Rumfest 2017: Luca Gargano masterclass

Far from berating the rum industry’s lack of regulation and it’s wildly varied practices, Luca Gargano extols the fact that rum enjoys a long history of multi-distillation without limits. Unlike, he says “virtually all other spirits including (single malt) whisky, gin, Calvados, Cognac for example,….. that are limited by strict regulation to using only pot still distillation”.

He continues to remind us that rum is different to single malt in that it’s a convivial drink, freely mixed and drunk for celebration, pleasure and enjoyed without limits.


That said, the focus of Luca’s ‘rum classification’ is on pot still and traditional column still distillation. Luca is very clear that industrial-sized column stills simply produce ethanol.

Luca 1 distillation methods.jpg

He says the aim for any committed rum distiller is to tap into the unique vegetal complex that is inherent within sugar cane. In other words, the quintessential essence of rum is its unique vegetal complex.

Pic below: The wild & archaic looking Casimir distillery. Its unique process allows for long natural fermentation and less evasive distillation, promoting complexity without stripping it.

Luca 2 Clairin

Pic below: Angostura vs Worthy Park. The penny drops! Luca asks rhetorically “How can these two distilleries and their wildly different processes possibly make the same spirit? “They can’t possibly”, comes his answer. And therein lies the importance of a classification.

Luca 3 rum comparison.jpg

Luca sees the need for a three-tier rum classification.

  1. Single blend=pure single rum – rum from one distillery, typically 100% pot-still or a pot-still/column still blend.
  2. Traditional column still – Rhum agricole, Creole rum, Coffey still rum.
  3. All the rest [around 90% of the industry].


The tastings begin. I tried a number of these rums earlier in the day [Blog], so it will be interesting to compare my marks.


Luca has a passion for spirits with authenticity & uniqueness. It is white rum he explains that can most ably reflect the processes at a distillery and the craft essence of its spirit.

Paranubes white rum [2017] Ob. 54% WF88 website


This rum is made from a single pot-column hybrid still at a distillery owned by Jose Luis Carrera, situated 9000ft above sea level in the Sierra Mazateca mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Paranubes translates as ‘Among the clouds’.

  • C: Beautiful white rum. A league up from the Mhoba [Blog], which I’d finished just before this masterclass. Reminds me of Godet’s very clean Antarctica white Cognac [Blog] also.

Not scored

Worthy Park 2006/2017 11yo Velier ‘Habitation WPM’ 58% RR83[3]

I do hope i got all this next batch of info right because Luca does talk fast, rapidly firing out heaps of information here, there & everywhere – in ‘Italenglish’. Do let me know it I got my knickers in a twist.

Worthy park 2006.jpg

Though Worthy Park was well established way back in the mid-late 1600’s, it found itself in trouble in the late 1950’s, closing in 1962. When it re-opened again in 1995 it produced Worthy Park ‘light’ [WLP] in order to appeal to the then ‘tamed’ US palate that was helped along by column still rum producers who had successfully pushed this easier/softer style to a blooming & groomed new market. That meant lowering congeners and reducing heavier notes. Velier’s WP 2005 [blog] was a salute to WLP, a barrel proof rum sure, but ‘light’ in congeners. This WP2006 WPM is a bolder rum with high esters, suited more for the current craft consumer. Made from Worthy Park’s Forsyths still, wonderfully illustrated on the label.

  • N: Lovely coppery vegetal-sweet note with a little clove,..
  • T: Big action on arrival. Adding water promotes chocolate.
  • F: Drying.
  • C: Despite my brief notes, this is excellent.

Scores 87 points

Hampden 2010/2016 6yo Velier LROK HLCK 60% Blog85

10 Hampden

  • N: Vegetal treacle.
  • T: Awesome funk that certainly ticks the ‘vegetal essence’ box.
  • F: Vinegar – frequently used as part of a craft fermentation process don’t you know.
  • C:. Again, i find this excellent. Two marks better than earlier on today.

Scores 87 points


With a focus on rum from one distillery comes the importance of maturing the spirit on site, in the climate of origin. ‘Authentic’ rum aged in the tropics suffers from inherently unfair competition against rum aged in climate controlled warehouses and/or in cooler climates. And compared to whisky matured in the Northern Hemisphere, the weight is stacked heavily against tropics-aged rum with regards to angel’s share/loss and ultimately therefore, profits.

Luca 6 angels share.jpg

[On the other hand, rum enjoys potential complexity advantages through accelerated ageing]. As a result, Luca explains that a tropics-aged 10yo rum should be held in higher regard to a 10yo Scotch.

Single blend & traditional column still rum is currently lost in a sea of industrial, commercially driven, brand led, young, coloured & doctored sugar cane ethanol. Luca would like to see artisanal vegetal-complex rum gain a ‘complexity appreciation upgrade’, raised to a level that is enjoyed by single malt whisky.

Rhum Rhum Liberation [2017] Velier, Marie Galante 45% Velier Blog85

7 rhum Rhum liberation

Made from three barrel types: Ex-bourbon, Chateau d’Yquem and ???? casks. So much information coming in way too fast for me. We are told the vintage [though unstated on the bottle], is 2010, ageing this around 6/7 years old.

  • C: Rubbery-sweet burned oloroso? – so i [think I] know which version of Liberation 2017 this is. One point lower than this morning.

Scores 84 points

Given the seemingly blatant use of Oloroso casks in the Rhum Rhum, I ask Velier about cask finishing with regards to rum and his classification. ‘Finishing is the devil’, says Luca. Richard Seale who is sat at the back of the room pipes up. He explains that It makes sense for rum distillers to move from bourbon to sherry. It’s a logical move given the success that the whisky industry has enjoyed. Luca has more to say about sherry casks, but it comes later.

Caroni 1994/2017 23yo Ob. Velier ‘Guyana Stock’ 59% WF80 Blog88

5 Caroni 23

  • N: Wonderful burned sugars with crazy acetone vegetal notes.
  • T: Vegetal toothpaste! Once water is added, it’s more on rubbery liquorice oil.
  • F: More on vegetal toothpaste leading to a soot note at the tail.
  • C: In order to mark the significance of this bottle, Velier had a significantly lighter bottle made for this expression. Two points less than this morning when i was willing this on a bit too much.

Scores 86 points

Velier Royal Navy ‘Very old rum’ [2017] 57.18% WF91 Velier RSB Blog85

3 Very old rhum

The idea behind the name was a light hearted, satirical joke. As Luca explains “I am not a military man nor a soldier.,,,,,, I am a pirate, a good pirate!”

  • F: To add to my previous tasting notes Blog, pumpkin seeds on the finish.
  • C: Tasty. Same score as earlier on today.

Scores 85 points

Foursquare ‘Presepia’ 62% [no other info]

Aged for 3yo in bourbon and then 6 years in old ex-sherry casks – the character of the old oak being key to imparting the right flavours. Coming back to the cask finishing, Luca explains that cask maturation should be about the actual cask/wood and not what’s gone into it before. These old ex-sherry casks used for this Presepia had rum in them before so there’s no actual sherry in the mix, no ‘syrup-ing’ going on – this is true sherry cask/rum maturation.

This bottling is a team effort between Richard Seale and his wife. Presepia means “to go back to the first principles”, says Luca. Interestingly, presepio is translated as crib in Italian. We are the first peeps to try this as yet unreleased rum.

  • C: ‘A triumph for the rum world’ says Luca. For me the best rum of the day. Beats the Caroni hands down.

Scores 89 points

Luca from velier dot it

With thanks to Luca gargano

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