May 162022
 

Two years ago I took a look at L’Esprit’s Beenleigh 5YO rum from Australia and after trying manfully to come to grips with the gasp-inducing strength of 78.1%, I got up off the floor and wrote a fairly positive review about the thing. That rum was hot-snot aggressive and not bad at all, and there I thought the tale had ended…but then came this one. And then it became clear that Steve Magarry (who was then Distillery Manager over at Beenleigh) and Tristan Prodhomme (the showrunner at L’Esprit) read my review, rubbed their hands gleefully while cackling in fiendish delight, and released something a little older, a little stronger…and a whole lot better.

The 2014 rum which was bottled in 2020, has 0.2% more proof points than the one I reviewed, clocking in at 78.3%, and it’s one year older. It remains a pot-still rum, suggesting a lurking taste bomb in waiting. On the face of it, the stats would make you take a step backwards (unless you’re the sort of person who methodically works your way through the list of 21 Strongest Rums in the World, smiling the entire time). And taking even a cautiously tiny sniff is probably best here, because the rum is lava-like, the rum is sharp, and it presents itself to your attention with all the excitement of a switched-on electric hair dryer dropped into your hot tub…while you’re in it.

The first notes to discern are ostensibly off-putting: shards of burnt rubber, rotten carrots. plus meat spoiled enough for flies to be using it for a house. Stick with it: it gets better fast once it learns to relax, and then coughs up vanilla, almonds, toffee, brown sugar, and ice cream over which has been drizzled hot caramel.  Relatively simple, yes, and it seems quite standard (except for that startling cold-open), yet somehow the nose is really quite amazing. It continues into sweet dense fruit and whipped cream over a rich cheesecake, plus leather and aromatic tobacco, cherries and syrup, and that crisp sensation of biting into a stick of celery. It works, swimmingly, even though logic and the reading of such disparate tasting notes suggests it really shouldn’t.

Nosing is one thing, but rums live or die on the taste, because you can jerk your scorched nose away a lot easier than a burnt and despoiled tongue. What’s surprising about L’Esprit’s Beenleigh is that it actually plays much softer on the palate than we have any right to expect.  There’s almost a light perfumed sweetness to it, like strawberry candy floss and bubble gum, mixed up with more salted caramel ice cream….and mango shavings.  There’s gelato, pears, apricots over which someone poured condensed milk, and it’s really spicy, yes….but completely bearable — I would not throw this thing out of bed. Plus, it channeled enough fruitiness – orange marmalade, butter chocolates and gooseberries – to provide an interesting counterpoint. And I also liked the finish – it was hot and sweet black tea, crisply and sharply heavy, and fruitily tart, and slightly bitter in a way that wasn’t really unpleasant, just lent a distinctive accent to the close.  

By now we know more about Beenleigh (see other notes, below) than we did before the pandemic, much of it due to the increasing raft of independent bottlers who have put their juice through the door (including Velier, of late – Ralfy loved their 2015 5 YO), as well as the social media presence and engagement of Steve Magarry himself. What was once a distillery known mostly to Australians, uber-geeks and obscure reviewers, has, in a remarkably short period of time, become quite celebrated for the quality of its rum. Like Bundaberg, it has started to become an icon of the antipodean rum scene, while tasting better.

A whole lot better. This is an impressively civilized overproof rum  It hums along like a beefed-up garage-tuned homemade supercar fuelled with the contents of whatever’s brewing in grandma’s bathtub, and by some subtle alchemy of selection and ageing, becomes quietly amazing. Really.  I expected rougher and nastier and uglier, feared Azog, and yet to my surprise, somehow got Legolas. 

(#908)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • Sugar cane growth had been encouraged in Queensland by the Sugar and Coffee regulations in 1864, the same year as the Beenleigh plantation was established (it was named after its founders’ home in England). Initially sugar was all it produced, though a floating boat-based distillery called the “Walrus” did serve several plantations in the area from 1869 and made rum from molasses – illegally, after its license was withdrawn in 1872, continuing until 1883 when it was beached.  Francis Gooding, one of the founders, purchased the onboard still and gained a distilling license in 1884 from which time such operations formally began in Beenleigh. Through various changes in ownership, Beenleigh as a distillery continued until 1969 when it shut down because of falling demand, then relaunched in 1972 under the ownership of Mervyn Davy and his sons; they didn’t hold on to it long and sold it to the Moran family in 1980, who in turn disposed of a controlling share to Tarac Industries in 1984. All the post-1969 owners added to the facilities and expanded the distillery’s production to other spirits, and it was finally acquired in 2003 by VOK Beverages a diversified drinks company from South Australia, in whose hands it remains.
  • Tristan confirmed that the rum is indeed all pot still distillate.
  • L’Esprit is a small independent bottler out of France, perhaps better known in Europe for its whiskies. They’ve been on my radar for years, and I remain convinced they are among the best, yet also most unsung, of the independents — perhaps because they have almost no social media presence to speak of, and not everybody reads the reviews. I also think they have some of the coolest sample bottles I’ve ever seen.
  • An unsolicited (but very welcome) sample set was provided gratis to me by the owner, Tristan Prodhomme, for Christmas 2021, perhaps because he knew of my liking for strong hooch and that I buy his stuff constantly. If we can meet next time I’m in Europe, I have to see what to do to even the scales.
May 052022
 

Photo (c) Boatrocker Brewing & Distilling, from Instagram

The distillery and brewery called BoatRocker (with what I am sure is representative of a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour shared by many Aussies) is another small family-run outfit located in Melbourne, a mere 50km or so north of JimmyRum. It was officially founded in 2009, and like many other such small enterprises I’ve written about, their genesis is far older: in this case, in the 1980s, when the (then teenaged) founder, Matt Houghton, was enthused by the Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) show “The Beer Hunter” – this led to a lifelong love of beer, homebrewing, studies of the subject in University, and even gypsy brewing after graduation, which he and his wife Andrea did while saving pennies for a “real” brewery.  In 2012 they acquired property, plant and equipment (as the bean counters like to say), and established their first barrel room and cellar door, all to do with beer.

All this is about the suds, for which they soon gained an enthusiastic following and a good reputation, but where’s the rum, you ask. Well, that’s where things get a little murky and several sources have to be consulted over and above the company webpage. In short, in 2017 Boatrocker merged with a Western Australian gin-and-vodka distillery called Hippocampus — the investing owner of that distillery had taken a 33% share in Boatrocker in 2015 — uprooted that company’s hybrid still “Kylie” and moved lock stock and barrels to Melbourne.  This is what is making all the distilled spirits in Boatrocker now, though I get the impression that a separate team is involved. They produce gin (several varieties, of course), whiskey, vodka and two rums (one is spiced).  Oddly, there’s no unaged white in the portfolio, but perhaps they made enough money off of existing spirits, so that the need to have a white cane spirit was not seen to be as important. On the other hand, rum may not seem to be the main attraction of the company,

This rum then. For the primary ferment, a rum yeast originally from Jamaica is used. They utilise a dunder/muck pit (also not mentioned on the site), and have cultured many bacteria and wild yeast from the local area, which is continually evolving as they add fresh dunder at the end of each rum run. The esters produced by the yeast and bacteria help provide depth to the base spirit. How long the fermentation goes on for is unknown, but once this process is complete, the rum distillation is done using the aforementioned 450 litre hybrid pot still (with two ten-plate columns) and engaging just the first column and five plates – the juice comes off the still at around 58% ABV, and set to age for about two years in first-use bourbon barrels imported from the USA, with a further year in high-char (#3) American oak barrels. Bottlings is done after dilution to 45% ABV, and there you have it.

So that two-barrel maturation is why they call this rum “Double Barrel”, and indeed it does present an interesting profile, especially how it smells. The aromas are exceptionally rich in comparison to the other standard proof Australians I had on the go that day. It’s like a crisp sweet riesling. Red ripe grapefruit, blood oranges going off; dark chocolate, cherries, plums, raisins, cakes and gingersnaps, eclairs, whipped cream over irish coffee, plus a little salt butter and cinnamon. Really quite a lovely nose. 

On the palate the rum feels somewhat thinner and yet also sweeter, than the nose, but retains much of the allure of the way it started out. Honey, coconut shavings, chocolate oranges,  Also light fruits, molasses, caramel, vanilla, herbs, crushed almonds and cinnamon, plus (yes, we’re not done yet) a rich key lime pie and brown sugar. There’s a touch of cheesecake, tarts and, nougat here, but in the main, it’s the fruits that have it. It suffers – if the word could be used – from a thin, short, faint but easygoing finish that has mostly vanilla, coconut shavings, light fruits and a touch of that pie again. It is by far the weakest aspect of what is otherwise quite a decent product.

Overall, I liked the nose most of all, but it was a shallow downhill coast to a somewhat one-dimensional conclusion after that. As I have observed before with the Americans and their desire to wring the most out of their stills by producing everything they can on it, I wonder whether the making of all these different things dilutes the clear-eyed focus on rum somewhat (I’m selfish that way) and that’s why the high bar the opening aromas present can’t be maintained. Dunder and muck pits do help make up for shortcomings in this area, however, and this is why the score is incrementally better than other previously-reviewed rums in this age and strength range. Yet I submit that there’s room for improvement, and one day, if they continue along this path, the potential that the Double Barrel rum only suggests right now will become a true reality. I sure hope so.

(#905)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special acknowledgement of Mr. And Mrs. Rum’s kindness in sending me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
  • This is Batch #3 according to the advent calendar notes
Apr 282022
 

Photo (c) Hoochery Distillery website

Just reading the name of this rum invites questions. Where does the rum come from, with a name like that?  Who is Spike? Is there a really a distillery named after the rotgut liquor the word “hooch” represents? In the welter of “cane spirit” new-make unaged rums emerging from the New Australians 1and the lack of many seriously aged rums from Down Under, is there actually one that’s seven years old? What could it possibly be like? Fortunately your fearless (if occasionally clueless) reviewer, possessed of rather more enthusiasm than good sense, has not only been here before but has tried this rum as well, and stands ready (if unsteady) to provide all answers.

First, the distillery: Hoochery Distillery’s name derives from, yes, the word “hooch”, a slang term for moonshine, or illegal liquor, popular during Prohibition. A hoochery is now a trademarked word for a low-end small-scale distillery making (you guessed it) hooch, specifically in Australia. Predating many of the New Australians, the distillery itself was established in 1993 in Western Australia’s remote northern Kimberly outback by an American, Raymond “Spike” Dessert (The Third of His Name). He had been in the area since 1972 and when in the 1990s the Ord River irrigation area permitted sugar cane to be grown, he figured that the combination of tropical climate, sugar cane, and the area’s need to diversify suggested a distillery (since a winery was not an option, there being no vinyards in Western Australia’s far north).  

That’s the way the company legend runs, but maybe he just liked rum and couldn’t get any worth drinking there. So, like many independent men in a frontier province, he went about it by making stuff himself, from still to shed to vats, learning as he went along, an ethos the company’s website emphasises. Nearly thirty years further along, Hoochery’s rum range includes four starters (white, spiced, overproof, 2YO premium) and three rather more upscale rums — the Spike’s Reserve series of the 7 YO, 10 YO and 15 YO. All are made with Australian molasses, yeast, local water and a five-day fermentation period — the wash is then run through a self-made double pot still, which keeps things at a low alcohol percentage so as to keep as many flavours in play as possible. The rum we’re looking at today is aged in 300-litre charred oak barrels for seven years, and bottled at 43.1% ABV…it was first released in 2017.

The rum’s nose is an exercise in distinct if confused complexity: it is redolent of bitter wood resin, salt, rotten fruit and is even a touch meaty. All the subsequent aromas wafting through the profile have these preliminary notes as their background: the apple cider, green grapes, red wine vinegar underlain by light molasses, aromatic tobacco and sweet vanilla. By the time it starts to settle down with puffs of musty caramel, licorice and brine, you know that it’s completely and utterly a rum, just one that vibrates to its own frequency, not yours.

Sipping it drives home this point: it has standard tastes of caramel, toffee and sweet brown sugar, and a bag of vanilla (probably from the charred barres that were used in the ageing); and there are some nice hints of stewed apples, peaches in syrup, honey.  The problem is that the woodiness, the oakiness, is excessive, and the unsweetened licorice, sawdust, bitter coffee grounds and resin all have too much influence,  The sweeter, muskier flavours balance this off as best they can, but it’s not enough. And behind it all is that meatiness, that deep sour funk which some will like and some will not, leading to a dry and tannic finish that’s mostly caramel, toffee, vanilla and overripe fruit.

Aged rums that are fully made in Australia remain relatively scant, with few exceeding ten years of age – Beenleigh has a few good ones and so does the polarising Bundie, with a few others here and there settling around the five year mark. Such indigenous double-digit rums are not yet common enough to make any kind of general statement, the way we can for the unaged whites and their raw distinctiveness. But I hazard that what I’m getting here, with these tastes that jump around like a ‘roo on steroids, is the first inkling of a genuine Australian terroire mixed in with barrel management that still needs some work. It’s possible that the 10YO and the 15YO which Hoochery make will address some of those issues, though I’d have to try them to say for sure. For the moment, the 7 YO is not entirely successful on its own terms, yet remains an intriguing and original rum that can’t be written off just because it’s different and not what we expect. I’d buy it and try it for that alone.

(#903)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐ 


Other notes

  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special acknowledgement of Mr. And Mrs. Rum’s kindness in sending me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
  • It’s not mentioned on the website, but Mr. Dessert passed away in 2017, just before the labels for the Reserve Batch 001 (of all three ages) arrived. A facsimile of his signature adorns all subsequent batch labels, but that first one, in his memory, remains unsigned. RIP, mate.
  • Those labels also present an interesting situation: they say “Aged” 7 years, but under “Maturity” it mentions “Solera”. Since the two are not the same concepts, it begs the question of what kind of ageing the rum underwent. For the moment until my queries get a response, I am taking it on faith that the true age is in fact 7 years, but the reader is advised to be aware of the odd dichotomy, and if anyone knows better, drop me a line.
  • The original pot still was installed in 1998, designed a year earlier by Mr. Dessert himself. In 2020 a new, larger pot still was commissioned from Burns Engineering and installed in 2021, and the original was retired.
Apr 212022
 

Image (c) Husk Distillers, from their FB Page

In the increasingly crowded Australian spirits marketplace, for a rum maker to stand out means it has to have a unique selling point, some niche aspects of its production that sets it apart in people’s minds from all the other contenders in the marketplace. Killik’s is the tinkering with the “Jamaican-style” of rum making; Jimmy Rum has its insouciant sense of humour, colourful owner and halcyon location; Beenleigh rests its laurels on being one of the oldest and its origin myth of the shipwrecked pot still; Cabarita Spirits has its vivacious solo proprietress, Brix goes with its yuppie urban vibe, and Bundaberg seems to take a fiendish delight in being equal parts derided and despised the world over. For Husk Distillers though, it’s the focus on producing cane juice based agricole-style rums – this is what they term “cultivated rum” and what they have in fact registered as a trademark with IP Australia.

As was noted in the review of their “Bam Bam” Spiced rum, the company makes a gin called “Ink”, a pair of unaged agricole-style rums at two strengths, a botanical, a spiced, and a few youngish aged rums. In August 2021 they issued “The Lost Blend” virgin-cane aged rum (as opposed to others made with cane having looser morals, one surmises), bringing to mind St Lucia Distillers’ “Forgotten Casks.” Like SLD, Husk had a reason to name this rum “The Lost Blend,” of course: the rum and its name was based on two barrels filled in 2014 and another in 2016 with cane juice distillate run off the 1000-litre hybrid pot-column still – but in the aftermath of the Great Flood in 2017, the hand-written distillation notes that detailed the fermentation histories and distillation cuts for the two 2014 barrels, were destroyed, and so…

These are tragic circumstances for the distillation geek and technical gurus who want the absolute max detail (to say nothing of the distiller who might want to replicate the process). For the casual drinker and interested party, however, there is enough to be going on with: the rums from the two aforementioned years were aged until 2018 in a hot and dry tin shed, before being moved in that year to a cooler barrel warehouse until 2021 when they were slowly married and reduced, to be bottled in August 2021 at 43.5% without any additions, colourings or adulterations – 761 individually numbered bottles form the final release, which is not listed for purchase on the company’s website, because it was offered for sale only to locals at the door, and Husk Rum Club subscribers (as well as on BWS and some local shops).

What’s curious about The Lost Blend is how un-agricole-like it is at all stages of the sipping experience (this is not a criticism, precisely, but it is more than merely an observation). Take for example the nose: it displayed no real herbal grassiness that almost define the cane juice origin style of rum (even the aged ones).  It started off with wet cardboard, fresh paint on damp drywall, and some new plastic sheeting. Then it moved on to gingerbread cookies, some plum liqueur, molasses, salt caramel and fudge. A touch of nutty white chocolate, brine, honey and a nice touch of light citrus zest for edge.  Nicely warm and quite soft to smell, without any aggro.

If I had to use a single word to describe the palate it might be “spicy” (in multiple ways).  And that’s because it was – initial tastes were ginger, cinnamon, anise and vanilla, with a touch of pears, overripe apples, raisins, brown sugar and salted caramel ice cream. There were a few bitter notes of oak and old coffee grounds, but the citrus acidity was long gone here, and overall, even with a short and relatively dry finish that was redolent toffee and unsweetened dark chocolate it presented nicely as a light ‘n’ easy sipper that just wanted to please without going off like a frog in a sock.

Given that the Lost Blend was a rum comprising four- and six-year-old components, it’s almost as surprising to see so much come through the ageing process as what exactly emerged at the other end. I attribute the tastes I discerned to a combination of the subtropical climate and (a guess here) smaller and maybe newer casks that provided those quick and easy notes. What is more baffling is how little evidence there is of the rum actually being from cane juice, because tasted blind (as it was), my scribbled remarks read more like some solid young Latin-style ron than anything else. I did like it more than the spiced Bam Bam, though, and it is well made and works well as a softly tasty warm-weather sundowner: but my advice is to enjoy it for what it is and not to look for serious local terroire or a recognizable agricole-style flavour profile — because that, I’m afraid, just isn’t there.

(#901)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and pat of the Panama to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
Apr 072022
 

Photo (c) Mt. Uncle / FNQ Rum Co. Website

Mt. Uncle Distillery is one of the older distilleries of the New Australian rum renaissance we are living through, founded more than twenty years ago, in 2001. Initially it concentrated on fruit liqueurs and spirits, which were based on ingredients conveniently found on the property and the surrounding Atherton tablelands of North Queensland where the distillery was established. Over the years Mt. Uncle branched out to produce gins, whiskies, liqueurs, vodka, and a small range of (you guessed it) rums. It is, as it likes to say, the first (and still only) distillery in northern Queensland and wears that label proudly.

As the company became better known for its gins – there are currently five different kinds – it decided to split off the rum business under its own brand, titled the FNQ Rum Company (the letters stand for Far North Queensland), perhaps in an effort to give those spirits their own distinct character — I’m surprised they would want to distance an evocative title like Mt. Uncle from their products, but never mind, that’s just me. So far they make only three rums, the Platinum (a white, not listed on their rum website), the Iridium Gold (a five year old rum) and the Iridium X (a ten year old limited edition), but the caveat is that there really is not very much detail to be had on either of the main websites, as to how these rums are made, from what and with what.

According to the Australian Advent Calendar notes on Instagram helpfully provided by Mrs and Mrs Rum, the base source of the distillate is sugar cane syrup (where in turn that came from is not mentioned, though the BBC notes it as being from a nearby sugar factory, which suggests the Tableland Mill), a fourteen day fermentation period with a commercial yeast, and finally, the resultant is aged in reconditioned ex-red-wine hogshead 1 casks with a heavy toast. Okay, but what of the still? One source makes reference to “Helga” a 1500-liter still made by the German firm of Arnold Holstein, without stating what kind it is. But since the Iridium we are looking at today won the “World’s Best Pot Still” rum award at the 2021 World Rum Awards and way down on the company FB page there’s a picture of a pot still, I guess we can stop there.

So we have a 40% pot still rum from northern Queensland, based on sugar cane syrup, no additives, no messing around, five years aged in charred barrels, living room strength. Is it any good for those seeking the Next Big Thing? It won “Best Pot Still Rum” at the 2021 World Rum Awards, so it should be a cut above, right?

Yes and no. The rum does present a really nice initial nose of crisp, light fruits — strawberries and ripe gooseberries with all the tartness this implies.  For a rum with its origins in rendered cane juice, this is not a surprise – what is intriguing is that it really presents as both a crisp agricole-style rum and a funky unaged Jamaican, which, as it opens, adds in a deeper note of a young, rough-’n’-raw Versailles rum. There’s some licorice, toffee, damp sawdust and wood chips in a sawmill. A bit of honey, a pinch of cinnamon…but that was pretty much all.

The taste is also good…at the start. Salty, light, traces of cinnamon, sugar cane sap, vanilla, red grapes and fudge; this fades quickly, though and is replaced by more licorice, vanilla, light oak, and a briefest hint of flowers and light fruits, and then it just…dies. The finish is short and breathy and light, a touchy rummy – toffee, brine, grapes – and vanishes faster than the Little Caner when he hears the word “chores”.

My personal opinion is that the Iridium Gold is hampered by two issues: one, it doesn’t seem to be sure whether it wants to be an agricole-style rum, or something more normal and familiar to rum drinkers (which is to say, closer to a molasses-based profile) – it has aspects of both on both nose and palate, and doesn’t do either justice, really. 

Secondly, I think there’s a lot going on in this rum that a higher strength would have showcased more seriously, so I don’t get the 40% strength which could have been jacked up to 43% or even 46% without sacrificing anything. Because I’m at a loss to understand where the flavours went, or why: it’s a pot still rum, relatively young, its trousers should have quite a bit more than just its hands in them, however raw or rambunctious. Were the cuts made at too high a strength and the congeners wiped out?  Were the barrels too inactive, hence requiring that heavy charring that was spoken of? Was the rum filtered before ageing? This is where a better website and better disclosure would have helped me understand more of why the rum seemed so lacklustre and ceased to enthuse, after starting with such promise. Overall, although I really wanted to be, I’m not really that chuffed with this one.

(#897)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Mt. Uncle is clearly not willing to just produce standard stuff that everyone else does. They have expanded beyond gins and rums, and into whiskey and vodka and agave spirits (as of 2022).
  • Iridium is a very hard, brittle, silvery metal akin to platinum, and second densest metal on earth (after osmium), as well as one of the rarest. Its usefulness and commercial applications stem from its high melting point and anticorrosive properties at high temperatures. It is unclear what relevance the title has to rum, even metaphorically, since it’s not rare, hard, silvery or anti-corrosive. It does have a real ‘cool factor’ based just on how it sounds, however, so maybe that’s it.
  • The FNQ website is bare of most details I would expect to find in a site dedicated to two rums (even though there are actually three), and the core Mt. Uncle site didn’t have much more. In years to come, I hope they expand their background materials for the benefit of the geek squad or the simply curious.
  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and doff of the deerstalker to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
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 liked — though 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 specs – molasses origin, pot still, American oak, a few years’ ageing – the 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 emerge – guavas, 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 sipped – there’s quite a bit going on under the hood here. JimmyRum’s Silver was interesting, tasted well, showed potential and I enjoyed it — it 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.
Mar 232022
 

Photo (c) Husk Distillers

Of the New Australian distilleries that have emerged in the last ten years, Husk may be one of the older ones.  Its inspiration dates back to 2009 when the founder, Paul Messenger, was vacationing in the Caribbean; while on Martinique, he was blown away by agricole rhums and spent the next few years establishing a small distillery in northern New South Wales (about 120km SE of Brisbane) which was named “Husk” when it opened in 2012. Its uniqueness was and remains that it uses its own estate-grown sugar cane to make rum from juice, not molasses, and is a field-to-bottle integrated producer unbeholden to any external processing outfit for supplies of cane, syrup, juice or molasses. Initially they used a pot still but as their popularity grew it was replaced with a hybrid pot-column still (the old still remains at the entrance to the distillery).

As is standard practice in Australia, while rums wait two years to age before being called “rum”, other spirits are made to fill the gap and provide cash flow – in this case there was a gin called “Ink”, and a set of “Cane Spirits” products which were initially a pair of unaged agricole-style rums at two strengths, plus a botanical and a spiced. These continue to be made and pay the bills but there were and are others: in 2015 a “virgin cane rum,” came out, limited to 300 bottles; in 2016 a 3YO aged rum was released (the “1866 Tumbulgum”); in 2018 a 5 YO (“Triple Oak”) – all were cane juice rums and these days both are hard to find any longer. In 2021 they issued “The Lost Blend” virgin cane aged rum with “subtropical ageing” (coming soon to the review site near you) and in the spiced category, they have periodic releases of the spiced rum we are looking at today, which they call “Bam Bam” (for obscure reasons of their own that may or may not be related to a children’s cartoon, but then, they do say they make better rums than jokes).

The rum clocks in at standard strength (40%) and is, as far as I am aware, a pot still cane juice product, aged for 3 years in oak (not sure what kind or from where it came) and added spices of wattleseed, ginger, orange, cinnamon, golden berry, vanilla and sea salt. I should point out here that all of this was unknown to me when I tasted the sample — the labels on the advent calendar didn’t mention it at all.

So…the nose.  Initially redolent of ripe, fleshy fruits — apricots, peaches, bananas, overripe mangoes and dark cherries — into which are mixed crushed walnuts, pistachios and sweet Danish cookies plus a drop or two of vanilla. It’s soft and decidedly sweet with a creamy aroma resembling a lemon meringue pie topped with whipped cream, then dusted with cinnamon…and a twist of ginger off a sushi plate.

The taste maintains that gentle sweetness which so recalled a well done sweet pastry. There was cream cheese, butter, cookies and white chocolate, plus some breakfast-cereal notes and mild chocolate.  A few fruits drift in and out the of the profile from time to time, a touch of lime, an apricot, raisins, a ripe apple or two. And with some patience, baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are noticeable, but it’s all rather faint and very light, leading to a short and quickly concluded finish with orange peel, vanilla, brown sugar, and that tantalising hint of cake batter that evokes a strong nostalgic memories of fighting with my brother for the privilege of finger-licking the bowl of cake mix after Ma Caner was done with it.

Overall, it’s a peculiar rum because there’s little about it that shouts “rum” at all (on their marketing material they claim the opposite, so your own mileage may vary). My own take is that it’s alcohol, it has some interesting non-rum flavours, it will get you drunk if you take enough of it and it has lovely creamy and cereal-y notes that I like.  But overall it’s too thin (a function of the 40%) too easy, the spices kind of overwhelm after a while and it seems like a light rum with little greater purpose in life than to jazz up a mixed drink someplace. That’s not enough to sink it, or refuse it when offered, just not enough for me to run out and get one immediately.

(#893)(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and a chuck of the chullo to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always, to you both.
  • Husk refers to its rums as “agricoles” (see promo poster above) but incorrectly in my view, as this is a term that by convention, common usage and EU regulation refers to cane juice rhums made in specific countries (Madeira, Reunion, Guadeloupe and Martinique). A re-labelling or rebranding might have to be done at some point if the EU market is to be accessed. Personally, I think they should do so anyway. Nothing wrong with “agricole-style” or “cane juice rhum” or some other such variation, and that keeps things neat and tidy (my personal opinion only).
  • Long time readers will know I am not a great fan of spiced or infused rums and this preference (or lack thereof) of mine must be factored into the review. The tastes are as they are, but my interpretation of how they work will be different from that of anther person who likes such products more than I do. Mrs. Caner, by the way, really enjoyed it.
Mar 022022
 

Photo (c) Killik Handrcrafted, from their website.

When reviewing the Gold (rum) produced by the Melbourne-based distillery of Killik Handcrafted, I was less than enthusiastic, grumbling and mumbling that the mildly aged rum would impress in five years but right now was mostly potential with not enough follow-through. I made those remarks because I knew there was a rum in their portfolio that proved the skills did exist and which really did impress me, and it wasn’t aged or set in a barrel or anything: it was their full proof 59% unaged white. 

For the curious: Killik handcrafted is a small rum distillery started by the brothers Ben and Callan Pratt in 2019 (more background in a separate mini-bio here). They have a hybrid thousand-liter still that allows multiple configurations including that of a 4- or 6-plate column still, or a pot still; also make other spirits for cash flow; use molasses as the base; and have a local cooper help with getting barrels. They proudly represent themselves as the first hogo-centric distillery in Victoria (the Australian state in which Melbourne is located) because they love messing around with fermentation and cheerfully play with dunder and muck holes and wild yeast to see if they can bring some Cockpit to Killik.

Thus far the majority of the stocks they have laid down to age have been pot still distillates, and we have yet to see any of those aside from the Gold; on the other hand, the unaged whites of the Silver and ther Silver Overproof are all column still spirits. Which is interesting because usually, when we hear of unaged whites dripping from a column still, we tend think rather more of the French Caribbean islands, or Reunion, even some of the new Asian outfits — not Australia.  But that would be a mistake, because even if they don’t use the pot still for the unaged Silver, Killik is closer to those two badass Jamaicans, Hampden and Worthy Park… in spirit, in production and in results.

And what a result this was indeed. I can’t speak for the standard proof Silver which I haven’t tried, just the overproof, but I gotta say, it’s made so well that Jamaican rum lovers might want to cast a covetous eye over Down Under. Consider first the nose: “Damn!,” went my first notes, expressing some surprise, “Seriously, deeply, pungently, sharply fruity-sweet.” It’s redolent of the tip of a marker squeaking over a new whiteboard; strawberry milk shakes loaded down with extra vanilla ice cream; tart fruity yoghurt. There’s a bagful of sour-sweet fruits – apples, kiwi fruits, hard yellow mangoes (with an odd spicy scent that reminds me of those coming from Sri Lanka). In an odd reversal of standard, the glue, acetones and solvent come late to the party, swirling around a core of peaches and pineapples and very ripe apricots and bananas. They sure weren’t kidding about going for the hogo.

The heat of the 59% comes into its own on the palate. That sharp spiciness attendant on that strength is unavoidable, yet at no point is it really unpleasant: what it does is provide a rock solid foundation that makes each taste not some faint wispy sensation breathily experienced and instantly gone, but something of distinct force.  It starts off with acetones, nail polish remover, flowers and fruit juice, and none of the undesirable rotting-midden scents that admittedly add character when assembled properly, but so often detract from the overall experience when not. It’s nicely sweet, displays some interesting spices – cinnamon, rosemary, cardamom, even a whiff of chamomile – plus musky fruity flavours that develope really well.  Green peas, bananas, orange peel, bitter chocolate and coffee grounds, laban, slightly sour milk all get mixed into the taste profile, and it all comes to a long, dry and heated conclusion that is always crisp with distinct ripe fruity notes and some vegetable coordinates well dialled in.

This is one seriously good rum. I mean, it goes down so well — the flavours just pop, it hits all the high notes and at no time does it feel like it’s out of control and just hitting you with its junk because it can. It’s sweet but not too much; sour but not mouth-puckeringly so; musky within reason, sharp without cutting, and flavourful without throwing the spice cupboard at you and then following up with the kitchen sink. It’s a curiously cultured back-bar brawler that is unashamedly partisan in its inspirations, honestly hearkening back to its stated Jamaican antecedents without apology even as it goes its own way.

I tried the entire 2021 Australian Advent Calendar sample selection over a period of days in December last year, and this was the one that to me, of all the whites, stood out. It not only exceeded those in whose company I tasted it, but handily eclipsed its own siblings and proved once again (as if it needed to be proved at all) that unaged white rums of power are among the best value for money rums out there. With Killik’s Silver Overproof, unlike the Gold, I don’t want to wait five years to see what else they can do with it.  I want another bottle right now.

(#889)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and a doff of the derby to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always, to you both.
Feb 242022
 

Photo (c) Killik Handcrafted


Note: Although the bottle label does not refer to the product as “rum” – which suggests that under Australian law it cannot be so called because it is aged less than two years – I am referring to it as such given the fact that under rules elsewhere in the world (and my own common sense) all of its production criteria make it one.


Killik Handcrafted Rum is a small distillery in southern Australia that shares several similarities with its neighbour in Melbourne, JimmyRum, and, in fact, with several others that will form part of this small series of Australian rums.  For one, it is of recent vintage, having been envisioned, established and brought to operation in 2019 by a family team (Ben and Callan Pratt); makes gin and cocktails to help cover costs until the rum stuff gets a head of steam; and has an attached cafe to the distillery which gets the urban customers rolling in for a bite to eat to go with the tasting menu. The distillery compound in a picturesque section of eastern Melbourne just by Sherbrooke Forest makes for a good location to entice day-trippers and tourists who stop by for a snack and a cocktail.

What distinguishes the small distillery from others — who also have a good location, also established an on-site restaurant-cum-cafe and also had to come up with imaginative approaches to survive doing lockdowns —  is its stated focus on recreating a high-ester, hogo-laden series of rums. This they do (according to their website) primarily by using “a wild fermentation process” that I can only assume is by utilisation of a non commercial yeast strain or wild yeast itself.  Whether they actually follow what high-ester Jamaican rum makers do – use muck to supercharge ester fermentation – cannot be gleaned from that website, which is actually not very helpful about much and doesn’t even mention what kind of still they use or whether they start off with molasses or cane juice.

However, Mr. and Mrs. Rum’s daily instagram notes in December 2021 fill in the pieces: the company uses molasses, and yes, they do add in dunder at various stages of the ferment; the still is a 1000-liter hybrid with option for four plates, six plates, or pot distillation; and they source barrels from a local cooperage.  All that leads us into the three rums they make: the silver, the silver overproof and the one we’re looking at today, the “Gold” which was aged in Chardonnay casks (for less than two years, hence the qualifier about calling it a “rum”) and is noted as being a high ester rum with a strength of 42% ABV but with no reference to whether it is from pot or column still, or a blend. Honestly, I wish this kind of thing was better explained and laid out for the genuinely curious (and these days, that’s most of us).

Clearly the Gold is made for a market that is timorous in its tastes, because 42% is not, I suggest, enough to showcase serious hogo action (though it does dampen it down enough so that the uninitiated would not to leave the premises traumatised, tearful and trembling). The first aromas are a testament to that: paint, plasticine, rubber overlaid with the forest green scent of damp rotting logs covered with moss and Fisherman’s Friend cherry bonbons. That may not sound like something you’d want to bring home to Mommy, but it really is not too shabby, and in any case, be of good cheer, for there’s more and better coming. As the initial sharply fruity and offbeat aromas dissipate, they are replaced by vanilla, sweet Danish cookies, caramel, toffee, nougat, nuts and honey – not too strong, quite straightforward here, and good enough for Government work.

The palate stays with this easygoing motif and lets the aggro of the initial nose go its own way (which I submit is our loss); there’s some initial brine and olives, a faint lingering memory of rubber, and then a small bowl of fruit is opened up: pears, melons, papaya, a touch of strawberries and tart mangos, and a pimento infused bitter chocolate or two for kick. There’s some caramel and sweet dark grapes coiling around behind it all, and the whole experience wraps up in a short, breathy finish with just the memory of some fruits, a bit of tart but creamy yoghurt, and that’s all she wrote.

So, how to rate it? Now, I ran it through my glass blind and didn’t know anything about it before beginning, so I went in with no preconceived notions and came to the conclusion I did based purely on the tasting and a knowledge of the strength; and the score it was given reflected a better-than-average sort of quality, because all this high-ester hogo business was not on my radar and I discovered it for myself.  Would I have rated it higher had I known it was daring to be a Jamaican, or lower for not being one? Maybe, but that’s why I taste and score first and research later wherever possible, and not the other way ‘round. 

Short version, the rum feels like an entry-level product, with the esters evident, dissipating fast, and not making enough of a statement. While the rum’s tastes – especially the first ones – are interesting, they lack force, complexity, integration. And yet for all that, the Killik Gold is not a fall-down fail.  It’s merely a rum that starts well, is minimally aged, and in the early stages of being something else, something in the producers’ minds which has yet to snap more clearly and more distinctively into focus. In five years Killik will probably have something really fascinating for us to try: here though, we’re being given an early essay in the craft, a rum that suggests rather more exciting potential than it currently manages to deliver. 

(#887)(78/100)  ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and a finger-tap to the fedora to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks again to you both.
  • The website entry for this rum notes it as being aged 12 months in Chardonnay casks, nothing else.
  • At first I thought the logo represented an aboriginal motif similar to the Canadian First Nations’  Inukshuk (a marker made from carefully placed stones), but Killik’s “About” page showed that the name  and the logo they chose was no accident and actually related to shipping: “The name “Killik” is derived from the word “killick”, being an old anchor handcrafted by encasing stone in a wooden frame. To us, Killik represents strength and stability, while taking a nod to the classic archetype of bottles of rum making their way around the Caribbean on old rustic ships.” After reading around some more, I found out that a killick was also a slang term for a sailor first class (or “leading seaman” – the term has been retired) in the Royal Canadian Navy. The discontinued old style insignia for this rank used to be a ‘fouled’ anchor – an anchor with a length of rope twisted around it). Both term and insignia continue to be used in other navies, including the British, from whence it probably originated.
Feb 172022
 

As with most new distilleries in Australia, Winding Road is a family affair located about 175km south of Brisbane, whose antecedents go back as far as 2014 when the husband-and-wife team of Mark and Camille Awad were casting around for something to do which would keep them in the more tourist-centric area of Northern Rivers in New South Wales (rather than moving to a bigger city where professional work was more plentiful). At the time the craft distilling movement had begun but was in its infancy, and being in a sugar cane growing district, having something of an entrepreneurial bent and a love for good spirits, it was one of the few ideas Mark had which the boss (Camille) agreed with.

The distillery working area, with Short Round on the right. Photo (c) Winding Road Distillery (from FB, used with permission)

Just like Rick Prosser over at Kalki Moon, who had been in the distilling field for decades, or the trio of friends who opened the urban-centric multi-faceted operation of the Brix Distillery, or James McPherson with his whirlwind fact-finding tour of 70 distilleries in three months, the Awads did as much research as they could, including some hands-on training with the Black Gate and Riverbourne distilleries (also in New South Wales).  Equipment was then purchased based on advice, ambition, literature and financial resources (and with a few Hail Marys, no doubt). This was the 1250-liter pot still manufactured by Burns Welding and Fabrication (also from NSW) which was named “Short Round” (used for rum and whisky distilling), another 400-liter pot still called “Alfreda” (for gins) and a small 8-liter sneakoscope of a still called “Secret Agent” which is used for experiments, testing and working with ideas that may or may not work.

Unofficially, the distillery began a year later, in 2015 when work began on laying the physical infrastructure, getting the equipment, installing it, nailing down the financing, permitting, licensing, sources of supply, casks, distribution, bottles, labels…all the usual big and small things that a new operation needs to get going.  Officially the distillery opened in 2018 (also the year the FB page went live) when production of the first cane spirit began, with cane juice from a local sugar mill a short drive away. The resultant distillate was put to rest in new American oak barrels (not 1st or 2nd fill ex-anything) and became the first edition of the Coast Cane Pure Single Rum after 31 months, and was based on the taste profile, not any arbitrary ageing cutoff. Gradually, with increasing experience, the “Agricole Blanc Virgin Cane Spirit” was issued in 2019 as an unaged spirit and added to the portfolio.

Photo (c) Winding Road Distillery (from FB, used with permission)

Certain decisions were made from the get go, such as that of using not molasses but cane juice: this was driven by having convenient access to fresh cane juice as well as a feeling that an agricole style rum better than most styles, represented the terroire of the region. Also, it was uncommon, and seasonal – recognition factors and selling points as well – and allowed rum to be made between June and October when the cane harvest provides access to fresh juice, while in the other months they switch to whisky; gin is made all year round. 

Another deliberate decision made early on, was not to focus solely on rum or cane spirits: from the inception it was decided to add gins and whiskies to the portfolio.  As Mark wrote to me when I asked, “…We have chosen to pursue rum, whisky, gin, and liqueurs.  Our one caveat in this is that we do not want to be making a myriad of expressions simply to meet a perceived demand (in other words, to just make money).  Rather, we want to do it because we are curious and passionate about experimenting, creating, and always striving to improve.” But he admitted later that his initial vision was, and his favourite spirit remains, rum, and it’s an exciting time to be involved, and part of the new Australian Rum Renaissance.

Retail sales with Mark Awad. Photo (c) Winding Road Distillery (from FB, used with permission)

Casks are sourced from cooperages around Australia. The new oak casks are imported from the US while others are a mix of ex-Shiraz, ex-Pinot, ex-whiskey/bourbon and ex-fortified such as Port, Sherry/Apera, and Muscat. They tend to be 200-300 liters capacity as smaller sizes are considered too active given the climate. A lot of the selections are based on experimentation and simple curiosity, as the whole business of which casks produces the best end product is still being established and researched.

Winding Road started small and will continue small for a while as production and distribution settles itself, but there is no question that in a few years there will be several more expressions, aged or otherwise, of both whiskies and rums, though molasses-based rums are not currently being considered. At the moment the website lists the Virgin Cane Spirit and the Coastal Cane rums, as well as a gin and a coffee liqueur, with a single malt whisky continuing to mature.

One last thing: the name “Winding Road” is a reference to the actual twistiness of the roads in the region, including one called the “Windy Mile” road along which Camille grew up. More than that, though, for this family team, it evokes the serendipitous way they met, the evolution towards a shared life with all its vicissitudes, and especially the taking of winding paths less travelled, where the journey matters every bit as much as the destination. I can think of worse names to call a distillery and not many better.


Sources


Rums list (as of February 2022)

  • Coastal Cane Pure Single Rum
  • Agricole Blanc Virgin Cane Spirit