Jan 202020
 

In spite of being “just” a consultant, Pete Holland of The Floating Rum Shack is so completely identified with the rums of the cheekily named That Boutique-y Rum Company, that we sometimes overlook the fact the outfit is actually part of Atom Brands which runs the Masters of Malt online spirits establishment. The curious matter of his being seen as the face of the brand can be directly traced to two thingshis consistent promotional work for TBRC online and off, and the irreverent paintings by Jim’ll Paint It that adorn the labels of the bottles, many of which feature Peter himself.

In a field ever more crowded with new bottlers, new distilleries and new (supposedly improved, but not always) offerings from the old houses, all vying for our limited attentions spans and slim, wife-approved budgets, one can hardly fault such an in-your-face marketing strategy, you can only admire how well it’s done. It helps, of course, that Peter really is a fun guy to hang out with, drink with and make jokes with (or at) – and that the rums the company has released so far have been pretty damned good.

Take this one, which proves that TBRC has a knack for ferreting out good barrels. It’s not often you find a rum that is from the French West Indies aged beyond ten yearsNeisson’s been making a splash recently with its 18 YO, you might recall, for that precise reason. To find one that’s a year older from Guadeloupe in the same year is quite a prize and I’ll just mention it’s 54.2%, aged seven years in Guadeloupe and a further twelve in the UK, and outturn is 413 bottles. On stats alone it’s the sort of thing that makes my glass twitch.

Still, with the facts out of the way, what’s it like?

Very niceif a little off the beaten track. Now here is a rum based on a batch of molasses (so it’s not a true cane juice agricole), and it starts off not with grassy and herbal and citrus aromas, but with crackers, caramel, and breakfast cereal (Fruit Loops, I say, from the experience of buying tons of the stuff for the Baby Caner back in the day). Which I like, don’t get me wrongonce I adjust my mental compass away from agricole territory. The nose also displays toffee, nougat, nuts, almonds and mixes that up with a softly emergent slightly sharp and piquant fruity bouquet that’s quite simply delectable. The balance among all these elements is really good, negotiating that fine and tricky line between muskiness, sweetness, crispness and sharpness in a way we don’t often see.

The palate confirms that we’re not dealing with a cane juice rum in any waythe wood is more evident here, there’s some resin-like backtaste, smoke, vanilla, molasses and brine, offset by light flowers, and a sort of subtle fruity sweetness. The fruits are kinda tough to pick apartsome red grapes, I suppose, pears, papayait’s all very light and just a tad acidic, so that the combined profile is one of a seriously good rum, concluding with a reasonably long finish that is sweet, salt, wine-y, and crisp, just the slightest bit sour, and overall a really welcome dram to be sipping after a tough day at the rumfest.

Guadeloupe rums in general lack something of the fierce and stern AOC specificity that so distinguishes Martinique, but they’re close in quality in their own way, they’re always good, and frankly, there’s something about the relative voluptuousness of a Guadeloupe rhum that I’ve always liked. Peter sold me on the quality of the O Reizinho Madeiran a while back, but have my suspicions that he has a soft spot for this one as well. Myself, I liked it a mite better, perhaps because there was just a bit more going on in the background and overall it had a shade more complexity which I appreciated. It’s a really delectable dram, well aged, damned tasty and one to share with all your friends.

(#694)(87/100)


Other Notes

Peter told me that the label was a little misleading. The initial image on the bottle I tried makes a visual reference to the (Gardel) distillery on Marie Galante, but it was actually distilled at Damoiseau’s Le Moule facility, from a batch of molasses rum produced on their creole column. The label has been redrawn and there’s a movement afoot to re-label future iterationsRev 2.0 adds Peter to the artwork and pokes a little fun at the mistake.

Jul 072019
 

“Austere” says the back label of Rum Nation’s massive rum beefcake from Réunion, and they weren’t kidding. The rhum traditionalle from the French Department is bottled at 60.5% ABV, is seriously violent, a tropically-aged molasses-derived brown bomber, and to my mind it’s quite a step up from the lower-proofed 45% 7 year old agricole they had previously released in 2016. It is not recommended for people who don’t know what they’re getting into.

HyperFocal: 0

Why? Because insofar as it has those wild, fierce and pungent smells and tastes, it’s very much like the new wave of Jamaican rums now making such big wavesHampden and Worthy Park in particular. Because this presses many of the same buttons, shares something of the same rum-DNA, the major one being that it’s coming off a still stuffed with the potential to crank up the ester-count. And while neither of these two bottles says sofor whatever reasonI’m going on record as saying they’re both from Savanna and the wonder of it is that they come off a savalle copper column still, not pot stills like the Jamaicans. And yet the ‘Nation’s cask strength version from 2018 is in no way a lesser rum.

Just smelling it tells you that. It releases such an intense aroma when crackeda beautifully clear piece of work, smelling of caramel, vanilla, leather, wine, and a lot of red fruits: cherries, red currants and pomegranates, that kind of thing. And that’s not allesters come out of hiding after five minutes or so, bubble gum, sharp green fruits, sandalwood, cloves, acetones, and that’s accompanied by a sort of woody, almost meaty smell that’s tough to pin down but really quite interesting. And as if all this was not enough it continued with sugar cane sap, a citrus line, mint, thyme, and even a twist of black licoriceseriously, you should keep that glass going for at least ten minutes, preferably more, because it just doesn’t seem to want to stop.

Some rums falter on the taste after opening up with a nose of uncommon qualityfortunately Rum Nation’s Réunion Cask Strength rum (to give it its full name) does not drop the ball. It’s sharp and crisp at the initial entry, mellowing out over time as one gets used to the fierce strength. It presents an interesting combination of fruitiness and muskiness and crispness, all at oncevanilla, lychee, apples, green grapes, mixing it up with ripe black cherries, yellow mangoes, lemongrass, leather, papaya; and behind all that is brine, olives, the earthy tang of a soya (easy on the vegetable soup), a twitch of wet cigarette tobacco (rather disgusting), bitter oak, and something vaguely medicinal. It’s something like a Hampden or WP, yet notit’s too distinctively itself for that. It displays a musky tawniness, a very strong and sharp texture, with softer elements planing away the roughness of the initial attack. Somewhat over-oaked perhaps but somehow it all works really well, and the finish is similarly generous with what it provideslong and dry and spicy, with some caramel, stewed apples, green grapes, cider, balsamic vinegar, and a tannic bitterness of oak, barely contained (this may be the weakest point of the rum).

I noted that it reminds me of the New Jamaican rums and that’s certainly true. But for anyone who likes the Lontan rums, the 2006 HERR 10 YO or the two 2018 “57” expressions, its uniqueness can’t be described by simply saying it’s a version of a rum from the Caribbean. It’s fiercely and uncompromisingly itself, with tastes that complementwithout replacingthe rums issued by its cousins from Jamaica. It’s dry, intense, rich, searing, complex, and that short tropical ageing period mellowed it enough to let subtler notes shine without dampening them down too much or losing the crispness of the more youthful elements. And so, summing up, what we have here is a relatively young rum that tries to wring the very last whiff or drop of flavour from its distillateand succeeds brilliantly.

(#639)(86/100)

Nov 192018
 

It was the words “Grand Arôme” that caught my eye: I knew that term. “Galion”, which I seemed to remember but didn’t, quite. And “Martinique,” hardly seeming to go with either. It had no brothers and sisters to its left and right on the shelf, which, in a shop stocking rows and rows of Plantations, Rum Nation, BBR, Saint James, Bally, HSE, Dillon, Neisson and all the others, struck me as strange (that and the rather “poor-relation-from-the-backcountry” cheap label and tinfoil cap). What on earth was this thing?

I bought it on a whim and cracked it in the company of some other agricoles that night and did not one lick of research until after it was done: that was probably the right decision, going in blind like that, because here is a rum which lurks behind the Martinique canon the same way the bottle did on that shelf, and it’s rare enough these days to find a rum you didn’t know existed, especially from an island with so many different rhums of its own that are well known.

Rums and rhums titled “Grand Arôme” are high-ester products much associated with French island rhums in general (Reunion Island’s Savanna HERR in particular) and have a lot in common with the New Wave of Jamaican rums we’re currently seeing from Hampden, Worthy Park and others, with their own classification titles like Plummer, Wedderburn and Continental Flavoured. They are all branches from the same treehooches with boosted ester counts to make for a enormously flavourful product.

And you could sense that on the nose, which was one to drive Cyrano de Bergerac into conniption fits. It lacked the smooth warmth of an aged product, but whether it did or didn’t spend time sleeping in wood, it reeked like a white monster from Haiti, even at the low strength. Olives, brine, licorice, black pepper, some vanilla, prunes and pencil shavings were immediately noticeable, in a sort of delirious free-for-all for dominance, followed by a lessening intensity over time as it opened up and provided some secondary aromas of vanilla, bags of fleshy fruits (peaches, apricots, prunes, plums, citrus), very light caramel and some aromatic tobacco. Not entirely original, but very very pungent, which for a rum issued at 43% was quite impressiveit was certainly more interesting than the light Cuban-style San Pablo or milquetoast Dictador Best of 1977 I happened to have on hand. Actually, that smell it reminded me rather less of an agricole than of a Jamaican, with all the funk and rotten bananas and midden heaps (akin to the Long Pond TECC but nowhere near as intense).

The pattern repeated itself as I tasted it, starting off sharp, uncouth, jagged, rawand underneath all that was some real quality. There were caramel, salty cashews, marshmallows, brown sugar (truly an agricole? I wrote in my notes), plasticine, wax crayons, brine, olives, sugar water, pineapple, raisins, a solid citrus heft to it, and again a lot of varied ripe fruits (and some not so ripe that were just beginning to go off). It was kind of sweet and salt and sour all at oncepractically a roadmap to the esters it squirted from every pore. But what was nice about it, was that if left to rest, it turned out to be smooth enough to sip while retaining that edge of raw quality that would make it a great mixer, and it’s got all the character of profile which the San Pablo (both the Gold and the White) so conspicuously lacked. Even the finish demonstrated thatit was short, but quite intense, with lingering notes of citrus, light anise, molasses, fruits, raisins and a last hint of salt.

My initial scribbles, transcribed here verbatim, read “Can’t tell what this is, need more background work. Says from Martinique, but it backs away from the crisp/clean agricole party line; seems more like a Jamaica-Martinique stepchild? (Yeah, I really do write like that). Because to me, it presented as a hybrid at the very least, suggesting intriguing paths for rum makersa combination of agricole and molasses rum, made perhaps en passant, but certainly not lacking in brio, aggro or tempo.

So what is it? A local rum made for the backcountry and not for export? A trial balloon of sorts to suss out the market? A failed attempt at something different, an experiment that somehow got loose from the lab? A bottle of the chairman’s private stash that got smuggled out in someone’s trousers?

Not quite. It’s Martinique’s answer to the Jamaican bad boys, made by the last remaining sugar factory on Martinique, Usine du Galion, which has the added distinction of also being the last distillery on the island to make rum from molasses (they source cane from around the island, from areas not AOC labelled). It’s mystifying why there’s such a lack of awareness of the Galion rum itself, but on reflection it’s perhaps not so surprising, becauseaccording to the estimable Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany who I contacted about this odd lack of profilethe commercial bottled rum is peanuts to them. Their real core business is sugar, and that part of the operation is huge, their primary focus. They installed a column still in the factory to make rum in bulk, which is then almost all exported to Europe, used primarily in the tobacco/candy/pastry industries and pharmaceuticals (probably perfumes).

Map of Martinique distilleries courtesy of Benoit Bail

There are only two Galion rums I’m aware of at this point: a white I’ve never seen at around 50-55%, and this one at 43%, which, according to Nico Rumlover’s enormously informative article here, is made from molasses, fermented with the addition of vinasse for anything between eight to sixteen days in wooden vats, using indigenous yeasts in a continuous cycle through the columnar still. Apparently it is unaged, with a small amount of caramel added to give the brown colour and generally limited to the ester midrange of around 500 g/hlpasquarely in the no-man’s land between Wedderburn (200-300 g/hlpa) and Continental Flavoured (700-1600 g/hlpa).

And it’s a hell of a rum, I’ll tell you thatMatt Pietrek in his article on “Beyond Jamaican Funk” mentioned Galion and what they were up to, but missed this under-the-radar rum and suggested that if you wanted French Island ester bombs, Reunion was the place to go. You might still have to, since the Galion is either available only at the factory, as a blender’s sample from Scheer in Amsterdam (at a whopping 61% ABV), or in some small, dusty forgotten shelf somewhere in Europe. But if you can pick it up, think of it as a high ester funk bomb that could be seen as a cheerfully insouciant French bird flipped at Jamaica; it proves emphatically that you don’t need to go all the way to the Indian Ocean to get yourself some, and provides a really cool comparator to those flavourful rums from all the other places we are only now getting to know so well.

(#569)(85/100)

Jul 262017
 

#380

The independent bottler Secret Treasures is no longer the same company it started out as, and this particular and delectable Guadeloupe rum was selected by the Swiss concern Fassbind before they sold off the brand to Haromex in 2005. So although Haromex is now making a new line of rums under the ST label (like the St Lucia Vendome and John Dore still rums I’ve looked at before), this rhum predates them and is part of the original line up. Guadeloupe is, of course, somewhat general a term so let me expand on that by saying the rhum originates from the Gardel Distillerie located in the north-east of Grand Terre in the commune of Le Moule. Gardel, owned by Générale Sucrière, a major player in the global sugar refining industry, is one of two distilleries in Le Moule (the other is Damoiseau) and earns some of its distinction by being the sole refinery on the main island. I don’t think Gardel makes any rhums of its own but sell rum stock to brokers and others – however, there is maddeningly little information available and I’ve got some queries out there which may make me amend this portion of the post in future.

Some basic facts on the rhum then, just to set the scene: it was from the Gardel distillery, distilled 1992 and bottled August 2003 from three casks which provided 1,401 bottles (this was #327). It was issued at a relatively unadventurous 42% which would have been fairly standard at that time, and one can only wonder what it has been doing for the last fourteen years and why nobody ever bought the thing. Since I had and retain a sneaking appreciation for Secret Treasures ever since I had their excellent Enmore 1989, there were no battles with my conscience to buy a few more from their range. Note that it is labelled as a “rum” (not rhum) and I have no absolute confirmation whether it was truly cane-juice derived, or where exactly it was aged (the now-defunct Reference-rhum, that online French-language encyclopedia of rum brands, says “molasses” with a question mark under its entry, while the 2021 entry for it under RumX saysmolasseswith no evidence of doubt).

In any event, whatever its ultimate source or point of ageing, I thought it was a zippy and sprightly rhum of initially crisp clarity and cleanliness. Coloured orange-amber, it nosed in surprisingly bright and clear fashion, immediately giving up aromas of honey, flowers and 7-Up (seriously!); over a period of minutes a more solid briny background emerged, accompanied by perfectly ripe fleshy fruits – peaches, apricots, sultanas and raspberries. Not particularly fierce or savage – it was too laid back and standard strength for that – but a very enjoyable nosing experience, the sort of easy going yet sufficiently assertive profile to have one curiously going deeper into it just to see where the rabbit hole led.

Aside from a certain lightness to the profile, the palate provided a soft series of tastes, which were fruity, floral, musky and delicate all at the same time. It was hard to know what to make of it – initially there were flowers, fudge, salty caramel, coconut, and vanilla, counterpointed with lemon zest, green apples, grapes and peaches. After a while additional flavours evolved: maple syrup, aromatic tobacco and vague coffee. Some of the crispness of the nose faded into the background here, and overall it did not present the sort of complexity that would advance it to the top shelf, but it was distinct enough to grab the attention, and at the very least it was intriguing, and for sure quite pleasant to drink. Perhaps the finish was the weakest part, being short and easy and light, mostly reminding one of caramel, light fruits, and raisins, which goes some way to making me wondering whether it was a true cane juice distillate (it lacked the distinctive herbal grassiness of such a product), or from molasses. One thing was clear though – it was nicely made, and wore its middle age well, without any kind of raw edge or jagged sharpness that distinguishes extremely young bottom-tier rums.

So: trying this clean and playful Guadeloupe rhum in tandem with the L’Esprit Bellevue 58% 8-year-old and the Longueteau 6-year-old VSOP, I felt the last two rhums were remarkably similar, though I liked the soft honey and maple-syrup notes of the Secret Treasures just a little more, and the L’Esprit better than both, which just goes to show that ageing isn’t everything, especially in the world of agricoles (remember the spectacular Chantal Comte 1980?). Be that as it may, there’s nothing at all bad about the ST Gardel 1992 rhum, and in fact it makes me really interested to try the 1989 variation, just to see how it stacks up. These days Fassbind is long gone from the scene and Haromex is making changes to the labels and the line up – but for those of you who come across some of the original bottler’s expressions dating back from the eighties and nineties, you could do a lot worse than pick one of them up, if for no reason than the pure and simple enjoyment of a well-aged rhum, well made, almost forgotten, and tasting just fine.

(84.5/100)


Other notes:

The Gardel plant, also known as Sainte-Marie, is the only sugar plant which still operating in Guadeloupe. It was founded in 1870 and its first owner was Benjamin François Benony Saint-Alarey, who chose to pay homage to his paternal grandmother in his naming of the factory. In 1994, the sugar sector in Guadeloupe underwent major restructuring, leading to the closure of all sugar factories on the island except Gardel which is currently composed of an agricultural part with a 1000 hectares and an industrial area. It produces nearly 100,000 tons of sugar per year. Information about the distillery is much more scant, unfortunately, though there’s a curious note by Ed Hamilton on the original Ministry of Rum forum, that it was closed by 1994…and the label for Renegade Guadeloupe 1998 mentions both a column still, and 1992 as the last date of any distillation.

Mar 262017
 

#350

The Savanna Millésime 2006 High Ester Rum from Réunion (or HERR, as it is labelled) is a steroid-infused Guadeloupe rum mixing it up with a Caroni and a Bajan. It may the closest one will ever come to one of Worthy Park or Hampden’s Jamaican taste bombs without buying one, betters them in sheer olfactory badassery and is possibly one of the best of its kind currently in production, or the craziest. It’s very likely that once you try it you’ll wonder where it was hiding all this time. It emphatically puts Réunion on the map of must-have rum producing nations with not just flair, but with the resounding thump of a falling seacan.

Just to set the background. I had bought the Savanna Rhum Traditonnel Vieux 2000 “Intense” 7 year old back in April 2016 in Paris, and when I finally wrote about it, remarked on the way it was interesting and tasty and seemed to channel a good Guadeloupe rum in that it walked a fine line between molasses based product and an agricole. Purely on the strength of that positive experience, I sprung for the HERR, and made some notes to get some of the other “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” Lontan series from Savanna as well (see “other notes”, below). The molasses-based HERR was distilled in 2006, aged for ten years in ex-cognac casks, bottled at a hefty 63.8% in 2016, bottle #101 of 686, and released for the 60th Anniversary of the Parisian liquor emporium La Maison du Whisky.

Anyway, after that initial enjoyable dustup with the “Intense”, I was quite enthusiastic, and wasn’t disappointed. Immediately upon pouring the golden-amber liquid into my glass, the aromas billowed out, and what aromas they were, proceeding with heedless, almost hectic pungency – caramel, leather, some tar, smoke and molasses to start off with, followed with sharper notes of vanilla, dark dried fruit, raisins and prunes and dates. It had an abundance, a reckless, riotous profusion of flavours, so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking that not only did Savanna throw in the kitchen sink in making it, but for good measure they included the rest of the kitchen, half the pantry and some of the plumbing as well. Even the back end of the nose, with some overripe bananas and vegetables starting to go off, and a very surprising vein of sweet bubble-gum, did nothing to seriously detract from the experience; and if I were to say anything negative about it, it was that perhaps at 63.8% the rum may just have been a shade over-spicy.

Still, whatever reservations I may have had did not extend much further than that, and when I tasted it, I was nearly bowled over. My God but this thing was rich…fruity and tasty to a fault. Almost 64% of proof, and yet it was warm, not hot, easy and solid on the tongue, and once againlike its cousinweaving between agricole and molasses rums in fine style. There was molasses, a trace of anise, a little coffee, vanilla and some leather to open the party; and this was followed by green apples, grapes, hard yellow mangoes, olives, more raisins, prunes, peaches and yes, that strawberry bubble-gum as well. I mean, it was almost like a one-stop shop of all the hits that make rum my favourite drink; and it lasted for a long long time, closing with a suitably epic, somewhat dry finish of commendable duration which perhaps added little that was new, but which summed up all the preceding notes of nose and palate with warmth and heat and good memories. There was simply so much going on here that several subsequent tastings were almost mandated, and I regret none of them (and neither did Grandma Caner, who was persuaded to try some). It presented as enormously crisp and distinct and it’s unlikely to be confused with any other rum I’ve ever tasted.

Just as an (irrelevant) aside, I was so struck with the kaleidoscopic flavours bursting out of the thing that I let the sample remain in my glass for a full four days (which is likely four days more than anyone else ever will) and observed it ascending to the heights before plunging into a chaotic maelstrom I’m somewhat at odds to explain. But one thing is clear – if the sharp fruitiness of unrestrained rutting esters is your thing, then you may just agree with me that the rum is worth a try, not just once, but several times and may only be bettered by the Lontan 2004 12 year old 64.2% made by the same company.

I said in the opening remarks that it might be the best of its kind currently in production, or one of the craziest. I believe that anyone who tries it will marvel at the explosive panoply of flavours while perhaps recognizing those off-putting notes which jar somewhat with what one expects a rum to possess. Having read of my experience, I leave it to you to decide which side of the divide you fall on. The HERR is not so much polarizing as unique, and it demands that you accept it as it is, warts and everything, on its own terms or not at all. If you do, I somehow doubt you’ll be disappointed, and may just spend a few days playing around with it, wondering what that last smidgen of flavour actually was. Sort of like I did.

(88/100)


Other notes

  • Personal encomiums and opinions apart, I should inject a note of caution. When tried in conjunction to the muskier, deeper Demeraras, HERR’s relative thinness becomes more apparent. Too, after some hours, that vein of bubble-gum sweet also takes on a dominance that can be off-putting to those preferring darker tastes in their rums, though such a whinge would not disqualify it from any rum lover’s shelf. But the chaos I noted earlier comes after you let it sit for the aforementioned few days. By the fourth day the rum becomes sharp, biting, and almost vinegary, and while one can still get the smorgasbord of fruitiness which is the source of its exceptionalism, it is no longer feels like the same rum one started with. Pouring a fresh sample right next to it on that day showed me the metamorphosis, and I believe that oxidation is something to beware of for any opened but long-untouched bottle.
  • As it turned out, an amazingly generous aficionado by the name of Nico Rumlover (long may his glass remain full) sent me not one or two additional Savanna samples, but eight more, just so that I could give them a shot…so look for those write-ups in the months to come. Along with several other rums and rhums, I used all of them (and the Intense) as comparators for this review.
  • Historical distillery notes can be found in the Makers section for those whose interests run that way.
  • Rum Nation looks to be releasing a Savanna 12 YO at 59.5% sometime this year.

 

Feb 212017
 

#344

Our global rum travels have moved us around from Japan, Panama, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Brazil, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Antigua, Laos and Mauritius (and that’s just within the last eight weeks); so let’s do one more, and turn our attention to Île de la Réunion, where, as you might recall, three companies produce rums – Rivière du Mât, Isautier, and Savanna, with Isautier being the oldest (it was established in 1845 and is now in its sixth generation of the family). If one wants to be picky Savanna has existed for far longer, but the company in its modern form dates back only to 1948 and lest I bore you to tears with another historical treatise, I refer you to the small company bio written as an accompaniment to this review.

Savanna is unusual in that it makes both agricoles and traditional, so it’s always a good idea to check the label closely – the French word “Traditionnel” refers to a molasses-based product. And take a moment to admire the information they provide, which is quite comprehensive (bar additives, which I somehow doubt they have). The rum I tried here was quite a beast – it was a seven-year-old year 2000 millésime distilled in November 2000 and bottled April 2008 with an outturn of just under 800 bottles, and issued at a whopping 64.5% – and that’s not unusual for them, as there are quite a few of such cask strength bruisers in their lineup. I’m as courageous as the next man, but honesty compels me to admit that any time I see a rum redlining north of 60% my spirit quails just a bit…even as I’m consumed by the equal and opposite desire (perhaps a masochistic one) to match myself against it. And here I’m glad I did, for this is quite a nifty product by any yardstick.

On the nose it was amazing for that strength – initially it presented something of the light clarity we associate with agricoles (which this was not), before turning deep and creamy, with opening salvos of vanilla, caramel and brine, vaguely akin to a very strong latte….or teeth-staining bush tea. It was weirdly herbal, yet not too much – that surprising vegetal element had been well controlled, fortunately…I’m not sure what my reaction would have been had I detected an obvious and overwhelming agricole profile in a supposedly molasses originating rum. And yes, it was intense, remarkably so, without the raw scraping of coarse sandpaper that might have ruined something less carefully made. I don’t always add water while nosing a spirit, but here I did and the rum relaxed, and gave additional scents of delicate flowers and a hint of breakfast spices.

The palate lost some of the depth and creaminess, becoming instead sharply crisp and clean, quite floral, and almost delicately sweet. Even so, one had to be careful to ride the shockwave of proof with some care, given the ABV. Frangipani blossoms, bags of tart fruits (red guavas, half-ripe Indian mangos and citrus rind) and vanillas were the core of the taste, around which swirled a mad whirlpool of additional, and very well balanced flavors of green grapes, unripe pineapples, more mangos, and peaches, plus some coffee grounds. It was powerful yes, and amazingly tasty when taken in measured sips. It all came down to the end, where the finish started out sharp and dry and intense, and then eased off the throttle. Some of the smooth creaminess returned here (was that coconut shavings and yoghurt I was sensing?), to which was added a swirl of brine and olives, grapes, vanilla. The way the flavours all came together to support each other was really quite something – no one single element dominated at the expense of any other, and all pulled in the same direction to provide a lovely taste experience that would do any rum proud.

So far I’ve not tried much from Réunion aside from various examples of the very pleasant ones from Rivière du Mât (their 2004 Millésime was absolutely wonderful). If a second distillery from the island can produce something so interesting and tasty in a rum picked at random, I think I’ll redirect some of my purchasing decisions over there. This is a rum that reminds me a lot of full proof hooch from Guadeloupe, doing much of the same high wire act between the clear cleanliness of an agricole and the deep and growly strength and flavour of the molasses boyos. It’s a carefully controlled and exactingly made product, moulded into a rum that is an utter treat to inhale, to sip and to savour, and I’ll tell you, with all that is going on under the hood of this thing, they sure weren’t kidding when they called it “Intense.” It’s not a complete success, no, but even so I’m annoyed with myself, now, for just having bought one.

85.5/100


Note: This intriguing 7 year old interested me enough to spring for another >60% beefcake from the company, the High Ester Rum from Reunion (HERR). The entire line of high-ester Grand Arôme rums made by Savanna is supposedly a bunch of experimental flavour bombs, so can you imagine what a cask strength version of that is like?

 

May 082016
 

D3S_3801

A lovely, light rum , as elegant as a Viennese waltz: it’s missing something at the back end, but nothing that would make me consider telling anyone to steer clear.

Compagnie des Indes so intrigued me when I first came across their Cuban rum back in early 2015, that I’ve already looked at two of their more offbeat products (from Fiji and Indonesia), and have detailed notes on five more commercially minded ones, which I’ll try to deal with in the next weeks and months (in between every other rum I want to write about). This one hails from Guadeloupe and is a solid entry to the genre without breaking too much new ground or attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Bellevue (Le Moule) is actually a subset of Damoiseau, and is separated from its better known big brother in order to distinguish its molasses rums from the cane juice products Damoiseau more commonly produces. It’s located NE of Grand Terre (not Marie Galantethe other Bellevue which provided several iterations from Duncan Taylor and Cadenhead is there) . In 2015 CDI got in on the act when the issued this sixteen year old rum (it’s a whisker short of seventeen), but have made no effort to distinguish the two Bellevues (except to me, because I asked to clear up my confusionthanks Florent.)

D3S_3802

It’s always useful to know ahead of time where an aged rum was in fact aged, because as many writers before me have pointed out, tropical maturation is faster than Continental ageing, and the resultant qualities of the final product diverge: Velier, for example, has always favoured the tropics and ages there, which goes somewhat to explaining the intensity of its rums; while CDI prefers more subtle variations in its rums deriving from a prolonged rest in Europe. Knowing that helped me understand the staid elegance of a rum like this one. The nose, easy and warm at 43%, presented soft and fruity without hurry, with some driness, cardboard, and pickles (yeah, I know, I know…). Pears, ripe apples and white guavas, with a hint of zest, something like tangerine peel mixed up with some bubble-gum, plus an undercurrent of burnt sugar lending a very pleasing counterpoint.

At 43% the texture of this golden rum was medium bodied trending to light, and pleasant for all that. It was unusually dry and a bit too oaky, I feltthe tannins provided a dominance that somewhat derailed the other parts of the profile. It started out a little softbananas, kiwi fruit and white flowersbefore nectarines and fresh cucumber slices on rye bread emerged, which in turn gave way to ginnip and unripe apples and mangos. It took time to get all this and the integration of all these elements was not perfect: still, overall it was a perfectly serviceable rum, with a short, crisp, clear finish redolent of caramel, sugar cane juice, vanilla and more fruitiness that was light and sweet without ever getting so complex as to defy description.

There’s a certain clear delicacy of profile that has run through the Compagnie’s rums I’ve tried thus far. They do not practice dosing, which is part of the explanationthe European ageing is anotherbut even so, they are uniquely distinct from other independent bottlers who also follow such practices. This and the relatively low strength makes their rums possess an unhurried, easygoing nature that is not to everyone’s taste (least of all full proof rummies or cask strength whisky lovers). This one in particular lacks overall development, but makes up for it with interesting tastes you have to work at to discern, and at end it was a rum you would not be unhappy to have shelled out for. At under sixty euros (if you can still find it) it’s pretty good value for money, and gives a really good introduction to the profile of a Guadeloupe outfit with which not everyone will be familiar and whose rums are nothing to sneeze at.

(#271 / 85/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled March 1998, bottled February 2015
  • 281 bottle outturn
  • No additives, filtering or adulteration.
  • Masters of Malt remarks this is made from molasses, not cane juice. Florent, when contacted, said: “Yes indeed it s a molasses rum. There are two Bellevue distilleries in Guadeloupe. One on Marie Galante producing cane juice rums. Another one at Le Moule producing molasses sometimes.
Feb 042015
 

D3S_8939

The XO is more expensive, and slightly older, yet I feel this one is better in every way that counts: I’m going to take a deep breath, go out on a limband say I think this is among the best rums Rivière du Mât have yet created.

Full of beans and enthusiasm after the frothing delight that was the Rivière du Mât XO, I decided to dump the previous subject of my 200th review, and go immediately to the Millésime 2004, which is close to the top of their range, and one of the better rums I had in 2014. For a rum that is less than ten years old, that says a lot for its quality and the ability of the dude who put it together.

It’s a queer thing that there is not really much to distinguish this rum were you to see it on a shelf next to its siblings, the Grand Reserve, or the XO. Indeed, with its maroon-brown box and similar bottle shape, it almost fades into obscurity next to the fire-engine red of the XO and the black of the Reserve (which may be good for the patient hunter of high-end rums, not so good for those who just pick a rum ‘cause, y’know, it looks real cool).

The XO had an average age of just over eight years, and this was eight years flat. Both rums were aged in limousin oak, but with two crucial differences: all of the Millésime stock came from 2004 distillate selected as exceptional by the master blender, and 30% of it was aged in casks that previously held port before being married at the back end.

Perhaps this was where the extra fillip of quality derived, because I’ll tell you, it started right from the nose, which was remarkably smooth and quite soft, easygoing without displaying that delicacy which so often makes a mockery of any attempts to dissect the profile. I remarked on precisely such a fragile profile in the Reserve yet in both these rums (both of which derive from molasses, not cane juice so they’re not agricoles), there was a clean and clear set of tastes: they stated with a melange of crackers and cream cheese, whipped cream, strawberries, cherries and slightly overripe apricots; this then developed on opening into notes of vanilla, ginger and nutmeg with a little coffee, rich and sensuous to smell. It suggested good future experiences to the drinker, like a girl in the red dress at the bar who’s tipping you a wink and a smile (well, we can all hope, can’t we?).

I find in quite a few rums, that while the nose promises, the taste doesn’t always deliver. Not here. It was, quite frankly, remarkably sumptuous. The Millesime 2004 was medium bodied and toffee brown, and had an immediate taste of honey and dried flowers to get things rolling, and then more fruits came crowding onto the palate, tobacco and a little aromatic smoke, coffee, ginger, breakfast spices, some of the buttery smoothness of over-soaked french bread. I loved it. It was smooth and warm and yet distinct and luxurious, like a Louis Vuitton handbag my wife keeps bugging me to buy. And it faded well, again with warmth and friendliness, no spite, leaving behind the faint backend notes of caramel and coffee and toffee, and a hint of dried flower petals.

D3S_8940

(see translation below)

 

This is a rum I have no problems recommending. It demonstrates why a lower-costing, lesser-aged rum always wins over a five hundred dollar thirty-year-old. That pricey, geriatric gentleman on your sideboard can never truly go beyond what you thought it would be (though of course it can fall short)…so it’ll not exceed your sense of, well, entitlement. It’s supposed to be phenomenalthat’s why you grandly forked over the cash your wife was hoarding for that handbag: you’ve coughed up for quality, so that thing had better put out. With a rum like the 2004 Millésimewhich, for around €60 can be considered relatively affordable in comparisonyou won’t go in expecting a whole lot, it being an 8-year-old and alland when it over-delivers like it does, it feels like God loves you. And that you’ve made a discovery you can’t help but share.

(#200. 89/100)


Other notes

  • Background to the company is given in the Grande Reserve review.
  • As noted before, the Reserve, the XO and the 2004 Millésime are not agricoles
  • Translation of French label above: “Made from a single distillation, the 2004 vintage has developed its intense character through ageing in carefully selected oak casks. The aromatic originality of this exceptional traditional old rum is enhanced by a certain portion of the rum undergoing a second maturation of one year, in Porto barrels. Gourmand, fruity, with subtle spicy touches, Riviere du Mat Millesime 2004 provides peppery hints and notes of cherry in an elegant fondu (mix). The powerful, charming finish offers a delicious sensation of harmony which will enchant lovers of great rums.

 

Feb 012015
 

D3S_8937

Soft, firm, tasty and an all ‘round excellent rum. It could have been stronger, but that doesn’t invalidate the quality of what you do get.

Sometimes a positive review leaves me glumpish. This is a great rum, older cousin to the also interesting Grande Réserve, well put together, subtle, classy, soft, and possessing a real good tasteyet I guarantee that my inbox will be filled with grumbling queries as to why I bother writing about rums many can’t get. In fact, the majority of people reading this will ask variations of “So?, “From where wuz dat again?” and the final resigned snort of annoyance, “Well, if me kian gettit, me nah want it.” And believe me, I feel for you guys.

Rum like the Rivière du Mât XO, made on the Réunion island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, gets shipped and sold primarily in Europe, and a few places further afield. Therein lies part of the problem, I think. Not many in North America (or Asia for that matter, because that place has a massive tippling class) will have ever heard of this rum, or seen it, or had a chance to taste it. It’s not on their shelves, and doesn’t get reviewed often enough, and therefore you can just see some poor rum-loving guy in Kansas, in Manitoba, or Bumpole City in Noplace county, shrugging his shoulders and turning to the Lamb’s or Sailor Jerry. Because what choice does he have? There aren’t enough people trumpeting the “other stuff” and (worse yet) nobody imports it.

And that’s a real shame, because when I uncorked the XO, well, lemme tell you straight out, for a rum bottled at a relatively fluffy 42%, the nose on this thing was good. Raisins and dates, nicely dried, real solid richness wafted gently into my schnozz, morphing into new chopped fresh and fleshy fruits: peaches in cream. Vanilla and caramel and white flowers entered stage right and took their bow in the spotlight, and through it all was a really odd steely hint of tonic wateryou know, the type you add to your gin. Sultanas and lemon peel finished things off. To say I was pleased would be understating the matter: I loved the thing. In fact, I nearly brained my wife with my glass as I swung around in overeager enthusiasm to get her to take a sniff.

D3S_8936

Oh and did I mention the taste? The palate is damned fine as well. Here the ageing became more apparent because mingling in the marketplace of more dried fruit, dates, figs, and mangoor guavajam, was cigars, leather, some smoke, well integrated with the whole. The rum was medium bodied rather than heavy, yet displayed a lovely fullness to the tongue, akin to drinkable honey, that encouraged, nay, demanded, a second, third and fourth taste, and one that even a heavier molasses-drenched beefcake wouldn’t be ashamed to display. On a 42% rum of such soft pulchritude, I didn’t expect a long and lasting goodbye kiss, and therefore didn’t fault the easy finish too muchit was warm, breathy, didn’t outstay its welcome, and waved some unaggressive flavours of caramel, tobacco and raisins and caramel at me before fading away.

It’s a curious fact that while the company’s younger products are clearly noted by them as being agricultural rums, no such information is given for the older ones. And as I write this, an email from RdM comes in telling me that no, the older rhums are not agricoles, so consider the matter settled. The XO is a blend of five rums aged in Limousin oakcognacbarrels (a lot of them are new), for between six to nine years, the average age being just over eight, and in this they may have done a segue from Plantation who have a similar ageing philosophy, albeit the more traditional ‘finishing’ approach of oak first and longest, and a quick sheep dip into the cognac.

Anyway, without undue effort, I’d have to say that I liked the XO more than the Grande Reserve however indifferent I might have been to the package, which seemed to be somewhat a step downmaybe it’s that glaring fire-engine red box, dunnothe bottle is fine. Still, I should really stop whinging, because for around fifty euros, this rum gives value for money, even if it can’t be found in many of the watering holes where dedicated rummies go to type annoyed emails to me. So maybe the best I can do is take another sniff and taste (maybe another two, or five) of this excellent rum from Reunion, drown my grumpiness, answer emailsand look forward to the Millesime 2004.

(#199. 87.5/100)


Other notes:

  • I’ve covered the history and background of Rivière du Mât in the Grande Reserve review, so won’t repeat it here.
  • The little hedgehog like device within the circular seal is referred to as a “tanglier”: the company notes that it is a legendary beast, inspired from the Tangue (hedgehog) and the Sanglier (boar). The tanglier symbolizes the alliance between strength and tradition; so a marketing thing, then, like Bundie’s polar bear.

 

Oct 122014
 

D3S_9334

A deeply rich and remarkable rum – 1980 was a damned good year for this company

When one buys a raft of intriguing aged rums and then samples several dozen more (especially after a protracted absence), the issue is which rum to start reviewing first. Since my intention on this go-around was to run through several Caroni rums from Trinidad, as well as to give more weight to agricoles from the French West Indies, I decided that one of the best of the latter deserved some consideration. And that’s this sterling Damoiseau.

D3S_9338The Bellevue au Moule estate and distillery was established at the end of the 19th Century by a Mr. Rimbaud from Martinique, and was acquired by Mr. Roger Damoiseau in April 1942since then it has remained within his family (the estate and distillery are currently run by Mr Hervé Damoiseau). They claim to be the market leader in Guadeloupe — 50% market share, notes the estate web pageand their primary export market remains Europe, France in particular.

 

Forget all that, though: this 1980 edition would be enough to assure their reputation as a premium rum maker by any standard. Damoiseau themselves obviously thought so too, because it’s not every day you see a polished wooden box enfolding a bottle, and costing as much as it did. And once open, bam, an immediate emanation of amazing aromas greeted me. Even with my experience of full proof rums clocking in at 60% and over, this one was something special: plums, dark ripe cherries and cinnamon blasted out right away. The rum was impatient to be appreciated but then chilled out, and crisp, clean and direct notes of white flowers and the faintest bit of brown sugar and fresh grass came shyly out the door. I’d recommend that any lucky sampler to get his beak in fast to get the initial scent bomb, and then wait around for the more relaxed aftersmells.

D3S_9341What also impressed me was how it arrived in the palate: you’d think that 60.3% strength would make for a snarling, savage electric impact, but no, it was relatively restrained: heated, yes, but also luscious and rich. (The closest equivalent I could come up with when looking for a comparative to this rum was the 58% Courcelles 1972 which also had some of the loveliness this one displayed). Fleshy, sweet, ripe fruit were in evidence here, pineapple, apricots, crushed grapes, apricotsit was so spectacular, so well put together, and there was so much going on there, that it rewarded multiple trips to the well. It’s my standard practice to add some water when tasting to see how things moved on from the initial sensations: here I simply did not bother. It was hard to believe this was an agricole, honestlyit was only at the back end that something of the light cleanliness and clarity of the agricoles emerged, and the fade was a pleasant (if a bit sharp), long-lasting melange of white fruit (guavas, I’m thinking), a twist of vanilla, and light flowers.

 

Guadeloupe as a whole has never been overly concerned about the AOC designation, and creates both pure cane-juice and molasses-based rums, in light and dark iterations of vieux, très vieux, hors d’age and (not as common) the Millésiméthat’s where we head into rarefied territory, because it denotes a particular year, a good one. From the taste of this rum, the heft and the richness, 1980 outturn must have been phenomenal. For a very long time I’ve not been able to give enough attention to the products of the French West Indies (to my own detriment) – but even the few steps I’ve made have been worth it, if only to see diamonds like this one washed up on the strand at the high water mark.


Other notes