Uitvlugt 18 year old (1997) – Duncan Taylor single cask number 13

What is it? Single cask rum, from molasses. distilled at the Uitvlugt distillery in Guyana. It was distilled in November 1997, aged for 18 years (looks to be European aged) and bottled in February 2016 by independent bottlers Duncan Taylor. This is from Cask number 13 and 304 bottles were produced.

No chill filtration, no added colouring and bottled at full proof of 53.5% abv.

Facts of out the way, now here’s where it starts to get a little confusing. As anyone who has more than a passing interest in rum will know, Demerara rum (especially single cask stuff) is a mine field; stills from various distilleries have been moved around various other distilleries during the years and most of them have ended up at Diamond, on their journey there have been periods where certain stills have been at certain distilleries and produced rum. Rather than the distillery that this rum has come from, what we really want to know as rum enthusiasts is the still that this was produced on – well we just don’t know. I’ve contacted Duncan Taylor for some more information, maybe a cask marque or anything, about which still this was produced on, but I’ve not had a reply – I guess they just don’t know. All that this bottle says is “pot” still.

Now, the original stills at Uitvlugt were four-column Savalle stills, there has also been a Blair continuous still and the single wooden pot still (Versailles still) passed through, however the back of the bottle states there was also a copper pot still…..I’ve been searching long and hard through quite a bit of documentation on this and the only mention I can find of a copper pot still is that a John Dore high ester copper pot was in circulation through various distilleries. There is no definitive information that this John Dore pot still was ever at Uitvulgt but I know for certain that the Versailles wooden pot still was there; it was moved from Enmore to Uitvulgt in 1993 and didn’t get moved on to Diamond until Uitvlugt closed later on. So was this distilled on some hardly mentioned John Dore high ester still or was it in fact distilled on the Versailles still? Dunno. Lets see how the tasting goes…..

Sugar? Nope.

Nose: Bananas, pineapple, soft brown sugar, marzipan, some smoky lemon and a little bit of funk (!) – it’s actually pretty fruity at the start, estery and quite Jamaican. Interesting. There is some lovely soft oak, white pepper, very light liquorice and some salty, pickled note like capers. This is not a heavy Demerara, it’s got an almost whisky like nose with the oak coming out more with time.

Palate: Medium mouth feel, more towards thin if anything. Fruity at first, lots of that banana and mango even, some light honey. Heat of oak with the white pepper again and some pencil shavings. Things then go south quite soon after and it starts to get sour with gurkins, capers, green raw oak – it totally looses steam and becomes fairly astringent.

Finish: Medium. Oaky, still sour and then some light smoke/char, fresh liquorice, brine and maybe a little honey just holding out. Not really the best bit.

Thoughts: Weird rum. It can’t decide what it is; fruity? Savoury? It doesn’t know. Honestly not the best cask of rum I’ve had, but a fine example of a single cask non the less – 100% singular and divisive, not blended out.

 

Ok, that was disappointing. However, I’ve been playing with this one for quite some time and adding water to see what it does. Usually I don’t add water for tasting notes and certainly not to something that’s a measly 53.5%, but benefit of the doubt and all that – here is with some water:

Nose: Quite like before, but the pickle notes are gone and everything is smoky; charred oak, smoked pineapple, burnt banana, honey on burnt toast. Much more depth and “thicker”, “rounder” nose.

Palate: Waaaaaayy better. Thicker mouth feel, less astringent and really quite fruity now. The sourness is almost gone, more honey, sugar cane, sweet grasses and some lavender. Oaky a bit still and a prickle of heat as you swallow.

Finish: Longer, softer oak but still with the spices. Some more wet wood and green oak here but much more restrained and less intrusive. Sweeter liquorice and some trailing banana.

Thoughts now? Wow. What a difference a few drops of water makes. I’ve literally added about half a teaspoon to a good double measure of rum and it’s totally transformed. From a flop to an interesting and complex sipper. Look, I’m not sure I’d blow £80 on this again, it’s just not good enough, but I don’t regret the purchase. Certainly not an easy rum.

Oh, and still? It does have some estery notes but it’s not a high ester rum, it shares far more in common with the Bristol Spirits 20yo Enmore – so I think it’s probably from the Versailles still and destined for some blending.

Foursquare Criterion

One that many people out there are no doubt waiting for reviews on. I’ve had this bottle since it snook up on TheWhiskyExchange a few weeks ago and I’ve been working my way through it slowly. I didn’t want to bang a review out straight away due to the nature of the rum; as it’s partly matured in ex-Madeira casks it needs time to open up. Pretty much every spirit I’ve drunk over the years that has spent a reasonable time in fortified wine casks has taken time to fully show it’s colours and the opening and drinking of the spirit allows the oxygen to mix with the juice and let the flavours settle and show. A quick fire review from the first glass was never going to do this bottle the justice that it deserves, so here it is….a little later than I wanted. Foursquare Criterion:

What is it? Round 5 of the Exceptional Cask Selection rums from the Foursquare distillery in Barbados. So far we’ve had the 1998 vintage (which I missed and is looong gone), the Port cask finish, the Zinfandel blend and the 2004 full proof. Here we have something which is a sort of mixture of the previous versions – full proof and a cask dip. So, molasses based rum produced on both column and pot stills (the blend has not been divulged). The resulting blend of the rums was first matured in ex-bourbon casks for 3 years and then re-racked into ex-Madeira casks for a further 7 years, giving a total of 10 years worth of tropical maturation. As with the Port cask rum, this is not a wine cask finish, it’s spent a lot of time sitting in those ex-Madeira casks – 7 years is a long time in Madeira casks, especially in tropical conditions. This is a limited bottling, with only 2000 bottles being produced to market and this time is also finding it’s way over to America, so pickings will be thin. It appears that there is exclusive distribution rights in the UK of this through The Whisky Exchange.

I’ve been informed that this is natural colour (although it doesn’t say it on the bottle…..Richard!), not chill filtered (although it doesn’t say it on the bottle…..Richard!) and bottled at full proof of 56% abv. Game on.

Sugar? Get out of town.

Nose: Absolutely Foursquare, no doubt about that! We get honeycomb, some golden syrup, vanilla, gripping oak with cut planks, black peppercorns and green chillies. There are the usual and expected wood spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and some allspice ginger biscuits. Once the initial oaky onslaught has passed there are warm and deep notes of dry roasted peanuts, honey glazed smoked almonds, muscavado sugar, flame grilled pineapple and some salted butter. There is a touch of high quality, freshly brewed black coffee and the smell of a distant car garage with a little tiny bit of grease and motor oil. It’s mouth-watering , intense and almost pulls you into the glass.

Palate: Nose was pretty stunning, the palate is even better. Heavy, thick mouth feel, even at 56% abv – it’s beautifully oily and coating without being cloying. Big honeycomb again straight away, pretty sweet delivery and almost bourbon like at the start with caramels, corn syrup, charred casks and spicy oak taking hold – the abv really punches the flavour and the initial hit. A bit of time getting used to the heat of this we have some beautiful maple pecans, toffee sauce, fresher red apple – maybe even some tarte tatin. Salted butter again, some juicy sultanas, a little burnt banana, smoked custard (doesn’t exist but should!) and then the phenolic notes I found on the nose with motor oil, distant tar and old car engine that’s running the fuel mix too rich – or what I imagine that would actually taste like…

Finish: Long, very long indeed. Dry as hell, very dark chocolate (90% stuff), nuts that were burnt when being roasted, the ones that were at the bottom of the tray, salty caramel that has stuck to the pan. Some smoked nuts with a little sharp apple as it fades, maybe even toffee apples. It’s a very dry and quite bitter finish at it tails off, but not bad bitter more of the interesting oak laden bitterness you get with well aged spirits. Right at the end of the finish (right, right, right at the end) there is a musty cloth note and a little bubblegum, which could indicate that the Madeira casks this has been sitting in were pretty old and have held wine for a long time, just getting to the end of their life, if not slightly past it. I’ve found this note in old Armagnac before and whisky that was in very old Oloroso sherry casks, just a slight flaw with the cask condition. Usually you wont notice this as normal drinking wise you’d already be back in for another sip, but as I’m reviewing I’m deliberately looking for flavours…..so I guess you sometimes find things you wouldn’t normally.

Thoughts? What a beautiful rum this is. I’ll tell you right now that this is may favourite of the Exceptional Cask Selection rums so far, the abv is near on perfect (it’ll happily take water if you want to put some in though), the mouth feel is exceptional and the layers of flavours built up by the cask selection and the rum blend are deep as hell. Once again, as with the previous Exceptional Casks, the balance is the real player here, the way the flavours work together to give a whole greater than the sum of it’s parts is what takes this rum to the top of the pile. I’m all for single cask, single still, rums but this is a lesson from the master in the wonders of skilful blending and the results it can produce.

Price? £57 in the UK. Some would say it’s steep for a 10 year old rum, but forget age…that’s just a number on a label, it’s about quality of what you get in the bottle – £57 well spent in my view, and if I wasn’t such a tight git I’d have bought a case of it.

 

 

Santeria Rum

What is it? Well, this is the evolution to the Lost Spirits Navy style rum I reviewed back in April 2016 (clicky click). In short it’s “reactor aged” and not aged in a barrel – you can read the background in the Lost Spirits review. Santeria has taken the next step; the process has been refined and the machine has been leased out, essentially, for 3rd parties to produce rum for them – in this case it’s for Rational Spirits. A snapshot of the target rum is taken, as well as the distillate used and a few other components, fed into the computer and a rum is produced with the same signature (spectrographically speaking) as the target rum….so you want a 20 year rum? You scan it in and bang out the result. Where the technology has changed is that light is now used during the “maturation” period to break down the wood, oxygen is fed in to convert the chemicals and a temperature stage is used with bacteria to further convert acids into esters (yummies). There is more background here.

In terms of the actual distillate here, it’s molasses based and produced in a pot still. My bottle is from batch number 1 and bottle is number 768.

The rum is natural colour (which is pretty damn amazing), unfiltered and bottled at 46% abv.

Sugar? No

Nose: Coffee, black and over brewed, dark chocolate (80% stuff), toasted oak, chocolate covered banana sweeties and some black bananas too. Plenty of dusty old notes of clove, tobacco, forest floors, damp earth and mushrooms – stuff that smells really old. Something sour and green, maybe gooseberries, walnut shells or something. Some mild sweetened black liquorice and treacle toffee. There is that sour, bitterness throughout and it really does smell old.

Palate: Medium, slightly coating. Very similar to the nose in terms of delivery order and progress; coffee and dark chocolate first, smoky cask char, tobacco and wet soil which bitters to over roasted nuts. There is the “green” note again, sour wood or tart fruit I can’t pin down and this artificial taste I also can’t seem to put my finger on.

Finish: Medium. Liquorice, treacle, bitter molasses moving to semi-sweet with creamier dark chocolate this time (60% stuff), milky coffee, toffee’d bananas and dark cherries – think Black Forest cake.

Taste: Nice but odd. This is more mellow than the Lost Spirits Navy (yeah I know it’s only 46% abv…) and the flavours are better balanced and more integrated, but there is always this feeling of fakeness from somewhere. I mean, it definitely tastes old, around 20 years plus, maybe Guyanese, but its not totally fooling me, I can tell it’s “different”. Maybe I’m prejudiced by knowing what it is, but I still suspect if I tasted this blind I’d know something was up with it. It maybe show up the same as an old rum on a spectrograph, but there is more to the experience than just the chemical evidence – we’re humans.

It does benefit from being in the glass this rum, and with some time open and breathing. Would I buy again? No, I don’t think I would.

Price? £50.

 

Appleton Estate 21 year old

What is it? Molasses based rum from Jamaica, distilled in pot stills and then aged in ex-bourbon barrels for a minimum of 21 years (I assume tropically). This is produced in small batches, once a year, and sold on allocation only. For reference my bottle was bottled in 2015 and is bottle number 34876.

Coloured, chill filtered and bottled at 43% abv.

Sugar? No. Appleton do not add any sugar to their rum, or any other flavourings.

Nose: Ah, very elegant. Straight away you can tell this is well crafted and blended from quality casks. Pungent and aromatic with over ripe bananas, a little dried papaya, caramel, candied orange peel and honey. There is a lovely floral note to this and then the big “old” smells of light tobacco, warm leather, roasted nuts, roasted coffee beans and damp leaves. Interplaying with the sweetness at the start are savoury smells too as you get deeper in with a little aniseed and hot tyres. There is a backbone of toasted and open oak which provides a warm woody  incense like smell, cloves and some cinnamon. Certainly very complex, with many layers to discover the longer you spend with it.

Palate: Medium to heavy mouth feel, quite coating. Dry, very dry, almost no fruit here except for one very black and gooey banana. It’s all the “old” tastes, with lots of oak, cloves, deep dark brown sugar that you bake cookies with, vanilla, walnuts, pecans – oh,  butterscotch and pecan yum yums (google them) – old leather, tree sap, mushrooms and a little olive oil.

Finish: Medium in length. Quite bourbon’esc on the finish, plenty of warm toasted oak, white pepper, clove and a little ginger, fairly spicy. Lingering tastes of very ripe banana and some of the orange peel that I picked up in the nose but that was missing in the palate. Things bitter as it tails off, with some sappy notes and walnut shells. The bitterness isn’t very welcome I must admit. Throughout the palate and finish there is something I can’t quite put my finger on; it seems like some sugar has been added, I know it’s not, and I doubt they’ve put glycerine in but it seems like it at points – there is just some slight artificial note that flattens things down, especially on the finish.

Thoughts? It’s a very, very nice rum. It’s been “crafted” and aimed at a market segment, priced also accordingly! Here is the issue I have with this rum; ok, it’s 21 years old, but it’s sitting at around £140/£150 at many online retailers. Now I do really like it, but I honestly don’t find it 4x better than the 12 year old, in fact some of the things that make the 12 year old so damn good are lost in this as it’s got older. Has this been “premiumized”? Have there been hands in the cookie jar (a little dabble with the old additives)? I hope not. Would I buy this again? Well, yes, because I only paid £80 for it and I can still pick it up for £85 right now. For that price it’s worth it – but it aint worth £150 in any world.

Point to add; When I first opened this I was very disappointed. I wasn’t getting much from the rum at all. You’ll hear people say that spirits don’t breath – bollocks. Spirits certainly do. They oxidise in the bottle as more is drunk, and if left long enough they’ll loose a lot of their finer notes and go “flat”. My experience with older spirits is that they benefit significantly more with some time and headroom in the bottle, so after about 2 months this has really changed, opened up and settled down – it’s become much better for it. So if you do find you’re not getting on with a bottle you’ve just opened it, put it away (with some missing in the top to let air in), don’t put any preserving spray in it, and let it breath for a month – chances are it’ll change over time.