“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine” – Matthew 7:6
When is a gift too nice? I’ve long held to the conventional wisdom that the best type of present is one that the buyer wouldn’t splurge on for themselves. I love to shower my friends and loved ones with the type of treasures that their own modesty prevents them from acquiring independently. It truly is better to give than to receive.
What to do, though, when one is on the other end of this form of generosity? After saying “thank you,” there’s a feeling of inadequacy that can creep in. I’m the proverbial dog or pig in this particular instance; I feel as though I have something on my hands that I lack the sophistication to appreciate.
My wife and I stick to the traditional wedding anniversary gifts. We started with paper (a work on that medium by a mutually beloved painter) and ascended through cotton, leather, fruit, and wood, until we reached our sixth anniversary. “Sugar or Iron” was the directive on the list we consulted.
Though I can’t recall the particulars of what I purchased those half-dozen years ago, I do remember being impressed by my wife’s creativity. Knowing my passion for potent potables, she got me a stainless steel bar set (iron) and a couple bottles of rum (sugar, in its distilled form). I cracked open and enjoyed the first one immediately; the second one sat in the back of my liquor cabinet awaiting the type of special occasion that has the habit of never coming.
I’m sure I’m not the only one among our readers (or, indeed, writers) who has stashed a remarkable bottle away, with the intention of opening it to commemorate a momentous life event. My own maturation has taught me that each day, viewed through the proper intellectual-emotional prism, can (and should) be celebrated as an affirmation of the preciousness of our limited time here on Earth.
Really, though, reading every Malt rum review by the likes of John or Jigs or Han created a little nagging sensation in the back of my mind. I drink very little rum, though I almost always enjoy it. The last rum bottle that I splurged for and considered seriously was the delicious 5-year-old single barrel from Koloa Rum of Kaua’i. Virtually revisiting rum weekly through their mouth-watering tasting notes, my thoughts kept drifting back to that still-unopened bottle.
Our regular readers will be aware that we’re now in the middle of the May Malternative Takeover, in which we have turned the site toward anything except whisk(e)y for as long as our writers continue to find interesting subjects for review. I wanted to do my part to contribute, so I scrounged through the back of the cupboard, moving aside forgotten bottles until I found the one that my wife had so kindly gifted me many years back.
Samaroli is a name that once inspired awe amongst independently bottled Scotch whisky enthusiasts. Recent years have seen the Samaroli imprimatur affixed to bottles that are forgettable, or in some cases even worse. That said, there have been a few standouts among the (handsomely redesigned) range in the years since it passed to the Bleve family.
What single malt maniacs may not know is that Samaroli’s namesake, the now departed Silvano Samaroli, was also a pioneer in the field of rum. Silvano Samaroli was bottling single cask rums in the early 1990’s, anticipating the spirit’s ascension to a popular “malternative” decades later. Ahead of his time once again – in rum, as he was in Scotch whisky – Samaroli brought the world some rums that now fetch thousands at auction. Mind, this was long before any broad-based enthusiasm for the spirit that formed Churchill’s infamous unholy trinity of the Royal Navy.
This tradition has carried on despite the new ownership; a glance at Samaroli’s own website’s rum page shows us a baker’s dozen bottles from various islands. Regrettably, no archival information pertaining to this Fiji rum is available. I have, therefore, had to stand on the shoulders of giants in order to assemble the requisite background information for this review.
Fiji rum appears relatively rarely here on Malt. The last example is a Holmes Cay from August of last year, reviewed by John. He also provided an introduction to the island’s sole distillery in this meditation on duality; kindly read that if you’re interested in a bit of background. So, despite no specific information on the label, we can surmise that this rum is the product of the Rum Co. of Fiji, the distillery formerly known as the South Pacific Distillery.
The distillery is located in Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city after the capital Suva. The raw materials comprise sugarcane (grown in the islands’ volcanic soils), as well as local yeasts and the water made famous by a brand bearing the country’s name. I have read that Fiji’s remote location historically prevented export of all but the most pedestrian rums, aimed at the lower end of the Australian rum market. Though appreciation for the unique character of Fiji’s rum is growing (its flavor profile is frequently compared to funky Jamaican rums), Fiji remains somewhat of a hidden gem on the world rum map.
This rum was distilled in 2001 and bottled in Scotland in 2013 (prior to the passing of Silvano, which suggests he had a hand in this selection), at the age of 12 years. It comes from casks “No. 8 & 3,” with 700 bottles being produced (this is bottle #232). It is bottled at a strength of 45% ABV. I recall (hazily) that the price at the time was around $200. This is now (and was then), an amount I seldom spend on a bottle of bourbon, Scotch whisky, or anything else. Regardless, I’ll be using it as a point of reference for our price-sensitive scoring bands.
Samaroli Fiji Rum 2001 – Review
Color: Medium-pale goldenrod.
On the nose: Even simply pouring this from the bottle into the glass releases a dense aromatic mix of ripe fruit and spice, noticeable before I have deliberately taken a sniff of this. The promised funk arrives on the very first whiff; it is rubbery and fecund in nature, in the manner of old tires left out to rot. This probably doesn’t sound very appealing, and it’s certainly far from straightforward, but it’s intriguing. Getting past that: there is a lovely mix of spices (clove, allspice, nutmeg) and very ripe tropical fruit. Imagine papayas or guavas so sweet and juicy that the flesh has nearly liquefied. This is enlivened by some citric notes of key lime, as well as the baked sweetness of cinnamon buns drizzled in frosting. More time in the glass allows me to focus on the rich vanilla influence of the casks, which is nicely accented by the funk and spice. All the elements here are playing nicely together; I can’t wait to find out how this tastes.
In the mouth: In contrast to the forceful announcement of the nose, this starts very politely with the faintest kiss of fresh flowers and light, sweet fruitiness on the tip of the tongue. The show really starts at midpalate, where a nip of cinnamon makes way for an exotic, spicy woodiness. The funk is present here as well, albeit in less aggressive form, which I think works to the advantage of the overall presentation. Those ripe tropical fruit flavors assert themselves once again as this moves toward the finish, which is characterized again by that spice inflected vanilla. There’s a remarkable persistence to this; a single swallow leaves these high toned floral and fruit aftertastes covering the tongue and the inside of the mouth for a minute or more. The 46% ABV is palpable in the sense of an even warmth that radiates out from the back of the mouth. I’d love to have a dram of this to warm me up after a cold plunge in the dead of winter.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this after the first taste; it is captivating me in a way that no other rum has yet achieved. That funky nose might seem a little off-putting at first, but I’m transported back to my earliest dalliances with Scotch whisky and the aromas and flavors of malted barley. I wasn’t sure I liked them, but I couldn’t stop thinking about them and wanted to experience them again and again. This rum has a similar effect.
I’m glad to report that the extraordinary expenditure on this bottle has produced an equally extraordinary experience. Not that I am in need of any more spirits to chase, but I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for more Fiji rum, as well as others promising this entrancing funkiness. In the meantime, I’m giving this as high a score as feels comfortable, given my relative inexperience in the realm of rum.