Feb 072016
 

IMG_6351

Rum Cask makes a slightly better Fijian rum, of the four I’ve tried.

(#254. 82/100)

***

Rum Cask is another one of the smaller independent bottlers – out of western Germany in this instance, very close to the French border –  who do the usual craft bottling thing. They act as both distributors of whisky and rum, and at some point they fell to dabbling in their own marques, issuing cask strength rums from Belize, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Cuba Grenada, and more, including Fiji, which may be something of an afterthought. In what is probably a coincidence, they issued a ten year old rum from South Pacific Distilleries, and it was also made in 2003, and bottled in 2013, just like Duncan Taylor (or they used the same broker, or something). However similar the provenance, in this instance I felt that while they didn’t succeed in making a rum junkie’s must-have, they did succeed in raising the bar…just a bit.

Take for example the nose, which so disappointed me on the Duncan Taylor from last week. That one was 54.8%…this one dialled things up to a filthy-gorgeous growl of 62.9% and its intensity was right there from the get-go. Much of the same kerosene, fusel oil, wax, and turpentine jammed my sensory apparatus – the rum would cure the clogged nose of a sinus infection with no problems – but here there were also nuts, honey, vanilla, some burnt sugar, and switching back and forth between it and the DT (and the clairins), it suggested an overall better balance.

Unfortunately, it also required some taming. Since I have no particular issues with cask strength rums (how the worm has turned from the days when I despised anything stronger than 40%, right?) the ABV was not a factor: it was its unrefined character. The palate was raw and sharp enough to shave with, and exhibited an unrestrained force that seemed to want to scratch your face off.  So while I spread the tasting over several hours and wrote about sensed tastes of salt beef in vinegar, cereal, brine, olives, some more vanillas and caramel, nuts and honey, plus a whiff of citrus and fresh paint in hot sunlight — and lots of oak — the fact was that the marriage just wasn’t working as well as it might.  Yes the finish was biblically epic, hot and long and lasting, shared more of the flavours of the palate (the citrus and wood really took over here) and made my eyes water and my breath come in gasps – but really, was that what it was all about?  The grandiose finish of a taste experience that might have been better?

In its own way this rum is as distinct from the other Fijians I’ve managed to try as they are from the mainstream, inhabiting a space uniquely its own, though still recognizable as being a branch from the same tree. The enormous strength works to its advantage to some extent, though I don’t think it’s enough to elevate it to the front rank of cask strength rums.  This may be where the concept barrels slumbering in Europe (as espoused by the Compagnie des Indes) has its problems, because the evolutions are subtle and take place over a much longer period of time than the brutally quick maturation of the tropics.  European ageing, when done right, results in something like the Longpond 1941 which survived 58 years in a barrel without the oak eviscerating all other flavours.  Here, the reverse was true and ten years didn’t seem to be nearly enough – the rum shared the downfall of the others I tried, displaying sharp and jagged edges of flavour profiles that seemed to be not so much “married well”, but “raging into divorce.”

The Fijian rums (those I’ve tried, at any rate) seem to have problems with the integration of their various components, and they need more work (and ageing) to be taken seriously by, and to find, a mass audience – this might be one of those rare occasions where less strength is called for, not more. So who is this particular rum for? It doesn’t really work as a sipping rum, and at its price point, would it be bought by a barman so as to make cool tiki drinks? Unless one is a cocktail fan, then, that doesn’t leave much, I’m afraid, unless you are, as one commentator remarked on the DT, a lover of whisky.  In which case, by all means have at it.

Other notes

This rum is very much about opinion. Cornelius of BarrelProof liked both of these quite a bit (he was the kind source of my samples, big “thank you” to the man), so keep an eye out for his reviews.

Comments on the Duncan Taylor Fijian rum suggested that the profile was quite Jamaican in nature, if not quite as good.  The same applies here. Most Jamaican rum I’ve tried are bit more obviously from molasses, and I didn’t really get that impression from the Fijians. Actually, they remind me more of cachacas and perhaps the clairins.

The outturn is unknown.

 

Feb 042016
 

IMG_6349

Nope, all apologies to the islanders, but Fiji still doesn’t ascend to the heights of a country whose rums we must have. Yet.

(#253. 81/100)

***

Let’s just dispense with two more Fijian products that crossed my path, provided by my friend Cornelius of Barrelproof, who, it should be noted upfront, liked them both a lot more than I did. We don’t see many products from that country anywhere – “Eastern” rums don’t make it west of the iron curtain very often, so it’s mostly in online emporia that we find find rums from Fiji, Australia, Indonesia or even Japan; these are sold primarily in Europe, not in North America. Bundie, Don Papa and Nine Leaves look to buck that trend but they are small potatoes, really, and you’re still gonna look hard to locate a Tanduay, or even the stuff out of India.

Anyway, independent bottlers Duncan Taylor, the Rum Cask, Compagnie des Indes, Berry Brothers and some others do take the single barrel route, and so perhaps we should be grateful that we do get the chance to try these unusual profiles whenever we can. The rum came from the same distillery as the BBR 8 year old and the Compagnie’s 10 year old: the Fijian South Pacific Distillery now owned by Fosters from Australia, and located in the northwest of the small island.

DT Fiji Label

I said “unusual” a moment ago…it was not a word I chose lightly.

I poured the 54.8% hay-blonde, pot-still spirit into my glass, and flinched as if I had found a roach in my soup (oh waiter…!)  Sharp, snarling smells of kerosene, sealing wax, floor polish emerged fast, like a pissed of genie out of his lamp, ungentle and clashing with each other in a most unbecoming fashion. I went back to the shelf and checked out the Clairin Sajous to see if it was me…nope, that was still better. Ten minutes rest period didn’t help much – turpentine, acetone, wet paint decided to come out now, joined by candle wax, green grape skins…and I was left thinking, if this was pot-still, unfiltered, and issued “as-was” from the barrel, maybe the barrel needed to be changed; and to be honest, if ever I tried a rum that made a strong case for either more ageing or some dosage, this was it.  The smell was simply too raw and unrefined. Most of what it displayed was liquid sandpaper only marginally improved  by some ageing.

To my relief, there was some compensation once I tasted the thing. Better, much better.  Heated and very spicy, medium bodied in texture, and all this was a welcome change from the initial attack.  It tasted of red olives in brine, with a sort of meaty background, like a plastic tub of salt beef just starting to go.  Then at last more familiar notes asserted themselves and stopped mucking about, and I sensed some green grapes just starting to go, vanilla and smoke (not much), a very herbal, grassy element, more brine, sweet soya, some citrus, ginger and a good Thai veggie soup.  Cornelius felt it displayed something the funky charm of the Jamaican style, so if you ever get around to trying it yourself, there would be something to watch out for. The finish, unsurprisingly for such strength, was long enough, and I couldn’t say it was either good or bad – it existed, it lasted, I got notes of lemongrass, vanilla, citrus and soya and brine again, but very little of a more comforting back end. Colour me unimpressed, sorry.

Although the aromas and tastes suggest a cane juice base distillate, the Ministry of Rum and Fiji Rum Co. pages both say molasses.  Which makes the profile I describe even odder, because it was so much like the clairins, but lacking their fierce commingling of the same tastes into a synthesis that worked.  The nose was too jagged and too raw, the palate worked (up to a point) and the finish was nothing to write home about. In my opinion, this rum should have been left to sleep some more. The outturn was 284 bottles from a single cask, and it was aged in an oak cask for ten years, yet honestly, you might think it was no more than a three year old (or even younger) from the way it fended off any efforts to come to grips with it.

IMG_6350

I’ve now tried four or five Fijian rums, and admittedly, that’s hardly a huge sample set; still they do all exhibit a kind of right turn from reality that takes some getting used to, for those of us more accustomed to Caribbean traditionals or agricoles (which is most of us).  They may be proof positive that terroire is no mere subtly abstract concept which is insouciantly bandied about but lacking real meaning, and I believe that rums from other parts of the world do indeed provide their own unique tastes and smells and sensations.  The flip side of that, is that I have yet to acquire a real taste for some of them.  I’m not going to write Fijians off like yesterday’s fish…but thus far I haven’t met any (out of the few I’ve tried) that blow my socks off either. Certainly this rum doesn’t.

Other notes

Aged April 2003 to September 2013

Yes, if I see more Fijians, I’ll buy.  Still really curious about them.

Marco Freyr has put together a short bio of the company (in German)

The tasting notes above are my own.  I didn’t see the back label until Cornelius kindly sent me some pictures of the bottle. 

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.

 

Jun 212013
 

D3S_6841

 

Quasimodo in a shrink-wrapped muscle-car with overlarge tyres

(#169. 80.5/100)

***

 Rums have gotten, over the decades and centuries, rather civilized. Sweaty muscular beefcakes like the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3% and the Bacardi 151 always exist, of course, accompanied by more uncouth and less cultured rums even than that, made less for export than for local consumption…but for the most part, what we get is soft, soothing, decent, well padded.

This 46% rum, however, made by those genteel fellows in England, Berry Brothers and Rudd, was none of these things…which, when you recall the near-brilliant 1975 Port Morant they also made, is kind of odd. Civilized? Nope. Smooth? Not really. Calming, easy on the nose? Don’t make me laugh. Berry Brothers have done something rather amazingly insane, or stupefyingly stupid depending on your viewpoint, with this Fijian product. They’ve made it a raw, nasty, brutish, ugly, foul tasting kill divil that I dunno, should be used to scour the paint job off your souped up Ford F150. Or maybe fuel it.

You think I’m kidding, right? Yeah…but no.

Some time ago I reviewed the SMWS Longpond 9, and the Rum Nation Demerara 23 and the Jamaica 25 year old. All three of these had rubbery, almost medicinal notes to them that were initially somewhat disconcerting, but eventually melded into a unique whole I could not help but appreciate. The off-notes I didn’t care for were relatively subdued and well integrated into a fascinating synthesis. No such feeling swept over me as my brother and I nosed the Berry Brothers & Rudd Fijian 8 year old. Because in this case, raw plasticine and rubber notes were so powerful, that I felt a Bugatti had just peeled out of the shop, leaving a black strip on the pavement a mile wide. Medicinal, turpentine, paint thinner was what you got on that nose. Iodine, seaweed, brine, salt biscuits. And then more burnt rubber. They held a commanding stance from the outset, and never let go. Yes there were also timid, trembling scents of grassy and herbal aromas that crept in as if afraid to be noticed; yes, if you paid attention you would get apple cider and perhaps a flirt of not quite ripe pineapple. But it was small consolation. You had to try too hard. They were shouldered aside and squashed flat.

To taste, it was heated and spicy, as befitted a stronger product, and it was reasonably smooth, not raw and clawing, so no issues there. Hay-blonde, quite light, somewhat thin and clear and clean on the tongue. I was kind of suckered in by some lazy background notes of freshly-sawn white wood of some kind, bananas, softer pineapple and an even fainter grassy-green floral note that developed over time, but then the uncompromising rubber returned. Merde, but this was unpleasant. Iodine, seaweed, some peat (I kid you not) mixed it up in the schoolyard with an overweight bully of peeling rubber, turpentine and styrofoam. It’s like I was trying to sample a neoprene suit left behind on the set of “Debbie Does Dallas.” I can concede without hesitation that the texture was pretty good, it felt physically pleasant in the mouth, and the finish was medium long and heated (and may have been the best thing about it, perhaps because we could now see an end to the experience). But I simply don’t appreciate a rum that is redolent of the freshly torn plastic coming off new, over-polished wooden furniture.

D3S_6846

So, with all due apologies to BBR (who have made other rums I really enjoyed), this is not a rum I cared for. I asked a dedicated maltster whether, given the profile I described, he would buy it (for $75, which is what I paid), and he said probably, so it may work better for Islay-lovers than it did for me. The thing is, underneath the taste is the texture, and in that texture and mouthfeel you can sense the rum this could have been had it been toned down a bit, perhaps been a bit sweeter (and this is why I scored it as I have). I always thought the Renegades were inconsistent and made by — and perhaps for — whisky lovers, and here we have another in that vein, something of a harnessed lunatic, loud and uncouth and unrefined as a fading rock star’s leopard-skin trousers.

It probably won’t sell much, but you know, I do have a kind of sneaking admiration for the concept, much as I shudder at the taste. It takes a certain kind of guts to make a rum that tastes so crazily off base as to appeal to not just the 1%, but the 1% of that 1% who would welcome the adventure, appreciate the uniqueness and throw caution to the winds when drinking it. Because, for sure, there are very few rums in my whole experience which are anything like this Fijian popskull.

Just be warned – It’s an absolute animal of a drink to have if you’re not prepared.

 

Other Notes

As is usual with craft bottlings such as this one, I could not find much information on the source. However, since there really is only one distillery on Fiji (the South Pacific Distillery, which makes the seemingly well-regarded Bounty brand), it seems reasonable to suppose that the raw stock comes from there. In what barrels it was aged and in which country, is something I’m currently still researching.

Given the light and clean profile, I will hazard that the distillate comes from sugar cane juice (like an agricole) and not from molasses, and is probably a column still product. Still, these are merely my conjectures, so if a reader has more info, please post a remark.

I notice that there are nine and ten year old Fijian rums made by BBR as well.

 

 

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