Mar 042018


The other day I read that there are supposedly forty thousand cachaça producers in Brazil ¹ — if that statistic is actually true, then most are probably from small ops like the 500+ or so in Haiti – backyard moonshineries, rather than medium to large commercial operations. But there is no doubting that they represent a significant slice of the global volume of cane-derived spirits and it’s too bad that so few reviews of them exist (perhaps the lack of exports is to blame – most is drunk in-country; or maybe we need some Brazilian spirits bloggers).

A major characteristic of cachaças, when aged, is the resting in barrels made of local hardwoods. That peculiarity of local ageing is, to me, rather crucial when it comes to distinguishing an aged cachaca from any other rum. It’s what makes aged cachaças unique — most of us are so used to our hooch being decanted from ex-bourbon barrels, that to address a Brazilian rum for the first time can come over as a startling experience (note – I am using the term rum and cachaça interchangeably).

Take for example the Cachaça Avuá Amburana, made by Fazenda da Quinta, a small 3rd generation outfit founded in 1923, located just outside Rio de Janeiro. Their cachaça is made from two types of sugar cane, has a 24 hours fermentation period, and is pot still distilled.  As the name implies, it is aged in barrels made of amburana wood (which supposedly imparts an intense colour and flavours of sweetish vanilla) for up to two years and is bottled at 40%.

Does the amburana make for a uniquely different taste profile?  Yes and no.  It certainly presented aspects that were similar to young agricoles – fresh and crisp aromas of watery pears, sugar cane sap, swank and watermelon just to start with, clear without real sharpness.  It’s after opening up for a few minutes that it shows its antecedents more clearly, because other smells, somewhat more unusual, begin to emerge – cinnamon, nutmeg, bitter chocolate, sawn lumber, wet sawdust, freshly baked dark bread.  Not your standard fare by any means.  

The palate was quite firm for a 40% rum, stopping just short of sharp and marrying complexity with a variety of flavours in decent balance with each other. It had both red wine and muskier whisky notes, and bags of the aforementioned spices – cinnamon and nutmeg. Vanilla, ginger, sugar water, gherkins, cucumbers, a sharp cheddar, sawdust…and also a weird line of sweet bubble gum.  And, of course, some herbal grassiness – but overall the defining taste was mostly the cinnamon and swank with that slight bitter background.  This continued smoothly into a longish finish that again brought out the bubble gum, some Sprite (or 7-Up, take your pick), faint citrus, more cinnamon and vanilla, and a bit of sugar cane sap. A little dry, overall, but pleasingly complex and tasty for all that. I just wish it had been bumped up in proof a few notches – at ~45% it might just be amazing.

Tasting the Avuá Amburana blind, without some experience or comparators around, you’d be hard pressed to identify the country of origin (though the slight bitterness, woodsy taste and cinnamon background would likely give it away), and might even confuse it with an agricole – probably to the displeasure of any Brazilian. Be that as it may, I quite liked it, and since its introduction in 2013 it’s made a quiet splash in North America, as well as winning awards in 2015 (Berlin Rumfest) and 2016 (Madrid Congreso del Ron).

Brazilians involved in the production of cachaças are at pains to distinguish them from agricoles, but any casual rum aficionado would have some difficulty following the logic – after all, both derive from cane juice, distilled on either pot or column stills, the cane juice has a short fermentation time and is processed soon after harvesting.  Regulations are specific to each region: for example, a cachaça can only be called so if it derives from Brazil and at least 50% of the blend is aged for a minimum of one year, and for me that’s a naming and production convention and not a serious departure from agricoles (to use another example, calling only a rum made in Guyana a “Demerara” does not make it any less of a rum).  Also, as briefly noted above and more applicable to Brazil, a cachaça can (but does not have to) be aged in local woods like jequabita, amburana, carvalho etc, and not the more “traditional” oak barrels like ex-bourbon, ex-cognac, limousin oak, and so on – however, since the type of wood of the ageing barrel is not a disqualifier for any rum or ron or rhum anywhere in the world (except perhaps Cuba), this again seems more a local peculiarity, not a fundamental difference between the two types of rum.

So in other words, given the cane juice origin, then either cachaça is a Brazilian agricole, or agricoles are French cachaças.  To me such distinctions are geographical, not fundamental. Irrespective of the pride that the producing countries bring to their indigenous rums, production philosophies and heritage, both have interesting products that are cool to drink and make killer cocktails. That the French island rhums currently get more good press than cachaças do is no reason to ignore the latter – taken with their uniqueness and taste and wide applicabilty, something like the Avuá Amburana is good to experience if you want to go a little off the beaten track without heading into the jungle altogether.  It’s a pretty nifty cachaça that’s well worth checking out.


Other notes

  • ¹ Messias Soares Cavalcante, A verdadeira história da cachaça. São Paulo 2011 page 608
  • Uncoloured, unfiltered.  Small batch production.  Each bottle is numbered
  • Ralfy gave the Avua an in-depth look on his video in May 2017.
  • Matt Pietrek, the Cocktail Wonk, used this rum to provide an introduction to cachaças, back in 2015. It’s also got some good historical notes on the founders.
Jan 102018


You’re going to read more about rums from the Monymusk distillery out of Jamaica in the next few years, I’m thinking, given how the island’s lesser-known products are emerging from the shadows; and distilleries other than Appleton are coming back into their own as distinct producers in their own right – Hampden, Longpond, Worthy Park, New Yarmouth, Clarendon/Monymusk are all ramping up and causing waves big time.  But aside from the Royal Jamaican Gold I tried many years ago (and was, at the time, not entirely won over by) and the EKTE 12 YO from a few weeks back, plus a few indies’ work I have yet to write about, there still isn’t that much out there in general release… so it may be instructive to go back in history a while to the near-beginning of the rum renaissance in 2009, when Renegade Rum Company, one of the first of the modern independent bottlers not from Italy, issued 3960 bottles of this interesting 5 year old from Monymusk.

Even in the Scottish company it kept (and many such outfits remained after Renegade folded), Renegade was not a normal UK indie.  If one were to eliminate the dosing issue, they were actually more akin to Italy’s Rum Nation, because they married multiple barrels of a given distillate to provide several thousand bottles of a rum (not just a few hundred), and then finished them in various ex-wine barrels as part of their Additional Cask Evolution strategy. Alas, they seemed to have raced ahead of the market and consumer consciousness, because the rums sold well but not spectacularly, which is why I could still pick one up (albeit as a sample) so many years later. Moreover, as Mark Reynier remarked to me, finding the perfect set of aged casks which conformed to his personal standards was becoming more and more difficult, which was the main reason for eventually closing up the Renegade shop…to the detriment of all us rum chums.

But I think he was on to something that was at the time unappreciated by all but the connoisseurs of the day, because while agricoles aged five years can be amazing, molasses based rums are not often hitting their stride until in their double digits – yet here, Renegade issued a five year old Jamaican pot still product that was a quietly superior rum which I honestly believe that were it made today, aficionados would be snapping up in no time flat and perhaps making Luca, Fabio, Tristan, Daniel and others cast some nervous glances over their shoulders.

Anyway, let me walk you through the tasting and I’ll explain why the rum worked as well as it did.  It nosed well from the get-go, that’s for sure, with Jamaican funk and esters coming off in all directions.  It felt thicker and more dour than the golden hue might have suggested, initially smelling of rubber, nail polish, tomato-stuffed olives in brine and salty cashew nuts with a sort of creamy undertone; but this receded over time and it morphed into a much lighter, crisper series of smells – bananas going off, overripe oranges, cumin, raisins and some winey hints probably deriving from the finish. Tempranillo is a full bodied red wine from Spain, so the aromas coming off of that were no real surprise.

What did surprise me was that when I tasted it, it did something of a 180 on me — it got somewhat clearer, lighter, sweeter, more floral, than the nose had suggested it would.  Traces of Kahlúa and coconut liqueur initially, bread and salt butter, some oakiness and sharper citrus notes; this was tamed better with water and the fruits were coaxed out of hiding, adding a touch of anise to the proceedings.  Pears, cashews, guavas, with the citrus component quite laid back and becoming almost unnoticeable, lending a nice, delicately sharp counterpoint to the muskier flavours the fleshier fruits laid down.  It all led to a pleasant, tightly minimal and slightly unbalanced finish that was long for that strength, but gave generously (some might say heedlessly) of the few flavours that remained – cherries, pears, red guavas, a little more anise, and some salt.

In a word?  Yummy. It’s a tasty young rum of middling strength that hits all the high points and has the combination of complexity and assertiveness and good flavours well nailed down.  It has elements that appeal to cask strength lovers without alienating the softer crowd, and the tempranillo finish adds an intriguing background wine and fruity note that moderates the Jamaican funk and dunder parts of the profile nicely. Though perhaps the weak point is the finish — which did not come up to the high water mark set by both nose and taste and was a shade incoherent — that’s no reason not to like the rum as it stands, to me.

Anyway, in these days of the great movement towards exacting pure rums of distillery-specific,country-defining brands, it’s good to remember an unfinished experiment such as this Jamaican rum from Renegade, which pointed the way towards many of the developments we are living through now.  That may be of no interest to you as a casual imbiber, of course, so let me close by saying that it’s a pretty damned good Jamaican rum on its own merits — which, if you were ever to see it gathering dust somewhere on a back shelf, you could do worse than to snap it and its brothers up immediately.


Other notes

Compliments to Alex Van der Veer of Master Quill, an underrated resource of the rum-reviewers shortlist, who sent me the sample.  His own review can be found on his website and I’m nudging him gently in the ribs here, hoping he reads this and writes more, more often 🙂

Dec 182017


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.


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”.
Oct 112017


Yeah, I’m chugging along behind the other reviewers, pulling late into the station on this one.  The Smith & Cross Jamaican rum has been on people’s radar for ages now, so it’s not as if this review will do much except to raise its profile infinitesimally.  Still, given its reputation, you can understand why, when I finally came across it – courtesy of a great bartender in Toronto who, by stocking stuff like this somehow manages to defeat the LCBO’s best attempts to dumb down the Canadian rum drinking public – both excitement and expectation warred in the cockles of my rum-soaked corpus as I poured myself a generous shot (and left Robin Wynne, bless his heart, ogling, billing and cooing at the Longpond 1941 which I provided as proof that I really do exist).

And my curiosity and enthusiasm was well-founded. Consider the geek-stats on the rum, to start with: Jamaican rum from the near-epicenter of ester-land, Hampden Estate (awesome); pure pot still product (oh yeah); growly 57% strength (damned right); unfrigged-with (now we’re talking); and overall amazing quality, (well brudderman, Ah wipin’ me eyes).  What more could any funk-bomb, ester-loving, rum-swilling aficionado on a budget possibly want? I mean, a juice like this beats the living snot out of, and then wipes the floor with, something like a Diplomatico, know what I mean? No soft Spanish style column still rum here, but an aggressive in-your-face spirit that’s itching for a dust-up. With style.

It certainly did not disappoint.  When you smell this, it’s like Air Traffic Control didn’t just clear me for takeoff, but for blast-off – scents burst out of the bottle and the glass in a rich panoply of rumstink (I mean that in a good way), matching just about any good Jamaican I’ve ever had, and exceeding quite a few. Although initially there was cream and unsweetened yoghurt or labneh, there was also the light fruitiness of esters and flowers, and absolutely no shortage of the righteous funk of rotting bananas and a garbage pail left in the sun (and I swear to you, this is not a bad thing).  It was not, I judged, something to hurry past in a rush to get to the next one, so I let it stand, and indeed, additional aromas timidly crept out from behind the elephant in the room – some rough and jagged molasses and burnt sugar, crushed strawberries in unsweetened cream, and some dark bitter chocolate…in other words, yummy.

While the smell and aroma were one step removed from awesome, the taste is what told the tale – it was, surprisingly enough, clean and clear, and quite spicy, redolent of olives, citrus, masala spice and a good whallop of burnt sugar.  And it didn’t just exude these flavours, it seethed with them, with a sort of rough intensity that was remarkably well controlled.  It also developed really well, I thought – over time (and with some water), it kept on adding to the menu: hot black tea, a combination of earthiness, of dry and musty sawdust that one might use the word “dirty” to describe without any negative connotations, and even to the very end (an hour later…I had that glass on the go for quite some time), there was still nougat and chocolate emerging from the glass.  Oh and the finish? Just excellent – long, crisp, funky, with salt and vinegar chips, creaminess and driness all fighting to get in the last word. I have just about zero complaints or whinges about this one.

So a few other tidbits before I wrap up the show.  Strictly speaking, this is a blend of two styles of pot-stilled rum, Plummer and Wedderburn. These are not types of still (like John Dore and Vendome, for example) but two of the four or five main classifications the British used to type and identify Jamaica rums in the late 19th and early 20th century – Longpond, for example, was much known for the Wedderburn profile, a heavier bodied rum somewhat distinct from the more medium bodied Plummer style.  Both have massive dunder and esters in there, so for Smith & Cross (who have been around in the UK in one form or another since the 1780s) to have brought this kind of style back out into the market several years back, when easier column-still sipping fare was more the norm, deserves quite a few accolades. The rum, as noted above, is a blend of almost equal parts Wedderburn and Plummer, with the Wedderburn aged for less than a year, and the Plummer portion split between parts aged 18 months and parts for 3 years, in white oak. Frankly, I’d love to see what a really (tropical) aged version of this rumzilla would be like, because for now the youth is apparent…though fortunately it’s neither distracting nor disqualifying on that score.

The Smith & Cross reminded me a lot of the Compagnie des Indes’s 2000 14 year old, also from Hampden, but not as good as the CDI Worthy Park 2007.  There was much of the same sharp richness matched against something of a ghetto bad boy here, like an educated gentleman who knows just when to stop being one and belt you a good one. If you’re not into full proof Jamaican rums showcasing  heavy dunder and funky flavours that batter the senses and skewer the palate, then this is likely not a rum for you.  But for those who are willing to weather its force and scalpel-like profile, it is one that reminds us what Jamaicans used to be like and what they aspire to now…and points the way to a re-emergence of a style that has for many years been hidden from view and is now getting the praise that always should have been its right.


Jul 232017


Much as I had with the Longueteau Grand Réserve, a ten year old agricole from Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe), I felt the 42% strength on the six year old VSOP was perhaps too timid and too wispy for a rhum which could have been more had it been made stronger.  Longueteau, a distillery which has been in operation since 1895 and produces the Karukera and Longueteau lines of rhums, seems to eschew fierce and powerful expressions and is quite content to keep on issuing standard strength work, but since their quality is nothing to sneeze at and is readily approachable by the larger body of rum aficionados, perhaps they have hit on a preferred strength and just stick with it.

In any case, the orange amber coloured rhum presented very nicely indeed on the nose, beginning with a light sort of fruit basket left in the sun too long but just missing being overripe.  There was vanilla ice cream and the vague saltiness of rye bread and that spread known as kraüter-quark in Germany, with dill and parsley adding some interesting herbal notes.  Like most agricoles it was delicate and crisp at the same time, and while there was certainly some sugar cane sap and grassiness it, this stayed very much in the background.  After opening up over several minutes more, one could discern olives in nutmeg, brine, watermelon and peaches, light and clear, firm and delicate all at once.

The nose was certainly very pleasant – however much one had to work at it – but on the palate the 42% became somewhat more problematic since it really was too light and easy….though one could say “playful” as well, and still be on the mark.  Oddly, a drop of water (and another ten minutes of opening up) solved that problem nicely, allowing clear, if faint, acetone and fried banana flavours to emerge.  These merged well with some smoke and oaken tannins, more vanilla and a smorgasbord of fruits to come forward – papaya, watermelon, sugar water, pears and white guavas – to which, over time, were added herbs, and some pickled gherkins, leading up to a short, dry finish mostly redolent of soya, brine, dark bread and (again) vanilla and a grape or two. 

Overall the rhum was a very pleasant one, if perhaps just too gentle.  Many will enjoy it for precisely those attributes, since it doesn’t assault the senses but prefers to stroke them with a silken wire of flavour, and draws back from any kind of serious challenge or analysis. A cocktail geek can probably make an interesting concoction with it, but for my money this is a tasty, twittering little rumlet, which, with a few extra proof points, might be even better, and in its current iteration, can be had by itself without any additional embellishment.  It’s both complex enough within its limitations, and unassertive enough for the peaceniks, to give perfect satisfaction on that level,  and in any case, yes, I did like it: whatever my reservations, I also consider it a soundly enjoyable sundowner that adds to the sum total of the delicious variations which agricoles provide.


Other notes

  • Some distillery notes are provided in the review of the Grand Réserve.
  • The company website says aged in oak casks that once held brandy; other sources say ex-cognac barrels.
Jun 052017


Agricoles and pot still rums aside, one does not usually expect too much from a three year old blended rum such as is the Borgoe Extra Gold we looked at earlier– although they retain their capacity to surprise — and so I had higher hopes for the five, since such lightly aged rums are often the solid pillars upon which many rum makers support the edifice of all their older (and sometimes even younger) rums.  When well made, they may even edge into sipping territory, serve as the first firm introduction to the ethos of the company and can sometimes be a nice bridge between a cocktail agent and something to have by itself (with or without ice). Agricoles and pot still rums are particularly noted for such quality

To some extent this is the case with the Borgoe “Vintage” 5 Year old from Suriname, made by the same bunch of guys who did the “Extra”.  There is, alas, very little hard information to go on here, over and beyond what I’ve already mentioned in the Extra review: it’s a primarily column-still rum issued at 40%, the molasses are sourced from Trinidad (Angostura), there may be some pot still distillate meandering in the blend somewhere, and the whole thing is aged in American oak.  Beyond that standard information, both my contacts and the official webpage are silent. Still, in a way that’s an advantage since it forces us to simply address what’s on show without any extraneous material unconsciously cluttering up our minds.  And overall, there’s little that’s bad about the Vintage expression. If I had to use a single word to summarize this five year old, it would be “inoffensive”, or with two, “happily uncomplicated.”

That might be damning it with faint praise, but not really.  The nose gives an indication of what’s in store: it meanders out calmly and easily, warm and without bite, a little creamy at first; it presents as somewhat sweet, though not overly so – and after settling down, if one takes one’s time with it, there are additional and faint background notes of breakfast spices (nutmeg and cinnamon, perhaps a clove or two), plus cereals, nuts, a little vanilla and some flowers.  It’s certainly not reaching for the stars and seems content to stay with simplicity for effect.

The palate demonstrates more of that placid nature: again it was warm and not altogether spicy or sharp, and although it did seem somewhat thinner than one accustomed to more powerful drinks might appreciate, it was also reasonably smooth, and a rung or two up the ladder from the Extra. Crème brulee, caramel and molasses were the dominant notes at the inception, with vanilla and some oaken tannins bringing up the rear.  Setting it aside for some minutes is probably a good idea for those who want more: after a while, subtler flavours crop up, citrus, flowers, guavas, a few watery pears and a sharper slice of green apple in the mix there someplace.  I particularly enjoyed the languid French toast and honey that shyly danced in the background, and again the breakfast spices were there, not as distinct as the nose suggested they might be.  The finish, short and faint as it was, was at least aromatic, with the fruits fading fast now, and mostly showing off some sweet tangerines and caramel.

All right then, let’s sum up. For one used to aggressive young agricoles and fullproofs of any age, this is probably a rum to avoid, since everything is very much dialed down with a feather blanket, and it might work best in a delicate mix that others know more about than I do. It’s pleasant and inoffensive, as noted above, and I find it too bland to appeal to me personally.  Perhaps its real issue –  one that would not lead to parades of rabid aficionados cluttering up whole Facebook pages with songs of praise – is the fact that is still somewhat generic, and seems have no problem in being an agreeable but indeterminate rum, one that simply exists. Rather than anything particularly Surinamese,  it reminds me of a Botran 15 Solera, a Cacique 500, or a Tres Hombres rum.  It’s light, easy and uncomplicated enough to take by itself, but this comes at the expense of some originality and were I to come back to it sight unseen a month from now, I’m not entirely sure I’d remember it clearly. 


Other notes

For the kind of quality I was looking for, I had to go up to the 8 and 15 year old expressions, which we’ll look at next time.

Jun 012017


There is no shortage of agricoles, independent bottlers and flavour-of-the-month rums in my notebooks — but in late 2016, and again in early 2017, I tried the Borgoe line from Suriname – all 40% rums – back to front, front to back and side by side, twice, and it’s time to see what they’re all about.  After all, we all know of the big guns in the rum world but the lesser-known operators deserve their moment in the sun as well.

So let’s start at the bottom and work our way up to the top, young to old, beginning with the  Borgoe Extra, an “Aged Golden rum”: this is the light, low-end mainstay of the brand’s offerings, the way the V/X is for Appleton, or various 3-year olds or “gold rums” are for other makers.  It’s  a successor to the Borgoe ’82 rum first introduced in 1982, and I believe it to be around three years old (other products are the 5, 8 and 15 year old rums), a blend aged in American oak barrels and issued at the usual 40% after being filtered twice.

Smelling it revealed no real markers of distinction such as would make one wonder into what magical terroire of the mind one had just stumbled all unaware.  It was redolent of fleshy fruits, some cherries, caramel and some nougat, nothing terribly complex or ambitious.  After resting for some time and coming back to it I could detect orange peel, a flash of something sharp and bitter, cinnamon and some herbs, so pretty standard, all in all.

I liked the palate more than the nose (usually the opposite is the case with really young rums, at least for me).  It presented as somewhat sharp; then came a swift procession of salty caramel, more nougat, white toblerone, and nuts. An amalgam of a few fruits, — peaches, unripe green apples and ginip, all muddled together — plus the slight citric sting of orange peel again There were faint notes of olives and brine (very faint) and oaken tannins and the bitterness of raw wood chips still bleeding sap, and the whole thing, while quite light, was thin and sharp too, with a short, spicy and rather unremarkable finish mostly providing a closing sense of caramel, apples and sugar water.  

Overall, rather uncomplex and unexciting: there was something going on here, just not too much of it (certainly not enough) and it’s insufficient to get excited about at this stage.  A word should be spared for the notation that it is not really sweet and quite thin (“scrawny” was the word I scribbled down), which leads me to surmise that dosing is not part of the assembly.  

Thinking further through the tasting experience, I believe that thinness aside, what it really lacks is  distinctiveness (and, perhaps, punch). The filtration is part of the problem, as is the anemic 40%, and also the column still makeup of the blend leans heavily towards a lighter, more Spanish style.  It could just as easily be any young rum from the Dominican Republic, Panama or Belize, and I think the company is much like Banks DIH in that it sticks to the low-strength blends without doing enough to create a particular and clearly Surinamese profile which could potentially showcase the land of origin.  It therefore cannot and should not be used on its own; and given its generic nature, I’m not sure whether there’s any particular cocktail that would be made with it to demonstrate and capitalize such attributes it does possess.

I mean, when you taste a Jamaican, a Guyanese rum from DDL, a St. Lucian or a Bajan FourSquare, you can, with a little experience, use them as markers for the entire country. That’s one reason why they’re so popular – it’s their unique and country-specific profile that makes people go after them and actively source really old expressions.  I think SAB might be sitting on some untapped potential just on the strength of this little rumlet — if they were to go with local cane, utilize that pot still more often, and produce some limited editions of greater power. But perhaps we have to go up the ladder to see what the brand has on offer, and if that half-sensed potential I mention can be seen in older variations…or not.


Other Notes

  • Rather than go into a long history of the company, I’ll direct you to the Marienburg 90% review with its thumbnail recap for those who are interested.
  • The production process is based on molasses sourced from Angostura in Trinidad and not from Guyana right next door, surprisingly enough, and after fermentation, the wash is passed through a columnar still, the resultant being used to make the rums which are aged in American oak barrels.  The website of the company notes that a second still is used to make high ABV neutral spirits for the pharmaceutical industry, and they have a third copper still (they call it a “hand still”) for heavier rums – I am assuming this is the pot still some have mentioned to me, though exactly which rums this makes is still unclear at this time.  Since the entire line of Borgoe aged rums is blended, no doubt some portion of the pot still finds its way into the various expressions, much in the same way DDL does it with their various stills and the standard El Dorado line.
May 232017

Rumaniacs Review #043 | 0443

Leaving aside the independent bottlers, the agricolistas from Guadeloupe and Martinique seem to like producing a specific year’s output with much more enthusiasm than most molasses based rum producers, who (until recently) preferred to release specific “recipe-style” blends that changed little from year to year.  There’s something to say for both ideas – consistency of taste over time, versus the individualism of specific date points – which just supports my thesis that even in writing about a social spirit, larger philosophical issues about our world can be discussed using them as an example.

In this case, we’re not moving too far away from the Bally 1993 written about in R-042, but the price has definitely gone up (to over three hundred bucks) – and that’s even without knowing precisely how old the rums is, though I maintain that it, like its brother, is around 3-5 years old.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – It’s initially more hesitant in its profile than the 1993 (and the others), or perhaps just more focused.  Both a strength and weakness, methinks. Salty molasses and caramel notes, green grapes, segueing over time into something darker, deeper: chocolate, cereal, wet cardboard.  Some herbal, grassy notes, just not very clear. There’s also a musky  tinge here, something like rain falling on very hot earth, and at the last, flowers, honey, biscuits. Actually reminded me of a miso soup.

Palate – Crisper, saltier, cleaner.  Something of a right turn from the way it smelled.  Olives, guacamole, brakfast spices, and vegetables more so than the fruits (which came later).  The cardboard and attic-level stuffiness and wet earth make a return bow.  Some jams and citrus notes follow on but don’t claim the high ground from the vegetals.  Not sure this entirely works for me.  It may just be a matter of taste.

Finish – Green grapes, cinnamon, brine, olives, avocados – it took time for the caramel and fleshy fruit to close things off.  A bit too much wood here, I thought, though anise – sensed more than experienced – was a good background.

Thoughts – More individual than the 1993, more oak, more vegetables, less fruits…somewhat less “rummy.”  Bit of a schizo rum and didn’t have that little something extra that I would have preferred – still, that’s a personal opinion, and overall, it’s still a good dram for something so young.


Some of the boys from the Rumaniacs have also taken a crack at this rum, and their reviews can be found in the usual spot.

May 232017


Nine Leaves, for whose intriguing rums I have always retained a real fondness, remains a one man operation in Japan, and while I have not written much about them of late, they continue their regular six month release regimen without pause, and have become must-stop booths at the various festivals they exhibit at on the Circuit.  Every now and then they issue an expression somewhat at right angles to their regular “six-month-aged” line, such as the Velier 70th Anniversary edition from 2017, the two-year-old “Encrypted” from 2016 and this one-year-old from 2015, which was the commercial 48% variation of special 58% 60-bottle run for a Japanese hotel, aged in Cabernet Sauvignon wine casks instead of the regular American or French oak.

So, this is a pot still rum, aged for one year, bottled at 48%, and aged in red wine casks.  How active or soaked these casks were, or how much residual wine there was, remains an unanswered question.  The real question for me was, did it work?  Nine Leaves, after all, have made some rather above-average rums by bucking the trend and staying within some very short time-frames for their ageing, but now this one seemed to be inching towards the line that the Encrypted stepped over the following year.  How was it?

Well, nose first.  It moved on quite a bit from the 2015 Clear (which I enjoyed for other reasons). Though it began with some rather startling waxy paraffin aggressiveness, it was not as pungent as the Clear was, and seemed somewhat more tamed, more soothing.  In fact, it presented very much like a young agricole with a few extra aromas thrown in.  The winey notes were there, kept well in the background – more of an accent at this stage, than a bold and underlined statement – and the smell exhibited a sort of clear, sprightly friskiness, of fanta, grapes, cinnamon, ginger and light florals.

That clarity of aromas was very evident on the palate as well.  Even at the slightly beefed up strength it remained light and clear and crisp.  Flavours of light flowers, vanilla, green grapes, lemon zest and olives in brine mixed it up with salt butter and cream cheese. The wine background came forward here, and if it wasn’t bottled at such a proof and had so many other interesting rummy sensations, it might even be considered a port of some kind.  It was quite intriguing and quite interesting, though the finish was a bit of a let down, being very spicy, quite dry, doing something of a turn towards harshness, and didn’t give much up beyond some green grapes and grass, and a few breakfast spices.

Although it was a decent rum, I think it may be a bit too ambitious, and could best be considered an experimental attempt by the playful for the curious (and the knowledgeable), to make something at odds with better known profiles.  The real success stories of such rums seem to be more with finishes than the entire ageing cycle. To some extent it lacked focus, and the wine background, while making its own claim to uniqueness, also confuses — and although I kinda liked it, the amalgam of rum and wine doesn’t gel entirely. If you recall, Legendario and Downslope Distilling went down this road before, much more unsuccessfully – it’s a tough balancing act to get right, so kudos to Nine Leaves for doing as well as they have.  

Anyway, to wrap up, then– points for the effort, a few approving nods for originality, but ultimately also something of a headshake for not succeeding entirely.  Given that there has never been another major attempt to issue a wine-aged young rum from the company, it’s possible that was and remains an experiment which was left alone after the initial release, which is a shame, really, because I would have enjoyed seeing where Yoshi-san took it after a few more tries.


May 212017

Rumaniacs Review #042 | 0442

The first of six Bally rums (no relation to me), which we’ll also post faster than usual, since they are, again, part of a series.  Let’s start with the most recent.

For those who are interested in agricoles (which these assuredly are), J. Bally from Martinique has been around since 1917 or so (land prices after the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelee were low), but the sugar estate of Lajus goes back even further, to the mid-1600s.  Alas, Bally has been closed since 1989, but their stills continue.  The Simon distillery now owns them, and supposedly the original recipe for Bally’s rums, and sugar from the original plantation,  is used to ensure the brand does not die.  And of course, the AOC certification is alive and well with these rums.

True age is always a problem with these millésimes (meaning a specific year of production), because the date of distillation is noted….but not always the date of bottling.  Since a “rhum vieux” is supposed to have a minimum of three years ageing, I’m going to say 3-5 years old, then.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – Quite solid, very smooth and, of course, crisp as fresh picked lettuce.  Amazingly fruity profile here, prunes and raspberries to start, nicely rich and quite aromatic, adding bananas, honey, hard yellow mangoes (from India or Thailand), and coiling around the background of herbs and grasses…some spearmint chewing gum.  And a touch of oak, cinnamon and caramel.  Seems almost like a Guadeloupe rum, what with the way the herbal and grassy aromas take a back seat and fruits are this rich.

Palate – Mmm, nice.  Fresh and crisp. Sugar cane and saline and gherkins, plus bales of freshly mown grass now taking their place in the front.  Caramel, raisins, a flirt of molasses and olives.  It’s all quite well assembled, and not overly weak, not obnoxiously strong.  Continues with vague honey notes and richer fruits, some more of that spearmint.  There’s some anise floating around there someplace, but not enough to make a statement of any kind

Finish – Vanillas, burnt sugar, honey, sugar cane, grass, and a bit of that olives in brine thing I enjoyed.  Somewhat hotter and sharper than what had come before, oddly enough.

Thoughts –  A young rum, and very enjoyable.  Agricoles do have that trick of making stuff in the single digits take on molasses rums twice as old and leaving them in the dust. I still think overall it resembles a Guadeloupe rhum more than a true agricole (even though it is AOC certified), but whatever the case, I’m not complaining.


Others in the group have written about this rhum on the Rumaniacs website…