Sep 262018
 

Few are unaware of the existence of the J. Bally 1929 – for those who troll the online shops it remains one of the few very old bottlings from inter-war Gilded Age times to remain available…if one has over two grand kicking about to buy it.The Bally 1924, on the other hand, is a whole lot rarer – I can’t remember the last time I saw one coming up for discussion, let alone sale. And one could argue that its heritage is much more gold-plated – it’s the first vintage from J. Bally. I’ve tried quite a few from this bottler, one dating back to the 1960s, but to try the very first?  That might be worth a kidney right there.

This bottle being such a piece of heritage, a little history is in order. J. Bally was named after Jacques Bally, a graduate of a top engineering school in Paris, the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures (ECP, founded in 1829) – he snapped up the Lajus Plantation on Martinique in 1917, a mere fifteen years after Mount Pelee erupted, when memories of that disaster were still fresh and land prices were cheap (Lajus, founded in 1670, was already in foreclosure, having gone bankrupt after the 1902 disaster). By 1920 he had installed new steam engine, fixed up the salvageable equipment he could and (legend has it) pretty much built his own column still from scratch.  In that same year the nearby Habitation Dariste owned by the the Gronier family went bankrupt and Bally bought it in 1923 and moved the distillery equipment to Lajus to augment his own machniery. In 1930, by which time he was already laying away rum stocks to age, he also had a hand in designing the signature pyramidical and square bottles which became so associated with Bally in later years. The rhums Bally made were very popular, sold well, and the company remained in business until the 1980s when Remy Cointreau acquired it, at which point production was shut down at Lajus and moved to Domaine du Simon where (as far as I know), it’s still being made, with cane from Lajus. Note that in 2003 La Martiniquaise bought out Saint James and Bally (to add to their rum portfolio which already contained the brands of Depaz, Dillon, Negrita and Old Nick) which is why the Remy Cointreau’s webpage makes no mention of either one now.

Aside from being made so long ago, what makes the 1924 special is that it was the initial release of an aged rhum from Bally, and one of the first of its kind in the French West Indies, if not the first. Jacques Bally took inspiration from cognac and eau-de-vie makers in France and was apparently the first to consider ageing Martinique rhums in oak. This provided the initial release of his rums in the 1920s with a depth of quality that made them extremely popular and well-known, and one can just imagine all the other distilleries on the island rushing to copy the idea. The inevitable question arises, how old is the 1924 vintage?  “More than six years,” said Luca in a text to me, and that makes sense if the bottle that houses it was only designed and made in 1930. We can leave it there with only one other great unknown, and that’s how many bottles were released – and nobody knows that any longer, sorry. I hit a brick wall on that one.

Enough of the pedantic stuff. How was it to taste, eliminating all the baggage of history and heritage and rarity the rhum came with? It’s one thing to sing high praises because it’s from so far back, but a cold review is somewhat more challenging, especially considering the august company in which I tried it – the Tasting of the Century in September 2018.  You can bet that I was paying real close attention and took a long time with my glass on this one, if only so I wouldn’t be embarrassed when real writers came out with their own notes.

Nose first: nice! For all its age, the Bally 1924 could have come off the line last year and you’d never know it.  It smelled of fresh squeezed apple juice, pears with oodles of sweet light aromas, flowers, sugar water and watermelon, out of which emerged a nice melange of crushed walnuts, fanta, lemon zest, crisp yellow mangoes and cumin.  If you were tasting it blind you’d swear this was an agricole you could pick up online for some reasonable coin – like the Harewood 1780, it presented a profile not a hundred miles removed from something produced today.

Bottled at 45% ABV, the Bally 1924, for all the noble pedigree granted by being made so far back, in many ways resembled Bally rhums from past decades’ that I went through three years ago. It was slightly sharp on the palate, and as clean and clear as any of its descendants.  Apples, cider, brine and olives came smoothly off the assembly line, bolted on to emergent flavours of pears in syrup, green grapes, spices, more lemon zest, leather, a touch of vanilla and nougat and a vague hint of grass, black tea, earthy musk, and rosemary. The overall balance, cleanliness of the mouthfeel was excellent, and the ageing had definitely sanded down any rough edges – it was quite simply a pleasant drink to have, fading easily into a smooth finish that provided little that was new, just a languorous recap of the highlights – peaches, pears, mangoes, lemon zest, watermelon and sweet flowers and herbs and a pinch of cumin. A neat and near-perfect little agricole, coming together beautifully.

Well. How to score something like this? Well, I’m going to give it a solid endorsement — not that this means anything given its mythical near-unicorn status. But I should note in passing that for all its quality, the Bally 1924 strikes me more as an essay in the craft of agricole than a completely finished product that stands the test of time. It shows what they were before the snapped into focus in the last few decades of the AOC regs.

Perhaps it’s unfair to rate a rhum made nearly a hundred years ago to the standard of today when so much has changed in the interim — and for sure others around the table that day loved it (Matt rated it as his personal favourite for the evening).  To round things up: the Harewood 1780 presented a startlingly modern profile that went in its own brilliant direction way, strong, forceful, distinct; the Skeldon 1978 couldn’t rise above its elder brother but was still quite an amazing drink; and the Saint James 1885 was a rum made in a style quite different from agricoles as a whole, unique and interesting.  The Bally is caught in a limbo between the modern versions of the spirit, and the old ways of the 1885 – that’s in no way a failure, just that the competition is more fierce because we’ve had so many rums that are so similar to it.

But you know, whatever the score, there’s a certain cachet, even honour, in having been able to try a quartet of such grail-quest rums, so old, so rare, so absolutely stinking of rum history, so generously shared.  The Tasting of the Century might one day be exceeded (though I can’t for the life of me imagine what rums would comprise version 2.0); but whether that happens or not, I’ll always be happy to have tried the Bally — because it was one of those rhums that pointed the way to the modern era of cane juice rhums, so exactingly made, so proudly issued, so excellent to drink.  The Saint James 1885 might be the doddering grandaddy of the French island rhum style, but the 1924 with its crisp and clear profile taking us back to the beginning of the modern era, is surely its godfather.

(#552)(86/100)


Other Notes

Sep 102018
 

How this blanc J. Bally succeeds as well as it does is a source of wonder.  I tried it and was left blinking in appreciation at its overall quality. Like all Bally rums made these days, it’s AOC certified, half pure alcohol (50% ABV), and unaged (rested for a few months in stainless steel tanks before bottling), and I honestly expected something a lot more aggressive than it actually was.  In that ability it had to walk the tightrope between ageing and no aging, between too strong or too weak, between jagged edges and smooth gentling lies a lot of its appeal.

Some time ago when I wrote a small roundup of  21 Great Whites, I remarked on the fact that most of the best white rums out there are bottled without any ageing at all, right as they come dripping off the still.  Whatever filtration such rums are subjected to, is to remove sediment and detritus, not the sort of chill filtration, reverse osmosis or activated charcoal filters that leave an emasculated and flaccid excuse for a rum behind, which is then relegated to the poor-doofus-cousin shelf of a barman’s cabinet, used only for cheap mixes.  You certainly would not want to drink one of those indifferent, milquetoast whites neat to savour the nuances, which is why they have inexorably slipped to the bottom of the rankings of white rums in general, their place taken by purer, cleaner, stronger stuff — like this cool Martinique product.

Bally no longer exists as an independent, completely integrated entity in its own right. After being acquired by Remy Cointreau in the 1980s, the distillery operations were closed and shifted to the centralized Simon Distillery, though the original recipes for their rhums remains intact, and sugar production continues at Lajus, as does the bottling and ageing up the road at Le Carbet. As with many French island products, it retains a certain cult following, and a cachet all its own.  Suffice to say they have made some really good rums, and this one may either be the real deal poised for mass market export or some kind of off-the-wall local tipple trotted out for exposure at various Rumfests (which is where I tried it, mostly out of curiosity). It’s reasonably widely available, especially in Europe.

Well, that out of the way, let me walk you through the profile.  Nose first: what was immediately evident is that it adhered to all the markers of a crisp agricole. It gave off of light grassy notes, apples gone off the slightest bit, watermelon, very light citrus and flowers.  Then it sat back for some minutes, before surging forward with more: olives in brine, watermelon juice, sugar cane sap, peaches, tobacco and a sly hint of herbs like dill and cardamom.

The palate was more dialled down, less aggressive…tamer, perhaps; softer. And that’s saying something for a 50% rum.  It was sleek, supple, smooth and sweet, and went down easy. Tastes suggested fanta and 7-Up in an uneasy combination with rained-upon green grass.  A little menthol, thyme and sugar water. A sort of light fruitiness pervaded the drink – watermelon juice, white guavas, pears, combined with sugar water, underneath which lurked a cheeky element of brine that never entirely came out and took over, and was hinted at, never outright disclosed.  Finish was nothing special – a little salt, a little sugar, a little water, a little fruit, but not hot at all, mostly an easy going wave goodbye as it exited the premises.

There’s little to complain about here, and much to admire.  To me, what sets this rum apart is its how many things it accomplishes in the same bottle, the same shot.  Unlike many whites that are now making headlines, Bally’s blanc doesn’t want to rip your face off or try to show off its package in an effort to show it’s bigger, bolder and more badass than all the others.  It’s also an uncommonly restrained white rum, retaining both elements of its youth, as well as having its rough edges sanded down a shade. It’s a white rhum that is demonstrably an agricole, a vibrantly young sprout of some character and depth, and tailor-made for both those now dipping their toes into the white-rum sea (and don’t want anything too savage), and those who like white agricoles on general principles. That it does all these things at once and with such unassuming style, is nothing short of a tiny miracle.

(#548)(84/100)

May 302017
 

Rumaniacs Review #047 | 0447

Unless I start springing a few grand for ancient rums from the 1920s and 1930s, this is likely to be the oldest Bally rum I’ll ever see, or try.  I suppose I could take a stab a guessing how truly old it is – who knows, maybe it’s in the fifteen year range too? – but for the moment I think I’ll just revel in the fact that it was made almost sixty years ago, way before I was born, by Jacques Bally’s boys before the estate shut down in the late 1980s and the production shifted to St. James. And who among us doesn’t enjoy revisiting rums made in ages past?  A piece of the living history of our parents is what it really is.  Too bad they weren’t into rums as much as we are.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – The modern agricole profile is something of an afterthought on the nose. It smells salty and Haagen-Dasz carmel creamy; not really grassy or vegetal, more olive-y and brine and some paint stripper (the good kind).  Some of the mineral (or ashy) background of the 1975 is also on show here, plus some weird green peas, overripe bananas and off-colour fruits sitting in an over-sterilized hospital.  It’s crazy odd, emphatically different and shouldn’t really work….yet somehow it does.

Palate – The tastes which remind me of more recent vintages coil restlessly beneath the surface of this rhum, occasionally emerging for air to showcase grass, green grapes, sugar cane sap and soursop.  Heavier, muskier flavours tie all of them together: prunes, peaches, pineapple, cinnamon, apples and the interesting thing is, it’s hardly sweet at all.  Plus, the ashy, minerally taste remains (let’s call it “dirt” or “earth” or “sod”), which is not entirely to my liking, although it does succeed in balancing off the other components of the profile. Let’s call it intriguing at least, and hauntingly good at most.

Finish – Medium long, much of the palate comes back to take another bow before exiting stage left. Tropical fruits, some earth again, a flirt of breakfast spices, licorice and tannins.  Pretty good, actually.

Thoughts – Parts of the rhum work swimmingly.  The balance is a bit off, and overall, I felt it had many points of similarity with the 1975, with a few marked deviations too.  What this says to me is that no matter which era (or where) Bally rhums were made in, there is an awesome dedication to consistency over the decades. The Bally 1960 would not be out of place on today’s shelves, and it would surely be better than many.

(88/100)

Yes, the other Rumaniacs have also written about this rhum, and for the record, they all scored it at 90+.

May 292017
 

Rumaniacs Review #046 | 0446

We’re going back down memory lane now, to a point where the AOC designation is a dream on the horizon, and for once we have an age: this rum is sixteen years old (based on the bottom of the bottle where it says “Bottled February 1991” in French).  This of course leads us to puzzle our way through all the others we’ve looked at already, because if here they can call a 16YO a “rhum vieux” then the other Bally rhums are in all likelihood similarly aged – we just have no proof of the matter.

In any event, age or no age, rums and rons and rhums are evaluated based on what they are, not what they are stated to be. So let’s put aside all the whinging about information provision (which is a never ending grouse of mine) and simply taste a rhum made when I was still living in Africa and had never heard of Martinique (or much about Guyana, for that matter).

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – So far nothing has beaten the Bally 1982, but this one is on par…perhaps better.  The nose is amazing – deep purple grapes and vanilla, with the traditionals of sugar cane sap, wet green lemon grass, with a mischievous hint of wet cardboard and cereals.  Threading through these smells are additional notes of Turkish coffee (no sugar), cocoa and some black chocolate, but curiously there’s less fruitiness to sniff in this one than in the later editions, and it’s backgrounded by something vaguely metallic…like licking a small battery, y’know?  Some cinnamon, well-polished leather and honey fill in the spaces.

Palate – It’s creamy, spicy, sweet and salty all at once (plus lemon).  In a way it reminds me of a very well made Thai green curry in coconut milk.  The fruits are here at last – green apples, pears, white guavas, but also pastries and cheese, to which are added very light hints of creme brulee and caramel, milk chocolate, some honey and licorice.  Would be interesting to know the barrel strategy on this one.  Whatever.  It’s a fine fine rhum to try, that’s for sure.

Finish – Medium long, vegetal, grassy and breakfast spices for the most part, some more of the white fruit, and the woody notes are here to stay.  Not the best fade, but pretty good anyway.

Thoughts – It had great balance and the tastes were excellent.  Something like this is best had in conjunction with something newer from Bally because then you gain a sense of its achievement, and how rhum has developed over the years.  People swear by the AOC (and in an era of marketing nonsense dosed with outright lies, quite rightfully so), but sometimes you wonder whether something hasn’t been lost as well.  The Bally 1975 emphatically demonstrates the quality of what was being done, at a time way before regulations changed the industry.

(86/100)

The boys of the Rumaniacs liked this rhum even more than I did.

 

May 282017
 

Rumaniacs Review #045 | 0445

By now two things are clear about these older Bally rhums – aside from some educated guesswork, we don’t know how old they are, and by this time, 1979, the AOC noted on the label is somewhat of a puzzler, unless the thing is seventeen years old, in which case it would hardly be labelled a mere “rhum vieux” but an “XO”.  So maybe after the initial ageing they stored it in tanks or flagons and only bottled it after 1996…or, more likely, it came under a previous version of the official 1996 AOC designation.  At this point, it’s somewhat academic, though — given it was made nearly forty years ago, it presents as a rhum that shows something of the evolution of the agricole world over time.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – Pungent, grassy, clear and quite light, quite dry.  There were olives in brine, grapes, black tea, some citrus peel and aromatic tobacco, but also something softer, milder: strawberries and bananas, I’d  say, forming a nice counterpoint.  It takes its time opening up, once this happens, it gets somewhat fruitier, while never entirely letting go of the grassy, herbal aromas.

Palate – Creamy and salty, black bread and cheese. It’s also somewhat sharper and more more tannic than the earlier Ballys from 1992 and 1993, with wood taking center stage, and a taste of something green, like grass, fresh sap, Japanese tea.  So also somewhat bitter, and the clean purity of agricoles with which we are more familiar has receded – fortunately I could still taste tart apples, lemon zest and raisins, plus whiffs of dark chocolate and some unripe fruit.

Finish – Pleasant close out – dry, edgy, warm.  White guavas and pears, plus the tartness of soursop, pencil shavings and perhaps too much oak.  Not entirely a success here, perhaps a shade too peppery and not as well balanced as the nose or palate.

Thoughts – Here we have moved away from the almost standard profile of the ’80s and ’90s demonstrated so clearly by the newer Bally rums, and returned to agricole rums’ roots…but also something of a tangent from those profiles we are now used to. A solid rhum, but not one that ascends to the heights.

(83/100)

Other members of the Collective have written about the rhum as well, on the official website.

May 242017
 

Rumaniacs Review #044 | 0444

We’re slowly moving past the more recent vintages of the Bally rums and into something not necessarily older, but bottled from longer ago.  Hopefully they’ll throw some light into the development of the profile over the years.  The quality of the older expressions is not necessarily or always better just because it was made thirty five years ago…but yeah, perhaps in this case it is. The 1982 is certainly one fine piece of work, made at the original Bally site before the distillery closed in 1989 and production was shifted over to Simon.

Colour – Dark Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – Oh, so nice. A smorgasbord of fruity notes right away – raisins, blackberry jam, candied oranges, plus coffee, anise, caramel bonbons and some breakfast spices (and cumin, oddly enough).  It presents as sweeter than the 1992 and 1993 variations, and also somewhat more musky, salty, with those wet earth aromas  being quite distinct, though fortunately not aggressive…more like an underlying bed upon which the other smells were dancing.

Palate – Warm, delicious, sweet and salty, like a Thai vegetable soup with sweet soya. After opening up some, the fruits take over – berries, cherries, jammy notes, nougat, light florals.  Loads of complexity here, well balanced against each other.  There’s the earth tones again, some black tea, bananas, light citrus.  None of the flavours are dominant, all rub against each other in a cool kind of zen harmony.  One odd thing here is that the grassy and sugar-cane sap part of the profile is very much in the background and nowhere near as clearly discernible as modern agricoles lead us to expect.

Finish – Long and faintly sweet.  There was actually some anise and coffee here (and was that molasses? …naah).  Long on spices like cinnamon, cloves and cumin, and the warm wet earth component, which I’ll say is Jamaican even though it isn’t, made one last bow on the stage.

Thoughts – I dearly wish I knew how old the rums truly was.  It’s labelled as an AOC, but that classification only came into force in 1996, so is it possible that the 1982 is at least 14 years old?  I simply don’t know.  Perhaps it’s just as well.  Like it or not, we sometimes unconsciously feel a rum aged for longer is somehow better – that’s a good rule of thumb, just not universally applicable, and here, whether it is that old or not, there’s no denying that for its price (still available at around three hundred dollars, same as the 1992) it’s a remarkable rum, made within the living memory of us rum collectors and Rumaniacs, and leading us by the hand into the misty times predating the iron rule of the AOC.

(86/100)

The other boys in the Bally-house have also looked at the 1982, and you can find their comments in the usual spot on the Rumaniacs website.

May 232017
 

Rumaniacs Review #043 | 0443

Leaving aside the independent bottlers, the agricolistas from Guadeloupe and Martinique seem to like producing a specific year’s output with much more enthusiasm than most molasses based rum producers, who (until recently) preferred to release specific “recipe-style” blends that changed little from year to year.  There’s something to say for both ideas – consistency of taste over time, versus the individualism of specific date points – which just supports my thesis that even in writing about a social spirit, larger philosophical issues about our world can be discussed using them as an example.

In this case, we’re not moving too far away from the Bally 1993 written about in R-042, but the price has definitely gone up (to over three hundred bucks) – and that’s even without knowing precisely how old the rums is, though I maintain that it, like its brother, is around 3-5 years old.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – It’s initially more hesitant in its profile than the 1993 (and the others), or perhaps just more focused.  Both a strength and weakness, methinks. Salty molasses and caramel notes, green grapes, segueing over time into something darker, deeper: chocolate, cereal, wet cardboard.  Some herbal, grassy notes, just not very clear. There’s also a musky  tinge here, something like rain falling on very hot earth, and at the last, flowers, honey, biscuits. Actually reminded me of a miso soup.

Palate – Crisper, saltier, cleaner.  Something of a right turn from the way it smelled.  Olives, guacamole, brakfast spices, and vegetables more so than the fruits (which came later).  The cardboard and attic-level stuffiness and wet earth make a return bow.  Some jams and citrus notes follow on but don’t claim the high ground from the vegetals.  Not sure this entirely works for me.  It may just be a matter of taste.

Finish – Green grapes, cinnamon, brine, olives, avocados – it took time for the caramel and fleshy fruit to close things off.  A bit too much wood here, I thought, though anise – sensed more than experienced – was a good background.

Thoughts – More individual than the 1993, more oak, more vegetables, less fruits…somewhat less “rummy.”  Bit of a schizo rum and didn’t have that little something extra that I would have preferred – still, that’s a personal opinion, and overall, it’s still a good dram for something so young.

(83/100)

Some of the boys from the Rumaniacs have also taken a crack at this rum, and their reviews can be found in the usual spot.

May 212017
 

Rumaniacs Review #042 | 0442

The first of six Bally rums (no relation to me), which we’ll also post faster than usual, since they are, again, part of a series.  Let’s start with the most recent.

For those who are interested in agricoles (which these assuredly are), J. Bally from Martinique has been around since 1917 or so (land prices after the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelee were low), but the sugar estate of Lajus goes back even further, to the mid-1600s.  Alas, Bally has been closed since 1989, but their stills continue.  The Simon distillery now owns them, and supposedly the original recipe for Bally’s rums, and sugar from the original plantation,  is used to ensure the brand does not die.  And of course, the AOC certification is alive and well with these rums.

True age is always a problem with these millésimes (meaning a specific year of production), because the date of distillation is noted….but not always the date of bottling.  Since a “rhum vieux” is supposed to have a minimum of three years ageing, I’m going to say 3-5 years old, then.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – Quite solid, very smooth and, of course, crisp as fresh picked lettuce.  Amazingly fruity profile here, prunes and raspberries to start, nicely rich and quite aromatic, adding bananas, honey, hard yellow mangoes (from India or Thailand), and coiling around the background of herbs and grasses…some spearmint chewing gum.  And a touch of oak, cinnamon and caramel.  Seems almost like a Guadeloupe rum, what with the way the herbal and grassy aromas take a back seat and fruits are this rich.

Palate – Mmm, nice.  Fresh and crisp. Sugar cane and saline and gherkins, plus bales of freshly mown grass now taking their place in the front.  Caramel, raisins, a flirt of molasses and olives.  It’s all quite well assembled, and not overly weak, not obnoxiously strong.  Continues with vague honey notes and richer fruits, some more of that spearmint.  There’s some anise floating around there someplace, but not enough to make a statement of any kind

Finish – Vanillas, burnt sugar, honey, sugar cane, grass, and a bit of that olives in brine thing I enjoyed.  Somewhat hotter and sharper than what had come before, oddly enough.

Thoughts –  A young rum, and very enjoyable.  Agricoles do have that trick of making stuff in the single digits take on molasses rums twice as old and leaving them in the dust. I still think overall it resembles a Guadeloupe rhum more than a true agricole (even though it is AOC certified), but whatever the case, I’m not complaining.

(84/100)

Others in the group have written about this rhum on the Rumaniacs website…

Oct 192015
 

Bally - 6 ans 1Rumanicas Review 009 | 0409

Oh, tough one to research.  Loads of 1929 and 1930s photos out there, rien on this one. Not a millesime, because J. Bally helpfully places the year on that little smiley label at the top for those.  But with that fading old-style label, maybe pre-1980s?  Earlier? Not sure.  Still, J. Bally’s original domicile on Plantation Lajus du Carbet was closed back in 1989 (current rhums are made at a consolidated site at Plantation Simon using the original recipe), so at least we have something suitably aged here.  Whatever.  It was a neat little piece of history to be trying.  Note the cheap tinfoil cap, which perhaps says something about the makers’ esteem for their own product, back in the day…makes a man happy for modern plastic. I spoke to the company history a little here.

Colour – Dark Amber/Mahogany

Strength – 45%

Nose – Heated, not sharp. Very fruity, dark stuff, at the edge of over-ripeness.  Rich and fragrant and oh-so nice. Ripe peaches and plums; apricots just starting to go like an ageing strumpet past her prime; coconut shavings and a squirt of lime juice over the lot.  Also a faint background of musky brininess and sugar, like tequila.

Palate – Nice! Medium to full bodied, firm, warm and silky to taste. Dusty old books, dark sweet chocolate (RitterSport “rum, raisins and hazelnuts,” maybe that was it). More plums, plus some squashy blueberries, plus the taste of cumin and coriander and the same salt-sweet mustiness from the nose.  All in all, very tasty, and had sufficiently heated silky mouthfeel to make it an pretty good rhum, even for only six years ageing.

Finish – warm and lasting. Great black cake and tequila closing notes.  Somehow they didn’t interfere with each other (not always the case).

Thoughts – Wish I knew when it was made.  Actually, I wish I had the whole damned bottle.

(84/100)

 

 

 

May 072015
 

D3S_9063

Cool bottle, great product.  Almost the perfect mid-range rhum, not too young to be raw, not too old to be over-pricey, or unavailable.

(#213. 86/100)

***

The zippy, funky young J. Bally Ambrè agricole was an interesting rhum from Martinique, and I enjoyed it, simply feeling it had some growing up to do – which is perhaps natural for a rhum aged less than five years. The Vieux 7 year old certainly addressed many of these concerns, and was a better rhum in almost every way.  Ageing may not always confer quality  (neither does price) I’ve heard it said, but I think the person who tries these two side by side would agree that the 7 is a step up the ladder of value.

The rhum came in an enclosure that had all the panache of Mocambo’s Pistola, Nepal’s Kukhri, R.L Seale’s 10 year old or Don Omario’s star-shape, and seemed to reiterate J. Bally’s desire to be different (the Ambrè did too, remember?) – and I must admit to doing a double take myself when I first saw the pyramid-shaped 700ml bottle, so the effect has certainly not waned with the decades since it was first introduced. There’s a whiff of the nautical to it – in rolling seas, the tall slim bottle of the Clairin Sajous would be over the side in no time, but drunk or sober, storm or calm, this one would remain rock steady, ready for you to reach out from your hammock belowdecks and get your tot.

Anyway, this was a rhum I savoured right alongside its younger brother, and appreciated even more. Goldish brown with reddish tints, it was aromatic right off the bat even from a few feet away on the initial pour.  I immediately sensed soft flowers and cut grass, that herbal sap-like fragrance so characteristic of agricoles, and given the rhum was bottled at 45%, quite warm and easy going…quiet, almost.  No aggro at all.  I swirled my glass a little wondering if it would grow fangs,  develop into something more intense, but no, it remained quite placid. Once I allowed it to sit around for a while, it opened up a shade, and the ageing became more evident, with background of oak and vanillas becoming more prominent, but never quite overtaking the herbaceous primary aromas.

D3S_9064

At 45%, it showed great technique – I’ve had forty percenters that were more raw and uncouth; it was an impressively smooth and warm drink, and could be had neat with no issues at all. It was heated and yet clear, even crisp.  Although initially my perceptions were of briny notes alongside cheddar cheese on rye bread, cinnamon, burnt sugar, caramel, white flowers (creamy would not be out of place to describe it), these tastes subsided after a while, giving way to tobacco and vanilla and a faint butterscotch without ever being overwhelmed by them.  Underneath it all was that breezy, grassy layer that melded well with what came before.  And I really enjoyed the fade, long and clean, with lovely closing notes of fresh cut green apples, lemongrass and crushed cane at the factory.  You might not think that works well with the vanilla background imparted by the ageing in oaken casks, but yeah, somehow it does.

So…it’s a quietly impressive rhum that would find favour just about anywhere. With some drinks I have to be careful and state that a person who is just looking to start his rum journey might not appreciate it, or one who prefers his molasses might not like it.  In other cases, the taste might be too raw, too funky, too out-of-left-field, too strong, even too original. Those who possess an A-type personality might prefer something else entirely.  But here, J. Bally have provided a synthesis of all the things that make rum such a wonderful drink, something to appeal to the many without catering to any of them.  There would be few, I believe — fan, starter, boozer, mixer, collector or connoisseur — who would not appreciate this very good all round seven year old rhum from Martinique.

Thank goodness, too, because as soon as you crack the bottle and take your first sip, it’s going to be hard to stop at just a single shot. I sure couldn’t.


Other notes

  • I’ve spoken to the history of J. Bally in the Ambre review, for those who like the background filled in.
  • Like the Ambrè, this rhum is AOC certified
  • Unfiltered, unadulterated.  Aged in oak for seven years