Jul 132016
 

 

Richland 1*

By itself with nothing else around, it’ll do just fine as a light and casual sipper. It chips along easy, dances pretty around your palate, and has delicate notes that are quite enjoyable. In conjunction with others, it kinda chokes.

(#282 / 75/100)

***

This review has been sitting, waiting, gathering dust, for many months now, and the bullet, so to speak, had to be bitten. If I had never tasted a raft of rums from around the world the day the Richland crossed my path, I might have liked it a lot more. But what did happen is that my friends and I did a deep field sample of maybe fifteen rums in a six hour session, and this one suffered in comparison. Not so much because it failed in and of itself, but because during that extended sampling exercise, it was compared and contrasted to many other rums…and that really allowed us to get into it in a way that more casual imbibers probably wouldn’t. And sank it to the bottom of my pile.

Richland 2It’s a US entry into the agricole world, distilled from locally grown sugar cane rendered down into “honey” in a copper pot still, aged around four years or so in charred American oak barrels, bottled at 43%, and on that basis it certainly has all the proper boxes ticked. Fascinatingly enough, future plans are to have each bottle  numbered so the exact barrel from which it came is traceable.  I refer you to Dave Russell’s in-depth essay on the rum (which he liked much more than I did), which saves me the trouble of regurgitating it all here. One surprise – are there really no other rum producers in the USA who use a pot still and sugar cane honey in a single pass?  Surprising, but interesting all the same.  Kudos.

Now, nose and taste wise, the rum, a gold one, was pretty good: easy-going, delicate, light and very sweet. Behind a rather surprising rubber opening smell, lurked the florals, a lot of them. It was like being in an airconditioned flower shop just after a delivery came in, redolent of lavender and perfumed soap and shampoo (I guarantee, no other reviewer will mention that), 7-up and bubble gum.  It tiptoed around the nose, and other, equally light notes of sugar water and lemon grass and a little vanilla, coconut, came through.

Sipping it resolved some issues, created others and circled back to the original. The nose did provide the promise of some complexity but the palate didn’t deliver quite as much: it was warm and more basic, and the hint of agricole-profile that might have been expected was not distinctively there.  What indeed it tasted like was an uneasy mixture of bananas, sugar water and air-freshener, mixed with potpourri and cooking herbs (dill and rosemary) and even a stick of licorice. After some time the sweet took a back seat, some tartness of apples and oak took over, caramel and vanilla and smoke became more readily discernible, to dominate the rest of the extended tasting.  And underlying it all, throughout the session from start to finish, that travelling-bag scent refused to go away — although honesty compels me to admit I was the only one who seemed to notice it. Thank God it was faint.  Finish was perfectly serviceable, warm and not too spicy, more rubber, more air freshner, more flowers, more vanilla, more oak…and if that doesn’t sound pleasing, well, it was, quite light and airy and melded reasonably well.

Cutting to the chase, my opinion is that it’s decent, without being particularly spectacular.  The taste is an uneasy marriage of competing individual notes that hearken back to almost different profiles altogether, like a sharp agricole trying to be a Bajan.  Doesn’t really work.  Plus, over a long time, going back to it every half hour or so, the metamorphosis from light and tasty sipping rum into some weird sweet air-freshener-like liquid also sank it for me.  It may be a batch thing, since this is a pot still, small batch artisinal rum, and some variations of quality are to be expected.

Comparison might be the key here. Taste it alone, you’re fine.  You’ll like it, as long as light-bodied, unaggressive tamped-down 40% agricoles are your thing. Try it as part of an extended range of good rums, let the thing stand and aerate for a while, put aside any preconceived notions and you’d be surprised how much changes in both the rum, and your estimation of it.  In my case, that wasn’t for the better. 

 

Jul 072016
 

Neisson XO 1

Trying the last of the four Neisson I bought in 2014-2015 made me happy I saved it for last, because it was, I felt, the best of them all.

(#284 / 87.5/100)

***

“The race does not always go the swift, nor the battle to the strong,” goes that old aphorism; to which some wag added “…but that’s the way to bet.” I feel the same way about older rhums versus younger ones – the best score doesn’t always go to the oldest (the Trois Rivieres 1975 and 1986 are proof of that), it’s just that more often than not that actually is the case.  As it is, here, with Neisson’s excellent XO, one of the really delicious sipping rhums from the domaine Thieubert on Martinique.

The Neisson XO 3me Millesime was begun in 1999 to mark the entry into the third Millenium, and is pretty much Neisson’s top of the line rhum, limited to two thousand bottles a year.  It is a blend of Neisson’s ten best barrels of any given year which already underwent a minimum of six years’ ageing prior to assembly, and one blended, aged for at least another six years (I have seen posts dating back from 2007 suggesting fifteen years total). And unlike the rectangular round-edged standards of editions further down the price ladder, here the company provided an etched decanter with a glass stopper, gold leaf printing, all looking very spiffy.

Neisson XO 2I’ve remarked before on that odd oily tequila-like note I sensed on all the Neissons (e.g  the 2005, Tatanka and Extra Vieux).  In this instance it had been dialled way down from even the 2005 edition, and began with rubber and overripe fruit mixed up with acetone and brine (the last gasp of a tamed post still, maybe?).  It was smooth, heavy, easy, just a little spicy (45%, very well handled).  As I went between it and all its siblings I got back to it ten minutes later to find it had developed really well – pears, red roses (not too overpowering or over-dominant), a few apples just beginning to go, and orange juice, all leavened by a shy shade of coconut. It was a really very nicely assembled nosing rhum…I could have gotten lost in it.

It was on the palate that the gold-brown AOC rhum really shone, though.  The texture and mouthfeel were extraordinarily well-balanced, neither too hot nor too reticent, smooth and just heavy enough, as rounded as John Cena’s biceps.  None of that overripe fruit or rubber/acetone flavours carried over from the nose – instead, what I got was a kind of perfumed teriyaki, salt and sweet, backed up with florals and a cornucopia of light fruits – Indian mangoes, kiwi fruit, white guavas, a little Lebanese grapes, bananas, coconut, cocoa, brown sugar and vanilla, all tied up in a bow with a flirt of light acidity carrying over from some orange or ripe lemon peel.  If the finish was not as complex as the taste (the palate really was the best part about the whole experience), well, at least it was long for a 45% rhum, and provided me with closing hints of white sugar soaked in lemon juice, reminding me of all the times I dosed my stepmother with that exact mixture when she had a bad cold.

If I had to make some criticisms, it would be to say the nose isn’t entirely up to the excellence of the taste, though even with its relatively subdued nature (relative to the other Neissons) it’s damned good.  And the finish, aromatic as it might be, could have been beefed up some.  But really, these are minor quibbles in a rhum that is all-round yummy and does its company and younger brothers no dishonour at all.  While not everyone is into agricoles – Lord knows it took me long enough to learn to appreciate them – if you can get a sample of this XO, by all means give it a shot.  Different it may be. Tasty it definitely is. Deficient? Absolutely not. It is the best of the Neissons I’ve tried so far.

Jun 122016
 

Damoiseau 1989-2

The 1980 Damoiseau was no fluke, as this 1989 forcefully demonstrates.

(#278 / 88/100)

***

Last week I wrote about the Longueteau Grande Reserve which I tasted in tandem with this excellent Damoiseau (and five or six others), and wow, did this one ever stand out. At the risk of offending that actually rather pleasant and inoffensive Grande Reserve, I think the Damoiseau shows what it could have been with some egging on.  (Actually, this is what the Pyrat’s XO could have been had they ever found their cojones, lost the oranges and dialled the whole thing up to “12”, but never mind).

Because frankly, I believe that the dark orange 58.4% twenty year old beefcake is one of the better rhums to come out of Guadeloupe – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, there are few, if any, missteps of any kind (unless you count the paucity of any single sterling point of achievement as a misstep) — there’s so much that’s right with it, that it seems almost churlish to point out where it fails to ascend to the heights of brilliance achieved by, oh, the Chantal Comte 1980 or even its own 1980 older brother.

Dsmoiseau 1989-1

Consider first the smell of the thing: it was amazingly full bodied, with a charging, yelling, joyous nose – if Braveheart ever visited Guadeloupe, it’s this he would have been drinking and all the Scots would be speaking creole and we’d never have heard of that obscure Hebridean tipple.  Candied light oranges started the revels off (here’s where my reference to the Pyrat’s came in – observe the tact with which the citrus was presented here versus the overripe nonsense Patron has been selling).  Peaches, apricots, and brown sugar soaked in lime juice, which sounds a little loopy until you actually taste it. And after letting the rhum open up a bit and settle down, lovely aromas of honey, licorice and sweet soya came forward to lend piquancy and heft to the experience.

Damoiseau 1989There were fond memories of other agricoles issued at cask strength in my tasting, and  I felt no particular amped-up over-aggressive heat  from the 58.4% ABV at which it was bottled. The sharpness burned off in no time, leaving a warm solidity of the honey and soya to carry forward from the nose.  And then it was like slow fireworks going off – strongly heated black tea, coffee, chocolate, earthy, waxy and citrus notes detonated on the tongue in solemn grandeur.  Some fleshy fruits (more apricots and peaches), lemon zest and yes, those candied oranges were back again for an encore, dancing around the backbone of the other, firmer notes. The control of the oak, by the way, was pretty good, and in no way intrusive – at most there was some background of vanilla and vague tannins, and even that was in no way offensive or overbearing.

I was looking for the herbal and grassy profile of a true agricole, and must confess there were just about none.  It was just a really well-constructed panoply of tastes both strong and subtle, leading into a slow, warm finish as post-coital languor in a courtesan’s boudoir – you almost want to break out the newspapers and some shag for your pipe as you enjoy long, pleasant closing notes of coffee, orange peel, and bitter black chocolate.  What a lovely piece of work indeed.

As I’ve observed before, I have a slight, sneaking preference for Guadeloupe agricoles over Martinique ones (though both are good, of course – it’s like asking me who I love more,  Little Caner (my fast-growing cheeky son) or Canerette (my just-graduated, far-too-clever daughter)…a pointless exercise since both have aspects of real distinction which get equal adoration from their papa).  I must simply sum up by stating that the way traditional, classic agricole components in this rum have been melded with something that is almost, but not quite, a molasses product, is masterful. This, for its price, is a rum to treasure.

 

Other notes:

  • Distilled April 1989, bottled January 2010, so, a whisker under 21 years old
  • Tasted in Paris in 2016, courtesy of Christian de Montaguère and Jerry Gitany.  I bought seventeen rums and tasted a raft more, which we all thought was fair.  Merci beaucoup, mes amis.
  • Nope, I never managed to acquire the Velier Damoiseau 1989 for a comparison.  But now I really want to.
  • €100 for this?  Great value for money. BUT….In an odd (but not entirely uncommon) coincidence, Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun wrote about this rhum this same week.  He rated it at 78, remarking on its ‘indefinite’ character.  So balance his review with my more enthusiastic one.  If you can, try it yourself before buying.
Jun 072016
 

Long

Strong beginning, fine development, chokes on the backstretch

(#277 / 85/100)

***

There are many things about agricoles that I slowly learned to appreciate: the clear profiles, the subtleties of their ageing, the differences and similarities with the molasses based rums that some almost indifferently dismiss as ‘industrials.’ So far I seem to be leaning more towards Guadeloupe rhums than those from Martinique, and while the Grande Reserve I sampled in Paris in April 2016 wasn’t one of the shining stars of the firmament, it wasn’t all that bad either and I had several hours to come to grips with it properly

Longueteau distillery has been around since the end of the 19th century, and is located in Domaine Espérance Belair, Sainte-Marie (on a SE corner of Basse-Terre) – it produces the Karukera and Longueteau lines.  Originally the whole estate was part of the the property of the Marquis de Sainte Marie, but the poor chap dedicated himself somewhat excessively to the pleasures of the nobility that came with his station – wine, women and gambling, all the expected high points — and was forced to sell out to Henri Longueteau in 1895 to cover his debts. The notary handling the sale, so local legend has it, passed it to Henri on trust, since that worthy didn’t have enough money either, and that faith seems to have paid of handsomely. Four generations of the family have kept the estate going ever since.

Longueteau-2This dark orange-gold ten year old began well on the nose: phenols, acetone, caramel, sweet red licorice, wet cardboard, it gave a good impression of some pot still action going on here, even though it was a column still product. Then there was some fanta or coke — some kind of soda pop at any rate, which I thought odd. Then cherries and citrus zest notes, blooming slowly into black olives, coffee, nuttiness and light vanilla.  As a whole, the experience was somewhat easy due to its softness, but overall it was too well constructed for me to dismiss it out of hand as thin or weak.

That thin note of acetone and nail polish remover came and went as fast as a man through the window of his paramour’s house  when the husband comes through the door.  Thick and almost full bodied, warm, welcoming, non-aggressive.  Herbal and grassy notes, much less prevalent than in a true agricole (or a white) and I got the impression, right or wrong, as I do with many Guadeloupe rums, that this was a molasses based rhum (which it isn’t).  With water there was more fanta and soda pop, bubble gum, plums and prunes.  Certainly fruit, without the tartness of unripe mangies but something more subdued, like ripe black cherries and soft apricots, and some of that watery soggniess of watermelon just starting to go. But hey, I liked it, and to be able to pick out that much from a living room strength rum is no small achievement — maybe it was the cognac barrels in which it had been aged. The finish was more problematic – short, nutty, giving up hints of salty caramel.  The fruity notes were there but just, I dunno, evaporated.  Nice enough, just the weakest part of the whole experience, which was a shame after noting how well it all started.

So where does that leave me?  Feeling pretty good, all in all, because it is a very well assembled rhum, with few faults except a certain lack of heft, and the finish which seemed in a hurry to either get me to put the glass down, or to refill it.  It shared many points of kinship with another rhum I had that day, the Damoiseau 1989 20 Year Old (which was better).  Part of the issue might be the 42%.  Perhaps it was filtered, I don’t know.  For your average Tom, Dick or Harrilall it would work pretty well, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to start working his way around to the French islands’ products, without hesitation.  It’s a very good rhum for that — even if for me, it’s not one to add to my pantheon of great rums.

Other notes

Distilled Mar 2004, bottled April 2014

LOngueteau-3

May 182016
 

Nine Leaves French 2

A love note to the concept of kaizen

(#274 / 84.5/100)

***

It’s an old joke of mine that Nine Leaves’ staff consists of  a master blender, office assistant, purchasing agent, bottler, General Manager, brand ambassador and sales office, and still only has one employee.  This was and remains Mr. Yoshiharu Takeuchi, who single-handedly runs his company in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan, and basically issues some very young rums (none are older than six months) on to the world market. The unaged whites in particular are getting all sorts of acclaim, and I have one to write about in the near future.

Back in December 2014 I wrote about the six-month-aged 2014 French Oak, which I thought intriguing and pleasant to drink, though still a bit raw and having some issues in the way the flavours blended together.  Running into Mr. Takeuchi again a year later, I made it a point to try that year’s production, the The American Oak “Spring 2015” and this “Autumn 2015” … and can happily report that Nine Leaves, in its slow, patient, incremental way, is getting better all the time (and as a probably unintended side-effect, has made me buy a few more Japanese rums from other companies just to see how they stack up).

Just a brief recap: the rum was distilled in a Forsythe copper pot still, double distilled, using sugar cane juice from cane grown in Okinawa, so the rum is an agricole in all but name. Mr. Takeuchi himself decides when and how to make the cuts so that the heart component is exactly what he wants it to be. The rums are then aged for six months in the noted barrels, which are all new, and lightly toasted, according to a note Mr. Takeuchi sent me..

Nine Leaves French 1The French Oak “Autumn 2015” rum was a bit lighter in hue than the American Oak version I tried alongside it, and also a little easier on the nose…and smoother, even rounder to smell, in spite of its 48% strength. There was a subtly increased overall depth here that impressed – though admittedly you kinda have to try these side by side to see where I’m coming from.  Aromas of fanta, orange, cinnamon, vanilla were clear and distinct, as clean and clear as freshly chiselled engravings, and after a while, sly herbal and grassy notes began to emerge…but so little that one could be forgiven for forgetting this was an agricole at all. This was something I have enjoyed about Nine Leaves’s rums, that sense of simultaneous delicacy and heft, and the coy flirtation between molasses and agricole profiles, while tacking inobtrusively to the latter. 

The profile on the palate continued on with that subtle dichotomy – it was slightly sweet and quite crisp, beginning with some wax and floor polish background, well controlled. Sugary, grassy tastes of cane juice, swank, vanilla, some oak, dill and incense led off, and while it displayed somewhat more sharpness and a little less body than the roundness of the nose had initially suggested, further softer notes of watermelon, cucumbers and pears helped make the experience a bearable one. As with the American, there was a chirpy sort of medium-long finish, as the rum exited with dry, bright, clean flavours of citrus, breakfast spices, some cinnamon and maybe a touch more of vanilla. It was clearly a young rum, a little rambunctious, a little playful, but overall, extremely well behaved.  I sure can’t tell you which agricole is exactly like it – Nine Leaves inhabits a space in the rum world uniquely its own, while never losing sight of its rummy antecedents.  That’s always been a part of its charm, and remains a core company competence.

Clearly Nine Leaves is slowly, patiently improving on its stable of offerings. I spent a few hours checking for news that the company intends to issue progressively more aged rums without result – it seems that the current idea is to continue with gradually improving the young rums that area their bread and butter (though I know that Yoshi has a few barrels of the good stuff squirrelled away in his warehouse someplace that he isn’t telling us about, and will issue a two year old American oak rum as a limited edition at some point).  I can’t fault the concept, and if a new distiller can make rums this decent, and improve a little bit every year, you can just imagine what they’ll be putting out the door within the decade. Until then, we could do a lot worse than try one of these lovely seasonal issues Nine Leaves makes.

Kampei!

Other notes

  • Because of some obscure tax regulations in Japan regarding spirits three years old, Nine Leaves is unlikely to issue really aged rums for the foreseeable future
  • The French Oak cask rums are now no longer being produced.
May 152016
 

D3S_3819

There are few (if any) weaknesses here: conversely, not many stellar individual components either.  It’s just an all-round solidly assembled product that missed being greater by a whisker.

(#273 / 86/100)

***

So here we are, gradually inching up the scale of the Neissons, with a rum I felt was slightly better than the Tatanka I looked at some weeks ago.  Now, that one had a bright, colourful label to catch the eye (Cyril from DuRhum did a review of the lineup, here), and yet appearance aside, this one was, in my estimation, a smidgen better. It’s a subtle kind of thing, having to do with texture, taste, aroma and a quiet kind of X-factor that can’t be quite precisely quantified, merely sensed and noted.  But yes, I felt it was better.  In fact, it was the second best of the raft of Neissons I tried in tandem, and only the XO exceeded it.

Issued at a sturdy if uninspiring 43%, the Neisson Rhum Agricole Vieux 2005 is a nine year old rhum, an amber-red liquid sloshing around the standard slope-shouldered rectangular bottle which came in a sturdy, nicely done cardboard box. As with all Neisson products, it was AOC certified, self-evidently and agricole, and like its siblings up and down the ladder, had its own take on the way a rhum should be put together.

D3S_3822I speak of course of that oily, sweet salt tequila note that I’ve noted on all Neissons so far.  What made this one a standout in its own way was the manner in which that portion of the profile was dialled down and restrained on the nose – the 43% made it an easy sniff, rich and warm, redolent of apples, pears,and watermelons…and that was just the beginning.  As the rhum opened up, the fleshier fruits came forward (apricots, ripe red cherries, pears, papayas, rosemary, fennel, attar of roses) and I noted with some surprise the way more traditional herbal and grassy sugar cane sap notes really took a backseat – it didn’t make it a bad rhum in any way, just a different one, somewhat at right angles to what one might have expected.

I had few complaints about the way it tasted.  Again the strength made it an easy sipping experience, very smooth and warm and oily.  One thing that I always look for in a rhum is points of difference and originality, a divergence between smell and taste, for example, and the way one blends seamlessly into the other, with some elements disappearing, new ones appearing, and the way they dance together over time — the Neisson 2005 was very nice on that score, presenting as dry, yet also luscious, and just sweet enough.  In fact, that teriyaki style profile had almost totally been subsumed into a tangy, tart texture wound about with half-ripe yellow mangoes, lemon peel, the creaminess of salt butter on dark peasant bread, more fruits, nuts, florals, and some white guavas.  And all of that segued pleasantly into a medium length, velvety fade that gave up last notes of peaches, pecans, and more of that tartness I enjoyed.

There’s very little I disliked here – the texture might have been better, the strength might have been greater (Rhum Rhum Liberation 2012 Integrale did the job exceedingly well, for example though the Neisson really felt thicker to me in comparison).  Nothing major. What it did not do was excite any real passion aside from a rather clinical series of observations on my voluminous notes, like “Good!” and “Nice!” and “Tastes of…” and “Balance well handled” and so on.  I liked it and I would recommend it to you, no sweat, and my essay here provides all the technical notes one might require for an evaluation of its merits.

D3S_3821But I also didn’t get much in the way of wonder, of amazement, of excitement…something that would enthuse me so much that I couldn’t wait to write this and share my discovery.  That doesn’t make it a bad rhum at all (as stated, I thought it was damned good on its own merits, and my score reflects that)…on the other hand, it hardly makes you drop the wife off to her favourite sale and rush out to the nearest shop, now, does it?

Other notes

290 bottle outturn

Cyril wrote a much more positive 92-point review of the same rhum (in French), so you can compare his point of view and mine.

May 112016
 

D3S_3667

A wonderfully sippable AOC agricole from J.M. in Martinique

(#272 / 86.5/100)

***

The unquantifiable quality of the J.M. 1995 Très Vieux 15 Year Old has stayed with me ever since I first tried it.  Some aspects of the rhum did not entirely succeed, but I could never entirely rid my memory of its overall worth, and so deliberately sought out others from the stable of the company to see if the experience was a unique one.  And I am happy to report that the Millesime 2002 10 year old is a sterling product in its own way, and perhaps slightly exceeds the 1995…though with such a small difference in scores, you could just as easily say they are both excellent in their own ways and let it go at that.  

For all the enthusiasm of the above paragraph, it should be noted that sampled side by side, the two rhums are actually quite distinct products, each good in their own way, but not to be confused with one another.  Consider first the aromas hailing from this 46.3% orange gold rhum – they presented as quite fruity and aromatic, quite rounded and mellow, not always a characteristic of agricoles. As it opened up over the minute, flavours of cherries, red grapes, herbals, dill, sugar cane and grass rose gently out of it….and, if you can believe it, a sort of weird and persistent bubble-gum and Fanta melange that took me somewhat unawares, though not unpleasant by any means.

On the palate the texture was phenomenal, smooth and warm and assertive all at once.  There was little of the aridity of the 1995: it presented a sort of restrained spiciness to the senses; some vanilla and tannins were discernible, but very well controlled and held way back so as not to unduly influence what was a very well balanced drink. 46.3% was a good strength here, and allowed firm traditional vegetal and grassy notes to take their place, before gradually being replaced – but not overwhelmed – by citrus zest (that was the Fanta doing a bait-and-switch, maybe), mint, cucumbers, watermelon, papaya and rich, ripe white pears.  And then there was more…rye bread, salt butter, very delicate notes of coffee and chocolate…just yummy. It was an enormously well assembled rhum, luscious to taste and with walked a fine line between Jack Sprat and his wife…one could say it was like the last thing Goldilocks tried, being just right.  Some of the dry profile I had previously sensed on the 1995 was evident on the finish, but again, nothing overwhelming – it was warm and aromatic with light tangerines, spearmint gum, more ripe cherries and those delectable grapes I had noted before.  All in all, just a great sipping agricole, with similarities to the Karukera 2004, la Favorite Cuvée Privilège and maybe, if I stretched, even Damoiseau’s products.

D3S_3668

J.M. is located in northern Martinique at the foot of Mount Pele, and I’ve written a company summary in my review of the 1995, if you’re interested.  One fact that came to my attention afterwards was that JM char the inside of their barrels by setting fire to some high proof rum distillate, and then scraping the char off, which may have something to do with the fruity character of the aged rhums they put out.  The rhum itself was distilled on a creole copper pot still to 72% before being set to age and then diluted to “drinking strength.”  I wonder what would happen if they ever decided to take a chance and leave it cask strength.

Most people I speak to about agricoles, especially those who have tried just a few (or none), comment in a way that suggests they are considered pretty much all the same — grassy, herbal, watery, a trifle sweet maybe, and (horrors!) more expensive. A lot of this is true, but after having tried the marvellous variety of rhums from Martinique and Guadeloupe, the sharp industrial chrome of the whites versus softer aged products, I can say with some assurance that there is an equally dazzling variety within cane juice rhums as there is in the molasses based products. And this is one reason why in the last year I’ve really tried to write about as many of them as I could lay hands on. Trying the JM 2002 with its complex, layered and warm profile makes me glad the adventure still has some kinks in the road, and that I began it in the first place.

Other

  • Aged in Limousin oak
May 042016
 

Mana'o 1

Cool stoicism and subdued power, all in one rhum.

(#270. 84/100)

***

Standard “table” white rums have always been around, and perhaps appeal more to those mix them into gentle cocktails and go on to play Doom II  on “Please Don’t Hurt Me” difficulty.  In the main, the best known ones were — and are — filtered, light mixing agents which made to adhere to a philosophy best described as “We aim not to piss you off.” They excite a “ho-hum” rather than a “wtf?”

Not so the current crop of clear, unaged rums which have been making  an increasing splash in our small world and driving cocktail makers and barflies into transports of ecstasy.  They are more aggressive spirits in every way, often coming from pot-stills, with strong, assertive tastes that as often frighten as enthuse, and are admittedly tough to love.  French Island white agricoles, Cachacas (and clairins) are embodiments of this trend, which doesn’t stop other various makers from issuing variations from Jamaica, Guyana or Barbados (like the DDL High Wine, or Rum Nation’s Jamaican 57%, for example).

A new rhum aiming to break into this market reared its head in the 2016 Paris RhumFest – a product from, of all places, Tahiti, not the first country you would be thinking of as a bastion of the spirit.  The rhum was launched by Brasserie du Pacifique in late 2015, has a sleek looking website short on details, and when I drifted by Christian’s place in Paris a week or two back, he and Jerry Gitany insisted I try it. It aimed, I suspect, to straddle the mid-point of the white market – it was not so unique as the clairins, and not so filtered-to-nothing as the Lambs or Bacardis of the world.  In pursuing this philosophy, they’re channelling the French islands’ agricoles, carving themselves out a very nice niche for those who have a thing for such rums but would prefer less roughness and adventurousness than the clairins provide so enthusiastically.

Mana'o 2

Coming from first press sugar cane grown on the island of Taha’a (NW of Tahiti), it is made from a pot still (see my notes below), and presented itself as quite an interesting rhum. When gingerly smelled for the first time (at 50%, some caution is, as always, in order), you could see it had been toned down some – sure there were the usual wax and floor polish and rubber-turpentine leaders, they simply weren’t as potent as others I’ve tried. Vegetal, grassy, watery scents hung around the background, it was slightly more salt than sweet, and presented an intriguingly creamy nasal profile…something like a good brie and (get this) unsweetened yoghurt with some very delicate citrus peel.  

To taste it was, at the beginning, very robust, almost full bodied.  Just short of hot; and dry, dusty vegetals and hay danced across the palate immediately, accompanied by sweet sherbet and mint ice cream notes.  And that wax and polish stuff I smelled?  Gone like yesterday’s news.  As it opened up and water was added,it became very much more like a traditional agricole, with watery elements – sugar cane sap, white guavas, pears, cucumber, dill, watermelon – getting most of the attention, and lighter herbal and grassy tastes taking something of a back seat.  I said it started robustly, but in truth, after a while, it settled down and became almost light – it was certainly quite crisp and pleasant to drink, with or without water.  The fade was pretty good, long and lasting, salty and sweet at the same time, with some last hints of lemongrass, crushed dill, faint mint and olives finishing things off.

This was a well-behaved drink on all fronts, I thought.  It’s not terribly original, and my personal preferences in such whites run closer to more untamed, barking mad clairins and the higher-proofed French agricoles — but you could easily regard this as a decent introduction to the white stuff if you wanted more than a standard table tipple, but less than the deep pot still pungency coming out of Haiti. Sometimes we focus so hard on the Caribbean that we lose sight of new companies from other countries who are shaking things up in the rumworld and producing some pretty cool rums.  This looks be one of those, and I doubt you’d be displeased if you bought it.

Other notes

The website makes mention of the use of a “discontinuous pot still”. As far as I am aware, the term arose from a bad translation of the Spanish “alembique descontínuo” which is simply a pot still by another name.

It is unclear whether the Tahitian company Ava Tea, supposedly the oldest distillery in Tahiti, is directly involved in the making of this rhum, or just lent some technical expertise (and the pot still).

Mana’o means “to think” or “to remember” in Polynesian languages (including Hawaiian), and has many subtler shades of meaning. It’s probably a sly reminder that sugar cane originated in Asia.

rum-manao-rhum-blanc-051

Mar 302016
 

D3S_3715

One of the best five year old rhums ever made, and a showcase for the wonderful directions the profile of a rhum can take.

(#264 / 89/100)

***

If I was underwhelmed by the “standard” 45% 2012 Liberation, and shrugged at the 2010 version (both rated around low eighties scores), let me assure you that the 2012 “Integrale”, bottled at a mouth watering 59.8%, is a beast of an entirely different colour. If your sojourn into agricoles ever takes you to Guadeloupe rhums, you could do a lot worse than stop a while at Marie Galante, where Gianni Capovilla makes his home. Because this five year old blasts even its own siblings right out of the water.

The bottle and its cardboard enclosure – which boast the picture of a lobster and other creepy crawlies in a reference I’m sure I’m not  clever enough to understand – make no notes on the age statement, but running around the internet assures me it’s a five year old (as if the title didn’t already suggest it), aged in white oak barrels that once held sauternes white wine…Chateau d’Yquem from the domaine of Leflaive for those of you who are interested in such things.  The rhum derived from undiluted cane juice fermented for around ten days, which is quite a long time, relatively speaking – most distillers don’t ferment for more than five days, and many for less.  Double distillation took place in Bielle as part of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla and Luca Gargano (a new distillery was built right next to Bielle with sugar coming from there), using small copper pot stills before being set to age. And of course, it was utterly unmessed with – no sugar, no dilution, no additives of any kind.

Because Guadeloupe has never sought the AOC certification, they seem to feel a childlike enthusiasm for going in any direction they feel inclined to on any particular day.  Here that succeeded swimmingly.  The nose presented an amazingly strong, fruity and clean profile right off the bat…plums and rich elderberries (of the kind Mrs. Caner doses me with every time I get a cold), crisp apples and pears, very little citrus of any kind, grassy and vegetal and almost perfumed.  Very mildly heavy, well balanced to the senses. To say I was impressed might be understating matters: it was something like  a slinky black cocktail dress mixed up with a Viennese ball gown, leavened with a helicopter gunship in full combat mode: three parts sensuality, two parts aggro and one of prurient decorum. Right out of the gate, this rhum was simply ludicrous: nothing this young should be this good.  And while it was younger than the Compagnie des Indes Guadeloupe, it was rounder, fruitier and more complex…in point of fact, it reminded me more of the J.M. 1995 which was three times older.

D3S_3718This amazing mix of class and sleaze and style continued without missing a beat when I tasted it.  Sure, 59.8% was something of a hammer to the glottis but man, it was so well assembled that it actually felt softer than it really was: I tried the Liberation on and off over four days, and every time I added more stuff to my tasting notes, becoming more impressed each time. The dark gold rhum started the party rolling with plums, peaches and unripe apricots, which provided a firm bedrock that flawlessly supported sharper tangerines and passion fruit and pomegranates.  As it opened up (and with water), further notes of vanilla and mild salted caramel came to the fore, held together by breakfast spices and a very good heat that was almost, but not quite, sharp – one could barely tell how strong the drink truly was, because it ran across the tongue so well.  

The fade was similarly impressive, lasting as long as the wait of an errant child for a father’s inevitable punishment: here the soft, firm roundness of the taste gave way to something drier and more assertive, yet this was not unpleasant by any stretch, and gave me final gifts of lemongrass, light brine, teriyaki, and more of those prunes, well dialled back.  In fine, a wonderful rhum all ‘round, and for its price, I think it’s a steal, five years old or not.  It adheres to all the style markers of the French West Indies, and then goes just a little bit further.

It’s just about impossible to get away from Velier and Mr. Gargano these days.  This is not to take anything away from Gianni Capovilla, by the way, because he’s the architect who understood and built on the dream that Luca espoused with this remarkable agricole rhum and so real credit is due to him also. But think about it: a decade ago just about nobody outside Italy ever heard of Velier or Luca, and yet today you can’t get into a discussion of pure rhums without his name popping up. 

That may be the key to why he has become so synonymous with pure rhums.  It’s not that he makes anything, produces anything, or distils anything.  What he does is choose.  He chooses the best of what’s out there in service to his personal values and and ideals, collaborates with the roneros and producers to share that vision…and then he brings the results to the attention of the world.  More, he articulates what is possible for everyone else.  Not all of his work succeeds, of course, but much of it does.  

And as we followed the man’s outturn through the years, we all saw the signposts: markers on the road of rhum discovery,  making our own sojourn that much more exciting, that much more interesting.  Offhand, I think of the dead serious Skeldon 1973 and PM 1974, the dour Caronis, the fine depth of the Damoiseau 1980, joined by the ribald insouciance of the Clairins…and now, by this lovely exemplar of Capovilla’s art.  I think I’ll linger here for a while, if you don’t mind, just to savour it some more.

Other notes

  • Outturn 1420 bottles
  • The “Liberation’ in the name refers to the liberation of the spirit from the barrels, and according to Cyril of DuRhum, the “Integrale” means “fullproof”.
Mar 242016
 

D3S_3795

A youngish agricole with slightly loopy tastes that makes one intrigued enough to take another sip….and another two or three after that.

(#263 / 83.5/100)

***

Cheap tinfoil cap aside, this may truly be one of the most original and striking bottle labels I’ve ever seen.  Painted right on, colourful, bright, lovely, and if I was still scoring such things, it would be tempting to add an extra point or two just to show how much it appeals.  The bottle shape was the same as the Extra Vieux I wrote about some months back, but man, the design was as jazzed up as the Tokyo downtown at rush hour, and it’s not alone: there are others in the company lineup sporting this kind of chirpy west indian vibe — Le Corsaire, Le Carbet, Le Galion, L’Amarreuse, and La Distilerie — all appear to be special editions of one kind or another.

This rhum was one of four Neissons I tried alongside each other (the Extra Vieux, the Vieux and the Cuvee 3me Millesime were the others), with two Rhum Rhum Liberations and a CDI Guadeloupe as additional controls; what struck me more than anything else about them was the overall consistency the Neissons shared.  And here’s the thing: though (barely) recognizable as an agricole, the rhum didn’t seem to be entirely sure it wanted to be one, something I already noted with the previous iteration.

D3S_3798Okay, I jest a little, but consider the nose on the 46% orange-gold spirit.  It displayed that same spicy, musky and almost meaty scent of salt butter and olives and tequila doing some bodacious ragtime, sweat and stale eau-de-vie going off in all directions.  It was thick and warm to smell, mellowing out into more fleshy, overripe (almost going bad) mangoes and papayas and pineapples, just not so sweet.  Spices, maybe cardamon, and some wet coffee grounds. At the back end, after a while, it was possible to detect the leather and smoke and slight bitter whisper of some wood tannins hinting at some unspecified ageing, but where was the crisp, clear aroma of an agricole? The grasses and herbaceous lightness that so characterizes the style?  I honestly couldn’t smell it clearly, could barely sense it – so, points for originality, not so much for recognition (though admittedly, that was just me, and your own mileage may vary; mon ami Cyril of DuRhum, for example, is probably shaking his head in disgust, since I know he likes these a lot…it was a conversation we had last year on the subject of Neisson agricoles that made me run out and buy it for us).

D3S_3797Still, there was little to find fault with once I actually got around to tasting the medium-going-on-heavy rhum.  Once one got past the briny, slightly bitter initial profile, things warmed up, and it got interesting in a hurry. Green olives, peppers, some spice and bite, sure, but there was softer stuff coiling underneath too: peaches, apricots, overripe cherries (on the verge of going bad); salt beef and butter again (the concommitant creaminess was quite appealing), and I dunno, a chutney of some kind, stuffed with dill and sage.  Like I said, really interesting – it was quite a unique taste profile. And the finish followed along from there – soft and warm and lasting, with sweet and salt and dusty hay mixing well – I am not reaching when I say it reminded me of the mingled dusty scents of a small cornershop in Guyana, where jars of sweets and medicines and noodles and dried veggies were on open display, and my brother and I would go to buy nibbles and maybe try to sneak into the pool hall next door.

Anyway, clearing away the cutlery: the Tatanka “Le Coupeur” is a limited edition, like all the other similarly designed products Neisson put out (it was distilled in 2010), and had an outturn of a mere 120 bottles, which explains something of the price differential with more standard rhums made by the company.  Aged in a single 190 liter bourbon barrel, Le Coupeur had a fascinating aroma, original taste, and is absolutely a rhum to experience when there is time on one’s hands.  I felt there was not that much difference between this rhum and the Extra Vieux, and my delight at its appearance aside, that one appealed a smidgen more. It’s a subtle kind of thing, having to do with texture, complexity, the way the tastes sidled up, had their moment and then crept away. There’s a great rhum in here someplace, and while it showcased potential more than true over-the-top quality, I’d suggest you can still take it to your best friend’s house for a special occasion without shame, because trust me, this is a five-year old that might just set his johnson on fire.

Other notes

  • Exclusive bottling for La Maison du Whisky
  • Age is unknown but given I bought mine in early 2015, it isn’t more than a five year old
  • Some background to the company is given in the write up of the Extra Vieux
  • This is an AOC rhum, conforming to all the regs required by the designation
  • Some have noted it is a whisky-like rhum, but I think it’s actually closer to a rhum-like tequila.
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