WIRD/ WIRR/ Rockley/ Blackrock 1986

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Nope, none of these historic stills produced these rums. Photo by Matt Pietrek.

This is the first of two large 1986 cross-tastings. Today we will have a look at the legendary Rockley 1986 batch, which has been distilled at the West Indies Rum Refiniery on Barbados. It’s the follow-up on the recent 2000 Rockley-style cross-tasting. For some more background information, let me refer you once again to Cedrik’s brilliant contribution on the Rockley myth. If you are familiar with the prominent rum batches, you might already have a good guess what we will be tasting next time ;).


As usual, we start with the drinking strengths.

rockch (2)Cadenhead’s Barbados (WIRD) 1986 18YO (46%): We got used to having higher and cask strength bottlings these days but most of these older rums were still bottled at drinking strengths around 46%. The nose starts with sweet, honey-like aromas but really needs some time to open up. Eventually we get some more herbal and mineral elements and slightly smoky notes. This is rather typical for these rums but the smoke is really different to that of a peated Whisky, say. There are barely any fruity aromas and the profile is mainly driven by the honey and herbs. The dilution can be noted right away and it must have pushed the herbal and medical notes. My sweeter impressions seem to be gone and we are left with pepper, wood and dry leather instead. The finish is medium long with oak and herbs but not too much more. It’s a very good rum overall but the bar has been set rather low in comparison. (86/100)

rocksama (2)Samaroli Barbados (WIRD) 1986 20YO (45%): Relative to the Cadehead’s we get lots and lots of vanilla here. Or is it just a different sort of honey? Then beeswax, rooibos, caramel and deeper in the glass also gauze bandage. It’s a bit creamier and intense than the Cadenhead’s I’d say. At the palate it is a very similar story. The rum is a lot sweeter with a stronger emphasis on the honey and beeswax notes. I also still get rooibos and medical herbs but these kick in as a second stage basically. The rum gets exceedingly dry towards the end of a sip and we get further nuances such as cloves and wood. The finish takes on here and continues with more spices (nutmeg, pepper) and vanilla infused rooibos tea. Even though it is quite a bit sweeter and thus less balanced than the Cadenhead’s, this rum works a lot better overall. The dilution is less noticeable, resulting in a creamier texture and more intense tasting experience. Nice! (88/100)

Then we also have a pair of Bristols who thought a finish should work here…

rockbmadeira (2)Bristol Rockley Still 1986 22YO “Madeira Finish” (46%): We start with the Madeira Finish, which is also a bit younger. Nose: The rum is a lot fruitier than the two previous, unfinished ones. It’s closer to red, mixed fruit jam (strawberry, raspberry, red currants) than to any individual associations though. The honey and beeswax notes are still quite pronounced and form a nice symbiosis with the red fruits. On a more subtle level we can also find spices (vanilla, pepper) and herbs as well as fresh wood. Palate: Quite a bit of the Finish but that was to be expected. It’s a bit sweeter than expected but we still get the famous honey/ herbs combination. I didn’t mention this so far but the smokiness is really tuned down with this one. The red berries fit in quite well here and with the second and third sip the spices, mostly pepper, really shine. The finish is dry, long and strong on pepper and wood. I think it is a very nice rum and I quite like the influence of the fortified wine. However, I also know quite a few connoisseurs who don’t really like this rum and I understand where they’re coming from but I just cannot agree with them. For me it’s a lot better than the Sherry Finish, which we’ll have next. (86/100)

rockbsherry (2)Bristol Rockley Still 1986 26YO “Sherry Finish” (46%): Naturally, the nose of the rum has a lot of similarities with the Madeira version but the most obvious addition here would be aromas of conifer and pine. It realy smells a bit like a freshly cut fir. Other aromas include, but are not limited to, wet leather, a mix of berries, thick grenadine-syrup (quite dominant actually!) and really, just Oloroso Sherry. While the Madeira enhanced the Rockley character with the 22YO, the Oloroso really took over here. How about the palate then? Still incredibly sweet and very typical for a (wet) ex-Sherry cask. The texture is a bit like a mix of milk and syrup with strong notes of grenadine and Then something akin to mushrooms but very little of the spices. Finish: Medium long and sweet with lots and lots of grenadine but also some conifer to balance it out. It’s another nice rum but here the finish is a bit too much for me. It adulterated the rum considerably and while I don’t mind these finishes per se, I still want to recognise the general character of the distillate behind this. Here, that’s not really the case. (82/100)

Okay, those were two nice experiments but let’s move on to the serious contenders.

rockdt (2)Duncan Taylor WIRD 1986 25YO (52,7%): For the first time in this session I feel like this is the full package. The nose is the perfect symbiosis between the familiar medical notes, wild herbs, forest honey, acacia honey and spices from the cask. Then nuanced smoky notes, hints of limestone, sweetened mint akin to Mojito and rather faintly also ripe, dark berries. Taking a sip, we find an extremly creamy, almost milk-like texture with plenty of honey, vanilla pudding, crème brûlée, wild herbs, some smoke and the typical cask aromas. The rum is incredibly complex but all further notes are just nuances more than anything else. Here and there I get slightly bitter notes, decent oak, medical associations (which support more than shape the profile), greek yoghurt, popcorn, salted caramel and even marginal maritime notes. It’s really rare to have complex, harmonious rums like this and I don’t even know where to start with the finish. It’s long, multifacated with smoky medical notes, a mix of acacia and forest honey, wild herbs and salty, maritime nuances. Bajan rum was never better than this, that’s for sure. (93/100)

rocksama2 (2)Samaroli WIRR 1986 13YO (57%): What a beauty this is! The magic already starts with the opening of the sample bottle, but we shall let the rum breathe for a bit first. Nose: The honey notes are really strong here, as are spices such as cardamom, vanilla or cumin. Then samolina and natural coconut cream. Somehow this really reminds me of (not very sweet) kersari, which is just great. Behind all of that also quite some smoke and medical notes (plaster, gauze bandage) and similarities to Laphroaig are not entirely made up. What a nose! It’s not as balanced as the Duncan Taylor‘s but it is just as good. Palate: Way more extreme than all previous rums. It’s sweeter, more bitter and medical, and the spices are once again incredibly dominant. I get unsugared Kersari, samoline, cardamom, rather relent honey, maritime notes such as salt, seaweed or algae, and now even slightly sour elements such as grapefruit. The only downside here would be the young age and imperfectly integrated alcohol but that’s lamenting on a high level. However that’s exactly what keeps the rum from getting one of the top grades. The profile is unmatched though. Finish: Long and salty without many of the sweeter notes. Unfortunately we lose a few marks here again. Still really guid juice though. (89/100)

rockch12 (2)Cadenhead’s Blackrock Distillery WIRR 1986 12YO (73,4%): There has been another 12YO release by Cadenhead’s which even had 74,1%(!) but both have been released over 20 years ago! Getting hold of these beauties is almost impossible these days and I am incredibly happy that I managed to get a sample of this one. Judged by the nose alone you might think that this barely even has 60%. Sure, you’ll notice the alcohol but it isn’t disturbing at all. At the same time, I am not sure if this is the ideal strength to deliver all of the aromas but let’s try. The nose is, sweet, herbal, smoky and medical to equal degrees. I get almonds, beeswax, vanilla, wild herbs and a hint of phenolic notes. It’s balanced quite well, even at this relatively young age. I try to be as cautious as I can with my first sip but apparently I don’t have to be. Sure, the alcohol tickles a lot on the tongue but then we get flavours such as honey and beeswax, vanilla, lemon sorbet, caramel pudding, garden herbs and pepper. The phenolic notes aren’t there anymore and all in all I don’t feel like the rum is as intense as the abv suggest. Let’s see if a drop of water might help. It helps to squeeze out some of the vanilla and pudding-like aromas in the nose and makes the rum a bit more sippable. Indeed, the sweeter elements seem to be emphasised at the palate but I do not get any additional flavours. The finish is medium long with almonds, spices and herbs. All in all it’s a rum with two faces. On the one hand it is just insane. Being this sippable at this strength is truly special, yet I feel that it should have had a somewhat higher intensity. It’s a nice one, but not quite the sensation I was hoping for. (87/100)