A lot of people know Trinidad rum through Angostura, which makes sense as it’s the only rum distillery in the country. It’s been like that since 2002, when Caroni closed. The Trinidad government had sold a 49% stake in Caroni to Angostura in 2001. A year later, the distillery that was founded in 1923 closed.
When Caroni closed they had an incredibly large inventory in their warehouses. This was bought up by several parties. Large part of it by Luca Gargano of Velier. E&A Scheer bought a substantial amount and is supplying this to many of the independent bottlers. I’m assuming Angostura has some (for blending) and there are quite a lot of Bristol Spirits bottlings of Caroni. They all bought this stock because they saw the potential to make money. I’m glad they did, as further ageing under the guidance of these professionals has turned some of these rums into incredible expressions.
Luca Gargano of Velier has arguably done the most to make the Caroni star rise. His added value proposition is that his Caronis are tropically aged, while most others have only spent time resting in Europe. Ageing in the tropics is more expensive because of the higher evaporation. It’s not necessarily a guarantee for a better tasting product, as that totally depends on someone’s palate and preference. Luca’s nose for smelling opportunity and good rum is something we should all be happy about.
Caroni rum has become rather mythical and expensive. I can’t really call it rare yet as they are still popping up on a regular basis through different bottlers. Despite this availability, prices have doubled, tripled, quadrupled over the past few years. That’s simply down to clever marketing and the ‘fear of missing out’ that’s been created. Just the line “from a closed distillery” makes most people sweaty and have goose bumps all over. “What if I’ll never be able to buy another????? Got to get it right now!” Then there are the people who want to have the whole series as a collection or who’ll buy multiples of everything to sell it later for much more money. It all adds to Caroni stress and increasing prices.
How about the rum though? Let’s forget about the closed distillery fact for a second and focus on the rum. It’s column distilled molasses based rum. When people describe Caroni, they typically come up with flavours like “diesel”, “motor oil” or “rubber”. Would that sound like good and expensive rum to someone who’s not in the know? Probably not. Interesting surely, but good? I’ve heard “experts” say that these are non desirable flavours which hint at distillation flaws. What? And this is expensive rum? Perhaps add some sugar to hide these imperfections, put it in a fancy bottle and call it premium?! :) Not uncommon in the rum world.
When I first tasted Caroni (many years ago) it reminded me of peated Scotch. I like peated Scotch, so immediately took a liking to Caroni as well. I have a different opinion of it now, but I do understand why I made that comparison then. The three subject bottles were bought when prices were just below a hundred euros. That was good value for money. I struggle with the current prices, as I feel there are way too many excellent rums at lower prices on the market. When my current supply runs out, I’ll likely never have Caroni in my life again…..and that’s ok. I’ve enjoyed the journey.
To have no prejudice (because I do when I look at the bottles), this is a blind tasting.
· Blackadder Raw Cask, 18 Years, 63,1%, Distilled June 1997, 238 Bottles
· Duncan Taylor, 16 Years, 55,4%, Distilled December 1997, 259 Bottles
· Velier, 15 Years, 52%, Distilled 1998
Starts off with some sweetness, chocolate, spices, nuts, wood, molasses, toffee, burnt wood, tar and rubber. The rubber isn’t super strong. It’s a very nice nose.
It’s more subtle than #1 at first. I get white pepper, wood and paint. After a while it opened up more and revealed a certain meatiness. Then raisins, caramel, and of course burnt rubber.
It’s more similar to #2 than to #1. There is caramel, vanilla, wood, light plastic and rubber, mint, raisins and light tobacco. This is the lightest and most subtle nose of the 3.
#1 wins the nosing round quite easily. #2 is in second place.
It’s mouth coating, which I always like. Burnt wood and rubber are very dominant. Dark chocolate and mint are in the background. The rubber comes back on the finish as well, which is on the short side. It’s tasty but not as complex as I was hoping for after that great nose.
I’m hit in the face, or in the tongue, by rubber, paint and petrol like flavours. There’s wood, pepper and mint. It’s kind of meaty like some Clairins. It’s quite intense and has a long finish. What a great rum. Much better than #1.
There is a spicy sweetness coating the inevitable rubber and tar. My entire mouth is covered in intensity. I’m wondering if this is the highest abv. After all this I’m finding wood, molasses, mint, toffee and tobacco. The finish is giant and on the sweet side. I love this.
Caroni #1: Velier 15
Caroni #2: Duncan Taylor 16
Caroni #3: Blackadder Raw Cask 18
After tasting these three intense rums I’m left with a breath full of death and decay. No kisses for me tonight! It’s worth it though. These are rums that likely won’t appeal to the beginning rum drinker, unless they’ve already experienced higher proof spirits like Scotch. Once you get into them it’s a great journey, albeit an expensive one.
The power of blind tasting was proven again. Beforehand I thought the Velier would win it, because it’s Velier, because of tropical ageing. Surprisingly, it finished last in this comparison. I enjoyed it, especially the nose, but thought the other two were more powerful, complex and pleasant overall.
I’ll never be able to do this comparison, as I’m unwilling to fork out the money for a bottle, but arguably the best Caronis I’ve ever tasted (I haven't tried many) were Velier’s 1996 John 'D' Eversley and Bristol's 1974. It would be interesting to find out how they would do against this Blackadder in a blind tasting. I should start working harder…..or win the lottery.
Blackadder Raw Cask 18 – 91
Duncan Taylor 16 – 86
Velier 15 - 78
Click here for info on the scoring method.
Click here for the complete list of reviews.