Nov 192018
 

It was the words “Grand Arôme” that caught my eye: I knew that term. “Galion”, which I seemed to remember but didn’t, quite. And “Martinique,” hardly seeming to go with either. It had no brothers and sisters to its left and right on the shelf, which, in a shop stocking rows and rows of Plantations, Rum Nation, BBR, Saint James, Bally, HSE, Dillon, Neisson and all the others, struck me as strange (that and the rather “poor-relation-from-the-backcountry” cheap label and tinfoil cap). What on earth was this thing?

I bought it on a whim and cracked it in the company of some other agricoles that night and did not one lick of research until after it was done: that was probably the right decision, going in blind like that, because here is a rum which lurks behind the Martinique canon the same way the bottle did on that shelf, and it’s rare enough these days to find a rum you didn’t know existed, especially from an island with so many different rhums of its own that are well known.

Rums and rhums titled “Grand Arôme” are high-ester products much associated with French island rhums in general (Reunion Island’s Savanna HERR in particular) and have a lot in common with the New Wave of Jamaican rums we’re currently seeing from Hampden, Worthy Park and others, with their own classification titles like Plummer, Wedderburn and Continental Flavoured. They are all branches from the same treehooches with boosted ester counts to make for a enormously flavourful product.

And you could sense that on the nose, which was one to drive Cyrano de Bergerac into conniption fits. It lacked the smooth warmth of an aged product, but whether it did or didn’t spend time sleeping in wood, it reeked like a white monster from Haiti, even at the low strength. Olives, brine, licorice, black pepper, some vanilla, prunes and pencil shavings were immediately noticeable, in a sort of delirious free-for-all for dominance, followed by a lessening intensity over time as it opened up and provided some secondary aromas of vanilla, bags of fleshy fruits (peaches, apricots, prunes, plums, citrus), very light caramel and some aromatic tobacco. Not entirely original, but very very pungent, which for a rum issued at 43% was quite impressiveit was certainly more interesting than the light Cuban-style San Pablo or milquetoast Dictador Best of 1977 I happened to have on hand. Actually, that smell it reminded me rather less of an agricole than of a Jamaican, with all the funk and rotten bananas and midden heaps (akin to the Long Pond TECC but nowhere near as intense).

The pattern repeated itself as I tasted it, starting off sharp, uncouth, jagged, rawand underneath all that was some real quality. There were caramel, salty cashews, marshmallows, brown sugar (truly an agricole? I wrote in my notes), plasticine, wax crayons, brine, olives, sugar water, pineapple, raisins, a solid citrus heft to it, and again a lot of varied ripe fruits (and some not so ripe that were just beginning to go off). It was kind of sweet and salt and sour all at oncepractically a roadmap to the esters it squirted from every pore. But what was nice about it, was that if left to rest, it turned out to be smooth enough to sip while retaining that edge of raw quality that would make it a great mixer, and it’s got all the character of profile which the San Pablo (both the Gold and the White) so conspicuously lacked. Even the finish demonstrated thatit was short, but quite intense, with lingering notes of citrus, light anise, molasses, fruits, raisins and a last hint of salt.

My initial scribbles, transcribed here verbatim, read “Can’t tell what this is, need more background work. Says from Martinique, but it backs away from the crisp/clean agricole party line; seems more like a Jamaica-Martinique stepchild? (Yeah, I really do write like that). Because to me, it presented as a hybrid at the very least, suggesting intriguing paths for rum makersa combination of agricole and molasses rum, made perhaps en passant, but certainly not lacking in brio, aggro or tempo.

So what is it? A local rum made for the backcountry and not for export? A trial balloon of sorts to suss out the market? A failed attempt at something different, an experiment that somehow got loose from the lab? A bottle of the chairman’s private stash that got smuggled out in someone’s trousers?

Not quite. It’s Martinique’s answer to the Jamaican bad boys, made by the last remaining sugar factory on Martinique, Usine du Galion, which has the added distinction of also being the last distillery on the island to make rum from molasses (they source cane from around the island, from areas not AOC labelled). It’s mystifying why there’s such a lack of awareness of the Galion rum itself, but on reflection it’s perhaps not so surprising, becauseaccording to the estimable Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany who I contacted about this odd lack of profilethe commercial bottled rum is peanuts to them. Their real core business is sugar, and that part of the operation is huge, their primary focus. They installed a column still in the factory to make rum in bulk, which is then almost all exported to Europe, used primarily in the tobacco/candy/pastry industries and pharmaceuticals (probably perfumes).

Map of Martinique distilleries courtesy of Benoit Bail

There are only two Galion rums I’m aware of at this point: a white I’ve never seen at around 50-55%, and this one at 43%, which, according to Nico Rumlover’s enormously informative article here, is made from molasses, fermented with the addition of vinasse for anything between eight to sixteen days in wooden vats, using indigenous yeasts in a continuous cycle through the columnar still. Apparently it is unaged, with a small amount of caramel added to give the brown colour and generally limited to the ester midrange of around 500 g/hlpasquarely in the no-man’s land between Wedderburn (200-300 g/hlpa) and Continental Flavoured (700-1600 g/hlpa).

And it’s a hell of a rum, I’ll tell you thatMatt Pietrek in his article on “Beyond Jamaican Funk” mentioned Galion and what they were up to, but missed this under-the-radar rum and suggested that if you wanted French Island ester bombs, Reunion was the place to go. You might still have to, since the Galion is either available only at the factory, as a blender’s sample from Scheer in Amsterdam (at a whopping 61% ABV), or in some small, dusty forgotten shelf somewhere in Europe. But if you can pick it up, think of it as a high ester funk bomb that could be seen as a cheerfully insouciant French bird flipped at Jamaica; it proves emphatically that you don’t need to go all the way to the Indian Ocean to get yourself some, and provides a really cool comparator to those flavourful rums from all the other places we are only now getting to know so well.

(#569)(85/100)

Jul 262017
 

#380

The independent bottler Secret Treasures is no longer the same company it started out as, and this particular and delectable Guadeloupe rum was selected by the Swiss concern Fassbind before they sold off the brand to Haromex in 2005. So although Haromex is now making a new line of rums under the ST label (like the St Lucia Vendome and John Dore still rums I’ve looked at before), this rhum predates them and is part of the original line up.

Guadeloupe is, of course, somewhat general a term so let me expand on that by saying the rhum originates from the Gardel Distillerie located in the north-east of Grand Terre in the commune of Le Moule. Gardel, owned by Générale Sucrière, a major player in the global sugar refining industry, is one of two distilleries in Le Moule (the other is Damoiseau) and earns some of its distinction by being the sole sugar refinery on the main island. I don’t think Gardel makes any rhums of its own but sell rum stock to brokers and others – however, there is maddeningly little information available except this one: Gardel ceased distillation in 1992, so this rhum is among the last that actually derived from its column stills. Afterwards it is conjectured Damoiseau used theGardeltitle for some 1998 rums, like Renegade’s.

Some basic facts on the rhum then, just to set the scene: it was from the Gardel distillery, distilled 1992 and bottled August 2003 from three casks which provided 1,401 bottles (this was #327). It was issued at a relatively unadventurous 42% which would have been fairly standard at that time, and one can only wonder what it has been doing for the last fourteen years and why nobody ever bought the thing. Since I had and retain a sneaking appreciation for Secret Treasures ever since I had their excellent Enmore 1989, there were no battles with my conscience to buy a few more from their range. Note that it is labelled as a “rum” (not rhum) and I have no absolute confirmation whether it was truly cane-juice derived, or where exactly it was aged (the now-defunct Reference-rhum, that online French-language encyclopedia of rum brands, says “molasses” with a question mark under its entry, while the 2021 entry for it under RumX saysmolasseswith no evidence of doubt).

In any event, whatever its ultimate source or point of ageing, I thought it was a zippy and sprightly rhum of initially crisp clarity and cleanliness. Coloured orange-amber, it nosed in surprisingly bright and clear fashion, immediately giving up aromas of honey, flowers and 7-Up (seriously!); over a period of minutes a more solid briny background emerged, accompanied by perfectly ripe fleshy fruits – peaches, apricots, sultanas and raspberries. Not particularly fierce or savage – it was too laid back and standard strength for that – but a very enjoyable nosing experience, the sort of easy going yet sufficiently assertive profile to have one curiously going deeper into it just to see where the rabbit hole led.

Aside from a certain lightness to the profile, the palate provided a soft series of tastes, which were fruity, floral, musky and delicate all at the same time. It was hard to know what to make of it – initially there were flowers, fudge, salty caramel, coconut, and vanilla, counterpointed with lemon zest, green apples, grapes and peaches. After a while additional flavours evolved: maple syrup, aromatic tobacco and vague coffee. Some of the crispness of the nose faded into the background here, and overall it did not present the sort of complexity that would advance it to the top shelf, but it was distinct enough to grab the attention, and at the very least it was intriguing, and for sure quite pleasant to drink. Perhaps the finish was the weakest part, being short and easy and light, mostly reminding one of caramel, light fruits, and raisins, which goes some way to making me wondering whether it was a true cane juice distillate (it lacked the distinctive herbal grassiness of such a product), or from molasses. One thing was clear though – it was nicely made, and wore its middle age well, without any kind of raw edge or jagged sharpness that distinguishes extremely young bottom-tier rums.

So: trying this clean and playful Guadeloupe rhum in tandem with the L’Esprit Bellevue 58% 8-year-old and the Longueteau 6-year-old VSOP, I felt the last two rhums were remarkably similar, though I liked the soft honey and maple-syrup notes of the Secret Treasures just a little more, and the L’Esprit better than both, which just goes to show that ageing isn’t everything, especially in the world of agricoles (remember the spectacular Chantal Comte 1980?). Be that as it may, there’s nothing at all bad about the ST Gardel 1992 rhum, and in fact it makes me really interested to try the 1989 variation, just to see how it stacks up. These days Fassbind is long gone from the scene and Haromex is making changes to the labels and the line up – but for those of you who come across some of the original bottler’s expressions dating back from the eighties and nineties, you could do a lot worse than pick one of them up, if for no reason than the pure and simple enjoyment of a well-aged rhum, well made, almost forgotten, and tasting just fine.

(84.5/100)


Other notes:

  • The Gardel plant, also known as Sainte-Marie, is the only sugar plant which still operating in Guadeloupe. It was founded in 1870 and its first owner was Benjamin François Benony Saint-Alarey, who chose to pay homage to his paternal grandmother in his naming of the factory. In 1994, the sugar sector in Guadeloupe underwent major restructuring, leading to the closure of all sugar factories on the island except Gardel which is currently composed of an agricultural part with a 1000 hectares and an industrial area. It produces nearly 100,000 tons of sugar per year. Information about the distillery is much more scant, unfortunately, though there’s a note by Ed Hamilton on the original Ministry of Rum forum, that it was closed by 1994…and the label for Renegade Guadeloupe 1998 mentions both a column still, and 1992 as the last date of any distillation.
Aug 312012
 

Never had a rum that tasted so much like a peated whisky. And yet….and yet….

If ever there was a rum that exemplified the inconsistency of the Renegade line, this is it. I’m not saying it was a bad rum, just one that didn’t conform to any profile of rum that people could say they recognize as a rum. And in that fact lay (in my opinion) its failure.

Of course, like all Renegades, it was lovely to look at, with the now-familiar frosted glass enclosure and a label that gave as much information as one would wish. Column-distilled in 1998 at the Gardal distillery in Guadeloupe, bottled in 2009 with a limited run of 1300 bottles. All things are good, right?

And yet the beginning gave no hint of the surprising volte face to come, like Dick Francis’s horse skidding to an ignominious belly flop just shy of the finishing line in the 1950s. Consider the initial scents of this hay blonde product: it was soft and light and delicate, very much like a decent cognac, and this was not surprising, since it was aged for eleven years in Limousin oak casks and then enhanced (for three months, I think) in Chateau Latour casks…so some of that cognac finish came out in the aromas. Pineapple, red grapes just starting to ripen, a good rough red wine, mellowing into a leathery dry hint. Pretty damned good. And no hint of bite or snarl or bitchiness, in spite of the 46% bottling strength.

Yet the palate was where things (in my estimation) started to come unglued: the smoky and dry aromas came out full force, attended by the over-aggressive bridegroom of iodine and seaweed, of peat and brine that suggested not so much cognacs and Gallic savoire-faire, but the elemental hacking of a Gaelic invasion, complete with longboats and battle axes. WTF? Even after opening up, the rum could barely emerge from those heated flavours, and none of the first scents I discerned could make it past the claymores of the single malts. Why do I get the feeling Bruichladdich mischievously mixed up a cask from its whisky stocks, and is sniggering into a sporran somewhere?

So the arrival was great, the palate not to my taste, and the finish, in my opinion, vacillated hesitantly between the two. At 46% I’d expect a long, leisurely exit, and this was indeed the case, long, heated, dry and smoky, not displeasing in any way, with a faint nutty note batting my senses on the way out, as if to apologize for the palate.

So where do I stand on this whisky in sheep’s clothing? Not very positive, to be honest. The mouthfeel and texture on the tongue of this Renegade were, I thought quite good, and of course the opening scents were lovely. I’m just confused by that damned palate. The cognac profile I was expecting was utterly absent, while none of the lightness and floral scents of a true agricole were really in evidence. I acknowledge originality (even celebrate it), and I’m not a despiser of whiskies by any means – one can’t be a member of Liquorature for going on four years and not have gotten a real education in the subject from those who are incessantly beckoning me to the Dark Side – yet of all the ones I’ve tried, peats are my least favourite (sorry, friends of Islay). And so on that scale, the Renegade Guadeloupe fails for me.

I can’t deny its excellence on a technical level, which is why it scores so relatively well. But I’ll tell you this – if I wanted an Islay profile rum, I would not have spent €53 in the best rum shop I’ve ever seen (the Rum Depot in Berlin), but bought myself something else instead. Points to Renegade for pushing the envelope of what the definition of a rum is and can be, and congrats to people who love whisky who will marvel at the amalgam and congruence of their favourite libations (and probably tell me I’m out to lunch)…but for this rum lover, all it gets is a shake of the head, and a rum that’s left behind.

(#118.81/100)


Other Notes

  • First published August 2012 on the Liquorature website
  • The distillery of origin of this 1998 Guadeloupe rhum is something of a mystery, since the label (correctly) notes the Gardel distillery’s column still as having breathed its last in 1992, so what is the name doing on a label from six years later? Barrel Aged Thoughts noted that Damoiseau / Bellevue was said to have used the name for some limited 1998 releases. But it remains unclear and unproven, and so for the moment we have to leave that as an unresolved issue.