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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Caroni from 1997 & 1998 reviewed

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Ahhh Caroni. Once a major contributor to the British Navy's Rum Blends, the legendary Trinidad based distillery sadly closed its doors in 2003.

At one point employing over 9,000 people, Caroni, along with 48 other Trinidad distilleries, was forced into closure due to a downturn in the sugar industry. [Just Angostura now remains]

Their large stock of aged rums was bought up by a small number of prescient spirits importers around 2004-2007.

Over the last 17 years, these rare rums have been drip fed to a rapidly growing audience of rum enthusiasts - desperate to taste the distinctive heavy rums.

A true marmite of spirits, Caroni is renowned for its distinctive heavy rums, with powerful flavours of diesel, oil, rubber and tobacco. Their column stilled rums have become one of the world's most collectable spirits with bottles changing hands for thousands of pounds.

The first 2 bottles reviewed today (and potentially the 2 TBRC single casks & the first ColoursOfRum) were part of a huge 10 container shipment of rum brought over to the UK in 2008/2009 by the pioneering rum enthusiast John Barrett of Bristol Spirits. Quite a few barrels still remain from this incredible stash - potentially the only Caroni still in original cask. [I'm assured that the age and quality of the barrels will almost definitely mean there is unlikely to be any further barrel influence on the rum, so no rush to bottle them.]

15ml of each, left (covered) to breath for 30+ mins. Nosed first, then tasted, in increasing abv order. Assisted today by a little Billy Joel.

Left to right - Bristol 98, Bristol 97, TBRC7, TBRC8, Colours98, Colours97

Bristol 98 & ColoursOfRum 97 are the lightest in colour, then TBRC 7 & 8 and ColoursOfRrum 98, with Bristol 97 the darkest and most inviting hue of the line-up.

Bristol Spirits Caroni 1998 HTR, 54.6%, 23yrs, 500 btls

Aged in the same ex-bourbon barrels for all 23 years; the first 11 spent in Trinidad followed by a slow trip in a contain ship to the UK where the barrels spent the next 12 years.

HTR mark - standing for Heavy Trinidad Rum.

Nose: A little thinner than the Bristol 97. And quite different. More fresh rubber. A little mustiness. Less sweetness & menthol. Also less heavy diesel & tar notes. More aggressive with poorer alcohol integration. A little spearmint and tobacco. Vinegary sharpness. Enjoyable, although less complex.

Mouth: A massive hit of bitterness kicks things off. Disappointingly thin, as with the nose, and less Caroni-ness than I'd want. Dry tar with cocoa on the enjoyable finish. It's a very different Caroni. Not bad but when compared to the other Bristol - swapping out the burnt rubber & fuel oils for thinner bitterness is not doing it for me. [83pts]

Bristol Spirits Caroni 1997 HTR, 56.4%, 22yrs, 1000 btls

Also aged in the same ex-bourbon barrels for all 22 years; the first 11 spent in Trinidad followed by a slow trip in a contain ship to the UK where the barrels spent the next 11 years.

Nose: A beautifully balanced Caroni. Starts off with sweet dill, iodine & menthol notes, even some prunes & hazelnuts, before a wave of smoky hot tar gently assaults the nostrils. This moves more towards diesel but never overpoweringly. Later, on the nose, we get a little very dry spiced vanilla oak. Some old banana foam sweets pop up here and there. Stunning alcohol integration. A fresh, surprisingly sweet, deliciously balanced, super accessible, yet classic Caroni nose.

Mouth: Diesel and burnt rubber!! Have I just licked the engine block of an old Citroen? Then I remember I'm tasting Caroni :-) We finally get a little reprieve with some very dark fruit, before back to a long gluey, rubbery fuel oil finish. With smoked caramel. A little goes a long way here. The complexity and accessibility on the nose, is a distant dream with a bold, dry, burnt rubber and diesel palate. Quite a mouthful. Lingering smoky 'burnt ends' are on the edge of being a too challenging, but overall, I love it. Stunning long finish. [91pts]

That Boutique-y Rum Company 1997 HTR, 61.1%, 23yrs, 326btls (50cl)

A single barrel. Approx. 12 years spent in Trinidad, followed by 11 in the UK. All in ex-bourbon barrels. An outturn of just 326 of the lovely squat 50cl bottles - synonymous with all boutique-y bottlings.

Nose: A flash of sweet, slightly antiseptic, caramel pudding is immediately pushed aside by petrol fumes. Heady. The petrol gives way to gluey varnish, and a little cocoa powder. Back to sweet spice with classic Caroni diesel at the end.

Mouth: Warm and rich. The fuel tastes are there but well integrated with some velvety dark fruit and heavy ginger & nutmeg spice. Not super complex, maybe too accessible for a Caroni but I'm really enjoying it. A lovely, sweet spearmint and smoked nuts finish. [88+pts]

That Boutique-y Rum Company 1997 HTR, 61.5%, 24yrs, 332btls (50cl)

A single barrel. Approx. 12 years spent in Trinidad, followed by 12 in the UK. All in ex-bourbon barrels. An outturn of just 332 of the lovely squat 50cl bottles - synonymous with all boutique-y bottlings.

Nose: Nutty, big and inviting. Lots of dark chocolate and cigar box. Incredible gluey rotten banana. Shoe polish. There's diesel, tar and rubber but less intense than some. Ends with wisps of smoke, like burnt high tar chocolate?! A big rich complex rum. The Caroni notes are present but well integrated.

Mouth: Cherries, with oil refinery! Surprising sweetness and loads of nutty richness. A tasty, rich, deep, well-balanced rum. Lots of everything I want. We have the hot tar, and the burnt rubber. Integrated with tobacco smoke and stewed plums. Maybe a touch short finish on the finish but overall, right up there for me. Complex, delicious, and still plenty challenging [91pts]

The Colours of Rum Caroni edition No. 3 1998, 62.9%, 24yrs, 251btls

This single barrel was aged for 11 years in Trinidad, in and ex-bourbon barrel. After which is was shipped to Europe and rehomed into an ex-whisky barrel! Finally, in February 2022 it was bottled at a healthy 62.9% into just 251 bold looking Colours of Rum distinctive black bottles. Mark unknown.

Nose: Some tasty rubber, and plastic. A little diesel and iodine. A dry, smoky, earthy nose. Enjoyable but after the initial onslaught it quickly becomes a touch restrained for me. No bad notes, just not smacking me round the face enough. Given time, then nose seems to pitter out to nothing,

Mouth: Very burnt plastic, a touch of bitterness, then some of the taste you get in your mouth when you walk by the road surfacing guys. Lacking complexity. A little chocolate. Flashes of menthol and anise that work well. The burnt plastic become a more pleasant roasted rubber that lingers in the finish. Not bad but not rocking my boat. [84pts]

The Colours of Rum Caroni edition No. 2 1997, 64.5%, 25yrs, 132btls

Today's final rum, also a single barrel, spent just 4 years in Trinidad before being shipped to Europe where it spent the remainder of its 25 years in an ex-rum barrel! Just 132 bottles of this rare juice were released following bottling in February 2022, at a bold 64.5%.

Nose: Your nose is initially greeted by sharp, poorly integrated alcohol. Once through this, you're treated to a heady blend of walnuts & burnt liquorice. Some tart gooseberry. A dry, slightly saline nose. Not as complex as some, even a little thin at the close. Clean but missing the level of diesel, tar and rubber I would like.

Mouth: Pretty funky, almost a Jamaican rum's vinegar slap at the start, maybe a Monymusk. I'd struggle to pick this a Caroni. But it's a certainly a good, creamy, funky, slightly dirty rum. A touch of spice, and a little burnt caramel. Enjoyable, even with the flaws, just not Caroni enough [83pts]

Conclusion: Caroni's increasing rarity without doubt dictates the absurd prices, but it's a unique rum and one any spirit lover should try once in their lifetime. The powerful diesel and burnt rubber flavours most certainly shocked me when Peter Holland poured me my first Caroni. But, as with some many things, that weirdness can grow to be delicious and desirable. Easy winners today, Bristol 97 and Boutique-y (B8) !! With Boutique-y (B7) close behind. Cheers

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