Caroni used to produce two vastly different styles. The one we know and love today is what we’ve got to know as the “Heavy” style, a high ester expression which they distilled with their very short single column still or by placing plates to make a cut at the appropriate point (and time if you want) in order to mimic the production process of pot stills. For the light, low ester style the cut was made at a later (higher) point, which results in a cleaner, lighter and generally less flavourful distillate that has not a whole lot to do with what we have in mind when thinking about ‘Caroni’. As a result, these rums sometimes are not even recognisable as such and might also be mistaken for rums you’d typically associate with the Spanish style.
I’ve already reviewed a light style Caroni from 1990 which I’ve had in a blind-tasting. For my notes and whether I recognised it as a ‘Caroni’, click here. Similarly, I have tasted another light style Caroni from Cadenhead’s at the Cologne Spirits, failed to take any notes though. It was a 14YO from 1991 with the name ‘Providence’, which should be synonymous for light style Caroni. All I can tell is that it was a bit different from the Compagnie des Indes below. While it shared the same musty character, it was also way more forgettable but would place right in the middle of this cross-tasting.
Isla del Ron Caroni 1989 27YO (52,5%): Oh dear, what is this? I smell alcohol and plenty of it! What the heck? It is not sharp but there aren’t any aromas to it. Then wood glue, sour apples, vanilla and some grain. This already required a lot of imagination, essentially there isn’t much more than alcohol and vanilla. At the palate it’s slightly sweet and now also quite sharp. At 52,5% that’s a joke. There’s a lot of ginger and not much coming from the cask. Given the rum’s age, I have no clue what went wrong here and why you ever would want to bottle such a cask. It’s still very sharp. The finish contains even more neutral alcohol with some spices. An awful one. The Bristol Providence 1990 linked in the introductory text above is very similar in profile but much much better quality wise. I am not sure whether that’s helpful but there you go.
Compagnie des Indes Caroni 1991 26YO (56,2%): Here we have a very musty profile with matches, dust and old wood from the antiquity store. In that sense it reminds me a lot of the Samaroli West Indies Dark Rum 1948 without coming anywhere close to its quality though. Then tobacco and dried dark fruits. The nose is really, really good! Tastewise, it is rather sour and very vinegar-like. The flavours resemble the aromas from the nose but way “worse” in terms of quality. It’s quite mild and balanced but all in all something doesn’t really work here. I’d go as far as saying that the nose is completely outstanding but the palate falls off way too much. Now also vanilla and, especially in the finish, also herbs. Speaking of which, it is rather strong with ginger and more vanilla. It’s a good rum but not a ‘Caroni’. For half of its asking price I’d certainly buy it though.
Origin R Caroni 1993 21YO (57,2%): You’ve got to be kidding me. This one is completely different again but not in a good way. It almost smells and tastes like it has been flavoured and is closer to some liquors than to typical Caronis or other rums if you want. It smells like a Cognac-based orange liquor. Pierre Ferrand Triple Sec anyone? It’s rather spicy but it’s not the alcohol but the rum’s profile, which is now slightly reminiscent of spicy paprika powder. Then cheap chocolate filled with orange-liquor. Seriously, blindly I might have mistaken this for some rum based spirit instead, or at least a wet cask. The rum is very sweet and we can find even more oranges at the palate. My grandma surely would have loved to use this for baking a cake. The finish is dominated by notes of speculoos and lebkuchen and it is by far the best aspect of this rum. Unfortunately I don’t have another true light style Caroni from 1993 but I am curious if other bottlings taste alike.
Velier Caroni 1993 17YO (44,4%): Actually this is not a light style Caroni but a blended one, which I guess means a mix of light and heavy style. Anyways, the intention was to include a Velier bottling as well but I didn’t have a single light style Caroni from our Italian friends so this will have to do it. The 44,4% is barrel proof by the way. On the back label it reads that Caroni probably reduced it just prior before they wanted to bottle it. Released in 2010, this means that it has been at that strength for at least five years, which explains why the rum isn’t very watery. Definitely interesting and a plausible story but probably not much more than mere speculation. Moreover, they advise to combine it with a glass of fresh water (what? :D). Ok, let’s start. The nose is… not what I expected. At 44,4% it is incredibly full and aromatic. I am pretty sure that the diluted rum lasted for a long time in the barrel, perhaps even longer than the five years. Or maybe the initial column strength was already quite low. It is not very often that you get rums like this. And it is pretty nice. There’s plenty of coconut, cocoa and coffee, inner tube and sweet amarena cherry. Behind that lures a subtle mineral touch. It is so typical yet so different from all other Caronis I know. At the palate we get a similar picture. The rum is not as mild as you would expect but relatively sweet with the same amarena cherries that I also picked up in the nose. Then the cocoa, bitter chocolate, just some tube and more roasting flavours such as burnt peanuts. The finish is medium long and very much on the bitter side with bittersweet chocolate and burnt coffee. I must admit that I was quite sceptical at first; a low abv Caroni, blended (i.e. not heavy) and from a vintage with which I did not have a good experience. In the end I am very glad that I got to try it. It is just a really cool Caroni. Not quite there on top with the best ones out there but it definitely stands out in a good way. And that’s alway a big plus with me.
Even with the light style/ blended versions, there is absolutely no way around Velier when it comes to Caroni. This tasting demonstrated this once again. I have always been reluctant to pay the big buck for these light style/ blended Caronis but maybe I’ll have to consider doing it… argh. Alas, it is clear who the winner is here. The Compagnie des Indes is a distant second, followed closely by the Cadenhead’s which I mentioned in the introduction. Just forget about the other two entirely, I’d say. There really isn’t much to like about them and I’ve poured the remains of them into my infinity bottle, something I rarely ever do.