When writing about Caroni rum, I wonder what’s left to say? It’s been an interesting story to follow. Trinidad’s Caroni wasn’t a household name in most of the rum enthusiast scene. That all changed when the distillery closed and the remaining stock was sold off. One of the major buyers was Velier’s Luca Gargano. He’s largely responsible for making a product that’s often described as motor oil, tar and diesel, into something highly desirable and premium. Quite the miracle. How did he do that? First, tropical ageing. He’s left the rum in Trinidad and Guyana to mature and develop. That’s done wonders for the taste profile. Second, clever marketing. Because this is a closed distillery, it makes total sense to play on people’s fear of missing out. “This might be the last bottling EVER!”. The feeling of having a piece of history in your collection is pretty special. This really caught on at some point, somewhat simultaneously with the entire rum scene taking off.
When I got into Caroni, you could buy a bottle of Velier 15 year Caroni for 80 euro. I bought them because I thought the flavour profile was interesting, not because the distillery had closed. I opened each bottle and enjoyed the educational journey. Looking at the current market, it is a different story all together. Any Caroni release, by whichever bottler, will cost you 300-500 euro minimum. On top of that, they sell out quickly, especially the Velier releases. This is partly down to the fact that the entire rum enthusiast group has grown by a lot. Next to that, a ton of investors have entered the rum world unfortunately. People who will buy bottles and keep them for years to sell at a profit somewhere down the line. Or worse, the unscrupulous bottle flippers, who regularly manage to grab highly desirable bottles at retail and then turn around and sell it for double or triple the price. It has made many enthusiasts give up on Caroni all together.
This seems to have motivated Luca Gargano to start selling some Velier releases in 10cl bottles. They are only sold to people who are on a special list and the bottles are numbered to try and prevent bottle flipping. It’s a great initiative to get these special releases in the hands of some enthusiasts, people who have passion for the spirit, who love rum, not money. Of course it has the added advantage that the enthusiasts tend to be the ones making noise about rum, while the investors don’t. Free marketing, as Luca would say. This is how I got my hands on the three Velier Caroni expressions for this article.
I usually taste rums in two or three sessions, but this time it took me a few extra sessions, as they are so intense. They are high abv and very old. Palate is dying fast after tasting the 2nd rum in a lineup of three. I did not taste them blind for a change, as I had no idea what to expect from each one, so I figured it wouldn't make any difference.
For comparison I also added an 18 year Blackadder Caroni that I reviewed here. It’s one I’ve enjoyed very much. It doesn’t have the tropical ageing of the Veliers, but that’s not always decisive in how much you'll enjoy it. That review also contains more information about some of the history of Caroni
- Velier Caroni Special Edition 5th release – Roopnarine “Roop” Toolsie. Distilled 1996, bottled 2021. 66.1%. Roopnarine worked at the Caroni distillery for 6 years.
- Velier Caroni Special Edition 6th release – Ricky “Dirty Harry” Seeharack. Distilled 1996, bottled 2021. 66.2%. Ricky worked at the distillery for 20 years.
- Velier Caroni Special Edition 6th release – Mamesh “Sonny Black” Bridgelal. Distilled 1996, bottled 2021. 64.6%. Mamesh worked at the distillery for 12 years.
On the back label of each bottle it states that these rums were selected by Luca Gargano and 26 “Caroni lovers”, who were divided into 8 groups (“tasting gangs”) and spent a day picking the blends to be bottled.
Boozy, light diesel, tar, paint, brand new glossy magazine, oak, licorice, raisins, molasses, glue, crayon and vanilla. Quite nice.
Lighter than 1. Oak, glossy magazine, cigar box, menthol, molasses, light paint. Not much to it.
Sweeter nose than the others. Molasses, oak, light paint, mint, caramel, raisins. The oak is sweet and wonderful. Milder than 1 and 2.
Rum 3 wins this round with 1 being very close. Rum 2 is a lot of nothing.
It’s a vanilla dessert. Caramel, very oaky, burnt molasses, light on tar, mint, light varnish. Vanilla, oak and caramel are the most obvious on the medium finish. Too much oak for me.
Very oaky at first with wood spice in total domination. Some vanilla and paint hiding behind the wood. I find myself reaching for things. It’s mainly oak on the slightly bitter finish. I felt that I needed to add some water to see if it would improve. It became sweeter with vanilla, raisins and mint. Big improvement but still not very complex and too oaky. With even more water it becomes easier to drink but all flavours are fading.
Oaky but perhaps not as much as the other two. Raisins, raspberry, paint thinner, licorice and menthol. It has a long spicy finish with quite a bit of oak, oil and some bitterness.
Rum 1: Velier Caroni Special Edition 6th release – Ricky “Dirty Harry” Seeharack
Rum 2: Velier Caroni Special Edition 6th release – Mamesh “Sonny Black” Bridgelal
Rum 3: Velier Caroni Special Edition 5th release – Roopnarine “Roop” Toolsie
I’m starting to feel like a broken record somewhat for saying “age is just a number”. It’s like that with humans and also with rum. There are so many factors that come in to play when ageing rum. Where was it done? How’s the climate there? Which cask? What’s the age of the cask? If this is a cask that was previously used, what was in it? At what abv did the rum go in the cask? Etc. Which means that saying you prefer 12 year old rum is a bit of a slippery slope for example. 12 years in Barbados is different from 12 years in Canada. Same cask, same rum, totally different result. Age is just a number.
Older rums are more expensive. This makes sense, as ageing is expensive. You need lots of storage space for barrels firstly. Also, ageing in Trinidad should be more expensive than in Canada, because the evaporation losses are higher. So when it comes to cost you can’t really say that age is just a number. Although there are major differences in regards to where and how it’s done, it’s still based in fact. Everything else is subjective and based on your palate. I’m not easily dazzled by big numbers on labels. I’ve had enough very old rums that were fascinating but not very good. It’s hard to not want to like them, as 25 or 30 years in a cask is an incredibly long and impressive time. It’s an achievement that you want to celebrate by saying “I absolutely love this! The older the better!”.
I feel there is a point of no return when it comes to ageing. When the number becomes impressive in thought but not on the palate. Where flavours are drowned in oak. The only reason why you like it is because you are thinking about the $1000 you just spent on that bottle. At that point, all those bottles should be bought by investors. Enthusiasts who open every bottle, because they have a high level of rum curiosity, should leave them alone and buy something else. The value is no longer in the flavour of the liquid, it’s purely in the number on the label. From then on, the continuation of the ageing is done for investors or people who want to show the world they can afford such a bottle of rum. It’s old, rare and from a closed distillery = $$$$. Perfect and understandable scenario for investors to jump on, let them have it.
That’s how I feel about these three Velier Caroni releases. Way too much oak for my palate. I keep searching for flavours and finding oak around every corner. I’m glad I was able to buy these small bottles, as it didn’t cost me a lot of money and they provided me with more rum education. Would I buy a regular size bottle? No. If it had to be Caroni, I’d look for something younger or perhaps with a large component of non tropical ageing, where hopefully the oak is less dominating (although this is not guaranteed of course, since a very active cask in Europe can still create an over oaked young rum).
When comparing these three to the Blackadder Caroni 18, it really kicked their butts. It is a meaty, somewhat sweet and briney rum with light tar that isn’t over oaked. At 63.1%, it didn’t need any water for me to enjoy this complex Caroni.
I find the Caroni story fascinating. The marketing effort also has been top class to bring the product to the price level where it is now. But, it isn’t for me anymore. It’s investor rum.
Velier Caroni 1996 Dirty Harry – 73
Velier Caroni 1996 Sonny Black – 57
Velier Caroni 1996 Roop – 66
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