Mar 152017
 

#349

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost suggest this was a clairin.  It was so potent and pungent, so powerful in taste and profile, that I had to double up the amount of controls I was tasting it with, just to make sure it really was a Jamaican rum and not some uncured white lightning out of Haiti.  If you ever thought that Jamaicans were getting too easy, or you were getting bored with the regular run of Appletons, allow me to recommend (cautiously) this amazing white popskull from Hampden estate, which was gifted to me by Gregers and Henrik in the 2015 ‘Caner Afterparty, just so they could see my eyes water and my palate disappear while they laughed themselves silly.

Can’t say I blame them.  Now, you would imagine that when a bunch of us grog-blog boyos get together, it’s a genteel sort of affair in a discreet private club, brogues and black tie in evidence as we dignifiedly pass glasses around, and reverently open bottles like the Longpond 1941 or a Trois Rivieres 1975 while making sober and snooty judgements in hushed tones about nose and palate and so on.  Yeah…but no.  What actually goes on is that a pack of noisy, rowdy, scruffy reviewers from all points of the compass descends on a dingy apartment, each loudly and aggressively shoving their newest acquisitions onto the table, demanding they be opened and tried (twice!), and a sort of cheerful one-upmanship is the name of the game.  Quality doesn’t come into it, shock value does, and boy oh boy, did they ever succeed in taking the crown on this one.

I mean, just sniff this rum.  Go on, I dare ya. It was a 63% ABV salt-and-petrol concussive blast right away.  Forget about letting it breathe, it didn’t need that: it exploded out of the starting blocks like my wife spotting a 90%-off sale, and the immediate pungency of fusel oils, brine, beeswax, rotten fruit, wet cardboard, and sausages frying on a stinky gas fire took my schnozz by storm and never let go. Merde, but this was one hot piece of work.  Frankly, it reminded me of the JB Trelawny rum and Appleton’s own Overproof, also bottled at 63%, and oddly, of the Sajous. I immediately added a few clairins to the Jamaican controls on the table, and yes, there were discernible differences, though both shared some emergent flavours of sugar water and pickled gherkins and maybe some sweeter red olives – and the tartness of green apples and a bit of lemon.  But as for any kind of “standard” profile?  Not really.  It was having too much fun going its own way and punching me in the face, and represented Hampden in fine style.

Oh and this was not limited to the nose.  Tasting it was as exhilarating as skydiving with a parachute your ex-girlfriend just packed.  Again, the first impression was one of sharp heat (warning – trying this with your cigar going in the other side of your mouth is not recommended), and then there was a curious left turn into what was almost agricole territory – watermelon, flowers, sugar water, as hot and crisp and creamy as a freshly baked Danish cookie.  It was only after adding some water that a more ‘Jamaican’ set of notes came out to grab the brass ring – more olives, salted avocados and overripe fruit, wax, some very faint floor polish, tied together with the tiniest hint of citrus, vanilla and leather, before it all dissipated into a lovely, long, warm finish that coughed up some closing notes of sweet soya and teriyaki before finally, finally, passing into the great beyond of boring tasting notes in a notebook.

Whew!  This was a hell of a rum. I apologize in advance for sounding elitist, but really, the regular run of rum drinkers should approach this rum with some caution, or water it down or push it into a mix, lest it colour one’s perception of unaged white hooch forever.  I have a feeling it was made to appeal to those who want vibrant, pot-still full-proofs with real edge and a ginormous series of hot-snot flavour notes that take a smart right turn from reality.  Yes, of course it’ll make a cocktail that would stop just short of self-combustion (and there might lie its mainstream appeal rather than for masochistic nutcases who proudly drink it neat), but I submit that for the adventurous among you, taking it by itself is quite some experience, one that should not be missed.  It’s hot, it’s massive, it’s tasty, and for sure the makers weren’t kidding when they put the word “fire” in the title.  If the amount of amazed and joyful expletives (in seven languages) during a tasting is a measure of a rum’s appeal, then this one has to be one of the funnest, craziest rums I’ve sampled in quite some time, and I recall it with great fondness even after all this time.

(82/100)

Other notes

  • Made by and at Hampden estate, whose history is covered on their webpage
  • Triple distilled heavy pot still rum.  There’s no notation on age, but for my money, it has not been aged at all, another similarity it shares with the clairins
  • Not sure what the difference is between the straight “Rum Fire” and the “Rum Fire Velvet” – maybe it’s just the label, maybe it’s the triple distillation.

 

Mar 152017
 

Starts off weird and then develops very nicely

#348

A recent post on the reddit rum forum – perhaps the only real Q&A alternative to FB rum clubs on the net – remarked on the discovery by one person of Japanese rum, using the Ryoma 7 year old as an example.  Having written about that particular product – I thought it an interesting essay in the craft, having a profile both similar to and at odds with, more traditional rums with which we are more familiar — I remembered this other one by Ogasawara which I bought in Paris last year, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue.

I have to confess that the initial sensations on the nose were absolutely not my cup of tea (my notes read “shudderingly weird”), right up to the point where through some magical transformation the whole thing did an ugly duckling on me and (somewhat amazingly, from my perspective), turned into quite a credible swan. It started off with light oil and petrol, and was really briny, like a martini with five olives in it, leaving me wondering whether it was a pot still product (I never did find out).  In its own way it seemed to channel a cachaca, or unaged juice straight from the still, except that it was too unbalanced for that.  There was white pepper, masala, sugar water, cinnamon, a flirt of watermelon and pears, and a bouillon with too many maggi-cubes (I’m not making this up, honestly).  Somehow, don’t ask me how, after ten minutes or so, it actually worked, though it’ll never be my favourite white rum to smell.

Fortunately the Ogasawara settled down and got down to rum business on the palate, which was very pleasant to taste.  The 40% helped here, lending a sort of gentling down of the experience.  It presented as reasonably warm and smooth, the salt disappeared, leaving a light and sweet sugar water and watermelon tastes flavoured with cardamom, mint and dill, with traces of vanilla and caramel.  Water brought out more – very brief and very faint notes of olives, fusel oil and delicate flowers which gave some much-needed balance and character to the experience.  Although it was a molasses based product, it seemed to channel elements of an agricole spirit as well, in an interesting amalgam of both — something like a Guadeloupe white rhum, just not as good.  But if one were looking for a true molasses rum redolent of the Caribbean, forget it – that wasn’t happening here: it was too individual for that.  The finish was probably the weakest point of the whole affair, here one moment, gone the next, warm, light, clear, but hardly remarkable aside from a quick taste of cinnamon, cardamom, and sweet rice pudding.

The Ogasawara islands are also known as the Bonin (or “uninhabited”) Islands and are part of an archipelago of that name. The first Europeans are said to have come in in 1543 (supposedly a Spanish explorer, Bernardo de la Torre); one of the islands, Hahajima was originally called Coffin Island or Hillsborough Island and settled by a few Americans and Europeans and other pacific islanders around 1830. One of them, an American called Nathaniel Savory, traded bathtub-style hooch (I suppose they could be called rums) made from locally planted cane with whaling ships. By 1880 they became administratively a part of the Tokyo prefecture, and the commercial cultivation of sugar cane and sugar manufacture dates from this period. Rice based alcohols are of course a tradition in Japan but rums in the modern sense of the word have only existed since 1940 or so – however, most are classified as shochu for tax reasons (rum is taxed more heavily). Placed under American control after the end of World War II, the Islands returned to Japan in 1968, and after many years of efforts to reinvigorate the culture of sugar cane which existed on the island before, Ogasawara Rum Liqueur Company was founded and its first put rum on sale in 1992.  They still don’t produce much of a range.

Not much info on the rum itself is available.  I was informed via a Japanese friend of mine that it’s double-distilled in a stainless steel pot still.  There are stories about how it was aged for under a year on the sea bed by the source islands, but I’m not clear whether it’s this rum, or a rum made on Ogasawara and where the title is used as an adjective. Plus, if it was aged that way, it had to have been filtered, again without confirmation of any kind.  So this turned into one of those occasions where I really did taste it blind, and what you’re getting is an unvarnished opinion of a rum about which very little is known aside from strength and basic source.

As a person who has had rums from all over the world, I am a firm believer that terroire and culture both impact on the rums various regions make, which is why you’ll never confuse a Bajan with a Jamaican, or either with a Martinique rhum, for example (or with a Guyanese wooden still product).  Japan’s small and venerable producers, to my mind, benefit from their unique Okinawan cane (much as Dzama rhums on Madagascar do with theirs) as well as being somewhat limited by their predilection for sake and shochu, which are quite different from western spirits and impart their own taste profiles that define and please local palates.

Given its vibrant whiskey industry and lack of attention to our tipple of choice, it’s clear Japan still has some catching up to do if it wants to make a splash and win real acceptance in the wider rum world as a producer of a unique variant of rum. Nine Leaves is already making strides in this direction, and it remains to be seen whether other small (or large) producers will edge into the market as well.  If they do, it’s going to be interesting to see how they approach the making of their rums, the marketing, and the disclosure.

(78/100)

Mar 062017
 

#347

By now, just about everyone in the rum world is aware of clairins, those indigenous crude white taste bombs out of Haiti, and once again, points have to be given to the farsightedness of Luca Gargano, who brought them to the attention of the wider world by promoting and distributing the Sajous, Vaval and the Casimir.  Unfortunately, the acclaim these three have garnered have somewhat eclipsed any other clairins – and when supposedly some 500+ small outfits make the juice on the half-island, one can only imagine what else of interest is lurking there waiting to be discovered by anyone who loves crazy, speaks patois and has a 4×4.

One that came across my radar not too long ago was the Kreyol Kléren series of rums made by a company called Mascoso Distillers, sometimes as Barik – a real company, not some garage-based pop-and-pup moonshinery making it with granny’s recipe for the relatives on the weekend jump-up.  I ended up buying two of them and getting a sample of a third, which caused the customs officials in Frankfurt some real puzzlement as they had no clue what the hell this stuff was and required no end of paperwork from Michael (the owner) to prove that it was a rum, why the price was so low, how come they were all around 55% and no, they weren’t meant to be weaponized.

You can understand their confusion (or trepidation).  The Kléren Nasyonal Traditionnel 22 (a supposed “rhum agricole artisanal superior” based on the label, but not really, since the source is a sugar mash not sugar cane juice, and the label is a graphic design error) had an initial smell that was like inhaling a small fire-breathing sweet-toothed dragon.  It was fierce, herbal and salty, and reminded me somewhat of that long-ago sonofabitch in the playground in second form who rabbit punched me in the schnozz without warning.  I was using all three of the other (Velier-distributed) clairins for controls here, and what I sensed with the Nasyonal was their genesis taking form.  It was not as cultured as the Vaval or the Casimir, and even the Sajous was somewhat more tamed (when was the last time you read that about those three?), but in its very basic and elemental nature lay much of its attraction.  It was rough and jagged and yet still joyously powerful, eventually giving up more leafy notes (basil, maybe), sugar cane sap, with much of the same salty wax and swank taste I remembered so well from the others.

Thankfully the rhum settled itself down some when I was tasting it and now edged closer to the quality of my controls.  Oh sure, it was still liquid sandpaper and not for the weak (or those preferring softer brown fare) – I would never try to convince you otherwise.  Yet behind all that macho display of sweat and stink squirting from every pore was some pretty interesting stuff – sweet sugar water and herbal cane juice again, some gherkins in vinegar, and salt and olive oil and dill backing it all up.  Phenomenal, long finish, by the way, making up some for the brutality of the preceding experience, suggesting salt and herbs and (again) cane juice. Not the most complex drink ever made, of course, and after taking it out back and beating my palate a time or three, it occurred to me to wonder, if Luca had smacked his label on it, would I have been able to tell the difference? (So I had the wife give me all four blind, and I was just able to pinpoint the Sajous and the Klerin but mixed up the Casimir and the Vaval – it was the edge on the first two that gave them away).

Clairins may be made in every bottom-house, backhouse and outhouse on Haiti, where jury rigged creole stills are slapped together from mouldy leather jockstraps, old bata flip-flops and disused petrol cans (probably with duct tape).  And yes, many of them are probably best left undiscovered, or relegated to those with noses, palates and livers more robust than mine.  This one, the least of the three I’m going through, possesses enough points of distinction to merit a recommendation, so long as your tastes run in this direction.  It’s a massive, Duke Nukem style hot shock to the system, displaying zero couth yet uncompromisingly boasting a uniqueness worthy of note.  I can’t entirely or unreservedly praise the rhum, but it must be said, when I was trying it, I sure as hell wasn’t bored. I doubt you would be either, no matter how your experience turns out.

(82/100)

Other Notes

The significance of the “22” lies in the proof point.  Under the Cartier scale this translates into 55% ABV, while the more common Gay-Lussac scale equating to 55% / 110 proof is used everywhere else in the world.  The scale here is a peculiarity of Haiti, as is the word “Traditionnel” which on Haiti means an agricole, not a molasses based rum.

Straight from still to bottle, no ageing at all.

Barik’s rhums are very affordable for those with an adventurous bent, and best of all, they’re sold in 200ml bottles as well.  This is a conscious decision by Michael Moscoso, the owner, who understands that for it to sell even locally in a time of competition and adulterated Chinese crap trucked over the border, small bottles at affordable prices must be part of the sales strategy.  Given how many full sized bottles I buy in a single year, I can’t help but applaud that.

Barik has a fairly robust heritage.  Founded by Michael “Didi” Moscoso’s grandfather way back in the early 1900s, it is now supposedly the fourth largest in Haiti, but plagued by infrastructure problems and those cheap ethanol derivatives.  There’s a separate biography, here

Mar 012017
 

#346

One of the older independent bottlers is Silver Seal out of Italy, which has been around for longer than many other such companies; it was formed in 1979 and named “Sestante” before being renamed in 2001 after a ten year operational hiatus. It adheres to the modern ethos of regular issues, and bottles casks sourced and aged with attention to detail, from all over the world; it takes an approach more akin to Rum Nation or L’Esprit than Velier, diluting the natural strength of the cask to appeal to a broader audience….though as this Enmore demonstrates, they have no objection to issuing cask strength rums either. Like Samaroli they do primarily whiskies, with rums as a smaller percentage of their sales, but I argue that it is for rums they really should be known, since everyone and his chihuahua makes whiskies, but it takes a real man to make a good rum worthy of being called one.

Like this one.

The Enmore we’re looking at today presses all the right buttons for a Guyanese rum from the famed still, about which by now I should not need to spill any further ink.  Distilled in 1986, bottled in 2007 at 55%, no filtration or dilution, and that’s enough to get most aficionados drooling right away.  Price is a bit much — I paid north of €300 for this bad boy, largely because getting any rums from the 1970s and 1980s these days is no easy task and when one is found it’s pricey.  Colour was copper-amber and after having waited eight months to crack the thing, well, you’ll forgive me for being somewhat enthusiastic to get started.

Fortunately it did not disappoint.  Indeed, it impressed the hell out of me by presenting a nose with three separate and distinct olfactory components, which somehow worked together instead of opposing each other.  It opened up with a trumpet blast of tart red apples (almost cider-like), acetone and polish and burning rubber, and frankly, I  wish I knew how they made that happen without messing it all up, so points for succeeding there.  The second component was the more familiar licorice and dried fruit and black cake, lots and lots of each, which gradually melded into the first set.  And then, more subtly, came the third movement of softer, easier, quieter notes of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, smoke and leather that lent authority and elegance to the more powerful statements that had come before. In fine, a great nose.  I went on smelling it happily for half an hour (and on three separate occasions).

And the taste…”warm and powerfully elegant” is not a bad four-word summary.  Again I was reminded how 50-60% seems to me to be just about right for rums to showcase strength and taste without either overkill or understatement.  It takes real effort and skill to make a 65% elephant perform like a dancing cheetah (Velier is among the best in this regard, with the Compagnie and L’Esprit snapping lustily at its heels) but for something a bit less antagonistic like 55%, the task is commensurately easier.  That worked fine here.  It took the flavours of the nose and built on them.

First there were salty marshmallows and teriyaki, not as obscure or crazy as it sounds (more a way to describe a salt and sweet amalgam properly). It had the slightly bitter taste of unsweetened coffee and dark chocolate, but was also remarkably deep and creamy, though I felt here the wood had a bit too much influence and this jarred somewhat with the following notes of caramel and butterscotch. But with a bit of water the dark fruits came out and smoothened out the experience, gradually morphing into a sweeter, more relaxed profile, salty, briny, musky and with a flirt of cereals and raisins. Overall it was a lot like the Compagnie’s Enmore 1988 27 year old, so much so that the differences were minor (for the record I liked that one more…it had somewhat better depth, complexity and balance).  Things were wrapped up nicely with a finish of heated warmth, reasonably smooth and long, which summed up what had come before and was primarily licorice, raisins, vanilla, brine and burnt sugar.  All in all, an impressive achievement.

Independent bottlers aren’t producers in the accepted sense of the word, since they don’t actually produce anything.  What they do is chose the base product, and then transform it.  Some, after careful consideration and exacting decision-making, buy the finished rum by the individual barrel from a broker and put a label on, while others take the time to age their own barrels of raw rum stock bought young.  I’m not entirely sure which camp Silver Seal falls into, but I can tell you this – whatever they did to put this rum out the door is absolutely worth it.  It’s one of the better Enmores I’ve tried and if you do empty your wallet to buy one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed either.

(89.5/100)

Other notes

Allow me a digression to snark for a moment: the company both elicits my admiration for their bottlings and my annoyance for the crap labelling of their Demeraras in about equal measure.  It’s all about that ridiculous British Guyana moniker they keep slapping on, which is about as irritating as reading “Guyanan” rum on a Cadenhead bottle. All right, so that’s petty of me, but please, just get it right folks, is all I’m asking. Guyana has been independent since 1966 and by now everyone should know it’s no longer “British” anything, and when it comes from there, it’s a “Guyanese” rum.

Feb 262017
 

#345

All grog-blog hoodlums and Danes know the story, and somewhere out there you can just bet the Danes are smirking.  Back when Compagnie des Indes was a new independent bottler just starting out, selling their initial 46%-or-so editions around Europe, the rum lovers from Denmark shook their heads and said they wanted cask strength rums.  Y’know, the real stuff, the ones dosed with huge quantities of whup-ass, coming with battleaxes taped to the bottle, not frilly pink cupcakes for the weak-kneed. Florent shuddered a little at the thought of a bunch of intoxicated rum-loving vikings turning up in France demanding their hooch in person, and hurriedly advised them that if they wanted that, they’d have to buy the entire barrel; after some haggling it was agreed and a whole bunch of cask strength rums were shipped north.  These proved to be so popular (and not only with the lucky folks for whom it was made) that they sold out in next to no time, left the rest of the world grumbling about how come they didn’t get any, and were the impetus behind the subsequent release of the Cask Strength editions by the Compagnie, beginning in 2016.

Having said all the above, the Uitvlugt outturn from Guyana is somewhat less well known than its brawnier cousins from the wooden stills which have formed a part of every navy rum ever made for literally centuries.  The Uitvlugt marque derives from the four-column French Savalle still, which was originally two two-column stills joined into one since their migration to Diamond, and according to DDL, can produce nine different types of rum (light to heavy).  Still, if you believe for one moment that a column still rum in general, or one from Uitvlugt in particular, is in some way less, then you have not tried the best of them all — the UF30E — or many of the other craft bottlings issued over the years.  And you can believe me when I tell you, this eighteen year old full proof rum that the Compagnie put out the door is no slouch either, and is just a few drams short of exceptional.

So, brief stats for the number crunchers: an eighteen year old rum, 1997-2016, 387 bottle outturn from cask #MGA5.  This is not the cask strength variation of the 45% 18 YO finished in Armagnac casks as far as I am aware, but a straightforward 57.9%.  And all the usual assurances of no additives, dilutants and other creepy crawly weird stuff that results in abominations like the Don Papa.  Also, it is pale yellow, which is a resounding response to all those who believe darker is somehow older.

None of the musky anise and dark fruits such as accompany the PM and Enmore marques were on display here, of course, but attention was drawn immediately to acetone and pencil erasers, underlaid with the strong smell of rubber laid down by a hot rod on a fresh made highway under a scorching summer sky.  Once this burned off – and it never really did, not entirely – the rum displayed a plethora of additional interesting aromas: mint leaves, wet cardboard and cereal, the tartness of fresh ginnips, and a deep floral sweet scent that was far from unpleasant, though here and there I felt the integration was somewhat lacking.

The palate, now here was a profile that demanded we sit up and take heed. Petrol and fusel oils screamed straight onto the tongue.  It was immensely dry, redolent of glue and fusel oils and bags of dried fruit, feeling at times almost Jamaican, if that isn’t stretching credulity too much.  For all that the rum had a real depth to the mouthfeel, and as it opened up (and with some water), lovely distinct  fruity flavours emerged (cherries, peaches, apricots, mangoes), mixing it up really well with lemon rind, brine and olives.  Even after ten minutes or so it was pouring out rich, chewy tastes, leading to a smooth, hot finish that was quite exceptional, being crisp and clean, giving up last notes of olives in brine, tart apples, teriyaki sauce, and a nice mix of sweet and sour and fruits, something like a Hawaiian pizza gone crazy. It wasn’t entirely successful everywhere – there were some jagged notes here and there, and perhaps the body would have been a little less sharp (even for something south of 60%)…but overall, a really well done piece of the rumiverse.

Bringing all this to a conclusion, the Uitvlugt is a powerful achievement, a delicious, strong, well balanced rum of uncommon quality that succeeds in almost every aspect of its assembly, falling down in only minor points.  It goes to show that while the Port Mourants and the Enmores of Guyana get most of the headlines and are far better known (and distinctive, don’t ever forget that), Uitvlugt may just be the little engine that could, chuggin gamely ahead, year in and year out, producing capable little world beaters every time.  If the UF30E or the 1997 Velier or the other rums from that still made by CDI didn’t convince you already that great stuff could come from this place, well, here’s another to add some lustre to the company, the still and the estate.

(87/100)

Feb 212017
 

#344

Our global rum travels have moved us around from Japan, Panama, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Brazil, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Antigua, Laos and Mauritius (and that’s just within the last eight weeks); so let’s do one more, and turn our attention to Île de la Réunion, where, as you might recall, three companies produce rums – Rivière du Mât, Isautier, and Savanna, with Isautier being the oldest (it was established in 1845 and is now in its sixth generation of the family).  If one wants to be picky Savanna has existed for far longer, but the company in its modern form dates back only to 1948 and lest I bore you to tears with another historical treatise, I refer you to the small company bio written as an accompaniment to this review.

Savanna is unusual in that it makes both agricoles and traditional rums, so it’s always a good idea to check the label closely – in this case “Traditionnel” refers to a molasses-based product. And take a moment to admire the information they provide, which is quite comprehensive (bar additives, which I somehow doubt they have). The rum I tried here was quite a beast – it was a seven-year-old year 2000 millésime distilled in November 2000 and bottled April 2008 with an outturn of just under 800 bottles, and issued at a whopping 64.5% – and that’s not unusual for them, as there are quite a few of such cask strength bruisers in their lineup.  I’m as courageous as the next man, but honesty compels me to admit that any time I see a rum redlining north of 60% my spirit quails just a bit…even as I’m consumed by the equal and opposite desire (perhaps a masochistic one) to match myself against it.  And here I’m glad I did, for this is quite a nifty product by any yardstick.

On the nose it was amazing for that strength – initially it presented something of the light clarity we associate with agricoles (which this was not), before turning deep and creamy, with opening salvos of vanilla, caramel and brine, vaguely akin to a very strong latte….or teeth-staining bush tea. It was weirdly herbal, yet not too much – that surprising vegetal element had been well controlled, fortunately…I’m not sure what my reaction would have been had I detected an obvious and overwhelming agricole profile in a supposedly molasses originating rum.  And yes, it was intense, remarkably so, without the raw scraping of coarse sandpaper that might have ruined something less carefully made.  I don’t always add water while nosing a spirit, but here I did and the rum relaxed, and gave additional scents of delicate flowers and a hint of breakfast spices.

The palate lost some of the depth and creaminess, becoming instead sharply crisp and clean, quite floral, and almost delicately sweet.  Even so, one had to be careful to ride the shockwave of proof with some care, given the ABV. Frangipani blossoms, bags of tart fruits (red guavas, half-ripe Indian mangos and citrus rind) and vanillas were the core of the taste, around which swirled a mad whirpool of additional, and very well balanced flavors of green grapes, unripe pineapples, more mangos, and peaches, plus some coffee grounds.  It was powerful yes, and amazingly tasty when taken in measured sips.  It all came down to the end, where the finish started out sharp and dry and intense, and then eased off the throttle.  Some of the smooth creaminess returned here (was that coconut shavings and yoghurt I was sensing?), to which was added a swirl of brine and olives, grapes, vanilla.  The way the flavours all came together to support each other was really quite something – no one single element dominated at the expense of any other, and all pulled in the same direction to provide a lovely taste experience that would do any rum proud.

So far I’ve not tried much from Réunion aside from various examples of the very pleasant ones from Rivière du Mât (their 2004 Millésime was absolutely wonderful).  If a second distillery from the island can produce something so interesting and tasty in a rum picked at random, I think I’ll redirect some of my purchasing decisions over there. This is a rum that reminds me a lot of full proof hooch from Guadeloupe, doing much of the same high wire act between the clear cleanliness of an agricole and the deep and growly strength and flavour of the molasses boyos. It’s a carefully controlled and exactingly made product, moulded into a rum that is an utter treat to inhale, to sip and to savour, and I’ll tell you, with all that is going on under the hood of this thing, they sure weren’t kidding when they called it “Intense.” It’s not a complete success, no, but even so I’m annoyed with myself, now, for just having bought one.

85.5/100

Note: This intriguing 7 year old interested me enough to spring for another >60% beefcake from the company, the High Ester Rum from Reunion (HERR) which I hope to try soon. The entire line of high-ester Grand Arôme rums made by Savanna is supposedly a bunch of experimental flavour bombs, so can you imagine what a cask strength version of that is like?

 

Feb 172017
 

A very good Panamanian, with deeper flavours than usual.

#343

Panamanians and other spanish-style rum makers are doing themselves serious injury in their contortions to stay “Latin” or “Cuban” or “Spanish” and justify dosing and/or the lack of provision of details behind their work as matter of course. The recent Rumporter interview with Mario Navarro where he did precisely that, lit up Facebook like the 4th of July, and is just one recent example…but it’s been coiling behind just about every major Latin American or Panamanian release dating back to, oh, the Santa Teresa Bicentenario, the Panamonte XXV and last year’s Arome 28.

Still, the fact is that whether we like it or not, rums made in Central and South America generally, and Panama more specifically, are – and have almost always been – geared towards a buying public that dials in precisely those coordinates: light, easy, 37-40%, lots of blending and barrel strategy, some solera style production, with maybe a pinch or two of other stuff thrown in for good measure to smoothen things out. They don’t give a damn about the movement towards greater transparency or purity.  Massive avatars of aggro are not their thing, and it lies with independent bottlers, almost all out of Europe, to up the ante in both these departments.

Which is why one should be grateful for the Rum Club in issuing this fifteen year old. For all its relative rarity and obscurity, you still get something more (informationally speaking) than the Malecon 1979 I wrote about with such disdain last week. First of all, the rum is made by the “RumClub”, which is very unhelpful until you check the fine print and understand that it’s the bottling arm of the Rum Depot in Berlin, which in turn is run by the man behind the Berlin Rum Fest, Dirk Becker.  This is the second edition, available from 2016, a fifteen year old cask bottled at 51.3% (the first edition was issued for the 2015 rumfest, a single cask ten year old at 51.1%).  The source barrel comes from the same aged stock as Don Pancho’s Origines (PILSA) which makes it a column still product, and kudos to Dirk for not wimping out and diluting the thing. One barrel, 411 bottles with no information about additives but I’m suspecting some caramel to get that dark colouration.

To be honest, I’ve not been very enthused of late with Panama, so most of the time I buy other stuff which interests me more.  But a cask strength variation piqued my curiosity, and once I sniffed the darkish red-brown rum, it met with my instant appreciation.  The nose was rich and almost deep with a plethora of dark fruits – plums, prunes, black grapes, licorice, and even some olives thrown in to provide a whiff of brine and some barely perceptible breakfast spices.  It really was quite lovely.

The palate proved to be equally well done, being on the heavier side of “light” and benefitting from the higher proof point.  Black cherries again, very ripe, blackberries blueberries, black cake, caramel and crème brulee. Oh this was nice!  It even suggested a certain creaminess, with a light dusting of vanilla, coffee, cinnamon and nutmeg, and while it had a mouthfeel and texture of some weight and heat which would make one think adding water was a good idea, I found that doing so took the quality down so geometrically that it’s probably best to dispense with that altogether.  After the enjoyment I took from the preceding, the finish was disappointing – short, sweet, some caramel and fruity notes, not much else.  Too bad.

Yet overall the rum was a very good one, lacking just some complexity and a finish of note to score higher. Just about everything works properly here. The rum is not overaged, and unburdened by any excessive oaken influence.  It’s decently rich and flavourful, with a forceful, distinct profile within the confines of its lighter Cuban heritage, and while I accept that different drinkers have different preferences, my own are simply that a rum should not adhere to any kind of limitation but be bottled at the power that enhances and displays its inherent qualities.  Which this more or less did.

When one tries this 51.3% fifteen year old bruiser in tandem with a cupcake rum like the Malecon (bottled at 40%), the failings of the latter snap more clearly into focus, even though the former is half the age. In all respects, the 15 is simply better. Bigger, bolder, badder, better. It showcased what Panama rums could be if they wanted to.  The Malecon and Panamonte XXV and their ilk positioned themselves as fine old boys at the top of their food chains and boasted of their quality…then along came the Rum Club which answered with this impressive rum, providing rum lovers with something of what they had been missing.  And made an irrefutable response to all the notions of “premium” that its predecessors had claimed for themselves, but did not entirely earn.

(85/100)

Other notes

“Rum Club” was the name of an unadvertised speakeasy sort of bar Dirk Becker opened up back when he was getting into rum in a big way and before he opened up the Rum Depot (it boasted 300+ different rums for its patrons).

Feb 152017
 

#342

Considering that the Seleccion Esplendida was pushed out as both a specific year’s production and an enormously aged near-thirty-year-old rum – a breed getting rarer all the time now that collectors, enthusiasts and rum lovers are snapping up the old 1970s, 1980s and even 1990s vintages – it’s somewhat surprising how little of a rep the brand or the rum itself actually has.  I mean, when was the last time you saw anyone rhapsodizing about it, anywhere? Perhaps that’s because for something that old we kind of expect to see it issued at cask strength in a limited edition of some kind accompanied by smart marketing, none of which occurred here (the company, Caribbean Spirits, doesn’t even appear to have a website).

Let’s pass on that for the moment though, and simply go with what we have here.  For what it’s worth, I was somewhat ambivalent about this pink-brown 40% column still product out of Panama, partly for its proof point, partly for how it sampled and partly for the price (around €200 these days).  Panamanian rums are a subset of the Cuban style of rum-making, molasses and column still derived and generally light and faintly citrusy, and this rum adhered to the profile (to a point) without major deviations, but also without striking out into the sort of amazing directions one could possibly hope for in a rum nearly three decades old.

It was light on the nose, redolent of sugar cane juice and the creaminess of rice pudding, flowers and saffron, with very little of a caramel or toffee or burnt sugar in evidence anywhere.  In fact it was rather easy and warm, with little tartness or sharpness.  It also presented with a some surprising amount of baking spices, cinnamon, vanilla, and after a while, what to me felt like an excess of cherry syrup poured straight from the can (hold the cherries).  So yes there was fruitiness and pleasant aromas, just nothing earth shaking that would make me want to break out the thesaurus. In point of fact, I was reminded somewhat of a dialed-down Panama Red, or something of the Origines series of rums (which I’ve tried but don’t have detailed notes for). But the more distinct and complex notes of the Rum Nation Panama 21 year old or 18 year old were not part of the program so far as I could tell.

The quality on the palate was certainly better once I got around to tasting it…up to a point  Overall it was soft and well rounded, again quite light, with warm flavours of fruit, aromatic tobacco, vanilla and more cinnamon, maybe a dash of nutmeg. Water wasn’t needed for something this easy, but I added some anyway and was rewarded with some black tea, a slightly more tannic and sharper series of oak and toffee hints, leading to a short and almost imperceptible finish of little distinction where the dominant notes were of cinnamon and vanilla.

Here the 40% worked to its detriment — it should have been stronger and not diluted too much, because for one it actually tasted younger and secondly some of the potential complexity was stifled under a feather blanket of wuss.  Frankly, after playing with it for some hours I just gave up on it.  It offered too little for what it advertised, and struck me more as a cupcake of a rum that would fail to impress the hardcore while probably pleasing lovers of lighter fare: in either case they’d be dropping too many pesos for something where the delivery was nowhere near the promise. If you want a Panamanian with some real huevos, I more recommend the Rum Club Private Selection Panama 15 Year Old, which, at north of 50% really gives you value for money. I’ll tell you more about that next time.

(82/100)

Opinion – you can disregard this section

The Ron Malecon 1979 is somewhat of an atypical Panamanian rum with which I have a number of issues, not the least of which is the remarkable — and disturbing –lack of background information available about the rum itself, or the outfit behind it.

Here are the few vague “facts” available. 1. The rum is attributed to Caribbean Spirits Panama Ltd, which has the official address in Cheapside, London and about which I can find nothing in Panama proper; 2. The cane used by the company is from “their own harvest”, which leads to more questions than answers; 3. The owners of the (unnamed) distillery hail from Cuba and this rum is made in the “Cuban” style; 4. It is a column-still product; 5. Don Pancho Fernandez is involved somehow, according to an Italian youtube vide.  Unfortunately I can’t place the photographs in that video to any of the three distilleries there (Carta Vieja, Ingenia San Carlos or Varela Hermanos). Given Don Pancho’s involvement, I would have expected PILSA (Provedora Internacional de Licores, S.A, established in 2000) and their distillery San Carlos, to be behind the rum (the way the label and the PILSA website speak to their Cuban antecedents suggests it), but as Master Quill pointed out in his own review of this rum a few months ago, this rum predates the distillery, so the question remains open.

When a company which produces several enormously aged expressions has nothing beyond marketing blurbs to promote them and provides little of value on the label, then all sots of doubts start to creep into a rum nerd’s mind. That says a lot for the disrepute some producers have brought upon the field.  We are getting to the point of distrusting them all, if they don’t provide detailed info, up front and every time. Country, source, still, outturn, ABV, barrels, additives and age – these are the minimum requirements many demand, and we have to be able to trust those.

How frustrating it is, then, doing research on a rum this expensive. Are Master Quill’s review and now this one, really the only write up of the Malecon available?  I hope not, but certainly it’s been a chore to find anything concrete, and even the company is damned hard to pin down aside from various notes made on sellers’ websites.  And for a rum fetching north of two hundred euros, which is supposedly aged in white oak barrels, stored in caves (!!) in Panama, for 29 years (1979-2008) – well now, perhaps you can understand my displeasure. We’re living in a time where more, not less is required of the producers of such a rum, sold for such a price. The lack of it coupled with the profile as described casts doubt on the entire age statement and provenance of the product.

Other Notes

Many thanks to L’homme à la poussette (the man with the stroller), who provided the sample.  Laurent’s French-language rum site is one of my favourite weekly stopping points as I scour the web for new reviews and articles on the subject, and we trade stuff whenever we can.

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.

Feb 032017
 

#340

Cachaças are, as any rum pundit is aware, those cane juice based rums that are not called agricoles because they are made in Brazil rather than the French Caribbean islands. Geography aside, they have two major points of difference – one, they are often age in Brazilian woods of one kind or another, and two, those that are available outside Brazil are almost all made to be mixed in a caipirinha, not to be had neat. I’ve heard that over a thousand varieties made domestically, and the best of them are sold only there, and many top end aged variations exist… unfortunately few, if any, are ever exported, which creates the illusion that they are low end rums as a whole, and to this day they take second place to aged agricoles.  Which is a shame, really, for it denies the rum world of potentially world beating products.  

Thoquino is a company formed in 1906 by Thomaz de Aquino, and is located in Sao Joao de Barra, the Campos area just north of Rio de Janeiro, where sugar cane cultivation goes back to the earliest colonization of Brazil in the 16th century and which is considered the “traditional” area from which the best cachaças originate. The company has its own sugar cane fields, which apparently is somewhat unusual for a Brazilian distilling company, and which allows it to control and integrate the entire process from cultivation to the final product, in-house. The spirit derives from fresh pressed cane juice which is fermented for an unusually long eight days, and then double distilled (I suspected it is filtered as well); there is no information available on any ageing, and since normally both age and the wood in the barrels is proudly trumpeted to the heavens, I’d suggest this is a zero year old. No information on stills is available.

Having written all the above, how’s the rum?  Well, nosing the clear 40% spirit made  it clear that it stemmed from the same family tree as the Haitian clairins and the Capo Verde grog, if not quite as raw or brutal aggressive; and I formed the sneaking (if entirely personal and unconfirmed) suspicion that it hailed from a creole coffey still.  It smelled sweet, yes, with black pepper, oil and brine in there somewhere (sort of tequila-like but with less salt), sharp and uncompromising as a zealot’s hot glare.  Over time it turned vegetal, with more pronounced aromas of sugar water, citrus and (get this!) cinnamon rolls hot from the oven.

The taste was initially quite lovely, rolling light and sweet and (relatively) smooth across the tongue.  It wasn’t complex in any way, but it was pleasing in its own understated fashion.  There were some flowers and fleshy fruits —  pineapple, bananas — in an uneasy mix with sharper pepper and citrus rind, sort of held together by the vegetal sugar water, and in the background there lurked the toned-down notes of olives and brine, held under tight control, leading to a short, sweet, light and overall unexceptional fade.  

As tasting notes went, the cachaça more or less confirmed its antecedents without trying to break the mould.  Since it was advertised and marketed specifically as a caipirinha agent, perhaps it would be churlish expect a top end spirit here, and indeed, the company does make an aged version (aged in Jetiquiba wood) which I have not tried. So all in all, a straightforward mixing agent then.

Still, maybe it’s time for some enterprising rum maker to take a plunge and start promoting the best of the cachaças in the western markets.  Not the good quality young stuff, but the really amazing rums which only Brazilians are aware and which remain unknown to the majority.  Bert Ostermann of the German company Delicana has tried with limited success to do so, some independent bottlers like L’Espirit have issued the occasional aged bottle, and we need more.  Although the Thoquino and others I’ve tried may not quite be there (yet),  we should keep an eye on Brazil in the years to come, for their rums point the way to another facet of the ever changing rumiverse.  If Luca ever decides to go there, watch out.

(77/100)

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