Nov 032022
 

Tanduay, in spite of being a behemoth of rum making in Asia (it sold nearly 23 million cases in 2021) with more than a 150-year history, has a spotty recognition in the west, largely because until relatively recently it sold most of its wares in Asia, and wasn’t all that common, or available anywhere else. What knowledge or reviews of the brand as existed, came from people who had friends in the Philippines who could bring a bottle over, or sip there on a sunny beach and write about the experience. And other Philippine brands like Limtuaco or Don Papa didn’t exactly set the world on fire and make sharp nosed distributors run to book tickets to the Philippine islands: because there as in much of Asia, a lighter, softer, sweeter and more laid back rum-style is much more in vogue. 

But once people realised that Don Papa (in particular) was selling quite nicely in spite of all the hissy fits about sweetening, and saw other brands’ adulterated fare were not really hurt by all the vitriol emanating from social media’s rum clubs, it was inevitable that Tanduay would make sure it expanded into more lucrative markets and try and upgrade its sales to the premium segment, where the real pesos are. This is why, even though they began selling in North America from around 2013 (with a gold and a silver rum, probably as an alternative to Bacardi’s Blanco and Gold rums and their copycats), there’s been an increasing visibility of the brand in the European rum festival and tasting scene only since 2019, with more aged products becoming part of the marketing mix.

The rum we’re looking at today is not really in the premium world, though the Rum Howler suggested in his 2019 review that it was positioned that way.  It’s actually a blend of oak-aged rums of no more than five years old, and it’s semi-filtered to a pale yellow (this could equally mean it’s a blend of aged and unaged stocks like the Probitas/Veritas but I doubt it). Molasses base from a “heritage” sugar cane, column still, 40%. Nothing premium or spectacular on the face of it.

The completely standard nature of its production belies some interesting if ultimately unexciting aromas.  It’s soft, which is to be expected, and a touch briny. Some vanilla and coconut shavings are easy to discern, and these are set off by pears and green apples, ripe gooseberries and a touch of citrus peel. It’s an easy smell, with the combination of soft sweetness, light sour notes and tartness coming together nicely.

Taste-wise it’s light, easy, warm-weather drinking, with the standard proofage making it hard to pick out anything particularly hard-hitting or complex. There’s vanilla, almonds, papaya and watermelon to start, and these are joined with the aforementioned grapes and apples and some tartness of sour, unripe green mangoes and citrus peel. In the background there’s some coconut, light molasses and sweet spices; but really, it’s all so faint that the effort is not commensurate with the reward, and the near-nonexistent light finish – sweet and lightly fruity – doesn’t help matters. It’s light enough so it can be had neat.  The character, however, is too bland and it would be overwhelmed by anything you put bit into (including the ice cube), so it’s probably best to just mix it with a cocktail where the rum profile is the background, not the point.

This is a rum that competes with the Plantation Three-Star, Bacardi and Lamb’s white rums, the Havana Club 3 YO, Beenleigh 3 YO and others of that ilk, which serve as basic cocktail mixing rums with occasional flashes of better-than-expected quality popping up to surprise us (like the Montanya Platino or the Veritas, for example). The Tanduay Silver does not, however, play in the sandbox of agricoles or unaged white rums we’ve  looked at before, and to my mind, they bowed to their cultural preferences and aged it to be as soft and easy as it is — when an unaged, higher-strength product might have shown more chops and character, and displayed more courage in a market that is aching to have more such rums. 

(#947)(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • On both the Philippine and US company websites, there is no sign of the pale yellow “Silver” rum I’ve tried; it seems to be for European markets only, as the other two are resolutely colourless in their pictures, and named “white”. The specifications all seem to be the same: a lightly filtered, column-still blend of young rums under five years old.
Sep 262022
 

The Havana Club 3 Year Old Cuban rum (the one distributed by Pernod Ricard) is a delicately light cream shaded spirit, and one of those workhorses of the bartending circuit, much loved and often referenced by drinkers and mixologists from all points of the compass. That it’s primarily utilised in making mojitos or daiquiris and other such cocktails in no way dampens the enthusiasm of its adherents, with only occasional grumbles about access (by Americans) and how it may or may not compare against the Selvarey or the Veritas (Probitas) or any Jamaican of one’s acquaintance.  

It’s been around almost forever, and if it was more versatile might even have made Key Rum status. However, as various comments here and here make clear, the consensus of opinion is that it’s best as a mixing rum (when not dismissed as being “only a mixing rum”).  It bypasses the single barrel high proof ethos of today and remains very much was it always was, a blended rum that’s molasses based, column-still distilled, aged for three years in white oak, released at 40% ABV, and all done in Cuba. I gather it sells well and has remained a staple of cocktail books and bars both private and commercial.

When nosed it’s clear why the opinions are what they are. It smells quite creamy, but does have some claws. Aromas of vanilla, coconut shavings, almonds, and leather are there, and it’s the developing tart fruit – red currants, tangerine rind, unripe apples – and citrus that are its signature and which everyone comments on. I don’t find the citrus particularly heavy or overwhelming, just enough to make themselves felt.  Overall, the nose is pretty much what I would expect – light, crisp and a bit weak.

The palate is somewhat more interesting, though it does start off as sharp and astringent as a Brit’s sense of humour. It feels a bit thin and the flavours need effort to tease out (that’s the 40% speaking). The citrus is more pronounced here, as are a few bitter notes of coffee grounds, tannins and toasted chestnuts. These are balanced off by vanilla, a lemon meringue pie and an oddly evocative wet hint of steaming air after a rain in the summer. At all times it is light and very crisp and could even have been an agricole were it not for the lack of the grassy herbals.  And a comment should be spared for a delicate, short, dry and surprisingly smooth finish, even if it doesn’t bring much to the table beyond those notes already described above.

Clearing away the dishes, then, the HC 3 YO has its strengths and plays to those and stays firmly within its wheelhouse: ambition is not its thing and the rum doesn’t seek to change the world. Personally, having sipped it solo and then had it in a mix (I’m not a cocktail making swami by any stretch, so that duty is Mrs. Caner’s, because she really is), I think that while individually the elements of nose, palate and finish seem to be at odds and growl at each other here and there, in aggregate they cohere quite nicely. By that standard, it’s really quite a decent piece of work, one that deserves its “bartender classic” status….though to repeat, a neat pour is not really its forte, or my own preference in this instance.

(#938)(78/100)


Other notes

  • My thanks to Daniel G, a co-worker in my part of the world (which I can’t specifically identify for obvious reasons), who spotted me a generous sample from a bottle he had.
Aug 282022
 

“[In the US] there are a small number of rum distilleries, and a large number of distilleries making rum,” observed Will Hoekinga in our 2021 Rumcast interview, indirectly pointing to the paucity of quality American rum making. A corresponding remark I have made myself is that if the random picking of American rums to review results in just a minute percentage being really worth seeking out then the characteristics of the part can be extrapolated to the whole – and both together suggest that of the 600+ distilleries in the United states, only a handful are currently worthy of attention. 

This is not a random pronouncement made without facts in evidence either, because after trying half a hundred rums with US branding, it’s clear that the best rums sold there are either imports from elsewhere by local indies (Holmes Cay, Stolen Overproof, Hamilton, Two James, K&L) or smaller distillers like Richland, Pritchard’s, Balcones, Privateer, Maggie’s Farm, or Montanya. For sure none of the big guns like Bacardi, Captain Morgan and Cruzan really go for the brass ring, being much happier to avail themselves of millions of subsidised dollars to make low cost rum of no serious distinction. And other rum makers like Kirk and Sweeney, One-Eyed Spirits, or Florida Caribbean Distillers contract out their blends and rums to other distilleries and can hardly be said to have a single world-shattering product in their lineup.

One of the best-regarded distilleries carrying the rum flag without mixing it up with other spirits (and getting loads of press for this and other more social aspects of the job) must surely be the small Colorado-based outfit of Montanya, which was established in 2008 and whose founder, Karen Hoskin, may be one of the most interviewed rum makers in the world after Richard Seale, Joy Spence and Maggie Campbell. Without even checking too hard I found articles here, here, here, here and here, dating back a decade or more, all of them displaying the same down to earth common sense, practicality and dedication to her craft that one sees too rarely in a land where too often the coin of the realm is visibility, not expertise (or, heaven forbid, a good rum). 

Ms. Hoskin, who has loved rum for decades (the first rum she became enamoured with was in India in 1999 – I think she was visiting Goa), decided to begin her own distillery business at a time when her day job of graphic and web design was no longer of much interest. She and her husband set up the distillery in Crested Butte in 2008 with a 400-litre direct-fire Portuguese-made copper pot still1, and immediately began producing two rums — a Platino Light white and a lightly aged Oro dark; these two staples have been joined in the intervening year by the a limited edition Exclusiva, a 4YO Valentia, and a special 10th Anniversary edition. By 2018 their rums were available in just about every US state and they had started on a program of international distribution, especially in the UK and Europe.

The Platino which we are looking at today, is a lightly-aged, filtered, pot still white rum, released at an inoffensive 40%, without any additives or messing around, and it is based on a wash made from raw unprocessed sugar from Louisiana (i.e., unrefined…but not the “sugar cane” that some external sources speak of). Initially the rum also had a touch of caramelised cane juice honey added to it (which was always disclosed), but as of 2021 the practise has been discontinued. 

For a company so otherwise forward-looking, I find this oddly conservative. For example, although there is an emergent strain elsewhere in the world, of making (if not showing off) white rums that are pure and unaged, it has yet to become a thing in America, where most white rums follow the Bacardi model of “filtration to white” after a short period of ageing. The rationale is that this gives the best of both worlds: some taste from the wash source, and some from the barrel, with none so stark as to overpower the cocktail for which it is made. This glosses over the fact that with industrial stills producing very high ABV distillate, the former is very unlikely, on top of which filtration also removes some of the very flavour elements distillers claim to be after.  In Montanya’s case with the Platino, they have gotten around this by using pot stills so that more flavour is preserved at the other end, and a pine-based lenticular filter which removes most (but not all) of the colour, and yet not quite so much of the taste.

What taste does remain and gets carried forward on the nose, is, in a single word, intriguing.  Though the rum is made from unrefined sugar, little of any kind of agricole style sap-profile comes through – instead, what we get is a papery cardboard aroma of old and tattered textbooks…at least, at the inception. This is followed by quite a bit of funky sharp pineapples and sour fruit – half ripe mangoes, strawberries going off, some overripe oranges, that kind of thing. It gradually turns into a more solid smell that channels some cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom in a pretty good combination.

The palate just wants to keep the offbeat party going, and starts with an odd sort of minerally note — like a licking a penny, or tonic water searching for a lime — mixed up with the ashy charcoal of dying embers on a cold night (I know, right?). Once more the fruits ride to the rescue: mangoes, soursop, pineapples (again), plus pears, watermelon and papaya.  There’s a touch of vanilla, figs and melons, and the whole is sparkly and light, with a more pronounced (but not overbearing) agricole-ness to the experience than the nose had suggested there would be.  It all leads to a short finish, light and fruity with just a hint of brine and sweet buns hot out of the oven

My overall feeling, having had it on the go for the best part of an hour, remains one of real interest – I’d like to try more of these; since all of Montanya’s production is small batch, the variation of the Platino over time would be fascinating to experience. This is not some cheap, easygoing, hot-weather cruise-ship staple, indifferently made and lazily redolent of the Caribbean’s standard profile of caramel, fleshy fruit and vanilla. We’ve had that a thousand times before and they’re too often all but interchangeable.  

No, what we’re seeing here is traces of real originality. The Platino marries a sort of bizarre agricole-wannabe vibe with minerally notes, cereals and cardboard — then mixes them all up with sharp and funky fruits, as if it was playing its own obscure tasting game of rock-paper-scissors. In my reviews, a high score does not normally attend a light, white, living-room-strength, filtered rum — one where a higher proof could emphasise its points more forcefully — but I confess to being somewhat seduced with this one. It’s really worth checking out, and if there ever comes an unaged version, now that would be something I’d buy sight unseen..

(#933)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The website is admirably stuffed with production details, of which I have only taken a few bits and pieces. Some additional details provided by a very helpful Ms. Hoskin on short notice:
    • Montanya does not use fresh cane juice, as it is too difficult to transport from Lula in Louisiana. It is milled on site in Belle Rose and the fresh juice is processed there. Montanya receives 100% of what was in the cane plant in two separate forms which are subsequently recombined: raw unrefined molasses (12%) and raw unrefined granulated cane sugar (88%). The major difference is that these cane products never go to the refinery, so no processing with flocculants or other chemicals. It’s as raw, unadulterated and flavorful as you can get (and is akin to the panela of Mexico, or the unrefined sugar in kokuto shochu in Japan). It would be illegal to sell it in that form in a grocery store in the US.
    • Fermentation is open, water cooled, and lasts 6-7 days. The fermented wash goes into the still at about 17% ABV
    • Distillate comes off the still at about 74% ABV. Ms. Hoskin remarked in her email to me, “People say that can’t be done with alembics, but I am here to say it absolutely can.”
    • Barrelling is at still strength, no reduction. “[This]…is somewhat unusual. Many of my colleagues water their distillate down before it goes into the barrel at about 54 to 58% alcohol. I started doing it my way because I just didn’t have a big enough rack house, but now that I do, I can’t see any reason to change.”
  • My appreciation to the Skylark gents of Indy and Jazz Singh — the distributors of Montanya in the UK and the EU —  at whose residence I tried this rum (and quite a few others) in a small but epic Rum Show afterparty. I paid for my plunder with some rum loot of my own, and a special gift for them both from Mrs. Caner.
Aug 112022
 

Without question, Black Gate Distillery’s “overproof” rum 1is one of the best of the crop of the New Australians that I’ve tried in the last years, and the standout of the 2021 advent calendar.  It is a 52% pot-still molasses-based bag of bragaddocio, it sports an attitude, it’s big, it’s bold, and completely the sort of thing John Wick would have in order to finish off the evening in a style we can best describe as, oh, ”assertive”.

This is all the more remarkable since we’re talking about not only a relatively new distillery (founded in 2009) with relatively few products, but a rather young rum – it’s three years old.  Yet it deserves the accolade, because its aromas it displays and the quality of the first few minutes with it not only set the tone for all that comes after, but suggest there’s even better to come in the years ahead.

Consider how it opens: it’s, in a word, lovely. It blows right out of the glass, and reeks of rich red wines, plums, blackberries and cherries on this side of too ripe. It reminds me of the Tin Shed S.S. Ferret rum I looked at before but without the dusty, cereal, mouldy notes of an abandoned house. Here the house is in fresh paint and good nick, and you smell that glossy paint, varnish, furniture polish, acetones; and if that isn’t enough, the depth of the aromas provides more – strawberries, sorrel, the pungent smell of mauby. I got a well-remembered sense of my mom’s kitchen in Guyana just nosing the thing.

The palate doesn’t drop the ball in the slightest. The 52% strength allows the rum’s profile to be really robust, precise: it’s dry, with dark fruit bonded to crisp herbals, and solid initial notes of brine, olives and spicy miso soup. It’s around the edges that other fruits come out to play – sweet Thai mangoes, apricots, cherries, raspberries, attended to by honey, salt, cloves and even a flirt of lemon zest and cumin. The finish is long and doesn’t introduce anything new, and functions more as a summing up of most of what came before – some dark fruits, a touch of vanilla, red wine, caramel, sorrel, lemon zest and cranberries –  which I assure you is more than enough to elevate this rum beyond the mere ordinary.  

About the only thing you have to watch out for is which one you’re getting, because there are several bottlings under this name, and each set comes from a single aged cask (or two) with its own identifier – the rum I speak of here is from casks #BG081 and 82, distilled in September 2017, bottled in November 2020, and if my reading around is right, just about everyone who has had one of these overproofs really really likes it.

They’re right to do so. It is, I feel, a really fantastic young rum, and one can only wonder where it would be in another five years (or ten) if they had kept any behind to age some more. I know many reading this will prefer their old tried and true Caribbean varietals, but I can wholeheartedly endorse this new Australian expression. It’s as near to an exquisite badass as you can possibly get without being ten proof higher and ten years older. Too many rums we try these days are similar variations on old themes which have lost some lustre and originality, so it can be wonderful to find a rum like this, which finds a different way to tell the same story in a new and exciting way.

(#929)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Founded in 2009, Black Gate Distillery is located in Central West New South Wales, in the small rural town of Mendooran.  Like most of the micro-distilleries of the New Australians, it’s a husband and wife operation where – in this case – Genise Holingsworth does the good stuff and makes the rum, while her husband Brian dutifully makes that other obscure drink and handles the maintenance aspects (he’s a fitter machinist and auto mechanic by trade). They sourced two pot stills – relatively small at 630 litres and 300 litres capacity – and work with food grade molasses, commercial yeast and water, to make their various rum expressions. All are small batch, which stands to reason when one considers that the rum output of the small operation is only about 2o00 litres annually.
  • So far, Black Gate makes various Dark Rums, overproofs mostly with different finishes or cask maturations, and one called Tawny. Aside from whiskies, no cash flow stalwarts such as gins or “cane spirit” seem to be made.
  • Rums are aged in Port or Sherry casks (or both) for a minimum of two years. This rum was aged for three years in two Australian port (‘tawny’) casks: one of 225L and the other of 100L. A more recent 54.6% edition of the overproof was aged for five years. 
  • Labels are all the same for all these dark overproof rums no matter when made: the specifications are, in a clever bit of economising, white printed stick-ons.
Jul 282022
 

More and more, being environmentally conscious and paying attention to a sustainable agricultural business model is a determinant for any forward looking distillery that can trade on this aspect of its operations to make sales, gain visibility and win awards. What was once a minor aspect of production methodology has grown to the point where it is something almost every new micro distillery — and many major ones — seeks to institute. More than just ethically correct, it’s good business.

Lord Byron Distillery (named after the 19th century poet who is arguably the world’s first modern celebrity) is one which ticks all these boxes.  It is located twenty minutes up the road from Winding Road Distillery (and is closer to the beach), about 180km south of Brisbane in New South Wales.  It was founded in 2016 by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall, who are both engineers, and from the beginning went with a zero-waste and fully-sustainable philosophy. Water comes from collected rain and natural springs; bonsucro-certified molasses once merely used as cattle feed is sourced from a farmer co-operative nearby, power comes from a renewable electricity generator, and distillery waste products are turned into liquid fertilisers and feed additives. 

The distillery has two copper pot stills and a steel single-column still; the pot stills were both brought from Europe and are named Ada and Allegra (after Lord Byron’s daughters, I’m assuming) — they produce the usual assortment of gins, vodka, limoncello that make for cash flow – and various cane juice distillates (sometimes double distilled) which are either sold as white “rhum”, spiced, and aged rum, always in small batches.  

The rum we’re looking at today derives from the 2018 harvest and was bottled in 2021, so it is about 2-3 years old, and can therefore be called “rum” under Australia’s regulations.  The exact barrel number is not noted on the sample, but bar batch variation between casks, I think we can assume that what is tasted of one rum from that year, is likely to be similar to all others from that year assuming all bottling was done at the same time.  For the curious, it was aged in a 260-litre ex-red wine barrel, and another six months in an ex-port barrel, so it qualifies as double-aged instead of finished, I guess – oh, and it came out at a solid 55.5% so the impression I get is that it’s made for real rum fans, not casual imbibers.

The rum and its distillery do well from a marketing and ethical standpoint; and it’s a fine rum to taste as well, even for one so young. The initial aromas arising are of cereals, cheerios, and dusty furniture in an old house, as well as (paradoxically) the plastic wrapping surrounding a new pair of leather shoes. There are few sharp notes of sweet and acidic fruits to be found here, so none of the sweetest offerings fo the orchard are on sale: however, one can detect caramel, figs, dates, sapodilla and a touch of brine and papaya.  As it opens up, some dark raisins and lemon pie vaguely waft by, a touch of vanilla and aromatic pipe tobacco, but that’s about it.  It’s quite enough to enjoy, I assure you.

Tastewise, no slouch either: it’s deeper and more luscious than the nose implied, with a dry kind of bite.  It’s very warm but not a scorcher, presenting a solid first taste of brown sugar, salt caramel ice cream, and peanut butter.  This dominates the profile for a while before giving way to some fruitiness of bananas, pineapples in syrup, cherries, and anise. A little oak, a little vanilla emerge, and the port-infused cigarillos are once again in evidence, which I suppose is the wine barrels making themselves felt. The finish is soft yet pungent, quite long, and without serious sharpness or aggro; the closing notes are a firm amalgam of bitter chocolate, caramel, vanilla, raisins and cinnamon, getting quite dry at the back end.

After all is said and done, the real question is whether all the organic, locally sourced, natural ingredients have a discernible impact on what gets poured into the glass. Our grocery shelves are filled with packaged food and drink that contain all sorts of additives, preservatives, binders, chemicals and what have you, that proponents of the organic movement say hides natural flavours. Can we detect such things in rums, and deliberately seek out the pure, the natural?

To some extent, I think so, and here’s a product that makes the case for such products quite well.  Lord Byron’s rum is a two year old, double distilled, double matured, with nothing added, made organically, simply, and, like my homemade pepper sauce, with as few ingredients as possible. What we get at the other end when we taste it, is a limited smorgasbord of a profile, that does the neat trick of pretending to be less than it is, then providing more.  It is, in short, a quiet little corker.

(#925)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

Jun 302022
 

Photo (c) Riverbourne Distillery

Australia’s sugar cane industry is concentrated in the east of the country, so it comes as no surprise that many of the small distilleries that make rum (one cannot firmly state they are always rum distilleries) are located in the states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, usually near some kind of built up infrastructure, though sometimes on the outskirts of some small town or other. The small one-man distillery of Riverbourne is a bit more rural and remote (a relative term) in that there really isn’t much between it and Canberra, the capital, which is an hour’s drive away.

Riverbourne is another one of those craft distilleries that have sprung up in the last decade, and its founder and proprietor – Martin “The Kid” Pye – is the closest thing to a scientist I’ve seen in researching these little outfits. The man is a third generation pharmacist and has studied microbiology, biochemistry, chemistry and mathematics in his career, suggesting he possesses a medieval alchemist’s mindset, and likes seeing how things work, how they’re made, and what makes them tick. He founded his small operation in 2015 and took the time to learn from Redland’s Distillery in Tasmania (one of the few completely “paddock-to-bottle” distilleries in the southern hemisphere, it is said), sourced a 900-liter steam jacketed copper pot still (named “Tilly”) and set about making whiskies, which he occasionally named after various titles in the Ludlum universe.

Rums, alas, were and are not a major priority, yet the mere fact that there is a #8 at all implies seven prior ones – the first was released back in 2018 and has been joined by a spiced version and a gin. It’s the dark sipping rum we’re discussing today, and since the website makes little mention of the technical aspects, here are a few facts I’ve gleaned. The rum derives from food-grade molasses from Northern Rivers, pot-still distillate using Caribbean-sourced yeast for the 14-day fermentation, and is aged for three and a half years in and blended from an ex-French-oak red wine cask and an ex-bourbon cask. The outturn is of course quite small – 100 to 200 bottles, give or take.  Oh, and it’s bottled at 48% which may be the distillers attempt not to scare off to many potential rum drinkers with some cask strength monster only a mother (or a rum dork) could love.

Within that rather sparse background we find a rum that has an intriguing profile…if a little uncoordinated. It starts off with a nose that channels brine, olives, flowers and a miscellaneous mishmash of fruits that is hard to separate. Pineapples, mangoes and a sweet habanero or two do stand out, yet overall, it is not particularly sweet. There’s a peaty, grainy – a whiskey-like – aspect to this that is not normally something I care for, but here it actually works rather well.  Overripe bananas and orange peel, some burnt rubber of doughnuts made by overenthusiastic teenagers on their father’s porsche, a bot of caramel, dates and butterscotch, and that’s the nose for you.

My attempt to describe the oddity of the rum’s initial palate will not resonate with – let alone appeal to – many, but I have to state that the first reaction I had was to mumble “salt soap?” to myself, because that’s what an initial taste is like — the red soap which many of my generation and earlier used in Guyana to wash dutty bukta in a standpipe or down by the river (don’t ask). Yet, once it calms down and breathes, the rum isn’t bad at all: here the sweeter notes stand out more forcefully: butter-rich pastries, pancakes and syrup, dates.  Also fleshy and ripe fruits – cashews, red guavas, soft mangoes, and perhaps some apricots.  It’s sweeter than the nose implies, and one senses the taste of licorice, wet sawdust and a sort of sour-sweet teriyaki without ever coming to grips with it. The finish is long and dry and warm, but adds little to the party – it doesn’t actually provide much of anything except a lackluster recap of what came before, mashed together, dampened by a sweetness that hides subtler notes (though it is thankfully not cloying).

Riverbourne’s love is clearly the whiskies, and they make no bones about that – rum and gin are therefore made to defray costs and round out the portfolio, not the results of dedicated rum nerdiness and rumlove that defines, say, Killik, Soltera, Husk or Winding Road. Within that restriction, however, they haven’t done too badly with the Rich Dark Sipping Rum #8. Sure, the tastes are somewhat muddled, lack precision and it’s hard to tease much out beyond generalities (e,g, “fruit” or “sweet” which is not very useful)…yet somehow, the No.8 kind of works.

Perhaps that’s because it tastes like what it is, because it never pretends to be anything else: a rough and ready soldier’s rum, one for the proles, the worker bees, the cubicle drones — one that is simply, strongly and unaffectedly made with a straightforward lack of frippery…Australia’s own version of the El Dorado 5YO. maybe. I thought it was a nice and unprepossessing middle-ground product, the kind often overlooked in our current fascination with uber-aged Caribbean rums or overproofed white agricoles. Occasionally it takes one like this to remind us that there is a place for unpretentious blue collar rums that are competently made, enjoyably drunk and always in the backbar. This is one of those.

(#919)(81/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • As always, thanks to Mr & Mrs. Rum for the samples contained in their 2021 advent calendar, from which this rum originates.
May 052022
 

Photo (c) Boatrocker Brewing & Distilling, from Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#905)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special acknowledgement of Mr. And Mrs. Rum’s kindness in sending me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
  • This is Batch #3 according to the advent calendar notes
Apr 072022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#897)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Mt. Uncle is clearly not willing to just produce standard stuff that everyone else does. They have expanded beyond gins and rums, and into whiskey and vodka and agave spirits (as of 2022).
  • Iridium is a very hard, brittle, silvery metal akin to platinum, and second densest metal on earth (after osmium), as well as one of the rarest. Its usefulness and commercial applications stem from its high melting point and anticorrosive properties at high temperatures. It is unclear what relevance the title has to rum, even metaphorically, since it’s not rare, hard, silvery or anti-corrosive. It does have a real ‘cool factor’ based just on how it sounds, however, so maybe that’s it.
  • The FNQ website is bare of most details I would expect to find in a site dedicated to two rums (even though there are actually three), and the core Mt. Uncle site didn’t have much more. In years to come, I hope they expand their background materials for the benefit of the geek squad or the simply curious.
  • As with all the reviewed Australian rums from the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and doff of the deerstalker to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always.
Mar 312022
 

JimmyRum, if you remember, is that cheeky little rum distillery perched down south of Down Under in Dromana, a small community just south of Melbourne. Founded in 2018 after several years of prep work, it has a large hybrid column still bolted to the floor of a structure on a picturesque property (which includes a cafe), a light and breezy sort of website, and an owner, James McPherson, who was a marine engineer before he found his true calling, doesn’t take life too seriously, and just likes rum.

The first product I tried from JimmyRum was the Silver 40%, which I liked — though admittedly, the stronger “Navy” version intrigued me rather more, as did the various “Distiller’s Specials” like the Queen’s Cut, Oaked Plus or Cane and Grain, which were a bit more aged and also released at higher proof points. But the Silver was intriguing, because while not yet on a level with unaged agricole style rums which are almost like baselines, it was better than the anonymous filtered white backbar staples too many still think of whenever white rums are mentioned.

JimmyRum, then, does have the aforementioned special aged products, and that brings us to the “Rum Rum” line of their stable. This is a new series which focuses on ageing, cask strength and single barrel rum releases, and will likely form a part of the Distiller’s Specials unless it is felt to be distinct from those. “Barrel 12” is such a single barrel release, provided especially for Mr & Mrs Rum’s 2021 advent calendar, and so is not part of a standard commercial release; however other barrel editions of the Rum Rum series are slated to be released later in 2022, so think of this as an early review standing in for others to come. It’s a pot still rum based on molasses, aged for three years in an ex-bourbon, 200-liter American oak cask (#12, no surprise). The barrel was initially filled with new make distillate at 65.25%, before being reduced to 53% for the Calendar.

Given these very standard specs – molasses origin, pot still, American oak, a few years’ ageing – the opening salvo of the nose comes as something of a surprise. For one, it’s light and sharp and very crisp on the nose, in a way that’s reminiscent of both a young standard strength mixing rum, or even a vieux agricole. The light fruit, herbal and clean white wine aromas bend one’s thought in that direction, yet there are aspects that bend it right back again: brine, olives, veggie soup and sweet soya, fresh bread hot from the oven and then a series of notes that recall very ripe fruits right on the edge of going off emerge – guavas, mangoes, grapes, apples, apricots.

At 53% ABV, the palate is expected to be solid, and it is. The flavours are spicy, crisp, clean and coat the mouth with the sensations of light, ripe, soft, juicy fruits: white grapes, yellow Thai mangoes, kiwi fruits, sapodillas, peaches in syrup, and dark cherries. This might ordinarily seem to thick or cloying for real enjoyment, but the sweet is kept down, and for kick there’s a twist of lemongrass and red grapefruits and some oversalted mango pickle, just to keep you off balance. The finish is quite straightforward and wraps things up with a medium long ending that has flashes of a very dry red wine, more red grapefruit, a touch of chocolate oranges and a last sprig of mint.

Overall, this is a pretty good rum indeed. The nose is interesting as all get-out and the flavours pop nicely when sipped – there’s quite a bit going on under the hood here. JimmyRum’s Silver was interesting, tasted well, showed potential and I enjoyed it — it just needed more oomph to showcase its profile more clearly, the way the Barrel 12 effectively did here (Killik did that and produced an outstanding white overproof rum, if you recall). Stronger rums provide a more intense and interesting drinking experience and while you can always dilute a high proof rum, it’s not quite so easy to do that in reverse when you want to dial up a mild one.

So I enjoyed the rum and think it’s a good get: however, it’s impossible to gauge JimmyRum’s success with the Barrel 12 because it was sampled out for distribution in the Calendar and therefore is not for sale to a larger public who can then post their reactions (positive or negative).  But I believe that were it to be out there commanding shelf space, it would sell well, be deemed a success, and people would be asking for the inevitable older versions that will be released in the years to come. That’s a sign of a good rum of any age. 

(#895)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and tilt of the tammie to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. I know you’re tired of reading this, but thanks as always to you both.
  • There are no bottle photographs of this rum available at this time.
  • Some more technical details: Molasses sourced from Sunshine Sugar NSW (Manildra group), one of the last fully Australian owned Sugar producers in Australia. Yeast and fermentation: done in 2 x 5000ltr fermenters and are temperature controlled to less than 25ºC with an initial Brix of approx 19.
Mar 282022
 

Rum and rhum aficionados are no strangers to Depaz, the distillery on Martinique now owned by Bardinet-La Martiniquaise. The sugar factory and (later) distillery had once been a family operation  — the Depaz family from Livorno in Italy had been part of Martinique society since the 1700s — and was in existence even before its destruction by the eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902. The estate’s modern history can truly be said to have begun with the reconstruction of the distillery in 1917; their immediate success at rum-making could be inferred from their winning of medals at the Marseille expos of 1922, 1927 and 1931, at a time when French island rhums were hardly very well known (even Bally only started making the good stuff around 1924). In 1989 the head of the family at the time, André Depaz, allowed a long time customer and distributor, the Bardinet Group, to take over Depaz, and in 1993 La Martiniquaise, another major spirits conglomerate who already owned Dillon, bought a controlling interest in Bardinet, and so remains the current owner.

The technical specs for this rhum are quite normal: cane juice source, column still distillate, a blend of rhums aged three years or more, 45%. Although these core stats have changed very little over the decades, I have to be honest and admit  I’d be interested to see what some 1960s or 1940s versions taste like and how they compare (like Olivier did, here). Because there’s little to find fault with in this rhum.  It presents an opening nose that is very nice, almost delicate, redolent of vanilla, flowers, white fruit plus watermelon and cane juice and sugar water. The almost quintessential agricole profile, yet even the relatively brief ageing period allows deeper notes ot be discerned — caramel, peaches, peas, brown sugar, that kind of thing. Stays light and clean, adding some saline and bananas at the back end. 

That’s quite an intro from a rhum positioned as entry level, not costing too much, and quite young. Admittedly, the palate is not quite up to that level, but it’s not too shabby either: it presents a bit rough and sharp and spicy at the beginning, until it settles down, and then it becomes softer and warmer, like a scratchy old blanket you use on the sofa while watching TV.  Sweet caramel, coconut shavings, vanilla, sugar cane juice, pears, apples, very ripe cherries and black grapes, are all noticeable right bout of the gate. The edges have not been entirely rounded off with some further ageing or blending, so much of the young and frisky nature of the rhum comes through, like a half-grown long-haired mutt that hasn’t quite adjusted to its strength.  The finish is sharpish, medium long, mostly sugar water, citrus, herbs, toffee, some fruits and a light hint of lemon grass. 

Depaz’s rhums have always been available in France, but there were few reviews around even from the old stalwarts of the online reviewing ecosystem from that country, perhaps because people tended to go for the more upscale editions like the distillery’s millesimes and indie bottlings rather than the “standard” line which this is — yet for the budget-minded cognoscenti, Depaz’s starters of the blanc, the XO and the Vieux are actually really quite good and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.  Fortunately, even for those who don’t want to spring for the full 700ml, gift sets in smaller sizes are available for the penny pinchers among us, such as the one I bought.

And I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have dropped a bit more coin on the whole bottle, because overall, although I feel it’s a rum better served in a Ti punch than on its own, it isn’t so bad that it can’t be had neat. It’s subtle and more complex than it appears at first sight, moves at an angle to the full-out grassy-herbal profile of a recognizable agricole, yet succeeds remarkably well – it explains why the aged offerings are so highly regarded and sought after, because if something this young can be made so well and taste so good, then what must they be like? To some extent, trying this rum is an affordable answer to that question.

(#894)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • You will observe that no controversy has ever been attached to the name of this rhum.
  • As with most other distilleries on the island, Depaz adheres to the AOC regulations so one can drink their rums with confidence that there’s been no mucking around with anything dodgy.
  • Other reviews one can find are the Fat Rum Pirate’s 2020 review (four stars), Rumtastic’s 2019 ambivalent and unscored review and Single Cask Rum’s evaluation from 2019 (85 points).
Mar 232022
 

Photo (c) Husk Distillers

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#893)(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and a chuck of the chullo to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always, to you both.
  • Husk refers to its rums as “agricoles” (see promo poster above) but incorrectly in my view, as this is a term that by convention, common usage and EU regulation refers to cane juice rhums made in specific countries (Madeira, Reunion, Guadeloupe and Martinique). A re-labelling or rebranding might have to be done at some point if the EU market is to be accessed. Personally, I think they should do so anyway. Nothing wrong with “agricole-style” or “cane juice rhum” or some other such variation, and that keeps things neat and tidy (my personal opinion only).
  • Long time readers will know I am not a great fan of spiced or infused rums and this preference (or lack thereof) of mine must be factored into the review. The tastes are as they are, but my interpretation of how they work will be different from that of anther person who likes such products more than I do. Mrs. Caner, by the way, really enjoyed it.
Feb 242022
 

Photo (c) Killik Handcrafted


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#887)(78/100)  ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and a finger-tap to the fedora to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks again to you both.
  • The website entry for this rum notes it as being aged 12 months in Chardonnay casks, nothing else.
  • At first I thought the logo represented an aboriginal motif similar to the Canadian First Nations’  Inukshuk (a marker made from carefully placed stones), but Killik’s “About” page showed that the name  and the logo they chose was no accident and actually related to shipping: “The name “Killik” is derived from the word “killick”, being an old anchor handcrafted by encasing stone in a wooden frame. To us, Killik represents strength and stability, while taking a nod to the classic archetype of bottles of rum making their way around the Caribbean on old rustic ships.” After reading around some more, I found out that a killick was also a slang term for a sailor first class (or “leading seaman” – the term has been retired) in the Royal Canadian Navy. The discontinued old style insignia for this rank used to be a ‘fouled’ anchor – an anchor with a length of rope twisted around it). Both term and insignia continue to be used in other navies, including the British, from whence it probably originated.
Feb 142022
 

Photo © NISHIHIRA-SYUZO Co., Ltd

It was to examine this almost-rum (and others like it that will inevitably come) that the detailed treatise on Japanese kokuto shochu had to be written, because without it the review would have lost much of its context and the shochu’s offbeat profile would not have been properly understood.

In brief, shochu is a type of Japanese distilled spirit made from various ingredients, where a two-phase fermentation process using a mold is de rigueur: one to convert starches to sugars and another to convert those sugars to low-proof alcohol, which is then distilled using pot stills. Kokuto shochu is one kind of several different popular varieties, distinguished by being made from unrefined brown sugar (as opposed to sweet potatoes, e.g.) and following the dual-fermentation process. To some this might disqualify it from being a true “rum” but I chose to say it’s one in all but name. It’s made from sugar cane, and in the house of the Father are many rooms, and that’s what counts.

Although we talk a lot about agricoles being grassy, herbal and vegetal, I don’t think I’ve ever had a rum (for that’s what this is, more or less) that took it to the extremes of actually channeling real vegetables — and some rotting ones — the way the Tomoet Moi did. I mean, this really was akin to an alcoholic veggie soup – complete with parsley, cilantro, carrots, balsamic vinegar, brine, olives and the weird aroma of damp decomposing cloth in an abandoned barn somewhere and only a casual nod to fruits or sweet of any kind. After it settles down, it reminds me of a cane vinegar, with that same slightly sweetly sour note to it that makes it so distinctive, poured over a bowl of sliced yellow mangoes spiced with sweet peppers and salt.  I know that sounds peculiar, but take it from me…it works. You just have to stick with it.

Still, even after opening up and after the initial assault on your schnozz has been beaten back, the residual notes of vegetables left to rot in a midden remain faintly there, lending a piquancy to all that you subsequently taste. And what a taste that is: vanilla, cane juice, sweet acetones, nail polish, sugar water and the pungency of diluted turpentine (usually that comes on the nose, but not with this drink). Fanta and Sprite, a touch of orange citrus, cloves passion fruit, cranberry juice and sweet peppers, and if the spoiled bananas and apricots at the back end don’t leave, well, they don’t upset the fruit cart either and for all this to be going on at 40% is no mean achievement. Finally, it kind of relaxes, gets easier and more watery-sweet and then concludes with a short, mild, fruity, floral, sweet and biting finish that is far from unpleasant.

That’s the one….

Clearly, the method of fermentation which kokuto shochu utilizes, combined with the pot still distillation, creates a profile that would give the incautious serious pause, and I now suspect there was probably something of a shochu element in the Seven Seas Japanese rum by which I was so nonplussed in 2018. It was different in the same way this is, with a strong element of rot and brine and seemingly off-putting elements to it, yet where Seven Seas failed (to me, at any rate) Tomoet Moi came together and really became something worth trying…several times. 

As John Go wrote in his own review of the spirit, it really needs time to open up and breathe.  Impatience and a fast guzzle have no place here, and in fact, it rewards keeping it in the glass for an extended period. The sweet, salt, sour and umami aspects of the profile come together in a fascinating synthesis, which, while unfamiliar and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, is sweetly pungent, original and distinctive and never overbearing — and those are the characteristics of any good spirit, I think. Admittedly I started out by being knocked back on my heels…but stuck around, started to enjoy it, and finally, at the finish, stayed to bemusedly and almost wonderingly applaud. 

(#884)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • Thanks as always to John Go who spotted me the sample. He’s a treasure trove of juice from Asia.  I had no idea what it was and tasted it completely blind, because John steadfastly refuses to label the samples he sends me, and just numbers them.
  • The spirit is aged for two years in oak casks, filtered to white and bottled at 40%. 

Brief company background

For historical reasons (now backed up by GI protection) kokuto shochu is only — and can only be — made in the Amami Islands which are situated south of the Kyushu and north of Okinawa. There has been a long history of sugar cane cultivation and (sometimes illegal) distillation here, just as there was on Okinawa.

The firm that makes the Tomoet Moi is Nishihira Shuzo Ltd (shuzo is a Japanese word meaning an alcohol producing company), a family-owned and -run sake brewery and distillery that has been in business since 1875, when they were granted an awamori-making license for Shuri (in Okinawa) in that year. In 1927 a new distillery was established by Tomi Nishihara, the first head distiller (or toji) in the Amami island of Kikaijima, and has remained a small enterprise there ever since: the warehouse was destroyed by air raids at the end of the war, the distillery moved to Amami’s main island, and it is currently run by his great-granddaughter Serena.  The company employs seven people, which is six more than Nine Leaves has, if you recall. 

Just about all production is sold and consumed in Japan, which is hardly unusual. Their standard product is the Sango (an unaged, traditional shochu for the mainstream) and Kona (and oak-barrel slightly-aged shochu for the younger crowd). In 2019 Serena Nishihara created the Tomoet Moi as a more upscale aged offering, breaking with tradition by naming it, in a play on the words “Tomorrow”, “Tomi” and the French words “toi et moi”, which is as good an example of layered meanings in eastern culture as you could ask for.


 

Jan 202022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#877)(76/100) ⭐⭐½


Historical Notes

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

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

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


Other notes

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

 

Jan 122022
 

Over the last years, one of the inescapable conclusions I’ve come to is that rums that dare to be different or faithfully rep their terroire without reference to others, will always and only get niche acknowledgement from that sliver of the rumisphere that knows and understands the varieties of rum and is not reluctant to try something on the blank edges of the map. Wider acceptance by the larger mass of the rum buying public, though…that may be harder.

This is perhaps why some of the more artisanal cane derived spirits of the day – aguardientes, grogues, clairins, charandas, kokuto shochu, even cachaças – struggle to find mainstream acceptance outside their limited areas of origin.  It’s no accident that perhaps the most popular and well-known of the Japanese rum makers, Nine Leaves, holds the distinction of being popular and well-known not just because of good marketing, but because Takeuchi-san’s rums are the most approachable to a “western” palate, in a way the country’s other sugar cane spirits are not.

I begin with this comment because a similar train of thought went through my mind as I tried what I honestly believe to be one of the best of the Brazilian company Novo Fogo’s lineup, the pot-still distilled “Tanager” cachaça.  Originally they labelled it a “cane juice spirit” but current labels all have the word “cachaça” there, and it is the first of their “Two Woods” series, released in 2017 and afterwards1. The ageing is still rather short: one year in Four Roses ex-bourbon barrels and three further months in arariba (Brazilian zebrawood) barrels, which they claim is what gives it the spirit that characteristic brown-red colour. As to why they named it after a bird, well, who knows (and frankly, who cares? – it’s a nice word, a nice name, and others have used stranger titles).

The woods have had a really interesting impact on the cachaça and changed it quite a bit.  The nose, for example is lovely: nutty, salty and a touch tannic, redolent of cane juice, herbs, wet green grass, moss and a delicate line of strawberries and peaches. There’s a sort of damp earthiness to it, mixed up with spices like tumeric and cinnamon that I particularly liked.

The taste is less successful, perhaps because the slightly sharper attack of the zebrawood is more pronounced here, ameliorated by the relatively low proof point of 42%.  It’s tannic, but also salty, fruity, loam-y and sweet, and there is that characteristic grassy and sugar cane sap profile of a cachaca, plus some vanilla and sweetly tart pears and white guavas. Cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin round things off in a pleasant, low key finish that just escapes being bitter and becomes, through some odd alchemy, crisply refreshing, like a lemon-mint drink.

Cachaças are, of course, meant to be drunk in a caipirinha, but Novo Fogo is aiming for a different market than the huge internal one of Brazil. The rum tastes like an agricole bent ninety degrees away from true, flavourful and interesting, but not so off the map as to be unapproachable. What’s also important is that the short ageing in that combination of woods has produced a rum that is closer than almost any cachaça I’ve ever tried to a profile that is recognizably a “regular rum”….if not completely.  

Therein lies its intriguing and beguiling nature, and therein lies my appreciation for what it is. It may, in the end, be this and the others in the line that espouse a philosophy of finishing rather than ageing in local woods, that will allow Novo Fogo’s cachaças to appeal to a much greater audience than just the aficionados and deep divers who thus far have been its most faithful adherents. I wish them luck,

(#876)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • The producer was originally a small distillery from Morretes, which is located in the south of Brazil, founded in 2004 by Fulgencio Torres Viruel (known simply as “Torres”) and master distiller Agenor Maccari (“Dr. Cachaça”), and in 2010 the Novo Fogo brand was launched after entrepreneurs Dragos and Emily Axinte partnered up to produce it. Most of the press you will find dates from 2015 which was the date that these four people acquired the facilities of Agroecologia Marumbi SA, a USDA organic certified distillery. This allowed an increase in production which in turn led to exports to North America and Europe around 2017.
  • Ever since its introduction to the festival and bartending circuit in that year, the brand has been gaining in recognition, taking its place alongside old-staple cachaças like Leblon, Jamel, Pitu, Avua and Yaguara. Its ever-increasing brand-awareness is tied to their organic and environmentally friendly production processes and stated commitment to sustainable production.
  • Novo Fogo cachaça is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of their process. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still. The resultant spirit is either rested in stainless steel tanks or put to age in American oak casks, though smaller quantities are aged in barrels made of local woods for various other expressions.
  • One wonders, given all these stats, whether the Habitation Velier series will ever come knocking to take a few barrels – it seems to press all their buttons and they could sure do worse.
  • There’s more company background in their very well-designed website.
Oct 142021
 

“Cavalier” was once the brand name of rums released by the Antigua Distillery on the island of the same name. Even the predecessor to the famed-but-faded English Harbour 1981 25 Year Old 1 was originally a Cavalier branded rum, and a very good one, too…for its time, anyway. But somewhere in the ‘aughts the English Harbour brand was created to be the basket for more upscale, upmarket rums – starting with the five year old and moving up in age – and the Cavalier moniker was left for the company’s “entry level” gold and white and 151 rums….which of course meant the bar scene.

There is nothing particularly exceptional about the production process here: made from molasses, fermented with a commercial strain of yeast over a period of days to a solution of 7% ABV which is then run through a columnar still and drawn off at a strength of around 90-95% ABV, tested and then barreled. In this, then, the process is more akin to Spanish heritage style rum making, where, although some aromatic compounds make it past the distillation process, the real emphasis is on the barrel strategy and wood management that make up the final product.  Antigua Distillery uses charred 200-liter American ex-bourbon barrels to which a handful of oak chips are added to boost the profile and after the appropriate time (and depending on which rum is being made), the desired aged rum from selected casks is blended in a large oak vat and diluted over a period of weeks to the final, bottled result.

From the preceding details, that result is not difficult to predict: it will likely be light, slightly sweet and have some fruity elements to it, balanced off with some salt or sour.  That was the way the 1981, the 10 YO, the 5 YO, even the puncheon all tasted, with greater or lesser quality (and success). And indeed, that’s what you get with the current white rum, bottled at 43%: on the nose, it’s very crisp and clean, and resembles a dialled down version of the 65% puncheon’s violence.  Raspberries, red currants and strawberries provide the major fruity elements, backed up by very ripe gooseberries and watery pears, and offset by a trace of vanilla, salt, brine, olives, and some varnish.

The palate is more intriguing: dusty cardboard and decaying sheetrock, light glue, varnish. This is contrasted, as the nose had been, by much of the same fruitiness (pears, guavas, strawberry bubble gum) and saltiness (brine, anchovies, sweet soya sauce), plus a bit of vanilla. Not a whole lot beyond these primary tastes. Even the finish displays that solid simplicity: some sweet, some salt, some vegetable soup, ho hum. Overall, there’s not a whole lot going on here, and the rum is really a straightforward kind of drink, without much in the way of a subtlety of flavour, or any intensity in what you do get.

Current label design

What the rum lacks is a certain amount of heft, and this is why, to my mind, the puncheon, for all its strength, is really the better rum. The Cavalier White is aged two years, filtered to clear, and then takes its place right where it is aimed at – the back bar shelf for cheap mixers, alongside Lamb’s and Bacardi whites and all those other anonymous bland cocktail feeders.  That doesn’t make it a bad rum, precisely, just an uninspiring one: a rum whose makers never cared to let off the leash, so it could be more than the sum of is age and colour. 

(#858)(76/100)


Other notes

  • My mediocre assessment notwithstanding, for those whose attentions and purchases remain limited to Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados and a few favoured indies, I’d strongly recommend taking the time to try a few of Antigua’s rums, even from the starter kit.  They’re familiar enough to be comforting, good enough to surprise, and different enough to warrant more attention.  Their newer rums with finishes and higher proof points are particularly worth checking out.
  • The mini on which the review is based comes from the early 2000s, but I’ve been told that batch variation aside, the rum is the same to this day; just the bottle label design has changed – and this is why I decided to not class it as a Rumaniacs entry. The 43% strength implies it was made for sale in Europe, not America.
Oct 042021
 

Rumaniacs Review #127 | 0855

To be clear, there remains a Westerhall White Jack rum in current production.  It’s not this one. It has been suggested that it’s the same as the Jack Iron rum, just made into a white. That’s a harder call, but I doubt that too, because there’s a bit more complexity to this one than the Jack Iron where the reverse might have been expected. 

In any case, this version has been discontinued. Even by 2015 when The Fat Rum Pirate penned one of the only reviews of this 70% white Grenadian overproof, it had already undergone reformulation and rebranding that led to a sexier bottle and a one-degree proof reduction in strength. The current stylish ice-blue-and-white bottle is rated 69%, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that this was done to go head to head with the much better known and well-regarded Clarke’s Court White Overproof or Rivers Antoine white popskulls which were also at that strength, and perhaps also to steal a point or two of market share the pack leader, the Wray and Nephew 63% version (although good luck with that, ‘cause in my view they had and have nothing to worry about).  Then again, it might also have been to make it more easily transportable on airlines ferrying tourists in and out, who often cap their spirit strength allowances at 70% ABV.

Old and new variants of the White Jack. The one reviewed here is the bottle on the left.

That said, it’s useful to know that Westerhall in Grenada is no longer a distillery: though a distillery did exist since the mid-1800s, it was all about the bulk export market — Westerhall’s own brand, Rum Sipper Strong, was created to service the islanders’ demand only in the early 1970s.  It took another decade and a half or so, before the Westerhall Plantation Rum 1 was formulated specifically for export – however, the sales couldn’t have been strong enough to justify the distillery, because by 1996 Westerhall ceased distillation completely and started buying bulk rum itself (mostly from Trinidad’s Angostura), leaving its distillery to rust – it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the ruins can be seen to this day on the grounds

Colour – White (from filtration)

Age – Unknown; suggested to be unaged but I doubt it – like many early white rums were, it’s likely lightly aged, a year or so, and then filtered to clarity (unaged rum is already clear). 

Strength 70% ABV

Nose – Initially there’s a certain heavy meatiness, like yeasty bread dipped into a thick split pea soup; salt, brine, olives, fresh bell peppers.  Also citrus and herbs, grass, sugar water – there’s an element of cane juice here that is completely unexpected.  Surprisingly it develops very nicely, with some estery background notes and sharp fruitiness of strawberries and bananas.

Palate – Very intense, unsurprising at the strength. Nuts, cream, butter, quite creamy, and tasting both of sweet and salt; lemon zest, apples, bananas, red currants and some spices – cumin and cardamom.  There’s more but the strength kind of eviscerates any subtler notes and this is what you’re left with

Finish – You wouldn’t think there’s more than a hot last of spicy fumes, but actually, it’s not bad: toast and cream cheese, chives, olives which gradually transmutes into a nice sweetness of green grapes, bananas and some other indeterminate fruits.

Thoughts – No competitor to the more aggressive, individualistic, funkier and all-out better J. Wray.  It’s a column-still, barely-aged rum, with all that implies, and strong enough to cure all that ails you (from a broken heart to your stalled jalopy, it’s rumoured) — and it’s surprising that as much taste has come through as it has. Not entirely a bad rum, just not one of much real character, and best for its intended purpose, a mix of some kind.

(78/100)

Sep 162021
 

Last time around we discussed a Brazilian cachaça from the environmentally astute company Novo Fogo which they called “Chameleon” — it was aged about a year and meant to quietly blend in to the various mixes for which it was destined (hence the name). I felt it succeeded reasonably well on its own grounds, and the next step up the food chain, the “Barrel Aged” version that is the subject of today’s review, also follows in that tradition — though in my opinion, less successfully.

The details are pretty much the same with respect to the company (I’ve added it below the review to save needless repetition). Novo Fogo is based in the southern state of Paraná in Brazil, has a strong organic and environmental ethos, and makes a trio of cachaças ranging from the “Silver” to this young barrel aged iteration: the three are the more accessible, more familiar portion of their range because they are aged — when they are aged at all — in American ex-bourbon barrels: these are sourced from the Haven Hill distillery in this instance, taken apart, sanded and charred. 1

That combo of charring the American ex-bourbon barrels and longer ageing within them, has resulted in the most rum-like cachaça I’ve ever tried. None of the slightly bitter, off-kilter amburana aromas here, no sharp juddering teak notes. Instead, initial scents of vanilla, minerals and cold campfire ashes combine uneasily with more “traditional” caramel, brown sugar, and soft fruits. One can sense the brininess, olives and more pungent hints of a pot still distillate that processed a cane juice wash, but dialled way down and wafting away before one can properly come to grips with it. It’s 40% ABV and that’s part of it, of course, because the 43% Chameleon showed more character, even though it was younger.

The palate is better: it’s tasty on its own terms, and interesting, but ultimately a weak tea that once again fails to provide anything we have not already had from various lightly aged añejos, ambres or gold rums. Biscuits, cereal, whipped cream, plus sugar water and a few spices. A soft hint of peaches, maybe cherries. The few rummy flavours the nose had promised have headed for the hills like the Road Runner, leaving nothing behind but a thin dissipating dust cloud which promises all sorts of nice goodies – black tea, fruit loops cereal, a flash of orange peel, spices and herbs – and leaves your palate twitching…but there’s no follow-through and they dissipate quickly. The finish is pretty much more of the same: short, clean, light, mostly sugar cane sap and frassy, herbal notes. Nothing specific, nothing to remember, nothing that stands out, and all gone too quick.

Aged cachaças are somewhat less popular and perhaps less well known. This is hardly surprising, since the purpose of a serious cachaça is to boost a caipirinha, and the wilder the profile of the cachaça, the better the caipirinha is supposed to be. That sort of crazy comes best from unaged spirits, as evidenced by the strong blancs making better ti’ punches in the French islands.

None of that off-the-reservation individuality is in evidence here. The barrel-aged cachaca Novo Fogo made seems almost shy, as if embarrassed to display anything so vulgar as an actual character. It is touted as a step up from its cousin (possibly based on the fallacy that more age = better rum), but smells muted and muffled, with most of the interesting stuff bleached out…and then whatever remains has agreed to a non aggression pact. While rum-like enough to appeal to someone looking into the standard-strength Brazilian spirits market to see what the fuss is all about, I feel it lacks the decent low-level complexity which marked the Chameleon. In this case, the cheaper product gets my money.

(#851)(78/100)


Other notes

  • The producer was originally a small distillery from Morretes, which is located in the south of Brazil, founded in 2004 by Fulgencio Torres Viruel (known simply as “Torres”) and master distiller Agenor Maccari (“Dr. Cachaça”), and in 2010 the Novo Fogo brand was launched after entrepreneurs Dragos and Emily Axinte partnered up to produce it. Most of the press you will find dates from 2015 which was the date that these four people acquired the facilities of Agroecologia Marumbi SA, a USDA organic certified distillery. This allowed an increase in production which in turn led to exports to North America and Europe around 2017.
  • Ever since its introduction to the festival and bartending circuit in that year, the brand has been gaining in recognition, taking its place alongside old-staple-cachaças like Leblon, Pitu, Avua and Yaguara. Its ever-increasing brand-awareness is tied to their organic and environmentally friendly production processes and stated commitment to sustainable production.
  • Novo Fogo cachaça is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of their process. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still. The resultant spirit is either rested in stainless steel tanks or put to age in American oak casks, though smaller quantities are aged in barrels made of local woods for various other expressions.
Sep 092021
 

In 2017 I wrote about a cachaça I had tried in Toronto from a Brazilian company named Novo Fogo, which means “New Fire” in Portuguese. That was an unaged, one-year-rested “Silver” cachaça that I liked quite a bit, and in doing my research after the fact, I discovered the company also had a number of other such spirits in the portfolio, resolved to try what I could, and subsequently scouted them out in the years that followed.

This cachaça, then, is the next one up the ladder for Novo Fogo.  It is a blend of both aged and unaged spirits, derived from (of course) cane juice and departs from more traditional Brazilian cachaças in two interesting ways: it is made on a pot still (as opposed to the much more common column still spirits that dominate the industry); and it was aged for one year in American oak, not local woods like Amburana (which make Brazilian spirits so different to the palate conditioned by years of molasses-based rums or aged agricoles from the French islands).  What this does is provide the drinker with the best of three worlds: the terroire of Brazil’s southern province of Paraná (the distillery is located there, not Minas Gerais where the most traditional cachacas are made) coupled with a more familiar aged profile based on American oak… which in turn saves the more endangered Brazilian barrel woods from overharvesting. 

The question is whether that translates into a cane juice spirit that we who cut our teeth on French island agricoles could both relate to and enjoy for its own character.  The initial nose of the 43% cachaça does indeed smell promising: it is so green it squeaks going into a turn. It’s freshly cut green grass, steamed vegetables and palm fronds….if they were liquid. It smells herbal, of sugar water and citrus peel and kitchen spices, and yet also briny and solid — a bucket of salt beef mixing it up with sharp tannic and woodsy notes, and not too many sweet fleshy fruits. 

The taste moves right along from there.  Grassy and green tea flavours are prominent at first, but other sweet notes develop over time as well: light honey, caramel, vanilla, peas.  After opening up, the fruits that seemed to be missing from the nose turn up here: watermelon, pears, white guavas, even sweet peas and steamed corn, mixed up with some soya, lemongrass and parsley in a mild vegetable soup.  It leads to a quiet and short finish mostly characterized by grassy notes and some sweetish, very mild fruits. 

Novo Fogo’s one year old cachaça is an interesting variation on rhums we know. The sweet, herbal notes are not out to lunch or abnormal, and the use of the American oak has helped maintain a lightly-aged profile that other cachacas with more aggressive use of native woods might not (as Delicana showed here and here, it can be a bit hit and miss). Overall, the whole experience is somewhat removed from that of young or unaged agricoles generally, which is as it should be, since we’re not talking about a French island rhum, or a cane juice spirit made in the Indian Ocean islands with the esters dialled up to “11”. The ancestry is, however, quite clear, and anyone who has had even a passing familiarity with agricoles will find much that is recognizable and enjoyable with the “Chameleon”, especially at that approachable strength of 43%.  

That might be the secret behind the name: it is a rhum – a cachaça – made in Brazil, but hews so close to the profile we know that it might in fact be taken for something else.  Only the sly off-kilter notes and occasional divergences are there to tell you it’s not, and I submit that those differences are what make it interesting, and worth taking a chance on…as long as you don’t mind going off the beaten track a bit.

(#849)(81/100)


Other notes

  • The producer was originally a small distillery from Morretes, which is located in the south of Brazil, founded in 2004 by Fulgencio Torres Viruel (known simply as “Torres”) and master distiller Agenor Maccari (“Dr. Cachaça”), and in 2010 the Novo Fogo brand was launched after entrepreneurs Dragos and Emily Axinte partnered up to produce it. Most of the press you will find dates from 2015 which was the date that these four people acquired the facilities of Agroecologia Marumbi SA, a USDA organic certified distillery. This allowed an increase in production which in turn led to exports to North America and Europe around 2017.
  • Ever since its introduction to the festival and bartending circuit in that year, the brand has been gaining in recognition, taking its place alongside old-staple-cachaças like Leblon, Pitu, Avua and Yaguara. Its ever-increasing brand-awareness is tied to their organic and environmentally friendly production processes and stated commitment to sustainable production.
  • Novo Fogo cachaça is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of their process. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still. The resultant spirit is either rested in stainless steel tanks or put to age in American oak casks, though smaller quantities are aged in barrels made of local woods for various other expressions.
  • I reached out to Novo Fogo, curious to find out more about the name, and Luke McKinley responded from the Seattle office and replied “We gave Chameleon its name because it’s a versatile cachaça that can “blend in” to a variety of cocktails. At just 1 year of age, it retains the sugarcane funk of our unaged Silver Cachaça, but picks up enough characteristics from the American oak ex-bourbon barrels to work in stirred, spirituous cocktails.”

 

Jul 262021
 

Having gone through their aged expressions, millesimes, and young blends from the Poisson-Pere Labat distillery on Marie Galante over the last few years, it is my considered opinion that when it comes to the best intersection of value for money, the surprise standout is not either the 3 year old or the 8 year old (which, since they sit smack in the middle tend to be shoo-ins for the honours of this series), or any of the more upscale millesimes (though those are quite good) but the rather unremarked and seemingly unremarkable two year old called the Doré, which I can only assume means “golden” in French. Certainly its light golden colour explains the name, though one could equally wonder why they didn’t just call it an Ambré, as most others do.

Rhums with names, that are not “premium” – by which I mean “highly priced” in this context – tend to be blends which stay constant for extended periods.  The Doré is considered one of the youthful “Elevés sous bois” (‘aged in wood’) series of rums from Poisson, accompanied by the “Soleil” (Sun) 59º and 55º both of which are aged for six months: they are all supposedly a rung underneath the quality ladder of the 3 YO and 8 YO, and the millesimes and premium editions above that.

But I disagree, and think it is something of an unappreciated little gem that defines Poisson and Marie Galante — as well as Bielle or Capovilla or Bellevue, the other distilleries on the island.  Let me walk you through the tasting of the rhum, to explain.

The nose, to put it simply, was just plain lovely.  It was crisp, creamy and citrusy, like a well made lemon meringue pie fresh out of the oven.  It smelled of ripe peaches, yoghurt, ripe Thai mangoes, red grapefruit and oranges, and the acidic, tart elements were nicely balanced off by softer, more earthy tones. Even for a rhum whose youngest components were 18 months old, there was no harsh stinging notes, no roughness or jagged edges flaying the inside of one’s nose.  In fact, the whole experience suggested a rhum much lighter than the 50% it was actually bottled at.

The taste was reminiscent of that dry, crisp Riesling I remarked on with the 8 YO. That one was gentler and smoother as a consequence of the 42% strength.  Here this was transmuted into firmness, a certain tough clarity, and made the wine feel jacked up and boosted (but in a good way). It was a veritable fruit smorgasbord – apples, pears, cashews, guavas, star-apple, passion fruit, peaches all tramped across the stage at one point or another.  And then there was the herbal grassiness of citrus peel, green grass after a rain on a hot day, cinnamon, a trace of coffee and bitter chocolate…I mean, what on earth gives a two year old rum the right to taste this fine? Even the finish didn’t drop the ball – it was long, fruity, and brought everything to a fitting conclusion of crushed walnuts and almonds, lemon zest, ripe fruits and even that pie we smelled at the inception made a small bow.

I don’t know about you, but I felt this rum to be a quiet little stunner and it remains one of those favourites of mine that stays in the memory and keeps being bought, in a way its cheaper and more expensive cousins up and down the line do not. It samples really well, has a good proof point for what it is, and while it is understood that it’s is made to be a mixing drink, I feel it transcends such workmanlike blue-collar origins and somehow excels at being a downright tasty sipping drink also. And it’s nicely affordable as well being in the less-than-premium segment of Poisson-Labat’s range

What it doesn’t have, is widespread acknowledgement, or awareness by the larger rum-drinking public. It’s crowded out by more popular and better known distilleries like Bielle, Damoiseau, Saint James, Neisson, Bally, and is perhaps perceived to be on the level of the smaller and equally little-known outfits like Bologne, Severin or Montebello. 

In a recent interview on the subject of Key Rums, I remarked that that when it comes to a large country with lots of distilleries, how does one pick just one? Admittedly, Marie Galante has only four (a far cry from the 500 or so in Haiti or the thousands in Brazil), but when it is lumped together with those of Guadeloupe, the problem remains…which one to chose?  The smallness of some of these distilleries makes their rhums fail the criterion of being known, talked about and coming up in the literature.  It’s  particularly problematic considering that for too much of the rum drinking world, agricoles barely register at all, let alone get seriously discussed. I submit that this is a mistake and it’s long past time that the blinkers came off.  We should recognize that cane juice rhums, whatever their sources – and perhaps especially those from the tiny distilleries –  are deserving of greater acknowledgement and respect than they get from outside Europe or the cognoscenti. 

And that being the case, I pick another one here, from the small island of Marie Galante; and have to state flat out that even though you may not aware of it, for the intersection of taste, availability, longevity, age and all round taste, the Dore really is rather remarkable precisely because it doesn’t seem to be anything of the kind.  The Soleil 59º and 55º show their youth in their rough edges and wildly untamed exuberance, and so to some extent do the unaged blancs, though they are really fine in their own bailiwick. The older mid-range 3 YO and 8 YO expressions are too weak to be serious contenders as they fall flat or fly away if one doesn’t pay close attention, and the high-end millesimes are too pricey. The Dore somehow, against all odds, even young as it is, finds its niche with effortless ease, shows its quality and retains its place in the mind…and is, I believe, completely worthy of inclusion in this series as a result.

(#839)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • For those who want more detailed background information, the company biography of Velier and the brief history of Pere Labat are both in the “Makers” section of this website.