Suitcase Rum: 2002 Vale Royal Wedderburn (Jamaica)

“Suitcase” posts here on CocktailWonk.com cover spirits that aren’t readily available in the United States, and possibly other locales – they’re spirits I’ve found while traveling and brought home in my suitcase and warrant an in-depth look.

The Vale Royal Wedderburn 2002 is a Jamaican rum, distilled at the Long Pond distillery in 2002 and bottled in 2011 at 40% (80 proof.) It comes from Bristol Classic Rum, a label of Bristol Spirits Limited, an independent bottler based in Bristol, England.

Of all the many types of rum, the one I consistently acquire almost anything I can get my hands on is Jamaican. Good Jamaican rums are high in fruity esters, which most people describe as “funk” or “hogo”, rarely seen at similar levels in rums elsewhere. The funk is the result of the Jamaican tradition of using “dunder”, a nasty cocktail of bacteria that (while toxic by itself), supercharges the production of fruity esters by the yeast and sugar during the fermentation process.

While I was browsing through the rum section at Gerry’s Wine and Spirits in London, my eye immediately beelined to the words “Jamaica Rum” on the distinctive Bristol Classic Rums label. That would been enough to buy it, but then in smaller type I saw “Wedderburn”. Be still by ester-loving heart! Devotees of Smith & Cross rum know that it’s a blend of Plummer and Wedderburn rums, and the official Smith & Cross background states that Wedderburn is the heavier of the two styles. Jackpot! Bring on the funk!

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Could this bottle be a supercharged Smith & Cross? All heavy rum without that pesky lightweight Plummer rum diluting the funk? Yes and no. The story is a bit murky as information about Jamaican distillers is not particularly detailed, and spread out in bits and pieces around the web. Here’s what I’ve pieced together.

Wedderburn is not a particular still, nor a particular distillery. Rather, it’s a style of Jamaican rum, near the high end of the scale, ester-wise. A little research turns up that Smith and Cross is made from rums distilled at the Hampden Estate distillery, whereas the Royal Vale we’re looking at here is from the Long Pond distillery. What’s the story with Long Pond? Many years ago, they were the rum used to start the Captain Morgan brand. These days Long Pond doesn’t sell rums under their own label, and instead export it to blenders, although a few barrels slip out to independent bottlers. One of the highlight of my recent trip to London was sipping the last dram from a bottle of Berry Brothers & Rudd 1986 Long Pond at Trailer Happiness.

Berry Brothers & Rudd Long Pond 1986 at Trailer Happiness
What else can we learn about this Vale Royal Wedderburn rum? The “Vale Royal” part of the name is a bit confusing at first glance, as Vale Royal is commonly known as the name of the official residence of the Prime Minister of Jamaica. However, there was also a Vale Royal distillery, although I can’t find information on the exact relationship, if any. An oddly colored PDF file explains some of the Long Pond/Trelawny history.  A (since deleted) blog post says that a double retort pot still from the Royal Vale distillery is (was?) in use at Long Pond. The name on the Royal Vale bottle implies that it comes from the Royal Vale still, but the back label only states “…style of rums originally produced at the Royal Vale distillery.”

Interestingly, the back label also says “The intensity of their nose and palate was intended for blending with more neutral spirits…” alluding to a time when these high ester rums were made as “rum concentrate” which was shipped to Germany. Germany had a high tax on imported spirits, so reducing the volume of rum imported reduced the taxes due.

Although well hidden, the Bristol Classic Rum site states that this rum was aged in well used oak cognac casks, which helps explain its relatively pale color. The site also mentions that the ester level is between 300 and 500 part per million, which is way, way up there. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s no official age statement given, e.g. nine years – only that it was distilled in 2002 and bottled in 2011.

Enough of the backstory. How is it? Side by side with Smith & Cross it’s quite a bit paler in color. The aroma coming off the glass are the typical Jamaican funk notes. Diluting the Smith & Cross to 80 proof for comparison purposes, the Royal Vale’s aroma is a bit brighter with less banana.

As expected, the Royal Vale taste is a funk bomb. Slightly sweet, with lighter fruits like apple, and less of the overripe banana than I get from Smith & Cross. The Royal Vale also exhibits much less effects of barrel aging. Straight from the bottle, the Royal Vale’s flavor is less intense than Smith & Cross, but that’s largely the result comparing an 80 rum to a 114 proof rum.

The strength and intensity of the Royal Vale will bring joy to any lover of Jamaican hogo. However, I really wish Bristol has released this at navy or cask strength, although that would have reduced the number of bottles available and made it more expensive. I paid 48 pounds (~$72 US) for the Royal Value Wedderburn. At that price point, it’s a bit spendy and given its relative rarity I’m not going to me mixing cocktails with it. However, as my rum collection continues to expand, the Royal Vale functions as a valuable reference when comparing rums of the Jamaican style. If you’re wonky for Jamaican funk and see a bottle of this, grab it!

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