Martinique’s Rhum Clement is arguably the best-known rhum agricole producer, producing some really austere and sumptious rums. What then does it do to celebrate its 125th anniversary (which, I guess, was back in 2012)? Release a special edition of its iconic VSOP bottling, covered front and back with street art by JonOne. 10,000 bottles were produced at a price of $45 each. We’ll let the bottle speak for itself from here.
Another WhiskyFest has come and gone, filling the masses with a smorgasbord of Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, and a little bit of everything else. There was nothing not to like in San Francisco this year, with the masses gobbling up the west coast introduction of Yellow Spot, a rare showing from Stranahan’s, and a surprise appearance of Balblair 1975 and — unlisted in the program — Balblair 1969. The only bummer: An utter dearth of independent Scotch bottlers. No Samaroli, no Gordon & MacPhail, no Duncan Taylor. Bring back the indies in 2015! (Also, the line for Pappy Van Winkle is now getting full on ridiculous.)
Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.
Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014
Balblair Vintage 1975 2nd Release – Bottled 2013; firing on all cylinders, a spicy, seductive malt / A
Balblair Vintage 1969 – Bottled 2012; not as deep in flavor as the 75, but easygoing with a melange of mixed fruit and wood notes / A-
The Glenlivet 21 Years Old – fruit and spice; racy; lots of wood here / A-
The Glenlivet Guardian’s Chapter – a limited NAS release, heavy on the grain, some nuts; drinks young and not terribly impressively / B
Glen Grant Five Decades – very sweet, strawberry notes; lots of sherry / A-
Glenglassaugh 30 Years Old – really, really old; wood has beaten this one up / B
BenRiach Authenticus 25 Years Old – sneaky peat notes; some light cherry in there / B+
GlenDronach Parlianemtn 21 Years Old – good balance between cereal and sherry character / A-
Tullibardine Cuvee 225 Sauternes – ample smoke, sweet BBQ finish / B+
Tullibardine 20 Years Old – lots of smoke, drowns out some distant sweetness / B
Tullibardine 25 Years Old – aged fully in sherry casks, giving this a striking citrus finish and a sultry body / B+
Compass Box Great King Street, Artists Blend – extremely chewy; spice and cinnamon with a long-lasting finish / B+
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2014 – refreshing my memory on a fun whisky; cherry fueled, with dusty wood notes / A-
Old Forester Original Batch 1870 – a new limited edition; austere, a bit winey / B+
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 – lots of spice, some cocoa, good wood structure / A-
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel – had a bit of this on a lark; nicely wooded, with caramel apple notes to follow / B+
Highland Park Freya – we never got to formally review this 3rd release in the Valhalla series, so it was fun to try it here; just a light touch of peat, with solid sherry and vanilla structure; lightly dusty finish / A-
Blanton’s Bourbon – bottled 8/12/14; nutty with cinnamon notes, long, madeira-like finish / A-
Stagg Jr. – I tried this again to see if I could see what the hate was about; 132.1 proof, this is the 3rd edition of the Bourbon; rich with red pepper and cloves, I still think it’s a winner / A-
Bib & Tucker – an upcoming release; I didn’t get a big read on it outside of its big wood character / B
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey – bottled 7/5/12; chewy, drinking young but with pure fruit inside / B+
Sranahan’s Snowflake Mount Snuffles – this bizarre, very rare whiskey is aged in cherry wine barrels (that’s not a typo), which gives this whiskey an overwhelming fruit bomb character, like an out of whack Manhattan; it’s just too much / B
Hakushu 18 Years Old – a well rounded Japanese malt, coffee and chocolate notes on the back end / B+
Hibiki 21 Years Old – gorgeous, sweet and touched with brine / A
Green Spot – light as a feather, clean and spicy / A
Yellow Spot – a much different animal, 12 years old; big sherry and sugary notes; lots to love / A
Midleton Barry Crocket – minty, big tropical notes; long finish; a bit of an odd combination of flavors / B+
Charbay Rum – an upcoming release of navy-style rum (140 proof) distilled in 2005; huge char, fire and brimstone galore / B+
Charbay Direct-Fire Alembic Brandy 1989 – smoke and spice; apples and cherries hit on the finish / A-
Hudson Maple Cask Rye – a special release from our friends in New York; a touch of syrup on grainy base / B
Westland American Single Malt – subtle; mint and chocolate notes / B+
Westland American Single Malt Cask #312 – cask strength release; sherry finished; overpowering with coffee notes, heavy / B-
Kavalan Sherry Cask – tasting racy and a bit raw tonight / B-
Kavalan Vinho Barrique – aged in red and white wine barrels; rasins and port notes, figs / A-
High West Son of Bourye – now a blend of 6 year old Bourbon and 6 year old rye; sweet meets spice in this butterscotchy whiskey / A-
How’s this for unique? Harvest Rum is made by Kentucky-based Wilderness Trail Distillery from molasses made from cane sorghum grown right on the company’s own farm. The rum is then aged in used Four Roses bourbon barrels for “several” months.
It’s tough to imagine more of a “bourbon drinker’s rum,” and Harvest is indeed surprisingly whiskeylike. The nose isn’t immediately evocative of either spirit, a curious mix of green papaya, peanut butter, and saltwater taffy. The body kicks in with some bubble gum, vanilla cookies, and light hospital character… then the sweetness fades as the more woody astringency comes to the forefront. The finish is bittersweet and lightly chocolatey, with strong black pepper overtones.
Harvest says this drinks like a bourbon and finishes with a rum, but I think they’ve got it backwards. I found the more candylike rum characteristics at the start, with the more wood-driven notes (which I more closely associate with whiskey) on the back end. Your mileage my vary. Either way, it’s fun to take the drive.
95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. (Proof level will vary among batches.)
B+ / $20 (375ml) / wildernesstracedistillery.com
Here’s a decidedly unique approach to crafting a rum. South Bay Rum is made from molasses in the Dominican Republic, aged and blended in the solera style. The catch is in the barrels used for the aging: South Bay uses a collection of casks that previously contained bourbon, sherry, port, or single malt Scotch whisky, an approach I’ve never quite heard used in the rum world.
Results are typical of moderately aged rums, with some nuanced edges that makes it fun to experience. On the nose, burnt marshmallows and dark caramel sauce dominate. The body keeps things sweet at first, tempering this with citrus notes, juicy raisins, green banana, and baking spices.
Don’t get me wrong. There are hints of many of the casks used here — those port-driven raisin notes the strongest evidence of something out of the ordinary being done — but overall this is still distinctively rum through and through, its molasses core remaining the clear focus. Alas, all good things must come to an end. The finish is long and quite drying, with a lasting raisiny edge that begs for another sip to bring the sweetness back to life.
80 proof. Reviewed: Batch L.2112.
A- / $28 / southbayrum.com
Yes, that’s a gorilla silhouette on the bottle. Yes, these spirits are made in Panama. Yes, the closest wild gorillas live about 6,300 miles away from Panama, across the Atlantic Ocean in Africa. Yes, Bruno Mars is a co-founder of the company. Yes, that’s as random as that gorilla on the bottle.
Selvarey’s recent launch brought forward two products, a white rum and a “cacao rum,” a chocolate-flavored spirit, both made at legendary rum-maestro Don Pancho’s distillery in Pese. We nabbed them both and bring our thoughts on them to you here.
Selvarey Rum – A blend of two column-distilled rums, one three years old, one five years old, both aged in former bourbon barrels. The two are mixed together and filtered back to a nearly white spirit. Selvarey has a significant level of refinement for a white rum. Aromas of light brown sugar, glazed doughnuts, and vanilla hit the nose. On the palate, it’s on the sweet side, veering toward marshmallow, with a touch of a smoky edge to it. This is a good thing, adding nuance to a spirit category that can often veer into one of two directions — bruising petrol-fueled bomb or overly sweetened diabetes in a glass. Selvarey threads the needle as neither, pulling off a sweetish rum that is born to mix with, but which can also do a decent job in the world of sippers. Way to go, Mr. Mars. If that is your real name. 80 proof. A- / $25
Selvarey Cacao – Misleading product name: Selvarey Cacao is actually dark rum infused with natural chocolate flavor, not a cocoa bean liqueur. Selvarey Cacao is a five-year old aged rum blended with local cocoa. The nose is rich with chocolate notes; the rum component is there, but indistinct. The body is a bittersweet chocolate powerhouse, but up front you’ll catch notes of vanilla, butterscotch, and a bit of coffee bean. Overall, the chocolate element is so powerful that this could easily work as a chocolate liqueur alternative, but the rum component keeps it grounded in the spirit world. Try it as a cordial, then a mixer. 70 proof. A- / $30
Captain Morgan has been on a tear with new releases and special bottlings over the last few years. 1671 is its latest expression, a fancified version of the Cap’n that still comes in at just 20 bucks.
Captain Morgan 1671 is a St. Croix-based distillate that is crafted with a unique blend of spices and is finished “through Spanish Oak.” Unique or not, don’t go looking for any reinvention of Captain Morgan’s well-worn wheel here, as this rum sticks close to the standard Captain Morgan character.
The nose is appropriately cinnamon-focused, tempered with orange and caramel notes. Vanilla and cinnamon are present on the body, with some fruit finally picking up the rear. Orange notes hit first, with a surprising cherry character coming along in the finish. But that odd addition alone isn’t enough to make 1671 come across as particularly revolutionary. In fact, the 35% alcohol level of this rum does it a real disservice, leaving it feeling a bit watery at times.
1671 is a perfectly serviceable spiced rum, but it is unfortunately distinguished from standard Captain Morgain more by its fanciful bottle than anything unique going on inside of it. At this price, however, die-hard Cap’n fans will likely find enough to enjoy to merit giving it a place on the back bar.
B / $20 / captainmorgan.com
Who woulda thought they’d name a rum after this guy?
In all seriousness… Back in the old days (like, yesteryear), Newfoundland-based sailors drank a lot of rum. They got their rotgut from Jamaica, and it didn’t even have a name. As the story goes, decades later an American WWII G.I. drank a slug of the unwatered-down rum while visiting and upon swallowing he gave off a howl of pain. The noise was described as “The Screech,” and the rum finally had its name.
Today, Screech Rum is still a partly Canadian product, sourced in the Caribbean as always and bottled in Newfoundland. A straight expression is available, along with a spiced rum and one flavored version. Thoughts on all three follow.
Newfoundland Screech Rum – Aged Jamaican rum, no age statement, with caramel color added (it’s quite dark in coloration). The nose is quite funky, with notes of well-burnt/almost-blackened sugar, charcoal, and beef jerky. On the tongue, things sweeten up, but it’s still easy to see how Screech got its name. Though this expression is far from barrel proof, it’s got a healthy amount of hogo to it, its overpowering burnt sugar notes somewhat balanced by some, well, non-burnt sugar. Not much fruit here, just secondary character of ash and smoldering lumber, and a dusky finish that lasts for ages. Definitely for fans of more rustic (yet aged) rum styles. 80 proof. B- / $17
Newfoundland Screech Spiced Rum – This is wholly different stock, made from Demerara rum from Guyana, aged 4 to 8 years. Spiced, with no sugar added. This is a compelling spiced rum. Again that burnt sugar character is strongest, with light vanilla and cinnamon notes coming up behind — almost French toast-like at times. Unlike the straight version, here at least those secondary elements stand a fighting chance. The smoldering finish of the straight rum fades as the spiced element grabs hold, giving this rum a considerably better balance on the whole — though it. 70 proof. B+ / $18
Newfoundland Screech Honey Rum – Why should whiskey have all the fun? Here’s a new idea: rum flavored with honey. This starts with the same aged Jamaican rum as above, then receives “natural honey flavor.” Coulda fooled me. The overall impact is more of a lemon-flavored rum, or some kind of lemon-honey amalgam. Either way, the rum is largely lost and the finished product comes off like some kind of liquified throat lozenge. 70 proof. C- / $18
Who says you can’t teach an old spirit category new tricks? Denizen, which released a white rum a couple of years ago, is back at it with an exotic amber. This spirit is a blend of two styles of aged rums: a Jamaican, Plummer-style pot still rum and a “rhum grande arome” from Martinique — a low-grade version of rhum agricole, which you’ve likely heard of. Both of these types of rums are known for their power and hogo funkiness — particularly, the Martinique rum. Blended together at 8 years of age, there’s no question that sparks are going to fly — by specific design.
Here’s my experience with Denizen’s Merchant’s Reserve.
The agricole DNA is strong with this one. The nose combines butterscotch and vanilla with frankly eye-watering, rustic petrol notes, the hallmark of funk-filled agricole. The body boosts up the fuel character, but it’s somewhat balanced with notes of tree bark, wet earth, coconut (husks and all), and caramel syrup. There’s dried fruit here, but it’s pushed into the background as those funkier elements dominate. Though it’s decidedly complex, unlike many agricoles on the market it’s just not much of a sipper due to its dearth of fruit and dialed-back sweetness. Try it with more elegant rum-based cocktails, however.
B / $30 / denizenrum.com
Thibodaux, Louisiana is home to Donner-Peltier Distillers, which is in turn home to the Rougaroux collection, as well as a number of other spirits (all of which we’ll be reviewing in due course). Up first is this trio of rums, which offer a distinctly Cajun perspective on this venerable spirit. Plastic beads not included. Read on for more.
Rougaroux Sugarshine Rum – A “rum moonshine,” this overproof, white spirit is made from local sugar cane. The nose is funky and fuel-like, more white whiskey than any white rum you’re likely to be familiar with. Things settle down on the tongue, fortunately, revealing some simple sugar notes. At this proof level, though, that sweetness is laced with an overpowering level of raw alcohol, providing a flood of hospital notes that the “sugarshine” can barely hold a candle to. 101 proof. B- / $21
Rougaroux Full Moon Dark Rum – Blackstrap molasses and raw sugar cane are used to make a white rum, which is aged in white oak barrels for an unstated amount of time. No caramel color or other agent is added. The results are curious. Rougaroux’s petrol character doesn’t slip away here. It’s big on the nose, pushing all but the faintest hint of molasses out of the picture. The body has plenty more of those fuel notes to go around, though they’re rounded out by some brown sugar character, vanilla, and sugary breakfast cereal notes. Tough on the back end — my hunch is that this has seen some time in new oak barrels (not used whiskey barrels), which would explain the very dark color, and that raw lumber has simply had its way with this spirit. 80 proof. B / $21
Rougaroux 13 Pennies Praline Rum – I love pralines. (I’m Texan, so it’s long A.) It would be un-American not to enjoy a good pecan-and-sugar confection from time to time. What then to make of 13 Pennies “Praline” rum? The NOLA staple isn’t at all detectable here. Though it is made with local pecans and Louisiana’s famous cane syrup, the nose is more akin to almonds or Amaretto. Presumably that’s due to the rum base interfering with the flavoring ingredients. The attack is a bit vague and, again, grainy, with a nuttiness — again, more almond than pecan — coming to bear as the finish starts to build. Said finish is only moderate in its sweetness, that nutty character building to head before fading into a vague astringency. 80 proof. B- / $21
Don’t get too excited: Vizcaya’s “Cuban Formula” rum is actually made in the Dominican Republic. Don’t let that disappoint you, though; this is a masterfully produced rum that’s brimming with flavor and sophistication.
There’s not a lot of production information about this rum to share. For starters, the “21” on the label is a bit misleading. There’s certainly no actual cask #21 from which this rum is drawn — unless it’s a cask that holds hundreds of thousands of gallons of spirit and is constantly being refilled. The number is there to trick you into thinking it’s a 21 year old product, even though the label doesn’t say anything of the sort. In fact, Vizcaya doesn’t say much at all about its rums except that they’re made from sugar cane and aged in oak barrels, both of which are obvious.
None of that actually matters, though. As noted above, Vizcaya Cask 21 is actually an amazing product that I’m happy to recommend.
The nose is bursting with classic aged rum notes: vanilla, butterscotch, and plenty of cinnamon. The body follows suit perfectly. The rum is almost candylike but its sweetness is tempered with baking spices, smoldering oak notes, and just a hint of fire on the back end. Over time some tertiary notes emerge, including caramel apple, toasted marshmallow, and almond brittle. The finish isn’t particularly long, but there’s so much flavor on the palate that it doesn’t entirely matter. This rum drinks beautifully, and at $40 a bottle, it’s almost an absurd value.
A / $40 / vizcayarum.com