Status: Closed & Demolished
Region: Trinidad & Tobago
The Caroni distillery is said to have been established in 1918, however there are several historical references that suggest distilling was happening there earlier in the 20th century.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.
By Joe Wilson, Head of Auction Content
Since 2005, Velier has been releasing small batches of Caroni to an audience of spellbound rum connoisseurs. Caroni's signature oily and diesel-like quality of spirit is highly renowned and coupled with its extremely limited supply it is no far leap or surprise to hear industry experts such as Serge Valentin, founder of WhiskyFun.com, compare Caroni to the likes of Port Ellen in the world of whisky.
Today, Velier continue to release annual limited editions of Caroni, but for how much longer will we enjoy the legacy of this lost Trinidadian distillery as stocks dwindle? Caroni's cachet has grown in recent years, alongside it's cult following of collectors as it becomes more and more difficult to obtain their limited stocks. To date, over 1,500 lots of Caroni have featured on RumAuctioneer.com, and it is undoubtedly one of the most sought-after rums in each and every of our monthly auctions.
NOTABLE CARONI RUM IN OUR AUCTIONS
The highest value individual bottle of Caroni (at the time of writing) on RumAuctioneer.com is held by this 1985 vintage 'Heavy' bottling. Aged for 20 years, and one of 125 bottles produced from a single cask, this was among the first of the Caroni's that Luca Gargano and Velier released back in 2005. For reference, below is a list of Velier's first bottlings of Caroni, all issued in July 2005:
Caroni 1982 Velier 23 Year Old High Proof Heavy
Caroni 1982 Velier 23 Year Old High Proof Light
Caroni 1983 Velier 22 Year Old High Proof Heavy
Caroni 1985 Velier 15 Year Old Blended Rum
Caroni 1985 Velier 20 Year Old High Proof Heavy
Caroni 1989 Velier 16 Year Old High Proof Heavy
Caroni 1982 Velier 23 Year Old Full Proof Heavy
Caroni 1985 Velier 20 Year Old Full Proof Heavy
An incredibly rare example of Caroni rum from long before its closure. This was produced in the late 1970s or early 1980s by the government-run Caroni (1975) Ltd.
At this time the distillery operated both a cast iron pot still, commissioned in 1918, a wooden coffey still installed in 1936 and a single column still acquired from the Esperanza estate in 1957. The latter produced a particularly high-ester rum for flavouring, and is likely the origins of the Caroni we recognise today. The earlier two were replaced in the 1980s, meaning Caroni rum from this period is certainly likely to be similar, but not entirely familiar.
Another example of Caroni rum from long before the distillery's closure. These bottles were imported to the UK in the 1960s by Caroni's parent firm, Tate & Lyle. The rum was distilled in Trinidad and imported to the UK to continentally age in bond. It was then bottled at either 75 proof or 90 proof. What may be familiar however is the bottle and label design, which was lovingly recreated by La Maison & Velier for a 100th anniversary bottling of Caroni in 2018.