Plantation St. Lucia 2003 (43%, Old Reserve, 2014, St. Lucia)

Last year I reviewed two other Plantation Old Reserves. One from Guyana, and one from Jamaica. Both were quite good, and very well priced. Both were quite sweet as well, since both have some sugar added. Plantation calls it dosage, enhancing Rum with sugar, in the same way you use salt for your food. Cane sugar (syrup) is added to the Rum before ageing. They do it because they really believe it makes for a better Rum.

Most of the Rum-world lacks regulations, although efforts are being made, but on the other hand, Rum also has a history based on the production of sugar. Rum in a way is a by-product of sugar, so why shouldn’t a little bit of sugar be allowed to use?. In my early days, getting to know Rum, I somehow assumed Rum should be sweet, must be sweet, at least half-sweet. Only when I encountered high quality Rums, and single casks Rums, preferably bottled at cask strength, which obviously aren’t laced with added sugar, that I really came to know about Rum! So some believe Rum has a particular sugar-history, and some believe Rum gets better with adding some sugar in the early stages of production. Others are more militant and will kill you if you add sugar anywhere in the production of Rum. Rum should be pure. No mention though of Rums being to dry or to woody.

Looking back on its history, and its use in cocktails, I’m not against adding sugar to Rums in general, as long as it enhances the final product, making it really better. There is a market for it, just like there is a market for Spiced Rums. There is a market for mixers and there is a market for sippers. Nothing wrong with Spiced Rums, it is a subdivision of Rum. As an aficionado though, a Rum sipper, I would like to know upfront, from the label on the bottle, not by searching the internet that a particular Rum contains added sugar, and especially how much was added. I have experience enough to know how much sugar I can “handle”. Because, dear reader, too much added sugar in Rum can taste really bad! (It reminds me of the discussion around caramel coloring in Whisky, which I found makes the final product not only darker, but also taste rounder, more mono, more flat. Too much sugar will flatten your Rum). I won’t kill you, but for me, many Rums are too damn sweet. On the other hand if used sparsely and with taste, why not?

Since the intro is already quite lengthy, I never got around to say much about this bottle. So in a nutshell, if you want to know more about Plantation, I invite you to read my other reviews of Plantation Rums. It is no secret this Rum comes from the St. Lucia Distillery located on the St. Lucia island. It is a distillery with a few different stills. For this Plantation expression, 80% John Dore Pot Still, 15% Vendome Pot Still and finally 5% Column Still rum was blended together. Initial ageing took place in American oak casks on St. Lucia, shipped to France where the Rum was transferred into Ex-Cognac casks made from French oak for a secondary maturation for, I believe, 18 months.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: An explosion of aroma, almost like a Jamaican high ester Rum, but with many differences as well. Rummy and very fruity. Rum-raisins. A lot of sugared yellow fruits as well as some ripe banana skins, aided by some wood, paper and a fantastic burnt note. Vegetal oak mixed with sweet black tea. Creamy dried apricots with powdered coffee creamer and a slightly acidic note on top. Toffee with something extra. Chocolate with caramel. Nutty. Unripe red berries, old ginger and ripe plums. Grape seeds with some wood and rubber. Hints of smoke. Herbal and grassy. Next, a nice floral part emerges, sweet perfume with hints of rose and juniper. Cold black tea with a slightly smoky edge. Bonfire combined with burning cables. Almonds and butter. Fresh air after rain. Wonderfully complex, it never ends. I adore this one, a wonderful (tamed) beast. Perfect nose.

Taste: The slightly burnt note comes first. Big Rum. Fruity and floral, almost Gin-like. Sweetish but in no way cloying and hardly disturbing due to the humongous body this has, however this might very well be a bit too sweet. Luckily a minor problem this time, but a problem nevertheless. Next, an aroma of sugar-water. Big. big Rum. Nutty and leafy. Burning newspapers with hints of sweet peppermint and sweet chlorine. Medium bitter wax. I know this sounds weird, but it works. Medium, slightly bitter, finish, but with a long aftertaste. Very nice. Not as complex as the nose, but still top-notch. This may very well have some added sugar, but I don’t care, I love this one to death. Easily the best of the Old Reserves. I wonder how a good cask strength St. Lucia tastes like…

This Rum is a labour of love. In 2003 the master distiller of St. Lucia Laurie Bernard, who sadly passed away in 2012, challenged Alexandre Gabriel to blend a St. Lucia Rum choosing from the many Rums produced with the many stills on site, making it the best of the Old Reserve range. The result of that challenge is this very bottle, and I have to say. Job well done! This Rum is great in many ways. When placed in a Rum line-up, it doesn’t matter where you fit it in, it can cope with anything put before it, even heavy hitting Jamaican or Demerara Rums. Amazing. Second, it is really good, it is delicious and smells fantastic. Where the aforementioned Plantation Guyana and Jamaica were ok, or even good, this one is wow!

Points: 89

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Ardbeg “Corryvreckan” (57.1%, OB, 2014, L59815)

Well, here is an Ardbeg of which nothing is known, apart that it was first released in 2009, following up on Airigh Nam Beist, which ran from 2006 -2008. I won’t bore you with my take on the marketing jazz about Corryvreckan being a whirlpool. You can read about that on the box and on many sites across the interweb. Here the golden nugget from Ardbeg’s own site: “Corryvreckan takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture. Swirling aromas and torrents of deep, peaty, peppery taste lurk beneath the surface of this beautifully balanced dram”. Well, what can I add to that!

What I’d like to know is, how this Whisky came to be, and that is definitely more difficult to find out. Every bottling of Ardbeg has some sort of unique twist. Casks that were burnt to a crisp before using, or casks that were forgotten in a swamp, or casks that were kept in space for a while. The unique twist this time seems to that part of the Whisky was matured in French oak casks, (as opposed to the sole use of the immensely popular American oak). The rest of the Whisky was, of course, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. American oak became so popular since it gives off a friendlier aroma of vanilla, making any liquor softer, creamier and more accessible. European oak, or French oak in this case, is less of the vanilla kind, but more about tannins. All the great Sherried Whiskies from yesteryear were matured in European oak Sherry butts and puncheons. Today the Sherry industry prefers American oak as well for reasons mentioned above. French oak is used a lot in the French Wine industry, so rumour has it, used Burgundy Wine casks were used for this Ardbeg as well. However we don’t know if they were virgin oak, first fill or not and what kind of Wine they contained (if any). A Chardonnay cask will result in a different Whisky, than a Pinot Noir cask…

Color: Full gold (no red or pink nuance though).

Nose: Very ashy and smoky right out of the gate. Licorice wood and sweet smoke. Garden bonfire. Sweet and soft peat. Citrussy, herbal and meaty. Crushed beetle and old tarry rope lying around in the sun. Fresh oak combined with some lemon (not the oil from the skin). Distant vanilla, but it is here. Ripe and sweet strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. More hints of red fruits and more promises of sweetness. Nice soft oak. Dusty. Very well made Ardbeg if it tastes as good as this smells, this will be a keeper!

Taste: Ashy again. Sweet, crushed beetle again, how odd. Big aroma, big body. Lots happening. Initially sweet but it is a good sweetness balanced out with sweet peat and dryness of the smoke. Definitely a type of fruitiness you don’t get from (Bourbon) oak alone, which would support the Wine cask claim. Fat peat and slightly tarry. Empty, off-season, fishing boat in the sun. Visions of an abandoned port. Not hot, only for a moment is shows some higher ABV, but I would have never guessed it is as much as 57.1% ABV. Well balanced, with only a medium, but decent, length. This is where it’s average age is noticeable.

Excellent standard bottling, and a damn good NAS as well, if I may say so. It can be done after all! I’m wondering which of the special releases, which are all more expensive, can beat this one? The 10yo is the entry-level Ardbeg and for me it has lost the most compared to the earlier tens since it has become way too sweet. I guess, that one has to appeal to a larger public, than this Corryvreckan and Uigeadail. I guess the latter are more for connoisseurs and anoraks like me and you. Now I will have to get me a new Uigeadail to compare it to this Corryvreckan. I have high hopes now…

Points: 89

Brora 22yo 1981/2004 (56.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Butt #1561, 611 bottles)

600Post number 600, so lets break out something special. Special for me is Brora. Sure Port Ellen, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, they all are Cohiba’s, but Brora is Trinidad. Brora is extra special (to me). 600 is a round number but it’s not 1.000, 10.000 or even a million. It’s 600, so I won’t be reviewing a 1972 Brora, which for me is the pinnacle of them all. The 30yo OB from 2004 contains lots of 1972 Brora, so look at that review how great 1972 Brora can be. Back to this Signatory bottling from 1981. In 1981 Brora was in production, obviously, but were all over the place. Some expressions are full of peat and some are not. I wonder if this one has some peat to it…

Brora 22yo 1981/2004 (56.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Butt #1561, 611 bottles)Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Fresh and vivid. Definitely Sherry, but in no way funky. Quickly a fresh creamy and toffee note develops and only a mere hint of peat, just inhale vigorously. Needs to breathe a bit. Nice soft woody note, which sometimes take a turn towards old paper turned yellow. A bit dusty as well, (with whiffs of white peach). In no way dry. Quite spicy. I tickles the nose, and again toffee mixed with wax. Chewy would be the word. Mild yellow fruit notes appear, adding some acidity and yet more freshness to the nose. It’s not typically peach, white or other, but some whiffs come across as peach in semi-sweet yoghurt. The wood stays soft and is part of the fruity and creamy mix, instead of giving it a spine. Its nice overall, and does develop al lot, where initially it didn’t seem very complex. Hardly any peat at all and just a splash of smoke.

Taste: Thick, waxy and fruity. Definitely a profile we get from fruity Speysiders from the seventies. Nice soft wood. Toffee, without being very sweet. It has some fruity sweetness, but just the right amount. It has more than 56% ABV, but it’s still friendly. Not hot, nor burning my throat. Very drinkable. To my amazement, a lot disappears towards the finish and the finish itself is medium at best. Only in the aftertaste it starts to come apart a bit, fading out. Just the right moment to take another sip.

This one isn’t about the peat and the smoke, and the ruggedness of highlands, and sea storms after which you need warming. This one is for those moment you need an old Speysider, Bourbon matured, with lots of fruit and wax. Remember this isn’t from a Bourbon cask, but is from a Sherry butt. It has hints of peat and smoke. It’s a bit like the profile Benromach is going for today with the new 10yo and 15yo.

Points: 89

Aberlour 16yo 1995/2012 “Warehouse No 1” (57%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Sherry Cask #4934)

That’s not all! There is more. I hope you didn’t think I would have only hand-filled Aberlours from ex-Bourbon casks now didn’t you? This is a case of saving the best for last, at least so I hope. Experience showed me that the Aberlour spirit fares well in Sherry casks, and often something wonderful emerges. Just take a look at one of the best NAS bottlings in the Marketplace: The Aberlour A’bunadh. Up ’till now I reviewed two batches on Master Quill: #13 and #33 and calling both pretty good would be an understatement. Here we have a sort of A’bunadh only older and coming from a single cask. So who knows, maybe it’s even better!

Aberlour 16yo 1995/2012 Warehouse No 1 (57%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Sherry Cask #4934)Color: Warm and dark orange brown.

Nose: Wonderfully sherried. Toffee and cherries. Slightly tarry and very reminiscent of A’bunadh, so I would go with Oloroso Sherry for this one. Nice soft oak. Slightly burnt caramel and the whole comes across with nice toffee notes, without its sweetness though. Well balanced and definitely older than A’bunadh. With some air more rubbery notes appear and more dry wood. Very dusty actually. Tiny hint of cola sweetness and even a hint of florality? Where A’bunadh sometimes can smell a bit harsh, this oozes softness. Excellent stuff.

Taste: Yes more A’bunadh. Starts with a high note of acidity, that quickly moves into cherries and a tarry woody depth. Nice liquid toffee temporary sweetness. Mocha and cream. Latte Macchiato (with a wee bit too much milk). Sticky toffee pudding. Schwarzwalder kirsch trifle, all again without their usual sweetness. Dusty. Extremely drinkable. Lovely.

Even though its twice the age of A’bunadh, it’s very similar in its initial profile. Forgetting the smoothness and softness brought to this Whisky by ageing, you can see this as a single cask A’bunadh. Both share a lot. Having said that, and more or less claiming this is (easily) recognizable as an A’bunadh, I have to say that it also reminds me a lot of the 1996 Ultimate (and Signatory) Longmorns. Earlier I reviewed three of those: cask 72315, cask #72319 and cask #105091.

Points: 89

Abuelo Centuria Reserva de la Familia (40%, Panama)

You thought I was finished with Abuelo, no? Nope, there is still another Abuelo available. The Centuria was released in 2011, one year after the 12yo in celebration of the distillery’s centennial. It is said to be a blend of the Varela family’s own private reserves. Hmmm, holding on to the best stuff for private use aren’t we? Luckily they have found it in their hearts to share a part of it with the world. For this Rum, only estate-grown sugarcane is used, which could mean that for the other three versions also Rum from molasses may have been used or sugarcane grown elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with that. The Rum was aged in a solera system for up to three decades and matured in American Whiskey barrels (Probably Jack Daniels). 3.000 bottles were produced. For such a limited quantity run, it is quite special that this hasn’t sold out yet. Maybe 3.000 bottles were initially released, but more were made since.

Abuelo CenturiaColor: Dark brown, PX Sherry.

Nose: Fantastic old oak. Dark chocolate. Creamy vanilla and a slightly acidic note. Leather and dark organics. Spicy and hints of orange skins. Gingerbread spices with dried oranges. Sometimes this nose reminds me of a very old Single Malt Whisky. The nose is always centered around the many different wood notes. The wood changes, but will never let you down. It’s the centerpiece, its like nosing the wooden interior of the ball-room of the Titanic (before it sank). You’d almost dress up to nose this.

Taste: Ahh now we’re talking. Coal and tar. Great interaction between dry oak and half sweet, slightly burnt sugar and caramel. Creamy even. Long finish with soft old oak, gingerbread spices and some licorice. Polished furniture. In the distance there is the fresh and acidic fruit. Here it is pushed back a little (by spicy wood) and thus aids the overall taste. In the 12yo this fruit is up-front and ruins the whole balance with its strange acidity. In this one they got it right. I would say, back to the drawing board with the 12yo! Lots of old Rum in this one, but blended masterfully not to let the oak dominate. Not sure if it’s all solera though.

This is hands down the best of the bunch. Even at this price point. It costs about as much as four bottles of the 12yo, today at least, but I expect it to be even more expensive in the near future. However, this is still the one to get. The other three are decent Rums, but each of them can be replaced by many others. A bit anonymous? So, nothing special compared to the Centuria. The Centuria is fantastically unique and is worth its price, even at 40% ABV.

Points: 89

Hampden 17yo 1990/2007 (46%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Jamaica)

Quite nice trying some Rums in a row, something I haven’t done in a while, and I have to admit it, it’s quite a lot of fun. After the white Plantation, and the brown Cockspur 12, let’s try a super premium high ester Rum from Jamaica, bottled by the old Wine and Whisky traders, Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Hampden Distillery from Jamaica is known for heavy pot still Rums a.k.a. high ester Rums. A lot of effort is made in the workings of yeast in the production process using century old fermentors, and of course, they use their own cultured yeasts. Hampden has a reputation to uphold when it comes to this kind of high ester Rum.

Hampden 1990 BBRColor: White wine.

Nose: Highly aromatic. Lots of esters. Extremely funky and dense. I really love Jamaican Rum, and this is exactly why. I recognize the typical Jamaican smell from the Plantation Jamaican Rums. Its thick and chewy. Rum with raisins or raisins full of Rum. It reminds me of a lot of things but I can’t put my finger on it what it exactly is. Christmas cake. Vanilla Ice cream with raisins in it. Reminds me of Napolitanean cassata ice-cream. That’s it. Loads of vanilla and new (bicycle) tires, where do you get that! Great funkiness. After a while a bit dusty. This is reggae in a bottle. Excellent stuff, I need it.

Taste: Sweet (just right for me) and lots of fruity acidity. Which is a great addition that prevents this Rum from becoming too heavy or cloying, what is even worse. So it has a lot of the Jamaican funk, but it is also super fruity. Unbelievable. Heaviness I can deal with, I love it actually, but overly and sugary sweet, nope, not my cup of tea. This Hampden ís my cup of tea. Give me the whole pot! Clean (no, not clean actually) and funky, slightly Industrial. But I like Industrial notes in Rum. You can find it in Caroni from Trinidad, but also in Rum Agricole. Good drinkability at 46% ABV. Lovely stuff. Sipping away at this, the added acidity stand out in the finish, defining it, and sometimes can be too much.

I don’t want to add too much to what I’ve already written above. This is great Rum and I really like this style. For a Jamaican, it could have been dirtier even, and bottled at a higher strength even, but I’m not complaining. this is wonderful stuff, with more than usual fruitiness, and a nice fresh acidity. All that after 17yo! Wow. I can almost cry this isn’t available anymore.

Points: 89

Tomatin 40yo 1967/2007 (42.9%, OB, Seven Bourbon Hogsheads, 1614 bottles)

As can be read on these pages, Tomatin rarely disappoints. There is always room on my lectern for a tropical Tomatin. Especially older Tomatins quite hit the mark with fabulous aroma’s of tropical and citrus fruits for which it is known. Tomatin has a high reputation with bourbon cask only bottlings like the 15yo that has been discontinued to be replaced with the 14yo port finish. The 25yo has been discontinued too, which also was made with Bourbon casks only. Now, here we have a 40yo Tomatin formed from seven Bourbon Hogsheads with distillate from 1967. You may have heard of The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper? Yes 1967. And this is still available. How is that possible? Is this bottling a dud of some sorts? Time to find out…

Tomatin 40yo 1967/2007 (42.9%, OB, Seven Bourbon Hogsheads, 1614 bottles)Color: Copper brown gold.

Nose: Sweet and fruity, quite typical for older Tomatins. Lots of vanilla and quite thick. Highly aromatic. Quite syrupy too. Hints of mint and black coal and even some tar and sweets. Complex with lots of development. Give it time. Almonds are coming through after a while. Great nuttiness, rarely seen in Tomatin. Fruity, dusty and dirty at times. Great.

Taste: Fruity again, but also some bitter hops, waxy bitter wood. Elegant. Sweet and brittle at the same time. Lovely waxy stewed and candied fruits towards the finish. Lovely vanilla, with memories of old wood in the back. Apricot and vanilla pudding with fresh and acidic red berry sauce on top. Hints of mint are here in the taste as well. Fabulous development built up in layers and a lovely finish to boot. At the end of the finish the expected woody bitterness (and pencil shavings with almonds) appear or stay behind when the momentarily overpowering waxy fruitiness dissipates. Sweet almond cookies are all over this Malt. The taste is less complex than the nose and shows a surprising fruity freshness and youthfulness.

Malts like this were reasonably expensive when they came out and prices have been rising ever since. However, modern malts can never be like this anymore. So why dish out 300 euro’s for a modern 12yo generic special edition when you can pay a measly 100 more and get yourself a museum-piece still readily available on the market today. This is history in a bottle. Isn’t that worth something?

Points: 89