Over the last seven years of my spirit enthusiasm, I have been a devout follower of the whisky market. The choice to be a whisky enthusiast was not one of happenstance. Quite the opposite: it was a conscious decision I made to choose a hobby that seemed best at reflecting my newly minted adulthood. Whisky appeared as the defining class of liquor that would set one’s appreciation and knowledge above the rest. Naturally, I was drawn to single malt scotch whiskies; the old boys’ club of long-held sophisticated pretensions. At the time I was eighteen, and for one of my age the market was daunting quickly consuming my interests and ultimately leading to my position at the Wine Market.
To my detriment though were the airs whisky puts on (or perhaps the airs we put on whisky). One may define it generally as a superb class of experience surpassing all other liquors, but why would this be a reasoned opinion? To put it simply, it isn’t; the concept of whisky being the spirits end game may be part of our social experience of which influence our perception of class. Media seems to portray success and the better things in life in the same basket, and why wouldn’t it. The problem in this sense is the perceived and arbitrary grandeur of whisky, usually scotch. An example might help illustrate this.
The financially well off business person has a decanter of some dark liquid and offers it to a client. “What’s in the bottle?” the client asks, “eighteen year old scotch whisky”. Of course the intrigue is palpable for what 18 year old scotch whisky is in the decanter, but the client doesn’t care and nor does the audience. The attention has been captivated and the ideas are now in place. This is one example, and perhaps a poor one, but I feel the notion is established. Who drinks scotch whisky? Successful people who experience nothing but the best. This has led to a tainted perspective regarding other spirits, a haughtiness that appears when one is already within the belly of the whisky beast.
The closed mindedness of whisky is sometimes entrancing, leading to generalized assertions regarding other spirits. I for one participated in them, finding other spirits tedious due to their mono-tonality. In imagining rum any more than two years ago I would have presumed that Demerara Distillers Limited was the extent of premium rums; the anomalous accounts in reference to DDL only redeeming themselves if they weren’t too far off my previously held standard of premium rum equalling sweet decadence. This palate shock has now only occurred to me two times, at least in regards to vast rethinking regarding entire spirits categories. Other slightly small epiphanies are always enjoyable and lead to numerous new experiences that I both cherish and also rue, if only for how long I turned my nose up at them.
We here in Alberta are lucky to have a such an expansive market open to so many varied and interesting alcohols. In having so many options it is regrettable to be closed off from entire sections of unique experiences, let alone boxing one’s self in definable grounds of enjoyment. For all the “I only like stuff from the Highlands” folk, everyone who asks to see if a store has Zacapa 23 if only to know it is there and the price, anyone who has been glommed onto bourbon through a taste (or even just the chase) of Pappy, throw the pretensions to the wind. You have experienced but one of the many unique options available to you, and to only ever experience that is to only ever eat one item off the menu. Doesn’t steak get old if you have it every day? If not, keep enjoying your swill. Here is what we tasted during “Why are so many rums named Ron? and other stupid questions.”
Kill Devil Caribbean Blended Rum
One of my ultimate table rum recommendations, this juice is the perfect combo of sweet and savoury. The layout is simple, If one is usually on the market for the typical amber Kill Devil brings the heat with a ton more quality. Likely to contain at least some Jamaican stock, this bottle holds a little bit of brown sugared orange slices, ginger, wisps of tangy, tropical funk, and something akin to an nutty candy bar. I’m thinking Eat More, but I might have to defer to Andrew, I think he is the Eat More bar expert. $45
Whisky Agency Rhum Barbancourt 12 Year
Bottled closer to 50%, Andrew claims this is classic Haitian style. Now I would be inclined to agree for a moderate and reasonable bonus, but as of yet, I can not officially confirm. The more important thing is that if you have recently had the pleasure of enjoying Barbancourt’s fine 15-year-old solera system Rhum then you may be taken for a spin in tasting this one. This spirit is little like it’s semi-older brother (see solera system), and it holds a lot more of the traditional Rhum Agricole traits. For one, the vibrant nature of this spirit is like the leftover juices from a Cora’s breakfast. Melon tones, floral and near perfumed, honey drizzle, followed by a slightly dusty/mineral tone, almost like stepping into an in progress basement. The spirit is cool and refreshing, like walking out on to cool cement with bare feet after a stuffy day. $160
Plantation 20th Anniversary Blend
If one isn’t too careful this bottle will drain in a night. Cursory check for all those Ron Millonario lovers: here is your new love. A bottling to celebrate Alexandre Gabriel’s rum meets cognac brainchild, this spirit was crafted from strictly Barbados stock in secret to surprise the head honcho on the anniversary of the companies inception. Taking a gander, I want to say the barrels used to make this are mostly from Foursquare distillers, and maybe, just maybe St. Nicholas Abbey, but that would be a stretch. All the stock is quite old too, at its youngest 12 years old, it’s oldest 20. To taste this beast is likely eating the Christmas dessert buffet. Ginger snaps, icing sugar glaze, ginger cakes, orange syrup, butter tarts, just decadence all the way through. $68
Plantation Jamaican 13 Year
Here come the funky sauces. If you aren’t in the know, Jamaican spirits sometimes hold special properties that make them, strange. For lack of a better word funk is thrown around quite often, the kind of thing that you know once you’ve had it. This release, undisclosed but very likely to come from Jamaica’s Hampden distillery, is more elegant up front slowly building its odd persona in the background. Likely from being partially matured in cognac barrels, this bottling invokes thoughts of bananas foster, cheap leather, brandy bows, peanut sauce, and a stinky old trunk full of old timey clothes. I was a little shocked that this was a favourite of the night, simply due to the slightly strange nature of the bottling. That said, we were only up to our ankles in the funk, the next few steps sunk us progressively deeper into the miasmic swamp. $75
Rum Nation Reunion 7 Year
Another in the Agricole style but this time with style. Rum Nation holds a dear place in my soul, being some of the first bottles I tried that challenged my appreciation of rum. Frankly, I didn’t like them and remember thinking they were gross. All the better to subject my willing rum participants to the experience that shook my taste buds out of their languor. Smells of apple cider made deep in the heart of Normandy, the apples likely pressed by feet. But do not tremble, carry on bravely to find notes of old leather saddlebags, the interior wafting of fruit on its way out, nutmeg and oak tannin prolific on the palate. The taught nature of this Rhum is marvellous, every aspect of it holding a tanginess while not becoming overbearing. Though it is potent, the funk isn’t too much for the usual rum enthusiast making this another favourite of the night. $75
Whisky Agency Long Pond 16 Year
Wow, just wow. Beautiful funk in its purest form at last. Long Pond is notorious for producing some of the weirdest and most sought after rums on the planet, bottlings of it quietly bought by those “in the know”. How I wish I was in the know a few years back when the Gordon and MacPhail Long Pond 58 year was sitting in front of me, waiting to be appreciated, only to be rejected by my too sophisticated palate. So much for my acclaimed infallible spirits knowledge. Be warned this thing is an oddity, and it is a thing, much less a creature of familiarity. One thing I would note is that a certain colleague of mine attributed this spirit to being the palate measuring stick. If you can stick it out with this and appreciate the nuance, you’re in the club. Congrats, now you can only taste what seems to be a barrel full of decaying plant matter and gelatin candies. Something on the nose is like a local and scary folk tale, the dunder that produces the funk on this bad boy howling out of the glass, hitting your senses with a wave of funk. Venture further into the depths and find something elegant, cloying, perhaps slightly off but enchanting. Is it the tire fire in the distance or the limes in your sweaty canvas shirt pocket? It is for you to decide. $170
Whisky Agency Uitvlugt 25 Year
With a name that roughly translates to “Out Flow”, one is not inspired with much confidence regarding the quality of the spirit. Uitvlugt was one of the last Guyana rum distillers to die out following the DDL consolidation period in the years leading up to 2000. Depending who you ask perhaps it was for good reason; this liquid is weird and so is everything I have tasted from Uitvlugt. That alone is not enough to call for its closure, but I would further argue that for a while I thought there was not a single redeemable quality to their spirits. They are outright odd, full of inorganic compound tones, and entirely unapologetic. If my preamble was to indicate any sort of enlightenment in regards to thinking of spirits with a new perspective, you would still be wrong. Tasting this thing is like sitting on the fence to the nth degree. On one hand the experience is so unique that you can’t stop yourself from tasting it. On the other hand it is near impossible to enjoy with your tongue being rubbed raw from barrel tannin overload. The bitterness of the palate is incomparable, describable as an extremely over-steeped Assam black tea, followed by storing the wet tea bag in a humidor for 2 weeks and then re-using it. A leather catchers mitt holding a dirty root vegetable is another way of thinking of this rum. I’m compelled to nose and taste this thing over and over again, but am always recoiling from the way it smacks you with every sip. I think the more I drink it the more I like it, maybe I’ll have another sip. $240