Jun 182020
 

Savanna is probably one of the most exciting distilleries out there for high-ester loving rum chums, with a reputation growing by leaps and bounds, and not solely because of their own superb HERR 10 YO, or the Johnny-come-lately Habitation Velier HERR white (which was such an amazing piece of work that whole virtual forests have been clear cut to provide the electronic paper for the many online reviews about it, and I’ve heard of grown men bursting into tears at the mere sight of one in the wild).

But leaving aside such Himalayan peaks, it’s good to remember that Savanna’s rums span an enormous stylistic range that can appeal to all classes of us rum proles, from feral unaged blancs and lovingly aged 15 year old blends, to finished single cask offerings and high ester monsters that can make a Hampden-lover weep for joy (and envy).  And best of all, they don’t restrict themselves – they release both cane juice rhums and molasses based ones, single barrel and blends, standard strength and full proof — so, like with Guadeloupe, or an indie, we often can get the best of all worlds. 

The 5 YO is part of what might be termed their starter kit, the basic traditional range of the unaged, 3YO, 5YO and 7YO rums (they are released every few years), and serves to demonstrate, as if it were needed, that here’s a distillery with a little something for everyone. It’s one of those rums that ostensibly is for the mixing circuit, but can be sneaked into a neat pour without too many broken spittoons in its wake. So, column still, molasses based and 46% ABV, then, aged five years in a French oak cognac cask, and we can move on with that.

I had started the session with the 10YO HERR, and in comparison, the 5YO is less intense than this superlative control, which is no surprise. Dialled down in intensity, more languorous, slow, almost sleepy.  Oh but the flavours, nothing to sneeze at — honey, sawdust, citrus, peaches and sawdust and cereals.  Here’s a rum that even with its modest stats, can be left to open up and will do so – and when it does, it provides additional notes of brine without olives, a touch of rubber, vanilla, sour cream and light fruitiness, all quite well balanced. But whatever the influence the cognac in the cask might have had seemed at fist blush to be marginal.

The youth is sensed upon sipping, and it’s an interesting if delicate amalgam. It presents as sharp to begin with, yet the bite climbs back down to gentle very quickly. Some bitter tannins, dampened down before they get a chance to descend into obnoxiousness.  Citrus, oranges, nuts, plums, very tart, a bit thin overall to taste…not spotting too much cognac here. Strawberries and pineapples, weak. Nose was better, if not strictly comparable but then, I wasn’t drinking it through my schnozz either. Anyway, good tastes, a little thin, leading to a brisk finish, on the weak side of firm, gone quickly.  Tart gooseberries, turmeric, strawberries, some citrus, and a last touch of that honey I enjoyed…it was a nice closing touch.

Although this 5YO Single Cask is a relatively low level offering from Savanna, it’s still one that can beat out similarly aged juice from other outfits that bugle their pedigree with lots more fanfare, yet deserve their plaudits less. I like it moderately well, and it encourages me to try more rums Savanna makes just to see the development of others in the range. This is an essay in the craft, before the mastery of the company (shown by the of the HERR, the 57, Chai Humide, Thunderstruck et al) snaps more clearly into focus; and, as with many such young rums, it perhaps needs some taming and is best for a mix, though I’d suggest that for the rum aficionado, if you ever get the chance to try it by itself, you might want to sample it that way, just the once. It’s an original work in progress and as long as we keep that in mind, it doesn’t need any further bugling at all — it’s the sort of rum that makes one eager to see what’s else the company is hiding in its casks.

(#737)(81/100)


Other notes

  • This is part of a collection of Savanna rhums Nico Rumlover sent me some time ago when he heard I was interested, long enough back for him to conceivably have forgotten he did so. Well, whether he remembers or not, I’m immensely grateful for the time he took to crate me a great selection of what the distillery can do. 
  • As a brief reference tool, the rums named “Intense” are molasses-based and relatively low on esters, hence their being named “starter rums;” the next step up is the Lontans (also called grand arôme rums) which are also from molasses but with longer fermentations and with  a high resultant ester count; and then there are the Créol rhums which are straightforward rhum agricoles, made from fresh sugar cane juice. Millesimes, fancy finishes and special editions at all strengths pepper their output as well.
Dec 182019
 

Without bombast or any kind of major marketing push, without hype or hurry, Savanna on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean quietly built up its reputation over the last decade with the Grand Arôme series of rums deriving from their high ester still, and probably gave the new high-ester Jamaicans serious conniption fits. Yet for all its burgeoning street cred, it remains something of a relative unknown, while much more attention is lavished on the New Jamaicans and other companies around the Caribbean who are jacking up their taste levels. 

Savanna has of course been making rums its own way for ages, and by releasing this little gem with them, the Genoese concern of Velier might just be the one to catapult them to the next level and greater renown outside Europe.  After all, they did it for Caroini and DDL, why not here? 

The “Indian Ocean Still” series of rums have a labelling concept somewhat different from the stark wealth of detail that usually accompanies a Velier collaboration.  Personally, I find it very attractive from an artistic point of view – I love the man riding on the elephant motif of this and the companion Chamarel rum (although I must concede that my all time favourite design is the architectural-quality drawings of the various stills of the Habitation line). In any event, most of the info is on the back label (repeated in the copperplate-style narrative on the front): distilled November 2012, aged on Reunion in French oak casks, bottled February 2019.  It’s a column still product, but not, as far as I’m aware, of the HERR still.

It’s been said on many occasions of Velier’s rums, especially with the Jamaicans and Demeraras, that “the rum doesn’t feel like it’s X%”.  Perhaps nowhere is that more true than here, where the Savanna clocked in at 61% ABV, but nosed — and later tasted — like it was no more than standard strength. I mean, it started with a truly lovely, sweet, soft, warm nose.  Peaches in syrup and cream melded well with sugar water, ripe yellow mangoes, red grapes,and sweet red olives. Delectable in a good way, and I particularly enjoyed the lemon and cumin background, plus the yoghurt and sour cream with dill.  

The palate was also an amalgam of many good things, starting off tasting of sweet and very strong black tea with milk.  It developed fruity, sweet, sour and creamy notes which all met and had a party in the middle. There was lime zest, bags of ripe, fleshy fruits, cereals, red grapes, apples, cashews – it’s a smorgasbord of ongoing flavour porn, both sharp and crisp, and later one could even taste fanta and bubbly soda pop mixed in with a clean Riesling.  The strength was more discernible than it had been when I smelled it, just not in a bad way, and it was really well tamped down into something eminently drinkable, finishing off with a flourish of olive oil and brine, a touch of sweetness from the fanta, and more crisp almost ripe fruits.

Man, this was a really good dram.  It adhered to most of the tasting points of a true agricole — grassiness, crisp herbs, citrus, that kind of thing — without being slavish about it.  It took a sideways turn here or there that made it quite distinct from most other agricoles I’ve tried. If I had to classify it, I’d say it was like a cross between the fruity silkiness of a St. James and the salt-oily notes of a Neisson.

It’s instructive that although Savanna has been making high ester rums for at least the last two decades, their reputation was never as sterling or widespread as Hampden and Worthy Park who have been getting raves for their new branded rums from almost the very first moment they appeared on the stage. Perhaps that says something about the need in today’s world to have a promoter in one’s corner who acts as a barker for the good stuff. That could be a well known importer, it could be the use of a deep-pocketed secondary bottler with a separate rep of their own (think Rum Nation’s 2018 Reunion rum as an example), or a regular FB commentator.  

These forces have all now intersected, I think, and the rum is a win for everyone concerned. Savanna has greater exposure and fantastic word of mouth dating back to its seminal HERR 2006 10 year old; Velier has shown that even with the winding down of the Demeraras and Caronis they can find tasty, intriguing rums from around the world and bring them for us to taste; and I can almost guarantee that if this rum finds its way into enough hands, there will be no shortage of positive online blurbs and opinions from across the commenterati, many of whom will be happy to say that they knew it all along and are happy to be proved right.

(#685)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Habitation Velier has released a Savanna HERR Unaged 2017 white rhum, which is a good companion to this one, though it’s a bit more energetic and rambunctious and displayed less refinement…yet perhaps more character. 
  • I heard a rumour that Velier intended to release three Indian Ocean rums in this 2019 series, and indeed, around 2018, there were photos of Luca in India that surfaced briefly on FB.  However, nothing seems to have come of it and never responded to my queries on the matter.
Jun 282017
 

#376

With the advent of the Hampden and Worthy Park rums which pride themselves on high ester counts, it seems that one of the emerging trends in the rumworld may well be such tasty, clear, bags-of-fruit rums with not just a single sapling populating the salad bowl, but an entire damned orchard. Yet on the other side of the world, Savanna has been doing this for some years now with their “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” lines, of which the reigning porn queen might well be the HERR 10 year old that so impressed me.  That rum was startling and original, seemingly cut from wholly new cloth, bottled at a massive 63.8% and aged in cognac casks and my drool dripped into the glass almost continuously as I tried it (well…I exaggerate for effect….but not by much).  And yet, Savanna made one even better than that one – it’s this rum, a Grand Arôme, a rock solid full-proof 64.2% rumzilla that encapsulated all the amazing potential Reunion had to offer, and came in ahead of its own siblings by a country mile.  I’ve now tried about ten rums from Savanna, and it’s my firm belief that this is the best of them all (until I find the next one).

Speaking of Savanna and the stats.  I’ve written a small bio of the company, so won’t bore you with that again, so let’s just reel off the usual details so you know what you’re drinking if you ever try it. It was distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2016, with a strength as noted above, just north of 64%.  It was made on Savanna’s traditional column still (not the discontinuous one of the HERR), and Cyril, in his own excellent 2016 review, writes that it is made from the fermentation of vinasse and molasses, and for a longer period than usual – 5-10 days.  As before it was fully aged in ex-cognac casks.  

Photo stealthily purloined from DuRhum.com

Pause for a second and just look at all those production notes: they make no mention of additives, but for my money they didn’t add anything, and come on, why would they need to? It’s like they pulled out all the stops to make this thing a flavour bomb of epic proportions. Fermentation, distillation, ageing, the works, all that was missing was some pineapples dunked directly into the vat.  And when I tried it, the results spoke for themselves.

The hot, fragrant nose began with dusty cardboard, the nostalgic feel of old boxes in an attic, of a second hand bookshop crammed to the rafters with dry books of ages past nobody now reads.  Ahh, but then it changed – acetone and nail polish mixed with lots of honey and rich (but not tart) flavours of bubble gum peaches, prunes, vanilla, cinnamon and a light trace of brine and avocados drizzled with lemon juice.  Cocoa and some coffee, reminds me some of the Varangue Grand Arôme 40% white, but better behaved and much better constructed. My God this was rich — I spent perhaps half an hour just nosing the thing, and even called over my mother (who was annoyed I wouldn’t let her near my samples that day and was sitting in a huff in the kitchen) to give it a sniff.  Her reaction was so positive I feared for her health and the safety of my table, but never mind – the important thing to note is that even a rum novice loved it, even at that strength.

The real treasures came on the palate, which was firm, strong and intense, as befitted a rum brewed to a ripsnorting 64.2%.  Here the fruits – those amazing, full bodied fruits – blasted out front and center.  The intensity and variety were amazing, yet they lacked something of the single minded purity of the HERR, and somehow manage to create a melange without a mess, each note melding perfectly, combining the ongoing cereals and dusty book aromas with the sweet richness of the orchard without losing the best parts of either.  Some rubber and sweet caramel and honey, warm papaya, and then the fruits themselves – ripe mangoes, peaches in syrup, cherries, cinnamon, cloves, almonds and that yummy Pakistani rice pudding called kheer. There was aromatic tobacco, a faint citrus tang (candied oranges perhaps) and it all led up to a clean, biting finish, gradually winding down to close with green grapes, hard yellow mangoes, lemongrass, caramel and breakfast spices.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves something amazing here.

When The Wonk and I were discussing this rum, he remarked (rather disbelievingly) that it had to be quite a product to compare with the 89 points I gave to Velier’s 32 year old PM 1975 a few days ago.   It certainly is that, but really, the two aren’t strictly comparable, as they are quite different branches of the great tree of rum.  The Lontan lacks the dark heaviness of Demeraras generally and the Port Mourant specifically, doesn’t have that wooden still licorice background or its overall depth.  In point of fact The Lontan 12 has more in common with the Jamaicans and perhaps even agricoles, while being distinct from either one. In that observation lies the key to why it’s special.

I noted the other day that one of the unsung heroes of the subculture is likely the below-the-radar rums of St Lucia.  Here’s another company not many have heard of that’s making some pretty big footprints we should be tracking.  Because in summing up Savanna’s remarkable rum it’s clear that it’s a shimmering smorgasbord of extravagant and energetic and well-controlled tastes, melding a nose that won’t quit with a body that could make a metaphorical nuncio review his vows of celibacy.  It mixes a glittering clarity with excellent balance, strength with softness, is crisp and complex to a fault and what we’re left with after the fact is the memory of an enormous achievement. To say the rum is “not bad” is to undersell it.  To say it’s good doesn’t cut it. What we need to do is to admit it’s just about great, and oddly, part of that admission is also that it’s made by a relative unknown, without any of that emotional baggage we would bring to, say, a Velier or a Samaroli, a Rum Nation or a product from the Compagnie. I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I think it’s wonderful. It’s a gift to true rum lovers who want to try something they haven’t experienced before, in their ongoing (often lonely, sometimes thankless) search for the next new rum to treasure.

(90/100)

Other notes

  • Samples provided by two generous and great rum people, Nico Rumlover and Etienne S. who asked for nothing in exchange, but got something anyway.  Thanks guys. Wouldn’t have found this rum without you.
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.

 

Feb 212017
 

#344

Our global rum travels have moved us around from Japan, Panama, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Brazil, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Antigua, Laos and Mauritius (and that’s just within the last eight weeks); so let’s do one more, and turn our attention to Île de la Réunion, where, as you might recall, three companies produce rums – Rivière du Mât, Isautier, and Savanna, with Isautier being the oldest (it was established in 1845 and is now in its sixth generation of the family).  If one wants to be picky Savanna has existed for far longer, but the company in its modern form dates back only to 1948 and lest I bore you to tears with another historical treatise, I refer you to the small company bio written as an accompaniment to this review.

Savanna is unusual in that it makes both agricoles and traditional rums, so it’s always a good idea to check the label closely – in this case “Traditionnel” refers to a molasses-based product. And take a moment to admire the information they provide, which is quite comprehensive (bar additives, which I somehow doubt they have). The rum I tried here was quite a beast – it was a seven-year-old year 2000 millésime distilled in November 2000 and bottled April 2008 with an outturn of just under 800 bottles, and issued at a whopping 64.5% – and that’s not unusual for them, as there are quite a few of such cask strength bruisers in their lineup.  I’m as courageous as the next man, but honesty compels me to admit that any time I see a rum redlining north of 60% my spirit quails just a bit…even as I’m consumed by the equal and opposite desire (perhaps a masochistic one) to match myself against it.  And here I’m glad I did, for this is quite a nifty product by any yardstick.

On the nose it was amazing for that strength – initially it presented something of the light clarity we associate with agricoles (which this was not), before turning deep and creamy, with opening salvos of vanilla, caramel and brine, vaguely akin to a very strong latte….or teeth-staining bush tea. It was weirdly herbal, yet not too much – that surprising vegetal element had been well controlled, fortunately…I’m not sure what my reaction would have been had I detected an obvious and overwhelming agricole profile in a supposedly molasses originating rum.  And yes, it was intense, remarkably so, without the raw scraping of coarse sandpaper that might have ruined something less carefully made.  I don’t always add water while nosing a spirit, but here I did and the rum relaxed, and gave additional scents of delicate flowers and a hint of breakfast spices.

The palate lost some of the depth and creaminess, becoming instead sharply crisp and clean, quite floral, and almost delicately sweet.  Even so, one had to be careful to ride the shockwave of proof with some care, given the ABV. Frangipani blossoms, bags of tart fruits (red guavas, half-ripe Indian mangos and citrus rind) and vanillas were the core of the taste, around which swirled a mad whirpool of additional, and very well balanced flavors of green grapes, unripe pineapples, more mangos, and peaches, plus some coffee grounds.  It was powerful yes, and amazingly tasty when taken in measured sips.  It all came down to the end, where the finish started out sharp and dry and intense, and then eased off the throttle.  Some of the smooth creaminess returned here (was that coconut shavings and yoghurt I was sensing?), to which was added a swirl of brine and olives, grapes, vanilla.  The way the flavours all came together to support each other was really quite something – no one single element dominated at the expense of any other, and all pulled in the same direction to provide a lovely taste experience that would do any rum proud.

So far I’ve not tried much from Réunion aside from various examples of the very pleasant ones from Rivière du Mât (their 2004 Millésime was absolutely wonderful).  If a second distillery from the island can produce something so interesting and tasty in a rum picked at random, I think I’ll redirect some of my purchasing decisions over there. This is a rum that reminds me a lot of full proof hooch from Guadeloupe, doing much of the same high wire act between the clear cleanliness of an agricole and the deep and growly strength and flavour of the molasses boyos. It’s a carefully controlled and exactingly made product, moulded into a rum that is an utter treat to inhale, to sip and to savour, and I’ll tell you, with all that is going on under the hood of this thing, they sure weren’t kidding when they called it “Intense.” It’s not a complete success, no, but even so I’m annoyed with myself, now, for just having bought one.

85.5/100

Note: This intriguing 7 year old interested me enough to spring for another >60% beefcake from the company, the High Ester Rum from Reunion (HERR). The entire line of high-ester Grand Arôme rums made by Savanna is supposedly a bunch of experimental flavour bombs, so can you imagine what a cask strength version of that is like?

 

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