The other day a mysterious little box landed on my doorstep, filled with small samples of spirits bearing strange names with all-caps labels attached to them. ISAUTIER CANE. FLAG SERIES TRINI. RIVERS.
What I soon realized I had in hand was seven samples of fine rums from La Maison & Velier, which distributes some of the finest and hardest-to-find rums around. I’ll get into more specifics with each review, though again note these are based on fairly small samples.
Here we go.
Isautier Traditional 16 Years Old – Column-distilled, molasses-based rum from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Barreled in 2006. Initially hearty and full of both fruit and floral notes, the barrel takes over in time to overlay notes of licorice, dark chocolate, and pure molasses. Hearty on the palate, there’s ample grit here that pumps up the anise and showcases some tobacco notes, finishing on a fruity note of blueberry and blue raspberry. More chocolate, vanilla, and some coconut linger on the finish. Push past the initial wall of flavor and you’ll find yourself in an immersive world that feels like tiki in a glass. 114 proof. A / $150
Isautier Rhum Agricole 16 Years Old – Basically the same 16 year old rum from2006, but cane-based — something that few distilleries do. This one’s a little less exciting than the Traditional, more vegetal up top, its notes of figs and vanilla tempered by fresh greenery and some camphor. Hard-edged on the palate, there’s an acetone note that keeps the camphor in focus, dulling the fruitier elements that are buried somewhere in the experience. Water is a huge help, though I found it tough to get the balance right, ultimately ending with a fairly perfumed, floral experience. Cinnamon, clove, and caramel notes do manage to peek through on the back end — especially if you let this linger in glass for awhile. 118 proof. B+ / $150
LM&V Flag Series Trinidad 2002 – Single cask #TD02TML02 from Trinidad, column-distilled and aged for 15 years on the island, then 5 more years in Europe. This 20 year old is a monster, showcasing a blend of bubblegum, pipe tobacco, and barrel char on the nose that threatens to overwhelm the senses. Impossibly sweet on the palate, the rum’s initial notes of overripe fruit and more bubblegum are scrubbed with palm fronds, rosemary, sage, and mint, the finish evoking thick layers of charred wood, creosote, and burnt coconut. Distinct menthol and mothball notes give the finish a sharp, medicinal quality. It’s quite a journey that the typical rum fan may find more than a little overwhelming. As did I. 126.2 proof. B / $190
LM&V Flag Series Guyana 1998 – Single cask #MP98MP from Guyana, distilled in a double retort wooden pot still, aged 2 years in bourbon barrels in Guyana, then 22 years in Europe in Port casks. OK: This thing is a powerhouse, one of the best and most immersive rums I’ve ever encountered. Dense molasses kicks off the nose, backed up by a dusting of barrel char, gunpowder, and a light anise note. Incredible depth on the palate here, a smoldering dark chocolate note coming into focus with dense coffee bean, cola, and vanilla extract prominent. Dark, extracted fruit builds from there — lightly raisiny, with a chocolate-covered cherry quality. Water isn’t a requirement, but it does temper some of the power and lets a brewed tea quality come forward more clearly. Gently sweet and lingering on the finish. A rum I dearly wish I had more to play with than this small sample. Sigh. 118 proof. A+ / $300
Habitation Velier Long Pond STCE 2007 – Single cask #5 from Jamaica’s Long Pond distillery, from the Simon Thompson Cambridge Estate formula, aged 15 years on the island in ex-bourbon casks. 248 bottles produced. A blazer at 61% abv, it’s daunting even to stick your nose in the glass. Aggressive notes of overripe banana, burnt caramel, and barrel char make for somewhat fitful bedfellows on the nose — alongside plenty of alcoholic heat. The palate continues the theme, evoking a medley of well-aged fruits, flambeed bananas in syrup, and a hard, oxidized wine note — Madeira over sherry. Water offers a huge improvement by tempering the rougher edges of the rum, including those oxidized notes. A tarry, charry quality is left behind, perfumed with dried flowers. Complex as hell, for sure, but tough to truly immerse yourself in. 122 proof. B+ / $250
Habitation Velier Hampden Estate HGML 2018 Single Cask #132 – One of Hampden’s “high ester” marcs, this is a mere 4 year old rum aged entirely in bourbon barrels in Jamaica. 139 bottles produced. Bursting with aromas of overripe fruit and notes of burnt banana peels, this is arguably the most powerful rum in this collection. The nose alone can knock you over, notes of fresh-brewed petrol ultimately dominating. There’s minimal diversion on the palate, which is too bruising at full proof to provide any real clarity. With water, notes of citrus peel and green apples become evident, but this doesn’t make for any revelatory experience, the finish astringent and medicinal. I’d have blended with this. 120 proof. C+ / $160
River Antoine Estate Rivers Rum – The only white rum in this lineup and the highest abv offering at 69% — the legal limit for carrying on an airplane — this offering is wholly unaged. (The locals-only version is bottled at 75% abv.) It’s a Granada-born rum, double distilled from fresh cane juice in pot stills. Interesting mix of banana and bubblegum on the nose; it doesn’t smell quite as hot as you’d expect, a heavy pineapple quality tempering the peppery heat underneath. At full proof, the palate offers a bracing mix of green pepper, mixed tropical fruit, mint, and bubblegum, followed by a hot-tar industrial quality. Water brings the more vegetal elements of the rum into focus, the finish emerging as a rather wild jungle run of an experience. Everyone needs a bottle of way-over-the-top abv rum somewhere in their collection. This one will do as well as most, but not better. 138 proof. B / $80