Last weekend we got to check out the Cologne Spirits, the most recent addition to the increasingly popular Rum fairs. Located in Germany’s most beautiful city, the general framework for a meeting with my rum buddies from all over the country was set. Or so we thought. Out of about 15 people, three have been struck by illness (the flu is a real thing this year) and one by a sudden desire to work on the weekend. The rest had a bunch of different excuses such as a lack of approval from the government (aka Püppie) or having too deep of a look into his vase (if you don’t get it forget it about). Finally, one of us was already at the station platform when he twisted his ankle. Optimistically, he still boarded the train, only to take the train back a few stations later. Whoop whoop. With that premise, things only could go well during the fair.
Thursday (before the fair)
Flo from Barrel Aged Thoughts already arrived on Thursday and we’ve had a very extensive Caroni session. Besides a small “Light Style” cross-tasting which you should be able to find more or less soonish on our blogs, we also tasted a whole lot of the real “heavyweights” and came to a few interesting conclusions: a) not many Caronis can beat the 1996 vintage, b) the December ’98 batch is fantastic, the January ’98 one not such much and c) the Velier Caroni 12YO is nowhere near as good as I have it in mind. Especially the last one is interesting since I always admired it for it’s very dirty and distillery characteristic profile. Thanks to Tannon we got ourselves a sample of the new Velier Caroni 2000 17YO for the US and were a bit disappointed. It needed the comparison to the 12YO and a single cask bottling from that vintage to realize that the US exclusive is actually not too bad. However, as we were about to see on the next day, 2000 can be a lot better! I am not going to tell you what our favorites were on that day but don’t worry, eventually you will find all of them on the blog ;). Needless to say, we stayed up for way too long. To get back to “things only could go well” statement, Flo miraculously managed to get a parking ticket over night – but yeah, the fair hasn’t started yet.
Friday started with the rest of the bunch arriving in Cologne and an exchange of parcels which contained some lovely bottles of rum. I didn’t participate in this but seeing what exactly was in there made me jealous. Oh well, at least I know that the stuff will be opened… We then joined Eric and Thomas from Rumboom for lunch and were at the fair shortly after the doors opened. After a quick tour around the fair, it was immediately clear which booths we will be focusing on: The most interesting ones for us were the S.B.S/ Worthy Park booth by 1423 World Class Spirits, Kirsch Whisky with the Velier and Transcontinental Rum Line ranges, Cadenhead’s and last but not least, Rene van Hoven’s rarity booth. Ekte was there as well but they didn’t want to offer their single casks/ single distillery bottlings, an absolute no-go if you ask me. A similar argument applies to Bonpland. I don’t know what they were thinking but in my book they did everything they could to not gain any popularity points.
Let’s start with Kirsch. Basically I was only interested in the Rhum Rhum 2007 and the new Velier Caroni 2000 17YO. Fun fact: they thought they were pouring the US version when in fact they accidentally took the wrong bottle to the fair (i.e. the EU version). That turned out to be a good move since I think that the EU version is a lot better than the US one. I’d say it is closer to your typical Caroni and didn’t need as much time in the glass to fully open up, which is an important feature for rums on a fair. It will be interesting to compare the two calmly at home but I don’t think that the US can seriously challenge the EU version. Funnily, I was way more curious about the Rhum Rhum 2007, probably because I’ve heard so many good things about it and because it is almost impossible to get otherwise. To keep it
short: It’s a magnificent rhum and I am sure that I will do a more elaborate review in the future. If you get the chance, seize the opportunity and get a dram of this! On the second day I also have been handed a glass containing the new Foursquare Destino, which turned out to be a very dull product and was way too similar to the two most recent releases by Foursquare, the Triptych and the Criterion, if you ask me. Of course they had more expressions but these weren’t really new to us. Before I forget it, the guys from Kirsch are cool dudes that are very passionate about rum as well!
Another booth where I’ve spent some time featured the Plantation range, plenty of Cléments and St. Lucians and even Tasmanian Whiskies. After the (very friendly) guy on
the other side of the booth failed to convince us of the benefits of adding small amounts of “dosage” I tried a few expressions but couldn’t get excited about any of them. I was mainly interested in the Forgotten Cask series by Chairman’s Reserve but it was closer to flavoured water than to anything else. Quite disappointing. With the Plantations it was the same old story: Some decent, some bad, and some that could have been very good without the dosage. But their formula seems to work so who am I to judge.
Cadenhead’s had a mixed selection of bottlings, with a Don Papa among them. I have no clue what went wrong there. We tried a bunch of different ones such as a 16 year old Demerara (Port Mourant) and an 11 year old Barbados (Foursquare) from the Green Label series but neither really left a lasting impression. I guess we already knew their highlights such as the Cadenhead’s Enmore Distillery “MEV” 1990 26YO so that there weren’t many more ‘new’ rums to discover. Unfortunately, they never really looked like they were very happy about being at a rum fair, which is also reflected by a newsletter that they send before the fair in which they almost apologized for not bringing any Whiskies. What is more, they really urged everyone who got a sample from the Dated Distillery series to add water to the rums and were quite persistent with it if you didn’t. I guess they should really have a different attitude towards rum. But that’s what you get when you offer both, 26 year old Demeraras and Don Papa.
Next up was Rene van Hoven with a very nice selection of old rums. He had a few closed bottlings and didn’t know the prices of all of them so he told us that if he won’t be able to find the price for a dram of a certain bottling within three hours it will be for free. I think we had a deal there. We’ve tried a 1986 Long Pond from Berry’s, a Light Style 1991 Caroni from Cadenhead’s and a couple of Murray McDavid Demeraras. Besides the Rhum Rhum 2007, the highlight of that day must have been a twelve year old Wray & Nephew from the +-1960s though, a very nice old school Jamaican of which I have got another sample for a proper review. I am already looking forward to trying that one again. I probably forgot one or two rums we’ve had at Rene’s booth on that day but of course we returned to him on Saturday to taste even better selections.
At the end of the day we attended a master class on Rum Classification by Nikos Arvantis, who guided us through the Gargano/Seale classification scheme, of course with the help of a couple of samples. He’s an awesome presenter, even though his talk didn’t add much if you are already familiar with the scheme. Nevertheless, it was very cool to meet him and you could listen to him talking about rum for hours. He also confirmed my suspicion that it won’t be possible to resurrect the old pot stills lying around the West Indies Rum Refinery on Barbados. After that, it was already quite late and of course we forgot to check back with Rene whether he has found the prices. Our bad. Instead we’ve had a quick talk with Marcus, the organizer, and then left to Rumboom’s hotel to collect a few samples.
The evening ended with a private tasting session at my place. Actually Sascha from Cocktails Old Fashioned wanted to hold a tasting for us on that day but he was among those who couldn’t make it on short notice. Given that everyone was bringing more rum than we could drink anyways, Sascha’s company aside, his absence was not a huge problem. I’d say we’ve had more rum than we should on that evening and after a while our taste buds were completely ruined so that it doesn’t make much sense to go more into detail on any particular rums at this point. However, the night ended with some amazing higher than high ester rum which you should be able to buy very soon ;).
Next time we continue with the second day of the Cologne Spirits, my general impressions and verdict.
For Part II, click here.