Mar 292024
 

It’s not often that a rum aged just a few years that remains in development is as good or better than its own unaged white predecessor, but somehow, Retribution from the UK has done a fair dinkum job of it. Their white rum was unpretentious, eager to please and a decent drink that did not try to rearrange your innards (as so many feral whites try to do), and I quite liked it. Its slightly aged cousin is just a smidgen better, and it still isn’t finished or in open release yet.

Retribution is a small distillery in Frome (a town in Somerset county, in the south west of the UK) that was started relatively recently in 2019, by a brewer named Richard Lock, who wanted to go beyond the suds he had been making to that point. Something of an auto-didact, he took courses in brewing and distilling at the Herriot-Watt University, and eventually switched over to a distilling operation. He then proceeded to issue a gin as his first product before branching out to whisky and rum. The latter (as of 2024) sports three editions: the white, a spiced and a-still-in-the-barrel aged rum, all made in relatively small quantities for nowit is this last we’re looking at today.

Technical details are the same as for the white rum: the molasses based wash is fermented between one and two weeks using a French sparkling wine yeast; double distillation through the two pot stillsfirst the one named “Big” (recent acquisition, 1800L) for the stripping run, and then a spirit run through “Little” (400L) — which results in an 80% ABV distillate that was then put to age in ex bourbon barrels in 2021, and diluted down to 44% for a sample exhibit. No additives, or other mucking about, of course, that goes without saying.

Even with the knowledge that this was a work in progress at the time it was tried, I think it was and remains a pretty nifty product. The nose had a nice, crisp citrus-y tang to it, which went well with hot pastries, caramel and vanilla. Oh but it doesn’t stop there: brine, olive oil, steamed cabbages and crisp tom yum soup notes proliferate, before swiftly receding, to be replaced by a more fruity and balanced profilecherries, mangoes, ripe applessome 7-up, cloves and greek yoghurt. Not too shabby for something this young and one can only wonder what it would be like were it stronger.

The ABV is more of an issue on the palate, where many rums with good aromas falter. For now, what is tasted is pretty good: the citrus through-line remains, showcasing lemongrass, lime leaves and zest; it is accompanied by unsweetened laban, olive oil, a light briny touch and black rye bread with sour cream and salt (a weird combo, I’ll grant you). Coriander, coconut milk, sour and hot vegetable soup, bitter strong chocolate, toffee, some herbs and soya complete the profile for me, and the finish pretty much sums up everything rather quickly before disappearing.

This is a rum that was brought to the 2023 TWE Rum Show in London for evaluation, and Richard gave me some to try as I was perambulating for two days straight in the most exciting room in the joint.1 I thought it was really quite something, and while it clearly needed some more time to come to a better fruition, even as it was there was little to complain about (Alex Sandhu, in his excellent bio of the company, made a similar point in his review of the still strength sample). The rum will be issued formally in mid 2024 as part of a subscription-based Rum Club release Cask #001, and I hope that it sells well and makes it possible for there to be others of higher and age and even better quality, to come. This one is a really good start.

(#1066)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

 


Other notes

  • The question is, why review something not on the market? Whatever comes out the other end in 2024 will surely be different since it’s had another year (at least) of ageing. But it’s actually not the first time I’ve done this: Helios’s Teeda 21 YO Japanese rum was based on an unreleased sample, and so was Mia’s 2018 rum from Vietnam, and there are a few others. I think there are simply some cases where a little pre-release hype and banging of the drum is justified and that’s especially so for micro-distilleries.
  • The logo of the company references the owner’s maritime background and the ship-in-a-bottle models.
Mar 242024
 

For a distillery with a name as ominous as Retribution, the owner and distiller or record is actually a fairly genial, easy going gent, who gives off vibes of an avuncular uncle who retires after a hard day’s work wherever, to his cottage in the countryside, where the faithful hound fetches his slippers. Or so the story teller in me supposes.

The man behind the company is Richard Lock, who incorporated the micro distillery in 2019 after deciding to go beyond the beers he had been making to that point. His first product was a gin, released in February 2020, with the first rum following a year later and…well, I’d tell you more, but Alex Sandhu of the Rum Barrel has done such a sterling job of biographing Retribution and Mr. Lock, on a physical visit to the distillery, that it would be taking away from his work, and so I provide the link to his company profile for the curious. It’s too bad we don’t get more of these.

In brief, the production notes are as follows: fermentation of the molasses wash is between one and two weeks using a French sparkling wine yeast; and then run through both pot stills (humorously named “Big” and “Little”) which results in an 80% ABV white corker that is then diluted down to a shade above living room strength, 44%. No additives, or other mucking about, which has become almost a badge of honour with these newly established micros, and very welcome.

So let’s get right to it, beginning with the nose. Sweet sugar water, unaggressive but aromatic watermelon and papaya, green apples, grapes, green pears from a can and a general mild vibe that suits the owner quite well. The aromas take some time to come together, and finally open up into mild fruits, strawberry jam, white chocolate, and some tart creamy notes, firm without ever being overbearing. In short, it smells pretty good.

Tastewise it’s also quite a bit more restrained than the rutting white ester stallions of yore which have blotted these pages (well…this website at any rate) and made themselves known. The rum presents as dry and fruit forward, with strawberries, green apples, grapes and some more jam (so the nose, in taste form if one wishes to be accurate), plus some pears, melons, peas and a very faint note of wet earth and vegetables which carries on to an easy finish.

Trying to analyse this and nail down the profile, I want to just say that for an unaged rum it’s really quite fine. A lot of pleasant aromas came out of those pot stills, more than is apparent at first blush, yet nothing too barbaric or strange; and it’s distinguished by having little of that aggressive in-your-face stuff, just some edge, good taste and a mild eagerness to please. That works here in a way that with others, doesn’t always.

Retribution has to some extent been overshadowed by the more hi-falutin’ aggressive fast-moving micro distilleries run by young social-media-savvy entrepreneurs who have received more attention and loom somewhat larger in people’s minds. If you’re thinking of the New Brits and their UK distilleries, Retribution is likely not the first to spring to mind. But my advice is not to count out this little outfit just yet. Pot-still, unaged white rums are still not all that common, most are fierce little brawlersso there’s space for something more restrained like this one.

It takes gumption and grit to start a distillery of any size in Europe or the UK. It takes skill to make a good low cost, unaged, white rum right out of the gate, And it takes a rare kind of courage to keep at it without the benefit of the cool social media press, even when stuck in a small corner of a big festival, overlooked by many. This is a company we should pay more attention to when festival season comes rolling around this yearbecause its rums are nothing to sneeze at. Especially this one.

(#1065)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Mar 152024
 

In the previous review I remarked that the slightly aged añejo from the relatively new San Juan Artisan Distillers in Puerto Rico, did not impress me very much. This was in spite of the fact that on paper they looked like they had all the plant, equipment, and resources they needed to make something better. A fair number of online comments supported this view: most thought it was a barrel thing, although I did get one remark that resonated, stating (paraphrased) that it’s not a good idea to assume that the physical pieces alone are what make the product great or stand above the hoi polloi. That aside, I closed with the observation that with what they had under the hood and bringing to the table, it was unlikely they could stay in the kiddie pool for long.

This white rum, bottled at the same strength, proves that point nicely and demonstrates yet againas if it needed to bethat unaged white rum really is in a class by itself and should never be shrugged off just because it looks the same as the filtered white bar staple that gives the “category” a bad name. The production stats aren’t significantly different from the añejo: it’s cane juice derived, fermented for a few days (as best as I can ascertainthis is subject to verification) then double distilled in the charentais pot stills. No ageing.

From that almost stereotypical agricole-style beginning comes a very nice rum indeed, with a pungent, salty, sweaty, earthy, loamy nose. It smells of grit and damp potter’s soil, and behind that lurks a sort of vague funky aspect that suggests a low-end congener count, like, oh the LFCH or OWH from Hampden, or WPL from Worthy Park. Some nice fruity notes attend, like tangerines, strawberries, bubble gum, mint…that kind of thing. But it’s very low key and in no way aggressivethe 43% ABV it pulls in with mitigates against any kind of harsh or stinging profile.

The palate corrects some of that is missing when you smell it, most particularly the grassy and herbal notes the nose didn’t seem to want to fork out. The taste provides a sweet, firm, green and grassy profile, with a touch of tart unripe pears and soursop, some yoghurt and even a little aggressive (in a good way). In my mind I genuinely see some rums with colours when tastedthis one would be white and green (channelling Slytherin or something, who knows?), and can be summarised by saying it’s like an addled 7-up with some added mojo. The finish is short but quite solid and fruity, with brine and olive oil and I swear there was a pimento lurking behind there someplace, sensed but never actually confirmed.

Altogether, then, a really solid white rum of the kind I prefer. It must be mentioned that drinking the anejo and the blanco side by side is a useful exercise and it shows how treatment and ageingtransformation, if you willdoesn’t always make for a better rum (I know, I know, this from a guy who loves rums aged four decades and over). It also demonstrates how white and unaged rums without the filtration and bleaching that so infantilizes Bacardi and Lambs and their ilk have no analogue in the whisky world, but are almost unique to rums, and should be given more serious attention.

This blanco is one of the better whites out there, and redeems my initial opinion of the distillery, which I originally felt was channelling just another Latin style rum with the twist of being from cane juice but without any of the flair. The blanco, however, is pretty damned fine: it has taste, it has aromas, it has character, and I kid you not when I say that it was one of the best things on the table the day I had it. Hopefully the distillery makes more like it, and stronger.

(#1063)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Once again, my deep appreciation to Jazz and Indy Anand of Skylark in London. Hanging out at their place to talk and check out rums is always a high point of any trip I make to the UK.
  • A brief company bio can be found below the añejo review.
Feb 162024
 

“Oh wow!” I wrote with a sort of delighted and startled surprise when first nosing Archie Rose’s 40% white rum they called White Cane. I had not tried anything from the distillery beforeindeed, I knew very little about itbut the rich and oily scent of a mechanic’s shop fumigated with vanilla flavoured acetones was really not what I had expected as an opening salvo. And it didn’t stop there, because the seeming light ‘n’ easy aromas it started out with contained quite a bit more oomph than was initially apparentonce it opened it up it was brine, olives, ripe and watery fruits, lots of pears and papaya, figs and persimmons, even a hint of caramel and some sweet yet tart apple cider. The nose displayed a thickness and depth that was quietly impressiveone does not often see this kind of profile in a standard proof rum very often.

Putting down my glass, I looked curiously at the sample label. Who was is this outfit? What was behind the name? Was it a left-handed nod to WW1 ack-ack fire, maybe, or a hat tip to Riverdale and the comics? An old but forgotten relative, perhaps, or a gone-to-seed second eleven cricket player from the past who nobody except the owners remembered?

Apparently not. Some references suggest that “Archie” was a slang word, a pseudonym for an underground distilling bootlegger at a time in the 1800s when the temperance movement was ascendant in Australia and distillation was illicit, if not quite illegal; and since the founder, Will Edwards established the distillery in its first location in Rosebery, an inner suburb of south Sidney, the name seemed a good fit. A more prosaic alternative is that the neighbourhood itself was named after an uninspiring and obscure 19th century British PM, Archibald Primrose, and the distillery took the contracted form of his name, so take your pick.

Anyway, it was apparently the first new distillery in the city since 1853 (one wonders what the previous one was) and comprised of several Italian made fermentation tanks (named after rappers), and three hand built gas-powered steam-boiler-heated 3600-litre pot stills made by Peter Bailey, who at the time was the country’s only still maker. It was mostly family financed, and sported a very good bar right next to the distillery to help make ends meet.

“White Cane” was and remains the company’s only unaged rum (there are some experimentals coming as well, however), and it’s interesting that they went with that name instead of the near universal “cane spirit” moniker everyone else has been using over there. The source cane came from Condong up in NSW just south of Brisbane, so the molasses likely originated from the Condong Sugar Mill, and the wash blended two kinds of molasseshigh test and B-gradefermented with two different yeasts for 4-16 days, then run through their main and pilot still at least twice, with part being “cold” (or vacuum) distilled.

That fermentation and complex distillation was probably why the taste, as well as the nose, had enough chops to excite some curiosity, if not outright enthusiasm. It presented like a crisp, tangy, citrus-like 7-up, with green apples, pineapples, ripe pears on the edge of going off, red grapes and a subtle bite of ginger. The nose, I felt, was better, but for the taste to be this interesting at 40% did demonstrate that the awards the rum won (three so far) was not mere happenstance or flinging medals at everything that turned up. The palate continued to provide subtle and almost delicate notes: white chocolate, crushed walnuts some mint, fennel, sweet coconut shavings and some faint mustier cardboard notes, leading to a short, easy, sweet and spicy finish redolent of cinnamon and ginger and papaya. Nice.

Names and origins aside, currently the distillery boasts five different rums (and fifteen whiskies, ten gins, four vodkas and various other alcoholic products, lest you err in thinking their focus is on the Noble Spirit). Their origin was, and remains primarily in, whisky, for which they have won oodles of awards, and boosted their cash flow so well that in 2020 they were able to float A$100 million financing to move to Banksmeadow, a few kilometres south of the original location, leaving Rosebery to be a sort of visitor’s area for tours, classes and other events. Two massive new pot stills were also installed allowing production to be significantly increased.

As always, there is the downside that such a wide variety of spirits production dilutes focus on any single one. Not something I can blame a distillery for, since making payroll, paying rent and expanding the business is what it’s about, but lessening the attention that can be paid to developing and improving one product. Clearly whisky is the core business and everything orbits that priority (my opinion); and we must be careful not to over-romanticize the myth of the Great Little Solo Distiller Working in Obscurity, since commercial enterprises do make good juice, and not always by accident or as throwaways. RecentHeavy Cane,” “Virgin Caneand other experimental rums Archie Rose is playing with point to a committed and interested distilling team that wants to do more than just make another supermarket rum.

The White Cane, even at 40%, is pretty good and that’s an endorsement I don’t give often. I think the panoply of tastesadmittedly delicate and occasionally too faint and hard to pick apartplay well together, don’t overstay their welcome or allow any one element to hog the show, and provide a nice drinking experience. Sometimes just as much work goes into an unaged spirit as an aged oneperhaps more since there’s no backstop of ageing to improve anything so what comes off the still had better be readyand it’s clear the distiller paid attention to the entire production process to provide both mixing and sipping chops. One can only hope the distillery expands the range and ups the proof, because then not only would it likely garner even more awards, but I’d be able to bug Steve Magarry yet again…to get me a whole bottle, not just a sample.

(#1058)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 7. This is Batch #2 from 2023. Batch #1 was introduced in 2022
  • Production notes from company webpage.
Feb 092024
 

We’ve met this distillery before, a mere hundred reviews or so ago. Founded by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall in 2016, they have slowly built quite a repertoire of spirits (he likes dark ones, she prefers light so maybe there’s some kind of Jack Sprat vibe going on here) – standard rums, white ones, spiced ones, the 2021 release of the 2-3 YO 55.5% Pure Single Rum I enjoyed and a brutal 63% “fire cane” I really want to try, plus gin, falernum, limoncello and vodka, which covers the bases nicely.

So here they are again, with a somewhat offbeat take on the Pure Single Rum, if not as strong. Because the background of the company is covered in that original review, I won’t rehash it here, except to note that the columnar still I mentioned then – 380L and six plateshas a name: Alba, which was the initial name of Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter before he renamed her Allegra. I enjoy these little winks that distillers make to some interesting aspect of their past or something that interests them, in the naming of their still, truly.

Photo (c) Lord Byron Distillery website

Anyway, about the rum: molasses based, using distiller’s yeast on a wash left for seven days in closed stainless vessels, then run through the two copper alembics (it’s double distilled), then matured a minimum of three years in ex-bourbon barrels sourced from Woodford Reservewhich if shy they can call it rum, and not a cane spirit. Of course, bearing in mind the sustainable, ecologically-friendly, zero-waste nature of their operation and commitment to making pure rums, it’s not chill filtered and additive free.

This is a rum that channels one of the more peculiar olfactory profiles I’ve yet come across- it reminds me something of some Japanese rums, especially kokuto shochus. It opens with an odd sort of earthy, mouldy, damp cellar aroma, and of wet, much-worn leather boots. Brine, olives and a vegetable soup with “plenty obstacles” and a fiery pimento for kick. There’s a sense of wet paint slapped onto decaying drywall, the bitter tang of roasting chestnuts (which I never cared for myself), plastic sheeting, and only at the end when all seems over and done with, do the shy tangy notes of ripe fruit emerge, some green apples, grapes, pears, that kind of thing. It’s an unusual nose and I’m unsure how well it would work at a heftier proof point, though I would have liked to see that one a bit more, I thinka lot of subtlety gets missed out on that, say, 43% or 46% might have shown off better.

This observation is apropos for the palate as well, which is quite crisp: and while not exactly clear or clean, is close enough not to offend while still being rather too mild for everything it apparently stuffs in its jock. It channels a hot, almost sour and spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with no shortage of lemongrass, salted butter melting in a pan, with olive oil and toasted rye bread coming behind that. Again the fruits take something of a back seat and only start becoming noticeable after the rum opens up, and even then there’s not a whole lot that one can easily pick out: lemon peel, fresh peaches, pears, some watermelon, more or less. But it does meld nicely into the whole, some of the dirty notes from the nose are absent, and the finish concludes things well: short, sharp, reasonably flavourful, all of it fading fast and acting like it just wants to bail.

Strictly speaking this is not my dram of grog. I’m not won over by the loamy and earthy notes at the beginning (the official site entry refers to “bourbon corn” as a tasting note) and aspects of the nose in particular don’t work for me; plus, as always, I have my issues with standard strengthit makes everything too mild which even a few additional points of proof might have showcased more effectively. Yet I can’t fault it for that, only admire the courage it must have taken to release the rum as it is, knowing it is something at right angles to more established profiles. So to conclude, Lord Byron’s rum showcases rather more potential than the sort of intense quality sported by the 55% 2018 Pure Single Rum they did before, and would seem to be aimed at the more easy going supermarket crowd who prefer more demure fare. The furious taste profile attendant on something stronger is missing, and the tastes will not be in everyone’s comfort zone: yet underneath all that, we see a much better rum is waiting to be appreciated, and now, having written my opinion, I think I’ll go back and try my sample a few more times. Let’s see if, after a few more hours, it delivers more concretely on what it promises.

Have a good weekend!

(#1056)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 13
Oct 122023
 

This is the fifth and final review in the short series (of sixI have tried one before) where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

For all its rather off-putting connotations to those who don’t know the term, noble rot is a controlled fungus infestation of grapes that go on to produce a particularly fine and concentrated sweet wine. Perhaps it is no surprise then, that a wine lover like Olivier Caen, one of the founders of the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, sourced barrels of this kind of wine in which to age some of his rum. I sometimes think it’s his intention to try them every possible kind of cask in existence, but one can’t quibble with the results, because in many cases what comes out the other end is really kind of great.

By now we have come to know a fair bit about the production techniques of the small distillery just by perusing the labels, and this one is no different. The cane is their own, planted by the distillery, sent to a nearby factory to be crushed and turned into molasses which is then fermented with any one of a number of different yeast strains (a French West Indian one in this case, and for just shy of four weeks). There is the double distillation in the Charentais pot still (the second pass is on the lees) and then the distillate is set to age in a first fill noble rot barrel that has been “shaved, toasted and charred”. Four years later and et voilà, we have this rum, bottled to showcase ever percentage point of its 64% strength.

With that kind of potentiallocal sugar cane molasses, long fermentation, double pot still distillation, first fill charred barrelone would expect no shortage of aromas and flavours jostling and shoving to get out the gate and strut their stuff, and indeed that’s what we get. The nose, for example, is delectableit’s crisp, very clear, and reminds me of a dry Riesling, with notes of red grapefruit, grapes and some tart, sharp ripe fruitsapples, cider, red currants and some laid back light florals. There’s a slight creaminess in the background, like yoghurt; and salt butter spread over hot croissants fresh from the oven. Nice.

The strength does the rum no harm and the four years of ageing has tamped down the excess reasonably well. So it doesn’t hurt or display too much sharpness. It tastes slightly creamy, like salt caramel ice cream minus some sugar; a touch salty, and all the crisp fruits remain available to be enjoyedapples, grapes, pears, apricots, peaches and even some ginnips and lychees. One can perhaps detect traces of coconut shavings and spices like vanilla and cinnamon, even mauby bark, which is nice, but it’s just a bit, here and gone quickly. Finish is long and epic, as is to be expected, clean and clear, quite spicy, mostly fruits and florals and even a touch of honey.

Overall then, not terribly different from others we’ve tasted, but every bit as good as most and better than some. This is a short review because I want to get to the summation of my observations and there’s nothing much more to add to the company bio or this rum you don’t already know. I should, however, close with the note that for me this was one of the best of the six, and I’d buy it if it ever turned up in my market. We don’t get so many unique and tasty rums at this strength from obscure markets as it is, so we need to treasure the ones we find.

(#1032)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in this short series:


Summing upsome general observations on the rums of the line

As the six reviews I’ve written make clear, I really like the company and its rumsthey have placed Taiwan firmly on the map of quality rum making, and hopefully inspire others on the island to try their hand, to the point where it becomes a rum-geek’s destination the way the Caribbean is. It’s one of the most consistently good estate producers out there, the more so because they don’t have a single standard product out there, no blends, no regular five or ten year old that carries the flag, or appeals to the larger crowd. It’s all single barrel releases, like they were an indie bottler with a single clientthemselves. I’ve yet to find a dog in the series.

The rums they make are of a uniformly high level of excellence, and while others have scored the various individual expressions lower than I have (or higher) depending on their personal tastes, few fail to concede the power and uniqueness of the overall line. The combination of local cane, different yeast strains, varied fermentation times, a smallish pot still, double distillation, and all those crazy barrels in which the rums are either finished or double matured, constitutes something of a profile enhancer. The rums always have a whole lot bopping around in the foreground while some weird sh*t is dancing the ragtime out back, and as if that wasn’t enough, they are almost always issued at cask strength, with all the intensity of flavour and aromas this implies.

That said, there are a few issues as well, of which the most important and oft-repeatedfrom a consumer’s perspective anywayis the expense. I have zero patience for those in subsidised markets who grouse when a rum from somewhere else is over thirty dollars…but here they have a point. Renaissance’s rums are expensive, and at over a hundred bucks a pop for rums less than five years old, that’s a hard sell and a tough buy when there’s so much older stuff out there, of equally good value. It’s pointless to argue that taxes make up a large part of that, as do freight charges to get the things shipped all the way from the far east: optics are everything and until those prices become more affordable, the company’s excellent rums will remain a niche product for many.

Secondly there’s the unintended consequence of the very qualities that make the company’s name: the lack of a standard product. Consider another two highly-lauded relatively new estate producers: Hampden and Worthy Park. They gained a following with rums everyone could afford and which were widely available and then started to go upscale with more limited releases that channelled the variations imparted by different barrels and experiments in the production process. Renaissance took the reverse approach and started right away from this point without every going through the “standard product” stage and has issued nothing but premium releases. This to some extent hampers a broader recognitionoh sure, they have great word of mouth and I hope this small series raises their profile even more (because they deserve it) but how many people have actually tried them, or can?

Moreover, there is a subtler, more important effect of all the variations in releases which so delight the connoisseurs: the lack of a consistent, standard production model (like, oh, Hampden’s 8YO workhorse), and what this means is that there is nothing here that defines Taiwanese terroire specifically. There’s too much other stuff in the way. Consider how distinctive the traditional Caribbean and Latin American rums are, for their countriesyou can tell apart a Jamaican, Guyanese and French island rum quite easily because they channel something intrinsic to their points of origin, such as the stills of Guyana, the fermentation of Jamaica or the cane juice origin of Martinique and Haiti. For all Renaissance’s quality, the short ageing in all those different barrels obscures what might one day help define Taiwanese rum, something that also hampers, say, Nine Leaves out of Japan…but not, in contrast, Cor Cor or Ryomi.

Where I see this is going, then, is that the distillery will continue to make waves in the high end market for the foreseeable future with those entrancing limited single barrel releases, especially if they get better distribution. Who knows, these early essays in the craft may one day be regarded like Velier’s famed Demeraras and Caronisdeemed to pricey at the time, always remarked on for their quality, appreciating astronomically in the years that follow.

At some stage though, as the company expands (and I think they will), I suspect that the scaling up of the distillery will result in the production of a “regular” Taiwanese blend in quantity, without the distraction of other enhancements and embellishments. Whether aged or unaged, juice or molasses, overproofed or living room strength, if the quality is retained and the taste is as good, their market is all but assured. If and when they ever do that, you can be sure that far more than just obscure bloggers like this one will be hungering for what they have produced.


 

Oct 022023
 

This is the fourth review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

*

The consistency of quality of the Renaissance line of rums creates something of an issue for a reviewer, because while they are all different in subtle ways, so far they are also all really good (at least in the opinion of this writer)…which makes writing anything new almost impossible. In a way they remind me of Demerara rums, or Caronis, in the way that they resemble James Bond movies: they all have recognizable beats, similar tropes and so we enjoy then, look for similarities, variations and easter eggs, and spend an inordinate amount of time dissecting minutiae and arguing about which is the best. And of course, everyone will have an opinion about all of those things.

By now, then, after four previous excursions into the company’s line, we know enough about the company not to belabour the point, and so we’ll just cover the highlights. Renaissance is a husband and wife team who created a rum distillery in Taiwan out of whole cloth in 2017 (after four years of messing about trying to get it off the ground), gaining acclaim for their rigorously individualistic style of rum making in the years that followed (at which point we pause for the obligatory mention of the encyclopaedic labels). By 2021 as the world reopened, awards began rolling in and the distillery gained a quietly swelling renown…and rum aficionados who cocked an eye towards Asia took notice.

One of the peculiarities of the distillery is its resolute focus on single barrel rum releases. I have seen no indie bottling ethos here, and no mass market releases of lesser supermarket fare, or other spirits’ production meant to generate cash flow. They have issued young rums derived from local molasses or their own juice, and aged in whatever barrels they managed to source: limousin, ex-bourbon, wine, whisky, cognac, to which is then added a secondary maturation or finish in (again) any of those barrel types.

The rum we’re looking at today conforms to this principle. 20 days fermentation from Taiwan molasses (referred to as ‘Formosan’), double distilled in the 1200 litre Charentais pot still, then stuffed into a new oak 350 litre Limousin cask for three years, and finally given a secondary maturation in a fist fill 400-litre bas armagnac cask for the final year, being finally bottled in April 2022 at 63.2%.

What these dry and rather technical details suggest, then, is that there are some three or four different points at which flavours are developed: the longer than usual fermentation, the double distillation with the middle-third cut, and the two singular barrel types. The bas-armagnac barrel in particular can be expected to lend quite an interesting influence to the final product.

And we surely get all of that. The initial nose on the rum is lovely: firm, crisp, fresh and lively to a faultbright yellow fleshy acidic fruit (Thai mangoes, peaches, apricots, apples) mixed up with overripe green grapes, honey and flambeed bananas. A touch of vanilla and the slight bitterness of tannics, completely under control and never allowed to get overbearing. There are some notes of ruby grapefruit and blood oranges, light florals and it’s just a great osing experience.

Taste wise it also holds up really well. It’s rich and deep and flavourful with bags of fruit: grapefruit again, strawberries, kiwi fruit and lychees. Some light vanilla, icing sugar and a banana split drizzled with caramel make for an interesting combo, as do the less sweet fruits like sapodilla and bananas, sprinkled with coconut shavings. Finish is epically long as we can expect from the strength, and while it introduces nothing new it allows the individual notes their brief moment on the stage so as to remind me of the way they all work together to provide a great taste experience.

Overall, there’s nothing to find fault with and for those who prefer something tamer, a few drops of water are more than sufficient to tamp down the intensity somewhat without losing anything in translation. It’s a lovely rum at any strength and with one caveat, I recommend it unreservedly, and score it right in the ballpark of all the other rums they’ve made which I’ve so enjoyed.

That one qualification is, of course, the price, which is an issue several have remarked on before with all of the rums from this small company. Even in today’s inflated times, it will set one back three figures and there are not many who will be willing to spend that on a four year old rum, when there are others at similar strength a decade or so older from more familiar climes, sporting more familiar names, more familiar profiles. And so the point is not a minor one. Yet when one considers the freight charges, taxes and duties needed to bring such a singular product to the west; the costs of making it at all without support from other lines of business or economies of scale; and the limited batch outturn of the rum itself…when one takes all these things into account I would not say it’s an untoward extravagance. And even if I could not afford one of each release Renaissance have so far made, even if I just got this one single rum to stand in for all the others that remain out of reach, I would not consider the purchase a bad one, or ever harbour a single regret.

(#1030)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in this short series:

Sep 302023
 

Today we’ll go back Down Under, because we want to check out a starter rum from another one of those small distilleries that seem to be popping up with increasing frequency all over the map: craft, small batch, experimental, not from the Usual Countries, founded and run by one or two quasi-certifiable enthusiasts who just want to hare off and do something different, because, well, they can.

Capricorn Distilling’s origins bean in 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-liter still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of businessmotel, pub, restaurant, distilleryto provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards.

Still, for all the stated love of rums, the distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small outfits: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the everpresent cash flow generator of gins.The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW and acquired in 2022.

The Coastal Cane is a molasses based spirit, from molasses fermented for ten days and then run twice throughRockythe double retort. No ageing, no additions, no filtering, just reduction down to standard strength of 40% ABV.

The middling-long fermentation time and that double pass through the pot still provide quite an aromatic punch. The nose starts with rubber, rotting fruit, brine and sugar water, making me blink in surprise…wait, what? is this a Jamaican undercover in Oz? … The smells continue: acetones, turpentine, new plastic peeled off a new phone. Some bananas, mangoes, papaya, maybe a grape or two. There’s a sense of freshness, of greenness, about the whole aromatic experience, like the damp floor of a forest glade after a summer shower. After a while one can sense mint and marzipan, prunes and apricots, all of which is a little sharp. Admittedly it has a bunch of rough edges and it’s quite spicy for 40%, but we can ascribe that to the fact that it probably boiled and frothed off the still just a few minutes before being stuffed into the bottle and calmed down with some water, so it’s to be expected, really.

When tasted there’s a certain minerality about the rum, something like ashes, or water on hot concrete. Admittedly it’s rough, but I quite like the taste, because it also channels some sugar water, grassiness, mint, marzipan and pine needles (kind of odd, in a nice way), overripe fruits, a twist of citrus. It then moves quickly to a short, crisp and tangy finish, where things go back to being traditionalfruits, rubber, olives, a touch of sugar water, and ends the short show in a not unpleasant flourish akin to a smack across the back of the head..

You sort of have to wonder at what this entry level rum manages to achieve. Its youth is evident, and yes there are ragged edges that show that; but you can also sense potential in the thingit would probably make a bangin’ daiquiriand overall it presents something like a cross between an agricole and a Jamaican white overproof. Over the last few weeks we have been looking at some seriously high powered young aged rums from Taiwan, but this unassuming rumlet proves that strength isn’t everything, and you can be made to appeal to the accountant in the front office… while still impressing the cane cutter out back.

(#1029)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Disclosure:

Although Warren and I agreed I’d send him something from my stocks to pay off for the free samples he sent (mind, he did say it was unnecessary…I mean, a few 5cl bottles? – hardly evidence in a bankruptcy proceeding), as of this writing I have yet to honour the promise. But it will be.

Sep 262023
 

This is the third review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued scores of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

Although the little Renaissance Distillery on Taiwan was officially founded in 2017, many years of small-scale under-the-radar tinkering and experimentation preceded that. The husband and wife team of Linya Chiou and Olivier Caen started a small spirits import company on the island as far back as 2006, and by the early 2010s were looking around wondering why Taiwan, which had a subtropical climate (the south is actually tropical) and planted sugar cane, did not have a rum industry of any consequence.

The truth was that it did: but it was a remnant of the state monopoly which had only relaxed and allowed a market to develop after 2002; even so, licensing restrictions and the torpor of the bureaucracy made it difficult to think seriously about such a proposition, so Olivier sourced a short neck 500L locally made pot still, installed it on their property and started planting his own sugar cane. For the next four years he experimented ceaselessly and mostly at night with harvesting, juice, molasses, fermentation, distillation, making the cuts, checking the ageing, the whole nine yardsin fact the op was quasi-legal at best, an outright moonshinery at worst. The results and samples he shared around suggested he was on to something there and in 2017 the distillery formally opened and started commercial, licit operations.

Output remained and continues to remain rather small, and most of what was released up to 2020 — about 17 barrels’ worth of productionwas rum laid down pre-2017; however that by itself garnered attention and plaudits, notably that of David Broom in 2021 when he remarked on his blog “Remember how Kavalan blew people’s minds? Renaissance will do the same for rum.” So far, there have been perhaps sixty barrels released to June 2023, and the hallmark of the brand remains small batch, single cask, high proof rum, usually finished (or double aged) in casks of whatever seems to catch Olivier’s fancy that day. There are a few blends in the mix, but it’s these single cask bottlings that make the company’s namehigh end, pricey and not easy to get.

This 4 Year Old rum is no different. Distilled in 2018 (cask #18102 for the curious, because knowing the casks is actually something of a thing here), it is based on Taiwanese molasses fermented for 30 days, comes off the 1200L charentais pot still after a double pass. It was set to age in a limousin new oak barrel (350 liters, so somewhere between a barrique and a puncheon) for three years and then transferred into an ex cognac cask (Hennessy, I was told) for another year. Outturn 346 70cl bottles, at a solid, chest-thumping 64.4%.

The nose uses that strength to make grand gestures and bold statements, that’s for sure. It hits you hard and doesn’t say sorry. Initially it is the right side of too sharp, yet once the sensation is sorted out it’s more like a very clean, very crisp and very dry Riesling, redolent of sugar water, light red grapefruit (is there such a thing?), yellow mangoes and tart ripe green grapes. It needs time to open upsome water would helpand after a while releases additional pleasant notes of cinnamon and ginger cookies with a touch of unsweetened chocolate, and a sort of vanilla flavoured whipped cream.

For all the oomph the rum packs in its jock, it’s medium bodied and firm rather than wielding a sledgethough of course some caution should still be exercised…just because the texture is solid doesn’t mean there isn’t something more serious waiting to get you when your guard is down. The palate is sweet-ish and middle bodiednot thin, not heavy or thick, just sort of in between with a nice medium-dry mouthfeel. Still, tastes are somewhat (and surprisingly) subdued for something that spent a year making nice in a cognac cask: plums, raisins, vanilla, honey, the tartness of laban and kiwi fruits and papaya, a little grapefruit, a little allspice, a little cinnamon. The finish is completely serviceable, if not outstandinga good summation of the preceding. One gets a last whiff of fruits and spices, some grapes, citrus, honey and even a twitch of licorice out of nowhere. It’s finishes well.

So, this is a really good rum that adheres to the style and profile the makers have established for themselves. It’s got that cognac vibe, the sprightliness of youth with a touch of the maturity that ageing brings, is strong, tasty and well assembled. Some may suggest it’s one of those cases where a little dilution might not have been a bad thing, which is a fair point, though I completely respect the decision to be consistent and bottle it as it is and let the consumers take their chances.

Because by not pandering to anyone’s tastes, what Renaissance has done is provided us with a young rum of what I presume to say is a rare calibre, one that takes on others aged five times longer and gives a good account of itself. It’s not the best rum they’ve made, of the six I’ve sampledyet it solidifies an already impressive reputation for consistency of style and quality, and for those who venture forth to brave the high proof and crisply intense tastes, they will find little to dislike and much to enjoy.

(#1028)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


The rums in this short series:

Sep 182023
 

This is the second review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued dozens of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.

For a rum younger than three years to give such a good account of itself is no mean feat, yet Renaissance Distillery out of Taiwan has done just that with this 2½ YO rum that in most other circumstances would be considered barely out of diapers. I think that in many ways they channel the sort of experimental drive and tinkering mentality that characterises Mhoba from South Africa, the New Australians, or the freshly minted crop of UK distilleries, who also come up with startlingly original young products from seemingly nowhere and without having to age something until it’s old enough to vote.

Renaissance Distillery, for those late to the party, is that small company rum by the husband and wife team of Olivier Caen and Linya Chiou which was officially founded in 2017 on the island of Taiwan, and so far as I am aware, is the only rum-focused distillery there even though sugar remains a crop grown on the island (for many years the state held a monopoly on spirits production which is why distilleries are thin on the ground). They concentrate on full-proof single-cask limited releasesand of course everyone now knows about their War & Peace style labels that are the envy of the known world.

This rum, one of six that was shown off at the 2023 TWE Rumshow, has stats that ten years ago would have seemed unbelievable, but with the passage of time and development of the rumiverse are now merely “pretty good”: a molasses-based wash (from Formosan sugar cane) fermented for 13 days, passed twice through the charentais pot still and then double aged: a year and a half in toasted American oak, and then a further 1½ years in a Saint-Julien 2nd growth cask (and though which house is not identified, I’ve read that the actual Chateau of origin is Léoville-Poyferré)1, and then squeezed into 252 bottles at a muscular 64.7% ABV.

The nose of the rum that this fermentation, distillation, short ageing and those two casks produces at the other end is a smidgen short of fantastic. No really. It is a lovely, rich deeply fruity nose, redolent of plums, blackcurrants and slightly overripe pears, underlain with brine, olives, the slightest hint of rancio, salty cashews, tequila and even a nice brie. I can honestly say it’s one of the more unusual aromas to come out of a rum I’ve had of late, and it’s all good. It keeps changing as it opens and develops, cycling into very ripe black grapes, red grapefruit and a tangy bit of citrus and vanilla, all very clean and quite crispone hardly notices the strength at all, except in so far as it helps deliver those smells more intensely.

To taste it is similarly mercurial…and delicious. It starts off hot and prickly and initially it’s all traditional notes: caramel, vanilla, leather, pepper, tannins, dark ripe fruits (raisins, prunes, plums). And then quietly, sinuously, almost before they’re noticed, creep in other flavours of freshly sawn cedar, nail polish, cucumbers in balsamic fig-infused vinegar, hot black tea sweetened with damp brown sugar still reeking of molasses, wet soil, and even rye bread slathered with salt butter and honey. And it all quietly inexorably leads to a strong, long, aromatic finish that reminds us of the fruits, the citrus, the vanilla and the wood, before closing up shop and fading away until the next sip.

It’s not often I try a rum that does what this one does with such seeming effortlessness: to move from one state of being to another without hurry and without haste and showcase the best of what it is capable. The strength and youth is only marginally tamed by the two casks and that short ageing time, but they do leave their imprint and enrich what in lesser hands might have been a sharp hot spicy mess of transmogrified gunk (I’ve had several like this in my time, trust me). Renaissance have channelled fermentation, still, ageing, casks and something intrinsic to Taiwantheir terroire, perhapsand brought it all together into a rum that is really quite a fine drink, one whose charms you can only revel in, the more it develops.

(#1026)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The rums in the series:


Other notes

  • Not many other reviews out there: Whiskyfun’s 82 pointer from August of 2023 is the only one I can find. Serge’s tasting notes and mine are similar, but he draws different conclusions and likes it less.
Aug 292023
 

The real question is not so much how good this Malabari Vaatte is, where it originates, or what it purports to be…but what exactly it is. Part of the issue surrounding the Mandakini is that the wording on the label could equally well be describing a real rum, a disguised alcoholic beverage claiming to be one, a spiced spirit, or some peculiar amalgam of all of the above.

The rum (I’ll use the term for now) is made in Canada, and therefore falls into the rabbit hole of the country’s arcane liquor laws, one of which, like Australia’s, states that a rumassuming it meets the basic criteria of being made from cane derivatives like molasses, juice or vesoucan only be so labelled if it is aged for a minimum time of one year. That’s all well and good except for this catch: the same terms one would use to describe a true rum not quite meeting the criteria (for example by being a completely unaged one), are also used to describe a neutral spirit that is doctored up to be more palatable. In this case it is labelled as being an “unaged spirit from sugar cane extract” which could be either one or the other, or neither. So which is it, exactly? The producers never say.

After scanning all available sources without resolution, I finally picked up the phone and asked them directly. The bottom line is that the Mandakini derives from a wash of blackstrap molasses fermented with natural yeast for two weeks or more, and is then double-distilled through a third party’s pot-still, after which a small amount of neutral spirit is added to the mix and it’s diluted down to 46%. There’s a reason for the addition, according to Abish Cheriyam, one of the founders who very kindly took the time to tell me all about itit’s to bring the price down so it’s affordable to the target audience, as well as smoothening out batch variation.

Trying it out (with three other Indian rums on the table as comparators) makes it obvious that this is not a rum of the kind we know, even taking into account its heritage. The nose is all sweet light candy and icing sugar, some vague sugar water, swank, lime peel, peppermint, bananas, and the kind of weak syrupy essence they dash into your flavoured coffee. Unfortunately the neutral spirit takes away from what could otherwise develop into much more interesting drink: it smells too much like a lightly sweet vodka. Those who are into Jamaican high ester beefcakes or strong unaged indigenous white rums will not find the droids they’re looking for here, and will likely note that this does not channel a genuine product made by some village still…at least not what they’ve come to expect from one.

The taste also makes this point: it is quite inoffensive, and it doesn’t feel like 46%, which to some extent is to its credit. Light, sweet, a little sharp, yet the downside is that there is too little to distinguish it. Some light florals, sugar water, coconut shavings, bananas and maybe the slightest touch of allspice. There is nothing distinctive here, and the rum feels too tamped down and softened up. I try to keep an open mind and am not exactly looking for the raw nastiness and sweat infused crap that real moonshine (like, oh, say, clairin) is often at pains to providebut at least a hint of such brutality would have been nice. It shrugs and coughs up a touch of mint, alcohol, medicine, cotton candy, it flexes its thin body a bit, and that’s pretty much the whole ball game. The finish is short, light, has some alcohol fumes, white fruit and light candy floss to recommend it, but alas is gone faster than my paycheck into Mrs. Caner’s hands when purses are on sale.


While members of the Indian diaspora would probably get this, the rum does not channel the subcontinent to me, and that’s not a guess, because Mandakini, irrespective of its Indian origins (all three of its founders are from the southern state of Kerala), is actually made by a small craft distillery called Last Straw, in Ontario. This is a small family outfit that was founded in 2013 as a whisky distillery with two small stills; it makes all kinds of spirits on its own accountwhisky, vodka, gin, rum and experimentals (including the fragrantly named “Mangy Squirrel Moonshine”) — and nowadays also does contract distilling, designing products from scratch for any client with an idea.

Clearly Abish Cheriyam, Alias Cheriyam and Sareesh Kunjappanengineers all, who have worked and lived in Canada for many yearshad such an idea, one that they felt deeply about, though unlike the Minhas family in western Canada, they had no background in the spirits business aside from their own enthusiasm. They did however, identify some gaps in Canada’s liquor landscape: there was very little Indian liquor on the shelves aside from Amrut’s whiskies or their Two Indies and Old Port rums, and Mohan Meakin’s Old Monk; and none at all that was an Indian equivalent to vaatte, a locally distilled liquor native to Kerala (also called patta charayam or nadan vaattu charayam), which, though banned in the state since the late 1990s (a holdover from pre-independence days when the Brits forbade local liquor so as not to damage sales of their own), retains an underground popularity almost impossible to stamp out. Rural folks disdain the imported whiskies and rums and ginsthey leave that frippery to city folks who can afford it, and much prefer their locally-made hooch. And like Jamaicans with their overproofs or Guyanese with their High Wine, no wedding or other major social occasion is complete without some underground village distiller producing several gallons to lubricate the festivities.

Since they could not afford to launch a distillery or wait for the endless licensing process to finish, they went to Last Straw to have them create it, and after experimenting endlessly with various blends and combinations, launched in August 2021, calling it a Malabari Vaatte (the similarity of that word to “water” is likely no accident), and aiming at the local Sri Lankan and Indian diaspora. Both the shape of the bottle and the lettering in five languages (Malayalam, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telegu) is directed at this population and the fact that the first batch sold out within days in Ontarioat the distillery, because they had not gotten a deal with the LCBO at the timesuggests it worked just fine. People were driving from all over the province to get themselves some.

In Kerala, Malabari vaatte is often made from the unrefined sugar called jaggery or from red rice like arrack, and also with any fruits or other ingredients as are on hand; it has a long and distinguished history as a perennially popular underground hooch, and that very likely comes from its easygoing nature which this one channels quite well. It shares that with other Asian spirits, like Korean shojus, Indonesian arracks, Cabo Verde grogues, or Vietnamese rượu: in other words, it is a (sometimes flavoured) drink of the masses, though Abish was at pains to emphasise that no flavourings or additives (aside from the aforementioned neutral alcohol) were included in his product.

As a casual hot weather drink and maybe a daiquiri ingredient, then, I freely admit it’s quite a pleasant experience, while also observing that true backwoods character is not to be looked for. To serious rum drinkers or bartending boozehounds who mix for a living, that’s an issuesome kind of restrained unhinged lunacy is exactly what we as rum drinkers want from such a purportedly indigenous drink. A sort of nasty, tough, batsh*t-level taste bomb that leaves it all out there on the table.

That said, I can see why it sellsespecially and even more so to those with a cultural attachment for itOld Monk tapped into that same vein many decades earlier. But that to some extent limits the Mandakini to that core audience, since people without that connection to its origins might pass it by. For all its good intentions and servicing the nostalgia and homesickness of an expatriate population far from their homelands, the Mandakini does not yet address the current market of the larger rum drinking population. It remains to be seen whether it can surmount that hurdle and become a bigger seller outside its core demographics. I hope it does.

(#1021)(74/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The name “Mandakini” is a common female name, familiar to most Indians from north or south. It was chosen not to represent anyone in particular but to instantly render it relatable and recognizable.
  • TheMalabariin the title refers to Kerala’s Malabar Coast, famed for its spices: it’s where Vasco da Gama made landfall in 1498 after rounding Africa.
  • There is currently a 65% ABV version of the Mandakini called “Malabari 65”, available at the distillery in Vaughn. This is one I wouldn’t mind trying just to see how it compares. If they were to make a high ester version of that, my feeling is it would fly off the shelves.
  • The range is now expanded to the original Malabari Vaatte, the 65, a Spiced Vaatte, and a Flavoured Vaatte. The latter two are apparently closer to the kind of drinks the founders initially envisioned and which are popular in Kerala, having ginger, cardamom and other spices more forward in the profile.
Aug 182023
 

Outlier Distiller’s overproofed “Hurricane” is a jolt of adrenaline to the heart, an amazing rum of remarkable qualities which took me so by surprise that I kept it on the go for the best part of a day in a glass I refused to put away (or rinse out, much to the horror of Mrs. Caner). The previous rums in the company’s oeuvreHoolie and Punk Crocwere pretty good for their place and time and the producers’ experience, but the Hurricane took it to another level entirely. Most who tasted it at the 2023 TWE Rumshow that day could be seen walking off with a slightly addled expression on their faces, as if to ask themselves what the hell they had just had, and why were Ian and Rick grinning?

And yet, the Hurricane, with all that the name implies, stuffed into a bottle at a furious 64%, is actually a rather young blend, very much in the vein of Punk Croc: 98.5% unaged and undiluted Hoolie and 1.5% something else. It’s that little bit of extra, that tiny bit of a buggane’s DNA, that elevates this thinga touch of 2021 new make spirit aged for a year or so in new American oak and a sprinkling of the 3 YO 2020 rum matured in an Ardbeg cask (actually a butt, but I know how that reads, so…).

What came out the other end was a rum thatafter an initial sniff, a quick tastemade me cough, look at my glass, turn to the pair of cheekily smirking owners and mumble in semi-coherent bafflement, “This thing is how old?” Because the nose was just so damned interesting: it had all the directed force of Subutai’s army in the field, beginning right away with a lunging series of crystal clear aromasvanilla, bon-bons, wet fresh coconut shavings, light white-sugar notes, and then the whiff of iodine and a sterile hospital mixing it up with candy, white fruits and the tartness of unsweetened yoghurt, milk going slightly off. It’s both sweet and sour with just a bit of salt, and while quite firm, is more than easy enough to smell without any health advisories issued in advance.

Oh, and the tasteit’s good. Well rounded, fruity and very strong, while at no point being so sharp as to cause distress and discomfort. Icing sugar and ripe white pears, guavas, green apples and pale ripe grapes; then salted crackers, cheerios, more of that slight sour milk taste, even a drizzle of maple syrup, all set off by a nice key lime pie and fresh pastries. The finish closed up shop very smoothly, leaving memories of crisp grapes and light fruits, brine, an olive or two, sweet soya and that peculiar medicinal tang that somehow missed being unpleasant by a whisker.

The way the profile unfolds is really kind of spectacularhere we have not just any old overproof white hooch, but a solidly executed example of rum assembly that’s put together like a fine Swiss watch. The profile meticulously juxtaposes a small array of disparate elements, and then it’s all tweaked and choreographed and hammered flat, so that it unfolds with near-clinical precision. Assassins like Le Samourai, the Jackal or the Accountant would instantly recognize it and smile.

By now we’re more than a little familiar with the rums of Outlier, the little milk-shed based distillery on the Isle of Man created in 2019 by those two newly minted Manxmen with a crazy vision, a flippant attitude and a knack for making good juice. Like most new rum-making outfits they are characterised by some really interesting young and unaged rums made with attitude and clever marketing, and while I have no idea if they’re in the black yet, surely the reputation they’ve garnered thus far speaks well for their future endeavours. With this rum they burnish their reputation to a fine lustre, by making a seriously tasty rum that is affordable and approachable, intense and enjoyableand when you’re done it’ll be one of the best things you’ve drunk all week.

(#1018)(88/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Company background

Outlier is a recently-established tiny British craft distillery, which joins other new UK-based rum-making companies like Ninefold, Islay Rum Co, Sugar House, Retribution and J. Gow. These small outfits are showing that good rum doesn’t have a nationality and can be well-made in places that don’t immediately spring to mind when considering the spirit. It was founded in November 2019: they boys set up shop in the aforementioned milking shed with a small wood-fired 160-litre hybrid still, and began by issuing an instantly-sold-out elderberry- and blackberry-based schnapps called “Hedge Fund” and a 55% rum they called “Pudtroleum” for the 2020 Christmas season. By 2022 they released their next rum, the mild mannered 41% “Hoolie” and in 2023 the Punk Croc and the Hurricane.

Production is relatively straightforward: they ferment their molasses-based wash using local yeast for anything up to two weeks depending on the weather, then run it through their still twice, and reduce the resultant spirit down to a manageable strength. The still is small, but it allows 6-7 batches a week to be made, resulting in anything up to about 600 bottles and a whole lot of experimentation. They age in whatever barrels they can find and source – so far there is no major aged stock ripening, though its part of their long term plan, of course. Sales thus far remain mostly on the Isle of Man, the UK and more recently, the EU.

Aug 042023
 

Unlike the completely unaged white “Hoolie” we looked at before, Outlier Distilling Co.’s Punk Croc is in fact aged, just a bit, in spite of its appearance that would suggest none at all. Perhaps Rick and Ian, the insouciant distillers from that milkshed-based distillery on the Isle of Man, felt that the screaming vibes of the colourful label and the crazy title didn’t need any competition from some dark colouring. It is, on the other hand, just a bit stronger at 43%, but in most respects the hilariously named (and drawn) Punk Crocthese guys have a great sense of humouris very much a slightly older, slightly blended sibling of the Hoolie.

Since we have already discussed the short history of the company in the Hoolie review (I reprint it in the notes below for convenience), it’s important to understand exactly what we’re drinking here. Punk Croc (I can’t even type that without grinning) is mostly, but not all, pure Hoolie – 98% of it. The remaining 2% is composed in a ratio of 5:1:1 of Hoolie [a] at 75% ABV aged for one year in unused American oak barrels [b] at 63% for two years in Sauternes and [c] an unidentified 3YO rum at 46% ABV in an Ardbeg butt. “The rums have never been in another wood, so that’s the total maturation,” remarked Ian when I asked about such a peculiar admixture. “Pretty useful toolkit for blends, but I doubt any will make it to bottle on their own.”

He wasn’t kidding about that because what came out the other end was demonstrably Hoolie…just kickstarted a tad. Consider first the nose: it had that vaguely sulphurous smell of cordite and brimstone, the acridity of a licked copper penny, yet it developed pretty quickly into a crisp, fruity, olive-y scentbox that channelled fresh paint on old canvas, turpentine, and a gallon or two of tart yoghurt. Oh, and dusty rooms, the plastic peeled off a spanking new phone, light white fruits, licorice, cereal, and even some cinnamon. That was quite a bit coming from such a slim ageing profile.

This was also the case when tasted; the new plastic took the lead without (thankfully) completely taking over, and it dovetailed with a light briny note, some pimento-stuffed olives, a fruit salad of crisp apples and overripe cherries. There was surely more than enough sour and sweet to be going around here and yet it never faltered or went seriously off the rails Even the finish was pretty good: light and reasonably long, consisting mostly of some acetones, light fruits and a syrupy note that combined with (again) new plastic.

Overall, the rum was decent enough: sure, somewhat unusual, but it worked quite well, and even tasting it side by side with the original Hoolie, it was a tight race to determine which version was the better product. Both were tasty, both gave a good account of themselves, and both were well assembled in and of themselves, made for the cocktail circuit yet seeming slightly better.

In the end, I’d have to give a slightly higher rating to this one, though. Even that little itty-bitty bit of aged rum added into the blend is enough to make a difference in the profile, and provides that slight filip of additional complexity that makes it a somewhat ore nuanced drink, a more interesting sip, even if it’s actually made for daiquiris with an attitude. It’s not every day you have a mad badass neon croc come waddling into your drinks cabinet, but colour or crazy notwithstanding, it’s not a reptile I’d want to kick out any time soon.

(#1015)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The guys couldn’t come up with a name for this rum, so they asked Meg, the graphics designer, to draw a suitably flashy mad-hatter design and then Ian’s wife Lydia came up with the name.
  • First released specifically for the Manchester Rum Festival in 2023

Company background

Outlier is a recently-established tiny British craft distillery, which joins other new UK-based rum-making companies like Ninefold, Islay Rum Co, Sugar House, Retribution and J. Gow. These small outfits are showing that good rum doesn’t have a nationality and can be well-made in places that don’t immediately spring to mind when considering the spirit. It was founded in November 2019: they boys set up shop in the aforementioned milking shed with a small wood-fired 160-litre hybrid still, and began by issuing an instantly-sold-out elderberry- and blackberry-based schnapps called “Hedge Fund” and a 55% rum they called “Pudtroleum” for the 2020 Christmas season. By 2022 they released their next rum, the mild mannered 41% “Hoolie” and in 2023 the Punk Croc and the Hurricane.

Production is relatively straightforward: they ferment their molasses-based wash using local yeast for anything up to two weeks depending on the weather, then run it through their still twice, and reduce the resultant spirit down to a manageable strength. The still is small, but it allows 6-7 batches a week to be made, resulting in anything up to about 600 bottles and a whole lot of experimentation. They age in whatever barrels they can find and sourceso far there is no major aged stock ripening, though its part of their long term plan, of course. Sales thus far remain mostly on the Isle of Man, the UK and more recently, the EU.

May 072023
 

If I enjoyed the naming J. Gow’s growling salvo across the rum world’s bows, the “Revenge,” then as a lover of language and an avid amateur photographer, I must confess to liking and appreciating the quiet romanticism the “Fading Light” title even more.1 And since that wasn’t enough for VS Distillers (the company behind the brand), it was also a more distinctive, even better rum than the “Revenge”which as you may recall from last week’s review, was no slouch itself.

I won’t rehash the background of this new Scottish distillery ensconced on a tiny island in the Orkneys, so far up north that if they stepped a bit out of the shallows they’d be speaking Norwegian (see the “Revenge” review for a brief company backgrounder if you’re interested). Let’s just note that the rum has a fourteen day fermentation cycle from molasses, was double-distilled in a pot still, and released at just about a year old … after having been aged in a chestnut casks, not ex-Bourbon. And for all it its youth and northern continental ageing and “mere” 43% ABV strength, it channels a surprising amount of Jamaican in a way the would make a casual rum buying tourist from Cockpit County or London or Toronto blink and check both google maps and their ticket.

Consider. Right from the cracking of the bottle, the rum oozes funk, a nicely textured, crisp melange of liquid Jamaican: Fanta and 7-up, both sweet and citrus-y, with enough strawberries, gooseberries, pineapple and bubble gum to cure all that ails you, while not ignoring just a small whiff of a midden heap in hot weather: I gues this was added for a bit of kick or something. What’s great is that it doesn’t end there: there’s also olives, brine, mixing it up in the backyard with caramel, toffee, brown sugar, some nuts and molasses, and behind it all is some fresh baked sweet pastry egging the lot on.

Much of this repeats on a quietly rambunctious palate. It starts out light and effervescent, with unripe cherries, oranges and pineapples, and even some agricole-like bright vegetal notes, acetones and nail polish. Olives, brine, breakfast spices and a dab of strong black tea. But there is also a dark side here, loamy, musky, with more pastries, molasses, guiness and malt thrown insomething like a sweetly dark beerbalancing off the funk and lighter florals and fruits. The finish is a quieter conclusion than one might have been led to expect given the foregoing, which is a function of the low strength: mostly some light fruits, a bit of citrus, some oranges and apples just starting to go off, and a whiff of a vulcanising shop working overtime on a hot drowsy Sunday afternoon.

See what I mean? The amount of tastes coming out of this thing is all out of proportion to either antecedents or expectations. It’s like a low-proofed Appleton Overproof, a mini stuffed with an idling turbocharger, and while not on the screaming level of crazy as the TECA, say, or the Hampden and WP high ester marques everyone dares themselves to try, for it to have the chops it does given where it’s from, where and how little it’s aged and what it’s aged in, is eye-opening. After trying it a few times at TWE Rumshow booth, keeping it in my fourth glass and then going back to try it a third time, I concluded that the “Fading Light” is an intriguing, original rum that while perhaps a little peculiar, is by no means off-putting, and not at all a refutation of “ruminess.” The entire time I was sampling, I was acutely aware that it was a serious spirit, a real rum, and I have tell you: I was impressed.

(#994)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • The company also makes a “Wild Yeast” and “Hidden Depth” expressions which I have not tried (yet).
  • Both The Fat Rum Pirate and Rum Barrel have reviewed this one, both positively.
May 022023
 

More and more we are ceasing to regard rum as being the province of just the great geographical areas which have long stratified the spirit into styles which promotedand are limited bythe regional perceptions of old colonial empires. British (Jamaican, Barbadian, Guyanese), Spanish/Latin and French are the best known of course, and Matt Petrek has long argued (correctly, in my view) that they are best seen as production classifiers than true regional markersbut ultimately the one thing that that particular series of classification did was that it centred our minds in the western hemisphere, with perhaps the occasional nod to Reunion or Madeira.

In the last decade, this limited focus has blown wide open. We can, with not too much effort, original source rums from Africa, Australia, India, Japan, Philippines, Viet Nam, Madagascar, Laos, Cambodia…even the USA and Canada are popping up on the scene. Not all of superb quality, but often of real interest and real uniqueness. And, in a perhaps amusing sort of irony, at last we are seeing the distilleries coming home to roost, as small European companies are eschewing the route of the independent, and actively opening small craft distilleries in their home countries.

In the UK, new companies such as J. Gow, along with Ninefold, Dark Matter, Sugar House, Islay Rum Company and a few others, are at the forefront of this expansion into the homeland. They don’t mess around, often go pot still from the get go, have no issues experimenting with fermentations, distillations and barrels in a way that would perhaps make a more seasoned veteran of, say, Cuba’s maestros roneros, flinchand produce both aged and unaged rums of varying quality for us to try. Not everything succeeds, but Good Lord, a lot of it does, and J. Gow’s “Revenge” is one of them.

I’ll get into J. Gow’s backstory a bit more in the background notes, rather than make the intro here go on for even longer. For now, the stats: this is a pot still rum made entirely in Orkney in the north of Scotland from imported molasses that are fermented for 5–14 days, in a temperature-controlled 2000-litre fermenter. The wash goes to about 8% ABV, and is then distilled in a stripping run in the pot still, to around 30% ABV. A second spirit run then produces the final high proof distillate which is set to age, although with this one, an extra stripping run has taken place to make it a bit stronger. The rum is a blend of J. Gow’s HD (Heavy Dunder) and DS marques, then aged for 3 years in situ, in a combination of ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks.

Named “Revenge” after a prize taken in 1724 (and no, not from the Dread Pirate Roberts), the 43% rum has some real fangs, let me tell you. The nose is deep and dark, quite at odds with its light straw colour. Molasses, brown sugar and vanilla notes predominate, and underneath that is a sort of light perfumed sweetnessacetones, strawberries, yoghurt, white chocolate…even some flowerswhich balances it off nicely. With time some fleshy fruit emerge as well, so it’s a pretty good trifecta there, belying that three years of ageing. It noses older, more mature, more rounded, in a good way.

The palate is where things get both interesting and head off into uncharted seas. It’s initially light and fruity, so some pears, apricots, guavas, vanilla and florals; then a series of darker notes subtly invade the tasteblack tea, molasses, caramel, the faintest touch of licorice. But what makes it stand out (to me at any rate) is the malty, briny, grainy, cereal notes which circle around the others, not obnoxiously and not hogging the limelight, but somehow lending a twist to more traditional “rummy” profile we might have expected. It makes the rum distinctive in a way far too many are not, and even the tang of bitterness at the tail endthe oak starts to take overisn’t entirely a bad thing. The finish kind of sums up the experience with a short, light denouement, leaving behind some perfumed florals, toffee and a peppery note.

I confess to being somewhat startled at how good this three year old rum wasI’ve tried five year olds with less chops than this one showed off so casually. The notes come together quite wellWes Burgin commented several times on his appreciation for its balanceand even at 43% there was no shortage of bits and pieces to tease out and indulge oneself identifying. I particularly respected how it went off at a tangent on the palate, and didn’t simply try to be a copy of some island hooch. It’s a really good rum, a remarkably tasty introduction (to me) of what the Scots can do if they were to take some time off from the local tipple and try to make a real spirit. And the best part is, there are more in the line that are every bit as good. I can’t wait to get started.

 

(#993)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Brief Historical Background

The small Scottish distillery of VS Distillers is named after its founder, Collin Van Schayk, and it sits a few feet away from the shoreline of what may be the world’s smallest island that hosts a distillery: Lamb Holm, a mere 0.15 sq miles in area (less than half a square km).

That location is not the only odd thing about them, and the distillery’s title is practically unknown, with the company being much more widely recognized by its brand name, J. Gow. The late and unlamented Mr. John Gow was (perhaps inevitably) a pirate, albeit a rather unsuccessful onehe hailed from the Orkneys, itself an island group which would be the northernmost point of Scotland if it wasn’t for the Shetland Islands even further out. His claim to fame, aside from a career deemed short even by the rough standards of the 1700s (said piratical endeavours lasted less than a year between inception and his execution) was that he was caught, tried and hung, the rope broke…and he was ceremoniously and solicitously hung again (in spite of the perhaps apocryphal tradition that a botched hanging allows the condemned to go free since God evidently pardoned him).

Mr. Van Shayk founded the company in 2016 with a 2000 liter pot still (why he chose such a remote, even obscure, location has never been answeredI suspected there’s some family heritage there someplace). Almost immediately he began making spiced rums which, in spite of the groans of the purists, sold quite welland the success garnered by these initial efforts convinced him to branch out not only into pure single rums, but to tinker with various barrel types as well as fermentation techniques. It’s too early to see where this is all going, but for sure originality and experimentation are part of the recipe, now and in the future.

Jul 282022
 

More and more, being environmentally conscious and paying attention to a sustainable agricultural business model is a determinant for any forward looking distillery that can trade on this aspect of its operations to make sales, gain visibility and win awards. What was once a minor aspect of production methodology has grown to the point where it is something almost every new micro distilleryand many major onesseeks to institute. More than just ethically correct, it’s good business.

Lord Byron Distillery (named after the 19th century poet who is arguably the world’s first modern celebrity) is one which ticks all these boxes. It is located twenty minutes up the road from Winding Road Distillery (and is closer to the beach), about 180km south of Brisbane in New South Wales. It was founded in 2016 by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall, who are both engineers, and from the beginning went with a zero-waste and fully-sustainable philosophy. Water comes from collected rain and natural springs; bonsucro-certified molasses once merely used as cattle feed is sourced from a farmer co-operative nearby, power comes from a renewable electricity generator, and distillery waste products are turned into liquid fertilisers and feed additives.

The distillery has two copper pot stills and a steel single-column still; the pot stills were both brought from Europe and are named Ada and Allegra (after Lord Byron’s daughters, I’m assuming) — they produce the usual assortment of gins, vodka, limoncello that make for cash flowand various cane juice distillates (sometimes double distilled) which are either sold as white “rhum”, spiced, and aged rum, always in small batches.

The rum we’re looking at today derives from the 2018 harvest and was bottled in 2021, so it is about 2-3 years old, and can therefore be called “rum” under Australia’s regulations. The exact barrel number is not noted on the sample, but bar batch variation between casks, I think we can assume that what is tasted of one rum from that year, is likely to be similar to all others from that year assuming all bottling was done at the same time. For the curious, it was aged in a 260-litre ex-red wine barrel, and another six months in an ex-port barrel, so it qualifies as double-aged instead of finished, I guessoh, and it came out at a solid 55.5% so the impression I get is that it’s made for real rum fans, not casual imbibers.

The rum and its distillery do well from a marketing and ethical standpoint; and it’s a fine rum to taste as well, even for one so young. The initial aromas arising are of cereals, cheerios, and dusty furniture in an old house, as well as (paradoxically) the plastic wrapping surrounding a new pair of leather shoes. There are few sharp notes of sweet and acidic fruits to be found here, so none of the sweetest offerings fo the orchard are on sale: however, one can detect caramel, figs, dates, sapodilla and a touch of brine and papaya. As it opens up, some dark raisins and lemon pie vaguely waft by, a touch of vanilla and aromatic pipe tobacco, but that’s about it. It’s quite enough to enjoy, I assure you.

Tastewise, no slouch either: it’s deeper and more luscious than the nose implied, with a dry kind of bite. It’s very warm but not a scorcher, presenting a solid first taste of brown sugar, salt caramel ice cream, and peanut butter. This dominates the profile for a while before giving way to some fruitiness of bananas, pineapples in syrup, cherries, and anise. A little oak, a little vanilla emerge, and the port-infused cigarillos are once again in evidence, which I suppose is the wine barrels making themselves felt. The finish is soft yet pungent, quite long, and without serious sharpness or aggro; the closing notes are a firm amalgam of bitter chocolate, caramel, vanilla, raisins and cinnamon, getting quite dry at the back end.

After all is said and done, the real question is whether all the organic, locally sourced, natural ingredients have a discernible impact on what gets poured into the glass. Our grocery shelves are filled with packaged food and drink that contain all sorts of additives, preservatives, binders, chemicals and what have you, that proponents of the organic movement say hides natural flavours. Can we detect such things in rums, and deliberately seek out the pure, the natural?

To some extent, I think so, and here’s a product that makes the case for such products quite well. Lord Byron’s rum is a two year old, double distilled, double matured, with nothing added, made organically, simply, and, like my homemade pepper sauce, with as few ingredients as possible. What we get at the other end when we taste it, is a limited smorgasbord of a profile, that does the neat trick of pretending to be less than it is, then providing more. It is, in short, a quiet little corker.

(#925)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

May 262022
 

Distilleries that go off on their own tangent are always fun to watch in action. They blend a wry and deprecating sense of humour with a quizzical and questioning mien and add to that a curiosity about the rumiverse that leads to occasional messy road kill, sure…but equally often, to intriguing variations on old faithfuls that result in fascinating new products. Killik’s Jamaican rum experiments come to mind, and also Winding Road’s focus on their cane juice based rums1, like they were single handedly trying to do agricoles one better.

Moving on from the standard proofed rums from Australia upon which the focus has been directed over the last weeks, we begin to arrive at some of those that take the strength up a few notches, and when we bring together a higher proof with an agricole-style aged rumas uncommon in Australia as almost everywhere elseit’s sure to be interesting. Such ersatz-agricoles rums are the bread and butter of the Winding Road Distilling Co in New South Wales (about 175km south of Brisbane), which is run by the husband and wife team of Mark and Camille Awad: they have two rums in their small portfolio (for the moment), both cane-juice based. The first, the Agricole Blanc was an unaged rum of this kind, one with which I was quite taken, and it’s the second one we’re looking at today.

It’s quite an eye-opener. Coastal Cane Pure Single Rum is rum with the source cane juice coming from a small mill in the Northern Rivers area (where WR are also located), and as far as I know is run through the same fermentation process as the blanc: three days in open vats using both commercial and wild yeasts, with the wash occasionally left to rest for longer (up to two weeks). Then the wash is passedtwicethrough their 1250 litre pot still (called “Short Round”) and set to age in a single 200-litre American oak barrel with a Level 3 char, producing 340 bottles after 31 months. Bottling is then done at 46% in this instance: that, however, will change to suit each subsequent release based on how it samples coming out of the ageing process.

 

Mark Awad’s avowed intention is to produce a distillate that combines the clarity of agricole rhums with a touch of the Jamaican badassery we call hogo, as well as representing, as far as possible, the terroire of NSW…specifically Northern Rivers, where they are. I can’t tell whether this is the rum that accomplishes that goal, but I can say it’s very good. The nose is lovely, starting with deep dark fruits (prunes and blackberries), opens up to lighter notes (bananas, oranges and pineapples) covered over with unsweetened yoghurt and feta cheese. There’s a nice low-level funkiness here that teases and dances around the aromas without the sort of aggressiveness that characterises the Jamaicans, combined with floral hints andI swear this is truesmoke, wet ashes, and something that reminds me of the smell on your fingers left behind by cigarettes after smoking in very cold weather.

Photo provided courtesy of Winding Road Distilling Co. (c) Mark Awad

The barrel influence is clear on the palatevanilla, some light caramel and toffee tastes are reminders that it’s not an unaged rum. But it’s also quite dry, not very sweet in spite of the lingering notes of lollipops and strawberry bubble gum, has flavours of brine and lemon-cured green Moroccan olives, and brings to mind something of a Speysider or Lowland whisky that’s been in a sherry cask for a bit. It’s one of those rums that seems simple and quiet, yet rewards patience and if allowed to open up properly, really impresses. Even the finish has that initially-restrained but subtly complex vibe, providing long, winey closing notes together with very ripe blue grapes, soft apples, brine, and a touch of lemony cumin.

I’m really intrigued with what Winding Road have done here. With two separate rums they have provided taste profiles that are quite divergent, enough to seem as if they were made by different companies altogether. There are aspects of this aged rum that are more pleasing than the unaged version, while others fall somewhat behind: I’d suggest the nose and the finish is better here, but honestly, they are both quite good, just in different ways.

The constant tinkering and experimentation that marks out these small Australian distillerieswho strive to find both their niche and that point of distinction that will set them apartclearly pays dividends. While I can’t tell you with assurance I tasted an individualistic terroire that would lead me straight to NSW (let alone Australia), neither did the Awads head into the outback at full throttle, going straight through the wall leaving only an outline of themselves behind. What they have in fact accomplished is far better: they have created a rum that is thoroughly enjoyable, one that takes a well known style of rum, twists it around and bounces it up and down a bit…and ends up making the familiar new again. I can’t wait for Release #2.

(#911)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The website specs refer to a single 200-litre barrel and the initial math seems wrong if 340 700-ml bottles were issued (since that works out to 238 litres with zero evaporation losses). However, that only computes if you assume the distillate went in and came out at the same strength. Mark confirmed: “The figures on our website are correct, even though at first glance they may seem a bit off. We filled the barrel at 67.1% ABV and when it was decanted the rum came in at 65.1%. We ended up with just short of 169 litres which we then adjusted down to 46% ABV. This gave us a bit over 239 litres which resulted in 340 bottles, plus a little extra that went towards samples.”
  • As always, chapeau to Mr. and Mrs. Rum for their kind supply of the advent calendar.
Feb 092022
 

Photo (c) Two Rum Chicks, used with their kind permission

There are five bottlings planned for the Australian Distillery Kalki Moon’s “Cane Farmer” Series, named as an homage to the farmers in Queensland who were instrumental in developing the state. The Plant Canean unaged white spirit which is a rum in all but namewas the second, introduced in December 2020, with spiced and darker aged expressions that can be called “rum” locally being developed for future release.

We’ll go into the background of the company later, but for now, let’s just talk about this white unaged spirit, made from molasses (yes, molasses, not juice), fermented with a commercial yeast for six days and then run through a 600-liter pot still called “Pristilla”twice. The high proof spirit coming off the still is then diluted with water over a period of around eight weeks, down to the 44% we get here.


Kalki Moon has several stillsa small, 100-liter pot still (for gin) made in Australia, and another 200-liter pot still (for rum) bought in China were the original stills. Other stills were added later: Pristilla (for more rum), then “Marie”another Chinese 1000-liter still sourced in 2020 (for yet more gin) — and in 2022 a 3000-liter Australian-made pot still will replace Pristilla (for even more rum).


This white rum (I’ll call it that and ask for Australians’ indulgence in the matter) has certain similarities to both the Brix and the JimmyRum whites we’ve already looked at, but with its own twist. The rum has and interesting character…and the nose, it must be said, is really kind of all over the place. It starts out smelling of brine, olives and iodine, and even puts out a vague scent of pine-sol disinfectant, before remembering it’s supposed to be a rum and choking that off. Then you get a sort of dhal or lentil soup with black pepper and masala spice, which in turn morphs into a more conventional Jamaican low-rent funkiness of banana skins, overripe fleshy stoned fruits and soft pineapples, and the hogo of meat beginning to go. When you’re done you feel like you’ve just been mugged by a happily unwashed baby fresh off his daily vegemite.

Photo (c) Justin Galloway, used with his kind permission

Never fear, though, most of all this confusion is gone by the time it’s time to start sipping the thing. Here we get a solid, sweet, luscious depth: strawberries, pineapples, very dark and very ripe cherries, melons, papayas and squash (yes, squash). Some squishy overripe Thai mangoes and maybe some guavas, with just enough citrus being hinted at to not make it a cloying mess, and just enough salt to balance all that off. It’s not entirely a success, but not something you would forget in a hurry either. The finish goes off in its own direction again, evidently forgetting (again) what it was supposed to be, and leaves me with a simultaneously dry and watery sort of cane-vinegar-wine vibe, cardboard, and a bland fruit salad where nothing can be picked out.

It’s an odd rum, and to be honest I really kinda like it, because for one, it really does taste like a rum, and two, even if the tastes and smells don’t always play nice and go helter skelter all over the place, there’s no denying that by some alchemy of Mr. Prosser’s skill, it all holds together and provides a punch of white rum flavour one can’t dismiss out of hand. Not everything can be “like from the Caribbean” and not everything should be. With Kalki Moon’s first batch, my advice for most would be to mix this thing into a daiquiri or a mojito or something, and check it out that way…it’s really going to make those old stalwarts jump. For those of strength, fortitude, and Caner-style mad courage, drink it neat. You won’t forget it in a hurry, I’m thinking…just before you start wondering what a full proof version would be like.

(#883)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

 


Company Background

Photo (c) Kalki Moon

Kalki Moon is named after an enduring image in the mind of the founder Rick Prosser, that of the full moon over the fields of Bundaberg in the neighbourhood of Kalkie, where he had built his house. After working for thirteen years and becoming a master distiller at the Bundaberg Distillery and dabbling in some consultancy work, Mr. Prosser decided to give it a shot for himself, and enlisted friends and family to help financially and operationally support his endeavours to build and run his own artisanal distillery, which opened in 2017 with two small stills.

Australian law requires any spirit labelledrumto have been aged for two years, which places a burden on new startup distilleries wanting to produce it therethey have to make cash flow to survive for at least that long while their stock matures. That need to make sales from the get-go pushed the tiny distillery into the vodka- and gin-making business (gin was actually a last minute decision) — Mr. Prosser felt that the big brands produced by his previous employer, Diageo, had their place, but there were opportunities for craft work too.

Somewhat to his surprise, the gins he madea classic, a premium, a navy strength and even a pinksold well enough that he became renowned for those, even while adding yet other spirits to his company’s portfolio. Still, he maintains that it was always rum for which he was aiming, and gin just paid the bills, and in 2020 he commissioned a third, larger still (named “Marie”, after his grandmother) to allow him to expand production even further. Other cash generating activities came from the spirits-trail distillery tourists who came on the tours afforded by having several brewing and distilling operations in a very concentrated area of Bundabergso there are site visits, tasting sessions and so on.

At the same time, he has been experimenting with rumssome, of course, ended up becoming the Plant Canebut it took time to get the cuts and fermentation and still settings right, so that a proper rum could be set to age. At this point I believe the spiced and maybe the dark (aged) rums will be ready for release in 2022 or shortly thereafter. The gins are too well-made, too profitable and too widely appreciated, now, to be abandoned, so I imagine that Kalki will continue to be very much a multi-product company. It remains to be seen whether the dilution of focus I’ve remarked on before with respect to small American distilleries who multi-task the hell out of their stills, will hamper making a truly great artisanal rum, or whether all these various products will get their due moment in the sun. Personally I think that if his gins can be good enough to win awards right out of the gate, it sure will be interesting to watch what Mr. Prosser does when he gets a head of steam under him, and the aged rums start coming out the door. So far, even the unaged rum he made is well worth a taste.


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and touch of the Panama to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge when they heard of my interest (it was not for sale outside Australia). Thanks again to you both.
  • A sample pic shows what I tasted from but it really lacks a visual something. When I scoured around for bottle pics, I found the two (much better) photographs which you see included above, so many thanks to Justin Galloway and (chaste) kisses to the Two Rum Chicks, who kindly allowed me to use their work.
Feb 032022
 

Brix Distillers is an interesting contrast to the JimmyRum distillery we looked at last week. With Jimmy’s, you got the impression of a down-to-earth, easygoing, somewhat blue-collar enterprise with a cheeky sense of humour that also provided good info on who and what it was. Brix, on the other hand, gives more of a yuppie vibe and emanates a youthful vigour that is paradoxically, also somewhat anonymous (none of the owners are identified on their website, for example). While Jimmy’s is definitely a distillery with a bar and restaurant (of sorts) attached later, one can easily get the impression that Brix’s is more of a cool all-in-one inner-city eating and drinking establishment built around the pot still on the premises (it’s the way the pictures they provide are composed). Or maybe it’s all about the cheerful rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne as to which is the cooler city, or something.

Be that as it may, let’s just go through what one can glean from the resources available. The distillery was founded in 2017 after two years’ worth of planning and setup, by James Christopher, Damien Barrow and Siddharth Soin, three friends who are also partners in a popular local restaurant. They sourced an 1800-litre copper pot still made in Australia (called “Molly”) and forged direct connections with suppliers and growers so as to source local ingredients as far as possible: Australian molasses and organic sugar cane from their supplier, a farm in Woongoolba close by the Rocky Point sugar mill (Southern Queensland, just south of Brisbane), locally-made spices, barrels and everything else they need. Their outturn includes a limited edition white cane juice spirit (“Urban Cane,” issued annually ), a white mixer, a lightly aged gold and a spiced rum, plus some flavoured mixes. There’s more ageing out back, and I’m sure we’ll see that in the years to come, as rum education and rum improvement are part of what Brix is all about as well.

Today’s review is about that “Urban Cane” spirit, which you’ll note is not called “rum” due to Australia’s naming regulations, which don’t recognize or allow unaged spirits to be called rums until they’ve been aged for two years 1. It’s mentioned here and there as being an agricole, but this is incorrect usage since the term has limited and specific applicabilityat best one can say it’s an agricole style rum, and “cane spirit” works just as well. It’s called “Urban” because essentially, in January 2020, four tons of cane was transported by refrigerated truck from Woongoolba to the distillery premises in Sydney, and crushed right there into cane juice. Then it was fermented (using an indigenous yeast), with excess husk matter chucked into the ferment for some additional kick and character, double distilled to 60% and then 87% ABV, then diluted down to 43.3% and bottled into 395 bottles.

It’s that husk matter, I think, that allows the unusual initial scents of this clear white rum to come to the fore: it has the dry, dusty, musty mildewed scents of an old room in an abandoned house. Paper, cereals andsomewhat paradoxicallyalso the smell of new paint. The dank loamy notes of dark earth freshly spaded over. This doesn’t sound all that appealing, I confess, but it really kind of is, and in any case, none of this hangs around for long, so be of good cheer. Soon, the scent of fruits and grass takes over: green herbs, crushed lime leaves, light strawberry bubble gum, some pineapple slices, cherries in syrup, tart mangoes and nicely ripe peachesit’s quite a transition, and the fruity character of what it all ends up as, is very pleasant to sniff.

To taste, some of that initial dryness shows up for a quick moment; then it vanishes, the tenor changes, and the most lingering impression one is left with is one of fruit and spiceslightly sweet, tart and even a touch bitter. One can taste green apples, pineapples, raisins, slightly sour not-quite-ripe-mangoes, apple cider and, if you can believe it, radishes, cilantro, lime leaves, and the fresh lemony brightness of a washing detergent. The finish doesn’t just repeat these notes, but adds some sweet soya sauce, mint, rosemary, citrus again and even some pine-y sort of resin and wraps it all up in a bow.

It’s really quite a fascinating rum, because while hewing to aspects of the expected profile of an unaged cane spirit, it dares to go off in its own directionthere’s stuff from all over the flavour map here, jangling and crowding and jostling happily together, not caring whether it works, just showing, maybe, that it can. It’s sweet, sour, salty, complex and a riot to drink, and while I wish it were a bit stronger, that’s my thing, not yours. And if perhaps one cannot taste this and immediately recognize more comforting, familiar fare (like, say, low-strength agricole blancs, clairins or unaged Jamaicans), I can tell you that in my opinion Brix’s Urban Cane Spirit can take its place among them as a white worth drinking, an unaged rum (yes, a rum) with its own peculiarity and originality of character, and that after all is said and done and the glass is empty, that it’s a rum you want to try again…and again.

(#881)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • For those who don’t recognize the term, “Brixordegrees Brixis a unit of measurement of sugar content in a solution, usually alcohol.
  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and tip of the sombrero to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge when they heard of my interest (it was not for sale outside Australia). Thanks again to you both.
  • Shane Casey, the head distiller at Brix, comments on the background of the company, and some technical aspects of making the rum, as well as talking about rums in Australia, in the Fermenting Place podcast Episode 27.
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.