Mhoba Pot Stilled High Ester Rum (2019) – Review

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Apr 182022
 

The South African distillery of Mhoba is one of those small outfits like Richland, Privateer, A1710, Issan, Killik or J. Gow,  that almost single handedly builds a reputation from scratch through dogged persistence and ever-increasing word of mouth, to the point where they exercise an influence on the whole conversation around rums. None of these are the only ones, or the first, to do what they do: but all of them have qualities that are more than just beginner’s luck, and elevate — even redefine — the category of rums for their entire country.

In the early 2010s, Mhoba’s founder, Robert Greaves, built several versions of his own small stills to continuously evolve and improve what he thought could be done with the rums he wanted to make; he played around with the technical aspects of crushing, fermenting and distilling, applied for a Liquor License in South Africa, and finally opened for serious business in 2015. Initial samples sent to the Miami Rum Festival in 2016 resulted in more tweaking, and by 2017 he was able to demo his wares at the UK and Mauritius rumfests; buoyed by positive feedback there, in late 2018 he had a series of rums he felt were definitely worth showing off which he presented in London that year and in Paris a few months later.

These initial rums were unaged white rums (from cane juice) at different strengths, various pot still blends and overproofs (like the Strand 101 and 151, Bushfire, French Oak, etc) and were soon on commercial sale. One of the most intriguing rums in the stable was the long-ferment unaged Pot Still High Ester white rum, which began being bottled in 2018 (two batches) before really hitting their stride in 2019. Each of these high ester rums is stuffed into a bottle with a label in dark red (maybe to alert the unwary) that has a ton of info on it  – source cane variety, harvest date, fermentation, still type, batch number – yet oddly, the actual congener count is absent. This is not a deal breaker, of course, but it does strike me as odd since the “high-ester” description is its main selling point (because of course being a cane-juice pot-still-distillate at strength isn’t already enough). 

Anyway, these rums have all had the distinction of being made with about ⅓ dunder and with a three-week fermentation time using wild yeast, run through a pot still, and bottled consistently above 60% ABV (occasionally even over 70%). The one I’m writing about today is 66.2%, which is on the range’s weak side, I guess, but that in no way invalidated the intensity of what it presented.

Even nosed carefully, it was a powerful, sharp experience. It smelled like a whole shelf of fruits going off, poorly stored in a set of mouldy wooden crates stored under the waterlogged roof of an abandoned and dusty warehouse.  Synthetic materials abounded: rubber, platicene, heavy plastic sheeting, new vinyl sofas, varnish, glue, nail polish remover, wax and a coat of cheap paint slapped onto fresh drywall. There’s a bagful of spanish olives cured in lemon juice and stuffed with pimentos, to which someone decided to add brine, olive oil and even more fruits – pineapples, strawberries, gooseberries, and hard yellow mangoes and the real issue is how much there is.  I spent literally an hour going back to this one glass just to tease out more, but the codicil was that I enjoyed the nose less each time, as I got successively battered into near catatonia by ever-changing aromas that just never settled down.

This was more than compensated for in the way it tasted, however.  The palate was much much better — better integrated, better controlled — while losing only some of the harsh pungency and untamed wildness the nose suggested I would find. It remained a stong and serious biff to the throat of course (it was a cheerfully violent street hood from start to finish, so that wasn’t going to change) but also nicely sweet and dry, with loads of pungent tastes: overripe Thai mangoes, pears, melons, peaches, kiwi fruits, bananas, orange peel, green tea and sugar cane juice. This took a breather here and there, and let in other tastes of acetones and turpentine…and if you could convert the smell of the inside of a nice new car to a taste, well, there was that too. There were notes of cream cheese, rye bread, strawberries, cinnamon, pineapples which also bled into the finish – which in turn was nicely long, very sharp and tartly sweet and chemical (in a good way) with a last hint of flowers and overripe fruits.  

This is a rum that should not be casually drunk or bought on a whim. It’s surely not “easy.” It’s a hugely potent and feral mix of a Jamaican funk bomb and a Reunion Grand Arome, a clarin’s irreverent offspring with a visiting DOK, and if not approached with caution should at least be drunk with respect. After trying it, Mrs. Caner asked me incredulously, “Is this something you’re actually supposed to drink?” She has a point – I honestly believe that the Mhoba High-Ester rum could wake up a dead stick.

But that said, let’s just try to unpack the experience. The rum had lots of impact, lots of edge, little that was gentle, and there was a whole lot going on, all the time. There were whole orchards of different fruity notes contained in that glass, most of which was a little sour, and I can’t say it entirely won me over: in that maelstrom of “everything but the kitchen sink” some elegance, some balance, some drinkability was lost. Still, you can’t fault its complexity and impact, and I completely believe @rum_to_me when he remarked on Instagram that “…it would take over any cocktail in split seconds.” 

And also, it does have its adherents and its fans — I’m one of them. Not that I’m a high-ester funky junkie, no, and I don’t actively hunt out the biggest, baddest, bestest with the mostest. But at a time when there’s too much caution surrounding the regular regurgitation of Old Reliables from the Same Old Countries, it’s nice to see a rum maker from elsewhere put out a big screaming bastard like this one, that’s all brawn and sweat with maybe a bit of love thrown in as well. It’s a wildly ambitious, enormously challenging and technically solid rum that for sure will make any list of great white rums anyone cares to put together.

(#900)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • For supplementary reading, I highly recommend Steve James’s 2019 three part deep dive into the initial releases of Mhoba as well as his company biography, and Rum Revelations’ 2021 interview with Robert Greaves
  • So far Rum-X has nine Mhoba high-ester expressions, ranging in strength from 65% to 78%, and average scores from 72 to 87, which is quite a bit of variation. Since all are unaged agricole-style pot-still rums, it suggests that the batch/harvest is of some importance in making a future selection among all these options. 
  • This bottle is from Batch 2019HE3, Harvest May 2019, one of several from that year. 
  • As of early 2022 Velier has released two Mhoba rums (both 2017 4 YO expressions), one for the HV line, and one “black bottle” release called “FAQ Plastic.” Holmes Cay out of the US also has a 4YO 59% bottling from 2017.

Aguardiente Mulata de Cuba – Review

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Apr 112022
 

The brand of Ron De Mulata is a low end version of Havana Club, established in 1993: it was sold only in Cuba until 2005 when it gradually began to see some export sales, mostly to Europe (UK, Spain and Germany remain major markets). It is a completely Cuban brand, and has expanded its variations up and down the age ladder, from a silver dry rum, aged white, to rons aged 3, 5, 7 and 15 years, plus a Gran Reserva, Palma Superior and even an Elixir de Cuba. It is supposedly one of the most popular rums on the island, commanding, according to some sources, up to 10% of the local market.

Which distilleries make it is a tricky business to ferret out.  This one, an aguardiente (see notes on nomenclature, below) is made from juice, and yes, the Cubans did make cane juice rons: it is labelled as coming from Destileria Paraiso (also referred to as Sancti Spiritus, though that’s actually the name of a town nearby), and others of more recent vintage are from Santa Fe, and still others are named. It would appear to be something of a blended cooperative effort by Technoazucar, one of the state-run sugar / rum enterprises (Corporacion Cuba Ron is another).

By the time the Mulata rums, including this aguardiente, started seeing foreign sales in 2005, the label had a makeover, because the green-white design on my bottle, with its diagonal separation, has long been discontinued. The lady remains the same (her colour has varied over the decades, and the name of the series makes it clear she is a part-white part black mestizo, or mulata), and the rum is unusual in that it is a cane juice rum to this day. However, since it continues to be made and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I am making the assumption that for all the updates in bottle and label design, the underlying juice has undergone no significant change and therefore does not qualify for inclusion in the Rumaniacs series. On that basis, it started out, and remains, a white 40% agricole-style rum, hence the title aguardiente.

You would not necessarily believe that when you smell it, though. In fact, it smells decidedly odd on first examination: dusky, briny, with gherkins, olives, some pencil shavings, and lemon peel.  This is followed up by herbs like dill and cardamom before doing a ninety degree hard right into laundry detergent, iodine, medicinals, the watery, slightly antiseptic scent of a swimming pool (and yes, I know how that sounds).  Fruits are vague at best, and as a purported cane juice rum, this doesn’t much adhere to the profile of such a product.

Upon a hefty shot, it does, however, move closer to what one would expect of such a rum. The shy timidity of the profile is something of a downer, but one can evince notes of iodine (not as bad as it sounds), sugar water, vanilla, grassiness, and watery fruit (pears, white peaches, guavas, unripe pineapples). There’s not much else going on here: the few agricole-like bits and pieces can be sensed, but lack the assertiveness to take them to the next level, and the finish is no help: it’s short, shy, no more than a light breeze across the senses, carrying with it weak hints of green peas, pineapples, and vanilla.

There’s no evidence for this one way or the other, but I think the rum is a filtered white with perhaps a little bit of ageing, and is probably coming off an industrial column still. It lacks the fierce raw pungency of something more down-to-earth made by the peasantry who want to get hammered (so go for greater strength) with no more than a basic ti-punch (so pungent flavours). This rum fails on both counts, and aspires to little more than being a jolt to wake up a hot-weather tropical cocktail. It doesn’t impress.

(#898)(70/100) ⭐⭐


Notes on nomenclature

The use of the word “rum” in this essay is problematic and it has been commented on FB that the product reviewed here cannot be called a rum because (a) it is not made from molasses and (b) it is not aged. I don’t entirely buy into either of those arguments since no regulation in force specifies those two particular aspects as being requirements for naming it either rum (or ron) or aguardiente – though they do prevent it from being called a Cuban rum.

However, there are the traditional rules and modern regulations of the Cuban rum industry which must be taken into account. Under these specifications, an aguardiente is not actually a cane juice rum at all – it is the first distillate coming off the column still, usually at around 75%, retaining much flavour and aroma from the process (this is then blended with the second type of distillate, known as destilado de caña or redistillado which is much higher proofed and has fewer aromas and flavours, being as it is closer to neutral alcohol). By this tradition of naming then, my review subject should not even be called an aguardiente, let alone a rum.

Even the Denominación de Origen Protegida (the DOP, or Protected Designated of Origin) doesn’t specifically reference cane juice, although as per Article 20 rum must come from “raw materials made exclusively from sugar cane”, which doesn’t exclude it. And in Article 21 it mentions that aguardiente – elsewhere and again noted (but not defined or required to be named such) as being the first phase distillate of around 75% ABV – must be aged for about two years and then filtered before going onto be blended. Article 23 lists several different types of añejos but unaged spirits and aguardientes are not mentioned except as before.

This leads us to two possibilities.

  1. Either what I have reviewed is a bottled first-phase distillate, which means it is aged for two years and a column still distillate deriving from molasses, named as per tradition.  This therefore implies that all sources that state it is cane juice origin are wrong.
  2. This is an unaged cane juice distillate (from a column still), casually named aguardiente because there is no prohibition against using that name, or requirement to use any other term. Given the loose definition of aguardiente across the world, this possibility cannot be discounted.

Neither conjecture eliminates aguardiente as being from some form of sugar cane processing, because it is; and in the absence of a better word, and because it is not forbidden to do so, I am calling it a rum. However, I do accept that it’s a more complex issue than it appears at first sight, and the Cuban regs either don’t cover it adequately (yet), or deliberately ignore the sub-type.


 

Killik Handcrafted Silver Overproof – Review

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Mar 022022
 

Photo (c) Killik Handrcrafted, from their website.

When reviewing the Gold (rum) produced by the Melbourne-based distillery of Killik Handcrafted, I was less than enthusiastic, grumbling and mumbling that the mildly aged rum would impress in five years but right now was mostly potential with not enough follow-through. I made those remarks because I knew there was a rum in their portfolio that proved the skills did exist and which really did impress me, and it wasn’t aged or set in a barrel or anything: it was their full proof 59% unaged white. 

For the curious: Killik handcrafted is a small rum distillery started by the brothers Ben and Callan Pratt in 2019 (more background in a separate mini-bio here). They have a hybrid thousand-liter still that allows multiple configurations including that of a 4- or 6-plate column still, or a pot still; also make other spirits for cash flow; use molasses as the base; and have a local cooper help with getting barrels. They proudly represent themselves as the first hogo-centric distillery in Victoria (the Australian state in which Melbourne is located) because they love messing around with fermentation and cheerfully play with dunder and muck holes and wild yeast to see if they can bring some Cockpit to Killik.

Thus far the majority of the stocks they have laid down to age have been pot still distillates, and we have yet to see any of those aside from the Gold; on the other hand, the unaged whites of the Silver and ther Silver Overproof are all column still spirits. Which is interesting because usually, when we hear of unaged whites dripping from a column still, we tend think rather more of the French Caribbean islands, or Reunion, even some of the new Asian outfits — not Australia.  But that would be a mistake, because even if they don’t use the pot still for the unaged Silver, Killik is closer to those two badass Jamaicans, Hampden and Worthy Park… in spirit, in production and in results.

And what a result this was indeed. I can’t speak for the standard proof Silver which I haven’t tried, just the overproof, but I gotta say, it’s made so well that Jamaican rum lovers might want to cast a covetous eye over Down Under. Consider first the nose: “Damn!,” went my first notes, expressing some surprise, “Seriously, deeply, pungently, sharply fruity-sweet.” It’s redolent of the tip of a marker squeaking over a new whiteboard; strawberry milk shakes loaded down with extra vanilla ice cream; tart fruity yoghurt. There’s a bagful of sour-sweet fruits – apples, kiwi fruits, hard yellow mangoes (with an odd spicy scent that reminds me of those coming from Sri Lanka). In an odd reversal of standard, the glue, acetones and solvent come late to the party, swirling around a core of peaches and pineapples and very ripe apricots and bananas. They sure weren’t kidding about going for the hogo.

The heat of the 59% comes into its own on the palate. That sharp spiciness attendant on that strength is unavoidable, yet at no point is it really unpleasant: what it does is provide a rock solid foundation that makes each taste not some faint wispy sensation breathily experienced and instantly gone, but something of distinct force.  It starts off with acetones, nail polish remover, flowers and fruit juice, and none of the undesirable rotting-midden scents that admittedly add character when assembled properly, but so often detract from the overall experience when not. It’s nicely sweet, displays some interesting spices – cinnamon, rosemary, cardamom, even a whiff of chamomile – plus musky fruity flavours that develope really well.  Green peas, bananas, orange peel, bitter chocolate and coffee grounds, laban, slightly sour milk all get mixed into the taste profile, and it all comes to a long, dry and heated conclusion that is always crisp with distinct ripe fruity notes and some vegetable coordinates well dialled in.

This is one seriously good rum. I mean, it goes down so well — the flavours just pop, it hits all the high notes and at no time does it feel like it’s out of control and just hitting you with its junk because it can. It’s sweet but not too much; sour but not mouth-puckeringly so; musky within reason, sharp without cutting, and flavourful without throwing the spice cupboard at you and then following up with the kitchen sink. It’s a curiously cultured back-bar brawler that is unashamedly partisan in its inspirations, honestly hearkening back to its stated Jamaican antecedents without apology even as it goes its own way.

I tried the entire 2021 Australian Advent Calendar sample selection over a period of days in December last year, and this was the one that to me, of all the whites, stood out. It not only exceeded those in whose company I tasted it, but handily eclipsed its own siblings and proved once again (as if it needed to be proved at all) that unaged white rums of power are among the best value for money rums out there. With Killik’s Silver Overproof, unlike the Gold, I don’t want to wait five years to see what else they can do with it.  I want another bottle right now.

(#889)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and a doff of the derby to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always, to you both.

Mía White Rhum Agricole (Vietnam)(2019) – Review

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Mar 012022
 

Commercial publicity still

Rhum Mia is the product of a small distillery in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, run by two expatriate Frenchmen and which opened for business around 2017. I’m interested in eastern hemisphere rhums as part of my overarching  fascination with all the branches of the rum tree, and while aged rums and rhums and rons not unnaturally get all the attention, the white rhums from that region are gradually beginning to gain more traction, and they exert a powerful fascination.

A few years ago I was gifted a sample by Reuben Virasami (the showrunner of Roob Dog Drinks which is well worth visiting) from this small outfit in Vietnam. I spent a fair amount of time on it and the backstory of the distillery, which I’ll add down below: but suffice to say, they continue to issue small batch cane juice rhums on their small column still, and these are then aged – I use the term carefully – in clay pots called chum which are also and traditionally used to hold local rice liquors during fermentation.

Clearly if there is any residual effect of these vessels, it would result in a taste profile that presents at an angle to more familiar agricole-style rhums, whether aged or unaged.  I am not fully conversant with the way in which clay vessels impact the taste of a rum, since serious experience is lacking here, but at the least I would expect many of the herbal, grassy, “green” notes to be retained.  The initial 2018 expression did have those but seemed too weak for its purpose, no matter how unusual and unique it was, and to some extent that continued a year later with the 2019 release which came into my hands via John Go in the Philippines (he writes most of the rum reviews for Malt-Review).

The rum retained the makers’ tradition of being bottled at 45%, and there were many similarities with the previous year’s rhum: the smell continued to reek of glue, bookbindings, and the newly cracked pages of a glossy French fashion magazine, rubber and plastic.  But there was a rather unpleasant scent of damp cigarette smoke – the way it hangs in the air on a cold winter day, or smells when adhering to the latex gloves of your least favourite proctologist – and this did little to enthuse. It was only after some minutes that I could discern some sugar water, cucumbers, gherkins in light vinegar and one anaemic pear, and a curious minerally smell.  Overall it seemed less a rhum than a spirit with some rummy components.

On the palate, that cigarette ash note never really went away, though thankfully it remained subtle, joined by damp drywall, glue and dust for a few minutes, and then fading gently away.  From that point on, the dominant flavours were watery fruit – pears, watermelon, white guavas, kiwis, ripe soursop minus the “sour”, and yoghurt.  Melons, papaya and some lemon-flavoured sugar water raised the profile a bit, though there was also an odd minerality sensed here and there, something along the lines of licking wet granite. The finish was all right – light watery fruits, a touch of lemon zest, some grassy notes, and a touch of rosemary and dill.

Second to last glass on the right…..

After this experience, I hauled the Rhum Mia from the previous year out of the sample box in the basement and tried it again. The notes were pretty much on point and my memory had not failed: that one was intriguing but not really exceptional and scored on the median, and because it was an early variation, it held the promise of improvement as time passed and experience was gained.  Alas, the 2019 edition is more of a disappointment. It wasn’t as if it lacked interest, was bereft of originality and even some punch: not at all, it had what it had and was a touch more distinct than its predecessor…it was just not as pleasant to drink. Somehow the herbal grassiness and tart fruit part of the profile had been dialled down while allowing less interesting notes to make up the difference.  That, I’m afraid, was not to the rhum’s benefit…or to mine.

(#888)(73/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Thanks, of course, to John, who keeps sourcing interesting an offbeat rums for me to try and which he steadfastly refuses to label until after I’ve tried them.
  • We’ll take a look and see if the 55% bumped-up edition holds more promise in a week or two

Background Details

Saigon Liquorists — the name of the small company behind the Mia brand — is the formally incorporated enterprise of two expatriate Frenchmen Clément Jarlier and Clément Daigre, who saw the cane juice liquor being sold on the streets in Ho Chi Minh City and smelled a business opportunity. The fact that one was involved in spirits distribution in Vietnam while the other had both broker experience and knew about the distillation of cognac helped establish things, cince they already had some background in the industry.

Sourcing a 200-liter single column still in 2017 from China, they obtained fresh cane, then the juice, experimented for three months with fermentation, distillation, cutting, finally got the profile they were after, and rolled out the first Rhum Mia in October that year at a charity gala. In their current system, the sugarcane comes from Tien Giang in the Mekong Delta, just south of Ho Chi Minh City. The sugarcane is peeled (and that peel is discarded), and pressed once to get the first juice. That is then vacuum-packed in 5L bags and loaded into refrigerated trucks (this slows down fermentation), which transport the bags the 70km to the distillery. 

There fermentation is begun and lasts about five days, before being run through the small column still – somewhat more heads than usual are cut, which reduces the flavour (but also the hangover, apparently), and what comes out the other end is around 77% ABV. The rum is rested in inert, locally-made traditional clay vessels (chums, used in rice liquor fermentation in Vietnam) for eight months and then slowly diluted with water over the final two months to 45% – a strength chosen to appeal to the local market where Mia’s initial sales were made.


 

Feb 172022
 

To call Winding Road Distillery’s unaged cane spirit both an “agricole blanc” and a “virgin cane spirit” seems like something of a tautology, doesn’t it? But no worries: it’ll will be renamed at some point to make it simpler and to gain access to the EU and other places where the term “agricole” is clearly defined and protected (they are well aware of the naming conventions). This is fairly important for their future plans, since all their current rums, including what they’ve laid down to age, derive from cane juice. There are no plans to move away from that core source material any time soon…which says a lot for their determination to set themselves apart from most other Australian rum producers who work primarily (though not exclusively) with molasses.

In a separate post I have gone deeper into the background of this new Australian family-owned and operated distillery: for the moment the specs on the rhum are as follows. It is, as stated, made from fresh cane juice: given the distillery is located in the middle of sugar cane country in New South Wales (~175km south of Brisbane for the curious), this is far easier for them than, say, JimmyRum down south, though trucking juice to the distillery is done in both cases. Fermentation mostly takes three days in open vats using both commercial and wild yeasts, and sometimes the wash is left to rest for longer (up to two weeks) before being run through their 1,250-liter Australian-made pot still, which is given the evocative name of “Short Round” (I’m waiting to see if anyone will pounce on R2-D2 or BB-8 any time soon, but never mind). Once all that’s done, some is set to age, and the rest is slowly diluted down to 48% and bottled as a blanc. 

And what a blanc it is. When Mr. & Mrs. Rum posted their daily advent calendar notes on Instagram last year, they started by saying that the rum “…has been described as full of big HOGO aroma.” I can write to faithful readers that this is no more than the truth because once I smelled this thing it was all Pow! Biff!  Bam! — immediate and serious pot still blanc action, big time. Not as feral as a clairin, perhaps…but not a mile away either. Glue, damp sawdust, cedar, varnish, turpentine, paint, plastic and (get this) benzene, released at a solid 48% and intense as hell – another ten points of proof and we could conceivably enter “easily weaponizable” territory. At the inception it was like standing at the intersection of the lumber and paint aisles of Home Depot. The funk is nicely controlled with this thing and it does the segue into green grapes, apples, pears, wet new-mown grass, sweet white cane vinegar, apples, cashews, orange peel and licorice really really well.

Aromas aside, cane juice rhums stand or fall on the complexity and pungent intensity of their tastes (which in turn impact how they fare in a daiquiri, a Ti-punch or a mojito, the most common uses they’re put to). Sampling it neat reveals nothing I would tell you to avoid – in fact, it’s pretty good. The slightly higher strength helps, as it does in most blancs – it’s dry, initially sharp and solidly tasty.  First off come the woody and cereal-like notes of cheerios, sawdust and a touch of licorice and sandalwood. It’s not very sweet, though some sugar-water and lime is evident; then we get some cinnamon, vanilla, orange peel, nuts and a basket of mixed white light fruits, none of which are as fiercely crisp as the nose had been — some of the clarity of the nose was dialled down here. It all led down to a firm and lingeringly warm finish that reprised some glue, anise, light fruits and a touch of salt.

All in all, this is a seriously good unaged cane juice spirit – a real rhum, if you will.  I don’t know if you could try it blind and know it was not from some famed agricole distillery boasting long years of pedigree. Certainly there are some aspects to it that were curious, pleasant and intriguing — the lack of ageing is evident in the rougher palate and its occasionally sharp profile, which is perhaps an Aussie twang and terroire coming out — but it doesn’t fall far from the reference rhums of the type with which we are more familiar, and it does its job with a sort of insouciant enthusiasm and a joie-de-vire which is evident in every sip. 

(#885)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes:

  • The company history and profile can be found here – it started off small and was originally included here, but I found and was provided with more than usual detail, and so split it off as a separate post.
  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and pat of the pork-pie hat to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks again to you both.

Kalki Moon “Plant Cane” Australian Cane Spirit (Batch 1) – Review

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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 Cane — an unaged white spirit which is a rum in all but name — was 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 stills – a 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 labelled “rum” to have been aged for two years, which places a burden on new startup distilleries wanting to produce it there…they 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 made – a classic, a premium, a navy strength and even a pink – sold 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 Bundaberg – so there are site visits, tasting sessions and so on.

At the same time, he has been experimenting with rums – some, of course, ended up becoming the Plant Cane – but 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.

Brix Distillers Urban Cane Spirit (2020 Harvest) – Review

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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 applicability – at 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 and – somewhat paradoxically – also 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 peaches – it’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 spices – lightly 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 direction – there’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, “Brix” or “degrees Brix” is 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.
Jan 262022
 

There’s a sly sort of insouciant Aussie humour at work in the JimmyRum distillery, not the least the name itself.  More serious-minded folks would name the company “McPherson’s” or “Victoria Distillery” or some other such portentous title meant to demonstrate respectful gravitas and a profound commitment to the momentous task of distilling top drawer Australian rum. The names of the staff would be reverently listed with their titles, background, experience and commitment to rum, and the whole business would just reek of Ultra Serious.  

In place of that we get that playful name, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the founder, a wink at Matilda — the Italian-made hybrid still — and somehow, the word “rambunctiousness” on the front page. The whole ethos of the company and its promo materials has a lighthearted style that reminds me of, oh, Nine Leaves with its ten different job titles all held by one man, or the eclectic bunch of guys from all walks of life in Detroit who make up Doctor Bird.

Maybe being the new kid on the block gives you the leeway. JimmyRum is a very new distillery, established around 2018 in Dromana, a small community just south of Melbourne, and is the brainchild of James McPherson, a former marine engineer. In 2015 or so, after some twenty years sailing the high seas as a Chief Engineer, he decided (initially as a joke) to open a distillery dedicated to rum, a first in the state of Victoria where whisky- and beer-making ops are far more common. His research into the matter took him on a whirlwind 3-month 70-distillery tour of the world after which he bought the biggest still he could afford from Italy (before he had actually done a lick of distilling himself), installed it and ran it in, arranged for casks, sources of supply, tested the results and started making stock to lay down to age (as required by Australian law for it to be labelled as rum). 

This “Silver” is essentially an unaged white cane spirit, molasses based, distilled on a hybrid pot still with a thumper and a 7-plate column tacked on (similar to that used by A1710 in Martinique or Sampan over in Viet Nam) rested for three months in stainless steel tanks and then diluted down to 40% to be issued.  There’s a 57% “Navy” version that tickles my fancy — a lot! — and which I really want to get to know better, but let’s just stick with what we have for now.

Nose first.  Well…that’s different. It starts off with dry cardboard and saline solution, together with new wet paint, and the plush aromas of real fake naugahyde leather in Leisure Suit Larry’s brand new second-hand car (or should that be Corinthian leather?). Let’s call it a new plastic something – shoes, cars, wrappings, whole rooms…that’s what this initially smells like, before settling down to become more normal. At that point whiffs of sugar water infused with crisp and light fruits emerge: watermelon juice, light pineapples, and a bowl of fresh grapes, strawberries and apples in a cold antiseptic kitchen (I know how that sounds). Oh yeah, plus some ginger and very ripe plums.

The palate retains its brininess, though not to any kind of stylistic look-what-I-can-do excess, thank heaven. Here it gets spicy, even sharp, and notes of pumpkin juice, carrot-slushies, melons and papaya run right out of the gate. Light background of the sweeter, tamer fruits, watermelons, pears, that kind of thing.  Maybe a pineapple slice (just one). It’s quite robust at 40% and dials in nicely, transitioning to a short and breathy, dry, rather easygoing finish.  This coughed up a few final notes of fresh olive oil over toast, ginger, semi-ripe yellow mangoes, and a final defiant touch of sweetish pimento.

This was a white rum I quite liked, though given my personal preferences I think that Navy version would make my 3rd list of Great Whites more easily. It’s recognizably a non-cane-juice rum, has tastes that are distinct and not standard (always a plus when done right) and while I can’t say it screams “Australia!” into my shell-pink, it certainly does the nation no dishonour, and holds its own really well against distilleries far older and with a greater recognition quotient. 

“Uncomplicated, unpretentious, and unruly, JimmyRum’s [rums] are distinctive and downright delicious” goes the blurb on Visit Victoria website, and while allowances must be made for a local website punching up a favourite son, overall I can’t disagree. There are 20+ distilleries and breweries in Victoria making (you guessed it) mostly whisky and beer.  There’s definitely a place for an outfit like this there too, especially when it boasts a  sense of humour, a decent product and a desire to take it to the next level. Almost makes me want to move there and make sheep’s eyes at Matilda.

(#879)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and tip of the trilby to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks again to you both for enabling my desire to write about Australian rums almost completely unavailable elsewhere.
  • Some more technical details: molasses sourced from Sunshine Sugar NSW (Manildra group), one of the last fully Australian owned Sugar producers in Australia. Yeast and fermentation: done in two 5,000-liter fermenters and are temperature controlled to less than 25ºC with an initial Brix of about 19. Unaged: rested for 3 months in stainless steel tanks.
  • McPherson’s research suggested a 3-5 year period before any distillery started showing a profit, no matter whether it made beer, whisky, gin or rum.  To make cash flow while stocks were ageing and sales built, he added a tasting bar to the premises where people could come after a distillery tour and sample the wares and buy food; sold unaged cane spirit; and dabbled in some indie bottlings like a very well received Barbados blend (future ones from Jamaica, Mauritius and Martinique are planned).
  • A JimmyRum Silver – not sure of was this one or an earlier version – won an award for Champion Cane Spirit in the 2021 Australian Spirits Awards.
  • A long September 2021 FB interview by RumTribe featured Mr. McPherson as their guest.  I have drawn upon it for parts of the company profile paragraph.

Plantation 3 Stars White Rum – Review

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Jan 242022
 

The Plantation 3-Star rum is part of the “bar classics” range of Plantation’s stable, which includes well-regarded rums like the OFTD, Original Dark and Stiggin’s Fancy.  Of course the whole “3 star” business is just marketing – it’s meant to symbolize three stars of the Caribbean rumworld whose rums from a part of the blend: Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados.  This conveniently elides the stars of Guyana, Martinique, St. Lucia and many others, but ok, whatever.  Ditto for the “World Best Cellar Master” – uh huh. Still, Plantation’s webpage for the rum provides a nice level of detail for those who want more depth on what’s in there: briefly, two of the components hail from Barbados, meaning WIRD (pot and column still) and Trinidad, which is Angostura (column only), but it’s never been clear which Jamaican distillery made their part. Longpond, perhaps, since Ferrand has an association there 1.

Taking it for a spin and trying it, ten years after its initial release — and after deliberately seeking it out — I honestly wondered what the fuss was about and why people kept singing ecstatic hosannas to the thing (when not aggressively pressing me to try it). The nose, for example, struck me as too faint (if reasonably interesting): some vague hints of glue, burnt rubber, smoke, leather, a touch of tar, bananas and ethanol.  I had to wait a long time for secondary aromas of pears, white guavas, papaya, and sugar water to emerge, and there wasn’t much of that to speak of here either. It seemed to degenerate into a lightly fruity watery alcohol rather than develop serious chops and character.

The palate was much nicer. It remained delicate and faint, but there was more to work with, somehow.  Much of the nose translated over well (usually the reverse is the case, but here it was just…well, firmer). Sweet ethanol flavoured sugar water with a touch of flowers, pears and very ripe yellow thai mangoes.  Watermelons and a strawberry infused water.  Cane sap, some unsweetened yoghourt and perhaps a green grape or two, but if this thing had any serious Jamaican in here, it was taking a serious step back, because the funk some mentioned wasn’t there for me. There was some shy and retiring hints of nuts, vanilla and aromatic tobacco on the finish, which was nice enough…it’s an easy and reasonably tasty alcoholic shot to pour into whatever mix one had one hand, and can be sipped, I suppose, though it’s a bit too sharp for that, IMHO.

The wider rumiverse’s opinions on the rum vary, either falling into the camp of those who have no problems with a cheap cocktail rum being dosed, or those who do (the latter are usually the same ones who have issues with Plantation for other reasons). Few remark on the taste of the thing, but solely on that basis and ignoring all other aspects of the company, my own feeling is that it’s really not that special. After trying it (twice) I must simply say that while it’s a decent dram, it’s hardly spectacular, and though it got really good scores back at the time it was introduced, to chirp its praises now when so much other, better stuff it out there, is simply unrealistic. 

(#878)(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

Beenleigh 3 YO White Australian Rum – Review

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Jan 202022
 

For years, Bundaberg was considered the Australian rum, synonymous with the country, emblematic of its distilling ethos, loved and hated in equal measure for its peculiar and offbeat profile (including by Australians). Yet in 2022 its star has lost some twinkle, it rarely comes up in conversation outside Queensland (where it sells like crazy), and another distillery has emerged to take the laurels of the international scene – Beenleigh. 

Scouring through my previous notes about Beenleigh (see historical section below), it seems that even though VOK Beverages got a controlling interest in the enterprise back in 2003, they contented themselves with providing bulk rum to Europe (beginning with distillates from 2006 shipped in 2007) and servicing the local market. They were clearly paying some attention to market trends, however, because slowly their international recognition got bigger as indies began releasing Beenleigh rum under their own labels to pretty good reviews, and you could just imagine the glee of Wayne Stewart, Beenleigh’s acclaimed Master Blender (he’s been in that position since 1980, some 41 years, which is pretty much as long as Joy Spence over in Appleton), who knew how good his juice was and finally saw it get some well deserved recognition. Bringing in an engaging, technically astute, social-media savvy gent like Steve Magarry onboard as Distillery Production Manager didn’t hurt at all either. 

And yet, as of this writing, almost the only rums from Beenleigh that are widely seen, are those from the independents like SBS, Rum Artesanal, TCRL, Velier, Valinch & Mallet, L’Esprit and others. Beenleigh itself is not well represented outside Australia yet, either in the EU or in North America (perhaps because they’re too focused on chasing down Bundaberg in the young-aged volume segment, who knows?) In that sense it’s a pity that the one Beenleigh rum in the 2021 Australian Advent calendar I managed to obtain, was one of their weakest — not the five or ten year old, not the barrel aged or port-barrel-infused, which are all at standard strength or a bit stronger…but the three year old white underproof bottled at 37.5%, which is part of the standard lineup.

The website provides a plethora of information about the product: molasses based, 3-4 days’ fermentation, pot-column still blend, matured in (variously) kauri (local pine) vats and brandy vats for the requisite three years before being undergoing carbon filtration.  The product specs state 0% dosage, and I’ve been told it has some flavourant, just a bit, which is slated to be eliminated in years to come. Then it’s all diluted slowly down from ~78% ABV to 37.5% — which means you get a very smooth and light sipping rum that doesn’t hurt, or a relatively quiet cocktail ingredient that doesn’t overpower. It’s like an Australian version of the Plantation 3 Star, a similarly anonymous product that some people have an obscure love affair with and prefer for precisely those attributes.

This is a rum that is light enough that letting it stand for a few minutes to open in a covered glass is almost a requirement. A deep sniff reveals a very sugar cane forward scent, redolent of sweet and delicate flowers, vanilla, sugar water and a sort of mixture of tinned sweet corn and peas, a touch of lemon peel and more than a hint of nail polish, acetone and glue. Going back a half hour later and I can sense a raspberry or two, some bubble gum and a bare hint of caramel and molasses but beyond that, not anything I can point to as a measure of its distinctiveness.  Even the alcohol is barely discernible.

It is thin, sweet and piquant to taste, smooth as expected (which in this context means very little alcohol bite), with initial notes of white guavas, unripe green pears, figs, green peas (!!), ginnips, and again, some lemon peel and vanilla.  A bit of toffee, some molasses lurk in the background, but stay there throughout. It really doesn’t present much to the taster’s buds or even as a challenge, largely because of the low ABV.  It is sweet though, and that does make it go down easy, with a short, light finish that presents some red grapefruit, grapes, unripe pears and a mint chocolate. 

Overall, this is not a rum that I personally go for, since my own preference is for stronger rums with more clearly defined tastes; and as I’m not a cocktail expert or a regular mixer (for which this rum is explicitly made), the rum doesn’t do much for me in that department either…but it will for other people who like an easygoing hot weather sipper and dial into those coordinates more than I do. The rum succeeds, as far as that goes, quietly and in its own way, because it does have a touch of bite — an edge, if you will, perhaps imparted by those old, old heritage local kauri pine vats — that stops it from simply being some milquetoast yawn-through tossed off to populate the low end of the portfolio. It’s a drowsing tabby with a hint of claws, good for any piss up or barbie you care to attend…as long as you’re not asking anything too special.

(#877)(76/100) ⭐⭐½


Historical Notes

Beenleigh, located on the east coast of Australia just south of Brisbane, holds the arguable distinction of being the country’s oldest registered distillery (the implication of course being that a whole raft of well known but unregistered moonshineries existed way before that). The land was bought in 1865 by two Englishmen who wanted to grow cotton, since prices were high with the end of the US civil war and the abolition of slavery that powered the cotton growing southern states. Company legend has it that sugar proved to be more lucrative than cotton and so this was in fact what was planted.  In 1883 the S.S. Walrus, a floating sugar mill (which had a distilling license, granted in 1869 and withdrawn in 1872) that plied the Logan and Albert rivers and processed the cane of local landowners, washed ashore at Beenleigh, empty except for the illicit pot still on board, which was purchased by Beenleigh – they obtained a distilling license the very next year. 

Through various vicissitudes such as boom and bust in sugar prices, floods that washed away distillery and rum stock, technological advances and many changes in ownership, the distillery doggedly continued operating, with only occasional closures. It upgraded its equipment, installed large vats of local (“kauri”) pine and organized railway shipments to bring molasses from other areas. In 1936 the distillery was described as having its own wharf, power plant, a cooper’s shop and all necessary facilities to make it a self-contained producer of rum. Some have been replaced or let go over time but the original pot still, called “The Old Copper”, remains in a red structure affectionately named “The Big Red Shed”) and is a prized possession.

Beenleigh’s modern history can almost be seen as a constant fight to survive against the more professionally managed Bundaberg distillery up the road (they are 365km north of Brisbane). Bundie has had far fewer changes in ownership, is part of the international spirits conglomerate Diageo, has a much larger portfolio of products and its marketing is second to none (as its recognition factor). Much of that continuity of tradition and expertise by owners is missing in Beenleigh, as is a truly long term strategic outlook for where the rum market is heading – it can’t always and only be about low-cost, low-aged, low-priced rums that sell in high volumes with minimal margins. That provides cash flow, but stifles the innovation into the higher-proofed premium market segment which the indies colonize so well. Beenleigh could probably take a look at Foursquare to see how one distillery with some vision could have the best of all worlds – bulks sales, low cost volume drivers, and high-priced premium limited editions, all at the same time. It’ll be interesting to see where this all goes, in the years to come.


Other notes

  • A very special shout out and tip of the trilby to Mr. And Mrs. Rum of Australia (by way of Mauritius). The Australian advent calendar they created in 2021 was unavailable for purchase outside of Oz, but when they heard of my interest, they sent me a complete set free of charge. After years of grumbling about how impossible it was to get to review any rums from Down Under, the reviews deriving from those samples will fill a huge gap on the site. Thanks again to you both.

 

J.M. “Jungle” Rhum Agricole Blanc Edition Limitee (2017) – Review

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Dec 162021
 

Publicity photo from J.M.

These days I rarely comment any longer on a bottle’s appearance – there was a time when I actually scored it as part of the review, though common sense suggested that it cease after the pointlessness of the practice became self-evident – but here I really must remark on the striking distinctiveness of the design. In colour and form it reminds me of Henri Rousseau’s savagely childish yet iconic jungle scenes. You sure won’t pass this bottle on a shelf if you see it.

But what is it? The Martinique distillery of J.M. is of course not an unknown quantity – I’ve looked at several of their rhums in the past and in “other notes” below I repeat some of their background.  Still, the rhums for which they are known are mostly aged agricoles, many of which are single cask or special editions. Surprisingly enough, this is the first of their whites I’ve taken the time to look at and it is not their regular workhorse blanc issued at 50º but a limited edition at 51.2% – what exactly makes it deserving of a special rollout and naming is somewhat nebulous. It may be something as simple as the distiller and cellar master, Nazair Canatous, coming up with a “blend of cuvées”1 which possessed a powerful set of aromatic profiles. How many bottles make it “limited” is not mentioned anywhere.

Since its introduction, the rhum has been rebranded: the simply-named “Jungle” is the first and only edition of that name, released in 2017 and then replaced the very next year by the retitled “Joyau Macouba” under which it continued to be marketed through to 2021 — but aside from some minor variations in strength, the two seem to be identical. They are also not really expensive, less than €10 pricier than the standard blanc which Excellence Rhum stocks at under thirty euros. 

And that makes it, I think, somewhat of a bargain since there are five year old agricoles that cost more and taste less. The nose of the “Jungle” is really lovely – delicately sweet herbal sugar water…with mint and lime juice (not lemon). It displays notes of brine mixed with and soda pop, something like a salty 7-Up. Fruity smells are always hovering around –  passion fruits, tart red currants, fine and faint lemon peel — and there are also some muskier notes of cereals and freshly baked bread lurking in the shadows, and they stay there for the most part.

If I had to chose, I think I’d go for the palate over the nose on this one: it’s just a shade better, richer (usually the reverse is the case).  It tastes like a salty, creamy lemon meringue pie topped with caramel and a clove or two; the core of it is a solidly-sweet, crisp, citrus-y firm taste, with enough of an edge to not make it a cream soda milquetoast. Around that swirl the herbs: thyme, cumin, dill, rosemary and cardamom, plus the grassiness of fresh green tea with touches of mint. Olives and brine kept in the background and always seem to be on the verge of disappearing, but they’re definitely there. This all concludes with a medium long finish that coats the palate without drying it out – sweet, delicately fruity and floral, and with the spices and herbs gradually fading out to nothingness.

Overall, this is a good white rhum, and I liked it, yet the question remains: what makes it special enough to warrant the limited treatment? The tastes are fine and the overall experience is a little less intense than some of those 50º standards all the agricole makers have as part of their portfolio…perhaps that’s what was considered the point of distinction, since here it was tamed a bit more, while remaining equally complex.

Be that as it may, for a rested-then-blended rhum agricole blanc, it holds up very well.  It is tart, tasty and tamed, and, within its limits, original.  Strictly speaking, there’s absolutely no reason to buy it when there are so many other white agricoles of comparable quality out there (some of which are cheaper).  But you know, we can’t always find relevance, catharsis or world-changing rhums every time we try one, and sometimes it’s simply a relief to find a bit-better-than-average product that eschews extreme sensory overload and simply aims for a little romance, and pleases at a price we can afford. That the “Jungle” manages to achieve that is something we should appreciate when we come across it.

(#872)(83/100)


Other Notes: Company Background

Situated in the north of Martinique in Bellevue, J.M. began life with Pére Labat, who was credited with commercializing and proliferating the sugar industry in the French West Indies during the 18th century.   He operated a sugar refinery at his property on the Roche Rover, and sold the estate to Antoine Leroux-Préville in 1790 – it was then renamed Habitation Fonds-Préville.  In 1845, his daughters sold the property again, this time to a merchant from Saint-Pierre names Jean-Marie Martin.  

With the decline in sugar production but with the concomitant rise in sales of distilled spirits, Jean-Marie recognized an opportunity, and built a small distillery on the estate, and switched the focus away from sugar and towards rum, which he aged in oak barrels branded with his initials “JM”.  In 1914 Gustave Crassous de Médeuil bought the plantation from his brother Ernest (I was unable to establish whether Ernest was a descendant or relative of Jean-Marie), and merged it with his already existing estate of Maison Bellevue.  The resulting company has been family owned, and making rhum, ever since and was among the last of the independent single domaine plantations on Martinique until the Groupe Bernard Hayot, a Martinique-based and owned family conglomerate, bought it in 2002. Nowadays it (along with Clement and St. Lucia Distillers) is marketed by GBH’s spirit division, Spiribam.


 

Dec 122021
 

There are four operations making rum in Grenada – Renegade (the new kid on the block, operating since 2021), Westerhall, Rivers Antoine and Clarke’s Court, the last of which was formed in 1937, operating under the umbrella of the Grenada Sugar Factory (the largest on the island) and named after an estate of the same name in the southern parish of St. George’s.  This title in turn derived from two separate sources: Gedney Clarke, who bought the Woodlands estate from the French in the late 1700s, and a bay called “Court Bay” included with the property (this in turn was originally titled “Watering Bay” because of the fresh water springs, but how it came to change to Court is not recorded). The company sold rums with names like Tradewinds and Red Neck before the Clarke’s Court moniker became the standard, though the exact date this happened is uncertain. Pre-1980s, I would hazard.

The Clarke’s Court Pure White Overproof is a column-still, molasses-based blended white lightning made by that company, and is apparently the most popular rum on the Spice Island, best had with some Angostura bitters (the 43% darker rums made here are supposedly for the ladies, who “prefer gentler rums”).  Local wags claim it’ll add hair to your chest, strip the paint off anything, and can run your car if you don’t have any petrol. Older women reputedly still use it as a rub.

When it comes to seriously pumped-up Grenadian rums, Westerhall’s Jack Iron is not in this rum’s league, though it’s admittedly stronger; and had Clarke’s more distinct, it would have given Rivers Antoine a run for its money as the first Key Rum from Grenada.  It certainly buffs its chest and tries to muscle in on the territory of the famed white Jamaicans (I feel it was meant to take on J. Wray’s White Overproof, or even DDL’s amusing three-lies-in-one Superior High Wine…but it lacks their fierce pleasures and distinct profiles and at the end, is something of a cheap high proofed white rum shot with ‘tude and taste, a better Bacardi Superior with a dash of steroids.

This careful endorsement of mine does not, however, stop it from being something of a best-selling island favourite on Grenada, where it outsells Rivers (because of a larger facility that breaks down less frequently). As with other white rums across the Caribbean, it’s an affordable and powerful rum, a dram available to and drunk across all social classes —  it’s always been made and probably always will be. It’s emblematic of the island and widely known in a way Rivers – which is far older – is only now becoming, and local denizens with a creative juice-it-up bent cheerfully adulterate, spice up or make “bush” variations (such as the one I originally tried back in 2010) at the drop of a hat and in every rum shop up and down the island.

Now, it’s torqued up to 69% ABV, but sources are unclear whether it has been aged a bit then filtered, or is released as is, and while I can’t state it with authority, I believe it to be unaged: it has a series of aromas and tastes that just bend my mind that way.  The nose, for example, is redolent of minerals, dust, watery salt solution, the smell of the ocean on a seaport where the fish and salt water reek is omnipresent.  Some sweet swank and sugar cane juice – there’s a weird and pleasant young-agricole vibe to the experience – plus a delicate line of fruits: sharp, ester-y, unripe, tart and pungent, without the rich plumpness of better-made aged variants.  Kiwi fruit, and one of those cheap mix-everything-in fruit juice melanges. Honestly, I got a lot here, and had walked in expecting a lot less.

69% is strong for a rum, but not unbearable, and it’s just a matter of sipping carefully and expecting some heat for your trouble. Tastes of apples, cider, pears, all sour, begin the experience. These initial flavours are then muscled aside by tequila and brine and olives, not entirely pleasant, very solid; this then morphs into a sweet and sour soup, yeasty bread, cereals, sour cream, cream cheese, all very strong and firm, reasonably well developed and decently balanced. The fruits are also well represented – one can sense a fruit salad with cherries in syrup, plus gherkins and the metallic hint of a copper penny.  Overall, surprisingly creamy on the tongue, almost smooth: not what one would expect from something at this proof point.  It leads nicely into a hot, long finish, with closing notes of fruits (bananas, watermelon, mangoes) and some salt-sour mango achar, miso soup, and sweet soya.

When considered against the other big-name, well known, badass whites from the non-agricole, non-151-proof world, it’s easy to see why it gets less respect than the howitzers from Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Guyana (for my money, Cuba, T&T and Barbados have no overproof white rums that stand out, are as well known, or are so visibly a part of local culture in the way these are, though I’m sure I’ll catch some heated protests about that). It’s not exported in quantity, lacks a solid presence on the American bar and cocktail circuit, doesn’t often come in for mention and has no superstar brand ambassador or cocktail-slinging badass to champion its praises – many people reading this review will likely never have tried it. 

That said, I think it may be an undiscovered steal. Grenadians, to whom it’s a cultural institution, will swear by the thing and embrace anyone who speaks positively of the rum like a brother. Few will drink it neat: I do it so you don’t have to, but really, it’s not made to have that way, and that leaves it to boost a mix of some kind, like the locals who have it with a soda, juice or coconut water (when they don’t throw back shots in a rumshop, or nip at the backpocket flattie all day). The tastes are nothing to sneeze at, there’s enough raw flavour and bombast and attitude here to satisfy the desire for something serious for the rum junkie, and the bottom line is, it’s really and surprisingly good. It’s a worthy entry to the canon, and one can only hope it gets wider international acclaim. We can always use another one of these.

(#871)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • This review is based on two separate sample tastings – a mini from the 1990s and a more recent sample bottle bought from Drinks by the Dram.  The tastes were similar enough to suggest the blend has stayed the same for a long period.
  • The label has remained relatively unchanged for decades.  It is unknown when the rum was first introduced though.

Savanna Lontan 57° Grand Arome Unaged White Rum (Batch #2 2018) – Review

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Oct 312021
 

In the previous review I wrote about the Reunion-made Savanna HERR Blanc 57º White Rum (second batch, from 2018), and was surprised and pleased at the reaction it elicited: quite a few comments were made on various platforms, showing a really positive feeling about the rum. Today we will, as promised, go deeper into its brother rum, released in tandem with it each time one was issued, also 57% ABV, and also stuffed to the gills with an ester count that leaves the rum geek crowd with slightly trembling knees, quivering hands and clenching…well, you get my drift.

The “57” series of rums was part of a skunk works project which the Indian ocean island distillery of Savanna initiated back in 2005 where they let their Maître de Chai off the leash without any clear directions beyond “go”. The gentleman took them at their word, messing around with every variable of the production process he could — and what came out the other end was so off the reservation that when management peeled themselves off the floor, found their voices and timorously looked around for buyers, they realized that none existed if they wanted to sell it as a rum. And so the pungent distillate was left to rest in a steel tank for over a decade, until the rise of the New Jamaicans and a renewed appreciation for high ester rums squirting raw funk from every pore showed that yes, there was indeed a market for the thing.  The first edition was trotted out in the 2017 festival season, followed by this second one in 2018 with a limited run of 1500 bottles, all issued at 57% ABV (the pot still and column still versions were released concurrently).

The Jamaicans would probably sniff rather tolerantly (if not disdainfully) at an ester count of a “mere” 578.7 g/Hlpa which places the rum somewhere between the odd no-man’s land of Wedderburn (200-300) and Continental Flavoured (700-1600). And they would nod with distantly polite appreciation at a column still distillate generated from an experimental long fermentation of six days. On the face of it, they would hardly worry that their own street cred was in danger of being superseded and just on the basis of the numbers, they’re right.

Except that, not really…because the rum turned out to be really rather good, which is why it and its brothers have become sort of underground rumdork cult classics. Consider the nose: it was intense and sweet and tart, and started off, oddly enough, with an aroma of fresh sawdust and pencil shavings 1, combined with a freshly disinfected hospital room, iodine and pine sol. It morphed to sweet fruit infused water, redolent of watermelons and very light Thai mangoes – there were times it was almost delicate. Bags of strawberries, red grapefruit, bubble gum, kiwi fruits and green apples.  Behind all that, there almost seemed to be a sort of whisky finish to the whole thing and overall, what I got was a lot of florals and a lot of fruits, and those easily shouldered aside any other subtle notes.

The palate had an equal quality, though perhaps not as complex.  Here the pencil shavings took something of a back seat and just chilled out (maybe they were sulking), leaving some nice florals, ripe apples, lemons, pineapple, strawberries, grapefruit and licorice to carry the show, backed up by some cereal, cardboard and lightly musty tastes of varnish and damp tobacco. The fruitiness of the whole thing was a constant throughout, until it all came to a conclusion in a finish that was long, fruity, tart — almost sour — and just intense enough for government work.  Like the 57 HERR, it gained from being left alone to open up, because it didn’t do the old soldier thing and fade away, just gathered its forces and presented as solid and complex even an hour later.

So, a funny thing happened as I was tasting this Lontan 57 – I really liked it. What it lacked was some of the take-no-prisoners machismo of the pot still HERR 57, which seemed to revel in its own puissance (and afforded writers the rare opportunity to use the word “puissance”). That did not, however, mean it didn’t have some of the offbeat notes of Boomerang’s Strangé (or her perfume commercial), just that they were better controlled: it moved easily and elegantly through its paces, had a nice balance and just a few off notes. It shared and showed a similar line of descent with the HERR 57, while at all times being its own thing. This column still, molasses-based rum reminded me somewhat of Haitian clairins, even Mexican charandas, but its closest comparator might actually be another artisanal spirit we don’t get enough of yet, the oddly refined Cabo Verde grogues.

Tasting two 57s from the same year — the HERR and the Lontan — side by side, reveals their differing natures, showcases their differing origins, and the differing ways they were made.  It also demonstrates that if you have a maitre de chai who takes “go” to mean “where no-one has gone before,” then with some imagination and cheerful bombast, you can make a really sterling and tasty rum of firmness, originality and serious flavour. Sort of like this one.  It’s definitely a rum worth having on the shelf.

(#861)(86/100)


Other Notes

Savanna very helpfully classifies its rums using various words which tell the curious what its rums are: 

  • Lontan (Grand Arôme / high ester rhums based on long fermentation times of up to 15 days, source can be either molasses or juice), 
  • Creol (aged and unaged agricoles from cane juice), 
  • Intense and/or Traditionnel (molasses based, occasionally finished, aged and unaged), 
  • Métis (blends of agricole and molasses rums).

Savanna HERR Blanc 57º White Rum (Batch #2 2018) – Review

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Oct 262021
 

The distillery of Savanna (on Reunion island in the Indian Ocean) is putting out so many collections and individual bottlings, so fast, that even something as relatively recent as this rum from 2018 has very much fallen by the wayside, recalled by few but high ester rum geeks and Savanna lovers.  It suggests something of the difference between them and an independent bottler, in that there is no single strongly-visible voice that stands in for them and their wares.

I make this point because when you come down to it, this rum is very similar to the Habitation Velier HERR unaged white, and yet many will remember that one and eagerly source it because of the cachet of the Velier name, while Savanna gets lost in the shuffle of its torrent of newer releases, the passage of time and the short memories of the pubic. Geeks know about Savanna….the rank and file of the casual rum drinkers would be hard pressed to find the distillery (let alone the island) on a map.

But I suggest this is an issue for the promotion by Savanna’s own marketing and perhaps of truly curious rum fans, and the various bloggers out there. The fact of the matter is that any rum coming out of Reunion deserves a look, Savanna more than most, because of that completely badass high ester alembic pot still they have going in some shadowed corner of their distillery. Though most of their rums are column still distilled, though they produce rums from both molasses and cane juice, and even though they have Grand Arome, Creol, Metis, Lontan and Intense branded rums up to wazoo, every now and then they seem to want to go off the reservation and trot that alembic out to show off and produce a special edition just because, well, they can.

The 57 Batch 2 rum we’re looking at today is one of a pair released in early 2018, whose only distinguishing characteristics from each other are the length of fermentation (11 days for this one), the ester levels (423.4 g/Hlpa for this rum) and the still that made it (the pot still, here).  In that sense, I feel the purpose of releasing the two rums (we’ll be looking at the other one in the next review) was somewhat more educational, to show people what a difference the three components could make when mixed and matched in interesting ways – both rums were released in early 2018, with an outturn of 1500 bottles and at a strength of 57º. The only thing I don’t know and remains unmentioned anywhere, was if it was juice or molasses based.

Perhaps the tasting can help, so let’s move right on to that.  Nose first: short version, it’s amazingly rich and fruity. It’s very precise and crisp, with a lot of things going on at the same time: grapes, lemon zest, sugar water, watermelon, papaya, and also green apples, gooseberries and some yoghurt.  There’s a nice evocation of laundry detergent, of white sheets drying outside in a snapping wind on a bright and sunlit day and a nice background of nail polish, acetones and kiwi fruits to make things interesting.

Palate, nice, more of the good stuff : lemon zest, red grapefruit, sour cherry sweets, bon bons, loads of light florals, and gives the impression of a juicy green apple crunching between the teeth. Some sweet cider and mint, quite sharp, with few musky or softening agents here…which takes it down a peg or two for a lack of integration and balance (some will inevitably call it a crazy jumble of everything except the kitchen sink, which may not be far off), but overall, quite a hefty, piquant, pungent dram.  I particularly want to draw attention to the long and lasting finish: this is fruity, a little sour, has a scent of pine needles and lemon dish detergent (this is not a bad thing, honestly) and like many high ester rums I’ve tried in the past (including the Jamaicans), gets a little bitter after a few hours in the glass, but overall, this is a minor complaint – the rum works, and how.

So there’s a lot of interesting things about this rum: the pot still distillation, the level of esters which is just about spot on, and the really fantastic taste and finish.  Apparently the rum was part of an experimental series which was initiated around 2005, at a time when such aromatics were confined to the bulk rum market and destined for confectionary or perfumes.  Savanna tinkered with fermentation lengths, bacterial strains, durations, stills and came up with this severely pungent hooch which I guess they simply did not know what to do with (one wonders why chucking it into a barrel was not an option, but maybe some did, who knows?).  While it is unaged by all standard definitions, it rested in inert steel tanks until the world changed around it and high ester rums became a thing — it is probably no coincidence that it was released in 2018, the same year as Habitation Velier’s HERR White.

There are fair bit of reviews around about the HERR 57: WhiskyFun scored Batch 1 (from 2017, same ester count and strength) 84 points the year it came out and commented wryly that it was “unknown territory” for him. Alex Sandu of the Rum Barrel (rapidly turning into one of the better review sites out there), remarked on its incredible intensity of flavour and scored it a very high 92, and even Rum Ratings is littered with a few casual fans who erratically score and either love or hate the thing, but can’t stop talking about it. 

Savanna’s rums appeal to me because of their variety: molasses based or cane juice, pot still or column, long fermentations or short, bags of esters or just a sprinkling…it’s like everything that they make is on one end of the spectrum or another, a binary choice for all, and no middle ground to be seen anywhere. I kind of appreciate that kind of extremism which never takes the safe average but tries to push the boundaries.  Savanna makes something for just about every palate and while some succeed and some hit the wall, there are very few that are outright bad or downright boring. Here they produced a rum that will force you to have an opinion — and mine, for the absence of doubt, is definitely positive. It’s a hell of a tasty rum.

(#860)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Few sites I looked at mentioned the source but both Alex and Reuben noted it as being molasses. Still checking into it. 
  • 1500 bottle outturn.  Four batches in total were released by 2020, each with the same ester count and strength, but different outturns (B#1 2300, B#2 1500, B#3 unknown, B#4 1400).

Cavalier White Antigua Rum – Review

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Oct 142021
 

“Cavalier” was once the brand name of rums released by the Antigua Distillery on the island of the same name. Even the predecessor to the famed-but-faded English Harbour 1981 25 Year Old 1 was originally a Cavalier branded rum, and a very good one, too…for its time, anyway. But somewhere in the ‘aughts the English Harbour brand was created to be the basket for more upscale, upmarket rums – starting with the five year old and moving up in age – and the Cavalier moniker was left for the company’s “entry level” gold and white and 151 rums….which of course meant the bar scene.

There is nothing particularly exceptional about the production process here: made from molasses, fermented with a commercial strain of yeast over a period of days to a solution of 7% ABV which is then run through a columnar still and drawn off at a strength of around 90-95% ABV, tested and then barreled. In this, then, the process is more akin to Spanish heritage style rum making, where, although some aromatic compounds make it past the distillation process, the real emphasis is on the barrel strategy and wood management that make up the final product.  Antigua Distillery uses charred 200-liter American ex-bourbon barrels to which a handful of oak chips are added to boost the profile and after the appropriate time (and depending on which rum is being made), the desired aged rum from selected casks is blended in a large oak vat and diluted over a period of weeks to the final, bottled result.

From the preceding details, that result is not difficult to predict: it will likely be light, slightly sweet and have some fruity elements to it, balanced off with some salt or sour.  That was the way the 1981, the 10 YO, the 5 YO, even the puncheon all tasted, with greater or lesser quality (and success). And indeed, that’s what you get with the current white rum, bottled at 43%: on the nose, it’s very crisp and clean, and resembles a dialled down version of the 65% puncheon’s violence.  Raspberries, red currants and strawberries provide the major fruity elements, backed up by very ripe gooseberries and watery pears, and offset by a trace of vanilla, salt, brine, olives, and some varnish.

The palate is more intriguing: dusty cardboard and decaying sheetrock, light glue, varnish. This is contrasted, as the nose had been, by much of the same fruitiness (pears, guavas, strawberry bubble gum) and saltiness (brine, anchovies, sweet soya sauce), plus a bit of vanilla. Not a whole lot beyond these primary tastes. Even the finish displays that solid simplicity: some sweet, some salt, some vegetable soup, ho hum. Overall, there’s not a whole lot going on here, and the rum is really a straightforward kind of drink, without much in the way of a subtlety of flavour, or any intensity in what you do get.

Current label design

What the rum lacks is a certain amount of heft, and this is why, to my mind, the puncheon, for all its strength, is really the better rum. The Cavalier White is aged two years, filtered to clear, and then takes its place right where it is aimed at – the back bar shelf for cheap mixers, alongside Lamb’s and Bacardi whites and all those other anonymous bland cocktail feeders.  That doesn’t make it a bad rum, precisely, just an uninspiring one: a rum whose makers never cared to let off the leash, so it could be more than the sum of is age and colour. 

(#858)(76/100)


Other notes

  • My mediocre assessment notwithstanding, for those whose attentions and purchases remain limited to Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados and a few favoured indies, I’d strongly recommend taking the time to try a few of Antigua’s rums, even from the starter kit.  They’re familiar enough to be comforting, good enough to surprise, and different enough to warrant more attention.  Their newer rums with finishes and higher proof points are particularly worth checking out.
  • The mini on which the review is based comes from the early 2000s, but I’ve been told that batch variation aside, the rum is the same to this day; just the bottle label design has changed – and this is why I decided to not class it as a Rumaniacs entry. The 43% strength implies it was made for sale in Europe, not America.
Oct 042021
 

Rumaniacs Review #127 | 0855

To be clear, there remains a Westerhall White Jack rum in current production.  It’s not this one. It has been suggested that it’s the same as the Jack Iron rum, just made into a white. That’s a harder call, but I doubt that too, because there’s a bit more complexity to this one than the Jack Iron where the reverse might have been expected. 

In any case, this version has been discontinued. Even by 2015 when The Fat Rum Pirate penned one of the only reviews of this 70% white Grenadian overproof, it had already undergone reformulation and rebranding that led to a sexier bottle and a one-degree proof reduction in strength. The current stylish ice-blue-and-white bottle is rated 69%, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that this was done to go head to head with the much better known and well-regarded Clarke’s Court White Overproof or Rivers Antoine white popskulls which were also at that strength, and perhaps also to steal a point or two of market share the pack leader, the Wray and Nephew 63% version (although good luck with that, ‘cause in my view they had and have nothing to worry about).  Then again, it might also have been to make it more easily transportable on airlines ferrying tourists in and out, who often cap their spirit strength allowances at 70% ABV.

Old and new variants of the White Jack. The one reviewed here is the bottle on the left.

That said, it’s useful to know that Westerhall in Grenada is no longer a distillery: though a distillery did exist since the mid-1800s, it was all about the bulk export market — Westerhall’s own brand, Rum Sipper Strong, was created to service the islanders’ demand only in the early 1970s.  It took another decade and a half or so, before the Westerhall Plantation Rum 1 was formulated specifically for export – however, the sales couldn’t have been strong enough to justify the distillery, because by 1996 Westerhall ceased distillation completely and started buying bulk rum itself (mostly from Trinidad’s Angostura), leaving its distillery to rust – it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the ruins can be seen to this day on the grounds

Colour – White (from filtration)

Age – Unknown; suggested to be unaged but I doubt it – like many early white rums were, it’s likely lightly aged, a year or so, and then filtered to clarity (unaged rum is already clear). 

Strength 70% ABV

Nose – Initially there’s a certain heavy meatiness, like yeasty bread dipped into a thick split pea soup; salt, brine, olives, fresh bell peppers.  Also citrus and herbs, grass, sugar water – there’s an element of cane juice here that is completely unexpected.  Surprisingly it develops very nicely, with some estery background notes and sharp fruitiness of strawberries and bananas.

Palate – Very intense, unsurprising at the strength. Nuts, cream, butter, quite creamy, and tasting both of sweet and salt; lemon zest, apples, bananas, red currants and some spices – cumin and cardamom.  There’s more but the strength kind of eviscerates any subtler notes and this is what you’re left with

Finish – You wouldn’t think there’s more than a hot last of spicy fumes, but actually, it’s not bad: toast and cream cheese, chives, olives which gradually transmutes into a nice sweetness of green grapes, bananas and some other indeterminate fruits.

Thoughts – No competitor to the more aggressive, individualistic, funkier and all-out better J. Wray.  It’s a column-still, barely-aged rum, with all that implies, and strong enough to cure all that ails you (from a broken heart to your stalled jalopy, it’s rumoured) — and it’s surprising that as much taste has come through as it has. Not entirely a bad rum, just not one of much real character, and best for its intended purpose, a mix of some kind.

(78/100)

El Destilado Aguardiente de Panela (Mexico) – Review

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Aug 152021
 

It was probably a good thing that I first tried this innocent looking white rum1 released by the UK independent bottler El Destilado (not to be confused with the restaurant of the same name in Oaxaca) without knowing much about it. It came in a smallish bottle, sporting a starkly simple label I didn’t initially peruse too closely, and since I was at a rumfest, and it had been handed to me by a rum chum, well, what else could it be, right?

It might have been a rum, but even at the supposedly standard strength of 43.15% ABV, the juice burst with flavours that instantly recalled indigenous unaged cane juice like clairin, or a supercharged grogue fresh of the still and sporting serious attitude.  It smelled, first of all, woody — resinous, musty, oily, lemony; it reeked of brine and olives, almonds, pine-sol air freshener and only at the back end, after taking some time to recover, were there a few shy hints of flowers and some rich, almost-gone fleshy fruits. That’s not much when you think about it, but I assure you, it made up in intensity what it lacked in complexity. 

Okay, so this was different, I thought and tasted it. It was solid and serious, completely dense with all sorts of interesting flavours: first off, very pine-y and smokey. More pine sol — did someone mix this with household disinfectant or something? This was followed by fresh damp sawdust of sawn lumber made into furniture right way and then polished with too much varnish, right in the sawmill (!!). Vegetable soup heavy on the salt, with generous doses of black pepper and garlic and cilantro…and more pine.  Barbeque sauce and smoky sweet spices, like hickory I guess. Darkly sweet but not precisely fruity – though there are some of those – more like the heavy pungency of rotting oranges on a midden heap somewhere hot and tropical, closed off by a long and smoky finish redolent of lemon pine scent, and spoiling fruits, and more olives.

This was intense.  Too raw and uncultured to be a serious top ender, white or otherwise — and I like white rums, as you know — but defiantly original and really quite unique.  I thought the pine notes were overbearing and spoiled the experience somewhat…other than that, a completely solid rum that was probably cane juice, and probably unaged, and a cousin to the French island agricoles.  Somewhere out there a bartender was loving this thing and blowing it kisses.

Which was correct, as confirmed by a more detailed look at that label. It was an unaged cane juice spirit called Aguardiente de Panela, came from Mexico, was akin to the Paranubes from Oaxaca and many others like it. I cautiously liked it – “appreciated” might be a better term; it was tasty, quite original, and felt like it took rum in whole new directions, though it took care not to call itself that. I can say with some assurance that you would be unlikely to have tried anything like it before and therein might lie both its attraction and downfall. But I suggest that if you can, try it. It might be problematic finding any, given the limited outturn of 160 bottles (and indeed, it was something of a one-off, see my notes below this review).

Labelling the thing as an aguardiente (again, see further down) gives it a pretty broad umbrella, though clearly it is a cane juice derivative. It might have been better to use “cane spirit” to make the sale since aguardientes are a very loose category and present a moving target depending on where one is. Be that as it may, it is has all the hallmarks of a local back-country moonshine (decently made in this instance, to be sure), sporting the sort of artisanal handmade small-batch quality that makes rum geeks salivate as they search the world for the next clairin or grogue.

When such micro-still quality is found, the production ethos behind it that makes it so attractive creates issues for their producers. The output tends to be small and not easily scaled up (assuming they even want to); there somewhat inconsistent quality from batch to batch, and some simply don’t hold up over time. Moreover, such aguardientes or charandas or agricoles or unaged spirits are usually not made for a discerning international rum audience, but for local and regional consumption, by and for people who don’t know (and don’t care) that there are certain markers of consistency and quality asked for by foreign audiences. It isn’t for such tourists that it’s made (a point Luca also thought long and hard about, before promoting the Haitian clairins back in 2014).

This aguardiente perfectly encapsulates that issue.  It is a unique and unusual, very distinctive small batch agricole-style cane juice rum in all the ways that matter.  It satisfies its local audience just fine. That it doesn’t fly as well past its own terroire may not be its problem, but ours. That said, you certainly won’t find me complaining about what it’s like, because I want me some more. And stronger, if I can get it.

(#843)(81/100)


Other Notes:

  • The origin of the cane juice spirit / aguardiente is one of those near-unknown family stills that dot the Mexican back country (the Paranubes was like that also), and made, as stated above, more for village consumption than export. Here, it came from a three-column still tended by Sr.  Delfino Cruz, which — if one can go by the label — is in the small village of San Pablo Ameyaltepec where he produces mostly mezcal. This tiny community of less than two hundred is in the state of Puebla, with the more famous state of Oaxaca on its southeast border: the El Destilado boys were sourcing mezcal from him.
  • Charlie McKay, one of the founders, told me: “We actually only got one batch of the Aguardiente de Panela and then weren’t able to get it again. The Aguardiente was sourced while Michael and Jason were tasting some of Delfino’s mezcal and they noticed a bunch of liquid in drums, asked about it and he sheepishly allowed them to taste it. It’s sort of a side product he was making but more for locals rather than as his pride and joy. Anyway the liquid was super tasty and the guys bought a bunch of it on the spot. I believe, but I’d have to double check, that it was distilled in the same still that he makes his mezcal in.  The panela aspect is the sugar he uses. Our current rum which is an Aguardiente de Caña is make from raw sugar cane juice, extracted straight from the plant and fermented. The panela is a preserved form of sugar that comes as set blocks […] usually from sort of conical shaped molds. It almost looks like a darker version of palm sugar that you’d get from an Asian grocer. Anyway this is rehydrated and fermented, then distilled which gives it a slightly different flavour profile to the more green Caña version. […] It was basically something Delfino wasn’t trying to sell us, but they boys saw it and had to taste it, then we got it, sold it all and now it’s gone.”
  •  The “Panela” in the title is named after panela, an unrefined sugar which is made by boiling and evaporating cane juice – it’s therefore something like India’s jaggery which we have come across before. Panela is commonly made around South America (especially Colombia) and it’s not a stretch to say aguardiente can be made from it, hence the name.
  • The rum was distilled in a three column still and apparently fermented in tanks made of local pine wood – which is where the pine notes must have carried over from. It is likely that wild yeast was used for the fermentation.
  • El Destilado, whose name is on the label, is a UK based indie bottler based on London, run by a trio of spirits enthusiasts — Michael Sager, Alex Wolpert and Charlie McKay; their tastes seem run more into agave spirits than rum per se since this was one of only two cane spirits they have released so far amidst a plethora of mezcals from Oaxaca. As a separate note, I like their minimalist design philosophy a lot.
  • Another rum released by El Destilado is an equally obscure “Overproof” Oaxacan Rum at 52.3% which Alex over at The Rum Barrel took a look at a few months back. 

A Brief Backgrounder on Mexican cane spirits and Agardientes

Having a large band of tropical climate and a vibrant sugar industry, it would be odd in the extreme if Mexico did not have rums in its alcoholic portfolio.  The truth is that their artisanal, indigenous rums are actually not well known: not just because of the overwhelming popularity and market footprint of mezcal and tequila, but because rum brands like Bacardi, Mocambo, Prohibido, Tarasco and other popular low-cost “decent-enough” sellers have the limelight. They tend to stick with the tried and true model of standard-proof light blends of middling age to saturate (primarily) their own and the American market. So the backcountry small-batch rums of long-standing production — which in these days of full proof and indigenous tradition are sometimes overlooked — tend to have a hard time of it.

Leaving aside big brands and other alcoholic categories, however, there have always been many local cane distillates in Mexico, less exalted, less well known, often sniffed at. Some are as specific as charanda, others as wide ranging as aguardiente.  The subject of today’s review is one of the latter, and if for purists it does not fall into our definitions of rum, I argue that if it’s a sugar cane distillate, it should be counted in “our” category, it needs a home and I’m perfectly happy to give it one.

Aguardientes – the word is a very broad catchall, akin to the generic English word “spirits,” translating loosely as fiery/burning water – are strong distilled alcoholic beverages, made from a variety of sources depending on the country or local tradition: macerated fruits (oranges, grapes, bananas, etc), grains (millet, barley, rice, beets, cassava, potatoes, tubers), or the classic sugar cane versions. They can be regulated under that name, and several have protected designations of origin. 

Aguardiente as made in Mexico has a very supple definition, depending on where one is in that country and what the source material is. In some places it is a distilled cane spirit, in others it can be made from agave. It can be proofed down to 35%, or be stronger. It can be added to with spices, additives, you name it…or not. It’s either a poor man’s drink or a connoisseur’s delight, an indigenous low-quality moonshine or the next wave of craft spirit-making to enthuse young hipsters looking for The Next Big Thing. 

Globally, for the purpose of those who primary spirit is rum, aguardientes are and should be limited to those which derive from cane juice only, and indeed many such spirits are properly labelled as aguardiente de cana, or some such titular linguistic variation (in Mexico this is particularly important because of the move to call agave spirts like mezcal aguardiente de agave and create a separation within the term). Unsurprisingly in a category this broad, clairins, grogues, guaros, puntas, charandas, even cachaças, are lumped into it, sometimes incorrectly – it’s a term which requires qualifying words to nail down precisely. But for the moment and this review, consider it a cane-juice-based, small-batch, local (even traditional) alcoholic beverage, and judge it on that basis.

Sources:

I have drawn on general background reading, personal experiences, wikipedia and the Rumcast interview with Francisco Terraza (timestamp 00:30:01) for some of the information on aguardientes generally and Mexico specifically


Addendum

After posting the link to this review on Reddit’s /r/rumserious (full disclosure – I am the moderator of that sub), City Barman made a comment that same evening which I felt was both enlightening and well written, and he kindly gave me permission to quote it here as an adjunct to the main review:

“Back in 2003, we went with a friend to visit his family in Oaxaca. We enjoyed an almost three week bacchanal, sampling as many of the local spirits as we could get our hands on. Tequila, mezcal and aguardiente de caña ran through our blood. The only real value of 90% of what we drank was its ability to get one drunk, on the way cheap. A far majority of it was tolerable to OK, from a taste standpoint, at least to my arrogant Western palate. 10%, however, was special, unique, sometimes divine, and as I found out later, often fleeting.

It’s a very different way of life, a very different culture that allows these incredibly small producers to exist. There is a very fine line separating them between “back-wood moonshiners” and “small batch artisans”. From month to month, a single distiller may find itself on different sides of said line. When one depends on naturally grown, fresh greens and wild, airborne yeast for the process, Mother Nature often overrides human intention. Replacing these things with more standardized, industrial methods would change the end product.

The process, by its very definition, is unpredictable and inefficient. It’s what makes the spirits cheap and “easy” to produce and also affordable to the masses. It’s also what typically creates the magic, when it happens, often entirely by accident. Unpredictable and inefficient are two qualities that ensure the likes of Diageo and Rémy Cointreau will go nowhere near the “category”, hence destroying it. The likes of Signor Gargano may find an audience for these unpredictable, small batches of joy. There may also be other producers, besides Señor Carrera, whose processes create a more consistent, predictable product.

Perhaps it’s perfectly fine and right that these spirits stay with their terroir. They represent the art in spirit making. Art that is intended for consumption, like live music and theater, is ephemeral and not entirely replicable. They also tend to be the ones that come closest to transporting their imbibers to Nirvana. Perhaps it’s good impetus to get us to escape our back yards, travel, and learn something about other human beings; their culture; their fears, hopes and dreams; their favorite drink.”


 

William Hinton Edição Limitada Unaged White Rum (2017) – Review

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Jun 172021
 

 

Recapping some background for William Hinton — it is a Madeira based distillery with antecedents as far back as 1845; at one point, in the 1920s, it was the largest sugar factory on the island if not in Europe – but in 1986 it ceased operations for two decades, 1, and was then restarted in 2006 under the name Engenho Novo da Madeira, still making branded rum under the Hinton banner.  They make their own rums as well as exporting bulk elsewhere, which is how Fabio Rossi picked a few up for his Rare Rums collection back in 2017.

The company has three tiers of rum quality, with the lowest level being considered basic backbar “service” rums for mixing: there are three of these, from a 40% white we looked at in #829, a 9 months aged, and one that’s three years old. That 40% white was a flaccid agricole that could conceivably put a drinker to sleep out of simple boredom, but things get a lot more jazzed up and a whole lot more interesting with the premium or “Limited” level white (labelled as “Natural”). Neatly put, the two classes of rums generally and the two whites in particular, are night and day.

Some the stats of the two whites in the classes are the same – column still, cane juice origin…they are both agricoles. Fermented for 2-3 days with wild yeast (the other was 24 hours), and then run through that old refurbished column still that had been decommissioned (but kept) from the original estate at Funchal (Engenho do Torreão) when things shut down in 1986. And then, as if dissatisfied with this nod at tradition, they released the premium version without any ageing at all (unlike the “service” white which had been aged and then filtered back to transparency). It was also left at full strength, which is a serious attention grabbing 69%, enough to make the glass tremble, just a bit. 

That combination of zero ageing and high strength made the Edição Limitada blanco very much like some of those savage white rums I’ve written about here and here. And that’s a good thing – too often, when a company releases two rums of the same production process but differing proofs, it’s like all they do is take the little guy, chuck it on the photocopier and pressed “enlarge”. Not here. Oh no. Here, it’s a different rum altogether. 

The nose, for example, is best described as “serious” – an animal packing heat and loaded for bear: it starts with salt, brine, olives, wax, rubber, polish, and yet, the whole time it feels clear — fierce, yes, but clear nevertheless — and almost aromatic, not weighed down with too little frantically trying to do too much. A bit fruity, herbal to a fault, particularly mint, dill, sage and touch of thyme. There are some citrus notes and a warm kind of vegetal smell that suggests a spicy tom yum soup with quite a few mean-looking pimentos cruising around in it.

I particularly want to call attention to the palate, which is as good or better than that nose, because that thing happily does a tramping stomping goose step right across the tongue and delivers oodles of flavour: it’s like a sweeter version of the Paranubes, with rubber, salt, raisins and a cornucopia of almost ripe and fleshy fruits that remain hard and tart.  The taste is herbal (thyme and dill again), and also sports olives, vanilla, unsweetened yoghurt, and a trace of almost apologetic mint to go with the fruity heat. The finish is excellent — long and salty, loads of spices and herbs, and a very peculiar back note of minerals and ashes.  These don’t detract from it, but they are odd to notice at all and I guess they are there to remind you not to take it for granted.

The rhum, in short, is amazing. It upends several notions of how good a white can be and for my money gives Wray & Nephew 63% White Overproof some real competition in that category and even exceeds the Rivers Royale 69% out of Grenada, though they are different in their construction and don’t taste the quite same. The flavours are hot and spicy and there’s lots of them, yet they never get in each other’s way and are well balanced, complex to a fault and good for any purpose you might wish to put it. 

What this all leaves us with, then, is an agricole rhum that is powerful, herbal, floral and all round tasteful. It’s quality is in fact such a jump up from the “Service” white that I really must suggest you try the more premium rums, and this one, only after exploring the cheaper variants. Because if you do it the other way round you’ll really not want to have that much to do with the lesser parts of Hinton’s overall range. The Limitada excites that kind of admiration, and happily, it deserves every bit of it.

(#830)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • The rum is issued in lots (or batches), by year, and all front labels tell you which one it is (here it’s Lot #1 of 2017), though not how many lots in that year. Each such batch is 500 bottles or so — hence the “Limitada” in the name —  and both this and the bottle number is mentioned on the back label.

William Hinton White Agricole Rum (Madeira) – Review

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Jun 142021
 

William Hinton from Madeira is not a name to conjure with in the annals of rum, but this is not the first time they have come up for mention – their distillery produced the Engenho Novo da Madeira rum that Rum Nation released with some fanfare back in 2017. The following year the company of Engenho Novo, Hinton’s new incarnation (and not to be confused with Engenhos do Norte, producer of the “970 Agricola”) released some rums for themselves, and we’ll be looking at these over the next week or so.

Hinton classify their rums into three tiers: (1) the exclusive single casks, which are blends of 6YO “new Hinton” rums and 25 YO “old Hinton” rums from before the shutdown in 1986 (see below) which are then finished in various other barrels like wine or whisky or what have you; (2) the premium range which consists of two rums, an award winning 6 YO and a high proof white; and (3) the bartenders’ mixes, for general audiences, which their website refers to, in an odd turn of phrase, as a “service rum.” One of that final category is the white rum we’re examining today.

The white is a cane juice agricole – a term which Madeira has a right to use – but it is not unaged.  While the site does not specifically say so, I was told it’s under a year, around six months, in French oak casks 1. It is bottled at 40%, column still, so nothing “serious”.  It’s made fit for purpose, that’s all.

Unfortunately that purpose seems to be to put me to sleep. Dare I say it is underwhelming? It is a soft and extremely light white rum with very little in the way of an aromas at all.  It’s delicate, flowery and admittedly very clean – and one has to seriously pay attention to make out some flowers, dill, herbs, grass, sugar water and wet moss (!!), before it disappears like a summer zephyr you barely sensed in the first place

The palate is better, and remains light and clean. It has a queer sort of dusty aroma to it, like old library books stored in long disused storage room. That gradually goes away and is replaced with a dry taste of cheerios, and some fruits.  Almonds and a curiously faint whiff of vanilla. I read somewhere that this white is  made to service a poncha — a very old cocktail from Portugal’s great seafaring days invented to combat scurvy (rum plus sugar plus lemon juice, and some honey) — not so much to replace Bacardi Superior … though you could not imagine them being displeased if it did.  Drinking it neat is probably a nonstarter since it’s so wispy, and of course there’s not much of a finish (at 40% I wasn’t looking for one). Briefly fruity and floral, a quick whiff of herbs, and it’s gone. 

Although it has some very brief tastes and aromas that I suppose derive from the minimal ageing (before the results of that process got filtered right back out again), the white displays little that would make it stand out. In fact, while demonstrably being an agricole, it hardly tastes like one at all. It’s what I’m beginning to refer to more and more often as a “cruise-ship white”, a kind of all-encompassing milquetoast rum whose every character has been bleached and out so its only remaining function is to deliver a shot of bland alcohol (like, say, vodka) into a mixed drink for those who don’t know or don’t care (or both).

That said, honesty compels me to admit that there was some interesting stuff in the wings, sensed but not seen, a trace only, perhaps only waiting to emerge at the proper time, but alas, not enough to save it. The premium series probably address such deficiencies, and if so, it was a smart move to separate the generalized cocktail fodder (which this is) from a more upscale and dangerous version aimed at more masochistic folks who’ll try anything once.  If you want to know the real potential of Hinton’s white rum, don’t stop and waste time dawdling with this one, go straight for the 69% and be prepared to have your socks blown off.  Unless you like soft and easy whites, I’d walk away from this one.

(#829)(75/100)


Background & History

It’s long been noted that sugar cane migrated from Indonesia to India to the Mediterranean, and continued its westward march by being cultivated on Madeira by the first half of the 15th century.  From there it jumped to the New World, but sugar remained a stable and very profitable cash crop in Madeira and the primary engine of the island’s economy for two hundred years. At that point, with Brazil and other Portuguese colonies becoming the main sources of sugar, the focus of Madeira switched to wine, for which it became renowned (sugar cane production continued, just at a reduced level). 

The British took some involvement in the island in the 1800s, which led to several inflows of their citizens, some of whom stayed – one of these was William Hinton, a businessman who arrived in 1838 and started the eponymous company seven years later.  First a sugar factory was constructed and a distillery was added — these were large and technologically advanced and allowed Engenho Hinton to become the largest sugar processor on the island, as well as the largest rum maker (though I’m not sure what rums they actually did produce) by the 1920s. 

Unfortunately, by the 1970s and 1980s as sugar production became more and more industrialized and global, more cheaply produced  sugar from Brazil and India and elsewhere cut into Hinton’s sales (they were part of a regulated EEC industry, so low-cost labour was not an option), and by 1986 the factory and distillery closed and the facilities were mothballed – the website gives no reasons for the closure, so I’m making an educated guess here, as well as assuming they did not sell off or otherwise dispose of what bean counters like me like to refer to as “plant”.

It was restarted by Hinton’s heirs in 2006 as Engenho Novo de Madeira with a column still and using Madeira sugar cane: here again there is scanty information on where this sugar cane comes from, their own property or bought from others. Whatever the source, the practice of using rendered sugar cane juice (”honey”) continued and notes from a brochure I have state that the column still was one restored in 1969 and again in 2007, suggesting that when the distillery closed, its equipment remained intact and in place.


 

Bristol Spirits Labourdonnais Mauritius White Rhum – Review

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Jun 102021
 

As I remarked in a review opener last year, the UK indie Bristol Spirits appears to have fallen somewhat out of fashion of late, and its releases are not held up as ecstatically as they used to be, nor are reviews of their products either forthcoming or swooned over the way they used to be (that may be a function of the current pandemic as well). However, neither that nor the somewhat moribund website of the company should be taken as an indicator of any loss of focus or lack of activity. Mr. John Barret, the owner, with whom I had a most enjoyable conversation this morning (he just so happened to be wandering past the phone when I called and picked it up) rather wryly remarked that they are simply too busy with the real world to pay too much attention to the digital one, and are going great guns with their aged rum program irrespective of whether online attention is paid to their offerings or not.

One of their older products, predating the pandemic, is a cane juice rhum produced at Labourdonnais Distillery on the island of Mauritius (see below for further details on the distillery and estate). The Indian Ocean island is the home of other well known names like New Grove, Lazy Dodo, Grays, St. Aubin, Chamarel — and somewhere around 2010 or so, Bristol Spirits imported some unaged white rum from the distillery, and bottled a part of it immediately. The rest was left to age: some, matured in sherry wood, was released as a five year old rum in 2015 and this year (2021) they are pushing out the remainder in a 10 year old I’d be quite interested in.

For now, let’s just stick with this one: a 43% column still distillate deriving from cane juice, unaged, unfiltered, white, from a distillery few would likely know much about unless it was from The Fat Rum Pirate’s 4½ star review of the Boutique-y Rum Company’s 5 year old, back in 2019.

What surprised me about the rhum (for so we shall term it since it can’t be called an agricole) was how much like a Cabo Verde grogue it was. The nose, for example, channelled some of that same almost easy, relaxed scents as, oh, the Barbosa.  Nosing something like a dry white wine, it was redolent of freshly mown grass, green grapes and apples, sweet, light, and almost — but not quite — delicate. Cherries, raspberries and a touch of sour cider followed, as well as a sly hint of brininess after a few minutes.  Overall, the aroma had a distinctly agricole vibe to it, which of course was unsurprising. I liked it a lot.

The taste hardly faltered, which was a relief since a great nose does not always a great palate make. At 43% ABV it remained approachable, and an easy sip – warm yet cheerfully spicy; I tasted sugar water, the slight tang of tinned pears in syrup, white guavas, pears, papaya, all overlaid with the crisp and tart freshness of green apples, a bite of bubble gum and again, that trace of wine and brine in equal measure, lending character to the whole. That doesn’t sound like it should work, but yeah, it really kind of does.  The finish was nice and long, but here the complexity faded out and left mostly some fruity sugar water, which I accepted with as much grace as I could muster, the smell and flavours having so charmed me to begin with.

Now me, I like white rums. Not the over-filtered, clear, bland, anonymous and unaromatic cocktail fodder that clogs up far too many glasses, but clusterbombs of flavour like clairins or grogues, or the white lightning from Saint James, DDL, Depaz, Capovilla, Worthy Park, A1710, Issan, Savanna….well, the list is long, what can I say? Here’s another one to add to the list – it’s not fierce or feral, and doesn’t want to cause you pain. It is simply a compact and neat homunculus of a rumlet with oodles of flavour that dance and cavort across the senses, and one  that I will remember with great fondness.  

It occurs to me that it would probably retain all its charm and profile even if beefed up to a greater strength…however, I would argue that’s unnecessary, because it’s near perfect as a sipper exactly as it is, even if unaged. Mr. Barrett told me that Bristol never did really good business with it, and fell back to ageing the rest of their stock as a consequence. I think if more people had tried it when it was first released and whites had a better street cred at that point, then this Labourdonnais white wouldn’t have languished in the doldrums, but flown off the shelves. And in point of fact, as soon as this review goes up, I think I’m going  to go looking for one myself.

(#828)(86/100)


Other notes

  • My thanks to Mr. Barrett who was courteous and polite and answered all my usual questions. Couldn’t help but mention I was a big fan ever since I’d had the amazing Port Mourant 1980 all those years ago.
  • Outturn unknown
  • From the other references I saw, the label seem to be misspelled and the distillery name is one word, not two

Company Background

Labourdonnais is a distillery, of course, but is of relatively recent vintage, as are all such companies on Mauritius.  In 2006 the law was relaxed to permit rum distillation – before that all sugar cane planted on the island had to be made into sugar, the prime export crop.  As soon as this happened, the agricultural estate of Labourdonnais – home of the beautifully landscaped gardens and the famed Château de Labourdonnais – built a new distillery on their property, naming it Rhumerie des Mascareignes, and then renaming it La Distillerie de Labourdonnais in 2014, probably to line up with all the other agricultural and horticultural activities of the property for which it was better known. It has been making cane juice rum ever since, mostly white and lightly aged “amber” rums, but also exporting some bulk, primarily to Europe.