Sunday, 25 October 2015

Review 62 - Rum Nation Caroni 1998 16 year old Batch 1

Photo copyright © H.Kristoffersen
A beginners Caroni - if you are careful.


By now my regular readers (if there are any) should be well familiar with especially two independant bottlers: Velier and Rum Nation. As far as I am concerned these two deliver some of the best available products out there (that I know of…). Velier primarily on the hot headed high proof rums, and Rum Nation in the favourite-drinking-strength range.

Today I am having a go at yet another Rum Nation product. The Rum Nation Caroni 1998 Batch 1.
Coming from the long defunct Caroni distillery, this is Rum Nations first attempt with this very distinctive style of Trinidadian rum.

In my world it has been a long time coming to this. Up until the release of this first Caroni, Rum Nation had rums from all the most notable regions in the Caribbean and Latin America – except Trinidad. So it seems a natural step to finally include the most famous Trinidadian rum in their line up.

As with the usual Caronis we are in for a heavy styled rum and a rather high strength. In this case the ABV reaches 55%. Usual for Caronis, but unusual for Rum Nation products, which tend to lurk around the 40-45% marks.

I believe this rum was launched close to the white Jamaican pot still rum, which is also quite high strength, as the first two high strength rums ever from Rum Nation. So you might regards this as a kind of maiden voyage.

Personally I am a little intrigued and I am looking very much forward to the experiment.

I have next to no information about the maturation of this rum – except for the fact, that it is 16 years old. I suspect that it has been aged in the deep, dark Bristol basement, but I am awaiting confirmation from Mr. Rossi on this.

Edit: It spent 9 years in the tropic climate of Trinidad, before relocating to Europe, where it was transferred to ex-bourbon American oak casks, which were previously used for the Rum Nation Peruano 8.

A simple hydrometer test suggests that around 15 – 20 grams of sugar pr. liter has been added to smooth this beast out a bit. I have made a habit out of not judging when it comes to addition of sugar. But when it comes to Caroni, I am semi-religious. Cardinal sin.

Oh well, let us see how it plays out. I might be surprised.

Delivered in the standard Rum Nation cardboard box - which I quickly archived in the bin, because of its failure to protect my rum from dangerous sunlight – we find a standard, modern, shortish Rum Nation bottle.

I read an interview with Fabio Rossi recently where he is asked about, why he changed the bottle type. And his answer was something in the line of: ”Well, you know, I am Italian. We treasure fashion and design. And I think the ”Oslo” bottle is a clever, modern design for my rums”.

Other than the fact that this bottle type has a name, there is not much else to tell about it. It has a slightly thickened bottom, which helps to add weight and give you that quality feel.
Up top it is closed off by a natural cork with a faux wood stopper (I think).

The label has a golden brown colour scheme and is built like the typical Rum Nation label. At the bottom you have the Rum Nation brand. In the middle we find the info about the rum – origin, age, and in this case, distillery. The upper part is the trade mark colonial stamp.

The rum it self has a nice copper colour and leaves a clearly visible ring on the inside of the glass when twirled. Left to itself for a while, it slowly starts to transform into droplets of ultra slow decent.

Already when pouring it starts snapping at your heals. There is no denying that we are dealing with a heavy profiled Caroni here.

First of the bat is pungent rubber and oak, with a splash of syrup. Overwhelming stuff.

My first whiff was a bit too hard, and my eyes instantly teared up. When will I learn to be more careful around these not-so-gentle beasts?

After a breath of fresh air I went back to glass.

It has a clear reference to hot summer asphalt, and a bag of spices. Cinnamon and … yeah well … hmmm … well just cinnamon actually. It felt like so much more  at first, but trying to decipher it, it turned out to just be cinnamon.

Apart from that nothing more could pierce the sulphuric veil.

Actually not a bad nose. Knuckles first and not so much fuzz.

This is Caroni all right!

Hugely dominating rubber notes going in. Evolving into a softer hot-oaks-and-molasses sensation, as the rubber notes takes a couple of steps back.

It also decided to show me some concentrated dark chocolate, ripe pineapple and salmiak.

Underneath all the badassery, I found a little vanilla and some other soft floral note, which I couldn’t properly get a hold of.

Like most Caronis, a hot day in hell. Although this particular Caroni brought some sunscreen.
It wasn’t quite as brutal as the usual high proof Caroni, and rather than just killing me on the spot, it merely threatened to instead.

I guess you can call it a softer Caroni, as long as you keep in mind, that it is torqued up to 55%.
No bad at all, but at the same time not as thrilling as the more untamed Caroni.

Much shorter that I anticipated. Fast. Hot. Unhinged.

It raced down my throat like a freight train out of control, and very soon all I had left was a slight burn, tiny piece of pineapple and liquorice.

I expected it to hang around for much longer, but for some reason it was in a hurry to get out of the door.

Rating and final thoughts
Many people before me has called this rum as a beginners Caroni. And I guess they are right.

This is the closest you get to a mild, beginners Caroni. Displaying all the proper Caroni flavours and notes, without ripping your head off. It threatens to slap you repeatedly, but never does.

For a rum of this kind, it is rather soft, which I attribute to the added sugar, but it still feels edgy like a regular Caroni.

It does feel a bit narrow compared to the pedal-to-the-metal full proof versions from Velier, but again, I think this one might be aimed at slightly less hardened drinkers.

When it comes to Caroni, I tend to like the full monty. I like the fact that it continuously tried to rip my head off and defecate down my neck, if I’m not extremely careful. I like the fact that it demands 110% of my attention at all times, or it will drive me straight into a lake. And I like the massive, hard, rip-snorting off notes of lots of fusel oils and other unpleasantries, which are normally frowned upon for its poor craftsmanship.

The Rum Nation Caroni does have all these things, but dialled down a couple of notches.

Rum Nation rums are often well rounded, polished and nursed into perfection with an edge.
Much like an Italian piece of mens wear. And a Caroni is just not that snappy a dresser. If you stick a big, unsophisticated brute of a lumberjack in a slim fit, anthracite grey, italian suit, it might be kind of pretty, but it would still just seem out of place.

It can be found for just shy of €60 and that makes it a nice buy. It might seem slightly expensive, unless you take into consideration, that we are dealing with a Caroni at high strength.

The closest competitor would be the similarly priced Velier Caroni 12 year old, which is slightly lower proof. Just behind that one comes a couple of Bristol Classic Caronis and a Compagnie des Indes Caroni – all at 40-43%, which I so far find way too weak for a Caroni. But your preferences might differ from mine.

I guess, if you really want to take your first stab at a high proof Caroni, the Rum Nation Caroni 1998 actually could be the place to start, as it is slightly more manageable, than the Velier counterparts.

Kudos to Mr. Rossi for taking such a classic, unique rum and giving it a twist. That takes heart. 
I think it will persuade some people to try out the heavy Caroni style of rum and perhaps even be responsible for a couple of new disciples.

The rum it self could have impressed me more, but it still gets to go home (or to the basement) with a…

Rating: 76/100

There is a Batch 2 version of this rum on the streets, as well as a 1999-2015 version. I haven't tried any of them in depth, so unfortunately I have no idea if they are different or how they compare.


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