Velier Magnum Series Review - Elliot Erwitt
Updated: Oct 4
Well the buzz words are all there ... Velier, limited edition, bigger bottles! But do these recent releases contain juice that warrants the hype, and the price tag...?
A collaboration between Italian *dependant* bottler Velier and four of the world's most respected distilleries ... Saint James, Mount Gay, Hampden and Foursquare. Dubbed the "Magnum series" in tribute to legendary photographer Elliot Erwitt, these four rums are presented in regular 70cl as well as enormous 150cl stylish Velier black bottles.
As rum aficionados, and regular reader of this blog, will likely know - Luca Gargano and Velier have built a reputation for working closely with distilleries, supporting some great bottlings, whilst remaining completely true to the heritage of each rum by insisting that, where possible, it is produced, aged and bottled on location. And, of course, the name of the distillery sits front and centre on the bottle. [hence the designation 'dependant' as opposed to 'independent bottlers' (IBs) who buy the juice and from there onwards work separately to (potentially) age, and to bottle the rum]
I was fortunate enough to buy one of the Mount Gay 150cl magnums (which I have opened and shared with rum family here in the UK), as well as samples of the full range, that I will review today.
As always, 15ml of each, left to breath for 30 min. Nosed first, then tasted, in increasing abv order. Assisted today by the unmissable deep funk of Baby Charles!
Velier, Magnum Series, St James 2006 - 45%, 15 yrs, 1200 bottles & 600 magnums
A milestone rhum for St James who rarely engage with co-bottlings and who almost never step away from their familiar rectangular bottle. The lure of those Velier black bottles has won them over :-)
Pure cane juice, column stilled. Agricole rhum. Aged at the distillery in Martinique for a huge 15 years!
I'm always a little apprehensive when, as is so often the case with long aged Agricole rhums, the end product is heavily reduced - in this case to 45%. But I remain open minded and look forward to trying this very special juice.
The darkest of today's lineup - an absolutely spanking golden amber.
Nose: Rich and nutty. Almost Armagnac-like with it's dark caramel, chocolate and burnt orange. Heavy oak, roasted spice. Minimal fruit, as you might expect. A little sweet rubber and tannic black tea appear after a short while. And a smidge of menthol.
Very deep, rich and inviting, undoubtedly a beautiful long aged Agricole. Pleasing level of alcohol, given how reduced it is - noses more heavyweight than expected. A touch of solvent and slight bitterness. Very well oaked but the rum still seems lively enough on the nose to balance this.
Mouth: On the pallet it starts rather flat, sadly not living up to the surprisingly 'big' nose. The flavours that I do get are very enjoyable, lots of dried fruit, a splash of spice and menthol. Lingering nicely and only presenting a slight bitterness midway though the finish. A clearly very well made rum. The initially flat taste lets it down a lot, which is a shame as the long finish is quite venerable and very enjoyable. [84pts]
Velier, Magnum Series, Hampden 2016 - 60%, 5 yrs, 1200 bottles & 600 magnums
A young Hampden - as seems to be the trend with recent releases. Not a trend I have been a fan of. The mark of this one is HLCF - the same mark used for the distillery's 'overproof' rum. A mid ester mark for Hampden, easily the highest in today's lineup, so I'm expecting something pretty funky. Pot stilled rum, 100% tropical aged in bourbon barrels for 5 years.
Nose: A big, very familiar nose. Overripe tropical fruit. Loads of varnish. Sweet esters. Balsamic vinegar. Proper Hampden. Big and bold. Touch of salty olives, then back to the rotten papaya and mango. The key for me with a young Hampden is for it to embrace the bold fresh flavours and this one does in spades. The best young Hampden I've nosed in a long while - exciting stuff :-)
Mouth: Yum. Not perfect .... but yum. [licks lips]. The taste isn't quite delivering everything the nose promised, but it's absolutely true to Hampden's flavour profile and a pleasure to drink. Big, exciting, a kaleidoscopic mouthful of Hampden's vinegary tropical fruit cocktail.
Velier, Magnum Series, Mount Gay 2007 - 60%, 14 yrs, 1200 bottles & 600 magnums
Possibly the rum I'm most excited about today. Unlike the majority of Mount Gay rums, this release is 100% pot stilled - as with the excellent Habitation Velier Last Ward releases. Fully tropical aged for 14 long years in ex-bourbon barrels.
Nose: An absolute belter of a nose. The biggest of the lineup. I wouldn't immediately pick this as a Bajan nose. Vendome-esque medicinal notes mingle beautifully with rich stone fruit (dark cherries), dark chocolate, sweet spice, coconut and lashings of acetone. Reminiscent of WIRD. A hedonistic nose - just hope the taste lives up to it!
Mouth: And we have a winner! An explosion of flavour. Super indulgent. Layers upon layers. Stunning depth, complexity and integration. A soupcon of cinnamon. A ladle of autumn berries. Vanilla, caramel, crème brulee. Deelicous.
Another side comparison, this time with HV Last Ward 2007 - it's hard to pick a favourite. Luckily I plan to let these beasts fight it out for real soon - as they will both feature in a Mt Gay tasting coming up :-) [90+pts] *the + is there to allow me a future review up to 91 :-)
Velier, Magnum Series, Foursquare 2005 - 61%, 16 yrs, 1200 bottles & 600 magnums
A pot & column blend (as is usual at Foursquare). Aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry barrels - for a massive 16 tropical years, which equates to 50 or 60 years in a Europe!
One of the oldest Foursquare releases to have been fully aged at the distillery.
Richard Seale was recently asked about this level of aging - and whether the rum is likely to end up too tannic / over oaked. His very confident answer was "no" - it is all down to barrel management.
In the specific case of this rum, he started the bourbon element in first fill ex-bourbon barrels for 10yrs, subsequently moving them to second fill for 6yrs.
Similarly the sherry element started in first fill bourbon for 3yrs and then onto refill sherry casks. The plan was always for very long aging - and the good news is that some of this rum remains in barrels for a future release :-)
Nose: Initially dirtier & mustier than I'm used to with Foursquare. However this soon pulls back to reveal the classic vanilla, deep caramel, dark raisined berries, nutty, creamy, slightly saline notes of sherry aged Foursquare. The 61% alcohol is there and quite heady but overall I'd say very well integrated. And very inviting.
Mouth: Feels like home. Foursquare is that safe place where quality is all but guaranteed. Far too easy to overlook as the winners just keep on coming. But let's be honest, it's Richard Seale's consistent output of quality and value that has helped raised the bar on rum around the globe.
This is magical. A mouthful bursting with rummy, vanilla & caramel infused, dried fruit explosions. Absolutely gutted I only have 15ml left !
Another side comparison? Why not :-) This time I've poured a splash of Sovereignty [reviewed here]. Predictably similar stunning quality sherry forward profile. But the depth and excitement of the 16yr Magnum Series is next level. [92pts]
Conclusion: These very limited release rums started at around £160 for the regular sized bottles (now silly auction prices). Even with the rapidly increasing prices for premium rums, £160 still edges into the 'collector zone' for most.
This is definitely the case for the (double size double price) stunning - but rather impractical - 150cl Magnums.
All a shame as the rums are incredible.
Splitting a Mount Gay magnum between 6 rum friends was a fantastic option - I hope they're all enjoying their 250ml splits :-)
The pick of the lineup? ... Mount Gay is a stunner. But that Foursquare :-) :-) :-)