Few batches are as deep as Caroni 1997 (even though there are actually two, with the June batch being a bit better in my opinion). Especially since the hype really started about two to three years ago almost every bottler wanted to have one of them in their portfolio. But you know the story: The best barrels are bottled first and the more unknown bottlers get the leftovers. Now this session is not about the newcomers but my experience tells me that it is getting exceedingly tricky to find the gems. On the plus side, there are almost no disappointments from 1997 and a few additional years sometimes do wonders.
S.B.S Caroni 1997 18YO (62,3%): This one comes from cask #193, one of four Caronis from this batch bottled by S.B.S. Nose: Caramel, muscovado, engine oil, tar and engine oil again. This one has an emphasis on the dirtier, typical Caroni notes. That makes it good (of course) but we often prefer the ones with the odd, additional notes. Then sweeter notes slightly akin to strawberry or apricot jam. The rum is a bit more bitter at the palate, which has to come from the cask. It’s even quite adstringent. Dry wood, tannins, tar, petrol, cocoa, coconut and rubber. Very solid, yet I feel we’ve had this rum time and again already. The finish is quite long and dry with some bitter notes, wood and engine oil. Usually we shouldn’t complain here, so let’s not do it. A good rum should always be what it is: a good rum! (84/100)
Barmetro/ Milano Rum Festival Caroni 1997 19YO (57%): The first bottling from the collaboration I know. Unfortunately, subsequent releases have been mostly about the labels rather than the actual rum. Nose: Initially there’s no fruit, some “dirt” and lots of burnt caramel. Then quite some oak and vanilla as well as scrap metal, old rubber and industrial waste. After some time additional notes such as ripe papaya or hints of rosary can be found as well. The nose is very good and pleasant, just not incredibly exciting. Palate: Ever so slightly thin but a bit sharper than it should be. I am not entirely opposed to dilution lately but here it seems as if it is either too much or too little. Flavourwise, it is kinda atypical with a bit of chili peppers, salt, starfruit, scrap metal, a spice mix, wood, spicy mango, avocado and used plastic. Yup, quite an uncommon and different Caroni but despite the sharpness, it works reasonably well. Finish: A bit longer than medium long with many of the elements we’ve already encountered at the palate (chili, salt and fruits). I kinda like this one, even though I must say that it’s probably not one of the better ones. In a way it is closer to a better 1998 Caronis than any of the other 1997s. (84/100)
Cadenhead’s Caroni 1997 20YO (60,6%): Cadenhead’s finally seem to be slowly increasing the quality of their rum releases again. Oh I miss the old days… Nose: Slightly musty at first, before the caramel, tyres, scrap metal, lamp oil and menthol take over. Then peanuts, cocoa and eventually also some more of the musty notes from the beginning. This is a nice addition to Caroni’s profile I must say. Palate: Quite creamy. I really like the mouthfeel. I get dark caramel, engine oil, leather, roasting flavours (coffee, peanuts), dry tobacco and the scent from a scrapyard. With the third sip also some of the musty notes but I am quite sure that you can only pick that up as a nuance in a cross-tasting. The finish is pleasantly long, bone dry and comes with oak and lots of the typical, dirty Caroni aromas. Quite good! (85/100)
Cadenhead’s Caroni 1997 20YO (62%): The second of three 20YO Caronis from 1997 by Cadenhead’s I know. This one has been bottled for Taiwan. Nose: Very balanced between the characteristic Caroni notes, fruity elements and what I typically associate with burnt caramel/ coffee. On the dirty side, tyres and old rubber seem to be the dominant nuances, the fruit is mostly represented by persimmon and papaya but what leaves the biggest impression with me are the roasting aromas in the form of coffee, roasted peanuts and rich cocoa. It’s definitely a good one! Palate: The first sip slightly numbs the tongue but the alcohol is actually integrated quite well. I encounter a thick texture that shifts from rich caramel and cocoa to old tyres, engine oil and scrap metal to fresher, almost minty notes. The coffee (and the other roasting aromas we’ve had in the nose actually even more so) now plays a minor role. The finish is medium long, heavy and comes with the minty notes, cocoa, oak and spices such as cloves or caraway. A tad above the previous Cadenhead’s in my book. (86/100)
Rum Nation Caroni 1997 20YO “Sherry Finish” (57,8%): Caroni and Sherry finishes can work, but don’t have to. This is a Hongkong exclusive bottling by the way. Nose: Yes, this seems to be one of the finishes that work well! It’s not to obtrusive and supports the aroma profile rather well. Behind caramel, vanilla and inner tube we find a nice mix of red berries, ripe papaya, rich olive oil, Spanish orange tea, cedar wood and grenadine syrup. Let’s hope the palate can deliver what the nose promises. With the first sip my impression seems to be no, unfortunately. The Sherry (leather, dried red fruits) and Caroni (caramel, inner tube, roadworks) side seem to exist only next to eachother and don’t form a proper symbiosis. You either get the one or the other, but never both of them at the same time like it should be. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but especially the Sherry notes have only some very short showings. Otherwise it is a solid barrel but I don’t think it would have been any worse without the finish. The aftertaste is rather long, slightly mentholy but still dirty with a few bitter elements here and there. Somewhere in the middle of the pack, but with the finish to seperate it. (85/100)
Thompson Bros. Caroni 1997 20YO (61,9%): The Thompson brothers are the owners of the amazing Dornoch Castle. Some day I will pay a visist, that’s for sure. Nose: Incredibly rich. It all starts with a sweet combination of burnt caramel, tattered inner tubes, old rubber, lamp oil, heavily roasted peanuts and rotting wood. Oh my, legitimate Caroni. Here and there fruity notes want to find their way to my nostrils but all the time they are immediately killed by a whiff of wild, almost woody herbs (those with rather thick branches such as roasary, you know!?). The palate is slightly bitter at first (tannins, branches, walnut oil) but then quickly makes a switch to engine oil, tar and roadworks in general. Now also conifer and juniper berries. Later sweeter elements such as burnt sugar, sweet licorice or caramel toffee as well something akin to candied ginger. It’s rather hard to describe what really seperates this one from the other Caronis of the session but this is just an excellenet cask, plain and simple. Finish: The tiny weak point here. It’s rather short in comparison (still easily long enough though) with few really expressive notes. More of a soft extension of the palate, which isn’t bad, but what seperates the best of the best from amazing ones just like this. Seriously dope juice nevertheless! Now how do I get a bottle? (91/100)
That wasn’t too shabby. Indeed, with 1997 you always kinda know what you’ll get. And there was even an outlier at the top end. Next time we check our hypothesis and see if we can confirm today’s pattern.