Caroni 10 year old VSOC – Bristol Spirits

What is it? What is it indeed. We’ll start with the easier bit; Most likely Single Blended Rum (molasses based, pot and column still rum from a single distillery) from that there Caroni distillery in Trinidad, that is no longer. I say “most likely” because Caroni had both pot and column stills and this is a blend of casks from various years, without any detail of the still type, so chances are its blended rum from various different marques of rum. Now for the more complicated bit; Caroni closed in 2002 and this rum was produced as Caroni’s 10 year old blend prior to that – I don’t have the specific year. It spent 10 years aging in Trinidad, at which point it was shipped over to Bristol Spirits for them to bottle. The rum was taken down to bottling strength (most likely 40% or 43% abv) but never bottled. If we assume it was distilled as part of the last run from the distillery, then the we’re looking at 2002 – 2012 in terms of aging tropically, the rum wasn’t released by Bristol for some years later so it spent a few more years aging in Europe – that’s a minimum, it could well have come from an older distillation run making it even older.

With time, water and ethanol evaporate from a spirit. In places like the Tropics and the Americas water can evaporate quicker than the ethanol so you can actually have an increase in abv over time, or a more level rate of evaporation so a very slow reduction in abv (it’s why so many tropically matured, old rums, have eye-watering abv levels), in Europe it’s the other way round; ethanol evaporates quicker than water, so you get a reduction in the abv, and this can be quite dramatic. In the case here, as the rum was already reduced to bottling strength and then left, the abv dropped too low – in Europe rum cannot be bottled under 37.5% abv. To resolve this issue and to maintain the “10 year old” age statement Bristol added some cask strength Caroni 1993 to bring it back up to the levels for bottling.

So what we have is a 10 year old age stated rum, with a low abv, which put a lot of people off buying it. What we really have is a Caroni that has spent at least 10 years aging in the Tropics, another round of aging, maybe 4 or 5 years or so, in Europe and blended with an at least 20 year old Caroni. So ignore this “10 year old” stuff, it’s waaaaay older than that.

And no, I’ve still ot found out why it’s called Caroni VSOC.

Not coloured, not chill-filtered and bottled at 40% abv.

Sugar? No.

Nose: Unmistakable, but softer Caroni (generally) we’ve got here. I say “generally” but there are fleeting heavier notes of tar, liquorice, marine fuel, shed paint or creosote and black olives. There’s a really good fruity backbone to it too with red apple compote or apple pie filling, sultana, raisin and bitter orange marmalade. Touches of toffee, warm pastry, vanilla and cooked banana too – maybe all together like a banana cream croissant or donut. There’s also pipe tobacco right at the end which gives a lovely warming smoky note.

Palate: Medium mouth feel, slightly oily. A little sweet at the start with maple syrup, orange and raisin, molasses and a white jelly bean note I’ve found in other Caroni, slightly like really good cream soda. It doesn’t stay sweet though, there’s a tang of sharpness soon that’s like gooseberry or tangerine and strong breakfast tea. Then we get the hot tyres, olive oil, brine, tar, tobacco, tree sap, resin, liquorice and motor oil.

Finish: Long. Everything just keeps going; you’re left with everything from the palate coming and going in waves – it’s lazy to write that but it’s exactly what it does so there’s no point writing out the same notes twice! It’s only really the “finish” and not the “palate” because I’ve swallowed it 🙂

Thoughts? In a world of cask strength Caroni all vying for attention and shouting with loud voices, there is this. A blend of heavy and soft tastes and smells at a strength you lets you taste and smell it all. It doesn’t scream at you and you need to take time to explore it well but it’s worth the effort. It’s really, really beautiful rum.

£80. A few years back that’d have been very expensive, and of course it wasn’t originally released at that, but just try to find a very well matured Caroni for under £100 anywhere these days, it’s a rare as rocking horse shit. Do I like it? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes, I already have, several times. Would I buy another for that price? I did. Can’t say much more than that.

 

Foursquare Sagacity

What is it? Single Blended Rum (molasses based, both pot and column still at a single distillery) from Foursquare in Barbados. This is anther one of the Exceptional Cask Selection rums that Foursquare release, specifically the 11th bottling in the series. As we expect with Foursquare rums, this one is a blend of rums distilled on both pot stills and column stills with the blending done prior to maturation (as white rum). A proportion of the rum is aged in casks that previous held bourbon (ex-bourbon casks) and a proportion of the rum is aged in casks that previously held Madeira – both set of rums were aged for 12 years, tropically in Barbados, and the resulting rums were then blend together at a super secret ratio to produce the final rum for the bottling. The bottle says it was released in August 2019 but we got it in the UK in November of that year with around 9000 bottles making their way to Europe.

This is another one of the randomly named bottles that seem to make up the ECS series, not that the name has any relevance to the rum in the bottle in terms of my views on it, I just find the whole thing a bit daft now. Sagacity. If like me, you though this was a City called Saga then you were wrong and if you look at any of the other rum blogs it’s been pointed out many times, that this means “the quality of being sagacious” – that doesn’t really help, so I had to google “sagacious” too; apparently it means possessing sound judgement, I guess you could call “wisdom”. It’s getting to the point where it takes more blog space explaining what these names mean than the blurb about the actual makeup of the rum – don’t even get me started on Plenipotenziario!

Not coloured, not chill filtered and bottled at 48% abv.

Sugar? Nope.

Nose: Lots of lovely warm oak at first with soft vanilla, toasted coconut and furniture polish. Quite fruity but rich fruits, not your tropical variety, so we’re talking prunes, figs, blackberries, blackcurrants and black cherries. Then there’s a beautiful chocolate note that comes out, like a low cacao dark chocolate  such as Bournville which is quite rich but also creamy – this, mixed with all those dark fruits, gives an almost Black Forest gateau type smell. At the end there are some roasted walnuts and pecans coming from the Madeira too.

Palate: Full mouth feel, oily. Quite sweet at first with black cherry jam on toast, that chocolate from the nose and vanilla cream – yeah, we’re back to Black Forest gateau again, yum time! There’s a little heat here and a slight gingery biscuit note but it’s welcome after the initial sweet start. Once again, lovely warm oaky notes and dried coconut, some leather and a little earthy mushroom. Some spicy heat comes back towards the end with black pepper or more intense ginger as it finishes.

Finish: Medium. Still a bit spicy on the finish and a little tannic. Much drier here than on the palate and the chocolate is much darker too. Breakfast tea, a little damp wood or leafy note and raw walnuts. At one point a flash of orange pops up with some cinnamon but it doesn’t hang around to too long. Still the dark fruits, but not sweet, it’s hard to explain. If you could imagine the taste of something like black cherry and it’s flavour but without any of the sweetness with it. Not the longest finish in the world and it doesn’t add a massive amount extra to the whole, but it’s very moreish.

Thoughts? At the time of writing this review I’m really enjoying the rum but it’s taken a while to get here. I’ve done this review with the bottle open for about 3 months and at first I was struggling to really find anything different from other “cask type” Foursquare rums – it initially reminded me a lot of Doorly’s 12 year old which I’ve found a bit…….meh……..I was just getting lots of oak. Now though the Madeira is really coming out and bringing all its lovely rich flavours with it. The testament to this is that it took 3 months to get half way down the bottle and then 2 weeks to finish the rest of it off after that point!

It’s really easy to drink and a big step up from Doorly’s in terms of complexity levels. There’s good balance between the oak and the dark fruit but the burst of heat as you swallow does catch you out. I must admit, whilst very good rum indeed, it’s not my favourite ECS release – this is mainly because the others are so good and I judge each ECS release against the previous ones rather than other rums out there, I really shouldn’t do it but it’s human nature.

Ok, so we have to use the internet to find out what Foursquare rums now mean, so here’s one for you:

Exceptional” – unusual; not typical.

When you are frequently putting out “Exceptional” rums, what are they exceptional against? You’re own rums? If you’re putting out more exceptional rums than “standard” rums then they are no longer the exception, they are now typical and usual and this is what the ECS releases have become; the Foursquare norm. They are not normal rums, they are Foursquare rums, which by definition makes them exceptional in the wider rum world, that’s for sure – but as far as releases from Frousquare go, no, no longer exceptional. We’re on ECS 11 with this, let’s do away with the silly names and the whole “Exceptional Cask” thing now and just start calling these Foursquare rums.

This set me back £48. Would I buy another? Too damn right. Yeah, so it’s not my favourite ECS rum, but for under 50 notes it’s still a banger.

 

Hampden Estate Overproof

What is it? Pure Single Rum (molasses based, pot still, single distillery) from the Hampden distillery in Jamaica. This is one of the two official distillery bottles that came out back in 2018 – the Hampden Estate Overproof (bottled at 60% abv), the other being a standard 46% one – the rum in the bottle is the same, only the abv differs. It’s a 7 or 8 year old blend, I say this because the front of the bottle says 8 years old and the back says 7 years old, all of which was done tropically so is equivalent to around 25 years worth of European aging. There are no concrete details of the marques in the blend but the consensus seems to be that it’s a mix of OWH, LROK and DOK, which vary massively in ester levels – for those that know, the DOK will be only a small amount due to it being the secret formula that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America, it’s that damn strong:

OWH: 40-80 g/hlaa (low ester leve)

LROK: 300-400 g/hlaa (mid ester level)

DOK: 1500-1600 g/hlaa (holy fucking shit)

Not coloured, not chill filtered and bottled at 60% abv.

I’m drinking this, and therefore reviewing it, at between 50% and 55% abv depending on how heavy handed I’m being with my teaspoon as I find that this is where it gets the most out of the rum. 60% is fine, but a lot of the smells and tastes are muted there.

Sugar? No

Nose: Not entirely what I was expecting, which is good I guess as it keeps us on our toes. Pretty savoury at first; putty, wallpaper paste, vegetable bullion, nail polish and a little musty hessian. Dry spices like cumin and cardamom, maybe a little turmeric and liquorice root, and a touch of new leather. Classic brine and a bit of olive oil in here too and then the fruits with lemons, mango, Conference pears, faint pineapple and maybe a small peach which sharpens it. It certainly doesn’t scream “high ester” or punch you  in the face like so many Independent bottles.

Palate: Full mouth, but crisp at the same time. Hot, even with water. This is more like what I was thinking; brine, salted fish, tar, varnished wood, stamp glue, liquorice and olives. More fruit here with pineapple, lemons, papaya, mango and green banana. There’s a touch of pipe tobacco and some nutty, earthy notes mid way, just before it swings back to fruit again.

Finish: Long, of course. Salty, brine, olives and tar. Crushed shells, anchovies and rubber gloves. Little fruit here, as with the nose, but what does show up are the usual suspects and mainly on lemon and mango. There’s an undertone of smoky, leathery, oiliness as it finishes off that’s really nice.

Thoughts? I’ll get this out of the way first; it’s a cracking rum, of course it is, and I was never in doubt. As far as my preference for Hampden goes, it falls short. Where the Indie bottles and single casks are full to the brim with character and/or depth (some aren’t deep but are like dynamite), this is narrow and pleasing. It’s excellent rum and will please many (it does please me) but it’s lacking the je ne sais quoi that lurks in a single marque, single cask Hampden. It seems it’s an Everyman’s Hampden and this is something that often happens with official distillery bottlings; Worthy Park Estate was the same for me – very, very good, but robbed of the spark that you get in some those so wonderful single casks. When a distillery puts out a bottling like this they throw the net wide for the biggest catch and in doing so let some the more prized fish escape.

This cost me £80. I’d save the money and get the 46% version instead, as I’ve had to drop it down to not far from that anyway to get the best of out it, and it’s the same rum in the bottle.

If you want a full proof, real Jamaican and big ester stuff puts you off then go for it, but don’t be expecting a massive funky rum here. Not the Hampden I’m after I’m afraid.

Cadenhead’s Classic Rum – 6 year old 2019 release

What is it? A blend of rums done by Cadenhead, and Independent bottler of spirits. This blend is a mixture of molasses based pot and column still rums from Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Panama and was aged in oak casks for 6 years in the UK before it’s release in 2019. For a long time Cadenhead have produced their “Classic Rum” blend and it generally changes year to year, but the type of rum they are aiming to produce remains the same, so if you pick up a bottle from another year chances are it wont be too far from this profile.

Not coloured by Cadenhead, not chill filtered and bottled at 50% abv.

Sugar? No.

Nose: Ah, proper dark rummy rum, in the “Navy” style if you will. Molasses, roasted nuts, soot, boot polish, ink and tar. Certainly some estery notes from the Jamaican element with squishy banana and citrus fruit. There’s some dark chocolate cake here too along with some cinnamon and handful of cloves.

Palate: Full, rich mouth feel. Some black olives, tar and brine at first then richness; coffee beans, cocoa beans, toffee covered banana, liqourice, cinnamon, fudge and a little flamed orange rind. The roasted nuts are still here and a little zing of lime part way keeps it from getting too heavy.

Finish: Long. A little salty brine here but it’s really on the sweeter side as it finishes off with molasses, toffee, strong black and sweet coffee, maybe a really good espresso with a thick crema, dark chocolate and loads of black banana, a little slightly burnt Christmas cake and a touch of charred pineapple right at the end.

Thoughts? Good. A little sweet at times, maybe that’s the Panama or Demerara if it’s been “treated” at the distillery, but I didn’t find any sugar in my hydrometer reading. There are plenty of good flavours going on here and it’s got a lovely body to it so it’s pretty versatile if you wanted to mix it or drink it neat. A proper dark rum without any of the over-the-top colouring nonsense and at 50% it’s good value too for £35. It’s not as good as the 1842 Cask in my view, but it’s cheaper and it is what is it – a consistent, good tasting dark rum.

 

Foursquare 2007 Cask Strength (12 year old)

What is it? The 10th bottling in the Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection series. It’s molasses based rum produced on both pot stills and column stills at the Foursquare distillery in Barbados – so Single Blended Rum. The rum makeup here is the same as with the previous iterations (2004 and 2005) where it’s distillate from both column stills and pot stills that are blended together as new make without any aging and then put into ex-bourbon casks for the full maturation period, which in this case is for 12 years and all of that tropically. The rum was distilled in 2007 and bottled in March 2019.

Not chill filtered, not coloured, and bottled at cask strength of 59% abv.

I’ve taken it down to around 55% abv for this review as that is how I’ve been drinking it and I think it works best. It is very drinkable at 59% though, be warned.

Sugar? Nope.

Nose: Yep, that familiar 100% ex-bourbon, cask strength, Foursquare – although this one seems a touch more savoury that previous; my guess would be higher pot still component in the blend this time round. We’ve got black olives, brine, WD40, tar and soft liquorice. Herbal notes of parsley, dried plantain, Tiger Balm and sticky plasters. Of course, it’s not all savoury, as expected you’ll also get polished oak, pipe tobacco, milk chocolate, coconut, almonds, light butterscotch, a little orange and a touch of vanilla.

Palate: Full mouth feel, hot. Dry start and savoury again, like the nose. Salt and pepper cashews, dark chocolate covered chillies, horseradish root, liquorice, black olives, brine infused with black pepper and some tar. We go nutty next with roasted walnuts, peanuts, pecans and some more cashews. Then come the sweeter notes of bitter orange caramel, really good home-made fudge, chocolate stem gingers and tarte tatin with toffee sauce right at the end. It’s not “sweet” sweet though, but more of the notion of sweetness.

Finish: Very long. Oak, toasted. Fruit loaf, very dark chocolate, black coffee from Brazil, leather, nutmeg and butterscotch. A little of the savoury comes out with black olives and a touch of WD40 but it’s more on the sweeter side here.

Thoughts? Belter. Not as sweet as the 2004 I think, or the 2005. Definitely more savoury notes to find but all pretty equal in terms of quality – this is, after-all, Foursquare we’re talking about here, it’s like a load of Ferrari enthusiasts discussing which is the best Ferrari when you know that as a normal human you’d be happy to just take any of them! I don’t think I could really pick between the 2004, 2005 and this, I’d probably go with the 2005 if anything, then this one as my preference is more for savoury rum, but it’s all pretty much irrelevant when push comes to shove.

This retailed at around £55 and at the time of writing (May 2020) there are still bottles around for the same price, which I find quite amazing for such a brilliant rum. Look at the price bracket for this and then look at the list of rums you see; would I rather have this for £55 or a Ron Zacapa 23, Zaya, Dictador 20, or Flor De Cana 18? What the actual fuck, where is my eye-roll smiley thing? How have people not already bought all of this yet.