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Rum Reviews

Clarendon 1995, 26 Years Old, for Aficionados Group, 68.3% ABV


Background: the 1995 batch of IB Clarendons contain some of my favourite rums; it is a wonder I have not reviewed any one of them till now. This is the first gap I wish to fill coming off a busy semester, and the Aficionados bottling featured here fits that niche nicely. At 68.3% abv., we are looking at perhaps the highest-proofed 1995 Clarendon ever bottled.

Nose: dense, rich and deep; we are talking about a thick wall of aromas, unlike any other drink I have had in recent memory; room-filling stuff; starts off with a huge hit of earthy umami; mushrooms; tar; douchi; natto; cocoa being conched; coffee beans being roasted; yaki onigiri; french fries; petrichor; there is also a complementary greenness to the earthiness; moss; freshly cut leaves and branches; salmiak liquorice; baked seeds and nuts; assorted culinary herbs; wood gums and resins; over time, sweetness comes to the fore; the cocoa combines with shortcrust pastry to form a chocolate tart; the nuts morph into nougat, the resins into fruity hard candy; fruits are plenty, including mango, jackfruit, durian, passion fruit, lychee, longan, strawberry; shaoxing wine; something “red” that I can only describe as a cross between well-aged Savanna grand aromes and sauce aroma baijius; the base notes are charred, oily and briny; burnt ends; bacon bits and salted caramel ice cream atop a burnt piece of Belgian waffle; cured anchovies in olive oil.

Palate: drinks hotter than average, but even very small sips bring about explosions of flavour; earthy and umami upfront, almost mirroring the nose; moss, mushrooms, nuts and dried meats, then dirt, tar, savoury chocolate and olive tapenade; additionally we have raw beef, liver pâté and pots of herbal soups — perhaps a mix of Cantonese seafood soup and Iranian kalle pache; I cannot help but think of very old olorosos and vin jaunes; in fact, the grand arome and sauce aroma baijiu comparisons follow through on the palate as well; yet a strong undercurrent of minerality runs in stark contrast to these notes, providing freshness; this minerality plays so well with the aforementioned oxidative notes that they accentuate each other; it also latches on to the slight astringency of the oak, forming the backbone of the palate; the mid-palate is graced by a plethora of dried fruits and fruit candy; mango; apricot; peach; pineapple; passion fruit; lychee; mandarin; a light funk tails the fruitiness; vomit; milk that either is spoilt or comes from a game animal; butter tea; things get herbal on the back-palate; a traditional chinese medicine cabinet; ointments and embrocations the likes of Tiger Balm; herbal liqueurs that are closer to Yomeishu than to Jagermeister; kitchen herbs accompanied by meats — think herb roasted chicken and Chinese black chicken herbal soup.

Finish: absurdly long; one of the top 5 best lengths among rums I have tasted; hella intense too; the tar and mushrooms return in full force, followed by a ton of industrial notes; rust; industrial grease; shoe polish; cooking gas; petrol, hell, an entire car engine; burnt rubber; these segue nicely into the "red" notes I should come to expect by now; shaoxing wine; red liquorice; peach-flavoured cough syrup; a fruit compote of cherry, strawberry, raspberry; gradually, green, sugarcane-adjacent notes surface; molasses; burnt cane; grass jelly; nin jiom pei pa koa; black milk tea sweetened with gula melaka; at this point it is evocative of old, oak-driven rhum agricoles like the ones from Bally and Neisson; the aftertaste is sweet-savoury and surprisingly resinous; roasted nuts; anchovies; pineapple fried rice; Marmite chicken; pork floss; hebi hiam; salted caramel; marshmallow in hot chocolate; indistinct wood perfumes and essential oils; creamy, buttery fragrances of which cocoa butter, shea butter and coconut butter are examples.

Conclusion: the alcohol integration can be improved, and the Tiger Balm-esque eucalyptus-forward herbal medicine notes occasionally threaten to overwhelm the mid-palate, but there is no denying just how tasty this rum is. Besides being incredibly complex and immensely flavourful, it is also on balance, well-poised between sweetness and umami, between bitterness and acidity. I especially love how everything comes together in a dense, cohesive whole and how said whole never lost concentration over the course of flavour development. The best Clarendon rum I have ever tried, and definitely one of the all-time greats.

Score (assuming a normal distribution with mean 50): 93/100


Image Courtesy of u/zoorado