Jul 262017
 

#380

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

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

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

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

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

(84.5/100)


Other notes:

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

Jun 222017
 

#374

Two bottles of  Secret Treasures St. Lucian rum came my way in early 2017, entirely unexpected and unannounced, and both were fascinating variations on a theme.  Did I say thanks to Eddie K?  I think so, but let’s just tip the trilby to the man one more time, because even next to its very sound brother, this baby from a John Dore pot still is no slouch either, and not much has been written about either one, and it’s entirely possible that they are among the most under-the-radar value-for-money indie rums around.

Since there’s not much more to say about the basic details of the originating bottler already noted in the Vendome Pot Still essay, here’s the additional background relevant to this rum: it is from St. Lucia Distillers, made on their John Dore pot still, aged nine years (same as its sibling) in ex-bourbon barrels, issued at 55% and gold in colour.  The outturn is not noted anywhere, and the Haromex website only speaks about “carefully selected barrels” so I have no idea how many bottles are out there (though coming from a single cask, around 300 bottles isn’t out to lunch); or even where the ageing process took place — from the profile I’d hazard a guess that it was done in St. Lucia. I also believe it’s from the same batch as the others in this series, so consider 2005 as the distillation date as reasonable.

That out of the way, what did it smell like.  Different from the Vendome, for sure. The nose was all  low key fruitiness, medium sweet. You could sense something of old furniture lovingly polished and floors well waxed, mingling delicately with a little oak and brine, but the gradually emergent breakfast spices, sugarcane sap, cinnamon, peaches, cherry and pineapple carried the day.  Overall, it’s a firm yet not overbearing, skirting delicacy by a whisker, and noticeably heavier than the Vendome (the comparisons are inevitable, of course, as they were tried in tandem).  As the rum opened up, there was also caramel and nougat and some tangerines, with muskiness and cardboard and dry breakfast cereal, coming together in a very good balance.

The palate was curiously indeterminate when initially tasted, before it settled down.  Yes there was coffee and chocolate with a little caramel drizzle, but the fruits seem reticent and initially took a back seat to muskier, heavier notes.  It was good, just not entirely distinctive.  It also tasted a little winey, possessing the qualities of a zinfandel or maybe even a dry (but not oversweet) Tokaji.  It’s only after waiting ten minutes that the fruits came out full force and became the dominant note – pineapples again, cherries, ripe peaches in syrup, papaya and licorice with vanilla and whipped cream tidying up the loose ends.  The finish summarized all of the preceding, being easy and warm, quite smooth, with chocolate, nougat, cloves and a hint of saltiness and citrus closing up the shop.

On balance, while I could tell them apart, figuring out which is better is a lost cause.  The Vendome pot still rum from last week was an excellent product by itself, with the crispness dialled down and a solid complexity married to individuality and balance in a way one can’t help but appreciate.  Its twin from the John Dore still evinced a somewhat cleaner, more fruity profile, with additional notes of coffee and cocoa forming a tasty synthesis that I enjoyed just as much.  This was why I spent a couple of  days with the two glasses (regularly recharged of course – I sacrifice my liver for the art), going back and forth from one to the other, but truth to tell, for all their individuality and heft, I can’t chose between them in terms of overall quality and don’t really want to.  

So I’m giving them both the same score, and no matter which one you end up with, if St. Lucian rums are your thing, or good quality unmessed-with fullproof rums of any kind turn your crank, you won’t feel shortchanged by either one. This rum and its brother are a useful counterweight
to the more distinctive Jamaicans, Bajans, Guyanese or Trinis. And they remind us all that there’s another type of profile – somewhat unsung, occasionally overlooked — that’s also a part of the already excellent British West Indian rum canon.

(86/100)

For an in-depth discussion of the production process and the stills, Marco Freyr has done his usual superb work in his own review of the rum, which he scored at 91.

 

 

Jun 192017
 

#373

In recent years, St Lucia and its eponymous distillery has been inching towards its own understated cult status: pot still rums, no additives, a finish-variation here or there, good barrel strategy, all round good stuff, and somehow (don’t ask me why) still lacks the cachet of the big four (Trini Caronis, Guyana’s DDL, Bajan FourSquare and, of course, dem Jamaicans).  Many of my rum chums swear by their rums, however, whether made by independents or issued on the island, and I can tell you, they deserve the plaudits, because they’re good.

Assuming you’ve already gone through various batches of the Admiral Rodney, Chariman’s Reserve, Forgotten Casks, and any of the 1931 series made by St. Lucia Distillers — or have given Ed Hamilton’s 9 year old 2004 cask strength a whirl — and are still hankering after something with equal or greater impact, I’d strongly recommend you go to the full proof offerings in general, and this one in particular.  Why?  Because independent bottlers are not blenders and only satisfy themselves with a single barrel (usually) that conforms to their standards.  They’re not trying to move huge quantities of rum and stock the shelves of supermarkets for purchase by the lowest common denominator, they’re trying to sell small outturns of exactingly chosen rums.  And when you smell and taste something like this, you can see why they’re so good and why they command both cachet and price.

If you doubt me, please sample Secret Treasures’ take on a golden nine year old 53% beefcake from St. Lucia Distiller’s Vendome pot still.  The opening aromas are heavenly – old leather shoes, lovingly polished (and without any sweaty socks inside), combined with acetone, glue and nail polish remover that were present but not overbearing and gracefully retreated over time, giving over the stage to fruitier parts of the nose.  These consisted of delicate florals, vanilla, raisins, prunes and a little anise and oak.  Nine years was a good age, I thought, and kept the tannins present and accounted for, but not dominant – that part of the nose simply melded well and at no point was it ever excessive.

As for the palate, well now, that was relatively thick, smooth, warm, a little sweet, and all-over pleasant to try.  What made it succeed is the balance of the various components, no single one of which dominated — though that in turn was at the expense of some crispness and a feeling that things were dampened down, perhaps too much. Here, citrus and apple cider were the opening notes (unlike the John Dore 9 year old variation by the same maker, where other flavours were at the forefront).  These were followed by green peas and avocados (seriously!), some brine, vanilla, nutmeg, pineapples and cherries, with some smoke and oaken flavours which remained where they should, in the background.  It deserves some patience and careful sipping to bring out the full panoply of what was available, so don’t rush.  The finish was surprisingly short for a rum bottled at this strength, and here the tart notes take a step back and the softer stuff is more noticeable – aromatic tobacco, wine, grapes, cinnamon, and just a bare whiff of tannins and lemon peel.  

Overall, it was a really well made product and I liked it enough to try it several times over a period of two days just to nail down the finer points, but eventually I just put away my notebook, and enjoyed it on the balcony by itself with no other motive beyond having a pleasant, tasty, neat shot of rum.

Secret Treasures, a brand originally from an indie out of Switzerland called Fassbind, has been on my radar since 2012 when I tried their amazing Enmore 1989 rum and initially thought it was “okay”, before it grew on me so much over a period of days that I polished the entire thing off on my own (while fending off my mother’s grasping hands, ‘cause she liked it too damned much herself). Fassbind was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, yet curiously neither old nor new company website makes mention of the rum line at all – and the label on this bottle speaks of a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off.

Whatever the case, the changes in ownership and always small outturn even in Europe meant that the Secret Treasures line are something like Renegade or Murray McDavid rums, and exist in the shadows cast by the Scots, Bristol Spirits, Rum Nation, Velier, Samaroli, the Compagnie, etc (and the new bloods like Ekte and so on).  But it seems that no matter who the owner is, they continue to bottle small batches of single barrel rums, and let me tell you, they’re worth having. This rum and its twin, all by themselves, have made me enthusiastic about cask strength St. Lucian rums all over again.

(86/100)


Other notes

According to Maco Freyr, who reviewed this rum in his customary and exacting depth of detail back in early 2016, date of distillation is 2005.

A somewhat irrelevant aside:

Aide from diversifying one’s collection, there are very good reasons why passing around one’s acquisitions generously, without reservation and irrespective of the rarity, is a good thing – it builds goodwill, it shares the good stuff around among true aficionados, it cuts down on costs for others not so fortunate, and most of all, the reciprocity of people who are on the receiving end of your geriatric jolly juice can often be off the scale.  I’ve shared most of my Skeldon 1973, PM 1974, Chantal Comte 1980, Trois Rivieres 1975, and actually given away a full bottle of a Velier Basseterre 1995 and a Longpond 1941 (with the admonition that the happy recipients in their turn should pay it forwards, as they have).

It’s precisely because of such an attitude that I got sent two of the most interesting bottles in months, if not years: two Secret Treasures St. Lucia rums, both nine years old: this one, and the other (which I’ll look on in the next review) from a John Dore pot still, both at cask strength. To Eddie K., who sent them without warning, advertising, fanfare or expectations, a huge hat tip. You da man, amigo.

Mar 272013
 

Phenomenal single cask expression of an older Guyanese rum. Dark, fruity and excellent – cheap, too, so if it can be found, it’s worth a buy. 

(#117. 87/100)

***

I had to go to Germany to pick up this rum, and the greatest surprise for me was the fact that it’s a Swiss concern that makes it. Swiss? I can hear you say…what the hell are the cantons doing making what is culturally seen as a tropical (Caribbean, let’s be honest) tipple? Fassbind AG is taking a leaf out of the book of those dour Scots of Cadenhead and Bruichladdich et al, and have taken rum deriving from the Enmore distillery in Guyana, and bottled it after slumbering for fourteen years down there in Mudland.

This rum reinforces my belief that my personal tastes run primarily to Guyanese rums (with perhaps Panamanians running a close second). I honestly believe that this is one of the best rums of its price to be found (I paid under €40 for it at the awesome shop Rum Depot in Berlin, where some five hundred rums – the joint sells nothing else – cried out for my attention). It is, in my estimation, just short of exceptional.

Ensconced in a tall, cork-tipped, neatly etched, fascinatingly labelled bottle that may actually be originally meant for wine, this 42% single cask offering of dark brown hue made an uanpologetic grab for command of my senses immediately upon opening. To my surprise, I noted the same feinty, deep winey and red-grape notes that so characterized the Rum Nation Demerara 23 and Jamaica 25 rums (and which so, to my mind, ruin the Legendario by being too excessive): but as with those, I must mention how this scent should not dissuade you from forging ahead. Once the rum settled down, it developed into a rich melange of liquorice, rock candy and cinnamon, and was soft and deep and sweet to the nose, with no sting or nastiness that I could discern.

And if it was lovely on the nose, the arrival delivered: it had an oily full-bodied palate, presenting the thick strong legs of a Guyanese bushman used to drugging two quake o’ hassar out of the backdam every morning. Heated — yet not over-sharp — the first tastes were of honey and red grapes, peaches and fleshy fruits, which then billowed out into a well rounded profile that further developed into an excellent sipping rum, strong, deep and delicious. Even at the tail end, the finish didn’t falter: like Usain Bolt relaxedly cruising past the finish line on a good day, the rum exited with a long-lasting, heated and dusty-dry leatheriness redolent of old and well-loved family libraries. Good rum, this. I had four glasses one after the other, gave some to my nominally teetotaller mother to try, and she was so enraptured with it that I had to physically wrest the thing away after her fifth shot.

The Enmore sourced rum was distilled (by DDL) in their famous wooden Coffey still in 1989, and bottled in 2003 – subsequently, I believe all the wooden stills were moved to Diamond estate. 117 casks came out of the run, the 63rd of which delivered 897 bottles…this is the 504th. From what little research I have been able to do, it is clear that all ageing took place in Guyana, after which the bottles were shipped to Switzerland for labelling and further distribution to the shop that is probably not near you. I suspect from the richness of the rum and its dynamism on the palate, that this is not chill filtered, nor does it have any inclusions to alter the makeup.

Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) has been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer”distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what is now Switzerland’s oldest distillery. They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and from what I gather, they branched out into rums in the early 2000s. Rums are carefully sourced, aged at the origin distillery, and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conform to the principles of limited edition rums of other bottlers like Berry & Sons and Rudd, Bristol Spirits, Cadenhead, Bruichladdich’s Renegade line, or Cognac Ferrand’s Plantation Rums.

I can’t remember who it was that rather snarkily remarked “In a century of war and strife, Italy produced Galileo, Michelangelo, da Vinci and the Sistine Chapel; five hundred years of peace, and the Swiss invented the cuckoo clock.” I sort of take exception to that. I like things that work, that are precisely and exactingly put together, that do what they are built to do with a minimum of friggin’ around. That’s why I own manual, mechanical cameras, and have an equally mechanical Swiss watch (and no, I don’t have a cuckoo clock, you can stop your snickering there in the peanut gallery, fella). Fassbind, very much like other boutique rum makers, have a good handle on how to produce a phenomenally good limited edition rum. With this fascinating study in simplicity and complexity, they’ve delivered a good product at a price anyone can afford and should try at least once…always assuming they can find it.

***

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