Apr 032018
 

#502

Asia may be the next region to discover for rummies.  Some companies from there already have good visibility – think Nine Leaves or Ryoma from Japan, Tanduay from the Phillipines, Amrut from India, Laotian from Laos and so on – and we should not forget Thailand.  So far I’ve only tried the Mekhong “rum” from there, and that was a while ago…but for the last few years I’ve been hearing about a new company called Chalong Bay, from the resort area of Phuket; and when John Go and I traded samples a while back, he sent me one of their interesting whites that for sure deserves a look-see from the curious who want to expand their horizons.

Chalong Bay is the brainchild of another pair of entrepreneurs from France (like those chaps who formed Whisper and Toucan rums) named Marine Lucchini and Thibault Spithakis.  They opened the company in 2014, brought over a copper column still from France and adhered to an all-natural production philosophy: no chemicals or fertilizers for the cane crop, no burning prior to harvesting, and a spirit made from fresh pressed cane juice with no additives.  Beyond that, there’s the usual marketing stuff on their site, their Facebook page, and just about everywhere else, which always surprises me, since one would imagine the history of their own company would be a selling point, a marketing plug and a matter of pride, but no, it’s nowhere to be found.

Be that as it may, it’s quite a nifty rum (or rhum, rather), even if somewhat mild. The 40% ABV to some extend gelds it, so one the nose it does not present like one of the proud codpieces of oomph sported by more powerful blancs out there.  Olives, brine, swank, generally similar to Damoiseau, J. Bally, Neisson, St Aubin blanc, or the clairins, just…less. But it is an interesting mix of traditional and oddball scents too: petrol, paint, wax, a little brie, rye bread, and just a touch of sweet sugar cane juice.  Faint spices, lemongrass, light pears…before moving on to hot porridge with salt and butter(!!). Talk about a smorgasbord.

The taste on the palate takes a turn to the right and is actually quite pleasing. Thin of course (couldn’t get away from the anemic proof), a little sharp.  Sweet and tart fruity ice cream. A little oily, licorice-like, akin to a low rent ouzo, in which are mixed lemon meringue pie and clean grassy tastes. Not as much complexity as one might hope for, though well assembled, and the flavours at least come together well.  Citrus, pears and watermelon emerge with time, accompanied by those muffled softer tastes – cereal, milk and salted oatmeal – which fortunately do not create a mishmash of weird and at-odds elements that would have sunk the thing. Finish is short, thin, quite crisp and almost graceful.  Mostly sugar water, a little citrus, avocado, bananas and brine. Frankly, I believe this is a rum, like the Toucan No 4 or the El Dorado 3 Year Old White, which could really benefit from being ratched up a few notches – 50% would not be out of place for this rhum to really shine.

After all is done, the clear drink finished, the unemotional tasting notes made, the cold score assigned, perhaps some less data-driven words are required to summarize the actual feelings and experience it evoked in me.  I felt that there was some unrealized artistry on display with the Chalong Bay – it has all the delicacy of a sunset watercolour by Turner, while other clear full proofs springing up around the globe present brighter, burn more fiercely, are more intense…like Antonio Brugada’s seascape oils (or even some of Turner’s own).  It’s in the appreciation for one or the other that a drinker will come to his own conclusions as to whether the rum is a good one, and deserving a place on the part of the shelf devoted to the blancs. I think it isn’t bad at all, and it sure has a place on mine.

(80/100)


Other notes

  • Interestingly, the rum does not refer to itself as one: the label only mentions the word “Spirit”.  Russ Ganz and John Go helpfully got back on to me and told me it was because of restrictions of Thail law.  I’m calling it a rhum because it conforms to all the markers and specs.
  • Tried contacting the founders for some background, but no feedback yet.
  • The company also makes a number of flavoured variants, which I have not tried.
Mar 072018
 

#494

The Avuá brand of cachaça has a slightly different pedigree from independents in Europe who buy from brokers, and is closer to that of small new rum companies who buy selected stock direct from distilleries (e.g.Whisper, Toucan, and Real McCoy, for example).  Two New Yorkers – one a former brand manager for Red Bull, Pete Nevenglosky, the other a businessman and lawyer, Nate Whitehouse – developed a liking for the spirit and sensed (or thought they could exploit) a rising appreciation for craft spirits in the US – rum generally, cachaça specifically.  After some searching and sampling around, they settled on Fazenda da Quinta Agronegócios, a distillery just outside Rio dating back to 1923 which produces the trio of the da Quinta cachaças — an Amburana-aged, an oak-aged and a white. Starting with the Aburana and the white, these were rebranded for sale in the US as Avuá Amburana and Avuá Prata but I have not been able to establish anything particularly original about them that would set them apart from the da Quinta line

Never mind. Quite aside from these biographical details, I’m always on the lookout for interesting white rums, and so made it a point to check out the Prata just to see how well it fared.  Which was, for a 42% rested-but-not-aged pot still rum, not shabby at all, if not quite as feral or in-your-face as some of the French island blancs, or, for that matter, the clairins.  In fact, nosing it, the Prata presented as a rather genteel variation of such more elemental whites, and for that reason may actually be preferred by people who are put off excessive expressions of crazy and are more middle of the road.  It was redolent of sugar cane juice freshly pressed, oily, briny and with some olive action in the background, but also herbal notes of dill and a little sage, some faint rubber hints, and subtle acetone and florals rounding out the profile.  

The palate was not overly aggressive – at that strength it would have been surprising if it had been – and while quite dry, it reminded me somewhat of the unaged column still clairins, just gentler.  It was warm, sweet, and almost delicate, and also contained some of Neisson’s tequila and briny notes. Sugar water (and that’s white sugar, by the way), more dill, sage, rosemary and a little cinnamon, but what distinguished it after a few minutes was an unique (for cachacas) taste of musty earth and wet tropical vegetation that bordered on the funkiness of a Jamaican without ever actually being so.  The mouthfeel was rather light, warm and relatively smooth, so certainly the initial cuts and the resting period had their impact. As for the finish, nothing original there – just warm, aromatic sweet spices, and a vague mustiness that was far from unpleasant and made the rum stand out in its own way.

As a white rum the Prata cachaça carves out some interesting territory for itself: it’s not so crude and jagged as to be off-putting to the greater public; its tastes are pleasant, yet distinct enough not to be confused with other whites; and overall, one weakness (much like the Toucan No. 4) is that for the complexity that it does exhibit, it could easily be stronger and lose no adherents.  One is left with rather more titillating sensations and vague sensory memories than an explicit and clear-cut profile, and it showcases emergent potential rather than a solid current achievement. It’s interesting to note that the company is now also producing a Still Strength version (45%) to maybe address precisely this issue, and if they are doing that, we should be keeping an eye out for what else they’re doing in the next few years.  Because if they ever have the bolas to issue this white rum’s same profile at 50% or greater, I’d probably grin, take a deep breath, and dive right in.

(82/100)

Feb 102018
 

#487

Yeah! It screams as you sip it, seeming to want to channel a heavy metal rock star in his prime as he puts together a yowling riff on his axe and squeals impossibly high notes into the mike like his huevos were getting crushed. Pow! Biff! Smack! went the rum on the nose.  Holy pot still Batman, what the hell was this?  I smelled hard, I blinked tears, I coughed out rhum fumes and a hundred flies died on the spot. The maelstrom of clear aggro swirling madly in my glass made me think that if I’d had the St. Aubin Blanc four years ago I would have suspected the clairins of copying them.  This rhum was a hellish, snorting magnificent, pummelling nose: olives, brine, vinegar, acetone, salt beef and garlic pork (“wit’ plenty plenty ‘erb,” as my Aunt Sheila would have said), gherkins, sugar water, and more olives, presenting like a real dirty martini.  Wow.  Just…wow.  Though bottled at a relatively bearable 50%, it was fierce and pungent and tasty and wild and definitely left the reservation far behind, just like the white Jamaicans and clairins did.

What elevated the experience of drinking it was the sensation of sampling a potent escaped white lightning while at the same time understanding (not without some wonder) that it was totally under the control of its makers (St. Aubin out of Mauritius) and no extraneous frippery of blending or touch of ageing were allowed to mess with the monster’ essential badassery.  Some of the salt  took a back seat here, the olives were toned down, and in their place emerged sharp and clear notes of wax and furniture polish, leavened by bleeding sugar cane juice, watermelon, swank, pears and a bunch of heavier fruits, hot and just starting to spoil, reminding me more of a Jamaican white like the Rum Nation 57%, or the Rum Fire, or that faithful old standby, J. Wray 63%.  Oh but this was not all.  Once it settled its hot-snot profile down to manageable levels, came to a sort of grudging equilibrium among all the fierce competing flavours, there was a last cough of cereal, biscuits, oatmeal, salted butter and a dash of cumin to wrap up the show.  And it all led to a suitably epic finish that neatly summed up all the foregoing — and so cool that the sun did shine 24 hours a day when I was trying it, and, as the song goes, it did wear its sunglasses at night.

See, while furious aggression a la clairin was not quite the blanc’s style, the sheer range of what it presented took my breath away; the balance was damned fine and the range of its flavour profile was impressive as hell.  I’ll be the first to admit that such potent whites are not to everyone’s tastes, and if you doubt that, feel free to sample a clairin or three. But man, are they ever original. They burst with crazy, are infused with off-the-reservation nutso, and when you finish one, shudder and reach for the Diplo, then whether you liked it or not you could never doubt that at least it was original, right?  That and the bitchin’ cocktails they make, is, to me, their selling point.

Because of its pot still origins and because of its relatively manageable strength, I think this thing might just be one of the more approachable whites out there, and I’d really be interested how other drinkers, writers and barflies see it.  I make a lot of jokes at Adam West’s 1960s Batman series with their hokey sound effects overlaid on the TV screen and the campy dialogue, but what we sometimes forget is that after all was said and done, even on that series somebody always got hit and somebody always fell down and there was a cool quip at the end.  I don’t have a cool quip on this one, but guys, I drank it and got hit and just about fell down.

(85/100)


Other notes

There are some background notes on St. Aubin in the Historical series “Mauritius” and “Isle de France” reviews for those who are interested

Nov 012017
 

*

All apologies to those who like the Bacardi Superior, Lamb’s White and other filtered, smooth, bland (dare I say boring?) 40% white rums in their cocktails, or who just like to get hammered on whatever is cheap to get and easily available – but you can do better.  For anyone who likes a massive white rum reeking of esters and funk and God only knows what else, one of the great emergent trends in the last decade has surely been the new selection and quality of white rums from around the world.  Almost all are unaged, some are pot still and some are column, they’re usually issued at north of 45%, they exude badass and take no prisoners, and in my opinion deserve more than just a passing mention.

Now, because aged rums get all the press and are admittedly somewhat better tasting experiences, white (or ‘clear’ or ‘blanc’) rums aren’t usually accorded the same respect, and that’s fair – I’d never deny their raw and oft-uncouth power, which can be a startling change from softer or older juice.  They aren’t always sipping quality rums, and some are out and out illogical and should never see the light of day. Yet we should never ignore them entirely.  They are pungent and flavourful beyond belief, with zesty, joyful profiles and off-the-reservation craziness worthy of attention, and many compare very favourably to rums costing twice or three times as much.

So let me just provide the curious (the daring?) a list of some white rums I’ve tried over the last years.  It’s by no means exhaustive, so apologies if I’ve left off a personal favourite – I can only list what I myself have tried. And admittedly, not all will find favour and not all will appeal – but for sheer originality and gasp-inducing wtf-moments, you’re going to look far to beat these guys.  And who knows?  You might even like a few, and at least they’re worth a shot.  Maybe several.

(Note: I’ve linked to written reviews where available.  For those where the full review hasn’t been published yet, some brief tasting notes. Scores are excluded, since I’m trying to show them off, not rank them, and in any case they’re in no particular order).


[1] Clairin Sajous – Haiti

If creole still haitian white rums not made by Barbancourt had a genesis in the wider world’s perceptions, it might have been this one and its cousins. In my more poetic moments I like to say the Sajous didn’t get introduced, it got detonated, and the reverbrations are still felt today.  There were always white unaged popskulls around – this one and the Vaval and Casimir gave them respectability.

[2] J. Bally Blanc Agricole – Martinique

What a lovely rum this is indeed.  J. Bally has been around for ages, and they sure know what they’re doing. This one is aged for three months and filtered to white, yet somehow it still shows off some impressive chops.  The 50% helps for sure.  Apples, watermelon, some salt and olives and tobacco on the nose, while the palate is softer than the strength might suggest, sweet, with fanta, citrus, thyme carrying the show. Yummy.

[3] St. Aubin Agricole Rhum Blanc  – Mauritius

New Grove, Gold of Mauritius and Lazy Dodo might be better known right now, but Chamarel and St Aubin are snapping at their heels.  St. Aubin made this phenomenal pot still 50% brutus and I can’t say enough good things about it. It has a 1960’s-style Batman style salad bar of Pow! Biff! Smash!  Brine, grass, herbs, salt beef and gherkins combine in a sweaty, hairy drink that is amazingly controlled white rhum reminiscent of both a clairin and a Jamaican.

[4] DDL Superior High Wine – Guyana

Nope, it’s not a wine, and it sure isn’t superior.  I’m actually unsure whether it’s still made any longer – and if it is, whether it’s made on the same still as before. Whatever the case, Guyanese swear by it, I got one of my first drunks on it back in University days, and the small bottle I got was pungent, fierce and just about dissolved my glass. At 69% it presents as grassy, fruity, and spicy, with real depth to the palate, and if it’s a raw scrape of testosterone-fuelled sandpaper on the glottis, well, I’ve warned you twice now.

[5] Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Brazil

Fair enough, there are thousands of cachacas in Brazil, and at best I’ve tried a couple of handfuls.  Of the few that crossed my path, whether aged or not, this one was a standout for smooth, sweet, aromatic flavours that delicately mixed up sweet and salt and a nice mouthfeel – even at 40% it presented well. Josh Miller scored it as his favourite with which to make a caipirinha some time back when he was doing his 14-rum cachaca challenge. Since it isn’t all that bombastic or adversarial, it may be one of the more approachable rums of its kind that is – best of all – quite widely available.

[6] Neisson L’Espirit 70° Blanc – Martinique

Breathe deep and easy on this one, and sip with care.  Then look at the glass again, because if your experience parallels mine, you’ll be amazed that this is a 140-proof falling brick of oomph – it sure doesn’t feel that way. In fact there’s a kind of creaminess mixed up with nuts and citrus that is extremely enjoyable, and when I tried (twice), I really did marvel that so much taste could be stuffed into an unaged spirit and contained so well.

[7] Rum Fire Velvet – Jamaica

Whew!  Major tongue scraper. Massive taste, funk and dunder squirt in all directions. Where these whites are concerned, my tastes tend to vacillate between clairins and Jamaicans, and here the family resemblance is clear.  Tasting notes like beeswax, rotten fruit and burnt sausages being fried on a stinky kero flame should not dissuade you from giving this one a shot at least once, though advisories are in order, it being 63% and all.

[8] Charley’s JB Overproof (same as J. Wray 63%) – Jamaica

A big-’n’-bad Jamaican made only for country lads for the longest while, before townies started screaming that the boys in the backdam shouldn’t have all the fun and it got issued more widely on the island. Very similar to the J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof with which it should share the spotlight, because they’re twins in all but name..

[9] Nine Leaves Clear 2015 – Japan

If Yoshiharu Takeuchi of the Japanese concern Nine Leaves wasn’t well known before he released the Encrypted for Velier’s 70th Anniversary, he should be. He’s a Japanese rum renaissance samurai, a one-man distillery operation, marketing manager, cook and candlestick maker – and his 50% unaged whites are excellent.  This one from 2015 melded a toned down kind of profile, redolent of soap, cinnamon, nutmeg, apples and other light fruits, and is somewhat better behaved than its Caribbean cousins…and a damned decent rum, a velvet sleeve within which lurks a well made glittering wakizashi. (the 2017 ain’t bad either).

[10] Cavalier Rum Puncheon White 65% – Antigua

Same as the 151 but with little a few less rabbits in its jock.  Since the Antigua Distiller’s 1981 25 year old was review #001 and I liked it tremendously (before moving on) I have a soft spot for the company…which shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this raging beast, because in it you can spot some of those delicate notes of blackberries and other fruit which I so enjoyed in their older offerings.  Strong yes, a tad thin, and well worth a try.

[11] Rum Nation Pot Still White 57% – Jamaica

One of the first Independents to go the whole hog with a defiantly unaged white.  It’s fierce, it’s smelly, it’s flavourful, and an absolute party animal. I call mine Bluto. It’s won prizes up and down the festival circuit (including 2017 Berlin where I tried it again) and with good reason – it’s great, attacking with thick, pot still funk and yet harnessing some delicacy and quieter flavours too.

[12] Kleren Nasyonal Traditionnal 22 Rhum Blanc – Haiti

Moscoso Distillers is the little engine that could – I suspect that if Velier had paused by their place back when Luca was sourcing Haitian clairins to promote, we’d have a fifth candidate to go alongside Sajous,Vaval, Casimir and La Rocher. Like most creole columnar still products made in Haiti, it takes some palate-adjustment to dial in its fierce, uncompromising nature properly. And it is somewhat rough, this one, perhaps even jagged. But the tastes are so joyously, unapologetically there, that I enjoyed it just as much as other, perhaps more genteel  products elsewhere on this list.

[13] Toucan 50% Rhum Blanc Agricole – French Guiana

This new white only emerged in the last year or two, and for a rum as new as this to make the list should tell you something.  I tried it at the 2017 Berlin rumfest and liked it quite a bit, because it skated the line between brine, olives, furniture polish and something sweeter and lighter (much like the Novo Fogo does, but with more emphasis)…and at 50% it has the cojones to back up its braggadocio. It’s a really good white rhum.

[14] Rum Nation Ilha de Madeira Agricole 2017

Lovely 45% white, with an outstanding flavour profile.  Not enough research available yet for me to talk about its antecedents aside from it being of Madeira origin and “natural” (which I take to mean unaged for the moment).  But just taste the thing – a great combo of soda pop and more serious flavours of brine, gherkins, grass, vanilla, white chocolate.  There’s edge to it and sweet and sour and salt and it comes together reallly well.  One of those rums that will likely gain wide acceptance because of being toned down some.  Reminds me of both the Novo Fogo and the St. Aubin whites, with some pot still Jamaican thrown in for kick.

[15] A1710 La Perle

A1710 is a new kid on the block out of Martinique, operating out of Habitation Simon.  This white they issued at 54.5% is one of the best ones I’ve tried.  Nose of phenols, swank, acetones, freshly sawn lumber, bolted onto a nearly indecently tasty palate of wax, licorice, sugar water, sweet bonbons and lemongrass.  It’s almost cachaca-like…just better.

This list was supposed to be ten but then it grew legs and fangs, so what the hell, here are a few more Honourable Mentions for the rabid among you…

[16] Marienburg 90% – Suriname

This is Blanc Vader. With two light sabers. Admittedly, I only included it to showcase the full power of the blanc side.  It’s not really that good.  However, if you have it (or scored a sample off me) then you’ve not only gotten two standard proofed bottles for the price of one but also the dubious distinction of possessing full bragging rights at any “I had the strongest rum ever” competition.  Right now, I’m one of the few of those.

[17] Sunset Very Strong Overproof 84.5%)

The runner up in the strength sweepstakes. Even at that strength, it has a certain creamy delicacy to it which elevates it above the Marienburg.  Overall, it’s not really suited for anything beyond a mix and more bragging rights — because the hellishly ferocious palate destroys everything in its path. It’s a Great White, sure…like Jaws.

[18] St. Nicholas Abbey Unaged White – Barbados

This is another very approachable white rum, unaged, a “mere” 40% which blew the Real McCoy 3 year old white away like a fart in a high wind. Part of it is its pot still antecedents.  It’s salty sweet (more sweet than salt) with a juicy smorgasbord of pretty flavours dancing lightly around without assaulting you at the same time.  A great combo of smoothness and quiet strength and flavour all at once, very approachable, and much more restrained (ok, it’s weaker) than others on this list.

[19] Vientain Loatan – Laos

Probably the least of all these rhums in spite of being bottled at 56%, and the hardest to find due to it hardly being exported, and mostly sold in Asia. On the positive side is the strength and the tastes, very similar to agricoles.  On the negative some of those tastes are bitter and don’t play well together, the balance is off and overall it’s a sharp and raw rhum akin to uncured vinegar, in spite of some sweet and citrus.  Hard to recommend, but hard to ignore too.  May be worth a few tries to come to grips with it.

[20] Mana’o Rhum Agricole Blanc – Tahiti

Not so unique, not so fierce, not so pungent as other 50% rums on this list, but tasty nevertheless.  Again, like Rum Nation’s Ilha de Madeira, it’s quite easily appreciated because the 50% ABV doesn’t corner you in an alley, grab you by the glottis and shake you down for your spare cash, and is somehow tamed into a more well-behaved sort of beast, with just a bit of feral still lurking behind it all.

[21] La Confrérie du Rhum 2014 Cuvée Speciale Rhum Blanc – Guadeloupe

A hot, unaged, spicy 50% blanc, with an estery nose, firm body and all round excellent series of tastes that do the Longueteau operation proud.  It’s lighter than one might expect for something at this strength, and overall is a solid, tasty and well-put-together white rhum. La Confrerie is a quasi-independent operation run by Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany and they do single cask bottlings from time to time – their focus is agricoles, and all that knowledge and promotion sure isn’t going to waste.


So there you have it, a whole bunch of modern white rums spanning the globe for you to take a look at (as noted above, I’ve missed some, but then, I haven’t tried them all).  

I used to think that whites were offhand efforts tossed indifferently into the rum lineup by producers who focused on “more serious work” and gave them scant attention, as if they were the bastard offspring of glints in the milkman’s eye. No longer.

Nowadays they are not only made seriously but taken seriously, and I know several bartenders who salivate at the mere prospect of getting a few of these torqued up high-tension hooches to play with as they craft their latest cocktail.  I drink ‘em neat, others mix ‘em up, but whatever the case, it is my firm belief you should try some of the rums on this list at least once, just to see what the hell the ‘Caner is ranting on about.  I almost guarantee you won’t be entirely disappointed.

And bored?  No chance.


Other notes

Consider this a companion piece to Josh Miller’s excellent rundown of 12 agricoles, taken from his perspective of how they fare in a Ti Punch.

Aug 022017
 

#381

Novo Fogo is the first cachaça I’ve ever tried that went off the reservation and hammered me in the face even at a relatively staid 40%.  It was so different from the regular run of sugar-water-plus-local-wood flavours to which I had become accustomed in my (as yet) brief acquaintanceship with the Brazilian national spirit, that I literally pulled my face back from the glass, muttered a disbelieving “wtf?” and spent another five minutes closely perusing the label to make sure I had not been taken for a ride.  But no, it had been an unopened bottle, it had some tasting notes on the label not a million miles removed from what I was sensing, and it all seemed quite legit…except that it was about as subtle as a bitchslap from Ser Gregor Clegane on a bad hair day. And I mean that in a good way.

The producer of this interesting cachaça is a company called Agroecologia Marumbi SA, from Morretes PR (Parana) which is located in the south of Brazil, not Minas Gerais where supposedly the best and most traditional cachacas are made.  Novo Fogo (“New Fire” in Portuguese) is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of pride and quality, according to the distillery founder Fulgencio Viruel who started the operation in 2004. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still (another point of departure, since most of the well known cachacas are done on column stills), and then rested – not aged – for one year in a stainless steel vat before being bottled without any filtration or additions.  So there. Aged variations exist, but I didn’t get a chance to try any.  Given the impact this one had on me, I should really try some more.

I say impact not so much because of great beauty of construction or masterful subtlety of assembly, but because the thing is startlingly good for a standard strength Brazilian table tipple, if perhaps somewhat at right angles to others I had tried before – it’s something like a concussive Delicana’s Jequitiba, or an amped-up Thoquino.  Nothing demonstrated this more clearly than the initial nose (the very first note in my battered notebook was “Damn – this thing is serious!”) where I immediately sensed an intense vegetal aroma of rotting fruits, bananas, overripe red wiri-wiri peppers in vinegar (but without the heat). It was followed up by strong, distinct brine and olives, salt, wax, sugar cane sap and lemon zest, and frankly, what it reminded me more than anything else was a Clairin Sajous, if perhaps not as powerful.

Thankfully it did not sample as sharp as the aroma suggested and that might make it somewhat more approachable than those who took flight from the Sajous and its cousins (assuming one’s tastes bend that way, mind you – and that’s not a given).  It was quite heated, firm and crisp, rather rich and solid, with a more characteristic sugar water taste coming forward now, not entirely displacing the wax and salt and olives which persisted quite strongly (along with the peppers).  More lemon zest was here, some black pepper, apples, vegetals and some fleshy fruit like overripe pineapples.  The balance was a bit off – the brine and olives never really let go, which made the fruitiness recede somewhat and reduced my enjoyment, but overall it was a pretty good cachaça — if one keeps in mind my predilection for clairins, which this one closely resembled.  Finally, it closed off, rapidly, leaving behind nothing much more than the memories of swank, fresh mown grass and that lemon-pepper salt which my wife complains I overuse in what little cooking I can be persuaded to do.

Now, I’ve read online notes that talk about the easy entry, how it is smooth and soft, and then wax rhapsodic about its various competing flavours (the last of which I believe), but I stand here telling you that it’s not really as easy as all that: this thing is a dirty, off-kilter little dragon that seems to be just waiting for an opportunity to jump down your throat and toast your chest to medium-rare – but it’ll do it with finesse, with some style. It’s quite a fire-breathing, smoke-exhaling cachaça, and is in my limited experience the most original and interesting spirit of that kind I have tried to date. Admittedly I have an obnoxious love for obscure and powerful tastes that borders on the masochistic, so I liked the fact that here there was a rum — charged-up, drinkable, original and in its own way, quite remarkable — made in that same vein. It’s worth trying it, I believe, just to see where the whole experience goes, to spend a lot of time figuring out…and, perhaps, just perhaps, to savour.

(83/100)


Other notes

This review is quite late to the party since Novo Fogo has been available in the States for years (the first review I found dates back to 2011). And, as ever one step ahead of me, Josh Miller at Inuakena had run it through his 14-sample Cachaça Challenge back in early 2015 and rated it….wait for it…as his #1.

May 252017
 

#367

In my own limited experience, Neisson has been one of the most distinctive Martinique agricole makers I’ve come across.  There’s something salty, oily, tequila-ish and musky in those of their rums I’ve tried, and while this might not always be to my liking, the quality of their work could never be denied.  To date, I’ve stuck with their aged rums, but back in 2016 L’homme à la Poussette (I’m thinking his poussette should be retired soon as his kids grow up but I hope he never changes the name of his site) passed along this ferocious white rhino, perhaps to gleefully observe my glottis landing in Albania.  

Now, this rum is something of a special edition, initially released in 2002 for the 70th Anniversary of the distillery, and annually without change thereafter – it is rested for six months in steel tanks after being taken off their Savalle still, but it is not aged in any way.  Although the resolutely family-owned distillery is now 85 years old, the rum retains the original title, perhaps because of its popularity among the rabid cognoscenti, who enjoy its 70⁰ ABV and the 70cl square bottle  Maybe some enterprising mathematician could work out how the sums of the corners and angles on the thing added up to or produced 70 — for my money, I’m more interested in whether the company releases more than 70 bottles a year or not, because for anyone who likes white lightning – whether for a cocktail or to brave by itself – this unaged rum is definitely up there with the best (or craziest).

You could tell that was the case just by smelling it: clearly Neisson felt that the subtle, light milquetoasts of the independent full proofs or the clairins (who bottle at a “mere” 60% or so) needed a kick in the pants to get them to up their game and join the Big Boys. The sheer intensity of the nose left me gasping – salt, wax, paraffin and floor polish billowed out hotly without any warning, accompanied by the sly note of well-worn, well-polished leather shoes (oxfords, not brogues, of course).  Nothing shy here at all, and the best thing about it – once I got past the heat – was what followed: coconut cream, almonds, olives, fruits (cherries, apricots, papaya, tart mangoes), all bedded down in a bath of sugar water and watermelon, and presenting themselves with attitude. If I was telling a story, I’d wax lyrical by saying the ground moved, trees shook, and an electric guitar solo was screaming in the background…but you kinda get the point already, right?

Oh, and that’s not all – the tasting was still to come. And so, be warned – 70 degrees of badass carves a glittering blade of heat down your throat, as surgically precise and sharp as a Swiss army knife.  A hot, spicy, and amazingly smooth sweet sugar water — spiked with stewed prunes, lemon zest, wet grass and gherkins in brine — roared across the palate.  With its brought-forward notes of polish and wax and grassiness, I felt like it was channelling the gleeful over-the-top machismo of a clairin, yet for all that enormous conflation of clear and crisp tastes, it still felt (and I know this is difficult to believe) smoother, creamier and more tamed than lesser-proofed whites like the Rum Nation 57%, Charley’s J.B. Jamaican white, the Clairin Sajous or the Klérin Nasyonal….which says a lot for how well the L’Esprit is actually made.  And the finish was no slouch either, long and very warm, salt butter and cereals mixing it up with some citrus, red grapefruit, more grass and even a hint of the smooth salty oiliness of a well-made tequila.

“How the hell did they stuff so much taste into the bottle?” I asked myself in wonder. Perhaps the unwritten, unspoken codicil is “…and not muck it all up into an unfocussed mess?”  Well, they did provide the profile, they didn’t muck it up, I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it was only later that I realized that in a world where Ringling Brothers can fit fifteen fat clowns into a Mini, I should not have been so surprised, when it’s obvious that in the rumiverse just about anything is possible.  Certainly Neisson proved it here.

You know how we hear the old joke about “Rum is the coming thing….and always will be”? This kind of statement is regularly and tiresomely trumpeted by all the know-nothing online drinks magazines who have their lazy hacks attempt to pen a few words or make up a click-bait list about a subject on which they are woefully ill-equipped to speak.  Still…take that statement a bit further.  I honestly believe that as the stocks of old and majestic 20+ or 30+ rums run out or are priced out of existence, it will soon become the turn of unaged, unfiltered white rums to take center stage and become De Nex’ Big Ting.  I accept that for the most part these will be cocktail bases — but for the enterprising, for the slightly addled, for the adventurous among us, for those who are willing to step off the path and enter Mirkwood directly, the real next undiscovered country lies with these white mastodons which showcase much of the amazing talent that remains in our world, needing only the bugling of an enthusiastic drinker or an enthusiastic writer, to bring them to a wider audience.  

(86/100)


Other notes

I should mention that Josh Miller of Inu A Kena ran the Neisson 70 through a 12-rum agricole challenge a while back.  If you’re not into neat drinks so much but love a cocktail, that article is worth a re-visit.

Mar 152017
 

#349

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost suggest this was a clairin.  It was so potent and pungent, so powerful in taste and profile, that I had to double up the amount of controls I was tasting it with, just to make sure it really was a Jamaican rum and not some uncured white lightning out of Haiti.  If you ever thought that Jamaicans were getting too easy, or you were getting bored with the regular run of Appletons, allow me to recommend (cautiously) this amazing white popskull from Hampden estate, which was gifted to me by Gregers and Henrik in the 2015 ‘Caner Afterparty, just so they could see my eyes water and my palate disappear while they laughed themselves silly.

Can’t say I blame them.  Now, you would imagine that when a bunch of us grog-blog boyos get together, it’s a genteel sort of affair in a discreet private club, brogues and black tie in evidence as we dignifiedly pass glasses around, and reverently open bottles like the Longpond 1941 or a Trois Rivieres 1975 while making sober and snooty judgements in hushed tones about nose and palate and so on.  Yeah…but no.  What actually goes on is that a pack of noisy, rowdy, scruffy reviewers from all points of the compass descends on a dingy apartment, each loudly and aggressively shoving their newest acquisitions onto the table, demanding they be opened and tried (twice!), and a sort of cheerful one-upmanship is the name of the game.  Quality doesn’t come into it, shock value does, and boy oh boy, did they ever succeed in taking the crown on this one.

I mean, just sniff this rum.  Go on, I dare ya. It was a 63% ABV salt-and-petrol concussive blast right away.  Forget about letting it breathe, it didn’t need that: it exploded out of the starting blocks like my wife spotting a 90%-off sale, and the immediate pungency of fusel oils, brine, beeswax, rotten fruit, wet cardboard, and sausages frying on a stinky gas fire took my schnozz by storm and never let go. Merde, but this was one hot piece of work.  Frankly, it reminded me of the JB Trelawny rum and Appleton’s own Overproof, also bottled at 63%, and oddly, of the Sajous. I immediately added a few clairins to the Jamaican controls on the table, and yes, there were discernible differences, though both shared some emergent flavours of sugar water and pickled gherkins and maybe some sweeter red olives – and the tartness of green apples and a bit of lemon.  But as for any kind of “standard” profile?  Not really.  It was having too much fun going its own way and punching me in the face, and represented Hampden in fine style.

Oh and this was not limited to the nose.  Tasting it was as exhilarating as skydiving with a parachute your ex-girlfriend just packed.  Again, the first impression was one of sharp heat (warning – trying this with your cigar going in the other side of your mouth is not recommended), and then there was a curious left turn into what was almost agricole territory – watermelon, flowers, sugar water, as hot and crisp and creamy as a freshly baked Danish cookie.  It was only after adding some water that a more ‘Jamaican’ set of notes came out to grab the brass ring – more olives, salted avocados and overripe fruit, wax, some very faint floor polish, tied together with the tiniest hint of citrus, vanilla and leather, before it all dissipated into a lovely, long, warm finish that coughed up some closing notes of sweet soya and teriyaki before finally, finally, passing into the great beyond of boring tasting notes in a notebook.

Whew!  This was a hell of a rum. I apologize in advance for sounding elitist, but really, the regular run of rum drinkers should approach this rum with some caution, or water it down or push it into a mix, lest it colour one’s perception of unaged white hooch forever.  I have a feeling it was made to appeal to those who want vibrant, pot-still full-proofs with real edge and a ginormous series of hot-snot flavour notes that take a smart right turn from reality.  Yes, of course it’ll make a cocktail that would stop just short of self-combustion (and there might lie its mainstream appeal rather than for masochistic nutcases who proudly drink it neat), but I submit that for the adventurous among you, taking it by itself is quite some experience, one that should not be missed.  It’s hot, it’s massive, it’s tasty, and for sure the makers weren’t kidding when they put the word “fire” in the title.  If the amount of amazed and joyful expletives (in seven languages) during a tasting is a measure of a rum’s appeal, then this one has to be one of the funnest, craziest rums I’ve sampled in quite some time, and I recall it with great fondness even after all this time.

(82/100)

Other notes

  • Made by and at Hampden estate, whose history is covered on their webpage
  • Triple distilled heavy pot still rum.  There’s no notation on age, but for my money, it has not been aged at all, another similarity it shares with the clairins
  • Not sure what the difference is between the straight “Rum Fire” and the “Rum Fire Velvet” – maybe it’s just the label, maybe it’s the triple distillation.

 

Mar 152017
 

Starts off weird and then develops very nicely

#348

A recent post on the reddit rum forum – perhaps the only real Q&A alternative to FB rum clubs on the net – remarked on the discovery by one person of Japanese rum, using the Ryoma 7 year old as an example.  Having written about that particular product – I thought it an interesting essay in the craft, having a profile both similar to and at odds with, more traditional rums with which we are more familiar — I remembered this other one by Ogasawara which I bought in Paris last year, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue.

I have to confess that the initial sensations on the nose were absolutely not my cup of tea (my notes read “shudderingly weird”), right up to the point where through some magical transformation the whole thing did an ugly duckling on me and (somewhat amazingly, from my perspective), turned into quite a credible swan. It started off with light oil and petrol, and was really briny, like a martini with five olives in it, leaving me wondering whether it was a pot still product (I never did find out).  In its own way it seemed to channel a cachaca, or unaged juice straight from the still, except that it was too unbalanced for that.  There was white pepper, masala, sugar water, cinnamon, a flirt of watermelon and pears, and a bouillon with too many maggi-cubes (I’m not making this up, honestly).  Somehow, don’t ask me how, after ten minutes or so, it actually worked, though it’ll never be my favourite white rum to smell.

Fortunately the Ogasawara settled down and got down to rum business on the palate, which was very pleasant to taste.  The 40% helped here, lending a sort of gentling down of the experience.  It presented as reasonably warm and smooth, the salt disappeared, leaving a light and sweet sugar water and watermelon tastes flavoured with cardamom, mint and dill, with traces of vanilla and caramel.  Water brought out more – very brief and very faint notes of olives, fusel oil and delicate flowers which gave some much-needed balance and character to the experience.  Although it was a molasses based product, it seemed to channel elements of an agricole spirit as well, in an interesting amalgam of both — something like a Guadeloupe white rhum, just not as good.  But if one were looking for a true molasses rum redolent of the Caribbean, forget it – that wasn’t happening here: it was too individual for that.  The finish was probably the weakest point of the whole affair, here one moment, gone the next, warm, light, clear, but hardly remarkable aside from a quick taste of cinnamon, cardamom, and sweet rice pudding.

The Ogasawara islands are also known as the Bonin (or “uninhabited”) Islands and are part of an archipelago of that name. The first Europeans are said to have come in in 1543 (supposedly a Spanish explorer, Bernardo de la Torre); one of the islands, Hahajima was originally called Coffin Island or Hillsborough Island and settled by a few Americans and Europeans and other pacific islanders around 1830. One of them, an American called Nathaniel Savory, traded bathtub-style hooch (I suppose they could be called rums) made from locally planted cane with whaling ships. By 1880 they became administratively a part of the Tokyo prefecture, and the commercial cultivation of sugar cane and sugar manufacture dates from this period. Rice based alcohols are of course a tradition in Japan but rums in the modern sense of the word have only existed since 1940 or so – however, most are classified as shochu for tax reasons (rum is taxed more heavily). Placed under American control after the end of World War II, the Islands returned to Japan in 1968, and after many years of efforts to reinvigorate the culture of sugar cane which existed on the island before, Ogasawara Rum Liqueur Company was founded and its first put rum on sale in 1992.  They still don’t produce much of a range.

Not much info on the rum itself is available.  I was informed via a Japanese friend of mine that it’s double-distilled in a stainless steel pot still.  There are stories about how it was aged for under a year on the sea bed by the source islands, but I’m not clear whether it’s this rum, or a rum made on Ogasawara and where the title is used as an adjective. Plus, if it was aged that way, it had to have been filtered, again without confirmation of any kind.  So this turned into one of those occasions where I really did taste it blind, and what you’re getting is an unvarnished opinion of a rum about which very little is known aside from strength and basic source.

As a person who has had rums from all over the world, I am a firm believer that terroire and culture both impact on the rums various regions make, which is why you’ll never confuse a Bajan with a Jamaican, or either with a Martinique rhum, for example (or with a Guyanese wooden still product).  Japan’s small and venerable producers, to my mind, benefit from their unique Okinawan cane (much as Dzama rhums on Madagascar do with theirs) as well as being somewhat limited by their predilection for sake and shochu, which are quite different from western spirits and impart their own taste profiles that define and please local palates.

Given its vibrant whiskey industry and lack of attention to our tipple of choice, it’s clear Japan still has some catching up to do if it wants to make a splash and win real acceptance in the wider rum world as a producer of a unique variant of rum. Nine Leaves is already making strides in this direction, and it remains to be seen whether other small (or large) producers will edge into the market as well.  If they do, it’s going to be interesting to see how they approach the making of their rums, the marketing, and the disclosure.

(78/100)

Mar 062017
 

#347

By now, just about everyone in the rum world is aware of clairins, those indigenous crude white taste bombs out of Haiti, and once again, points have to be given to the farsightedness of Luca Gargano, who brought them to the attention of the wider world by promoting and distributing the Sajous, Vaval and the Casimir.  Unfortunately, the acclaim these three have garnered have somewhat eclipsed any other clairins – and when supposedly some 500+ small outfits make the juice on the half-island, one can only imagine what else of interest is lurking there waiting to be discovered by anyone who loves crazy, speaks patois and has a 4×4.

One that came across my radar not too long ago was the Kreyol Kléren series of rums made by a company called Mascoso Distillers, sometimes as Barik – a real company, not some garage-based pop-and-pup moonshinery making it with granny’s recipe for the relatives on the weekend jump-up.  I ended up buying two of them and getting a sample of a third, which caused the customs officials in Frankfurt some real puzzlement as they had no clue what the hell this stuff was and required no end of paperwork from Michael (the owner) to prove that it was a rum, why the price was so low, how come they were all around 55% and no, they weren’t meant to be weaponized.

You can understand their confusion (or trepidation).  The Kléren Nasyonal Traditionnel 22 (a supposed “rhum agricole artisanal superior” based on the label, but not really, since the source is a sugar mash not sugar cane juice, and the label is a graphic design error) had an initial smell that was like inhaling a small fire-breathing sweet-toothed dragon.  It was fierce, herbal and salty, and reminded me somewhat of that long-ago sonofabitch in the playground in second form who rabbit punched me in the schnozz without warning.  I was using all three of the other (Velier-distributed) clairins for controls here, and what I sensed with the Nasyonal was their genesis taking form.  It was not as cultured as the Vaval or the Casimir, and even the Sajous was somewhat more tamed (when was the last time you read that about those three?), but in its very basic and elemental nature lay much of its attraction.  It was rough and jagged and yet still joyously powerful, eventually giving up more leafy notes (basil, maybe), sugar cane sap, with much of the same salty wax and swank taste I remembered so well from the others.

Thankfully the rhum settled itself down some when I was tasting it and now edged closer to the quality of my controls.  Oh sure, it was still liquid sandpaper and not for the weak (or those preferring softer brown fare) – I would never try to convince you otherwise.  Yet behind all that macho display of sweat and stink squirting from every pore was some pretty interesting stuff – sweet sugar water and herbal cane juice again, some gherkins in vinegar, and salt and olive oil and dill backing it all up.  Phenomenal, long finish, by the way, making up some for the brutality of the preceding experience, suggesting salt and herbs and (again) cane juice. Not the most complex drink ever made, of course, and after taking it out back and beating my palate a time or three, it occurred to me to wonder, if Luca had smacked his label on it, would I have been able to tell the difference? (So I had the wife give me all four blind, and I was just able to pinpoint the Sajous and the Klerin but mixed up the Casimir and the Vaval – it was the edge on the first two that gave them away).

Clairins may be made in every bottom-house, backhouse and outhouse on Haiti, where jury rigged creole stills are slapped together from mouldy leather jockstraps, old bata flip-flops and disused petrol cans (probably with duct tape).  And yes, many of them are probably best left undiscovered, or relegated to those with noses, palates and livers more robust than mine.  This one, the least of the three I’m going through, possesses enough points of distinction to merit a recommendation, so long as your tastes run in this direction.  It’s a massive, Duke Nukem style hot shock to the system, displaying zero couth yet uncompromisingly boasting a uniqueness worthy of note.  I can’t entirely or unreservedly praise the rhum, but it must be said, when I was trying it, I sure as hell wasn’t bored. I doubt you would be either, no matter how your experience turns out.

(82/100)

Other Notes

The significance of the “22” lies in the proof point.  Under the Cartier scale this translates into 55% ABV, while the more common Gay-Lussac scale equating to 55% / 110 proof is used everywhere else in the world.  The scale here is a peculiarity of Haiti, as is the word “Traditionnel” which on Haiti means an agricole, not a molasses based rum.

Straight from still to bottle, no ageing at all.

Barik’s rhums are very affordable for those with an adventurous bent, and best of all, they’re sold in 200ml bottles as well.  This is a conscious decision by Michael Moscoso, the owner, who understands that for it to sell even locally in a time of competition and adulterated Chinese crap trucked over the border, small bottles at affordable prices must be part of the sales strategy.  Given how many full sized bottles I buy in a single year, I can’t help but applaud that.

Barik has a fairly robust heritage.  Founded by Michael “Didi” Moscoso’s grandfather way back in the early 1900s, it is now supposedly the fourth largest in Haiti, but plagued by infrastructure problems and those cheap ethanol derivatives.  There’s a separate biography, here

Feb 032017
 

#340

Cachaças are, as any rum pundit is aware, those cane juice based rums that are not called agricoles because they are made in Brazil rather than the French Caribbean islands. Geography aside, they have two major points of difference – one, they are often age in Brazilian woods of one kind or another, and two, those that are available outside Brazil are almost all made to be mixed in a caipirinha, not to be had neat. I’ve heard that over a thousand varieties made domestically, and the best of them are sold only there, and many top end aged variations exist… unfortunately few, if any, are ever exported, which creates the illusion that they are low end rums as a whole, and to this day they take second place to aged agricoles.  Which is a shame, really, for it denies the rum world of potentially world beating products.  

Thoquino is a company formed in 1906 by Thomaz de Aquino, and is located in Sao Joao de Barra, the Campos area just north of Rio de Janeiro, where sugar cane cultivation goes back to the earliest colonization of Brazil in the 16th century and which is considered the “traditional” area from which the best cachaças originate. The company has its own sugar cane fields, which apparently is somewhat unusual for a Brazilian distilling company, and which allows it to control and integrate the entire process from cultivation to the final product, in-house. The spirit derives from fresh pressed cane juice which is fermented for an unusually long eight days, and then double distilled (I suspected it is filtered as well); there is no information available on any ageing, and since normally both age and the wood in the barrels is proudly trumpeted to the heavens, I’d suggest this is a zero year old. No information on stills is available.

Having written all the above, how’s the rum?  Well, nosing the clear 40% spirit made  it clear that it stemmed from the same family tree as the Haitian clairins and the Capo Verde grog, if not quite as raw or brutal aggressive; and I formed the sneaking (if entirely personal and unconfirmed) suspicion that it hailed from a creole coffey still.  It smelled sweet, yes, with black pepper, oil and brine in there somewhere (sort of tequila-like but with less salt), sharp and uncompromising as a zealot’s hot glare.  Over time it turned vegetal, with more pronounced aromas of sugar water, citrus and (get this!) cinnamon rolls hot from the oven.

The taste was initially quite lovely, rolling light and sweet and (relatively) smooth across the tongue.  It wasn’t complex in any way, but it was pleasing in its own understated fashion.  There were some flowers and fleshy fruits —  pineapple, bananas — in an uneasy mix with sharper pepper and citrus rind, sort of held together by the vegetal sugar water, and in the background there lurked the toned-down notes of olives and brine, held under tight control, leading to a short, sweet, light and overall unexceptional fade.  

As tasting notes went, the cachaça more or less confirmed its antecedents without trying to break the mould.  Since it was advertised and marketed specifically as a caipirinha agent, perhaps it would be churlish expect a top end spirit here, and indeed, the company does make an aged version (aged in Jetiquiba wood) which I have not tried. So all in all, a straightforward mixing agent then.

Still, maybe it’s time for some enterprising rum maker to take a plunge and start promoting the best of the cachaças in the western markets.  Not the good quality young stuff, but the really amazing rums which only Brazilians are aware and which remain unknown to the majority.  Bert Ostermann of the German company Delicana has tried with limited success to do so, some independent bottlers like L’Espirit have issued the occasional aged bottle, and we need more.  Although the Thoquino and others I’ve tried may not quite be there (yet),  we should keep an eye on Brazil in the years to come, for their rums point the way to another facet of the ever changing rumiverse.  If Luca ever decides to go there, watch out.

(77/100)