(An abridged form of the Liquorature wrap up, posted January 2013)
2012 is drawing to a close, and many sites are beginning their top-however-many lists. The Hippie has drawn up a list of his favourite drams of the year on ATW, the Rum Howler has got his lists of top rums and whiskies he’s tried, film critics will put out their top ten lists as usual, and here I’ll join in and review how the year went from Liquorature’s perspective, including – of course! – my own discoveries of the year and my own take as a reviewer of rums.
The primus inter pares of all my varied interests. During 2012 I gamely struggled to hold my own in the face of the irredeemably stubborn obstinacy of my fellow Liquorites who insist on giving pride of place to the obscure Scottish drink. Added to that was my day job, my family, photography and other priorities, which led to 2012 seeing less than fifty new rum reviews. Aside from the division of my available time, part of the problem is undoubtedly my writing style, which tends to the lengthy and relates to my desire to tell as complete a story about each rum as I can, adding to that whatever ruminations (no pun intended) cross my mind as I write, and making each more an essay than a review…hopefully a unique one. This is a style that takes real effort and thought and time, and works for me both as a writer and a reviewer; but is, alas, too long for some (most, I would gather), with all the attendant disinterest it creates in people who prefer a McNugget-level synopsis as they stand, i-phone in hand, at a liquor store somewhere wondering what to buy. The important thing is that I enjoy it and it holds my interest – a more abbreviated style would be easier, I could churn out more reviews…but not nearly as much fun.
My tastes have gradually changed (I hesitate to say “improved”) to appreciate higher proof rums — I’m coming to the stated opinion that 40% is a really pronounced limiting factor for top quality rums of any kind. The Panamonte XXV, the Plantation XO 20th Anniversary and many others, would have benefited greatly from having the extra oomph of a few additional proof points. Of course, the two rums that took this to ridiculous extremes were the beefcake SMWS Longpond 81.2% and the Stroh 80 both of which I sneakily kinda enjoyed in spite of their rage.
Another point of development for me is that I have quietly dispensed with three almost unconsciously held assumptions I realized I was harbouring: (a) that older rums are always better than younger ones (they often are, but not every time); (b) younger rums or cheap blends are only for mixing (often true, but certainly not every time) and (c) expensive is equivalent to quality (it often is, but, nope, not always). As I taste more and more rums and go back and forth between the earlier rums and the later ones and cross taste them in my spare time, I appreciate the subtleties that in many cases I missed the first time around, and learn to admire the artistry some makers bring to even their youngest creation. In order to chart my development, I leave my scores the way they were when I wrote them, but I’m thinking of doing a”revisit reviews” of the older ones from 2009/10 which were shorter and not as intense as later work. As a point of interest, I review every rum neat – whether it makes a good cocktail or not is not part of my review process, though I usually mix myself one to test stuff I don’t like, on the assumption that it might fail as a sipping spirit, but not necessarily as a cocktail.
I’m also learning to appreciate the lighter bodies and complex profiles of agricoles and French-island rums more than when I started, and my discovery this year was undoubtedly the Courcelles 1972 58% which the co-manager of the Rum Depot in Berlin trotted out from his private stash and allowed me to share. I still hate the scoring mechanism, which for me results in rums scoring mostly between fifty and seventy, and I dread coming up with something new and having to go back over a hundred rums and recalibrating. However, at least it’s consistent. But readers should always be warned that it’s the words that tell the tale, not the score. Oh yeah, I dropped the chart of the rum profiles…it was useful for a while, but didn’t see it adding any real value so I just shrugged and did away with it.
Kensington Wine Market in Calgary continues to hold two Rum tastings a year, which I faithfully attend and write about in a probably futile effort to raise the profile of the spirit in my obstinately whisky-loving area. A high point for me this year was undoubtedly the cracking of the 58 Year Old Longpond, which snarkily showed the Appleton 50 the door (the latter will be on show for the February 8th 2013 Tasting at KWM). Andrew, the co-owner, maintains his generous habit of alerting me to new and interesting rums coming through the door, even if I can’t afford them all. And though I am aware that in his eyes rum simply doesn’t class with whisky (hence his online moniker which I continually gripe about), he treats me with the courtesy due any autistic, rum-loving mutt who may growl at any moment.
The rums tasted that stood out this year (equivalent to ATW’s “Drams of the Year” post)
- Appleton Estate 50 year old: I see that Co-op in Calgary has a bottle for $4500. Too rich. But what a great rum it was, correcting as it did many deficiencies of the 30 year old.
- Courcelles 1972 58%: Renewed my interest in agricoles…lovely and rich and tasty. I have the 47% variation to review.
- Rum Nation Demerara 1989-2012 23 year old 45% Anyone wants to know why I’m a Rum Nation fanboy, this is it.
- Plantation Barbados XO 20th Anniversary: Lovely, coconut-kissed breath of Bajan sunshine from Cognac Ferrand
- Rum Nation Panama 21 year old. Best of the Panamanians. This may be considered heresy, but I believe it outclasses the Panamonte XXV by a whisker.
- G&M Longpond 1941 58 year old: Grandpappy of all rums I’ve ever tasted, and excellent too. Held on to this for two years before reverently opening it…
- Secret Treasures Enmore 1989 14 year old: Secret is right – never even heard about Fassbind until I went to Berlin. But what a lovely rum this was. Finished it neat in two nights with my mother at her dacha in north Germany by a fireside under the stars.
What is evident from this brief listing is that I’m deliberately moving away from the “one size fits all” commercial rums that we can find almost anywhere, towards costlier, rarer, more unique rums that are edging me to an average price of close to a hundred bucks per bottle (yes, with very rare exceptions and to the horror of my wife, I buy everything I review – the exceptions are my friends’ samples which *they* buy). My choices are becoming more finicky, and I seek out older and obscure offerings for the same reason I write the way I do…because it’s more interesting that way, and because there are enough reviews of the commonly available rums out there (does anyone really need me to put up a tenth review of the Mount Gay XO except as a site-hits driver?). This is not to say I don’t look at, say, a Myer’s Planter’s Punch…I just don’t do it as often (though I always will), or as assiduously – it would undoubtedly be cheaper, though, wouldn’t it? To my mind, a person who likes Old Sam’s won’t care in the slightest what I write about it (if he even looks for a review), but anyone seeking to check out the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 Year old probably will, before he drops close to two hundred bucks on it.
Summing up, it’s been a slower than expected year for reviews, but both the Hippie with his 2013 Islay tour and myself with the trip to Germany, made discoveries beyond price. The Liquorature meetings are fixtures and high points of our gentlemanly social lives, and look to continue far into the future. And as we bring 2012 to a close, I must say that 2013 promises to be a year full of new books, new spirits, new friends and more rambunctious get-togethers than ever before.
All the very best to all of you who have had the patience to read this far, and have a great New Year.