The rum scene has become more interesting. It’s largely thanks to the lively discussions regarding its issues, which were mostly started by Luca, and the availability of more quality brands. With all that’s happening, Caroni can still be a hot topic.
As I said in my previous Caroni review, Luca Gargano deserves the most credit for placing rum from this lost distillery into the spotlight. In my mind, one cannot mention Velier without mentioning Luca Gargano. One cannot mention Luca, without mentioning Caroni. But what if Caroni never closed down? What other rum/s would Luca and Velier have worked their magic on?
I can hear some of the long-time rum geeks gasp as I only utter Luca and Caroni. I bet they’re thinking this young thing is missing rum from a special place. Don’t worry, I’ll get to that later. I’m using my own experience as a benchmark which is, I think, flawed because Asia is behind the rum scene.
The rum geeks who have only been around since 2017, and later, will only know of the more recent highly coveted Velier releases such as Caroni’s & Foursquare. Habitation Velier, Hampden Estate and Clairin are also coveted and limited, but not as limited as the other two. It’s easy to mistakenly think these are Luca’s only claims to fame. Mainly because the Caroni releases are still ongoing. Any Caroni release, especially any by Velier, will be quickly snapped up similar to any Port Ellen or Brora releases.
Clairin the Spirit of Haiti, aka the Mezcal of the rum world, is making waves in the cocktail scene and in the spirits enthusiast scene. More and more people are seeing the beauty of quality unaged spirits. I often hear that real Mezcal lovers (unaged/Joven) take a liking to Clairin and other cane juice-based rum as these rely on the quality and variety of raw materials, terroir and the producer’s talent as most of these have no aging to hide behind.
Foursquare is Foursquare. Being called the Pappy of rum a few years ago by Fred Minnick, really put anything from the distillery on bourbon drinkers’ maps. It’s also currently being called the Macallan of the rum world. (Macallan quality before it sold out.)
Jamaican rum like Hampden is being recently dubbed as the Islay of rum. The Jamaican funk is being presented as an equivalent to Islay’s peaty and smoky character. Because of its unique flavor, Jamaican rum has also become among the most desired in the rum world, just like the Islay whiskies that are highly desired in the Scotch world.
The rum geeks who have been aware of the wonders of rum since the mid-2000s will say the Velier Demerara releases, which first came out in 2004, were Luca’s springboard to fame. The quality of rum he bottled, cemented Luca in the rum world’s pantheon. Sadly, Velier released its last Demerara rum in 2014 due to unclear reasons from Demerara Distillers Limited.
With Velier’s Demerara rum releases being that good, did Luca really need Caroni as another huge stepping stone? I’ll point out that the timelines are close, as the Caroni stocks were auctioned off in 2004. But Caroni is better known and seemingly more relevant because Velier still has stocks of it. Reputation-wise, I think no. Financially, I think, yes. There was talk of bits of Caroni’s history a couple of years ago, which mentioned it being mainly sold as cheap rum in Trinidad and sold for blending. So, it’s safe to say the remaining stocks were auctioned off for a very good price.
Without the success Caroni brought him, would Luca have been able to garner enough credibility to influence Richard Seale and the other notable distilleries like Worthy Park with whom Luca are fond of? I wonder what Foursquare would be like now without Luca’s coaxing.
Yes, Richard Seale credits Luca for encouraging him to release more rum in cask strength. I don’t know when they first started talking, but I believe this resulted in the Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selections, post-Mark II (Port Cask finish), being bottled at higher than 40% abv.
I am not doubting Luca’s brilliance and passion. He is able to create unexpected wonders in the rum world, like getting Appleton to agree with Velier Appleton bottlings. Also, before Velier started bottling Clairin, no one aside from Haitians knew about the spirit of Haiti. But without him obtaining access to Caroni, I believe his current successes would have just been delayed. Maybe there would be less releases and fewer distilleries being bottled under Habitation Velier. Which is sad to imagine as the Habitation Velier is the rum world’s current best for the value rums. What’s not to love about sugar-free, honest, high proof and pot-distilled rums?
Because Luca is always traveling and very active in the rum world, I have no doubt that he would have found another distillery to work his magic with, had Caroni not closed or been available. Luca very much likes Agricole rhum as well. He loves rhum from the Neisson distillery in Martinique. He loves rhum from Guadalupe and Marie Galante such as Bielle and Damousieau. He used to have a small distillery within Bielle where Gianni Capovilla distilled PMG rhum for him. Perhaps he could have put in resources in any of these distilleries or brands?
This is an idea I’ve never read online. So, I gave this a go. Regardless of what you think of Luca or his achievements, it can’t be denied that we owe a lot of rum scene’s progress to Luca. His passion ignited the passion and amplified the voices of other notable rum leaders like Foursquare’s Richard Seale, Privateer’s Maggie Campbell and Appleton’s Joy Spence. He is, sadly, not very active on social media anymore. I suspect the toxic nature of social media has gotten to him. He used to regularly share his valuable insights with some of the rum groups on Facebook. I consider myself lucky to have seen those.
I may be shooting myself in the foot by making more enthusiasts aware of what rum is worth buying. But if it makes people drink better and honest rum, I’ll happily take that bullet. Enough of my guessing. Time for me to review some Caroni’s not bottled by Velier.
A huge thanks to Lance, The Lone Caner, for writing The Age of Velier’s Demerara’s. His three-part series was my main source of information for this one.
Rum Nation Caroni 18 – review
Distilled during June 1998 and bottled in 2016. Aged in the tropics for 12 years. Aged in England for 6 years. The casks are #: 2212, 2219, 2221, 2223, 2230, 2274, 2280, 2282, 2284, 2291, 2115, 2280, 2282, 2284, 2291, 2115, 2116, 2119, 2122, 2124, 2163, 2165, 2175, 2181, 2183. Bottled with an ABV of 55%.
On the nose: There’s that well-known Caroni petrol smell mixed with cinnamon syrup and makrut. These are followed by quick, round and alternating scents of honey, vanilla, tobacco, hints of pimento dram and hints of cappuccino. The petrol and kaffir leaves smell still lingers. Behind it are more subtle scents of nuts, caramel, dark chocolate and coffee. Think of Snickers but not as sweet.
In the mouth: The petrol here is more toned down while the makrut hasn’t. Both don’t last as long unlike on the nose. The Snickers notes are more evident here. Luckily still not as sweet as the chocolate bar and also comes with more undertones of coffee and cappuccino. I can also taste them longer. In the end, I get more makrut. The tobacco, honey, vanilla and cinnamon are more subtle here but also last longer. Some smoke appears at the end.
The Rum Nation is funkier and sharper on the nose, but becomes more mellow in the mouth. I can see this as being a more welcoming dram for someone not familiar with Caroni funk, or funky rum in general. Which is good for me as this is my first sip of Caroni in a few months due to my being Caroni-d out. But I welcome this a lot. Caroni may be considered by some as overrated due it’s coming from a lost distillery but it’s still pretty good rum. I also haven’t encountered any rum yet that comes close to the flavors given off by this lost wonder.
Rum Nation is a rum bottler known for sweetening their rum so this may, sadly, be sweetened. If this is sweetened, this probably is not too sweetened. The cappuccino flavors here are similar to the Plantation Caroni 20+ year old I had a few years ago. Yes, that Plantation Caroni was surely sweetened.
BlackAdder Raw Cask Caroni 18 – review
Distilled during June 1997 and bottled in March 2016 at an ABV of 63.1%.
On the nose: Robust but quick scents of petrol and honey cloves with hints of smoke follow after. Sharp but quick scents burnt char siu and nori appear. Then it turns into mellow and round scents of muscovado syrup, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, charred oak and cappuccino.
In the mouth: More noticeable but still a flash of petrol which changes into something like honeyed pimento dram. A taste of black coffee flashes by then turns into vanilla notes you get in Bourbon like Booker’s. It gives way to caramel, nuts, cinnamon and cappuccino. At the end are bits of smoke and burnt rosemary and thyme.
With the higher abv, this is feistier than the Rum Nation. It’s a good thing I had this second, as this allowed my palate to get a warm-up for what Caroni is like. Despite the higher abv, the flavors don’t last as long in this, but I get more layers and complexity. I guess that’s the effect of this being a single cask while the Rum Nation was a blend of different casks.
On lazier days, I can see myself enjoying the Rum Nation more. On days I feel more serious, I’ll prefer the Blackadder instead.