May 012018
 

#507

Almost without warning and with little  fanfare, Oaxaca went from being a small geographical region in Mexico to the source of a fast moving blip in the rumiverse, the Paranubes white rum.  Although there have been occasional comments on the various Facebook rumclubs on the Oaxaca-region blancos before this, my feeling is that the June 2017 Imbibe Magazine article on Paranubes, followed up by the April 2018 Punch article “Hunting for Rum in Oaxaca’s Cloud Forest” was in a large measure responsible for the upsurge of interest in the region, this particular company, and this rum.  That, and the fact that like Rivers Royale, Haitian clairins or Cape Verde grogues, they represent a miniscule, almost vanished proponent of natural rum making, of a kind we don’t see much of nowadays…which is exciting much interest in the rum soaked hearts of the ur-geeks who are always on the lookout for something new, something potent and something pure.

Mostly unknown in the wider world, Mexican white rums like the Paranubes share DNA with agricoles and cachacas – the source of the spirit is fresh-pressed sugar cane juice – but in manufacture and distribution, if the terms could be used for something so relatively grass-roots, they are closer to the Haitian clairins. Locally made by unregistered, numberless small mom-and-pop roadside hoocheries and tiny distilleries (called trapiches), using local materials and old equipment, a different one around every corner and in every region, they are called aguardiente de caña there and are back country white lightning which (again like clairins) is consumed mainly in the neighborhood. There are several other small trapiches in the neighborhood: the story goes that the co-founder of Mezcal Vago, Mr. Judah Kuper was running around Oaxaca with a load of mezcal (and tasting roadside aguardientes as a sort of personal hobby) when he happened to try that of a local distiller and businessman called Jose Luis Carrera, was not just impressed but blown away, and approached him with the idea of exporting it.  This has led to the Paranubes brand being formed.

Mr. Carrera’s little distillery has been in existence for decades, using different varietals of sugar cane free of pesticides and fertilizers, lugging the cane to the trapiche by donkey power and after crushing, fermenting the juice with wild (naturally occurring, not added) yeast and a sort of boiled mesquite bark mix in a couple of 1100 liter pinewood vats (but occasionally a pineapple or two is used in the same fashion of bark is not available – these guys take the meaning of “batch production” seriously). Every day Mr. Carrera takes half of one of the vats and chucks it into the small copper column still (which holds 550 liters) – and then refills the vats in the afternoon. What this means is the vats are a mix of very old and very young fermenting liquids, and since they are only completely emptied three times a year, they end up producing an enormously flavoured spirit that conforms to few markers of the rums with which we are more familiar.

That part is key, because I said that in origin it’s like an agricole, in manufacture like a clairin, but let me tell you – in taste, it’s like those were spliced to an out of left field Jamaican with a steroid-addled attitude.  And even then it seems to exist in its own parallel universe, adding its own distinctive originality to the pantheon of the whites. It started off, for example, with one of the most distinctive series of smell notes I’ve ever experienced: wet ashes from a campfire, rain on hot baked earth, mixed with pickles and gherkins. The oily saltiness of a tequila but without the muskiness.  It’s also vinegary, citrus-y, sharp, acidic, and beneath all that is sugar caned sap, very light fruit, vegetable soup, olives and more brine. And plastic. I mean, wow. Newbies beware, experts be warned – this rum is not the kind that makes sugar cane turn up at your door demanding its juice back.

As if dissatisfied with its own aromas, the rum seemed to feel it had to add even more notes to the tasting when drunk. So, many the above smells made a re-appearance on the palate – ashes (I swear this is almost like licking a stone), olives and brine, lemon rind, gherkins in vinegar to start – before the brininess retreated and additional varnish and turpentine hints emerged, which went right up to the edge of being gasoline.  The sugar cane sap thankfully mitigated that, adding lighter swank, watermelon and lemon to the mix, miso soup, sweet soya and a ton of veggies. It was, really quite a collection of different tastes, and even the finish – long, lingering, with sweet and salt, acetones, cigarette tar and more herbals – completed what was a rum of startling, almost ferocious originality.

All these tastes aside, what did I actually think of it? Well, as noted, I think it may be one of the most unique whites I’ve tried in a long while. It’s different, it’s original, it hews defiantly to its own profile without genuflecting to anything else.  It’s not trying to be a clairin or a Jamaican or a grogue or a cachaca, and has at best a glancing familiarity with the ester bombs of Reunion and Hampden and Worthy Park. Fruits are a bit lacking, sweet and salt combination is fine, and earthy, musky notes are bang on. “Traditional” may be how it’s made, but surely not in its overall taste configuration.  It gets points for being one of a kind, yet be aware that it is not necessarily one you’d appreciate neat. This is a cocktail lover’s dream, one that would drive bartenders into ecstatic fits because it would wake up and make new any old faithful, or kickstart any creation they feel like coming up with.

Paranubes may be one of the first Mexican rums to make a dent in people’s perceptions that Mexican liquor is just mezcal or tequila (and rums like Bacardi, Los Valientes, Mocambo, Prohibido et al).  Locals will know of aguardiente, and Americans and tourists who visit the back country will likely be familiar with it — now it’s the turn of the wider world, not least because it’s available in the US, and may start appearing in Europe as well, with the added cachet of artisanal production, traditional methods, and a taste that is quite simply in its own universe.

Is such pure rum-making an oncoming wave of the future for the independents?  Ask Luca Gargano of Velier and you’d probably get a resounding yes, and if you look carefully at the rums with which he personally associates himself, you’ll see that old-school, artisinal, natural rums are his personal and pet passions – clairins, grogues, Rivers, Hampdens are just some of the varied rums he holds close to his heart. By that standard, he must be frothing at the mouth over the Paranubes. Me, I believe that this simply made, small-batch artisanal rum takes its place immediately in any list of tonsil-shredding whites as one of the most original, potent, pungent, and flavourful rums currently extant.  It’s that interesting right out of the gate, and is tailor-made for those who are looking to dispel boredom, and want to explore the bleeding edge of rums that conform to no rational standard.

(81/100)


Other notes

  • The Paranubes website is massively informative on the method of production – I have drawn upon it to summarize the process here.  It is well worth a read in its entirety.
  • Unaged, issued at 54%
  • Serge Valentin on WhiskyFun, as ever ahead of the curve, rated it 88 last year, very much because he loved its artisinal nature and originality.
Apr 252018
 

#505

On initial inspection, Rivers Royale Grenadian Rum – a white overproof – is not one of the first rums you’d immediately think of as a representation of its country, its style, or a particular type — perhaps Westerhall or Clarke’s Court are more in your thoughts.  It is made in small quantities at River Antoine on  the spice island of Grenada, is rarely found outside there, and even though it can be bought on the UK site Masters of Malt, it barely registers on the main bloggers’ review sites.

Yet anyone who tries it swears by it.  I’ve never seen a bad write-up, by anyone. And there are a several aspects of this rum which, upon closer inspection, reveal why it should be considered as part of the Grenadian pantheon and on any list of Key Rums, even if it is so relatively unknown.  

For one thing, there’s it’s artisinal production.  Almost alone in the English-speaking Caribbean, River Antoine adheres to very old, manual forms of rum making.  The sugar cane is free from fertilizers, grown right there (not imported stock), crushed with a water wheel – perhaps the oldest working one remaining in the world – and the source of the rum is juice, not molasses. Fermented for up to eight days without added yeast – natural fermentation via wild bacteria only – in huge open-air vats and transferred to an old John Dore copper pot still (a new one was added in the 1990s).  No additives of any kind, no filtration, no ageing. They are among the most natural rums in the world and the white, which is supposedly drawn off the still at a staggering 89% ABV and bottled at 69% to facilitate transport by air, is among the most flavourful whites I’ve ever tried, and thought so even back in 2010 when I first got knocked off my chair with one.

There’s also the whole business of heritage.  In the geek rumiverse, it’s common knowledge that Mount Gay’s paperwork shows it as dating back to 1703 – though it was almost certainly making rum for at least fifty years before that – and River Antoine is by contrast a relative johnny-come-lately, being founded in 1785. The key difference is that Rivers (as it is locally referred to) is made almost exactly the way it was at the beginning, never relocated, never really changed its production methodology and is even using some of the same facilities and equipment. So if your journey along the road of discovery is taking you into the past and you want to know more about “the old way” and don’t want to go to Haiti, then Grenada may just be the place to go.

These points segue neatly into an emerging (if still small) movement of fair trading, organic ingredients and eco-friendly production methodologies.  By those standards, and bearing in mind the points above, Rivers must be a poster child for the eco-movement, like Cape Verde, Haiti and other places where rumtime seems to have slowed down to a crawl and nobody ever saw any reason to go modern.

But is it any good?  I thought so eight years ago, and in a recent, almost accidental retasting, my initially high opinion has been reconfirmed.  At 69%, unaged, unfiltered, untamed, I knew that not by any stretch of the imagination was I getting a smooth and placid cocktail ingredient, and I didn’t – it was more like getting assaulted by a clairin.  It started out with all the hallmarks of a Jamaican or Haitian white popskull – glue, acetone, vinegar, olives and brine exploded across the nose, pungent, deep and very hot. And it didn’t stop there – as it rested and then opened up, crisper and clearer notes came out to party – watermelons, pickled gherkins and sugar cane sap, married to drier, mustier aromas of cereal, old books, fresh baked bread, light fruits and even some yeast.  Weird, no?

As for the taste, well…whew! The palate did not slow down the slightest bit from the jagged assault of the nose but went right in. Although the initial entry was just short of crazy – “like drinking ashes and water and licking an UHU glue stick” my notes go – this offbeat profile actually developed quite well. It turned dry, minerally, the fruitiness and citrus zest took something a back seat, and it took some time to recalibrate to this. Once that settled down the fruits emerged from hiding — cherries, some guavas and yellow mangoes, orange peel, light florals…but the crazy never entirely went away, because there were also hints of gasoline and a salt lick, and the sort of binding adhesive you can occasionally smell in brand new glossy magazines (I know of no other way to describe this, honestly).  And of course the exit is quite epic – a long, searing acid fart that blows fumes of acetone, citrus, brine and deeper fruits down your throat.

This rum is like a lot of very good whites on the market right now: Rum Fire, the Sajous, Toucan, J.B White, to name just a few. Quite aside from the heritage, the history, the production and eco-friendly nature of it, the rum is simply and powerfully an amazing original even when rated against those on the list of 21 Great Whites.  It’s not a rum that apologizes for its sense of excitement, or attempts to buffer itself with a standard profile in an effort to win brownie points with the larger audience.  It is maddeningly, surely, simply itself — and while I admit that strong whites are something of a thing for me personally (and not for people who like quieter, simpler or sweeter rums), I can’t help but suggest there’s so much going on with this one that it has to be tried by rum lovers at least once.

Luca and others have told me that River Antoine are having some issues maintaining the old water wheel and the open-air vats, and repairs are continuously being made. There are rumours of upgrading the equipment, perhaps even modernizing here or there.  I’m selfish, and I hope they manage to keep the old system going – because yes, they can make their rums faster, more easily, and issue more of them. But given the old-school quality of what I tried, the sheer force and fury and potency of what they’re already doing, I somehow wonder if anything modern they do will necessarily be better…or be regarded as a Key Rum. The way I regard this one.

(85/100)

Apr 032018
 

#502

Asia may be the next region to discover for rummies.  Some companies from there already have good visibility – think Nine Leaves or Ryoma from Japan, Tanduay from the Phillipines, Amrut from India, Laotian from Laos and so on – and we should not forget Thailand.  So far I’ve only tried the Mekhong “rum” from there, and that was a while ago…but for the last few years I’ve been hearing about a new company called Chalong Bay, from the resort area of Phuket; and when John Go and I traded samples a while back, he sent me one of their interesting whites that for sure deserves a look-see from the curious who want to expand their horizons.

Chalong Bay is the brainchild of another pair of entrepreneurs from France (like those chaps who formed Whisper and Toucan rums) named Marine Lucchini and Thibault Spithakis.  They opened the company in 2014, brought over a copper column still from France and adhered to an all-natural production philosophy: no chemicals or fertilizers for the cane crop, no burning prior to harvesting, and a spirit made from fresh pressed cane juice with no additives.  Beyond that, there’s the usual marketing stuff on their site, their Facebook page, and just about everywhere else, which always surprises me, since one would imagine the history of their own company would be a selling point, a marketing plug and a matter of pride, but no, it’s nowhere to be found.

Be that as it may, it’s quite a nifty rum (or rhum, rather), even if somewhat mild. The 40% ABV to some extend gelds it, so one the nose it does not present like one of the proud codpieces of oomph sported by more powerful blancs out there.  Olives, brine, swank, generally similar to Damoiseau, J. Bally, Neisson, St Aubin blanc, or the clairins, just…less. But it is an interesting mix of traditional and oddball scents too: petrol, paint, wax, a little brie, rye bread, and just a touch of sweet sugar cane juice.  Faint spices, lemongrass, light pears…before moving on to hot porridge with salt and butter(!!). Talk about a smorgasbord.

The taste on the palate takes a turn to the right and is actually quite pleasing. Thin of course (couldn’t get away from the anemic proof), a little sharp.  Sweet and tart fruity ice cream. A little oily, licorice-like, akin to a low rent ouzo, in which are mixed lemon meringue pie and clean grassy tastes. Not as much complexity as one might hope for, though well assembled, and the flavours at least come together well.  Citrus, pears and watermelon emerge with time, accompanied by those muffled softer tastes – cereal, milk and salted oatmeal – which fortunately do not create a mishmash of weird and at-odds elements that would have sunk the thing. Finish is short, thin, quite crisp and almost graceful.  Mostly sugar water, a little citrus, avocado, bananas and brine. Frankly, I believe this is a rum, like the Toucan No 4 or the El Dorado 3 Year Old White, which could really benefit from being ratched up a few notches – 50% would not be out of place for this rhum to really shine.

After all is done, the clear drink finished, the unemotional tasting notes made, the cold score assigned, perhaps some less data-driven words are required to summarize the actual feelings and experience it evoked in me.  I felt that there was some unrealized artistry on display with the Chalong Bay – it has all the delicacy of a sunset watercolour by Turner, while other clear full proofs springing up around the globe present brighter, burn more fiercely, are more intense…like Antonio Brugada’s seascape oils (or even some of Turner’s own).  It’s in the appreciation for one or the other that a drinker will come to his own conclusions as to whether the rum is a good one, and deserving a place on the part of the shelf devoted to the blancs. I think it isn’t bad at all, and it sure has a place on mine.

(80/100)


Other notes

  • Interestingly, the rum does not refer to itself as one: the label only mentions the word “Spirit”.  Russ Ganz and John Go helpfully got back on to me and told me it was because of restrictions of Thail law.  I’m calling it a rhum because it conforms to all the markers and specs.
  • Tried contacting the founders for some background, but no feedback yet.
  • The company also makes a number of flavoured variants, which I have not tried.
Mar 072018
 

#494

The Avuá brand of cachaça has a slightly different pedigree from independents in Europe who buy from brokers, and is closer to that of small new rum companies who buy selected stock direct from distilleries (e.g.Whisper, Toucan, and Real McCoy, for example).  Two New Yorkers – one a former brand manager for Red Bull, Pete Nevenglosky, the other a businessman and lawyer, Nate Whitehouse – developed a liking for the spirit and sensed (or thought they could exploit) a rising appreciation for craft spirits in the US – rum generally, cachaça specifically.  After some searching and sampling around, they settled on Fazenda da Quinta Agronegócios, a distillery just outside Rio dating back to 1923 which produces the trio of the da Quinta cachaças — an Amburana-aged, an oak-aged and a white. Starting with the Aburana and the white, these were rebranded for sale in the US as Avuá Amburana and Avuá Prata but I have not been able to establish anything particularly original about them that would set them apart from the da Quinta line

Never mind. Quite aside from these biographical details, I’m always on the lookout for interesting white rums, and so made it a point to check out the Prata just to see how well it fared.  Which was, for a 42% rested-but-not-aged pot still rum, not shabby at all, if not quite as feral or in-your-face as some of the French island blancs, or, for that matter, the clairins.  In fact, nosing it, the Prata presented as a rather genteel variation of such more elemental whites, and for that reason may actually be preferred by people who are put off excessive expressions of crazy and are more middle of the road.  It was redolent of sugar cane juice freshly pressed, oily, briny and with some olive action in the background, but also herbal notes of dill and a little sage, some faint rubber hints, and subtle acetone and florals rounding out the profile.  

The palate was not overly aggressive – at that strength it would have been surprising if it had been – and while quite dry, it reminded me somewhat of the unaged column still clairins, just gentler.  It was warm, sweet, and almost delicate, and also contained some of Neisson’s tequila and briny notes. Sugar water (and that’s white sugar, by the way), more dill, sage, rosemary and a little cinnamon, but what distinguished it after a few minutes was an unique (for cachacas) taste of musty earth and wet tropical vegetation that bordered on the funkiness of a Jamaican without ever actually being so.  The mouthfeel was rather light, warm and relatively smooth, so certainly the initial cuts and the resting period had their impact. As for the finish, nothing original there – just warm, aromatic sweet spices, and a vague mustiness that was far from unpleasant and made the rum stand out in its own way.

As a white rum the Prata cachaça carves out some interesting territory for itself: it’s not so crude and jagged as to be off-putting to the greater public; its tastes are pleasant, yet distinct enough not to be confused with other whites; and overall, one weakness (much like the Toucan No. 4) is that for the complexity that it does exhibit, it could easily be stronger and lose no adherents.  One is left with rather more titillating sensations and vague sensory memories than an explicit and clear-cut profile, and it showcases emergent potential rather than a solid current achievement. It’s interesting to note that the company is now also producing a Still Strength version (45%) to maybe address precisely this issue, and if they are doing that, we should be keeping an eye out for what else they’re doing in the next few years.  Because if they ever have the bolas to issue this white rum’s same profile at 50% or greater, I’d probably grin, take a deep breath, and dive right in.

(82/100)

Feb 102018
 

#487

Yeah! It screams as you sip it, seeming to want to channel a heavy metal rock star in his prime as he puts together a yowling riff on his axe and squeals impossibly high notes into the mike like his huevos were getting crushed. Pow! Biff! Smack! went the rum on the nose.  Holy pot still Batman, what the hell was this?  I smelled hard, I blinked tears, I coughed out rhum fumes and a hundred flies died on the spot. The maelstrom of clear aggro swirling madly in my glass made me think that if I’d had the St. Aubin Blanc four years ago I would have suspected the clairins of copying them.  This rhum was a hellish, snorting magnificent, pummelling nose: olives, brine, vinegar, acetone, salt beef and garlic pork (“wit’ plenty plenty ‘erb,” as my Aunt Sheila would have said), gherkins, sugar water, and more olives, presenting like a real dirty martini.  Wow.  Just…wow.  Though bottled at a relatively bearable 50%, it was fierce and pungent and tasty and wild and definitely left the reservation far behind, just like the white Jamaicans and clairins did.

What elevated the experience of drinking it was the sensation of sampling a potent escaped white lightning while at the same time understanding (not without some wonder) that it was totally under the control of its makers (St. Aubin out of Mauritius) and no extraneous frippery of blending or touch of ageing were allowed to mess with the monster’ essential badassery.  Some of the salt  took a back seat here, the olives were toned down, and in their place emerged sharp and clear notes of wax and furniture polish, leavened by bleeding sugar cane juice, watermelon, swank, pears and a bunch of heavier fruits, hot and just starting to spoil, reminding me more of a Jamaican white like the Rum Nation 57%, or the Rum Fire, or that faithful old standby, J. Wray 63%.  Oh but this was not all.  Once it settled its hot-snot profile down to manageable levels, came to a sort of grudging equilibrium among all the fierce competing flavours, there was a last cough of cereal, biscuits, oatmeal, salted butter and a dash of cumin to wrap up the show.  And it all led to a suitably epic finish that neatly summed up all the foregoing — and so cool that the sun did shine 24 hours a day when I was trying it, and, as the song goes, it did wear its sunglasses at night.

See, while furious aggression a la clairin was not quite the blanc’s style, the sheer range of what it presented took my breath away; the balance was damned fine and the range of its flavour profile was impressive as hell.  I’ll be the first to admit that such potent whites are not to everyone’s tastes, and if you doubt that, feel free to sample a clairin or three. But man, are they ever original. They burst with crazy, are infused with off-the-reservation nutso, and when you finish one, shudder and reach for the Diplo, then whether you liked it or not you could never doubt that at least it was original, right?  That and the bitchin’ cocktails they make, is, to me, their selling point.

Because of its pot still origins and because of its relatively manageable strength, I think this thing might just be one of the more approachable whites out there, and I’d really be interested how other drinkers, writers and barflies see it.  I make a lot of jokes at Adam West’s 1960s Batman series with their hokey sound effects overlaid on the TV screen and the campy dialogue, but what we sometimes forget is that after all was said and done, even on that series somebody always got hit and somebody always fell down and there was a cool quip at the end.  I don’t have a cool quip on this one, but guys, I drank it and got hit and just about fell down.

(85/100)


Other notes

There are some background notes on St. Aubin in the Historical series “Mauritius” and “Isle de France” reviews for those who are interested

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.

May 252017
 

#367

In my own limited experience, Neisson has been one of the most distinctive Martinique agricole makers I’ve come across.  There’s something salty, oily, tequila-ish and musky in those of their rums I’ve tried, and while this might not always be to my liking, the quality of their work could never be denied.  To date, I’ve stuck with their aged rums, but back in 2016 L’homme à la Poussette (I’m thinking his poussette should be retired soon as his kids grow up but I hope he never changes the name of his site) passed along this ferocious white rhino, perhaps to gleefully observe my glottis landing in Albania.  

Now, this rum is something of a special edition, initially released in 2002 for the 70th Anniversary of the distillery, and annually without change thereafter – it is rested for six months in steel tanks after being taken off their Savalle still, but it is not aged in any way.  Although the resolutely family-owned distillery is now 85 years old, the rum retains the original title, perhaps because of its popularity among the rabid cognoscenti, who enjoy its 70⁰ ABV and the 70cl square bottle  Maybe some enterprising mathematician could work out how the sums of the corners and angles on the thing added up to or produced 70 — for my money, I’m more interested in whether the company releases more than 70 bottles a year or not, because for anyone who likes white lightning – whether for a cocktail or to brave by itself – this unaged rum is definitely up there with the best (or craziest).

You could tell that was the case just by smelling it: clearly Neisson felt that the subtle, light milquetoasts of the independent full proofs or the clairins (who bottle at a “mere” 60% or so) needed a kick in the pants to get them to up their game and join the Big Boys. The sheer intensity of the nose left me gasping – salt, wax, paraffin and floor polish billowed out hotly without any warning, accompanied by the sly note of well-worn, well-polished leather shoes (oxfords, not brogues, of course).  Nothing shy here at all, and the best thing about it – once I got past the heat – was what followed: coconut cream, almonds, olives, fruits (cherries, apricots, papaya, tart mangoes), all bedded down in a bath of sugar water and watermelon, and presenting themselves with attitude. If I was telling a story, I’d wax lyrical by saying the ground moved, trees shook, and an electric guitar solo was screaming in the background…but you kinda get the point already, right?

Oh, and that’s not all – the tasting was still to come. And so, be warned – 70 degrees of badass carves a glittering blade of heat down your throat, as surgically precise and sharp as a Swiss army knife.  A hot, spicy, and amazingly smooth sweet sugar water — spiked with stewed prunes, lemon zest, wet grass and gherkins in brine — roared across the palate.  With its brought-forward notes of polish and wax and grassiness, I felt like it was channelling the gleeful over-the-top machismo of a clairin, yet for all that enormous conflation of clear and crisp tastes, it still felt (and I know this is difficult to believe) smoother, creamier and more tamed than lesser-proofed whites like the Rum Nation 57%, Charley’s J.B. Jamaican white, the Clairin Sajous or the Klérin Nasyonal….which says a lot for how well the L’Esprit is actually made.  And the finish was no slouch either, long and very warm, salt butter and cereals mixing it up with some citrus, red grapefruit, more grass and even a hint of the smooth salty oiliness of a well-made tequila.

“How the hell did they stuff so much taste into the bottle?” I asked myself in wonder. Perhaps the unwritten, unspoken codicil is “…and not muck it all up into an unfocussed mess?”  Well, they did provide the profile, they didn’t muck it up, I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it was only later that I realized that in a world where Ringling Brothers can fit fifteen fat clowns into a Mini, I should not have been so surprised, when it’s obvious that in the rumiverse just about anything is possible.  Certainly Neisson proved it here.

You know how we hear the old joke about “Rum is the coming thing….and always will be”? This kind of statement is regularly and tiresomely trumpeted by all the know-nothing online drinks magazines who have their lazy hacks attempt to pen a few words or make up a click-bait list about a subject on which they are woefully ill-equipped to speak.  Still…take that statement a bit further.  I honestly believe that as the stocks of old and majestic 20+ or 30+ rums run out or are priced out of existence, it will soon become the turn of unaged, unfiltered white rums to take center stage and become De Nex’ Big Ting.  I accept that for the most part these will be cocktail bases — but for the enterprising, for the slightly addled, for the adventurous among us, for those who are willing to step off the path and enter Mirkwood directly, the real next undiscovered country lies with these white mastodons which showcase much of the amazing talent that remains in our world, needing only the bugling of an enthusiastic drinker or an enthusiastic writer, to bring them to a wider audience.  

(86/100)


Other notes

I should mention that Josh Miller of Inu A Kena ran the Neisson 70 through a 12-rum agricole challenge a while back.  If you’re not into neat drinks so much but love a cocktail, that article is worth a re-visit.

Mar 152017
 

#349

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost suggest this was a clairin.  It was so potent and pungent, so powerful in taste and profile, that I had to double up the amount of controls I was tasting it with, just to make sure it really was a Jamaican rum and not some uncured white lightning out of Haiti.  If you ever thought that Jamaicans were getting too easy, or you were getting bored with the regular run of Appletons, allow me to recommend (cautiously) this amazing white popskull from Hampden estate, which was gifted to me by Gregers and Henrik in the 2015 ‘Caner Afterparty, just so they could see my eyes water and my palate disappear while they laughed themselves silly.

Can’t say I blame them.  Now, you would imagine that when a bunch of us grog-blog boyos get together, it’s a genteel sort of affair in a discreet private club, brogues and black tie in evidence as we dignifiedly pass glasses around, and reverently open bottles like the Longpond 1941 or a Trois Rivieres 1975 while making sober and snooty judgements in hushed tones about nose and palate and so on.  Yeah…but no.  What actually goes on is that a pack of noisy, rowdy, scruffy reviewers from all points of the compass descends on a dingy apartment, each loudly and aggressively shoving their newest acquisitions onto the table, demanding they be opened and tried (twice!), and a sort of cheerful one-upmanship is the name of the game.  Quality doesn’t come into it, shock value does, and boy oh boy, did they ever succeed in taking the crown on this one.

I mean, just sniff this rum.  Go on, I dare ya. It was a 63% ABV salt-and-petrol concussive blast right away.  Forget about letting it breathe, it didn’t need that: it exploded out of the starting blocks like my wife spotting a 90%-off sale, and the immediate pungency of fusel oils, brine, beeswax, rotten fruit, wet cardboard, and sausages frying on a stinky gas fire took my schnozz by storm and never let go. Merde, but this was one hot piece of work.  Frankly, it reminded me of the JB Trelawny rum and Appleton’s own Overproof, also bottled at 63%, and oddly, of the Sajous. I immediately added a few clairins to the Jamaican controls on the table, and yes, there were discernible differences, though both shared some emergent flavours of sugar water and pickled gherkins and maybe some sweeter red olives – and the tartness of green apples and a bit of lemon.  But as for any kind of “standard” profile?  Not really.  It was having too much fun going its own way and punching me in the face, and represented Hampden in fine style.

Oh and this was not limited to the nose.  Tasting it was as exhilarating as skydiving with a parachute your ex-girlfriend just packed.  Again, the first impression was one of sharp heat (warning – trying this with your cigar going in the other side of your mouth is not recommended), and then there was a curious left turn into what was almost agricole territory – watermelon, flowers, sugar water, as hot and crisp and creamy as a freshly baked Danish cookie.  It was only after adding some water that a more ‘Jamaican’ set of notes came out to grab the brass ring – more olives, salted avocados and overripe fruit, wax, some very faint floor polish, tied together with the tiniest hint of citrus, vanilla and leather, before it all dissipated into a lovely, long, warm finish that coughed up some closing notes of sweet soya and teriyaki before finally, finally, passing into the great beyond of boring tasting notes in a notebook.

Whew!  This was a hell of a rum. I apologize in advance for sounding elitist, but really, the regular run of rum drinkers should approach this rum with some caution, or water it down or push it into a mix, lest it colour one’s perception of unaged white hooch forever.  I have a feeling it was made to appeal to those who want vibrant, pot-still full-proofs with real edge and a ginormous series of hot-snot flavour notes that take a smart right turn from reality.  Yes, of course it’ll make a cocktail that would stop just short of self-combustion (and there might lie its mainstream appeal rather than for masochistic nutcases who proudly drink it neat), but I submit that for the adventurous among you, taking it by itself is quite some experience, one that should not be missed.  It’s hot, it’s massive, it’s tasty, and for sure the makers weren’t kidding when they put the word “fire” in the title.  If the amount of amazed and joyful expletives (in seven languages) during a tasting is a measure of a rum’s appeal, then this one has to be one of the funnest, craziest rums I’ve sampled in quite some time, and I recall it with great fondness even after all this time.

(82/100)

Other notes

  • Made by and at Hampden estate, whose history is covered on their webpage
  • Triple distilled heavy pot still rum.  There’s no notation on age, but for my money, it has not been aged at all, another similarity it shares with the clairins
  • Not sure what the difference is between the straight “Rum Fire” and the “Rum Fire Velvet” – maybe it’s just the label, maybe it’s the triple distillation.

 

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)

Mar 062017
 

#347

By now, just about everyone in the rum world is aware of clairins, those indigenous crude white taste bombs out of Haiti, and once again, points have to be given to the farsightedness of Luca Gargano, who brought them to the attention of the wider world by promoting and distributing the Sajous, Vaval and the Casimir.  Unfortunately, the acclaim these three have garnered have somewhat eclipsed any other clairins – and when supposedly some 500+ small outfits make the juice on the half-island, one can only imagine what else of interest is lurking there waiting to be discovered by anyone who loves crazy, speaks patois and has a 4×4.

One that came across my radar not too long ago was the Kreyol Kléren series of rums made by a company called Mascoso Distillers, sometimes as Barik – a real company, not some garage-based pop-and-pup moonshinery making it with granny’s recipe for the relatives on the weekend jump-up.  I ended up buying two of them and getting a sample of a third, which caused the customs officials in Frankfurt some real puzzlement as they had no clue what the hell this stuff was and required no end of paperwork from Michael (the owner) to prove that it was a rum, why the price was so low, how come they were all around 55% and no, they weren’t meant to be weaponized.

You can understand their confusion (or trepidation).  The Kléren Nasyonal Traditionnel 22 (a supposed “rhum agricole artisanal superior” based on the label, but not really, since the source is a sugar mash not sugar cane juice, and the label is a graphic design error) had an initial smell that was like inhaling a small fire-breathing sweet-toothed dragon.  It was fierce, herbal and salty, and reminded me somewhat of that long-ago sonofabitch in the playground in second form who rabbit punched me in the schnozz without warning.  I was using all three of the other (Velier-distributed) clairins for controls here, and what I sensed with the Nasyonal was their genesis taking form.  It was not as cultured as the Vaval or the Casimir, and even the Sajous was somewhat more tamed (when was the last time you read that about those three?), but in its very basic and elemental nature lay much of its attraction.  It was rough and jagged and yet still joyously powerful, eventually giving up more leafy notes (basil, maybe), sugar cane sap, with much of the same salty wax and swank taste I remembered so well from the others.

Thankfully the rhum settled itself down some when I was tasting it and now edged closer to the quality of my controls.  Oh sure, it was still liquid sandpaper and not for the weak (or those preferring softer brown fare) – I would never try to convince you otherwise.  Yet behind all that macho display of sweat and stink squirting from every pore was some pretty interesting stuff – sweet sugar water and herbal cane juice again, some gherkins in vinegar, and salt and olive oil and dill backing it all up.  Phenomenal, long finish, by the way, making up some for the brutality of the preceding experience, suggesting salt and herbs and (again) cane juice. Not the most complex drink ever made, of course, and after taking it out back and beating my palate a time or three, it occurred to me to wonder, if Luca had smacked his label on it, would I have been able to tell the difference? (So I had the wife give me all four blind, and I was just able to pinpoint the Sajous and the Klerin but mixed up the Casimir and the Vaval – it was the edge on the first two that gave them away).

Clairins may be made in every bottom-house, backhouse and outhouse on Haiti, where jury rigged creole stills are slapped together from mouldy leather jockstraps, old bata flip-flops and disused petrol cans (probably with duct tape).  And yes, many of them are probably best left undiscovered, or relegated to those with noses, palates and livers more robust than mine.  This one, the least of the three I’m going through, possesses enough points of distinction to merit a recommendation, so long as your tastes run in this direction.  It’s a massive, Duke Nukem style hot shock to the system, displaying zero couth yet uncompromisingly boasting a uniqueness worthy of note.  I can’t entirely or unreservedly praise the rhum, but it must be said, when I was trying it, I sure as hell wasn’t bored. I doubt you would be either, no matter how your experience turns out.

(82/100)

Other Notes

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.  The scale here is a peculiarity of Haiti, as is the word “Traditionnel” which on Haiti means an agricole, not a molasses based rum.

Straight from still to bottle, no ageing at all.

Barik’s rhums are very affordable for those with an adventurous bent, and best of all, they’re sold in 200ml bottles as well.  This is a conscious decision by Michael Moscoso, the owner, who understands that for it to sell even locally in a time of competition and adulterated Chinese crap trucked over the border, small bottles at affordable prices must be part of the sales strategy.  Given how many full sized bottles I buy in a single year, I can’t help but applaud that.

Barik has a fairly robust heritage.  Founded by Michael “Didi” Moscoso’s grandfather way back in the early 1900s, it is now supposedly the fourth largest in Haiti, but plagued by infrastructure problems and those cheap ethanol derivatives.  There’s a separate biography, here