Caroni 1998 Velier Full Proof Heavy / Balas 'Brigade' Bhaggan
The Caroni distillery is said to have been established in 1918, however there are several historical references that suggest distilling was happening there earlier in the 20th century.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 part of the fourth release of the Caroni Employees series, bottled in 2020. This one honours Balas "Brigade" Bhaggan who worked at the distillery for 14 years.
The blend was selected by a "tasting gang" at the Demerara Distillers warehouses in 2019. They chose 6 casks from 1998, which had been matured in Trinidad until 2008. They were further aged in Guyana for 10 years before being put in a neutral tank in October 2019.