This is the second review in the short series where we look at some rums released by the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. It should be noted that the company has issued dozens of full proof single cask releases already, so at best this scratches the surface.
For a rum younger than three years to give such a good account of itself is no mean feat, yet Renaissance Distillery out of Taiwan has done just that with this 2½ YO rum that in most other circumstances would be considered barely out of diapers. I think that in many ways they channel the sort of experimental drive and tinkering mentality that characterises Mhoba from South Africa, the New Australians, or the freshly minted crop of UK distilleries, who also come up with startlingly original young products from seemingly nowhere and without having to age something until it’s old enough to vote.
Renaissance Distillery, for those late to the party, is that small company rum by the husband and wife team of Olivier Caen and Linya Chiou which was officially founded in 2017 on the island of Taiwan, and so far as I am aware, is the only rum-focused distillery there even though sugar remains a crop grown on the island (for many years the state held a monopoly on spirits production which is why distilleries are thin on the ground). They concentrate on full-proof single-cask limited releases…and of course everyone now knows about their War & Peace style labels that are the envy of the known world.
This rum, one of six that was shown off at the 2023 TWE Rumshow, has stats that ten years ago would have seemed unbelievable, but with the passage of time and development of the rumiverse are now merely “pretty good”: a molasses-based wash (from Formosan sugar cane) fermented for 13 days, passed twice through the charentais pot still and then double aged: a year and a half in toasted American oak, and then a further 1½ years in a Saint-Julien 2nd growth cask (and though which house is not identified, I’ve read that the actual Chateau of origin is Léoville-Poyferré)1, and then squeezed into 252 bottles at a muscular 64.7% ABV.
The nose of the rum that this fermentation, distillation, short ageing and those two casks produces at the other end is a smidgen short of fantastic. No really. It is a lovely, rich deeply fruity nose, redolent of plums, blackcurrants and slightly overripe pears, underlain with brine, olives, the slightest hint of rancio, salty cashews, tequila and even a nice brie. I can honestly say it’s one of the more unusual aromas to come out of a rum I’ve had of late, and it’s all good. It keeps changing as it opens and develops, cycling into very ripe black grapes, red grapefruit and a tangy bit of citrus and vanilla, all very clean and quite crisp – one hardly notices the strength at all, except in so far as it helps deliver those smells more intensely.
To taste it is similarly mercurial…and delicious. It starts off hot and prickly and initially it’s all traditional notes: caramel, vanilla, leather, pepper, tannins, dark ripe fruits (raisins, prunes, plums). And then quietly, sinuously, almost before they’re noticed, creep in other flavours of freshly sawn cedar, nail polish, cucumbers in balsamic fig-infused vinegar, hot black tea sweetened with damp brown sugar still reeking of molasses, wet soil, and even rye bread slathered with salt butter and honey. And it all quietly inexorably leads to a strong, long, aromatic finish that reminds us of the fruits, the citrus, the vanilla and the wood, before closing up shop and fading away until the next sip.
It’s not often I try a rum that does what this one does with such seeming effortlessness: to move from one state of being to another without hurry and without haste and showcase the best of what it is capable. The strength and youth is only marginally tamed by the two casks and that short ageing time, but they do leave their imprint and enrich what in lesser hands might have been a sharp hot spicy mess of transmogrified gunk (I’ve had several like this in my time, trust me). Renaissance have channelled fermentation, still, ageing, casks and something intrinsic to Taiwan – their terroire, perhaps – and brought it all together into a rum that is really quite a fine drink, one whose charms you can only revel in, the more it develops.
The rums in the series:
- 2018 2½ YO Taiwan Rum (Fino Cask) 62.5% – Cask #18260
- 2018 4 YO Taiwan Rum (Limousin Cask) 63.5% – Cask #18095
- 2019 3YO Taiwan Rum (Deuxieme Cru Classe) 64.7% – Cask #19145
- 2018 4 YO Taiwan Rum (Noble Rot STC) 64.0% – Cask #18089
- 2018 4 YO Taiwan Rum (Bas Armagnac) 63.2% – Cask #18035
- 2018 4 YO Taiwan Rum (Cognac) 64.4% – Cask #18102
- Not many other reviews out there: Whiskyfun’s 82 pointer from August of 2023 is the only one I can find. Serge’s tasting notes and mine are similar, but he draws different conclusions and likes it less.
- “St Julien” is a geographical appellation within the Bordeaux family of wines in south-western France, located in the Haut-Médoc region. “Deuxième Cru Classé” means “Second Growth” and is the second of of five Bordeaux wine classifications established in 1855, based on reputation and price and often deemed anachronistic in the modern age