Mar 302021
 


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Jan 302020
 

India is one of these countries that makes a lot of rum but is not reknowned for itand if you doubt that, name five Indian rums, quick. Aside from a few global brands like Amrut (who are more into whiskies but also dabbled in rum with the Old Port Deluxe and the Two Indies rums) rum makers from there seem, for the moment, quite happy to sell into their internal or regional markets and eschew going abroad, and are equally indifferent to the foreign rum festival circuit where perhaps they could get more exposure or distribution deals. Perhaps being located in the most populous region of the earth, they don’t need to. The market is literally right there for them.

One such product from India came across my radar the other day: named Rhea Gold Rum, it’s made in Goa on the west coast of the subcontinent, and I can truthfully say I knew nothing about it when I tried it, so for reasons that will become clear, let me run you straight past through the tasting notes before going on.

Light amber in colour and bottled at 43%, it certainly did not nose like your favoured Caribbean rum. It smelled initially of congealed honey and beeswax left to rest in an old unaired cupboard for six monthsthat same dusty, semi-sweet waxy and plastic odour was the most evident thing about it. Letting it rest produced additional aromas of brine, olives and ripe mangoes in a pepper sauce. Faint vanilla and caramelwas this perhaps made from jaggery, or added to after the fact? Salty cashew nuts, fruit loops cereal and that was most or less ita fairly heavy, dusky scent, darkly sweet.

The palate continued that deep profile of rich and nearly overripe mangoesbig, soft, yellow and juicy, just on the edge of turning mushy. Some tastes of pears, papayas, peaches, but not as sweet, accompanied by vanilla and nuttinessbut overall, the cloying thickness of overripe fruits became gradually dominating, even at that relatively tame strength, almost overpowering all others. There was no subtlety here, just a pillow fight. Finish was too faint and syrupy (in taste not in texture) to be interesting in any meaningful way. It has some fruit, some salt caramel, it finishes and that’s pretty much it.

In my original written notes I opined that this is a spiced or added-to rumsuch things are, after all, not unknown in India. But in point of fact, it reminded me more strongly of the guava-based “rum” from Cuba called the Guyabita del Pinar, with which it seems to share kinship from half a world away, without being quite as good.

As it turns out, that wasn’t far off the mark. The company that makes itRhea Distillersis much more famous (especially in Goa) for making variations of the local spiced alcoholic spirit based on cashews, or sometimes, coconut milk. Called feni, it is the most popular tipple in the region, a softer, easier cousin to clairins, somewhat akin to grogues though made from fruit, not cameand is, as an aside, subject to a GI in its own right.

The Gold Rum was made from sugar cane juice according to the site and that makes it a “real” rumstill, bearing in mind the priorities and main products of the company, the question of why it tastes so much of cashews is not hard to guess (nothing is written anywhere on the web page about production methods, except that cane spirit is the base). Moreover, in those competitions where it was entered (ISWC 2018 and World Rum Awards 2018), it won prizes in the ‘flavoured’ or ‘spiced’ categoriesnot that of a straight product.

What else? Well, the front label wasn’t very helpful; the back label says, among other things, that it is aged in oak barrels without subsequent filtration for about three years and consists of “rum distillate”, water, E150a colouring, and without additional aromatics or artificial additives (the rest is health advisories, distribution and manufacturer data, shelf life and storage instructions). Well, I don’t know: it may not have any artificial additives, but it sure had somethingmaybe it was natural additives, like actual cashew fruit or macerate.

The website of the company also lacked any serious data, on either the product or the company background, but whatever the case and however they made it, this is definitely a spiced rum, and for me, not a very good oneperhaps a native of Goa who is used to the local drinks and buys the ubiquitous feni on the street would like it more than I did. Rhea might be serving a captive market of millions but that’s hardly an endorsement of intrinsic quality or unique production styleor, in this case, of taste. I found the Rhea unsatisfactory as a sipper, dominated by too few strong and oversweet tastes, and not a drink I could mix easily into any standard cocktail to showcase what aspects of it were more successful. In short, not my thing.

(#697)(72/100)


Opinion

Full disclosure: I’m not really a fan of spiced rums, believing there’s more than enough good and unspiced stuff out there for me not to bother with rums that are so single mindedly flavoured to the point of drowning out subtler nuances of ageing and terroiretherealrum taste, which I prefer. So in a way it was good that I tasted it without knowing what it was. You really did get my unvarnished opinion on the rum, and that was also why I wrote the review that way.

Dec 222019
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve bothered to review a rum that isn’tthe Stroh comes to mind, the Czech Tuzemak, or the Mekhong from Thailand. I don’t really mindthese things are lonely, and need a home, need a review, so why not with us? It should also be noted that this product from Eastern Europe is not meant to be a drinking spirit, but one to add to teas and used in cooking, almost unknown outside the Balkans.

The Domacithecis pronouncedchand the word means “Domestic”is not a spiced rum (i.e.,a rum with spices added), more like the reverse: a spiced concoction of some kind that has rum (or an essence of rum, whatever that might be) added to it. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it is “a spirit based on a special recipe and flavored with an extract of Rum. Its amazing aroma makes it a popular addition to many dishes.” Yeah, okay. If it was a German thing I’d call it an inländer rum, or verschnitt.

Badel 1862, the company that makes it, is an alcoholic beverages company formed in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, headquartered in Zagreb (Croatia) and still chugging along, they make mostly regional spirits like brandies, vodkas and gins, while simultaneously acting as a distributor for international brands like Bacardi. As part of the approval for their accession to the EU, they had to rename many of the spirits they were making which were not genuine: “rum” had to be changed to “room” and brandy became “bratsky;” so this provides a convenient dating regimeif your bottle says “room” then it was made after 2013. This one saysrum”, so it was made before.

Unsurprisingly it’s mostly for sale in the BalkansBosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, with outliers in Germanyand has made exactly zero impact on the greater rum drinking public in the West. Wes briefly touched on it with a review of another Croatian product, the Maraska “Room” (similar issues with namingthe EU declined to allow it to be called “rum”), but both the Maraska and the Badel are made the same way. Since I knew none of this when initially tasting the thing, all I was aware of was its puling strength (35%) and its colour (yellow) and went on from there.

Nose first. Nope, not my cup of tea. It reminded me of an eggnog Grandma Caner had made for me once, chock full of ethanol, nutmeg, cumin and cinnamon. Also sour cream, strawberries, green grapes, and a raft sweet breakfast spices tossed in with the casual abandon of a louche rake distributing his questionable favours. It smelled thin and sweet and lacked any kind of “rumminess” altogether.

Palate? No relief here for the rumistas, though plenty of joy for the sweet toothed. I mean, anyone with even a bit of experience with rums would see that it’s a doctored mess thrown like bread to the masses who know no better, and lasting long enough (over a hundred years, remember) to become a local institution defended with becoming zealotry astraditional”. Ethanol, soda pop, fantas and again, bags and bags of spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon for the most part). Vague, meek and mild, with the slightest twinge of sharpness, leading to a short, light and fruity finish of no real distinction

I wrote rather impatiently in my notes “Weak nonsensebut okay, it’s not meant to be a rum, right?” Maybe, but that might let this local Eastern European plonk off the hook. It used to be called rum, was noted as being domestic, but frankly, they should have named it something else entirely, created its own unique category, rather than associate it with a more rigorously defined spirit with a long tradition of its own.

There are 40% and 60% variations of this thing floating around and one day if I’m in the neighborhood I might try them. The important thing is that I know what it is, and by writing this essay and you reading it, now, so do you. Feel free to try it if it ever crosses your path, but know what it is you’re getting, and what it’s good for.

(#686)(65/100)