Caroni 1996 Velier 23 Year Old Full Proof Heavy / 'The Last Caroni'
The Caroni distillery is said to have been established in 1918, however there are several historical references that suggest distilling was happening there earlier in the 20th century. It became part of the Tate & Lyle firm in 1936, who used it as a base for expanding their eventually considerable sugar operations in Trinidad. Caroni was a key ingredient of the British Navy rations, where its famous high-ester 'Heavy' rums helped to make up the signature flavour. Sadly, with the decline of the Trinidadian sugar industry, Tate & Lyle sold a 51% controlling stake to the government in 1970, before it became fully nationalised in 1975. Despite being self-sufficient in molasses, the newly established Caroni (1975) Ltd continued to lose money for the next 25 years until the government tried to minimise its ownership, selling off 49% of its share, just enough to retain control. Angostura were the preferred bidders, but a dispute over the value of Caroni’s warehoused stock scuppered the deal, and Caroni was closed for good in 2003.
As it transpired, Angostura still acquired the majority of the circa 18,000 warehoused Caroni barrels, but perhaps the most important share went to Italian distributors, Velier. In 2004, their inimitable CEO, Luca Gargano, travelled to Trinidad for a photo shoot and happened upon the boarded-up distillery, brokering a deal for some of its stock in 2005. He released eight Caroni bottlings that year, alongside his first cask strength collaborations with Demerara Distillers Ltd, which includes the hugely important Skeldon bottlings. This was a landmark year that not only changed the landscape of rum but was the genesis for the legendary status that Caroni rum now holds amongst collectors and connoisseurs alike.
This is the culmination of Gargano's labour of love, the 39th and final Caroni release in this iconic series from Velier. This is a blend of 24 barrels of heavy rum, aged in Trinidad until 2008, and Guyana until 2019 when it was bottled. A subsequent third instalment of the Caroni Employees series followed this in 2020, the first from Velier to be bottled from a neutral tank (to prevent further ageing). This suggests that The Last Caroni is a reference here to a rum drawn directly from oak casks in their natural tropical climate.