Ruminsky

Mar 272017
 

Rumaniacs Review #032 

Over and above the skimpy details of the company provided in the notes written for the Carta Oro (Rumaniacs-031) there’s nothing new here, except to note that this rum is definitely better, and I enjoyed it a lot more.  So let’s dive right in and be briefer than usual

Nose – Very Spanish in its lightness.  Cornflakes, cereal, lemon peel, vanilla and salted butter come to the fore.  It’s a little spicy and tart for 40%, something like a lemon meringue pie, very nice actually, if a little gentle. Opens up to smoke and leather after some time.

Palate – I’ve moved away somewhat from the Latin style, but no fault to be found here.  Orange marmalade, a little caramel and coffee grounds and white chocolate, and with water there is a whiff of licorice, toffee, more vanilla, leavened by sharper fruits such as ginnips, red currants, red guavas…that kind of thing.  Really a very nice rum.

Finish – Short and delicious, quite light and crisp, with more tart fruity notes and some smoke and very faint licorice and orange peel.

Thoughts – I have no idea how aged this rum is – I suspect five to ten years.  Whatever the case, it’s a most enjoyable dram.  Probably out of all our price ranges at this point, if a bottle could even be found whose provenance one can trust. With the opening of the American market to Cuban products, we can expect to see a lot of rums many have never tried before from companies that will surge to the fore but which until now remain relatively obscure. I really look forward to that.

(84/100)

Mar 272017
 

Rumaniacs Review #031

This is a Cuban rum from a company that still exists in Santiago de Cuba and now called Ron Caney: the holding company was (and may still be) called Combinado de Bebidas de Santiago de Cuba and was supposedly formed around 1862…however, it is also noted to be operating out of a former Bacardi factory, so my take is that it’s using expropriated facilities.  This rum is from the late 1960s or early 1970s, is also known as “Gold,” and for sure is no longer in production, though modern and aged variants do of course exist (the Ultimate Rum Guide has a list for the curious).

Picture here taken from ebay and I’m unclear if it’s the same one as what I was tasting.  The actual bottle pic for the sample in my possession is very low res, but shown below.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – Soft citronella notes, flowers, relatively uncomplex, but laid back, light and quite clean.  Some cream pie and vanilla.

Palate – Sharp, clean and light, a little aggressive in a way the nose didn’t mention. Started off with a faint medicine-y taste which is far from unpleasant. Some salted caramel and cream cheese. Salty brine and olives, citrus peel, balsamic vinegar and cheese-stuffed peppers.  Maybe I got a dud sample that oxidized too much, ’cause it sure didn’t taste like a normal Cuban.  Still – not entirely a write-off.

Finish – Short, sharp, mostly lemon peel and some candied oranges.

Thoughts – Probably a very young rum. If one can find a bottle, it’s probably worth more for historical value than to actually drink it

(78/100)

Mar 262017
 

#350

The Savanna Millésime 2006 High Ester Rum from Réunion (or HERR, as it is labelled) is a steroid-infused Guadeloupe rum mixing it up with a Caroni and a Bajan. It may the closest one will ever come to one of Worthy Park or Hampden’s Jamaican taste bombs without buying one, betters them in sheer olfactory badassery and is possibly one of the best of its kind currently in production, or the craziest.  It’s very likely that once you try it you’ll wonder where it was hiding all this time. It emphatically puts Réunion on the map of must-have rum producing nations with not just flair, but with the resounding thump of a falling seacan.

Just to set the background.  I had bought the Savanna Rhum Traditonnel Vieux 2000 “Intense” 7 year old back in April 2016 in Paris, and when I finally wrote about it, remarked on the way it was interesting and tasty and seemed to channel a good Guadeloupe rum in that it walked a fine line between molasses based product and an agricole.  Purely on the strength of that positive experience, I sprung for the HERR, and made some notes to get some of the other “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” Lontan series from Savanna as well (see “other notes”, below).  The molasses-based HERR was distilled in 2006, aged for ten years in ex-cognac casks, bottled at a hefty 63.8% in 2016, bottle #101 of 686, and released for the 60th Anniversary of the Parisian liquor emporium La Maison du Whisky.

Anyway, after that initial enjoyable dustup with the “Intense”, I was quite enthusiastic, and wasn’t disappointed. Immediately upon pouring the golden-amber liquid into my glass, the aromas billowed out, and what aromas they were, proceeding with heedless, almost hectic pungency – caramel, leather, some tar, smoke and molasses to start off with, followed with sharper notes of vanilla, dark dried fruit, raisins and prunes and dates.  It had an abundance, a reckless, riotous profusion of flavours, so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking that not only did Savanna throw in the kitchen sink in making it, but for good measure they included the rest of the kitchen, half the pantry and some of the plumbing as well.  Even the back end of the nose, with some overripe bananas and vegetables starting to go off, and a very surprising vein of sweet bubble-gum, did nothing to seriously detract from the experience; and if I were to say anything negative about it, it was that perhaps at 63.8% the rum may just have been a shade over-spicy.

Still, whatever reservations I may have had did not extend much further than that, and when I tasted it, I was nearly bowled over.  My God but this thing was rich…fruity and tasty to a fault. Almost 64% of proof, and yet it was warm, not hot, easy and solid on the tongue, and once again — like its cousin — weaving between agricole and molasses rums in fine style.  There was molasses, a trace of anise, a little coffee, vanilla and some leather to open the party; and this was followed by green apples, grapes, hard yellow mangoes, olives, more raisins, prunes, peaches and yes, that strawberry bubble-gum as well.  I mean, it was almost like a one-stop shop of all the hits that make rum my favourite drink; and it lasted for a long long time, closing with a suitably epic, somewhat dry finish of commendable duration which perhaps added little that was new, but which summed up all the preceding notes of nose and palate with warmth and heat and good memories.  There was simply so much going on here that several subsequent tastings were almost mandated, and I regret none of them (and neither did Grandma Caner, who was persuaded to try some).  It presented as enormously crisp and distinct and it’s unlikely to be confused with any other rum I’ve ever tasted.

Just as an (irrelevant) aside, I was so struck with the kaleidoscopic flavours bursting out of the thing that I let the sample remain in my glass for a full four days (which is likely four days more than anyone else ever will) and observed it ascending to the heights before plunging into a chaotic maelstrom I’m somewhat at odds to explain.  But one thing is clear – if the sharp fruitiness of unrestrained rutting esters is your thing, then you may just agree with me that the rum is worth a try, not just once, but several times and may only be bettered by the Lontan 2004 12 year old 64.2% made by the same company.

I said in the opening remarks that it might be the best of its kind currently in production, or one of the craziest.  I believe that anyone who tries it will marvel at the explosive panoply of flavours while perhaps recognizing those off-putting notes which jar somewhat with what one expects a rum to possess.  Having read of my experience, I leave it to you to decide which side of the divide you fall on.  The HERR is not so much polarizing as unique, and it demands that you accept it as it is, warts and everything, on its own terms or not at all.  If you do, I somehow doubt you’ll be disappointed, and may just spend a few days playing around with it, wondering what that last smidgen of flavour actually was. Sort of like I did.

(88/100)

Other notes

Personal encomiums and opinions apart, I should inject a note of caution.  When tried in conjunction to the muskier, deeper Demeraras, HERR’s relative thinness becomes more apparent.  Too, after some hours, that vein of bubble-gum sweet also takes on a dominance that can be off-putting to those preferring darker tastes in their rums, though such a whinge would not disqualify it from any rum lover’s shelf.  But the chaos I noted earlier comes after you let it sit for the aforementioned few days.  By the fourth day the rum becomes sharp, biting, and almost vinegary, and while one can still get the smorgasbord of fruitiness which is the source of its exceptionalism, it is no longer feels like the same rum one started with.  Pouring a fresh sample right next to it on that day showed me the metamorphosis, and I believe that oxidation is something to beware of for any opened but long-untouched bottle.

As it turned out, an amazingly generous aficionado by the name of Nico Rumlover (long may his glass remain full) sent me not one or two additional Savanna samples, but eight more, just so that I could give them a shot…so look for those write-ups in the months to come.  Along with several other rums and rhums, I used all of them (and the Intense) as comparators for this review.

Historical distillery notes can be found in the Makers section for those whose interests run that way.

Rum Nation looks to be releasing a Savanna 12 YO at 59.5% sometime this year.

 

Mar 152017
 

#349

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost suggest this was a clairin.  It was so potent and pungent, so powerful in taste and profile, that I had to double up the amount of controls I was tasting it with, just to make sure it really was a Jamaican rum and not some uncured white lightning out of Haiti.  If you ever thought that Jamaicans were getting too easy, or you were getting bored with the regular run of Appletons, allow me to recommend (cautiously) this amazing white popskull from Hampden estate, which was gifted to me by Gregers and Henrik in the 2015 ‘Caner Afterparty, just so they could see my eyes water and my palate disappear while they laughed themselves silly.

Can’t say I blame them.  Now, you would imagine that when a bunch of us grog-blog boyos get together, it’s a genteel sort of affair in a discreet private club, brogues and black tie in evidence as we dignifiedly pass glasses around, and reverently open bottles like the Longpond 1941 or a Trois Rivieres 1975 while making sober and snooty judgements in hushed tones about nose and palate and so on.  Yeah…but no.  What actually goes on is that a pack of noisy, rowdy, scruffy reviewers from all points of the compass descends on a dingy apartment, each loudly and aggressively shoving their newest acquisitions onto the table, demanding they be opened and tried (twice!), and a sort of cheerful one-upmanship is the name of the game.  Quality doesn’t come into it, shock value does, and boy oh boy, did they ever succeed in taking the crown on this one.

I mean, just sniff this rum.  Go on, I dare ya. It was a 63% ABV salt-and-petrol concussive blast right away.  Forget about letting it breathe, it didn’t need that: it exploded out of the starting blocks like my wife spotting a 90%-off sale, and the immediate pungency of fusel oils, brine, beeswax, rotten fruit, wet cardboard, and sausages frying on a stinky gas fire took my schnozz by storm and never let go. Merde, but this was one hot piece of work.  Frankly, it reminded me of the JB Trelawny rum and Appleton’s own Overproof, also bottled at 63%, and oddly, of the Sajous. I immediately added a few clairins to the Jamaican controls on the table, and yes, there were discernible differences, though both shared some emergent flavours of sugar water and pickled gherkins and maybe some sweeter red olives – and the tartness of green apples and a bit of lemon.  But as for any kind of “standard” profile?  Not really.  It was having too much fun going its own way and punching me in the face, and represented Hampden in fine style.

Oh and this was not limited to the nose.  Tasting it was as exhilarating as skydiving with a parachute your ex-girlfriend just packed.  Again, the first impression was one of sharp heat (warning – trying this with your cigar going in the other side of your mouth is not recommended), and then there was a curious left turn into what was almost agricole territory – watermelon, flowers, sugar water, as hot and crisp and creamy as a freshly baked Danish cookie.  It was only after adding some water that a more ‘Jamaican’ set of notes came out to grab the brass ring – more olives, salted avocados and overripe fruit, wax, some very faint floor polish, tied together with the tiniest hint of citrus, vanilla and leather, before it all dissipated into a lovely, long, warm finish that coughed up some closing notes of sweet soya and teriyaki before finally, finally, passing into the great beyond of boring tasting notes in a notebook.

Whew!  This was a hell of a rum. I apologize in advance for sounding elitist, but really, the regular run of rum drinkers should approach this rum with some caution, or water it down or push it into a mix, lest it colour one’s perception of unaged white hooch forever.  I have a feeling it was made to appeal to those who want vibrant, pot-still full-proofs with real edge and a ginormous series of hot-snot flavour notes that take a smart right turn from reality.  Yes, of course it’ll make a cocktail that would stop just short of self-combustion (and there might lie its mainstream appeal rather than for masochistic nutcases who proudly drink it neat), but I submit that for the adventurous among you, taking it by itself is quite some experience, one that should not be missed.  It’s hot, it’s massive, it’s tasty, and for sure the makers weren’t kidding when they put the word “fire” in the title.  If the amount of amazed and joyful expletives (in seven languages) during a tasting is a measure of a rum’s appeal, then this one has to be one of the funnest, craziest rums I’ve sampled in quite some time, and I recall it with great fondness even after all this time.

(82/100)

Other notes

  • Made by and at Hampden estate, whose history is covered on their webpage
  • Triple distilled heavy pot still rum.  There’s no notation on age, but for my money, it has not been aged at all, another similarity it shares with the clairins
  • Not sure what the difference is between the straight “Rum Fire” and the “Rum Fire Velvet” – maybe it’s just the label, maybe it’s the triple distillation.

 

Mar 152017
 

Starts off weird and then develops very nicely

#348

A recent post on the reddit rum forum – perhaps the only real Q&A alternative to FB rum clubs on the net – remarked on the discovery by one person of Japanese rum, using the Ryoma 7 year old as an example.  Having written about that particular product – I thought it an interesting essay in the craft, having a profile both similar to and at odds with, more traditional rums with which we are more familiar — I remembered this other one by Ogasawara which I bought in Paris last year, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue.

I have to confess that the initial sensations on the nose were absolutely not my cup of tea (my notes read “shudderingly weird”), right up to the point where through some magical transformation the whole thing did an ugly duckling on me and (somewhat amazingly, from my perspective), turned into quite a credible swan. It started off with light oil and petrol, and was really briny, like a martini with five olives in it, leaving me wondering whether it was a pot still product (I never did find out).  In its own way it seemed to channel a cachaca, or unaged juice straight from the still, except that it was too unbalanced for that.  There was white pepper, masala, sugar water, cinnamon, a flirt of watermelon and pears, and a bouillon with too many maggi-cubes (I’m not making this up, honestly).  Somehow, don’t ask me how, after ten minutes or so, it actually worked, though it’ll never be my favourite white rum to smell.

Fortunately the Ogasawara settled down and got down to rum business on the palate, which was very pleasant to taste.  The 40% helped here, lending a sort of gentling down of the experience.  It presented as reasonably warm and smooth, the salt disappeared, leaving a light and sweet sugar water and watermelon tastes flavoured with cardamom, mint and dill, with traces of vanilla and caramel.  Water brought out more – very brief and very faint notes of olives, fusel oil and delicate flowers which gave some much-needed balance and character to the experience.  Although it was a molasses based product, it seemed to channel elements of an agricole spirit as well, in an interesting amalgam of both — something like a Guadeloupe white rhum, just not as good.  But if one were looking for a true molasses rum redolent of the Caribbean, forget it – that wasn’t happening here: it was too individual for that.  The finish was probably the weakest point of the whole affair, here one moment, gone the next, warm, light, clear, but hardly remarkable aside from a quick taste of cinnamon, cardamom, and sweet rice pudding.

The Ogasawara islands are also known as the Bonin (or “uninhabited”) Islands and are part of an archipelago of that name. The first Europeans are said to have come in in 1543 (supposedly a Spanish explorer, Bernardo de la Torre); one of the islands, Hahajima was originally called Coffin Island or Hillsborough Island and settled by a few Americans and Europeans and other pacific islanders around 1830. One of them, an American called Nathaniel Savory, traded bathtub-style hooch (I suppose they could be called rums) made from locally planted cane with whaling ships. By 1880 they became administratively a part of the Tokyo prefecture, and the commercial cultivation of sugar cane and sugar manufacture dates from this period. Rice based alcohols are of course a tradition in Japan but rums in the modern sense of the word have only existed since 1940 or so – however, most are classified as shochu for tax reasons (rum is taxed more heavily). Placed under American control after the end of World War II, the Islands returned to Japan in 1968, and after many years of efforts to reinvigorate the culture of sugar cane which existed on the island before, Ogasawara Rum Liqueur Company was founded and its first put rum on sale in 1992.  They still don’t produce much of a range.

Not much info on the rum itself is available.  I was informed via a Japanese friend of mine that it’s double-distilled in a stainless steel pot still.  There are stories about how it was aged for under a year on the sea bed by the source islands, but I’m not clear whether it’s this rum, or a rum made on Ogasawara and where the title is used as an adjective. Plus, if it was aged that way, it had to have been filtered, again without confirmation of any kind.  So this turned into one of those occasions where I really did taste it blind, and what you’re getting is an unvarnished opinion of a rum about which very little is known aside from strength and basic source.

As a person who has had rums from all over the world, I am a firm believer that terroire and culture both impact on the rums various regions make, which is why you’ll never confuse a Bajan with a Jamaican, or either with a Martinique rhum, for example (or with a Guyanese wooden still product).  Japan’s small and venerable producers, to my mind, benefit from their unique Okinawan cane (much as Dzama rhums on Madagascar do with theirs) as well as being somewhat limited by their predilection for sake and shochu, which are quite different from western spirits and impart their own taste profiles that define and please local palates.

Given its vibrant whiskey industry and lack of attention to our tipple of choice, it’s clear Japan still has some catching up to do if it wants to make a splash and win real acceptance in the wider rum world as a producer of a unique variant of rum. Nine Leaves is already making strides in this direction, and it remains to be seen whether other small (or large) producers will edge into the market as well.  If they do, it’s going to be interesting to see how they approach the making of their rums, the marketing, and the disclosure.

(78/100)

Mar 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #30

This rum is one of the reasons I love the spirits made so long ago – they shine a light into the way things were back in the day.  Alfred Lamb started making dark rum from West Indian bulk rum back in 1849, ageing his barrels in cellars below the Thames and laid claim to making “real” Navy rum.  These days the company seems to make supermarket rum more than any kind of serious earth-shaking popskull…but the potential remains, as this rum (almost) points out.  It’s issued by United Rum Merchants, who trace their own heritage back to Lyman “Lemon” Hart in 1804 (yes, that Lyman Hart).  Back during WW2 and the Blitz (in 1941) Keeling and Lamb were both bombed out of their premises and URM took them under their wing in Eastcheap. It’s a little complicated, but these days Pernod Ricard seems to own the brand and URM dissolved in 2008.

Put to rest in Dumbarton (Scotland), matured in three puncheons and 510 bottles issued around 1990, so it’s forty years old…with maybe some change left over. It’s from Jamaica, but I don’t know which distillery. Could actually be a blend, which is what Lamb’s was known for.

Colour – gold-amber

Strength – 40%

Nose – Well, unusual is a good word to describe this one.  The leather of old brogues, well polished and broken in with shoe polish and acetone, perhaps left in the sun too long after a long walk in the Highlands.  Old veggies, fruits, bananas, light florals, all perhaps overripe – kinda dirty, actually, though not entirely in a bad way – somehow it gels.  Vanilla, brine, a certain meatiness – let’s just call it funk and move on.  Wish it was stronger, by the way.

Palate – Ahh, crap, too damned light.  I’ve come to the personal realization that I want Jamaicans to have real torque in their trousers and 40% don’t get me there, sorry.  Oh well.  So…light and somewhat briny, citrus and stewed apples, some flowers again, some sweet of pancake syrup and wet compost, leather.  It seems to be more complex than it is, in my opinion.  Plus, it’s a bit raw – nothing as relatively civilized as another venerable Jamaican, the Longpond 1941.  Still, big enough, creamy enough for its age and strength.

Finish – Pleasingly long for a 40% rum, yay!.  Vanilla, leather, some brine and olives and fruits and then it slowly fades.  Quite good actually

Thoughts – A solid Jamaican rum, feels younger and fresher than any forty year old has a right to be, even if it doesn’t quite play in the same league as the Longpond 1941.  Makes me wish Lamb’s would stop messing around with “everyone-can-drink-it” rums, which are made for everyone, and therefore no-one.

(82/100)

Mar 112017
 

Moscoso Distillers (also known as Barik) is a third-generation Haitian rum-maker whose klerens caught my attention as I was researching rums from there that were specifically not Barbancourt or distributed by Velier.  You’d think that some enterprising producers would extoll their family ancestry by tracing it back to Toussaint L’Ouverture’s great grandfather’s first cousin as part of the company legend, but as with many other things, Haitians do seem to enjoy confounding expectations.  In fact, the official founder of the company, Jules Moscoso, came over from the Dominican Republic in the early 1900s and settled in a small town called Léogâne in Haiti (just SW of Port-au-Prince, the capital), which was a centre of the sugar economy for centuries and which remains the source for the current company’s cane.

Marie Mascoso

That’s just a convenient sort of dating though, because Jules ended up marrying into the local aristocracy (or petit bourgeoisie, depending how you look at it) of the Vulcains, who were large landowners possessing several sizeable tracts of land and cane fields. Jules’s wife Marie confuses the timeline, since he established the distillery…but she and her relatives going back about five or six previous generations had been making and selling clairin the whole time (they also owned several general stores, which made distribution much easier).  Jules and Marie’s descendant – Michael Moscoso, the current owner – calls himself a third generation distiller because the paper trail only begins in 1925, with Jules and some old barrels that were imported – the company, such as it was, was never formally incorporated and was simply known as Mascoso’s. He does not recall if any single pot stills were utilized in making their clairins, but to his knowledge the original distilling apparatus consisted of  combination of pot and creole column still of five to six plates, copper made, with direct fire or water baths (which was and remains very much the tradition across the whole island).  As Haiti had once been a French colony, its influences came from the other French islands, explaining the Charentais alembics that were more common, as opposed to single pot stills used in other parts of the Caribbean by indigenous producers.  

Jules was more than just a local hooch handler.  He was in fact quite a talented tinkerer and very good with his hands: mechanical common-sense ran in the family, and much of the distillery was constructed with his direct input. The story goes that at one time, the French government donated a bleacher (those stadium like prefab metallic rows) to the Haitian government of the time. This bleacher was designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel tower fame), but for some reason the assembly instructions accompanying the bleachers came in Chinese (don’t ask). The minister of public words of the moment, a bona fide engineer, confessed to Jules – a friend of his – that he couldn’t build it.  Jules casually asked for the manual, came back seven days later and then built the thing in fourteen days. It was famously known as the “Estrade du Champs de Mars” and is unfortunately no longer in existence…but any Haitian from that era would know of it.

The whole family was in on the business and it did not limit itself to merely clairins. Over time they expanded to providing 95% alcohol and ethanol to hospitals and pharmacies, base rhum stock to other clairin makers on the island and even branched out into the manufacture of essential oils (one such oil went on to provide the base for what would become Chanel No. 5).  Aunts, cousins and uncles were all part of the operation and were involved in running both wholesale and retail part of the company and its various sidelines.

The business passed on on to the second generation (Edouard Mascoso) in the late 1950s and Barik fared reasonably well.  Clairin sales (bulk and retail) and manufacture held steady, but the industry on the half island was moving into the direction of larger distilleries using industrial sized column stills which left smaller establishments at a disadvantage.  Barbancourt remains the best known, and the late 1970s also saw the increased scale of other major producers like the Nazon family who make rhums under the banner of Distillerie de la Rue in Cap Haitian, and Michael’s own uncle Gerald Moscoso (of Ayiti Aromatik SA) who with is partner bought press and plant from around the Caribbean, and make the Kleren Nacyonal and other brands out of St. Michel. Slowly the business stagnated and regressed in the 1970s to the point where Edouard was forced by both this and his own health to drastically ramp down production in the 1980s.  There followed a period of about twenty years when Mascoso / Barik as a clairin maker almost disappeared, though as noted, other branches of the family did have rhum operations of their own (and with confusingly similar brand names).  All the while, though, a trickle of the juice kept coming, even if only for local consumption.

Michael Mascoso with two of his klerens

After some years of puttering around from job to job (including that of a DJ), Edouard’s son Michael “Didi” Mascoso, who had been brought up in the culture of his family’s businesses and had apprenticed with his uncle’s more modern clairin operation, took over the near-abandoned clairin distillery in 2008.  From the inception, his ambition had been to move away from local bathtub-style popskull with poor quality controls and wide batch variations, to something more professional.  In short he wanted to create a double-distilled and aged rhum that could not only elevate the product and sales on Haiti, but be of sufficient quality for export.  It was of course not quite as simple as he had initially thought, but nevertheless he wanted to reopen a refurbished distillery with the same equipment, repaired and spiffed up, and tried to bring in more modern improvements and innovations over time.

It should be pointed out that it is almost a Haitian tradition to have one’s stills and factory infrastructure look as rundown and beat up as is humanly possible without actually ceasing operation.  Part of that has always been the rather unsavoury, unglamorous, peasantlike back-country reputation possessed by the clairins themselves – why spruce up the still when the juice is just being sold to the proles?  But more importantly, it keeps the eyes of the authorities off one’s operations if is just perceived as some small fly-by-night family outfit brewing small quantities of moonshine.  According to Michael, life under the dictatorial Duvaliers was never as brutal as the western media made out. “Under Duvalier I was not aware of any challenges. During that time if one minded his own business and walked a straight line they were safe.” But the taxman was something else again. The moment one’s operation looked a little too professional or the infrastructure too modern, and bottling became part of the company output (factory bottling in real bottles with labels and stuff), then the taxman came sniffing around.  And that was the major reason why 99% of the Haitian rum industry stuck with their old fashioned stills, and steadfastly refused to move ahead and modernize.

For financial and resource reasons, to recreate or even upgrade a functional distillery was very difficult for Michael.  However, humans are nothing if not inventive, and much like to soviets in the 1970s and 1980s who were known for putting together amazing inventions with string, baling wire and some vodka (or in modern times, having the tightest code due to limitations on available computer time in the old days), there was a lot of knowledge, passed-down-lore and plain experience…and a strain of Jules’s talent for mechanical tinkering and skill with his hands was still in the family tree. The distillery was repaired and refurbished, essentially by dint of diligent scrounging: abandoned kitchen equipment, commercial supermarket freezers, coolers (any source of metals that could be found, really), wires, electrical stuff – steel and copper and plate and everything else, down to the screws.  And then, as Michael put it, not without a hint of pride, “…watch us do magic by building our own pot and column stills, tubular condensers…. We also took old gas or #2 oil steam boilers and converted them into burning bagasse.  A typical modern distillery here in Haiti, with a steam boiler, pot column…more than 90% built on the premises with scrap metal.”

Scrap and scrounging, begging and borrowing, doing it all manually, all this was fine – it was, nevertheless, expensive.  It took all of Michael’s savings, credit cards, personal loans, raiding the family treasure chests (when not locked or guarded by fierce aunties) and getting help from his father and his brother (also named Jules)…and eight months after taking over, the still was ready to begin production.  At this point Edouard struck a co-production deal with a competitor which caused Michael to withdraw from operations for a while.  In December 2008 a successful test run on the distillery was finally done, and commercial production began in January 2009, with the intention of making both bulk clairin distillate for the local producers and possible export sales, and a line of white, caramelized and infused rhums.

Bad luck seemed to dog the distillery at the inception.  First there was the lack of funding for upgrades which had stretched the repair job into nine months; then there was the co-production deal that diverted attention and resources from the Barik brand; the earthquake hit in 2010 and shattered much of the island’s infrastructure …and as if all this wasn’t enough, there was an increasing incidence of industrial scale ethanol being used to make cut-rate clairins. Clairins are enormously pungent and flavourful and what producers were doing was mixing in a small portion of true distillate with the ethanol to make cheaper, low quality “clairin” that dragged down sales of the real McCoy.

Michael: “Although we had the ambition of branding and bottling rhums since 2009, financials did not allow it.  When things went from bad to worse in 2014, with the importation of industrial ethanol reaching its peak at that time, that was the end of selling bulk clairin.  I therefore decided to switch my focus to bottling and move away from the bulk sales.”  Michael noted that he had started working on his formulas and other blends since before the earthquake.  “I started with my sugar mash premium rhum right off the still, filtered and straight in the bottle; a few other blends like the Marabou (a caramelized version of the premium), a mint infused one and a few other tropical fruits infusion…and boom I was in business.  Selling a few bottles privately to a few customers in Europe but mainly France, I noticed that they have a preference for white agricoles — so I started bottling the Traditional 22 which is the pure juice version.”

So far the company remains (in accounting parlance) a sole trader operation and has not been officially incorporated. It is informally known and will one day be established in law as Moscoso Distillers, and under its umbrella have issued the Kleren Nacyonal and Rhum Barik brands, with additional variations of these (there’s also a rum-based Amaretto di Moscoso).  Sales remain slow and relatively minimal as a consequence of both novelty and a nonexistent mass-marketing advertising budget – in that sense, as Michael observed, a debt of thanks is owed to Luca for putting clairins on the international map and raising the drink’s profile. He hopes that his prescence at the 2017 Paris RhumFest will establish his brand more firmly in the mind of the rhum loving public and perhaps lead to more investment and possibly another large Haitian brand.  Having a personal thing for these potent unaged white rhums, as well as being interested in how the ageing would be handled, I for one will certainly be keeping an eye out on his products going forward.

 

Other notes

The word “Barik” means barrel in Haitian creole.  The choice of the name for brand (and possibly the company) was deliberate, because it was such a strong, easily pronounceable title in any language (Rolex, as I recall, chose its name for similar reasons).

Originally Michael wanted to name his product “Rhum La Guldive” but felt it to be too challenging a name.  It would be hard to ask for in a bar, the way one says “Havana Club” or “Bacardi”.  Plus, Pere Labat next door might launch a lawsuit over the name since they have a product with that title.

All photographs are from the Barik Facebook page, used with Michael Moscoso’s permission

References

The short list below, of rhums Mascoso Distillers makes, is not exhaustive (I’ve excluded all flavoured and infused versions since my focus is not on such products) but it’s a start for those who are interested.

  • Rhum Barik Premiere Cuvee 50% (aged 6 months)
  • Rhum Barik Cuvee de la Naissance 50%
  • Rhum Barik Artisinal Superior 50%
  • Kleren Nasyonal Methode St. Michel 55% “Ti Bois d’homme” (unaged)
  • Kleren Nasyonal Traditonnel 22 55% (unaged )
  • Kleren Nasyonal Kreyol 22 55% (unaged)
  • Clairin Bouvoir Leriche 55% (unaged)

 

Mar 102017
 

Photo copyright whisky.dk

Rumaniacs Review #029

Issued around 2011, the El Dorado 25 YO received an update from the original 1980 version, with the blend tweaked a little.  The enclosure and bottle remained the same, however, and unfortunately for the modern rumporn brigade of the millenial teens, not enough was done to upgrade the rum to what a current (2017) connoisseur would consider par for the course – unadulterated and cask strength.  Instead, sticking with the tried and true formula which sold so well in the past, it remained 43%, and perhaps we should consider it a favour that the reported 51 g/L sugar of the 1980 version was reduced to 39 g/L here.  I suppose that’s why this one scored incrementally better.  But still, a 25 year old rum made from some of the most famous stills in the world should be a world beater.  And it isn’t. Not even close.

Colour – dark red-amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Marginally better than the 1980 (I tried both side by side).  While still too anemic, it was vaguely crispier and fruitier, nuttier and brinier. Bags of anise and dark dried raisins, jam, molasses and caramel, given some edge with notes of tobacco and oak and some minerally ashy background.  A very good nose.

Palate – Takes the promise and trashes it…worst part of the experience.  This is a €400+ rum, aged 25 years (with all the attendant expectations such stats engender), and a depressingly liqueured might-have-been. If one strains the nose almost out of its original shape, one can sense (rather than actually taste) black cake and honey, vanilla and oak, philly cheese on toast, plus traditional fruits, raisins, anise, prunes, backed up by a nice creme brulee.  And to that extent I liked it. But the sugar…it was just too overbearing – it was like you could never quite come to grips with what was on offer, not because of a low ABV (though this did absolutely nothing to enhance the experience) but because the sweet dampened everything.  It made for a thick, muddy sort of mangrove swamp, instead of the crisp, complex, fast-flowing river that would have been better.

Finish – Too short, to pale, too sweet.  Nothing much going on here.

Thoughts – What the rum provides is still ahead of spiced nonsense like the Kraken or Don Papa, but that’s damning it with faint praise.  Those cost 1/10th of this and have fewer pretensions, raise fewer expectations. Seven years ago I enjoyed the 25 YO El Dorados I tried because I knew less and was more satisfied with 40-43% rums.  That time has now passed and I can see more failure than achievement here. One of my idols proved to have feet of clay, alas.

(81/100)

Other Rumaniacs liked this rum even less than I did.  You can see their evaluations on the official website.

Mar 062017
 

#347

By now, just about everyone in the rum world is aware of clairins, those indigenous crude white taste bombs out of Haiti, and once again, points have to be given to the farsightedness of Luca Gargano, who brought them to the attention of the wider world by promoting and distributing the Sajous, Vaval and the Casimir.  Unfortunately, the acclaim these three have garnered have somewhat eclipsed any other clairins – and when supposedly some 500+ small outfits make the juice on the half-island, one can only imagine what else of interest is lurking there waiting to be discovered by anyone who loves crazy, speaks patois and has a 4×4.

One that came across my radar not too long ago was the Kreyol Kléren series of rums made by a company called Mascoso Distillers, sometimes as Barik – a real company, not some garage-based pop-and-pup moonshinery making it with granny’s recipe for the relatives on the weekend jump-up.  I ended up buying two of them and getting a sample of a third, which caused the customs officials in Frankfurt some real puzzlement as they had no clue what the hell this stuff was and required no end of paperwork from Michael (the owner) to prove that it was a rum, why the price was so low, how come they were all around 55% and no, they weren’t meant to be weaponized.

You can understand their confusion (or trepidation).  The Kléren Nasyonal Traditionnel 22 (a supposed “rhum agricole artisanal superior” based on the label, but not really, since the source is a sugar mash not sugar cane juice, and the label is a graphic design error) had an initial smell that was like inhaling a small fire-breathing sweet-toothed dragon.  It was fierce, herbal and salty, and reminded me somewhat of that long-ago sonofabitch in the playground in second form who rabbit punched me in the schnozz without warning.  I was using all three of the other (Velier-distributed) clairins for controls here, and what I sensed with the Nasyonal was their genesis taking form.  It was not as cultured as the Vaval or the Casimir, and even the Sajous was somewhat more tamed (when was the last time you read that about those three?), but in its very basic and elemental nature lay much of its attraction.  It was rough and jagged and yet still joyously powerful, eventually giving up more leafy notes (basil, maybe), sugar cane sap, with much of the same salty wax and swank taste I remembered so well from the others.

Thankfully the rhum settled itself down some when I was tasting it and now edged closer to the quality of my controls.  Oh sure, it was still liquid sandpaper and not for the weak (or those preferring softer brown fare) – I would never try to convince you otherwise.  Yet behind all that macho display of sweat and stink squirting from every pore was some pretty interesting stuff – sweet sugar water and herbal cane juice again, some gherkins in vinegar, and salt and olive oil and dill backing it all up.  Phenomenal, long finish, by the way, making up some for the brutality of the preceding experience, suggesting salt and herbs and (again) cane juice. Not the most complex drink ever made, of course, and after taking it out back and beating my palate a time or three, it occurred to me to wonder, if Luca had smacked his label on it, would I have been able to tell the difference? (So I had the wife give me all four blind, and I was just able to pinpoint the Sajous and the Klerin but mixed up the Casimir and the Vaval – it was the edge on the first two that gave them away).

Clairins may be made in every bottom-house, backhouse and outhouse on Haiti, where jury rigged creole stills are slapped together from mouldy leather jockstraps, old bata flip-flops and disused petrol cans (probably with duct tape).  And yes, many of them are probably best left undiscovered, or relegated to those with noses, palates and livers more robust than mine.  This one, the least of the three I’m going through, possesses enough points of distinction to merit a recommendation, so long as your tastes run in this direction.  It’s a massive, Duke Nukem style hot shock to the system, displaying zero couth yet uncompromisingly boasting a uniqueness worthy of note.  I can’t entirely or unreservedly praise the rhum, but it must be said, when I was trying it, I sure as hell wasn’t bored. I doubt you would be either, no matter how your experience turns out.

(82/100)

Other Notes

The significance of the “22” lies in the proof point.  Under the Cartier scale this translates into 55% ABV, while the more common Gay-Lussac scale equating to 55% / 110 proof is used everywhere else in the world.  The scale here is a peculiarity of Haiti, as is the word “Traditionnel” which on Haiti means an agricole, not a molasses based rum.

Straight from still to bottle, no ageing at all.

Barik’s rhums are very affordable for those with an adventurous bent, and best of all, they’re sold in 200ml bottles as well.  This is a conscious decision by Michael Moscoso, the owner, who understands that for it to sell even locally in a time of competition and adulterated Chinese crap trucked over the border, small bottles at affordable prices must be part of the sales strategy.  Given how many full sized bottles I buy in a single year, I can’t help but applaud that.

Barik has a fairly robust heritage.  Founded by Michael “Didi” Moscoso’s grandfather way back in the early 1900s, it is now supposedly the fourth largest in Haiti, but plagued by infrastructure problems and those cheap ethanol derivatives.  There’s a separate biography, here

Mar 012017
 

#346

One of the older independent bottlers is Silver Seal out of Italy, which has been around for longer than many other such companies; it was formed in 1979 and named “Sestante” before being renamed in 2001 after a ten year operational hiatus. It adheres to the modern ethos of regular issues, and bottles casks sourced and aged with attention to detail, from all over the world; it takes an approach more akin to Rum Nation or L’Esprit than Velier, diluting the natural strength of the cask to appeal to a broader audience….though as this Enmore demonstrates, they have no objection to issuing cask strength rums either. Like Samaroli they do primarily whiskies, with rums as a smaller percentage of their sales, but I argue that it is for rums they really should be known, since everyone and his chihuahua makes whiskies, but it takes a real man to make a good rum worthy of being called one.

Like this one.

The Enmore we’re looking at today presses all the right buttons for a Guyanese rum from the famed still, about which by now I should not need to spill any further ink.  Distilled in 1986, bottled in 2007 at 55%, no filtration or dilution, and that’s enough to get most aficionados drooling right away.  Price is a bit much — I paid north of €300 for this bad boy, largely because getting any rums from the 1970s and 1980s these days is no easy task and when one is found it’s pricey.  Colour was copper-amber and after having waited eight months to crack the thing, well, you’ll forgive me for being somewhat enthusiastic to get started.

Fortunately it did not disappoint.  Indeed, it impressed the hell out of me by presenting a nose with three separate and distinct olfactory components, which somehow worked together instead of opposing each other.  It opened up with a trumpet blast of tart red apples (almost cider-like), acetone and polish and burning rubber, and frankly, I  wish I knew how they made that happen without messing it all up, so points for succeeding there.  The second component was the more familiar licorice and dried fruit and black cake, lots and lots of each, which gradually melded into the first set.  And then, more subtly, came the third movement of softer, easier, quieter notes of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, smoke and leather that lent authority and elegance to the more powerful statements that had come before. In fine, a great nose.  I went on smelling it happily for half an hour (and on three separate occasions).

And the taste…”warm and powerfully elegant” is not a bad four-word summary.  Again I was reminded how 50-60% seems to me to be just about right for rums to showcase strength and taste without either overkill or understatement.  It takes real effort and skill to make a 65% elephant perform like a dancing cheetah (Velier is among the best in this regard, with the Compagnie and L’Esprit snapping lustily at its heels) but for something a bit less antagonistic like 55%, the task is commensurately easier.  That worked fine here.  It took the flavours of the nose and built on them.

First there were salty marshmallows and teriyaki, not as obscure or crazy as it sounds (more a way to describe a salt and sweet amalgam properly). It had the slightly bitter taste of unsweetened coffee and dark chocolate, but was also remarkably deep and creamy, though I felt here the wood had a bit too much influence and this jarred somewhat with the following notes of caramel and butterscotch. But with a bit of water the dark fruits came out and smoothened out the experience, gradually morphing into a sweeter, more relaxed profile, salty, briny, musky and with a flirt of cereals and raisins. Overall it was a lot like the Compagnie’s Enmore 1988 27 year old, so much so that the differences were minor (for the record I liked that one more…it had somewhat better depth, complexity and balance).  Things were wrapped up nicely with a finish of heated warmth, reasonably smooth and long, which summed up what had come before and was primarily licorice, raisins, vanilla, brine and burnt sugar.  All in all, an impressive achievement.

Independent bottlers aren’t producers in the accepted sense of the word, since they don’t actually produce anything.  What they do is chose the base product, and then transform it.  Some, after careful consideration and exacting decision-making, buy the finished rum by the individual barrel from a broker and put a label on, while others take the time to age their own barrels of raw rum stock bought young.  I’m not entirely sure which camp Silver Seal falls into, but I can tell you this – whatever they did to put this rum out the door is absolutely worth it.  It’s one of the better Enmores I’ve tried and if you do empty your wallet to buy one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed either.

(89.5/100)

Other notes

Allow me a digression to snark for a moment: the company both elicits my admiration for their bottlings and my annoyance for the crap labelling of their Demeraras in about equal measure.  It’s all about that ridiculous British Guyana moniker they keep slapping on, which is about as irritating as reading “Guyanan” rum on a Cadenhead bottle. All right, so that’s petty of me, but please, just get it right folks, is all I’m asking. Guyana has been independent since 1966 and by now everyone should know it’s no longer “British” anything, and when it comes from there, it’s a “Guyanese” rum.

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