactorily long, nutty with sweet/salt caramel notes, and a final touch of fruit to give it some semblance of complexity.

Speaking for myself I think this is a rum that’s still too young, and there’s really not enough depth. The rum has presence, sure, but what in some rums is a good thing (a few core flavours, masterfully assembled) here just feels like an uneasily married series of pieces jumbled together. The strength is too high for what it attempts (not often I say that, admittedly) and the oak is very noticeable. That said, the Privateer 2017 is a rum that many Americans might like due to its better-than-usual quality (for them) and its proximity to a bourbon (which would also draw in lovers of Foursquare) — while others elsewhere would shrug it off for the same reasons.

So far, I have not been completely won over by Privateer in spite of the accolades and social media praises (which is not to say that Maggie Campbell doesn’t earn her coverage – she does). Although their rums are excellent for their milieu where there’s a much lower bar to clear, by the exacting standards of world famous rons, rums and rhums I’ve tried, they still have a ways to go. But then, in making any kind of generalised statements about the company’s products, I do too, so this review is by no means the last word on Privateer’s rums, just my solo take on this one.

(#899)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

Feb 272020
 

It must be something intrinsic to the USA and their commercial distilling culture, that almost every distillery I’ve come across seems to like making ten different thing off their apparatus.  It’s as if they view a single point of focus, a single product line, as an anathema – a still must be multipurpose, and work to earn its keep by wringing the maximum different amount of spirits out of it.  And this leads to my oft-repeated remark that American distillers seem to like making whiskies, gins, vodkas and other stuff — and produce rum not because of real love for the spirit but as a sort of afterthought to round out the portfolio and provide some immediate cash flow while their hoped-for next Pappy is ageing.

Mad River out of Vermont is no exception to this. In fact, while originally thinking of starting a winery, they finally settled on getting a distillation setup to produce what they really wanted to make – a brandy. Yet, oddly, after sourcing their Muller still from Germany, the first thing off that still in 2013 was a rum, the First Run, and went on from there to make bourbon, rye, and other types of rum — including a silver American “Demerara” (so named probably because it’s made from Demerara sugar, and I have a feeling there’s a potential trademark violation accusation there somewhere if DDL ever hears about it)…and, of course, apple brandy.

The PX is one of their stable of rums, which also includes a Maple-Cask aged rum, the aforementioned First Run and a flavoured vanilla variant. The PX is a single-column-still distillate, aged in toasted and charred barrels, finished in Pedro Ximinez casks (not idea how long in any of these) and released at 46% ABV.  

These bare bones facts obscure a multitude of small issues. For one, they call it a “Demerara-based” rum and remark that the sugar they source is fair-trade certified, but what that means is that it’s a rum made with brown sugar of unstated provenance – if it came from Guyana, which is the only country which can sell a sugar with the word “Demerara” on it, “fair trade” would be an unnecessary statement. For me then, this rum skirts right on the edge of my personal belief idea that a rum should state its origins clearly, and should come from fresh-pressed juice, or molasses…not from sugar itself. The ageing is also never spelled out on the bottle or the website – not the ageing of the base rum, nor the duration of the finishing in PX. We have no idea what the complete outturn is, therefore grading the words “Limited Edition” is impossible. And so these niggling omissions in turn cast doubts (mine) on the “scrappy independent,” “we love what we do” origin story on their website, which I’ve learned the hard way to always regard with some skepticism.

But enough.  Let’s move on to the rum itself and what it tastes like, grade it on how it actually is. Is this a rum that’s up and coming, preparing to take its place as one of the USA’s unsung heroes, a nimble fast-moving upstart ready to take on all comers and make the Caribbean producers look anxiously to their nethers?

Not quite…though it is interesting.  It starts off on the nose with woodchips, sawdust, glue, and old books in a musty library. The fruits start in the background and then slowly gather strength – these are sweet prunes and ripe peaches for the most part, leavened with vanilla, blancmange, some nuttiness and cereals, figs, cloves and raw damp tobacco leaves. The odd thing about it is that it starts nicely but fades away really quickly, so its evanescence is a disappointment — just as I’m coming to grips with it, it vanishes like it’s middle name is Cheshire.

The palate is also somewhat disappointing. The initial tastes are all there – dark fruits, raisins, prunes — but they’re thin and green, not really very precise or dialled-in, more like a mishmash of poorly coordinated soft stuff thrown at a wall. There’s also coffee grounds, tobacco and dark bitter chocolate, more cloves, and in this respect it reminds me a lot of the Dictador 20 or their Best of 1977 – except that it seems lighter, and drier, not quite as polished. As for the finish, that’s simply underwhelming — short and indeterminate, almost indifferent. There’s some tobacco, pancake syrup, vague fruits, smoke, maple sugar, all wispy and vague, here one second and gone the next.

The PX influence is noticeable in the fruitiness, nuttiness and some of the drier aspects of the rum — beyond that, I can’t say there’s much to enthuse. The nose is clearly the best part of the experience, yet even with that, it’s not the sort of rum that encourages sedate evening sipping while watching the sun  go down and discussing the nature of the rumiverse. Part of that is the way the balance feels off, and the tastes and aromas don’t really pop, or mesh particularly well. You’re left feeling this is an essay in the craft, with a few interesting flavours that ultimately fail to cohere, leaving a muddled experience you don’t know what to do with when it’s done. Hardly enough for an unqualified recommendation.

(#705)(76/100)


Other Notes:


Opinion

My point about the jumping all over the spirits-production map, making various different spirits and not settling on one, is merely an observation, not a criticism; and not meant to diss a self-evident enthusiasm for the work, or the commercial realities all such little businesses in the USA must overcome.  After all, the Caribbean rum producers are single-mindedly focused on rums because they started form a base of sugar and molasses which were produced right there, and moved on from that point. American distillers mostly lack this geographic-agricultural advantage. Too, being a single-product producer carries risk: money is tied up in this thing and if sales lag, the enterprise could founder – so the incentive to spread that risk by making several products which can all sell to different market segments, is great.  But what it also does is diversify expertise – and the long, tedious, kaizen-like approach to learning and experimentation and gradual increase in knowledge and skill and quality of the one product they’ve hung their hat on – the way, for example, Mhoba’s founder tinkered for ages to get his stuff right – is missing.

That’s very likely why I have, so far, not seen much in the American rum industry to enthuse me. The rums most make are competent and occasionally interesting, yet don’t wow my socks off (at least, not yet). My experience thus far has been that those who go the whole hog and deal with rum as their primary spirit — not as some kind of adjunct —  tend to do better qualitatively than those who try to do too much. Privateer is one such, Montanya is another, Richland and Pritchards are always intriguing, and there are more.  But I have a feeling that if the Law of Mediocrity holds true, then the low to middling quality of all those American rums that have crossed my path over the last ten years (mostly by pure happenstance) define the majority of rums made there; and the companies I have named with products that really make a splash, are the outliers, the leading edges of the bell curve. Only time will tell if that feeling is accurate.

Apr 072019
 

When a bunch of the rum chums and I gathered some time back to damage some rums and show them who was boss, one of them remarked of this rum, “Easy drinking” — which initially I thought was damning it with faint praise until I tried it myself, and continued with it three or four more times after they all staggered back to their fleabag hotels, surprised by its overall worth.  It’s not often you get to try (or be really pleased by) an indie bottling from the USA, given how much they are in love with starting whole distilleries rather than sourcing other people’s juice.

Which is not to say that Smooth Ambler, the West Virginia outfit that made it (and then never made another) isn’t a distillery – it is.  But like most American spirits makers, they are into whiskies, not rums, and one can only speculate that given the components of this thing are reputed to date from 1990 and earlier, that to make it at all they must have gotten a pretty good deal on the distillate, and it’s to our regret that they themselves commented that it was a one time deal for them, as “we don’t make rum.”  

That out of the way, tasting notes. Nose first: take your pick on the terms — rancio, hogo, dunder, funk — it’s all there.  Rich and sharp fruits. Red currants, pomegranates, rotten bananas and a milder form of fruits thrown on the midden that haven’t completely spoiled yet.  Caramel, vanilla. I actually thought it was a muted Hampden or Worthy Park, and it was only after it opened for a bit that other aspects came forward – vanilla, caramel and some tannics from the oak, which is not surprising since part of the blend comes from (what is assumed to be) 75% Appleton’s column distilled 1990 stock (so 23 YO, given this was bottled in early 2014) and another 25% from a pot still dating back, according to them, 1985. No idea where it was aged, but for its richness, I’d almost say tropical.

Palate and nose diverged rather markedly in one key aspect – the characteristic Jamaican funk took a serious back seat when I tasted it, and became much more balanced, really quite approachable, if losing somewhat of its individuality and craziness that so characterizes Jamaican high-ester screamers.  Some of the acidic fruits remained – green apples, sultanas, cider, bitter chocolate, vinegar — but with some attention one could easily discern soy, olives and brine as well, to say nothing of sweeter, softer fruits like tinned peaches and apricots in syrup. Plus maybe a bit of cumin, smoke and lemon peel.  There is a layer of nuttiness, caramel and toffee underneath all that, but it serves more as a counterpoint than a counterweight, being too faint to catch much glory. Much of this stayed put on the finish which was soft yet spicy, just on the rough side of being tamed completely, with cumin, nuts and fruits closing things off, perhaps without bombast, but at least with a little style.

It’s a tough call, what to think of something like this.  The balance is good, and oddly enough it reminds me more of a Jamaican and Cuban blend than a meld of two Jamaican houses.  The strength at 49.5% is also spot on, residing in that pleasant area that is more than standard strength without tearing your tonsils out as a cask strength sixty-percenter might. There’s a lot here that a bourbon fancier might enjoy, I think, and while it won’t take on the big Jamaican players we now know so well, it’ll give a good account of itself nevertheless. I thought it an interesting rum and a very sippable dram for those who want to try something a little different, and as I finished my fifth glass, I could only think that yes, my friend was right when he said I had to try it; and that it was a crying shame Smooth Ambler didn’t care enough about rums to follow up with what they had achieved on their first go through the gate.

(#614)(84/100)


Other notes

Both the Rum Barrel (on Facebook) and The Fat Rum Pirate commented on its excessive oakiness, but I felt it was just fine myself.

Sep 292018
 

Having dispensed with the age-shattering, wallet-busting Heritage Rums of the Tasting of the Century, let’s go to something a little less aged, a little less up-market, a little less well-known, and not at the same level of age or quality — something from, oh, the US.  The resurgence of rum and concomitant explosion of small micro-distilleries there suggests that sooner or later we’ll find something from over the pond and south of 49 that’ll wow our socks off.

Certainly this rum suggests that it can and implies that it does — when you peruse the website for the Noxx & Dunn 2-4-5, it leaves you with the distinct impression that it’s lovingly handmade by a team of unsung experts working to redefine the category as we know it. There are glitzy photos, weather for various parts of Florida, notes that it is unadded-to and unadulterated, made from Florida molasses, aged in Florida in American oak barrels, and it’s all very positive.  “A team of craftsmen with almost a century of knowledge believe that a blend of 2, 4 and 5 years produces the most consistent and drinkable of spirits” they remark, evidently not believing either the names of these craftsmen or consistently good older rums from anywhere else are worth mentioning.

Well, never mind my snark, let’s just dive right in and taste the thing. Like many lightly-aged blends it was gold in colour and edged timidly above the standard strength with 43% ABV.  The initial nose presented crisply and with a light fruitiness (pears, apples and apricots). It didn’t develop much beyond that, though after half an hour I could sense some vanilla, nuts, brown sugar, flowers and raspberries – and it got sharper, edgier, over time, not less, which is usually the hallmark of a very young rum, or very active barrels (they use once-used ex-bourbon barrels for ageing).

Taste-wise, not bad.  It felt something like a cross between a light Spanish style anejo and a weak Demerara without distinctly adhering to the profile of either.  Dry and crisp, it was not entirely easy on the palate — that’s the uncouth youth coming through — tasting mostly of light white fruits (guavas, pears, that kind of thing), pecans, coffee, oak and leather, and gradually developed those fruity notes the nose had hinted at – raspberries and very ripe cherries, all overlain with tannins, breakfast spices and light molasses.  The finish, quite short and sharp, was more sweet-ish, with some bitter chocolate oranges, vanilla, brown sugar and quite a bit of oak bite.

My take is that the pot still part doesn’t provide a good balance to the lighter column still portion, the age is still too young, and I felt that the oak was really overactive, exacerbating the driness and slight bitterness beyond the point of being totally approachable – though I say this as an evaluator taking it neat (as I must), not a mixing guru, for whom such a profile would probably shine more. Not a rum to sip really, more one to mix up into a cocktail of some kind.  According to Robin Wynne, that sterling barman running Miss Thing’s in Toronto who spotted me the bottle in the first place, “…I [would make] an Old Fashioned with it, or swapping out bourbon in a Vieux Carre with it. Also makes a great rum negroni…” So there are some suggestions for those inclined in that direction.

When I started sniffing around, the reps in Toronto were very helpful in providing additional information which is not on the webpage, and the story behind the brand is  somewhat more prosaic (and to my mind, rather more interesting) than what’s on public display. Noxx & Dunn is a relatively new rum on the American scene, created a few years ago by a group of individuals who used to be part of Appleton’s salesforce and were let go when Campari acquired it.  They formed their own little outfit called The Tall Tale Spirit company, and this is their only product (so far). It’s meant, as far as I’m able to determine, as a barroom mixer. The rum is primarily (but not totally) column still distillate, the blend of which is a trade secret but kept reasonably constant in order to make for a consistent taste profile.  Note that TTS don’t actually own or operate a distillery, or grow sugar cane or anything – the distillation is done by Florida Caribbean Distillers and the source is molasses from the cane grown in that state (see “other notes” below). What we have at the other end of the process, then, is a blended two-year-old rum with added components of rums four and five years old, made under contract to TTS’s specifications. Also on the plus side, there are no additives, it’s 43% and it’s fully aged in Florida in the usual American ex-bourbon oak barrels.

Overall, this is the sort of rum that is fine in a bar – which is where I found it – but not for greedily savoured home-consumption or sharing with the rum chums to show off one’s incredible perspicacity in sleuthing out undiscovered steals. Not to diss the makers, who evidently are pouring some real passion into their work, but I think it’s like many other such rums from the USA that aren’t entirely multi-column-still flavoured ethanols: too afraid to go where the flavours might actually lead, too timid to amp it up a few volts and really provide a mixer with balls or a sipper with style. It’s just shy of being a true original and that’s a shame for something that’s otherwise quite intriguing.

(#553)(78/100)


Other notes

  • As noted, the Noxx & Dunn is a contract “private label” operation, not a cane-to-cork producer. The distillery of origin is Florida Caribbean Distillers, located halfway between Orlando and Tampa: they control the Club Caribe Distillery in Puerto Rico, as well as distilleries in Lake Alfred and Auburndale (both in Florida), and provide distillation, storage, ageing and bottling facilities as part of their service.
  • Only one other review of this exists, by the Rum Howler, here.  He liked it a lot more than I did, so his opinion is worth noting, given my own more middling score.
Feb 252010
 

D7K_3085

First posted 25 February 2010 on Liquorature

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

(#073. 73/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

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