Nov 112019
 

In case you’re wondering, in the parlance of the Francophone West Indies, the term “cabresse” (or “chabine”) refers to a light skinned mulatto, what Guyanese would call a dougla gyal – not altogether politically correct these days, but French Caribbean folks have always been somewhat more casual about such terms (witness the “Negrita” series of rums, for example) so perhaps for them it’s less of a big deal. The rum in question comes from French Guiana in this case, made there by the same distillery of St. Maurice which also provides the stock for the rhums of that little indie out of Toulouse, Toucan. It is now the only distillery in the country, though back in the 1930s there were about twenty others.

The blanc is the standard white rum of the company and the brand name of La Cabresse – other brands they make are La Cayennaise and La Coeur de Chauffe, none of which I’ve tried thus far. Like all their rums, its a column still product based on a 48-hour fermentation cycle of the fresh cane juice harvested from their own fields, and it’s bottled at what could almost be seen as a standard for whites, 50% ABV.  And that’s sufficient to give it some heft while not being too milquetoast for a hard charging bar cocktail.

Certainly it gives the flavours ample room to emerge. It’s self-evidently a cane juice rhum, redolent of fresh wet grass, sugar cane sap, swank, and white fruits like ripe pears and guavas, and without any tart tang or bite. There’s a touch of avocados, brine and olives mixed up with lime leaves, and a clear hint of anise in the background. 

The rhum presents as warm rather than hot or sharp, so relatively tame to sniff, and this continues on to the palate. There a certain sweetness, light and clear, that is more pronounced in the initial sips, and the citrus notes are more noticeable, as are the brine and slight rottenness.  What’s most distinct is the emergent strain of ouzo, of licorice (mostly absent from the nose until after it opens up a bit) … but fortunately this doesn’t take over, integrating reasonably well with tastes of clear bubble gum and strawberry soda pop that round out the crisp profile. Finish is medium long, dry, sweet, warm  Guavas and white fruits and watery pears mingle with oranges and citrus peel and a slight dusting of salt, and that’s just about the whole story.

When it comes to French island rums, agricoles or otherwise, my attention tends to be attracted more by the whites than the majority of the aged rhums.  It’s not that the older rhums are bad by any stretch – quite the reverse, in fact – just that I find the whites fascinating and original and occasionally just plain weird. There’s usually something interesting about them, even when they are perfectly normal products.  Perhaps it’s because I was raised on whites that were too often bland, lightly-flavoured and inoffensive and just served their purpose of providing a jolt of alcohol to a mix, that I appreciate rums willing to take a chance here and there.

Not all whites conform to that, of course, and this one isn’t going to break the mould, or the bank, or your tonsils. It’s a perfectly serviceable mid-level white rum, nothing extra special, nothing extra bad. It’s not a crazy screaming face-melter, nor a boring, take-one-sip-and-fall-asleep yawn-through. I’d suggest it’s a little too rough to take neat, while also lacking that element of crazy that makes you want to try it that way just to prove you could; and at the same time it is sprightly enough to boost a cocktail like a Ti’Punch real well. At the end, then, you could with justification state that La Belle Cabresse remains one of those all-round rhums which doesn’t excel at anything in particular, but provides solid support for just about everything you want it for. 

(#674)(82/100)

Jan 022019
 

There must be something about the French that just leads them into starting little rum companies in other countries. There was Hembert Achard and Anne-Francois Houzel who formed Whisper Rums from Antigua; David Giallorenzo of Issan; and Marine Lucchini and Thibault Spithakis of Chalong Bay. And of course there’s Toucan, which, if you recall from my posts of a year ago, is a relatively new entrant to the field of rums, yet distinguished itself (in my eyes at least) by making the really nifty-but-underpowered Toucan No. 4, as well as being from French Guiana, a place we have not seen or heard of enough when it comes to rums.

All these companies are small, discreet and self-effacing…almost humble.  Oh sure, they use social media and have slick, marketing-heavy websites and show up on Facebook feeds off and on – who doesn’t, these days? – but what distinguishes them (to me) is both their relatively low-key digital footprint, and their equally unhyped but surprisingly good young rums.  Especially the white ones, which I simply can’t get enough of. In this case, the 50% blanc.

Toucan makes a vanilla (I think this is No. 1), the Boco spiced rum No. 2, the No. 4 slightly aged rum and but for my money this 50% white is the best of the lot. It’s made from cane juice processed at French Guiana’s St. Maurice distillery, and then shipped to Toulouse where it stays in neutral steel tanks until ready for bottling, after being reduced to 50%.

What’s nice about it is immediately summarized by a nose of uncommon delicacy and (oddly) also of heft.  It smelled of sweet light fruit – pears, watermelon, green grapes – but also of salty brine and olives, furniture polish, and something barely noticeable yet also…meatier.  In that it reminded me of the Novo Fogo, though with rather more emphasis and braggadocio, due in no small part to the 50% ABV it was bottled at.

The palate continued that unhurried unfolding or flavour.  It was smooth and pleasant (with a little nip from the strength, no getting away from that), initially tasting of fanta and 7-up, light citrus peel, pears again, a few indeterminate ripe fruits, and (get this) those salt-and-vinegar pringles chips. It was aromatic and redolent of these, and the salt and the sweet and the fruity notes melded nicely in a minor key that didn’t overwhelm, just led slowly down to a gentle finish which gave last hints of marzipan, sugar water, toblerone and nougat.

I must admit that furiously raw clarity of flavour and a powerful terroire profile is not this rhum’s thing.  In fact, it’s rather restrained, almost demure, with each flavour shyly coiling out of the mix to tease and titillate before quietly subsiding, much like many of those Asian white rums I’ve been trying of late – Issan, Vientiane, Chalong Bay, Laodi. Like them, the Toucan white straddles the divide between too much and too little, between pillow and hammer, and finds the balancing point between them all.  It’s an unassuming but really good white rum, one of an increasing number of unsung heroes of the blancworld which one should try for no other reason than to be pleased by something that wants to do nothing else.

(#584)(83/100)

Dec 182017
 

#470

The No. 4 made by Toucan Rums from French Guiana is a small, sweet melody of a rum, playing itself out in a minor key.  This isn’t a great rum, not truly pure, but I never got the feeling, when talking with the small company’s vivacious Directeur-General, Cat Arnold, that they really meant it to be.  The sense was more that they set out to indulge their passion, and there are parallels to Whisper Rum from Antigua here: in both cases a pair of French entrepreneurs bootstrapped a tiny operation, refused to go through brokers, and sourced rum from a country’s much bigger distillery directly.  They built a structure on excitement, and made exactly what they wanted – a relaxed, easy rum that isn’t out to redefine the concept so much as show that a good rum doesn’t have to be supported by loud social media bombast, a jillion dollar marketing budget or a Rum Name, to be noticed and applauded. It just has to be original and a decent drink.

They’ve succeeded quite well in my estimation, as might also be implied by the gold medal it won in the 2017 Berlin Rumfest. Bottled at a mild 40%, it was touted as sugar and coloration-free (but see my notes below), and derived from the same single-column-still sugar-cane juice as the very excellent Toucan White, bottled at a hefty 50%. What this presents when one smells it, is rather unusual – slightly salty, unsweetened chocolate, aromatic cigarillos, sugar water and pears, with some edge provided by a vague bitterness – that sort of profile doesn’t always work, but here it provided a delicate counterpoint to more traditional aromas and it was far from unpleasant.

The palate is extremely mild and very light, so if one is trying it neat (as I did), some concentration is needed otherwise the faint flavours disappear quickly. Still, they are intriguing within their limits – nuts, cola and fruitiness being immediately evident, for example.  It displayed, even at that low strength, some sharp and jagged edges which I liked, and highlight the youth of the rum. What distinguishes the Toucan No. 4 is the way it combines the profile of a good cachaca (it has vague woody notes characteristic of the Brazilians), with a sort of low-rent Jamaican (those funk and esters), together with a gradually emergent taste of dill and sweet ginger.  There are also some toffee and sugar water notes, which keep mostly in the background, and the combination of all these is done quite well. The finish is probably the weakest part of the experience, since there is insufficient strength to showcase any closing uniqueness, and underlines the frailty of the construction.  However, fair is fair – sugar water, dill, some very light citrus and grass notes are there, and it would be remiss of me not to mention them, or how well they play together.

Let’s quickly go through the background of the company. You can easily ignore all the marketing blah of both the company’s website and the one from St Maurice (the French Guiana distillery of origin), with their pretty pictures of mist-shrouded tropical vistas, and heady statements about being close to the equator or slow reduction of the rum. This is all marketing. The facts on the ground are that Toucan sources rum stock made on St. Maurice’s column still — sugar cane juice origin with a 48-hour fermentation period — ships it to Toulouse in France and there it rests in steel tanks for six months, before being reduced over six hours to standard proof; then it is aged in armagnac casks for fifteen days and then given a wood infusion (essence of three different types of undisclosed woods, so I was told) for another fifteen days.  Hence my remark above, about not being “truly pure”.

All this is described honestly and clearly on the back label. The process makes for a nearly unaged, infused and finished rum, and while normally I have no particular interest in such rums (which is why you don’t see many of them in my reviews), here I can’t really argue with the final result, because none of it was excessive or overbearing. It is a really nice rum: it’s pleasant, sippable and unaggressive, well made, modest…almost bashful.  It’s tasty as all get out for its low proof, and when I spoke with the very expressive and enthusiastic Ms. Cat Arnold (half of the two-person husband-and-wife team which makes it) and mentioned that it should really be stronger to be better, she remarked that Benoit Bail had just told her exactly the same thing, so they’ll be looking to make some changes in the future.  

When your rum gets on the agricole tour and makes waves around facebook and wins prizes right out of the gate, you’re probably doing something right.  Press like that is worth the rum’s weight in gold, and here I’m adding my own voice to those who already know that the tiny company produces some very interesting juice. The rum is not a world beater by any means, but it’s got oodles of potential, a very original and well-assembled profile, and we should watch out for more, stronger and better from the company in the years to come. For the moment and until they issue No.5 or No. 6, you won’t be short-changing yourself if you spring some coin for this demure little rumlet from French Guiana.  It’s a pretty nifty, low-key drinking experience with little or no downside for the casual drinker.

(81/100)


Other notes

  • The back label reads:  Let yourself be captivated by the Toucan # 4 agricultural rum of French Guiana. Monovarietal cane, cut 100% by hand, long maturation, slow reduction with pure water, passage in Bas Armagnac, infusion of wood and no added sugar for this exceptional spirit drink.
  • The “No. 4” is preceded by a white, a vanilla, and a spiced version called “Boco”.