Compagnie des Indes, run by the flamboyant and cheerful Florent Beuchet, was one of the first independent bottlers whose rums I found and started reviewing, along with Rum Nation and the original Renegade and yes, Velier. The small company is still going strong, and after having made its bones with some really good single cask bottlings — I have fond memories of their Indonesian rum, for example — did some very unusual one-offs (Florida, Thailand, Ghana, El Salvador), and also expanded into blends, much as 1423 has done, with names as evocative as Tricorn, Blacklice, Boulet de Canon, Veneragua, Barbagaya, Caraibes, Dominidad, Kaiman and (on my list to try for sure) the Great Whites. Yet, as with most independents, while it is the softer blends that provide the cash flow, it’s the cask bottlings that are deemed the cream of the crop, and form the edifice upon which the Compagnie’s reputation is considered to rest.
The rum for today is one of these: a molasses-based rum from Fiji, distilled in 2010 on a column still, aged seven years there and three years in Europe, resulting in an outturn of 407 bottles, and whose provenance is not disclosed.
The precedent for such demure modesty in the naming is admittedly not new. Sometimes pre-existing sales arrangements with other brands — even the distillery’s own — come with the condition that third party bottlings don’t get to capitalise on the distillery’s name; sometimes it’s because the provenance is not entirely nailed down; sometimes it’s reverse marketing. Whatever the reason, upon further consideration, the amused cynic in me posits that perhaps there’s a good reason for a rum coming from the only rum-making enterprise on Fiji to proclaim it comes from a “Secret Distillery”: the fact that the rum, alas, isn’t that interesting.
There is, you see, not a whole lot going on with the nose as it stands. Granted 44% isn’t the strongest rum I’ve ever tried, and indeed it was the puniest of the rums in that evening’s first flight. Yet even taking that into account the rum is something of a lightweight: some light apples, cider and yoghurt, followed by wispy, watery fruits (pears, watermelon, papaya), some grapes, and licorice. There’s a line of sugar cane sap and lemon meringue pie here and there, just difficult to come to grips with and it wafts away too quickly. There should be more to a sipping rum from one barrel than a nose this ephemeral, I’m thinking.
Tasting it reinforces this impression of “move along folks, nothing to see here.” The rum has a firm feel on the tongue, yet you’d be hard pressed to discourse on any single component of what comprises it. Some light, white fruits – guavas, pears, melon – tasting the slightest bit salty at times, overlaid with a whiff of acetone. If you pushed you might hazard a guess that you sense papaya or kiwi fruit, sugar water and maybe a slight briny aspect, akin to salt caramel chocolate. And the finish is just that, a finish, and a quick one at that. White guavas, a hint of brine, flowers and acetone, all weak and airy and very hard to detect.
Several years ago I tried an earlier one of the Compagnie’s Fiji rums – that one was from 2004, also from South Pacific, also ten years old, also 44%. At the time it was too new for me to make any sweeping statements about it, though I remarked that it wasn’t quite my cup of tea (for reasons other than those noted here). In the interim there have been quite a few more candidates from the distillery, including those released by Bounty, Samaroli, L’Esprit, TCRL, the Rum Cask, Duncan Taylor, and even the Compagnie a few more times. None have had this almost indifferent aroma and vague palate, at any strength.
So we know from years of subsequent experience that both the Compagnie and South Pacific can do a whole lot better, and there is rum out there from the distillery which is just shy of magnificent. Since I know that, I can only assume that the barrel this was aged in was simply exhausted and had nothing left to give except maybe good advice. My own recommendation, then, is simply that it’s a pass. Fortunately, given the sheer volume and variety of excellent rum that Florent has put out over the last decade, there is no shortage of good and better rums from the Compagnie that can take its place.