Brand: Rhumb Runner
Origin: Trinidad Distillers Ltd, Laventille, Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
Age: 18 years
Trinidad seems to be ground zero for a number of famous, now-defunct distilleries: Caroni, Ten Cane, and Fernandes Distillers. In the case of Fernandes, the brand itself still exists under the larger Angostura umbrella, which distills the eponymous bitters and rum brand through their subsidiary Trinidad Distillers Ltd. (TDL). Fernandes is part of the larger tangled web of Caribbean rum brands that have been bought, traded, and sold.
Joseph Bento Fernandes started purchasing rum for aging, blending, and bottling in the 1920s, from local distilleries on Trinidad. In 1932, a fire destroyed most of a government bond warehouse where rum was being stored, which Fernandes purchased for a bargain-bin price. The rum was distilled in 1919, so the resulting product was labeled "Fernandes 1919", which was eventually called "Fernandes Vat 19" once the stocks of the original vintage were depleted.
The next year, Fernandes purchased the closed Forres Park distillery, and later built a new distillery in Laventille, which was later sold to Angostura in 1973. By this time, Fernandes' rums made up over 80% of the Trinidadian domestic market. Today, as noted in Modern Caribbean Rum and seen on store shelves, Angostura rum references Fernandes Distillers with their Angostura 1919 expression, and several brands once distilled by Fernandes are still produced by TDL.
The rum we have today is independently-bottled by Rhumb Runner, the in-house brand of Glass Revolution Imports that focuses on single cask rums. This is described as being an 18 year old Fernandes rum; given the history we just went over, I'm taking an educated guess that this was produced by TDL– and not "Fernandes Distillers", as is referenced on the label. Since this is a 1999 vintage, Fernandes Distillers was not around at that point, although this could have been distilled for a Fernandes brand.
The distillation was done via TDL's column stills in March 1999, and left to age 18 years– presumably in ex-Bourbon casks– before being selected for bottling in October 2017. Thanks to Mike Hooker for providing me with this sample!
Golden, high clarity, medium-low viscosity
Baked bread, mesquite BBQ, orange peel, light grill smoke, caramel, vanilla, coconut water
Tangerines, pineapple juice, red grapes, blueberries, cherry cordial, vanilla, caramel, tobacco leaves
Medium-long, warming, full-bodied, fruity; pineapple, coconut, clementine, cherry, bourbon oak
Wow. This is an absolutely incredible rum that exhibits equally impressive complexity. If all you know about Trinidad rum is Angostura, Rhumb Runner Fernandes would really change the conversation. Fruits, confections, and tobacco are very present throughout the experience, and are augmented by the high proof, which surprisingly is not too abrasive.
This 18 year Fernandes is a nice golden color in my glass, with high clarity and medium-low viscosity.
On the nose, baked bread is the initial aroma that I get– fresh out of the oven with a nice toast. Next comes an interesting mesquite BBQ note, with its dark, tangy, and slightly sweet elements; a light grill smoke adds to the savory lineup of aromas. Orange peel, caramel, vanilla, and coconut water bring in some fruity and sweet notes to the equation.
Rhumb Runner Fernandes' palate opens with tangerines, pineapple juice, and red grapes– a lot more fruit-forward than the nose may suggest. More fruit comes in with blueberries and mixes with the sweetness of chocolate and syrup in the form of a cherry cordial candy. Vanilla and caramel sneak in near the mid-rear palate, followed by smokey tobacco leaves. This is a really fantastic array of flavors that showcases how versatile Trinidad rums can be.
The finish is medium-long, warming, full-bodied and fruity. It sits at the top of the throat and lingers there quite a while, leaving parting notes of pineapple, coconut, clementine, cherry, and bourbon-soaked oak. Given the high proof and long age, this is really an incredible finish, and not at all overwhelmed with oak or alcohol.
Although Caroni steals a lot of the thunder around defunct Trinidadian rums, with this Rumb Runner release, Fernandes reaches out from the past to say that its infamous one-time competitor is not the only closed distillery that deserves attention. The symphony of aromas and flavors is composed perfectly, and I wouldn't ask for a lower proof, since this just works so well at the bottled strength. Hats off to the Rhumb Runner team for making a fantastic single cask selection!