Nov 212019
 

Rumaniacs Review #105 | 0678

1952 – an eventful year.  Queen Elizabeth II ascends to the throne; Black Saturday in Egypt, followed by the overthrow of King Farouk; the US election puts Ike in the White House; the first steps towards the EU were taken with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community; television debuts in Canada; Charlie Chaplin barred fro  re-entry to the US; “Mousetrap” opens in London (and never closes) – and in Martinique, Clément distills this rum and starts ageing it.

So here we are.  We’ve arrived at the oldest rum that is within the blend of the Clément XO, the Millesime 1952, while remaining in the dark as to the proportions, or even the true ages of some of the rhums themselves (as noted in the 1970). Too bad, but that’s what happens when records are incomplete, people move on and memories fade.  We take what we can.

When we go this far back in time, the AOC is a myth and we’re in the territory of rhums like the Bally 1929 or 1924 and the older St. James offerings like the 1932 and 1885.  The importance of trying such products with a modern sensibility and palate is not so much to drink from the well of history – though of course that’s part of the attraction, which I would never deny – as to see how things have changed, how much they haven’t, and to understand how developments in technology and processing have made rums what they are today.

By that standard, what to make of this one? Short answer: different and well constructed — just don’t expect the clarity and crispness of a modern agricole. 

Colour – Amber

Strength – 44% ABV

Nose – A combination of the sweet of the 1976 and the pungency of the 1970. Light red-wine- notes, fleshy fruits and almost no grassy or herbals aspects at all.  Nougat, toblerone, white chocolate, coffee grounds, anise, all surprisingly and pleasantly crisp. Flowers and the faintest hint of salt. Also the mustiness of Grandma Caner’s old basement (where once I found a Damoiseau 1953, with which this thing shared quite a few similarities).

Palate – Thicker and fuller than expected, and pretty much lacking the lighter and more precise attributes of the other two.  Fleshy red and orange fruits, like peaches, oranges, apricots. Ripe granny apples. Red olives, tobacco, licorice, brown sugar, a light brininess and even apple cider for some kick. 

Finish – Short and dry.  Salty and fruity, well balanced against each other, but admittedly it was rather unexceptional.

Thoughts – That it doesn’t fly apart under the impact of all these various competing flavours is to its credit, but tasted blind, it wasn’t my standout of the three Clément rhums. Unlike the light grassy crispness of the 1976 and 1970, I felt this one was literally more down-to-earth and musty and thicker. Clearly things were done different back in the day, and the Damoiseau ‘53 displayed similarly non-agricole characteristics.  As a reviewer and taster, I much prefer today’s versions to be honest, but as a lover of antique things made in other eras, it’s hard to completely discount something with such a heritage.

(#678 | R105)(84/100)


Other notes

  • Cyril of DuRhum has a lot of doubts about this rhum, not the least about the age claim of plus-or-minus forty (or even thirty) years. Even if it really was bottled in the early 1990s, it’s almost inconceivable that a rum could be aged in the tropics for so long without evaporating or being tannic beyond the point of drinkability. Clement makes no statement on the matter themselves. Note that unlike the other two rhums, this has no AOC notation on the label.
  • Josh Miller in a 2016 review of the Clement XO on Distiller, remarked that the stocks of the 1952 were now exhausted and the XO would have to be reformulated, but no longer recalls the source.  I’ve sent a few messages around to see if I can come up with more details.
Nov 192019
 

Rumaniacs Review #104 | 0677

Unsurprisingly, the 1976 Clément Trés Vieux we looked at a few days ago sells for around €500 or more these days, which to me is a complete steal, because any Velier from that far back is going for multiple thousands, easy.  This, the second-oldest component of the XO sells for quite a bit more – north of €700 (though you can find it for much less in any store that is out of stock, and that’s most of them). And I think that one is also remarkably undervalued, especially since it’s a really good rhum.  How it can still be available nearly half a century after being made, is a mystery.

That aside, the rhum does come with questions. For example, there’s a discrepancy in accounts about how old it is. The author of that great rum book Les Silencieux, Cyril of DuRhum, noted in his 2016 recap of some of Clement’s older rhums, that it was fifteen years old, aged in 200 liter barrels and then bottled in 1985.  But that’s not what Fine Drams said – in their listing they state it was indeed aged for 15 years in this way, but it was then decanted into smaller French oak casks and matured a further six years until 1991 (no other online seller I was able to find makes mention of the age at all). And Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery, who tried it in 2017, also said it was a 21 YO, making no mention of a secondary maturation. Olivier Scars, who reviewed it as part of his tasting experience with the Clement Trio, didn’t comment on it either, and neither Clement’s own site or their US page speak to the matter.  (I’m going with the longer age for reasons I’ll make clear below, at least until the queries sent out start getting answered).

Another peculiarity of the rhum is the “AOC” on the label.  Since the AOC came into effect only in 1996, and even at its oldest this rhum was done ageing in 1991, how did that happen?  Cyril told me it had been validated by the AOC after it was finalized, which makes sense (and probably applies to the 1976 edition as well), but then, was there a pre-1996 edition with one label and a post-1996 edition with another one? (the two different boxes it comes in suggests the possibility).  Or, was the entire 1970 vintage aged to 1991, then held in inert containers (or bottled) and left to gather dust for some reason? Is either 1991 or 1985 even real? — after all, it’s entirely possible that the trio (of 1976, 1970 and 1952, whose labels are all alike) was released as a special millesime series in the late 1990s / early 2000s. Which brings us back to the original question – how old is the rhum?

Colour – Amber Gold

Strength – 44%

Nose – Not a standard agricole opening – there’s more than a touch of Jamaican here with off-notes of rotting fruit, bananas and gooseberries, quite pungent.  But also smoke, leather and more than a touch of brown sugar, even some salty vegetable soup stuffed with too much lemongrass. It does settle down after some minutes, and then we get the herbals, the grassiness, tobacco, spices, and bags of dark fruit like raisins and prunes bringing up the rear.

Palate – Hmmm, quite a bit going on here. Initially a tad sharp and bitter, with raw tobacco, pimento-infused unsweetened chocolate and anise. Sweet and salt, soya, more of that soup, brown sugar, a touch of molasses (what was that doing here?), almonds, tequila and olive oil. And more prunes, black grapes, raisins, providing a thick background around which all the other flavours – salt or sharp – swirled restlessly.

Finish – Medium long. Warm, fragant, with lots of sugar cane sap, sugar water, papaya, squash (!!), watermelon and a pear or two.  It’s really strange that the heavier and salty and musky flavours seemed to vanish completely after a while.

Thoughts – Well, I dunno.  It really is not at all like an aged agricole of the kind I’m used to getting from Martinique. The fruitiness pointed to that secondary maturation noted by Fine Drams, and overall I liked it quite a bit, more than the 1976. It’s well rounded, flavourful to a fault, maintains a good balance between age and youth, and the only hesitation I have is in pronouncing on how old it actually is, or whether it is a true AOC given the divergence from a standard/modern profile of such rums. More cannot be said at this stage until some answers roll in, and in the meantime, I have to concede that even if the background details remain elusive or questionable, this is one fine rhum from Ago.

(#677 | R104)(86/100)

Nov 172019
 

Rumaniacs Review #103 | 0676

The Clément XO was one of the first top end agricoles I ever tried, one of the first I ever wrote about, and one that over the years I kept coming back to try. It evoked memories and recollections of my youth in Guyana which alone might justify its purchase price (to me, at any rate). There’s something undefinable about it, a trace of its heritage perhaps, the blend of the three rums that made it up, millesimes from what were deemed exceptional years – 1976, 1970 and 1952. 

The Clément 1976 is the first of the three I’ll be looking at, and its cost is now in the €400-range (more or less) – the last time I saw it was several years back in Charles de Gaulle airport, and it was out of my price range (plus, I was going in the wrong direction). It is AOC certified, aged at Clément’s facilities on Martinique for 20 years, and remains available for purchase, if not review. Its claim to fame nowadays is not about its participation in the blend of the XO (this is recalled by few outside the geek squad and the agricolistas), but the fact that it’s from so far back in time. It came out the same year as the AOC itself (1996), which is why it is so conspicuously noted on the bottle. 

Colour – Gold

Strength – 44%

Nose – Rich, sweet and fruity – generous would describe it well. It wasn’t hot or spicy (a given for its strength), just warm and quite easy. Peaches in syrup, vanilla, almonds, and bags of herbs which spoke to its cane juice origins – basil, cumin, cloves – plus a neat through-line of lemon zest. That burning sugar and faint trace of molasses I remember from the XO is alive and kicking here, even after twenty years of ageing.

Palate – If it isn’t a contradiction in terms, I’m going to call it “delicately rich” because that’s what ti is.  It tastes of vanilla, woodsmoke, various red and yellow fleshy stoned fruits – peaches, mangoes, cherries, all ripe – plus the crisp tartness of green apples and lemon zest, and the soft salty warmth of avocados and brine. The burnt sugar remains in the background, but hardly takes part in the proceedings any longer.

Finish – Long and fragrant, combining soft ripe fruits with tarter, more acidic ones – cherries, gooseberries and peaches.  There also a hint of maple syrup, cloves, almonds, toffee, salted caramel ice cream, and a merest trace of lemon.

Thoughts – The whole of the XO is greater than this part.  It actually tastes of a rhum that’s younger, and doesn’t entirely have that rounded and mellowed feel of an ultra-aged tropical product.  It’s crisp and clear and complex to a fault, yet after two decades one is surprised that it isn’t…well…better.

(#0676 | R-0103)(84/100)

Sep 142015
 
Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

An unaggressive, bright and clear, sipping-quality rhum agricole that can serve as a bridge between traditional molasses rum and agricoles.

(#232 / 85/100)

***

Clément holds the dubious distinction of providing one of the first agricoles I ever tried.  That was five years (and some change) ago. At the time when I tried that Tres Vieux XO, just about the top of their range, I remember the clarity and smooth brightness of it, and how it flirted with a molasses profile without ever stepping over the  line.  That rhum was a blend of three exceptional years’ production…the Hors D’Age I was trying this time around was supposedly a blend of the best vintages of the past fifteen years.  On the basis of such remarks are high prices charged.  Note the “hors d’age” statement – what that means in principle, is that the rhum is aged between three and six years, which strikes me as absurd for a bottle costing in the €90+ range.  Still, it is an AOC rhum, Clément is enthusiastic abut the care with which they assembled it, and all in all, it’s a pretty decent dram.

Clément has a long history, dating back to 1887 and the purchase of domaine de l’Acajou by Homère Clément. Initially it just produced sugar and raw alcohol, but the demand for liquor durting the first world war persuaded him to upgrade to a distillery in 1917. After the death of Homère, his son Charles took over the business. Credited with developing (some say perfecting) the company’s rhum agricole methodology, he studied distillation at the Louis Pasteur School in France, and named the first bottlings after his father.  He subsequently expanded the company by instigating mass exports to France, which became the company’s primary market outside the Caribbean.  When he died in 1973, his sons took over, but thirteen years later they sold the Acajou distillery to another Martinique business owned by family friends (Groupe Bernard Hayot, one of the largest family businesses in France), who have kept the brand, heritage and plantation intact and functioning and modernized. The company gained the AOC designation in 1996.

Agricoles, of course, even the aged ones, trend towards a certain clarity and lightness to them…one might even say sprightly. The nose on the Homère Cuvée broke no new ground, while still being quite delicious to sniff. It presented a tasty mix of the tartness of freshly pressed apple juice (almost cider-like), and softer tastes of under-ripe apricots, freshly sliced.  Some vague grassy hints wafted around, very much in the background, and after a few minutes traces of nuts and yellow mangoes and a little leather and waxy stuff rounded things out.  It was quite soft and smooth, with very little sting or bite to it.

The golden rum was equally gentle to taste, providing very little aggressiveness even at 44% (unless it was just me and my palate being fireproofed by stronger drinks).  The feel on the tongue was quite pleasant, gentle and easy-going to a fault.  It started out smooth and then morphed to something drier over time. Sharper tastes of lemon dueled it out with more apples, mint-leaves and green grass, some brine and dates, all of which came together really well, with additional breakfast spices, cinnamon and hazelnuts being in evidence…even some chocolate.  I found it, in fact, to be somewhat similar to the XO (they were side by side, so I tasted them both simultaneously, one to inform the other), just not quite as good.  Still, even after all those tastes, there was still some faint traces of leather and smoke to round things out, and while I won’t swear to a tinge of molasses in there, it certainly felt like it. The fade was sweet and aromatic, smooth and warm, pretty short, some wood, leather, chocolate and citrus ending the experience.

There’s enough good stuff trapped in the bottle to please, even satisfy, just insufficient excitement to make it a ultra-remarkable drink that would score higher. Of course, chosing which vintages to blend into a rhum like this presents its own difficulties to the makers, and I’d never say it was bad rhum: my feeling is simply that the Cuvée had more modest goals than the rather more impressive XO, and aimed no higher.  Did I like it?  Yes.  Enjoy it?  Surely. It’s a really well-made AOC rhum for those who like agricoles and displays the hallmarks of time and care and blending expertise.  So when I say you won’t feel short-changed by the Cuvée, that’s entirely true…what you won’t be is seriously challenged.  Still, just because it doesn’t rise to the heights of its predecessor is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. It’s a worthy addition to the brand.

 

***

Other notes

It’s possible that this rhum has been made in order to replace the sadly discontinued XO.  Some people disliked the XO (I was initially not enthused myself, though my appreciation grew over the years), and there’s a whole FB thread about varying opinions on the matter; the cynic in me thinks that by not stating which vintages comprise the blend, it allows Clément the freedom to sidestep the issue of what happens when those vintages run out…unlike with the XO, where they couldn’t mess with the assembly because everyone knew which years’ production was inside.  I hope the silence on the components of the Homère is more a trade secret than an end run around the buying public.

Mar 242013
 
Photo copyright and cribbed from Rhum-Reiche.de

Photo copyright and cribbed from Rhum-Reich.de

First posted 30 June 2010 on Liquorature.

(#028)(Unscored)

A superlative agricole with good body, marvellous complexity and a really strong, spicy fade; yet not as sweet as some rums drinkers might like.  As of this writing I’m not entirely won over by it (or agricoles as a whole), but concede the excellence of its make without hesitation.

***

Abandoned by all the ladies in my family for the afternoon, tasked with making sure my two boys didn’t get into a fight over the Wii, I whiled away the hours by taking an appreciative sniff, slurp and swallow of this expensive rhum agricole from Martinique. At ~$120 from Willow Park, I had to think a bit about it, but the truth was that the Barbancourt had piqued my curiosity about agricole rhums, which are made from cane juice rather than molasses, and seem to be a characteristic of French Caribbean islands. In competition for my dinero had been a rum from India, which I decided to decline, an English Harbour 10 yr old I really agonized over, and one from Barbados, the Doorly’s, which I bought, and which I’ll save for a bit.

This rum may actually be the very thing Keenan likes: cheap cardboard packaging and an intriguingly different bottle shape, a foil-lined cork, gold leaf lettering, and a light honey-bronze liquid swirling invitingly within: in other words, some style, but not so much as to suggests excessive add-on cost. It is the top of the line of the Clemente estate on Martinique, founded by Homere Clemente in 1887. It bears the appellation AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – just as for fine wine, the AOC guarantees that rhum agricole will have all the characteristics associated with its particular terroir (area of make).

The original 1996 AOC stated that in order to use the designation rhum vieux, the liquor must spend a minimum of three years in oak casks and not much more than that.  However, by dint of common useage and various amendments, other age bands have become accepted:

  • Vieux – More than 36 months.
  • Très Vieux, Réserve Spéciale, Cuvée Spéciale, VSOP – More than four years.
  • Extra Vieux, XO or hors d’âge – More than six years.

Sometimes there’s also a vintage year. In this case, the blend is of three reputedly exceptional years’ production: 1952, 1970 and 1976. I may be getting better at this, or maybe I just had tasted enough rums by now to get a sense of what to look for. At 44% ABV, I certainly got that: a nose of some sharpness (the 47% Kraken was the same), but care had been taken to tone down that spirity aroma for which I had so marked the Kraken down. Toffee.  A slight woodsy backdrop. Smokey, the slightest bit.  Honey, crackers, a soft peaches note. Some cane sap and vegetal backdrop. And oh, that burnt sugar taste that was so exactly like the aftersmell of burning canefields at harvest time in Guyana, that it was like I never left (canefields are usually burned before cutting: it removes the undergrowth, kills insects and concentrates the sucrose in the cane). The golden liquid has some density and oiliness — it clung top the sides of the glass like honey, only reluctantly sliding slowly back down on fat slow legs.

The taste enhances what the nose promised: a solid, complex feel on the tongue, but not syrupy sweet, a common characteristic of agricole rums. It’s like a good cognac, slightly dry, not marred by excessive sugar. It was a bit like a decent scotch (the Hippie will have to pronounce judgement here), and the flavours were pronounced and distinct:  tannins, smoke, light fruit surrounding a solid core of burnt sugar. A slight note of cinnamon. It’s warm on the palate as well, but the finish, if one can take it, is long and sensuous, and burns, but all the way down, leaving a taste of caramelized sugar lingering in the the throat.  There’s a clear kind of cleanliness to it, which perhaps won’t be for everyone.  For those who like their cheaper tipple to mix, I would not recommend this. Whisky drinkers should go ape for it.

Agricole – or agricultural (made from cane juice), to distinguish them from industrial (molasses-based) –  rums are made to exacting standards (they would not have the AOC rating otherwise), and here I’ll have to say that if the Barbancourt and this Clement are representative of the class, then, even with the quality I’ve described, I’m afraid thus far it’s not entirely my thing. The maturation in oak imparts some of that sharpness and tannins to the taste which I’ve never really gotten to enjoy with the passion others do. And that heat so remniscent of whisky. But honesty forces me to concede the quality of other components of this rum: mouthfeel, nose, viscocity and density, and the complexity of the flavours just out of my capacity to separate, blending into a fascinating whole.

I don’t think the money was a waste, as nothing that adds to my knowledge and education can be: but I doubt I’ll buy another one of these premium agricole sippers, and after the taste and the thinking and the writing, what I’m really left with is the memories of being ten years old, and, fresh off the plane from Africa, watching the canefields burn, smoke rising from one horizon to the next, the dusk lit with the red glow of dying fires, and the smoke and sugar scent heavy and redolent on the tropical night air.

Update – December 2014

Gimlet eyed readers will note that as the years progressed and my experience and palate grew, I did a one-eighty on agricoles, and these days I think they are a marvellous part of the greater rum world. I guess I had to grow up sooner or later. Based on a retaste in 2014, if I had to score it (at the time this review was written scoring wasn’t part of the review), I’d award 88 points easy, maybe even a shade more.

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