El Dorado Rare Collection side-by-side tasting
Updated: 3 days ago
A very special review this weekend of these iconic, limited release, Guyanese rums.
Tasting reviews are obviously subjective, however [as with all my reviews] I'm tasting these side by side to offer a level of objectivity that can't be achieved when tasting and reviewing rums months or years apart.
Before getting stuck into the detail, and the exciting tasting, I'd like to thank the incredible bloggers and rum historians who have made researching this article such a pleasure. There is a wealth of information now available online and I suggest the following as superb places to start further reading... cocktailwonk, thelonecaner, singlecaskrum, rumtheworld, barrelagedmind, newworldrumclub ...
Guyanese rum, otherwise known as Demerara rum, presents a very strong case for being the world's most important rum. The name Demerara, associated with both rum and sugar, originates from the many sugar plantations situated along Guyana's Demerara River.
Sugar and subsequently rum production is deeply entwined in Guyana's rich history. During the early colonial periods of the 17th & 18th centuries, Guyana's economy was focused on plantation agriculture, which initially depended on slave labour.
The first records of distillation date back to the late 17th century - by 1780 there were over 300 distilleries in British Guyana - producing their own unique rums, each identified by a specific mark identifying its origin (e.g. Uitvlugt - ICBU, Port Mourant - PM, Enmore - EHP).
Distillery closures and consolidation decimated this to just 9 distilleries in 1942, with only Diamond remaining open today. Thankfully many of the unique styles of these long-closed distilleries, along with several of the historic stills, have been preserved for us to experience and enjoy today.
Demerara rum is often associated with the British Royal Navy thanks to the centuries of Guyanese rum forming a significant part of the naval 'tot' blend. Sadly this traditional naval ration was brought to an end on 31 July 1970 (Black Tot Day).
Gone but not forgotten - Diamond Distillery (DDL) has at its disposal an incredible 11 stills. As I mentioned above, many of these are working pieces of history that have found their way to Diamond following the closure and consolidation of other historic distilleries. These distilleries had their own distinct style of rum (often closely tied to their still) which DDL has endeavored to maintain (or to recreate) either by using the original still that is now at Diamond or by configuring their Savalle still to best reflect the style they are trying to produce and preserve. Each historic style can be identified by a mark or designation. Here's a selection of the main ones:
There have been many iconic releases of Demerara rums, the pinnacle being Velier's uber sought after, Guyana-aged bottlings. DDL themselves have several lines of regular releases but few are cask strength and/or from specific stills.
DDL's releases have been tarnished by their historic tendency to sweeten and colour their rums, however today's 'Rare Collection' series should tick all these boxes (single still, cask strength, uncoloured, unsweetened), and theoretically offers more affordable options that could run toe to toe with Velier's prized bottlings*
*having recently had the huge privilege of tasting Velier Skeldon 1973, I can be fairly confident in saying that even some legendary Velier releases may have been subject to caramel or other additions.
Ten rums in one sitting risks palate fatigue so my approach is to cluster them in 4 smaller groups. Followed by a 'champion of champions' tasting of the four winners.
How to group these bottlings? These rums were released in 3 waves, from 2016-2018. It would be a reasonable decision to review each bundle of releases together.
Equally, I could have grouped them by age or abv.
I have chosen to cluster them based on their mark & style - this is usually tied to the still used to produce them. Of the 11 stills at DDL, today we will focus on the 5 heritage stills and rums produced on them.
For these tastings, I have given the weighty beasts at least 30 mins (often nearer an hour) to open up. Assisted over the weekend, as Mrs SecretRumBar is away, by an epic marathon of Kingfish, Cedric Burnside, Marcus King and the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Tasting 1 - Diamond coffey column stills
Metal coffey column stills - dating from circa 1950 these copper 2 column continuous stills are the source of Diamond's own historic and distinct style, they are used to produce rums of mark SVW.
A model of the Diamond Coffey Still, photo credit: rumtheworld.com
El Dorado Rare Collection Diamond & Port Mourant, 2001, 54.3%
From the second batch of releases in 2017, this blend of two marks were married prior to being aged for 16 years in Guyana. The marks in question tell us that one element (PM) was produced on the incredible Port Mourant wooden pot still (more on that later), with the other being <SVW> - one of the bolder styles coming from the metal coffey column still.
I've included this release here, aligned to the Diamond still element, rather than in the PM (Heritage wooden pot stills) group as I felt it was closest to the dominant style in the blend.
A Velier collaboration - after the huge success of the now legendary Velier Demerara bottlings, Luca Gargano was indulged with a barrel pick for El Dorado's own (this) Rare Collection range - as above, the bottle is tagged. It was included in Velier's 70th anniversary releases.
Nose: A fantastically rich, deep nose. Liquorice hits first then the powerful wood - I'm really impressed how the massive oak doesn't overwhelm. Anise, dark fruit, caramel and glue hold true and the result is wonderfully balanced and complex.
Spicy orange zest .. cigar box ... caramel ... bitter coffee ... loads going on.
After leaving for a little longer the solvent edge from the Port Mourant becomes much more dominant. Complex and enticing.
Another rest and the oak is starting to take over. Some sticking plaster notes have appeared too.
Mouth: Bitter and tannic. Dark chocolate and licorice. Boozy banana, sharp savoury plums, green apple. Initially a little too sharp for me but it's very appealing and as it drags me back it's growing on me. Aromatic, spicy, boozy.
A long dry finish. A very rummy rum. Solid stuff. [89+pts] *upgraded from 88 following another tasting - side-by-side with Velier D&PM. In pairing this blend with straight Diamonds I possibly didn't do the blend justice, or give it long enough to fully appreciate.
El Dorado Rare Collection Diamond, 1998, 54.9%, 300 btls
One of two very limited releases from the third batch in 2018, just 300 bottles were released to the Dutch market following a massive 20 years tropical aging.
<SVW> DLR - Two of the diamond still marks, the heavier SVW blended with the lighter DLR prior to barrel aging
A special limited release to celebrate 100 years of 'De Monnik Dranken'
Nose: Lighter and zestier than the blend. Less wood on the nose. A lot of menthol. Bitter cherry. Milk chocolate. Dried raisins with some oak, but the dominant nose is candied fruit, slight pastry and a powerful minty freshness.
Mouth: Waves of bitter fruit. Fascinating stuff. Super dry but still full of flavour. Toasted spices. A long dry finish. A really tasty rum. Possibly too much oak tannin for me but I'm really enjoying the morishness. [87+pts]
El Dorado Rare Collection Diamond CBH, 1998, 55.1%, 790 btls
The other of these two limited-release bottlings from the third batch in 2018. 790 bottles were released to the French market, also with 20 years of tropical aging.
Another bottling of SVW & DLR marks 'Blended in the barrel'. And another special limited release - this one to celebrate the 20th anniversary of CBH
Nose: Jammy with lots of coconut. Deeper than the other straight Diamond. A good splash of glue and esters. Both the vanilla oak and the alcohol are incredibly well integrated.
Both early on, and after a long rest, this is really working for me. Deep rich oak perfectly balanced with fruit and esters.
Mouth: A superbly complete Diamond. Gluey, salty, dark molasses caramel. Roasted spice. Prunes. Less bitter than the first two. Heavily toasted coconut leads to a long and complex finish. The most balanced, and easily the most delicious of the three. [90+pts]
Tasting 1 winner - Diamond CBH, 1998, 55.1%
Tasting 2 - Heritage wooden column still (Enmore Still)
The absolutely amazing double wooden continuous coffey column still!
Constructed of greenhart wood back in 1880 this unique still was initially built and used at the Enmore sugar estate located on the east bank of the Demerara River. After Enmore's closure in 1994, the still was relocated to Uitvlugt. The final step in its journey was in 1999 when Uitvlugt closed and its stills were consolidated to Diamond - the last remaining Guyana distillery.
A model of the double wooden continuous coffey column 'Enmore' still, credit: rumtheworld.com
El Dorado Rare Collection Enmore, 1993, 56.5%
Both the oldest and the longest aged of the whole series, this EHP mark wooden column stilled rum was aged for a quite incredible 22 years in the tropical Guyana climate. It was released as part of the first trio of bottlings in 2016.
Nose: A warm, welcoming nose. Fruity, almost tropical, with pencil shavings and chocolate. Caramel raisins and sweet spices - nutmeg and caraway. A touch of polish A really excellent nose that is super lively for the age. More gluey as it opens up. Stunning alcohol integration.
Mouth: Burnt sugar and caramel fruit quickly get pushed aside by an enjoyably bitter tannic spiced oak. That's really it. Not as complex as I'd hoped or as the nose promised. And a very short finish. A little unnatural cloying sweetness in the aftertaste. But a tasty drop. [86+pts]
El Dorado Rare Collection Enmore 1996, 57.2%
Similarly long-aged, this EHP mark rum was also produced on the unique and historic wooden column still before being aged for 21 years at the distillery. This Enmore was released as part of the second set of bottlings in 2017.
Nose: Initially a touch drier on the nose but still very much alive and kicking. Cinnamon, vanilla, toasted spice. More pencil shavings, dried fig and wood polish. On the nose I slightly prefer the richer, deeper, glue-ier 93.
Mouth: Again we start with burnt caramel molasses-covered fruit with the wave of tannic oak piling in soon after. But on this occasion, things are far from over as the bitter wood takes its turn and then moves over allowing room for some interesting sweet smokey fruit, salty almost iodine dark chocolate, and cinnamon spice. A fruitier, more interesting and longer finish. Very tasty and very moorish [90+pts]
Tasting 2 winner - Enmore 1996, 57.2%
Tasting 3 - Legacy distillery styles recreated on the heritage Savalle still
Likely built at Uitvlugt in the 1920s this 4 column French Savalle still was relocated to Diamond in 1999. An incredibly versatile still that can be configured in a variety of ways and is used to recreate styles associated with and dedicated to classic closed distilleries.
A model of the Savalle Still, credit rumtheworld.com
El Dorado Rare Collection Skeldon, 2000, 58.3%
SWR - a designation representing the style of the legendary Skeldon rum distillery (early 1800s - 1960). Originally made on a Blair column still, this emulation was produced on the highly configurable Savalle Still.
Aged for 18 long years before being released as part of the third wave of rums in this series (2018).
Nose: An immersive nose. Rich, deep and fat. Toasted spices. Meaty. Dry, bitter oak. High cocoa dark chocolate. Burnt coconut. Old furniture polish. Leather. Iodine. A little mustiness. Grilled old walnuts. There is no hiding from the age here, seriously venerable juice. I'm enjoying nosing it but worry about what the lack of fruit and freshness will present on the palate.
A little later some tasty rubber notes shine through.
Mouth: Chewy, austere, leathery rum. The toasted spice and dry oak are there but with fruit too. I wouldn't say lively but the fruit is there and far from dead. Lots of old, quite dry dates, nuts & apricots. And a touch of menthol. Both oak and alcohol integration work really well. Not as bitter or tannic as I feared. In fact, everything is balanced perfectly. An absolutely delicious Demerara. Nice touch of salt shines through during the long dry fruit, oak, chocolate, tobacco and leather finish. Stunningly made and beautiful to drink. [91pts]
El Dorado Rare Collection Albion, 2004, 60.1%
Another re-creation of an otherwise lost distillery style. Albion existed from 1802/3 to 1968 and this style of rum was produced on their continuous coffey still, the folks at Diamond have recreated this unique style using the versatile Savalle.
At 14 years this is one of the shorter aged releases. As with the Skeldon it was part of the 3rd and [currently] last wave of DDL's 'rare collection'.
Nose: Spicy, heady stuff. Lots of cinnamon and cloves. Banana flambe. Sweet wood-polish and heavy oak furniture. A bit of salt and some orange zest are making my mouth water. A real powerhouse.
Mouth: Bitter orange zest. Surprising creamy vanilla, almost a sweetness. Then back to the bitter, zesty oak. Lots of spice. Less harmonious than the Skeldon, with a little roughness from the alcohol and even a slight hint of unnatural cloying sweetness. This is very slight and could be my imagination but it's just not quite as clean to drink as the Skeldon. The tart, tannic bitterness from the oak comes mid-palate but works quite well. Very good, but not close to the Skeldon for me. [88pts]
Tasting 3 winner - Skeldon 2000, 58.3%
Tasting 4 - Heritage wooden pot stills
Super special, totally unique - the Port Mourant wooden pot still dates back to the early 18th century, and the Versailles still to the late 19th. Very much the stuff of folklore, the hard greenhart wooden construction of these stills produces completely unique flavours that are famed across the rum world.
Both stills have been on epic journeys around Guyana before ending up at their current home - Diamond Distillery. The Port Mourant still started life (predictably) at the Port Mourant distillery, reputedly way back in 1732. On Port Mourant's closure in around 1955 the still was moved to Albion until its closure in c.1968 at which point it was relocated to Uitvlugt. Uitvlugt lasted until 1999 when, thankfully for us, the ancient still was preserved and moved to Diamond.
The Versaille still started life at the Lusignan distillery in about 1890, moving to Enmore in c.1978. On Enmore's closure in 1994 it was relocated to Uitvlugt where it would be joined a few years later by the Port Mourant still. They were moved together to Diamond in 1999.
Photos of the unique wooden Port Mourant & Versailles Pot Stills [credit: cocktailwonk.com]
El Dorado Rare Collection Port Mourant, 1997, 57.9%
Released as part of the second batch in 2017, this rum was produced on the mythical Port Mourant wooden pot still, before aging in Guyana for a staggering 20 years.
Nose: Initially this rum noses quite 'hot' with all of its 57.9% making itself known from the off. It offers upfront tropical fruit, orange zest, and a good amount of gluey acetone. I'm again reminded of the stewed tea & pungent durian fruit-forward style of pot still 'ward' Mt Gay. (only deeper and taken up a notch or two!) Lots of wood, spice, and brown sugar as expected but the added squishy, gluey fruit is a real win.
Mouth: Impressively fruity. Rotten durian, stewed tea, baked banana, dried mango. Really exciting and so vibrant after 20 years! Leather, licorice, and of course spicy wood, but balanced perfectly. Quite a toasty profile, with some salty vanilla thrown in. Even a shred of beautiful old menthol at the close. [92pts]
El Dorado Rare Collection Port Mourant, 1999, 61.4%
Another Port Mourant, this 16 year aged version was released in the inaugural trio, back in 2016.
Nose: A slightly different Port Mourant to the first. More intense, more perfumed. Focus is on the 'higher notes' of floral spices when compared to the 1997 (anise and fennel on this one). The stewed black tea and squishy gluey fruit are present again but in a more heady way - outstanding, albeit not as rich or deep.
Mouth: Another impressive well-aged Port Mourant profile - piles of gluey old fruit balanced perfectly by the depth and spice of the oak. A beautifully little medicinal edge. More orange zest on this one and not quite as aligned with my personal taste but I'm bowled over by both of these. The age is staggering when you taste how alive and fruity they are. Not an over-oaked, too bitter or too-tannic note in sight! A long long vendome-esque finish [89+pts]
El Dorado Rare Collection Versailles, 2002, 63%
The final part of the first trio of releases in 2016. Both the youngest and the strongest of the whole lineup, and the only release produced on the fabulous old wooden Versailles pot still.
Nose: More citrus zest heavy than the PMs. Still has the gluey pot still funk, less of the squishy fruit. Quite fat and naturally sweet. Some tea, even a little meat. I'm enjoying the musky tannic dried fruit and spicy oak.
Another 30 mins and the oak is coming on strong, will it overpower the palate?
Mouth: The sweetest profile of the three. Yet again the dry tannic oak is happily taking a backseat to fruit-forward, lively, slightly funky flavours. A splash of vinegar on this one. It's taken an hour to get there but it's very very good, slightly less aromatic compared to the two PMs but the fruit-oak balance and general deliciousness puts this right up there on the overall lineup. Lots of blackjack licorice on the finish. Mixed reviews elsewhere, but I love it. [91+pts]
A high-scoring round, and the closest finish of them all. Somehow I feel the Versailles needs a wildcard entry into the final :-)
Tasting 4 winner - Port Mourant, 1997, 57.9%
Well, that's the finalists decided. Bring on next weekend !!
FINAL TO BE TASTED BLIND.