Fiji - 9 rums reviewed!
Not sure if I should call this a review or challenge! Nine rums is my biggest lineup but it feels right to compare them all at one time. We'll see if pallet fatigue or simply the level of booze ends up making this a next level madness. If, towards the end, I start writing more nonsense than usual - then I guess we'll know :-)
Fiji - not the first place you'd think of when talking rum, and certainly somewhere that has slipped under many rum drinkers' radar. However Fiji has been growing cane and producing rum in it's equatorial climate for over 150 years. In the past there were several distilleries, sadly all except one are now closed - so we can be confident that all the rums being tasted today were produced at SPD - South Pacific Distillery.
You'll notice a series of different names in the lineup - these are all independent bottlers (IBs) who buy casks of aged rum either from the south pacific or more commonly from traders like E&A Scheer who have bought, shipped and aged the casks in Europe. These IBs may further age the rum before reducing it to their chosen abv and bottling it under their brand. I'm not aware of SPD selling any of their rum directly under their own brand, but happy to be corrected on this :-)
To the best of my research, all the rums are molasses based and were distilled in the copper pot still - so we should be in store for some funky fun.
Most of these bottlings are single barrels, exciting stuff - with very limited out-turn often just a couple of hundred bottles. I believe that no other funny business has been going on here - ie: happily all these rums were bottled without the addition of colours, flavours or sugar.
A massive thanks to Nick for arrange this blind tasting.
9 rums, 15ml of each, left to open up for 20 mins, nosed first, and then tasted, in increasing abv order. I initially tasted these blind which I really enjoyed and definitely helped focus the mind.
Assisted today by the sublime sounds of Stevie Wonder
Photo of front angle, so tasted right to left in the above
Lighter coloured - The two Duncan Taylor, TCRL & SBS
Mid - Cadenhead
Rich gold - Kill Devil, Holmes Cay, Duchess, XXX
Kill Devil 2002 - 14yrs, 46%, 355 bottles
The only rum in the line-up from 2002. Scottish IB more commonly associated with whisky but developing quite a name for their rum line. From the colour I suspect this has had a decent chunk of it's aging in a tropical climate.
Nose: A decent, balanced, interesting nose. Not massive but complex and enticing. Reminds me of a vendome stilled rum from St Lucia with that slightly smoky medicinal profile. Plenty of rubber. Varnish, oak, quite herbal, some polish. Reminiscent of a home medicine cabinet - plasters and a touch of antiseptic. Sweet tropical esters. Enjoyable.
Mouth: Decent structure. A smidge too watery for me. Nice balance of fruit and typical smoky medicinal Fiji varnish type esters. Plastic. Black banana. Overripe pineapple. Spicy oak core holds it together and lingers beautifully. A great demonstration of the typical SPD profile [81pts]
Duncan Taylor 2004 - 13yrs, 46%, 72 bottles
Another celebrated Scottish bottler. It would appear that only a portion of a barrel was bottled in this tiny run of just 72 bottles! From the light colour I suspect this rum was almost entirely continentally aged.
Nose: Light. Floral. A little glue. Some minerality. Summer fruits. Liquorice. Buttery pastry. Quite thin but good. Cinnamon, treacle. Medicinal. Overall a touch too thin for me.
Mouth: Thin, but good. Lingering lychee and varnish. Clean. Spicy. Cloves & cinnamon. Overripe tropical fruit. A little salty minerality balancing things well. A slight taste of wet paper that I can't describe better than that but takes a little of the lustre off the overall experience. [80pts]
Transcontinental Rum Line 2014 - 4yrs, 48%, 3594 bottles
Bottled under the TCRL brand owned by the awesome Parisian outlet La Maison du Whisky. Only 4 years of aging - significantly less than the rest of the lineup. 65% of these few years were spent in the tropics.
Nose: Fresh, zesty, albeit a little light at first. Summer fruits. Burnt plastic. Rotting vegetables. Very inviting. Quite a grower. It's thin but it works.
Mouth: This one is obviously young and maybe a lacks the intensity, the balls, I would look for in a really big rum, but it's very very enjoyable. I expected it to be obviously too young, but it's not, it fun, vibrant, exciting and very drinkable. Lingering notes of tangerine & varnish leave a lovely finish. Great value introduction to Fijian rum. [82pts]
Duncan Taylor 2003 - 10yrs, 53.8%, 231 bottles
Our second rum from Duncan Taylor and our first visit to the 2003 'vintage'. Again, I suspect this was almost entirely continentally aged.
Nose: A little thin and washed out at first. Some fruit and varnish. The step up in abv is clearly noticeable making it a little 'hotter', however it's also the least interesting so far, much less going on. Some antiseptic and treacle if you go hunting for it. It's warming, almost brandy-like, will be interesting to see what it delivers on the pallet.
After a further 20 mins in the glass it's opening up and I'm getting more of that antiseptic and treacle.
Mouth: A pleasant surprise. Candied, tropical, good sweet esters. Some green tomato chutney. An unfortunate gap at the back of the mouth, and slightly lacking in body but overall an enjoyable rum. Warming, clean and, tastewise, a good example of continentally aged Fijian Rum. [82pls]
SBS 2009 - 11yrs, 57%, 253 bottles
A single barrel (as you would expect from a bottler called 'single barrel selection') producing just 253 bottles. Bottled in 2020, there's one left on Master of Malt as I type - not cheap at £116.
Again, I suspect the majority of the aging of this rum was in Europe (likely Holland or the UK)
Nose: Sweet polish, lychees, black tea. Good depth. Mouth-watering. Lots of fruit. Lots of varnish. Fresh green olives. Overall very fresh, exciting and herbal.
Mouth: Initial taste is amazing. Caramel, banana, well integrated alcohol - boozy in a good way. The oak is working well - spicy tannins, creamy vanilla. Some good tropical fruit and a hint of brine. Very tasty. Unfortunately the finish is a little short and slightly bitter otherwise it's very impressive [84pts]
Holmes Cay 2004 - 16yrs, 58%, 486 bottles
Bottled by the highly acclaimed bottler Holmes Cay. Eric Kaye has only released a small number of rums, but he has already built up a great reputation for his solid picks.
This bottling was the outturn of 2 barrels. The oldest rum of the lineup at 16 years - of which 12 were spent in the tropics aging in ex-bourbon barrels and the remaining 4 in the uk in American oak.
Nose: Yum yum. Bon bons. Caramel. Maybe even too sweet. A little spice. Not the typical SPD profile - no medicinal herbal smokiness, less obviously pot stilled. Instead I'm getting a very balanced sweet, creamy, vanilla forward profile. A little salty. Really sweet and enticing. I'd probably guess Jamaica, maybe New Yarmouth column still, rather than Fiji.
Brine and a sort of under ripe green-ness. Then back to the sweetness. A touch of smoke. Very different. Very good.
Mouth: Ooo punchy. Big, sweet caramel. Lots of depth & complexity. Clean tropical taste. Perfect oak integration for me - layers of vanilla, toffee and spice. Really very spicy - in a good way - ginger, cinnamon and pepper. It's all there - tropical fruit, acetone, brine, sweet caramel. And working in harmony together. Not a typical Fijian run but an outstanding rum without doubt. [89pts]
Cadenhead FSPD 2003 - 13yrs, 59.6%, ? bottles
The second rum in the lineup from 2003. Another renowned Scottish bottler. I struggled to find much information on this one.
Nose: A good balance of fruit and glue. Quite savoury - almost a meatiness.
Dirty - I like it - it's making me salivate. A big complex nose - from dry estery rotten tropical fruit, to burnt rubber. Vegetable juice, then back to the barbequed meat. A little menthol, a little medicinal. Even some honey. And roadworks tar. A touch of smoke. The mostly dry savoury profile works really well. Probably my favourite nose of the lineup.
Mouth: Edgy, interesting. I really love it. It's sour - kind of old fruit sour. Citrus sour. A little sharpness and bitterness too. The burnt rubber and smokiness are there too. Lovely spiciness. A weirdly comforting rum - not the sweet caramel deliciousness of some others, but this one has it's own savoury deliciousness. A medium long dry sort of barbeque meat, spicy and burnt rubber finish. A very pleasant surprise. [88pts]
Duchess 2004 - 15yrs, 59.8%, 267 bottles
Back to 2004. Our third of four visits to this vintage. Bottled by the historically whisky focussed bottler headed up by Nils Van Rijn. I suspect this spent a large share of it's 15 years in the tropics.
Nose: A massive step change. It's floral & perfumed, very cane forward, a far cry from the spicy, medicinal, caramel molasses profiles so far. A little acetone and some wet wood, maybe not enough holding it all together. After more time to open up this is really screaming cane juice and is absolutely lovely.
Mouth: Very moorish. Warm. Deep. Lots of oak. Taste too says aged cane juice!! Buttery, spicy. Great blend of dark and summer fruits. Atypical Fiji - no medicinal smoky edge. I really like it. Wish I could find out more - anyone? [87pts]
XXX - Fine Drams 2004 - 15yrs, 66.8%, 214 bottles
Final rum, final visit to 2004. This monster has been reduced the least, if at all. Bottled at a massive 66.8% with predictably fewer bottles - just 214 from the single barrel.
The first 11 were spend aging in the Philippines, followed by 4 years in the UK.
Nose: Again, atypical of the SPD profile. Bright, lively, burnt toffee forward. Coconut, strawberry, tobacco. Lots of fruit with a solid vanilla oak core keeping everything in focus. A nice touch of acetone. Quite sweet. Promises lots.
After another 20 mins it's starting to really open up and the more typical SPD profile is coming through. Medicinal, a little smoke, lots of varnish.
Mouth: Pow! You know it's 66% but it's surprisingly drinkable. There's a lovely sweet spicy caramel to begin with. Then some menthol and more spice. A layer of dark fruit and a whole load of punch! Enjoyable, clean, well made, maybe not quite as complex as some. [85pts]
A really interesting tasting. Amazing to find so many different styles all coming from the same distillery. At around the release price, I'd highly recommend the Kill Devil & TCRL as a superb value introduction to Fijian rum. At a higher price point, if you can find a bottle of Holmes Cay or Cadenhead then don't hesitate - the HC will appeal to everyone, it's simply delicious (albeit not at all a typical Fiji profile). The Cadenhead was the massive surprise for me - really interesting and kept me wanting more.