Apr 262021
 

Isla del Ron is one of the smaller independent rum labels out of Europe, such as have sprung up with greater frequency over the last decade. It’s a division of its parent company Unique Liquids, founded around 2009, and located in north central Germany, between Dortmund and Hanover. To add to the complexity, it owns the related company Malts of Scotlandnot entirely a surprise, since Thomas Ewers, the founder, likes his whisky perhaps more than rum. Since 2012, the company has produced about 22 various single barrel rums from all the usual suspects around the Caribbean and Central America.

The rhum we’re looking at today is a peculiar specimen: a single cask release of 169 bottles at 52.6%….but where from? Consider the label, which says “South Pacific”. Can you honestly make sense of that, given that even the geographically challenged are aware (we can hope) that Guadeloupe isn’t an island in the Pacific? Alex over at Master Quill explains what’s happening here: Ewers bought a cask marked “South Pacific”, but which had been mislabelled, and was actually from Bellevuethough it’s unclear how he came to that conclusion. Assuming he’s right, that sounds simple enough exceptwhich one? Because there are two Bellevues, one on the small island of Marie-Galante, the other on Guadeloupe (Grand Terre) itself, Damoiseau’s Bellevue at le Moule (That Boutique-y Rum Company made a similar mistake on the label of its Bellevue rhum a couple of years ago).

But it seems to be an unknown: Thomas felt it was from Marie-Galante, and Alex wasn’t so sure, given the variety of 1998 distillate marked Guadeloupe that other indies have released in the past, but which was from Damoiseau’s Bellevue on G-T, not Bellevue on M-G. What this means is that we don’t actually know whether it’s a cane juice rhum or a molasses rum (Damoiseau has a long history of working with both), or for sure which distillery produced it.

But let’s see if the tasting helps us figure things out, because the fact is that the Isla del Ron Guadeloupe is actually a quiet kind of delicious (with certain caveats, which I’ll get to later). The nose, for example, is a warm and soft caramel ice cream pillow with a bunch of contrasting fruity notes (grapes, pomegranates, kiwi fruit) lending it some edge. Bags of toffee, bonbons, flowers and a flirt of licorice waft around the glass, set off with oversweet strawberry bubble gum and (peculiarly) some a creamy feta cheese minus the salt. Throughout it remains a pleasant sniff, with some citrus and tannic notes bringing up the rear.

The nose doesn’t help narrow down the origin (though I have my suspicions), and the palate doesn’t eitherbut it is nice. It remains light, slightly briny, and just tart enough to be crisp. It has moments of sprightliness and sparkling freshness, tasting of red grapefruit, grapes, sprite, orange zest and herbs (rosemary and dill) – but also presents a contrasting whiff of sharper and slightly bitter oaky aspects, cinnamon, licorice, molasses, with back-end nougat and coconut shavings allowing it to smoothen out somewhatif not completely successfully, in my view. I do like the finish, which is medium long, medium warm, and quite tasty: closing notes of citrus peel, caramel, pencil shavings and some raisins, plus a few delicate flowers.

Personally, my opinion on its source tends more towards Damoiseau, what with that distillery releasing rather more bulk rum to brokers than Bellevue, which is smaller and has more of a local market; and the molasses and vanilla and caramel notes point in that direction also. To be honest, though, I thought that the rum’s overall profile fell somewhere in between the crispness of the Bielle 2001 14 YO and a Cuban like Cadenhead’s ADC Spiritu Sancti 1998 14 YO. That’s not a major issue though, because as with most such situations, it’s all about whether it works as a rum or not, and if so, how good it is.

On that basis, I’d say that yes, overall it’s a solid Guadeloupe rhumjust one without real originality. It lacks distinctiveness, and carves out no new territory of its own. It’s a lovely tasting rhum, yes, but unfortunately, also not one you’d be able to remember clearly next week. In that sense, it’s like many bally-hooed and overhyped rums we keep hearing about every day on social media, but which then drop out of sight forever without ever having stirred the emotions of us drinkers in any serious way. And that’s a bit of a shame, really, for a rum that is otherwise quite good.

(#815)(86/100)

Mar 302021
 


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Jan 202020
 

In spite of being “just” a consultant, Pete Holland of The Floating Rum Shack is so completely identified with the rums of the cheekily named That Boutique-y Rum Company, that we sometimes overlook the fact the outfit is actually part of Atom Brands which runs the Masters of Malt online spirits establishment. The curious matter of his being seen as the face of the brand can be directly traced to two thingshis consistent promotional work for TBRC online and off, and the irreverent paintings by Jim’ll Paint It that adorn the labels of the bottles, many of which feature Peter himself.

In a field ever more crowded with new bottlers, new distilleries and new (supposedly improved, but not always) offerings from the old houses, all vying for our limited attentions spans and slim, wife-approved budgets, one can hardly fault such an in-your-face marketing strategy, you can only admire how well it’s done. It helps, of course, that Peter really is a fun guy to hang out with, drink with and make jokes with (or at) – and that the rums the company has released so far have been pretty damned good.

Take this one, which proves that TBRC has a knack for ferreting out good barrels. It’s not often you find a rum that is from the French West Indies aged beyond ten yearsNeisson’s been making a splash recently with its 18 YO, you might recall, for that precise reason. To find one that’s a year older from Guadeloupe in the same year is quite a prize and I’ll just mention it’s 54.2%, aged seven years in Guadeloupe and a further twelve in the UK, and outturn is 413 bottles. On stats alone it’s the sort of thing that makes my glass twitch.

Still, with the facts out of the way, what’s it like?

Very niceif a little off the beaten track. Now here is a rum based on a batch of molasses (so it’s not a true cane juice agricole), and it starts off not with grassy and herbal and citrus aromas, but with crackers, caramel, and breakfast cereal (Fruit Loops, I say, from the experience of buying tons of the stuff for the Baby Caner back in the day). Which I like, don’t get me wrongonce I adjust my mental compass away from agricole territory. The nose also displays toffee, nougat, nuts, almonds and mixes that up with a softly emergent slightly sharp and piquant fruity bouquet that’s quite simply delectable. The balance among all these elements is really good, negotiating that fine and tricky line between muskiness, sweetness, crispness and sharpness in a way we don’t often see.

The palate confirms that we’re not dealing with a cane juice rum in any waythe wood is more evident here, there’s some resin-like backtaste, smoke, vanilla, molasses and brine, offset by light flowers, and a sort of subtle fruity sweetness. The fruits are kinda tough to pick apartsome red grapes, I suppose, pears, papayait’s all very light and just a tad acidic, so that the combined profile is one of a seriously good rum, concluding with a reasonably long finish that is sweet, salt, wine-y, and crisp, just the slightest bit sour, and overall a really welcome dram to be sipping after a tough day at the rumfest.

Guadeloupe rums in general lack something of the fierce and stern AOC specificity that so distinguishes Martinique, but they’re close in quality in their own way, they’re always good, and frankly, there’s something about the relative voluptuousness of a Guadeloupe rhum that I’ve always liked. Peter sold me on the quality of the O Reizinho Madeiran a while back, but have my suspicions that he has a soft spot for this one as well. Myself, I liked it a mite better, perhaps because there was just a bit more going on in the background and overall it had a shade more complexity which I appreciated. It’s a really delectable dram, well aged, damned tasty and one to share with all your friends.

(#694)(87/100)


Other Notes

Peter told me that the label was a little misleading. The initial image on the bottle I tried makes a visual reference to the (Gardel) distillery on Marie Galante, but it was actually distilled at Damoiseau’s Le Moule facility, from a batch of molasses rum produced on their creole column. The label has been redrawn and there’s a movement afoot to re-label future iterationsRev 2.0 adds Peter to the artwork and pokes a little fun at the mistake.

Aug 182019
 

The French islands provide a reviewer with a peculiar problem when trying to pick a single rum as being a “Key” anything. This is largely because Martinique and Guadeloupe are almost alone in the world in possessing such a gathering of world-famous rum distilleries in such a concentrated geographical space (a comparison to Islay, say, is not entirely out to lunch). Several Caribbean islands have a single large distiller (St. Lucia, Trinidad) or two (Grenada) or a few (Cuba, Barbados, Jamaica), and Haiti of course comes up for special mentionbut none have so many whose names resound through the rumiverse. So how to pick just one?

The selection of the first of what will be several candidates from the French islandsbecause to limit oneself just to one or two or even three is to do the entire subset of agricole rums an enormous disserviceis made even more difficult by the fact that Guadeloupe is not seen as a “pure” agricole maker. This is primarily because, of course, they sometimes mess around with both molasses and cane juice styles of rhum, and have never actively sought the AOC designation which so enhances the street cred of rhums from Martinique.

But even so, I like the rhums of Guadeloupe (Grande Terre and Basse Terre and Marie-Galante) — a lot. To me, the work of Gardal, Karukera, Bielle, Longueteau, Severin, Bellevue, Montebello, Pere Labat, Reimonenq, Capovilla and Damoiseau are as good as any the world over, and behind them all still reverbrates the majestic quality of Courcelles, the one that switched me on to agricoles all those years ago when the Little Caner was not yet the Big Caner and I was just getting serious about French island hooch.

So why start with Damoiseau? The easiest answer is to say “Gotta begin someplace.” More seriously, it’s certainly one of the better known brands from there, the leading producer on Guadeloupe; back in 2016 I remember Josh Miller awarding their white 55% first place in his agricole challenge; years before that, Velier gained confidence to issue more full proof rums by releasing their excellent 1980 version at 60.3% (the first such strong rum in their portfolio); Matt Pietrek suggested the Damoiseau 4 year old Réserve Spécial VSOP was a great rum to have for under US$45 and a good ambassador for the country’s rum-making tradition; and lastly, I simply have good memories of most of their work I’ve tried. But for me, the VSOP is a bit young and rough, and my affection is given to the very slightly older version which we shall get into without further ado.

Made from cane juice and then aged in ex-bourbon casks, Damoiseau has the occasional peculiarity (in my eyes, at least) of making aged rhums that don’t always or completely showcase the crisp herbal sweet grassiness we have come to associate with agricoles. Here, that isn’t the case at allup to a point. The cane-juice-derived 5YO, which is near to standard strength (42% ABV) and therefore very approachable by those who want to dip their toes, is remarkably clean and yet still full-bodied for that strength. Immediately there is vanilla, a little oakiness, pears, prunes and the light notes of some pineapple slices. Also cane sap and sugar water, flavoured with a dusting of cinnamon. And, oddly, a nip of molasses, brown sugar and caramel in the background, which I can’t explain, but find pleasing nevertheless.

The palate isn’t quite as sterling as the nose, though still a cut above normal: a little thin, perhapsblame it on the 42%, which is, let’s face it, somewhat lacklustre against the shining vibrancy of the whites, so often torqued up to 50%. The rhum tastes a little dry, a little briny, with vanilla, dates, prunes, blackberries and dark grapes leading in, followed by some florals, crisp oak notes, breakfast spices, cerealsand again, that strange hint of caramel syrup and molasses poured over fresh hot pancakes flitting behind all the other tastes. It’s a perfectly nice drink for all that, and the finish is a fitting conclusion: nice and long with oily, salty and tequila notes, to which are added light oakiness, vanillins, fruits and florals, nothing specific, nothing overly complex just the entire smorgasbord sailing into a serene conclusion.

Personally, I’d suggest that some extra strength would be useful, but by no means does that disqualify the Damoiseau 5 Year Old as a good all-rounder, equally at home in a mix of some kind or by itself. You can tell it’s been aged, it’s slightly sweet and has the requisite fruits and other flavours combining decently, and the rhum navigates its way between a light and heavy profile quite nicely. That slight touch of caramel or molasses was something I liked as wellif memory serves, it was a similar ”contaminant” that prevented the 1980 from being released as appellation-compliant and that was why it was sold to Velier, but whether in this instance that’s deliberate or my imagination is anyone’s guess. All I can say is that for me it was there, and it did not detract but enhanced.

So at the end, the 5YO ticks all the boxes we look for in such a rhum. Young as it is, it’s a tasty, unique product from Damoiseau; it’s of reasonable strengthand therefore doesn’t frighten those now moving out of their comfort zones and getting into different styles, with some stratospheric ABV or a profile of off-the-wall lunacy; and best of all for those who just want to nibble at its edges without biting the whole thing, the price point is right on the midpoint between two other candidates for the position. It’s slightly more expensive than the VSOP, but more elegant; and cheaper than the 8 YO but more versatile. Any of these three could be a rum that celebrates Guadeloupe, but for my money and what I want out of a rhum like this, the 5 YO is the one that nails it.

(#652)(83/100)