Jan 022020
 

The actual title of this rhum is Chamarel Pure Sugar Cane Juice 2014 4 YO Rum, but Mauritius doesn’t have license to use the term “agricole” the way Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion and Madeira do.  And while some new producers from the Far East and America seem to have no problem casually appropriating a name that is supposedly restricted to only those four locations, we know that Luca Gargano of Velier, whose brainchild these Indian rums are, would never countenance or promote such a subversion of convention.  And so a “pure sugar cane juice” rum it is.

Now, Mauritius has been making rhums and rums for ages – companies like New Grove, St. Aubin, Lazy Dodo are new and old stalwarts of the island, and third parties take juice from International Distillers Mauritius (IDM) to make Penny Blue, Green Island or Cascavel brands, mostly for sale in the UK and Europe.  But there’s another distillery there which has only recently been established and come to more prominence, and that’s Chamarel, which was established in 2008 (see historical and production notes below). I hesitate to say that Velier’s including them in their 70th Anniversary collection kickstarted their rise to greater visibility – but it sure didn’t hurt either.

Brief stats: a 4 year old rum distilled in September 2014, aged in situ in French oak casks and bottled in February 2019 at a strength of 58% ABV.  Love the labelling and it’s sure to be a fascinating experience not just because of the selection by Velier, or its location (we have tried few rums from there though those we tried we mostly liked), or that strength, but because it’s always interesting to see how such a relatively brief tropical ageing regimen can affect the resultant rum when it hits our glasses.

In short, not enough.  It sure smelled nice – peaches in cream to start, sweetly crisp and quite flavourful, with lots of ripe fruit and no off notes to speak of; waves of cherries, mangoes, apples, bubble gum, gummi-bears bathed in a soft solution of sugar water, cola and 7-up.  It’s a bit less rounded and even than Velier’s Savanna rum from the Indian Ocean still series, but pleasant enough in its own way.

It’s on the palate that its youth – with all the teenage Groot this implies – becomes more apparent.  There’s peanut butter on rye bread; brine and sweet olives, figs, dates, leavened with a little vanilla and caramel, but with the fruits that had been evidenced on the nose dialled severely back.  It’s dry, with slightly sour and bitter notes that come forward and clash with the sweet muskiness of the ripe fruits.. This gets to the point where the whole taste experience is somewhat derailed, and while staying relatively warm and firm, never quite coheres into a clear set of discernible tastes that one can sit back and relax with – you keep waiting for some quick box on the ears or something.  Even the finish, which was dry and long, with some saltiness and ripe fruits, feels like a work in progress and not quite tamed, for all its firm character.

So somehow, even with its 58% strength, the Chamarel doesn’t enthuse quite as much as the Savanna rhum did. Maybe that was because it didn’t allow clear tastes to punch through and show their quality – they all got into into a sort of indistinct alcohol-infused fight over your palate that you know has stuff going on in there someplace…just not what. To an extent that it showed off its young age and provided a flavourful jolt, I liked it and it’s a good-enough representative of what the distillery and Mauritius can do. I just like other rhums the company and the island has made better — even if they didn’t have any of Luca’s fingerprints over it.

(#689)(81/100)


Other Notes

La Rhumerie de Chamarel, located in a small valley in the south west of Mauritius, is one of the rare operational distilleries to cultivate its own sugarcane, which itself has a history on the island going back centuries. The distillery takes the title of a small nearby village named after a Frenchman who lived there around 1800 and owned most of the land upon which the village now rests. The area has had long-lived plantations growing pineapples and sugar cane, and in 2008 the owners of the Beachcomber Hotel chain (New Mauritius Hotels, one of the largest companies in Mauritius), created the new distillery on their estate of 400 hectares, perhaps to take on the other large rum makers on the island, all of whom were trying to wean themselves off of sugar production at a time of weakening demand and reduced EU subsidies. Rum really started taking off in post 2006 when production was legalized – previously all sugar cane had to be processed into sugar by law. 

The sugar cane is grown onsite and cut without pre-burning between July and December. The harvest is transported directly to the distillery and the crushed sugarcane juice filtered and taken to steel tanks for fermentation after which the wash is run through a copper Barbet-type plate column still (for white rums), or the two-column 24-plate still they call an alembic (for aged and other rums). In all cases the rums are left post-distillation in inert stainless steel vats for three months before being transferred to ageing barrels of various kinds, or released as white rums, or further processed into spiced variations.

Dec 182019
 

Without bombast or any kind of major marketing push, without hype or hurry, Savanna on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean quietly built up its reputation over the last decade with the Grand Arôme series of rums deriving from their high ester still, and probably gave the new high-ester Jamaicans serious conniption fits. Yet for all its burgeoning street cred, it remains something of a relative unknown, while much more attention is lavished on the New Jamaicans and other companies around the Caribbean who are jacking up their taste levels. 

Savanna has of course been making rums its own way for ages, and by releasing this little gem with them, the Genoese concern of Velier might just be the one to catapult them to the next level and greater renown outside Europe.  After all, they did it for Caroini and DDL, why not here? 

The “Indian Ocean Still” series of rums have a labelling concept somewhat different from the stark wealth of detail that usually accompanies a Velier collaboration.  Personally, I find it very attractive from an artistic point of view – I love the man riding on the elephant motif of this and the companion Chamarel rum (although I must concede that my all time favourite design is the architectural-quality drawings of the various stills of the Habitation line). In any event, most of the info is on the back label (repeated in the copperplate-style narrative on the front): distilled November 2012, aged on Reunion in French oak casks, bottled February 2019.  It’s a column still product, but not, as far as I’m aware, of the HERR still.

It’s been said on many occasions of Velier’s rums, especially with the Jamaicans and Demeraras, that “the rum doesn’t feel like it’s X%”.  Perhaps nowhere is that more true than here, where the Savanna clocked in at 61% ABV, but nosed — and later tasted — like it was no more than standard strength. I mean, it started with a truly lovely, sweet, soft, warm nose.  Peaches in syrup and cream melded well with sugar water, ripe yellow mangoes, red grapes,and sweet red olives. Delectable in a good way, and I particularly enjoyed the lemon and cumin background, plus the yoghurt and sour cream with dill.  

The palate was also an amalgam of many good things, starting off tasting of sweet and very strong black tea with milk.  It developed fruity, sweet, sour and creamy notes which all met and had a party in the middle. There was lime zest, bags of ripe, fleshy fruits, cereals, red grapes, apples, cashews – it’s a smorgasbord of ongoing flavour porn, both sharp and crisp, and later one could even taste fanta and bubbly soda pop mixed in with a clean Riesling.  The strength was more discernible than it had been when I smelled it, just not in a bad way, and it was really well tamped down into something eminently drinkable, finishing off with a flourish of olive oil and brine, a touch of sweetness from the fanta, and more crisp almost ripe fruits.

Man, this was a really good dram.  It adhered to most of the tasting points of a true agricole — grassiness, crisp herbs, citrus, that kind of thing — without being slavish about it.  It took a sideways turn here or there that made it quite distinct from most other agricoles I’ve tried. If I had to classify it, I’d say it was like a cross between the fruity silkiness of a St. James and the salt-oily notes of a Neisson.

It’s instructive that although Savanna has been making high ester rums for at least the last two decades, their reputation was never as sterling or widespread as Hampden and Worthy Park who have been getting raves for their new branded rums from almost the very first moment they appeared on the stage. Perhaps that says something about the need in today’s world to have a promoter in one’s corner who acts as a barker for the good stuff. That could be a well known importer, it could be the use of a deep-pocketed secondary bottler with a separate rep of their own (think Rum Nation’s 2018 Reunion rum as an example), or a regular FB commentator.  

These forces have all now intersected, I think, and the rum is a win for everyone concerned. Savanna has greater exposure and fantastic word of mouth dating back to its seminal HERR 2006 10 year old; Velier has shown that even with the winding down of the Demeraras and Caronis they can find tasty, intriguing rums from around the world and bring them for us to taste; and I can almost guarantee that if this rum finds its way into enough hands, there will be no shortage of positive online blurbs and opinions from across the commenterati, many of whom will be happy to say that they knew it all along and are happy to be proved right.

(#685)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Habitation Velier has released a Savanna HERR Unaged 2017 white rhum, which is a good companion to this one, though it’s a bit more energetic and rambunctious and displayed less refinement…yet perhaps more character. 
  • I heard a rumour that Velier intended to release three Indian Ocean rums in this 2019 series, and indeed, around 2018, there were photos of Luca in India that surfaced briefly on FB.  However, nothing seems to have come of it and never responded to my queries on the matter.
Feb 112019
 

Rumaniacs Review #091 | 0598

Overproof rums started out as killer cocktail ingredients, meant to boost anything they were put into by, I dunno, a lot. For many years they were pretty much the bruisers of the barflies — low-life, lightly-aged mixers (or occasionally unaged whites) which only islanders drank neat, largely because they had the least amount of time to waste getting hammered.  Still, as time passed and cask strength rums became more fashionable (and appreciated), the gap between the strength of a cool aged casker and an overproof shrank, to the point where a 75% bottling of a “regular” rum that’s not labelled as an overproof is not out of the realms of possibility – I know several that stop just a bit short of that.  

One of the old style overproofs is this rum from the Takamaka Bay rum company located on Mahe, the main island of the 115-island archipelago comprising the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. The company is of relatively recent vintage, being formed in 2002 by the d’Offay brothers, Richard and Bernard d’Offay, and sourcing sugar cane from around the island – they are, according to their website’s blog, one of the few distilleries in the world that make rum from both juice and molasses.  They have two copper pot stills and a columnnar one, and this white rum, now discontinued and replaced with the 69 Rhum Blanc, is an unaged, unfiltered column still distillate with possibly a touch of high ester rum from the pot still. I’ve read on a Czech site that the rum is triple distilled from cane juice and then diluted, which was later confirmed by Bernard d’Offay.

Colour – White

Strength – 72% ABV

Nose –  Sweet and light soda pop, like a 7-Up…with fangs. Tons of herbs here, grass, thyme, mint, light lemon zest. Sugar water.  Light fruity esters. Bananas, nutmeg, cardamom.

Palate – Fruit juice poured into my glass, clean and light.  There’s the crispness of green apples, cane juice and red cashews, melding well with the tart creamy sweetness of ginips and soursop.  Herbs remained – parsley, dill and mint. It was hot and delicately sweet, presenting with force, yet it also reminded me somewhat of a tequila, what with a background of brine and olives and a faint oily texture on the tongue

Finish – Quite good. Long, dry, spicy, fruity, redolent of bananas, red currants, blackberries, watermelon and sugar water.  

Thoughts – It’s really quite a good rum, and I’m sorry to see it’s no longer being made. Before I got a response from Takamaka Bay, I thought the column still produced this from cane juice spirit (this proved to be the case). It’s a mixer for sure, though anyone who finds it and tries it neat won’t be entirely disappointed.  It’s a fiery, flavourful white which may now no longer be made, but lives on in its slightly lesser-proofed brother…which I have a feeling I’ll be looking for quite soon.

(84/100)

Jan 312019
 

More than four years ago I wrote about the Rhum Vieux Millésimé 1998 10 YO made by Dzama and concluded that I was pretty stoked to see what else the brand had in the larder.  It’s taken a long time for me to make good on that desire, so here we have something lower down on the totem pole from the same company, and I thought it was a good effort, for all its youth and in spite of the niggly questions it raised.

Let’s refresh the memory first: for the geographically challenged, Madagascar is that huge island off the south east coast of Africa; and the Dzama rums are made by Vidzar, formed in 1980 due to the efforts of Mr. Lucien Fohine, who noted that the small sugar factory on the tiny island of Nosy Be produced a distillate that had distinctive flavours which persisted into the final distilled products…mostly low level rum for local consumption, to that point. He concluded it came from the ylang-ylang plant (also known as the macassar oil plant, or the perfume tree) whose roots intermingled with that of the cane.

He formed a company Vidzar (a contraction of Vieux Rhum de Dzamandzar), which initially concerned itself with whisky bottling. It was located close to the sugar cane fields of Nosy Be, near to a village called Dzamadzar, but a few years later, as their operations expanded, they transferred production to Antananarivo (the capital, in the center of the island) The company, which now claims a majority of rum market share in Madagascar, makes a range of rums, including the Dzama Club, 3 YO and 6 YO, the Millésimé 1998 10 Year Old, Dzama 15 and 25 year old rums and a Cuvée Noire. Most of these are untried by the vast majority of rum drinkers, and remain relatively unknown, though many have won prizes between 2010 and 2015, in Miami, Paris, Berlin and Madrid.

All that said, there isn’t much on the company website about the technical details regarding the 3 year old we’re looking at today. It’s a column still rum, unadded-to, aged in oak barrels, and my sample clocked in at 52%, which I think is an amazing strength for a rum so young – most producers tend to stick with the tried-and-true 40-43% (for tax and export purposes) when starting out, but not these guys.

Now, the theory is that the oils and perfumes of the various botanicals to be found on Madagascar (vanilla, cloves, pepper are often cited) leach from their roots into the soil and are intermixed with the cane plants’ own root systems, into their stems, and thence to the ultimate distillate. I’m no chemist or botanist, but one could just as easily wonder why similar processes aren’t observed on the spice island (Grenada) for example, so I reserve judgement on that score.  

Be that as it may, the nose is quietly rich for a rum aged a mere three years – not Velier-Demerara-go-for-the-brass-ring rich, just more than one would expect going in. This nose was initially redolent of creamy feta cheese, brine, red olives and cashew notes, and had a nice line of rotting bananas and funk coiling about in the background which provided an underpinning of real character.  It also gave off subtler aromas of candied oranges, pears and other light fruits, just not enough to take over and make it a fruit bomb. But towards the end there was a more dominant element of toffee, coffee grounds and vanilla which I thought pleasant but overdone, especially since it was delivered with some real force.

Though it teetered right on the edge of being too hot, it presented a solid if sharp drink, an amalgam of salt and sweet…and a lot of brown sugar and vanilla  There were bananas, strawberries, cherries, and some of that tart and creamy sensation you get from an unsweetened fruit smoothie made from, oh, firm yellow mangoes and pineapple.  The vanilla remained, the coffee disappeared, and amusingly, I could actually taste sweet green peas. Much of the saltiness and nuttiness of the nose was gone, though still noticeable, and it did not unbalance the fruity aspects.  The finish was where it failed, I thought – it was medium long, somewhat spicy, just rather mild, with closing notes of fruits, vanilla, salted caramel, coconut shavings, and a little citrus.

Well, what to make of this? The nose was decent, the palate was nearly as good, a reasonable drink even by itself….particularly if you like the hints of spices. Does that mean natural or other spices have been added?  They say no, and hydrometer tests show no obscuration… but I can’t help but wonder.  Rums this young tend to be rather sharp and retain competing notes that saw across the palate, better off in mixed drinks than to have neat; the Dzama 3 YO was sippable and had the edge toned down, and for that to happen at that strength raises the eyebrow.  However, in the absence of more information, I’ll leave it there for now as a note for those who want to know.

That first Dzama I tried, the 1998 10 YO, had what at first sight seemed like an utterly standard profile that then expanded into something quite unconventional and interesting. The 3 year old is not on that level. The vanilla is a shade too dominant, and while fortunately having enough other taste elements in there to move beyond that, it remains ultimately straightforward.  But it is, nevertheless, a good drink for what it says it is, and demonstrates that a rum doesn’t have to be the latest Velier, Worthy Park or Foursquare juice, or from some independent’s minuscule outturn, to be a rum worth checking out.

(#594)(80/100)


Other Notes

Wes was much more disapproving of the spiced profile in his review.  It’s his hydrometer test I referenced.

Jan 282018
 

#483

The History Collection 1715 “Isle de France” Cuvée Spéciale, in spite of being made from cane juice, reminded me rather more of an El Dorado rum than a true agricole, and with the History Collection’s 1814 “Mauritius” Cuvée Grande Reserve we’re looking at today, similar thoughts occurred to me…albeit about a different country. Perhaps that’s the marker of a rum that lingers in the mind and titillates the senses – it reminds you of something, but pinning it down proves elusive…and then it turns out to be quite a distinct product in its own right, as this one is.

So, that said, and similarities aside, it’s instructive to assess the achievement of St. Aubin in producing a rhum that — even at 40%  — was no slouch to sample: it had the same rich and fruity aromas of the Isle de France, brown sugar, cherries in syrup, pineapple, peaches, apricots, vanilla, and to distinguish it from its sibling (perhaps), also a series of coffee and musty, sawdust-y, cereal-y back-end notes.  Sprinkled with raspberries.  What with a hint of chocolate in there someplace, I was actually moving away from comparing the nose to an El Dorado, and relocating myself to Colombia, know what I mean?  This thing was like a crisper Dictador 20 with just enough of the agricole background shimmering through to provide a clue as to its origins.

The nose told a tale that would be repeated right down the line, and what I smelled was pretty much what I tasted, with a few variations here and there.  It was light and clean, yet displaying darker, muskier spicier notes as well: vanilla, coffee, licorice and some sharp tannins, with the musty long-disused-attic tastes remaining.  Some fruits – peaches and cherries for the most part – stayed in the background.  The core was anise and sawdust and unsweetened chocolate, and overall it presented as somewhat dry.  Quite nice — if it fell down at all it was in the finish, which was more licorice and chocolate, thin tart fruits (gooseberries perhaps) and after a few hours, it took on a metallic tang of old ashes doused with water that I can’t say I entirely cared for.

Some background. The date on the bottle (1814) relates to the the Treaty of Paris signed at the end of the Napoleonic Wars by the warring nations of Europe, and it was this treaty which gave Guadeloupe back to France (it had been ceded to Sweden (!!) for a while), but which also formally confirmed Mauritius to be a colony of Great Britain (who had held it since 1810). I was informed that the rhum is cane juice based, 30% pot still 10 year old from 2004, and 70% column still (stored for six years in an inert inox tank), — which therefore does not makes the rum a 10 year old in spite of the bottling in 2014, and so I have had to retitle and amend this post, after checking with St. Aubin directly. Oh and there are 5218 bottles in the outturn, so probably enough for anyone who wants one to get one.

As noted on the Ile de France, by the way, you should expect some dosing here (caramel and “natural flavours”, not sugar, I was informed), and that’s evident after some switching back and forth between a true agricole and this one…not enough to mess it up, but noticeable enough after a while.  On the plus side it gentles the whole experience down a mite, makes it smoother and quieter and more sippable for those who like softer profiles to their rums (plus of course, sweeter ones); on the negative side it dampens and mutes a profile which doesn’t really need that kind of tampering – it’s good enough as it stands.  Underneath the muffling effect of the caramel addition, you can sense what it was and what was there, but it’s like listening to music underwater…the full impact and effect of the symphony is lost. And that’s a shame because I’d be much more interested to see what it was like when pure – based on the quality of what I was sampling, that was probably quite something.

(84/100)


Other notes

As stated above, current versions of the rum are only partly 10 years old, although the components remain the same as older ones – the 10 YO pot still component replaces the 7 YO portion. The label on the bottle I was sold was an older one which is now being changed to eliminate the age statement.  So even if your label says 7, you’re not precisely getting that.

Mar 262017
 

#350

The Savanna Millésime 2006 High Ester Rum from Réunion (or HERR, as it is labelled) is a steroid-infused Guadeloupe rum mixing it up with a Caroni and a Bajan. It may the closest one will ever come to one of Worthy Park or Hampden’s Jamaican taste bombs without buying one, betters them in sheer olfactory badassery and is possibly one of the best of its kind currently in production, or the craziest.  It’s very likely that once you try it you’ll wonder where it was hiding all this time. It emphatically puts Réunion on the map of must-have rum producing nations with not just flair, but with the resounding thump of a falling seacan.

Just to set the background.  I had bought the Savanna Rhum Traditonnel Vieux 2000 “Intense” 7 year old back in April 2016 in Paris, and when I finally wrote about it, remarked on the way it was interesting and tasty and seemed to channel a good Guadeloupe rum in that it walked a fine line between molasses based product and an agricole.  Purely on the strength of that positive experience, I sprung for the HERR, and made some notes to get some of the other “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” Lontan series from Savanna as well (see “other notes”, below).  The molasses-based HERR was distilled in 2006, aged for ten years in ex-cognac casks, bottled at a hefty 63.8% in 2016, bottle #101 of 686, and released for the 60th Anniversary of the Parisian liquor emporium La Maison du Whisky.

Anyway, after that initial enjoyable dustup with the “Intense”, I was quite enthusiastic, and wasn’t disappointed. Immediately upon pouring the golden-amber liquid into my glass, the aromas billowed out, and what aromas they were, proceeding with heedless, almost hectic pungency – caramel, leather, some tar, smoke and molasses to start off with, followed with sharper notes of vanilla, dark dried fruit, raisins and prunes and dates.  It had an abundance, a reckless, riotous profusion of flavours, so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking that not only did Savanna throw in the kitchen sink in making it, but for good measure they included the rest of the kitchen, half the pantry and some of the plumbing as well.  Even the back end of the nose, with some overripe bananas and vegetables starting to go off, and a very surprising vein of sweet bubble-gum, did nothing to seriously detract from the experience; and if I were to say anything negative about it, it was that perhaps at 63.8% the rum may just have been a shade over-spicy.

Still, whatever reservations I may have had did not extend much further than that, and when I tasted it, I was nearly bowled over.  My God but this thing was rich…fruity and tasty to a fault. Almost 64% of proof, and yet it was warm, not hot, easy and solid on the tongue, and once again — like its cousin — weaving between agricole and molasses rums in fine style.  There was molasses, a trace of anise, a little coffee, vanilla and some leather to open the party; and this was followed by green apples, grapes, hard yellow mangoes, olives, more raisins, prunes, peaches and yes, that strawberry bubble-gum as well.  I mean, it was almost like a one-stop shop of all the hits that make rum my favourite drink; and it lasted for a long long time, closing with a suitably epic, somewhat dry finish of commendable duration which perhaps added little that was new, but which summed up all the preceding notes of nose and palate with warmth and heat and good memories.  There was simply so much going on here that several subsequent tastings were almost mandated, and I regret none of them (and neither did Grandma Caner, who was persuaded to try some).  It presented as enormously crisp and distinct and it’s unlikely to be confused with any other rum I’ve ever tasted.

Just as an (irrelevant) aside, I was so struck with the kaleidoscopic flavours bursting out of the thing that I let the sample remain in my glass for a full four days (which is likely four days more than anyone else ever will) and observed it ascending to the heights before plunging into a chaotic maelstrom I’m somewhat at odds to explain.  But one thing is clear – if the sharp fruitiness of unrestrained rutting esters is your thing, then you may just agree with me that the rum is worth a try, not just once, but several times and may only be bettered by the Lontan 2004 12 year old 64.2% made by the same company.

I said in the opening remarks that it might be the best of its kind currently in production, or one of the craziest.  I believe that anyone who tries it will marvel at the explosive panoply of flavours while perhaps recognizing those off-putting notes which jar somewhat with what one expects a rum to possess.  Having read of my experience, I leave it to you to decide which side of the divide you fall on.  The HERR is not so much polarizing as unique, and it demands that you accept it as it is, warts and everything, on its own terms or not at all.  If you do, I somehow doubt you’ll be disappointed, and may just spend a few days playing around with it, wondering what that last smidgen of flavour actually was. Sort of like I did.

(88/100)

Other notes

Personal encomiums and opinions apart, I should inject a note of caution.  When tried in conjunction to the muskier, deeper Demeraras, HERR’s relative thinness becomes more apparent.  Too, after some hours, that vein of bubble-gum sweet also takes on a dominance that can be off-putting to those preferring darker tastes in their rums, though such a whinge would not disqualify it from any rum lover’s shelf.  But the chaos I noted earlier comes after you let it sit for the aforementioned few days.  By the fourth day the rum becomes sharp, biting, and almost vinegary, and while one can still get the smorgasbord of fruitiness which is the source of its exceptionalism, it is no longer feels like the same rum one started with.  Pouring a fresh sample right next to it on that day showed me the metamorphosis, and I believe that oxidation is something to beware of for any opened but long-untouched bottle.

As it turned out, an amazingly generous aficionado by the name of Nico Rumlover (long may his glass remain full) sent me not one or two additional Savanna samples, but eight more, just so that I could give them a shot…so look for those write-ups in the months to come.  Along with several other rums and rhums, I used all of them (and the Intense) as comparators for this review.

Historical distillery notes can be found in the Makers section for those whose interests run that way.

Rum Nation looks to be releasing a Savanna 12 YO at 59.5% sometime this year.

 

Feb 212017
 

#344

Our global rum travels have moved us around from Japan, Panama, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Brazil, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Antigua, Laos and Mauritius (and that’s just within the last eight weeks); so let’s do one more, and turn our attention to Île de la Réunion, where, as you might recall, three companies produce rums – Rivière du Mât, Isautier, and Savanna, with Isautier being the oldest (it was established in 1845 and is now in its sixth generation of the family).  If one wants to be picky Savanna has existed for far longer, but the company in its modern form dates back only to 1948 and lest I bore you to tears with another historical treatise, I refer you to the small company bio written as an accompaniment to this review.

Savanna is unusual in that it makes both agricoles and traditional rums, so it’s always a good idea to check the label closely – in this case “Traditionnel” refers to a molasses-based product. And take a moment to admire the information they provide, which is quite comprehensive (bar additives, which I somehow doubt they have). The rum I tried here was quite a beast – it was a seven-year-old year 2000 millésime distilled in November 2000 and bottled April 2008 with an outturn of just under 800 bottles, and issued at a whopping 64.5% – and that’s not unusual for them, as there are quite a few of such cask strength bruisers in their lineup.  I’m as courageous as the next man, but honesty compels me to admit that any time I see a rum redlining north of 60% my spirit quails just a bit…even as I’m consumed by the equal and opposite desire (perhaps a masochistic one) to match myself against it.  And here I’m glad I did, for this is quite a nifty product by any yardstick.

On the nose it was amazing for that strength – initially it presented something of the light clarity we associate with agricoles (which this was not), before turning deep and creamy, with opening salvos of vanilla, caramel and brine, vaguely akin to a very strong latte….or teeth-staining bush tea. It was weirdly herbal, yet not too much – that surprising vegetal element had been well controlled, fortunately…I’m not sure what my reaction would have been had I detected an obvious and overwhelming agricole profile in a supposedly molasses originating rum.  And yes, it was intense, remarkably so, without the raw scraping of coarse sandpaper that might have ruined something less carefully made.  I don’t always add water while nosing a spirit, but here I did and the rum relaxed, and gave additional scents of delicate flowers and a hint of breakfast spices.

The palate lost some of the depth and creaminess, becoming instead sharply crisp and clean, quite floral, and almost delicately sweet.  Even so, one had to be careful to ride the shockwave of proof with some care, given the ABV. Frangipani blossoms, bags of tart fruits (red guavas, half-ripe Indian mangos and citrus rind) and vanillas were the core of the taste, around which swirled a mad whirpool of additional, and very well balanced flavors of green grapes, unripe pineapples, more mangos, and peaches, plus some coffee grounds.  It was powerful yes, and amazingly tasty when taken in measured sips.  It all came down to the end, where the finish started out sharp and dry and intense, and then eased off the throttle.  Some of the smooth creaminess returned here (was that coconut shavings and yoghurt I was sensing?), to which was added a swirl of brine and olives, grapes, vanilla.  The way the flavours all came together to support each other was really quite something – no one single element dominated at the expense of any other, and all pulled in the same direction to provide a lovely taste experience that would do any rum proud.

So far I’ve not tried much from Réunion aside from various examples of the very pleasant ones from Rivière du Mât (their 2004 Millésime was absolutely wonderful).  If a second distillery from the island can produce something so interesting and tasty in a rum picked at random, I think I’ll redirect some of my purchasing decisions over there. This is a rum that reminds me a lot of full proof hooch from Guadeloupe, doing much of the same high wire act between the clear cleanliness of an agricole and the deep and growly strength and flavour of the molasses boyos. It’s a carefully controlled and exactingly made product, moulded into a rum that is an utter treat to inhale, to sip and to savour, and I’ll tell you, with all that is going on under the hood of this thing, they sure weren’t kidding when they called it “Intense.” It’s not a complete success, no, but even so I’m annoyed with myself, now, for just having bought one.

85.5/100

Note: This intriguing 7 year old interested me enough to spring for another >60% beefcake from the company, the High Ester Rum from Reunion (HERR). The entire line of high-ester Grand Arôme rums made by Savanna is supposedly a bunch of experimental flavour bombs, so can you imagine what a cask strength version of that is like?

 

Feb 042015
 

D3S_8939

The XO is more expensive, and slightly older, yet I feel this one is better in every way that counts: I’m going to take a deep breath, go out on a limb…and say I think this is among the best rums Rivière du Mât have yet created.

(#200. 89/100)

***

Full of beans and enthusiasm after the frothing delight that was the Rivière du Mât XO, I decided to dump the previous subject of my 200th review, and go immediately to the Millésime 2004, which is close to the top of their range, and one of the better rums I had in 2014. For a rum that is less than ten years old, that says a lot for its quality and the ability of the dude who put it together.

It’s a queer thing that there is not really much to distinguish this rum were you to see it on a shelf next to its siblings, the Grand Reserve, or the XO.  Indeed, with its maroon-brown box and similar bottle shape, it almost fades into obscurity next to the fire-engine red of the XO and the black of the Reserve (which may be good for the patient hunter of high-end rums, not so good for those who just pick a rum ‘cause, y’know, it looks real cool).

The XO had an average age of just over eight years, and this was eight years flat.  Both rums were aged in limousin oak, but with two crucial differences: all of the Millésime stock came from 2004 distillate selected as exceptional by the master blender, and 30% of it was aged in casks that previously held port before being married at the back end.

Perhaps this was where the extra fillip of quality derived, because I’ll tell you, it started right from the nose, which was remarkably smooth and quite soft, easygoing without displaying that delicacy which so often makes a mockery of any attempts to dissect the profile. I remarked on precisely such a fragile profile in the Reserve yet in both these rums (both of which derive from molasses, not cane juice so they’re not agricoles), there was a clean and clear set of tastes: they stated with a melange of crackers and cream cheese, whipped cream, strawberries, cherries and slightly overripe apricots; this then developed on opening into notes of vanilla, ginger and nutmeg with a little coffee, rich and sensuous to smell.  It suggested good future experiences to the drinker, like a girl in the red dress at the bar who’s tipping you a wink and a smile (well, we can all hope, can’t we?).

I find in quite a few rums, that while the nose promises, the taste doesn’t always deliver.  Not here. It was, quite frankly, remarkably sumptuous. The Millesime 2004 was medium bodied and toffee brown, and had an immediate taste of honey and dried flowers to get things rolling, and then more fruits came crowding onto the palate, tobacco and a little aromatic smoke, coffee, ginger, breakfast spices, some of the buttery smoothness of over-soaked french bread.  I loved it. It was smooth and warm and yet distinct and luxurious, like a Louis Vuitton handbag my wife keeps bugging me to buy.  And it faded well, again with warmth and friendliness, no spite, leaving behind the faint backend notes of  caramel and coffee and toffee, and a hint of dried flower petals.

D3S_8940

(see translation below)

 

This is a rum I have no problems recommending. It demonstrates why a lower-costing, lesser-aged rum always wins over a five hundred dollar thirty-year-old. That pricey, geriatric gentleman on your sideboard can never truly go beyond  what you thought it would be (though of course it can fall short)…so it’ll not exceed your sense of, well, entitlement. It’s supposed to be phenomenal – that’s why you grandly forked over the cash your wife was hoarding for that handbag: you’ve coughed up for quality, so that thing had better put out. With a rum like the 2004 Millésime — which, for around €60 can be considered relatively affordable in comparison — you won’t go in expecting a whole lot, it being an 8-year-old and all…and when it over-delivers like it does, it feels like God loves you. And that you’ve made a discovery you can’t help but share.


Other notes

  • Background to the company is given in the Grande Reserve review.
  • As noted before, the Reserve, the XO and the 2004 Millésime are not agricoles
  • Translation of French label above: “Made from a single distillation, the 2004 vintage has developed its intense character through ageing in carefully selected oak casks. The aromatic originality of this exceptional traditional old rum is enhanced by a certain portion of the rum undergoing a second maturation of one year, in Porto barrels. Gourmand, fruity, with subtle spicy touches, Riviere du Mat Millesime 2004 provides peppery hints and notes of cherry in an elegant fondu (mix). The powerful, charming finish offers a delicious sensation of harmony which will enchant lovers of great rums.”

 

Feb 012015
 

D3S_8937

Soft, firm, tasty and an all ‘round excellent rum. It could have been stronger, but that doesn’t invalidate the quality of what you do get.

(#199. 87.5/100)

***

Sometimes a positive review leaves me glumpish.  This is a great rum, older cousin to the also interesting Grande Réserve, well put together, subtle, classy, soft, and possessing a real good taste…yet I guarantee that my inbox will be filled with grumbling queries as to why I bother writing about rums many can’t get. In fact, the majority of people reading this will ask variations of “So?”, “From where wuz dat again?” and the final resigned snort of annoyance, “Well, if me kian gettit, me nah want it.” And believe me, I feel for you guys.

Rum like the Rivière du Mât XO, made on the Réunion island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, gets shipped and sold primarily in Europe, and a few places further afield. Therein lies part of the problem, I think. Not many in North America (or Asia for that matter, because that place has a massive tippling class) will have ever heard of this rum, or seen it, or had a chance to taste it.  It’s not on their shelves, and doesn’t get reviewed often enough, and therefore you can just see some poor rum-loving guy in Kansas, in Manitoba, or Bumpole City in Noplace county, shrugging his shoulders and turning to the Lamb’s or Sailor Jerry. Because what choice does he have? There aren’t enough people trumpeting the “other stuff” and (worse yet) nobody imports it.

And that’s a real shame, because when I uncorked the XO, well, lemme tell you straight out, for a rum bottled at a relatively fluffy 42%, the nose on this thing was good.  Raisins and dates, nicely dried, real solid richness wafted gently into my schnozz, morphing into new chopped fresh and fleshy fruits: peaches in cream.  Vanilla and caramel and white flowers entered stage right and took their bow in the spotlight, and through it all was a really odd steely hint of tonic water…you know, the type you add to your gin.  Sultanas and lemon peel finished things off.  To say I was pleased would be understating the matter: I loved the thing. In fact, I nearly brained my wife with my glass as I swung around in overeager enthusiasm to get her to take a sniff.

D3S_8936

Oh and did I mention the taste?  The palate is damned fine as well. Here the ageing became more apparent because mingling in the marketplace of more dried fruit, dates, figs, and mango — or guava — jam, was cigars, leather, some smoke, well integrated with the whole.  The rum was medium bodied rather than heavy, yet displayed a lovely fullness to the tongue, akin to drinkable honey, that encouraged, nay, demanded, a second, third and fourth taste, and one that even a heavier molasses-drenched beefcake wouldn’t be ashamed to display.  On a 42% rum of such soft pulchritude, I didn’t expect a long and lasting goodbye kiss, and therefore didn’t fault the easy finish too much – it was warm, breathy, didn’t outstay its welcome, and waved some unaggressive flavours of caramel, tobacco and raisins and caramel at me before fading away.

It’s a curious fact that while the company’s younger products are clearly noted by them as being agricultural rums, no such information is given for the older ones.  And as I write this, an email from RdM comes in telling me that no, the older rhums are not agricoles, so consider the matter settled.  The XO is a blend of five rums aged in Limousin oak – cognac – barrels (a lot of them are new), for between six to nine years, the average age being just over eight, and in this they may have done a segue from Plantation who have a similar ageing philosophy, albeit the more traditional ‘finishing’ approach of oak first and longest, and a quick sheep dip into the cognac.

Anyway, without undue effort, I’d have to say that I liked the XO more than the Grande Reserve however indifferent I might have been to the package, which seemed to be somewhat a step down…maybe it’s that glaring fire-engine red box, dunno – the bottle is fine.  Still, I should really stop whinging, because for around fifty euros, this rum gives value for money, even if it can’t be found in many of the watering holes where dedicated rummies go to type annoyed emails to me. So maybe the best I can do is take another sniff and taste (maybe another two, or five) of this excellent rum from Reunion, drown my grumpiness, answer emails…and look forward to the Millesime 2004.

Other notes:

I’ve covered the history and background of Rivière du Mât in the Grande Reserve review, so won’t repeat it here.

The little hedgehog like device within the circular seal is referred to as a “tanglier”: the company notes that it is a legendary beast, inspired from the Tangue (hedgehog) and the Sanglier (boar). The tanglier symbolizes the alliance between strength and tradition; so a marketing thing, then, like Bundie’s polar bear.

***

 

Dec 132014
 

D3S_8931

A tasty, svelte, supple rum like this brings home the point of how widespread the world of rum is, how we are too often satisfied with too little, and why should demand more. Even at 40%, this rum is quite a drinking experience.

(#193. 85/100)

Réunion? Quick, place that on a map.

Casting around for something to look at to close out 2014, I settled on this sprightly and supple forty percenter.  This was not just because I wanted to cast a geographically wider net (though this is also true) – but because when you see a good rum, you really want to toot its horn a bit. While I’m no longer as stuck with loving only 40% rums as I used to be, there’s no reason for me to deny this rum its rightful plaudits.  It’s good.

Appearance wise, I had no objections. Stiff cardboard box, round shouldered bottle, plastic tipped cork, all holding within them a golden-brown spirit with tints of red. It certainly smelled great, when I poured it out. For a rum as relatively lacking in oomph (compared to some of the Tiger Bay toughs I’ve been getting mugged by over the last months), the 40% ABV was really kind of fun.  It was…well, zippy.  Happy.  It was zesty, light, clear and vegetal.  I don’t know why, but I kept thinking of daisies, spring picnics on a green sunlit meadow somewhere.  The rum felt like it was frolicking over the nose.  Nothing heavy here, only scents of orange peel, sweet fresh sap, vanilla, light white flower petals dried between the leaves of an old book; guava and sugar cane and fresh mown grass after a light rain.

That same cheerful sprightliness was also evident on the palate.  There were a few references that stated the core distillate was made from molasses, yet it is remarkable how the overall taste was light, and what clarity it displayed: it seemed to be more of an agricole than anything else. Those same easy-going floral notes carried over, and here the ageing was more evident – baked candied apples, ginger, baking spices, vanilla and sweet wooden notes, very well done.  Adding anything to this is pointless because it has a delicacy to it that would be rent apart by anything but the mildest of mixing agents – even water dilutes it too much.  As for the fade, it was medium long, pleasantly aromatic, and tickled your tonsils rather than trying to skewer them.  All in all, a lovely très vieux with a little bit of bite to let you know it was there, and not to be taken as an underproof. You could almost imagine it wearing shades and a Hawaiian shirt on a beach somewhere, watching the tide come in.

The Grande Réserve is a blend of rums aged six years or more in Limousin barrels, and well put together – one hardly tasted smoke and tannins and leather of any kind. It hails from the island of Réunion, which is located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar.  Although originally settled by the Portuguese, by the 16th Century, it was taken over by the French, and these days is a French Department. Because of that, it is considered part of France, as if it was right on the mainland, and therefore also part of the Eurozone.

Réunion has quite a pedigree with respect to rum.  Sugar has always and traditionally been the chief agricultural export crop, and the first stills were brought by the French to the Island as far back as 1704; in 1815  the first modern distillery set up by Charles Panon-Desbassyns and coincided with the start of large-scale sugar-production, which took up just about all the sugar-cane harvested.  The production of local ‘arack’ (or ‘sugar brandy’, produced from sugar-cane juice) was limited to production from the residue of sugar manufacture. The number of distilleries fluctuated from six in 1842 to thirty one in 1928, down to one during the second world war, and three presently: Savanna, Rivière du Mât and Isautier. All three produce the most famous brand of the island: Rhum Charrette. The other well-known brands of these distilleries are Savanna rums, which is a brand that consists of more than 12 different rums (and there I was, grumbling about the seven rums in Ocean’s Atlantic edition, remember?), the Rivière du Mât, Isautier, Chatel, Varangues and Belle-Vue rums.

All in all, then, this is a rum that is light, easygoing and an absolute pleasure to drink neat. As an entry level vieux, it may be a tough ‘un to beat.  I can’t wait to write about the XO by the same company: that one is also good, but also more pricey.  If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, with a taste all its own, not too expensive, with aromatic, clear and slightly fruity notes, then this is as good a rum to buy as any others…others which may be more available and perhaps better known in the bars of the west than Rivière-du-Mât’s rum — but not necessarily better.