Jamaican Rum Masterclass with Luca Gargano

From the archives, as part of my countdown to two weekends of whiskies – Paris Whisky Live 2022 and London Whisky Show 2022,

And what is this about? From Singapore Whisky Live 2018, I stumbled across a partially drafted post about a fabulous and fascinating masterclass with Luca Gargano on Jamaican Rum. While my flight back Sunday prevents me from joining his Paris Whisky Live 2022 masterclass, I would strongly recommend joining such a session with Luca – both to increase knowledge on rums and entertainment!

Our Jamaican Rum Masterclass with Luca explored five rums… of which notes for the following seem to have been lost in my old whisky tasting book…

  • Hampden Estate Overproof 60%
  • Long Pond’s Vale Royal VRW 2006 62.5%
  • Long Pond’s Cambridge STCE 2005 62.5%

However, I do have teasingly brief notes of two rums… alas without Luca’s colorful stories!

Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve 45%

  • Nose – Rich raisins, currents, very sweet, tight berries, tropical fruits, marigold or chrysanthemum, after some time muted apples
  • Palate – A bit of spice, slightly sour too, yet quite appealing, more of those rich raisins rolling around on the palate

Luca shared it is a new release and 1st edition, pot still, around 8 years, aging from 2009/10 then a blend…

Hampden Estate 46%

  • Nose – Quite aromatic, sweet sugars, almost cognac-like, vanilla, then quite tropical, burnt toast, caramel
  • Palate – Smooth, accessible, load of juicy fermented fruits, sweet and sour, well rounded

Luca noted it is around 8 years, aging from 2009/10…

Yup – that’s it! Not much however it reminds me of the value of taking good notes and writing up what is interesting immediately…. even if the posts are published much later. 😉

And as a round up, here are more rums which I sampled with Luca earlier in the day in the VIP room:

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Talisker 8 Year (2020) Rum Finish 57.9%

Talisker is known for its lightly peated salty maritime character, situated on the Isle of Sky. Part of the Diageo stable of whiskies, their range has been quite stable over the years with a 10 year, 18 year, Storm… More recently, they have launched some variations with whiskies matured to 8 years – one of which I tried as an ‘Old Particular’ mini from Douglas Laing – quite a pleasant dram that hit the spot in colder climes…

So what did we think of this new cask strength experiment?

Talisker 8 year (2020) Rum Finish 57.9%

  • Nose – Hay, heather, leather, comes across as ‘dry’ yet also has a rum sweetness and raisins, heavy on the ripe bananas joined by other tropical fruit, some roasted pineapple, a hint of coconut and pepper spice chased by a light curl of smoke and sea spray
  • Palate – Jeera (cumin) tamarind ‘goli’… loads of bitter (almost edging into bitter gourd) that initially got in the way of discerning other elements… gradually easing into a roasted black pepper, followed by a sour rum, steeped neem leaves – slightly astringent, then salty
  • Finish – There but… didn’t have any predominant notes – perhaps a bit of black licorice at the end?
  • Revisit – After setting aside, when returned the rum dimension was much more evident – in a good way!

Whilst clearly not a typical Talisker, the light peat, pepper, and saline maritime elements were there. The rum certainly took it in a different direction however it wasn’t entirely harmonious. The nose was the most appealing part with the palate more curious than enjoyable and the finish almost forgettable.

I realized much later that I wasn’t in the least bit tempted to try with water – though this was at cask strength. Perhaps that would have brought out different elements and tempered the slightly strange palate.

So what more do we know? This is part of the Diageo Special Releases 2020 and was finished in pot-distilled Jamaican rum casks.

What else? There was also care taken with the packaging – certainly upping their ‘game’… Not just with this special edition – they have also refreshed their standard range too.

Talisker, Kilchoman, Stauning

This whisky joined an evening devoted to a curious trio of Rum, Tequila and Mezcal finishes… followed by:

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Hampden Last Ward, FourSquare Destino and Caroni Rums

Years ago at Singapore’s Whisky Live I was both introduced to Luca Gargano and the exceptional range of rich unique rums he has brought to the world. Luca is a man on a mission to put Single Rum on the same stage as the most sophisticated single malt. He also has introduced a rum categorization approach which is now know as the Gargano Classification, based on how the rum is produced – both the distillation method be it pot still or columns and type of sugar used – sugar cane juice, syrup or molasses.

Back in 2016, I was particularly entranced by Hampden’s Habitation Velier –  blown away by its rich range of flavours. So much so that a bottle returned home with me to Mumbai where I happily introduced it to others.

As I was clearing through old ‘half posts’, I came across this one from 2018 and a flood of memories poured back!

Habitation Velier Last Ward 9 year (2009/2018) 59%

  • Nose – Gorgeous! Rich sweet fruits, vanilla, mint and fresh
  • Palate – Round, rich, tart, spice, fabulous sour cherry
  • Finish – After all the sweetness, a surprisingly dry bitter finish

From Barbados, a pot still with white yeast to produce a pure single rum which was then aged for 9 years with an angels share of approximately 64%.

What was most enjoyable about this one was the way as our animated conversation continued, the rum shifted and changed. Remarkable and so rewarding!

We shifted gears to explore another rum….

Foursquare Destino 12 year (2003) 61%

  • Nose – Wow! Sharp yet coquettish, distinctive
  • Palate – Can really taste the Madeira, dry spice – particularly clove

This was also from a pot still, known as a single blended rum as it was a blend of rum matured in an ex-Madeira cask and for two years in an ex-Bourbon cask. Distilled 2003, blended Dec 2017… bottled in 2018.

Talk turned to rum making traditions in Cape Verde, Port au Prince, Haiti, Barbados… it was highly educative, entertaining and enlightening.

From there we moved on to Caroni… Luca shared Caroni Employees special editions feature key people who help make the rum magic happen.

Caroni Dennis “X” Gopaul 20 year (1998/2018) 69.5%

  • Nose – Sour perfurme
  • Palate – Smooth and sweet, rich, surprisingly spicy too
  • Finish – Yes! Yet has a bit of bitter than sweet

Dennis X Gopaul is a very rich, warm and concentrated spirit, distilled in Trinidad in 1998 and aged for 20 years in the tropical climate of Trinidad before bottling, with an angel share of 78%. It is the content of only 5 oak barrels.

Caroni John “D” Eversley 22 year (1996/2018) 66.5%

  • Nose – Strong classic Caroni
  • Palate – Oily almost like petroleum!
  • Finish – Bitter, dry to the point of prompting a wee “pucker”

What a rum!!! Unmistakable power and punch! Those two extra years did an extra something to ramp up everything in this unique rum.

Pity the balance of my scribbles went astray and I didn’t pull impressions, notes and photographs together earlier. However it was still fun to half-revisit… with these four accompanied by further rums:

Curious to know more? One of the best bloggers on such rums I’ve come across so far is The Lone Caner.

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Long Pond Rum – 2003 + 2007

Jamaica’s Long Pond Estate is in Trelawny parish, not far from Hampden Estate. Both started around 1750 with several ownership changes – including a stint from 1977 to 1993 where the Jamaican government assumed control, before divesting. Then again in 2006, Long Point with Clarendon distillery and Innswood aging facilities were brought together to create National Rums of Jamaica (NRJ), which is owned by National Sugar Company (Jamaican government), Goddard Enterprises (West Indies Rum Distillery, Barbados) and Demerara Distillers (Guyana).

Long Pond TECC 11 year (2007/2018) 62.5%

  • Nose – Complex, ripe fruit, molasses treacle
  • Palate – Very full, rounded, balanced
  • Finish – Beautiful finish

Absolutely gorgeous! Thick, rich, full flavoured and fabulous.

Long Pond TECA 15 year (2003/2018) 63%

  • Nose – Sour mash, overripe fruits, sugary – loads of fermented sugar cane juice – but in a rather odd way, almost like a mad chemistry experiment running amok
  • Palate – Forceful, unbalanced and overwhelming initially, then settled in
  • Finish – Long, strong

Personally, my preference was the 11 year old yet both were powerful, complex, exceptional rums.

At Whisky Live 2018, we also sampled more rums from Luca Gargano:

  • Caroni Dennis “X” Gopaul 20 year (1998/2018) 69.5%
  • Caroni John “D” Eversley 22 year (1996/2018) 66.5%
  • Foursquare Destino 12 year Single Blended Rum ex-Madeira & 2 year ex-Bourbon 61%
  • Hampden LFCH 7 year (2011/2018) 60.5%
  • Habitation Velier Last Ward 9 year (2009/2018) 59%

Curious to know more? One of the best bloggers on such rums I’ve come across so far is The Lone Caner.

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Columbian Rums – Dictador Esencia 25 year 40%

Our last rum for the evening was a Dictador… one you won’t find to easily… available only in Columbia.

Dictador Esencia 25 year 40%, Batch 243-8

  • Colour – Dark copper
  • Nose – Very woody, wet dish rag, light varnish, dry, caramel custard
  • Palate – Loads of wood, balsa, heavy character, depth, dry, complex
  • Finish – A zing that get deeper, fruity spice then sweet

There was no doubt this was a robust, complex, rich rum. A real treat!

Here are the Columbian and The Seychelles rums we enjoyed that same evening:

It was fun to digress into a rummy evening. However, truth be told, as fabulous as these rums were… I still remain first and foremost a Whisky Lady!

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Columbia Rums – Gobernador 12 year 35%

Back to Columbia, our next rum was from Gobernador, with the oldest rum matured for 12 years. Now this rum was a real treat!

Ron Gobernador 12 year 35%

  • Nose – Prunes, dates and plums! Christmas pudding, very rich, lots of candied dry fruits, simply gorgeous
  • Palate – Wow! Rich and complex without being overly sweet, just superb
  • Finish – Very dry finish, slightly salty at the end

For most of this, this was a clear winner. It also went beautifully with a cigar.

Here are the Columbian rums we enjoyed that same evening:

Plus a bonus rum from The Syechelles:

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The Seychelles Rum – Takamaka 8 year 40%

Just as we were settling into our Columbian explorations, one of our tasting companions added to the mix a recent purchase from his trip to The Seychelles with a rum from La Pleine St Andre.

Takamaka 8 year 40%

  • Nose – Juicy oranges, a refreshing fruity floral citrus, sugary caramel chased by burnt sugar, vanilla essence, sour cherry
  • Palate – Sugar, spice and all things nice! Very Christmasy, clove, cinnamon, oranges, oily mouth feel, nice oak
  • Finish – A nice chocolate orange or chilli chocolate, with more clove spice

In our opinion, this was the most “whisky like” – in a good way.

Here are the Columbian rums we enjoyed that same evening:

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Columbian Rums – Baluarte 8 year 35%

We had an evening dedicated to exploring rums… and not your ordinary easily available rums… these were personally sourced by our host from a recent trip to Columbia. His goal? Find something you couldn’t locate anywhere else…

Baluarte 8 year 35% (Dictador)

  • Nose – Citrus lemon, resin, sap, sour wine
  • Palate – Soft, very light flavours, delicate and subtle, a touch of caynne and liquorice, fruit cake
  • Finish – Long light spice, a bit bitter

Clearly this wasn’t an ‘in your face’ kinda rum, it was very light after La Hechicero, welcome for not being too sweet but not a favourite… still interesting to try.

Here is what else we explored in our rum evening:

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Columbian Rums – La Hechicera 40%

We kicked off our Columbian rum explorations with a no age statement rum. None of us had encounter ‘The Enchantress’ La Hechicera before.

La Hechicera Extra Anejo de Solera 40%

  • Nose – Plum, a bit sharp, exceedingly sweet, toffee, vanilla
  • Palate – Pure cane sugar, dry, pineapple, orange peel, a bit of liquorice
  • Finish – Cocoa mocha finish, slightly bitter tobacco with a dash of salt

What a wonderful full-bodied way to begin our evening. No doubt this was no ordinary rum and a great way to kick off our explorations.

What else did we try?

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Barbados Rum – FourSquare Criterion 10 year 56%

When my fellow spirits adventurer and I first sampled this rum with Sukhinder Singh in London – we were blown away. We both bought bottles from The Whisky Exchange and were rather impatient to engineer the right opportunity to try again.

It came out at the close of a rather ambitious tasting evening that started with a set of whisky minis of a peaty persuasion – Peat Chimney 12 year 40%, Big Peat 46%, Longrow 46%, BenRiach Peated Quarter Cask 46%, Ledaig 10 year 46.3%…

Followed by rum Quintet of Diplomatico 40%, Zacapa 23 Solera 40% vs XO 40%, El Dorado 12 year 40%…. then this Criterion… added as a ‘reward’ for our extensive tasting adventures!

Foursquare Criterion 10 year (April 2017) Ex Bourbon / Ex Madiera 56%

  • Nose – Chocolate, berries, lemon grass, nutmeg, tropical fruits
  • Palate – Lovely rich spices, creamy, rich and dry, multiple elements at play
  • Finish – Yes we had a finish with this rum, initially a bit sharp, it mellowed beautifully

This Barbados rum is matured in ex-bourbon & Madeira casks, uncoloured with no additives.

Tasting notes by Billy Abbot, The Whisky Exchange:

  • Nose: Intense brown sugar and roasted tropical fruit to start – pineapples and bananas. Salted caramel and baking spices follow, with nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon joined by a hint of sweet butter. Underneath are sharper notes of candied lemon, and sweet and sour toffee apples.
  • Palate: A burst of Crunchie bars is balanced by touches of barrel char. Caramel runs through the middle with singed sultanas and apples leading the way to medicinal touches that quickly fade under a Portuguese custard tart onslaught. Oaky tannins dry out the sides of the mouth while sweet fruit builds in the middle: more toffee apple and banana.
  • Finish: Mouth-watering, with dark chocolate, treacle toffee and Crunchie bars sat alongside stewed apple and barrel-char bitterness.
  • Comment: Intense, with sweetness balanced by hints of char. The cask influences really make themselves known, with the dual attack of toffee and custard tarts harking back to their previous occupants.

What else did we sample in our rummy evening?

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