1999 is another Caroni vintage which we didn’t get from either Bristol or Velier, who acquired the largest stocks of Caroni barrels at the auctions in 2008. What does that mean? Chances are high that these rums have been sold as bulk back then and should thus be continental aged.
Since no artificial colouring has been added here, I think it is legitimate to reflect on the differences in colour a bit. We shouldn’t put too much thought into this but it is and indicator and heck, why shouldn’t we!? At least with Caroni, there seems to be some sort of relationship between colour and quality. Basically all of the amazing Caronis I know are rather dark, something that is probably the result of charred barrels and tropical ageing. Now we can also have heavily charred barrels in Europe (of course) but with the independent bottlings these seem to be relatively rare exceptions rather than the norm. On the other hand, I have usually been underwhelmed by most of the pale Caronis I’ve had. Let’s see whether this rough rule of thumb holds here as well. Another interesting question is which of two somewhat unlikely cases we face: Are all bottlings continental aged but one just comes from a heavily charred barrel or do we have a mix of continentally and (partially) tropically aged rums from the same vintage? We should be able to tell from a tasting.
Alambic Classique Caroni 1999 16YO (45%): Let’s start with the lowest abv. This one is way darker than the other two. The nose is quite heavy and intense, despite the dilution and I am happy to tell you that it’s a typical Caroni. Oily notes of engine oil, fresh asphalt and olives promise quite a treat, with sweeter, more subtle notes of burnt sugar and overripe figs to follow. Deeper in the glass we find more accommodating notes of caramel, toffee and a decent amount of wood. My guess is that it has a perfect maturity but let’s take a sip first. At the palate you notice that it has been diluted quite a bit but the rum is still very flavourful. I don’t mind the low abv too much. However, the first thing I notice is the rum’s bitterness. It is full of wood and tannins, a bit in the tradition of the ’94 vintage or some old Armagnacs (the parallels are huge, really) even. While I was able to detect forest fruits in the background at first, I mostly get wood with the second and third sip. Then red grapes, pepper and lots of spices coming from the cask. Not the perfect maturity after all… in fact this should have been bottled a long time ago, strengthening my belief that this has been aged in the tropics. The finish is loooong and bitter with wood and spices. The nose was almost perfect but the wood has completely taken over the distillate. What a pity. (80/100)
WeiRon Caroni 1999 17YO (55,3%): WeiRon is the label of Svenska Eldvatten, who also bottle (bottled?) under the name Rum Swedes. The outturn of this cask was a mere 150 bottles, by the way… The nose is already quite different from the Alambic Classique. It’s way fuller, fruitier, slightly sweeter and crucially, way less dirty. It’s a Caroni, there’s no question but I can also find some rather odd notes such as quince or unripe apples. Somehow it just doesn’t smell right. I hope the palate is better than this but I really have my doubts… The extra abv results in a creamier texture compared to the Alambic. My first impressions are pepper (plenty of it!), vanilla, nutmeg and a mix of other spices. I am not sure whether I would have been able to detect this as a Caroni based on its taste alone. It’s not really light style Caroni either due to the missing minerals and the relatively heavy body. I really don’t know what to make out of this but frankly, I don’t think it is any good. To complete my impressions of the palate: wood, apples, some more wood and pepper. Perhaps even some chillies here and there (light style Caroni after all!?). The finish is rather long and spicy with a lot of wood. A really boring, subpar Caroni. Next. (73/100)
Rum Swedes Caroni 1999 15YO (61%): We increase the abv and get a bit younger. The nose is very similar to that of the WeiRon and despite the way higher abv it’s once again not as aromatic as the Alambic Classique. Olives, brine and engine oil are paired with quince, gooseberries, green grapes and pears perhaps. It’s not really bad but it doesn’t exactly sweep me off my feet either. Palate: Again, quite similar to the WeiRon. Peppery vanilla pudding (who would ever do this, gosh), other spices such as cloves or nutmeg, cream, and, once more, plenty of wood. I am starting to guess that this might be part of the distillate’s character and knowing the ’94 vintage this definitely makes a lot of sense but here it’s different. The wood comes mostly from the cask (hence the dominance of the pepper and other spices) but the rum doesn’t seem to have tolerated it all that much. Before I forget, gooseberries and grapes can be found in this one as well, and eventually also some rubber/ tyres but that’s about it regarding the characteristic Caroni notes. The finish is quite long, woody and interestingly now way more Caroni. It’s way ahead of the WeiRon but nothing I would ever recommend. (77/100)
1999 is a weird Caroni vintage. If we are to compare it to other vintages, I’d say it comes closest to the January 1998 batch plus some more woody notes. However, we have two drastically different styles. One is Caroni as we know and love it (Alambic Classique), the other (WeiRon, Rum Swedes) is… well, not very good and rather forgettable. I am pretty sure that the Alambic Classique has been ageing at least partially in the tropics since we usually don’t get such woody, bitter and aromatic rums at such a young age and low abv. Alas, it was by far the best rum of the session and nosing it was a real experience but I wouldn’t buy it. You might, if you have a soft spot for extremely woody and bitter rums.