Mar 232020
 

Photo (c) Excellencerhum since mine turned out to be useless

If I had a single regret about tasting this exceptional cask strength millésime rum from Trois Rivieres which was distilled in August 2006 and bottled eight years later, it’s that I neglected the opportunity to find and try the single cask version of the same vintage. That one was bottled at 43% while the cask strength I was trying here was more than ten points higher, and it would have been fascinating to see how they ranked against each other.

Yet even without that comparison, there’s no doubt when you put together a range of variously aged agricoles (as I had the opportunity to), the Trois Rivieres Millésime 2006 is going to be right up there in the rankings when the dust settles and the arguments are over. Not just because of its strength, which is spoiling-for-a-fight-strong 55.5% ABV, but because of excellence of its assembly. Trois Rivières has made one of the best indie agricole bottlings ever (the Chantal Comte 1980), and here, for themselves, they have done something almost as good.

The Trois Rivières Brut de fût Millésime 2006 (which is its official name) is relatively unusual: it’s aged in new American oak barrels, not Limousin, and bottled at cask strength, not the more common 43-48%. And that gives it a solidity that elevates it somewhat over the standards we’ve become used to. Let’s start, as always, with the noseit just becomes more assertive, and more clearly definedalthough it seems somehow gentler (which is quite a neat trick when you think about it). It is redolent of caramel and vanilla first off, and then adds green apples, tart yoghurt, pears, white guavas, watermelon and papaya, and behind all that is a delectable series of herbsrosemary, dill, even a hint of basil and aromatic pipe tobacco.

That’s all fine, but agricole aromas are usually a cut above the norm anywayI’d have been disappointed if I was displeased. What really distinguishes the 2006 – the year was apparently a very good oneis the palate. It’s a smorgasbord of macerated fruit (apricots, papaya, pineapple and apples), some light but clear florals, crushed hazelnuts, honey … and marshmallows. It all comes together in a delectable combo of sweet, crisp and mellow tastes that almost demands to be had neatand all this time, the profile continues to be rock-solid rather than sharp or clawing, going right down the line to the fruity, tart, citrus-y finish with its last fine dusting of coffee grounds, crushed nuts and vanilla.

How they developed and assembled it in such a way that the high ABV was completely tamed and smoothened out without losing any of its force, is a mystery. The balance and complexity harmonize well, it’s tailor made for a late night sip and it encourages rhum appreciation. It’s unlike the rhum we looked at last week, even an opposite: the La Mauny was a low-rent starter rhum made to accompany cheerful and noisily boisterous back-alley socializing, while the 2006 demands somewhat more reflection and is, perhaps, better for that purpose. But to cut a long summary short, I’m just and simply impressed, and maybe I should stop writing, go out there, buy another one, and share it with my domino-playing squaddies. Because I’m pretty sure they’d quaff this one by the glassful.

(#713)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • There are two variations of this Millésime: the 2006 Private Vintage (45%) and the 2006 Single Cask (43%). Entrhums out of Belgium sampled them here (French). Seems like I’m not the only one to really like Trois Rivières.
  • My personal opinion is that this is not quite as good as the TR 1986, but a smidgen better than the TR 1975
Nov 212019
 

Rumaniacs Review #105 | 0678

1952 – an eventful year. Queen Elizabeth II ascends to the throne; Black Saturday in Egypt, followed by the overthrow of King Farouk; the US election puts Ike in the White House; the first steps towards the EU were taken with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community; television debuts in Canada; Charlie Chaplin is barred from re-entry to the US; “Mousetrap” opens in London (and never closes) – and in Martinique, Clément distills this rum and starts ageing it.

So here we are. We’ve arrived at the oldest rum that is within the blend of the Clément XO, the Millesime 1952, while remaining in the dark as to the proportions, or even the true ages of some of the rhums themselves (as noted in the 1970). Too bad, but that’s what happens when records are incomplete, people move on and memories fade. We take what we can.

When we go this far back in time, the AOC is a myth and we’re in the territory of rhums like the Bally 1929 or 1924 and the older St. James offerings like the 1932 and 1885. The importance of trying such products with a modern sensibility and palate is not so much to drink from the well of historythough of course that’s part of the attraction, which I would never denyas to see how things have changed, how much they haven’t, and to understand how developments in technology and processing have made rums what they are today.

By that standard, what to make of this one? Short answer: different and well constructedjust don’t expect the clarity and crispness of a modern agricole.

ColourAmber

Strength – 44% ABV

NoseA combination of the sweet of the 1976 and the pungency of the 1970. Light red-wine- notes, fleshy fruits and almost no grassy or herbals aspects at all. Nougat, toblerone, white chocolate, coffee grounds, anise, all surprisingly and pleasantly crisp. Flowers and the faintest hint of salt. Also the mustiness of Grandma Caner’s old basement (where once I found a Damoiseau 1953, with which this thing shared quite a few similarities).

PalateThicker and fuller than expected, and pretty much lacking the lighter and more precise attributes of the other two. Fleshy red and orange fruits, like peaches, oranges, apricots. Ripe granny apples. Red olives, tobacco, licorice, brown sugar, a light brininess and even apple cider for some kick.

FinishShort and dry. Salty and fruity, well balanced against each other, but admittedly it was rather unexceptional.

ThoughtsThat it doesn’t fly apart under the impact of all these various competing flavours is to its credit, but tasted blind, it wasn’t my standout of the three Clément rhums. Unlike the light grassy crispness of the 1976 and 1970, I felt this one was literally more down-to-earth and musty and thicker. Clearly things were done different back in the day, and the Damoiseau ‘53 displayed similarly non-agricole characteristics. As a reviewer and taster, I much prefer today’s versions to be honest, but as a lover of antique things made in other eras, it’s hard to completely discount something with such a heritage.

(#678 | R105)(84/100)


Other notes

  • Cyril of DuRhum has a lot of doubts about this rhum, not the least about the age claim of plus-or-minus forty (or even thirty) years. Even if it really was bottled in the early 1990s, it’s almost inconceivable that a rum could be aged in the tropics for so long without evaporating or being tannic beyond the point of drinkability. Clement makes no statement on the matter themselves. Note that unlike the other two rhums, this has no AOC notation on the label.
  • Josh Miller in a 2016 review of the Clement XO on Distiller, remarked that the stocks of the 1952 were now exhausted and the XO would have to be reformulated, but no longer recalls the source. I’ve sent a few messages around to see if I can come up with more details.
Nov 192019
 

Rumaniacs Review #104 | 0677

Unsurprisingly, the 1976 Clément Trés Vieux we looked at a few days ago sells for around €500 or more these days, which to me is a complete steal, because any Velier from that far back is going for multiple thousands, easy. This, the second-oldest component of the XO sells for quite a bit morenorth of €700 (though you can find it for much less in any store that is out of stock, and that’s most of them). And I think that one is also remarkably undervalued, especially since it’s a really good rhum. How it can still be available nearly half a century after being made, is a mystery.

That aside, the rhum does come with questions. For example, there’s a discrepancy in accounts about how old it is. The author of that great rum book Les Silencieux, Cyril of DuRhum, noted in his 2016 recap of some of Clement’s older rhums, that it was fifteen years old, aged in 200 liter barrels and then bottled in 1985. But that’s not what Fine Drams saidin their listing they state it was indeed aged for 15 years in this way, but it was then decanted into smaller French oak casks and matured a further six years until 1991 (no other online seller I was able to find makes mention of the age at all). And Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery, who tried it in 2017, also said it was a 21 YO, making no mention of a secondary maturation. Olivier Scars, who reviewed it as part of his tasting experience with the Clement Trio, didn’t comment on it either, and neither Clement’s own site or their US page speak to the matter. (I’m going with the longer age for reasons I’ll make clear below, at least until the queries sent out start getting answered).

Another peculiarity of the rhum is the “AOC” on the label. Since the AOC came into effect only in 1996, and even at its oldest this rhum was done ageing in 1991, how did that happen? Cyril told me it had been validated by the AOC after it was finalized, which makes sense (and probably applies to the 1976 edition as well), but then, was there a pre-1996 edition with one label and a post-1996 edition with another one? (the two different boxes it comes in suggests the possibility). Or, was the entire 1970 vintage aged to 1991, then held in inert containers (or bottled) and left to gather dust for some reason? Is either 1991 or 1985 even real? — after all, it’s entirely possible that the trio (of 1976, 1970 and 1952, whose labels are all alike) was released as a special millesime series in the late 1990s / early 2000s. Which brings us back to the original questionhow old is the rhum?

ColourAmber Gold

Strength – 44%

NoseNot a standard agricole openingthere’s more than a touch of Jamaican here with off-notes of rotting fruit, bananas and gooseberries, quite pungent. But also smoke, leather and more than a touch of brown sugar, even some salty vegetable soup stuffed with too much lemongrass. It does settle down after some minutes, and then we get the herbals, the grassiness, tobacco, spices, and bags of dark fruit like raisins and prunes bringing up the rear.

PalateHmmm, quite a bit going on here. Initially a tad sharp and bitter, with raw tobacco, pimento-infused unsweetened chocolate and anise. Sweet and salt, soya, more of that soup, brown sugar, a touch of molasses (what was that doing here?), almonds, tequila and olive oil. And more prunes, black grapes, raisins, providing a thick background around which all the other flavourssalt or sharpswirled restlessly.

FinishMedium long. Warm, fragant, with lots of sugar cane sap, sugar water, papaya, squash (!!), watermelon and a pear or two. It’s really strange that the heavier and salty and musky flavours seemed to vanish completely after a while.

ThoughtsWell, I dunno. It really is not at all like an aged agricole of the kind I’m used to getting from Martinique. The fruitiness pointed to that secondary maturation noted by Fine Drams, and overall I liked it quite a bit, more than the 1976. It’s well rounded, flavourful to a fault, maintains a good balance between age and youth, and the only hesitation I have is in pronouncing on how old it actually is, or whether it is a true AOC given the divergence from a standard/modern profile of such rums. More cannot be said at this stage until some answers roll in, and in the meantime, I have to concede that even if the background details remain elusive or questionable, this is one fine rhum from Ago.

(#677 | R104)(86/100)

Nov 172019
 

Rumaniacs Review #103 | 0676

The Clément XO was one of the first top end agricoles I ever tried, one of the first I ever wrote about, and one that over the years I kept coming back to try. It evoked memories and recollections of my youth in Guyana which alone might justify its purchase price (to me, at any rate). There’s something undefinable about it, a trace of its heritage perhaps, the blend of the three rums that made it up, millesimes from what were deemed exceptional years – 1976, 1970 and 1952.

The Clément 1976 is the first of the three I’ll be looking at, and its cost is now in the €400-range (more or less) – the last time I saw it was several years back in Charles de Gaulle airport, and it was out of my price range (plus, I was going in the wrong direction). It is AOC certified, aged at Clément’s facilities on Martinique for 20 years, and remains available for purchase, if not review. Its claim to fame nowadays is not about its participation in the blend of the XO (this is recalled by few outside the geek squad and the agricolistas), but the fact that it’s from so far back in time. It came out the same year as the AOC itself (1996), which is why it is so conspicuously noted on the bottle.

ColourGold

Strength – 44%

NoseRich, sweet and fruitygenerous would describe it well. It wasn’t hot or spicy (a given for its strength), just warm and quite easy. Peaches in syrup, vanilla, almonds, and bags of herbs which spoke to its cane juice originsbasil, cumin, clovesplus a neat through-line of lemon zest. That burning sugar and faint trace of molasses I remember from the XO is alive and kicking here, even after twenty years of ageing.

PalateIf it isn’t a contradiction in terms, I’m going to call it “delicately rich” because that’s what ti is. It tastes of vanilla, woodsmoke, various red and yellow fleshy stoned fruitspeaches, mangoes, cherries, all ripeplus the crisp tartness of green apples and lemon zest, and the soft salty warmth of avocados and brine. The burnt sugar remains in the background, but hardly takes part in the proceedings any longer.

FinishLong and fragrant, combining soft ripe fruits with tarter, more acidic onescherries, gooseberries and peaches. There also a hint of maple syrup, cloves, almonds, toffee, salted caramel ice cream, and a merest trace of lemon.

ThoughtsThe whole of the XO is greater than this part. It actually tastes of a rhum that’s younger, and doesn’t entirely have that rounded and mellowed feel of an ultra-aged tropical product. It’s crisp and clear and complex to a fault, yet after two decades one is surprised that it isn’twellbetter.

(#0676 | R-0103)(84/100)

Feb 252019
 

Just to reiterate some brief details about HSE (Habitation Saint-Étienne), which is located almost dead centre in the middle of Martinique. Although in existence since the early 1800s, its modern history properly began when it was purchased in 1882 by Amédée Aubéry, who combined the sugar factory with a small distillery, and set up a rail line to transport cane more efficiently (even though oxen and people that pulled the railcars, not locomotives). In 1909, the property came into the possession of the Simonnet family who kept it until its decline at the end of the 1980s. The estate was then taken over in 1994 by Yves and José Hayot — owners, it will be recalled, of the Simon distillery, as well as Clement — who relaunched the Saint-Étienne brand using Simon’s creole stills, adding snazzy marketing and expanding markets.

This particular rum, then, comes from a company with a long history and impeccable Martinique pedigree. It is an AOC millésiméa rum issued in relatively small quantities, from the output of a specific year’s production, considered to be a cut above the ordinary (2005 in this case) and finished in Sauternes casks.

Given that it is nine years tropical ageing plus another year in the Sauternes casks, I think we could be expected to have a pretty interesting profileand I wasn’t disappointed (though the low 41% strength did give me pause). The initial smells were grassy and wine-y at the same time, a combination of musk and crisp light aromas that melded well. There were green apples, grapes, the tart acidity of cider mixed in with some ginger and cinnamon, a dollop of brine and a few olives, freshly mown wet grass and well-controlled citrus peel behind it all.

Well now. That was a pretty nifty nose. How did the palate rate?

Very well indeed, I thought. It was a smooth and solid piece of work for its proof point, with clear, firm tastes proceeding in sequence like a conga linelight acetones and flowery notes to begin with, then bubble gum, ripe cherries and plums. The profile proceeded to display some sharpness and herbalscitrus, cider, well-aged sharp cheddar, a touch of apricots and almost-ripe peaches together with softer honey and ginger. What distinguished it and made it succeed, I think, is the delicate balancing act between sweetness and acidity (and a trace of salt), and even the finishgrapes, honey, cane juice and wet grass for the most partdisplayed this well assembled character. It impressed the hell out of me, the more so since I walked in expecting so much less.

The other day I wrote about a similarly-aged, light rum from Don Q, which I remarked as being somewhat too easy and unchallenging, bottled at a low 40%; and while competently made, simply not something that enthralled me.

On that basis, you might believe that I simply disdain any and all such low-proof rums as being ultimately boring, but now consider this 41% agricole from Habitation Saint-Étienne as a response. It emphatically demonstrates to anyone who believes standard strength can only produce standard junk, that a rum can indeed be so relatively weak and still have some real quality squirming in its jock. And with respect to the HSE 2005, that’s a statement I can make with no hesitation at all, and real conviction.

(#602)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • This rhum should not be confused with the others in the “Les Finitions du Monde” series (like Chateau La Tour Blanche or Single Malt finish labelled as exactly that), which are also 2005 millesimes, but not bottled in the same month, have other finishes, and different labels.
  • According to Excellence Rhum, this 2005 edition is the successor to the 2003 Millesime which is no longer produced.
  • The outturn is unknown.
  • Nine (9) years aging, plus from 12 months of finishing in Château La Tour Blanche barrels, 1st Cru Classé de Sauternes.
May 302017
 

Rumaniacs Review #047 | 0447

Unless I start springing a few grand for ancient rums from the 1920s and 1930s, this is likely to be the oldest Bally rum I’ll ever see, or try. I suppose I could take a stab a guessing how truly old it iswho knows, maybe it’s in the fifteen year range too? – but for the moment I think I’ll just revel in the fact that it was made almost sixty years ago, way before I was born, by Jacques Bally’s boys before the estate shut down in the late 1980s and the production shifted to St. James. And who among us doesn’t enjoy revisiting rums made in ages past? A piece of the living history of our parents is what it really is. Too bad they weren’t into rums as much as we are.

ColourAmber

Strength – 45%

NoseThe modern agricole profile is something of an afterthought on the nose. It smells salty and Haagen-Dasz carmel creamy; not really grassy or vegetal, more olive-y and brine and some paint stripper (the good kind). Some of the mineral (or ashy) background of the 1975 is also on show here, plus some weird green peas, overripe bananas and off-colour fruits sitting in an over-sterilized hospital. It’s crazy odd, emphatically different and shouldn’t really work….yet somehow it does.

PalateThe tastes which remind me of more recent vintages coil restlessly beneath the surface of this rhum, occasionally emerging for air to showcase grass, green grapes, sugar cane sap and soursop. Heavier, muskier flavours tie all of them together: prunes, peaches, pineapple, cinnamon, apples and the interesting thing is, it’s hardly sweet at all. Plus, the ashy, minerally taste remains (let’s call itdirtorearthorsod”), which is not entirely to my liking, although it does succeed in balancing off the other components of the profile. Let’s call it intriguing at least, and hauntingly good at most.

FinishMedium long, much of the palate comes back to take another bow before exiting stage left. Tropical fruits, some earth again, a flirt of breakfast spices, licorice and tannins. Pretty good, actually.

ThoughtsParts of the rhum work swimmingly. The balance is a bit off, and overall, I felt it had many points of similarity with the 1975, with a few marked deviations too. What this says to me is that no matter which era (or where) Bally rhums were made in, there is an awesome dedication to consistency over the decades. The Bally 1960 would not be out of place on today’s shelves, and it would surely be better than many.

(88/100)

Yes, the other Rumaniacs have also written about this rhum, and for the record, they all scored it at 90+.

May 292017
 

Rumaniacs Review #046 | 0446

We’re going back down memory lane now, to a point where the AOC designation is a dream on the horizon, and for once we have an age: this rum is sixteen years old (based on the bottom of the bottle where it saysBottled February 1991in French). This of course leads us to puzzle our way through all the others we’ve looked at already, because if here they can call a 16YO arhum vieuxthen the other Bally rhums are in all likelihood similarly agedwe just have no proof of the matter.

In any event, age or no age, rums and rons and rhums are evaluated based on what they are, not what they are stated to be. So let’s put aside all the whinging about information provision (which is a never ending grouse of mine) and simply taste a rhum made when I was still living in Africa and had never heard of Martinique (or much about Guyana, for that matter).

ColourAmber

Strength – 45%

NoseSo far nothing has beaten the Bally 1982, but this one is on parperhaps better. The nose is amazingdeep purple grapes and vanilla, with the traditionals of sugar cane sap, wet green lemon grass, with a mischievous hint of wet cardboard and cereals. Threading through these smells are additional notes of Turkish coffee (no sugar), cocoa and some black chocolate, but curiously there’s less fruitiness to sniff in this one than in the later editions, and it’s backgrounded by something vaguely metalliclike licking a small battery, y’know? Some cinnamon, well-polished leather and honey fill in the spaces.

PalateIt’s creamy, spicy, sweet and salty all at once (plus lemon). In a way it reminds me of a very well made Thai green curry in coconut milk. The fruits are here at lastgreen apples, pears, white guavas, but also pastries and cheese, to which are added very light hints of creme brulee and caramel, milk chocolate, some honey and licorice. Would be interesting to know the barrel strategy on this one. Whatever. It’s a fine fine rhum to try, that’s for sure.

FinishMedium long, vegetal, grassy and breakfast spices for the most part, some more of the white fruit, and the woody notes are here to stay. Not the best fade, but pretty good anyway.

ThoughtsIt had great balance and the tastes were excellent. Something like this is best had in conjunction with something newer from Bally because then you gain a sense of its achievement, and how rhum has developed over the years. People swear by the AOC (and in an era of marketing nonsense dosed with outright lies, quite rightfully so), but sometimes you wonder whether something hasn’t been lost as well. The Bally 1975 emphatically demonstrates the quality of what was being done, at a time way before regulations changed the industry.

(86/100)

The boys of the Rumaniacs liked this rhum even more than I did.

 

May 282017
 

Rumaniacs Review #045 | 0445

By now two things are clear about these older Bally rhumsaside from some educated guesswork, we don’t know how old they are, and by this time, 1979, the AOC noted on the label is somewhat of a puzzler, unless the thing is seventeen years old, in which case it would hardly be labelled a mererhum vieuxbut anXO”. So maybe after the initial ageing they stored it in tanks or flagons and only bottled it after 1996or, more likely, it came under a previous version of the official 1996 AOC designation. At this point, it’s somewhat academic, thoughgiven it was made nearly forty years ago, it presents as a rhum that shows something of the evolution of the agricole world over time.

ColourAmber

Strength – 45%

NosePungent, grassy, clear and quite light, quite dry. There were olives in brine, grapes, black tea, some citrus peel and aromatic tobacco, but also something softer, milder: strawberries and bananas, I’d say, forming a nice counterpoint. It takes its time opening up, once this happens, it gets somewhat fruitier, while never entirely letting go of the grassy, herbal aromas.

PalateCreamy and salty, black bread and cheese. It’s also somewhat sharper and more more tannic than the earlier Ballys from 1992 and 1993, with wood taking center stage, and a taste of something green, like grass, fresh sap, Japanese tea. So also somewhat bitter, and the clean purity of agricoles with which we are more familiar has recededfortunately I could still taste tart apples, lemon zest and raisins, plus whiffs of dark chocolate and some unripe fruit.

FinishPleasant close outdry, edgy, warm. White guavas and pears, plus the tartness of soursop, pencil shavings and perhaps too much oak. Not entirely a success here, perhaps a shade too peppery and not as well balanced as the nose or palate.

ThoughtsHere we have moved away from the almost standard profile of the ’80s and ’90s demonstrated so clearly by the newer Bally rums, and returned to agricole rumsrootsbut also something of a tangent from those profiles we are now used to. A solid rhum, but not one that ascends to the heights.

(83/100)

Other members of the Collective have written about the rhum as well, on the official website.

May 242017
 

Rumaniacs Review #044 | 0444

We’re slowly moving past the more recent vintages of the Bally rums and into something not necessarily older, but bottled from longer ago. Hopefully they’ll throw some light into the development of the profile over the years. The quality of the older expressions is not necessarily or always better just because it was made thirty five years agobut yeah, perhaps in this case it is. The 1982 is certainly one fine piece of work, made at the original Bally site before the distillery closed in 1989 and production was shifted over to Simon.

ColourDark Amber

Strength – 45%

NoseOh, so nice. A smorgasbord of fruity notes right awayraisins, blackberry jam, candied oranges, plus coffee, anise, caramel bonbons and some breakfast spices (and cumin, oddly enough). It presents as sweeter than the 1992 and 1993 variations, and also somewhat more musky, salty, with those wet earth aromas being quite distinct, though fortunately not aggressivemore like an underlying bed upon which the other smells were dancing.

PalateWarm, delicious, sweet and salty, like a Thai vegetable soup with sweet soya. After opening up some, the fruits take overberries, cherries, jammy notes, nougat, light florals. Loads of complexity here, well balanced against each other. There’s the earth tones again, some black tea, bananas, light citrus. None of the flavours are dominant, all rub against each other in a cool kind of zen harmony. One odd thing here is that the grassy and sugar-cane sap part of the profile is very much in the background and nowhere near as clearly discernible as modern agricoles lead us to expect.

FinishLong and faintly sweet. There was actually some anise and coffee here (and was that molasses? …naah). Long on spices like cinnamon, cloves and cumin, and the warm wet earth component, which I’ll say is Jamaican even though it isn’t, made one last bow on the stage.

ThoughtsI dearly wish I knew how old the rums truly was. It’s labelled as an AOC, but that classification only came into force in 1996, so is it possible that the 1982 is at least 14 years old? I simply don’t know. Perhaps it’s just as well. Like it or not, we sometimes unconsciously feel a rum aged for longer is somehow betterthat’s a good rule of thumb, just not universally applicable, and here, whether it is that old or not, there’s no denying that for its price (still available at around three hundred dollars, same as the 1992) it’s a remarkable rum, made within the living memory of us rum collectors and Rumaniacs, and leading us by the hand into the misty times predating the iron rule of the AOC.

(86/100)

The other boys in the Bally-house have also looked at the 1982, and you can find their comments in the usual spot on the Rumaniacs website.

May 232017
 

Rumaniacs Review #043 | 0443

Leaving aside the independent bottlers, the agricolistas from Guadeloupe and Martinique seem to like producing a specific year’s output with much more enthusiasm than most molasses based rum producers, who (until recently) preferred to release specificrecipe-styleblends that changed little from year to year. There’s something to say for both ideasconsistency of taste over time, versus the individualism of specific date pointswhich just supports my thesis that even in writing about a social spirit, larger philosophical issues about our world can be discussed using them as an example.

In this case, we’re not moving too far away from the Bally 1993 written about in R-042, but the price has definitely gone up (to over three hundred bucks) – and that’s even without knowing precisely how old the rums is, though I maintain that it, like its brother, is around 3-5 years old.

ColourAmber

Strength – 45%

NoseIt’s initially more hesitant in its profile than the 1993 (and the others), or perhaps just more focused. Both a strength and weakness, methinks. Salty molasses and caramel notes, green grapes, segueing over time into something darker, deeper: chocolate, cereal, wet cardboard. Some herbal, grassy notes, just not very clear. There’s also a musky tinge here, something like rain falling on very hot earth, and at the last, flowers, honey, biscuits. Actually reminded me of a miso soup.

PalateCrisper, saltier, cleaner. Something of a right turn from the way it smelled. Olives, guacamole, brakfast spices, and vegetables more so than the fruits (which came later). The cardboard and attic-level stuffiness and wet earth make a return bow. Some jams and citrus notes follow on but don’t claim the high ground from the vegetals. Not sure this entirely works for me. It may just be a matter of taste.

FinishGreen grapes, cinnamon, brine, olives, avocadosit took time for the caramel and fleshy fruit to close things off. A bit too much wood here, I thought, though anisesensed more than experiencedwas a good background.

ThoughtsMore individual than the 1993, more oak, more vegetables, less fruitssomewhat lessrummy.Bit of a schizo rum and didn’t have that little something extra that I would have preferredstill, that’s a personal opinion, and overall, it’s still a good dram for something so young.

(83/100)

Some of the boys from the Rumaniacs have also taken a crack at this rum, and their reviews can be found in the usual spot.

May 212017
 

Rumaniacs Review #042 | 0442

The first of six Bally rums (no relation to me), which we’ll also post faster than usual, since they are, again, part of a series. Let’s start with the most recent.

For those who are interested in agricoles (which these assuredly are), J. Bally from Martinique has been around since 1917 or so (land prices after the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelee were low), but the sugar estate of Lajus goes back even further, to the mid-1600s. Alas, Bally has been closed since 1989, but their stills continue. The Simon distillery now owns them, and supposedly the original recipe for Bally’s rums, and sugar from the original plantation, is used to ensure the brand does not die. And of course, the AOC certification is alive and well with these rums.

True age is always a problem with these millésimes (meaning a specific year of production), because the date of distillation is noted….but not always the date of bottling. Since arhum vieuxis supposed to have a minimum of three years ageing, I’m going to say 3-5 years old, then.

ColourAmber

Strength – 45%

NoseQuite solid, very smooth and, of course, crisp as fresh picked lettuce. Amazingly fruity profile here, prunes and raspberries to start, nicely rich and quite aromatic, adding bananas, honey, hard yellow mangoes (from India or Thailand), and coiling around the background of herbs and grassessome spearmint chewing gum. And a touch of oak, cinnamon and caramel. Seems almost like a Guadeloupe rum, what with the way the herbal and grassy aromas take a back seat and fruits are this rich.

PalateMmm, nice. Fresh and crisp. Sugar cane and saline and gherkins, plus bales of freshly mown grass now taking their place in the front. Caramel, raisins, a flirt of molasses and olives. It’s all quite well assembled, and not overly weak, not obnoxiously strong. Continues with vague honey notes and richer fruits, some more of that spearmint. There’s some anise floating around there someplace, but not enough to make a statement of any kind

FinishVanillas, burnt sugar, honey, sugar cane, grass, and a bit of that olives in brine thing I enjoyed. Somewhat hotter and sharper than what had come before, oddly enough.

ThoughtsA young rum, and very enjoyable. Agricoles do have that trick of making stuff in the single digits take on molasses rums twice as old and leaving them in the dust. I still think overall it resembles a Guadeloupe rhum more than a true agricole (even though it is AOC certified), but whatever the case, I’m not complaining.

(84/100)

Others in the group have written about this rhum on the Rumaniacs website

Apr 042017
 

#353

Particular attention should be paid to the “small cask” moniker in the title here, because what it means is that this sterling and near-outstanding little rum was matured in small French Limousin oak casks called “octaves” that hold fifty-five liters, not a couple hundred or more as in the “standard” (and it not a single cask, by the way). Combine both the tropical maturation and the smaller cask size, and what we can expect with such a product, then, is a rum of some intensity of flavour. Which it is, and it delivers, in spades. In the blind tasting with a bunch of other Martinique and Guadeloupe agricolesDillon 12 YO 45%, Bielle 2007 7 YO 57.3%, Rhum Rhum Liberation 2015 Integrale and another six (or was that seven?) – this one edged them all out by just a smidgen and that’s quite an achievement when you consider what it was being rated against.

If you feel these remarks are unjustifiably over-enthusiastic, feel free to dive right in and just smell this luscious 46% copper-amber coloured agricole. It was light and flowery, much more so than any of the others; acetones and nail polish mingled happily with the sweet vanilla and chocolaty-coffee aromas of a busy day at the confectioner’s, and there were creamy scents of milk chocolate, truffles, cocoa, before these bowed and took their place at the rear, allowing gently tart fruity notes to edge forward – red currants, red guavas, freshly cut apples, sugar cane sap and pears for the most part. These all emerged gradually and in no way interfered with each other, combining to produce a very aromatic, if gentle, nosewarmly supportive rather than bitingly sarcastic, so to speak.

It was also quite excellent to taste. It had a lovely mélange of gapes, nutmeg and cinnamon to start off with and then presented bananas and coconut, vanilla ice cream and some caramel; gradually a robust background of salty cheddar, ginger, orange peel became more noticeable. Here the oak became quite distinct, though thankfully not entirely overwhelming – it was enough to make itself known with emphasis, that’s all, and perhaps even that might be a whiff too much. With water florals and ripe apples and pears and grapes again, and edging around it all was a nice burnt sugar taste that reminded me of sugar cane fields set to flame in the cutting season (something like the Clement Tres Vieux XO). The finish was all right, somewhat short, but warm and comfortable, with light cider, chocolate and creamy notes and a touch of brine.

All in all, a really good dram – I really enjoyed this one. The balance of tastes matched the available strength pretty well and neither overcompensated for flaws in the other. I’m not much of a whisky drinker (to the annoyance of many), but there was something quite bourbon-y about the HSE Small Cask – maybe I should try a few more of those just to see how the comparison holds up. Probably not – there are far too many rums and rhums out there I haven’t tried yet, and products like this one are a good reason to keep up the voyage of discovery. So why pay extra coin for whisky when rums are so much cheaper and often just as good (I always say better) in quality, right?

For those who are into the details, the rum is an AOC-certified Martinique rhum made from cane juice, distilled on a creole still in October 2004, bottled November 2013 (I bought mine in early 2016), and nine years old. Unfortunately there is no detail regarding the outturn, though my bottle was numbered #2578, so feel free to guess away. With numbers like that, it would appear that there are still many more bottles available – this is not one of those sixty-bottle runs that you can’t get ten days after it hits the market: and that’s all to the good, because even at its price and for a scrawny 500ml, it’s a great-tasting rhum, and though it’s “only” 46%, you’re getting quite a little pocket-Hercules of taste in your glass when you try it and does the brand no dishonour whatsoever.

(87.5/100)


Other notes

Some background notes on Habitation St. Etienne can be found on the review for the HSE 2007 Millesime issued with/by la Confrerie du Rhum – that one was also very good.

Mar 262017
 

#350

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

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

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

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

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

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

(88/100)


Other notes

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

 

Feb 212017
 

#344

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

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

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

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

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

85.5/100


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

 

May 112016
 

D3S_3667

A wonderfully sippable AOC agricole from J.M. in Martinique

The unquantifiable quality of the J.M. 1995 Très Vieux 15 Year Old has stayed with me ever since I first tried it. Some aspects of the rhum did not entirely succeed, but I could never entirely rid my memory of its overall worth, and so deliberately sought out others from the stable of the company to see if the experience was a unique one. And I am happy to report that the Millesime 2002 10 year old is a sterling product in its own way, and perhaps slightly exceeds the 1995though with such a small difference in scores, you could just as easily say they are both excellent in their own ways and let it go at that.

For all the enthusiasm of the above paragraph, it should be noted that sampled side by side, the two rhums are actually quite distinct products, each good in their own way, but not to be confused with one another. Consider first the aromas hailing from this 46.3% orange gold rhumthey presented as quite fruity and aromatic, quite rounded and mellow, not always a characteristic of agricoles. As it opened up over the minute, flavours of cherries, red grapes, herbals, dill, sugar cane and grass rose gently out of it….and, if you can believe it, a sort of weird and persistent bubble-gum and Fanta melange that took me somewhat unawares, though not unpleasant by any means.

On the palate the texture was phenomenal, smooth and warm and assertive all at once. There was little of the aridity of the 1995: it presented a sort of restrained spiciness to the senses; some vanilla and tannins were discernible, but very well controlled and held way back so as not to unduly influence what was a very well balanced drink. 46.3% was a good strength here, and allowed firm traditional vegetal and grassy notes to take their place, before gradually being replacedbut not overwhelmedby citrus zest (that was the Fanta doing a bait-and-switch, maybe), mint, cucumbers, watermelon, papaya and rich, ripe white pears. And then there was morerye bread, salt butter, very delicate notes of coffee and chocolatejust yummy. It was an enormously well assembled rhum, luscious to taste and with walked a fine line between Jack Sprat and his wifeone could say it was like the last thing Goldilocks tried, being just right. Some of the dry profile I had previously sensed on the 1995 was evident on the finish, but again, nothing overwhelmingit was warm and aromatic with light tangerines, spearmint gum, more ripe cherries and those delectable grapes I had noted before. All in all, just a great sipping agricole, with similarities to the Karukera 2004, la Favorite Cuvée Privilège and maybe, if I stretched, even Damoiseau’s products.

D3S_3668

J.M. is located in northern Martinique at the foot of Mount Pele, and I’ve written a company summary in my review of the 1995, if you’re interested. One fact that came to my attention afterwards was that JM char the inside of their barrels by setting fire to some high proof rum distillate, and then scraping the char off, which may have something to do with the fruity character of the aged rhums they put out. The rhum itself was distilled on a creole copper pot still to 72% before being set to age and then diluted to “drinking strength.” I wonder what would happen if they ever decided to take a chance and leave it cask strength.

Most people I speak to about agricoles, especially those who have tried just a few (or none), comment in a way that suggests they are considered pretty much all the samegrassy, herbal, watery, a trifle sweet maybe, and (horrors!) more expensive. A lot of this is true, but after having tried the marvellous variety of rhums from Martinique and Guadeloupe, the sharp industrial chrome of the whites versus softer aged products, I can say with some assurance that there is an equally dazzling variety within cane juice rhums as there is in the molasses based products. And this is one reason why in the last year I’ve really tried to write about as many of them as I could lay hands on. Trying the JM 2002 with its complex, layered and warm profile makes me glad the adventure still has some kinks in the road, and that I began it in the first place.

(#272 / 86.5/100)


Other

  • Aged in ex-bourbon oak, not French oak (Limousin)
Jan 172016
 

TR 1986 Label 1

Like a kilt, this ten year old rhum proves that less can often be more.

The Japanese art of ikebana is that of flower arranging, and if you think its principles lack applicability to rum, well, give that some thought. Sorting a big bunch of flowers into a vase is not what it’s really about (one could say the same thing about the chanoyu). The true art is about selecting just a few elements, and finding the perfect way to arrange them so that they rest together in harmony. Trois Rivières is unlikely to have studied the matterbut this rum displays all the fundamentals of both art and simplicity, in a way that elevates the whole to a work of sublime grace.

Trois Rivières issues specific years’ output, perhaps more than any other rhum maker in Martinique (except maybe Neisson) – there are millèsimes from 1953, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, and so on. Rarely, if ever, is it stated how old these are, aside from the “vieux” notation, meaning a minimum of three years ageing. But to my mind, a rhum this good (sorry for the spoiler, but you already know the score) is a poster child for why we need the guys pushing great hooch out the door to stop messing about and tell us poor lambs what we need to know right up frontin this case, how old the thing is. Because speaking purely for myself, I want to know whether age is the primary factor in the excellence of the 1986 millèsime over the 1975, or some other factor.

TR 1986

Still, I soldier on under the burden of my anguish, since there’s nothing to be done about it right now. Presentation was that consistent yellow box (I’ve seen several millèsimes with the same one) with that famous windmill, the year 1986 enclosing a slim bottle with the same info on the labeland surmounted with that same annoying tinfoil cap that somehow makes my expensive purchase seemwell, cheapish. Ah well…

I can tell you though, that my small disappointments and whinges from above were forgotten the instant the bottle was opened up and poured it into the glass. Because with a nose like the one it presented, I could swoon like a maiden from Walter Scott. It was so sweetly wonderfully rich that I almost went running for my thesaurus. It opened with juicy pears and white guavas, fennel and the faint lemony twist of a good cumin. Scents of treacle and honey followed on, very rich and smooth and almost perfect at 45%. Even after half an hour it kept giving out some extrasvanilla and well-controlled tannins, almonds, very light smoke and leather. The 1986 blew past the 1975 millèsime from the same company as if it was standing still, which was why I wrote about the latter the way I did.

It was similarly good to taste, and again showed up some of the shortcomings of the 1975. Warm and smooth, the 45% strength didn’t hurt it at all. Medium bodied and dry (but in a good way), providing first tastes of peaches, plums, more guavas, black grapes. I was actually a little startled at the fruitiness of it, because it was an AOC designated rhum, but where were the light, clear notes one could expect? The grassy vegetals? Luscious notes of licorice and vanillas and even molasses backed up the zesty citrus notes that gradually came to the forefront, and again there were these delicate hints of cumin and lemon zest I had observed on the aromas. And this was not all, because tart (not sweet) red fruitstrawberries, red currants and raspberries also made themselves knownI kept asking myself, how old was this thing? Even on the medium long finish, which was a bit dry, warm and breathy and easy-going, some of those fruits retained their ability to amp up the enjoymentprunes, licorice and vanilla for the most part, and always that citrus component which coiled behind the primaries to lend a unique kind of counterpoint to the main melody.

TR 1986 Label 3The question I asked of the 1975 (which I was using as a control alongside the Rhum Rhum Liberation Integrale, the Velier Basseterre 1995 and two Neissons) was how old it was, and the labelling on that one was at best inconclusive. With the 1986 things seemed a bit more clear: the box had a notation “Vieux 86” and next to that “Sortie de fût: 04-96” which I take to mean it was distilled in 1986 and released from the barrel for bottling in April of 1996a ten year old rhum, then, if the numbers mean what I say they do. TR never did get back to me on my inquiries, so if anyone has better knowledge of the age of this rhum, feel free to share. I’m going to go on record as believing it’s ten.

And what a rhum indeed, at any age. It is an amalgam of opposites that gel and flow together with all the harmoniousness of a slow moving stream, gentle and assertive, thick and clear, with wonderful depth married to controlled intensity. We sometimes get sidetracked with fancy finishes, family recipes, strange numbers on a bottle and all sorts of other marketing folderol, not the least of which is the conception that the older the year-stamp on a
bottle is, the better the rhum inside must be (and the more we can expect to pay for it). The Trois Rivières 1986 shows the fallacy of such uncritical thinking. Like the Chantal Comte 1980 it demonstrates that great rums can be made in any year, at any ageand that beauty and quality and zen are not merely the province of those who fix motorbikes, pour tea, or arrange flowers.

(#250. 89/100)

Jan 082015
 

D3S_9369

A rich, argicole rum of a depth and flavour I savoured for literally hoursit almost qualifies as the perfect comfort drink, and for sure it’s the best sub-10 year old rum I’ve tried in ages.

Karukera in Guadeloupe is a distillery for whom I have grown to have a great deal of respect: I was not won over by their Vieux Reserve Speciale, but the 1997 Millesime was something else again, and I often drifted back to it when looking for an agricole baseline, or a control. On the strength of that positive experience, I decided to step up and shell out for this one, partly because of the strength and partly due to the double maturation moniker, which piqued my interest.

Which is not to say that its presentation didn’t appeal to me alsoI’m shallow that way, sometimes. It may not be a top shelf super-premium rum, true, yet it did its best to raise the bar for any rum that purports to be a cut above the ordinary. Just look at that wooden box printed with all sorts of interesting details, and the sleek bottle with its cork tip. All very niceit looked damned cool on my shelf. And so, my lizard brain having been catered to and placated, off I went into my tasting routine to see whether the implied quality inside the bottle was as interesting as what the outside promised.

D3S_9373D3S_9376

Which it was. Aged for six years in bourbon and then two more in french oak cognac casks, only 2000 or so bottles of honey/amber coloured rum came out at the other end, and mine presented a very interesting aspect, in spite of my having wrestled with mostly full proof pachyderms over the last few months (so 44.6% can almost be considered “standard strength” for me, these days). Let’s just agree it wasgentler.

Sleek salt butter, cream cheese and some brininess led right off. To say I was not expecting that would be understating the matter: the rum is made from blue cane grown on the plantation itself, and I was looking for a more standard nose of vegetal notes and some citrus. But after letting the spirit rest in my glass for a bit, ah, there they were. Apricots, black grapes, cloves and orange rind sidled shyly forward, to be replaced by hay and freshly mown grass. There were some spicier oaken aromas at the back end, nothing unpleasantin fact the whole experience was really quite excellenta firm mix of salt, sweet, sharp, and pungent smells.

Tasting it was a rewarding experience. It was a medium bodied rum, quite smooth and warm, opening up with white flowers, and soft tanned leather. As the nose did, some patience rewarded me with mild caramel, smoke, more leather, which in turn morphed easily into mellow tastes of mango, pears, pineapple, cinnamon, cumin, even marzipan and flavoured port-wine cigarillos (used to love those as a young man). And I was also quite impressed with the finish, which lasted quite long, warmly dusting itself off with white guavas, caramel, and half ripe pears. The rum may have caused north of a hundred Euros, but man, it was a pretty awesome drink. My mother and I shared it in her dacha in north Germany on one of the last sunny days of autumn in 2014 as my son ran barefoot on the grass blowing soap bubbles, and it was the perfect accompaniment to a really great afternoon laze-in.

D3S_9371

Karukera continues to be made by the Espérance distillery (founded in 1895) a distillery down by the Marquisat de Saint Marie in Guadeloupe, doesn’t chill filter or add anything to its rums, and proudly wears the AOC designation. I’ve been fortunate to climb the value chain of its products and each one I try raises the bar for its rums. You can be sure I’ll buy others they make in the years to come.

Personally, I’m not sure a rum so warm and friendly, yet also firm and tasty, is suitable for mixing (it was all I could do to see what a few drops of water could do, just to be complete about it) – I know I wouldn’t, on balance. There’s a remarkable softness and overall quality to the Karukera, which, while excelling at no one thing, came together so sweetly that I honestly can’t imagine what a mix could do to enhance it. The rum is excellent as it is, and whether you like molasses spirits or agricoles (or both), there’s no doubting that here is a rum that sneaks past your defenses, hits the sweet spot of your desire for a good rum, and gives you all the love and comfort you could ever ask for. That alone may be worth all the euros I paid.

(#196. 87.5/100)

 

Nov 262014
 

D3S_8929

A remarkably well balanced and tasty rum from the Indian Ocean

In spite of the prevailing belief that rums are Caribbean almost by definition, it’s axiomatic that many other nations and regions produce them. Over the years I’ve found that the most readily identifiable and distinctive (I don’t say “best”) products, products that have a flavour profile all their own, usually hail from some distant part of the world where climatic and soil conditions are far removed from the norm: consider, for example the Bundaberg, the Old Port, or even the Tanduay. Now sure, flavourings are sometimes added to the mix with the heedlessness of Emeril chucking spicesbut not always. Sometimes it’s just the terroire.

Such a one is the Rhum Vieux Millésimé 1998 ten year old, made and bottled in Madagascar from locally grown cane and molasses, offered at 45% in a bottle that is rather amusingly wrapped in a banana leaf (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). This is a rhum that won a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in 2012, and is one lovely piece of work.

Take for starters, the initial nose: brown sugar, coffee and mocha, straight off, very smooth and inviting – 45% was a good strength for this rum. I looked at the labelling again with some surprisewas this a spiced rum and they forgot to mention it? Nope. What you got was it. It was followed by vanilla, cloves, nutmeg and a soft background of bananas, all quite unaggressive and easygoing. There was even some vague vegetal note there after a bit, almost imperceptible.

The palate broke little new ground, simply built on that excellent lead-in: more vanilla (not enough to make me suspicious about flavouring, yet I couldn’t dismiss the thought entirely), coffee, burnt sugar, nougat. Fried sweet bananas (I loved those as a kid), nuts, peaches. This rum was lovely, just lovelysoft and warm and exactly strong enough for what it wasa higher proof might have made it too spicy. There was even, after a few minutes and a drop of water, leather and the sweet perfume of aromatic cigarillos. Some ground walnuts rounded out the profile. The finish was surprisingly short, yet still that warmth persisted, and closing notes of white pepper, smoke and those walnuts again.

These tasting notes sound utterly conventional, don’t they? Yet they’re not, not reallythe balance of the vegetal notes and vanilla and nuts and sweetness of bananas popping in oil is not at all like the Caribbean rums with which many of us are familiar; I imagine some of this taste profile comes from the Pernod Ricard barrels shipped to Madagascar to age this rum the requisite ten years; but perhaps equal credit comes from the cane itself and the environment in which it is made.

Dzama rum is made by Vidzar, one of those local companies like Banks DIH in Guyana, or Clarke’s Court in Grenada, which have a rather larger visibility in their home country than they do abroad (this may change as they expand their markets). The company was formed in 1982 due to the efforts of Mr. Lucien Fohine, who noted that the small sugar factory on the tiny island of Nosy Be produced a distillate that had distinctive flavours which persisted into the final distilled productsmostly low level rum for local consumption, to that point. After some investigation, he concluded it came from the ylang-ylang plant (also known as the macassar oil plant, or the perfume tree) whose roots intermingled with that of the cane. (If this rum is an example of the flavour holdover, he may be on to something, though I’m ambivalent about the science behind that).

In an attempt to distill a decent rum to elevate the craft of his island, he formed a company Vidzar (a contraction of Vieux Rhum de Dzamandzar), located close to the sugar cane fields of Nosy Be, by a village called Dzamadzar. The company makes a range of rums for sale, including the Dzama Club, 3 YO and 6 YO, the Dzama XV 15 year old and Cuvée Noire (untried by me) and is starting to sell in the European market. This particular ten year old was aged in the aforementioned Pernod Ricard barrels and was distilled in 1998 but the date itself is just a marker, not a commemoration of anything special (the current ten year old on the company site is the 2000 Millésimé) – I’ll hazard a guess that it was a series of barrels set aside by the master blender as simply being of higher quality.

I’ve remarked before that one rum does not sink a brand, or define ityet I have to be honest and say that a bad one tends to make me leery about approaching others in the range, while conversely, a good one makes me enthusiastic to do sothat’s human nature. With this excellent rum hailing from a region I’ve not tried before, whose profile is remarkably distinctive and far from unpleasant, I’m pretty stoked to see what else Dzama has in the larder the next time I get a chance to buy one. You could do worse than trying some yourselfand this one would be an excellent place to start.

(#189. 84/100)

 

Apr 222012
 
An excellent agricole for which it is worth splashing out some extra francs: lovely nose, deeper flavours, better body, and in all ways exceeds the cheaper Reserve Speciale from the same company.

Unimpressed by the blah of the Karukera Rhum Vieux Reserve Speciale, I then decided to take the hundred dollar Cask Strength 1997 off the shelf where I had hidden it from the prying eyes of my parsimonious wife (she who can spot a shredded receipt from a hundred paces). We don’t see many Guadeloupe rums in Calgary, yet Ralf’s Rum Pages out of Germany lists no less than 12 separate distilleries on the islands, so I was pleased to have another to review. And I wanted to see whether my own snootiness regarding agricoles would continue, or were there really one or two out there which I could enthusiastically recommend.

Happily, here was an agricole which in the first stages tempered all my negative remarks made to date (the ageing, perhaps?). For a hundred bucks this rum cost me, I got a simple bottle with a simple label, stowed in a thicker cardboard container than usual (by contrast, note the flimsy packing of all the top end El Dorados). Upon decanting and opening up, a luscious nose stole out: warm, sweet, caramel, mixed in with, but not overpowering, red grapes, cinnamon, and lacking something of the muskiness of molasses. There was a herbal note to it I liked a lot, yet none of this was attacking me the way a 46.3% beefcake such as this normally would have.

As before, there is an frustrating dearth of information about this rum. The most I was able to glean was the obvious: made in Guadeloupe by a famous Espérance distillery (founded in 1895) located in the marquisat de Sainte Marie, it is defined by its terroire and has the honourable “appellation d’origine” given for adhering to clear specifications of location and manufacture. The rum itself comes from cane juice milled from cane grown around the distillery, and is matured in small bourbon casksthis lot came out in 1997, but the literature gives no details whether it is, as I’ve noted somewhere in notes I have in my file but whose origin I can no longer remember, actually twelve years old. Maybe that accounted for its somewhat herbal nature, and the overall gentleness of the rum. Note, by the way, that there were no filters and additives added to this bad boy: what I tasted was what I got.

That flavour profile was more in tune with agricoles I had tasted before. Yet even here some of the quality I had experienced in the nose came out and mitigated a negative impression. Normally I don’t like the lack of sweetness in the agricole makeup: too much like a pretty flirty lady who is all promises and no follow through, good only in company, never alone (I’ve had a few girlfriends like thatbut I digress). With this cask strength offering, I had to concede that Espérance did a fine job with the materials on hand, and a luscious taste of light caramel, fruits (green apples, grapes), vanilla, more cinnamon and flowers came through in a very pleasant combination. At 46% I could not escape some sharpness, true, and the rum was tangy and woodsy as welljust not enough to be distasteful or nasty, useful only in a mix. In many respects the Karukera 1997 reminded me of the Rhum Clemente upon which I vacillated for so long: same phenomenal nose and a bit of a lesser palate. The fade is heated and fiery and smooth and long lasting, and I must say, I was impressed with it.

Unlike a fellow distillery on Guadeloupe (Longueteau) which makes more traditional rums using very old steam-driven equipment, Karukera positions itself in a somewhat more exclusive niche market by concentrating on light argicoles made to the exacting AOC specs. This is not quite my thing, as I’ve noted before: I prefer rums to be rums, not light cognac imitators, and my score reflects that. Still, boutique rums have an occasionally undeserved reputation, based too often on reviews like mine where clear preferences in other directions are noted right up front, or overhyped expectations from clever marketers.

Here we have a 12 year old agricole rum which is close to the top of the Karukera food chain. It’s a good rum, a smooth rum, and a impressive product from a distillery we don’t see enough of here in Canada. My take for you, reader, is to forget the cheaper Reserve Speciale and go straight for this variant: it’s more expensive, yes, but in this case you really do get what you pay for. And that’s quite something.

(#106. 84.5/100)