A few weeks off from writing but now we’re back with a rather nice proposition. Rum Nation Caroni 1998 – 2nd Batch. This is the first Rum that I have written about from the much fabled Caroni Distillery in Trinidad….I have a few Caroni bottles on the shelf so it may be worthwhile to start with a brief introduction and background to the history of Rum production at Caroni Distillery.
Caroni Rum Production
There were originally in excess of 50 distilleries in Trinidad but by the 1950’s that had fallen to just 8. Now there is only one….and that is Angostura. In 1918, the Caroni sugar factory begun distilling Rum (1923 is also mentioned. Clarity would be welcomed). It did so in a Cast Iron Still. During this period, there were several other sugar factories also distilling differing types of Rum in differing stills. As you can imagine, the process could be a little ‘changeable’ which when accompanied with blending that is perhaps done on a random basis, saw never to be seen again ‘one-off’ creations being commonplace. During its years of Rum production, Caroni improved their processes and also began to purchase and utilise new stills, moving from their original Cast Iron Still to a Wooden Coffey Still in 1943. The Cast Iron and Wooden Coffey Stills remained in operation until 1945 when a new all Copper Still was installed. Due to the Caroni takeover of the Esperanza Estate and therefore taking ownership of their Still, the Esperanza Single Column Still arrived in 1957. A Four Column Gerb Herman still was installed in 1979 and commissioned in 1980. This assisted in two ways. It helped increase the capacity of the distillery and led to a diversification in the number of differing products that the distillery could offer. The Cast Iron Still and Wooden Coffey still were replaced in 1984 by a Twin Column Still from Blair, Campbell and McLean of Glasgow and also a Pot Still.
In 2001, despite union protests, the Government of Trinidad sold its 49% stake in Rum Distillers Limited which was Caroni’s Rum arm, for $35 million to Angostura. The unions had actually offered to buy that same 49% stake for a higher price than that seen in the Angostura bid ($40 million) but due to negotiations with Angostura being at ‘an advanced stage’, the bid was refused. From 2002 the Caroni Distillery carried on its operations at a vastly reduced output but the sugar operation was closed in 2003 and that was followed by the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd in 2004. No more Rum production. This coupled with the death of the sugar industry there, devastated Trinidad with the loss of upwards of 10,000 jobs and a knock on effect to other industries and countless thousands of employees family members.
Caroni Rum Styles
Caroni was famed for producing both ‘Heavy’ and ‘Light’ Rums. With my basic understanding (plus a lot of help from a learned friend) this is a reference to congeners (both desirable and undesirable) which create the flavours within a Rum. ‘Heavy’ Rums from a column still have a higher percentage of undesirable congeners due to low rectification. ‘Light’ Rums have a lower percentage of undesirable congeners due to higher overall rectification. The ‘Light’ Rums produced by Caroni were close to neutral spirit territory at 96% abv…..though not all spirit at a higher proof is neutral. The ‘Heavy’ Rums produced by Caroni would probably be closer to 65 – 70% abv. Due to the high abv, the light Rum was reduced to around 80% abv prior to maturation to avoid excessive evaporation during that process.
There is a common aroma and flavour profile that seems to run through every Caroni Rum that I have tasted, regardless of the abv. It is in part as a result of the attempt to make a heavy, pot still style Rum via low rectification methods in a column still. This actually ends up producing a distillate heavier than that produced via a true low rectification still and a distillate containing a higher percentage of undesirable components, such as fusel oils, that a pot distiller would usually exclude when making their cuts. This alongside a higher sulphur content certainly makes them not to everyone’s liking. There is no doubting though the ‘Unicorn’ status that certain bottles of Caroni Rum have among the Rum Community…..I’m not certain whether this is as a result of their growing rarity or the flavour and aroma profile of the varying expressions.
With all that said, I suppose that its time to talk about the Rum in question.
Rum Nation Caroni 1998 – 2nd Batch – 55% abv
This Rum was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2014, and is the 2nd batch of this expression. This release, Batch number L 14/349, comprises 4580 bottles. This Rum was initially matured in Trinidad for 9 years in American oak before being shipped to Piedmont, Italy for a second maturation period of 6 years in casks that had previously held Rum Nation Peruano 8. The familiar postage stamp is present along with the squat bottle and wooden topped cork. Time to dig in……
In the glass: the Rum is a dark mahogany in the glass with bright orange flashes (darker than it appears in the photograph) and a swirl of the glass releases long thick droplets. Immediately and rather surprisingly given my earlier Caroni experiences, the first aroma that hits me is an oily, almost perfumed orange peel….then this is backed up with that familiar petrol aroma that I have come to expect from Caroni….but it is dialled down…a lot. Oak is quite apparent as is a varnish like aroma. Caramel, burnt sugar and something resembling freshly ground cumin round things off alongside something hinting at a raisin influence.
Given the 55% abv I added a few drops of water and waited for a while. The petrol takes a back seat now and fruitier aromas come to the fore. Tropical fruits, a heightened oak and a tingling spicy character are revealed.
In the mouth: This is a bruiser up front. There is a huge hit of that familiar petrol and tar like flavour and the initial experience is very astringent and tannic. Following sips reveal a fresh, almost menthol like pine note. There is definitely a clove influence and that oak detected on the nose is very influential. There is also an underlying savoury edge to this Rum with that cumin and also the floral, almost perfumed taste of biting into a coriander seed. This Rum is almost in the realms of slightly bitter or tart and it is all the more interesting for it. The finish is of a medium to long length and contains highlights of aniseed, petrol and that perfumed coriander seed…..it is still very tannic until the end.
With a little water, liquorice is really standing out for me as is a peach like fruitiness. This is far easier to drink as the astringency has been muted. The florals are far more dominant with that orange oil, pine and something medicinal on the finish.
For me personally, this is one of the more approachable and enjoyable Caroni experiences that I have had. I can only assume that this is down to the casks used for the second maturation period. The flavours and aromas familiar to all are there, but they’re dialed down allowing more to shine through and maybe allowing a fuller impression of the spirit to be gained. Water makes it infinitely more sippable, or should I say it increases the palatability of the Rum over a longer period of time. If you enjoy Caroni releases, I see nothing to stop you getting enjoyment here. It is different enough to offer something new, whilst also being familiar. I’m really still not sure of my own feelings for Caroni bottlings. One day I can’t get enough of the flavour, another day I can think of nothing I’d like to taste less. It is certainly a mood thing with me but this release has seen more action in a shorter timeframe than any of my other Caroni expressions so that speaks volumes. Its different, so I’d say give it a try. It is almost, and I do mean almost, ‘Caroni-lite’. One thing that I will add is that I think the abv is about right for this release. The lower abv expressions that I have encountered (40%) have been almost over diluted and contain more of what I don’t enjoy in a Caroni. Having control to take the abv down slightly really helps me personally with Caroni Rums. As per usual, feel free to pop by for a drop.
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