Aug 162017
 

#383

When one tastes a raft all kinds of rums from around the world and across the ages over an extended period, there is a normal tendency to look for stuff that’s a little different while still conforming to commonly-held notions of what a rum is.  After all, how many times can one try a basic rum redolent of molasses, caramel, sugar, banana and maybe raisins and citrus without getting a little bored?  Well, for sure there’s no shortage of new and interesting popskull coming on the market in the last few years, and I’m not just talking about the new agricoles, or the geriatric rarities released by the independents, but actual distillers and bottlers like Hampden, Worthy Park, Savanna…and that interesting outfit called Moscoso out of Haiti.  Drink some of their klerens, and believe me, if you’re afflicted with ennui, this’ll cure what ails ya…if it don’t put you under the table first.

Also called Barik (a creole word for “barrel”), Moscoso interested me enough to write a full profile of the company a few months back, and since that time they are aggressively seeking outlets and distribution in Europe, to say nothing of issuing all kinds of aged or unaged permutations of their booze. And my goodness, when you taste these things, the inescapable conclusion is they’re aren’t just rarin’ to take Barbancourt out back, kick the snot out of it and give ‘em a run for their money, but also casting narrowed snake’s eyes at the Velier-issued Vaval, Casimir and Sajous as if to say “Mwen nan bouda, nou zanmi”.

Perhaps they have good reason. Their 55% Traditionnel 22 was a rum that stunned and smacked the unwary with all the force of a Louisville slugger to the face, and yet I felt it had been reasonably well made, with much of that elemental joyousness that so marked out the other, better known clairins like the Sajous that have so impressed me over the last few years.  

Which is not to say you wouldn’t be a little startled by the initial smells given off by this 55% white rhino. I mean, I nosed it and drew back with widened eyes, wondering if there wasn’t some excess Jamaican dunder or balsamo-infused cachaca in there — because aside from the brine and wax and glue and shoe polish, I was also getting a barrel of rotting bananas and funk, mixed up with musky, damp wood and wet dark earth (which I’m sure you’ll concede is not normal for a rum).  It started out raw and fierce, and perhaps it needed some resting time, because after some minutes of letting it stand there (glowering sullenly around the room the whole time) additional aromas of freshly ground black pepper, cumin, masala, lemon peel and herbs became more prominent. “Meaty” is not a term used often in these pages, but here it was exactly right to describe what I was experiencing.

What elevated the rhum to something better than the nose suggested was the way it tasted. As seemed to be the case with all such Haitian whites I’ve tried, the nose was “da bomb” and the palate calmed itself down quite measurably, and a drop or two of water helped as well.  Here the sugar water and watermelon came through much less aggressively, as well as brine and olives, fresh cane sap, nougat (!!), some nuttiness and citrus (not much of that, a pinch not a handful), coming to an end with a long, somewhat dry finish which reminded me of sharp, damp sawdust of some freshly-sawn unnamed lumber in a sawmill (yeah, I worked in one once), as well as fresh grass, and sugar cane juice.

So…quite an experience.  Strong, distinct, flavourful, uncouth, odd, just on this side of bats**t crazy, and overall a pretty amazing drink – it would light up a cocktail with fireworks, I’m thinking.  On balance the nose of the original Nasyonal earned my favour, but here the taste profile carried it ahead – it was a shade more complex, tastes better integrated. Whether you buy into that premise or not depends a lot, I feel, on where in the spectrum of rum appreciation  you fall. I wouldn’t recommend it to a person now starting to branch out into white full proofs; and for those who prefer the softer, sweeter profiles of Diplomatico, Zacapa, Panamanians or dosed rums like El Dorado or Plantation, stay away.  For everyone else?  Oh yeah. Give it a try, if nothing else. And take a gander at what Mike Moscoso is making — because as he noted so elegantly up above, he’s coming for all of us.

(84/100)


Other Notes

  • This rhum is not a true agricole, the label is an accidental misprint which (at the time) Mr. Moscoso was too poor to fix and reprint. It is made from raw brown sugar liquified to 12-14% brix with 7-12 days of fermentation (using baker’s yeast). Distilled on a 12-plate creole columnar still, final distillate coming out at 65-70% ABV and reduced to 55%. It is unaged and blended from the various returns of the distillation run.
  • Points should be given to the company for issuing 200cl bottles for sale, aside from the standard full-size.  For someone on a budget who wants a taste but isn’t sure, those things are a godsend.
  • The significance of the “22” lies in the proof point.  Under the Cartier scale this translates into 55% ABV, while the more common Gay-Lussac scale equating to 55% / 110 proof is used everywhere else in the world
  • All clairins and klerens in my possession (six) were tried together, blind.
Aug 022017
 

#381

Novo Fogo is the first cachaça I’ve ever tried that went off the reservation and hammered me in the face even at a relatively staid 40%.  It was so different from the regular run of sugar-water-plus-local-wood flavours to which I had become accustomed in my (as yet) brief acquaintanceship with the Brazilian national spirit, that I literally pulled my face back from the glass, muttered a disbelieving “wtf?” and spent another five minutes closely perusing the label to make sure I had not been taken for a ride.  But no, it had been an unopened bottle, it had some tasting notes on the label not a million miles removed from what I was sensing, and it all seemed quite legit…except that it was about as subtle as a bitchslap from Ser Gregor Clegane on a bad hair day. And I mean that in a good way.

The producer of this interesting cachaça is a company called Agroecologia Marumbi SA, from Morretes PR (Parana) which is located in the south of Brazil, not Minas Gerais where supposedly the best and most traditional cachacas are made.  Novo Fogo (“New Fire” in Portuguese) is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of pride and quality, according to the distillery founder Fulgencio Viruel who started the operation in 2004. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still (another point of departure, since most of the well known cachacas are done on column stills), and then rested – not aged – for one year in a stainless steel vat before being bottled without any filtration or additions.  So there. Aged variations exist, but I didn’t get a chance to try any.  Given the impact this one had on me, I should really try some more.

I say impact not so much because of great beauty of construction or masterful subtlety of assembly, but because the thing is startlingly good for a standard strength Brazilian table tipple, if perhaps somewhat at right angles to others I had tried before – it’s something like a concussive Delicana’s Jequitiba, or an amped-up Thoquino.  Nothing demonstrated this more clearly than the initial nose (the very first note in my battered notebook was “Damn – this thing is serious!”) where I immediately sensed an intense vegetal aroma of rotting fruits, bananas, overripe red wiri-wiri peppers in vinegar (but without the heat). It was followed up by strong, distinct brine and olives, salt, wax, sugar cane sap and lemon zest, and frankly, what it reminded me more than anything else was a Clairin Sajous, if perhaps not as powerful.

Thankfully it did not sample as sharp as the aroma suggested and that might make it somewhat more approachable than those who took flight from the Sajous and its cousins (assuming one’s tastes bend that way, mind you – and that’s not a given).  It was quite heated, firm and crisp, rather rich and solid, with a more characteristic sugar water taste coming forward now, not entirely displacing the wax and salt and olives which persisted quite strongly (along with the peppers).  More lemon zest was here, some black pepper, apples, vegetals and some fleshy fruit like overripe pineapples.  The balance was a bit off – the brine and olives never really let go, which made the fruitiness recede somewhat and reduced my enjoyment, but overall it was a pretty good cachaça — if one keeps in mind my predilection for clairins, which this one closely resembled.  Finally, it closed off, rapidly, leaving behind nothing much more than the memories of swank, fresh mown grass and that lemon-pepper salt which my wife complains I overuse in what little cooking I can be persuaded to do.

Now, I’ve read online notes that talk about the easy entry, how it is smooth and soft, and then wax rhapsodic about its various competing flavours (the last of which I believe), but I stand here telling you that it’s not really as easy as all that: this thing is a dirty, off-kilter little dragon that seems to be just waiting for an opportunity to jump down your throat and toast your chest to medium-rare – but it’ll do it with finesse, with some style. It’s quite a fire-breathing, smoke-exhaling cachaça, and is in my limited experience the most original and interesting spirit of that kind I have tried to date. Admittedly I have an obnoxious love for obscure and powerful tastes that borders on the masochistic, so I liked the fact that here there was a rum — charged-up, drinkable, original and in its own way, quite remarkable — made in that same vein. It’s worth trying it, I believe, just to see where the whole experience goes, to spend a lot of time figuring out…and, perhaps, just perhaps, to savour.

(83/100)


Other notes

This review is quite late to the party since Novo Fogo has been available in the States for years (the first review I found dates back to 2011). And, as ever one step ahead of me, Josh Miller at Inuakena had run it through his 14-sample Cachaça Challenge back in early 2015 and rated it….wait for it…as his #1.

Apr 172017
 

Picture (c) Steve James of the Rum Diaries Blog

#357

The blurbs about the rum refer to this as being made from “very pure” cane molasses (as opposed to, I’m guessing, very impure or merely pure molasses).  Said molasses are fermented for two weeks using two different yeast strains, triple distilled in copper pot stills; from which the rum is taken at 80% ABV, diluted down to 60% and then laid to rest for a minimum of six months to a year in charred oak barrels before being filtered to within an inch of its life to produce this 40% clear mixing agent.  It’s a relatively new rum on to the scene, coming to market around 2011 or so; and made by a Dutch concern called Zuidam Distillers, established in 1975 by Fred Van Zuidam…his sons currently run the show.  Originally there was  only a small copper pot still and a single production line, but growing business in the 1990s and 2000s allowed them to expand to their current facilities using four copper pot stills and four production lines.  That enabled the company, like so many others, to expand the lineup, which now includes whiskies, genever (Dutch gin), liqueurs and of course, a rum or two, none of which have crossed my path before.

Thinking about the rum itself, I suppose it is meant to deal a bitchslap at the more common white Bacardis of this world by bridging the gap between the milquetoast made by the ex-Cuban company and more feral white unaged pot still products like the ones issued by Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti and Jamaica, and thereby snatch back some European market share for such rums.  Certainly it’s one of a very few European distilleries that make a rum at all, and any white rum from a pot still (even if bleached to nothing), may be something to look out for — though why they would name it after a nautical harbinger of doom remains an unanswered, unanswerable question; and why bother filtering the thing is just a plain mystery (I’ve heard that they may eliminate that step in the near future ).

Since the important thing is not these academic notes but whether it all comes together or not in a real tasting, let’s move on. The nose is dry and just a bit sweet, not so much spicy as gently warm. Alas, the notes resemble a surfeit of excessively sugared swank (in that it seems to be channeling an agricole) plus vanilla, something akin to vodka sipped past a sugar cube, though it was reasonably crisp and clear. After some time there were florals, salt, dates, and some estery fumes straining to get out — but never quite succeeding, which is where the decision to filter it shows its weakness since much of the distinctive aromas get wiped out in such a process.

On the palate, bluntly speaking, it fails.  It’s too thin, too watery.  More sugar, mint, some marzipan (are we sure this is a rum, or a gin wannabe?).  There’s nothing standard about this at all, and it’s at right angles to any other white rum I’ve ever tried.  Whipped cream, ripe breadfruit, nail polish, cucumbers in vinegar with perhaps a pimento and some dill thrown in for some kick and to wake up reviewers who’re put to sleep by it.  After adding some water (more out of curiosity than necessity) vanilla, coconut shavings and white chocolate were noticeable, and the best thing about it was the silkiness of the whole thing (in spite of its anemic body) which makes it an almost-sipping-quality white, without ever demonstrating a firmness of taste that might ameliorate the lack of complexity.  As for the finish…meh. Soft, warm and fast, gone so quick that all you can get from it is some warm vanilla…and more of that sugar water, so this aspect was certainly the weakest part of the whole experience.

So no, it’s better to mix, not to have by itself.  I didn’t care much for it, and in short, the rum still needs more work. Above, I noted that it may have wanted to try and straddle the divide between soft white rum pillows and more uncompromising unaged pot still panthers, but what emerges at the other end is really just an alcohol infused vanilla-and-sugar water drink with a few odd notes.  I think there’s some potential here, but for the Flying Dutchman to score higher and win wider acceptance in this day and age, perhaps it might have been a better idea to not only issue it unfiltered, but also bump up the strength a notch.  Then they might really have something to crow about, and excite more of the public’s interest than this version inspired.

 (74/100)

Other notes

  • The company makes a 3 year old gold rum as well. The source is the same.
Mar 152017
 

Starts off weird and then develops very nicely

#348

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(78/100)

Dec 012016
 

mauritius-club-rum

Too young, too dressed up, when it didn’t need to be

#321

The Mauritius Club Rum 2014 (Sherry Finish) is an interesting essay in the craft, and for my money, slightly better than the Gold of Mauritius Dark rum I looked before. The sherry finishing makes its own statement and adds that extra fillip of flavour which elevates the whole experience in a way that drowning the Gold in port casks for a year did not.  Note that there’s a strange disconnect between what I was told in 2015 by the brand rep, who informed me it was aged three months in oak casks (not what type) and then finished for two weeks in sherry casks; and what I see online these days, where the buying public is informed it is aged for six to eight months in South African wine barrels before finishing in sherry casks.

Well, whatever. Whether three months or six, with or without the sherry ageing, the overall profile strikes me as doing too little and hoping for too much, which is a shame – with a few more years under its belt, this could have really turned heads and attracted attention. The things is, ageing can be either done right and for a decent interval (perhaps three years or more, with many believing the sweet spot is between eight and twelve), or dispensed with it altogether (as with the various unaged whites for which I confess a sneaking love).  Go in the middle with less than a year? Plus a finish?…that may just be pushing one’s luck. It’s heading into spiced or flavoured rum territory.

The reason I make these remarks is because when I started nosing it, believing that 40% couldn’t seriously harm me, it lunged out in a schnozz-skewering intensity that caught me unprepared, the more so when had in a series with the far gentler and warmer and more easygoing muffled blanket of the Gold I’d just sampled before.  To be fair though, once it settled down, there were notes of red wine (no surprise), raisins, caramel, chocolate vanilla, and something vaguely sharper, like those chocolate After-Eight mint biscuits.

The palate was softer, smoother, warm rather than hot, after the initial heat burned away..  Again, lots of sweet wine, and the sherry makes itself felt.  Honey, some nuttiness (I was thinking breakfast cereals like cheerios) plus a little fruitiness, cherries, more vanilla, more chocolate and vanilla.  Truth is, too little going on here, and overall, somewhat uncoordinated and quite faint. A 40% strength can be perfectly fine, but it does make for a lesser experience and dampened-down tastes that a shooter wouldn’t capture and a mix would drown and a sipper would disdain.  The finish was okay for such a product, being short and easy, warm, redolent of nuts, more cheerios, honey and a very faint note of tannins. There was some character here, just not enough to suit my preferences.

I know it sounds like I’m dissing the rum, but not really – as noted above, I liked it better than the Gold of Mauritius Dark even though it was younger, which I attribute to a better handling of the blend, and the sherry influence.  Still, it must be said that the rum displayed something of schizoid character, too young and raw to be tamed with the port/sherry for the few months it aged, yet being promoted as being more than an unaged starter (that would lower expectations, which may have been the point).  Moreover, when any maker puts a moniker of a single year on the bottle — “2014” in this case — it creates an impression of something a little special, a “millesime” edition of a good year…and that’s certainly not the case, as it’s simply the year the rum was made.  And lastly, I argue — as was the case with the Gold — that by mixing it up with these external and rather dominating influences, the potential to experience a unique rum originating from a unique location with a very individual taste, was lost — to our detriment.

So after this experience, I resume my search for the definitive rum from the island, the big gun that will put Mauritius on the map and allow us to use it as a quasi-baseline. Something that isn’t mixed, adulterated, finished or otherwise tampered with.  I know it’s out there somewhere – I just have to find it. This one isn’t it.

(79/100)

Sep 282016
 

la-confrere-long-2014-2

#307

Inhaling the powerful scents of this rhum is to be reminded of all the reasons why white unaged agricoles should be taken seriously as drinks in their own right.  Not for Longueteau and La Confrérie the fierce, untamed — almost savage — attack of the clairins; and also not for them the snore-fests of the North American whites which is all that far too many have tried. When analyzing the aromas billowing out from my tasting glass, what I realized was that this thing steered a left-of-middle course between either of those extremes, while tilting more towards the backwoods moonshine style of the former. It certainly presented as a hot salt and wax bomb on initial inspection, one couldn’t get away from that, but it smoothened out and chilled out after a few minutes, and coughed up a few additional notes.  Was there some pot still action going on here? Not as far as I know, more a creole column still.  It was a briny, creamy, estery, aromatic nose, redolent of nail polish and acetone (which faded) watermelon, cucumbers, swank, a dash of lemon and camomile…and maybe a pimento or two for some kick (naah – just kidding about that last one).

The taste of this thing was excellent: spicy hot, fading to warm, and surprisingly smooth for a rhum where I had expected more intensity.  Like many well made full proofs, the integration of the various elements was well done, hardly something we always expect from an unaged white; and after the initial discomfort one hardly noticed that it was a 50% rhum at all. It was comparatively light too, another point of divergence from expectations.  It tasted of all the usual notes that characterize white agricoles – vegetals, lemongrass, cucumbers and watermelon, more sugar water (it hinted at sweetness without bludgeoning you into a diabetic coma with it) – and then added a few interesting points of its own, such as green thai curry in coconut milk, and (get this!) the musky sweetness of green peas. It all closed up shop with a nicely long-ish, dry-ish, intense and almost elegant finish, with an excellent balance of zest, creamy cheese and those peas, and some of the esters and acetones carrying over from where everything had started.  The balance could be better, but I had and have no complaints.

la-confrere-long-2014-1La Confrérie are not independent bottlers in the way Velier, Rum Nation or Compagnie des Indes are.  What they do is work in collaboration with a given distillery, and then act more as co-branders than issuers.  This provides the distillery with the imprimatur of a small organization well known – in Europe generally and France in particular – for championing and promoting rhum, who have selected the casks carefully; and gives La Confrérie visibility for being associated with the distillery.  Note that La Confrérie is also involved in deciding which shops get to sell the rhum, so certainly some economic incentives are at work here.  (There are some other background notes on La Confrérie in the HSE 2007 review, if you’re interested).  The two co-founders — Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany – are currently touring Europe on an Agricole Tour to promote and extend the visibility of French island rhums, so their enthusiasm and affection for agricoles is not just a flash in the pan, but something to be taken seriously.

When I consider the pain Josh Miller went through to get the twelve blanc agricoles which he put through their paces the other day (spoiler alert – the Damoiseau 55% won), I consider the Europeans to be fortunate to have much greater resources at their disposal – especially in France, where I tried this yummy fifty percenter. And frankly, when North Americans tell me about their despite for white (so to speak), having had only Bacardis and other bland, filtered-to-within-a-whisker-of-falling-asleep mixing agents whose only claim to fame is their ubiquity, well, here’s one that might turn a few heads and change a few minds.  

(83/100)

Other notes

  • Outturn 1500 bottles
  • Source blue cane chopped, crushed, wrung out, soaked and hooched in May 2014, left in steel vats for around six months, and bottled in March 2015.
Jul 252016
 

Delicana

#290

In 2014 I looked at three very different aged cachaças from Delicana, the German maker of Brazilian rums; I had met the owner, Bert Ostermann, who has had a love affair with the country lasting many years at the Berlin Rumfest and we had a long and pleasant conversation.  The central theme of his work was to age his rums in local woods, which gave them a piquant, off-base profile that at the time I didn’t care for – indeed, I scored the youngest of these rums the best, because I felt that the peculiar tastes of the wood had not had time to totally dominate the rum.

A year later I made it a point to stop by his booth again, and retasted all three which were back on display, and comparing my written notes, I find very little difference, either in the tastes, or my own opinions – the wood is just too different, and perhaps I’m not in tune enough to appreciate them the way a Brazilian might.

The current crop of cachaças, on the other hand, was something else again and I enjoyed these somewhat more – they’re still not world beaters (to me), but much more like a drink you can sip than the previous go-around.  Rather than take the time to write individual essays around each one, I’ll repeat the exercise from before and provide the notes all at once. Here they are:

Delicana CastanhaCastanha Artesanal Pot Still 2 Year old – pot still, aged in Castanha wood

Strength 40%, colour pale orange

Nose: Very agricole like, starting off with salt and wax before becoming vegetal and grassy, dusted lightly with cinnamon and something spicier, like (no kidding) quinine.

Palate: Clean, clear, light, watery, vegetal and grassy, with some sweet corn water in there. It’s like tasting a colour, the light, sun-dappled, tropical green filtering through a jungle canopy. Hints of cinnamon, mint leaves  and a slightly bitter back end, not unpleasant at all

Finish: short and sweet, more mint and vegetals, warm and unaggressive

Thoughts: If it wasn’t for the vague but distinctive wood and cinammon, I’d say this was an agricole. But of course it isn’t…it’s way too individual for that. A pretty good drink

80/100
Delicana IpeIpé Roxo (“rose coloured”) Artesanal pot still, aged 8 months in Ipé casks

Strength 40%, colour orange-gold

Nose: lovely intro, lemon zest, red olives, very vegetal and grassy, quite smooth

Palate: Smooth and easy, lots more red olives and tomatoes, cucumbers freshly sliced, mown grass, a few unripe white guavas….and a bit of dill.  Tart on the mouth, quite nice.

Finish: Short and a little uneven, but warm and gentle for all that. More olives and brine, some soya and sweet pickles

Thoughts: Slightly better than the older Castanha (Bert is going to shake his head at me, again); I attribute that mostly to better balance in the flavours, and the lemon was really well integrated with both wood and herbals.

81/100

Delicana SilberSilver Pot Still Unaged

Strength 38%, white

Nose: Pow!  Exploding phenols and wax and brine, petrol and hot asphalt.  Was this really just 38%?  Amazingly potent stuff, this, erratic and untamed, almost wild….it reminded me of the Haitian clairins, actually, and I mean that in a good way

Palate: Like the Jamel, it did a one-eighty degree turn. Thin and watery cucumbers in brine, vague vanillins, white sugar dissolved in extremely diluted lemon juice, a tad oily in mouthfeel, some sweet baking spices in there, cinnamon and nutmeg, too light to really be noticeable, but all serve to tame the nose.

Finish: Gone in a flash, hardly anything except crushed grass and a faint banana whiff

Thoughts: Should be stronger to make the point the nose advertised

77/100

Final comments

None of these rums is new, and two have won prizes, so it’s not as if Bert spent the last year refining his output, tweaking his ageing regimen and changing his barrels in any way.  But these are all younger than the ones I tried back in 2014 and I liked them more – they were lighter and cleaner in some way, integrated their tastes better, and the influence of the woods was held in check in a way that allowed more diffident flavours to come through. I wonder if that will turn out to be a characteristic of the type, that the ones under five years old will be the better ones. The journey continues.

 

Jul 202016
 

D3S_6187

The Rio Olympics will surely revive interest in cachaças. Let’s head into the Amazon for a few reviews, starting with this delicate but ultimately disappointing one from Leblon.

(#287 / 76/100)

***

Cachaças, the rhums of Brazil, remain among the most unrepresented rums in the world, both from a perspective of being written about in reviews or info-blogs, or of actual knowledge of their incredible variety outside their place of origin.  And yet supposedly some 1500 or so such rums exist (one writer says it’s 5000), far eclipsing the other cane juice minority of the agricoles, which get much more attention. Amazingly, a mere 2% of these rums ever get exported to the rum swilling public (most of them unaged whites), which makes Brazil the next great undiscovered country.

Leblon is a  cachaça produced off a French-style copper pot still at the Destilaria Maison Leblon in the Minas Gerias region of Brazil (it’s the huge territory north of Rio, and supposedly the premier region for the spirit in the country). The label speaks of light ageing, and the website says it’s in French oak barrels that once held XO cognac.  Although not mentioned I’d suggest “light” means less than six months because the brownish tint to the rhum is well-nigh imperceptible and it just doesn’t taste like anything left to rest for an extended period.

D3S_6186Like with most cachaças, the idea is not to drink it neat (though this was the basis of the review) but to mix it in the Brazilian national cocktail, the caipirinha, where, with their sunny optimism, the Brazilians usually remark “The worse the cachaça, the better the caipirinha.” Well, by that standard, this one must make a killer drink, because of the various cachaças I tried that day, this one came in picking up footprints.  In 2009. a writer from WineCompass said “We have tasted several excellent cachaças over the past two years and Leblon is easily the best,” but I guess he and his fellows were looking for different things than I was.

This was partly because of the excessive woodinesss of the nose.  Cachaças may be aged in local timbers (and the Delicana rums, you will recall, indulged themselves in aging in some very peculiar woods indeed).  This one was not just woody, but excessively so – it was like I just bumped into Treebeard’s backside. Yet, this is a cane juice pot still rhum, which is then filtered three times, so obviously that was a deliberate choice to have the woodiness so initially dominant.  Anyway, pungent wax and resins and tree sap were the first scents I noted, a quick, sharp explosion of them…and then they were gone.  Sugar water, extremely light fruity notes (a melange rather than anything clearly individualized) and bright green grasses after a rain.  The smells got a little heavier over time developing an almost creamy heft of breadfruit and pumpkins and it was all a rather sharp, short experience, if intense for a 40% rhum.

Unlike the Jamel and the Sagatiba cachaças which I tried together with this one (I’m going in ascending order of my scores), the sugar water taste of swank was mostly absent when I tasted it.  It was again creamy warm solidity rather than light effervescence, medium bodied, hardly sweet at all (though I tasted something of a watermelon rind with some pink still clinging to it, and a lemon pip or two), and trended more towards a toned down tequila mixed up in an olive-based fruit salad from which most of the fruit had been removed.  I should note that the woody tastes that started off the party were not evident on the palate…but came back to a raucous goodbye on the fade, lots of tree bark and the slight acidic bitterness of sap, mixed up with sugar water and fresh fallen rain on hot wooden planks.

Summing up, all the markers of an agricole are here in this cachaça (although let me hasten to say I am not rating the Leblon against the white French island rhums) — the cane juice origin, pot still distillation; the spicy, sugar-water and watermelon tastes, but with that creamy taste which rubs up the wrong way against the lighter tartness of the barely perceptible fruit; and it demonstrates a peculiar Brazilian distinctiveness that marks it out as “not French.”  In fairness, all sources are adamant that this is a rum to mix, not drink as a sipping juice, and I’d recommend it that way as well.  It’s by no means a rhum you should try neat as your first sojourn into the spirit.  If you’re into French island rhums, and younger, rawer, more untamed spirits, and love your cocktails, well, sooner or later you’ll come to cachaças, yes.  But not necessarily this one.

Other notes

Josh Miller rated the Leblon at 7.5, and it was his fourth favourite of the fourteen he tried in his Cachaça Challenge in 2015. 

Leblon was acquired by Bacardi in 2015.

Jul 172016
 

Lost spirits Polynesian 1

Nope, this one doesn’t quite click either.  Too many clashing tastes, none enhancing any other, and overall, too untamed. Still not entirely a bad product though.

(#286 / 81/100)

***

Let’s just wrap up the third on in the initial rums made by Lost Spirits, the Polynesian-inspired.  For those who really are not into rums, have not been paying attention, or are wondering why this small company is gathering so much press, be it known that Bryan Davis out of California makes the claim that with his proprietary technology (a ‘molecular reactor’) he can not only emulate many years’ ageing in just a few days, but any country or region’s style. It’s as if by processing the baking grade molasses and yeast that form the basis of their distillate, they can – one day – use that to produce a Velier-style Enmore, or a Foursquare Port Cask, a Havana Club or Longpond Jamaican….all within a week.

Such claims are unlikely to impress many, least of all the grand old distillers and master blenders and guys who have spent decades learning the craft of blending and ageing in the old way, and who disdain unverifiable self-proclaimed magical methods of artificial ageing (concepts which are almost as old as aged spirits themselves and are seen to be in good company with snake-oil sellers hawking their wares outside a travelling  circus).  Still, I’m fairly certain there’s a sphincter or two that’s puckering out there, since technological progression is geometrical, and while the first batch of Mr. Davis’s rums didn’t and don’t come up to scratch or deliver on the promises that they were a Navy rum, or close to a Cuban, they weren’t quite as poorly made as some have made out – they still beat many multi-column-still industrial mass-produced hooch that people buy so blindly, in such quantities, and there’s potential in the process, if it can ever be made to work right, and consistently.

This rum is something like the Cuban-inspired in that it seeks to recreate the profile of the rums from another geographical region.  I’m not sure of the point of this – it’s not like the sample set from over there is large enough to have a decent baseline to begin with, and outside of Hawaii, how many Americans have ever or even tasted a Polynesian rum? Background reading points out the fact that it is made to fit the profile of a high-ester pot still product, and indeed it is made on a copper pot still, though of course no age statement is as yet, or can be, applied to it.  It’s in all respects an unaged rum, which leads me to wonder if they didn’t mess with it by adding anything, was it the reactor that created the colour?

Lost spirits Polynesian 2Anyway, the whole pot still origin at least conformed to the profile of the smells that hit me once I opened the 66%, dark amber rum.  The action got going right away, with solid, sharp notes of wax and turpentine and acetone and shoe polish, here one second, gone the next, morphing swiftly into rotten apples, peaches left in the sun too long, and a lingering background of salty-sweet tequila oiliness that had no business being there.  This is supposedly part of the process the reactor promotes, which produces a surfeit of long chained esters — these are the source of turpentine/paint thinner flavours in high concentrations, and fruity ones when dialled down, so as far as I’m concerned this one had the dial stuck too high, and I didn’t care for it.

To taste it was a sharp sarissa of intense heat, just like any full proof rum.  That part didn’t disturb me, I just put it to one side to open up a bit and came back a few minutes later.  Well now: this was like another rum entirely, remarkably different from what the nose had advertised – quite a bit more balance here, with the waxy turpentine kept way back; overripe peaches (no real citrus tartness evident), brine, black olives, that oily tequila sweet-salt note again, dates, figs and other non-sweet ‘fruits’.  The absence of more traditionally expected tastes was somewhat surprising, and it gave the rum a distinctiveness that may become its maker’s identifying, defining signature, but the problem was that this uniqueness did not particularly translate into a quality rum that I cared for, where a central core of one flavour carried lighter and medium intensity elements of others that blended well together; the Polynesian cannot truly be termed ‘traditional’ by any stretch.  Even the finish – long and dry, redolent of (get this) olive oil soaked bell peppers as well as more dates and soya – didn’t really work well together. I like crazy for the most part, I enjoy originality and reaching for the brass ring, but there has to be a bedrock of underlying quality, of texture and taste and aromas that gels somehow: Mr. Davis is still working on that part.

So.  Good things are strength and heft and an original taste.  Bad things are those very same tastes and the way they do not come together to form a cohesive, enjoyable whole, plus a nose of too many uncontained, uncontrolled esters which allow the wrong ones to dominate. It’s also more than a little jagged to try, and little real smoothness in the mouthfeel.  It’s a mixer for sure, for the moment, and that’s how most will try it and drink it.

Matt Pietrek, commenting in the post on the Lost Spirits Cuban inspired rum, advised me that all three of the rums I’ve written about were from the initial reactor outputs, which have since been tweaked to various settings and routines in a specified order, which we can call Version  2.0. (my bottle with was bought back in early 2015, just when the process was gathering some steam). So there are new products – even whiskies, now — coming out from Lost Spirits, and the technology is beginning to spread to other companies who see either potential to bypass the Caribbean nations, or to make a fast buck, or really produce some cool rums of their own (or all at once).  Based on these three rums, it’ll still be many years before any of the old rum houses, or the European cognoscenti, need to worry that their favourite tipple will be replaced by technology that promises much, but so far, has not delivered.


Other notes

Just because I don’t (thus far) endorse or highly praise this line of rums, doesn’t mean others don’t.  North Americans are quite positive in their assessments, while European writers remain silent for now (perhaps due to availability). So some references for your research, should you be curious:

 

 

Jul 032016
 

Lost Spirits Cuban 1

Not quite there.  Yet.

(#283 / 83/100)

***

Lost Spirits, if you recall, is the company that produced a set of rums of varying strengths last year – polynesian, navy, colonial, and this one – which are processed by their proprietary “reactor” to emulate the taste profile of rums aged for many years, while only being days old.  This is one of the three I bought, the “Cuban Inspired” version, bottled at a growlingly powerful 75.5% and properly labelled “151”.  151s are generally mixers (unlike, say, the SMWS beefcakes), which strikes me as an odd choice to produce – because if one is trying to showcase the ageing potential of the reactor, why make a rum that people have never seen as an aged product? Perhaps it is to try and recreate the taste markers of the style as well – if that’s what was attempted, I stand here before you telling you that the system still needs more work.

That said, let’s just get the stats and background out of the way: the Cuban Inspired is made from baking grade molasses — much like, I guess, Pritchards’ — water and yeast, some interesting tricks with nitrogen deprivation, no additives or colouring, some ageing in charred and toasted American oak barrels, and filtration through a coconut husk filter. So as 151s go, something of a diversion.  I was therefore quite curious whether a Cuban-style profile could be made via technology instead of actually in Cuba.

The light bronze rum nosed quite kinetically, of course, which at that strength was to be expected. Sharp, hot scents of brine, figs, olive oil and tequila led things off with some of the waxy, glue and petrol notes of some serious pot still action.  I set it aside to let the spicy alcohol fumes evaporate, and when I went back to it ten minutes later, things settled down a bit and the scents were much more interesting: huge molasses and burnt sugar, cocoa and vanilla notes were the backbone, upon which rested a sharper, less intense secondary aromas of coarse dry breakfast cereal and stale orange peel that’s been sitting in the sun for too long. Interesting and quite intriguing, for sure, though there’s something lacking here, a sort of middle section to bridge the gap between the sharp higher notes and the deeper and more solid underpinnings.

Putting aside the sheer oomph of this thing – for sure, given its intensity at that strength, I sipped very carefully – I was surprised how much there was on the palate: molasses soaked brown sugar, butterscotch (way too much of these three elements), salt butter, fresh baked dark russian bread (I used to buy one daily for a year straight back in my working days in the ‘Stans).  Too hot and untamed to sip really well, it was damned rough on the tongue.  With water, matters settled down, and additional flavours of overripe plums and peaches, more tequila and olives in brine emerged, weirdly mixed with hot black tea and yes, that stale orange peel made a comeback, all finishing off with a very long exit as befits an overproof, and last hints of wood and sawdust and an old, lovingly polished leather bag.

Lost Spirits Cuban 2So there’s the tasting notes.  Opinion? Well, it has quite a lot of action, that’s for sure.They sort of whirl around in a melee of unfocussed aggression, like a war-movie battle scene where the director is too much in love with his shaky-cam, making nonsense of any attempt to come to grips with an underlying structure.  Tastes just exist, and they do not come together in any kind of layering or synthesis, and where each one should be informing, supporting and melding with others, here what we have is a bunch of rabid individualists who do not know the meaning of teamwork. And honestly, there’s over-dominance by molasses and vanilla and butterscotch – it’s deep and it’s nice and it’s pervasive…perhaps too much so.

Plus – where’s the Cuban by which it was supposedly inspired? I’ve had a few from the island in my time, and the Spanish style, which so many in Central and South American rum-makers have copied over the centuries, was not particularly self-evident in this rum.  Usually, rectified column still spirit further amended by careful barrel ageing is a defining marker; but I didn’t get any of that clean, dry, light, flowery profile with coy hints of molasses and citrus dancing their own little tango, bound together by easy fruitiness – quite the contrary, this was a rapier turned into a fruit-smeared butterscotch bludgeon, not all of which worked. 

Whether we like it or not, when a rum is labelled as something, we expect from our past experiences of similar rums for the promise implicitly made on that promo to be honoured.  As with the Navy 68% I tried before I didn’t feel that really occurred (I sampled alongside the Navy and the Polynesian, and the Cuban resembled the former quite a bit) .  There’s little of the Santiago de Cuba or Havana Club here, to me. I’m giving it the score I do because of originality, some very interesting tastes, and then taking away some points for lack of coherence (but not for not being a Cuban – that one is an irrelevancy and I mention the matter only because the label does).  I like what Bryan Davis is doing, admire his dedication and passion and love of  technology which he is bringing to bear on a very old process, but still feel the process needs work.  From that perspective, it was real smart to call this a “Cuban Inspired” rum.

***

Other notes

I know this review will be somewhat divisive (it’s not meant to be dismissive), so here are some references to give you more positive points of view, if you’re interested: