Mar 292021
 

 

Indonesia is the region where sugar cane originated and gave rise to the proto-rums of yesteryear, which have their genesis in arrack, a distillate first identified by the Dutch and Portuguese in the town of Batavia (now Jakarta, the capital). After being practically unknown to the larger rum drinking public for a long time, arrack and local rums are now slowly being shown to western audiences, most notably from By The Dutch and their Batavia Arrack, and the little company of Naga which produced the rum we’re looking at today.

Based in Indonesia, Naga is a rum company formed around 2016 by Sebastien Follope, another one of those roving, spirits-loving French entrepreneurs who are behind some of the most interesting Asian rums around (Chalong Bay, Issan and Sampan are examples). While small, the company has several rums in its eclectic portfolio, though they lack any distillation facilities of their ownthey are buying from a distillery on Java on the outskirts of Jakarta, which cannot be named.

This particular rum is called the Triple Wood for good reasonit is aged in three different kinds of barrels, and is an extension of the “Double Cask Aged” rum we have looked at twice beforeonce under that name in 2018, and once as the “Java Reserve Double Aged rum” a year later. The triple wood is similarly a molasses-based rum, column-still distilled, aged for three years in barrels made of teak (also called jati), four years in ex-Bourbon and one more year in cherry-wood barrelsit is, therefore, eight years old. Since the company was only formed in 2016 and this rum came on the scene in 2018, it is clear that the first ageing and part of the second was done at the distillery of origin (or a broker, it’s unclear).

Does this multiple wood ageing result in anything worth drinking? Yes it doesthe extra year seems to have had an interesting and salutary effect on the profilethough at 42.7% it remains as easy and soft as its siblings. The nose, for example, is a nice step up: cardboard, musty paper, some dunder of spoiled bananas skins, plus strawberries and soft pineapple or two and brine (which, I swear, made me think of Hawaiian pizza). Caramel and bitter dark chocolate round things off. It’s a relatively easy sniff, inoffensive yet solid.

The palate is goes on to be warm, soft, and somewhat sweeter. Initially, given its puffed cloudy vagueness, you’d think it’s simple and amorphous, but actually it just keeps improving over timethe rum unfolds like a small origami flower, graduallyeven shylypresenting floral tastes, molasses, toffee, nougat, breakfast spices, licorice and some watery background of melons and pears. It’s easy and very relaxing to sip, because the flavours don’t come at you all at once, but kind of stroll past doing a slow ragtime. That low strength, much as I usually prefer something stronger, really is probably right for what that taste is, but it must also be admitted it makes for a weak finish: clean and easy, just not much more than some light flowers, strawberries and bubble gum, fanta, light molasses, and a bit of musty and dust-filled rooms.

I quite liked the rum and enjoyed its low-key, tasty nature, so different from the more aggressive high-proof rums I’ve been seeing of lateafter all, one doesn’t always a need a massive overproof squirting dunder, alcohol and pain in all directions. And arrack, this rum’s progenitor, is an interesting variation on what a rum can be (as an example, fermented rice is usually added to the fermenting molassessee other notes for more details) which is something worth taking note of and these times of dominance by famed Caribbean distilleries. There’s no question that it’s a somewhat different kind of rum, more representative of its region than of any “standard” kind of profilebut for those who are okay trying something different, it won’t disappoint.

(#809)(81/100)

 


Other Notes

  • Naga is a Sanskrit-based word referring to the mythical creature of Asia, a dragon or large snake, that guards the treasures of the earth, and is also a symbol of prosperity and protection
  • This rum is now named “Pearl of Jakarta.”
  • Production:
    • Fermentation of molasses and fermented red rice in teak vats up to
    • 12% ABV.
    • 52% of this “cane wine” then distilled in traditional Chinese stills to 30% ABV. It is then distilled in these same stills a second time, until it reaches 60-65%.
    • 48% of the “cane wine” distilled in a column still to 92% ABV.
    • The rums obtained in this way are then blended and aged for 3 years in teak barrels, then transferred to American oak barrels (ex-bourbon barrels) for 4 years before ageing for one final year in cherry wood barrels.
Nov 262020
 

The Naga double-cask aged rum is part of the company’s standard lineup without any fancy whistles and bells, and when you nose it, you get a sensory impression both hauntingly familiar and obscurely strange. Even dialled-down and wispy as it is, it reminds one of chocolate, very ripe dark cherries, Fanta, sweet caramel, bonbons, and delicate perfumed flowers; and it’s the extras beneath all that which add piquancy and puzzlement: white pepper, a foamy Guinness stout, and a gamey, meaty smell which is fortunately quite faint.

The rum, bottled at 40%, exists outside the comforting confines of the Caribbean and gently charts its own course, which may account for its subtle oddity. Part of that is how it’s made: from molasses, yes, but fermented using yeast made from malted Javanese red rice. And while the rum is a blend of both pot and column still distillates made in all the usual ways, it is aged for a period in casks made from type of teak called jatti, and the remainder in bourbon casksbut alas, at this point I don’t know how much ageing in either or in total.

This process provides a tasting profile that reminds me of nothing so much than a slightly addled wooden still-rum from El Dorado: it’s sweet, feels the slightest bit sticky, and has strong notes of dark fruits, red licorice, plums, raisins and an almond chocolate bar gone soft in the heat. There’s other stuff in there as wellsome caramel, vanilla, pepper again, light orange peel, but overall the whole thing is not particularly complex, and it ambles easily towards a short and gentle finish of no particular distinction that pretty much displays some dark fruit, caramel, anise and molasses, and that’s about it.

Naga is a rum company from Indonesia that was formed around 2016 by (you guessed it) another one of those roving French spirits-loving entrepreneurs, and from the lack of distillation facilities on its FB page, the constant switching around of labels and names for its rums on its website, I think it probably works a bit like Rhum Island, sourcing its distillate from another company, and adjusts swiftly to the market to tweak blends and titles to be more attractive to customers. I have queries outstanding to them about their production details and historical background so there’s not much to go on right now, and this rum may already be called something else, since it is not on their web listing.

So, until we know more, focus on the rum itself. It’s quiet and gentle and some cask strength lovers might saynot without justificationthat it’s insipid. It has some good tastes, simple but okay, and hews to a profile with which we’re not entirely unfamiliar. It has a few off notes and a peculiar substrate of something different, which is a good thing. So in the end, recognizably a product you know, recognizably a rum, butnot entirely. That doesn’t make it bad, just its own drink. “It’s a rum,” you write in your notebook, and then words run out; so you try some more to help yourself out, and you’ll likely still be searching for words to describe it properly by the time you realize with some surprise that the glass is empty. It’s weird how that happens.

(#780)(77/100)


Other notes

  • The rum has its antecedents in arrack, a proto-rum from Indonesia where it was first identified by the Dutch and Portuguese in the town of Batavia, the former name for Jakarta. It has a fair similarity to By The Dutch’s Batavia Arrack, but is not as good. I thought the older version, Naga’s Java Reserve, was a touch better too.
  • I am unsure about the age, but it feels quite young, under five years I’d say.
  • Naga is a Sanskrit-based word referring to the mythical creature of Asia, a dragon or large snake, that guards the treasures of the earth, and is also a symbol of prosperity and protection.
May 132019
 

Everything you research on Naga is likely to make you rend your robes with frustration at what little you do manage to dig up. Yet paradoxically, everything you do find out about the rum itself seems guaranteed to keep you reading, and make you buy it, if no other reason than because it seems so damned interesting. The label seems designed specifically to tantalize your curiosity. Perusing it, you can with equal justification call it “Naga Batavia Arrack” (“made with Indonesian aged rum” says the script, implying there it’s arrack plus rum), or “Naga Double Cask rum” or “Naga Java Reserve Rum” or simply go with the compromise route. And each of those would, like the mythical elephant to the blind men, be somewhat correct.

It’s a Batavia Arrack from Indonesia, which means it a rum made from molasses and a red rice yeast derivative (just like the arrack made by By the Dutch). Both Naga’s 38% version with a different label, and this one, are a blend of distillates: just over half of it comes from pot stills (“Old Indonesian Pot Stillspuffs the less-than-informative website importantly, never quite explaining what that means) with a strength of 65% ABV; and just under half is 92% ABV column still spirit (the ratios are 52:48 if you’re curious). The resultant blend is then aged for three years in teak barrels and a further four years in ex-bourbon barrels, hence the moniker “double aged”. In this they’re sort of channelling both the Brazilians with their penchant for non-standard woods, and Foursquare with their multiple maturations

Whether all this results in a rum worth acquiring and drinking is best left up to the individual. What I can say is that it demonstrates both a diversity of production and a departure from what we might loosely term “standard”and is a showcase why (to me) rum is the most fascinating spirit in the world….but without the rum actually ascending to the heights of must-have-it-ness and blowing my hair back. In point of fact, it is not on a level with the other two Indonesian rums I’ve tried before, the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia 2004 10 YO and the By The Dutch Batavia Arrack.

Follow me through the tasting: the nose is initially redolent of brine and olives, and of cardboard, and dry and musty rooms left undusted too long. That’s the beginningit does develop, and after some time you can smell soy, weak vegetable soup, stale maggi cubes, and a faint line of sweet teriyaki, honey, caramel and vanilla. And, as a nod to the funkytown lovers out there, there is a hint of rotten fruits, acetones and spoiled bananas as well, as if a Jamaican had up and gone to Indonesia to take up residence in the bottleand promptly fell asleep there.

Palate. It was the same kind of delicate and light profile I remembered from the other two arracka mentioned above. Still, the texture was pleasant, it was pleasantlybut not excessivelysweet, and packed some interesting flavours in its suitcase: salt caramel ice cream, dill and parsley, cinnamon,sharp oak tannins, leather, some driness and musky notes, and a sharp fruity tang, both sweet and rotten at the same timenot very strong, but there nevertheless, making itself felt in no uncertain terms. Finish was relatively short, mostly light fruits, some brine, mustiness and a trace of rubber.

Summing up. On the negative side, there is too little info available online or off for the hard factswhat an “Indonesian” pot still actually is, where the distillery is, who owns it, when was the company established, the source of the molasses and so onthis erodes faith and trust in any proclaimed statements and in this day and age is downright irritating. Conversely, listing all the pluses: it has a genuinely nice and relatively sweet mouthfeel, is gentle, tasty, spicy, somewhat complex and different enough to excite, while still being demonstrably a rumof some kind. It just didn’t entirely appeal to me.

Because I found that overall, it lacked good integration. The pot still portion careened into the column still part of the blend and neither came out well from the encounter; the esters, acidity and tartness really did not accentuate or bring out the contrasting muskier, darker tones well at all, and it just seemed a bit confused….first you tasted one thing, then another and the balance between the components was off. Also, the wood was a shade too bittermaybe that was the teak or maybe it was the liveliness of the ex-bourbon barrels. Whatever the case, the overall impression was of a product that somehow failed to cohere.

I’m fully prepared to accept that a rum from another part of the world with which we lack familiarity caters to its own audience, and is supposed to be somewhat off the wall, somewhat at right angles to conventional tastes of bloggers like me who are raised on Caribbean fare and all its imitators. Yet even within that widely cast net, there’s stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t. This is one that falls in the middleit’s nice enough, it kinda sorta works, but not completely and not so much that I’d rush out to get me another bottle.

(#623)(79/100)

Jun 172018
 

Somehow, after a big splash in 2015-2016, Indonesian rums came and left the scene with equally and almost startling suddenness. Although Haus Alpenz has been making a Batavia Arrack Van Oosten for many years (even decades, perhaps), it is a niche spirit, really, and not many know of it, and no, I haven’t tried it. My first encounter with the arracks came when I bought the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia rum in 2015 (and quite liked it), and within the year By The Dutch put this fascinating product out the door and then occasional photos began making the rounds on FB of Naga and Nusa Cana rums. Shortly thereafter Matt Pietrek wrote one of his deep dives into the By the Dutch rum, and yet after all that, somehow they have almost vanished from the popular consciousness.

Perhaps it’s the renaissance of Bajan and Jamaican rums in those same years that stole the show, I don’t knowcertainly over the last years the various social media are fuller of Bajan and Jamaican rum pictures and commentaries than just about anything else. Maybe it’s physical distribution, festival absences, word of mouth, Facebook posts (or lack thereof). Whatever the case for its lack of mindshare, I suggest you give it a try, if only to see where rum can goor where it has already been.

Part of what makes arrack interesting is the way it is fermented. Here some fermented red rice is mixed into the yeast prior to addition to the molasses and water (up to 5%), which undoubtedly impacts the final taste. I was told by a By the Dutch rep that this particular spirit derives from sugar cane juice and fermented red rice cake, and is then twice distilled: once in a pot still, producing a distillate of about 30% ABV, and then again in another pot still to around 60-65%. At that point it is laid to rest in barrels made of teak (!!) in Indonesia for a number of years and then shipped to Amsterdam (Matt implies it’s to Scheer) where it is transferred to 1000L oak vats. The final arrack is a blend of spirits aged 8 months, 3, 5 and 8 years, with the majority of the spirit being 3 and 5 years of age and bottled at 48% ABV.

A production process with so many divergent steps is sure to bring some interesting tastes to the table. It’s intriguing to say the least. The nose, even at 48%, is remarkably soft and light, with some of that pot still action being quite evident in the initial notes: rotting banana skins, apples gone off and some funky Jamaican notes, if perhaps not as intense as a Hampden or worthy Park offering. This then slowlyalmost delicatelyreleased light citrus, watery fruit and caramel hints, chamomile, cinnamon, green tea and bitter chocolate and a sort of easy sweetness very pleasing to smell.

It got better when I tasted it, because the strength came out more clearlynot aggressive, just very solid and crisp at the same time, sweet and clear, almost like an agricole with some oak thrown in for good measure. The pot still origins were distinct, and taste of sweet fruits gone over to the dark side were handled well: apples, citrus, pears, gherkins, the very lightest hint of olives, more tea, green grapes, with cooking spices dancing around everything, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon. Even the finish was quite aromatic, lots of esters, bananas, apples, cider and a sort of grassiness that was more hinted at than forcefully explored.

As an alternative to more commonly available rums, this one interesting. It doesn’t smack you in the face or try to damage your glottisit’s too easy or thatand works well as both a sipping drink (if your tastes go that way), or something to chuck into a mai-tai or a negroni variation. One of the reasons why it should be tried and appreciated is because while it has tastes that suggest a Jamaican-Bajan hybrid, there is just enough difference from the mainstream here to make it a fascinating drink on its own merits, and shows again how rum is simply the most versatile, varied spirit available.

Plus, let’s be fair, the arrack is quite a nifty rum judged solely by itself: no, it’s not a stern and forbiddingly solid cask-strength rum, noit’s actually something of the other waybut it’s original within its limits, sweet enough for those who like that, edgy enough for those who want more. In short, eminently sippable for its strength. I think it’s an old, even ancient drink made new, and even if one does not immediately succumb to its languorous charms, I do believe it’s worth taking out for a try.

(#521)(84/100)


Other notes

The bottle clearly says “aged up to 8 years”. Understand what this means before you think you’re buying an 8 Year Old rum.


Opinion

With respect to the rum news all being about the western hemisphere’s juice: I don’t begrudge the French, Spanish or English Caribbean rum makers their glorythat would be deeply unpatriotic of me, even if one discounted the great stuff the islanders are making, neither of which is an option. There’s a reason they get just about 75% of the press, with the independents and Americans (north and south) getting the remainder.

But I just want to sound a note of caution about the blinkers such focus is imposing on our rumsight, because by concentrating on nothing but these, we’re losing sight of great stuff being made elsewhereon the French islands, St Lucia, Grenada, Mexico, Japanand Indonesia. From companies like By the Dutch and the New Asians only now beginning to be more visible.