The Whisky Barrel 10th Anniversary Berry Bros. & Rudd Ltd 19 Year Old Caroni

My dealings with The Whisky Barrel thus far have been limited although I did pick up one of the bottles in their 10th Anniversary collection….it was a particularly hefty 6-year-old Laphroaig. This Caroni represents the fourth release in the collection….and the first Rum. The intriguing thing is that they have chosen a Caroni….maybe they feel that it will resonate with whisky fans given that it is a closed distillery and the notes contained within may find favour with the whisky crowd…..or maybe they just enjoyed it. They have also paired up with Berry Bros. & Rudd who will be familiar to most. My experience with BBR Rum releases have seen all of them presented at 46% abv. What we are fortunate enough to find here is a substantially aged (continental age) Caroni at a far heftier abv. I have written about a few other  continental aged Caroni’s and have given a little background here and here…..What I have personally found is that demeraras and Caroni both suffer when continentally aged and presented at a sub-45% abv for the most part with a few Bristol bottlings of each being the only examples that I find do not fare as poorly……so I’m glad that we are in the 50’s with this release. I will state now that Caroni releases are far from my favoured Rums of choice. Even with the five Velier releases that I own, some I like and others I’m really not fond of at all. They run the gamete of typically oily, fuel like Caroni and my favoured style which has more apparent fruity notes bursting through. But what will this Rum offer.

The Whisky Barrel 10th Anniversary Berry Bros. & Rudd Ltd 19 Year Old Caroni – Cask # 165 – 55% abv

So what we have here is no-nonsense presentation of Cask #165….a 55% continental aged Caroni. But it’s what in the bottle that counts.

Glass: Mahogany / maple syrup in colour. Quite oily. Initial notes are immediately typically Caroni. Tar. Oil. Petrol. Not as heavy as expected though. Fortunately this is also displaying fruity, citrus oil notes. Burnt orange peel. It’s also a little ‘hedgerow’ too. Freshly picked blackberries and raspberries that have squished in your fingers. Light vanilla, powdery cocoa and pencil shavings. It’s also quite spicy with medicinal clove oil and fennel seeds. It’s unmistakably Caroni but the other more favourable aromas fight through. I’m left with the aroma of spent BBQ embers the next morning.

Mouth: There is an up front sweetness that is very short-lived as this is a very hot sip. Creosote bursts though and leaves a treacle bitterness. A little bonfire toffee and caramel. This gives way to a cooling eucalyptus vibe. It’s also quite earthy. Once acclimatised there are sappy, cedar notes bringing that hedgerow fruit and fresh apples. Medicinal clove oil. I’m enjoying the fruity character….a lot. It has waves of complexity. Salty, medicinal, fruity, bitter, Caroni. The finish is quite long and starts salty and briny. Preserved lemons, a whiff of smoke, drying oak. That familiar oily tar and creosote show up to round things out.

I always struggle with Caroni. Whilst I can appreciate a Rum, some are not what I would consider Rums that I would buy again and enjoy. This however has impressed me. I am genuinely considering buying one of the 310 available bottles…..that is if there are any left. It has enough fruity character to make me enjoy repeated sips and it has enough Caroni to make me recoil in horror. Its balanced and that is a rarity in continental age Caroni. I can see myself enjoying this Rum immensely, and that alone for me and a bottling of Caroni is worthy of praise.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


An Interview with Nikos Arvanitis – Rum Traveller

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

Nikos Arvanitis will be familiar to most of my Facebook Rum forum frequenting audience. He’ll also be more than familiar to Rum Festival attendees throughout Europe. In fact his biography reads very well:

Nikos Arvanitis has been working as a bartender since 2006. Rum is his passion and his desire to understand it led him to the Caribbean. Living in Barbados and using this island as his base, he has visited 30 islands of the tropical zone of the “West Indies” and over 45 distilleries and sugarcane fields, both active and inactive. His journey is still on, it will soon be reflected on paper and he has named it “From the West Indies to the World”.

Nikos Arvanitis through his travels and speeches is trying to spread the traditional production process of Rum and the culture of the Caribbean people.

He is a member in the jury panel and an instructor in rum presentation, in several European Rum Festivals (Berlin, Paris, Poland, Greece, Spain etc.) and bar shows.

Instructor of Rum in Bar Academy Hellas

Copyright Rum Diaries Blog

On a personal level, I have known Nikos for around three years and during that time we have conversed a lot about life, Rum and everything in between. During our period of friendship I have seen Nikos grow into a very well-respected spokesman for Rum and an evangelist for the history and tradition that exists within the Caribbean. More recently he has become a very active independent spokesperson for the Gargano / Seale Classification and a campaigner and activist for Pure Rum and raising the category in general.

I was fortunate enough to meet Nikos earlier this year in his natural habitat….a Rum distillery. The distillery in question was Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados and it was also my first Rum Distillery visit. We chatted for a while, walked through the distillery with Richard and sampled untold delights in the Foursquare Tasting Room. We also shared a pretty eventful taxi ride with him.

Open and honest is all that I have known from Nikos and I’m giving his full, unedited responses to my questions. No cutting, snipping or leaving out of any detail. Hopefully you’ll see that his responses relay the passion that he has and the high regard in which he holds Rum as the true essence of the Caribbean and its people.

1 – For those that may not already be familiar with you and your work, explain to them what your project “From the West Indies to the World” is about.

From the West Indies to the World

It’s a personal project including photos, thoughts and notes for the real side of Caribbean islands and the connection between the locals and the Rum, through the eyes of the unknown reality.

Sugar cane fields, unknown dead estates, Rum Distilleries and traditional Rums.

In short, it’s my lonely trip-wandering in the tropic zone of the West Indies. Personal experiences, emotionally charged stories, culture, people. I don’t travel the easy way. I’m visiting places that they are really inaccessible to many white people and also I organized the 95% from all these trips myself, without sponsors, companies etc. The final collection of these experiences is the reason that this project is born, and due to that, I don’t focus only the to rum and the production process..

I’m not an author / writer and I do not even want to be. I just have the feeling and the belief that the experiences created to share. This project is an extension of me and the opposite.

The ultimate goal of my project is to make as many people as possible respect and fall in love with the Caribbean, the local culture, the people and finally the distilleries that are keeping alive and  unchanged the traditional production process of the spirit we love the most.

2 – Your travels are followed by and envied by many people….including me. One thing that often gets said to people like me is that to truly understand Rum and all that it is, you have to visit distilleries. Just how many countries and distilleries have you visited?

I would like to speak on a personal level without meaning that it’s either wrong or right. Yes, I clearly believe that if you don’t visit the Caribbean by yourself and the distilleries as well, it’s really difficult to understand rum. There’s a huge difference between the word ‘knowledge‘ and the word ‘understanding‘. Countless sites on the Internet with completely different opinions and misleading information, distributors, companies and ambassadors talk about rum and they’ve never touched sugarcane in their life. So there is misinformation and false information about rum. When I visited the distilleries I acquired a complete image, totally different to the one I had before. And yes, I was reading and attending seminars. But I figured that it wasn’t enough. It was like I was going inside the glass and becoming one with rum. Of course, it is important that the people of the distilleries are also honest with you. I was lucky (and a pain in the ass for them)

I have visited in total 30 islands of the Caribbean tropic zone. The number of distilleries is 45 out of 50. My last trip was in Haiti and trust me, Haiti is a unique situation. It’s a category by itself.

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

3 – I personally see you as a direct link to Rum producers that are not active on social media and have little to no online presence. Do you think that your relationship with these Rum producers is vital in bringing the plight of forgotten and overlooked distilleries such as the Callwood Distillery in the BVI and River Antoine in Grenada into the spotlight?

The first time I saw distilleries like the ones you mentioned, I said to myself, “I will spread all over the world about these distilleries-Caribbean’s heritage”.
I saw this subject in a very romantic tone. It is truly a shame that 90% of the whole world does not even know the existence of wonderful rums like these. But the most important thing is that they do not know the passion, the love and respect that the people who surround distilleries have for their rums. Their existence is the link between the past and the present. And if you do forget the past, the heritage and the history, the future is cloudy and uncertain…

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

4 – Apart from your project and the Rum, what continues to drive you to travel to these places?

People. Certainly people. The human relationships that I created there are by far the most important school of my life. They changed my worldview. I’m not the same person as I used to be before. At least I do not act and think the same way.

I adore the warm climate. I don’ really like the cold and I am freezing really quick and easy. I am not really sure if I will survive this winter in Paris. Hahahaha. Yeah, Paris is going to be my base for the following year(s)…

Finally, the word “vibe“. I can’t explain this feeling in a few words. It’s something much deeper. The vibe in the tropic zone makes me happy and above all, I’m 100% myself. Something I have never experienced before in the big European countries even in my own country, where the friendship and human relationships are in the second or even third fate. Unfortunately…

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

5 – You’re a firm advocate of the proposed Gargano / Seale Classification. Explain the classification for those that may not be aware of it. Why you feel that it is so important?

Usually, my presentations for this matter last like 4 hours…..So I believe it’s a little bit difficult to explain in a few words.

Yes, I am a 100% supporter of this wonderful classification. It was the middle of 2014 I think when Richard (Seale) firstly introduced me to this classification in one of my weekly visits to Foursquare distillery. When I saw the classification I told to myself: “Yes, this is the only way to have a better and promised future for the category of Rum, to put things in a row and first of all to give Rum the respect it deserves”. Two years later I found Luca (Gargano) in one of his trips in Barbados. He also helped me understand the classification. So, my communication with the two most influential persons of the Rum world plus my personal research was the common link for the final result… spread this classification all over the world.

This Classification focuses to the type of the producer, the type of the still and of course at the distillery statement. I believe that this last thing is the biggest problem in Rum. The 70% of rums of the global market haven’t got a distillery statement. This is really bad.

This classification it’s not about what’s good and what’s bad. Tasty or not. Originally, it’s a chronological order of the history of distillation and is based on facts. There is a separation between the traditional production process and the modern.  This doesn’t mean that tradition overtakes modern methods, but we surely have to have a different approach to an original artisanal Rum from an industrial one.

Finally, some people say that this classification is a copy of the Whisky’s classification. This is not true, not at all and please if you don’t understand the role of the classification, don’t judge. Open your mind and be more Caribbean…I am always open for conversations about this subject, contact me and it would be my pleasure to help you have better understanding about the classification.

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

6 – Your time spent with Rum producers has seen you spearheading the important job of communicating the classification through your interactions on social media and your presentations to industry and consumers. Do you see knowledge of the classification spreading throughout the community to the point that there is a basic understanding already when you talk to the industry and consumers?

First of all I really need to share with you that NONE of the producers ever told me what to say in my presentations or to promote specific Rums (I am not a f****n promoter or brand ambassador and I will never be). I was In Berlin some weeks ago and someone came to me and said that: “You promote the rums of your friends distilleries”. This is not true. I love to promote the Rums I love and the distilleries who still respect the Caribbean’s heritage and tradition. It’s true that I have a personal connection with many distilleries like Worthy Park, Foursquare and others but this connection is more a friendship and match to our beliefs than a business. The people out there who know me personally, know this much better than anyone. The situation with the association is something new but all of us used to fight about the traditional production process of the Rum many years ago, but our voice is heard by a lot of people only in the last 2-3 years. The customers really want to know more about the Rum and this is wonderful. The promise I am giving is that I will always act 100% as Nick and I will do the best to raise the category of the Rum.

7 – A large proportion of the Rum producers appear to fear the classification. Why do you think that is?

From my point of view, the main reason is that they initially believe that if they accept this sort of classification, it is like neglecting what they say so many years about their products on the market. I think that they are only interested in the rise of their own label and not rum as a spirit. We all have to understand that sales cannot go up in a particular bottle if the category is not developed in general. You cannot deny that tradition, not least the complicated production process of rum, should not go into the same sink as modern industrial products. They cannot have the same prices and above all the word “artisanal” on their bottle. So yes, I think they initially think of their sales which is not true because if the rum is classified and developed in general, this will be a good thing for everyone. Speaking so much time for the world market, I will give a personal example from my own country that reflects what I have said. See it as a miniature of the market.

Ambassadors who have never touched a still, have not bitten sugar cane, have never walked in the Caribbean, have not spoken to locals and have not understood the rum, continue to promote products that are in the company’s portfolio, for which you do not know the existence of the distillery (which of course does not exist), so-called spiced easy rums and pure alcohol full of flavors and sweeteners, industrial products that have nothing to do with the history of the island are being produced. How do you orient yourself in the market by telling lies and having the main goal of selling your own only products and at the same time looking for the good for the future of rum? It can not be done. Quite simply because there is no love for rum and the Caribbean but love for your dominance in the market and the word “monopoly“.

The shawls have no pockets. What is the essence if you are not faithful to your values ​​and your beliefs as a person and you adapt to what the system imposes on you…?

8 – Do you think that the Classification will ever become industry standard?

I am very optimistic and positive as a human and yeah man, I believe that it will. Already you can see a great rise of the artisanal Rum in the global market and this is wonderful and makes me very happy. But I don’t like to use the world “industry” next to the word “Rum“. Let’s use another term: “The World of Rum” is much better I think.

From me and my team, there is a promise that we will do all we can to build strong foundations in this classification and we will fight for it through presentations, seminars, articles etc. What is the essence of human being as if you haven’t got something to fight for??

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

9 – Do you think that having a Geographical Indication for Rum production will become the natural progression?

Yes, I believe that this is the path. Jamaica for example, is fighting about this. But I would like to make a general statement on this really important subject.

In Jamaica we have distilleries that make completely different rum in a totally different way. In particular, it’s not possible to consider a pure single rum from Worthy Park or Hampden with that of Clarendon. Yes, these three distilleries take place in the same island, they are all Jamaican, but the Rums are completely different. The production process as well. In Clarendon they use a small amount of Rum from Batch distillation. The majority of the final blend is coming from distillation in Multi column ethyl alcohol plant. This does not happen in the first two distilleries I mentioned earlier. So, I say that simply saying Jamaican Rum is not enough because there is diversity within Jamaican Rum.

They all rely on some common elements in the production process, but at the end of the day the final products are completely different. So, just the world Jamaican Rum I don’t feel that it’s enough.

There must be also control to the independent bottlers with no distillery statement. I’m tasting very often rums like these, let’s say a Barbadian Rum, and this rum has nothing to do with the traditional rums of the island. The same happens also with other bottlings. Personally, I find it unacceptable to add sweeteners, aromas and other extras that literally do not respect the distillery, the history and the heritage of the island, and also the tradition, except some special situations. Of course, the majority of these independent bottles haven’t got distillery statement on the labels and at the same time they say that they choose personally the best barrels from the distilleries. They didn’t .They just bought these rums from other companies. Be careful with the false marketing terms. I really would like to see better control and balance between the distilleries and the independent bottlers in future. If the rum is not even close to the character of the distillery and the distillery bottlings, don’t give the permission to the independent companies to make the bottling. The master distiller has to taste the rum and if he agrees, enter the name of the distillery and his signature. So everyone cannot bottle whatever they want. Quite honestly, I believe this.

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

So there we have it… amazing amount of passion and a completely open forum for Nikos to give his true, unedited opinions.

I’d like to personally take this opportunity to thank Nikos again for his agreement to undertake this interview and I hope that I have given him the platform which he deserves.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Secret Treasures Selection Privée St.Lucia Collection

Another visit to St Lucia and I’m expanding my array of reviews from the island with three more independent bottling’s from the same range…..The Secret Treasures Selection Privée St.Lucia Collection.

This collection comprises the following:

Vendome 9 Year – Single Cask No. 528 – 53% abv

Vendome 6 Year – Single Cask No. 850 – 52% abv

John Dore 9 Year – Single Cask No. 26 – 55% abv

Vendome Pot Still centre, John Dore II behind, John Dore I left

Again, you can familiarise yourselves with my previous writing on St Lucia Distillers and some of their own label products by clicking here, here, here and here…..and there is also information on a magnificent independent bottling here.

Right, now you’re back and have a little background on St Lucia Distillers, its straight into the bottles.

Tasting Notes

Vendome Pot Still – 6 Years Old – 52% abv

This still has a 2000 litre capacity and was commissioned in 2003

Glass: Bright gold. Oily. A pleasant alcohol spike initially. Light fruit such as pineapple, ripe banana and mango. Mild oaken influence. Light floral notes. Sweet vanilla fudge. Liquorice bitterness and that magical medicinal quality.

Mouth: A little alcohol up front gives way to peppery oak. Light sweetness and an almost biscuit-y whisky note. Medicinal for sure but with pipe tobacco. Time gives pineapple, mango and ginger. An herbal quality is present. That medicinal note is well pronounced and it carries through to the medium-long finish. This starts with dry oak and herbal notes before developing into peaches, caramel, oat biscuits and pipe tobacco. Youthful but with a good level of maturity.

Vendome Pot Still – 9 Years Old – 53% abv

Glass: Gold. Oily. Less aggressive from the off. Acetone. Burnt rubber. Oak. Ripe bananas. Beautiful medicinal quality again. Very pungent and well-rounded. Like Hampden meets Rockley. Light smoke. Oak. Liquorice. Vanilla. Pineapple chutney. A more accessible and mature proposition with the medicinal notes well-tempered.

Mouth: Again the alcohol is well-integrated. Oak meets pepper meets herbal tablets (maybe this is just a UK thing). Ginger. Banana jam. Mildly menthol. Honeycomb. Light florals wrapped in that beautiful medicinal smokey note. The long finish starts with fruit, caramel and liquorice chewy sweets before developing into a moisture sapping smoke driven dryness with a faint herbal note to end. Very well-rounded and really impressive.

John Dore Pot Still – 9 Years Old – 55% abv

There is no specific mention of which John Dore Still this comes from, I or II. John Dore I has a capacity of 1500 litres and was commissioned in 1998. John Dore II is the largest Pot Still at SLD and has a capacity of 6000 litres. It was commissioned in 2004

Glass: Dark gold. Viscous. Very pungent. Acetone, pear drops. Fruit. Oak. Honey. Banana chips. Chocolate. Caramel. It all seems less medicinal forward through it is there. Pineapple. Mango. Cloves. Cinnamon. Pipe tobacco. Integration is the overarching theme here. Maybe the still gives out less medicinal notes?

Mouth: Hot Hot Heat….pretty sure that was a band? Far sweeter entry than expected. Pronounced cinnamon. Pepper kicks hard and is followed by a light oak. A beautiful candyfloss joins the party. Banana chips, mango fruit leathers. It could be Jamaican for a split second. Funky. The mid-palate is all about the medicinal notes, smoke and spice. Anise and a liquorice bitterness. It remains quite heated with a growing foreboding dryness. This Rum is a lot more meaty and all-encompassing. The long finish starts with banana chips in chocolate before developing a nutty oaken quality. Tobacco follows along with whiffs of smoke and just a hint of that medicinal note.

It hard to separate the Vendome 9 and John Dore 9. Both display maturity and complexity far in excess of their tender years. Even the Vendome 6 brings a more playful puppy like quality to the party. Given my time again, I’d buy all three again. If you have to only have one, ask how much you like medicinal notes….if you adore Rockley style rums then it has to be the Vendome 9….if you like medicinal notes present but tempered by a sweeter spice driven note…it has to be the John Dore. I personally can’t pick between the two older expressions as you’ll note by the scores. I love medicinal notes, I love the bite of a Rum that sits over 50% and I pretty much love St Lucian pot still rum. More!!!

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Silver Seal Dennery Superior St Lucian Rum

This is a bottling that I have little to no information on. I have tried to source information online but aside from a few pointers leading to a 1988 distillation, there is nothing….no reviews, no literature and the only mention appears to be on auction websites. I’ve also tried emailing Silver Seal to obtain information but again have drawn a blank. So we’re flying blind on this one which makes it interesting. To start with, this Rum is not from the closed Dennery Distillery on the East Coast…this entity closed in the early 1970’s so the Dennery aspect is pure marketing. It will be from the site that is now St Lucia Distillers. It is also highly likely being a Silver Seal product…Silver Seal being an Italian Independent bottler that ages and bottles in Scotland…that this Rum has seen little to no Tropical age. It is also a Rum that I have struggled with since first opening it…..but I shall cover this below…

Silver Seal Dennery Superior St Lucian – 43%

Upon first opening the striking dark green / black bottle, I have to say that the aromas emanating from this Rum were very, very bitter. It’s colour, mixed with the bitterness initially made me think that it had seen an overdose of caramel colouring….an opinion that has not changed much. I have experienced bitterness previously in long continental aged demerara’s and in that instance, it was close to killing any enjoyment. I’m happy to report that the Rum opened up a little….and even more so once the fill level traveled past the shoulders of the bottle.

Tasting Notes

Glass: The Rum is dark amber in the glass and it is accompanied by the ever-present bitter edge. Initial aromas are quite earthy with an off note of wet corrugated cardboard boxes. Hazelnuts and wet earth follow. Very light antiseptic cream. Wet wood and an underlying caramel. Sour vegetal aromas and a hint of menthol. A little messy. I’d say that its light enough to be mostly column but it does seem to have a little backbone that hints at pot still content. I just can’t help thinking that they’ve dumped a huge measure of spirit caramel into it.

Mouth: Dry and bitter entry with hints of raisins and hazelnuts. Mouthfeel is a little light but still oily. Quite herbal and menthol. Still has wet wood but no real enjoyable oaken notes. Over roasted coffee beans. Mildly medicinal. Light citrus. But its all dominated by that unpleasant bitterness. Stewed celery and fennel seeds right at the end. The lacklustre finish is of medium length and starts dry, soon developing a nutty quality before that off bitter caramel note begins to dominate. Right at the back-end there is a hint of bonfire toffee.

If this was distilled in 1988 and I picked mine up in maybe late 2014, it could realistically be upwards of 22 years old. Maybe it would’ve been more vibrant and enjoyable as a younger Rum? Either way, age has not helped it. I have tried and tried to enjoy this Rum. I just can’t. It has too many off notes and is a little too messy to be enjoyable. These tasting notes are 12 months old and I have recently visited the bottle again to add to them and to be honest, nothing has changed. It’s still disappointing. It is so far detached from anything that St Lucia Distillers are producing currently that I would avoid this completely and start exploring their 1931 series which offers a lot of enjoyment. This bottle wasn’t too expensive when I picked it up but rarity has seen its price jump up. Glad that I tried it, just to add it to my body of experience, but it’s just not worth a purchase…..anything but Superior…

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content