On July 4th, 2017, I visited Imbibe Live, “the innovative and interactive annual exhibition for anyone who sources, buys or serves drinks in the licensed on-trade.”
As someone who appreciates lots of drinks, not just rum, this presented an excellent opportunity to try different things, ranging from superb ciders (Aspall, Nightingale and Thistly Cross were especially good) and lagers through to Prosecco, wine and Cognac, all in a buzzing environment at London Olympia’s Main Hall.
But, although I did try a multitude of different drinks, I was there to focus on rum and in particular to meet producers and brand ambassadors to find out what new and innovative rums are heading towards the UK retailers.
Several well known and established brands and distributors were present…..
- Amathus drinks (Ron Barcelo)
- Berry Bros & Rudd (more on that later)
- Cellar Trends (Pusser’s, Botran, Bayou & Real Syrups)
- Dictador (more on that later)
- Emporia Brands (Chairman’s Reserve)
- Halewood (Liverpool Rum, Rum Sixty Six from Foursquare – more on that later)
- Identity Drinks Brands (Plantation – more on that later)
- Love Drinks (El Dorado, Goslings)
- Marussia Beverages (Mezan, R L Seale – more on that later)
- When We are Giants (Kirk & Sweeney – more on that later)
There were also some old and new rums to discuss and discover.
- Cloven Hoof (kings of the sweet and spicy “rum”)
- Neptune Rum (more on that later)
- St Abbs (more on that later)
- Wild Tiger (Gautom was on fine form promoting his unique Indian rum brand).
- William Hinton Rum (Madeira)
Kirk & Sweeney 12yo
At 40% ABV, this has a very sweet profile, dominated by masses of vanilla and a hint of oak. To my surprise, my hydrometer measured this at 40%, implying no additional sugars, but there is definitely something added to this to influence the flavours – probably vanillin. It is not unpleasant to drink, but does taste way too sweet to me.
William Hinton Rum
I encountered what was for me, one of the highlights of the show – William Hinton Rum – an agricole from Madeira. The delightful Mário Gomes took me on a wonderful flavour journey with their range of rums that includes a ‘white’ rum, ‘gold’ rum and ‘aged 3 years’, all of which show lots of terroir character, although I think there may be a little added sugar in some of them. They also have a special range of rums that combine 25yo rum with 6yo rums that are “finished” in various casks. At this stage, I won’t say more as I will be writing some individual reviews soon, but suffice to say the rums are delightful.
One of the new rums that I have been tracking for some time is Neptune Rum. It was fantastic therefore to meet Richard Davies, the Director and producer of this new rum. Richard was very proud to promote his brand name along with bottle and label style aimed at re-enforcing the Neptune name. The rum itself is a three year Bajan distillate from both pot and column stills, aged in ex-Bourbon casks. The flavour belied the young age of the rum. More on this in a forthcoming review…..
Another new rum that I have been tracking for a while hails from St Abbs. It was a pleasure to meet the Director of St Abbs, David Owens, who explained that their rums come from a blend of multiple distilleries and islands. Their Captain’s Table XO, for example, has ten marques “of column and pot still rums from Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica.” It is matured in 200 litre, charred white-oak ex-Bourbon barrels and bottled at 40%. This is another lovely tasting new rum – A review will follow…..
Halewood are responsible for producing the Liverpool range of spirits including the Liverpool rum that I reviewed previously.
They also have Rum Sixty Six in their portfolio, a superb rum from Foursquare Distillery in Barbados. To the existing and well-known 12yo rum, they have added a 6yo and cask strength 12yo rum. The 12yo cask strength is especially tasty at 59% ABV – Once again, a review will follow in due course.
Identity Drinks Brands
It is always good to catch up with some familiar faces. Chris Amey from ID Brands took me through a delightful tasting of Pierre Ferrand Cognac. This is my ‘second’ spirit (after rum) and their standout product is the Premiere Cru de Cognac, double cask aged for 20 years.
There were no new rums to try, but a sample of the amazing Plantation Stiggins was well received nevertheless.
Mezan rums are always top quality tipples, in my humble opinion. There is a new range of Mezan rums hailing from Panama, Trinidad and Jamaica. It is great to find that Mezan have taken notice of feedback as these new products feature more detailed information on the labels together with (mostly) higher ABVs – the two criticisms I have levied towards Mezan in the past. The Panama 2004 is very close to the Mezan Panama 2006 that I reviewed previously. The Jamaica 2005 hails from Worthy Park, so is 100% pot still funkiness. The surprise package is the Trinidad 2007 from Trinidad Distillers Limited, which at 46% and without any added sugar gives an insight into how Angostura rums would taste if left ‘untouched.’ A review of the Trinidad will follow in due course…..
Of course, no visit to Marussia would be complete without trying some Foursquare rums and so I had a small tasting of the 2004, a personal favourite of mine, along with the 46% ABV version of R. L Seale’s iconic rum.
Berry Bros & Rudd
BBR were exhibiting their Penny Blue XO Mauritian rum – at 43%, the flavours of note are tropical fruits and some oak ageing.
I tried a fine Nicaraguan 11yo rum, too, which offered spicy and vanilla notes. They also had a tasty rum from Guadeloupe.
As a recent Facebook discussion highlights, some products are very divisive in the rum community and Dictador is certainly one of them with question marks over its origins and production as well as the sugar/additive debate.
I have tried Dictador several times before and indeed, I have a bottle of their Dictador Best of 1981 and also the Dictador Insolent, both of which are quite enjoyable on their own, but in my opinion, are far too sweet and have a coffee liquor flavour rather than a rum flavour. This has always made me wonder why and how their rums taste so uniquely of coffee. So, I approached the Dictador stand ready to find out some answers, or at the very least try.
I spoke to Cesar, who to be fair, represented his product exceptionally well and did his best to answer all questions despite English not being his first language, so full marks from me for his efforts. BUT…and it is a big but, I did not believe a single word he said to me. Here is why…..
Firstly, he was completely unsure if the rums were from pot or column stills, nor did he know anything about the way the rum is produced – surely the number one thing a brand ambassador should know, is how the rum is actually made.
When asked about additives, he told me that “as far as he is aware, nothing is added.” So, two questions in and already I felt that any voracity in his comments was null and void. We discussed hydrometer tests and he questioned their validity and he referenced that it was not relevant as it is “the culture of ron production in Columbia” and that “this is how we make ron and we have different methods compared to the former colonies in the Caribbean.” I stressed that I was not trying to demean their methods nor culture but would like producers to be honest and transparent about their production rather than hiding behind misleading age statements and claiming no additives are present. I pointed out that the hydrometer tests are to highlight that something has been added to a rum, putting information in the public domain to assist rum-drinkers in deciding if a rum is worth the price it is being sold for, as well as promoting more honesty and transparency throughout the industry.
Next on the list was discussing the age statements…..I was told [by Cesar] that the ages of the rons varied and a Solera system was used and that “obviously” not all of the distillate was aged 12 years or 20 years in those two respective products. So I asked why they do not say this on the bottle, suggesting that they should write an average age for the rons in the blend, or state the minimum and maximum ages so as to be clear about what the bottles contained as it is not “obvious.” I stressed that to a typical consumer, the current labels sit somewhere between misleading and deceiving. Again I was told it was “the culture of how rons are produced” and the “Solera system produces these aged rons.” I quoted a comparison with Jamaica and Barbados and their guaranteed age statements and was met with a shoulder shrug and a repetition about Columbian ron culture being different to the Caribbean.
When I mentioned that the style of ron was actually akin to vodka with flavourings added to create a flavour profile, the look I received was one of utter disbelief, citing that it was merely “my opinion” and once again quoting the Columbian culture. I was told that what I thought constituted rum was different to how some other countries would define it and that Columbia has a tradition of producing rons in this way and that “there are no rules to control or define what rum/ron actually should be.” I highlighted the fact that there are rules governing rum/ron, but that they are at best, poorly enforced, and at worst, completely ignored, but that did not cut any ice with him. I mentioned that distilling to 96%ABV is essentially producing a neutral spirit that is colourless and flavourless and maybe should not be called rum/ron because all of the original base wine and flavour has been completely distilled out of the product. I also speculated that Dictador is created by adding flavourings to this neutral spirit to create the desirable profile. Again, I was told that this is “just an opinion” and that “we produce our own style of ron that is different to the culture of Caribbean and former colony rums.”
I asked Cesar about the coffee flavour in the rum and was told that “it comes from the ex-Bourbon barrels used for ageing.” I actually said to him “this is complete b*llsh*t” and asked why other rums aged in ex-Bourbon barrels do not taste of sweet coffee and was told it was “their unique way of creating ron” (my mind wandered towards suggesting it was not rum, but was coffee flavoured vodka, but I held back). Once again, my response was not complimentary and I was then told “it is because they char the barrels prior to ageing.” Hmmmmm…..I spy marketing b*llsh*t deceiving the uninformed punters!
Again, I asked why other rums do not taste of sweet coffee and knew I was banging my head against a brick wall as I was told it was “due to their unique production.” I asked if anything is added to the distillate and was again definitively told “no” and when I suggested that they add their own coffee liquor to it, I got the same response. All we are asking for is honesty from producers? Is that too much? This is not an attack on someone who flavours their products, just the deceit to the consumer.
Cesar gave me a tasting of the Dictador Best Of 1977, which to me just proved the responses I had received today were less than accurate. According to Cesar, “every single drop of ron in the 1977 is aged for 40 years, minimum.” I questioned the voracity of this and again was told “the ron is at least 40 years old and with no additives.” I asked how they can afford to sell this at around €150 per bottle, when by comparison, other long-aged rums sell for much higher prices – Appleton “Joy” 25yo is £200 or so, Appleton 50yo is £3,500. How do they deal with the huge angel’s share? Cesar shrugged his shoulders and said “I do not know about that.” I raised the issue of the lack of oak flavour in this “40yo” product and was again told about the “unique process” and the “Columbian ron producing culture.” I was also told that this ron is “finished in ex-Port casks” but when questioned he did not know the length of the “finish.” I also suggested that the ex-Port casks might not have been empty when they were re-used, but did not get a satisfactory response on this. In reality, the likelihood of every drop of liquid being aged 40years is virtually non-existent, and the ex-Port casks are likely to be very wet indeed when refilled with Diplomatico, but this is merely an opinion.
At this point, I would like to thank Cesar for his time and attempts at answering the questions. I know that Brand Ambassadors work extremely hard to represent their products and quite often are operating in the dark without being told all of the facts and information from the producers themselves. But, how many people visiting Imbibe would have been aware of the truth behind the bottles? And, how many people might have been deceived with erroneous information? This is a big problem for the rum industry to address – honesty and transparency between producers and the consumers.
In addition to rum and other drinks, there were some other items worth noting…..
Aroma Academy sell nose-training kits for wine and spirit enthusiasts. Peter Holland from Floating Rum Shack was promoting their latest offering, the ‘Faults’ nosing kit. Featuring interesting aromas such as Aldehydic and Wet Dog, it is a kit that will assist tasters to identify erroneous and negative aromas in their drinks. I am not so sure that number 28 is something I want to smell, nor do I want to know how they produced the sample.
From a non-rum point-of-view, a quick mention for one of my personal favourite products exhibited at Imbibe…..Snaffling Pig – the creators of the most amazing pork scratchings anywhere. In addition to them being top quality pieces of pork, they come in an interesting and innovative range of flavours including maple, salt ‘n’ vinegar and ham ‘n’ mustard. These make great accompaniments to a nice cold cider or traditional ale.