Rum Review: Berry Bros Caroni 1997 22y

Today is an independent bottling of a Trinidad rum, more specifically Caroni, quite the legend. The bottling is done by Berry Bros & Rudd. A London base wine and spirit merchant that also bottles their own spirits. You can find their history here. This 300+ year old company has a reputation of bottling some great rums, with there being so many independent bottlers around at the moment. These long standing companies are always a beacon of quality.

This Caroni was distilled back in 1997, and bottled 22 years later. A significant part of the aging was in continental conditions and it was bottled at 60.3%.

Since this is the first Caroni that I’ll review, I’ll give a small introduction. The Caroni story started in 1918 like so many others, with a sugar plantation. Actual rum distilling started in 1923 and this lasted up until 2002 when the distillery was closed by the government. The distillery produced a “Heavy” rum, a flavour profile with notes such as tar, rubber and petroleum. This all may not sound attractive, but for most experienced rum drinkers, it’s an eye-opening experience. Unexperienced drinkers on the other hand may believe something is very wrong with it, to each their own.

Because of this intense and expressive profile, the rum wasn’t all that popular when the distillery was open, especially since most of the worlds tastebuds were more prone toward lighter rum and rum cocktails.

In 2004 Luca Gargano re-discovered this now-closed distillery and found a massive amount of resting barrels in an abandoned warehouse. Gargano continuously released single casks and blend of the rum which went from the fringes to wide recognition and now legendary status. Gargano made Caroni great and a lot of independent bottlers are trying to share some of the profits with him.

Among which is today’s bottler. With their 1997 vintage, they’ve brought a (hopefully) memorable Caroni identity.


Colour:

Amber, orange with deep golden hues.

Nose:

There they are: petroleum, tar, rubber. These heavy notes are also complimented by tropical fruits (passionfruit and bananas). The heavy elements serve as a solid base on which the fruit can float. Chocolate and molasses join the party as well but these get lost in the heavier notes.

The intensity of the nose and its ABV of 60.3% makes my eye water sporadically when diving in deep. Nothing I can’t handle though. (yes, I’m a badass)

Taste:

Molasses, orange, tar, petroleum, banana, chocolate and tobacco. In that order. Just a very warm and intense rum. It’s like sitting at an open fireplace in a cabin and smoking a fat cigar and eating tangerines… near a petroleum factory. I’ve been told this is one of the “more approachable” and lighter caroni’s still out there. Since this is my first review of a Caroni I can not confirm nor deny this statement. I’ll just have to see as the years come along where this one ranks.

The ABV is filling and not sharp at all. Also some spice is present on the tongue, but very light. A light saffron hint.

Finish:

The finish is almost infinite and woody, the tar and rubber linger. A thin layer of caramel covering a cask remains as a last lingering note.

This being the first caroni I’ve reviewed, I don’t really have a standard with which to compete. But as a rum on its own, it is of course an immensely good rum. I must admit I like the tar, rubber and petroleum notes, though I don’t love them. Meaning that this is a solid rum to try occasionally; not daily or weekly. Perhaps monthly or even less frequent than that. With the status this distillery has and its intense flavour it only seems normal to keep this type of rum for special occasions or tasting sessions.


Overall, good rum, powerful and expressive. Wouldn’t recommend it for the weaker hearted, but for the ones that are open to trying it. It’s a great piece of history to try it.

This Caroni now stands at a price of €520. Which is a lot. The question is, is it worth it? There are 2 sides to the answer.

-As a collector’s item? yes! as a collector’s item this is definitely worth it, since Caroni is a closed distillery, prices will only go up. So the best time to buy Caroni is yesterday.

-As a drinker? not at the moment. There are cheaper Caroni’s available on the market, both full and partial tropical ageing. Over the next couple of years this could become worth it though. As the already limited stock sells out, this type of pricing will be normal for Caroni (as it is now for the more limited bottles, that run at multitudes of this price already).

In the end it’s really up to you if you’re willing to pay this kind of money for this kind of rum.

And for this money you can be that annoying and pretentious person that has drunk Caroni and can’t stop talking about it… Like I will be from now on. You may from now on address me as ‘Sir RumRobin, Knight who says (Caro)NI‘. all I need now is a crown, a cupbearer to bring me rum at a moment’s notice and a shrubbery.

9/10

Here you can find the link to buy the bottle. The webshop only works for Belgian customers or for people who have “Bancontact” at the moment.

If you aren’t from Belgium and are still interested in this bottle. Send me an email on robin@crombewines.com

Disclaimer: I work at the store of which I included the link. I do not however receive any money or incentives to sell these rums. I just like them, put them in the store and share them with you all.

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