2005 vs Nobiliary vs Shibboleth aka 2005v2005v2005
Shibboleth - might as well be call Coveteth. Without doubt the hardest new ECS release to get your hands on. And, sadly, so many bottles are very quickly being re-sold in auction. Not in this case - my bottle is open! I can dream of finding another, but in the meantime - I can appreciate what it's meant for ... enjoying :-)
A summary background - ECS or Exceptional Cask Series - are the limited release rums from Foursquare Distillery in Barbados. Over the course of the last few years and 16 releases these rums have gained a cult following thanks to their truly exceptional quality. Made by master blender Richard Seale and released in limited quantities (c.10-20k bottles globally) 2-3 times a year, these rums are a blend of pot and column still, molasses based rum, aged in barrels with a variety different previous uses (from Madeira to Port, Zinfandel, Cognac and of course Bourbon).
These are pure, honest rums. Made with no added sugar, colours, flavours or other rubbish. Richard Seale is recognised as leading the way in introducing the world pure quality rum made to the very highest standards.
Today I have the enviable task of comparing the three ECS releases made in 2005. These three rums, as well as being made in the same year, were also solely aged in Bourbon barrels. The significant difference** is the aging - 2005 was aged for 12 years, Nobiliary for 14 years and the recent release of Shibboleth for a massive 16 years. The rums also have varying strengths (59%, 62% and 56% respectively).**
Two extra years doesn't sound a huge amount, but this is tropical aging, where both the barrel interaction and the angels share increase significantly. At Foursquare they average around 7% loss per year to the angels, so those extra years cost a lot, but do they also deliver a lot...?
ECS 2005 was a milestone rum in Foursquare's journey. Released in 2017, the sixth of the exceptional cask series, this was the first rum in history to win the Supreme Champion award at the International Spirits Challenge. So I'm tasting a bit of history today :-)
Tasting - 15ml of each. Left to breath for 30mins (that was tough!). Nosed each first, then tasted, always in abv order.
In the glass, all the rums have a beautiful golden colour. The two older rums being ever so slightly darker than the 2005. The three exhibit a gorgeous unctuousness- leaving thick legs on the sides of the glass.
Shibboleth - 56% £85
Nose: A huge oaky, very refined nose. I'm immediately thinking of a lovely old leather chesterfield armchair. Quite dry for a foursquare. Lots of anise and cigar box. Some tropical fruit but more inclined towards dark plummy raisin fruits. Not as much spice or vanilla as some other pure Bourbon barrel ECS. A little smoky. Embarrassingly making me drool a little.
Mouth: Cripes - that's big! It's the lowest abv of the three but my mouth is singing - and in only good ways. A humungous taste. Mouth coating. No gaps. No faults, It's rich. Actually it's chewy! Lots of delicious cakey spice. Really well integrated oak. Pepper, dark fruit, burnt caramel, Long long taste. Love that hint of anise. Seriously goes on and on, possibly the longest taste of a foursquare to date. Yum! (still drooling) [92 pts]
2005 - 59% c.£50 on release in 2017
Nose: Oh wow. A little piece of heaven. I could nose this for hours. Very familiar Foursquare. Rich, deep, treacly, buttery, spicy .. absolutely beautiful. Quite a lot of pepper and orange zest. Lovely oak background, Alcohol clearly there but not harsh at all. After a bit there's some tropical fruit too and a tiny bit of anise.
Mouth: Much more spicy than the Shibboleth. Really zesty and vibrant. Loads of spices - cardamom, ginger, clove. It's incredible. Some vanilla and chocolate. A little smoke. Fruit - really dark cherries, An absolute classic - A benchmark for future rums to judge themselves against! [90 pts]
Nobiliary - 62% £60
Nose: Big & punchy straight out the blocks. The initial wave of alcohol quickly passes revealing a sumptuous, spicy, vanilla, tropical nose. Slightly smokier than the 2005. Lots of pepper and a touch of banana crème brulee (if that exists).
Mouth: If a rum can give you a big hug, this is it. Well done Mr Seale - this has it all. The Bourbon spice is there in full force. And the incredible soft oak keeps everything balanced and focussed. It's really big, it's warm, and, weirdly gentle at the same time, it's wonderful. Starts sweet and runs to a long dry finish. I wasn't aware of having tastebuds in my throat but I swear I can taste rich deep fruit and oaky vanilla spice right down to my stomach,. [91 pts]
What a treat! And what an interesting lineup - comparing a very similar rum with 12, 14 and 16 years of tropical aging. If you ever get an chance to try, or buy, any of the Exceptional Cask Series - don't blink!
**Rum making is obviously far more complex than this simplification and, above & beyond age & abv, Mr "Wizard" Seale will have considered the ratio of pot to column still in the blend, the age and previous use(s) of the barrels plus a raft of other levers available to a master distiller when crafting masterpieces like these.