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.

Nov 172016
 

rrl-2015

Not quite as good as the 2012but damned close

#317

One of the genuine pleasures to be had in the field of rum reviews is the unstinting, generous assistance given by members of the subculture. After I wrote about the Rhum Rhum Liberation 2010, Liberation 2012 and the amazing 2012 Integrale, a reader from Holland contacted me and offered to send along a sample of the 2015 Integrale, for no other reason than because he wanted to see how it stacked up against the othersand to my great good fortune, it arrived while I was still in Germany, and I was able to run all four past each other for a good comparative session. So big hat tip and many thanks to Eddie K., and may his rum shelf never be empty of the good stuff.

Just to recap the basics for those who don’t want to wade through the other three reviews: all these Libération rhums stem from Bielle on Marie-Galante (Guadeloupe), and are part of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla and Luca Gargano; cane juice derived, double distilled in small copper stills designed by Mr. Capovilla (built by Muller out of Germany), aged around six years in Sauternes white oak casks. Need I say that there were no additives or filtrations of any kind here? Probably not. Also – 2015 is the date of bottling, not the date of distillation (it was ‘liberatedget it?)

rhum-rhum-liberation-integrale-2015Tasting such a delectable rhum in tandem with its brothers really allows the profile to be taken apart in a way a more casual tasting probably wouldn’t. Certainly it reaffirmed my initially high opinion of the 2012 Integrale, but you know, this 2015 version bottled at 58.4% ABV wasn’t half bad either. Consider first the nose, which playfully started the party with light grassy notes and some rubber, as quickly gone as a strumpet’s smile. Then tree sap, some sweet-and-sour teriyaki sauce, a bit of brine, and then the caramel, burnt sugar, cheesecake, bananas and cherries were given their moment to shine, in a smell that was clear and clean and very crisp, nicely leavened by a creaminess which provided a rounded nose I quite liked.

And I savoured the taste of this thingit was good and solid, hot and punchy, in a good way, with gradually unfolding flavours of flowers and vanillas plus honey (what is it with the Guadeloupe agricoles and that light honey taste? It’s great). After opening up and with some water, I tasted chocolate, coffee, spices like cinnamon and cardamon, maybe nutmeg. There was some vague bitterness of oak to be sensed, a slight imbalance, fortunately brief and soon supplanted by the tartness of apples and cider and brine. Overall, very well rounded and remarkably drinkable, which is one reason that sample is now gone. As for the fade, it was long, crisp, brinyno vagueness of tastes, none of that inconclusive mashed-up-porridge of a lesser rhum, but bright and clear, with black tea, more honey, fudge and a sprig of mint and a lovely tart fruitiness that resisted my attempts to pin it down.

It was close to the 2012 Libération for sure, maybe even a bit betterand if, as noted above, it wasn’t quite up to the level of the 2012 Integrale, I didn’t feel cheated or let down, since I have a feeling that such remarkable rhums are occasional visitors to our planet rather than regular inhabitants. And in any case, the 2015 Integrale is a damned fine rhum by any standard, with many strong points and a very few weak ones, which any lover of agricoles would be glad to have. It’s good to see that in an era of commercial sameness by far too many old houses, it’s still possible to find some that don’t let anything like restraint or commonsense stand in their way, and just go ahead and push all their skill and art into making something that’s really very, very good. When they were done with this one, I can almost imagine them standing around holding their tasting glasses, and all of them with silly grins of appreciation on their faces. Much like mine, now that I think about it.

(87/100)

May 182016
 

Nine Leaves French 2

A love note to the concept of kaizen

It’s an old joke of mine that Nine Leaves’ staff consists of a master blender, office assistant, purchasing agent, bottler, General Manager, brand ambassador and sales office, and still only has one employee. This was and remains Mr. Yoshiharu Takeuchi, who single-handedly runs his company in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan, and basically issues some very young rums (none are older than six months) on to the world market. The unaged whites in particular are getting all sorts of acclaim, and I have one to write about in the near future.

Back in December 2014 I wrote about the six-month-aged 2014 French Oak, which I thought intriguing and pleasant to drink, though still a bit raw and having some issues in the way the flavours blended together. Running into Mr. Takeuchi again a year later, I made it a point to try that year’s production, the The American Oak “Spring 2015” and this “Autumn 2015” … and can happily report that Nine Leaves, in its slow, patient, incremental way, is getting better all the time (and as a probably unintended side-effect, has made me buy a few more Japanese rums from other companies just to see how they stack up).

Just a brief recap: the rum was distilled in a Forsythe copper pot still, double distilled, using sugar cane juice from cane grown in Okinawa, so the rum is an agricole in all but name. Mr. Takeuchi himself decides when and how to make the cuts so that the heart component is exactly what he wants it to be. The rums are then aged for six months in the noted barrels, which are all new, and lightly toasted, according to a note Mr. Takeuchi sent me..

Nine Leaves French 1

The French OakAutumn 2015rum was a bit lighter in hue than the American Oak version I tried alongside it, and also a little easier on the noseand smoother, even rounder to smell, in spite of its 48% strength. There was a subtly increased overall depth here that impressedthough admittedly you kinda have to try these side by side to see where I’m coming from. Aromas of fanta, orange, cinnamon, vanilla were clear and distinct, as clean and clear as freshly chiselled engravings, and after a while, sly herbal and grassy notes began to emergebut so little that one could be forgiven for forgetting this was an agricole at all. This was something I have enjoyed about Nine Leaves’s rums, that sense of simultaneous delicacy and heft, and the coy flirtation between molasses and agricole profiles, while tacking unobtrusively to the latter.

The profile on the palate continued on with that subtle dichotomyit was slightly sweet and quite crisp, beginning with some wax and floor polish background, well controlled. Sugary, grassy tastes of cane juice, swank, vanilla, some oak, dill and incense led off, and while it displayed somewhat more sharpness and a little less body than the roundness of the nose had initially suggested, further softer notes of watermelon, cucumbers and pears helped make the experience a bearable one. As with the American, there was a chirpy sort of medium-long finish, as the rum exited with dry, bright, clean flavours of citrus, breakfast spices, some cinnamon and maybe a touch more of vanilla. It was clearly a young rum, a little rambunctious, a little playful, but overall, extremely well behaved. I sure can’t tell you which agricole is exactly like itNine Leaves inhabits a space in the rum world uniquely its own, while never losing sight of its rummy antecedents. That’s always been a part of its charm, and remains a core company competence.

Clearly Nine Leaves is slowly, patiently improving on its stable of offerings. I spent a few hours checking for news that the company intends to issue progressively more aged rums without resultit seems that the current idea is to continue with gradually improving the young rums that area their bread and butter (though I know that Yoshi has a few barrels of the good stuff squirrelled away in his warehouse someplace that he isn’t telling us about, and will issue a two year old American oak rum as a limited edition at some point). I can’t fault the concept, and if a new distiller can make rums this decent, and improve a little bit every year, you can just imagine what they’ll be putting out the door within the decade. Until then, we could do a lot worse than try one of these lovely seasonal issues Nine Leaves makes.

Kampei!

(#274 / 84.5/100)


Other notes

  • Because of some obscure tax regulations in Japan regarding spirits three years old, Nine Leaves is unlikely to issue really aged rums for the foreseeable future
  • The French Oak cask rums are now no longer being produced.
Apr 132016
 

D3S_3647

A tasty, unaged, pot-still white rum, which St. Nicholas Abbey seems to have made while in a playfully experimental phase.

So there I was last week, reading through my notes and writing unenthusiastically about the 3 year old “Real McCoy” white rum from Barbados, which found little favour with me. But consider this unaged counterpart made right up the road from St. Nicholas Abbey, also issued at 40%, also a white and in just about every way a superior product. What could account for such a difference? Well, part of it is the lack of filtration, another is the sourceit is a full pot still product, not a blend of pot and column. Double distilled and with a longer than usual fermentation period (5 days plus two more of “resting”).

Whatever the case, unaged white pot still rums are getting quite a bit of attention these days, moving the rum world away from dependable silver mixing agents whose name everyone knows, to something a bit morewell, adventurous. Clairins and agricoles have always been around and are leading the charge, but cachacas are making some waves too, and if more makers like Nine Leaves, St. Nicks and Rum Nation and others are spending time and money on making them, the next few years will be quite interesting on that front.

This particular rum tried very hard to walk the line between too much and too little, and succeeded pretty well: not for St. Nicks’s was the dumbing down of their product to appeal to a mass market by making a rum that wouldn’t offend anyone; and yet dialling up the volts to something that would be polarizing was not for them either. They issued it in a smart looking bottle, at a tolerable 40%, and it was soothing enough to appeal without entirely disguising the potential and tamed wildness of its antecedents.

A rum like the White can only really be appreciated by trying it in tandem with rums like it up and down the scale. For example, take the aromas: wax, olives, paraffin wax, floor polish and brine leaped out of the glass, and I know how unappetizing that sounds (I was fortunate in that I’ve tried more potent popskull and so I kinda knew what to expect). But if you compare it with the DDL Superior High Wine, Rum Nation Pot Still 57%, or the Clairin Sajous, (or the Vaval, or the Casimir) which all packed more punch, you could make a reasoned argument that 40% really works for a larger drinking audience with rums like this. The character of the rum might be dampened a bit, yet it’s still there, singing as chirpily as a cageful of canaries. And be comfortedafter some minutes the nose does even out a bit, bringing forward more floral notes, the light sugariness of candyfloss, papaya and sugar watereven a flirt of light honey. However, it should be noted that there were few signs of any of that vegetal, grassy smell which is so prevalent in agricoles.

The taste was also quite intrguing. I was expecting that oily, paraffin bedrock to continue, and indeed, this was there, just not that dominant. The profile, which began with some heat, was reasonably smooth, sweet, light and clear, presenting anise, flowers and ripe cherries that kept what most would call unpleasant off-notes in the background, where they contributed a note or twothe floor polish was noticeable, for examplewithout overwhelming the taste outright. With water additional cinnamon, whipped cream and crushed walnuts could be discerned, and the finish, while short, was very crisp and clear, without any driness at all. Considering that I walked up to the St. Nick’s not expecting much of anything, it was a very pleasant surprised to be pampered by the overall worth of what I initially took to be just another throwaway white mixer.

Summing up, then, I think this is a very good all purpose white rum, and if it does not ascend to the heights of crazy as exemplified by the stronger rums noted above, you can see it had the potential to do so had they decided to beef it up some more. It retained enough character and zest to stand by itself and possesses sufficient off notes to enhance whatever cocktail you’re thinking of dunking it into. In that sense, it’s a great “bridge” rumit can be for both drinking neat or mixing, and would neither alienate those who despised the more elemental pot still whites, nor piss off the guys who prefer something that gives more bassa-bassa. When you think about it, for any clear rum to pull off that trick is quite a feat, and that’s part of why the St. Nick’s product (and many agricole white rums) succeeds, when the white McCoy three year old, or other industrial white mixing fodder like Bacardi Superior so sadly don’t. And it also succeeds, for my money, because it had the guts to actually go somewhere new.

(#266. 83/100)


Other notes

  • The source distillate in this case is not Foursquare, but St. Nick’s own stocks, from their own sugar cane.
Apr 302015
 

D3S_1657-001

Drinking this rum is knowing what harpooning Moby Dick felt like. A wild-haired full-proof bodybuilder of a rhum, so absolutely unique in taste that it it defied easy description. I sampled it and knew I wanted to write about it immediately.

So there I was in Paris at La Maison du Whiskey in April 2015, with some fellow rummies. Hundreds of bottles of rhum and rum beckoned from groaning shelves. Samples from years pastdecades past! – winked in their little bottles, inviting us to get started. Straight-out rumporn, honestly. Our hands were itching to start the pours, but we were having too much fun just talking with each other to get going.

We were discussing rum classificationscolour, country, age, styleand the organizer of our ramblings (who wanted to remain nameless so I shall simply refer to him as The Sage) suggested that origin was probably best as a primary separatorpot still, single column still, multiple column still, juice versus molasses, etcbefore going into further possible gradations of colour and ageing and country and style.

“You simply cannot mistake a pot still product, fresh off the still,” he argued. “Like Pere Labatt white, or Neisson, HSE, any of the agricole makers who produce a white rum at full proof.”

“Don’t forget Haiti,” I suggested, thinking mostly, it must be said, of Barbancourt. But also of the new stuff Velier was developing, from that half-island.

“Yes, absolutely,” said the Sage, switching directions in a heartbeat. “There are five hundred small producers in Haiti making clear rum the way they have for ages and ages. Barbancourt is good but gone mass market. If you want to see what a really original white pot still product is like, you have to try these small ones that only get sold locally, at any strength. Fully organic, old-school stuff.”

D3S_1657

“Never tried one,” I admitted.

There was a hushed sound of indrawn breaths as the room fell silent. Serge’s impressive mustachethe one that Tom Selleck weeps himself every night to sleep wishing he hadtwitched. Cyril dropped his glass, and Daniele choked into his. They all regarded me with pitying stares. The Sage himself looked utterly scandalized at my ignorance: I had evidently dropped a few notches in his esteem. After huffing and puffing his indignation for a moment, he darted behind the counter, rummaged around a bit and came back carefully holding a tasting glass brimming with a white liquid like he feared it might explode.

“Try this. Full proof Clairin Sajous, bottled straight from the still. 53.5%

The term “clairin” is not a common one: references to it only exist online dating back to 2008. Clairin is, quite simply, clear white creole (often pot, sometimes primitive column) still rhum made in Haiti from cane juice, sometimes with wild yeast and a longer fermentation period, often without any ageing whatsoever. They can range from a please-don’t-hurt-me 30% or so, to (in more extreme cases) a more feral gun-toting, bring-it-on 60%. It’s the drink of the country, the way cachaca is in Brazil.

The variants of the rhum span the whole gamut of quality as well: some are rough, bathtub-brewed popskull as likely to kill you as enthuse you, bottled in whatever containers are on hand for the benefit of local consumption; others are slightly more upscale and professionally made stuff, from small one-man outfits like Sajous, Vaval and Casimirthese are occasionally sent abroad. Velier has distributed these three in its latest offerings, for example, and it was the Sajous I was trying.

The rhum looked harmless, defenceless, innocuousmeek and demure. I regarded it suspiciously as a result. I remembered traumatic incidents with cachaca, as well as unexpected clear taste bombs from Rum Nation and Nine Leaves. “Not aged at all?” I asked.

“No.”

I took a tentative pull with my nose. Even that tiny, delicate, sommelier-sniffing-the-wine sniff was too much. My eyes watered, my vision swam, my nose puckered, and my knees trembled. My God but this stuff was pungent. Not so much the strength, which was a relatively strong-but-bearable 53.5%, but its sheer intense potency. If I was older, I might have asked for a defibrillator to be on standby.

There was this incredibly large bubble of salt and wax expanding through my head. Brine and gunpowder exploded on the nose, mixed in with kerosene and fuel oil, turpentine and lacquer. It was almost like sniffing a tub of salt beef, yet behind all that, there was the herbal clarity of water in which a whole lot of sugar was dissolved (“swank” we called it in my bush-working days), crushed green mint leaves and just-mown grass on which the sprinkler is irrigating in bright sunlight.

I withdrew my nose after a few tries of this, scribbled my notes down in a shaking hand, and moved on to taste. I had learnt caution, as you can see. And if you’re trying a full-proof Clairin yourself for the first time after a lifetime of molasses-based rums, I’d recommend it.

D3S_1658

The feel of the Sajous in the palate was hot, thick and heavy, even though the thing was not raw or excruciatingly sharp by any means. It was as intense and flavourful as the nose, if not more sosap, thick and sweet and oily started things out. The rhum coated the tongue with the tenacity of a junkie clutching five dollar bill. I don’t often use the word “chewy” but it really works to describe how it felt. Initially the Sajous presented itself as heated and spicy, and then it smoothened out well, giving over to a buttery, and more agricole-like profilefresh cut sugar cane, wax, furniture polish, salt beef in malt vinegar (yeah, I know how that sounds), and all shot through with green, unripe fruit, some lemon peel, and that vegetal, green flavour that drives agricole lovers into transports. More kerosene and brine permeated the back end, and the fade, long and deep, lingered for a damned long timeenough to make me put down the glass after a bit, inhale deeply and just try to wait the thing out. Before starting again.

I finally stopped my sampling, caught my breath, and looked over at Cyril from DuRhum, who was grinning at me with a glass of his own in his hand. “What did you think of it?” I asked him. He and I both liked the Nine Leaves Clear and had good things to say about Rum Nation’s 57% White Pot Still. Perhaps the closest rum to this profile I’d ever tried was the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3%). Those were similar to this, but nowhere near as uncultured, as elemental. They had been babied a little, smoothened a mite in the cuts, while this hadn’t even progressed to training wheels. It reminded me of three explosive cachacas I had tried (twice) from a small booth at the 2014 Berlin RumFestthey exhibited that same off-the-scale craziness and untamed wild freedom.

Cyril’s understatement was massively un-Gallic: “It’s different, isn’t it?” He, Daniele and The Sage were vastly amused at my reaction. I guess that was understandableI don’t have a poker face worth a damn, and had never tried a white rhum with quite this level of profile intensity before. Just the aroma was enough to make you rethink any preconceptions of what a rum or rhum could be.

“All right then,” I said to The Sage, stealing another sip and shuddering a little less. “What can you tell me about the Sajous?

He told me what he knew (much of which was on the label): it was made from pure sugar harvested from Java cane originating from India, grown in a small 30-hectare estate owned by Michel Sajous, in Saint Michel de l’Attalaye just north of Port-au-Prince. It was all organic and un-messed with from start to finish. Fermentation was done over seven to ten days using wild yeast, double distilled on a pot still at the Chelo distillery on the propertyand then run straight into the bottles after coming off the still. No ageing, no additives, no dilution, no nothing.

“Real traditional agricole rhum before it gets tampered with, purest example of the type,” he said, and it was clear he wasn’t kidding. If there was ever an “original” rhum, the Sajous wasn’t far away from itthe only issue I had with it was perhaps a bit too much. I liked itmore or less. And the more intoxicated I got, the better it was, which may have been the point.

Cyril, Serge, Daniele, The Sage and I moved on to other things, sampled a load of old rums, went to dinner, talked about rum, drank some more, talked about rum, and had a wonderful time. They were all courteous enough to speak English to me, as my French is execrableI got my own back by carrying on in Russian with The Sage’s beautiful better half. You’d think we would run out of things to say about rum after a while, but nothe subject was as inexhaustible as the varieties. Alas, I had to excuse myself after several hours of it, since my wife was waiting for me and probably getting grumpy.

As I walked back to my hotel, I tried to summarize my feelings about the Clairin Sajous. Without dissing the thing, I can say that this is not everyone’s rum, or a must-have unicorn you share like pictures of your first-born. In fact, Spanish and English style molasses-based rum lovers would likely never approach it again after trying it once. Even agricole enthusiasts might back off a bit. I’m scoring it reasonably high because of good production value, great heft, an enormously intriguing profile, and an original character that stands supremely alone on the prow of its self-proclaimed awesomeness, sayingCall me Sajous”. It would make a tiki drink or a complex cocktail that would blow your hair back, no problem, yet it is probably too different from the mainstream to appeal to mostin that lies both its attraction and its downfall.

Because, you see, some taming of this beast is likely to be required, before it finds real favour and acceptance in the bars of the broader rum world. I liked it for that precise reason, and will get it (and its brothers) again but must be honest enough to say I’d only buy one at a time, far apartand always have a defibrillator handy.

(#212. 82/100)


Other notes

  • Made by Sajous at Chelo, but distributed and promoted by Velier.
  • For the guys I met and who took the time to talk rum, a big Merci. It really was a wonderful get-together.
  • The artwork on both this and the Casimir was done by Simeon Michel, a well known Haitian artist. There’s a better story behind the Vaval design, if you’re interested, at the bottom of the review.