Over the next few weeks I’ll issue a set of reviews of the rums released by the Taiwan-based Renaissance Distillery, which were on display in a 2023 TWE Rumshow masterclass dedicated to the company. One rum of the six that were demonstrated that afternoon — the #18260 “Fino” — has already been reviewed, so this short series will concentrate on the remaining five.
It has taken almost a decade for the small distillery called Renaissance to become a presence on the global rum stage, and four of those years were spent essentially operating as an unlicensed, near-illegal moonshinery. Olivier Caen and his wife Linya Chiou somehow weathered the stresses of holding down their day jobs while raising two sons, sourcing the cane, getting equipment to work, experimenting with fermentation, distillation, ageing, barrels, molasses, juice, dunder, acid, yeast…the whole nine yards. In 2017 the company was formally registered and even then it took another few years for people to notice they existed…just in time for COVID to delay matters for even longer.
But the wait has been worth it, for it allowed word to seep out into the Rumiverse that here was a new distillery from an new location about which we know too little, balancing terroire with tradition, out to make a mark with interesting rums issued at beefcake power and fancy casks, every time. Oh and their labels really are kind of awesome, said, like, everyone.
Which leads us to the rum under discussion today, one of 356 bottles of barrel #18095 which was distilled from 13-day-fermented molasses in April 2018 and bottled in October 2022 after having been run twice through the 1200-Litre Charentais pot still. The resultant rum was laid to rest for just over four years in a 350L limousin oak cask with varying levels of toast, and … well you get the drift. I could give you more but the label does that better than I could and provides even more and I’m already into the fourth paragraph without even telling you what the rum tastes like yet.
And that profile is pretty neat. The initial nose of this massive 63.5% ABV rum is at pains to make itself known and issue a statement, and it does that with aplomb – it blasts out initial notes of caramel and warm honey, white chocolate and milk-soaked cinnamon-flavoured cheerios. It’s some kind of sharp, so care must be taken, but once that blows off all one remembers is the firmness and solidity of the aromas, which, after some minutes, also channel a nice mix of lemon rind, half-ripe yellow mangoes, vanilla and brown sugar, plus a whiff of sweet pineapple. And even then it’s not quite over, with some piquant wet sawdust and varnish-y notes coming through here and there
Not enough? The palate will cure what ails you, assuming you sip and don’t gulp (therein lies a quick drunk, trust me). It’s a lovely amalgam of breakfast spices – cinnamon, rosemary and vanilla, plus brown sugar, light molasses, gummi bears and both florals and fruits are back in fine style, to which some oakiness, tannics and brine are stirred for the finale. And that’s quite a finish: it’s hot, long-lasting and brings back most of the florals (light, herbal and grassy) and fruits (mangoes, cherries, red grapes and apples) and ties it all in a bow of sweet spices.
Whew. Some experience, this is. Yet for all its quality, I think this is the rum I would have liked toned down just a little. The intensity can use a touch of water to dial things down a notch, which would allow a better integration of the overall profile. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really quite good, and it’s a fascinating experience to observe the way it takes apart and reassembles well-known and easily recognizable elements into a configuration that’s almost, but not quite, familiar. It’s an impressive dram by that standard.
And that’s the mark of a good distiller, I think, the way we are carefully led to the edge of the map and then a step or two beyond it, to Ultima Thule or that blank spot where it says “here theyre be tygers…”. Rums like this — strange yet familiar, unabashedly full proof, channelling a personal vision and merging a traditional distillation ethos with a solid grasp of the fundamentals, then marrying that off to a level of disclosure that is the envy of the spirits world — are why I stay in this game. This was not the best of the Renaissance rums I sampled that day at the Rumshow masterclass, no. But it made my tonsils cringe, my ears perk up and my hair blow back and isn’t that what we look for anytime we try something new?
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