Upon reflection, there have been several anniversaries during 2017 and quite a few of these achievements involving whisky. For the Whisky Barrel in Fife, it’s 10 years since they started out as whisky retailers, and reaching such a milestone for any young business is worth celebrating. Oh, can you remember the internet or whisky prices a decade ago? If only the prices had remained static!
The party keeps on going with this Fife based retailer as we reach the fourth bottle in their celebrations and the only common denominator has to produce the unexpected – we’ve had a tasty 30 year old Dumbarton grain and who could forget that 13 year old Cooley with the sherry twist? It only seems like yesterday, or October in reality, when we reviewed the firecracker of a Laphroaig bottled at 6 years of age. The young Laphroaig went down well with the Malt team as we managed to unite for a three-way review and this time we’ve combined the Malt figureheads to give our thoughts on this Caroni that’s been selected from the stocks of none other than Berry Bros & Rudd in London. Yes, they’ve surprised everyone with the 4th bottle in the celebration series by taking us abroad once again but this time well away from the comfort of whisky.
Over the past few decades, there has been a consolidation of rum distilleries across various regions. Several have closed due to government measures, a shortage of resources, being unable to compete against more efficient producers or just a change in consumer tastes. The good news is that rum is on the way back now and sales in the UK continue to be brisk and strong. Sadly, much of the rum we see on supermarket shelves is a doctored hybrid of what rum should actually offer a drinker. Heavily coloured, laced with spice and sweetened with sugar, it’s often watered down to a tepid strength that leaves a lacklustre experience.
Caroni is a name that resonates amongst rum enthusiasts and is now starting to break out a little more into the mainstream. The island of Trinidad once upon a time played host to several distilleries – more than 50 – but today the attrition means there is just a single survivor. Caroni itself was established in 1923 which might seem like ages go in some respects but compared to other rum distilleries such as Mount Gay that goes back to 1703, its a teenager. Located on the site of the Caroni Sugar factory it produced a distinctive heavy style of rum that harked back to the famous navy style of bygone days. Things went well for the distillery until 2001 when the Trinidad government decided to sell a 49% in the controlling company to Angostura for approximately £25 million. It was a deal that prompted much local unrest, protest and debate as to the true intentions of the agreement itself.
The local sugar industry that provided resources to Caroni went into decline and thus the distillery itself soon followed in 2002. The twist in the tale is that the only surviving distillery on Trinidad today is the Angostura distillery, which is owned by… yes, you’ve guessed it. In terms of sugar production, Trinidad came crashing to a halt in 2003 and now Angostura has to import its molasses, mainly from Guyana. The devastation of the sugar industry had consequences for the islanders with 9000 workers at Caroni immediately affected and nearly 35,000 in supporting industries, with some sources suggesting a number nearer 250,000 across the sugar belt. In doing so, around 75,000 acres of land overnight became available for other uses, as the sugar and rum industries imploded. Sugar production itself continued sporadically until 2006 at the St Madeline factory with support from local farmers. The resurgence of rum has combined with a growing sense in Trinidad that their sugar heritage was in danger of being lost forever. In 2013, a privately owned sugar mill was founded and commenced production, while in 2011 a sugar cane heritage initiative was launched.
It is likely that Trinidad will support more distilleries if demand for rum is sustained, but for the Caroni that we know today it is sadly no more and now prized by rum enthusiasts. This Caroni was distilled in 1997 and comes from cask number #165, which produced 310 bottles and is available for a very reasonable £99.95 but it won’t be around for long.
Caroni 19 year old Whisky Barrel – reviews
On the nose: memories of driving into bushes for wild raspberries come flooding back. That distinct vegetative aspect enhanced with a layer of red fruit. Time reveals coconut ice, blackberries and a Tayberry jam. Spices with vanilla, cloves, a dulled cinnamon and mustard seed on the finish. It’s a nose with depth and weight with a touch of orange peel that cuts through the density. A touch of water brings out honey and a lovely spiced fruit loaf with bonus cherries and treacle.
In the mouth: first time around with this rum it feels closed and shy. There’s a charcoal seam, more blackberries and those spices once again but its capable of more. A creamy toffee and then a burnt sugar towards the peppery finish. Adding water, tones down the sugar somewhat but it mingles with the vanilla to become crème brulee. Water is certainly of benefit unlocking fresh basil, dark chocolate and a hint of tobacco.
On the nose: oh now that’s lovely. Intensely herbal, with cloves, fennel, sage and five spice. Layer upon layer of fruits: cranberries, strawberry jam, with dried fruits – figs and raisins, at the headier end – just underneath. Cherries, Turkish Delight, and quite a bit of maple syrup. Tobacco. A touch too vibrant with the woody, sandalwood and amber notes perhaps.
In the mouth: echoes the nose very well. Certainly that curiously earthy, herbal, almost Springbank-like dirtiness to it all. Tobacco, slightly ashy, but then oodles of dark fruits, muscovado sugar, cloves and, once again, those sort of oriental five spice notes. It’s not too sweet, mind you, as the earthy spices, saltiness and slightly burnt meat notes keep things in check. A long finish with wisps of fennel, rosemary and bay leaves.
A very enjoyable Caroni, approachable and yet with plenty of flavour and presence. Perhaps not as heavy as some Caroni’s I’ve experienced – or even as murky as some Guyanan rums – it remains worth seeking out. For the price its a winner.
Again, an excellent rum. Echoing Jason, it’s not especially heavy or viscous, but there’s a glorious spicy and herbal quality, and that marvellous earthiness, that should have single malt fans very interested indeed. Lots going on and excellent value.