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 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 072018
 

Rumaniacs Review #067 | 0476

Neisson out of Martinique must have had a particularly good year in 1991, because there’s no shortage of rhums bearing that number, up to and including the Armada Millesime and the 1991-2001 edition, both of which are rarer than hen’s teeth and fetch four figure prices.  Matters are confused somewhat by the various editions being of similar strength (45.3% in this case) and not always being clear (on the bottle label at least) as to which year it was bottled, leaving the specific edition and true age somewhat in doubt. This one, according to my Rumaniacs’derived sample, is from 1997, making it a 6 year old rhum.

For a quick recap, Neisson is not only  the smallest distillery in Martinique, and possibly the last remaining truly independent one, but also one of the most distinctive, something I’ve remarked on before with all the rums I’ve been fortunate enough to try so far. Let’s see if a few more can add some data to the oeuvre.

Colour – Amber-gold

Strength – 45.3%

Nose – Starts easy, yet with enough bite to announce itself.  Salty pecans, licorice, caramel and raisins (not really the opening I was expecting from an agricole, to be honest).  It’s also light with florals, some nuttiness and a blade of pungent crushed lime leaves running through it. Grasses and herbs stay well back, and it morphs nicely into a sort of fanta-orange juice blend, combining snap with tastiness.

Palate – Pleasingly light and quite crisp, the agricole origins are more clear here, more forcefully expressed. Orange peel, coffee, bitter chocolate, brine and some oak.  There’s less salt here than others I’ve tried, and a background of coca-cola and peaches in cream that don’t integrate as well…yet, somehow, it all still works

Finish – Grasses, cane juice, brine, white pepper and still a vague memory of lime leaves remains to tease and promise. Nice!

Thoughts – It’s sort of surprising that the salty-oily tequila notes I’ve commented on before are very subdued here, but I’m not complaining, because for a six year old to present this well, is a pleasant experience.  I started my first session by rating it at 83, but it grew on me and I revised that score upwards. Though given that Neisson is adhering to the AOC standards and doesn’t mess around with additives and continues to make excellent rhums year in and year out, perhaps I shouldn’t have expected any less.

(85/100)


Since we all got our samples together but Serge is faster on the draw, 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. All the Rumaniacs reviews of the Neissons will be posted here.

Dec 182017
 

#470

The No. 4 made by Toucan Rums from French Guiana is a small, sweet melody of a rum, playing itself out in a minor key.  This isn’t a great rum, not truly pure, but I never got the feeling, when talking with the small company’s vivacious Directeur-General, Cat Arnold, that they really meant it to be.  The sense was more that they set out to indulge their passion, and there are parallels to Whisper Rum from Antigua here: in both cases a pair of French entrepreneurs bootstrapped a tiny operation, refused to go through brokers, and sourced rum from a country’s much bigger distillery directly.  They built a structure on excitement, and made exactly what they wanted – a relaxed, easy rum that isn’t out to redefine the concept so much as show that a good rum doesn’t have to be supported by loud social media bombast, a jillion dollar marketing budget or a Rum Name, to be noticed and applauded. It just has to be original and a decent drink.

They’ve succeeded quite well in my estimation, as might also be implied by the gold medal it won in the 2017 Berlin Rumfest. Bottled at a mild 40%, it was touted as sugar and coloration-free (but see my notes below), and derived from the same single-column-still sugar-cane juice as the very excellent Toucan White, bottled at a hefty 50%. What this presents when one smells it, is rather unusual – slightly salty, unsweetened chocolate, aromatic cigarillos, sugar water and pears, with some edge provided by a vague bitterness – that sort of profile doesn’t always work, but here it provided a delicate counterpoint to more traditional aromas and it was far from unpleasant.

The palate is extremely mild and very light, so if one is trying it neat (as I did), some concentration is needed otherwise the faint flavours disappear quickly. Still, they are intriguing within their limits – nuts, cola and fruitiness being immediately evident, for example.  It displayed, even at that low strength, some sharp and jagged edges which I liked, and highlight the youth of the rum. What distinguishes the Toucan No. 4 is the way it combines the profile of a good cachaca (it has vague woody notes characteristic of the Brazilians), with a sort of low-rent Jamaican (those funk and esters), together with a gradually emergent taste of dill and sweet ginger.  There are also some toffee and sugar water notes, which keep mostly in the background, and the combination of all these is done quite well. The finish is probably the weakest part of the experience, since there is insufficient strength to showcase any closing uniqueness, and underlines the frailty of the construction.  However, fair is fair – sugar water, dill, some very light citrus and grass notes are there, and it would be remiss of me not to mention them, or how well they play together.

Let’s quickly go through the background of the company. You can easily ignore all the marketing blah of both the company’s website and the one from St Maurice (the French Guiana distillery of origin), with their pretty pictures of mist-shrouded tropical vistas, and heady statements about being close to the equator or slow reduction of the rum. This is all marketing. The facts on the ground are that Toucan sources rum stock made on St. Maurice’s column still — sugar cane juice origin with a 48-hour fermentation period — ships it to Toulouse in France and there it rests in steel tanks for six months, before being reduced over six hours to standard proof; then it is aged in armagnac casks for fifteen days and then given a wood infusion (essence of three different types of undisclosed woods, so I was told) for another fifteen days.  Hence my remark above, about not being “truly pure”.

All this is described honestly and clearly on the back label. The process makes for a nearly unaged, infused and finished rum, and while normally I have no particular interest in such rums (which is why you don’t see many of them in my reviews), here I can’t really argue with the final result, because none of it was excessive or overbearing. It is a really nice rum: it’s pleasant, sippable and unaggressive, well made, modest…almost bashful.  It’s tasty as all get out for its low proof, and when I spoke with the very expressive and enthusiastic Ms. Cat Arnold (half of the two-person husband-and-wife team which makes it) and mentioned that it should really be stronger to be better, she remarked that Benoit Bail had just told her exactly the same thing, so they’ll be looking to make some changes in the future.  

When your rum gets on the agricole tour and makes waves around facebook and wins prizes right out of the gate, you’re probably doing something right.  Press like that is worth the rum’s weight in gold, and here I’m adding my own voice to those who already know that the tiny company produces some very interesting juice. The rum is not a world beater by any means, but it’s got oodles of potential, a very original and well-assembled profile, and we should watch out for more, stronger and better from the company in the years to come. For the moment and until they issue No.5 or No. 6, you won’t be short-changing yourself if you spring some coin for this demure little rumlet from French Guiana.  It’s a pretty nifty, low-key drinking experience with little or no downside for the casual drinker.

(81/100)


Other notes

  • The back label reads:  Let yourself be captivated by the Toucan # 4 agricultural rum of French Guiana. Monovarietal cane, cut 100% by hand, long maturation, slow reduction with pure water, passage in Bas Armagnac, infusion of wood and no added sugar for this exceptional spirit drink.
  • The “No. 4” is preceded by a white, a vanilla, and a spiced version called “Boco”.
Nov 212017
 

#460

The nose of the seven year old 57.3% Bielle is deceptive in the extreme, quiet and camouflaged, and sneaks up on you like a spec ops team on dawn patrol through a foggy jungle.  At first there’s not much…vague hints of grass, sap and sweet honey. Maybe some herbs, an earthy sort of musk. A flower or two.  It’s all very commonplace for a Guadeloupe rhum and you might think after a few seconds of careful sniffing, “What, is this all there is?” …before it opens up and then it’s like Major T.J. Kong cheerfully went on the offensive big time, with a fusillade of additional smells emerging as if from ambush: citrus, herbs, dill and cloves zipping around, followed by the solid crump-crump of honey, more caramel and eucalyptus oil. Whew! The Bielle 2007 might have started inoffensive and easy but it sure knew how to make up for lost time once it got going.

And if the nose is a gradually unfolding escalation, well, the palate is like a full scale battle joined between opposing forces in love with all their laser-guided precision artillery. It was sharp and light and furious all at once, a bombardment of delicious flavours, throwing shards of flowers, honey, wet green grass, bananas, pears, watermelon, olives, and cane juice sap with all the insouciance of a bird-colonel in the suck testing out his latest hi-tech toys.  Add a little water and spices emerge, precisely, forcefully, tastily – cinnamon and nutmeg for the most part, some cloves, as well as sugar water, and even a touch of brine.  And it all leads to a long and rather sharp denouement, crisp and yet warm, redolent of caramel, citrus, tannins and smoke. Bit of a comedown, here, balance was slightly off, sharpness a tad too much…we may have burnt the rum in order to save it, Cap’n.

Okay, so this is perhaps overly metaphorical for a rum review, an armchair rumwarrior’s idle fascination with military exercises (though at least it’s a fun digression from standard tasting notes, I suggest).  But the tastes and sensations were there, as described, and any rum that can inspire such daydreams is worth a look, right? It presents as quite a fascinating piece of work, and those were the thoughts that ran through my mind on an afternoon when I perhaps had too much time on my hands. Each morsel of flavour arrived precisely, pirouetted, fired off a volley, shouldered arms and then marched off. It was great.

Bielle is not a company whose wares I’ve seen or tried much of – in fact, that was the reason I bought this one (and the Dillon, from last week).  Located just south of dead centre on the tiny island of Marie Galante (itself south of Guadeloupe), Bielle was a small sugar plantation dating back to the late 1700s, named after Jean-Pierre Bielle (he also owned a coffee shop), which went through a series of owners and went belly-up in the 1930s; it was eventually sold to a local landowner, Paul Rameaux, which did nothing to revive its waning fortunes.  1975 marked a revival of Bielle when la Société d’Exploitation de la Distillerie Bielle (SEDB) took over the assets, and nowadays a nephew of Mr. Rameaux, Dominique Thiery, runs the small distillery.  So, it’s another small outfit from the French West Indies about whom only the islanders themselves and the French seem to know very much.  But y’know, after trying this just-short-of-phenomenal young rhum, I’m jealous as all get-out and kicking myself, because where has this thing been all my life while I was dancing with the rhums from elsewhere?  I’d better get some more from there, and quickly, because I’ll tell you, this is a distillery making rhums which deserve some serious attention.

(89/100)


Other notes

Velier issued a rhum from Bielle as part of their 2017 70th Anniversary, also from 2007.

Nov 152017
 

#400

Not enough has been written about the rhums of Dillon, a rum-maker in central Martinique whose origins stretch back many centuries and at the time when I was in Paris in 2016 I not unnaturally went for one of the better ones available (recommended by the estimable Jerry Gitany, who hosted me for a very pleasant three hour session in Christian de Montaguère’s shop, while the Little Caner concealed his boredom upstairs). I tried it twice, once there, and once at home and can confirm that it’s quite an interesting rhum.

Dillon traces its history way back to 1690 when the site of the distillery in Fort de France was settled by Arthur Dillon, a soldier with Lafayette’s troops in the US War of Independence. A colonel at the age of sixteen, he married a well-to-do widow and used her funds to purchase the estate, which produced sugar until switching over to rhum in the 19th century.  The original sugar mill and plant was wiped out in the 1902 volcanic eruption, and eventually a distillery went into operation in 1928, by which time there had been several changes in ownership.  In 1967 Bordeaux Badinet (now Bardinet / La Martiniquaise Group) took over, the mill closed and the original Corliss steam engine and the creole column still was sent up the road to Depaz…so nowadays Dillon has its cane, but the distillation and bottling is done by Depaz, which is owned by the same group. Dave Russell of Rum Gallery, who actually visited the distillery, remarked that the creole single column still is still in operation and is used specifically to make the Dillon marque, perhaps in an effort to distinguish it from Depaz’s own rhums which, by the way, are also quite good.

AOC compliant, the Dillon XO was made from cane juice fermented for two to three days and then run through the creole still, and bottled at 45% ABV.  Dark gold in hue, it presented itself well on the nose, showing off a peculiar divergence from the more forceful grassy, herbal smells we commonly associate with agricole rhums. It began with sweet caramel and honey notes (not what I expected, though I liked quite a bit), heated but not sharp, progressing desultorily to a lighter profile redolent of flowers – lavender, perhaps – ripe mangoes, a hint of acetone and vague lemon peel.  It was almost delicate in its way, and what grassiness there was, was kept way back – in fact, that honey smell remained quite distinct throughout, though fortunately not overbearing.

The palate was also somewhat at right angles to the standard, though the underlying DNA was quite clearly in evidence. This will sound strange, but what I tasted after the delicately sweet lemongrass, honey and pancakes, was something smoky and more muscular, salty, even beefy.  Flowers again, some cereals, anise, vanilla, nuts, white watery fruits (guavas and pears), peaches and apricots, and some citrus held way, way back.  Actually, I thought it was a shade too sweet, and even on the short and delicate finish (more lemongrass, peaches and indistinct vanilla and honey), this feeling persisted. So, a bit on the odd side, yet still a very nice agricole, and I should remark on the fact that there was almost no oakiness to be sensed at all throughout the entire tasting session.

Overall then, it was smooth and warm and sprightly, seeming (to me) not as much a Martinique rhum as one from Guadeloupe – it’s something in the way that heaviness and crispness mixed it up in the backyard which pointed in that direction.  That’s enough for me to remark on the way it differed from expectations, but by no means enough to make me dislike it. It’s quite a good agricole to add to the collection, and at its price point it’s unlikely you’ll have any major fault to find, if what you’re looking for is a representative rhum from a brand that could use some more exposure.  Neisson, HSE, St. James, Clement, Trois Rivieres, Bally and others are well known, of course, but let’s not forget this intriguing and delectable rhum either….because it’s certainly worth a try

(84/100)

 

Oct 202017
 

#395

Velier’s star shone brightly in 2017, so much so that if you were following the October 2017 UK rumfest on Facebook, it almost seemed like they took over the joint and nothing else really mattered.  Luca’s collaboration with Richard Seale of Foursquare over the last few years resulted the vigorous promotion of a new rum classification system, as well as the spectacular 2006 ten year old and the Triptych (with more to come); and for Velier’s 70th Anniversary – marked by events throughout the year – a whole raft of rums got issued from Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Mauritius, Japan….So much happened and so much got done that I had to re-issue an updated company biography, and that’s definitely a first. The Age of Velier’s Demeraras might be over and the Caronis might be on a decline as the stocks evaporate…but company is in no danger of becoming an also-ran anytime soon.

Still, all these great rums aside, let us not forget some of the older, lesser known, more individual rums they put out the door, such as the Damoiseau 1980 and the Basseterre 1995 and 1997, some of the Papalins and Liberation series, the older Guyanese rums distributed at lesser proofs by Breitenstock…and this one which is on nobody’s must-have list except mine.  It holds a special place in my heart – not just because it was issued by Velier (thought this surely is part of it), but because the original Courcelles 1972 is the very rum that started my love affair with French island rhums and agricoles…so for sure this one had some pretty big shoes to try and fill.

It filled them and then some. Reddish gold and at a robust 54% ABV (there’s another 42% version floating around) it started off with a beeswax, honey and smoke aroma, heavy and distinct, and segued into treacle, nougat, white chocolate and nuts.  Not much of an agricole profile permeated its nose, and since it’s been observed before that since Guadeloupe – from which this hails – is not AOC controlled and uses molasses as often as juice for its rhums, the Courcelles could be either one. No matter: I loved it. Even after an hour or two, more scents kept emerging from the glass – caramel and a faint saltiness, aromatic flower-based hot tea, and just to add some edge, a fine line of mild orange zest ran through it all, well balanced and adding to the overall lusciousness of the product.

The palate, which is where I spent most of my time, was excellent, though perhaps a little more restrained…some attention had to be paid here. The brutal aggro of a rum bottled at 60%-plus had been dialled back, pruned like a bonsai, and left a poem of artistry and taste behind: more honey, nougat, nutmeg, brown sugar water, and calming waves of shaved coconut and the warmth of well-polished old leather, cumin, and anise, with that same light vein of orange peel still making itself unobtrusively felt without destabilizing the experience.  At the close, long and aromatic aromas simply continued the aforementioned and quietly wrapped up the show with final suggestions of rose tea, almonds, coconut and light fruit in a long, sweet and dry finish.  Frankly, it was hard to see it being the same vintage as the Velier Courcelles 42% which was tried alongside it, and was better in every way – the 54% was an excellent strength for what was on display and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There’s a streak of contrariness in my nature that seeks to resist flavour of the month rums that ascend to the heights of public opinion to the point where their makers can do no wrong and every issuance of a new expression is met with chirps of delight, holy cows and a rush to buy them all. But even with that in mind, quality is quality and skill is skill and when a rum is this good it cannot be ignored or snootily dismissed in an effort to provide “balance” in some kind of perverse reflex action good only for the personal ego.  Velier, even when nobody knew of them, showed great market sense, great powers of selection and issued great rums, which is why they’re just about all collector’s items now.  The Demeraras and Caronis and collaborations with other makers showed vision and gave us all fantastic rums to treasure…but here, from the dawn of Luca’s meteoric career, came a now-almost-forgotten and generally-overlooked rum that came close to breaking the scale altogether.  It is one of the best rums from the French islands ever issued by an independent, a cornerstone of my experience with older rums from around the world…and hopefully, if you are fortunate enough to ever try it, yours.

(91/100)


  • The Courcelles distillery in Grande Terre (one of the two “wings” of Guadeloupe island) was established in the 1930s and closed way back in 1964 when the then owner, M. Despointes, transferred the inventory and equipment to another distillery, that of Ste Marthe. They continued using Courcelles’s pot still and distilled this rum in 1972.  This is probably the last year any Courcelles was made – I’ve never been able to find one made more recently.
  • Distilled in 1972 and set to age in 220 liter barrels until 2003 when it was decanted into “dead” vats, and then bottled in 2005.  I chose to call it a 31 year old, not a 33.
  • The profile does not suggest an agricole, and since Guadeloupe is not AOC compliant, it may derive from molasses…or not.  If anyone has definitive information or a link to settle the issue, please let me know.

Oct 032017
 

#391

When in your cups, you could argue that Haitian clairins parallel the development of rum as a whole.  Just as rum (and rhum) was ignored for a long time, so were the indigenous likkers of Haiti.  And I posit that just as rum worldwide is going through a new golden age, so are clairins (with cachacas coming on strong). So far we have met amazingly pungent, raw and tasty white lightning from the stills of Sajous, Casimir and Vaval, which were promoted and given great visibility by Luca Gargano of Velier (to his lasting credit) and I’ve been fortunate enough to write about another small producer on the half-island, Mascoso Distillers, who produce the Barik brand of clairins (or klerens) — and I really believe that not only are they worth a look and a buy, but the Kreyol Nasyonal Brut de Fût may be one of the better ones…makes me wonder what Luca would have done had he stopped by there as well as the other three distilleries.

Anyway, I’ve tried the Kleren Nasyonal Traditionnel 22 and its sibling the Premium; this one is from the same source as those two white rhinos, just a little less pugnacious (50% ABV).  It was aged for three months in lightly charred first-fill small (5 litre) white oak oak barrels, which is why the rhum is light gold in colour – even that short time in a barrel was enough to impart some maturation and heft to the bottled product, which I think is better than any of the two unaged siblings,and eclipses the Sajous and the Vaval (but not the Casimir).

Perhaps a sense of my interest and appreciation can come as you run through the tasting notes, made as I tried all six of the clairins together. The nose on this one was definitely the best of the lot.  Some interesting earthy notes under here, not much sweet. A cereal and bean lover’s delight –  lentil soup, dhal, even some cumin with sour cream; roti, fresh baked bread, vanilla, sugar water – I swear to you, this is what I got right out of the gate and it developed into slightly more tart flavours of ginger and citrus rind (nicely balanced), plus bananas and pineapples, green grapes and ripe gooseberries.  It was amazing that at 50% and a mere three months old, it seemed quite tame and well adjusted and it reminded me nothing so much as one of Takeuchi-san’s six-month aged rums from over in Japan, twisted into its own creole style.

Taste wise it dropped a few notches from that nose, though still quite good – and it presented a bit thin compared to the powerful  “consider my cod” animal potency of the 55% unaged Premium edition.  That may be the price paid for civilizing it, I suppose, but fortunately such flavours as were there, emerged with a flourish and elan, and lost little of their own uniqueness – some initial tastes of wax, olives and salt (a wink to its origins, perhaps), then  vanilla and fleshy fruits like peaches and cherries, leading gently back to more bananas and pineapples, plus some astringency and tartness of unripe green mangoes (and those gooseberries again).  Those rich cereal and soup elements of the nose, alas, disappeared and were not to be found, and the finish surprisingly short for something bottled at that strength — lucky for us, it coughed up closing notes of cherries, salt and olives, a faint whiff of caramel, and additional fruits that pulled curtains on the show very nicely indeed.  

Mike Moscoso with bottles of the next-gen premium cuvee, aged for six months (not three)

In fine, this rum was intriguing as hell, tasty to a fault, with some weak points here or there, but which in no way dissuade me from going after more of Mascoso’s rhums – when researching background with him (the man is great at responding to messages), he remarked that he had some six month old versions coming out soon, and in 2018 he would be making the festival circuit of London, Berlin and Paris.  I can’t guarantee you would like everything he makes – clairins are, as I’ve observed before, something of an individual thing, containing a fierce, barely contained pungency (the French island version of a dunder bomb, I guess you could say) but I guarantee you’ll be as intrigued as I was, as interested, and may even like them enough to give more of them a try as they come out into the wider world to add lustre to Haiti’s spirited output.

(85/100)


Other Notes

  • The “ESB” moniker is French – Élevé Sous Bois – and means simply “oak aged.”
  • The original distillate of the rhum is the same as the Kleren Nasyonal rhums reviewed before
Sep 172017
 

Rumaniacs Review #056 | 0456

Strictly speaking this is not a true Rumaniacs rhum, since I got it through separate channels and it’s a mini-bottle insufficient to allow me to share it to everyone…so, sorry mes amis.  Still, it’s one of these delightful mystery rhums about which just about nothing turns up on a search, except an old French eBay listing which suggests this is a French West Indian rhum from 1953 (unconfirmed, but how cool is that year, right?) bottled at 44% ABV, so in that sense it conforms to all the reasons the ‘Maniacs exist in the first place – an old, out of production, heritage rhum, a blast from the past which only exists in memories and old internet pages (and now this one)….

Trawling around suggests that “Negresco” was not an uncommon label, used rather more commonly, it would seem, for Martinique rhums; there are references with that title from several bottlers, including Bruggeman out of Belgium, and my little sampler has “R.C Gand” as the company of make – about which there is exactly zero info – so unless a Constant Reader can contribute a nugget of information, we’ll have to be content with that.

Colour – Mahogany

Strength – Assumed 44%

Nose – Reminds me somewhat of the old E.H. Keeling Old Demerara rum (R-019): prunes gone off, bananas just starting to go, plus vinegar, soy and caramel.  Quite a “wtf?” nose, really.  There’s a musty air about it, like an old cupboard aired too seldom.  After a while, some sawdust, old dried-out cigars, a bit of anise, and indeterminate fruits and herbs

Palate – Not bad at all, perhaps because it displays no single island’s characteristics, making it something of a Caribbean rhum, maybe a blend (which I suspected was the case anyway); oddly, though labelled as a “rhum” it has faint hints of anise and deep woody and fruity flavour points in the direction of some Guianese components. With water there are plums, anise, prunes raisins and a salty bite of tequila, coffee, caramel and soya.  I’m convinced the strength is around 50-55%, by the way, though the bottle doesn’t mention it. (Note that I saw a very similar label on rum.cz — a rum label collector in Czecheslovakia — which suggests it is actually 54%, and that makes sense).

Finish – Medium long, warm, coffee, licorice and caramel, very pleasant and easy going.

Thoughts – Quite liked this one, wish I could have had a bottle to take a real long pull at it and take it apart some more.  It’s certainly a decent rhum from Ago, which, if one were to ever find it again, and at a reasonable price, is worth getting.

(85/100)

  • No other Rumaniacs have sampled this rhum, so no links this time.
  • Many thanks to Etienne, who sent this to me.
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