Mar 032015
 

D3S_9074

A unique fifteen year old agricole that lacks something of the deep dark depth of the Damoiseau 1980 I so liked, but is a great and tasty example of the style nevertheless…as long as your tastes run that way.

(#205. 72/100)

***

As adolescents, among our most fervent wishes was to have coitus without interruptus the way a hobbit has breakfast: whenever possible, preferably all the time, twice daily if we could manage it (well, what teenager hasn’t?)  But as the years wound on, some reality entered that little fantasy: the truth is that unlimited anything gets boring after a while. One does not wish to eat manna from heaven every single day, do the same job day in and day out,  indulge in neverending bedroom calisthenics…or drink the same kind of rum all the time.

I relate this (possibly apocryphal) story to link to another conversation a fellow reviewer and I had not too long ago: that agricoles just weren’t his thing, and remain an acquired taste enveloped in a certain subtle snobbery for those who preferred them.  I understand this perspective, since agricoles as a whole are quite different from molasses based rums that reek of caramel, licorice, fruits, toffee and what have you.  And while I don’t care for the term “acquired taste” – this is where the imputed elitism has its source – the fact is that the gent was right: tastes do evolve: rums which are current favourites may lose their place in the sun, to be replaced by others you would have never dreamed of touching when you were just starting out.  Rhums are seen by their adherents to possess remarkable quality in their own right, no matter how much the taste profile bends away at right angles from what others have come to accept as more common (or better).

Anyway, remembering the  wonderful experience I had with the Damoiseau 1980, when I saw a bottle of the JM 1995 Rhum Tres Vieux 15 year old (which nowadays retails in the €200 range), I dived right in.  And believe me, when I say it’s different, those of you who prefer more traditional fare can take that as the absolute truth. It’s not for everyone necessarily, but for those whose palates bend in that direction, it’s quite a drink.

As is proper for a top-of-the-line aged product, the green bottle, sealed with wax and possessing a cool leather embossed label came in a fine wooden box that showcased its antecedents, its AOC designation – which means it adhered to stringent manufacturing guidelines such as how soon after reaping the source cane had to be distilled, additions, filtration, etc – and its age.  Now strictly speaking, this is a millésime, but it is noted as being a très vieux (very old)…it could just as easily be termed an XO, but I’m not a purist on the matter and will let it pass with just that comment.

The single column copper-still rhum was a honey gold colour with coppery hints, and gave promise of a medium-light body, which the nose certainly confirmed. It gave forth immediate scents of freshly mown grass and crushed sugar cane, slightly sweet…and quite dry, though not enough to wrinkle the nose.  There were notes of toffee, salty peanut brittle, bon-bons, even a slightly sweetish bubble-gum background which balanced off the brininess. The 44.8% strength was just about right, I think, otherwise we might have really been struck with a dry desert wind on this one.

Still, I liked it, and as the taste developed, saw no real reason to change my opinion.  The palate was smooth and warm, where all the harmonies of the nose developed to a fuller expression – flowers, rain-wet grass, sugar cane rind stripped with the teeth, a flirt of tangerine rind, and biscuits with dry cheese — a liquid warm croissant with a dab of rich, freshly churned butter — all underlain with a sweetish vanilla background, and almost no oak tannins at all.  None of the individual components predominated over any other – the balance was really quite something. What also surprised me was the faint anise taste that revealed itself after a few minutes and melded well into the overall whole.  The finish was short to medium and reminded me a lot of the Clemente XO: both had that closing aroma of smouldering cane fields and vanillas that to this day evoke so many memories.

Situated in the north of Martinique in Bellevue, J.M. began life with Pére Labat, who was credited with commercializing and proliferating the sugar industry in the French West Indies during the 18th century.   He operated a sugar refinery at his property on the Roche Rover, and sold the estate to Antoine Leroux-Préville in 1790 – it was then renamed Habitation Fonds-Préville.  In 1845, his daughters sold the property again, this time to a merchant from Saint-Pierre names Jean-Marie Martin.  With the decline in sugar production but with the concomitant rise in sales of distilled spirits, Jean-Marie recognized an opportunity, and built a small distillery on the estate, and switched the focus away from sugar and towards rum, which he aged in oak barrels branded with his initials “JM”.  In 1914 Gustave Crassous de Médeuil bought the plantation from his brother Ernest (I was unable to establish whether Ernest was a descendant or relative of Jean-Marie), and merged it with his already existing estate of Maison Bellevue.  The resulting company has been family owned, and making rhum, ever since and is among the last of the independent single domaine plantations on Martinique.

If I had fault to find at all in the rhum, it was its aridity, which subtly spoiled (for me) the smoothness of the overall experience, and is another reason I appreciated its relatively lower proof.  Though my sample set of agricoles is too small to make the claim with assurance, it may also speak to my palate being adulterated by rums that have added inclusions (like sugar) to smoothen out such a profile, a practice eschewed by AOC agricoles. Still, summing up, this is a rhum I’ll have to come back to, in the years to come, and will probably rise in my estimation much as the Clemente did. The J.M. 1995 is the kind of rum I’ve been pestered about for ages. People couldn’t quite describe it, but they said I had to sample it, and review it. I just had to.

Well, I did. They were right. It’s quite a lovely drinking experience

***

Other notes not strictly pertinent to this review

Many French West Indian distilleries adhere to a certain puritan strain of rhum production (whether or not they apply for AOC rating).  They use cane juice, don’t add anything to their rhums to either colour them or adulterate them, often issue them at cask strength, and sniffily refer to molasses based rums with the somewhat disdainful moniker of “industrials”.  They may have a point – if there had ever been a pure ethos of rum making, shorn of all the modern and technical innovations, surely it is the agricoles which represent its continuance in modern times. They are a miniscule part of the rum world by volume of sales, yet they hang in there, producing these uniquely tasting, offbeat rums, seen by their tasting champions as exemplars of the craft the way it is, and was, meant to be.

I don’t really agree with that concept 100%, since it is in the nature of mankind to move forward and evolve…and to stick with “the way things were” forever strikes me as unreasoning, almost fanatical, adherence to a single tradition or ideology.  But there’s no doubt that JM, with rhums like this one, are probably on to something, and to tamper with the philosophy of how it’s made would be to discard a link with rum’s past, lose the variety that makes rum great, and leave us poorer for it.

So while not all aspects of the JM 1995 find favour with me (all apologies to the cognoscenti who feel the opposite is true), I acknowledge its distinctiveness and remarkable profile — and if I don’t entirely fall under its beguiling spell, I don’t hate it either, and maybe it’s all just a case of me still acquiring the taste.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating is 72/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 86 points)

Feb 232015
 

D3S_8915

An entry level rum with some unusual and remarkably pleasant flavours that one has to work too hard to find in the raw scrape of underaged alcohol.

(#204. 62/100)

***

One of the things I noted when nosing this dark mahogany-red rum from the German outfit Alt-Enderle, was the baking spices that presented themselves almost immediately. At 43% strength there was no real savagery here, and I didn’t bother letting it rest before trying it (when you practice on cask-strength muscle-twitching bodybuilders, anything under 50% seems easy), and all I remarked on at the inception was how many different, mild, spiced up elements there were. Cinnamon, vanilla and smoke were in evidence from the get go, but also nutmeg, and some cloves. It was quite an interesting experience, to be honest.

I won’t pretend that all was sunshine and roses, of course.  The rum had been aged for only a year, and some of that youth was evident on the mouthfeel, where sharp and raw alcohol notes almost obliterated what could have been a much more interesting sipping experience.  It also dampened the flavours, though I detected vanilla, more cinnamon and nutmeg (as from the nose), followed by some cloves, orange peel, some raisins and a plummy note, wound about with a faint tannic taste, all blending reasonably into the whole. No joy on the finish, I’m afraid, and this was the weakest part of the entire drink – short and sharp, giving little back aside from some more vanilla and caramel hints.

D3S_8916

The molasses from this intriguing rum hailed from India, which may account for that oomphed-up mommy’s-kitchen profile, unusual in island specific rums.  I remember noting something similar in the profiles of Amrut Old Port and the Old Monk Very Old Vatted, though I never wrote about the latter, being a little too loaded at the time to recall my own name, let alone tasting specifics…it may be another example of something noticeably distinct, like Bundaberg is, or the other Indian rums.  To make sure, however, I emailed the company asking whether anything was added to the rum to enhance the flavour profile (still waiting…).

Like Old Man Spirits, Alt-Enderle is a German company which makes rums among other spirits.  Established in 1991, they are located about a hundred kilometers south-east of Frankfurt, and it seems to be a fairly small operation.  They do however make rums from molasses imported from other countries – Thailand and Paraguay are two current examples.  I’m not sure what their philosophy really is regarding rum – like most micro distilleries, they appear to toss them off almost as afterthoughts in their quest to make other liquors like (in this case), whiskies, absinthe, herbal liqueurs and brandies. They distill the molasses themselves — a photo on their website suggests they have a copper still — and set the resultant to age in barrels sourced from the Caribbean.

D3S_8919

I’m scoring this rum at 62 (81 “standard” score), and naming it an entry level spirit. But be advised, it’s not entirely a bad product, and should not be casually written off like yesterday’s fish. The “India” had some real originality in the tastes and aromas– they were distinct, if faint, and points have to be given for that. I have a feeling that the barrels are part of the reason it was not better than it could have been. When told that the rum was aged in Caribbean barrels, some of which were thirty years old, this is not to be considered a point of pride, as I remarked to the booth agent, but of concern, as it suggested dead wood with not much more to impart than maybe some good advice.

Was it a cost cutting measure?  Hard to say.  My own advice here would be to age the rum a little more (and take the hit on maturation and warehousing costs), in barrels with a little more zest left in them.  This rum is a decent starter drink, good for a mix somewhere (especially since it’s not added-to with those spices) …but it could also have been better.

 

Other notes

  • €45 for a 500ml bottle.
  • Aside from the marketing blurb on the back label, there’s a quote: “It’s not enough to be different…one must also be better.”  I like that thought.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating is 62/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 81 points)

Feb 192015
 

Photo courtesy barfish.de

A relatively light and sweet potent white lightning that sits square between a white agricole and full-proofed island hooch, with a charm and power all its own.

(#203. 61/100)

***

The very first review ever written for Liquorature (and here) was the Antigua Distillers’ masterful English Harbour 25 year old 1981.  In later years, I had my suspicions about it – from the similarity of profiles, I thought it was a rebranded, perhaps re-blended version of the Cavalier 1981, which was an understated and excellent rum in its own right, and the sales of which must have caught everyone off guard. So when in 2014 I met a brand rep for Antigua Distillers, I asked him straight out whether one made up the bones of the other, and he answered in the affirmative.

I relate this trivia only to provide some background, because it was three years before I ran into any other rums made by that company, and was lucky enough to try two of them – the ferocious blow-your-hair-back 151, and the very interesting subject of this review, the white 65% Cavalier Puncheon.  You wouldn’t think it’s all that hot – I have this untested theory that in the main, white high-test like DDL Superior High Wine or J. Wray & Nephew white, tend to be for indigenous consumption, not really for the export market – but I’ll tell you, the Puncheon ain’t half bad.

It was a rum supposedly aged for a couple of years in bourbon barrels, before being charcoal filtered to colourlessness. This is one reason I tend to give white rums a miss when looking for something to buy – the filtration wipes out some of the flavours that (in my opinion) would enhance the drink, making most white rums somewhat bland and unadventurous, good mostly for mixing something else.

Here though, something surprising happened – there was still some torque left in the trousers as I smelled it, it wasn’t all boring dronish white vanilla cotton wool whatever-it-was milquetoast.  The rum was hot and spicy yes (by way of comparison, let me remark that it was not raw and sharp), and presented almost delicately, if this can believed in such a strong rum; with initial scents of sweet, light fruity aromas.  There were vanilla notes and white flowers as background, as well as a very faint grassy whiff, not at all unpleasant or jarring.

This unusual lightness, and sweetness, carried over to the palate as well.  Here, rather more was going on – honey, nuts – I kept thinking of cheerios, honestly – some cocoa, ripe yellow mangoes, vanilla and the barest hint of caramel.  The Puncheon was a young rum, of course, but that two years of ageing had its influence, for which I was grateful — it muted what would otherwise have been a furious amalgam of liquid electrical shocks to the tongue. Even the finish was pretty okay, being long and heated (no surprises there), closing off with fresh hay, vanilla, flowers again, and bark stripped fresh from an oak tree somewhere.

I won’t go so far as to say it’s a sipper’s rum – it’s a little too strong and uncultured for that – but it’s got more complexity than a white Bacardi, for example.  In fact, as I concentrated on it and took a few more sips, it occurred to me that maybe I could see the background to the English Harbour 10 year old take shape in the not-quite-docile taste profile. And maybe even some of the black-currant elements I remembered fondly from the 1981.

Recently, I’ve been on a bit of tear, trawling through an enormous volume of fairly expensive, top end rums.  Would it surprise you to know I don’t always want to?  Sometimes, all I want, all I need, is something straightforward to settle down with, a rum with some fierceness and heft, a solid exemplar of the distillers art and the maker’s machismo.  It doesn’t have to be a dark, funky rum oozing molasses and dunder from every pore, squirting its malevolent power in all directions. All it needs to be is a decent rum, a little strong, possessing a reasonably original flavour profile, that I can mix into a potent drink I can drown my sorrows in as I glumly watch my son beating the crap out of me at StarCraft 2.

It needs to be a rum, in fact, very much like this one.

 

 

Other notes

  • A puncheon was originally a high-proof, heavy-type rum first produced in Trinidad, at Caroni, in 1627
  • The Antigua Distillers web page makes no mention of this rum at all. It does not seem to have been updated since 2003.
  • I personally call this a full-proof, not an overproof.
  • Some notes on the history of the company are to be found in the Cavalier 1981 review

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not really meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating is 61/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 80.5 points)

 

Feb 152015
 

Photo Courtesy DuRhum.com

 

This is a pricey and very good rum that should have had the guts to go higher than its issued strength; but you’ll still be extremely happy with what you get, because there’s a lot going on until it runs out of steam at the finish.

(#202. 74/100)

***

Indulge my love of history for a while: La Favorite is a small family owned distillery in Martinique which has an annual rum production of around 600,000 litres (as comparative examples, Bacardi sells in the tens of millions and the craft maker Rum Nation somewhere less than 200,000).  The original sugar plantation was initially called “La Jambette” for a small adjacent river, and was renamed in the mid-19th century with the establishment of the distillery that exists to this day (anecdotes refer to the islanders calling it their favourite rhum, or Napoleon himself remarking it was his, but who knows). The company ran into financial difficulties in 1875 (maybe this was due to the establishment of the French 3rd Republic, and the defeat of the monarchists whom the planters supported, but I’m reaching here).  Somehow the plantation limped along until 1891 when a hurricane did so much damage that the whole operation was shut down for nearly twenty years. Production recommenced in the early 20th century when Henri Dormoy bought the company and added a railway line through the plantation.  The boost given by the first world war allowed La Favorite to become truly commercially viable and it has been chugging along ever since, still using steam powered distillery apparatus, hand-gluing the labels to the bottles, and manually applying the wax over the top.  But a Bacardi it will never be, and it doesn’t want to be – indeed, La Favorite’s unstated mission is to perfect natural rhum (i.e. agricoles), adhere fiercely to the AOC rating, and sniff disapprovingly at mass produced industrial rums.

Having tried the ~€200 40% Cuvée Privilège – that sterling gentleman from DuRhum, Cyril, sent me a generous sample – I can only say that they’re on to something, because while it sure looked like a molasses based rum, dark mahogany shot through with tints of red, it was nothing of the kind – I’m still scratching my head wondering how they accomplished that three-card trick.  Consider too the aroma: licorice, anise and dark ripe plums led off right away, rich and dark…it’s like they were channeling a Mudland rum, and to say this was unusual for an AOC agricole would be understating the matter. Even waiting a while and going back to it, didn’t change my mind much: there were few vegetal notes or the grassiness of a real agricole; further scents of peaches, overripe pineapple, raisins and a bit of vanilla came through, and some serious grape background. Yet this feintiness was well balanced and the overall scent was warm and enticing as a feather bed in winter (with RuPaul inside). I remember thinking that if Downslope had had some patience (like about a generation, so perhaps not) they might have come up with something like this, because what they abysmally failed to do with their six months of ageing, or what the Legendario had handled so excessively, La Favorite succeeded in making here.

So the nose was excellent, rich and romantic.  With the palate I had more concerns, because here is where I detected more potential than achievement – which was still a cut or two above the ordinary, let me hasten to add. It’s just that with a rhum this rich and toasty, I have to question the decision to tone it down as much as they had.  Still, this is not to dismiss the Cuvée Privilège out of hand…far from it, because the almost-full-bodied heaviness of the profile gave back what the pusillanimity of the strength took away. Thick mouthfeel, again redolent of sweet ripe plums. Raisins and licorice abounded, wound about with black grapes and kiwi fruit, all quite sweet – I honestly cannot recall such depth since trying my last Port Mourant vintage.  So while 40% was, to my mind, too weak, and would have imparted some real intensity and impact to the experience, I had to acknowledge that as a sipping rum requiring no padding or push-ups, the Cuvée Privilège did not disappoint.  For all its foregoing quality, it’s real weak point may be in the finish, because here the rounded softness of the palate and nose gave way to timid and vacillating notes of nothing-in-particular, which repeated what had gone before without breaking any new ground: medium length, gone all to soon, with just more of the black grapes, anise and a faint vanilla dusting.

The question arises, why the price tag? Usually at this level of cost, we expect a rhum that is tottering along on its last legs, within a whisker of dropping down dead of old age; or a phenomenal year’s output (a millesime), or simply a rare rhum, long since out of production, now existing only in a collector’s memories (and maybe his safe). Well, here it really is the age: the Cuvée Privilège is a Très Vieux (“very old”) which usually is a term for something in the ten year old range…but not with this rhum. The Cellar Master of La Favorite created a blend of rums aged in oak barrels for thirty and thirty-six years (some reportedly in cognac barrels – I was unable to establish whether this was a finish, all barrels, or just some) and the issue is limited to 2000 bottles per year, with the ratios of each age carefully controlled to not let either one predominate. I’ve had quite a few aged rums roughly thirty years old – most of which were stronger – but it’s hard to argue with what La Favorite have achieved here.

I thought the rhum was damned impressive, no matter how discombobulated my impression of its profile was with the reality of its make, or my whinging about its strength. Cuvée Privilège is a well-rounded, remarkably aged rum, with solidly diversified taste, and perhaps power reined in a shade too much.  It’s easy to confuse with other rums that are not agricoles. At the end, it showcases something of La Favorite’s own romantic philosophy, I think, and by doing so almost proves that no industrial conglomerate could make something like it. The philosophy which we might deny in the flat, bland daylight of our lives, but admit, childlike, to ourselves at night – that magic exists, that it can be made, that it occasionally rises to the surface like the creature in Bradbury’s “Foghorn”.  And if it doesn’t, well, it should, and we should always act as if it can appear, like our dearest dreams and fondest hopes. Like this rum has, from the depths of a cellar master’s imagination, missing only a few steps to be even better than it is.

Other notes

  • I score this rum at 74 (87 “standard”), mostly for failing on the fade, and its lack of strength. Were this to be jacked up a few notches, it would rate at least five or six points higher.
  • The rhum is a blend of a 30 and a 36 year old.  I name it a thirty year old based on the youngest part of the blend, even if La Favorite choses not to.
  • I have an outstanding email to La Favorite asking them to clarify the barrels used, and any additions to the blend that might have imparted the unusually dark colour, and the profile
  • Photo shamelessly cribbed from DuRhum.com (thanks Cyril)

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.


(LC rating is 74/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 87 points)

Feb 122015
 

D3S_9555

A Spartan rum, sporting a massive codpiece, ripped eight-pack, and real attitude.  Not for the lovers of softer or sweeter fare.

(#201. 70/100)

***

You just gotta shake your head with appreciation when you regard Cadenhead and their commitment to muscle-bound zen machismo in rums.  They’ve always had a certain retro charm and a daring to go off the reservation that I grudgingly admired, and they have continued along that path here with this monster full proof.

Leaving aside the squat, glowering psycho-orange-and-yellow bottle with its cork stopper which is almost a Cadenhead signature, it should simply be noted that Cadenhead hewed to their minimalist ethos and added nothing in, and filtered nothing out.  In some previous iterations they tremulously diluted to drinking strength (whatever that might mean), but not here – perhaps they wanted the TMAH to take Velier out back and beat the snot out of it. It’s bottled at 66.9% – a hilariously strong drink, a growlingly full-proofed rum that wants to land on your glottis like a blacksmith’s solid iron anvil.

D3S_9555-001

I had been softened by several forty percenters, sampled prior to cracking this one, and was consequently somewhat unprepared for the force with which the TMAH assaulted my beak (it was sharp and deep, and should absolutely be left to stand for a while before nosing). I could barely discern any molasses background at all, in between furiously swirling notes of rye bread, salt biscuits and salt butter.  Not much caramel here.  But patience, patience – it did get better.  After opening up, it smoothened out a good bit and simply became an intense drink rather than a skewering one – and one could gradually tease out thin threads of honey and nougat, and sweeter notes of vanilla, cherries…and a little spicy note of marzipan.

That didn’t soften the arrival, of course. It was a little less than medium bodied, this rum – even thin, which I didn’t care for – and it detonated with a hurricane force level of taste, scattering shrapnel of sweet and salt in all directions. Dates and figs came to mind, more crackers, a sharp aged cheddar (but not as creamy).  Adding water helped here: almonds, nutmeg and slivers of dried fruit emerged, but slowly, thinly, as if terrified of being bludgeoned to death by the alcohol.  “Chewy” would not describe the experience exactly, but it comes close. Appropriately enough for such a full proof glass of high-test, the finish was enormously long, a sarissa of lingering flavours of nutmeg and vanilla and light sharp red fruit (pomegranates?). Cask strength, overproof, full proof or whatever – it was certainly a rum that demanded attention.

D3S_9556

Trinidad Distillers was established by Angostura back in the 1940s – even then Angostura had been into rum production for decades, though more famous for their eponymous bitters – and began producing alsohol in bulk.  At first this was primarily for rum production: as time went on, bulk exports formed a large part of its portfolio. Note however that most of the molasses they work with originates outside of Trinidad – in Guyana, Panama and the Dominican Republic.  In any event, Angostura as a company has little to do with it.  Cadenhead out of Campbelltown in Scotland have simply followed the craft-bottler route, bought a few barrels distilled in 1991, and then issued the rum at cask strength after it came of age in 2013, without any further mucking about

A rum like Cadenhead’s 21 year old is a curious beast.  Dissecting its profile and coming up with tasting notes is not like having the elements line up and present themselves one after another, like some kind of surreal audition or a debutante’s ball. They arrive when and as they will, and as we sip and try and think, we understand it’s not important to catch every nuance, every last flavour; sometimes all that matters is the overall tone, the commingled experience.  I may not be able to give you a complete set of tasting notes here: but the encounter as a whole is quite something.

And, it must be conceded, occasionally painful

***

Other notes:

  • Aged in ex-bourbon casks. No information on where, but I think it was in Scotland. If you compare similar full-proofed, similarly aged rums from Velier to the TMAH, you’ll see the difference tropical aging makes.
  • Bottled April 2013.
  • I really have no clue what TMAH stands for: Angostura never responded to me, and Cadenhead’s reps said they didn’t know. An anonymous online wit on FB –thanks, Cecil — said it stood for “Too Much Alcohol Here.” May his glass never be empty.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating is 70/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 85 points)

Feb 042015
 

D3S_8939

The XO is more expensive, and slightly older, yet I feel this one is better in every way that counts: I’m going to take a deep breath, go out on a limb…and say I think this is among the best rums Rivière du Mât have yet created.

(#200. 78/100)

***

Full of beans and enthusiasm after the frothing delight that was the Rivière du Mât XO, I decided to dump the previous subject of my 200th review, and go immediately to the Millésime 2004, which is close to the top of their range, and one of the better rums I had in 2014. For a rum that is less than ten years old, that says a lot for its quality and the ability of the dude who put it together.

It’s a queer thing that there is not really much to distinguish this rum were you to see it on a shelf next to its siblings, the Grand Reserve, or the XO.  Indeed, with its maroon-brown box and similar bottle shape, it almost fades into obscurity next to the fire-engine red of the XO and the black of the Reserve (which may be good for the patient hunter of high-end rums, not so good for those who just pick a rum ‘cause, y’know, it looks real cool).

The XO had an average age of just over eight years, and this was eight years flat.  Both rums were aged in limousin oak, but with two crucial differences: all of the Millésime stock came from 2004 distillate selected as exceptional by the master blender, and 30% of it was aged in casks that previously held port before being married at the back end.

Perhaps this was where the extra fillip of quality derived, because I’ll tell you, it started right from the nose, which was remarkably smooth and quite soft, easygoing without displaying that delicacy which so often makes a mockery of any attempts to dissect the profile. I remarked on precisely such a fragile profile in the Reserve yet in both these rums, there was a clean and clear set of tastes: they stated with a melange of crackers and cream cheese, whipped cream, strawberries, cherries and slightly overripe apricots; this then developed on opening into notes of vanilla, ginger and nutmeg with a little coffee, rich and sensuous to smell.  It suggested good future experiences to the drinker, like a girl in the red dress at the bar who’s tipping you a wink and a smile (well, we can all hope, can’t we?).

I find in quite a few rums, that while the nose promises, the taste doesn’t always deliver.  Not here. It was, quite frankly, remarkably sumptuous. The Millesime 2004 was medium bodied and toffee brown, and had an immediate taste of honey and dried flowers to get things rolling, and then more fruits came crowding onto the palate, tobacco and a little aromatic smoke, coffee, ginger, breakfast spices, some of the buttery smoothness of over-soaked french bread.  I loved it. It was smooth and warm and yet distinct and luxurious, like a Louis Vuitton handbag my wife keeps bugging me to buy.  And it faded well, again with warmth and friendliness, no spite, leaving behind the faint backend notes of  caramel and coffee and toffee, and a hint of dried flower petals.

D3S_8940

(see translation below)

 

This is a rum I have no problems recommending. It demonstrates why a lower-costing, lesser-aged rum always wins over a five hundred dollar thirty-year-old. That pricey, geriatric gentleman on your sideboard can never truly go beyond  what you thought it would be (though of course it can fall short)…so it’ll not exceed your sense of, well, entitlement. It’s supposed to be phenomenal – that’s why you grandly forked over the cash your wife was hoarding for that handbag: you’ve coughed up for quality, so that thing had better put out. With a rum like the 2004 Millésime — which, for around €60 can be considered relatively affordable in comparison — you won’t go in expecting a whole lot, it being an 8-year-old and all…and when it over-delivers like it does, it feels like God loves you. And that you’ve made a discovery you can’t help but share.

***

 

Other notes

  • Background to the company is given in the Grande Reserve review.
  • As noted before, the Reserve, the XO and the 2004 Millésime are not agricoles
  • Translation of French label above: “Made from a single distillation, the 2004 vintage has developed its intense character through ageing in carefully selected oak casks. The aromatic originality of this exceptional traditional old rum is enhanced by a certain portion of the rum undergoing a second maturation of one year, in Porto barrels. Gourmand, fruity, with subtle spicy touches, Riviere du Mat Millesime 2004 provides peppery hints and notes of cherry in an elegant fondu (mix). The powerful, charming finish offers a delicious sensation of harmony which will enchant lovers of great rums.”


Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.


(LC rating is 78/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 89 points)

Feb 012015
 

D3S_8937

Soft, firm, tasty and an all ‘round excellent rum. It could have been stronger, but that doesn’t invalidate the quality of what you do get.

(#199. 75/100)

***

Sometimes a positive review leaves me glumpish.  This is a great rum, older cousin to the also interesting Grande Réserve, well put together, subtle, classy, soft, and possessing a real good taste…yet I guarantee that my inbox will be filled with grumbling queries as to why I bother writing about rums many can’t get. In fact, the majority of people reading this will ask variations of “So?”, “From where wuz dat again?” and the final resigned snort of annoyance, “Well, if me kian gettit, me nah want it.” And believe me, I feel for you guys.

Rum like the Rivière du Mât XO, made on the Réunion island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, gets shipped and sold primarily in Europe, and a few places further afield. Therein lies part of the problem, I think. Not many in North America (or Asia for that matter, because that place has a massive tippling class) will have ever heard of this rum, or seen it, or had a chance to taste it.  It’s not on their shelves, and doesn’t get reviewed often enough, and therefore you can just see some poor rum-loving guy in Kansas, in Manitoba, or Bumpole City in Noplace county, shrugging his shoulders and turning to the Lamb’s or Sailor Jerry. Because what choice does he have? There aren’t enough people trumpeting the “other stuff” and (worse yet) nobody imports it.

And that’s a real shame, because when I uncorked the XO, well, lemme tell you straight out, for a rum bottled at a relatively fluffy 42%, the nose on this thing was good.  Raisins and dates, nicely dried, real solid richness wafted gently into my schnozz, morphing into new chopped fresh and fleshy fruits: peaches in cream.  Vanilla and caramel and white flowers entered stage right and took their bow in the spotlight, and through it all was a really odd steely hint of tonic water…you know, the type you add to your gin.  Sultanas and lemon peel finished things off.  To say I was pleased would be understating the matter: I loved the thing. In fact, I nearly brained my wife with my glass as I swung around in overeager enthusiasm to get her to take a sniff.

D3S_8936

Oh and did I mention the taste?  The palate is damned fine as well. Here the ageing became more apparent because mingling in the marketplace of more dried fruit, dates, figs, and mango — or guava — jam, was cigars, leather, some smoke, well integrated with the whole.  The rum was medium bodied rather than heavy, yet displayed a lovely fullness to the tongue, akin to drinkable honey, that encouraged, nay, demanded, a second, third and fourth taste, and one that even a heavier molasses-drenched beefcake wouldn’t be ashamed to display.  On a 42% rum of such soft pulchritude, I didn’t expect a long and lasting goodbye kiss, and therefore didn’t fault the easy finish too much – it was warm, breathy, didn’t outstay its welcome, and waved some unaggressive flavours of caramel, tobacco and raisins and caramel at me before fading away.

It’s a curious fact that while the company’s younger products are clearly noted by them as being agricultural rums, no such information is given for the older ones.  And as I write this, an email from RdM comes in telling me that no, the older rhums are not agricoles, so consider the matter settled.  The XO is a blend of five rums aged in Limousin oak – cognac – barrels (a lot of them are new), for between six to nine years, the average age being just over eight, and in this they may have done a segue from Plantation who have a similar ageing philosophy, albeit the more traditional ‘finishing’ approach of oak first and longest, and a quick sheep dip into the cognac..

Anyway, without undue effort, I’d have to say that I liked the XO more than the Grande Reserve however indifferent I might have been to the package, which seemed to be somewhat a step down…maybe it’s that glaring fire-engine red box, dunno – the bottle is fine.  Still, I should really stop whinging, because for around fifty euros, this rum gives value for money, even if it can’t be found in many of the watering holes where dedicated rummies go to type annoyed emails to me. So maybe the best I can do is take another sniff and taste (maybe another two, or five) of this excellent rum from Reunion, drown my grumpiness, answer emails…and look forward to the Millesime 2004.

Other notes:

I’ve covered the history and background of Rivière du Mât in the Grande Reserve review, so won’t repeat it here.

The little hedgehog like device within the circular seal is referred to as a “tanglier”: the company notes that it is a legendary beast, inspired from the Tangue (hedgehog) and the Sanglier (boar). The tanglier symbolizes the alliance between strength and tradition; so a marketing thing, then, like Bundie’s polar bear.

***

LC Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating is 75/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 87.5 points)

Jan 242015
 

D3S_9097

Clean, clear, dry and old, with a lackluster finish that detracts from the excellent front end.

(#198. 73/100)

When I reviewed the Depaz Reserve Speciale a while back, I thought that the flavours seemed a shade sharp, too vague, and departed the scene with all the hurry of a street cur at which you threw a rock…or something to that effect.  Most of these issues were absent from the Cuvée Prestige, which was a better rhum in almost every way.  It is a blend of rhums aged between six and nine years, has a lovely outfit, and probably the top-of-the-line product from Depaz. I hesitate to recommend it at the higher price points I’ve seen, but must concede that I think it’s one of the better agricoles out there (bar the finish), and for those with deep pockets (or who can ferret out a more economical buy), it may be worth that kind of outlay…assuming their tastes bend in that direction.

Points should absolutely be given for the packaging (oh come on, lie to me and say you never bought a bottle of something purely on the way it looks).  The carafe-style bottle with gold etching (it shows the “castle” of Depaz and its date of founding, 1651) was surmounted with a gold-coloured cap and thick cork, and came in a wooden box with metal snaps, the design of which mirrored the bottle etching.  It all looked very impressive, which it was: it just exuded an air of expensive Savile Row suits. As I’ve remarked before, when you’re at this price range, you’re absolutely within your rights to ask for some spiff on the wrapping, otherwise what are you spoiling yourself for?  Who can you show off to? An unadorned barroom bottle can contain the elixir of the gods, sure, but who’d ever believe it does until they shell out the money, and who’d take the chance?

D3S_9099

Anyway, the Cuvée Prestige is an AOC agricole from Martinique, made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses, grown on the Depaz plantation at the base of Mount Pelee (which nearly ruined the joint back in 1902 when it last woke up and belched). As with other Martinique rhums, it is terroire specific, and since Depaz is located right close by La Montagne with both volcanic soil and varying weather, some of its distinctive profile can certainly be attributed to those factors.  The initial scents of this 45%, gold brown rhum certainly pointed in this direction. Initially very clean and dry, the vegetal green-grass aromas were to be expected, and did not disappoint – the rhum was extremely pungent, smooth and easy, even deep. It had some of the briny freshness of ocean spray. As it opened the scents moved to display more of that dry-ish, almost-salty profile – dates, figs, nuts and almonds, leather and toast, all nicely soft. No real fruity background to speak of here, just the shy promise of better to come

The taste on the palate did not take any sudden left turns or quick swerves.  It retained cleanliness and smoothness, which were endearing characteristics – I have to be honest, the medium bodied rhum had the smooth and relentless flow of a slow tidal wave of double cream.  And it also continued to display the warmth and aridity of the nose. It hinted at sea-salt and sawdust, still more nuts, nutmeg, hazelnut and almonds. Some caramel, cigar smoke, sandalwood.  It almost felt like one of Renegade’s rums, like, oh, the Guadeloupe 1998 11 year old; also the Cuba 11 Year Old, or even (shudder) the Coruba 12 year old. Letting it stand, and adding some water finally coaxed out the flavours I was hoping to have – figs, dates, some light vanilla and overripe black grapes, all bound together by the smell of crushed sugar cane stalks still weeping juice and drying in the hot sun.  The finish was a weak point for me – smoky and sharper than it should have been (it lasted a good while, I can’t deny that), with not much going on aside from some closing notes of vanilla, and salted peanut butter.

It had a good mouthfeel, nice body, good tastes around the edges, and the nose was heavenly, but I think that here, the slight dominance of the non-sweet brininess made the product falter as an overall experience for me (when related to the price – had it been cheaper, I dunno, I might have been more lenient).  It’s definitely better than the Reserve Speciale, and I could see its overall quality, feel its texture, and acknowledge that in my scoring. But I’m afraid it’s not my cup of tea, really, not entirely. Therefore, dear buyer, if money is an issue, it’s a rum that you might wish to taste first (if possible) and checking it fits in with your personal profile preferences, before shelling out.  It’s a very good rum in its own way, and just because that way meanders apart from my own path doesn’t invalidate the product on its own merits.

D3S_9104

Other notes:

Online cost shows wild variation.  I’ve seen everything from €80 to €250, with one reviewer remarking that it can be had for substantially less on the island itself. While I’m not privy to the sometimes obscure pricing mechanisms of web stores, I don’t think I’d shell out more than €100 for this one, both for the cool looks and lovely taste, and also because of the failed backend.  It would have to be a hell of a lot rarer and more in line with the personal preferences I have, to convince me to part with that much of my hard earned balles.

Nowadays it’s owned by Bardinet (who also make the Negrita line of rums I’ve never tried), but who, interestingly, make no mention of Depaz at all on their (poorly designed) site.  There are days I wonder how advertising is really done for products this good: maybe that’s what we reviewers are here for.  After all, if we shell out some cash to buy the thing and like it (which is a chance the makers seem to think is worth taking), then they don’t have to.  I’ve made my peace with that situation a long time ago, but there’s no doubt I still feel a twinge of annoyance about it – we should not be seen as a free resource, to act as a substitute for their reluctance to advertise properly on their own account.

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating on the above list is 73/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 86.5 points)

Jan 122015
 

D3S_9094

Complex, yes. Quality, not entirely.

(#197. 65/100)

***

Although the Depaz VSOP Reserve Speciale is noted as being a complex agricole, not much except perhaps the taste of the reddish brown rhum deriving from the Plantation de la Montagne Pelee really works for me as it should, which just goes to show that not every single spirit hailing from a part of the world supposedly making only top-end products can be as good as it is meant to be.  Part of the issue here (I hesitate to say “problem”) is that all sensations go by too fleetingly for any real impression to be left, and what was there just never came out the way it might have.  The Depaz agricole is a Tolkien elf running across the snow, and leaves few footprints worthy of remark.

Which is somewhat odd for a spirit that is bottled at 45%: that strength alone would lead you to assume some intensity and heft in the profile.  But nope, not really.  At least not in this one, and it starts right away in the nose.  Unlike some really stellar exemplars of the craft (think Damoiseau 1980 or even the Karukera Millesime 1997) which wafted a cloud of deep, luscious scents into the room as soon as the bottle was cracked, the Depaz seemed thin and reedy as a hungry rice-eating mongrel’s ribs, and like such a pooch’s snarling attack, it was sharp and fast and over way too quick.  There were underlying aromas of grass, crushed cane and rosemary, some subdued hints of apricots, fruits, flowers and sweet bubblegum, followed by faint leather, and the damp musky smell of cheap cigarettes smoked in the midst of a tropical rainforest with high humidity (having done so in the past, I know whereof I speak).  But it was all too little, too sharp, and too scrawny for the schnozz of this reviewer, who openly prefers more aggressive fare.

The taste in the mouth on the other hand elevated the drink quite a bit, and made me check my glass to see if I had confused my samples.  It was stronger and more assertive, very nicely warm without the spiciness of the nose…a bit more body you might say, entering quite cleanly and clearly. Sweet and solidly fruity, it opened with sugars and some oakiness, chopped light fruits (green grapes, white guavas), licorice (odd in a Martinique AOC agricole), bleeding sap from a fresh cut cane stand, green leaves and even a flirt of vanilla and caramel.  The complexity was hinted at but seemed scared to come out and strut its stuff and therefore, while it was discernible, it never quite took centre stage.

I should however remark on the mouthfeel and texture, which wasn’t bad at all, coating the tongue well and warmly, allowing some of those tastes to take on greater prominence after a few minutes.  Here adding some water had to be done with some delicacy, as too much would have shredded an already unaggressive drink, and too little wasn’t enough to release the additional flavours that lay hidden.  The finish was an overall disappointment, by the way – there was a backtaste of cane juice on a cutlass blade (I kid you not – it had both metallic and vegetal notes), some sugar water, vanilla, a little oakiness, too quick and too sharp to appeal to me.

D3S_9095

Depaz hails from the eponymous estate in St. Pierre in Martinique, and is located at the foot of  Mount Pelée  itself: it’s been in existence for over three hundred years, sicne 1651 in fact, when the first governor of Martinique, Jacques Duparquet, created the plantation, and these days bears the AOC mark of terroire-based authenticity. Although the famous eruption of the volcano in 1902 decimated the island, Victor Depaz, who survived, reopened for business in 1917 and it’s been operational ever since.

The company also makes quite a few other rhums: the Rhum Depaz, a full proof 50% beefcake, a blanc variation, the Blue Cane Rhum Agricole (which are all a little down the evolutionary ladder), as well as an XO and the Cuvee Prestige (a little above quality-wise, a lot more price-wise). I’ve heard that the VSOP was made with a single column copper still (and was unfortunately unable to confirm it), aged for seven years in charred oak casks, from cane juice (of course) and without filtering or additives; it is presented in a bottle more reminiscent of wine or champagne, but you have to kind of admire such audacity – it sure sets it apart from the crowd.

Anyway, let’s pull it all together.  I tried this three times to see whether my opinion changed (and it didn’t), but my overall lack of passion should not entirely dissuade you: there were aspects of the rhum that worked well (the palate in particular).  My own predilection for more intricate, stronger and deeper flavours should not be seen as a blanket indictment of any rum that doesn’t conform, or which those persons with a liking for subtler, lighter rums would enjoy. This is where knowing your preferences comes in handy. Lovers of soleras, Bajan, Panamanian or Demerara rums are not likely to swoon here.  Trinis, maybe; Cubans and Jamaicans, quite likely. And people with a penchant for agricoles will probably like it – for the same reasons I couldn’t muster serious enthusiasm, in all likelihood.

Some might consider this to be like a black mongrel’s left leg – it ain’t right, and it ain’t fair – but that’s the way it is. And that’s also as it should be, because if we all agreed on everything, then all of you reading this would want to pilfer all my rums…and be in love with my wife.

Other notes:

In Europe this goes in the €60 range.  My own feeling is that if you can spare the change, go a step or three up the ladder for the Cuvee Prestige, which is a very good rhum indeed, and which I’ll look at in my next review.

 

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating on the above list is 65/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 82.5 points)

 

Jan 082015
 

D3S_9369

A rich, argicole rum of a depth and flavour I savoured for literally hours – it almost qualifies as the perfect comfort drink, and for sure it’s the best sub-10 year old rum I’ve ever tried.

(#196. 75/100)

***

Karukera in Guadeloupe is a distillery for whom I have grown to have a great deal of respect: I was not won over by their Vieux Reserve Speciale, but the 1997 Millesime was something else again, and I often drifted back to it when looking for an agricole baseline, or a control.  On the strength of that positive experience, I decided to step up and shell out for this one, partly because of the strength and partly due to the double maturation moniker, which piqued my interest.

Which is not to say that its presentation didn’t appeal to me also – I’m shallow that way, sometimes.  It may not be a top shelf super-premium rum, true, yet it did its best to raise the bar for any rum that purports to be a cut above the ordinary.  Just look at that wooden box printed with all sorts of interesting details, and the sleek bottle with its cork tip.  All very nice – it looked damned cool on my shelf. And so, my lizard brain having been catered to and placated, off I went into my tasting routine to see whether the implied quality inside the bottle was as interesting as what the outside promised.

D3S_9373D3S_9376

Which it was. Aged for six years in bourbon and then two more in french oak cognac casks, only 2000 or so bottles of honey/amber coloured rum came out at the other end, and mine presented a very interesting aspect, in spite of my having wrestled with mostly full proof pachyderms over the last few months (so 44.6% can almost be considered “standard strength” for me, these days).  Let’s just agree it was…gentler.

 Sleek salt butter, cream cheese and some brininess led right off. To say I was not expecting that would be understating the matter: the rum is made from blue cane grown on the plantation itself, and I was looking for a more standard nose of vegetal notes and some citrus.  But after letting the spirit rest in my glass for a bit, ah, there they were.  Apricots, black grapes, cloves and orange rind sidled shyly forward, to be replaced by hay and freshly mown grass.  There were some spicier oaken aromas at the back end, nothing unpleasant – in fact the whole experience was really quite excellent – a firm mix of salt, sweet, sharp, and pungent smells.

Tasting it was a rewarding experience. It was a medium bodied rum, quite smooth and warm, opening up with white flowers, and soft tanned leather.  As the nose did, some patience rewarded me with mild caramel, smoke, more leather, which in turn morphed easily into mellow tastes of mango, pears, pineapple, cinnamon, cumin, even marzipan and flavoured port-wine cigarillos (used to love those as a young man). And I was also quite impressed with the finish, which lasted quite long, warmly dusting itself off with white guavas, caramel, and half ripe pears. The rum may have caused north of a hundred Euros, but man, it was a pretty awesome drink. My mother and I shared it in her dacha in north Germany on one of the last sunny days of autumn in 2014 as my son ran barefoot on the grass blowing soap bubbles, and it was the perfect accompaniment to a really great afternoon laze-in.

D3S_9371

Karukera continues to be made by the Espérance distillery (founded in 1895) a distillery down by the Marquisat de Saint Marie in Guadeloupe, doesn’t chill filter or add anything to its rums, and proudly wears the AOC designation. I’ve been fortunate to climb the value chain of its products and each one I try raises the bar for its rums. You can be sure I’ll buy others they make in the years to come.

Personally, I’m not sure a rum so warm and friendly, yet also firm and tasty, is suitable for mixing (it was all I could do to see what a few drops of water could do, just to be complete about it) – I know I wouldn’t, on balance.  There’s a remarkable softness and overall quality to the Karukera, which, while excelling at no one thing, came together so sweetly that I honestly can’t imagine what a mix could do to enhance it. The rum is excellent as it is, and whether you like molasses spirits or agricoles (or both), there’s no doubting that here is a rum that sneaks past your defenses, hits the sweet spot of your desire for a good rum, and gives you all the love and comfort you could ever ask for. That alone may be worth all the euros I paid.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame. This one might have scored higher with a heavier body, I think (but that’s just me).
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.


(LC rating is 75/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 87.5 points