Feb 152015
 

Photo Courtesy DuRhum.com

 

This is a pricey and very good rum that should have had the guts to go higher than its issued strength; but you’ll still be extremely happy with what you get, because there’s a lot going on until it runs out of steam at the finish.

(#202. 74/100)

***

Indulge my love of history for a while: La Favorite is a small family owned distillery in Martinique which has an annual rum production of around 600,000 litres (as comparative examples, Bacardi sells in the tens of millions and the craft maker Rum Nation somewhere less than 200,000).  The original sugar plantation was initially called “La Jambette” for a small adjacent river, and was renamed in the mid-19th century with the establishment of the distillery that exists to this day (anecdotes refer to the islanders calling it their favourite rhum, or Napoleon himself remarking it was his, but who knows). The company ran into financial difficulties in 1875 (maybe this was due to the establishment of the French 3rd Republic, and the defeat of the monarchists whom the planters supported, but I’m reaching here).  Somehow the plantation limped along until 1891 when a hurricane did so much damage that the whole operation was shut down for nearly twenty years. Production recommenced in the early 20th century when Henri Dormoy bought the company and added a railway line through the plantation.  The boost given by the first world war allowed La Favorite to become truly commercially viable and it has been chugging along ever since, still using steam powered distillery apparatus, hand-gluing the labels to the bottles, and manually applying the wax over the top.  But a Bacardi it will never be, and it doesn’t want to be – indeed, La Favorite’s unstated mission is to perfect natural rhum (i.e. agricoles), adhere fiercely to the AOC rating, and sniff disapprovingly at mass produced industrial rums.

Having tried the ~€200 40% Cuvée Privilège – that sterling gentleman from DuRhum, Cyril, sent me a generous sample – I can only say that they’re on to something, because while it sure looked like a molasses based rum, dark mahogany shot through with tints of red, it was nothing of the kind – I’m still scratching my head wondering how they accomplished that three-card trick.  Consider too the aroma: licorice, anise and dark ripe plums led off right away, rich and dark…it’s like they were channeling a Mudland rum, and to say this was unusual for an AOC agricole would be understating the matter. Even waiting a while and going back to it, didn’t change my mind much: there were few vegetal notes or the grassiness of a real agricole; further scents of peaches, overripe pineapple, raisins and a bit of vanilla came through, and some serious grape background. Yet this feintiness was well balanced and the overall scent was warm and enticing as a feather bed in winter (with RuPaul inside). I remember thinking that if Downslope had had some patience (like about a generation, so perhaps not) they might have come up with something like this, because what they abysmally failed to do with their six months of ageing, or what the Legendario had handled so excessively, La Favorite succeeded in making here.

So the nose was excellent, rich and romantic.  With the palate I had more concerns, because here is where I detected more potential than achievement – which was still a cut or two above the ordinary, let me hasten to add. It’s just that with a rhum this rich and toasty, I have to question the decision to tone it down as much as they had.  Still, this is not to dismiss the Cuvée Privilège out of hand…far from it, because the almost-full-bodied heaviness of the profile gave back what the pusillanimity of the strength took away. Thick mouthfeel, again redolent of sweet ripe plums. Raisins and licorice abounded, wound about with black grapes and kiwi fruit, all quite sweet – I honestly cannot recall such depth since trying my last Port Mourant vintage.  So while 40% was, to my mind, too weak, and would have imparted some real intensity and impact to the experience, I had to acknowledge that as a sipping rum requiring no padding or push-ups, the Cuvée Privilège did not disappoint.  For all its foregoing quality, it’s real weak point may be in the finish, because here the rounded softness of the palate and nose gave way to timid and vacillating notes of nothing-in-particular, which repeated what had gone before without breaking any new ground: medium length, gone all to soon, with just more of the black grapes, anise and a faint vanilla dusting.

The question arises, why the price tag? Usually at this level of cost, we expect a rhum that is tottering along on its last legs, within a whisker of dropping down dead of old age; or a phenomenal year’s output (a millesime), or simply a rare rhum, long since out of production, now existing only in a collector’s memories (and maybe his safe). Well, here it really is the age: the Cuvée Privilège is a Très Vieux (“very old”) which usually is a term for something in the ten year old range…but not with this rhum. The Cellar Master of La Favorite created a blend of rums aged in oak barrels for thirty and thirty-six years (some reportedly in cognac barrels – I was unable to establish whether this was a finish, all barrels, or just some) and the issue is limited to 2000 bottles per year, with the ratios of each age carefully controlled to not let either one predominate. I’ve had quite a few aged rums roughly thirty years old – most of which were stronger – but it’s hard to argue with what La Favorite have achieved here.

I thought the rhum was damned impressive, no matter how discombobulated my impression of its profile was with the reality of its make, or my whinging about its strength. Cuvée Privilège is a well-rounded, remarkably aged rum, with solidly diversified taste, and perhaps power reined in a shade too much.  It’s easy to confuse with other rums that are not agricoles. At the end, it showcases something of La Favorite’s own romantic philosophy, I think, and by doing so almost proves that no industrial conglomerate could make something like it. The philosophy which we might deny in the flat, bland daylight of our lives, but admit, childlike, to ourselves at night – that magic exists, that it can be made, that it occasionally rises to the surface like the creature in Bradbury’s “Foghorn”.  And if it doesn’t, well, it should, and we should always act as if it can appear, like our dearest dreams and fondest hopes. Like this rum has, from the depths of a cellar master’s imagination, missing only a few steps to be even better than it is.

Other notes

  • I score this rum at 74 (87 “standard”), mostly for failing on the fade, and its lack of strength. Were this to be jacked up a few notches, it would rate at least five or six points higher.
  • The rhum is a blend of a 30 and a 36 year old.  I name it a thirty year old based on the youngest part of the blend, even if La Favorite choses not to.
  • I have an outstanding email to La Favorite asking them to clarify the barrels used, and any additions to the blend that might have imparted the unusually dark colour, and the profile
  • Photo shamelessly cribbed from DuRhum.com (thanks Cyril)

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.


(LC rating is 74/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 87 points)

Jan 242015
 

D3S_9097

Clean, clear, dry and old, with a lackluster finish that detracts from the excellent front end.

(#198. 73/100)

When I reviewed the Depaz Reserve Speciale a while back, I thought that the flavours seemed a shade sharp, too vague, and departed the scene with all the hurry of a street cur at which you threw a rock…or something to that effect.  Most of these issues were absent from the Cuvée Prestige, which was a better rhum in almost every way.  It is a blend of rhums aged between six and nine years, has a lovely outfit, and probably the top-of-the-line product from Depaz. I hesitate to recommend it at the higher price points I’ve seen, but must concede that I think it’s one of the better agricoles out there (bar the finish), and for those with deep pockets (or who can ferret out a more economical buy), it may be worth that kind of outlay…assuming their tastes bend in that direction.

Points should absolutely be given for the packaging (oh come on, lie to me and say you never bought a bottle of something purely on the way it looks).  The carafe-style bottle with gold etching (it shows the “castle” of Depaz and its date of founding, 1651) was surmounted with a gold-coloured cap and thick cork, and came in a wooden box with metal snaps, the design of which mirrored the bottle etching.  It all looked very impressive, which it was: it just exuded an air of expensive Savile Row suits. As I’ve remarked before, when you’re at this price range, you’re absolutely within your rights to ask for some spiff on the wrapping, otherwise what are you spoiling yourself for?  Who can you show off to? An unadorned barroom bottle can contain the elixir of the gods, sure, but who’d ever believe it does until they shell out the money, and who’d take the chance?

D3S_9099

Anyway, the Cuvée Prestige is an AOC agricole from Martinique, made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses, grown on the Depaz plantation at the base of Mount Pelee (which nearly ruined the joint back in 1902 when it last woke up and belched). As with other Martinique rhums, it is terroire specific, and since Depaz is located right close by La Montagne with both volcanic soil and varying weather, some of its distinctive profile can certainly be attributed to those factors.  The initial scents of this 45%, gold brown rhum certainly pointed in this direction. Initially very clean and dry, the vegetal green-grass aromas were to be expected, and did not disappoint – the rhum was extremely pungent, smooth and easy, even deep. It had some of the briny freshness of ocean spray. As it opened the scents moved to display more of that dry-ish, almost-salty profile – dates, figs, nuts and almonds, leather and toast, all nicely soft. No real fruity background to speak of here, just the shy promise of better to come

The taste on the palate did not take any sudden left turns or quick swerves.  It retained cleanliness and smoothness, which were endearing characteristics – I have to be honest, the medium bodied rhum had the smooth and relentless flow of a slow tidal wave of double cream.  And it also continued to display the warmth and aridity of the nose. It hinted at sea-salt and sawdust, still more nuts, nutmeg, hazelnut and almonds. Some caramel, cigar smoke, sandalwood.  It almost felt like one of Renegade’s rums, like, oh, the Guadeloupe 1998 11 year old; also the Cuba 11 Year Old, or even (shudder) the Coruba 12 year old. Letting it stand, and adding some water finally coaxed out the flavours I was hoping to have – figs, dates, some light vanilla and overripe black grapes, all bound together by the smell of crushed sugar cane stalks still weeping juice and drying in the hot sun.  The finish was a weak point for me – smoky and sharper than it should have been (it lasted a good while, I can’t deny that), with not much going on aside from some closing notes of vanilla, and salted peanut butter.

It had a good mouthfeel, nice body, good tastes around the edges, and the nose was heavenly, but I think that here, the slight dominance of the non-sweet brininess made the product falter as an overall experience for me (when related to the price – had it been cheaper, I dunno, I might have been more lenient).  It’s definitely better than the Reserve Speciale, and I could see its overall quality, feel its texture, and acknowledge that in my scoring. But I’m afraid it’s not my cup of tea, really, not entirely. Therefore, dear buyer, if money is an issue, it’s a rum that you might wish to taste first (if possible) and checking it fits in with your personal profile preferences, before shelling out.  It’s a very good rum in its own way, and just because that way meanders apart from my own path doesn’t invalidate the product on its own merits.

D3S_9104

Other notes:

Online cost shows wild variation.  I’ve seen everything from €80 to €250, with one reviewer remarking that it can be had for substantially less on the island itself. While I’m not privy to the sometimes obscure pricing mechanisms of web stores, I don’t think I’d shell out more than €100 for this one, both for the cool looks and lovely taste, and also because of the failed backend.  It would have to be a hell of a lot rarer and more in line with the personal preferences I have, to convince me to part with that much of my hard earned balles.

Nowadays it’s owned by Bardinet (who also make the Negrita line of rums I’ve never tried), but who, interestingly, make no mention of Depaz at all on their (poorly designed) site.  There are days I wonder how advertising is really done for products this good: maybe that’s what we reviewers are here for.  After all, if we shell out some cash to buy the thing and like it (which is a chance the makers seem to think is worth taking), then they don’t have to.  I’ve made my peace with that situation a long time ago, but there’s no doubt I still feel a twinge of annoyance about it – we should not be seen as a free resource, to act as a substitute for their reluctance to advertise properly on their own account.

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating on the above list is 73/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 86.5 points)

Jan 122015
 

D3S_9094

Complex, yes. Quality, not entirely.

(#197. 65/100)

***

Although the Depaz VSOP Reserve Speciale is noted as being a complex agricole, not much except perhaps the taste of the reddish brown rhum deriving from the Plantation de la Montagne Pelee really works for me as it should, which just goes to show that not every single spirit hailing from a part of the world supposedly making only top-end products can be as good as it is meant to be.  Part of the issue here (I hesitate to say “problem”) is that all sensations go by too fleetingly for any real impression to be left, and what was there just never came out the way it might have.  The Depaz agricole is a Tolkien elf running across the snow, and leaves few footprints worthy of remark.

Which is somewhat odd for a spirit that is bottled at 45%: that strength alone would lead you to assume some intensity and heft in the profile.  But nope, not really.  At least not in this one, and it starts right away in the nose.  Unlike some really stellar exemplars of the craft (think Damoiseau 1980 or even the Karukera Millesime 1997) which wafted a cloud of deep, luscious scents into the room as soon as the bottle was cracked, the Depaz seemed thin and reedy as a hungry rice-eating mongrel’s ribs, and like such a pooch’s snarling attack, it was sharp and fast and over way too quick.  There were underlying aromas of grass, crushed cane and rosemary, some subdued hints of apricots, fruits, flowers and sweet bubblegum, followed by faint leather, and the damp musky smell of cheap cigarettes smoked in the midst of a tropical rainforest with high humidity (having done so in the past, I know whereof I speak).  But it was all too little, too sharp, and too scrawny for the schnozz of this reviewer, who openly prefers more aggressive fare.

The taste in the mouth on the other hand elevated the drink quite a bit, and made me check my glass to see if I had confused my samples.  It was stronger and more assertive, very nicely warm without the spiciness of the nose…a bit more body you might say, entering quite cleanly and clearly. Sweet and solidly fruity, it opened with sugars and some oakiness, chopped light fruits (green grapes, white guavas), licorice (odd in a Martinique AOC agricole), bleeding sap from a fresh cut cane stand, green leaves and even a flirt of vanilla and caramel.  The complexity was hinted at but seemed scared to come out and strut its stuff and therefore, while it was discernible, it never quite took centre stage.

I should however remark on the mouthfeel and texture, which wasn’t bad at all, coating the tongue well and warmly, allowing some of those tastes to take on greater prominence after a few minutes.  Here adding some water had to be done with some delicacy, as too much would have shredded an already unaggressive drink, and too little wasn’t enough to release the additional flavours that lay hidden.  The finish was an overall disappointment, by the way – there was a backtaste of cane juice on a cutlass blade (I kid you not – it had both metallic and vegetal notes), some sugar water, vanilla, a little oakiness, too quick and too sharp to appeal to me.

D3S_9095

Depaz hails from the eponymous estate in St. Pierre in Martinique, and is located at the foot of  Mount Pelée  itself: it’s been in existence for over three hundred years, sicne 1651 in fact, when the first governor of Martinique, Jacques Duparquet, created the plantation, and these days bears the AOC mark of terroire-based authenticity. Although the famous eruption of the volcano in 1902 decimated the island, Victor Depaz, who survived, reopened for business in 1917 and it’s been operational ever since.

The company also makes quite a few other rhums: the Rhum Depaz, a full proof 50% beefcake, a blanc variation, the Blue Cane Rhum Agricole (which are all a little down the evolutionary ladder), as well as an XO and the Cuvee Prestige (a little above quality-wise, a lot more price-wise). I’ve heard that the VSOP was made with a single column copper still (and was unfortunately unable to confirm it), aged for seven years in charred oak casks, from cane juice (of course) and without filtering or additives; it is presented in a bottle more reminiscent of wine or champagne, but you have to kind of admire such audacity – it sure sets it apart from the crowd.

Anyway, let’s pull it all together.  I tried this three times to see whether my opinion changed (and it didn’t), but my overall lack of passion should not entirely dissuade you: there were aspects of the rhum that worked well (the palate in particular).  My own predilection for more intricate, stronger and deeper flavours should not be seen as a blanket indictment of any rum that doesn’t conform, or which those persons with a liking for subtler, lighter rums would enjoy. This is where knowing your preferences comes in handy. Lovers of soleras, Bajan, Panamanian or Demerara rums are not likely to swoon here.  Trinis, maybe; Cubans and Jamaicans, quite likely. And people with a penchant for agricoles will probably like it – for the same reasons I couldn’t muster serious enthusiasm, in all likelihood.

Some might consider this to be like a black mongrel’s left leg – it ain’t right, and it ain’t fair – but that’s the way it is. And that’s also as it should be, because if we all agreed on everything, then all of you reading this would want to pilfer all my rums…and be in love with my wife.

Other notes:

In Europe this goes in the €60 range.  My own feeling is that if you can spare the change, go a step or three up the ladder for the Cuvee Prestige, which is a very good rhum indeed, and which I’ll look at in my next review.

 

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating on the above list is 65/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 82.5 points)

 

Mar 302013
 

 

Like an elderly doddering relative, it requires a little coaxing and care to be appreciated fully

(#141. 71/100)

***

Quite aside from my laughter (and that of everyone else at the KWM tasting where it was trotted out) at the box in which the RN Martinique Anniversary Edition Rhum Agricole 12 year old reposed, the single emotion gripping me as I tasted it was respect. Respect for its bottle, the box, the rum and above all, it’s primal excellence. Here’s a rum that takes the run of the mill agricoles we are all so much more used to, and equals or tops them without tekkin’ any kinda strain or bustin’ a sweat.

The enclosure was really quite original: a hollowed out cardboard box shaped like a book in which to hide it, which tickled my son pink but was too cheaply made to do anything but annoy the wife, who, while grudgingly accepting my constant purchases of rum, would prefer that if I dropped just over a hundred bucks on one, that it at least looked like it cost it. Fortunately, as I drew the gold-tipped cork-hatted flagon out of the book, her annoyance disappeared and she was at least impressed with its elegant shape and deep red-brown colour. Well, it’s a small win, what can I say. I take what I can get.

Made from Martinique stock – the column-still product was aged and bottled to a run  of 5000 bottles there – this rum was issued in 2010 to mark the 10th anniversary of the company, which began issuing its series back in 2000. I’d have to say that while I enjoyed the less expensive Hors d’Age quite a bit, the Anniversary edition took matters up a level. The warm and heated nose was simply awesome: nutty, sweet, dark chocolate notes were balanced out by caramel, creamy vanilla, and tempered by white flowers, an earthy tone of slight smoke and leather…tawny is the best single word I can come up with to describe it. As it settled down and trusted me enough to open up, it mellowed into deep brown sugar, with toasted pecans, and some citrus hints. There was a cleanliness, a spareness to it, that took me back many years and recalled the piping-hot, fresh, teeth-blackening Red Rose tea sweetened with melting brown sugar, of the sort I used to drink at six in the morning in the misty Guyanese jungle with dim morning sunlight filtering through the forest.

Agricoles as a whole trend towards slightly sharper, lighter bodies with real complexity if one is prepared to be patient and not guzzle them down. Since I had the Guitar Yoda passing on Jedi secrets to my son the day I was trying it, I indulged myself in desultory conversation with his better half, of the sort one can only have with old friends, while sipping this lovely rum for over an hour. And it was easy, because the Anniversary really was a top-notch sipper. Smoothly spicy, medium-to-light bodied and surprisingly dark in temperament, tasting candy sweet and heated all at once, with musty tobacco and oatmeal freshly made. Tangerines, red wine, nuts and honey came to the fore and then gracefully retreated, to be replace with a sere and dry (but far from unpleasant) winey note. As for the finish, it was long and warm with a last sly spicy backhand, as if trying to remind me not to take it for granted. A really excellent all round product, believe me. Yeah it’s a bit pricey ($125 in my location)…I think it’s worth it if you’re in the market for a very good agricole and the Central Americans or Island nations don’t turn your crank, or you would like to try more than just another well-known commercial product.

After trying quite a few of the company’s rums (I still have another two or three to get through), I’ve come to the conclusion that the quality of what Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation achieves lies in his diamond-focussed professionalism, to the exclusion of all drama and flourish: the man has never made a rum that’s “merely average”. It’s as if he asked himself, with each rum that he has produced, ‘What is the essence of this product?’… and then, in answering that question, proceeded single mindedly to make a rum about absolutely nothing else.

***

A:8/10 N:18/25 T:18/25 F:16/25 I:11/15 TOT: 71/100

Note: This spirit carries the AOC mark of authenticity. Martinique is the only rum region designated as an Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée. This entails, as it does in France’s Cognac-making region, rigorous guidelines for harvesting, fermenting, and distillation.

 

Mar 302013
 

 

All round excellent younger agricole from the House of Fabio.

(#140. 67/100)

***

Rum Nation’s agricole rum from Martinique, the Hors D’age, is not quite as sublime as the other products of the company about which I have so enthusiastically written, but this should not dissuade anyone who enjoys the French island rums from trying it, since the overall quality is quietly impressive. I tasted this in conjunction with the Karukera Millesime 15 year old which I knew was a damned good rum, and if the RN didn’t quite come up to snuff with respect to its more aged competitor, it careened across the finish line a very close second…quite something, for a rum that’s not half as old (hors d’age is an appellation which means ageing is between 3-6 years, and this rum adhered to all the AOC guidelines to be termed a rhum agricole from Martinique).

There is a presentational ethic which is almost spartan about the less expensive RN offerings; this one was a standard barroom bottle ensconced in a cheap windowed cardboard box that showed the label through the plastic. The cork was cork (plastic tipped), the label was simple and with minimal information, and overall, for its price of about $60, I wasn’t expecting more.  Essentially, this has the look of a rum you can lose in a bar, which is pretty good since ostentation at this level is looked down upon…bad form you know, old man.

As with all RN’s products I’ve had so far, it’s a cut above the merely pedestrian. It decanted into my glass in an amber gurgle of deep evening sunlight, and gave off intriguing wafts of solid fruity tones even before I started really assessing the nose: strawberries, orange marmalade, and a teasing hint of licorice. Was that coffee grounds in the background? Sure hoped it was. And there was a faint wine hint, as vaporous as the Cheshire Cat’s grin, lurking in the shade there someplace (and here I’d like to point out that this was worlds removed from the overwhelming wine hammer of Thor with which Downslope Distilling’s six month aged rum battered me).

The Hors D’Age is a welterweight among rums…medium to light but remarkably solid body, providing a hefty heated punch, as if to prove that the 43% ABV wasn’t ever really gonna love me. For a nose that had been softly redolent of my father-in-law’s orchard, I was quite surprised at the briny driness of this offering. Surprise over, after it condescended to open up, it mellowed into a deeper cane spirit, releasing a pretty intriguing melange of coffee, peaches…and the savage sweet taste of burnt sugar cane peeled with your teeth and then sucked dry (ask any Guyanese what that’s all about). The subtle wine taste persisted, just not enough to be annoying or intrusive, and at the last, I was pleased to note a sort of segue into buttery, non-sweet white chocolate. Like I said…intriguing rum. As for the finish, it was long, warm and sere, closing up shop with the sharper accents of a cafe latte, almonds, and a clear herbal spirit fade that was characteristic of almost every agricole I’ve ever tasted.

Let me confess that while I like agricoles and appreciate – nay, respect – well made ones, overall they will never be rums I love with great, overwhelming, operatic passion. However complex, the profile is usually a shade too thin, too hard, too clear for my personal tastes — like a snooty French waiter who truly despises my lack of couth. As it was, this Hors D’Age ran a very close second to the Karukera (while the 12 year old Rum Nation Martinique Anniversary and the Clemente XO were better than both). I ran back and forth among my agricoles, and finally came to the conclusion that it was the longer ageing of the Karukera (15 years), and a better, smoother, tastier finish  that spelled the difference.

But you know, that’s all semantics. If you receive the rum on its own frequency, it’s as good as a moveable feast, really; yes, of course it could have been older, smoother, better – though at that point it would not have been this rum, or even (perhaps) a better one.  For the money, it’s a good deal, a good rum, plain and simple. And I have to be honest too – if RN can produce an agricole this good in less than six years, it seems churlish of me to degrade a rum that many others couldn’t have made at all.

 

A:5/10 N:19/25 T:17/25 F:16/25 I:10/15 TOT: 67/100

 

Mar 242013
 

CLEMENT XO Rhum Vieux

First posted 30 June 2010 on Liquorature. #028

A superlative agricole with good body, marvellous complexity and a really strong, spicy fade; yet not as sweet as some rums drinkers might like.  As of this writing I’m not entirely won over by it (or agricoles as a whole), but concede the excellence of its make without hesitation.

***

Abandoned by all the ladies in my family for the afternoon, tasked with making sure my two boys didn’t get into a fight over the Wii, I whiled away the hours by taking an appreciative sniff, slurp and swallow of this expensive rhum agricole from Martinique. At ~$120 from Willow Park, I had to think a bit about it, but the truth was that the Barbancourt had piqued my curiosity about agricole rhums, which are made from cane juice rather than molasses, and seem to be a characteristic of French Caribbean islands. In competition for my dinero had been a rum from India, which I decided to decline, an English Harbour 10 yr old I really agonized over, and one from Barbados, the Dooley’s, which I bought, and which I’ll save for a bit.

This rum may actually be the very thing Keenan likes: cheap cardboard packaging and an intriguingly different bottle shape, a foil-lined cork, gold leaf lettering, and a light honey-bronze liquid swirling invitingly within: in other words, some style, but not so much as to suggests excessive add-on cost. It is the top of the line of the Clemente estate on Martinique, founded by Homere Clemente in 1887. It bears the appellation AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – just as for fine wine, the AOC guarantees that rhum agricole will have all the characteristics associated with its particular terroir (area of make). In order to use the designation rhum vieux, the liquor must spend a minimum of three years in oak casks. Aged between four and six years, it is called hors d’âge; after more than six years it can be called VSOP; older than that it becomes XO. Sometimes there’s also a vintage year. In this case, the blend is of three reputedly exceptional years’ production: 1952, 1970 and 1976.

I may be getting better at this, or maybe I just had tasted enough rums by now to get a sense of what to look for. At 44% ABV, I certainly got that: a nose of some sharpness (the 47% Kraken was the same), but care had been taken to tone down that spirity aroma for which I had so marked the Kraken down. Toffee.  A slight woodsy backdrop. Smokey, the slightest bit.  Honey, crackers, a soft peaches note. Some cane sap and vegetal backdrop. And oh, that burnt sugar taste that was so exactly like the aftersmell of burning canefields at harvest time in Guyana, that it was like I never left (canefields are usually burned before cutting: it removes the undergrowth, kills insects and concentrates the sucrose in the cane). The golden liquid has some density and oiliness — it clung top the sides of the glass like honey, only reluctantly sliding slowly back down on fat slow legs.

The taste enhances what the nose promised: a solid, complex feel on the tongue, but not syrupy sweet, a common characteristic of agricole rums. It’s like a good cognac, slightly dry, not marred by excessive sugar. It was a bit like a decent scotch (the Hippie will have to pronounce judgement here), and the flavours were pronounced and distinct:  tannins, smoke, light fruit surrounding a solid core of burnt sugar. A slight note of cinnamon. It’s warm on the palate as well, but the finish, if one can take it, is long and sensuous, and burns, but all the way down, leaving a taste of caramelized sugar lingering in the the throat.  There’s a clear kind of cleanliness to it, which perhaps won’t be for everyone.  For those who like their cheaper tipple to mix, I would not recommend this. Whisky drinkers should go ape for it.

Agricole – or agricultural (made from cane juice), to distinguish them from industrial (molasses-based) –  rums are made to exacting standards (they would not have the AOC rating otherwise), and here I’ll have to say that if the Barbancourt and this Clement are representative of the class, then, even with the quality I’ve described, I’m afraid thus far it’s not entirely my thing. The maturation in oak imparts some of that sharpness and tannins to the taste which I’ve never really gotten to enjoy with the passion others do. And that heat so remniscent of whisky. But honesty forces me to concede the quality of other components of this rum: mouthfeel, nose, viscocity and density, and the complexity of the flavours just out of my capacity to separate, blending into a fascinating whole.

I don’t think the money was a waste, as nothing that adds to my knowledge and education can be: but I doubt I’ll buy another one of these premium agricole sippers, and after the taste and the thinking and the writing, what I’m really left with is the memories of being ten years old, and, fresh off the plane from Africa, watching the canefields burn, smoke rising from one horizon to the next, the dusk lit with the red glow of dying fires, and the smoke and sugar scent heavy and redolent on the tropical night air.

Update – December 2014

Gimlet eyed readers will note that as the years progressed and my experience and palate grew, I did a one-eighty on agricoles, and these days I think they are a marvellous part of the greater rum world. I guess I had to grow up sooner or later. If I had to score it (at the time I wrote this review I didn’t), I’d probably award 76 points easy, maybe even a shade more.