Sunday, 18 October 2015

Review 61 - Velier Skeldon 1973 SWR 32 year old

Photo copyright © L.Surujbally
One of the first and greatest Veliers to ever roam the earth.

You know it. It had to happen. It’s time for another rum by Velier. And what better time than now, as it will mark the first anniversary of my little digital corner of the universe.

This time I am anxiously staring at one of the ultimate unicorns of the rum world:
The Velier Skeldon 1973.

Even though, I really, really want to, I have trouble describing how insanely legendary this rum is. Most people have never actually laid eyes on it. Even fewer people have ever tried it.
It is one of the rums which marked the beginning of something very special, which we are now getting very close to the end of. The Demerara era of Velier.

I know that most people who read this, will never get the chance to try out this rum unless they already have. So this review will serve as a recording of something historical, more than a buyers guide.

The reason why I am fortunate enough to be able to even write this review, can be found in the awesome global rum community. Out of respect for his anonymity, I’m not going to name any names, but I was lucky enough to have a sample supplied of this little piece of rum history.

So what is the Skeldon? I already revealed that we are back in Guyana for another Velier Demerara sourced straight outta DDL.

Distilled in 1973, and then aged for a massive 32 years, this is already quite extraordinary. The outturn of just 544 bottles from 4 SWR barrels, and the souped up 60,5% ABV both add to the mystery.

The type of still used was most probably a coffey still or french savalle still, at the Uitvlugt site, since the Skeldon plantation and distillery was closed in 1960 according to Marco Freyr’s massive research.

Along with its younger brother, the Velier Skeldon 1978, these are the only known Skeldons released in recent rum history. So there is no doubt, that we are about to dive into something special here.

I'm not going in to a deeper explanation about the who and what of neither Velier, Guyana, DDL or the stills of DDL. These stories has been told on several occasions, and if you need more information, just go by Marco's article and you will soon be very educated on the matter. 

This was the mother of all future Velier Demeraras (I think).
Photo copyright © L.Surujbally
As such, the presentation is much like any other Velier Demeraras.

The bottle is the typical black Velier monolith, with a red/white labelling. It comes with a protective card board box in a two tone colouring – also red and white.

The label contains the details of the rum, and on the back there is a small label full of italian pillow talk, as well as a bottle count. The cork is natural and stopped by a little piece of wood - perhaps of the faux variety.

Inside we find the sweet, sweet liquid, which sports a very dark brown colour with a soft, dark ruby glow.

When poured and twirled, it created a thick layer of residue and a very visible ring, which then transforms into many fat leglets, which slowly move toward the bottom of the glass.

Already as I opened my small sample bottle, the fumes of times long gone, eagerly started to emerge.

Huge notes of juicy prunes, raisins and dried apricots came rolling towards me before I could even begin to lift my glass and with such intensity, that I was wondering if I should run and seek cover.

There was an intense, soft, sweet, dried fruit abundance here, which I have never encountered before.
Behind the dried fruits, there is some soft marzipan and some very pleasant vanilla sub notes.

Despite having spent 32 years in a barrel, there is almost no evidence of any wood influence on the nose. Just a little bit of oak behind the enormous fruitiness. But only just enough to insinuate that some form barrel ageing had been done.

On the backend there was also some very soft and very sweet liquorice. 

I could keep nosing this rum forever. It is so powerful and pleasant, that I just want to inhale it all and hope that my sense of smell will be forever impaired, so I won’t be able to smell anything else again. Yeah, well, that is probably a big, fat exaggeration and mostly a lie. But you get where I’m going. This is mindbogglingly good stuff.

There wasn’t as many components as I have often found in several other rums, but the ones that were there, were so intense and yet so incredibly balanced, that I don’t think it lacks anything.

Now, to go where no me has gone before.

So soft! And yet so intense. At first it starts out very gently, but then it slowly starts evolving and growing. At some point it went to a place, where I felt that my mouth wasn’t large enough to contain the intensity of the flavours. But just before I caved in, it backed off a little and let me enjoy the ride. 

This is one big, barrel aged fruit salad!

A first you are treated to thick brown sugar and super concentrated dried fruits. The prunes and raisins from the nose are back. Big time. Now with the help of some dried apricots.

Then came the oaks. Huge, majestic oaks pummeling down to the forest floor.

The resulting tannins were all smothered into submission, and only presented themselves through a pleasant, but concentrated dryness. The wooden elements also brought forth some subtle vanilla notes, which only played a minor role when compared to the vast majority of other rums.

Adding another layer to the experience, was all the regular fruits and berries. Primarily ripe and sun warmed raspberries, cherries, peaches and juicy pineapple. But also blackberry and blackcurrant jams.

This is not my first encounter with ”extreme fruitiness”. The Rum Nation Jamaica 1990 showcased exactly that. However the Skeldon 1973 is a different kind of extremely fruity. It is more of an insane, luscious overabundance, than an extremely concentrated concentrate. And frankly, the overabundance is way more pleasant than the concentrate.

Last, but not least, at the very, very end. Some roasted coffee beans and dark cocoa suddenly decided to peek in. And as the cocoa combined with the fruits, it almost turned to chocolate.

Wait! Honey. On the very last flavours. Just a touch.

Wauw. This thing is amazing. "Mind-boggling" pops up again. Liquid candy without the nausea. A tiny liquid piece of heaven. Or perhaps hell depending on your preferences, beliefs and how you define them.

It never leaves. After my first sip, I zoned out and let history engulf me. 5 minutes later, the last odours and flavours were still noticeable in my sensory machinery. 

It has a drying effect so intense, that even after 5 minutes of solid saliva production, I was still having a severe case of cotton mouth. In a good, pleasant way.

The empty glass kept releasing pleasant fumes for quite some time. Half an hour later it was still very clear what had been going on.

Note: As I turned in for the night after writing most of all this, I left the glass on the kitchen table. When I came down to following morning, there was still some pleasant scents left in the empty glass.
A lone fruit fly had taken up residence in the glass, and had apparently drowned it self in the tiny leftover smidgen of rum in the very bottom of the glass. I understand why. What a great way to go.

Rating and final thoughts
I am insanely thankful that I got a chance to try out this rum before it was forever gone. There is no doubt that this is one of the best Velier rums I have ever tried - maybe even the best. Perhaps even the over all best rum I have ever tried.

It is truly a unicorn. A fabled, illusive beast.

And illusive it is. You will probably never find a bottle of it. And if you do, you better pray that you accumulated some cash beforehand. The last one I heard of, ended up setting the buyer back some €1.000 – 1.200. So it’s not exactly in the entry level price range.

Value for money? Well, practically non existing. You are buying both a huge piece of rum history, as well as a killer piece of grog. But is it worth €1.200 ? I'm not sure. You could buy quite a lot of great bottles of rum for that kind of bank roll.

You’re a die hard collector? Well, that will work. And if you really are a die hard collector, you definitely need this rum in your collection.

I must say that it saddens me, that there isn’t more Skeldons out there. I enjoyed the expression very much, and I think that DDL could make a killing by making more of these kinds of rums, as well as the Albions, the LBIs the Versailles and what have you.

But so far, their only trip outside the box, has been 3 single still expressions a while back, and six different wine finished 15 year olds, so I guess there is quite a lot of lobby work to be done, before that happens.

What makes me even sadder is the fact that the era of Velier Demeraras, is getting awfully close to a conclusion. Apparently there is now just one single release left – and the latest information from Mr. Gargano suggests, that he is considering not releasing it at all. What a shame that would be.

Not that I don’t understand him. If I had the last 500-700 bottles of full proof Demerara goodness, I would be very interested in holding on to them and only share them with friends.
But sharing is caring, Mr. Gargano, so I hope you come to your senses and let your last baby fly. 

Nevertheless, thank you for an awesome ride, Luca. It has been great to experience your unique and utterly amazing Demerara rums. I look very much forward to your new projects.

Enough with the brown nosing and back to the Skeldon ’73.

Being as impressive as it is, I can’t very well go far below the top end of the scale. And being as impressive as it is, it actually demands a spot right at the top.

Because I like rattling the cage, because I’m a rock musician in my spare time and because I just think it is good fun, I’m going to do something completely silly. 

Even though it might be silly, the Skeldon 1973 really does go to 11, so therefore the result must be a…

Rating: 95/100

[EDIT]: Following my switching to another uniform scoring system, the dumbassery on the scoring of Skeldon had to go. Sorry about that.

Yes, I know that my rating is foolish, outright frivolous and perhaps even utter dumbassery.

Yet it doesn’t really bother me. If it bothers you, just replace the ”11” with a ”10” and disregard any comments about the scoring, and you’ll be fine. I promise.
The photos in this post have been taken by none other than my good friend Lance ”The Lone Caner” Surujbally during one of his way too few trips to Europe. He once owned a bottle of this legendary drink and managed to snap a few shots of it. The photos have been used with his consent.


  1. Lovely review. I nodded, agreed, and laughed my way through the whole thing. Great stuff, great rum.

    1. Thanks, buddy :) Glad you liked it. Having tried so many Veliers, it actually surprised me a little how good the Skeldon 73 really is.