1985 is probably the most typical and characteristic Versailles vintage I know. At least it is what I associate with the Versailles flavour profile the most. What is more, the rums from the batch are among the very best rums I know, plain and simple. Just in case you do not know, Versailles is the single wooden pot still that was producing at Enmore distillery back then.
Bristol Versailles 1985 13YO (46%): We do not often get to try rums that have been bottled in the last millenium. Personally I don’t care much about it but having these younger rums of old vintages gives us the chance to see how the distillate has evolved over time. The nose is a bit faint but nevertheless we get the typical Versailles notes such as pencil sharpenings, prunes, dry marzipan, grapefruit and forest herbs (mostly thyme and oregano). All of this comes from the distillate and we don’t get many notes from the cask, which becomes apparent when comparing the rum to its older siblings. Later more sour notes such as lime. I am never a fan of excessive dilution but these relatively younger rums typically tolerate it even less than the older ones. Palate: A nice rum, but just a bit too thin, especially at the ‘start’ of a sip. The drier notes of the nose (pencil sharpenings, prunes, marzipan and herbs) all make it to the palate but the sour and fruity elements seem to be gone entirely. Perhaps I still get the peel of the grapefruit but that’s about it. I like the rum quite a bit and if it weren’t for some of the older, more aromatic ones I would probably like it even more. Finish: Incredibly long, especially for such a young rum. For some reason the finish is way more complex and interesting than the nose, with a much larger spectrum of flavours. Definitely the best part of the rum and it kinda makes up a bit for the thin palate. My love for Versailles might bias my judgement here and it might be closer to a 87, but heck, it is great juice! (88/100)
Bristol Versailles 1985 22YO (46%): You’ll immediately recognise that the nose is way fuller and heavier here! The sharpenings aren’t as dominant, the marzipan becomes sweeter, the grapefruit less sour and the herbs more oaky (okay, that one doesn’t make much sense). We can find a few more fruits such as lime and something closer to sweet potato/ hokaido pumpkin. It is incredible how much ’rounder’ and aromatic this is compared to the 13YO Bristol. These differences are not as extreme at the palate but to some extent they still exist. The profile is extremely similar so it doesn’t make much sense to repeat my impressions here. Relatively speaking, it is decidedly more woody and ticker and we now get a few spicy notes here and there, which surely come from the cask. In a way, the rum is now less typical than the 13YO since the barrel considerably altered/ masked the general profile of the distillate, but you always have that of course. Once again, the finish is very long and dry but not quite as complex as that of the younger Bristol. Mostly the pencil sharpenings, prunes and herbs stick with me. I must say that overall I prefer this rum to the 13YO but the latter has some of these edgy, impetuous characteristics which I just love so much. (90/100)
Berry Bros & Rudd Demerara (Versailles) 1985 17YO (46%): If you know this rum you’ll know that any review is completely useless. If there is anything to complain about it is the dilution but for everyone who is willing to accept that, this rum should be a real revelation. Anyway… Nose: Pencil shavings, prunes, green apple, different dry woods, herbs such as thyme or oregano, green grapes, intense pepperoni (boar and red wine perhaps), bell pepper/ pimento, lime wedges and hints of white chocolate. The rum is incredibly intense given the low abv and the fruitiness is much more pronounced than with most of its siblings. Palate: This is perfection. With a bit of water added. Describing what’s going on is futile as the rum elegently moves through all its well-balanced facets like a finely tuned laser cutter. Let’s try to put some of that into words: We start out slightly thin with the fruity notes (apples, gooesberries, kiwi, grapefruit), intense pencil shavings, almond paste/ marzipan and prunes, move over to herbal notes (thyme, oregano, parsley), mix in some matcha and chili here and there, add some quality olive oil and dried tomatoes as well as different layers of rich wood. Oh my. The finish is long and not really any less interesting than the palate. It moves through a similar set of notes but in a different, slightly drier way. Towards the very end a “fresh”, slightly minty note starts to emerge between the woods, which is adding another nice component. As I said, there really is only one downside to this rum, namely the dilution. Without, it might have been a real contender for the best spirit ever bottled. (94/100)
Berry Bros & Rudd Demerara (Versailles) 1985 22YO (46%): That was great but if I remember correctly this one doesn’t really have to hide behind its 17YO brother. Nose: A bit more reluctant, drier, less fruity, oakier and more settled in a sense. I get the pencil shavings (of course), olives, different pieces of wood, hints of blood oranges, lettuce, and especially white wine vinegar, cider, balsamico and different herbal notes. The nose is amazing but there is this slightly acidic note that reminds me of vinegar which is a bit off here. Palate: Full and heavy-bodied with a magnificent maturity. Next to lots of oak I find the pencil sharpenings, sesame, cucumber, basil and oregano, oranges, sweet lemon, prunes, Rooibos, rosehip, wryly peppers and lemon ice tea. The texture is a lot thicker than it sould be at 46%, which seems to be a common theme with these old Versailles. All in all it’s really good but doesn’t put us quite into the same type of rollercoaster as the 17YO. What is more, it is a tad too bitter towards the very end but that’s complaining on a very high level. Finish: Long and dry with plenty of the pencil shavings again, sesame paste, lots of wood and some rather bitter notes close to conifer wood. The 22YO Berry’s is an amazing rum with a few minor flaws, which I can gladly ignoring. You will probably only find them in a cross-tasting anyway. (91/100)
Duncan Taylor Enmore Distillery (Versailles) 1985 27YO (52,5%): In the nose we can find deep notes of the pencil sharpenings as well as a very intense potpourri of herbs (most prominently basil and oregano). Deeper in the glass oranges (there are absolutely no sour elements anymore so I guess the grapefruits turned into oranges). Now plenty of oak/ conifers but it is not too woody at any time. I didn’t expect this at this abv. It’s a huge upgrade from the Bristols and closer to the pair of Berry’s! The palate is drier, woodier and more adstringent (without being really bitter) than the previous rums. The herbs are now playing a supporting role rather than shaping the profile. As we are used to by now, the fruits mov further into the background at the palate but now we also get plenty of spices such as pepper or vanilla. The herbs then make a strong reappearance in the rather long, dry and woody finish. Nice! When I tried this rum for the first time blindly at the end of a larger tasting session with many 60%+ rums I thought it is a bit too thin but right now I think the strength is just perfect. I am in rum heaven. A truly special one, even though it doesn’t quite reach the sensational 17YO Berry’s. But yes, it comes darn close. (93/100)
Rum Nation Sherry Wood Finish Demerara (Versailles) 1985 23YO (43%): The rum has received a Sherry finish and this is as apparent by its colour as it is in the nose. It is surprisingly sweet with plenty of the typical Sherry notes such as dried fruits, raisins, gorp, leather and red grapes. Nevertheless, the rum is still easily recognisable as a Versailles. The pencil sharpenings, blood oranges and prunes are all there. In the background I can also find a few herbs and fresh sugar. While the Sherry finish didn’t work too well with the 1990 24YO Rum Nation of the same series, I have high hopes that it should be great with this one. And yes, it is. While I think it might be just a tad too dominant, it added a lot of interesting facets to the rum. I don’t think I still have to describe the general 1985 Versailles profile anymore so let’s talk about what the finish has added. I get almost Sangria-like notes of oranges, blood oranges, sugar-dipped herbs and then indeed lots of the more typical notes. Due to the sweetness and dilution it becomes highly sippable but it is not overly thin. The finish is quite long with a mix of the fruits (Sangria), herbs, pencil sharpenings and Sherry notes. While a higher abv would have been nice, no doubt, the dilution didn’t kill the rum. If you think about that it requires this maturity and the finish to do the trick, but the dilution is still a slap in the face if you ask me. A really good one nevertheless. (87/100)