It is time to introduce a very special Bajan rum style which we have got to know as Rockley or Blackrock. Its profile doesn’t really match that of any other rum and it is in fact a bit polarising. You either love it or hate it. I am probably one of the few people in the middle of the spectrum, leaning towards the former group though. No matter which group you belong to, this definitely is one of the rum styles every rum lover should have tried at least once. Today’s bottling is the Duncan Taylor W.I.R.D. 2000 15YO.
This particular bottling of the Duncan Taylor W.I.R.D. 2000 15YO comes from cask #16 and has been bottled at 52%. There has been another version with 54,6% from cask #13, which has been sold out very quickly. So why am I using the words Rockley and Blackrock when nothing like that is mentioned on the bottle? Fair question and the answer is a bit more involved. We know several Bajan rums from 1986 that have been sold under different names but which were unmistakably the product of the same batch. Their profiles were just too similar. Bristol, for example, called them Rockley while Cadenhead’s named them Blackrock. Over the years, we’ve got quite a few bottlings from the 2000 vintage which again featured this particular profile, this time with the name Blackrock or W.I.R.D. (West Indies Rum Distillery). As you can see, even the name of these rums is debatable.
What we know is that there existed a sugar estate with a rum distillery in the Christ Church Parish in the southwest of Barbados that has been called Rockley. It is also almost certain that the W.I.R.D. bought one (of several) pot stills from Rockley at some point between 1905 and 1920. Today, the still is rusting away unused on the distillery’s compound and employees claim that it has been like that for 50 or 60 years now. Hence, another pot-still has to be responsible for the rum’s profile and what we know as Rockley or Blackrock probably does not have anything to do with Rockley. In fact, W.I.R.D. operates at least two pot-stills sporadically which produce vastly different styles. While we do not know to which extent they are utilised, it is likely that the “other” is more sought after as its make is part of some of the Plantation Barbados blends. The couple of Rockleys that are picked up by the rum scene is just a tiny fraction of what Pierre Ferrand (Plantation) is selling and it should be clear what W.I.R.D. prioritises. Hence it did not come as a big surprise when W.I.R.D. has been bought up by Pierre Ferrand earlier this year. More on that next time!
To get back to the name, Blackrock is a village in the St. Michael Parish, which is not far away from where W.I.R.D. is located. This concretes the suspicion that Rockley and Blackrock are just words that have been slapped on the labels. It might have been marketing or simply misunderstandings. Either way, it created a myth and shaped how we approach these rums. For more on the myth click here.
Dégustation “Duncan Taylor W.I.R.D. 2000 15YO”
Key Facts: The rum has been distilled in a pot still at W.I.R.D. in June 2000 and bottled after 15 years of continental ageing in February 2016. It comes from cask number #16, which yielded 235 bottles after a dilution to 52%.
Colour and viscosity: Deep gold. Many pearls of different sizes form inside the glass. The rum warily makes its way down in many streaks. For 15 continental years, this indicates a solid maturity.
Nose: Carefully smelling around glass, I get honeycomb and beeswax. The nose is quite smoky for a rum. This smokiness should not be mistaken with that of a peated whisky, however. I get the association of a beekeeper subduing the bees in a hive with his smoker. The beehive is surrounded by a large amount of medical herbs. I recognise peppermint, chamomile and perhaps some sage. These aromas are quickly turning more medical and less herbal, a bit like phenolic plasters.
A bit deeper in the glass I am surprised by a tingling in my nostrils as you get it when you smell strong alcohol for the first time. Oak and vanilla enter the mix. The nose definitely whets my appetite.
Palate: Almost no sign of the alcohol. We pretty much get exactly the same flavours that we have been smelling before. The only addition seems to be a touch of soft fruits which give the rum a nice texture, almost like warm almond milk. I do not really dare to pick out any specific fruits though. The aforementioned honeycomb/ beeswax and medial notes clearly dominate the rum.
Then there is the flavour of freshly cut sugar cane. How did I miss this? Or is it just my imagination? It is definitely not part of the nose. It took me some time to find it but once I did, it seems so obvious that it has always been there the entire time.
Finish: Plenty of smoke, accompanied by the now familiar aromas of plasters, mint, and honey. It is relatively short.
The Duncan Taylor W.I.R.D. 2000 15YO is a good but not great rum. This might be your “every-day” Rockley, a rum that you like to go back to if you want an easy, yet distinct sipper. My major point of criticism is that the rum is more or less always the same, from nose to finish. Some variation would have been welcome. Also it doesn’t quite reach the quality of some other 2000 Rockleys such as the Cadenhead’s 2000 11YO (59,1%) or the Rumdealer’s Selection 2000 14YO with 56,8%. However, both rums have been sold out some time ago and my samples have long been depleted so that I cannot do another cross-tasting. In my memory, both were a bit better but it might also be that my taste and preferences have changed since then. I will introduce you to a few others in the weeks to come instead and we will see how they compare.
Comparison with the Duncan Taylor W.I.R.D. 2000 15YO (54,6%, cask #13)
I also had a sample of the Duncan Taylor W.I.R.D. 2000 15YO from cask #13 with 54,6%. Both are extremely similar and what economists would call perfect substitutes. The differences are way too small and in a blind-tasting I would probably have called them the same rum. When it really matters, I would describe the version reviewed here as a bit more medical whereas the honeycomb and beeswax notes come across a bit better in the 54,6% version of cask #13. Back then I was too slow to grab a bottle of it. The rum with 52% of cask #16 is still widely available, probably because most Rockley aficionados already got their hands on a bottle of cask #13 when it was released.