Jan 042021
 

The Dzama 6 year old rum from the island of Madagascar sits between the modest 3 and 5 year old rums, rubs shoulders with an 8 YO, and looks up to the more exclusive 10 YO and 15 YO expressions; the company has been busy expanding the range since I first tried their 3 year old back in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the local market share of the company’s spirits is a massive 60% or so – they make a bit of everything alcoholic and are a very diversified drinks conglomerate – their prime market remains Madagascar itself with exports to Europe, some states of the USA and Canada. That said, it has never quite caught on with the rum drinking crowd the way the rhums of the French Caribbean islands, or Mauritius or Reunion have. 

That might result from the appearance of vanilla and other spices in the flavour profile, though the makers deny any additives on any but the clearly marked spiced variations of the line (like the Vanilla). Company founding legends state that the original genesis of the cane was in the small northwestern island of Nosy-be where supposedly the oils and perfumes of the various botanicals to be found there (vanilla, cloves, pepper are often cited) leach from their roots into the soil and are intermixed with the cane plants’ own root systems, into their stems, and thence to the ultimate distillate. I’m no chemist or botanist, but one could just as easily wonder why similar processes aren’t observed on the spice island (Grenada) for example.

That spiced profile was evident on the 3 year old and I marked it down for that (as did the Fat Rum Pirate when he looked at it some time later), thinking it too dominant.  It’s much less evident here, and in fact, this was almost a completely different rum.  It smelled of rubber, varnish and acetones, and was quite light at 45% ABV.  It had aromas of rotten bananas, fleshy fruits, and going-off apricots, mangoes and pears. That admittedly sounds rather off-putting (I assure you it really isn’t), and what quite a few people hate about such rums, we reviewers like to call it “pleasant” and “character-filled.” In fairness, I remember thinking it reminded me of a low rent Jamaican, but lacking their complete unconcern for the funk you were getting – it was, perhaps, more well-behaved.

The palate was thick, rich and sweet, even in comparison the the 3YO which showed no modesty with such aspects itself but while stronger, had also been paradoxically easier.  Here we were regaled with bananas, cherries in syrup, brown sugar, and a sort of smorgasbord of fruitiness – some tart, some just soft and mushy – and creaminess of greek yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon and cloves. Disappointingly, the finish did nothing much except lock the door and walk off, throwing a few notes of cloves, sugar, cherries, peaches and syrup behind.  Not a stellar finish after the intriguing beginning.

Whether Lucien Fohine — who founded the Vidzar, the owning company in 1980 — was right about the way local plants’ aromas came into the final distillate, or whether they catered to local palates by goosing the juice a tad, the fact is that the rum is a bit too sweet and a bit too overdone, like a nouveaux riche showing off new furs and new bling. It’s not precisely overkill, more like a loud drunk regaling a joint with loud and boring sports stories you’re not interested in – it’s distracting, even off-putting and makes the enjoyment less.

That said, it’s not precisely a bad rum either. It’s a bit like a Bacardi Gold mixing it up with a Diplo Res Ex, or some other such tasty workhorse that can be used for a number of different purposes, even a neat sip – the relatively low strength and the aforementioned tastes help there.  But for someone who knows his rums it’s a bit of a let down, and while it’s certainly pleasant as it is — cocktail gurus and professional mixologists could probably find good things to do with it —  I think I’d rather spring for the upscale aged versions that have more character and less of those distracting flavours.

(#791)(82/100)


Other Notes

Jan 312019
 

More than four years ago I wrote about the Rhum Vieux Millésimé 1998 10 YO made by Dzama and concluded that I was pretty stoked to see what else the brand had in the larder.  It’s taken a long time for me to make good on that desire, so here we have something lower down on the totem pole from the same company, and I thought it was a good effort, for all its youth and in spite of the niggly questions it raised.

Let’s refresh the memory first: for the geographically challenged, Madagascar is that huge island off the south east coast of Africa; and the Dzama rums are made by Vidzar, formed in 1980 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 products…mostly low level rum for local consumption, to that point. 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.

He formed a company Vidzar (a contraction of Vieux Rhum de Dzamandzar), which initially concerned itself with whisky bottling. It was located close to the sugar cane fields of Nosy Be, near to a village called Dzamadzar, but a few years later, as their operations expanded, they transferred production to Antananarivo (the capital, in the center of the island) The company, which now claims a majority of rum market share in Madagascar, makes a range of rums, including the Dzama Club, 3 YO and 6 YO, the Millésimé 1998 10 Year Old, Dzama 15 and 25 year old rums and a Cuvée Noire. Most of these are untried by the vast majority of rum drinkers, and remain relatively unknown, though many have won prizes between 2010 and 2015, in Miami, Paris, Berlin and Madrid.

All that said, there isn’t much on the company website about the technical details regarding the 3 year old we’re looking at today. It’s a column still rum, unadded-to, aged in oak barrels, and my sample clocked in at 52%, which I think is an amazing strength for a rum so young – most producers tend to stick with the tried-and-true 40-43% (for tax and export purposes) when starting out, but not these guys.

Now, the theory is that the oils and perfumes of the various botanicals to be found on Madagascar (vanilla, cloves, pepper are often cited) leach from their roots into the soil and are intermixed with the cane plants’ own root systems, into their stems, and thence to the ultimate distillate. I’m no chemist or botanist, but one could just as easily wonder why similar processes aren’t observed on the spice island (Grenada) for example, so I reserve judgement on that score.  

Be that as it may, the nose is quietly rich for a rum aged a mere three years – not Velier-Demerara-go-for-the-brass-ring rich, just more than one would expect going in. This nose was initially redolent of creamy feta cheese, brine, red olives and cashew notes, and had a nice line of rotting bananas and funk coiling about in the background which provided an underpinning of real character.  It also gave off subtler aromas of candied oranges, pears and other light fruits, just not enough to take over and make it a fruit bomb. But towards the end there was a more dominant element of toffee, coffee grounds and vanilla which I thought pleasant but overdone, especially since it was delivered with some real force.

Though it teetered right on the edge of being too hot, it presented a solid if sharp drink, an amalgam of salt and sweet…and a lot of brown sugar and vanilla  There were bananas, strawberries, cherries, and some of that tart and creamy sensation you get from an unsweetened fruit smoothie made from, oh, firm yellow mangoes and pineapple.  The vanilla remained, the coffee disappeared, and amusingly, I could actually taste sweet green peas. Much of the saltiness and nuttiness of the nose was gone, though still noticeable, and it did not unbalance the fruity aspects.  The finish was where it failed, I thought – it was medium long, somewhat spicy, just rather mild, with closing notes of fruits, vanilla, salted caramel, coconut shavings, and a little citrus.

Well, what to make of this? The nose was decent, the palate was nearly as good, a reasonable drink even by itself….particularly if you like the hints of spices. Does that mean natural or other spices have been added?  They say no, and hydrometer tests show no obscuration… but I can’t help but wonder.  Rums this young tend to be rather sharp and retain competing notes that saw across the palate, better off in mixed drinks than to have neat; the Dzama 3 YO was sippable and had the edge toned down, and for that to happen at that strength raises the eyebrow.  However, in the absence of more information, I’ll leave it there for now as a note for those who want to know.

That first Dzama I tried, the 1998 10 YO, had what at first sight seemed like an utterly standard profile that then expanded into something quite unconventional and interesting. The 3 year old is not on that level. The vanilla is a shade too dominant, and while fortunately having enough other taste elements in there to move beyond that, it remains ultimately straightforward.  But it is, nevertheless, a good drink for what it says it is, and demonstrates that a rum doesn’t have to be the latest Velier, Worthy Park or Foursquare juice, or from some independent’s minuscule outturn, to be a rum worth checking out.

(#594)(80/100)


Other Notes

Wes was much more disapproving of the spiced profile in his review.  It’s his hydrometer test I referenced.

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 spices…but 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 surprise – was 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 lovely – soft and warm and exactly strong enough for what it was – a 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 really – the 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 products…mostly 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 it – yet 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 so – that’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 yourself…and this one would be an excellent place to start.

(#189. 84/100)