Nov 212017
 

#460

The nose of the seven year old 57.3% Bielle is deceptive in the extreme, quiet and camouflaged, and sneaks up on you like a spec ops team on dawn patrol through a foggy jungle.  At first there’s not much…vague hints of grass, sap and sweet honey. Maybe some herbs, an earthy sort of musk. A flower or two.  It’s all very commonplace for a Guadeloupe rhum and you might think after a few seconds of careful sniffing, “What, is this all there is?” …before it opens up and then it’s like Major T.J. Kong cheerfully went on the offensive big time, with a fusillade of additional smells emerging as if from ambush: citrus, herbs, dill and cloves zipping around, followed by the solid crump-crump of honey, more caramel and eucalyptus oil. Whew! The Bielle 2007 might have started inoffensive and easy but it sure knew how to make up for lost time once it got going.

And if the nose is a gradually unfolding escalation, well, the palate is like a full scale battle joined between opposing forces in love with all their laser-guided precision artillery. It was sharp and light and furious all at once, a bombardment of delicious flavours, throwing shards of flowers, honey, wet green grass, bananas, pears, watermelon, olives, and cane juice sap with all the insouciance of a bird-colonel in the suck testing out his latest hi-tech toys.  Add a little water and spices emerge, precisely, forcefully, tastily – cinnamon and nutmeg for the most part, some cloves, as well as sugar water, and even a touch of brine.  And it all leads to a long and rather sharp denouement, crisp and yet warm, redolent of caramel, citrus, tannins and smoke. Bit of a comedown, here, balance was slightly off, sharpness a tad too much…we may have burnt the rum in order to save it, Cap’n.

Okay, so this is perhaps overly metaphorical for a rum review, an armchair rumwarrior’s idle fascination with military exercises (though at least it’s a fun digression from standard tasting notes, I suggest).  But the tastes and sensations were there, as described, and any rum that can inspire such daydreams is worth a look, right? It presents as quite a fascinating piece of work, and those were the thoughts that ran through my mind on an afternoon when I perhaps had too much time on my hands. Each morsel of flavour arrived precisely, pirouetted, fired off a volley, shouldered arms and then marched off. It was great.

Bielle is not a company whose wares I’ve seen or tried much of – in fact, that was the reason I bought this one (and the Dillon, from last week).  Located just south of dead centre on the tiny island of Marie Galante (itself south of Guadeloupe), Bielle was a small sugar plantation dating back to the late 1700s, named after Jean-Pierre Bielle (he also owned a coffee shop), which went through a series of owners and went belly-up in the 1930s; it was eventually sold to a local landowner, Paul Rameaux, which did nothing to revive its waning fortunes.  1975 marked a revival of Bielle when la Société d’Exploitation de la Distillerie Bielle (SEDB) took over the assets, and nowadays a nephew of Mr. Rameaux, Dominique Thiery, runs the small distillery.  So, it’s another small outfit from the French West Indies about whom only the islanders themselves and the French seem to know very much.  But y’know, after trying this just-short-of-phenomenal young rhum, I’m jealous as all get-out and kicking myself, because where has this thing been all my life while I was dancing with the rhums from elsewhere?  I’d better get some more from there, and quickly, because I’ll tell you, this is a distillery making rhums which deserve some serious attention.

(89/100)


Other notes

Velier issued a rhum from Bielle as part of their 2017 70th Anniversary, also from 2007.

Oct 202017
 

#395

Velier’s star shone brightly in 2017, so much so that if you were following the October 2017 UK rumfest on Facebook, it almost seemed like they took over the joint and nothing else really mattered.  Luca’s collaboration with Richard Seale of Foursquare over the last few years resulted the vigorous promotion of a new rum classification system, as well as the spectacular 2006 ten year old and the Triptych (with more to come); and for Velier’s 70th Anniversary – marked by events throughout the year – a whole raft of rums got issued from Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Mauritius, Japan….So much happened and so much got done that I had to re-issue an updated company biography, and that’s definitely a first. The Age of Velier’s Demeraras might be over and the Caronis might be on a decline as the stocks evaporate…but company is in no danger of becoming an also-ran anytime soon.

Still, all these great rums aside, let us not forget some of the older, lesser known, more individual rums they put out the door, such as the Damoiseau 1980 and the Basseterre 1995 and 1997, some of the Papalins and Liberation series, the older Guyanese rums distributed at lesser proofs by Breitenstock…and this one which is on nobody’s must-have list except mine.  It holds a special place in my heart – not just because it was issued by Velier (thought this surely is part of it), but because the original Courcelles 1972 is the very rum that started my love affair with French island rhums and agricoles…so for sure this one had some pretty big shoes to try and fill.

It filled them and then some. Reddish gold and at a robust 54% ABV (there’s another 42% version floating around) it started off with a beeswax, honey and smoke aroma, heavy and distinct, and segued into treacle, nougat, white chocolate and nuts.  Not much of an agricole profile permeated its nose, and since it’s been observed before that since Guadeloupe – from which this hails – is not AOC controlled and uses molasses as often as juice for its rhums, the Courcelles could be either one. No matter: I loved it. Even after an hour or two, more scents kept emerging from the glass – caramel and a faint saltiness, aromatic flower-based hot tea, and just to add some edge, a fine line of mild orange zest ran through it all, well balanced and adding to the overall lusciousness of the product.

The palate, which is where I spent most of my time, was excellent, though perhaps a little more restrained…some attention had to be paid here. The brutal aggro of a rum bottled at 60%-plus had been dialled back, pruned like a bonsai, and left a poem of artistry and taste behind: more honey, nougat, nutmeg, brown sugar water, and calming waves of shaved coconut and the warmth of well-polished old leather, cumin, and anise, with that same light vein of orange peel still making itself unobtrusively felt without destabilizing the experience.  At the close, long and aromatic aromas simply continued the aforementioned and quietly wrapped up the show with final suggestions of rose tea, almonds, coconut and light fruit in a long, sweet and dry finish.  Frankly, it was hard to see it being the same vintage as the Velier Courcelles 42% which was tried alongside it, and was better in every way – the 54% was an excellent strength for what was on display and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There’s a streak of contrariness in my nature that seeks to resist flavour of the month rums that ascend to the heights of public opinion to the point where their makers can do no wrong and every issuance of a new expression is met with chirps of delight, holy cows and a rush to buy them all. But even with that in mind, quality is quality and skill is skill and when a rum is this good it cannot be ignored or snootily dismissed in an effort to provide “balance” in some kind of perverse reflex action good only for the personal ego.  Velier, even when nobody knew of them, showed great market sense, great powers of selection and issued great rums, which is why they’re just about all collector’s items now.  The Demeraras and Caronis and collaborations with other makers showed vision and gave us all fantastic rums to treasure…but here, from the dawn of Luca’s meteoric career, came a now-almost-forgotten and generally-overlooked rum that came close to breaking the scale altogether.  It is one of the best rums from the French islands ever issued by an independent, a cornerstone of my experience with older rums from around the world…and hopefully, if you are fortunate enough to ever try it, yours.

(91/100)


  • The Courcelles distillery in Grande Terre (one of the two “wings” of Guadeloupe island) was established in the 1930s and closed way back in 1964 when the then owner, M. Despointes, transferred the inventory and equipment to another distillery, that of Ste Marthe. They continued using Courcelles’s pot still and distilled this rum in 1972.  This is probably the last year any Courcelles was made – I’ve never been able to find one made more recently.
  • Distilled in 1972 and set to age in 220 liter barrels until 2003 when it was decanted into “dead” vats, and then bottled in 2005.  I chose to call it a 31 year old, not a 33.
  • The profile does not suggest an agricole, and since Guadeloupe is not AOC compliant, it may derive from molasses…or not.  If anyone has definitive information or a link to settle the issue, please let me know.

Jul 262017
 

#380

The independent bottler Secret Treasures is no longer the same company it started out as, and this particular and delectable Guadeloupe rum was selected by the Swiss concern Fassbind before they sold off the brand to Haromex in 2005.  So although Haromex is now making a new line of rums under the ST label (like the St Lucia Vendome and John Dore still rums I’ve looked at before), this rhum predates them and is part of the original line up.  Guadeloupe is, of course, somewhat general a term so let me expand on that by saying the rhum originates from the Gardel Distillerie located in the north-east of Grand Terre in the commune of Le Moule.  Gardel, owned by Générale Sucrière, a major player in the global sugar refining industry, is one of two distilleries in Le Moule (the other is Damoiseau) and earns some of its distinction by being the sole refinery on the main island.  I don’t think Gardel makes any rhums of its own but sell rum stock to brokers and others – however, there is maddeningly little information available and I’ve got some queries out there which may make me amend this portion of the post in future.

Some basic facts on the rhum then, just to set the scene: it was from the Gardel distillery, distilled 1992 and bottled August 2003 from three casks which provided 1,401 bottles (this was #327).  It was issued at a relatively unadventurous 42% which would have been fairly standard at that time, and one can only wonder what it has been doing for the last fourteen years and why nobody ever bought the thing.  Since I had and retain a sneaking appreciation for Secret Treasures ever since I had their excellent Enmore 1989, there were no battles with my conscience to buy a few more from their range.  Note that it is labelled as a “rum” (not rhum) and I have no absolute confirmation whether it was truly cane-juice derived, or where exactly it was aged (even Reference-rhum, that online French-language encyclopedia of rum brands, says “molasses” with a question mark under its entry).

In any event, whatever its ultimate source or point of ageing, I thought it was a zippy and sprightly rhum of initially crisp clarity and cleanliness.  Coloured orange-amber, it nosed in surprisingly bright and clear fashion, immediately giving up aromas of honey, flowers and 7-Up (seriously!); over a period of minutes a more solid briny background emerged, accompanied by perfectly ripe fleshy fruits – peaches, apricots, sultanas and raspberries.  Not particularly fierce or savage – it was too laid back and standard strength for that – but a very enjoyable nosing experience, the sort of easy going yet sufficiently assertive profile to have one curiously going deeper into it just to see where the rabbit hole led.

Aside from a certain lightness to the profile, the palate provided a soft series of tastes, which were fruity, floral, musky and delicate all at the same time.  It was hard to know what to make of it – initially there were flowers, fudge, salty caramel, coconut, and vanilla, counterpointed with lemon zest, green apples, grapes and peaches.  After a while additional flavours evolved: maple syrup, aromatic tobacco and vague coffee.  Some of the crispness of the nose faded into the background here, and overall it did not present the sort of complexity that would advance it to the top shelf, but it was distinct enough to grab the attention, and at the very least it was intriguing, and for sure quite pleasant to drink.  Perhaps the finish was the weakest part, being short and easy and light, mostly reminding one of caramel, light fruits, and raisins, which goes some way to making me wondering whether it was a true cane juice distillate (it lacked the distinctive herbal grassiness of such a product), or from molasses.  One thing was clear though – it was nicely made, and wore its middle age well, without any kind of raw edge or jagged sharpness that distinguishes extremely young bottom-tier rums.

So: trying this clean and playful Guadeloupe rhum in tandem with the L’Esprit Bellevue 58% 8-year-old and the Longueteau 6-year-old VSOP, I felt the last two rhums were remarkably similar, though I liked the soft honey and maple-syrup notes of the Secret Treasures just a little more, and the L’Esprit better than both, which just goes to show that ageing isn’t everything, especially in the world of agricoles (remember the spectacular Chantal Comte 1980?).  Be that as it may, there’s nothing at all bad about the ST Gardel 1992 rhum, and in fact it makes me really interested to try the 1989 variation, just to see how it stacks up. These days Fassbind is long gone from the scene and Haromex is making changes to the labels and the line up – but for those of you who come across some of the original bottler’s expressions dating back from the eighties and nineties, you could do a lot worse than pick one of them up, if for no reason than the pure and simple enjoyment of a well-aged rhum, well made, almost forgotten, and tasting just fine.

(84.5/100)


Other notes:

The Gardel plant, also known as Sainte-Marie, is the only sugar plant which still operating in Guadeloupe. It was founded in 1870 and its first owner was Benjamin François Benony Saint-Alarey, who chose to pay homage to his paternal grandmother in his naming of the factory. In 1994, the sugar sector in Guadeloupe underwent major restructuring, leading to the closure of all sugar factories on the island except Gardel which is currently composed of an agricultural part with a 1000 hectares and an industrial area. It produces nearly 100,000 tons of sugar per year. Information about the distillery is much more scant, unfortunately, though there’s a curious note by Ed Hamilton on the original Ministry of Rum forum, that it was closed by 1994…and the label for Renegade Guadeloupe 1998 mentions both a column still, and 1992 as the last date of any distillation.

Jul 232017
 

#379

Much as I had with the Longueteau Grand Réserve, a ten year old agricole from Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe), I felt the 42% strength on the six year old VSOP was perhaps too timid and too wispy for a rhum which could have been more had it been made stronger.  Longueteau, a distillery which has been in operation since 1895 and produces the Karukera and Longueteau lines of rhums, seems to eschew fierce and powerful expressions and is quite content to keep on issuing standard strength work, but since their quality is nothing to sneeze at and is readily approachable by the larger body of rum aficionados, perhaps they have hit on a preferred strength and just stick with it.

In any case, the orange amber coloured rhum presented very nicely indeed on the nose, beginning with a light sort of fruit basket left in the sun too long but just missing being overripe.  There was vanilla ice cream and the vague saltiness of rye bread and that spread known as kraüter-quark in Germany, with dill and parsley adding some interesting herbal notes.  Like most agricoles it was delicate and crisp at the same time, and while there was certainly some sugar cane sap and grassiness it, this stayed very much in the background.  After opening up over several minutes more, one could discern olives in nutmeg, brine, watermelon and peaches, light and clear, firm and delicate all at once.

The nose was certainly very pleasant – however much one had to work at it – but on the palate the 42% became somewhat more problematic since it really was too light and easy….though one could say “playful” as well, and still be on the mark.  Oddly, a drop of water (and another ten minutes of opening up) solved that problem nicely, allowing clear, if faint, acetone and fried banana flavours to emerge.  These merged well with some smoke and oaken tannins, more vanilla and a smorgasbord of fruits to come forward – papaya, watermelon, sugar water, pears and white guavas – to which, over time, were added herbs, and some pickled gherkins, leading up to a short, dry finish mostly redolent of soya, brine, dark bread and (again) vanilla and a grape or two. 

Overall the rhum was a very pleasant one, if perhaps just too gentle.  Many will enjoy it for precisely those attributes, since it doesn’t assault the senses but prefers to stroke them with a silken wire of flavour, and draws back from any kind of serious challenge or analysis. A cocktail geek can probably make an interesting concoction with it, but for my money this is a tasty, twittering little rumlet, which, with a few extra proof points, might be even better, and in its current iteration, can be had by itself without any additional embellishment.  It’s both complex enough within its limitations, and unassertive enough for the peaceniks, to give perfect satisfaction on that level,  and in any case, yes, I did like it: whatever my reservations, I also consider it a soundly enjoyable sundowner that adds to the sum total of the delicious variations which agricoles provide.

(84/100)

Other notes

  • Some distillery notes are provided in the review of the Grand Réserve.
  • The company website says aged in oak casks that once held brandy; other sources say ex-cognac barrels.
Jun 142017
 

#372

It’s always a pleasure to circle back to the now-established independent bottlers, especially those with which one has more than a glancing familiarity; they are the outfits who have carved themselves a niche in the rumiverse which for us consumers is composed of one part recognition, one part curiosity and eight parts cool rum.  The Compagnie des Indes is one of these for me, and while everyone is now aware they have started to issue the cask strength series of rums alongside lesser proofed ones (much like L’Esprit does), there will always remain a soft and envious green spot in my heart for the now-famous, Denmark-only, cask-strength editions.

This particular Danish expression is a Bellevue rum from Guadeloupe, and here I have to pause for a moment, stand back, and happily observe that in this day and age of rising prices, lowering ages and instantly sold out Bajan rums (did someone say Triptych? … sure you did), we can still get a rum aged for eighteen years.  I am aware that a simple calculus of years does not always confer quality – look no further than the Chantal Comte 1980 for an emphatic refutation of that idea – but when made properly, they often do.  And bar some hiccups here and there, this one is exceedingly well done.

As always, let’s start with the details before getting into the tasting notes. It’s a French West Indian rhum which does not adhere to the AOC designation, bottled at a crisp 55.1%, gold in colour, and with a 265-bottle outturn.  It was distilled in March 1998 and bottled in April 2016, aged in American oak barrels, in Europe – this is, as most will recall, a personal standard of the Compagnie, which does not favour tropical ageing (or cannot spare the time and expense to source them direct from Guadeloupe, take your pick).

Wherever it was aged, there was no fault to find with how it smelled: the nose was creamy caramel and cream cheese with only the very faintest hint of wax and rubber, and in any event, such traces vanished fast, giving way to dark fruits, not particularly sweet, like almost-ripe plums and cashews. At this stage such tannins and wooden hints as came later were discreet, even shy, and there were some light, playful notes of flowers, peaches, apricots, grasses and cinnamon.

Tasting it delivered a crisp, firm mouthfeel that was hot and salty caramel, plus a touch of vanilla.  Here the tannins and pencil shavings became much more assertive, suggesting an oaken spine as whippy and sharp as the cane my house-master used to bend across my backside in high school with such unfortunate frequency. In spite of the attendant orange peel,vanilla, cashews, raisins and lemongrass that could be sensed, it was also somewhat sharp, even bitter, and not quite as tamed as I might personally have wished (with perhaps some more aging it would have been? Who knows).  Behind all that, the additional flavours had their work cut out for them, not entirely successfully, and so I had to concede after a while that  it was well done…but could have been better.  The finish, however, was quite exceptional, showing more clearly the difference between an AOC-determined profile versus a more laid back Guadeloupe “let’s see what we can do here” kind of insouciance – it’s remarkably clear, offering for our final inspection caramel, nuttiness, toffee, with avocado, cumin and a hint of ginger.

So, in fine, a Guadeloupe rhum with lovely notes dancing around a great nose and fade, and quite a decent palate within its oaky limitations (which did admittedly cause it to slide down the rankings).  Fortunately that in no way sank the rhum, which, on balance, remained a lovely drink to savour neat….it just needed a softer comma of oak, so to speak, not the exclamation point we got.  I concede, however, that this was a minor blemish overall.

Although at the top end we are seeing a move towards pot still rums done up in interesting finishes, complete with fully tropical maturation, I believe there is still a place for longer European ageing without any finish at all.  Florent Beuchet, the maitre of CDI, has always championed this quiet, more patient route for his rums, which is perhaps why much of his aged hooch works so well – there’s a subtle, delicate richness to the experience that is not so much as odds with, as a counterpoint to, the badass in-yer-face brutality of those rums which slept for a shorter but more intense period in the Caribbean.  Both such types of rums have their place in our world – the issue does, after all, depend entirely on our preferences – and when a Guadeloupe rum presses so many of the right buttons as this one does, one cannot help but simply appreciate the quality of what makes it into the bottle at the other end.  This is a rum like that — it’s vibrant Caribbean sunshine issued for a colder clime, and I’m damned glad I managed to pilfer some from my snickering Danish friends from up north before they finished it all themselves.

(86/100)


Other notes

Feb 092017
 

Wow…

#341

The surprisingly heavy and dark Bellevue rhum made by L’Esprit purred salt and sweet caramel ice cream into my nose as I smelled it, revealing itself in so incremental a fashion, with such an odd (if excellent) profile that it almost had to be experienced to be properly appreciated, and it left me wondering whether this was a molasses rum, not one from cane juice.  It was bottled at the perfect strength for what it displayed, melding power and smoothness and warmth in a nose of uncommon quality.  Yet there was lightness and joyousness here too, a sort of playful melange of all the things we like in a rhum, skimping not at all on the secondary notes of prunes, plums, peaches, and pineapples.  It was plump, oily and aromatic to a fault, and demonstrated quite forcefully that the Epris Brazilian rum that had been my first introduction to the company had not been a one-off, one hit wonder.

Even to taste it, the experience did not falter or withdraw from its exuberance. The Bellevue seemed to operate on two levels of quality simultaneously – first there were the faint oily, rubbery notes, leavened with nougat, pink grapefruit and light citrus.  And behind that, almost at the same time, there was the real deal: honey, vanillas, olives and briny notes in perfect balance, chopped light fruits and flowers, plus a thin thread of licorice coiling through the whole thing.  There was just so much going on here that it rewarded a rather languorous approach to the tasting – usually I do all my tastings at the table with all the comparators within easy reach, but here, after ten minutes, I simply said “to hell with it” and went out onto the balcony, sat down to watch the sun go down, and idly observed the passers by below who didn’t share my good fortune at having a lovely rum like this one growling softly in my glass.  Even the finish kept on developing (not always the case with rhums or rums) – it was crisp and smooth and hot, long lasting, a real delight – it seemed to be a little more oaky than before, here, but the lasting memories it left behind were of a lot of hot, strong black tea, and burnt sugar resting easily on a bed of softer vanilla, tobacco and citrus notes.  It was, and remains, a solid, smooth, tasty, drinking experience, not quite as good as the Damoiseau 1989 20 year old…but close, damned close.

If you’re one of the fortunate owners of this nectar, let me run down the bare bones so that you know what you’re drinking: column still product, cask strength 58%, matured in a bourbon barrel for slightly more than twelve years.  This is not from the Habitation Bellevue distillery on Marie Galante, but from the Bellevue estate which is part of Damoiseau on Guadeloupe (the main island), founded in 1914 and bought by Louis Damoiseau in 1942 – commercial bottling began around 1953.  Like just about all commercial spirits operations in the West Indies, they ship bulk rum to Europe, which is, as far as I know, where this one was bought, so ageing was not tropical, but European.  Which, fortunately for us, didn’t diminish its achievement in the slightest.

My association with L’Esprit, that little French company from Brittany I wrote about earlier this week, came as a consequence of that Brazilian rum referred to above — that thing really impressed me.  And so I kept a weather eye out, and bought the first bottle made by L’Esprit that I saw, which just so happened to be this one…I have a few others from the company to go through so it won’t be the last either.  While thus far L’Esprit hasn’t made a whole lot of rums – twenty five or so the last time I looked – the worth of their wares is consistently high.  This one is no exception, an enormously satisfying rhum with exclamation points of quality from start to finish.

The minimal outturn should come in for mention: I’m used to seeing a “set” of a few hundred bottles from the various indies, a few thousand from Rum Nation, so there’s a fair chance some reader of this little blog will pick one up…but to see one of merely sixty bottles from a single cask, well, I may just be spitting into the wind (it was beaten, for the trivia nuts among you, by the Old Man Spirits Uitvlugt, a measly twenty eight bottles, and by the reigning world champion, the Caputo 1973 which had just one). The reason why the outturn is so relatively small, is because L’Esprit is bowing to the market – they know it’s mostly connoisseurs who love cask strength rums, but they’re few and far between, and it’s the general public who drive sales and buy the 46% versions.  What Tristan does, therefore, is issue a small batch of cask strength rums from the barrel (60-100 bottles) and the remainder gets tamped down to 46% and issued in 200-300 bottles.

After going head to head with as many agricole rhums as I can lay paws on for the last few years, there’s nothing but good I can say about the tribe as a whole.  I enjoy the fierce purity of the AOC Martinique rhums, their almost austere clarity and grassy cleanliness – yet somehow I find myself gravitating towards Guadeloupe a bit more often, perhaps because they have a slightly more experimental, almost playful way of producing their hooch (they never bothered with the AOC certification themselves, which may be part of it).  This gives the rhums from the island(s) a certain unstudied richness and depth that seems to have created a bridge between traditional molasses rums and agricoles (my personal opinion).  If you can accept that, then this Bellevue rhum demonstrates – in its fruity, oily, creamy, complex, balanced and warm way –  the potential and quality of the best of both those worlds.

87/100

Other notes:

  • Outturn 60 bottles
  • Distilled March 1998, bottled November 2010

_________________________________

A last pic: Yeah, it’s out of focus and photobombed by The Little Caner…but we could all use some cheer and smiles once in a while, and I liked this one a lot anyway.

Nov 172016
 

rrl-2015

Not quite as good as the 2012…but damned close

#317

One of the genuine pleasures to be had in the field of rum reviews is the unstinting, generous assistance given by members of the subculture.  After I wrote about the Rhum Rhum Liberation 2010, Liberation 2012 and the amazing 2012 Integrale, a reader from Holland contacted me and offered to send along a sample of the 2015 Integrale, for no other reason than because he wanted to see how it stacked up against the others…and to my great good fortune, it arrived while I was still in Germany, and I was able to run all four past each other for a good comparative session.  So big hat tip and many thanks to Eddie K., and may his rum shelf never be empty of the good stuff.

Just to recap the basics for those who don’t want to wade through the other three reviews: all these Libération rhums stem from Bielle on Marie-Galante (Guadeloupe), and are part of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla and Luca Gargano; cane juice derived, double distilled in small copper stills designed by Mr. Capovilla (built by Muller out of Germany), aged around six years in Sauternes white oak casks.  Need I say that there were no additives or filtrations of any kind here?  Probably not.

rhum-rhum-liberation-integrale-2015Tasting such a delectable rhum in tandem with its brothers really allows the profile to be taken apart in a way a more casual tasting probably wouldn’t.  Certainly it reaffirmed my initially high opinion of the 2012 Integrale, but you know, this 2015 version bottled at 58.4% ABV wasn’t half bad either.  Consider first the nose, which playfully started the party with light grassy notes and some rubber, as quickly gone as a strumpet’s smile. Then tree sap, some sweet-and-sour teriyaki sauce, a bit of brine, and then the caramel, burnt sugar, cheesecake, bananas and cherries were given their moment to shine, in a smell that was clear and clean and very crisp, nicely leavened by a creaminess which provided a rounded nose I quite liked.

And I savoured the taste of this thing – it was good and solid, hot and punchy, in a good way, with gradually unfolding flavours of flowers and vanillas plus honey (what is it with the Guadeloupe agricoles and that light honey taste?  It’s great). After opening up and with some water, I tasted chocolate, coffee, spices like cinnamon and cardamon, maybe nutmeg.  There was some vague bitterness of oak to be sensed, a slight imbalance, fortunately brief and soon supplanted by the tartness of apples and cider and brine.  Overall, very well rounded and remarkably drinkable, which is one reason that sample is now gone.  As for the fade, it was long, crisp, briny — no vagueness of tastes, none of that inconclusive mashed-up-porridge of a lesser rhum, but bright and clear, with black tea, more honey, fudge and a sprig of mint and a lovely tart fruitiness that resisted my attempts to pin it down.

It was close to the 2012 Libération for sure, maybe even a bit better…and if, as noted above, it wasn’t quite up to the level of the 2012 Integrale, I didn’t feel cheated or let down, since I have a feeling that such remarkable rhums are occasional visitors to our planet rather than regular inhabitants.  And in any case, the 2015 Integrale is a damned fine rhum by any standard, with many strong points and a very few weak ones, which any lover of agricoles would be glad to have. It’s good to see that in an era of commercial sameness by far too many old houses, it’s still possible to find some that don’t let anything like restraint or commonsense stand in their way, and just go ahead and push all their skill and art into making something that’s really very, very good.  When they were done with this one, I can almost imagine them standing around holding their tasting glasses, and all of them with silly grins of appreciation on their faces.  Much like mine, now that I think about it.

(87/100)

Oct 022016
 

rr-liberation-2010

Not quite on the level of either of the 2012 editions

#308

***

When trying many rums of similar antecedents – year, maker, style – what we are doing is examining all the ways they are similar, or not. The underlying structure is always the same, and we search for points of difference, positive or negative, much in the way we review wines, or James Bond movies.  Velier’s own Caronis and Demeraras are examples of this, as is this collaboration with Gianni Capovilla from Bielle on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe). Some reviewers take this to the extremes of delving into the minutiae of single-barrel rums issued in the same year by different independent bottlers, assessing the various barrels from, say, 1988, but I lack this kind of laser-focus, and it’s good enough for me to pick up a few bottles from a given outfit, and see if any general conclusions can be drawn from them.

rrl-2010-2The basic facts are clear enough for the Liberation: one of the first (if not the first) double-distilled rhum to roll off the line of the new distillery next to Bielle which began its operation around mid 2007, aged a smidgen under three years, bottled at a robust 45% (note that the 2012 editions were 45% for the standard 2012 and 59.8% for the Integrale), coloured a dark orange-gold.  The labelling continues – or originates – the practice of showing the picture of an animal utterly unrelated to rum, which I have been informed is a suggested meal pairing if one was to have the two together (but about which, here, I have my doubts).

The nose was quite nice, with all the subtle complexity and depth I had been led to expect from the Rhum Rhum line. Dusty, dry, some citrus peel (orange), watermelon, even some grass.  It smelled clear and smooth and clean, with just a hint of pot still lurking grumblingly in the background but staying firmly there.  Like with the others, waiting for it to open up rewards the patient, eventually giving up further notes of some light caramel, coconut shavings and brine, all integrating quite well.

The palate evinced a discombobulated richness that indicates the evolution these rhums continue to go through, and which suggests a product profile still not firmly fixed in the maker’s mind.  It was like a cross between a crisp white agricole and a finished whisky (perhaps a Glendronach, what with their sherry finishes), to the benefit of neither.  There were perfumed aromas and tastes of frangipani and hibiscus, which barely missed being cloying; coconut shavings, some brine and olives (though the rhum was not tequila-ish in the slightest), more vegetals and wet grasses, but little of that delicate sugar water sweetness which I sensed in the nose (or vanilla, or caramel).  To say that I was nonplussed might be understating the matter – I’m no stranger to divergent noses and palates, but usually the latter is more demonstrative, more emphatic than the former….here the reverse was the case.  Still, it finished well, being nice and long and aromatic – the florals dialled themselves down, there was a lesser briny note here, and the vanilla and faint caramel were delicately evident once again, accompanied by a very nice touch of honey.  So it was a very nice sipping-quality rum, just outdone by its peers from later years.

Earlier I mentioned points of difference.  I thought this rhum had a better opening nose than the 2012, but was a little thinner on the palate, was slightly less rich, less enjoyably complex.  Honestly, there’s little major difference between the two (though the Integrale exceeds them both)…yet if I were to chose I think the 2012 has my vote, not this one.  Here Signores Capovilla and Gargano were still in the experimental phase, maybe, still testing the variations and developing the overall philosophy of the line.  I’ve heard the 2015 is not on the level of the 2012, and the 2010 isn’t quite there.  So far, then, the 2012 editions seem to be the markers of the brand, and Integrale is still the one to buy.

(84/100)

rrl-2010-3

Sep 282016
 

la-confrere-long-2014-2

#307

Inhaling the powerful scents of this rhum is to be reminded of all the reasons why white unaged agricoles should be taken seriously as drinks in their own right.  Not for Longueteau and La Confrérie the fierce, untamed — almost savage — attack of the clairins; and also not for them the snore-fests of the North American whites which is all that far too many have tried. When analyzing the aromas billowing out from my tasting glass, what I realized was that this thing steered a left-of-middle course between either of those extremes, while tilting more towards the backwoods moonshine style of the former. It certainly presented as a hot salt and wax bomb on initial inspection, one couldn’t get away from that, but it smoothened out and chilled out after a few minutes, and coughed up a few additional notes.  Was there some pot still action going on here? Not as far as I know, more a creole column still.  It was a briny, creamy, estery, aromatic nose, redolent of nail polish and acetone (which faded) watermelon, cucumbers, swank, a dash of lemon and camomile…and maybe a pimento or two for some kick (naah – just kidding about that last one).

The taste of this thing was excellent: spicy hot, fading to warm, and surprisingly smooth for a rhum where I had expected more intensity.  Like many well made full proofs, the integration of the various elements was well done, hardly something we always expect from an unaged white; and after the initial discomfort one hardly noticed that it was a 50% rhum at all. It was comparatively light too, another point of divergence from expectations.  It tasted of all the usual notes that characterize white agricoles – vegetals, lemongrass, cucumbers and watermelon, more sugar water (it hinted at sweetness without bludgeoning you into a diabetic coma with it) – and then added a few interesting points of its own, such as green thai curry in coconut milk, and (get this!) the musky sweetness of green peas. It all closed up shop with a nicely long-ish, dry-ish, intense and almost elegant finish, with an excellent balance of zest, creamy cheese and those peas, and some of the esters and acetones carrying over from where everything had started.  The balance could be better, but I had and have no complaints.

la-confrere-long-2014-1La Confrérie are not independent bottlers in the way Velier, Rum Nation or Compagnie des Indes are.  What they do is work in collaboration with a given distillery, and then act more as co-branders than issuers.  This provides the distillery with the imprimatur of a small organization well known – in Europe generally and France in particular – for championing and promoting rhum, who have selected the casks carefully; and gives La Confrérie visibility for being associated with the distillery.  Note that La Confrérie is also involved in deciding which shops get to sell the rhum, so certainly some economic incentives are at work here.  (There are some other background notes on La Confrérie in the HSE 2007 review, if you’re interested).  The two co-founders — Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany – are currently touring Europe on an Agricole Tour to promote and extend the visibility of French island rhums, so their enthusiasm and affection for agricoles is not just a flash in the pan, but something to be taken seriously.

When I consider the pain Josh Miller went through to get the twelve blanc agricoles which he put through their paces the other day (spoiler alert – the Damoiseau 55% won), I consider the Europeans to be fortunate to have much greater resources at their disposal – especially in France, where I tried this yummy fifty percenter. And frankly, when North Americans tell me about their despite for white (so to speak), having had only Bacardis and other bland, filtered-to-within-a-whisker-of-falling-asleep mixing agents whose only claim to fame is their ubiquity, well, here’s one that might turn a few heads and change a few minds.  

(83/100)

Other notes

  • Outturn 1500 bottles
  • Source blue cane chopped, crushed, wrung out, soaked and hooched in May 2014, left in steel vats for around six months, and bottled in March 2015.
Aug 172016
 

Liberation 2012

Maybe not quite a second banana to the Integrale from the same year, but not the whole one either.

(#295 / 86/100)

***

In theory, the only real difference between the Libération Integrale and the one I’m looking at here is the strength (and, if you’re picky about such things, the title).  The Integrale was a quiet stunner of a rhum, one of the best agricoles for its price and age, yet it seems odd to say that its lower strength sibling falls so much shorter of the mark.  Can that really be just about proof?  I tasted them side by side, as well as with the 2010), and to me it was clear that one was markedly better, tastier, yummier…and, in spite of the interesting profile, this one faded from nearly-exceptional into merely above-average.

The whole Rhum-Rhum series is a result of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla who runs the eponymous outfit on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe), and Luca Gargano, who needs no introduction. They built a new distillery next to Bielle, which is the origin of the sugar cane that makes the rhum, . They ferment the undiluted juice longer than usual – ten days – and run it through small Muller-built copper pot stills, before letting the resultant distillate age.  It’s important to know that unlike many other makers, the year on the bottle is not the year it came out of the distillery and into the cask to begin ageing…but the year it was taken out (or liberated, get it?)…so if my dates are right, they started churning out the stuff around 2007.

Liberation 2012 - 1Other miscellaneous details: bottled at 45%; aged for five years in barrels that once held French wine (Sauternes Chateay d’Yquem); the age was not noted on the bottle, but it’s been confirmed as five years old as for the Integrale, and I idly wondered whether there wasn’t some NAS scheme at work here, a marketing effort meant to remove age as a determinant of price.  Probably not, neither man is the type to play such stupid marketing games. Still — the rationale for the lobster and other creepies which confused me a few months ago has now been cleared up, because although their relationship to rhum is tenuous at best, in this case it is supposed to represent proper food pairings to have with it.  So, okay then…let’s move along, stop waffling and start tasting.

Nose wise, this dark orange-gold rum presented well, with an admirable complexity hinting at greater qualities to come. Some rubber, citrus peel (nothing too excessive), and sweet lemon grass, freshly cut.  It was, like many agricoles, quite crisp, and while somewhat deeper than the 2010, presented many of the same notes.  It settled down after some time and smoothened out into a lovely rounded profile of coconut, caramel, brie…and a sly little hint of pencil erasers, followed some time later by the rest of the pencil.  I wonder if that was Signore Capovilla’s sense of humour at work.

As noted before, I have a certain liking for Guadeloupe rhums which aren’t as tightly wedded to – some say restricted by – the AOC designation. Unlike the Integrale, there was a faint-but-noticeable element of molasses here, combined with and melding into, something vegetal and flowery…deeper than your regulation agricole.  And with water a few other elements came to the fore – sugar water, flowers, more of that coconut and lemongrass. It was in its own somewhat thinner way, somewhat similar to the 2010 and Integrale, but drier than either, and not quite as sweet.  Overall,  I felt the lack of body (caused by the lower proof point) was an effort to make it appeal to a wider audience, rather than indulge the maker’s true ideas on where it should, or could, go.  So while the finish closed things off nicely – longish, heated, dry, sweet, some oak with some last grassy-molasses-caramel hybrid notes, mingling with brine – I didn’t think it succeeded as well as its stronger sibling.

What we have here, at the end, is a variation on a theme.  The relationship of this rhum to the Integrale – and, less so, to the Libération 2010 – is there, and no-one could doubt their ancestry. People who prefer standard proof drinks would likely like this rhum quite a bit, and I recommend it.  We are, after all, discussing relatively minor differences between one rhum and another, which most won’t care about.  Still, those variations, to true aficionados who dissect a single year’s production from a single distillery with the care and artistry only the obsessed can muster, are enough to make me think this is a lesser product, good as it is.  It’s not a failure – it’s too well made for that – just not something I’d buy if I knew the Integrale was next to it on the shelf (this is my personal thing which you can ignore, because they’re both very good).

Everyone is always so chuffed about Luca’s Demeraras and Caronis.  So much so, that his quieter, less histrionically admired efforts sometimes go overlooked (except, perhaps, by the French). Yet Velier has done something quite remarkable here, perhaps even more important than those other two famous bodies of work: in this association with Capovilla, he didn’t select a bunch of barrels, didn’t pick and chose from stuff already made.  They literally built a distillery around the idea of making a top end agricole which showcased Gianni Capovilla’s talent and Luca Gargano’s dream.  And brought out a bunch of rhums that showed the potential of agricoles to a wider audience. That’s quite an achievement, by any standard.

Liberation 2012 - 2

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