1997 was the year of non-Velier Caronis with a lot of magnificent rums such as the A.D. Rattray Caroni 1997 17YO, the Duncan Taylor 1997 16YO or the The Rum Cask 1997 18YO, to name just a few. Similarly, it shouldn’t be very surprising that there were also a few black sheep among them. The Vallinch & Mallet 1997 19YO comes into mind for instance. Today we compare a few of the Caronis from 1997 that I could still find in my sample box. Unfortunately I have finished many of my samples before I came up with the idea of starting this blog so we have to work with the remains. Let’s see what we’ve got.
Silver Seal Caroni 1997 16YO (46%): Let’s start with a few low abv Caronis to warm up. Somewhat to my surprise, there are quite a few. 46% is quite low, even for Silver Seal who typical bottle around 50%. I hope they had good reasons for the extra dilution. The nose is quite earthy with stale petrol and freshly dug over soil with roots and weed. After a lot of time in the glass it starts to develop additional, slightly sweet aromas akin to marzipan. Interestingly, this is also the first impression I get following a small sip. The taste is considerably less sweet and turns more and more herbal over time. Roots and weed are still present, especially throughout the finish. An uncommon yet nice one to start with. Overall it’s a good rum but Caroni really only starts kicking ass from 50% onwards. This should definitely be one of the better <50% Caronis though. Which again makes me wonder how much better it could have been. (83/100)
Arturo Makasare Caroni 1997 19YO (52,2%): Arturo Makasare is the line of Corman Collins, a Belgian liquor shop. Until this most (or all!?) other Makasares were from the Dominican Republic. It has been highly anticipated after Benoît Bail of La Confrérie Du Rhum posted a picture of it as it took quite a while until it became available. Unfortunately it does not quite meet the hype. The nose doesn’t want to reveal too much. Caramel, tar and burnt sugar is what I am picking up. Perhaps also apples and a bouquet of flowers from the gas station. At the palate we encounter a relatively dry and bitter Caroni. Leather, tar and wood are my first associations. It’s very compact and straightforward if you know what I mean. After a while I can also detect a mix of harsh herbs. The finish is still dry, slightly bitter but also comes with notes of burnt sugar/ caramel. It’s like it is missing an important element which would round this rum off and make it complete. It’s a decent rum but other Caronis just make it obsolete in my opinion. (82/100)
Pellegrini Barangài 1997 16YO (52%): I have no idea what Barangài is supposed to mean but this one has seen the inside of a sherry cask for some time. At 52% it is still below the ideal strength for a Caroni but I am curious. Make sure to let the rum breath for a bit, I think it really needs it. What we get are lovely Caroni scents such as tyres or inner tube but also floral notes and dark berries. I can also detect leather and caramel in the background. At the palate we get a better idea of the sherry finish but it is mainly shaped by notes of burnt sugar. After that a mix of dried berries, gasoline and olive oil. The more I sip the dirtier this Caroni becomes, which is a good thing. However, this comes at the cost of pushing the sherry notes further and further into the background. The finish is quite long. Starting out rather sweet, it dries out eventually. Overall it is not too bad but I do not understand why Pellegrini did not leave this in the Sherry cask for some more time. I think the combination of Caroni and a sherry finish can work quite well but somehow I get the impression that it has not been thought out completely here. A nice rum nevertheless. (83/100)
Blackadder Caroni 1997 18YO (63,1%): The nose is quintessential Caroni, namely inner tube, tar and fuel. Quite dry and woody, this was a very active cask. At the same time, this is quite the monster compared to the previous candidates. These are Caroni-roadworks at its best paired with notes of vanilla, nougat and milk chocolate. The first sip gently numbs the tongue, revealing notes of tar, nougat and burned sugar as it recovers. But there is more. Again, milk chocolate, raw cocoa and just a hint of fennel. There’s a lot to discover here even though it is very strong on the chocolate side. The finish is long, dry and very chocolaty, what a surprise. Usually I do not celebrate rums with a pronounced chocolate touch but I cannot deny that this is a very good rum. Give me more! (89/100)
Bristol Caroni 1997 18YO (61,5%): At 61,5%, this Heavy Type/ Trinidad Rum should be cask strength. Wes seems to believe that it’s not but then the dilution must have been very small. If this is the case, why do it at all!? Anyway, the note is typical Caroni but the alcohol feels a bit harsh. There is plenty of caramel and burnt sugar, paired with roadworks and bitumen. Further away from the glass also more herbal scents and perhaps even bananas. The palate offers notes that are reminiscent of dry red wines. Dark stone fruits, raisins, some tannin and a very grape like texture. In this sense it reminds me a bit of the Velier Caroni “Guyana Stock” 1994 23YO without reaching its intensity and maturity however. It’s a bit different though and much more dominated by the fruits, most prominently the grapes. The finish is quite short and unspectacular, again dominated by wine-like notes. It’s a decent rum but quite a bit away from a high-end Caroni. At its asking price we have got better juice at that time. These days it’s different of course. I still kinda like it though. (85/100)
Berry Bros. & Rudd 1997 17YO (57%): Rums at or close to cask strength from Berry’s are few and far between so this might be something special but let’s see. The nose is almost too pleasant for a Caroni but I like what I smell. Unleaded fuel, burnt sugar, olive oil and walnuts. Then freshly plucked flowers and more olives. This should be good. At 57%, this is quite smooth thanks to its very oily structure. The first sip pleasantly heats the inside of my mouth and I get the feeling that it has never felt different. I taste olives and engine oil as well as crispy bread. Then walnuts and salami perhaps. It’s a bit like these snack platters that tend to be served alongside wine and spirit tastings. I like it quite a bit as it is a more than welcome addition to the standard Caroni profiles. The finish is slightly bitter and not very spectacular. Walnuts and olives as well as cloves and muscat are what I am picking up. A huge upgrade from their “Carribean XO”. (86/100)
So we’ve just had six more Caronis, what do we make out of it? I must say that the differences, both quality and profile-wise, were relatively large, way bigger than I expected. None of these rums quite reached the level of the three bombs mentioned in the introduction, yet the Blackadder came damn close. The Silver Seal and Arturo Makasare were too thin and should have been bottled at a higher abv, even though I am not sure how much it would have helped the latter. The Barangài and Bristol were certainly interesting but also had their flaws. Finally, the Berry’s would be a very solid choice imo.