Rumfest 2021: Best Of

This year, the 15th Rumfest weekend was split into two separate days: Rumfest as we know it on the Saturday, and ‘Spiced Rum’ on the Sunday. Furthermore, the day’s themselves were divided into two sessions. One session was plenty to cover the ‘choice’ rums.

There are fewer stalls this year, but thankfully, most of the key ones remain. Looking as slick as ever, the evolution of exhibitor’s stands and their branding is night & day in comparison to how primitive [green] it all was a few years ago. Frankly, I didn’t mind it as it was. It’s always what’s behind the packaging that matters.

It seems there’s a far younger and more hip crowd this year [or am I getting old?], a crowd far more reflective of the culturally diverse landscape of Britain than seen at whisky shows, for example,…. gender-wise also, and not just behind the stands. Great to see!

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We start, as ever, at La Maison & Velier, a joint venture between Velier and LMDW [further reading].

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Beenleigh 2015/2021 5yo Ob. 59%

From Australia’s oldest rum distillery. The angel’s share as stated on the bottle was >23%. Struth!

  • N: 59% abv, woohoo! What a way to begin. Profile-wise, I noted the nose being malty Euro-whisky-esque with a Highland-like fruitiness – wfh?
  • T,F: At best, I find this more a rum/whisky hybrid which tells me the cask is firmly in the driver’s seat,… but where’s the sugar cane? Concluding with coffee liqueur, there it is at the tail.
  • C: A curious number. “One to watch”, says Dawn. ‘Why distill in a single column before redistilling in a pot?’, I meant to ask. Next time.

[Scores 82[+],.. perhaps?]

Beenleigh 2006/2021 15yo Ob. 59%

Priced at €90 and with an angel share of > 43%.

  • N: In comparison to the younger Beenleigh, this is rum ‘proper’, one with a pleasing/desirable fruity estery funk. Great stuff.
  • T&F: Though the cane base is true throughout, there’s plenty of [cask] bourbonisation in equal measure. Sings mostly on a single note as a result, but it’s a good note at that.
  • C: All in all, it’s a thumbs up.

Scores 86 points

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Papalin 8yo [2021] Velier Blended Jamaican Rum 47%

A blend of Hampden Park and Worthy Park.

  • N: With a squidgy biscuit/cake mix softness, this comes across more like 41% than 47% abv, in a very positive way. Also, we have just come down from 59%.
  • T: Savoury-sour on the palate.
  • F: A touch of raisiny vanilla, bone-drying.
  • C: One I’d like to revisit another time.

[Provisionally scores 84+ points]

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Have we hit upon agricole already? Yes, we are in Martinique. WF says: ‘To cut a long story short, it’s rhum that’s distilled from cane juice rather than molasses’.

Saint James 15yo Ob. Magnum Series #1 Elliott Erwitt Edition [600 bts] 45%

I met Elliott Erwitt once, at an exhibition & book signing of his. He was a fascinating man if somewhat intimidating. He has insightful stories of a pre-digital industry long gone and, of course, outstanding photography.

  • N: Phenolic, treacle-sweet, woody-bitter,…..
  • T: Muddy marmite alongside more [phenolic] cedarwood/eucalyptus, balsa wood,…. ,… putty,..
  • F: Muddy > creasote,…. cachaca/Brazilian woods. Though not ‘woody’ [from the perspective of a Whisky Loving Pianist], it’s the wood that defines this one’s character.
  • C: An oddball that surely invites keen debate/interest. Does Mr Erwitt like rum, I wonder? It’s not his first association with rum [further reading].

Scores 87 points

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Talking of agricole – and the general absence of it at this year’s festival as a whole – perhaps it’s clairin that personifies agricole as a style/approach/philosophy in its own unique way.

Clairin Sonson 2018 Ob./Velier 53.2%

From the Sonson Pierre Gilles Cabaret distillery, the distiller credited is Stephen Kalil Saoud.

  • N: Coppery, spud guns,… Mhoba vibes [where are they?,,,, sadly missed]. I love the nose the most.
  • T&F: I’m not as moved by this as other clairin I’ve tried, but essence of cane it surely is.
  • C: If not necessarily the future of rum, clairin is the great reset.

[Not scored]

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Clairin Vieux Sajous Sherry Un-Ob. 56.7%

One that isn’t ready to go just yet, this is Haitian ‘rum’ with, I believe, an oloroso finish,..?

  • N: Most prominent to me: sour cream & chive Pringles.
  • T: Tastes as it smells.
  • F: The spirit is matched by the oloroso, the cane base reappearing at the finishing line.
  • C: I like it. I’ll buy a bottle too when it comes out.

Scores 87 points

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Yes, we are still with Velier. As I’ve commented before and for many years hence, the Velier stand a festival within a festival.

Mount Gay [2021] Un-Ob. 63%

The temporary label tells us this is from Mount Gay [and not from the Foursquare distillery].

  • N: Ooh,..
  • T: ,.. YES! That’s the ticket.
  • F: Industrial = artisan character, only somewhat wood-driven. Unbelievably, it’s perfectly drinkable neat at 63% abv.
  • C: Despite everything, this feels safe/secure,… familiar, comforting. [Not scored].

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And that’s Velier done for another year. We inevitably move on to Foursquare.

[Luca & Richard at Rumfest in 2018]

Foursquare Indelible 11yo [2021] Ob. Exceptional Cask Selection Mark XVIII 48%

A pot and column blend, as is typical for Foursquare.

  • C: Sour-soft and savoury,… though not basic, it’s perhaps nothing to get carried away by [though I’m sure the secondary market disagrees]. Easy simple drinking rum made right. [Whoops, I forgot to score it].

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Foursquare Shibboleth 16yo [2021] Ob. Exceptional Cask Selection Mark XVI 56% [750ml] tFRP5/5 ‘It’s as good as rum gets – that’s all you need to know.’

  • N: Fresh fruity > yeasty, bourbon-y,.. clean wood. Spirit and oak are formidable equals throughout.
  • T&F: Short if decent finish after a commendable palate.
  • C: Quality is high, but I kid you not, this realises £300 at auction.

Scores 86 points

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Foursquare 2009/2021 12yo Exceptional Cask Selection Mark XVII 60%

  • N: From two ex-bourbon casks, this is a savoury-sour > sweet number, similar to the 2015 Beenleigh [above].
  • T: W-I-N-E! The previous cask contents – which I wasn’t aware of – is firmly in play.
  • F: Tannic/cask-forward, in a good way.
  • C: Another one I forgot to score,… too busy chatting. Great to meet you, Christoph. Good luck to you with your new adventures with Mossburn Distillers and Torabhaig.

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There’s just enough time for one more before this evening’s masterclass.

Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve [2021] Ob. Limited Edition 54.5% [WF]87

The back label reads like a who’s who of ‘artisan/craft’ rum. Wonderful to see such transparency. A review of this rum by Alexandru Sandu [tRB90] may well be the most in-depth analysis you’d ever wish for. For my scant overview, read on.

  • C: You’d never guess this was 54.5%, though we have been drinking high-octane stuff all day. Rum really lends itself to high abvs, does it not? Attempting a 3-word summary, I coined this one ‘A Jenga rum’, which meant everything to me at the time. A blenders masterclass in a glass, the individual distilleries and their particular characteristics take off then give way to reveal the next. Bravo.

Scores 87 points

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Up next, Ian Burrell’s hotly-anticipated £1500 rum masterclass.

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END

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