Monday, 19 January 2015

Review 23 - Velier Rhum Damoiseau 1980 Full Proof

Photo copyright © H.Kristoffersen
The Velier take on a 1980 agricole. And it is truly stellar!

So this is the part two. The other Damoiseau 1980.

Since I lost my agricole virginity to the ”original” 1980 Damoiseau it seems reasonable, that my second go at an agricole, should be with its older and equally exquisite sibling.

However I do not want to make this review a comparative to the other review, as this review has to make sense on its own.

But first a little background story.

According to an interview with Luca Gargano made by Cyril of Du Rhum (links at the bottom), Luca started his entire Velier line of rums with the Damoiseau 1980.
During a trip to Guadeloupe he visited the Bellevue facility and talked to Mr. Damoiseau. They had several barrels of the 1980 vintage in stock that didn’t meet the necessary requirements of the AOC.

For clarification on the AOC see the supplied link at the buttom.

Damoiseau didn’t think they could sell it and therefore they sold the entire stock to Mr. Gargano which in turn kept it until 2002 where he finally bottled it at full proof – hence effectively being the first to bottle and sell full proof rums.

Some time after having made the deal with Damoiseau Mr. Gargano realised that Damoiseau had actually not sold him the entire stock, and Damoiseau branded bottles of the exact same vintage and proof started showing up.

The only difference being that the ”original” Damoiseau was bottled in 1998 at 18 years of age and the Velier Damoiseau being bottled in 2002 at 22 years of age.

[edit]: A kind reader has informed me that the Velier Damoiseau has actually only been maturing for 18 years. The last 4 years was spent in a "foudre", which is a giant and inactive wooden container, where it would rest and stop evolving. Thank you Jonathan. 

Having just reviewed the 18 year old, I am very excited to examine the 22 year old more closely to see if I can find any resemblances and perhaps even with some probability determine if these two rums are born from the same source product way back in 1980.

Furthermore I am looking very much forward to finding out who made the best Damoiseau 1980 – Mr. Damoiseau or Mr. Gargano.

At first glance the Velier seems a little underdressed when compared to the Damoiseau. The Damoiseau with its black, sturdy wooden box. The Velier with a regular cardboard box.

The box of the Velier is a sandy coloured thing with lots of large letters and a nice picture of a caribbean woman. The Damoiseau logo is present on the box, but in a very small size compared to the massive ”1980 FULL PROOF 60,3%”.

Not bad – but standing next to the black box of the 18 year old it fades quite a bit and it doesn’t give off the same luxurious aura.

The bottle is almost identical with the other Damoiseau. There is only tiny differences. On top is yet another almost dissolved cork, which will also need to be replaced very soon. See the picture on the left. The bottom half is almost solid grey and it has a texture more like a mushroom than that of a cork. However I was fortunate enough to remove the cork without any cork fragments falling into the precious liquid below.

When removed from the box the Velier actually looks like a more premium product to me. The label on the 18 year old seems a bit out of place, but the label on the Velier aligns perfectly with the box layout and gives off a more authentic feel.

The label is of the same style as the box. Sandy colour with lots of large letters describing the contents of the bottle.

In the glass the dark mahogany rhum creates a super skinny ring from where anorexic legs materialise from almost thin air. 

There are some droplets present but they don’t really move that much. They seem to be stuck in a limbo forever without hope of ever reaching the surface of the rhum again. Spectacular.

After pulling the cork, billions of tiny scent particles started to stampede all over my sense of smell. I was caught totally off guard and didn’t really feel ready for it, so I had to utilise my phone as a lid on my glass, until I had taken a couple of last breaths of fresh air.

When I finally removed the lid, I was treated to a full palette of lovely smells.
So rich and so complex, that initially I had great trouble zooming in on any singular note. But after a couple of whiffs it all started to come together.

First of all a sweet and fruity base made up by prunes and figs, with ripe and sun-kissed cherries on top, and a generous sprinkling of burnt brown sugar.

From this base grew a beautiful flower of black grapes, salty liquorice and burnt rubber.

In the very end even a little oak and tobacco came out to play.

No sharpness or any indication that we are dealing with a 60,3% spirit. Impressive.

Surprisingly mild and smooth for a full proof rum. It feels in perfect balance and it is clear that it wants you to take a lot of time figuring it all out. All in a very pleasant way.

It seems in total zen and at no point do you feel like it is going to hurt you in any way.
At first it doesn’t seem quite a rich as I would have expected, but it actually just takes a few sips for the richness to unfold properly.

And then it all starts to make sense.

The first real tastes that presents themselves are oak and winey tannins, and a little disappointment. Why? Because I had expected it to show off more interesting things from the start.  But once again it shows it flirty nature, and after a couple of more sips it starts to really unfold.

First the oak and tannins fade away, and leave room for salty licorice. Then the fruity extravaganza begins. Prunes, apricots, mangos, pineapple and cherries.

Earthy notes starts appearing which brings out notes of the forest in the fall.
At some point the salty liquorice intensifies and turns towards something more like ammonia and brine. But still very pleasant.

The more sips I took, the further the winey tannins move into the background of it all.

The funny thing is that the more sips I take, the more it explodes on the palate, and becomes more and more full flavoured. As if the palate had to adjust it self to be fully compatible with the massive richness. The best part was that the rum actually allowed my palate to adjust before bringing on the full show.

A very, very interesting tasting experience indeed.

Some of the same things applied to the finish. The more sips, the longer and more exciting it got.

A finish that lasts a million years with insanely stubborn notes of salty liquorice and burnt brown sugar, as well as a couple of prunes.
It cleans it self up super nicely just as the last flavours seem to disappear, but even several minutes later you still get hints of the licorice.

Rating and final thoughts
Somewhat of a shapeshifter, this rum is truly amazing. I still have trouble believing the level of the alcohol content, since this the rum makes no effort to flex its muscles at any time.

The cork issue is a little sad. But you have to remember that the cork is 12-13 years old at the time and has been in the bottle all along. I have no idea how many times this bottle has been freighted around Europe, but I guess it has quite some mileage to its name by now. And every time it would tilt ever so slightly, the cork would come into contact with the rum and hence be a tiny step closer to disintegration. Fortunately I found a fitting replacement and have bought myself a little more time to savour this piece of art.

Because that is just what it is. A piece of art. A piece of true artisanal skill.

The beautiful nose, the ever developing palate and the long, pleasant finish.

It all just adds up to a truly extraordinary experience. No off notes, no stones left unturned, no letdowns and no unpleasantries.

How lucky am I to be able to enjoy an entire bottle of this rum? I feel truly privileged and as far as my financial situation allows it, I will have to buy every single bottle of it I can find. Because once there is no more of the Velier Damoiseau 1980, the world of rum will be just a tiny bit less great.

I have to capitulate. I can’t find a reason, why I shouldn’t reach for a…

Rating: 92/100

Final comparison with the 18 year old original Damoiseau 1980
In my opinion it is quite clear, that these two rums are related. They show off many similar scents and flavours, they finish in similar ways and the even look much alike. Furthermore both have been matured for the same 18 years. No matter how you look at it, the many similarities indicate that they really do have very, very much in common. 

But are they products of the same original distillate? I have no idea. They could be. I don't know if the 4 year hibernation in the "foudre" could result in tiny, subtle differences, but there are differences between the two. Perhaps they were identical twins when left in the barrels in 1980, but today they are no longer 100% identical.

These were my first two agricoles, so I will have a hard time convincing anybody that I am more than a mere novice in this particular canefield. However I know what I have tasted and how I liked it.

The Velier deserves the extra half point because of several small details.

The lack of sharpness and the continuously evolving palate, are the most important.
When push comes to shove, in my opinion, the Velier is the better of the two Damoiseau 1980s. Perhaps it’s the extra 4 years of hibernation that lets it take the lead, perhaps it is just better made.
I don’t know.

However Mr. Luca Gargano is victorious.


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