Jan 082015
 

D3S_9369

A rich, argicole rum of a depth and flavour I savoured for literally hours – it almost qualifies as the perfect comfort drink, and for sure it’s the best sub-10 year old rum I’ve tried in ages.

(#196. 87.5/100)

***

Karukera in Guadeloupe is a distillery for whom I have grown to have a great deal of respect: I was not won over by their Vieux Reserve Speciale, but the 1997 Millesime was something else again, and I often drifted back to it when looking for an agricole baseline, or a control.  On the strength of that positive experience, I decided to step up and shell out for this one, partly because of the strength and partly due to the double maturation moniker, which piqued my interest.

Which is not to say that its presentation didn’t appeal to me also – I’m shallow that way, sometimes.  It may not be a top shelf super-premium rum, true, yet it did its best to raise the bar for any rum that purports to be a cut above the ordinary.  Just look at that wooden box printed with all sorts of interesting details, and the sleek bottle with its cork tip.  All very nice – it looked damned cool on my shelf. And so, my lizard brain having been catered to and placated, off I went into my tasting routine to see whether the implied quality inside the bottle was as interesting as what the outside promised.

D3S_9373D3S_9376

Which it was. Aged for six years in bourbon and then two more in french oak cognac casks, only 2000 or so bottles of honey/amber coloured rum came out at the other end, and mine presented a very interesting aspect, in spite of my having wrestled with mostly full proof pachyderms over the last few months (so 44.6% can almost be considered “standard strength” for me, these days).  Let’s just agree it was…gentler.

 Sleek salt butter, cream cheese and some brininess led right off. To say I was not expecting that would be understating the matter: the rum is made from blue cane grown on the plantation itself, and I was looking for a more standard nose of vegetal notes and some citrus.  But after letting the spirit rest in my glass for a bit, ah, there they were.  Apricots, black grapes, cloves and orange rind sidled shyly forward, to be replaced by hay and freshly mown grass.  There were some spicier oaken aromas at the back end, nothing unpleasant – in fact the whole experience was really quite excellent – a firm mix of salt, sweet, sharp, and pungent smells.

Tasting it was a rewarding experience. It was a medium bodied rum, quite smooth and warm, opening up with white flowers, and soft tanned leather.  As the nose did, some patience rewarded me with mild caramel, smoke, more leather, which in turn morphed easily into mellow tastes of mango, pears, pineapple, cinnamon, cumin, even marzipan and flavoured port-wine cigarillos (used to love those as a young man). And I was also quite impressed with the finish, which lasted quite long, warmly dusting itself off with white guavas, caramel, and half ripe pears. The rum may have caused north of a hundred Euros, but man, it was a pretty awesome drink. My mother and I shared it in her dacha in north Germany on one of the last sunny days of autumn in 2014 as my son ran barefoot on the grass blowing soap bubbles, and it was the perfect accompaniment to a really great afternoon laze-in.

D3S_9371

Karukera continues to be made by the Espérance distillery (founded in 1895) a distillery down by the Marquisat de Saint Marie in Guadeloupe, doesn’t chill filter or add anything to its rums, and proudly wears the AOC designation. I’ve been fortunate to climb the value chain of its products and each one I try raises the bar for its rums. You can be sure I’ll buy others they make in the years to come.

Personally, I’m not sure a rum so warm and friendly, yet also firm and tasty, is suitable for mixing (it was all I could do to see what a few drops of water could do, just to be complete about it) – I know I wouldn’t, on balance.  There’s a remarkable softness and overall quality to the Karukera, which, while excelling at no one thing, came together so sweetly that I honestly can’t imagine what a mix could do to enhance it. The rum is excellent as it is, and whether you like molasses spirits or agricoles (or both), there’s no doubting that here is a rum that sneaks past your defenses, hits the sweet spot of your desire for a good rum, and gives you all the love and comfort you could ever ask for. That alone may be worth all the euros I paid.

 

 

Mar 272013
 
****

A generally unimpressive agricole aged five years, better as a mixer than a sipping rum.  I imagine its older brothers will be better (if I can ever lay my hands on one).

(#105. 75/100)

***

Karukera strikes me, from the dearth of any kind of hard information on it (even on its own website), as a boutique wannabe rum, something made on an relatively limited basis by an outfit seeking to build a more international sales on the back of its appeal to connoisseurs appreciating its limited production (and based on the unique characteristics of the terroire). This should, however, not dissuade you from giving this gold-coloured, light-bodied agricole a try if you come across it on a dusty shelf someplace (however, note that I am not giving it an unqualified pass.)

The French Caribbean islands – Guadeloupe in this case – are noted for their agricoles, which are rums made (in some cases to exacting specifications) from sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses. This gives them, in general, a lighter taste profile, a lighter colour, and a lighter overall mouthfeel. Overall, I have never been entirely won over by them, preferring as I do heavier bodied, darker and more intense rums. There are, naturally, some exceptions, like the Rhum Clemente Tres Vieux XO from Martinique (upon which, after some back and forth tastings I finally came out positive).

This Karukera Special Reserve is a relatively young agricole rum, being aged for five years in small (no further definition is provided) ex-bourbon casks. Its youth is somewhat evident on the nose which is spicy, and has the light floral and grassy hints that so characterize French terroires. Sweet, with some oakiness, cinnamon and faint sulphury notes.

The 42% strength comes out quite robustly on arrival – even that extra 2% makes quite a difference on the palate; unfortunately this presented to me not as an intensity of flavours I so like about overproofs, but more as a sort of harsh initial sting on the tongue. Yes it was redolent of cloves, pepper and gradually something softer (bananas) and maybe liquorice, must be honest about that. It was also a shade dry. No caramel, burnt sugar or molasses aftertastes until the glass dried out the dregs, so no surprises there at all. Not sure I want to wait that long to get the taste I’m after, though. Finish is short and unappealing to me personally. Overall, I must confess to being…well, uninspired.

And yet, and yet…it’s not really that bad after it opens up a shade. I marked it down for the finish, sure, but before that the taste ended up strong and somewhat simpler than I had initially sensed, and I must remark on this before you throw the whole thing down the drain.

All right, so this rum, like most agricoles, doesn’t turn my crank all that much. It’s a young low-to-middle-range rum, not that good a sipper. Indeed, most notes online remark on its excellence as an ingredient in cocktails and tiki drinks, on which I am by no means an expert. I review things on an individual basis as sipping drinks with only occasional nods to the miscibility of the product. On that basis, I would suggest it’s actually not too bad. The cocktail ingredients fill out the lack of the rum quite well.

What irritates me about rums like this is how little information there is that is available for research on the product. All I can tell you beyond what I’ve written above is that it originates in the domaine of Marquisat de Sainte Marie, and made by the oldest distillery in Guadeloupe, the Esperance distillery established in 1895. And that’s it. For a guy like me, who likes providing more rather than less information beyond mere tasting notes, this ain’t much.

Having grumbled my way through the bottom of my glass, let me sum up. It’s a herbal, grassy, slightly spiced drink of some sharpness. I don’t recommend taking it neat, or even on ice. It’s too strong to be ignored, and too light for me to take it really seriously. In short a light, relatively complex mid-ranging cocktail ingredient. And not really for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 272013
 
***

An excellent agricole for which it is worth splashing out some extra francs: lovely nose, deeper flavours, better body, and in all ways exceeds the cheaper Reserve Speciale from the same company.

(#106. 84.5/100)

***

Unimpressed by the blah of the Karukera Rhum Vieux Reserve Speciale, I then decided to take the hundred dollar Cask Strength 1997 off the shelf where I had hidden it from the prying eyes of my wife (she who can spot a shredded receipt from a hundred paces). We don’t see many Guadeloupe rums in Calgary, yet Ralf’s Rum Pages out of Germany lists no less than 12 separate distilleries on the islands, so I was pleased to have another to review. And I wanted to see whether my own snootiness regarding agricoles would continue, or were there really one or two out there which I could enthusiastically recommend.

Happily, here was an agricole which in the first stages tempered all my negative remarks made to date (the ageing, perhaps?). For a hundred bucks this rum cost me, I got a simple bottle with a simple label, stowed in a thicker cardboard container than usual (by contrast, note the flimsy packing of all the top end El Dorados). Upon decanting and opening up, a lucious nose stole out: warm, sweet, caramel, mixed in with, but not overpowering, red grapes, cinnamon, and lacking something of the muskiness of molasses. There was a herbal note to it I liked a lot, yet none of this was attacking me the way a 46.3% beefcake such as this normally would have.

As before, there is an frustrating dearth of information about this rum. The most I was able to glean was the obvious: made in Guadeloupe by a famous Espérance distillery (founded n in 1895) located in the marquisat de Sainte Marie, it is defined by its terroire and has the honourable “appellation d’origine” given for adhering to clear specifications of location and manufacture. The rum itself comes from cane juice milled from cane grown around the distillery, and is matured in small bourbon casks – this lot came out in 1997, but the literature gives no details whether it is, as I’ve noted somewhere in notes I have in my file but whose origin I can no longer remember, actually twelve years old. Maybe that accounted for its somewhat herbal nature, and the overall gentleness of the rum. Note, by the way, that there were no filters and additives added to this bad boy: what I tasted was what I got.

That flavour profile was more in tune with agricoles I had tasted before. Yet even here some of the quality I had experienced in the nose came out and mitigated a negative impression. Normally I don’t like the lack of sweetness in the agricole makeup: too much like a pretty flirty lady who is all promises and no follow through, good only in company, never alone (I’ve had a few girlfriends like that…but I digress). With this cask strength offering, I had to concede that Espérance did a fine job with the materials on hand, and a luscious taste of light caramel, fruits (green apples, grapes), vanilla, more cinnamon and flowers came through in a very pleasant combination. At 46% I could not escape some sharpness, true, and the rum was tangy and woodsy as well…just not enough to be distasteful or nasty, useful only in a mix. In many respects the Karukera 1997 reminded me of the Rhum Clemente upon which I vacillated for so long: same phenomenal nose and a bit of a lesser palate. The fade is heated and fiery and smooth and long lasting, and I must say, I was impressed with it.

Unlike a fellow distillery on Guadeloupe (Longueteau) which makes more traditional rums using very old steam-driven equipment, Karukera positions itself in a somewhat more exclusive niche market by concentrating on light argicoles made to the exacting AOC specs. This is not quite my thing, as I’ve noted before: I prefer rums to be rums, not light cognac imitators, and my score reflects that. Still, boutique rums have an occasionally undeserved reputation, based too often on reviews like mine where clear preferences in other directions are noted right up front, or overhyped expectations from clever marketers.

Here we have a 12 year old agricole rum which is close to the top of the Karukera food chain. It’s a good rum, a smooth rum, and a impressive product from a distillery we don’t see enough of here in Canada. My take for you, reader, is to forget the cheaper Reserve Speciale and go straight for this variant: it’s more expensive, yes, but in this case you really do get what you pay for. And that’s quite something.

 

 

 

 

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