May 302022
 

While there are hundreds of clairin makers in Haiti, and they have been making cane juice spirits there since before the country’s independence in 1804, widespread modern knowledge of the spirit only really came after 2014, when it was introduced to the global audience by Velier, the Italian company made famous by its Demeraras, Caronis, and Habitation pot still rums series. Strictly speaking, Velier’s stable of clairins consists of just five core products from five small distilleries, but this obscures the regular annual releases of the unaged whites, the aged variants, and the various blends.

Initially, clairins from three distilleries were released (Sajous, Casimir and Vaval) a fourth (from Le Rocher) was selected and became part of the canon in 2017, and in 2018 a fifth was put together from a small distillery in Cabaret called Sonsonwhich is, oddly enough, not named after either the owner, or the village where it is located. It was finally released to the market in 2021, but the cause for the delay is unknown. The rum, like Clairin Le Rocher (but unlike the other three) is made from syrup, not pure cane juice; and like the Clairin Vaval, derives from a non-hybridized varietal of sugar cane called Madam Meuze, juice from which is also part of the clairin Benevolence blend. All the other stats are similar to the other clairins: hand harvested, wild yeast fermentation, run through a pot still, bottled without ageing at 53.2%.

Similar aspects or not, the Sonson stands resolutely by itself. On the initial nose, the sensation is of a miasma of fuel, benzine, brine and wax in a semi-controlled nasal explosion. The thing, no joke, reeks, and if it doesn’t quite mirror the gleeful wild insanity of the original Sajousfondly if tremblingly remembered after all these yearswell, it certainly cranks out burnt clutch and smoking motor oil drizzled with the smoke of a farting kerosene camp stove. Thankfully this is brief, and setting the glass aside for a bit and coming back an hour later, it appears almost sedate in comparison: acetone, nail polish remover and some serious olivular action (is that a word?), the aroma of a freshly painted room in a spanking new house. And after that there’s apple cider, slightly spoiled milk, gooseberries, orange rind and bananas in a sort of Haitian funk party, behind which are timid scents of sugar water, fleshy fruits, herbs and spicy-hot Thai veggie soup sporting some lemongrass. And all that in an unaged rum? Damn.

The surprising thing is, the palate is almost like a different animal. It’s luscious, it’s sweeter, more pungent, more tart. It channels watery, rather mild fruitsmelons, pears, papayawhich in turn hold at bay the more sour elements like unripe pineapples, lemon zest and green mango chutney: you notice them, but they’re not overbearing. Somewhere in all of this one can taste mineral water, crackers and salt butter, the silkiness of a gin and tonic and the musky dampness of moss on a misty morning. It’s only on the finish that things finally settle down to something even remotely resembling a standard profile: it’s medium long, a little sweet, a little sour, a little briny, tart with yoghurt and a last touch of fruits and sweet red paprika.

Every clairin I’ve triedand that includes the other four Velier-distributed versions, the Benevolence and a couple from Moscoso distillersis different from every other. Even where there similar elements, they bend in different ways, and admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to remember that they are supposed to be sugar cane juice based drinks at all. The heft of the Sonson, and the amount of disorganised flavours at play within it, is really quite stunning…and disconcerting. I think it’s that first nose that confounds, because if one can get past its rough machine-shop rambunctiousness, it settles down and becomes really nice (within its limitsI agree, it’s not a rum for everyone).

It’s also a rum to take one’s time with: after leaving my glass on the go overnight, when I sniffed it the following morning most of the oily rubber notes had gone, leaving only fruit and cereal and estery aromas behind, and those were lovely. Yet the rum will polarize, because it is cut from a different cloth than most rums or rhums we know and like better, and its peculiarities will not find fertile ground everywhere. I believe that the clairin Sonson is a rum that required courage to make and fortitude to drink… and perhaps a brave and imaginative curiosity to love.

(#912)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The word clairin means “clear” in Haitian creole
  • Of the five Velier-released clairins, I still like Casimir, Vaval and Le Rocher best on a tasting basis, but admire the Sajous and the Sonson most for sheer audacity.
  • Other reviews in the blogosphere are middling positive:

 

Mar 312022
 

JimmyRum, if you remember, is that cheeky little rum distillery perched down south of Down Under in Dromana, a small community just south of Melbourne. Founded in 2018 after several years of prep work, it has a large hybrid column still bolted to the floor of a structure on a picturesque property (which includes a cafe), a light and breezy sort of website, and an owner, James McPherson, who was a marine engineer before he found his true calling, doesn’t take life too seriously, and just likes rum.

The first product I tried from JimmyRum was the Silver 40%, which I likedthough admittedly, the stronger “Navy” version intrigued me rather more, as did the various “Distiller’s Specials” like the Queen’s Cut, Oaked Plus or Cane and Grain, which were a bit more aged and also released at higher proof points. But the Silver was intriguing, because while not yet on a level with unaged agricole style rums which are almost like baselines, it was better than the anonymous filtered white backbar staples too many still think of whenever white rums are mentioned.

JimmyRum, then, does have the aforementioned special aged products, and that brings us to the “Rum Rum” line of their stable. This is a new series which focuses on ageing, cask strength and single barrel rum releases, and will likely form a part of the Distiller’s Specials unless it is felt to be distinct from those. “Barrel 12” is such a single barrel release, provided especially for Mr & Mrs Rum’s 2021 advent calendar, and so is not part of a standard commercial release; however other barrel editions of the Rum Rum series are slated to be released later in 2022, so think of this as an early review standing in for others to come. It’s a pot still rum based on molasses, aged for three years in an ex-bourbon, 200-liter American oak cask (#12, no surprise). The barrel was initially filled with new make distillate at 65.25%, before being reduced to 53% for the Calendar.

Given these very standard specsmolasses origin, pot still, American oak, a few years’ ageingthe opening salvo of the nose comes as something of a surprise. For one, it’s light and sharp and very crisp on the nose, in a way that’s reminiscent of both a young standard strength mixing rum, or even a vieux agricole. The light fruit, herbal and clean white wine aromas bend one’s thought in that direction, yet there are aspects that bend it right back again: brine, olives, veggie soup and sweet soya, fresh bread hot from the oven and then a series of notes that recall very ripe fruits right on the edge of going off emergeguavas, mangoes, grapes, apples, apricots.

At 53% ABV, the palate is expected to be solid, and it is. The flavours are spicy, crisp, clean and coat the mouth with the sensations of light, ripe, soft, juicy fruits: white grapes, yellow Thai mangoes, kiwi fruits, sapodillas, peaches in syrup, and dark cherries. This might ordinarily seem to thick or cloying for real enjoyment, but the sweet is kept down, and for kick there’s a twist of lemongrass and red grapefruits and some oversalted mango pickle, just to keep you off balance. The finish is quite straightforward and wraps things up with a medium long ending that has flashes of a very dry red wine, more red grapefruit, a touch of chocolate oranges and a last sprig of mint.

Overall, this is a pretty good rum indeed. The nose is interesting as all get-out and the flavours pop nicely when sippedthere’s quite a bit going on under the hood here. JimmyRum’s Silver was interesting, tasted well, showed potential and I enjoyed itit just needed more oomph to showcase its profile more clearly, the way the Barrel 12 effectively did here (Killik did that and produced an outstanding white overproof rum, if you recall). Stronger rums provide a more intense and interesting drinking experience and while you can always dilute a high proof rum, it’s not quite so easy to do that in reverse when you want to dial up a mild one.

So I enjoyed the rum and think it’s a good get: however, it’s impossible to gauge JimmyRum’s success with the Barrel 12 because it was sampled out for distribution in the Calendar and therefore is not for sale to a larger public who can then post their reactions (positive or negative). But I believe that were it to be out there commanding shelf space, it would sell well, be deemed a success, and people would be asking for the inevitable older versions that will be released in the years to come. That’s a sign of a good rum of any age.

(#895)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and tilt of the tammie to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. I know you’re tired of reading this, but thanks as always to you both.
  • There are no bottle photographs of this rum available at this time.
  • 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 2 x 5000ltr fermenters and are temperature controlled to less than 25ºC with an initial Brix of approx 19.
Nov 282019
 

It must be something about the Frenchthey’re opening micro distilleries all over the place (Chalong Bay, Sampan, Whisper, Issan and Toucan are examples) and almost all of them are channelling the agricole ethos of the French West Indies, working with pure cane juice and bringing some seriously interesting unaged blancs to the attention of the world. Any time I get bored with the regular parade of rums from the lands of the pantheon, all I have to do is reach for one of them to get jazzed up about rum, all over again. í

The latest of these little companies is from Vietnam, which is rife with sugar cane juice (“Nuoc Mia”) as well as locally made bottom-house rice- or molasses-originating artisanal spirits calledrượu” (ruou); these operate in the shadows of any Government regulation, registration or oversightmany are simple moonshineries. But Saigon Liquorists is not one of these, being 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 didn’t hurt witheralready they had a background in the industry.

Photo (c) Saigon Liquorists, from FB

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 local charity gala. In their current production system, the sugarcane comes from Tien Giang in the Mekong Delta, just south of Ho Chi Minh City, via a supplier who collects it from farmers in the area and does the initial processing. The sugarcane is peeled, 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 stillwhat comes out the other end is around 77% ABV. The rum is rested in inert, locally-made traditional clay vessels called 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.

The strength might prove key to broader acceptance in foreign markets where 50-55% ABV is more common for juice-based unaged rhums (Toucan had a similar issue with the No.4, as you may recall). When I nosed this 45% rhum, its initial smells took me abackthere was a deep grassy kind of aroma, mixed in with a whole lot of glue, book bindings, wax, old papers, varnish and furniture polish, that kind of thing. It reminded me of my high school studies done in GT’s National Library, complete with the mustiness and dry dust of an old chesterfield gone to mothballs, under which are stacked long unopened suitcases from Edwardian times. And after all that, there came the real rum stuffgrass, dill, sweet gherkins, sugar water, white guavas and watermelon, plus a nice clear citrus hint. Quite a combo.

The rhum distanced itself from the luggage, furniture and old tomes when I tasted it. The attack was crisp and clean on the tongue, sharp and spicy, an unambiguous blade of pure herbal and grassy flavourssweet sugar cane sap, dill, crushed lime leaves, brine, olives, with just a touch of fingernail polish and turpentine at the back end, as fleeting as a roué’s sly wink. After about half an hourlonger than most will ever have this thing gestating in their glassesfaint musty dry earth smells returned, but were mixed in with sugar water, cucumbers and pimentos, cumin, and lemongrass, so that was all good. The finish was weak and somewhat quick, quite aromatic and dry, with nice hints of flowers, lemongrass, and tart fruits.

Ultimately, it’s a reasonably tasty tropical drink that would do fine in (and may even have been expressly designed for) a ti-punch, but as a rhum to have on its own, it needs some torqueing up, since the flavours are there, but too difficult to tease out and come to grips with. Based on the experience I’ve had with other micro-distilleries’ blancs (all of which are stronger), the Mia is damned intriguing though. It’s different and unusual, and in my correspondence with him, Clement suggested that this difference comes from the fact that the sugar cane peel is discarded before pressing which makes for a more grassy taste, and he takes more ‘heads’ away than most, which reduces flavour somewhatbut also the hangover, which, he remarked, is a selling point in Vietnam.

These days I don’t drink enough to get seriously wasted any more (it interferes with my ability to taste more rums), but if this easy-on-the-head agricole-style rhum really does combine both taste and a hangover-free morning after, and if the current fascination with grass-to-glass rums continues in the exclusive bars of the worldwell, I’m not sure how you could stop the sales from exploding. Next time I’m in the Real World, I’ll keep an eye out for it myself.

(#680)(76/100)


Other Notes

  • All bottles, labels and corks are sourced in Vietnam and efforts are underway to begin exporting to Asia and Europe.
  • Production was around 9000 bottles a year back in 2018, so it might have increased since then.
  • This batch was from 2018
  • Plans are in play to distill both gins and vodkas in the future.
  • Hat tip to Reuben Virasami, who spotted me the sample and alerted me to the company. Also to Tom Walton, who explained what “chums” were. And many thanks to Clément Daigre of SL, who patiently ran me through the history of the company, and its production methods.