Brand: Golden Devil
Origin: Caroni Distillery, Trinidad & Tobago (picked by K&L Wines)
Age: 23 years
For the final phase of what I think was a successful Sample September, I wanted to go all out– as far out as my rum sample library would let me, that is. For the culmination of this series, I decided to go with a cult favorite.
For those not well-versed in the hunt for rare rum vintages and forgotten distillates, Caroni fits into both those categories. Located on Trinidad, the now-defunct Caroni distillery was founded sometime in the 1910s, and processed the molasses byproduct of the estate's sugar factory into rum.
Throughout the 20th century, it went through a host of different still configurations, from a cast iron still to single and multi-column stills to pot stills. It also changed hands a few times, eventually ending up under state control, as the Trinidadian government sought to prop up the country's failing sugar industry.
The trajectory of the industry did not turn around, which led to the closing of Caroni in 2003, leaving Angostura as the only remaining active Trinidadian distillery. Long story short, Caroni's remaining rum stocks were sold off to different buyers, including Angostura, Velier, The Main Rum Co., and others. Today, Velier bottles the majority of Caroni products, which are highly sought-after and priced in the several hundred dollars range for the most part. Caroni's classic rums were likely much different from the independently-bottled single cask or blended rums we have today: the latter often features the unique notes of diesel fuel and burning rubber, which is one reason why modern Caronis are a cult hit (and often divisive).
Velier is not the only independent bottler with Caroni stock, however. Kill Devil is a brand of the independent scotch bottler Hunter Laing, and focuses on releasing fine single cask rums from around the world. The brand "Golden Devil" is their analog in America, due to copyright disputes with American distilleries using the name "Kill Devil" (since "Golden Devil" is the brand we're reviewing today, we will use that to reference this brand in the rest of the article). They managed to acquire some stocks of Caroni, and released the rum that sits in the sample bottle before us today.
Golden Devil 1998 Caroni is a fine specimen of the defunct distillery, featuring one of the "heavier" marques of rum that exhibits burning rubber notes. It was distilled in 1998, aged for 23 years in presumably ex-Bourbon casks, and finally bottled by Hunter Laing in 2021 with an ABV of 62.4%. This single cask was selected by California wine & spirits merchant K&L Wines, who mentions that some of the heaviest styles of Caroni rum came from their column stills, which hints that this is likely the origin of the 1998 vintage I have in front of me. Another special thank you to Andrew Hinton who provided me this sample.
I'm excited to review this and pass on the unique tasting notes to you all.
Golden brown, high clarity, medium-high viscosity
Vanilla, diesel fuel, post-rain leaves, molasses, black pepper, ethanol, butterscotch
Vanilla, oak, diesel fuel, cement, tire fire smoke, prunes, sour red grapes, nutmeg, peat
Long, warming, smokey, yet moist; tire fire smoke, bourbon-soaked oak, peat, dark roast coffee, nutmeg
Holy smokes, literally. Persuant of the heavy Caroni stereotype, this 23 year old Golden Devil Caroni really brings the smoke. And peat. And tire fire. You could probably trick more than a few scotch drinkers into thinking this was an Islay Scotch with the amount of tire fire and peat notes that the palate exhibits. By far, that is the most dominant note, however not the only one. This Caroni lives up to the hype of a flavorful, potentially divisive dram that whether by price or profile, sits out of the reach of the typical mortal.
The rum is a nice golden brown color, with high clarity and medium-high viscosity. When swirled, the rum settles awfully quickly, and has a pleasantly smooth texture.
On the nose, I get notes of vanilla, diesel fuel, the smell of leaves after a rainshower, molasses, black pepper, ethanol, and butterscotch. This is a perfectly balanced nose given this rum's pedigree, offering just hints of diesel fumes while featuring some more traditional rummy notes of vanilla, molasses, and butterscotch more prominently. The ethanol waxes and wanes throughout various sniffs, which isn't great but somewhat expected for a long-aged rum that's at such a high proof.
The palate is where this Caroni 1998 vintage shines. Vanilla, oak, diesel fuel, cement, tire fire smoke, prunes, sour red grapes, nutmeg, and peat all share the one's attention when sipping this rum. The palate really blossoms as the rum moves across your palate, having an initial sweetness of vanilla before delving into the more industrial and smokey notes of burning tires and diesel fuel. Some faint fruity notes pop out in different sips, while the more spicy and savory notes of nutmeg and peat help transition the palate into the finish. Truly, you will not find a more unique palate in rums available today.
The finish is long, warming, and smokey. Notes of tire fire smoke lead the way, while bourbon-soaked oak, peat, bitter dark roast coffee, and nutmeg follow up. It's a pleasant finish, and does not overpower with overbearing notes of smoke, but instead provides a reminder of what you just experienced on the palate, and begs you to take another sip.
While we will likely never see bottles of Caroni rum on shelves (whether because the distillery is closed or the hype surrounding independent releases), the distillery's name will likely survive for decades as rum enthusiasts savor the few remaining drops of diesel funky rum that we have left. Golden Devil 1998 Caroni is definitely an exhibition of the wonderfully heavy and tire fire-laden style of rum that has now been relegated to history or exorbitant markup. While this is not a rum I would necessarily choose to pour even 2 ounces of at any given time– given the price and the peatiness of the palate, it's absolutely a standout rum that is also a piece of history. Cheers!