Best Ever Clarendon Rum - ultimate taste off
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Following on from my epic Clarendon/Monymusk tasting article last year (here) - I'm stepping things up another level! Today I'm reviewing arguably the finest line-up of Clarendon rums ever tasted side by side. These venerable giants from the 80's and 90's have been aged almost exclusively in Jamaica's tropical climate, for between 22 and 37 long years!!
Missing bottles - From 1984 we're missing a few legendary releases including those from Silver Seal & Plantation, and of course the inordinately expensive Velier Sapiens. So maybe I should title this "The Best Clarendon from the 90s!".
Even then there's bottles missing from Plantation, Blackadder, Wild Parrot, WhiskyJury etc - so I'll stick with 'probably' the best ever Clarendon line-up! :-)
Monymusk or Clarendon? - Clarendon distillery, Jamaica - built in 1949, home to Monymusk rum and (of course) the world-famous Captain Morgan.
Lesser-known of Jamaica's 6 distilleries, Clarendon is home to arguably the largest pot still in the Caribbean. One of two pot stills at the distillery. Joined, in 2010, by a large column still that now produces the majority of Clarendon's output.
Clarendon produces molasses bases rums in 2 styles - a lighter, 1 day fermentation rum, and a heavy rum involving super long fermentation of up to a month! These two styles are broken down into 9 'marks' from lighter column still MBS to their highest ester, long-fermented, pot stilled MLC. A great article with a tonne of detail on the distillery and its 'marks' can be found on the excellent singlecaskrum website.
90% of Clarendon's output ends up in Diageo's mass-market bar staples (Captain Morgan & Myers). Today we're interested in the other 10% - more specifically the rums of the distillery (Monymusk) and those independently bottled (Clarendon).
As you would expect, all of these rums are offered unsweetened and without any added colour. The rums I'm tasting were (I believe) all aged in American Oak (ex-bourbon) barrels. Mostly these bottlings are just a single barrel selection with an exceptionally small outturn.
Rarities never to be seen again? Given the huge cost related to the angel's share (loss) when aging super long tropically aged rums such as these, combined with the rapidly growing appetite for fine rums, we're unlikely to see many newer rums aged for these uniquely long periods.
At over 80%, some even over 90%, angel's share (loss), is this extravagant aging worthwhile or will they taste like licking a tree??
Let's find out ..
15ml of each, left to breathe for 20 mins. As always, nosed first, then tasted, in increasing abv order. A tasting of this calibre needs the king - so I'm assisted today by the splendrous B.B. King. 'Bring it on home to me' - played at an antisocial level - with an outstanding glass of rum. Does it get any better?
Left to right in tasting order...
All the rums have glorious dark golden colour - the darkest (unsurprisingly) being the 1984 Thomspon Bros.
Valinch & Mallet, Spirit of Art #3, 1995, 26yr, 56.9% 270 btls
Mark - unknown.
Aged for an incredible 25 years in Jamaica, followed by a year in a continental climate.
I reviewed Valinch & Mallet's 12 year (2008) Clarendon in my previous line-up (here).
Nose: Incredibly fruity. Very distinctive lychee and mango - a tropical feast. With a caramel and red fruit backdrop. Some esters clearly present with resinous plasticine notes throughout, and a little black banana. Overall a little lighter than expected and amazingly not much oak. After another 15 mins the vanilla oak is emerging - but the predominant smell is still tasty lychee.
Mouth: Unusually this rum tastes just like it smells. Alcoholic lychee juice! A little pleasant coffee bitterness. Wood. Spice. Iodine. Caramel. Plums. Leather. Walnuts. Great balance. And a delicious long finish [89pts]
Thompson Bros. / The Auld Alliance - MMW - 1984, 37yr, 62%, 281 bts
MMW - Wedderburn style. Almost the highest ester style produced at Clarendon with 290-300g/hlpa of ester (a congener that makes rum funky).
Aged for 34 years in Jamaica, followed by 3 years in a continental climate.
This unbelievable length of tropical aging will likely have resulted angels share (loss) of over 90%. The equivalent of over a century of Scottish or other continental aging!!!
Thankyou very much to the generous gent who gifted me this sample :-)
Nose: A tannic beast. Quite closed up. Minimal fruit. A fresh menthol edge accompanies heavy tannic oak that quite literally sucks any moisture from the air you're smelling! Maybe a little blackberries emerging after a while. Freshly polished old oak furniture. Sticking plasters.
Mouth: An amazing experience. It actually tastes venerable! A little like tasting that freshly polished old oak furniture. Too bitter and tannic for me. The blackberries pop up again which works well. The sticking plaster smell continues to the taste which is actually very enjoyable. A long, bitter, lingering musty finish. Overall imo it's over-oaked. Shame. [83pts]
Colours of Rum - EMB, 1995, 26yr, 65.7%, 260 btls
EMB - Bog Estate style (240-250 g/hlpa of ester). Bog estate closed in 1948 but their unique style of rum has been kept alive though this Mark produced by Clarendon.
The first of 4 rums EMB rums in today's lineup. No coincidence as this often cited as the most revered of their styles.
Aged for 23 years in Jamaica, followed by 3 years in a continental climate.
Nose: Roasted spice. A slight mustiness. Sulphur. Splash of mint and glue. Papaya. A little sweet balsamic vinegar. Is making me salivate.
Mouth: Powerful sulphur, and balsamic. Roasted coconut. Glue. Old Papaya. An amazing taste. Big bold dry esters. Rum with personality. Can't say it's love at first taste, but at the same time I want to go back for more, and it's certainly interesting. Brine! Reminds me a little of the pickled death taste of NRJ Long Pond 2003 - happily just a bit toned down. Actually it's very similar to the Long Pond profile. Beautifully dry. A real mouthful. [91+pts]
Colours of Rum - RCL, 1996, 25yr, 67%, 253 btls
RCL - a mark that is no longer produced at the estate. Sadly I can't find any information about it.
Aged for 22 years in Jamaica, followed by 3 years in a continental climate.
The smallest release of the line-up at just 253 bottles
Nose: Less happening on this one. Quite floral. Redcurrants. Amazing how different each of these rums is so far! A little spicy oak. The floral notes and gluey chemical smell combine to create the effect of a freshly valeted car!
Mouth: Very dry and bitter. A touch of minty spice but overall too tannic and not offering enough sweetness, fruit or complexity. Some sour menthol which is not really working for me either. Disappointing. [81+pts]
Velier, Villa Paradisetto - EMB, 1995, 24yr, 67%, 509 btls
Released by Velier as part of the legendary Warren Khong series. Bottled a couple of years ago in honour of the home of Velier, Villa Paradisetto.
A blend of 2 barrels, aged for a breathtaking 24 tropical years at Clarendon.
The highlight from my previous Clarendon line-up has some stiffer competition today!!
Nose: No change from last time I tasted this. Absolutely outstanding. It's a big big rum. A list of flavour notes as long as your arm. Wood polish, rotten mango, acetone, menthol, toasted spice, vanilla, caramel - all playing together like a symphony orchestra.
Mouth: Thick, glorious and absolutely deeeelicous. Balsamic vinegar, walnuts, spicy caramel, spicy oak, rotten fruit salad. Perfect alcohol integration. Can't really add to my previous review - and sticking with the same huge score [93pts]
Rum Artisanal - EMB, 1995, 26yr, 67.2%, 366 btls (500ml)
Aged for 24 years in Jamaica, followed by 2 years in a continental climate.
A highly regarded release from Heinz Eggert in their distinctive and beautiful squat 500ml bottles
Nose: Yum. A spicy dry cake. Covered in gluey rotten rotten tropical fruit. Lots of guava. Salt. Vinegar. Grapefruit juice. Lots going on. Tonnes of woodchips. Salt & vinegar woodchips. A powerful nose. Dry and inviting.
Mouth: Powerful and complex. Punchy but the alcohol integration is near perfect. Really lovely. Deep & rich. Loads of fruit - Plums, cherries, pineapple. Sour pineapple juice. Sweet cinnamon. Some bitterness. Vanilla caramel oak. Lots going on all balanced beautifully. Another near perfect Clarendon. [92+pts]
Velier, Guiseppe Begnoni - EMB, 1997, 22yr, 67.9%, 442btls
Another 100% tropically aged limited Velier release. And another blend of 2 barrels - this time with an outturn of 442 bottles.
An angels share of over 82%
Nose: A beautiful big bruiser. Worth the wait to allow this to fully open up. Tonnes of acetone and glue greet you from the off. Followed closely by roasted coconut and foul tropical fruit. Petrol. Espresso. Those powdery violet sweets. A powerful, complex and inviting nose. Is making me light headed :-)
Mouth: Delicious. Another sweet and sour triumph. Eucalyptus. Bitter coffee. Sweet esters. Pears, plums & papaya. A touch too fiery for me - needs a drop of water (which brings out more rich fruit, and less fire!) Lots of moreish savoury notes. Olives. A stunning rum, a sniff behind the RA and Paradisetto for me. [92pts]
Conclusion, what a thrill to taste these super rare old rums. I'm not generally a huge fan of younger Clarendon rums - but these aged examples are outstanding.
A very rare opportunity to experience bold, full flavour, pot stilled, super long tropically aged Jamaican rums.
Currently they would set you back somewhere between £250 - £750 a bottle.
Are they worth it? If you want to taste a full strength, pot stilled, 24+yr tropically aged Jamaican rum - you have a very limited set of choices! Given the cost involved in producing these rums, and the absolutely incredible tastes, I think they are very well priced and can see these bottles increasing in auction price over the coming years. (comparable whiskeys and bourbons go for many multiples of these prices!)
The big question - which is the pick of the bunch?
Paradisetto holds it's pole position, with Rum Artisanal nipping at it's heels.