Today’s tasting features Caronis by five different bottlers and from five different vintages, with some modest uncertainty as you are about to see. In theory, they should span the years from 1994 to 1998. I’ll do my best to provide a comparison with other rums of the respective vintages as much as possible.
Origin R Caroni 1994-2015 (52%): This single cask Caroni resulted in 195 bottles. This fact, together with the pale colour, indicates that it is most likely continental aged. Now with Caroni we’re typically spoiled with tropical ageing so let’s see whether this one can keep up. Nose: Totally not what I expected. My only exposure to the 1994 Caronis have been the tropically aged Velier bottlings and these were all very intense, aromatic and tannic; and typical Caroni of course. The rum smells quite alcoholic and mineral without any of the typical Caroni notes. Add salt, old bread and soil perhaps. Very disappointing. Palate: It’s dirtier than the nose suggested, with liquorice and different roots, salty popcorn as well as engine oil being the most obvious impressions. Behind that a minimalistic touch of herbs and woody notes. The rum is quite creamy for 52% but also too alcoholic if you ask me. Vanilla and caramel (not from the distillate as with many other Caronis) from the cask round off a way below average Caroni. The finish is medium long with salt and mineral notes once again. I don’t really like this rum and chances are that I would have put this to TDL (Angostura) or light style Caroni in a blind tasting. (74/100)
Ancient Mariner Navy Rum (Caroni) 1995/6 16YO (54%): The Ancient Mariner Navy Rum is a Caroni that has been bottled by the Hebridean Liquor Company. My understanding is that this rum has been bottled to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee (50 years) of Queen Elizabeth in 2012 but what I’ve heard is that it has already been bottled in 2011. Doing the math, it hence must have been distilled between 1994 and 1996, the latter of which is only possible if it has actually been bottled in 2012, however. From 1995 I only know one Caroni bottled by Bristol which I didn’t recognise as a Caroni in a blind tasting. Let’s see what we can find out. Nose: Heavy style Caroni, there’s no doubt. It’s rather delicate and even a bit thin but the aromas of inner tube, roadworks and the gas station leave absolutely no doubt. It’s slightly alcoholic and not very fruity, with further notes of sweet caramel and perhaps foul papaya in the background. Palate: Burnt sugar and rubber, old tyres, overripe papaya, coffee (dark espresso roast), vanilla, cinnamon and rich cake. This is quintessential Caroni 1996 I’d say. Finish: Medium long with bitter notes of cocoa, gasoline and sweeter flavours akin to burnt sugar. Eventually also a very faint touch of menthol. It’s a very nice rum which is not quite on the same level as many other Caronis from 1996 but simply being part of this magnificent vintage should be a quality statement by itself. (85/100)
Bristol Caroni 1996 12YO (43%): So 1996 is one of my favorite Caroni vintages but 43% is basically always a bit too low for Caroni (or most rums in general) if you ask me. What is more, this darling is quite young but should be entirely tropically aged. Let’s see if that plus in intensity can make up for the low abv. The nose is not too intense and if I weren’t very familiar with the vintage it’d be more difficult to describe the aromas. I get tar, fuel and even a touch of glue. Then tyres, dead flowers and slightly foul mangos. The first sip feels a bit like drinking flavoured water but then notes of dark chocolate, coffee, roadworks and spicy pepper come through. Deeper in the background we can find a whiff of spices and wood but thanks to the excessive dilution a whole lot of the rum seems to have gotten lost. Finish: Short and forgettable. It might have been a good one but the dilution really destroyed it for me. (80/100)
Rasta Morris Caroni 1997 20YO (63,1%): Rasta Morris is the rum line of the Belgian Whisky bottler Asta Morris (the creativity, wow!). This should be one of their first rum releases, if not the first. The nose is a bit reserved at first. I guess it needs some more time to open up. Eventually I get a mix of dark caramel, gas station, freshly picked flowers, liquorice, rum raisins, old pineapple and a few more nuanced notes. It’s really good. The alcohol numbs my tongue for a second before the rum reveals its full potential. It’s a magnificent mix of sweet and dirty aromas as well as a few fruity notes and spices to round it off. Sugar and caramel lead the way with burnt rubber, lamp oil and gasoline being a close second. Somewhere in the background I can further find some of the typical additions from the cask such as cinnamon or vanilla as well as raspberries and pineapple on the fruity side. The finish is medium to long with woody notes and a mix of spices. Gasoline pops up here and there as well. It’s another step up from the Ancient Mariner I’d say. Quality-wise, it plays more or less in the same league as the Blackadder Caroni 1997 18YO or the The Rum Cask Caroni 1997 18YO if we stick to the vintage. (86/100)
and because we have some catching up to do…
Velier Caroni 1998 15YO (52%): The second release of the “standard range”, and the last one I have yet to review, never managed to beat the (back then dirt cheap) 12YO (vintage 2000) for me and when the great 17YO (also 1998 as this one) came out, this one became completely obsolete in my opinion. But first things first. Nose: Not quite as aromatic and intense as we are used to from most Velier Caronis. The typical sweet notes of burnt sugar, caramel and crème brûlée are the most obvious first impressions but then I also find notes of coconut, milk chocolate (Bounty, eh!?) and light coffee. Only then notes from the gas station and used tyres. Palate: The Bounty is still here, but fades away rather quickly to make room for cocoa, peanuts, dark sugar and eventually also lamp oil. I don’t know why but I am very pleasantly surprised. Now also fresh tar, pleasant woody notes and a slight adstringency. The finish is medium long and woody, with slightly bitter elements here and there. It’s nice but nothing amazing. All in all, the Velier Caroni 15YO is a good rum at a very well-chosen drinking strength (really, right now this feels perfect!) which is way more interesting than I can recall. Maybe this session’s rums weren’t the competition it needs but perhaps I have never really done the rum justice. Now I kinda regret not getting a bottle of it back then when it was still affordable (whom are we kidding, ‘cheap’ is the right word from today’s perspective…) (86/100)
It’s tough to call out a winner here since these Caronis are somewhat different and only to a certain extent comparable. So why not start at the bottom!? The Origin R is just not what I am looking for in a Caroni and, more crucially, just not a good rum. The Bristol on the other hand might have been, but the dilution really destroyed it for me. What a pity! Next up we have the Ancient Mariner, which is a nice rum with a few flaws to it. These only become apparent when you cross-taste it with some more similar Caronis though (I’ve done it but didn’t elaborate on it here). Taking for itself, it is more than just solid and was an excellent value for money rum when you still had the chance to get it. Concerning the last two candidates, the Rasta Morris and the Velier, I really cannot decide. Both are quite complex with different arguments speaking for each of them. If I am in the mood for a good, easy drinking Caroni, I’d take the Velier. If instead I’d be looking for something dirtier and more challenging, my choice might be the Rasta Morris. You cannot go wrong with either one of them but then again, you can only get them on secondary markets for prices which probably exceed their respective values…