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.
Jan 202022
 

For years, Bundaberg was considered the Australian rum, synonymous with the country, emblematic of its distilling ethos, loved and hated in equal measure for its peculiar and offbeat profile (including by Australians). Yet in 2022 its star has lost some twinkle, it rarely comes up in conversation outside Queensland (where it sells like crazy), and another distillery has emerged to take the laurels of the international scene – Beenleigh. 

Scouring through my previous notes about Beenleigh (see historical section below), it seems that even though VOK Beverages got a controlling interest in the enterprise back in 2003, they contented themselves with providing bulk rum to Europe (beginning with distillates from 2006 shipped in 2007) and servicing the local market. They were clearly paying some attention to market trends, however, because slowly their international recognition got bigger as indies began releasing Beenleigh rum under their own labels to pretty good reviews, and you could just imagine the glee of Wayne Stewart, Beenleigh’s acclaimed Master Blender (he’s been in that position since 1980, some 41 years, which is pretty much as long as Joy Spence over in Appleton), who knew how good his juice was and finally saw it get some well deserved recognition. Bringing in an engaging, technically astute, social-media savvy gent like Steve Magarry onboard as Distillery Production Manager didn’t hurt at all either. 

And yet, as of this writing, almost the only rums from Beenleigh that are widely seen, are those from the independents like SBS, Rum Artesanal, TCRL, Velier, Valinch & Mallet, L’Esprit and others. Beenleigh itself is not well represented outside Australia yet, either in the EU or in North America (perhaps because they’re too focused on chasing down Bundaberg in the young-aged volume segment, who knows?) In that sense it’s a pity that the one Beenleigh rum in the 2021 Australian Advent calendar I managed to obtain, was one of their weakest — not the five or ten year old, not the barrel aged or port-barrel-infused, which are all at standard strength or a bit stronger…but the three year old white underproof bottled at 37.5%, which is part of the standard lineup.

The website provides a plethora of information about the product: molasses based, 3-4 days’ fermentation, pot-column still blend, matured in (variously) kauri (local pine) vats and brandy vats for the requisite three years before being undergoing carbon filtration.  The product specs state 0% dosage, and I’ve been told it has some flavourant, just a bit, which is slated to be eliminated in years to come. Then it’s all diluted slowly down from ~78% ABV to 37.5% — which means you get a very smooth and light sipping rum that doesn’t hurt, or a relatively quiet cocktail ingredient that doesn’t overpower. It’s like an Australian version of the Plantation 3 Star, a similarly anonymous product that some people have an obscure love affair with and prefer for precisely those attributes.

This is a rum that is light enough that letting it stand for a few minutes to open in a covered glass is almost a requirement. A deep sniff reveals a very sugar cane forward scent, redolent of sweet and delicate flowers, vanilla, sugar water and a sort of mixture of tinned sweet corn and peas, a touch of lemon peel and more than a hint of nail polish, acetone and glue. Going back a half hour later and I can sense a raspberry or two, some bubble gum and a bare hint of caramel and molasses but beyond that, not anything I can point to as a measure of its distinctiveness.  Even the alcohol is barely discernible.

It is thin, sweet and piquant to taste, smooth as expected (which in this context means very little alcohol bite), with initial notes of white guavas, unripe green pears, figs, green peas (!!), ginnips, and again, some lemon peel and vanilla.  A bit of toffee, some molasses lurk in the background, but stay there throughout. It really doesn’t present much to the taster’s buds or even as a challenge, largely because of the low ABV.  It is sweet though, and that does make it go down easy, with a short, light finish that presents some red grapefruit, grapes, unripe pears and a mint chocolate. 

Overall, this is not a rum that I personally go for, since my own preference is for stronger rums with more clearly defined tastes; and as I’m not a cocktail expert or a regular mixer (for which this rum is explicitly made), the rum doesn’t do much for me in that department either…but it will for other people who like an easygoing hot weather sipper and dial into those coordinates more than I do. The rum succeeds, as far as that goes, quietly and in its own way, because it does have a touch of bite — an edge, if you will, perhaps imparted by those old, old heritage local kauri pine vats — that stops it from simply being some milquetoast yawn-through tossed off to populate the low end of the portfolio. It’s a drowsing tabby with a hint of claws, good for any piss up or barbie you care to attend…as long as you’re not asking anything too special.

(#877)(76/100) ⭐⭐½


Historical Notes

Beenleigh, located on the east coast of Australia just south of Brisbane, holds the arguable distinction of being the country’s oldest registered distillery (the implication of course being that a whole raft of well known but unregistered moonshineries existed way before that). The land was bought in 1865 by two Englishmen who wanted to grow cotton, since prices were high with the end of the US civil war and the abolition of slavery that powered the cotton growing southern states. Company legend has it that sugar proved to be more lucrative than cotton and so this was in fact what was planted.  In 1883 the S.S. Walrus, a floating sugar mill (which had a distilling license, granted in 1869 and withdrawn in 1872) that plied the Logan and Albert rivers and processed the cane of local landowners, washed ashore at Beenleigh, empty except for the illicit pot still on board, which was purchased by Beenleigh – they obtained a distilling license the very next year. 

Through various vicissitudes such as boom and bust in sugar prices, floods that washed away distillery and rum stock, technological advances and many changes in ownership, the distillery doggedly continued operating, with only occasional closures. It upgraded its equipment, installed large vats of local (“kauri”) pine and organized railway shipments to bring molasses from other areas. In 1936 the distillery was described as having its own wharf, power plant, a cooper’s shop and all necessary facilities to make it a self-contained producer of rum. Some have been replaced or let go over time but the original pot still, called “The Old Copper”, remains in a red structure affectionately named “The Big Red Shed”) and is a prized possession.

Beenleigh’s modern history can almost be seen as a constant fight to survive against the more professionally managed Bundaberg distillery up the road (they are 365km north of Brisbane). Bundie has had far fewer changes in ownership, is part of the international spirits conglomerate Diageo, has a much larger portfolio of products and its marketing is second to none (as its recognition factor). Much of that continuity of tradition and expertise by owners is missing in Beenleigh, as is a truly long term strategic outlook for where the rum market is heading – it can’t always and only be about low-cost, low-aged, low-priced rums that sell in high volumes with minimal margins. That provides cash flow, but stifles the innovation into the higher-proofed premium market segment which the indies colonize so well. Beenleigh could probably take a look at Foursquare to see how one distillery with some vision could have the best of all worlds – bulks sales, low cost volume drivers, and high-priced premium limited editions, all at the same time. It’ll be interesting to see where this all goes, in the years to come.


Other notes

  • A very special shout out and tip of the trilby to Mr. And Mrs. Rum of Australia (by way of Mauritius). The Australian advent calendar they created in 2021 was unavailable for purchase outside of Oz, but when they heard of my interest, they sent me a complete set free of charge. After years of grumbling about how impossible it was to get to review any rums from Down Under, the reviews deriving from those samples will fill a huge gap on the site. Thanks again to you both.

 

Jan 232020
 

The French-bottled, Australian-distilled Beenleigh 5 Year Old Rum is a screamer of a rum, a rum that wasn’t just released in 2018, but unleashed. Like a mad roller coaster, it careneed madly up and down and from side to side, breaking every rule and always seeming just about to go off the rails of taste before managing to stay on course, providing, at end, an experience that was shattering — if not precisely outstanding.

It is bottled by L’Esprit, the Brittany-based company that provided two of the most powerful whites I’ve ever tried (from Fiji and Guyana); and distilled by the Australian distillery Beenleigh, which is practically unknown outside of Oz, but which has been in operation since before 1884 (see other notes, below) and which I’ve mentioned briefly in two heritage Rumaniacs reviews, the Stubbs Queensland White, and the Inner Circle “Green Dot” rum. And it’s stuffed into specially hardened glass at a palate-dissolving, tears-inducing 78.1%, which is sure to  make any lover of machismo grin, flex the glutes and the pecs, and dive right in.

To say it’s hot may be understating the matter.  This thing noses like an unexpected slap from your loved one, the sweet force of which has to be watched out for and mitigated as best one can. It’s sizzling, it’s sharp and quite sweet – caramel, butterscotch, apricots, peaches and cherries in syrup…on the icing of a vanilla cake. And even with the strength I could, after a while, smell very ripe, almost spoiling mangoes and kiwi fruit, with cereals, cinnamon, and milk…plus more chopped fruit. 

The palate, well, this was very nice.  Initially it’s all passion fruit, five-finger, sorrel, tart soursop, salt caramel ice cream (Hagen-Dasz, of course).  It remains hot and sharp to a fault, which you can navigate with your sanity and glottis intact only only via paranoid caution and really small sips. It presented as nutty, creamy, fruity (of red, yellow, ripe variety, so choose for yourself), not crisp per se, just damn solid, as firm as a posturepedic mattress on sale at your local furniture store. Plus the headboard, which hits you several times, hard. Unsurprisingly, the finish is a DeMille-style biblical epic, long, hot, breathy, practically ever-lasting, leaving behind good memories of cereals, cream, salt butter, and thick ripe fruit.  These were admittedly somewhat standard, and perhaps unexceptional…but it certainly didn’t sink the experience.

I still remember how unusual the Aussie Bundaberg had been back in the day (as I recall all traumatic rum encounters in my genuflectory come-to-Jesus moments) but no matter how polarizing it was, you couldn’t deny it had real balls, real character. L’Esprit’s Beenleigh was nowhere near that kind of opinion-inducing love-it-or-hate-it style, but that aside, I must say that it channels Conrad well, it’s major sound and fury, a mad, testosterone-addled wild-eyed piece of the rum zeitgeist, with wild pendulum swings from the sedate to the insane, the smooth to the storming, and a hell of a lot of fun to try. I don’t know how I missed including it in my list of the most powerful rums of the world, but for sure I’ve updated the list to make sure it’s in there.

L’Esprit remains one of my favourite independents. They lack the visibility and international reputation of better-known (and bigger) companies which have snazzy marketing (Boutique-y), a long trail of reviews (Rum Nation), ages of whisky and other experience (Samaroli) or visionary leaders of immense and towering reputations (Velier) – but somehow they keep putting out a rum here and a rum there and just don’t stop…and if they don’t always succeed, at least they’re not afraid of running full tilt into and through the wall and leaving an outline of Tristan Prodhomme behind. The Beenleigh is one of the rums they’ve put out which demonstrates this odd fearlessness, and ensures I’ll continue seeking out their rums for the foreseeable future. Both L’Esprit’s, and those of Beenleigh themselves.

(#695)(81/100)


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 this rum was completely pot-still. Although the majority of Beenleigh’s rums come from a column still, the old copper pot still they started with all those years ago apparently is still in operation – I would not have thought a pot still could get a proof that high, but apparently I’m out to lunch on that one. Other than that, it is not a single cask but a small batch, and technically it is a 3 YO, since it spent three years in wooden casks, and two extra years in a vat.
Aug 212018
 

Rumaniacs Review #082 | 0541

Although the Ministry of Rum speaks to Stubb’s as being made from molasses, the label of the bottle itself says it’s made from cane juice, and I think I’ll go with that. And in spite of the retro-style design of the label, it seems that it was created from scratch in the 1990s with a view to capturing some export market share from Bacardi, and after being introduced to the market, fell flat and was discontinued. And while both Peter’s Rum Labels and the Ministry make reference to the fact that Beenleigh Distillery is the holder of the brand, Beenleigh’s own website makes no such assertion, and there are trademark records of a 1990s company called William Stubbs & Company (which is now dead) bearing a very similar logo to the one shown here.

That said, a most helpful gent named Steve Magarry managed to contact Beenleigh directly, and confirmed that it was “…made for the USA and England for IDV. Fermented from syrup and distilled in a three-column still at 95% ABV; (it is) unaged, and exported during the early 1990s…it did not take off as they hoped.”

So we can therefore say with some assurance that the rum was Australian, released in the 1990s, column still, meant for export, and is now defunct. That’s more than we usually have, for a rum this obscure, so huge thanks to Steve and the others who chipped in.

Colour – White

Strength – 42.5%

Nose – Quite sharp, with light fruit and estery aromas immediately evident.  Some cucumbers in vinegar, dill, grass and watery pears, together with sugar water.  The profile does indeed point to a sugar cane juice-based rum rather than one of molasses.

Palate – Watery and sweet, oily almost, with a touch of brine and light olives.  Not a whole lot going on here – sugar cane sap, a hint of musky maple syrup, vegetals, dill.  It feels a little unrefined and rough around the edges, and not so different in profile as to suggest something off the reservation (the way, for example, Bundie is always at pains to demonstrate).

Finish – Relatively long and aromatic, floral, with sugar water and tinned pears in syrup, plus a pinch of salt.

Thoughts – Unspectacular, probably filtered rather than issued straight off the still. Its misfortune was to be released at a higher than usual price just as an economic slump hit Australia, and sales dipped, causing it to be discontinued before the new millenium dawned. Nobody seems to miss it much.

(79/100)