The Beachbum’s rum article in this month’s Saveur magazine rates ten rums based on their sippability and mixability. Unfortunately the article went to press before a recent sojourn to the Mediterranean, where we encountered several rums previously unknown to us.
Since then, we haven’t been able to bring ourselves to review these rums on our Bum On Rum page. Not because they’re expensive (they are) or because they’re difficult to obtain in the U.S. (which they also are). No, the reason we haven’t reviewed them is simply this: words fail us. These rums are so exquisite, so like music in the untranslatable pleasure they provide, that we can’t summon the vocabulary to convey their aroma, taste, and texture.
Each was hand-picked by Luca Gargano, an Italian rum-hunter with a knack for discovering vintage casks left moldering in shuttered distilleries. One such was Caroni. At one time Trinidad’s best-known brand — we’ve found many a Prohibition-era recipe calling specifically for it — Caroni went out of business in 2002. On a photo shoot three years later, Mr. Gargano found hundreds of barrels squirreled away there; he bought them, bottled them, and now sells them through the French company La Maison Du Whiskey, or LMDW for short.
We sampled three different LMDW Caronis. The 1994 was good, but differed little from other contemporary premium offerings (think Santa Teresa or Scarlet Ibis). The charred-wood flavor of the Caroni 1992 scored higher, but only by a few points. But the Caroni 1991? Astounding. What a difference a year makes. The ’91 sent us into the stratosphere; it’s impossibly rich and, considering it weighs in at 122-proof, impossibly mellow. We’ve only tasted one other “lost” rum to equal it: Wray & Nephew 15-year, the long-defunct 1950s Jamaican rum used by Trader Vic in his version 2.0 of the Mai Tai. (His original 1944 version used Wray & Nephew 17-year, and if the two-year difference between Wray & Nephew 17 and 15 was anything like the one-year difference between Caroni 1991 and ’92, no wonder Vic thought he and his head bartender had created “the finest rum drink we could make.”)
We were similarly blown away by the depth, complexity, and proof-defying smoothness of three small-batch Demerara rums on offer from LMDW: Enmore 1995, a 122-proof distillate rendered drop by drop in a slow-acting pot still 16 years ago, then barrel-aged until February 2011, when it was bottled; Diamond 1996, distilled in a circa-1880 wooden Coffey still, aged in oak for 15 years, and bottled in 2011 at 129-proof; and Blairmont 1991, distilled in an antique French Savalle four-column still two decades ago, then bottled in 2006.
It bears repeating that these rums don’t come cheap (the three Demeraras average well over $100 a bottle). On the other hand, Scotch connoisseurs routinely pay twice as much for a top-of-the-line single malt. And once these expressions are gone, they’re gone for good: there were only 5 barrels produced of the Diamond ’96, seven of the Blairmont ’91, and eight of the Enmore ’95. We’ll never again see the likes of Caroni 1991 either.
It’s almost enough to drive the bum to gainful employment. It certainly makes him think twice about squandering his handouts on anything less.