Jun 172021
 

 

Recapping some background for William Hintonit is a Madeira based distillery with antecedents as far back as 1845; at one point, in the 1920s, it was the largest sugar factory on the island if not in Europebut in 1986 it ceased operations for two decades, 1, and was then restarted in 2006 under the name Engenho Novo da Madeira, still making branded rum under the Hinton banner. They make their own rums as well as exporting bulk elsewhere, which is how Fabio Rossi picked a few up for his Rare Rums collection back in 2017.

The company has three tiers of rum quality, with the lowest level being considered basic backbar “service” rums for mixing: there are three of these, from a 40% white we looked at in #829, a 9 months aged, and one that’s three years old. That 40% white was a flaccid agricole that could conceivably put a drinker to sleep out of simple boredom, but things get a lot more jazzed up and a whole lot more interesting with the premium or “Limited” level white (labelled as “Natural”). Neatly put, the two classes of rums generally and the two whites in particular, are night and day.

Some the stats of the two whites in the classes are the samecolumn still, cane juice originthey are both agricoles. Fermented for 2-3 days with wild yeast (the other was 24 hours), and then run through that old refurbished column still that had been decommissioned (but kept) from the original estate at Funchal (Engenho do Torreão) when things shut down in 1986. And then, as if dissatisfied with this nod at tradition, they released the premium version without any ageing at all (unlike the “service” white which had been aged and then filtered back to transparency). It was also left at full strength, which is a serious attention grabbing 69%, enough to make the glass tremble, just a bit.

That combination of zero ageing and high strength made the Edição Limitada blanco very much like some of those savage white rums I’ve written about here and here. And that’s a good thingtoo often, when a company releases two rums of the same production process but differing proofs, it’s like all they do is take the little guy, chuck it on the photocopier and pressed “enlarge”. Not here. Oh no. Here, it’s a different rum altogether.

The nose, for example, is best described as “serious”an animal packing heat and loaded for bear: it starts with salt, brine, olives, wax, rubber, polish, and yet, the whole time it feels clearfierce, yes, but clear neverthelessand almost aromatic, not weighed down with too little frantically trying to do too much. A bit fruity, herbal to a fault, particularly mint, dill, sage and touch of thyme. There are some citrus notes and a warm kind of vegetal smell that suggests a spicy tom yum soup with quite a few mean-looking pimentos cruising around in it.

I particularly want to call attention to the palate, which is as good or better than that nose, because that thing happily does a tramping stomping goose step right across the tongue and delivers oodles of flavour: it’s like a sweeter version of the Paranubes, with rubber, salt, raisins and a cornucopia of almost ripe and fleshy fruits that remain hard and tart. The taste is herbal (thyme and dill again), and also sports olives, vanilla, unsweetened yoghurt, and a trace of almost apologetic mint to go with the fruity heat. The finish is excellentlong and salty, loads of spices and herbs, and a very peculiar back note of minerals and ashes. These don’t detract from it, but they are odd to notice at all and I guess they are there to remind you not to take it for granted.

The rhum, in short, is amazing. It upends several notions of how good a white can be and for my money gives Wray & Nephew 63% White Overproof some real competition in that category and even exceeds the Rivers Royale 69% out of Grenada, though they are different in their construction and don’t taste the quite same. The flavours are hot and spicy and there’s lots of them, yet they never get in each other’s way and are well balanced, complex to a fault and good for any purpose you might wish to put it.

What this all leaves us with, then, is an agricole rhum that is powerful, herbal, floral and all round tasteful. It’s quality is in fact such a jump up from the “Service” white that I really must suggest you try the more premium rums, and this one, only after exploring the cheaper variants. Because if you do it the other way round you’ll really not want to have that much to do with the lesser parts of Hinton’s overall range. The Limitada excites that kind of admiration, and happily, it deserves every bit of it.

(#830)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • The rum is issued in lots (or batches), by year, and all front labels tell you which one it is (here it’s Lot #1 of 2017), though not how many lots in that year. Each such batch is 500 bottles or sohence the “Limitada” in the nameand both this and the bottle number is mentioned on the back label.
Nov 072019
 

It’s when you smell and then taste the Strand 101° (58% ABV) rum from South Africa’s Mhoba, that you begin to get an appreciation for what this relative newcomer has accomplished in so short a time. The initial punch is all pot still, all righteous reek, all the timethere’s no holding back and it’s just fascinating to inhale. It smells sharply of paint thinner, nail polish, turpentine and rancid fruit left to go bad in the sunafter a tropical rain, with the steam still coming off the ground. It contains the tartness of a lemon meringue pie mixed up with green apples and gooseberries and a flaky, buttery crust. Sugar cane sap, cider, sour cream, brine, and the rising aromas off a loaf of sourdough bread fresh from the oven. And over all that is the clear scent of candy floss and bubble gum. I mean, is that a great beginning or what? If I closed my eyes I could hear the Wailers.

A combination of rums from a single stillpart was aged, part was unaged, and blended after the factthe taste was low key and enormously satisfying, and it reminded me of nothing so much as a slightly off-kilter Smith & Cross. Which is not surprising, since that was exactly what they were aiming for (see below). Right away there came a blast of rotten and overripe fruits doused with caramel, then baked into a pie (yeah, I know how that sounds). Strawberries, white chocolate, apricots, bubble gum, vanilla, toffee and nuts. There’s just enough to make for complexity, some real funkiness, yet held back enough to make for a a fascinating, well-balanced synthesis.

Mhoba’s white was uniquely itself, while French cask suffered (only in my opinion) from trying to be too much and the elements jangled restlessly and failed to come togetherhere there was no such problem. Even the finish succeededlong, dry, briny, creamy and toffee-like. There was a touch of citrus and tart sweetness, and the fruits relinquished the stage, ceding the foreground and taking a step back.

The Strand 101° was specifically designed by Knud Strand, a colourful Danish distributor who worked closely with Robert Greaves (as he had with many brands before) to bring the Mhoba line to market. What he was looking for was to create a blend of unaged and aged rum from pot stills, adhering to something of the S&C profile but from only one still (not two or more). He was messing around with samples some time back and after making his selections finally came back to two, both fullproofone, slightly aged was too woody, with the other unaged one perhaps too funky.

The idea to market such a rum to the South African high-end bar scene, while ensuring it would not tread on the corns of or compete with Havana Club or Bacardi (who had commercial contractual relations with many of them), and at the same time provide a balance of freshness, funkiness and woodiness. He mixed them up in varying proportions and came up with one blend that was so absolutely right that after testing it around and being given loads of plaudits, he and Greaves decided to bottle it. And in a gesture of unusual generosity, Greaves named it after Knud, since, as he put it, “It is your blend.”

Well, the story may have a few more steps, and maybe there’s more (or less) than I’ve recounted. What’s clear to me is how good the rum really is. Just about everything works here, the strength, the still, the cuts, the assembly, the balance between babyhood and youth, herbals and woods, the lot. It’s a rum without doubt hewing to the path of rums of yore, while twisting things just a smidgen to highlight it own origin, its own still and its own design. If one small outfit with a tinkered pot still and some gumption can make a series of rums so well, so fast (and it really does seem to be something of a trend nowadays, doesn’t it?) then not only will the better known Caribbean houses have to make some room for this new kid and others like it, but you know what? — they may seriously have to up their game and look to their laurels, because a whole raft of such new and nimble fast-movers is coming.

(#673)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • The small South African company of Mhoba needs no more introduction after Steve James’s three part write up (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), and the more recent Rum Revelations interview, but I include the links here for completeness.
  • The blend is roughly 50-50 between the unaged high ester component and the very slightly aged part, depending on their relative concentrations. Strength is 58% which in Imperial measurements works out to 101 proof.
  • The blue and gold colours of the label were chosen in homage to the Smith & Cross Jamaican rum which was its initial inspiration.
Nov 042019
 

There was a lot of interest in and written about Mhoba between the UK 2018 and Paris 2019 rumfests, and when one checks out the rums they make, it’s not hard to see why. It’s from a unique part of the world, has been deep-dived by Steve James in a thee-part-post that could hardly be bettered (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 are here), has a pot still action going on, and the rums themselves are solidly distinct. So we should beware of letting them fall off our mental rum radar in between exposbecause they’re good, and, perhaps more important, well made, unmessed-with, cask strength, and very, very original.

Mhoba’s founder Robert Greaves originally considered making a South African version of cachacabut fortunately for us, changed his mind. He built his own small stills (many of them, each evolving from the previous iteration), played around with the technical aspects of crushing, fermenting and distilling for two years, applied for a Liquor License in South Africa, and it all finally came together in 2015. Initial samples sent to the Miami Rum Festival in 2016 resulted in more tweaking, and by 2018 he had a blend of rum aged for about a year in six scraped, scoured, seared and toasted French oak casks (the epic of how he ended up there is worth a read so head over to Rum Revelations for some background), which he presented in London that yearthough the one I tried was from a six-months-older blend of the same barrels, which yielded 330 bottles and which was shown off in the Paris Rumfest in early 2019.

This is where good labelling helps understand what you’re getting. Mine read that it was a sugar cane juice rum, single blended, the bottle outturn (330 bottles, of which this was a sample), batch 2019FC1, South African made, and 65% ABV (ouch!). Actually, the only things missing from the label were the age statement (website says just over a year) and the still of origin (it’s a pot still), which I imagine subsequent labels will correct, especially as additional aged varietals begin to enter the market and a stock of different aged expressions gets built upalready, the company site lists eight different rums, so they’re not wasting any time.

I liked the pungency and herbal nature of Mhoba’s white rum, and remarked it compared nicely to a Neisson or a civilized clairin. The French cask was a horse of a different colour, though I can’t definitively state whether this was because of the ageing, the cuts made or the tweaking of the still. One thing for surethe casks had their say here. Just the nose made that clearvery little of the vegetal, herbal notes of the white made it through here. Indeed, what I smelled was a combination of dialled-down Jamaican funksharp, overripe, sour fruits, oddly shy for such a powerful rumcombined with damp cardboard, hot earth after a rain, and paint thinner. Gradually, over the half hour I spent smelling it, it released citrus zest, toffee, chocolate oranges, dill and just a hint of brine. And yet it remained curiously indistinct, hard to come to grips with and pick apart.

The palate was better, very dry, very strong, yet that vagueness persisted here too, if perhaps not as much. Sour fruits gone off were theremangoes, apricots, peaches, cashews (the ones with the seeds outside) — plus mint, dill and rosemary, brine, ginger and lemongrass. These were the sharper aspects, balanced off by some light coffee, caramel, wine, black grapes and those dusky earth and cardboard and coffee notes, leading to a roaring sharp finish which was long and dry, closing off with hints of nuts, coffee, caramel, and a last whiff of fruitiness

I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this. The minimal ageing toned down the rawness of an unaged spirit in a way that polished off some of the rough edges, so that was good; the additional fruitiness imparted by the Cape Brandy left in the staves (even after the sanding and scraping away of a few millimeters of impregnated wood) was niceoverall, it was a solid, strong drink. This, paradoxically, was also its weakness. The strength was so great that it overpowered the subtle notes that a mere year-and-a-bit of ageing had provided, and it failed to cohere in a way that would allow the individual taste components to shine more. Here then was a rum that I felt could either use some more ageing, or some water, and indeed I did put a few drops into my drink and it became much more approachable that way.

Still, it remained something of an odd duck, hard to pigeonhole, tough to nail down precisely. It had aspects of an aged agricole, and points that reminded me of a Jamaican high-ester rum, all combined with the dampening anonymity of a column-still, high-proofed, lightly-aged filtered product from, say, Bacardi. In that lay its originality and its attraction because in a market crowded with ever more indie cask strength releases, new experiments from old houses, and ever more cheap column still plonk, anything new and well made and tasting the way it does is a welcome breath of fresh air. I may not have been entirely sold on its quality, but I won’t forget it any time soonand as the years go by I can see my shelf having more than just a few of the rums from this small South African company, because they’re surely one to watch.

(#672)(83/100)

Sep 232019
 

If you doubt the interconnectedness of the modern world, let me relate this circular story. About three or four years ago Gregers Nielsen (now of the Danish company 1423 and someone I enjoy heckling in every rumfest I see him at) introduced me to Richland Rum from Georgia, which I thought was nice, if perhaps not a world beating standout. Fast forward a couple of years and I’m doing research on rums of Africa and in looking at Liberia I come across Sangar rums, made by an expatriate American who was consulting withRichland Rum. Another year passes, and at the 2019 Berlin rumfest the very first stand I’m told to go to is a new rum from LiberiaSangar. And who told me this and pointed in their direction? Gregerswho then ended up working two booths over. I rest my case.

That amusing if irrelevant tale aside, here is some of the background of Sangar. My initial research a year or so back created some confusionthe application for equity investment called it Sehzue Distillers; the contact email at the time said Nimba Valley Rum and the official site referred to Miseh Distilling even though the website is for Sangar rumbut in all cases the principal force behind it is Mike Sehzue, an American West Point graduate with an MBA whose father was born in Liberia.

Mr. Sehzue had no idea how to make rum, but on a visit to Liberia in 2010, he became more aware of the local cane juice alcohol with its long grass-roots history and, realizing that expertise and raw materials were on hand, he decided to open a medium sized distillery both to encourage industry in a country now recovering from a protracted and bitter civil war, and to showcase the potential of locally made rum. A chance meeting led to an introduction (in 2014) to Erik and Karin Vonk of Richland Rum distinction and they provided him with the encouragement and technical advice which permitted him to open his distillery for business a few years later. The result is the only rum they make at the moment, the 40% Sangar White, sold primarily in Liberia, with the festival circuit raising awareness for export plans to the USA, EU and UK in later 2019 and 2020.

The rum is pot-still produced and derives from cane juice, not molasses. Sangar has no cane fields of its own, and contracts with seventeen or so local farmers in the surrounding area to source its cane, which is brought to the distillery and crushed within eight hours of cutting, with the juice put to ferment for five days. Then it’s run through their copper pot still, and bar filtration for sediment, is bottled pretty much as it is, unaged, clear, at a relatively demure 40% (which I suspect is so that it can more easily be appreciated by the target audience in the USA).

For the hardcore rum junkie, 40% would not normally excite serious interest (although the prospect of trying a new and relatively unknown African rum absolutely should), but trust me, the combination of a rum incorporating magic words like “pot still” and “unaged” and “clear” was and is well worth seeking out when it comes to the festival near you because the aromas and tastes are barely held in check even by those softer standards. The nose, for example announced its potential badassery with an initial tantara of salt, wax, gherkins in vinegar and just enough bite to make one wonder if a red chili wasn’t hiding in there someplace. Brine and olives were at the fore, followed by crisp green apples, lemon zest, cinnamon, and cumin.

Tastewise, I would have preferred something released at a higher proof, because the profile was mild instead of forceful, slightly muddled instead of really crispand while that will allow anyone to drink it neat without an issue, it also muted the flavours, almost losing some, that could have used a little beefing up. Clearly discernible were citrus, light fruit (papaya, white guavas, pears), sugar water, watermelons, sweet green peas (!!), and the rum retained just enough of the attitude to permit a good interaction with the brine and olives with the lighter components. Unsurprisingly the finish was short and wispy, mostly a mix of sweet and salt, soya, light fruits and a dash of cumin to close up the show.

So let’s sum up, then. The balance was excellent, the interplay of flavours spot on, and I was quietly impressed that so much could be packed into a package with so little aggro. Choosing my words carefully, I can say that this is a near perfect 40% white homunculus of a rumlet, and there will be an audience for it, no questionbut it won’t be those who cut their teeth on agricole blancs north of 50%, for whom this will be an interesting diversion without replacing their pet loves. That said, there’s nothing at all wrong with itit delivers at its proof point for those who appreciate that, and for those looking for an interestingly taste-filled mild white sipper, it delivers there as well.

Sangar points to several developing themes in today’s rumworld, which I‘ve almost inadvertently been following through my reviews and only become clearer in hindsight. First there’s the gradually increasing amount of micro-distilleries who aren’t seeking to make whisky or gin or vodka (or everything at once, as much as they can), but rum, full stop. Bar the United States, these micros are in remote areas of the world far from the Caribbean, like Africa and the Far East. And they seem to have a near-unnatural love for issuing unaged white rums at higher proofs, which is a subset of rums drawing more attention in recent years, especially in the cocktail circuit

With respect to that last remark, Sangar is something of an outlier, since the white reviewed here is bottled at standard. And the agricole blancs from the old and proud houses of the French West Indies are not in danger of losing their pride of place any time soon, not to the Far Eastern micros, or to Sangar. But as I noted above, with the interconnectedness of the world and transmigration of skills to any place with enough desire and smarts to make a good rum, it’s possibly just a matter of time before Sangar becomes a rum producer who really does earn the use of both the words “artisanal” and “craft” … without turning the words into the meaningless marketing twaddle that afflicts so many others.

(#659)(82/100)


Other notes

Sangar has small quantities of rum ageing away in port casks in Liberia: it’s unknown when these will be released as aged rums to the market, but it does point to their long term development strategy.

Jul 222019
 

South Africa has been making wine for centuries, backyard bathtub liquors are a local staple, and rums and rotgut of some kind (and quality) have always been made. Still, we may want to pay more attention to those rums going forward because in the last decade there have been quite a few small local companies starting up operations there, making small batch rums with little-stills-that-could and quietly garnering kudos for themselves for some interesting products, none of which I’ve tried (which is my loss). Companies like Copeland, Inverroche, Tapanga, Whistler, 25° South, DeVry, Distillery 031, Brickmakers, and the list goes on.

Another one of these is Mhoba, which Steve James of the Rum Diaries Blog brilliantly detailed a couple of months ago. Mhoba has been experimenting and playing around with making rums as far back as 2012, when the founder Robert Greaves thought of making a South African version of cachacabut he changed his mind after a seminal 2013 encounter in a hotel bar in Mauritius introduced him to all the variety global rums possessed. This led to two years of trial and error, attempting to improve the quality of his spirit on a self-constructed pot still (he has a mechanical engineering background, which undoubtedly helpedin that way he’s a lot like Mike Moscoso of Barik in Haiti), as well as applying for a Liquor License, which all finally came together in 2015. Samples went out the door in 2016 to the Miami Rum Festival which resulted in feedback and more tweaking, and 2017 at the UK provided an opportunity for a more serious intro of the company’s work to the public. It was successful enough that by 2019 it was being distributed in Europe and gained a lot of interest and word of mouth by being probably the only cane-juice derived rum in South Africa.

I’ll leave you to peruse Steve’s enormously informative company profile for production details (it’s really worth reading just to see what it takes to start something like a craft distillery), and just mention that the rum is pot still distilled from juice which is initially fermented naturally before boosting it with a strain of commercial yeast. The company makes three different kinds of white rumspot still white, high ester white and a blended white, all unaged. I tried what is probably the tamest of the three, the Select, which the last one, blended from several cuts taken from batches processed between October to December of 2018 and bottled at 58%. All of this is clearly marked on the onsite-produced label (self-engraved, self-printed, manually-applied), which is one of the most informative on the market: it details batch number, date, strength, variety of cane, still, number of bottles in the runit’s really impressive work.

Ah, but how does it taste, you ask. What does it smell like? Well, it’s not a sharp as 58% might lead you to believe, but man, that pot still action is very nice indeed. The briny notes of a humid day at the seaside, combined with olives, acetones and sour fruit, showing that the still was alive and well, and that the esters retained their influence. There was something nice and tart about it too, like macerated gooseberries mixed up with some soursop and then dropped into a can of paint or furniture polish, and the odd thing is, it gets sweeter and saltier the longer it sits in the glass, which is quite a trick for any rum to pull off. It relaxes after some time, and adds some lemon zest, cucumbers and pimentos to the mix, after which there isn’t much more to be foundbut what there was was plenty, let me assure you. The blending doesn’t entirely take the edge off the rum, which retains a sort of youthful raw intensity to the aromas.

It tastes somewhat sharper than it nosed, which is fine, something to be expected. Again, salt, brine, olives to begin with, plus the sour fruit, acetones, nail polish. I enjoyed the background hints of lemon zest and cinnamon and the overall crispness of the profile, which was not an amalgam of melded tastes, but a procession of crisp, high-steppin’ flavour notes that were sharp and distinct as a bayonet. What is of interest is the overall herbal, grassy aspect to it which wasn’t quite as evident on the nose: in other words it tasted something like an agricole. Too, there was some earth, musky spices in there lending a nice balance to the experience: tumeric, I’d say, and some masala. The finish was short and dry, but nicely balanced, sweet, salty and crisp, and summed up most of the action here: salty notes, some sweet, some spices, some earth.

Overall, my general opinion is that it resembled Neisson’s agricoles more than most, or maybe a civilized clairin (if the comparison needs to be made at all, and it doesn’t, really). It wasn’t exactly a furiously complex hurricane of a jillion different things all wanting to get your attention at once: what it did do was focus on what it had, and crisply emphasized the notes it did play, without straying too far from its strengths. I didn’t get a chance to try the pot still or the high ester whites as comparators to this white rum, but I have to admit, the sheer rough quality of this one makes me wish I had. This juice is quietly badass, and I want me some more.

(#644)(82/100)

Jun 092019
 

“Could grogue be the next clairin?” asked Dwayne Stewart in a facebook post the other day, when he and Richard Blesgraaf were discussing the Vulcão, and his respondent (you could almost see him smile) replied with a sort of yoda-like zen calm, “Clairin is clairin.” Which is true. Because beyond the superficial similarities of the two island nationsthe relative isolation of the islands, the artisanal nature of their juice, the mom-and-pop rural distillation of the spirit far away from modern developments or technological interferencethe truth is that you could not mistake one for the other. At least, not those that I’ve tried.

Take, for example, the subject of today’s review, the Vulcão grogue, which is nowhere near as ominous as its name suggests. If you have previously tried one of the four main Velier-distributed Haitian clarins (the Sajous, Vaval, Casimir and Le Rocher), marvelled at their in-your-snoot, take-no-prisoners ferocity and taste, and took Dwayne’s question to heart, you might be expecting some kind of long-gestated uber-strong clear xenomorph hammered out of Vulcan’s forge, that threatened to melt your tonsils. But it’s not. In fact, it’s closer to an off-beat agricole than anything else, and a particularly good one at that.

Even at 45% – which is practically tame for a clear rhum these daysthe Vulcão smelled lovely, and started off with brine, thyme-infused water and lemon sherbet poured over a meringue cake. After five minutes or so, it also gave off scents that were creamy, salty, olive-y, with a dusting of white chocolate and vanilla, and as if impatient to continue, belched out some additional fruity whiffswatermelon, pears, white guavas and bananas. There were also some odd minerals and ashes and iodine (not quite medicinal, but close), with overtones of sugar-water.

Short versiona yummy nose, and fortunately, it didn’t falter on the palate either. It was strong, and quite dry, unusual for a cane-juice based rhum (last time I had something so sere was years ago, with the Flor de Cana Extra Dry white). The brine and olives really came out and made an initial statement here, and combined with the sweeter elements with impressive control and in well-nigh perfect balance, making for a worthy sipping rum by anyone’s standards. With a drop or two of water came white fruits, flowers and sugar water, all of which were the slightest bit tart. And as if all that wasn’t enough, there was a light creaminess of butter pastry, Danish cookies and anise hanging about in the background, reminding me of the freshly baked croissants Mrs. Caner so loves to have in Paris. The finish is rather subdued, even faintperhaps we should not expect too much of 45% but after that nose and that taste I sort of was, sorry, and even though I noted almonds, toblerone, sugar water, nougat, pears, ripe apples, it seemed a bit less than what had come before. Not shabby, not badjust not up to the same standard.

Anyway, finish aside, the development and movement the rhum displays on the tongue is excellent, first salt, then sweet, then creamy, well-balanced and overall a remarkable drink by any standard. It remembers its antecedents, being both a fierce and forceful rhumbut is also a nicely integrated and tasty sipping drink, crisp and clear, displaying a smorgasbord of contrasting, even competing, yet at all times well-melded series of sweet and sour and salt flavours in delicious harmony. Sip or mix, it’ll do well in either case.

So, to answer Dwayne’s perhaps rhetorical question with respect to taste and production details, my own response would be “Not really.” While grogues are a fascinating subset of rums, an intriguing branch on Yggdrasil (The Great Rum Tree), they are too differenttoo elegant, maybeto really be classed with or as clairins. They do share some of the same DNA: fresh cut cane juice and wild yeast fermentation (for ten days) and no ageing, for example, but also go in their own direction by using pot stills (as here) not columnar ones. What comes out the other end, then, are terroire-driven white rums with a character all their own, with this one, one of the best I tried in Paris, absolutely worth trying, and close to being an undiscovered steal. In the sense of that last statement, now that I think about it, I’d answer Dwayne differentlyand tell him that they’re exactly like clairins.

(#631)(85/100)


Other notes

  • I’ve put some feelers out regarding the company that makes it, and if/when/once this is received the post will be updated with some more factual background info.
  • Made in in the Tarrafal village just south of Monte Trigo on the island of Santo Antão, the most north-westerly of the series of islands making up Cabo Verde. I was told five smalldistilleriesexist in this tiny place, and three of them supply the grogue which is blended into the Vulcão.
  • Back label translation: The island of Santo Antao in Cabo Verde is undoubtedly one of the first cradles of cane spirits. Before rum or cachaca, it has been unchanging for hundreds of years. Distilled in ancient pot-stills made from pure cane juice, this rum ancestor is an extraordinary witness of the past.
Apr 242019
 

Although the grogues of Cabo Verde have been seeping through our rumconsciousness for years now, it’s a curious thing that there are almost no reviews to be found online at all. All we have is rumours and quiet whispers in the dark corners of smoke-filled tiki-bars, random small comments on FB, and stories that Luca Gargano of Velier has been sniffing about the islands for years, perhaps putting together another series of organic, pure single rums designed to wow our socks off.

2019 might at last, then, be the year to change that, as grogues were quite visible in the Paris rhumfest in April, and one of them was the Barbosa grogue, which I just so happened to try at the Habitation Velier booth, where, after exchanging pleasantries with Daniel Biondi, I rather cheekily helped myself to a hefty shot of this thing and sat back to await results. Not without a little trepidation, mind you.

Because, you see, the lost world mystique hanging around them creates an aura about these almost unknown rums made in remote lands in traditional ways, in a way that make them rums of real interest. They’re supposedly throwbacks to the way “rums ought to be,” the way “they were once made” and all sorts of stuff like that. Artisanal, untamed, simple rums, brewed the same way for generations, even centuries, akin to Haiti’s clairins or the original cachacas. Which may be why Luca keeps going back to the place.

Such preconceptions made the tasting of the Barbosa grogue (or, as it is noted on the label “Amado & Vicente Barbosa Grogue Pure Single Rum”) an odd experiencebecause in reality, it conformed to few of the profile markers and tasting notions I was expecting, based on the remarks above. The nose of the 45% white was decidedly not a sledgehammer to the face, and not an over-amped nostril-shredder ready to give week-long nosebleeds. Instead it was actually quite gentle, almost relaxed, with light aromas of olives in brine, green grapes, pineapples, apricots (minus the sweet syrup), grass, cooking herbs like dill, and quite a lot of sugar water, more than in most blancs I’ve tried. It wasn’t hot, it wasn’t fierce and it wasn’t feral, just a real easy rum to appreciate for smell alone.

This was also the case when tasted. The bright and clean fruity-ester notes were more in evidence here than on the nosegreen apples, sultanas, hard yellow mangoes, thyme, more pineapples, a bag of white guavas and watery pears. There was a hint of danger in the hint of cucumbers in white vinegar with a pimento or two floating around, but this never seriously came forward, a hint was all you got; and at best, with some concentration, there were some additional herbs (dill, cilantro), grass, sugar water and maybe a few more olives. I particularly liked the mild finish, by the wayclear and fruity and minty, with thyme, wet grass, and some almonds and white chocolate, sweet and unassuming, just right for what had come before.

The Barbosa grogue is produced by Montenegro distillery in Santiago, the main Cabo Verde island, and derive from organically grown sugar cane grown very close to the sea, in Praia Mangue. The cane is harvested manually, crushed right away and naturally fermented for six to ten days before being run through small wood-fired 350-liter copper pot stills (see picture here) – this version is the first 2019 batch, unaged. The manager and co-owner of the distillery, Manuel Barbosa Amado, is a 47 year old agronomist and his family has been in the sugar cane and grogue business for the last fifty years or soin what might be seen as a peculiar honour, it is the only grogue in Velier’s 2019 catalogue. I was told they might have called their product Montenegro after their own distillery, but ran into trademark issues with an Italian amaro maker of the same title and so named it for illustrious family members Vicente and Amado Barbosa, about whom I know unfortunately nothing

All that out of the way, what to make of this interesting variation of rum, then? Well, for one thing, I felt that 45% strength was perhaps too light to showcase its unique naturejacking it up a few extra points might be worth it. It started off gentle, and underneath the sleek and supple silkiness of that initial taste you could sense some serious animal lurking, waiting for its own moment to come out and claw your face off. But this never happened. It stayed low-key and seemed surprisingly reluctant to come out and play with any sort of violence. So, a tasty and a fun drink, the purity evident, the unmessed-with nature of it a blessingyet not different enough from better-known and better-regarded French island blancs to carve out its own niche in a market with ever increasing amounts of artisanal white rums competing for eyeballs and shelf space.

I’m not saying it must have madness and fury to succeed; nor does it need to rack up street cred by being like the Mexican Paranubes or the Sajous, the other poster children for cheerfully nutso white rums. We must accept that the Barbosa grogue lacks that distinctive spark of crazy which would immediately set it apart from any other rums on the planet, something specifically and seriously its own. But I also believe you can buy it and love it exactly as it is and you won’t be disappointedbecause it is a more civilized and elegant rum than you might expect. And it’s worth a more serious look and maybe a buy, just to sample the sippable, approachable and enjoyable charms it presents, and get a whiff of something interesting, even new.

(#618)(81/100)


Other notes

  • Grogue is the local creole version of the word grog, and it hails from the same source.
  • Cabo Verde (or Cape Verde) is a group of ten Atlantic islands off the west coast of Africa due west of Senegal. They are part of the same geographical eco-region as the Canaries and Azores and Madeira. Unlike them, Cabo Verde is independent and not an autonomous part of any European nation.
  • Three kinds of cane are harvested: Nossa Terra Pieta, Nossa Terra Branca, and Bourbon varietals.
Nov 092016
 

matugga-1

A less than impressive Jamaican wannabe rum that’s actually from the UK by way of Africa

#315

In one of those coincidences that occasionally crop up, one of my Gallic colleagues texted me as I was putting together the write up for the Matugga, and asked me what I thought of it. “Mediocre,” was the terse response, given the comparators I had on hand that day against which I was rating it, and the almost finished reviewbut in retrospect that was perhaps too dismissive, since it’s not entirely a bad rum, and both the good and the bad should be acknowledged, in spite of the hyped marketing message.

In this case the selling and marketing point is the rum’s purported originEast Africa, Uganda to be exact (see my opinion below tis review), and that sure works, because it’s entirely on that basis that I bought it (Zulu Impi is another). This is a rum like, oh, Lost Spirits or Seven Fathomsmade by a small outfit led by one person with some drive and gumption. Considered objectively and dispassionately it’s a company that, like those other two, takes an unusual, original detail about the rum’s production, and tries to develop that into an entire marketing plan, without really finishing the job of making it a really good one, even a really good young one.

Anyway, the molasses is sourced from a small town in Uganda called Matuggaforget the blurb on the company website about the quality of cane or soiland fermented in the UK for seven days (rather a long time) before being distilled in a copper pot still and then aged in English oak, though nowhere is it stated exactly how long. For the record I suspect around 2-3 years max.

matugga-2That age is probably about right. The nose of the 42% Matugga certainly gave no indication that decades of careful maturation were behind it. In fact, my first reaction was a grimace and a “yeccch”. Rank notes of rubber, cardboard, rotting vegetable were first, followed by others of musky and damp old houses with too many cats in it. But fortunately these sensations were fleeting, and nose changed after opening up, moving to more dominant smells honey and acetone, richer fruits, banana and treacle, maybe half a crème brûlée. Quite an about face, and after walking around with it, I thought it was like a young, untamed and rather rambunctious Jamaican rum, more than anything elsenot nearly as well made, but not to be dismissed out of hand either.

On the palate, the orange-gold was not that stellar, though certainly interesting: thick and oily, almost cloyingand then a sharp skewer of black pepper and pimentos without the heat kicked in. Again, just as with the nose, it did a ninety degree turn and became another rum altogether, more traditional. The main players emerged on stagecaramel, vanilla, some sugar water (this and the vanilla became particularly pronounced after a while), papayas, pears and white guavas. Underneath it all was a weird kind of bitterness of raw cocoa beans that accentuated what was already a rather jagged and inconsistent profile, one moment sweet, fruity and almost cloying, the next sharp, bitchy, peppery and out to get me. And it finished quickly and without fanfare, giving up final hints of nuts, molasses, caramel and vanilla, standard stuff, no points here.

So no, some interesting notes and originality acknowledged, the rum doesn’t really gel. It has potential, sure, but so far as the profile is concerned, it’s somewhat incoherent, more than a little unbalanced, not well integrated and perhaps not even sure what it wants to bea Jamaican funk bomb, or an easier, soothing rum made for mass consumption and to bolster sales before the really good aged stuff comes out the door. Plus those additives, whatever they are, are an annoying and pointless distraction. Why didn’t they just have the guts to take the subtle notes of an East African terroire, run with it and make a case for its uniqueness, for a rum having a profile of neither arrack or molasses or agricole but a new and untried melange of them all? Their lack of courage in standing by the inherent qualities of their own product is a depressing commentary on both what the rum is, and what it might have been.

(79/100)


Other notes

  • When I started doing my research, I was unsurprised to discover 37g/L sugar on the hydrometer tests. In this case, I believe that less sugar and more ageing would do wonders for the rum. Evidently, the makers thought the opposite.

Opinion

I firmly believe that just because the molassesand only the molasseshails from Uganda, that does not make this either an African or Ugandan rum. Sorry but if Barbados can import molasses from wherever and call itself Barbados rum, and Guyana do the same with molasses from Nicaragua (to note just two well known examples), then the principle of discounting the source of molasses as a terroire / national identifier has already been established. Fermentation, distillation and ageing all take place in the UK, and so it is essentially a British rum. The Ron Maja rum which purported to come from El Salvador (and labelled itself as such) had similar issues of provenance, with which I strongly disagreed. Sooner or later the rumworld is going to have to come to grips with how rums with diverse sources and processes can label themselves legallyand a combination of the AOC and the currenntly-disputed form of the Barbados GI is probably going to be the base of its formulation.

Oct 092016
 

aldea-cana-pura-1

The confusion as to what this white is meant fora soft mixing rum, or an intro to individualistic machomakes it, paradoxically enough, falter at both.

#310

You can imagine my surprise when I ran through the Ron Aldea line of rums from the Canary Islands last year, and after talking to the genial guy at the booth at my usual inordinate length, realized with astonishment that here was Santiago Bronchales, who previously was deeply involved with Ocean’s Atlantic, a rum I had thought was perhaps too overambitious for its own good, if reasonably drinkable. Once he realized that I was the guy who had pestered him with no end of emails about his previous offering, his face split into a grin, and he carefully ran me through the entire history and lineup of the Ron Aldeas rums.

The Caña Pura“pure cane” to you non-Spanish speaking folk reading thisis a white rum, bottled at a rather timid 42%, unaged and in this case limited 1794 bottles (for a reason I’m still researching). All of the Aldea rums are rhums, true agricole-style rhums, distilled from fermented cane juice to 62% in a double column copper still made by the French firm Egrott, which Santiago helpfully informed me is 150 years old and powered with a wood-fed fire in the Canary Islands.

“Clear”, “white” or “silver” rums are gaining in popularity as people realize the same old industrially filtered milquetoast we all grew up on is not all there is to the uncoloured rumiverse. Haitian clairins, Cape Verde “grogue” and just about every bathtub distilled moonshine with a label slapped on that’s ever been made are leading the charge with the word “artisan” and “natural” being bandied about as major selling points, and full proof versions of such rums sell briskly.

aldea-cana-pura-2Unfortunately, this rhum isn’t part of that revolutionary vanguard of the peasants charging the barricades or assaulting the Bastille. It’s more like a timorous, vacillating, middle-class bystander hoping not to get creamed in the chaos. Part of that is the strength, which at 42% doesn’t give muchthe nose, for example, was quite weak, sharp on the initial sniff, with flashes of flavour peeking through….salt, olives and wax in the beginning, melding into sugar water and tree sap with some very light fruit after a while, mostly white guavas, a pear or two, and some vanilla.

While I liked the palate more than the aromas, I felt it was still too harsh and sharp (and a little dry, oddly enough). The flavours opened up quite a bit more here: sweet sugar water, lemon zest, more briny olives, followed by cucumbers, pears, and there was some watermelon in there somewhere, hiding and refusing to be isolated, preferring (if I can extend the metaphor) to hide behind the other bystanders. The finish: short, sweet, watery, more of the same.

Overall, this is not a narcissistic halo rum meant to laugh in the face of the musketry while joyously singing the “Arrorró” (so look it up). It lacks the huevos for that kind of thing, and feels more like something tossed off to round out the portfolio (but if that’s the case, why the limited edition of 1794 bottles?). One could argue that a low-proof unaged white isn’t going to provide much so why write so much about it, but I dispute that, having had some crazy barking-mad hooch in my timethey were never top scorers, and never will be, but man, they sure had character. That’s what’s missing here.

In the main, then, the Caña Pura is more for the curious who would like to try something in between the more forceful French island blancs and the wussy mixers of the North American market. Personally I believe the rhum couldand shouldbe left at the initially distilled and torqued-up 62% which would certainly make an emphatic fist-on-the-table reverbration in today’s world. Even at 42% it’s too tame and too quiescent, nervously peeping over the fullproof fence without every taking the chance to go there. That doesn’t make it a bad white mixing rhum, but not a top-tier one eitherand it does leave us wondering rather wistfully what it could have been.

(80/100)


Company bio

The company itself, Distilerias Aldea S.I., is a 4th generation family-run outfit, founded in 1936 by Don Manuel Quevedo German, who was born in 1872 in Arucas, a small northern village of Grand Canary, and whose family seemed to have some energizer bunny in the gene pool, surviving the closure of just about every sugar operation with which they were associated over nearly sixty years. Don Manuel moved to Cuba and Santo Domingo as a young man and apprenticed in sugar mills in both places before returning to Gran Canaria, where he worked with his father an uncle in the Bañaderos sugar factory. This facility was closed and shipped to Madeira in the sugar slump of the ‘teens and by 1920 all the main sugar concerns in the Canaries were out of business. After the factory in Madeira in turn got shuttered in 1934, Quevado returned to the Canaries and took his accumulated experience to open his own operationwhich also went belly-up in 1960 for various economic reasons, but which his sons restarted in La Palma in 1969 and has kept going ever since.

Other notes

I don’t know if it is filtered or not, or added to. I’ve heard that some mark it down for a certain sweetness and too little originality. I’ll update this review when I find out.

The rum will be renamedSingle Canefor the 2016 release season and onwards.

Nov 262014
 

D3S_8929

A remarkably well balanced and tasty rum from the Indian Ocean

In spite of the prevailing belief that rums are Caribbean almost by definition, it’s axiomatic that many other nations and regions produce them. Over the years I’ve found that the most readily identifiable and distinctive (I don’t say “best”) products, products that have a flavour profile all their own, usually hail from some distant part of the world where climatic and soil conditions are far removed from the norm: consider, for example the Bundaberg, the Old Port, or even the Tanduay. Now sure, flavourings are sometimes added to the mix with the heedlessness of Emeril chucking spicesbut not always. Sometimes it’s just the terroire.

Such a one is the Rhum Vieux Millésimé 1998 ten year old, made and bottled in Madagascar from locally grown cane and molasses, offered at 45% in a bottle that is rather amusingly wrapped in a banana leaf (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). This is a rhum that won a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in 2012, and is one lovely piece of work.

Take for starters, the initial nose: brown sugar, coffee and mocha, straight off, very smooth and inviting – 45% was a good strength for this rum. I looked at the labelling again with some surprisewas this a spiced rum and they forgot to mention it? Nope. What you got was it. It was followed by vanilla, cloves, nutmeg and a soft background of bananas, all quite unaggressive and easygoing. There was even some vague vegetal note there after a bit, almost imperceptible.

The palate broke little new ground, simply built on that excellent lead-in: more vanilla (not enough to make me suspicious about flavouring, yet I couldn’t dismiss the thought entirely), coffee, burnt sugar, nougat. Fried sweet bananas (I loved those as a kid), nuts, peaches. This rum was lovely, just lovelysoft and warm and exactly strong enough for what it wasa higher proof might have made it too spicy. There was even, after a few minutes and a drop of water, leather and the sweet perfume of aromatic cigarillos. Some ground walnuts rounded out the profile. The finish was surprisingly short, yet still that warmth persisted, and closing notes of white pepper, smoke and those walnuts again.

These tasting notes sound utterly conventional, don’t they? Yet they’re not, not reallythe balance of the vegetal notes and vanilla and nuts and sweetness of bananas popping in oil is not at all like the Caribbean rums with which many of us are familiar; I imagine some of this taste profile comes from the Pernod Ricard barrels shipped to Madagascar to age this rum the requisite ten years; but perhaps equal credit comes from the cane itself and the environment in which it is made.

Dzama rum is made by Vidzar, one of those local companies like Banks DIH in Guyana, or Clarke’s Court in Grenada, which have a rather larger visibility in their home country than they do abroad (this may change as they expand their markets). The company was formed in 1982 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 productsmostly low level rum for local consumption, to that point. After some investigation, 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. (If this rum is an example of the flavour holdover, he may be on to something, though I’m ambivalent about the science behind that).

In an attempt to distill a decent rum to elevate the craft of his island, he formed a company Vidzar (a contraction of Vieux Rhum de Dzamandzar), located close to the sugar cane fields of Nosy Be, by a village called Dzamadzar. The company makes a range of rums for sale, including the Dzama Club, 3 YO and 6 YO, the Dzama XV 15 year old and Cuvée Noire (untried by me) and is starting to sell in the European market. This particular ten year old was aged in the aforementioned Pernod Ricard barrels and was distilled in 1998 but the date itself is just a marker, not a commemoration of anything special (the current ten year old on the company site is the 2000 Millésimé) – I’ll hazard a guess that it was a series of barrels set aside by the master blender as simply being of higher quality.

I’ve remarked before that one rum does not sink a brand, or define ityet I have to be honest and say that a bad one tends to make me leery about approaching others in the range, while conversely, a good one makes me enthusiastic to do sothat’s human nature. With this excellent rum hailing from a region I’ve not tried before, whose profile is remarkably distinctive and far from unpleasant, I’m pretty stoked to see what else Dzama has in the larder the next time I get a chance to buy one. You could do worse than trying some yourselfand this one would be an excellent place to start.

(#189. 84/100)