Jan 262021
 

In an ever more competitive marketand that includes French island agricolesevery chance is used to create a niche that can be exploited with first-mover advantages. Some of the agricole makers, I’ve been told, chafe under the strict limitations of the AOC which they privately complain limits their innovation, but I chose to doubt this: not only there some amazing rhums coming out the French West Indies within the appellation, but they are completely free to move outside it (as Saint James did with their pot still white) – they just can’t put that “AOC” stamp of conformance on their bottle, and making one rum outside the system does not invalidate all the others they can and do make within it.

This particular rhum illustrates the point nicely. It’s an AOC rhum made from a very specific variety of cane coloured gray-purple (don’t ask me how that got translated to ‘blue’) which is apparently due to an abundance of wax on the stem. It’s been used by Habitation Clément since 1977 and supposedly has great aromatics and is richer than usual in sugar, and is completely AOC-approved.

Clément has been releasing the canne bleue varietal rhums in various annual editions since about 2000. Its signature bottle has gone through several iterations and the ice blue design has become, while not precisely iconic, at least recognizableyou see it and you know it’s a Clément rhum of that kind you’re getting. Curiously, for all that fancy look, the rum retails for relative peanuts€40 or less. Maybe because it’s not aged, or the makers feared it wouldn’t sell at a higher price point. Maybe they’re still not completely sold on the whole unaged white rhum thing, even if the clairins are doing great business, and unaged blancs have gotten a respect of late (especially in the bar and cocktail circuit), which they never enjoyed before

What other types of cane Habitation Clément uses is unknown to me. They have focused on this one type to build a small sub-brand around and it’s hard to fault them for the choice, because starting just with the nose, it’s a lovely white rum, clocking in at a robust 50% ABV. What I particularly liked about it is its freshness and clarity: it reminds me a lot of of Neisson’s 2004 Single Cask (which costs several times as much), just a little lighter. Salty wax notes meld nicely with brine and tart Turkish olives to start. Then the crisp peppiness of green apples and yoghurt, sugar water, soursop and vinegar-soaked cucumber with a wiri-wiri pepper chopped into it. The mix of salt and sour and sweet and hot is really not bad.

It’s sharp on the initial tastingthat levels down quickly. It remains spicy-warm from there on in, and is mostly redolent of fresh, sweet and watery fruit: so, pears, ripe green apples, white guavas. There are notes of papaya, florals, loads of swank, avocados, some salt, all infused with lemon grass, ginger and white pepper. The clarity and crispness of the nose is tempered somewhat as the tasting goes on, allowing softer and less aggressive flavours to emerge, though they do stay on the edges and add background rather than hogging the whole stage. The finish is delicate and precise; short, which is somewhat surprising, yet flavourfulslight lemon notes, apricots, cinnamon and a touch of unsweetened yoghurt.

So, what to make of this econo-budget white rhum? Well, I think it’s really quite good. The Neisson I refer to above was carefully aged, more exclusive, cost moreand yet scored the samethough it was for different aspects of its profile, and admittedly its purpose for being is also not the same as this one. I like this unaged blanc because of its sparkling vivacity, its perkiness, its rough and uncompromising nature which masks an unsuspected complexity and quality. There are just so many interesting tastes here, jostling around what is ostensibly a starter product (based on price if nothing else) — this thing can spruce up a mixed drink with no problem, a ti-punch for starters, and maybe a daiquiri for kicks.

I don’t know what aspects of its profile derive from that bleue cane specifically because so far in my sojourn through The Land of Blanc I’ve experienced so many fantastic rhums and each has its own peculiar distinctiveness. All I can say is that the low pricing here suggests a rhum that lives and dies at the bottom of the scalebut you know, it really shouldn’t be seen that way. It’s far too good for that.

(#796)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Production is limited to between 10,000 and 20,000 bottles a year, depending on the harvest. Not precisely a limited edition but for sure something unique to each year.
  • Thanks to Etienne Sortais, who provided me with the sample, insisting I try the thing. He was certainly right about that.
Jan 022020
 

The actual title of this rhum is Chamarel Pure Sugar Cane Juice 2014 4 YO Rum, but Mauritius doesn’t have license to use the term “agricole” the way Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion and Madeira do. And while some new producers from the Far East and America seem to have no problem casually appropriating a name that is supposedly restricted to only those four locations, we know that Luca Gargano of Velier, whose brainchild these Indian rums are, would never countenance or promote such a subversion of convention. And so a “pure sugar cane juice” rum it is.

Now, Mauritius has been making rhums and rums for agescompanies like New Grove, St. Aubin, Lazy Dodo are new and old stalwarts of the island, and third parties take juice from International Distillers Mauritius (IDM) to make Penny Blue, Green Island or Cascavel brands, mostly for sale in the UK and Europe. But there’s another distillery there which has only recently been established and come to more prominence, and that’s Chamarel, which was established in 2008 (see historical and production notes below). I hesitate to say that Velier’s including them in their 70th Anniversary collection kickstarted their rise to greater visibilitybut it sure didn’t hurt either.

Brief stats: a 4 year old rum distilled in September 2014, aged in situ in French oak casks and bottled in February 2019 at a strength of 58% ABV. Love the labelling and it’s sure to be a fascinating experience not just because of the selection by Velier, or its location (we have tried few rums from there though those we tried we mostly liked), or that strength, but because it’s always interesting to see how such a relatively brief tropical ageing regimen can affect the resultant rum when it hits our glasses.

In short, not enough. It sure smelled nicepeaches in cream to start, sweetly crisp and quite flavourful, with lots of ripe fruit and no off notes to speak of; waves of cherries, mangoes, apples, bubble gum, gummi-bears bathed in a soft solution of sugar water, cola and 7-up. It’s a bit less rounded and even than Velier’s Savanna rum from the Indian Ocean still series, but pleasant enough in its own way.

It’s on the palate that its youthwith all the teenage Groot this impliesbecomes more apparent. There’s peanut butter on rye bread; brine and sweet olives, figs, dates, leavened with a little vanilla and caramel, but with the fruits that had been evidenced on the nose dialled severely back. It’s dry, with slightly sour and bitter notes that come forward and clash with the sweet muskiness of the ripe fruits.. This gets to the point where the whole taste experience is somewhat derailed, and while staying relatively warm and firm, never quite coheres into a clear set of discernible tastes that one can sit back and relax withyou keep waiting for some quick box on the ears or something. Even the finish, which was dry and long, with some saltiness and ripe fruits, feels like a work in progress and not quite tamed, for all its firm character.

So somehow, even with its 58% strength, the Chamarel doesn’t enthuse quite as much as the Savanna rhum did. Maybe that was because it didn’t allow clear tastes to punch through and show their qualitythey all got into into a sort of indistinct alcohol-infused fight over your palate that you know has stuff going on in there someplacejust not what. To an extent that it showed off its young age and provided a flavourful jolt, I liked it and it’s a good-enough representative of what the distillery and Mauritius can do. I just like other rhums the company and the island has made bettereven if they didn’t have any of Luca’s fingerprints over it.

(#689)(81/100)


Other Notes

La Rhumerie de Chamarel, located in a small valley in the south west of Mauritius, is one of the rare operational distilleries to cultivate its own sugarcane, which itself has a history on the island going back centuries. The distillery takes the title of a small nearby village named after a Frenchman who lived there around 1800 and owned most of the land upon which the village now rests. The area has had long-lived plantations growing pineapples and sugar cane, and in 2008 the owners of the Beachcomber Hotel chain (New Mauritius Hotels, one of the largest companies in Mauritius), created the new distillery on their estate of 400 hectares, perhaps to take on the other large rum makers on the island, all of whom were trying to wean themselves off of sugar production at a time of weakening demand and reduced EU subsidies. Rum really started taking off in post 2006 when production was legalizedpreviously all sugar cane had to be processed into sugar by law.

The sugar cane is grown onsite and cut without pre-burning between July and December. The harvest is transported directly to the distillery and the crushed sugarcane juice filtered and taken to steel tanks for fermentation after which the wash is run through a copper Barbet-type plate column still (for white rums), or the two-column 24-plate still they call an alembic (for aged and other rums). In all cases the rums are left post-distillation in inert stainless steel vats for three months before being transferred to ageing barrels of various kinds, or released as white rums, or further processed into spiced variations.

Dec 282018
 

Just as we don’t see Americans making too many full proof rums, it’s also hard to see them making true agricoles, especially since the term is so tightly bound up with the spirits of the French islands.

Agricole, let it be remembered, is the French term for agricultural rums made from pure sugar cane juice, and called such to distinguish them (not without a little Gallic disdain, to be sure) from traditionnels, or traditional rums, which are made from molasses, a by product of the sugar making process. For the most part, having much to do with the finances, molasses rums are much preferred by producers, because the issues of storage and spoilage which afflicts cane juice (it can go bad in just a few days) – that’s one reason why agricoles are closely associated with actual sugar estates with a distillery nearbynot always easy in a country the size of the USA where there is much greater separation between the two. (Note also: by EU law (but not that of the US) the termagricolecan only be used by French Overseas Departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion and French Guiana) and Madeiranobody else. A lot of distilleries the world over ignore this in practice, until time comes to sell their product in the EU)

St. George’s, a 1982-established California distillery much better known for its gins, absinthes, vodkas and whiskies, get their fresh cut cane from Imperial Valley just to the east of San Diego along the Mexican border, and when a load comes in, they crush it immediately, add the yeast and ferment (duration unknown) before running it through a pot still (Josh Miller spoke of a hybrid pot/column still when he visited them in 2013 but St. George’s wrote to me and saidpotfor sure). The resultant spirit is rested for a short while in stainless steel tanks, with some being drawn off to age for a few years in oak, the rest being bottled at 43%. My version was based on the 2014 harvest according to the sample info, and was therefore issued in that year.

On the nose…oy! What was this? Vegetable soup, or (take your pick) meatballs, dumplings, dim sum or spring rollsthat kind of thing. Also vinegar, soy, pickles and fish sauce, a pot of brine and what felt like three bags of olives. Behind all that is a sharp edge, like a red wine gone off somehow, and whatever fruits there were took a reluctant step backso much so that the first thoughts that ran through my mind as I smelled the rum was it was a low rent clairin that tried for the brass ring but ran out of steam. Stillnice. Adventurous. Different. I like that in a white rum.

Alas, the palate, after that jarringly original overture that so piqued my interest, seemed to go to sleep, a function of the 43% ABV maybe, and a reminder that pungent rums like unaged whites don’t always succeed when dialled down to a somnolent standard strength. Still, it did wake up after I ignored it for a bit, and gave a twitch of sugar water and watermelons, fresh-cut pears, vanilla and citrus, very light and very pleasant. Yes there was a sort of creaminess and black bread, behind which lurked the brine and olives (lots of both), but the rum seemed to have problems deciding whether it wanted to be a crowd pleaser or something truly original such as the nose had promised, and the finishlong, dry, salty, lightly fruity, sweetly wateryjust followed the palate into a docile conclusion.

Truth is, the whole experience was schizophrenicit started off with fire and smoke and major f**ken attitude, then just lost its mojo and sagged against the wall. For all the unbalanced helping of crazy with which it opened, I liked that off-kilter nose a lot better than everything that followed because it showed all the potential that failed to be realized later on. An unaged pot-still white should be a little off-baseanything else and you have a mere cocktail ingredient and there are already enough of those around.

That said, it’s not that I actively disliked the rumjust that I felt there was nothing serious here: nothing badass that dared to offendor inspire (say what you will about the TECC and TECA rums from NRJ and their barking-mad taste profiles, they had real balles). So, at end, it’s a light alcohol with great promise (how it smelled) and too little follow-through (palate and finish). Cyril of DuRhum reviewed this same edition, scored it at 77 and provided some great details on the company, and it was tasty enough to make Josh Miller wax rhapsodic in 2013 when he visited the place, tried some and recommended it highly both by itself and in a Ti-punch (you need to read his 10/10 scored review as a serious counterpoint to mine and Cyril’s) – but here I have to be somewhat less enthusiastic based on my own tasting five years down the road.

(#583)(76/100)


Other notes

  • Neither this rum or its lightly aged brother is listed on the St. George’s website. When I touched base with them, they sadly informed me that because of the difficulty of acquiring fresh cane, they have ceased rum production fora number of years,” though they remain on the lookout for new and stable sources. For the moment, they’re not making any.
  • An irrelevant aside to this review is that I inadvertently tried it twice: once in 2017 based on a sample sent to me (totally blind) by John Go; and the second time in 2018, this time one I bought on a whim. In both cases my tasting notes were practically identical, and so was my score. I think this is an innovative, intriguing rum from the US which can and should be tried if possible.

 

Dec 012016
 

mauritius-club-rum

Too young, too dressed up, when it didn’t need to be

#321

The Mauritius Club Rum 2014 (Sherry Finish) is an interesting essay in the craft, and for my money, slightly better than the Gold of Mauritius Dark rum I looked before. The sherry finishing makes its own statement and adds that extra fillip of flavour which elevates the whole experience in a way that drowning the Gold in port casks for a year did not. Note that there’s a strange disconnect between what I was told in 2015 by the brand rep, who informed me it was aged three months in oak casks (not what type) and then finished for two weeks in sherry casks; and what I see online these days, where the buying public is informed it is aged for six to eight months in South African wine barrels before finishing in sherry casks.

Well, whatever. Whether three months or six, with or without the sherry ageing, the overall profile strikes me as doing too little and hoping for too much, which is a shamewith a few more years under its belt, this could have really turned heads and attracted attention. The things is, ageing can be either done right and for a decent interval (perhaps three years or more, with many believing the sweet spot is between eight and twelve), or dispensed with it altogether (as with the various unaged whites for which I confess a sneaking love). But to stay in the middle ground, with less than a year? Plus a finish?…that may just be pushing one’s luck. It’s heading into spiced or flavoured rum territory.

The reason I make these remarks is because when I started nosing it, believing that 40% couldn’t seriously harm me, it lunged out in a schnozz-skewering intensity that caught me unprepared, the more so when had in a series with the far gentler and warmer and more easygoing muffled blanket of the Gold I’d just sampled before. To be fair though, once it settled down, there were notes of red wine (no surprise), raisins, caramel, chocolate vanilla, and something vaguely sharper, like those chocolate After-Eight mint biscuits.

The palate was softer, smoother, warm rather than hot, after the initial heat burned away.. Again, lots of sweet wine, and the sherry makes itself felt. Honey, some nuttiness (I was thinking breakfast cereals like cheerios) plus a little fruitiness, cherries, more vanilla, more chocolate and vanilla. Truth is, too little going on here, and overall, somewhat uncoordinated and quite faint. A 40% strength can be perfectly fine, but it does make for a lesser experience and dampened-down tastes that a shooter wouldn’t capture and a mix would drown and a sipper would disdain. The finish was okay for such a product, being short and easy, warm, redolent of nuts, more cheerios, honey and a very faint note of tannins. There was some character here, just not enough to suit my preferences.

I know it sounds like I’m dissing the rum, but not reallyas noted above, I liked it better than the Gold of Mauritius Dark even though it was younger, which I attribute to a better handling of the blend, and the sherry influence. Still, it must be said that the rum displayed something of schizoid character, too young and raw to be tamed with the port/sherry for the few months it aged, yet being promoted as being more than an unaged starter (that would lower expectations, which may have been the point). Moreover, when any maker puts a moniker of a single year on the bottle“2014” in this caseit creates an impression of something a little special, a “millesime” edition of a good yearand that’s certainly not the case, as it’s simply the year the rum was made. And lastly, I argueas was the case with the Goldthat by mixing it up with these external and rather dominating influences, the potential to experience a unique rum originating from a unique location with a very individual taste, was lostto our detriment.

So after this experience, I resume my search for the definitive rum from the island, the big gun that will put Mauritius on the map and allow us to use it as a quasi-baseline. Something that isn’t mixed, adulterated, finished or otherwise tampered with. I know it’s out there somewhereI just have to find it. This one isn’t it.

(79/100)


Other notes

  • The rum was made by a company called Litchliquor on Mauritius. They act as a blender and distributor under the command of master blender Frederic Bestel. They source rums from distilleries around the island and blend. age and finish these in their own facilities. The majority of their sales is on the island itself and in Europe where they have several partnerships with distributors, but also seem to be able to sell in Russia and the Far East, as well as Kenya, Canada and the UAE.
  • Because of the nature of the blend from multiple (unnamed) distilleries, there is no way to tell what kind of stills the rum came from, or whether it was from cane juice or molasses distillate.
Sep 282016
 

la-confrere-long-2014-2

#307

Inhaling the powerful scents of this rhum is to be reminded of all the reasons why white unaged agricoles should be taken seriously as drinks in their own right. Not for Longueteau and La Confrérie the fierce, untamedalmost savageattack of the clairins; and also not for them the snore-fests of the North American whites which is all that far too many have tried. When analyzing the aromas billowing out from my tasting glass, what I realized was that this thing steered a left-of-middle course between either of those extremes, while tilting more towards the backwoods moonshine style of the former. It certainly presented as a hot salt and wax bomb on initial inspection, one couldn’t get away from that, but it smoothened out and chilled out after a few minutes, and coughed up a few additional notes. Was there some pot still action going on here? Not as far as I know, more a creole column still. It was a briny, creamy, estery, aromatic nose, redolent of nail polish and acetone (which faded) watermelon, cucumbers, swank, a dash of lemon and camomile…and maybe a pimento or two for some kick (naahjust kidding about that last one).

The taste of this thing was excellent: spicy hot, fading to warm, and surprisingly smooth for a rhum where I had expected more intensity. Like many well made full proofs, the integration of the various elements was well done, hardly something we always expect from an unaged white; and after the initial discomfort one hardly noticed that it was a 50% rhum at all. It was comparatively light too, another point of divergence from expectations. It tasted of all the usual notes that characterize white agricoles – vegetals, lemongrass, cucumbers and watermelon, more sugar water (it hinted at sweetness without bludgeoning you into a diabetic coma with it) – and then added a few interesting points of its own, such as green thai curry in coconut milk, and (get this!) the musky sweetness of green peas. It all closed up shop with a nicely long-ish, dry-ish, intense and almost elegant finish, with an excellent balance of zest, creamy cheese and those peas, and some of the esters and acetones carrying over from where everything had started. The balance could be better, but I had and have no complaints.

la-confrere-long-2014-1La Confrérie are not independent bottlers in the way Velier, Rum Nation or Compagnie des Indes are. What they do is work in collaboration with a given distillery, and then act more as co-branders than issuers. This provides the distillery with the imprimatur of a small organization well known – in Europe generally and France in particular – for championing and promoting rhum, who have selected the casks carefully; and gives La Confrérie visibility for being associated with the distillery. Note that La Confrérie is also involved in deciding which shops get to sell the rhum, so certainly some economic incentives are at work here. (There are some other background notes on La Confrérie in the HSE 2007 review, if you’re interested). The two co-foundersBenoit Bail and Jerry Gitany – are currently touring Europe on an Agricole Tour to promote and extend the visibility of French island rhums, so their enthusiasm and affection for agricoles is not just a flash in the pan, but something to be taken seriously.

When I consider the pain Josh Miller went through to get the twelve blanc agricoles which he put through their paces the other day (spoiler alert – the Damoiseau 55% won), I consider the Europeans to be fortunate to have much greater resources at their disposal – especially in France, where I tried this yummy fifty percenter. And frankly, when North Americans tell me about their despite for white (so to speak), having had only Bacardis and other bland, filtered-to-within-a-whisker-of-falling-asleep mixing agents whose only claim to fame is their ubiquity, well, here’s one that might turn a few heads and change a few minds.

(83/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn 1500 bottles
  • Source blue cane chopped, crushed, wrung out, soaked and hooched in May 2014, left in steel vats for around six months, and bottled in March 2015.
Dec 052014
 

D3S_8985

A Japanese pot still rum of clout and flavour, perhaps needing some more ageing to score better and reach a wider audience.

In five years of writing about rum, I’ve seen quite a few new rum-making enterprises come across my radar: Elements, Koloa, Downslope, Ocean’s readily spring to mind. Now they are joined by a new outfit called Nine Leaves, which may be unique in that it’s a distillery, a bottler, and a distributor, all run by one person: Mr. Yoshiharu Takeuchi, who operates in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan (the company was formed in 2013).

At this point in time in their existence, Nine Leaves makes three rums: a white (called “Clear”), and two “Angel’s Half” rumsperhaps so named because Mr. Takeuchi takes half of his distillate and ages it for six months in fresh American oak barrels, and the other half for the same period in French oak. It was the latter which I tried, largely because I was quite enamoured of the golden colour and its viscosity as it rolled down the tasting glass (not the best reason for trying a new rum, but I’ve done worse for really stupid reasons, so this almost classes as sober judgement on my part).

Speaking to Mr. Takeuchi revealed the following facts about him and his rum, which, much like the Ocean’s Atlantic edition 1997 I looked at not too long ago, is something of a labour of individual love: he’s a one man operation, who brought the distillery to life when nothing in his past (or that of his family) would suggest such a thing. The sugar originated from Okinawa, the water used came from an underground spring in Shiga. The barrels came from the US and France, and a Forsythe copper pot still was bought in Scotland.

So once again I was sampling a pot still product, bottled at a full proof 50%, and the theory of terroire having a detectable impact on the final product was put through its paces. Now pot stills preserve a large part of the flavour of the distillate and this bleeds over even after substantial ageing which itself adds extra layers of complexitybut with only a six month period, was it all enough?

D3S_8989

I thought soto a point. Consider the aromas hailing from the golden-hued rum: sharp and estery, light raisins and figs, salt biscuits, butterand all those attendant scents of rubber and wax polish, even some fresh sawn woodchips, like one was entering a brand new house fresh from the builders and still in the plastic wrapper. There were some faint background notes of caramel and vanilla, but these were waiting for a turn on the stage that didn’t materialize until the actual tasting.

Which was pleasantly intense, as befitted a 50% rum, and this is where I think some more time in the barrels might have improved the product. It was a firm, medium-bodied-verging-on-light rum, which retained some of that sharp peppery consistency of the nose; the caramel notes now came forward, incense sticks, biscuits, vanilla, coffee; and yes, the waxy, rubber tastes were there, as well as green herbsdill, maybe (no, really). A very very original palate, fading well into a clean exit of some length, redolent of cane juice, a touch of vanilla, and a last mischievous wink of coffee grounds.

Still, unlike the Rum Nation Jamaican White Pot Still 57%, the Angel’s Half French Oak Cask somehow missed the mark of having all these flavours blend together seamlessly (and that other one, you will recall, was utterly unaged); plus, it still feels a little too raw, which I imagine further ageing would iron out. Yet I must concede the overall experience was pretty good, which speaks well for Nine Leaves’s expertise here.

The question that occurred to me was, for whom and for what is this rum made? I’d suggest it’s not for freshly press-ganged sailors in the Navy of Rum Appreciation, who are only now beginning their journey, or those who prefer more standard profilesit really is too different for that. I think it’ll make a cocktail that’ll blow your socks off, and taken neat, with its heft and remarkably different, fresh profile, aficionados who drink a lot of rum would really enjoy it (as might maltsters).

Nine Leaves is worth keeping an eye on. Mr. Takeuchi is clear about his intention of keeping his distillery going for the long term, ageing the rums for longer periods, and developing his blending skills, his market, and his entire product range. He sees his enterprise as something of a constantly tweaked, incrementally refined project. That’ll surely be something to watch, in the years to come, for a rum maker who seems to enjoy running apart from the mainstream. Because already he has a made a good rum right out of the gateone you will assuredly not mistake for any other.

(#191. 82.5/100)


Other notes

  • Forsythe copper pot stills are made in Scotland by the eponymous company, and while it’s now a smaller part of their overall business, they still handcraft them (as they have since 1890). Nine Leaves’s model is supposedly similar to the one in business at Glenmorangie.