Jun 142017
 

#372

It’s always a pleasure to circle back to the now-established independent bottlers, especially those with which one has more than a glancing familiarity; they are the outfits who have carved themselves a niche in the rumiverse which for us consumers is composed of one part recognition, one part curiosity and eight parts cool rum. The Compagnie des Indes is one of these for me, and while everyone is now aware they have started to issue the cask strength series of rums alongside lesser proofed ones (much like L’Esprit does), there will always remain a soft and envious green spot in my heart for the now-famous, Denmark-only, cask-strength editions.

This particular Danish expression is a Bellevue rum from Guadeloupe (Damoiseau, not the one on Marie Galante), and here I have to pause for a moment, stand back, and happily observe that in this day and age of rising prices, lowering ages and instantly sold out Bajan rums (did someone say Triptych? … sure you did), we can still get a rum aged for eighteen years. I am aware that a simple calculus of years (and continental years at that) does not always confer qualitylook no further than the Chantal Comte 1980 for an emphatic refutation of that ideabut when made properly, they often do. And bar some hiccups here and there, this one is exceedingly well done.

As always, let’s start with the details before getting into the tasting notes. It’s a French West Indian rhum which does not adhere to the AOC designation, bottled at a crisp 55.1%, gold in colour, and with a 265-bottle outturn. It was distilled in March 1998 and bottled in April 2016, aged in American oak barrels, in Europethis is, as most will recall, a personal standard of the Compagnie, which does not favour tropical ageing (or cannot spare the time and expense to source them direct from Guadeloupe, take your pick).

Wherever it was aged, there was no fault to find with how it smelled: the nose was creamy caramel and cream cheese with only the very faintest hint of wax and rubber, and in any event, such traces vanished fast, giving way to dark fruits, not particularly sweet, like almost-ripe plums and cashews. At this stage such tannins and wooden hints as came later were discreet, even shy, and there were some light, playful notes of flowers, peaches, apricots, grasses and cinnamon.

Tasting it delivered a crisp, firm mouthfeel that was hot and salty caramel, plus a touch of vanilla. Here the tannins and pencil shavings became much more assertive, suggesting an oaken spine as whippy and sharp as the cane my house-master used to bend across my backside in high school with such unfortunate frequency. In spite of the attendant orange peel,vanilla, cashews, raisins and lemongrass that could be sensed, it was also somewhat sharp, even bitter, and not quite as tamed as I might personally have wished (with perhaps some more aging it would have been? Who knows). Behind all that, the additional flavours had their work cut out for them, not entirely successfully, and so I had to concede after a while that it was well donebut could have been better. The finish, however, was quite exceptional, showing more clearly the difference between an AOC-determined profile versus a more laid back Guadeloupe “let’s see what we can do here” kind of insoucianceit’s remarkably clear, offering for our final inspection caramel, nuttiness, toffee, with avocado, cumin and a hint of ginger.

So, in fine, a Guadeloupe rhum with lovely notes dancing around a great nose and fade, and quite a decent palate within its oaky limitations (which did admittedly cause it to slide down the rankings). Fortunately that in no way sank the rhum, which, on balance, remained a lovely drink to savour neat….it just needed a softer comma of oak, so to speak, not the exclamation point we got. I concede, however, that this was a minor blemish overall.

Although at the top end we are seeing a move towards pot still rums done up in interesting finishes, complete with fully tropical maturation, I believe there is still a place for longer European ageing without any finish at all. Florent Beuchet, the maitre of CDI, has always championed this quiet, more patient route for his rums, which is perhaps why much of his aged hooch works so wellthere’s a subtle, delicate richness to the experience that is not so much as odds with, as a counterpoint to, the badass in-yer-face brutality of those rums which slept for a shorter but more intense period in the Caribbean. Both such types of rums have their place in our worldthe issue does, after all, depend entirely on our preferencesand when a Guadeloupe rum presses so many of the right buttons as this one does, one cannot help but simply appreciate the quality of what makes it into the bottle at the other end. This is a rum like thatit’s vibrant Caribbean sunshine issued for a colder clime, and I’m damned glad I managed to pilfer some from my snickering Danish friends from up north before they finished it all themselves.

(86/100)


Other notes

Feb 092017
 

Wow

#341

The surprisingly heavy and dark Bellevue rhum made by L’Esprit purred salt and sweet caramel ice cream into my nose as I smelled it, revealing itself in so incremental a fashion, with such an odd (if excellent) profile that it almost had to be experienced to be properly appreciated, and it left me wondering whether this was a molasses rum, not one from cane juice. It was bottled at the perfect strength for what it displayed, melding power and smoothness and warmth in a nose of uncommon quality. Yet there was lightness and joyousness here too, a sort of playful melange of all the things we like in a rhum, skimping not at all on the secondary notes of prunes, plums, peaches, and pineapples. It was plump, oily and aromatic to a fault, and demonstrated quite forcefully that the Epris Brazilian rum that had been my first introduction to the company had not been a one-off, one hit wonder.

Even to taste it, the experience did not falter or withdraw from its exuberance. The Bellevue seemed to operate on two levels of quality simultaneouslyfirst there were the faint oily, rubbery notes, leavened with nougat, pink grapefruit and light citrus. And behind that, almost at the same time, there was the real deal: honey, vanillas, olives and briny notes in perfect balance, chopped light fruits and flowers, plus a thin thread of licorice coiling through the whole thing. There was just so much going on here that it rewarded a rather languorous approach to the tastingusually I do all my tastings at the table with all the comparators within easy reach, but here, after ten minutes, I simply said “to hell with it” and went out onto the balcony, sat down to watch the sun go down, and idly observed the passers by below who didn’t share my good fortune at having a lovely rum like this one growling softly in my glass. Even the finish kept on developing (not always the case with rhums or rums) – it was crisp and smooth and hot, long lasting, a real delightit seemed to be a little more oaky than before, here, but the lasting memories it left behind were of a lot of hot, strong black tea, and burnt sugar resting easily on a bed of softer vanilla, tobacco and citrus notes. It was, and remains, a solid, smooth, tasty, drinking experience, not quite as good as the Damoiseau 1989 20 year oldbut close, damned close.

If you’re one of the fortunate owners of this nectar, let me run down the bare bones so that you know what you’re drinking: column still product, cask strength 58%, matured in a bourbon barrel for slightly more than twelve years. This is not from the Habitation Bellevue distillery on Marie Galante, but from the Bellevue estate which is part of Damoiseau on Guadeloupe (the main island), founded in 1914 and bought by Louis Damoiseau in 1942 – commercial bottling began around 1953. Like just about all commercial spirits operations in the West Indies, they ship bulk rum to Europe, which is, as far as I know, where this one was bought, so ageing was not tropical, but European. Which, fortunately for us, didn’t diminish its achievement in the slightest.

My association with L’Esprit, that little French company from Brittany I wrote about earlier this week, came as a consequence of that Brazilian rum referred to abovethat thing really impressed me. And so I kept a weather eye out, and bought the first bottle made by L’Esprit that I saw, which just so happened to be this oneI have a few others from the company to go through so it won’t be the last either. While thus far L’Esprit hasn’t made a whole lot of rumstwenty five or so the last time I lookedthe worth of their wares is consistently high. This one is no exception, an enormously satisfying rhum with exclamation points of quality from start to finish.

The minimal outturn should come in for mention: I’m used to seeing a “set” of a few hundred bottles from the various indies, a few thousand from Rum Nation, so there’s a fair chance some reader of this little blog will pick one up…but to see one of merely sixty bottles from a single cask, well, I may just be spitting into the wind (it was beaten, for the trivia nuts among you, by the Old Man Spirits Uitvlugt, a measly twenty eight bottles, and by the reigning world champion, the Caputo 1973 which had just one). The reason why the outturn is so relatively small, is because L’Esprit is bowing to the marketthey know it’s mostly connoisseurs who love cask strength rums, but they’re few and far between, and it’s the general public who drive sales and buy the 46% versions. What Tristan does, therefore, is issue a small batch of cask strength rums from the barrel (60-100 bottles) and the remainder gets tamped down to 46% and issued in 200-300 bottles.

After going head to head with as many agricole rhums as I can lay paws on for the last few years, there’s nothing but good I can say about the tribe as a whole. I enjoy the fierce purity of the AOC Martinique rhums, their almost austere clarity and grassy cleanlinessyet somehow I find myself gravitating towards Guadeloupe a bit more often, perhaps because they have a slightly more experimental, almost playful way of producing their hooch (they never bothered with the AOC certification themselves, which may be part of it). This gives the rhums from the island(s) a certain unstudied richness and depth that seems to have created a bridge between traditional molasses rums and agricoles (my personal opinion). If you can accept that, then this Bellevue rhum demonstratesin its fruity, oily, creamy, complex, balanced and warm waythe potential and quality of the best of both those worlds.

87/100


Other notes:

  • Outturn 60 bottles
  • Distilled March 1998, bottled November 2010
  • The taste implies a molasses origin rather than cane juice, though I was never able to confirm it.

A last pic: Yeah, it’s out of focus and photobombed by The Little Canerbut we could all use some cheer and smiles once in a while, and I liked this one a lot anyway.

May 082016
 

D3S_3801

A lovely, light rum , as elegant as a Viennese waltz: it’s missing something at the back end, but nothing that would make me consider telling anyone to steer clear.

Compagnie des Indes so intrigued me when I first came across their Cuban rum back in early 2015, that I’ve already looked at two of their more offbeat products (from Fiji and Indonesia), and have detailed notes on five more commercially minded ones, which I’ll try to deal with in the next weeks and months (in between every other rum I want to write about). This one hails from Guadeloupe and is a solid entry to the genre without breaking too much new ground or attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Bellevue (Le Moule) is actually a subset of Damoiseau, and is separated from its better known big brother in order to distinguish its molasses rums from the cane juice products Damoiseau more commonly produces. It’s located NE of Grand Terre (not Marie Galantethe other Bellevue which provided several iterations from Duncan Taylor and Cadenhead is there) . In 2015 CDI got in on the act when the issued this sixteen year old rum (it’s a whisker short of seventeen), but have made no effort to distinguish the two Bellevues (except to me, because I asked to clear up my confusionthanks Florent.)

D3S_3802

It’s always useful to know ahead of time where an aged rum was in fact aged, because as many writers before me have pointed out, tropical maturation is faster than Continental ageing, and the resultant qualities of the final product diverge: Velier, for example, has always favoured the tropics and ages there, which goes somewhat to explaining the intensity of its rums; while CDI prefers more subtle variations in its rums deriving from a prolonged rest in Europe. Knowing that helped me understand the staid elegance of a rum like this one. The nose, easy and warm at 43%, presented soft and fruity without hurry, with some driness, cardboard, and pickles (yeah, I know, I know…). Pears, ripe apples and white guavas, with a hint of zest, something like tangerine peel mixed up with some bubble-gum, plus an undercurrent of burnt sugar lending a very pleasing counterpoint.

At 43% the texture of this golden rum was medium bodied trending to light, and pleasant for all that. It was unusually dry and a bit too oaky, I feltthe tannins provided a dominance that somewhat derailed the other parts of the profile. It started out a little softbananas, kiwi fruit and white flowersbefore nectarines and fresh cucumber slices on rye bread emerged, which in turn gave way to ginnip and unripe apples and mangos. It took time to get all this and the integration of all these elements was not perfect: still, overall it was a perfectly serviceable rum, with a short, crisp, clear finish redolent of caramel, sugar cane juice, vanilla and more fruitiness that was light and sweet without ever getting so complex as to defy description.

There’s a certain clear delicacy of profile that has run through the Compagnie’s rums I’ve tried thus far. They do not practice dosing, which is part of the explanationthe European ageing is anotherbut even so, they are uniquely distinct from other independent bottlers who also follow such practices. This and the relatively low strength makes their rums possess an unhurried, easygoing nature that is not to everyone’s taste (least of all full proof rummies or cask strength whisky lovers). This one in particular lacks overall development, but makes up for it with interesting tastes you have to work at to discern, and at end it was a rum you would not be unhappy to have shelled out for. At under sixty euros (if you can still find it) it’s pretty good value for money, and gives a really good introduction to the profile of a Guadeloupe outfit with which not everyone will be familiar and whose rums are nothing to sneeze at.

(#271 / 85/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled March 1998, bottled February 2015
  • 281 bottle outturn
  • No additives, filtering or adulteration.
  • Masters of Malt remarks this is made from molasses, not cane juice. Florent, when contacted, said: “Yes indeed it s a molasses rum. There are two Bellevue distilleries in Guadeloupe. One on Marie Galante producing cane juice rums. Another one at Le Moule producing molasses sometimes.