Jan 212018
 

#481

The current focus on the Caribbean’s rums to some extent obscures interesting developments taking place elsewhere – for example the new Madeira rum from Rum Nation, French Guiana’s Toucan…and rums from St. Aubin in Mauritius, which are not particularly new, but certainly lack wider appreciation, perhaps because they don’t make it to the festival circuit as much as others do.  Anyway, this rum, the Isle de France 1715-2015 is part of their “History Collection”, bottled at 40% for a wider commercial market, and commemorates the year of establishment of French rule over Isle de France for the French East India Company — prior to that it was named L’Ile Maurice, and was a haven for pirates, smugglers and the all-round lawless (in which it parallels the Caribbean, maybe) from whom all of us low-rent rum reviewers claim descent when in our cups.

According to my email exchanges with the company, the rhum was produced from the harvest of 2005, which makes it a ten year old (though this is nowhere mentioned on the bottle itself – I’m taking that on trust) and is a blend of two rhums – pot still (30%) and column still (70%) deriving from cane juice aged in ex-bourbon barrels.  As a further note, although sugar was explicitly communicated to me as not being added, caramel and “natural aromas” were – so some variation from the pure is to be expected and I don’t doubt that hydrometer tests will show the dosage.

Certainly the caramel component was noticeable, and not just in the colour, which was quite dark – almost mahogany. The nose presented with sweet toffee notes almost immediately, and what was remarkable about it was also the surprising richness of it all – fruity to a fault, licorice, brown sugar, pineapple and peaches, balanced off (not entirely successfully) with oak and bitter chocolate.  The rhum smelled sweet, like overripe oranges and bubble gum and that to some extent was intriguing…just somewhat overpowering after a while.

Fortunately it smelled more saccharine than it tasted.  The palate was quite good, rather dry, and much more robust than I had been expecting from a standard strength product – sweetish, yes, also containing coconut shavings, pineapple, more peaches, light citrus, caramel and chocolate, coffee grounds, nougat, and – this is where I felt it faltered – also too much vanilla.  The oak took a backseat here, the bitterness of the nose not so much in evidence and the finish was warm, short with bubble gum, licorice and dry, woody notes that were pleasant, just disappeared too swiftly.

Overall, this is quite a pleasant ten year old, and strangely enough, given its cane-juice antecedents, it reminded me a lot of the El Dorado rums, particularly the 12 year old, where the dosage was also quite obvious; and it’s somewhat of a kissing cousin to the El Dorado 15 year old with respect to its panoply of flavours, specifically the licorice and chocolate.  I think that attempts may have been made to emulate some of the high ester profile of the Savanna rums without blatantly ripping them off, and the dosage smoothened things out and provided some balance.  At end, it’s a perfectly respectable mid-tier rum which is likely to find great favour in North America, perhaps less so in Europe.

History always fascinates me, so a few details here: the Domaine de St. Aubin, named after the first sugar cane mill established by Pierre de St. Aubin in 1819 or thereabouts, is located in the extreme south of Mauritius in the Rivière des Anguilles, and has been cultivating cane since that year – however the date of first distillation of spirits is harder to pin down – it’s likely within a few decades of the original opening of the sugar factory (there are records of the Harel family starting a distillery which is now New Grove in the 1850s; they also make the Lazy Dodo brand which I waxed lyrical about last year). In the late 1960s the Franco-Mauritian Guimbeau family – who made their fortune in the tea trade for which Mauritius is also renowned – acquired the estate and retained the name, and gradually developed a stable of rums produced both by a pot still (which produces what they term their “artisanal” rums) and a relatively recent columnar still for larger volume agricoles.

It’s a personal opinion of mine that alongside St. Lucia and Reunion, Mauritius is another one of those undiscovered countries we should be watching. Every day we read about the Jamaicans, Guyanese and Bajans; we regularly get another release from the famous rhum makers out of Martinique and Guadeloupe; and we kinda wish we could get more from St. Vincent and Grenada and other smaller Caribbean islands to round out the area, sure. However, let that not blind you to treasures made on the other side of Africa, on this small, rather-off-the-beaten-track island.  Chamarel, New Grove, Penny Blue and Lazy Dodo rums are all good products, enlarging the scope of what rums are — but my advice is, don’t ignore the St Aubin rums either, because however middling my notes are, they have some pretty interesting wares, and deserve a good hard look by those who want something different and tasty, yet also not too far removed from the profiles of better known rums. It’s just close enough to more familiar products to evince a nod of appreciation and vague recall, while being a memory that remains tantalizingly elusive  “Tastes oddly familiar,” I wrote after sampling the Cuvée Spéciale, “But damned if I remember precisely which one.”  And that’s exactly as it should be.

(83/100)

Jan 182018
 
1993 RF mod

Photo credit (C) Reference Rhum

Rumaniacs Review #069 | 0480

These double-digit aged agricoles are joys to behold (we’re talking carafe or flagon styles with fancy stoppers here), look awesome on the shelf (put these on a faux-silver salver on the sideboard with a couple other and you could pretend you’re a closet billionaire when pouring it into an ersatz crystal glass that was once a peanut butter jar), and best of all, they taste awesome, whether in a glencairn, a cut crystal Lalique, or in that old Canadian standby, a screw top jar.  I know the middle aged agricoles of around 6-12 years or so grab all the highlights because of the intersection of price and quality, but man oh man, these old Neissons are quietly, unfussily amazing on a whole different level, in their own unique way. Here is another one, distilled in 1993 and bottled in 2012…which coincidentally was the year when I discovered a near-unknown Genoese company called Velier and went quietly nuts.

Colour – Amber gold

Strength – 46.3%

Nose – This is a smorgasbord of spices and flowers and fruits held in a sort of trembling tension that somehow balances off without allowing dominance by any one thing.  It starts musky with tumeric, cumin and paprika (honest!), before Neisson remember who they are and quickly add in the flowers, almonds, tequila, brine, olives and salt caramel ice cream.  And then rush to apologize by adding green grapes, oranges and some minty chocolates…and some stale tobacco.  And off nose, whose originality could not be faulted.

Palate – By the time we get to the tasting, the rum has settled down somewhat and is a little milder and less prone to heedlessly going off in all directions. Nice though, very nice. Caramel, more brine, tequila and olives (of course – it would hardly be a Neisson to me if those weren’t there), spices, tobacco, bitter chocolate, hot black tea.  Some oak and vanilla make themselves felt, well integrated into other tastes like pears, bananas, guavas and some citrus to balance it all off.

Finish – Medium long, buttery, warm, like a good creme brulee.  Coffee grounds, cumin, light fruits, tobacco, and that’s just about it.  I was sorry to see it go.

Thoughts – There’s some variation of quality and taste profile across these aged Neissons, but the core remains remarkably consistent.  It’s like a clothes horse upon which the garments keep changing but is itself always there to lend the support they need.  A lovely piece of work that honours the Neisson line and heritage.

(86/100)


WhiskyFun took a gander at a bunch of Neissons a few months back in a multi-rum session, here….he scored this one at 89. All the Rumaniacs reviews of the Neissons will be posted here. Also, my good friend Laurent from that most imaginatively named of all rum sites “The Rhums of the Man with a Stroller”, gave it a French language, unscored review which is well worth a read.

 

Jan 162018
 

#479

We’re on something of a Jamaican rum kick for a week or two, because leaving aside Barbados, they’re the ones getting all the press, what with Worthy Park and Hampden now putting out the juice, Longpond getting back in on the act, Monymusk and New Yarmouth lurking behind the scenes, and remember JB Charley with its interesting hooch? And of course behind them all, Appleton / J. Wray remains the mastodon of the island whose market share everyone wants a bite of.

While Worthy Park’s three new 2017 pot still offerings are definitely worth a buy, and Hampden is putting some big footprints into the sands of the beach, I still have a thing for Longpond myself – this comes directly from that famous and oh-so-tasty G&M 1941 58 year old I value so highly and share around so much.  Alas, the only place one is going to get a Longpond rum these days (until they reopen for business, for which many are waiting with bated and boozy breath) is from the independents, and Compagnie des Indes was there to satisfy the need: so far I think they have about twenty Jamaicans in the stable, of which three or four are from Longpond and I think they’re all sourced from Scheer or the Main Rum Company in Europe. (Note: The best online background and historical data on Longpond currently extant is on the site of that rabid Jamaican-loving rum-chum, the Cocktail Wonk, here and here).

Moving on to tasting notes, I have to say that when the bottle was cracked and I took a hefty snootful of the pale yellow rum, I was amazed at the similarity to (and divergence from) the G&M 1941 that was over four times older – there was that same wax and turpentine opening salvo which was augmented by phenols, rubber and some vague, musky Indian spices.  Honey and brine, olives, a few sharp red peppers (gone quickly), and a generous serving of the famous funk, crisp fruits and light flowers. It was well assembled, just a shade vague, as if not entirely sure what it wanted to be.

Never mind.  The palate was where the action was. Although the bottling at 44% ABV was not entirely enough to bring out all the subtleties, there was more than enough to keep the glass filled several times as I leaned back and took my time sampling it over an hour or so.  It began soft and warm with bananas, honey, whipped cream, a little salt caramel, and a little rye bread, aromatic wood chips (I hesitate to say cedar, but it was close).  Then the ester brass band came marching on through, providing the counterpoint – citrus, tart apples, cider, green grapes, and was that a flirt of cumin and curry I sensed? It came together in a nice tantara of a long, warm and spicy finish that wasn’t particularly original, just tried to sum up the experience by re-presenting the main themes – light fruity notes, some salt, olives and caramel, and a final leaf-blade of lemon peel holding it all together.

Longpond is known for its high ester count of its rums and that over-the-top funky flavour profile, so what I tasted, tamed as it was by the relatively unassertive proof point, came as no surprise and was a pleasant reminder of how very well properly-made, lovingly-aged Jamaican rums can be. This standard proof rum was issued for the general market with 384 bottles and as far as I know there’s no cask strength or “Danish market” edition floating around.  But that’s not really a problem, since that makes it something everyone can appreciate, not just the A-types who cut cask strength rums with cask strength whisky.  Whatever you preference in these matters, the CdI Longpond 12 remains a tasty, low key Jamaican that isn’t trying to rip your face off and pour fire down you throat, just present the estery, funky Jamaican rum in its best light…which this it does with delicacy, finesse, and no problems at all.  It’s a really good twelve year old rum.

(85/100)


Other notes

 

Jan 132018
 

Rumaniacs Review #068 | 0478

As I’ve observed before, agricoles come into their own at a younger age than the industrielles, so a very good one can always be found in the 5-10 year old range with minimal trawling, and they’re usually sub-50% ABV, which also allows them to find a greater audience…but to find rhums ten years old and older, and from the 1990s and earlier, now that takes a little more effort.  Rest assured, the search for such agricoles is often worth it, though for a handsome decanter like this one comes in — which perhaps says something for the esteem in which Neisson hold this edition —  you are going to be set back quite a pretty penny as well.

Colour – Amber Gold

Strength – 49.2%

Nose – Somewhat startlingly, the rhum opens with a medicinal, bitter, quinine aroma that’s quite unmistakeable (and after all the years I spent getting dosed with the stuff and getting malaria umpteen times nevertheless, I know whereof I speak) but thankfully it doesn’t last long and tart fruits, flowers, caramel, brine and light citrus emerge from hiding.  There’s a richness to the nose that’s impressive, adding coffee grounds, nuts and at the last some (unappreciated) camphor and light quinine notes.  Although I can’t say I was entirely won over by it, the sumptuousness of the nose can’t be gainsaid.

Palate – No bad, overall, with brine, olives pecans and caramel leading the charge, supported by medicinals I can’t say enthused me.  The tequila-ish Neisson profile is represented in fine style, with sweet held way back in reserve, to which is added herbs, dill, unripe green mangoes, bell peppers and a good miso soup with sweet soya and a dash of lemons.

Finish – Long and fragrant, really nice denouement. Lemons, licorice, more pecans (or was that salty cashew nuts?), some sweet, caramel, bitter chocolate and coffee grounds and tequila.  Absolutely no fault to be found here. A lovely piece of work.

Thoughts – A very crisp and almost definitive Neisson, with not a year of the ageing wasted.  Only the bitterness of the quinine mar the experience for me, which says a lot about how smells really can release  less pleasant memories sometimes, and these creep into one’s unconscious ideas of “good” and bad”.  Beyond that?  A lovely piece of work.

(84/100)


WhiskyFun took a gander at a bunch of Neissons a few months back (same as I’ll be doling out over the next weeks) in a multi-rum session, here….he scored this one at 92. All the Rumaniacs reviews of the Neissons will be posted here. Also, my good friend Laurent from that most imaginatively named of all rum sites “The Rhums of the Man with a Stroller”, gave it a French language, unscored review which is well worth a read.

Jan 102018
 

#477

You’re going to read more about rums from the Monymusk distillery out of Jamaica in the next few years, I’m thinking, given how the island’s lesser-known products are emerging from the shadows; and distilleries other than Appleton are coming back into their own as distinct producers in their own right – Hampden, Longpond, Worthy Park, New Yarmouth, Clarendon/Monymusk are all ramping up and causing waves big time.  But aside from the Royal Jamaican Gold I tried many years ago (and was, at the time, not entirely won over by) and the EKTE 12 YO from a few weeks back, plus a few indies’ work I have yet to write about, there still isn’t that much out there in general release… so it may be instructive to go back in history a while to the near-beginning of the rum renaissance in 2009, when Renegade Rum Company, one of the first of the modern independent bottlers not from Italy, issued 3960 bottles of this interesting 5 year old from Monymusk.

Even in the Scottish company it kept (and many such outfits remained after Renegade folded), Renegade was not a normal UK indie.  If one were to eliminate the dosing issue, they were actually more akin to Italy’s Rum Nation, because they married multiple barrels of a given distillate to provide several thousand bottles of a rum (not just a few hundred), and then finished them in various ex-wine barrels as part of their Additional Cask Evolution strategy. Alas, they seemed to have raced ahead of the market and consumer consciousness, because the rums sold well but not spectacularly, which is why I could still pick one up (albeit as a sample) so many years later. Moreover, as Mark Reynier remarked to me, finding the perfect set of aged casks which conformed to his personal standards was becoming more and more difficult, which was the main reason for eventually closing up the Renegade shop…to the detriment of all us rum chums.

But I think he was on to something that was at the time unappreciated by all but the connoisseurs of the day, because while agricoles aged five years can be amazing, molasses based rums are not often hitting their stride until in their double digits – yet here, Renegade issued a five year old Jamaican pot still product that was a quietly superior rum which I honestly believe that were it made today, aficionados would be snapping up in no time flat and perhaps making Luca, Fabio, Tristan, Daniel and others cast some nervous glances over their shoulders.

Anyway, let me walk you through the tasting and I’ll explain why the rum worked as well as it did.  It nosed well from the get-go, that’s for sure, with Jamaican funk and esters coming off in all directions.  It felt thicker and more dour than the golden hue might have suggested, initially smelling of rubber, nail polish, tomato-stuffed olives in brine and salty cashew nuts with a sort of creamy undertone; but this receded over time and it morphed into a much lighter, crisper series of smells – bananas going off, overripe oranges, cumin, raisins and some winey hints probably deriving from the finish. Tempranillo is a full bodied red wine from Spain, so the aromas coming off of that were no real surprise.

What did surprise me was that when I tasted it, it did something of a 180 on me — it got somewhat clearer, lighter, sweeter, more floral, than the nose had suggested it would.  Traces of Kahlúa and coconut liqueur initially, bread and salt butter, some oakiness and sharper citrus notes; this was tamed better with water and the fruits were coaxed out of hiding, adding a touch of anise to the proceedings.  Pears, cashews, guavas, with the citrus component quite laid back and becoming almost unnoticeable, lending a nice, delicately sharp counterpoint to the muskier flavours the fleshier fruits laid down.  It all led to a pleasant, tightly minimal and slightly unbalanced finish that was long for that strength, but gave generously (some might say heedlessly) of the few flavours that remained – cherries, pears, red guavas, a little more anise, and some salt.

In a word?  Yummy. It’s a tasty young rum of middling strength that hits all the high points and has the combination of complexity and assertiveness and good flavours well nailed down.  It has elements that appeal to cask strength lovers without alienating the softer crowd, and the tempranillo finish adds an intriguing background wine and fruity note that moderates the Jamaican funk and dunder parts of the profile nicely. Though perhaps the weak point is the finish — which did not come up to the high water mark set by both nose and taste and was a shade incoherent — that’s no reason not to like the rum as it stands, to me.

Anyway, in these days of the great movement towards exacting pure rums of distillery-specific,country-defining brands, it’s good to remember an unfinished experiment such as this Jamaican rum from Renegade, which pointed the way towards many of the developments we are living through now.  That may be of no interest to you as a casual imbiber, of course, so let me close by saying that it’s a pretty damned good Jamaican rum on its own merits — which, if you were ever to see it gathering dust somewhere on a back shelf, you could do worse than to snap it and its brothers up immediately.

(86/100)


Other notes

Compliments to Alex Van der Veer of Master Quill, an underrated resource of the rum-reviewers shortlist, who sent me the sample.  His own review can be found on his website and I’m nudging him gently in the ribs here, hoping he reads this and writes more, more often 🙂

Apr 272017
 

#360

The LBI 1998 starts out with a nose that is on the good side of remarkable, but not quite edging into wow! territory.  That’s not at all a criticism, just an observation that it lacks the sort of rabid uniqueness that characterizes many of Velier’s legendary rums, and therefore this one may be among the most accessible “regular rum” profiles ever made by the company (if one discounts the earlier 40% offerings like the LBI 1985 or the Enmore 1987 that were bottled by Breitenstock and can’t really be considered part of the oeuvre).  It starts with deep acetones, nail polish and some faint rubbery notes, which dissipate like wafts in a breeze, without fanfare, giving over to dark fleshy fruits, bags of raisins and some anise. For some rums this would be the end of the affair – not here. Waiting a few minutes brought other aromas to the table (without every losing the edge the previous ones had displayed) – crème brulee and orange chocolate, prunes, dates, plums and something like overripe bananas, all in excellent balance, no single note stealing the show, yet all being distinct and noticeable by themselves.

Photo (c) reference-rhum.com

The rum remained true to everything the nose had promised, and was really good on the palate, with the strength being, in my opinion, just about right.  It was dryish and warm, with heft and forceful profile without every becoming too aggressive. The core of the whole thing was some vanilla and salty caramel, very faint molasses, and then the procession of subtler flavours began — again raisins, plums and prunes, some dates, even some blackcurrants and grapes.  With water there were additional hints of leather and smoke, with perhaps a bit too much of the bitterness of oak at the tail end, but fortunately not overbearingly dominant and did not seriously detract from the overall profile.  All of this lasted for quite some time – it was quite oily on the tongue, which was pleasant – concluding with steady, mellow notes of mostly caramel, raisins and black cake plus a few extras. I should remark that the finish was nicely creamy, being offset with just enough sharpness and florals to give it a bit of an edge that made the conclusion quite a good one…sort of an exclamation point to the proceedings one might say.

Now we’re talking. The La Bonne Intention (LBI) 1998 is so different from the 1985 I looked at before (I tried them side by side), that to all intents and purposes it’s a different rum altogether, not the least because this really was bottled by Velier (not Breitenstock).  The famous black bottle and standard label were part of the deal, plus, and how could you not love this, it was bottled at a firm 55.6% and tropically aged…so all Velier’s bunting was on show flying in the breeze, in this pretty nifty nine year old rum.

For the box tickers among you readers, here are the basic details.  The rum’s derives from a plantation named La Bonne Intention on the East Coast of the Demerara river not too far from Georgetown but the rum was not actually distilled there but in Uitvlugt and probably in a Coffey column still (the label remarks on being made on a continuous column still).  This bottle came from a single barrel, issued in 2007 at 55.6% and 274 bottles were issued. With that small an outturn being issued ten years ago, the chances of anyone outside a collector ever finding one is probably (and disappointingly) very small…or very expensive.

Does the name of LBI actually mean anything in the context of this label?  Beyond some interesting history, I’d suggest not, because we have no mental map of its coordinates in the tasting rumiverse.  For rums like the Port Mourants and Enmores, yes, the name means a lot when distinguishing a particular profile.  FourSquare in Barbados, sometimes. Hampden or Worthy Park in Jamaica, sure. Savanna in Reunion, oh yes, and Caroni over in Trinidad, without a doubt.  These are rums made with such distinctiveness and such unmistakeable profiles that even amateurs like me can tell them apart from the regular run of Caribbean rums (or Caribbean rum wannabes).  Still, whatever the name, and however it lacks the instant taste-recognition of those rums noted above, there’s nothing wrong with the LBI at all.  It’s a solid, impressive rum from La Casa de Luca, with many strong points and very few weak ones, and perhaps the only thing stopping rum junkies like us from praising it to the heavens are the better ones issued by the same house.  So, no – it’s not in the pantheon of the Skeldon 1973, PM 1974 or UF30E 1985 (or the Caputo 1973, ha ha) … but it’s still a very good rum, and just goes to show that with an outfit that knows what it’s doing, even their second tier rums are way above the juice that far too many producers are touting as top-end super-premiums.

(86/100)

Other notes

Sample very kindly provided by Cyril of DuRhum and was from the same bottle as his own review.

 

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.

Aug 132016
 

JM 1845 Cuvee - 1

After a tough day at work, the Cuvée 1845 is a balm to the exhausted mind.

(#294 / 88/100)

***

Even at 42% ABV, The Rhum J.M. Cuvée makes a statement for agricoles that is worth listening to.  It finds a balance between body, mouthfeel, taste, spiciness and warmth in a way that reminds us that agricoles should not be taken as merely a small subset of the greater rumworld, but should hold a place in the pantheon second to none. While these days my preferences run mostly towards stronger, full proof rums, I must say that there’s nothing about this lovely product that makes me want to ask for it to be dialled up.  It’s excellent as it is.

Issued as an anniversary edition for the 170th year of production on the plantation in 2015 (which was when I tried it), the Cuvée is a rhum aged at least ten years in oak barrels, gold in colour, and housed in a handsome gold etched flagon of admirable simplicity.  J.M. is, of course, the old house on Martinique which issued the haunting 1995 15 year old, as well as the equally memorable 2002 Millesime 10 year old, but I think this one is just a shade better. J.M. as a plantation has been in existence for longer than 170 years – Pere Labat founded the sugar refinery as far back as the 1700s, and it is clear that the current owners have forgotten nothing about what it means to make a top notch rhum.

JM 1845 Cuvee - 2There was a certain tartness in the nose that started things off, something like ginnip and soursop, the crisp and firm ripeness of a green apple. It was not sharp or spicy, just heated and well controlled in a way that made smelling it a joy rather than an exercise in pain management – I didn’t have to set it aside to chill out and breathe, but could dive right in.  Once it opened a bit, it softened up, providing additional easy-going scents of vanilla, gingerbread cookies, unsweetened yoghurt and just a dash of pepper and cumin (which is not as odd as it may sound).

It was the taste that elevated the rhum above its 1995 and 2002 compatriots. What sinks an agricole in the minds of many molasses rum lovers is both the clarity and sharpness, whatever the tastes might be.  Nothing of the kind happened here.  In fact, it displayed the sort of originality and balance of crispness and softness which many rums these days seem to shy away from in an effort not to piss anyone off. The feel body was medium, soft, and had the instantly recognizable herbaceous background which marked it as a cane juice product.  Over a period of time, spices, black pepper, vanilla, light citrus and flowers emerged, surrounded by woody notes from the oak barrels where it has rested.  These oaky notes were held in check, providing a background of tannins that did not overwhelm, but enhanced further notes of ginger snaps, orange zest, ripe apples, and created a lovely mix of clear, light softness redolent of these many flavours all at once.  And the finish was equally high-grade – sweet, smooth, warm, tasty (nothing new added here, alas); perhaps a bit too short…more a summing up of the whole experience than any effort to go off the reservation by presenting anything new.

There’s was something almost sensuous about the whole experience.  The 1845, and indeed the rest of the rhums from this company, lacked that peculiar sense of individualism that marked out the Neisson line, yet in their own way are as distinct as any other, and with a quality not to be sneezed at. This is a rhum so well made that sipping it neat is almost mandatory – mixing it might be a punishable offense in some places, and I certainly wouldn’t.  Admittedly, the only J.M. rhums I’ve tried have been fairly high end ones – when you can carry only one and buy only one, you tend to chose from the better end of the spectrum – but even among those I’ve sampled, this one stands out.  It’s a remarkable, tasty, solid accomplishment from one of the last single-domaine, family-owned houses still in existence on Martinique.  And a feather in its cap by any definition.

Other notes

  • Blend of rhums aged a minimum of ten years in 200-liter oak barrels
  • A brief bio of J.M is provided in the 1995 review
May 112016
 

D3S_3667

A wonderfully sippable AOC agricole from J.M. in Martinique

(#272 / 86.5/100)

***

The unquantifiable quality of the J.M. 1995 Très Vieux 15 Year Old has stayed with me ever since I first tried it.  Some aspects of the rhum did not entirely succeed, but I could never entirely rid my memory of its overall worth, and so deliberately sought out others from the stable of the company to see if the experience was a unique one.  And I am happy to report that the Millesime 2002 10 year old is a sterling product in its own way, and perhaps slightly exceeds the 1995…though with such a small difference in scores, you could just as easily say they are both excellent in their own ways and let it go at that.  

For all the enthusiasm of the above paragraph, it should be noted that sampled side by side, the two rhums are actually quite distinct products, each good in their own way, but not to be confused with one another.  Consider first the aromas hailing from this 46.3% orange gold rhum – they presented as quite fruity and aromatic, quite rounded and mellow, not always a characteristic of agricoles. As it opened up over the minute, flavours of cherries, red grapes, herbals, dill, sugar cane and grass rose gently out of it….and, if you can believe it, a sort of weird and persistent bubble-gum and Fanta melange that took me somewhat unawares, though not unpleasant by any means.

On the palate the texture was phenomenal, smooth and warm and assertive all at once.  There was little of the aridity of the 1995: it presented a sort of restrained spiciness to the senses; some vanilla and tannins were discernible, but very well controlled and held way back so as not to unduly influence what was a very well balanced drink. 46.3% was a good strength here, and allowed firm traditional vegetal and grassy notes to take their place, before gradually being replaced – but not overwhelmed – by citrus zest (that was the Fanta doing a bait-and-switch, maybe), mint, cucumbers, watermelon, papaya and rich, ripe white pears.  And then there was more…rye bread, salt butter, very delicate notes of coffee and chocolate…just yummy. It was an enormously well assembled rhum, luscious to taste and with walked a fine line between Jack Sprat and his wife…one could say it was like the last thing Goldilocks tried, being just right.  Some of the dry profile I had previously sensed on the 1995 was evident on the finish, but again, nothing overwhelming – it was warm and aromatic with light tangerines, spearmint gum, more ripe cherries and those delectable grapes I had noted before.  All in all, just a great sipping agricole, with similarities to the Karukera 2004, la Favorite Cuvée Privilège and maybe, if I stretched, even Damoiseau’s products.

D3S_3668

J.M. is located in northern Martinique at the foot of Mount Pele, and I’ve written a company summary in my review of the 1995, if you’re interested.  One fact that came to my attention afterwards was that JM char the inside of their barrels by setting fire to some high proof rum distillate, and then scraping the char off, which may have something to do with the fruity character of the aged rhums they put out.  The rhum itself was distilled on a creole copper pot still to 72% before being set to age and then diluted to “drinking strength.”  I wonder what would happen if they ever decided to take a chance and leave it cask strength.

Most people I speak to about agricoles, especially those who have tried just a few (or none), comment in a way that suggests they are considered pretty much all the same — grassy, herbal, watery, a trifle sweet maybe, and (horrors!) more expensive. A lot of this is true, but after having tried the marvellous variety of rhums from Martinique and Guadeloupe, the sharp industrial chrome of the whites versus softer aged products, I can say with some assurance that there is an equally dazzling variety within cane juice rhums as there is in the molasses based products. And this is one reason why in the last year I’ve really tried to write about as many of them as I could lay hands on. Trying the JM 2002 with its complex, layered and warm profile makes me glad the adventure still has some kinks in the road, and that I began it in the first place.

Other

  • Aged in Limousin oak
Mar 032015
 

D3S_9074

A unique fifteen year old agricole that lacks something of the deep dark depth of the Damoiseau 1980 I so liked, but is a great and tasty example of the style nevertheless…as long as your tastes run that way.

(#205. 86/100)

***

As adolescents, among our most fervent wishes was to have coitus without interruptus the way a hobbit has breakfast: whenever possible, preferably all the time, twice daily if we could manage it (well, what teenager hasn’t?)  But as the years wound on, some reality entered that little fantasy: the truth is that unlimited anything gets boring after a while. One does not wish to eat manna from heaven every single day, do the same job day in and day out,  indulge in neverending bedroom calisthenics…or drink the same kind of rum all the time.

I relate this (possibly apocryphal) story to link to another conversation a fellow reviewer and I had not too long ago: that agricoles just weren’t his thing, and remain an acquired taste enveloped in a certain subtle snobbery for those who preferred them.  I understand this perspective, since agricoles as a whole are quite different from molasses based rums that reek of caramel, licorice, fruits, toffee and what have you.  And while I don’t care for the term “acquired taste” – this is where the imputed elitism has its source – the fact is that the gent was right: tastes do evolve: rums which are current favourites may lose their place in the sun, to be replaced by others you would have never dreamed of touching when you were just starting out.  Rhums are seen by their adherents to possess remarkable quality in their own right, no matter how much the taste profile bends away at right angles from what others have come to accept as more common (or better).

Anyway, remembering the  wonderful experience I had with the Damoiseau 1980, when I saw a bottle of the JM 1995 Rhum Tres Vieux 15 year old (which nowadays retails in the €200 range), I dived right in.  And believe me, when I say it’s different, those of you who prefer more traditional fare can take that as the absolute truth. It’s not for everyone necessarily, but for those whose palates bend in that direction, it’s quite a drink.

As is proper for a top-of-the-line aged product, the green bottle, sealed with wax and possessing a cool leather embossed label came in a fine wooden box that showcased its antecedents, its AOC designation – which means it adhered to stringent manufacturing guidelines such as how soon after reaping the source cane had to be distilled, additions, filtration, etc – and its age.  Now strictly speaking, this is a millésime, but it is noted as being a très vieux (very old)…it could just as easily be termed an XO, but I’m not a purist on the matter and will let it pass with just that comment.

The single column copper-still rhum was a honey gold colour with coppery hints, and gave promise of a medium-light body, which the nose certainly confirmed. It gave forth immediate scents of freshly mown grass and crushed sugar cane, slightly sweet…and quite dry, though not enough to wrinkle the nose.  There were notes of toffee, salty peanut brittle, bon-bons, even a slightly sweetish bubble-gum background which balanced off the brininess. The 44.8% strength was just about right, I think, otherwise we might have really been struck with a dry desert wind on this one.

Still, I liked it, and as the taste developed, saw no real reason to change my opinion.  The palate was smooth and warm, where all the harmonies of the nose developed to a fuller expression – flowers, rain-wet grass, sugar cane rind stripped with the teeth, a flirt of tangerine rind, and biscuits with dry cheese — a liquid warm croissant with a dab of rich, freshly churned butter — all underlain with a sweetish vanilla background, and almost no oak tannins at all.  None of the individual components predominated over any other – the balance was really quite something. What also surprised me was the faint anise taste that revealed itself after a few minutes and melded well into the overall whole.  The finish was short to medium and reminded me a lot of the Clemente XO: both had that closing aroma of smouldering cane fields and vanillas that to this day evoke so many memories.

Situated in the north of Martinique in Bellevue, J.M. began life with Pére Labat, who was credited with commercializing and proliferating the sugar industry in the French West Indies during the 18th century.   He operated a sugar refinery at his property on the Roche Rover, and sold the estate to Antoine Leroux-Préville in 1790 – it was then renamed Habitation Fonds-Préville.  In 1845, his daughters sold the property again, this time to a merchant from Saint-Pierre names Jean-Marie Martin.  With the decline in sugar production but with the concomitant rise in sales of distilled spirits, Jean-Marie recognized an opportunity, and built a small distillery on the estate, and switched the focus away from sugar and towards rum, which he aged in oak barrels branded with his initials “JM”.  In 1914 Gustave Crassous de Médeuil bought the plantation from his brother Ernest (I was unable to establish whether Ernest was a descendant or relative of Jean-Marie), and merged it with his already existing estate of Maison Bellevue.  The resulting company has been family owned, and making rhum, ever since and is among the last of the independent single domaine plantations on Martinique.

If I had fault to find at all in the rhum, it was its aridity, which subtly spoiled (for me) the smoothness of the overall experience, and is another reason I appreciated its relatively lower proof.  Though my sample set of agricoles is too small to make the claim with assurance, it may also speak to my palate being adulterated by rums that have added inclusions (like sugar) to smoothen out such a profile, a practice eschewed by AOC agricoles. Still, summing up, this is a rhum I’ll have to come back to, in the years to come, and will probably rise in my estimation much as the Clemente did. The J.M. 1995 is the kind of rum I’ve been pestered about for ages. People couldn’t quite describe it, but they said I had to sample it, and review it. I just had to.

Well, I did. They were right. It’s quite a lovely drinking experience

***

Other notes not strictly pertinent to this review

Many French West Indian distilleries adhere to a certain puritan strain of rhum production (whether or not they apply for AOC rating).  They use cane juice, don’t add anything to their rhums to either colour them or adulterate them, often issue them at cask strength, and sniffily refer to molasses based rums with the somewhat disdainful moniker of “industrials”.  They may have a point – if there had ever been a pure ethos of rum making, shorn of all the modern and technical innovations, surely it is the agricoles which represent its continuance in modern times. They are a miniscule part of the rum world by volume of sales, yet they hang in there, producing these uniquely tasting, offbeat rums, seen by their tasting champions as exemplars of the craft the way it is, and was, meant to be.

I don’t really agree with that concept 100%, since it is in the nature of mankind to move forward and evolve…and to stick with “the way things were” forever strikes me as unreasoning, almost fanatical, adherence to a single tradition or ideology.  But there’s no doubt that JM, with rhums like this one, are probably on to something, and to tamper with the philosophy of how it’s made would be to discard a link with rum’s past, lose the variety that makes rum great, and leave us poorer for it.

So while not all aspects of the JM 1995 find favour with me (all apologies to the cognoscenti who feel the opposite is true), I acknowledge its distinctiveness and remarkable profile — and if I don’t entirely fall under its beguiling spell, I don’t hate it either, and maybe it’s all just a case of me still acquiring the taste.

 

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