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.
Feb 102016
 

D3S_3799

A fascinating introduction into the twists and turns an agricole rhum profile can take

(#255. 84/100)

***

To the extent that agricoles have their own flavour profile, they haven’t surprised me much yet.  My tastes were formed by products from Clemente, Rum Nation, Damoiseau, Depaz, J. Bally, Trois Rivieres and others, and there were always those herbal and grassy notes to them and displayed similar general characteristics. That was until I ran through four Neissons one after the other…and was forced to conclude that agricoles can be just as fascinating and unusual as any other sugar cane drink.  Seriously – Neisson may make some of the most distinctive agricole rhums I’ve ever tried. They’re demonstrably cane juice rums, sure…but then they happily head off into undiscovered country.

The Extra Vieux, which in the absence of better information I’m tentatively saying is 6-10 years old was bottled at 45% and was an amber-brown, which I tried with its siblings from the same company, and then added a Rhum Rhum Liberation and a CDI Guadeloupe 16 YO…just to be sure.

Follow me through the tasting and let me describe what I tried. The divergence from the norm began with the scents it gave off when poured.  Neither overly sweetly scented or too deep in profile, it was had solid fruity credentials, and had some of the muskiness I usually associated with tequila, combining that with the meatiness of salt beef.  So already, some interesting digressions. The rhum’s aromas went away surprisingly swiftly, so re-sniffing was in order, and it was a little less tamed, a little more raw than one would expect.  Once it opened up some more, it also manifested a certain lack of snap and crispness I sometimes associate with younger agricoles, yet one could not entirely fault the result, which was thick and creamy, very well rounded (perhaps I never quite understood the term before now), mixing in coconut shavings, butter and a nice Philadelphia.  Another odd thing was the absence of clearly identifiable grassy notes – others might disagree, but I hardly smelled any vegetals or herbaceous elements at all.

The palate continued in this provocative vein: it was warm, displaying characteristics of fleshy fruit rather than the cleanliness of freshly mown lemon-grass (though some of that crept through, now).  In a way it was quite winey, with tastes of sauternes, vanilla and sour cream mixed in with a fruit salad that had a few too many red grapes and currants.  Yet the smoothness and heft to the mouthfeel, the overall texture, were quite good, once I got past a set of divergent tastes and just went along for the ride without projecting my own expectations or preconceived notions on the thing. The fade was perhaps the most traditional thing about this rhum, being short and lush (not dry at all); sweetish, closing with scents of nuts, red grapes, butter (again)…and, weirdly enough, caramel (what was that doing here?).

D3S_3800

Neisson has existed in Martinique since 1922 when the Neisson family started the plantation (the distillery was started in 1931). Nowadays it is run by the son and daughter of the founder, and they hold almost 9000 acres of cane under cultivation close by Le Carbet in northwestern Martinique (Depaz is up the road, and Dillon a little further south east of it).  Cane is not burnt as it is in Guyana prior to harvesting, and the cane is crushed in a steam engine driven crusher.  Fermentation takes about three days before being distilled in a single column copper Savalle still: the 65-70% distillate is stored for about three months in a stainless steel vat while being regularly stirred to eliminate unwanted volatile elements, before being transferred to 180-200 liter French or American oak barrels for ageing — most for a minimum of four years, but some for only 18 months, the latter to produce what is known as “Elevé sous bois”, or stored in wood, rum.

So all that aside, does the rum work?  Well, yes and no. It’s nowhere near as fierce and individualistic as, say, the Clairins, and that does take some getting used to.  The integration of the taste components is done well, it’s not very sweet, and the mouthfeel isn’t bad at all.  Where it falls down a little, for me, is in that salty tequila-like undertone, and where it succeeds is in the gradual unfolding of character and complexity.

I wasn’t totally enthralled, at first…yet kept getting pulled back to it, largely due to its queer and unique originality, which was like an almost-but-not-quite familiar face one sees in a party. The Neisson Extra Vieux does a right turn and then a twist on the standard conceptions of what an agricole should be, building up to an idiosyncrasy that requires both some adjustment, and some patience.  If you have those and are willing to meet it on its own terms, this AOC rhum is actually quite an experience.

 

Jan 252016
 

C de I Fiji 1

A well assembled rum made by someone who knows his business, yet, as with the BBR I tried some years ago, not entirely to my taste.

(#252 / 84/100)

***

Florent Beuchet, the man behind the independent bottler Compagnie des Indes, really likes to go off the beaten track in his search for proper casks of rum to release: either that or he has access to some broker or other with some cool geographically dispersed stocks.  Think about the rums he has in his young portfolio so far – from Guyana, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Panama, Jamaica, Trinidad, Belize and Barbados, all the old stalwarts.  But show me another maker who in a single two year period can also claim to have added St. Lucia, Haiti, Fiji and Indonesia to the mix. St. Lucia alone should draw nods of approval.  But Haiti? Fiji? Indonesia?  

Therefore, yes, I’m a little impressed, more than a bit intrigued, and follow his issues closely, though thus far I don’t have that many…yet.  I was fortunate enough to try several samples of the Fijian 10 year old bottled at 44% in my ongoing effort to draw attention to obscure corners of the world where rums are made (but receive too little attention), and where unsung treasures may be found to the aspiring, perspiring rum collector.

So, this one: it was one of two 2015 Fijian releases CdeI made (each from a separate barrel), and it’s from the South Pacific Distilleries distillery – Florent didn’t tell me, but come on, it’s right there on the label…and anyway, even if it wasn’t, how many other distilling ops are there on the small island? This in turn is controlled by the Carlton Brewery (Fiji) Ltd, and that itself has the parent company of the Australian group Foster’s.  They make the popular Bounty rums (not the same as St. Lucia’s) and so far as I can tell, only BBR, Duncan Taylor and Cadenhead have released any bottlings from there. And full disclosure, I didn’t care much for the BBR Fiji 8 year old.

Still, things started out okay: the yellow rum was spicy and dry to sniff, with sugar water and delicate floral scents.  Watery is a good term for the sort of smells it exhibited – and by that I mean watermelon, juicy white pears, diluted syrup from a can of mixed fruit, grass after a rain.  This was all to the good.  What happened after a while was that waxy notes crept in, black/red olives in too-sour brine, and that C de I Fiji 2palled my enjoyment somewhat.

The taste of this light bodied, column-still-made rum was the best thing about it. Hot, freshly brewed green tea, no sugar, was my initial thought.  Brine again, more white flowers, guavas, sugar cane sap oozing out after you chop a stalk down.  Overall the lightness was somewhat illusory, because the rum displayed a good warmth and firm delicacy (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms), and demonstrated why there remains no “perfect” rum strength – a higher proof would have shredded this Fijian, while 44% was exactly right. In fact, it showed off a lot of characteristics of an agricole, more than a rum coming from molasses (it was confirmed that it did indeed derive from molasses, not cane juice).  The finish was short, smooth,heated and elegant, but nothing really extra was added to the party over and beyond what I noted above…perhaps some faint vanilla, gherkins in weak vinegar, swank, not much else.

 

I thought it was a decent rum, made by a company which knew what they was doing when they selected it, and you could sense the assembly was done well – the mouthfeel, for example, was excellent.  Where it fell down for me was in the snarly disagreement between the individual sweet versus sour/salt components – they didn’t mesh well, and the wax and turpentine notes kept interrupting like annoyingly plastered gate-crashers at your daughter’s wedding. This is quite a bit better than the BBR 8 Year old I reviewed back in 2013, which had similar issues, just more of them, and there I attributed it less to terroire and more to  insufficient ageing.  

Now, I’m not so sure – the clear and somewhat jagged profile may be characteristic of the area, and if so, we who love rums should try a few more before rushing to condemn and criticize – it’s not like there’s a historically huge sample set out there to compare with.  Suffice to say, for the moment, this isn’t quite my cup of tea. It’s a technically well made rum whose individual components, delicious on their own, aren’t quite cohering the way they should to make the experience a sublime one. Or even a better one.

Other notes

Florent advised me the barrel was bought through a broker, and no sugar was added.

 

Jan 212016
 
Photo courtesy of velier.it

Photo courtesy of velier.it

Slow, not entirely promising beginning, with a strong development and finish.

(#251 / 87/100)

***

In between its major releases from Trinidad, Guyana and Damoiseau where it made its bones, Velier occasionally took time off to travel the more traditional route of the indie bottler, and issue one-offs like this one (and the 1997).  I consider it a curious addition to the oevre, and not entirely a rum so good that it rates admittance to the pantheon, though nevertheless deserving of praise.

I call it “curious”: it was distilled in October 1995 and bottled in January 2008…but in between those dates, it was, like Velier’s own Damoiseau 1980, stored in dead vats to cease the ageing, from 2006 on.  So it’s up to us to decide whether the resting vat had any residual influence which would make it 12½ years old…or whether it didn’t and it’s just around ten.

(That’s something that seems to be coming up more often in relation to older agricoles I’ve tried – a millesime (the year of distillation) is trumpeted to the heavens, but in some cases the makers aren’t nearly as forthcoming about the date of bottling, and one has to have the sleuthing nose of a Poirot to ferret out these little nuggets.  Fortunately, Velier has always been pretty good about providing the info we need on its labels, and now you know what I do, so let’s move on.)

Presentation was the usual bottle, enclosed in a dour blue box with bright abstract art on it. What I liked about it was that it didn’t just say “Guadeloupe,” as most independents would do on their labels, but “Basseterre”, and further along, a notation of Distillerie Carrère in Petit-Bourge – that allowed me to delve more deeply into the history, which is further down for those who are interested in the provenance and background.

Right, tasting notes. The opening aromas were crisp and sharp, even a little uncouth, a little undisciplined – lovers of smooth and easygoing fare are likely to be disappointed here. Both salty with red olives, and sweet at the same time, yet also lightly perfumed with the scent of delicate florals (not much), mixed in with a nice white wine…a good Riesling, perhaps. As the minutes wore on it developed into a light and clear smell, the sharpness wore off and gave over to tree sap, green leaves, wet grass, some vanilla and faint smoke.  It was all pleasantly tied off into a bow with additional cherries and hard yellow mangoes.

D3S_3751

The Basseterre was an amber coloured rum, medium bodied, and bottled at 58.2%, and it hesitated not at all before skewering the tongue.  I was a little surprised at its unrestrained aggressiveness, to be honest (I was tasting it in conjunction with the Velier Damoiseau 1980, Chantal Comte 1977 and two Neissons, all of which were slightly smoother), and while I immediately tasted honey, walnuts and almonds, I put it away for a while to let it open up some more. This was the right approach, because it gentled out more after five minutes, and the shy flavours of flowers, tree sap and aromatic tobacco emerged, behind which coiled sharper notes of tannins, fresh-sliced unripe peaches, citrus and ginger.  In fact, the pendulum swung just a shade too much in the other direction as time wore on, and canned fruit syrup, yoghurt and whipped cream (I kid you not) started to take away from the initial freshness I liked.

The fade was long and spicy and complemented the palate very well.  Not much new going on except for some cereal and milk, more honey and nuts (cheerios?), and that lovely aromatic pipe tobacco finished things off with perhaps some ginger and citrus hanging in there.  

Looking back and considering the experience dispassionately, I must concede that this might actually be one of the few Veliers that didn’t ascend to the peaks of their other (more popular, better known and higher-scored) rums…y’know, like the UF30E. It feels younger than ten years old, somehow. Still, the Basseterre got better as it glared around and opened up: it is a solid, strong, agricole, which started off a little poorly but came up to the finish line with good credentials.  Luca still hasn’t replied to me with what the outturn was, and I paid €190 for mine – for the quality I got, I’d suggest it’s a borderline purchase. If you’re not into agricoles, it’s unlikely this one will turn you into an aficionado…however, if you are, it surely won’t disappoint.

History

Guadeloupe is comprised of three main areas: the butterfly shaped conjoined landmasses of Grand Terre and Basseterre making up Guadeloupe proper, with the small island of Marie Galante to the south east. Petit Bourge is on the eastern side of Basseterre, and serves the Montebello distillery — when it was founded by the Dolomite family in 1930 it was called Carrere (named after an even smaller village nearby) but in 1968, after many years of declining revenues it was sold to a Jean Marsolle (whose brother owned the Séverin distillery a little to the north west). He in turn sold it to his sons Alain and Emamanuel in 1974 – they renamed it Montebello in 1975. It remains in the family to this day, and produces 500,000 liters of rum annually. They have the curious practice of not only casking their rums in oak, but then dunking the filled barrels into heated steel containers to accelerate the maturation.  Whether that works to enhance the resultant rhum I can’t say, since I never bought or managed to try any.

Other notes

This is not an AOC certified rhum.

Basseterre 1

 

Jan 172016
 

TR 1986 Label 1

Like a kilt, this ten year old rhum proves that less can often be more.

(#250. 89/100)

***

The Japanese art of ikebana is that of flower arranging, and if you think its principles lack applicability to rum, well, give that some thought. Sorting a big bunch of flowers into a vase is not what it’s really about (one could say the same thing about the chanoyu).  The true art is about selecting just a few elements, and finding the perfect way to arrange them so that they rest together in harmony.  Trois Rivières is unlikely to have studied the matter…but this rum displays all the fundamentals of both art and simplicity, in a way that elevates the whole to a work of sublime grace.

Trois Rivières issues specific years’ output, perhaps more than any other rhum maker in Martinique – there are millèsimes from 1953, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, and so on. Rarely, if ever, is it stated how old these are, aside from the “vieux” notation, meaning a minimum of three years ageing.  But to my mind, a rhum this good (sorry for the spoiler, but you already know the score) is a poster child for why we need the guys pushing great hooch out the door to stop messing about and tell us poor lambs what we need to know right up front – in this case, how old the thing is.  Because speaking purely for myself, I want to know whether age is the primary factor in the excellence of the 1986 millèsime over the 1975, or some other factor.

TR 1986

Still, I soldier on under the burden of my anguish, since there’s nothing to be done about it right now. Presentation was that consistent yellow box (I’ve seen several millèsimes with the same one) with that famous windmill, the year 1986 enclosing a slim bottle with the same info on the label…and surmounted with that same annoying tinfoil cap that somehow makes my expensive purchase seem…well, cheapish.  Ah well…

I can tell you though, that my small disappointments and whinges from above were forgotten the instant the bottle was opened up and poured it into the glass. Because with a nose like the one it presented, I could swoon like a maiden from Walter Scott.  It was so sweetly wonderfully rich that I almost went running for my thesaurus. It opened with juicy pears and white guavas, fennel and the faint lemony twist of a good cumin.  Scents of treacle and honey followed on, very rich and smooth and almost perfect at 45%.  Even after half an hour it kept giving out some extras – vanilla and well-controlled tannins, almonds, very light smoke and leather.  The 1986 blew past the 1975 millèsime from the same company as if it was standing still, which was why I wrote about the latter the way I did.

It was similarly good to taste, and again showed up some of the shortcomings of the 1975.  Warm and smooth, the 45% strength didn’t hurt it at all.  Medium bodied and dry (but in a good way), providing first tastes of peaches, plums, more guavas, black grapes.  I was actually a little startled at the fruitiness of it, because it was an AOC designated rhum, but where were the light, clear notes one could expect? The grassy vegetals? Luscious notes of licorice and vanillas and even molasses backed up the zesty citrus notes that gradually came to the forefront, and again there were these delicate hints of cumin and lemon zest I had observed on the aromas.  And this was not all, because tart (not sweet) red fruit – strawberries, red currants and raspberries also made themselves known…I kept asking myself, how old was this thing?  Even on the medium long finish, which was a bit dry, warm and breathy and easy-going, some of those fruits retained their ability to amp up the enjoyment – prunes, licorice and vanilla for the most part, and always that citrus component which coiled behind the primaries to lend a unique kind of counterpoint to the main melody.

TR 1986 Label 3The question I asked of the 1975 (which I was using as a control alongside the Rhum Rhum Liberation Integrale, the Velier Basseterre 1995 and two Neissons) was how old it was, and the labelling on that one was at best inconclusive.  With the 1986 things seemed a bit more clear: the box had a notation “Vieux 86” and next to that “Sortie de fût: 04-96” which I take to mean it was distilled in 1986 and released from the barrel for bottling in April of 1996…a ten year old rhum, then, if the numbers mean what I say they do. TR never did get back to me on my inquiries, so if anyone has better knowledge of the age of this rhum, feel free to share.  I’m going to go on record as believing it’s ten.

And what a rhum indeed, at any age. It is an amalgam of opposites that gel and flow together with all the harmoniousness of a slow moving stream, gentle and assertive, thick and clear, with wonderful depth married to controlled intensity.  We sometimes get sidetracked with fancy finishes, family recipes, strange numbers on a bottle and all sorts of other marketing folderol, not the least of which is the conception that the older the year-stamp on a
bottle is, the better the rhum inside must be (and the more we can expect to pay for it). The Trois Rivières 1986 shows the fallacy of such uncritical thinking.  Like the Chantal Comte 1980 it demonstrates that great rums can be made in any year, at any age…and that beauty and quality and zen are not merely the province of those who fix motorbikes, pour tea, or arrange flowers.

 

error: Content is copyrighted. Please email thelonecaner@gmail.com for permission .