Sep 262018
 

Few are unaware of the existence of the J. Bally 1929 – for those who troll the online shops it remains one of the few very old bottlings from inter-war Gilded Age times to remain available…if one has over two grand kicking about to buy it.The Bally 1924, on the other hand, is a whole lot rarer – I can’t remember the last time I saw one coming up for discussion, let alone sale. And one could argue that its heritage is much more gold-plated – it’s the first vintage from J. Bally. I’ve tried quite a few from this bottler, one dating back to the 1960s, but to try the very first?  That might be worth a kidney right there.

This bottle being such a piece of heritage, a little history is in order. J. Bally was named after Jacques Bally, a graduate of a top engineering school in Paris, the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures (ECP, founded in 1829) – he snapped up the Lajus Plantation on Martinique in 1917, a mere fifteen years after Mount Pelee erupted, when memories of that disaster were still fresh and land prices were cheap (Lajus, founded in 1670, was already in foreclosure, having gone bankrupt after the 1902 disaster). By 1920 he had installed new steam engine, fixed up the salvageable equipment he could and (legend has it) pretty much built his own column still from scratch.  In that same year the nearby Habitation Dariste owned by the the Gronier family went bankrupt and Bally bought it in 1923 and moved the distillery equipment to Lajus to augment his own machniery. In 1930, by which time he was already laying away rum stocks to age, he also had a hand in designing the signature pyramidical and square bottles which became so associated with Bally in later years. The rhums Bally made were very popular, sold well, and the company remained in business until the 1980s when Remy Cointreau acquired it, at which point production was shut down at Lajus and moved to Domaine du Simon where (as far as I know), it’s still being made, with cane from Lajus. Note that in 2003 La Martiniquaise bought out Saint James and Bally (to add to their rum portfolio which already contained the brands of Depaz, Dillon, Negrita and Old Nick) which is why the Remy Cointreau’s webpage makes no mention of either one now.

Aside from being made so long ago, what makes the 1924 special is that it was the initial release of an aged rhum from Bally, and one of the first of its kind in the French West Indies, if not the first. Jacques Bally took inspiration from cognac and eau-de-vie makers in France and was apparently the first to consider ageing Martinique rhums in oak. This provided the initial release of his rums in the 1920s with a depth of quality that made them extremely popular and well-known, and one can just imagine all the other distilleries on the island rushing to copy the idea. The inevitable question arises, how old is the 1924 vintage?  “More than six years,” said Luca in a text to me, and that makes sense if the bottle that houses it was only designed and made in 1930. We can leave it there with only one other great unknown, and that’s how many bottles were released – and nobody knows that any longer, sorry. I hit a brick wall on that one.

Enough of the pedantic stuff. How was it to taste, eliminating all the baggage of history and heritage and rarity the rhum came with? It’s one thing to sing high praises because it’s from so far back, but a cold review is somewhat more challenging, especially considering the august company in which I tried it – the Tasting of the Century in September 2018.  You can bet that I was paying real close attention and took a long time with my glass on this one, if only so I wouldn’t be embarrassed when real writers came out with their own notes.

Nose first: nice! For all its age, the Bally 1924 could have come off the line last year and you’d never know it.  It smelled of fresh squeezed apple juice, pears with oodles of sweet light aromas, flowers, sugar water and watermelon, out of which emerged a nice melange of crushed walnuts, fanta, lemon zest, crisp yellow mangoes and cumin.  If you were tasting it blind you’d swear this was an agricole you could pick up online for some reasonable coin – like the Harewood 1780, it presented a profile not a hundred miles removed from something produced today.

Bottled at 45% ABV, the Bally 1924, for all the noble pedigree granted by being made so far back, in many ways resembled Bally rhums from past decades’ that I went through three years ago. It was slightly sharp on the palate, and as clean and clear as any of its descendants.  Apples, cider, brine and olives came smoothly off the assembly line, bolted on to emergent flavours of pears in syrup, green grapes, spices, more lemon zest, leather, a touch of vanilla and nougat and a vague hint of grass, black tea, earthy musk, and rosemary. The overall balance, cleanliness of the mouthfeel was excellent, and the ageing had definitely sanded down any rough edges – it was quite simply a pleasant drink to have, fading easily into a smooth finish that provided little that was new, just a languorous recap of the highlights – peaches, pears, mangoes, lemon zest, watermelon and sweet flowers and herbs and a pinch of cumin. A neat and near-perfect little agricole, coming together beautifully.

Well. How to score something like this? Well, I’m going to give it a solid endorsement — not that this means anything given its mythical near-unicorn status. But I should note in passing that for all its quality, the Bally 1924 strikes me more as an essay in the craft of agricole than a completely finished product that stands the test of time. It shows what they were before the snapped into focus in the last few decades of the AOC regs.

Perhaps it’s unfair to rate a rhum made nearly a hundred years ago to the standard of today when so much has changed in the interim — and for sure others around the table that day loved it (Matt rated it as his personal favourite for the evening).  To round things up: the Harewood 1780 presented a startlingly modern profile that went in its own brilliant direction way, strong, forceful, distinct; the Skeldon 1978 couldn’t rise above its elder brother but was still quite an amazing drink; and the Saint James 1885 was a rum made in a style quite different from agricoles as a whole, unique and interesting.  The Bally is caught in a limbo between the modern versions of the spirit, and the old ways of the 1885 – that’s in no way a failure, just that the competition is more fierce because we’ve had so many rums that are so similar to it.

But you know, whatever the score, there’s a certain cachet, even honour, in having been able to try a quartet of such grail-quest rums, so old, so rare, so absolutely stinking of rum history, so generously shared.  The Tasting of the Century might one day be exceeded (though I can’t for the life of me imagine what rums would comprise version 2.0); but whether that happens or not, I’ll always be happy to have tried the Bally — because it was one of those rhums that pointed the way to the modern era of cane juice rhums, so exactingly made, so proudly issued, so excellent to drink.  The Saint James 1885 might be the doddering grandaddy of the French island rhum style, but the 1924 with its crisp and clear profile taking us back to the beginning of the modern era, is surely its godfather.

(#552)(86/100)


Other Notes

Sep 242018
 

By now just about anyone in touch with the rum blogosphere on social media is aware of the add-on to the Hampden Rums launch hosted by La Maison-Velier in September 2018: the “Rum Tasting of the Century” — though I believe the words “…so far” were were silently tacked on by some of us participants, hoping against hope for another (better, older) one before we get laid to rest like Nelson in a cask of DOK.  Nor are many unaware of the four aged unicorn rums we were privileged to try as part of the Tasting – Skeldon 1978, Bally 1924, Harewood House 1780, and the subject of this revisit, the Rhum des Plantations St. James 1885. 

I’d had the luck and good fortune to sample the St. James before and have written about it as part of the Rumaniacs.  This of course cut me absolutely zero slack with the attending Collective – because for all our camaraderie and friendship (online and off), we’re a cheerfully competitive bunch of people, and like to get our personal opinions settled (no others being as good as our own, naturally) before even acknowledging that someone else may have tried a particular rum in front of us.

Still, we had to get facts, and a lot of our preliminary conversations and subsequent texts and messages revolved around the data points, which are as follows: the rhum was made in 1885 on Martinique, and derived from cane juice that was boiled prior to fermentation.  Although the exact age is unknown, it was certainly shipped off the island before Mount Pelée erupted in 1902 and destroyed all stocks there, so at an absolute maximum it can be 17 years old. This is, however unlikely – few rums or rhums were aged that long back then, and the opinion of the master blender of St James (Mark Sassier) that it was 8-10 years old is probably the best one (Cyril of DuRhum has some additional details in his 2016 review) . Following the eruption of the volcano, the only remaining bottles were in Europe and gradually unsold ones were acquired (many from the cellars of Bardinet) and sent back to Martinique and put on sale.  Luca, who was a brand ambassador for St. James at one time, eventually acquired (or so legend goes) about 300 bottles in the 1980s. One of them, 47% ABV as tested in 1991, stood before us in a conference room in the Four Seasons in London overlooking theThames, awaiting our attention.

The first thing everyone remarked on about this rhum was the colour – a dark dark dark mud brown.  The second thing was the aroma. Without doubt this remained one of the richest rum smells of my own experience: it was redolent of coffee, licorice, coca-cola, bitter chocolate, coconut shavings accompanied by enormous notes of molasses.  There were, after some additional minutes, some light fruits and florals and lemon peel, but overall, it reminded one of nothing so much as a Demerara rum, not an agricole, and a really heavy, thick Demerara at that.

Though my tasting memories of the first 1885 rum I had tried three years earlier had faded somewhat, I still remembered much of the core profile, and these were back for an encore, with the same dull richness that made it so memorable back then. Bitter chocolate, nougat, nuts, grated coconut and coffee led off the charge, with flanking movements of licorice, caramel, coke and the noticeable leather and oak tannins that spoke to some ageing.  Fruits again – pears, orange zest, plums, blackberries. The texture on the tongue was heavy, stopping just short of cloying, and I must remark on the fact that it was overtaken a little too much by the forceful molasses tastes. Still, it was a great sip, and the rum glided smoothly to the finish with last notes of earthy mustiness, roasted chestnuts, molasses (of course), fast-fading fruitiness, dates and chocolate.

What a difference a mere three years makes.  In 2015 my sample of the Saint James 1885 got rated 90, and I commented favourably on its depth and complexity.  Certainly, compared to the rhums against which it was being tried that day (Barbancourt 25 YO and 15 YO, La Martiniquaise Rhum Pur, La Favorite 1990, and J. Bally 6 YO) and my own experience with uber-old spirits to that point, it was a score I have no problems defending.  However, since then I’ve tasted and gone into depth with and written about another 300+ rums, and quite aside from wry commentaries about not having a life, it’s clear that both increased experience and different comparators do make a difference in assessing the same rum years later.

On that basis, I’m going to rank it a few points lower this time, but in truth, the score is meaningless for a rhum this rare and that expensive and from so far back.  I think that for anyone who has opportunity to try a rum made over a hundred years ago, it’s enough to simply say that they drank it. It’s a window into perceiving French island’s rhum before agricoles became agricoles, before the AOC, before the production methodologies of today.  It promotes understanding of how rum has developed and changed over the decades and centuries, and if one is left with a single thought after the fact, it’s that it was and remains an experience to rival few others in our long journey of rum appreciation. That alone might be worth all the points anyone could ever give it.

(#551)(87/100)


Other Notes

Sep 102018
 

How this blanc J. Bally succeeds as well as it does is a source of wonder.  I tried it and was left blinking in appreciation at its overall quality. Like all Bally rums made these days, it’s AOC certified, half pure alcohol (50% ABV), and unaged (rested for a few months in stainless steel tanks before bottling), and I honestly expected something a lot more aggressive than it actually was.  In that ability it had to walk the tightrope between ageing and no aging, between too strong or too weak, between jagged edges and smooth gentling lies a lot of its appeal.

Some time ago when I wrote a small roundup of  21 Great Whites, I remarked on the fact that most of the best white rums out there are bottled without any ageing at all, right as they come dripping off the still.  Whatever filtration such rums are subjected to, is to remove sediment and detritus, not the sort of chill filtration, reverse osmosis or activated charcoal filters that leave an emasculated and flaccid excuse for a rum behind, which is then relegated to the poor-doofus-cousin shelf of a barman’s cabinet, used only for cheap mixes.  You certainly would not want to drink one of those indifferent, milquetoast whites neat to savour the nuances, which is why they have inexorably slipped to the bottom of the rankings of white rums in general, their place taken by purer, cleaner, stronger stuff — like this cool Martinique product.

Bally no longer exists as an independent, completely integrated entity in its own right. After being acquired by Remy Cointreau in the 1980s, the distillery operations were closed and shifted to the centralized Simon Distillery, though the original recipes for their rhums remains intact, and sugar production continues at Lajus, as does the bottling and ageing up the road at Le Carbet. As with many French island products, it retains a certain cult following, and a cachet all its own.  Suffice to say they have made some really good rums, and this one may either be the real deal poised for mass market export or some kind of off-the-wall local tipple trotted out for exposure at various Rumfests (which is where I tried it, mostly out of curiosity). It’s reasonably widely available, especially in Europe.

Well, that out of the way, let me walk you through the profile.  Nose first: what was immediately evident is that it adhered to all the markers of a crisp agricole. It gave off of light grassy notes, apples gone off the slightest bit, watermelon, very light citrus and flowers.  Then it sat back for some minutes, before surging forward with more: olives in brine, watermelon juice, sugar cane sap, peaches, tobacco and a sly hint of herbs like dill and cardamom.

The palate was more dialled down, less aggressive…tamer, perhaps; softer. And that’s saying something for a 50% rum.  It was sleek, supple, smooth and sweet, and went down easy. Tastes suggested fanta and 7-Up in an uneasy combination with rained-upon green grass.  A little menthol, thyme and sugar water. A sort of light fruitiness pervaded the drink – watermelon juice, white guavas, pears, combined with sugar water, underneath which lurked a cheeky element of brine that never entirely came out and took over, and was hinted at, never outright disclosed.  Finish was nothing special – a little salt, a little sugar, a little water, a little fruit, but not hot at all, mostly an easy going wave goodbye as it exited the premises.

There’s little to complain about here, and much to admire.  To me, what sets this rum apart is its how many things it accomplishes in the same bottle, the same shot.  Unlike many whites that are now making headlines, Bally’s blanc doesn’t want to rip your face off or try to show off its package in an effort to show it’s bigger, bolder and more badass than all the others.  It’s also an uncommonly restrained white rum, retaining both elements of its youth, as well as having its rough edges sanded down a shade. It’s a white rhum that is demonstrably an agricole, a vibrantly young sprout of some character and depth, and tailor-made for both those now dipping their toes into the white-rum sea (and don’t want anything too savage), and those who like white agricoles on general principles. That it does all these things at once and with such unassuming style, is nothing short of a tiny miracle.

(#548)(84/100)

Mar 032018
 

D3S_3819

Rumaniacs Review #075 | 0492

Revisited over nearly three years, the seemingly underproofed 43% 2005 Neisson has grown in my estimation; indeed, it wasn’t until I was doing up my tasting notes that I recalled the initial review (R0273 / 86 points) done back in 2015, and realized that it was even better than I recalled, back when Neisson was still too strange, too new to my agricole experience, for its qualities to shine through.  Good thing the Sage sent us some more to try, then, because perhaps now I can be more enthusiastic about it.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Starts off by being a traditional Neisson nose, all tequila, olives, brine, caramel and citrus, very well handled, nothing excessive, all in harmony.  Then things start to get interesting. Pears and hard yellow mangoes (the sort Guyanese like having with salt and a really hot pepper), chocolate, some soya.  Also tobacco, peaches, fennel and rosemary, and the thick scent of a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s Day.

Palate – Interesting three card trick here: it’s both solid and light and creamy all at the same time, and that’s not something I see often.  Salt butter, more mangoes, papayas, watery pears, citrus peel (lemon rather more than lime, I’d say), flowers, aromatic cigars and coconut dusted white chocolate.  The briny aspect takes a back seat, which is good because it allows a faint note of caramel to emerge as well.  Just lovely.

Finish – 43% isn’t going to give up much, and so the fade is short…but also quite aromatic.  Citrus, salty caramel ice cream, ripe green apples and pears.  And a hint of coffee again. It doesn’t come to an end with either a bang or a whisper, but sort of a quiet, easy lingering fade that makes you want to savour the experience.

Thoughts – After running past nine Neissons blind, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me to appreciate that this one, with the weakest ABV of the lot (by a small margin), was also the best.  There’s something about the way the bits and pieces of its profile meld and merge and then separate, giving each a small and defined moment of sunshine on nose and palate, that is really quite lovely. It’s tasty, it’s complex, it’s smooth, it’s all ’round good. It’s one of those rums I bought on a whim, was excellent then…and has grown in stature for me ever since.  Rightfully so.

(89/100)


  • WhiskyFun reviewed this rhum a few months back in a multi-rum session, here….he scored this one at 92. Future Rumaniacs reviews of the Neisson line, when others get around to them, will be posted here. Also, Laurent “The Man with a Stroller”, gave it a French language, unscored review (part three his four-part Neisson roundup, see Parts [1][2][3][4]), which is well worth a read.
Feb 202018
 

Rumaniacs Review #074 | 0490

Almost the last of the Neissons in the current Rumaniacs lineup – and nothing at all wrong with this one either, because Neisson’s overall quality has been remarkably consistent throughout the various samples, and while there are variations in minor points throughout, the bottom line is that aged or young, strong or easy, they are all – all – of a high standard.  My love for French Island rums trends more towards Guadeloupe, but if I ever saw a Neisson from Martinique sitting on the shelf, it would always be one I gave serious consideration to buying, because I know it’ll be a cut above the ordinary, every time, no matter which one it happens to be.

Colour – Dark Gold

Strength – 45.8%

Nose – It’s hot on the initial nose, this one, quite spicy, with bitter chocolate, coffee grounds and salt caramel notes to lead in with. As is normal, resting for a few minutes allows the secondary aromas to come forward – peaches, apricots, ripe red cherries, anise and a background line of citrus and unsweetened yoghurt.  Some tequila, salt and dark damp Demerara sugar, just a bit

Palate – Umm, I like this one.  More chocolate, a little sweet – it’s warm to taste, but the spice and sharp has been dialled down some.  Sweet soya, orange peel, also coke and fanta (a kind of soda pop taste), more coffee grounds, and very little of the more herbal, grassy flavour, though some of that does poke its head up here or there like a shy gopher from its hole.  There’s also some camphor like medicine to be noted, leavened with softer hints of coconut cream and maybe bananas.

Finish – Short and easy, caramel and citrus that remind me of those chocolate oranges.  It’s a little sharp, adding a few extra fruits and lemon grass to round out the experience.

Thoughts – Some issues with the assembly here.  Not entirely enthused about the way all the various flavours careen off each other instead of holding hands and coming together. It may also be the brashness of high-spirited youth where heat and spice and integration are still being worked on.  But what the hell.  It’s still a pretty decent and complex dram for anyone who enjoys the style.

(84/100)

Feb 132018
 

Rumaniacs Review #073 | 0488

So here we’re moving Neissons into the 2000’s series of rums and leaving the 1990s behind.  Those were pretty good, all of them, so did that track record of cool continue?  I think so.  What strikes me about all these Neissons of whatever age or provenance, is their overall consistency.  There are points of difference in all of them, of course, but I would be hard pressed to do a blind horizontal tasting and be able to tell you which one was which – they all cluster around the same level of quality. And no matter which one you get, there’s hardly a dog in the lineup, and if one or two don’t ascend to the heights, that’s still no reason to give them a miss.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43.1%

Nose – This is well assembled, presenting light melded aromas of tequila (including the salt and lemon) and brown sugar, dusted with herbs: dill, sage and a little thyme.  The brininess is held back nicely and with the citrust zest threading through it, what I recall most clearly is a Thai curry with lime leaves thrown in.  Aside from these more dominant scents, there’s also some peaches, cucumbers…and a waft of a delicate perfume, like Anaïs-Anaïs, maybe.  Overall, a really good nose.

Palate – The lightness continues, if somewhat at right angles to what the nose suggested, even if much of the good was retained. Aromatic tobacco, fireplace ashes, vanilla, those herbs again, sweet red olives (the brine, it should be noted, as with the nose, was dialled down here), lemon peel, tumeric and cumin.  Although the 43.1% is a delicate in terms of the components, overall the mouthfeel seems a little rough, and I no longer wonder that it wasn’t made a shade stronger.

Finish – Light and somewhat short, no surprise.  Sugar water infused with green tea, cumin, a little fruitiness and flowers.

Thoughts – Not the best of the lot, no.  It’s got some character, a little roughness, and somewhat less of the fine integration of the 1993 (R-069) or 1994 (R-070).  But for something this young to be as good as it is, now that’s a fine feat by any yardstick.

(84/100)


Laurent hasn’t dealt with this one in his four-part Neisson roundup (see Parts [1][2][3][4]), but WhiskyFun did indeed look at it in his multi-rum session, here. He scored it 86.

Feb 072018
 

Rumaniacs Review #072 | 0486

The Neisson rhums just keep on staying at a high level of quality, no matter what the year.  This is not one of the best of the 1990s editions but it’s no slouch either and if you get it – assuming you can because my google-fu isn’t doing very well locating it – you will likely be quite pleased.  This  rhum was rested in steel tanks for a year (it was actually distilled in 1996, reports Serge) – and then put to age in 1997, hence the dating on it.  Oh and for the rabid among you – this was part of a joint bottling with Velier, so Luca’s fingerprints are somewhere on the bottle as well.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 44.7%

Nose – Starts out very agricole-like before taking what for Neisson is something a detour. Crisp and punchy nose redolent of caramel, nougat, pears, white guavas, watermelon.  There’s a thread of licorice throughout, some citrus, and also raisins, flambeed bananas and some leather and smoke.  Quite interesting.  Raises the bar for expectations of what comes later

Palate – Interesting combination of flavours, perhaps a little underwhelming given the high hopes the nose (and other siblings in the Neisson lineup) engendered. Ginger ale and Dr. Pepper; nougat, white chocolate, almonds and pralines and crumbled oatmeal cookies (yeah…odd, right?).  Again licorice makes and appearance, plus some citrus and cumin and caramel, but the distinctiveness of Neissson, that briny, olive-y, tequila-like background, is just absent.  Nor is there much of the true agricole here – the grassiness and clarity are somewhat missing.

Finish – Reasonably long-lived.  Hints of salted caramel ice cream, veggie samosas, sweet soya sauce, licorice, oranges gone off.  Strange and intriguing and somewhat tasty, just not something that hits all the high notes for me.

Thoughts – Not sure if this rhum was an experiment of some sort, or not.  A lot of things went right with it, I should hasten to add, it was fun to drink and to sample.  Although the tastes were occasionally odd, they still existed firmly within the ambit of the Neisson family overall, and in any case I’m reluctant to mark down distinctiveness just because it fails to integrate and come together into a better synthesis. Whatever the case and whatever your tastes, it’s just a little off-base for a Neisson, that’s all, but it’s still a rhum that if offered, shouldn’t be turned down.

(84.5/100)


  • WhiskyFun reviewed this rhum a few months back in a multi-rum session, here….he scored this one at 88. Future Rumaniacs reviews of the Neisson line, when others get around to them, will be posted here. Also, Laurent “The Man with a Stroller”, gave it a French language, unscored review (part two his four-part Neisson roundup, see Parts [1][2][3][4]), which is well worth a read.
Feb 042018
 

Photo shamelessly cribbed from DuRhum.com

#485

Ever notice how on the British West Indies there are just a few or just one big gun per island or country — like DDL, Appleton, Mount Gay, Foursquare, Angostura, St Lucia Distilleries, St Vincent Distillers, Rivers Royale, and so on — while the smaller islands from the French side like Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion and Mauritius seem to have little outfits all over the place?  I don’t know what’s behind that – maybe it has to do with the commercial cultures of each sphere.  Whatever the case, one can’t fault the results of multiple distillers competing fiercely for global bucks and worldwide street cred, because it all redounds to the benefit of us rum chums, and these distillers sure haven’t let a few centuries of experience wither on the vine and be forgotten.

Consider, for example, J.M., which is among the last of the family operated independent distillers operating on Martinique: the initials refer to Jean-Marie Martin, a previous 19th century owner, and the estate has its origins with the famed Pere Labat way back in the 1700s, though it has changed hands several times since then.  With the surge of interest in agricoles over the last five years or so their profile has been raised somewhat, with good reason – what they make is damned fine: I’ve tried three of their rums so far, none of which scored less than 86, and this one, issued at 47.2% is just as good as the others.

Just as a side note, there are two variations of the Millesime 2000 – one was bottled in 2009 at 47.2%, which is this one, an eight year old; and another one bottled in 2016 at a lighter 41.9%, a fifteen year old.  The one I have is something of a premium edition, a numbered bottle meant to celebrate the arrival of the 2000s, silver-wrapped green bottle and enclosure, pretty cool looking.  Samples came courtesy of (and with thanks to) Cyril of DuRhum and Laurent of “Poussette” fame, and I’ve pilfered Cyril’s picture to give you a sense of how it looks.

What was surprising about the AOC rum was how it nosed more traditionally – creme brulee and cheesecake to start with, backed up by a very light line of acetone and furniture polish (!!)…not quite the profile I was expecting.  Still, these aromas developed over time to a more commingled crushed apple juice, together with honey, raisins, cream soda, nutmeg and cinnamon, and it was all quite delicate and clear — only after about fifteen minutes or so did additional fruits, herbs and the characteristic grassy and citrus smells start to poke through, adding some nuts and light oak to the whole mix.

Tastewise it was just lovely.  Light and perfumed – the strength was perfect for what it presented –  with lots of delicate breakfast spices, grass, citrus, herbs, smoke, leather and woods.  Florals were more noticeable here, frangipani and hibiscus, plus a more salty profile taking the front seat as well – brine, olives, cream pie crust, cereals, toblerone, white chocolate and almonds.  It was very well balanced off between these tastes, and was not so much crisp as simply well integrated and easy.  The fruits in particular were hard to distinguish…they existed the notes of green grapes, some apples and pears took some time to ferret out, and I felt the vanilla became somewhat over-dominant towards the end, obscuring other aspects which worked better.  The finish gave no cause for complaint, though — short, as was to be expected, with nutmeg, vanilla, aromatic tobacco, orange zest and some more light fruits.

Overall, this was one of the better agricoles I’ve had over the years. It was another one of those JM rhums which defined itself by being quietly unique in its own way, while never entirely losing touch with those aspects of the agricole world which make them such sought after products in their own right.  Our senses are led gently through its composition, the high points hinted at without being driven home with a bludgeon and it has a quiet voluptuousness which is never punched up or intrusive. This is a rum we don’t tipple or swill or cautiously sip – we sample its languourous charms, enjoy the experience, and glide through to an appreciation of its construction.  And when it’s over and the glass is empty, we may not entirely recall the experience with clarity…we just know we would be fools if we didn’t pour ourselves another glass. It’s that kind of rhum.

(86.5/100)

Jan 302018
 

Rumaniacs Review #071 | 0484

As we proceed down memory lane with the aged Neisson rhums, the single cask expressions begin to take on greater prominence, displacing larger-volume blended outturns with more exactingly made products for the cognoscenti. These are expensive rhums, old rhums, not easily available, and are aimed at the upper slice of the market – the 1% of connoisseurs, I would suggest.  Ordinary drinkers who just like their rums without fuss or fanfare are not the target audience – these products are made for people who are deep into their variations, for the rhum equivalent of philatelists who don’t simply go for Martinique stamps, but specifically green stamps from the second half of 1926…that kind of thing.  Because Neisson has such a wide range of ages and millesimes, these minuscule variations are endlessly debated, discussed and noted, but one thing is clear – they’re are almost all quietly amazing.  This one is no exception.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 48%

Nose – If we lose the malaria medicine I didn’t really care for in the 1992 10 YO (R-068), what we have here is something similar: a lovely rich nose redolent with promise that for once, delivers on just about everything it suggests it has under its petticoats.  Sherry, caramel and red fruit notes lead in, raspberries for tartness, cherries for depth, followed up by apples and pears, herbal and watery and grassy all at once.  Some dates, grapes, light olives, but very little of the salty tequila background I’ve mentioned many times before; and what makes this stand out is that it presents old but simultaneously feels young and vibrant.

Palate – Thrumming and deeply vibrant rhum, one wonders how they wrung such depth out of a “mere” 48% – however, I’m not complaining. Dark and hot black tea.  Ripe apricots, overripe mangoes, honey, cherries, wound about and through with citrus peel.  Also some anise, coca cola (odd, but there you are).  Dill, sage, a flirt of mint, grass, a faint wine-y tone and yes, there’s a whiff of chocolate as well.

Finish – Reasonably long.  Sums up all the foregoing.  Mostly crisp herbal and citrus notes, leavened somewhat by fleshier fruits and just a touch of brine.

Thoughts – the charcteristics of hoary old age (in rum years) are neatly set off by a taste and feel that appears much younger, fresher, and the product as a whole is given character by a great melange of crisp tastes together with muskier, more solid tones.  It’s a considerable achievement by Neisson, and my only regret is that with such a limited outturn (290 bottles) and high price (€600 or so), it’s not likely to gain wide renown.  Perhaps that’s what the Rumaniacs are there for.

(87/100)


  • WhiskyFun took a gander at a bunch of Neissons a few months back in a multi-rum session, here….he scored this one at 90. All the Rumaniacs reviews of the Neissons will be posted here. Also, my good friend Laurent from one of my favourite (and most imaginatively named) of all rum sites “The Rhums of the Man with a Stroller”, gave it a French language, unscored review (part two of his two-parter) which is well worth a read.
Jan 242018
 

Rumaniacs Review #070 | 0482

The deeper one dives into the series of aged agricoles from Neisson, the more the similarities and differences become apparent.  They all have points of commonality which speak to the philosophy of the bottler as a whole, yet also aspects of uniqueness in the smaller, more detailed ways, which individual tastings done over long periods might not make clear.  Even the variations in strength create detours from the main road which only a comparison with a large sample set bring out.  What this particular series emphasizes, then, is that Neisson’s aged range is quite a notable achievement, because like exactingly chose independent bottlers’ single cask expressions, there’s hardly a dog to be found in the entire lineup, and one can pretty much buy any one of them and be assured of a damned fine rum.  As long as, of course, one’s tastes bend towards agricoles. Mine do, so on we go…

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43.6%

Nose – For an agricole, this is remarkably deep and flavourful, if initially somewhat round and indeterminate, because the aromas merge gently before separating again after some resting time.  It reminds me of the fruitiness of a cognac mixed up with notes of a good and robust red wine….plus (not unnaturally), the tequila and briny-olive-y profile for which Neisson is renowned. Further smells of sweet soya, rye bread and in the background lurk barely noticeable hints of vanilla ice cream and caramel.  Some oak in there, not enough to detract from anything, accompanied by bland fruits (bananas) and hazelnut chocolate. Plus some aromatic tobacco.

Palate – It always seems to be on the tasting that Neisson comes into its own — nosing is fun and informative, but sipping a rum is what it’s there for, right?  Starts watery and a bit sharp (odd, considering its low proof point), then settles down rapidly into a bright and crisp rum of uncommon quality. First, blackcurrants, black berries, blueberries, vanilla and caramel .  Then nuts, coffee, bitter chocolate and oak, tied up in a bow with licorice, Wrigley’s spearmint (very faint) and lemon zest. The successful balancing of all these seeming disparate components is really quite something.

Finish – Lingering, light and somehow quite distinct.  Some citrus here, caramel, a few dark fruits, and also some tart notes – sour cream and unripe mangoes in salt.  Unusual…yet it works. A good ending to a fine rhum.

Thoughts – it’s all a bit faint as a result of the low ABV, but assertive enough, complex enough, complete enough to make its own point.  This thing is almost the full package.  Aged rhum, well-known maison, complex tastes, terrific nose.  Hard to imagine it being beat easily, even by its brothers from the same maker. It is, but not easily, and I’ll save that for another quick review that’s coming up soon.

(86/100)


Other notes

  • 1000- bottle outturn These days this rhum costs upwards of €600…ouch.
  • Different label from the others we;ve looked at before…no idea why.
  • WhiskyFun took a gander at a bunch of Neissons a few months back in a multi-rum session, here….he scored this one at 90. All the Rumaniacs reviews of the Neissons will be posted here. Also, my good friend Laurent from one of my favourite (and most imaginatively named) of all rum sites “The Rhums of the Man with a Stroller”, gave it a French language, unscored review (part one of a two-parter) which is well worth a read.