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

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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…..to 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…..an 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

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Excellence Rhum Collection

I’m a regular purchaser from Alexandre Beudet and his Excellence Rhum website in France and it was interesting to see four new bottlings listed on the website tagged as Excellence Rhum Collection….especially as one was a Foursquare and the other was a Hampden. Anyway, a little background. Alexandre created his Excellence Rhum website in 2013 and it has grown in strength, now listing over 1800 different bottlings. It has been my go to mail order for Agricole and they deliver to the UK…Hurrah! For its ‘Collection’ releases, Alexandre has taken the sensible step of releasing the Rums without the addition of sugar or caramel colour. The Rums will also not undergo chill filtration. So for all intents and purposes, presented as the distilleries would want them to be and labelled and bottled in Paris. The plan is to release four new Collection bottlings per yer….good news for us! Anyhow, below is a brief list of the bottlings that will be available as part of the 2017 Collection. In a nod to the excellent, clear and informative labels of the Habitation Velier Collection the labels will also amongst other things have information indicating the distillation and bottling dates, type of still, barrel marks, percentage of Tropical vs Continental age and the Angels Share percentage….For instance, the Guadeloupe has 10% Tropical Age and 90% Continental Age and lost 30% of the barrel contents to evaporation…it was distilled in a Column Still and the barrel marks were SFGB (not a clue).

Guadeloupe Bellevue – SFGB – 1998 – 18yr – 59.9% abv

Guyana Diamond – MPM – 2005 – 11yr – 60.1% abv

Jamaica Hampden – LROK – 2000 – 16yr – 54.6% abv

Barbados Foursquare – MBFS – 2006 – 11yr – 62.8% abv

Now fortunately for me, I have been given the opportunity to try all four releases in the Excellence Rhum Collection due to Alexandre’s very kind offer of a press kit. This wont be definitive thoughts and my final opinion as the 60ml samples only go so far……but as a heads up I have already pre-ordered two expressions……I may want to revisit at a later date…..but my brief notes are……

Tasting Notes

Guadeloupe Bellevue – SFGB – 1998 – 18yr – 59.9% abv

Glass: Dark burnished gold. Immediate and powerful, redolent with banana chips and a light medicinal quality. Hints of Caroni! Tar and creosote. Lightly spiced nutmeg, but more apparently herbal with hints of rosemary, Norfolk lavender and an earthy quality. Oak is not dominant but is present.

Mouth: Intense and medicinal entry. Charred wood, lemon oils, pickle vinegar like acidity. Quite sour. Liquorice. Caroni like petrol. Dried banana and coconut pieces. Sticking plasters. Very very long finish which is oak led initially with a growing liquorice. More vinegar acidity and a sweet / bitter vermouth quality. Great stuff.

Guyana Diamond – MPM – 2005 – 11yr – 60.1% abv

Glass: Pale straw. Initial alcohol astringency. Raisin notes with liquorice and anise as I’d expect from a PM. Powering through this reveals lightly floral notes and the sweetness of grilled bananas along with freshly cut mango.

Mouth: Sweetness on entry and initially very floral led. This then clears and drops into the baseline notes of aniseed and liquorice that I’d expect….albeit with a touch of wildflower honey. It has a sweet / savoury interplay which is pinning in all together. A long finish that is all salty liquorice (there is a Dutch liquorice that escapes me that I know only as a ‘drop’) led with the remains of honeyed fruitcake. Solid but not outstanding.

Jamaica Hampden – LROK – 2000 – 16yr – 54.6% abv

Glass: Light straw gold. It could only be Hampden. Funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter. All pot still attack. Not quite in the HLCF territory. It’s not as down and dirty as that. Overripe bananas, mango, papaya. Intense fruit, florals, stinging astringency. Both sweet and spicy in equal measure. Hazelnuts, warm bbq’d banana smeared in fudge.

Mouth: Sweet, pot still bathed in baked banana. Drying oak and burnt wood. Dime (Daim) bar like caramel nuttiness and very well-balanced. A hint of savoury. The finish is long and full of liquorice, banana, black jack sweets, pineapple and biscoff spread. If you’ve ever seen the YouTube video about the ‘Crazy/Hot Matrix’….this Rum has strayed close to the unicorn zone.

Barbados Foursquare – MBFS – 2006 – 11yr – 62.8% abv

Glass: A shade darker than straw gold. Light oak, vanilla, florals and grapes. Banana, cocoa powder, dried fruit peels and royal icing. A light nuttiness. Intense…..but not Velier Foursquare 2006 levels.

Mouth: Sweet entry full of milk chocolate and dried fruit peels. This is slowly enveloped by a biting dryness bringing a strong bite of black pepper and fennel seeds. Further sips bring dessicated coconut, apricot and a sprinkling of fresh nutmeg. A long mildy oaken vanilla led finish develops into apricot, celery and a growing dryness. Again….right at the back-end there is a light apricot. High proof mixed climate aged Foursquare at close to its best.

As collections go, this is a really strong showing. The only one that I’m not really ‘feeling’ is the Guyana…..but thats not to say that it isn’t good….I just prefer entirely tropically aged Demeraras. I have pre-ordered two of these bottles…..the Hampden and the Foursquare. I hovered over the Guadeloupe but I have the Cadenheads Bellevue. If I could afford it, the Guadeloupe would  absolutely be on my list though as it is such a well-rounded, well-developed prospect. So much flavour from a column still, it really is a triumph. Thanks to Alexandre firstly for sourcing really good Rums, and secondly for allowing me to try them. I hope that you manage to pick one or two up for yourselves.

© 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

Rumnaissance…..Rum Diaries Blog at Manchester Science Festival

msf-logoThis one is a little bit of a personal post asking (pleading) for your support as I take my first steps into talking to members of the public about the Rum in their glass.

It is worthwhile pointing out that the evening will be in its most basic form, a Rum tasting, but with added information about production and categorization. The event title is Rumnaissance and I have pieced together a little look at the breakdown of how I plan to structure the night:

Rums classifications have become somewhat outdated. Location based style classification is difficult as many rums straddle a line between styles. Colour based classification along with such horrific terms such as ‘Premium’ and ‘Super Premium’ give no indicators of true intrinsic value.  A new classification system proposed by Velier’s Luca Gargano and backed by Foursquare Distillery’s Richard Seale highlights a category of identification based upon the method of distillation employed in the Rums production.

During the evening we will discuss the proposed categorisation which from the top down is split into the distillation categories of batch and continuous, and then into further categories. We will look at the basic principles behind each distillation method, how they are used in Rum production and further explore how this relates to the proposed categories. We will also look at the effects that contact with wood has on a new spirit and also how Tropical age delivers a different result to European age.

To help you along during all of this we will be tasting Rums that demonstrate these categories as we discuss them. You’ll get to try Rum-Bar Aged and unaged “Pure Single Rum” from Worthy Park in Jamaica, Doorly’s “Single Blended Rum” from Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, Admiral Rodney “Traditional Rum” from St Lucia Distillers, “Agricole Rhum” from Martinique, and Ron Cubay “Rum” from Cuba. You’ll also get to try Glorious Revolution, an Unaged 100% Pot Distilled Rum made here in the UK by Spirit Masters. A few nibbles will be provided during the break, but even then, you’ll be tasting at least 6 or 7 Rums so it is advisable to fill up before you arrive.

The link to purchase tickets is here and it would be great to have your support if you can make it.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2016. 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.

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WeiRon – Super Premium Aged Caribbean Rum

PrintHere we go then…..The claim is a big one…SUPER PREMIUM AGED CARIBBEAN RUM! A very brave claim and one that people will be wanting to disprove…..but they may have a hard job doing so…especially given the principles adopted by Peter and Tommy of Svenska Eldvatten (Swedish Firewaters). Svenska Eldvatten are independent bottlers from Sweden who specialise in Whisky, but also release Rum and Tequila. One of their most noteworthy Rum releases (among an excellent Jamaican and beautiful Demerara) has been the frankly phenomenal Barbados 2000 ‘Rockley Style’…..but that is for another article. The following is my assessment of Wei Ron…..their Caribbean Rum blend….one of many out there at the moment….but one that just could be blazing a trail and showing the others how it should be done.

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Wei Ron – 50% abv

Presentation wise the overall appearance is pretty stark and devoid of any information apart from the name, producer, volume and abv. The bottle is what I have come to know as the ‘Velier’ bottle……..opaque black and unbelievably cool whilst giving no hint of the liquid within…..no box means that this bottle on your shelf shouldn’t see any problems with light affecting the contents. A cork closure completes the look. I was given early sight of this bottling a while back when a package arrived for me. Inside was a branded t-shirt, press release, an empty full-sized labelled bottle and a small 20 ml sample……that sample bottle has seen me pick up three full size bottles so far.

So, the whole premise behind this Rum was to create a Rum that ‘whisky geeks’ would like to drink…..and for Svenska Eldvatten to able to sell it at an affordable price. The key points on the notepad were as follows:

  • It should be naturally coloured with no added caramel
  • It should be released at a powerful yet approachable abv
  • It should be non-chill filtered

Lastly and perhaps most admirable and important

  • It should be free of ANY additions

Both Tommy and Peter sourced the suppliers of the Rums, performed admirably as Master Blenders for the Rum and sourced the bottles and corks etc. After numerous trial blends and trials at whisky fairs the final blend was agreed upon. I sent a quick message to Tommy Andersen to ascertain the composition of the blend and I have uncovered that the main constituent parts are a blend of heavy pot still and light column still Rums from Barbados and Jamaica although there is more in the blend that Tommy is not willing to share…..he was also reluctant to share specific distilleries too. What I do know is that all Rums in the blend were aged solely at the distilleries that produced them and have seen only Caribbean age. Bottle priced is around £45 and Master of Malt is the only place that you’ll find it in the UK. But does it live up to its bold claim I hear you cry…..

WeiRon Bottle and GlassTasting Notes

In the glass: It is a vibrant gold in the glass with lighter bright flashes and a swirl of the glass shows thick and reluctant legs….it looks like a very oily prospect. The Rum has a very obvious Jamaican nose, but not in an overbearing way. A lot of ripe banana is in there along with the light rubbery aromas that come with the Jamaican component. There is something resembling lightly spiced Portuguese custard tarts and warming syrupy porridge. There is also quite a grainy spirit attack from the Rum too. The pot still component is certainly doing all of the heavy lifting with the column spirit providing the little accents. Swirling the glass quite aggressively reveals a light oily citrus facet to the Rum along with light smoke like aromas.

In the mouth: Initially the sweetness is very apparent (no added sugar remember), and this carries with it salted caramel and oily savoury lemon rind…similar to preserved lemons (not sweet sugary rinds). This then dries very quickly and leaves you with a menthol or mint like chilly feeling in your mouth…kind of like the vapours have been sucked out of your mouth via other worldly means. Subsequent sips (and there have been many, my notes are 1.5 bottles old) reveal obvious banana and a real spine of pot still Rum. There is a real depth to the Rum that screams of the liquorice component that I’ve found in decent Demerara Rums. The mouthfeel is all-encompassing and big but not overly oily. No corner of your mouth remains unaffected by the Rum. The long (ish) finish starts with a peppery tingle as the Rum lingers and this develops drying oaken notes with a welcome return of those bananas and spiced custard tarts. As the Rum fades the liquorice starts to develop and brings with it the return of that salted caramel and a touch of musty oak.

If you’ve not deduced so from my gushing complimentary ramblings above, in plain English, you absolutely need to grab yourself a bottle of this Rum…..maybe several. It is as honest as the day is long, it is well thought out, it is well constructed, it is brimming with flavours and aromas, it is devoid of caramel, it is non-chill filtered, it is punchy, it is not flavoured by any other means and it makes an absolute killer Old Fashioned! It could probably make you attractive to others if you dab a bit behind your ears. The price point is right on the button (around £45) and this Rum genuinely is a new benchmark for a multi island blended Rum. Rum has once again been treated sensitively and with the greatest of respect by Svenska Eldvatten and long may it continue.

I wholeheartedly endorse this product.

4-0-star

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2016. 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.

Ron de Jeremy XO

RDJ XO AngleWe’ve been quite vocal in the past about our love of Ron de Jeremy. It is a product that was dismissed by some as it was thought to be pushing the boundaries of good taste. But we always felt that the Rum was quite enjoyable and it became a real regular purchase at home. The perfect foil to the cries of ‘gimmick’….something that stood up to scrutiny, which we think that it did. You can refresh your memory and see our article on Ron de Jeremy and also Ron de Jeremy Spiced here.

Ron de Jeremy XO – 40% abv

Right, now your back with us. We can tell you all about Ron de Jeremy XO. This Rum is positioned as the next step, or a step up the Rum ladder. The presentation is quite frankly is stunning. The bottle comes in a black cylinder and when the metal cylinder top is removed you are faced with a jet black smooth coated glass bottle. The text is bright white and furnishes you with a little information, the most important being the location of the source Rum(s). The Reserva was from Panama (though the blend has changed now but the profile of the Rum remains) but in this iteration the Rums have been sourced from Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica and are a blend of pot and column. Some aged for up to 15yrs. Solera is mentioned in the bottle but in this instance (and in the majority of instances), it is merely referring to the fact that there is a blend of Rums of differing ages/locations and no desire to be tied down to an actual minimum age. It is profile based not age based. It is a common practice…see Zacapa, Botran, Matusalem, Dictador, Cubaney and so on. A little further digging (Thanks Olli) has turned up that the distilleries in question providing the Rums are hugely credible locations. The Barbados component is a blend of column and pot distilled Rums sourced from Foursquare Distillery. The Trinidad component is from Trinidad Distillers (the production company of Angostura), obviously column only. The Guyana element is obviously DDL and they provide pot distilled Rum which should give the Rum some real backbone. Jamaica is the really interesting one….Hampden, Worthy Park, Monymusk and New Yarmouth Estate all provide high ester pot still Rums to the blend. All signs point to the fact that this should be some good juice…..

Now this Rum has been doing very well in Europe and is firmly placed to grab a slice of the big selling marketplace that is currently dominated by Zacapa and Diplomatico. It gives a three-tier element to the range with Spiced, Reserva and XO which positions them well in the grand scheme of things.

But what does it taste like…..

Tasting Notes

RDJ XO Bottle and Glass

In the glass: The Rum displays itself as a nice dark gold with mahogany flashes and upon swirling is as reluctant to release any droplets as I am reluctant to get a round in….eventually (as with getting a round in) it succumbs to peer pressure and a few very slow chunky droplets meander back down the glass. When swirling the Rum looks VERY viscous and is almost giving the appearance of moving in slow motion. The initial aroma, which is not as shy as the droplets is one of a very rich fruit cake. Prunes and vanilla are there by the bucket load and there is an almost nutty quality surrounded in burnt caramel. A little one-dimensional and not at all what I was expecting. In fact, it is nothing like I’d expect from the knowledge of the Rums in the blend.

In the mouth: On entry the Rum is incredibly viscous. It immediately gives me a kind of bitter caramel flavour but that is soon kicked into touch by a thick, gooey sweetness…almost cloying. Straight off the bat there is a heap of vanilla, a tiny hint of spice and the hint of an oaky component. It is very smooth…..almost confusingly so. The finish is very short-lived and very disappointing. I expected it to linger but it just slips out of the door without telling you whilst you’re seeing to the other guests. I feel a little of that ‘peach’ like quality that I keep harping on about in the back of my throat that can only be the merest hint of the Barbados component. There is none of the pot still Jamaican magic that I expected and none of the backbone that pot still Demerara usually provides…Trinidad will maybe be the provider of the oaky element but this is the polar opposite of what the blend tells me. It’s all a bit ‘meh’….

I hate to put out bad vibes but after tasting a few glasses of this Rum I felt that something was amiss. It just didn’t sit right with me, so I sent a blind sample off for hydrometer testing by Wes, who runs another Rum based site (it’s not as good as this one, and I’m way more handsome…and taller). He duly carried out the test on this along with two other samples that I had marked up for him to taste…they were almost the controls for the hydrometer test. The resulting data was cause for concern and a bit of a red flag. 92 g/L of additions whether that be sugar, glycerol, vanillin’s or something else. I buy sweetened Rums and I enjoy sweetened Rums, but to say that I was shocked by the figure displayed in the results would be an understatement. More than this though, I felt really let down. I like Olli from One Eyed Spirits, even though I’ve only met him once. This was on the same night that I also met the big man himself, Ron Jeremy and Gaby from Spirit Cartel. Olli has answered my emailed concerns over this Rum and that level of honesty and openness should be applauded. I asked the questions, I got my answers.

The following though, is why I feel so disappointed. The Rum is sourced from credible origins (including some of the most credible) and it has all the potential to be a very interesting blend….world class even. I perhaps expected it to surpass our love of the Reserva! But it has massively under achieved as it has been masked by the additions and the whole experience has been dulled. Imagine that friend, everyone has one. They are a really vibrant and interesting person and for some reason they wind up in the kind of relationship where their partner doesn’t let them be themselves….they control every interaction that you have with your friend and they mask the very essence of what made your friend so great to be around in the first place. Ron de Jeremy XO is that friend and as a result is a huge missed opportunity for me, and it does it’s credible components a large disservice.

That said, it is massively unfair to put this Rum in the same category as all other Rums that have test data out there, for one, this product actually does have Rum as its base….and very credible Rum at that….it just went off the rails and made a few bad decisions whilst it was growing up.

As per usual, feel free to pop in for a drop. It’ll be popular, just not with me. I’ll stick to the Reserva.

0-5-star

In the interests of full disclosure, I was sent the bottle in question by some really lovely people to give my thoughts and feedback.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2015. 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.

Rum Nation Jamaica 8 Year

Rum Nation Logo

I’m quite excited about this post as it represents two stages of the same product. You see I had previously written about the Rum Nation Jamaica White Pot Still which is an unaged 100% pot distilled Rum. This expression is also from the same distillery (Worthy Park) in St. Catherine, Jamaica but unlike its younger sibling, this Rum has been matured……twice.

You can read up about the younger sibling and also get a little background on Rum Nation and Fabio Rossi by clicking here

Rum Nation Jamaica 8 Year Old Pot Still – 50% abv

Rum Nation Jamaica 8The Rum was distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2015. It was aged in ex-bourbon barrels in Jamaica for a period of 7 years before being shipped over to Piedmont, Italy, for a second maturation period of 1 year in first fill ex-Oloroso Sherry barrels. The Rum belongs to batch number L 15/020 with 5436 bottles being produced from this batch. I have a lab report in my possession that lists a figure of 1.67 g/l of ‘inverted’ sugar in the Rum. This bottling is not the biggest offender by a long shot and this specific topic in relation to this Rum has been discussed to death on other sites. Rum Nation have been honest enough to share the lab information with me and others and that displays a level of honesty in relation to this Rum……so I’m going to leave this information as just that…..information. Information allows you to make your own informed choices. Back then to the Rum…..

Rum Nation Jamaica 8 StampThe Rum is presented in the same stumpy bottle which all of the latest releases have been. I love the bottle size and shape as my shelves are governed by headroom not width therefore a shorter and wider bottle helps me greatly! That chunky timber topped cork is present along with the postage stamp that has become a sign of a Rum Nation bottling. The same label style as the unaged expression but this time it is presented in a striking gold to compliment the black which also works against the burnished red / mahogany of the liquid in the bottle. As presentation goes its pretty classy stuff. I’ve also been told that the Rum will come in at around £40 a bottle.

Tasting Notes

In the glass: The Rum displays itself as a dark gold with burnished orange flashes. A swirl of the rum in the glass shows an oily slab of liquid that releases reluctant droplets. A pot still character is immediately evident but it is slightly masked by tropical fruits and a subtle oaky undertone. There is a slight sting of astringency initially and a little of the heat from that 50% gives your nose a little bite. Raisins are definitely in there alongside a kind of solvent aroma reminiscent of glue. Once the alcohol dissipates and the Rum warms you are left with a very pleasant fruity and oaky aroma with the slightest whiff of cigar tobacco. Not the beast that I expected, more of a refined prospect than its younger sibling.

In the mouth: Straight out of the gate this Rum is very warming with a pepperiness at the front on your tongue and a slight but not dominant sweetness helps temper this. The pepper is accompanied by a clove like taste before raisins and prunes start to make you salivate………then the oak comes into play and starts to dry the Rum out. It’s not heavy oak but it is apparent. There is also a little burnt sugar in there and you can really sense dark stone fruits. The finish starts with cheek tingling raisins and soon dries into a medium length finish resplendent with pepper, cloves, dried prunes and oak. There is still that feeling of cigar tobacco but not overly so. The whole experience is very pleasant and very approachable given its 50% abv. It in no way feels like it is this strong and can catch you unawares after a few glasses (dependent upon how heavy-handed your pours are). Right at the back of the finish there is a really pleasing liquorice taste that clings on for dear life. It really is a flavourful Rum that always carries with it that strong pot still backbone to which all of the other character traits cling to.

I put this Rum into the obligatory Mai Tai along with its younger counterpart. I had never previously used a sherry finished Rum in this drink but it made for a tasty proposition. Again, the abv of 50% along with the 57% of the unaged expression is apparent but never too dominant….very powerful and very tasty as you’d expect. Very moreish! I would also bet that the facets of this Rum would pair well with a cigar as it carries just a hint of cigar tobacco on the nose. Versatile in cocktails, not overly dominated by the Oloroso finish and more than pleasant to sip neat, this Rum should be a big hit…..if only it were more readily available here in the UK. France is our nearest option for purchase.

As with all of these matters, feel free to pop in if you’re passing by and share a glass with us…

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2015. 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.

Mezan Jamaica XO

mezan-2This will be the first of quite a few posts covering the Mezan bottlings that I own. Mezan Rums are vintage unblended (apart from the XO) Rums from individual islands and countries in the West Indies and South or Central America. They are produced from a single vintage years distillation, are aged in oak Barrique* and are bottled one cask at a time when considered mature enough. The claims / promises made by Mezan are that their Rums are: Unblended (XO aside), Unsweetened, Uncoloured, Filtered through a light gauze with no chill filtration. There has been a statement put out on another site whereby these claims have been confirmed. So what you should have here are bottlings that will vary from barrel to barrel in colour, aroma and taste. The Rums have not been aged in wine casks or finished in casks that have previously held another spirit. They are an expression of each distillery and country of origin.

*A Barrique is also known as a Bordeaux Barrel and is a small but relatively tall 225 litre oak barrel

The range has seen many releases of which I have several. The release list so far comprises: Jamaica XO, Jamaica Monymusk 2003, Jamaica Hampden 2000, Trinidad Caroni 1991, Trinidad Caroni 1999, Guyana Uitvlugt 1998, Guyana Enmore 1990, Panama Don Jose 1995, Panama Don Jose 1999 and Guyana Westerhall 1998. All Rums are reduced to a bottling strength of 40% abv apart from the Panama Don Jose 1999 which has a sticker over the 40% on the label informing you that it is bottled at 42.2% abv.

Mezan Jamaica XO – 40% ABV

This Rum is aged as individual components, then blended and returned back to the barrel to marry prior to bottling. It is a medium ester blend based on a supply of 2 to 3 Rums from the same source with differing ester profiles (I’ve read that the youngest Rum in the blend is 4 years old) and the addition of older Rums dating back to 1983 to allow the blend to really shine. I have two bottles of the Jamaica XO and they are from different batches / release so this will allow me to compare notes on both bottlings to see how / if the blend has changed and I for one find this quite interesting and I hope that you do too. I have also read that the old release was made up of Rums solely from the Hampden Distillery but the new release hints that different distilleries are used in the blend. I will update the article when the information has been received.

Tasting Notes – Earlier Release

XO OLD FRONT

In the glass: The Rum displays itself as a very pale straw and a swirl of the glass shows that the Rum appears quite oily. A halo of Rum forms on the glass with small reluctant droplets forming and eventually falling. Aromas of ripe banana appear right away along with a prominent acetone aroma. Plastic aromas are also present and are quite aggressive. Through the plastic comes a pear drop acidity on the nose along with raisins. There are no real oak influences on the nose but very light molasses and citrus aromas are there rounded out with some white wine characteristics.

XO OLD REAR

In the mouth: There is a light oily mouthfeel to the Rum on its very calm entry. Raisins up front give way to a slight sweetness and a spicy tingle. I expected a little more fruit. The oiliness really helps disperse the light flavours throughout the mouth. The finish is relatively short and quite heated, maybe hinting that the split of older and younger Rums favours the younger components. Ripe banana is present on the finish as is that acetone in the vapours and the whole thing is over way too soon.

Tasting Notes – Later Release

XO NEW FRONT

In the glass: The Rum is a light straw gold and is perhaps a shade darker than the other release. A swirl of the glass leaves a ring of very lazy and reluctant droplets that take upwards of 3 minutes to move. Very oily and very dense are words that I’d use to describe my initial observations of this Rum. Bananas, dried tropical fruit, raisins and a nice oily citrus peel show up and hint at what could appear when tasted. There is also a more prominent molasses aroma and the plastic and acetone notes are really dialled down making it far more pleasant to sit and smell. It is really well-balanced with just enough astringency to keep things interesting. There are also light caramel and creamy chocolate aromas rounding things out.

XO NEW REAR

In the mouth: The Rum shows itself as being a lot more oily and dense. It really disperses well and completely coats every bit of your mouth. There is a really good balance of sweet and spicy components on entry. There is a peppery tingle up front with citrus oil and a little oak influence showing itself. Overripe bananas, tropical fruit leathers and pleasant molasses play nicely alongside raisins, oak and light smoke. The finish is of a medium length, not too hot and is full of creamy chocolate, warming pepper and ripe banana with what feels like banana skin and citrus peel within the vapours.

So these Rums appear to make good on their promise of no additives, even caramel for colour, and there is a natural variation within the blend to keep things interesting. These are both Rums that were picked up for around the £28 mark and both represent a decent investment and show how blends can differ but still be the same product. Each offers something different with what I believe is the addition of a greater portion of older Rum in the newer release. It just feels more rounded and complete with the spikiness of the young Rums being kept in check by the older component and it benefits from this. The younger Rums are not dulled and they are still spiky but they’ve just had their nails clipped which enables other components to shine through. That pot still funk and ripe banana work so well with cola and they play nicely in a daiquiri, especially the newer release whose oiliness and citrus peel really combine well. The colour is also light enough to not ruin the appearance in the glass. The older release is a little rougher and childlike and distracts somewhat with its heightened plastic and acetone notes. When tried alone it is not as noticeable but don’t take my word for it, feel free to pop in and we’ll taste them side by side.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2015. 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.