Ruminsky

Aug 282016
 

Real McCoy 5

Understated five year old mixing material

(#298 / 77/100)

***

Last time around I looked with admiration at the St. Nicholas Abbey 5 Year old, suggesting that in its unadorned simplicity and firmness lay its strength…it didn’t try to do too much all at the same time and was perfectly content to stay simple. It focused  on its core competencies, in management-speak.  Yet that same day, just minutes apart, I also tried the Real McCoy, another Bajan five year old, and liked it less. Since both rums are from Barbados, both are unadulterated, and both five years old, it must be the barrels and original distillate.  As far as I know the St Nick’s is from their own pot still, and the McCoy from a blend of pot-column distillate out of FourSquare, and they both got aged in bourbon barrels, so there you have the same facts I do and can make up your own mind.

Just some brief biographical facts before I delve in: yes, there was a “real” McCoy, and as the marketing for this series of rums never tires of telling you, he was a Prohibition-era rumrunner who would have made Sir Scrotimus weep with happiness: a man who never dealt with adulterated rum (hence the “real”) didn’t blend his stuff with bathtub-brewed popskull and never added any sugar, and bought occasionally from FourSquare, back in the day.  Mr. Bailey Prior, who was making a documentary about the chap, was so taken with the story that he decided to make some rums of his own, using Mr. Seale’s stocks, and has put out a 3 year old white, a 5 year old and a 12 year old.

real-mccoy-rg2-useSo here what we had was a copper-amber coloured 40% rum aged for five years in used Jack Daniels barrels, which presented a nose that was a little sharp, and initially redolent of green apples and apricots.  It was slightly more aromatically intense than the 3 year old (which I also tried alongside it), and opened up into additional notes of honey, dates, nuts, caramel and waffles. The issue for me was primarily their lack of intensity. “Delicate,” some might say, but I felt that on balance, they were just weak.

Similar issues were there on the palate. It was easy, no real power, and reminded me why stronger rums have become my preference.  However, good flavours were there: cider, apples, citrus, sharpness, balancing out vanilla and vague caramels.  There were almost none of the softer fruits like bananas or fleshier fruits to balance out the sharper bite, and this was reinforced by the oak which came over in the beginning (and took on more dominance at the back end)….so overall, the thing is just too light and unbalanced. This is what proponents of the style call genuine, what lovers of 40% Bajans will name “excellent”, and what I call uninteresting. Overall, and including the short, light, here-now-gone-in-a-flash finish, it displayed some of the same shortcomings I’ve associated with many younger and cheaper rums from Little England – there just wasn’t enough in there for me to care about.

Leaving aside the stills, I’m at a loss to quantify the reason why the St Nick’s presented so much more forcefully and firmly than the McCoy given their (relative) commonality of origin and age and lack of additives. The McCoy five gave every impression of being dialled-down, and has too little character or force of its own, no indelible something that would single it out from its peers: the El Dorados for all their sugar at least have some wooden still action going on in there, the St. Nick’s is firm and unambiguous, and even the Angostura five has some aggro underneath its traditional profile  But all we get from the McCoy is a sort of wishy washy weakness of profile and a failure to engage.  Torque it up a little and we might really have something here…until then, into the mix it goes.

 

Aug 242016
 

St Nicks 5 yo single cask (a)

Might be heresy to say so, but I thought it better than the same company’s eight year old.

(#297 / 82/100)

***

One of the reasons why the St. Nicholas Abbey Five year old gets the full etched-bottle treatment of the 8, 10, 12, 15 and 18 year olds (which are all remarkably good for 40% rums and earned good reviews from across the spectrum, including mine), is because the company is justifiably proud of this being the first rums they made from entirely their own matured stocks.  Previously they were ageing FourSquare rums to make the originals noted above — the ten may be one of the best mid-range 40% rums I’ve tried — but the five is entirely their own juice, as will be all other aged rums they produce in the years to come (once the 4Sq stuff runs out for the really old rum, of course…already the abbey has run out of 15, or so I’ve been told).

I’ve gone into the bio of the company before and they themselves have great info about the plantation on their website, so I won’t rehash that, except to make one observation: if you have an empty bottle of St. Nick’s, and you take it to Barbados on a distillery visit, they’ll refill it for you for half price with whatever age of their rum you want….and add some more etching to personalize it, for free, if you ask. It’s on my bucket list for that. My wife just wants to visit the place and walk around, it’s so pretty.

St Nicks rums

Anyway, a 40% golden coloured rum, coming off a pot still with a reflux column (from notes I scribbled while Simon Warren was talking to me about it, though the company website says pot only), aged five years in used oak barrels, so all the usual boxes are ticked.  It displayed all the uncouth, uncoordinated good-natured bumptiousness we have come to expect from fives: spicy, scraping entry of alcohol on the nose — the edges would be sanded off by a few years of further ageing, of course — with aromas of flowers, cherries, licorice, a twitch of molasses, a flirt of citrus peel and vanilla, each firm and distinct and in balance with all the others. 40% made it present somewhat it thin for me, mind, but that is a personal thing.

And, thin or not…that taste.  So rich for a five. It was a medium bodied rum, somewhat dry and spicy, redolent of fleshy fruits that are the staples of a good basket – the soft flavours of bananas, ripe mangoes and cherries mixing it up with the tartness of soursop and green apples and more of that sly citrus undercurrent.  With water (not that the rum needed any), the heretofore reticent background notes of molasses, toffee, vanilla, smoke and oak emerged, melding into a very serviceable, woody and dry finish. 

Again, I noticed that it was not a world beating exemplar of complexity – what it did was present the few notes on its guitar individually, with emphasis and without fanfare. It’s a five year old that was forthright and unpretentious, a teen (in rum years) still growing into manhood, one might say.  And in that very simplicity is its strength — it can go head to head with other fives like the El Dorado any time.  It’s quite good, and if it lacks the elemental raw power and rage of unaged pot still products, or the well-tempered maturity of older, higher-proofed ones, there’s nothing at all wrong with this worthwhile addition to the Abbey pantheon.

Other notes

The business about the ‘single cask’ requires some explanation: here what the Abbey is doing is not blending a bunch of barrels to produce one cohesive liquid and then filling all their bottles from that blend, but decanting barrel to bottle until one barrel is done and then going to the next barrel in line and decanting that….so if this is indeed so, there’s likely to be some batch variation reported over time (the bottles have no numbering or outturn noted).  My notes were scribbled in haste that day when Simon was telling me about it almost a year ago, and the website makes no mention of it, but Simon confirmed this was the case.

The 5 year old rum is dedicated to Simon’s newborn twins, who, in a nice concurrence of art and work and life (or cosmic fate), were the first Warrens to be born into the Abbey … just as the Abbey was releasing a new generation of rum. That’s pretty cool by any standard.

Aug 232016
 

D3S_3843

The finishing regime of this rum may not work for all comers, but does at least create a decent aged product from a well-known still.

(#296 / 84/100)

***

This is quite an international rum – made in Guyana, shipped to the UK by an Italian importer and bottled by a Dutch company. Boote Star is a Dutch bottler (actually called the Associated Distillers Group), about which there is maddeningly little hard information, aside from the fact that (a) they also have a ten year old, and (b) they appear to have sourced the rum from an Italian distributor and distiller called Distilleria Dellavalla situated to the northwest of Genoa. That little outfit seems more interested in making grappa than rum, so it’s anyone’s guess how they came upon a barrel of PM distillate, unless it was to age one of their grappas, and then they had to the problem of what to do with the rum that came in barrels (my conjecture). Much like the various low end expressions of Navy or Demerara rums issued in Canada, Boote Star – no matter how they got the rum — essentially issued its own version of a PM rum, perhaps hoping to take some shine off of more established and better known companies.

D3S_3844Its main claim to fame is the age, a very impressive twenty years old (five years in Guyana and the remainder in Scotland): at a time when rum makers are trending more towards low teens, to see something this old is quite an achievement in itself, though I feel that the rum was undone by the makers doing the finish in port and sherry casks, which had a powerful influence over the finished product that it didn’t really need. Naturally, in keeping with the rather bizarre lack of information surrounding the thing, there’s no indication of the ageing regimen in detail, or how much time it spent finishing, and in which casks, so let’s just accept this with a shake of the head at the lack of anything resembling a marketing effort, and move on.

The nose immediately suggested the licorice woody fruitiness of the Port Mourant; it lacked the beefcake power of full proof Veliers (no surprise), and the single minded purity of both those and the ~45% Rum Nation products.  Still, it presented well, almost sweetish, with ripe bananas, honey, licorice and oak tannins leading the charge.  It didn’t stop there either, and as it developed, added cherries, orange zest, some vanilla and molasses, which in turn morphed easily into the tartness of apples and almost-ripe pears – yet none of these scents, were in any way heavy or thick, but relatively light – maybe it was the lack of strength?  Possibly.  Overall, the nose was delicious, if a little jagged.

The taste showed up some of the rums shortcomings, and I’ll go on record as suggesting it may have been doctored over and beyond the sherry/port cask finishing – it was a lot heavier than the nose had suggested, and somewhat sweeter than expected: dark pipe shag, black tea, dollops of molasses-laden brown sugar, and the characteristic  anise and licorice of the wooden stills.  Whatever raw pot-still aggro a higher proof might have showcased more effectively, was tamed by the 43% at which it had been issued.  It suggested more funky complexity than it displayed, I thought, as it threw black grapes and lightly salted red olives in brine to the mix…yet the overarching impression was one of potentially more: better tastes just outside the reach of the senses to detect. They were there, shy, reticent. faint…just not arrogantly so, and the tannic and tart notes of other components only partly came to the fore to round things out.  Basically, the rum had been dampened down too much by a lack of strength and the fruitiness of the port and sherry finishing, hiding what could have been a great stage for displaying the PM profile (which I really enjoy); and it led to a short finish that reinforced the molasses and anise tastes, without being allowed to add anything more subtle or enticing to the mix as it wrapped up – and that’s a shame for a rum that started out so decently.

So, this is one of the more off-the-beaten-track PM variations to cross my path, and there are few other products from the still to which I can reasonably compare it (Rum Nation’s Demeraras may come closest, though I think those are better).  Having been conditioned to more elemental, stronger, more intense profiles, that made me like it somewhat less, yet I could not entirely tell you it’s a bad buy – this is a rum where the finishing created a mélange that lesser makers would have tried with sugar and additives, none of which I sensed on this one.

D3S_3844-001

So, I’m scoring it as I do to express both my appreciation for its decent heft and body and some good introductory tastes, and the potential of a profile which unfortunately never gelled.  My personal feeling is that it could have been much more if the makers had stopped messing around with the fancy finishing altogether, and just gone with the profile that the stills could have given on their own. For that kind of age, and with what they’ve managed to do even here, it could conceivably have ranked quite a bit higher.

Other Notes:

I really wish people would do their research: Guyana is the post independence spelling of the country’s name; before May 1966 it was called British Guiana.  There has never been a British Guyana.

Bottle courtesy of Henrik of RumCorner, who also provided the biographical details. For what it’s worth, he liked it a lot less than I did.

Aug 172016
 

Liberation 2012

Maybe not quite a second banana to the Integrale from the same year, but not the whole one either.

(#295 / 86/100)

***

In theory, the only real difference between the Libération Integrale and the one I’m looking at here is the strength (and, if you’re picky about such things, the title).  The Integrale was a quiet stunner of a rhum, one of the best agricoles for its price and age, yet it seems odd to say that its lower strength sibling falls so much shorter of the mark.  Can that really be just about proof?  I tasted them side by side, as well as with the 2010), and to me it was clear that one was markedly better, tastier, yummier…and, in spite of the interesting profile, this one faded from nearly-exceptional into merely above-average.

The whole Rhum-Rhum series is a result of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla who runs the eponymous outfit on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe), and Luca Gargano, who needs no introduction. They built a new distillery next to Bielle, which is the origin of the sugar cane that makes the rhum, . They ferment the undiluted juice longer than usual – ten days – and run it through small copper pot stills, before letting the resultant distillate age.  It’s important to know that unlike many other makers, the year on the bottle is not the year it came out of the distillery and into the cask to begin ageing…but the year it was taken out (or liberated, get it?)…so if my dates are right, they started churning out the stuff around 2007.

Liberation 2012 - 1Other miscellaneous details: bottled at 45%; aged for five years in barrels that once held French wine (Sauternes Chateay d’Yquem); the age was not noted on the bottle, but it’s been confirmed as five years old as for the Integrale, and I idly wondered whether there wasn’t some NAS scheme at work here, a marketing effort meant to remove age as a determinant of price.  Probably not, neither man is the type to play such stupid marketing games. Still — the rationale for the lobster and other creepies still confuses me, since their relationship to rhum is tenuous at best.  Oh well…let’s move along, stop waffling and start tasting.

Nose wise, this dark orange-gold rum presented well, with an admirable complexity hinting at greater qualities to come. Some rubber, citrus peel (nothing too excessive), and sweet lemon grass, freshly cut.  It was, like many agricoles, quite crisp, and while somewhat deeper than the 2010, presented many of the same notes.  It settled down after some time and smoothened out into a lovely rounded profile of coconut, caramel, brie…and a sly little hint of pencil erasers, followed some time later by the rest of the pencil.  I wonder if that was Signore Capovilla’s sense of humour at work.

As noted before, I have a certain liking for Guadeloupe rhums which aren’t as tightly wedded to – some say restricted by – the AOC designation. Unlike the Integrale, there was a faint-but-noticeable element of molasses here, combined with and melding into, something vegetal and flowery…deeper than your regulation agricole.  And with water a few other elements came to the fore – sugar water, flowers, more of that coconut and lemongrass. It was in its own somewhat thinner way, somewhat similar to the 2010 and Integrale, but drier than either, and not quite as sweet.  Overall,  I felt the lack of body (caused by the lower proof point) was an effort to make it appeal to a wider audience, rather than indulge the maker’s true ideas on where it should, or could, go.  So while the finish closed things off nicely – longish, heated, dry, sweet, some oak with some last grassy-molasses-caramel hybrid notes, mingling with brine – I didn’t think it succeeded as well as its stronger sibling.

What we have here, at the end, is a variation on a theme.  The relationship of this rhum to the Integrale – and, less so, to the Libération 2010 – is there, and no-one could doubt their ancestry. People who prefer standard proof drinks would likely like this rhum quite a bit, and I recommend it.  We are, after all, discussing relatively minor differences between one rhum and another, which most won’t care about.  Still, those variations, to true aficionados who dissect a single year’s production from a single distillery with the care and artistry only the obsessed can muster, are enough to make me think this is a lesser product, good as it is.  It’s not a failure – it’s too well made for that – just not something I’d buy if I knew the Integrale was next to it on the shelf (this is my personal thing which you can ignore, because they’re both very good).

Everyone is always so chuffed about Luca’s Demeraras and Caronis.  So much so, that his quieter, less histrionically admired efforts sometimes go overlooked (except, perhaps, by the French). Yet Velier has done something quite remarkable here, perhaps even more important than those other two famous bodies of work: in this association with Capovilla, he didn’t select a bunch of barrels, didn’t pick and chose from stuff already made.  They literally built a distillery around the idea of making a top end agricole which showcased Gianni Capovilla’s talent and Luca Gargano’s dream.  And brought out a bunch of rhums that showed the potential of agricoles to a wider audience. That’s quite an achievement, by any standard.

Liberation 2012 - 2

Aug 132016
 

JM 1845 Cuvee - 1

After a tough day at work, the Cuvée 1845 is a balm to the exhausted mind.

(#294 / 88/100)

***

Even at 42% ABV, The Rhum J.M. Cuvée makes a statement for agricoles that is worth listening to.  It finds a balance between body, mouthfeel, taste, spiciness and warmth in a way that reminds us that agricoles should not be taken as merely a small subset of the greater rumworld, but should hold a place in the pantheon second to none. While these days my preferences run mostly towards stronger, full proof rums, I must say that there’s nothing about this lovely product that makes me want to ask for it to be dialled up.  It’s excellent as it is.

Issued as an anniversary edition for the 170th year of production on the plantation in 2015 (which was when I tried it), the Cuvée is a rhum aged at least ten years in oak barrels, gold in colour, and housed in a handsome gold etched flagon of admirable simplicity.  J.M. is, of course, the old house on Martinique which issued the haunting 1995 15 year old, as well as the equally memorable 2002 Millesime 10 year old, but I think this one is just a shade better. J.M. as a plantation has been in existence for longer than 170 years – Pere Labat founded the sugar refinery as far back as the 1700s, and it is clear that the current owners have forgotten nothing about what it means to make a top notch rhum.

JM 1845 Cuvee - 2There was a certain tartness in the nose that started things off, something like ginnip and soursop, the crisp and firm ripeness of a green apple. It was not sharp or spicy, just heated and well controlled in a way that made smelling it a joy rather than an exercise in pain management – I didn’t have to set it aside to chill out and breathe, but could dive right in.  Once it opened a bit, it softened up, providing additional easy-going scents of vanilla, gingerbread cookies, unsweetened yoghurt and just a dash of pepper and cumin (which is not as odd as it may sound).

It was the taste that elevated the rhum above its 1995 and 2002 compatriots. What sinks an agricole in the minds of many molasses rum lovers is both the clarity and sharpness, whatever the tastes might be.  Nothing of the kind happened here.  In fact, it displayed the sort of originality and balance of crispness and softness which many rums these days seem to shy away from in an effort not to piss anyone off. The feel body was medium, soft, and had the instantly recognizable herbaceous background which marked it as a cane juice product.  Over a period of time, spices, black pepper, vanilla, light citrus and flowers emerged, surrounded by woody notes from the oak barrels where it has rested.  These oaky notes were held in check, providing a background of tannins that did not overwhelm, but enhanced further notes of ginger snaps, orange zest, ripe apples, and created a lovely mix of clear, light softness redolent of these many flavours all at once.  And the finish was equally high-grade – sweet, smooth, warm, tasty (nothing new added here, alas); perhaps a bit too short…more a summing up of the whole experience than any effort to go off the reservation by presenting anything new.

There’s was something almost sensuous about the whole experience.  The 1845, and indeed the rest of the rhums from this company, lacked that peculiar sense of individualism that marked out the Neisson line, yet in their own way are as distinct as any other, and with a quality not to be sneezed at. This is a rhum so well made that sipping it neat is almost mandatory – mixing it might be a punishable offense in some places, and I certainly wouldn’t.  Admittedly, the only J.M. rhums I’ve tried have been fairly high end ones – when you can carry only one and buy only one, you tend to chose from the better end of the spectrum – but even among those I’ve sampled, this one stands out.  It’s a remarkable, tasty, solid accomplishment from one of the last single-domaine, family-owned houses still in existence on Martinique.  And a feather in its cap by any definition.

Other notes

  • Blend of rhums aged a minimum of ten years in 200-liter oak barrels
  • A brief bio of J.M is provided in the 1995 review
Aug 072016
 

Saint James no year

Rumanicas Review 024

Like with many old rhums one is sent or which one finds in shadowed corners of sleepy back-alley shops, it’s almost impossible to track down the provenance of rhums like this one.  I mean, do a search on “Rhum St James 47%” and see how far that gets you.  As far I know this is not a millesime (it’s not the superb 1979, or the 1976 for example), not a massively aged old rhum (in fact, its profile suggests the opposite), and was noted simply as being from the 1970s or 1980s.  Not much to be going on, I’m afraid.  And yet, and yet…it’s such a lovely product.  Let’s just sadly pass its unknown pedigree by, and appreciate it for what it is.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 47%

Nose – Sweet, delicate, crisp nose, that deepens as the minutes tick along – by the time you’re ready to taste it’s almost a different rum than the one you start out with.  Faint brine and dusty hay, bags and bags of a lawnmower’s fresh grass collection. And it just keeps coming, with peaches, apple juice, and the musty tones of damp black earth and rain striking hot red bricks.

Palate – All that musky depth seems to vanish in an instant on the sip. Amazingly, the delicacy returns, and the 47% hardly burns or scratches at all, so well controlled is it.  It marries the subtlety of ripe cherries, honey, potpourri and a little mustiness.  There’s even some soap and air freshener in here somewhere (in a good way). Smooth and elegant, with some of the sprightliness of not-too-aged youth.  Whatever oak there is in this thing, it’s held at bay very nicely. It’s cheerful rumlet that just wants to play and mix it up with the boys.

Finish – Medium length, no surprise.  Closing aromas of citrus, light honey, grass, fanta and light florals, all in a very well handled amalgam (where did the rain and black earth go?).  But never mind, still a lovely fade.

Thoughts – A little ageing, a little more beef, and this rhum would have been superb. As it is, it is merely very good, and I wish there was a bottle, not a mere sample in my collection.  It may be young, but it’s good young, know what I mean?

(85/100)

(Note: there are some basic company notes in Rumaniacs #23)

Aug 032016
 

CDI Caraibes 1

Lack of oomph and added sugar make it a good rum for the unadventurous general market.

(#293 / 82/100)

***

Your appreciation and philosophy of rum can be gauged by your reaction to Compagnie des Indes Caraïbes edition, which was one of the first rums Florent Beuchet made.  It’s still in production, garnering reviews that are across the spectrum – some like it, some don’t. Most agree it’s okay.  I think it’s one of the few missteps CDI ever made, and shows a maker still experimenting, still finding his feet.  Brutally speaking, it’s a fail compared to the glittering panoply and quality of their full proof rums which (rightfully) garner much more attention and praise.

To some extent that’s because there is a purity and focus to other products in the company’s line up: most are single barrel expressions from various countries, unblended with other rums, issued at varying strengths, all greater than the anemic 40% of the Caraïbes… and none of them have additives, which this one does (15g/L of organic sugar cane syrup plus caramel for colouring).That doesn’t make it a bad rum, just one that doesn’t appeal to me…though it may to many others who have standards different from mine.  You know who you are.

I know many makers in the past have done blends of various islands’ rums — Ocean’s Atlantic was an example — but I dunno, I’ve never been totally convinced it works. Still, observe the thinking that went into the assembly (the dissemination of which more rum makers who push multi-island blends out the door should follow).  According to Florent, the Caraïbes is a mix of column still rums: 25% Barbados for clarity and power (the spine), 50% Trinidad & Tobago (Angostura) for fruitiness and flowers, and 25% Guyanese rum (Enmore and PM) for the finish. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to ask what the relative proofs of the various components were. The unmixed barrels  were aged for 3-5 years in ex-bourbon casks in the tropics, then moved to Europe for the final marriage of the rums (and the additives).

Where I’m going with this is to establish that some care and thought actually went into the blend.  That it didn’t work may be more my personal predilections than yours, hence my opening remark.  But consider how it sampled and follow me through my reasoning.  The nose, as to be expected, channelled a spaniel’s loving eyes: soft and warm, somewhat dry, if ultimately too thin, with some of the youth of the components being evident.  Flowers, apricots, ripening red cherries plus some anise and raisins, and unidentifiable muskier notes, it was pleasant, easy, unaggressive.

The mouth was quite a smorgasbord of flavours as well, leading off with cloves, cedar, leather and peaches (a strange and not entirely successful amalgam), with vanilla,  toffee, ginger snaps, anise and licorice being held way back, present and accounted for, very weak.  The whole mouthfeel was sweeter, denser, fuller, than might be expected from 40% (and that’s where the additive comes into its own, as well as in taking out some sharper edges), but the weakness of the taste profile sinks the effort.  Rather than smoothening out variations and sharpness in the taste profile, the added sweeteners smothers it all like a heavy feather blanket. You can sense more there, somewhere…you just can’t get to it.  The rum should have been issued at 45% at least in order to ameliorate these effects, which carried over into a short, sweet finish of anise and licorice (more dominant here at the end), ginger and salted caramel ice cream from Hagen Dasz (my favourite).

CDI Caraibes 2

All right so there you have it.  The 40% is not enough and the added sugar had an effect that obstructed the efforts of other, perhaps subtler flavours to escape.  Did the assembly of the three countries’ rums work?  I think so, but only up to a point. The Guyanese component, even in small portions, is extremely recognizable and draws attention away from others that could have been beefed up, and the overall lightness of the rum makes details hard to analyze. I barely sensed any Bajan, and the Trini could have been any country’s stocks with a fruity and floral profile (a Caroni it was not).

In fine, this rum has more potential than performance for a rum geek, and since it was among the first to be issued by the company, aimed lower, catered to a mass audience, it sold briskly.  Maybe this is a case of finance eclipsing romance…no rum maker can afford to ignore something popular that sells well, whatever their artistic ambitions might be. Fortunately for us all, as time rolled by, CDI came out with a truckload of better, stronger, more unique rums for us to chose from, giving something to just about everyone.  What a relief.

 

Aug 032016
 

Nine Leaves white 1

A quite serviceable, unmessed-with white rum from Japan, steering a delicate middle course between sleaze and decorum with less than complete success.

(#292 / 84/100)

***

Nine Leaves, that always-interesting one man operation out of Japan, doesn’t find much favour with Serge Valentin, who has consistently scored their rums low, but I’ve always kinda liked them myself.  The 2015 edition of the “Clear” is a case in point, and showcases the move of some rum makers into white, unaged, unfiltered, full-proof, pot still products.  The aren’t for everyone, of course, and may never find broad acceptance, since they always feel a shade untamed – in that lies their attraction and their despite.  I get the impression that most of the time cocktail enthusiasts are their main proponents, aside from writers and enthusiasts who love sampling  anything off the beaten track.

Such white rums share several points of commonality. They have a raw-seeming kind of profile, channel the scents of a starving artist’s one room studio (or maybe that of a dirty chop shop garage in a ghetto somewhere), and often feel a tad boorish to taste.  But as part of the great, sprawling family of rum, I recommend them, especially if they’re decently made, just so people can get a sense of how wide-ranging the spirit can be. And this one isn’t half bad.

What Nine Leaves did here was make a rather tamed version of the savage Haitian or Brazilian unaged rums which are its first cousins. Now, when poured and sniffed, it billowed up very aggressively (as one might expect from a popskull brewed to a meaty 50%), and the strong smell of fusel oil, wax attacked right away – pungent is as good a word as any to describe it, and it reminded me strongly of the Rum Nation Jamaican 57%, or even, yes, any of the clairins.  But it nosed in a way that seemed more rounded and less jagged than those elemental firewaters. And while I didn’t care for the scents of paraffin and cheap lye soap (of the kind I used to do laundry with by the side of nameless rivers in my bush days), there were gradually more assertive, sweeter smells coiling underneath it all…sugary water, watermelon, cinnamon and nutmeg.  These lighter hints redeemed what might otherwise have just been an unsmiling punch of proof.

Nine Leaves White 2

As I noted with the cachacas last week, the dry, sharp and sweet taste was something of a surprise, coming as it did at right angles to the preceding pot still heft.  Salty green olives and more sugar water melded uneasily and eventually made an uneasy peace with each other, to develop into a more easy going, even light, palate redolent of more watermelon, cane juice, with some of that thick oily mouthfeel that characterized the Sajous, or the Jamel. There were some green apples, florals, and half ripe mangoes (minus the mouth puckering tartness), even a shaving of lemon zest…however they all seemed to suffer from the issue of not knowing whether they wanted to go all-in and define the product as a rampaging pot still rum squirting esters and fuel oil in all directions, or be a lighter, sweeter and more nuanced, well-behaved rum that would appeal to a broader audience.

The finish suggested more clearly what the originating vision behind the rum had been – it was long, very long, a little dry, with sweet and salt finally finding their harmonious balancing point and providing a lovely ending to what had been a pretty good all-round (if not earth-shattering) experience.  It’s rich, yes, vibrant, yes, tasty, yes.  What was lacking was a little integration and balance, a bit more arrogance in the trousers, so to speak.

But don’t get me wrong. Mr. Takeuchi knows what he’s doing. He’s got time, patience, kaizen and some pretty neat tech backing him up.  He likes what he does, and makes what he does quite well.  This rum may be a smoothened-out, vaguely schizoid clear rum more akin to an unaged agricole — in spite of being made with molasses, from Okinawan sugar – but it still scores and tastes in the region of the clairins and other white rums that I may have raved about more enthusiastically. My recommendation is to ignore the score, and simply try the rum if you can.  You will likely be quite pleasantly surprised by how well an unaged rum can be made. And how nice it can taste, in its own understated way.

Other notes

Distilled on a copper Forsythe still. There are still no plans to issue rums older than two years, for the moment.

 

Jul 282016
 

La Favorite Cuvee 1995 - 2

A delectable rhum, of an age we don’t see very often these days.

(#291 / 89/100)

***

Anyone who thinks agricoles are an afterthought in the rum world and should only be taken when one runs out of the more common brown-based stuff, would do well to sample what La Confrérie Du Rhum and La Favorite issued last year.

La Confrérie is actually not a company — translating into “The Brotherhood of Rum”, it is the largest Facebook rum group currently in existence —  its French language antecedents don’t stop it numbering nearly sixteen thousand members when last I looked (for comparison, Ed Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum FB page has around seven thousand, and the Global Rum Club is right behind it at six thousand or so). A few years back, one of its founders, Benoît Bail, decided to make some bottlings of well known companies and issue them to the market, some solo, some in collaboration.  The WIRD and Damoiseau editions were bought via the broker EH Sheer, while Les Ti’Arrangés de Céd, Longueteau and La Favorite were taken from the source plantations themselves; five more are in the pipeline over the next two years. This one came out in November 2015, and for my money, it was worth the wait.

Some brief facts – it is a column still product made on Martinique by La Favorite (who also made the very excellent Cuvée Privilège 30 Year Old), aged in white oak and issued at 45.3%. I was informed that just about the entire process is manual, down to the little old lady at La Favorite who glued the labels to the bottles one by one (I begged for her name and some background, but Jerry didn’t know, alas). Four casks were selected — numbers 25, 26, 27 and 42 — and exactly one thousand bottles were issued.

La Favorite Cuvee 1995 - 1Was it any good?  Oh yes. I mean, I could almost smell the age on the dark orange-amber rhum.  Well, maybe not, but the scents of dusty, rich berries and dark plums reminded me somewhat of the Cuvée Privilège, whose haunting quality has resonated in my tasting memory to this day. Blackberries and blackcurrants, very ripe cherries, juicy and thick, billowed out of the glass, followed, after many minutes, by cedar woodchips, aromatic tobacco, before morphing sweetly into a creamy smell of Danish cookies and maybe a butter-daubed croissant or three. It was soft, easy going, distinct, with each olfactory note clear as a bell yet harmonizing like a well-oiled choir.

With some rhums, like the Boys from Brazil I looked at recently, there was a radical difference between nose and palate.  Not here.  The Cuvée Spéciale 1995 segued smoothly and easily from one to the other without a pause, enhancing what had come before.  It was soft, earthy, even slightly salty, just avoiding maggi-cube brininess by a whisker.  It presented separate hints of caramel and vanilla, very faint molasses, a good brie, black olives, with just enough sweet to make it ravishing.  Once a little water was added, things proceeded in stately order, with yet additional flavours of raspberries, sawdust and freshly brewed coffee emerging.  Nothing particularly distinctive or new came out of the finish, which was thick and breathy and longish, but it seemed churlish of me to mark it down severely for something that had done such a great job at all the preceding elements.  

The craftsmanship of the the Cuvée Spéciale was not in how much was going on under the hood of its taste profile, but how what did purr away there, came together so well.  There was not a single element of the taste that didn’t deserve to be there, nothing rubbed wrong against anything else, and nothing seemed added to simply grab our attention, or to shock us.  Every component was refined to a sort of zen minimalism, and was there for a reason, lasting just long enough to notice it, enjoy it, and then smoothly move to the next one.

As is more common among independent bottlers, La Confrérie and La Favorite have little interest in pulling our chain, yanking our shorts or introducing anything radically new, and simply wish to inspire our appreciation with a product properly executed and exactingly chosen.  They have succeeded. This is a lovely rum, and my appreciation is inspired.

Other notes

Full disclosure: Jerry Gitany, a co-founder of La Confrerie, asked me to try this one when I was in Paris earlier in 2016, so it was a free sample.  I had already bought seventeen rums from him by that time, and much as I liked it, didn’t want to add to what was already a hefty bill. Maybe I should reconsider.

La Favorite 1995

Jul 252016
 

Delicana

#290

In 2014 I looked at three very different aged cachaças from Delicana, the German maker of Brazilian rums; I had met the owner, Bert Ostermann, who has had a love affair with the country lasting many years at the Berlin Rumfest and we had a long and pleasant conversation.  The central theme of his work was to age his rums in local woods, which gave them a piquant, off-base profile that at the time I didn’t care for – indeed, I scored the youngest of these rums the best, because I felt that the peculiar tastes of the wood had not had time to totally dominate the rum.

A year later I made it a point to stop by his booth again, and retasted all three which were back on display, and comparing my written notes, I find very little difference, either in the tastes, or my own opinions – the wood is just too different, and perhaps I’m not in tune enough to appreciate them the way a Brazilian might.

The current crop of cachaças, on the other hand, was something else again and I enjoyed these somewhat more – they’re still not world beaters (to me), but much more like a drink you can sip than the previous go-around.  Rather than take the time to write individual essays around each one, I’ll repeat the exercise from before and provide the notes all at once. Here they are:

Delicana CastanhaCastanha Artesanal Pot Still 2 Year old – pot still, aged in Castanha wood

Strength 40%, colour pale orange

Nose: Very agricole like, starting off with salt and wax before becoming vegetal and grassy, dusted lightly with cinnamon and something spicier, like (no kidding) quinine.

Palate: Clean, clear, light, watery, vegetal and grassy, with some sweet corn water in there. It’s like tasting a colour, the light, sun-dappled, tropical green filtering through a jungle canopy. Hints of cinnamon, mint leaves  and a slightly bitter back end, not unpleasant at all

Finish: short and sweet, more mint and vegetals, warm and unaggressive

Thoughts: If it wasn’t for the vague but distinctive wood and cinammon, I’d say this was an agricole. But of course it isn’t…it’s way too individual for that. A pretty good drink

80/100
Delicana IpeIpé Roxo (“rose coloured”) Artesanal pot still, aged 8 months in Ipé casks

Strength 40%, colour orange-gold

Nose: lovely intro, lemon zest, red olives, very vegetal and grassy, quite smooth

Palate: Smooth and easy, lots more red olives and tomatoes, cucumbers freshly sliced, mown grass, a few unripe white guavas….and a bit of dill.  Tart on the mouth, quite nice.

Finish: Short and a little uneven, but warm and gentle for all that. More olives and brine, some soya and sweet pickles

Thoughts: Slightly better than the older Castanha (Bert is going to shake his head at me, again); I attribute that mostly to better balance in the flavours, and the lemon was really well integrated with both wood and herbals.

81/100

Delicana SilberSilver Pot Still Unaged

Strength 38%, white

Nose: Pow!  Exploding phenols and wax and brine, petrol and hot asphalt.  Was this really just 38%?  Amazingly potent stuff, this, erratic and untamed, almost wild….it reminded me of the Haitian clairins, actually, and I mean that in a good way

Palate: Like the Jamel, it did a one-eighty degree turn. Thin and watery cucumbers in brine, vague vanillins, white sugar dissolved in extremely diluted lemon juice, a tad oily in mouthfeel, some sweet baking spices in there, cinnamon and nutmeg, too light to really be noticeable, but all serve to tame the nose.

Finish: Gone in a flash, hardly anything except crushed grass and a faint banana whiff

Thoughts: Should be stronger to make the point the nose advertised

77/100

Final comments

None of these rums is new, and two have won prizes, so it’s not as if Bert spent the last year refining his output, tweaking his ageing regimen and changing his barrels in any way.  But these are all younger than the ones I tried back in 2014 and I liked them more – they were lighter and cleaner in some way, integrated their tastes better, and the influence of the woods was held in check in a way that allowed more diffident flavours to come through. I wonder if that will turn out to be a characteristic of the type, that the ones under five years old will be the better ones. The journey continues.

 

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