May 312021
 

In my own rather middling 2017 review of the Doorly’s 12 I remarked “It’s a well-made, serviceable, standard-proof rum for those who have never gone further (and don’t want to)…and remains a rum of enduring popularity.” Rereading that review, re-tasting the rum, and thinking about all the developments in the rumworld between then and now, I would not change the reviewbut must concede that it works precisely because of those things that at the time I sniffed at, and retains its widespread appeal to both new drinkers and old in a way that cannot easily be discounted.

We’re living in a rumstorm of Foursquare. I’ve never seen anything like it in all the time I’ve been writing about the subject. Just about every single day, someone writes on social media about picking up this or that Exceptional Cask bottling or one of the Habitation Velier collaborations, gets a flurry of likes and comments, and the next day there’s another one. New releases are now online events in themselves, and while few now recall how startling this seemed just a few years ago, it’s almost a accepted wisdom nowadays that when they go on sale they sell out five minutes before the shop pulls the trigger.

All of this has turned the Face of Foursquare, Richard Seale, into the nearest thing the rum world has to a rock star (minus the leather pants). His ongoing online engagement, his irascible turn of phrase, his near-legendary inability to crack a smile, his take-no-prisoners approach to discussions, his highly vocal opinions, his fierce advocacy for protected status of Barbados rum, the quality of the rums he’s putting out the door, his amazing generosity in handing them out at festivals, the commitment to keeping his rums affordableall these things have elevated him into the “must-meet” stratosphere of any rum festival he chooses to attend. And have brought his rums to the attention of an incredibly wide audience, including those of whisky aficionadosFred Minnick famously referred to Foursquare’s rums in the aggregate as the “Pappy of Rum” in 2017, and Matt Pietrek’s review of the rise of Foursquare in a Punch article in 2018 made a similar reference.

Such publicity and the ongoing releases of cask strength rums in the Exceptional Cask Series (Key Rums in their own right) and the Collaborations leaves faithful old standbys in something of a limbo (much like the El Dorado 21 was), even occasionally dismissed. They are issued at close to standard strength and lack a clear signature kind of taste such as distinguishes Demeraras or Jamaicans, the sort of profile that allows even a novice drinker to take it blind and bugle “Bajan!” without hesitation. That is both the draw and the drawback of the Doorly’s line and the Rum 66, and the R.L. Seale 10 year old, though I contend that this should in no way stand in the way of appreciating them, not just because of their un-added-to nature and their age, but because on a price to quality ratio they’re great buys. People have been bugling the praises of the Doorly’s rums of all ages on both sides of the Atlantic for decades, and with good reason.

In spite of their being eclipsed by the new hot-snot Foursquare ECS and collaboration rums everyone froths over, in the last years I’ve deliberately sought out these standard, aged Bajansmultiple timesjust to get a grip on what makes them so unkillablebecause, like the El Dorados and low-rent Appletons, they sell gangbusters year in and year out, always come up for mention sooner or later and everyone has either tried one, recommended one, been recommended one or reviewed one. I mean, everyone. Perhaps the key to their appeal is that In their own quiet way, they define not so much Barbados (although they do), but a single operation, Foursquare. The Doorly’s 12, is, in my opinion, one of the foundation stones of much that came to prominence in the last yearsa blend of column and pot still distillate some of which was aged separately in Madeira casks, tropical ageing for the full 12 years, yet not torqued up to full proof, just serenely and calmly itself, at living room strength.

Consider the nose, for example. Not a whole lot of exceptional going on there, but what there is is clear, crisp and exquisitely balancedit has an initial nutty, creamy and salt caramel attack, a touch briny and, set off with some molasses and vanilla. There’s a lightly citrus and fruity component coiling behind it all, made up of both sharper and sweeter elements (though it should be noted that the rum noses rather dry and not really sweet) like orange peel, bananas and raisins. But this is an hour of effort speakingfor the most part, the average Joe will enjoy the vanilla, caramel and fruitiness and be happy with the no-nonsense approach.

The palate is where the rum falters somewhat, because the 40% ABV isn’t quite enough to showcase the varied elements (note that the rum is sold at 43% in Europe and other areas). It has quite a bit of caramel ice cream, vanilla, white chocolate, crushed walnuts and light molasses. With more time and concentration, one can tease out the soft flavours of flambeed bananas, papaya, toffee, offset by spicy oak and citrus peel notes. There’s even a touch of olives and brine and strawberries. But it’s weak tea compared to the firmness of slightly stronger rums: 43% would beand isan improvement (I’ve tried both variations) and 46% might just be perfect; and the indeterminate finishoak, vanilla, toffee, cinnamon and almost vaporized fruitsis too short and effervescent to leave a real impression.

Tasting notes such as these describe why I’m not entirely won over by the “standard” lines of rum made in Barbados, which are aimed at a broad audience. Even in my earlier years of writing, I was ambivalent about them. My tastes developed towards more clear-cut rums displaying more defined and unique profiles. The Doorly’s 12 YO to me is not so much indifferent (because it’s not), as undifferentiated (because it is). It’s very well made, tastes nice, has wide applicability, can be gifted and recommended without fear or favour, and you can tell it has age and solid production chopsI’d never dream of trying to dent its reputation on those aspects. What it lacks is a certain element of real individuality. But I repeat that this is just a personal preference, an aspect of my own private proclivities (of all the writers I know, only one or two others share this opinion) — it has nothing to do with the wider world and its generally positive relationship to the Doorly’s line in general and the 12 YO specifically. And now, after so many years of going back and forth among the various Barbados rums made by the various makers on the island, it’s time to cave, concede these are not flaws as I did before, but real strengthsand admit it to the canon.

Because, all the waffling aside, it’s almost the perfect rum for any enthusiastic amateur with some rum knowledge with which to wet his whistle. Yes the 14 YO is stronger and the 5 YO is cheaper, but this one is Goldilocks’s little bear, strikes a perfect middle, perfect for a beginner to start their journey away from sweetened rums so many still regard as “premium.” It’s really affordable and of good quality for those who don’t taste a hundred-plus rums a year and have a slender budget with which to make careful purchases. It pleases reasonably on all levels. It almost always figures on a list of “what to start with” for the newcomers. It’s unadulterated and its age statement is real. In fine, it’s one of the best midrange rumson price, on age, on qualityever made, by anyone.

By that standard, there aren’t many rums that can exceed it. And therefore I do believe that it deserves a place on anyone’s shelf, either as a marker for one’s appreciation of well made rums that don’t ascend to the stratosphere, or a stopping point beyond which it’s tough to go without shelling out a lot more money. How can that combination be beat? Short answer, it’s almost impossible.

(#825)(82/100)


Other notes

  • The rum re-reviewed here was the 40% version which I own. I have added more notes to it from subsequent informal tastings at rumfests in both Paris and Berlin in 2019. The 43% edition is slightly better, but it was not what this essay is based on (though it would not change the sentiments expressed).
Nov 302020
 

It says “rum” on the label, but for all intents and purposes we should be calling it rhum. Chamarel made it out of cane juice on the island of Mauritius, and it’s an easy-going, sweet-smelling, good-tempered cane juice rhum that got wrung out of a pot still on the island and somehow didn’t turn into some foul-smelling, cantankerous harridan in the process. That’s probably deliberate, because had they done so, while it might have enthused the fanboys of unaged white lightning made in the backwoods, it might also cost a sale or two among the less adventurously minded.

Suffice to say, the rhum derives from cane that is grown and harvested on their estate, crushed within the day and the juice fermented for around 36 hours; then it’s run twice through Chamarel’s small (20 hL) copper pot stills and that’s about it. Into the bottle with you, at a workmanlike 44%, white as water. It presents demurely and innocentlynothing to see here, folks, move along.

What comes out of it and into your glass is, to say the least, surprising. You know me, I like those feral white rums north of 60% that barely contain their untamed ferocity and wild screaming tastes, and strut around thumping their chests like King Kong in a glass. This one isn’t anything like that. It’s warm and firm, with a sort gentle complexity rising to the nose: brine, olives, wax, swank, and watery fruit like pears and white guavas. There’s a nice snap of sugar cane juice here, coconut water, vanilla, and a bagful of fruits that aren’t aggrieved and pissed off so much as resigned to just chilling out.

On the tongue it gets crisper, clearer: which is good in its own way, yet creates other problems, the most notable of which is that it becomes evident that there are just a few clean tastes here, and that’s all. Light vanilla, cereals, nuts, almonds and chocolate, developing gradually into some acidic yellow fruits (unripe mangoes, pears, apricots) and a subtle line of citrus that could have been stronger. It’s pleasant and easy to drink, and the finish is short and breezyfruits and vanilla and some white chocolatewith nothing substantially new to add.

Overall, it’s a perfectly nice drink, yet I’m left vaguely dissatisfied, since it started so well and then just kind of dribbled away into an anonymity from which I felt the pot still and lack of ageing should have saved it. Was it perhaps too well tended and planed away to appeal to the masses? Maybe.

So, no, this isn’t Rumzilla, or a King Kong of the blancs. But with some effort it might get close to that big bad boy, because you can sense the potential, were it to be stronger and babied less in the cuts, allowed to have its head to go (no pun intended) a little ape. Then it could be, at the very least, the Son of Kong. In a nice little perfume box. I could completely live with that.

(#781)(79/100)


Other Notes

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

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

Sep 192019
 

Much of the perception of small and new companies’ rums is tied up in their founders and how they interact with the general public. Perhaps nowhere is this both easier and harder to do than in the United Stateseasier because of the “plucky little engine that could” mythos of the solo tinkerer, harder because of the sheer geographical scale of the country. Too, it’s one thing to make a new rum, quite another to get a Je m’en fous public of Rhett Butlers to give a damn. And this is why the chatterati and online punditocracy barely know any of the hundreds of small distilleries making rum in the USA (listed with such patience by the Burrs and Will Hoekenga in their websites)…but are often very much aware of the colourful founders of such enterprises.

That said, even within this ocean of relative indifference, a few companies and names stand out. We’ve been hearing more about Montanya Distillery and master blender Karen Hoskin, everyone knows about Bailey Prior and the Real McCoy line, Lost Spirits may have faded from view but has great name recognition, Koloa has been making rum for ages, Pritchard’s and Richland are almost Old Stalwarts these days, the Eastern seaboard has its fair share of up and coming little rinky-dinksand then there’s Privateer and its driven, enthusiastic, always-engaged master blender, Maggie Campbell, whose sense of humour can be gauged by her Instagram handle, “Half Pint Maggie.”

Privateer was formed by Andrew Cabot after he walked away from his tech-CEO day job in 2008 and decided to try his hand at making a really good American rum, something many considered to be a contradiction in terms (some still do). In 2011 he opened a distillery in an industrial park in Ipswich, Massachusetts but dissatisfied with initial results sniffed around for a master distiller who could deliver on his vision, and picked a then-unemployed Ms. Cambell who had distilling experience with whiskey and brandy (and cognac), and she has stayed with the company ever since. The rum is made from grade A molasses, and is twice distilled, once in a pot and once in a columnar still, before being laid to rest in charred american oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The company’s ethos is one of no additives and no messing around, which I’m perfectly happy to take on trust.

So, all that done away with, what’s this Navy Yard rum, which was first introduced back in 2016, actually like?

Well, not bad at all. Each of the three times I tried the rum, the first thing out the door was sawdust and faint pencil shavings, swiftly dissipating to be replaced by vanilla, crushed walnuts and almonds, salted butter, caramel, butterscotch, a touch of the molasses brush, and the faintest tinge of orange peel. What is surprising about this admittedly standard and straightforwardeven simplisticprofile is how well it comes together in spite of the lack of clearly evident spices, fruits and high notes that would balance it off better. I mean, it workson its own level, true, dancing to its own beat, yes, a little off-kilter and nothing over-the-top complex, surebut it works. It’s a solid, aromatic dram to sniff.

The mouthfeel is quite good, one hardly feels the burn of navy strength 57.1%…at least not initially. When sipped, at first it feels warm and oily, redolent of aromatic tobacco, tart sour cream on a fruit salad (aha! – there they were!) composed of blueberries, raspberries and unripe peaches. Vanilla remains omnipresent and unavoidable, but it does recede somewhat and tries hard not to be obnoxiousa more powerful presence might derail this rum for good. As it develops the spiciness ratchets up without ever going overboard (although it does feel a bit thinner than the nose and the ABV had suggested it would be), and gradually dates and brine and olives and figs make themselves known. The rather dry finish comes gradually and takes its time without providing anything new, summing up the whole experience decentlywith salted caramel, vanilla, butter, cereal, anise and a hint of fruitsand for me, it was a diminution of the positive experience of the nose and taste.

Overall, it’s a good young rum which shows its blended philosophy and charred barrel origins clearly. This is both a strength and a weakness. A strength in that it’s well blended, the edges of pot and column merging seamlessly; it’s tasty and strong, with just a few flavours coming together. What it lacked was the complexity and depth a few more years of ageing might have imparted, and a series of crisper, fruitier notes that might balance it off better; and as I’ve said, the char provided a surfeit of vanilla, which was always too much in the front to appeal to me.

I’ve often remarked about American spirits producers who make rum, that rum seems to be something of a sideline to them, a cheaply-made cash filler to make ends meet while the whiskies that are their true priorities are ageing. That’s not the case here because the company has been resolutely rum-focused from eight o’clock, Day Onebut when I tasted it, I was surprised to be reminded of the Balcones rum from Texas, with which it shared quite a lot of textural and aromatic similarities, and to some extent also the blended pot/column Barbadian rums with which Foursquare has had such success (more Doorly’s than ECS, for the curious). That speaks well for the rum and its brothers up and down the line, and it’s clear that there’s nothing half-pint or half-assed about the Navy Yard or Privateer at all. For me, this rum is not at the top of the heap when rated globally, but it is one of the better ones I’ve had from the US specifically. What it achieves is to make me want to try others from the company, pronto, and if that isn’t the sure sign of success by a master distiller, then I don’t know what is.

(#658)(83/100)


Opinion

After I wrote the above, I wondered about the discrepancy in my own perception of the Navy Yard, versus the really positive commentaries I’d read, both on social media and the few reviews others had written (94 points on Distiller, for example, and Drink Insider rated it 92 with nary a negative note anywhere on FB). Now, there is as yet no reviewer or commentator outside the US who has written about the Navy Yard (or others in the line), partly because its distribution remains there; those who did really went ape for the thing, some going so far as to call it the best american rum, so why didn’t I like it more?

The only answer I can come up with that isn’t directly related to my own palate and experience tasting rums from around the world, is that they are not coming to Privateer with the same background as others are, or I do. The sad Sahara of what is euphemistically called “rum choice” in the US, a resultant of the three-tier distribution dysfunction they amusingly call a “system”, promotes a rum selection of cheap quantity, but so denuded of real quality that when the girl next door makes something so much better than the mass-produced crap that masquerades as top-drawer rum over there, it just overloads the circuits of the local tippling class, and the points roll in like chips at a winning table in Vegas.

This is not in any way to take away from the achievement of Maggie Cambpbell and others like her, who work tirelessly every day to raise the low bar of American rumdom. Reading around and paying attention makes it clear that Ms. Campbell is a knowledgeable and educated rum junkie, making rum to her own specs, and releasing juice that’s a step above many other US brands. The next step is to make it even better so that it takes on better known Names from around the world whichfor nowrate higher. Given her fierce commitment to the brand and the various iterations they’re putting out the door, I have no doubt there will be much more to come from Privateer and I look forward to the day when the company’s hooch muscles its way to the forefront of the global rum scene, and not just America’s.


Other Notes

I drew on Matt Pietrek’s deep dive for some of the biographical details, as well as articles on Thrillist, Imbibe and various posts about Privateer on FB. Details of the company, Ms. Campbell and the distillation steps can be found both Matt’s work and t8ke’s review, here. This is one of those cases where there’s so much information washing around that a synopsis is all that’s needed here, and if your interest has been piqued, follow the links to go deeper.

Jun 172018
 

Somehow, after a big splash in 2015-2016, Indonesian rums came and left the scene with equally and almost startling suddenness. Although Haus Alpenz has been making a Batavia Arrack Van Oosten for many years (even decades, perhaps), it is a niche spirit, really, and not many know of it, and no, I haven’t tried it. My first encounter with the arracks came when I bought the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia rum in 2015 (and quite liked it), and within the year By The Dutch put this fascinating product out the door and then occasional photos began making the rounds on FB of Naga and Nusa Cana rums. Shortly thereafter Matt Pietrek wrote one of his deep dives into the By the Dutch rum, and yet after all that, somehow they have almost vanished from the popular consciousness.

Perhaps it’s the renaissance of Bajan and Jamaican rums in those same years that stole the show, I don’t knowcertainly over the last years the various social media are fuller of Bajan and Jamaican rum pictures and commentaries than just about anything else. Maybe it’s physical distribution, festival absences, word of mouth, Facebook posts (or lack thereof). Whatever the case for its lack of mindshare, I suggest you give it a try, if only to see where rum can goor where it has already been.

Part of what makes arrack interesting is the way it is fermented. Here some fermented red rice is mixed into the yeast prior to addition to the molasses and water (up to 5%), which undoubtedly impacts the final taste. I was told by a By the Dutch rep that this particular spirit derives from sugar cane juice and fermented red rice cake, and is then twice distilled: once in a pot still, producing a distillate of about 30% ABV, and then again in another pot still to around 60-65%. At that point it is laid to rest in barrels made of teak (!!) in Indonesia for a number of years and then shipped to Amsterdam (Matt implies it’s to Scheer) where it is transferred to 1000L oak vats. The final arrack is a blend of spirits aged 8 months, 3, 5 and 8 years, with the majority of the spirit being 3 and 5 years of age and bottled at 48% ABV.

A production process with so many divergent steps is sure to bring some interesting tastes to the table. It’s intriguing to say the least. The nose, even at 48%, is remarkably soft and light, with some of that pot still action being quite evident in the initial notes: rotting banana skins, apples gone off and some funky Jamaican notes, if perhaps not as intense as a Hampden or worthy Park offering. This then slowlyalmost delicatelyreleased light citrus, watery fruit and caramel hints, chamomile, cinnamon, green tea and bitter chocolate and a sort of easy sweetness very pleasing to smell.

It got better when I tasted it, because the strength came out more clearlynot aggressive, just very solid and crisp at the same time, sweet and clear, almost like an agricole with some oak thrown in for good measure. The pot still origins were distinct, and taste of sweet fruits gone over to the dark side were handled well: apples, citrus, pears, gherkins, the very lightest hint of olives, more tea, green grapes, with cooking spices dancing around everything, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon. Even the finish was quite aromatic, lots of esters, bananas, apples, cider and a sort of grassiness that was more hinted at than forcefully explored.

As an alternative to more commonly available rums, this one interesting. It doesn’t smack you in the face or try to damage your glottisit’s too easy or thatand works well as both a sipping drink (if your tastes go that way), or something to chuck into a mai-tai or a negroni variation. One of the reasons why it should be tried and appreciated is because while it has tastes that suggest a Jamaican-Bajan hybrid, there is just enough difference from the mainstream here to make it a fascinating drink on its own merits, and shows again how rum is simply the most versatile, varied spirit available.

Plus, let’s be fair, the arrack is quite a nifty rum judged solely by itself: no, it’s not a stern and forbiddingly solid cask-strength rum, noit’s actually something of the other waybut it’s original within its limits, sweet enough for those who like that, edgy enough for those who want more. In short, eminently sippable for its strength. I think it’s an old, even ancient drink made new, and even if one does not immediately succumb to its languorous charms, I do believe it’s worth taking out for a try.

(#521)(84/100)


Other notes

The bottle clearly says “aged up to 8 years”. Understand what this means before you think you’re buying an 8 Year Old rum.


Opinion

With respect to the rum news all being about the western hemisphere’s juice: I don’t begrudge the French, Spanish or English Caribbean rum makers their glorythat would be deeply unpatriotic of me, even if one discounted the great stuff the islanders are making, neither of which is an option. There’s a reason they get just about 75% of the press, with the independents and Americans (north and south) getting the remainder.

But I just want to sound a note of caution about the blinkers such focus is imposing on our rumsight, because by concentrating on nothing but these, we’re losing sight of great stuff being made elsewhereon the French islands, St Lucia, Grenada, Mexico, Japanand Indonesia. From companies like By the Dutch and the New Asians only now beginning to be more visible.

Feb 032017
 

#340

Cachaças are, as any rum pundit is aware, those cane juice based rums that are not called agricoles because they are made in Brazil rather than the French Caribbean islands. Geography aside, they have two major points of differenceone, they are often age in Brazilian woods of one kind or another, and two, those that are available outside Brazil are almost all made to be mixed in a caipirinha, not to be had neat. I’ve heard that over a thousand varieties made domestically, and the best of them are sold only there, and many top end aged variations existunfortunately few, if any, are ever exported, which creates the illusion that they are low end rums as a whole, and to this day they take second place to aged agricoles. Which is a shame, really, for it denies the rum world of potentially world beating products.

Thoquino is a company formed in 1906 by Thomaz de Aquino, and is located in Sao Joao de Barra, the Campos area just north of Rio de Janeiro, where sugar cane cultivation goes back to the earliest colonization of Brazil in the 16th century and which is considered the “traditional” area from which the best cachaças originate. The company has its own sugar cane fields, which apparently is somewhat unusual for a Brazilian distilling company, and which allows it to control and integrate the entire process from cultivation to the final product, in-house. The spirit derives from fresh pressed cane juice which is fermented for an unusually long eight days, and then double distilled (I suspected it is filtered as well); there is no information available on any ageing, and since normally both age and the wood in the barrels is proudly trumpeted to the heavens, I’d suggest this is a zero year old. No information on stills is available.

Having written all the above, how’s the rum? Well, nosing the clear 40% spirit made it clear that it stemmed from the same family tree as the Haitian clairins and the Capo Verde grog, if not quite as raw or brutal aggressive; and I formed the sneaking (if entirely personal and unconfirmed) suspicion that it hailed from a creole coffey still. It smelled sweet, yes, with black pepper, oil and brine in there somewhere (sort of tequila-like but with less salt), sharp and uncompromising as a zealot’s hot glare. Over time it turned vegetal, with more pronounced aromas of sugar water, citrus and (get this!) cinnamon rolls hot from the oven.

The taste was initially quite lovely, rolling light and sweet and (relatively) smooth across the tongue. It wasn’t complex in any way, but it was pleasing in its own understated fashion. There were some flowers and fleshy fruitspineapple, bananasin an uneasy mix with sharper pepper and citrus rind, sort of held together by the vegetal sugar water, and in the background there lurked the toned-down notes of olives and brine, held under tight control, leading to a short, sweet, light and overall unexceptional fade.

As tasting notes went, the cachaça more or less confirmed its antecedents without trying to break the mould. Since it was advertised and marketed specifically as a caipirinha agent, perhaps it would be churlish expect a top end spirit here, and indeed, the company does make an aged version (aged in Jetiquiba wood) which I have not tried. So all in all, a straightforward mixing agent then.

Still, maybe it’s time for some enterprising rum maker to take a plunge and start promoting the best of the cachaças in the western markets. Not the good quality young stuff, but the really amazing rums which only Brazilians are aware and which remain unknown to the majority. Bert Ostermann of the German company Delicana has tried with limited success to do so, some independent bottlers like L’Espirit have issued the occasional aged bottle, and we need more. Although the Thoquino and others I’ve tried may not quite be there (yet), we should keep an eye on Brazil in the years to come, for their rums point the way to another facet of the ever changing rumiverse. If Luca ever decides to go there, watch out.

(77/100)

Nov 172016
 

rrl-2015

Not quite as good as the 2012but damned close

#317

One of the genuine pleasures to be had in the field of rum reviews is the unstinting, generous assistance given by members of the subculture. After I wrote about the Rhum Rhum Liberation 2010, Liberation 2012 and the amazing 2012 Integrale, a reader from Holland contacted me and offered to send along a sample of the 2015 Integrale, for no other reason than because he wanted to see how it stacked up against the othersand to my great good fortune, it arrived while I was still in Germany, and I was able to run all four past each other for a good comparative session. So big hat tip and many thanks to Eddie K., and may his rum shelf never be empty of the good stuff.

Just to recap the basics for those who don’t want to wade through the other three reviews: all these Libération rhums stem from Bielle on Marie-Galante (Guadeloupe), and are part of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla and Luca Gargano; cane juice derived, double distilled in small copper stills designed by Mr. Capovilla (built by Muller out of Germany), aged around six years in Sauternes white oak casks. Need I say that there were no additives or filtrations of any kind here? Probably not. Also – 2015 is the date of bottling, not the date of distillation (it was ‘liberatedget it?)

rhum-rhum-liberation-integrale-2015Tasting such a delectable rhum in tandem with its brothers really allows the profile to be taken apart in a way a more casual tasting probably wouldn’t. Certainly it reaffirmed my initially high opinion of the 2012 Integrale, but you know, this 2015 version bottled at 58.4% ABV wasn’t half bad either. Consider first the nose, which playfully started the party with light grassy notes and some rubber, as quickly gone as a strumpet’s smile. Then tree sap, some sweet-and-sour teriyaki sauce, a bit of brine, and then the caramel, burnt sugar, cheesecake, bananas and cherries were given their moment to shine, in a smell that was clear and clean and very crisp, nicely leavened by a creaminess which provided a rounded nose I quite liked.

And I savoured the taste of this thingit was good and solid, hot and punchy, in a good way, with gradually unfolding flavours of flowers and vanillas plus honey (what is it with the Guadeloupe agricoles and that light honey taste? It’s great). After opening up and with some water, I tasted chocolate, coffee, spices like cinnamon and cardamon, maybe nutmeg. There was some vague bitterness of oak to be sensed, a slight imbalance, fortunately brief and soon supplanted by the tartness of apples and cider and brine. Overall, very well rounded and remarkably drinkable, which is one reason that sample is now gone. As for the fade, it was long, crisp, brinyno vagueness of tastes, none of that inconclusive mashed-up-porridge of a lesser rhum, but bright and clear, with black tea, more honey, fudge and a sprig of mint and a lovely tart fruitiness that resisted my attempts to pin it down.

It was close to the 2012 Libération for sure, maybe even a bit betterand if, as noted above, it wasn’t quite up to the level of the 2012 Integrale, I didn’t feel cheated or let down, since I have a feeling that such remarkable rhums are occasional visitors to our planet rather than regular inhabitants. And in any case, the 2015 Integrale is a damned fine rhum by any standard, with many strong points and a very few weak ones, which any lover of agricoles would be glad to have. It’s good to see that in an era of commercial sameness by far too many old houses, it’s still possible to find some that don’t let anything like restraint or commonsense stand in their way, and just go ahead and push all their skill and art into making something that’s really very, very good. When they were done with this one, I can almost imagine them standing around holding their tasting glasses, and all of them with silly grins of appreciation on their faces. Much like mine, now that I think about it.

(87/100)

Oct 022016
 

rr-liberation-2010

Not quite on the level of either of the 2012 editions

#308

***

When trying many rums of similar antecedentsyear, maker, stylewhat we are doing is examining all the ways they are similar, or not. The underlying structure is always the same, and we search for points of difference, positive or negative, much in the way we review wines, or James Bond movies. Velier’s own Caronis and Demeraras are examples of this, as is this collaboration with Gianni Capovilla from Bielle on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe). Some reviewers take this to the extremes of delving into the minutiae of single-barrel rums issued in the same year by different independent bottlers, assessing the various barrels from, say, 1988, but I lack this kind of laser-focus, and it’s good enough for me to pick up a few bottles from a given outfit, and see if any general conclusions can be drawn from them.

rrl-2010-2The basic facts are clear enough for the Liberation: one of the first (if not the first) double-distilled rhum to roll off the line of the new distillery next to Bielle which began its operation around mid 2007, aged a smidgen under three years, bottled at a robust 45% (note that the 2012 editions were 45% for the standard 2012 and 59.8% for the Integrale), coloured a dark orange-gold. The labelling continuesor originatesthe practice of showing the picture of an animal utterly unrelated to rum, which I have been informed is a suggested meal pairing if one was to have the two together (but about which, here, I have my doubts).

The nose was quite nice, with all the subtle complexity and depth I had been led to expect from the Rhum Rhum line. Dusty, dry, some citrus peel (orange), watermelon, even some grass. It smelled clear and smooth and clean, with just a hint of pot still lurking grumblingly in the background but staying firmly there. Like with the others, waiting for it to open up rewards the patient, eventually giving up further notes of some light caramel, coconut shavings and brine, all integrating quite well.

The palate evinced a discombobulated richness that indicates the evolution these rhums continue to go through, and which suggests a product profile still not firmly fixed in the maker’s mind. It was like a cross between a crisp white agricole and a finished whisky (perhaps a Glendronach, what with their sherry finishes), to the benefit of neither. There were perfumed aromas and tastes of frangipani and hibiscus, which barely missed being cloying; coconut shavings, some brine and olives (though the rhum was not tequila-ish in the slightest), more vegetals and wet grasses, but little of that delicate sugar water sweetness which I sensed in the nose (or vanilla, or caramel). To say that I was nonplussed might be understating the matterI’m no stranger to divergent noses and palates, but usually the latter is more demonstrative, more emphatic than the former….here the reverse was the case. Still, it finished well, being nice and long and aromaticthe florals dialled themselves down, there was a lesser briny note here, and the vanilla and faint caramel were delicately evident once again, accompanied by a very nice touch of honey. So it was a very nice sipping-quality rum, just outdone by its peers from later years.

Earlier I mentioned points of difference. I thought this rhum had a better opening nose than the 2012, but was a little thinner on the palate, was slightly less rich, less enjoyably complex. Honestly, there’s little major difference between the two (though the Integrale exceeds them both)…yet if I were to chose I think the 2012 has my vote, not this one. Here Signores Capovilla and Gargano were still in the experimental phase, maybe, still testing the variations and developing the overall philosophy of the line. I’ve heard the 2015 is not on the level of the 2012, and the 2010 isn’t quite there. So far, then, the 2012 editions seem to be the markers of the brand, and Integrale is still the one to buy.

(84/100)

rrl-2010-3

Sep 262016
 

seven-fathoms

*

The rum that Pyrat’s could have been

#306

A trend I see gathering more and more steam these days is that of snazzy marketing campaigns for (mostly) new rums, bugling their lovingly preserved family recipes, boasting slick webpages oddly short on facts but long on eye candy, trumpeting old traditions made new (but respectfully adhered to), or new and innovative production methods which enhance the final product. Words like “artisan”, “premium”, “handcrafted”, “traditional”, “every single drop” are tossed around with the insouciant carelessness of hormonal teenagers with their chastity.

This kind of folderol just irritates me, not least because it seems like such a copout, a lazy substitute for the actual product. Seven Fathoms, which is going for that last category, is staking its claim to fame on the fact that they age their rum in watertight barrels that are weighted down and put under water (42 feet deep, or seven fathoms, get it?), so that the action of the waves agitates the barrels and increases contact between rum and wood…which, with the additional pressure, thereby making for a denser flavour profile in somewhat less time. Ageing seems to be around one to three years depending on the rum.

Whether that works or not is questionable. I can accept that it likely has an effect, but whether that effect has such an impact as to elevate the whole rum to some other level of quality on the basis of claims alone is something like accepting statements of superfast ageing, or proprietary yeast strains, or family recipes from Ago, or the impact of Tanti’s enamel bathtub as a finishing agent. Kinda have to go there and try the thing, y’know?

So let’s do that: it was an amber-red rum, bottled at 40% and aged less than five years. It smelled, on the initial pour, rather spicysweet and fruity, with apricots, cherries, pears and some vague breakfast spices, and with a noticeable background of orange zest (this is where the reference to Pyrat’s comes in). While most of my research suggests that it was of pot still origin, the scents lacked some of that pungency and depth which would mark it as such with more emphasis. Still, quite a decent nose, and if not world beating, at least it was aromatic.

The taste was clearer about the origin and also quite original in its own way. It was not quite full bodied, but spicy and smooth enough to please. Cucumbers soaked in brine and vinegar (I know how that sounds), ripe tomatoes (wtf? – that’s a first for me) and molasses, bound together by a core of caramel, nougat, peaches and other lighter fruits, sugar water, vanilla and the slightly bitter oak tannins imparted by the barrels themselves. I noted with some relief how well the orange zest that carried over from the nose had been integrated into the whole, lending just enough spritely shuck and jive to enhance without overwhelming the drink. It was a beguiling mix of soft and spice, done well, leading to a finish that was warm, a little dry, providing closing aromas of vanilla, crushed almonds and some oak tannins. All in all, quite serviceable for a young rum.

The Cayman island Spirits Company has been in business since about 2008 when they operated out of a small building in George Town (on Grand Cayman), and in 2013 they moved to a spanking new facility as part of their efforts to expand, diversify and launch an attack on the global market. They began back in the day with a handmade still apparently constructed from two ice-buckets welded together, but have since progressed to both a pot still and a column still, and produce the Seven Fathoms premium, as well as a series of “Governor’s Reserve” Rums – white, overproof, gold, dark, spiced, banana and coconut. Oh, and a vodka. And a gin. The rum derives from local sugar cane (which a brand rep told me was “as far as possible” which I took to mean “not all of it”). The distillate comes from refined sugar and molasses fermented for six days in 4000-liter stainless steel tanks and is double distilled in a German-made copper pot still. Then it’s barreled off into ex-bourbon barrels, which are themselves sealed in a sort of Texas-sized condom (the process is actually patented, or so I was informed), and taken out to sea somewhere secret to be submerged. Note that I’ve read the ageing is not 100% underwater but I don’t know how much is terrestrial and how much is aquatic at this point.

Summing up: my take is that they’ll find Europe a tougher nut to crack than the US, where younger 40% rums tend to be viewed with somewhat more favour and so sell better (and that’s not counting island-hopping tourists who stop off on Grand Cayman). Be that as it may, here is one rum that tries to go slightly off in a new direction without entirely abandoning what a rum should be, and I’m happy to report it’s not bad at all. This seems to be one of those instances where if you filter out the noise and rah-rah of the advertising, put away the key individualistic selling point of the ageing regimen, ignore the near-hysterically positive notes on TripAdvisor and other sites – do all of that, take it all down to its essence, and what’s left is still a rum which you won’t be entirely unhappy buying, and sharing.

(82.5/100)

 

Jul 222016
 

Sagatiba Pura 2

Great nose. Taste and finish don’t quite measure up.

This was a cachaça I bought back in 2011 or thereabouts, and never bothered to open and review because I had zero experience with the spirit beyond getting smacked on caipirinhas a few times; I lacked sufficient background to rate it properly and it seemed to be unfair to score it when there were no fitting comparators. Several years on, nearly three hundred reviews and quite a few Brazilian spirits later, plus available comparators and controls, and I felt better equipped to write something I can put my name behind.

Sagatiba PuraSagatiba Pura is produced in the small town of Patrocinio Paulista in the state of São Paolo, Brazil. The company was formed in 2004, and through adroit marketing and what must have been pretty good brand ambassadorship, became one of the first cachaças to be widely exported and known outside its country of origin (it claimed to hold a 90% market share of cachaças in Britain in 2007). It was likely this exposure that caused Campari to buy it in 2011 for $26 million. The company also makes Velha and Preciosa variations, which are aged and brown rhums in their own right, unlike this clear one, which was (and remains as of this writing) the only one of the line to make it to Canada. Too, while the USA appears to have gotten the 38% ABV version introduced back in 2013, mine was 40%.

The clear, multi-distilled, unaged cachaça had a nose that was by far the best of the series I tried that day, and though it came from a column still, did a good imitation of being a pot still product. Rich, briny, waxy and redolent of spanish olives with splash of furniture polish, it also had some hints of woodiness lurking in the background (though of course it had not been aged). What made it shine in my estimation was the way it developedafter standing for a few minutesand started to provide smells of citrus peel, crushed sugar cane, a sweetish amalgam of cinnamon and nutmeg, and even the light perfume of flowersa really nice aroma all round, light and clean.

It was too bad that this promise didn’t carry over as to how it tasted. It was spicy, clear, clean and dry, not sweet at all, with (initially) little of the delicate perfume the nose suggested. There was a certain metallic taste to it, a mixture of tobacco and wet campfire ashes, almost mineral-y in nature, sufficiently aggressive to squash the lighter vegetals, wet grass, aromatic cigarillos, sugar water, florals, watermelon and sliced pears which came out (helped by some water). These clashing flavours did not, in my estimation, play well together. Exactly the same notes carried over into the fade, which was short and dry and warm and smooth enough, but still ruined by the ashy and smoky, background, which was far too dominant and all-encompassing for me to appreciate it. There was originality here, no doubt, but no adherence to one taste profile over the otherlike gambolling puppies they were all allowed to do pretty much what they pleased, without discipline or imposed order.

It’s curious that the Sagatiba is marketed as some kind of premium top end cachaçait sure doesn’t taste like one, though it is better than the Leblon I tried alongside it. It’s possible that since the majority of the rum drinking public outside Brazil knows little about the type, or because bartenders who nab a bottle or two of it frothed over its potential, that such claims can be made. As far as I’m concerned, it has a snazzy bottle, clean, clear design philosophy (so it looks real cool), and excellent marketing, which, when all is distilled down to what mattersthe taste and how it drinksjust makes me shrug and move it to the mixers shelf, which is probably where it always belonged anyway.

(#288 / 78/100)

Apr 302015
 

D3S_1657-001

Drinking this rum is knowing what harpooning Moby Dick felt like. A wild-haired full-proof bodybuilder of a rhum, so absolutely unique in taste that it it defied easy description. I sampled it and knew I wanted to write about it immediately.

So there I was in Paris at La Maison du Whiskey in April 2015, with some fellow rummies. Hundreds of bottles of rhum and rum beckoned from groaning shelves. Samples from years pastdecades past! – winked in their little bottles, inviting us to get started. Straight-out rumporn, honestly. Our hands were itching to start the pours, but we were having too much fun just talking with each other to get going.

We were discussing rum classificationscolour, country, age, styleand the organizer of our ramblings (who wanted to remain nameless so I shall simply refer to him as The Sage) suggested that origin was probably best as a primary separatorpot still, single column still, multiple column still, juice versus molasses, etcbefore going into further possible gradations of colour and ageing and country and style.

“You simply cannot mistake a pot still product, fresh off the still,” he argued. “Like Pere Labatt white, or Neisson, HSE, any of the agricole makers who produce a white rum at full proof.”

“Don’t forget Haiti,” I suggested, thinking mostly, it must be said, of Barbancourt. But also of the new stuff Velier was developing, from that half-island.

“Yes, absolutely,” said the Sage, switching directions in a heartbeat. “There are five hundred small producers in Haiti making clear rum the way they have for ages and ages. Barbancourt is good but gone mass market. If you want to see what a really original white pot still product is like, you have to try these small ones that only get sold locally, at any strength. Fully organic, old-school stuff.”

D3S_1657

“Never tried one,” I admitted.

There was a hushed sound of indrawn breaths as the room fell silent. Serge’s impressive mustachethe one that Tom Selleck weeps himself every night to sleep wishing he hadtwitched. Cyril dropped his glass, and Daniele choked into his. They all regarded me with pitying stares. The Sage himself looked utterly scandalized at my ignorance: I had evidently dropped a few notches in his esteem. After huffing and puffing his indignation for a moment, he darted behind the counter, rummaged around a bit and came back carefully holding a tasting glass brimming with a white liquid like he feared it might explode.

“Try this. Full proof Clairin Sajous, bottled straight from the still. 53.5%

The term “clairin” is not a common one: references to it only exist online dating back to 2008. Clairin is, quite simply, clear white creole (often pot, sometimes primitive column) still rhum made in Haiti from cane juice, sometimes with wild yeast and a longer fermentation period, often without any ageing whatsoever. They can range from a please-don’t-hurt-me 30% or so, to (in more extreme cases) a more feral gun-toting, bring-it-on 60%. It’s the drink of the country, the way cachaca is in Brazil.

The variants of the rhum span the whole gamut of quality as well: some are rough, bathtub-brewed popskull as likely to kill you as enthuse you, bottled in whatever containers are on hand for the benefit of local consumption; others are slightly more upscale and professionally made stuff, from small one-man outfits like Sajous, Vaval and Casimirthese are occasionally sent abroad. Velier has distributed these three in its latest offerings, for example, and it was the Sajous I was trying.

The rhum looked harmless, defenceless, innocuousmeek and demure. I regarded it suspiciously as a result. I remembered traumatic incidents with cachaca, as well as unexpected clear taste bombs from Rum Nation and Nine Leaves. “Not aged at all?” I asked.

“No.”

I took a tentative pull with my nose. Even that tiny, delicate, sommelier-sniffing-the-wine sniff was too much. My eyes watered, my vision swam, my nose puckered, and my knees trembled. My God but this stuff was pungent. Not so much the strength, which was a relatively strong-but-bearable 53.5%, but its sheer intense potency. If I was older, I might have asked for a defibrillator to be on standby.

There was this incredibly large bubble of salt and wax expanding through my head. Brine and gunpowder exploded on the nose, mixed in with kerosene and fuel oil, turpentine and lacquer. It was almost like sniffing a tub of salt beef, yet behind all that, there was the herbal clarity of water in which a whole lot of sugar was dissolved (“swank” we called it in my bush-working days), crushed green mint leaves and just-mown grass on which the sprinkler is irrigating in bright sunlight.

I withdrew my nose after a few tries of this, scribbled my notes down in a shaking hand, and moved on to taste. I had learnt caution, as you can see. And if you’re trying a full-proof Clairin yourself for the first time after a lifetime of molasses-based rums, I’d recommend it.

D3S_1658

The feel of the Sajous in the palate was hot, thick and heavy, even though the thing was not raw or excruciatingly sharp by any means. It was as intense and flavourful as the nose, if not more sosap, thick and sweet and oily started things out. The rhum coated the tongue with the tenacity of a junkie clutching five dollar bill. I don’t often use the word “chewy” but it really works to describe how it felt. Initially the Sajous presented itself as heated and spicy, and then it smoothened out well, giving over to a buttery, and more agricole-like profilefresh cut sugar cane, wax, furniture polish, salt beef in malt vinegar (yeah, I know how that sounds), and all shot through with green, unripe fruit, some lemon peel, and that vegetal, green flavour that drives agricole lovers into transports. More kerosene and brine permeated the back end, and the fade, long and deep, lingered for a damned long timeenough to make me put down the glass after a bit, inhale deeply and just try to wait the thing out. Before starting again.

I finally stopped my sampling, caught my breath, and looked over at Cyril from DuRhum, who was grinning at me with a glass of his own in his hand. “What did you think of it?” I asked him. He and I both liked the Nine Leaves Clear and had good things to say about Rum Nation’s 57% White Pot Still. Perhaps the closest rum to this profile I’d ever tried was the SMWS Longpond 9 81.3%). Those were similar to this, but nowhere near as uncultured, as elemental. They had been babied a little, smoothened a mite in the cuts, while this hadn’t even progressed to training wheels. It reminded me of three explosive cachacas I had tried (twice) from a small booth at the 2014 Berlin RumFestthey exhibited that same off-the-scale craziness and untamed wild freedom.

Cyril’s understatement was massively un-Gallic: “It’s different, isn’t it?” He, Daniele and The Sage were vastly amused at my reaction. I guess that was understandableI don’t have a poker face worth a damn, and had never tried a white rhum with quite this level of profile intensity before. Just the aroma was enough to make you rethink any preconceptions of what a rum or rhum could be.

“All right then,” I said to The Sage, stealing another sip and shuddering a little less. “What can you tell me about the Sajous?

He told me what he knew (much of which was on the label): it was made from pure sugar harvested from Java cane originating from India, grown in a small 30-hectare estate owned by Michel Sajous, in Saint Michel de l’Attalaye just north of Port-au-Prince. It was all organic and un-messed with from start to finish. Fermentation was done over seven to ten days using wild yeast, double distilled on a pot still at the Chelo distillery on the propertyand then run straight into the bottles after coming off the still. No ageing, no additives, no dilution, no nothing.

“Real traditional agricole rhum before it gets tampered with, purest example of the type,” he said, and it was clear he wasn’t kidding. If there was ever an “original” rhum, the Sajous wasn’t far away from itthe only issue I had with it was perhaps a bit too much. I liked itmore or less. And the more intoxicated I got, the better it was, which may have been the point.

Cyril, Serge, Daniele, The Sage and I moved on to other things, sampled a load of old rums, went to dinner, talked about rum, drank some more, talked about rum, and had a wonderful time. They were all courteous enough to speak English to me, as my French is execrableI got my own back by carrying on in Russian with The Sage’s beautiful better half. You’d think we would run out of things to say about rum after a while, but nothe subject was as inexhaustible as the varieties. Alas, I had to excuse myself after several hours of it, since my wife was waiting for me and probably getting grumpy.

As I walked back to my hotel, I tried to summarize my feelings about the Clairin Sajous. Without dissing the thing, I can say that this is not everyone’s rum, or a must-have unicorn you share like pictures of your first-born. In fact, Spanish and English style molasses-based rum lovers would likely never approach it again after trying it once. Even agricole enthusiasts might back off a bit. I’m scoring it reasonably high because of good production value, great heft, an enormously intriguing profile, and an original character that stands supremely alone on the prow of its self-proclaimed awesomeness, sayingCall me Sajous”. It would make a tiki drink or a complex cocktail that would blow your hair back, no problem, yet it is probably too different from the mainstream to appeal to mostin that lies both its attraction and its downfall.

Because, you see, some taming of this beast is likely to be required, before it finds real favour and acceptance in the bars of the broader rum world. I liked it for that precise reason, and will get it (and its brothers) again but must be honest enough to say I’d only buy one at a time, far apartand always have a defibrillator handy.

(#212. 82/100)


Other notes

  • Made by Sajous at Chelo, but distributed and promoted by Velier.
  • For the guys I met and who took the time to talk rum, a big Merci. It really was a wonderful get-together.
  • The artwork on both this and the Casimir was done by Simeon Michel, a well known Haitian artist. There’s a better story behind the Vaval design, if you’re interested, at the bottom of the review.