Friday Happy Hour: Samaroli Caribbean 2003
If I plunked this bottle down in front of you with no explanation, the first thing you might ask is:
“What’s in it?”
It’s a fairly simple shape and size, adorned with a pale yellow label sporting a patterned border. As you can see, the main illustration is reminiscent of the 1920’s flapper era style and smack in the middle, it simply says CARIBBEAN 2003.
But CARIBBEAN 2003, WHAT?
Closer inspection reveals the bottle to contain a “BLEND OF THE CARIBBEAN AREA – BOTTLED IN SCOTLAND.”
Now that’s a much bigger hint, but still… A blend of what? And why Scotland?
It’s not until you get down to the 90 PROOF that it becomes clear that it must be rum. But why not just say so? And why say it’s a blend of “the Caribbean area?” That doesn’t even make sense. Right about now, you might write this bottle off as being some generic rotgut I picked up for $5 in a disreputable liquor store in Chinatown…
But what if I told you the list price of this bottle is over $120!
To understand the mystery behind this understated entry in our liquor cabinet, you first need to hear the long chain of events that produced it. The uncommon story begins over 70 years ago in Bologna, Italy. There Silvano Samaroli was born. As he grew, he gained an appreciation for the finer things in life, namely wines and whiskeys. Eventually, in 1968 he began bottling his whiskey selections under his own name — the only non-British or Scottish person doing so at the time. Thanks to his impeccable selections, over the years he became famous for picking the best whiskeys from the most famous distilleries and making small bottling runs from single, specific casks. This went on for some time until something incredible happened…
The world-famous whiskey selector “fell in love with rum.”
Many of us can relate to that, but not many of us could do what he did next. His first step was to spend over 10 years “researching” rums. Once his talented palette had mastered the spirit, he began doing for rum what he’d successfully been doing for whiskey: selecting special casks, bottling them, and sharing them with the world.
So, the bottle above is one out of only 648 bottles produced! A special rum selected by Mr. Samaroli himself, then aged for seven years in the Scottish highlands where the cooler climate enables longer aging for a clean, elegant, more refined rum.
But what about that “blend of the Caribbean area” business? Why so coy? Well, it turns out there’s a good reason for the vagueness: the legality of this rum being sold in the U.S. is a little questionable. Yup, “Caribbean area” is code for Cuba!
Now, I may not know international trade law, but I do know that I don’t see the real Havana Club (not this one) gracing the shelves at my local liquor store, so let’s just keep this between you and me. (In the European market, the bottle is clearly labeled CUBA 2003, but on these shores, it travels incognito!)
Ok, so the rum is a communist spy, selected to infiltrate U.S. soil and trained in Scotland, but how does it taste? As you’d expect from that kind of pedigree, this spirit is no slacker. It’s clean, crisp and strong. The first taste is a powerful one, followed closely by vanilla, brown sugar, a little nutmeg and some citrus.