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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – Steve Leukanech

 

Steve Leukanech

I believe a great way to describe Steve would be as a leading rum activist who is pushing for the rum category to have more transparency. Also Steve is organising a “Rum Geek Barbados Takeover 2018” trip. This is going to be in April and he has already arranged a huge amount of rum based activities. Current timeline includes a an informal chat with Richard Seale and Luca Gargano, Lunch tours at the Foursquare distillery, an event at St. Nicholas Abbey and plenty of meet-ups with some other rum enthusiasts who are making the journey as well. We believe this trip to Barbados is one not to be missed!

Facebook – Rum Geek Barbados Takeover 2018

 

 

Because there is a tie for first place in the list of the three most impressive rums released in 2017 my list contains four. Criterion and Triptych tied for first while the Navy from Velier and the JOY from Appleton rounded out the list.

 

Foursquare Criterion

A blend of column and pot still rums aged in ex-bourbon and ex-Madeira casks. Bottled at 56%, 112 proof. Balanced deep and complex with the Madeira and woody bourbon notes playing nice together. Great mouth feel and subtle flavours reward contemplative sipping.

 

 

 

 

 

Foursquare Triptych

A blend of three vintages aged in three different oaks. Ex-bourbon, ex-Madeira and virgin casks. Bottled at 56%, 112 proof. Bottled in late 2016 it wasn’t to be found until well into 2017 so I’m counting this as a 2017 release. A click softer but nonetheless balanced, complex, deep and rewarding bottle. If you take the time to listen this one has lots to say.

 

 

 

 

Velier Royal Navy Very Old Rum

A blend of rums from Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica aged from more than 11 to more than 20yrs. Bottled at 59% 118 proof. A bit unbalanced, kick ass funky and sharp with a marvellously entertaining almost endless finish. Not a beginners pour and not for everyone. As idiosyncratic as the man who blended and bottled it. This is as entertaining a ride as you are going to find in today’s rum market.

 

 

 

 

Appleton Estate Joy

A blend of rums aged from 25 to 35 years from both column and pot stills. Created by Joy Spence to celebrate her 20th anniversary as Master Blender. Bottled at 45% 90 proof. This is a masterpiece of blending. Marvellous balance with flavourful complexity. She describes this as the rum she wants to sip as she watches the sun set in Jamaica. A beautiful thought even if some of us might be hoping for a bit more proof in future releases.

 

From what I’m hearing there is a lot to look forward to in 2018. Drink well and enjoy the spirit!

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – RumCask

 

RumCask Family

To round off, I guess it is only right to finish on our favourites of 2017. Seeing as there are three of us we decided to have one selection each. We tried to pick unique rums from the year but struggled to diversify from the lists chosen. We did our best!

https://www.rumcask.com
https://www.facebook.com/RumCask
https://twitter.com/RumCask
https://www.instagram.com/RumCask

 

Mhoba Rum

My discovery of 2017 was tucked away in the back left of corner of the UK RumFest. South African rhum anyone? If you too tried Mhoba that day, you know what I’m talking about. Pure, single sugarcane rum produced by the charming and humble Robert Greaves who spoke with pride and great humility about his exceptional produce. The rum is “glass cask” stave aged, a completely unique method and contains no additives. The small batch philosophy results in delicious, smokey rums, packed with flavour and character. Hard to believe these guys at Mhoba are first time producers but they have gone about things the right way and I look forward to seeing and tasting more from them!

 

 

 

Foursquare Criterion

2017 was pretty spectacular for rum releases and I know a lot of people, myself included, have Foursquare’s Criterion (56%) high on their favourite’s list. For me Criterion was a breathtaking wonder! Spicy, flavourful, big and for me not typically-Bajan albeit dry and fruity. My stock is dwindling but it is a rum that must be drunk…if you can find any!

 

 

 

Whisky Broker – Diamond Distillery Aged 12 years

Technically, this was released in December 2016. So maybe I am cheating a tad to add some diversity. I’m not sorry. A fantastic cask strength (63.5%) release I believe from the Enmore still. There is a great nose of sweetness which is mainly Demerara sugar, raisins and dark chocolate. However the taste leads more towards burnt caramel, and liquorice. Definitely notes of coffee and oak which seem to balance out the rum. I do enjoy the random spike into medicinal/petrol type notes as well. Glad I bought more than one bottle!

 

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – Ivar De Laat

Ivar De Laat

Not being content with having a passion of his being seen as average by most people, Ivar wants to promote honest producers and their products to help to make any difference he can. He has a desire to gain rum knowledge from the true experts and then share that knowledge as far as he can. Ivar is really trying to push the rum category forward in Canada. Join his Facebook group to try to help him spread the good word!

Facebook – Rum Club Canada

 

I have to mention that access to good rum is limited while living in Ontario, Canada. Our government liquor stores have tax money on their mind, not an interesting rum selection. This is also why I started the Rum Club Canada on Facebook, to hopefully make a tiny difference in promoting rum over here. My 3 choices come from outside of Canada.

Foursquare Rum Distillery – Criterion

A very difficult choice between Triptych and Criterion. I like them both just as much. This should be a top 4 in that sense. I’ll give it to Criterion because it’s more widely available and at a lower price. It’s quite amazing that a rum of this quality is priced this low.  It has a proper age statement and lots of clear information on what’s in the bottle. Richard Seale and his team deserve a lot of credits for this and for teaching 99% of rum enthusiasts at least one thing about rum at the same time, which is a remarkable achievement. Foursquare has been on the rise for a while now and comes up in almost every other discussion about rum. Deservingly so.

 

 

Compagnie des Indies New Yarmouth 12

Not just because it’s a major funk bomb with strong paint stripper fumes, but also because it’s from a distillery that’s largely been under the radar. That makes the rum enthusiast’s heart beat a little faster. I’m hoping the many favourable opinions on this rum will guarantee more future releases.

 

 

 

 

 

Diamond and Versailles Vintage 1996 (Velier Demerara Distillers)

I was too late in the rum game to get my hands on earlier Velier releases. Apart from a lucky bar find in Venice and a few samples from rum friends, this was my first real opportunity to sit down with a bottle. It’s epic with much going on. It’s so expressive that even someone who’s not good at identifying flavours (aka me) can come up with more than two. Here goes: salty water, brown sugar, olives, smoke, oak, caramel, liquorice and molasses. I’m thankful for the opportunity I got to buy this bottle and for the marriage between Luca Gargano and DDL!

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – Stefan Kerner

Stefan Kerner

Stefan had his first rum involuntarily in 2006 during a visit to River Antoine Rum Distillery in Grenada. But it wasn’t until his trip to Jamaica in 2013 to Appleton Estate when he really forged a growing interest in the noble spirit. His rum journey has taken him to many rum festivals and distilleries throughout the world. Along the way rum became more than a spirit to Stefan and each of the bottles in his vast collection hide an emotional story and links to the great friends all created from rum.

 

 

 

2017 was a year filled with so many personal highlights. Therefore trying to narrow down the entire year into just 3 rums is very difficult. My rum friends often ask me ‘if you could only take 3 bottles onto a deserted island, which 3 would they be?’ You would think narrowing this down to just rum from 2017 would be easier? Not necessarily!

 

Diamond H 2010 – 70th Anniversary Velier

All previous rums with the mark HLCF (Samaroli Hampden Full Proof 1993, Cadenhead Hampden HLCF, Berry Bros. Hampden 1990, Duncan Taylor Hampden 1990) always had a certain amount of acidity that wasn’t present here. Even though this rum is “only” 7 years old, the tropical ripeness beats any continental aged rum even if it is 20 years or older. For me this is the best Hampden I ever had in a glass. Enough said!

 

 

 

Caroni 1996 Single Cask no. 5623; Selected by Kirsch Whisky

If you have been drinking Caroni for many years and have actually had a variety of different bottlings in your glass before, then you know the typical taste of smoke and burnt rubber that is common with this rum. However, the profile of this rum is complemented by a third component that has never been so strong before. Where in God’s name is this sweetness coming from? I can only explain this by the relocation of the barrels to Guyana. In conclusion, I’m falling in love with Guyana Stock!

 

 

 

Neisson 2005 – 70th Anniversary Velier

I have to admit that my Agricole experience is nowhere near as deep as rum made from molasses. Maybe they were always too soft and I could not get excited about them? However, the J.Bally 1998 – Brut De Fût awoke a renewed interest in me, thanks again to Sascha. Now I was able to try some Neisson and I found my darling here as well.

 

 

 

 

I would like to add that if I was asked me about the 3 bottlings with the greatest story and the biggest emotions, my selection would be very different. I would like to take this opportunity to thank two great friends for the unique and amazing 2017 and may the rum journey continue in 2018!

 

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – Rum Diaries Blog – Steven James

Rum Diaries Blog – Steven James

Steven’s blog on rum pulls no punches! As he puts it, ‘My aim, is to hopefully look at the Rums that I’ve tried in the past, am still trying and hope to try in the future.’ We especially enjoyed his informative Interview with Nikos Arvanitis. Make sure you check it out.

https://rumdiariesblog.wordpress.com
https://twitter.com/rumdiariesblog/
https://www.facebook.com/rumdiariesblog
https://www.instagram.com/rum_diaries/

 

Given the constant accusations levelled at me of being a Foursquare Distillery fanboy, I will endeavour to include only one Foursquare release in my Top 3 Rum releases of 2017 rather than the two………….

 

Number 1: Foursquare Triptych

For me whilst the 2006 was an absolute beast of a Rum, Triptych took things to the next level. Although initial tastings were instantly reflective of what a good Rum it was, it took me a good 5 or so weeks to truly appreciate it. When you stand back you see that Virgin Oak has been used to amazing effect and the ability to integrate something that could be so dominant into a blend that is so harmonious and pleasurable to drink takes real skill. I think for me, extracts from the final two paragraphs of my review sum it up.

“……..Each barrel has its moment in the spotlight, tells its own part of the story…….It takes the near perfect 2006 and just adds layer upon layer of complexity. It’s more nuanced. More light, more shade…..”

“Triptych is the mark of a Master Distiller and a Distillery rooted in tradition, devoted to doing things the right way. Building upon a desire to experiment, re-invigorated by the belief that others have placed in it and revelling in the impact that it is having on the industry and consumers alike. It is entirely on top of its game….”

Number 2: Compagnie des Indies New Yarmouth 12

First tried at the Boutique Rumfest 2017 in London. I swear that you could smell it across the room every time that Florent opened the bottle such was its pungent nose. The amount of people that I saw try this Rum, their eyes widening when they were first assaulted by the aroma and their huge grins when they tasted it ran into double digits. Its an assault on the senses and a Rum that you absolutely must buy.

This is where it becomes difficult as there are quite a few contenders for spot number three. Foursquare Criterion is obviously up there but I’m reluctant to add another Foursquare to my list as I’m becoming boringly predictable……The new Worthy Park Signature Marsala Cask release and Single Estate Reserve though these miss out on availability given that I obtained one this year. Velier Royal Navy blend also gets a mention as it takes a very good blender to tame and integrate 20-year-old Caroni into a blend. Don Q Single Barrel 2007 also gets an honourable mention as it is so flavourful for a 100% column spirit it really does make you reconsider what a column distillation can produce when executed properly and accompanied by excellent blending and exemplary cask management.

Number 3: Habitation Velier – The Last Ward

When I sit back and drink this Rum I’m drawn back to memories of the sun penetrating the windows of the pot still house at the St Lucy facility in Barbados and almost putting a spotlight on the dust particles in the air……. it transports me away……Yes the Rum is initially very hot and punchy….the alcohol isn’t very well integrated and the taste doesn’t match up to the excellent aromas. It’s dry as a bone and very, very woody….but it has a growing depth and complexity that rewards repeated visits to the bottle and patience.

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – The Floating Rum Shack – Peter Holland

 

The Floating Rum Shack – Peter Holland

Peter is best described as a rum presenter, writer and consultant. Take a look at his Rum CV here to see the myriad of key rum events of which Peter has been part of. Make sure you check him out for all your rum needs be it information on the rum world, to maybe getting lucky enough to partake in one of his twitter tastings!

https://thefloatingrumshack.com
https://twitter.com/floatingrumshac
https://www.facebook.com/FloatingRumShack/
https://www.instagram.com/thefloatingrumshack/

 

2017 proved to be a proper champ as far as Rum is concerned. More and more good stuff has been coming to market, all helping to counter some of the dross that’s all too freely available. In no particular order, my top three:

 

Rhum HSE Chateau Marquis de Terme 2005

The Rhum HSE Chateau Marquis de Terme 2005 was delicious and proved to be as equally accepted by all those whom I sampled it. I think HSE are one of the best producers in terms of wood management and their baseline is exceptionally high across the range, but this one managed to raise the bar further still!

 

 

 

Foursquare Rum Distillery – Criterion

I might be a little bias in my section of Foursquare Criterion. The combination of Madeira Cask influence and the personal sweet-spot for Foursquare weight of rum being around 56% meant I found this exceptionally drinkable. I know I do a little brand work with Foursquare – but my goodness I’ve drink a good bit of this and shared even more. I’ve got through four bottles and have four more at home!

 

 

 

Velier Royal Navy Very Old Rum

My final choice would probably be the Velier Royal Navy Very Old Rum. Expectations are high for Velier. But the way that some massively character-ful rums came together in that blend proved that it’s not just a case of throwing it together and hoping for the best. Each sip develops and takes you on a journey. The players are recognisable, but harmonious. If it was a football team, playing together the way the Rum works – they would surely be title contenders and that’s just what this rum is. I’m actually being quite selfish with it (which is not like me), because I can’t easily replace it and I’m not sure we’ll ever see anything like it again.

 

 

 

P.S. “Leaving out the Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve release was tough. Perhaps we could have a top four?”

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – The Lone Caner  – Lance Surujbally

 

The Lone Caner  – Lance Surujbally

In his own words Lance is not a judge, bartender, promoter, evangelist, cocktail guru, distiller, producer or in any way commercially involved with the industry. He is a man who is fortunate enough to have travelled the world and loves reading and writing, especially about rum. Being amongst the first people to write about some of the most sought after rums such as Velier, Rum Nation and Compagnie des Indes, he is definitely somebody you need in your rum life!

http://thelonecaner.com/
https://www.facebook.com/thelonecaner/
https://twitter.com/TheLoneCaner

 

2017 was a banner year for rums, following on from an equally impressive 2016.  More new distilleries opened, some old ones were brought back from the brink, Velier celebrated its 70th Anniversary, Foursquare went big guns and interest in Caronis and Jamaicans hit a fever pitch. Writers and bloggers and FB rum clubs also proliferated, and as a consequence a lot of really good rums from companies not always in the headlines received great word of mouth and publicity in a way that elevated the profile of the entire rum category.

Having written over a hundred reviews in 2017, it’s hard to pick out only three spectacular rums (my “best of” list would have many more entries than a mere trio); and many rums which I tried that year were made earlier and only came into general release in the period.  Still, when it comes to the intersection of rums that enthused me, made me think and took me in directions not previously considered, here are three I felt were standouts: representative of a new wave in their own right, and which summarized the wide variety of rums that were sampled in 2017.

Savanna Lontan Grand Arome Vieux

The Savanna Lontan 12 Year Old 2004 64.2% was an incredible rum that in one fell swoop put Reunion on the map (as if it wasn’t already marking its territory there).  The Savanna HERR got better press for being ultra-high in esters yet I felt that the Lontan 12 was better, more nuanced, perhaps even a smidgen richer….it balanced things off without sharpness, and its plush aromas of honey, stuffy attics, fruits, flowers and spices were only equalled by the way the tastes took those same flavours and ran with the, making a melange without a mess.

 

 

Neisson’s L’Espirit Blanc

Neisson’s L’Espirit 70⁰ Blanc Rum was a rum that got me enthusiastic about white rums that were more cultured than the oft-raw and uncivilized clairins from Haiti, yet which still displayed some of that youthful, brash, joyous off-the-reservation craziness of a newly minted modern-day rock star (complete with leather pants).  It was raw, fierce, uncompromising and unaged – but aromatic and tasty too.  Powerful almost beyond belief – but with herbal notes, grasses, spices, citrus, cherries, mangoes…a list that just kept on going.  It was a massive taste bomb like few others and totally drinkable in any combination – neat, mixed, rocks, diluted, whatever.  It was this rum that made me want to write the list of “21 Great Whites”, and I think it points to a resurgence and a greater appreciation of white unaged rums in the years to come.

 

 

Worthy Park Releases

Lastly I wanted to draw some attention to Worthy Park’s Pot Still 45%, Special Cask 59% Oloroso Finish and the Special Cask 60% Marsala Finish, all of which I tried in late 2017 (three times each, I was that enthralled).  Like Reunion’s Savanna distillery (and even some agricoles)  they combined a crisp herbal snap and light profile with heavier, duskier flavours of spices, funk, heavier fruits, burnt brown sugar and whipped cream – and all this assembled into a balance that was remarkably consistent and well behaved, at any strength.  Jamaican rums have laboured under Appleton’s shadow for years now, and it took this trip to make me understand that other distilleries from there are coming out and making waves big time and are part of the wave of the Caribbean’s whole rum future..

 

I can never stop with just a number, so here are some extras for the curious: Honourable Mention should go to the Criterion and the Triptych of Foursquare out of Barbados;  St. Aubin’s amazingly tasty rums out of Mauritius (especially the unaged white 50%); Nine Leaves Encrypted II from Japan; Toucan’s No. 4, an understated and unpretentious new rum from French Guiana; and Rum Nation’s most recent rare rum, the Jamaica 1986 30 Year Old blend (some of which comes from Longpond) should come in for mention as well.

It was and remains these rums and many others, which demonstrate (as if this were necessary) that the Rumiverse remains a dynamic and exciting one with developments from all point of the compass, in both traditional and new directions.  It makes one wonder what on earth they’ll come up with this year.

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – Rum Shop Boy – Simon Johnson

Rum Shop Boy – Simon Johnson

Simon doesn’t work in the spirit’s industry and is not endorsed by anybody. He writes to help to elevate the category and in particular the pure rums. Simon has a large list of reviews on some independent bottlers which haven’t been tried elsewhere. We especially enjoyed his Paddington Bear’s First Sip review.

https://rumshopboy.com/
https://www.facebook.com/rumshopboy/
https://www.instagram.com/rumshopboy/
https://twitter.com/rumshopboy

 

Number one and two were easy as they were the two standout rums of 2017, but picking the third was a challenge as I could have picked so many…..Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) had half a dozen, St Lucia Distiller’s Sixth Edition, Foursquare Criterion, Don Q’s 2007 and several other independent bottles.

 

1 Foursquare Triptych

Comfortably, my favourite rum of 2017 and one of the best drinks, of any kind, that I have ever tasted. Rum innovation from Master Blender/Distiller manager Richard coupled with centuries of rum-making tradition have produced a stunning tipple full of evolving aromas and flavours. Close your eyes and you could be drinking Armagnac…open them and you realise that Rum has arrived as the greatest spirit in the world.

 

 

2 Appleton Estate Joy

I grew up with Appleton rum and so will always have a soft spot for it. The blending skill required for this rum is a real tribute to one of the rum industry’s leading figures, Appleton’s Joy Spence. At a minimum of 25 years old, “Joy” balances oak ageing with classic Appleton orange peel and a hint of sweetness.

 

 

3 SMWS R9.2 “Paddington Bear’s First Sip”

I love trying single cask rums as they are a true expression of the rum maker’s art and offer an insight into the local terroir. We are fortunate in the UK to have many great independent bottlers – Kill Devil, Mezan, Bristol and Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) for example. SMWS have recently produced many fine single cask expressions that I thoroughly enjoyed – one of my favourites is the SMWS R9.2 “Paddington Bear’s First Sip”. This demonstrates that not all Spanish-style “ron” is full of additives or is overly sweet. This expression is fruity and smoky and very drinkable, even at 62.0%.

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – The Cocktail Wonk – Matt Pietrek

The Cocktail Wonk – Matt Pietrek

Matt runs a fantastic website that is more than just rum and as he puts it ‘a unique take on spirits and craft cocktails.’ With a passion for most things drinks related and a massive list of professional highlights (which can be seen here) you’d be mad not to take a look at the great work he does.

https://cocktailwonk.com/
https://www.facebook.com/cocktailwonk/
https://www.instagram.com/cocktailwonk/
https://twitter.com/cocktailwonk

Doctor Bird (Two James Distillery)

A funky Jamaican release from Worthy Park. It’s a blend of aged and high-ester unaged rums. It is also very reasonably priced. Finally, at 100 proof, it’s a reasonable alternative to Smith & Cross.

 

 

 

 

 

Compagnie des Indes New Yarmouth 12

Sourced from the other Wray & Nephew distillery that no one knows about, and rarely seen in independent  bottlings. This release proves that Long Pond and Hampden aren’t the only Jamaican distilleries that know the super-high ester game.

 

 

 

 

 

Appleton Estate Joy

A beautiful rum with a 25 year minimum age celebrating the legacy of Master Blender Joy Spence.

 

 

Can you tell I like Jamaican rums?

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – TheFatRumPirate – Wes Burgin

Wes runs a great website on rum. As he puts it ‘it is an unsophisticated review on the world of Rum’  We especially enjoyed his recent article on Top Ten Rums…So Far. Go and have a read for yourself.

https://www.thefatrumpirate.com
https://twitter.com/thefatrumpirate
https://www.facebook.com/thefatrumpirate
https://www.instagram.com/thefatrumpirate/

 

 

  1. Habitation Velier HLCF/LROK

Velier have released three Hampden Estate rums over the past 18 months or so. This one was released as part of LMDW 60th Anniversary. An epic Jamaican rum for the “dunderhead”. Funky, fruity and medicinal it’s a great drop.

 

 

 

 

  1. Plantation O.F.T.D.

Another slick piece of marketing from Plantation. The first of their rums to have “no dosage.” An Overproof mixer which might in time gain a reputation similar to Lemon Hart 151. In the end this can’t really be ignored. Full flavoured and full on.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Foursquare Rum Distillery – Criterion

I recently voted this as my Rum of the Year so it had to be number one on this countdown as well. Sadly it has sold out now but it was a wonderful example of the strides Foursquare has made over the past 2-3 years. Proof, if it was needed, that Bajan rum is not boring. The reality is that I could have compiled a top three of just Foursquare releases but I went for a bit variety.

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Top 3 Rum Releases 2017 – Rum Ambassador – Ian Burrell

Rum Ambassador – Ian Burrell

Ian Burrell – The Global Rum Ambassador, Edu-Tainer, TV Presenter, Speaker, Rum Consultant and Jamaican Blooded Man. Also the owner of the UK Rumfest. But what does he do? Well in his own words “I travel around the world spreading the gospel according to rum through seminars, mixology, bar training, tastings, judging competitions and drinking rum, so smile & enjoy, life’s too short”. If that isn’t a mantra you can get behind, I don’t know what is!

http://rumfest.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/IanRumAmbassador
https://twitter.com/Rum_Ambassador
https://www.instagram.com/ukrumfest/

 

Appleton Estate Joy

A genuine 25 year old Rum that showcases another great Jamaican single blended rum. Create by one of the legends of the industry Joy Spence.

 

 

 

 

Diplomatico Distillery Collection No. 1

This is a unique Rum and the first pure batch kettle Rum that I have tasted. A mark of DUSA’s ability to make a range of rums for drinkers of all types.

 

 

 

 

 

Velier St Lucia 2010

This is the first rum that I have ever selected for an independent bottler. I asked to taste and pick a barrel of Pure single rum for Velier as part of their 70th anniversary. A great honour and a tasty Rum too.

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Review 16 – HSE – Élevé Sous Bois

A little while ago RumCask put on a Rum Masterclass at Charlotte’s W5, Ealing for those who wanted to discover or even learn more about the wonderful spirit! Rums made from molasses and sugar cane honey were of course present but we also wanted to challenge our audience with a true Rhum Agricole. Agricoles are distilled from sugar cane juice and are typical of the French Islands of the Caribbean such as Martinique and Guadeloupe. Our rhum of choice for the group that evening was the HSE Élevé Sous Bois (big thanks to Roger Barnes, Sergio Murath and Timmy Falzon for their support).

Habitation Saint-Etienne’s own website provides the best insight into the history of the distillery and paraphrasing would do it an injustice:

“Saint Etienne was modelled after “La Maugée”, a sugar refinery covering over 400 hectares from Gros Morne to Saint Joseph in the early 19th century. The architectural structure, including the master’s house, overlooking the distillery and the old workers’ huts, reflect a typical farm in Martinique.

In 1882, Saint Etienne was purchased by Amédée Aubéry, a young captain of industry who became one of the most famous figures in the economy of Martinique. He transformed the sugar refinery into a farm distillery and began to modernise infrastructures. He expanded the factory and built a beautiful façade with 28 curved windows, providing the building with optimal ventilation. Railways were set up near the distillery: draft animals pulled trolleys carrying sugar cane. Hydraulic power was provided by the River Lézarde through a stony canal that ran through the Creole garden. 

In 1909, the property came into the possession of the Simonnet family who developed the distillery activity until its decline at the end of the 1980s. The estate was taken over in 1994 by Yves and José Hayot, who relaunched the Saint-Etienne brand and began restoring and enhancing the sugar estate’s architectural heritage. The distillery, henceforth registered in the Additional Inventory of French Historic Monuments, is one of the only-remaining and most precious references of the craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal of industrial architecture of the end of the 19th century in Martinique. Its renovation is nearing completion.”

Today HSE has 18 different varieties of rhum ranging from their Rhum Blanc 50o through to a range of world cask finishes aged in barrels from Olorosso and Pedro Ximenez.  HSE even has a rhum that is aged in a heavily charred Kentucky Bourbon barrel known as the Black Sheriff!

Our chosen HSE offering for the evening was the Élevé Sous Bois (ESB). To wine drinkers ESB is a term that refers to a “forest floor or undergrowth note”; something seasoned Agricole drinkers will be able to relate to. Now just as the EU (ooo errr) has its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) to ensure things like Feta Cheese, Champagne and Melton Mowbray Pork Pies all come from where they say they do (and thus avoiding frauds) the French created the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). A rhum that is labelled “Martinique Rhum Agricole AOC” must meet strict guidelines as to how it is produced pertaining to its terroir, distillation process and ageing. The three categories are Rhum Blanc Martinique, Rhum Martinique Élevé Sous Bois (cask aged) and Rhum Martinique Vieux (extra aged). For more information click here.

HSE’s ESB has been aged from between 12 and 18 months in French Oak barrels on the island and is bottled at 42% ABV (all Martinique rhums must be a minimum of 40%). On the nose we get vanilla, under-ripe fruits and some dried herbs.  The nose is subtle and welcoming and does not suggest caution is necessary! On the tongue, the sensation is quite different. That “undergrowth” in its etymology comes to the fore and we taste grassy notes alongside the herbs.  The rhum is pleasant and light on the tongue and quickly slides to the back of the throat but the flavour is all at the front and does not linger. Here we get the white grape juice mentioned in the official tasting notes alongside pear, raisins and vanilla. The rhum is young and full of character but wildly different to an equivalent aged rum from molasses.

The looks around the room are inquisitive and quite honestly, dubious! The masterclass was purposely designed to throw some curveballs at people and the HSE ESB followed quick on the heels of a (genuine) 12 year from Trinidad. Predictably a crowd pleaser (and rightly so) the HSE ESB was sent up next as an abrasive affront to everything our class had just learned to love! However, as people took their second and third sips (our classes had pretty generous pours) you could sense a shift in the tide and as eyebrows raised, the rhum went down. The HSE ESB had opened the eyes to a new room of r(h)um drinkers as to the wonders of Agricole and its steep history and culture.

As you know, we don’t rate rums on our platform but we would like to tell you how to drink them if you’d let us kindly! If you were to get yourself a bottle of HSE ESB (and we highly suggest you do) then perhaps the way to best cultivate it to your drinking repertoire is by creating a Ti’ Punch cocktail. Check out our write up here on that particular favourite of ours.

A votre santé!

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Cocktail in Focus: Zombie

The Zombie (aka Skull-Puncher) is a rum based cocktail made from various fruit,liqueurs and rums. It is claimed to have first been created in the 1930s by Donn Beach at Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hollywood California. Alongside the Mai Tai, the Zombie is one of the most famous tiki-style cocktails.

The history of the creation of the Zombie isn’t 100% certain but the legend most commonly told is that Donn was creating a cocktail to help a hung-over customer get through a business meeting. The customer came back many days later saying the cocktail had turned him into a zombie for the entirety of his trip. Hence the name Zombie was born.

According to BeachBumBerry the recipe for this powerful cocktail is below. As you can see it has an extremely high alcoholic content, however the fruity taste helps to mask this and in Don the Beachcomber restaurant, they limit the cocktail to just two per customer.

“To make one, combine ¾ ounce fresh lime juice, ½ ounce falernum, 1 ½ ounces each gold Puerto Rican rum and gold or dark Jamaican rum, 1 ounce 151-proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum, 1 teaspoon grenadine, 6 drops Pernod, a dash of Angostura bitters, and ½ ounce Don’s mix. Put this mix in an electric blender with 6 ounces (¾ cup) crushed ice, then blend at high speeds for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a tall glass. Add ice cubes to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Have a read of the link above to enjoy the wonderful story of the Beachbum quest on trying to track down the original recipe.

Due to the secrecy of the recipe today there are many variations of the Zombie throughout the world in different bars and restaurants. As a result there are a lot of imitations of the original Zombie. I am yet to confirm that I have tried the original Zombie as intended by Donn, but I have definitely had my fair share of Zombies. Why not try to mix it up yourself, or visit your local bar to get a professional to do it for you, just be sure to ask for the original!

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Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Have you ever had a Daiquiri or a Mai-Tai? Manhattan or a Mojito? An Old-Fashioned (with rum we hope!) surely? In that case you’ve most likely already been introduced to “Amargo Aromatico” or as it is more commonly known, Angostura Aromatic Bitters.

Although not a rum in itself, the concoction is produced by the House of Angostura, the main producer of rum in Trinidad & Tobago. The origins of the bitters are found further afield however in Venezuela, where in 1824, after four years of experimentation, a German doctor finalised his organic remedy to assist with the digestion, stomach pains and general well-being of the soldiers fighting in the war.  Dr. Johan Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert was based in Angostura (renamed Ciudad Bolivar in 1846 after the famous general whose soldiers Siegert was administering his aid and bitters to) and it was there that he perfected his blend of water, ethanol (44.7%), gentian, herbs and spices. Angostura’s own brand bitters do not contain the Angostura bark however some other brands do.  That being said, to this day the recipe is a secret known but to a handful of people!

Such was the success of the highly concentrated solution that in 1830, Siegert set up a distillery in Angostura to keep up with demand.  In 1875, now a family business under the name Dr. J.G.B. Siegert & Hijos, the entire operation relocated to Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago.

The final name change for the company came in 1992, when Angostura Limited was formed and over the years Siegert’s vision and execution saw the company in its various forms become exclusive purveyors of aromatic bitters to, amongst others, the King of Prussia, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In 2012 they even produced a limited edition bottle and gift canister to celebrate HM Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Anniversary.

The bottle is iconic for its dark brown neck, yellow cap and of course its tall paper sleeve that stretches past the shoulders. The smell is rich with spices, cloves and zest. You immediately think of Jamaican spiced cakes and sweet Caribbean chicken. Funny that the first thing the mind goes to is food and not a delicious Old Fashioned poured over a large spherical ice-ball with a twist of orange peel. It is in this cognitive moment that the very essence of Dr. Siegert’s idea all those years comes to the fore: food. Food, nourishment, appetite and digestion. The wonderfully over-sized label even tells us about some of the many, many food items we should be adding the aromatic bitters to such as soups, salads, vegetables, gravies, fish, meat, fruit juices, stewed prunes, jellies, sherbets, ice-creams, sauces for puddings, fruit pies and apple sauce.

Rich in history, rich in flavour and a rich companion of many cocktails around the world, many thankfully that contain rum! Let us know which food and cocktails you like to add your Angostura Aromatic Bitters to!

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Review 9: Don Papa 10 Year

“Welcome to the Don, that is Don Papa small batch rum, a premium rum, distilled in the foothills of Mount Kanlaon, Negros, Philippines.” Welcome indeed but don’t let the rather provincial nature of Don Papa’s homepage fool you. The Philippines is the world’s third largest market for rum (after the US and India) and according to this Forbes article, this brand is “Changing the Face of Philippine Rum”. Today, we’re going to sip and sample on Papa 10 Year. Inspired from the story of ‘Papa’ Isio, a hero of the Philippine revolution, Don Papa Rum is produced by the Bleeding Heart Rum Company (BHRC) founded by Stephen Carroll, a former Remy Cointreau executive.

The rum is distilled on a single island, Negros Occidental (also referred to as  Sugarlandia”) using the finest Negros sugar cane and aged for 10 years in re-charred American Oak barrels. This particular offering from Don Papa is a limited edition and was introduced in October 2015. Unlike its younger sibling it packs a slightly weightier punch at 43% ABV (compared to the small batch’s 40%).

The bottle has been designed by Stranger & Stranger who in the 2016 World Rum Awards won Best Limited Edition Design, Best Ultra Design and Best New Launch Design all for the Don Papa 10 Year bottle! They are no stranger to awards and have an impressive list which can be found here.

Don Papa himself is older on the 10 Year label, depicting his own aging and maturing process since the initial small batch offering. His gecko-monocle eyepiece is now accompanied by a thick, flowing beard on the Don’s face. The world’s smallest primate, the Tarsier, beetles, slugs and snails are joined by tropical birds in this Jumanji-esque design.  The bottle itself is very similar to the small batch; heavy glass bottom, curved shoulders and squat in nature. The elegant dark rum itself is visible to all as the glass is clear and uncoloured.

On my first sniff it is very light, much lighter than expected despite the higher alcohol content. I am met by warm oak notes and followed by some hints of sweet caramel, vanilla and candied fruits. My first sip of the rum sends it easily over my tongue where it warms the roof of my mouth with toffee and a gentle oak. Not overly sweet but very smooth and well balanced. A very tasty introduction which invites further investigation! As the rum sits for a few minutes it seems to have lost some viscosity and as a result the streaks seem thinner on my tumbler. On this sip the flavours have become deeper and stay with you much longer. The warmth found in the roof of your mouth initially has now travelled to the throat. The oak flavour steps up and there seems to be a sweeter influence of caramel complemented by an earthier, deeper cacao. Perhaps the re-charred American Oak barrels are lending an almost charcoal like edge to this dark rum.  The finish is long lasting and warming but not overpowering. This is where the dried raisin seems to have come through that was smelt on the nose earlier.

Don Papa 10 year retails at £40-£50, which is at the higher end for a relatively up and coming brand but we believe that Don Papa have produced something quite special here. Limited edition and a true 10 Year, this could become quite the collector’s item especially with the variety of talking points on the design of the bottle alone. RumCask recommends this for the left-field selection for special occasions.

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Everyday Rum – Review 3: Havana Club Rum 7 year – £20 (700ml)

Havana Club has a high pedigree in the rum community and outside. There has been rum in Cuba since the introduction of the sugarcane crop to the Caribbean. Havana Club is currently the leading rum in Cuba and uses a number of Maestros Roneros (Master Rum Maker). It takes 15 years of dedication to become a Maestro Ronero, during which the elder masters impart their knowledge to the newer trainees. Havana Club’s Primer Maestro Ronero, Don Jose Navarro explains “It’s is a cultural legacy, passed on from Maestro Ronero to Maestro Ronero, from heart to heart, from Cuban to Cuban.”

You could be easily mistaken in thinking that this Havana Club 7 year is an entry level offering from Havana due to the price point. Although it maybe entry level in terms of a potential sipping rum, there are a few younger siblings that Havana produce which would be regarded as the entry level. Those are very much regarded as mixing rums, but this rum in their range takes things up a level.

The number written on bottles can be misleading when it comes to aging. However, in this instance Havana confirm that the minimum amount any part of this rum is aged is for 7 years. Thereby sticking to the ‘youngest drop’ policy. This is done by blending individual barrels of rum.

The rise to popularity of Havana Club 7 has been rapid in the UK market and is part of the reason it appears in the ‘Everyday Rum’ segment here. This can be found in supermarkets and most bars and it is becoming popular is restaurants as well. This rum has won awards at spirits championships in the 1990s which helps to display the Havana pedigree.

The bottle is an unusual dark brown colour and has a black label with the familiar red Havana club motif. The bottle has a screw cap rather than a cork which most premium rum manufacturers add when creating the packaging for a premium sipping rum. Definitely a stand out rum packaging when sat on a bartender’s shelf.

On the nose there is an immediate whiff of sweet caramel and a slight oak-ness. There are hints of coconut and passion fruit alongside which meld well together to help give an inviting aroma to this blend. The ethanol smell is still present though and needs to be understood and navigated past.

On my first sip the taste is more pleasant than the immediate ethanol hit from the nose. Alongside some leather and tobacco notes, I taste dark chocolate, burnt sugar and an oak-ness. The finish is creamy, with a hint of burn which does detract from the rum. Having sat for a few minutes I now taste prunes and raisins countering the sweetness found from the molasses. An interesting balance. The finish now is smoke and tobacco like. It doesn’t burn as much now, but the after taste isn’t what I prefer in my rum. Although if you enjoy those smoke and tobacco flavours, or fancy something to go alongside a cigar I can see how this rum would suit your needs.

Due to the wide availability of this rum throughout the UK market it is natural for this rum to have been used as a higher end mixer in cocktails. This is also where I feel this particular rum excels and where I would recommend a more casual rum drinker to enjoy this blend. In my opinion this makes a lovely Rum Based Old Fashioned cocktail and a Cuban classic cocktail of Cuba Libre is probably the best instance of this cocktail I have tried. Why not have a look at an article written earlier on rum based cocktails and experiment with those as well?

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Cocktail In Focus: Ti’ Punch

The Ti’ Punch (pronounced “tee paunch”) is the national cocktail of Martinique and is extremely popular in the French islands in the West Indies including Guadeloupe and Haiti. The name is taken from the Creole Petit Punch and has been abbreviated over the years down to just Ti’ Punch. It is created by specifically by adding a large amount rhum agricole, with a touch of fresh lime juice and a splash of cane syrup. It must be rhum and not rum. To understand the difference between the two types please read my earlier article here. It seems this cocktail is rhum agricole’s answer to the rum based daiquiri as the two are quite similar.

One of the main differences the Ti’ Punch has with the daiquiri is the way it is mixed. It uses a unique type of swizzle stick that is usually crafted from and named after a perennial tree called the bois lele, which is native to that region of the world. This swizzle is used to dissolve all of the ingredients of the cocktail. It has a unique end to it which spreads out into five separate small sections. A bartender will usually use two hands on the stick and roll it between his palms in a fashion similar to starting a fire when mixing.

The Ti’ Punch is usually served before meals as an aperitif due to the high alcoholic strength of it. There is also a tradition known as “chacun prepare sa propre mort” which roughly translates to each prepares his own death. This is where the bartender or the host will just lay out the ingredients and the drinkers will prepare the cocktail to their own taste. I have added ice to my version of the cocktail below as I feel the ice helps to allow the flavours to meld together. However, purists agree that a real Ti’ Punch should be served without ice.

The recipe for a Ti’ Punch is (for one person);

  • 2 ounces of rhum agricole (white or aged)
  • 0.25 ounces of cane syrup
  • 1 lime wedge

Directions: In a glass add the cane syrup and squeeze of lime. Then add the rhum and a few ice ice cubes. Stir gently until all dissolved together (preferably with a bois lele) and add the lime coin garnish before enjoying!

The ingredients only help to enhance the flavour of the rhum agricole rather than overpower it. They are sourced locally and the cocktail is enjoyed by pretty much everybody who enjoys a rhum agricole. With such a wide variety of ways to add such simple ingredients, why not try a few yourselves and let us know which version you find suits you the best!

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Setting Sail With Rum

If I was to offer you Rum, what would you expect?

After an early discovery of Captain Morgan as a fresh faced 18 year old at University back in 2004, I have delved deeper and deeper into the endless varieties of rum that are available on the market. Contrary to popular belief, this market is global; ranging from Japan to the USA and almost every country in-between, even though almost 80% comes from the Caribbean.

Did you know Rum was the first branded spirit to have ever been
made?

I enjoy the immense number of different type of rums that are available out there and as a result I have gathered a collection of over 100 different bottles. I have been to London’s RumFest for 6 years and last year I went to the Caribbean Rum and Beer Festival in St Maarten where I met other rum enthusiasts and a few connoisseurs.

RumCask is here as an attempt to help into understanding there is more to rum than meets the eye!