Caroni is the Port Ellen of rum, or so goes the common perception. Both were distilleries that were largely overlooked when they were operational, and achieved legendary status post mortem.
Caroni was estblished in 1918 (or 1923, both sources I have are equally positive they got the date right), at a time when Trinidad had over 50 rum distilleries. By 2003, when Caroni closed due to the closing of the adjacent sugar factory, only Angostura survived. It’s worth noting that until 1984, the distillery had wooden coffey stills and a steel pot still. Both were replaced in 1984 with modern stills from Scotland (and a copper pot still). Caroni made two types of rum: Heavy rum (first part of the distillation with rich flavors) and light rum (comes out at almost 96% ABV and is the soft basis for the rum blend, much like grain whisky is to malt), which are usually combined to create the blend.
Nils van Rijn is the owner of the Dutch store Best of Whiskies and of The Duchess bottling, and he personally selects the casks that get bottled. In the rum series, he also has a Belize 10 year old and a Guadalupe 19 years old, which we’ll taste in our Rum Club in the near future.
The Duchess, Caroni Distillery Trinidad 1998, Cask 19, Distilled 2/1998, Bottled 3/2018, 20 Year Old (64.6% ABV, NCF, NC, No Sugar Added)
Appearance: Bronze, sturdy necklace with small droplets.
Nose: Molasses and caramelized sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, sweet orange blossom, pears poached in wine, and a lot of the cask. Oaky and woody, yet fresh. The sugary sweetness and the cask’s wood intertwine beautifully.
Palate: Sweet attack, then pepper and earthy notes with a burnt rubber and a touch of diesel fumes all wrapped in the very present oak. A second tasting brings tropical fruit with hints of guava and mango with a bitter citrus rind towards the end of the sip.
Linger: Peppery and dry, with spice around the gullet and the tropical fruit on the back of the tongue. The dryness and fruitiness remain, with that dirty “garage” in the background.
Like I said earlier, this is a rum for whisky lovers. It’s complex, not very sweet, and has a lot to discover. The Caroni dirtiness works beautifully here without overpowering the rum, and the wood plays so nicely with Caroni’s dirty character.
Tasted at the Israel Rum Club, and official sample used for taking notes.